Enslaved By The Cross
Ayla squinted her eyes as the morning sun mercilessly beat upon her. Her eyes had become so accustomed to the darkness that the sudden influx of light made her vision blur
After a few moments the blur had lifted and a familiar sight greeted Ayla. Her pupils widened and her smile grew as she saw a large reptilian beast in front of her.
“L’nuk!” she yelled as the beast’s eyes shot up towards the white haired maiden.
Hearing the sound of her voice, the Serpentile rushed over to Ayla and began to lick her with its forked tongue. Ayla laughed harder as she rubbed her cheek to the beast's head.
“It seems it really likes you,” Ayla heard a deep male voice speak up from behind her.
She shot her head towards the Sondelier to whom the Serpentile belonged to as he stood behind her. Ayla tried to discern any emotion in his dark blue eyes but found nothing aside from a stern glare, the same one he had been wearing all along.
“Yeah, well, L’nuks tend to be very friendly in general, despite their looks,” Ayla smiled back.
“L’nuks?” the Sondelier questioned.
Ayla’s eyes widened, in shock. In her excitement, she forgot that humans might have a different name for these creatures.
“Well, that is the proper Drakken name for them, is it not?” Ayla tried to cover her tracks.
“It is, though none of us ever use it,” the Sondelier replied, “So you are a Drakken?”
“No point in denying it now, I suppose,” Ayla sighed as the Sondelier hoisted her up on his reptilian steed.
“I suppose,” the Sondelier said calmly as he took out a key “Your chains, please,” he gestured for Ayla to give him her hands.
She did as he commanded and in a matter of seconds, the heavy shackles fell from Ayla’s wrist and onto the ground.
“Why did you do that?” Ayla asked while rubbing her wrists.
“If we need to speed up you will have to hold onto me firmly and you can’t do that in chains,” he explained.
“Isn’t it a bit foolish to unchain a prisoner of Odium’s dungeon?”
“These chains are pointless for a Drakken. Your kind has been able to get out of them without even transforming,” the Sondelier responded as he climbed up “Besides, you are a guest to our archbishop. It would be most disrespectful to treat you like a prisoner.”
“So, what was up with the whipping? Is that just another form of the archbishop’s hospitality?” Ayla prodded as the Sondelier grabbed the leash to his Serpentile.
“You have been quite disrespectful to his Holiness. Guest or not, no one insults him and gets away with it. Consider yourself lucky,” the Sondelier replied grimly as he signaled his beast to start moving.
Ayla rolled her eyes and fixed up her hair as they began to move. She noticed that the other guard that took her out was riding beside them.
“So do you have a name?” Ayla tried to break the silence as she rode with the Sondelier.
“My name is not important,” the Sondelier responded, “I gave it up once I assumed this sacred position.”
“Come on,” Ayla pressed on “You must have something.”
“If I did, I must have forgotten it,” the Sondelier said “However, two names do tend to appear in my mind every now and again,” the Sondelier raised one of his hands up to his chin.
His reaction seemed to break, for a moment only, as Ayla saw his heavy armor slowly rise up and fall back down.
“Avarius and Mare,” the Sondelier spoke, his tone of voice appearing more somber than before “Though, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what they represent. I don’t know if those are the names of my parents, of me and my siblings, my friends, or even me and my lover. Those memories are no longer a part of me. These two names are but ashes, left over from the archbishop’s cleansing fire. In due time, they too will disappear."
Ayla only sat there, her mouth slightly agape. The words he spoke were so cold, so devoid of life and yet they spoke of a deep tragedy lying beneath. A sudden chill ran down her spine, bringing her back to reality.
“How long have you been like this?” Ayla accidentally vocalized her inner thoughts.
“I’ve been at the archbishop’s service for the past ten years now,” the Sondelier replied to her question without a second thought.
“And in those ten years, you never thought of your loved ones? You never felt lonely or homesick? You can’t honestly tell me that your job has been the only thing on your mind for all that time?!”
“My family knew exactly what they were sacrificing when I accepted this holy duty,” the Sondelier explained “They knew that being a Sondelier meant that I would have to leave them behind. They knew that, with time, I would forget their names and faces. Such is the sacrifice of those who want to achieve something greater than themselves. In this line, I am fulfilled and I need nothing more. Odium is the direct line between us and the Creator. Through the archbishop’s vessel, the Creator himself speaks and his blessed light shines upon us all. My life is truly nothing compared to his. Therefore, I am happy to give myself to his Excellence fully,” the Sondelier’s voice became more frantic with each word he spoke.
“I suppose,” Ayla barely muttered as she felt her stomach churn.
The way this man spoke of Odium, the words he used to describe him, the way his voice became euphoric all of a sudden, all of these elements made Ayla terrified. Sure, she had heard of the archbishop’s cult of personality, but to see it in action right in front of her eyes was quite disturbing.
