When winter struck the Kingdoms of Lotherynheim and Valleriah, it was as though the lands had been thrown back in time to when ice and snow covered the Earth in a constant winter. The sky, which had once been a pale blue, was filled with grey clouds both day and night and the warm air had turned cold as the first flakes of snow had fallen gracefully to the ground. It appeared to the people that the month of autumn had been omitted as the emerald green grass was suddenly covered by a bed of snow overnight. Villages were no longer swarming with people but deserted as the inhabitants spent their time huddled in their homes shivering, but grateful that they were at least sheltered from the endless fall of snow and the howling winds which roared outside - if not from the cold itself. Parents feared for the lives of their children in case they were taken in their sleep by the harsh chill of the nights and few woke with a sense of relief washing over them in the mornings which followed to find their families alive to see another day.
By mid-winter, the nights were darker than ever and the only light which illuminated the thick layer of snow that concealed the ice-covered ground beneath from sight was that of the yellow moon overlooking the lands from the sky, and the few remaining flickers of the candle and fire light shining through the thin rectangular windows of Grimsby castle. Standing by the one of the windows of her bed chambers which looked out across the main courtyards at the front of the castle and the villages below and beyond was the Queen. However, her attention was not focused on the view ahead outside but on a small baby who was resting in her arms. One arm kept the baby against her chest whilst her free hand rested lightly on her son's cheek, her index finger stroking his chin gently. Her chambers were quiet all apart from the tune that she was humming, slow in pace and a lullaby to the sleeping babe that she had been cradling for the past hour. For his age, which was just under a year old, he was healthy and already a turf of red hair had begun to grow on his small head, as bright as a carrot against his pale gaze did not leave her sons face until the sound of the door opening behind her made her turn on the spot and her smile widened when she saw her husband, and King, walking towards her. He too had fiery red hair which was ruffled slightly and his eyes which were a sky-blue eyes gleamed at the sight of her and his son despite how tired he was bound to be. A Kings work seemed to be endless, even with the existence of his subjects, and it only ever ended when they were taken by the heavens above. Ester contained her concern as usual as she bowed her head at his entrance, even after all of the years she had known him and ever since she had grown used to his habits, she still admired his dedication to his kingdom and his people above his own health and wishes.
"Ester," He seemed to breathe her name in a sigh of relief as he came to a stop beside her, lifting a hand to hold her arm. "I was concerned, you weren't at the feast." Ester could hear the question of why behind his words and fought the temptation to roll her eyes.
"I understand the traditions of the North but if I am to be a mother to our son then I shall spend time with him myself and watch him grow, not hand him over to one of the nannies for them to raise." She replied matter-of-factually and her husband gave a light scoff and closed the remaining distance between them, leaning over the small child easily, to press his lips upon hers.
"Always so stubborn," He observed as he pulled away. "Shall I ever convince you of our ways?" Ester could tell that he already knew the answer but she still confirmed it with a shake of her head.
"I am my father's daughter." She reminded him proudly and watched as he rolled his eyes as though weary of hearing the fact.
"And you are my wife. Am I to battle with my own son for your attention?" He joked, chuckling as he reached out to take the child in his arms who was roused from his sleep at the sudden movement. A small cry escaped his pink lips as his eyes, the same colour of green as his mothers, opened.
"Perhaps," Ester responded, a cheeky smile playing on her lips. "But our son will be stubborn, it is a dominant trait in my side of the family as well as your own, Rollan. He will, no doubt, put up a fight."
"Hopefully he shall be stubborn, but not so much as to turn him arrogant." The king seemed to be talking to himself now and Ester watched him as he touched the boy's nose with the tip of his finger causing the baby to giggle. "Pray that he'll be a great king and a good one."
"With you as a father and mentor, he will be." Ester ensured him, placing a hand comfortingly on his shoulder and lifting the other to stroke the child's cheek once again. "He'll grow and we will love him and the people will love him." She could see the expression on her husband's face soften as he took the small child into consideration. Their first born child and a boy by luck. Giving birth to him had been the proudest moment of Esters life except perhaps her wedding day.
"A great King..." Rollan muttered thoughtfully to himself. "And no better name for him too. Phoenix. I can't help but think you chose that name on purpose." He cast a suspicious look towards Ester who gave a mischievous smile in response.
