The Riders of the King's Own | Introduction


The Riders of the King's Own

Prince Nolryn

Nyan rana yn Yen Nolryn, di nyan yn Maralu.

My name is Prince Nolryn, and I’m a rider for the King’s Own.

That sounds such a long-winded way of saying it, “rider for the King’s Own.” Maralu is such an easier word for it, though there’s no direct translation. Warrior is too general. Anyone with a weapon in their hand can be classed as a warrior, but the King’s Own, we’re something more special. Of the seventeen hundred Raykinians who ride with the kingdom’s army, only fifteen of us have the right to introduce ourselves as Maralu.

We ride Kazinian horses in place of Raykinian camels—as the saying goes, admonish your enemy, but never his wardrobe. Or hers, as the case so often is in Kazin. Not even His Majesty has the privilege of riding on horseback, it’s reserved for the riders of the Own only. Of course, I may well be the first Raykinian king to ride with his Own, but I’ll tackle that problem when I come to it.

Our swords, far from the mundane looks of the regulation army swords, would be as much at home displayed proudly over a nobleman’s fireplace, so elaborately decorated are they. My own has been crafted to look like a thrai, the kingdom’s deadliest snake, easily capable of killing the strongest man in ten minutes.

Let it be known now that I hate snakes. Majesty thought it would be fun to give me a weapon that looks like one. The swordsmen of the Own have the added bonus of being able to design their sword; everyone else’s is partly designed by Majesty, partly by the blacksmith.

Strangely enough, the mention of the King’s Own only ever conjures imagery of the extravagant home lifestyle we have, even among some of the riders. Horses. Swords. Coin. Fame. Travel. Almost inhuman skills with the weapon of choice. Only twice during my four years with the Own has Ni-Yana ever realised exactly why we have these privileges. Both times it has been when only fourteen of our number have returned from a mission.

Raykin puts us on too high a pedestal sometimes, on par with the Goddesses. None of us find it flattering. It’s true that a band of fifty Kazinian archers poses little threat to us, but we can hardly be called invincible. We’re human; we bleed. And yet the whole kingdom is stunned into stupefied silence when we return with one member less.

That I suppose is the aim of this document, even if only the nobility can read it. To educate the masses. Not to necessarily lower our standards or our profile, but to make people realise that we’re the highest paid in the kingdom for a reason. From mission briefing to what we hope will be a triumphant return.

“We hope,” the readers scoff, rolling their eyes, “Of course it will be a triumphant return! How could it be anything but?”

Herein lays the first mistake. Need I remind the readers that our last mission saw the death of our General, Rau? For this mission, we have a new rider in Haenel, and a new General in Nimay. Of course, we have complete faith in them both, but that hardly means we leave with any less nerves than for any previous mission.

I can’t speak for the other riders, but I am incredibly frightened before every mission. Yes, the stone-hearted, metal-fisted Maralu get scared. We’re good, but there are still only fifteen of us against the entire Kazinian army. I try not to think like that—both times I have someone’s died on the mission. It’s not a good mindset to be in.

Have I at least begun to change the perception yet? The life of the Maralu on the road (as we loosely term it; the truth of the matter is that there’s rarely ever any actual road) is not a glamorous one.

I suppose I should begin by introducing the boys. You’ll know us perhaps by name and weapon, but that is not knowing us, in the true sense of the word. You still think of us as being right up there with Lin and Aeia, am I correct? I figured as much.

I’ll begin with myself, seeing as I know me better than I do anyone else in this elite group of fifteen. I’m one of the four archers in the Own, as well as crown prince of this kingdom, meaning I’ll be king in a few years. This much people know, but on the road it matters little. As the healers have supreme rule in the healing house, so does the General in the Own. General quite easily outranks crown prince.

I’m one of the more extroverted among the Own, as anyone who’s been to the Golden Thrai in recent years will agree, but that’s not to say I don’t know when it turns serious. Yes, the ‘Thrai’s record holder can be serious.

Staying with the archers, Garuk is one of the veterans of the Own. He’s been in the ranks since 4041, more than a decade, so naturally he’s the best of the four of us. He’s one of the ones who always rides right in the centre of the group when we leave and return from a mission. He doesn’t handle publicity too well though, which is odd because he’s been there so long. It’s earned him a bit of a reputation for, well, throwing chairs. He’s tolerant of most things, but as soon as people start flinging themselves on him, he’ll lose his temper in a flash. Once he’s out of Ni-Yana though, he visibly relaxes.

