Chapter 3 pt. B
I pushed the curtains aside and looked into the room. Ronin was fiddling with a piece of stray paper. He looked exponentially bored and seemed ready for our little trip on the town to end. The two Savs were conversing with Farrah. None of them looked up from their positions until I stepped on a stray rock and it skidded against the stone floor. Everyone looked up and the expressions on their faces were not ones to want. “My band of noblemen” as quoted from Genevieve looked concerned. Perhaps they had heard us talking behind the curtain or they were just bracing themselves for the worst.
“We can leave now,” I mumbled quietly.
Today has been a headache. There is no other way to describe it. I have learned and seen so many new things that it’s giving me a migraine.
Ronin got up to comfort me but I barely acknowledged him as I walked away. I shoved past the door and when it slammed I could hear the sounds of the piles of paper falling from the one messy desk. I was past caring about the paper. In fact, I was past caring about a lot of things. I needed a day to figure out what I was going to do and who I should tell.
Unconsciously I started walking back towards the Castle and I contemplated what my life would look like now. When I get home, everything will still be the same around me. The only different thing will be my view of the world. When I get home I will still have to plan my wedding to Brinley which is coming up in two weeks. The Fortress walls will still have gaping holes where there should be stone. My home will still look like a battlefield. I will still have voices whispering in my head. Everything will be essentially the same upon first glance because nothing is really changing except my mind.
I know things now that I didn’t know before. I will see things differently. Already I’m seeing things as a wizened person.
As a kid, you learn about death. I learned about death from a young age. I was about 5 or 6 when the old Ene and Sor died. They died within the same day as one another. Diseases were especially bad that year and they both perished. My father cried that night. I never wish it upon anyone to see their parents cry. It is perhaps one of the worst things to see as a child. I remember tugging on my mother’s dress and asking where they went. My mother sat me down on the floor outside the throne room and said to me that “the Sor and the Ene have been sent to another world called Unulus. Unulus is a place where everyone is found no matter how lost you were in your previous life.”
The way my mother described Unulus made it sound like a great place to be. What she hadn’t explained to me was that you were leaving everyone you love behind. I guess I didn’t understand it until she died 3 years later. I was so angry at the world for taking away my mother. It didn’t seem like a great thing that she went away to Unulus. It seemed like the world was punishing me by taking away something I loved dearly. After a while, I was so filled with contempt against Unulus and death and the whole ordeal I genuinely feared it. I tried reading books in Fortress’s library to find some way that I could be immortal but I couldn’t. My fear of death eventually outweighed my longing to see my mother again and so I hated the world once more. I eventually grew up and grew out of my crippling fear of death but I still had no longing to visit Unulus anytime soon. That is until now.
I would say I have a good life. I have my Fiancee and I have Ronin. I live in a good house and I am waiting for my chance to rule the Shire. I have everything anyone could ever want except for one thing. The voice in my head. I have this voice whispering at all hours of the day. It keeps me up at night and drives me mad through the days. I would honestly rather die now, even with my life the way it is, then allows it to strip me of my sanity.
I really hope that Genevieve’s potions and tricks work for me. If they don’t, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ve heard stories of the Devs in people. They suck the strength out of their body until they are straw thin. That’s when they begin to take everything else. Their mind is next to go. Then their dignity. If you are lucky you die there, all alone. If you aren’t lucky they take your innocence. There have been many stories of infected hosts of the Devs committing mass murders and ritual sacrifices to help their Dev gain enough power so they don’t have to be a parasite anymore. After all that is done the Dev kills the host.
Being killed by a Dev is one of the worst things that could happen. That is why if these treatments don’t work I’m asking Ronin to kill me. I’d rather die with my mind intact and my dignity unscathed then mad and half-blind in a fit of rage comparable to insanity. I believe he’d understand.
I was nearly down the road when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Ronin who was a bit red in the face from chasing after me. I turned my shoulder to him and continued to walk down the street.
“Chi Lucian, you cannot just take off down the street like that,” He looked back at the Savs who had taken their rightful place back at my side once again.
“And who says I can’t? You?” I responded.
