Kellan’s hands were trembling.
He tried to breathe, but found that he could not.
His terror had him rooted to the spot, his heart a violent song in his ears, his pulse a rapid pressure behind his eyes.
Or maybe those were tears.
There was a knock on his door, and Kellan flinched. For a moment, he could not say anything.
Kellan took a breath, but no air reached his lungs. “Speak,” he forced out.
“Your people await you, my lord.”
Kellan squeezed his eyes shut and sucked in a desperate breath. “I’m coming,” he croaked.
He had to pull himself together. Had to endure just a bit longer.
But he felt like he could not.
I have to. I have to, I have to. This is for Father. I have to.
Somehow, he managed to get his legs beneath him and steady himself. He couldn’t go out like this. He had to be strong, for his sisters, for his family, for his country.
For his father.
Time was fluid. One moment, Kellan was bracing himself and the other, he found himself in front of a door. If he passed it, if he stepped out of it, his life would change forever.
Behind him, footsteps approached, and with it, the sound of sobs. Kellan had to close his eyes and hold in his own as he turned and greeted his sisters with a forced smile.
“Girls,” he breathed. He hugged both of them, and was grateful that Zara clung on, just so it didn’t seem that he wanted to, too.
He so desperately wanted someone to hold him.
Both of them were crying lightly, Asa attempting to hold her tears in. Kellan touched his cheek with a light, unsure touch and whispered, “Let yourself grieve, Asa.”
She burst into tears and buried her face in Kellan’s chest, saying through her sobs, “I can’t do this, Kellan.”
He held her, breathing raggedly, and clutched Zara’s hand in his own. His chest ached fit to break. “I know,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I know this is hard. But you can do this, both of you. You don’t have to be strong. You can cry, you can ache, you can grieve.” I cannot.
He let them cry for a minute, then whispered, “We have to go now.”
Asa pulled away and nodded, wiping her eyes. “Okay,” she said breathlessly.
“I’m right here,” Kellan said to both of them, giving Zara’s hand a squeeze. “I’m right here if you need me.”
They nodded and he turned back to the door, straightening his ceremonial coat in an attempt to steady himself. With a deep breath, he nodded to the guards.
Pushing the door open, they announced loudly, “Crown Prince Kellan, Princess Asa, and Princess Zara of Karam!”
Crown Prince. Soon, it would be King.
Kellan braced himself one last time, before striding out of the doors, aware of his sisters behind him. Everyone went immediately silent, and Kellan’s footsteps echoed as he took his place beside Arkan and Alina, who already stood behind his father’s coffin.
God, give me strength.
Kellan kept his eyes focused on the aur just above everyone, resolutely not looking at the casket. He did not trust himself not to break down right there and then, especially with his sisters crying beside him, and the soft sounds of Alina’s sobs carrying over.
“Brother,” Arkan murmured. He had his head ducked, and his voice was thick, as if he too was trying not to cry.
Kellan responded with a jerky nod, his throat too tight to speak.
Then the funeral celebrant started to speak, and Kellan allowed himself a moment—just a moment—to breathe, before focusing on the speech.
“We are gathered here today to mourn the passing of Rahim, the tenth King of Karam. He was a just king, with fair and rightful judgement for all, and...”
The more he listened, the more he felt himself choking up. Zara and Asa were crying freely now, not even trying to hide it. Still Kellan kept his eyes trained on a spot on the floor, his hands clasped behind him, his shoulders squared in a false display of strength.
He kept thinking of his father, with his kind eyes that crinkled when he smiled, his lips that tugged upwards cheerfully whenever he saw his children. He had been so strong, never letting them know his weakness, but knowing to show his feelings when it was right.
Kellan remembered his mother’s funeral, how even then he’d thought to himself, I have to be strong for my sisters. But he had sobbed openly all the same, too young to be so strong. But all too clearly, he remembered that his father had cried as well.
Afterwards, Kellan had gone to him, unable to sleep, and confessed his want to be strong. Rahim had smiled and, pulling him into a warm hug, he’d said, “Sometimes it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to show that you’re not okay. And that’s why I let myself cry today, my little prince. I was grieving, and the people needed to know I was when they were too. I had to let you know I was sad too. It’s okay to want to be strong, Kellan.” He’d hugged him again, pressed a kiss to his golden curls. “But it’s okay to let yourself break, too.”
Wise words, and ones that Kellan had tried to stick to. But he found that he couldn’t, even though he wanted to, because the voice in him was too loud. He had to be strong, because if he broke, where would that leave his family?
The celebrant finished his speech, and there was a sweep of murmurs throughout the crown. Forcing himself to look at the people he would soon be responsible for, he saw that many were crying, clutching onto the family, who stood with their heads ducked in sorrow. Kellan felt a sudden rush of anger. At whom, he was unsure.
Then he took a breath and centered himself. He knew he would be expected to address the people and announce his acceptance of the throne. And then, he would be crowned.
His hands were trembling again.
He glanced at the celebrant and the man nodded slightly, so Kellan stepped forward, taking a deep breath to try and steady his palpitating heart. For a moment, there was silence, and suddenly, Kellan found himself unable to speak.
