A DAY TO REMEMBER
It feels like every word my father said was documented. My council lays them out for me, fancy parchments inscribed with some common law or small decree spread evenly over one of my mother’s lavish tabletops. But what my council fails to understand is that I am not my father, and that stocking the chancery shelves is the luxury of a peacetime king. As you well know my reign was not so fortunate. That is why these lies and false rumors have poisoned our once peaceful streets over who led us down this path of war and heartbreak. And I’ll admit my selfish reluctance to speak on these matters has only added to the fire, but I am older now, wiser, and this stack of old parchments reminds me that my selfish pain does not outweigh your right to seek the truth about how The Three Kingdoms fell.
It is for this reason I have commissioned Sir Peter Jaqard to record the testimony of those involved and release them to you this day. Contained in these pages are the misfortunate events that would become the story of my life. The things I am proud of, those I am not, and even those I played no part in at all. But before I can properly explain our present day troubles, it is imperative that I begin with two memories from my childhood. The first of which started by the single cobblestone window in my room at Hershire.
I was ten years old when I took my post by the window not long before the day’s first light. It looked out over the rolling green hills beyond Hershire, our winter castle. I could sit there day and night pretending to be a famed knight in a watchtower, ready to protect the realm from an unexpected siege. It was no siege that brought me to the window this morning, though. It was the biggest celebration of the year, the Annual Fall Festival. That’s why I sat there, hour after hour just waiting and dreaming, taking only a brief walk through the courtyard to watch a man getting arrested. Not long after I returned to my post, I saw what I’d been looking for, a long line of mounted soldiers cloaked in the crimson and gold of Gatlin.
“They’re here,” I yelled to anyone who could hear me, but no one was around. I jumped up and sprinted out of the castle, and continued down the long gravel road in the middle of the flat, freshly trimmed field we call a castle yard. “They’re here,” I yelled ahead, feeling the crisp cool breeze fill my lungs. “I saw them coming over the hills! Open the gate!”
Past the grass’s edge, merchants and entertainers scrambled like field mice to take position atop the large stone courtyard. On the other side of a rising steel gate, an anxious multitude gathered for The Sixteenth Annual Fall Festival. I ducked under the gate and kept running past them into the rolling green hills.
I stopped atop the tallest crest far from Hershire, eagerly awaiting the sounds of King Thedious’ entourage. Finally, a brilliant echo of trumpets filled the air, followed by a long line of mounted soldiers along the valley floor, riding between steep rising slopes. “What business do you have in these hills?” one of the mounted men asked, as the other Kings Men drew to a halt, raising their swords in unison. “Come down here. I know nothing of you, boy.”
“My name is… “
“…Kindel!” I heard Elsthin shout from behind me. “Kindel… I’m down here.” I turned and looked at the tall, lanky boy with strong cheeks and messy hair, standing at the bottom of the hill. “We scared you that time. I saw it.”
“No way. I’m used to your stupid jokes.”
“So you say,” Elsthin gloated, proudly turning back. “Come on. Father’s letting me ride a war horse this time. No more embarrassing ponies.”
Our small piece of this vast world comprised of three kingdoms; Printan, Gatlin, and Manchester (in order by size). My father was King Simeon of Printan. King Thedious was King of Gatlin and his son Elsthin was my best friend. I know that may sound odd to some; neighboring kingdoms working together in an age of rivalries and bloodshed, but our kingdoms had honored a treaty of friendship. The fall festival served as a grand celebration of it. Tents and pavilions covered every inch of usable hillside in front of Hershire, and the old fashioned village off the left hand side. Citizens from all three kingdoms traveled day and night to get there. It was the biggest party of the year complete with music, performers, shopping, games, and, of course, an abundance of food and drinks.
