Time Of Kings
In the ruins of Avengard, the Flow has sustained time for eternity. But now, Time Keeper Xavier is noticing changes - small and barely noticeable, yet worrying changes nevertheless. As the whole of time comes under shadow, the land is broken by bitter conflict. The King has died leaving twin sons, but as an exiled monarch strikes fear and doubt into the aristocracy's hearts, noble families lock horns to gain the throne in a deadly clash for power.
When time runs out, what's left to hold onto...?
'Blood Is Thicker Than Water'
"We are gathered here this evening, to remember the life of my gracious husband: our ruler of legend, King Lucas Pendragon. He will live long in our hearts and minds, and we will mourn his loss for eternity." Queen Michella raised her wineglass; unshed tears filling her pale blue eyes. They sparkled in the light of the ballroom.
Her speech over, a vociferous round of applause filled the hall as she stepped delicately off the podium, aided by her son Prince Rhys Pendragon. In svelte dark satin, and with flowing honey gold hair, Michella was one of the most beautiful women in the room.
Jayden Sorrel swirled wine around his glass, feeling notably tired and dreary. The late King's funeral had been a solemn affair. For a start it had rained, not unusual in King's Bridge, yet it had simply poured, overcast clouds overshadowing proceedings.
He glared at his own reflection in the glass, viewing a spitting image of his mother. Blood red hair curled just below his ears, ever so slightly rugged in texture. His cold grey eyes met those reflected in the glass. Cold grey eyes like the cold fallen snow of the north, his father had always said.
As he disguised his boredom by sipping at the wine, Jayden glanced around the hall at the many faces of Asterland aristocracy. All manner of dignitaries mingled in the royal wake, no doubt all vying for fortune and favour. He saw his own father, Count Anton Sorrel, standing tall and alert. His skin was pale, and he was slender in his dark clothes. Beside him was Jayden's mother. Equally tall, Monique Sorrel was extremely beautiful. Her scarlet hair cascaded down her back, as she elegantly held a wineglass in one hand. His parents were talking to people Jayden did not recognise – he did not recollect ever seeing half of the people here. The King had been a popular man indeed.
The soft melody of a harp began to fill the room, lending a pleasant atmosphere to the event. Jayden looked up at the ceiling, admiring the gilded craftsmanship, delicately shaped into blossoming roses that shimmered in the dull light.
Bubbly laughter floated to Jayden's ears and he turned to see his younger sister Amelia in a far corner of the hall, locked in a seemingly secret conversation with Ocea, a similarly aged girl of the Zomari family. Isaac, Jayden's younger brother, was hovering about nearby, loneliness painted on his face.
Jayden narrowed his eyes. His father had instructed him never to trust a Zomari, there were only two of them left – Ocea and her older brother Mercury – but they hid a deadly sting in their tails. They had always claimed to be descendants of the Pendragon bloodline, a fact that had never been proven.
Sharing a glance with Isaac, Jayden gave the boy a reassuring smile. It seemed to hearten him a little.
Leaning back against the banquet table, Jayden refilled his glass with the sweet sungarden wine. The Queen herself was milling about the room with her son Rhys. Sadness filled her eyes and step, and her son was visibly affected too. Jayden knew the King had sired twins. The other prince, Ethan Pendragon, was on Tempest Point. He had been stationed there for years, and they called him the Warden of the South. He was known as the strongest prince, yet it seemed he had been unable to make it to his own father's funeral.
Saddened voices filled the room, conversations flitting back and forth, mostly involving the King. Jayden's grey eyes landed on one conversation in particular. He recognised the man who was speaking as Lord Cain Ronella. He knew his parents would not speak to this man – House Sorrel and House Ronella did not see eye to eye. One believed in war and honour, while the other raved about peace. Jayden didn't quite know what to think.
Standing beside Cain was his eldest son Aaron. Both shared the Ronella chestnut brown hair, yet Aaron looked the stronger of the two. Behind them both, clearly trying to keep herself out of the conversation, was the most beautiful girl Jayden had ever seen. He knew she had to be Quista Ronella – Cain's daughter - however he had never seen her in the flesh before. She had fresh green eyes, pink cheeks, and sleek brown hair that was tied up, wisps falling about her face angelically. She was wearing a dark green dress, with a slash of blue crossing the middle.