“Do all Sondeliers share your views?” she asked, attempting to see just how far this madness ran.
“Well, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be Sondeliers,” he explained “Though some may struggle to see the light, eventually they all come around. Such is the fate of the Blessed Ones,” he finished as they reached a cobblestone path leading up a mountain of barren rock.
Even though the path led up the mountain the terrain was smooth enough to reach the top, even on foot. As they followed the path, they soon reached a large, wooden door, enforced with steel metal bars.
Ayla looked in wonder as long, beige, marble walls slithered around the palace. They appeared to stretch throughout the mountain and they were high enough to block the view of the palace. On top of the wall, she could see a large tower appearing every twenty feet. Each tower extended above the wall itself, ending in a pointed roof with a flag on the top of it. The flags were all the same, representing a golden cross with a green eye in the middle of it. The cross itself was imposed upon a deep blue background with bright, yellow, streaks, spreading from the cross and onto the background. Each point of the cross had a different letter assigned to it. The upper tip was marked with D, the left one with C, right one with O, and the lowest point had the letter J next to it.
“What do those letters mean?” Ayla asked the Sondelier, pointing at the flag.
“The up-most represents Deus, a name our founder gave to the Creator of our world and everything in it,” the Sondelier explained “The left one represents Clomion and the one next to it represents the Order itself. The one on the bottom represents the ruler of this land, King Julius.”
“And the eye represents Odium, right?”
“You are quite observant,” the Sondelier complimented her “As I mentioned before, he is the vessel for the Creator. In his image he connects the material kingdom of Clomion and the spiritual leadership of the Ordo Solo Deus."
“So why is the king on the bottom?”
“He is not on the bottom per se,” the Sondelier explained “The king represents something earthly and materialistic. Therefore, it is befitting for him to be as close to the ground as possible. Odium is the connection point between the Creator’s spiritual power and the king’s materialistic rule."
“Ah, I see,” Ayla replied, slightly unsatisfied by the answer she was given.
The Sondelier signaled for her to wait as he dismounted his beast. He knocked three times on the wooden door as a small slit on the door opened. Two, large, doe-like, eyes peered out from behind the slit, confirming the visitors.
“You may enter,” a shrill voice spoke from behind the large wooden gates.
The wooden doors creaked loudly as they opened, unveiling the secrets that lied beyond. In front of the gate stood a lanky man, dressed in a golden tailcoat and dark brown, tight, trousers.
“Ah, I see you brought our little guest,” Harold clicked as he saw Ayla.
“Just as his Holiness requested,” the Sondelier replied.
“Excellent! And you are right on time to boot! Finally!” Harold clapped his hands and smiled.
Ayla covered her face as she snickered slightly at Harold’s behavior. The superintendent noticed this gesture and his smile quickly faded away.
“Great, another Isabella. As if one wasn’t bad enough,” he thought to himself in annoyance.
“I take it I should hand her over to you?” the Sondelier asked Harold.
“That is why I am here after all. If we need your services, we will call for you, don’t worry,” Harold smiled politely to the Sondelier.
“As you wish,” the guardian replied as he signaled for Ayla to approach him.
As Ayla dismounted from the Serpentile the beast nuzzled her slightly.
“Thank you for your service,” Ayla replied to the creature and petted its head with a bright smile on her face.
She approached the Sondelier that guarded her and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, much to the surprise of the holy guard. She firmly hugged him and patted him on the back.
“What was that for?” the Sondelier asked, slightly confused by her action.
“Just a small sign of appreciation for your service and your treatment of the L’nuk. He seems very happy to have you by his side,” Ayla smiled.
At that moment, she noticed how the guard’s eyes smiled, just for a bit, and she heard him let out a small chuckle.
“Well, if you are quite done there, we must get going,” Harold interrupted.
“Of course,” the Sondelier replied “Farewell, madam.”
“Take care,” Ayla smiled and patted the Sondelier on his shoulder as he climbed up the Serpentile.
She watched as the wooden gates closed with a thud as her guards left. Her smile quickly waned as she let out a deep sigh. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for the life that they lead. Even if it was their choice, it just didn’t feel like it.
“Now that they have left, let me introduce myself properly,” the superintendent spoke “My name is Harold Sulcheim, I am the superintendent and the chief of security in service of the holy archbishop William Bellanota Odium. His Excellence has requested an audience with you and has entrusted me to ensure it goes uninterrupted, “ Harold bowed to Ayla.
“It is quite the pleasure to meet you,” Ayla returned his bow.
“Please, follow me into the palace,” Harold stated and lead Ayla down a cobblestone path.
As they walked Ayla looked around to fully take in the archbishop’s courtyard.
The green grass seemed to stretch on either side, with only a few fruit-bearing trees sprouting amongst the sea of green. Each tree was neatly kept as she noticed gardeners diligently trimming the trees and picking its fruits. A few of them tended to the rose bushes that appeared near the path. Whenever they locked eyes with Ayla she would wave to them, much to their confusion.
