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The Ancient Prophecy
Part VII: The Quest for Loyalty

by Vipers

This story was split into 10 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
Note: This story was originally submitted as one long story
and it was only broken into 10 parts for faster page loading.

Atrus explained the situation in detail. Anna added a few details when needed. When they're finished, they were prepared to hear a mocking response, but Hawk just stayed silent.

"I know it's hard for you to trust us..." Anna added finally.

"No offence, my friends, but you have to understand us." Hawk answered. "If it is true that the Guardian has decided to fulfill the Ancient Prophecy, this will be the first good news heard by the royal members for at least three years. I have faith that you will not fool me, but I find it hard to believe it, and you can expect the royal members to feel the same."

"We're quite aware of that, Hawk, and we're prepared for it. However, none of us has any experience in dealing with court members. We're travelers, not politicians. Anna knew a little about negotiation and diplomacy, but that's all we know. I'm afraid I'm not that good at presenting our ideas."

"You're lucky, my friend, because you're looking at a court member right now."

"You're a court member?!" Maya asked.

Hawk smiled at the reaction. "I was just appointed as the castle defense coordinator and royal guards drill officer. My authority is still highly limited, but I have little experience in dealing with the court members. I can represent you before the king."

"You're willing to help us?" Anna's face brightened.

"Of course. A life debt lasts forever. I cannot promise you anything, but I will do my best to gain the king's approval to your plan. There are a few problems, however."

"What is it?" Atrus asked.

"To do a royal mission, you must attain the rank of knight. I can help you a little, but you have to go through several tests to prove your worthiness. Are you prepared?"

Atrus nodded. "You promised to do your best in representing us. I promise to do my part. We'll just see what the outcome will be."

The city of Stromgarde was a very prosperous city, well known for its trade. As the capital of the kingdom, many trading companies built their headquarters here. The people's lifestyle was highly dynamic, very different from those from villages. Marketplaces were in almost every corner of the place. Many people sold different kinds of merchandise on either side of the paved road. Houses were bigger and could probably fir two families along with their children inside. The road was very crowded that Captain Hawk had to enlist some soldiers' help to clear the way for them.

Outside the city laid the vast farmland owned by the citizens. The farmland was located inside the gate to increase the survivability of the citizens and the castle defenders in case of a blockade by enemy troops. Large guard towers were built along the walls and around the city to discourage the enemy from attacking the city from the air. Barracks and guardhouses blended in with the local community.

The palace itself was located in the center of the city, flanked by eight guard towers and four guardhouses. The beautiful royal garden surrounded the palace. From the road the people could see the large fountains and flowers that decorated the garden. The garden was surrounded by high steel fence with eight gates around the palace. The security was very tight, especially on each gate. Hawk explained that getting into the palace would be at least three times as hard as getting into the city itself.

The palace was large, but still considered modest for a large kingdom like Aragon. It only consisted of the main hall and eight wings. It was not very tall if compared to the adjacent guard towers. The citizens had used to be allowed to enter the palace courtyard during peacetime, but not anymore.

All four of them dismounted before the palace door.

"I apologize, but we don't have much time to relax. I have arranged your audience with the king in about ten minutes. Please follow me." Hawk gestured at the door.

"Should I come with you, Master, or should I take care of our stuff?" Maya asked.

"Come with us, Maya. I will need all support I can get for this audience." Atrus answered.

The palace main hall was huge. The high ceiling gave a spacious feeling to its occupants. Carpets covered the entire floor of the room Beautiful carvings and chandeliers decorated the hall. A pair of stairs led to the palace wings. Before them was another huge door led to the court.

The court was a big circular room walled by sculptures and statues. A glass ceiling allowed sunlight to illuminate the room. In the center of the room were three rows of circular tables.

"This is the royal court. This is where royal members and councils hold their forums."

Atrus was speechless. The tables and chairs were artistically crafted. Beautiful sculptures were all over the place. On one end of the table circles were three huge chairs. They were exceptional. Most of the surfaces were covered with gold. A pair of ivories accompanied the central chair on the sides. The seat was topped with a brilliant gemstone. There had to be the king's throne, he thought.

"You will sit here." Hawk noted at the nearest chair.

Atrus slowly sat on the comfortable chair, feeling the soft touch of leather. The handiwork was magnificent. The wooden furniture was neatly polished, as if the entire set had been made just yesterday. The tables were perfectly rounded and adjusted for his comfort.

Anna sat right beside him, sharing his amazement. As a priest, she had never felt comfortable among luxuries, but the sight overwhelmed her. These were not luxuries. These were works of art! Maya's tug at her suit awoken her as she saw Atrus looking at her. She could see the worry in his eyes.

