It all began when the High King was assassinated by a group of anarchists known only as the Rebels. He’d been on a trip to propose multiple peace treaties with the surrounding kingdoms. King Jotham had been a good king, always putting the needs of the people first. Perhaps he’d forgotten about the people of Reidson’s Woodland, as it was the supposed rumour that the Rebels originated from there.
Thomas tried to piece it together, but everything seemed so strange. Why now, after all the good the king had done? Hadn’t the economy of the the land skyrocketed throughout his reign? Hadn’t there finally been an era of peace?
Thomas knew that the motives of the assassins would reveal themselves later. For now, it would be the job of the Royal Guard to find more evidence and provide some level of authority before the kingdom collapsed in on itself. He wondered what would happen next, because the king hadn’t produced an heir to take his place when he was gone.
But this wasn’t any of Thomas’s concern. He needed to get his family to safety. He’d been a blacksmith for 14 years before deciding to resign a few months ago to become a scribe. Today, he’d been there when the messenger ran in to tell them about the High King.
Time was short. If the Royal Guard wouldn’t take action soon, it would lead to instability. And with instability always came war. He wasn’t going to put his family through this, especially if he could do something about it.
After gathering his things from his study quarters, he left the large stone monastery to travel to the far end of the city, for he lived an hour’s ride away. Whistling to the nearest man, he approached his wagon. “Bring me to the Rodheim District.”
“That’ll be 30 farthings,” said an old man with gray hair splitting down both sides of his head.
“I only have 15,” Thomas said.
The old man shook his head. “For that far I need all 30.”
“But that’s all I have.”
The driver clucked his horses.
“Please, I’ll give you double that hen we get there. I’m just not carrying more.”
“What’s your hurry, young man?”
The man finally consented, but he asked the same question again. Thomas didn’t know how to respond. The man must’ve not heard the news yet. And Thomas wasn’t about to share news that could turn the entire kingdom upside down with an elderly fellow he didn’t even know.
“I just need to get home.”
The old man nodded and urged his stallions forward. The wagon creaked as it plodded over the cobblestone streets. They rode in silence. Everything around them seemed as though nothing was wrong. Children played in the streets. Markets bustled with activity. Guards plodded along on their black horses.
But everything wasn’t alright. The old man seemed to notice. “Aren’t there more guards out than usual?” Thomas nodded. “I hope they’ll…”
The man’s sentence was cut short as a loud clang soared through the air. Another clang. And another, until all the city’s watchtowers clanged. Mothers in the marketplace tried to bring their children inside. Everyone seemed to scurry toward their houses.
Thomas watched as the guards opened the large iron gate. A group of about 300 horses trotted into the city. The guards closed the gate. Only this time they installed iron rods along the length of the gate. Thomas had only seen this happen once before, and it ended up becoming the longest siege of the Empire.
The old man’s face looked stricken with fear. “Bring me back to the monastery,” Thomas said with an urgency he didn’t normally have. The man hurried the horses back. Approaching the monastery, Thomas turned the gears beside the doors. Nothing happened. Why weren’t they opening? He knocked. No answer. Trying again, he was surprised when the doors swung open with ease. Elder Sage Phillip stood in the doorway. His usual look of authority was now replaced by a look of grief. Thomas looked back to the old man, who had stayed in his wagon with seemingly no place to go. He motioned, and the man came toward the doors, which the Elder Sage closed behind them.
“Every guard is taking their battle stations,” Phillip said. “Several armies approach from all sides. They’re coming for the capital.”
“But why?” Thomas said.
“If the guards can’t reinstate a new king, we will be destroyed. The other kingdoms see this as an opportunity.”
“What’s wrong with the king have?” the old man said. Clearly he didn’t have a clue. Thomas just sighed. Something needed to be done. And fast. He knew the damage it could cause if they wouldn’t have a king to rule over them. But for now, the guards would defend the people.
“They’re coming for the Iron Throne. If they get to it, we’ve lost all control.” Phillip said. “The kingdom will then return to foreign powers.”
The Elder Sage led them down a long corridor into the large study hall that now possessed many other sages, who were undoubtedly busy trying to find the meaning behind the messenger’s message. He turned to Thomas. “We’ve found something of interest.” Thomas noticed he was pointing to a large book on the center stone table. Only he’d never seen it before.
“What’s this?” Thomas said.
“We’re not sure. And it’s written in a language we don’t understand.” Phillip turned, leading Thomas to the right corner of the study hall and pointing at a scroll with strange lettering on it. “We found this several days ago, but we weren’t able to read it until a few hours ago.” Thomas nodded, wondering where this was going. “It talks about you.”
This caused a shutter to fall down his spine. An ancient scroll talking about him? But he was just another man trying to understand the world and the people around him. Phillip took the scroll and flipped through it. “These pages are all blank, but there was one—“
“Wait.” Thomas cut Phillip short. He’d seen a flash of color as the Elder Sage had flipped through the empty pages. Thomas motioned for the book. As he flipped back to the spot, he also noticed that the page was blank. “Get me that torch.” Phillip got Thomas the torch from the holder in the wall.
“What exactly are you doing?” Phillip said.
“I thought I saw something,” Thomas said. Phillip’s eyes held a strange look. Thomas brought the torch closer to the scroll. Immediately, an image took form. Letters began appearing on the parchment, as though someone was writing them. He studied the image. It was an eye with letters on it. “Seek and you will find,” Thomas read. Confused, he continued reading the paragraph below the image. “Enter into the narrow gate because the wide gate leads to destruction. The narrow gate is a difficult path, but it leads to life,” Thomas read. “What do you think it means?” he asked the Elder Sage.
Phillip had a look of confusion. “What are you seeing?”
“The image and the writing below it.” It didn’t take long for Thomas to find out that nobody else could see what he was seeing. What was this? A strange feeling crept through his bones. But it didn’t take long for another paragraph to form below the one he read. “Search the books. Know the truth. Find the hidden kingdom, and it will set you free,” he read.
A crash outside the monastery sent a shock through everyone inside. Thomas stood frozen. Time seemed to slow. He knew the armies had breached the gates. In only moments, they’d be all over the city. Lives would be lost. Power would be shifted. He’d never see his family again.
Screams erupted as a war cry split the air. A tear curled in his eye, but Phillip grabbed his shoulder and pulled him toward the underground hatch where all the others already were. The Elder Sage closed it just as the doors to the monastery opened and footsteps rushed inside.