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The Kings Promise
“So the future seemed
To mingle with the past. For a short space
I saw revealed to the doubt the threads that bind
This little speck of time we call “To-day”
To the great cycle of unending life
That has been and that shall be evermore.”
“Truth is put down: reason is held a fable;
Virtue has now no domination,
Pity is exiled, no man is merciful.
Through greed men blind discretion;
The world has made such a permutation
Of right to wrong, truth to fickleness,
That all is lose for lack of steadfastness.”
-Lack of Steadfastness, Chaucer
Two bells tolled. One in the frigid northern region of Salzt and the other, in the luxurious capital of Linderservia. The bells rang, echoing each other in a time held unison, announcing the arrivals of two heirs. A time gap of seven years between the brass peals. The bell of Linderservia was rung three times, in a celebratory toll, proclaiming a son. Rejoicing took place simultaneously. The new mother smiled with satisfaction as her son was taken from her arms to be paraded through the crowded halls of her palace. The new father’s chest rose with pride as with quill in hand, he signed his first son’s birth right and inheritance. A rush of merriment echoed through every corner in the vast country, an heir of Linderservia had been born.
Hundreds of miles away seven years hence, Salzt there was also a rush of merriment in the land of Salzt, though not to Linderservia’s extravagant extent. A living child had finally been produced to secure Salzt’s forthcoming generation. Her cheeks were the pink of a blooming rose, her cry was strong, and her eyes were lit with lively innocence. The child’s mother smiled weakly as her babe was left to sleep in her arms. The father’s eyes glistened with subtle tears, mixed emotions running through his every limb. Finally, he and his queen had brought forth a living child, yet the subtle wrinkles at the sides of his eyes delivered slight distress. The child was not a son. The king’s throne could not boast a direct inheritor, something that could bring his country to demise.
The king of Salzt hid his worry and grinned in accordance to his wife’s joy. The queen felt the distress that the king had, but only for a brief moment. Her daughter was perfect in her eyes; the child’s good-health was all she wanted. The parents beamed with adoration as they cradled their daughter in silence and prayed for the good of her well-being.
Not soon after, the neighboring kings heard of each other’s fortune. Through written correspondence, they came to decisive terms on ending their tiresome skirmishes over the north-eastern lands. If a living son could not be produced, the northeastern lands would become one with Linderservia under an alliance of marriage to one of the Linderservian prince’s, for seven years had brought two. The opposing side to the alliance stated that if a Salzian inheritor were to be born, then the northeastern lands would belong to Salzt, but only if the marital alliance was still intact. Only if this alliance was asserted, would Linderservia’s immense army hold their arms and their king stop his ruthless border attacks. Thus, a sustainable sense of peace was obtained.
A CHRONICLE OF MY LAND AND THE KINGS PROMISE
By Master, Jared S. Cunningham,
Tutor of King Henry I of Linderservia.
For, my pupil, Henry, the Prince of Salzt
Oh, the land of Sancastria, the motherland to every Linderservian king that has breathed. Every Linderservian king pays homage in his heart. Every one makes his pledge to his ancestry from the sweet isle cupped by the sandy-handed shores of what were the independent lands of Hordenlind and Mudden. Upon its emerald sea, the isle still sits, home to the most earnest and sound.
The people of Sancastria lived their days merrily and humbly. They farmed their rich fruits and hearty vegetables; they kneaded their crust-less breads, and sang the songs of a happy people. Nothing, not even the ocean storms that raged upon their earthly homes, or the baking sun that dried their crops, could alter their spirit and ambitions for their future.
Powerful with life, Sancastria became, casting an envious shadow over the larger coastal civilizations of Hordenlind and Mudden. The peoples of the mainland began to lust for the Sancastria and the leisure it held, forcing the island dwellers to live in fear as they stormed and raged the island in a vain attempt to learn their blissful secrets. Raids increased and enveloped the Sancastrians into a fearful existence. Only when the word of another continent, belonging to neither Mudden nor Hordenlind, was rumored, did Sancastria strike out from its fear.
With a prevailing fist, Edward Linderserve the youngest Prince of Sancastria fought his way through the mainland with a loyal army at his side. He plunged through dark forests and dry desert lands, his thirst for finding the people of Sancastria a new home free from fear unquenchable. His men only spoke to him in whispers, his greatness outshining them all and one by one he attracted followers from all around. Wild men calmed, women buried in the ways of witchcraft left their brews behind them, and the children of the once feared Mudden and Hordenlind men, all came to Edward’s side.
Edward sank into the midst of hungry people, starving for a leader, and eager to follow him. His mission for a new home for his Sancastrian people on the rumored continent was paused and he drifted from it as year by year he grew more powerful and his grasp over the mainland toppled the strength of Hordenlind and Mudden’s power combined. Only age and the death of his wife stopped his determination to finish his duty to Sancastria entirely.
Sancastria turned its back on Edward, its people sickened by his abandonment of them. The people of Sancastria grew hostile and their happiness droned from anger. The land began to act as if it were a child whose only parent had left them to care for another.
As Edward and his descendants formed the empire of Linderservia, Sancastria shut its doors to the outside world. Mudden and Hordenlind deeply weakened and struggling to contain their own powers closed their doors as well. At last a final sense of peace within Sancastria and the mainland was created.
The pleasant blue of twilight presented itself, sneaking its way across the crisp winters’ evening sky. In the northern distance, the mountains of Salzt towered above a bank of snowy clouds, whilst across a solitary valley the green, snow-packed flats of Linderservia smoothed into gentle hills. Any signs of living life where held hostage beneath mounds of lightless snow, the snow tinted a simple azure by the sun’s sinking light.
Within the frozen valley, sat a castle, its years of loneliness constructed by greying stone, the hands that had resurrected it long stilled and resting in forgotten graves. The singular, rounded tower of the castle was topped with two flags, and played host to the flags owners, the royal children and the ministers of foreign affairs from both Salzt and Linderservia. The withered garrets of the castle roared with austere vivacity, their glassless windows pinned over with thick leather blankets to keep out the frozen air.
“It is too cold in here. I want to go home. Has winter ended yet? I want to go home,” Phillip the young Duke of Mudden, and future Duke of Sancastria, wailed, his high-pitched voice biting the room’s peaceful calm and infecting its inhabitants with instant annoyance.
“Come, come, little Phillip, we only arrived and you are here for good reason,” a nurse-maid with an unfortunately squared jaw and pair of extremely thin lips, cooed a she wrapped her arms around the sniveling boy.
“I hate it here! I hate it! I want to go home where the food is good and where my parents are. Take me home nanny! The people here are all wild, wicked, people! I hate them! Wild north people! ” Phillip cried into his nurse-maids shoulder, allowing her to rest him on her lap as she sat before the humble fire place.
Cassandra watched the ruthless boy as he his crimson red lips smiled mockingly at her, his smile widening the moment the nanny’s glance was averted from his plump face. Cassandra’s eyebrows creased and she stopped playing with the rag doll that occupied her pudgy hands. Henry, Prince Irony, the future king of Linderservia, watched her from across the room where he lay on his stomach, hunched over a book half his size. His boyish face creased with curiosity from an intrigued attempt in guessing the small princess’s reaction to his brother’s brashness.
“That was very rude,” Cassandra whispered curtly, the red roses in her cheeks growing into a fierce bloom.
“Nanny, the wench princess whispered something mean to me!” Phillip wailed again, forcing a fat tear from his glossy eyes.
“Philly! Where did you hear that word? No future Duke of Sancastria will ever say such a word under my arm,” the nanny scolded, pointing a sausage-like finger at Phillip’s pointed nose.
“Oh nanny, but she hurt my feelings! She whispered a truly nasty thing at me! She and her servants are so awful to me nanny!” Phillip whined shrewdly, cuddling deep into the nanny’s bosom, continuing his heartless jest.
Henry eyed his little brother with great dislike and then quickly returned his attention to Cassandra. Her small hands were clenched in tight fists, her eyes flickering with the hatred that children are cursed with on sudden occurrences of heated emotion. The redness in her round cheeks brightened and blended with the dark scarlet in her hair. She did not say anything; she only glared at the nanny and Phillip with hate. After a few minutes of heavy breathing, Cassandra straightened and adopted a fit of sadness as she fled the room.
“You have upset her!” Henry exclaimed, washing the look of triumph off Phillip’s face as he hastily slammed his book shut, “You know nothing of respect Phillip. We are in her land. Not ours. I am ashamed of having such a pet of a brother as you. A manipulative little dog.”
“My lord,” the nanny gasped, holding her young duke even more tightly in her unwavering arms, “You have no right to scold your brother. You must remember that you two are only young boys!”
“I may be yet a child, but I am not a child as he,” Henry remarked carefully and coolly, his eyes narrowing with his continuous disgust at his brother and the nursemaid’s superficial authority over the both of them, “That young girl is to be one of our wives. This visit was to see who would accompany her the most, not to mock her. No matter how childish the reason.”
The nanny’s eyes drifted from Henry and focused on her lap, as they always did when he was angered, for he frightened her when he was angry. His face always became remarkably still and unmoving with heated coldness and his eyes would flicker with resentment, even as a babe, they had. She shrunk her shoulders, feeling belittled by his unaltered gaze, and his powerful way of speech. Her heart raced and her body endorsed with further guilt as her young lord continued to cast a look of disapproval upon her, and then, without another word, slipped out of the room leaving a hint of beseeching power behind him.
Cassandra ran down the castle’s dark and narrow hallways, her breath staining the winter air with small bursts of fog. Her dropping tears froze into crystal balls and her finger tips grew purple from numbness as she scampered desperately to her mother’s chamber. The castle was beginning to grow dark and the winter night’s cold heathen was starting to spread throughout the ancient structure. Cassandra did not notice the cold, nor her tears; she did not even notice the castle’s ghosts that plagued her imagination during the night. All Cassandra desired was to be wrapped in her mother’s warm and comforting arms.
When the door to her mother’s chamber appeared, Cassandra let-out a cry and pushed the door open with all the strength her arms could offer. Cassandra inhaled the warmth that her mother’s fireplace was radiating and folded her hands gaily in the pleasure of seeing her mother’s figure seated in a moth-bitten chair. As the young princess exhaled the warm air dropped to a frigid degree, Cassandra went still with disappointment and her heart sank deep into her stomach.
The queen of Salzt had not noticed her daughter’s entrance. Draped in thick furs and bundled deep within the rotting armchair in which she sat, she held her sickly son. The baby’s face was wrinkled with the ill signs of fatigue and consumed all the love his mother had to give. Cassandra shamefully choked back her tears at the sight and pushed her way back into the dark and hurtful corridors of her company.
Henry, with the help of a dying candle, found Cassandra in the castle’s forgotten library not an hour later. The library stood windowless in the most northern corner of the castle, covered in dust and the ink in its books and scrolls faded from yellow neglect. The mangy, ill-lit room was Henry’s favorite. Everything about the room enchanted him, from the musty, unreadable books to the stained wooden trunk that stood stubbornly-locked in the smallest corner of the room. What enticed Henry the most out of all the aged materials the room had to offer, were the series of four small tapestries that hung between the series of oak book shelves and scroll slots.
At first, Henry felt territorial over Cassandra’s presence in his favorite nook, but as he studied her figure, which hand rounded into a tight ball, he began to feel something else entirely. His disappointment in his younger brother and nursemaid was still present in his expression, as much present as it was inside of him, and so was his pity for the young girl, but something about her trembling shoulders sparked a different feeling hidden in Henry’s being. Henry made his way towards Cassandra, whose head was buried deep within her knees, and very quietly, observed everything about her.
Cassandra’s first appearance upon greeting the arrival of his party had not impressed Henry, for she was a mere child. They were all children, but he had assumed that she was like his brother, young in mind, young in body, and mostly, young in soul. Her eyes had shone with piercing buoyancy that had irked Henry and that had annoyed him, their voluminous green depths made his confidence weaken. He had also found that the highlight of scarlet, a thing so rare in his homeland, in her dark auburn hair, was unreal and queer. Cassandra’s mannerisms radiated knowledge and a maturity far beyond her years, which irreverently wounded his pride and caused him to have a harsh judgment of her.
In that moment, all of Henry’s first judgment felt like a distant daze. Henry knelt by Cassandra’s side, placing his candle-holder on a nearby table. Seeing the girl in the midst of her youthful sorrow made him desperate to help her. The corners of his mouth shifted into a gentle frown of concern.
“You should not heed my brother’s words. He is a manipulative dog that does not know its place,” Henry advised in an assuring tone.
Cassandra did not move. She had felt his presence since he had arrived and has felt no need to respond to it, she wanted to be alone. No matter how much her distress urged her to shun the foreign prince and his family and run from the room, Cassandra did not feel that he was bothering her; nor soothing her for that matter. In fact, she felt as if she was obligated to listen to the young prince.
“He only does it for attention. All children do when they feel lonely. He was trying to upset you, to cause a scene, to make someone else hurt besides him,” Henry continued, eager to rouse Cassandra from her unmoving position.
Henry’s words touched Cassandra, more deeply than he had intended. She immediately thought of her new baby brother and how his presence had made her feel lonely. Her head flinched sideways and she opened her eyes, as she began to ponder what Henry had said. Not all children, Cassandra thought, I do not cry for attention, I only cry when I am hurt.
The library suddenly felt renewed and its old stuffy -stench transformed into a fragrant perfume of mildew, Cassandra wanted to hear Henry speak more. She looked up, finding Henry’s stormy eyes staring down at her. They pierced her and enthralled her, filling her with a sudden childish adoration. Her body, already so small, began to feel smaller as the corner of his lips subtly rose into a triumphant smile.
Cassandra’s teary eyes forced Henry to return the girl’s immediate adoration. Carefully, with his candle in one hand and Cassandra’s tightly held in his other, he helped the princess up. Henry felt an instant compulsion to cheer the princess and he did so by guiding her to the series of small tapestries on the opposing wall, inventing stories to go with each brightly embroidered image and holding her little-shaky hand shamelessly in his.
As Henry guided Cassandra to each tapestry and provided her with elaborate tales, a hallowed change within him began out of the austere feeling Cassandra had sparked. He allowed his mouth to create and his eyes to imagine his improvised stories, but his mind began to stir, and a desire that his long line of grandfathers had all possessed, moved excitably inside of him. The tapestries enlarged within his mind, they grew to gigantic proportions, glowing with untold secrets, the patches of thread and fabric creating a dream aspiring web. Henry’s heart raced as the human figures dressed in the yarns of Linderservia’s ancient colors configured into familiar identities.
Cassandra looked up at Henry, moved by his sudden silence; his mouth froze in mid-sentence as his hid tilted slightly to one the side. He backed away from the last tapestry, shook his head, and then looked down at Cassandra. Startled by the girl’s intent gaze, he guiltily looked away; he had the unexpected urge to write to his tutor, Jared. Jared would have answers for the questions about his ancestry that quite suddenly filled his thoughts. The fear that he had found a timeless and affectionate need for another person, begged his subconscious to provide him with a distraction.
“I must have these tapestries,” Henry professed allowed, his voice sounding heavy with intent and his fingers tightening around Cassandra’s, “Can I have them Cassandra? I know they belong to this castle and to your mother, but can I have them?”
“Why would you need them?” Cassandra inquired, moved by the shadow of distress that had crept across Henry’s face.
The shine in Cassandra’s eyes returned the same shine that had glinted when they had first seen Henry. Henry’s pride, again, felt as if it were damaged and caused his toes to shift uncomfortably in his boots. Henry’s first judgment of Cassandra replaced itself without trial. He looked Cassandra straight in the eye, the feeling of helplessly asking a child to negotiate to some ridiculously simple plan consuming him.
“Please? I must have them,” Henry pleaded, his voice strained and his forehead pulsing with want.
The light from Henry’s forgotten candle flickered between them, bouncing off of the room’s faded coloring, and reflecting their shadows across the floor. A gust of chilled-air rushed into the room as the foreign-affairs minister of Linderservia, Lord Arthur, opened the door. The two children, Henry standing in the early transformation of manhood, and Cassandra about to leave the age of reason, stared at the minister as if they had been caught stealing cakes from the castle’s kitchens.
“There you two are!” the minister roared, his voice low with paternal concern, “You two have had the entire castle for you,” as he said this, a rush of nervous voices swept through the corridor as servants called the children’s names, and upon seeing the children’s hands interlocked in a loose embrace he added, “Her royal majesty, the Queen of Salzt has turned ill from her worry. You two know that you are to always be in the presence of an elder. You have broken that rule.”
“We are sorry,” Henry apologized, standing tall and stepping protectively in front of Cassandra, her hand dropping harmlessly from his, “It was my fault. I had asked Cassandra to take me here. I had been wondering if she knew the stories behind the tapestries in here.”
Cassandra blushed and felt a wave of embarrassment hit her tear-stained face as Henry lied for her. She gawked at Henry with wonder, detecting a faint glimpse of boyish loyalty. His eyes had suddenly widened, causing him to look adolescently innocent. The look was not intended and the princess was too young to realize its earnest, but she admired it all the same.
Time passed and the snow packed valley began to thaw. Only the fickle snowflakes of winters last furies wisped here and there about the castle. Salzt’s relentless cold front rose high into the sky, welcoming the kindred elements of spring.
Henry had spent his last days at the castle hiding behind the tall bookshelves in the library. Whenever anyone entered in search for him, especially if it was Cassandra, he glued himself to the bookshelves wimpy surfaces in hope that he would not be seen. Cassandra had become too attached to Henry for his liking and his pride could not take her unfaltering confidence anymore. Not only that, but he wanted absolute privacy so he could admire the tapestries in awe.
Henry felt guilty, distancing himself from Cassandra, but he would be reconciled, for he felt that more pressing matters required his energies. Every day, he stood before the tapestries, his hands folded behind his back, and his eyes searching every bright thread, seeing the secrets that the tapestries held. The secrets woven into the tapestries soothed Henry’s nerves and he strongly felt that they had presented themselves to him for a reason.
Phillip and Cassandra were forced into a depleted companionship from Henry’s lack of presence, and the nursemaid became their superior as the queenly mother of Salzt spent her days bent over her son. Cassandra grew resentful of the black-haired boy, his almond shaped eyes always shinning with a devious plan. Phillip pulled at her hair whenever the nanny’s glance turned to her embroidery or he would grab her rag doll from her hands in the moments she was seeking consolation. The small boy abused her constantly with the sharp loveless words that spoiled boys can possess. Cassandra’s torment was so unbearable that she smiled for the first time that winter when it was time for Phillip and all of the Linderservian company to leave.
“I will report to my king, your highness,” Lord Arthur informed Cassandra’s mother, his hat tucked reverently underneath his arm, “thank you for your hospitality this winter.”
“Yes,” the queen sighed, “I will offer hospitality if you and your princes should ever need it,” the queen paused, looking down at her silent, but smiling daughter with discontent, “Now Cassandra, say farewell to Lord Arthur. He will be your minister someday, and say goodbye to the princes. Your future lies with them. Pay your respects.”
“Thank you Lord Arthur, for visiting,” Cassandra thanked quietly, her pleased disposition stunning the round man into a bow, feeling as if he were already being addressed by his future queen.
“Our pleasure,” Lord Arthur replied, rising from his obeisance and gesturing towards the princes.
Phillip stood in front of the nursemaid, scratching his nose with impatience. Henry gazed up at the cloudless sky, his arms securing his fur cloak around his chest. The lingering, late winter chill bit at his skin, but not to the extent of Cassandra’s betrayed stare. Cassandra only honored Henry with a small tilt of her head, making sure to avoid eye contact with him, for she earnestly felt betrayed, betrayed that he had comforted her and then pushed her into the plentiful, lonely, and hurtful hours spent with Phillip that she had suffered.
The queen wrapped her arms around her daughter as they watched the Linderservian party leave, disappearing into the lush spring green lands of their country. Cassandra held fast to the affection her mother was suddenly showing, drinking its appearance greedily. Her smile widened, for now she was alone with her mother and the princes had left from her sight. Now, she and her mother could travel back to the king’s palace further north. There, she had friends, and her own Salzian nursemaid could look after her brother. The melting snow felt as if it were turning into water below her very feet, melting from her happiness.
Cassandra was prepared. Her carriage and luggage packed ready for departure in the castle’s courtyard, and her emotions were holding together by a thread. She stood at her bedchamber’s balcony, her hands gripping around the balcony’s jagged rail. Her tense, dark-green eyes, stared longingly at the mountains she had always thought to be hers.
The mountains towered in the distance, the sun’s rising pink light glistened on their snow covered peaks like melting crumbs of pink sugar. Cassandra squeezed her eyelids shut, saying a final goodbye to her home. The time had finally come.
“Are you ready my dearling?” the queen of Salzt whispered into her daughter’s ear, wrapping her brittle arms around Cassandra’s waist.
“Yes mother, I am ready,” Cassandra replied softly and slowly, wanting her words to stop time, wanting them to take as much time as they could.
“Just think of me and your grandmothers. We have all gone to marry men in far countries. You are not the first, remember that,” the maternal highness comforted, gently caressing Cassandra’s pale cheek.
“I will try,” was all that Cassandra could say, her emotions desperate to rip through the mental wall that she had constructed.
“ And remember that your children may not have to do this, for Linderservia will have certainly taken over the rest of the continent by the time your daughters are grown,” the mother’s sickly face darkened, her eyes now glued to the pink mountains ahead of them with a sense of loss and dread.
“Mother, don’t say that. Please,” Cassandra cried, embracing the queen tenderly, “Salzt will always be here. I will make sure of that, and remember my brother, he is still alive.”
“Barely, Cassandra. Without you to help me support your brother, I do not know what I will do,” the queen began frantically, but then, seeing the hurt in her daughters eyes, continued sensitively, “What am I saying? Enough of this, enough of this despair. I think your father would have been proud of us, and he would have been proud of you.”
“He would have been most proud of you mother. You have served well as queen and regent, even through your ill health,” Cassandra said this with such care, that her mother could only stare into her daughters eyes with the deepest of love, the love that only mother’s possess.
The queen and Cassandra stood in one another’s arms, watching the sun rise to the top of the Salzian peaks. The sun shone in mid-summers brilliance, spreading crisp warmth through the mountainous landscape. Cassandra inhaled her last breaths of the pine-scented air with dignity, holding her mother with growing strength.
“Your Majesty and Princess Cassandra,” the crooked nose minister of Salzian foreign affairs called fervently, tipping his worn-brown hat in an obedient bow.
“It is time,” Cassandra uttered in her mother’s ear as she took her hand and led her past the minister, who quickly eyed the mountains before him, and followed.
Cassandra took in her home with her every step, admiring everything that she passed with sentiment. The dreary square-cut stonewalls never looked more beautiful, nor the limp tapestries and craftily framed portraits. Even the grim-faced servants, whom had always served their masters with undying loyalty, seemed to show a hint of emotion as they watched Cassandra pass them for a final time.
The minister followed the queen and Cassandra with anxious haste, his silver-buckled shoes tapping impatiently against the stone floors. He watched the bride to be say farewell to her friends in the vast grey stone courtyard strumming his fingers together, drumming an anxious beat. Her small handful of companions cried, but Cassandra stood tall, confident that she would see them all again in a matter of time. The minister’s crooked lips simpered for a brief moment, but then rose into a sly smile; for he knew that she would never return to her birthplace of see her friends again.
From his carriage’s window, the minister sat readily, waiting for Cassandra to bid her brother farewell. The sickly prince had hobbled insipidly into the courtyard, attendants supporting every inch of his body, to say a final goodbye. He smiled his handsomest of smiles, forcing himself to appear well and fit to rule to please his sister. Cassandra kissed her brother and mother on the cheek one last time and then with the aid of the humble guards, who were to accompany the minister and Cassandra on their voyage, was seated in her personal carriage.
The wagon ad carriages clicked to a start and rumbled down the slopping pass of the tallest Salzian peak, on which the royal’s primary castle was constructed. As the carriage and wagon drivers cautiously guided their horses down the mountain’s slopping side, both Cassandra and the minister gazed out of their carriage windows. The minister looked out with a sense of relief, relieved that all was coming to a beginning. He watched the passing trees, embracing the object of each one with eagerness and anticipation.
Cassandra stared out her window with a whirlwind of emotion- excitement, loneliness, and dread. Both of the travelers had one thing in common in their stares, and that was the deep esteem for the dark green hues that surrounded them and the tall green forests that they could both call their home. Only, Cassandra’s stare, was brimmed with remorse.
The days passed in solitude. Birds sang and forest animals hid in the shadows of the wooded mountain sides. Though the carriages clanged consistently, breaking nature’s quiet seclusion, the world felt as if it were motionless to Cassandra. She ached with realization the further from her home she went, the realization that she was soon to be on her own and the day she had been awaiting since she could remember was finally arriving whether she felt ready or not.
Cassandra gazed at a small portrait Lord Arthur has sent her, a portrait of her future husband. He looked Linderservian, strongly built, tall, and had the narrow, but defined jawline that was prominent within his family. The only thing that appeared unique about the young prince was his eyes. In the portrait, Cassandra could not tell if his eyes were a dark blue or if the artist has accidentally splashed them was a clumsily mixed shade of grey. It puzzled her, as did the prince’s thoughtful expression. Cassandra frowned in thought for a brief moment, bitterly remembering him from the winter he had spent with her years ago, then as if she had tired from his face, put the portrait down and slept.
News had reached Salzt only days before Cassandra’s departure, that Henry, Prince Irony, heir to the Linderservian throne, had claimed her as his. Cassandra was relieved, that she was not going to be forced to marry the crude and obnoxious duke whose memory she had grown to resent. Yet, her relief was not satisfying, for she did not necessarily want to wed Henry either. The Henry who had appeared to care for her, had served as a soother, then who had betrayed her comfort by distancing himself years ago during the winter visit, was still what Cassandra pictured him to be.
A loud banging on the carriage’s side filled Cassandra’s ears and tore her from her restless sleep. The door opened and a guard held out his hand. The night was dark and moonless, as if fate was predicting this night to be the beginning of a period of trial, a trial that would end in certain death. The girl followed her guards and the tired minister to an old castle, whose un-kept walls appeared to be crumbling within their sights.
Cassandra paused; admiring the stoic castle’s withering beauty and familiarity. She had stayed in the castle, it had been the very one that the winter visit with the Linderservian princes had taken place in. A chill ran through Cassandra’s body as the visit replayed in her memory once again.
For a brief spurt of time, Cassandra forced herself past her resentment towards Henry and focused on actually remembering him. Henry, she recalled, he had begun the journey into becoming a young man. The timing of their first meeting was very untimely in many senses, but neither of them seemed to have mind, Cassandra didn’t mind simply because she was too young to. Henry had seen the young Cassandra as a child companion, someone to observe and simply had to tolerate. Whilst Cassandra, viewed Henry as an idol, someone to only follow and listen to, until he had so quickly decided distanced himself. Their maturity levels had not been equal in any sense.
“Cassandra?” the minister inquired, staring at the young woman’s bothered gaze with annoyance.
“Sorry, I was only thinking of the last time I had been here,” Cassandra apologized, gesturing for the guards to continue moving, for they had stopped the moment Cassandra had ceased movement.
“Ah, yes, this is where you met the Prince Irony, four years before your father’s, his majesty’s, most sudden and unfortunate death.”
“Yes Minister, that is it,” Cassandra murmured, staring down at the dirt pathway.
The handful of servants keeping the castle took in the travelers with hospital arms; they feed them a feast of venison, freshly molded goat cheese, wild cherries, and wine from the south of Linderservia. After dining, the small party went to bed. Cassandra was given the same room she had stayed in during her the winter visit. The room’s simple furnishings surrounded her with the memories that she dreaded the most, even if the servants had endeavored in restoring it.
Somewhere within the castle, was the old library, Cassandra could still see it in her mind. She could remember that the room was draped with tapestries, ancient tapestries whose meanings had been long lost, quite vividly. Cassandra also remembered that Henry had been known to stare at them, he became infatuated with them and the hidden story that they possessed.
Henry’s infatuation had caused him to distance himself, Cassandra had concluded, it was nothing personal. She could vaguely remember walking in on him admiring them one day. The curious tone of her young voice was still audible in her memory and his stern response, telling her that she was too young to understand, still caused her heart to flutter with disappointment. Cassandra had snapped back at him, her infantile temper getting the best of her, but then soon forgot her interest.
Now Cassandra’s interest was at its peak. She slipped out of her dusty bed, lit the stubby candle at her bedside and slipped out of her room. Her feet wondered the familiar hallways, but could not lead her to the room with the tapestries. All the arched doors were locked, and many hallways were untouched by human presence. With regret and a melting candle that was flickering its last light, Cassandra was forced back into her austere room, where she would lay awake for the rest of the evening.
The rest of the journey abounded with boredom. The mountains slowly transformed into wide brushy hills and the hills transformed into gentle glens, home to thin and airy trees. Watching the transformation of the land was the only thing that passed as entertainment. In the northeast, the outline of jagged, snow-capped peaks could be seen; a fat collection of white fluffy clouds hoarding them as their own.
As she looked up at peaks, the thought of the northeast triggered a twist in Cassandra’s stomach. The northeast was the reason for her fate. The twist in Cassandra’s stomach increased and she looked at the breath-taking view with vengeful aversion.
Nights were spent at aging castles, whose existence had nearly been forgotten, or at the spartan homes of various nobles who had agreed to housing Cassandra when the alliance had first been signed. Many towns, both the quaint mountain villages and industrious towns near the Salzian-Linderservian border, cheered during Cassandra’s passing. Rarely, an unseen rebel or peasant would not cheer, but would stand quietly, eyeing the richly built covered wagons, with a hating eye. The young bride, blind to the sparse hatred subtly intertwined with the obvious excitement, greeted the cheers with an imperious smile and judging gaze, a gaze that caused her people to praise her and to feel an immediate obligation to her.
The Linderservian landscape began to loom continuously into Cassandra’s sight at the end of a fortnight. The long, lush-hills scattered with tree groves and orchards, reflected a new shade of sunlight. Unlike the crisp pinks and purples that were seen over the Salzian morning skies, the skies of Linderservia were warm and brushed their surroundings with oranges and gold. The air felt thicker and was coated with a faint wetness, something that Cassandra had never felt before.
Cassandra released a croak that had been resting her throat for several days due to a sudden rush of dismay as the official and famous Linderservian border appeared in her carriage’s rectangular window. The border was known from the west to the east, for it was naturally drawn. A deep crevice in the land marked the end of Salzt, the crevice was said to trail along the entire border, north to south, only ending at the edge of the northeastern lands.
A small caravan of silk blue tents could be seen, their tops flagged with the white Linderservian lily. Gold silk linings traced the tents round rims, as if flashing the country’s growing wealth, for all the land to see. The carriages halted before the crevice, which the Linderservian guards lined at its edge, their swords at hand and their faces rigid with hostility.
“Do not speak unless you are spoken to,” the minister mumbled from the corner of his mouth as, with their own guards at their sides, they neared the narrow crevice.
“Welcome Princess Cassandra of Salzt, and my humble minister,” an ostrich-like woman strained her voice in greeting as she curtsied deeply to the ground.
Cassandra raised her eyebrows in interest, stunned by the woman’s luxurious dress and the elegance of the Linderservian guard’s uniforms. The guards wore chainmail, but it was very light and only reached an inch past their waists. They wore silk blue tunics, much like the tents, and tight pants that were accompanied with stiff-metaled knee-high boots. Their thin silver helmets glistened in the sunlight, and hid any detail of their faces. Cassandra glanced at her guards, whose chainmail reached their knees and their dark purple tunic’s thick-woven material, with pity. Even the swords of the Linderservian guards twinkled more than those of the Salzian; they even appeared to be more advanced and stylized for combat. Noticing the grandeur of the Linderservians, the minister seemed to cower into a deep responsive bow. Cassandra only bowed her head in greeting, not succumbing to the advancement of the Linderservians material produce.
“My lady, you have, alas, arrived,” the ostrich woman crooned, the strain in her voice increasing as a gush of wind rushed through the thick air and caused the feather that adorned her piled hair to bobble back-and-forth, “I am your Confident, Lady Vanderburr. Take my hand, for I will assist you across the crevice.”
Cassandra stared at the narrow, shallow crevice, overgrown with green grasses, then nodded, allowing the lanky woman to take her hand. With one step and a heavy breath, Cassandra stepped across it. She looked back and smiled at the minister and her guards with encouragement. The minister nodded and receded towards his carriage.
“Are you not coming minister?” Cassandra called fretfully, pulling her hand from Lady Vanderburr’s.
“Were you not told my lady? Only you are allowed to pass into Linderservia. It is a matter of ceremony,” Lady Vanderburr informed Cassandra knowingly, shocked that the princess had not been prepared.
“What of my belongings? How are they to be brought across?” Cassandra demanded.
“They are not my lady,” Lady Vanderburr apologized vainly, harshly judging Cassandra’s confused expression.
Cassandra simply nodded, knowing that there was nothing more to say on the matter. A tear of sudden despair began to find its way in Cassandra’s vision, she rubbed it quickly, pushing it back, and gave a glance of farewell to the minister. The minister smiled with a slithery pride, suggesting that he had finally sold a masterpiece that he had been crafting for lifetime. Cassandra smiled in return and followed the Lady Vanderburr into a tent.
“The journey will only take two days, to the capital. We are to begin this morning, once you have signed these papers and have been dressed properly,” Lady Vanderburr apprised Cassandra, with a sense of superiority and in the Linderservian language. Cassandra hesitated, translating the Linderservian inside her head. She had been taught Linderservian, but only within the past three years and suddenly it had seemed to escape her knowledge.
“Yes,” Cassandra responded after a moment of uncertainty.
“Do you not know Linderservian?”
“I do,” Cassandra responded confidently, the language returning to her memory, “It is simply new to me.”
“I see, well as your Confident, I strongly advise that you brush-up on it on the journey home, for no other language will be spoken on and in lands of Linderservia.”
Cassandra cringed, instantly disliking her Confident. She disliked the entire position of a Confident, who was a woman assigned by the king to be her personal servant. A Confident was more than a servant, she was a teacher, preacher, educator, instructor, and advisor tied into one package. She was supposed to guide the future queen and prepare her for her queenly duties, which mostly consisted of child bearing and leading the women of the court in fashion and etiquette. It all was ridiculous to Cassandra and became even more tedious as Lady Vanderburr continued to instruct her, guiding her into a tent.
