The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 12 - AN AWKWARD FEAST

The marriage ceremony between Prince Joshen Mason and Princess Ysha Price would indeed be an elaborate occasion. While both kings remained indecisive of where the marriage would take place, it was Queen Shafis who suggested there should be two ceremonies; one in Marpøøn Gantal, for the citizens to enjoy and experience a royal wedding, and the other to take place in Rake Turf, the latter being the last since the princess will be living out the rest of her days with her future husband in that kingdom.

Queen Isarin recommended inviting King Hatmin Kane and his brother, Prince Daris to the wedding, but the unspoken question of asking King Alkan Lothbert to join was a far more delicate matter. Both kings refused, but the two queens urged their husbands to reconsider. To shun King Alkan from a royal wedding while other important dignitaries and state officials were invited would give Alkan every reason to come not as a guest, but as a scorned monarch with an already growing army marching behind him.

A messenger was dispatched to deliver the invitation to King Alkan’s now complete palace in Caper Løck. Alkan received the invitation with delight and immediately made preparations to travel to Marpøøn Gantal. His advisor, Elarosh, told the king it would be faster to travel by sea, making a stop at the Malcøme Islands as his presence would inspire the islanders and make them feel appreciated that a monarch would make a procession in their homeland. Alkan walked past Elarosh to the table that had the map of eastern Barathorn spread open.

Ignoring his advisor, he traced his finger along the northern road, as he had done dozens of times in the past. While Elarosh was still talking, Alkan raised his hand to stop him.

“No,” Alkan said. “We’ll travel by land.”

“But Your Majesty, it will take at least over a month to get to Marpøøn Gantal. We’ll never make it in time for the wedding.” Elarosh tried to let the king see his logic, but he saw Alkan’s mind was already busy with a plan.

“I said no, Elarosh.” Alkan turned slowly and faced him with dazzling yet cold, dangerous sea-green eyes looking back at him. “If we take the northern road, we’ll pass over the Løng River and into Sajanell Døørs. I want to see the capital city with new eyes.”

What Elarosh picked up from those words was, “I want to see the capital as its future king!”

Elarosh Mushyn had been King Alkan’s advisor since the time he was elevated from lending his aid to Alkan during his campaigns against Lan Carvi and then being voted as Caper Løck’s new king. He grew up alongside Alkan’s father, Supreme Commander Phereson Lothbert.

He was fierce and proud, but also forgiving and amiable. They grew up together basically as soldiers their entire lives and now that Elarosh became the advisor to Alkan, he missed the old supreme commander with every passing day. With Phereson, he could always talk sense into the man and Phereson often took Elarosh’s advice, but not with Alkan.

It was his word only, and no one else’s opinion mattered. Some days he thought Alkan kept him around for the sake of protocol. He remembered the day Alkan eagerly accepted his strategy on how they would be able to win the war against Lan Carvi. It was also the last day Alkan listened to any kind of advice from someone who should’ve retired from the army. Alkan held him in high esteem since he served his father faithfully and wanted to repay his loyalty, but he realised not too long after taking Lan Carvi that his services were not truly needed but kept him along all the same.

Elarosh grew up alongside Phereson during their campaigns in Caper Løck. Alkan was brought up amongst the soldiers ever since Phereson’s wife, Shilandra, died in childbirth. He knew no other love, only that for his late wife and son. He was very protective over the first years of Alkan’s life. He never let the boy out of his sight and when he was forced to campaign against the enemy, Alkan was left in the care of a handful of selected personal guards.

Alkan knew only of comfort, growing up where his every wish came true, Elarosh realised too late the flaw in his friend bringing up his son in a life so protected. When Phereson took four arrows during the second last battle against Lan Carvi, he remembered looking for Alkan on the battlefield and took him to see his dying father.

Alkan was in tears, looking down at the man who was larger than life. Elarosh remembered how Phereson praised his son’s attempt to make things right in the world and that he would one day lead his people to greatness.

He died with a smile on his face, believing his son would become one of those that only legends spoke of. Elarosh was glad that Phereson was not around to see the selfish and ambitious person his son turned out to become. Although devoted to the Evertheenians, he was true only to Verontó, the god of war, fear, revenge, and victory.

“…we leave on the morning the day after tomorrow.” Alkan was saying. Elarosh was so lost in his past and what had transpired since then, that he forgot Alkan was now looming next to him.

So like his father,” thought Elarosh. Indeed, Alkan looked every bit like his father. Tall, muscular, tanned, jet-black hair and sea-green eyes. No wonder all the women couldn’t stop speaking about him, and those he took to bed would chuckle whenever he was near.

If only these foolish women would understand Alkan was not interested in taking a wife nor sire an heir, at least not yet. It was Phereson’s fatal flaw. He allowed Alkan’s head to be filled with dreams that only a conqueror, would dare to dream. But dream he did and Elarosh now stood in a palace where - for thousands of years before - would never have been deemed a kingdom. It began as a simple fishing village and the story of the tragic death of the fisherman’s daughter dwindled into history.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Elarosh bowed his head. “I’ll make sure all preparations are done so that there are no delays for us to leave.”

