Chapter 1 (1st draft)
The cloaked figure rode swiftly on, the white mare having no trouble holding the pace. He was late in returning already, so could hardly afford to dally. Keeping one leather-clad hand on the reigns, he used the other to pull his cloak more tightly about him. The holding belt prevented it from flying away behind him, but was not so tight as to entirely prevent the air flow from making it shift.
Eventually the city gates came into view and he sighed in relief, he had made good time, so would not be in too much trouble for his tardiness. Certainly he could provide no reasonable excuse for it if he were questioned but an hour would be dismissed easily enough.
He slowed the horse’s pace as he neared the large wooden gates and lowered the hood of his royal green cloak. The men in the guard hut recognised him instantly even in the dim light and opened the way immediately, not wanting to impede him. The young man headed straight to the stables, handing a stable boy the mare’s reigns before climbing off her and patting her head before departing.
Making his way swiftly to the palace, he made sure to readjust his cloak and ensure he was presentable. He was informed upon his arrival that the King was awaiting his presence in the drawing room but was otherwise left unbothered by the servants and guards. Certainly there was no one in the palace who wouldn’t recognise the young man and everyone also no doubt knew he was running behind and couldn’t afford to be held up.
Brushing a few strands of blond hair from his face, the young man entered the drawing room, unsurprised to see the Queen and Princess were also present. King Kieran acknowledged his presence with a slight nod but continued giving instructions to one of the servants, not turning his attention to the newcomer until the girl had departed.
“You are late, Lucius” the King stated sternly, though the expression on his face assured he was not really angry.
“Yes father, my apologies.” The blond replied, bowing slightly.
“All is well I take?”
“Yes my Lord, there are no incidents of which to speak.”
“Good. Come then and join us, refreshments shall be brought shortly.”
Lucius nodded and allowed his mother to pull him into an embrace. Adrianne was a beautiful woman of middle-age and it was from her that he and his sister gained their golden hair. She was generally a quiet woman, whom Lucius had never seen looking anything but immaculate. Her height and weight were average but her porcelain skin and fine features made her stand out. He was sure that even without the makeup and finery she would still look stunning.
Yasmina had not long turned seventeen and was a near mirror image of their mother. While she was a lovely young lady, Yasmina was also a very curious creature and he had often felt need to hide certain things from their parents to keep her out of trouble. She completed her studies aptly and acted like the perfect princess and would certainly do nothing wrong maliciously, she could simply be somewhat naïve as to the potential consequences her interests could cause.
As long as his sister was careful and certain things remained as simple curiosities, it would be fine, but some things would get her into trouble if they were known, namely, though not exclusively, her joint consideration of both sexes. Her duty and responsibility as the only daughter of Teralei’s ruler were perfectly stringent and she could not afford to have any casual dalliances, let alone with another woman.
Having also returned Yasmina’s embrace, he sat down with her and their parents. Kieran had always been strict about time management and spending time together, for which none of them held complaint. It was perfectly reasonable to expect family to spend time with one another, though many of the aristocracy claimed to be too busy to do so. Of course, Lucius knew well enough that many of those were actually tending to mistresses and not working at all.
Thankfully his parents were still very much in love and there were no background indiscretions between them. While they all had to consider what was said and done in public, behind closed doors they were a normal happy family, or as ‘normal’ as royalty got at least. It was nice to be able to see them as his parents, rather than just as the King and Queen, as seemed to be so often the case with the foreign royalty he met.
He was proud to be his father’s son and a member of the Morntalon house. His father kept peace and order in his kingdom and could handle himself in a battle if such need arose. He was perfect for the role as far as Lucius could tell and he certainly aspired to be a fitting heir. Thus far, at his nineteenth year, he held the love and admiration of his people and the trust and respect of their soldiers, so he felt sure he was living up to his endeavour.
Some servants arrived with the refreshments before any real conversation could commence so they determined to wait for them to be placed and the servants to leave before speaking amongst themselves normally. Lucius casually winked at one of the girls who blushed in response, hiding her face from the sight of his parents. While the prince was well known to ‘have a way with the ladies’, that didn’t mean neither of them would get in trouble for it.