“This is our minister of foreign affairs and alliances, Lord Arthur. He is the husband of his majesty, the king’s sister Princess Phillipa Elizabeth and father of the Earl of Hordenlind and Lady Louisa Linderserve who is the under-Confident and who will be your personal companion. Lady Louisa Linderserve is a cousin to his lordship, Prince Irony.”
“Welcome to Linderservia my lady, we have met before of course,” the plump Lord Arthur greeted, fingering a thin stack of documents in one hand and an inked quill in the other. His face had aged drastically from what Cassandra could remember of it, it now sagged and his eyebrows had turned a starkly grey.
“Thank you Lord Arthur,” Cassandra replied politely, “and thank you for sending me the portrait of Prince Irony.”
Lord Arthur stood impressed by the young girl. Her eyes were unreadable and her face was a type of beauty he had never seen before. The little girl he had seen ten years before, was gone. She took after her mother, he decided, for no true Salzian could have passed such a compatible complexion down to her. Lord Arthur marveled over the vividness of deep red in Cassandra’s hair, it so deep that it appeared to be brown at a first glance. For a long minute, only the wind beating against the tents made any noise, as Lord Arthur continued to admire the Salzian princess.
“You must sign these papers, they are the original papers of the alliance,” Lord Arthur finally spoke, nonchalantly and laying the yellowed documents with the quill on a cherry wood desk.
Cassandra took the quill, and thumbed through the papers. Her heart beat slowly and her expression softened at the sentimental sight of her father’s simple signature on each of the papers. One by one she signed the documents after reading them, to insure that they proclaimed what she had been told they did.
“Thank you my lady,” Lord Arthur thanked, bowing his head, and only straightening once Lady Vanderburr had led Cassandra to another tent.
“We are to dress you according to the fashion of our court, and as I stated before, you are not permitted to have anything from your home according to custom. You are now Cassandra, Princess Irony,” Lady Vanderburr chirped sourly, taking note of Cassandra’s simple cotton dress.
Three dressing servants stood by a full length mirror at the back of the dressing tent. They wore simple gray dresses and only moved at the command of Lady Vanderburr. Cassandra tensed as Lady Vanderburr ordered them to undress her.
“I can undress myself,” Cassandra objected, as the women began to undress her with rough movements, pulling at her as if she was a chicken being feathered for dinner.
“That is not a custom here Princess Irony,” Lady Vanderburr snapped coldly with impatience.
“Please, call me Cassandra, or my lady,” Cassandra insisted, trying to befriend her Confident.
“That is unacceptable Princess Irony.”
“It means the same thing to me, it is just not as formal. It is simply my name.”
“You must accept the fact that our court is very different from yours Princess Irony. I have heard enough on the topic.”
Lady Vanderburr had been raised in the hands of lawful, successful, and noble parents, the nobility in her family was so ancient that her family never needed doctrines or documentations to prove their sustainable knighthood. Belonging to one of the most prestigious families in Linderservia had made Lady Vanderburr very prideful and a martinet to the oldest of costumes. Anyone, even if it was the queen of Linderservia, who dared to break the simple etiquettes of the court, was immediately disliked. From this moment to the end of Lady Vanderburr’s life, she would never approve of Cassandra, for she could foresee, that Cassandra would cause her many distresses and never obtain the court’s mannerisms.
The stead-fast glances of the guards wavered as they observed their future queen. Her figure, tightly corseted in a dark purple riding dress, caught their lustful eyes. She walked confidently past them as they unhitched the tents, sending them to cower over their work. Lady Vanderburr’s appearance shrunk next to the young girl’s, her greying hair and drooping chin causing her to look three times her actual age.
“I assume that you can ride a horse Princess Irony?” Lady Vanderburr asked inquisitively as she led Cassandra to a chocolate-brown mare.
“Yes,” Cassandra responded as she used the assistance of Lord Arthur’s coarse hands to pull herself onto the mare.
“Very good. I will ride behind you. We don’t like using carriages or wagons here, you see, there is no need to. People of rank are meant to be seen, not hidden in boxes strung atop of wheels.”
“How pleasant, for I do love fresh air. The air in carriages gets so musty, but then again carriages and covered wagons are useful in Salzt, since it snows all but four months during the summer.”
“Oh,” Lady Vanderburr simpered stubbornly at her failed attempt to wound Cassandra’s pride, “well, fortunately, we do not have that issue here in wonderful Linderservia.”
The journey to the capital of Linderservia felt twice as long then the journey to the border to Cassandra. Lord Arthur would engage her in conversation on occasion, but tended to ride with the military general at the head of the party. Lady Vanderburr only spoke of fashionable etiquette and answered any of Cassandra’s questions or attempts at conversation with cold responses.
The countryside stretched unchanging for miles, the subtle hills were home to small occasional woodlands, but mostly vineyards and orchards. Towns were scattered, but overwhelmed with people. The Linderservian towns and countryside buzzed with life, all of which were occupied by various military unites sent to protect and assert the king’s laws.
The people bowed as guards pushed them aside to make way for the travelers in towns and on the road. If a worker did not stop working or a child stop playing, the hilts of a guard’s sword found its way into their side, carefully nudging them into a bow. No one smiled as they had in Salzt; their faces only echoed the seriousness of the imperious Linderservian culture. Even the richly colored fabrics that dressed the towns did not brighten them.
During the night, they camped. Cassandra, Lady Vanderburr, and Lord Arthur had private tents, all of which could have housed their entire party. Dinner was served in a dining tent by the same three grey-suited maids. After a silent dinner, everyone would go to bed; all accept the guards who would watch every shadow that drifted through the night.
After a breakfast of dry baked, blue-berry bread and a crisp morning-ale, the journey continued. Cassandra, with great effort, held herself high, impressing everyone who saw her. Though her thighs ached from her mare’s constant jostling sides and she had to force down consistent, tired, yawns, she knew she had to appear strong and tireless. Her future people’s judgment mattered, for someday she would be there queen. The fact that she was to be the Linderservian queen moved her and caused her thighs to ache furthermore.
By the early evening of the second day in Linderservia, the famous stone wall and the rooftops of the Linderservian capital could be seen peaking underneath the suns setting rays. The cream-stone buildings were all highlighted in the warm sunlight, shining with wealth. All of the bustling within the city echoed through the stretch of flat land that entrapped it, ringing into a harmony that was stunning.
The military general, who had been at the head of quaint group, rode ahead to the northern gate of the walled city to alert its guards. As the travelers approached, the gate swung open, its opening sucking them into the city’s busy warmth. A main cobble-stone road welcomed them, which was lined with townspeople and courtiers alike, anxious to see the face of their future queen. In the far distance, in sight of the gate, the palace’s gold gates and fountained courtyard could be seen swarming with life.
Cassandra wrinkled her nose as the stench of the living city slowly aired through the opened gate. Lady Vanderburr clucked her tongue, insulted by Cassandra’s look of disgust, and gestured that Cassandra lead the way. Cassandra nodded in response and gently kicked her mare, moving it forward.
The courtiers whispered, creating a subtle rippling murmur over the main street. Men tilted their heads and raised their eyebrows in response to Cassandra’s defined features and youthful radiance. Women hit their vigilant husbands and whispered critical observations in each other’s ears.
Peasants and the people of the working class stared vigorously, curious as to the young girl’s demeanor. Many opened their jaws or jerked their head back in surprise, for they had been expecting the princess to be homily like many of Salzians were rumored to be. Cassandra’s determined expression lit a hopeful sensation within the peasantry, a sensation that offered Cassandra an immediate loyalty.
Far from the main gate, a set of clouded blue eyes gazed out of a palace window. Henry stood in his dimly lit room, one hand pulling aside a satin curtain and the other folded behind his back. His forehead was creased in thought, and his eyebrows sat close to his searching eyes. The bottom half of his face was impassive as the hand behind his back thoughtlessly pulled at the back of his embroidered jacket.
“Your royal majesty,” Jared Cunningham, called softly from Henry’s doorway.
“I see her Jared,” Henry snapped, startled from Jared’s presence.
“I advise that you change into your finer evening wear to greet her my lord,” Jared encouraged, folding his withered hands behind his back, a mannerism that Henry had adopted from him long ago.
“Of course,” Henry said in a low tone, detaching himself from the window.
Jared nodded and assisted the prince into a set of dark red evening clothes. To cover his un-kept hair, Henry adjusted a black hat to the side of his head and fingered the dark plum that was assorted off its center. He encircled his neck with the densely-chain medal medallion signifying his position and rank, a gleaming coin showing that the title of “Irony”, inheritor of the throne, was his.
“Very good Prince Henry,” Jared complimented grimly.
“Thank you Jared,” Henry said heavily, his forehead still bent in deep thoughtful folds.
“Are you nervous my lord?”
“Nay, not nervous,” Henry replied, firmly turning his back from Jared, leaving his room, and descending towards the main courtyard.
No land could or can be compared to that of Salzt. Its worn peaks, the remnants of earthly time, pierce the air with an overbearing sense of beauty. No Linderservian king has ever dared to hope that the peaks would truly, someday be his, not only because of their far distance and impassable mounds of sharp rock, but because the peak’s people were the only ones to know the land’s secrets.
King Edward I of Linderservia did not know of Salzt or her people until the end of his days. Only then, when he was feeble minded and losing strength, did the Salzians choose to appear. Their supremely fair skin and green eyes, which always sat below pairs of curved eyebrows, tied into a foreign existence, an existence that caused the Linderservians to feel mystified. The ways of the Salzians puzzled King Edward I and his people, the Salzians quiet demeanor and subtle ways of living stirred their fear, immediately creating an undying distrust.
There was not a war, to many Linderservian’s disappointment. There had been expected to be, but there wasn’t. The Salzians established their border, overnight, their king and army hidden deep within the mountains. Within days after King Edward had established his capital and outlined the makings of new villages, Salzt had a capital as well, and villages built on both, rugged mountain passes and at the base of snow-capped peaks.
The neighbors did not embrace one another, but did not scorn one another; they grew to be indifferent of one another’s existence as time began to pass. Hostility flowered in the Linderservians only out of arrogance and the Salzians lack of attention towards them. Centuries passed with little contact, the Linderservians too concentrated on developing their own country and attempting to take over Hordenlind.
During this state of time, Linderservia’s blooming beginnings, Edward’s son Alberforth the Great, imprinted the country with a fate that would reoccur over time. Alberforth was known for his determination and aesthetically pleasing face. It was a face that every future queen would hope their sons would inherit, a face that they hoped their husband’s would possess.
Alberforth’s mother, whose beginnings and place of birth are unknown to this day, had been from a small isle in the farthest northern coast of Salzt. How Edward I acquired her, has never been stated, it appeared to have merely happened out of nonexistence. She was a woman that poets reflected on in adoring stanzas and lute players sang from their own voices. Her hair was a shade of gold, not bright, not white, not yellow, but gold. It was a color unknown to the Linderservians, a color that intrigued them. They had only known browns and reds, colors of the earth. Her eyes were of the same disposition; they were wide and home to a shade of blue that was unseen. They too were not bright, but were a shade of the ocean’s sapphire grey.
Hark! Mine queen doth call!
The seas that surround me,
are those of her eyes.
They storm and rage,
but are held with the heavens finest smile.
Her people call her a gift from the stars,
but she is rather a gift from the sea.
A sea far away and held with secrets,
ready to be told.
Hark! My queen doth call!
Here influence too many, appeared to be nothing significant, only that of beauty and the creator of the production of small chants, like the one above. How little the early Linderservians knew, for her mysterious blood would create generations of want and the inability to stay still in the future kings. Some would blunder, unsure of what they were looking for, and others conquer neighboring lands only too loose them in the realization that they were looking for another land. A land far away. Alberforth was the first of these kings; his mother was not only imprinted on his appearance, but was tarnished in his soul.
“Prepare yourself Duchess, here comes the Salzt Wench,” Phillip, the future Duke of Sancastria, whispered into the Duchess of Mudden’s small ear.
The Duchess of Mudden smiled coyly, her lips curving into the smooth outline of two crescent moons.
“I prepared myself long ago my lord, when Henry made the announcement. Have you met with Richard? My old friend from Mudden?” the Duchess replied coolly, her eyes glinting with catty desire.
“Oh you are cunning and I cannot thank you enough. Yes, yes, I met him,” The duke smirked, stroking the Duchess waist with hidden sensuality as his wife neared them.
“There you are,” Leona cried sharply, a pang of jealousy piercing her heart seeing her husband aside the well-figured and capturing Duchess of Mudden, “Come Philly, we are to stand at the entrance of the palace with your family.”
“Of course,” Phillip sighed, rolling his eyes and giving the Duchess of Mudden a subtle wink before taking his wife’s arm and leading her through the crowd.
Jared Cunningham hid himself behind a woman’s squared skirt as Phillip passed, not in the mood to receive the typical snide remarks that he consistently received from Phillip. The thick perfume of the woman of whom Jared was hiding behind caused Jared to sneeze violently, but his cover remained until Phillip had passed. With a relieved sigh and a horrified look from the woman, Jared made his way through the densely populated courtyard and to the front of the narrow walkway reserved for the incoming princess’s arrival.
Jared, with his arms set behind his back as they always where, stood on his tip-toes and craned his neck to see over a woman’s elaborately decorated hair. Fans, waving in the pearly-white-gloved hands of the woman courtiers blocked his view as they gushed quick bursts of cool air in the summer’s heat. Women puffed with scorn at Jared’s eager clamor through their hooped dresses. Jared clumsily shuffled his way to a spot in front of the unorganized rows of heavily scented and richly adorned people, his black shoes poking out into the walkway.
Jared’s first glance of Cassandra was the only glance that received her correctly. He saw her beauty, but then quickly observed something far more significant, her forced confidence. To the rest of the courtiers, she appeared to be majestic and her rare beauty pierced them, denying them of speech. Only Jared saw Cassandra’s erect posture lacking sustainable confidence, and her easy slide from atop her horse as release of nervous aptitude. What truly stunned him, other than her proportioned features, fitted body, and rich hair color, were her eyes. As Cassandra passed him, he got a clear glimpse of the emotionless gaze that her eyes beheld. Their dark emerald pools, only flitted to the palace and then to the people who gawked at her, they never hesitated and stared freely at anyone who dared to make eye contact.
The Duchess of Mudden, along with many other women- though not to her extremity, was bitten by overwhelming self-consciousness. The duchess’s crescent moon lips became full as they pinched with hate. Suddenly, her cool and confident disposition was replaced with fiery resentment. The Salzian wench was not a wench, but a radiant young girl who already had the stance of a queen. The Duchess’s hands went white as they pulled at her flamboyant skirts and before she could restrain herself, she smiled her coy smile, breathing all the air that her pinching corset and jewel incrusted bodice could allow, ready to utter the insult she had prepared for when the princess passed.
“Go back to your home, Salzt wench,” the Duchess of Mudden cooed icily, her voice barely audible.
Cassandra stopped. She turned towards the Duchess of Mudden, unaware of whom the Duchess was or were she stood. Jared’s observation of her inexpressive eyes did not change, if anything, the lack of emotion grew stronger. The Duchess, expecting to feel the rush of satisfaction she had been awaiting from the effect of her words, only felt a chill as she met Cassandra’s unfaltering gaze.
No one knew, but the observers within the area, what had occurred. The courtyard fell completely silent, curious eyes straining to see why the princess had stopped. Those who had observed the incident bit their tongues, putrefied by the Duchess and shocked by Cassandra’s apathy.
“Salzt wench? Is that the best you can welcome me with?” Cassandra inquired, fully expecting the duchess to respond, but she didn’t.
Cassandra smiled, her long mouth lengthening into a pleasant upturned camber as she pushed aside the insult with all her moral will. Her smile sent a wave of assurance through the onlookers, and the royal family, who sat in curiosity out of view on the palaces front steps. The duchess shifted her gaze to the finely paved ground, recoiling from Cassandra’s youthful vivacity.
Henry’s first judgment from the winter he had spent with the Salzian princess, still lingered. In fact, it hadn’t changed, he even continued to feel the twinge of unswerving guilt he felt whenever he thought of Cassandra. He stiffened, seeing the top of Cassandra’s growing closer.
As Cassandra came fully into sight, Henry was forced back into his fourteen year old mind; once again, her demeanor broke his stability and inner-confidence. Henry scowled with distaste, as he quickly recollected his self-esteem. Suddenly, he began to wonder if his decision had been a good one, if choosing this Salzian princess had been the right choice. Henry clenched his jaw assuring himself, reminding himself of the purpose he had chosen Cassandra as his bride.
The king smiled, upon seeing the future queen bow in front of him. The rest of the royal family, except for Phillip who only went pale from jealousy that his brother had such a beautiful bride, shared the king’s instant satisfaction. The king, had he been any younger or any older, would have looked at Cassandra with the prompt resentment that many Linderservian’s sank to at the sight of a Salzian.
“May I present the Princess Irony, Cassandra of Salzt,” Lord Arthur chimed, swaying his arms graciously towards Cassandra.
“Ah, but now she is Linderservian minister,” the king sighed fondly, reaching his hand-out for Cassandra’s.
Cassandra looked up at the king with a sudden pulse of affection, admiring his tightly aged skin and the calmness in his expression. His smile reminded her of a lazy dog, whose days had passed in hardship and its animal instinct long accustom to the ways of the world. Cassandra bowed her head, feeling a daughterly respect to the old king.
“Now, may I present, the heir to my throne, and your future husband,” the king pronounced, taking Cassandra’s arm into his own and turning her towards Henry.
Cassandra acknowledge Henry, her quiet and indifferent character suggesting that he was a mere statue being presented to her as a gift from the sculptor himself, the king. She attempted to hide the resentful grudge that still lingered in her judgment of Henry, but failed, and he could feel it. They glanced at each other, thoughtfully and inquisitively, then in unison, turned to the king, awaiting words of guidance.
“Are you so shy, so suddenly my son that you cannot take your bride into your arms? Maybe Phillip should any your place for his is shaking with envy, awe, but only if he wed not two weeks ago,” the king joked loudly, causing a ripple of laughter in the attentive crowd, then he kissed Cassandra’s cheek, “I guess we must send you back dearest girl.”
Cassandra laughed a full-hearted laugh, receiving a scolding glare from Lady Vanderburr who was stifling her laugh behind her kid-gloved hands. Henry’s face grew warm with embarrassment; he forced an uneasy smile, and then took Cassandra from his father’s arm. Phillip smirked from behind Henry, his arms crossed in a tight fold.
“Why my fatherly king, I beg of you, please do not send her away. Or I think we should elope and leave Phillip the throne,” Henry cried, bidding to return his father’s joking mood.
The crowd roared with laughter, sending a violent shade of scarlet into Phillip’s long and pale cheeks. For everyone in the grandiose group knew Phillip’s strife in gaining a precedent right to the throne and his envy of his brother. They also knew of Henry’s ambitions and that he would never leave his right to the throne, especially for something as simple as love. The king laughed and so did the rest of his family, all but Phillip.
Cassandra blushed, feeling Henry’s lose grip on her arm. It was a grip of possession, there was no sentiment in it. Her laugh was as uneasy as the smile Henry had held for a brief second. As he let go of her arm, everything about his appearance suggested indifference, an observation that court would whisper about for months.
“Oh we should not kid so,” the king’s sister, Princess Phillipa Elizabeth objected, sharing a scornful glance with Lady Vanderburr, “If I may remind you my brother, of your queen.”
Cassandra watched as a remorseful silence spread through the courtyard. The king’s eyes darkened into an ominous black and Henry’s features became rigid. Lord Arthur jerked his head sideways, just as confused as Lady Vanderburr and Cassandra. He mouthed words of inquiry to his wife, but Princess Phillipa Elizabeth only lowered her glance with sadness.
“You have come at a rather unfortunate time dear girl,” the king said quietly, his voice suddenly taking a raspy tone, “the queen is very ill. So ill, that you and Henry are to wed this very night. If not, you would have to six months to be wed, for that is how long the mourning period would be after the queen has passed.”
The king became so detached, that Cassandra had to strain her ears to hear him. A lump formed in Cassandra’s throat at his words. She looked at Henry who had become as detached as his father. She looked out into the crowd, her eyes catching sight of the Duchess of Mudden slipping from the courtyard’s golden gates and into the city.
“I am so sorry,” Cassandra whispered after receiving a look of encouragement from Lady Vanderburr.
“Yes,” the king sighed, suddenly coming back to the moment, “This is my sister, Princess Phillipa Elizabeth, and her daughter Louisa who is your under-confident. My sister’s son, the Earl of Hordenlind, is off defending our territory in Hordenlind.”
“Welcome Princess Irony,” Princess Phillipa Elizabeth greeted warmly, her prior-scornful glance dissipating and her round eyes growing rounder with cordiality.
“Thank you,” Cassandra thanked, meeting an excitable glance with Louisa, who bowed her head with the impression that she and Cassandra were going to become great friends.
“This is Prince Phillip; he will be the Duke of Sancastria once I have passed, and his wife Leona Clare of, what was once, Winvra.”
Phillip glared at Cassandra with unhesitating eyes. Leona smiled, her full red lips suggesting a superficial fondness. Cassandra felt as if the nervous lump within her throat was moving upward as she met their loveless stares. Henry watched this with concern, somewhat disgruntled by his brother’s prudence, though he did not show it.
“And last of all, here are your assigned companions. I believe that, um,” the king stopped, trying to remember the name of Cassandra’s Confident, “Ah, Lady Vanderburr. She will introduce you.”
Two women stood close together near the palace’s gilded door. They stared at the smooth ground below them, unmoving with obedience. Cassandra smiled in greeting, but they continued to hold their unmoving gaze on the ground. One of them, the thinner and younger of the two, took a deep breath and held it, choking down a sneeze.
Lady Vanderburr smiled in appreciation of the two ladies correct manners towards the royal family, for everyone suddenly seemed to have forgotten the traditional mannerisms that they were obliged to. Never before, had she seen the king act so casually, or the rest of the royal family. Lady Vanderburr sniffed, as she did when she had the sudden urge to pout, and followed the king as he led Cassandra into the palace.
The capital palace of Linderservia was like a gilded star that possessed diamonds to twinkle at its whim. A star that withheld luxurious rooms and gardens that stretched for miles out of the capital city. Stone walls, left over from the era before, were covered with silk coverings and rich paints. Mirrors and paintings of Linderservian landscapes, tables holding shiny urns and flower filled vases, and arched ceilings painted with scenes of divine legends, made up the palace’s unending interior. Rooms led to room after room, each one significant for one purpose or another. Courtiers who roamed the public halls and rooms stopped to bow before their king, their elaborately embroidered gowns and suits folding into luscious pools of the finest fabrics Linderservia offer. Everything, from the strokes of paint on the ceilings, to the spots of dust on the tiled floors, held an extravagant glow. Even the spice-perfumed air looked as if it had millions of microscopic shards of crystal drifting through it.
Cassandra moved quickly, the palace, and the entourage of her environment consuming her. Nothing in Salzt could compare to the palace and its flowery gardens that stretched far behind it. Salzt was of a mysterious and peaceful beauty, not the raging exuberant beauty that faced her every turn.
The royal family, followed by guards until they reached the private part of their palace, finally came to a stop. Henry turned to face his family as the king did; taking a quick glimpse of Cassandra’s awed expression. The king smiled knowingly, seeing the belittlement that his son felt towards Cassandra.
“This is the entry room into our private apartments, dining room, art gallery, and hallways,” the king informed Cassandra, making a wide swooping movement with his arms, “Now I shall leave you to Lady, um, Lady Vanderburr. My queen needs me at her side. You are all dismissed. I will see you at the ceremony.”
The king, overcome with sudden grief, left his family and was followed wordlessly by Henry to the queen’s apartments. With a modest courtesy, Phillipa Elizabeth took her leave as well. Phillip and his wife, with mocking side glances, left from where the group had entered without a word.
“Straight to our business then, Princess Irony,” Lady Vanderburr spoke forcefully, taking ownership over the girls and leading them through a modest hallway, adorned with red-satin walls and lean candle sticks.
When Cassandra entered her apartment, her first instinct was to lay down on one of the small-decorative sofas. Her feet were sore, the nervous lump hadn’t left her throat, and she had a chronic chill running down her spine, the thought of her wedding night haunting her. None the less, she stood tall and maintained her expressionless look.
“This, is her ladyship, Louisa Linderserve, Lady Anne Clare, and Hazel Bergsten. You know Lady Louisa, but not the others,” Lady Vanderburr introduced, her head slightly bobbing on her long neck, “Lady Anne is the cousin of Leona Claire of Winva, both of her parents were killed in the Winva Rebellion,”
“The Winva Rebellion?” Cassandra interrupted, “I thought,”
“It was a rebellion of the Winva people. They wanted his majesty, the king of Linderservia, to be the ruler instead of the Winvra senate. They killed the entire senate,” Lady Vanderburr snapped, her patience for Cassandra’s lack of etiquette running out, “Apologize my interruption,” she continued coolly, “The rebellion helped Linderservia greatly, but it left poor Anne without parents. Along with her cousin, her ladyship, Leona Clare.”
“I was only a baby, as was my cousin, I don’t remember it very well,” Anne added shyly, batting her eyelashes profusely.
“I am so sorry,” Cassandra said gently under her breath, looking Anne apologetically in the eye.
“It was quite tragic,” Lady Vanderburr gushed before Anne could respond, “Anyhow, she is to be the mistress of your wardrobe. She will help you dress according to the style of the court, both your hair and attire. She will also, quite literally, be responsible for dressing you.”
“How kind,” Cassandra complimented smiling fondly at the shy orphan.
Anne blushed, and upon receiving a harsh glance from Lady Vanderburr, looked to the floor.
“It is her duty. Now Hazel Bergsten is the only child of a widowed, and bless his departed soul, honorary knight. Her husband is a mere merchant,”
“Please,” Cassandra voiced, extremely annoyed by Vanderburr’s ongoing descriptions, “Why don’t you let them describe who they are?”
“Why,” Lady Vanderburr sniffed, “It is not their right to speak unless you speak to them first Princess Irony. Their rank is below you. Lady Anne has already broken the etiquette once.”
“And I forgive her, for every girl will have the right to speak in front of me, rank or no rank,” Cassandra replied harshly, a flicker of anger drawn from her nervousness and annoyance, shining in her eyes.
“That is not etiquette,” Lady Vanderburr sighed after a moment of heated silence, “Hazel has four children,”
“You have four children?” Cassandra purposefully interrupted, once again, brushing past Lady Vanderburr who stood poised before the two girls, and clasping her hands on Hazel’s stubby fingers.
“Why, yes,” Hazel replied, avoiding meeting the eyes of Lady Vanderburr who stood in a silent tantrum.
“Are they boys? Or girls? Or both?” Cassandra asked excitedly, simply out of an eager want to rebel against Lady Vanderburr, and to distract her mind from her rapidly approaching wedding.
“I have two sets of twins. Two girls, they are the eldest, and two boys,” Hazel said proudly, amazed by her future’s queen’s beauty and the rush of attention she was giving her.
“Enough chitter-chatter,” Lady Vanderburr chided, her eyes narrowing into deathly spindles.
Cassandra let go of Hazel’s hands and smiled effortlessly.
“You are right Lady Vanderburr, we must stop this idle conversation so that you can continue our course.”
Somewhat hurt by Cassandra rough words and her cold glance, Lady Vanderburr led the four girls into Cassandra’s bedroom. Lady Vanderburr decidedly found a calling bell inserted gracefully in the wall. She rang it, in hope that one of the servants would hear it immediately.
The bedroom’s ceilings were flat and raised high above their heads. Five, rectangular glass windows, surrounded by white flower-embroidered curtains, looked out into the gardens. The room’s walls were wall-papered with a subtle pink silk, adorned with hand painted flowers. Cassandra raised her eyebrows, smiting the pink and formality of the room. Nothing about it felt roomy, like her quant room in Salzt, which she had decorated herself.
“Oh, it is so darling,” Louisa cried, a dimpled smile brightening her face.
“My lady,” Lady Vanderburr sneered under her breath with further disapproval.
“Oh please Lady Vanderburr, haven’t you seen that you have tired us? Not to mention, you have upset our future queen! Look at her! She’s a nervous as a,” Louisa stopped, as she saw servants decorating the first few hundred yards of the gardens and prepping it for the wedding celebration, “Oh look!” she cried more fruitfully, flinging herself at one of the rectangular windows, the other girls behind her, “Oh look! Oh look! If only my poor aunt wasn’t on her deathbed. Then the celebration would be even more decorative and grand!”
Cassandra quickly turned away. She liked Louisa’s excitement, and instantly grew jealous of it. It is not that I am not excited, I am only nervous, very nervous of everything, Cassandra thought.
Jared Cunningham entered Cassandra’s apartments with the two maid servants. He had heard the bell as they had, and decided that he should tell Lady Vanderburr that it was time that the Princess got ready. With hands at his back, he walked into the room, the excitement streaming from Cassandra’s three ladies making him smile.
“My lady,” a black haired girl, no older then fifteen, curtsied, “we heard the service bell ring.”
“Yes, the Princess Irony will need assistance preparing for the wedding,” Lady Vanderburr ordered, “go fetch the necessary garments from the closet. For Lady Anne Clare will need help dressing her ladyship in such a grand costume.”
“Yes my lady,” the maid said humbly, curtseying again and then with her companion at her side, left through a sincere door at the side of the bedroom’s bed.
“Where does that door lead too?” Cassandra whispered in inquiry, admiring its smooth surface and how, when closed, it blended into the wall.
“It leads to his highness, the Prince of Irony’s room through a discreet passage way. The entrance through the passage it within the side room the door leads to, as well, as your closet, my lady, Princess Irony,” Jared enlightened Cassandra, making his entry.
“What are you doing here?” Lady Vanderburr gasped.
“I heard the service bell on my way from the courtyard. I prefer traveling through the servants hallways, so naturally I heard it. The King, his highness, has sent word for all the preparations to be made for the wedding ceremony and celebration. I thought I might come inform you.”
“Why thank you Master Jared. Now if you may, dismiss yourself.”
“I shall Lady Vanderburr, seeing that you are distressed by my joining you,” Jared responded, bowing his head as he passed Cassandra, saying, “I am pleased to have met you Princess Irony.”
“Ha,” Lady Vanderburr clucked her tongue as Jared exited through the discreet door, “He most likely wanted to use the secret passage to get to the Prince’s rooms. That’s probably how he has been shortcutting through them for the past twenty-five years.”
As the serving maids and Anne dressed Cassandra, she gazed out of the rectangular windows, soaking in the early rays of sunset. Outside, she watched as servants wove long stretches of white satin through rows of summer flowers and looped them through the thinly-barked trees, low hanging branches. Courtiers walked freely amongst the servants, admiring the crystal lanterns and gold candle sticks that were to provide the evenings lighting. They walked in and out of the garden, as if it was there’s. Cassandra watched as they fingered all tangible decorations that reached their site, and how easily they clamped onto the finery that surrounded them, taking everything for granted.
Henry had a similar view as Cassandra, only his was of the small woodland that clung to the gardens furthest northern edge. The preparations all appeared dark and ambiguous to him. He watched the courtiers walk about with a hint of aversion in his expression as he cynically judged their lavish taste in dress and obsession with the finery that surrounded them. Henry became very cynical as he continued to stare out the window, only thinking of his dying mother and the weakness overcoming of his father.
Alberforth began his reign, immediately after his widowed father had passed, determined to find the rumored continent his father had intended to find. He, believing that the peoples from the northern coast knew of how to access the continent, kidnapped the youngest princess of the Salzian monarchy and promised to exchange her for the route to the continent. The Salzians did not go to war, in fact, the Salzian people were angered with their own king for not fighting for his daughter, but the king knew something that the others did not.
King John V of Salzt knew that if he turned the kidnapping into an alliance, that Salzt had the potential of becoming more powerful than Linderservia. The king knew that he would have control over the Linderservian king through his daughter, for his daughter out of love for her father and country would never reveal the knowledge of the new continent that the Salzians possessed. Through his daughter, he could influence Linderservia’s actions; therefore he turned the kidnapping into an alliance, promising Alberforth that his daughter would tell him all he needed to know if he married her.
Alberforth, blinded by his desire, consented to marrying the young Salzian princess, Antonia, when she became of age. Eight years passed before Alberforth and Antonia wedded, and in these eight years, they bonded. Soon the feeling that the marriage was only a convenience, ended, and became something of a romance. Also, during these eight years, Alberforth began to focus on his country as it was and making it sustainable. Year by year, he conquered bits and pieces of Hordenlind and completely overruled the nameless tribes that inhabited the south eastern coasts of Linderservia.
Antonia and Alberforth could only boast one living child and inheritor of the Linderservian throne, and her name was Joan. This, was something that Alberforth’s younger jealous brother took to his advantage. Harold began to plot.
Harold was rumored to have been a hunchback with a mind as twisted as his spine. His mother, died during his premature birth, which gave his father all the more reason to despise him. Harold’s childhood was filled with ridicule from the day he was born and had many reasons for hating his intelligent, handsome, ambitious, and charismatic older brother.
Harold started plotting as a child, he had the demise of his older brother mapped out from the time he could write, and planned on enacting it. He started with the people of Linderservia, spreading rumors that Alberforth was planning on deserting them for the land of Salzt. He hit two birds with one stone, making the people hate their Salzian queen and lose trust in their king.
After his rumors were well settled and well spread, he began an army which he named the Haroldmin Army. In his army he taught that monarchy was heresy to the rights of man, and that everyone deserved to be their own person with their own rights. He made his followers believe in his deceit, that they could create their own government if they pledged allegiance to destructing the monarchy.
Thus, the Feast of Winter Tidings was created. Winter Tidings had been a feast marking the beginnings of Sancastria and had multiple ancient ties to it that have since disappeared. It had begun long before Alberforth and Harold’s time, during the beginnings of Sancastria, but not until their time did it become a true day of remembrance to the Linderservians. It was on this merry winter’s feast day, that Harold attacked with his army, killing nearly everyone in Alberforth’s stone castle, including Alberforth and Antonia.
