Listening to: Prelude – Hiroki Morishita (Fire Emblem: Awakening OST)
Well, I’ve gone and done it now. As soon as midnight hit, I started work on my next NaNo project, a follow-up to last year’s. I’m coming up on 3500 words at the moment, but I decided to take a break from that and say that, yes, there will be much more content incoming. (And at the same time, much less, since I’ll have many other things to concentrate on as well.)
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of “The Exiles’ Tale (Real Name TBA)”. Enjoy!
The town of Redhills now lay under the banner of Caldemar. Crimson-coated troops kept watch at its boundaries, keeping a careful eye on all who entered and exited its gates. Despite this, one could almost think that life continued as normal: the soldiers rarely stopped anyone going by. Their only concern seemed to be with maintaining order and making sure that none of those who entered were Saren insurgents. The iron mines were a valuable strategic asset, and the Calden army was loath to let it slip through their fingers.
Two men, dressed plainly in worn, hooded cloaks and the leathers of travelers, made their way forward towards the gate. Both wore swords at their sides, but they wore neither uniform nor armor. The soldiers on guard eyed them suspiciously: mercenaries were common enough, but there was always a risk that they could be spies.
The man in the lead pulled back his hood, revealing a craggy face lined with scars. He reached into a pouch at his side and withdrew a handful of crumpled papers. “Here.”
The woman in charge of the gate guard looked over the papers with a critical eye. According to what was written, the mercenaries had already been contracted by House Caldemarion, and were to be allowed free passage. “Freelancers, huh?”
The man in front grunted. “Something of the sort.”
“All right, head on through, but don’t make any trouble.”
The pair moved through into the streets of Redhills. Though they seemed to be meandering, they steadily made their way towards the center of the town. As they did, they looked around almost nonchalantly, taking in the sights and sounds.
“Plenty of guards about,” observed the hooded man, cultured voice approving.
“But not too many,” the other agreed.
The sound of laughter echoed from a nearby alley, and the hooded man gestured for his companion to stop. He pointed towards the source of the noise. “That way.”
The pair moved forward. The laughter sounded again, punctuated by the clacking of some sort of children’s game. As they rounded the corner, a stone, struck by the bat, hurtled towards them. It whistled by the front man’s ear, not even eliciting a flinch, and struck his companion a glancing blow across the cheek, pulling back his hood before bouncing to the ground.
As he bent to pick up the rock, the children’s laughter halted, and they rushed forward. “Mister, are you—”
The other man, concerned, spoke in unison. “Your Highness, are you—!” He realized his mistake too late and quieted, but the children had already heard. Their concerned looks turned to utter terror as Amreth Caldemarion, Crown Prince of the Eastern Empire, drew himself to his full height, blood trickling down his cheek.
“Oh, lords…” breathed the older child, his eyes widening. The younger girl, her eyes welling up with tears, began babbling.
“We didn’t mean to Your Highness honest it was a mistake we didn’t mean to please don’t—”
The Prince held up his hand, and the girl stilled immediately, though she couldn’t stop a few frightened whimpers from escaping her mouth.
As he took a step forward, the pair nearly bolted, but they’d heard the stories from the other towns. Anger the Calden soldiers, and they’d take out their wrath on your entire neighborhood. Your best option was to sacrifice yourself for the good of others.
The Prince moved closer, and the pair stared up at him with wide, tear-filled eyes as he towered over them. They started in surprise as he knelt, bringing himself down to eye level, and held out his hand, offering them the rock they’d been using as their ball. He gave them a small smile, apparently uncaring about the blood flowing down his cheek.
It took a long time for the children to regain their composure enough to reply. “Um… yes?”
The Prince bounced the rock on his palm. “I remember, I used to play all the time. My family actually used to visit this town, did you know that?”
“Of course, I’d usually wrap the rock up in cloth before hitting it,” he continued on. “I had a bad habit of hitting other people with it, and it wasn’t terribly good for them otherwise.” He motioned for the girl to hold out her hand and carefully handed it over to her. “Why don’t you go take care of that?”
The girl blinked. “Y-y-y-y-yes, Your Highness.” With a clumsy curtsy, she scampered off, the boy trailing behind her.
The Prince stared after them for a moment, a somewhat wistful expression on his face. He wiped the blood from his face with two fingers, glancing down at it.
“I apologize for my blunder, Your Highness,” said the other man, putting a hand over his heart. “I had not intended to—”
“It’s quite all right, Erich,” said the prince. “I had not intended to keep my presence here a secret, at any rate.”
“Then why go through the cover of hiding the fact that we were coming?” said Erich, frowning. “It seems a pointless subterfuge to me.”
“Straightforward and honest as ever, I see,” said Amreth, wiping the blood off on his cloak. From one of his pockets he produced a signet ring, its device of the Eagle of Caldemar glinting crimson and gold. The ring glowed slightly as he passed a hand in front of his face, healing the scrape until the only trace it had been there was the blood on his face. He pulled his cloak up to wipe the remainder of it away.
“Your Highness is kind to speak thus of me, but that is hardly an explanation.”
“True.” Amreth slipped the signet ring onto his finger. “Then allow me to explain.” He gestured towards where the children had run off. “The fact that children were playing in the streets, without any care for who might be walking along, shows that the people are at ease with the occupying soldiers.”
“They hardly seemed at ease to me,” said Erich dryly. “Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Well, they may be terrified of me personally, but that has more to do with my fearsome reputation,” said Amreth. There was an ironic note to his voice. “Something that you have done a great deal to help cultivate, as I recall.”
“Wars are won by reputation as much as by arms,” said Erich. “A foe who lets fear take root in their heart is defeated before the battle has even begun.”
“Yes, yes, that’s all very well, but it makes trying to administrate a country a living hell,” said Amreth. “Everyone is convinced that you’ll chop off their head at the flimsiest excuse.”
“I suppose that could be a problem.”
Amreth chuckled. “Fortunately, General Eleanora seems to have things well in hand. She is to be congratulated.” He beckoned to Erich, pulling his hood back up to conceal his face. “We should find her headquarters and hear her report.”
His bodyguard saluted once again, bowing his head respectfully. “Yes, Your Highness.”