The grandiose Castle Essex stretched high above any natural bluffs as its occupant loathed the sky. Though monarchs may set themselves positionally to observe their kingdom, Lord Terrence seated himself for supremacy. While he preached intelligence and learning the postmarks of human beings, his practice was far more primal. His eyes could only see a linear hierarchy and translated this into a social structure of animal dominance of which he peered down upon all. Humanity was described as a benchmark of evolution, but instead denoted a hypocritical fallacy. Nothing, however, was more human than frenzied nationalism.
Set off in the Southern wing of the castle several massive chambers comprised the lodging for elite members of the Essex Army. Most of the military resided in Fort Worcester, a defensible stronghold at the base of the pathway up to the King’s castle. These select members, however, performed distinguished service for their Lord and earned themselves red beads. To enter Castle Essex, one would need to present beads or otherwise be summoned directly. That morn, Falkim was both.
A lifelong military man, Falkim was born into a family of warriors. They had earned the King’s favor by courageously carving out extended territory into Elven lands. Farmer’s lives were valued but a pittance and culling a swath was a simple cost, but the fertile lands they commanded pleased Terrence. A garrison was constructed to maintain their new foothold and the soldiers’ reward was regulating it. The proud sons were the crux of Terrence’s youth training program – Pedigree – a new agenda encouraging humans to take the initiative performing acts that would please the King. Earning beads not only granted access, but they would elevate entire families allowing their children to be cultivated by highly regarded educators. Falkim’s entire life was an example of duty, instilled with the principles Terrence valued most.
He left his personal quarters – three sizable rooms constructed from smoothly hewn marble, a wooden bed filled with bird feathers, a small chest filled with golden goods, several casks of wine, and a mannequin holding his armor. Not unlike others of his status, he even had a small tub to be washed in as he saw fit. A far cry from Beadless citizens of Newburg desperately clamoring for water to drink. Falkim viewed this disparity of goods with full support; those with power should wield wealth with impunity and avulse the passive from the cogs of society. If even a single piece dulls, the wheel may turn askew. He wondered what mission he’d perform today to keep humanity on course.
The exterior walls in the hallway rose high and wide enough for giants of legend to comfortably traverse. Light filled the space clearly through well placed windows and the castle was bustling. “The King was attacked at the gallows…Falkim!” a young freckled woman with auburn braided hair and a velvet dress spoke to her compatriot before noticing the knight emerge. His heart ceased for a moment and he silently choked. “Kay, please, what more do you know?” Falkim disguised his panic well. “A human from the Northern lands narrowly missed our Lord with a bow. Rumor has it he was seen fleeing the city with a massive wolf at his side! Do you think the Elf freely died for an attempt on our King’s life!?” Kay’s tone was ripe with hysteria, but her words disturbed Falkim. He quietly slid his hand over the guard of his freshly crafted sword, but the bravado of three ruby beads would be difficult to mask.
It was Falkim who had brought the Elf General to his ruler as tribute one week ago. A gift which earned him recognition and accolades. Silently he wondered now if his summons would be to investigate complicity or to pass judgment. “Will this be the final walk of my life?” he thought to himself beginning to visibly sweat. “I’m sure you’ll have a chance for payback, Falkim,” Kay noticed his hand clutching his sword and presumed anger was the motivating factor, not fear. “I must go. The King requires my presence,” Falkim held his breath as he spoke as if it would buy him extra time. Without the usual polite gestures, he stepped away from the conversation and began moving forcefully through the center of the halls.
“Did that seem odd to you?” Kay’s friend Emily had remained silent after the knight interrupted their initial exchange. “He was repulsed by the attack. That seemed like an ordinary reaction from any knight of his caliber,” Kay replied. “His worry seemed,” Emily paused trying to explain this dissonance, “inward, I think.” Her inference was not wrong. Falkim could not turn back now to defend himself; he had to press onward and perform better within the vaunted courtroom. The youth in pedigree received training to resistant interrogation using select techniques. One, of course, was to stretch truth to the bounds of its tensile strength without breaking it. He reviewed the event in his mind’s eye which culminated in a third bead to his name.
