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Chapter 3: The Slavery Of Kings
~ 868 RE ~
“2nd Season, 5th Moon, 2nd Week, 1st Day”
~Taer, The Azurian Capitol Of Marion, At Dusk
“Are you afraid your boyfriend will run away with a pretty lady he meets in the woods?”, teased Salome as she stretched her leg and played with her yellow skirt’s bows. Salome’s pale leg resembled porcelain, and her white floral stockings only added to her doll-like appearance. Amelie, Salome’s target of taunts, stood next to Talumn. Her gaze was fixed on a large pane of glass, watching nine horses trot across the fields toward a forest.
In her mind, Talumn thought about how inaccessible those forests had become. It was melodramatic at its finest to see Amelie spread her fingers over the window. “I hate it when they go into those woods.” she moaned.
A sigh escaped Salome’s lips. “You are boring when your boyfriend is around. You just romance over him.” She dropped her yellow skirt, sticking her tongue out, pretending to gag. Laughing, Talumn watched the princess wiggle a few times before leaping from the sill of the stone window.
Amelie shook her head as she placed her hands on her hips. “I’m not.” Talumn knew she had never admitted to Median her crush, but it was obvious to everyone else. Despite her best efforts, she could not help but snicker. Amelie’s quick rejoinder drew a full laugh from Salome, who too found it funny. “And he’s not my boyfriend!” Amelie blurted out in a blush. Salome wagged her tongue in amusement. “You little devils!” Amelie screamed, giving them a look that would turn anyone with any sense to stone. Talumn, startled, looked down at Salome, who was smugly grinning with her hands on her hips. “Did you come all the way just to snub me?”
“I didn’t come here to watch my brother ride a horse,” Salome said, raising her voice an octave. Seeing her elder sister challenged by someone for once is a fulfilling experience, especially since it’s someone so much younger than Amelie. As the two girls stared at each other, there was a creeping silence. Talumn caught herself sheepishly stifling a chuckle as the entire event appeared humorous to her.
In a manner that suggested she had never taken part in the contest, Salome snapped her head away. “I’m bored,” she said. “Let’s go find something fun to do.” The younger blue-haired girl said grabbing Talumn’s hand. “I don’t want to be around dreamer girl anymore. She makes me sick.”
“Come on, honey. Let’s go exploring.” Salome’s cheeks light up at Talumn’s suggestion.
“That sounds like fun, I know just where to look too.” Talumn grinned and raised an eyebrow. “Let’s listen in on the Lords’ meeting.” Talumn’s face is bright with a wide grin as she imagined what they might be hearing. Getting an inside look at the operations of the kingdom had always been a hobby of hers. She felt important, as if she were a lord or an aristocrat. This was a piece of knowledge that only the finest few had access to, and she was one of them. She was not an orphan, but a true lady of the kingdom.
However, Salome’s words result in Amelie’s loud burst from the window. The two girls are startled to see Amelie standing up with her arms folded. “No, you don’t!” she roars. “You little minx, Father would be furious if he found you.”
“That’s why it’s so fun,” Salome said. “You can’t have fun if there is no danger involved.”
Talumn’s arm is grabbed tightly by Amelie. “You better not do it.”
“Oh, don’t act like a dead lizard. Where is your spirit of adventure?!” Salome said, pulling Talumn’s arm away. “Including I did not invite you. I and Talumn will go on our own.”
Amelie shook her head in disbelief. I’m fine with you going, but you’re not taking Talumn. Don’t expect me to cry at your funeral if you get caught.”
Crossing her arms, Talumn stands. “I would not mind going… I think it would be fun.” Amelie sighs, shaking her head.
“It is said that we are ladies of the crown. The most they will do is scold us harshly. My father would never let old King Grandor touch me.” Salome taunts.
“Your father is in Ruby Falls, serving the crown Salome,” Amelie retorted harshly. “Don’t forget you are a guest here Salome. You should act like a proper lady.”
“I am a lady, Amelie! My brother will take care of your old father for me. What do you think of that?that?that? She wrinkles her nose and wiggles 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 is fine. We will only listen for a little Amelie.” Talumn said walking down the corridor with Salome.
“You would be wise not to.” The two girls lift their skirts as they run down the baroque hall. A few seconds later, Amelie yells, “You stupid brats, don’t do it.”
Marshal Bregar, Hierarch Nigel and Lord Abelon the treasurer; all bow before taking a seat at the polished mahogany table. Grandor looks around his room. Yet, one spot at his table remains untouched, increasing the rage in his heart. The brows on his face narrow into a scowl. “Where is Griel?” his voice echoed through the chamber like a clap of booming thunder.
