The world of Mantau had many continents and kingdoms. Eight kingdoms shared the continent of Quoa in the southern hemisphere, all with accessibility to the sea. The two largest kingdoms by far were Rhinia and Fuerza whose border split the continent in two. Three smaller kingdoms, Macia, Wen Hadich, and Neulastria, were to Rhinia’s west, and Fuerza had Tergoha to the north, Hubria to the northeast, and Cerdecia to the east.
Each kingdom was ruled by a king who had further divided his territory into fiefdoms. Within Rhinia, King James Rhine had fifteen fiefdoms overseen by his lords. Lord Richard Lawson, one of the king’s oldest friends, watched over the central northern fiefdom, the most isolated of the fifteen with tall mountains on all sides.
Richard governed from Castle Lawson with his family. He was married to Mylin with a son named Kylis. As Richard ruled and Mylin oversaw matters within the castle, Kylis was learning to become the next lord of Castle Lawson, serving as the captain of the knights since he became of age a few years ago.
Kylis woke every morning once the sun lit up the valley Castle Lawson resided in. He would wash up and dress in his royal purple cloak quickly before a servant brought in breakfast. After eating the bread and wine, Kylis would meet with his father in the throne room to review the overnight briefings. Although not much happened in the fiefdom, Richard would delegate duties to Kylis and others when needed.
After the meeting, Kylis would meet with his knights and guards to run through drills. Michael, Kylis’s lieutenant, was in charge of the knights in Kylis’s absence and was a few years older than Kylis. Since his earliest memories, Michael had been trained for battle. He was one for formalities at all times and very disciplined.
“Good morning, my lord,” said Michael with a curt bow.
“Morning,” replied Kylis as he walked by Michael towards the front door of the castle leading out into the courtyard. “Are the knights assembled?”
“Yes, my lord,” said Michael.
The castle walls surrounded Castle Lawson with the entrance facing east. The central part of the stone castle was three stories high with its four towers at the corners an extra story tall. An enclosed garden accessible only from within the castle was walled in between the two back towers of the castle.
The entrance to the castle was a grand sight for most in the fiefdom. Outside the throne room was a foyer with a vaulted ceiling through the second story. Stone pillars held up the upper floors with a red carpet from the throne room to the front doors laid out between the pillars. The doors were eight feet tall and opened outward into the courtyard. A stone road led from the front doors of the castle to the gate in the walls with a handful of Mylin’s favorite flowers planted alongside the road in a variety of colors and arrangements. A dirt path to the south led towards the back of the castle where the barracks and horse stables were located. A grass field was to the north and was used for outdoor celebrations in the summer.
Assembled along the stone road were the castle’s knights and guards. Kylis surveyed those gathered as he stood atop the three steps leading into the castle. Michael stepped down to the base of the steps, proud of how quickly the knights and guards snapped to attention when Kylis emerged.
“Good morning,” said Kylis. “With nothing to report this morning, Michael will hand out your assignments. Michael?”
Michael stepped forward and issued orders as Kylis started along the dirt path to the back of the castle. Those on duty proceeded with morning training as the knights coming off duty retired to the barracks, walking in Kylis’s wake.
Within the castle walls were two barracks for the guards and knights. The barracks were on the south side of the castle with the dirt path passing between the barracks and the castle walls. Kylis walked by, seeing a few knights sitting outside of the barracks sharpening their blades and cleaning their armor.
In the back of the castle were the stables. The Lawsons’ horses and the family carriage were kept within a wooden stable with a straw roof, and other knights’ horses were kept within a fenced area in the southwest corner of the castle grounds. A handful of stable boys moved around the area, feeding and caring for the horses as part of their morning duties. A young man named Presten Mason was in charge of the stables, and Kylis looked for him as he passed the fenced area and peeked into the stables.
“Presten?” asked Kylis as he looked around inside. The horses turned away from their morning meal to look at Kylis, quietly chewing hay. A stable boy proved more helpful when he stopped shoveling manure and looked up at Kylis.
“He’s practicing,” said the boy, pointing beyond Kylis towards a grassy field behind a row of hedges.
Kylis thanked the boy and headed towards the field.
Presten was going through a routine with his sword and ceased his training when Kylis drew near. Presten wore a white shirt with brown pants and dark boots. He was about Kylis’s age and height with disheveled brown hair hanging around his face. Small wrinkles outlined the sides of his green eyes, likely from Presten’s smile that tended to always be on his face.
