Appendix A: Chapter 1

[Editor's note: Chapter 1 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry]

None perceived the threat when it first appeared. It hid beneath the ever-present background noise of sporadic wars between one kingdom and another. While overall things were generally peaceful, it was hardly unusual for one kingdom to strike against another, whether it be over land, or resources, or merely some misinterpreted diplomatic slight. Such wars would rage for a few weeks to a few months at most, and after several bloody conflicts on the battlefield, one army clashing against another, things would peter out once one side was overwhelmed and surrendered or, more commonly, both sides lost interest as casualties mounted and the same battles wore on day after day with little change on the map to justify continuing.

But this was different.

Not until many years after things had begun did a few shrewd strategists in a few scattered courts across the countryside notice a creepingly slow yet ultimately unmistakable trend in the reports sent from diplomats in far-off lands. The armies of Castle Helioth had won battle after battle, war after war, over time growing from a minor regional power off in the distant west to, as cartographers confirmed, the largest single kingdom in known lands.

Moreover, as those strategists studied the reports, it became clear that something new was at work here. Castle Helioth’s aggression was not targeted towards rival kingdoms but rather individual towns and villages, with no apparent regard to under whose jurisdiction they fell.

Every time the basic pattern would be the same: without warning Helioth’s armies would descend upon a village and seize control from the local authorities, readily routing any local guardsmen who tried to oppose them. It would often be days before the rightfully ruling kingdom would even be aware of what had happened, not until word from the traders worked their way up into the halls of power, or when communications with the village’s governor suddenly ceased. The kingdom would then send an army to liberate the village, and days later would return in defeat, if it returned at all.

Helioth’s armies would never push on from the village — at least, not for several years, as they stayed behind to fortify defenses and to repel the inevitable second, third, or even fourth attempt to free the village from their control. Eventually a truce would be reached, redrawing the boundaries between Helioth and its neighbor, if only to formally recognize the new de facto border. And peace would return for another few years, until Helioth struck out in a different direction, against a different kingdom’s town, and the cycle would repeat.

—-

“Bor-ing. I thought you were going to tell us a story.”

“I am. I’m explaining the threat we were facing back then.”

“But nothing’s hap-pen-ning! Get to the good part!”

“I’m getting to that. Now if you’d let me continue….”

—-

And as the years, turned to decades, the rumors started to reach the courts of the kingdoms who had not yet ultimately fallen fully to Castle Helioth’s advances.

Back then, it was unusual to hear of a king ruling for twenty years before falling ill, or dying, or being deposed, or in some other way being replaced by a successor or usurper. Even today, it is rare to hear of a thirty-year reign. But the rumors said that the king of Castle Helioth was still on his throne for fifty years! And what’s more, they said that he still personally led his armies into battle as they seized village after village and repelled larger and larger armies from kingdoms increasingly desperate to be rid of Helioth once and for all.

As the borders of Helioth’s expanding empire creeped ever closer to our own — and mind you, in those days this very village had already fallen to its advances — the testimonies from soldiers who survived battles against Helioth’s armies told of a man in armor blacker than a starless night, sitting astride a white horse and commanding the throngs of soldiers around him. It was said that sometimes a soldier would fight his way towards that figure, but would be struck down before ever being able to land a single blow.

That figure came to be known the Demon King of Castle Helioth.

Our King at that time saw that if we waited until the Demon King’s armies were at our borders, we risked being overwhelmed and falling like so many others had before. In his wisdom, he reached out to the king of Castle Lantaria. Now, at that time Lantaria was — well, I suppose they’re still hardly our friend today, but back then it seemed as though we were at war with them at least every other year or so. Anyway, after much discussion, it was agreed to form the Grand Alliance and execute a combined attack on the armies of Helioth before it was too late.

And so it was that on that fateful day, the three armies faced off on the battlefield. While the armies of Helioth had their massive numbers and the Demon King himself leading them, and the Lantarians had their… wizards… or whatever they were calling them at the time… it was the armies of Telerand who held the keys to victory, for they were led by the Paladins of the Holy Order of Yssindria!

As the armies struggled against one another under the blazing sun, neither side surrendering an inch, one of our paladins led a squadron of knights in a charge straight into the heard of the Helioth lines. Anyone else attempting such a thing would surely have been struck down quickly, but the Lady Yssindria was surely with them, as she is will all paladins in battle, as they dove deep into the heart of the Helioth throng until they found themselves facing the Demon King himself.

