DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. Yu-Gi-Oh! and all related characters are the creations of Kazuki Takahashi.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Before anyone asks, yes this is a Yu-Gi-Oh! story. The first few chapters are set somewhere a little different with no familiar names or faces, but familiar characters will appear later in the story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE 2: This is a companion story for my fic, 'The Shadow Library'. When they are finished, both stories will be complete in their own right though. You do not need to read one to enjoy the other. This story merely gives more meaning to certain things that happen in 'Library'.

 

A Life for a Life
Chapter 1

By Shadow's Mirror

 

It was an age of warriors and warlords, after myth and magic had become folktale and fable.

To the people of the tiny European country of Cantoria, the ancient stories were merely that… Stories. They told them to their children as they huddled around their fires, feeding the young ones on tales of valour and victory when the meager meal was not enough to satisfy even the smallest of them. There were many such meals, for although the silver deposits in the mountains surrounding the country made Cantoria wealthy, the people saw little of the vast riches that lined the Royal coffers.

It was not that the King was miserly in his ways, oh no. Quite the opposite. King Roland enjoyed spending his country's wealth. He spent it on rare foods and wines, exotic treasures and pleasures and clothes made from the finest silks and velvets. But above all else, he spent it on his greatest passion.

His army.

Cantoria was small, but the silver mines made it valuable. It was a well-known fact that the kings of every country bordering Cantoria hoped to some day be able to add its riches to their own, by any means necessary. King Roland was determined to protect his throne from those who would claim it in battle, so he amassed the strongest warriors and soldiers that he could.

They came eagerly, from far and wide, for the King was always generous to those willing to give their lives for him. Of all the armies in Europe, Cantoria's was not only the best, but it was also the best maintained. The soldiers had food better than in some royal households and their smallest request was always granted immediately. They wanted for nothing. It was even rumoured that the Elite Royal Guards, those lucky few chosen by the King himself as his personal bodyguards, slept on silk sheets! There were also whispers that they were permitted to consort with the beautiful dancers who were King Roland's favoured nightly entertainment.

However, while the King of Cantoria built up his army and spent his country's wealth on his own selfish pleasures, the people of his land were struggling to survive.

Although the mines were good for the Royal coffers, the mines' overseers were all greedy men who overworked the miners and gave them little in return. The men had no choice though. Enduring the harsh conditions of the mines was small payment for the ability to feed their families. Most of the overseers were willing, even eager, to pay in supplies rather than coin. Of course, the supplies were always over-valued, so the miners never received as much as if they had bargained at market, but no one dared complain about it. At least, not where the overseers could hear them.

Most of the villagers existed on what little crops they could grow, or the few animals that they kept. Few families ever had enough for themselves, and yet most were more than willing to share what little they had with those who had nothing. They were, for the most part, good, hard-working people. But, as in most places, there were those who were not satisfied with merely surviving.

The dissenters were usually ignored, and things might have continued that way… if King Roland had not grown greedy.

For as long as the people could remember, they had paid a small part of their earnings to the church, a tithe to ensure that those who were most in need could be cared for adequately. Although there were some who grumbled about it, most paid the tithe willingly. All knew that there could come a day when they would be the ones seeking the church's aid.

This payment had not gone unnoticed by the king.

"If they can afford to pay the church to look after those too lazy to look after themselves, then they can afford to pay for the protection they get from my army! My soldiers patrol the villages. They maintain the peace and they deal with those who break the law. What do those fool monks do? They hand out a bit of food and preach about tolerance and peace! Why should they receive money for that when my soldiers receive nothing for doing so much more? No. I will tolerate this no longer. Let it be known throughout the country that, from this day on, what is paid to the church will also be paid to the army!"

King Roland smiled, pleased with his declaration. As his advisors gathered around him, praising him for his ingenuity and decisiveness, he failed to notice the horrified look on the castle scribe's face. If he had noticed, it probably would have earned the scribe a beating. But it might also have warned the king about the consequences of his greed.

The people of Cantoria were not pleased about the tax.

Once the announcement was made, those who had already been speaking against the cruel conditions of the mines and the selfish excesses of the king and his court found themselves with a wider audience. Most kept to the topics that they were sure of, but there were others who were not so wise. The discussions began to hold less reason and caution and more accusation and anger.

At the same time, rumours began to circulate. Some were obviously ridiculous, but there were others that were, at the very least, possible. The most common, and the most believable, was that King Roland would not long be satisfied with the amount of tax being paid and would demand more. With his self-indulgence and greed well known, most considered it to be more of a truth than a rumour.

With fear and uncertainty spreading throughout the land, it was not long before the situation became known to the kings of the surrounding countries. After that, it was only a matter of time until one of them decided to take advantage of the situation.

 

To be continued...

 

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