The Wayward Prince - 2 The King

2 The King

The whole Great Middle is in mourning. My father was a well-loved man. But it's my grandfather who looks broken. I look at him. He is a giant man with golden skin of the Dewarii. Thick hair and moustache similar to father. I wonder what he is thinking. Maybe he hates himself. He is the father, the most powerful king. He is old. He should have died first and leave the kingdom to the son. Maybe he still doesn't believe his son is dead.

I cannot.

The people have not been told of the real reason. Images of that time keeps flas.h.i.+ng in my mind. The monster with black claws. Father falling down with blood spraying out in the air from his chest.

They are not supposed to be in this part of the world.

King Tegra rises, inspecting the crowded mourning hall. He declares that he will take revenge for the prince's death. And his words fill the soldiers with a new energy.

News keep me updated at the castle. The monster works for a clan chief who has called it through magic. The very knowledge is magic is taboo. They kept fleeing grandfather's military. The monster cut his soldiers now and then. When it reaches grandfather, he faces him without fright. Roaring at the black clawed beast with rage and charges to rip him apart. But it runs away.

The event boasts the military's moral. He reaches the chief and slaughters him. The monster disappears.

And king Tegra is too weak to rule.

He is bed-ridden, barely awake for half a day. He does not talk. The old man has used up all his life and strength on this war.

"Are you okay?" Rod asks. He, Bavin and Versia have come to visit me.

I stare at Bavin. "Prince?" He asks.

"I always have some purpose for whatever I do. That day too, I was bringing you to my castle because I wanted something."

"I will accept any punishment you give me for attempt harm and befouling." Versia looks at her brother worriedly.

"No, no." I smile solemnly. "I said I like you, remember?"

I stare at my hands and consider before beginning my story. "My mother was the most beautiful woman of the Great Middle. Father used to be mad in love with her. She possessed his mind and heart. After a year I was born, she died from collapsed lungs. I was the only memory of my mother."

They remain silent.

"You must have noticed how different I look from my father and grandfather. Both look like bears and I look like a doll." I snort. "Father could not help but remember his dead wife whenever he saw me. It broke him. Could not bear to look at me unless sorrow engulfed him. Not that he lacked love for me. He could not raise me to the strong discipline and character like grandfather raised him. He let me do whatever I want.

"Despite his short-coming he is the most amazing man I know. He never cheated. He never betrayed. He never did anyone injustice. He worked for what he loved, the city. And materialized his dreams."

I return my gaze to Bavin. "I want your loyalty. A pledge on behalf of Steel Brotherhood to fight under me."

"I am yours."

"Come with me." I leave my room.

They follow me unsurely to the king's council room. Davon was with the rest of the members. Discussing the future prospect. My guess is they want him to take the rule.

"My grandfather is too weak to rule. It is time the kings.h.i.+p to me. I will take the responsibility over Great Middle from now on."

The council hesitates. Looking at me. Then to the three friends I brought.

Gavon is first to raise his hand to his chest and say, "I pledge my loyalty to you, my king."

It is nearly two years since I held the torch of the great line of Tegra and Rafel. But the war has only begun since then. King Tegra became too weak to do anything and returned to G.o.d in a month. After that, I made a stern rule that forbid the magic summoning monsters. Everyone knows the horrors the world saw because of the Traitor. But the prairies people are savages spreading the practise like wildfire.

Sweat trickles down my face under the helmet. I watch the proceeding of the battle from a mount.

I have sent the Silver Brotherhood alone to fight one of the biggest clans who have openly defied the rule. I believe in their ability but I feel restless.

The clansmen have gathered outside their wall. Most groups around are small enough to move around instead settle down and build walls.

Bavin's men, smaller and younger in comparison stand the opposite.

With spears and swords raised in air, the big line of clansmen charge in. In no time the band are surrounded. I have been curious ever since I met my friend. How he managed to bring a young distraught group into power? The answer is he himself.

The band's formation is carefully planned. They stand in a rough circle with s.h.i.+elds out. If any of the clansmen break in, the hound-like men will crush them without sweat.

Bavin takes the opportunity to charge through the entire army for the chief. Our spies report they are the ones who host the summoning. Before the monster actually come, they need to be killed. This chief turns out a strong opponent. He blocks Bavin's strike for the head.

Panicked, the clansmen surround Bavin this time. Attacks come from multiple directions. He needs to be fast and efficient or he's dead.

He holds on well until some Silver Brotherhood members come to give protection.

The fight goes on between the chief and the captain. Neither backing out. The chief strikes without pause. Now to the head. Now to the right arm. His men cheer.

Bavin sees his members fall. Although he had worked really hard to train his band so they don't get killed easily. He gets upset when his men die. He once told me the Silver Brotherhood saw him as their hope from the prairies violence.

Then a monster appears. Bavin and his men back in shock. It is like a gigantic bull looking down on them with thirst for blood. The chief laughs in victory.

He does not see me coming.

I shove the blade's tip through the chest. The clansmen look with horror before getting ambushed my escorted soldier and the Silver Brotherhood.

The monster has disappears. He was confused what he was doing here.

