The old chiseled rock shone brightly in the afternoon sun as his shackles clanged down the open causeway. The heavy chains that bound his hands tightly to his hips rattled along the stone and made the effort difficult as they caught periodically on the less than smooth pieces, but being out in the open air mitigated the discomfort. The armed guards stationed on the walkway watched him warily, and the two in front and behind him as his escorts already had their swords drawn and at the ready. But Walding paid them no mind; he had no intention of pulling off an elaborate and daring escape. The new king would have his trial, fair and just, and the judgment would be handed down. And whatever the outcome, Walding would accept it. The world had seen enough violence at his hands without him adding more to it.
He looked out between the guards on his left to see the sea, glittering reflections of sunlight catching the thousands of waves that washed towards the shoreline, as if they were coming to see the verdict themselves. The waves slammed hard into the rocks below and crashed upwards, misting above the edge of the defensive wall that they walked upon. The wall wrapped tightly to the shoreline and ocean below, built in among the rock centuries ago under the tenure of Lord Trillgrand himself when the city was hardly more than a large village. Exiting out the back of the castle, the wall’s split could be seen ahead where half continued along the shoreline and around the rest of the city while the other half curved to the right to encompass the inner castle grounds. His escorts would be taking him right and down the slight slope to the Grandstand, where commoners and prestigious citizens could see him all the same. Walding felt drops of the salt water against his skin from the crashing waves, cooling and evaporating in an instant from the breeze and warm sun. It put a painful smile on his face.
He glanced back at the somehow pristine white stone of the castle, its grand arches bouncing around the structure like decorative sashes on a wedding gown, dotted at each arch’s apex with the light blue banners of the capital city. “Endland’s Diamond” was only a slight exaggeration; the castle was gorgeous, and the colors matched the gemstone’s reflective nature, sun shining off the white stone and blue banners to give it the illusion of a soft glow. Grand ol’ Trillgrand was a sight indeed. Another cascade of waves hit hard on the shoreline and erupted upwards, breaching the walkway’s rail, a small shower sprinkling them as they walked. Walding thought the back of his mind that perhaps Endland was shedding a tear for him. A quick jerk of his chains pulled his attention back to the path’s split that they had nearly reached.
The inner castle wall they took sloped down before reaching the Grandstand, a small elevated platform set atop the main gate to the castle. A great many more guards awaited him there, armed with two short swords on their hips, all of them with the wheat-crowned Blue Heart emblazoned on their chest armor. At the center of the stage stood the new king, Lobran Sarn, in his white and blue cloak with a golden crown of wheat wrapped tightly to his brow and around his well-kept black hair. Next to him stood the head of the High Council of Wizards, Councilor Supreme Petravinos Morgodello, young for leading such a group. Only thin highlights of grey stroked his temples and his short beard of his otherwise light brown hair. Most of it was concealed beneath his large dark blue hat. Besides his hat, he too was adorned in the white and blue of Trillgrand, though his garment was more of a robe, loose and flowing compared to the king’s fit and trim look.
A few other members of the council stood by as well, cloaked in the colors of their own cities, many leaning on their staffs for additional balance. They were accompanied by their lords, equally soaked in their city’s crests and colors, all of whom whispered among each other. They were seated along the outer edge of the platform in a semicircle with a small gap in the arc for the escorts to pass through. Their eyes never left Walding once they saw him approach.
The escorting guards stopped Walding before the short set of stairs and clanged their armored fists against their breasts as a hard sea breeze blew through the procession, bringing with it the salty smell of the sea water. Walding breathed deeply as it rustled his now ragged blonde hair around his head, displacing long strands in front of his ice blue eyes. A flip of his head moved the hair back into place, but the motion caused the guards closest on the causeway and the platform to quickly draw their short swords and the escorts to pull heavily on his chains. King Sarn waved his hand gently towards them, causing the guards to relax, before he turned his back to the prisoner and walked to the far edge of the platform to address an unseen crowd.
“People of Endland! For I know I do not only speak with the city of Trillgrand today but with men and women from many of the great villages, towns, and cities of the Eastern Land, and perhaps from all of Endland.” His voice boomed loudly around him, cutting through the sea breeze. “Here stands the last of the men responsible for the catastrophe at Jornun. And here stands the last of the men responsible for Endland’s current safety. This man is on trial for the murder of thousands, as his counterparts have stood before him. But let us not forget his role in the banishment of the Grim King Kuor-Varz as we deliberate the fate of the Prophet of Philanti, the Lord of Storms, and Grandmaster of the Chosen Order, Walding Zarlorn.” A great many boos echoed from beyond the platform that the king stood upon; angry and hostile the voices rose, drowning out the waves of the nearby beach. “Today we shall judge him, today we shall judge the last of the Chosen. Phont guide us in our examination and in our verdict.”
