I know what you’re thinking. Prologue? You just posted chapter 1… shouldn’t it be going to chapter 2? Well yes, it should be, but for some odd reason I worked a little bit backwards – so bear with me.

The Prologue

Another day, another chance, Carl thought to himself as he rolled out of his lofty straw bed.  His wife still lay sleeping peacefully as he dressed himself in the same peasant rags he wore every day.  Probably thinking of better times. The morning air was still chilly as he stepped outside, bare feet clapping down on the cold, hard earth.  The sun was just starting to peek its head over the horizon as the roosters heralded the arrival of a new day.  In the far distance, he could see the gray of Castle Alburich’s massive walls and some of the roofs from the buildings popping up from inside the castle’s protection.  Alburich City was known as the heart and soul of the Kingdom of Rygard, which attracted many traders to its streets and neighboring villages.

Many years ago, the human race had once lived united under one banner; that of Reignhart Family.  For the human race, it was a time of peace and prosperity.  Cities flourished, and small hamlets grew into nicely sized villages.  However, all that has a beginning must eventually have an end.  Manfred Reignhart’s rule as Emperor had been cut short by an assassin.  Though Manfred had an heir to the throne, he was not of age to control its power properly.  At the young age of sixteen, not long after taking the crown, young Emil Reignhart’s convoy was attacked on its way to visit Castle Alburich, home of Lord Rygard.

No bodies, however, had ever been found.  This attack sparked chaos across the Empire, and the once united nation went to war.  Three leaders rose from the war torn lands, each claiming themselves kings, which, in turn, split the empire into three kingdoms.  After a time, the war reached a stalemate, and a truce was made.  The Kingdom of Rygard rose up to be the most powerful of the human kingdoms.

Carl had lived in Alburich City once, many years ago, when he was a small boy.  His family had lived in poverty, like most of the population.  He didn’t get much of an education; as a guard for the city watch, his father simply couldn’t afford to send him to the city’s academy.  Carl was big for his age, and grew up to be an even bigger man.  Though he might’ve looked intimidating on the outside, he was a gentle, caring person on the inside.  He had a square, plump looking face, with baby blue eyes.  His hair was cropped and brown.  Though Carl might’ve had a boyish looking face, he could be tough when he wanted to.

When Carl was in his late teens and through his early twenties, he worked at a local tavern close to where he lived as a Bruiser.  He would stop people before they could fight within the tavern, or break the fights up.  Sometimes he’d have to throw people out on the cold wet cobblestone outside of the tavern if they wouldn’t take the hint the first time.

While working at the tavern, Carl fell in love with one of the waitresses, Alina, and after many months of dating, they decided to become husband and wife.  Soon after that, they had a baby girl.  At this time, King Nickolas Rygard had issued a royal decree, stating that Alburich City needed many more farmers to support their growing population, and that the kingdom would grant enough material for those interested to start their own farmstead in one of the many hamlets close to Alburich.  Carl and Alina jumped at this chance to start a new life.  They didn’t want to try to raise a baby girl in the crowded, dirty streets of Alburich.  They soon applied for a property a few miles away from the city, and before they knew it, they had begun their new life.

The first few years working as a farmer had worked out nicely.  Every year they grew a crop of corn and tended to a couple dozen chickens.  They’d collect the eggs from the chickens, harvest the corn from their fields, and make their way to the city to sell what they had, keeping some for themselves.  With the money they had gained, they’d buy supplies that would keep them warm and alive for the upcoming winter, and then they’d go back to their farmstead and would get ready for what they always prepared to be a long, hard winter.  They weren’t rich, by any means, but they had each other.  They were a good family.  A happy family. Carl smiled to himself.

Things were different now.  They were still a close-knit family, but something troubled Carl.  It was the crops, and the chickens.  The chickens were still alive and well, but they weren’t laying as many eggs this year.  The corn was growing, but it wasn’t as healthy looking as it should be.  Today was harvesting day, and that made him a bit nervous.  He knew he wouldn’t make much money this year, not from the way his crop was looking now.  Sighing, Carl lumbered over to his beloved work shed for the baskets he used every year to collect the corn.

