Ten years later...
‘Once upon a time the Sun took a walk in a forest and found the Moon bathing in a lake.
The Sun fell madly in love, approached, wooed and won her hand then took the Moon as his wife.
They both lived happily for a long, long time and soon the Moon gave birth to a Star…’
Prince Matthew ach Soverete took a deep, shaky breath as he recited his favorite fairytale silently in his head while standing outside the doors that led to the Amber throne room. For some reason, reciting something like this in the relative quiet of his head helped calm him down. And the Deities knew he needed to relax right this minute.
Even from where he was he could already hear the sounds of the banquet being held on the other side of the gigantic ivory doors in front of him and he wanted nothing more than to bolt and go back to his family's country side seat where he had spent the better part of his fourteen years in relative peace and quiet unbothered by the politics and mayhem known as his grandmother’s court.
He hated banquets held at the Capital city. Every single one of his family knew this and yet none of them seemed to care. Already he was sweating underneath his well-tailored amber and red doublet and shaking in his black leggings. His stomach was doing somersaults and he was very, very afraid he might disgrace himself in front of his grandmother's company by puking all over her pretty velvet slippers. Again, he wondered why he was here.
"Relax," he heard his half-brother John tell him from behind. Both of them were standing in the long and wide hallway waiting to be announced. The dappled sunlight from outside making the ecru colored marble of the floor and pillars sparkle coolly around them. "Breathe in deep and breathe out slowly. Remember what Sir Jonas taught us during sword practice. Stop worrying too much."
"That's easy for you to say," Matthew muttered back. "You always trumped everyone during sword practice. He actually likes you. Sir Jonas just keeps me around because of what I am."
"That's not true," John told him patiently and Matthew felt his brother's hand on his right shoulder. "You'll do fine."
The comforting weight of his hand and the gesture made Matthew feel a little bit braver. He shot his half-brother a tremulous smile and saw John smile back at him serenely. Matthew immediately felt ashamed of his cowardice. Here he was just being asked to fulfill his obligations to the crown when John had more reasons to not want to be here. Everybody knew people disliked John because of his origins. Heck, even he knew that, dense as he was. And yet here he was standing here with him, risking unpleasant scrutiny for the sake of indulging their grandmother’s caprices. John grew up under the same household as Matthew and he had yet to hear his half-brother utter a single word of complaint about the snubbing and discrimination or the social obligations that were similar to torture for the both of them.
Suddenly the door to the throne room opened just large enough to let a single person through and Matthew suddenly found himself looking at his older brother Mark peeking from the opening.
"I knew it; you've been here all along!" the other boy clucked and stepped out onto the corridor fully, closing the ivory door behind him softly. Matthew found him already dressed in a dark green and amber version of his own clothes. "You do realize that Luke and Grandmother already knows you're here, right? They've been waiting for you to come in for a while now."
"He's nervous about throwing his lunch all over the throne room," John answered with a smile of his own. "He just needs a little bit more time, Brother."
Mark rolled his eyes at this and sighed. "Seriously, he's like this because you spoil him too much, John."
"Really? I don't think I do." John said with a smile that would fool no one.
"Maybe if you spanked him a little?"
"I don't think that'll work."
“Hit him over the head?”
“Too thick. I doubt he’ll feel a thing.”
"Hello? I'm still here?" Matthew pouted, irritated that his brothers were getting into a humorous discussion about him as though he weren't there at all.
Both his brothers snickered at his reaction and Matthew rolled his eyes at them.
John and Mark were born only a few months apart and were both great swordsmen in their own rights. Already known far and wide as some of the greatest warriors of their time they were revered and respected by all the soldiers they have commanded. Their looks were the complete opposite of each other, though.
Mark bore the ach Soverete family’s trademark blonde tipped, ebony black hair, distinct amber eyes and pale skin while John sported his mother's silvery blond hair, ocean blue eyes and skin the color of dark sand. Where John was calm Mark was rather wild and hot tempered. They share a few things in common though; like their love for the sword. They were frequently seen competing in tournaments. They also share in the hobby of teasing their youngest sibling into oblivion and beyond, something Matthew viewed with annoyed exasperation.
