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“Ryder Ward, please report to the office. Ryder Ward, please report to the office.”
Ryder looked up from the doodle he had been working on in his notebook. The bird could use a little more shading before he left for whatever reason this time. But he didn’t have that kind of time.
Mr. Skylarke’s eyes were already on him. The light sparkling off his bifocals as he gestured for Ryder to leave.
He didn’t understand what he did wrong this time. He had been behaved well enough, hadn’t he? He was just doodling all class. He was sure that anyone would agree that economics was the worst subject ever.
“Bring all your things in case class ends and you’re not back.” Mr. Skylarke said.
Ryder slung his trashy backpack over his shoulder, mentally cursing at himself for whatever he did. His dad was already fed up with him and it hadn’t even been half the year yet.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Ward. How’s your father doing?”
Ryder shrugged. He wasn’t really around his father. The man was an alcoholic. And he didn’t care for Ryder. None of his family members did. They all thought he was a mistake. A kid gone wrong.
He took a long look at the janitor’s eyes. A sense of longing filled him up like a water balloon. A sense of wanting to be noticed for who he was. Not who his family was.
“Fine, I guess. I wouldn’t really know.” He replied. The janitor frowned, his eyes falling to the dusty display case a few feet away. The school’s pride and joy. The trophies from past lives.
“He was a good man, your father. Always looking out for the little guys.” He said. Ryder huffed. He really didn’t feel like talking about the past right now. He’d already heard enough of that from his father near dawn when he was filling his mouth with whiskey or vodka.
“I would stay and chat, Mr.…Becker, but I’ve got to get to the office.” He sighed.
The janitor nodded, patting him on the shoulder, “Whatever goes on in that room, remember who you are. Remember what you’ve been taught.”
What? What was he talking about? He was just going to the office! Crazy old fruit loop.
“Mr. Ward, we’ve been expecting you.”
Ryder took a step back, confusion spreading over him like a wildfire. Five people dressed in suits fixated on him. Three men and two women. Badges at their sides.
He hadn’t done anything illegal! Had he? He didn’t remember anything of the sorts. Not unless he was doing illegal things in his sleep. He’d like to try to explain that to the judge. 'I promise I was only sleep thieving!'
He gazed around. The principal was nowhere to be seen. Neither were the usual school receptionists.
Where had they gone? And why were these people here?
“I promise I haven’t done anything! I’ve been good! I’ve been laying low!” he exclaimed.
One of the men stepped forward, shaking his head, red hair shaking with it.
“You’re not in trouble, Ryder. But you need to come with us.” He assured.
The heck he was! They hadn’t even told him what they were doing there! Or why they knew his name!
Ryder backed away, fear engulfing every other emotion in his head. The man held up a hand, trying to keep him from completely freaking out. But it looked it was already too late for that.
“I’m not going anywhere with you! I’m…” he started.
The redhead dove at him, knocking him into the desk before he could stumble out the door. That would’ve been disastrous. Having five grown adults chasing after a harmless seventeen-year-old boy.
Ryder’s heart leapt as his arms were pinned behind him, the mysterious man and the two women holding him down.
The redhead pulled out something, holding it over him.
“We can’t explain anything here, Ryder. They’ll be back soon and we don’t have much time. They’ve already kept you for almost sixteen years.” The man said.
Ryder raised a brow. What the heck were they talking about? Keeping him for fifteen years? What was he smoking?
“And who are you all? What are you going to do with me?” he questioned.
The redhead held a bottle something like pepper spray in front of his eyes and sighed.
“Here, we’re FBI agents. And we’re taking you back home. To your real home.” He said.
And with that, he sprayed the bottled, instantly knocking Ryder out, his head dropping to the ground.
The five looked over him. Some with clear respect and enthusiasm. Others with disgust.
He should’ve been different from these putrid people. He should’ve been something great, but they had stolen him. They had almost ruined him. Now they would have to teach him a great deal. And try to piece together what was left of their culture.
“He’s so much like his father. Right down to the sandy blonde hair and brown eyes. He’s even got the beauty mark right under his nose!”
Ryder moaned, pain emitting from his eyes to the back of his head. What had they done to him? And why did it feel like a hurricane had sucked up all the juices in his brain, leaving him with a drought?
He opened his eyes slightly, before shielding them again. The light shining down on him was too bright.
“Ryder Ambrosius, you’ve awaken.”