I understand that I wasn’t being nice but sometimes you just need someone to put Ronin back in his place. He has a good heart but sometimes he forgets that it isn’t his place to tell me what to do, especially since I am an adult now.
I continued forward, brushing him off with every step. Ronin followed silently after me as we walked to the castle. I haven’t been to the Cadia castle. In fact, this is only the second time I’ve visited Cadia.
The first time was when Brinley and I were announcing our engagement with each other. That day seems like forever ago. I remember being so excited for that day. It was on my 18 birthday, the day I was finally an adult. That day was the day where I really got to know who I was marrying.
We had seen each other around in the hallways of the Fortress a few times. We had exchanged pleasantries but there was no spark between us. I was beginning to question how I could spend the rest of my life with this woman if things were like this. How could I live another 50 years on polite small talk with the woman I married? A woman who I didn’t know whatsoever.
I remember the long carriage ride to the village square where we would announce our engagement. The day was so bright that we were all in tents before the speeches were made. My father and the Ene and Sor of Cadia were up first they were making their statements and announcing they had a huge announcement. It was just Brinley and I sitting in the tent. The first time we were truly alone. She was wearing a bright red dress. It reminded me of the Peonies that grew in the gardens. She had gardenias braided into her hair and it reminded me of wood spirit in the folktales of the world.
Brinley had elfish features and their sharpness was accentuated by the long braid that spilled over her shoulder. Her face was shapely and refined with a certain elegance that you rarely see, but still, she had kind eyes. I think it was her eyes that made me get up the courage to talk to her. It seemed impossible for her to shoot me down because of her kind eyes. Or if she did shoot me down she would at least have the decency to let me down softly.
I remember sitting next to her that day and feeling like a child. I wasn’t as tall as most people. I clock in at roughly 5’10. That made me only an inch taller than Brinley. Sitting next to her, that one inch of height difference really felt small and insignificant to me. That day was my 18th birthday. My first official day as an adult, but it didn’t feel like it. I still felt the same as I did at 17.
Brinley did not feel those things. Brinley was 20 at that time and had been an adult for two years.
At 7 years old I had a crush on this servant girl who cleaned my room. She was 17. I told her that I loved her one day and she laughed and aww’d. I felt like a fool because she wasn’t taking me seriously. I told her that I’d marry her one day and she told me to find her when I became an adult. I took what she said to heart and I began planning our wedding that we would have as soon as I turned 18. As it turns out she didn’t want to wait until I was an adult because when she was 21 and I was 11 she got married to a nobleman she had been seeing in secret. They ran away together. I haven’t seen her since.
Sitting next to my Fiancee felt like crushing on the servant girl who was a whole decade older than I was. I was barely 18 and Brinley was 20. It seemed like she was more worldly than I was. It seemed like she had seen more things and experience more of life than I had. It made me feel like a little 7 year old looking up to a 17-year-old.
We were so far apart but close together. Those two years made all the difference to me. After all, how could a woman so cultured like Brinley fall in love with a bright-eyed naive little 18-year-old boy. All this was working against me but I had to take my shot. I sat next to her and we listened to our parents to address the crowds. When things quieted down I said “Hello” and she responded with “Good Morning”. From then on out, it was history.
As I grew older than my feeble age of 18 I began to realize that our age difference could be a lot worse. Ronin and Andromeda were 4 years apart and they didn’t let it get to them. My uncle Arlen and his wife are nearly 10 years apart. They didn’t really make it work but that’s more because Arlen is not the best of people.
I turned into the castle gates and walked inside. The first thing I noticed was the smell of Gardenias. I always associated the smell of Gardenias with Brinley. She usually always had fresh ones on her. They would either be braided in her hair or tucked into her dress or in pockets. Either way, she would always smell of gardenias except for the winter. In the winter it’s usually dried jasmine. That’s another reason I enjoy my time in the gardens, the flowery smells remind me of Brinley when she returns to Cadia.
