Ajexmi

Aleandria's Remedy (an Original Short Story)

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Hi guys, I just finished my first year of university and figured that this might be a good place to share some of my portfolio for some feedback to help me strengthen my writing, and of course entertain if possible. This is the last 3,500 word assignment I had to do, and I realise that part of the exercise is to squeeze a complete story into a small space, and the result is a narrative that is fast paced with a lot implied rather than explained, or simply open to interpretation. My influence came from replaying Final Fantasy IX, as a few elements here may suggest to you fans ;) Let me know what you think.

 

(please forgive the strange formatting, copying from a word document does not always work particularly well with indentation and spacing.)

 

 

You want to hear another story? Of course, I'd be happy to oblige.

              Do I know any about heroes? Well, I know one you might like.

              I haven't told you this one before.                                   

              This one is a true story, and I hope you remember, so hear it well.

 

              Greatest of all the kingdoms in the known world is that of Alexandria. Under the reign of King Bartholomew II, Alexandria gained much territory and prosperity and he was much loved by his people. With his queen, Ariana, and their infant son by his side, he filled his people with hope and pride.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the King.

              But alas, the light of this happy nation expired in its prime. The King succumbed to a quick and lethal illness that no doctor in the kingdom could treat. His widowed queen, stoic and silent in the King's wake, became sovereign. Although Ariana led Alexandria's army to acquire more and more territory, she did not have the warmth in her heart for her people that Bartholomew did. The sorrow and lasting grief caused by the death of the King was in the eyes of every man, woman and child in the country, and nothing the Queen did could relieve them of their heavy hearts.

              It made her sick.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the Queen.

               Her iron fist came down more heavily upon her subjects. Taxes rose to accommodate the expansion of their lands and to fund the growing army. Executions were on the rise for even menial crimes. The people came to only ever see an empty balcony where the Queen once stood beside their beloved King. The people mourned their lost ruler, and lived in fear of the queen he left behind.

              The sickness manifested.

              In her rage, born of grief and jealousy, the Queen lost her trust in her subjects. She would only permit a handful of people to her presence. Of these Helena, the Head Nurse of the castle infirmary, was the one who had to explain to the Queen that she was dying. There was a good chance it was the same illness that claimed her husband. The Queen summoned all of her trusted subjects, and knelt before her, swearing fealty to Her Majesty, were the Royal Treasurer,  the Captain of the Royal Guard, the Royal Advisor, and Helena. Queen Ariana was determined to outlive her country's grief, by any means necessary.

              "Your Highness," said the Captain, "I believe I know a man who may aid us greatly in this endeavour. He is an old acquaintance of the King. I know him well, Highness, for you see he is my brother...."

              It came to light that this man resided in the capital. Although far from nobility, this man had rejected the King's offer of knighthood.

              'I am your friend and your ally, always,' the man had said, ' but please do not make me a servant in these duties.'

               However, if the Queen needed a hero, a hero she would have.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the Queen.

              The Queen did not hesitate to send the Royal Guard out to summon him. The man gave no resistance. He was escorted to the castle, and his brother personally delivered him to the throne room, where he removed his hat and dropped to a knee before the Queen and her council in quiet and humble respect.

              "Edmund Reaves, at your service, my liege."

              Reaves was a man of average stature. His clothes were worn and dull, and he carried no weapon beside a small hunting knife in a leather scabbard that hung just below his left hip. By any stretch of the imagination, this man did not seem the hero the Captain had described.

              Unconvinced of this man's ability to aid her, the Queen asked if he knew of what had happened to the King.

              "I was sorry to hear that he passed on. His memory lives on in my heart, as it surely does yours, Your Majesty."

              There was something to this man and it unnerved the Queen, who made no reply. Perhaps something in his calm gaze, or the small upturn at the corners of his mouth, suggested this man could be the tactician behind the King in the Unification of the Isles. Perhaps he was a natural hunter. Perhaps he was more than he appeared to be.

              Helena stepped forward from the Queen's side. She asked if he knew of any way to prevent the same tragedy from befalling the monarchy once again, as the Queen was also gravely ill. Reaves, still not permitted to rise from his knee, admitted that he had heard there was a medicine that had been said to cure any condition. In his travels, he had heard that the indigenous people of a country, now an Alexandrian colony, across the channel had brewed it from wildflowers that grew exclusively in that region, but had never sought it out himself.

              "What fool would not take such a miraculous potion for himself?"

              The man shook his head. He had not believed in such a thing. Greed had not swayed him.

              The Queen ordered Reaves to travel to this country and acquire the remedy. Helena's assistant Beatrix, in her own stead, was to assist the others in her personal council in escorting him. and they should all return within three days to cure the kingdom.

