A hundred years' time we shall hand
To raise a hundred from thy land
For sure they need be strong and brave
Sacrifice more than any gave
To at last force the Shadow's hand.
It was the darkest and most deeply kept secret that Varrock possessed. It was known not even to Reldo, custodian of the palace's enormous wealth of knowledge (better known as the Varrock Library). King Roald paced his well-decorated chamber nervously, peeking out the window. People had good reason to believe he did not care, yet anyone who had gazed into his face for more than a moment would have understood that this could not be further from the truth. But today was the day, surely the beginning of the end. It was time to deliver the speech that would very likely be his last.
* * *
The inky blackness of the Shadow was creeping closer to us every day. At least, the Shadow was what they had called it ever since I could remember. No one quite knew where it had come from, but it had mercilessly swallowed city after city. Many had escaped to Varrock. Some had staunchly refused to move and stayed in their homes, a harsh clash of disbelief against the backdrop of painfully obvious reality. Perhaps not unexpectedly, no one had heard from them since. What had happened to them? Were they dead, captured, or sent to a world beyond Gielinor?
Why? That was the most important question. Why wasn't anyone doing... anything, really? A quick glance outside gave a window into the mundane and repetitive life outside: a man on a horse leading a covered carriage containing goods of some sort... a woman trudging back to her home with a wooden rod draped over her shoulder, a bucket full of slightly less-than-pristine well water attached to each end... a well-dressed priest heading to the church to deliver his sermon. Was the whole situation too grave to allow for the very contemplation of resistance? I didn't have any ideas either, but I was never the sort of person to invent these kinds of things anyway! I turned back to inside and returned to my own task of washing my clothes, but the thoughts would not be pushed from my mind. Where was King Roald? Faith in our king slipped daily. All we really knew was that he was boarded up there in his palace, essentially cut off from contact with the outside world. Had he even seen the black devastation surrounding us, threatening to breach the—
My thoughts were interrupted by a loud bell, which I immediately recognized as the Town Crier's. He was urgently calling everyone to the Palace Courtyard, making no effort to hide the fear in his voice. I locked up my door and merged with the crowd, my head spinning as I found myself drowning among the stream of people.
The Courtyard was strictly off-limits to the general public. Only adventurers even dared to set foot there, and given the number of them that had ventured off to investigate the Shadow, my educated guess was that their numbers had been somewhat thinned. Out of panic, I broke into a full run, and even though I sprinted as fast as my aching legs would carry me, I could not keep up with the thoughts racing through my mind. Did King Roald have an amazing plan to save us all from our certain doom at the hands of the Shadow? I certainly hoped so, and figured I was about to find out.
When I arrived, the courtyard was completely packed. Several people were perched on the edge of the fountain to get a better view of the current events. I suddenly noticed the perfect silence pervading the area. As a matter of fact, King Roald's figure was perched atop a makeshift stand of planks, a grim look spread across his face, as the crowd stared, ominously silent and anxious.
Then, he began to speak, in a deep and almost faint voice, making it seem as if he might collapse from exhaustion any moment.
"...And so, as part of the Ancient Bargain, I'm afraid we have no choice but to let the Shadow Warriors overrun us, unless..." He paused, producing a single piece of old, tattered parchment from his robes. I must have missed a good chunk of the conversation, because I had no idea as what this 'Ancient Bargain' was.
"Excuse me, what is this—" I whispered to a brown-haired man standing next to me, but he put a finger to his lips and hushed me severely.
"As part of the pact, there is a provision for a hundred fighters to engage in combat with an equal number of the Shadow Warriors. Should our fighters emerge victorious, not only our kingdom but the rest of Gielinor will be spared, with a heavy price: the lives of the hundred fighters." He let this sink in and I glanced at people in the crowd. They were completely silent, petrified, some covering their mouths in horror.
"No one shall be forced to fight, but I urge anyone interested to step forward immediately. This is our last hope and there is little time." He was finished talking, and now people began to whisper to each other, no doubt considering the gravity of his words. Alarmingly, no one seemed to be stepping up.
Several minutes passed, and finally someone began to move. He was a tall man in a suit of shining red dragon armor, with a matching sword. He made his way over to the king, strolling confidently, and waited. Like most of the rest of the crowd, I did not recognize him.
Whether it was peer pressure or inspiration, more people started to assemble, and I soon lost track of the jostling crowd. When everything settled, I saw nine columns of ten men neatly assembled next to the king, and then a tenth column that appeared to be missing one space. "I cannot fight," King Roald announced abruptly, "as it is part of the pact. Is there one more volunteer?"
The king's eyes surveyed the crowd, but somehow in my heart I knew that there would be no more volunteers. There was only one thing for me to do. I was alone. I was an orphan. And even though my heart rate had already begun to quicken, I was not afraid.
I stood up even straighter and began to move closer when someone grabbed my left wrist. "Wait!" The shrill scream pierced the silence like a well-thrown javelin. I turned to see a middle-aged woman holding me back. Her black hair was draped down to her shoulders, an anxious look spread clearly across her face. "We need you here."
I gazed back into her caring eyes, wondering who she was and why she was trying to stop me. A single memory flashed through my mind: sitting on a man's lap, playing with a crown of some sort, a wonderful toy, as he laughed and held me gently. Then everything snapped back to reality, leaving me clueless.
"No," I told her, and breaking away from her grasp was simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to do. "You need me there." My eyes motioned to the assembly of the ninety-nine brave volunteers. I carried myself there with grace, and joined them in the last spot. We now had enough people. Before I knew it, I was suited up in a set of a shiny armor I did not even recognize, along with the others.
It was not a moment of triumph but of duty. Slowly, I looked around and saw the king's gaze on me. More alarmingly, so was everyone's else's. I was not the sharpest sword in the shop but it appeared that they wanted me to lead them. As if reading my thoughts, the king nodded to me and started walking. Transfixed, we followed, beginning to march toward the edge of the city. Past the altar we walked, but my eyes would not connect with my mind. I was completely focused on our task, which seemed to be some sort of battle.
We came to the northern edge of the city, encompassed by the swirling shadow, and came to a dead halt. King Roald was by my side. He looked at me, and I looked at him. I tried to look away but found I could not as I was quickly imprisoned by the stare of the other warriors, a mixture of anxiety and expectancy on their faces.
"Well, what am I supposed to do?" I yelled at no one in particular, frustrated. "Hocus pocus pathus appearus?" I waved my arms about in a frantic motion. Slowly, as my jaw hung wide open with disbelief, the shadow began to part, cutting a narrow path into the inky blackness—just wide enough to walk in single file.
King Roald slapped me on the shoulder and chuckled softly. "That's my boy," he said softly. "Now follow the path and fight them in the God Wars dungeon. We're all hoping for the best."
And so I took the first steps into the darkness, leading a hundred heavy hearts.