The guards escorting Walding pulled him forward up the steps and toward King Sarn. The king had returned to his position in the half circle, sitting in a large stone chair that was roughly centered on the platform. The rest of the Lords and Councilors sat in wooden chairs that were far from permanent items on the platform; this was a special occurrence for this many people to be present at a hearing. The escorts pulled Walding through the semicircle to the far edge of the platform and pulled down heavily on the chains, forcing him to kneel before a sea of people. Their volume rivaled that of the ocean, 15 feet below the raised platform in a massive courtyard, packed together to watch one last judgment, one last sentence be carried out. They cried out as Walding knelt, and those nearest attempted to throw rocks and rotten food at him. Some found their mark, striking Walding in the face and torso, but they were quickly dissuaded by a platoon of armed Blue Heart guards standing at the ground level of the elevated platform, a small barrier of 50 or so men defending the gate. Walding looked over the people with sadness and understanding before casting his eyes downward to the rough stone he knelt upon.
Petravinos stepped forward from the now-seated council members, shuffling a few feet past where the king sat. He stood between the king and the accused, looking over the crowd who still jeered at the kneeling man. Somewhat nervously, he cleared his throat as he scratched the back of his hand with his beard before speaking.
“Walding Zarlorn, you stand accused, like your Chosen brothers and sisters before you, of the mass murder of the armies of the Free People of Endland at the Battle of Jornun. The great threat, Kuor-Varz, and his Grim were defeated definitively at this battle, but not by sword and spear, blood and sweat, but by dark magic. Though victory was achieved, your tactics pulled the life from thousands. Most did not return at all. Those that survived returned from the battle scarred, not with wounds and worn feet, but with time. Young men returned old, older than their fathers and grandfathers, clinging to a life that they had barely lived. Memories of loved ones were lost; feelings of joy and happiness were impossible to achieve. Those that returned did so as sulking husks of the men they once were, unable to live and love as they had prior to Jornun. And numbered among those were many descendants of the lords and ladies of Endland, including our great and now deceased king, Yorn Trillgrand. These are facts and truths expressed by the families of those whose family members have returned, seen firsthand by our new king, Lobran Sarn, seen firsthand by the lords of the Eastern Lands, and seen firsthand by the members of the High Council, myself included. Further, these facts have been confirmed and corroborated by many of the Chosen that have been judged before you. Walding Zarlorn, what have you in defense of these accusations?”
The sea of people quieted, the calm before the storm, a glass ocean waiting for a stone to be cast and the waves run through them. Walding looked out over the crowd and breathed in the salty air slowly, shaking slightly from the emotion he clearly felt at the recollection of the battle.
“Endlanders,” Walding began, “the Chosen were faced with an impossible decision: to allow Kuor-Varz to continue his march of destruction, and doom Endland to an eternity of death and despair, or to end Kuor-Varz, whatever the cost. We now know that cost was high, far worse than anything we Chosen Grandmasters had thought possible. It was horrific and will forever haunt me so long as I breathe. But we did what we thought was right, and as a result, brought peace to Endland. I do not deny any of the actions levied against me as inaccurate or false. Judge as you see fit.”
The crowd remained silent as the members of the High Council whispered agitatedly with their lords atop the altar. They deliberated for a minute as the sea of people rose in anger beneath them, murmuring to the kneeling accused. One voice rose louder than the rest of the crowd, setting them off.
The insult propelled others to cry out louder and louder until the sea of people swelled, angry fists rising like waves, their insults hurled like storm winds cutting at stone. Petravinos and the other council members walked to the edge of the stage and tried to calm them as the Blue Hearts atop the Grandstand swapped their swords for bows and the knights below fought back the masses with their massive blue and white shields. The people continued to push forward, attempting to climb for a chance to spit their words directly to the accused’s face or get close enough to deliver a blow that might end him. Walding lowered his eyes to the floor after his proclamation and did not lift them through the turmoil, even as some large stones struck him, causing small scrapes and gashes on his head and through his paper-thin tunic.
“Silence!” Petravinos roared.
At once the world was quiet, the voices of the mob vanished like smoke in the wind. The ocean too went quiet, no waves could be heard nor birds singing, and even as a powerful breeze blew off the sea and whipped their skin, there was nothing but the cooling sensation. Petravinos now stood next to the kneeling Walding, a light wood colored staff in hand, with an intricate raven etched in the top of the otherwise plain-looking stick. Petravinos’s other arm was outstretched over the people who had gathered. The crowd’s attention, in their stunned silence, was drawn to Petravinos who lowered his hand and stepped to the edge of the platform.
“It is the decision of the High Council, with unanimous agreement from the lords and councilors, as well as the king of the Eastern Island, that Walding Zarlorn, from this day till the end of his days, be banished from Endland. He is never to step foot on its soil again, under penalty of death, and will on this
day leave us for all time. This is the verdict we lay for this man, and by Phont’s wisdom, let it be just and true.”