While Lucius was not as innocent and naïve as his sister and would not be making mistakes in that department, it was admittedly far easier for a man to have liaisons and not get caught for it; after all, it was not as though the male population shared any sign of virginity lost like a woman did. Still, as much as he was somewhat the flirt, it was all harmless and he would never be so ungentlemanly as to take advantage or lie with a lady unless he intended a serious and lasting relationship.
There were many beautiful women in the kingdom and some of the foreign princesses were certainly a sight to behold but it was only recently at his sister’s birthday ball that he had met a woman he thought might come to hold his heart. Lady Mereid was a slight woman with mid-length brunette hair and startling emerald green eyes, and while there was no question she was stunning, with a perfect frame and flawless skin, he wasn’t really sure what it was about her that had captivated him so.
It surprised him that he had never noticed her before; the Amberwell family were hardly of low status and they frequently attended the upper-circle social gatherings. The young lady was apparently often absent from them, as she spent much time away from the city but there were enough people who knew her for him to question why they were not prior acquaintances. It was a matter for contemplation another time however, perhaps after he had crossed paths with her again.
“If I will be excused for talking business, there was nothing to be found of this ‘rebellion’ there?” Kieran asked suddenly, pulling everyone from their own musings.
Lucius shook his head before offering a reply. “Nothing discernible or useful, no, there was nothing said aside from rumours, and minor complaints over a few incidents. Personally I am more inclined to believe those incidents as personal grievances and nothing to do with this group of alleged activists.”
“And there was no obvious support for them?”
“Not within the officials certainly but some of the lower class with false hopes may perhaps hold some interest.”
“We need to learn more of these people and their aims, these attacks are unacceptable…”
“Even if we fail to find something substantial in our enquiries, they will either make a mistake or announce themselves and that will allow us to strike back.”
His father nodded, though it was clear Kieran did not relish the idea of them making themselves public. Adrianne quickly stepped in and changed the topic to something lighter to alter the dim atmosphere the room had fallen into. Everyone was worried about the attacks and about what effect it might hold on the public if it became known, however Lucius felt that knowing something was better than being shut in the dark as they were now.
As yet, the incidents were relatively minor in scale but they were clearly well planned and very effective, so it went without saying that the group was organised had held a clear agenda. As such, he couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t move on to bigger acts and would likely also give themselves identity and purpose to the masses.
What possible justification could be held for such acts against the kingdom was beyond him and so he considered they were more likely vagabonds looking to gain wealth and power. They would never submit to such crude and lawless behaviour however and he would see the group terminated for peace and safety to be restored to the kingdom.
He only half listened to the conversation, occasionally commenting as required, as his thoughts flitted from one thing to another. There was training to be done, drills to be arranged and even with the necessity of dealing with this group, his studies still needed to be attended, as well as his duties. He would be left with very little time to relax while the situation remained as it was.
Eventually the conversation turned to Yasmina’s recent party and Lucius took more interest as his thoughts were drawn back to the brunette. “Do you know the Amberwell girl Yasmina? I had never met Lady Mereid’s acquaintance before.”
“Oh, yes, Mereid is always so very charming, but she is quite often away from home.”
“So I was informed, though I fail to understand what would take a lady so frequently from the city.”
“While Mereid is very much a lady, she is also very strong willed and independent. If she believes something a cause worthy of her time then it is given it. While it is not a matter given much conversation, it is my understanding that she gives her aid to those in need.”
“Does this woman concern you Lucius?” Kieran asked.
“No father, I was just surprised I had not encountered her before, so thought as the conversation was that way inclined, I would ask Yasmina of her.”
Kieran nodded and the conversation resumed as it had, though Lucius did not miss the look of curiosity his sister threw him. It was, he acknowledged, unusual for him to enquire such of her and given the question and the current situation, it was also clear why his father would question so. Still, until he was better acquainted with the lady in question, he would be making no comment of his interest.
There was of course no more guarantee for himself than for his sister that a political arrangement would not be made, though he did not think it likely for either of them as things presently stood, as they held good relations with the neighbouring kingdoms. Even with that aside however, marriage of royalty was a big issue and only someone of suitable nobility would be accepted for such a union. While the Amberwell house was of the upper class, that did not guarantee that Mereid would be considered a suitable pairing, certainly her activities beyond the city would be scrutinised at the least.
