A week had now passed since d’Gravernaugh and his small army of soldiers had successfully stormed, routed out, and slaughtered the filthy presence of their devilish nemesis at the castle of southern Gillion – rightfully reclaiming it in the name of the princess and her people. The counsel members, after hearing the tidings that sergeant Duncante had reported back to the garrison with, all pledged that once they returned to their respective towns and villages that very same day, to send their most skilled artisans to the castle to supervise and assist the soldiers with any repairs or restoration that needed doing. This offer was gratefully accepted by the thankful princess.
Word had reached d’Gravernaugh by way of a despatch rider from the garrison that help would be coming, and the next day wagons and carts came in droves to the castle from all directions bearing the workmen, each escorted by mounted guards from the garrison. Much work had already been done by the soldiers, but with the timely addition and knowledge of the skilled tradesmen the pace and efficiency of the repairs was greatly increased, so much so that by the end of the second day of their coming all the outstanding work and repairs were finished. The majesty and splendour of the castle shone out tall and proud once again; not a single trace remained that suggested that any battle had ever taken place there.
After the tradesmen had completed their work and all left for home, the semblance of normal daily life returned and, the surviving courtesans busied themselves in their usual habitual duties and practices within the castle. The princess’s private rooms and bed chamber were cleaned and tidied up in preparation for her expected eventual arrival. The king’s rooms were equally cleaned and tidied, but their fate and usage lay solely in whatever decision the princess would make upon them. There were now but two urgent, pressing matters left to arrange: the funeral of King Mestian for one, and to safely return princess Prittie back to the castle being the other. Both matters weighed heavily on d’Gravernaugh’s mind; he knew in himself that the two needed to coincide and soon – without any further delay.
The third day after reclaiming the castle, d’Gravernaugh gave an unexpected visit to princess Prittie at the garrison much to her delight and surprise. During his greatly missed absence, and after her female intuition had been roused by Mirvanda’s more than suspicious behaviour down in the courtyard, it became abundantly clear that something special once existed, or still existed between them. The princess was then made aware of several things she never knew about her loyal aide and most trusted protector, Jules d’Gravernaugh. She came to learn – after finally prising it out of the secretive and reluctant Mirvanda – the depth and enormity of a selfless sacrifice he had made long ago out of dedication in service to her father and, other personal issues affecting them both which at the time had so conspired to keep them apart.
* * *
Mirvanda Duncante and Jules d’Gravernaugh were childhood sweethearts. They both grew up in the same village and after their very first meeting as children they became virtually inseparable. The strength of the love they had for each other grew and grew eventually reaching fruition during their later teenage years when they had decided to marry. The date for their proposed marriage had been set to the eighteenth of June the following year in the very peak of summer; at the time they were both nineteen-years of age and looking forward to spending a lovingly blissful life together.
However, when the new year came, fate played a cruel and unwanted hand in their lives. Mirvanda’s mother, a widow of two years, was suddenly taken poorly and found herself bid ridden. With no one else immediately available – relative or otherwise – to tend to her sick mother, Mirvanda dutifully tended to her sickness as best as she could. Her younger brother, Hiam, at the time had just turned eighteen and had started a military apprenticeship at the Marshtop garrison, but would return home whenever he could to visit their ailing mother and help Mirvanda tend to her needs.
d’Gravernaugh also helped out whenever he was able to, he would fetch food supplies and medicines to Mirvanda from the local town, run errands that otherwise she would have had to do herself, take over the watchful vigil of her mother to allow Mirvanda to take some rest and give her a much-needed break. But he found it increasingly difficult to keep up due to the fact that he had just begun employment at the royal castle as a young officer in training for the elite guard; a position which had already been earmarked for him by his father, who, had faithfully served the royal household for many years. With no end in sight for their current situation, they carried on with their lives while both looking forward to the month of June, but little did they know at the time that things were about to get a lot worse.