"It is only fitting, a Phoenix being the signet of your name." Ester also knew that there was a story behind the adoption of a phoenix as Rollans signet although she dared not to pester Rollan for the true story, even after all of these years. He had once given her brief details of his past willingly and Ester remembered being able to see the sadness behind his steely expression as he told her. From what he had divulged to her then, along with the rumours and known facts from history, Ester had managed to put together a story of sorts, one which was filled with adventure, sadness, loss, hope and death but had, in the very end a happy ending of sorts.
"The Phoenix King, by title and name." Rollan grinned, leaning down to press a wispy kiss on the child's forehead. The child opened his mouth to give a loud yawn, his eyes slowly failing to stay open as his head bobbed weakly. "The lad is tired and you must be hungry. Set him down and I'll have food delivered to you, you mustn't starve yourself or you'll fall ill again."
"One meal isn't going to make much difference." Ester told him, although she did as he advised and took the baby from him to place him in a small cradle in the corner of the room before returning to Rollan to kiss him once more. Had she stopped to look out of the window once more, she might have noticed the figure in the shadows moving in the direction of the castle gates.
The figure in speaking was a young man dressed in all black as to move easily through the shadows masking the ground below to most onlookers, had someone to see him in fact, his manner of leaving the castle may have aroused suspicion. The harsh wind which blew through the air sent his long black fur cloak billowing out behind him as he exited through the unguarded gates. One good thing about weather such as this and a king with a soft heart meant that there were no guards on patrol or stationed soldiers to keep track of who left or entered the castle and tonight, this was just what he needed. After exiting the large iron gates with ease, his stride turned from a prowl to a saunter and an air of confidence grew about him as he traveled down what would have been the cobblestone path that snaked through the village had it not been covered in multiple layers of white snow.
As he walked, his eyes rested on each of the cruck houses as he passed them and he seemed to only give each one in turn a fleeting glance before turning his attention to the next, obviously trying to locate a particular home. Finally, after having nearly reached the end of the first row of houses, he found what he was looking for. Slowing to a stop in front of a small cottage-like shack that looked much like the others, his eyes narrowed as he stared through the darkness. There was a dim light coming from inside and he could smell the smoke emitting from the fire as he drew closer. On the door, there was an engraving of a bare tree which seemed to glow blood red, what looked like flames licked at the trees trunk and at this strange sight, the young man gave a smile. As he approached the door he extended a hand towards it and just as his black glove had been about to made contact with the brass handle, the door was pulled open by someone inside and the sudden light which emitted from the cottage, although naturally dim, blinded him.
"My dear brother, you're earlier than expected." The woman who spoke had a voice like silk and once the man's eyes had adjusted to the light, he could see her more clearly. His sister looked very much like himself; both of them had dark hair with the exception that hers fell down past her shoulders in long waves and they both had pale skin that was the same colour as the snow beneath his feet. The only noticeable difference between them, aside from their gender, was that whereas his eyes were only ice-blue as their mothers had been, hers were a pale blue flecked with gold – a trait in any being who possessed the power of magic.
"It was easy leaving the castle." He said as he moved past her and entered the house. "The heavy snow was useful in covering my tracks if I was followed but I didn't see or sense anyone on my way here. You sent for me?" He added, his eyes studied the small shack. For a moment, he was filled with a mixture of bitterness and sympathy at the state that his sister had been reduced to living in whilst he was permitted to remain in a castle with warm fires, large rooms, great halls and everything that someone wealthy could need for sustaining life in the world they lived in.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed another man standing by the fire and warming his hands. His hair was a white-blond although darker as it was coated with dirt and dripping wet from the melted snow he had obviously been traveling in. His face was long and would have been handsome if his cheek had not been covered in a dark bruise. His eyes were a mixture of green and blue as he turned to meet the visitors gaze and bow his head in greeting.
"Thomas has been a loyal companion and quick in getting me here safely and secretly." The woman cast a look of admiration towards the man now identified as Thomas before turning back to face her brother. "I had a vision." This caught the attention of the man who had, until now, been wondering if his sister had merely called upon him to arrange a meaningless social call. He could see that Thomas was not surprised by the news and turned his gaze upon her, demanding silently that she explain. He moved forward with precision, subconsciously stepping between his sister and Thomas and blocking the other male from her view. There was a mischievous glint in her eyes as she stared back at him.