The door to the Amber throne room opened once more and all three boys looked up to see the frowning visage of their oldest brother stepping out of the door, making sure the door was closed before glaring at Mark fully.
"I told you to fetch them, not to stand around here giggling like idiotic girls." Luke ach Soverete scolded Mark severely, hands on hips, wearing a navy blue version of his and Mark's clothes.
Mark blanched but the smile never left his face nor did John get fazed even as the blonde gave their oldest brother a respectful bow of the head.
"Don't scold him, Big Brother, it's my fault, really!" Matthew cried out, quick to defend his second oldest brother.
Luke sighed but his eyes, the same shade of amber as his, softened when they fell on him. "That might be so but Grandmother is already expecting you; the guests are also getting impatient. It is rude to keep them waiting."
Matthew blushed and winced. "Sorry, Brother."
Luke was the oldest of his brothers and the best politician among them. He wore his hair longer than the three of them, tying it into a low ponytail behind his back and allowing the blonde tipped ebony hair to fall behind his shoulder blades.
"If that's the case then Mark, make sure he's ready. John, make sure he doesn't run away this time." Luke ordered them.
Both younger men nodded in amusement and took their places; Mark beside him and John at his back.
Matthew sighed in resignation. His oldest brother was ordering everyone to surround him like he was a political prisoner. Then again he couldn't blame Luke; he really did have a record in bolting. Matthew may not excel in anything but running.
Matthew took one more calming breath before nodding at the guardsman by the door. "Okay; guess there's no point in prolonging this torture."
The guard by the door gave them a respectful bow before opening the doors fully and announcing their arrival to all the guests in the throne room.
"The Princes of Lorelie!" came the call from his deep voice. "Prince Luke ach Soverete with his brothers! Prince Mark; Prince Matthew and Lord John of the House of Reeds!"
It was as though time stood still as all four of them entered the room; they formed a diamond with Luke leading the way, Mark and Matthew behind his left and right shoulder with John completing the shape at the back. The guests in all their shimmering jewels and finery stopped whatever it was they were doing at the entrance of the four heirs to the kingdom. Matthew knew the guests weren't staring at him though; more likely they were staring at his brothers.
Matthew knew he was just ordinary in comparison. There was nothing special about his own blond tipped ebony hair and amber eyes. Smaller than his brothers he was often the object of mockery. Even at his age his brothers still protected him from himself most of the time because he always got in trouble. The only thing remarkable about him was the fact that he was heir to his mother's line and that all her lands and titles would belong to him one day as per the rules of succession in her side of the family. Of course there was ‘that’ trait as well but who would find that even remotely useful? Without these no one would give him a second look. As it already stands...
Matthew was so preoccupied with his despondent thoughts he almost tripped on the ebony carpet leading up to the throne. The only thing that saved him from kissing the ecru colored marble floors off the carpet was John's hand tugging the back of his collar, pulling him back. Luke and Mark stopped to give him worried looks and Matthew automatically sought to allay that.
"I'm okay, I just tripped, I promise!"
A flurry of contemptuous tittering scattered across the room and made his face burn so bad he was sure he was blushing as red as the color of a violent sunset. Matthew wanted to crawl under a rug and die.
"Stop fooling around and walk." Luke commanded coldly, his face impassive even as he swept the room with a look that practically dared everyone to speak or laugh.
Like magic, everyone immediately fell silent at his cold glare.
Matthew swallowed his envy hard and almost panicked when he saw Mark and John throwing everyone else the same kind of challenging look. He wished he could do that. Express his authority with just a look the way Luke could. But he didn't have Luke's power and skills and so he sighed and tried not to make a mess of everything else. Matthew didn't even want to know what his brothers would do if this stretched on. They had always been too over protective of him since he was a child. So he straightened up again and smiled brightly.
