A skinny, raven-haired boy sat upon a natural rock formation on a hill that stood over the south side of the village. Dawn was slowly approaching, and a faint orange light could be seen on the horizon. The air felt slightly cool against Keon’s skin. It felt good. The summer had brought an unbearable heat with it that devastated not only the people but the land as well. The farmers in the village complained about the weather regularly. ‘Our crops are dying! The heat is drying up the wells and the rivers!’
Keon heard many things as he worked in the local tavern. Travellers from all over the kingdom passed by the local inn in his village to rest from their various journeys. Keon’s home, the village of Jesk, was a halfway point between the Gillian Capital and the port city of Lavern. Naturally, the tavern attracted all sorts of characters. Keon mopped the floors, cleaned the tables, and washed the dishes at the inn. While cleaning up, it was easy for him to eavesdrop on the conversations of its patrons. During the war, Keon must have been the only boy of his age in the village to know precisely how the war progressed.
‘The empire has finally invaded. I’ve heard their fleet captured Lavern with ease.’
‘The Imperial Legion has struck again! They’ve taken control of Fort Ryster!’
‘By all the Gods! The bloody imperials have been sacking any village they come across! You’ll be next!’
‘I’ve heard the King is finally making a move. He marches a large host to the Bullian Plains to meet the Imperial Legion!’
‘The Royal army has been defeated…and The King is dead.’
‘King Kellin has surrendered Gillia to the Empire! I wonder what this means for all of us?’
‘Did you hear? Princess Azzara is being shipped off to the Yasida Empire to marry Mario Gilises.’
‘They say the princess is the most beautiful maiden in all the kingdom. I wouldn’t have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes’
Keon took in a deep breath of fresh air and looked up at the sky. The sunlight had already covered the whole village. I’d better get to the tavern, Keon thought. As he walked along the village path, Keon noticed the usual early morning practices. The men were outside preparing themselves to undertake their various crafts for the day. The smith was wiping down his tools, the baker was hauling in bags of grain from his storehouse into his shop, the butcher spent time sharpening his carving knives, and a few children were already running around the village chasing chickens while the women washed clothes and scolded their young.
I think I’ll go home for a bite to eat before I head to the tavern, he thought to himself. Keon walked through the door of his home to find it in its normal state: silent and depressing. The first thing he noticed when he walked into the kitchen was that his step-mother, Julia, had a few new bruises on her arms and face this morning. This was nothing new. His father, Kalor, was a violent drunk. It didn’t take much to set him off into a violent rage. Kalor sat on a chair with his feet up on the kitchen table. The sun had barely risen, and here he was drowning himself in a barrel of ale. Fortunately; Keon’s half-sister, Miranda, showed no signs of being hurt. Miranda sat on a chair opposite their father. She swung her little legs back and forth as they were too short for her tiny feet to touch the floor.
Keon sat on a chair next to her and kissed her on top of her blonde head. She looked up at him and gave him a wide toothy smile. Miranda’s golden locks were tangled and dirty. Her arms, legs, feet and hands were filthy. She hadn’t been given a bath in a while. Keon decided that he would wash her tonight after his shift at the tavern.
Julia laid a bowl of steaming vegetable soup and a loaf of bread in front of Miranda for her breakfast. For Keon, she threw a half a loaf of mouldy bread at him. Keon was used to this treatment. He knew that his step-mother hated him. He was eleven years old when his father married Julia. Ever since then she had always treated him with contempt and loathing. However, for years Keon had tried his best to treat her like a mother. Having lost his mother at only nine years old, Keon yearned for that motherly love once again. No matter how hard he tried, he could never get her to accept him as her son. Eventually, Keon had given up on the prospect and devoted all of his love and attention toward Julia’s daughter, Miranda. His baby sister, eleven years younger than he, was all he lived for. Keon had no friends, no lover, and no loving parents. All he wanted was to make sure that his sister would be happy and well cared for and he would do anything to make that happen.
“Boy” Kalor said gruffly “You were up early this morning” it wasn’t a question. “I suppose you wanted to get an early start to go off and do women’s work eh?” Keon did not reply and instead bit off a chunk of his mouldy bread. “I can’t believe it! I have two daughters eh woman?” Kalor laughed as he took a large gulp from his mug. Julia gave a faint smile and sat down to eat her breakfast. Kalor burped loudly and said “So what next boy? Are you going to find a husband? A good man to take care of you?” again Kalor gave a barking laugh and took another swig from his mug. Keon did not reply and continued to eat silently.
“You might have to!” Kalor exclaimed “They don’t pay you enough to mop up vomit and wash dishes!” when Kalor picked on him, Keon would always drift off in his mind. The verbal abuse from his father had always affected him in a bad way, and so Keon would imagine himself in a different place. He was a Gillian Knight living in the capital. He had earned the respect of many through his feats of bravery and his skill at arms. The most beautiful women in all the kingdom would beg to be his wife. He looked strong and handsome in his shining armour.
“Are you listening to me boy!?” Keon was abruptly brought back to reality as his father had thrown the drinking mug at his face. “I said you’re a disgrace!” Kalor spat “You’re not even good enough to get proper work fit for a man!” Keon bit his tongue and remained silent. If I say anything, he’ll get angry, and he might take it out on Miranda while I’m working.