“Most likely in the taverns, my Lord,” a black-haired man whispered into the ear of High King Grandor. His name was Benidis, the voice of the kingdom and a fickle man.
With a long, drawn-out sigh, King Grandor replies, “Of course.” Griel’s behavior is predictable. In retrospect, he should have expected this from him. Since there was no point in wasting any more time, Grandor decided to begin the meeting now. In any case, Griel did not have much to add to the conversation. “What are our losses?” Grandor asked.
Lord Arwin sat to his right, whom Grandor had always kept close since he became High King. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Well, it could be more serious. We are still estimating the damage caused by the last moon’s attack. Volkmar has said that Lord Bilk is dead. We also lost Ulfates.” Grandor smiled a tad when he realized he had rid himself of that fool. A few weeks earlier, he had burned Bilk’s ramblings as kindling. It was after all the most appropriate way to dispose of them. There was hardly any reason to archive words so meaningless. “However, I have a concern. According to reports, the rebels are moving village guards out of Ulfates. Where they are going is unknown. This is troubling news. Benedis, I understand you have received several messages on behalf of the kingdom.” Grandor’s silver eyes gaze at the far end of the table. There sat “King” Bridehan, if anyone still considers him to be such.
Benedis said, “Unfortunately, I have. Parish has informed me. The Dalmaskans have attacked. Currently, they are being raided, and they are expected to suffer a full-scale invasion soon. Once again, My Lord, forces are requested of the throne.”
“Perhaps I can ease your mind, my lord.” Marshal Bregar looked at an old, rusted map on the table. Using a compass, he pointed to Ulfates in the east. “Following the capture of Ulfates, we have had several skirmishes in the villages leading to Verst. It appears they intend to conquer Verst from the east. Knowing this gives the kingdom an advantage.” He smiled as he pointed at the map. “We have been in contact with Lord Knight Hyde, who is planning an invasion of Ziekden, a small farming community outside of Belcross.”
“What makes Ziekden’s control so desirable?” Grandor grumbles.
Just west of Belcross, the Marshal pointed. “We’ve got an informant.” This person claims to still be loyal to the throne of the imperial kingdom. He has offered Guildred in exchange for immunity. Ziekden is building quite an operation, as it turns out. By striking them there, we will disrupt their entire operation. Lord Volkmar has already been informed of this information by me.”
“Very good.” Grandor looked at Bridehan with a piercing gaze. “Do you know anything about Ziekden Bridehan?” Bridehan shrunk into his chair at the question. Grandor growled, “That’s what I figured.”
“If I may interject… “, Arwin said, clearing his throat as Grandor taps his fingers on the table as he looks to Arwin, who could be called ancient. His brown eyes glanced around the room before speaking. “Lord Volkmar told me the rebels had located the fortress in Belcross. We take this Ziekden we may have an opportunity to not only take Ziekden but move to Belcross. Further, if we take Belcross at the same time as we retake Ulfates; there is no doubt in my mind that Guildred and his lot will be wiped off the map before the moon is over.” Grandor laughed at the idea. Suddenly the trouble he had been carrying left him and he felt a sense of ease.
“I will offer prayers for the kingdom to the true gods. May their will be done.” Chimes the hierarch.
Grandor thought to himself that it was nearly impossible not to laugh. If they were ever here, the gods were no more. Grandor rolls his eyes before looking back at Bridehan. “That’s a positive thing. Briehan, did you hear that?” Grandor snarled. “In less than a year from now, the uprising will be over.” Everyone looked at Bridehan snidely while he simply bowed down in shame. “So tell me, what is your plan for regaining control of your kingdom, Bridehan?”
King Bridehan of Taer was a fearsome warrior during the war, but after he gained the throne, he lost his once-powerful physique and instead became like a pig. Neither was he an intelligent person nor was he a skilled tactician, but rather he was a useful idiot. His body was like a golem. His hair was fading brown, turning gray. “It’s still ongoing,” Bridehan said.
“It’s still a pain in my side all these years later to think of Golgatha. Uprisings have again swept the land. Tributes have been severely lacking. The kingdom is losing soldiers. These developments have deeply concerned me. The Dalmaskans are raiding our allies in Parish day after day. We have no air forces to offer General Beney. If we don’t have a hold on our knights, how can we have a hold on the eastern kingdom? I fear we will be locked in a conflict with those savages in the far east unless our territories yield soldiers. Our interests would not only have to retreat to the mainland, but we would also face the wrath of the Imperator. Bridehan, how do you propose a solution to the mess you have created?” Grandor asked, placing more emphasis on the previous sentence.