He was forced to clamp his mouth shut when he realised he was gawping – and staring – at the poor young woman. Quista suddenly turned, and for a fleeting moment their eyes met across the room.
Jayden's heart fluttered.
Tonight wasn't like other nights, Xavier thought. It was unsettled and eerie, and as he stepped down the hilly footpath with such trepidation he could feel there was something wrong. Before he even reached the ruins his heart quivered with a resonating fear. He spared a glance at the night sky, silent in its countenance. The Halo encircled the world in a ring of golden dust, and the two moons of Orion and Vesta glowed azure and crimson respectively, sullen in their temperaments.
Careful to avoid the rocky crags that had tripped so many timekeepers up before, Xavier's dark robes shifted along the ground quietly, and it was one of the only sounds he could hear. Around the ruins, he so often heard birdsong, but tonight was different. Tonight was strange.
Beyond the rolling meadows of grass that bended with the wind, he could see the western sea. Emerald and sapphire, both at the same time, it glistened under the light of the celestial bodies.
Clutching his gnarled staff, he finally found his way down to the ruins. Avengard was magnificent. What looked like a block of brilliant white protruding from the fields was cavernous inside. Built by the ancients in the age of heroes, it was one of the most important monuments in Asterland – perhaps in the world.
He came to the large door of the ruins; unusual symbols had been carved onto them eons ago. Xavier's eyes met them with admiration. He touched at the shapes, gently yet methodically. Scholars across Asterland had studied this door. The technology the ancients had used was mostly gone now, blown from the world by the harsh winds of time, but these ruins of great importance remained. The symbols were part of a clockwork mechanism, which opened the door.
With precision, Xavier touched the final symbol, and with a great grinding sound the doors came open. He stepped into the darkness with fear. The feeling inside him was still lingering, and he was scared of what he might find within.
Out of the cold night, he pulled his hood down. His rugged black hair was certainly not his defining feature – it was the terrible scar that ran diagonally across his face that stood out. He didn't want to remember. It was a part of him now, but the memory had become disconnected.
Leaving his staff by the entrance, he pulled a flaming torch from the wall, lighting the path ahead with it. The caverns inside were relatively simple, but the ancient technology ran through the walls, and so to did something else. The Flow. The essence of life and time.
As he wound through the passages, stepping carefully, a sound suddenly came from deeper within the ruins. He recognised it, with relief he acknowledged it was a bat. The sound continued though, and fear struck Xavier once again. The noise was not one bat, it sounded like a hundred.
All of a sudden the end of the passage burst with activity. Xavier dropped the torch to the ground, ducking down and shielding his head. Screeches and wing beats tore over his head, and he dared to glance up. Hundreds and hundreds, a whole swarm, of bats were swooping over, seemingly desperate to escape the ruins.
Black and fearsome, they moved quickly, rushing away from whatever had startled them. When the swarm had finally cleared, Xavier got back up. The incident had only bolstered his fear.
Something truly was wrong.
Prince Rhys Pendragon was next to make a speech. He stood up on the podium in all his finery, gold trimmed cloak and all - nearly as gold as his short curly hair. He had his mothers blue eyes, yet somehow they were clearer, like pools of still water.
He coughed into a clenched fist, and the music softened, conversations diminishing across the hall. Placing his empty wine glass down onto the table, Jayden wandered towards his parents to listen. Anton gave him a wry glance, while he got a warm smile from his mother.
"Thank you all, for coming here today. I know the journey has been very long for some of you," Jayden breathed harshly, but his mother covered the sound with a cough into the folds of her dress. They had travelled all the way from Gale Rock, in the far north. He knew the King's death was not something to be ignored, but five straight days of travel had made him grow weary. "I will speak of my father, as his son, but I also speak on behalf of my brother. Ethan could not make it, his duties on Tempest Point keep him rooted to the spot, but I know he feels the same way as me.
