Updated: Feb 8, 2022
If you have not read chapter 1 click here.
KNIGHT FIRST CLASS
BY D. M. YELL
Edited by “Kaillup”
The ruler of Krell, Sikconoff the Cruel, laid siege upon the peaceful trade vessel Elderidge, a mighty Sanabrian ship, and took its crew hostage. Three ships attacked the great ship, set it on fire, and left it ablaze before it sank to the bottom of the sea. The three kings of Sanabria held a secret council and decided to avenge the fallen by invading Krell, destroying their ships, and rescuing the hostages. A group of Knights First Class designed plans for the invasion, and, early last summer, the three kings commissioned three large ships—the Arviggon, the Belleridge, and the Gyteria—to load aboard an ample supply of weapons, sailors, knights, and officers and set sail for Krell. Upon arrival, the Sanabrians demolished Sikconoff’s ships docked in Port Dombaro and ravaged the prison camps on the outskirts of Rynasty Village. The bloodshed of men on the enemy’s side was high while fewer deaths befell the Sanabrians. The secret raid had been a swift success.
A tiny island, barely visible off the shore of Rynasty, was overrun by the Sanabrians, and its beaches were used as a command post for further missions. Camps were set upon the beaches for their soldiers—mostly the Warlynians—while sailors and knights—mostly the Sheehanians and the Medenaians—lived and worked aboard ships. A fortnight passed, and spies confirmed that a Krellian vessel had mysteriously vanished, right before the Sanabrians arrived. The missing ship had been docked with the other enemy ships in Port Dombaro, and spies also discovered that some of their people were still held captive deeper inland in the wild. Thus the Sanabrians’ stay at the tiny island was prolonged. For almost one whole year, the Sanabrians remained there to attempt further raids and rescue missions. They set up watch posts, ready to fend off any attack that might come, and made their plans. Three raids were attempted, and each time a mission was launched, the Sanabrians were unable to penetrate Sikconoff’s inner camp deep in the wild. Among the valiant men who stayed were two courageous skilled knights, and not only were these two determined leaders, they were princes of Sanabria: Christoph son of Sheehan and Jossiph son of Warlyn.
Sanabrian spies were secretly dispatched into Krell while Sikconoff reinforced the number of his fighting men and attacked Christoph's fleet several times. Long skinny Krellian raid boats loaded with twenty rowing soldiers struck head-on, drew their spears, and fought. Every attempt the Krellians made was unsuccessful due to the readiness and resilience of Sanabria's forces. Watches were set day and night. Few ever fell asleep, fearing they would be publicly whipped as punishment if caught. Few casualties and deaths befell the men as they worked as a team on board ships, whether stowing away gear or fighting off raiders. Because they worked hard together and so selflessly, the Sheehanians and Medenaians fought more effectively than the Krellians. More attacks were rumored to occur. Most of these rumors were unsubstantiated and inconsequential. The chief mates called all hands to war quarters upon sight of any approaching boat; the Sanabrians feared that any boat was a possible threat to their safety in those days. Men manned their battle posts on all three Sanabrian ships, and they defended each other against their enemy attackers. When one ship was under attack, the other two acted as though they too were under assault. The Sanabrians fired arrows from the ship's rails and killed as many enemies as they could before they came too close. Then, after the long skinny boats slid alongside their ships, the Sanabrians hurled sharp blocks of wood or stones down at them. Krellian raiders who managed to set foot on deck were promptly run through with a blade.
The three Sanabrian ships sent to fight the Krellian War were slower than those that were built smaller, lighter, and covered more water in less time. Yet the three were well-built and solid. Their masts could be trusted to sail in adverse weather and sea storms throughout the Opius Sea. Their interior decks accommodated a large crew and had extra space to carry land warriors to enemy sights. Spaces to sleep were not always comfortable though. The crew did not have beds like the knights, the officers, and the captain; so the crew lay in whatever space was available; such as out in the open air, when the weather was warm enough. The hatchway was fought over most, and, at the center of the ship, it provided the most comfortable shelter. The ships looked like massive dark cages to imprison beasts or dragons; its high bulwarks were painted black, save for the timber floor left its natural color, a deep-set brown. Their three upper decks were encumbered by masts, sails, ropes, rigging, water pumps, deadeyes, and ballast kegs while the forecastle stored the anchors and other sailing gear. Their bows had high forward platforms compared to the lower weatherdeck amidships holding the sail masts. Their stern had a similar upper platform where the captain or the chief mate steered at the helm when traversing treacherous seas.
