What Makes A King

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When the King's ring is stolen, a young woman named Ema accidentally finds it and is thereafter chosen to name the new king between the two princes, though it comes with dangerous consequences, maybe even death. In times before modern technology, when class structures controlled society and monarchies ruled, a kingdom's ruler is determined by whomever wears the King's ring. By the laws of the realm, a man is chosen to be king based on his worthiness, or so it used to be. During the annual Festival of Kings, the anniversary on which the king received the ring, it is stolen. After a mishap with a mugger, Ema, an eighteen year old kitchen maiden, stumbles upon the stolen ring. The old King, in an attempt to quell a peasant uprising, gives Ema, a person of the people, the decision on whom to name king, in hopes she would choose from between his two sons: Thomas, a 24 year old skilled in combat, but quick with temper, or Edward, a 21 year old who spends his days in solitary within a library. Ema is told that by the following year, during the next Festival of Kings, she is to name a king. And though Ema is taken away from her peasant life, as well as the man she loves, and given a new life as a noble woman, there are dangers all around; the people who initially stole the ring want it back and are willing to kill those who stand in their way.

Fantasy / Drama
Age Rating:

The beginning

I am not sure of anything in my old age. I cannot remember the present; it is unfamiliar to me. The only thing that I am sure of is that everyone else is dead and there is no one else alive who remembers what I know. I am sure accounts were recorded and tales of it created. But they lie, they know not the truth, or at least the entirety of what happened those many years ago. Some choose to tell a one sided story, or they embellish it add drama. But, none tell the entire truth, none were there quite like I was. What is the truth? Let me tell you, for it is a story that people make to be about the wars of kings, but in reality there has been more. It does not just involve me, but her, and the ring, and many kings, all the lies and deceit, all the love and hate, and the ones that died because of it all.

Before I begin, I must tell you of the history behind my story: it all started in the days of old and long since gone. The world as we know it today, was then, in such disarray. The population of the world was growing rapidly and many were taking stakes in the vast empty lands of the world. At this time, much of the people were separated far from one another in small villages or cities: cities that ruled themselves, with their own kings and their own laws. This is when, in the time of long ago, that one man rose up, to be king of all that he could conquer. He was a man who came from the southernmost lands in the world; lands of jungles, forests, and dangerous animals, the likes of which we have never seen. He was king of the city of Ducan, but he could not be satisfied with such power.

The man, known today as Ferox the Wild, campaigned against many cities and smaller kingdoms to the north of his own. He was successful in conquering the lands of Truncatis, Pretatur, and the Opimae Desert. Ferox conquered many lands, destroying all those who opposed him. As Ferox the Wild conquered lands and peoples, few ever knew of him. No city would know his name nor of his deadly army, until he himself stood at the gates. By then, it was too late to send someone out in search for help, but even if they did, where would the help come from? If there were neighboring cities, they would be days, if not weeks away. So the city would either perish or be conquered alone, like the rest before them.

This was true until Ferox arrived to a city, a city that is a part of the kingdom that we know today as Ruza. Sol, as it was called, was located on the shores of the Sea of Bain. Ferox had heard of the sea, and knew it surrounded Sol on only one side. He was confident, though he could not completely surround the city with his army, that he could still conquer it. What Ferox had not anticipated was that many of the people fled on ships when he began to attack the city. Hundreds of ships, large and small, fled the harbors and sailed away. Most of those who escaped Sol went east, to a city not but a day's sail away, but some whose ships were large enough and had enough supplies on them, sailed north; to get to the land north of the Sea of Bain takes nearly two weeks to reach, but many thought it safer to cross the large sea than to simply sail to a city close to Ferox's grasp.