Harold disbanded his army, causing immediate hatred within his own allies, and crowned himself emperor of Linderservia. The people, enraged by Harold and the exile Harold had casted the princess Joan into, began Harold’s War. Harold’s War would last for thirty years and only came to an end with Joan fought her way off the eastern island on which she was imprisoned and found sanctuary in Sancastria. While there, she promised Sancastria what Edward I of Linderservia had not given them nearly a century before and raised her own army. She, at the army’s head, took her country back as her own and avenged her parent’s deaths with her own hands.
As queen Joan rebuilt Linderservia and attempted to begin the search for the new continent where her father had left off, she built a palace on the isle where she had been exiled and named it the isle The Isle of Queen Joan. She also reburied her parents in Sancastria, hoping to revive Sancastrian trust and providing them with a sense of importance to Linderservia. The aging queen was able to pull her country from its dark depths and begin the first century of prosperity. She even married a general who had kept watch over her during her time of exile and who had helped her escape, but it was all in vein. Though the queen produced four heirs and brought unity within Linderservia, she too, failed in fulfilling her promise to Sancastria. Little did she know that she buried the secret of finding the continent with her mother.
Courtiers, dressed in their finest costumes, lined the halls of the palace. The pungent fragrance of the women’s perfume and the apprehensive breaths of every man and woman, created a warm haze throughout the halls. Everyone who had the right to enter the public rooms and chapel of the palace, stood within it, waiting for their long-awaited foreign bride, with great anticipation. Late comers raced to their friend’s sides, standing on their tiptoes, ensuring that they had not missed any part of the ceremony.
Jared, having changed into his finest suit, stood close to Henry’s side in the hallowed chapel. The wood arches that held the high-arched room together, were draped with series of white cloth, which caused people of Jared’s height to slouch and bend their heads awkwardly to the side. Jared did thus, giving Henry a reassuring nod.
The reflection of the stained-glass windows played on the marble floor, creating shadows of delightful color to contrast with the bows of white. A shade of dark red flickered on Henry and the king, who stood solemnly behind him. The red light shone from a glass window that pieced together the profile of King Alberforth, his glassy eyes staring ahead in an endless gaze. Henry eyed the window, swallowing hard, as if the transparent king of old was his father, rather than the man who stood behind him. The red light caught Henry’s glance and returned it with one of the last sunrays that the evening sky had to offer.
Trumpets and metallic flutes blared, hushing the courtiers into silence as they lurched their heads sideways, trying to see beyond one another’s heads to catch the first glimpse of their future queen.
Cassandra moved unconsciously, her throat growing sore from the nervous lump that had now stabilized within it. Noise, every noise that passed through the chapel, pulsed in her ears. She could hear every breath of every courtier that she passed. She could hear the shoes of her ladies tapping the marble, behind her as they held her long train. Somewhere, outside of the hot room, she could hear a summer bird singing its last song before darkness overcame night. The brilliant shades that glowed before her did not evoke any emotion from her; nor did the consciousness of her perilous beauty, which was so bright and radiant, that it even softened Henry’s stony expression.
Cassandra’s train was lifted by Anne and Hazel, as she mounted the stone steps onto a higher landing. She stopped breathing, as she looked Henry in the eye. The red light that had shown so brightly across his face had faded, summer darkness replacing it and all the light that shone through the chapel. His pupils were large, and the blue storm within his eyes calmed into a calm and milky ocean of soft color. The sincere look that crossed Henry’s face, pulled at Cassandra’s being, causing her to instinctually return it. It was not a look of hate, or confusion, or a result from forcing down the distant memories of each other they held from their childhood, but a look of mutual agreement. As the head of the Religious Order of Linderservia, took their hands and slid them together, their gazes looked down, feeling their hands touch with their eyes.
The king, though clouded with sadness and fear for his dying wife, observed the connection between Henry and Cassandra. Both he and Jared found themselves smiling and feeling assured that Henry had made the right decision for himself and Cassandra. Even the head of the Religious Order of Linderservia, felt the assurance as he murmured the secret vows of marriage and nimbly tied the knot of marriage around the couple’s wrists with his long and crooked fingers.
Only two people in the audience cringed as they watched the Prince and Princess Irony seal their vows with a long and graceful kiss. The Duke’s lips were curved into a pouting frown, his arms folded hatefully against his chest. He eyed Cassandra with want, cursing his brother for choosing her and forcing him to marry his wife. His wife stood next to him, pinching her lips at Cassandra’s wide-brocaded gown. She was nothing compared to Cassandra’s rare beauty, not even the Duchess of Mudden could compare.
Phillip raised his brow, finding eye contact with the Duchess of Mudden who stood tall in the very back of the chapel. Her narrow face and dark-beady eyes shared his expression, a heated expression of hatred. She, like all the women in the court, felt demeaned by Cassandra. Even the men, grew envious, envious of Henry’s good fortune in such a wife, but the Duchess and Phillip both felt a heated fury simmering within them that no one else shared.
Henry’s stomach turned as his lips departed from Cassandra’s. He had kissed women before, but never before had he been so moved and eager for another. Cassandra’s pale face looked as though it had brightened, he smiled, happy that her expression appeared how he felt. The lack of confidence that Cassandra drew out of him, was instantaneously replenished.
The trumpets and flutes blared through the candlelit chapel again, their boisterous sound causing a gust of hotness to sweep through the already humidly warm atmosphere. The king merrily stepped forward and led the procession to an entertainment hall filled with polished wood tables and brightly lit from golden chandeliers. Wide, glass doors opened out into the gardens, allowing breezes of cool night air to sweep through the room. Long and numerous polished-wood tables held mini feasts of the purest champagnes, ripest vegetables, fattest meats, and the most wholesome breads. Light, colorful, and fruitful tarts sat on silver platters, made for everyone’s taking. Once the courtiers had submerged themselves in the fine food and had competed for the tables closest to the royal table, which stood on a raised platform at the head of the room, the king left.
“Please, do not hesitate to celebrate, but someone has to stay next to the queen,” the king told his court, receiving a mournful silence, “Go on. Eat all that you wish. Dance all you want.”
The king gestured for his people to continue their merriment, but they remained silent until he left. Once the king had gone, the hall roared with noise, the chatter of drunken voices, the sounds of chewing, the piping of celebratory music, and the tip-tap of dancers. Only the royal dining table held its silence.
“What a quick wedding, tis a shame,” Princess Phillipa Elizabeth sympathized, pushing a small roasted potato eagerly onto her fork.
“Quick to start, quick to end,” Phillip blurted loudly, pushing his plate aside, and taking a large swig from his gold drinking goblet.
“Are you really going to speak such on my wedding night brother?” Henry snapped angrily, sending a whiff of surprise through the table and from nearby eavesdroppers
“Oh there’s a lot more I could say,” Phillip began, but was stopped by a harsh slap from Louisa.
The hall suddenly went silent; all eyes averted themselves to the royal table with concern. At first, Princess Phillipa Elizabeth went still with embarrassment, unimpressed with her daughter, but then she began to laugh shamelessly. Louisa smiled proudly, causing Phillip to stand and rid himself of the room, his face glowing a delightful shade of pink. His wife stood, eyeing the delicious food before her lustfully, but then dutifully ran after her husband. The court began to roar with laughter and then melted back into the celebrations.
Henry smiled briefly, but then focused on his water chalice. Cassandra sat quietly across from his, beside Princess Phillipa Elizabeth. Now and then, she looked at her husband wanting to start conversation, but turned her head to stare at her plate with little interest.
“Do not worry, you will have the rest of your life in getting to know your husband,” Princess Phillipa Elizabeth whispered, taking note of Cassandra’s disposition.
“I know,” Cassandra said heavily, picking a grape from her plate and popping it in her mouth, immediately taking pleasure in its sour pulp.
“Oh dear, you are nervous for tonight, aren’t you dear?” the old princess sighed with pity, tapping Cassandra’s hand with her fork to keep her engaged in her conversation.
Cassandra’s hands fell into her lap and she glanced nervously towards Henry who rested against his chair, staring intently at the table’s edge. She rubbed her neck gently, as if to push down the lump that was within it. Her hand rested on her collarbone, restlessly beginning to play with the diamond necklace that surrounded her neck.
“I am,” Cassandra croaked.
“You shouldn’t be dear. It is a natural thing that must be done. Your husband is not a stranger to you, you know. Really dear, simply think it a duty. For it is your duty. You have years to find love.”
“Oh hush mother,” Louisa cried pitifully upon seeing Cassandra’s face growing blank with nervous whiteness, “You are not helping.”
“You have done enough this evening dear, you are the one that needs to hush,” Louisa’s mother chided scornfully.
Thus, the evening passed in silence. Henry did not look at Cassandra, or his family, everything around him shone with sudden interest. The painted ceiling shone brighter than it ever had before and his plate suddenly looked bigger to him then it had since he was a small boy. He purposefully kept any thought of his mother from his mind, and of Cassandra. What he felt for Cassandra during the marriage had sent a fear through him, a fear that she would distract him from his main purposes, and distraction was something he could not live with.
Louisa, Anne, and Hazel escorted the Princess Irony to her rooms after she had finished eating. Henry did not care to dance, and Cassandra did not know how to, so there was little reason to keep them in the entertainment hall. The ladies, with the help of the two serving maids, undressed Cassandra from her wedding dress and dressed her in a white nightshift, which was nearly completely transparent and was perfumed with a light sensuous powder.
“Louisa,” Cassandra gasped, catching her by the arm before she could follow the other women from her room.
“Yes my lady?” Louisa replied, sitting next to Cassandra on her bed, eager to be of any assistance.
“I do not know what to do,” Cassandra gasped nervously, her wide eyes widening into round globes of worry.
The firelight from the small fireplace across from Cassandra’s bed bounced off of the room’s drawn curtains and cast peaceful warmth throughout the room. Louisa sighed and gently caressed Cassandra’s cheek. The glass that was placed affront the fire, for it was only lit for lighting purposes, blocked further warmth from the room and caused the room to have a slight glow.
“I advise that you remember love,” Louisa comforted soothingly.
“But I do not know him Louisa,” Cassandra sighed, her eyes watering.
“You do not need to yet, my mother was right about you having many years ahead of you to do that. I have experience you see, though I am not married, and sometimes you do not need to know the person,” Louisa said this getting up and preparing to take leave, fearing that Henry would enter through the discreet door next to Cassandra’s bed at any moment.
“Oh Louisa,” Cassandra gushed, bringing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms tightly around them.
“Do not cry my lady. Be confident. It will all be over in the morning,” with that last piece of encouragement, Louisa took her leave, closing the door gently behind her.
Cassandra, too restless to remain on her bed, stood next to the fire. The firelight provided a light that only hundreds of candles could offer. Louisa’s words had soothed Cassandra to an extent, just not enough to tame her.
Henry stood outside of the discreet door, candle holder in hand. He hadn’t bothered to get into night wear; he hated night tunics with a passion. He had taken off his wedding jacket, but remained in his slim breeches and loose tunic. Even his embroidered garters still held his socks under his knees.
Cassandra did not hear Henry enter; though she felt she could hear every creak of the palace’s old floors and walls and every crackle of the fire, she was too nervous to truly hear anything of significance. Henry’s body went still as he set down his candle holder on a bedside table, catching sight of Cassandra’s young body. Her supple waist and graceful torso had been hinted at in her wedding gown, but he had not expected it to truly exist.
Suddenly a series of cackles and the noises of live fire crackers echoed through the room. Colorful beams of light sparkled through the curtained windows. Henry watched a startled Cassandra rush to a curtain, pull it aside, and stare out of the window closest to her. Fireworks lit the night sky in brilliant washed gold and blues. Henry’s eyes lit with admiration as he watched Cassandra’s face bloom into awe.
Feeling a presence tugging at her subconscious, Cassandra turned her head to see Henry standing behind her, staring at her. She smiled shyly and pointed out the window. Her nervous lump suddenly began to disappear at seeing Henry’s calm and caring gaze.
“What are they?” Cassandra inquired, her voice voicing the curiosity of an eager child.
“They are fireworks,” Henry replied softly, joining Cassandra at the window, eyeing her body as he approached.
“Yes, a holy man invented them and presented them to the court about five years ago. He claims that someday he will invent some sort of military machine that will use the technology of the firework to its advantage. Something using the powder of something or another. I am not sure.”
“How,” Cassandra began, but was interrupted by another burst of sprightful fire and a booming crackle, “Did you see that one? That was beautiful.”
“Yes,” Henry murmured, watching as another lit up the night air, and quickly feeling the urge to wrap his arms around Cassandra.
They stood and watched firework after firework in silence, both in tune to one another’s breathing and the closeness of their bodies.
“I think we have some shadows,” Henry whispered softly into Cassandra’s ears and pointed towards a small grove of trees.
“Why, do they have a telescope? Are they watching us?” Cassandra gasped with disbelief as she sighted a pair of courtiers peeking from the grove of trees. The courtiers seemed to stand still as they gathered that they had been spotted.
“I presume we will have to give them something to talk about,” Henry laughed.
“What do you mean?” Cassandra returned lightly-heartedly, being answered by a cautious kiss and Henry’s arms consuming her.
The courtiers could be seen pointing with delight fighting over the telescope. As they began to draw attention of other curious courtiers, they saw the curtain drop and the royal figures disappear deep into the room. With disappointment, the other courtiers whom they had attracted turned away.
The night drew to a close, bringing a dark and rainy morning. A crescent moon melted into the sky’s most western corner as morning twilight began to creep into the east. Deep, engrossed, and remorseful crying could be heard from the queen’s blackened chamber. The king knelt on his knees, clasping the queen’s swollen and lifeless hand in his. A mournful ring belched from the chapel’s bell tower, ringing the haunting chime that signified the death of a queen.
The pair of lovers did not wake from the saddening toll nor the sudden rush that moved within the palace. They stood still in one another’s arms, their eyes meeting one another in a wholesome gaze. To them, everything was quiet, and the pitter-patter of the rain was merely an encouraging chant.
“Do you love me Cassandra? Or is it too soon to tell” Henry asked, stroking her morning-flushed cheeks.
Cassandra did not answer, she only held his gaze.
“I want to apologize,” Henry said remorsefully, running his fingers through Cassandra’s thick hair.
“For what?” Cassandra asked in return, timidly nestling closer to him.
“For leaving you.”
That was all Henry had to say for Cassandra to understand his meaning and reference.
“We were children,” Henry continued, “I was a boy. What I am most sorry about is that I neglected my own affection for you.”
Cassandra titled her head in curiosity, unsure of what Henry meant.
“What do you mean?”
“When I found you in the library that day, I felt the need to protect you, to cheer you. I fulfilled the sudden need, but not completely. I distracted myself in affairs that I did not need to wrap myself in for many more years.”
“Yes. The tapestries. I saw something then that I can only dream of now. I should have known I was too young to pursue it. I should have waited. I should have paid more attention to you rather then leaving you to my brother.”
“What was it? What is that you dream of?”
Henry’s mind was racing with thought, with thoughts of guilt and redemption. His face suddenly fell into a series of wrinkles, taking Cassandra aback. He held a distant hold on her, but his face crinkled as if he were being dragged through a pit of tortures. Henry looked as if he was in dire in pain, he only spoke, and his face only restored itself when Cassandra ran her fingers caringly on his jawline.
“Have you not heard? Of how Linderservia came to be?” Henry inquired, trying to find a good place to begin in describing his dream.
“I have. Pieces of it.”
“Then you know of the new continent?”
“Yes, I know of it.”
Henry frowned with impatience and with worry as Cassandra began to shrink away from his chest. As if to keep her from falling away, he wrapped his arms around her. She looked up at him, her thoughts unreadable.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Henry sighed, and opened his mouth to continue, but was stopped by a feverish rattling against the bedroom’s door.
“Princess Irony and Prince Irony, I am so sorry, but please open your doors,” Louisa’s voice begged through the closed door.
“Did you lock the door?” Cassandra laughed, completely ignoring the strain in Louisa’s voice.
Henry’s face darkened and he did not respond. He flung the covers from the bed and pulled on his pants. Cassandra sat up, covering her body clumsily with her night shift. Henry ran to the door, cursing under his breath, and pulling on his tunic. Cassandra, wanted to laugh, but pulled on her night shift worriedly instead.
“I let her distract me. I should not have come,” Henry murmured under his breath as he unlocked the door, Cassandra felt something crush inside of her as his words drifted across the room, barely audible.
Louisa appeared inside the room, a guard at her side, and swathed in a black dress. Her face was white and tears could be seen in the corner of her eyes. She sniffed, placing a piece of her blond hair behind her ear.
“My dear cousin,” Louisa cried, falling to her knees, “Your mother, she has passed.”
“When? Why didn’t you come sooner?” Henry snapped, looking down at his cousin with shocked despise.
“The bells have been ringing Henry. Could you not hear them?”
I was distracted, I was to intent, I have given myself away to Cassandra too much just as I did as a boy, Henry thought sullenly, nearly forgetting the apology he had just made to Cassandra and spitefully regretting it. As if his mother’s death was Cassandra’s fault, he glared at her and hated her. His eyes became narrow and the swirls of blue and grey appeared to rage against each other in an inner battle.
“Put on a robe,” Henry snarled, throwing a green-silk robe that had been laid on Cassandra’s vanity, at her bed, “Hurry,” he ordered.
Cassandra grew warm with shame and desperation. She shrunk from his sudden hatred and tied her robe on clumsily. Louisa’s sobbing followed them as Henry grabbed Cassandra’s arm in a deathly clutched, his hands strong from long days of battle in Hordenlind and wielding a sword. Cassandra’s eyes watered, not knowing what she had done to make him hate her so suddenly and wordlessly. Even Louisa and the guard that accompanied her looked startled at Henry’s rage.
The palace’s white glory had been instantly traded out and replaced with black. Its radiance darkened into a machine of loss and heartbreak. Cassandra held back her tears and followed her distraught husband in agony.
The queen’s funeral procession was led by the king, his horse moved as heavily as he breathed and it’s head drooped as low it’s master’s. Never before had the king felt so old or so lonely. His son, Henry was not at his side during the queen’s passing as he hoped he would be. He looked at Henry who rode next to him, Cassandra at his side. Henry’s face shone too brightly for the king’s liking, for he felt everyone should feel the remorse he did, especially his eldest son.
The rain fell relentlessly, staining the royal family’s black satins and forming resentment within the mourners who were forced to watch the procession march across the city to the royal tombs. Holy mean chanted solemnly behind the royal family, paying no heed to the weather, and their leader who had performed wedding rites only fourteen-hours before preformed the necessary funeral rites.
As the queen was sealed under her tomb, Jared Cunningham stood by and watched, hidden behind the tomb of a long-forgotten duchess. He pulled at his hat, feeling upset with Henry. He had seen Henry’s behavior towards Cassandra and was anticipating the moment when he could scold the prince. The queen’s death was not Cassandra’s fault; Jared had predicted that Henry would blame her for it if the queen died on their wedding night. As soon as he could, Jared decided that he would alter Henry’s unjust change, for only last night before Henry had entered Cassandra’s chamber, had Henry confessed his blinded desire for her to Jared.
The Duchess of Mudden, whose own apartment resided near the royal family’s graveyard, watched Henry from her window. She was dressed in a fine silk cloak and was sucking on a candied piece of ginger. Its tartness inflamed her tongue and melted against her it. She smiled, absorbing its sharp flavor and smiling at Henry’s grief. Satisfied by Henry’s anguish, she turned and watched Phillip who periodically glanced up at her window. She grinned wildly and blew a kiss, catching his attention. Phillip gave one nod, signifying that he had seen her, and then turned his attention to his father’s mournful speech.
By the time the royal family returned to the palace, the rain had thickened and thunder sounded from the darkened sky. All courtiers who lingered in the palace, still heavily drunk from the celebrations the night before and fully unaware of the queen’s death, were kicked out of the palace and thrown into a set of stocks. No courtiers were allowed in the palace and all signs of merriment were taken down and swept away.
Alone in his private study, Henry fingered his framed tapestries, and then blanketed them lovingly with black cloths. He hung them in their positions with a grace of pure reverence. Jared entered, seeing him staring at the black squares mournfully.
“Ah,” Jared sighed, finding Henry’s figure in the poorly lit room, “I almost couldn’t see you, you blend so much with the darkness,” Jared criticized, hoping Henry would catch his meaning, as he drew open a curtain.
“What do you mean by that?” Henry snapped, blinking as a ray of grey light shot through the room.
“You have no reason to turn against Cassandra,” Jared snapped in return.
“She distracted me. I do not even know her.”
“That is true, you do not, but she did not distract in a bad way. It was your wedding night. It is not your fault of her fault or anyone’s fault that your mother chose to pass on that night.”
“It is a sign Jared.”
“As sign my lord?”
“Blast it! Do you not see it? My grandmother died on my father’s wedding night too you know. I bet their wedding morning was just as calm as mine was until they discovered the queen had died, and look how well my father and mother’s marriage turned out? It is a sign. Cassandra and I will not stay loyal to one another, we will spend years apart from one another, and she will leave me to die of a broken heart as my mother has my father and my grandmother had my grandfather. I should just her back. I must not be distracted from what I want, and you know what I meant by that, Jared,” Henry said this hotly, throwing his arms angrily above him.
“My lord, you are not going to send her home, and since when did you believe in signs? Have I not taught you that you must not dwell on things in the past? The past is the past. Whatever happened happened, and we have only to learn from it.”
“Exactly! You have said it yourself. We must learn from the past! And by using the past, I plan on letting it control the future. We can prevent the past from occurring.”
“You have misused what I had taught you, you have done it wrong.”
“I think that it is time you left to visit my brothers and sisters Jared,” Henry said coldly, the heat in his voice cooling into a bitter angst.
“You are quite right my lord,” Jared replied heavily, disappointed in his pupil, “but I tell you now that I have warned you and will not tell you again.”
“Jared,” Henry groaned wearily, burying his face into his hands, “Maybe you are right. I am sorry for letting my anger out on you. I apologize, but I am not going to change my mind.”
“At least think about it my lord, ponder it for a month or two.”
“Yes,” Henry sighed, “I bid you a safe journey. Give them my regrets for not coming myself.”
“Do you want me to take Cassandra with me, my lord? Maybe distance will help you sort out your thoughts.”
“What? Take her? No. That would be most unwise. She cannot know of their existence. Only we do, now that my mother has died.”
“You are right, my lord. I will see you in four months’ time.”
Jared bid his pupil farewell and went to his quarters to pack. Before leaving, he decided to talk to Cassandra, hoping to give her a sense of encouragement.
Jared found Cassandra alone in her rooms. Her figure was strewn across a sofa, her eyes closed and home to a pool of tears. She had not left the sofa since she had laid on it upon arriving from the funeral. Her hair was strewn across her neck, sticky and wet from the drying rain.
“My lady, Princess Irony?” Jared greeted, kneeling next to her, causing her eyes to flutter open and her arms to push herself into a sitting position.
“I apologize, I was just, I, I,” Cassandra stuttered, rubbing her eyes with grief.
“Are you well?” Jared asked, feeling a generous amount of pity for the young girl.
“Well? Yes. What can I do for you? Forgive me for my distress.”
“I came simply to insure that you were alright. Where are your maids? Shouldn’t they have brought you some supper? Night has fallen. Where are your ladies?”
“I told them to leave me alone.”
“Ah, well my lady, you may want to look presentable. No husband likes to see their wife distressed.”
“What husband?” Cassandra choked inordinately.
“My lady. Whatever has happened between you will pass. I am sure.”
“I hope you mean that, that it will, that you are not simply trying to give me hope or such,” Cassandra stiffened with sincerity.
“I do mean it. I do suggest that you distance yourself from his lordship for the time being though, my lady.”
“I intend to.”
“Do not be so bitter dear Princess Irony. Bitterness obtains nothing. Now I sincerely suggest that you bath and eat. Maybe catch some sleep. I must be off,” Jared suggested, smiling kindly and preparing to take leave.
“Wait,” Cassandra cried gently, standing up, “Where are you going?”
“I am off to see my lord’s,” Jared stopped himself, cursing himself for dabbling so daftly, something he never did. Cassandra brightened.
“Your lords what?”
Jared stared at her, not knowing how to cover his grievous mistake. Cassandra watched his gaze fall anxiously to the floor. Her heart began to beat desperately. She knew what he was about to say, and her remembrance of the knowledge he was about to confirm took her aside.
“You are going to go see the queen’s other children?”
“I do not know what you are talking about,” Jared snapped after a moment of shocked silence.
“Oh yes, yes you do!” Cassandra cried, throwing herself towards Jared, her mind flashing back to something her minister of foreign affairs had told her once and desperate to cling onto anything besides Henry’s sudden hatred of her, “My minister once said that there were other children that the queen had. She had them on an island somewhere, and the king never knew. I don’t know how I could have forgotten, but I remember it now.”
Jared, feeling weak and insignificant by the powerful stare Cassandra held him in, succumbed, “How did your minister know?”
“I do not know, but he told me when I was child, and told me never to forget it. Yet, I had forgotten, until just now.”
“Do not tell his lordship that you know. It is a secret. A secret. Do you understand?” Jared’s voice was strained with fright and his small eyes had shrunk into lifeless beads.
“If it is a secret, how did my minister know? In fact, why hasn’t anyone mentioned them since my arrival?”
“Never say a word, do you promise me you will never say a word if I tell you?”
“The queen had a lover. She had her children with the lover in secret on the Isle of Queen Joan, which has remained an island for the queens of Linderservia’s amusement for centuries. They live there now, in secret. They are known as the Cunningham, children.”
“Is not your name Cunningham?”
“Yes. My brother was the queen’s lover.”
“Oh,” Cassandra gasped, the information startling her, “How did my minister know then? If it was such a secret?”
“I do not know, but I must leave now.”
Jared departed, forgetting all forms of respect and etiquette in his shock. He could not help but wonder if Cassandra was a spy, or if there were spy’s lurking in the palace. Cassandra’s sudden curiosity was striking and slightly ironic since Henry had just said that she should never know.
Jared’s accusations were spineless. Cassandra had simply been thinking and mulling over her past, given nothing else to do unless she wanted to swarm herself with self-pity. She took Jared’s advice and bathed, ate, and attempted to sleep.
The night haunted Cassandra. An unwelcome draft drifted through the air, pulling at Cassandra’s conscious, frightening her into believing it was the queen’s ghost, haunting her for knowing about the Cunningham children. Cassandra shuttered between her sheets, were only the night before, she had laid so peacefully in Henry’s arms, sharing a foreign feeling with him that she had never known before. Only one day and a half had passed since her arrival to the palace, and already, she felt as if she were to break into a thousand-million pieces.
Any sense of hope or desire left Cassandra, leaving her heart a numb and empty piece of blood pumping machinery. In one day she had lost the love of Henry, Jared’s admiration, a queen and mother she had never known, and most importantly, her own security.
A corridor and room away, Henry paced his father’s bedchamber, riddled with sleepiness and alcohol consumption. The alcohol filled his body with warmth and relieved him of his anger. It numbed his mournful spirit and his aching heart.
“Oh my son,” the king wailed, “Stop your incessant passing. I am sick of your presence. Leave me to mourn alone.”
“You are not the only one who has lost her,” Henry growled in return.
“Where is your brother?” the king cried, lurching forward in his bed where he was laying in the depths of his own despair.
“Probably sleeping with his wife, or the Duchess of Mudden.”
“That wench! That wench!” the king’s voice rattled with insanity, “I have worthless sons! I have worthless heirs! What have I done with my life? My wife! My darling! She is all I need! How dare she leave me now, when I have finally learnt to truly love her! Where is she! Damn her! She has forgotten me! She has left me worthless heirs! Damn them all!”
The king began to shake violently and slip into a fit of moral loss and mental illness. A maid who had been nursing the king in his grief came rushing to his side, a cool cloth and bowl of water in her hands. Henry gawked at his weak father who was melting into a world of sickly darkness. He backed out of the room, startled by his father’s change.
Henry lumbered to his study and sank before his hanging tapestries. He burrowed his face deep into his hands. The cool draft had lurked from Cassandra’s chamber into the desolate study, swallowing Henry into a relentless torment. He murmured words of hasty cynicism until sleep overcame him.
THE SECERT KEEPER
The following is script from the Black Knight of Tripe Peak’s journal, written in ancient Salzt around Salzt’s second era and eight hundred years before King Edward I of Linderservia was born. It has been translated by my own efforts:
“My lord, the king, bade me farewell and I rode to the East to the queen’s castle. It rained during my journey, only to stop when I entered my queen’s home. From the peak nearest it, it could be seen, built to the side of Queen’s Mountain. Sun rays were cast down from the raining clouds, as if beckoning me to a heavenly keep. I entered the key in hand.
‘Ah, my husband has sent it at last. Four full moons have passed since his youngest sister’s death, but now it is my youngest daughters. All is well. I thank you and give you leave knight, may your armor always be black.’
‘I thank you my queen and wish you the best that the heavens have to offer,’ I replied, taking note of the queen’s last and youngest babe, suckling at her breast, ‘and may the secret be safely kept.’
I then, left my queen’s side and journeyed back to the king.
It is now twenty season’s past and I look down on the day, since now the secret keeper is my fair maiden. I took the oath of being her protector not one season after I delivered her the key. Now I watch her, so blissful and gaudy with her lordly husband and son. When she dances in the sunlight, I see the glint of the chain ‘round her neck. Somewhere within her castle, lies the key’s chest. It makes me wonder if we will ever cross, if the children of this day will ever cross. The land is too happy for crossing. The time is not yet ripened, and now I am certain that the cross will only be made when Salzt is no longer Salzt. I conclude this passage, with a wish that future Secret Keepers hold fast and never turn.”
I found this journal on one of my journeys as a young man, buried deep within a Salzian tomb, its owner long turned to dust. It made me curious and caused me to think, but I did not consider what it might relay. Only when I came across my pupil, King Henry I of Linderservia- bless his departed soul, reading old documents from Alberforth’s time, did I make sense of the passage and take in its importance. Henry was the one who solved the puzzle, but he only knew the answer when it was too late. For years, I have hidden the secret of the Secret Keeper in my heart, something I now and will forever regret.
Mid-summer began to fall; the hot smoldering days began to grow shorter and cooler. Farmers started to roll into the capital city from all of corners of Linderservia, their fruit, herbs, bottled wines, and olives, piled high on jostling wagons. The streets of the capital swarmed with the short life of business, merchants seeking to fulfill owed debts, others gaining debts, and the collections of barterers, traders, and entrepreneurs. An abundance of new cottons, light wools, rare yards of linen or silk and embroidered fabrics, poured into clothing shops. The latest fashion, the glowing rich-bright colors, had to be put on hold, for only mourning cloth was allowed to be worn.
The busy world outside the palace was almost completely ignored, the palace’s doors locked against the brocade of progression. Only a select, few, and necessary courtiers were allowed to wonder the palace’s vilified halls, rooms, and corridors. The rusted smell of loneliness and gloom drenched every room with misery.
“Philly, ring for a servant to bring more water? And chocolate. Please Philly?” Leona Clare begged from her lounge chair, “Haste Philly, I feel absolutely dreadful.”
“Most women do in your position,” Phillip mumbled, flipping the page of his book aggressively.
“Philly,” Leona insisted.
“Fine,” Phillip groused, ringing the mangy wooden bell at his side.
“Oh to think that I got pregnant before the Princess Irony. Our child Phillip, shall be the heir to the throne, if Cassandra doesn’t produce one. Which at this rate, she never will,” Leona chortled, putting her hand on her stomach. Only two weeks ago she had discovered she was barely two months along.
“Pft,” Phillip snorted, “My brother should have given her to me instead, she would most definitely ne impregnated by now.”
“Philly! You know how I hate it when you say such things. Especially about the Duchess of Mudden, that worthless-”
“Don’t you dare insult the duchess,” Phillip interjected defensively, pointing a thin finger with assault as his wife.
Just as he was rising to leave his wife’s unbearable presence, Henry appeared. He stood in the middle of the door, eye Leona with distaste because she was not dressed in mourning robes, but rather, a frilly pink robe and smock. Phillip winced from embarrassment as he saw his brother take note of his wife.
“She is with child,” Phillip proclaimed, in attempt to correct Henry’s look of disapproval.
“If Cassandra was,” Henry paused, swallowing the sour taste that Cassandra’s name formed on his tongue, “If Leona was my wife, she would still be in black. No matter what condition she was in.”
“Well why don’t we just switch?” Phillip joked, rather seriously.
“Phillip!” Leona cried from distress.
“I have come to ask you a favor Phillip,” Henry announced, his hands tight behind his back.
“And what could I possibly do for my grand lordly brother?”
“I would like you to stay by father’s side. While I am gone,” Henrys ordered is brother, putting aside Phillip’s usual snide disposition.
“Gone? Where would you possibly have to go?”
“Again?” Phillip and Leona gasped at the same time.
“Yes. Our cousin needs aide. Apparently the Hordenlind rebellion force is growing into an army, rather than a group of rebellious young men.”
“Do you want me to come?” Phillip queried mockingly, forming a hope that his brother would leave and never come back.
“No Phillip. Stay here with your wife and stay away from the Duchess of Mudden.”
“But,” Phillip began to protest to Henry’s later request, but stopped seeing the look of anguish on his wife’s face, “I will try, when I see fit to.”
“I will see you, hopefully by mid-autumn.”
“Hopefully,” Phillip said smugly as he watched his brother leave, then when he left, “Or hopefully not.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t talk about the duchess. At least, not in front of me.”
“Oh please,” Phillip yawned, “Stop fussing about that and picture the fall of my brother with me. Just imagine, his body simply thrown into a casket by the enemy force of Hordenlind-no, not even that honor- thrown into the dirt without so much a gravestone or good word to bless his soul.”
“Do you really hate Henry that much?”
“Obviously,” Phillip shrilled, and then lied, “No, I am only making jest. He was born before I, that is how fate intended it.”
Leona’s concern left her as a servant entered with fresh water; she immediately demanded her chocolate and then fell into a peaceful slumber. Phillip watched her sleep with resentment, inconsolably wishing that Leona’s face was that of the Duchess’s, or even Cassandra’s, even if she was a Salzt-wench. He ground his teeth, the wish that he had been born before Henry growing more steadily prominent in his mind.
