Being fans of the Chrono series and fanfiction in general we've probably all reads fics with original characters, post game events, and their own takes on "During Play" situations. This story has all of the above (in some degree or another) and is a challenge to myself to make it all work... well. Here is what I hope is a compelling adventure with a little help from the Chrono mythology and a lot of help from Chrono Compendium (www.chronocompendium.com).
"Sometimes the strands of Fate have knots..."
Sir Lucan had always admired the view from the quay at Choras. The water was clear and blue, and not filled with the refuse and grime that seemed to mar the many port towns he had seen. He looked down at his own reflection as the continuing spray that bounced playfully along the cobbled street drew his attention.
He was getting older, there was no kidding himself any longer. He had passed out of youth only recently, but already his once dark locks were beginning to develop soft shots of gray. His once broad frame had leaned in his recent years and his height, once a complimentary feature, served only to make him look more diminished.
Lucan rubbed his hands along his chin and scratched himself absently, he would have to attend to the whiskers. While it was traditional for the Knight-Captain of Guardia to wear a beard, his wife had opinions on the matter that defied even the oldest of conventions. After all, he and his men would be home in less than a week's passing and the least he could do for his spouse after a six month absence would be to attend to his grooming.
The clanking of metal on metal announced the arrival of one of his knights and Lucan turned from the horizon to greet him. His second in command, Sir Gellan marched across the lane towards him, his burnished armor gleaming in the new day's sun. He had his green hair drawn back in a severe pony tail and his jaw was set, but it did little to change or mature Gellan's eternally boyish face. The soldier stopped in front of his commanding officer and saluted smartly, "The Constant should make berth early this afternoon, Captain Sir, were there any more preparations you would like me to attend to?"
Lucan smiled and drew his cloak about him, "At ease, Gellan, you've seen to everything. I'm merely out here enjoying the scenery," he extended his hand to the emptiness next to him, "Would you like to join me?"
Gellan visibly relaxed and took a place besides Lucan, "You know, sir, Choras isn't like the rest of Guardia is it?"
"I was just thinking the same thing, it seems less complicated here. No politics, no admonishment, just a simple life to be led. When I turn over the captaincy, I think I'll bring my wife here and finally start on that family she's always wanted."
"Turn over the captaincy, sir? No need, I expect you'll live forever."
Lucan responded with a roughish smile, "Well, I expect you'll hear a much different sentiment from Brina when all is finally said and done. That reminds me... the wife told me before we left that you've been composing some truly awfull poetry for one of Donar's many daughters."
Gellan gave a smile of his own, "I wouldn't say 'awful,' sir, maybe just ... dreadful? I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mention it to Donar, sir."
Lucan clapped a hand on his shoulder, "Consider it a state secret, lad."
As if being summoned by thought alone the older knight strode out along the quay to join them, "Morning, boys," he announced simply. Donar always brought a sense of ease, despite his sometimes menacing size. Though he was getting on in age he still bore that unconscious but somehow calculated grace of a lifelong soldier. Born before the 'thee's' and 'thou's' that made up the popular and proper speech of the day, he seemed to have no qualms about referring to his senior officers as 'boys.'
Donar yawned noisily, a sound more like a bear waking than a man, then scratched unconsciously at the 'c' shaped scar that ran under his left eye and into his bushy red beard. Gellan shifted uncomfortably then excused himself quickly. Lucan and Donar both favored him a small smile as he clanked back across the lane towards the Inn where they had established a temporary barrack. After a moment's silence Donar gave Lucan a side long glance, "Has he mentioned the poetry?"
Lucan suppressed a chuckle, "He'd rather you didn't know."
Donar sniffed, "Aye, and I'd rather that I never read it."
"From what I hear, that's probably not a bad idea."
The large knight continued after a moment had passed, "I guess I'll let him sweat it out a little longer before I let on that I know," he sighed then, "and that he has my blessing."
Lucan gave the bigger man a slug on the shoulder, "You're getting soft in your golden years."
Donar replied with a sneer and shoved his comrade with enough force to catch him off balance. Lucan landed on his backside with a resounding smack and Donar grinned at his handy work, "Too bad the stones are not as soft as I."
Sir Lucan stared for a moment before they both laughed. Donar helped the Captain to his feet and clapped him on the shoulder as Lucan braced himself, "Come on, the day's wearing on and we haven't eaten yet."
The day continued on and as expected the HMS Constant appeared on the horizon as the sun reached the middle of the sky. Sir Lucan had his men prepared and in line on the dock as the ship eased into the harbor. The Knights of Gaurdia drew their swords with an echoing hiss and raised their blades in salute. A trumpet's blaze resounded from the vessel and the crewmen unfurled its full colours in response.
