In the final years of the Tenth Millennium, the whole of Wrokesdrir shivered
beneath the arm of a new autumn breeze. After an entire week of persistent
rain, the sky had broken its weeping. The day was sunless still, and from the
dark tower that laid atop a mound at the very center of the city, a prince grew
He saw the heavens dimming in his sight as he kept his gaze tightly over the capital below, behind an absurdly high window and thick glass that made anything beyond the grounds of the palace blurred, or further distant than what it was true. He anticipated another drizzle nearing the hour, or at least he hoped, and as time passed he understood that the precious moment would never come. He grumbled at the thought of being denied his needful lullaby today.
The prince stood naked. Not unclothed, certainly, but the presence of rain during the past few days had always been an emotional coat that had soothed him in the last disquieting nights. Now that it was gone, the boy was no longer sure on what to do. He looked up. He faced down, sideways, anywhere for sign of the pleasing droplets. Something that would tell him that he was not going to be left bare against the memories of his dreams today. That there was some semblance of mercy in the elements that would assure his needed peace again. But the hours became callous, the light of the world hang dim in low tint and his mind ridiculed his own self-pity. Such fear he deemed foolish, inexplicable, and gradually he became ever more miserable even thinking about it.
“You’re still here, Nera.” Someone called to him from the other side of the room. The prince did not bother to turn towards it. His friend’s visits have been invariably expected from him ever since the two have known each other. He could be the only resident who knows of the palace’s contents enough to move from opposite ends completely unseen and enter the secluded chambers of the royal family by himself, as he had taught himself to be.
He saw his own presence as something others would find distressing and jolting, a subject of animosity that would push anyone to a solitary life, akin to Nera’s circumstances. Such similarity made their friendship inevitable and the company of one another necessarily welcomed.
The figure stepped closer to the windows, the only source of light illuminating the prince’s private quarters, but not enough for his features to be visible.
“This is my room. Where else should I be?” Asked Nera.
“Outside. It’s what I've been saying for days now.” Lanzel sat onto the breakfast table and mulled over the unfinished plates. His attention moving to the scattered papers and spilled ink dripping from his writing desk. “Still having your nightmares I see?”
“It’s nothing that upsets me.”
“You sure haven’t been eating well.” The friend picked up breakfast plates from the table, as if it was his sworn duty as manservant and counselor.
“I’m only tired.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Exactly the same as the last. No changes.”
“Exactly the same, huh? Why don’t you tell me what it was? Clearer this time?” Nera made uncomfortable sounds, things that told his companion that he was not keen to describing terrors that had been haunting him.
“It’s just a big nonsense, Lanzel.” He simply said.
“How about soothsayers? Visit them. They could make sense out of it.” Nera understood the joke, but in no particular instance did he felt amused by it.
“Then swallow your fear and do your best… And tell me what they are about. It’ll help.” It was evident enough that the voice was warm and caring. After all, these visits have always been in the purpose of being helpful and conducive. There wasn’t harm participating.
The boy gulped, figuring that some of these distractions would do him good. His arm raised towards the disorganized parchments with a finger directly over his abandoned scribbling. His face still locked into the horizon, obsessing over the rain starting.
“Everything you need to know are there.”
The Hawk followed the prince’s aim, taking a short few steps and carefully shifted the papers into his hands and claws. And began
“I was flying… If that is what I thought it was. From my end it seemed to be a desert… maybe from somewhere in the further east across the border, if not the dunes of Azarin itself. There was sand as far as the eye can see. And I moved above it at this… unnatural speed, dragged into the infinity by an unknown evil. I could never surmise where, but I sensed the… desperation of escape. To leave its grasp as quickly as I could. All the while I'm overwhelmed by the inexplicable impression that time was running out. That I would not make it. And that I would fail here.” Lanzel paused, expressing confusion as he hears Nera taking a deep breath, and exhaling. He took his time to think and ponder over what he wanted to say next. Lanzel continued to the second page.