Cassandra sat at her writing desk, writing a letter to her mother. Her mother had sent a letter the moment she had left, professing her hope that her daughter would be held in loving hands. Cassandra wrote back with honest words and feelings, professing in return, the demise of her happiness and solitude.
“Who are you writing my lady?” Hazel asked, trying to fill the quiet room with conversation.
“My mother,” Cassandra responded, signing her signature and addressing it, as she sealed it with wax, she ordered the maid servant who was dusting the frames of the black-blanketed paintings in Cassandra’s entry room, to take the letter and put it in the post.
“How is she?” Hazel continued, looping her knitting needle through the thick-black yarn she was using to knit a pair of socks for one of her children.
“Well, or so she says. I am afraid my mother is ill, she always has been,” Cassandra said heavily, sitting next to Anne who was bent, dutifully, over her embroidery though Louisa’s napping head rested on her lap.
“Oh I am sorry my lady, I hope it is not Mudden illness. You know, the fever that’s been running around for the past near two hundred years.”
“No it is not that. We don’t have that in Salzt.”
“I wonder what, then, could it be?”
“Do not be impertinent,” Lady Vanderburr barked, raising her eyes from her half-rimmed eyeglass which she held steadily over her book.
“Can we not do something?” Louisa whined, raising her head from Anne’s lap, and rubbing her eyes, “Look out at the trees,” she continued, getting up and peeking out of a window, “just look! The leaves are almost turned! Not to mention, the air is getting cooler. We should go on a walk. It may be our only chance before the autumn rainstorms begin.”
“Yes,” Anne agreed, looking at Lady Vanderburr and then at Cassandra for approval, “Yes. Can we please?”
“The decision lies with the Princess Irony,” Lady Vanderburr stated factually.
Cassandra considered it. She hadn’t gone on a walk outside for nearly two weeks, ever since Leona Clare had announced her pregnancy. The gardens were beautiful and she loved them, but she had stayed inside on her walks in hope of catching a glimpse of Henry. She had even tried reaching him through their secret passage at night, but had always rattled his door only to find it locked. He had hurt her, severally, and at first she wanted to hurt him in return, but only to find that distancing herself in attempt to catch his attention only caused him to disappear altogether. With a glance at Louisa’s hopeful smile, Cassandra nodded, causing a rush of excitement within the room.
The ladies almost ran through the halls, barely able to calm their steps as not to stir Lady Vanderburr, who was already disgruntled by the brightness in their faces. Cassandra easily fed off of the happiness of her waiting ladies and followed their behaviors. Louisa let out a giggle as the large doorways to the garden came into sight, causing Lady Vanderburr’s to shudder.
“Let’s race! Please! Let’s race!” Louisa cried, picking up her black skirts and sprinting towards the doors.
“My lady!” Lady Vanderburr gasped, but she was too late, Louisa ran smack into Henry.
A loud clang echoed through the deserted hallway, stopping all movement. Louisa paused, half horrified and half in a frightful delight of amusement, she rubbed her forehead curiously-not sure what it had just hit. Henry instinctively searched his armored chest to make sure that there was an indentation in the metal, causing the girls to laugh; all but Cassandra of course, who only stared in bewilderment. Henry straightened the embroidered tunic of his military uniform and glared at the girls, not noticing Cassandra hovering at the back of their group.
“How dare you. We are in mourning,” Henry scolded, his youthful face suddenly scrunching into the look of an old man.
“Please cousin, do not try to father us. Or attempt to be Lady Vanderburr,” Louisa exasperated, twirling a strand of her blond hair between her fingers.
“Yes, please husband,” Cassandra concurred, her voice ringing through the hall and immediately smoothing Henry’s face into a grim slate of stone.
“I am leaving,” he said hurriedly pushing his way past Louisa and the two other ladies, only pausing by Cassandra’s sudden grip on his hand.
“And where too?” Cassandra asked letting go of his hand and taking note of his uniform and the sword at his side.
“To assist my cousin, the Earl of Hordenlind. There is more trouble at the Hordenlind border. More than he can handle,” as he said this, it was apparent that all intimacy and closeness had vanished between the couple. There had been little too begin with, and now, it had all vanished.
“Is it war?” real concern could be heard in Cassandra’s voice as she spoke, surprising the prince.
“No. Well, I hope not. There will be battle, but hopefully that will be all.”
“Oh,” Cassandra exhaled, not sure what to say.
A rush of anxiety gushed through Henry as he took note of Cassandra’s pale features and how her black dress failed to bring out her beauty. He suddenly felt deeply troubled, the thought of sending her back fading to the back of his mind. Gently, he raised Cassandra’s chin, meeting her eyes with a subtle apology. He bent towards her to kiss her, at first she was reluctant, angry that he would do such a thing after hurting her as he had, but then at the thought that they may never kiss again, Cassandra gave in. Henry parted kissing her hand, feeling warm and hungry for more.
“That was unexpected,” Louisa tittered, covering her mouth with her hand in good humor.
“And supremely inappropriate, as all of you have been. I am ashamed, disgusted,” Lady Vanderburr screeched in a silent scolding, her chin trembling with disappointment.
“Oh, Lady Vanderburr, now that my cousin has left, we are only apt to more supremely inappropriate behavior,” Louisa said gracefully, “Behavior that will make you furthermore, ashamed and disgusted. You should just leave now while you can.”
“My lady!” Lady Vanderburr exclaimed with pure horror.
“In fact, with the king mentally disturbed and stuck to his bed, Phillip who doesn’t care about anything really, the absence of courtiers, and my mother who will not leave her rooms due to the fright that she may catch what killed the queen, we are pleased to do what we wish,” Louisa smiled contently after her speech and even received a short applause from Anne, who stopped as she received a scornful look from Lady Vanderburr.
The girls waited for Lady Vanderburr to respond, but her lips only trembled in a shaky unison with her chin. With a loud humph, the ostrich-like woman raced down the hall half in tears. Cassandra, who was paralyzed by Henry’s abrupt farewell, adjoined the gaggle of girls as they laughed with triumph. Only, Cassandra did not laugh with their triumph over defeating Lady Vanderburr’s wrath, but from nervousness. The lump that had formed weeks ago in her throat slowly reappeared.
Together, arm in arm, the young women ran from the palace and deep into the gardens, hiding their fits of laughter and joy behind groves and small stone adobe’s. Louisa, who was friends with some of the few men courtiers allowed onto the mourning grounds of the palace, enticed them and the young women into a game of hide-and-go-seek. Nothing stopped them from their childish escape, they cherished it, for later as punishment from a regrouped Lady Vanderburr, they would have to stay in Cassandra’s rooms for the rest of the mourning period.
Henry too, found an escape. The feeling of Cassandra’s lips lingered on his as he left the palace astride his horse. He had selected an armful of arms from his own, secret, army and held the requesting letter the Earl had sent him in his hand as to reread the details of the position of the Hordenlind army. His cousin would be dependent on him to muster a plan from the small details from the letter, and Henry was obliged to.
Henry sat in front of his tent, his elbows digging into his knees, and his chin resting in his hands. His soldiers passed him, bowing in reverence and then striding quietly to their own tents. The evening was a quiet one, the air thick with the fears that everyman was overcome by with the knowledge of an unavoidable battle. Henry stared down the sloping-green hill in deep thought.
Far in the distance, Henry could see the outline of the enemy’s camp, whiffs of smoke channeling into the cloudless-orange-sky. He pondered strategy upon strategy, hungry for victory. Henry thought this battle final battle for Hordenlind and he was eager for it to end.
“Surprise,” Henry muttered, suddenly rising, his eyes glued to the faint outline of the Hordenlind encampment.
“My lord?” a passing soldier said hastily, bowing anxiously, and nervously, unsure of what his lord had said and if it was directed at him.
“Perfect, why hadn’t I thought of it before?” Henry mused smiling then addressing the young soldier, “Tell the Earl to prepare for battle and spread the news. By the time the sun has set, this army must be prepared for attack.”
“Yes my lord,” the boy whispered, attempting to hide his fear, and then running to find the Earl, hoping childishly that the Earl would decline Prince Henry’s request and the battle would just be cancelled.
Decline the request, the Earl did not. The Earl nodded slowly, dragging his hand through his thick brown hair and messaging the base of his chin. With a simple hand gesture, he accepted Henry’s proposal and ordered that the army prepare itself.
Like a pack of hungry wolves, the Linderservian army crept into the darkening night, moving slowly and soundlessly. Though he was not the Alpha male, the commander of the pack, the prince was at the army’s head. He wordlessly guided them into the haunting shape of a crescent moon, as to surround the sleeping enemy camp, and consume them with silent terror.
Soldiers eyed each other, other’s peed from sheer fear, and some simply looked ahead, their faces stony underneath their silver helmets. The Earl looked at Henry for guidance as they began to reach the top of the looming hill where their enemy slept, the green grasses growing short and a small patch of trees growing thicker. Henry held his gloved hand high in the air, instructing captains to position themselves.
Henry eyed the unmoving camp, looking for a sign of life, but only heard the snores of a exhausted men. This was risky, Henry knew that, but the Linderservian army had a very fair advantage. Though the Hordenlind encampment was much larger than the Linderservian, it had been traveling for days from the far western lands of the territory. As if to confirm the exhaustion of the army, a Hordenlind soldier limped out of his tenting, yawning, scratching his chest, and unarmed. The man made his way to a tree, only a breath away from an unseen Linderservian soldier. Once the soldier had relieved himself, Henry put his hand down, signaling the attack.
The army moved like a soundless wave, their swords swishing mightily through the early autumn night air as they ripped down tents and sliced through awakening bodies. At first, the enemy was unaware and their soldiers killed mercilessly and quietly. It wasn’t until a young Hordenlind squire shouted warnings at sword point and awoke the camp. With one gruff responsive warning call, the camps depths were shaken into consciousness.
The battle began, the Hordenlind general yelling at his tired men, carelessly throwing armor upon his back. He barked at his personal servants to help, who soon met their fates at the edges of Linderservians swords. The general raged with anger and tore his way towards Henry, whose head had been left helmetless after fierce combat with a giant Hordenlind soldier.
“You break the rules of battle, of war. We had agreed! Agreed! To await dawn!” the general yelled as loudly as he could, swinging his sword clumsily at Henry.
Henry did not speak; he gritted his teeth and dove fearlessly dove towards the general, piercing the general’s side with an effortless pierce. The general’s son watched his father fall as he himself was at sword point. Hot tears swelled in his eyes as he watched Henry raise his sword for a final blow, the moonlight making him look like a loveless giant all to ready to take the life away of the last nobility belonging to Hordenlind. The son hallowed as he became the last living noble of his country and with one fearless sweep, pushed his way from the Linderservian soldier whose sword was hesitantly making its way towards him.
Henry did not see the now fatherless boy abandon the battle with a posse of his most trusted soldiers and take refuge in a neighboring patch of woodland. He only saw his victory in the general’s murder and groaned with fierce delight as he slayed more stunned and defenseless Hordenlind soldiers. The Earl accompanied his cousin, the sounds of victory echoing through the bloody night. Hordenlind’s white canvas tents fell with their masters, their master’s blood staining them and the ground on which they were tied. Within the night, the Hordenlind army was swiped into dismal nothingness, and its members piled on the hills center to be burnt to ash.
Henry stood watching the fire, from a far distance, unaware of the sudden clamming and clamoring from behind him. The Earl nudged him and jerked his head sideways. A young messenger was clumsily fumbling his way through the resting military camp, receiving smart remarks from the prideful soldiers he passed. Henry exhausted and dreading the fact that the new message might be an alert of yet another Hordenlind army, turned to face the red-faced messenger.
“What is it?” Henry groaned impatiently, the earl smirking at his side.
“Your wife, her highness, the Princess-” that was all the messenger could say before he fainted, fatigue from endless nights of travel coming over him.
“I wonder?” the earl questioned, tilting his head in curiosity as a military physician rushed to the messengers side.
“Who knows,” Henry shrugged, hiding his concern, “Take him and feed him. He can deliver his news when he feels up to it,” Henry commanded the physician.
“Yes Prince Irony.”
“Should we stay another week? Just in case? I can order some men to go find more supplies in the village just northeast of us,” the earl inquired, bringing Henry out of a moment of troubled thought for Cassandra’s well being
“How long have we stayed? I am afraid I have, rather purposefully, lost track of how long it has been since I left.”
“A month, including the time it took you to get here. Yes, I would say a month.”
“So it has been roughly two months since my mother’s death?”
“Yes, and therefore your marriage,” the earl stopped, his face growing red from bashfulness at an irresistible thought that he decided to say aloud, “Do you suppose that your wife is-”
“That is what I was just pondering, but certainly a messenger would not have been sent to tell me such.”
“Who knows. Women do such strange things with they are in that condition.”
“How would you know? You are not married.”
“Aye, I am not, but I have seen a few pregnant women in my lifetime,” the earl responded sheepishly, taking a swig from his canteen of honey mead.
Henry only chuckled.
“Well, tell that group of your men to gather more supply. I have a feeling that you right, that we should stay here a little longer.”
FASTON FOR THE KINGS PROMISE
Queen Joan withered with guilt on her deathbed, guilt that she had not fulfilled her promise to Sancastria. As she died, her descendants at her side, she put into law that on every anniversary of her death, the people of Linderservia were too fast in remembrance of the promise made to Sancastria long ago. She hoped that tying such a weight to her descendants would inspire one of them to finally fulfill it. In desire for the achiever to be a king, for it was her grandfather the first king of Linderservia’s, promise, she christened the day of fasting the Faston for the King’s Promise. She created the word “faston” so that her name too, would be remembered, and remind the future kings of her dying wish. Queen Joan died the next day, leaving the desire to fulfill the promise, as dead as her lifeless body.
Tis the unfulfilled promise of a king,
that causes my undying aching.
Here and there, I shall let my body die.
There and here the days go by.
For my father’s unkempt promise,
Shall lead my land to demise.
The promise will be fated to die as everything dies.
Tis the unfulfilled promise of the king,
that causes my undying aching.
-“Joan’s last words”, encrypted on Henry I of Linderservia’s treasured tapestries.
A hooded figure ambled through a quant village. Autumn winds swept through the fragile houses of the village, causing them to bend and creak. The traveler did not take heed of the eerie noises of the night, nor whispering passer-byers, and continued to make his way.
A small inn was lit with merriment. Weary merchants and tradesmen drank their ale in peace and workman downed their pints with boisterous cheers. The innkeeper’s wife scolded her daughters as they batted their eyelashes at any man who gave them the eye. Her younger children played with the dog in the corner, throwing him bits and pieces of their tasteless dinner.
“You are late,” the Duke growled from the shadow of his hood as the cloaked traveler sat next to him in the darkest corner of the inn.
“I apologize,” the traveler sneered, rubbing his old knees, sore from the day’s long journey.
“What are the numbers?” the Duke inquired through gritted death.
“Enough, many would not join the cause,” the traveler sighed, signaling an innkeepers daughter to bring him ale.
“For which cause? Our cause? Or the cause we want people to believe we are supporting?” the Duke said this sourly as a plump woman slammed a pint of ale in front of the weary man in front of him.
“Money now sire,” the plump innkeeper’s daughter barked.
“Take it,” the old traveler said roughly in response, tossing his payment into the woman’s outstretched hand.
“I cannot bear the thought, the thought that my brother will take away my rightful title as Duke of Sancastria and force me into keeping me simply as the Duke of Mudden. The Duchess of Mudden will officially loose her title and will be casted into the fate of a harlot,” the Duke grumbled angrily, squeezing his fist into a tight ball and slamming it against the table, “I know he is not king yet. I know that he has not yet announced thus, but I know it. As soon as he returns from battle with Hordenlind and my father dies, it will inevitable. He has taken everything from me.”
The Duke sat in silence and watched the children play with the dog. His patience grew short as he waited for the man to drink his ale and respond to his rant. As if to sympathize with the Duke, the ragged dog howled angrily at one of the children who pinched his ear too much and eyed him nervously from across the room
“So for our cause or the other?” the Duke repeated slowly and harshly, realizing that his partner would not reply to his pitiless tirade.
“Not our cause, no one must know our cause,” was the response the man gave.
“There aren’t enough people,” the Duke whined, “We must have more. We must take advantage of the armies in Hordenlind while they despise my father and Linderservia.”
“Time lord, it is all about time. Word will spread. People will start to believe the rumors.”
“Yes, but Henry is the king of overriding rumors and has been since we were children. If any reach court, he will dismiss them, therefore dismissing them from Linderservia.”
“That is true. I have noticed.”
“How have you noticed? You live hundreds of miles away.”
“Yes, but I have been observant over the years. I did watch him as he was raised, as did I you.”
“Then you would concur with me, rumors are not enough to begin turmoil. We must have something that will bite Henry and distract him personally.”
“I say we simply need an army bigger then Linderservia’s,” the traveler said confidently in a hushed voice, taking a long satisfying swig of his ale.
“This country has never prospered as it is now. The people look up to the king and even the queen and will probably have more reason to do so when Henry is crowned. It is not going to be as easy as you make it sound. We won’t find followers!”
“Oh, but it will be. The people can still love the king if they want right now. I liked your idea, about snatching Hordenlind while we can. I think that we must also ruin Henry and Cassandra’s relationship when the time comes. That way one of them will side with us.”
“That will be impossible. Henry is too proud of himself and the Salzt-wench is too loyal to Salzt, or so I assume.’
“There is at least something we can do, that I know of. To break their personal trust. Cassandra knows of something that Henry has hidden for many years, when the queen told him after he began to question her leaving to the Isle of Queen Joan for such lengthy spreads of time. If he discovers that she knows this secret, and he hears of her knowledge second hand, then he may lose all faith and loyalty to her. He will panic, losing trust in everyone around him.”
“And what is it, Richard?”
Richard pulled his cloak more tightly around him and smiled.
Mathieu stood nobly, as the noble he thought himself to be, on top of the highest hill in Hordenlind. The icy rain that fell from the grey sky above could not hinder him; he had taken all the power that was offered to him and within himself, he was ready. The hilly landscape sang into bones, his richly toned skin hummed with the chilling air about him. This was his father’s land, his father who was the last noble and only direct heir to the throne of Hordenlind.
Atop the hill across from him, he could see the hated light blue and gold tents of Linderservia, glimmer, contrasting with the delicate-orange leaves that were beginning to pile on the forested ground. The sight caused Mathieu to cringe; his body tightened and shook with a dire thirst for revenger. Somewhere strutting along his tents, Mathieu imagined, the Prince Henry of Linderservia breathed and walked.
Now familiar, with Henry’s battle methods, Mathieu prepared for attack directly after the rediscovering the Linderservian camp. He commanded the army he considered to be his to ready for battle, the army that was dressed in ragged brown rags, lived in patched tents, possessed weapons dull from decades of hunting and ambushing, and contained lost men, faithful to no one. The army, once prepared, staggered in unorganized lines, towards the Linderservian camp. Nothing was discreet in the way they moved, their steps were heavy and tired from days of endless marching, their nervous made them tense, and their spirits sat low in their hungry stomachs.
Richard watched his old and aching body stiff from days of travel, from a tree top. He watched as Mathieu’s feeble army passed him and reached the bowl of the two neighboring hills on which the enemies were camped. His tree rocked as careless soldiers, half-asleep, passed it. Mathieu lead them fearlessly, the light of revenge flickering in his eyes. Richard sat against his tree’s trunk with leisure, ready to watch the battle unfold before him.
On seeing a choppy form of movement on the neighboring hill across from him, a guard on watch ran. The guard sprinted up the hill, lighting a torch of warning, and waving it in the air. Seeing the flickering flame, the watch guard atop the hill responded by lighting his own torch and then hastily sending word to the Prince Irony.
Without second thought, Henry acted. He instructed his soldiers to retreat down the opposite side of the hill, leaving the camp behind as it was. In this, he hoped, the Hordenlind soldiers would suspect nothing. Being as tired and weary from continual marching, the soldiers would amble upon the camp thinking it inhabited, and ambush it. Upon realizing that the camp was deserted, they would catch-on to the soldiers retreat down the opposite side of the hill and charge into their readied swords.
Mathieu pushed up the hill, kicking the sides of his horse violently, and his soldiers stumbling aimlessly after him. As he reached the top, he began to feel as if something was amiss. The camp felt too quiet, only the crackling of an abandoned fire could be heard. His ears strained themselves to hear anything, but heard nothing. Mathieu came to a sudden halt and raised his hand into the air, stopping the army behind him, they responded with confused looks.
“They have retreated,” Mathieu whispered to himself, “but not out of fear.”
Hot anger rose in Mathieu’s chest. Of course they spotted him and his soldiers. Henry had prepared for this; he knew how unready they were for battle. Mathieu scowled, unsure of what to do.
Richard, upon seeing Mathieu’s halt and moment of revelation, jumped down from his tree and walked gently down toward the baffled boy. He smiled, sensing an oncoming nous of power over Mathieu.
Soldiers watched Richard walk by, thinking nothing of it, too consumed with the want to rest. All they saw was a cloaked man, perhaps a scout or assistant to Lord Mathieu. Some of the soldiers hoped it was an assassin, so they could have reason to disband and go home to their families whom Mathieu had dragged them away from in great haste during the past two weeks to form his own army. Little did they know, that the cloaked man was to become an idle to them, a man who would lead them into the depths of vengeance and tyranny.
“Sire,” Richard greeted, bowing deeply, catching the unfocused attention of Mathieu.
“Who are you? A spy?” Mathieu snapped, defensively jumping off his horse and taking hold of his sword.
“No. No. Not a spy, not a spy at all,” Richard chuckled, amused by Mathieu’s crazed expression.
Evening was beginning to set and cold wind was starting to ruffle through the tree tops. Mathieu, filled with unease, lowered his weapon with impatience, taking in the passing of time. Richard smiled, pulling down his hood.
“I recognize you,” Mathieu murmured, slightly confused.
“I thought you might. We have met. Long ago, but we have met. At a feast of the Duchess of Mudden’s I think, aye, before she was stripped of her home?”
“Aye. What are you doing here? My father and I sent messages asking for the help of your country ages ago,” Mathieu said hotly, spitting at Richard’s feet.
“And I have come. I have come to help, personally,” Richard said slyly, ignoring the glob od Mathieu’s spit by his boot.
“Does not your king know?” Mathieu whispered, becoming conscious of the curious gazes of his soldiers.
Richard, seeing the young man’s unease, wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulder and guided him far enough away that the soldiers could watch, but not hear.
“No. He doesn’t, Mathieu son of Loin, Noble of Hordenlind. The Duke Phillip, does though.”
“Phillip? The future Duke of Sancastria?”
“Ah, but you are not educated on the rumors of his recent change of title are you?”
“Apparently I am not,” Mathieu said slowly, becoming interested in what Richard had to say.
“The future king is going to strip Phillip of his title and leave it as the Duke of Mudden, all so that he can control Sancastria.”
“How does this concern me?”
“Why, it gives you an opportunity to form your own alliance. To gain some power, power from one of the most powerful men in the land. It gives you reign to fight for the revenger of your father’s death and bringing Hordenlind to what it once was.”
“How do you know about my father?” Mathieu sneered, hiding his interest in what Richard had to offer.
“I have ways dear boy and many friends. Now, the Duke, the Duchess of Mudden, and I are willing to offer you quite a lot if you chose to help us. If you choose to take advantage of this offer.”
“What are the terms? What is the offer?”
“The Duke and I are very set on overriding Henry’s power when he abdicates the throne. The Duke wants to simply because he has many reasons to hate his brother and of course he to control Linderservia himself.”
“Why doesn’t he just poison him?”
“Ah, because then that would be too obvious. If he wants total control, he needs to gain faith from his people, not destroy it, for it is already weak.”
“So you two are working to set the king up for destruction? You are creating a plot that will destroy him in the eyes of his people?”
“In one way or another. Mainly arms though dear boy. An army is the answer to everything. If you help us, not only will we have numbers that will outshine the Henry’s army by thousands, but you can have Hordenlind as your own.”
“How long will this take? Your plotting and designing? Building?”
“Time. Which we have. The future king and queen are both young.”
“Why are you so eager in helping the Duke?”
“I promised someone very dear to me long ago that I would help them override the past king, but then they decided better of it.”
“So, you are doing it out of revenge?”
“Revenge? Maybe, slightly, but more out of a sense of duty and my own want.”
“What are you going to do? If it works then? Is not dangerous for you to want what the Duke wants?”
“Perhaps,” Richard sighed, the evening growing into a dark night, his gut twisted impatiently as he watched Mathieu think. Mathieu was by far, much smarter than the Duke, much too curious and not as easily coddled as the Duke.
“You give me much to think about,” Mathieu replied after a moment of thoughtful silence, “and much to consider. I will rest on it and decide after I have fought this battle.”
“Why fight it?” Richard inquired, seeing it as an idle decision and waste of arms if Mathieu were to accept his offer.
“That is what I came here to do and I must fill it out. My men might disband if I tell them that our long march was superficial.”
“Ah, yes, that is sensible. Where did you get these numbers?”
“They are leftovers from my father’s army and from recruiting near the border of Mudden and Salzt, a border that you should be familiar with.”
“I see,” Richard said stiffly, unsure of what Mathieu meant by the latter comment, for he couldn’t possibly know such information, “How would you know such?”
“I have ways and many friends,” Mathieu retorted, smiling somewhat too viciously for Richard’s liking, and his tone too controlling and heated, “Meet me at the traveler’s hub outside of the Mudden and Hordenlind border in a month’s time, and I will have an answer for you.”
With that last comment, Mathieu returned to his horse, swung himself astride it, and kicked it forward, signaling his army to follow. Richard watched him as he disappeared into the Linderservian camp. Soldiers passed him with indifference, occasionally bumping into him without apology or care. Mathieu is young, Richard concluded, and has to be watched, for his power hunger was fresh, new, and untamed.
Mathieu and his army slept the night in the Linderservian camp, taking advantage of the plentiful food supply and extra supplies. The soldiers napped and replenished their hunger, feasting on the fine Linderservian venison and wine. All the campfires were lit and the Hordenlind songs of old echoed through the hills.
Song was also being murmured in the palace, softly murmured under Cassandra’s breath as she allowed Anne to decorate her hair. She wore her green silk robe, which was tied loosely around her slightly bowelled stomach, and sang a Salzian lullaby. The glint of the autumn fire warmed Cassandra’s bedroom, where Louisa lounged on Cassandra’s bed.
“If Lady Vanderburr was here,” Anne fretted, coiling a piece of Cassandra’s hair with a hot iron rod.
“Oh please! You say that whenever we spend the night with Cassandra,” Louisa exclaimed.
“If only Hazel could join us,” Anne sighed, her mousy eyes shining with pity.
“She has children and a husband. If I had children and a husband, I probably wouldn’t be here either,” Louisa confessed, yawning and stretching her young body across the bed.
“I concur,” Cassandra agreed warmly, hiding the sudden impulse of worry that the word “husband” sent through her, “Though, I will have a child soon, and hopefully a husband.”
Feeling the vibe of worry from her lady, Anne smiled and gently pressed her hand on Cassandra’s shoulder.
“Have you heard from Henry yet?” Louisa voiced, the vibe of worry having passed from Anne and onto her.
“I wonder why not. I feel like the men have been gone forever. Soldiers keep leaving every day. Every day! Even from Henry’s secret army!”
“Henry’s secret army?” Cassandra exclaimed from surprise.
“He hasn’t told you? Oh my! You two really are, or were, on cold terms! Why it’s not really a secret, but because of his obsession with finding that mythical continent place, he’s been building his own army. He wants to turn it into an ocean military or something, so that when the time comes, he can take the new continent as his own by military force if it is needed.”
“Oh, that makes sense, though I thought that the continent was only a legend to the Linderservians.”
“I think it is,” Anne piped-in, her thin fingers pinching Cassandra’s hair to make it stay in its curled knot.
“Ha, don’t say that in front of Henry little Anne. Have you not seen him stare at those tapestries before? Apparently they are full of some ancient secret. Henry claims that he has solved it, but I do not believe him, he hasn’t acted like he has. I am sure that if he really knew, he would stop fussing over Hordenlind with my brother, the Earl, and try to find the continent!”
“Tapestries?” Cassandra exclaimed, turning her head so abruptly towards Louisa, that to Anne’s dismay, her hair fell completely apart.
“Yes. Why he stole them from some castle in your homeland I am afraid. He said he locked up the whole place on his way out so no one would know.”
“Aw!” Cassandra exhaled in disbelief, “So that is why all the doors were locked when I stayed there on my journey here. Oh I knew it. He stole them! I can’t believe it!”
“What do you mean?” Louisa gawked, smiling with amusement at Cassandra’s surprise.
“When he visited me years ago, in the castle we were staying in, there were these tapestries that he would stare at. For hours and days he would stare at them,” Cassandra’s hair tumbled to her said as she stood causing Anne to sigh with distress, “He asked me if he could have them. I didn’t exactly say no, but I meant no, as I recall.”
“Ha, well, he has them sure enough. In his study.”
Cassandra stared at Louisa blankly and before the two girls could stop her, she ran to Henry’s study, desperate to see them. The chilly black halls did not frighten her, nor the drafts that had slowly been increasing that autumn. She only stopped for a quick breather when she began to feel sick and then sprinted into the study on a curious whim.
The study smelled of old books and of dried ink. Books were strewn on every surface, containing old documents and scribbled notes. Upon the eastern wall, the framed tapestries rested, covered in mourning cloth. Cassandra pulled down the frames’ blankets to behold the tapestries. She stared at them, feeling an eerie presence besides her, the shadow of their master. They looked smaller then she had remembered and the frays on their edges had been trimmed to hold them together.
As she gazed upon the embroidered fabric, she began to wonder if she was seeing what Henry saw at last. The tapestries sewn border was oddly shaped, she had not notice it as a child. The border was rough in some places and smooth in others, as if it were depicting the outline of a country’s border on a map. Within it, was a series, a series of legends that, to Cassandra, did not completely make sense. Only the first one played on her knowledge, the profile of a young girl resembled one of the first secret keepers of Salzt, a tradition regretfully lost and forgotten. Cassandra, suddenly feeling fatigued and a pulse of undying want for Henry’s presence, recovered the tapestries in their black blankets and made her way back to her rooms.
THE ERA OF THE HOLY MAN
After Queen Joan died, Linderservia forgot the past and lived in their glory. Two hundred years or growth, years barely scratched by bad harvests and attacks from neighboring countries passed. The kings forgot about the promise that was made so long ago to Sancastria, and slowly expanded their empire. Expansion was not what the people or the kings necessarily craved, for during that time, minds were hungry for knowledge and spiritual growth.
The Holy Order of Linderservia all began with Sir Xalvador Falkner. Xalvador was raised on an orange orchard, his hands grown with the ways of the earth and his mind dedicated to nature’s secrets. Wanting to know more of the world around him, he joined the king’s army and served at the borders of the land. Though he only fought small skirmishes, he became aware of death and of every man’s wonderment in the purpose of their life. It was when he returned home, well beaten and curious for a greater good, did he begin to believe that only a superior being could have created such a complex world. He believed that the superior being was a king of kings, that he gave man a right to live, and took it away when the man was no longer useful on his planet. Hence, he created the Holy Order of Linderservia.
Many people during this age, believed in Xalvador’s teachings and once he gave up his family’s orchard, selling everything he possessed to do works of good, did people believe what he taught. He taught that man’s purpose was to love, be loved and spread love, that everyone was equal even to the king. His preaching’s spread like a wildfire fire and surprisingly, instead of inspiring revolts against the king, Linderservians fell in love with their monarch, for they believed that the now, Superior Being, gave him the fate of being king, the right. People found that they were quenched in their spiritual thirsts and that they had a purpose in their life. Men and women, who had once been lost, found their way, some, in taking a vow of chastity and dedicating their lives to worshiping the Superior Being.
Within the two hundred years of prosperity, Linderservia created a new rank in their society. There was no longer just a royalty class, artisan and merchant class, peasantry, and soldiery class, but there was another option of class. A religious ranking, and within this religious ranking, there were more ranks. Some, if they had the required knowledge and preformed enough sacred deeds, could become true religious men and hold religious teachings and ceremonies. Those who only wanted to live in the Superior Being’s light, created homes for those who were willing to take the necessary religious oaths.
Though not as strong in modern ages, the Holy Order still resided in Linderservia. People still adored it and paid tribute to it, but its radiance became a scared thing of the past. After two hundred years, Linderservians began to thirst for power, rather than the peaceful satisfaction that religious faith provided.
“He is young,” Henry stated, leaning against a crooked tree with his cousin, the Earl, at his side, “I know what he is doing. He is going to draw this battle out until we are weak, tired, and vulnerable. After he and his soldiers take our supplies and restore them of course.”
“You are young to my cousin,” the Earl yawned messaging the back of his neck.
“I am well aware, but remember that I am the heir to the Linderservian throne, and that I have fought most of your battles for you cousin.”
“You are right Henry,” the Earl quickly apologized, “but you must remember that we must all learn. You are right I think, and I think we must either pull through the siege or fight against it.”
Henry contemplated his cousin’s advice and turned his head, observing his men. Most of them had brought small items of food with them, enough to live on for a day or two if rationed properly, but that was it. They had led themselves into a poor spot, there was not a creek, and all animals would have been scared off by their sudden arrival. Not very many animals of substance lived in the wooded hills anyhow. Henry tiredly rubbed his eyes; and began to regret that he summoned more men from his secret army.
“Who is this man?” Henry questioned, as the wind began to pick-up, sweeping fallen leaves into small gusty whirlwinds.
“I have a theory. I think he is the son of Loin. You killed him as I recall, in our last battle.”
“Yes. I did and proudly. Had I known he had a son, I would have killed him too.”
“I battled with the son, but then he dropped his weapon, watching as you killed Loin. Everyone was watching. Then he ran.”
“Why didn’t you shoot him down?” Henry shouted in a sudden fury, catching the attention of some low ranked-soldiers playing a game that involved three cups and a pea, “Sorry,” he mumbled, “We will play this game and this boy will see who has the power. He will see why Linderservia rules this land, not him, not his father, not any of his countrymen, but only my father, and soon, me.”
“Well said,” the Earl said warmly, smiling admirably at his young cousin.