Ronin was walking beside me as we got the welcome from the guards. I suppose they were told I would be visiting because we were let in without a hassle. In fact, we were immediately escorted into the throne room before the acting Ene and Sor of Cadia, Brinley’s older sister Aus Vega Idris-Ephraim of Cadia, and her husband Chi Cyris Ephraim of Onyx.
Since Sor Larkin and Ene Kane have taken up residence in Fyn for the last year and a half, their oldest daughter has been ruling as sort of a dry run. So far it’s gone fairly well. No Shire has been run to the ground and Cadia has been prospering in peace. Brinley has talked to me about Aus Vega and Chi Cyris before. She wants us to rule like they do, peacefully and prosperously. Of course, every young future ruler wants to rule as they do. Few can actually pull it off. Besides this little experiment has gone well but Aus Vega’s parents are breathing down their necks. Who knows what will happen when the real Sor and Ene are gone. Maybe Aus Vega and Chi Cyris are really red rulers but don’t want Sor Larkin and Ene Kane to know in case they try to shift the inheritance.
It has happened before. Ene and Sor have the right to choose which of their children get the throne. Traditionally it’s the oldest child because they are seen as the most responsible. The other heirs don’t get the throne unless one of two things happens. 1. The heir dies and then the next child in line gets the throne. 2. The parents decide that the first child isn’t suited for the throne and so they bring it to their group of advisers and pitch the idea of shifting the inheritance. If all the advisers agree to shift the inheritance then the first child will not get the throne. The next thing they do is try to agree on which child would do best on the throne. Usually, it’s the next child in line because only the first two children, if the Ene and Sor even have that many, get an education on how to run the Shire. If they cannot decide on a new heir because they are all terrible it becomes a lottery system. All eligible noblemen and women who aren’t ruling, first in line to rule or engaged to someone first in line to rule get entered into a drawing. When this happens the ruling family has a chance to shift as well. You can see why we don’t do this often. No one wants to go from being in charge of everything to being hardly relevant and only distantly related or connected to the new ruling family.
When I enter the throne room my entire party bows. Even though technically we are at the same level of power it is smart to bow to the acting rulers.
They are better than you.
The voice whispers in my head but I am quick to push it out. I do not need this right now. I cannot allow Aus Vega to think her little sister’s Fiance is insane.
“Rise,” Aus Vega calls to the four of us.
I stand up and face the two sitting on the thrones. I wonder how they feel about the engagement getting pushed up. If it hadn’t, they would have 6 more months to rule. Perhaps they are sick of ruling and cannot wait for the two of us to get married but perhaps they love it. Perhaps they hate that we are moving the date closer because they want to rule this Shire. Perhaps they don’t want it to go back to Ene Kane and Sor Larkin’s hands. These are just things to think about.
“Chi Lucian,” She calls to me.
I pick my head up and match her gaze.
Aus Vega looks almost identical to Brinley. They have the same sharp features and long dark wavy hair that compliments their skin tone perfectly. Aus Vega was dressed in a deeper, more regal color than Brinley would have chosen but it suits her. Aus Vega has an air of superiority surrounding her and it just fits. When I first met Brinley, I looked at her and knew that she would be a strong Sor. I thought that she was made to be a Sor. I hadn’t met Aus Vega yet. Compared to Aus Vega, Brinley was the most innocent looking girl in the world.
“Come closer,” She beckoned me.
I began to walk towards the throne and I noticed her eyes. Brinley’s eyes were warm and bright while Aus Vega’s were cold and closed off. I glanced over at Chi Cyris. He matched his wife perfectly. He had a cold stare that made me want to shiver. Along the side of his face, he had a jagged scar. I wonder what happened that he, a Chi, would get such a scar. That’s when I remembered he came from Onyx.
Onyx used to be a good place. It was a beautiful landscape and like the rest of us, they had one Ene and one Sor. The people got tired of The Monarchy and rebelled. They did what the Village men in my Shire did but better. They stormed the castle. Killed the Ene and Sor and established a new type of rule.
The new rule only lasted for ten years before the Shire collapsed again. Chi Cyris’ brother and sister began restoring the Shire Onyx to its original glory. And then Chi Cyris married Aus Vega. I guess he figured he wouldn’t get to rule unless he married into one.
