the Boy King and the Daughter of the Sun
Rakesh Ezequiel Balan stood staring out the huge stained glass window, his gaze on the streets blow. The sun was barely rising, lighting up the sleeping city one street at a time. He sighed, marveling at the kingdom he had just inherited. The city stretched on for miles, far beyond the distance his eyes could see, and that wasn’t even the limit of the world he commanded.
And he was only twelve.
“Ray,” a soft voice called from behind him. The boy turned away from the window, his solemn brown eyes finding his elder brother. “It’s time.” Fear almost overwhelmed the boy, but he simply nodded, his gaze flicking to the floor. He wouldn’t show fear, not even to his brother.
But Adem knew him too well. He gave him a slight smile, and reached out his hand. “Come on, little brother. You will make a fine king.”
Rakesh accepted the outstretched hand, and allowed his brother to pull him down the hall. He fell into step beside him, staying as close as possible without crowding Adem out. It was oddly comforting to have him close. Maybe it was because he looked so much like their father, with the same shape to his face and large, warm eyes. Dwelling on the last time he had seen his father, he felt a pang of sadness pierce his already heavy heart.
Forcing the memories from his thoughts, he focused on his brother, and the more current concerns. “How can you be so sure, Adem?” he asked his brother.
“Because I know you. You’re kind and smart, and you love the people. You’re just like father, and he was an amazing king. You’ll do fine,” Adem responded.
“I’m too young for this,” Rakesh muttered, allowing his gaze to drop to the floor again. He could just see his feet poking out from underneath the thick robes he wore as he walked. The formal attire was dark red, with gold and black trim; the black to signify mourning, and the gold to symbolize his royal status. The robes were only ever worn once, on coronation day. His father had worn them before him, years before on his coronation day. When Rakesh had first tried them on, they had been much too long for him, so they had been hemmed before the ceremony.
His father had been considered young when he had claimed the throne, and he had been eighteen. Now Rakesh was taking his place, at only twelve. If his father was too young, what did that make him?
Adem sighed. “It wasn’t meant to be this way. I’m sorry, Ray.” The young boy could hear a bit of sorrow in his brother’s voice, and a pain that he knew well. It had only been two weeks since their parent’s funeral, and none of the children had fully healed, but there was nothing they could do. The time of mourning was passed, and the funeral rites complete. Rakesh still couldn’t get the image of his parent’s funeral pyres burning against the dark backdrop of the night sky out of his mind, and he feared he never would.
Soon after the funeral, the people went to voting for their new ruler. Out of all his siblings, Rakesh had expected to have the lowest chance of being selected, next to his younger sister. But as the numbers came in, it was apparent the people didn’t care how young he was; they wanted him to be their new ruler. After learning of their decision, he had ran to his room and barricaded himself there, refusing to come out for two days. He couldn’t believe he was now supposed to take his father’s place as the ruler of their vast kingdom. He could barely decide what he wanted to eat in the mornings. How was he supposed to decide which direction to take a country in?
Eventually, he had come to terms with it. Nothing short of his own death would change the people’s mind, so he slowly taught himself to hide his feelings, burying them deep down, so he could play the part demanded of him.
The two brothers made it to the doors of the throne room. Two sentinels stood by each door, their faces hidden by the hoods of their robes. Their swords were drawn, and rested against their chests. Silently, they reached for the handles of the doors, but didn’t open them quite yet; they were waiting for Rakesh’s signal.
He hesitated, biting his lip. He knew once he crossed the threshold of those doors, there was no going back. He glanced up at Adem, who smiled again, his matching brown eyes full of sympathy. He rested a hand on Rakesh’s shoulder, and then nodded him forward. Realizing he had to rely on his own strength, Rakesh squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and nodded.
The sentinels opened the door, revealing the packed room beyond. A long crimson rug covered the marble floor, starting just beyond the now open doors. People lined the rug, all his citizens, their gaze fixed on him expectantly. Along the path leading to the throne, priestesses with gold and red candles stood at intervals. Thick banners of red hung from the ceiling, the country’s emblem emblazoned in the center in gold thread. The high roof was supported by marble pillars, and far above a skylight allowed the light of the sun to pour into the room.
The throne across the room was huge, much bigger than Rakesh. Standing next to the throne was a member of the Council of Five, her graying hair whipped into a tight bun. She wore a similar robe as the sentinels at the door, it’s dark, thick fabric draping down her and hiding all but her hands and face. Around her wrists were tattoos reminiscent of the one on Rakesh’s left wrist, their bands wrapping regally, their black and red lines intertwining periodically. Her face was marked with a similar design, but with makeup instead of ink. The black and red lines came to a point at her forehead, and then trailed down her face and neck, disappearing under the collar of her robe. She followed his progress to the throne with pale gray eyes, her gaze filled with wisdom.