Ryder opened his eyes once more, feeling a breeze. Then shot up, feeling violated as he looked down. On a lumpy mattress, looking like it was from the mid-twelfth century, he was lying without a shirt or trousers.
He quickly covered himself with a silk sheet once he realized that he was not alone in the room.
A man and a woman giggled at the sight. But it was Ryder that could have laughed, though none of it was actually funny.
It looked like he had stepped into a book from the time of knights. Stone walls and stone floors. Women wearing dresses that looked like sheets. And men wearing tunics.
“Where am I? Who are you all?” he questioned, peering around the room. It looked like a dozen people were watching him.
Did he have something on his face?
A woman with pale skin and long gorgeous black hair bowed before speaking, “You’re in Camelot, your majesty. The hunters finally found you.”
In Camelot? Seriously? Had his captors eaten their cereal with a bit of crazy on the side?
“What are you…wait, did you just say your majesty?” he questioned. The woman nodded slightly.
“Yes, your majesty. That is what you are. The son of the king. From the Ambrosius bloodline.” She said, quickly.
He rubbed his temples. What was wrong with these people? And why did this woman seriously believe that he was from a royal bloodline?
“But I don’t understand. I am not from a royal bloodline. My dad is just an accountant. An alcoholic accountant.” Ryder protested.
The gigantic wooden doors opened. Instantly, all of the people in the room bowed, staring at the man in front of them. With three very familiar people surrounding him.
His captors, the redhead dressed in a full suit of body armor. Finished with red insignias of a golden goblet full of some translucent liquid.
The man held up a hand, gesturing for the group of three to leave him. Ryder didn’t understand it all. He was in the twenty first century and these people were still wearing armor fit for a knight? Was he in some kind of reenactment?
“I need some time alone with Ryder. He deserves to know everything that’s going on.” the man announced.
And then the dozens of people that had gathered into the room, left. Ryder watched in awe for a moment. All it took was a small statement and everybody left, listening to him immediately.
“Who are you?” Ryder questioned the man.
The man smirked, brushing back his sandy blonde hair, “Who do you think I am?”
Ryder thought about this for a moment. The woman had been talking about him earlier. Greying Sandy blonde hair. Brown eyes. Beauty mark.
“But you can’t be. My father is back in Kansas. And he looks nothing like…” he started.
“That man is not your father. A mere imposter. Someone that stole you from us a long time ago. Before you could remember and train for your place here.” He interrupted.
Why did they keep saying that? He was a child from a family of six kids. His father was an accountant. His mother died when he was born.
“But you’re lying! My…” Ryder started again. The man shook his head.
“Look, I know this is hard for you to believe, but you are not from that horrid place they took you to. You are from a royal heritage, the Ambrosius’. You were stolen from Camelot when you were just a babe. You are the son of a king.” He said.
Ryder raised a brow.
The man sat down next to him, gazing into his eyes.
“The Modernists have burned their ideas into your head. Their lies. Their misbeliefs. But you are not one of them. You know in your heart, don’t you? You feel different. Always have.” He continued.
Ryder swallowed hard. He couldn’t say that the man was wrong with his guess. Ryder had felt alone. Felt different from everyone that he’d ever met. As though he were made for something else.
But how could the man know that? He had never told anyone about those feelings. Only kept them locked up in some part of his brain. A reminder of what he could become.
“Okay, so you’re right about feeling different, but that doesn’t mean you’re right about everything else. I mean, Camelot, really? That place never actually existed!” he exclaimed.
The man snorted, “that’s what they have told you to keep you away from here? I’m a little shocked. I figured they would have at least told horror stories. Which, would have never occurred anyway. We’re a very peaceful bunch here. Unless it comes to losing one of our own. We are a dwindling population.”
Ryder released a breath. Okay, so what?
“I know that you want to believe me. I know you do.” He insisted. Ryder crossed his arms.
“And how do you know that?” he questioned.
The man rubbed the back of his neck, “because you are my son and here, in Camelot, fathers and sons have special connections.”
Ryder wanted to laugh. He wanted to throw it in their faces. But he couldn’t. Because for some reason, he felt a connection to the man in front of him. And some part of him wanted to believe them. To believe that he was someone of importance. That his father didn’t hate him. That his father wasn’t even his father. That this man, who looked very similar to him, was his father.
And didn’t that match the janitor’s odd comments about him? He talked about his father like he was a good man. But Ryder never remembered his father being talked about like that.