"Anna... I'm not sure if I can pull this off... I desperately need your help in this one..."

"Don't worry... I knew a little bit about diplomacy. I will keep you informed."

Soon one by one the royal members entered the court. Anna silently introduced some of the members that she knew. Her experience with the bureaucracy when she had still been a priest allowed her to overhear some of their names and exploits. Atrus tried to keep up with her update.

"And that's General Kepfer." She noted at the old man in uniform entering the room from the east wing. His well-built body and hard expression acknowledged his experience in the heat of battle. "He is the minister of war. He also handles foreign affairs. He hates Elves, so he might oppose our mission."

Atrus nodded. He had heard the General's contribution to the war against the Elves. Strongest objections might come mainly from him. To promote the alliance, he had to convince him, or his request would not be granted.

"And that is Lord Garth, the royal advisor. He replaced Lord Falagor. He is a master alchemist and a great scholar of magic. He's a reasonable man, but unbeatable in argument."

Atrus could not clearly see the wisdom behind the mage's face. He was rather young to become a royal advisor, but appearance could fool. Never underestimate your enemies, his father had said.

"Behold, King Edward of Aragon!!"

Everybody stood up and saluted. Three figures entered the room from the south wing. The king was a middle-aged man with royal suit and long robes. A decorated crown sat on his hear, partly covered his white hair. He also had well-trimmed beard and moustache. He also wore black gloves and long army boots. His well-built figure indicated that he had been a knight before becoming a king.

He was followed by two other figures. The first one was a young man wearing a full body armor and a long robe. He was roughly at Atrus' height. He stared warily at the audience, as if there was a spy among them. The other one was a rather-fat middle-aged woman wearing extremely luxurious gown and delicate tiara. Atrus could see the rings in almost all of her finger. She also wore generous amount of make-up that made her look more like a monster rather than a lady.

The king sat down on the middle throne and the lady on the next one. The young man, however, stood beside him. The doors were closed and the meeting began.

"The man was Prince Roberto, the second son and heir to the throne." Anna whispered. "He is also the foremost knight of the realm. He wielded a giant sword called Kaiser Sword. Its power is unsurpassed."

"And who's the woman?" Atrus asked quietly without drawing attention.

"The woman was Lady Montana, King Edward's mistress and Roberto's mother. She is in charge of the civil affairs in the land, but rumors said she's... uh... horrible..."

Maya, who had been following the conversation, finally asked. "Why doesn't Roberto sit on the empty chair? Why do they keep the chair if nobody sits on it?"

"You know Prince Alfredo, the first son and the rightful heir to the throne?" Anna asked her.

"The one that we're looking for, right? He disappeared years ago without trace."

"True. The chair belongs to Queen Amalia, the queen of the land, Alfredo's mother." Anna explained. "She was poisoned shortly after the disappearance of her son. Her killer is never found. That chair is dedicated to her to symbolize King Edward's loyalty to his late wife."

"And what is Lady Montana doing here, then?" Atrus asked.

"She was the king's chief maid. One day, the king choked himself while having dinner, and she saved his life. In desperation of not having an heir for the throne, the king appointed her as his concubine. Roberto is the result. The king promised Roberto to become the heir if Alfredo can't be found."

"I can picture that both Roberto and his mom wouldn't like Alfredo back." Maya added.

"The court is in session." Lord Garth said. "Captain Hawk, you may begin."

Hawk stood from his chair and addressed the assembly before him. "The honorable royal members, I present you my friends, Ranger Atrus White Lion and his girls."

Atrus didn't like the way Hawk presented Anna and Maya as 'his girls'. However, he stood and bowed before the king. "Atrus White Lion, at your service, your majesty."

Anna felt the same, but did the same. "Adriana Freesland, at your service, your majesty."

"I'm Maya Murdock, slave of Atrus White Lion, at your service." Maya followed.

The king nodded. "You are the heroes at the conflicts in Labrador and Gideon, I recall."

"And you saved Sir Hawk's life in Tiras. I read your report, Captain. Are they the ones?"

"Yes, Prince Roberto, they are the ones, indeed." Hawk answered.

"They don't look special to me." Lady Montana added mockingly.

The remark stung the companions pretty badly, but they managed to control their anger. "We're no heroes, your majesty, just some travelers who want to do the job well." Anna said.

"A fine modesty, Miss Freesland, but your exploits are well known." Lord Garth claimed. "And what is your business in the palace?"