Rakesh knew the priestesses had mental capabilities that allowed them to communicate from mind to mind, but it still made him jump when he heard her words in his mind. Calm yourself, child. I will guide you. You will make a fine king. Your brother prays for you. He nodded imperceptibly as he reached the stairs, knowing she would see and understand, even if it didn’t seem like he had moved at all. Kneel at the foot of the throne, facing me, she commanded, and he did so.
“Rakesh Ezequiel Balan, you have been chosen to guide this people, despite how young you are,” the priestess started, her voice strong and authoritative, not holding a hint of her age. “You have found favor in the eyes of the Keeper of Destiny, and she has granted you her blessing. Therefore, I now pronounce you the ruler of all Canella, her surrounding provinces, and the desert world of Hijadu. May the goddess grant you with her wisdom, and in times of trial, the strength to lead your people.” With that, she placed the crown on his head.
The crown was light, but with it came the weight of the world Rakesh wasn’t sure he could carry. Feeling as if his legs would not support him, he pushed himself to his feet at her silent command. He turned to the people, who started cheering, “Long live the king! Long live king Rakesh!” He held his head high, despite his wavering strength, hoping he looked more of a man than he felt.
You are stronger than you know, the woman whispered to his mind. You are loved, dearly. Let their love support you through your trials and uncertainty.
I will try, he thought, hoping she would hear them. He wasn’t sure if her powers worked both ways, or if they were just enough to send her thoughts to him.
His gaze traveled over the crowd, until he found his brother among the throng of people. Their gazes met, and he was surprised to see that Adem looked proud of Rakesh. He suddenly understood what the priestess meant when she said he was loved. He definitely was. If only his brother stood by him, it suddenly felt like enough.
Rakesh stood taller, despite the still heavy weight on his shoulders. He would be the king his people deserved. That’s a promise, he silently told them. I won’t let my situation hold me back. I will do everything in my power to lead like my father did. As he stepped into the throne, despite everything, he smiled.
Jaya Alanari glanced away from the data panel she stood at, sighing. Still no contact. After years of searching, she wasn’t sure why she hadn’t given up looking for her parents. They were probably dead, or didn’t want her anyway. She quickly typed up a note for the orphanage superintendent, telling her she was out playing again, and then signed out.
Leaving the run down orphanage, Jaya stepped out into the hot sun. She was so used to its glare, she didn’t even squint. After living in the desert all of her life, she was used to its constant, unforgiving glow. Pulling the hood of her jacket up to shield herself from the heat, she started down the dusty street, blending in with the crowds.
Instead of playing like she said she would be, she began her daily search. Her stomach needed feeding, and she knew she couldn’t rely on the orphanage to supply her food, so she started searching for a vendor she could get away with stealing from. It didn’t take long for her to find an unguarded one, and swiped a small loaf of bread.
She headed into an alley to eat in peace. There, she watched the newsscrolls that trailed along the tops of the buildings, reading the recent events. Her blue eyes widened in surprise when she discovered that the newly crowned king was planning to stop at her city next on his coronation tour. Here? Why would he come here? She wondered. Hijadu was a large city, but it was filled with the worst of the earth’s scum. Smugglers and mercanaries ruled the town, and general lawlessness all but presided over the city. The mayor of the town was a spineless sap, and even though he did his best to hide it, the city’s people knew that he was just a pawn of the crime lords. The king was risking a lot coming here, including his own life.
After she finished her bread, she started down the street again, intent to make some money today. She hadn’t had any luck the past few days, forcing her to resort to stealing her afternoon meals as she just had. She hated stealing, knowing all too well the vendors she was stealing from weren’t much better off than herself. Only a few had money in this city, and it definitely wasn’t any of Jaya’s neighbors.
She stopped in every store, and at every vendor possible, but nobody wanted to hire a ten year old girl. At least, nobody with good intentions. Many seemed interested in her for more… nefarious purposes. She shivered, knowing her fate wouldn’t have been very good if she had agreed to any of those jobs.
“Well, I’m going to have to steal something, I guess,” she muttered to herself, reasoning it would be better to take from someone that had money, so next time she could pay for the loaf of bread and help out the struggling vendor.
Scanning the crowd, she looked for somebody who looked like they had more money than the others in the area. After a few moments of fruitless searching, she spotted a boy, not much older than herself, wearing a thick gray hooded cloak. She caught a glimpse of a small money pouch tied to his belt as he walked past, hanging in a surprisingly easy spot to grab. Bingo, she thought, smirking.