Beneath the helm lay the captain's cabin where Christoph had pondered these events several times. On the journey to Krell, the weather and the seas were untroubled. No rough waters or crosswinds hindered their way over, and only a sweet feeling of freedom was felt out on the enchanting open ocean. The Opius Sea was a mysterious liquid world of an ever-changing universe of making and re-making forms at every moment, strangely the same yet always different. The sound of the rolling sea swelled and ebbed. The sound of wood creaked, the groans of ropes pulled taut in a kind of gentle refrain, and the wind hissed inside the sails. Shouts of sailors danced across the decks, and waves broke against the broadside like music to the ears.
Now, the repeated raids, battles, and bloodshed sickened the heart. The heroes whose lives were lost were not wasted in vain. Spies returned word containing the whereabouts of the remaining hostages, though no clue was found as to where the one missing Krellian ship from Port Dombaro had vanished. That was when the Sanabrian officers drafted preparations to raid Krell and recover them.
King Sheehan watched the awakening of spring in his kingdom. For the past twenty-five years, the opening of spring had never lost its tranquil, vibrant aura or luster of a promising new beginning. A cool breeze blew against his beard as he gazed from his bedchamber balcony down towards Wilcott Forest in the north. Ducks, fish, and swans swam at peace in the lake below him. The battlements of the balcony extended outward from his chamber and branched out round and high over the lake below him. The water glistened. A merganser with a white body, black wings, and a green head and neck dipped its red beak beneath the silvery surface of the water, plucked up a fish, chomped at the fish's head, and guzzled it down its long lean gullet. Other ducks pecked and did the same.
Sanabria's land was plush, green, and rich in soil. Its grass valleys were nurtured by rivers and springs that flowed from pine-forested mountains. The region of Sheehan's farms were productive, and its trade was prosperous. Its meadows were full of healthy cattle and kine; its fields would raise another great harvest of corn and wheat to bake bread in plenty. The region's peasants were well-fed from the meat of many chickens, cows, and rabbits, and milk flowed in abundance from cream to churned butter. The whole landscape held the eye captive by its beauty: lush wild green mountains could be seen from the sands of the beaches along its coastline. Mounds of white rock were scattered here and there between tree-covered ridges and plains. The sun's radiance illuminated the treetops of Wilcott Forest. Emerald slopes of foliage covered vast hills and reflected glimmering beads of light as did the surface of the Opius Sea.
“Your Majesty?” an excited voice called behind the king. “Your Majesty—Oh, there you are.” A young squire ranger slid to a stop, then he gave a look that suggested he had forgotten what he had come to say.
Sheehan grinned, used to this happening. “Yes, Soloman, what is it?”
Soloman’s hands swayed in unison with his thoughts and mind. He could never stand still. His legs were like springs, and he bounced worriedly as he tried to remember what he came to say. “K-carriage! Your carriage came through the gatehouse, your H-highness. It awaits your presence outside the castle entrance.” The young man’s face fell ashen red from embarrassment.
“Thank you, squire ranger.”
Soloman always panicked when he spoke to him, and the king did not want to make matters worse for the boy by responding with a chuckle or smile. Sheehan let Soloman lead him downstairs to his carriage.
