And He Sat On The Edge Of Skies: Chapter 1
When I heard of Mercedes' return to Gran Soren, my interest was piqued with the excited whispers of a new Arisen, who had escorted her party. I had heard of the Arisen as a young boy, when my nursemaids would recite tales to entertain me on days with ill weather that kept me indoors. While I had long outgrown such outlandish stories, I would still like to meet this man who reportedly single-handedly slew a hydra and see if he were the slightest akin to those stories from my childhood, and so I set off to observe this Arisen for myself.
The first time I set my eyes on him however, it was not only with some reservations, but also with a taste of disdain. This – this boy was the Arisen? Granted, that tribute of a hydra's head to the duke was no small feat, but I had suspected that the youth had plenty of help. There were other soldiers in that encampment, after all.
And he had not actually killed the hydra, correct? He merely managed to cleave off one of the monster's many heads. All knew that in order to vanquish the massive beast, one had to kill not one, but all of its serpentine heads. Mercedes may be easily impressed, but I have much higher standards than that bleating she-goat.
I remained in the shadows of an alley, where I was free to watch the boy unnoticed. Said boy was standing near the fountain in the urban quarter, marvelling at the stalls and shops. 'Tis seemed that it was his first encounter with the capital, from his delighted mien of an excited provincial. He had hair the colour of ripe wheat, lightly sun-kissed skin, and eyes the colour of the very sea that edged Cassardis, the fishing village this so-called Arisen hailed from. Several strangers – his pawns likely, as their faces lacked emotion – stood near him. Two were magic-users, while another a tall, bulky warrior wielding a hammer; a contrast to the youth, who was lightly armoured and had a pair of daggers strapped to his waist, as well as a bow and a quiver full of arrows on his back, which I saw in full view as he leaned over the fountain to point out something to his companions.
But mayhap I had judged him too harshly, I chided myself. I had unfairly expected someone who had to live up to tales and legends, whereas such tales and legends are far from the current reality. While this so-called Arisen was young – likely he had not seen his twenty-fifth summer – he certainly had the air of someone who was used to wielding weapons. He will have plenty of opportunities to prove himself.
And then of course, he had to ruin his own reputation by falling into the fountain, much to the amusement of the city folk, and to the aghast to one of the mage-pawns, who quickly sought to retrieve his drenched Master.
The second time I laid my eyes on the Arisen was on an occasion neither expected, nor welcomed. While the first was in the bright, bustling city of Gran Soren, the second was in the dark, musty catacombs, where the members of Salvation – and I, garbed as the Night's Champion – attended their gathering.
I only half-listened to Elysion's mad ramblings on the soul's inchoateness while his enchanted followers paid zealous attention, but his next few words caught everyone's attention – invited or not.
"Come to join our flock, Arisen?" Elysion asked aloud, and then blasted away with a spell. Part of the upper levels fell in a loud cascade of stone and rubble, and when the dust settled, the Arisen slowly stood from where he had landed on the floors of the Gathering Hall. I swiftly slipped away under the cover of confusion, for I could not risk having my identity revealed. I did not leave immediately however, for I wanted to witness how the Arisen would deal with Elysion and his spectral minions. If the boy was able to make his way here within Salvation's own heart, then surely he would be able to handle the consequences.
I was not disappointed.
Even though he was interfering with some of my own designs, I had to admit that the boy fought well, and surprisingly, so did his pawns. My limited experience with pawns had been frustrating; while the creatures resembled men, their behaviour was otherwise. While most performed reasonably enough as single fighters, they had difficulties fighting in a larger unit and comprehending commands in battle.
The pawns in this new Arisen's company however, were nothing like the seemingly-mindless shells I was accustomed to. They were well-trained, and battled with the passion and ferocity equal to if not more than that of the men I have under my personal command. One in particular struck my eye; a sorcerer garbed in blue robes who paid greater attention to his Master than the others. The pawn flung magical balls of flame and light at their enemies, but was always ready with a hand to steady his Master, who occasionally over-exerted himself.
I then left, for I already knew who would win the battle.
I looked forward to seeing the boy again.
Our third meeting was weeks later, in Edmun Dragonsbane's audience chamber. By then the capital – and I daresay, almost all of Gransys – was eager and thrilled over the news of the Arisen's feats and exploits. The duke himself was impressed enough to grant the boy an audience in his court. I myself had earlier dismissed some of the Arisen's feats as mere childhood tales, but after witnessing his actions in the catacombs and hearing high praise for him from Ser Maximilian Eizenstern – one of the few in Gran Soren whose word I could rely on – I must confess that I was wrong about the boy.