She started after him casually, waiting for a good moment to grab the bag. He stopped to look up at the menu above an outdoor restaurant, and she saw her chance. She darted forward, snatched the bag from his belt, and then hurried away, glancing over her shoulder to see if he saw. Her eyes widened when she realized he was turning her way, his hand straying toward his belt. “Hey! You! Come back with that!” he yelled, and started after her.
She cursed her own recklessness and took off running. He would catch her, she was sure of it, and then who knew what would happen to her. As if to prove her right, she heard him gaining on her. She rounded a corner too sharply and stumbled. He tackled her soon after, and the two fell to the ground in a heap. She immediately kicked out at him, trying to fight him off. She must have caught him off guard, because with a grunt he lifted himself up, freeing her. She rolled over, knocking his arm out from underneath him, and then pushed him over and sat on his chest.
“Let me go!” he yelled, pushing up at her. He managed to catch her on the cheek, smashing his hand into her face annoyingly. As she batted his hands away, she noticed the gold and black tattoos that wrapped around his wrists for the first time.
She paused, shocked. It can't be, she thought, giving her captive a good look for the first time. His hood had fallen down, revealing his face. Taking in the dark brown eyes and similar colored hair, she suddenly realized who she was wrestling with. “It’s you!” she exclaimed.
He paused in his struggling, looking confused. “Huh?” he asked.
“You’re the king!” she stated.
“Oh.” His surprise faded, replaced by worry. “Keep your voice down, alright? I’m not supposed to be here.”
“Duh!” she hissed, lowering her voice as he requested. “You’re going to get yourself killed—or worse—if somebody realizes who you are!”
“Well, right now, you’re the only one who knows who I am, so… I think I’m good. This isn’t the first time I’ve snuck around a less-than-safe area,” he replied with a weak shrug, the best he could do while still pinned to the ground..
She shrugged as well, “Fine then, suit yourself.”
“You want to let me up?” he asked.
“Not if you're going to try and take my money,” she retorted, crossing her arms against her chest.
“That’s technically my money,” he reminded her. “You stole it from me.”
“Which makes it my money. That’s how things work around here,” she snapped back, even though she knew he was technically right, and she couldn't keep him pinned here forever.
He seemed to think about this for a minute. “You live here all your life?” he asked. She nodded. “Then you must know a lot about this city.” She nodded again, wondering where he was going with this. “What if I let you keep that money, in exchange for your help?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, immediately suspicious. “What kind of help?” she asked cautiously.
“You show me around, teach me how to survive on the streets here, and the money’s all yours,” he offered.
After considering it for a moment, Jaya shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
He smiled faintly, either at his own geniusness, or her agreal, she couldn’t tell. “Good. It’s a deal then.” After an awkward pause where they just sat staring at each other, he added, “Now will you let me up?”
“Oh,” she muttered, just slightly embarrassed. She rolled off him, and climbed to her feet. He stood up and began dusting off his clothes. “Leave it," she commanded.
“What?” he asked, pausing mid-brush.
“You’ll blend in more if you're dusty. Everyone and everything around here is covered in a layer of sand and dirt,” she explained.
He seemed a bit annoyed at the idea, but stopped his brushing. Sissy, she thought with a smirk. Thinking of something else that would help him blend in a bit better, she told him, "Oh, those tattoos of yours. You need to cover them up. Everyone knows the gold and black bands are the symbol of royalty, and only the king has them on both wrists. It's how I recognized you."
"Hmm..." He muttered, rubbing self consciously at his wrists. "That's probably smart, but how?"
After thinking about it for a minute, she took off the wraps she wore around her own wrists. "Here, give me your wrists." He held them out to her, and she wrapped the bands around, making sure no gold or black showed. "There. Come on, if you want me to show you around, we better get going. We have a lot of ground to cover.”
The two explored the city together for the rest of the day. She showed the boy king all of the best places to hide when in trouble, where to go to find a sympathetic baker who might give out a free handout, and what areas of the city to avoid. They climbed to the tops of the buildings and watched the busy streets below. She pointed out good pickpocket targets—much to his annoyance; why would a king need to steal from somebody? He had all the money he needed—and who to avoid or how to tell if someone was armed. Staring out over the horizon, she pointed out a gathering sand storm, and taught him how to tell which direction it was heading.
By the time the sun was setting, they found themselves tucked in the corner of a roof, behind the elevator shaft, watching the red sun dip below the horizon. “Today was fun,” the king sighed contentedly.
She nodded. “Yeah, it was.”
“I haven’t had a day like this in a long time,” he muttered. She glanced at him, noticing how worn out he looked for the first time.