“Hi Da’e!” a little girl shrieked as he opened up the shed door.  Carl feigned surprised.  His daughter always did this it seemed.  After spooking Carl successfully once before, his daughter, Juliane, had been trying very hard to startle him again.

“Hey sweet-pea!” he laughed, picking up his little girl and whirling her around in the air.  “Are you going to help your Da’ work in the field today?” he asked.  Juliane giggled in reply.  Smiling, he set her down.  “Be a good girl and go ask your mother if she’s got breakfast ready, hmm?”

“Yes Da’,” she said, skipping off towards the house.  She’s getting bigger. Carl laughed to himself, shaking his head.  She was already six years old.  Where did the time go? He worried about her so much.  He was frightful for her every day of her life.  The world was a dark, dangerous place.  Carl wished so much that he could just let her stay young in innocent, to let her always run between the corn fields and harass the chickens.  He wanted to always know that she’d be snug in her bed, waiting for her father to give her a kiss goodnight.  To know that she’ll be there in the morning.

“Mornin’ Carl,” said a familiar voice.  Carl looked up and saw his friend walking to him.  He crossed his arms and leaned back against his shed.

“Mornin’ Dirk,” he said back, waving him over.  Dirk was a skinny, short man.  He owned a farmstead next to theirs.  It made Carl a bit jealous that Dirk’s crops were doing so much better than his were.  He knew he shouldn’t be jealous, and that he should be happy for his friend, but he couldn’t help his instincts.  He wanted what was best for his family.  He wanted to provide the best, and somehow, looking at his shoddy crop, he didn’t think he was doing his job.

“You’ll have a better harvest next year, Carl,“ Dirk said, obviously seeing the disapproving look Carl was giving his corn.  “We all have had our bad harvests.”

“It doesn’t make any sense Dirk.  I’ve been doing the same thing I’ve always done.  It’s the same field, the same seed, I just don’t understand.  I’m worried I won’t make enough money this year to last the winter,” Carl said, taking his basket and walking towards the field, Dirk following close behind.  Dirk didn’t have a reply for Carl instead, he simply fiddled with a loose string on his rags.

“Listen,” Dirk started, “If you want, I can get me and my boys over here after breakfast and help you with your harvest.  We’ve already done it back at our place awhile back.  It won’t be any trouble, just let me go get my kids and I’ll get right back.  What do you say?”

Carl stood silent for a moment.  Yes, because I need help with this plentiful bounty I have before me… He stopped.  Dirk was his friend.  He had taught him a few cultivating tricks.  Dirk had even lent him some food during harsh times, and shared laughs during better.

“I’d really appreciate that, Dirk, thanks,” he said, patting his friend on the back.  Dirk nodded, turning back to where his own farmstead was.  The smell of eggs assailed his nostrils.  Breakfast.

“Da’, breakfast is ready!” he heard his little one shout from across the farm.

“Don’t eat it all before I get there, sweet-pea!” he laughed back.  He paused.  Where did we get eggs? He walked into his house to see his wife Alina setting down wooden plates and utensils down on their crude kitchen table.  The smell of eggs and firewood filled their tiny house.  He lumbered over to Alina, wrapping his arms around her, kissing her cheek.  They didn’t collect too many eggs from their coop yet, he was worried she might’ve used some of theirs to make breakfast.  “Where’d we get the eggs, love?” he asked, trying to sound unworried.  Alina turned to look at him and laughed playfully.

“Don’t you worry hun, Dirk’s wife brought them over this morning while you were out in the yard.  I wouldn’t use our eggs when we’re already so limited,” Alina said, putting some of the eggs on his plate.  Carl smiled.  Feeling relieved, he sat down, kissing his daughter on the forehead.

“I’m sorry for being so paranoid, love,” Carl said, giving his wife an apologetic smile.  He picked up the rough wooden fork, stabbed at the eggs, and stuffed some into his mouth.  “These are good, Alina.”

