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From Kass' Right Hand: The Early Days


by parody_ham

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Growing up, we knew him as Uncle Kass. He was always kind to us as children, visiting whenever he could with things that he found during his military excursions. I especially loved the toy soldier that he brought one cold, dreary winter day. The details of the paint job always fascinated me, the vivid reds, blues, and golds. There was a handstitched blue uniform on the Wooden Lupe that looked lovingly made. I never could understand why any Meridellian would leave something so precious behind. How they could just mistreat such an artefact with their negligence. Now it sits on my mantle under a glass case, protected and preserved in my curiosity cabinet.

     But I digress. Introductions are in order. We are the Von Norwegens, and I, Haakon, am the eldest Eyrie son of the name. My twin Uni sisters Perle and Diamant, are eight years my junior. Sverd and Safir, the Uni Baron and Eyrie Baroness of the house, have carried the Von Norwegen name with pride. We are the jewel appraisers of royal regalia and creators of the finest pieces of the realm.

     Perle was always mother’s miniature, so mature for her age. On the other hand, little Diamant (they are only 3 minutes apart in age, but you could have sworn it was years) was always a handful. Diamant would pull on Kass’ braids or tap her hooves when she wanted attention, and by the Lord’s grace, it was always desired. Taka, our equally rambunctious Drackonack would yip and growl and demand stomach scratches when she didn’t receive constant attention. And while chaos reigned, mother fixed us a fine meal and father helped with the table preparations.

     Often, while the meal was being made, Diamant would sit in Uncle’s lap and beg for a story. He always delivered. Whether it was some daring adventure of war or a tale that he had heard in his travels, we were all properly entertained. My favourite was the mythical “Moonlit Village” of the Haunted Woods, a ghostly town that could only be found on the foggiest nights. It was said that great mages practised magical arts there, but that they shunned outsiders and kept their secrets close. Few who wandered in survived.

     I often dreamt of going to that shrouded village and being the first Darigan to come back with more than a daring tale of escape. Magic. The idea of it always fascinated me. But alas, such a thing was not carried in my bloodline. Not to any impressive amount, maybe a spark or two if I focused every ounce of my being. Still, I had hoped that it existed. That such a place could awaken from within the power than I craved. Would it be just as amazing as the court mages claimed it to be? The rush of energy flowing through me like a wind carries the breeze? But, alas. After weeks of my own explorations, nothing has turned up. Only frightening trees, goo monsters, and the occasional swarm of sentient fleas. It is a wonder that anyone can survive in such a terrible place. I hazard a guess at why someone would actually want to live there.

     But here I go, daydreaming about my little tangent. Even my sisters have grown weary from my not-so-secret obsession. They’ve heard it all before—ad nauseum, in fact. Pearle has even kept a tally: 1,853 times. With any luck it will be over a week before I hit 1,860.

     Thinking of these stories, these happy moments spent together carefree, makes me feel nostalgic. Sometimes, the good times feel like they will never end, but time has a habit of moving forward, unflinching and unrepentant… and now that my father has passed, I cherish every fleeting memory. They are all I have of him now.

      Anyone outside our circle might wonder why Lord Kass would be on personal terms with someone beyond blood kin. Such a curiosity has reared its ugly head one too many times, so let me explain our position. My father and Lord Kass, being of similar noble status and residing in the same gated community, were destined to become childhood friends. And my father, being a proud Darigan, served in its military long before Lord Kass wore his grand title. Back when they were young, they rose through the ranks together. After facing serious injury, my father settled on the rank of colonel and retired. Kass became a general. A well-respected one, at that.

     Throughout the rigours of battle, the two supported one another. The day father was injured, Kass ran into the fray with reckless abandon, intent on bringing his friend home alive. And it is because of him that we had my father for so many years—not to mention my twin sisters—although neither soldier said a word about that frightful day. Only through the drilling of his colleagues (and believe me, although I would not yank a braid like my sister, I could be quite the persistent youth) did I find out anything more than the bare minimum. One of the colonels admitted that Kass had taken a sword wound to his wing to keep the enemy from delivering father a final blow.

     Many said my father and Lord Kass could be brothers; he might as well have been blood kin. Few could put my lord to the blush faster than father—he knew the quickest ways to get under his fur. In return, Kass called him all manner of nicknames like “light flight” or “big beak.” And so, we grew up watching them tease one another, unfettered by titles or ranks in their casual banter. He encouraged the very same from us, his “Citadel children.”

     He is a hero, my uncle. I can see why Lord Darigan trusted him so. There were many reasons why the sharp-eyed, brusque Eyrie was placed in a position of power. And it wasn’t just my father whose life was saved in those days. Kass and his men watched each other’s backs, carried one another to safety, and cared for one another. More than anything else, Kass loved his nation. He would do anything—anything—to keep it safe. And even now, even after everything, I still say the same.

     One could say I lived a charmed childhood. I suppose they would not be wrong. Our family is of Darigan nobility, rarely facing the struggles of the middling and struggling classes. Unlike so many, we always had food on the table and shelter over our heads. And I admit, I had opportunities that few Darigans had. General Kass, as he was known at the time, would go out of his way to give me tours of the castle. A well-read historian, he would share our Citadel’s past with me as we wound around its narrow passageways, spiral staircases, and towering spires. He especially liked to regale me with the before times. Before Meridell left our nation to suffer, I remember small wisps of it, a fragment here or there. I was too young then to know how ephemeral life can be, how quickly one’s world could be turned upside-down. Mother says we didn’t always look this way, that even I had vanilla cream fur as a young child. The paintings in the formal sitting room suggest the old ways, the old appearances of our people. But that… is gone now. I suppose there is no use harping on something that can never return.