One solid month passed, slowly, with only time bringing forth new days and leaving behind the old. The first snows of winter drifted from the northern regions of Salzt and across the empire of Linderservia, only Sancastria and the Isle of Queen Joan stood snowless. Henry and his camp moved their encampment every night, and eventually stationed themselves in the ratted and deserted camp of the Hordenlind soldiers. Day after day, the Hordenlind camp became their home, though it was lowly and filled with the outdated belongings of the Hordenlind soldiers, it provided shelter and a meager abundance of supplies.
Though their king was wrapped in pelts and living off of wild berries that had long passed their ripening and had hardened by the winter frosts, the people of Linderservia continued to prosper through the early winter as they had during the summer. Never before had their soups been so plentiful from the fall harvests and hunt, never before were so many children born in the cold months and survived. Even the villages in Hordenlind, which had lived to see many bloody battles and rampages began to feel loyalty to their Linderservian king. Only Mudden was left in the dark and was left to starve, bundled in pelts and forced to pay respects to the Linderservian king.
Mathieu pondered Richard’s offer daily, especially on the days when food was short and he had nothing better to do. As a second month began to pass, he quickly grew restless. His enemy was not attacking, he knew that the Linderservian army had moved to the dismal, lesser, Hordenlind camp, but he did not understand why they did not attack. Daily, he sent scouts to the old camp, and every day they came back with the same responses. Nothing of significance was occurring. This bothered Mathieu and only made him angrier, as did the thought that any day Richard would be waiting for him at the travelers’ hub.
“You!” Mathieu shouted at a messenger, “Tell everyone to prepare, we are going to fight. I have had enough of this!”
The messenger’s eyes lit with excitement and as did the soldiers when he told them battle was upon them. With numb fingers and nimble limbs, they prepared. Mathieu had come to his decision.
The crunching of the snow beneath their feet, gave the Hordenlind army away. Henry, who had been soothing a frostbitten foot, heard the consistent crunch himself. It had stung his ears as it drifted through the white air and awoke his senses. Without delay, he ordered his soldiers to ready themselves. Even the fact that the aggressive clouds above threatened to release a monstrous blizzard, did not dim his determination. He had waited, through hunger, through frost bitten limbs, and through storm after snowy storm.
Their breath could be seen in puffs of vapor as their weapons met. A forceful gust ripped through the battle as the clouds did indeed, release a monstrous blizzard. The two armies could barely be differentiated as snow wrapped around them, whirling outside the eye slots of their helmets. Snow beneath their feet began to turn pink, in some areas, a dark blotchy maroon. Men fell, their bodies freezing into icy statues as their corpses created indentures in the growing mounds of snow.
The battle moved into the bowl between the two hills on which the enemies had encamped. No one’s hands belonged to themselves, for their fingers froze around their sword hilts, becoming one with their mighty blows. Henry’s own hands had frozen to his sword, they no longer listened to the movement of his arms as they swung violently through the air, they simply moved where the tip of his sword decided to move. Everyone slashed against their enemy sluggishly, as if the snow was weighing them into a deep imprisonment of immobility. The imprisonment lasted for three arduous days.
“No more!” Mathieu cried, his lips chapped and unmoving. Henry was upon him, his body that of a purple ice beast. His long, strong, figure was blanketed in snow, his face raged with a deep purple as frost licked his skin with icy poison.
Henry did not here Mathieu’s cry, his world became a haze, a thick haze frozen in the moment of time. His head pounded and his ears heard the silence coming from the mouths of the corpses around him. He could no longer feel his limbs; every movement he made was uncontrollable. A soft deathless whisper trailed through the silencing battle field, cutting its way through sharp cut snowflakes.
“No more! No more!” Mathieu pleaded his voice small and weak, his body turning into a hunched ball of blue ice.
“No more?” Henry choked, for his throat was as stilled as his limbs, he felt his arms drop from their arched swing.
“Or at least a break. I beg of you,” Mathieu moaned, falling to his hands and knees, immune to the wetness of the blood splattered snow.
Henry’s body felt as if it were thawing as he contemplated. The word break caused every cell in his flesh to jump back into activity. Soldiers, both the living and the dying, stared at Henry blankly as he thought, their minds too numbed to processes individual command.
“Aye,” Henry breathed at last, barely audible. His words filtered through the perilous bowl, meeting every living ear, “We will continue in three days’ time. No more, no less. We share whatever food we have.”
All of the soldiers were taken aback, amazed at the Henry’s words and the loyal influence they had over them. Like devoted dogs being rewarded for their tricks, the soldiers smiled and relaxed with glee. Some, even cried, their tears icy drops of joy. Dry embers were lit, providing smoky warmth and enough heat to roast a young elk.
Henry and the Earl, limped to the coverage of a large and lonely pine. Henry crumbled with weakness, feeling as though chips of cold metal clung to his insides, wrenching them apart. The Earl, whose breaths were slow and forced, cringed at the sight of the future king’s frostbite. Henry only stared in horror as he examined the black flesh he had remaining, and spots of pink flesh that weren’t yet scarred.
“We are dying,” Henry whispered through unmoving lips.
“Yes,” the Earl replied, slumping against the tree’s trunk, his eyelids becoming thick and his eye sight dimming into blackness. His face was frozen into a wrinkled frown, his hand stuck in a pussy wound along his chest, from whom who had given it to him, he did not know or had forgotten in his increasing deliria. Every breath of his became heavier and harder to withhold, he could feel his mind slipping into a bleak abyss, and he longed for it to remain there. He longed for warmth and peace, he longed to die, long exhausted from the perilous battle.
Henry did not notice his cousin’s passing. The night was one Henry would forget, it was so black with unreality. Sometime in its’ dark midst, a loving soldier brought him a pelt and warm water. When Henry asked the Earl if he needed anything, he only assumed the Earl and drifted into sleep when he did not respond. He assumed the same when he would call out to the Earl, awakening from visions of the figures on his loved tapestries coming to life and talking to him, and of Mathieu slitting the figures into bloody pieces. Only in the morning, when his own eyelids were growing thick, did he realize that his cousin was dead.
“No,” was all that Henry said upon seeing his dead cousin, as madness rushed through him.
The fine mouths of the embroidered kings on the tapestries began to open, letting out hellish screams. Henry stumbled to his feet from fright, his breath quick, and his vision bouncing from complete blackness to a sudden white glow. One of the kings reached out a hand and led Henry forward, across patches of snow. He followed the illusion without question.
“Where are you taking me?” Henry implored, confusing his men as they watched him blunder through the packed snow.
“My lord, Prince Irony?” one asked, stumbling into a bow as he took Henry’s arm, Henry flinched and batted his eyelids.
“Where is he going?” Henry demanded weakly, the embroidered king disappearing.
“Hordenlind’s leader my lord?” the soldier inquired, unsure of what Henry meant.
Henry did not respond, slowly, the real world was draining back into him and swiping he memory of his fitful disorientation. He began to feel desperate and embarrassed for his loss of mind. Stiffly, Henry shook his head and bent his neck sideways, thawing back to life.
“Yes. Him. I need to kill him. I need to kill him,” Henry stuttered, recovering from his white daze.
“He is gone,” the soldier replied, “I saw him leave. Surely only to rest in his own camp my lord. Many of the Hordenlind soldiers have stayed down here. You told us we had to share resources my king, until we were equally strong.”
“The Earl is dead,” Henry muttered, the tapestries embroidery beginning to take complete leave from his vision, “The Earl is dead.”
The soldier only frowned, soldiers around them whispered regrets, but did not move. Henry squeezed his eyelids shut and then bent to the snowy forest ground, his sword still clenched in his hands from the battle. He breathed heavily, resting his forehead against the sword’s hilt.
“Many are dead my lord,” the soldier replied, briefly saddened by the rememberance of his dying friends.
“Kill them,” Henry ordered.
“My lord?” the soldier asked, confused.
“Kill them,” Henry repeated through gritted teeth, sending many Hordenlind soldiers into fits of protest and others into the run of cowardice, “And send a messenger to the queen, to inform her that I am dying.”
The soldier did not need to hear it again; he left himself, as the messenger, fleeing from the chaos behind him. Henry did not fight; he limped back to the tree and stayed there, next to the Earl’s lifeless corpse. A world of illusion became his reality. He saw Cassandra and heard her scream, her figure barely visible as it looked out of her bedroom’s window. From her window, the capital was blazing with vengeful fire, and his own body was tied to his palace’s gates, his head barely attached to his neck. Henry moaned in agony, Cassandra’s scream repeating in his ears when in reality, her scream was that of the Hordenlind soldiers being mercilessly suffocated in the snow around them.
“Sancastria,” Henry wailed, “Sancastria.”
“Shush my son, you will be with me. Soon enough,” Henry’s mother cooed, her ghostly hand running through her son’s frosted hair.
“No,” Henry whimpered.
“I am here. Rest,” the queen continued, Henry’s father appearing as a glowing giant behind her.
“You are young,” the Earl’s dead body whispered into Henry’s ear, “You are young.”
Henry was left in a battle against death for two days. Soldiers tried to move him, but he would only thrash against their will. They dutifully burnt corpses, their frost-bit fingertips rejoicing in the warm smoke that raged from the burning bodies. The Hordenlind leader was nowhere to be found. Without looking back, and hope on their minds, the last of the Linderservian army readied for home. After the two days, Henry slipped into an unmoving fever and was laid on a cart, guarded caringly by his loving men.
Jared came home on the first spring passage. The trees still stood bare, except from small brown buds peaking from their skeletal branches. He had anticipated for his journey home, eager to hear news from Henry, who he hadn’t heard from since he had left in the early autumn. When he arrived in the capital city, and found his way into the palace, he was happy to find that the mourning period had been replaced with gentle colors of spring.
Cassandra’s head tossed and turned, sweat sticking relentlessly to her forehead as she dreamt of a cool mountain lake that she used to swim in during Salzian summers. She and her friends were splashing, half-naked, in the lake’s grey water, their skin absorbing the fresh mountain air. Cassandra sat-up; due to an unexpected pain that engulfed her entire body.
The nursemaid, who Lady Vanderburr had signed to watch over Cassandra, awoke from her chair to find her mistress crying in pain. She leapt onto her stocky legs and rang for the royal physician and Cassandra’s ladies. All came to the Princess Irony’s aide, spreading the news to whomever passed by. Before dawn, the entire capital city and the villages surrounding it heard happy news.
“Where is my child?” Cassandra requested in a feverish breath, her face pale and wet with exhaustion.
“Here my lady,” Hazel responded quietly, her arms cradling the blanketed baby, whose sharp cry had finally softened into a sleepy silence.
“Can,” Cassandra gasped, allowing Anne and the nursemaid to prop her against a series of ambiguous feather pillows, “Can I hold him? Or her? What is it, oh, please tell me.”
Hazel smiled, her eyes twinkling with delight in being the person who got to tell her mistress that she had produced an heir.
“A boy my lady, a boy,” Hazel said proudly, handing the sweet bundle to Cassandra.
Cassandra’s eyes released a swarm of tears; she smiled lovingly, as she looked at her sleeping babe. Already it possessed the strong and emotional expression that Henry always carried, but he had the face shape and eyes of his mother. His hair was a gentle patch of fuzz, suggesting the color of Cassandra’s hair. Motherly waves pushed through Cassandra’s every limb, a deep loving satisfaction overwhelming her into a fit of hope-filled sniffles.
“Now you must rest Princess Irony, you are very weak,” the physician ordered, his happiness for his future queen apparent on a horse like face, wrinkled from years of aiding many births and deaths.
“I will, I will,” Cassandra assured her face brightening as the bell tower began to ring the traditional three gongs informing Linderservia that Cassandra had given birth to a son.
“Someone should send a message to Henry,” Louisa whispered into Lady Vanderburr’s ear, who stood in silent admiration in the furthest corner of the room.
“You mean, Prince Irony?” Lady Vanderburr corrected.
“Yes,” Louisa sighed with indifference.
“If only your father was here,” Cassandra suddenly cooed from across the room, gently resting her finger on the babe’s nose, catching the attention of Lady Vanderburr.
“Yes, you are right my lady,” Lady Vanderburr agreed, “I will send word at once.”
“I loose respect for him every day,” Louisa mumbled under her breath as Lady Vanderburr took leave, “What future king leaves his court for nearly eight months and never sends word of his existence?”
As Louisa finished her rant in the quietness of the corner, Jared appeared. His journey had slightly increased the size of the bags underneath his eyes. When his eyes first sighted Cassandra, his breath stopped, for she had changed. At first he wondered if it was simply due to her labor, but then he decided that labor did not tend to cause young women to bloom into womanly beauty. Cassandra had lost her youthful confident flower, her face had grown into that of a woman’s, along with her form. Henry most certainly cannot send her back now, especially since she has secured her position with a son, Jared thought to himself, as Cassandra greeted him with her warmest of smiles.
“Is that a bell I hear?” the king gasped, his body sprawled tiredly across his bed across the palace, “Is that the bells?”
“Yes your highness, your son and his wife have produced a son,” Lord Arthur announced, hearing his king’s words as he entered the stuffy bedroom.
“The damn wench,” Phillip muttered angrily, kicking at the room’s fireplace, Lord Arthur eyed him with reproach, “My wife produced a son too and no bells were rung for her.”
“I can die! I am released! Alack! I can join my wife,” the king cried joyfully thrusting himself carelessly across his bed.
“Your highness, surely this will make you want to live. Don’t you want to get to know your grandson?” Lord Arthur said encouragingly, fingering the letters he had just received from the Hordenlind border.
“Maybe you are right, but my wife! My loyalty is too her now!” the king groaned helplessly, the last spot of living light flickering dully in his eyes.
“Your highness, I have come with letters, from your son. They were all held-up at the old fort near the Hordenlind border. Messengers could not send them, for it was too dangerous at the time, but alas, the battles are done and the rebellious nags have been defeated.”
“Let me admit, I was hoping for lesser news,” Phillip stated gruffly, gnashing his long teeth.
“Prince Phillip, you should rejoice,” Lord Arthur rebuked; Phillip only winced and dug his head into the fireplace.
“Hersey! Tyranny! All the traitors should be executed! Burnt alive! Tortured! I have had enough of Hordenlind, they should follow Mudden, and lurk back into the darkness they came from! Enough! Enough! Where is my boy? My eldest?”
Lord Arthur shuttered at the king’s small tantrum and stood at his bedside. The king’s beard had grown to a scraggily length of woolly hair. His face had grown grey and thin from the refusal of food or drink.
“In his last letter,” Lord Arthur began, holding an eyeglass to his eye, “he states that he is recovering at the old fort and every day, soldiers are being dispatched. He also says,” Lord Arthur stopped, his lips beginning to tremble with instant grief, “my son, the Earl or Hordenlind, died of injury and extreme exposure.”
“Write back and tell Henry to come home this instant! Life fades from me every day!” the king wailed, slouching against a pillow yellowed by months of sickly dirtiness.
Lord Arthur taken aback by the king’s lack of sympathy and a cold smirk from Phillip, folded the letters and rested them on the table across from the king’s bed. His hands shook with anger, his wife would not be able to bare it, for even he couldn’t. He had lost all of his children besides Louisa and his beloved son, only they had passed infancy.
“I will your highness, good day,” Lord Arthur bided, rubbing his hands anxiously together.
Later that evening, Louisa who had received news of her brother’s death, ran to Cassandra for comfort. Cassandra, who had just woken from a nap and had just received her son from a wet-nurse, was resting in her newly sheeted bed. A window was slightly ajar, allowing a gentle breeze to air-out the room. Louisa cried bitter tears, taking advantage of Cassandra’s new motherly composition.
“The king is badly wounded, from exposure or something of the sort. I was told he did have a battle injury as well, but the other is more severe. Since mid-winter he and his army have been camping at some abandoned fort near the Hordenlind border. Apparently more than half of the army was killed from exposure. I heard it was an awful battle and that messengers tried fleeing but were killed. Ah, that is probably why you never heard from him. My father gave me the news, for he received a series of letters that had been stalled at the border. He told me right before he told me of my brother,” Louisa informed colorlessly, overwhelmed with a grief she had never felt before.
“Why haven’t they sent any other messengers since?” Cassandra demanded, cuddling her child close to her chest.
“I am not sure, maybe because it has been too dangerous? Or maybe they are too weak. I am sure that is it all is.”
“Has no one else been as worried as I have been?” Cassandra croaked desperately, “I sent letters upon letters to them. I sat trying to distract myself for months from the thought that Henry was dead and that the army of Hordenlind was marching towards us.”
Louisa sat still, never before seeing such a cool anger in her mistress’s face. Cassandra’s words weren’t hot or frantic; they were steady, slow, and sharp. The future queen’s eyes grew dark and her face grew paler, casting a ridiculed shadow across her brow.
“Many have, I am sure my queen,” Louisa responded slowly, her eyes widening with sudden fear, and guilt that she had burdened Cassandra with her sorrow.
“I am done. I am spent. I am going to the border myself and bringing my husband back to his home,” Cassandra said viciously, her hold on her baby tightening.
“I am sure that is not needed, and what of your baby? How could you leave him so soon? You are still weak,” Louisa protested.
“I am going to the old hunting fort by the Hordenlind border to retrieve the king and his men, send word and make the necessary preparations,” Cassandra ordered loudly, confronting one of the guards guarding her door from any curious courtiers who, illegally, might be wandering about the private halls in search of a glimpse of the new baby.
“I am sorry my queen, but I have been told that if you should request such, I must refuse,” a guard answered, peaking into the room, slightly moved by the queen’s visible anger.
“By whose orders?” Cassandra demanded.
“The Prince Irony, his lordship.”
Cassandra flinched, dumbstruck. Her eyebrow rose with a fiery defiance. She looked the guard sternly in the eye and then smiled, her face suddenly becoming superficially warm and thoughtful.
“And why would my lord order such a thing?”
“In fear that you would be hurt, ambushed, attacked, or worse, my ladyship.”
“Well I will have to show him differently. He has not respected his duty to me so I will not respect that order. Under my order, guard, you are to do as I say.”
The guard frowned, conflicted. The queen’s eyes were too bright for his liking, but he felt a kindness from them and the sight of a new mother so distressed gave him immediate pity. He swallowed loudly and his mouth twisted with debate.
“Let her go,” Jared’s voice sounded from behind as he made his way into the room.
“Master Jared! How good of you! Would you like to make the journey with me?” Cassandra asked throwing her head enthusiastically in the air, causing her baby to simper with discomfort.
“I would indeed, it would be my pleasure,” Jared contoured, than turned to the guard, “Now how about making those preparations? You wouldn’t dare not follow your future queen’s orders? We will leave in two days so Cassandra can restore some of her strength.”
“Yes sire, and my lady, Princes Irony,” the guard said stiffly after a moment’s hesitation.
“You were quiet, why did you not defend mine or the Prince Irony’s orders?” Cassandra asked her other guard, who had stood quietly next to the other in the doorway.
“I was told not to talk about the subject unless I was confronted about it your majesty,” the guard replied, his jaw moving with discomposure.
“The Prince Irony ordered you to do so?”
“Yes your highness.”
“Well, I will most definitely have to confront him on this matter. Here I was, imagining him on his deathbed, when he’s simply sitting around making orders to keep me calm in some distant court. How was it that you were told guard?”
“Some of the soldiers have been returning home. My brother returned with orders from the king saying such, he was a soldier in Prince Irony’s secret army. My lady.”
“So messengers haven’t been getting killed?” Louisa interjected, catching interest in the conversation.
“There was, or were that is, but now Hordenlind is ours. It is Linderservia’s, my lady. We only received the orders from my brother one day ago.”
“Fascinating,” Cassandra whispered, suddenly feeling very overridden and betrayed by her husband’s amount of power over her.
In the afternoon of her second day of rest, Cassandra and Jared departed on horseback, with a band of guards, and two servants to drive a wagon of supplies. Cassandra was too riddled by her emotions to take in the beautiful countryside, half of her felt shamefully guilty in leaving her adored son, but another half of her was steaming with sweltering rebellion against Henry.
Jared tried to sooth Cassandra with bits of poetry about the opening tree buds, soft rows of green hills, and the black-soiled vineyards, but all was in vain. Nothing could calm her, Cassandra only looked ahead, and barely managing a pleased expression when passing travelers would bow to her. The sticky clanking of the horse’s hooves in moist mud beneath her was the only thing she really heard, in a raging attempt to distinguish her emotions.
“How long will the journey take us?” Cassandra demanded impatiently as rain began to fall.
“With this rain? Maybe three days,” Jared mumbled, his eyes sagging with dismay as water began to seep through his clothing.
Three days quickly turned into two weeks. Cassandra and her small party had to stop and take refuge in an ancient castle for ten days, a wimpy structure overwhelmed with vines and age. The rain barely stayed outside of the rotting roof of the ruin. Though the castle was abundant with tales of old and was home to haunting ghost stories, Cassandra was only interested in the king and her destination.
Only when the land began to turn into the steep, forested, hills that led far into Hordenlind, did Cassandra began to feel appeased. Jared watched her calming with relief. As did the servants, for the queen hadn’t touched the food they had cooked for two days.
“Your lordship,” a voice called.
“Yes?” Henry growled, as a hand drew back the patched curtain closing off his room in the old fort, shining burning daylight into his eyes.
When he heard the voice greet him with a soft hello, Henry let out a light-hearted laugh, and jumped, immediately recognizing the figure in the room’s opening. Jared bowed and walked to Henry’s side, smiling. Henry slumped to a sitting position, the furs he had been using as blankets bunching at his sides.
“Jared,” Henry welcomed.
“My king. How are you?”
“Terrified of getting cold,” Henry muttered, staring down at his scarred hands, and attempting, idly, to wiggle his unfeeling toes.
Jared looked sadly down at Henry’s hands; the strong, tanned, fingers that had once spent countless hours in sunny daylight practicing youthful combat were now a palette of scar tissue, their tips home to a dull grey quilt. Henry’s strapping shoulders were now thinned, still broad, but thin. All youth had flickered out of his expressive eyes and had been replaced with a matured sense of understanding. His facial had been roughly shaven and his hair had grown into an unkempt ruffle of browned gold.
“Have I changed that much my master, for you to stare at me as if I were dead?” Henry said heavily.
“You have changed my king, but only because of battle.”
“Battle in the middle of winter. For three days, and before that, nearly two months of siege,” Henry’s voice sounded distant, as the blur of the three days ran across his memory, his shoulders twitched and he looked at Jared intently.
“So this is why you don’t want your wife to see you?” Jared suddenly burst into a deep-chuckle, “Because you think she will judge the way you have changed. Physicality always changes. It can reverse scars and heal wounds and gain strength. I accepted physical change, long ago. I suggest you do the same.”
“I wanted to come back my old self Jared. I wanted her to see me as I was. Not how I am now, not just physically,” Henrys eyes lit with an exasperated want as he spoke, his forehead creased into a deep wholesome fold, “I was once jealous of the confidence she had. I think that I was intimidated, since most bow at my feet and cower from me as I pass. I have been thinking that perhaps, it is my turn to bow at someone’s feet and that it is not wrong to gain confidence from another being.”
“You have definitely changed my lord, and I think that, maybe, for the better. Now I think I will leave you alone to rest,” Jared got up from the edge of the bed and closed the patched curtain behind him as he left.
Henry went on his nightly walk; a simple adventure around the fort’s crumbling anterior. Though he was weakened and his cheeks were slightly hallowed, it was apparent that his majestic glow did not leave him. His remaining soldiers could feel it and could still see it without a second glance. As he walked past them, they whispered and stared in admiration, grateful to have such a powerful future king.
Cassandra waited in Henry’s shabby room, a dark purple night robe tied tightly across her waist, and her arms folded in a tight cross. The robe was Jared’s and she only wore her undergarments as nightwear, for the rain had seeped through her clothing trunk and caused her spare clothes to get wet. She stood straight, her corset squeezing her into the unmoving form of an eloquent effigy; the gentle firelight from the dingy fireplace cast her shadow across the room.
“So this is why Jared has come,” Henry murmured, closing the curtain tightly behind him as he entered the bedchamber.
“Yes,” Cassandra responded icily refusing to face him, startling Henry, “He offered, after he witnessed me shooting down your order.”
Henry did not respond, the hot warmth he had felt at their wedding began to melt through his senses. The thought that he might appear ugly to her left his mind. His heart began to beat quickly against his chest. Something about her had changed, and he thought it completely agreeable, even if her body had become slightly fuller.
After a moment of silence, Cassandra turned to face him her eyes flickering with the flame of the fire behind her, “For months I did not hear from you. Months. Then Louisa arrives and tells me everything, second hand, no, fourth hand. There I was thinking you were on your death bed only to find out that everything was fine. Perfectly fine, and that you were lying about down here gathering your strength to return, with not the slightest care for me. I think it is time that I give you an order. You may be a future king, but you are also a husband Henry, and I am a future queen.”
Henry felt it and saw it again, her overbearing confidence. The confidence that had made him envious of her and almost despise her. He listened to her continue her rant, but he did not take in her words. His ears received the angry sounds of her voice, but he could only register the thudding of his heart. Her lips began to move, as if to speak again after a brief pause. Their red glow against her pale skin, urged him forward. Henry embraced her, kissing her for the first time since their wedding night.
Cassandra tensed, not understanding what was happening, or how it happened. She closed her eyes, and relaxed. All of her anger disappeared as Henry moved her onto his bed.
AN ERA OF EXPANSION
The reign of Fredrick V of Linderservia and Queen Phillipa began an era of true expansion. Fredrick V was known as a tall, determined, and frightening king. Even his own wife, whom was the first peasant to marry a king for four hundred years, was frightened of Fredrick. It is rumored that her fright caused her to have the ability of only bearing one child, Phillip II who would continue his father’s desire in a much more eloquent fashion.
Fredrick V, built an army, and without warning, attacked the defenseless Hordenlind border. He, himself, sieged villages and imprisoned those who fought against his might. He swept over the wooded hills of Hordenlind, condemning the land for eternity, for never again would Hordenlind remain the passive woodland that it was. Most of the royalty of Hordenlind were slaughtered, those who lived, were forced into marrying Linderservian lords, widowed duchesses, and greedy knights. Fredrick V made Hordenlind his own and fought for it over a span of ten years.
Mudden was rumored to be a worthless land, a land built from the boulders that had been brought by a long-since melted glacier from the mountains of Salzt. It’s inhabitance never stirred, similar to those of the Salzians in the early days, but they were not united in any sense. There was a royalty, but they lived far and out of reach from their people, in fact, they only had an abundance of wealth because they owned the only fertile ground in the country. The people of Mudden depended on them for their food, that is, until Phillip II began building forts on the Mudden boulder. Phillip II quietly took over Mudden as he provided food from his bountiful lands at his forts and sold them to the hungry people in exchange for their loyalty. It wasn’t until Henry I’s father, when he made a charter stripping the powerless nobility of Mudden, of their titles, did Mudden belong to Linderservia.
The coastal colony of Winvra was a settlement on the far eastern coast of Linderservia that was ruled by a series of tyrannical leaders. They called themselves a “senate” and were equipped with a strong army. Though the never directly attacked Linderservia, they found themselves in continuous battles with Linderservian soldiers. The battles were raid-like power fights, only fought to see who would win and whose army was the strongest. This would last until through their civil-war rebellion, after which Linderservia took complete control of Winvra.
Birds chirped, their nimble feet clutched around the branches of white aspen. All signs of a rainstorm had gone, leaving a cloudless blue sky. The morning sun lazily made it’s why onto the hilly horizon, it’s light bright after days of being blocked by thick thunderclouds. Only the wildlife stirred outside of the old hunting fort, which was now only the home to a small party, the king, queen, a handful of guards, two servants, and Jared. Though still damp from the night’s rain, the walls of the old fort held glowing warmth ,a blissful happiness.
Cassandra awoke, the light from underneath the chamber’s curtain cascading into the room. She stretched, smiling, only to freeze as she took sight of Henry’s shoulder and his warm breath barely brushing her hair. His arm lay limp across her waist, his face expressing a peaceful slumber. Cassandra smiled softly and examined Henry with pleasure.
Henry did not look how he looked during the night of their wedding, which to the both of them, was a hazy memory long since glazed with many days passed. Compared to this, that night many months ago was small and insignificant. Cassandra tilted her head upward, to look at his face, the face that had always seemed to have expressed some extreme emotion, never was it blank and unreadable like hers. Cassandra felt that everything was different between them, that they had come to some deep understanding of one another. His radiance still shone, but it felt aged and torn. He was still young, but the slender youth that was once hidden in his countenance, was gone.
Henry, feeling a stare, opened his eyes, blinking slowly and in disbelief. As he caressed her, Cassandra noticed his scarring. She did not grimace or cringe, but only took his hand into hers. Along his side, a purple scar trailed to his spine. She kissed his fingertips, as if to apologize for her anger the night before. Henry looked at her with a sense of longing, his eyes dimming and squeezing shut as if he were in pain.
“What is wrong?” Cassandra whispered.
“Nothing,” Henry replied, the stress in his face disappearing, only leaving the longing behind, “I wish I could feel it.”
“Feel me kiss your fingertips?” Cassandra said, laughing, confused.
“Yes,” Henry sighed, his tone very serious, “I lost feeling in them. Along with in my toes.”
Cassandra kissed his lips and pressed them against his ear, whispering, “But you will always fill this.”
They returned to the capital within three days. Cheers bounced off the city’s wall, the common people exclaiming their gratitude in the prince’s success in finally defeating Hordenlind’s undying defense. They threw newly-bloomed flowers at his horse’s feet. The women called out to their future queen, admiring her for bringing home the prince after giving birth. Henry’s face turned pink, as a woman shouted her congratulations to Cassandra and their newly born son.
“Cassandra,” Henry called over the shouting crowd, “Why? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted you to see him first. Lady Vanderburr was going to inform you by letter, but I just had to tell you myself,” Cassandra mouthed loudly, her face brimming with happiness, as a woman attached a crown of buds on Cassandra’s saddle.
The Earl was mourned for two months. It was not only a time of mourning for the Earl, but for all of those lost in the all of the battles for Hordenlind. Black, once again, was draped through the halls of the palace. When the period of mourning ended, it ended merrily, the joyful dawns of summer approaching at a rapid pace.
The flowers of late spring and the warmth of early summer had invited Cassandra, her ladies, and a sniffling Lady Vanderburr into the gardens. Cassandra sat against a chair; resting her cheek on a loosely clenched fist as her other arm supported her little Fredrick against her stomach. He giggled with delight as Louisa brushed a feather under his nose, and combed his thickening copper curls with a playful hand.
Cassandra had felt a familiar fatigued for quite some time and sleep constantly consumed her time, she napped as frequently as little Freddie, and sometimes longer. That morning she was particularly tired, for she had had a long battle trying to wiggle her feet into a pair of slippers that she had fitted only a month ago. Not only that, but she had been feeling extremely uncomfortable in her corset for the past week.
“My lady? Are you sure you are not ill?” Anne asked, eyeing the queen with a burning curiosity, beginning to wonder if the queen was breeding.
“I am sure I simply had something bad to eat. The mutton did taste peculiar last night and the wine strangely sour,” Cassandra said tiredly.
“Dear queen,” Hazel puffed, now certain of the queen’s state, “Could you be with child?”
“Could she?” Louisa smirked, “She and my dear cousin are always, well, when Cassandra wasn’t always feeling so-”
“My lady! Keep such thoughts to yourself and Hazel, who do you think you are for being impertinent?” Lady Vanderburr screeched, then gently pressed her nose with a linen cloth, still battling her head cold from the winter.
Cassandra stared at the palace towering in front of her, her ears taking hold of the soft trickling of a fountain behind her. She smiled at her stupidity as she connected thoughts within her head, occurrences, which led to the obvious fact the she was indeed with child again. The ladies argued, Lady Vanderburr scolded and rebutted Louisa, and Cassandra stood to leave, Fredrick smug in her arms. To engrossed in their bicker over what was appropriate to ask the Princess Irony and what wasn’t, the foursome did not notice the queen slip away.
The queen walked gingerly to her rooms, in a daze. Courtiers, now allowed to wander the public court at their whim, paid respect to Cassandra as she passed only to receive a half-hearted response, and to be left in a state of inquiry. Cassandra, once she had handed Fredrick to the wet-nurse and was in the privacy of her private bath room, undressed and examined herself in the mirror. Barely visible, was a slight rise in her lower abdomen. A rush of excitement flew up Cassandra’s spine. Quickly, she redressed in a gown more suited for her situation and left to attend the king’s daily midday meal in the royal family’s dining room. When she had discovered her pregnancy with Fredrick, she had been excited in becoming a mother, but something about this babe felt anew.
Henry found himself staring at Cassandra throughout their meal, something about her seemed different. Her cheeks had a peculiar glow to them that bothered him. Between mouthfuls of bread and grapes, he pondered his wife’s simple gown that was strangely loose compared to his aunt’s and cousin Louisa’s. Catching his gaze, Cassandra smiled, and then sipped from her goblet without another glance.
That night, Henry wandered his way into her room, hoping to find an answer to her strange change. He had been worried for her the past month, for nothing seemed to comfort her at night other than his arms around her shoulders; even then, she tended to cast him to the far side of the bed. The odd look of her complexion at lunch that day spurred him into curiosity, a hopeful curiosity.
“My lord,” Cassandra haled her husband, laying her hand flat on his spot in her bed.
“Are you feeling better?” Henry inquired; suddenly feeling lustfully excited as he laid next to her.
“That is better than not at all.”
“Yes. How was your day?”
“Productive to say the least. Lord Arthur wants me to sign a new order commanding that every citizen from what was once Hordenlind sign an oath of allegiance to me once my father has passed. I may do it, to assist me in taking count of the numbers there. It may bring across the wrong message though and that worries me.”
“Ah,” Cassandra stated simply, smiling slyly.
Henry began to feel belittled. He stiffened, disliking Cassandra’s smile and attitude. Unsure of what to do, he kissed her, but she did not respond to it. He backed away, his face growing rigid with frustration.
“Why do you torture me in this way?” Henry growled, staring at her with a sharp gaze.
“You mistake me my lord. Is it not obvious?” Cassandra answered, meeting her husband’s gaze with a knowing nod.