“Welcome to the Palace of Cadia. We always welcome you, Chi Lucian.” Aus Vega spread her arms wide as if giving me the castle itself.
“I thank you for your generosity, Aus Vega. Your kindness will not be forgotten.” I assured her.
Chi Cyris waved us off and we began to leave the throne room before Aus Vega stopped us in our tracks.
“Wait!” she called out.
I turned around and waited.
“Be good to Brinley, Chi Lucian. I love my sister more than my life.”
“Of course I will be good for her. I love her.” I assured her.
Aus Vega gave me a nod of approval and we turned away.
I got escorted to my new room by one of Cadia’s Savs. Ronin followed me up to the room because we have bunked together for nearly 11 years and it was a habit.
“Cons Ronin, I can escort you to a room if you’d like. I promise you, your master is in good hands.” The servant boy escorting us offered.
“Oh, well, sorry I just-, usually I-.” Ronin sighed. “I share a room with Chi Lucian. I guess it slipped my mind that we were in a different castle.”
“We can set up a bed for you in there if that would help.” He offered.
“No, it’s fine. I’m sure we can manage a night without each other.” I assured the servant boy.
I already felt like we were intruding. I don’t want them to make a big fuss over something that really isn’t that important.
“Oh it’s no big deal.” he insisted. “We want to make you as comfortable as possible. You two are our guests after all.”
“If it’s really no hassle then that would be wonderful thank you-” I paused in place of his name.
“Oh, my name is Elias, Chi.” He stammered over his own words.
“Thank you, Elias.”
“You’re welcome sir,” Elias smiled widely at us.
Elias didn’t seem very old. He looked to be at a weird age where he could be a child but also could be a young adult. He was pudgy with baby fat that he hadn’t shed yet, but he could always be a late bloomer. He had stubble marking his face. He could potentially be older than I was. I was leaner than him from years of fencing, but unlike him, I cannot grow facial hair. The most I’ve gotten is peach fuzz.
I’ve been mistaken for a lot younger than I actually am. It used to bother me a lot. I tried for years to get more muscular or taller but I couldn’t. It seems I’m destined to remain short and scrawny for the rest of my life. I can tell this bothered my father almost as much as it bothered me. While I was growing up he gave me bigger portions than everyone else. I guess he figured it was better for people to think I ate well than to think I didn’t eat at all. I understand why he did the things he did, but it wasn’t good enough for me.
My father trying to change everything about me is just as damaging as him telling me that I’m not good enough. I don’t understand why my outward appearance is so important to him. I’m the same person regardless of the state of my physicality.
I opened the door and stepped into the room. My bags were there on the floor and there was a large bed in the middle of the wall. The room was big but not as big as my room at home. It was a nice room and was very well furnished. On the far wall was a fireplace that was already lit. I wonder how many fireplaces there were in the castle. Cadia was richer than Fyn, but they had a smaller castle than our fortress.
I sat down on a grand velvet chair and stared deeply into the fireplace. The fire itself danced around in waves of red and orange. It cast a warm glow around the room and it felt peaceful. The sun was on its way to setting, as it did at the time in the fall. I’d always loved fall. The colors and brightness were very cheery to me but there was something off about this. The firelight cast a warm glow throughout the room but it also distorted the shadows and they stretched longer and covered more. The room was warm but the Autumn chill in the breeze kept blowing through the window.
The shadows and the lingering cold seemed to be whispering to me. It turned my happy feeling of sweet pies in the fall into the death of all life.
Ronin had told me he hated the fall. I was so confused as to why. The cooks make food with pumpkins and cinnamon. Fires were always cracking and making everyone smell like woodsmoke. It seemed wonderful. That’s all it was. Feeling this way makes me realize that all of this was a ruse. People try so hard to make all the seasons enjoyable but when we take Fall for what it is and nothing more it is only darkness.
Each day the light stays for less and less time. Leaves wither and die and fall on the ground. The warmth leaves. Everything around you is dead. I can see why Ronin hates it so much. There is no brightness.