Spring came and graced the fair lands of southern Gillion with its radiant warmth and sunshine, and with it came the promise for an easier way of life than the one the people had endured over the past winter. Flowers began to blossom and bloom spreading a myriad of colour as far as the eye could see while sending out their sweet-smelling fragrances in every field, pasture and garden. Birds chirped away loudly up in the trees filling the air with glorious sound – each singing a happy song for the advent of summer. The excited shouts and screams of children playing outside was heard in every village, town, or hamlet. Friends, lovers, and courting couples took to walking through green meadows or country pathways all enjoying the clement weather. The idyllic, picturesque land of southern Gillion with all its natural beauty and splendour once again, was coming back to life.
Spring passed and the merry month of May loomed, and just as soon as it came, it went. The first of June had arrived. With just a little under three weeks left until the the date of their proposed marriage, Mirvanda’s mother’s condition worsened. She had had local physicians look over and examine her, but none of them could decide upon or give a true diagnosis as to what was really ailing her; they had never come across such an illness before. d’Gravernaugh, as a last resort, asked the royal court physician to come and see her thinking that he might be a better hope for finding the problem and the cure, but even the royal physician who was considered to be the best in the land was at a loss to say what her illness truly was.
Mirvanda began to despair over her mother’s poor condition, she had been told to expect the worse, and it was because of this threatening black cloud of fear and dread over the fact that she might soon lose her mother and, after a long heart to heart talk with d’Gravernaugh, they both decided it was probably best all round to postpone their planned wedding until a more favourable time came when happiness held sway over sadness.
It was around this time that d’Gravernaugh was first introduced to an elderly lady, a spinster, named Tilda Darga. A fellow trainee officer at the castle: Alest Trumaire, came from the same town as Tilda and he spoke of her renowned skill in making potions and preparations for the sick. She was considered a white witch of extraordinary power with deep knowledge of folklore, but people thought she practiced the black arts and this caused the towns people to become wary or afraid of her. Tilda however, did not practice black arts and nothing more could be further from the truth, she was as one with nature. She laughed inwardly in the face of the people and their suspicions that they had allowed to so dominate their opinions of her; she thought of them all as incompetent fools.
d’Gravernaugh asked Trumaire if he would take him to see Tilda Darga in the hope that she might be of avail to Mirvanda’s mother. On a less busy day at the castle, Trumaire took d’Gravernaugh to his hometown to pay her a visit. Tilda willingly agreed to help and returned with them on her horse and cart to Mirvanda’s house. After a long and meticulously thorough examination of Mirvanda’s mother, Tilda gave a dire prognosis along with a dark prediction of things to come. Tilda could not help with her illness, she tried many herbal remedies and potions, but nothing worked to stem the tide of the developing illness. She told Mirvanda that a slow black death was upon her mother of the likes she had never seen before and, that it did not belong in the realms of nature but had been intentionally and maliciously devised by an unknown source.
Tilda refused to expand any more on what she had told them stating that the time of their understanding had not yet come, but in the years to follow they would remember her and once again she would be called upon for help when the time was right. She then gave voice to a predictive dark ryhme.
“Dark be the day when innocent life taken, gives birth anew.
Dark be the day when innocent first born, heralds birth anew.
Dark be the day when ruler falls by demonic hand.
Dark be the day when beast devours the land.
Dark was the time when black curse spake.
Dark be the desolation in deaths wake.”
The words of Tilda’s gloomy prediction resounded inside d’Gravernaugh’s head, he had no idea at all what she referred to, or had meant by the content of her dark rhyme, but it was to be some twenty-plus years later that he would finally come to fully understand the nature and meaning of Tilda’s portentous prediction.
Tilda had stayed at Mirvanda’s house to ease the passing of her mother who had now regretfully died; the date was the twenty-ninth of July. She took her leave from Mirvanda, her brother, and d’Gravernaugh who in themselves were sorry to see her go; she was a kind, gentle, old lady that inspired a feeling of warmth and belonging to all fortunate enough to ever have got to know her, but now she had left for her own home telling them all that destiny would someday bring them all together once again.
