A Knight from the Waters
The moment Samantha made her announcement, the whole of Xychosia was abuzz.
The word that she would join the Knights’ Festival and win spread faster than a wildfire during the dry season. Even the commoners began passing the word around. Nobles from the other empires soon began offering their knights and even their lands just as long as they were protected by Samantha and her knights.
Unfortunately, the only ones to receive the messages were Xychosia’s council.
Queen Regina sighed and leaned on her elbow, drumming her fingers. When she was young, she remembered the days she would sit on a throne next to her father while he entertained all sorts of people. A small nostalgic smile curved up her lips; those were the days when tuning out the whining of nobles was an everyday thing. She sighed in remorse. Now, she actually had to pay attention to their demands.
“So, I’m willing to loan Ser Grigori and Ser Oliver as her temporary knights until Samantha is able to gather her own,” the princess of Karthakos folded her arms with a note of finality. “After all, Karthakos is still trying to remain neutral against the forces of both Prince Santino and Crown Prince Matteo.”
Queen Regina sighed. As much as Princess Phylline had a wonderful offer, she had hoped to deal with someone with a less shrill voice. She glanced towards the rest of the members of Xychosia’s council to see what they thought.
Councilman Pocholo had his head hanging. She bent a little more to check if he was truly asleep only to see that his hands had already slipped inside his robe. His eyes peeked through a small hole of his robe. A small white light shone through the navy blue fabric and she could have sworn she heard beeping sounds underneath.
Councilman Jun kept his usual pleasant and serene expression with a smile, nodding. But she could tell that he was deep in thought. His eyes seemed to scan Princess Phylline from head to toe, as if assessing what possible asset she could serve as to Princess Samantha. A small smile curved up her lips; his main concern had always been Samantha’s welfare. And she was glad that it had never changed.
Another councilman, Councilman AJ however seemed to ignore the princess completely and instead focused on his fingernails. He then also began to straighten his navy blue toga before sinking into his chair with a sigh of boredom.
Queen Regina shook her head; so much for asking for help from the men. She turned to the women to see if they had anything to say.
Councilwoman Joy, a petite young woman, pursed her lips a bit at the proposition. She knew that the young lady who had been recently elected into office had good opinions and welcomed both sides of the coin. But for this particular case, she could clearly see the annoyance bottled up inside. Councilwoman Joy offered a strained smile with her fingers curling against the wooden armrest.
Councilwoman Kara however did nothing to conceal her annoyance. Her fingers drummed against the wooden armrest with wrinkles forming above her knitted eyebrows. With her lips pursed, she glared daggers at Karthakos’ princess. Queen Regina knew that her colleague had much to say and when Councilwoman Kara wanted to chew someone out – even if she had good intentions – she would not hold back.
“Thank you for your kind offer,” Queen Regina suddenly heard Councilwoman Jocelyn say while nodding with a sincere smile. “We will tell Samantha.”
The queen sighed in relief; how did Councilwoman Jocelyn have that much patience? She watched Councilwoman Jocelyn fold her legs elegantly and rest herself comfortably despite Princess Phylline’s obnoxious address towards them. She couldn’t help but envy at the saint-like patience Councilwoman Jocelyn was famed to have. Here she was, fighting every urge – keeping up appearances and trying her best to actually pay attention – to throw out the princess for her obnoxious manners. Whereas, Councilwoman Jocelyn had her practiced smile and her hands resting on her lap.
Princess Phylline seemed to be satisfied with Councilwoman Jocelyn’s answer. “Very well, I will expect her answer before this lunch. My men will be out in the field practicing in sword sport should she wish to meet them.”
“Yes, we will tell her,” Councilwoman Jocelyn nodded. “Thank you, Your Highness.”
The princess, giving them a triumphant smirk, stalked off with an indignant huff. “Ser Ace, we’re leaving.”
The knight bowed. “Yes milady.”
She strode out first with him following behind her. Queen Regina sighed and shook her head; how in the world could the boy stand her? The moment the door shut and Princess Phylline was out of an earshot, the whole council sighed and relaxed. The only one who didn’t seem the least bit disturbed was Councilwoman Jocelyn.
Queen Regina shook her head. “How?”
Councilwoman Jocelyn craned her head towards the queen. “How...?”