      After a while, many of the guards knew me by name and would spare a friendly nod as I passed their stations. At only 17 years old, I was still a gangly youth with high ideals and a desire to prove myself. So, when he offered me the chance to listen in on Lord Darigan’s council meeting, I jumped at it. General Kass personally introduced me to the councilmen and women, and noted that I was his special guest. I almost fainted from the joy of it all! At the end of the meeting, I had written nearly a scroll full of notes, which Lord Darigan carefully scooped into his hands. His eyes scanned the page as he let out an occasional hum; meanwhile, I was sweating bullets and hoping none of the esteemed Darigans could smell my fear. Based on some of the severe looks I received from them, I could only assume so.

     Lord Darigan, seemingly satisfied with his read, rolled up the scroll before offering me a friendly gesture. A handshake.

     Me? I thought at the time. But I’m just a boy!

     “Well done, lad,” Lord Darigan said, patting me on the shoulder. “You’ll make a fine councilman in time.”

     I made a stiff bow. My heart hammered like a Darigani bass drum, loud and strident. “T-thank you, Lord Darigan.”

     It was high praise—and from the highest station in the land, at that. But I wanted to be more than a councilman. I wanted to be a soldier. Like father and Uncle Kass before me. One that the Citadel could be proud of, could count on any time. That was the kind of Eyrie I wanted to be.

     Uncle Kass supported my ambitions. He saw to it that I received personal training from his finest spearmen, learned the basics of archery from the chief bowwoman, and proper defence skills from his heavily armoured ranks. Part of this came in the form of flighted fighting, being able to wield a weapon aloft. And per his orders, they were not to treat me like a child. They were to train me like any recruit. I revelled in it. When the worst of the first war broke out, I was in the field. Lieutenant Dorian was my superior—the traitor. Sorry. I got ahead of myself. He fought well enough in the first war and he led our ranks responsibly, but there are other reasons why I dislike him… but we will get there, in time. This is not about Dorian, but about my Lord and I, and the journey that we took together.

     At the end of the first war, the Citadel was reeling. We had lost—lost—to the orb thieves. And what was worse, our pinnacle, Lord Darigan, had fallen to madness. There was something that happened at the end of the war, although I will never know for sure what it was, that made him snap. It turned him into a radiant ball of rage, a beast with merely the form of a Korbat and the soul of a wildfire. In order to protect the Citadel, he was taken down. To this day, the ones who were present dare not describe the ordeal. They say only that “what was done was done,” and that was that.

     Suddenly, we were without a Lord.

     The Citadel responded with panic, the nobles most of all. Many made a scrambling case for their own power grabs, but Lord Kass blocked them all. He could see through their thinly veiled lies, their blatant self-interest, and put himself up to the task of leadership. But this was not without the popular vote, you see. And I helped him. I campaigned for his rise to power, shouted on every street corner that could hear my voice about his rallying cries, and plastered advertisements in every place that I knew important eyes would see.

     Lord Kass was the best—nay, the only good option. He would lead our crestfallen country charging into a new dawn, out of the ashes Lord Darigan left behind and into the light. A new day filled with promise and opportunity he told us all, his booming baritone echoing off the narrow city streets. My uncle was not a man of lies.

     But not everyone agreed.

     I know I said I would not speak of Dorian, but I must say this: he betrayed us. Betrayed progress.

     His rank protected him from discovery, for a time. But we began to notice how enemies of the Citadel seemed to know we were coming ahead of time. How anything that might incriminate them was suddenly missing from their homes or workplaces. How they anticipated every question with practised grace. It was all too convenient.

     After weeks of this happening, we caught Dorian in the act. Mind you, General Kass and I left no stone unturned. Dorian had used his power to tell his friends about our searches before they happened. Protected those who might need to be punished by hiding the evidence. Maintained an underground that distributed slanderous material about Kass and his intentions. He denied all of these allegations and managed to convince the council not to jail him. I surmise it was some of his family’s wealth that saved him that time—not that I could fault him for using his resources. Members of our family had this advantage as well. But in this case, it was a way to avoid justice… I never forgave him for it.

     When Kass earned his proper place atop its tallest spires, Dorian fled. He abandoned the Citadel in its greatest hour of need with little word to any of his enlisted or family. No wonder the Redner clan wrote him out of their ledger. He needn’t sully their otherwise good name with his actions.

     I digress.

     Lord Kass enthralled the people with his every word. I had noticed a change in him ever since he decided to run for the Lordship. He was confident, decisive, and laid out his policies with brutal clarity. He exuded fervour with every command, almost hypnotic in his tambor. Not one eye could turn away from his speeches. Three cheers of huzzah followed his every rally, often led by yours truly. Even my ageing father, with his medical issues mounting since his battle injury, made a point of coming, cane or not. My mother supported him dutifully, along with my twin sisters in their sweeping purple gowns and matching ruby necklaces. They would make fine appraisers, assuming that was the path they desired. As it was, Perle was already creating beautiful works of art. There could be no prouder big brother than I. And Diamant, ever the curious one, was asking me about everything I learned, including weaponry, defence and intrigue. She wanted nothing more than to be on the council, working along Lord Kass’ vision for our country. In time, she would certainly reach such heights. And seeing my uncle standing there at the podium in full military regalia with a crowd of proud Darigans shouting his name… it made my heart sing.

     Those were the days. If only they could have lasted longer...

     But such was my childhood from Kass’ right hand.

     The End.

 
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