Bridehan looked over sheepishly like a dog whipped by its master. “They are beasts without a sense of duty to the Royals. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know when to admit defeat, because it’s not my fault. I have never witnessed such pride. We risk a war unlike the last if we underestimate the people of Golgotha. We were able to negotiate a surrender and take Golgotha because of King Leon.”
Red-faced, the Marshal growled. “In which case, the man you poisoned!”
“It wasn’t me who did that. As much as you were surprised by King Leon’s poisoning, I was as well. That horror didn’t have to be witnessed by you. I was at the table with him when he died.” Bridehan said, leaping to his feet.
“That’s enough!” Grandor roared. ”Bridehan, continue what you were saying.”
“The people of the land don’t even respect me as their king, let alone follow my decrees. I would have full-blown revolts if I used more force. My knights and I are not feared by them. It is the ideals they strive for that are problematic. I cannot kill it from their hearts. The thought of these things has kept me awake many nights. I have given them everything they asked for and they still want more! Even if I had thrown down my crown before them, they would still not be pleased.” said Bridehan.
“You say it’s out of your hands. You are a powerless king in a land rife with barbarians?” said the King. “Marshal Bregar, how would you deal with such a populace?”
“My Lord, make an example of them. If their crops fail to produce, burn them. Take their youth and make them soldiers if soldiers don’t come. Quell them if they refuse to bend their knees. The problem you have, Bridehan, is that they do not fear you.” said Bregar looking every bit as fierce as a black lion. From his mane-like hair and beard to his glowing yellow eyes. It’s hard not to be impressed.
Bridehan stood from his chair with his hands slamming on the table. “That is insane!” he exclaimed. “Do that, and you will see the biggest uprising in Golgotha you’ve ever seen! Your ideas of how easily controllable these people are are incorrect. They have their own traditions and even a different set of gods than we do. I will not be afflicted by madmen.”
In a calm voice, Grandor commanded, “Sit.” Bridehand eased himself back into his chair. As he sat back, he heard a small creek. Then there was silence. “Very well.” he said. “What about you, Rhal?” Grandor asked in a raspy voice.
From his guard position in front of the large twin doors, the young knight looks up slowly. He glanced over the group of much older and wiser men than himself with bright silver eyes. “I would pretend to be one of them. When you control the love of the people, then nothing is beyond your reach.” Rhal stated before returning to his guard position, hand resting on the pommel of his saber.
As Bridehan looked over at Rhal, he folded his arms. “How am I supposed to convince them to give me that?” Rhal’s discomfort was obvious to everyone. Because it was completely unnatural for him to address a king as an equal, he simply bowed.
Rhal was spared the shame of answering when High King Grandor spoke up. “Would you like to know how I would deal with this King Bridehan?” Slowly, Bridehan turned his head from Rhal’s grin and to Grandor and watched him intently. “I would get a new king.” he said.
Bridehan’s eyes widen as the words leave his mouth. As he realized tonight that he might be executed, he became terrified. “My Lord King, please have mercy on me!” shouted the king.
“You see, this didn’t happen overnight, Bridehan. For the last twenty years, you have ruled. The decline was gradual. Using your power in an unwise way resulted in you losing control over time. In your castle, you hid up like a coward while thieves ravaged your domain and you dined on the finest foods. Having become weak, now you want to regain strength. We now face civil war among our forces after you permitted a small uprising by the Knights. The news of our inability to handle our troops will lead to my head on a pike if it reaches west. There is no purpose for you anymore and you are no longer able to be strong. I, on the other hand, am the true king. If you are a mere figurehead, I will let you stay. You shall be the King of Tidas. You will be hated by the East, and I want them to hate you. You will be the fool in their eyes. Therefore, keep your fool’s crown.” declared the King.
“My High King, I thank you, but what about Golgatha?” He breathed heavily as he realized this would not be the end of Grandor’s curse.
“Golgatha needs a King they can rally around. Rhal is right. A king must love his people. The way to have that is to be a native of Golgatha. Arwin, how are your studies with Prince Illian?”
“Prince Illian is a refined nobleman. He is an outstanding strategist. He has my highest regard.” said Lord Arwin.
“I know my son has struggled with his studies. He isn’t ready to claim his place in the east, according to my understanding. Consequently, Illian shall be made King of Elitus. Surely you wouldn’t object to this, wouldn’t you Bridehan?” Bridehan looked down at the table, fiddling with his hands. “Benidis, get things in order. Get him crowned in Elitus before the full moon.”
