There was hardly anything left after they were done. He’d borne witness to the frantic looting of the castle and had found himself only able to escape with his life. It was unthinkable, and as such it had caught him and seemingly everyone else completely unawares. Explosions were set off throughout the capital city…though there wasn’t much point in even calling it the capital city anymore at this point. Britannia was on the brink of collapse into a fully-fledged group of independent city-states, like Nujel’m had always been. All he had been able to salvage were the clothes on his back and the rumpled piece of cloth in his hand. He thought back to the incident in his head, still confused over the choice he’d made…
The fighting was getting closer, and he’d managed to wrap up a dozen or more bottles from the cellar into his tattered cloak, gathering it up and cinching it into a makeshift sack. The shouts were louder, and the wind brought the scent of smoke through the open windows, mingling in with the smell of the bay in a way that was at once intoxicating and stifling. He could hear the clashing of blade against armor, and when the sound carried right, the screams mingled with the howl of metal against armor, flesh, and bone. Time was quickly running out as he made his way to the front gates, stumbling upon something left on the ground. He looked up to see a crowd forming past the iron portcullis that protected his master’s home…and he could smell the scent of gunpowder. His eyes wide with terror, he turned to gather up his scattered bottles even as he heard the gates being assaulted and scaled. His attention was grabbed once more by the old hat, the one ragged corner missing its’ bell, and his fuzzed thoughts clarified for an instant as he thought back to what an old gypsy had told him years ago.
“Sometimes in the darkest nights where we feel we are but a pawn,
Our true identity and importance is revealed to bring about the dawn.”
He seized upon the piece of fabric, intending to grasp the bottles as well when some of the crowd had already scaled the great gates that protected the castle. Within an instant they were grabbing everything in sight. He struggled to get to the gates, fighting past the mob that seemed intent on looting anything they could find, but he wasn’t making enough headway. The gates were flung open and he managed to get past them and onto the bridge, but a passerby suddenly knocked him into the railing. Windmilling his arms desperately, he felt his balance vanish as he went over the edge into the water, his fingers tightly gripping the hat he had once worn so proudly. As he struggled to kick his way back up a concussive wave suddenly struck, and debris began to sink down into the bay around him. Breaking the waters’ surface, he could see the remains of the castle that he had called home for so long; now naught but broken mortar, pulverized brick, and blazing tinder. Anything left of the bridge that could be of use was gone, and bodies and boards alike floated along the water’s edge as the soft lapping current of the bay pushed them towards the shore. As he finally got to dry land, he found the hat still clutched in his grasp, the only thing he’d saved from the castle. Somehow, even with the tragedy and horror unfolding around him, this one thing felt right.
Time hadn’t helped him figure out why it was important to him. It had been forgotten and left to rot as long as he himself had. Still, the gypsy’s words resonated within him and he wondered if this really meant anything, or if it was just the newest in a long series of jests that fate had played on yet another pawn on the chessboard. And if for some reason the gypsy’s words were true then, the warning she gave him later may yet hold water.
“When the yearning arises and all things are taken,
The one sealed away will begin to awaken.”
An involuntary shiver ran through him, and he knew it was from more than just thinking about the chill that the water had left him with.