              So it was decreed. So it was done.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the Queen.

 

              The party set sail from King's Harbour that same day, and made landfall on colonial soil when the moon had stolen peak position in the sky. They were saved the need to camp by the Port Guard, who offered refuge to Her Majesty's envoys in the coastal fortification barracks. When asked, the acting commander said that he had also heard of such a medicine, and there was a village several miles east of the coast that specialised in potions and natural remedies. There would be the most likely place to find what they were looking for, he advised, but be sure to check back in before setting sail again.

              The next day, the group set out to the village.

              Reaves led the way through forest-land with the Captain at his side, who slashed down any overgrowth that obscured their path with his sword, the others following a short distance behind. Although the sun was mostly obscured through the branches, it was humid. Reaves felt for his brother, sweating under his armour, but could do little more than offer an occasional word of encouragement.

              The villagers were not pleased by the visit from servants of their foreign ruler. Most retreated to their homes and gave wide berth to the party, and those who would speak said very little, but eventually the party got the information they needed. They made their way to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of the village.

              Beside the farmhouse was a barn that no longer housed livestock or harvest, but rather rows of tables lined with men and women on either side, mixing herbs and solutions, crushing buds, petals and nuts and portioning out ingredients. When the Village Elder came to greet them, he explained that the village traded medicinal products with neighbouring towns and villages in exchange for food and raw materials. They also contributed their Alexandrian taxes in the same fashion, which were dispatched to the travelling army's mobile infirmary tents.

              The Elder invited the party into the house, and was easily impressed by the riches the Royal Advisor laid before him, gold coins spilling out of a small pouch onto the desk before him. Real gold meant the village could trade with more of the community. The Elder swept the gold into a drawer and retrieved a small wooden box, extracting the medicine from within. With it in hand, the man seemed to remember himself.

              "Why should I hand this over to our oppressors so willingly?" he said, "You are but four men and a lone woman."

              Predicting the outburst from behind him, Reaves stood and held a hand out to them to motion silence.

              "I once had the honour of aiding the late King in the Unification of the Alexandrian Isles," he said. "I was assisted by a total of five men when I infiltrated enemy territory for His Majesty. If I could hold my ground for His Majesty against a country, I can surely do it against an old man and his village."

              There was silence.

              "Not all things can be attained through wealth or violence, let it be said" said the Elder, nervously passing the vial between his hands. Finally, he held it out to Reaves. He  gave instructions in how to administer it which Reaves made no point of recording, simply nodding in understanding as he listened. He thanked the Elder, and followed the party out of the farmhouse. The Elder caught him by the shoulder before he could leave, and spoke under his breath.

              "The soldiers at the port are no friends of yours or mine. I daren't say that you and I are either, but heed me well. Your riches will be lost and strength left behind. Your aid will be of questionable nature, and you should heed no wisdom save your own."

              Reaves looked at the others through the door, waiting in the sunlight.

              "You do not think them trustworthy," Reaves said.

              The Elder shook his head, "It's not about who is not trustworthy, but who can be trusted. If that remedy is to save a whole country, let alone a single life, then you must deliver it personally. Heed my warning, and proceed with caution. Your country may yet be saved."

              As they retraced their steps back toward the coast Reaves examined the vial, turning it over in his hands. There were several seeds inside and a single, saturated leaf suspended near the bottom of the amber fluid. Despite the aged cork that sealed it, a foul odour emitted from it: a putrid stench of rotting and hot, over-ripe fruit.

              It smelt of death.

              They returned to the Port Guard the same day, with the sun still hanging high in the sky. The commander looked surprised to see the party return so soon with their quarry in hand, and more so that they wanted to set sail immediately. Despite his protests that departure at dawn would be ever the more wise, he was usurped and surrendered to their will.

              "Please wait here whilst I make preparations for you, then. You'll be at sea within the hour."

              He rushed off, barking orders at his men.

              It did occur to Reaves that such preparations should not take nearly so long, particularly with the ship's crew already waiting aboard. Why would the Port Commander want to stall them so? This question was shirked by his travelling comrades. They were used to the delay in mobilisation.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the Queen.

               They waited out their hour on the costal fortification's battlements. The Captain stripped himself of his sword and armour, setting about their maintenance. The Advisor updated the ship's log, overseen by the Treasurer. Beatrix sat upon a merlon and smoked her pipe, gazing off over the sea. Reaves sat on the next merlon over from Beatrix, his back to the sea, and surveyed the battlement. The soldiers stationed were trying their best to appear focused on the coastline, but kept stealing glances at the party and passing messages in hushed voices. Whenever one met his gaze, they would smile awkwardly and look away.