"What did you see, Katelyn? What have your visions shown you?"
"I have seen the Kings death. I have seen his demise, Kain, as I have seen your victory and a crown upon your head." All time seemed to stop for Kain now as he watched his sister carefully, his eyes scanning her face for any hint that would tell him she was lying. He trusted his sister more than he trusted anyone but that didn't mean that she wasn't prone to weaving tales of her own invention. When he found nothing Kain turned on the spot to face the fire, his eyes looking past Thomas and settling on the flames in the pit. Behind him he could hear his sister's voice filled the silence again.
"The battle which I saw was by the castle, on the hills near the cliffs. You looked no older than you are now." Kain felt as though something heavy was pressing down on his shoulders and he hastily pulled off his cloak and threw it across the room so that it landed over the back of a chair next to a small wooden table.
"The King and Queen Ester have a son, only a baby but a son all the same, people will see him as their true king whether I sit on the throne or not. He must be dealt with as well." His voice was no more than a whisper and when he fell silent he heard a shuffle come from the corner of the room as Thomas looked at him uneasily.
"To kill a child, after having already slain your king and predecessor would put a great stain on your reign in the eyes of the people, whether they believe you king or not. I strongly recommend-"
"Whether the people will accept me as their king or defy me is up to them but I will make clear what will happen to those who attempt to oppose me. With that boy alive, they would never see me as their true king." Kain interrupted Thomas in mid-sentence, stopping him before he could say anymore, and his eyes flashed dangerously as his voice rose. "The boy will be slain as his father will be. However, the Queen may be permitted to live and spend the rest of her days in the dungeons to mourn. She is no threat to me; without her King a Queen is nothing."Katelyn seemed to sense tension rising between the two and placed a hand on Kain's shoulder to relax him.
"Ignore Thomas, his superstitious nature is his one flaw," She shot Thomas a look and he gave the slightest of nods before turning back to resume warming his hands by the fire therefore allowing the siblings to have a moment of feigned privacy as Katelyn continued to speak. "I could have a thousand soldiers ready at your command, not to mention a variety of creatures from the Lone Island." Kain immediately swirled to face his sister, his eyes lit up in delight like a starving child who had been offered as much food as they could possibly eat.
"Creatures from the Lone Island? Even the dragons?" There was no hiding the awestruck expression that was slowly forming on his face, replacing the child-like excitement with a hungry look that reflected his inner-greed.
"When the time is right, but not all creatures would be willing to follow you. Granted many of the creatures were eager for a chance to take revenge upon those who had banished them. Others have come to settle and appreciate what they now call home and they refuse to fight."
"Couldn't you make them?" He asked quickly, his brows furrowing momentarily as a wave of disappointment coursed through him at the thought that some had not been willing to fight alongside him in taking what he wanted, what rightfully belonged to him. Suddenly he was lost in thought, reliving the memory of the days when his father had been king before his Uncle Rollan had rebelled and took the throne from him. He and his sister had lost their father that day, as though having lost their mother after she had given birth to him several months after Katelyn had not been enough. Ever since then, Kain had been kept and trained in the castle as a Knight and, after having found out about Katelyn's ability to use magic, Rollan had banished his sister. Now, after what felt like a lifetime of barely living, they were ready to retaliate and once Kain had what he desired he would make sure that those who had helped him achieve it would be rewarded handsomely.
"I may be powerful but no magic can forcefully bend a person or creature against their true will, if it is strong enough, and I am afraid nearly all of those who refused to fight when I first asked have a strong will." Kain nodded slowly, taking into consideration what Katelyn had said. Numbers weren't all that significant anyway, not when he had a witch for a sister on his side. What he was concerned about was the means of achieving his dream and ensuring that his sister's prophecy of King Rollans death and him being crowned as the new king came true.
"We shall organize an attack on the castle, have the King drawn out and his army destroyed. I shall slay the king on his own battlefield and then the boy will be dealt with. As long as everything goes to plan and there aren't any mistakes, I will be King." Katelyn, who was watching her brother carefully, smiled a nasty smile as she nodded approvingly.
