The sun is warm and shining bright on a day that has seen so much death. I look over the battlefield, seeing the bodies of men and hearing the groans of the dying and those who lay wounded. Every incoming blow that I have blocked with my own weapons, I could feel many times over. I ache from the bruises and abrasions that I have acquired throughout the course of the fighting. It has not been long since the battle began, but it feels like an eternity. My limbs feel heavy with exhaustion. Yet, again I lift my sword to parry the incoming blow from an axe and another man joins those who have perished. As my enemy falls to the ground, my vision narrows as I see…him.
For a moment I leave the present and return to a time of great sadness and anger. To the four graves I dug in the forest ground all those years before. A lifetime ago, yet it feels as if it happened yesterday. I feel the pain in my left hand once again as I cut it with my knife, the words of the blood oath coming from the bottom of my heart, binding me to avenge those who had died. I had spent many days and sleepless nights wondering when, or even if; I would ever have the chance for vengeance. After years of searching and questioning, listening to reports from spies, commoners, and travellers from near and far, and fruitless searches through forests and hills; now I have finally found him.
Returning to the present time, I remembered the anger I had once felt. I had allowed it to dull with the passage of time; but the anger had never left, it had only slumbered, waiting to be awakened. Waiting for the day that it would taste vengeance. My kelarin had fallen earlier, shortly before a fight with a rather skilled two handed swordsman. Twisting the sword staff in my hand I yelled out the name of that man whom I hated to the core of my being. After destroying a soldier who had attempted to sneak up behind him, he turned. Upon seeing the one who had called, he threw back his head and laughed; the laugh of the madman!
"So, after all this time searching for me you finally found me," he said in a mocking tone. "It took you long enough. What happened, too busy burying the dead I left in my wake?"
A part of me knew that he was taunting me to fight, but in my anger and thirst for vengeance, any semblance of rational thought had left me. Completely forgetting all the laws of honor, to which I had been bound all my life; I yelled in reply, "The day you came to my home and took all that I had held dear was the day you signed your own death warrant you murderer!"
"Big words for a little child! Come boy and I will make you suffer for an entire day before I kill you and display you as a trophy." He took his large double headed war axe in one hand beckoning to me with the other. "Come boy. Come and meet death!"
Like the fool I was, I used the fresh energy that anger had given to me and started to run. With each step I grew closer to vengeance. I felt the grip on the kelarin tighten. My vision narrowed. I no longer saw the dead or dying, nor the men that still fought on. I no longer heard the sounds of battle, or anything else. For that moment, all of my senses and all of my being were focused on the man who had changed my life so drastically all those years ago. I opened my mouth and with all the breath and will I had within me, gave voice the battle cry of my ancestors, "Somnar selanarrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"
Still giving voice to the war cry, I awoke. The sheets of my bed were soaked with sweat. My head pounded and my old bones ached with the memory of that battle of long ago. The door to my chambers burst open as the guards outside my room entered with haste, fearing for my life. "My Lord Tinoc, are you alright, where is the assassin?!" said the youngest of the night guards.
The eldest of the guards, a man of forty who had seen several years of active service with the army asked, in only a slightly more reasonable tone, "Are you alright milord, was it another dream, or were you really in trouble this time?"
I looked on, seeing not them but the face of my hated enemy; I shook my head in an attempt to clear the memory from it.
"My Lord Tinoc, are you alright?! Shall I summon the healers, or the palace guards? Are you hurt at all?" The young guard babbled. His inexperience painfully obvious next to the elder guards who were more reserved, though still concerned. This was not the first time this had occurred on their watch, though for the youngest this was clearly a new experience. Perhaps he had not heard the rumors?
"I have not been physically harmed. Though; if it had been an assassin, young man, I would already be dead, the killer long gone; and you would be ignorant of the entire situation!" My words came across more sternly than intended, owing to my state of mind, but my words held truth. The older guards stood stiffly to attention, as did the younger, though with slightly bowed shoulders like that of a saddened dog!
I looked on the lad with a hint of compassion in my eyes. "Fear not" I said in a kinder tone; "you have years ahead of you and I have no doubt that you will learn many things. Including how to be more alert and observant in your duties!"