              Something felt amiss.

              Would you not think so too? This mythical remedy was too easily found and bought. Not much of a quest, was it?

              Pay attention though, as their journey is not over.

              The hour passed and the party set sail for Alexandria; everything had gone according to plan. The Queen would recover, and the country would be spared the loss of another monarch, though ironically not much would change. The loss of Bartholomew and the tyranny of Ariana would still weigh down on the people. Reaves had to ask himself what the vial he held would actually cure, and thought back to the Village Elder's warning.

              He lamented the lack of an answer to his quandary.

              Long live the Queen.

              His thoughts were swept from his mind by the sound of distant explosions, firing off in quick succession. Before he could register what was happening, the ship rocked violently sending all on board sprawling across the deck. A crewman fell screaming from the crow's nest, silenced on impact.

              "Cannon-fire!"

              "Cannon-fire from the Port Guard!"

              "Your orders, Captain!"

              "Casualties on deck!"

              Didn't I tell you that it wasn't over yet?

              The Commander had committed treason by firing upon a royal naval vessel, and it became clear why the Commander had insisted on delaying their departure. He, and likely not he alone, did not want to save the Queen. It was also likely that he had not expected them to have returned from the village he sent them to at all, the villagers also no patriots of Alexandria. Sinking the ship at sea, however, would be a lot easier to explain than the sudden disappearance of the Queen's innermost circle on a critical mission, their ship left safely docked at port.

              Their only choice was to flee. The ship had already taken a hit on the portside bow, and the cannon-fire showed no sign of stopping.

              "Continue on! We must return to Her Majesty! Long live the Queen!"

              "Long live the Queen!"

              The ship rocked hard again. Splintered boards erupted from the deck above where a cannonball impacted high on the ship's hull. The coastal fortification was slowly sinking into the horizon, the wind mercifully carrying them away at speed, but the cannon-fire continued, blasting jets of sea water up around the ship.

              Another shot found it's mark.

              "Critical damage!"

              "We're taking on water!"

              At the speed they were sailing, they would likely be sunk halfway across the channel: their mission a failure. Reaves went below deck to survey the damage. The hole blasted through the hull was an ugly crater, but it was high enough to only allow waves to slosh water inside.

              "Get buckets! Get the water out! We can still make it!"

              Above deck the boom and whistle of cannonballs continued, but they were falling short and into the sea behind them.

              The ship was finally out of range of the coastline.

              The party stayed on deck together, watching the horizon ahead of them while crewmen frantically emptied water out of the ship. No one said a word to each other as their slowly-sinking ship brought them closer to home. No one wanted to ask aloud if they would make it back in time. No one asked why anyone would want to hinder their mission to save the Queen, and not one person on deck could look Reaves in the eye.

              Two hours passed before the creaking below them became too loud to ignore. Then came the sound of splintering wood and a crash. The crewmen below came pouring out onto the deck, shouting and screaming. The damage had spread, and there was too much water.

              "I see the coastline."

              Beatrix had remained calm, and never averted her gaze from the sea. She pointed ahead of them. In the last of the day's sun the castle's silhouette could be seen in the distance, but north east of their heading. The ship was already struggling to maintain a course.

              More boards cracked below, and the deck took on water as the ship started to sink. The Captain stripped off his armour again, looking smaller and uncomfortable without it but unable to swim otherwise. The Treasurer and Advisor did their best to secure their hide-sack to protect the ship's log from the water. Beatrix clung to the mast and silently cried as she watched crewmen threw themselves overboard left and right. Reaves put a hand into his vest and grasped the vial pocketed within. It was all he had to protect.

              The ship went down.

 

              The Treasurer did not wash ashore with the others.

              Reaves, Beatrix, the Captain and the Advisor both managed to come ashore on the south coast of Alexandria. They had been the last to abandon ship, and there was no sign of any of the crew. Without a means of transport, they were looking at a day's walk to the castle.

              Night had set its veil of darkness over the land, so the party had to stop. They travelled a short distance to the outskirts of a forest of tall pinewoods, and made what poor camp they could: with a small fire and their sodden clothes hung out over it on a low-hanging branch.

              They would take watch in turn while the others rested.

              The Advisor took the first watch. He had managed to save the log from all but a little damp, and flicked through its pages. He did not add any more to it, for in his haste he had not saved his writing equipment. He woke Reaves after only an hour to replace him, and set his head upon the book like a pillow in the dirt.

              It was on Reaves' watch, in the dead of night, that true feelings came to the surface.