He struggled to take a breath, to force himself to pull himself together.
“Kellan,” Asa said quietly, just loud enough for it to break through Kellan’s terror. “Breathe.”
Kellan swallowed his fear and cleared his throat, squaring his shoulders to give himself a false semblance of composure.
“I stand here,” he began, thankful for his miraculously steady voice, “with all of you to give my father a worthy funeral. He was--” He had to stop and take a breath. “He was more than just a King. He was much more, for each and every one of us.” His eyes fell on Aryan, who stood by the side, and Aryan gave him a silent nod. Go on. Beside him, Ahad’s gaze was oddly comforting in its steadiness, and Kellan found himself gaining confidence.
“To some, he was a caretaker. To others, a justifier. But to me and my siblings, he was a father more than anything else, who put everything aside to care for us. We will all mourn him in our own ways, miss him in our own ways.” I was grieving, and the people needed to know I was when they were, too.
“I am not a worthy replacement for him, not will I ever be,” Kellan said honestly. “But I will strive to uphold my father’s legacy and his reputation, not only as his heir and firstborn, but as his son as well.” He took another breath.
“I did not hope to have to take on this heavy burden so soon, for it comes with a price. But my father passed away too soon, and so I must step up too soon. I have decided to accept the throne: for my family, for all of you, but most of all, for my father.”
There were murmurs again; Kellan studied the crowd and saw that many looked doubtful, while others were outright disapproving.
“My coronation will take place later today. We cannot delay the interregnum for much longer.”
“Is there any,” said a minister, “who wishes to dispute Prince Kellan’s claim? Speak now, or remain forever silent!”
Silence. A weight left Kellan’s shoulders.
“Very well,” the minister said. “Then it is settled. Prince Kellan shall be our King.”
After burying his father, Kellan stood in the balcony, taking a much needed break from the chatter inside the great hall. He’d excused himself from the lords and ladies eager to gain his favour already, exhausted and drained and sickened by their greed.
“May I join you, Prince Kellan?”
Kellan bit in his sigh and turned with a smile, to see Farah standing nervously in the doorway.
“Come, my lady,” he said charmingly, stepping aside for her. “What brings you here?”
Farah bobbed an awkward curtsy. “Um.”
Something about her open awkwardness made Kellan want to be honest. “Was it your father?”
The statement caught her by surprise and her eyes widened, cheeks flushing red. Kellan scrambled to take it back, saying, “I was merely curious. It is no fault of your own.”
Farah curtsied again, which made Kellan feel uncomfortable. “Please,” he said, “be at ease.”
She blushed harder and after a minute, said, “It was my father.” With surprising candidness, she made a face and said, “He wants me to gain your favour.”
“And you would rather not?” Kellan said with a laugh.
“No!” she said hastily. “Of course not, my lord. On the contrary, I...I enjoy your company.” She seemed to hesitate, then said, “I just wish it wasn’t under my father’s constant eye.”
“Being watched does get exhausting,” Kellan agreed with forced cheer.
There was a somewhat awkward lull, so Kellan said cheerfully, “Are you and Asa friends?”
“We talk sometimes, my Prince,” Farah said, still blushing. She seemed to be interested in looking at everything except him.
“I see,” Kellan said. “Well, shall we head back? It’s nearly time for my coronation.”
Farah nodded, still not looking at him. Kellan smiled and held out a hand, and she stammered out her thanks, and with another clumsy curtsy, hastily left. Kellan took a minute, staring at the sky and trying not to think about anything.
“Stargazing with Farah?” a voice said behind him, and he turned to see an amused Asa. He laughed.
“Not at all,” he said. “Her father sent her to...gain my favour.”
Asa made a face. “Typical.”
Kellan gave her a frown. “She seems like a nice girl,” he said. “Why do you dislike her so much just because of her father?”
“Why do you think?” Asa said. “What is her father after? He wants you to like her and that gives him what he wants.”
“Power,” Kellan agreed, then sighed. “The games that go on in a castle.”
Asa grimaced. “Let’s not talk about these things,” she said. “It’s nearly time for your crowning, after all.”
“Yes,” Kellan said. “Unfortunately.”
Asa punched his arm lightly. “You’ll be fine,” she said. “Just remember to breathe.”
Kellan nodded, giving her a false smile. “I don’t intend to die, Asa,” he joked, at which she rolled her eyes.
“You were brave out there,” she said, and Kellan smiled again, genuinely.
“Thank you,” he said honestly, and she made a face.
“Alright, enough sappiness. Let’s go.”
Kellan nodded and took a deep breath before he followed her back in, into the hall where his throne was on proud display on a raised stage, with the crown in a glass case beside it.
It would soon sit on his head. Heavy is the head that wears a crown.
Heavy indeed; Kellan could already feel its weight. He closed his eyes for just a second and tried to dispel his fear.
You’ll be fine, Asa had said. Just remember to breathe.
Kellan took another breath. In, out. He would not cave.
Fear out, courage in. Kellan took his place in front of the stairs leading up to the throne, an odd sense of acceptance washing over him.