And for the first time in all his inhuman existence, the Demon King saw the face of his own doom. His guards driven away by our knights, the Demon King was soon knocked to the ground and looked up at the sword of the paladin, as it glowed with the power to smite evil, brighter than a thousand suns, a power bestowed by the Lady Yssindria herself when a recruit is first ordained and becomes a true paladin. And in that moment, the paladin thrust his sword deep into the dark heart of the Demon King, expunging his foul darkness from this world, driving his armies into chaos and ensuring Telerand’s ultimate victory in the Demon War.

—-

“And that,” Roland concluded, stepping his right foot off the chair and resheathing his sword after having pantomimed the final blow, “is how the Paladins of the Holy Order of Yssindria defeated the Demon King, saving not just the kingdom of Telerand but, indeed, the entire world from his grasp.”

Roland hoped his words would linger in the air as his message sunk into his audience’s heads, but the commotion of the surrounding market square did little to help inspire awe.

“That’s it?”

“Well, of course not. The Telerandian and Lantarian armies still needed to sweep through all the lands the Demon King had conquered. And even though the garrisons of Helioth soldiers stationed in each of those villages and castles across the land were little match for our forces without the leadership of the Demon King, it still took over two years to liberate them all and deal the final blow to Castle Helioth to ensure another Demon War would never come again.”

“No, I mean, weren’t there any ogres or dragons or anything to slay?”

Roland sighed silently. “Keep in mind, this isn’t just some bedtime story your parents tell you. This actually happened. It’s real.”

“Oh.”

Roland was losing them. “But then again, if there ever are any ogres or dragons or monsters to fight, who do you think is going to be sent out to slay them?” He waited a few seconds for the obvious response, but got none. “Right: a paladin.”

Today had clearly been a bust. Of course, Roland had largely figured that over an hour ago, but had been holding out hope that someone satisfying the eligibility requirements might have come by while recounting the most epic tale of a paladin’s heroism that he knew of. Still, he could at least try to get some interest in becoming a paladin planted in the heads of the children who had gathered by his booth.

“So, it’s getting late, but does anyone have any other questions about what we paladins do?”

One of the kids in the back of the clump spoke up. “Your armor must’ve been ‘spensive.”

Not technically a question, but Roland could work with it. “This suit of armor isn’t really made out of gold. The metal our armor is forged from has just enough gold in it to give it this color, to symbolize the purity of our motives to serve the Lady Yssindria, the King, and the people.” Roland was thankful the children were too young to recognize irony. “Not only would an actual suit of gold armor be expensive, but it would be far too heavy to move in and too soft to effectively protect the wearer. It’s just like how a gold coin –” Roland’s gauntleted hand clanged against his armor has he instinctively tried to fetch a coin from his pocket as a visual aid. “Um, how a gold coin is mostly other metals, but just looks gold.”

Roland briefly considered explaining how suits of armor were almost never worn except for ceremonial purposes, since even with a light metal alloy they still weighed a lot and became uncomfortably hot inside after about ten minutes. But he decided that dispelling too many myths about paladins today would be counterproductive.

“Anything else?” he asked.

Another kid spoke up. “If you’re a paladin, how come your sword doesn’t glow?”

“Ah. A paladin’s sword only glows when the Lady Yssindria readies it to smite evil during battle. And thanks to the tireless efforts of your town’s guards, there’s little evil left in the streets that’s even worth smiting.” Roland segued into as good a closing line as any, given the circumstances. “So, who here now wants to be a paladin when they grow up?”

One kid in the front raised his hand. Out of about a dozen. Roland forced a smile anyway.

“Excellent. Of course, you’re a little young to start training right now. Naturally, we can’t recruit someone your age.” Anymore. “But in a couple years, be sure to look us up. And now it’s definitely getting late, so why don’t you kids run off and find your parents before it starts to get dark, OK? Thanks.”

As the children scattered off in all directions, Roland cautiously sat down in the chair behind the booth, making sure it could support the weight of his armor. He leaned back as much as he dared and closed his eyes.

The fact of it was, this had still been the most successful recruitment turnout this trip.

Chapter word count: 1,843 (according to wc)
Total word count: 1,843 / 50,000 (3.686% complete)