“Syndil! Syndil!” a young woman called out. She had long black hair, her skin tanned from a life working out in the sun. She walked down an emerald green hill, along a deer trail. Below her, was a group of children kicking a sheep’s bladder around, laughing and crying out.
“Syndil!” she called again, more sternly.
The children ran forward, after the ball, but one little girl stopped and looked up. “Mama?”
“It’s supper time!” the woman called again, waving, gesturing her child forward. “You can play with your friends again tomorrow after your chores.”
The young girl gave a small moan as she ran towards her mother. When Syndil got close, the young woman scooped her up into her arms. Mother and daughter had the same green eyes, but Syndil’s hair was auburn in colour.
“Did you have fun today?”
“A lot of fun!” Syndil exclaimed. “I wasn’t picked last today, because I got the most points for my team yesterday.”
“That’s great honey!”
“Abby!” A man called out, running towards them from the trail at the top of the hill.
“Edgar, you made it back!” Abby beamed.
“Daddy!” Syndil cried out.
“Oh, my two beautiful girls.” Edgar grinned brightly. His eyes were a deep chocolate brown, his hair a few shades brighter than his daughter’s. “Guess what? I got a couple of rabbits today. You know what that means, right?”
“Do I get a new pair of gloves, daddy?” Syndil asked, her eyes bright with excitement.
“… if you don’t grow between now and when the snow falls!” Edgar replied, kissing Syndil’s temple before he kissed Abby’s lips.
“But daddy,” Syndil whined, “Mama says, that I won’t stop growing until I’m sixteen!”
“Well, then let’s hope I’ve got enough fur to make you gloves!” Edgar laughed. He walked around his wife, wrapped his arm around her shoulder and walked with them back to their hut.
The Farmer family lived in a small house, surrounded by crops with a barn for cows and sheep. There was a chicken coop at the back of the house, steps from the kitchen. A pair of dogs barked, chasing some unseen animal, scattering birds in the process. All the while, there were cats roaming the property searching for rats to eat and mice to play with. They lived simply, but the important thing was that they were happy!
Syndil ran ahead, screaming her delight. One of the dogs ran towards her, and circled her before joining with its brethren again, while Edgar and Abby stepped into their happy home.
When the evening meal was ready, Abby called Syndil into the house. The stew was made of only what they grew, or hunted. As the family ate together quietly, the dogs outside started to bark and growl, as if a stranger had set foot upon the property. Suddenly, there was a loud yelp, which caught Edgar’s attention.
“Wait here, I’ll be back,” he climbed to his feet.
Syndil watched her father leave, so Abby tapped the table to bring her young daughter’s attention back to the bowl. “Eat up Syndil,” Abby said.
Then there was yelling and shouting outside. Fear spread across Abby’s face, replacing the blood with a pale face. She felt herself tremble as he slowly put down her fork. “Mama?” Syndil whined softly
Abby started breathing deeply, saying nothing. The young mother grabbed her daughter's bowl of stew and her own, and dumped them over the fire. The fire was snuffed out leaving embers to burn the meal and fill the room with smoke. As a result, a black air with the scent of burnt stew slowly filled the room. Abby then picked Syndil up from her chair and ran to the backroom.
“Mama, what’s going on?” Syndil whined her arms wrapped around Abby’s neck. “Where’s daddy?”
Behind them, there was a loud bang, but Abby didn’t stop moving. She closed the door, and locked it behind them. “Syndil, listen to me. Listen!”
“I’m listening, Mama,” Syndil replied, as Abby set her on her feet. She watched as her mother lifted a trap door.
Abby picked her up and set her inside. “Go to the temple. You remember the way, right?”
Syndil nodded. “Yep, I remember Mama.”
“Good girl!” Abby smiled at her. “Find Sister Lilly and tell her what happened. She’ll take good care of you.” Abby smiled softly again, her eyes turning sad. “Now go, baby girl, quick like a bunny.”
“But you’re coming too, right Mama?” Syndil asked, tears welling within her eyes.
“As soon as I can, but Daddy needs me right now,” Abby replied. She moved to her knees, flinching as something banged against the door. “Go Syndil!” Abby closed the trap door, and turned around as the door banged wide open.
