It began here:
When our training officially ended our collective feeling was one of relief rather than celebration. Of the thousands of my generation who were purchased by the King, more than half would be returned to their families as unfit for service. That is, the lucky ones would be. If the King’s Crown had been spent, even in part, the young men and women who had been bought would not be reunited with their families. They would be ‘indentured’ to the Crown, where they would be forced into any labour the Crown saw fit to place them in, until the debt was repaid.
The repayment of debt was markedly unfair, but there was no recourse. You could hardly appeal to the King that his own Rule was inhumane, and so it went that servitude was the law until the value of the Crown had been recompensed. The minimum term of service was seven years, no matter how small the amount, so that the commoners were dissuaded from seeing the King’s Crown as a loan. If the whole Crown had been spent or lost, the child it had purchased was indentured for life. It was harsh, jarring, and designed to keep affected families as far apart as possible.
The cruelty of the King’s Crown became even more evident when one of the indentured, far from home and sick at heart, killed him or herself. The debt to the Crown was not forgiven, it was transferred. In the way of politicians and their ‘public servants’, it was often the poorest areas that were most affected. Poor areas breed strong bodies, and are often already debt-laden or desperate, so trawling them for recruits made sense. It led to a much higher rate of indenture.
Additionally, it was the preserve of the Crown to seek compensation, as described before, so that the Crown was ‘made safe’ from any loss that suicide or other misadventure might bring. Effectively, it was a land grab. Farmers and families, already impoverished and thrust even lower by the loss of strong sons and daughters, could not repay the debt and their homes and goods were taken. That nearly fifty percent of the ‘wealth’ never reached the Crown was strongly suspected but never proven. The politicians and their public ‘serpents’ were much too powerful and clever for that.
And so, over time, Crown Land grew, creeping ever closer to the arable lands for farming and the lands valued for their potential mineral or timber wealth. Cymria had been invaded nearly nine hundred years ago, and it had come at a high price to Saxia, the homeland of the Royals. It began with a small and seemingly inconsequential argument over water rights between two neighbours, one on the Cymrian side and the other on the Saxian side, but that was nothing more than a gambit. It soon escalated into border skirmishes and they sparked an all-out confrontation when the Saxians marched into a town and declared it theirs ‘for King and Country’.
The Cymrians don’t have Royals and they misunderstood the rallying effect of them, but after decades of fighting and broken treaties it was not the Saxians who won, it was the Cymrians who lost, betrayed by the woman they had chosen to negotiate for peace. She gave Cymria up in return for land and title in Saxia, and she was never heard of again. Legend says it was because she was betrayed by the Saxians and killed, but some family histories, kept secret for centuries, told a different story; those families worked their way into her court and killed her.
In the event, Cymria was Occupied, as still is to this day. The natural wealth was raped for Saxia, as were the Cymrian women and girls, and a once naturally wealthy and peaceful land was torn apart. Over the centuries the Cymrian language was outlawed and most of the best land taken. Whole communities, once landowners, found themselves indentured to the Crown, paying for the privilege of living on land that had been their own.
The Tales of Our Fathers speaks of uprisings, and the two farms of my family are mentioned, among others. Some three hundred years ago a Knight of the Realm was awarded control of our land for some favour done for his King. Nearly six hundred years of our history was wiped out as this Saxian Knight sought to ‘improve’ our lands, tearing up our sacred places including our graveyards, so that he might grow wine grapes. The vines perished, as we knew they would, for the climate was wrong for them. He taxed my ancestors into starvation and my line almost died out.
Dylan the Seafarer, for whom I am named, returned from his travels only to find the destruction. The Tales say he marched into the moated castle of the Knight, his arms full of trinkets for presentation, and from within them he drew the sword that slashed the Knight’s throat. The Knight, so long used to immediate obedience, had not the wit to have the goods checked first and it cost him his life.
Dylan rallied what remained of his family, and the families of all those about, and over the days that followed they rounded up all the livestock in the district before drawing the bridge. The Saxians had sent a battalion upon word of the ‘insurrection’ as they called it, and they laid siege to the castle. It did them no good. There were no local supplies they could scavenge and they soon ran short of food. Days later, as they weakened, they were attacked by a main force. They had deceived themselves that the locals had retreated into the castle Keep, when in fact the locals had allowed the Saxians to trap and weaken themselves. Our people poured over the hills and routed the enemy.
No Saxian escaped, and none were buried on that land. Carried on trundle and tray, the Saxian bodies were transported to the border and piled high in a stinking mass of dead flesh on the Saxian side. My family had lost their land for four decades before taking it back. There were massive repercussions, but we never lost our land again.
It was another century before any more of my family were pressed into the service of the King, there having been no further uprising by us in that time. The King thought it was because we had become passive. The truth is that we had not been challenged.
Still another century passed, and the evolution of Royalty, politics, and cruelty marched on. To firm his claim, the Saxian King declared his eldest son, Phin, as Crown Prince of Cymria. He could declare whatever he liked; his Prince stayed well away from Cymria.
