868 RA “2nd Season, 5th Moon, 2ndWeek, 1st Day”
~Taer, The Azurian Capitol Of Marion, Dusk

“Worried your boyfriend will run away with some pretty lady he finds out in the woods?” teases Salome while stretching out her leg as she plays with the bows on her yellow skirt.  Her pale leg reminds Talumn of porcelain, the white floral pattern stockings only adding to her doll-like physique.  Next to Talumn stands her older sister, Amelie, the target of Salome’s taunts.  Longingly she looks out a large pan window.  Her eyes locked onto nine horses trotting over the fielded lands towards a forest.

Talumn glances thinking to herself how untouchable those forests had become.  Amelie’s spread fingers over the window appeared melodramatic at best. “I hate it when they go out into those woods.” she moans.

Salome rolls her eyes. “You are boring when your boyfriend is around. All you do is romance over him.” She drops her yellow skirt pretending to gag sticking her tongue out. Talumn could not help but let out a chuckle. The youthful princess wiggles a few times before hopping off the sill of the stone window.

Amelie places her hands on her hips shaking her head. “No, I am not.” Talumn knew she had never been honest about her crush on Median, but it is blatantly obvious to everyone else. She could not help but snicker even though she tried to stifle her laugh. Amelie’s quick retort apparently struck Salome as funny too drawing out a full laugh. Amelie blushes blurting out “And he is not my boyfriend!” A tongue wags out of Salome lips. “You little devil,” Amelie yells, giving the two a look that would turn anyone with any sense to stone. Startled Talumn looks toward Salome who had her hands on her hips with that smug little grin of hers. “Did you come all this way to patronize me?”

“I did not come to look out a window and watch my brother ride a horse,” Salome says raising her voice an octave. Something is rewarding about seeing her sister challenged by someone for once; all the more rewarding since it is someone so much younger than Amelie. There is a silence as the two girls have a battle of the gazes. Talumn catches herself sheepishly drawing a quick breath to stop her chuckle from escaping the entire event appearing comical to her.

Salome snaps her head away in a fashion that suggested she had never even took part in their contest. “I am bored. Let’s go find something fun to do.” The younger blue haired girl says reaching for Talumn’s hand. “I don’t want to hang around dreamer girl anymore. She is making me sick, blah.”

“Come on honey. Let’s go exploring.” A youthful grin raises on Salome’s cheeks at her suggestion.

“Sounds fun, I know just the place to go looking too.” Talumn perks up raising an eyebrow. “Let’s go listen in on the lords’ meeting.” A wide grin crosses Talumn’s face as she thinks about what they might hear. She had always had a hobby of making mischief getting the inside view of the kingdom’s operations. It made her feel important like an aristocrat or a lord. A piece of knowledge that was only privy to the finest few and she was one of them.  A true lady of the kingdom, not an adopted orphan.  Knowing the things she knew made her feel important.

However, Salome’s words draw out a loud burst from Amelie who swings from the window. “No, you don’t! You little minx, father would be furious if he found you.”

“That’s why it is fun,” Salome says. “You can’t have any fun if there is no danger involved.”

Amelie grabs Talumn’s arm grasping firmly. “You better not do it.”

“Oh don’t be a dead lizard. Where is your sense of adventure!?” Salome says tugging Talumn’s arm away. “Including I was not inviting you. Talumn and I will go by ourselves.”

Amelie shook her head. “Fine you can go, but you are not taking Talumn. If you get caught, don’t expect me to cry at your funeral.”

Talumn crosses her arms. “I would not mind going… I think it would be fun.” Amelie shakes her head letting out a sigh.
Salome laughs. “We are ladies of the crown. The most they will do is give us a harsh scolding.  My father would never let old King Grandor touch me.”

“Your father is in Ruby Falls,” Amelie says. “Don’t forget you are a guest here Salome. You should act like a proper lady.”

“I am a lady, Amelie! And my brother will take care of your old father for me. What do you think of that?”  Salome wrinkles her nose wiggling her fingers at the older princess. Amelie shakes her head while the young girl turns to Talumn pulling at her arm. “Let’s go.”

“It will be ok. We will only listen for a little Amelie.” Talumn says taking a step.

“You would be wise not to.” The two girls lift their skirts running off down the baroque pillared hall. Amelie yells out after a few seconds “You better not do it, you stupid brats.”

~

Grandor looks around his room nodding his head to Marshal Bregar, Hierarch Nigel and Lord Abelon the treasurer, each bowing back before taking their seats at the sizeable polished mahogany table. One place at his desk, however, remains empty. A somewhat rowdy drunkard of a man is missing. Grandor could feel the flames of anger growing in his belly. His brows narrows into a scowl. “Where is Griel?” his voice echoes throughout the chamber like a booming thunder.

