The Tyrant of Kepala
Princess Gia Corin, royal fugitive
It was a balmy summer night, the night the order of Esperanza monks visited the palace. That’s what Gia remembered best. It was the last time she could remember being truly happy, when the world was a wonderful place full of enchanting secrets, and the discoveries before her were one happy revelation after another.
The monks had come to demonstrate their skills and magical harmonies with the earth, making water dance, the air sing, and the earth move. Gia was fascinated by the displays of how a simple order of mortal people could command the earth to their whim as they did. The sense of wonder and awe flowed through her like a current and inspired a deep contemplation within, as though something was beckoning from an unseen realm. She followed by instinct like a moth to a flame.
That night, Gia found herself lying awake In bed, her mind unable to quiet itself from the wonders of the day’s events. As she found herself lost in thought of what wonders lay on the other side of the everyday world, she felt an ominous coldness come over the room. Darkness swept over her bedchambers and all the candles that lighted her room suddenly extinguished. Then she heard it – a voice as cold as iron and cruel as winter coming from the wind itself.
You are not safe, little one. Soon you will all bend to my will…
Gia held her hands to her face and screamed, trying to frighten the terror away, but it only grew stronger. Your life will be mine, little princess! howled the empty voice, stabbing needles of fear into her heart.
Then Gia felt it inside of her. A warm light rushing out, as though she had called upon the sun itself to rise and banish this ghoulish presence from her chambers. Her eyes snapped open to once again see her familiar room, though his time it was not dimly lighted by the dancing glow of candles. This time it was as though the sunrise had come to roll back the dark curtain of night. But there was something strange about it. The light was coming from Gia herself.
The next few days were, to say the least, strange. Gia did not tell her schoolmasters or her father, King Jory, what had happened to her. She kept to herself and only hinted to her mother, the Queen, of what had happened.
“Mother, have you ever felt as though you were meant to do something extraordinary?” she asked her on a long stroll through the commons one afternoon.
“I’m the queen! How much more extraordinary do I have to be?” she teased.
“No mum! Not that way! I mean… Have you ever felt there was something inside of you that was not something anyone else could do?”
“I think I know what you mean, little one, and I do say that I have felt, from time to time, that there was indeed something that was beyond what I could see and hear that was guiding me. Maybe it was the gods whispering to me? Maybe it was the world itself? Who knows?”
“But mother, you spoke of the gods,” Gia ventured cautiously.
“I know all the gods aren’t good. What if one of the evil gods was calling to you? What if an evil God wanted to hurt you?”
“Oh my dear Gia. You must not worry yourself about dark gods and forces beyond the world. You can’t quake in fear under your bed in fear of Morgorod or Izurra’s bad tempers. You’re a young girl! You should be playing and laughing! But not so much that you ignore your schooling!” her mother said, tousling your hair with a wink.
“But I have so many questions!” Gia said excitedly and reassured.
“Let’s leave your questions for later. Tonight’s tthe Hunter’s Moon Feast, and the whole family will be seen by the people of Kepala. We must concentrate on putting on a face for the people that tells them that they will be looking forward to a nice long summer.”
“Oh, alright, mother. But can we talk later?”
“Of course, Little Star. Anything for my favorite daughter.”
Public feasts always bored Princess Gia Corin to tears.
It wasn’t so much the food and drink, which was always plentiful and delicious, but it was the endless speeches of this baron and that duke and the other knight that drove her into waves of exhaustion from sheer tedium. Her father knew how to handle it, always there with a kind word and a hearty laugh for the bad jokes of his sycophants. He knew well enough to play nice when games of statecraft commanded it. But Gia was not at all in the mood for such games.
This night her wandering thoughts and a bit of wine had gone to her head, and soon she was rising up from the table to address her family and the gathered guests.
“I am afraid, good people of Kepala, that I shall need to retire to freshen up for a bit!” she said, leaning into the slurring of words that the wine naturally lent to her young, slightly inebriated tongue.
“Seems like the red robes of the royal house have already graced my daughter’s cheeks!” laughed her father, “why not go and take some mountain water from the wellspring to freshen up, Little Star?”
A cheer went up from the gathering of noble and common visitors at the mention of Gia’s familiar nickname. All over the kingdom, the youngest child of a monarch was always the “little star” that showed the true way home.
“As you say father! I’ll be back soon,” she said to the king.
The smiling faces of Gia’s parents, brother, and sisters as she exited the great hall were the last memory she was to have of them.
The wellspring had been a good enough idea, and Gia had time on your way there to think on the wonders that had visited her. Light from nowhere? Voices in the night? Winds that brought the dark? What did it all mean? As she splashed the cool spring water on her face, she calmed her thoughts and took a deep breath. Tonight all was right with the world, and she decided she would worry about nothing.
