CHAPTER ONE (Hellacre13)
Kal-el was standing in the middle of the room and facing his accusers who sat above him on elevated benches. He stood like a statue,head bowed,the early morning light filtering through the high east windows; it illuminated the crown of his black head and the stark white of his shirt that now hung loosely from his broad shoulders. He had been stripped of the surcoat and armor that once proclaimed his identity. That revered and respected Order in the kingdom of Metria,the Knights of Kandor. He,who had been the most admired and venerated of the guild of warriors,now stood disgraced.
High Elder Jonathan sat with his forehead resting on his hand. Sitting on either side of him were his fellow Elders,Ganthet and Izaya. They were listening to the man who had brought the charges to be taken up and judged by their Council.
Baron Alexander,a noble of the House of Luthor,was now ranting about dark forces and devilry. He was recounting to the audience the many incidences that Kal-el had used this "evil" to advance himself over his brethren. From winning the annual tournaments in the kingdom to earn the title of Champion to getting respect and adulation from the people. Many also knew what really rankled was that Kal-el had won the heart of a certain lady of the court the Baron himself had been pursuing.
Alexander fumed, "You Kandorian Knights have prided yourselves on not utilizing any forces of magic. You have helped ease the lives of our people by helping us protect and serve the monarchy of this kingdom!! This...man,he is a traitor to the very principles you live by!!! "
The High Elder winced inwardly. Ganthet and himself had been responsible for Kal-el keeping his abilities secret. They had told him it was a gift from their God,Rao. They had encouraged Kal-el in believing it would make him an even better knight. It had been eight years ago when he turned eighteen,the "gift" had begun to manifest itself. From having the ability to lift twice his own weight,Kal-el could now probably hoist the two huge columns that supported the domed roof on his shoulders. From having a a remarkable ability to recover from illness and wounds,he seemed able to heal from any kind of injury in seconds. Even his hearing and sight had always been remarkable for a mere man. No doubt that would now be deemed as suspect.
Alexander looked around at the grim faces of the Council. " This Order,as I recall,is based on truth and equality. It is one thing that he possesses arcane powers that seem to shield him from harm...even death it seems...but what is worse, he lied to you,to the king and the people !!"
Izaya asked,"Has anyone else seen this dark craft at work...?"
One knight shouted,"Last year I witnessed the whole face of a wall fall upon several of our brothers...many were injured but he was unscathed. Not a scratch on him!!"
Another added, "I saw a lance pierce his armor two years ago. It appeared to have embedded itself right over his heart. Blood had stained his garments and there was a gaping hole when he pulled the spear out. But when he removed his breastplate and shirt, he had not a mark on his body!"
"I saw a mace shatter against his shield arm!!"
Several others added their voices,until Ganthet raised his hand. "Enough. I believe the Council has enough to make a judgment. "
Jonathan asked," Does the accused have anything to say? ''
Kal-el's head raised. Eyes the color of the sky met Jonathan's mournful ones. In a voice that was clear and unwavering,he replied,"All he has said is the truth."
Alexander appealed dryly to the assembly, "And how long has he known this?"
"For eight years," Kal-el replied at once.
There were disapproving looks and murmurs.
"And he knowingly kept this from you!!??" he mocked.
Kal-el looked around at his fellow knights and said honestly,"Yes. I did. I know not from where my ability comes and it did not come all at once but I have always pledged to do good,to fulfill our oath...'To protect the weak, and defenseless and fight for the well-being of all.' I would die before I used it for a darker purpose."
Izaya said grimly, "Be that as it may,you have betrayed this Order by harboring a secret that goes against our codes. You must pay the penalty."
Jonathan looked at the audience soberly. "The charge is for use of arcane power and deception. What is the decision of this Council?"
One by one,they all rose. Several shook their heads as if abstaining. It was too painful to sentence him. But the majority were agreed on one sentence."Expulsion from the Order."
Ganthet looked at Jonathan who seemed unable to pick up the gavel. He reached over and took it and rapped on the table.
"Kal-el,you have been stripped of all rights and privileges to call yourself a Knight of Kandor. You are hereby expelled from this Order. However,in view of your years of faithful service,which cannot be forgotten,you have been granted permission to clear your chamber and leave this place. Whether you remain in Metria is no concern of ours but I would suggest you leave before it is found out why you were disgraced. The population are not kind to fallen heroes."
He did not have many possessions. Much of his clothing were warrior's robes,armor and weapons,all of which had been seized. He was left with the shirt on his back,his breeches,a leather jerkin,boots,a cloak,a couple of books and a hunter's knife. He had some money; being a man with simple tastes,he never wasted what he had earned. That would support him for a while until he could find a way to earn his living. He looked around the chamber. It was a simple room but he had known it all his life. He was one of the few that had been reared under the auspices of the Order. He had been left upon the steps of the Guildhall when he was only a year old. He had grown up calling men like Jonathan and Ganthet father and it was all he knew. He occasionally thought about his birth parents but he had never tortured himself over being abandoned. His life had been a good one...until now.
There was a gentle knock on the door . He called,"Come."
It was his squire,James. He was a slim boy with flaming hair and looked no more than sixteen summers He looked miserable as he entered.
Kal-el turned. "What did she say?"
James said sadly, "The Lady Lois cannot meet you, sir. She said she cannot risk it. Once it is known what happened, she herself would be jeered at for even favoring you. I am very sorry."