As the broad vessel slid next to the dock the sailors aboard cast the lines across to Lucan's men, then ran planks and a gangway. As the last board touched stone a figure appeared on deck and jaunted down the line. His balding head gleamed and his white beard whipped along the salty wind, along with it was his old naval great coat. He eyed the men and with a quick flourish drew his curved saber and saluted the company. The man stopped in front of the Knight-Captain and squinted at him as if remembering a different face, "It's seems that we're all getting to be old men here."
"Still a few decades shy on you, yet, Captain Afshar."
"I'm afraid they've gone and promoted me despite my best efforts, Sir Lucan. I'm 'Minister of Military Intelligence' now, soldier."
"Maidens will sing songs of this grave injustice, Minister," he responded with a slight nod.
Afshar's face dissolved into a boyish grin. He spread his arms and bellowed in his full gravelly voice, "Hurry aboard, men and I'll have you along the coast of Zenan on the morning's tide."
The Knights let out a well diserved cheer and gathered their packs from the street. Single file they made their way onto the Constant and into the cabins below. After they were settled they began to roam the ship and a few of the men recognized the crewmen and renewed old friendships. The Knights were happy to finally be out of their armor and soon strolled out onto the deck to lay in the sun or to lean against the rails and admire the rolling waves.
The flagship of Guardia cleared the harbor and the men continued their leisure. Sir Lucan himself discarded his captain's tunic and selected a linen jerkin to wear up on the deck. After the sails had been rigged and the lines tied, Afshar joined Lucan at the starboard rail.
Lucan breathed in the heavy sea air and shook his head slightly, "I don't know how you could give this up, my old friend."
The older man tugged at his mustache, "All good things, my boy, all good things. Besides, the government is always in the need of closing old matters and making preparations for new ones. I suppose I'm better at preparations than most." Afshar pulled his pipe from a belt pouch and began to pack it. He nodded at Lucan's sword, still belted around his waste, and asked between lighting and puffing, "Tell me, are you expecting corsairs?"
Lucan's hand went unconsciously toward the hilt, "No, just a promise that's all. This sword has been in my family for generations. We all swear to keep it close and protect it ... my family takes certain responsibilities very seriously." Afshar smiled at him, as if knowing the answer before he posed the question.
"Ah, so speaking of corsairs, this last tour as been your shortest ... and I've noticed fewer gravestones in the hold."
Lucan steepled his fingers on the rail and gave his friend a serious look, "Our counter raids have finally convinced them that Guardia and the Protectorates aren't for sacking any longer. We spent a few extra weeks in Choras just to be certain but I'm sure we've seen the last of them for the time being." He looked back out toward the sea and continued, "Besides I'm sure we've got larger problems inland. Are the mystics militarizing?"
"Not yet, they've got too much inner turmoil to start looking north any time soon. The Ozzie family is still trying to rally the clans, but until they unify under a real leader, war is still a long way off. I'd say ten or twenty years the way things are looking."
"That's a relief, I suppose." Afshar 'hmmped' and rubbed his hand along his smooth head and his companion watched him with concern, "What's troubling you?"
Afshar gave him a pained look, "Troubling times, troubling news is all ... well, back to the preparations I mentioned earlier. We'll make Truce in four or five days if the winds are with us," he turned and gave Lucan's arm a squeeze, "plenty of time to discuss worldly matters." Without another word the older man walked sedately back to the entrance to the cabins.
The week went quickly, and with all the preparations Afshar had mentioned the two friends didn't have much more of a chance to speak seriously as they had the first day. The old man seemed to be distant in even casual conversation and took to staying in his cabin until the small hours. Lucan let the man have his space and concentrated more on the reality of leave and of being home.
The sun rose again on the fifth day and the kingdom of Guardia lay spread along the horizon. As Lucan had taken to doing since he was a boy, he met the sun a few minutes early and walked the deck to the rails and watched the morning come. When they were a cabletow's length from shore a few crewmen came up and relieved the night watchmen, who quickly began scurrying below deck to catch what little sleep they could before they docked.
As they approached the port at Truce, Lucan's men gathered on the deck and could not just sedately watch their progress. A crowd had gathered at the arrival of the vessel and the anticipation of their own homecoming began to energize the group of soldiers. The men began to call to the shore as their family and friends waved and shouted back at them. Lucan searched the crowd for his wife but as they approached it became difficult to distinguish individuals as the group massed together.
Donar, no longer able to wait for ramping, leapt across to the docks and ran up to the crowd. A group of small red haired girls ran towards his out stretched arms and the knight gathered them up. The rest of the company trooped down the planks to join their comrade and their families.
Gellan blanched slightly as Donar called him over to his family as his other daughters and caught up with him. "Here boy, join us. I think you know my daughter, Valia, already?" Gellan and Valia both blushed furiously and that made Donar erupt with laughter. Donar's two sons, both about Gellan's age, eyed the knight speculatively. However, after a withering look from Valia they offered their greeting to Gellan, albeit a little forcefully.
