Cage of Gold: Chapter 2
Chapter 2: All Hail The King
Astral, Capitol City of Everand, eighty five years later...
“By order of His Majesty, King Maelgad the Majestic, Fidelis, eldest of the five princes, is hereby stripped of his birthright as First Son of Astral and title of Crown Prince for the murder of the Baron and Baroness Torp. He is henceforth banished from all lands and cities under the rule of the Royal Sky Family. Punishment for setting foot in the lands or cities of Astral will be immediate death without question, carried out by the first body able to do so.”
The voices of the Heralds rang through the streets, proclaiming the King’s judgement, and echoed through the city, reaching the Palace clearly.
“Long live King Maelgad! All hail the King!”
“Somebody should fire those Shinkako damned Heralds for shouting it so loudly,” Zafrira hissed, unable to stand it any longer.
She stood and stalked over to the open window, slamming it closed with such force that Tarik was surprised they didn’t shatter.
He sighed at his twin’s outburst and looked back at the wall, muttering, “They’re just doing their job, Zaf. It’s hardly their fault.”
Zafrira scowled at the window. “I know. I know perfectly well who’s to blame. What I can’t stand is the invisible shackles we can’t remove.” She turned to look at her brother, face darkening. “I want to kill him now, Tarik. I’m sick of waiting for an opportunity to come along while this country rots from the inside out! I’m beginning to think that if we don’t make a time there will never be one!”
Tarik stood abruptly and grabbed Zafrira by the shoulders, making her look at him. The twins would have been identical if they’d had the same gender. From their angular faces to their long silver-blonde hair and light blue eyes, all were the same. It was almost as if the Creator had taken the same basic person, doubled said person, and then made one more masculine and the other more feminine.
“Don’t shout,” he hissed. “Someone might hear you. You think I don’t feel the same? But we have to be smart about this or we’ll end up worse off than Fidelis, and we both know he didn’t do anything to warrant what the King did to him.”
Zafrira deflated almost immediately, face turning heartbreakingly sad. “I hate this,” she said quietly.
Tarik pulled her into a tight hug which she returned. “Yeah. Me too.” He paused, looking out the window, still holding her. “This is only the beginning. We’ll get our revenge and we’ll get Fidelis back on the throne of Astral where he should be.”
Silently, he wished his cousin the best until they could find a way to do that.
She stood silently at the window, listening to the muffled voices of the Heralds below. Her dull green eyes were red from crying and it was obvious from the slump of her shoulders and the dark circles that she hadn’t slept since yesterday. Her red-gold hair was neatly pinned up and she wore simple blue robes and tan boots for travel.
Behind her, the room was bare of any personal items. Everything from her clothes and jewelry to books and even the bed curtains had been packed up and removed.
She was the only thing left.
Slowly, she reached out and touched the glass before her, warm from the afternoon sun streaming through it. Below her and beyond the palace walls, Everand sparkled like a gem. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought that such a beautiful thing could never be marred.
If only this city, this country, didn’t remind her of something going rotten in the warmth of the sun, perhaps it would have been the beautiful sight it should have been. If only King Maelgad hadn’t turned on his son. If only Cynfael wasn’t the lying, poisonous little snake he’d turned out to be. If only things could have been simple. If only they had gone as she had hoped they would.
She clenched her fist against the window as that same scene ran through her head once more...
Their fingers were gently intertwined as they walked softly through the garden, side by side. The stars were bright overhead, almost outshining the moon. Everything was quiet and peaceful. At that moment, she couldn’t have imagined being any more happy than she already was. To think that she and her betrothed had actually come to love each other was something she still marveled about. Political marriages were rarely more than an alliance.
She looked up, catching his gaze, and smiled shyly in return to his grin. They were truly lucky. He pulled her to him, giving her a sweet kiss before resting his forehead on hers.
“I know it was all arranged, Sati,” he said quietly. “But I want to ask you for myself.”
He pulled away and took her hand before bowing low over it and kissing it. Looking up, but remaining bowed, his loving eyes met hers as his soft voice reached her ears in the night silence.
“Sati, I love you. Will you be my wife?”
She smiled and threw herself into his arms. “Of course I will. I love you, too.”
He grinned like a child and leaned in to kiss her again when a sudden commotion made him pause and look at the entrance to the garden in confusion. There was a lot of shouting coming from the castle, some alarmed and some of authority. What was going on in there?