“Being king is harder than it looks, I’m guessing,” she stated.
“You have no idea,” he grumbled. “Let’s not talk about it.” She nodded, staring out at the sun again.
Suddenly he chuckled, breaking the silence. Giving him a bewildered look, she asked, “What? What’s so funny?”
“I just realized I spent all day with you, and I don’t even know your name,” he pointed out.
She smiled, realizing just how weird it was. “You were just the king to me. I guess it wasn’t that important that I know.”
“I guess not,” he agreed. Standing, he turned to her, his dark eyes sparkling playfully. “Well then, let’s fix that.” With a grand bow, he announced, “I am Rakesh Ezequiel Balan, the boy king of all of Canella. Who might you be, fine lady?”
She stood as well, mock curtsying as she tried to hold in a giggle. “I am Jaya Alanari…” she paused, realizing she didn’t have any fancy title to add to that, like he did.
Realizing her dilemma, he tilted his head in thought. “Hmm. Every lady of the court needs a title to announce herself by.”
“I obviously don’t have one. I’m just an orphan girl,” she admitted with a small, dejected shrug.
“Yes you do,” he corrected.
He smiled slightly. “you're Jaya, daughter of the sun.”
She contemplated the title for a minute. “I like it.” Curtsying again, she announced, “I’m Jaya Alanari, daughter of the sun.”
As she straightened, he smiled. “There, now we’re properly introduced, we can call ourselves friends. Oh, and you can call me Ray, by the way. Most people do.”
“Friends?” she questioned. She really didn’t have many friends, other than the other kids living in the orphanage, and for some reason it had caught her off guard.
“Yeah. You alright with that?” he asked, suddenly a bit worried.
She shrugged. “Why not? It’s not every day an orphan girl becomes friends with a king.”
“Well then, consider yourself lucky,” he instructed.
She smirked. “Consider yourself lucky I decided to steal from you. We never would have met if it weren’t for that.”
He laughed a bit. “Well, you should consider yourself lucky I didn’t call my guards on you, who have been trailing me all night from a distance, by the way.”
She laughed. “I guess I am lucky.”
They fell into silence, and then she glanced over at the sinking sun again. “Come on, we should probably head inside. We don’t want to get caught in the streets after dark.”
“Right,” he agreed. “I’m guessing it’s even more dangerous out here at night than it is now, huh?”
“You have no idea,” she confirmed, and then waved for him to follow as she started down the side of the building.
They reached the streets below, and started off. “Where will we go for the night?” Rakesh asked.
“I was just going to go back to the orphanage,” she replied with a shrug.
“Is the orphanage a nice place?” he inquired. She shook her head. The orphanage was anything but. The bit of government funding they got was usually taken by the higher-ups long before the superintendent got to see it. The poor woman did her best, but the place was in shambles. “Then why don’t we go to my hotel?” he suggested.
“Will they let me in?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
He shrugged. “Sure. They wouldn’t deny an order from their king.”
She smirked. “I think I’m going to like being your friend.” He laughed. “What hotel are you staying at?” she asked.
“Ramada’s inn. It’s near the shuttleport,” he supplied.
“I know it. Come on.” she turned the corner, glancing back to make sure he followed. Suddenly she was stopped by a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up to see a gruff man standing over her, grinning wickedly. Her heart sped up, immediately sensing the danger.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here, Kiro?” the man growled, glancing between Jaya and Rakesh.
“Look’s like a couple of wanderers, boss. Should we bag em? I know a certain slaver that would pay handsomely for these two. She likes pretty children,” another man answered as he approached from behind; Jaya assumed he was Kiro. His hands rested lightly on two holstered pistols.
"Sounds good to me," the other man agreed.
Dang it. We can’t run, he’ll shoot us, Jaya realized. People like these were crazy. If they didn’t get what they wanted, they’d kill before they allowed somebody else to claim their prize—meaning they’d rather see both kids dead before they saw them in the hands of some other mercenary scum like themselves.
“Jaya?” Rakesh muttered, the fear clear in his voice. She glanced back. His brown eyes were wide, staring at her expectantly. She did her best to look reassuring, but she was just as scared, if not more.
“Come quietly now, kids, and nobody gets hurt,” Kiro soothed mockingly. The first man, who still had a hold of Jaya, laughed.Jaya nodded slightly to Rakesh, telling him to do as the men asked. The two men started to push them down the streets. As they moved, Rakesh came closer, grabbing her hand. She almost pulled away in surprise, but found it comforting to have him close. I’ll get you out of this, she told him silently, knowing he couldn’t hear her thoughts. I promise.