Hawk continued. "They are here to propose a new political move toward our neighbors, your majesty. They are here to form an alliance of all five clans of the realm."

The reactions came instantly from all around the room. General Kepfer quickly frowned at Atrus, while the other members busily debated the idea. The crowd silenced as Lord Garth raised his hand.

"And what is the reason?" Lord Garth continued.

"They claimed that Lord Guardian has sent them here..."

"LIAR!!!" Lady Montana cut Hawk off. Her curse was also welcomed with more objections from other members. This was not good, Atrus thought. He had to convince them, and it wouldn't be easy.

"Young White Lion!" The king suddenly called him. "I know your father well, and I believe you're not telling us lies."

"No, your majesty. I'm telling the truth." Atrus answered instantly.

"Then tell us. I believe you will enlightened us better if you tell us personally."

Atrus gave the girls a worried look, but they shot back an assuring smile. Atrus stood up and walked to the center of the room. He could feel all eyes were staring at him, but he hid his nervousness. He had to convince them. His friends were with them, and Lord Guardian himself said He would be, too.

"In our journey after the battle at Gideon, we traveled along the eastern part of the kingdom." Atrus felt reluctant in using the words 'we' and 'our', but he continued. "There Lord Guardian himself appeared before us. We were quite shocked, but we knew it was him..."

Anna cursed silently at the argument. It was a very weak one. Lord Garth noted it as well.

"How do you know it was him, young man?"

"I should describe him as... heavenly." Atrus answered. "His words, his voice, his message, everything he showed us were beyond imagination. I can't describe his appearance to convince you. But if you see him before your eyes, you know that it's not a mere illusion."

The answer seemed to satisfy most of the members. Anna sighed in relief.

"Then tell us his message, young man." One of the members said.

"He said that the Ancient Prophecy is about to be fulfilled. He also ordered us to find the Champion of the Guardian."

The court exploded with many different of responses. They eyed Atrus with suspicions, but he stood steadily before the king.

"I suppose we can't trust a person who believes in ghost stories." Lady Montana retorted.

"But it is not a ghost story, my Lady. The prophecy tells what is currently happening right now in this realm. It also tells what's going to happen in the future..."

"Such as he will rule the land after defeating the evil? This is treason!!!" She cried. "You make up stories to overthrow the king! Edward, can't you see?!"

Oh no... this was not good... Anna was getting panic. Lady Montana was trying to suck Atrus in. But Atrus just stood there calmly.

"I have no desire to overthrow anybody, your majesty. I just tell you what I was told to say. The Guardian has decided to fulfill the prophecy, and He will do it. I'm just a messenger."

The king turned at his advisor, but Lord Garth nodded. "Go on, young man."

"I was told to bear message to all clans of the realm. The prophecy has predicted the appearance of the demons as a new menace. To stand the menace we have to declare war and form..."

"You might be a demon-spawn!!!" Lady Montana cried again, louder this time. "You tried to infiltrate the castle with all your filthy ideas to drag us to war!!!"

Anna was getting furious. That old woman was annoying! She kept on disturbing him with her comments. Atrus, however, seemed to control his anger well.

"Young man, I do have an objection." General Kepfer politely spoke up. "War will only waste valuable resource and human lives. Our kingdom is in the verge of breakdown. Rebellions arise in many remote areas. Peasants started to blockade important trade routes. Villagers arm themselves and patrol the land, looking for trouble. The king has decided that declaring war will only weaken our state."

"Until now, many lives has been lost from the demon attacks." Atrus said. "The demons attacked town after town and killed all villagers. The survivors live in fear and terror..."

"Do you question the king's judgement? Do you think the king doesn't care of his people?! Do you blame the king for all the troubles in the outskirts of the kingdom?!"

"No, but it is time for the kingdom to fulfill its promises to its people."

Atrus' answer silenced Lady Montana again. Anna just stared at him for a while. He had said he had been lousy in diplomacy. It was either that he had lied to her, or the skill came naturally.

"Even as we speak, the war is raging outside the castle gate. However, the civilians are the ones that fight the war. Many have died, and many more will die. They don't rebel against their leader, your majesty. They're fighting for their lives. That's why they arm themselves. They're losing their trust to the kingdom, but they still hope that someday their leader will hear their cry."

Lady Montana chuckled mockingly, but Atrus' words seemed to convince some members. The tension in the room eased a bit. People began to look at Atrus expectantly.


This story was split into 10 parts. Jump to any of the segments from here:
Note: This story was originally submitted as one long story
and it was only broken into 10 parts for faster page loading.

Another top quality story by Vipers.

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