Syndil moved quick like a bunny, just like her mother told her too the moment the door was closed. She needed to get to the temple. She remembered where it was! It was down the hill, and past the valley (where her and her friends were playing today), and it's there just inside the forest!
Under the floorboards, the farmer's daughter crawled on her hands and knees, while heavy footfalls stomped overhead. She heard men's voices, but it did not sound like her father's, or any of village men. Nobody sounded familiar at all! They were talking about something, but she didn’t understand. She heard low toned speech, but couldn't comprehend them. Ahead of her, she could see an orange glow, like someone had started a bonfire.
When Syndil managed to get out, she was on the side of the house. Below her, the village was on fire. Men in shiny armour were gathering men, women and children together. Even the priests and priestesses of the temple had been gathered. If she could get to Sister Lilly in time, she’d be safe; that’s what Mama had told her!
“Hey, you!” A gruff sounding man called out to her, drawing her attention. He was in shiny armour too, but his helmet looked like a lion! Syndil was suddenly struck with a memory of the first and last time she saw a lion, Mama had said that a circus had come to the next town over, and that they were going to visit them! They had a lion in a cage, and when Syndil got close to see it better, it roared at her, scaring her and making her cry. This man almost sounded just like that lion!
Syndil screamed and ran from him, but as she reached the corner of the house, another man, with the same helmet scooped her up off her feet. She screamed harder, kicked at the air trying to struggle, but it did nothing. She called for her mother as the men started off towards the villagers that had been gathered together.
The children were gathered together and put in a wagon. There was a man that rode on a horse behind them, making sure they didn’t try to escape. This man didn’t wear a helmet, which Syndil was grateful, because it was scary. Her friends were around her, crying as she cried. She didn’t understand what was going on, nor what was going to happen. Hopefully Mama wouldn’t be mad at her; she wasn’t able to get to Sister Lilly. Each time she tried reach the sister, someone caught her and brought her back to the wagon.
As the night stretched on, the children started to cry themselves to sleep to their unknown destination. Only to wake again in a strange city. The buildings were made of stone and steel, and the roads were cobblestoned, making for a bumpy ride.
Syndil stood up and looked over the edge of the wagon, to see clean children running around, following their parents. There was no dirt, not dust, everyone was so clean and the colours were so bright! There were even colours that Syndil had never seen before!
The man that had been riding behind them was suddenly beside her. He told her, “Sit down girlie.”
“But I wanna see,” Syndil protested.
“Sit. Down,” he snapped at her. “You’ll see the city soon enough.”
The ride was boring, now that Syndil couldn’t watch the people. She though that the banners overhead were pretty to look at as well! When the wagon finally stopped, rocking the occupants, someone walked around to the end of the wagon and started to bark orders at them, telling them to get off the wagon and to follow them.
The children were marched towards a large courtyard, before the largest stone building that Syndil had ever seen! It had large coloured windows, and was covered in gargoyles. Gargoyles were protectors! That meant they were going somewhere safe!
“Look!” she whispered to a boy and girl on both sides of her. “Gargoyles! That means this place is a safe place, we’ll be okay!”
As they got closer, a bell gonged overhead, startling the kids. Ahead of them, stood eight older men in different coloured robes. The old faces looked friendly and smiled. Men in armour stood in front of a row stone wall behind them. The oldest looking of the men stepped forwards. His robes were snow-white, his hair matching and his eyes were friendly and bright blue.
“You poor things,” He spoke, as he clasped leathery looking hands together. “Poor lambs led astray by infidels, that wished to corrupt your souls! But worry not, we have rescued you, and will set you upon the right path! Line up little lambs, we will find you new homes!”
It took some pushing and yelling, but the children finally managed to line up. Syndil looked around unsure of what was going on. Why did they have to be found a new home? Why couldn’t she go back to her own parents? A head of her there were some cries, while some boys were dragged into building behind the man with the white robes. What was going on? Syndil was starting to feel scared again.
Deciding to ignore those that were crying, she looked at the men in shiny armour behind them, at the wall. From afar and in the daylight, the lion-helmets weren’t that scary. They wore long flowy capes in the colours of blue, yellow and white.
When the boy ahead of her was called Syndil looked forward, listening to what was being asked.