I remained sitting in front of that fireplace with a lump sitting heavily in my stomach. My throat began to grow tight and warm but I wasn’t sad. I stared into that fireplace with everything I had. I was trying to find answers in the flames but there weren’t any there. I felt cold inside. It was like there was nothing there. My room grew warmer but all I felt was a cold that seeped into everything around me.
I had no words to describe what was happening to me. All I could think about was how empty I felt.
“Chi Lucian,” there was a small knock on my door.
I turned my head as the door opened. Ronin stepped in without sound and I returned to staring at the fire in all its movement.
“Aus Vega and Chi Cyris are requesting we join them for dinner,” Cons Ronin told me.
Ronin knew I was in a mood. I’d always had them but I’d been getting more intense ones lately. They were truly horrible. I’d lose all attachment to the world and I’d say and do things I didn’t mean. When I was younger Aya, my mother’s old Cons would tell me I got them from my father. She had told me it was normal but I had lost a lot of things from them. I had lost friendships, possessions, and whatever else you could name. She would call them normal. I would call them destructive.
“I know you would rather sit here in this room, but wouldn’t you want Brinley’s older sister to have a good impression of you?” Ronin asked as he sat down on a bench next to me.
“It doesn’t matter,” I responded dully.
“Are you sure? Wouldn’t it be better to have allies with them than for them to hate us?”
I acknowledge that Ronin has a point, but I don’t want to acknowledge that he has a point. For all I care, Aus Vega and Chi Cyris could drop off the face of a cliff and I wouldn’t bat an eye. I silently scold myself for thinking that. I need to keep my moods under control. If I can’t then life could be a lot harder for Brinley and me.
“Come on Chi Lucian, we need to eat dinner with them.” Ronin stood up again.
“Ronin, why do you hate the fall so much?” I asked quietly.
Ronin pursed his lips. He looked down at the floor and seemed to be debating something through his mind. Perhaps there was a story behind it and not just the things I was thinking about.
“My sister,” He told me.
“Naomi?” I asked.
Ronin had several siblings. He had two older brothers, two younger brothers, and a baby sister named Naomi.
“No, not Naomi. Her name was Jeanie.”
“You’ve never mentioned a Jeanie.”
“I couldn’t bring myself to,” Ronin responded in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.
“Can you explain? It’s okay if you can’t.”
Ronin wiped the beginnings of a stray tear from his face and composed himself, “No no, I should probably talk about Jeanie sometime.”
“When I was 7 years old and my two older brothers were 9, we had a sister. She was 17 and her name was Jeanie. Jeanie was a very kind and very gentle person. She would give everything she had to help others and she did. That summer my parents left the village to work in the coal mines in the Onyx. They sent home every paycheck to Jeanie for her to feed their other three children. Times were rough. The mines weren’t paying as much as they used to and my sister didn’t have a job. She dropped out of school and got a job. We survived living on their paychecks. Everything was fine. We had a garden in our backyard and that kept us fed. That was until the Onyx fell into poverty and everyone was let go. We lost our major sense of income and our parents couldn’t even save up enough to buy their way home.”
I placed a hand on Ronin’s shoulder, coaxing him to go on.
“We were living off the food we grew in our garden and Jeanie’s job of washing clothes for the rich. There was always food on the table. It might have been dismantled to get rid of spots of the mold but there was food on the table. As summer melted into fall my brother’s couldn’t coax our garden to produce any more plants. Jeanie picked up more hours and we hardly saw her. Like the little children we were, we focused on our starving bellies and didn’t even notice Jeanie was eating next to nothing.”
Ronin’s voice broke as he said the last sentence. His head shrank into his chest as he composed himself to finish.
“When my brothers and I got home one day there was a lamp burning in the kitchen. We could see it through the window. I was so excited because that meant Jeanie was home. My brothers didn’t seem to be that excited. They were almost worried. I didn’t pay attention to them because Jeanie was home early. I threw open the door and ran into the kitchen. I found Jeanie alright. She had collapsed on the floor. She wasn’t dead, she was still breathing but only barely. I screamed. I screamed and my brother rushed in. I continued to scream as they tried to quiet me but Jeanie was laying on our floor dying. I screamed and our neighbor came over to yell at me to quiet down. Our neighbor saw Jeanie on the floor and called the apothecary. One of the workers in the apothecary came over and told us she was dying of malnutrition and there was nothing they could do. We still had to pay them for diagnosing her so they took my mother’s nice dress. No one cared, Jeanie was fading fast. She died later that night.”