“Most likely among the taverns my Lord,” a black haired man whispers with his crow like lips into High King Grandor’s ear. He is a fickle man named Benidis, the voice of the kingdom.

“Of course…” King Grandor says with a long drawn out sigh. If anything, Griel is predictable. He should have expected this of him, and he will be punished dearly for it later. Not wanting to waste any more time Grandor decided it was best just to begin the meeting now. Griel would not add much to the conversation anyway he thought to himself. “So, what are our loses…”

Seated to his right is Lord Arwin, who Grandor always kept close since he became High King. He drew a breath in slowly before saying “Well, it could be worse. We are still estimating the damages from last moon’s attack. Volkmar has said that Lord Bilk is dead.” Grandor smiled slightly after hearing he was rid of that fool. He had recently resorted to burning Bilk’s lunatic ramblings as kindling. It was after all the best use of his works. Hardly any reason to archive words so without meaning. “Though, something troubles me. It has been reported the rebels are moving Village Guards out of Ulfates. As to where it cannot be said. Troubling news. Benedis as I understand you have received several messages on behalf of the kingdom.” Grandor’s silver eyes gaze, directed at the far end of the table. There sat “King” if anyone still considers him that, Bridehan.

“Yes, I have.” Says Benedis “Unfortunately. I have received word from Parish. It has been attacked by the Dalmaskan’s. Currently they are being raided, and soon they are expected to suffer a full-scale invasion. Forces are once again requested of the throne, my lord.”

“Perhaps I have news to ease your mind, my lord.” Marshal Bregar looks at an old withered map sprawled out on the table. He pointed with a compass at Ulfates in the east. “After the capture of Ulfates we have had several skirmishes in the villages leading up to Verst. It is clear they intend to take Verst from the east. Knowing this gives the kingdom an advantage.” he points at the map grinning. “We have been in contact with Lord Knight Hyde who has been planning an invasion of Ziekden, a small farmers village outside of Belcross.”

“Why is Ziekden’s control desired?” Grandor grumbles.

The Marshal points just west of Belcross. “We have an informant. He claims to be loyal still to the crown of the imperial kingdom. In exchange for immunity, he has offered up Guildred. It turns out they have quite an operation building out in Ziekden. If we strike them there, we will obstruct their entire operation. I have already taken the liberties of informing Lord Volkmar of this information.”

“Very good.” Grandor gives a stabbing gaze over at Bridehan. “Do you know anything about Ziekden Bridehan.” The question causes Bridehan to small into his chair. “I figured as much.” Grandor growls.

Arwin clears his throat before saying “If I may, interject…” Grandor taps his fingers on the table looking to Arwin, who could be called ancient. His unmistakably brown eyes looked around the room before saying. “I received word from Lord Volkmar that they located the rebel’s fortress in Belcross. There is no doubt in my mind that before the moon is over Guildred and his lot shall be wiped off the map.” The suggestion made Grandor smile. He felt a warmth come over him and some of the trouble he had been carrying leave him.

“I shall offer up prayers for the kingdom to the true gods. May their will be done.” The hierarch chimes.

It was hard to not laugh Grandor thought to himself. The gods, the gods were gone if they were ever here at all. Grandor rolls his eyes before looking back in Bridehan’s direction. “That is good. Do you hear that Bridehan?” Grandor snarls. “In less than a year we see the end of the uprising.” Everyone gives Bridehan a snide look while he simply looks down in shame. “So tell me, what of regaining control of your kingdom, Bridehan?”

Bridehan, King of Taer, in the war was a fearsome champion, but after he claimed the throne, he had lost his once powerful physic and instead became much like a pig. He was never a bright man or even really that much of a tactician but instead was a useful idiot. He had the body of a golem. His hair is a fading brown turning gray. “It’s still ongoing,” Bridehan murmurs.

“Golgatha, yet still all these years later is a pain in my side. Once again we see uprisings across the land. A severe lack of tributes. Few soldiers are coming into service to the kingdom. Further, this has become troubling for me. Day after day our allies in Parish are being raided by those Dalmaskans. General Beney is requesting air forces, and we have none to give. If we don’t have a hold on our knights then how can we have a hold on the eastern kingdom? Our territories need to yield soldiers or else I fear we may be locked in a conflict with those savages in the far east. Not only would we have to have our interests retreat to the mainland but we would also face the wrath of the Imperator. Bridehan, how do you present a solution to the mess you have made.” Grandor says placing much more emphasis on the conclusion of his words.