It was after dark already and the moon was three quarter. He remembered feeling fortunate the schedule would require another to patrol come the Mad Moon at its full might. “That’s tonight…” he paused his recollection to note the irony of fearing marching beneath it. The Elf walked down the main road between Newburg and Cedarbrook calmly, as if entitled to do so. He wore clothing closer to human fashions, a shirt from wool rather than the ironleaf and trousers made from animal hide. Falkim speculated the Elf managed to fool other humans with this ‘disguise’, a spymaster in plain sight. He would not be duped by the imposter and managed to lift his grit teeth up into a smile. “Greetings, traveler, a little late for a ramble,” Falkim repressed his suspicious tone admirably and well feigned concern. “Hail, good knight, I have no horse and age is unkind. My travel plans poorly accounted for neuropathy. I was to reach Newburg long before sunset,” Ai Kaine was pleasant and gentle. Falkim squinted trying to detect a hidden scheme, “What business do you have in Newburg…friend?” He thought declaring the Elf a friend would mask his intentions. The pause to think about it, however, only alerted the traveler. “Ah, I see my journey shall meet a premature end. I hoped to encounter my boy one last time, but I come peacefully to the lands I troubled so much,” Ai Kaine slowly lowered himself to the ground on his knees, closed his eyes, and breathed.
Falkim quickly drew his sword and clanged it against his raised shield. He wasn’t personally schooled in any magics but was raised to anticipate them. The serenity of the Elf agitated the knight. He was taught Elves were rage filled berserkers on the battlefield. His eyes darted around looking for an ambush, a spell, anything militant. He rapped his sword ‘pon his shield several more times loudly attempting to disrupt lurking dangers. Time continued to pass, and Ai Kaine remained unnerved. Chatter and lanterns began to scuffle about the city’s entrance, no doubt in response to the clanging of a knight’s shield. “It’s now or never,” Falkim told himself as he rushed forward to detain the Elf. Unexpectedly, his launch was met with empty resistance.
A guard from Newburg rode into view as Falkim bound the Elf with chains. He pulled back his captive’s long white hair tightly to better display his pointed ears. As to help himself to whatever spoils may avail themselves before the rider could see, he tore open Ai Kaine’s bag. Unfortunately, nothing of significance caught his eye save an old book. He hid it beneath his armor and turned to the approaching guard.
“Oh, Falkim! I saw the sole knight and feared the worst, but a man of your caliber hardly requires assistance. What fiend have you captured this eve?” Falkim had to silence a groan. The question came from Slagwood, a long-term acquaintance and indelible nuisance. He dismounted from his entirely blonde driving steed with a hefty thud imprinting in the dirt. To describe his armor as heavy would be akin to describing a mountain as tall. He wasn’t a particularly large man either. No, the class of armor was entirely to avoid injury as it managed to cover his body thrice over. To further distinguish himself amongst the knights he was crowned with a plate sculpture of a horse’s head. Slagwood was heir to the royal breeders, hence the unique mount. All other knights rode warhorses, bred for durability, while he alone traveled atop a massive driving horse, meant for pulling cargo. It was his parents who commissioned his dress, concomitantly they bred a horse to hold it. The two were trained together in Pedigree yet Slagwood had yet to earn a single bead. Not for lack of trying though, he rashly charges into any situation and often hampers other knights. “Slagwood, what timing, I must usher this prisoner back to the royal court. An Elf spy thought he could enter our Capital,” Falkim did not mind an easy escort, even if he would have to smell Slagwood’s body odor. He took solace knowing the prisoner would as well.
Falkim struggled to recall the road back to Essex, likely blanking it on purpose due to the shared company. The doors separating the royal court from the entrance hall towered above three men over. They were painted ruby, green, and black in a triangular pattern with Terrence’s likeness carved into massive golden handles. The court guards, Mcguire and MacRaven, shared their disdain for Slagwood with Falkim and halted him there. “I aided in the apprehension of the prisoner!” he pleaded. “The escort of the prisoner,” Falkim corrected sternly. “And thank you for that,” he awkwardly pulled his lips up attempting an earnest smile.
Falkim walked gracefully down the velvet carpet leading to the throne. It was not his first time inside, but the majesty of the architecture struck him all the same. Thick pedestals of hand-crafted marble supported an entire second floor of smooth grey stone, with canopies for archers to watch down, which continued to the vaulted ceiling. A magnificent painting covered the whole roofline displaying the King’s divine image tightly gripping a map with one hand and a sword raised with the other. His outfit matched the art – his signature bead shirt draped down to his knees. “Please, father, I…” Falkim could now see the King step from his throne to meet one of his sons at eye level. “You cannot deceive me, child. I know you claimed a brilliant jewel for yourself and failed to offer it to your King,” the prince sniveled, and Terrence began to urinate upon him with unblinking wide eyes. “You forget your place,” the inflection of the King’s voice was truly dominant. After relieving himself, he merely waved his hand in dismissal.
