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Bloodlines: Chaos Rising

Prologue

     Artureus hooted with joy as the dolphins jumped and dove just near the bow of the ship. Artureus watched as the sun glittered along the tops of the waves, the water shimmering with light. The dolphins seemed to be green as they dove beneath the deep blue water, and suddenly gray again as they broke the surface.

    He shouted with delight, “Look Mom! Look!”

    A smile bloomed across his mother’s face as Artureus jumped again, trying to get another look over the edge of the ship's rail. “Be careful Arty, You don’t want to join them do you?”

The boy turned, his bright blue eyes wide as he considered his mothers words. 

     “I won’t fall,” Artureus insisted, as he ran a hand through his blond hair.

     “Sail!” A voice bellowed from above. Artureus shaded his eyes as he looked up, trying to see the man in the crows nest through the glare of the sun. The platform stood midway up the mainmast of the ship. His mother walked towards the captain who stood at the helm while Artureus continued to gaze towards the top rigging. The three masts crawled with crewmen working the lines and sheets.  I’m so glad father convinced mom to let me come! He thought as the sun warmed his face. His father had convinced the whole family to go, using the trip as a holiday. He alone remained at home to see to the affairs of the kingdom as the king's steward. 

     Artureus was a prince of Istal; the son of Axelium and Princess Magdalena.  The young boy walked across the deck to his mothers side, who was talking to her father, King Tullius Istal.

     “Who is it?” His mother asked. Artureus looked to his grandfather. The old king’s hair 

was white and wispy. Thin to the point that you could see his sun spotted scalp. Yet his limbs were strong, and he stood up straight as he smiled down at Artureus.

    “You know who it is, Magdalena. It is as we feared, one of the inner circle is a spy,” Tullius spoke softly, his voice a low rumble as he placed a hand on Artureus’ head. He tussled the boy's hair. “They were ahead of us, knew we would be coming this way.” 

     Magdalena was Tullius’ oldest child, however he had a son, Crown Prince Ankius Istal. Who also stood just nearby. Ankius was a man grown now, and would take the throne soon. He had short blond hair, trimmed in the style of the fledgling military. Short on the sides and long on top, pulled back in a small knot near the crown of the head. 

“What do we do father?” Ankius asked, holding the hilt of his saber with white knuckles. 

Tullius looked at his children and then knelt down before Artureus. “How about you go look for those dolphins again Artureus, and leave us to talk.” 

     The whole royal family, aside from his father Axelium, was traveling to the great city-state of Kishan. Artureus had heard some of the purpose of the trip, but at seven he didn’t care much for politics. He was on a grand adventure to see Kishan and the great waterways of the merchant city. Artureus turned from the conversation to look at the dolphins once more, but found they had left. He looked out over the ocean, over the waves to see where they had gone. Artureus wasn’t sure how long he was watching the waves when he saw the approaching ship, its sails billowing in the wind and his mother approached. 

     “Arty, I need you to come with me please,” She asked. 

      A whistling sound filled the air and Artureus squinted at the sky as sailors dove to the deck. A splash erupted from the ocean, salt water soaking the deck as a rumble shook the sky. Magdalena grabbed Artureus' arm pulling him along and pushing him into the captain's quarters, shutting him inside. Artureus heard men shouting and a rumble like rolling thunder as he ran to the small side windows trying to get a view of the enemy ship. He could only see the blue sky and the deep blue ocean. The young prince pushed his face against the glass trying to bring something into view. He caught sight of the edge of large white sails bulging with the wind. Artureus could just see the edge of the great green flag blowing on the mast as the ship tacked.

     “Learians,” the boy whispered to himself as the water erupted next to the ship as another cannonball missed.

Artureus’ heart pounded. He pushed away from the window, and huddled against the captain's chart table. He felt his cheeks grow wet with tears. Another crack of cannon fire caused him to audibly cry out. Artureus cowered, trying to block out the sounds of cracking wood, the blast of cannons, the screams of men. He didn't know how long he cowered there, but it felt to be an eternity. Suddenly, the door opened.