Bridehan slowly looks over sheepishly like a whipped dog. “They are beasts with no sense of duty to the Royals. It is not my fault that they do not know when to bend their knees in defeat. They have pride as I have never seen before. If we underestimate the people of Golgotha, we could find ourselves in a war unlike the last one. It was because of King Leon that we were able to negotiate a surrender and capture of Golgotha.”

The Marshal growls turning red-faced. “You mean the man you poisoned!”

“I did no such thing. King Leon’s poisoning was as much a surprise to me as it was to you. You did not have to watch that horror; I was at the table with him when he died!” Bridehan says jumping to his feet.

“Enough!” Grandor roars. “Bridehan, continue as you were saying.”

“The people of the land don’t even respect me as their king, let alone adhere to my decrees. If I used more force, we would have full on revolts. They don’t fear my knights or me. The ideals they seek that is the problem. I cannot kill it in their hearts. I have been up many nights unable to find peace or rest thinking about these things. I gave them everything they demanded and still, they want more! I might as well have thrown down my crown before them, and they still are not pleased.” says Bridehan.

“So you would say it is out of your hands. You are a powerless king in a land full of savages?” says the King. “Marshal Bregar, how would you handle such a people?”

“Make an example of them my lord. Burn their crops if they yield less than what is needed. If soldiers don’t come, then take their youth and make them soldiers. If they do not bend their knees, then quell them. The problem you have Bridehan is they do not fear you.” says Bregar looking every bit like a black lion. From his hair and bearded face that looked like a mane to his burning yellow eyes. Even his teeth look sharp.

Bridehan stands from his chair slamming his hands on the table. “That is insane! You do that, and you are sure to have more of an uprising in Golgotha than you ever seen before! These people you think are so easily controllable are a proud people. They have their traditions and even a different set of gods than us. I am not going to be bereaved by madmen.”

“Sit,” Grandor says in the calmest of tones. Bridehand slowly lowers himself back into his chair. A small creek calls out as he sat back. There was a moment, a pause. “Fair enough. How about you, Rhal?” Asks Grandor in a raspy voice.

The youthful knight looks up slowly from his guard position in front of the large twin doors.  His bright silver eyes looking over the group of much older and wiser men than himself. “I – I would make myself appear as one of them. If you control the love of the people, then nothing is out of your reach.” Rhal stats before returning to his guard position, hand resting on the pommel to his saber.

Bridehan folds his arms looking over to Rhal. “And how do you suppose I convince them to give me that?” It was clear to everyone that Rhal felt uncomfortable. Addressing a king as an equal was entirely unnatural to him, so he merely bowed his head.

Before Rhal had to answer, High King Grandor spoke up saving him a chance at shaming himself. “You want to know how I would deal with this King Bridehan?” Slowly Bridehan turned his head from Rhal’s grin looking on with great intent. “I would get a new king to rule.”

Bridehan’s eyes widen as the words left his tongue. Terror struck him as he realized tonight he could be facing his execution. “My Lord King, please have mercy!” he shouts.

“You see Bridehan this did not happen overnight. You have ruled for over twenty years now. It was a slow degradation. Over time, you lost control as you did not use your power wisely. You dined on the greatest foods, and while thieves ravaged your domain, you hid up in your castle like a coward. Now that you have become weak you want to be strong again. Then you allowed a small uprising from the Knights, and we face civil war among our forces. If news reaches west of our inability to handle our troops it will be my head on a pike. You cannot be strong any longer and do not serve a purpose for me. However, I am a real King. I will allow you to remain as a figurehead. You shall be King of Tidas. The East will hate you, and I want them to. I want the East to think of you as a fool. So keep your fools crown.” says the King.

“Thank you, my High King, but what of Golgatha?” Bridehan was now breathing heavy because he knew this would not be the end of Grandor’s curse.

“Golgatha needs a King they can rally behind. What Rhal said is true. We need the love of the people. The only way to have that is a true native of Golgatha. Tell me Arwin how are the studies of Prince Illian?”

“Prince Illian is a refined noble. He is a very talented strategist. I am most proud of him.” said Lord Arwin.

“I am already aware my son has been poor in his studies.  I do not believe he is ready to claim his place in the east.  Then it is settled, and it is only proper, Illian shall be made King of Elitus. You would not object to this now would you Bridehan.” Bridehan looked down at the table fumbling with his hands. “Benidis, make the preparations. Have him crowned in Elitus before the moon is over.”