Five years after the Royal was anointed as ‘our’ Prince, the King sent word that he was forming a Cymrian Guard, ‘The Prince’s Own’ regiment, with pay and conditions that were unbelievable. Three years later, the Saxian Prince had his regiment; well trained, well provisioned, and well paid. Once again the termites among us were attempting to hollow us out.
It’s a matter of historical record in Cymria and Saxia that the Prince sent a battalion of ‘his own’ back ‘home’ for some rest and relaxation. We would not welcome the traitors back. On the first day twenty-two of our finest killed nearly one hundred of the Prince’s Own, with ten of ours lost. On the second day, one hundred and fifty of ‘his’ did battle with forty-four of ‘ours’. Only one of ours survived, but that’s one more than theirs. The third day was quiet, but on the fourth day the remaining sixty of the traitors were overrun by our womenfolk, who had appeared to give them comforting food but which was laced with a slow-working poison. Weakened, the women cut the traitors’ throats.
Not one of the Prince’s Own has since set foot on our soil. They understand that to join with the Prince’s regiment is to have their own countrymen and women aligned against them. Unlike the Saxians, we do not annihilate their families or see them off their land. We remain as civilised as events allow.
Given my family’s historical resistance to the Saxian Crown, it took nearly this last century before we were once again visited and my grand-uncle was bought. In hindsight, I think it was a test. He served his time with quiet dignity, and the seventeen year old that left returned as a seasoned and scarred man of nearly forty.
Gwyn, for that was his name, was an interesting one. The story, and I have no basis to disbelieve it, goes that when he was bought he was in the field and when news reached him he wordlessly laid down his scythe and simply walked off the land and into the King’s Service. All those years later one of my family saw a man in the field, scythe in hand, going about his work. As wordlessly as he’d left, he returned and picked up his tools. He lived his life out there on the farm, marrying late but marrying happily, and having four daughters with his wife. He never once spoke of his time in ‘captivity’, except to assure his wife there’d been none before her.
The next generation of my family were not called into Service. In my heart I think the Saxians kept account of happenings, and they patiently waited to see if there would be any ramifications to my grand-uncle’s service. There being none, in the following generation they came back, this time for me.
During my Induction and for a year after it I was closely monitored and often questioned, I think for them to gauge whether I held any separatist views and if I was amenable to taking orders and showing loyalty. They asked me often about ‘old hatreds’ and my answers must have comforted them. I showed some natural abilities and talents, and perhaps also enough common sense and intellect so that I was put forward for training in the Queen’s Guard. By the time I finished that training and had spent a year seconded to another Unit to ‘evaluate my usefulness’, my posting came through.
My first night with the Guard was memorable because at dinner, before I drank a drop, I stood and gave honour to the image of the Queen, so beautifully captured in a massive cross-stitch that fully adorned a whole wall. “Sit, lad, and sup with us, for the Guard need not give the Loyal Toast,” a smiling lieutenant called to me. I knew that, but it paid dividends to seal their trust in the first Cymrian from ‘that’ family to ever become a Guard. I repeated the gesture every night for the first month, and I was much admired for it.
“With a dark history such as I was born into, I want all to know my loyalty is unquestioned,” I said to the roomful of soldiers. “By the power of God,” I said, raising my glass to the image of the Queen, “And by the might and dignity of the sword,” I said, raising my glass to the men and women present. They had never been saluted like that before, and they liked it.
“Some men rise because of their position,” the lieutenant said, “And some rise because they are natural leaders. You, sir, are in the second group, and that will vouchsafe your rise more than any in the first.” I felt tears at the corners of my eyes. I had won their trust and their respect.
It didn’t take long for my new reputation to spread through the ranks and above them. It was a convention that we were addressed as Guard followed by our first name, and so I was Guard Dylan. It didn’t take long at all for that to be corrupted into Guardian, and that was how I came to be known.
It sounds as if my rise might have been meteoric, or at least more rapid than others, but that was not the case. I was respected for the Loyal Toast speech, and being called Guardian set me somewhat apart, but my daily duties were the same as any other new recruit. I donned full dress and company colours before coming onto my shift, and I walked the perimeter of the Palace just as everyone else did, whether the Queen was in residence or not.
It was a day before my twenty-sixth birthday when I first saw the Queen, from a distance to be sure, but there she was. It had been eight years, five months, and six days since I left the farm and entered into a life committed to Her Majesty. “She is a vision of loveliness,” said Guard Bronwyn at Mess that night. “Indeed she is,” I answered before excusing myself.
Bronwyn made me nervous. She was intense, and I always had the feeling that she was just about to say something too deep and probably too painful for me to handle. I had loved her from afar and I had been too shy to show it. On her part, she spoke to me on occasion but I think it was as if I was anyone else and no one special. It hurt to be around her.
“Why do you avoid me?” she asked, startling me. I hadn’t heard her following me on the broad flagstone floor, which was really saying something about her stealthiness. Flagstones amplify sound; it’s why we lay them in the Palace, so that none shall pass without notice. “Do I?” I asked, nervously stalling for time. “Then I beg pardon, Guard Bronwyn, for I think its circumstance rather than intention.” With that said, I hurried forward to my room and soundly locked the door.