The middle class village of Chazaq is bustling with life on a hot summer day. The people sweat under the unforgiving heat as they go about their daily duties. The sound of the blacksmith’s hammer rings in the air, there are clops of horse’s hooves on the stone walkways, and a few conversations are heard throughout the town. As the people go about their day, two knights approach the town. They wear Roman style steel armor with steel lined leather skirts and helms with blue horse hair on stands down the center. Their blue capes tuck under their shoulder guards and the bottoms reach just below the calf muscles on the back of their legs. Silver lions gleam on their tall shields to signify that they serve King Aryeh, and the blue background on the shields signifies that they serve the royal family. One of the soldiers breathes in deep, smelling the air. He is a tall warrior with a toned physique.
“Ah. Smells like home.”
“Smells like an end to our journey to me.” The other soldier jokes. “Your keep will get us out of this torturous sunlight then, Ananias?”
“Aye. My home is toward the center of town. We can rest there, Medad.” The two are making their way through town when a man grabs Ananias by the shoulder and says,
“It’s been a few seasons my friend.” The familiar voice causes Ananias to turn around happily.
“Joseph, my friend.” The two share a hearty handshake. “The war has kept me away too long. I’m glad to see you are doing well.”
“Things are good in Chazaq, Ananias.” Joseph responds, “The hot summer has been a little hard on the crops, but we aren’t hungry.” Joseph has graying hair, a beard, and wears an extravagant blue robe with gold trimming. His status with the nobility has not hurt his humility, so he is a pleasant man to speak with.
“Good.” Ananias keeps in mind that Medad is hot and tired so he tries to hurry the conversation. “Well we,” before he can end the conversation though, Medad says,
“Is this your house, Ananias?” Medad points over his shoulder to a nearby building.
“Yes, yes. Make yourself at home. My servants will take care of you friend.” Medad walks into the house without another word. Ananias and Joseph watch as he enters the building.
“Not one for pleasantries.” Joseph jokes.
“The journey has been hard on us.” Since Ananias no longer has to worry about Medad’s welfare, he doesn’t feel that he has to rush the conversation along. Though he is weary, he is grateful to catch up with his old friend. He pulls off his helmet revealing his thick black hair. The helmet clanks against the armor at his hip as he holds it under his arm. “The days have been long and hot, the food has been scarce, and he is tired. We weren’t able to come on horseback, as the horses would collapse from the heat,” Ananias notices that his tone is beginning to get negative by the look in Joseph’s eyes, so he decides to change the subject. “But enough of that. How is Eliana? Betrothed I assume.” His attempt to liven the conversation seems to have missed its mark as Joseph sighs,
“My daughter does her best to not be chosen for marriage when she is sent to visit princes. It’s as if she never wants to be married. I just don’t understand it. One would think that she would be excited to be a part of joining two nations.” Ananias can barely mask his excitement. Eliana and Ananias always snuck off together and went on adventures when they were younger. Eventually their young childhood friendship grew into affection as they matured and they planned marriage. The parents of the two forbade the relationship though, as they knew Ananias would follow his father’s footsteps to become a warrior, while Eliana’s status in nobility would force her to be married to unite kingdoms. Since Ananias’ father, Mordecai, taught him to always do what he feels is right, and out of respect for Eliana’s father, he left Chazaq to fight for the king. He was sure that she would marry while he was away.
“I’m sure she will change when she meets the right man.” He says, trying to hide his hope that the right man he is speaking of will be him. Joseph appears to be picking up on his excitement though.
“I’m sure.” He says with a raised eyebrow. Ananias quickly turns the topic again to take the depth out of the conversation and the two continue to speak for a little while as workers continue to bustle past them. As their discussion draws to a close, Ananias hears a commotion toward the edge of town. He looks over to see a beaten, elderly elf lying on the ground next to a nobleman’s building. A town guardsman is standing over him with his sword drawn as he yells at him. The feud between the elves and the humans leaves anyone unfortunate enough to be caught by their enemies as slaves to nobility. Unbeknownst to Ananias, while he has been away at war, the condition on the slaves has worsened. Before he left to join to battle against the elves, slaves weren’t much different than unpaid helpers. Time has made them into something that isn’t much better than animals. As Ananias begins to run over to investigate, Joseph grabs him by the arm.
“Don’t get involved with the guards, Ananias. It will only end poorly for you”
“So you would sit by and watch that man be beaten?”
“Not a man, an elf.” Joseph utters the last word with a sound of disgust.
“We were created equal Joseph.” Ananias says as he rips his arm from his friends grip, “I know you were taught that at one time. Your thoughts may change, but that fact doesn’t.” He begins charging toward the confrontation. A loud clang rings in the air as his helmet lands at Joseph’s feet.