"Our father was a great man, many of you probably knew nothing of his personal life, but I can tell you he was kind, warm and loving. He brought me and Ethan up with a gentle hand, and a firm hand when it was required – usually Ethan rather than me!" A gentle titter of laughter rose across the room. "What I'm trying to say is, I could not have asked for a better father. Raise a glass to the great man – Lucas Pendragon!"
People that held wine glasses clashed them together, a proud spirit shifting the hall's ambience. Jayden raised a hand in salute.
He glanced around, scanning the room for Quista, hoping to view that beautiful young woman once again. His heart sank a little when he could not find her. The place was brimming to the walls, and so he presumed she was simply not in his eye line.
Turning his attention back to the podium he saw tears welling in Rhys' eyes, and the princes face was scrunched up with the effort of stifling them.
"Come Rhys," The Queen muttered softly, taking his hand as he climbed from the raised platform.
"If you do not mind, I would like to speak quickly," A male voice called from somewhere amongst the crowd. Queen Michella's eyes landed on whoever had spoken, and she gave the person her permission in the form of a gentle nod.
He was taken aback to see Mercury Zomari of all people take the stage. His demeanour was one of surety and ambition. Jayden wondered what the man was doing, and what motives he had.
Mercury was striking, standing before the audience. He was tall, and garbed in fine cut blue silks. His long teal hair was flawless, and his turquoise eyes resonated coldly.
"The Pendragon's and the Zomari's go back a long way," He began, causing muffled uproar amongst the gathered nobles. The connection between his and the royal family had never been proven, and people were sceptical of such an association. Even the Queen herself refused to accept the so-called fact that there was such a link between King's Bridge and Seafall. "And so our great King's death has affected me deeply."
Jayden raised an eyebrow; Mercury certainly didn't seem affected deeply. Thus far, his play for sympathy did not seem sincere.
"Now, more than ever, the families must forget old rivalries and unite. We must stand strong, so Ethan can ascend to the throne comfortably. Lucas Pendragon would have wanted us to work together."
Jayden's eyes landed on Rhys again. There was little emotion in his face now; perhaps he was hiding his true feelings. It was widely acknowledged that Ethan was the crown prince, and had always been groomed for ascension. Rhys was far too weak for the throne, or so the gossips whispered…
There was a round of agreement over what Mercury had said, albeit tentative in tone. The undercurrent of voices told Jayden people were unsure of what to do or say – the aristocracy had not yet made up its mind.
He was beginning to get good at reading the signs. The game of politics and nobles was a twisted web indeed, but perhaps when he reached his father's age he would be able to navigate it, evading certain peril in the process.
"At the risk of repeating Rhys' sentiments, to our late King! The light of Asterland has truly dimmed without him gracing our presence." Mercury cried.
Finally, Mercury bowed and mingled back into the crowds. Michella's gaze suddenly locked on the great window and the dark expanse beyond, her lips quivered and her eyes grew teary.
"It is time for us to proceed to the river," She announced to the room. With that, she took Rhys by the hand and they glided from the hall. Even in grief the pair were elegant.
Amelia and Isaac were suddenly at Jayden's side, and a great swathe of movement took the hall. Assembling into a line, everyone left through the great doors, headed for the river Lys to watch the King's coffin float downstream…
Downwards the passages spiralled, through the ancient ruins of Avengard. The builders of this place certainly hadn't made it easy to navigate.
Xavier was used to the walk. Although the route was familiar, fear still clawed at his heart. He had never seen so many bats flying through the ruins. One or two was nothing unusual, but what had caused a whole swarm to move as one? He feared he was going to find out soon enough.
He felt a pang of anger; the fact that strange occurrences had to happen on his night of the watch was more than irksome. However, he had devoted his life to the Order of Time. He had made his vows, and he intended to keep them.
Brushing his free hand along the cold stonewalls, his fingers bumped along carvings, ancient writings and symbols etched into them. No one would ever fully understand this place, Xavier thought. All they had to do was protect it.
The passages began to widen, still twisting as much as ever in their constant descent. Xavier knew he was getting closer. He held the torch firmly in front of him, hoping whatever was going on he would see with time to react.
