2 The Day the World Went Away
(From the point of view of King Vortigern)
Madame Violet blinked twice. She's not displeased by my decision to give such a bizarre name to my son, but she sure is surprised, and she didn't waste any time expressing that.
"Yes, Nevermore." I gently smiled as I saw my son's small, feeble hands grasping my pinky finger. "The unmentioned boy in the prophecy,"
"Uh, but your majesty we-"
Madame Violet didn't get to finish her sentence when a wheezing, injured soldier barged into our room. He didn't speak, he only looked at me straight through my eyes, and his gaze shot at me like an arrow covered in barb wire. He attempted to talk while coughing; his bleeding was growing more severe while he did so. With the fire in his eyes, I already know what I have to do, what the king must do.
"W-what is going on?" asked Violet as she reluctantly approached the man with her trembling hand on her chest, taking the cloth from within her pocket and using it to block the grieves wound around the pent-up soldier's stomach.
"Hold onto my sons, Madame," I softly said as I attempted to give the two princes to her with utter caution.
Madame Violet's gaze locked towards me. "Your highness, I..." Madame Violet panicked and looked at the soldier. Then she looked at me again. "A moment, your highness," She whispered as she took the soldier's hand, placed her handkerchief on his palms, and gently guided the poor man's hand towards his wound.
She took the boys from me with the utmost care, trying to gently carry them not only because she treats them as the kingdom's most valued treasures but because she doesn't want to stain their skins with the small smudge of blood on her hands.
"We are not dealing with bandits and small bannermen here, Madame. I would appreciate it if you would take my boys somewhere safe, perhaps below the wine cellars or, if we still have some time, maybe you can run towards the catacombs and hide near the secret passage near the queen's tomb."
"How do you even know that your majesty there is not a-"
Violet was interrupted. A massive explosion, too loud for us not to be wary of echoed throughout the halls of Izrecael. Everything in the bedchamber shook. These are signs; signs that neither I nor the empire have the time to listen to Violet's protestations.
Silence feeds the tension all around. However, I can still hear the kingdom tremble with the sound of a dozen footsteps. The loud clanking of metals makes the noises outside all the more unbearable. Violet looked at me, shocked and bewildered. Clearly, she doesn't know what to do. I patted both her shoulders and locked my gaze towards her brown eyes.
"You will take my sons, and you will keep them safe." At this very moment, I'm not angry anymore. I am tense, though not tense enough to lash on a lady in the middle of an attack. "I'm serious, Violet."
Madame Violet, teary-eyed and shaking, tightened her grip on the babies with much hesitation. "I'm only a Belladonna, your majesty. Poor I may be, and my family's name may never know the feeling of being a noble house, but I swear I will die first before they can harm these children!"
"Thank you, Violet." I wrapped my sword belt around my waist and took my guards from the table beside the chair I was sitting on earlier. "You need not concern yourself on the stature of your family. It doesn't matter. I'd rather give my son to a close friend than a nobleman with wealth. Once we survive this, I swear to you, your family will experience a life of grandeur till the end of times."
I approach my sons, still sleeping peacefully, not knowing what is to come. I gave each of them a kiss on their cheeks. Those pale skins, those soft hands, gleaming eyes like the stars, and a body so frail and feeble that... that a stab means certain death.
I need to stop thinking about it. No harm will come towards my sons, for I will make sure those who would even dare think of murderous intentions will suffer an end far greater than death.
"I trust you, Violet. At this very moment, I trust you more than anyone. Head towards the catacombs immediately, you'll see a switch at the bottom of the lion statue near the tomb of my wife. Do you remember it?
"Your highness, I'm not sure I…"
"The same lion statue you hugged tightly at that time. Remember? The soldiers were forced to drag you on your feet, for you were weeping for three days beside the tomb. That same lion statue, do you remember?"
Violet's face shone, her realization precedes the fear in her, and it shows. "I do, your highness, I do remember it now!"