Presten had come to the castle seeking work shortly after Kylis became captain of the knights a few years ago. Lord Richard was impressed with the young man but didn’t have any openings except for placing Presten in charge of the stables. Kylis got to know Presten thereafter, learning that Presten was very skilled with a sword. Since there weren’t many sparing partners he didn’t regularly best, Kylis was pleased to have sparing matches with Presten. Each time they sparred, Presten revealed more of his skills, making Kylis believe that Presten had yet to reveal all of his techniques even after the few years they’d been sparing.
“Lord Kylis,” said Presten, sheathing his blade.
“Not wasting any time training this morning, are you?” said Kylis.
Presten shrugged. “The boys have the stables well in order and don’t require much supervision. They do a great job.”
“And yet you still won’t become one of my knights.”
Presten smiled. “Well, you know, I like the time to sharpen my skills with the future lord of the manor whenever there’s time. It beats having to work around guarding duties and such.”
Kylis removed his purple cloak, hanging it from a branch on the hedges. He drew his sword and walked to stand a few paces from Presten. “You have a point there. And I’m feeling very good today, so I think I’ll finally defeat you.”
Presten wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve before drawing his sword once more and smiled confidently. “I guess you could try.”
Kylis currently desired nothing more than to beat Presten. Kylis had always been interested in learning more about combat and sword techniques, learning it all from his father before becoming skilled enough to best Richard in all forms of combat. Those skills were why Kylis had become captain of the knights soon after he became of age. Kylis dueled and learned more from the knights but had advanced to best them, too, gaining their respect. However, Presten still presented a challenge, and Kylis was anxious to learn all of Presten’s secrets.
Presten advanced on Kylis quickly, but Kylis easily kept up, something that had taken Kylis three months to achieve. Kylis blocked Presten’s attack, knocking his sword aside before lunging at Presten’s midsection. Presten rotated his sword quickly enough to deflect the lunge and followed up with a low swing. Kylis jumped back to avoid the swing but Presten pursued.
Kylis stepped to the side and blocked Presten’s next blow, but Presten kept moving. Presten’s sword came in from the left, and Kylis moved to block that attack, too, but once their swords connected, Presten dropped low and swept Kylis’s legs out from under him.
Kylis fell and hit the ground hard. He fought to keep his head from bouncing painfully off the ground and tried to keep a firm grasp on his sword, achieving both when he hit. When Kylis opened his eyes, he saw the tops of the castle walls at the edge of his vision with large cumulus clouds floating peacefully overhead. Birds chirped and the variety of scents from blooming flowers reached Kylis’s senses, making everything seem so peaceful until Presten stepped into Kylis’s view. Presten looked down at Kylis, Presten’s sword resting on his shoulder and his features lit up by a smile.
“You still have trouble watching your legs,” said Presten as he held out his hand.
Kylis accepted the outstretched gesture and got back to his feet. Once up, Kylis dusted himself off and began circling Presten, both with their swords up and at the ready.
After Presten took an awkward step on a rise in the field, Kylis attacked. Presten managed to block without being knocked over, but Kylis continued to move, spinning around with his sword in hopes of connecting with Presten’s abdomen. Presten blocked again, but Kylis kept moving, quickly spinning back around and bringing his sword down. Once more, Presten blocked with a smile on his face, inadvertently alerting Kylis to what would be coming next since Kylis had been on the receiving end of it before.
Kylis disengaged and jumped back before Presten could connect with a kick towards Kylis’s gut. Kylis dropped and swept his own leg around to knock Presten’s other leg out from under him. Presten fell to the ground with a thud.
With satisfaction, Kylis got up quickly and turned to aim his sword at Presten’s throat, but Presten’s sword was up, aimed inches from Kylis’s stomach. Although he knew he was beaten, Kylis knocked Presten’s blade aside and placed a foot on it, pinning the sword to the ground and leaving Presten defenseless. As Kylis brought his sword back around to get Presten to yield, Presten chuckled.
“Not bad, Kylis,” he said, “but I did have you there. I’ll let it slide this once, though.”
Kylis stepped off Presten, holding out a hand to help his friend up. Presten dusted himself off, blades of grass falling to the ground, and turned towards Kylis.
“I think I’ll try something else, now.”
