Chapter 2: Second Phase

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 120

“The Grace of Solar Luminance!”

The young king entered the Great Hall and the Counselors, ministers, officials, and record keepers all knelt to one knee, bowing their heads and cupping their hands before their chests, a symbol of offering. Only the Queen Dowager remained seated.

A monumental marble building situated at the center of the Inner Palace, the Great Hall of Solar Radiance stood before expansive lawns, five grand archways atop a broad flight of stately stairs leading within. The four central pillars of the archways were carved in the forms of the leaders of the Four Tribes which founded Xxene, the white marble floors of the hall polished to a high sheen and engraved meticulously with golden floral motifs. Arched glass windows lined the two opposing walls, the tops of which were fringed by elaborate tapestries of brilliant celestial designs. The ceiling supported a stained-glass dome decorated in vivid colors with depictions of Oghene, Xxene’s deity, and on the far eastern wall was the throne.

Here, a broad dais of white alabaster was raised one story above the floor with three flights of stairs leading up to it from the front and two sides. The dais was carved around with images of people of the ancestral Four Tribes; craftsmen, scholars, nomads on camels, warriors with swords and stringed bows and arrows. Situated on the dais was the imposing throne. Spanning five feet with a tall arched back, it had intricately carved golden frames and a yellow velvet cushioned backrest brocaded with threads of thinnest gold and silver and studded with gemstones. The cushion of the broad seat, too, was yellow velvet with gold and silver brocade. The legs of the throne rested on the backs of golden camels; the armrests crowned with the heads of fierce lions. Above the throne was a circular window of yellow glass tiles which occupied most of the wall. Mounted around the window was an elaborately crafted golden frame whose outer edges were shaped like sun flares.

Emerging from the curtains shrouding the northern wing, the young king paused before the side stairs of the dais. He turned fearful eyes to his Chief Eunuch who stood beside him, and the Eunuch gave a slight, firm nod. The king released a shaky breath and scaled the stairs of the dais, the black and white mourning robes which draped his body trailing awkwardly behind him, the white headcloth wrapped around his head, displaying a single iridescent black opal, heavy. At the top of the dais he paused briefly, taking in an imperceptible breath as he fortified himself to face the court, then climbed onto his throne. Sitting cross-legged in its center, his back straight and arms resting on his knees, he seemed almost swallowed by it. His heart raced terribly.

 He looked across the bright, expansive hall. A broad violet rug of silk brocatelle led from the throne to the great archways, two columns of ministers and officials in black and white mourning robes and headcloths lined on either side. At the base of the dais, to the sides of the main flight of stairs, were four ornate chairs designated for the four elderly Counselors; record keepers sat at the periphery of the hall.

Beside the king’s own imposing throne was a smaller one with a golden canopy. The Queen Dowager sat regally on her throne, her image obscured by the sheer gold-lace curtains of the canopy. Turning to her, the young king bowed his head in acknowledgement, observing her closely through the sheer curtains. She lifted a hand in reply, and he turned warily back to the court, his senses heightened to her presence. He had always been heedful of her, but now his mind could not be at ease when she was close, and he was continuously on guard.

Silence filled the Great Hall. Someone among the officials cleared their throat and the king closed his eyes, willing his heart to stop racing and his mind to calm. But it was hard with the Queen Dowager beside him and the officials waiting. He opened his eyes and, fighting to keep his voice from shaking, proclaimed, “We now commence the court.”

“May Oghene guide our thoughts, our king and blessed kingdom!” The court’s recitation resounded in the hall, and all rose from their kneeling positions.

The king took a deep breath. “First—”

“Let us welcome Onóturode Onovughe as our new Prime Minister,” the Queen Dowager’s voice rose above the young king’s and he shrank, relief and dismay gripping him at once. “He assumes this role with my command, the ministers’ support, and Oghene’s blessing. May you lead the court with integrity, your loyalty unwavering.”