      Artureus looked up to see his mother. He ran to her, wrapping his arms around her waist as she entered the room. The King, The Crown Prince, and the ship's Captain all stood just outside the door, swords drawn. A few crewmen stood outside with them, swords and hatchets in hand.

     The Captain was speaking, but Artureus didn’t hear what was said in his panic. 

      “Son, Listen,” His mother whispered in his ear. “You must be strong. The Learians are cruel but they won’t hurt a child. You will be okay. Can you be brave? Can you be strong?” His mother’s voice tickled his ear. Her voice low and husky. He nodded into her shoulder as she held him. “Artureus, I need you to make sure this doesn’t break your father. He needs to fight. He needs to reach out. Please make sure Istal doesn’t fall. The Learians will come eventually. You must be strong. You must stand against them and fight.”

      Artureus’ mind swam in a pool of syrup. Everything slowed as his uncle knelt before him. His mouth moved but the words were lost, Artureus didn’t hear them. His heart raced. What is going on? What is happening? He felt his grandfather's hand on his shoulder, felt the old man's grip tighten, and yet it seemed to be happening to someone else. The captain called to them as his men rushed away, towards the edge of the boat. Magdalena ran to and hugged her father and brother before stepping back inside the room. The door slammed shut, sealing them inside as the battle beyond the chambers walls commenced.

      The shouts of the sailors outside grew louder. The clash of steel on steel rang out as men boarded the ship. The cries of the dying filled the air.

       The door burst open and Artureus’ eyes locked on the fallen body of his grandfather. King Tullius lay gasping in a pool of blood, bright against the light wood of the ship. A large man with a saber in hand stepped over the dying king and into the room. Artureus turned away, trying to be brave like his mother asked. His grandfather had always been strong, immovable. How is this happening? Why? Artureus felt water start to fill his eyes anew, and  his breathing felt out of control. His heart racing despite his attempt to calm himself.  He didn't understand. Why did these men come? Why are they hurting us?

      “Ohh, even better,” The man said as he stepped inside the cabin. Artureus couldn’t pull his eyes from the dark red blood dripping from the end of his short saber. “This little one will be the perfect message carrier. This ship was supposed to have the whole royal family, but I see one is missing.”

     Artureus’ mother pushed him behind her. “We will never bend the knee, you may win this battle but you will not win the war!” She charged the man, pulling a dagger from her belt.

     The man barked a laugh as he grabbed her arm pulling her away, and twisting the dagger out of her grip.

“Next time, you should consider who you trust,” the man sneered. “We know this ship left Istal with the intention of negotiating with Kishan for ships of war, and men.” The man forced Magdalena to her knees as two more men came in and wrenched her arms behind her back.

     “You will not get away with this,” she shouted as tears streamed down her face.

      “Oh, we will,” The man laughed. “We have seen copies of the treaties you bring. We know you plan war. Lear will not stand for it. We let you filthy merchants slip away, at the time it wasn’t worth it to chase you. However, all of Lear is ours. Your taxes keep the Emperor satisfied for now, but if you bite the hand that protects, your people will curse your name.”

      “Who?” His mother growled. “Who betrayed us?”

      “I’m sorry lass, I only know it was someone close to you. Personally.”

       Artureus cried out as the man lifted his sword above his mothers kneeling form.

      The man turned towards Artureus, his lips curled in a mocking cry, “Oh don’t worry boy, you won’t die,” The man's lips turned into a pleasurable sneer. “You need to tell the new King what happened here. That your family's trip failed. Lear knows of Istal's treachery. However, if you continue to pay your promised tribute. We will let you live your independent lives, for now.”

      Artureus watched and time slowed. The man stepped forward. His sword swung in an arc. Artureus tried to turn away, but his body wouldn't move. His mothers head dropped, her eyes closing as the sword reached her neck. He felt the warm spray of blood on his face, a stark contrast to the cold sea spray from hours before.

      Her head rolled across the deck. Her body dropped. Artureus didn’t know how, but he found that the blood was on his hands, on his legs, he was kneeling in it. He was on all fours. He could smell it. He retched. 

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