The ships that sailed north landed in the harbors of the ancient city of Apathle. There they were given refuge and protection. It would not be long, perhaps a week following the arrival of the Sols in Apathle, before ships began to appear on the horizon. There were not many ships: a total of 11, I believe. These ships came from the city that was east of Sol, Oriens. There were not many survivors aboard these ships, but they warned the king that Ferox was gathering supplies and was sure to be upon the shores of Apathle within a few weeks. The king, alarmed by Ferox and his army, sent out messengers to several cities along the coast of the Sea of Bain, where word of Ferox spread on through the Flatlands of Sherbourne, the Nocktal Mountains, and the Valley of Rivers.

After all these city kingdoms heard of the dangers of Ferox, all agreed to meet in Apathle, for though those cities and kingdoms were separated far from one another, all wanted to bring their armies to where Ferox was likely to make land. These 17 kings gathered in Echyngham Palace; they brought with them brothers, sons, nephews, and their armies; each of whom wanted to prevent any destruction to their lands and the deaths of their people.

It was clear that many of the men sought to fight Ferox on the shores of Bain. The individual kings sought to gain notoriety and fame, as each wanted to be the one to defeat Ferox. Past the fame, much was at stake, and none wanted for Ferox to travel northward past Apathle, where he could destroy villages, farmlands, and forests. But the winning king, or those who would survive the attack, could take claim of lands from the fallen kings. But this was known to all the men, and each man feared the next, and each man watched with a paranoid eye. Should they fall their kingdoms would be claimed, their people would be conquered, their history erased.

Finally, there came a stir from the end of the long table where the kings met daily. Henry, king of Casshire, an old man near death whose mind was lost, stood from his chair to speak.

"Gentle men, I say upon you!" said Henry in a raspy voice. "I have heard all that I care to hear. You kings say that I am a fool, well I say that you are more foolish than I. You fight each other, but forget that a barbarian will soon attack us."

"Then what would you have us do?" yelled out a young prince.

"I say we combine our kingdoms," smiled Henry. His grin was grotesque, for many of his teeth were black, and some were missing from their places. Many of the men looked away from his face, disgusted by the state of his mouth. "We must unite; we must become one. We have agreed to fight a common enemy, but if you continue to argue, we will surely turn against one another, leaving that barbarian to fight mere scraps of armies. We need to put aside our own small kingdoms and create a single large one; each man step down as king, and all of us follow one solitary man. The kingdom would be so vast, with such a large army that we would be able to defeat the barbarian and any other invaders. What say you?"

There was an immediate uproar of yelling at Henry. None dared to take heed of his words and cared not for the simpleminded idea. Combining kingdoms, no one before then has heard or done such an idea. Kings losing their powers, creating large kingdoms with vast empty lands between cities, people who would now have to follow the rule of a king far from their own homes.

While men yelled at one another, the king of Odlem, who was nearing his sixties, started to hit on the table as he yelled for silence.

"I shall forfeit my sovereignty!" the old king declared. "Alone, my people might fall; that is a risk I cannot take. Thousands would die, my kingdom would fall. I would rather step down as king to protect my people than to be king of the dead. Yes, I enjoy the pleasures of being king, but being king does involve doing what is best for your people, not what is best for yourself. The people of Odlem are ready to stand with those of Casshire, and I am ready to step down from my position as king."

"Weak fools", that is what they called the kings of Casshire and Odlem. The world around these kings would soon collapse and they only see a need to argue amongst each other. Death is what awaited these men and none cared. The night was long; yelling could be heard across the palace. Several kings threatened to leave, claiming they would rather risk Ferox alone than to sit amongst the others any longer. Others threatened violence, drawing swords on more than one instance.

By morning, all was silent as the men gathered together. Henry had called for a vote, to end all arguments and to find out who was willing to join in the fight as one kingdom. He stayed standing, as did the king of Odlem. Each of the other kings, whether for greed or pride, hesitated giving up their thrones. When all seemed hopeless, another king stood. It was a domino effect, as a total of 5 kings stood together: the kings of Apathle, Greenatch, Rikhill, Odlem, and Casshire. A few of these kingdoms were ruled by old men and their time as kings were soon to be over, but they saw the risk in staying alone. The rest were small kingdoms that were barely surviving, and saw that the opportunity to ensure the survival of their people was to combine with the others. The remaining 12 kings left after the vote, returning to their own kingdoms, willing to face Ferox alone if and when he came to their lands.