“You’re in your seventeenth year, and you’ve still got no marriage prospects! Do you know why that is you filth!?” Keon did not reply. “I asked you a question!” Kalor’s eyes flashed dangerously. Keon replied “No sir” without looking at his father. “Well, I’ll tell you why!” Kalor was on his feet now. “First you don’t have a craft! You do a woman’s work all day! Second!’“Kalor’s voice started to become shrill. Keon began to shake in fear. “You don’t make enough money to look after a wife and any little bastards you might have! And third!” Kalor walked over to Keon now and grabbed him by the hair “Not a single girl in this village wants to be married to a little chicken’s arse like you!” Miranda began to cry silently. Julia, who had been watching her daughter the entire time, had quickly gotten up and carried her daughter to the next room. Kalor didn’t like crying. If anyone cried in his house, it meant a beating whether it be mother or children.
Kalor stared at his son’s face expectantly. As if he dared him to retort or to fight back. Keon however, remained silent. He knew better than to fight back. Kalor was a big man. Years of working as a farm hand had made him strong and buff. Keon, on the other hand, was skinny and physically weak. The last time Keon had stood up to his father was a year ago. It was the first time Kalor had beaten Miranda black and blue. Keon had tried to fight him off, but it was no use. Kalor had beaten him so severely that he couldn’t move his body for two days. If Miranda hadn’t come in to feed him and rub ointment on his body, he thought he would probably have died. Fortunately, ever since then Kalor had not harmed Miranda again. Keon was glad because Kalor would most likely kill him the next time.
After having tormented his son enough, Kalor decided to finish off his ale before heading off to the farm. Keon quickly darted out of the house before his father could start up again, and rushed toward the tavern at the edge of the village. “You’re late!” Helen said irritably. “I’m sorry!” Keon said as he hung his head shamefully “I had a family issue this morning” Helen smacked him hard on the back of his head “I don’t want excuses! Do you know what day it is today you useless good for nothing!?” Keon tried hard to remember but could not come up with any special occasion.
Helen sighed at the sight of his dumbfounded face “Princess Azzara is leaving the kingdom today for her wedding in the Empire! Do you know what that means!?” Keon had suddenly remembered everything. Yes, today is the day that the princess leaves the kingdom. That means that thousands of people from around the kingdom will be travelling to Lavern to see her off and most of them will be passing through the village! “Oh! I see your tiny brain is finally awake” Helen said “Well don’t just stand there! I need the floors mopped! The tables wiped down and the dishes washed! And DON’T get in Samuel’s way during his cooking! He’s like to cleave your head straight off!”
Keon rushed to fulfil his duties. He liked Helen even though she was nasty toward him. He didn’t mind; she was unpleasant to everyone. He believed that Helen took a liking to him. Helen and her husband Samuel owned the tavern in the village. He was grateful to them for giving him work when no one else would. Perhaps it was because he was weak. He was too weak to do heavy lifting and too weak to apprentice as a blacksmith. Helen already had a maid at the tavern named Frenna. However, Helen took pity on Keon and decided that he and Frenna would work shifts. Keon would work during the day and Frenna at night.
Frenna was Keon’s only friend. She was kind and beautiful, Keon thought. However, that friendship came to an end about a year ago when Keon had made a romantic advance toward her. After that, she began to avoid him, and they never spoke again. Several months later Frenna married another boy from the village and Keon was the only villager who never attended the wedding. Instead, he sat atop the natural rock formation on the hill and watched the festivities from afar.
It was still early morning, but the tavern was already bustling with activity. People had set off at the crack of dawn to travel to Lavern in time to see their beloved princess off before she sets sail for the Empire. Keon would have liked to have gone to Lavern as well. Not for himself, but to show Miranda the city and more importantly, the ocean. He had only seen the sea once when he was very young. He had visited Lavern with his late mother and his father. Those were the happiest days of his life. Kalor was a different man then. And his mother was the most loving human being he had ever known.
One day, Keon had told Miranda all about the ocean and ever since then, she dreamed of seeing the ocean for herself. However, Julia would never allow Keon to take Miranda to Lavern. She wouldn’t even allow him to take her out for a walk around the village. If she could help it, Julia would not let Miranda anywhere near him.
By just looking at Keon and Miranda nobody would believe that they were brother and sister. Keon had silky raven hair like his father and Miranda had a head of golden locks like her mother. Keon inherited his mother’s crystal blue eyes while Miranda inherited her father’s dark brown ones.
Keon worked hard the entire day. The inflow of customers was so many that he worked his fingers to the bone. Dusk began to set which meant that Frenna’s shift would be starting soon. Not wanting to bump into Frenna, Keon quickly bid Helen goodnight and made his way to the rock formation atop the hill. Sitting atop the rock above the village gave Keon a sense of peace. It was an isolated place away from everyone and everything. He looked past the village and set his eyes on the main road. Perhaps he would see the Princess’s envoy pass through the main road. Just then, a grand carriage was being escorted by two dozen soldiers passing through the main road. That has to be the princess! Keon thought. He tried to see the princess in the carriage, but he was too far away. However, what happened next shocked him so much that he almost slipped and tumbled off the hill. Instead of advancing straight through the main road, the royal envoy turned on to the muddy path that led into the village. Why was the princess coming to his dirty little village?