“Yes, sir.” responds counselor Benidis.

Grandor sits back in his chair and sighs. He slowly looks around the room at everyone. He drew his attention to Lord Arwin. “Now that that order of business is done. How are the northern skies?”

~

“They just cut off the man’s head, it was horrible. Blood everywhere. I could not stand to watch it. The idea of it draws my stomach content in my throat.” Tybolt clutches the bridle of his horse tightly while he recounts the morning’s execution of a local thief.

Illian strokes his chin glancing in Tybolts direction. “Would you have our city be overrun with thieves?”

He shakes his head. “No… but you would think they would have another method of execution that is less messy. You know like starving them to death in a box or poison or something. Not just lopping their head off with an ax in the city street.” The blond prince shivers “It’s disgusting.”

Tybolt pauses to look over at Median who is riding slightly ahead of him. “How do you deal with criminals in Ruby Falls?” Illian is also interested in hearing what Median had to say. His stories and ideas were very different from the ones he is used to hearing. Illian had not left Taer since arriving when he was a child. It had become the whole world to him. So an alien visitor, like Median, is warmly welcome.

Median flashes a toothy smile before saying “Well, we always need people to fill the Colosseum. So we simply throw them in a pit, give them a weapon and let them fight until they die in battle.” He brushes his hand through his fiery red hair. Median’s sky-blue eyes crown a face Illian found more beautiful than that of the sculpted gods.

A look of horror crosses Tybolt’s; he groans holding his stomach. “Forget I asked… that sounds absolutely barbaric.”

The prince in black armor shakes his head slowly. “It is elegant. It is artful. It gives them a death of purpose. They pay for their crimes, generate revenue and entertain the people. It really is better for everyone.” Median snickers. “Well besides for the poor blokes who can’t fight, but they normally die pretty swiftly.”

Hearing the man talk so casually about such a painful death rang in Illian’s ears. As unethical as it sounds Median was utterly right Illian thought. It would fulfill all those benefits, at the cost of morality of course. “I never considered such a thing. I thought your proud gladiators tended to be free men wanting to make a name for themselves.” Tybolt chimes sarcastically. This was also news to Illian. He had studied a great deal about the Coliseum in Ruby Falls, and there was never mention of criminal competitors.

“For the most part, they are,” Median adds with a lively voice. “However, when we are doing a reenactment of a battle we tend to lack enough bodies to make it look as spectacular as it should. So we use the captured for that.” From what Illian could tell Median was unlike his father, King Ailer, Median believed the way to rule was through overwhelming strength. He was a man of poetry and philosophy and held the hearts and minds of his people through his mysterious charms.

Illian admired the landscape as the forest was alive with bioluminescence tonight. Brilliant shades of neon blue, greens, and pinks lit the night. Their band on horseback walked casually through a garden road. Three soldiers in the front and three in the rear; Illian and Tybolt dressed in royal fatigues, Median, however, chose to wear a breastplate of black armor covering his commoner’s clothing.

Tybolt looks back at Illian, who is behind the two. “Would you hurry it up! You’re too slow.” Tybolt huffs, tugging his Azure blue cape tightly against his chest. “What are you looking at anyway? There is nothing but trees out here.” He says throwing a wild hand gesture in the thick forests direction.

“I am just enjoying exactly that. It is not often we ride in the woods at night. Have you ever stopped and looked at how beautiful things are.” Illian says with genuine interest.

Tybolt snaps his head back to his front. “You can admire it from the walls of the castle. I tire of riding, and I want to go home. Including, you two can talk about your cruel interests with each other in a tavern. I can’t imagine what rousing conversation the two of you would have with a drink or so.”

“I would assume you would tire of being inside those walls,” Median says dully. “Tybolt you remind me of a caged beast at times. One that is becoming disappointing and cowardly.” He sprawls back onto his horse with absolute comfort. Tybolt couldn’t help but notice Medion’s shirt raising exposing his tone stomach.

He closes his eyes not wanting to be aroused. “Well, perhaps if I decided to live in a cave like some mud person you would change your mind? We are royals, and our place is not out here among the… uncivil. We are rulers, not peasants.”

Prince Medion snickers. “What is the difference?”

“Being out here among the dirt is careless and for the lackies. Being in a city is dignified, means you have somewhere important to be?” He retorts back.

A smile begins to slowly spread across Illian’s face as his attention turned to Tybolt. He directs his horse to stand next to Tybolt’s white stallion “And where would that prominent place be?” he laughs.