His father back at home had been a jock. Someone that picked on the little guys. Not saved them.
“Okay, so say I believed you. Why did you kidnap me?” he questioned. The man grinned.
“I knew you would understand, my son. We took you without your knowledge because the thieves were close. We did not have the time to explain to you why we were there.” He answered.
And what good did that do him? So far, this man had hardly explained anything.
“Why would they steal me from you? What importance would I be to them?” he asked.
The man shrugged, “I suppose it would be the power you possess. You are a son from the line of Ambrosius.”
Why did that name sound familiar? The man kept bringing it up, but he couldn’t place his finger on it. It was nagging at him. Prickling the back of his neck.
“And what power is that? Who are you exactly if not just my father?” Ryder queried.
The man stood up, taking a slight bow, “Merlin Ambrosius at your service!”
Ryder’s jaw dropped in disbelief. Merlin? As in the wizard? The wizard that was manservant to Arthur Pendragon? This man was the king?
But it all made sense. The insignia showed a goblet. The goblet of immortality. Ambrosius meant immortality, didn’t it?
He recalled the brief lesson about it all in social studies. The myths unit. If it was a myth, then how was the man in front of him still alive? Or having been born at all?
“If you’re Merlin, then where is Arthur?” he questioned. Merlin folded his arms, a sudden sadness washing over him.
“Dead. Fifteen years ago when the Modernists raided this place and took you.” He explained.
Ryder watched Merlin, his eyes returning to another time. Eyes that looked like they had lived a long time. Like he had lived through the great flood.
“What happened to him? And how did you become king, then?” he asked. Merlin snapped out of it, returning to his side at the bed.
“I was with Guinevere at the time, helping her with her surprise to Arthur for his birthday. Arthur was watching you. Left without protection. The Modernists came with their destructive machines, killing dozens instantly. Arthur tried protecting you, but he was no match without his sword and armor. They took you without a moment’s hesitation. Leaving Arthur dying in the hands of your mother.” He started.
Ryder frowned, tears filling his eyes. If he didn’t believe any of it, then why did all of this make him want to cry?
“I came just in time to see Arthur before he died. His last words to me were apologetic ones. As though he couldn’t believe he had actually let you go. And then he gave the position to me. And we have been hunting. Avenging Arthur's death and recovering you.” He continued.
Ryder clenched his jaw, twisting away from those terrible emotions. Emotions of anger and hatred. For the people that raised him.
“And what happened to Guinevere? Or my mother?” he mumbled. Merlin patted him on the back.
“They’re still alive. Awaiting your presence, actually. In fact, I think it’s time for you to meet your people. For the celebration that we’ve all been longing for.” He said.
He pulled Ryder up with one arm, the sheet falling off him.
“Wait, I have more questions! You haven’t answered anything!” he exclaimed. Merlin shook his head.
“I will answer your questions in detail later. But for now, we must get you ready for your celebration.” He said.
What was he talking about?
“My celebration? What are you talking about?” Ryder asked. Merlin gazed behind him. A suit of polished armor laid on a stool a few feet away.
“For your seventeenth birthday, of course. And we can’t have you dressed like that. Or lack thereof.” He said.
Ryder’s jaw dropped. How could he have forgotten about his own birthday? He guessed it was all the crazy that had been going on, but it was still ridiculous.
And how had Merlin known about his birthday? Unless he was telling the truth about being his father. Or these people had studied him vigorously. But he doubted anyone would do that.
Then again, if Merlin was telling the truth, people had stolen him from this place. And because he was supposedly some prince of a place that ‘didn’t’ exist.
“But you have…” he started.
Merlin tossed chainmail, hitting him in the gut. Ryder hunched over immediately, sucking in air. He’d never had that much weight his gut before. It was like he’d been hit with a bowling ball.
Merlin snorted, pulling him up, “you’re okay, my boy! We really must work on that!”
Ryder gazed up at the man. Was he crazy? He’d just been hit with something that weighed two hundred pounds!
He knew that he looked like a strong young man, but he was not the child prodigy for weight lifting! Nor was he a good fighter!
“I’ll come back and we’ll go once you’re dressed.” He said, before turning away.
Ryder stood there, dazedly. Here, he was in a place where he’d been kidnapped and taken to, and they were going to celebrate his birthday!
He hadn’t done that since his mother’s death when he was three!
