Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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I

The young Prince Farli Isonil slept soundly in the royal chambers of the Beranian Castle. He was tucked in under four layers of blankets to help fight back the cold breeze that always came around late Autumn. All was silent except for the gentle breeze that blew against the windows.

But not all was silent in the castle. An old man approached the royal chambers, walking down one of the many long corridors of the castle. He was a man who had seen many years, more than most can imagine, a respected scholar who had been everywhere in the world at least once. His half-moon spectacles covered eyes full of wisdom, and his short white beard and balding head were an understatement to his true age. When he reached the royal chambers, the guards out front allowed him to pass through.

Prince Farli awoke to the intrusion, the soft click of the doors opening and closing again. Who would be visiting him at this time of night? He looked out his window and saw the shadows of night still cloaking the castle outside. It must have been only an hour or two past midnight. His first thoughts were that someone was coming to assassinate him, but he was sure that he still heard his guards’ voices outside the doors. They wouldn’t allow an assassin to pass through. Would they?

He sat up quickly in bed, throwing away his covers and reaching for the dagger on his bedside table that never went too far from his side. A figure approached ahead of him, rounding the short corridor that led out to the main corridor without. Moonlight streamed in from the window to his right and faintly illuminated the figure.

And instantly, Farli knew who it was.

“Professor?” said the prince hesitantly.

The figure lit a candlestick by the wall, and his identity was revealed. “Farli,” he said, his voice low and soft in the stillness of night, “how did you sleep?”

The question surprised Farli. A better question was why the Professor was in his room. “I slept well,” he replied. He had known the Professor all his life and knew better than to be rude to him even if he intruded his personal quarters.

“Good,” said the Professor. “You’ll need all the sleep you can get.” He walked over to Farli’s wardrobe and began scavenging through the clothes.

Farli was still a little dazed from his abrupt awakening, and he felt as if he was in some strange dream. “Uh, Professor,” he said, “what’s going on?” He turned to his right and let his legs hang out over the side of the bed.

The Professor stood for a moment, examining the clothes in the wardrobe and twirling his beard as if in thought. “Well, right now, I’m helping you pack.”

Farli raised his eyebrow, confused. “What for?”

The Professor took out a few pair of clothes and began filling a pack with them. Farli now noticed that the Professor was caring a pack on his back as well, full of supplies for a trip. The Professor stopped after a few clothes were packed and turned to Farli. “Farli, I know this is very sudden and surprising, but we need to move. There’s no time to explain. I need to get you out of Berania.”

Farli was shocked. He jumped to his feet instantly. “Professor, what are you talking about?”

The old man sighed. “I am sorry, my lad, very sorry, but we live in dangerous times. I believe there is a plot against the royal line. The enemy is here in the castle, and he will not stop until you and your father are overthrown.”

The prince couldn’t believe it. What plot? What enemy? He couldn’t think of anything to say before the Professor handed him the pack and ordered him to pack whatever he wished to bring.

Farli searched his room. He would like to bring everything, of course. But that was impossible, and by the tone of the Professor’s voice and his intense focus, it looked like they did not have much time.

He took a moment to look out the window and caught his transparent reflection. His short dark hair was in disarray after just waking up, but he stood with a posture that showed just who he was, the son of the Great King Broniton Isonil, the Prince of Sargenia. He had a lean figure, his body grown muscular over the many years of training he had received from the Beranian guards. He was a young adult, twenty years of age, still a child in comparison to his very elderly father.

He sighed and continued looking around the room. As he looked through his many drawers and belongings, he thought of the abrupt way the world always changed, the way the gods always seemed to play games with mortals. Everyone was just a pawn in this world. It reminded him of the day his mother died. That was the first of the many moments that shook his world upside down. This thought reminded him of the one thing he knew he had to bring with him.

He pulled out the top drawer of his bedside table and took out an old piece of leather, an aged scrap that looked as if it would crumble at any moment. On the paper was a drawn, detailed illustration of the face of a beautiful young woman that he loved but could not have. The woman had long blonde hair that rolled down her shoulders and framed her face. Her face had delicate features: a thin, sweet smile, a small, straight nose, and deep blue eyes that looked into the soul.