Henry froze, feeling an array of feelings. His anger shifted into confusion as he realized her meaning. In the end, only one feeling could be felt within him, and that was utter relief. Relief that she was not distancing herself or was developing a new sense of person, but rather that she was cuing him on her sudden change.
“For how long? For how long have you been this way?” Henry questioned, every bit of his relief audible in his voice.
“Maybe three months. It will be born in late winter I think.”
Henry smiled warmly and kissed Cassandra’s cheek, suddenly struck with a heavy tiredness. Cassandra stared at him, waiting for a response; she lifted her hand to his cheek. Henry’s face melted into her soft palm and he closed his eyes, his eyelashes carrying the tender shape of his smile.
“How is your father?” Cassandra murmured, causing Henry to open his eyes and pull his face away from Cassandra’s hand, his face strained with grief.
“He will not live,” Henry said shortly, extinguishing the bedside candle with his nerveless fingertips and falling deep into his pillow.
“I admire your grief,” Cassandra sighed, laying on her side and watching Henry with a pitiful gaze.
Henry looked at Cassandra, his face enflaming to a smooth red. The pity in her eyes made him feel weak, a feeling that he distasted and had thought Cassandra could no longer make him feel. He turned his head from his wife’s and stared at the ceiling.
“Why should you? Do you think I am as heartless as my brother?” Henry snapped, though his voice did not rise or sound crude.
“No,” Cassandra responded, her eyes shining with quick defense, “I was just complimenting you Henry.”
Henry frowned, disliking the feeling of guilt that began to sear through him as well. For a moment he did not reply, angry responses playing through his mind. Only when Cassandra buried her head in her pillow, letting out a gentle frustrated breath, did Henry speak.
“I am worried Cassandra, that is all,” Henry subtly apologized, looking at her dark figure wrapped in the sheets around them.
“About what? About gaining power? Or about losing a father who has long lost the will to rule?” Cassandra shouted underneath her breath, losing patience with the conversation.
“Enough,” Henry said with sharp closure, losing as much patience as Cassandra on the topic and wanting to sleep.
Mathieu sat in a chair worn by years of drunkards and thieves resting on its surface. He hid in a tavern, his body clinging with mud and blood, in the furthest, darkest corner in Mudden. A dying fire cackled in the musty hobble, setting a thick fog of smoke to cast upon the tavern’s three occupants.
“Is that him?” a brother whispered loudly in his older brother’s ear.
“Probably,” the brother sneered, wiping the ale dripping down the corners of his mouth with his sleeve, “The scum has nowhere else to hide. Thought he could defeat Prince Irony he did.”
Mathieu ignored the two men and drank his hot mead, grimacing, and silently mocking the brothers, for how little they knew of his the true reason why he was there.
After he had fled the battle, Mathieu had met Richard in the hob, next to a woodpile ready to topple over. Richard had sat there, waiting for two days, and prepared to leave on the third if Mathieu failed to stay true to his promise. Only for a moment did he question if Mathieu would come, for in that same moment, he appeared.
Mathieu was clothed in a stiff tunic, drenched with ice, and rusted chainmail. He limped on a twisted walking-stick, wrapped in thin pelts, and a starving stomach causing his whole body to quake with upset nerve. Richard had stared at the weak figure, without surprise. The winter had been an early and harsh one, one very unfit for battle.
“I have an answer,” Mathieu gasped, his body relieving the last of its strength.
Richard let him fall to the ground, and then helped him to the room he had been staying in above the hob. The hob was a quant building designed for bartering. Travelers would meet there to trade their belongings or help one another in finding a direction. Therefore, it was perfect for the revival of Mathieu. Richard bartered help from travelling physicians with his meager supply of gold and silver coins. Richard was also able to acquire a fair amount of food and a hardy amount of herbal creams to replenish Mathieu’s frostbitten skin. Mathieu only arose with any flick of hope on the day that the news of kings death.
“Do not mourn for me, for I died when your mother did, and I am tired of blackness,” were the last words Henry’s father muttered to him.
Henry watched as his father happily felt his last breath. His head fell deep within its pillow and when Henry had closed his lifeless eyelids, it looked as if he had simply fallen into a peaceful slumber. Henry stared numbly at his father’s body, weakly mouthing words of loss.
“I wish you would have gotten to know Fredrick, for he does have your namesake. He will be Fredrick VI,” Henry chided, rubbing his eyes, then bestowing vicious tears.
“My lord,” Jared Cunningham whispered in Henry’s ear, after watching him mourn for more than an hour, “It is time.”
“Yes,” Henry mouthed as he stood from a nearby chair, breathing heavily, before noiselessly departing.
“Why such a long face?” Phillip teased as Henry passed him in the hallway outside the king’s apartments.
Henry stopped and stared at his brother, his face expressing pure disgust and rage, the sight of his brother causing him clench his fists. The last thread of respect Henry held for his brother snapped. Phillip felt it and backed away, seeing a dangerous light consuming his brother’s face. He smiled cockily, tempting Henry to act on his anger.
“Our father is dead,” was all that could escape from Henry’s lips as he stormed to his study, where he slammed the door and knelt to the ground before his tapestries.
Upon coronation, Henry stated that the king had willed their not to be a mourning period. Henry’s people did not object. When Henry went into the chapel’s holy embrace to murmur prayers of grief, the red light that had shone on his face a year ago, shone upon it again. This time, Henry’s face blended into its gentle glow.
“Are you ready my lord?” Jared inquired, slipping into Prince Henry’s study before the coronation.
All of the prince’s rooms were spotless; their grandeur tided and sheeted as to protect the furniture from dust until Henry’s heir was ready to inherit them. Henry stood, heavily cloaked in the centuries-old coronation robes, staring at the old tapestries. They hung before him, timeless, and a thing of worship. Henry had looked up to his father, but more so to the ancient kings sewn onto the tapestries fragile material. He was completely mesmerized by them as he always was, his face shown with a glimpse of his youth and childhood as he stared at the tapestries in infatuation for the last time being Prince Irony.
“Are you saying goodbye?” Jared asked, walking to Henry’s side.
“No. I am thanking them,” Henry replied gently.
Jared tilted his head, perplexed. He had always felt it strange that Henry was so entitled towards the dead men, even more than his father. The tapestries appeared to move, to tell a story long lost and forgotten, the longer Jared stared at it, for he never really noticed its detail before.
“What are you thanking them for?” Jared whispered, his mind attempting to decipher the tapestries stories.
“For bringing me here. For inspiring me to pursue what I have,” Henry replied heavily, “I will restore the land of Sancastria. For them, I will restore Linderservia to its glory.”
Jared’s eyes widened, as if a long awaited answer had just been given. He strained his eyes, looking more deeply into the tapestry and watched Henry’s gaze. Henry was not looking at the king’s faces and fine embroidery of the artwork, but at the background. Though it was faded, on each tapestry, the shape of Sancastria was subtly shown. In the first tapestry, the brightest and happiest, the shape of the land was the most prominent. In the second, it was more faded, and in the last, it was almost nonexistent.
Jared straightened startled and finally understanding. Henry smiled, subtly, as he watched Jared enlighten himself. They looked at one another, knowing one another’s thoughts without speaking.
“What does the writing mean?” Jared asked, gesturing at the fine stitched letters, the language they belonged to long forgotten.
“I like to imagine that they say something to the effect of ‘ The secret fulfilling the kings promise does not lie in conquering our neighboring lands (Mudden, Winvra, or Hordenlind), but home, were the empire can be seen’. I do not look up to the first king of Linderservia in the way you have always thought. I look at him as a source of determination. Determination, to unify the empire of Linderservia.
My father never thought of that. He, like these ancient kings, wanted to find the mythical coast, but not for the same reasons and he did not now that the secret lies in Sancastria. They all had forgotten the kings promise. In order to find the secret that holds the answer to fulfilling the kings promise, we must start from the beginning, from the motherland.”
Jared stood awed to the point of lifelessness; he eyed the young man who stood next to him, the man who had thought of this strategy and reformation all on his own. Henry’s eyes brightened and his expression held its youthful stance, and in that stance, Jared saw the makings of a righteous king; a king that the land of Linderservia had been waiting for since its beginnings. Henry’s words made complete sense to Jared and caused a click to form in Jared’s mind. Henry was right, and he marveled at Henry’s knowledge of the legend of The Kings Promise, so forgotten in and lost in Linderservia’s history.
Cassandra stood alone in the empty chapel, the heated bickering with Henry two nights before lingering on her conscious. It had concerned her and had made her think about the quick untarnished love she had formed for Henry. His absence in the morning had stung her, for he never left their bed until she had woken. After that, he avoided Cassandra, as he had after the queen had died; he hadn’t so much as visited their son. Cassandra, beginning to feel sick from both her condition, and the worry she held over Henry’s relationship with her, pushed the subject from her mind.
For the first time since the queen’s death, Cassandra had been dressed in the true custom and finery of Linderservia. Her hand stroked the edge of her throne and her eyes wondered endlessly about the hall. Bows of light blue silks were strung underneath every window. The Linderservian lily danced on every tangible surface.
The sacred silence of the coronation hall was soon broken as excited courtiers started to enter, accompanied by guards to their cherry-wood pews. Lady Vanderburr, her face still riddled with pale shock, guided Cassandra to her seat next to the other royal family members. Cassandra sat on the furthest edge, her beauty causing her to awkwardly stick out from the rest of the family.
The Duke’s face was milky white and his eyes shone with hatred, a hatred shared by the Duchess of Mudden who sat only two pews back. Some of the courtiers shared this expression as they eyed Cassandra, rumors beginning to drip from their tongues, blaming Cassandra for the sudden death of their mighty sovereign and accusing her of being a Salzian spy, but many, looked-up to the beautiful young woman with adoration. By the end of the coronation, all speculation and rumors would vanish.
Jared sat next to Lady Vanderburr, his mind still set in wonder and admiration for his kingly pupil. From the corner of his eye, he watched Cassandra with unease, unsure of what to think. Henry was interested in her, but he doubted that he was yet emotionally connected to her, for he could easily detach himself from her and it was all too obvious that they had quarreled.
Cassandra was somewhat of an item, Jared felt, to Henry. As Cassandra was lead to Henry’s side after his ceremonious entrance and walk to the chapel’s raised platform, the holy man blessed the pair, something Jared thought they desperately needed. When Lord Arthur provided the quill for the signing of Henry’s birthrights; Jared was hit with a pang of remorse, a deep foreboding suspicion. Cassandra was fated a dismal fate, Jared could feel it, especially if Henry continued to see her as simply a part of his own fate, as a mere object in the game he viewed as life.
Jared’s thoughts were true, for they were visible in the business-like mannerisms of Henry’s movements as he nodded in approval and watched Cassandra sit on her throne without emotion.
The ceremonious music and the blare of trumpets gave Henry a headache and he focused his attention on the holy man, who was raising the crown of coronation above his head. Excitement and eagerness washed over Henry, it dragged him down into a deep kneel as the crown was placed gently upon his head. As the holy man’s hands lifted away and folded into the traditional fold of worship, all music stopped. No one spoke. No one moved. Only small gasps were heard as Henry stood and faced his people, the first ray of sunlight to have shone from storm clouds for days, beamed through a round window and crossed his face without hesitation. From that moment, the Duke was certain that he must end his brother’s reign and from that moment, the courtiers became frightened of the regality that shone in front of them. Henry’s focused articulation caused the court to bow the deepest they had in their life time.
Outside of the palace, peasants whispered eagerly, waiting to hear the chapel’s bells produce the chime of a new king. As Henry stood, the bells did chime, and the watching courtiers let out an exhale of awe. Cassandra followed her husband, the queen’s diadem glowing from her thick abundance of hair, out of the chapel. Her diadem gleamed past the radiance of the king’s simple gold crown, catching the eye of every watcher. When the new king and queen stepped onto their balcony, facing the capital city, a roar of applause echoed in the evening sky. Men, women, and children greeted them with immediate love. For under King Henry I’s rule, they were sure that there would be no more war with Hordenlind and that they would grow even more prosperous un unity with their once, neighboring enemies.
THE ERA OF DARKNESS
Following the reign of Alberforth IV, Linderservia entered its darkest age. What happened in these days is only left in the crumbs of once beautiful castles, forts, and homes. It was an era when even the Holy Order of Linderservia did not have answers.
For four generations, the crown was corrupted. After Alberforth IV died of old age, his eldest son was coroneted, only to be struck down by his jealous younger brother, Thomas, the Duke of Mudden. He had never been content with having power over Mudden and ever since he could remember, he thought his brother a sham. Under Thomas’s rule, the kingdom dove into a dark age, in which, only the royalty strove. Anyone who dared speak against the king was killed and anyone who did not show their loyalty to the king by paying their taxes on time was branded a heretic.
History repeated itself. Thomas’s nephew Edward VII, the heir to the throne since Thomas never married, murdered Thomas and took the throne for his own. Another nephew, who was only one month younger then Edward VII, built an army and rid the kingdom of all those loyal to Edward VII, eventually taking the throne for himself. It was not until Phillip IV came to power, that Linderservia was lifted out of the darkness.
“ O’er the years, blackness was all my father saw, darkness is all I see, and my children and theirs, will be blinded by the same blackness.
O’er the years, changes are not. All the tales o’ happiness have been forgot. Burning and burning, the heretics scream. Away, away, go the traitors who dream.
O’er the years, all will die. The books. The legends. The people.”
-“An Ode to the Years” by Sir Kenneth of Robin Castle
“No, Fredrick, no,” Cassandra maternally bossed, reaching her arms out to stop her son.
“Oh please Cassie,” Louisa moaned, throwing her embroidery on her chair as she stood up and picked-up Fredrick from the ground, his fists full of gravelly pebbles, “All babies put stones in their mouths don’t they?”
Fredrick’s round green eyes grew rounder and his mouth stood still as Louisa poked her finger underneath his tongue to salvage his stomach from having to digest a pebble. As soon as the pebble was out, Fredrick smiled hesitantly and forced his fist between his teething gums. Louisa tickled him, sending an array of giggles across the garden, and set him in Cassandra’s lap.
“Thank you Louisa,” Cassandra thanked politely somewhat distressed that she felt to shy too scold her friend for taking over the situation.
“Lady Vanderburr would not like it if she heard you call the queen Cassie,” Hazel muttered under her breath with annoyance as she dragged a needle through the pair of garters she was cross-stitching.
“We are family Hazel, and you do not need to critique my ways. Remember, my rank is higher than yours,” Louisa retorted, sitting in her garden chair with a disgruntled humph, “And Lady Vanderburr is far too sick to care about what I say.”
“Poor Lady Vanderburr,” Anne said empathetically, stopping Hazel from replying to Louisa with a hot remark, “I fear everyone is sick or is going to get sick.”
“What do you mean?” Cassandra inquired before Louisa could snap an idle response.
“Oh, well, you see, I have noticed a significant lack of courtiers,” Anne drawled, shrinking into her chair.
“Probably because it’s vacationing season Anne, every year it happens,” Louisa stated, her eyes moving in a gentle roll, judging Anne’s stupidity.
“Yes, well, usually yes,” Anne continued, “But, I hear it is because of Mudden illness, it has reached us. It has reached the capital.”
“Anne, you may be right,” Hazel agreed, nodding her head, “My husband would concur, for he has had to go to Mudden several times on his duties and has seen the sickness on his travels. He thinks our neighbors have it, for they too have taken ill, and their symptoms are very similar to those he saw on his journeys.”
“Yes, yes, that may be so, but oh dear,” Louisa gushed, gesturing her head slyly to one side, “Look over there. The Duchess of Mudden.”
The girls’ heads turned all at once, spotting the Duchess immediately. She walked leisurely ahead of a lingering servant, whose back was so hunched; Cassandra had taken him as an obscurity in one of the nearby groves. The duchess’s head was carried high, and she wore an apple-red dress that pinched her body into a perfectly curved fashion figurine.
“What is she doing here? She never comes to court!” Louisa whispered in shock, “Oh dear she’s about to look over. Carry on as if we hadn’t noticed her. Be quiet.”
As Louisa said this, Fredrick began to cry, catching the attention of every courtier in the garden and of the duchess. The wet-nurse, who had been on guard nearby, raced to the hungry pink-faced child and swept him away before Cassandra could protest, for she had been working on weaning him. Embarrassed by the judging stares of the courtiers, who thought it abominable that the queen was carrying her child around her like a peasant did theirs, Cassandra blinked feverishly and glanced quickly at the duchess to see her reaction. Louisa’s lips pinched, distraught, that Fredrick had brought forth attention from the duchess.
The Duchess of Mudden watched as the wet-nurse carried away the squealing child and into the privacy of her arms. Her face grew pale, the artificial reddening on her cheeks revealing itself into rounded blotches of paint. She knew that a son had been born, but seeing it sent an involuntary pierce in her heart. With a quick flutter of her fan, the Duchess held her nose high and stormed from the garden, barking that her servant follow her.
“Why did she look so sour?” Cassandra gossiped quietly.
“Ha, jealousy of course,” Louisa answered her queen, clucking her tongue.
“Why yes, didn’t you know?”
“Know what?” Cassandra demanded, looking at her ladies through the squinting eyes of anxious curiosity.
“Why, she was the other choice.”
“The other choice?”
“Yes your highness,” Hazel stated promptly, covering for a guilty-looking Louisa who was suddenly biting her lip with regret, “His highness, the king, was intending on marrying the Duchess, but he chose you instead, not wanting you to go to his brother.”
“It’s quite the story. The duchess had even fallen in love with him. Of course he didn’t love her; it is one of those unrequited love stories so to speak. He made the decision quite suddenly, making Phillip hate him all the more once you arrived, I mean look at you. You are much more attractive than his wife. Phillip was fine though of course, for he and the duchess have always been attracted to him. The duchess is officially Phillip’s mistress now, or so I think. For, that would be the only reason why she would be at court,” Louisa exclaimed in a rush of excitement, eager to share all she knew of the situation, and quickly forgetting her regret in informing Cassandra.
“So I was a choice?” Cassandra voiced, then scolding herself, for she knew she had been somewhat of a choice, but simply a choice between Phillip and Henry, “Never mind. I think I am going to go up to my rooms. Hazel? Would you bring Fredrick up to my rooms in an hour or so?”
“Of course your highness,” Hazel replied curtly.
Anne, Hazel, and Louisa watched Cassandra leave sharing looks of concern. Cassandra had been acting very oddly during the past two weeks, ever since they had discovered her pregnancy. Her usual shine of confidence had dulled, something consistently appeared to be bothering her.
“I wonder,” Hazel started, but then thinking better of gossiping about the queen, stopped.
“No, I wonder too,” Louisa affirmed, “She and Henry must have had a quarrel. Though they really hardly know each other it seems. Maybe she is taking his lack of presence too personally. You know how my cousin is.”
“Yes, I think you may be right, but I find it hard to think that a quarrel could have upset her so. She was able to go through a pregnancy without a word from Henry,” Hazel concurred.
“I think, I think, that, that they have loved each other for a very long time,” Anne stuttered, but intently, eager to express her point, “their love feels so ancient, so mutual, as, as if they do not need to question it. It is just there. I think, I think that they fell in love as children. I think they feel in love at that, ah, that visit long ago.”
“That would make sense, for if they have quarreled, they are acting rather childish about it,” Louisa responded light-heartedly, ignoring Anne’s sincerity.
Henry sat at his desk, which he had moved to face his tapestries. Purple bags sat below his eyes and his bent eyebrows forced his forehead to shrink. His elbows dug deeply into the desks worn surface, as he looked at his tapestries, searching for an invisible reassurance.
When Jared entered, he did not notice. Jared winced with disappointment in seeing the stack of official documents he had delivered for Lord Arthur two days before in the spot he had left them, unmoved and untouched. His wince deepened in smelling the stench of uncollected dinnerware sitting about the room.
“My king,” Jared called quietly, as to avoid disrupting Henry’s deep concentration.
“I signed them,” Henry growled, refusing to move his gaze.
“They do not look as if they that have been touched,” Jared criticized, reaching for one of the documents.
“I am not talking about those pieces of garbage.”
“Then what are you talking about my king?”
“My orders in stripping Phillip of his title. His new title that he received when I was crowned.”
“You mean, from inheriting Sancastria?”
“Yes Jared. Phillip of Mudden, Duke of Sancastria, that title shall be no more. He will return to being the Duke of Mudden.”
“My king, I highly suggested that you did not do that long ago.”
“I have to Jared. You do not understand. If Phillip ever discovers what Sancastria holds, then my dream will be ruined. “
“What do you mean?”
“I thought you had understood? In that moment before by coronation? It’s there. The secret lies within Sancastria. Within my very great-grandmothers tomb, around her neck.”
“ I understood to a degree, but I am afraid, that I still do not completely apprehend.”
“Yes you do Jared. You taught me of her. Of Antonia?”
“Yes, I remember,” Jared hesitated, unsure of what Henry was trying to say.
“Remember how my very great grandfather married her because he knew that she had answers? I have looked and found a series of old documents,” Henry said excitably, moving from the table and fumbling through a shabby chest, “That is what I have been doing for the past two weeks, searching for these documents. Do you remember when I went to the Salzian castle to retrieve my tapestries?”
“Yes?” Jared urged.
“Well, I also stole all of these documents, but none of them have ever been of any worth. Except, except, for this one,” Henry grabbed a brittle piece of parchment and threw it at Jared’s chest.
“Why, it’s in the oldest of Salzian,” Jared objected with shock, fully sure that it was irrelevant.
“Yes, but see that picture of the key in the corner?”
“Yes,” Jared slowly responded, beginning to understand.
“Did my very great grandfather not marry Antonia for the same reason I chose to marry Cassandra? Because I felt that Cassandra would be able to help me, for I remembered that the legend of the new continent was still reality to the Salzians. Or I believe it is,” Henry rushed, a crazed trickle of excitement shadowing his weary features.
“My king, he knew that Antonia knew. You have no idea about Cassandra; you only felt that she would know some answers.”
“Ah, yes, but she would have to know the legend of the Secret Keepers and she must have heard some of The Kings Promise, would she not?”
“She would,” Jared agreed, nodding his head with consideration, “But what does this drawing of this key have to do with it?”
“Everything Jared, for Antonia was that last Secret Keeper. The key was buried with her.”
“The key to the rumored chest that holds the maps, the key that secret keepers were fated to hide and cherish in the legend?” Jared murmured in surprise, “And that is why the border of the tapestries is shaped like the outline of Sancastria. The border is a hint.”
“Yes,” Henry smiled, happy that he finally had someone to share his revelation with, “Yes Jared. I have found the answer. I only need confirmation from Cassandra that this is all true. That it makes sense with how she knows the legends.”
“I congratulate you,” Jared breathed proudly, “Now your secret army truly has a purpose and hopefully you will spend less time in front of the tapestries.”
“Yes, now I only have to find the chest. I am sure Cassandra will know of it.”
“Ah, yes, she might,” Jared assured pride lingering in his tone, but only for a moment, for a sudden guiltiness struck him, “I am concerned for you and Cassandra.”
“Why?” Henry barked defensively after a brief moment of surprise.
“I feel that you do not love her, my king. In my humble opinion, which has been semi confirmed by your confession that you married her for answers, I worry that she is an object to you. A piece in your puzzle.”
“Out of all people Jared, I would not expect you to say that,” Henry inhaled shakily, his face expressing a look of distress, the same one Cassandra had witnessed on their wedding night, “Many royal marriages have been loveless.”
“But is yours Henry? Do you not love Cassandra? Even only if were because of her beauty?”
“I,” Henry began, bewilderment overcoming him, “I, do and I have since I met her. I just do not want her to become a distraction for me Jared. I have feared that she would since I fell in love with her long ago, and know that I have found an answer, my worry has increased.”
“She is not a distraction! She is your queen, wife, and the mother of your child and of your coming child! Even if royal marriages before yours have been loveless, they have not been neglected.”
“Enough Jared,” Henry groaned, messaging his face.
“You need a break my king. You can sign the other documents tomorrow.”
“Not until I legitimatize my orders with my ministers, taking my brothers new title taken away. Only then, will I rest.”
“If you see fit.”
“I do, and by the way, I never asked. How are my brothers and sisters? I know, it was some time ago that you saw them.”
“The Cunningham children are doing well my king, I am glad you have asked. Sir Thomas Cunningham is becoming quite the bright young man. Very bright actually, he reminds me of you quite a bit. I think you would like him.”
“If only he were Phillip,” Henry laughed, gathering his documented orders, “You should visit them again soon.”
“Ah, yes, yes, my king. I was thinking of departing next week.”
“Mathieu’s tale sounds like a hoax. And I don’t hold a pound of pity for you, you are not the only one whose title has been stripped from them and now you are what you should be. If only we could have wed!” the Duchess of Mudden shrilled, her peacock colored dress frilling to her sides as she sat across from a disappointed Phillip.
“I can agree with you there, but it has been done, and my brother will pay for it. Oh, he will,” he objected proclaimed, “Though I agree, I am doubtful of Mathieu’s tale, for Richard wrote it to me. But, it does not matter. For I have arranged for them to meet here whether you like it or not.”
“My, my, you really think you can order me around? Just because we have been sleeping with one another, does not mean I am yours.”
“Oh you just might be, you just might be someday,” Phillip mumbled as he carefully folded his hands together in a silent applause of his growing power.
A knock rattled on the door and a footman entered presently two mysteriously cloaked figures. Phillip smiled with triumph as the Duchess of Mudden’s jaw dropped. Richard, after turning the lock of the door, post slamming the footmen from the room, dropped his hood. Mathieu followed suit.
“Well, well, you did not tell me that this Mathieu from Hordenlind was, well, so attractive,” the duchess implored as she stood and gently stroked Mathieu’s face.
“His lordship told us that you might be able to help us,” Mathieu replied coldly, the duchess’s hand sending a nasty chill through his body.
“It depends,” the duchess sighed, leisurely falling onto the long lounging chair nearest to her sitting room’s fire.
“Has his lordship told you everything?” Richard asked, sending Mathieu to sit in the corner of the room with irritation. He had found that caring for Mathieu over the past few months required more energy than he was willing to give.
“I have,” Phillip insured.
“Well Duchess?” Richard pressed urgently.
“I believe that I can help you.”
“Good. So you can help us find an army from Mudden?”
“Yes, but only if you agree to my terms.”
“She has terms?” Mathieu rebuked, aggressively rejoining the conversation.
“Yes, I do. As long as my country will become my own, I will help you.”
“That is agreeable, do you not agree Richard?” Phillip said briskly, wanting to make a deal with the duchess before she could change her mind.
“Yes, agreeable enough,” Richard garbled with approval.
“Where do you stand as of now?” the duchess implored, fanning herself with a diamond incrusted fan.
“Mathieu has been recruiting his own army, or rather, restoring the faith in him that his army once had. I have recruited some random soldiers on my travels, and I am currently trying to create a plan in murdering the Queen of Salzt. She is very weak from her unhampering illness and I am sure that one slip of poison will do the job. I am going to the old province of Winvra to seek out any old flames from the rebellion who would love to set fire to the Linderservian king.”
“I would deem that unwise,” Phillip protested, “for your brother will be in that area soon.”
“Well, you will have to tell me when he is no longer there Phillip. It is that simple.”
“Your plan sounds complete enough to me,” the duchess cried with content, “As long as you three do the plotting. I will inform you when I have enough numbers to contribute.”
“Very good. Very good. Have you yet informed Henry that his wife knows his little secret? And that you do? Phillip?” Richard asked Phillip, who was standing to take leave.
“No. As you said, time, Richard. Time.”
“Very good. Very good.”
Jared set out to the isle of Queen Joan in the first weeks of autumn. The repetitive journey had begun to tire him, for he had travelled eastwards many times. Winvra, no longer stunned him with its beautiful crisp-cut shores and tropic breezes. In fact, Winvra tended to bring back memories from his youth he had wished to forget, warm sunny days of blooming love, lost love, a steaming rebellion, and resentment towards his family. Seeing the old-whitewashed houses of the ancient Winvra province bored him, seducing him into an anxious want to have a quick journey.
Jared’s sea journey was always rough and he no longer cared for avoiding the ocean’s rain season or wintery monsoon weather. The salty air jolted his withering bones and most of his short sea days were spent below deck, clinging onto his sea sickened stomach. Only the joy in seeing his nieces and nephews held his loyalty to Henry’s orders in visiting the isle.
The isle of Queen Joan was rich with greenery and tall, healthy trees. Bird life, bug life, and even human life, appeared to prosper on the island’s smooth grounds more than anywhere Jared had visited. Colors were exuberant, especially in the first color changes of autumn. Even the queer castle that was built on the furthest coastal cliff of the island looked as if it were changing color. Its stoned walls mirrored every season whenever sunlight showered upon its surface. The castle’s long stained-glass windows presented hues of color no matter what the season, winter only brought cool drafts and heavy wind whirls.
“Jared! Jared is here!” Emaline shouted excitedly, picking up her skirts and sprinting from the castle’s small library.
Emaline, was everyone’s favorite in the Cunningham group. All of her sibling’s cherished her, for she held the closest resemblance to their mother. Her dark chestnut curls only came to above her shoulders, but they were as fine as the silks that decorated the castle’s dismal walls. Her small button-nose was envied amongst her older sisters, along with the hazel eyes that were rumored to have been like their father’s.
“Emaline,” Jared though weary and battling aching sea-legs, said light-heartedly, as his niece wrapped her arms lovingly around him.
“Have you brought my brother? Henry? We have not seen him three years uncle! Has he come? Oh how I was dreaming of him last night. I dreamt that we were all gathered by the fire and he was telling his wonderful stories!” Emaline exclaimed ecstatically, her eyes watered with hope as she looked beyond Jared’s shoulder in search for her older brother.
“Ah, sweet sister,” Christina, the eldest of the three girls, leered, “it looks as if he has denied us of his presence yet again.”
“Of course, why should he bother us with his regal presence?” Thomas chuckled deeply with disappointment, his face drooping with disenchantment as he joined the merry group.
“Now, now,” Jared said clucking his tongue, “Your brother is now king, so you are now living off of his benefit. In fact, he has sent some more servants who are carrying up new goods for all of you at this very moment.”
“New dresses?” Emaline gasped.
“Yes, and books, silver, and many other little things,” Jared said cheerfully, taking note of his youngest niece’s beauty, if only she lived at court, Jared thought, than we could find her a suitable husband.
“How kind,” Christina sighed, her eyes lighting with excitement.
“Indeed, indeed,” Jared nodded, guiding the children up the steps leading them into the castle, “Where is young Lief? He is not ill still I hope, from when I visited last?”
“Oh, who knows with that one. He is probably scribbling more stories up in his private loft,” Christina said lightly, hiding her own concern of his whereabouts.
“We are glad that you have come,” Thomas chided, changing the topic before he could become heated in his little brother’s lack of interest of scholarly enjoyment that was so true within Thomas’s heart.
Jared smiled in response, slowly making his way into the castle, with Emaline’s arms wrapped around his waist, and Thomas’s arm supporting his shoulders. Thomas was so much like Henry and Jared thought it a shame that Henry would most likely never see his brothers and sisters again. For now that he was king, it would be even harder for him to disguise his travels to the isle of Queen Joan as a discreet errand of business, especially with Cassandra’s knowledge of the Cunningham children’s existence.
Cassandra, whose pregnancy was obvious and had been recently announced to the people, waited outside of her husband’s study. The cold winds of late fall whipped around the palace, sending chills through every room and hallway. Servants were draped in their wool uniforms and courtiers had begun to wear their light furs of early winter. Snow had fallen earlier then the year before, to the dismay of many farmers.
“The queen, your majesty, would like to speak with you,” the guard whose post was in front of his majesty’s study door, alerted.
“Bring her in,” Henry sighed heavily, his eyes busily scanning a charter declaring that every citizen of the empire, instead of just Hordenlind, sign an oath of loyalty to their king so that he could collect a count of his peoples.
“Your highness,” the guard called to the queen, opening the door so that she could enter.
“Leave us,” Cassandra ordered, sending the guard with a hesitant glance at his king, out the door.
“What do you wish to speak about?” Henry asked, not making eye contact with his wife and pretending to be rereading a document concerning his people’s taxes.
“Names,” Cassandra stated, making Henry flinch.
“Can we not do that tonight, in bed? I have much business to attend to and do not need distraction.”
“If you recall, you have not slept in my bed since the night I told you of my pregnancy,” Cassandra stated, allowing her tone to sound as bitter as it wanted to sound.
“I have been busy Cassandra,” Henry moaned, throwing the quill that had been pinched in his fingers angrily down on the table.
“Busy with what may I ask?”
“My duties to the country,” Henry slurred, pushing back from his desk with impatience.
“Oh really Henry? Then why am I not allowed into your chambers? Your bedchamber? Why is your door locked in our secret passage?”
“Are you suggesting that I have a mistress Cassandra?”
“Yes,” Cassandra admitted, her eyes watering with anger, “Perhaps the Duchess of Mudden. Phillip has been very obvious with his affair with her and I have heard that she entertains many men at court. She also told me that she had been your other alternative for marring me.”
“Cassandra,” Henry stewed madly, “I have no interest in her or any other woman at court besides you.”
“Yes, because they are distractions? What difference does it make when you think that I, your wife and queen, am a distraction to you? To you and your kingly duties and your silly obsession with the tapestries and your silly secret army that is not even secret.”
Cassandra’s words bit Henry in every way. Slowly, he rose from his chair, anger alive in his short breathy inhales and exhales. He glared at Cassandra with the hate he had felt towards her when Louisa had come into Cassandra’s room after their wedding night, to tell him the news of his mother’s death. Rigidly, he walked towards Cassandra, until he could feel her warm breath against his lips. Cassandra did not flinch, only her fists tightened.
“Do you not know? Cassandra? Have you not figured it out?” Henry muttered hastily, pointing at the tapestries.
“No. If anything I see your obsession with them a distraction to your kingly, paternal, and marital duties.”
“I thought you wiser,” Henry growled, grabbing Cassandra’s arm, and dragging her to face the tapestries, “Do you not know the legends? The legends of the continent, the kings promise?”
“No and yes,” Cassandra gasped, her arm numb with suffocation under Henry’s grip, “Not your legends anyhow. We have our own in Salzt.”