“How did you deal with her so easily? Kara looked like she wanted to claw her eyes out!”
Councilwoman Kara let out a disgruntled snort. “Clawing her eyes out would be an understatement.” She folded her arms and slumped on her chair. “I was thinking something more in the fire magic family.”
“Kara, no torching of people. We talked about this,” Queen Regina reprimanded her firmly.
“I didn’t say I was going to torch her.”
“You said fire magic. What else would you do with it?!”
“There’s burning, lighting up the stove, stir-fry, boiling water,” Kara shrugged nonchalantly. “What? You expect me to butter toast with it?”
Queen Regina sighed into her palm and shook her head. She then felt a gentle pat on her shoulder only to see that Councilwoman Jocelyn had gotten off her chair and stood in front of her.
“You really want to know my secret?”
Queen Regina raised an eyebrow. “What would that be?”
Councilwoman Jocelyn plucked out something from her ears. It was then Queen Regina noticed two white plugs in her hands that appeared to be shaped like two ear buds. “It helps block out the shrieking of Karthakos’ princess. Would you like a pair?”
At the sight of them, Queen Regina wasn’t sure to burst out laughing or sigh in despondence. But whatever it was, she was glad that the princess had left the room. Speaking of princesses, she wondered and glanced at her watch. It was already ten thirty in the morning.
Where in the world was Samantha?
Standing at the other side of a white door, Beatriz held a tray of Rosemary tea. The herbal, wheat-like scent of the rosemary wafted into the air as she struggled to balance the white China tea cup and pot on the tray. She sighed deeply; while on most days that she and Sam would go out for lunch, today was a particular exception. After all, she did use a lot of her magic. Holding up a barrier wasn’t as easy as it looked. It required constant concentration and the single-track thought to forever create an impossible defence.
Yesterday had definitely been planned. The large celebration, the gathering of all Xychosia’s and Samantha’s allies, the party – it had been planned. She frowned; how did the necromancer sneak through the defences? Surely, the guards would have at least checked where the withered old man had come from. Beatriz pursed her lips with a twitch of her nose as the scenes from last night flashed through her mind. The wild celebrations, the nobles, the annoying princess who she would have rather thrown to the dogs for meat, and lastly, Daniel Iscariot. Speaking of which, she had never seen him in Xychosia’s lands before. Probably from Machinos Empire, she shrugged.
Realizing that the pot of tea had begun to cool, Beatriz snapped out of her daze and knocked on the door. “Sam?”
There was a small pause before she heard a hoarse voice from behind the door. “Come in.”
Beatriz pushed the door open with her shoulder, bringing in the tray of tea. She stumbled through the dark room with the tray. Her only source of light was a small stream of sunlight shining through the lavender curtains. A sigh escaped her lips as she spared some glances towards the floor. She spotted Samantha’s purple gown in a messy heap on the ground with one of her golden flats on the pile and the other she assumed to be under the pile.
“First time using magic for combat?” Beatriz chuckled. She placed the tray down on the table, pouring some of the Rosemary Tea into a cup. She heard nothing but a pained groan. “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
She walked over towards the curtain to draw it aside, letting the sun shine in.
“Ah!” Samantha wailed and buried herself under the covers. “Bea!”
“Just needed a little sun. After all, we have a lot to cover today.”
“Oh sure. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”
“Try not to pound too much.”
“Will do. You’ll be feeling great in no time.”
Beatriz then made her way to the side of Samantha’s bed. She stretched her arms and cracked her knuckles. “You’re gonna have to sit up if you want the full experience.”
The princess, clearly groggy, sat up with tired eyes and smacked her lips. “... Yeah.”
Beatriz smirked and set off to work. She kicked off her slippers and climbed up onto the bed. She then unlaced Samantha’s gown, exposing her naked back. The lady-in-waiting smirked and sat behind Samantha and dropped her hands onto the princess’ shoulders. Her hands glided over the princess’s shoulders as Samantha moaned in delight.
“Oh yeah, a little lower,” Samantha mewled. She arched her back as Beatriz began pushing her knuckles into her back. “This feels great.”
Beatriz snickered and continued to massage her. “That explains why your magic was stocked up. You froze your whole damn shoulder. Your casting posture’s off.”