"I'm fine! Let's go! Look! It's Grandmother!" he blurted out, flailing his hands to get his older brothers' attentions.
Displeased, Mark and John continued scowling. Seemingly indifferent Luke nodded but kept his eyes narrowed and started walking again, his shoulders stiff. They all followed their oldest sibling. Looking forward Matthew saw their grandmother seated on The Amber throne, her old weathered face wearing a small smile as she watched them approach. Although already at the age of seventy she still held an elegance that spoke of royal blood and her pale skin was still the color of soft milk. Her figure was still slender and her back was still straight. Her amber eyes shone warmly despite her composed disposition. She was wearing a white sash over her deep copper colored gown.
As soon as they reached her side all four of them bowed at the waist. Luke and Mark straightened immediately and stood on either side of the throne just below the three steps that led to it; Luke on the right and Mark on the left. A pair of sentinels guarding the queen and her throne. Matthew and John remained at the foot of the throne still bowing respectfully waiting to be addressed.
"Matthew, John, my dears," the Great Dame greeted them with warm elegance. "It has been some time since I have seen you; raise your faces and allow me to look upon you."
They obeyed and straightened. Matthew reddened when Mark threw him a wink; Luke stayed as impassive as stone but managed to give him a small nod of encouragement.
"Grandmother," Matthew made a conscious effort not to stutter even though he felt his knees start to tremble. "It's good to see you again." Not knowing what to say after that he blurted out the first thought in his mind. "I missed you!"
Their grandmother beamed at him and Matthew blushed even more as chuckles went out in the throne room once again.
"And I as well, my dear," the old queen replied affectionately. Matthew flushed with pleasure. He loved his grandmother dearly. Her eyes then turned to John behind him. "My dear, John; have you grown taller?"
Matthew glanced at his half-brother to see him grinning. "Just a couple of inches, Your Highness."
"Why do I have this feeling you'll be taller than Luke when you are fully grown?" she asked, her brows rising up into her hairline, impressed.
"The men of my mother's tribe were quite excessive in height, Your Highness," John replied easily. "That thought might not be an impossibility at all."
Matthew could hear the silence as clearly as a shout and when he looked up at the balcony located on the top right side of the throne to where the rest of the kingdom's internal council stood looking down at the queen holding court, he saw the disapproval on their faces. It was no secret that they disliked John. He frowned, remembering the reason why he hated going to balls and banquets in the capital city the most.
"That would be a good thing; such strength of presence will be needed for your future duties to the crown." his grandmother nodded with pride. Something in her tone made Matthew's shoulders stiffen, though. Something was up; something he was not going to like. His eyes found his grandmother's and saw them trained straight at him before addressing the audience.
The bad feeling got worse.
“Honorable guests; Keepers of my kingdom; I have gathered all of you here today in order to celebrate the fifteenth birthday of my youngest grandson. Behold! The Prince Matthew ach Soverete, Duke of Kree."
Polite applause ran through the room like a passing spatter of rain. It came and went quickly and Matthew smiled sheepishly at the crowd in thanks trying to ignore their scorn and their indifference under the fake adulation. He knew just how little they cared about this auspicious occasion.
"Matthew, you have been fortunate to have been born in the heart of spring where everything is lush and green and bountiful. I have watched you grow up into a fine young man with a heart full of love for everything around you." his grandmother began again, her eyes on him gentle and kind. Matthew felt a thousand butterflies flying violently in his stomach all whispering to him to run away screaming. "I believe that as long as you are here then our kingdom shall continue experiencing prosperity and bounty of limitless proportions."
Matthew gave her a tremulous, crooked smile; shyly blushing. "Th-thank you, Grandmother."
She gave him another smile and Matthew blinked as warning signs blurted in his chest in a more violent fashion. "And as my gift to you and this auspicious day of luck, I grant to you the right to become my heir to the Amber throne."
Matthew’s brain froze at the words. No, he must have heard it wrong. There was just no way. Luke was the one who was supposed to become king. He was having trouble breathing because there was just… no… way…!