He couldn't quite explain the feeling he had, but twenty years with the Order had given him an intuition of sorts. He was one with the ruins of Avengard, and when there was something wrong he knew of it immediately.
Suddenly he came to his destination. The passage opened into a room with high cavernous ceilings, and an ambient blue glow. It was the object in the centre that Xavier gazed at in awe. A tall cylinder of what looked like glass filled the room. Through the middle of it, a trail of twisting blue and green dust poured, never beginning, and never ending.
This was the Flow: time's physical manifestation. It was up to Xavier and the Order to protect it.
It made a sound, so low he could barely hear it. It was like the gentle pitter-patter of rain, soothing rather than wearing.
Slashing the air before him with the torch he stepped closer to the Flow and put his fingers to the outside wall. It shimmered where he touched, with brilliant light, but he knew it was quite safe.
Slowly he wound his way round the great structure, looking carefully from each angle, trying to fathom out what was going on. It wasn't until he'd gone nearly the whole circumference when he saw it.
A small hairline crack slivered down the glass at his level. There was a disturbance behind it; a miniature storm of light wavered ominously. His heart missed a beast. To many people this would mean nothing, but not to the Order.
The Flow had been damaged, and whatever had caused it had spooked the whole colony of bats. Xavier shivered in spite of himself.
A shadow was falling upon time itself.
The nobility of Asterland left the King's castle in a procession of mourning. Jayden walked behind his mother, with his younger siblings behind. There was a sad inertia filling the line – of which the rain did not help. Jayden knew his father and the King had been close. The Sorrel's lived in the harsh north though, and they would not cry. Honour dictated so.
His father, Cain Ronella, Mercury Zomari and Prince Rhys himself stood away from the line, each carrying a corner of the coffin. Mounted by roses, it was beautifully carved from mahogany.
The King's castle was on a hill, and so they descended a slope towards the river Lys in the city below. Jayden glanced up at the sky as he walked. The rain was still falling, although more lightly than earlier. Clouds obscured the starry night sky, as if they too were mourning the loss of Lucas Pendragon. The Halo was still visible though, the gold ring encircling the world. Of the two moons, he could only make out red Vesta in the sky. Orion was in hiding.
The castle rose up behind them now, the Iron Tower standing tall and imposing beside it. It was the prison of King's Bridge, and woe betide any criminal who ended up there, Jayden thought with a grimace.
Of the line, Queen Michella led from the front. She walked slowly and solemnly, as if heading to her execution. Jayden scoured the row up and down to spy Quista Ronella once again, but for now he could not see her. He wished he could set eyes on her one more time.
Of the people he could see, as well as his own family, he noted the Karn's of Murgate, the Tenethal's of Slavers Bay – with slaves - and even Lady Helena, an eerie looking woman with long greying hair who hailed from the northern isle of Lorenel.
His attention turned back to the road ahead, realising they had nearly come off the King's hill. The city was a grand place. The river Lys ran through the middle and a myriad of bridges made crossing possible. That great river forked into two tributaries at the edge of the city, both of which ran straight into the sea.
The buildings of the city were generally grand, grey and white in hue, and many statues filled the place. It was a city of great history. Jayden had learnt the basics from lessons back on Gale Rock. Twenty years ago, Asterland had been ruled by the Erisa dynasty. The Pendragon's had come from across the sea, they took the isle of Dragon Keep, and then swept across the mainland. The Erisa's were killed, only the infant daughter was spared, sent into exile on the Phoenix' roost. He smiled to himself; happy he had remembered so much from his tiresome lessons.
Behind him, his hand was suddenly held tightly. He spun to see his sister, Amelia. She looked upset, and ever so slightly scared.
"Don't cry sister," He whispered. She gave him a wan smile. Her hair was long and red, and her eyes were stormy grey and glistening. Isaac was behind her, oblivious to what was going on around him. He was nine, blissfully unaware of the troubles of the world. Amelia however was fourteen, all too aware.
"This is just all so… sad, Jay. Father is carrying the coffin, the King is inside it. I want to go home…" She said wearily.
