The blood of the royal families bred prestige for all in whom it flowed: however, one such family would soon see an overabundance of this blood. As his bodyguard described it to the young prince Aston, it was a political marriage. His older sister, Princess Violet, had agreed to a joining of funds and households with a long term rival of hers, Prince Francis Durand. The Durand family, who controlled the half of the country not possessed by Aston’s mother, often found themselves at odds with Aston’s family, the Roux; both in terms of innovative technologies and strength on the battlefield. Francis begrudgedly swallowed his pride, due to his often having lost to Violet in matters of tactics and war, as he became suited for the marriage - and Violet herself considered the very sight of the shadowy man to be frightfully unappealing. Neither were pleased with their partner, but they were willing to give the strength it would take to carry the ring upon their fingers for the sake of the country.
The young Aston, hair bright and blonde as a young steed, wandered into the grandiose palace, gentle clamor from the country’s elites filling his ears as he ventured throughout the structure, awfully curious of his sister’s actions.
“Thomas,” the ten year old asked his bodyguard as they wandered from the lush grassy field into the marble-coated palace, “I suppose I don’t understand. Marriage is a matter of love, is it not?”
Chuckling slightly, smile piercing through his grey mustache, the uniformed guard said, “yes, but it can be used for much more practical means than that.”
“As in?” The little boy questioned in a voice and decorum far more regal and professional than the typical young boy.
“Well,” his guard answered as they brushed past elites in expensive clothing and jewelry so large that it almost weighed on the necks of the women adorned in it, “when two people get married, they often share land, wealth, and professional utilities.”
Aston smirked slightly, as he cuffed his hands behind his back and stationed himself behind a pillar as to separate himself from the crowd. “We have plenty of land, wealth, and utilities Thomas, I hardly suppose they are to be wed for that.”
Sighing in defeat, the guard responded, “yes, you are correct young prince. The intention is far more beneficial than that.”
“Is it a matter of tactical positioning? I am aware that the war between the Roux family and the Durand family has escalated to the point of major loss for the Durand’s half of the country.”
Nodding approvingly, the guard says, “this is precisely the reason we wish to join our two families. We desire to settle tensions with the Durand family, as we have been at odds rather frequently as of late. It will allow for France to be governed under one name, rather than two conflicting ones.”
“If you mean to tell me that you are afraid Violet will fail on the battlefield,” Aston responded sharply, “you are mistaken. Her abilities as a general far outmatch any resources they possess.”
Lowering himself onto his knee, Thomas sighed and gently placed his gloved hand on the young prince’s shoulder as he said, “simply because we can win a battle, young prince, does not give us cause to fight it.”
Aston recognized the paternal tenderness his guard had as he absorbed the information, looking back at his protector, facially expressing a reluctant acknowledgment of this fact.
“Now,” the burly guard said as he patted the prince’s shoulder and rose to tower above him, “shall we find a means of making this wedding less greuling on you, Prince Aston?”
Laughing in response, Aston said, “yes, let’s, let’s.”
The two exited from behind the pillar, returning into the cold gazes of the royal elites. As they passed, it wouldn’t be uncommon for Thomas to overhear the pretentious voices of the Durand family whispering, “is that the young Prince Aston?”
“Quite,” another socialite responded to the pompous woman, “I hear he is more tactically capable than even Violet was at his age.”
“Is that so,” the woman responded, hand covered in a red velvet glove, drinking a similarly hued glass of wine. She quieted her voice, and furrowed her brow as to express worry as she said, “what a talented young man. Such a pity.”
Among the crowd, then, a pathway began to form. Aston’s mother, Queen Abigail, caused the people around her to distance themselves from her black dress, much thinner and lighter than the typical, Victorian dresses that these princesses and duchesses usually wore. She was revered as a genius, and, though she was not the most successful general, her eye for whom to place in which position was far more keen than any leader their side of France had yet to see.
“Well it’s all quite the same,” the queen said as she spoke to a high ranking duke from the Durand’s side of the country, “it is not a paternal force that my children needed, nor was it a maternal one. Simply a positive force, and such a positive force can be achieved regardless of the number or gender of my children’s parents.”
