As the morning sun began spreading its light along the quiet, cobblestone streets, a chorus of songbirds began their morning serenade. The blanket of fog that had accumulated over the course of the night had settled overtop the gently sloping lands surrounding the ancient town of Cing, giving the area a pervasively ethereal ambiance.
Thomas pulled the brim of his dark hat further over his eyes, shielding them from the growing intensity of the orange rays. His pace remained steady as he followed the stone pathway leading to the towering main gates, with each step he sent little wisps of fog fluttering around over his worn leather boots and around his ankles. Thomas breathed in deeply, taking in the earthy scent that hung in the air.
Thomas loved that smell, it always seemed to accompany the beginning of a new day. The scent stirred the memories of the daily routine that encompassed the majority of his childhood and teenage years, taking him right back to those moments as if they had only been yesterday. It didn’t seem like all that long ago to him, but were he being honest, it was far longer than he cared to admit to anyone.
He had spent his formative years taking that same pathway every morning before the crack of dawn, eager to hurry and collect the mail from the neighboring town of Brahms, which was quite a ways closer to the King’s Highway, and therefore served as a sort of postal hub for the surrounding town and villages.
So, there Young Thomas was sent, pounding the cobblestones with his little wooden cart in tow so that he could collect whatever letters, edicts or parcels had been sent to his fellow townsfolk from throughout the kingdom. Thomas remembered, perhaps less fondly, always having to hurry along his route so that he wasn’t too late to secure a helping of stew from his grandmother’s cauldron. If he ever dawdled, or was unexpectedly impeded by a surplus of packages, there was never enough left over for the poor boy to get a helping, so he learned to wake and start early from a young age to get his fair share of the best soup in all of the Eastern Kingdom.
Thomas, now well into the middle of his life with a stable career as an adjunct to the Office of the Royal Emissary, was able to walk at his leisure as he traversed the road leading to his familial home.
He didn’t harbor any ill will towards his grandmother for using such tactics to foster such a strong work ethic… well, not anymore anyway. As he later learned, it had been more than necessary to elevate him from the shameful stigma which had been attached to his family name for well over a century.
Thomas could still see the disappointment etched across his grandmother’s face the day he had ran up to her after his first day of school, he was covered in a sheet of tears and snot, asking her why the other kids in the town kept calling him the “Fritz von Shits”.
With a heavy heart, the proud old woman sat him down and told him the story of his family’s great shame,
“Because they had been one of the founding families of the town, the Fritz clan was among the upper echelons of society during Cing’s infancy. Fredrick von Fritz, your great-great-great-great-great grandfather on his father’s side, had been the inaugural mayor and had even established the town’s very first orphanage, among other accolades.”
Thomas remembered feeling a swelling of pride upon hearing about his forbearer’s accomplishments, how could people possibly find a reason to mock him for that? His grandmother then continued,
“However, it wasn’t too long afterwards that Frederick would be synonymous with a singular incident that occurred during the formation of the Eastern Kingdom. Back when the little town was still independent, Contavious the Conqueror and his legion of battle-hardened soldiers were racing atop their armored steads through the Eastlands like wildfire. When they reached Cing’s doorstep, there was only one person standing in the way of that mountain of a man in his glimmering black ebony armor, and that was dear Fredrick. Now, one thing you need to know about Fredrick is that while he was a proud, strong man, he was no warrior. Despite that, he did what the other so-called “men” of Cing refused to do. Dressed in his white vestiges, armed only with a short sword, Fredrick stood his ground by the main gate, all alone.”
“I don’t understand, Grandmother,” Thomas had asked. “Even if the king had killed Fredrick, it sounds like it would’ve been an honorable death. Why would it be considered shameful?”
“Thomas,” she had replied with a sigh, “Please just listen.”
“With the entire village watching from the top of the battlements, Fredrick stood stiff as a board as Contavious dismounted his horse and approached him. The king towered over Fredrick, from what they say, he was a good three heads higher than the elder Fritz. Contavious drew his legendary longsword, Heartsbane from its scabbard and planted the point of the blade in the ground before him, exposing the red clay hiding beneath the grass with its silver polished tip. Fredrick was very intimidated by the king, as any rational soul would be… but unfortunately for him, he was a little more so than most. In front of Contavious, his army, and the entire town of Cing, Fredrick von Fritz’s white pants turned a deep dark brown as he loudly evacuated his bowels... before collapsing face-first onto the ground in disheveled heap. Contavious pushed Fredrick over onto his back with the metal point of his heavy boot, revealing Fredrick’s vacant stare and gaping mouth. He was quite dead, you see. Cing pledged loyalty to King Contavious just moments afterwards.”
“Huh,” Thomas had replied.
The two grew quiet and never spoke to one another about Fredrick von Fritz or his deathly shit ever again.
Thomas slowed his gait even further, lingering by the entryway as the two armored guards pushed open the large wooden gate. His gaze lingered over at the spot on the ground where old Fredrick bit the dust and he felt a sharp tinge of pain in his stomach before he continued into the town proper. Despite how far he felt like he’d come since those days, he still felt the pull of his ineffective ancestor from across the centuries.
Walking up the main thoroughfare, past the clumps of stores in the shopping district, Thomas watched as everything seemed to brighten with each step as the sun continued rising in the sky. He felt his mood lighten with it as he turned the corner and proceeded past the dry goods store and down the road to the wrought iron gates surrounding the cemetery. He instinctively flicked open the small brass latch that held the front gate closed. He felt his eye twitch reflexively at the piercing squeak as it closed shut behind him.
Passing by several rows of headstones, Thomas stopped as he caught sight of his grandmother’s name, then began approaching her grave with a reverent hesitation. He carefully wiped the dust away from the tombstone obscuring her name as he dropped to a knee. He’d missed her internment into the earth because of his obligations to the kingdom, and for that his heart felt heavy and reuniting with her like this.
Thomas felt like she would have understood his delay, however. After all, it was her, his beloved Tomi Fritz, who had instilled such a strong drive in his heart. His eye wandered a few rows back, over to Fredrick’s headstone, taking in its sorry state. Covered in graffiti and smeared in what he could only hope was pudding, Thomas pursed his lips and sighed.
Yup, she definitely would’ve understood.