Elsthin and I rode together on his new warhorse through a sea of onlookers lining both sides of the road. It was a colorful sight. Candle, jewel, and food merchants edged between people throwing confetti and flowers. Sitting atop a decorated stallion, chests out, feeling like kings ourselves; we waved from side to side trying not to miss a gleeful soul, until we reached the lofty castle walls and stopped under the archway. My parents waited on the other side with my older sister Caroline. A soft spoken soul like our mother, Queen Meredith, Caroline was always proper, but that didn’t stop her long blond hair, olive skin, and grayish eyes from catching lots of attention from the boys in the capital. That included Elsthin too, unless there was some other reason he started acting strange around her our last few visits.
King Thedious led our small party to the center of the courtyard, smiling at the few mason towers used to upgrade the walls. “I see you still prefer showing your coins over keeping them in your pocket,” he joked, while slowing to a halt.
“I’m just trying to keep up,” Father replied with a smile. The instant King Thedious’ feet touched the ground, my father threw his hands in the air, “Let the games begin!” An array of music and voices sprung through the courtyard, signifying the start of The Sixteenth Annual Fall Festival. My mother rushed to embrace Queen Rachel as she exited her red and gold wheelhouse with Jackson, Elsthin’s three-year-old brother, followed by his older sisters Sabrina and Evelyn. Each year the Queens anxiously awaited the chance to walk the village streets. The wood shops, unequaled in their craftsmanship, saved all their best works for the Festival. Not even the Queens got to take an early look.
“I haven’t slept all week,” said Elsthin, as we escaped our parents up the long road to Hershire. “I can’t believe I still get this excited.”
“I know,” I replied. “I’ve been looking out my window since sunrise.”
“I hope you don’t plan on shooting arrows and sword fighting all day,” he said, looking over at me, smiling. “I’d hate to hear to you cry again.”
“Cry,” I replied in disbelief. “Like when I beat you on your name day? You tossed your sword nearly killing a Castle Guard.”
“I’m still paying for that,” he sadly admitted. “Why don’t we ever kick balls or play tag like the others boys? We’d get into a lot less trouble.”
“You know why. It’s boring,” I answered, running on ahead. “I’m going to get my new bow.”
A few months before the festival, Elsthin had visited Castle Ivory, our main home in Mauldin, the capital of Printan. That day he beat me badly at archery, sword fighting, and every other competition. It was embarrassing. Gatlin can’t beat Printan. It’s a fact. That’s why I trained tirelessly from that day until this one.
We visited each other often, but the festival was by far the most fun. We spent the afternoon shooting arrows at any target in sight. I was winning until we noticed an enormous pumpkin sitting atop a wooden cart behind the courtyard. “That’s the biggest pumpkin I’ve ever seen,” said Elsthin, taking off amongst the crowd. “Let’s get a closer look.” We ran across the green grass of the castle yard, snuck down the back wall, and knelt beside the barbershop to glance at it. The castle housed many businesses for the village. All of them rested against the far walls to leave the courtyard open.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” whispered Elsthin. “I bet you we could notch thirty arrows into the side of that thing. I must have it.”
“Wait here,” I said, standing up to leave. “I’ll tell the guards to go pay for it.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” he asked, throwing out his arm to stop me. “Why must you always act like such a father’s boy? Let’s just take it.”
“I don’t know,” I said with hesitation. It wasn’t unusual for Elsthin to think that way. He’d earned his reputation as a trouble maker, but I’d avoided it my whole life.
“Fine then, I’ll go without you,” he said, taking off amongst the carts and wagons, lined up behind the merchant tables. I peeked around the corner of the barbershop at the owner of the cart, who paid us no attention while tending to his crates of fresh fruits and spices. Until he turned around just in time to catch Elsthin in the act.
“You spoilt little animals.” He chased after us screaming, “Come back here!” Before he could take five steps, three household guards stepped in and paid double for his stolen pumpkin. I felt bad and went to apologize, but for the second time Elsthin called me a father’s boy, cradling that pumpkin like a large orange child. I tried hard not to laugh, and to be honest, I was a little nervous to approach such an angry merchant. So when the soldiers waved us off, we left without a fight.