It was a sad time for Mirvanda. Hiam, outside of the time allotted to him for mourning, could not stay any longer, he had gone back to the garrison to continue with his training. d’Gravernaugh had also returned to the royal castle to carry on with his own studies, this left Mirvanda feeling as lonely as an empty shell stranded on a beach of nothingness. She cried herself to sleep at night not understanding how or why things had gone so wrong for her and her poor dead mother. The day of the funeral came and Mirvanda was once again reunited with her love, Jules d’Gravernaugh and her brother Hiam, each had been allowed the time to attend the funeral service to pay their last respects. Although it was a sad occasion, Mirvanda felt lightened of heart by their supportive and reassuring presence helping her through a most difficult period in her life.
Several weeks after the funeral, king Mestian announced that the queen was pregnant with their first child and the expected delivery date would be around the middle-to late May of the following year, after which, three days of celebratory holiday would be bestowed upon the people of southern Gillion along with the promises of sumptuous feasts and fine wines for all.
The months passed by slowly and the great healing power of time was brought to bear on Mirvanda. She had recovered quite considerably inside herself and the hope and sunshine of life began to lavishly shine down upon her again. The new year came and another date had been set for the postponed marriage, this being the first of July, that year. Mirvanda felt so happy about the prospect of the up-and-coming wedding that she went and had a wedding dress made for her big day. With all other arrangements in place, Mirvanda waited impatiently for the month of July where finally she would be married to the love of her life: Jules d’Gravernaugh.
In mid-May the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who the king and queen had decided to name Prittie. It was a joyous day and the whole of southern Gillion celebrated the little princess’s birthday. People from all over brought gifts to the castle for the baby princess along with their best wishes for the future, but unknown to all, the future had much more darker wishes in store for the king, queen, and their fair people.
One month to the day after the princess’s birth, and while out on a routine patrol on the outskirts of the castle perimeters, two royal guards were attacked and brutally killed by unknown assailants. One of the slain guards happened to be d’Gravernaugh’s father, Mendelon. Nothing was seen or heard when a search party was sent out after discovering the grizzly remains of the guards, it became a mystery as to what or who had killed them. The king immediately ordered tighter security measures within the castle and the surrounding grounds, all leave of absence was cancelled, and he placed a emergency status upon each and every soldier in his employ at the castle; they were to remain at their stations until the king told them otherwise.
Messengers were then sent out to give warning that a murderer, or murderers were abroad in the southern kingdom and that everyone should remain vigil and report any suspicious persons to their town chiefs. They were also advised to stay behind locked doors at night and keep weapons close to hand. A reign of terror had suddenly come down upon the fair peoples of southern Gillion.
d’Gravernaugh, being young and brash, was furious over the death of his beloved father and badly wanted to serve vengeance on the perpetrators who had killed him in so cowardly a fashion with seemingly no justifiable reason or motive. He directed his attention to the other three Kingdoms, but in his own mind it didn’t make any sense that either of them would send out an assassin party solely with the intention to kill his father or any other royal guard, besides, they would have been seen crossing the borders by the patrols stationed there. Another factor was that all four kingdoms had enjoyed decades of an amicable peace with one another; it was devilishly puzzling at best to find any plausible design for it all.
His thoughts then turned to Mirvanda. The wedding, so it seemed, would have to be postponed yet again because of the King’s orders that he remain at the castle, and he just didn’t know how he would break this awful news to her. She was all alone too with no one to protect her if such a fate that befell his father should befall her, or her village; this was unthinkable for him, so he requested an audience with the king. The king agreed to see him mainly because he greatly respected his dead father, but on meeting the twenty-three-year-old Jules d’Gravernaugh, he found himself quite unprepared for his persuasive power and moral fortitude that simply emanated from every inch of his commanding personality. d’Gravernaugh had left the meeting with everything he had went there to achieve, namely, to visit his fiancee, to profusely apologise about the wedding, and to take her to a place of safety so he could rest assured in the knowedge that she would free from harm.