“I do not recall how I escaped. The next memory was water and
drowning, the light broke through the surface of a sea, as I was dragged down into the dark below. I clawed upwards, as the surface rushed away from my reach and intensified my… desperation. I could feel heat around me, water boiling as I dug upward… There was the
pull. This force that I couldn’t figure out what it was or where it is
kept me there. And tried to swallow me into its black depths.”
Nera sniffled a couple of times, brushing his nose with the side of his sleeves. He groaned against his lack of self-control. That wasn’t a very princely thing to do.
Lanzel on the other hand remained where he was, motionless. Unwavering to his words. He made sure to let the boy know that he was affably giving attention, trying to shift through more of the papers that were altogether similar.
“Is there anything else?” He asked, and for a long time Nera was hesitant to say anything. Even now he could feel the vivid thoughts of his body consumed by foam and froth, and his throat choking with blood and seeing the oblivion.
“This is my latest entry.” Said Nera, having turned around to pull a note over his drawer, and handed in what seemed to be his most disturbing writing.
His friend continued, “There was a city. It was on fire. Or so it seemed. More vivid with each pass night. There were people there. I could not recognize where, its architecture did not seem Varisian… It…” Lanzel noticed the boy’s eyes retreating into the shadows. Hypnotized by the memories of his night. “There was a fissure that tore through the districts. It shattered entire fields wherever it passed as the fire grew higher and hotter.” Nera took another breath. “All the while something watched me… Watched me from afar, as if keenly assessing on my actions or reaction to the scenarios it had presented.” Lanzel stopped completely. Dropping the momentary fear that was seeping into him.
“Is this all?”
“That is all.” Said Nera calmly, returning to his senses and standing back up to the window. It was an obvious lie, but Lanzel would know better than to push such a thing. Friends could only do so much.
“These must have been agonizing. Curious images if I might say. Would flatter any earnest sadist… Premonitions perhaps? Are you sure you’re not feeling abused or neglected?”
“I have been sitting on this for six nights, Lenz. Don’t trivialize it.”
“Don’t despair either. As any fever this will pass.”
“Unless I drop dead.”
Lanzel sent an encouraging chuckle, cleaning up the desk and the knocked over ink vial. “Well then, nothing’s left to worry if you are. Any opinion over today’s evening?”
For the last three days, there has been various enthusiastic talks and excitement around an open commemoration over a certain noble figure of great influence from somewhere in the North. Some say that the king invited her to discuss matrimony duties, some say that the king will finally end his gluttonous life and settle down with a lover of mannered grace and beauty. They could have a son, and lastly end this five year long need for an heir presumptive.
Even though Nera never had the attention or thoughts over any of the nation’s festivals or holidays, the arrival of a distinguished figure on Wrokesdrir would make an improvement to his state of mind that had gloom over him since the past fortnight. There are no excitements from him but he figures that it doesn’t hurt to heed your surroundings once in a while.
“It’s a change of pace. I look forward to it.”
“Quite a treat hearing that from you.” Lanzel picked the last of the plates, and wiped the table properly. “Still sure about those soothsayers or shrinks? I could have one up here.” He gave an affectionate wink, and by the dead response, Lanzel saw enough to rest his antics. “Then do this for me, will you? Join the festival. Go outside. Get some air. You look pale, it’ll do you good, trust me.”
“I have a nice enough view of things from here.”
“These walls scare me, Nera. They loom over you like oppressive black towers that daunt minds and inspire terrors. But hey, if that is what suits you then you’re sure been treating yourself well. Though I would have figured differently for someone who seemed so tormented he’ll try anything to escape, wouldn’t he?” Lanzel tried smiling as much as his beak would allow, he flapped his plumes over the irritable dust that had been piling on him, having only occurred that the chalky air seemed to be trying to digest him. He turned towards the exit.
“A few of the handmaids are coming over to tell that His Majesty would like you to attend him at the Dining Hall by lunchtime. If you do go, I don’t want to see you back here for the rest of the day, you hear?”
He left the door opened, fully aware Nera had hated any sort of sensitive exposure. Open doors were a destruction of privacy. “Don’t disappoint me.”
And without the prince even noticing his back while he kept his eyes on Lanzel, the merciful rain fell.