“Yes,” he responded with a condescending smile, “but you must wonder how the lack of a father has affected your future leaders.” A handful of women around this man gasped, and others chuckled in agreement, before he silenced them saying, “all I mean to imply, is that a life with their father, considering he was a king no less, would have greatly benefitted the development of your children, and by consequence the benefit of your country for when they become leaders themselves.”
He tilted his head, as if to communicate he was eager for a possible response to contradict his point, before the queen expelled a chuckle, soaked in regal charm and dripping with social prowess as she said, “Duke Leroy, I am astounded at such an implication. May I ask you a question?”
“Certainly,” the duke responded confidently with a nod.
“Is a poor father,” the queen said, with a youthful confidence, as she was far younger than any queens of the past, aged roughly thirty-nine years, “who consequently makes the performance of the mother more poor through his very presence, not worse for the development of a child than the complete absence of a father?”
Slightly taken aback, the Duke responded with suspicion, “do you mean to imply that the former Prince of West France was a bad man?”
Laughing immediately, the queen said, “no, no Duke, never!” She paused, glanced at the crowd with a devilish smirk as she said, “when he abandoned me and my children at the first sign of fatherhood,” she paused, and grinned, “he himself proved to be a bad man.”
A handful of crowd members released a chuckle, and others grinned and nodded in approval of her point. Even the duke himself raised his eyebrows, extending his palms and nodding with a closed grin. Aston approached the group of aristocrats among this clatter, causing his mother’s eyes to quickly focus in on her offspring. The political matters surrounding her were swiftly blotted out as her attention was lended to her son.
“Oh, Aston, I’m glad you have finally arrived. Has Thomas been occupying your time adequately?”
She glanced at the guard with a joking smile, as the soldier responded, “well, it’s what I’m paid for, ma’am.”
“Mama,” Aston said, gravitating very close to her leg as young boys do, “Thomas tells me that the country will be governed by one family after today. How exactly will this work? I don’t understand how this s a benefit.”
Gently lecturing her son, the queen said, “now Aston, being above another and being at peace with one another are not nearly comparable in value.”
As the person in Aston’s life that was most familiar with his thought processes, she already deduced what her son’s qualms were regarding the amicable resolution of war. She gently placed her hand on her son’s shoulder, and began walking him away from the deadly field of social elites and along to the edge of the room, as the majority of the guests congregated on a ruby carpet with gold hemming surrounding its frame stationed in the center of the ballroom.
“We have been at war with these people for generations now. If we were to defeat them through war, no doubt would they arise once more to either exact revenge or, at the very least, return the favor with a comparable war.” She gave a slight chuckle as she observed the pristine ballroom, gold plated chandelier sending sparkling light throughout the crowd of people.
“Don’t you think we have attempted to defeat them with soldiers and strategy before?” She smiled, “no, we have been beaten to the point of hopelessness by them, and we have beaten them with no hope of recovery, and the war persists. I ask you this, my soon-to-be general, if a tactic fails on multiple occasions, what do you do?”
Aston nodded, sat silent for a brief moment, then rolled his eyes saying, “Obviously we change our strategy, I understand this mother it’s just.” The child looked around the room and saw a sea of unfamiliar faces that he would soon be forced to address as family. “I don’t feel comfortable around these people.”
She looked at her son with a sincere tenderness and concern for his happiness as she said, “I understand that it will be difficult to integrate into a new family, but you won’t have to see them unless strictly required. Apart from that, you will maintain the same relationship you have with each and every one of us as you do now.”
The young boy grinned, then tilted his head with confusion as he asked, “so, this won’t be our new home?”
The queen expelled an amused laugh at the comment, brining her son into her embrace as she said, “no, apart from some legal differences, and an alteration of a name or two, everything will still be as it is now.”
Aston returned the tight hug to his mother.
“Besides,” she said, releasing her child, “our palace is far more grand than this one anyway. I’ve made sure that we have a superior dwelling to the Durands.”
She rose, and scruffled his hair as she stood, causing Aston to swat her hands away and giggle.
“Now,” she said as she began to survey the room, “let’s find you someone of your age to socialize with. I apologize that all your brothers and sisters were allowed to assist with the wedding preparations and you weren’t but,” she paused as she grinned, “so is the life of the youngest child, I suppose.”
