A/N: Hello all! After the exhausting experience of writing Five Great Charters, I am finally posting another multi-chapter story. This one will be similar to FGC in that it will have an ensemble cast from all three Bloodlines, as well as non-Bloodline characters. Unlike FGC, it will be a continuous tale. And hopefully a bit shorter. The story will be told from the POV of characters on both sides of a rebellion against the King. Enjoy!
The New Guard
A family sat around the table in the back room of an inn, having dinner in silence. The mother glanced at a young teenaged girl. "Eat up, Jyss."
The girl poked at her food with a fork. "I don't like it."
Her father sighed. "Jyss, we've been over this before. The merchant ships haven't come to Belisaere since the barbarians took over. There isn't a lot of choice in the market anymore."
"Then the Army should take Belisaere back."
Her two parents exchanged knowing glances. "The Royal Army was defeated," her father said gently. "The King was killed. They say only one of his children survived, and he is at sea with the remainder of the Royal Guard."
"Well, he should take Belisaere back," the girl grumbled.
Her mother put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Someday he will," she soothed. "There was a time when the Royal Guard could have driven these barbarians away, but not today. For now, we keep our heads down and get by however we can. Don't worry, Jyss. This invasion will soon be over, and a King will sit on the throne once more."
Jyss stood outside the door and nervously smoothed down her new Corporal's uniform. Fresh out of training, she had never even seen the inner corridors of the palace before. Personally, Jyss found the high vaulted ceilings and ornate decoration rather intimidating, but she was determined to make a good impression on her very first day as an officer of the Royal Guard. It was a precarious time to become a Royal Guard, with the rebellion and the looming threat of civil war, but she had trained long and hard for this position and was ready for anything.
The door banged open and a guard with the badge of a Lieutenant strode out, followed by the nervous-looking secretary who had taken Jyss' introductory papers. The officer raked her gaze over Jyss before turning to the secretary. "Is this her?" At his timid nod, the Lieutenant turned on her heel and set off down the corridor at a quick march, motioning for Jyss to follow. The young guardswoman hurried to catch up, falling into step at the senior officer's side.
"I am Lieutenant Sonchia," said the woman briskly. "Welcome to the Royal Guard, Corporal." Jyss opened her mouth to thank the other woman, but was quickly interrupted: "Are you aware of the particular duty to which you have been assigned?"
"No, Lieutenant," said Jyss, slightly stunned by the abrupt manner of her reception.
"It says on your record that you were top of your platoon in Magic and Swordsmanship," said the officer, turning suddenly into a corridor. Jyss nearly slid on the marble floor in her attempts to keep up. "You are twenty-two, correct? Well young or old, we have need of a good Charter Mage to serve the King as a personal aide."
Jyss stared at the older woman, wondering if she had heard correctly. "A – a personal aide, Lieutenant?" she repeated.
The officer glanced at her irritably as they marched down the hall. "That is what I said, Corporal. You are to attend the King, bring him his meals, and run errands. You will be on call at all hours of the day and night. Do you find these arrangements objectionable?"
"No, Lieutenant, I –" Jyss had been caught off-guard by the question. She was acutely aware of the enormous honour being bestowed upon her, but the assignment puzzled her. "I just wonder," she said a bit timidly, "why these duties cannot be carried out by the palace servants."
"With the rebels at large, the King is in a great deal of danger," said Lieutenant Sonchia. "He insists on being surrounded by a diamond of protection at all times. It is required that his personal aide have the ability to cast one upon command, and to break one should the need arise. As for the particular need for a trained Royal Guard to perform these duties…" The Lieutenant glanced at Jyss. "The King can be quite unpredictable. It is in the best interests of all that we choose someone who can defend herself."
A strange feeling settled in Jyss' gut that had little to do with ordinary first-day nerves. "If I may ask, Lieutenant," she said hesitantly, "what happened to the Corporal who previously held this post?"
A muscle near Sonchia's eye twitched as they stopped and waited for two guards to open a set of Charter-spelled double doors. "The King was displeased with him," she said finally. The Lieutenant turned to meet Jyss' gaze full-on. "I will not lie to you, Corporal. The King happens to be the most powerful Charter Mage in the palace. He can be… intimidating."
Jyss gulped, and reluctantly followed the Lieutenant through the doors. She found herself in a vast antechamber, and Sonchia told her to wait patiently while still more guards removed a series of protective spells from a second set of double doors.