"And so it shall be and I will ensure it, as will Thomas." At this, she cast a brief glance in the direction of the other before turning her gaze back towards Kain. "In return for our aid I ask you for one thing."
"Whatever you need." Kain replied instantly as Katelyn beckoned Thomas closer to them. Thomas moved forward with an unnecessary precision, still wary of Kain after his small outburst.
"When you become king, you will make Thomas a knight. Give him a title and then he and I will rule over the Lone Island. As for the other divisions of Lotherynheim and Valleriah, apply those only who you trust to rule in your name." Despite Katelyn's severe tone, Kain scoffed.
"I don't need anyone ruling alongside me." He could tell that Katelyn was fighting against the temptation to roll her eyes and he glared at her. "I, alone, will be king."
"You will be king but look upon those who you appoint to rule the divisions as your second in commands, your generals, your eyes and ears. You cannot know everything that happens throughout the lands when you are ruling from your castle and nor will I. It's politics, brother-mine." He ignored the teasing comment at the end of his sister's explanation as he reached up to run a hand through his hair.
"Very well, when I am king, Thomas shall be granted a knighthood." Kain nodded towards Thomas who smiled gratefully, a lot more relaxed to see that Kain temper seemed to have calmed. Katelyn was now moving away towards a small chest of wooden drawers by fireplace and pulled open one of the drawers carefully. She was bent over slightly so that neither Kain nor Thomas could see what she held in her hands and a few minutes of silence passed before she turned around to show them a dagger sheathed in a pouch made of animal skin although Kain couldn't identify which animal had been killed in the making of it.
"Despite the inevitability of my taking the throne it is a little early to be giving out victory gifts, is it not sweet sister?" Kain asked, his arrogance becoming evident as Katelyn moved gracefully across the floor to stand in front of the two men once more.
"This dagger was given to me by a witch in the North. The blade is cursed so that it delivers a quick yet agonizingly painful death to any who are victim to it." Katelyn started, ignoring Kain question. "When our army attacks, the king will act to defend his castle and people and call upon his army. You will called upon to be in the number of the other warriors fighting alongside him," Katelyn saw Kain open his mouth to object but she gave him a look that told him to remain silent. "It is easier to kill someone if you are fighting with them rather than against them. During the battle, you will turn on him and stab him with this. As long the blade breaks the skin, the deed will be done and he will be dead before he has the chance to hit the ground below his feet."
The hungry expression ad returned on Kain's face as he accepted the dagger his sister was now handing him and he could feel both Katelyn and Thomas's eyes on him as he pulled it from its cover to inspect the gleaming blade, careful as to not graze his own skin at all. His attention was fully focused on the reflection of his face on the blade itself although he could hear his sister's voice as she spoke, her words ringing in his ears long after they had been said – the chant he was expecting to hear, that he would hear, very soon...
"Long live the king."
Spring followed winter quickly that year, much to the relief of the people and it was a delightful sight to all when they were awoken at the beginning of the new season by the light of the sun beaming down upon the lands. Trees had begun to regrow their leaves and the flowers which had now bloomed dotted the grassy hills, the emerald green grass creating a sight of sheer, natural, beauty. Those who had survived the harsh winter now gloried in the possibilities of re-opening their markets and start growing the crops that they would need for the remainder of the year.
The dawn of a fresh morning came with the sounds of the peasantry as the villagers went about their business preparing for the day ahead and as the sun rose into the sky the yellow glow reflected off the the white walls of the castle, highlighting just how majestic the piece of architecture really was. In the Queens chambers, the small baby in the crib stirred already awake to greet the early hours with childish curiosity. He had grown well in the short space of time between the winter passed and the present day and was now at a whole one year old. After realizing that he was not going to receive any immediate attention, Phoenix cried out and sure enough his mother was there within seconds, hushing him and resting a hand on his chest so that Phoenix could grasp her fingers. Ester smiled down at the child, ticking his chest before she was unable to move her fingers at all. One hand she kept on her stomach however and as she ran her hand down her dress, she could feel the slight bump. Another child, Ester thought with a grin. She relished the idea of Phoenix growing up with a younger brother or sister as she'd had no siblings of her own whilst growing up. It had been quite the lonely childhood, aside from the friends she made throughout it.