“What’s it to you? You apparently want to be in the company of a pack of trees. I should have known considering the amount of time you spend with books. They are pretty much trees, made of the same damn thing anyway and I for one, don’t want to be in these woods all night.” Tybolt taps Illian’s horse his eyes darting from side to side as he inspects the dim lit darkness. Illian snickers to himself as he realizes Tybolt had a childish fear of the dark still. Probably of the outdoors too. For as long as he could remember Tybolt had always been a coward. With a knowing look, he smiled at Tybolt. “Don’t you look at me like that.” Tybolt snarls raising his head to the air looking away from Illian.

“I happen to enjoy night rides myself. No offense but the castle is rather boring.” Median says stirring slightly up from the back of his horse. A dull breeze rustles the leaves briefly.

“What you too?” Tybolt says with a sense of betrayal in his voice. “Joining his side? Why you traitor…” Tybolt says with a sarcastic grin. “You’re supposed to agree with me.”

“I don’t happen to have a side in this.” Medion retorts.

“If you want to go ahead then go ahead,” Illian says. “Take the three royal guards in the front with you. I will stay with the rear three.” A precession of howls from the dark alerts the knights sending them reaching for their swords. Tybolt freezes, turning pale.  His angry glare darts to Illian.

“Look at all the wolves,” Medion says.  The woods richly glows in the dark with hundreds of white shining eyes. “They must see us as invaders.”

“The wise caretakers of the woods. We are in their house after all. I should suspect we would draw their interest. At least they are not wildlings. They know better than to challenge.” Illian says with a soft growing smile.

“Wolves, wise would be the last word I would use to describe them. Pretentious, that is better suited for such beasts,” Tybolt fights the urge to quiver looking out among their numbers. “Cowards, that’s all they are. They hide in numbers but never do anything by themselves.”

“Yes but wolves lead from the front, do they not?” Illian glances to the guards to the front then to those in the rear.

Shaking his head, Tybolt lets out a low whisper “I said let’s go Illian. I am tired of being out in the dark. Especially with these beasts. I don’t wish to become their dinner.”

Raising an eyebrow, Median sits up turning on his horse’s saddle to face the stiff blond prince.  Illian watches a curious grin spread across Medion’s face. “Are you scared of the dark still Tybolt?”

“I am not afraid of the dark!” Tybolt roars sending several birds fluttering away. “It’s just my bones ache from all this riding, and I want to take a hot bath before bed.”

“Sounds to me like you’re making an excuse.” Medion chuckles teasingly.

Tybolt’s face now red as a cherry lets out a loud gasp completely forgetting his former fear of wolves. He grabs at the handle of his rapier, fingers rattling against its pommel.  He draws it from his side pointing the tip against Medion’s neck. “I dare you to repeat that! Medion! I bloody dare you!” In half the blink of an eye, Medion had purchase with his dagger against Tybolts kneck.  With the snap of his hand, he returns his knife to its holster. Illian chuckles a little as he watches Tybolt’s face lower in defeat along with his sword.  “If father were here you would never treat me this way.”

“If your father were here he would be distraught with you, seeing as how you’re acting childish as you are,” Medion says rather firmly pointing his finger between Tybolt’s eyes.

“I am not a child…” He stops his horse dead in its tracks. With a huff, Medion continued down the path past the three front guards.

“You can’t go without guards Medion,” hollers Tybolt.

One of the guards chuckles at his remark. “I am not sure if Medion has guards or if he guards the guards, my lord.” Tybolt looks over at the man and grins a bit.  Illian knew that grin; it is indeed feral like that of a wild animal. “I suppose you are right though. He really should not go off on his own like that.”

“Come on my lady Grandor will have our heads if we get you in too late.” says one of the guards in the front. Everyone burst into laughter, everyone except for Tybolt. Illian glances to see Tybolt’s still face just looking forward blankly and it is at that moment he knew something horrible is about to happen.

Tybolt snaps his head looking directly at the man. His nostrils flare as he breaths heavily scrunching his face. “What did you say?” Clenching his fists, he points at the man. “Get off your horse and bow your head,” Tybolt commands low and firm.

The guard looks over at the other soldiers. They nod their heads at him, and he smirks a little before jumping from the back of his horse. Tybolt places his foot on the saddle’s strap lowering himself down slowly off the horse’s back. He walks over to the soldier; he stands several inches taller than Tybolt. He grins with a crazed look at the soldier who held intently. “On your knees,” he whispers in the faintest tone he could muster.

