I awoke in the medical suite to find my brother standing over me with arms crossed.
“Raylon, what is it?” I asked as I sat up and stretched. There was no pain in my ribs or in my cheek anymore.
“Brother, the other fathers have been waiting for you for almost an hour.”
“And they can wait some more,” I said as I stood up off the bed, “I must go get ready to see them. I cannot sign the new charter dressed like a beggar.”
“Best you do so quickly. They are growing impatient. They arrived here at sunrise to discuss the charter because you told them it will be signed at the end of the week.”
I let out a long breath, “Yes I did.”
“Brother,” Raylon said and came to me, “This charter is the most important piece of documentation this kingdom has. It cannot be rushed or done half-heartedly. You know the kinds of consequences a faulty charter can have. Our grandfather told us stories of the battle of the sun’s many times.”
I shrugged out of his grip, Then you sign it! You go sit with those old fools, and you decide on the charter!
“I am aware of the importance of it, brother. But never before have the negotiations for it taken almost a year to decide. These men are only interested in blame, power and the vast fortune that comes with being the first on the charter. They do not care about their people, or about the kingdom. They only care about their own pockets.”
“I know. Father always used to say that one day, a king strong enough and loved enough will demolish the charter system and rule the five houses as one. I always thought that would be you.”
I looked up at his mask and shook my head, “Perhaps it could have been you, brother. But they do not see me as the true king, they never have.”
“Then show them that you are. You have the love of the people. More than father ever did. If you chose to demolish the charter, I am sure it will go your way.”
“I cannot do that,” I said and turned away from him.
“I have already led our people into one war. With another war looming over us in the future, how can I ask my people to now fight amongst themselves?”
“Find a way to do it without a war. I believe in you, Zas. I always have.”
His words brought me comfort and I smiled at him. All our lives he has lifted me up; gave me strength, and been the wise words in my ear. But he was wrong about this.
“I will think about it. Perhaps when the next charter is due to be signed, I will have an idea of how to abolish it. For now, I need to get this morning meeting over with so we can leave for Parna.”
Raylon nodded and we both left the medical wing of the palace. I hurried to my bedroom and jumped into the shower. Once the meeting was over, which didn’t take as long as I expected, I changed out of my royal attire and checked myself in the mirror one last time. I decided I would not wear the usual elaborate robes I was expected to wear, but rather a white simple shirt and a pair of black pants.
I will go fetch Ash. Perhaps she will need help with something.
I left my room and walked the few steps to the next door down from mine. My heart raced in my chest to see her. I paused for a moment, taking a breath to steady myself and waved my hand over the call screen. I heard the faint chime from inside her room and listened to her footsteps move closer.
Will she be happy to see me?
The door opened and my smile came without warning.
“Good morning,” I said.
She lowered her eyes away from me, “Good morning, your highness. How are your ribs?”
Why is she not looking at me?
“All healed. Perhaps a good night’s rest is in fact all I needed.”
She didn’t smile at that. Something is wrong.
My smile fell, “Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” She said but her eyes still stayed lowered to the ground.
I frowned to myself, then said, “Are you ready to leave for Parna?”
She shuffled in her spot, her hands fidgeting in front of her, “Yes,” she said but I could feel the cold turn in her towards me
I nodded and waited, hoping she would look at me.
She has changed her mind about me.
She doesn’t want a man who cannot be himself around her. Who is only seen as a symbol by others.
“What is it?” I asked when she didn’t look me in the eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“Something has changed between us. What did I do wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, your highness.”
Her words sound true, but there is more to it, I can see.
I don’t want to push. She will tell me when she is ready.
“Then what is it?”
She sighed and turned to face me, “What is this?” She asked gesturing between us, “What is happening here?”
“I thought it would be obvious, Ash. I’m attracted to you. I thought you were to me too.”
“This will never work.”
My heart flipped and I thought it may shatter into tiny pieces, “Why not?”
I watched her swallow nervously, “Whatever this is that’s starting between us, it just won’t work. You are, and always will be, a king. And that will always be more important to you. And I can’t be second best, not again.”