Gylepi… isn’t as scary as he looks, really. He’s got a drop or two of desert blood in him, from five or six generations back, so that’s why he’s particularly tall. He’s the one who initiated this… journal, I guess you’d call it. Very much one for telling it like it is, is our Gylepi. Again, fantastic once he’s on the road, but has a tendency to get angry whenever people start talking up the Own without thinking about what we actually do. He gets more annoyed with himself though, mutters whenever he misses middle red in training or if he has to use more than one arrow to kill a Kazinian. He’d probably make Second Company with his sword, which is just a scary thought for any of us.

Finally Murali. He doesn’t want to be in the Own at all, believe it or not. He’d much rather be a General, even just Third General, but he’s stuck with us for the moment. He honestly wants to be First General more than I do, but of course I never can be, what with being next in line to the throne and all. Murali’s a bit on the quiet side, but you can just tell there’s something going on there.

So there are the four archers. We’re not too bad once you get to know us, just so long as you approach us in the right way. Please, don’t try and make out you’re better than we are, or idolise us with starry eyes and no minds to speak of. Talk to us as you would any other archer and we’ll happily chat, but really, anything more than that and we’ll either turn our backs or get angry. We get too much of it for it to be fun anymore.

Logically following the archers, the blade archers. Blade archers are terrible, annoying people, the two in the Own even more so. They always bring up the rear and are continually ripping things off tree branches and ditching them at anyone in front. Complete opposite of us more refined archers of bow and arrow, they won’t hesitate to take up any challenge, either at the pub or the training grounds at the palace. What amazes me is that people are actually stupid (or perhaps drunk) enough to actually challenge these two. Some people find them funny, but I’m certainly not one of them. They’re just annoying and… not funny.

Kaen is just that little bit more restrained in that respect, but we use the term lightly. He absolutely loves all the attention being part of the Own gets him, which does sort of sicken the rest of us somewhat, but he’s a blade archer. Purple shirts’ll do that to them. Sore loser, is Kaen, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t happen too often, otherwise we’d be pelted with pebbles and nuts even more than we are now. He could easily make Second Company with the archers if he felt like it, but he’s not dignified enough to be an archer. We have certain standards.

Yoryl is gay, obviously, and more than willing to flaunt it now that everyone knows anyway. More power to him, I say, just as long as he keeps it away from me. Which he naturally doesn’t, being a blade archer. Laziest guy in the Own, regards ‘training’ as going to the Thrai and challenging as many people to dagger toss as he can find. How he managed to be as good as he is, I’ll never know. He’s also the only guy in the Own who I’ve got the slightest chance of beating with a sword, so the rest of the guys have to naturally make bets every time we bear arms against each other. Which isn’t often, but great fun when we do. I like putting a blade archer in his place, so sue me.

The pikemen are generally easy-going, I guess because their weapon isn’t quite as easy to show off. Spears don’t have half the glamour of swords, and you can’t win coin or beers with them at the pub like you can with daggers. Definitely the most overlooked riders of the Own. It doesn’t bother them though—they don’t get people challenging them or flinging themselves over them like the rest of us do.

That said, Anganur is a very un-pikeman-like show-off, though with anything but the pike. Beer drinking at the ‘Thrai, dagger toss and arm wrestling are all particular favourites. He can only ever beat me at arm wrestling, and possibly dagger toss when I’m drunk, but he’s usually more drunk than I am anyway, so I tend to have the advantage there.

Inel I don’t talk to all that often, but he’s great to take a problem to. He gives the best advice, and always what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. Of all of us, he’s probably the one least affected by the Own’s high profile. He’s always lived in a rich family, and being a pikeman means that really only the other pikemen idolise him, and they tend to be easy-going anyway, so he doesn’t have to deal with that kind of thing too often. Also loves various religions, but more for the stories that come with them than the actual religion itself.

Finally, the swordies. Seven of them, making up almost half the Own, which is fair enough I guess. I still say we could do with one less swordsman and another archer, but that’s just me. The blade archers think they’re the best; the swordsmen know they are. These are the guys most people know well, just because Raykin idolises the sword above anything else. Whether it’s being wielded or hung on the wall, the sword is undeniably more spectacular than anything else. Aeia damn it I’d love to be able to swing one better than I can.