The last thing poor Matthew saw was the sight of John and Mark rushing towards him wide eyed and shouting his name before his vision completely blacked out and he felt himself falling…
When Matthew came to it was to the sight of a bedroom’s cream canopied sleeping quarters. The light golden marble walls were illuminated by the torches that hung in the room, their flames lowered for his convenience. They cast eerie shadows all around the room and the scent of fragrant wood being burned seeped into his nostrils. He looked to his left to an open balcony where he could see the remains of the moon already floating in the night sky.
When did it get this late?
“Matthew?” the familiar voice made the young man look to his right only to see his half-brother sigh in relief at the sight of his open eyes. “It's about time you woke up.”
Matthew sat up, feeling groggy. Upon seeing the familiar set of his oldest brother’s favorite pair of swords crossed over the fireplace mantle across from the gigantic bed he was in he realized he was in Luke’s room. The black carpeting reminded him that he wasn’t in the royal mansion at Kree anymore. Which also unfortunately reminded him of what happened during his audience with the queen earlier that afternoon.
John immediately cut off his screaming with a hand on his mouth, glaring at him to stop. “Shut. Up.”
Matthew obeyed but replaced his screaming with pacing by jumping out of his bed and proceeding to wear off the carpeted floor, muttering wildly. “She’s out of her mind; that’s it. It’s the only explanation for all of this. She’s out of her mind!”
“I don’t think that’s a very healthy thing to say about the queen.” John replied dryly knowing better than to stop Matthew this time.
“What other explanation could there be?!” Matthew cried out, pulling at his hair as he continued to pace. “Does she even know what she’s doing?!”
“Calm down, Matthew.” John said, trying to settle him down.
“Calm down? Calm down?! Are you crazy? How can I possibly calm down?” Matthew shouted at him, his voice tinged with desperation, his eyes reflecting it even more so. “She just made me bloody King!”
“I think they refer to it as 'Crown Prince'. And yes, she did. I know that. I was there, remember?” the blonde swordsman replied with a touch of amused sarcasm in his voice.
Matthew didn’t even notice. He was terrified. He didn’t know what to do anymore. “She’s crazy. Crazy, I tell you! I love her and all that but maybe she’s going senile!”
“Of course not, she’s our grandmother,” John replied, his voice warm and patient. “The day she allows herself senility would be the day I give up my sword.”
“But why me?!” Matthew turned to the blonde, hands thrown in the air in helpless confusion. “Luke was supposed to inherit the throne! He’s been working hard all these years! You can’t tell me all his hard work counted for nothing?!”
“I don’t know,” John replied carefully trying very hard to stay focused through his confusion as well. “Maybe grandmother has other plans; you know how she is. Besides, I think you’d be a great king.”
Matthew, finally exhausted from his outburst, fell to the floor in a slump. “That’s absurd. Luke is perfect! He’s smart and brave and succeeds at everything he sets his mind to. I can’t even compare to him. No one in the realm can even hold a candle to him.”
John smiled at him kindly and ruffled his dark head with a rough hand. Matthew allowed it. It was a gesture as familiar to him as his own breathing. “I wonder at that. Besides, you’re not so bad yourself, you know? There are things you can do that Luke can’t.”
“Like what? Being a complete klutz?”
“No. But you are starting to sound like an arse. By the way,” John pulled something out of his pocket with his other hand and handed it to him. “Grandmother told me to give you this.”
Matthew took it reluctantly. He recognized the engraving on the amber coin all too clearly. The disc had occupied his grandmother’s ring during her rule; his father had worn it on his crown. The amber disc that held the Royal Crest of Lorelie’s ruler.
Matthew just sat there silently staring at it with John’s hand on his head for what seemed like a long while before he broke the silence. “John?”
“I don’t want to be King.”
The older boy sighed. “I know.”
A soft knock on the door interrupted their brief interlude and both turned as the door to Luke’s room opened revealing the sight of one of the palace maids. She was carrying a silver tray mounted with a beautifully decorated ceramic pot steaming with tea and a pair of matching teacups.