"I am glad you are willing to give up your power for the sake of your people," said Henry. "Allow me to have something made to symbolize this new kingship. Prepare your armies and people! It shall not be long before that barbarian is upon us!"

It was a surprise at the time that five kings gave up their kingship to save their peoples. It would eventually be heard around the known world of the sacrifice that these kings made. I am sure that each king received some sort of concession for stepping down from the throne, but any memory of such things have been lost to time.

On the second day of wait, someone spotted ships on the foggy horizon, still within hours of the shore. The kings were called into a meeting in the magistrate's chambers. Once all the men were in attendance, Henry had a groom ushered in, who carried with him a pillow; on top of this pillow was a golden ring. Henry took the gold ring off of the pillow and held it up. As he twisted it in his fingers light flashed off of rows of diamonds.

"This is the King's Ring," said Henry. "To prevent fighting over it, we all need to agree on one rule regarding this ring and the sovereignty. Whosoever wears this ring, is the king; no exceptions. And, there shall no longer be a line of succession: only those who have earned it can wear it. Only those who would make the better king and keep our kingdom in prosperity. A king needs to be worthy to wear this ring."

There was a pause of hesitation that came from the room. All of those men took up the idea to combine their kingdoms, an idea that this mindless king suggested, now wondered if they should continue to follow the ideas of Henry. But soon, there were nods of approval throughout the room. Those were simple rules; the wearer must earn the ring; his actions and worthiness were to establish his kingship. And, in this moment, Henry had to choose a man who was worthy enough to wear it. Henry first looked to his own son. It was said that he was a middle aged man at the time of this war, but he was also a man who loved to drink throughout the day. Henry's eyes then wandered to the kings around the room. Finally, his eyes came upon a young prince from Apathle. He was a man in his late 20s and Henry knew of his time in battle and had noticed his humbleness during his short time in the city. Henry stood from his chair and held the ring out.

"Prince Gregory of Apathle, son of the third Norlend king, I have decided that you are worthy enough to wear this ring. Do you accept the responsibility of protecting us all?"

Gregory stood aghast behind his father's chair. He was hesitant, unsure if he would have the strength to will an army as large as the one gathered on the outskirts of the city. He could feel eyes upon him as he cautiously nodded. He walked up to Henry and took the ring. He placed the ring upon his left hand; when he did, the men in the room stood and bowed to Gregory.

"I wish to thank all of you," said Gregory as he looked upon the faces around him. "But, for now, I cannot do so. We need to march to the sea and protect the people. I leave it to the responsibility of those too old to fight to establish a government and ensure the people know that there is more than just their city that they reside in. When this war is over, everyone, not just Ferox, will know of our kingdom; a kingdom that started out as five and now is one. This kingdom, that I name Pente, shall be known everywhere as the world's first kingdom of such a size and power!"

As the days went on, the fighting was excruciatingly long: many good men, husbands, fathers, and sons died. But, in the end, Gregory and his army were able to push Ferox and his men back across the Sea of Bain where they came from. It was because of this that Ferox and his army were weak upon their return to Sol. The remaining people of Sol were able to push the invaders back south, and further south, until Ferox was pushed, utterly defeated, back to his own kingdom.

Upon Gregory's return, he was publically crowned king, his wife queen, and their son a prince. Gregory allowed for previous kings and princes to keep their princely titles, with their children given titles at his discretion.

Gregory made his place of court and residence in Apathle, but over time, the place of residence for the king would move, depending upon the current king's preference. The other castles would, in time, become property of the king as well. As the years went on, our borders would grow and cities would be built. Other kingdoms, some larger than Pente, would form; they would each take after Pente where they named a king by a ring, though each would have their own variations and stipulations.