Alkan looked back at him, nodded, then turned back to the map. Elarosh gave the orders as soon as he left the palace when one of the administrators approached him.

“Would the king wish to make a sacrifice?”

Elarosh grimaced. They were only going to a wedding, but the journey was long and the king’s mind was still fresh with many ideas.

He turned to the administrator and gave him a stern look.

“Bring a few ’extra specials’ for the king. It will be a long journey with many probabilities along the way.”

The administrator bowed and walked towards the dungeons where the ’special sacrifices’ were kept when Alkan was ready to fight another day.

* * * * *

“Alkan accepted alright! But he won’t be here for another month!” King Gunner roared across the palace when the messenger brought him the news that King Alkan will be travelling by land and not by sea.

“My daughter’s wedding is taking place before this month is over! Does he expect me to put everything on hold until he graces us with his presence? I’ve been a king longer than he had air to breathe. Someone should teach him a lesson!” Both Gunner and Hepharis were seething with anger. Their wives could do nothing to calm their tempers. Even Queen Shafis had nothing to say when she heard the news. She and Queen Isarin were mentally and physically exhausted from acting as peacemakers throughout the planning of the wedding.

“On the bright side,” Queen Shafis tried to change the subject with the gentle manner she was famous for, “King Hatmin and his brother, Prince Daris will be arriving shortly.” Gunner and Hepharis turned their heads sharply towards where she was seated, alongside Isarin.

Hepharis looked at Shafis. “That man is coming here? Today?!”

Isarin laughed. “My darling. You have been so preoccupied with what Alkan has been doing that you’ve forgotten another king who lives on the same side of Barathorn as us will be attending the wedding!”

“He’s an ambitious southerner!” King Hepharis gritted his teeth. “The mere fact that that man is coming here is a slap in my face!”

Gunner raised an eyebrow. “And here I thought Alkan was the only southerner who was trouble!”

He gave a pleasant laugh, with Shafis joining in. She looked at Isarin but could see the poor woman wanted to share in with their laughter, but her husband’s loathing for Hatmin went as far as that of Gunner towards Alkan.

“I heard his brother, Daris, is an exceptionally handsome young man,” Shafis said, in an innocent-like tone. Isarin looked at Shafis. This was the beloved queen so many people spoke of with much love and affection. Isarin now witnessed first-hand how Shafis can deal with an awkward situation and turn it around into something comical. Isarin then looked at the two kings and saw in their expressions that their minds had already changed from Alkan to Hatmin. Isarin looked back at Shafis, who gave Isarin a wink.

Hepharis grunted. “When will he arrive?” Trying to sound casual over the news.

“Oh, I have my spies!” Shafis casually said, stretching her arm out for her cupbearer to refill her and Isarin’s cup with more wine. “I have my spies all over, from Gantell Fair down to Waters Field and across the Straights of Dale Førd towards the very ends of the Cape Øf Sølace and the Føur Fathers!”

Shafis laughed at Hepharis’s expression. “To answer your question, my good King Hepharis, Hatmin, his brother, and their entourage will be here within the next hour, according to my sources.”

There was no time to lose. Both kings dropped their goblets and ran from the throne room, barking orders and making sure that the arriving guests will have rooms, refreshments, and baths drawn and ready for them. The two queens sat back, laughing at their husbands.

“I wish you would teach me your trick,” Isarin said in disbelief. “You have such a way with words!”

“Oh, I just know what makes my husband function!” Shafis said, smiling. Leaning closer to Isarin, she whispered, “If you ever need your husband’s undivided attention, you can always bring Hatmin up as a topic of discussion. That is a subject he won’t listen to half-heartedly!”

* * * * *

There was great excitement throughout the kingdom of Marpøøn Gantal. The entourage came in and the people marvelled at the splendour of King Hatmin and his brother, Prince Daris. They rode on the backs of great horses, compliments from the Horse Lords of Hill Øf Keeps, a city known for breeding the best horses in western Barathorn.

King Hatmin rode a jet-black horse that towered over that of his brother, Daris. It was plain to see that Hatmin’s horse came from a long and proud line of warhorses. Daris’s horse was pure white and slightly smaller, but majestic all the same. His faithful friend, Trajan, barked excitedly at all the people. Behind them was a great host from Kain Nightly, bringing the kings and queens gifts from far and wide, including chests of exquisite fineries for the couple who were about to be married.

When they finally arrived at the palace, the brothers got off their horses and walked up the stairs towards the entrance of the palace. Waiting outside for their guests, stood the two kings; Hepharis and Gunner, with their wives by their side and greeted them with the usual formality as befits a visiting king. Hatmin and Hepharis eyed each other suspiciously but said nothing that would give away their mistrust for each other.

Daris smiled and kissed the hands of the queens and thanked them for their invitation.