“Ananias, wait!” His friend’s plea falls on deaf ears. Ananias is yards away as the guard raises his sword to take a swing at the elf. Ananias launches his shield while in a sprint causing it to stick in the wall in the path of the guard’s swing. The sword clashes as it strikes the shield blocking the scared and bruised elf. The watchman looks at the shield in shock and shortly after he turns to look where the shield came from, his face is met by Ananias’ fist. The guard falls back into some pottery causing it to smash and scatter all over the ground. Ananias pulls his shield from the wall and stands in front of the victim with his legs spread in battle stance. Another sentry rushes over and helps the fallen guard to his feet.
“Out of the way soldier. This creature was caught in the lady of this keep’s room as she dressed.” The man says as he is helped up.
“I didn’t know she was dressing. I was just going in to clean the room.” The frightened elf exclaims.
“Silence your tongue knave before I cut it out!” The second guard shouts.
“You will do no such thing.” Ananias announces. “A beast doesn’t deserve the beating you were giving him, much less a man.”
“Elves are not men! They are godless animals!”
“They are not animals! Capturing them doesn’t make them any less human than you or I!” The ruckus has caused quite a few of the town guards to take notice. By now they have surrounded Ananias and have their swords drawn. The second guard’s tone gets more confident as he looks around to see his reinforcements.
“I tell you one last time. Leave us.” Ananias looks around and realizes that he will not win this fight. He glances over and notices his house is also too far for Medad to hear him. Accepting his fate, he looks back at the sentry.
“I may not live long enough to save this man’s life,” he says drawing his sword, “but you won’t take him freely.” The guard slowly shakes his head. After a moment he pulls his sword and says,
“So be it.” The guard swings his sword and meets his opponent’s shield as he raises it just above his head. Ananias raises his other arm and the handle of his sword connects with the guard’s chin, knocking him to the ground. He turns, puts his shield between him and the soldier that was once behind him, and rams into him, knocking him over as well. Ananias turns and yells to the fallen elf.
“Hide. If I live, find me when this is over.” A sword sticks in the wall just above the elf’s head. Ananias swings his shield over his head and into the hand of the attacker causing him to release the sword and kicks the soldier in the chest. The elf dashes around the corner with a guard close behind him. Without hesitation Ananias hurls his sword into the man chasing the elf and pulls the guard’s sword from the wall in time to block another attack with it. One of the guards kicks Ananias in the chest and knocks him to the ground next to the building. Three swords reverberate as they hit Ananias’ shield. He pushes his shield forward with all of his might as he rises to his feet and knocks the watchmen on their backs. In two quick movements he slashes a guard standing to his right and thrusts into a guard to his left. One of the guards that are lying on the ground slashes into Ananias’ leg causing him to let out a yell. As the last standing sentry is about to deal a mortal blow to Ananias a loud voice yells,
“Enough!” The group looks over to see a large man approaching in armor that has the same appearance as the guard’s, only finer. He wears a long blue cape and adorns the same type of shield as Ananias. “Men, to your feet!” The still-capable soldiers stand to their feet as quickly as the can and stand at attention. Ananias stays knelt down and looks over his shoulder at the impending man. At the sight of the familiar face he looks back to the ground and cringes.
“Avner.” He mutters under his breath.
“Ananias. It’s been a long time.” Avner points to one of the soldiers and says, “You, get some dressings and tend to his wound.” The thought of Avner helping him didn’t sit well with Ananias, but his wound was too deep for him to wait for other help. “What brings you back home, my fellow warrior?”
“Fellow.” Ananias thinks. “I want that slave.” He shouts over his shoulder.
“The one your men were attacking. If I don’t take him, they will kill him.” The guard has returned with the bandages and begins cleaning Ananias’ wound. The captain chuckles at Ananias’ request.
“Of course, of course. You may have the slave.” Avner turns his attention to the man patching Ananias up. “How does his wound look?” The guard stands up at attention.
“Cleaned up. It will need attention soon though.”
“Well then. Why don’t you come back to my keep so we can finish you up, hmm?” The captain smirks as he finishes his statement. The grim smile reminds Ananias of the past between them. The many times that Avner betrayed his comrades to gain influence in the castle and his cowardly acts that kept him from leaving with the other warriors to fight the war against the elves. He was in no position to refuse though. His abode was too far to make it alone on one leg, and his servants wouldn’t be skilled enough to tend to his cut. Avner reads Ananias’ submissive expression and grins.
“Right. Help this man back to my keep, and grab those injured soldiers.” Avner throws his cape as he spins back toward his home. Ananias winces as he thinks about what is in store for him.