But, time would pass in the kingdom of Pente. The idea of a king earning his title would prove to be rewarding for the kingdom. Our kingdom grew in prosperity and none had cause for complaint. The kings proved their worth, expanding the kingdom, either by war or unity, claiming lands spanning to the west of the Catsby River and north of the Nocktal Mountains. Pente became a large kingdom quickly. Though, as time went on, kings started to name only their sons. It was forgotten for some time how a king should be properly named. For many generations, the worthiness of the king did not matter. This inevitably caused problems for the kingdom, for many sought to steal the ring for themselves, for they knew that they could rule better than a man who was not worthy and had not earned the position.

This, my children, is where my story begins: on a dirt road, bathed in the embers of the sun's rays, there was a line of carriages. This caravan consisted of guards on horseback, decorated carriages, plain carriages, and wagons full of household items. In one of the plain carriages, sat amongst three other women, was a young maiden. This young maid, whose light brown hair with its loose curls swirling from the wind coming into the carriage, was named Ema; whose story I shall now tell you. She looked out the window as they rode through the Nocktal Mountains; watching, waiting.

Ema was a maiden in the kitchens of the Viscount and Viscountess Lumpton. This noble family, like many others, had multiple castles and manors throughout the kingdom. For the Lumptons, they had but one castle and one manor. Their castle was located in the flatlands of Sherbourne, near the town of Odlem. Their manor was in Casshire, among other manors and castles, near to Cuthbert Palace.

Ema's heart raced with anxiety; she and the rest of the Lumpton household had been away from Casshire for many months. But now, with fall descending upon the kingdom, the Lumptons decided to move to their manor. During the winter months, there were many festivals to be had in Casshire; both in the castles of other nobles and in the palace of the king.

Ema watched out of the window, as the mountainous hills rolled one after the other. The path that the caravan was on, now turned towards the sun. It was as if they were going to the sun itself: and yet, the further they went, the further away the sun got.

As they neared the top of another mountain, Ema could finally see something other than trees and grass. The roof of a house it seemed; and yes, it was. She sees another and another, until she can see all the city before her window. She could see High street, with all of its temporary and permanent shops. There were houses of all sizes where classes mixed with varying degree of businesses and community buildings. On the outskirts of the city, off to the east, there was a large grove of trees, a park of sorts, for the people of Casshire. Within the distance of the city to the north, lie larger, more splendid manors and castles of the very rich. Crystal clear, blue ponds, gardens with flowers still in bloom; there was no other place that came to Ema's mind that had such beauty.

The carriages rode along through the city on the cobblestone roads and came to a sudden stop. Ema took a second to compose herself, as her hair was knotted from the constant wind and her dress had bits of grass and dirt upon it. She quickly repined her hair back into a bun and smoothed out her coarse dress. Ema made a quiet sigh, reached out for the handle, and opened the carriage door. She stepped out onto the pebbled ground and took her bag from the back of the carriage.

Ema looked around: before her, there were many servants running about, unpacking the wagons and the carriages. The steps leading up to the large front door were dirty and ill swept while they were away. Ema gave a gentle sigh, for she knew there was going to be many days of cleaning before a routine could be put into place. Ema stood still, as many others hurried in and out of the manor. She looked upon the two trees that stood in the front courtyard. One tree was a large dark oak from the forests of Names and the other was a tall birch tree whose leaves had turned orange from the fall winds. Below the oak tree were several azalea bushes that were blooming for the last time of the year.

"Kitchen maid!" yelled Margret Monde, the stewardess of the Lumpton household. Margret had been a governess to Lord Lumpton when he was a child, and upon his union to the Lady Lumpton, came with them, with the intention of being a governess to their own children. But, alas, Lady Lumpton could not bring a child to full term, and so, Margret's skills as a governess was never needed. Many years back, so I was told, she was appointed to be the stewardess of the house. Her duties were to ensure the house was kept up and everything was done to a proper and high standard.