Eventually the girls were chatting amongst themselves about dresses and other entirely uninteresting subjects, so his father encouraged him to the far side of the room. Following the instruction, Lucian knew that it was time to discuss the attacks and what could be done about them, a matter he was more than happy to seek resolution for.
“Lucius, all these attacks have been aimed indirectly at my oldest allies and so I fear what they will escalate to. We must find and bring an end to this group as quickly as we can.” Kieran stated gravely once they were seated near the large window overlooking the city.
“Yes father, of course, we are doing all we can.” Lucius replied demurely.
“Perhaps we are not.”
“If we know who they are targeting, surely we can lay a trap for them?”
The blond considered the mainly rhetorical question briefly before answering. “They have always shown caution and generally avoid attacking where we have soldiers; though perhaps if it were pre-planned with our presence hidden there might be better success… Did you have something in mind father?”
“Only that I think Sebastian would be best suited to assist in this matter. He has the knowledge and experience, as well as his own guards.”
“Understood my Lord, conversations shall be held in the morrow.”
“Good boy; this matter must be dealt with promptly.”
Lucius nodded his acknowledgement and the two idly discussed ideas of how to draw in the group and ensure their attacks were permanently ended. Nothing could really be planned until the morning but there was certainly no harm in having a few ideas to go into the discussions with. Lord Sebastian was the former General and while he had had few dealings with the man, he had always come across as a hard man with little patience.
If he were honest, he held no relish for speaking to his father’s friend but he would do whatever was necessary to resolve the situation. The fear, harm and loss of commerce caused were unacceptable but there had also been a few fatalities, which were intolerable. His father was right that they needed to be promptly put an end to.
Eventually his parents retired for the night, leaving Lucius to remain gazing out of the window. He assumed Yasmina had left with them until she leant against the arm of the chair he was sat in. He looked up at her questioningly, knowing she must want him to talk to him about something but her gaze was on the view from the window and not on him.
When she said nothing, Lucius spoke instead. “Does something trouble you?”
Shaking her head gently, Yasmina turned her gaze to him. “Not really, I just wanted to see if all was well?”
“Father has an idea we shall try, though the matter is not one you need concern yourself over.”
His sister nodded and then hesitated before speaking again. “You meant what you said about Mereid? She won’t be troubled over nothing?”
“Yes little sister. I promise my enquiry was due to no more than surprise that I had not encountered her before.”
The blonde beauty smiled, visibly more relaxed than she had been moments before. “I’m glad, thank you Lucius. Make sure you don’t stay up too late.”
Lucius stood and embraced his sister. “Of course, sleep well Yasmina.”
Smiling and nodding daintily Yasmina turned and left the room, leaving the young prince to his thoughts. While he knew he would have an early start and a long day tomorrow, his mind was far too active to consider trying to rest yet. Moving forward slightly, he leaned against the window frame, his breath ghosting across the pane from the proximity.
His mind kept drifting back to the group; who they were and what they wanted. While he had previously brushed them aside as vagabonds, he wasn’t sure he could still do so. The conversation with his father, in conjunction with their level of organisation and caution made it seem more and more unlikely. He couldn’t comprehend their motives however, which did nothing but frustrate him.
The reports held no comment of foreigners being involved and there were no disagreements with any of the other kingdoms for such action to be taken by any of their citizenry. Equally however, there was no reason that he knew of for anyone in Teralei to do such things either. There had been nothing but peace throughout his life, so he found it hard to believe anyone could hold a grudge against those his father held trust in.
Depending on how things turned out, it was possible that he would never know their motivations, though if they could take at least one of them alive he would prefer it, after all, there was no way of knowing how small or large the group was, questioning someone was the only way to be sure it was really dealt with.
Heading out of the room, Lucius decided to check in with the guards, hoping the reassurance that everything was in order would help him settle. It might take some time to arrange matters but he still needed to be awake and concentrating properly tomorrow, so sleep was important. Being too tired to focus would certainly gain him no respect from Lord Sebastian and it would no doubt get back to his father as well.