She halted her search as a young boy, hair jet black, curly, and hanging to his chin caught the queen’s eye. “There’s someone whom you should get to know better: Prince Maxwell, second son of the Durand family. He is of the same age as you.”
Aston looked over, and saw the young boy slouched upon the velvet stairs, seeming to be rather bored, as he calmly read what appeared to be ancient Chinese text, translated to modern language and printed onto paper.
“He seems content as he is, no thank you mother,” the child said as he turned in an attempt to weasel his way out of the meeting.
Swiftly grabbing him, the queen said, “not so hasty Aston. Listen, from what I know, you two will make wonderful friends, and it is better to begin our new relations with the Durands amicably.”
Grunting, pouting with ever step towards the boy, Aston said, “if you insist.”
The other young boy was sprawled out against the stairs, holding the novel above his head. When Aston approached, he casted a shadow over the other boy’s sunlight, causing him to lower his book in notice of the prince standing before him.
“Oh, hello there,” Prince Maxwell said in a condescending tone, “I suppose you are a member of the Roux family stopping over to make introductions. I’m Prince Maxwell, second heir to the throne under my older brother Francis. What is your name, then?”
Slightly annoyed by this young man’s matter-of-fact tone, Aston said, “I am Aston, youngest of the Roux bloodline and heir to the position of tactical commander after Violet becomes more involved in local politics.”
“Oh how interesting,” the young boy said, with a vocal tone that was, like Aston’s, much more professional than others of the same age. “So, you’re the tactician are you? Excellent, I’m reading a book on how to manage an army now.”
“Any substantial knowledge gained from it,” Aston said as he sat adjacent to this boy.
“I do have a question,” he said in a curious, but oddly emotionless voice, “suppose you have two groups of soldiers. Group A and Group B. Group B is tremendously outmatched tactically, yet at the same time the option of retreat or surrender is not available to them. Would you consider trickery a necessity in this situation?”
Laughing at the simplicity of the circumstance, Aston responded, “well, this all depends on the amount of people within this squad of soldiers.”
“Suppose thirty each,” Maxwell quickly said in response.
Humming to think, Aston responded, “yes, I suppose a well devised trick could solve this issue. Why do you ask?”
In an odd pattern of speaking, almost disingenuous, Maxwell said, “yes, it asks this same question in my book. Assume that the battlefield is typical. Could you devise a trick immediately, as if you were at war at this moment?”
Aston squinted his eyes at the strange boy, yet was always thrilled to be involved in tactical discussion, therefore he brushed off the odd introduction of this topic as simple lacking of social normality and as an attempt to analyze Prince Aston’s tactical skill.
“Alright, I believe I can,” Aston took a moment to think, before saying, “it could be as simple as lighting the field of war on fire as a distraction, then soiling their water supply with mud, as to make it non-drinkable.”
Maxwell grinned at this suggestion, nearly laughing at the plan’s simple wit.
“Or,” Aston continued, “if you operate as my family does and allow women soldiers, you could announce that she is pregnant. At which point, you would say that the assistance of their doctor is required, as yours has been killed. Once this has happened, the doctor and the woman would enter a cart and begin travelling back home. Once inside the car, she could kill the doctor, and the driver, and return back to camp. Without a doctor, wounds and diseases would cause many casualties for the troup.”
“It would not mean the death of the soldiers altogether, though,” Maxwell said in contradiction to Aston.
Slightly upset at his shortcoming, the prince replied, “I suppose so, yes.”
Scratching the back of his neck, Maxwell said, “what if you were to lure the other soldiers in to your camp somehow, and do so with your rival unarmed, more or less?”
Curious as to the meaning behind this scenario, Aston said, “that would be ideal, but how on earth would you achieve that?”
Maxwell shut his eyes, let a closed smile shine upon his face, and leaned back to read once more as he said, “yes, I suppose you’re right. Something like that would only happen under ideal scenarios.”
Aston took a moment, and with a need to respond with something positive, he said, “I’m happy that a year ago our countries ceased fire because of this marriage. Though it isn’t a glorious victory, I suppose it is a mutual one.”