As a bit of a novelty, the most well-known member of the Own right now is the General. I say novelty because it’s usually the best swordsman who people know, and the General’s the best tactician, not necessarily the best swordsman. More often than not, the poor guy never gets the recognition he deserves. Nimay though, well, she’s obviously a bit of a novelty, and was when she hadn’t yet become General.

Everyone, I should hope, knows the raw basics, so I won’t bore any of you with those. I won’t be confirming or denying any rumours about the bangle around her wrist, either. Nimay has never spoken a word, true, but that hardly means she’s silent. There’s the odd occasion when she’s obviously desperate to say something with words, but those occasions are few and far between. If you’ve known her long enough it’s easy to know what she’s wanting to say. It’s also rather handy when she’s telling us battle tactics in Kazin, when the slightest sound would give away our position. And, Lin’s blood, she is the absolute master of the silent treatment. Guilts a man into anything.

Melraan’s a good friend of mine, and was before I’d been accepted into the Own as well. Funny, funny guy, very dry, sarcastic sense of humour that you’ll either love or hate. He likes to boast that he’s the best swordsman in the Own, but I wouldn’t put him quite that high. The guys who are better than him aren’t the types to challenge the claim though, so we’re all happy. He’s very laid back except when it comes to training, which is something he’s pretty serious about.

Rumal, now he is the best, hands down, which is ironic because he’s a born and bred southern districts boy. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him now though—he’s the longest-serving member of the Own and has been living the high life for just about thirteen years now, so he’s left all that behind him. Good man. He’ll never live down the four scars on the back of his wrist though, and yes, those came from exactly what you’re thinking. Quite the little thief, was Rumal. The missing little finger though, that has nothing to do with that. He lost that in Kazin on my first mission up there. That doesn’t mean he escapes mockery from the rest of us though, much to his annoyance.

Emon would probably be ranked number two among the swordies. He’s so ridiculously modest about it though that you can just tell he’s fishing for compliments. We can see through this ploy of his, but the general public apparently can’t. He puts on such a “woe-is-me” performance that we can’t help but laugh, and consequentially be accused of being heartless towards the poor creature. It takes a while to earn his trust, but once he’s willing to let you in he’s incredibly loyal. I considered myself unlucky in love before meeting him—the poor guy has had eight girlfriends and counting. One left him when he didn’t get in the Own, then the next one left when he did. The current one lives in Ni-Mytaa, so he’s always the most excited when we leave on a mission because it means he can see her again. We’re still working on getting him to propose to her.

Kurae is our official cook. We have a roster for whose turn it is to cook the next meal, but Kurae’s are the ones to wait for. If he wasn’t a swordsman, I’d make Majesty employ him as head chef at the palace. He’s just that good on the road, so imagining him with all the right utensils and everything… that would be fantastic. He’s a bit stony-faced and quiet though, very cliquey with the other swordies. He doesn’t take compliments well either, but Aeia, it’s worth it to have one good meal in every fifteen while we’re on the road.

Ulkar’s our country bumpkin. He came from a town consisting of about fifty people, ten houses, a few farms and a pub. The population of the place is just about doubled when we get there, but he’s so incredibly proud of that little town. Living there has meant that he hates spending. Part of saving up in case of drought, which is of course in the mindset of everyone in the kingdom, but even more for people from country towns where a drought could very easily turn the place into a ghost town. He’s lived in Ni-Yana for more than half his life now, but he’s still such a country bumpkin… It’s just very amusing for the rest of us.

Finally there’s Haenel. He only just got accepted a few months after the last mission, so I barely know him. He seems a bit highly-strung to me, but that could just be nerves since he hasn’t actually been on a mission as yet. He probably feels like he’s trying to replace Rau as well, which was never going to be an easy task. He seems like the type who could very quickly get on my nerves, but we’ll have to wait until we’re on the road to find that out.

So there’s the Own as we currently stand. We’re not gods, we’re not invincible, we can’t defeat the whole of the Kazinian army without breaking a sweat. We get scared, we bleed, we break bones, and believe it or not, we can even die, much as we try not to. For the cynics, there are reasons why we’re the highest paid in the kingdom save for the Generals.

We’re not gods, just Maralu.

Mission Brief