Some of the crowd attempted to call out in protest, surely seeking harsher punishment, but their voices were stilled as Petravinos and the other High Council members walked forward in a half circle around Walding and began whispering quietly, some open handed and some of the more elderly with staff in hand. Walding stood slowly, only now seeing the scrubbed but charred stone he was kneeling upon, with remnants of those who had chosen to not go quietly. He eyed the wizard councilors that stood around him, but none seemed overly concerned with him because they were acutely focused on their incantations. He could stay put and be banished or attempt escape and be smote. Either way, Endland would be rid of their murderous savior.
A small light appeared a few feet above Walding’s head. It grew in size, flat like a plate as it widened, wobbling a few degrees arbitrarily as the incantations continued. Very soon it was wide enough for four men to stand inside, and the light that it emitted grew cold and grey, like a fog light through the mist. It wobbled increasingly as it grew, an unevenly loaded pottery wheel spinning rapidly, and the members of the council were fully entranced with their work. Sweat beads formed on their brows with the strain as their voices echoed in the otherwise silent world. Petravinos lowered his arms and, wiping his forehead with a cloaked sleeve, stepped forward next to Walding. Walding looked to him and over his shoulder to the lords seated on the edges of the platform soaking in the show, guards armed with bows all pointed to where he knelt.
“Walding Zarlorn, you are hereby banished from Endland. May the gods pity you when you at last greet them, for you will need their mercy for the crimes you have been found guilty of here today.” He looked down and sighed a whisper. “At least it is not the Medius, old friend. I wish this was not our path but it will bring stability to the land. Please understand. Fortune unto thee, my friend.”
“Until we meet again, Vinos,” Walding whispered nearly imperceptibly and somewhat to his surprise in the silence as Petravinos stepped back into the half circle and continued with the others.
The whispering of the High Council was now bordering on shouting as the disc swirled and shook above his head. None noticed the position of Walding’s hands, his pinky fingers and thumbs extended in his chains, too enthralled with the light show above him. Walding closed his eyes and the council lowered their hands, the flat light lowering with it, passing over Walding’s body and landing solidly on the stone he stood on. It popped with a loud and long hiss, the grey light dissipated, and where Walding had knelt was now only air. The crowd’s voice returned with the distant sounds of the shoreline as the High Council broke their formation and returned to their Lords as Petravinos stepped forward to address the people once more.
“Go forth with Phont’s blessings good people, knowing that His will has been realized. The Chosen are gone and Endland is safe. Fortune unto thee.” A weak reply came from the crowd, not nearly matching their size, and they began to file out of the courtyard. Those closest to the front of the platform, those clearly most angry, remained fixated on where Walding had been, waiting for some trick to be exposed and Walding to show his face again for one last stone’s throw. The armed Blue Heart guards stood vigilant with their shields before the Grandstand, but no one was keen on attempting to overtake them. Petravinos watched the crowd slowly disperse before turning to where Walding had disappeared. He lingered for a moment of mourning and then walked towards the rest of the council who had surrounded King Lobran Sarn on his throne.
“It is done, my King. The last of the Chosen is gone.”
“Splendid, Petravinos. For a moment I thought we may have to spill some blood to slack the people’s thirst.” He spoke calmly and with little emotion as he swirled the last bit of wine in his cup.
“The people’s pain is written plainly. It’s been a difficult day for all of us, a difficult year. So much death, these ongoing trials, and the passing of King Trillgrand weighs heavy upon them,” Petravinos said as he turned back to look upon the still disbanding crowd.
“Your words are true, Councilor Supreme. Such a tragedy to have lost him, and not at the hands of the Grim, but by his precious Chosen! But do not forget half my blood is his! The people will recognize the Sarn name once this glorious new age of Endland begins!”
“Yes, my King,” Petravinos responded. “I suppose we are primed for a joyous time of prosperity now with Kuor-Varz gone.”
“Yes, precisely, now is the time for celebration! The Grim are gone, the Chosen banished, and the world is at peace for the first time in nearly a hundred years! A new age is upon us! The time of the Chosen is over, now is the age of peace!” King Sarn exclaimed.
He raised his glass as the lords and ladies cheered loudly at the joyous proclamation. Petravinos bowed shortly and backed away from the group. They spoke loudly of their new king and followed him down the steps of the Grandstand back towards the castle as a set of Blue Heart guards moved in to flank them for escort. The High Council members followed suit, strolling down the walkway that overlooked the sea as a small patch of clouds cast a brief reprieve from the warm sun. Petravinos’s feet did not immediately move, looking to the lone cloud that blotted the sun and sighed. He turned back to the banishment site where his friend had just been and knelt before it, placing his hand on the warm sun-soaked stone. He straightened after a moment,
“Let us hope, my King, that you are right.”