Prime Minister Onovughe, a clean shaven, slender man with dark chocolate skin and deep brown eyes, stepped forward from the front row of officials on the right. He knelt to both knees just within the border of the violet rug, hands cupped before him. “By Our Grace’s virtue and Her Royal Ladyship’s wisdom, I dutifully receive this post.”

“Good,” the Queen Dowager responded. “With your appointment, we must waste no time in rectifying the order of the court.” She nodded to her Chief Eunuch who stood at the base of the southern side of the dais. The Eunuch skirted the dais to the front, placed a scroll in the Prime Minister’s cupped hands, and retreated.

The Prime Minister stood and faced the court, unraveling the scroll with a flourish. He cleared his throat and began, his voice resounding in the large hall, “On this, the first year and first month of our Sovereign Lord’s reign, Her Royal Queen Dowager, laying aside her sorrow and in her wisdom, has dutifully assumed the role of Regent. Going forth, these changes shall take immediate effect at court. Minister of Justice Tanomare Imodu Miriode shall retire to his home in the Efekodo Province. His post will be assumed by the Director of the Ministry of Justice, Erhiaganoma Iwaka Onomine.”

The newly appointed minister, a robust man with aquamarine blue eyes and short stubble beard, stepped out of line in the second column of officials on the left. He knelt within the border of the violet rug, bowing with cupped hands as he greeted the Queen Dowager, “Your Majesty’s boundless grace nourishes all! May Oghene guide my steps and thoughts as I serve king and blessed kingdom!”

He stepped back in line and the Prime Minister continued, “Upon the retirement of the Minister of Defense, Irikefe Beliko Efetobo, to his home in the Efekodo Province, his son, Odafe Beliko Efetobo, shall assume his post.” Again, the appointed minister stepped out and thanked the Queen Dowager, and the Prime Minister went on, “On account of Our Grace’s youth and ease of influence, his Royal Tutors shall be dismissed, and Her Royal Ladyship and Council of Advisors shall select new tutors free of seditious ideology…”

As the Prime Minister continued, the young king felt an oppressive weight upon his chest. Disconcerted, he looked to his Chief Eunuch who stood at the base of the northern steps of the dais. The Eunuch looked steadily back at him, giving an assuring nod. The king took a breath, releasing it slowly as he faced the court again, raising his chin a bit higher, his back a bit straighter. He worked his face into a serene mask to present to the court, his heart sinking as he realized, once again, that this was how he must carry on from now on. On guard against his own mother, the ministers, and always displaying himself with regal bearing. He was born and raised to be king, so such presentation was no feat for him. What he had never expected was that he would sit on the throne so soon. But he sat, tranquil and stately, as court proceeded without him.

“We now adjourn the court,” he announced when the Queen Dowager and officials had finished discussing new appointments and debating matters of the kingdom.

The officials in the Great Hall all bent to one knee, “May Oghene guide our thoughts, our king and blessed kingdom!” then rose and filed out through the great archways of the hall.

The Queen Dowager also rose. “Come, Ovye,” she addressed the king without looking at him. “Let us go and meet with the Council of Advisors.” It was more of a command than a supplication, and she did not wait for a response but descended the dais, her Chief Eunuch escorting her from the hall through the southern wing.

Alone in the magnificent hall, the young king uncrossed his legs and scooted back in his throne till his head rested against the cold jewels of the brocaded backrest. He let out a small sigh of relief, turning his face against a cold, hard ruby. He was grateful for this moment of solitude, free of the ministers and Queen Dowager’s watchful eyes. The gazes had never felt so oppressive in the past; he had had his Sovereign Father and the late Prime Minister by his side. He felt the sting of tears but shut his eyes firmly against them. He heard his Chief Eunuch’s steps as he climbed the dais to approach the throne and intoned morosely, “She dismissed my tutors.”

The Chief Eunuch’s voice came steadily. “That is to be expected. They were appointed by the late Onóturode.”