We bragged about it while filling that pumpkin with arrows in the backyard of the castle. Our fathers looked down on us from a high balcony, making me fear they’d received word of our antics. To stop from worrying I sparred with Elsthin using wooden swords. Elsthin was a great fighter but I won. He demanded we duel again, but I didn’t want to push my luck. Instead we washed up to attend the great feast in the dining hall. After finishing our meals, we ran and played all through the halls of the castle until wandering into the hills outside.
Our fathers didn’t mind us leaving the castle. The crowd’s dwindled throughout the day, and The Moon Watchers protected the hills by night. An abundance of coin and merchandise exchanged hands, bringing with it the expected mix of thieves and hustlers, but it was nothing The Moon Watchers couldn’t easily handle. They were good soldiers placed on night watch for some type of punishment. The only way they could get off was to earn the recommendation of their leader, Alek Heath. Father demanded that I tell Alek whenever I went outside at night. Luckily, we found him standing in the courtyard on our way out into the hills.
We stopped on a hilltop far from Hershire. Smoke drifted through the cool night air, and we started a fire of our own from the supplies we’d brought. Kneeling to hold a torch over two slits of splintered wood, I remembered something that made me turn to Elsthin so fast; I almost caught his pants leg on fire. “I got so distracted by all the excitement I forgot to tell you!”
“Tell me what?” he asked, more concerned about whether or not there was a hole in his trousers. “You almost burned me.”
“I know… I’m sorry about that but listen…” The excitement brought me to my feet. “I was walking the courtyard this morning when a few soldiers arrested a mad man, kicking and screaming that some black cat, as big as a pony, was roaming the woodlands beside Mt. Cheston.”
Mt. Cheston is a towering stone mountain behind Hershire. Vast woodlands of old pine and oak stretched far off both sides. A mysterious clan of Tribesmen lived behind the mountain, which is why I was forbidden from going there.
Elsthin knelt down to warm his hands, unmoved by my urgency. “It was probably a mountain lion.”
“He wasn’t talking about any mountain lion.” I knew for a fact. “I never heard of a black one anyway. This was something different… something only the oldest tales speak of.”
Finally, I had his attention. “Alright, I’m listening.”
“He said it was a slick black beast that moved as quick and nimble as an alley cat but with the strength and teeth of a lion. Its claws were as sharp as a well-forged sword, and its green eyes had fire in them like a lantern, but the beast couldn’t see in the light. The man claimed that’s how he got away. Sunlight broke through the trees, sending it back into the cave.”
“There’s no way,” Elsthin mumbled, as he stood to look back at Mt. Cheston, mesmerized by its new-found wonder. “Kemyons aren’t real.”
“That’s what I thought.”
No sooner than I could regret telling the story, Elsthin took off toward the mountain, leaving me behind like it was the pumpkin all over again. I chased after him, desperately screaming his name, but he kept running. The only entrance into the mountain was past the castles walls, across a field of overgrown grass and weeds, then around a small portion of mountain. I ran as fast as my legs would allow through the brush and tall grass, leaving the safety of the castle far behind. Finally, after losing sight of Elsthin, I caught him in front of a narrow crevice stretching halfway up the mountainside, providing a shoulder width’s entrance into a dark stone cave.
“I only wanted to see the entrance,” he said, panting for breath. “I always thought Kemyon’s were an old hearth’s tale. There’s no way something like that can be real.” He gazed into the opening with that same mesmerized stare he’d had before. “But what if they are?”
“That’s what scares me… now come on, let’s go. If the tales are true the Kemyons are going to swallow us whole.”
“Just give me a minute,” he said, taking a small step closer. “Nothing’s going to happen – even you said he was a mad man, right?”
I backed up into the tall grass field, impatiently waiting as no sounds emerged from the long sliver of darkness. Elsthin grew more eager by the moment, and a little bit closer too.
“What are you doing?” I had to ask, but my words landed on deaf ears. “You can’t go in there. We’re not even supposed to be here.”