The relationship between High King Miren and his adoptive son has been a heavily contentious deliberation in the halls of Eishwur. Rumour spread that the king is a barren man, and with it comes stigma and doubt on whether or not his rule is any more legitimate as a member of the Emnon bloodline. The federal states saw this as an incoming opportunity to rebel against the ever enduring subjugation if the king were to pass away without an heir. To prevent any further talks of a new insurrection that had grown bolder from the West Mon raids of 980, a child was introduced into the family as an insurance of a successor. A low commoner of no noble birth, Nera became Prince of the Ustians at the age of nine, handpicked blindly through some accidental manifestation of destiny.
Not much is known of his life aside the official records which stated him as a pardoned criminal before directly meeting the king through these fateful circumstances. Unfortunately, due to his relation as a citizen of Triter, Nera’s adoption into the Emnon family was seen as the ultimate act of grave insult against the peacekeeping of the Kingdoms of Warren and their honest diplomatic reaching for amicable negotiations with Mir. The fosterage would have broken their dignitaries’ patience if not for the intervention of the king’s delegates that were urgently sent to meet a decisive resolution. The pledge was decided that Nera would not inherit the throne of Undust under any circumstances, for his insertion into the royal family is only seen as a response against the king’s infertility issues at best. As long as Nera is kept away from Wrokesdrir’s crown, Warren will stay their hands from reconsidering war.
That was the Arid Concord of 993.
Nera closes his book after having dealt much of himself on the written records of the past. He had been reminded of the political circumstances against him far too often, how much he had come to consider his noble ‘father’ as a witless incompetent in his duties of governing his own people.
Books are the few things the boy had left to enjoy, apart from the simple curiosities in the histories, he had taken a healthy liking to learn of the various staggering events in the timeline of the world. Such records never go further beyond four thousand years, and he pondered more on what laid before and out, or the earliest events of the Earth itself.
He thought of the origins
of man and the universe, saddened by the weight of so many answers from so many
untrusted sources spoiling the questions beyond apprehension, for no accounts
or evidence remain to satisfy those hungry questions that had swam time and
time again through other multiple minds of men. In his days as prince, Nera
would pour endless days over various tomes of myths and legends that could
illuminate any clue to the shrouded past, though reliable testimonies never
went further beyond the Sixth Millennium.
According to the chronicles of the Oracum, one of the most reliable historical scriptures, it has been regularly made clear the Ten Millennia hold a big void in its central timeline, where a brutally unending winter was said to have covered the world for an entire age, wiping out all traces of previous civilizations and nearly dooming humanity itself. The few relics that yet remain convey no clue or answers.
The prince looked
towards the clouds and wondered stupidly if there was anything beyond the sky
to appreciate. He pretended about flying, men or beasts taking themselves into
the realm of stars and planets, following whatever route the sun takes in its
eternal journey beyond the rim of the Earth.
Obviously, this is not the first occasion Nera daydreams such frivolous subjects, apart from speaking with a few of his loyal friends he never had much else in life. He thinks often of what he should settle with after his time as a prince would inevitably come to an end, when he would be replaced with someone more worthy and accomplished as he is cast out like a purposeless rag-doll. He had been thinking of arrangements to ready for that outcome, though no attempt ever solidified. If he were to be evicted today he just might feel hopelessly lost and confused, alone and unguided to what unclear road he should head to, for the friends he has would not be able to follow him. The realm knows of his name, but no one truly knows him by appearance, and that problem is easily compounded by the fact that the assembly could make him as much of an unknown as quickly as he was made prince. That irritable truth invariably disturbs him.
He cannot say that he never enjoyed the boundless luxuries that had nurtured his teenhood, or the bountiful opportunities that had landed on his lap for whatever his heart desired. A bed where he could call his, the bonds he had made with the few who were caring enough and a haven where no one could disturb his sorely needed peace. He will always be afraid to lose all of this, and most of all, he will be afraid to fall into despair should he is forced to step away from the foot of Eishwur. But by the graces of the Seven Sons who would judge the lives of all living beings beside their divine Father, perhaps that will be everything he deserves.