Jumping from his horse, Illian runs towards him.  Tybolt cocks his head looking directly at him while he draws his sword from its ivory sheath. “Illian, I am embracing the barbarism of father. Want to see?” Illian dives toward Tybolt as Tybolt holds the blade over the man’s neck. Illian latches onto the blade with his bare hand and shouts “Tybolt! Let your father deal with him.”

Tybolt squeals struggling to yank the sword away from Illian’s firm grip “Know your place, Illian!” The guard jumps to his feet taking several steps away as Tybolt kicks Illian in the rips nearly knocking the wind out of him. The two young nobles struggle with the blade as the guards watch intently.  Illian manages to twist Tybolt’s arm away retching the sword free.

“I do Tybolt, you should know your’s too,” Illian says tossing the sword down on the ground in front of Tybolt’s feet.  A firm push onto Illian’s chest knocks him back.  Tybolt grabs the saber without a word, withdrawing to his horse’s side.  He glairs at Illian, the fire in his eyes suggesting all was not over with yet.  Tybolt grabs the side of his horse displaying an unusual feat of acrobatics lunging onto the horse’s back.  He could hardly believe what he had just witness and thought his own eyes had just lied to him. Judging by how everyone’s face hung in shock, they are not.

~

Rhal braces his back against the massive hall doors, the meeting of lords now over. The Royals gather their things as he awaits dismissal. He thanks the Gods and Grandor for sparing him from Bridhan’s scorn. A series of stifled squeals from the other side of the door catches his attention.  He glances at the crack between the door hearing the unmistakable click of cork heels trailing down the hall. His silver eyes turn from the entrance to Lord Grandor who is gathering up several documents. “Those bloody girls are at it again.” Rhal thinks to himself. “I better get them out of here before Grandor notices his daughter had been spying.” He bows onto his knee before saying “My High King, may I excuse myself at this time.”

Grandor glances up from his papers.  “Do as you must my boy,” Grandor says waving his hand. “You have done well today. I may have to consider more of you soon enough.” With this Rhal bowed lower.

“Thank you, my lord, it means a great deal hearing this from you.” Grandor nods as Rhal raises to his feet. The doors open with a loud creak as he pushes the twin bars aside. Down the hall, peeking from behind a pillar Rhal sees a light blue dress and yellow ribbon.

He smiles slowly walking over the polished white marble floors. He stops just before passing the pillar. “Ladies.” After a short bit of giggling the two girls sheepishly poke out from behind the mast. Clank, clank, clank, his boots go with each slow and deliberate step. Rhal grins at the young beauties as they hid behind their hair. “Well…” he says in a calm tone.

The pair of princesses look at each other gleefully blushing. “Is this any way to approach two fair ladies of the crown Sir Rhal,” says Princess Talumn trying her best to look serious. Her light pink lips pout contrasting with her russet skin.

He strokes his chin saying “Am I talking to ladies?” with a slight hint of amusement.

“What do you mean by that?” Princess Salome barks.  She narrows her eyes putting her hands on both sides of her vanilla dress.

Rhal raises his eyebrow placing his hand on his side. “I mean to say it looks like I am talking to a pair of very very talented little spies.” They smile and burst out laughing. Rhal shakes his head glancing around uneasily. “You two are going to get me into trouble if you keep doing this. You know better than to listen in on the King’s meetings. I always find you two lurking around here. That is not good. You make tempting captives.” He wags his white-gloved finger at the girls.

“We do, but we have faith in our great and honorable protector.” Talumn grasps at Rhal’s arm stopping his finger wagging. Salome pauses for a moment before lunging onto his waist hugging and pressing her head into his chest. “After all, we are safe when you are around.”

Rhal rolls his eyes slumping back some before pushing the two girls off him. “And what if I am not around?”

The two look at each other before a big goofy grin covers Salome’s face “Then we will scream, and you will come running,” She says it, so a matter of factly Rhal almost believed it himself. He looks down stroking her ice blue hair while looking into her sapphire eyes.  She gives him a childish pout before he messes up her locks.

“So you have that much faith in me do you?” Rhal harshly squints at the two before saying “What am I to do with you two? If you are going to do this at least be good at it.”

“Are you going to tell father?” Talumn’s voice raises several octaves higher and became very childish. He was not going to fall for that but then again if he did that it would only get the girls in trouble and might even get him reprimanded too. Though if he knows if he doesn’t they will do it again.

Rhal shakes his head. “No, only cause I know he has more pressing matters to attend to.” That was when Rhal noticed that Amelie is not with them. His escape from his trouble for sure is Amelie and he would sure as heck let her know it. “And where is your elder sister, Talumn? Isn’t she part of the usual pack?”