He took her hand and lead the way back to the main wing. He grabbed the first servant they came across and demanded to know what was going on, but before the man could say anything, they heard the stomping of soldier’s feet coming down the corridor.
They turned and came face to face with a fully armed squad of the Palace Guard.
“What’s going on?” Fidelis demanded.
The Captain drew himself up and replied stiffly. “Prince Fidelis, you are under arrest.”
“What? That’s ludicrous!” cut in Sati, unbelieving. Why in Shinkako’s name would they be arresting the Crown Prince? “For what?”
The Captain gave her a stiff bow. “I am sorry, Princess, but I have my orders. Prince Fidelis is to be apprehended for the murder of the Baron and Baroness Torp.”
There were gasps from everyone within hearing range. Sati looked at Fidelis who was frowning. Murder? No, it wasn’t possible.
She grabbed his arm and he met her worried gaze with a smile that was meant to be reassuring, but his eyes were full of confusion and worry as well.
“It’ll be alright, Sati. Things will get sorted out, I’m sure. These charges are false and that will be easy enough to prove. Don’t worry. I love you.”
He gave her hand a squeeze before letting it go. The guards quickly surrounded him and Sati could only watch him go...
Unable to sleep, she had waited up and two hours after midnight, the servant girl came with the news. Fidelis had been found guilty of the murders and all of his personal guard, with the exception of the Mage, who had disappeared at some point early that evening, had been arrested for conspiracy to murder and treason. It wasn’t likely that any of them would get off easily.
As for Fidelis, he was banished and stripped of his birthright and title, never to set foot in Astral again.
Sati turned to see Grelina, Countess of Pikite, standing a few feet behind her. She was a graceful woman, ten years Sati’s senior, and her clear green eyes were full of worry as she looked at the girl she had come to regard as a sister.
“Your Highness, it’s time to go.”
Sati nodded and moved mechanically to the door. Grelina caught her arm gently, making her pause. Their eyes met briefly in silent understanding and Sati smiled thinly.
“All this supposed power,” she murmured hoarsely. “And when it comes down to it, I’m completely helpless. I can’t do a thing for him.”
She sighed and turned away. The ship was waiting to take her home and the carriage was waiting to take her to the dock. Without a fiancé, she would be useless here and her father, King Enraige of Dyfri, would send for her as soon as he found out.
She moved silently through the grand stone halls, the Countess to her right and a bit behind, and a guard on either side. The whole city of Everand was built on, around, and in the mountain it encompassed. The Palace took up the highest point and the city tiered out in nine levels all the way down and into the valley, a wall separating each with well placed watchtowers where guards were posted at all times. Everand was truly a stronghold, more like a gigantic fortress than anything.
She watched the stone buildings pass, some standing on their own and others coming out of the mountainside, along with archways leading to the streets within the mountain. The docks were on the fourth tier of the city, high enough for the ships to launch, but low enough not to interfere with the nobles and rich.
The voices of the Heralds were even more clear down here on the streets themselves and they seemed to echo each other in a continuous, unbreakable cycle. She leaned her head back on the cushion of the seat and closed her eyes, wanting to cry or scream or just shut them up.
‘“All hail the King” indeed,’ she thought bitterly as the carriage drove on.
Derfel sat in the silence of the library, paging slowly through a thick volume. Dust mites floated in the afternoon sunlight that bathed the worn bindings filling the shelves around him and the barest trace of a frown touched the fourteen year old’s lips. It was the only hint on the usually impassive face to show just how upset he was.
He ran a hand through his short blonde hair as his blue eyes scanned the pages intensely. He was wearing elaborate formal robes of deep purple trimmed in white, the colors of the the Royal Sky Family. There was a simple gold circlet with an amethyst set in it’s center sitting on top of a stack of books to his left, while his right hand bore a heavy gold ring with the Royal Crest.
With an irritated huff at the elaborate robes, he wrapped one of the ridiculously long sleeves out of his way and turned another page.
He was trying to calm his mind before he attended the ceremony. The library was his only real sanctuary within the Palace since hardly anyone ever bothered with it, and as such was the best place to rid himself of unnecessary emotion. He couldn’t go out in public looking anything less than normal.
With Fidelis banished and Cynfael soon to take over as Crown Prince, Derfel’s position had become more dangerous than before. Any sort of slip-up would come back to haunt him, especially if he was near Cynfael, Maelgad, or any of their supporters. Most of those who had sided with Fidelis had been silenced in one way or another when they’d become too vocal, and the Baron and Baroness Torp were only the most recent ones.