On her way back to the great hall, she took a detour into the kitchens. Cally Fiddle and Fat Bill, the zealous cooks of the royal house were always friends to her, especially when she wanted to hide from great social occasions such as this. She burst into the kitchen expecting to find them in their usual way of clattering here and there with pots and kettles as they bickered back and forth about every issue that could possibly be argued over, just as the best of friends always do.
But she entered the kitchen only to find a handsomely dressed young man, digging through the bags of grain, as though desperately searching for something.
“And just who the blazes are you and what do you think you’re doing?” Gia said, summoning her most imperious tone.
The young man quickly looked up in wide eyed shock, but just as quickly composed himself. “Your highness! Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rodrigo Sahasi Rath, highwayman, overdone, and lucky one, at your service! I am here on an errand from my employer to retrieve a letter of some importances from my man whom I had it on good authority worked in this very kitchen, and who had stashed it, also on good authority, within one of these selfsame bags of the King’s wheat you do see here before you! Care to assist me?”
He grinned and winked. Gia crossed her arms, remaining firmly unimpressed.
“And just suppose that I believe you for a second. I reckon then that you’ll have no trouble having this tale of yours verified by my guardsmen who are, I’ll have you know, waiting just beyond the other side of that hallway,” Gia bluffed.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, m’lady!” The young rogue sputtered. “It would not do to trouble such lofty personages at this late hour! Besides, I am actually here seeking the secrets of magic.”
Magic!, Gia thought. “What… What magic do you seek?”
“Your vuluptuitude, I speak of nothing less than the power to create wonders from the most banal of materials!” he flourished dramatically, “Let me show you…”
Suddenly the rogue was standing very close to the princess and he reached behind her head to pluck the ornamental paper fan from atop her festival tiara. He stole the paper away and began making a series of cunning gestures as he wove his work. His eyes flashed cheekily as he worked.
“Ta-daaaaaaa! Magic for her majesty!” He beamed, dropping to one knee and producing a paper dragon.
Gia stood there, deadpan and unamused. “Right. Theft of property, destruction of royal garments, and several counts of being lewd to the princess. The justicars will have a fine time with you. GUARDS!!!”
Rodrigo stepped in close and clasped his hand over her mouth, “Oh please good lady, it was only a joke, besides….”
The dashing young rogue was interrupted by the shock of a sudden and great booming that shook the entire Kepalan Keep. Dust rose from the ground from the shock of the tremors.
“What was that?” Gia shouted in disbelief.
“Oh no,” sighed the boy, “it’s too late. They’ve come.”
“Who?” she shouted, panic beginning to find her again.
Another earth shaking boom. Kitchen supplies rained from their shelves to the floor in a cacophony of atonal noise.
“The Empty One. He’s here. My lady, we have to go. Now!” said young Rodrigo, grasping the princess’ hand.
She jerked away, furious and terrified, “I must get to my father! He’ll know what to do!”
“Gia… No. It’s already too late,” said Rodrigo, without a hint of his erstwhile bravado.
He picked Gia up and slung her slight frame over his shoulder and carried her through a door in the kitchen that she had never noticed before. She came to her feet and as Rodrigo took her by the hand, raced with him down the dimly lit corridor. By then the princess had realized that she was in a hallway directly below the great hall. She could see the scene above unfolding through glimpses through grates in the hall’s floor, which were the hallway’s ceiling.
Through the gratings she saw the most unimaginable horrors unfolding. Friends of the crown, the honored nobility, being torn apart by faceless black armored soldiers who worked their way through the crowd of guests like a man walking through a field of tall grass. Their black armor was slick and reddened with the blood of her guests and as they cut them down, they remained as silent as the grave. Screams of men, women, and children alike echoed through the great hall as they fell before the merciless onslaught. Above it all, she heard the unmistakable voice of her father. He was shouting an indistinct challenge to the attackers, before letting out a soul-wrenching scream himself.
She held her hands up to her ears and screamed. Next, all she could feel was Rodrigo’s gentle but firm hand on her mouth again, and then nothing but sleep.
When Gia awoke, she did so in the back of an ox cart making its way on the high road away from Sira Kepala’s eastern gate. She was covered in refuse and rags, and all vestiges of her royal ornaments were missing.
“Had to use the tiara to get us out the gate quietly, miss,” said a familiar voice. Rodrigo was in the front seat, driving the wagon. “You’ll be safe enough once we make it to the coast.”
Gia’s thoughts racing, she feared the worst. “My family…”
“Best not to think of that now, m’lady. We need to hide,” said the young smuggler.
As Gia looked back down the road at the burning spires of the capital, she knew the young smuggler was right. As they wandered off into the cold and lonely night, the light once again came from within her, illuminating their way.