 The young king’s chest stiffened. He pressed his eyes even tighter, keeping the tears at bay. “She dismissed most of Sovereign Father’s supporters!” He turned an afflicted look to the Eunuch, complaining, “The only ones left are the Minister of Personnel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Rites! Everyone else is under the influence of the Efetobo clan. This is the Queen Dowager’s court not mine!”

The Chief Eunuch stood calmly beside the throne, his hands folded into the long sleeves of his silken, embroidered brown robes. He was a patient man in his early twenties who had attended to the king since his birth, so he knew this uncharacteristic outburst was one borne of frustration at the death of the late king, and the burden of the throne and lives he now had to carry.

“As Regent, the Queen Dowager, of course, has command of the court,” said the Chief Eunuch. “Nevertheless,” his voice inflected encouragingly, “it is only by Ovye’s authority that court may be commenced or adjourned.”

The king scoffed, looking disparagingly at his feet which dangled over the edge of the throne, “I am only a figurehead. The ministers do not take me seriously.”

The Chief Eunuch smiled, taking in the king’s small twelve-year-old frame on the imposing throne. “Indeed, they must see only a child.”

But they are wrong, the king thought, recalling his Sovereign Father’s last words to him as he lay dying. You are the Sun, with power to nourish or destroy. My son, I know you will flourish. He had been a child until four months ago, when his Sovereign Father still sat on the throne. Now, he was Ovye. A trace of sorrow pierced him at the thought, for he was already beginning to taste the loneliness that accompanied the title; the distance between him and his siblings; the isolation of being venerated and referred to as a title, instead of his name.

With difficulty, he pushed the sorrow to a corner of his heart. His duties to the crown and kingdom were drilled into him from the time he could barely walk; he knew he could not dwell on himself. His position—his burdens—would not allow it. He regarded his Chief Eunuch with hardened eyes. “We know who we are, Iroro, and we shall not be taken lightly.”

The Chief Eunuch smiled, his hazel eyes shining with the pride of a parent. He bowed his head. “Yes, my Lord. May Ovye forgive my insolence. Shall we proceed to the Hall of Ministration? We must not keep the Queen Dowager and Council waiting.” A shadow fell over the young king and he turned warily to the golden curtains shrouding the northern wing of the hall, where his attendants waited. “Ovye, what is the matter?”

The king turned back to him. “The new attendants selected by the Queen Dowager.”

A knowing look crossed the Chief Eunuch’s face. “My subordinates and those of the Grand Maiden keep close surveillance over them.”

The king nodded, but still looked troubled. He leaned forward. “We also want you to inspect the backgrounds of our new tutors. Their familial as well as their court connections—especially the extent of their involvement with the Efetobo clan.”

The Chief Eunuch’s cool hazel eyes reflected his understanding and the king sat back. The Queen Dowager had always been strict with him but had tightened her control since he took the throne. His daily schedule was congested with lectures on the principles of government, scholarly works, religious and ceremonial rites he must learn to perform, meetings with officials, and social gatherings with dukes and other noblemen. Every moment of his day was directed by the Dowager, his actions recorded in detail and reported to her. He understood this, for he was under her guardianship and she was expected to guide him to become a great ruler. But he also knew his mother, and her control filled him with dread. 

“What of the botanist of the Royal Pharmacy?” the king asked solemnly. “Were you able to locate him?”

The Chief Eunuch lowered his head. “I was, but I regret to inform Ovye that it seems he committed suicide.”

The king’s eyes widened in alarm. His shoulders fell, his brow knitting as he looked dispiritedly across the Great Hall. “I hoped he would set my doubts to rest. But if he is dead…” The memories of the past few months flashed before him; the chaos surrounding his Sovereign Father’s death and his own helplessness. He buried his face in his hands. “Must I carry this burden further?”

The Chief Eunuch regarded the young king with compassion, but only silence answered his anxious query. Brilliant gold light poured into the hall from the yellow glass window above the throne, illuminating him in its warm glow as if to comfort him.

Submitted: July 03, 2019

© Copyright 2020 OE. All rights reserved.


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