“See here,” wise Beandor said to his young pupil, Therry, “This arch, though appearing so weak, is very strong. Although the walls may crumble, unless the keystone is disturbed, the arch will stand and bear weight.”
Beandor used his staff to tap the keystone of the arch.
“This arch has allowed people into this temple for over a thousand years, protecting our town of Kernsh from every attack. Look at this ancient place, overlooking the mighty ocean, it appears weak, and yet it is so strong, like our people. Our fair country, Aladia, seems fragile, and yet it is just these points that keep it whole.”
Therry studied the arch.
“That is a point of power,” Beandor said. “Knowing where the keystone lies. Often the seemingly weak is really the strong, and yet there may be one point, the keystone, that holds it all together. With the weight of the building pushing this stone down, making it stronger, do you know how to remove it? Once you do, power over this building is yours. When confronting an enemy, always try to figure out his keystone. It may not be the leader or the bravest warrior, just as the keystone of Kernsh is not the castle or mighty Verith, our protector.”
Beandor reached out his hand.
“Take this stone. It is said to be an actual flake broken off as they shaped this keystone. Hold it and know the strength of this place.”
No sooner had Therry taken the stone when screams were heard. Gronian raiders had been sighted. A shark-headed ship had pulled up onto the beach.
As the common people rushed into the temple for protection, Therry rushed to the beach, pulling his sword. He was the son of a noble, he was bred to protect.
The skirmish didn’t last long. A rope net made Therry’s sword impotent and he was soon captured. Along with four other Aladians, Therry was loaded onto the Gronian ship. He knew the slave markets were in his future.
Gron had long been feared, but never respected. Its shark-headed ships ruled the waterways, but their people accounted for little more than pirates and coastal raiders. It was nothing like its arch-rival, Aladia, the beautiful. Aladia held great power and fortune and was seen as a shining star amongst nations.
But through the years the power began to shift. A new young warrior, not content to just raid villages, began to take entire towns and fortifying them to serve as new points from which to take more territory. He quickly rose up to become a general and finally was crowned king of a new glorious nation, an improved Gron.
News of the surrender of the Aldian capital, Morrir, reached King Therry of Gron. Along with his elite troops, he set sail for Aladia. Much to the troop’s surprise, instead of sailing all of the way to the capital, he had the ships stop at a small, seemingly unimportant town on the coast.
Therry had not laid eyes on his home town, Kernish, in over 25 years. The village by the sea looked almost exactly as it had the day he had been captured. The castle still smiled down from its perch above the town, as it always had. Only one thing was missing.
A contingent from the intact castle met the king’s party as it climbed to the plateau over the town. The leader, Verith, bowed low to the king without a hint of recognition. Therry waved him off and continued to the site of the ancient temple of Kernsh.
All that remained of the sacred spot was a short section of wall that was punctuated with an arch. Therry dismounted and studied the arch. His men stood back and watched their king, puzzled at his fascination.
He was about to leave when a very old man rose out of the ruins and approached the king. The soldiers drew their weapons, but King Therry motioned for them to put their swords away.
“So you have come back, my pupil,” Beandor said.
“Yes, teacher, to prove to you that I learned your lesson well,” Therry said. “I discovered the correct stone to leverage in every town, province and country to make the structure crumble. The unassuming Kernsh was the keystone of Aladia and the old temple was the stone used to leverage Kernsh. Once the temple fell, the country could not be far behind.”
The very old man nodded. “You did learn that lesson well, but you were captured before I could teach you the real lessons.”
Therry watched his old teacher suspiciously. “What lessons?” he asked. “How could I have gained more power than I have?”
Beandor smiled. “Real power doesn’t lie in buildings and arms.” He used his staff to point to the world around him. “It lies here.” Ignoring the bristling arms, he lightly touched his staff against Therry’s chest. “The keystone to the soul is the heart. To be truly free and hold power over yourself, you need to keep that arch open and allow others to enter, welcoming, as this ancient temple did for years out of memory. In search of power, you made your heart a stone so none may enter. You may have won the world, but you lost yourself.”
Beandor turned and walked to stand under the remaining arch.
“This still stands. And the people still stand with it. You may have taken town and country, but you haven’t built a structure in its place. Unless you look inside of yourself and remove that stone, your power will soon crumble. It is founded on the mud and filth of greed. But this arch will stand forever.”
A lieutenant cleared his throat. King Therry turned to him.
“Sire, shall I have this man put to death for his impertinence?” He asked. “Shall I have this wall leveled to prove your power?”
“No, leave them both standing, feeling the freedom of the sea breeze. Come, let us to Morrir.”
With the war over, the two countries began to heal. There were no longer coastal raids and the towns and villages on both sides prospered. Much to people’s surprise, the old nation of Aladia was given a large amount of autonomy and instead of becoming like the Gron of old, Gron itself became more like Aladia the fair. Two great countries, united by their love of freedom, came to stand side by side. Old animosities were forgotten, wounds healed.
Old King Therry knew in his bones that he must pass from the world, but he needed to make one last voyage.
The ministers kept their distance as the ancient king walked up to the single arch standing by itself in the middle of a field overlook the ocean.
Therry studied the arch, much as he had 70 years before.
“No Beandor,” he said to no one. “I do understand. But to fix Gron and thus protect the people of Aladia from the raids and worse, I had to take Aladia. Can you understand that, my teacher?”
After standing perfectly still for two minutes he asked, “Will the temple still protect me, to reward me for my refusal to remove its most important stone?”
He smiled, as if hearing an answer. The ancient king walked through the arch to where the temple once stood. He had only been there a second when he collapsed.
The minsters rushed to his side, but he was dead. Afterwards, the thing that they remembered most was his smile and how at peace he looked. In his hand was a chip of stone. It matched perfectly the keystone of the arch.
Since that day, the only stone set into the shared crown of Gron and Aladia is not a gem, but a weather worn chip off of that ancient arch.
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