He nodded and held her hand tighter, walking backwards to keep up with the line. "Stay strong Melie. We will be back on Gale Rock before you know it."
She sniffed and he let go, turning back to the path. She'd be fine; Amelia was stronger than she seemed on the outside. She got that from her father.
The deathly procession continued into King's Bridge. They came through the main street, bound for the river, and the people of the city had moved to the sides, watching silently. Jayden presumed the people had respected Lucas greatly; he had been a kinder ruler than the Erisa's in any case…
As they slowly made their way down the road, Jayden watched his father with the coffin. Grief was painted on his face. He had been a great friend of Lucas'. Cain Ronella looked similarly distraught, but the two men avoided eye contact. Mercury was strangely proud to be carrying such a burden. Out of the four, Rhys Pendragon was the most hurt. His father had died – Jayden couldn't begin to imagine what that felt like.
Under the cloudy night sky, the nobles eventually came to the river. Emerging from the end of the street, the road ended with a drop. The great Lys swept by below. Jayden could see the cold waters, and he shivered. There was a stone bridge across, and steps down. No boats were travelling along today, as a mark of respect from the sailors.
The line stopped, and Michella went over to the coffin bearers, whispering something in Rhys' ear. The four men then wended down the stairs, to the foot of the river. Amelia held Jayden's hand again, tighter than before. Monique stood beside, keeping a check on her brood.
"To eternity, Lucas Pendragon. May the elements take you where they will," Michella announced loudly into the night. People bowed their heads and then watched as the coffin was let go into the water. The four men came back up the stairs as the late King was swept away by a powerful current.
Illuminated by the Halo, Jayden could see reflections in the river. He would not have paid much attention, if he had not seen those sparkling green eyes. Twisting on the spot to see the girl that had caused the reflection, his sight landed on Quista Ronella.
Vesta's glow was only more complimentary to her, and he stared in adoration. Her elder brother was stood beside her, hands clasped behind his back. He forced himself to look away, scared by his beating heart.
Rhys was in his mother's arms, sobbing uncontrollably. People didn't quite know where to look when royalty, the highest of society, released such emotion.
The atmosphere of grief was suddenly broken when someone in the crowd gasped. All eyes turned, and Jayden saw a man pointing up at the sky.
He followed the finger, and bursting through the dark air was something different. From where he was standing it looked like a bird, but none he had ever seen had held such magnificence. As it got closer he realised it was far too big to be a simple sparrow.
Its feathers were like red smouldering flames, orange embers and grey burning cinders. Jayden had never seen anything like it in his life, but deep inside, he knew what it was.
A story was becoming reality before his eyes.
"The phoenix!" Someone cried, and even the Queen herself gazed up at the sky, eyes widening in shock.
"Can it be…?" She whispered.
Jayden gulped as the bird of fire someone had called a phoenix flew directly overhead, leaving a trail of burning ribbon like flames in its wake. It was such a beautiful entity, yet unknown at the same time. He had heard the stories. He had learnt the history.
The phoenix was an omen of ill fortune and dread.
It was a warning sent by none other than Darrya Erisa, at least twenty years of age now. It seemed she was ready to reclaim the land of her forefathers.
A/N: You may already know me from reading the Daughter of Destiny saga, or perhaps Dark Horizon. If you don't, my name is Luke and I love writing epic fantasy. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of what I hope to be a highly successful epic fantasy series. There's going to be so many story threads and characters, this opening has barely touched on it all, but I really hope it has drawn you into the goings on in Asterland! I apologise if you thought it was a bit slow, I will endeavour to make future chapters more exciting, but this one was set up after all… Thank you so much for spending the time reading; I'd really love to hear what you thought in a review. In the next chapter, the extent of the Phoenix' appearance is revealed, Jayden finally talks to Quista, and Anton Sorrel has some news for his family… Thanks again! The next chapter should be up within the next three/four days.
P.S: I have a world map of Asterland on Deviantart, my user name on it is Frayling0, and the piece is called 'Time of Kings – World Map'. So if you want to see what Asterland looks like, or want to make your understanding of the story better just go and take a look!