"Kitchen Maid!" called Margret again as she went up to Ema. "Why are you standing idle outside? Do you know there are duties that must be done?"

"Forgive me, Lady Monde," apologized Ema. "I do not mean to stand idle."

"Then hurry on in, girl," instructed Monde. "The kitchen will be in need of cleaning: quick cleaning. The Lord and Lady will want to eat dinner."

"Of course," nodded Ema as she headed to go inside.

"And girl!" yelled Margret to Ema. "If I catch you continuing to be idle, start looking for another job. This is the fourth time this month I have caught you slacking, I shall not allow you to do it any longer."

Ema nodded her head to Margret and hurried inside the manor. Once inside, Ema stopped to look around the entrance hall; it was large, with tall ceilings. Above her were freshly lit candles and around her were paintings and portraits.

Ema stood in the entrance hall, looking at all the pictures in the room. There were new ones that had been placed on empty spots while they were gone. She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh air of the house. The mountain air was cooler than the air of Odlem. The flatlands of Sherbourne are mostly warm year round, but the soil is prime for farming villages. Odlem is a town on the western boarder of the flatlands, sitting on the Catesby River. Because of its location, Odlem is a central trading town in Pente; many flock to sell their goods there, or to have them shipped elsewhere in the kingdom.

Ema then turned her attention to the gallery that branched out from the hall. She went down it, towards the very end, where to the right, was a smaller corridor. Ema went down this corridor, which had rooms for servants in it; her room was at the end on the left.

Ema opened the creaky, wooden door, and stepped into her room. The room had one small window, from which Ema could not see out of. One dusty bed sat in a corner, two chests laid side by side under the window, and a chair was behind the open door. It was Ema's room alone, she did not have to share it with another. For this reason, her room was as small as a closet, but she did not mind it.

It did not take long to unpack her five skirts, one night rail, three vests, and two chemises, one of which was once her mother's, as well as a few dresses. She folded them neatly and put them into one chest; she left the other chest empty for things she might buy in the future; though she never buys anything, she still leaves the opportunity open. She laid on her bed and closed her eyes, trying to get a few minutes of rest before it was time to work.

As the sun started to move, its rays that blanketed Ema had moved and left Ema's room altogether. Ema opened her eyes, unaware if she actually fell asleep or not. She stood and decided to go out and head to the kitchen. Servants were still hurrying about, unpacking trunks of the Lumpton's possessions. Ema went down several galleries, towards the kitchen that was situated on the farthest end of the manor.

Ema opened a heavy wooden door that had iron studs on it. It made an awful creaking sound, nonetheless, she opened it all the way. There she saw the kitchen; dark, damp, and dusty from not being used for many months. Servants had already brought in the baskets of food that were brought from Odlem, but still the kitchen, pantry, and spicery were fairly empty.

Ema went to the fire pit in the center of the kitchen. Someone had already lit it and placed fresh fire logs within it. Ema took a stick and let it catch fire. She went around the kitchen, lighting the candles that were on the walls. The kitchen was soon lit up and Ema could properly see the dirtiness of the room.

"Dear me," said Shelley Daunce as she walked in the room.

Shelley was an older woman and the head cook of the Lumptons. She was as fat as the ovens, but she was well respected in the household. She was the cook for Lady Lumpton's parents when Lady Lumpton was a child. Same as Margret, when Lord and Lady Lumpton joined in unity, she followed to become the cook of their home.

"This kitchen is absolutely filthy," continued Shelley. "I thought the servants who stayed behind to care for the home would have kept the kitchen in better care."

"That was not one of their responsibilities and you know it," sighed Ema.

"But they used the kitchen, did they not?" asked Shelley. "Ema, we are going to be spending weeks cleaning this mess."

"I hope not," replied Ema. "Lady Monde is again threatening to let me go. I cannot afford to have her angered, for I shall be the first to be let go."