Attention fixated on the book rather than the other prince, Maxwell responded without care for the conversation, “I suppose so.”
Suddenly, a flurry of vocal enthusiasm rushed through the crowd, amidst the gentle sounds of calming music. Soon after, the prince of the Durand family was smoothly moved out through large wooden doors at the height of the staircase. He was adorned in a military garb, typical of a general in marriage, and walked to the very edge of the red, velvet staircase as he awaited the site of his bride. Across the room was the archway from which Aston entered, forested area in view, contrasting against the stone edifice.
Thomas gleefully kept one eye on Aston as he conversed with the young Maxwell, and the other eye on the door as he awaited the appearance of a princess he had not only served for decades, but respected above the majority of people with whom he was familiar. Suddenly, to the great delight of the Roux family, the noble, pristine, radiant princess entered from the archway, as her pure, white dress drew the eye of every adoring guest. This specific dress was traditionally worn of all brides (whom it would fit upon) of the Roux family. In many ways, it was a symbol of their portion of France’s beauty and purity.
Delighted by the sight of the cloak, as it called to mind memories of his beloved queen in her youth, Thomas turned to confirm that Aston was attentively witnessing such a momentous occasion. However, when his eyes located the young boy, he realized that Prince Maxwell was nowhere to be seen. Thomas found this odd, as the royal families are very much so expected to give their attention to a wedding. He began to search the area with a vision that had been trained through years of strenuous battle, and could see no sight of the child. Amidst his searchings, however, he realized an odd tendency of the crowd. There was a slight differentiation in accents between the Durand and the Roux - slight, but recognizable for a specialized ear, such as that of Aston’s bodyguard. The trend which was recognized by Thomas, was a strange lacking of the Durand accent in the crowd.
“That’s peculiar,” he thought, wandering about the crowd with a suspicious eye, “where are the Durand royals?” He elevated himself by walking past Aston on the staircase, to receive an aerial view of the congregation. Upon this vantage point, he saw a shocking sight. All the Durand guests had exited the party abruptly, leaving the room to only be inhabited by citizens from the Roux half of the country. “Where are the Durands?” Thomas thought, as his brow furrowed in concern, “they must have exited as soon as the music began to play. Almost as if…”
Aston, below him by a handful of steps, thought, “it was organized. They all left as soon as the music began. Why?”
Noticing a threat of danger, the bodyguard swiftly adopted a soldier’s urgency, as he grabbed Aston by the hand and said, “follow me, quickly.”
The young prince was dragged behind this man, soon entering the crowd as the two pushed through the aristocratic cluster, making their way towards the queen. The intention was to warn her of an impending risk. From within Aston’s view, there was a darkness caused by the towering adults, much taller than the child. To avoid a claustrophobic sense of fear, the prince fixated his eyes on his body guard as a symbol of safety, as he could not see past the knees and legs of the adults in the room. Though he strived to comfort himself, his young, talented mind had already determined that something had gone astray. The gravity of this deviation, however, he did not yet understand.
“I can’t disturb the wedding if this is a false alarm,” the guard thought as they searched for the queen, who was stationed in front of the crowd closest to the staircase from which Francis Durand looked down at the crowd. “I need to tell her that something seems wrong, she’ll be able to take appropriate action. But at the same time,” the guard paused, as he finally saw Queen Abigail amidst the socialites, “if this is some trap, we need to counteract it, immediately.”
His eyes fervently flashed from Violet, who was slowly and steadily walking down the ruby isle, drawing nearer to Francis as the soft music played, to the queen at the foot of the staircase. Once he was roughly twelve yards from the queen, he was halted by a terrifying noise. It was subtle, quiet, and its origin was completely unknown. The untrained ear would think nothing of the short, sharp noise. However, with Thomas’s years of experience, he recognized immediately the brief click of a rifle being cocked.
Instinct filled Thomas’s senses. Being higher in rank and more familiar to him, he instinctively dove for the queen.