“Well, I didn’t expect us to get attacked by a giant squid yesterday.”
“Nobody did. Not even Councilwoman Pia would have predicted that.”
“Yeah. Speaking of which, how is she?”
“She’s expecting her first kid. It kinda explains why Councilman Jun looks paler than usual.”
“He’s gonna be a wonderful dad.”
“Yeah, you’d know. He was more a dad to you than your own.”
Samantha laughed softly. “Yeah. But my dad had to be king of Sofiene.”
Beatriz scoffed with a disgruntled snort. “Yeah and look where that got him.”
“Bea, nobody knew back then my brothers had a rebellion in mind!”
The lady-in-waiting scowled; of course nobody knew! Save for her, the boys had everybody completely fooled. She had spotted the two boys sneaking out at midnight during the days after the king had declared Samantha as his Anointed One. Although she never did track them down or reprimand them, she knew that they were planning something. Regret and guilt welled up inside her. She could have stopped the war even before it began! Beatriz growled without noticing that she had drilled her knuckles into Samantha’s shoulders.
I should have slit their throats when I had the fucking chance...!
Suddenly, she heard Samantha yelp. “Ow!”
Beatriz, snapping out of her daze, realized then she had nearly bruised Samantha’s shoulder. “Not my fault you have a knot here,” she grumbled.
Beatriz continued massaging her back only to hear a small pop. “Whoa,” Samantha groaned. “Was that me?”
“Yeah,” Beatriz sighed and patted Samantha’s back. “There, done. Would you like a full body massage?”
Samantha shook her head. “Nah, I’m good.”
Beatriz nodded and began lacing Samantha’s dress up. “So, where do we start?”
“What do you mean where do we start?”
“Well, you just told everybody that you were going to join the Knights’ Festival. For starters, where are you going to find knights to fight for you?”
Samantha then fell silent. “I...”
“You don’t have a clue, do you?”
Beatriz groaned; that was the hardest part for the Knights’ Festival. Most knights fought because the lady or the lord had been well-renowned. They fought for prestige, glory, and the thought of dying with a bang on the battlefield. She scoffed at the thought. They were such short-term goals. What then if the war ends? Most knights she fought were either so full of themselves that all she had to do was praise them, seduce them, and then sink her scythe into their flesh before letting the weapon lap up every ounce of blood. She pursed her lips for a bit; where in the world were they going to get knights?
“Maybe Xychosia can loan us a few knights?” Samantha offered cheerfully. “Just until we get our own?”
Beatriz shook her head. “Bringing too many knights will draw too much attention. We need a small, elite team.”
Samantha cocked her head to the side. “And where are we going to find those?”
Beatriz smirked and folded her arms. “If there’s anything a man likes more than a good fuck, it’s a good moot with old fashioned bragging and booze. We’re heading to a tavern.”
It was either the jail cell or the life of a drifter and a fugitive.
Luke Henshel didn’t like either choice. But then again, he pondered to himself. He already had been living like a drifter and a fugitive. He had been out on the high seas and had always been constantly travelling. But even then, times were hard. He glanced at the drawstring bag that he clutched by its top, keeping it sealed. He breathed heavily and nodded to himself; no way in Erkalla was he going to lose the bag! Taking a few glances past the wall, Luke smirked and bolted out into the activity-filled streets of Xychosia.
Despite his scrawny form, Luke never did look at it as an obstacle. In fact, he believed it more as an advantage to him. Although his knobbly knees would sometimes entangle themselves and cause him to trip, they served him well come the time he need to sprint. He wiped the sweat off his tanned skin, breathing out deep. His bony shoulders slumped slightly from the fatigue. Fighting through the crowds was never his favourite thing to do.
“I better get this to, Cap,” Luke beamed proudly. “We finally get a fancy dinner tonight!”
The bag, made of woolly material, had always served him well. It was a bag he commonly used for stashing away all sorts of things. He remembered buying the bag from a merchant for a few copper pieces at Xychosia’s bazaar a few years ago. It was a birthday present; a small, nostalgic smile curved up his lips at the thought of the memory. But he shook his head. Now was not the time to reminisce. Inside the bag, Luke had managed to stash away fresh venison meat, apples, a plastic bag full of small fish, and some other things he needed. Luke sighed; he really didn’t like stealing. It made him appear nothing more than a common thief. He was a pirate for Deus’ sake! He was meant to plunder royal citadels and castles alongside his captain.
