The expansive courtyard of Arcana Castle could host several villages. Various tents and housing lay about throughout the surrounding land. In them are blacksmiths who hammered out weapons and armor, cooks to provide food, and seamstresses to provide clothing. Since Arcana Castle has an open trade route, there are other merchants from neighboring as well as far away towns and villages who have come to sell their goods to either the Knights or other merchants. However, it is mostly the maidens and servants of the castle who come to the makeshift marketplace, mostly to trade or purchase goods for personal reasons.
Off to the side in a large area closed off to commoners are the training grounds. Here, new recruits train to become members of the Arcana Knights. The training grounds are divided into areas suited for different skills. One section is for those recruits who prove useful with a sword. Another is for training using long weapons such as the quarter staff and lances. A large section facing the surrounding forest is reserved for the archers as well as horseback riding. There are other smaller sections for those who wish to practice their own individual skills.
Ecks parks Serenity in an area next to the horse stables. While there, a passing recruit spots him. The recruit is slightly younger than Ecks with spiky, bright red hair and dressed in the same brown and gold garb as the other recruits. He approaches Ecks just as he dismounts his trike. “Sir Ecks,” he said with slight nervousness. Ecks looks at the young Knight-in-training who then straightens himself up and stands tall. “Welcome back, Sir Ecks,” he says, speaking in a firm, respectable tone.
Ecks chuckles softly and pats the young man on the shoulder. “Relax, you ain’t gotta do all that.”
The young recruit looks at him. There is something in Ecks’s demeanor that put him at ease and, as instructed, he relaxes. “Sorry sir, I was just—”
“I know. Trying to be proper and upstanding; yeah, they tried to get me to do that too.” Ecks begins to walk toward the castle entrance. The young recruit follows behind him.
“Um, Sir Ecks, you may not know me but about a year ago you helped my village deal with a situation with the mountain trolls and I…never got to thank you for saving my father,” the young recruit explained.
“You’re from Madrid Village,” Ecks says. He remembers the incident clearly. The trolls who live in Vaspar Mountain are very territorial and threatened to run out the people of Madrid Village who live at the base despite the treaty that was struck centuries before and still remains in effect to this day. Turns out the Mountain Troll King had come across a cursed item that poisoned his mind and corrupted his people. Thanks to Ecks, Madrid Village was saved. The trolls returned to Vaspar Mountain promising to leave the village in peace, though they still disagree with humans living in their territory. “Yeah, now I remember,” said Ecks recognizing the young man. “The trolls captured your father and imprisoned him. How’s he doing, um…?”
“Gus. And my father is doing fine,” the young man said with gratitude.
“Glad to hear he’s alright. So what brings you to Arcana?”
“Well, sir, I wish to become a Knight so I can help defend my village against another troll attack should there be one,” Gus tells Ecks.
Ecks laughs light-heartedly and tells Gus, “You don’t have to worry about those guys. They may not be the brightest fireflies in the forest but they’re not stupid. They’re not going to violate the treaty. But I don’t think that’s it,” Ecks stops walking and looks at Gus. “Is it?”
“Correct.” Gus straightens himself and stands firm. “I-I wish to be your subordinate, Sir Ecks,” he states firmly with assurance.
“Really and where did you get the idea that I needed one,” Ecks said.
“One of your fellow Knights informed me that you might need one and it’s the only way I can think to repay you.”
Ecks rubs his chin while looking Gus over. Other recruits have come to him before stating their want to be his subordinate. However, a lot of them turned out to be nothing more than boastful upstarts who think that acting tough or always being proper would impress him. He sees nothing that indicated that the young man before him now is anything like that. This is evident when Ecks told Gus to relax. He said the same to his other would-be subordinates but none took his advice. They continued to stand firm as a post and shower him with overzealous respect which annoyed Ecks. Gus relaxed and spoke more freely when Ecks told him to. For a moment, Ecks thought that young Gus might make a good subordinate. “You don’t say. Well…I guess I’ll try you out.”
Gus brightens up like a child receiving a gift. “Thank you, Sir Ecks. I-I won’t make you regret it,” he says excitedly.
“Whoa hold on there,” Ecks says, raising his hands to calm the lad,
“I haven’t solidified anything yet. First thing’s first.” Gus calms himself and listens to his soon-to-be commander. Ecks stares at Gus.
“You gotta meet my other subordinates.”
“Your other subordinates?” Gus said, sounding a bit surprised.
“Yeah, come on; I’ll introduce you to them,” says Ecks with a nonchalant grin. He then leads Gus through the courtyard, pass several tents and another set of horse stables to an area located at the rear side of the courtyard.
“Here they are,” Ecks says with a brimming smile.
Gus is taken aback by what Ecks is showing him. The cheery smile that was once stretched across his face has dropped a grim expression. The excitement he had has been replaced with a feeling that chilled him to the bone. Gus looks out over the graveyard he has been brought to and wonders why he is being shown this. Is this why Ecks does not have any subordinates, because they all died in battle? And why so many; are the missions they go on that dangerous? The questions rack his brain and the conclusions that conjure up are only understandable in their confusion.