Another cry pulled Ester out of her thoughtful state and she reached down to pick up the child who wouldn't settle to hold him in her arms. The cries subsided as Ester heard the guards address someone outside of the room and a moment later the door was opened to reveal her husband coming in and looking weary.
The sight of his wife and child - children, Rollan had to correct himself as he was reminded by his wife's protruding stomach that he was now technically the father of two babies - set Rollan at ease as he masked his tired expression with a smile. Rollan had spent the past few days occasionally suffering from bouts of exhaustion. He'd been on more and more patrols each day since the winter snow had begun to let up, tending to parts of the villages surrounding his kingdom that had fallen prey to the attacks of bandits and various creatures that even Rollan wished would remain at a distance. From the early hours of the morning, Rollan and a few of his Knights had been tracking and hunting a dragon which had attacked a village on the other side of the Lake Cillas which split the kingdom in two. The Dragon had not been found and Rollan suspected it had returned to The Lone Island. He was relieved and soothed by this knowledge, although worried and somewhat suspicious as to why the Dragon had ventured out of it's lands at all and even more so to attack when they rarely left their dens at all.
"You look tired." Ester said, watching him with concern. "Rest, on the bed there." She placed Phoenix on the floor where he crawled over to the corner of the room where a piled of wooden block sat. Whilst he played, Ester took advantage of her son being distracted and moved over to her husband to guide him over to the bed.
"Look at you helping me," Rollan smiled, shaking his head. "when it should be I looking after you." He rest a hand on her stomach as she helped him, only puling away when he fell back onto the bed with a grunt.
"I can look after myself and you have a kingdom to concern yourself with, focus on the majority and know that I am fine, we all are." As always she felt a swell of admiration for her husband when he showed his concern. Most Kings were known for their coldness, brutality and their interest in power rather than their concern for their people. They demanded followers, not supporters, and desired maintaining the hierarchical society and ruling above others rather than introducing a sense of equality among the royals and peasants. Ester was proud of Rollan for what he had accomplished, even more so after what he had been through concerning his own family. The couple merely looked at each other in silence for several minutes and Ester knew that Rollan understood what she was thinking.
"My Knights can tend to the kingdom. I have higher priorities." Ester shot him a smile, remaining silent and not continuing the debate as she turned to make her way across the room back to Phoenix. She picked him up in her arms, holding him with his back against her chest so that he could look out of the window when she took him over to it to look down out to the villages below and beyond. As she held him, she hummed softly and old lullaby that her mother had hummed to her as a child. That's when the first screams were heard.
The sound was quickly followed by the tolls of the warning bell and Esters gaze traveled up to see the first wave of the army reaching the bottom of the hill and hitting the first village. Chaos quickly ensued and Esters eyes narrowed as she focused in on the scene. They widened quickly after as she realized just what the army consisted off. Few humans were dressed in all black and the majority of the army wasn't human at all but creatures; Ogres, Minotaurs, Shades, even those who looked like humans had an more than natural rugged appearance and Ester was sure many were werewolves. A blasts of fire and loud roars which seemed to shake even the castle announced the arrival of the dragons.
Mere seconds had passed and Ester could here movement from behind her and sure enough, the King was pulling himself to his feet. Whether Rollan had understood from her expression alone what she was seeing or whether it had been the sounds traveling to them from the grounds below that had alerted him, she didn't know. Immediately, however, his hands were on her waist and his voice sounded in her ear.
"Stay here with our child."
"We'll be fine. Go." Her voice was firm and her nod curt as she turned to give him one last glance as he exited the room, slowing only to pick up the sword leaning against the wall by the door. As soon as he was gone, Ester turned towards Phoenix who was now soundly asleep, unaware of what was going Rollan descended the main staircase, the sound of the warning bell had already begun to toll and a few of the guards passed him on their way to the towers accompanied by skilled archers.
"Sire!" A familiar voice at the end of the corridor made Rollan stop in his tracks and he turned to see one of his best knights – and friend – Harrison heading towards him, already armed and eager to fulfil any duties which may be asked of him. It was knights like these that made Rollan want to fight to protect all the harder just to show them that their loyalty was not to one who did not appreciate it.
