I crossed the dirt road, not at all surprised at the familiar bustle of Bira’s close village—The Village of Bira. Through humble beginnings and our king’s grace—I smiled as I entered the tavern, rowdy grunts, shouts and protesting exploding into my ears, a deep respect stirring in my chest at the thought of my sovereign—my place of living had boomed into a hum of trade and angels (in fact, the currency was often spotted being exchanged), far outgrowing it’s understated title of ‘village’.
I slid onto a stood, wondering how comical my twenty-year-old wife’s expression would be if she discovered me drunk at the local tavern.
“Rum, whisky or beer?”
I turned my attention to the slightly thin bartender, struggling to keep his uniform in it’s intended placing.
My lips formed a smile, but it was from his amusing tug-o-war with his clothing. I placed my hands palm-down on the slightly abused wooden countertop, meeting the young man’s gold-flecked irises. “Not today, Jared,” I replied, hearing his almost relieved sigh.
Poor man hates his job, I reminded myself once more, but it’s the only sure-fire way to make a couple crowns and a living.
I leaned forwards, glancing over my shoulder momentarily for assurance. “I’m wondering…”
But I trailed off, hearing a new set of laughter, one unfamiliar. I twisted around, setting my eyes on two—no, another laughed along with them, changing the count to three—extremely muscled men, all brandishing armour which I’d seen many times before—the king’s, and my knowledge informed me that these three were of high rank—or had good connections.
One gestured with his hands to compliment the thickening joke: “…and was like, I own this place, sort of attitude—”
“Well, he basically does!” A raven-haired man exclaimed, his blackish eyes eldritch as they darted quickly around the unruly room, the smell of alcohol and black-market thick in the atmosphere.
“Even the illegal goings,” the last, a sandy blonde, agreed with a snicker.
“Besides, speaking of brothels, have you heard that the king has banned—”
I raised my hand, hardly focusing on the bartender’s concern. “Just a moment…”
My feet touched the timber floor, the three soldier’s laughter beckoning me forward. “The only problem is that you can just go raid The Scrolls.”
Both the men grinned widely at Raven’s comment , releasing some snickers as I prepared myself for a humble introduction, but it all came tumbling out wrong, my curiosity getting the better of me. “The Scrolls?”
All eyes shifted to me, narrowing instantly. A light-brown haired man, his blue eyes staring right into me, unsheathed his sword, the metal giving a quiet cry as it was torn away.
“You dare eavesdrop us, peasant?” He snarled, as I backed away in a half step, raising my hands, the tip directly aimed at my neck.
“Of course not,” I assured them, shaking my head gently in rebuke at the soldier’s accusation. “I was only just highly intrigued by your conversation—it looked very enjoyable—and thought perhaps I could…participate?”
All of the men’s eyes steeled, hard and cold, and I realised I’d just entered enemy territory. “Peasants cannot ‘just participate’,” the owner of the deadly blade snarled darkly.
Sandy-haired held up a finger, eying me. “What my superior is trying to say is that we are discussing, in a very comical way, the goings of Palace.”
Palace, of course, meant the royal family—mostly His Majesty—and anything associated with it. I lowered my eyes, expressing reverence. “I understand completely, soldiers, but would you permit me one question?” I looked up, their expressions amused and almost not taking me seriously, a question that I had rolled around for years stepping forward into the spotlight, tales of beauty and respect accompanying it. “What is Her Majesty’s name?”
Rounds of laughter flashed across their face, hidden jokes playing and being exchanged. The man sheathed his sword, half smiling. “I think I just might spare my time for this one,” he joked, gesturing for the others to leave.
“Well?” I pressed.
The last one, the sandy-haired, answered me over his shoulder, his deep-blue irises shining. “My dear countryman, Her Majesty is Queen Angia.”
I jolted, blinking and frozen as the last soldier stepped outside.
Could it be possible? I gasped, thinking of my older sister—who was now probably nineteen—sitting on a glorious throne, ruling the biggest, most powerful, richest empire in the world. Yes, it could.
And as I left the tavern, I decided I would find my sister. I would see this Queen Angia.
Three Days Later
There it was, in sight and in all its magnificence: Jamarnia, the main city protected by the huge, tall, impressive stone walls. Further on in the distance, I saw the grand limestone Palace, rising high on the infamous Castle Hill. Even Heaven favoured and saw joy at the sight, the overcast opening up for rays of sunlight to shine down on the palace. I jogged towards the wide bridge, seeing the Turmoil River ahead. But suddenly, anxious delight forced me to break into a rapid gait, stretching my legs and remembering all the times Angia and I used to play tag, recalling how much of a agile, quick sprinter I was, always managing to dodge her lunges forward with ease.
There. Finally, I was at the lip of the bridge, the open gates like wide arms, inviting me in, the city’s tall stone walls protecting all nature of things. The gate passed over me, and I saw the pandemonium of the city’s markets, hustle and bustle in every nook and cranny. Immediately I was surrounded by a ring of merchants, salespeople and the like, all bombarding me with a whir of prices and items.
I smiled, continually denying my interest and waving off their persistence as I pushed through, manoeuvring around citizens and stalls, continually working towards the palace.
* * *
Finally, I reached the Palace Gates, two guards eying each other slyly as I approached. “Let me guess—you want a petition with His Majesty?”