“The queen thought you would want some tea before dinner, Your Highness.” She told them before entering the room and placing the tray on a side table.
“Oh!” Matthew jumped to his feet and started walking towards her. “Thank you!”
She handed him a steaming cup at his approach and Matthew, all too eager to taste the tea did not notice the way her hand trembled as she held the platter in her hands with a bowed head. John’s eyes narrowed at the sight, though.
“Thank goodness, I was thirsty.” Matthew muttered as he brought the cup to his lips.
The younger man was surprised when his half-brother slapped the cup away from his hand, moving in a way he had only seen the blonde do during fights and tournaments. The porcelain cup crashed on the floor spilling its contents all over the carpet. The maid ran out the door.
“What are you doing?!” Matthew exclaimed, surprised and confused; his eyes going back and forth from the broken cup to the disappearing maid.
“Something’s wrong!” John called back, lunging for his sword placed beside the bed Matthew had been sleeping in earlier. “Get away from the doors!”
Before Matthew could even register his brother’s orders a bevy of men wearing uniforms he was unfamiliar with started pouring into the room carrying swords, spears, bows and arrows. Each of them pointed their weapons at him.
“Matthew!” John called out, pushing the younger boy behind himself and swinging his sword wide at the group of men, successfully making them take a step back at the force of his strength. “Matthew! RUN!”
“GET AWAY! I DON’T CARE HOW, JUST GET AWAY!”
Trembling, Matthew’s eyes darted throughout the room. If Luke had any secret passages here, he didn’t know where they were kept. The door was blocked by John now fighting these strange men. The only other place was the balcony and its fifty meter drop and the large fountain below.
He was trapped.
John was fending off five men at the same time all aiming to behead him. Matthew saw a sixth one about to drive a spear into his brother’s side. Desperate to save his older brother Matthew grabbed one of the swords from the mantle quickly sending Luke a silent apology before unsheathing it and managing to block the deadly strike from John’s sixth attacker.
“FOOL! I TOLD YOU TO RUN!”
“I’ll open up a path for you! Get through there then find Luke and Mark!”
“No way! I’m not leaving you here!”
“DAMN IT, MATTHEW, DO AS I SAY!”
Their attackers again converged on them, attacking all at the same time. Matthew and John found themselves being driven back and before he knew it, his back had hit the railing of the open balcony. The smirks he received from his opponents already told him he was about to die. They were trapped.
“Arrows at the ready!” one of the men called out and faster than a blink the attackers carrying the bow and arrows all lined up in front of them like a firing squad. “Aim!”
“You dare!” John snarled back at them with gritted teeth.
Matthew was really scared now. He had never seen John lose his calm. Never.
Matthew closed his eyes tight waiting for the pain… Only to register a warm weight over him instead.
With rising dread he opened his eyes to see John staring down at him, his teeth clenched against the pain of several arrows embedded in his back, shielding him from the onslaught.
“Get away,” the older boy told Matthew harshly, his blue eyes burning with anger and frustration. “You can’t die here.”
“N-No…” Matthew found himself clutching at John’s thick arms, tears already pouring from his eyes at the sight of his brother hurt. “J-John…? John!”
“Escape…” John’s voice was growing fainter, softer, his weight getting heavier. Matthew felt himself being crushed under the weight. “Matthew… Use it. Use it now.”
“Are you crazy?! Who knows where I'll end up going?!”
“Another volley!” they heard the same man call and the sound of arrows being niched echoed in the night. “Ready!”
John merely smiled at him. That broad, warm smile that always calmed Matthew down. “You can do it. I know you can.”
Matthew felt John push him. The next thing he knew he was airborne, weightless as he fell.
The command was distant but Matthew saw John jerk as more arrows hit his back and eventually his large frame draped bonelessly on the balcony rail.
His eyes stayed wide as the waters in the fountain below rose to his silent call of despair to form a crystal gilded mirror below him. A mirror in which he fell through leaving only silence in his wake…
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