For a period of four decades the kingdom of Estairia had been ruled in peace. A great king, wise and much-loved, had occupied the throne, justly governing the contented populace. For forty years business had boomed, filling Dreigion’s Capital Square marketplace with colorful, cheerful salesmen, crowding the Harbor with the tall masts and vibrant sails of merchant ships. Not a kingdom on earth was more happy and satisfied than Estairia during those wonderful glory years.
It all came to a sudden end, however, when the ageing King contracted a fatal disease. He suffered a long and painful sickness, which inevitably ended in death. On his deathbed, just hours before he passed, the dying sovereign was visited by the Royal Council. They came in desperation, imploring the king to proclaim an heir. Ill and confused, the King announced that Galirius, his only living son, would succeed him as Estairia’s ruler.
This declaration stirred up a great deal of commotion in the Council. Fifteen years previously, sick and tired of the duties and restrictions placed on him as the King’s only son, the prince had snuck out of the castle, signed aboard a merchant ship and escaped to sea, not to be seen again.
There was, then, a great burden placed on the Estairian rulers, who were left leaderless after their king’s death. A great amount of heated debate rang out from the Council chambers, until a long standing member, Count Velciiar, feigning reluctance, stepped into the King’s vacant seat. However, conveniently placed in many military and government positions around the kingdom, a legion of loyal supporters stepped up to back the Count as Estairia’s supreme ruler, supposedly temporarily.
A half-hearted attempt at searching for the prodigal prince was then made under Velciiar’s orders, but this turned up predictably fruitless. Surrounded by a close-knit cabinet of personal advisors, the Count used his “temporary” power to set himself up as Estairia’s dictatorial monarch – permanently.
A time of civil war followed. Many supporters of the People rose heroically to counter the new totalitarian state but to no avail. The Royal militia strongly supported Velciiar’s new policies, and all who opposed it were quickly subdued.
Once securely reigning from the Council House in Dreigion, the new government established a conclusive, but fragile, system. Business continued running successfully for Estaria’s merchants. For all appearances it seemed to be a healthy nation.
But the King’s death and the years of civil war had left their mark on the hearts of the people – tearing them, ravaging them, until the broken shreds that remained were just enough to sustain the public one day at a time, leaving no room or energy for resistance.
Over the next decade and a half, money slowly trickled out of the pockets of the poor and into the purses of the rich – especially those of Velciiar and his cohorts. The lower classes sunk into deep poverty, filling the docks and streets of Dreigion with a myriad of homeless, hopeless paupers.
Yet, even then, lurking cautiously in the shadows, there were those, gathered in secret groups, who longed for, and would fight to gain, Freedom…
Lord Gaeric de Etheros spat violently into the cobbled street as another carriage rumbled past. Decorated with soft velvet curtains, solid gold trimmings, and driven by a smartly dressed Chauffeur, the extravagant carriage formed a sharp contrast to the pealing plaster and rotting wood of the town houses around it. At one time Lord Gaeric had been known as one of Dreigion’s richest and most extravagant citizens, but since the King’s death his money had slowly been used up in…other pursuits.
Stepping around piles of mud and sewage, Gaeric made his way further down the street, heading into one of Dreigion’s poorer districts. Many faded marquees swung from the dilapidated buildings that lined the streets, creaking on their hinges in the gentle autumn breeze. The sign of an anvil and hammer was painted on one such marquee, indicating the shop of a blacksmith. Gaeric’s pace began to slow as he approached this building, though he maintained a casual, carefree air. Glancing nonchalantly around the empty street, the Estairian Lord ducked quickly into the dirty shop. A broad-shouldered man stepped away from his work at the anvil to greet him. Passion and excitement shone from his smiling features. Thick brown hair ran down his cheeks and under his mouth, underlining his rough, happy countenance.
“Tomorrow…” one word from Gaeric’s lips set them both to excited trembling. A hearty grin spread across Gaeric’s features as he enthusiastically grasped the blacksmith’s wrists. “It all comes into play tomorrow! Imagine! All our planning! All this time! Tomorrow!...”
Deep, happy laughter bubbled forth from both men.
Gaeric continued, “The ’White Fox’ has secured the last cache of armaments. He gave me this list of passwords for you and your men.” He handed the blacksmith a crumpled parchment, then added in a more serious tone, “I must admit, I didn’t trust that man at first. Too mysterious for my taste. But I suppose he’s proven himself. Oh, just think my friend! Tomorrow we will guide a new era into Estairia’s history books! Tomorrow the people will prove that they are not too weak to stand!”
“Indeed! I hope to see you at the Red Dagger tonight?”
“Ah, but of course! The final celebration before tomorrow’s action! And besides, White Fox is supposed to deliver an important message tonight, crucial to tomorrow’s success! It is very important that I be there to receive it. ”
The blacksmith playfully pounded his friend’s back as Gaeric turned to leave the shop. “Make sure you leave some time for pleasure tonight as well. It may be a long while before we have another chance to enjoy ourselves. I mean, after tomorrow…”
“Hush!” Gaeric quieted him as they stepped out onto the street. “Secrecy is still vital. Now, farewell my friend! I shall see you again tonight, and then…tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow!” the blacksmith replied, waving goodbye to his comrade before returning to his work. He struck even harder at the anvil, fired with the thoughts of Tomorrow!
For months the revolutionaries had plotted and schemed, carefully laying delicate plans in a tightly-knit web of complete secrecy. Pockets of resistance stood waiting - eagerly, anxiously awaiting the day on which they would rise en force to bring liberty to the helpless Estairians.
The date was finally set for action– that ever-anticipated Tomorrow. Gathered for final celebrations before the pivotal day, the desperate band spent the last hours of normalcy in cheerful revelry at the Red Dagger tavern.
