Closing family affairs
The king of Davon’his sat on his throne and stared at the window-shaped illuminated spot on the floor covered in black marble tiles. He knew that when the light strip would reach the guard on his left, enough time would have passed for him to go in front of all his people and mourn the loss of his first born openly so they could all share in his grief. But the people did not feel a slight drop of grief over the prince’s death. He was not particularly a hated man but being born into the royal family was enough; especially for the first born. At first, the townspeople were scared to show their resentment towards Aulmehr. Now, however, they were angered by the beheadings that took place in the last weeks and could not contain their true opinion of the king any longer. Most of them did not even know the sailors blamed for the prince’s death but it was just the right cause to gather the masses and plan a rebellion that would prove the city of Davon’his to be a place of freedom.
Eight hours passed since Jacob set off in what he thought would be the journey of his life. In that time the guards managed to gather no less than five conspirators openly mocking the king in the marketplace or spreading their hatred amongst the people, instigating them to rise against the murderer that ruled over their home. They have been imprisoned but not one man was sentenced to death so far. Nor would they be for the king realized he was losing his men. Farenhalls’ plan to rule over the world of men was to begin soon and he dared not lose his people … his army.
“I will leave a strong city for Jacob. When I die he will set off to war and he will need men … men that fear, respect and, most of all, love the name of Farenhall.” thought the king. His main strategy of winning the crowds was his daughter. Alessandra was a gentle person, more girl than woman, yet kind and loving towards all living things. If there was any chance of them winning back the people it was her. She was loved both home and in the Free City.
“But what if that disgrace of a prince is to run off on his expedition? Or die … or be killed by that peasant of a girl? My city would fall in the hands of Alessandra’s husband. He would own half of the world as we know it then and an army twice as much as his current one managing to take the other cities in a matter of moments. The (name of upper city in the north) will probably surrender from the very start to avoid the bloodshed… The name of Farenhall will be forgotten and time will wipe us away from memory … from history... from any trace of existence.” He would lose himself in his thoughts many times mistaking a presumed future for the present. He frowned at the idea.
The very notion of time made him remember that he was late. The beam of light had long passed the guard. When one’s heart aches, time seems to play tricks upon his mind. It has its way of setting him in stone, petrifying their legs while the world seems to be racing towards it end. He got up and twitched his face muscles to make the frown go away. He walked out to the balcony. His leggings never felt heavier. Yet seeing the large number of people outside the castle, gathered there to share in his grief, made him feel the power he loved so much and reminded him of his coronation when he walked out that door for the first time. The armor weighed as much as a feather back then. But now it was making him walk awkwardly and his breastplate gave him the feeling of collapsing lungs. Seeing her father’s struggle under the heavy ceremonial armor, Alessandra grabbed her father’s hand and walked besides him until he let it go to raise it as high as he could to salute his people.
“I am here to weep for the loss of your brother with the people that hated him so. Many wished him dead; now, they stand in front of me to help me carry out my load and my sorrow. They might keep their heads down but I can hear them rejoice. I can hear their lips cracking as they stretch across their faces with smiles hidden behind their praying hands. The death of my son is not just a loss for the family but it is a battle I have lost against the chaos that stands at our gates waiting to swallow Davon’his and all that we hold dear.” He mumbled to his daughter as he was waving.
“What of the mothers that witnessed their sons being beheaded at your order? Do you father, share in their grief? Have you wept along them?” she said avoiding his eyes while saluting solemnly the apparently heavyhearted crowd.
She knew things took a dark path in her hometown but she did not expect to arrive to an upcoming rebellion. As they were praying to the old gods, Alessandra’s eyes kept looking for her brother. They have not met yet. She knew something was not right. It was a great insult for the people not to have their heir to the throne assist at the memorial service of his own brother. The king would not risk another such blow. Then, it struck her. Jacob has left the city. The sudden realization made her turn pale. Her husband noticed and gave a quick look to Aulmehr as if to blame him. The king has always been tolerated by the other families, but that, however, was becoming harder with each passing year. He turned back to his wife and she looked at him with big, weary eyes and whispered to her husband: “Jacob …”
The high priests came and held their service. Everyone was praying in silence except for the queen, who was taking advantage of the situation, and was praying out loud. She had a voice beautiful enough that her husband allowed her this small exception. Her prayer echoed in the silence, over the crowd. She never prayed that loud… nor that truthfully. There was no body to bury, yet she felt like she lost two of her children that day. As the prayer reached its end, Melissa went back to her silence and the people went back to their homes. The Farenhalls entered the castle and went back to the main hall where a royal dinner was being held in honor of Alvehr. A long table was set with the king at one end and the queen at the other. Family members sat to the king’s left and the rest of the seats were for members of high families, or cousins of impure blood who came to pay their dues.
