The throne room fell silent as he was ushered in and Milos felt all eyes on him. Sure, he had bathed and shaved. His clothes fit a bit too tightly at the shoulders and around his thighs, but it was the weight of the court’s attention that made him feel like he was suffocating.
He searched for his mother first whose ebony skin stood out against the background of the white limestone throne. He saw her eyes widen and then she stood. She was off the dais in an instant and barrelled straight into his chest.
“I think that was the most ungraceful gesture you have ever made mother.” he said.
“Milos, is it really you my son?” she asked as she touched his face.
“Yes, mother it is me.” he said smiling slightly.
“You’ve grown taller and thicker,” she said before pulling closer to him and started crying in his chest.
“All is well now mother, I am here.” he crooned softly as he hugged her. His eyes drifted up to his father who was still unmoved on throne watching him and his mother. “I must go and greet father now.” he said.
“Yes of course,” she said pulling away. She then looped her arm through his as she escorted her to the dais.
He then bowed before the king. “Your Majesty,” he said remaining kneeling.
He saw when his father’s boots were in front of him. The king touched him on his shoulder and it was only then he stood. His brown eyes were now surrounded with more wrinkles and more grey hair streaked his brows. He used to be shorter than his father but he was now staring directly into his eyes.
His father scanned him over and when he seemed satisfied with what he saw. He simply said, “You have returned.”
“I have,” replied Milos. His father nodded once and then walked back to his throne.
Milos followed him going to stand in front of the empty chair on the left of his father. His mother joined them standing and when all three faced the crowd the trumpets blared. “All hail Prince Milos Thakoptris, the returned and Crown prince of Garion.”
The all in the room bowed and curtsied. It was after the royals sat that they became upright again. He watched the crowd who made no sign of hiding the fact that they were looking at him. They were in the middle of his brother’s burial feast. All the guests were wearing either black or silver. He knew what they were saying. His brother burnt only this morning and that he had returned to take his place this evening.
A steward offered him a cup. “Wine to your liking Your Highness.”
“Is it watered?” he asked before taking it.
“No Your Highness,” he said bowing.
“Then it is no longer to my liking then Bartimus.”
“Your Highness.” he bowed, surprised. Milos could feel his father’s eyes on him. If he was surprised, he couldn’t tell as his face remained impassive. The steward then returned. “As you would have it, watered wine.”
“Thank you,” he said taking the cup. He placed the cup at his nose savouring the fruity scent before tasting it. It was just as good as he remembered, better even as it has been awhile since he drank something this rich.
A short burly man approached the dais. “It is good to see that you have returned Prince Milos, it would have been a more joyous occasion if not for the passing of your brother.”
“Baron Kelikos, my brother’s murder is a most unfortunate event and those responsible whether on this side of the border or the next will be duly punished. I am happy that I have returned today so that I can be a part of his mourning.”
“But of course Your Majesty.” he bowed slightly.
“I do not see your son around. He and I were such great friends growing up I thought that he would be the first to greet me.” said Milos taking another sip of wine and relaxing in his chair.
The man’s face flamed slightly, from guilt or embarrassment Milos couldn’t tell. “He is present here tonight I am sure that he will pay his respects before the night is over.” he cleared his throat. “I was sent as a spokesperson to see if I could convince you in playing a hand of cards with us.”
“I am a bad card player and a worse loser as you well know. I think I have lost more than enough in a day and deserve some reprieve. Don’t you think so baron?”
“Ah well yes Your Majesty, I will send your apologies to the others, if you will excuse me.” he said hurrying away.
The king’s eyes were definitely on Milos now. “Don’t look so surprised father. They planned to make a mockery of me and I refuse to be laughed at. Not anymore and not by anyone. If I am to take Genos’ place I will behave as he did. I will not dishonour his memory with foolish behaviour. It has been a long journey here and I am tired. If I have your permission, I would like to retire.”
The king nodded and Milos walked out of the room leaving the crowd to wonder at his departure. The whispers started behind him. This they were accustomed to. Him displeasing the king. He was almost at his room when he heard his name echoing down the hall. He turned around to see Sonetta coming towards him. Her face flushed from the sprint in the heavy dress. He resisted the urge to bolt, instead he waited rather impatiently for her to reach him.
“Lady Sonetta what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”
“I just wanted to welcome you home after your long departure.”
“Thank you. But if that is all I will retire now, as it has been a long day. Goodnight.” he then opened the door and closed it firmly behind him. He rested his head on the door and closed his eyes.
“Well that could have been handled better.” Milos turned to find Darrien sitting around a table peeling an apple.
“I didn’t see you there.”
“From that startled leap, I would imagine so.” Milos pulled up a chair beside him and grabbed an apple. “So how did it go?”
“You weren’t there?”
“Yes, but I want you to give me your own impression.”
“They still think that I am a careless, drunken gambler.” he shrugged.
“And aren’t you those things anymore?”
“I am. The wayward way is the most enjoyable. I’ve just learned to choose my games and drinks more carefully.” he grinned, taking a bite into a polished green apple.
“There is no need to pretend with me Milos. I already know who you are.”
“And who would that be?”
“A prince with the potential to become a great king.”
“You and that potential talk.” he snorted.
“You have to be careful Milos, as they are going to be testing you for any sign of weakness and they will move in to remove you.”
“I am more than happy to be relieved of my duties.” he said finishing his apple. “It really has been a long day Darrien I would like to rest.”
“Very well then.” he said getting up from around the table. He was by the door when he said, “By the way I need your permission to place the princess in one of the guest rooms, under heavy guard of course.”
“Very well, but tomorrow. She held me hostage for almost a week, I will give her a taste of her own medicine.”
“Milos, these are special circumstances.” he cautioned.
“I know that’s why I will have a room prepared for her first thing in the morning. A few more hours won’t kill her.”
Darrien shook his head, “As you would have it Your Highness.”