The sun slowly crept through the window. Its golden rays glided gently over the red and yellow carpets covering the hard, cold stone floors; warming them. The light then made its way to the wooden legs of the bed and climbed its way up its intricately designed posts. As it reached the gold trimmed linen sheets it crawled ever so gently towards the young queen's face until it illuminated it. Slowly she awoke to the extravagant comforts of her chambers. She sat up and yawned. She glanced around the room; seeing that her servants were not yet in her room she leaned back against the large headrest and closed her eyes. Still not wanting to get out of bed, she decided to try to recall a dream she had had during the night…

In the middle of a dense, dark forest there was one tree that stood out among the rest. It was taller and more beautiful than the other trees were. Because of this, all the other trees in the forest were jealous. They envied her and wanted nothing more to be like her. Every squirrel would make their lodgings in her mighty branches. Every bird perched on her limbs would sing the most harmonic tunes. They hated her and because of this, they began to plot. Slowly they extended their roots. Eventually every tree wrapped their roots around hers. They stole all of her nutrients and the great tree withered to the point it was ugliest of them all. Eventually she became so withered she shriveled up and died…

The odd dream sent shivers through the queen's body. She never had a nightmare like that, and it terrified her. Was it just some indigestion brought on by the banquet of food she had the night past that caused this nightmare? Or was it some sort of premonition for a tragedy to befall her? She was unsure. She thought it best, though, just to say a prayer. She got up, knelt beside her bed and began to pray. After she was done she arose to her feet. The cobblestone floors were cold so she walked onto her carpet. She searched the room with her eyes and found her slippers, which she immediately put on. She glanced around the room again. She had always felt a slight discomfort in her home, but not like this morning. She found that the whole room seemed to feel as cold to her as the floor.

She sighed and walked to the window, taking a seat on the stone ledge. Her gaze fixed upon the land bellow her. Rarely she had the chance to admire the awe and majesty of nature. There were endless green hills that seemed like an ocean, whose waves rolled and crashed into the castle as if it were a coastal cliff. The pink expanse of the late summer morning sky was warm and comforting. Oh, how she wished she could just jump off of this windowsill and sprout wings. She would fly into the morning sun and disappear from her cold dead home.

Her daydreaming was suddenly interrupted as her servants entered. They were two women who were plainly dressed in the usual garb of the peasantry. She normally paid them no mean. They would go about their business and she would be totally oblivious to them. All throughout the castle servants scurried from place to place, performing their daily duties like mindless automatons. Today was different however.

"Leave me. I wish to be alone." She said. Her gaze was still transfixed outside the window.

"But Milady Aideen, your husband, His Majesty, Lord Tiernan, summons you to the throne chamber." One of the servants said timidly.

Queen Aideen rested her hand on her open hand and sighed. "I shall come to him at once, but I can at least dress myself. Be gone!" She said harshly. The two servants hastily evacuated out of the door. She was surprised at herself. She never usually spoke so rashly towards the servants. She was a kind and gentle soul who showed compassion for people of all classes, be they the peasantry or nobility. Her husband thought it was rather foolish of her to waste such compassion on 'lesser beings'. She was only married to Lord Tiernan two winters past. She was his second wife and nearly half his age. Her father and Lord Tiernan had arranged all the details of the marriage. She had little influence in her own life and every now and then she liked to assert some authority, such as the case with her two servants.

She began to get herself dressed. With a glance through her wardrobe she picked a lovely violet and gold trimmed dress that was very plain compared to her other clothes. She decided against wearing a corset. It was difficult to have it put on with the help of others so there was no way she would get it on alone.

She was not a slim woman, but not extremely fat either. She had the shape of a woman in a renaissance painting. Even though she was beautiful in her own right, her husband was more attracted to slender women. She knew without proof that he had many consorts and courtesans. She knew this mainly because he had not been to bed with her in all their two years of marriage, and never seemed to have any interest to do so. His first wife had already bore him a son, with which he was very proud of. The only importance he had to her was the fact that she was nobility. She had been the princess to the land of the south, Fiachra, and their marriage has solidified a peace treaty between the two kingdoms of Cuyler and Fiachra.

She finished preparing herself for her lord. She stepped in front of her body length mirror and examined herself. She stood there for a long moment, looking herself up and down. Her thoughts didn't really focus on her appearance however. Aideen was thinking about herself. Was this how she was always going to live? Was she just some trophy for an old man whom she cared nothing for? These thoughts reminded her of her nightmare.