"Do not fret, Ema," reassured Shelley. "I would not let that old hag put you out on the streets for something that is not your fault nor doing. If she threatens you again, I shall have a talking with that woman."

"You do not have to do that," sighed Ema.

"No, but I will," responded Shelley. "That woman is just upset that the Lord is losing money and she knows that the household needs to cut back, which means people are going to be let go. But, on my word, I shall not let that happen. Not until you are able to move into your lover's home."

"He is not my lover," blushed Ema. "Willie is courting me. There is a difference."

"I am simply teasing you, child," smiled Shelley as she gave a gentle pinch of Ema's cheek. "But, when will you move in with the baker's boy anyhow?"

"Whenever we join in unity, I suppose," answered Ema.

"And when shall that be?" asked Shelley. "You shall be common age in a matter of days, which means you can participate in a unity ritual. The two of you have been courting one another for, what, almost three years? Join in a union while you are young enough to bare many children. For, you shall lose some, no doubt. Most women lose at least one child. But, Willie comes from a family of money. He can support you and you would not have to work in the kitchen of another."

"I would like to be his wife," nodded Ema as other maids and young men came into the kitchen to help with the cleaning. "I know he can give me a happy life. But, it is up to him whether or not he wants me as a wife, not you, fool."

As the day drug along, Ema was stuck in the kitchen, cleaning and dusting. The bowls of water could not stay clean and had to routinely be emptied. Cloths that were used for scrubbing were becoming black with dirt and not useable. When the cloths were no longer fit to clean with, Ema took a brush and started to scrub the floor of the kitchen. Even when the dark of the night crept through the windows, Ema and the other servants stayed up to clean.

Finally, when midnight was upon the town, Ema and the others blew out the candles and went to their rooms to rest. Ema, though she was exhausted, changed out of her dirty dress and put on her night rail: a dress of off white wool that was loose and meant to sleep in. She took her coverlet off of her bed and shook the dust off of it. Ema brushed off some of the dirt that landed on her bed and pillow. She then laid down, and with a gentle sigh, fell asleep.

Ema awoke the next morning when the rays of the sun barely came in through her window. She sat up and rubbed her eyelids. She felt as if she had not slept much, if at all. Ema looked at the wall beside her bed. She had a line marked on the wall, which, when the rays of the sun hit it, meant it was time for her to get up.

The light of the sun was not far from the line and so Ema, with a sigh, got out of her bed. She changed out of her night rail and slipped on her cream colored chemise. It was long and went almost to her ankles; the sleeves as well were long and went to her wrists. She took points, the strings that went to the chemise, and tied it around her wrists to keep her sleeves from moving. She slipped on a thick wool skirt to protect her from the cold wind, then she put on a less heavy, charcoal colored skirt. She then put on a beet colored vest. She did a quick run through of her hair with her fingers to get out any tangles.

Ema looked back at her wall and saw that the light was now at the marked line. She left her room and went to the kitchen. Shelley was waiting for Ema with two baskets.

"You are late to rise," commented Shelley with a shake of her head. "But it is not the fault of you, for we did go to bed late."

"I am not late," frowned Ema. "I am on time."

"You have come in here after me," said Shelley. "Thus, you have come late."

"Oh, if you please," begged Ema. "Spare me from your teasing. I am in no mood to hear of it."

"I hope that is not have you shall greet Willie," smiled Shelley as she handed Ema her basket.

"I shall do no such thing." replied Ema with a shake of her head.

"Nay," said Shelley while flailing out her arms. "You shall treat him with the courtesies of a wife."

"Say what you will," smirked Ema. "Now, let us go. We have food to buy."

"And people to see," added Shelley as the two women headed out of the door.

The two went down to High street, where temporary stalls were set up on the side of the road. These people sold goods that were made elsewhere or within their own homes. There were other shops that were within the buildings that lined the street. These shops made things within their store, or sold so much of an item, that they needed more than a simple wooden stall. The streets were quiet on this chilled morning, which meant quick shopping for the women.