Nevertheless, not all were so delighted with the newly Arisen's rising star. There were whispers in the city streets, mocking the 'fisher knight', even accusing him of being an impostor who so eagerly sought the duke's favour, he had even hired numerous underlings to act as his pawns in some elaborate and ridiculous charade. Similar quiet murmurings were also heard in the duke's halls, some of them courtesy of that wretched little man, Feste, but some were from other nobles and knights.
Alas, the Arisen's entrance into the court, while certainly memorable, was not the impressive one he had likely hoped for. The poor boy looked bewildered, clearly taken aback by the massive chamber; the nobles and knights in their rich silks and burnished plate and mail, in contrast to his own well-worn clothes and dull armour; and last but not least, the presence of the Dragonsbane himself. It did not help that the boy's head was adorned with a jester's crown – Feste's sly doing, no doubt – and those in attendance laughed mockingly at him. Mercedes and I were the only ones, it seemed, who were disgusted with the court's appalling behaviour, and with good reason. The boy had done far more in the span of a few weeks than what some of these nobles have accomplished in their combined miserable lifetimes. He deserved far more respect – even from his enemies.
The duke's own reception of the Arisen fortunately, silenced the mocking from the court. Apart from a remark made in jest on the boy's crown, His Grace greatly welcomed his assistance, and granted him the freedom to travel as a member of the Wyrm Hunt. A meaningful look from the duke then silenced any fool who thought of uttering a word – openly, at least – against the decision.
A few members of the court sought to have a word with the Arisen after he was dismissed from the duke's audience, including that she-goat. None, I noted wryly, had the courtesy to remove or even point out the atrocity on the Arisen's head. I considered remedying that myself, when the boy's gaze met mine and his eyes widened in... recognition? Surely not, for that fleeting glimpse in the catacombs would not have been enough to raise his suspicion that I was present at that gathering as the Night's Champion. Alas, he was whisked away by one of the nobles before I could say a word, and when I looked for him again in the crowd, he was gone.
I thought nothing more of it, certain that I had naught to worry about.
Once I had spent enough time that decorum required of me, I made my excuses and left the gaggle of simpering nobles for the gates. When the portcullis was raised in order for my exit, I noticed that Ser Maximilian was in conversation with none but the Arisen himself. The boy and the Captain of the Hunt were so engaged in their discussion that my arrival would have gone unnoticed if the pawn at the Arisen's side had not discreetly directed his Master's attention.
"Lord Julien," the boy greeted with a slight nod, and there it was again when he raised his head; a slight widening of the eyes, and a flash of an expression that I could not fathom across his face.
"Arisen," I said, "I see that you have lost your crown."
"Her Grace was kind enough to remove it, else I would never have noticed," he replied, his cheeks flushing slightly as he stared at his feet.
His reaction somewhat amused me. Here was yet another young man who was infatuated with the Lady Aelinore; pray that he had enough sense to leave it at just that. The duke would not tolerate any disrespect or offence against the young duchess.
"I shall remember to avoid that jester the next time I enter the castle," he added softly to himself, but I heard him all the same.
"What's this about a crown? I take it something happened in the castle?" Ser Maximilian asked. Even the pawn who stood nearby looked curiously at his Master.
"Nothing of import," I said, sparing the boy further embarrassment.
I noted that the pawn at the Arisen's side was the same blue-clad sorcerer who accompanied him in the catacombs, and mayhap the same one I saw retrieving the boy from the fountain on the day he arrived in Gran Soren. He was dark of hair and eyes, with pale skin; a contrast to his Master's own colouring. He also seemed to be about the same age as his Master, but who could tell with myrmidons? Pawn and Master made an unusual but interesting pair, I decided.
The Arisen must have noticed how my gaze had fallen on the pawn, for he immediately made an introduction. "Lord Julien, this is Lucas. My loyal companion."
This Lucas possessed better manners than his Master, for he brought one arm to his chest and bowed his head, the tiniest of smiles on his lips. "An honour, ser," he said. He certainly had more emotion than the other pawns I have seen; certainly more than that blank-faced man in charge of the Pawn Guild. Mayhap the old stories about the Arisen giving them life had a grain of truth in them, I mused. But those musings are for another time, for I had my own business to attend to, and so did the Arisen.
"We were just discussing the details of the Arisen's next mission," Ser Maximilian explained.
I nodded. "Then I will not keep you any further, sers. I bid you good day."
"Another mission already? So eager to tempt fate again, Master?" the pawn asked, his tone wry.
"Oh, do not worry about it, Lucas," replied the Arisen.
I had not gone far, so I had no difficulties in hearing the boy's next few words.
"I make my own fate."