Surprisingly enough, the servants were not informed of prince’s Jacob departure for safety reasons so there was another set of dinner plates set on the table. As dinner started they all turned to the empty seat and wondered who dared to defy the king by not presenting themselves at such an important event. Jacob, being the youngest one, was often left out of such social events so he never came across anyone’s mind there. Anyone, that is, besides Alessandra who was staring at her father.
“Where is Jacob?” she asked in a sharp voice. It was daring enough to address the king without him addressing to you first but to use such a tone was shocking for the guests. The king, however, was silent. He acted as if nobody had addressed him. Angered by his childish reaction, Alessandra stood up and repeated her question to make sure everyone had seen her addressing him.
“My actions are not to be questioned by you, my daughter! You are a Farenhall and we treat our father and our kings with respect! Or have you forgotten that in the Free City?”
“I am not a Farenhall anymore, father. I am married into the Helduurs. And if you harmed Jacob in any way there will be no more Farenhalls. Derek will take your castle, your city … your head!” she lost it.
“I am your father and your king!” shouted Aulmehr in a deep voice proving that he still had life in his bones. “You will address me as such. To threaten a king is punishable by death … To threaten your father is shameful even for the lowest of class. Besides, the boy is fine...”
“Where is he then?” she asked lowering her voice somewhat scared of her father’s answer.
“He is … safer if nobody knows of his whereabouts. These matters are not to be spoken at such an event. We are here in honor of your brother who has left us.”
“What of that who was sent away?” she continued. “Shall we honor him too?”
Prince Derek of House Helduur stood there with his mouth opened constantly trying to interrupt. Every time he would begin a sentence he did not know how to end it. He knew his wife was right, yet he understood the consequences of arguing with the king of Davon’his, especially in his own house. Besides, the king’s feast started with six cups of wine. The tablecloth at his end was red and soaked for he was already dizzy enough to spill the drink every time he aimed for his mouth.
“He would let this pass normally but seeing the state he is in, he might just behead his own daughter or start a war between our cities, he has been waiting for an opportunity for so long now …” Derek told himself thus deciding to step in and put an end to the argument that would lead nowhere.
“That is enough, Alessandra! We are guests at your father’s table. And this is not the proper occasion for such a discussion.”
“Your husband is a smart man” said the king giving a little smile in the corner of his mouth as a sign of victory. “You should listen to him as all queens must listen to their kings, isn’t that so, Melissa?” he widened his smile at his wife’s silence.
Alessandra turned to her husband and gave him a look as if he had just struck her. He nodded his head asking her to trust him. She had her doubts about it but realized that he was right. She never stood up to their father that way.
“What possessed you to defy your father like that?” Derek whispered to her when the noblemen went back to eating.
She was wondering about the very same thing. Seeing her amazed by her own actions the king grabbed her wrist and pulled her over to him.
“If you truly wish to speak so be it. Meet me after the main course in Jacob’s chambers … without Derek.”
After that, the feast carried out in a usual and boring manner that was fitting to the occasion. Nobody talked to the queen. They knew that would only lead to problems between her and the king or embarrass her even more than her husband already had. As the evening carried on, the guests completely forgot of her being there so, in the end, she stopped listening to the conversations going on around her. It seemed pointless to follow them as long as she could not take part.
“This punishment is childish …” she thought as she played with her food, bored of the evening.