“Welcome young lamb. What is your name?” The man in the white robes asked him.
The boy stood tall before he answered. “Malcolm Tanner.” He said. “My daddy was the tanner back home. I want to go home!”
“I’m afraid that is not possible,” the man replied. His smile was friendly, but Syndil noticed that his eyes weren’t friendly at all. “Please, tell me young man. What God do you warship?”
“I pray to the Gods of the Hunt, Prosperity, and Health!”
The man paused a moment, his smile still in place. “But those Gods is not the True God. They are demons, sent out to stir young ones like you astray. We are here to help you find the right path.”
“I don’t care! I don’t want to!” Then Malcolm stomped his foot.
The man sighed, hanging his head and gestured to a man in chainmail. “He needs to be educated on what our God can give him.”
The man nodded stepped forward and started to drag the boy up the stairs. Syndil’s heart pounded in her chest. She felt the same as that boy, she didn’t want to learn about this new God; the ones she knew were good! Then it was her turn.
Syndil needed to think quickly! She stepped forward. She knew she’d never forget her Gods, but she didn’t want to go up those stairs. Something told her, there was something bad behind those doors even though the building was so pretty.
“What is your name, little one?”
“S-Syndil Farmer.” She replied meekly. “My daddy was a farmer.”
“You are so sweet a child,” The man replied. “Tell me, what God do you worship?”
“The Gods and Goddesses of the Hunt, Harvest and Magic.”
This seemed to greatly displease the old man, but he managed to collect himself quickly enough. “Are you willing to learn and hear about the one True God, little Lamb?”
Syndil didn’t trust her voice, so she nodded quickly. She wasn’t about to tell him no!
“Wonderful!” He exclaimed. “You are a gentle soul, even I can see that. I think you would do well, at the Church of St. Alexandra.”
A man in blue robes walked towards her, and extended his hand to her. Syndil reached up and wrapped her hand around his fingers. “From today onward, little lamb, you will be Syndil St. Alexandra.”
St. Alexandra’s Church was near the outskirts of the city. It was four stories high and made of dark grey stone. The stain glass windows depicted a woman in different situations; in a garden, tending to the wounded, surrounded by children. A cobblestone fence that came up past Syndil’s head surrounded the Church.
Beyond the fence, Syndil heard the sounds of children running, laughing and playing. The Priest that had taken her hand back at the other Church still held it and gave it a reassuring squeeze smiling brightly at her. “Why don’t you go make friends with your brothers and sisters?”
Syndil looked towards all the children, around her own age, running around the courtyard kicking a bladder ball around. The ball suddenly bounced towards her, and Syndil picked up as the Priest walked around her.
A young girl about Syndil’s age came running over, her bland hair tussled and knotted. “Hi! I’m Ellenwye! What’s your name?”
“Sy-Syndil,” she mumbled back.
“Wanna play with us?” Ellenwye asked, flashing her a toothy grin. “My team is down a player!” Ellenwye reached out and took both the ball and Syndil’s hair and pulled her towards the other players.
Five Years Later…
Syndil sat alone flipping through a tome, with pictures. Syndil had read this tome a dozen times. She was just looking at the pictures. Suddenly there was a shout, the Head Priest calling everyone to courtyard. With book in hand, Syndil joined her best friend Ellenwye.
Beside the Head Priest, stood three men. The young children whispered together, wondering who these men were, but it was clear that they looked cool, and some of the older girls thought them attractive.
The Head Priest stepped forward, raising his hands, to quiet the crowd. “Children, as I’m sure you’re curious about who these gentlemen are leaders of their sections.”
A man with golden-blond hair stepped forward, his eyes so blue, that he caused a number of the young girls to start giggling. He smiled and bowed to the group. “Hello young ones. I am the Lord Paladin, Lord Alperen. These are my comrades… Lord Dragoon Sir Dryden and Lord Cleric Father Hector.”
Dryden stepped forward, grinning as he placed a hand on Alperen’s shoulder. “We are here, to tell you about why were here and what its like to be a Paladin, Dragoon and a Cleric.”
Hector stepped forward; his baldhead was shiny in the sunlight. “We’ll be spending the day with you, so if you have any questions, please don’t be afraid to ask!”