The youngest guard nodded, and squared his shoulders at the suggestion of continued service.
The third guard, who has also doubled as a manservant for me during the night hours, cleared his throat. "Humph, quite right my Lord. Was there anything you require of us before you return to your sleep?" He knew, as well as I, what my reply would be, as this was far from the first time this had occurred.
"Thank you, Serin. I would like you to get a glass of warm water from the kitchens, as well as, a small pitcher of watered down wine." The water was to ward off the chill in my body that had followed in the wake of the dream, the wine, to warm my soul. As they left, the eldest and youngest guard to return to their post with Serin to the kitchens; I called, "Serin, wait!" As he waited with a questioning look I said, "After Prince Erhan has awakened, please ask him to join me in my quarters. I shall be out on the balcony, taking in the first rays of the morning sun."
"Yes, my Lord. It shall be as you say. Shall I return and help you dress for the day?"
"I will not be doing anything that requires dressing up in fancy court clothing. Even if I did, I would not require your assistance in something so simple. I may be old, but I am not yet incapable of dressing myself!" I tried to say it as kindly as I could, truly I did. Yet, I could not prevent a slight edge from creeping into my voice.
Bowing deeply and with a slightly flushed face; Serin replied, "As you wish, my Lord," and left to do my bidding. I made a mental note to repay Serin for my tone of voice. Just because I had been disturbed from my rest by a nightmare, is no excuse to take it out on someone who has been a faithful and trustworthy servant.
As the door shut, I slowly got out of bed and proceeded to get dressed for the day. I was slightly slower than usual as I was replaying the nightmare in my head. While some men my age would do little more than stay in a chair reading or contemplating days long gone, I still went to great lengths to preserve my good health and relatively good physical condition. On most days I would head down to the practice courts, after a hearty breakfast, and terrify a few new recruits. They were mostly of the opinion that one of the greatest warriors of the age was now an old man who did little more than sleep and talk. The guards were greatly entertained, watching as I would duck and dodge their feeble attempts to hit my blade and soundly beating them using my decades of accumulated military knowledge; though, not with the greatest range of motion. I made my way out to the balcony, awaiting the arrival of dawn, and my water and wine.
As the warm water trickled down my throat and began to ward off the chill of my dream, my thoughts turned to lighter things. I looked out over the city. I could make out many of its buildings and a few people stirring in the predawn light. Carene was once a crumbling, ancient city of a few merchants and peasants. Its glory, long lost to the years of history that it had seen. It had been restored after years of labour. Many people had worked diligently to create a city of commerce and trade once again. The peak of the King's Tower, which was the highest building in the city, turned from stone grey to a deep red, slowly turning to the colour of gold as the sun began to rise from its place of slumber. As the first rays of the sun began to shine on the balcony, I felt a shudder of joy start at the base of my neck and spread to the rest of my body; chasing away the last remnants of fear from the nightmare I had experienced just an hour earlier. I felt warm; not only in body, but also in spirit. Despite what had occurred all those years ago, the day was young, fresh and filled with life. So long as the sun was shining and men lived free, there would always be hope.
Soon after the sun rose, I heard a knock at the door. While the strength was fading from my limbs as I grew older my hearing was still as good as it was in my youth, or so I'd like to think. "Enter!" I called and the door opened. I closed my eyes, listening as two sets of feet, and the smell of warm cider, biscuits, ham, and fruit, came up behind me.
"His Royal Highness, Prince Erhan!" Announced Serin, as he and the well-dressed young man came to stand, or in Erhan's case sit, beside me. Erhan was like his father, tall and fairly well built; yet like his mother he was gentle, and he possessed wisdom far beyond his seventeen years.
"Thank you very much Serin, for bringing the prince to me and breakfast. You are a faithful servant and a trustworthy man." He straightened, almost invisibly, at the compliment. "Please leave us and only return at the lunch hour with food and drink. Tell me when supper is ready and we will go down to the main hall. Until then we are not to be disturbed, not even by the cleaning maids. Have guards posted at the head of the stairs leading to these chambers to make sure no one disturbs us."
If he was curious as to the reasoning behind this odd request he did not show it, beyond a raised eyebrow. "Very well, my Lord, but how shall you call for me if there is none to hear?"