Childish as it was, Alessandra found it fitting. Her mother never really used her voice for anything else than approving the king’s words. She didn’t even notice that her mother was carrying out a punishment until her father made a remark of it in front of everyone during their dispute. The main course was almost over and people were loudly speaking of mundane things that had nothing to do with the death of Alvehr. The only one who remembered who they were honoring that evening was the boy’s father. His mother seemed to drift out of focus. There was no music but she listened to the fire from the torches flickering up into the night, the knives and forks hitting the plates and the waves ... always the waves crushing upon the rock the castle was built on... Fitting as it was, her daughter also found it sad to see her mother completely isolated in a room filled with people. She went over to her to try and speak to her but the king called her in Jacob’s room.
They went separately not to seem suspicious. The king left first. When Alessandra entered the chamber, he was standing on her brother’s bed breathing heavily holding an arm over his heart.
“Are you well, father?” the girl asked. Her anger was softened by the image of her weakened father.
“I am as well as an old man could be. My time is running out. Each setting sun feels like another grain dropping in the sand glass that is my life. And there is so much left to do. That is why I called you here.”
“My king” the girl started speaking thinking to give reason another chance “I fear for the future. The burden of being king is becoming too much for you to carry.”
The king gave her a suspicious look.
“My father, the great king Cornelius, was older than me by ten years when he finally passed down his title to me. And he was a king worthy of remembering. It is not my age I fear but I am scared of who am I to pass down Davon’his to? My son Alvehr is gone … he would have made a fine king, not because of his capacity to lead but cause of his ability to follow my orders and the orders of my council. The future of our name lies in the hands of Jacob, and such frail hands they are.”
“So Jacob is alive and well, isn’t he, father?”
He frowned at her, angered by the fact that she saw him capable of such a crime.
“Of course he is alive! Why wouldn’t he be? Are you implying I would harm my son, my flesh and blood?”
Alessandra turned pale and started stuttering.
“No, my king, I … I didn’t mean to offend; I was just worried for my brother.”
The girl’s attitude towards her father was switching from rebellious to loyal from one moment to another. This made Aulmehr realize his daughter was no longer the child he once knew, yet she was not fully grown. She was standing up to him, something that took courage. He appreciated that. Courage was going to be of great importance for the king who was going to unite the world of men under one name.
“Jacob could learn a thing or two from his sister … I wish you would have been born a prince” the old man thought to himself. He sighed and continued:
“Your brother is still a boy. He will carry out a burden that was not meant to be his. His arms can barely hold a small sword. In my worst of nightmares, I see him standing in front of a mighty army that awaits his command to attack and he, he just can’t raise this long, orc-made sword from the ground. His horse breathes smoke and his foam comes out as blood. Jacob looks out of place upon that beast. His soldiers are the dark gods of the old world and …”
“Father, stop it, I beg of you! We already lost Alvehr because of mother’s dreams. Must we lose Jacob too? It was but a nightmare. I remember when you came to me, as a child, one night and you told me a nightmare’s torment vanishes in the morning light. Why must you carry their poison out into the day?”
“Because these are not just dreams, my child. You must understand, Alessandra; that our destiny was set in stone before we were even called humans. The Farenhalls were meant for greatness. Bearing our name is a great honor that few seem to understand anymore. But we will rise above the world of humans. With our race united we will set out into the uncharted … We will set out far into the western sea, beyond the Untamed Forest of the south and up to the north past the Ice Dragon and up to the land of Gods. Our feet will touch the sacred ground of the ancient gods! They say those lands still hold powerful magic.”
Once again he got carried out into his own words and completely forgot about his daughter being there. It was uneasy seeing her father losing himself into legends and stories she was told as a child by her maids for amusement.
“A city lies upon your shoulders, father. Thousands upon thousands of people act at your command and trust you to choose what is right for them. After all these years as a king, can you not see the responsibility that lies upon you?”
“That is true, my child, but my responsibility as a Farenhall comes first. Our history as a new race upon this world proves that humans are creatures without a purpose in these times and in this place. It took us thousands of years to finally leave the bottom of the Forbidden Mountain. And when we finally left, we surrendered to the first creatures we encountered. As dwarves we have been burdened to carry out the shame of those exiled from the underworld; as early humans we were slowly enslaved by the eastern elves, yet now, now when we are completely and utterly free, we fall prey to laziness, to comfort … to emptiness. I wake up every morning to witness an empty dock outside my window. The ships are forever out on meaningless expeditions that end before they even set sail. Divided, humans will never take upon the world; will never find our true home, a place of our own. I see my people feeding and breeding and passing away as if they had never lived at all. We inherited a world we don’t belong in. Even these halls are filled with books we cannot read, with statues of heroes that mean nothing to us …”
“Would you rather have them killing themselves in search of a purpose?” Alessandra intervened when the king paused.