But now that Fidelis was gone as well, the few left who did or could oppose the King were terrified to speak out, and many, he knew, would quietly switch sides if they hadn’t already.
That meant he was virtually alone.
He scowled at the page and flipped it. Being alone was nothing new for him, of course. He had always been a quiet child and since he was the middle son, he had more or less gotten lost in the shuffle between his two opposing older brothers and the promising younger two.
It didn’t bother him, really. If anything, he had used that to his advantage, and now that this situation had arisen, he couldn’t help feeling a touch of pride that he had predicted what would happen, planned for it, and was now more than prepared to counter it. Granted, he was thoroughly upset that things had gone this way in the first place and it was sure to be a pain to handle, but what was the point of genius if you couldn’t be proud of yourself once in a while?
Yes, genius. That was no understatement when it came to Prince Derfel, formerly Third, now Second Son of Astral, and soon-to-be Commander Prince. He was truly a genius in every sense of the word, the kind that came around once a century, if that.
But his biggest advantage at this point was that no one knew it. Of course, most everyone at Court would agree that he was smart, but nobody had any idea that what they saw was like flavored water compared to vintage wine. It was what keeping quiet and observing through most of his childhood had given him.
That, and his key philosophy. There were always advantages to a negative situation. The trick was simply keeping an open enough mind to look for and find them.
It was the principle he lived by and how he stayed three steps ahead of everyone else. That combined with his naturally impassive face and seemingly complete lack of emotion always kept people fooled.
It was best that way, especially now. The less the King and Cynfael thought him a threat, the better he would be able to move about.
He didn’t bother looking up, immediately recognizing the voice.
“My Prince?” He heard the feminine voice call again, a bit further into the library than before. “My Prince? Are you here?”
He didn’t answer and instead turned another page silently.
“My Prince?” the girl called, sounding a bit anxious now. “My Prince, if you’re in here, please answer me! The ceremony can’t start without you, you know. You’re part of it!”
He heard her moving between the bookshelves, searching, and coming closer.
“My Prince, please! I know you’re here! This is the only other place you could possibly be, so just come out already!” Now she was sounding slightly worried and annoyed as well. She was a few shelves over. “My Prince, the ceremony is starting soon and you’re not even ready! You don’t have time for--”
She came around the corner and stopped dead in her tracks, mouth left open as her sentence died on her lips at the sight of him. His eyes slowly shifted from the page he stopped reading when she’d entered the library, and lifted to meet her wide-eyed gaze.
“I don’t have time for what?” he asked evenly, breaking her out of her brief stupor of surprise.
Eseld was a servant girl about his own age. She had long curly blonde hair and blue eyes, like all Astralians, and had one of the sweetest dispositions Derfel had ever come across. She was pretty, with a slim frame and honest face sporting full lips and eyes that spoke volumes, especially to someone like him.
She shook her head and did a quick curtsy. “My Prince, the ceremony is going to start. You can’t be late!”
She had come to work for his household about a year ago. His Chamberlain, Mamun, knew exactly what to look for in people and she had been no exception. She had become something of a personal attendant to Derfel and seemed to be the only one who was ever able to find him at any given time, which really wasn’t such a hard thing to do if one simply observed him for a while. After all, there were only so many places he ever disappeared to.
Languidly, Derfel closed the book and set it on one of the stacks as he stood, reaching for the crown. Eseld couldn’t help but stare at the handsome figure he cut in the formal robes, haloed by the afternoon sunlight from the window behind him, with the gold circlet that matched his hair sitting easily on his head.
She did another quick curtsy as he passed her on his way to the door. She followed, smoothing down the front of her white uniform dress and pushing a stray curl out of her face as she watched Prince Derfel’s straight back in front of her.
Of all the Princes, she liked Derfel the best. When she had first come to work in his household it was simply to help her family, as was the case for most servants her age, but as the weeks had passed, she had slowly come to admire him. Her admiration only continued to grow with each day that went by and, if she dared even consider it possible, she thought she might be falling in love with the silent young man.
Nothing would come of it, she knew. After all, he was a Prince and would most likely marry a noble of one rank or another, and she was a servant, an average citizen of Astral like so many others, and would marry accordingly someday.
“That will be all, Eseld,” his quiet, even voice reached her ears.
She stopped, curtsied once more, and watched him disappear down the hall before making her own way to the servants’ entrance to watch the ceremony. Nobody in the Palace or with any sort of rank was going to be missing this.