Lucan watched the display and laughed when Donar gave him a broad wink. Then, suddenly a voice that he had waited too long to hear shot above the din of the crowd, "So, I see my husband has finally returned to the scene of the crime." Some of the men moved out of the way to reveal Brina, Lucan's very pregnant wife. Lucan stared for a moment, unable to move from the spot where he stood.
Afshar snuck up behind him and whispered glibly into his ear, "Sorry, I must have forgotten to mention it."
Without turning from his wife he responded, "Was this that troubling news you mentioned?"
Afshar snorted and gave him a nudge. Not able to hold any longer, Lucan ran to his wife and stopped in front of her, wondering suddenly if it was safe to embrace her. She looked into his eyes for a moment and then grabbed him by his neck and kissed him fiercely. Another cheer erupted from the crowd and Lucan called for silence. "Once you're settled I expect you all to join me in the evening meal to celebrate. Don't consider it an order," he took his wife by the hand and kissed it, "But rather a new family tradition."
The men cheered again, but in the moment Lucan did not observe the knights move around him. Donar clapped him suddenly on the shoulder from behind and announced to the crowd, "You're forgetting the old ones, Captain Sir. It's customary for the new father to bathe before being presented to his wife and his young."
The crowd grew silent, and before Lucan could respond the Knights of Guardia had their leader on their shoulders. Lucan sputtered, "Bathing, what are you talking ab-" Before he could finish he found himself suddenly swimming to the cheers of the crowd. Not able to be angry, Lucan spit the water out of his mouth and began to do the backstroke to shore as the men's laughs became even louder.
Lucan caught the towel and the disaproving glance from Brina as he entered the kitchen of their home. He wiped himself down and quickly changed into fresh clothes. He paused then to breathe in the scent of the house, something that seemed to welcome him back even more than the sites and sounds. After he had taken it in for a moment he began to gather the pots and pans from the wall.
"And what exactly do you think you're doing?" Brina stopped chopping vegetables to look at him curiously.
Lucan spread his hands, "Well, I just figured that ... because..."
"That because I was pregnant that I needed you to ruin dinner?" He grinned and she patted him on the cheek, "Go set the table, dear."
"Yes, dear." He gathered their dinner wear and set it carefully upon the long table in the other room. He stopped and then ran his fingers along the surface of the wood. Fond memories brought a smile to his face as he recalled when he had set out to build this. Lucan had realized half way through construction that the table he had made was too large for one man to complete. Without bidding both Donar and his sons had appeared to help him finish, and then Gellan had spent hours sanding it smooth. In a very real way this table represented the very ideals that he and the Knights of Guardia lived every moment of their lives. "The Knights of the Squaretable," they had called themselves that day.
There was a sharp knock at the door and he was brought out of his reverie. He crossed the room to the door and swung it open. Gellan stood there in the doorway with a rolled parchment in his hands. Lucan raised an eyebrow at the scroll, "That doesn't rhyme, does it?"
Gellan did not smile, but rather shook his head, "No, sir. I hate to ruin your dinner but this summons just came from the castle. It calls for us immeadiately, Captain."
"Brina won't like this," he cast a quick glance over his shoulder at the kitchen then looked back at Gellan, "Alright, give me a few moments." Gellan nodded and Lucan shut the door.
Lucan quickly changed into his uniform as Brina watched him quietly, strangely not chastising him for leaving so soon. She took his golden medallion from the night table and fastened it around his neck. Brina then wrapped her arms around him and leaned her head against his chest, "Just come home, dinner will be waiting."
He rubbed her shoulders to comfort her, "I'm sure his majesty just wants news about the last tour. I'll be an hour or so at most." She looked up at him, kissed him, and silently went back into the kitchen. Lucan didn't really believe it either.
The protocol officer at the castle eyed the two knights as they approached the entrance to the throne room. Sir Lucan gave the old gentleman a slight nod and he rose from his desk. "Good evening, Captain. Shall I announce you, sir?"
Lucan, resecured his badge of office around his neck, adjusted his armor, and cupped his helmet in the crook of his arm, "We're ready."
The older man puffed himself up and swung open the doors. "Knight-Captain Lucan, and his Executive Office Sir Gellan of Truce. They request permission to approach His Majesty, King Guardia XX."
The stuffy voice of the Chancellor responded from within, "At our pleasure, allow the knights to enter."
Lucan gave Gellan a short glance. The Chancellor was a shallow and vein man, who's demand for excessive formality often stood in the way of actually getting things done. Gellan expression revealed that he agreed with Lucan's opinion. They drew themselves up and marched into the throne room, keeping in step with one another.
They reached the bottom of the dais where the king sat, drew their swords in salute then laid them in front of themselves hilt away. "As ordered, I present myself humbly as a faithful retainer," Lucan annouced as he genuflected and kneeled down. Gellan dropped to one knee also and handed the summons to the Chancellor. He then refaced the King and observed him silently.