"Good." I took my helmet from a table near the doorway where the wheezing man tried his hardest to stand up straight. "I want you to turn the fifth fang at the left side of the lion's face counterclockwise, and it will open a hidden trapdoor. That door leads to a forest which leads to the docks, traveling south to Duibhne. There is a house at—
"At the mountain of Duibhne, near the peak. Lara's old house." Violet said, interrupting my instructions, almost stuttering.
"Yes. Do you understand Violet?"
"Yes, yes, yes, sir. Near the library, lion statue, fifth fang at the left side, counterclockwise, forest, docks, south." Violet said as if banshees were chasing her breath, but with the current situation, perhaps my metaphor is quite a literal one.
I approached the soldier and wrapped my left hand around his shoulder. "How many?" I whispered.
"A million, my liege," The soldier replied, panting.
"I beg your pardon?"
"There's a million of them, sire. I heard this is only the beginning of their attack, though."
"Do we have an estimated number?"
"No, sire, but if you would indulge me in giving my guess… we need to ready ourselves for a million more."
I looked at the soldier with my mouth agape, and my eyes wide open. "Who's this madman capable enough to gather such great forces?"
I can see the soldier gulps down his saliva with his hands trembling in fear. "They're not... 'men,' your highness."
I see. So this is what's going on. I bit my lip and looked at my sons once again. Violet is trying her hardest to make them fall asleep as she cradles both of them in her arms. I looked at them, long and meaningful.
I then looked at the wheezing, injured soldier again, this time deep into his eyes. He dropped his back towards the door of my chamber; his steel armor gave out a roaring sound as it collided with the door's surface. He slid downwards, falling onto the concrete floor, his armor scraping the macabre design of the wooden door. I didn't even try to force him on his feet; he deserved the small bit of rest, but the empire cannot afford to have anyone resting at the moment.
"State your name, soldier."
"My name is Damian," he tried to reply in agony. He coughed, leaving a trail of blood spilling from his mouth to his chin. "Your highness," He managed to continue with the usual formalities. I am moved.
"And which house do you affiliate yourself with?"
He paused for a moment. "The Carmichael, sire."
"Ah, you are the general's son, then?"
"No, sir, I am his nephew."
"Then, you are the son of the alchemist?"
"Close, sire, I am the son of the blacksmith, the youngest of the Carmichael brothers."
"Ah, do forgive me then." I chuckled while trying in vain to lighten up the mood. I instantly know that I'm not helping much. Lightening up the mood during a time of war? How very stupid of me. "It's hard to guess if you have thirteen choices."
I feel a sudden pain in my chest. I can't let him go back to the battlefield. Not only is he injured, but he's also incapable of moving his body. He'll only be a nuisance. I don't know why, but for a brief period, I feel a sense of responsibility. I want him to escape. I want him to live. Whether we win or lose this war, I want him to live. There is only one thing he can do for me, and I know it will not be the last order I'll give him.
"Alright, Damian!" I said, kneeling before him and putting each of my hands on top of his shoulders. "Do you wish to serve your king?" I said as I felt her shoulder plate in my palms.
"Yes, your highness!" he roared and with power. Perhaps he's trying to act tough in front of his king, to impress me. However, with deep bruises and an armor made crimson by blood, he is not really impressing me.
"Do you wish to serve till the very end?"
"I will give my life if you ask for it, your highness!"
"Then, I want you to accompany Violet while she escapes to Duibhne!"
"I want you to protect the princes, Damian."
Damian paused for a while until he finally realizes the importance of the mission I am entrusting him to do. He looked at me with a steadfast flame burning from within his eyes greater than any soldier or generals that I've seen thus far, and I've seen countless of them. His dead eyes are no more, his injuries seem like a scratch to him, and it's as if he's not weakened at all. I know at that very moment I've made the right choice of entrusting my sons to him.
I just hope whatever men, thing, creature, or evil it is we are facing now won't notice their escape.