“Thank you, dear.  After breakfast, are you going to go out there and begin the harvest?”

“Yes.  Dirk and his boys are coming over later to help out, too.”

“Does that mean Eldrick is coming over?” Juliane asked, excitement showing in her eyes.  Carl nodded.  The smile on Juliane’s face grew bigger.  “I’m going to freshen up!” she laughed, getting up from the table.

“You’re going to have to work a bit first, little kernel, before you go running off!” Carl shouted after her.  He turned from watching Juliane and saw Alina with a serious expression on her face.  Carl frowned.  “What’s the matter?”

“Do you think we’ll make enough to last the winter?” she asked, worry spreading across her once calm face.  Carl put on a brave face.

“I think so, hun.  If we don’t make enough, and it is really dire, maybe we can ask Dirk’s family for some help, or move in with my folks.”

Alina shook her head.  “Your folks barely have enough room for themselves, let alone us, and I really don’t want to go back to that city, it is worse during the winter time.  Dirk did have enough harvest this year, maybe-“

“I think you are worrying too much, love.  We’ll be fine.  It’s not like we won’t make any money.  We’ll have something.  We’ll just use our friends for the support we need.  It’s not like they need to devote one hundred percent of their supplies to us,” Carl said, trailing off.

“Just eighty,” Alina added, frowning.  Carl got up out of his chair, walked over to her, and massaged her shoulders.

“It’ll be okay, hun, you’ll see,” he whispered to her.

“How do I look?” Juliane giggled, skipping into the room.  She always had a way with breaking tense moments.  Her hair was neatly combed and she put a small white flower between her ear.  She twirled around the room, arms outstretched, letting her small raggedy dress whip the air.  After a few twirls, she giggled, looking very dizzy.  She held onto her father’s knee to try and balance herself.

“You look lovely, sweetie,” Carl gasped.  He knew she had a small childish crush on Dirk’s youngest son, Eldrick.  They were the best of friends in the small hamlet.  He wondered if it would ever become anything more.  Carl brushed the thought aside; it would be a long time until he had to worry about such things.

“Hey Carl,” Dirk yelled from outside, “the crops aren’t going to harvest themselves!”

Carl sighed gave his wife a kiss on the cheek, and made his way outside.  Juliane rushed passed him and tackled Eldrick to the ground, giggling.  “Fight nice you two,“ Carl said, walking over to the corn field.  He picked up his trusty basket on the way there.  It was getting old and worn after years of hard use.  It was one of the many tools he was given before he headed out to start his new life.  In a odd way, it was sort of his old buddy.  He walked up to the first row of corn.  He tested the crop one last time, puncturing a kernel.  It’s watery, not milky like it should be, and the juice has an odd texture to it.  No going back now I suppose.  I need something to sell. He grabbed the ear of corn and snapped it with a sharp, downward twist, and dropped it in the basket.

With the help of Dirk and his children, harvesting the crop didn’t take long.  They were able to fill up several baskets worth, but that didn’t matter.  Carl picked up a ear of corn, inspecting it.  It didn’t look right at all.  The color of it wasn’t like it should’ve been.  To a person who didn’t spend years of his life messing around with corn, maybe the difference wasn’t that noticeable, but to him, it was.  The color of the kernels was off, but only slightly.  Instead of being a gold-yellow, they were a dull yellow.  He frowned deeply.  What would happen if somebody pointed him out for his bad crop? Would they take away my farm? A dull whimper rose up from the quietness of the evening.  He stood up, alerted.  Juliane!

Carl ran to the source of the noise.  Juliane sat on the ground, hunched up in a ball.  Eldrick stood over her, surprise on his face.  “What happened?” Carl asked, getting on his knees to comfort his daughter.

“We were running around, and she was chasing me, when she tripped on one of the corn stalks,” Eldrick explained, obviously a little scared as to whether or not he would be punished.  Carl relaxed, holding Juliane in his arms.