Counselor Benidis responds, “Yes, sir.”
Grandor leaned back in his chair and sighed. He looked around the room slowly. His attention is drawn to Lord Arwin. “Now that that order of business is done. How are the skies up north?”
“It was horrible, cutting off his head. There was blood all over the ground. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking of it.” Tybolt clutched his horse’s bridle tight as he described executing a local earlier in the day.
Taking a glance in Tybolt’s direction, Illian stroked his chin. “Would you want our city to be swarming with thieves?”
With a shudder, he shook his head. “N-no, but you’d think they’d have another method of execution that is less messy. Like starving them to death in a box or poisoning them. Not just axing their heads off in the street.” The blond prince shivered, “It’s disgusting.”
As Tybolt looks over at Median, who is slightly ahead of him. “What happens to the criminals in Ruby Falls?” Illian was also curious about Median’s response. The stories and ideas he told were very different from those he was used to hearing. Since arriving when he was a child, Illian had never left Taer. To him, it was his world. Median, an alien visitor, is welcomed warmly.
“Well, we always need people to fill the Colosseum,” said Median when he flashed a toothy smile. He brushed his hand through his fiery red hair as he said, “We simply throw them in a pit, give them a weapon and let them fight in battle until they die.” His blue eyes framed a face Illian found more beautiful than the sculpted gods at the shrine.
A horrified look crossed Tybolt’s face as he groaned and held his stomach. “That sounds absolutely barbaric.” he muttered.
Shaking his head slowly, the prince in black armor looks into the distance. “It is very graceful. A work of art. There is an undertone of death and life in it. The glorious struggles of a man to survive. His true nature is on display for all to see. Crimes are paid for, revenue is generated, and people are entertained. It’s better all around.” said Median. “Well, except for the poor blokes who can’t fight, but they usually die pretty quickly.”
Illian’s ears rang as he heard the man casually speak of such a painful death. In spite of how unethical it may sound, Median was exactly right, Illian thought. All of those benefits would be achieved but at the cost of morality of course. “This is something I never considered before.” Tybolt chimes sarcastically, “I assumed your gladiators were free men looking to make a name for themselves.” Illian was also surprised. There was no mention of criminal competitors in his extensive study of the colosseum in Ruby Falls.
“Most of the time, they are,” Median added with a lively voice. The problem is that when we reenact a battle, we often do not have enough bodies to make it look spectacular. We use the seized for that.” According to Illian, Median, unlike his father, King Ailer, believed that the best way to rule was through overwhelming force. He certainly was not a man to be triffled with. Yet, he was a poet and philosopher who kept his people spellbound with his mysterious charm.
It was a beautiful evening as Illian admired the bioluminescent forest. Throughout the blossoming night, neon shades of blue, green, and pink surrounded us. Their band on horseback strolled casually through a garden road. Median, however, wore a black breastplate of armor covering his commoner’s clothing, rather than the royal fatigues Illian and Tybolt wore.
Tybolt glanced behind him at Illian. “You need to hurry up! You’re too slow.” Tybolt huffed, pulling his Azure blue cape tight against his chest. “What are you looking at anyway?” he asked as he gestured in the direction of the thick forest, “There’s nothing but trees out here.”
“That is exactly what I am doing now. We don’t ride in the woods very often at night. Did you ever stop to consider how beautiful things are?” Illian asked with genuine interest.
A snap of Tybolt’s head brought him back to his front. “You can admire it from the walls of the castle. I’m tired of riding and I’m ready to go home. Plus, you two can talk about your cruel interests in a tavern. I can’t imagine what rousing conversation you two would have with a drink in hand.”
“I would assume you would get tired of being inside those walls,” Median says dully. Sometimes, Tybolt, you remind me of a caged animal. One that is disappointing and cowardly.” He sprawls back onto his horse with absolute comfort. Observing Medion’s mail raising, Tybolt could not help but notice his toned stomach.
Not wanting to be aroused, he closes his eyes. “Perhaps if I lived in a cave like some mud person you would change your mind? We are royalty, and we do not belong among these… primitive people. We are not peasants, we are rulers.”
Prince Medion snickered. “What’s the difference?”
“To be out here among the dirt is careless and lax. Having a city as your home is a dignified thing, it means you have an important place to be in.” He replied.