King Guardia XX was an elderly man still in good health, but it was widely believed that he would be stepping down soon and turn over the crown to his son so he could spend time with his second wife. The prince had reached manhood the year before and speculation was that he would be king before the year was out. His age had not slowed the present king's mind either, so any summons sent out wasn't to be taken lightly.
The monarch unceremoniously took the crown from his head and scratched himself. "That's enough, we don't have the leisure for flowery speech and flashy ritual. Lucan, I need to speak with you frankly. Chancellor, see to it that they have chairs."
The Chancellor looked as if he had been slapped. Obviously feeling that his station had been disrespected, he took a moment to gain his composure. However, after a stern glance from his king he scurried off. He passed Afshar on his way out and the old man joined them.
Afshar greeted the men with a nod, and bowed quickly, "Your Majesty."
"Minister, I'd like you to brief the men on what's going on."
"Certainly. Captain Lucan, what do you know about the Denadoro Mountains?"
Lucan shifted slightly as he rose to his feet, "I just know it was never really mapped out, mostly because Dorino is still so newly established. Ten or so years ago it was a real breeding ground for wild creatures. I, myself, led a suppressive force up their about eight years ago to stop some of them from raiding the local livestock."
"What if I told you that they're organizing?"
The Knight-Captain looked dubious, "You're not serious, they're mindless animals."
The Minister shared a quick look with King Guardia, "Military Intelligence has been monitoring the mountains ever since you went up there. Some of the 'monsters' that nest there have been evolving, more specifically the frog people. One of my agents said that about two and a half years ago they started picking up the colloquial language of the farmers."
Gellan frowned, "They've learned to speak? So quickly?"
Afshar nodded gravely, "We have some suspicions that the Ozzie family and the Mystics have been manipulating their nature, and starting to arm them. We think it's possible they're trying to develop them as troops for a campaign on our continent. I've already advised the King to mobilize the infantry."
Lucan rubbed his chin, "They can't get their own people to fall in line so they breed something that will only know to obey."
King Guardia leaned closer, "Exactly, we weren't really sure what their game was until a week ago. We were waiting for your return until we made a decision. However, we might be too late."
Lucan and Gellan looked at each other as Afshar continued, "I received several emergency dispatches, that's why I decided to come along on the Constant to insure your return. The reports were very disturbing. They eluded to the fact that the frog people were massing and weaponizing in force. We thought they might be days away from a major incursion on the farmers and possibly San Dorino itself. That was a week ago, whatever we're going to do it has to be now."
Lucan rubbed his face in thought. They watched him for a moment before he finally spoke, "Alright, it has to be tonight then. If we ride hard we can get there a little before dawn. No troops just yet, they'll only slow us down, and more so that'll mean signal fires and we don't want them to see us just yet." Lucan turned on his heel to Gellan, "A scouting party for now, we'll move quickly and get solid confirmation on what we're dealing with."
Gellan plucked off his gloves and rubbed his hands together, "I'll be going with you, you'll need a good sword if we get into a fight. Better have Donar too, he moves quicker at his age then some of the youngest knights."
"His sons, Magni and Modi too. We'll need a bowman, and a tracker in case they've moved deeper into the mountains. Are his boys enlisted yet?"
Gellan shook his head, "I think they were waiting on word from us."
"Well, they have it now. I'll need them up here and ready within the hour. Move."
Gellan saluted, bowed quickly to the King then jogged out of the room. Afshar looked after him, "That's a good man you have there."
Lucan nodded, "He can do what is necessary."
"Speaking of necessary, I'm going to join you."
The Knight-Captain raised an eyebrow, "I'm sure His Majesty would prefer not risking you, Afshar."
King Guardia responded first, "I'd rather not risk either of you. However, under the circumstances, we'll need someone from M.I. there and the Minister will be an extra blade just in case."
Lucan looked quickly at them both, "Very well, Your Majesty. If you'll excuse me, I have much to do before we leave. I'll be in the stores getting the packs ready." He bowed, nodded to Afshar and left the room.
The King looked over at the Minister and sighed, "Are you sure this is what you want?"
Afshar rubbed his beard, "Yes, I should be there. They'll need me, I'm sure."
The Chancellor returned then, his arms full of chairs. He spluttered suddenly when he realized that there was no one to put in them.
By the time the Knights reached the mountains dawn was beginning to stain the sky. Lucan directed everyone through the foothills and halted them between the crags. "We didn't lose that much time in the lowlands," he said to the group, "so rest now, we've had a hard night and we'll need to be fresh." They all responded by leaning up against the rocks and taking pulls from their canteens.
Gellan walked up to where Lucan stood peering up the range, "Do you think we should chance a fire?"