“Aww, there there honey, it’ll be alright, it’s just a scratch,” Carl said, kissing the scratch on his daughter’s knee.  Juliane only sniffled, looking a tad embarrassed for overreacting to such a small injury.  He scooped her up in his arms and smiled down at Eldrick.  “It’s alright boy, she’ll be fine.  You’re in no trouble.” Eldrick nodded and looked up at Juliane.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  He bent down and picked up the little white flower that had been in her hair, “Don’t forget your flower, Juli,” he said, giving a sheepish smile.  Juliane took the flower out of his hands, blushing slightly.  Eldrick did the same, but turned away after he noticed Carl was grinning at him.  Carl carried his daughter back inside and laid her down on her small bed.  He leaned down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Dinner should be ready soon, sweet-pea,” he said, tucking her in.  She smiled at him, snuggling into her pillow.  He kissed her brow and walked out of the room.

“Is she alright?” Alina asked, worried.

“She’ll be fine, she’s a big girl,” Carl said, looking outside.  The sun was just beginning to set now.  It had been a long day of working out in the corn field.  The crop he gathered wasn’t something to be proud of, and the eggs he collected from the chicken coop were less than two dozen.  “What’s for dinner?” he asked.  Hunger was beginning to assail his stomach, and he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.

“I thought we could try some of that corn you spent all day picking,” his wife said, smiling.  “If we can eat it, somebody else can.” Carl nodded absently.  He got up from the table and went outside, Alina following behind him.

Carl loved the night time.  The setting sun painted a pretty orange across the horizon, with the shining twinkle of distant stars just above it.  He looked over to where Dirk’s family lived.   A soft gray smoke was rising out of their chimney.  They, too, were probably now having their dinner.  They’re good people.  Lights from Alburich city started to emit a soft glow, creating a new world as an old one rested.

Carl took his wife’s hand as they crossed over to the shed.  The corn had been packed into barrels, ready for transport to the city.  Tomorrow they would go there and sell what they could.  Maybe I’ll buy Juliane a little gift, he decided to himself, something small. He and his wife picked out a few ears of the corn and headed back inside to prepare their meal.  Alina threw a pot of water over the fire and Carl whistled a tune that he remembered back when he used to work in the tavern while he peeled the husks off the ears of corn.

Out of the corner of Carl’s eye, he watched his wife go about her business cleaning and prepping the kitchen for their evening meal.  It seemed like such a short time ago that they had shared that first kiss in the alley just outside of the apartment her house was in.  Her long, curly, black hair mixed was matted from the downpour of the cold snow.  He had held her closely that night, never wanting to let her go.  He could remember how she smiled, the few freckles on her blushed cheeks standing out amongst her pale skin.  He remembered the slight smell of wine on her breath.  The way she clung to him that night made him feel whole for the first time in his life.

“Juliane, dinner is ready!” Alina called, interrupting Carl’s daydreaming.  Juliane limped into the kitchen, rubbing the sleepiness out of her eyes.  I love you. Carl thought to himself with a smile.  He lifted up his little girl and placed her on her chair.  Alina placed a few ears of corn on their plates and sat down across from him, smiling.  This is all I need.  This is all we need.  Each other. Carl took a few bites of his corn.  It tastes so odd… He looked to see if Alina and Juliane tasted it too.  Juliane was spitting it out on her plate, but Alina continued to pick at it.  Suddenly, Alina was grabbing at her stomach, crying out in pain.

“What’s wrong?” Carl asked, quickly getting up out of his chair.  His wife started shaking, she was on her hands and knees now.

“Mommy?” said Juliane, confused.

“Alina, hun, what’s wrong?” he asked again, growing frantic.  She vomited.  “Alina!” he called out to her.  Then it hit him, too.  A gut wrenching pain ripped about his insides, making him collapse on the floor.

“Da’e!” screamed Juliane, tears streaming down her cheeks.  She got on her knees and held her father’s hand.  Carl could feel it; the sudden upheaval of his stomach.  He lurched, spewing out vile liquids everywhere.  He grabbed Juliane’s hand tightly; tears were starting to form in his eyes.  Alina was lying motionless next to him.  Sweet-pea.