“What was my name supposed to be before all this? I mean, it couldn’t have been Ryder.” Ryder asked.
Merlin smirked, “Amos, it means strong and brave. Your mother and I thought that it would fit. After all, you would’ve been trained by the best.”
Merlin straightened the red tunic over the chainmail, leaving Ryder feeling awkward. It was already too heavy. And itchy!
But now he just felt uncomfortable. He barely knew the man in front of him. And he acted like he’d known Ryder his whole life. Like he hadn’t just found him.
He felt like Merlin expected him to be someone he wasn’t. Someone that should’ve deserved the name Amos. But he didn’t. He was a coward. He was a pacifist. Always trying to stay away from a fight. But the fights always managed to find him. Even when he was a baby, apparently.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, watching as men and women straightened or bowed as they walked past.
And it bothered Ryder. He didn’t deserve the respect they were giving him. He didn’t deserve anyone’s respect. Not with the things he’d done.
“So, the woman told me that I came from a royal bloodline. But how is that possible if Arthur gave you the position as king?” Ryder spoke up.
Merlin nodded at a knight as he walked past and eyed him.
“Arthur did give me control over his kingdom, yes, but the royals never would have allowed it if I hadn’t come from a royal bloodline. A place, long ways away from here, our family used to rule over many people. That was, until they were mysteriously killed off. My mother and I were the only exceptions, having left years before.” He started.
So he was from a royal bloodline. Just not from this kingdom. But how hadn’t he heard of it before? Why did everyone know about Camelot, but not this other place?
“My mother hid me in secret, posing as servants until someone recognized us and tried to kill us. It was quite the shock for both Arthur and I. Then when I told him who I actually was, he wouldn’t accept my help as a servant anymore. But a friend.” He said.
“But why would your mother hide you from everyone else? Why did you leave?” Ryder asked.
“We left because things were getting bad and my father feared that there would soon be a revolt. I was five when we left. And then my mother heard from a servant that the kingdom was wiped out. She was terrified that whoever massacred our home would try to kill us.” He explained.
Well, that did explain why they wouldn’t tell anyone who they really were.
“What was it called? Our kingdom, I mean.” Ryder asked, curious.
“Pulchraterra. It was a swell place. That is, until the revolt.” Merlin replied. Ryder rubbed the back of his neck. What did he say to that, exactly? ‘I’m sorry that your whole kingdom was decimated?’ He didn’t think that would work out well.
Doors opened in front of them, revealing a gigantic room. The largest, wooden table he had ever seen seated dozens of people from all different classes; knights, peasants, servants, noblemen, and odd-looking creatures with long ears.
Ryder stood there in shock. He’d never seen anything so great. People actually getting along, laughing and commencing conversation between all the classes. No looks of disgust. No angry faces. Just happiness.
It almost brought tears to his eyes. He didn’t know how long he’d been wishing for some peace. For happiness to fill all, not just one group. And it had been here all along.
“We’re different from most kingdoms.” Was all Merlin said, before walking into the room, headed for the head of the table.
Ryder couldn’t have described it any better. They were very different from other civilizations. Especially the Modernists.
As soon as he stepped into the room, everyone quieted, gawking at him as he looked for Merlin. It was like a family reunion back at the Wards’. Except he supposed these people were gawking at him for good things.
He stepped onto the tips of his toes, trying to peer over the crowd starting. He didn’t want to lose Merlin. He didn’t know anyone else! Well, except for the people that had kidnapped him. But they had never introduced themselves.
“Hey, Ryder, over here!”
He was spun around, coming face to face of the redhead. He wore a sly grin, his brows arching in amusement.
“We may make take the Modernist out of you, yet.” he snorted, peering down at Ryder’s apparel.
He did look different. Like he was from the twelfth century, too. Rather than his usual hooded sweatshirt and jeans.
He wondered what his friends would’ve thought if they saw him now.
“Your father is over here. I’ll show you.” He pulled on Ryder’s arm, yanking him to the head of the table.
Sure enough, Merlin stood at the end of the table with a woman. A beautiful woman with dark, greying hair, green eyes.
Merlin pointed at Ryder as the redhead came within twenty feet. The woman turned around, tears in her eyes. And she studied him, her eyes calculating.
She threw her arms around him, her fingers caressing the back of his neck, “my boy, you’re home.”
This was his mother? But she looked so much older than Merlin!
“And you look just like your father when he was a boy.” She mumbled, pulling back.