Yet, here he was slinking and slipping around the streets like a common criminal.
A frown marred his features until he spotted the bridge leading to the pier. His expression lit up as he bolted for towards the pier. Finally, he cheered himself on. He was almost home! He bolted faster and faster until his scrawny body slammed into something that of a wall. Luke grunted and tumbled down on the ground with his bag falling onto the dusty stone bridge. His glasses rattled to the side as he groaned in pain.
“Well, well, look what we have here,” Luke winced at the mocking voice. “If it isn’t a street rat!”
Luke looked up and narrowed his eyes at the beefy man standing before him. “Diedrich...”
Diedrich, wearing the usual soldier armour, was a member of Xychosia’s army. Luke knew him as one of the footmen in Xychosia’s army, doing the more menial tasks of patrolling the city. However, the small boy knew better than to negotiate with him. He could see the elaborate and fancy gold rings being stretched out by his beefy fingers and his newly shined snake-skin boots glittering under the sun. If there was anything he knew about him, it was that he would always scam people out of their money – be it rich or poor.
“You shouldn’t be walking around alone like this,” Diedrich cooed mockingly. “Where does the little sprout want to go?”
Despite his blurry eyesight, Luke knew who it was. He glared. “Not now, Diedrich. I have things to do.”
“Yeah but you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Luke yelped when he heard Diedrich suddenly pull out his sword.
“I know a little sprout like you would fetch a high price. I hear noble-women want little pageboys like you who could keep their yaps shut about their infidelities.”
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t.”
“I would,” Diedrich sneered. “But,” he chuckled and pointed his sword at Luke’s bag. “I’d be willing to let you go if you give me that wool-skin bag of yours. It’d be a shame to waste all that good food. And, that wonderful gauntlet of yours. I hear shark-scale gauntlets fetch a good price.”
“... Go fuck yourself, you bowling ball.”
“Ah, so the little beansprout has thorns. So naïve...”
Luke swallowed hard when the blade was then pointed at him.
“Don’t worry; I’ll give the bag to your oh-so-precious captain.” Diedrich sneered. “That is, after I’m done filling it with only the parts he needs!”
Luke crawled back as Diedrich advanced towards him.
“You’re nothing more than a worthless weed and a street rat. While Xychosia’s laws say that I were to be executed for your murder, I think they would think twice if what I killed was a murderous street rat!”
Luke shuddered and shut his eyes, his last view being the silver blade coming down on him. What a way to die – he was going to be killed by a beefy man who’s head shined brighter than a newly polished bowling ball. He flinched as the steel sang only to hear a loud clang echo in his ears. Someone blocked the blade! But who? Still trembling, his eyes slowly opened when he saw a glowing blue gunblade glimmering in his face. The song of the oceans rushed into his ears as a smile curved up his lips. Blocking the attack was none other than his captain – Brandon Hawthorne.
“C-cap, b-boy a-am I g-glad t-t-to s-see y-you,” he burbled.
Brandon Hawthorne was a tall, dashing, young man who Luke revered as his captain. The young man had a toned body with his crimson red coat shaping his wide shoulders. The tails of his coat billowed to reveal two other revolvers on both sides of his brown leather holsters, a belt of knives strapped to his khaki pants, and his two buckled leather brown boots. His lavender eyes shot daggers from beneath the bangs of his straight, chin-length jet black hair at Diedrich. He kept the silver blade mere inches away from Luke’s face, using his gunblade to lock it down. The small boy could see the sweat pouring down the man’s bronzed complexion and oval shaped face as the heat beat down on all three of them. Brandon’s toned figure stood in front of him like a shield as the captain pointed his gunblade at the soldier.
“Get lost, Diedrich. If you want money so badly, go be some bitch’s cum dumpster.” Brandon coolly growled.
With a flick of his wrist, Brandon wrapped the gunblade around the sword and parried it away. Diedrich stumbled back while the captain stood in between him and Luke.
“And of course, the fancy captain decides to grace us with his presence,” Diedrich mockingly bowed. “I’m so honoured.”
Brandon hummed coldly. “You’re not fooling anybody. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
“For a fucking street rat like you? You have nothing on me, boy!”