Salandra.

He took the illustration and gently rolled it up and placed it in the pack. She was far away, too far away for any normal mortal to go. She was gone, and the chances of her ever returning to Sargenia were very slim. He wondered where his life was going for a moment and shook his head in dismay.

Another main object that he went to grab was the dagger that never left his side. It was the weapon that he had been first trained to use, and he trusted it as much as he would trust a sword.

When he was finished grabbing everything he could think of packing, he turned to the Professor. “Where are we going?” he asked, hoping to get some answers from the always mysterious old man.

The Professor led him over to the short corridor that led to the exit. “I will help you leave the castle and then you must go to Salras,” he said. “Do you understand? There can be no argument against this.”

Salras? thought Farli. Of all the places in Sargenia he knew he didn’t want to return there. Too many memories…. But he knew if there really was a plot against the royal family then Salras would be the best place to hide.

“All right,” he replied and readied the pack on his shoulder as they began walking to the doors. He was nervous and shaky, the full realization of everything that was happening coming in on him slowly as they began to approach the doors. This was his home; he may never return if what the Professor was saying was true. A tear came to his eye, unbidden, and he tried to hide his face from the Professor.

The Professor turned to him, as if sensing the sadness welling up inside of Farli. He placed his hands on Farli’s shoulders and looked solemnly at him. “Farli, Sargenia’s young prince, you must be brave now,” he said, his eyes glistening with a mixture of kindness and sadness that could be found nowhere else in the cold world they lived in. “This is what I have been training you for all of your life. We are both about to be thrust into situations that neither of us can take control of. We must be ready to do what we can.

“But just remember this, Farli, I will always be there for you. I may not be there to support you physically, but all that I have taught you over the years will be with you… always.”

Farli felt tears going down his face freely, and he wiped them away. He could find no words to say so he simply nodded his understanding. He felt as if the Professor was hiding something though, as if there was more to all that was happening other than just some plot against the royal family, something much worse. But it was in the Professor’s nature to keep important secrets to himself. It was the smart man’s game to stay silent as he watched and thought all that played out. All Farli could do was try his best to trust the Professor, no matter how frustrating it might be.

“Professor,” said Farli in a weak voice that wanted to crack into a sob, “what about my father?”

The Professor looked past Farli with a distant look for a second and turned away to face the doors again. “King Broniton will have to stay here. My duty right now is to make sure you are safe.” He stood with his head bowed slightly to the ground and his back to Farli, as if he was talking to him from a faraway world. “I will try my hardest to protect your father,” he added, his voice slightly hesitant.

The hesitancy in the Professor’s voice was all Farli needed to confirm his suspicions. There were secrets here, he knew for sure now. The Professor knew something that he wasn’t saying, something that endangered the king.

“What are you talking about?!” yelled Farli in a hushed tone, a sudden rage filling him. “If there’s a plot against my family why don’t you bring my father to Salras too? He’s the only family I have left!”

Farli was livid with anger as he glared at the Professor, but the Professor simply continued to stare at the floor. “I’m sorry, Farli,” said the Professor. “You need to escape now.”

“I don’t understand.” A cluster of different thoughts ran through Farli’s mind as he paused for a moment. “You’re trying to get rid of me.”

The accusation caused a tense silence between them. After a few seconds of silence that made Farli think the Professor wasn’t going to reply, the Professor unexpectedly turned to face Farli. With stern eyes, the Professor shot him with a deadly stare. “Don’t you ever even think about what you are implying ever again! Never in my many years serving Sargenia or any of the other Ancient Kingdoms of Sarbenia have I ever considered going against our kings and queens. So get the idea out of your head right now, young prince, because everything I do, I do for you, you and all of the other Sargenians.”

Prince Farli was speechless as he stared at the suddenly enraged Professor. “I-I’m sorry,” was all he could say.

An awkward silence overtook them as they stared at each other. After a moment, the Professor softened down again. “It’s fine. I understand you are in a difficult position.”

The Professor turned back to the doors. “We must go now.”

Farli relented and followed the Professor to the doors. “Aren’t the guards going to stop us?” he asked in a whisper.

“Yes, but it’ll be easy to sneak past them.”

