Young Kara wept quietly as she gazed out the castle tower window at the triumphant hordes of General Grancaliga’s army marching through the capital city of Merce Haelle far below. Though they seemed small and harmless from her lofty position situated within the upper level of the ancient mountainside fortress, like a pestilence, the soldiers quickly swarmed through the streets and arrived at the main castle gate in the lower levels.

Tears slowly trickled down the 16-year-old’s pale cheeks as the mighty gate and portcullis rose in anticipation of the advance column approaching the bridge spanning the deep moat. As they drew near, the guards on the watchtowers dropped their weapons and, with bowed heads, collected near the gate.

Kara’s amber eyes glowed as she left the window and stood in the center of her small room, the harsh cold wind blowing her long bluish white hair over her headscarf. Every time she seemed to regain her composure, another victorious roar from the city overwhelmed her.

In her hands, she clutched a bundle of manuscripts like a newborn infant, her chin lowered as she wiped away any tears before they fell on the fragile parchment. Carefully, she tucked the manuscripts inside her ice blue cloak, reaching for a small bag near her bed.

“How could it have come to this?” she whispered as she clasped her hands together in prayer. Her voice was faint as she raised her eyes to the ceiling.

The door abruptly opened as Telman entered. A rugged man in his mid-thirties, he wore a similar ice blue cloak over his leather armor. The end of his longsword’s scabbard stuck out from beneath the edge of his cloak. He had a somber but determined look on his face. In the hallway behind him were several armed men. Their faces were battered and bloodied, their equipment worn and dirty.

“These are the only Varexians left,” Telman said to Kara. “They’ve secured some horses for us. The old deer path leading outside the city is still open. But we must leave now.”

She was silent for a moment. “They just gave it up…”

“Everyone has given up…except you.”

“And you?”

Telman offered a wearied smile. “You and I don’t have that right.”

Kara nodded as she threw her cloak hood over her head. She joined Telman at the door. She looked back into the room at the desk in the corner.

“Oh, Telman, I do hope we come back here someday,” she said.

“I as well…if Grancaliga doesn’t burn it.”

Taking her hand, he pulled her into the corridor, closed the door, and joined the Varexians waiting for them in the corridor.

Minutes later, the door flew back as soldiers stormed into the room, their faces concealed by their thick helmets. Their grey tunics blended flawlessly with their heavy chainmail. With loosened grips, they held their short swords down at their sides. They surveyed the room for a moment, then called out into the corridor.

More soldiers arrived. Then they all stood erect as Grancaliga stooped under the doorway and entered the room. In his early forties, he was at least a head taller than the others. His white hair was cropped, his ascetic face clean and shaved. Like his soldiers, he wore a grey tunic clung tightly to his lean frame by a thick leather belt. His great sword was sheathed in a large scabbard slung over his back.

For a while, he was quiet. His presence left the soldiers in a tense state. Then he turned to one of his colonels standing behind him and spoke. His voice was like a bear’s growl, but smooth and subtle.

“Whose private chambers is this?” he asked.

“Kara, daughter of Reginald. She’s one of the few castle residents still unaccounted for.”

“Who else is missing?”

“Telman.”

Grancaliga chuckled softly. “I break the Varexian Army in a single day, the Elder Council votes to surrender, and now all Forenia is in my hands. Yet he still won’t quit.”

A messenger appeared and whispered in the colonel’s ear. Puzzled, he gestured for the man to stay as he hesitantly drew near to Grancaliga. “Sir, apparently the archive is empty; the religious and historical manuscripts are gone. One of our curriers also saw a small band of men on horse headed west from the castle.”

Grancaliga’s eyes narrowed on the desk. Approaching it with a sense of unfamiliarity, he opened one of the drawers. An unsettled expression fell across his face as he took out pieces of blank parchment, a quill pen, and an inkwell. He placed them on the desk before turning to the colonel.

“Have a small detachment of your best men ready to leave within the hour,” he said.

“What is happening?”

A brief exchange of looks with his general, and the colonel ordered the soldiers out of the room. He then approached Grancaliga by the desk. “Are we pursuing Telman? He’s no threat at this point.”

“The girl is.”

“How?”

He pointed at the items on the desk. “She can read our language…and write. Who else would have taken the religious texts except her? She is only person who can actually understand them.”

The words left the colonel speechless for moment as he studied the desk. “Where do you think she is headed?”

Grancaliga frowned. “Have you truly forgotten the legend?”

The colonel seemed perplexed at first, then his eyes widened. “Sir, forgive my boldness, but Impora is a beloved Forenian myth, nothing more.”

“Clearly, she believes otherwise. Besides, we know the king’s crown sealed within the top of this mountain is real. If she can read the text, she will know how to open the door, and she’ll know the Divinity Prayer.”

He paused, his gauntlet-clad hand forming a powerful fist. “As long as the crown exists, there will still be those with hope that a king will wear it once again. My rule must be absolute, or it is nothing at all.”

He loomed over the colonel with his imposing stature. While both shared the same amber eyes, Grancaliga’s gaze radiated a willpower so great it made the man tremble. “We must recover the girl at all costs…and alive.”

The colonel bowed. “I will assemble the men at once and instruct them accordingly!”

He departed, leaving Grancaliga alone in the room. He stared at the desk, then moved over to the window overlooking Merce Haelle. The entire capital was alit with torches as the soldiers paraded through the streets singing war songs in honor of their commander.

Smiling to himself, Grancaliga went back to the desk and picked up the items, holding the quill pen close to his face. “Merce Haelle will be the crown jewel of my kingdom. Yet it’s nothing compared to what now I’ve found.”

Placing the pen on the desk, he looked out and up high at the candlestick-like peaks of the Perelor Mountains scarcely visible in the great distance. “I was content to merely be supreme guardian. Now, I will become a god.”

***

For all installments from The Legend of Forenia: The Twilight Kingdom, click here.