Lucan glanced back at him, "The wind might blow the smoke up the hills," he paused for a moment to mull it over, "Go ahead, we all need a hot meal."
Sir Gellan nodded and left to gather wood for the fire. Lucan watched them establish their makeshift camp and joined them in setting up. They soon had a meal cooking and fresh water from one of the many mountain streams. After they had all eaten their fill and had a few hours rest Lucan called them all to gather around, "We're going to need a solid plan. I've been in these mountains before and I'm pretty sure I can still find a clear path up there. If they have staging areas set up, they shouldn't be too hard to find anyhow. Modi, I'll need you to lead ahead and see if you can pick up any tracks."
Donar's son nodded silently, sheathed his wide-bladed short sword and left first. Donar stood and hefted his warhammer, "I'll take up the rear."
Lucan motioned to Gellan and Afshar, "You two are with me, Magni go ahead with your brother. I'll get the fire and we'll be on our way."
The party broke into formation and began their way up into the heart of the mountains. Modi sent back reports as they moved on that tracks were scattered at best. As the group marched on they began to see some crude signs of 'civilization', rope bridges that led to long empty nests littered with broken bits of swords and spears. They found another shallow streambed and began to follow it up to a winding river. Modi had figured that any significant force would stay close to a supply of fresh water if they were establishing encampments.
When noon arrived the group stopped at a waterfall amidst a grove of trees and brush that seemed to be the source of the small river. Magni and Modi back tracked down the small paths that led back up farther into the mountains and met up with the rest of them. They all dropped their packs and took a few minutes to breathe.
Modi kneeled next the river and stuck his small dagger into the turf, "This isn't right, if there was any kind of large force they would have had to come through here and there are no signs. The mountains only go up for another half a mile before it gets too steep to pass. Maybe they've moved on to come around from the north face, but why would they unless they knew we'd investigate? Anyhow there's a small cave system we noticed that starts just up that hillside, I'll check that before we move on."
The attack came quickly, so much so that it caught the Knights off guard. A group of Frogmen was suddenly all around them. They were armed with crude weaponry, strangely modified to fit their malformed webbed appendages. Gellan was the first to respond, his sword flew into his hand and he stepped forward to pull Modi back from the river.
One of the more developed ones got to Modi before he could get out of the way and it plunged a spear tip into the area above his heart. He gave a strangled cry and fell back into Gellan's arms. Donar let out a scream of rage and bounded across the river bed. With a heavy two-armed swing he sunk the head of his hammer into the skull of the frog and turned around to face the others.
Gellan quickly leaned Modi against the rocks and joined the fray, leaving Magni to take up position next to his brother and loose bolts on the mob. Gellan's blade seemed to blur as he disarmed one of them of it's rusty cutlass, ran it through, and kicked its writhing body from his sword.
Afshar and Lucan stood back to back and began to beat away the main body of the attackers. Afshar, still handy with his marine's saber lanced out with whip-like motions and set about cutting up the two frogs before him. Lucan drew his father's sword back in a classic swordsman's line and his own powerful strokes began shattering the weaker weapons of his enemies.
Lucan stepped away from Afshar to engage the largest of the Frogmen, who wore a strangely fashioned copper crown. This one seemed to be the most competent and met his blade with a short handled trident. Awkwardly it parried the knight's thrusts and back peddled on its mutated webbed feet. Lucan pursued him, his sword scoring into the Frog leader's flanks and it responded with a gurgled cry to its comrades.
Two of the ambushers leapt up behind Lucan and he spun around to face them, his sword point low. They pounced and the Knight Captain met them both by locking blades with one, and fending the other off with a heavy boot to the midsection. Lucan felt a strange shot of ice run through his veins and he looked down suddenly to see the tip of the trident shooting through his left side.
With a grunt he slammed the frog into the ground and gutted it, then managed to yank out the trident while grinding his teeth in pain. Lucan drew his cloak about to cover the would and spun again. The giant frog had retreated back to the water's edge and let out another garbled yell. This time there was a more distant response and crashing sounds came from further into the trees. The party that had attacked them reacted by scurrying away to join their leader.
Gellan crossed to join Lucan, "More will be coming, we're out numbered as it is."
Lucan winced as he sheathed his sword, "Alright, let's get into that cave, we'll take cover while they regroup."
Donar and Magni both lifted the wounded Modi and carried him up the steep slope to the entrance of the cave. Lucan and Afshar cleared the ground for them further inside of the cave.and helped set him down. Gellan appeared in the mouth of the cave and call after them, "I'll go back for the packs." Lucan nodded and Gellan headed back down toward the waterfall.
After a few tense moments he returned, "I could only get one of them," he said setting the single pack down. "They came back quicker than expected and had already grabbed the others. They seemed afraid to follow me into the caves though."
Lucan opened the bag and took out the blanket and bed roll. While he rummaged for the tonic and the canteen inside he looked over his shoulder at his second in command, "Did you see how many of them had come?"