While Tybolt was paying attention to Illian, a smile began to spread across his face. While pulling his horse to stand beside Tybolt’s white stallion, he asked, “And where would that prominent place be?”
“What does it mean to you? You seem to prefer to be with a pack of trees. Given the amount of time you spend with books, I should have guessed it. They’re all made from the same damn thing anyway, and I for one don’t want to be in these woods all night.” Tybolt taps Illian’s horse as he explores the dimly lit forest. As Illian realizes Tybolt still has a childish fear of the dark, he snickers to himself. Probably also of the outdoors. For as long as he could remember, Tybolt had been a coward. With a knowing look, he smirked at Tybolt. “The look on your face is not flattering to me.” Tybolt snarled, turning away from Illian.
“I myself enjoy night rides. I don’t mean to offend you, but that castle is rather boring.” Median remarked from the back of his horse. There is a slight breeze rustling the leaves.
“What you too?” Tybolt asked betrayed. “Joining his side? Why do you behave like a traitor?” Tybolt asked sarcastically. “You are meant to agree with me.”
“I don’t have a side to play in this.” Medion replied.
“Go ahead if you want,” Illian said. “Take the three royal guards with you. I will stay with the rear three.” A howl from the dark alerted the knights, sending them to reach for their swords. As Tybolt froze, he turned pale. He shot an angred glance at Illian.
“Look at all the wolves,” said Medion. The woods are brightly illuminated by hundreds of white shining eyes. “They must regard us as invaders.”
“The wise keepers of the woods. After all, we are in their house. Naturally, they would take an interest in us. At least they are not wildlings. Illian smiled softly as he said, “They know better than to challenge.”
“Wolves, wise are the last words that come to mind when I think of them.” As he looked out among their number, Tybolt resisted every urge in his body to quiver. “Cowards, that’s what they are. They hide in numbers but never act alone.” Tybolt shook his head and whispered, “I said let’s go, Illian!”
Median as he sat up and turns on the saddle of his horse to face the young prince. Illian watches Medion’s curious grin spread across his face. “Are you still scared of the dark?”
“I do not fear the dark.” roared Tybolt, sending several birds scurrying away. “I just feel achy after all this riding, and I would like to take a hot bath before bed.”
Medion chuckled teasingly, “It sounds like you’re making an excuse.”
Now red as a cherry, Tybolt let out an audible gasp completely forgetting his fear of wolves. His fingers rattled against the pommel of his rapier. From his side, he draws it, pointing the tip at Medion’s throat. “I dare you to repeat that. Medion, I bloody dare you.” In half an instant, Medion had secured his dagger against Tybolt’s neck. Snapping his fingers, he returned his knife to its holster. Watching Tybolt’s face and sword fall in defeat, Illian grinned. “If father were here, you would never treat me like this.”
“Your father would be extremely upset if he were here and saw how you are acting,” Medion said firmly as he points a finger between Tybolt’s eyes.
He stopped his horse in its tracks, saying, “I’m not a child.”. After giving Tybolt one more glance, Medion smiled at Illian and they exchanged a quick nod before continuing down the path past the three front guards.
Tybolt hollers, “You can’t leave Medion without guards.”
His remark made one of the guards chuckle. “I am not sure if Medion has guards or if he guards the guards, my lord.” Tybolt grinned at the man. Ilian recognized that grin; it was feral, like a wild animal’s. “I suppose that’s true though. He shouldn’t be out there all by himself like that though.”
“My lady, come on, Grandor will have us slew if we don’t get you in on time.” one of the guards in the front said. Everyone laughed, except Tybolt. Illian glanced at Tybolt’s still face that was staring forward blankly, and he knew something terrible was about to happen at that moment.
Tybolt’s nostrils flared as he breathed heavily as he faced the man. “What did you say?” Tybolt snapped his fingers and pointed at the man. “Get off your horse and bow your head,” he commanded softly.
He looked over at the other soldiers. Their heads nodded to him, and he smirked before jumping off the back of his horse. Taking his foot off the saddle’s strap, Tybolt slowly lowered himself from the horse’s back. He stood several inches shorter than the soldier as he approached. The soldier stared at him with an intent look as Tybolt grinned with a crazed look. In the faintest voice he could muster, he whispered, “On your knees.”
Illian leapt from his horse and ran toward Tybolt. While drawing his sword from its ivory sheath, Tybolt cocked his head looking directly back at Illian. “Illian, I’m going back to the savagery of my father. Want to see?”
Illian dove for Tybolt as Tybolt held the blade over the man’s neck. He grabbed the blade with his bare hand and yelled, “Tybolt! Let your father deal with him.”