"We're being attacked by great numbers... not all are men." Rollans worry rose but he tried not to let it show as other knights joined them where they stood, a few asking for orders as they approached. For no longer than a few seconds, Rollan looked around them all, giving them jobs in his mind to those best suited for the tasks required.
"Harrison, you and Gregoire guard the Queens chambers. No one is to enter her rooms who isn't an ally. The rest come with me, we'll stop the attack before it can reach the gates. I won't have this castle sieged whilst I am King." Before he had finished talking, a figure came running towards them and Rollan sighed as he recognized the young man advancing to be nephew, Kain, who skidded to a halt just in front of him.
"Where have you been?" He demanded and there was no mistaking the urgency in his voice. His nephew, Kain, looked back at him with wide eyes and Rollan waved his hand impatiently. "No matter, you're accompanying the others and I on the battlefield." At this, Kain nodded as they set off down the corridor and Rollan noticed Harrison parting ways with who he had time to identify as Gregoire, Jamie and Elijah before they disappeared around the corner on their way to the side gates.
"Who is it that is attacking us, Uncle?" Kain asked curiously as they walked. Rollan cast a sideways glance at his nephew and saw that he was wearing an expression of innocent curiosity and for a moment an expression of concern seemed to cloud his handsome features as met his Uncles gaze.
"An unknown number of creatures from The Lone Island but more than enough." Rollan replied shortly and Kain he watched as Kain expression changed from one of concern to one of surprise. "Your sister may be among them." Rollan confirmed stiffly. For a brief moment, Rollan debated allowing Kain to accompany him on the battlefield. Past events may be in the past but the bond of family was always strong, more especially with immediate relatives. Before he had managed to fully convince himself that it was best that Kain go elsewhere, he stopped himself from giving the younger the order. All the action would do would show Kain that Rollan did not trust him and the knowledge of such lack of trust could be the very incentive for Kain to doubt his where his own loyalties lay.
"Are we to primarily attack or defend?" Kain asked, seemingly unaffected by the news. He reached down to draw his sword from his sheath and Rollan had to fight a smile from forming on his lips at his nephews eagerness. Kain had known war from a young age but never had he been in a battle and therefore still held a boys dream of what it was like to fight, to be considered a hero when the fight was won and the teenagers belief that they were invincible. It was a hard lesson to learn that neither was as pleasant as originally believed.
"We do what we can to defend the castle and if that means that we have to attack then so be it." Rollan replied firmly, loud enough so that the other soldiers following behind them could here the order. His thoughts traveled up to where Ester was in her chambers with their son and he felt a familiar fire rising in his chest, a determination to defend his loved ones taking a strong hold over his being. As they exited out into the grounds towards the stables, it was the sound of the war drums quickly approaching that pulled Rollan from his thoughts and brought him back into reality. Beside him Kain was grinning now, unable to contain his boyish excitement for war and his eyes were gleaming with such zest that it was an unnerving sight to even Rollan.
Up in her chamber, the Queen was quickly swinging her cloak around herself and tying it so that it sat securely on her shoulders. Since Rollan had left the room, she had remained at the window watching the attackers drawing closer and upon seeing who the leader of the attack was, Ester had quickly dived into action. The adrenaline which was beginning to course through her veins fueled her body with enough strength to move quickly as she wrapped her sleeping child in the blankets which covered him and held him tightly to her chest. She knew that Rollan would have guards sent to her chambers for protection but it would be foolish to stay in her chambers. She didn't doubt that her husbands defenses would fail but she wasn't daring enough to take the chance and put her sons life on the line. Always better safe now than sorry later as her father had always told her and it was with that thought in her mind that she exited her room.
The guards had not arrived to stand at their posts outside of her chambers yet and the corridor itself was she not known that the inhabitants of the castle were either taking refuge in their rooms or accompanying their King on the battlefield, Ester would have mistaken the castle for being deserted. Upon reaching the spiral staircase which would lead eventually to the postern, the sound of steel upon steel reached the Queens ears, traveling from the floor below. Instinctively, her eyes dropped down to the still sleeping baby in her arms before she backed away, turning to break into yet another run. As she made her way back down the narrow corridor, she debated retreating back into her chambers and barricading herself in. The action would give her time but if the attackers were to get past the door then she would be trapped and so she kept running, forcing her legs to move faster even when her very flesh seemed to burn. When her mind finally caught up to speed with her body, Ester was already outside where the air was filled with the sounds of shouting and screaming which carried from villages beyond the walls and Ester set off towards the gates without a moments hesitation.