Ema and Shelley first went to buy cheeses, meats, candles, and fruits. There were other women there; some were wives, buying foods for their own kitchen, and there were kitchen maids and cooks, buying foods for the kitchens of their lords and ladies. Ema and Shelley spent some time talking to the people selling the goods they were buying. Shelley had known these people for many years and Ema knew them for about three.

The final stop of the morning, before going back to cook supper for the lord and lady, was the bakery. The bakery was in a building all of its own; there was a store front, and in the back, there was a large kitchen to bake breads. On the upper two floors were the rooms in which the baker and his family lived in.

"You are late," said Willie, with a smirk on his youthful face. He jumped over the small counter top and went to Ema and embraced her warmly.

William, also known as Willie to those familiar with him, was the eldest son of the baker. He was 20 years of age, and was set to run his father's bakery when his father grew too old. "I had to wait for Ema to rise," said Shelley. "She decided to wake up late. You should get used to it before she becomes your wife."

"I find that hard to believe," smiled Willie as he took Ema's hands. He kissed the top of each one with a gentle tenderness and smile. "This beautiful thing is always up early to do her duties. You are simply impatient."

"Did you get our order of bread ready?" asked Shelley.

"I did," nodded Willie as he picked up a basket filled with manchet and ravelled bread. "That'll be two silver princes."

"It was 12 beggar pennies when we were here last," thought Shelley.

"My father had to raise the price of the manchet bread," replied Willie. "The price of wheat went up and we need to make a profit."

"If the lords of this kingdom continue to raise the prices of all goods then we shall surely suffer more than just high prices," sighed Shelley. "The people of Odlem are close to revolting as it is from poor wages. If they continue to raise the prices of food and the necessities for living, the people will snap."

"I for one would not be against a revolt, for if we did, I would bet money on there being a new king and family on the throne," added Willie. "I hear that the king has called for a higher tribute payment from the lords and that is why they are raising the prices of everything. My father is having trouble keeping this bakery alive because we now have to charge atrocious prices for our goods."

"What are you complaining about, baker?" asked Shelley. "Your family has monies."

"That is only because my family has been making bread for a very long time." laughed Willie.

"Why, my family practically invented the idea of bread."

"I hope you do not listen to this crazy fool you call a courter," scowled Shelley as Ema giggled to herself. "He is batty as ever. Next thing he shall tell you is that he is next to be king."

"If he is batty, then you are a fool," smirked Ema.

"Fool I may be, but without a job we shall be if we do not get back to our Lord's manor." said Shelley as she looked outside.

"Won't you allow me to take Ema with me?" asked Willie. "I was actually just about to go to the grove to tend to my grandparents' trees. I would like to have the company of my beautiful Ema as I do so."

"Oh please, Shelley," begged Ema. "I shall not be too long."

"For your sake, I hope not," said Shelley. "I shall cover for you from Monde as long as I can. But, be back within an hour. I doubt I can say you are busy for too long."

"Do not worry," assured Willie. "I shall bring her back in no time."

With a nod of her head, Shelley walked out of the bakery and returned to the manor. Willie offered his arm to Ema, who gladly took it. They walked together down the streets of Casshire, arm in arm, as Ema talked of what she did while she was in Odlem.

It would be sometime before they reached the grove. Each city has a grove of its own, some small, but some, such as the one here in Casshire, are as large as the city itself. Within the groves are pairs of trees: unity trees. For remember, to commemorate a union, the couple plants the seeds of trees together; the wife bringing a seed from her home town and the husband doing the same. It is a symbol for the life and eternity of a union. A grove gives couples the space that they need to plant these trees. Many couples who do not have a plot of land themselves or live in such tight housing as in a city, rely on groves to plant their unity trees. And upon their death, it gives the couples their spot for burial: under their tree.