              Reaves stood, so not to fall asleep, leant against a tree close to the fire when Beatrix whispered to him from her place on the ground that she wanted to talk - away from the others. The two of them left the fire and walked a way into the dark forest. Reaves turned to face Beatrix and asked what ailed her.

              "Will that medicine really save this kingdom?"

              Reaves made no reply.

              "This country was suffering before the Queen was stricken with this illness. This is no repetition of events with the King. No one will mourn her."

              Reaves slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out the vial. It felt very, very cold to the touch. He asked, "What are you saying?"

              "I'm saying that no such cure should be brought back to the castle. Better the Queen perish than our people's hope for a better tomorrow."

              "I hope you understand that what you are suggesting is both high treason and abandonment of your Oath."

              "But what about the people? The country? What's fair?"

              "Queen and Crown come first," said a third voice from behind Beatrix, a sword now raised to her back, "how can you have forgotten that, Beatrix?"

              "Captain Reaves, you and I both served under the King. It is you who have forgotten what is most important. What would His Majesty say?"

              The Captain stepped forward and brought his sword to her throat.

              "How dare you suggest the King would have tolerated such treachery?"

              Reaves raised a hand. "Enough."

              "Brother, we have our duty. We almost perished at the hands of those treasonous..."

              "Stay this execution, or host it elsewhere. I will have no part of it."

              "But Brother..."

              Reaves raised the vial above his head, the moonlight catching the glass. "This is what matters here. I have it, and will see it to the castle. Let me not bear witness to any trial about it."

              There was silence.

              Then the Captain and his prisoner returned to their camp. Reaves watched their dark forms merge with the darkness before he set off in the opposite direction: toward the castle, through the perils of the night. There had been an understanding in the forest. Reaves knew his brother, and he knew he would restrain Beatrix and keep to the objective. The Captain also understood his brother, and knew that when he did not return to camp that he had gone to the castle alone to deliver to the Queen her remedy.

              I still wonder if either of the brothers foresaw the closing act. Perhaps their actions and acknowledgements of each other reflected their intent.

 

              Reaves reached the castle not long after dawn, and dropped to his knee before the Queen.

              "Edmund Reaves returns to you, my liege, to save his country."

              The Queen, unmoved from her throne and breathing heavily, did not inquire as to the whereabouts of her other subjects, only the medicine. Reaves held out the vial, and Helena, ever by Her Majesty's side in her ill health, stepped forward to retrieve it.

              "Give it to me. Nurse, give me that vial."

              "Your Majesty, there is something you may want to know," Reaves said, rising to his feet, "Perhaps before you try to administer your own medicine."

              "Silence! You have served your purpose, knave."

              The Queen pulled the cork from the vial with a dull pop and guzzled the contents - putrid liquid, seeds and leaf.

              "Then allow me a question. What makes a country? Is it a nation of people unified under a monarch, or a monarch ruling over a nation of people?"

              "Fool. There is no country without it's glorious sovereign," the Queen laughed. Laughed and laughed.

              Until she choked.

              She leaned forward, collapsing from her throne. Her pale face turned red, then purple.  Helena was suddenly nowhere to be seen, but Reaves had an idea that she would be somewhere close - watching.

              "You're wrong, Ariana. A country is a unified people that you, as Queen, have a sworn duty to represent and protect. Just like you were wrong to greedily consume the remedy that life was sacrificed to bring you. It was meant to be warmed and administered to your veins, so it may be carried to your heart. But your heart is out of reach to the cure you so desperately wanted, just as it is out of reach to the people of Alexandria.

              "This is Alexandria's remedy."

              Queen Ariana til Alexandria died, choking on the remedy for her country's sickness, on the floor of an empty throne room.

             

              Reaves had not stayed to watch the Queen die and departed the city for good, sickened by his own treasonous actions against Bartholomew's wife. He was remembered and celebrated, through stories from the Captain, Helena, and now I, Beatrix, as the hero who cured a nation's sickness. A man knighted in the tales of his actions, who guided the kingdom into a new age.

              Ariana I was succeeded by her and Bartholomew's son, Edmund til Alexandria. Although he was very young in his ascension to the throne, he inherited his father's heart and the name of a hero. With these, he will bring light back to Alexandria, and an end to the grief that engulfed the nation.

              So remember, Edmund, that not all heroes think themselves so, or wish to be so. I'm sure you would make your father very proud. I know Sir Reaves had full faith in you, which is why he never returned. Never before or since have I met such a man as he, and I still do not question his judgement. The honour is yours to bear his name.

              All hail Alexandria. Long live the King.                             

 

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