Kal-el's jaw clenched. He said woodenly, "I see. Very well. Then there is little need for me to idle here."
James blurted,"I wish I could come with you.'
Kal-el gave him a wry look,"Do you? I think not. I do not even know which direction I will be going. It is better you stay . There are many here who would have you as their squire."
"At least they did not seize your steed."
Kal-el picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulders."For which I am most grateful."
James sighed,"I doubt Lightning would let anyone but you mount him . "
" I must leave and you should not be seen walking out with me. Farewell,little brother,I hope we meet again under brighter circumstances."
"Farewell,sir. Rao watch over you."
As he walked out onto the courtyard to mount his white steed,eyes watched him . He could sense them all,boring into his back,from every window and recess. Alexander stood under the colonnade archway with some other knights as he awaited his carriage to be brought around. He smirked. Kal-el ignored him. He looked up to see the two Elders, Jonathan and Ganthet,looking upon him from a high balcony. Their faces were grave. He bowed his head respectfully, spurred his horse forward and disappeared though the gates.
Jonathan heaved a sigh. "He was our best Knight. It is ironic that they condemn him but if only they knew why this brotherhood was even founded.''
Ganthet said grimly,"Indeed but we must maintain our position,as painful as it seems. We cannot risk anyone discovering that we harbor one of the most powerful,magical weapons on First-Earth."
Jonathan nodded. "Few would suspect we have it here hidden in the bowels of the Guildhall."
Ganthet looked down upon Alexander strolling across the courtyard to climb into his carriage and go back to his Manor. "He always loathed him. He could not bear it that some common, abandoned boy bested him,a noble of the house of Luthor,at everything. Look at him strutting like a peacock. The arrogant fool. "
Jonathan looked at the horizon. "Kal-el is gone now and we never really told him the truth."
Ganthet shook his head. "It is better he does not know. Too many dangers lie there. We must have faith he prospers in whatever he undertakes. We will pray for him."
Kal-el was dreaming the same dream. He kept seeing a woman's face above him. She was crying and swaddling him with something warm. It was red and there was some strange gold marking upon it. Then she seemed to be fading away from him. A man's face appeared above him. Everything went dark and then he was falling.
He jerked awake with a start and saw he was lying on his sleeping roll in a glade in the woods. The fire he had lit to keep away the wolves and wild creatures were now just glowing embers. He shivered. Cold was not something he was immune to and the autumnal night air was biting. He sat up,keeping his cloak wrapped around him,and stoked the embers,blowing upon them to get the fire burning. He sighed. This dream had plagued him in the last few months. It made no sense. Yet he could pick out the face of the man and woman if he saw them. Their sadness so visible and distinct. Who were they? Did this even mean anything?
He looked up at the night sky and the pale moon that shone down upon the frost on the leaves and grass. A year had passed since he had left Metria. He had traveled across the Rann mountains,the Plains of Tamaran and entered the Kingdom of Almerac. He had maintained himself by doing jobs many might have considered lowly. From a spell as a gamekeeper to helping a farmer during the harvest season. It had given him a warm bed at nights and a meal three times a day. It allowed him to use his money wisely to commission a blacksmith to forge him a sword,shield,a plain but strong cuirass and hire his services out.
His last job had been as one of the armed escort of a spoiled,royal princess across Almerac to meet with her betrothed. The King had been impressed by him especially after he had rescued his daughter whilst she was in a runaway carriage; and when he had been offered a sizable amount to be part of the entourage,he had accepted. At the time he did not think being an escort would be difficult but Princess Maxima had been very taken with him and seemed to forget she was destined to marry someone else. Kal-el winced after recalling the near jealous rage of her betrothed,her tantrum at being rebuffed and how it had taken all his skills at negotiation to smooth everything over.
One thing was for certain. Royal women were not for him!
His thoughts drifted to the Lady Lois. She had not been royal but the daughter of a high ranking soldier in the army and she had seemed to favor him from the time they met at a tournament three years ago. She had even tied her colors to his shoulder. They had courted secretly and he was going to ask her father for permission to wed her,but by then his rival Lord Luthor had found out about his gifts and taken full advantage of it.
He had not even seen her to discuss how she felt about him and his secret. But he was not stupid. He knew her excuses meant she was too ashamed to be seen with him. He had hoped she would be different. It was too late now to regret what he could not change. It pained him to think a woman he loved may not have really been the kind of person he thought she was.
Lightning suddenly pricked his ears and neighed. Kal-el's sharp hearing could hear the crackle of leaves under foot and twigs breaking. Someone was out there. He reached for the hunter's knife and slipped it into his belt. He rose and scanned the woods. He slipped amongst the thick bushes and laid in wait. The footsteps were drawing closer. He saw a shadowy figure approach and when the form moved past,he swiftly reached out and captured the person by the neck in the crook of his arm.
He put the blade to his neck."Who are you? What are doing sneaking out here?"
The voice cried,"Kal-el!! Sir!! It is me!!!"
Kal-el's arm slacked at once and he spun the shorter figure around. He could see his former squire's pale visage in the moonlight. "James??!! What in Rao's name are you doing here??"
The squire grasped his arms convulsively."I...Thank Rao I found you!!! I have been looking for you for months!!! Through Rann,Tamaran...combing every inn...talking to the caravans...I had lost hope until...I came to Almerac...Oh sir,something has happened...!!! Something terrible!!!"