Farli didn’t see how, but he had to trust the Professor. There was nothing else he could do at that point. The Professor opened the door slightly to peek through the crack. The two guards were still outside, ever vigilant, scanning the corridor for threats. He made a small gesture with his hand and a bright, blinding flash of white light appeared on the other side of the door. Farli didn’t know what the source of the light was, but he understood the Professor’s plan. Quickly, the Professor slipped past the door, leading Farli past the two guards as they dropped their weapons and covered their eyes in pain.

“What was that light?” asked Farli when they made it a safe distance from the guards.

The Professor was moving at a quick pace ahead of him, his eyes focused on his path and his solemn face showing his urge to get to their destination quick. “It was nothing,” he replied. “Just a little trick.”

When they were a safe distance from the royal chambers, the Professor stopped Farli. Out of the pack he had been carrying on his back, he pulled out two cloaks and gave one to Farli. “Put this on, and pull up the hood. You’ll need to keep yourself under a low profile. When you leave the castle you need to go buy whatever supplies you may need from one of the traveling merchants on your way to Salras. Don’t trust anyone on the road; don’t tell anyone your name. When you get to Salras go to the palace. You know the Duke. He will provide you with shelter.”

Farli nodded and did what he was told. He remembered Salras perfectly from the other times he had been there on his father’s royal business trips to keep good connections with the dukes of the other cities. The Duke of Salras was a distant relative to the royal family so he was always kind enough to supply them with a place to stay when they visited. In Farli’s eyes, however, the Duke was a narcissistic man who was more focused on the increase of his own wealth and fame than the welfare of his city’s people. But there was no point in arguing at the moment.

“How are we leaving the castle?” he asked. “All the entrances and exits are still locked up for the night.”

“I know my fair share of secrets about this castle, my young prince,” replied the Professor with a sly grin.

He led Farli down a series of corridors, making so many turns that Farli was sure they were lost. The castle had always been a maze to him as he was sure it was for everyone else as well. Guards roamed the many dark corridors on duty, but the Professor and the prince were able to sneak their way past them all.

Eventually, they ended up at a dimly lit corridor that led into complete darkness. It seemed abandoned as if it hadn’t been used in several years, dust forming piles on the ground and cobwebs covering the ceiling. One torch hung on the wall by them, its light in a futile fight against the overpowering shadows around it. The Professor pulled the torch out of its holder and led the way into the shadows ahead.

Farli was starting to doubt more than ever the Professor’s knowledge of where they were going, but the Professor never once showed any signs of indecision while choosing his path. He followed without any complaints.

They continued until they reached a dead end. Farli stared in surprise at the wall. A dead end? Were they actually lost?

The Professor searched along the wall with his free hand until it stopped on one of the stones. He pushed the stone, and Farli heard a soft click. The wall began to sink into the ground, leaving Farli in awe. A secret passage.

They walked out onto green grass at the south side outside of the castle. It was still dark with a sky full of stars above, but Farli knew the sun would be out soon enough. This was the last night of his old life and the dawn of his new one.

The Professor looked out to the south, to the poor district that lay past about a mile of farming fields. Beyond the poor district was one of the four Great Walls that surrounded the city. Farli knew then that it was time to go their separate ways. If what Professor Alavar had been saying was true, he had to leave this city before he was stuck in it with the enemy like a small boy in a lion’s den. He had to go exit through the Northern Great Wall while the Professor had to go back to the poor district to his small cottage and continue to teach the peasants.

He sighed and turned north. A cold breeze blew across the fields, blowing across his face, rustling the grass around him. “I guess this is it, my lad,” said the Professor, behind him.

“I guess it is,” replied Farli, another tear wanting to take place in his eyes.

The Professor walked up behind Farli and put his hand on the other’s shoulder. “Times will be hard from here on out. Be the prince I know you to be.” He removed his hand and turned away again. “And may Sarben watch over you.”

“And he with you,” replied the prince.

And with those final words, they went their separate ways. With his hood up, dagger up his sleeve, pack on his shoulders, and tears filling his eyes, young Prince Farli began his journey to Salras not knowing the dangers he was leaving behind in his home city.


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