I pressed my lips. “Perhaps the whole of the royal family would be best,” I answered; my reply sent them into rounds of laughter, the idea so absurd that it continued for several prolonged seconds.
My hand gestured to the bolted gates, the only key of what the armoured guards knew of—the code. “Could I please enter?”
One guard smiled, using his spear like a walking stick. “Civilian, the palace isn’t a public place. It’s the residence—the home—of our royal family and those that they permit to stay. You can’t just stroll in.”
“Of course,” I agreed, wondering where my sister may be in the world, my mind questioning and posing a flow doubts on my sudden conclusion that she was the consort of Jarma’s ruling sovereign or—my heart dreaded the prospect—if she was alive at all. “But would not our King, out of his good grace and hospitality, grant my visitation?”
They both sighed, obviously bored to a certain extent. “Perhaps.” I smiled at his words. The other continued, his eyes twinkling almost evilly. “But I’m sorry to say that those that you wish to see aren’t here.”
I raised a brow, seeing something in the distance that absolutely rebuked the guard’s words.
Nice try, men, I smiled, the figure getting larger and more distinctive as they proceeded closer. A woman. A few more steps revealed platinum-blonde hair, cut at the shoulder blades, dressed in a purple dress, the neat seam at the center of the thighs, the outer-case billowing gently from her rapid movement. At last, I could note the air of authority and superiority encasing her, her stormy-grey eyes taking in the scene, almost knowing exactly what had happened. I smirked, a gentle curve of my mouth, lowering my eyes as the titanium gates opened and permitted her outside. I was now somehow thankful for the absence of humans, thinking that anyone who was anyone would be doing something useful, not about to humiliate themselves in front of two very important and powerful people.
That was if I could even get inside the palace.
I looked up at the guard’s voice: “Your Highness, I would not expect you to be here at such a time?”
She sighed, surprising me with something that was so off the ethics of what I would expect. “Yes, you are correct Jeston, but Uncle has permitted me a break.”
She smiled wearily as I put together the pieces. My knowledge of the royal family was vague, but from what I understood, the king had only one niece, and that mean that this young lady was…
“Princess Amaria,” I muttered, her name rolling off my tongue affectionately.
I felt her eyes running up and down me, suspicious and wary of some kind of fact. She clicked her fingers impatiently. “Come.”
I followed her up the hill, somehow excited that I was about to enter The Palace. Something so grand and aweing that it had to be capitalised. We entered under the rays of sun, feeling a gentle warm, almost like a blessing from Sacre herself. The princess let me through a pair of wooden doors, into a splendid, extravagant foyer, marble columns aligning the walls, a huge, patterned, soft carpet stretching from the doorway, up four marble steps and meeting at the lip of another huge door.
The king’s niece set off once more, a slight spring in her step as I followed her. At the door, I prepared myself for my explanation and the assumed reaction. “Wait here.”
And Amaria slipped inside.
Maximus was waiting, as I knew he would be, reclining on my Uncle’s throne, intently watching the ticking of a pocket watch, also my Uncle’s. He glanced up at the sudden noise, however gentle it was, smiling at my appearance. “Good morning, Princess.”
I stepped forward, almost laughing at what my Uncle may do if he caught Maximus abusing his symbol of authority and kingship in such a way. The Throne Room was both a sight and a place where a cold, hard hum of power and almost tyranny lingered, but I had more urgent matters. “And to you to, Spymaxter.”
He smiled at my play on words.
“I’m sure you know where Pacifier and Palladium are?”
Maximus grinned, setting off the marble throne—which I was also sure was the site for many hot sessions between my Uncle and Aunt—kneeling respectively, his gaze interlocked on mine. “Of course, Platinum,” he answered, taking a moment to recall, rising. “Three-eight-seven-nine and two. It seems they’re getting a bit frisky.”
I expected Maximus to flirt—it was no lie that Brutus and I were exceptionally attractive—but he let the opportunity drop and bowed shallowly in thanks, backing away. I spun on my heels, not able to come up with a worst situation to interrupt my king than during his lovemaking. I slipped outside, setting my eyes back on my excuse: a reasonable looking young man, perhaps fifteen, fitting the queen’s description. Once I set off, hastily winding though the corridors, passing servants and guards, finally stopping in front of another door, my superb hearing picking up gentle moans of pleasure, defiantly Angia’s. Once more, I ordered the man to wait, and once more I slipped inside, very cautious of what I may see.
Fifty-six meant ‘sitting’, so I wasn’t surprised to see my surroundings as a sitting room, the drawn, voluptuous rich red curtains dimming the room, the scented candles adding to the romantic tone. And finally, on a luxurious, plush couch, my queen lied, her half-nakedness almost concealed as her husband feasted on his wife’s fair skin. She gasped, shuddering violently as the pleasure built.
“Oh…Brutus…” Her full, cherry lips breathed, her tone too forceful to correctly express her ecstasy, her eyes locking on mine with an almost beg.
My uncle stiffened, only now realising of my presence. I knelt, staring at the mahogany floorboards. “Apologies, Your Majesties, but there is a petition request.”
Only Angia’s finger to her husband’s lips silenced his angered, protesting snarl, her voice husky and breathy. “Thank you, Princess. You may leave.”
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