The simple block of granite marked the resting place of the Unknown Mage in resolute silence in the heart of the gardens the sheltered behind the castle. The castle itself was an embryo of what it would one day become, perched atop a cliff overlooking the cove where the small town nestled. The burial ceremony was small, attended only by the King, the apothecary and a few others. As the sun rolled over the sky, pulling the world onwards through the vast ocean of time, the grave was forgotten. Again and again the sun leapt from the land to the east and plunged into the ocean to the west, bringing light to the world as it soared through the air. The sun swept over the grave endless times, as the days became months the path of the sun swept south, bringing the ice and snow, before turning and travelling north again, bringing the summers. Storms rushed in from the open sea and threw their winds, rains and hails, before breaking into nothingness or moving off north or south. The grass and trees around the grave grew and were cut back time and again.
As the months span into years the city of Artella became a living thing. The harbour walls swiftly rose to life, the wooden buildings multiplied and spread like moss across stone. Fires would rip pieces out of the city, as would the storms, and those wounds would heal and grow back stronger, the buildings built of stone. Castle Artella herself grew and strengthened, a new and thicker wall growing around her as new towers reached into the sky.
As the years spread into decades the harbour wall grew to eventually surround the entire city, including the gardens. To the south the war between the world of man and the elven forest became apparent, as the thick growth of trees crept into Artellathwaine’s lands and were swiftly cut back. The first storm of war ripped into the city. The stone walls crumbled, their molten stones thrown to the ground. The castle split, its insides bursting into flame and spilling out like blood. The towers fell, the walls were torn. The harbour walls plunged into the sea and fire washed through the city as waves upon the ocean. A crack of violet lightning in the east signalled the end of the war, and slowly the city began to grow again.
As the decades piled atop each other into centuries the city reformed itself with thick dark grey walls of rothstone. The harbour walls were higher and thicker before and reached around the entire city, closing it in. The castle became larger still, the walls of a great cylinder rising around the gardens and extending beyond the cliff edge, forming a new cliff built entirely by the hand of man. The walls of the castle closed the world off from the unmarked grave until all that could be seen from it were the sun, moon and stars revolving high above.
As the years of man slid past around it the granite block lay there undisturbed by human hand, with only the elements to keep it company. The once straight edges had softened and rounded. The smooth surfaces had rippled and cracked, the cracks growing every winter. Slowly the shape pulled back into a rougher form as entropy and time took its toll until it was nothing more than a chunk of rock with only an old story to accompany it on its voyage.
“Prepare to face my sword, wizard!” The young Micharus Wetherhall shouted as he stood unsteadily atop the gnarled block of stone brandishing a stick he had found in the gardens.
“That’s not fair!” His younger brother, Vigard Wetherhall, complained. “You’re always the Lord.”
“I was born first, that means I’ll be Lord before you.”
“But can’t I be the Lord sometimes?”
“No, it doesn’t work that way. Now play properly.”
“I don’t want to be the wizard. I always get hurt.”
“The wizard’s supposed to get hurt, father couldn’t have vanquished him without hurting him!”
“I don’t want to play this game.”
Micharus hopped down to the ground and leant on the stick as he looked his brother up and down.
“What do you want to play then?”
“Knights and princesses.”
“We can’t play that without Alexia.”
“Can’t we go and get her?”
“No, she’s busy.”
“She’s always busy.”
“She’ll be leaving soon anyway, so you won’t be able to play with her.”
“Where’s she going? Why?”
“Don’t know, she just is. You’ll be going somewhere too.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay here with mother and father.”
Vigard turned and dashed down the garden towards Sir Justin Allian, a well-built broad-shouldered knight clad in iron plate, chain and the dark green cloak of the castle guard, who was standing watch over the boys.
“Sir Allian!” Vigard cried.
The knight knelt down to bring his twice-scarred square-jawed face down to the young noble’s level.
“What is the matter, my little lord?” Sir Allian asked in a calming yet authoritative voice.
“You wouldn’t let anyone take me away would you?”
“Why would anyone want to do that, little lord?” Allian asked, laughing a little at the notion.
“Micharus says they’re going to take me away.”
Allian turned his sky-blue eyes to look at the elder brother who was sat atop the Unknown Grave watching them. He turned back to Vigard.
“I would not listen to your brother’s tall tales so easily, young lord. And do not worry yourself, if any were to try and take you away, myself and ten thousand good men with swords would stop them.”