Salome folds her arms. “She did not want to come today. She is waiting for the boys to return from riding.” She puts her tongue to the side of her cheek. “All she talks about is my brother. It’s gross.”

Rhal laughs nodding “Ah, I see that explains it.” He had noticed the two of them recently spending more time together. He had assumed as much, but now it was quite confirmed. That being said if Grandor found out about the two of them flirting he was not sure how he would react. Not his place to worry about it though he supposes. “Well, before you two get into real trouble skedaddle out of here. You’re not even supposed to be on this side of the castle.” The two grin at each other before running off, lifting their skirts making sure not to trip. Rhal shakes his head with a half-smile. “Those two.”

~

Sitting on the rim of a vast fountain, princess Amelie waits in the castle courtyard. She admires the statue of the goddess, Luniel the peace bringer, who proudly stands at the center of the fountain’s pool. Water flows from the goddess’s two raised palms displaying a quiet peace. The princess grips with her beautiful silk scarlet pleated skirt while watching the distant dark for any sign of light. Amelie did not have to wait long before seeing a single horse breach the darkness with a lantern strapped to the rider’s side. Her heart flutters a sense of dread creeping from her spine, wrapping its terrible arms around her. She cranes her neck with strain attempting to see the rider but darkness intended to keep its surprise.

Upon reaching the gates to her complete delight, it was the envy of her eye, Prince Medion, who appears to be in proper order. Drawing a stretch of relief, Amelie sprung to her feet. Medion halts his horse in the court foyer. In grand fashion, he jumps down from its back. Princess Amelie runs into his warm embrace. “A welcoming party,” he laughs hugging her tightly.  His fingers rub through Amelie’s flaxen hair.  She courts the best smile she knew how to pose as he plants the softest of kisses upon her cheek.

At the moment she realized she had forgotten her previous worries. “Where are the others?” She asks looking up at him with her lotus colored eyes. Medion simply rolls his head around his shoulders gives a half smirk before rolling his eyes. The elegant princess stifles her laugh properly. “I always get so worried about you when you go riding off into the night like this,” Amelie says as she pulls closer to Medion laying her head against the cold black breastplate of armor.

Medion merely smiles and pets her on the head. He stands somewhat tall, almost an entire foot taller. “Well, milady care to come along with Flowen and me to the stables?”

“I would love to,” Amelie says. From over her shoulder, she could see Tybolt’s white horse racing out into the open. He did not even bother to slow down for the gate guards as he rushes in past Medion and herself. Shortly behind are the other guards and Illian. Medion looks over and gives a wave to Illian as he passes the gate.

Illian rides his horse up next to the pair and shakes his head. Tybolt’s hollers echo through the courtyard. “He is upset,” Illian says with a chuckle.

“What else is new for my idiot of a brother?” Amelie says. “So what is it this time?”

~

“Father! Father!” Tybolt roars stomping through the halls of the castle. He slams his way through the door, stomping into his father’s quarters with no discretion at all. Grandor turns his head from a pile of papers in front of him.  The candle burning on his desk flickering slightly from the movement of the door.

He sighs shaking his head at his son’s ruckus. “Yes, Tybolt. What is it?”

Tybolt grits his teeth snarling like a wolf. “Mighty fine knights you employ. They insult me without discretion. Your filthy guards are worthless.” Tybolt barks at the top of his lungs.

Grandor drops his pen back into its inkwell. “Care to enlighten me, what happened Tybolt?”

Tybolt clutched his fists “One of your guards called me a damn woman!”

“So how shall we handle such an offense, my son?” Grandor eyes fell heavy.  He sits up from the table getting to his feet.

“Is there any question as to what should be done?” Tybolt says walking quickly up to the other side of the table with his hands gesturing in the air.

“How often is it that you come in here? You always have some complaint about my guards. Would you rather hand pickguards for yourself? No no no, don’t answer that. Let me ask you this, are you dead?” Grandor grunts.

Tybolt narrows his eyes. “What a stupid question!”

“That’s right, why would you be dead? My guards do a good job guarding you. With that mouth of yours, you’re lucky you still have it.” Tybolt stands for a moment looking at his father’s shaking eyes.

“Well, I…” Tybolt growls. “It does not matter! He called me a woman! I am heir to the throne. He must respect royalty. This-this-this dog might have well bit me.” A long breath flairs out of his nostrils.

Grandor just shakes his head. “Tybolt think about what you are saying.”

“I know what I say!” Tybolt hollers back.

Grandor slowly walks over to his son and places his hand on Tybolt’s shoulder. “Yes and that is what bothers me. The idea of leaving the throne to you makes me sick sometimes. You have kept me up many nights. Perhaps your sister would be more fit to rule than yourself.”

