The story of Xiden begins about twenty years before Earia discovers Fillip in Niss. It begins, as all stories do, in a cradle. The cradle was located in the country of Rema, which was under the rule of the questionable King Dellborad. Xiden’s father, Cleven, was Dellborad’s cousin and a minister so low he was required in the nation’s capital of Orbin no more than once a month. The rest of the time he was able to spend on his land with his family, servants and a hefty guard. His wife was about ten years younger than he, but the two were happy and compatible, which was necessary when it came to raising their reckless son.
Crowned with rare, golden hair, the son of Cleven was spirited from birth. At the age of two, he was able to drag three maids, his mother and the occasional guard around by their ears and his endless thirst for adventure could not be contained in the guise of a well behaved child, even in the presence of royalty.
By age thirteen he had exhausted his parents’ substantial library and every lesson they could teach out of their own knowledge. So, in hopes to keep him entertained and growing, Cleven handed his training over to his personal guard. The guard only lasted two weeks. By the end of it, the small, wiry lad could grapple any one of them to a stalemate and outshoot half of them with a bow. But Xiden had no desire to be a soldier, and he was far too young in any event to serve.
In the court of Dellborad, he learned even more refined speech and diplomacy. Twenty years after his birth, however, his temper snapped when he realized the fullness of Dellborad’s tyranny. He lashed out in his anger and was promptly sentenced to slavery aboard Rema’s battleships.
Xiden suspected his father had met the same fate, along with many other nobles in the palace who had turned up missing. Dellborad made slavery a very permanent thing in the empire. Never had a king enriched himself so much at the cost of his own countrymen.
The reason for this outbreak of murderous rage in the young courtier occurred at dinner one night when Xiden could no longer bear with Dellborad’s treatment of his youngest son. Adrian was one of Xiden’s closest friends and Xiden felt a certain responsibility to the youngster after the boy’s older brother, Emmet, had been exiled. Adrian had made a single errant remark about Emmet, but it was a forbidden subject when talking to the king. Everyone knew Emmet had shamed his father and then was exiled in a most unceremonious way, running like a common criminal. And, like so many other problems the country faced, the subject was put firmly out of mind by the king.
Adrian had said, “I wish Emmet could hear this-” but his words were shortened there, by a loud thwack. Dellborad had brought his cane down upon the table, spilling more than one glass of wine. He roared with lethal rage, cursing his children, and used the same black cane to strike his son. Adrian crumpled under the blow, and as a red welt appeared on his neck, Xiden snapped internally. Before he could think, he had cleared the half distance of the table he sat from the king and was about to use his dinner knife as a weapon. But the id, Bina was faster.
The ids were a race resembling men and eagles mixed together, but they were presumed an older species than men themselves, and were one of the few intelligent beings native to Beneya. These ancient, magnificent creatures were the personal guard of Dellborad and rumored to be unhappy with the role. However, ids were unfailingly loyal and faithful to the law which bound them to the tyrant king.
Bina, ever faithful to the law, used his clawed feet to cut Xiden’s assault short and throw him against the wall of the narrow dining hall. Xiden didn’t cry out in pain; he just crumpled, dazed. His eyes still shot daggers at the shouting king who threatened him with every breath until he was drug out of the room, battered and bleeding, by two guardsmen. Adrian was led out as well by his personal guard, another id named Kole.
Xiden paced his room. His best friend, a soldier by the name of Siward, was confounded at how a man of only twenty years could be so creative in his words. “If thou wants to breath the free air again,” said the distressed soldier, “cease this breathing fire and leave quickly before the guards come for thee.”
Xiden’s room was in the lower reaches of the castle, near the prison guards’ quarters and was part of the castle wall. It was furnished with two chairs, a bunk set in the wall just below the window with drawers underneath it and a curtain enclosing it. Thick blue curtains hung in front of the door, allowing anyone entering to be concealed and giving Xiden extra time in the event of a necessary escape. Being of a somewhat criminal mind, Xiden had no difficulty formulating a scenario where it would be effective and worthy of his effort.
There was no fire in the hearth at the foot of the bed this time of year. Xiden’s clothing was scattered about haphazardly and uniformly bland. The most recent article of discarded clothing was a bright blue shirt which had once been the finest thing in his meager wardrobe. It lay across the foot of his bed, bloodstained and tattered.
It was plain upon inspection of the cuts on Xiden’s torso, the id had caused them with great precision, disabling Xiden but not causing permanent damage. Siward had bandaged them skillfully all the while begging Xiden to leave.
“If I flee, I shall refuse the king the right to his son’s company,” Xiden insisted.
“No,” Adrian replied from his seat on the bed. “If thou leaves by thyself, father shall not give thee a second thought. But if I go, he shall have our hides, both.”