And so it came to be that Mirvanda Duncante became a humble serving woman at the garrison at Marshtop, a lowly position for a woman of her standing, but a safe one nonetheless. She didn’t relish the prospect of going to live there and she was terribly heartbroken over yet another wedding postponement, but she would do what was asked of her out of the love and trust she had for her man. Mirvanda settled in at Marshtop and was frequently visited upon by her younger brother, Hiam, who had vowed to d’Gravernaugh to watch over her for him. Mirvanda again, cried herself to sleep at night wondering why life had dealt her such a cruel hand and just what exactly she had done to deserve the despair that she could not seem to find an escape from.
In a leap of faith, the king, recognising that d’Gravernaugh was a natural born leader of men and, after being so profoundly impressed by his undeniable strength of spirit, gave him his own unit to command with a free rein to do as he pleased with it. He was now promoted to the rank of Captain within the prestigious elite guard. d’Gravernaugh went out with his new command on regular patrols secretly hoping to find his father’s killer.
One day while out on such a patrol outside the castle perimeters, his unit had heard an unusual noise coming from a crop of bushes just up ahead of them. The sound was like nothing they had ever heard before, it was a deep rumbling guttural sound that inspired terror amongst his guards for reasons they weren’t sure of. They went timidly forward to investigate the source of the sound and as they neared the bushes the sound became much more aggressive and louder, and just as they were virtually on top of the bushes, a huge grotesque beast sprang out from hiding and set about attacking them.
The beast looked like a deformed oversized wild dog, with dripping drool slobbering out from a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. Its eyes were blood red and looked upon the guards with a cruel murderous intent. The skin appeared tough, leathery and black, with warts and hairs sprouting out all over its hideous body. The horses reared up in shock and terror sending their riders flying off the saddle and crashing to the ground. The guards gathered themselves up but slowly backed away; their horses had by now all bolted. One man now stood alone to face the horrific creature, one man with courage enough to dispense vengeance upon a beast he instinctively knew had slain his father.
The captain of the elite guard, Jules d’Gravernaugh did not succumb to fear but regarded the creature with hate equalled only by the eyes of the creature itself. He drew out his sword and presented his shield just as the creature pounced at him, d’Gravernaugh dodged the attack and slashed the back leg of the beast as it landed; it let out howl of pain but turned to face him again. After several moments the creature looked ready to launch another attack and duly pounced at d’Gravernaugh while a horrible roar emitted from its slobbering mouth. He again dodged the attack but this time he rolled on the ground just as the beast came flying over him and drove his sword deep into its under belly causing it to writhe about uncontrollably in agony when landing. d’Gravernaugh fearlessly walked over to it and with one mighty swing of his broad sword decapitated the creature’s head. The creature’s body gave a few muscular twitches in its death throes then came to rest as blood pumped and spurted freely onto the ground from a headless neck. The creature was dead.
The guards of his unit had watched in stunned frozen silence as d’Gravernaugh had fearlessly dealt out death. He turned to them and declared that they were as vulnerable to the sword as any other living thing, and not to fear them in the future if ever they came across them again. d’Gravernaugh binded the severed head to the creature’s dead body with some rope from his saddle bag then tied that to his saddle and dragged it back to the castle to show the king. After that d’Gravernaugh became known as the slayer of beasts, and his reputation was just beginning to precede him.
The king was abundantly pleased with d’Gravernaugh and commended his heroic efforts in slaying such a vile creature but would not lift the emergency status he had imposed through fear of anymore such creatures that might be roaming about freely within his kingdom. The king’s fears were realised when reports began coming in from other towns and villages that vile creatures had been spotted on their boundaries, and in some cases had killed innocent people. Rumours then started to spread that the curse of Emullien, which was thought of as a silly myth or legend – that had passed beyond the people’s memory – had come to pass and was now raining down death and destruction upon southern Gillion. This belief was reinforced by the fact that the curse referred to the offspring of the intended generation, and that offspring was the princess, Prittie.