As Tybolt struggled to pull the sword away from Illian, he squealed, “Know your place, Illian!” The guard jumped to his feet, taking several steps away as Tybolt kicked Illian in the ribs, nearly knocking him unconscious. Two young nobles struggle with blades while guards watch intently. Despite Tybolt’s best efforts, Illian manages to retch the sword from his grip.
“I do Tybolt, you should know yours too,” Illian said, tossing his sword onto the ground before Tybolt. A firm slug to the chin knocked Illian backward. Tybolt grabbed the saber without a word, retiring to the side of his horse. Illian stares at him, the fire in Tybolt’s eyes this was not over. He grabs the side of the horse, then lunges onto its back in an unusual acrobatic display. Although he could not believe what he had just seen, the look on everyone’s faces clearly indicated he should.
The meeting of lords was now over, and Rhal braced himself against the huge hall doors. Royals gather their things as he awaited dismissal. “Gods and Grandor should be praised for sparing him from Bridhan’s scorn,” he reasoned. His attention is caught by a series of stifled squeals coming from the other side of the door. Hearing the click of cork heels trailing down the hall, he glanced at the crack between the doors. From the entrance, his silver eyes turn to Lord Grandor who is gathering several documents. “Those bloody girls are doing it again.” Rhal whispered to himself. “I better get them out of here before Grandor sees his daughter snooping.” He bowed to his knee and said, “My High King, may I excuse myself at this time?”
From his papers, Grandor glanced up. “Do what you must,” Grandor said while waving his hand. “I am happy with your performance today.” Rhal bowed lower with this. “I may have to take a closer look at you in the near future.”
“Thank you, my lord. It means a great deal to hear this from you.” Rhal stood as Grandor nodded. As he pushed the twin bars aside, the doors creak open loudly. As Rhal peered from behind a pillar, he saw the edge of a light blue dress and yellow ribbon.
Slowly he walked along with the polished white marble floors with a smile on his face. Just as he reached the pillar, he stopped. The two girls sheepishly poke their heads from behind the mast after a short bit of giggling. His boots go clanking with each slow and deliberate step he took. Rhal grinned at the young beauties hiding behind their hair. In a calm voice, he said, “Well…”.
Glancing at each other, the two princesses are gleefully blushing. Princess Talumn, trying to appear serious, asked, “Is this any way to address two fair ladies of the crown, Sir Rhal?” Light pink lips appear against her russet skin.
“I didn’t realize I was in the presence of a lady,” he said, stroking his chin. “Where might she be?”, he asked with a hint of amusement.
“What do you mean by what you said?” Princess Salome barks at him, her hands are placed on both sides of her vanilla dress as she narrows her eyes.
The man raised his eyebrows while placing his hand to his side. “To be honest, it looks like I am talking to a couple of very very talented little spies.” They beamed and chortled. The small outburst caused Rhal to glance around uneasily. “If you keep doing this, I’ll get in trouble. You know better than to listen in on the King’s meetings. There you two are again creeping around. Don’t do it. You girls will make tempting captives of yourselves.” He wagged a white-gloved finger at the girls.
Talumn grasped Rhal’s arm, stopping him from wagging his finger. “We have faith in our great and honorable protector,” Talumn said.
Salome follows embracing him and pressing her head into his chest. “After all, we are safe with you around.”
Rhal rolled his eyes and slumped back as he pushed the two girls off of him. “And what if I am not around?”
Salome looked at Rhal with a broad grin on her face. “Then we will scream and you will come running,” she said matter of factly, almost as if she believed it herself. While gazing into her sapphire eyes, he stroked her ice-blue hair. Before he messes up her hair, she gives him a childish pout.
“So you have that much faith in me do you?” Rhal glared at the two before he said, “What am I to do with you? Just be good at it if you must.”
“Are you going to tell father?” Talumn’s voice rose several octaves higher and became very childish. Naturally, he wouldn’t fall for that, but if he did, it would only get the girls in trouble and maybe result in reprimand for him. But if he doesn’t know, they will do it again.
He shook his head. “No, only because he has more urgent matters to attend to.” That’s when Rhal noticed that Amelie wasn’t with them. The only one who can get him out of his trouble is Amelie, and he would make sure she knew it. “And where is your elder sister, Talumn?” he asked. “Isn’t she part of your usual group?”
Folding her arms, Salome stood up straight. “She wasn’t interested in coming today. She is waiting for the boys to return from riding.” She puts her tongue to her cheek. “She always talks about my brother. It’s gross.”