"I shall not have need of you, Serin. Now please, do as I wish." I said firmly, leaving no room for argument. He nodded, bowed, and left the room.
"What you have to say must be quite important Uncle, for you to send everyone away so no one could possibly overhear." I love listening to Erhan's voice; it is soft like his mothers, and yet filled with the authority and strength of his father. These qualities put together made it so that whenever he speaks people listen and the conversation usually sways in his favour. He will be a fine king someday. "Serin told me that you awoke early today. That makes it four days this week that you have been troubled by dreams. Do you wish to confide in me, to share what troubles you, so that you may ease this burden?" He uttered these words showing care and concern for me, which made me realize all the more how great of a man he would become someday, someday soon.
"Erhan, my dear boy," I said with a sigh in my voice, "you are just like your mother, peace be upon her memory. Like you, she sought to put at ease those around her by sharing in their troubles and burdens. You, like her, are filled with compassion and the desire to help others. This is desirable in anyone, though in a king to be, it should be tempered with the knowledge of when to act."
"Yes, Uncle." The young prince said, acknowledging my wisdom and years of experience. Though we were not related by blood, from infancy the young prince had called me his uncle and I, in turn loved him as I would my own son.
"Erhan, this day has been long in coming. You will grow to be a great man and a powerful king. You will be greatly loved by the people, even as your father is. However, a king needs wisdom and knowledge to guide him in what is right. I am not perfect, yet my years have given me much knowledge. Despite the mistakes I have made, I have become very wise in the eyes of most men." I said gravely.
"Uncle, I know that you are wise and that you have made very few mistakes in your many years from what I can see and have heard. You have done all you can to uphold our laws of justice and freedom. You have done so honourably, with precious few mistakes along the way."
"In part, what you have said is true;" At this point, I leaned forward and looked at him straight in his pale green eyes, "but my actions were not always governed by the laws I hold so dear!" I leaned back again. Taking as sip of my cooling cider, it was still warm and contained with a hint of lemon and cinnamon; just the way I like it. "How much do you know of my life, young prince?" I studied Erhan, seeing how he would react to my question.
Erhan frowned, looking as if he was carefully choosing what to say. He replied, "Your story is your own my Lord," speaking very formally; "but there are few in the land that do not know of the past deeds that you have done in the name of peace and justice for this land and its' people. Though, as the son of one of your closest friends, I know more than most."
I sat still for a moment, basking in the warm sunshine and drained the last of my cider. I then straightened and clasped my hands together. The prince too, straightened. He had seen this pose before; it meant a discussion of sorts would follow. The subjects we discussed varied considerably; from military tactic and history lessons, to discussions concerning the life of the common farmer on the plains of Aroon. Yet, this discussion, if it could be called that, would be very different from the others.
"Erhan, I have seen and done many things in my life. Some things, as you have said, are common knowledge to most. While some details of my life and who I am are known only to a few, very few. Truth be told, only a handful of people know most about what has happened to me in the earlier years of my life. But no one, not even your father Berone, knows what it is that compelled me to do what I have done throughout the course of my life. If you would hear of it, I would like to tell you of my life's story, all of it. I will not tell you what you must believe of what I am about to tell you, but know that it is the truth. In reality, I have made many mistakes as a leader and as a person. These mistakes have cost this land and myself, dearly. If you will hear me out and take to heart what I tell you, maybe you can gain wisdom from them and avoid the mistakes and tragedies that have occurred in my life. Will you hear me out?" I looked at his eyes, reading them for a sign of what thoughts were occurring to him as I spoke.
Not surprisingly, I saw, at first confusion, then interest. As I posed my question I saw curiosity, then concern. He was silent for a moment. Then he answered, solemnly; "I would consider it an honour my Lord, if you would share with me your story. I will take it to heart and hold on to its wisdom."
I hesitated for a moment, suddenly unsure. Is he ready? Should I tell him all, or should I soften that which is difficult for me to say? No, it is best that he knows all. "Then listen and hear my story, but I warn you, parts of it will horrify you and parts of it you will already know. So please bear with me and know it is not easy for me to say. Though I had a life before this one, this life really began with blood, the shedding of blood, which changed my life forever."