He grabbed my arms, grunting hard as he used all the strength he had left to carry his weight. "In the name of my family and the vows I've sworn at the temple of the knights, I will be the princes' sword, and I will offer my life as their valiant protector! Let him who dare stand before us burn! The sun of Izrecael will be the last thing they'll see! For my princes, I am not afraid to be one with the lord of the dead. These I vow to you, your majesty!"
Oh, soldiers, never are they the type of men who read, nor are they one of those men who appreciate the artistry of words, but they always turn into the greatest poets once they start spouting promises to their king.
"Brave words, commendable as well," I looked him again in his eyes, nodding. "Then, as your king, I say this to you, and perhaps this will be the last thing you'll ever hear from me: if in your guidance, my sons will fall into peril's way, I will find you in the afterlife. Damian, if you fail this mission," I wore my helmet, readying myself to war, "Pray to your gods that death is as forgiving as the wise men would often say."
Damian trembled in fear in the sight of his king's threat. This is the first time I threatened one of my soldiers. I want him to understand what he's dealing with at this very moment. Failure is not an option.
"Yes, my liege, I understand." Fear runs through his nerves. I can feel it, I know, I've been there. His determined eyes turned dead again. A bad sign, I suppose.
"Take these potions, soldier. Your uncle boasts to me that every wound can be healed if you drink this."
"You mean my Uncle Bert, your highness?"
"No, no, that was the tenth!" I grunted. "This was given to me by the third one, Nicholas."
"I see. Then I can be at ease that this is not a failed potion turned poisonous elixir." The soldier attempted to say to me in a joking tone, but his eyes tell me that amidst his joking demeanor lies a dead man, waiting for his reckoning.
"Exactly," I nodded with much sympathy in my tone. "Now, go ahead, drink!"
I looked at my sons again. I don't want to leave, and if I have a choice, I won't. I want to escape with them. Hide from the world, never come back, and raise them as normal children, but I am the king. That is a reason good enough to stay, but it's not a reason good enough to abandon my children. How could I ever leave my boys? They are the only remaining physical entity that proves my love for my wife!
I walked past Damian and saw twelve guards waiting outside of my chamber. Armed and ready, if they weren't tasked to keep my chamber safe, they would have already been in the middle of the battle, bloodied or dead.
I pointed my fingers towards the man nearest to me. "You and…" Then I pointed my fingers towards the man farthest from me. "You. Both of you run towards the mages' quarters and tell Clarence to meet me at the throne room immediately. Tell him whatever other things he has to do, drop it. This is more important."
"Go!" At my signal, the two men ran forth as fast as they could, the clanking of their armor echoing throughout the hallway along with the distant sound of men screaming. "The rest of you, I want you to accompany Madame Belladonna. Do everything you can, so her escape is successful. They will be heading towards the catacombs, and you will never leave their side until you reach the ports of Duibhne."
"Yes, sire!" They all shouted in unison.
I looked at my sons again. Forget about the throne, forget about my responsibilities, and leave the castle to die alone. Forget about the prophecy, leave the castle, meet new people, find different things. I want to be with my children. I don't want to leave them. Not now, not ever. I want to turn away now.
But the life of a king is not about what I want. It's all about what's needed to be done.
I looked at my sons again.
I am not surprised that this is the last time.
I walked alone at the grand halls of my empire towards the battle that will dictate my legacy. It's good that I forgot to take my armors off. The sound of metal clanking and my feet hitting the concrete ground clashes with the sound of agony from afar, the distant yelling of soldiers, the vehement wheezing of a man, the sound of babies crying, and the powerful burst of a familiar lady's voice. The gentle breeze running in the direction opposite of where I was heading cannot stop the marching of my body, but it is not to hasten the constant punches I feel in my chest.
Sweat, heavy breathing, the fast-flowing of my blood. All at once.
I opened the double door at the end of the hall, and there I saw countless men look at me in a panicked frenzy as the breeze running its course towards me grew in power, forcing my cloak to fly among the specks of dust in the wind.
I took my first step towards my throne room, and everyone stood still, silent, nobody knew what to do, nobody knew what to say.
"For my children," I mumbled as I unsheathe my sword. "To war." I roared.