There was no night breeze in the air but the desiccation of the night helped to spread the smell of the thick smoke which rose from the blazing fires dotted throughout the village. The cries of the families watching the chaos play out were erupting from every direction, as well as the ear-piercing screams of those caught in the burning houses. Masses of people were attempting to flee, retreating to into the woodlands, others stood aside staring in horror, helpless. It was only by luck of her ability to slip easily through the manic crowd that Ester kept out of sight for the majority of her escape but she had not gotten far from the castle when she was noticed by three horsemen who pointed in her direction, one barking orders to have her captured before setting off after her. Ester changed direction at once, running towards the forest along with many others.
The battlefield itself was quick to become as bloody as the village. Rollan had underestimated both the numbers and the strength of the army attacking and the presence of various dark creatures, which were naturally more harder to kill than humans were, made it difficult to hope for victory on his part. He kept his sword in a tight grip and his arm loose to swing the weapon each time an enemy was close enough to receive a blow. The silver steel was stained red with blood and he'd received a deep gash in his left shoulder five minutes into the battle. Spread across the battlefield he could see his men, some alive and fighting, some having fallen, and he wished nothing more than to help them but was pained by the fact that in the moment, he couldn't. With each second, he was being surrounded by more and more opponents and he was quickly becoming overwhelmed. The creature which proceeded to attack him now was large in build and looked as though it was made of wax. The Ogre, or at least that's what Rollan believed the creature to be, wore a sleeveless chain-mail shirt and for good reason, as its arms seemed to be entirely made of muscle and as thick as a trees trunk. It had an ugly face with gleaming red eyes and its lower jaw looked almost broken as the creatures bottom teeth overlapped it top lip. The club which is held as a weapon was raised over its head and repeatedly it dropped it in Rollans direction only to lift it again in preparation of another blow. Rollan blocked them with difficulty causing the beast to snarl and attack more viciously the next time swung the of the corner of his eye, Rollan could see a large dog-like creature stalking towards him. Big, black and its mouth agape, he could see its once white teeth were now red and its yellowing eyes narrowed as it crouched low to the ground, preparing to pounce. As it did Rollan forced his body to the ground, keeping as low as he possibly could. The movement had caused him to just miss being struck by the ogres club as he swung it vertically.
The great wolf seemed to soar towards him in mid air and Rollan had been about to roll out of the way when the blade of a sword seemed to appear from nowhere, slicing through the Ogre as though the creature was made of butter before striking the dog across the neck, beheading it. The king looked up to see Kain before him, his dark hair sticking to his forehead and matted with blood and sweat. He turned towards Rollan with an extended arm and quickly pulled him to his feet."Well timed, thank you-" Rollan was cut short, gasping at a sharp pain which he felt now in his side. Time seemed to slow but it took him only seconds to realize what had happened and he felt the blade being pulled from his body as he looked up to meet Kain's eyes. The dark brown eyes that he had come so accustomed to seeing every day now looked black and his nephews expressionless face gave him no clue as to what he was thinking in that moment. The noise around them seemed distant now and Rollan felt his muscles locking and the sound of his heart beat in his ears as though it was ensuring that he knew that it wouldn't be beating for much longer. His body felt as though it were on fire but now he couldn't even open his mouth to scream and his vision blurred.
"You always did say I reminded you of my father, your brother." Kain's voice was loud even over the sound of the retreat horn which filled the air as Rollans army came to realize their kings demise. "Unlike you, I've never found it something to be ashamed of." Rollan wasn't certain as to whether he hit the ground or not but somewhere between Kain pushing his body away from him and hitting the ground once more, his body seemed to give way and everything went black.