From behind Syndil, someone snorted. “I already know I’m joining the Dragoons.”
Ellenwye and Syndil looked over their shoulders and up at a young boy a few years older than the pair. His eyes were a deep brown, and his hair jet black. “Solo?” Ellenwye frowned.
“Sir Dyrden was the one that rescued me,” Solo replied, grinning at the girls, his front teeth missing. His right eye was black and blue. “Since he brought me here, I’ve wanted to join the Dragoons. I’ve only one question for him, and that’s how soon can I sign up!”
With that Solo squeezed past Syndil and Ellenwye running towards the Soldiers.
Ellenwye and Syndil looked at each other, as the other children swarmed the Paladin, Dragoon and Cleric. “We should choose the same thing.” Ellenwye whispered.
“What if I didn’t want to be like them?” Syndil asked.
“Do you?” Ellenwye asked.
“I don’t know.” Syndil replied, blushing softly. “But I always enjoyed helping the cook bake bread, maybe I could do that for a living?”
“Right,” Ellenwye mumbled. “I always liked help teaching the younger kids to read. So maybe we don’t have to worry about this?”
Syndil was quiet a moment, as the men lead the children around to the orchard and sat down, their deep voices drifting over to them. “But if we do choose to become like them, we’ll choose the same thing. We need to stay together. We’re more family than we are with the others.”
“If we like it, maybe we can follow Solo?” Ellenwye suggested. “He’d protect us.”
Syndil smiled and nodded. Taking her friends hand, Syndil ran towards the men, wanting to listen to what they had to say. They were still young yet, only ten, they had a whole life ahead of them; they didn’t need to choose right away! When the pair found a seat and sat down, Alperen’s voice rose over the crowd.
“Okay little ones, the reason why we’re here, is that we’re at war,” he explained. “There is a kingdom to the east. Many of you were saved from those people. We need young ones like you, to join us in the fight against them. You would like that, wouldn’t you? To take up arms in thanks for The Great Lord taking you in and saving your souls?”
The cheer that resounded was deafening, and made Alperen beamed at them. Syndil and Ellenwye didn’t cheer though. They remembered where they had come from, their parents and the lives they used to live. They never once forgot the Gods and Goddesses that governed their lives. This was what drew them together and made them sisters in spirit.
Alperen continued to explain why they needed more new recruits, and tried to explain away why the other Kingdom was evil and needed to be shown the error of their ways.
While those around them seemed to be moved, Syndil and Ellenwye listened passively. This seemed to catch Dryden’s attention, but he said nothing. All the children had climbed to their feet, cheering and calling out that they’d serve The Great Lord until they died, but they had remained sitting. When Alperen was finished with his speech, he said that he’d be willing to listen to any question they had, along side the Church.
As he stood, Hector also stood and walked towards the fence as he called over his shoulder, he’d be at the fence. Dryden remained seated, while his brethren turned and left. Most of the children left to speak to Alperen or Hector. The only ones remained was Solo, Ellenwye and Syndil.
Dryden finally stood and walked towards the three of them. Solo was still standing, his chest puffed out, and face red. Dryden walked past him, tussling his hair and walked right to Syndil and Ellenwye and offered them his hands. When they had put their hands into his, he carefully pulled them to their feet.
“S-Sir!” Solo stammered. “Please tell me how soon I can join the Dragoons!”
Dryden looked towards Solo, a grin spreading across his face. He laughed heartily, tussling the boy’s hair again. “You’re what? Twelve?”
Solo’s face went a brighter shade of red. “No, I’m thirteen!”
Dryden’s eyes became thoughtful, looking over the three of them. “I’m going to tell you three something. I’m not surprised you stayed behind. You were not as moved as the others by Alperen’s speech. Unlike the Paladins and the Clerics, Dragoons aren’t as religious. A lot of us are more open-minded than our brethren. We’re not afraid to get our hands dirty and bend the rules a little.”
Solo stepped forward, his determination still firm. “I’ve wanted to be a Dragoon since you brought me here! Please Sir Dryden, let me train as a Dragoon!”
Dryden grinned and chuckled a little. “Alright boy. But don’t be so serious. Seriousness is for the Paladins and Clerics. What’s your name?”