It was an unusual mood that hung about them that evening, almost grave, yet strangely giddy. For they were all affected by an unexplainable excitement, a sense of impending doom accompanied by zealous and eager expectation for the unknown.
Lord Gaeric de Etheros looked slowly around the room. The anticipation, even elation, on the faces of his companions gave him a sickly unsettling feeling. What were they all in for? Did any of them have even the slightest clue what sort of danger and violence they would face? Gaeric had been a key leader in the rebellion from the start, and, as one of the only conspirators with any substantial wealth, he had financed a great deal of it. But would it all be for naught? Could they pull it off? I must be getting old, he chided himself. There was once a day when I would have been equally excited to face something this unpredictable.
Thoughtfully, he stroked his dark beard. His mysterious, phantom-like informant, a man known to him only as the “White Fox”, had yet to arrive. This fact left him distracted and uneasy, so he had difficulty enjoying the night.
And yet the happiness of his comrades continued, despite their leader’s lack of enthusiasm. Bottles and goblets were hoisted and downed, toasts made, songs sung, and joyful stories and memories shared. The men had all decided to enjoy those final carefree hours, for by the following evening their lives would be utterly changed. Ease and comfort reigned, and open friendship, for all shared the commonality of similar fates.
Those fates, however, would act sooner than expected. During the later hours of the night, as though driving a sharp stake into the evening’s blissful spirit, the tavern door flung suddenly wide open. Heavy sheets of rain were falling violently on the cobbled streets outside. Soaked and distressed, clutching to her chest a screaming infant in a small basket, a panting woman stumbled weakly through the doorway. All stood staring as the woman stood dripping on the threshold. Beneath the sobbing child the woman’s chest heaved violently as she struggled for gulps of breath.
Still occupied with his troubled broodings, Gaeric did not at first notice the lady’s entrance.
His head snapped up when he heard her call despairingly, “Gaeric!”
Suddenly noticing and recognizing her, Gaeric leapt to his feet and hurried toward her. “Ylianna, what’s the matter? Why are you here?”
Lady Ylianna de Etheros caught her breath before answering. Her words came in a tumbled rush, spilling over with fear and excitement. “Gaeric! We must leave here at once! A company of royal soldiers is on its way to raid the tavern!”
All talking ceased as the amazed rebels took in Ylianna’s story.
“I was at home; I heard them shouting in the street! They said they were going to burn down our house, then come here! I barely had time to destroy your important papers and grab the baby and get out! Gaeric,” she wailed, “they know all about the rebellion! Someone has revealed everything!”
Confused and angry, Gaeric muttered, “But…how? Who?”
“Gaeric,” she clutched his arms. “There isn’t time for that now. We must all leave this place at once, before it’s – “
Her words were cut off mid-sentence by wild shouts from outside.
Lord Gaeric quickly took charge of the now frantic band of rebels. His eyes seemed to spark as he raised his voice among the panicking crowd. “Quickly men! We haven’t got time to run, so our stand must be made here! We will fight tonight, for freedom, for Liberty!”
“You two,” he directed his blacksmith friend and another man, “brace that bench against the door. You others, grab what tools and weapons you can find, prepare to defend yourselves!”
The crowd suddenly burst into a flurry of action. Men started piling benches and tables against the door.
Those who could find pitchforks or walking staves to use as weapons gathered in an angry mob to defend the doorway; Gaeric, the only man among them who could afford an actual sword, drew it and prepared to fight.
Suddenly he remembered his wife. He turned toward her, the fire leaving his eyes; in their place a deep sadness. “Ylianna, my darling…”
His words trailed off. Ylianna looked at him reassuringly. “I will happily spend my last breaths fighting to gain liberty…but oh! That our only child should die before that goal is reached!”
Gaeric’s soul was crushed with this heavy thought. After years of being childless, this precious infant was nothing short of a miracle. But now…in a sudden motion, Gaeric scooped up the baby and rushed across the tavern. Ylianna followed close behind. Reaching the center of the room, Gaeric bent over a shaggy red carpet. Slowly rolling it aside he revealed a hidden trapdoor.
“Ylianna, you must listen to me, and do what I say,” he said urgently, pulling the trapdoor open. “Take the child in here and run. This tunnel opens up in a shop on one of the streets outside. There is a man there, Hogyus is his name, he is a fish monger. He will hide you and take care of you. He is a good man and a loyal member of our cause. Raise the child to love liberty, Ylianna. Don’t let him lose sight of it!”
Avoiding eye contact, Gaeric handed his wife the baby and pushed her toward the trapdoor.
Ylianna protested, “No, Gaeric, I won’t! I won’t leave you here; we must face this together!”
“Do it for the child’s sake, Ylianna, please! Another must be raised up to lead Estairia to freedom! And, no,” he quieted her, “I cannot go with you, the men need me here.”
Tears streamed down her face as she nodded. “I know, but Gaeric…!”
Gaeric gazed lovingly at his wife for a moment, a terrible pain clutching at his heart. They had been newly married when the king had died and Velciiar had taken power. They had had a taste of freedom, and for that taste they would never stop craving. Blinking back tears, Gaeric bent over his wife to kiss her.
A sharp cracking at the tavern’s door reminded them of the need for haste. Clutching her child tight, Ylianna gave Gaeric one last agonizing glance before descending the rickety ladder and shutting the trapdoor behind her.
Hey guys! This MoC is the first half of the prologue for a large-scale story project that I have started. If you took the time to read the whole story, thank you! I'm impressed.
A shorter teaser-version of the story is available on flickr, MP, EB, etc. The full-length story is for now exclusively here on CC.
Thanks for viewing/reading!
SOLI DEO GLORIA!