Willie led Ema through the paths of the grove, trying to locate his father's parent's trees. When both of his grandparent's passed away, it became his responsibility to care for the trees, and it shall be until he too passes away. Tending to the trees was not hard, and he need not only come but once a month. He would simply pull away any weeds growing nearby and rake up any leaves that lay on the ground; tending to his grandparent's trees was easy compared to some.

For some couples, there were azalea bushes under the tree of the wife. For those who were living, it was a solemn reminder that buried under those bushes were children who died during birth, or died during their lifetime before they participated in a unity ritual of their own. These bushes needed weekly tending, almost as much tending as a living child. I suppose that is the irony of things: we plant trees as adults in union, for our trees, like us, need little tending, but azalea bushes are as fragile as the children who died, and so, replace the young ones we lost. Ema looked around to see if there was anything new to the area of the grove around her; she had helped Willie many times with his grandparent's trees and so took notice when there were two stumps left in the place of trees nearby.

"What happened over there?" asked Ema as she pointed to the stumps.

"A few months back, during a strong storm, those trees fell over." answered Willie as he looked up. "I suppose fate takes our trees the same way that we die."

"What happened to the couple?" inquired Ema.

"My father told me that over 40 years ago, the couple belonging to those pairs of trees died during a flood that swept through the western part of the city after a heavy storm." explained Willie. "My father says that fate has a way of combining the life of our trees with our lives.""My Lord Lumpton calls that peasant superstition," nodded Ema. "But I believe it is true as well. My mother's tree fell over two months before she died."

"I suppose those of noble blood do not believe because they can afford to hire a physician to heal any illness they may have," scowled Willie. "If your family had any money when your mother got sick, you too would not believe in the fate of our trees and our lives, for you would have intervened with fate."

"What do you think shall happen to your grandparent's trees?" asked Ema as she looked up at the tall pine trees.

"Probably die naturally, as my grandparents did." responded Willie. "But pine trees can stand for many years. There are several pairs of pine trees that have been standing for hundreds of years and I believe that my grandparent's trees shall do the same."

"So long as our children's children continue to tend for them?" asked Ema with a teasing smile as she leaned against Willie.

"Yes, so long as our children's children tend to them," smiled Willie as he wrapped an arm around Ema's shoulder.

The two stood quietly as they looked upon the trees. A cold wind blew past them, carrying with it the freshly rake leaves from under the trees. Willie gave a heavy sigh, as some leaves remained scattered on the ground. Ema, refraining from laughing at Willie, knelt down to help pick up the leaves. When there were no leaves left under the trees, Willie took Ema's hand and led her through the grove. He went towards the east and into a patch of open grass. Here, in the empty patches, were stakes placed in the ground, marking where future couples shall plant their seeds. Willie stopped in front of a pair of stakes and smiled at Ema.

"I have bought this plot for you and I." said Willie as he looked down at Ema's blue eyes. "I know it is not the best of plots; there is no view that our trees could see, but I hope that you accept this as a proper place to plant our unity trees."

Ema's eyes grew wide and tears started to roll down her freckled cheeks. She could not muster the words that she needed, but simply nodded her head. Willie and Ema exchanged a mutual kiss before the two started to laugh at one another.

"Come," said Willie as he offered his arm. "I must be getting you back."

"When shall our unity be?" asked Ema as she took Willie's arm.

"How does two months sound?" asked Willie. "That gives you time to write to your father, telling him of our union, and it gives him time to send you the seeds for your tree. Perhaps even give him time to make arrangements to be there?"

"That also gives me time to let Lady Monde know of my leaving," nodded Ema. "I am sure she shall be happy to hear of it."

"If you would like, you can leave today and stay in my sister's room until the day of our unity." suggested Willie.

"No," smiled Ema. "I still need to send my father money. The moment you and I are together, I can no longer do that. Any little bit will help my father and younger siblings."

"I understand," nodded Willie as he walked her back to the manor of the Lumptons. "Soon then, we shall be together."

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