“I’d like to think I do. I at least don’t pick on little boys and bring them home.”
Diedrich’s face flushed red. “What?!”
“You heard me. Why else would you pick on my First Mate and all the other newspaper boys flocking around the city? You seriously need better standards.”
In that one instant, Diedrich’s face turned from red to purple with rage. “Fuck you!” He roared and swung his sword.
Luke yelped when Brandon suddenly whirled around with his crimson coat billowing in the soldier’s face and shoved him back towards the bag. He tumbled back and landed flat on his back before scrambling for his glasses. He patted the floor until he managed to feel out his glasses. A smile lit up on his face as Luke grabbed his glasses and mounted them on his nose. As his vision became clear, his jaw dropped at the sight.
Brandon’s swordplay, he had known it as unparalleled all across the seven seas. From simple swinging of the sword, Brandon had lifted it into a form of pure art. His footsteps barely made a sound despite the belt buckles and the puddles on the ground. The captain ducked and gracefully slid beneath the sword before twisting his body and bludgeoning Diedrich on the back with the blunt edge of his gunblade. The soldier coughed and gasped before falling down to the ground while Brandon danced away. As Brandon glided across the cobblestone floor, Diedrich lunged after him again with his silver sword humming and cleaving through the air. Brandon smirked and spun past him before landing an axe kick on his shoulder and slammed him onto the ground. Diedrich, slowly clambering to his feet, turned to the black haired male with murderous intent dancing in his eyes.
“You little shit,” Diedrich coughed.
Brandon shrugged nonchalantly. “Says the one who has eaten it all his life.”
Diedrich roared and lunged at him with his sword swinging again. Brandon quickly shifted his stance before putting one hand on another hilt peeking out from his belt while gripping tightly to his drawn gunblade. Luke gawked as his captain just stood still, unwavering despite the berserk soldier. He yelped and shut his eyes. Move, cap, move! His mind screamed for his throat to yell. As Diedrich rushed in, Luke snapped his eyes shut as he saw the silver sword being inches away from Brandon’s face.
Suddenly, a soft song filled the air. Luke could have sworn he heard the ocean rushing around him. His eyes slowly opened when he saw that the angry soldier had suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He gawked when he only saw a few flashes of light and saw that Brandon’s left hand now held another gunblade. The captain didn’t appear to have moved but suddenly, he heard a loud rip. The soldier gasped when his uniform – from his top and all the way to his expensive boots – were reduced into tatters. But past the tattered cloth, Luke saw large, swollen, welts on the man’s body from the bludgeoning of Brandon’s swords. Diedrich, gasping and croaking like a dying frog, collapsed and keeled over onto the ground.
“You bastard!” He seethed. “I am a soldier of Xychosia –!”
“By Councilwoman Kara’s grace if you need a reminder,” Brandon scoffed. He rolled his eyes and sheathed his gunblades. “She only spared your arse because there was no other boot-kissin’ scallywag who wanted to do patrol like you.”
Diedrich’s jet black eyes flashed with his skin turning violet with rage. “I’ll have you captured and thrown into prison! And leave you there to rot!” He spat venomously and slammed his beefy fist on the cobblestone bridge.
Brandon waved his hand dismissively. “So you have told me many times.” He rolled his eyes and glanced at Luke. “You got the stuff?”
Luke had been too stunned to say anything. It had been a long time since he had seen his captain in action. Many times, their operations were more on a splash-and-dash kind of thing. They would sneak in, retrieve the item, and leave as if nothing had ever been stolen. But seeing Brandon draw out his weapons – even for that short moment in time – was a sight to behold.
“Luke! Quit your dilly-dallying and get up!” Brandon snapped.
The bespectacled boy snapped out of his daze and nodded vigorously. “S-sorry!”
“Damn it, Luke. This is why we attract all sorts of trouble!”
Brandon sighed and mussed up his black hair. “Please tell me that the meat is at least not musty after rolling on the ground.”
Luke beamed, proud of himself. He opened the drawstring bag and revealed the venison meat all covered up in a plastic bag. “Nope, all wrapped and accounted for.”
Brandon chuckled and ruffled the small boy’s hair. “Thanks, Luke. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a decent meal.”
