Part I: Chapter 1
A shrieking crash echoed through the treetops of the wood. A deadly silence ensued, but after a few more moments, it sounded again: metal on metal, the lethal sound of two swords hitting one another, reverberating through the trees. But despite the seemingly hostile noises, an occasional laugh rang out among the sword clashing.
“Hey! That’s not fair! You c an’t use your horse as a shield!” a girl’s voice yelled with laughter.
Another voice, perceptibly masculine, replied, “Well, Balfrey told me just now that you’ll have to go through him to get to me!”
Balfrey, the horse, whinnied in what sounded like protest. Balfrey was a large Grey, sustaining a loving nature. But even though he was surrounded by impending battle, he did not seem alarmed.
The girl, whose hair fell dark gold and long, ventured around to the other side of the horse, where the boy was. “Fine,” she said. “You know I’d never do anything to harm Balfrey.” She reached out a hand to stroke the beast fondly.
The boy looked at her carefully. “Does this mean I win, Esile?” he asked slowly, cautiously, seemingly ready for a quick attack from her.
Esile was glaring at him. She shrugged, “Only because you cheated. We will undoubtedly have a rematch, and you’d better be prepared, Bardson.” She walked up to him to push him on the shoulder playfully.
Bardson smiled and it matched Esile’s grin. The two were akin, brother and sister. In fact, they were twins. Their hair appeared the same color, only Bardson’s was slightly darker, and his eyes were a brighter green than Esile’s. However, they were both equal in height.
They had been born on an autumn’s eve under seventeen years ago. Growing up, the two had discovered their love for the fanciful if not enjoyable art of swordplay. Well, to put it in truth, their parents had discovered that devotion. Each time Bardson would be seen running through the halls, a look of white-fear on his face, he was followed by an angered-flushed Esile who would be waving about a stick in pursuit. Or vice versa. It was evident that their zeal for exacting revenge with the mere firewood they found as younglings would prove to be refined to a certain prowess in swordplay, and produce strong results if honed in the right direction.
Their swordplay went hand in hand with riding. Their parents had kept them in their lessons ever since they were children, marveling at how much they loved the arts. In that time away from others, they had not had the chance to make friends. One could say they were loners, but they would never agree to it. They kept each other company as the only company there was available. They might have thus been forced to be close, but they minded not.
Bardson patted Balfrey. “Oh alright, a rematch it is. But it’s beginning to get late and we should be getting back.” He nodded to the sunlight that was orange and shined through the tree leaves. Secretly, he was glad for the excuse of not having a rematch. It would devastating to be beaten once more by her, and he did not wish to bring that upon himself again.
Esile frowned at the orange light and sighed, “Alright, I suppose you are right.” She sheathed her sword and stepped behind Balfrey to grab the reigns of another horse, tethered to a tree, peacefully grazing on small shrubs. She led the horse beside Balfrey and mounted in a swift motion.
“Come on,” she said. “Don’t keep Faladina waiting,” she joked about how lazy her horse, Faladina, could be.
Bardson rolled his eyes, but mounted Balfrey, riding alongside Esile and Faladina. Balfrey was much larger than Faladina, but when it came to galloping, the horses had a very even stride.
“Dessert says I will beat you back,” Bardson challenged, a fresh mischievous look upon his features.
“You never have; this time won’t be different,” Esile said with an eyebrow raised. She nudged Faladina into a jog.
“We’ll see,” Bardson said and was quick to follow her. The horses must have sensed the air of competition, for they tossed their heads and snorted in excited rivalry. Lurching forward ever faster, they pounded their hooves into the ground to gain momentum and the upper hand. Their coats flashed as liquid copper and silver, and a tune was in their feet. They picked up speed as fast as any racing-mare.
Soon, the two horses were neck and neck, and the riders leaning over their steeds’ necks had no trouble staying on, for they had done things like this ever since they could get up on a horse. Amongst the excited breathing of both horse and rider, the only sounds were the heartbeat of hooves.
They flew past the end-line; a tall tree growing near the worn path up to the city gates. Indeed, there was no winner of the match, as had often occured. The horses slowed to a trot, as their riders laughed about the match, then even more to a walk as they neared the city gates. The city was large and busy as ever, with the inhabitants milling about in the warm summer evening, crowding the sideways and shops which nestled comfortably between houses. The houses were different shades of brown and grey, and seemed more alive in the orange sunlight. The wall around the city was quite thick but not high at all, marking the king’s trust of living in peace with no enemy abroad to scale the walls. There was a large lake towards the Southern side of the city, swans sailing in its crystalline water. The gates were large wooden doors, enforced with metal gratings and a portcullis, as an extra defense. Whatever the walls lacked in size, the gate made up for in strength. The whole city sat on a hill and on the crest of the hill, a castle smiled down upon the two riders as they approached. The castle was quite majestic in appearance, and was a gentle shade of brown. This was the kingdom of Triena, and Esile and Bardson were Queen Elsae’s and King Bearon’s only children.
The two riders directed their horses through the gates after they were opened to them. They walked up the hill, heading for the stables. No one really seemed surprised to see the Prince and Princess of Triena about, for the two often came through the city, seeking adventure, and almost never without their horses.
When the two finally arrived at the stables, they put away their mounts and made sure the beasts had good accommodations for the night.
The bells of the clock tower suddenly tolled the evening hour. With a start, Esile and Bardson ran inside in order to make the dinner on time. They didn’t have time to wash up from the day’s adventure, but Esile straightened her dress and brushed a few leaves off her skirts, hoping the small improvement would save her seemingly improper appearance.
She and Bardson took their places at the table and smiled a greeting to their parents. The King and Queen didn’t seem to notice that their children had been outside for the whole day, which was just as well because that meant Esile and Bardson weren’t terribly obscene.