“Please, pay no mind to the help, madam. You will only be distracting them from their work,” Harold stated coldly.
“I was only saying hi,” Ayla defended herself.
“It’s still a distraction,” Harold responde and continued his walk towards the gate of the palace.
Once they approached the entrance, Ayla noticed something strange; a steed, with a coat as black as coal, was tied to a nearby stone pillar.
“Say, Harold was it,” Ayla spoke grabbing the superintendant’s attention “Isn’t that Demeter’s horse?” she asked and pointed to the black steed tied to the stone pillar.
“Indeed it is,” Harold responded “Master Demeter had arrived just a few minutes before you did,” Harold explained as he fumbled with his keys.
“So he is here?” Ayla's eyes lit up.
Harold looked at her and rolled his eyes as he unlocked the door.
A large hallway spread in front of Ayla with a velvet, red, carpet running in the middle of it, leading to a staircase. Dozens of doors appeared on each side of the red pathway, each one labeled differently. Large, crystal, chandeliers spread from the ceiling while black and white tiles decorated the floor.
“Wow,” Ayla whistled, impressed by the size of the archbishop’s hallway “His Holiness has quite the luxurious taste.”
Harold ignored her comments as he proceeded to the staircase. As they walked, Ayla could see young girls sweeping the floors and cleaning the railing on the staircase. They were all dressed in a light blue dress with a white apron and their hairs were constrained by a bonnet. Every single one of them also held their head down as the superintendent passed, too afraid to look him in the eyes. Even though Harold was focused on the path, Ayla could notice that his eyes tended to wander to the young maids. His gaze was stern as he inspected their work diligently, even from afar.
“You run quite the tight ship here,” Ayla commented.
“I only do what my duties demand of me,” Harold responded, “Without my firm hand guiding these lazy maids, nothing would get done.”
“Still, you can show some kindness to them. Poor girls seem to be traumatized by your very presence."
“What do you know about good leadership?!” Harold scoffed as they climbed up the staircase.
When they reached the top, Ayla couldn’t contain her smile any longer. She easily recognized that short, raven black hair and those deep blue eyes that greeted her warmly.
Before they could exchange a single word between them, Harold rushed towards Demeter.
“Lord Demeter,” the superintendent spoke cordially “The archbishop will see you once he is done with our esteemed guest. I thank you for your patience.”
“No problem, Harold,” Demeter replied with a smile “I did come slightly unannounced so I don’t mind the wait.”
“I am glad you agree,” Harold smiled “In the meantime, you can keep company to our dear guest. Would that be alright?”
“I might as well be considered her bodyguard by this point,” Demeter smiled as he looked at Ayla. She held her hand over her mouth and looked to the side to hide her giggle away from Harold.
“Quite,” Harold rolled his eyes “I will announce your arrival to the archbishop, now. Please wait patiently, it should only take a few minutes,” Harold turned to Ayla.
“It’s fine,” Ayla replied as Harold bowed and scurried into the archbishop’s study.
“Well, well, it seems that fate has brought us together once more,” Demeter said with a smile as he saw Ayla.
“It would appear so, “Ayla stated and smiled warmly.
“I see that they have removed your chains."
“Indeed, though I do find it quite strange that the archbishop would do that. He doesn’t seem like the merciful type,” Ayla said.
“He isn’t,” Demeter responded and bit his lip “I have a suspicion that he has found out your identity.”
“Really? What makes you say that?” Ayla asked, slightly worried.
“He is a high positioned leader of a nationwide religious organization that wishes to spread into other kingdoms,” Demeter explained “He is well acquainted with foreign nobility, even if he does not know them personally. He must have figured you out the second he got a better look at you.”
“Then why did he punish me?”
“He wasn’t in the best frame of mind at the time, so to speak,” Demeter explained as a realization hit him “Which means he acted out of anger to a noble from another kingdom! This is amazing!” Demeter's voice got louder.
Ayla quickly motioned for him to lower his volume.
“You are in the belly of the beast. It’s neither the time nor the place to let out your war cry,” Ayla quickly scolded Demeter.
“Sorry, I got excited a bit,” Demeter smiled.
“It's fine," Ayla shook her head "I suppose you will not disclose this genius plan you have with me,” Ayla sighed as a devious smile danced across her lips.
“Not yet. After all, mysteries make our lives more interesting,” Demeter joked as Ayla let out a loud laughter, leading to Demeter shushing her now.
“It would appear that I am rubbing off on you,” Ayla said as her laughter quieted down and she playfully punched Demeter’s arm.
Demeter just smiled as the door to the archbishop’s study swung open.
“His Holiness will see you now,” Harold said and held the door opened as Ayla entered in the lair of the beast.