The boy shook his head, such moments are yet far ahead to be concerned about. Mir had never made progress or attempted to worry himself on the matter of a new successor and for who would eventually replace Nera. Many are starting to question if he ever will.
The Eishwur’s bells rang midday, Nera stepped away from the terrace of his room, took a deep calming breath and eventually dared himself to venture into the labyrinth of his castle for the first time in days. He passed deserted corridors and great vestibules towards his intended destination at the dining hall, lying under floors and floors beneath him. Guards saluted on his way, and servants bowed their heads as they cross paths, it unnerved him for how much an influential presence he has just by wearing regal clothes alone. He’ll bet on himself that he would be thrown to the gutters the minute he start wearing commoner’s clothes.
Nera has never been
an intimidating figure but few in the castle ever denied that his looks were
one of his redeeming qualities. “Have you
seen him? Alone in his quarters and his papers? He keeps wandering the library
on his own because few ever goes there. It’s captivating.” He once heard
the maids’ remarked him to a coyote, sprouting gossips about how he was ‘as pretty as a pup’ years back, or something in the like. Could be that
they were only lying their teeth off to get his attention. A peon made prince was an opportunity many would take advantage to, and while it hadn’t
always worked, he could not deny the few moments where he was caught off guard.
As he thought of himself, the boy had never noticed defining features of his
own, only the plebeian traits of brown tired eyes and short bistre hair. There
have been times where he was ordered around in the hopes of forcing a habit out
of tidying his hairy mess. Such training did not went far, and any other
teachers have given up even trying.
“Let the women handle his head.” They said.
Once he was groomed
to be imposing, to make his form a statue over the common men, and a blinding
beacon of inspiration and reverence to all who would gaze on him. To lead by
example. A joke if ever there was. “I dare you to say that to the king,” He
once told his tutors.
Nonetheless, even though he had never paid heed on the idea of being grandiose, those onerous hours stuck with him one way or another, as he trotted past enough ceaseless mazes and passageways of the palace halls.
After enough walking,
the boy found himself in a more active area, the spaces around him seem much
more alive than what he had remembered his life in Eishwur to be, perhaps the
evening excitements have thoroughly consumed the House, the city's titillation has finally succeeded assailing the castle.
As the young prince approached his destination, he led himself onto another hallway occupied by a large gathering of nobility that seem to be standing in wait for a formal lunch hour outside the dining chamber. Nera stiffly attempted to bypass them without being greeted or noticed. This effort was not entirely successful.
“Pardon me.” Said Nera, accidentally bumping to one of the many well-tailored highborn.
“Not to worry young-Your Highness!” The man exclaimed, bowing gently as he greeted the distinctive member of royalty, peeking the attention of a few heads inwards. The woman beside him also wrapped her gown in a curtsey alongside her gentleman. “Such honour… Will you be joining us at the regale?” He inquired as Nera kept politely remitting himself before any more glares tried to follow him.
“Please excuse me, I am late for an audience.” The boy turned away quickly and speedily moved towards the doors of the Dining Hall. When finally reached them, the king’s stewardess, Mistress Dena Ercas, stood at the entrance and saluted her prince.
“Good day my
liege,” She said, looking rather surprised as she opened the large door just
enough to let the prince into the main room. “I just issued my servants
to your room barely twenty minutes ago. Either those useless wenches work fast
or it was fortune that put you here of all time and places. His Majesty is
Nera smiled nervously to her, before stepping inside with jittery heartbeats, wondering if Lanzel’s comments about him being noticeably pale would affect his father’s outlook on him.
The Dining Hall is one of the largest and grandest of chambers, decorated from top to bottom of golden etchings and great extravagant ornaments, lights which momentarily blinds guests who have seen little sunshine such as Nera. On both side of the hall laid the great tables for the highest of the nobles, exquisitely adorn of excellent craftsmanship in of themselves, but at the centre, sitting above a wide podium was the king’s banquet, where its elegance and prestige could not be rivalled from a thousand miles around. All this did little to comfort poor Nera, who felt badly out of place and smaller with each proceeding step as if he was a wart that had to be immediately removed from a perfect visage.