“Is my son filling his brother’s head with stories again?” Asked Lady Jalice Wetherhall as she approached them. Sir Allian rose, turned and knelt before their mother.
“Sir Allian, you do not need to observe the courtesies when we are alone.” Jalice said.
“My Lady, if I did not observe the courtesies, I would not be worthy to serve you.” Sir Allian replied as he slowly rose again.
“You are a good and honest man, Sir Allian. My father must truly have felt the loss of your service.”
“My Lady, I serve your Lord Father as I serve you, with every hour of my duty, as do all the good and honest men in his guard.”
Jalice turn her attention momentarily to her eldest son, still sitting on the rock.
“Micharus, come down from there. It does not do to disrespect the dead.” She cried to her son.
Micharus did as he was bid and rushed down to join his brother and mother.
“Have my children been behaving themselves?”
“Playing as children play, my Lady.”
“My Lord Husband has commanded their presence in the Ruling Chamber.” Jalice informed him. “Would you walk with us?”
“Of course, my Lady.” The knight replied and joined them as they walked towards the great sculpted archway that led between the castle and the enclosed gardens.
“Is the sentencing done, my Lady?” Sir Allian asked.
“Alas not, my husband is waiting for his sons to be in attendance, he wishes to teach them a lesson about justice.”
“There is no justice in punishing a mage for helping another. Such things ought not be crimes.”
“Be careful how you speak, Sir Allian.” Jalice responded, stopping in her tracks and checking for unfriendly ears. “We are not in the palace of Gania, my husband has had men rot in the dungeons for less.”
“My apologies, my Lady. I did not mean to speak disrespect.”
“You speak your mind, and there is truth in your words. I must admit it is a sad thing, but it is the law of these lands, and it is my husband’s law.”
“You are bound by love and I by oath. I only hope his justice is lenient.”
“As do I.”
As they passed through the doors into the ruling chamber Vigard dashed off ahead towards Lord Miteus. Micharus began to run after his younger brother when Sir Allian grasped him by the shoulder and pulled him back.
“Justin!” Lady Jalice whispered in shock.
“I’m sorry, my Lady, but look to your husband.”
She stepped forwards, speechless, and looked to her husband. He was sat in the wooden throne in the heart of the chamber, around him stood the sworn men of his palace guard and two of the lesser Lords of Artellathwaine. To his left, in her own seat, sat Micharus wearing different clothes. She looked back at her eldest son, still in the grasp of Sir Allian just outside the room, and also sat beside his father. She and Sir Allian exchanged a look, hers of dawning horror, his of grave concern, as her husband stood and spoke.
“Bring them forwards.” Lord Miteus commanded.
Jalice watched from the side entrance as the great oak doors opened and a host of guardsmen dragged two prisoners through into the hall and dumped them on the floor before the throne. The two men were elves, but their long hair and fair faces were messed and dirty, and their dark green robes were soiled. They remained on their knees before the Lord of the Realm.
“You are accused of the use of magic within the lands of Artellathwaine. How do you plead?” The Lord asked.
The elf who responded seemed the elder of the two, with waist-length black hair. He looked up to the Lord with bright green eyes.
“We carry the gift of healing magic, my Lord.” He explained. “The child was dying, we decided to help.”
“So you decided to contravene the law of this realm?”
“The girl could only be healed by magic, she was beyond mortal means. What would you have us do? Let her die?”
“I would have you respect the law! Magic is nothing but dark power, it is not permitted within these lands.”
“With respect, my Lord, you allow your prejudice to burden your people.”
“And you trust too much in a power that leads only to death and destruction. You knew the law of Artellathwaine when you travelled here, did you not?”
“We did, but that law is unj…”
“And you wilfully defied it.” Lord Miteus interrupted him. “Your kind are all the same. You depend on a power that will only serve to ruin you. I will not have it within my lands.”
Miteus adjusted his stance to one of neutral authority.
“Of your guilt, I was certain.” He began to address the entire room. “Upon the severity of your sentence I have now decided. I, Lord Miteus Wetherhall, Warden and Protector of the Realm of Artellathwaine, Seat of the Royal Court of Nysilla, Guardian of the Southern Seas and Arbitrator of the King’s Justice, in the name of King Piscius of the Line of Generos, Ruler of Asamor and Lord of all Mankind…”
Lady Jalice gasped. There was, she knew, only one sentence that required her husband to invoke the authority of the name of the King.