The King leapt into his throne easily, landing sideways and lifting his head backward. Though he did not look in his direction, Terrence addressed the knight like he knew of his presence. “Approach, Falkim, you have a gift for me?” His etiquette was muscle memory as he kneeled on one leg with his arm to his chest, “I have captured an Elf spy, my liege.” The King did not move an inch and slowly droned, “Hooooo.” Unsure of what to do next he brought the Elf closer and pulled on his hair. The king did not move his head, but his eyes drifted in their direction. “Greetings your grace, my name is Ai Kaine. I once led an army and have traveled to better understand those once called my enemy and make amends,” even in bondage Ai Kaine displayed kindness and respect. “Strange. You speak our tongue so well, is this why Falkim suspects espionage?” “Frankly, ‘tis incumbent to learn mon. I spoke it daily with my boy,” he cordially replied. “And your clothing, where did you obtain it?” the King was now intrigued by the impact Humans had upon Elves. “I purchased them at Yosei, a city Southwest of my home on my route here,” another candid response. The King at last raised his hips with a quick thrust and turned his full body to see Ai Kaine. The torchlight failed to illuminate the situation in Falkim’s mind. His Lord panted quietly, his face flush, and sweat dripped from his brow like a lecherous beast. Then abruptly he was upright and calm, “You’ve done well, noble knight. I graciously accept this prisoner. You may rest well knowing you’ve…serviced your kingdom.” The choice of sentence creeped Falkim nearly from his skin.
In the corner of the court completely cloaked in shadow, the gargantuan leader of the entire army leaned upon the wall. Falkim would not have noticed him if not for the vibrant emerald eyes that pierced the blackness. They looked from the knight to the King. “Do you perhaps have something else for me, Falkim?” Terrence questioned. He had nearly forgotten the book he had pocketed. Upon pulling it from its stored place, the emerald eyes widened and racked his being with fear. Crossing half the court with three steady bounds, his foremost military leader looked down upon him. He had never seen Charlambos up close, but his size made him the only being qualified to live in the colossal castle. Falkim tilted his head back as far as his helm would permit before weighing his neck down and he only managed to glimpse the crest of the General’s skull. “No ordinary Elf indeed,” he seized the book which fit in his palm and marched it toward Terrence. Falkim thought he spotted alarm in his Lord’s face, but after a blink he was stoic once more. “Have you read this, Falkim?” He shook his head in denial. “Tomorrow return here in your dress regalia. You’re to receive a bead,” the King grinned slowly.
Falkim was suddenly back in the present. He had not realized he was already at the tricolored doors to the throne room when MacRaven snapped his fingers. He clutched the parchment summons hard wrinkling the previously perfect scroll. “We’re all tense, Falkim, but I know you’ll track down the assassin,” MacRaven removed his helmet to reveal a handsome face with right parted black hair. The two had mutual respect both attributing their skills to Pedigree. They each were atop their class in different specialties – Falkim the balanced sword, MacRaven the shield master. “Victory in blood,” the royal guard held his fist straight forward saluting while generously imparting empty encouragement.
Falkim pushed open the doors which required more strength to move than before. Inside the room was full of knights, advisors, and archers jittering about. There was so much armor for sunlight to reflect from, it was fortunate no fires erupted. He lifted his hand to shade his eyes, but the moment his vision cleared he saw King Terrence standing upon his throne whose eyes met his. “Rejoice, my subjects!” the Lord of all Humans boomed, “the chosen knight has arrived to pursue our miscreant at large.” Clapping echoed throughout the chamber with a crescendo into whistles and cheers. Falkim felt an icy chill of relief. The King himself slowly clapped rhythmically before lazily gesturing for his approach. The knight smiled making his way through the crowd. Though the applause could be heard around the castle, his own thoughts were all he could hear. “The King doesn’t believe I’m an accessory! Of course he trusts me, I’ve served loyally since childhood. He’s even rewarding me with this opportunity to advance even further with my career. The notion of worry is so silly in hindsight,” Falkim was overjoyed and felt envy’s waves crash from his peers. The King stepped down from his seat and closely whispered into his ear. The words were righteous, but the heat of his breath carried odious sentiment, “I do hope you return.”