“Solo Sir,” he answered, a smile spreading across his dirty face.
“Solo,” Dryden echoed. “I’ll write your name down and when you turn sixteen come look me up.”
Solo’s face dropped. “I’ve got to wait until I’m sixteen?”
“To become a Dragoon, but you want to get into the military now,” Dryden sighed; really not wanting to see these kids get dragged into such a war. “You can apply to the Academy when you’re fourteen. Can you wait that long?”
“If I have too,” Solo grumbled, crossing his arms.
Dryden grinned. “I’ll tell ya what. When you join the Academy, I’ll help you choose your courses that would make a Dragoon easy when you get there. Also if you’re in that much of a hurry, you can take an exam to see if you are physically fit and with my recommendation and you passing that exam you’ll be able to get in as early as next month.”
Solo’s eyes went bright, his smile back. “You’d really do that for me? Seriously?”
Dryden nodded. “Yeah. You remind me of me, at your age. I would have loved to have had someone give me that kind of chance. So I’ll give it to you.”
Solo hooted, jumped into the air and ran off, to tell the Head Priest and his group of friends. Dryden watched the boy run off, before turning to the young girls. He moved down to a knee so he was more at eyelevel with them.
“What about you two pretty little things?” They shrugged together, clearly shy to speak aloud. Dryden smiled at him, tucking hair behind their ears, out of their faces. “I saw that you didn’t stand up, like your friend. Is there a reason why? Do you not believe in The Great Lord?”
Syndil and Ellenwye looked at each other before shaking their heads. “No Sir,” Ellenwye spoke up. “We believe in Him, but we… Um… We still remember were we came from.”
“I see,” Dryden mumbled to himself. “So I suppose you at least remember the God and Goddess you prayed too.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. “That’s okay. Like I said, we are not that religious in the Dragoons, but there are some that would dislike this fact.” Dryden went quiet again, choosing his words carefully. “I’m not one of them, but if you choose to join us, I would be hush-hush about it.”
“W-We don’t know if we want to join,” Syndil replied, blushing hard. “I like baking, and she likes teaching.”
“And both are needed in the world,” Dryden answered, rubbing a thumb against Syndil’s cheek. “You don’t have to join the military if you don’t want too, don’t let anyone pressure you into it. You’re both too precious to experience the evils in the world.”
“Sir Dryden, may I have a word with you?” the Head Priest called out.
“Coming!” Dryden called back, standing up. “You have plenty of time to think little ladies. Don’t be rash.” He kissed both their foreheads before running over towards the Head Priest.
Ellenwye and Syndil blushed deeply, as they watched Dryden run off. Unlike Alperen and Hector, who’d tried to convince them it was in their best interest to join the military, Dryden had told them to think for themselves and not to be pressured into joining if they didn’t wish too.
“I’ve never met anyone like that before,” Ellenwye sighed softly, clearly smitten now.
“Me neither,” Syndil replied, looking down.
There at their feet was Dryden’s helmet. It had a half-visor, with eye slits. Along the side of the helmet, attached to the visor, looked like a set of bat-like wings. It was mostly black in colour but the visor and the top half of the wings were dark blue!
“Wow,” Ellenwye sighed, when Syndil picked it up.
“Maybe this is why they’re called Dragoons,” Syndil mused aloud. “These… wings look like what you’d see on a dragon.” Syndil carefully turned the helmet around and lifted it up and placed it onto her head.
It obviously was too big for her, and she couldn’t see out of the eye slits. She laughed softly, the sound echoing back at her. She carefully wrapped her fingers around the edge of the visor and lifted it up so she could see.
“It looks good on you,” Dryden commented, causing the two of them to jump. He laughed a little as he carefully removed the helmet from Syndil’s head. “I hope I’ll see you little ladies again someday.”
With that, Dryden placed the helmet on his head and closed the visor over his face. Only his smile and chin was visible. He waved his hand at the girls, turned and walked away.
“If we don’t become teachers or bakers,” Ellenwye whispered into Syndil’s ear. “I think we should become Dragoons.”
Syndil nodded quickly in reply. Dryden had made a bigger impact than she’d expected he would. He was handsome, his smile made her and Ellenwye melt, and he was Solo’s hero. He couldn’t be a bad person…