Tybolt pushes his father’s hand off him. “He called me a woman! Even by your standards, that is asking for death.”

Grandor then roars. “It’s because of childish things like this that I am forced to send someone else to handle Galgotha instead of dealing with it myself. I should be leaving Taer in your hands Tybolt, not staying here as your supervisor.”

“Who are you sending in your stead?” snarls Tybolt.

Grandor looks away from Tybolt and in a quiet, calm voice says “Illian.”

Lowering his head like a crow, Tybolt takes several steps forward. “Il-li-an?”

“Yes, he leaves in three days,” Grandor says walking towards his balcony.  Tybolt follow suit but stops at the threshold.

Grandor places his hand on the edge of the railing and runs his fingers over it. “What, but why?” Tybolt says completely flabbergasted.

“I have decided to crown him King of Elitus,” Grandor says slowly turning to Tybolt to see his reaction. It is everything he expected as Tybolt’s eyes grew a familiar crazed look. It was the same look he always got as a child when he was made to share his toys.

“Golgatha is my kingdom. Bridehan is ruling in my stead.” Tybolt points his finger at his father cocking his head to the side.

Grandor then corrects Tybolt. “And Elitus is Illian’s; you knew this day would come. It is his by right. Including he can be used to serve a purpose right now.”

“What purpose is that?” Tybolt took a deliberate step onto the balcony.  “He is of better use here.  Not sending him to those savages in Golgotha.”

Grandor looked over the edge to view the whole city and a great distance beyond his grand kingdom of Taer. “He is a native son; they won’t treat him like they would treat one of us. We will give Golgotha what they want; their country. This will put Elitus back in line. Without Elitus Golgotha as an empire cannot stand against us. It is simple as that Tybolt.”

Tybolt shakes his head. “Illian is too young to rule!”

“Illian is a wise man according to Arwin.  I have noticed it too.  He is much like his father.  He would be proud of him as am I.” Grandor turns away from Tybolt.

 “These are not Arwin’s scenarios. This is Illian ruling a kingdom.” Tybolt taps his foot.  “Even still what does he know about Golgotha?”

“I have appointed many kings Tybolt. I will appoint much more after Illian as well. Don’t be so foolish as to think you are wiser than me.” Grandor glances back to his son.

Tybolt shakes his head. “Father you cannot have him. Illian is my brother. Would you take my brother away?”

“Illian is my kingdom’s future and your’s too. When I leave you, Marion, no one will say you have to clean up your father’s filth. I will leave the Empire clean for you. You just have to learn how to rule it. Once you have proven to me you are dedicated to the Imperator, and you will take your place in the kingdom seriously, I will consider giving you a small position. Until then I don’t want to hear anything from you.” Grandor let out a heavy sigh. “I am ashamed sometimes to call you my son. While Illian has raised in the ranks and proven himself to Arwin, you have chosen to disregard your studies. Do you know how much it pains me as a father to do this? You are splinters in my cup!” Grandor took a step away from the edge towards his son.

Tybolt instead walks past his father; he grabs onto the railing pointing over at the city below with his outstretched hand. It slowly closes into a fist. “Illian is not yours to rule. You and Arwin both do not respect the truth. What the truth is ruling is not about being loyal to your kingdom. It is about fear and power. If you want respect and loyalty from your people, then you must command it to them. The problem with Bridehan is he chose to be weak. Slaughter them on stakes. Hang their bodies from every rafter in the city if they do not follow orders. That is how you rule.” Tybolt says a fire burning in his eyes. “The Talmian’s held strong with such small numbers.  Why do we not seek a kingdom like theirs.  Arwin has me study useless drivel, the names of past lords and kings and their meager accomplishments.  Then I read the conquests of Valarious.  The man who made the Azure Kingdom.  A Talmian student.  Even the man he surpassed Hemlock and his empire that spanned the whole known world.  I aspire to more.”

“A child’s dreams.  The Talmian’s were an evil people.  They cursed this world.  Ruined everything they touched.  You will rule a kingdom of sand following their path.  As for Valarious, it was in spite of his Talmian heritage that he was great.  He abandoned their ways.” Grandor sighs.  “I love you, son, you are not ready to rule though.  You still have much to learn.”

“Father, my kingdom will be greater than any kingdom this world has ever seen.  It was written in the stars.” Tybolt says gazing over the vast city below, his mouth salivating.

Grandor walks through the threshold of the balcony back inside shaking his head. “This is why I have no faith in you.”