It was in this very room where his life changed. Where he was unwittingly dragged into royalty and damned by his nation and everyone who was in charge of it.
“Sit down boy.”
The prince was pretty sure he heard the echo and not the voice itself as on the other side of this banquet sat his royal majesty, His Excellency High King Miren of Emnon, surrounded by discrete waiters and entertainers who are silenced as he speaks. There were dozens of chairs neatly lined out on his side to choose from and on their fore just as much food to feed two hundred men, readied by servants and servitors.
Nera sat down in one of the ordinary seats at the table in the centre, hoping desperately that he is not going to be commanded to have lunch with those aristocrats in the other room and be eyed distrustfully for the next three hours.
“When have I
lowered you to one of the marquis? Come closer and lie where you belong.”
The king chuckled as if that was intended to be one of his best jokes, an insult to all of his ostracized cousins that were once put to the sword during one particularly bloody day. Nera stepped out of his chair embarrassed and neared to the other side of the hall where he could properly see his father’s majesty in a more focused light. He sat on an even more resplendent and smaller table that was atop a secondary podium high enough to oversee the entire hall. It is not hard for anyone to comment to themselves that the king’s outward image is that of an obese useless blob. After having wasted his reign and imbibed solely on the food and services out of his status, it has been one of Mir’s traits to have beheld himself as an embodiment of gluttony and excess. His servants surrounded him with doilies and cloth to clean up the morsels that get clumsily spitted out of the plates. It was not a pleasant sight.
Nera chose a seat from two chairs away and waited awkwardly for a response to hit him. “Come now, your flesh is a shrivelled sardine, put some meat into those bones. My treat.” The king waved his finger in the air and ordered his servants to place more plates closer towards Nera, even offering to slice lumps of cooked beef for him as they laid it gently on his platter.
“You flatter me but… I have eaten.” The boy courteously brushed aside his waitresses.
“Mmmh.” The king simply nodded thoughtfully, minding his plates of fish, pork and lamb. “No one has seen you for days. I hear you’ve locked yourself in the tower again.”
“Yes, well emh…” The boy cleared his throat. “I was not in my best, Father. Ailments have been plaguing me over the past few nights.”
“Indeed? What convinced you out?” The King looked at him, engrossed in his question. Nera shrugged.
“Just a few warm-hearted words from a friend. I did not want people to worry.”
Mir nodded again. He didn't exactly believed his son, but it was clear that it was not an interesting enough topic to push. “I assume you’ve heard of the Countess from the Vanorian isles?”
“Who hasn’t?” Nera replied, trying to politely not eye the mess of meat stacks in front of his majesty’s beer gut. The king leaned his large body towards the boy and smirked playfully.
“They say that she is blessed by the Phoenix himself.” The king grabbed the fork and knives to cut a challenging piece. His idea of being civil all of a sudden. “Impressively rich… Celibate… Giving…” He grabbed a cup of wine and gulped a few. “Young… As well as an astounding beauty.”
“I fail to see why it concerns me… Father. There are talks that you will have plans to receive her hand, isn’t there?”
“Goodness gracious boy, no.” He was noticeably trying very hard not to belch. “Am I such an exemplar of character to you?” He chuckled widely as he shook his head to himself.
“Then… What is the fuss with this… Countess?”
“I have decided-Senate be cursed-that the matters of my heritage have come to be settled.” Mir began exaggerating his voice with mockery intention as Nera’s lungs slowly descended down his stomach and further rolling down his legs. He could feel the moment for his dismay about to land. “‘My noble Lord! We must resolve the issues of your legacy and assure stability over matters of suzerainty!’ Ha! Craven pricks.” The king slandered as he slams the cup on the table. “I shit on the Wermers. Their speeches of solidarity, their odious farce of noble intentions for preserving our so called peace as if they ever had such care in the world. This is a country that had been eyeing on the chair beneath my arse with such delightful envy and fear-” He rips a chicken leg, “-fear of what we can become. They have been aware for much longer than we of our true descent from the Westersuns.”