Elsthin entered the opening, leaving only his voice to echo out –
“You’ve got to see this. The walls get wider, and there’s this moss on the walls. It’s glowing. Come in here.”
“I’m not going in there,” I yelled into the black abyss. “I’m going back to get Alek. This is your last chance. I’m not joking.”
The sound of Elsthin’s voice grew softer with each step down the narrow passageway, as did the florescent moss glowing on the walls. Reluctantly, I followed him inside, fearing he’d be dead by the time I left and came back with Alek.
I tip toed through the darkness left between the moonlit entrance, and a strange light at the end of the long, narrow passageway. I watched Elsthin enter its glow, coming to a stop like the walls took a sharp turn. After looking to his left, he disappeared down a separate passageway that led to the source of the light. I picked up my pace in silence, deciding not to scream and announce our arrival.
I entered the light and looked down the separate passageway. On the other side was what appeared to be a dark circular cavern, as long as the mountain wide. Three strong beams of moonlight that started from a hole in the ceiling, continued through the depths of an enormous pit that swallowed most of the floor except for the slight stone rim where Elsthin stood. Before I could say a word the moonlight vanished, leaving us in complete darkness and feeling like someone had closed the lid on a jar. I could hear the sound of an aggravated bird coming up the passageway behind me, knocking off the walls in an attempt to work its way to freedom. I ducked, sensing it drew near, when the wind off flapping wings blew though my hair.
“Elsthin, watch out. There’s a big bird in here.”
He turned around in shock of hearing my voice, listening to the sounds of the large angry bird scratching and clawing its way toward the end of the passageway. He stepped deeper onto the ledge; waiting anxiously for it to fly out, but there was only silence.
“Come on, we have to go,” I yelled. “Follow my voice.”
Thinking the bird had flown out; Elsthin sprinted toward where he thought the crack of an opening stood, only to be met by a loud, Squawk… Squawk! Squawk!
A grumpy old hawk flew up, brushing his eyes with its wings, as it clawed its way into the wide open space of the cavern. I heard Elsthin scream when the three beams of moonlight suddenly returned, racing through the distant center of the pit. The first thing I noticed was that Elsthin was gone. I ran to the edge and realized the hawk had sent him one step off the edge, falling six feet onto a small stone ledge. “Are you alright?” I yelled down at him.
“My leg is broken,” he said, watching the hawk use the moonlight as a gilded road out of a hole in the ceiling. “I wish I could fly.”
Before I could tell him not to look down, he did it on his own. The moonlight stopped in the middle of an enormous boulder, rising high above the blackened floor far below. All around the circular walls were ledges of different size and shape, giving the entire place the resemblance of some grand theater. To our dismay, most of the ledges had caves attached, leading to an inner working of tunnels inside Mt. Cheston.
“The Kemyons are real,” Elsthin mumbled, looking back to make sure neither a Kemyon nor cave stood behind him. Thankfully, it was only smooth grey stone, but the instant he looked down a set of glowing green eyes appeared in a cave halfway down the stone shaft. A silky black cat more intimidating than either of us had imagined, walked out and sniffed the musty air. It didn’t notice us at first, but Elsthin’s fall had already caused too much noise. The beast jumped upward, ledge to ledge, until disappearing behind the shadows concealing the far side of the lake size room.
After letting out a roar that made even the stone tremble, it charged out the other side like a hunter to its prey. That’s when I reached down to grab Elsthin.
“Stand up and grab my hands. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“I can’t. My leg. “
“Then push up with your good one. There’s no more time!”
He found the strength to stand, and hopped up on his good leg. I barely grabbed his fingertips, watching him struggle to scale the wall until I pulled him the rest of the way up. Without hesitation, I grabbed him under the arms and pulled him down the passageway. Not long after we made the turn, the beast leapt onto the rim and inched slyly around after us. The glow from the moss returned with the moonlight, outlining the girth and sharp crevices of its pony sized torso. It was just like the mad man had described, but I underestimated the power of its glowing green eyes until my looming death shone bright in them. Refusing to leave him behind, I continued pulling Elsthin toward the exit, but it was no use. The beast snarled before it quickened its pace. I counted down the seconds until it lunged.