“I think he hath very much already had thine,” Xiden roared indicating to the swollen welt on Adrian’s neck.
“It t’was my misstep,” Adrian protested. “I should have guarded my tongue more closely. But he shan’t hurt me again; I’ll stay out of his way.”
Xiden was at a loss. His nobility and common sense were at war and nobility was winning. “I cannot leave thee here knowing he hath no reserve on cruelty.”
“If he is willing to strike his son in the presence of his noblemen, then there is no speed at which I can travel he will not outstrip. He wants me, and he needs his last heir, my life is safe,” Adrian reasoned.
“Come, Xiden,” Siward urged. “I shall accompany you.”
“Don’t be a fool.”
“I do not like what happened this night more than you.” Siward lectured. “I refuse to remain and serve such a beast.”
They heard the uniform steps of soldiers in the hallway and common sense won the battle inside Xiden. He flew over Adrian and opened his window above the bed. The soldiers pounded at the door. He found his finger and foot holds and swung out. Even in the dark, he would not fall to his death from three stories up. The soldiers kicked the solid oak door. Adrian shut the window and leapt from the bed. He stood by Siward’s side as the soldiers broke in and fought momentarily with the curtain. Xiden’s much needed seconds were slipping away.
Bina only needed to look around the room to notice Xiden was not in it. His lined face was weary and strained with rage. “Leave us,” he said to the other soldiers. “Find the youth and ensnare him, do not hurt him.” As the soldiers left Siward and Adrian felt a sinking feeling as the golden eyes of the id penetrated their innocent masks. Bina’s gold and gray wings shuddered as he walked over to a low table where Xiden’s writings were kept in a seemingly slapdash array to the untrained eye. To Xiden, they were undoubtedly perfectly organized. “He hath not hurt thee, Adrian?” Bina asked.
“I shall survive,” Adrian replied. “As will Xiden, to your credit.”
“I know thou favors him, as does Siward. So I will grant thee this. Leave now and thou shalt never know the fate of Xiden.”
Adrian accepted this and walked out the door sullenly, knowing it was his only chance of peace in his father’s house. Siward had not been granted such leave, and the pale skinned, dark haired Reman felt himself trapped in the presence of the greatest fighter he’d ever known.
Siward was not a massive man, but he was large enough no one challenged him. His eyes were steel gray, and equally as hard as his muscular build. His long fingers clenched at his sides and the veins in his arms stood out. For the first time in his life, he felt himself physically outmatched in a situation and one in which he had no aptitude to escape.
Siward was one of the garish guardsmen in the palace. Trained to fight and dressed to please the king. Medallions hung on his pale blue shirt and lined his leather belt and boots. His sword was thin and crafted mainly for show though it was delightfully sharp. His helmet sat on the desk atop all Xiden’s papers. His vest was black and stitched with silver thread.
Bina took in all this about the man with leisure. Siward knew this was meant to qualm him, and manfully took it in stride. At long last Bina spoke. “Thou should have held thy friend here, Siward.” The beautiful, savage id made it his business to know the names of all the palace guards. “We could have had him by now.”
“I would never turn him over to Dellborad,” Siward said vehemently. “Not after what this man, called king, has done tonight.”
“Man?” Bina snorted gently and began fingering the blue curtain obscuring the entrance. “Think you, he a man?”
“Thou art bold to say so.”
Siward clenched his teeth.
“I couldn’t agree with you more, but I am sworn to service.”
Siward was somewhat taken aback, but his practical mind was not lost for words on the matter. He felt himself gaining a foothold of hope in the situation. “Is thy service so dear to thee, you would let him do whatever he wills at the cost of honorable and wholesome actions?”
“Not in the least, but I do more good in the pretense of being his faithful servant, than I could ever do as an enemy.”
“My service is not so tasteful to me.”
“Good, good.” Bina ducked around the curtain and then said from behind the blue tapestry. “Sleep with an eye lid ajar tonight, I may have use for thee.”
True to his word, Bina caught Xiden and brought him deep into the heart of the prison. He was placed in a cell block all his own and shackled to the wall. At first the young man was so angry he pounded the walls of his cell with the iron cuffs and shouted his rage to the living rock. However the guard outside the door didn’t like the noise and came with a bludgeon to silence the racket. Xiden knew the power of a club to one’s head and instantly sealed his words inside his mind. He found a more useful purpose for his hands as well. His shortened supper earlier in the evening had caused his stomach to protest his irritation and continuous movement, so he sat down on the wooden bed and ate the hearty soup. Though he didn’t like the prison gruel very well, he found it better than listening to his stomach rumble.