“It wouldn’t be a wedding without such honoured guests!” Shafis said gently. She allowed Hatmin to kiss her on the cheek, but Isarin only gave him her hand. He held her gaze, then leaned forward and kissed it.

“I’m the one who is honoured by your invite,” Hatmin replied. He then turned and shook hands with Gunner. Finally, he reluctantly turned his attention to Hepharis. They were then introduced to the prince and princess who were to be married. Both Hatmin and Daris wished them a long, happy life together and hoped the gods would bless them with many children. Princess Ysha blushed at this remark, while Prince Joshen gave a silent nod of thanks.

So grim, like his father,” Hatmin thought.

They were escorted into the palace, where servants showed them to their chambers to freshen up. Shafis had planned a grand feast in their honour that evening. The banquet hall was bustling with life and at the head table, sat the three kings, two queens, a prince, and the couple-to-be. The rest of their guests were all seated at their tables that were arranged all over the great hall.

The sound of laughter echoed everywhere and the atmosphere was one of great joy. Everyone felt at ease, even Hatmin. Shafis engaged herself in pleasant conversations with Hatmin and Daris, who both found her to be a remarkably intelligent woman. Though much older than them, she was still a very beautiful woman, both inside and out.

Hatmin told Daris on their way to Marpøøn Gantal that the queen had an excellent network of spies. She was always up to speed with everything that went on in all of Barathorn, but she never let it slip in conversations, or that she revealed things that were yet to be discussed at court, until the proper moment. Hatmin found; to his pleasant surprise, that he could pick any topic with her and she would respond with much wisdom.

After some time, Daris didn’t mean to, but he asked the question.

“When will King Alkan arrive?” The entire hall fell silent. Gunner choked on his wine and Hepharis looked at him with loathing in his eyes.

“It seems King Alkan will arrive by the end of the month,” Queen Isarin retorted.

“What?!” Prince Joshen exclaimed.

“The boy has a voice,” Hatmin thought, smiling while taking a sip of wine.

“When did you hear this?” Prince Joshen looked at his father for answers.

Hepharis cleared his throat. “He’s travelling by land,” he began, but before he could finish, Prince Joshen yelled, “what about our wedding?!”

“I have men on the lookout for him,” answered Shafis. “The minute he’s in sight, we’ll begin with the ceremony. If Alkan wishes to first rest and freshen up, then it will be at his leisure. It will not be by that of my daughter and future son-in-law’s convenience.”

Prince Joshen sat down with a sullen expression. Princess Ysha was blushing, but Hatmin could see it wasn’t because she was feeling embarrassed. The mere mention of Alkan’s name put a flush on her face. Everyone knew that.

“To be fair,” began Gunner, “this wedding was rather hastily put together.”

Hepharis gave him a hard look. “It was necessary.”

“For who, exactly?” Hatmin asked, in an innocent-like tone. Hepharis stood abruptly.

“For the sake of peace from those who wish us harm!” There was an awkward silence and Isarin gave Daris a pleading look. He understood right away.

Leaning closer to Hatmin, he whispered, “Leave it be brother. We’re here to partake in a joyous occasion. We’re but guests in one of the most distinguished and loving couples in all of Barathorn.”

Isarin nodded her thanks to him. She then leaned over and whispered something to her husband, who kept his gaze on Hatmin, but sat down and carried on with his meal. Hatmin allowed his cup to be refilled with wine.

“A toast!” Daris called across the table, standing up with a cup of wine in his hand. Everyone in the hall fell silent. “To Princess Ysha and Prince Joshen. May the gods grant you eternal happiness as husband and wife and may you be a great king and queen, when that duty falls upon you, but not too soon, I hope!” Bowing respectfully to both Hepharis and Isarin, who nodded their thanks and raised their cups.

Shafis saw that Daris was a genuine person, not at all like his brother. He didn’t seem ambitious and even if Hatmin were up to something, she saw in the prince as someone who would keep his brother in check. She had her spies all around western Barathorn, but many more were in the kingdoms of Rake Turf and Kain Nightly, as well as in the capital cities. It was to her advantage to know what was going on and being said. For her, the safety of her family and domain was her top priority.

After a lengthy meal, conversations, and much laughter, Shafis asked to be excused and retire to her chambers. She hadn’t realised how exhausted she’d been until Daris’s toast. The men stood up as she left the table and Isarin came to her side.

“Do you want me to accompany you?”

Shafis thought for a moment. “No, thank you. I think it best you stay by your husband’s side, in case he needs to be reminded that Hatmin is here as a guest and not a threat.”

Isarin looked fearful but nodded in agreement. When Isarin went back to the table, Shafis slowly walked up the stairs towards her private chambers. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the peace it brought her.

“I know you want war, Hatmin,” she whispered, opening her eyes and looked up at the ceiling. “But you will never succeed, so long as I draw breath,” she promised.

After the outburst at the banquet table, Shafis momentarily forgot about the real threat that was now riding towards her kingdom from the south.

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