War had devastated the lands and, like a blast of fire, had left devastation in its wake. Entire families had been wiped out. Food was running out, for there was no one left to till the fields. Times were rough and life had not been kind to anyone in a long time.
Xavier and Xenia were standing outside the massive castle gates.
By the flickering torchlight, they could only just make out the drawbridge being lowered on rattling chains.
With a low thud it struck the ground in front of them, enveloping the siblings in a cloud of dust. More clanging, then silence.
The silhouette of a tall man approached them from inside the castle walls. One hand lifted by way of greeting, the other hand bearing a torch, he welcomed the siblings: “Do come in, Xavier, the Prince is expecting you and your sister."
Without any further ado, he turned around and lead them across the courtyard.
Xavier was freezing. They had gone to war for the Prince. Two years of destitution, fear and despair. For two long years people they had gotten to know, that had become their friends, had been dying next to them. Dying, without having known anything but a life of squalor and want, a slave's existence. What could the Prince want from them?
The Prince received them inside a brightly lit hall that formed a harsh contrast to the dark corridors and alleyways they had crossed on their way through the castle.
Xavier jerked to a sudden halt, when the Prince extended his arms, saying: "He may hand over his sword."
He noticed Xavier hesitating and added: "I know how faithfully he has served me. But he will not be needing it any more."
Xavier unbuckled his sword and handed it to the Prince, who passed it on to one of his servants.
"Now listen. Great challenges are awaiting him, challenges he may be better off facing without a sword. This war helped us regain the land of or fathers. He himself fought admirably and bestowed much honour on himself and his regiment.
But now the time has come to fill this barren earth with life again, the time has come to repopulate this land.
This document will allow him to found a settlement and to start trading. But remember: You will not be able to make it all on your own.
Make sure to find yourself some trustee followers and never reject a neighbour. Takes this bag of money and the horse you will receive at the gate. Make your way out West, to our land, but remember, nevermore shall you draw a sword."
Xavier and Xenia had sunk into a deep bow and on looking up, realized they were left alone with the Prince's servant. Had not the Prince been standing right in front of them, only seconds ago? Had all of this been nothing but an illusion?
Xavier's sword was gone, instead he was carrying a role of parchment and a bag filled with jingling coins.
When Xavier and Xenia passed the castle gates, they were provided with a horse and food for four days. The gates closed with a muffled sound and with a loud rattle the bridge was drawn up once more.
To the West, Xavier thought. Let's ride to the land of our fathers ...