I rubbed his shoulder in understanding.
“We got reimbursed for our loss. It wasn’t a lot of money but it was enough to get our parents home. Everyone moved on as if we hadn’t just lost the kindest person in our Shire. From that year on, Fall scared me. I kept thinking I would lose one of my brothers next. Eventually, I moved away and stopped being afraid of the fall but I still hated it. It took my sister from me.” Ronin finished with clenched teeth.
I felt sad for Ronin. I also regretted my feeling of detachment. I lived a great life. I never hungered. I never lost a family member to starvation. I never had to worry about how I could help my family get out of poverty. All I worried about was what Father thought of me. I hated that I couldn’t help everyone in The Villages.
I made a vow then and there when I became the Ene I would help the poor. Besides, it would help me out in the long run. I probably wouldn’t be rebelled against so many times. It would help Brinley and I live in peace. It would also convince Brinley that I won’t be a Red Ruler. It will benefit me on all fronts.
Beside me, Ronin let out a shuddering breath.
“Are you okay Ronin?” I asked him.
“Yes, I’m good now. It’s best we did not keep Aus Vega and Chi Cyris waiting for us.” Ronin led me out of the room.
The castle was very elegantly decorated. The sun had set and all the candles in the hallways had been lit. They surrounded the hallways in a light glow of firelight. It was a more comforting place than Fyn. In Fyn, we had an occasional torch in the hallway. The hallways were dimly lit and so mainly I avoided walking around at night.
When we reached the dining hall I immediately felt underdressed. During my long contemplation, I had forgotten to change into more formal clothing to meet the Aus and Chi. I hoped that they didn’t take that as a sign of disrespect. Even as I was thinking that I knew that they were going to feel disrespected. I could see the look of distaste in Aus Vega’s eyes as she stared at Ronin and me. I had to think of a lie and quickly. Luckily living with my father and a natural sense of curiosity has given me time to learn to lie with a smooth tongue.
“I greatly apologize, Aus Vega, Chi Cyris, Cons Ronin and I were unpacking and we lost track of the time. We figured it was better not to leave you waiting then to show up in formal clothing. Please do not take this as a sign of disrespect,” I asked of them with a slight bow of my head to show reverence.
As I looked up I noticed that Aus Vega seemed more relaxed and less agitated. It appeared my lie had worked.
“I’m so sorry. Usually, the Conses unpack for you. I shall find the party responsible and punish them accordingly.” Chi Cyris answered from Aus Vega’s side.
“No harm, no foul. We got along just fine. I only wish we hadn’t lost track of the time so we didn’t offend you.”
“As you said, no harm, no foul. We can dine like this. After all, you are like family.” Aus Vega responded.
I was very grateful to the alliance between our nations and to my engagement with Brinley. If our Shires were at odds against each other, this simple act of disrespect could have spiraled into a war against each other. No one would want that to happen, especially since I was an acting diplomat for our people. If war broke out it would most likely be pinned on me.
“Well, let’s eat. We didn’t call you down just to sit here.” Aus Vega smiled and a bunch of Conses walked through the doors of the kitchen with plates of food.
Throughout the night we talked, we drank, we ate but most of all we formed a stronger alliance. I would be happy to report that back to my father. After all, that is the only reason he allowed me to visit Cadia. He had no relationship with Aus Vega and Chi Cyris. The only relations he had was with Ene Kane and Sor Larkin. When they die there wouldn’t be anything to stop the tension.
My father made deals with Ene Kane and Sor Larkin for an alliance. It’s not very likely that Aus Vega and Chi Cyris would go against our alliance since Brinley is Aus Vega’s sister. However, it could still happen and that is why we need them to like me. So far it appears his plan is working.