As a nightly chill sank into the deep prison, he wished he’d put a shirt on before he left. But the claw wounds were hot as a branding iron and he was almost glad of the cool air at times to ease the fiery pain. Late into the night he was able to go to sleep, able because he knew a lack of sleep would only dull his senses and make him a less formidable ally to his own cause, which was escaping this hole in the ground.
Sharp witted as he was, Xiden was confounded by the sight which greeted him the next morning. Or rather what he assumed was morning, as the dungeon was too far underground to emit light from the outer world. It was the sight of a smiling Siward leaning over him dressed in the plain clothes of a commoner. He felt the chains under his wrists but they had been unlocked. The soldier dropped a brown shirt onto his chest and stepped back.
“Get dressed, Xiden; we shall escape when night falls.”
“You are quite mad!” Xiden cried softly as he slipped into the shirt. “We have not a chance of escape, night or day.”
“I hath made a friend, just wait.”
The scene began to make sense as Xiden cleared the sleep from his head. Siward had knocked out the guard and the two were going to escape. Siward’s friend must be another soldier. “When do we escape?”
“Just after my confederate hath spread the rumor we’ve gone.”
Xiden looked up from his buttons and gripped Siward by the shoulder. “Get a handle on your brains man! What good will it do us to leave after…” Xiden’s eyes brightened. “Ah, I see the left and right of the matter.” He then started laughing. “After the rumor it is, my worthy accomplice. And with zeal. We’ll lead them… or rather follow them, on a grand pursuit.”
Siward smiled back at his friend and the two sat together in waiting for the alarm. Xiden didn’t know what he was waiting for, but he was keen enough to know he would recognize it when he heard it. The hour came when the gates of the city palace closed. There were a total of six gates in all, and the pivots which locked them sunk deep into the ground to protect them from tampering or mischief. One such pivot set right in the middle of the cell block where Xiden was stationed.
The cells were arranged in groups of twenty, arrayed in a square, five to each side with one cell width for a stairwell to descend into the room. The other side had the same portal declining into the next chamber.
Xiden marveled at the gate lock as it turned in its casing. He knew what the signal was, when, twenty minutes later, it started turning again and much quicker than could be accounted for on a normal basis. “Is this our indicator?” Xiden smiled.
“As if you had not presumed this already,” Siward muttered.
The two slipped out of their cell block, but much to Xiden’s surprise, they didn’t go up. Rather they took the lower stairwell and descended into the lowest reaches of the dungeon. As they passed darkened room after darkened room, they heard whispers of “good luck” and “teach him how to treat his men” from the blackness around them. Xiden would have admitted this was quite frightening, but Siward was moving too fast to allow much speaking. More than once Siward swerved from his path by a few feet and crashed into the wall beside his goal, which was another stairwell dropping into unknown parts of the castle. Soon, Siward reached his objective and bumped into a set of iron bars. He opened the cell door and the two were once again in one of the small lockups. The soldier took a candle out of his coat pocket and struck a flint to it. The candle illuminated what appeared to be a dull, ordinary prison. Siward pulled the bunk away from the wall and revealed a slab of rock paler than the rest. Just below them opened a yawning pit barely lit by the small taper.
Siward backed into the obscurity and found the rungs of a short ladder with his toes. When the two were in the dirt room below, they held the candle to a torch and gained better light. Scattered around the room were shovels, picks, wooden barrows and all the measuring instruments needed to calculate how the tunnel was dug.
Xiden marveled as he inspected the shadowy alcove. Several tunnels branched off this main room. None were so wide they needed more than the woodwork which held them along the tunnel walls, to support the earthen roof. Xiden saw a light at the end of one of the channels and concluded it was a man holding a torch. Expectedly, Siward turned toward the man and the two made haste down the shaft.
As they got closer, Xiden recognized Bina’s head guardsman. He was an id, barely fifty years old, (which is quite young to ids) with a torch in one hand and packs in the other. Xiden recoiled and challenged Kole. “What are you doing here? Bina will have your hide if Dellborad doesn’t have you tortured first. Or did you come here to lead us into a trap?”
Kole looked passively at the angry young man and extended his arm laden with packs, out to the pair. “Don’t tell anyone of what you hath seen, Siward. Even in Arvad, Dellborad has his spies.”
Siward looked down at Xiden and explained. “The ids are as jaded with Dellborad as we are.”
Xiden didn’t need to be told any more. He took the pack thankfully and clasped Kole’s forearm with gratitude. Kole returned the grasp and looked him squarely in the eyes. The golden haired Reman found it hard to look back into the yellow eyes. “For the sake of thy countrymen, betray thy king.”
It was a strange thing for an id to say and Kole seemed ashamed of the words. But he didn’t take them back. Xiden took these words to heart more than he would have if it had been from another man. But if he knew anything about ids, it was that they were exceedingly loyal and noble in nature.