Derfel paused at the main entrance to the Hall of Skies, and the guards on either side of the door, both decked out in their formal uniforms, bowed especially low to him. After all, when the ceremony was over, he would be their new Commander, even if it would be another four years before he officially took over. He nodded to each in turn and they opened the doors for him.
Every eye in the Hall turned at his entrance, and followed him as he made his way sedately to the dais where the King’s throne sat. He took his place to the left of it and clasped his hands behind him to wait.
The Hall of Skies was packed with nobles dressed in their finest and most absurdly elaborate outfits. The pillars and walls were covered in beautifully layered gold and purple silks, surrounding the banners and obscuring most of the steel gray stone walls.
To the right of the dais, he saw his cousins, the twins Tarik and Zafrira. Catching Tarik’s eye, he nodded to him and then Zafrira. Both were decked out in matching formal robes in the house colors and wore simple gold circlets to show that they were part of the direct Royal Sky Family line as well.
To the left of the throne with him were his two younger brothers, Maelgwn and Tuathal. They looked uncomfortable in their formal robes and obviously didn’t want to be there. He caught their eye and gave them a barely perceptible smile, one that wouldn’t be caught by anyone but them. They eagerly grinned back, always happy to catch one of his rare expressions.
Soon, the doors were opened once more and King Maelgad made his grand entrance. His formal robes billowed out behind him in a wave of deep purple and gold and his crown stood tall on his head, encrusted with amethysts, a contrast to his dark blonde hair. His deep blue eyes surveyed the crowd of nobles regally and calmly, as though he hadn’t just betrayed his own son. His face was hard, despite the smile on his thin lips which didn’t reach his eyes, and was just a bit too narrow to be considered nice to look at.
It was obvious to anyone that the King was not God-Chosen and hadn’t been since he’d taken the throne. Tarik and Zafrira, with their light hair and eyes, were much closer to being God-Chosen than the King would ever be. The hair of a God-Chosen ruler was pure white and the eyes became such a light blue that they almost weren’t blue anymore. Such rulers were said to be touched by the very hand of the Creator himself.
It was part of the reason that Maelgad had finally gotten serious about getting rid of Fidelis. He, and everyone else, could clearly see that Fidelis’s hair was going white and his eyes were losing their blue color.
Following the King was Prince Cynfael. He wore robes very similar to what the King was wearing and a simple gold circlet, soon to be replaced by the more elaborate crown sitting on the velvet cushion by the throne and being watched over by two guards. Cynfael, as arrogant as ever, did nothing to hide the smug look on his handsome face and walked proudly toward where the King waited.
He knelt before the King, who began a lengthy speech which Derfel only paid enough attention to in order to file it away in his vault-like mind for later recovery, if necessary. Soon enough, Cynfael was spewing his empty oaths to the people of Astral and the Crown. The King motioned him to rise and ceremoniously placed the crown on his head. Cynfael turned and smiled at he crowd of nobles as they began cheering.
“LONG LIVE THE CROWN PRINCE! LONG LIVE PRINCE CYNFAEL!”
Derfel couldn’t bring himself to join in, but King Maelgad motioned him forward and they waited until the cheering had died down. Once it had, the King raised a hand and said grandly,
“Today, I also appoint my second son, Derfel, as the new Commander Prince. As soon as he is eighteen, he will officially take over, and until then, he will study in preparation for that day.”
The King produced a heavy gold ring, much like the Royal Crest Derfel already wore, except that this one held the seal of the Commander Prince. Maelgad slipped it onto Derfel’s left middle finger and held his hand high as the Hall was filled with cheering once more.
“LONG LIVE THE COMMANDER PRINCE DERFEL! LONG LIVE KING MAELGAD! LONG LIVE THE KING! ALL HAIL THE KING!”
Derfel looked up at his father, still holding his hand in the air, and wanted nothing more than to rip it away.
‘All hail the King?’ he thought, looking out over the crowd once more. ‘More like “all hail the Pretender, all hail the Betrayer, all hail the Murderer.” All hail the King? What King? The only thing I see is a snake charmer breeding a nest of vipers in a Kingdom that’s no more than a rotting corpse. Oh yes, you poisonous little cobras, all hail to your precious King. May he eat you all.’
A/N: I swear to you, it all has relevance. Nyte will show up again soon. All things will be revealed in time. :)
Thanks to everyone who's reading. I'm thrilled that you're all enjoying it so much. This story is kinda my baby so it makes me proud to hear it. :)
Till next chapter!