Gavon, second-in-command of the city, handles the procedure after this. He insists on mercy and let the ones who did not take part in battle unharmed. But occasionally, war economy demands taking resources.

Bavin moves his horse to see his dead members. His eyes grim and pained. He prays for their peaceful rest and set people to bury them.

Some youngsters walk upto him. "Please, let us join you," they plead. Two of them are girls. "We will fight for you. Or work like servant. If you leave us, someone will enslave us or we will die of hunger. Please."

"Go away!" a soldier threatens them with sword.

Bavin stops him. Then judges them.

"You can come with the Silver Brotherhood if you want. However, expect a strict discipline. I do not stand lousy members."

"Thank you." The words are genuine.

"Is this alright?" Gavon asks beside me.

"Let him. He is a better judge of these things than us," I say. The members of the Steel Brotherhood look at him as he is a sword brought down from heaven. I don't think the dead ones regretted dying for him.

Bavin spots me approaching with a smirk. He glares. I may have hurt his pride and made him feel like a failure.

"Liked my surprise?" I ask cheerily.

"One would think you will give up on your recklessness after becoming a king." He sighs. "Thanks for saving me. How did you know?"

"The monster coming? I didn't, actually. I just acted based on the late king's story. That monster disappeared too after he struck down the host," I answer casually.

To be honest, I am still rattled by what I saw today. I really had not expected it. This is concerning.

"Tell me, Gavon. Why are the chiefs refusing to come for the dinner again?" I ask on the way back.

"For a gathering of feasts between their chiefs, it is a hard custom that they all gather at a hilltop. They don't trust a closed s.p.a.ce. I also think they are sceptical of you. Given our actions past months. We must be like bloodthirsty tyrants to them."

"But I'm doing this to prevent the monster coming."

The new recruits listen to our conversation along with the Silver Brotherhood. They gawk at the girls who have offered to become fighters.

"It's true!" one of the girls says in rough prairie tongue. "They thought you hated chief Hordon for his wealth and power. Thought you send army to kill him for jealousy. Boy, I didn't imagine I'd see that thing appear."

Now they eye her speaking boldly.

"This shows they are near fruition of their attempts," Bavin says. "We need to confront them of their actions instead of attacking parts here and there."

Bavin, for all his admirable traits, is a simple man.

"We cannot go to them. It's too risky. Who knows when they will bring out an army in tens of thousands to attack us," Gavon says.

"I will be there to protect the king," Bavin says.

"Haa, enough!" I say. "Fine, we are building an artificial hill in the city. Gavon, send them an invitation with the update."

The listeners look at me dumbfounded.

"Artificial… hill?" Bavin echoes as the combination of the two words did not fit right with him.


I smile proudly and intentionally ride ahead.

The night of the feast, the chiefs, their children, servants and guards are gathered at my artificial hill. It took some months to make it. It is not a proper hill size either. It's a huge elevated land near the city's border with clean cut gra.s.s and flower beds. Versia helped. She is currently an understudy but she likes to be included in my ambitious plans in the city, whether it is her expertise or not.

Gavon has advised me that I should not show off. Grandfather and father were not the type to cloth arrogantly before their guests. I relent.

Their heads turn as I come to the hill. I am dressed like them. My hair is tied with a band with feathers hung down. A simple tunic with legging underneath, these men are still savages to refuse pants, their hairy legs show. Also I bend the dress rule a little. I don't know from where and who, Versia has found an alchemy paint that glows and my cloak is painted with illuminating yellow design. It looks like fire.

Versia is dressed grand and unique. She does not like veils she her silver hair is tugged under two large violet flowers with a black net falling behind. Violet dress with lots of layers. She walks beside me with a confident smile.

And the rest – Bavin, Gavon and Rod follow behind. In their simple styles despite my insistence.

They are no fun.

I bow my head curtly to the chiefs. "Welcome, honourable guests."

The servants energises the night with music. The sons and daughters of the chiefs form a ring of dance. The previous king and his son never danced, as it opposes the prophets' teaching, but I'm more flexible on that.

Daughters are encouraged to hold my hand to dance beside me. I flirt with them after each ring break. They blush prettily. Until a brother or suitor glares at me and pulls them away.

Versia keeps holding the other hand possessively in the ring. I chuckle adoringly. She makes the girls marvel at her dress and wonder her relations.h.i.+p with me.

"Is that your wife or fiancée?" One chief begins to ask just as we sit to dine on a thick carpet under the stars. Rod and Bavin are with me. Gavon has excused himself away.

"Versia is a valuable companion of mine and a precious future scholar of the city," I answer.

"Do you plan to take a wife?" the same one asks again.

According to their standard I should have won a wife, someone's sister or lover, in a duelling by sixteen.

"Views change fast in the city, oh chief," I say, relaxing on my side and some hair drop over the face. I look down idly studying a glowing pattern on my cloak. "There are already millions of people here. Why the hurry to make children then? When one can enjoy life, court girls and follow dreams all he wants."

"I sure am enjoying doing that," Rod says as he swallows a whole steak.

"Are you a n.o.bility?"

"No, I'm a blacksmith."

They look at Bavin, the most honourable fighter in prairies at my side. Then I have a blacksmith at my other side.