Suddenly a knock came from the door, "Milady, please, the King grows impatient." Aideen sighed and practiced a fake smile in front of the mirror then made her way down to greet her husband.

*~*~*~*

It was morning but already the streets were busy. Merchants had set up shop shortly before sunrise, selling many varied products. One portly, middle-aged man ran a stand that served several types of vegetables. His most numerous of vegetables were potatoes, which he had several bushels of. Mostly his stock was made of other root vegetables as well. In the stall next to him was a tall bearded man selling various fish. Other stalls sold goods such as wool, fabrics, and beef. The roads were shoulder to shoulder with people going about their business and the noise of the bartering between merchant and consumer was deafening.

A man writing on several pieces of parchment with his quill was lying upon a low stone wall. Every few moments he would gaze up at the nearby castle.

As far as castles went it was fairly average, except for its size. It was taller than the average keep, but that was to be expected seeing as it was the residence of the king. It was an ancient castle, serving as the abode of King Tiernan and his predecessors for generations.

He then faced the morning sun. The pink skies had recently made the gentle shift to a golden orange, and shortly it would become bright blue. The cloud cover was light and the clouds were low. In the distance there was a small village carved into a forest. A thin fog cover blanketed it, allowing a serene yet eerie sight.

After taking in the sights he quickly returned to writing, trying to capture the beauty of the world around him into words. He scribbled a few times, then tapped his pad and let out a sigh in frustration. He crumbled up the parchment and tossed it over his shoulder.

"Watch where you throw that!" The man on the wall turned to the source of the outburst. Emerging from a nearby shop with a sign that said "Rafer's Book Emporium" was another man whose name was on the tittle of his shop. He was of average height and rather slender. His eyes were brown, like his hair but not as dark, and were covered by a pair of glasses. His clothes were plain and worn, like those of his class.

The man on the wall set aside his writing material and hopped down. He was much taller then Rafer. His hair was light brown and long. His eyes an ice blue and held a haunting gaze. His cloths were tailored to fit his muscular body and signified him as someone of a higher social standard.

"Sorry there, old friend, I didn't see you."

"Admiring the morning, Keene?" He nodded.

Rafer chuckled slightly and patted his friend on the back; "You've always been a dreamer haven't you? Your head is always in the clouds. You need to return to reality." Keene's hand went through his wavy hair and stopped when his hand reached the back of his neck.

"I see no reason to. It seems like a quiet and peaceful start to the day and I was just trying to give word to its beauty." He gestured out to the land in the distance, "Look at that. The events of our daily lives are so trivial compared to this world. It makes no difference whether you sell one extra book today. Besides, if I'm not mistaken you have made a profit off of some of my work so just see it as a future profit." He gave an instigating smirk to Rafer and he in turn laughed.

"If I'm not mistaken there is a war brewing with Fiachra to the south and you are a Knight in the service of the King. You should be preparing for battle and-"

"There isn't going to be a war, at least there won't be if there is any shred of wisdom in the King or his advisers and nobles."

"You better watch what you say. Such talk is unbecoming of a Knight and likely to get you arrested for treason. You're supposed to serve your Lord, not slander him." He glanced around for a moment, then came in close and spoke quietly, "At least not in public."

Both Rafer and Keene spoke freely in private. They did not support the King fully, mainly because of religion. The King's religion was dominant in the land and none other was tolerated. Rafer was from Raghnall to the east and his people had a different religion that they followed. Keene on the other hand was a God-less man. He thought it foolish to waste his time on a being that did not exist. He believed it to be a farce created by the clergy as a form of control. He lived a secular life and could not be persuaded otherwise. If caught by the Royal Inquisitors their lives would come to an abrupt and fiery end. This had inspired a kinship between them.

"You're right. Just because I don't agree with all the crown's policies doesn't mean I should insult him. I just feel that he doesn't serve the people well enough. I think the people of Cuyler need just as much protection as the King needs new land. This whole border dispute with Fiachra won't lead to war. King Tiernan's marriage to Queen Aideen solidifies peace."

"I hope your right. I wouldn't want to see-"

"Help!" A young boy shouted as he ran through the streets.

He carried an apple in his hand that was as red as his hair. He seemed barely over the age of ten. His cloths were worn and tattered and the child was extremely thin. Behind him ran two of the city guard. Keene seeing this ran in front of the kid and grabbed him. He flailed madly, trying to get away. "Let go of me! Let go of me now!" The two guards began panting as they walked up to Keene.