Presten reversed the hold on his sword and got into a low stance. Kylis remained on guard, not recognizing Presten’s stance. Yet again, Presten demonstrated he still had secrets in his arsenal of techniques.
Quickly and silently, Presten began to move. Kylis turned to keep Presten in front of him as Presten tried to flank Kylis. Presten put on a burst of speed, outflanking Kylis before he knew what had happened. Presten took the chance to lunge towards Kylis, even with his sword still reversed, the blade facing away. Kylis jumped back and brought his sword around defensively, but Presten was no longer there.
A shadow moved on the fringes of Kylis’s vision, and he looked down, seeing Presten real low to the ground, lower than he had been when Presten had taken his stance. But Kylis recognized part of the attack. Presten began to spin with a leg out to sweep Kylis’s legs once again, and Kylis jumped over the sweep. Too satisfied with his move, Kylis failed to notice Presten’s blade coming around towards his head. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to move his sword to block in time, Kylis raised his left arm to block the attack with his forearm guard.
The blade hit the guard, sending a powerful shock through Kylis’s arm and the rest of his body. The blow knocked Kylis aside as he was still airborne from dodging the leg sweep. Knowing he was going to land painfully, Kylis braced for impact.
Kylis fell to the ground and worked quickly to recover, before Presten could get in a position to force Kylis to yield. Kylis rolled and pushed himself up with his left arm, but his arm was bruised from blocking Presten’s attack a moment ago and sent another stabbing pain through Kylis’s body. Kylis refused to go down, gritting his teeth and letting out a grunt as he followed through his motion and got back on his feet.
Kylis swung his sword around, expecting to keep Presten back, but something caught Kylis’s blade. Stunned, Kylis looked up to see Presten holding his blade firmly in his left hand, Presten’s expression focused and merciless. Presten threw the tip of Kylis’s blade aside and pushed against Kylis’s chest plate with the hilt of his own sword. Kylis fell backwards and almost bounced his head off the ground again.
Not sure what just happened, Kylis looked up to see the familiar tops of the castle walls once more. After another second of resting on the ground, Kylis looked up to see Presten with his smile back. If that focused and merciless expression hadn’t caught Kylis by surprise, he would have sworn never to have imagined it considering the expression on Presten’s face now.
“That was good, Kylis, but I’m afraid just not good enough,” said Presten as he sheathed his blade and helped Kylis up again.
“I haven’t seen that before,” said Kylis as he sheathed his own blade.
Presten shrugged. “I’ve got lots of good moves you still haven’t seen yet.”
“Good moves you’ve learned in your many years of living?” said Kylis sarcastically.
Presten smiled. “They’ve been a very full twenty years. When your family makes a living traveling from village to village, kingdom to kingdom, and continent to continent, you’re introduced to a lot of things, and even begin to pick some of them up.”
“I’ll get you to reveal everything sometime,” said Kylis.
Presten threw his arm around Kylis. “Sometime.”
The two left the grass field to return to the stables, Kylis grabbing and dusting a few leaves off his cloak before placing it back on.
“I guess I’ll be attending to my duties,” said Presten as he dropped his sword off inside the stables. “I better make sure the manure is getting shoveled correctly.”
Kylis grinned. “How about you come and grab a brief snack with me before your duties.”
“Well, if you’re going to twist my arm.”
Presten followed Kylis along the dirt path towards the castle’s front doors. As they came around the castle, they saw a royal carriage pulling in with purple banners flying King James’s family crest. The crest was a curved “R” in the center of a circle with swirls rising up on the left side and a rising sun on the right; the rays of the sun rose to meet the side of the “R” with lettering from an ancient and forgotten language within the sun and between the rays. The carriage may have been painted white at one time but was now coated in dirt and dust kicked up along the roads to Castle Lawson.
A messenger stepped out of the carriage wearing very fine clothes that Kylis and his parents only wore for formal events. The messenger’s clean dark tunic had winding and swirling patterns stitched over the torso and down the sleeves and legs. Michael guided the messenger pass the guards at the front doors and to the throne room. Kylis and Presten started for the castle, following in after Michael and the messenger.
The messenger entered the throne room as Lord Richard came through a door behind the throne, having been called quickly away from whatever matters he was attending to that morning. Four pillars stood in the room with the same red carpet from the foyer running the length of the room. When Kylis and Presten entered, Presten stopped next to a pillar in the back, standing on the side away from the carpet while Kylis walked past the messenger and stood to his father’s right at the base of the throne.