Jyss wondered what it was that she had gotten into. She had heard the rumours, of course, of the King's madness. Everybody had heard them, though nobody openly talked about that sort of thing. Over the past two years the King had become a recluse and removed himself from the public eye, so the rumours remained unconfirmed. Nevertheless, speculation abounded as to the cause of his supposed madness, and as Jyss' parents had owned an inn, she had heard them all. Some were especially absurd, like the theory that spies from Ancelstierre had put poison on the King's crown that infected his brain when he put it on his head. Jyss did not truly care how it had happened, but there was one thing that she absolutely had to know. "Lieutenant," she asked in an undertone, "is it true that last year the King killed his wife?"
The older woman turned sharply to glare at her, and Jyss took an involuntary step back. The Lieutenant sighed and shook her head, looking at Jyss with something close to sympathy. "Do not listen to rumour," she said in a more gentle tone of voice than Jyss had yet heard from her. "The King had his wife put to death for adultery. That is the truth."
The doors finally opened, and Jyss could feel soft gusts of magic as the protective spells fell away. The Lieutenant gave her a slight nod. "Good luck." Before Jyss could respond, Lieutenant Sonchia strode forward, leading the way into the room. "King Rothain," she announced in a ringing voice. "I present Corporal Jyss of the Royal Guard."
The first thing that Jyss noticed was a tall elderly man wearing judicial robes of black and white. He was standing very straight, gazing out of a large window that leaked sunlight between the pillars. He had a stern, shrewd face, and his gnarled hands were clasped behind his back.
The second thing that Jyss noticed was the throne at the end of the pillar-lined hall. As promised, a powerful diamond of protection gleamed around it. And in that throne sat a figure clad in red and gold. Her heart was pounding in her chest as she followed Lieutenant Sonchia over the marble floor, and she could barely breathe as she dropped down onto one knee. When she finally got the courage to glance up, Jyss realized that the King was not even looking at her. This was mildly encouraging, and the young Corporal got her first real look at King Rothain.
He was younger than she had expected, and telling by how his knees jutted out from the throne he would be very tall when standing. Jyss also thought that he looked quite ill. He was so pale that she could faintly see the veins under his skin. His face was covered with a thin sheen of sweat, and his curly brown hair stuck to his forehead. But what disturbed Jyss most of all were his eyes. They looked over-bright and feverish, and had the odd habit of flicking slightly to one side or the other as if tracking the progress of an invisible fly. Jyss suppressed a shiver. So one of the rumours was true. Poison crown or not, there was no denying the fact that the King was mad.
Slow footsteps rapped on the marble floor, and the old man came into view, standing at the side of the throne just outside of the diamond of protection. "Welcome, Corporal Jyss," he said quietly. Everything about him seemed quiet. "I am Chancellor Oraz, regent to the King." With his black and white robes, Jyss thought that he resembled an old magpie – but a dignified one nonetheless.
Chancellor Oraz turned to the King, who was still watching the progress of the invisible fly. "Your Majesty," he said, "your new personal guard has arrived."
The King's eyes suddenly ceased their roving and focussed on Jyss, and she wished that they hadn't. There was something terribly ruthless about the disinterest in those glassy eyes. It struck her that a man like this was capable of killing without remorse. She did not dare look away.
"She has only just finished her training," said Oraz. "She requires your protection."
King Rothain showed no sign that he had heard the Chancellor, and Jyss felt her fists clenching as she struggled to hold the madman's gaze. Then without any warning at all, the diamond of protection dissolved. The King leaned forward in his throne and stretched out a pale hand, fingers splayed. Jyss glanced uncertainly at Lieutenant Sonchia, who gave her a reassuring nod. Jyss was a skilled Mage, and she could feel incredible force gathering within the King, focussing in his palm, getting ready to unleash upon her – what? She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable.
Suddenly, pure golden warmth seemed to envelop Jyss from head to toe. She relaxed, and very faintly she could hear a sweet musical sound – a tinkling echo like chimes? Soon it was over and Jyss opened her eyes, amazed that she was still alive. She gazed up at Lieutenant Sonchia, who looked quite relieved, before turning to Oraz. The Chancellor smiled at her kindly. "You now carry the King's protection, Corporal" he said, and Jyss could not help smiling back.
She then looked at King Rothain, who was staring at a point on the ground several feet to the left of her. She bowed her head, and murmured, "I thank you, Highness." She did not expect a reaction, and she did not receive one. Jyss got to her feet. At the signal of the Lieutenant she took up her position at the side of the King's throne.
Everything seemed to have gone as well as could be expected. She could only hope that her first posting would not kill her.
A/N: Poor Jyss; I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. If events seem a bit unclear now, a fuller explanation will come along later. I believe chapter 5 will lay everything out. Meanwhile reviews, as always, are welcome.