“Despite our laziness, we are violent creatures. Sooner or later, wars will rise. I am here to add reason to these upcoming battles. They will happen regardless of my presence here as king or as peasant. Tell me, Alessandra, would you prefer to see your people die for no reason or die for something they believe in?”
“For something you believe in ... I lived under your roof for many years and I will always love you as my father but I am afraid we share different views upon our people. You must understand that your views are not the views of your people. Derek thought me that in the Free City.”
“It seems to me that marrying you to house Helduur was the biggest mistake I could make as a king but a wise decision as a father. I knew they provided the right environment for you to blossom from a girl to the young woman I see in front of me today. They managed to teach you that which I never learned myself, acceptance.”
“It seems to me that you, my darling father, know the lesson I am trying so desperately to teach you.”
“That is true. I know acceptance and I know tolerance for I have witnessed them countless times. But, you see, my child, knowing and understanding are two different things.”
“Then, tell me father, why have I been given to the Helduurs? Was it the conquering king that arranged for the marriage or was it the kind father?”
The king looked her in her eyes and she understood immediately. The arrangement was made when she was just six years of age. All her life she was used as a mere strategy to conquer the Free City. The city was too big to make a full frontal assault besides it was protected by the river.
“You are … were to gain access to the throne. You, my darling Alessandra, were going to accuse the rightful heir of the Free City of rape thus stripping him from his title as the future king. Seeing how you are beloved by the people, they would have never accepted a king accused of such a crime against you, thus making Derek king and you queen.”
“Why not marry me to his brother directly?”
“He was already promised …” the king was ashamed of his plan, yet he was determined to carry it out to its very end.
“With a Farenhall as a queen, the Free City wouldn’t have dared to intervene in my plans. Alvehr was to conquer the Green Keep and (name of northern City of elves).”
“I have told you of this before: I am no longer a Farenhall.”
“I see that now.” said the king. “I hope you understand that I, as a Farenhall, cannot be father to a Helduur.”
“It is but a name, father” sighed the girl, fed up of analyzing names “… call me by whatever you wish, I still share your blood. I am the living proof that peace can come even from those that were born under your name. If I can tame the hatred that followed our house, even in dwarven times, so can you.” She made one last attempt to change her father’s mind.
“It is not myself I hate, child. It is the world and what has come of it. Why would I change myself when I have been given the gift and possibility of changing the world?”
“I see we are both losers in this fight.” added Alessandra as a conclusion.
The king sighed and licked his dry lips before he dared to speak once more.
“ So it seems, my darling, so it seems … The war has not started, yet I have lost two battles already, also I’ve lost a powerful ally and … and my dearest of all, for today I lose you, Alessandra, and it pains me so. My heart can barely beat under this heavy armor, yet here I am standing in front of you, with it racing. Tell me, my child, this is the last time we meet, is it not?”
“I’m afraid so, father.”
“Jacob” he said closing his heavy eyes. “Jacob is on his way to the north.”
The girl stood up and left the room closing the door without saying her farewell. The king fell on his back in his son’s bed and rubbed both of his hands on his face to stretch the muscles that were clenching, narrowing his eyes as they were getting wet. He could still hear his beloved daughter’s footsteps on the corridor fading out into the sound of the waves.
“Farewell …” he said three steps before the sound disappeared and fell asleep heavy with pain and wine.
When he woke up his head was weary from the wine. He forgot the weight he had on him and tried to get up without having much luck. After the maids helped him out of the armor, he was informed that Alessandra and Derek left for the Free City at sunrise. He slept in late due to all the booze that poisoned his head and, now, felt ashamed towards his guests. They all left soon after his talk with his daughter at her orders.
He took a deep breath. The salty ocean air made him cough.
“Call in the rangers for me.” he said to one of the maids as he was getting dressed. “War will be upon us sooner than I thought…”