The throne was a wooden chair with armrests and a thin cushion on the seat. Carved into the chair’s back was the Lawson family crest, the triangle in the circle blocked from view when Richard sat down. The chair was raised a foot off the floor, sitting on a stone platform with another wooden chair for Richard’s wife nearby.
Other nobles and advisors entered the room, standing near the throne but all off the red carpet. Jonathan, who oversaw all the servants in the castle, stood to the messenger’s left as Brandon and Justin, Richard’s advisors concerning trade and economics, stood to the right. Mylin entered the room and sat in her chair next to Richard before the messenger took a bow and delivered his message.
“Lord Richard Lawson of Castle Lawson, lord of his majesty, King James of Rhinia, I deliver an urgent message from the king,” said the messenger quickly.
“Speak,” said Richard.
“The mighty king of Fuerza, King Tanix, will arrive at Castle Rhineton to visit King James in a week. King James wishes for your presence there before then.”
Kylis watched as many of the nobles and advisors looked between one another. Jonathan looked puzzled, and Brandon and Justin looked curious. Other nobles who lived in surrounding homesteads had conflicting expressions. Some were puzzled, others waited patiently, and the rest whispered things briefly to one another. Presten remained leaning against a pillar, his expression neutral as he waited to hear what his lord would say.
Richard looked surprised before he stood up and spoke. “Tell the king that my knights and I will arrive at the capital in six days.”
The messenger bowed his head. “As you wish, my lord; I will deliver your message to the king immediately.” The messenger turned on his heel and marched out of the throne room, heading back to his carriage to return to Castle Rhineton.
Kylis, along with everyone else in the room, turned back to the throne after the messenger exited, waiting quietly for their lord’s instructions. After pondering for a few moments, Richard spoke.
“Kylis, get twenty of your knights ready for the trip; call up any of the reserves if necessary. Jonathan, have my personal attendants pack my things and begin loading our carriage. And, Brandon, you will stand in for me while I’m away; send any messengers to keep me informed of matters here. We leave within the hour.”
The room erupted into a chorus of “Yes, my lord” when Richard finished speaking. Kylis nodded at Michael who saluted and exited the room to assemble the knights. Jonathan and the others exited the throne room through many different doors, hurrying to get everything ready for the trip.
“Kylis, a moment,” said Richard.
Kylis stopped from exiting and stood before the throne. “Yes, father,” he said with a slight bow of his head.
“You and your mother will accompany me on this trip. Have the servants prepare your things, including your best dress cloak.”
“Yes, father, but what is the meaning of all this? Why would the king request your presence for something like this?”
“It’s not every day a foreign king visits Rhinia,” said Richard, “and for a few years, Fuerza has been warring with the smaller kingdoms of Tergoha and Hubria. King Tanix has been busy with the wars and turned away King James’s requests to meet many times. But I guess something has changed if King Tanix will be visiting Rhinia while the wars continue in his kingdom.”
“What would King Tanix want from the talks? Our aid in the wars?” asked Kylis.
“That’s likely, but we’ll know everything once we reach Castle Rhineton and meet with the king. I’ve heard that the wars have become stalemates, and maybe King Tanix is desperate to finish those conflicts.”
Richard patted his wife on the arm before he stepped off the throne. As Mylin got up and exited to oversee the packing of their things, Richard put a hand on Kylis’s shoulder, and the two walked out of the throne room into the foyer. The foyer was busy with movement, orders being shouted about between servants. Guards continued to stand at attention next to the pillars in the room, looking forward and not being distracted by the activity. Richard and Kylis stopped before exiting into the courtyard.
“Go and check with the stables and ensure our carriage will be ready,” said Richard.
Kylis nodded and moved around hurrying servants. Kylis exited the castle into the courtyard, dodging more servants and knights. Presten stood outside the stables next to the Lawson’s’ carriage as a couple of stable boys brought the horses out and hooked them up, the horses neighing quietly in the process.
“All set, my lord,” said Presten. “Now we’re just waiting for it to be loaded.”
“Good,” said Kylis moving to stand next to one of the horses and patting him on the neck. “Sounds like this meeting will be quite interesting.”
Presten smiled. “That’s good to hear,” he said as he grabbed his things and got up on the carriage, taking his place at the reins. “I wouldn’t want this sudden trip to be uneventful.”