The most compelling thing to see in Sanabria, the king realized along the way down, was the interior of its beautiful castles. He and the two other kings each lived in a new castle of their own making. Each was uniquely decorated according to the affinity of each king and queen who lived in them. Each one contained embroidered handmade rugs and finely engraved furniture carved or painted with historical figures—knights, legends, or ancient kings and queens. The castles' halls were adorned with fine suits of armor and uniquely patterned tapestries. Some had a hall with diverse wildlife, stuffed by proud royal hunters, hanging on the walls; others had halls with large furs, bears, large cats, and exotic creatures, laid out across its hard stone floors. Each castle had porcelain sculptures and vases. Each had gold candle-stands and crystal chandeliers of various shapes to light its halls, stairways, or private chambers. Each had watchtowers and outworks that appeared insurmountable due to their deep foundations and high wall structures. Each castle had spiraling stone stairs that wound up and down its turrets on all corners. Servants and guests moved quickly up and down different levels, compartments, and chambers. The peaks of the towers had either an upside-down cone bearing a flag at its tip, or they had stone decks surrounded with jagged, gap-toothed battlements that served as watch posts or war stations. Specially chosen rocks, stones, boulders, and wood were chosen, cut, and used to construct the main chamber halls of each castle. The front double entry doors were crafted with long heavy wooden beams.
The squire ranger escorted the king through the front entrance door and down the front steps to the king's carriage. Around the carriage, and in the courtyard, peasants worked in harmony on their afternoon chores. The king smelled fresh-cut hedges, and every breath of air tasted more delicious than the one before. With shaky, nervous hands, Soloman helped him get into the coach of his carriage. The coach master closed the door behind him, then climbed behind the reins of four beautiful horses. At the click of a tongue, the horses lurched forward and trotted toward the gatehouse. Delicate handling of the leather lines and a tug on the rein's mouth-bits told the horses who was in control. As the carriage rolled forward and headed for Medena Castle, Sheehan waved goodbye to Soloman.
On his way across the courtyard, the king admired his fancily cut bushes and flowers and turned his thoughts to his son Christoph. Before long, the carriage rolled under the gatehouse and then over a drawbridge. The long cedar wood bridge stretched over a deep and wide ditch, full of a greenish-brown moat; the ditch surrounded the castle and circled the outer walls. The bridges of all four castles in Sanabria had seldom ever been raised. The Sanabrians lived in peace, and their enemies lay far away. But now, ever since the war with Krell began, they had to be up at all times.
Sheehan leaned back and ran his arthritic fingers through his graying-brown hair and full beard, both properly groomed and trimmed. His long, distinguished history as a leader was written in the lines and scars on his handsome aged face; his wise visage always held a hardy, noble look before all. The only offspring born to him had bravely volunteered to go to the war and face Sikconoff, and he was not particularly pleased that his son had to be chosen a different bride over the one he already unquestionably loved. That Victorea undoubtedly loved his son made matters even more complicated. His trip to Medena Castle was being taken to discuss this issue. A kings' council would be held on account of Victorea’s wedding birthday, coming up within weeks, to decide which eligible prince she should wed. The outcome looked bad for his son, but he would do his best to resolve the problem in his son's favor and also do what was best for the kingdom's three realms. Hollow-sounding echoes of hoof trots tapped and clicked upon the wood of the bridge as the gatehouse's shadow left the carriage. Shafts of sunbeams pierced through the coach windows as the carriage rolled effortlessly off the bridge onto a dirt road.
Sanabria was known in other lands for its fair weather, its warm climate, and its steady sunshine throughout every month of the year. Enough April rain had fallen on the mountains to meet the needs of all the living; showers poured upon the leaves and ferns and flowers. The land had been protected from the wrath of Qawwashara’s hurricanes, tidal waves, and monsoons for a long time, and Sheehan hoped the favor of the Emperean lords would continue to last for ages to come. This last winter, rainstorms fell harder than usual, and heavy showers lasted many days at a time. The inhabitants of all three realms had been cooped up in shelters or high places for days. The Samina River was flooded above its normal capacity; dams, creaks, and lakes overflowed, making travel and communication difficult between castles.
On the journey up the North Road, the wheels of his carriage rolled from the steady pull of the horses’ labor, and Sheehan’s memory took him back to the time when he and his two friends had overcome great darkness.