"Thank you for aiding in the capture of this little ruffian. You are a good citizen, most would have not involved themselves." Obviously they did not recognized Sir Keene or realized that they were in the presence of a Knight. They extended their hand in a gesture to grab the child who was still thrashing wildly. Keene pulled the child away from them. The young boy was so surprised by this that he stopped struggling and looked up in awe at his protector.

"What has this child done?" Keene said in a firm voice. People who were standing nearby in the street started to take notice. The first guard spoke.

"It is none of your concern."

"What has the child done?" Keene said more forcibly then last time. The second guard chimed in.

"He has stolen an apple from one of the merchants. He will be taken into custody and punished for his crime." Keene looked down at the boy. The boy was unhealthily thin. Keene retrieved a money pouch from his belt and drew several coins from it. He walked up to the first guard and handed him the currency.

"That should more than take care of the cost of the apple. Give it to the shop owner. The child's debt has been paid." Without another thought Keene turned away from the guards and began walking back to the boy.

"He still must be punished. The boy has committed a crime and must be punished. The law states that he must loose his right hand." Keene turned back to face the guard.

"I said 'his debt has been paid'."

"The law is the law. Either you will step aside or you will be charged for breaking the law as well." The second guard folded his arms and puffed out his chest in an attempt to intimidate Keene. He stood at least a quarter a foot taller than the two guards' and he had faced down more fierce opponents than these two before. Keene's mettle did not falter much to their dismay.

"I will not allow you to harm this child."

"Very well, you have made your decision." The first guard stretched out his right hand to reach for Keene's shoulder. They were not prepared for what would happen.

Before the guard's hand could grab his shoulder, Keene gave him a swift jab to the nose. Alarmed, the second guard reached for his sheathed weapon. Keene quickly backhanded him with his closed left fist, sending him sprawling to the ground and his sword sputtered into the now mystified crowd that had gathered after all the commotion.

The first guard swung at Keene with a right hook but he ducked under it and punched him in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. The second guard sprung to his feet and attempted to tackle Keene, but his efforts were thwarted when Keene intercepted his charge. He grabbed the guard's wrist, dropped to the ground in a roll and launched him into a stall containing varied vegetables with the force of his legs.

Keene got up to his feet, but the remaining guard hit him square in the jaw before he could react. Loosing his balance he tumbled back several steps and fell to the ground. As the guard drew his sword Keene spotted the sword the other guard dropped to his left.

The guard lifted the sword over his head and ran at Keene. As the guard brought his sword down in a killing blow, Keene jumped and tumbled sidewise. He retrieved the sword and propelled himself to his feet in a single motion.

The guard was surprised and frightened by Keene's skill. He did not hide his emotions well and trembled slightly. Keene ran at him and howled out a vicious battle cry meant to terrify the guard more than anything. He hit the guard's sword with all his strength and knocked it away, then brought the sword to the guard's throat. "I surrender! Please, sir, spare me. I was only trying to fulfill me duties!"

The crowd was a buzz with chatter. Quickly the news spread through their ranks that the man was none other but the people's champion, Sir Keene! The guard, shocked to realize whom he attacked apologized with sincerity. Keene sent them on their way and told them he'd handle the child. They departed in haste. After they were gone, the Knight began talking to the child about why he had stolen the apple.

The boy explained that he was an orphan and lived on the streets. He pilfered from various merchants to survive. He usually didn't get caught but today was the exception. Keene gave the boy his pouch of coins, then told him that he can stay on his estate only a short distance from the city. The boy, who was named Flynn, thanked him graciously and left.

"That was quite the heroic and selfless deed you did for the boy." Rafer said as Keene returned to his parchment and quill.

"'Twas nothing."

"What do you mean, ''twas nothing'? You risked your life to protect him. No wonder you're the people's champion."

Keene just dismissed his actions as if they weren't of any importance. Rafer shook his head and laughed. He turned and headed back into his shop while Keene resumed his spot on the wall. Before his quill was even able to write a single letter he was interrupted once again. This time a man approached him. At first glance he recognized him to be one of the King's messengers.

"Are you Sir Keene?" The messenger seemed not to care if it was him of not. He just carried out his duties without much thought or interest.

"Aye, I be Sir Keene."

"The King wishes to see you immediately."