At one end of the table, the King and Queen sat with the Triena court-folk, and their children sat on the opposite end. Thus was the custom in Triena, though Esile and Bardson were seated closer to their parents normally. They didn’t speak to the other children as was partly due to the customs of the particular time in Triena, and also they were unacquainted with the other children. In truth, the Prince and Princess ought to be outgoing, but the dinner was not the place, as protocol advised.
The meal mainly consisted of spinach and fish (which was often a rarity in Triena, but a pride of the lake). At the King’s end of the table, the nobles discussed things that Esile and Bardson could not hear or would care not to hear as it would inevitably all bore them anyway.
Presently, the dinner was over and people began to leave after paying their respects to the King and Queen.
Esile did not like the dinner. It was the most uncomfortable occasion she could think of. She stood to leave, grateful that the lengthy, suspenseful meal was over. It was just a dinner, but it felt like an oratorical event, with every eye upon her.
Bardson did not follow her. But she was not alarmed by that fact, for she felt like looking for her aunt, who had not attended the dinner.
She walked up to her parents first and took their hands in greeting before walking from the room. Her parents were the King and Queen and as a result, did not leave them with a whole lot of time. Throughout her young life, Esile has been mentored or instructed by others, her parents’ duties to the kingdom taking top priority. She had never noticed anything wrong with that as she assumed the various instructors were meant for the purpose of her upbringing. She was glad about it, however. It meant spending more time with her aunt; her personal mentor.
She turned from the door once it was closed and breathed a short sigh of relief. “Seven Paladins, I’m glad that’s over,” she muttered to herself, tucking some of her hair behind her ear and stepping out into the evening sun. The sight and warm feel of it made her smile. The sun made the beige walls of the castle look golden, and the lake shined orange, and the Forest looked peaceful.
Esile crossed to a balcony and looked down at the city. It was very quiet, but still a lot of people were out. She spotted a few men that looked like they had a bluish tint to their skin, but Esile thought it must have just been the light’s effect.
Then, she traversed around the castle and came across many guards, cooks, and even some ambassadors out upon the castle grounds, as they casually minded to their business. But Esile was headed to find her aunt, wherever she was. She had a pretty good guess as to where the aunt would be at this time of day. Helena, Esile’s aunt, loved the gardens and they were peaceful most of the time, undisturbed by man or beast usually. The gardens represented Helena’s soul, Esile had often told herself.
Indeed, Helena was there, flipping through the pages of a large book. She chuckled suddenly and Esile came up to her.
“What’s so funny?” She came and sat next to Helena.
The aunt looked up and smiled. “Hello, dear,” she said. “Did you know that some creatures speak with words like our own? I find that quite amusing.”
Esile looked at the book in her aunt’s hands and then back at her aunt. “I never did give it much thought.”
“I had always thought it was through movement or sound that they communicated. Not exactly words!” Helena said thoughtfully.
“That’s interesting, Auntie,” Esile said, her mind half on the subject. Esile was curious about something else at the moment. “Why weren’t you at the dinner?”
“Oh, you know me,” Helena shrugged. She glanced around once before speaking, “I can’t stand those stuffy dinners. They give me such a headache!” she whispered.
Helena nodded knowingly. She was much older than Esile but not noticeably elderly. She had laughing lines about her eyes, which were the clearest blue. Her hair was brown with streaks of gold, and it was usually worn up. She had a cheery disposition and a natural tan complexion. Though lately, she had not looked as sun-kissed as usual.
Helena had always been the one Esile would be with, besides Bardson, and it was almost like Helena had raised Esile herself. Helena did enjoy books, almost as much as Esile did. It was a bit unusual that she would read a book of folklore though.
“Auntie,” Esile began. “I didn’t know you enjoyed this type of reading material.”
Helena closed the book in her hands. “It’s not common that I pick something like this up, no. But the cover was intriguing,” and she showed Esile the leather-bound book.
Esile smiled at the picture on the front. It portrayed a winged beast, large and handsome, sleeping beneath a sizable tree. It looked quite harmless in its peaceable sleep.
“Can they speak?” she asked suddenly, speaking about the creature on the cover.
“Can who speak?” Helena responded.
“Dragons. Does it say if they can?”
“Oh, I must have not gotten that far; I don’t know,” Helena said informatively.
“I’ll have to read it later,” Esile said with a smile. “Should we go for a walk while it’s still light out?” She wished to tell her aunt of her adventures that day, and perhaps, if she was lucky, Helena would tell Esile one of her magical stories.
Her aunt smiled. “It is my favorite thing to do, you know.”
Esile nodded with a smile. Often in her younger years, Esile would walk alongside Helena in the evenings or pleasant afternoons. On most of these occasions, Helena would tell her niece many stories. Most had to do with the Paladins and what they did on this land. Esile would find this interesting and retained all of what her aunt said.
It was the story of a certain Paladin that had burned itself into Esile’s mind. She had heard it many times when she was younger, often asking to hear it again. The Paladin featured was chivalrous, strong and handsome, and quite the musical man. The way Helena had described him had made Esile used to shout, “And you married him!” at the end of the story. Helena would get that far off look on her face, and in her eyes, and just say, “No, he had to go away.” It was tragic for the young heart of a little girl as Esile had been then.
Now, the two started on their walk. Already, the light was just the right setting to be able to see things without it being too dark. Helena and Esile passed by many of the other small gardens of the castle, each bursting with late summer flowers. There was a slight breeze and all was peaceful as Helena got the full picture of the twins’ adventures that day, from Esile.
As the evening wore on, the two rounded the castle and they turned inside when it was dark. Esile did not see her parents or brother for the remainder of the evening, but her mind was filled with the wonderful reveries and magical adventures her aunt had imparted upon her.