“Everyone get down,” the guard shouted, causing an instant commotion around him as his scratchy voice filled the palace. He tackled the queen to the floor, covering her body as a human shield, before he realized that he had protected the wrong royal. Across the ballroom, he noticed with horror, Violet’s dress slowly being painted with the bright red hue of blood. She was still, silent as the purity of the white gown was soiled with crimson, before, after a motionless moment, the greatest intellectual in the country lost all strength, collapsing onto the floor, lifeless.
Aston’s sight was overwhelmed with the scrambling of the Roux’s guests. Soon, a second shot was fired off, at which point Thomas quickly lifted his head, to see the queen’s guard fall dead in front of him. Transitioned into combat mentality, Thomas thought, “Violet was their primary target, as she is the most valuable person in this room. Next should have been the queen, lest,” he paused in horror, “they’re targeting the guards!”
As his mind reached this realization, chaos of a stampede surrounding him, Thomas heard another bullet go off. The snipers had positioned themselves in balconies lining the ballroom. One Roux guard attempted to fire upon them, before he was sniped down by another soldier. The Durand family had overcompensated in their number of guards, therefore any slight target was picked off as soon as they were in sight. Aston had found himself in the middle of an all-out trap.
Francis, on top of the stair, turned to flee back inside the door. The queen turned, tears streaming down her face, as she saw the traitor exit.
“Come on ma’am come with me, we have to leave,” Thomas said, keeping his head low as to avoid being seen as a guard.
Barely able to speak, she said, “my son was killed as he crossed that archway, they’re targeting every royal that is attempting to flee. I can’t go with you, they’ll catch me. Especially without my guard.”
WIthout hesitation, bravely, Thomas said, “I’ll guard you ma’am, as you cross the line!”
“No,” she said, voice settling in a defeated tone.
“Why,” Thomas said in bitter desperation.
“Because what of Aston then,” she asked, as she looked to her son.
Tears filling in the child’s eyes, not tall enough to see the murder surrounding him, he ripped himself away from the guard’s hand as he said, “mama,” he rushed over to her and embraced her. She lay on the floor and he lay in her arms. Thomas was on one knee beside them.
“What is happening,” the desperate child asked, “they’re shooting at us aren’t they?” He paused, trembling so in his mother’s arms, filling her with a unfaceable sorrow, “if you stand, they’ll see you, and you’ll be…”
The young prince looked at his mother with eyes already feeling the weight of his loss. Tears flowed soon after, as his mother brought him in close. She sacrificed expressing her broken heart, her son’s loss of life, for the hope that she could keep her son’s heart full and his life pure for when she has departed.
“Aston,” she said, gently placing a hand on her son’s hair, “stay calm, this will all pass in time.” She paused, and looked at her son as if it were her final sight. “You’re special, Aston. And someone as special as you has no reason to be afraid.” She paused, lifted her son’s hand into hers, and held it softly. “By your hand, son, great things will be achieved. It will be terrifying to do what is right, and it will be a struggle to act with justice and love. But with this kiss,” she gently kissed her son’s hand, “you need not fear. For when you are scared, when you are overwhelmed, I lend you all the love I have left in me. I lend you my dying words and my breath. I pass every bit of my love on to you, because no one is more worthy. Your right hand will always have my love upon it, and therefore you will always have my love. Don’t fear. You are too special to live anything apart from a fantastic, loving life.” A tear began to form, as she said her goodbye. Yet, she held it in to keep her son of great heart. “I would say goodbye to you, son. But you can only say goodbye to someone when he or she is gone. And I will never, never leave you, Aston. I am always right here. Look at your hand when you miss me, and you’ll find I’m right there.”
Aston paused, overcome by fear as he said, “but you’re not leaving me mama,” he paused, then screamed, “I’m not leaving!”
“Thomas,” she said, “you’re the only guard left. If you carry him in your arms, your back might be able to block the bullets until you’re safely outside. I fear you won’t live.”
He looked at her solemnly, paused, then closed his eyes in acceptance as he said, “he’ll live for me, my queen.”