“From what I’ve learned here… That’s still up to debate.” Said Nera dubiously. The real lineage of the first Varisian kings had always been a heated dispute. The ancient Fifteen, the founding fathers were godlike in the eyes of the modern Varisians, to have evidence of actual descendance from them, would be considered proof of divine right by all.
“You and your books. All of your time spent with droning scholars. They might have outlined the past on their tomes more than anyone alive but they are clueless to the secrets the powerful have kept hidden within these fortresses. Knowledge like this will never be processed by public view unless momentous action is taken against those contemptuous mongrels across the Mideus.” Mir drops a chewed bone onto a pile. “I’ve spent twenty years trying to teach those piss drinkers the correct version of history and what has that got me? Up surging pirates and mewling brats.” Quickly did Nera realized what his father was getting at.
“You’ve been deliberately trying to… light a war?”
The king leaned closer, with his fat finger pointing towards his bulging chest. “The Arid Concord is an insult to me, and to all of the Ustian people… and especially you: the chosen son.”
“I hear I’m mostly an embarrassment.”
“But chosen regardless.”
Nera began eyeing his father very closely, attempting for a shot at the ridiculous. “Then what? You want me to be king?”
“I want you to be my legacy.”
“You mean that you intend me to wage your war for you.”
“You’ll be king… and I’ll be dead. Doesn’t the very idea of glory excite you? Most children of your age would. The first to lead our armies since the days of my great-grandfather, the opportunity that would be laid upon your hands. The successes that you could meet years from now will immortalize you. In the next few decades you could even be Lord of all Varisia.”
“That’s… I am not
going to be responsible for the deaths of thousands, father.”
He did not realize it, but Nera’s head was shivering. The idea of being an inevitable part of another one of those senseless slaughters he had read from his bloody books for so long, appalled him.
“Mmh… Such is war. All death is inevitable.” Replied Mir with an odd and solemn voice.
“There doesn’t need
to be one!” Nera slams his fist furiously back on the table, before he
pointed it at him. “Let me get this straight, this one thing clear, because I'm not sure you understand what your own mouth just spat. You’re telling me, one of the most reviled figures in the nation, that you're trying to have him lead
your overweight throne and allow Warren to justify their grievances against our abominably
gross lapses? ...Are you insane? Was
this what came over your head when you’ve picked me out of your silver platters?
To vex people that have been nothing but
cordial with us for over four hundred years?!”
It was here and now that it occurred to Nera that not only he was standing above his father, and for the very first time, he had raised his voice against the Ustian king. The entire chamber fell silent, it was clear that everyone had heard what their prince had said, and the catapulting aftermath could crash upon him with a vengeance. “I…” Nera’s voice softened. “I cannot see a war started because of me. I will not have anyone’s blood on my hands.” But to hell with the consequences. For five years he had lived with guilt, one powerful enough to have permanently corroded his very soul and brought him to the depths of anguish without end in sight. He cannot see that happening again.
King Mir nodded as if it were the opinion of a respectable friend, taking a large napkin and wiping his mouth before flinging it away. His eyes moved towards Nera’s hands.
“On the first day that they dragged you here, I had nine judges outlining me all sorts of contemptible qualities in regards to your character. Who is this child? How old is he? What were his crimes? You should have seen how hard they tried to convince me of your abundantly infinite ineligibility.” Mir lifted a finger to him. “And yet, one of their lines took my attention most of all, simply for the reason that it made me feel so cleansed by comparison… I’ll reckon it has gotten you the queerly eyes, but it was perfect. It was what I needed.” His fingers were greasy with slick gunk that no one would dare be touched by, and he was right. “…Deny what you will, boy. Your life is still in the dungeons. And you never had a choice in the matter.”
Nera felt acid eating his insides, he swiftly gave his back to the king without a single ounce of decorum he’s been always taught to uphold, and charged out of the hall. His small figure was pursued by deadened stares.
A new fear now threatens to consume him, a fear he had never dared to linger on before. The fear that he would be leading one of the mightiest realms in the world to ruin.
Finding a shrink was no longer such a bad idea anymore.