He counted in his head for a second, "Maybe two dozen, strangely enough the second group didn't seem to be as well armed. Modi was right, this doesn't seem right at all."
"No, no it doesn't." Sir Lucan tossed him the tonic and the canteen, "See if you can get the bleeding to stop and make him comfortable. Afshar and I will work on a strategy, fear of the caves can't be expected to hold them for long." Lucan stood and gestured for Afshar to follow him deeper into the caverns. When he reached a spot where the sunlight broke through and lit the structure he stopped and looked at his friend.
Afshar crossed his arms, "What do you think-"
Lucan cut him off, grabbed him by the lapels of his great coat and moved him against the wall, "I don't know what to think right now, old friend. Do you care to explain why you've betrayed me and endangered the lives of good men?"
Afshar stared back at him blankly.
Lucan shook his head, "I'm not a fool, Afshar, and I'm not blind. This doesn't make any sense at all. I know you, you wouldn't have sat by while the mystics were developing a secret army. You wouldn't wait a whole week while they staged an attack if you thought the innocent lives of our countrymen were at stake. You would certainly never call for a mobilization of troops to attack a possible threat on the word of a couple of dispatches without a positive confirmation."
He sighed and let go of Ashfar as he put all the pieces together in his mind. "Maybe I am a fool. Your promotion to Minister of Military Intelligence not only allows you the King's ear, but to manipulate me and my men as well. You were on the Constant to watch me, and make sure I couldn't interfere with you. And I'm willing to bet there were never any emergency dispatches about this massing Frog army."
Lucan looked up at Afshar, and his voice became cold, "The question is why ... why do this? What else have you lied about, have you betrayed us to the Mystics? With me and the Knights out of the way it would be easy to overthrow Guardia."
Afshar sighed, and suddenly showing his age more than usual, looked his friend in the eyes, "There's more going on here than a meaningless war. You have no idea what we're all caught up in." He paused and then rubbed his beard, "Lucan, draw your sword."
The Knight-Captain set his jaw, "Believe me, my friend, that is the last thing you want me to do right now."
Afshar took a sapphire colored stone pendant from inside his shirt, "Draw your blade, Captain."
Lucan slowly and deliberately drew the blade from its sheath and held it aloft. The pendant began to glow slightly, and as if somehow the sword itself recognized it, it too began to pulsate. "What is this? You are a Mystic." Lucan tried to move, but Afshar raised his hand and he was suddenly locked into position.
"No, my friend, I am not. I am one of three brothers, and along time ago we became complacent and allowed something terrible to happen. I have spent a very long time trying to correct our tragic mistake. Mystic, my boy? Oh no, I was born long before the very first of them."
He lowered his hand and Sir Lucan slumped as his own weakened muscles regained control. "Look at the blade in your hands. I would know it anywhere, my brother made it millennia ago ... this is the holy sword, Masemune."
Sir Lucan raised the blade and he felt like he was looking at it for the first time. "How? This is my family's sword."
Afshar nodded gravely, "Yes, it is. It was entrusted to your family a very long time ago when my people and yours were first forced to live together. A steady, unbroken line of sober and responsible men who would look after it and would insure its survival. A family with no tendency to believe in suspicion or develop magics, and who would never know what they had."
Lucan, finally succumbing to steady pain from his wound, and suddenly weakened by the strange truths being revealed to him, leaned against the cool stone wall, "Who the hell are you, old man?"
"My name is Gaspar. A caretaker, a companion, and I have looked on your family for a very long time."
"I don't know what's going on anymore," Lucan said as his sight began to blur.
"There is an evil at the very center of this earth. It's tendrils stretch out through the ages and threatens everything. Life itself will have no end, it will have no beginning if this evil is allowed to persist. When this evil first came I was sent to a place where time had no meaning. I believe I was sent there for a reason, sometimes the strands of Fate have knots, it's my mission to undo them. I make preparations for those who will come and set the timeline back on course."
"Is that what I am, old man, a preparation?"
"Perhaps the most important one ever made. That sword is the key to everything, in the end it will be that blade that makes everything right and whole again. It needed to be protected at all costs, for one day not far from now, one will come to claim it. In that moment will be the first sign that things will begin to right themselves. One day, the dreams in the blade will be the most important weapon against my ancient foe."
Sir Lucan pushed himself from the wall and moved his cloak to soak up the blood that was still coming from the slice in his side. When he was situated he looked up and met Gaspar's eyes again, "This is all beyond me. But, I have a duty first to my men and my country. What happens now? Do we die here ... and for what? Why all this, why now?"
"This is the only part I could not see clearly. I know the Masemune has to be here, so that it could be found later. Only, as I know, the time must be now, it's the only thing that makes sense."
"Why now? What else are you not saying?"