“… do sentence you to die.”
The brief silence in the room was broken by the pleas of the elder elf.
“Please, my Lord, take my life in penance, let the boy live.”
“My sentence is decreed.” Miteus said as he turned to walk back to his throne. “Commander, take them to the Red Court and prepare them. I will observe the sentence with my sons.”
Jalice turned back to Sir Allian, who was already keeping her son behind him and out of sight.
“Take him to my chambers.” She commanded as quietly as she could. “Make sure no-one sees him.”
Sir Allian nodded to show his understanding, and within moments he was gone, her son with him.
The Red Court was one of the five courtyards within the castle, situated in such a way that it overlooked the city and the ocean beyond the harbour walls. It was situated at the top of the castle, with only the watchtower rising above it. It was a two-tier terrace that ran all the way to the edge of the castle wall on the ocean-facing side. It could be seen from every part of the city, so it was where the Lord of Artellathwaine would address his people, and where executions took place. A row of chopping blocks lay near the edge, where those who had been sentenced to death were beheaded, their warm blood would run down the wall of the castle, giving the courtyard its name.
In the few hours since the sentence was passed word had spread quickly. The lesser Lords who had been within the city had made their way to the Red Court, and in the city below thousands of spectators had gathered to witness the execution of the two elves and to see mageblood flow down the wall.
Lady Jalice hated this place, she had seen enough good men and women meet their deaths for such little cause here. Her husbands justice was more often than not disproportionate in her view, especially when magic was concerned, but she was bound by love and oath not to speak of it. She stood in the arched doorway where the central staircase opened out onto the roof of the castle, and eventually found her courage to step out. As she joined her husband, she saw the two elves knelt facing the ocean. They were still bound and badly beaten and bloodied, the guards had seen fit to injure them and exhaust their healing magic and had, as they always did, taken the job too far. Her husband was at least permitting them to make peace with their gods before the last sight they would ever see.
“My Lady.” Lord Miteus said as he noticed her by his side. “My love, you do not need to be here for this.”
“I know, my Lord, but if my children are to see this terrible thing then I shall see it with them.”
“Micharus must learn the true face of justice, as must Vigard.”
“I know, my love, I just wish he had been older before he saw death.”
“He must know the severity of death if he is ever to sentence it.” Her husbands voice had the low, grave tone that had come to reside permanently within him these last few years.
Lord Miteus signalled to those around him that it was time. The quiet conversations were silenced.
The executioner stood to attention. He had the broadest shoulders of any in Lord Miteus’ guard, and was built stronger than an ox. His face was concealed by the black hood he wore as part of the duty, but everyone knew that beneath it was Jak Long, a man loyal as he was strong. Her husband had more than once remarked that there was no man more worthy of wielding Midnight’s Kiss, the two-handed great-axe that Rikaard Wetherhall, the first Lord of Artellathwaine, had carried into battle during the Mage War. When the blade split the skull of Lord Jartos Farmage, the last of the mageblood nobles, the steel was stained black and never again lost its edge. It had become the ceremonial weapon of House Wetherhall, and the only blade permitted for executions. Jak hefted the axe in one hand as the first of the elves was forced down over the block, his long hair kept off the back of his neck. The large man took his stance and gripped Midnight’s Kiss with both hands. He looked to his Lord, as was the custom. Miteus kept his stern brown eyes fixed on Jak as he nodded his head.
The axehead swung behind and swept overhead in a single motion almost too fast to see. There was a sickening crunch as Midnight’s Kiss dug a fresh red gash into the heavily scarred stone block. The head fell and rolled a few feet forwards, the body slumped sideways and down, coming to rest on the floor amid an expanding ocean of scarlet. The second elf had clamped his eyes shut and looked away. He almost collapsed when he heard the sound, but was lifted to his feet by the guards and placed over the adjacent block. Jak Long placed his foot on the block and grasped the great-axe near its head, and with a show of considerable effort pulled it out of the stone. He stepped backwards and took up position ready to enact the second sentence, and again looked to his Lord. The axe swung, the second block marked, the younger elf’s head came to rest close to the elder’s.
Lord Miteus, his wife and their two sons watched without breaking their gaze as the last blood and life left the two elves. Their ears heard the breaking of waves against the harbour walls. Below the castle, in the city of Artella, life resumed, whilst fingers of blood reached down the wall towards them.