As Ester weaved through the trees of Grimsby woods, branches pulled at her hair making her eyes water more than they had done in the smoke filled village and aerial roots threatened to trip her up as she got deeper into the forest. She kept running however, despite the stitch in her side that was becoming unbearably painful, her determination to escape stronger than her impulse to stop. Eventually she came to reach a river and, no longer hearing the sound of horses hooves battering off the ground behind her, Ester stopped to catch her breath and lean back to examine the bundle in her arms. Phoenix had woken at some point whilst she had been running and it seemed that even the baby knew not to cry out as to draw attention to itself although Ester could see visible tear tracks streaking the baby's cheeks. She wiped them away with a gentle touch and looked up to studied the darkened woods, straining her eyes to scan her surroundings before she found what she had been hoping to find and she moved swiftly over to one of the trees a few feet from where she had been standing, relief filling her for the space of a moment. What looked to be the bark from the trunk of another tree was leaning against it, carved into a shape akin to a boat but small enough for only one fully grown child to sit it was almost camouflaged against the trunk of a great oak tree. Ester knew it had most likely been left behind by one of the village children when they had been playing on the river and she picked it up easily in one hand. With her other arm she kept her son held against her chest as she edged closer to the river Cillas itself, dropping to her knees at the waters edge.
Her own eyes were beginning to grow teary and she blinked them back as to return her vision into focus as she bent down to kiss Phoenix's she was postponing her next action and she took a shuddering breath, restraining the emotions which welled up inside of her before they could overwhelm her completely, before sitting the raft onto the surface of the water and holding it in place as she placed the small child inside. Somewhere in the woods behind her, the sound of shouting and horse's hooves hitting against the ground at a gallop drew closer and she hastily looked between the trees and her baby as a small whimper escaped his pink lips and he looked up at her with wide green eyes and a trembling lip. Ester kept a hand resting softly on the cloth wrapped around him and she reached into the pocket of her cloak with her free hand and retrieving the purple pouch which she had taken from her rooms before departing and tucking it inside the blankets alongside her child.
"Let the Lord bless you and keep you, my son. Be safe." She whispered, leaning over to press yet another kiss onto his forehead. Whether it was the exhaustion from silently crying or the baby's natural instinct to spend most of its time sleeping she didn't know but as she pulled back Phoenix was already falling back into a state of blissful unconsciousness. She drew in a deep breath as to steady herself and regain control of her emotion before pushing the raft away from her so that it was carried downriver by the light current and for a moment, she did nothing but sit and watch her child being carried further and further out of her reach. Her one comforting thought as she pushed herself up from the ground was that the further the child was from her, the further it was from those who wanted to harm him, and with that she turned and set off in the opposite direction, putting as much distance between herself and the river as possible.
The Queen had gone no further than the closest clearing when two of the three horsemen who had been pursuing her earlier found her and Ester skidded to a halt to avoid being knocked to the ground by their horses. At once, the two soldiers circled her like vultures circling the air above their next meal. When they noticed that she was no longer holding the bundle of blankets in her arms, the larger of the men pulled on his horses reigns so that it let out an irritated neigh and came to a stop.
"Where is the child?" His voice was gruff and he glared down at her, his eyes as black as the night which surrounded them and it took effort for Ester not to glance back towards the river.
"Safe from harm, safe from you and your mistress and all who wish him harm." She only hoped the words which she spoke would remain true. The man let out a growl, clearly disappointed and something close to fear flashed behind the anger which burned like a fire in the depths of his eyes.
"No matter," The other spoke as he climbed down from his horse. This man was slimmer in build than the other, with a rat-like face and short black hair. "Katelyn will still wish to see you and you'll have the opportunity to bow to your new king."
New king, the words seemed to ring in Esters mind as loud as the warning bell had been and she couldn't hide the look of confusion which replaced the glaring expression on her face.
"The battle is won and with your husband dead, and no child in sight, all rights of kingship fall to the Kings nephew. Long live the King." He spoke the last words mockingly, watching Esters expression turn to one of dread. It took her a moment to find her voice again and even when she spoke, her voice wavered and the words seemed to get caught in her throat.
"Kain is not the King nor will he ever be." Ester spat back, pulling herself up a little straighter so that she stood almost as tall as the man in front of her. An ugly smirk grew on both of the mens faces at her words and the one still on his horse let out a bark of laughter and Ester heard a thud as the other slid off of his horse. She made to turn but before she could she felt a sudden pain in the back of her head as though she had been dealt a heavy blow. The last thing she felt, besides the pain in her head, was the sensation of falling to the ground and in those few seconds of consciousness, she prayed for her sons safety before everything went black.