"Rod here fas.h.i.+oned my army with full plate armours. And has most knowledge on making all designs of blades coming from Dewarii military. Great Middle prides in his talent."

Rod just gave an affirmative grunt and resumed eating.

"You're a man of innovation, King Nikelas," another, a haughty looking son of chief says. "Just like the first king who decided to build this city. It's tragic he died so soon."

"Truly," I say.

"To tell you the truth I was shocked when I first looked at you." He smiles. "King Tegra held his people just by his stern eyes. But perhaps city people like a beautiful boy as head for a change."

"Thank you."

"Be careful. Your grandfather was not invincible, neither are you."

I look up at him sharply. I know how my eyes look when I'm angry. And he is frozen, held by them.

I smile. Bitterly.

"You are right, we are humans afterall. Not monsters. But wait, there are methods to get rid of even them. Telling from my experience."

"I'm sorry for my son's rudeness," the father says, gesturing him to be quiet. "We have come to talk about this, king of Great Middle. I have no doubt what you do is for a greater good for everyone. But your methods of hunting down the ones calling the monster is destroying the rest of us."

"I have no option here, oh chief," I say. "Either I do it the way I can or you give magical practice completely along with keeping tight vigilance on your neighbours."

They cannot do this. Among the chiefs sitting here, I bet half want to go at each other's throat right now, but keeping civility.

I cannot threaten them either. Some of them are simple and proud enough to kill me right now no matter the consequence. I need a way to make sure they do what I want them to. Or they will be losing greatly.

How do I show them?

"I should give you an offer. For any chief who is willing to work with me, he will find and punish culprits who summon monster. That is before they manage to call them. I will award gold, food, protection, even privilege position in the city according to their efficiency."

The chiefs look bewildered and offended.

"How dare you say that! Do you take us for peasants?" the haughty son rises from his spot.

"I'm sorry. I did not make it clear." I look at all of them with calm level look. "There is no s.p.a.ce for negotiation. Join my side or be on your own."

"You did it," Versia cheers on the way back to castle. "At this rate they will have no choice but to bend or others will do it and become more powerful. Plus it will save us our resources. It has been used too much in mobilizing military and spy network. If they become citizen, they will be in direct control and will have to become contributors of the city."

"As always, your sharp mind bewilders me, my lady," I say.

"This was nothing. Even my brother can see it." She grins at Bavin.

I smile too, when he looks at me.

"But was making a hill necessary for that?" Rod muses.

"How else do we show them who our king is?" Versia says.

"Haa. You really need to relax, master." The blacksmith, being his unconventional self, resorts to call me that instead of king.

"Gavon?" I call as I spot him coming to us. "Where have you been?"

"Excuse my absence, my king. The poor of the city began to gather at a hill's corner. I was busy arranging the feast's food for them."

Versia sniffs. "You also need to restrict entry now. There is too much immigration and the slums are beginning to grow."

"Hey now, don't say that for the poor people." Bavin flicks his sister's ear. "They deserve to find refuge too."

We part to our homes. Gavon calls me to the castle tower grandfather used to frequent. It is a short route from his room and has a good view of the widespread city. His broadsword is there, edge down on a block in the middle. There is an engraving in ancient squarish letters. A question the first scholar of Kitaba famously asked - In which phase of life a man begins to corrupt the world?

"I miss your grandfather terribly, child," he says, watching the streets alight before us. The wind is alive and wet but he looks worn out and dry. "He used to be the light of my eyes. My greatest hero. I am already this old now. I just pray that when I die, I'm good enough to be able to reach him in the heavens."

"Don't say that. You are my second-in-command. You should focus on your present king. I am carrying his legacy."

His face turns sad. "This is why it is my duty to stop you when you go in the wrong direction."

I c.o.c.k my head.

"You are becoming someone unpitying and apathetic toward others, Nikelas," he says.

"I am doing what is best for the city," I say, stung.

"The city flourishes but the tribes and clans outsides suffer."

"It's not my fault. They're responsible for it."

"Do you know how many are killed in the name or our law?"

"I said-"

"The cost of raising that hill came with sucking the money to sustain our people. Do you know how many hungry people sleep tonight? What for? To show the prairies chiefs what might you have?"

"What do you want to say, Gavon? That I'm a fake? I cannot be the honourable and revered man like king Tegra and prince Rafel? You're right. I am just a show-off. I can never as good as they were, alright?"

Gavon stares at me. I do not like his face. That pitying sympathetic eyes.

"I care for you, Nikelas," He says, his voice soft. "No matter how high you reach, you will always be the wayward prince to me."

He rests a hand on my shoulder as I look away. "And I know better than anyone what these past two years brought on you. But a position of a king requires to stay firm on doing what is right than doing what you want. Even if you don't like it. Or someone will always suffer."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"You are bitter toward the people of the prairies. They took away your father, then your grandfather. You look at them as if they are barely above the beasts in the wild."

"You are wrong," I say, brus.h.i.+ng away his hand and move to the door. "You are too soft. Ideals do not work in the field. You should know better. Or they'll be the once s.n.a.t.c.hing our place."