As they entered the large village, Marcia looked at her surroundings. On the outskirts of the city, there were guards posted all along the wall… a much higher number than the guards in her own village. There were several small stone buildings which Marcia guessed were the homes of the villagers. People were just starting their day and milling about their morning duties. The village appeared to be like her village in many ways except for the size. This village appeared to be at least ten times the size of Lamax.
They passed by what appeared to be a large colosseum over three stories tall. It was made of shiny white marble which gleamed in the rising sun. Large blue banners were decorated on the top with a symbol of a spiked hammer crossing over a sword. Marcia recognized this symbol, as it was a symbol of King Etan.
King Etan was known as the ruler of most areas in Zalonia. Twenty years ago, he began his conquest of the land conquering any army who opposed him. He had taken over more of Zalonia than any king before him. He was a fierce ruler who maintained his power with an iron fist and was greatly feared, especially with his loyal army of over a hundred thousand men. His army was placed all over the continent to maintain control of the various cities and villages. Lamax had escaped his power until now.
Marcia knew that she would be forced to serve the king in some way but wasn’t sure what that way would be. She thought that she would possibly become a slave to one of King Etan’s solders. There were rumors that whoever disobeyed the king and his men would be taken to the dungeons and be tormented. From what she had heard, the torment was cruel and often involved fire burning parts of the body making the sufferer scream in agony. Death would be a relief; however, the king and his men would make certain that the sufferer would live and continue in service to whatever was required.
They soon came upon a castle in the center of the city. Unlike some castles in Zalonia, this one had no towers and appeared to be square. It was tall… taller than the walls of the village where Marcia lived. She guessed that the castle walls were at least a hundred feet in height. Huge blue banners decorated the top of the castle. They held the same hammer/sword symbol as the colosseum. The prison wagons came to a halt, as many of the soldiers entered the castle gate.
Marcia thought back to her life before she had been taken prisoner. Going on thirty, she began to wonder if she was ever going to marry. It was something that she desired, but she wanted to find a good man which seemed scarce in her village. Her village was one of the few villages left that still didn’t practice arranged marriages. Since King Etan had taken over most of the lands, having an arranged marriage was becoming customary.
The thought of being forced into marriage, now that she was captured, terrified her. She was a strong independent woman who didn’t like to be controlled. Many of the men in her own village came across as being controlling, so she avoided them.
She was trained to be a warrior in her village and quickly became one of the best. She recalled her moment of glory when she had won an annual village weapon competition the year before. All that training only to be captured, she thought to herself.
Just then, a guard opened the door to the prison wagon. He roughly grabbed her and put chains around her wrists. When no one was looking, he whispered to her, “Prepare to make your escape.”
Marcia was confused. Why would a soldier tell her to prepare for an escape? She didn’t see any possibility of that, as she was dragged inside the castle. There were many people inside, mostly prisoners and soldiers. In front of her, there was a room that many of the soldiers were waiting at. She guessed that they were waiting to be called in. On her right there was a staircase leading up which probably went to the chambers of the village leaders. On her right side, there was a staircase leading down which was likely a dungeon.
The guard continued to roughly direct her toward the door in the center. She wondered if he was putting on an act, so the other soldiers didn’t suspect his betrayal. When Marcia had made it to the door, she noticed two non-human guards standing on each side. She had heard of crodions before but had never seen one up close.
The crodions were very human-like in nature, as they stood upright and were able to hold things in their hands. However, they were different in some respects. They were covered with hair…or fur from head to toe. They were frailer than the typical human, but Marcia knew better when it came to strength. During her younger days, she had heard stories of crodions picking up large boulders and throwing them at their enemies. They made the perfect soldier being both strong and agile. She wondered how she was going to escape a place with crodions.
A couple of soldiers came out from the room in front of her, and one of them called to the soldier that was guarding her, “Bring forth the prisoner.”
She was roughly pushed through the doorway, as the chains burned her wrists. The room she had entered was large with a ceiling at least twenty feet high. There were several torches on the wall shining their light into the room. Marcia noticed a purple and gold carpet under her feet which symbolized royalty.
In front of her there was a large chair, and on the chair, sat a stern postured man with a stiff pointed mustache looking down at her. She could feel herself want to shrink back from his gaze. This man was the village leader and likely was appointed by King Etan. On each side of him stood two guards holding a shield and a sword. The crest on their shield displayed complex symbolism and gave them away as being from the order of the Knights of the White Rose.
Before King Etan took over, the Knights of the White Rose were an order known for protecting Zalonia by keeping law and order throughout the land. They were well trained knights who ranked in ten different degrees. To make it to the first degree alone, a knight had to endure a period of intense training. Now that King Etan had even the knights under his control, he would be virtually impossible to defeat.
The village leader beckoned Marcia forward, and she was forced on her knees. She stood up, refusing to bow before a man. However, one of the soldiers swung a staff hitting her on the back of her knees, and she fell to the ground. Even then, she refused to properly kneel before the leader.
The leader let out a slight chuckle, “This one has some spark in her,” he said to no one in particular. “We may just have to break her.”
Marcia glared at him…challenging him to try and break her, but he only laughed which added to her fury. “And what is your name?” He said grinning at her. She could feel hatred and rage boil in her blood, as she refused to answer him. “Perhaps, I should just let you go, in fact, I’m considering it.”
She didn’t know if he was joking, or whether this man actually was going to have mercy.
“Answer the question,” one of the knights said, his face stoic. She knew the Knights of the White Rose were to not show emotions which made them very effective knights.
“Marcia,” she replied, her voice bold. She was not going to cower before these men. The village leader seemed to be taken back by her boldness. Even one of the knight’s eyes became slightly wider at the strength she showed.
The village leader spoke further, “You know what, I think I am going to let you go. You have certainly amused me.”
Amused! What is this guy thinking? She thought to herself. He continued, “I say we give this one a Code 17. Stand up Marcia, you don’t need to bow before me.”
As she stood up, her legs buckled, and she almost lost her balance. The soldier that brought her in pulled out a key and undid her chains. She looked at the leader, “I can leave…just like that?”
“Be on your way!” He said.
Marcia could sense that something wasn’t right but couldn’t place her finger on it. The village leader wouldn’t make things this simple. The soldier led her outside.
“So, I’m free to go?”
The soldier’s look was grim, and he hesitated for a moment. “Just the opposite,” he whispered. “Code 17 means ‘take the prisoner out and break her down.’”