The king, at first, wouldn’t accept such silly superstitious nonsense and dismissed it as an old wives tale, but in the back of his mind, and in truth, he could never discount it. Certain people who had had loved ones killed by the beasts started to call for the death of the princess to put an end to the terror, the king in response then made a decree that anyone found to be plotting in part or whole to assassinate the princess would be instantly beheaded without a court of trial. The southern quarter of Gillion was slowly but surely beginning to fall apart at the seams.
The month of July, and the date of the wedding slipped by without notice, the only person it did register with was Mirvanda who became sullen and withdrawn when the date arrived. Hiam tried to cheer her up with his foolery but at the time she was inconsolable and told him to go away.
August came and with it a new tragedy suddenly struck the kingdom. The queen had been found dead one afternoon in the state room, apparently, she had gone there to write some letters in private and when her aides began to miss her presence they went to investigate and discovered her lying dead on the floor. No one had seen or heard anything untoward that day; it became an unsolved mystery even for the court physician who suspected but couldn’t prove that she had been poisoned. There were no marks of violence upon her body. The king was totally overcome with grief, and then his grief turned into anger and paranoia. In a rush of blood, not being sure where to place the blame, he officially cut all ties with the other three Kingdoms; southern Gillion now stood alone while the storm clouds of dread and isolation gathering overhead.
The mounted elite guards now stepped up the frequency of their patrols, it had become doubled to what it once was. The demonic creatures were by now a regular sighted occurrence, but no one knew exactly where they were coming from and all through the later years such discoveries would remain in its cloak of secrecy.
One day shortly after the funeral of the queen, king Mestian called for d’Gravernaugh to discuss an urgent matter that he could no longer delay. The king asked him if he would be prepared to become his daughter’s personal bodyguard – it would entail being with her constantly and never to take his eyes off her no matter what. His life, his hopes, his dreams, would all have to be put on hold if he chose to accept the king’s request. He then explained the gravity of his dire situation in so much as, if the princess was killed there be no heir to the throne once the king passed. The king would never think about remarrying through fear that the same fate would befall his new bride if ever children were involved. The royal family of southern Gillion would be no more, and the land would be ruler less, open to tyranny and vulnerable to any usurping army that cared to take it for themselves.
The king pleaded with d’Gravernaugh to do what he asked, he knew of no other man that measured up to the task as did he. d’Gravernaugh loved the kingdom, his place of birth, and was concerned about the future and the welfare of the kingdom and the preservation of its people. He decided to accept the king’s request and swore an oath of allegiance to him and another to safeguard the princess. Fate had played yet another hand in its effort to keep two lovers apart.
d’Gravenaugh went to see Mirvanda at the garrison to tell her of his decision. She was distraught after hearing what he had to say to her and became angry at him for not giving her a thought before making such a decision or having the decency to come and discuss it with her in the first place. He told her that he did indeed consider her, but in the end he had to look at the bigger picture, he was doing it for the future of their kingdom. He told her that his love for her was eternal and undying and that one day their dream would be fulfilled.
Mirvanda became an empty woman after that, an empty woman who had dreamt of one day having children, a family to call her own, a husband, a soul mate to live out her days with and grow old together, but it wasn’t meant to be and she fell into bitterness and depression. She hated her life. She wanted to hate him, but through it all Mirvanda couldn’t help but remain in love with d’Gravernaugh and she vowed that she would keep herself for him, and him only, hoping that one day their love, their life, would finally walk upon the same path
* * *
The princess, after listening to Mirvanda’s tragic tale, felt numb with emotional overload. She now understood why they kept it secret for as long as they had, it was all down to her, the princess herself and the need to keep her safe. The princess couldn’t understand why Mirvanda didn’t just hate her for what she represented, but Mirvanda held too much love within her to ever fall into hate’s entrapment. The princess sobbed; she sobbed like she had never sobbed before. Mirvanda sobbed with her too. The two of them held tightly on to one another each gaining some modicum of comfort in an otherwise cold, heartless, and unfair world.