Rahl chuckled, “Ah, I see, that explains it.” He had noticed the two of them spending more time together lately. He had suspected it, but now it was confirmed. If Grandor found out about their flirting, he wasn’t sure how he would react. Still, it wasn’t his place to worry about it. “Before you get in real trouble, skedaddle out of here. You aren’t even supposed to be on this side of the castle.” The two grin at each other and run off, raising their skirts and exposing themselves as they do so. Half-smiling, Rhal shakes his head. “Those two.”
Princess Amelie waited in the castle courtyard on the rim of a vast fountain. Her gaze was drawn to the statue of Luniel the peace bringer, which guarded the center of the fountain pool. Water flowed from the goddess’s raised palms, displaying a sense of quiet peace. Watching the distant dark for any sign of light, the princess looked down at her beautiful silk scarlet pleated skirt. It didn’t take Amelie long to see a horse with a lantern strapped to its side breach the darkness. As her heart fluttered, a feeling of dread creeps up her spine, wrapping its terrible arms around her. In an attempt to see the rider, she craned her neck, but the darkness intended to conceal its presence.
Upon reaching the gates, the envy of her eye, Prince Medion, appeared to be in proper order, to her complete delight. In a moment of relief, Amelie rose to her feet. Medion halted his horse in the courtyard. He jumped off its back in grand style. Princess Amelie hurriedly embraced him. “A welcome party!” he laughed, hugging her tightly. His fingers stroked Amelie’s flaxen hair. In exchange for the softest of kisses on her cheek, she gave him the best smile she could muster.
In that moment, she realized that she had forgotten about her previous worries. “Where are the others?“ She asked looking up at him with lotus-colored eyes. His head rolled around his shoulders as he gave a half-grin before rolling his eyes. The elegant princess held back her laughter. “I always worry about you when you ride into the night like this,” Amelie said as she laid her head against Medion’s cold black breastplate of armor.
Medion merely smiles at her and pets her head. He is quite tall, almost an entire foot taller than she is. “Milady, would you like to come along with Flowen and me to the stables?”
Amelie said, “I would love to.” Over her shoulder, she saw Tybolt’s white horse bounding from the woods. As he rushed in past Medion and herself, he did not even bother to slow down for gate guards. Following closely behind him are the other guards and Illian. Upon passing the gate, Medion looks over and waves to Illian.
As Illian rode his horse up next to the pair, he scratched his head. Tybolt’s horse echoes through the courtyard. Illian said with a chuckle, “He is upset.”
“What else is new with my idiot brother?” Amelie said. “And what did he do this time?”
“Father!” the prince cried. “Father!” Tybolt hollered again as he stormed into his father’s quarters. The candle on Grandor’s desk flickered as he slammed the door behind him. Grandor turned his head away from the pile of papers laying before him.
Shaking his head, Grandor sighed at his son’s antics. “Yes, my son. What troubles you?”
Snarling like a wolf, Tybolt ground his teeth. “Those are some fine knights you keep. They insult me without mercy.” Tybolt shouted at the top of his lungs, “Your filthy guards are worthless.”
Grandor returned his pen to its inkwell. “Would you be so kind as to enlighten me on what happened?”
Tybolt was clenching his fists. “One of your guards called me a damn woman!” he exclaimed.
“How should we deal with such a matter, my father?” Grandor’s eyes grew heavy as he rose from the table.
“Do you have any questions about what should be done?” He threw his hand in the air as he walked to the other side of the table.
“How often do you come here? It seems you always have something to say about my guards. Would you prefer to pick them yourself?” Tybolt opened his mouth but was swiftly cut off. “No, please do not answer that. Are you dead?” Grandor grunted.
A narrow look crossed Tybolt’s face. “The question is ridiculous.”
“That’s right, why would you be dead? You’re well guarded by my guards. With that mouth of yours, you’re lucky to still have it.” Tybolt stared for a moment at his father’s shaking eyes.
“Well, I… It doesn’t matter!” he exclaims. “I was called a woman! I am the heir to the throne. I expect him to respect royalty. This-this-this dog might as well have bitten me.” A long breath erupted out of his nostrils.
Grandor just shook his head. “You should consider what you are saying.”
“I know what I say!” Tybolt shouted back.
Slowly, Grandor approached his son and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, and that bothers me,” he said. “I sometimes feel sick thinking about leaving the throne to you. I’ve stayed up all night worrying about you. Your sister may be better suited to ruling than you.”