“And that is why I chose you Cassandra,” Henry spat, looking away from Cassandra’s gaze and releasing her arm.
“I, I do not understand,” Cassandra stuttered, feeling an inkling of betrayal.
“You know the legend of the Secret Keeper?”
“Yes,” Cassandra responded hesitantly, the instinctive secrecy that had been passed down to her through many ancient generations of secret keepers, surfacing hastily.
“Good, then our marriage has proved some benefit,” Henry felt regret as he said this, and before Cassandra could dash from the room, rigid with insult, Henry stopped her and told her everything he had solved.
“I must fulfill the King’s Promise,” Henry concluded after telling her all that he had told Jared, “And satisfy both, Linderservia’s empire, and reunite Linderservia with Sancastria.”
“That is why you married me?” Cassandra murmured, suddenly realizing the depth of love she felt for Henry, for in that moment, it shriveled with the feeling of sheer infidelity.
Henry was about to answer a shrewd and unconfident “yes”, but stopped himself. He watched Cassandra, who had backed away from him, her beautiful eyes filled with immediate despise. Something stirred within him as he remembered all of the wonderful nights he had spent with her before his pregnancy, and how deep within himself, he always felt relieved when he had laid next to her side after long days. The winter memory from his childhood began to rain on him, and pull him to his senses. It was then, when he knew he had to marry Cassandra that he would not be able to live with any other woman and he knew it.
That is why I took such fascination with the tapestries, it was because I had felt sincere love for her when I had found her huddled and dismayed by my brother and had felt frightened of it, Henry told himself, that is why I was relieved to leave her, so I wouldn’t have to hide my love for her any longer. That is why she makes me feel so belittled at times.
“Cassandra,” Henry whispered apologetically upon the truth of his revelation, but he was too late, Cassandra rejected his out-stretched hand and left the room.
ANOTHER ERA OF PROPSERITY
“To think that at one time all was black!
Oh, but that time as gone alack!
All hail our mighty king!
For peace and prosperity will he bring!
No more treachery!
Nor more tyranny!
To think that at one time all was black!”
-A verse from a farming chant from southern Linderservia, during Henry I of Linderservia’s great grandfather’s reign.
“Winvra so soft a rebellion!
Mudden, finally ours!
What is their more to sing?
When our king, as brought us such luck!”
-A diary entry written by the late Lord Arthur, minister of foreign affairs to Henry I and Henry’s father.
“All hale the fairest of queen’s.
All hale the most kingly of kings.
Now with Hordenlind, Mudden, and Winvra under our wings,
Linderservia will bring,
the time of old back into being!”
-A verse from another farming chant during the first year of Henry I and his queen, Cassandra of Salzt’s, reign.
“How about you name the child Antonia if it is a girl?” Princess Phillipa Elizabeth suggested, smiling warmly at the king and queen who sat before her.
She had invited them to lunch with her, on the impression that it would be a warm winter delight, but found that it was rather the opposite. Henry and Cassandra sat far apart from one another, though Henry flickered desperate gazes at his wife, Cassandra only met eye contact with the walls of the princess’s rooms. Louisa, who had joined Cassandra at the last minute, sat loyally next to her queen, as if she was a personal guard.
“I was thinking that as well, since no royal child has been named that yet, and the name holds meaning to me,” Henry answered politely, sitting back in his chair.
“I wanted to name it after my mother if it was a girl, since no Linderservian has had a Salzian named,” Cassandra opposed, taking a small sip from her tea.
“Oh yes, well, let us hope it is a boy then. Aren’t you going to name it after my son, the late Earl of Hordenlind? If it is a boy?”
“Yes,” Cassandra replied dully.
“How generous of you.”
“Yes,” Henry repeated.
The snow storm that was raging outside and the sudden lack of interest in any conversation converted the room into an uncomfortable silence. Louisa fidgeted with her fresh-water pearl necklace and Cassandra began to frown from a sharp kick inside her stomach. The old princess watched Henry and Cassandra with concern as her faced whitened from a strange spasm.
“I heard that your lady of the wardrobe has fallen ill with Mudden illness,” the princess stated, breaking the silence.
“Yes, I am afraid so, and poor Hazel has been trapped in her home because of the amounts of snow this winter.”
“How awful, well, at least my daughter is here,” the princess sympathized.
“Yes, she is one of my only sources of entertainment,” Cassandra laughed somewhat crazily, hiding feeling of slight wetness seeping through her under skirts, “And I love her dearly. She is like a sister to me.”
“Are you feeling alright?” Henry cried suddenly out of concern, noticing a sickly paleness overcoming Cassandra and the flash of pain crossing her face.
“I am quite alright,” Cassandra mumbled stubbornly, tears of pain seizing her eyes as she felt her baby beginning to move.
“Cassie,” Louisa gasped as Cassandra fainted.
“Call a physician, we must get her to her bed,” Princess Phillipa Elizabeth ordered, ringing a bell and standing to ask the guards outside the doors of her rooms to carry the queen.
Henry watched his wife as she was carried away, her veins pulsing with dread and worry. Cassandra once on her bed, tossed and turned feverishly, her premature child coming whether or not it was ready to. Henry felt immediate responsibility for the early labor, blaming himself for inflecting distress on Cassandra. The physician assured Henry that it was normal for such occurrences, and that the child was barely a month early, but Henry could not listen. He stood, hunched and wide-eyed at the back of the room as nurse-maids scurried about him.
The chapel’s bell was barely audible through the gusts of heavy snow outside the palace, but it ran six times, announcing that a living baby girl had been born. Cassandra, overcome with a hot fever and delirium did not hear the bells, or hear or see anything about her. Her eyelids closed, heavy with sickness. At one point, she saw Henry’s face above hers, his eyes watering with distress, something she had never seen them do.
For days, Henry paced outside Cassandra’s bedroom door, having been locked out by the physician. For a distraction and endless pang of guilt, he held his son on his lap and played with him. Fredrick consistently cried for his mother, unsure of who Henry was, for he saw so little of him, but after two weeks had passed, Fredrick slowly grew accustom to the Henry’s distraught presence, out of regularity.
“She has Mudden illness, I am sure of it,” the physician announced in a hush of anxiety to his king, “I thought that maybe the queen was simply weak after a premature laboring, but I see otherwise. In fact, I think she had the illness and that it caused her to have premature labor.”
“How is my child? Will Cassandra live? Does this happen often?” the king requested, the purple sages underneath his eyes evermore prominent.
“I believe she will survive, she has been tossing and turning less and her fever if weaker. Your child, she is fine as well, in fact, I never seen such a fit child that was born so early. And, it does happen often my highness.”
“Thank you,” Henry sighed, relieved, “That gives me confidence.”
“Aye, I am glad your highness.”
“I have not named my child yet, I ought too, where is she?”
“In the hands of a wet-nurse in the nursery.”
“Thank you,” Henry thanked, leaving the room behind.
Fredrick watched his father leave, wide eyed and slightly sad that this man who had been at his side for so many days was leaving. Fat tears filled his eyes and he began to whimper as he attempted to wiggle his way towards the door through which, Henry had exited. Louisa cried pitifully with exaggerated laughter at Fredrick’s tears, her face as weary as Henry’s with worry for Cassandra, and she lifted Fredrick into her arms.
Lord Arthur stared down into his lap, where the letter from Salzt rested in his hands. It was a peculiar letter and struck him with surprise, for the young king of Salzt had never written to King Henry or Henry’s father before. Slightly concerned and cold from the winter night’s air, he made his way to the royal nursery where the king had spent the last few days hovering over his two children.
“Your highness,” Lord Arthur announced, entering the room to see Henry cradling his small daughter.
Henry did not hear Lord Arthur for he was too busy admiring the furrowed face of his new daughter. She looked so small and so delicate, but every breath was strong with the determination to live, and Henry loved it all. He drew her closer, whispering promises of beautiful gowns and luxurious toys as he stroked her thin, sparse, and blond, hair.
“Your highness, you have received a letter from Salzt,” Lord Arthur said loudly walking further into the square little room that was glowing with cordiality.
“One moment, come, look at my little Antonia,” Henry urged, smiling broadly.
“Ah, so you have named her Antonia,” Lord Arthur said with small charm in his voice as he eyed the babe.
“Yes, after an ancestor, and I realized, that it is the feminine of Anthony, which is the name of the Salzian king. I think Cassandra will be happy about that,” Henry paused, retracting to what Lord Arthur had announced; “You said you had a letter from him?” Henry inquired with disbelief, handing Antonia to the wet-nurse who had been napping near the fireplace.
“Yes your majesty,” Lord Arthur responded, handing the letter to Henry.
Henry unsealed it and read the weak-squalidly hand of the young Salzian king. He jerked his head to the side and looked at Lord Arthur with curious concern. The room suddenly felt too hot, so Henry patted Lord Arthur’s shoulder and guided him to the privacy of the outside hallway.
“What is it?” Lord Arthur demanded hesitantly.
“It looks as through his highness, King Anthony is truly the king of Salzt now. Cassandra’s mother has died; leaving him the sole ruler, there is no longer a regency.”
“Oh my, well, what does he want?”
“He wants me to visit him once summer has come, to ask for some advice.”
“That is strange. I thought the minister of foreign affairs was to become his regent once the queen had died?”
“Yes, I thought so to, but here, let me quote, ‘I write to you with urgency and in utter privacy from my ministers and council. I fear for the future of my country and do not trust anyone. There is much that I must share with you once you come, concerning your own dream that you have been attempting to fulfill. I am weak, my brother, and hope I shall have strength enough to tell you. If fate allows for all to remain as it is until summer, I eagerly await you,’ I wonder what this could mean.”
“As do I your highness, it sounds quite like a warning.”
“Do you think,” Henry folded the letter nervously, “Do you think that he knows of what I have discovered of my dream?”
“I do not know, but I think you must move into action at once your highness, as in, I think you must hasten and collect the key from Antonia’s tomb. I worry about your brother’s behavior of late,” Lord Arthur stopped in concern that someone may be lurking in the dark hall, but Henry immediately understood.
“You are right. Winter is settling. I will go with Jared as soon as he returns from his journey visiting his distance relatives. He should be back by the first weeks of spring.”
“That sounds ideal my king. Are you going to tell the queen about her mother?”
“Only when she is in perfect health and after I have settled some personal matters with her,” Henry assured.
“I hope she recovers well.”
“As do I.”
To Henry’s and the kingdom’s dismay, the queen did not recover well. Though her fever broke, the young queen was succumbed into the coma that Mudden illness caused her most sickly victims into. Much of Linderservia weakened from the harsh winter and was burdened with the illness, causing them to cower into physical and mental weakness.
A dark twilight surrounded the king’s castle in Salzt. The morning sky was crimson with the remnants of death and sorrow. The young king lounged tearfully on his castle’s balcony, feeling the will to live growing farther and farther out of his reach. His green eyes, the very same set that his sister had inherited, were distant and glazed with desperation to leave.
“Oh my king, what are you doing? You don’t want to catch your death!” Anthony’s old nanny cried, gathering herself in a bundle of quilted shawls and guiding the king back into his room, “I know how you are feeling dear. I really do, but you must keep up. You were doing so well before, before, your mother passed.”
“Passed? No, no,” Anthony droned coldly, “She did not pass Nan! She was murdered!”
“Oh hush, you fret too much, and anyhow, his lordship the Minister of foreign affairs will always be here for you. He has guided you so well when he hasn’t been on his travels,” Nan gushed, tucking her king into his bed and propping him against the headboard.
“No, Nan, no,” Anthony sighed, his voice distant and his eyes lighting with worry, “Had I been born a stronger person, I would be able to stand up to such a bully.”
“My king! Oh my sweet king! He is not a bully; he is here to help you.”
“Nan,” Anthony cried in agony, thrusting his neck against his pillow.
“Oh I am sorry my dear,” Nan gasped, sitting next to her king and petting his brow with a wet cloth.
“I will miss you,” Anthony muttered, glancing at his second mother after a moment of affection. He had always loved Nan and had always had a strange twinge of jealousy for her, for her body was that of an ox and she had survived the birthing of eight children. She was brimming with life, her heaving bosom was always a sign of this, and he was quite the opposite.
“Do not speak so my dear,” Nan cooed, kissing the king’s forehead with a wet motherly smack, “Tell me what bothers you? Is it the upcoming visit of the Linderservian king? A foreign king has never entered our lands before. It would worry me; it does worry me my dear child.”
“It bothers me Nan, it worries me too, but simply because I haven’t the strength he has. Cassandra has told me all she knows of him in her letters, his strengths, his weaknesses, and how his people adore him when they see hum. What worries me the most,” Anthony paused and dove into a fit of coughing, after catching his breath he continued, “What worries me the most, is why Nan. Is why I must have him come. I need his help, for I know I will not live to see another spring and the foreign minister must be, taken care of.”
“Taken care of dear? You do not mean to murder him?”
“I do not. No, but my brother-in-law will have every reason to by the time it’s all over.”
“It’s all over dearling? What do you mean?”
“I,” Anthony stared at his loving Nan with dismay, and closed his eyes, not daring to go any further in case the foreign minister were to find out, “I can speak no further Nan, but Salzt and Linderservia are in equal danger.”
“Oh my dear, I hope what you say is not true,” Nan exhaled heavily, saddened by the grief in Anthony’s expression.
Richard looked down at his uncountable encampment of followers, watching Mathieu ordering them about their morning duties. The morning air was raw and crisp with brimming potential, just the way he liked it. He could not believe what lay out before him, that his plan, after some odd thirty years, had fallen into being.
“Ah, Phillipa, if you could see me now,” Richard said softly to himself, taking in the glorious Salzian snow covered peaks rising above him; he smiled and closed his eyes in meditation.
Mathieu, Richard had discovered, was perfect for his job. Of course Mathieu did not know that he was merely a piece in Richard’s plan and that his use was soon through. Little did he know that his death was nearing rapidly and that he would never live to see another spring, or the approaching summer. Richard laughed, a deep cunning laugh, his once handsome face riddled with twisted plot.
“Oh the poor king,” Richard mumbled, admiring a plump cook as she jostled by, “Oh how cruel I have been to get my way,” Richard chuckled jokingly, not feeling the slightest bit of guilt.
Cassandra woke up from her comma with a searing headache and long-broken fever. Her eyelids fluttered open, the spring light foreign to her hazy eye sight. As she blinked, the world steadily came back to her, her ceiling began to look familiar, and memories began to flash through her mind.
“Oh Cassie!” Louisa yelped with joy, throwing herself at Cassandra’s side, and wrapping her arms lovingly around her shoulders, “Henry will be so thrilled! The kingdom will be so happy Cassie! Oh how happy I am!”
“I don’t understand,” Cassandra moaned as she attempted to adjust her aching back, which had grown red with bedsores.
“You fell ill, with Mudden illness directly after labor. Oh poor Cassie, you have been in bed for weeks. It is now mid spring. Oh Cassie, so many people have perished. I was so worried that we would lose you.”
“Who perished? Where is my baby? Is it alright? Is it a she or he? Where is Henry? I miss him so, oh to think I could have died leaving him and our relationship as it was. Who died? Not Henry, oh please not Henry or Freddie, or my babe,” Cassandra wailed under her breath, grasping tightly onto Louisa.
“Oh no my queen, oh no, he did not die. Lady Vanderburr passed though, I am not to sorry, and remember those young men we played so childishly with in the garden all those months ago? They all perished, and a few other courtiers, not to mention citizens of Linderservia. Oh, and Phillip’s poor wife lost her baby from the illness and perished within the next day. Phillip has since not been seen.”
“That is awful,” Cassandra murmured, tears beginning to fill her eyes, her mind tired and emotional from inactivity, “What of my babe?”
“She is beautiful Cassie, oh so beautiful. Henry named her Antonia, after that one queen oh so long ago and after your sickly brother.”
“Oh,” Cassandra said, surprised and having forgotten that Antonia was the feminine of Anthony, “When can I see her?”
“Soon, she is in the nursery playing with Freddie no doubt. Oh Cassie, your love for Henry would have increased so much had you seen him this past winter and spring. He spent every day with the children. He even slept with them. Freddie has even formed a son like relationship with him and has been asking for him ever since he left.”
“Ever since he left?” Cassandra gasped with dismay, her pleasure in Henry’s attraction to her children draining with worry.
“Yes, there is trouble dear Cassie. Henry won’t speak of it, but ever since Jared’s sudden return from visiting his distance relatives, he, Lord Arthur, and Henry have been locked up in Henry’s study. The other ministers have been very anxious.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“There has been silence in Mudden, all correspondence as stopped, and the Duchess of Mudden has disappeared. Hordenlind has been unusually silent as well. Then your brother apparently sent quite the letter to Henry, requesting he come to Salzt once summer has arrived.”
“How about Winvra? Has there been trouble in that region?”
“No, just silence.”
“Where has my husband gone?”
“To Sancastria, though I know not why. If he is seeking help, he will not find it there.”
“He must be receiving the key,” Cassandra said under her breath, barely audible for Louisa to hear.
“Yes, oh Louisa, you know how plagued my husband has been, for nearly his entire life, over finding the answer to discovering the new continent.”
“Yes, I do know. I always thought it more as a hobby though, no king since the first Alberforth has been serious about finding the land.”
“Henry is very serious and wish I would have just told him all I know,” Cassandra sighed heavily, weariness tempting her to fall into a deep slumber, but she resisted.
“Do you know much?”
“Enough to help him, but it is custom in Salzt, for those who know the secret to always keep it.”
“I do not fully understand,” Louisa said with concern, slightly confused.
“Oh, I must sleep. Then I will rise and go to the nursery to see my child myself,” Cassandra rushed, changing the topic.
“If the physician sees it fit,” Louisa laughed kindly stroking Cassandra’s cheek.
“If only Henry was here,” Cassandra mumbled as sleep overcame her.
Henry’s visit to Sancastria was a secretive journey. He had left his palace dressed as a traveler, cloaked in a black cloak, and wearing thin chain mail under a brown, tightly knit, tunic. The journey to the land, of which he was too eager to please, was a difficult one. In the beginning, every night was spent in loud inns, brimming with drunken cheers and laughter, but as Henry reached the furthest corner of his land, the inns began to grow quieter and quieter. He was not custom to the life of the average man, but he felt that the eerie quietness of his borders was extremely peculiar.
The journey to the small island of Sancastria was smooth; the waves were gentle and calm. Now and then a stiff breeze would push Henry’s boat here and there, but the ocean course was never put off guard. Henry was unaccustomed to the rock of sea going boats, but he thought nothing of it, for he was exhausted from excitement.
“Alas,” Henry breathed with satisfaction upon seeing the distant curve of land that was Sancastria.
“Pardon sir?” a sailor coughed defensively, unsure if the strange hooded figure was addressing him.
“How long until we land?” Henry demanded, causing the sailor to cockily raise his eyebrows at the man’s strange and powerful demeanor.
“Maybe five hours, maybe a day, it all depends on the winds,” the sailor said indifferently, “Pardon, I must be on my way.”
Henry frowned at the sailor’s lack of respect, but then quickly remembered that no one aboard knew who he was. He kept it so, even when his feet finally touched the rich soil of the land that he had so dreamily loved. Nothing about it disappointed him; all was how he depicted it from the legends of its beauty and peaceful obscurity.
Finding Antonia’s tomb was simple, for it resided in the center of the stone-paved singular town of Sancastria. The buildings were haunted with thousands of year’s long gone past and held remnants of the earliest days of Sancastria’s beginnings. Every breath Henry took was quick with adoration and a sudden realization that he was doing what he always dreamt he would do.
No one questioned the dark hooded figure as he strode into the sulking temple that held the tombs of ancient kings and queens. Some, such as the wise old men who sat on the temples large steps counting their final days, knew instantly who Henry was. They bickered over his appearance, suggesting that it was Edward Linderserve coming back from the dead and fulfilling his promise. This made the toothless men chuckle, for they no longer needed the promise, and had decided long ago with many others that it was an item of the past; they no longer needed a new place to live. At that thought, the old men decided that the hooded stranger was the king of Linderservia crazed by the past and determined to fulfill what his ancestors could not, but they concluded in the end when the stranger had freely broken into a tomb baring a forgotten Linderservian queen, that he was a lunatic or some zealot who was in need of an ancient relic for his witchcraft.
Henry was surprised by the easiness of breaking in to his very great, grandmother’s tomb, and that the old men in front of the temple did not stop him. Without hesitation, Henry reverently bowed before the tomb, a tear finding its way into his vision, and opened it with ease. The skinless body sent a chill down his spine, but did not stop him from reaching down into the body’s persevered dress to find the key in its empty bodice. Henry’s hand grazed a rib, but he did not shutter, he did not release a drop of nervous sweat.
The key was much smaller then Henry had imagined, but it did not disappoint him, for he had found it. Henry resealed the tomb with grace and murmured a quick prayer, before turning on his heel to go back home. As he left the temple, he noted the indifferent look the men gaze him with frustration, frustrated that they had not stood up for his robbery of the Linderservian queen.
“Do they not care?” Henry thought allowed, stunning some unusually dark, but remarkably beautiful women who were passing by, “Do they not suspect who I am? Have they forgotten?”
The sailor who had talked to the cloaked man stared at him with surprise as he returned, not an hour later, to the boat before it was to set back to the mainland. A sudden wash of embarrassment poured on him as a spray of sea salt whipped across the deck. He flinched and looked at the man twice, seeing the face clearly behind its hood. On a whim of curiosity, the sailor was about to call out to the king, but then decided that that would not be wise, for if the king wanted to be known, he would have done so and would not have travelled so discreetly.
Salzt was like a curious bird that was intent in watching Linderservian’s eras and age’\s pass by. Its perch was so high, so mighty, and so distant, that Linderservia tended to forget about it and hardly wished to conquer it. The restless drive that had been installed into the Linderservia long ago dawdled and forgot the reason why it had been obsessed with Salzt’s northeastern lands. Salzt, being the graceful and high esteemed bird that it was, was only ever involved in rare marriages to Linderservian nobility or an occasional skirmish on their border. Only when the father of Henry I remembered the importance of Salzt’s northeastern land, were battles fought and an alliance made.
“Two bells tolled. One in the frigid northern region of Salzt and the other, in the luxurious capital of Linderservia. The bells rang, echoing each other in a time held unison, announcing the arrivals of two heirs. A time gap of seven years between the brass peals. The bell of Linderservia was rung three times, in a celebratory toll, proclaiming a son. Rejoicing took place simultaneously. The new mother smiled with satisfaction as her son was taken from her arms to be paraded through the crowded halls of her palace. The new father’s chest rose with pride as with quill in hand, he signed his first son’s birth right and inheritance. A rush of merriment echoed through every corner in the vast country, an heir of Linderservia had been born.
Hundreds of miles away seven years hence, Salzt there was also a rush of merriment in the land of Salzt, though not to Linderservia’s extravagant extent. A living child had finally been produced to secure Salzt’s forthcoming generation. Her cheeks were the pink of a blooming rose, her cry was strong, and her eyes were lit with lively innocence. The child’s mother smiled weakly as her babe was left to sleep in her arms. The father’s eyes glistened with subtle tears, mixed emotions running through his every limb. Finally, he and his queen had brought forth a living child, yet the subtle wrinkles at the sides of his eyes delivered slight distress. The child was not a son. The king’s throne could not boast a direct inheritor, something that could bring his country to demise.
The king of Salzt hid his worry and grinned in accordance to his wife’s joy. The queen felt the distress that the king had, but only for a brief moment. Her daughter was perfect in her eyes; the child’s good-health was all she wanted. The parents beamed with adoration as they cradled their daughter in silence and prayed for the good of her well-being.
Not soon after, the neighboring kings heard of each other’s fortune. Through written correspondence, they came to decisive terms on ending their tiresome skirmishes over the north-eastern lands. If a living son could not be produced, the northeastern lands would become one with Linderservia under an alliance of marriage to one of the Linderservian prince’s, for seven years had brought two. The opposing side to the alliance stated that if a Salzian inheritor were to be born, then the northeastern lands would belong to Salzt, but only if the marital alliance was still intact. Only if this alliance was asserted, would Linderservia’s immense army hold their arms and their king stop his ruthless border attacks. Thus, a sustainable sense of peace was obtained.”
-A recollection that I wrote not long after Cassandra of Salzt, the future Queen of Linderservia, was born.
The warm air of late spring filled the Linderservian palace with a spell of summer heat. The surviving courtiers fanned themselves warily, their eyes heavy from the tiresome recovery of the Mudden illness epidemic. Everyone was adorned in black, numbly mourning of all those who were lost. Cassandra, dressed in her nightwear and green robe, was in her nursery when Henry returned.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I named her Antonia Cassandra,” Henry announced, striding into the nursery.
Cassandra paused, her arms stiffening as they rocked Antonia in a loving cradle. She smiled to herself, her back turned against Henry. Her sickness had aged her and thinned her, but somehow, had filled her spirit with a burst of youth. Tears, filled her eyes, but she held them back with all the strength she could spare.
“I like it, for it is the feminine of Anthony after all,” Cassandra said softly, turning towards her husband.
In that instant, her words softened Henry and aliment that had passed between them faded into a thing of the past. Apology freely entered Henry, forcing him to wrap his arms around her and Antonia. The only thing that made the king and queen part from their longing embrace, was a soft whimper from Antonia.
“Are there tears in your eyes Henry?” Cassandra laughed gently, adjusting Antonia in her arms.
“Perhaps,” Henry said, smiling sappily at his wife, “I am so sorry Cassandra.”
“As am I.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for lovedy,” Henry whispered, looking lovingly down at Antonia then catching Cassandra’s amazed gaze, amazed at hearing the first term of endearment that she had received from her husband, “I am sorry that only your closeness to death woke me from my pride.”
“I have always known,” Cassandra murmured, and Henry understood her meaning, she had told him that she loved him, he opened his mouth to readily tell her of his affection, but he was interrupted by a sweet cry.
“Papa,” Fredrick cried desperately, wakening from his nap.
“Henry,” Cassandra cheered, laughing at his bewilderment.
“Is that his first word?” Henry gawked, picking up his son and lifting him proudly into the air.
“It was, yes, but he has been saying it repeatedly since you left. He has said other things too, almost complete sentences.”
“Oh my boy, you shall be a wise one,” Henry rejoiced.
“Annie,” Fredrick jeered, pointing a stubby finger at Antonia, who smiled at the sound of his voice, “Annie.”
“Antonia, Fredrick, your sister’s name is Antonia,” Cassandra corrected, her voice filled with maternal note.
“My king,” Jared called, entering the room, “We must plan for your departure to visit King Anthony. Immediately. He has sent another letter, this one much more desperate then the one before. I am worried, something is amiss. Lord Arthur concurs.”
“So soon? I only returned from receiving the key,” as Henry said this; he pulled out the key from his jackets inside pocket and dangled in front of Jared on its silver chain.
“You will have to put your venture on hold your majesty, this is pressing,” Jared continued, taking note of Cassandra’s awed expression.
“You are right, if it truly is that pressing,” Henry replied heavily, tucking the key back into its pocket.
“I will keep hold of that, for it is mine, technically,” Cassandra stated, reaching out her slender hand.
Henry froze, unwilling. He dug into his pocket and grabbed the key defensively, his forehead pulled forward in a frown. His blackened fingertips traced the key’s surface as he considered, acknowledging Jared’s nod of approval.
“Wear it about your neck at all times then,” Henry ordered, stringing the chain around Cassandra neck with great ceremony.
“Always,” Cassandra said slyly, “You can find me in my bedchamber after your meeting is through.”
“Of course,” Henry mouthed as Jared, sickened by their sensual glances, began to leave, dragging Henry after him.
“What does the letter say?” Henry asked eagerly as he and Jared greeted Lord Arthur in his study with hefty nods.
“It says that you, your grace, are in some danger. His Linderservian is not very good and his writing was very undecipherable, but he requests that you come as soon as you can. He also said, not to bring Cassandra,” Lord Arthur informed his king in a great rush, his round face rounded furthermore with pink apprehension.
“This sounds very peculiar my king. I would take your men with you,” Jared advised.
“My secret army?”
“I don’t think I need that Jared, and the army is too small to appear anything more than a caravan of soldiers, because of the great loss in Hordenlind,” Henry argued, as he started to pace in front of his tapestries.
“At least take a trusted guard with you, maybe three of four, besides the number that will escort you,” Jared insisted.
“I agree with Master Cunningham,” Lord Arthur concurred stoutly, ringing his hands together.
“I will take two besides the four that will escort me. When do I leave?”
“I advise that perhaps you leave in two weeks or so your highness. That way you can catch-up on the business you denied during her majesty’s, the queen’s, illness and your secretive little voyage,” Lord Arthur advocated with slight authority in his tone.
“That would be wise,” Henry agreed sitting down at his desk.
“And my king?”
“Yes, Lord Arthur?”
“There was something else, in King Anthony’s letter.”
“And that was?”
“He wants to discuss Salzt’s future with you. He said he couldn’t say too much in case his letter got into the wrong hands, but, he has suggested that if you have another son, that he should become the eventual heir to the Salzt throne. He wants Cassandra to pose as regent until he would be old enough.”
Henry, stunned from this suggestion, glanced at Jared who shared a similar expression. In their eye contact, they had a mutual agreement that Salzt was indeed, in trouble. Lord Arthur waited quietly, and somewhat nervously, for his king to respond, for hundreds of kings in Linderservian history had wished for such fortunate luck.
“I will discuss it with him, and with Cassandra. Who then will be the new Earl of Hordenlind? Since Phillip’s son will become the next Duke of Mudden.”
“Louisa’s child, if she should marry your highness.”
“Well Lord Arthur, you must work on that,” Henry said light-heartedly, dismissing him with a nod.
“My king,” Jared said dryly, his throat suddenly parched from the hot palace air, “I think it is time that I told you something.”
Jared folded his hands, which had begun to sweat profusely, behind his back. Henry, who had started indulging in the business matters of his country, looked from his stack of documents. Never before had Jared looked so pale.
“Go on,” Henry urged with uncertainty.
“I learnt this during the first days of your marriage, but I did not think to tell you until I thought it necessary. Now, that I feel trouble is stirring, I thought I might share it with you.”
“Yes? Continue,” Henry said curiously, standing from his desk.
“Her majesty, the queen, knows of the Cunningham children, my king.”
“How?” Henry inquired, his mind pacing from surprise to a flustered panic, “No one was supposed to know other than us, now that is.”
Phillip, who had approached Henry’s closed study door and surprised that it was not guarded, had bent forward to eavesdrop and heard Jared’s confession. He pulled back hearing Henry’s temper stirring in his voice. Phillip did not have to hear anymore, he kicked a nearby full-length with frustration, sending a severe crack on its surface, for he had been about to tell Henry the new himself in accordance to his relentless plotting. With another kick at the mirror, reducing it into millions of scratched pieces, Phillip walked curtly back into his hiding.
For weeks, Phillip had been voyaging from the palace to different taverns for brief and reticent meetings; he had even travelled as far as to Richard’s encampment. The army was almost ready, and on hearing that Henry was to go to Salzt, all was in order. In fact, some of the soldiers had been brought into the capital under disguise, while the others had begun to be stationed in the woods behind the king of Salzt’s mountainous castle.
“Well, I hope it weakens their relationship then,” Phillip growled as he slammed the door to his rooms shut.
Henry, wanting to enjoy the happiness that had budded between him and Cassandra, did not mention what Jared had revealed to him until the next morning when Cassandra awoke contently in his arms. He had watched her sleep with sincerity, not allowing himself to think that she was a Salzian spy. She did not seem to be made up of the cunning-spy like behaviors he had thought a spy would possess. Cassandra was too confident to be controlled by a master and too individual to be told to act as something she was not.
“Good morning,” Cassandra greeted sweetly, moving further into his chest as she always did on such mornings.
“Good morning,” Henry replied in a similar tone.
He tried to hide his suspicion in his voice, but failed to hide the thick mien on his face. Cassandra frowned, concerned for her husband, and kissed his hand. Henry stirred, but only continued to stare at her.
“What is it?” Cassandra questioned, moving him from his concentration.
“Jared told me that you knew I had siblings,” Henry voiced, trying his hardest to keep the strain from his voice.
“I did, or do, for I am assuming you really do now.”
“How did you know?”
“My foreign minister told me, long ago, when he was first assigned as Salzt’s foreign minister.”
“That is all? That is the truth?”
“Yes Henry, that is the truth and that is all,” Cassandra said closing her eyes and nodding.
“Look me in the eye,” Henry commanded.
Cassandra sat up and pulled herself on top of him. She stroked his hair, and after a gentle kiss, nodded more aggressively. Taking his face in hers, she told him again with all the earnest she could muster. Henry smiled, feeling assured and intent, and happy that the conversation had not ended in a quarrel.
Later that afternoon, when Henry had resigned from working that day and the sun was beginning to set, he took Cassandra on a walk ordering that all courtiers were to go home so he and Cassandra could walk in privacy. Cassandra, the key restrung on a finer and newer chain, joined him cradling Antonia in her arms. At first, they only spoke of memories, memories that went back to the winter where they visited on another, but later, Henry felt it fit to discuss her brother’s proposition.
“Cassandra, your brother in his last letter, proposed that if we were to have another son, that he should be the heir to the Salzian throne.”
“Is that why he wants to meet with you? Can I come with you? I long to see my old home,” Cassandra replied with a distant highlight of remorse in her voice.
“Your brother, strangely, requested that you not come, I can’t tell you why, but I will ask when I am there.”
“That bothers me,” Cassandra said quietly to herself.
“Cassandra, he fears that he is going to die soon and has requested that you be regent until we produce another heir and until he is old enough to rule. I do not know anything more.”
“Henry,” Cassandra gasped softly stopping, and gingerly pulling the key from Antonia’s plump hands.
“I think it wise, but something is stirring Cassandra. I can feel it deep within me,” Henry professed, feeling a straight loss of pride in revealing such a thing to his wife.
“Stirring Henry?” Cassandra inquired, holding her confiding grasp that she held over him.
“Yes. When I left, to get the key, the further I got away from the capital, the quieter the land felt. It was chilling, eerie, startling, and any other adjective along those lines.”
“Did our people seem happy?”