“Thank you,” she said, as she separated herself from her son, needing to push him away in order to keep him from clinging on to her, “you listen to me, Aston,” she said as the boy grunted and struggled to return back to the safety his mother provided, “if he falls before you exit this palace, you run. You run as fast as you can,” she paused, a tear running down her eye as she attempted to remain composed, “and you run as far as you can. Never reveal your true name, as they will be looking for you when you escape.” She began to remove the royal portions of his outfit so that he would appear to simply be a wealthy child, voice choked with sorrow as she did so. “Find an orphanage, stay there. Get back on your feet and return home whenever you’re able. There will be people loyal to our family who will help you.” She paused, and softly adjusted his hair for a final time. Looking deep into his eyes, she said, “now live. And do the amazing things you were destined to do.”
“No,” he quickly said reaching out for his mother before the guard quickly snatched him from his final remaining family. “No, no let go of me!” He shouted, kicking and screaming as he saw his mother over the burly guards shoulder. “Let me go! Leave me, you monster! You bastard, drop me! Don’t make me,” he halted his shouting as he saw his mother put her hand to her mouth, close her eyes, and exit the floor on which she hid. She stood, eyes remaining shut, and made herself visible to the soldiers. She knew that they would be more fixated with killing her than the prince, and thus she knew that a willing sacrifice could save her young prince’s life.
“Don’t make me leave her,” Aston whimpered as he saw a soldier take aim for his mother. “Don’t make me leave her!”
There was a sudden crack. A sudden stopping of time. A moment in which every detail of the world, every miniscule aspect was covered. His mother opened her eyes, and released a delicate, gentle, subtle smile as she closed them once more.
“Stop them,” Ashton shouted, “shoot them, you have a gun,” he looked down and attempted to reach into the guard's belt as they grew nearer and nearer to the exit. However, the explosive pop of gunfire caused Aston to look over the guard's shoulder once more. He screamed in agony. Like a pup caught in a trap, he yelped, hollered, releasing the profound sorrow of an innocent, scarred child. When he looked over his shoulder, his mother had been buffeted by gunfire. The white marble floor was now coated in blood.
He struggled to break free, in a desperate hope that he could recover his mother in some way, but it wasn’t long before he went limp in his bodyguard’s arm. He was left lifeless through the killing of the greatest love he had yet known. His body swung as it was carried, back and forth as if it were a corpse. He did not attempt to conceal his head from the gunfire. He simply remained motionless.
“Just a little more,” the guard thought, nearing the exit. She had bought them enough time to make it near the exit, but it wasn’t long before the assassins took aim on another target apart from the queen.
A wet sensation ran down Thomas’s back as he grunted and stumbled in pain. Returning to his feet, not dropping Aston, he continued to move. A bullet had struck his back. Yet again, another landed on his leg, leaving him limping towards the exit but moving with no less energy and fervor as he had prior to the wounds. A third landed in his shoulder, as his regal attire was now soaked in blood. “For France,” he said as he hobbled outside the gate, nearly free from the view of the assassins. Strength fleeing him, he moved the young boy as far as he could, before Aston could sense he was about to fall, and landed on the ground. On his knees, mostly dead, a shot landed in Thomas’s chest. He died in this position.
By this point, Ashton's body was coated in the blood of his guard. His bright hair had changed to a deep, dark, dead shade of red. As he hit the ground, he rolled down the hill leading to the palace. The assassins could no longer see him. The tumble caused him to awake from his corpse-like state. As he looked up at the grand palace of Durand, he now only saw a structure of destruction. His sorrow was nearly unbearable, but what caused him to reanimate and not allow the despair to paralyze him, was a rage more ferocious and animalistic than most experience throughout their lives. He sat at the hill, hearing the search party beginning to disperse to find stragglers, and spoke to the leaders of their side of the country.
“So be it,” he said, face splattered red. There was a vengeful tone in his words. It was almost as if, in desperation, his mind had completely replaced his sorrow with anger. Tears flowed from his eyes as he gazed at the castle, and his face was blushed pink, but he did not feel sorrow. He had hidden it beneath a layer of vengeance.
When the search came to a close, the Durand family concluded that they had accidentally left Aston alive. They were dangerously incorrect through. Prince Aston was very much so dead, but had been replaced with something far more deadly than the previous child. Aston hopped into a nearby stream to remove the blood from his body. His fists were clenched in rage as he did so. His right hand was filled with an insatiable anger, and colored red to the point where one could no longer see the original, soft skin. Blood had transformed it.