“Gus, meet the guys,” Ecks says, gesturing to the graveyard. Then he gestures back to Gus, “Guys, meet Gus.” He then lays a hand on Gus’s left shoulder. Gus is too much in shock to respond. “I’m sure you’ve got a lot to talk about. Oh, and don’t worry if they don’t have much to say. They were never really good at holding conversations.” Ecks takes a step forward toward the graveyard and stands for a moment. “Look alive gentlemen!” he calls out over the graveyard. He then turns away and makes his way back toward the main courtyard, giving Gus a final pat on the shoulder. He walks a few feet away before his path is barred by a large man who easily dwarfs him.
The burly man looks down at Ecks. He is dressed in a white tunic with a leather vest, studded armguards, brown pants and bulky greaves. His fiery red hair is pulled back into a long pony tail that traveled halfway down his back. A dozen bands hold it together. Framing his face is a flaming red beard that flowed over his broad chest and metal clips donned the end of his long mustache. A wide smile parts the flames of his beard as the man chuckles heartily. “Still scaring the hell out of the new recruits, are you?” he spoke with a gruff Scottish accent.
Ecks laughs back. “Hey, someone’s gotta keep them on their toes.”
“Why didn’t ya just pull one of those fancy guns you be carrying there if you wanted to scare the lad?”
“Nah, that wouldn’t have been as fun.”
The burly man laughs and says, “So how long until you tell him about the horse’s graveyard he’s staring at?”
“Eh, you can tell him in a couple hours, Brutus,” Ecks tells him. He then continues on his way to the main courtyard with Brutus beside him. “So I suppose you told him that I needed a subordinate?”
“You make it sound like a bad thing,” Brutus says with a laugh.
“The last thing I need is a ‘yes man’,” says Ecks.
“Aye, I see. You’re not lettin’ go of High Captain Ashcroft’s sister. I don’t blame ya, lad. She is a beautiful lass with that golden mane, those big green eyes and that great big—” Brutus says with insinuation.
“We just work together,” Ecks reminded him with a laugh.
Brutus has always insinuated that Ecks’s relationship with Willow is more than a partnership even though he knows it is not true. Still, he enjoys poking fun at Ecks about it. “I’m just funnin’ with ya, boy. Still, I wouldn’t rule out the option of grabbing those great ta-tas of hers,” he says with toothy grin from behind his fiery beard.
“Then knock yourself out, Brutus,” Ecks shot at him.
“Ha! And get myself killed?!” Brutus bellows out a hearty laugh.
“High Captain Ashcroft is one lass that me own mum would be ‘fraid of!”
Ecks and Brutus round the courtyard to the castle entrance where he sees Willow being practically carried by Amanda followed by Beatrice. The other Knights and merchants greet them respectfully. Amanda has to pull Willow away from the carts serving ale the couple times she began to wonder over to them. Beatrice is still clearly upset. She eyes a group of recruits in the training grounds close by and then she walks over towards them.
“You let her sister wet her whistle too much again, eh?” Brutus says knowing full well what is to come next. Shaking his head grimly, he walks away from Ecks. “I’ll see you around lad.”
“I told her to stop, but you know how she is once she starts,” said Ecks.
“Next time lad, just drag her out and get a room.” Brutus looks back at Ecks with a smile.
Ecks knows Brutus too well to not know that smile and exactly what he means. There is only one reason to get a room at an inn. And that reason will surely bring about his end if it happened and, worse, Beatrice found out. Plus, he and Willow just work together. “Now who’s trying to get who killed?”
Brutus laughs and says, “Look at it this way, at least Willow won’t remember and Lady Beatrice won’t tear you to shreds.” Then the burly man continues on his way to a tent near the training grounds laughing heartily.
Ecks has good reason to sock Brutus in the arm but he just laughs it off as always. He and Brutus have known each other ever since Ecks was a young recruit three years ago. Ecks was just as brash then as he is now. He’d test Brutus’ patience every chance he took. But no matter how harsh the punishment was that Brutus meted out, Ecks took it in stride. Brutus thought Ecks to be nothing more than a slacker and wouldn’t be able to handle the duties of being an Arcana Knight. That was until Ecks began to display his preternatural skill as a sharp shooter and swordsman. Another aspect of Ecks’s demeanor would make Brutus see his potential as a protector of the Mystic Father, the White Sage.
(Defenders Vol. 1 is available in paperback and E-book for Kindle and NOOK at the following sites: Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Xlibris!! Defenders Vol. 2 is available now at the following sites also in paperback and Ebook: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Xlibris, E-bay, Google books, Foyles and Scribd!! Check my awesome fan fiction: Dante vs. Bayonetta and“Fury Rages On: Kratos vs. Asura!!”)
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