Tybolt pushed his father’s hand away. “He called me a woman! Even by your standards, that is asking for death.”
Afterward, Grandor roared. “It is because of childish things like this that I have to send someone else to handle Galgotha instead of dealing with it myself. It is advisable if I leave Taer in your hands, Tybolt, instead of staying here as your supervisor.”
“Then who will you send in your place?” Tybolt snapped.
Grandor looked away from Tybolt and said, “Illian.” in a quiet, calm voice.
Tybolt took several steps forward, lowering his head like a crow. He mumbles, “Illian?”
Walking toward his balcony, Grandor said, “He leaves three days from now.” Tybolt follows him but stops at the threshold.
Grandor ran his fingers along the edge of the railing. “How is that possible?” Tybolt asked, completely puzzled.
“He is to be crowned King of Elitus,” Grandor said, turning to Tybolt to see his reaction. As Tybolt’s eyes grew crazed, he knew what was coming. As a child, he always got the same look when he was forced to share his toys.
“My kingdom is Golgatha. Bridehan is ruling in my stead.” Tybolt pointed a finger at his father while cocking his head to one side.
“And Elitus is Illian’s; you knew this day would come. It is his by right.” Grandor then corrected Tybolt, “Including he can serve a purpose now.”
“For what purpose?” Tybolt stepped onto the balcony. “It makes more sense to keep him here than to send him to those savages at Golgotha.”
Grandor peered over the edge to view the whole city and a vast distance beyond his grand kingdom of Taer. “He is a native son; they won’t treat him as they would one of us. Golgotha can have what they want, their country. Elitus will be put back in its place. As an empire, Golgotha cannot stand against us without Elitus. It’s as simple as that Tybolt.”
Tybolt shook his head in disbelief. “Illian is still too young to rule.”
Arwin considers Illian to be a wise man. So do I. Illian is similar to his father. He would be proud of him, just as I am.” Grandor turned away from Tybolt.
This is not one of Arwin’s scenarios. This is Illian ruling a kingdom.” Tybolt tapped his foot. “Nevertheless, what does Illian know about Golgotha? He is as native as a son as I am. Moreover, they will view Illian as an enemy.”
“I have appointed many kings, Tybolt. I will appoint many more after Illian. It is foolish of you to think you are wiser than me.” Grandor glanced at his son.
In disbelief, Tybolt shook his head. “Father, you can’t have him. He is my brother. Do you wish to take him away?”
“Illian is the future of my kingdom, as well as yours. You will not have to clean up your father’s filth when I leave you, Marion. I will leave the Empire in pristine condition. All you have to do is learn how to rule it. As soon as you have proven to me that you are dedicated to the Imperator, and you will take your role in the kingdom seriously, I will consider giving you a position in the kingdom. Up until then, I won’t be hearing anything from you.” Grandor let out a heavy sigh. “Sometimes, I feel ashamed to call you my son. Unlike Illian, who has advanced in the ranks and proven himself to Arwin, you have chosen to disregard your studies. As a father, can you imagine how difficult it is for me to do this? You are splinters in my cup!” Grandor turned away from his son and stepped away from the edge.
Instead, Tybolt walks past his father, grabbing onto the railing as he points at the city below. His fist slowly closes. “Illian was not meant for you,” he said. “Both of you are ignorant of the truth. Truth is, ruling is not about being loyal to your kingdom. It’s about being powerful and feared. You must command respect and loyalty from your people if you expect them to obey you. Bridehan chose to be weak. If they do not follow orders, hang their bodies from every rafter in the city. That is how you rule.” Tybolt said, his eyes burning. “Despite such a small number, the Talmians held strong. So why don’t we strive to have a kingdom like theirs? I am made to study useless drivel, names of past kings and lords, and their meager accomplishments, by Arwin. Then I read about Valarious, the man who established the Azure Kingdom. The Talmian student surpassed Hemlock and his empire, which spanned the whole known world. I aspire to surpass him.”
“The dreams of a child. The people of Talmia were evil. This world was cursed by them. Everything they touched was ruined. By following their path, you will rule a kingdom of sand. Valarious was highly regarded despite his Talmian heritage. Grandor sighed. “I love you, but you are not yet ready to rule. There is much to learn.”
Tybolt gazed down at the vast city below, his mouth salivating as he said, “My kingdom will be more glorious than any kingdom this world has ever seen. I have seen it. A glorious bride. My kingdom is waiting for me. It is destiny.”
Through the threshold of the balcony, Grandor walked back inside, shaking his head. “It is, for this reason, I do not trust you.”
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