When I went to close my eyes that final time, an arrow hissed past my ear, driving straight into the beast’s broad right shoulder. The Kemyon growled, exposing its razor sharp teeth before leaping forward in anger. Right before it sank its teeth into Elsthin’s leg, a loud roar rose from the pit, sending it limping and snarling back toward the cavern. I looked over my shoulder to see Elsir Longfellow, my teacher and guardian, standing inside the pale light of the entrance. My father must have noticed us leaving and had sent Elsir to follow. He ran down the passageway and helped me drag Elsthin from the mountain. With one eye on the entrance, we fell into the tall grass with a brand new appreciation for that small lonely field.
I looked up to see the mysterious Tribesmen watching from the mountain top. One of them was a young girl about our age. We locked eyes, and for that brief moment a strange calmness came over me. That’s when the Tribesmen shook their heads in displeasure and returned to The Tribal Land, their home behind the mountain. Except for the girl, who briefly smiled and waved goodbye before leaving.
“Have you gone mad,” screamed Elsir, snapping me back to reality. “You are forbidden from going anywhere near that cave.” He walked into the field and found a patch of dirt to light a red smoke torch. “You foolish children. I was a decorated soldier once; now look at me, a glorified nursemaid.”
Keeping one eye on the cave, I sat there for what felt like a lifetime, stressing over the unprecedented punishment headed my way. While Elsir mumbled to himself, Elsthin grabbed my arm and pulled me close, “Even if I don’t see the light of day for another ten years, I’ll just be thankful you came after me. I’m sorry I almost got you killed.”
“You would have done the same,” I replied, watching Elsir light the torch, causing it to erupt into sparks that gave way to a heavy stream of red smoke. “I have no doubts.”
Not much later the first soldiers arrived. Two of them walked me home while the rest stayed to wait for the doctor. As fate would have it, one of the few in Printan had attended the feast on the king’s invitation.
Later that night, I sat on the edge of my bed when my father walked in and closed the door. “I’m very disappointed in you Kindel,” he said, starting the dreaded conversation. “You’re a prince. You can’t go risking your life on foolish games or curiosity. Then you steal a pumpkin on top of it? What’s gotten into you? The Tribesmen delivered fifty this morning. You could have had ten of them if you’d asked.” He stepped into the light given off by the oil lamp by my bed. His face was redder than I’d seen it, but he remained surprisingly calm.
“I’m sorry, Father,” I mumbled with my eyes to the ground. I had no good excuse to give him for chasing Elsthin to Mt. Cheston instead of telling Alek. “I should have known better.”
“That much we can agree on,” he said, kneeling before me. “I suspect you’re hardly to blame for it though… Youth often leads one to act with instincts, but trust me my dear boy… nothing is more fragile than life. You must not take it for granted. Do you understand?”
“Aye, I do Father.”
“I believe you do – Elsir informed me Elsthin took sole responsibility for the pumpkin and what transpired by the mountain,” he continued. “I’m sorry I’ve spoken so little of that forsaken place. Those Tribesmen prefer to keep their secrets, but I do know this – it takes a lot of courage to go in a place like that after a friend.” Laughingly, he gave me a good shove in the chest. “There just might be a king in there after all.” I jumped on top of him and we began to wrestle. “I must confess,” he said with laughter, “that was the biggest pumpkin I’ve ever seen.”
King Thedious didn’t treat Elsthin as generously. He arrived much later after the doctor finished setting his leg. Since Elsthin couldn’t walk, the sound of soldiers carrying his flat wooden board rang loudly through the halls. Shortly after, the screams of Kings Thedious rang louder. After Elsthin healed, King Thedious sent him to a school for misguided youth. He was bound and determined to teach his son right from wrong – no matter the cost. Because of it, I only saw Elsthin on holidays and the occasional visit home, meaning I rarely saw him at all for the next five years.