“Yes. It was really when I neared the southern Hordenlind border. Then in Sancastria, I felt,” Henry took a deep breath, feeling as if his heart strings were about to burst, “I felt as if my dream to fulfill the kings long forgotten promise, was irrelevant. I felt that the people of Sancastria no longer cared.”
Cassandra and Henry slowed and thought in silence as they reached a curved opening in one of the garden’s grove. The opening provided a clean view onto Linderservia’s spacious hills, which were shinning with the golden glow of the early summer’s setting sun. They stood close together, looking at the beautiful sight, and having no idea that it was the last time they would see such a sight in unison.
“Henry, it is, overall your dream,” Cassandra said at last, “Maybe your purpose behind it isn’t to please the people of Sancastria, but rather to restore your ancestor’s dignity. Maybe it is more personal than you think.”
“You are right Cassandra, and you have no idea how right you are,” Henry sighed, kissing Cassandra’s cheek, causing Antonia to smile at oblivious awe in the presence of her parents.
It is very personal, Henry thought to himself, for it was because of my boyish fright for caring for such a creature as Cassandra all those years ago, that peaked my interest in the tapestries.
“It has taken me sometime to figure it out Cassandra. It has taken losing my parents, a merciless battle, losing my beloved cousin and companion, being king, and almost losing you to discover how personal and rather silly my dream really is.”
“Are you going to still fulfill it?” Cassandra asked as they turned back to palace and Antonia began to whimper from a hunger.
“Of course, but I feel that there is a lot more I need to fulfill before I fulfill it. Including being a father and husband.”
Henry rose before Cassandra could wake. Last night, she had been terrorized by an array of nightmares, causing her to cry and plead for him not to go to Salzt. Henry had never seen her cry as she had and it had bothered him so much, that after she had finally fallen into a deep sleep, he considered not going. Yet, in the end, he decided to leave and to compromise with himself; he requested that Jared go with him so he could be witness to anything that could happen.
After kissing Cassandra’s cheek, which flushed in its usual rosy pink from her sleep, for the last time, he went to the nursery where he cradled Antonia against the wet-nurse’s will and kissed his son’s forehead. I will have my family painted on the finest of canvases and sheets of wood when I come home, so I can take them anywhere I go, Henry thought happily to himself as he left the palace. He was excited to see Salzt once again and to see the palace where his wife had been raised. Henry felt as if he were about to enter into a part of Cassandra that he had never ventured.
With Jared at his side and his guards organized about him, Henry set off, dressed in the same garb he had retrieved the key in. The world about him looked beautiful, in a way that he had never thought it attractive before. Jared had noticed a change in Henry, and it had pleased him. Henry’s face, though still quiet expressive, was not as youthful and fiery as it had been two years ago, a sentimental calm had changed his striking handsomeness, into the face of a man well beyond his years. It was still handsome, but in the way of a completely matured man reaching his early thirties.
When the party rested at the old castle that was tied to Cassandra and Henry’s childhood, Henry had begun to feel slightly timid. Something in the castle’s desolate loneliness gave him a sense of foreboding and Cassandra’s nightmares began to taint him. When he left the home of his tapestries, he was very happy. The stress that the short visit caused him never left him, and if anything, slowly rebuilt itself on the last half of his journey.
The towering mountains in the middle of Salzt, which had always stood as an urban legend to Henry, amazed him. Instantly, he could see why Cassandra had been so depressed when she arrived at the palace. For the wondrous peaks brought instant satisfaction for any amount of longing or unease. The mountain’s evergreen trees and stony fortresses held an unearthly amount of power.
The day before the party was supposed to arrive at the king’s palace, Jared overheard a curious conversation with two of the guards who were on night watch.
“Look at all these footprints,” a young guard whispered to his elder.
“Aye, there are a lot, and fresh they are,” the elder said gruffly in response.
“Why are they off trail?”
“Who knows with these mountain freaks? They probably have little tree villages about here or somethin’.”
“Yer don’t think it a wee-bit abnormal?”
“Nah, they aren’t that fresh.”
“We shouldn’t alert the king? Or Master Cunningham?”
“I don’ see why we should.”
“If we get ambushed, it’s your fault then.”
“We not going to get ambushed!”
Jared backed away, pretending that he hadn’t heard the conversation, but once the guards had left to alert the next watch, he investigated the spot.
“What you see there sir?” the young guard who had first noted the tracks asked, causing Jared to jump from surprise.
“Tracks,” Jared stated, pointing down at the ground, than giving the young soldier a knowing glance, the boy cringed with guilt and shrugged, “What are you doing back here? I assumed you and your friend were switching night watch?”
“We are, the new set are on their way, I jus’ come back for my canteen,” the boy shrugged, then grabbing his canteen which he had left previously on a boulder, left.
Jared, throughout the next day jumped at any noise and had begun to feel a nervous twitch settling on his brow.
“They are here,” Mathieu panted, “I saw them light a fire last night and saw the king hobble out to greet Henry himself this morning, with the assistance of that fat nurse woman.”
“Catch your breath,” Richard snapped, “And tell your men to begin preparing themselves. I will perform the necessary deeds this night.”
Mathieu flinched, his determined and independent spirit reluctant within him, and heeded his master’s orders. Richard watched him go, pitying Mathieu, for he only had a day or two left of his life, depending on how smoothly everything went. As he walked to his horse, he fingered a letter he had received from the Duchess of Mudden, informing him that she had at long last entered Phillip’s rooms in the palace and was beginning to arrange all that needed arranging. With a hearty chuckle, Richard cleared his throat, and left for the castle.
“Thank you for coming my brother,” Anthony said fondly, shaking Henry’s hand from his lounging coach on his bedchamber’s balcony, “Do you want anything to drink? Pine tea seems to be a specialty for foreign visitors, though we have few.”
“Thank you,” Henry nodded in acceptance to the boy’s offer.
Henry felt strange, talking to Cassandra’s brother, for they were little to nothing alike. In fact, Henry had difficulty cohering that they were of the same family. The kingly child in front of him was brittle and looked as if he were too eager to die. They had the same eyes, but they used them very differently. Cassandra’s were very animated, while Anthony’s were simply pretty instruments he used for sight.
“Did you read my last letter?” the boy asked nervously, intimidated, but deeply touched by being in the presence of Henry’s grandeur; though, it did bother Anthony that Henry was dressed so simply.
“I did your majesty,” Henry bit his tongue, hearing “his majesty” directed to someone other than himself and coming from his own mouth, tasting sourly foreign.
“Please, call me Anthony dear brother,” Anthony insisted.
“If you wish.”
“I do, I do. Now, what to do you think of my proposition? My foreign minister was enraged when he found out that I offered it to you, but I thought it fitting,” Anthony said this gesturing for Nan to pour them their pine tea, though he never touched his cup. Henry tasted it and was impressed, but then he too, never touched his cup again.
“Cassandra and I think it a very good idea,” Henry started, but then was interrupted by a sharp clap.
Anthony clapped again in excitement, like a small child, and asked Nan for the documents he had inscribed.
“These are the charters, though I had some difficulty in finding a witness. How about that older man whom you brought? Nan? Could you send for him? He shall be the witness to this alliance,” Anthony ordered this, his voice cracking tiredly several times.
“Are you sure you fit to doing this at this moment Anthony?” Henry insured cautiously, taking note of how pale Anthony’s face was becoming.
“Oh yes, for I might die if we wait any later,” Anthony jeered lightly, his eyes growing black with honesty.
Henry thought it strange to hear the boy talk of death so lightly and carelessly, and it wasn’t just death, it was his own death. Anthony scribbled his signature on all of the documents quickly and sloppily, as if he was signing off a daughter to a suitor who he though would never marry and wanted to be done with the task before the suitor could change his mind. A pain of desperation stabbed Henry’s stomach, anxious to know what Anthony had to tell him that was so important and what might bring down their kingdom’s, for nothing seemed to be causing the boy any other pain besides his chronic illness.
“Nan,” Anthony shouted weakly, taking sight of Richard following behind her, “I had asked for the old man I saw following the King Henry, not Richard!”
Jared froze, the name of his brother coming from the king’s lips causing him to have a silent heart attack. Nan looked at him, slightly bewildered, and slightly admiring the humble man, for he looked about her age. Henry’s jaw clenched tightly, unsure of what he had just heard Anthony call Jared and of Jared’s icy reaction.
“Oh, but it isn’t Richard, sorry sir. I apologize. I mistook you as my foreign affairs minister,” Anthony breathed shamefully, the pain in his lungs that had been feverishly increasing causing him to slip into a fit of bloody coughing.
Jared sat next to Henry in a cool silence, the impossible dawning on him. My brother is dead, Jared assured himself, he died of Mudden illness in one a tavern at Mudden’s border years ago. Though, I never did see his body, but this, this would be impossible. How could or would, he have any means to become the foreign minister? Was the Salzian queen that desperate? Was there no one else who was worthy? Does he still have his power of easily overpowering individuals?
“Sir,” Anthony repeated, somewhat offended by the man’s stillness, “Sorry, but what is your name?”
“ I am Master Jared Cunningham your highness, I was my king’s tutor in his youth,” Jared presented himself, hoping to see Anthony show some sign that the name “Cunningham” sounded familiar, but he did not move.
“Ah, pleasant. Will you be witness to your king’s signing of these papers?”
“Of course your majesty.”
“Good,” Anthony said with relief, laying his head against a quilted pillow and closing his eyes.
Jared and Henry signed the charters without reluctance, though both of them, with uncertainty. They exchanged a mutual look of wonder. When they had finished, Anthony excused Jared, and was moved to his bed with the help of both Nan and Henry.
“I am too weak to see another day,” Anthony decided as Nan walked out of the room to fetch more coals for Anthony’s bed pan.
“You should not speak like that Anthony. Cassandra would be sad if she heard you,” Henry advised sympathetically.
“Ah my sister. Is she happy? Are you a good husband to her as you are a king to your people?”
“As of recently. I was distracted with personal triumphs and affairs in the beginning, but now everything is mended.”
“Ah good, because that would worry me if it were any other way. Last time she wrote to me, she was with child once again. Was it a boy? I hope it was another son.”
“It is a girl, named Antonia after you,” Henry told Anthony in hope of giving him hopeful strength.
“That’s disappointing, but I feel honored. Will you have another?”
“She may certainly be with child again now as we speak, but it would be too soon to tell.”
“Well I hope that she is,” Anthony muttered, sinking deep into his pillow, and closing his eyes once again.
“That would be fortunate,” Henry responded hopefully, than quickly added, “You said that I was in danger?”
Anthony cringed and opened his eyes. He looked at the handsome and powerful king, distantly, unable to find his voice. The light in his eyes was slowly slipping.
“I, had, almost, forgotten,” Anthony murmured choppily, forcing his words with great effort, “My minister, foreign minister, he wants,” Anthony stopped, unable to go any further, “Tomorrow, I will tell you tomorrow,” Anthony assured, though he clearly knew that he would be unable to.
“Rest,” Henry ordered as Nan came scampering in, her arms loaded with a bag of coals, which she tossed into Anthony’s fireplace.
“I will,” Anthony mouthed, then softly, “thank, you, dear brother.”
Henry left the room, feeling as though that was the last time he would ever see the poor king, and it was. Jared, who had stayed by Anthony’s door the whole while, greeted Henry very solemnly, for he had just inquired Nan about the foreign minister on her way into the das bedchamber. With great haste, Jared guided them down the cool stone hallway and into the austere room Henry was staying in. Both Henry and Jared’s thought were so muddled with concern, that neither of them truly witnessed the simplicity of the castle and its way of life.
“It is what I feared my king, this foreign minister is Richard. That is why he knew of the Cunningham children. He must have faked his death and reestablished himself, started anew. Though he did not have the wit to change his first name.”
“Why did Anthony not reconcile it? Your last name? When you introduced yourself?”
“His nurse maid told me that his memory was significantly weak in such areas. Then she continued on to say that I bore a striking resemblance. She did not know anything else other than that the queen had hired him on a whim after her husband’s death.”
“Something is not right Jared. I feel as if something is about to happen. Everything has felt strange, never before have I felt so empty, so suddenly in despair. We are leaving tomorrow, I would leave this night, but that would be unacceptable for having just arrived.”
“Did he give you the charters? We should hold on to them.”
“Yes, good thinking, but I can’t bear the thought of reentering that room.”
“Not to worry my king! I will go and get them. That nurse maid seems as if she would be happy to see me once more before our departure, for I expect we will be leaving before dawn?”
“Yes,” Henry said stiffly, his throat suddenly swelling from his nervousness.
“I will wake you my king, when it is time to leave. I bid you a good night and do not worry. I am sure my brother is simply living a new life. If I can, I will seek the audacity to speak to him. Though I am afraid that I can’t stand the thought of him. We have both been condemned with beasts of brothers I am afraid.”
“I will see you in the morning then, though I may be the one to wake you,” Henry laughed nervously, giving Jared an immediate unease, for he had never heard such a laugh from his king.
“Not to worry my king, not to worry,” Jared said soothingly, making his way through the door of Henry’s room, but Henry stopped him with a scarred hand and smiling the warmest smile Henry had ever given him.
“Thank you Jared, for everything,” Henry thanked, his voice baring a slight mournful ring.
“I am but your most loyal servant my ki-” Jared started, feeling slightly touched.
“Please, call me Henry, Jared, you are like a father to me,” Henry objected quietly.
“Henry,” Jared said naturally, as if he had been saying since the first time he had met his pupil, “I am your most loyal servant.”
“And humble,” Henry added light-heartedly, his nervousness briefly softened.
“Yes, and humble,” Jared laughed back.
“Good night Jared,” Henry choked through his swelling throat.
“Good night, I will see you in the morning,” Jared assured, taking one last look at Henry, whom he had always, subconsciously, thought of as a son.
Jared never did see Henry again, or in person at least, for the next morning he awoke to find Henry’s limp body, his throat slit in half, tied to a stake, lifelessly leading an immense army as it marched towards Linderservia. Anthony’s body was ungracefully tethered to the castle’s front gates, leaving Nan to a kneeling mess at his feet. Without any further thought or care, Jared flew to warn his queen and the capital of Linderservia, leaving with a face frozen in sickened terror.
A PERSONAL HISTORY
I was born at the end of the darkest era of Linderservian history, but was raised in, perhaps, the best era Linderservia had to offer. Never, do I remember starving as a child or being shoeless. My father was one of the only carpenters in the Winvra and my mother, the most talented seamstress. Their businesses were so productive, that by the time of the Winvra rebellion, they had sent me through six years of schooling.
Our abode was a modest one and was always busy with life. My younger brother, Richard, and my little sister Ursula were almost as fortunate as I. Richard was put through schooling for two years at a school run by holy men from the Holy Order of Linderservia, and my sister was just as talented at seaming as my mother. My father, though very skilled, despised his work and was determined to make all of his children successful, academically and politically.
When I reached my sixth year of schooling, having only two more years left before I would be able to graduate as a Master, in other words, the highest rank that teaching could offer, rebellion struck my home. Over the past five years, I had been too busy travelling with other students abroad and too diligent in my studies to have noticed the sparks that were flickering amongst my neighbors, and even my own father and brother, against Winvra’s senate.
Winvra was known for its prestigious education systems and its respect for individual choice. Winvra’s senate was a product of independence, and though it had appeared to be a very democratic and righteous way of rule, it had fallen into the wrong hands. Senators had slowly become fear-mongering tax collectors, tyrants compared to the leaders of Linderservia. The senate infuriated so many citizens of Winvra that a rebellious force grew and carried Winvra into civil war.
I was there in the beginning of the rebellion on a short visit to my home, but I was there long enough to see the viciousness that violent hatred can cause. After I had seen a senator, who I had befriended on one of my scholarly internships, hanging from his doorway and a handful of merciless fires raging through my hometown, I decided to make a living for myself in Linderservia. I, too cowardly to ever return home, set myself up in the Linderservian capital where I tutored children of the noble class. From the Linderservian capital, I witnessed the rebellion from a comfortable distance, through pamphlets, gossip at local taverns, and from the king himself. The king, admiring my tutoring of his sister, Princess Phillipa Elizabeth’s son, suited me for his own son. From that position, I could witness the rebellion in safety without having to be involved in it.
My father was a very prominent figure in the rebellion; he took advantage of his carpenter skills and used them in weapon building. My father and all of the members on his side who wanted Linderservia to be the sovereign over Winvra, they wanted to end the senate’s rule. Richard, who my mother called home from his domestic schooling to care for the family after my father was killed in a barricade against the senate’s arms, opposed the side my parents stood on. By the time the rebellion ended, my mother too had died, but due to the spreading Mudden illness-a mysterious fever that was home to the land of Mudden.
I, again to cowardly and comfortable in my spacious residence in the capital, did not run to aide my brother and sister as I should have. For five years, I sent them money and resources, too engrossed in tutoring the future king of Linderservia and the future Earl of Hordenlind to do anything else. After the five years had passed, I finally arranged a voyage to visit my home.
My home had been tarnished and scarred. It was not what I remembered. The sunny days of my youth and the childhood pleasures of living in such a beautiful place, were all gone, even a fair maiden whom I had thought I was in love with at one time had disappeared. Not only was my youth solidified into a mere memory, but my siblings had changed drastically. Our home was trashed. Richard and his friends had destroyed my childhood home with their drunkenness and immodest partying, not only my home, but my sister’s youth. My poor sister bore two fatherless children, her first dying after one year, and the second one taking her life with its. Feeling both pity and hatred for my brother, I sold the tinkered house, and took him back to Linderservia with me.
The king, after discovering that I had a brother who was educated by the Holy Order of Linderservia, favored me furthermore and allowed my brother live quietly at court under his own benefits. Though the king never found out, this was one of the worst decisions he could have made. Queen Phillipa grew to admire Richard, and before long, Phillipa became pregnant with his child. To hide her pregnancy and three more after, she turned the Isle of Queen Joan into her retreat, where she could deliver Richard’s children without anyone knowing.
Richard felt no shame, only I felt it. My brother sickened me and we grew to despise each other more than we ever had. I had convinced myself since his birth, to accept his manipulative mind and greed, but having such a shameless and continual affair with the queen of Linderservia, disgusted me. Richard had more reason to hate me, and I knew it even then. So when Richard finally left, disowning me as his brother, I understood his reasons. His reasons being, that I had avoided my family at a time of dire need and that I betrayed my family.
I had no idea of the real reasons why Richard left and fled to Mudden. He had told me that he had tired from the queen and did not want to get caught having such a reckless affair with her. I had no idea of his true intentions, that in reality he and the queen had plotted the demise of the Linderservian monarchy. That they together had devised that someday their children would be the ones to rule Linderservia.
It wasn’t until much later; that I learned that Richard had faked his death so that he could rebuild himself without anyone’s awareness. He fled for Salzt where he captured the attention of the widowed queen and held her in the palm of his hand. Little did I know that he would murder my favorite pupil and the Salzian king with his own hands.
For the first two weeks of Henry’s absence, Cassandra, though reminded of the nightmares she had of Henry on his last night in her sleep every night, tried her hardest not to worry. The journey to her brother’s castle would be a safe one, she was sure, and it would take one and a half to two weeks for the party to get there on horseback. Yet, once the third week quickly turned into the end of a fourth and no letters or messengers had come, Cassandra fretted compulsively.
The hot summer air reduced her to a sweaty and anxious mess that one, not even Louisa or Cassandra’s children, could tame. Cassandra would spend hours with her children picking and pecking at their mishaps and praising their tiny accomplishments with embellished adoration. When she was not with her children, she was running her hands through various items of clothing Henry had left in her room from various sleepless, but charming, nights and she even began coddling the small painting of him she had received on her journey to Linderservia.
One thing that would never leave Cassandra and grew stronger in its owner’s absence was Henry’s warm scent. It was everywhere Cassandra went. When she went to the nursery she smelt it amongst her babes, when she was fingering his clothing it drifted from the cloth, when she roamed his study it rose in puffs of dust off his old books and abandoned documents, and when she went outside, the scent was treacherous, for it was only a memory hidden amongst the groves, flowers, and impish reflections in the fountain’s smooth waters. Cassandra even found the smell in her hair.
Grey clouds swelled over the great capital city of Linderservia. The palace’s walls rose high and mightily in the storming sky, as if it were reaching out in a dire want to be risen from its potential bloodied grounds. Never before did Jared feel such a love for the Linderservian capital as he did when flew there to warn the queen.
Jared’s horse collapsed as he reached the palace’s front gates, his chest heaving with despair and his eyes red with days of sickened trepidation and heedless travel. He yelled with all his might to the guards, his arms thrashing the humid air with forewarning vigilance. They let him, knowing who he was and hesitantly believing his warning, which was much too late. Upon Jared’s arrival, an unfamiliar army could be hears marching towards the capital, leaving a trail of blazing fire as it went.
“My queen!” Jared howled as he sprinted through the chaotic palace and pushed through the wave of panicking and screeching courtiers, as the army began to make its way through the walled city.
“Is someone calling for me?” Cassandra asked Louisa, who quite suddenly, had stopped moving, her gaze transfixed out the window, “Why is there so much noise? Has Henry returned?”
“My queen!” Jared repeated, throwing himself into the queen’s bedchambers after spilling his news to the guards outside of it.
“Jared,” Cassandra exclaimed passionately, seeing his distress and his blood stained clothing.
“You have no time. Gather your children and run. We must make haste,” Jared rushed, ordering a terrified maid servant to pack a bag of necessities.
“What is wrong? What has happened?”
“Cassie,” Louisa moaned with panic, pointing out the window.
The capital city was on fire and deadly screams were alive throughout the city. A military of uniformed men was crashing its way through every building. One man, who resembled Jared, remarkably was being greeted by a profusely smiling Duke and the Duchess of Mudden. Smoke rose into the air, meeting the grey clouds dwindling in the sky. Mathieu, an unrecognizable assassin to Cassandra, ran joyfully from the midst of the falling city and dashed to the palace’s front gates and strung a limp body onto their pointed spares.
Cassandra shrieked her scream agonizing and heart-wrenching to all who could hear. Her eyes grew round with terror. Jared rushed to her as Louisa sprinted out into the hallway, urging for them to leave, and calling for Hazel, who was already sprinting towards the nursery, to join them on their flight.
“Henry, Henry,” Cassandra sobbed madly, tearing her hands through her hair.
“Shush, we must get your children, I know, I know,” Jared sobbed in return, dragging Cassandra with all his might after Louisa.
“Wh-what is happening, my, my queen?” Anne gasped, meeting with the running trio as they ran to the nursery, but Cassandra was in no shape or fit in mind to respond.
Shouts, louder and deeper than the frantic courtiers, could be heard ordering each other to save none and press through every palace hallway. With Louisa at the head, the foursome continued up to the nursery, the worst of nightmares crossing their minds. When they reached it, Antonia’s crying could be heard, and Hazel stood in front of the door, unmoving, her back facing the hallway.
“Hazel!” Louisa shouted, “What are you doing? Get out of the way. We must get the children.”
“Ah, but you are too late,” a sly voice, reeking of vengeance, echoed through the doorway.
Hazel fell to the ground, a dagger in her stomach, and the shine of fear still visible in her eyes. Anne screamed and fainted, deafening the Duchess of Mudden and all those who surrounded the door way. Suddenly four sets of brutish hands pushed the feeble group into the nursery.
“What have you done to my country? What have you done to my husband? My people?” Cassandra yelped helplessly, throwing herself violently at the duchess.
A gruff man, whose hair was thick and woolly stopped her and held her forcefully against her will. The duchess snickered as she moved gently across the room to pick-up Fredrick, is face stained with confusion and tears. Cassandra, losing wind from the soldiers grip around her throat, fell to the floor, causing Fredrick to scream with dismay.
Phillip and Mathieu were locked into the royal dining hall. Only there was no table, or candle sticks, or any sign of the merriment that had once passed in the vast room. Richard, with two loyal guards standing at his side, sat in the chair, his hands behind his head and his elbows sticking leisurely into the air. For extra measure, he stretched his legs before him, and crossed them.
“The Duchess of Mudden has locked Cassandra in a servant’s room and the other’s in the servant’s kitchen, including the children. Lord Arthur and Phillipa Elizabeth are prepared for their executions,” Phillip announced, smiling at the duchess’s sleek work.
“Very good. Very good,” Richard hummed with delight, “And you Mathieu? What have you to say?”
“Those who we found living are waiting in the courtyard, to be branded as our new citizens, to have something to remind them who their new sovereign is. The courtiers have been locked in the chapel which is being prepared for its burning.”
“And who do you think that is? The new sovereign of Linderservia?” Richard requested, fingering a delightfully red apple that he had found on the floor. As he threw it up into the air, his guards locked the dining hall’s doors.
“Certainly I am,” Phillip said airily, looking at Mathieu with immediate hostility, Mathieu bowed his head in response.
“Aye, isn’t he? I thought you had said he was and that I could rule over Hordenlind? And the Duchess of Mudden, Mudden? That is what you said when you nursed me back to health at least and at our meetings.”
“Ah, but, you are wrong young Mathieu. I would like to thank you for all you have done to me. Guard,” Richard said with a gentle tone and then flicking his fingers at Mathieu to signal the guard on his right.
The guard moved, very deliberately, towards Mathieu, drawing his sword. Mathieu swallowed hard, unsure of what the guard’s motives were. By the time he realized that his death was upon him, the guard had already killed him and moved back to his position besides Richard. Richard chuckled after biting into his apple.
“I had meant to get rid of that one, weeks ago, but I just couldn’t do it.”
“I do not completely understand your tactics Richard. We had a deal,” Phillip growled through clenched teeth.
“Oh we had a deal, but no one promised to keep it. Did they Phillip? And you never kept your end of the bargain did you? You failed to disrupt Henry and Cassandra’s relationship and now both of them will have to perish. Well, obviously, Henry is long gone. You saw his body on your palace’s gate only moments ago. You helped.”
“It wasn’t my fault, it was the way it happened,” Phillip argued, advancing angrily towards Richard.
“Yes, well, maybe you should not have waited such a long time. Sometimes you have to take control of time.”
“I don’t understand you, you withering-”
“Ah, now, now Phillip, let’s not get nasty,” Richard cooed as he boisterously chewed on his apple.
“Explain yourself then,” Phillip roared.
“I am the father of your mother’s bastards, which I did not tell you of course. Long ago we had planned to throw your father off his throne so our children, made from such pure love, could rule. Also, we had a new view for Linderservia. We wanted a Linderservia whose people served the royalty and held ownership over the entire continent; in fact, we wanted the new one, which has been long forgotten, as well. So now, I am fulfilling my dead lover’s wishes and have already sent for my children.”
“Well your chances in getting the new continent are gone, for only Henry knew of its secrets,” Phillip snapped, his body flushing with the rage of betrayal and his eyes swarming with scorching tears at his lawful mistake.
“Perhaps. Time will tell. Until then, your relatives and bloodline must be diminished. I won’t kill the children of course, for their minds are young and could be proved useful. You though, my dear Phillip, have used up your usefulness.”
Before Phillip could utter a reply, Richard had thrown his own pocket knife into the duke’s body. Phillip died slowly and was left to suffer in the dining. Only the ghosts of his family stood by to watched, and the all watched in pity, ashamed that such a fate had repeated itself in Linderservian history.
“Jared, someone is at the door,” Louisa whispered, her face smudged from the air’s shifting ash.
Jared stumbled forward and silently crept over the other sleeping prisoners. He pressed his ear to the door and heard the quiet rattle of a chain of keys. In fright of scaring the noise’s owner away, Jared did not move.
“Hello,” Jared whispered as the door clicked to an open.
No one replied, only the clatter of the door’s key made any sound as it fell through the doors crack and a quick muffle of steps.
“It is the key to our door,” Jared announced quietly as the door clicked back to a close, immediately locking itself.
“Did you see who gave it to us?” Louisa asked anxiously, brushing her hair from her face.
“What are we going to do?” Louisa wept softly into her hands.
“Well, now we have to escape. We have the opportunity to.”
“But where will we go?”
“You could go south with Antonia and live on the lavender farms near the coast. Those people have always been welcoming.”
“But where will you go?”
“That is a good question. I think that maybe, we should wait and see what happens. Then we can make definitive plans. Nothing has happened yet in our three weeks imprisonment and I think we may be spared.”
“Yes, I agree Jared, or so I hope.”
Linderservia fell from prosperity to decline in one day, and over a series of four months, it faded into an age darker than it had ever seen before. Richard crowned himself the king of Linderservia, and upon his children’s arrival, he imprisoned them in Cassandra’s old rooms. The palace, once home to the Linderservia’s finest luxury and delightful entertainment, fell to ruins. Not only was the palace diminished and all its gold melted into coins for Richard’s personal prosperity, but all of Linderservia was reduced to the remnants of a hopeful and loving time. The people, once so proud and satisfied in their land, stuck to the inside of their homes, praying for a new light.
Jared and his company were locked away in the servant’s old kitchen, the giver of the room’s key unknown, for three months. They were all fed generously, for they were given the food to cook themselves and were provided with modes of entertainment. Louisa became the immediate maternal caregiver and Anne, the helpful nanny. Their days were long, but cherished.
“Requesting Jared Cunningham,” a stalky soldier, whose voice was thick with a Mudden accent, requested, picking Jared up by the collar of his jacket and dragging him to the royal dining hall.
“Ah! How nice of you to join us,” Richard greeted with mock amusement.
“Richard,” Jared greeted solemnly in response, the guard offering him a chair.
“Oh that won’t be necessary, Jared can stand, he will only be here a short time,” Richard said, hinting at the guard to put the chair back in its place.
“Are you going to murder your own brother?” Jared asked objectively, looking at his brother with utter disgust.
“No, actually, I am sparing you. For you see, Cassandra, is pregnant with another child of Henry’s and I want you to escort her to her new home. It will be that little castle she spent that winter in long ago with little Henry and Phillip. You will be stationed there until it is born. I do not think she will make it through birth, she’s such an impish little thing, she can barely stand.”
“What of the others?” Jared voice, hiding his joy, his joy for being spared and for the news that Cassandra was still alive.
“Right now? Well, I had the decency to allow them to say farewell to Cassandra at this very moment. For you two are leaving immediately. That Anne girl is to accompany you. I have not yet decided what to do with that Louisa and the little girl. The little boy I intended on raising the chit as my own, with my own, once the palace and the capital are restored to my liking. Why do you look at me with such discontent Jared?”
Jared never responded to his brother’s question, not in words, which was the only way Richard thought one could respond. He responded in a sinister stare that would haunt Richard for the rest of his life. Jared was then escorted roughly back to the servants chamber where he was reunited with Cassandra before their departure.
Cassandra had aged considerably since Jared had seen her last, but her beauty had remained. Though she was a girl only in her mid-twenties, she looked as if she were in her mid-thirties, and spoke as if her soul had lived a life time. The remainder of those who were still truly faithful to their murdered king huddled together on that last day of seeing each other in a beautiful silence.
Cassandra knew how old she looked and she knew how weak she was. Her days of imprisonment had been spent sleeplessly in the room of a servant who had most likely died in the palace’s massacre. Whoever her captures and betrayers where, for she would never find out, had strategically placed her in the only room that had a direct view to the palace’s gates. Cassandra, even when a guard would press her face to the window as a form of torture, would never look out at the gate, she never saw that Phillip and the Duchess of Mudden had also been tied to its front. With a heavy and momentous breath, Cassandra admired Louis lovingly, pushing her past behind her.
“Antonia must always have this key Louisa and you must always stay with her dearling,” Cassandra instructed Louisa, her voice methodical and weak, as she embraced Louisa and her daughter for the last time, “My daughter must keep it because,” Cassandra added, unaware of how insane she her words would sound to Louisa in upcoming years when Louisa was no longer tethered to the memory of Cassandra with the youthful and fierce loyalty that clung to her heart, “the king’s promise has not yet been fulfilled and my husband gave her, her namesake for a purpose. The legends of the Secret Keeper and The King’s Promise are now united, so now, they both must be ended. Henry will agree when I go to him, I know he will.”
TO HENRY, THE PRINCE OF SALZT
Your mother, Cassandra of Salzt and Queen of Linderservia, died peacefully after your birth. I know that this will anger you when you read it, for I know how your temper is, but you must understand your mother’s disposition. I am hoping that after you have read this book, you will understand.
On the night you were born, soldiers were supposed to arrest us and bring us to the capital so that we could receive our fates, but they never came. After burying your mother, Anne and I fled the castle with you in our arms. The night was dark, as every night was during that time, and there was no moon. We dared not harbor ourselves in any town, so we ran the risk of camping in the bandit filled hills of northern Linderservia, hills that had once been rich with orchards and vineyards. Eventually, we found some traveling gypsies who were more than eager to help us, and when they discovered who we were, they celebrated and brought us far into the northeastern lands.
I do not know why we trusted the band of gypsies, but we did, and it was wise that we did. The gypsies lead us to a castle on the farthest coast of the northeastern lands and offered it to us. I know, that what I have just told you will make you upset with me, that your servants and protective guards were all once gypsies and your saviors. I hope now, that you will have an undying love and respect for them, something you’ve never treated them with.
This story was not written to simply enlighten you, but to start a spark in you, a spark of determination that is riddled in your blood. Your gracious father had it, and even your mother, in her confident and beautiful ways, had it. It is up to you to redeem your country, and I know that you will feel burdened and that I have pushed this onto you unfairly, but I haven’t. It is your duty. Not only that, but to save your older brother from corruption if has not been already, and to find your sister. If what I have written does not inspire you, then I home your sacred love for your parents will. Always remember that Salzt belongs to you according to doctrine and Linderservia to your older brother, Fredrick.
I pray that when you finish this, you will understand why I pushed you to learn the history of a land you did not think existed. I hope that now, you will forgive me for my forceful ways. Your father was a son to me, so naturally, you are as well and I cherish a deep love for you that stands for your mother and your father. By the time you have read this, I know I will have died, but I also know, that my words will cling to you forever as everything does to you.
Your loyal and humble servant,
Jared S. Cunningham
“By my truth, I tell you faithfully
That you are of my life and death the queen,
For at my death the truth shall be seen:
Your eyes two whole slay me suddenly;
I may the beauty of them not sustain,
So wounds it throughout my heart keen.”
-Merciles Beaute, Chaucer