"Because," he paused, suddenly not so sure of himself, "tomorrow morning the mytics make their first move. But not here, they infiltrate the palace at Guardia, and replace the Chancellor with one of their agents. I know that if you were there you would have stopped it, you're too good to be fooled ... obviously. When I look though, you're not there ... I don't know how it turns out, I just know the blade has to be here. All of the things I've done were to make sure the sword gets here, I just don't know the rest."
The Knight-Captain of Guardia drew himself up and with the power of his will he snapped himself into focus. "I know what will happen old man, I know." He sheathed the Masemune and began to walk back towards the others.
Gaspar moved to stop him, "Wait, what do you know? Where are you going?"
"To make my preparations of my own."
Gellan stood up as Lucan approached him, "Modi is alright for now. The wound is grave, we're going to have to use the tonic... only it's the only one we have. If we have to fight our way out of the mountains we won't have any healing draughts to use on our journey back."
Lucan looked at the Modi as Donar cradled him in his arms. The older knight looked at his commander with tears swelling in his eyes. Sir Lucan knelt and gave the semiconscious boy a squeeze on the arm. "Alright, use it, you can't wait any longer. You won't need any more for the trip back, I'll see to it."
Gellan belted his sword back on, "Alright, what's our plan then?"
"Stay here, I'm going out there."
"Stay here, that's an order. I'll handle things alone this time." He walked past his second in command and out into the afternoon sun.
Slowly he made his made down to the river. He moved his sword to his back and raised his empty hands. The creatures below eyed him apprehensively as he approached. They brandished their weapons and began to hiss menacingly. Lucan raised his voice and looked directly at the largest of their number, "Stop all of this. Now. I know you can speak, and we must talk."
The Frogmen looked toward their leader, some of them clearly not understanding what was happening. The giant Frog bellowed at them in their own tongue and they cowered submissively. They parted for him and he moved until he was face to face with the Captain. His chest bulged for a few seconds as if he were somehow rearranging his insides, then in a strange hollow and hissing voice he croaked, "Speeeak."
"We will leave, all of us. We will leave these mountains, and my people will not return. Obviously, you lead these ... soldiers."
The Frog raised himself up, "I am theiiir King."
"Good, then you can bargain for them."
The monster eyed him suspiciously, "What are your termsss?"
"My knights will insure that you and your people will have these hills. There will be no battles, no attacks."
"My men will leave these mountains safely, no harm will come to them. And this," he placed a hand on his hilt, "this will remain in that cave. In return for peace, you will protect this blade until one of my people comes for it."
The Frog King looked at him curiously but then nodded with his bubble-like head. Then it bobbed its tongue out in an odd gesture, "Howww will I know you can be trussssted?"
Lucan looked into his peculiar eyes with no pupils, "My men will do this for my honor, if nothing else." Then after a thought he undid the clasps of the medallion around his neck. He took the Hero's Medal, his badge of office, and held it out to the creature before him, "Take this as a token of trust."
The large frog's ghostly eyes flashed with avarice and he snatched it from Lucan's grasp, "I accccept your termsss. Go."
Lucan turned and marched up the hill, mustering his failing strength to reach the mouth of their cave. He used the wall to help him return to where his men sat waiting for him. Afshar had rejoined the others and was packing their things. Modi was now sitting up on his own, the tonic's healing properties had already closed up much of the wound in his chest. Magni held him steady, his brother still shaky from the battle and the effects of the healing draught.
Donar rose and slung his hammer over his shoulder, "Well, shall we go down there and finish what we started?"
Gellan, however had been staring at Lucan's ashen face, and his eyes widened when he finally noticed the dark stain on his Captain's cloak. "Sir? What's going on?"
"I've struck a bargain with the Frog People. You've got safe passage back into the foothills. Prepare a litter for Modi, and make yourselves ready to be on your way." Donar, his eyes glassy again looked Lucan up and down then nodded slowly. "Gellan, I'll need to speak with you."
Lucan led Gellan back into the antechamber where he had taken Afshar and drew his sword. He mustered enough strength to plunge its tip into the earth and then slumped down next to it. "Alright, here are your orders."
"Sir?" Somehow, that single word was thick with emotion.
"You're to lead the men out of the mountains. Stop at Dorino for the night and make sure Modi is attended to properly before you return to the castle. When you get home, see to it that the boys are officially knighted."
"And... you, sir?"
"I'm going to stay behind ... in case the Frogmen betray us. They don't seem entirely trustworthy."
"Of course, Captain. Shall I gather a force to insure your safe return," he asked, holding on to a slight hope.
When it came it stung like a fierce blow, "No." Lucan stretched out on the ground, "No, the promise was that there would be no more battles, or soldiers in these mountains. I need you to keep this promise for me. Tell the King these mountains are off limits. He'll do it for me, my family and I are owed that much."