The small boy nodded. Living on the seas didn’t give them much of a choice on what to eat. He had learned how to fish, hunt for fish carcasses, wring out juice from even the driest of coconuts, and many other survival tips. It was something he had been constantly grateful to Brandon for. If his captain had not found him that day, he shuddered. He didn’t want to think of the other possibilities that would have gotten him killed.
“Aye sir, it’s been awhile since we’ve found a good meal,” Luke chuckled. He nodded. “I remember the time we had to scam people for food.”
Brandon gave the small boy a hearty laugh. “That was the time I had to impersonate someone Theos clergy. You were quite a convincing altar boy.”
Luke grinned. “Well, what could I say? As long as you read the book, they won’t suspect anything.”
“Agreed. Let’s head over to The Cove. That venison is not going to cook itself!”
Luke nodded and skipped after Brandon. It was a good day. Although he had a close call with Diedrich, he passed a grateful smile to Brandon’s back. He hummed a merry tune and glanced towards the setting sun. A smile curved up his lips as he closed his eyes. He breathed deeply while letting the sunbeams touch his skin. It had been awhile since he last relaxed.
Suddenly, he heard an owl hooting above him. Luke snapped his head up when he saw an owl sitting on top of one of the streetlamps. Luke chuckled and waved hello to the owl.
“Come on, Luke!” He heard Brandon holler. “I’m hungry!”
Luke, snapping his head towards his captain, nodded and trailed after him. “Coming!”
As Brandon and he reached the end of the pier, the two boys head off to a small tavern at the end of the pier known as The Cove.
The Cove was not just any tavern. It was a tavern that Queen Regina had built for many pirates to rest before they depart for another journey. A shabby shack, it barely looked like a place any noble in their right mind would venture into. The awning, made by terracotta tiles welded together, hung over the wooden doors. Its brick walls were eroded by salty winds and the sweat from the backs of pirates who rested against its walls. It was a place all pirates considered home; all the things a pirate needed – food, clothing, lodging, supplies, and even vital information – could be found in The Cove. It was a normally filled with merry-making music and laughter; sailors would sing about the fantastic creatures they’ve seen, the escapades they performed, and the death defying acts that no warrior would possibly ever think of doing.
However, Luke suddenly jumped when he heard the tavern suddenly erupt with loud, angry roars with a loud slam against the wooden floors. He let out a small “eep” before leaping behind Brandon.
“What was that?!” Luke yelped.
Brandon shook his head. “I don’t know but,” he drew out his swords. “It’s gonna be ugly the moment I kick those doors open!”
Luke swallowed hard. “Do you think Diedrich –?”
“—I don’t think so. Diedrich may be an idiot but I don’t think he’s that big of an idiot to piss off an entire coven of pirates.”
“I-I suppose so...”
Luke shivered as Brandon took a step forward. “Stay behind me,” the captain warned.
The small boy nodded; that was an order he’d be more than happy to follow.
Brandon drew his swords and with one swift kick, he flung the doors open. Luke yelped and followed after Brandon as they made their way into the tavern. The two pirates then stormed the tavern only to be admonished with what they saw. Some bodies of the pirates lay strewn out on the floor. Tables had been turned over with chairs reduced to nothing but splinters. But what was more shocking was the sight of a buxom black haired young woman in a purple gown trying to stop a petite pale-skinned girl from cleaving the next pirate in half with a gear scythe.
Luke swallowed nervously; he had never seen them before. He may have travelled all over Xychosia but this was the first time he saw a petite girl clad in a revealing set of obsidian-coloured armour while wielding a gear scythe that clearly saw the horrors of battle. Her dark blonde hair was tossed by the winds of battle as it revealed her angry icy blue eyes. Luke swallowed nervously and shook his head. Was she the one responsible for the mess? Dents, scratches, and scars decorated the flat end of the blade. Bodies were being flung aside and howls echoed throughout the tavern. Luke swallowed hard when he suddenly noticed his captain flipping a lock on the rifle.
“Uh, cap, what are you –?”
Brandon didn’t answer only to point the gunblade straight into the air and fired three explosive gunshots. The arguing crowd stopped and all the noise died after the three shots as they stared at both of them. Luke swallowed nervously and looked up to see the stern expression on his captain’s face.
“What the feth is going on?!”