He always found it strange to wander the palace at night, the absence of noise, and much of the light, made it seem like a very different place to how it was during the day. The eerie silence was something he found oddly peaceful however; there was no stress, no bustle, no pretences, just calm. It was easier to forget his worries in the empty corridors; there was nothing to cause concern in the quiet of night when most were safely sleeping.
Walking through the empty corridors without any real purpose or haste gave him time to take notice of his surroundings, and more specifically, just how grand the décor was. Mahogany cabinets and tables lined the richly carpeted floor, filled with expensive trinkets or topped with extravagant vases while the wall trims were decorated with gold and the walls themselves held many portraits and landscapes, none of which came cheap.
While he knew it was normal in all kingdoms, the stark contrast of what his family had compared to even the retainer of the village he had been in earlier was shocking, let alone when compared to the lower class. The corridors weren’t even among the most richly decorated areas, many of the rooms they used daily were more lavish and even they had nothing on the throne room or treasury.
Royalty always held the most wealth; such was a requirement of those who led, as was maintaining their reputation with the other Rulers. His family just seemed to have so much excess when others barely had enough to live. The matter was one that was governed by law and needed to be handled fairly, all were subject to the rules and taxes and it had to remain that way if Teralei were to hold a future.
Keeping order and balance, as well as prosperity, in a kingdom was the role of the royalty and was rarely an easy task. Certainly he would not dream of criticising his father’s rule, it just seemed a pity that there was so extreme a divide of wealth. He knew it was the same everywhere and could not be changed however; it was simply the nature of civilisation.
Regardless of the facts, his observation had made him realise the luxury he lived in and took for granted. The subject was not one he had considered or paid heed to prior and now that he had, he couldn’t help but wonder what people thought of him because of it. While he could do nothing to change the wealth divide, regardless of him noticing it or not, he did feel guilty for both his obliviousness and having far more than he needed.
It was the people who had nothing who were most likely to be discontent with the monarchy and while Lucius did not believe they were behind the group attacking them, they were certainly the most likely to aid them. Choosing that path would lead them to the same punishment as the group however and he could but hope that fact would deter most who were tempted.
While he couldn’t really understand why anyone would place themselves in so precarious a position for what was likely to be little in return, he did acknowledge that most did not hold the education he did. Some people were too greedy for their own good of course and some were just fools, which were perhaps reason enough for a small number of the populous.
Finally arriving at the guard station, he brushed his thoughts aside and greeted those present cordially. Receiving a rather more formal greeting in response, he was not surprised to be questioned if something was wrong. He was assuring them all was well when Marcus entered, he was one of the more senior guards, a feat the man was extremely proud of being only eighteen years of age. The spritely auburn-haired man was one of the few people Lucius considered a trusted friend.
The young man grinned, understanding well enough why the Prince had graced them with his presence. It was only when Lucius had too much on his mind that he was seen at this hour, so in wanting to help, Marcus offered him a sparring match. At the blond man’s hesitation, Marcus assured it would be without arms and that no one would be disturbed by it.
At his friend’s assurance, Lucius accepted the offer, hoping the exertion would allow him to fall promptly to sleep before his mind started mulling over things again. Taking a deep breath to relax, Lucius followed Marcus to the sparring ring. The one inside was significantly smaller than the training area outside but it served its purpose well enough.
The small wooden building held little in it, being mainly utilised for one-on-one melee training. There were a few racks against the wall nearest the door but he knew on this occasion the armour and wooden training weapons would be ignored. Removing his cloak and sword belt and placing them on a small table, he warmed up a little before the sparring match started.
He knew that working out some of his frustration and energy was the best option he had for getting any rest, so he was happy to go along with the suggestion. He needed to make a good impression on Lord Sebastian, as well as holding enough focus to forge a plan, so being cognisant was imperative. As soon as he was done here, he would head straight to bed to ensure he was ready for everything tomorrow held. With that in mind he motioned to get started, he couldn’t afford to be here for too long after all. The more sleep he got the better, that was all that mattered for tonight.