"Yes, Captain, I'll see to this all at once." He looked at his Captain sadly, and began to turn.
"Wait, there's one other thing. When he asks about the frogs... tell him that their was no army. They were hoarding something. The Masemune, tell them that's what was changing them."
Gellan looked at him dubiously, "Sir, that's only just a fairytale."
"I know, tell him anyway, tell everyone. For me, for this," he said touching the sword next to him.
Gellan nodded, "Yes, sir ... I will." He eyed the blade, "For what it's worth, I believe ... rather, I know you. It's been an honor." Then he added, still not wanting to fully accept what was happening, "We'll wait for you until noon tomorrow before we return, sir."
Sir Lucan of Guardia gave a lopsided grin, "Thanks. And Gellan... tell Brina, if I have a daughter call her Adia for her mother. If it's a boy, name him Cyrus after my father."
Without another word Gellan left the cave and his friend behind.
Gellan and Afshar returned the following day and under the sign of truce they took their fallen comrade's body back to Guardia. The funeral for their lost hero had the people of the kingdom choking the streets of the capital. The roads of the towns were covered with the sprigs of Acacia, symbolizing that Lucan's spirit would live on in them and grant him true immortality.
That same day Sir Gellan of Truce became the Knight-Captain of Guardia, and soberly led his company and the two new members of their fellowship as they laid their companion in his final resting place.
The very next week Gellan, along with the Chancellor, presided over the coronation of King Guardia XXI, after the former monarch died suddenly and unexpectedly. The people once again came to mourn another one of their own, and after a time all was laid to rest.
Epilogue, 570 A.D.
The boy Cyrus admired, for the very first time, the view from the quay at Choras. He stood there in awe, and paid no attention as his uncles unloaded his family's belongings from the Constant. After what seemed like an eternity to the child, his mother joined him and rubbed her fingers through his dark black locks. "Your father loved it here, you know."
Cyrus nodded as he looked up at her, "I know, Uncle Donar told me stories about how father used to fight pirates here. And that he would have faced them all by himself just to protect the people. Father was very brave, wasn't he?"
"The bravest man I ever knew," Donar answered for Brina as he joined them both. He rubbed the boy's head playfully as Cyrus made a face back at him. He then turned toward the widow and added softly, "The knights will be done unloading everything within the hour, we'll need you to decide where everything goes."
"Alright then, Cyrus don't wander off, dear."
The boy sighed and rolled his eyes, "Yes, mother."
Donar and Brina walked back up the lane to follow the line of men carrying their trunks and furniture. Absent was the table that Lucan had made. Brina had asked that it be taken to the castle so that she would have more space in her new home. The knights had their suspicions about her real motives, but accepted it gratefully and placed it in the center of their meeting room. Then, they officially dubbed themselves, 'The Knights of the Squaretable' in their former Captain's memory.
Cyrus was not alone back at the quay for long before Knight-Captain Gellan appeared next to him. "Isn't like home, is it?"
The boy shook his head and frowned. As if reading his thoughts Gellan continued, "Don't worry, my boy, you're not so far away that we won't see each other often. Your mother will be back to deliver my own child in just a few weeks."
"I know, I think I'll just miss you all. At first."
Sir Gellan laughed at that and favored him with a broad smile, "Well that's reassuring."
Cyrus laughed, realizing what he had said. Then they stood for a few more moments just looking out toward the horizon. Lucan's son looked up at Gellan after a while, "Will you tell me a story, Uncle?"
"I don't know, your mother has told me not to fill your head with fairytales about magic swords and sorcery. Your mother is a very serious woman you know, much like your father."
"Well, it's actually about my father, I don't think she'd mind."
"Oh?" he responded mildly.
The boy's face became serious, "Why ... I mean how did my father die?"
Gellan looked at him for a while before he responded, "With honor." He thought for another moment before he continued, "Your father was a peaceful man, never entered a fight if he could avoid it. Your mother contributed to that greatly, I imagine. In the end, it was peace he chose over a battleground."
"That's our primary function, lad. The Knights of Guardia and every good man exist to make their homes safe, and to foster the hope of peace. There are those out their that wish to destroy that hope, but there are always men like your father that would gladly give their lives for it. It's for that hope and for the memories of those good men that we draw arms. It's why we fight."
Gellan put an arm about Cyrus' shoulder and they watched as the sun continued its path across the sky.
Author's End Notes:
Briefly, names and their meanings:
Sir Lucan was one of the lesser known original knights of the round table.
Gellan is an old Scottish name that you could easily derive the name 'Glenn' from, implying that this could be Frog's father.
Donar is an original name for the Norse Thunder God, Thor. Hence the warhammer.
Magni and Modi, in Norse Mythology were Thor's two sons who would inherit Thor's strength.
Brina is Gaelic for "one who is motherly, or a caretaker."
Afshar is a Persian name that means "companion."