The throne room was packed today. Captain Beston Belator stood in the shadows behind the throne, one hand on the hilt of his sword. His eyes never ceased their survey of the petioners that came before the king. Every man and woman could be dangerous, sent to kill the man he had sworn to protect. If they tried anything at all, they would be dead before a drop of royal blood touched the floor. His men were arrayed around the king, all hand-picked by him for their loyalty and obedience. More stood by ready to rush to his defence should the need arise. Amon Radcliffe would not die on their watch.
Beston watched a young boy come before the king. He said something about his father being brutalized by elves, and Amon asked one of his ministers to see to it at once. Then came several refugees seeking asylum from the war that was ravaging the neighbouring kingdom of Ediacol. And a man begging for training to become a mage. It went on and on, well into the day. At last, King Amon Radcliffe motioned to Lord Sprigg Cassel, his chief advisor, and rose from the throne. Beston followed him as he left the room and headed for his chambers. It was nearly sunset outside. The air was becoming chilly, and Beston shivered slightly as he drew his cloak about himself. They walked in silence up a flight of stairs, then the king said, “You are a man to be admired.”
Beston blinked at his back. “Your Grace?”
“Wounded gravely only last month, yet here you are.” Amon turned and smiled at him. “You Belators are made of stern stuff indeed.”
“I’d rather not leave you vulnerable for long.”
“Sister made the right choice, marrying your father. You’ve inherited his strength and loyalty. However, I don’t intend to see you die because you refused to let your body heal.”
“I’ll try my best to stay alive, then, Your Majesty.”
Amon snorted. “Without children of my own, you are my only heir. Getting yourself killed in the line of duty isn’t noble or loyal, it’s just stupid. Take smaller risks. Even last night, you had to go after those rogues by yourself, didn’t you?”
Beston flushed slightly. “They meant to set off explosive runes today. I had to make sure all of them were caught and executed myself.”
“No, you didn’t. Leave some things to others, Beston. You’ll find life easier then.”
“As you say, sire.”
His uncle sighed, smiling. “Yet you’ll insist on inspecting every corner of my chambers before letting me in.”
“A man such as you will have enemies throughout his life.”
“So will you. You’re the nephew to a king. And the king of Alhallon, no less. Men will always be looking to topple our family.”
“That will not happen.”
“No? And what if I fall ill all of a sudden? Which assassin will you face then? Surely not the disease. And if you were to be assassinated before me...”
“Why are we talking about this?” Beston asked, uneasy.
Amon was silent as they crossed a hall leading to the royal chambers. Beston, as he had predicted, walked around inspecting all the rooms one last time, then nodded to the king. His mantle rustling slightly, he entered his luxurious apartment and sighed as his servants helped him disrobe and slide into a scented hot bath. Beston took position outside the door, and waited patiently until Amon was done. Once the servants had left and they were alone, the king turned to him, face grave. Something’s wrong. “Hera and I have been to see the Sacrial priests, regarding our... Lack of progeny.”
Beston was silent.
“Hera can bear children.” The king cleared his throat. “It seems that I cannot.”
What? He had never given this any thought before. Why is he...
“That makes you my only surviving heir.”
The words slammed into him, making him shiver slightly. “I- No. No, it can’t work that way, it isn’t-”
“Isn’t what? By law, the firstborn male inherits the throne, or if there is no son, the eldest child. My sister is older than I, but could make no claim. Our younger brother died in the cradle, and both your parents when you were a child. And now I find that I can have no children. As the only son of Gwayne Belator and Ises Radcliffe, you are, by rule, the next in line. The only one, in fact.”
Beston’s head was reeling. He couldn’t- there was no way- surely his uncle would have a child! He tried, feebly. “The Sacrial priests may have been wrong.”
Amon smiled bitterly. “I am certain they are not.”
“Perhaps they can devise a- a method to-”
“Don’t you think I would have ruled out all the possiblities by now?”
He swallowed, and put his hand on a chair to steady himself. “It’s- It’s just that-”
“We know,” said a voice behind him softly. Queen Hera moved into his view. “It must be a little too much to think about. But I’m sure you’e considered the fact that you may have to rule before.”
He had, there was no denying it, but as a child never, and once he became twelve, he had begun training for the life of a royal guard. And for the next five years, he had put his heart into protecting the man and woman who had raised him like their own child. But wait. “Y-you were to have a child last year. And once before.”
“We were,” Hera agreed, “but through some fault of mine they did not last.”
“Things changed with time, apparently,” Amon said sourly. “I do not understand how or why, but this is how it stand now, Beston. I will officially name you my heir within the week and allow you to bear the family name. You will become Prince of Alhallon as soon as possible.”
His mouth was opening and closing silently.
Hera gently took him by the arm. “You’ve always been our own son, Beston.”
“You’ve learnt the life in a court already, and I’ve been preparing you for this all along in fear of something like this.” Amon’s tone was firm, and Beston remembered all the classes and training he had endured without understanding why. He knew. Or rather, he suspected. Always thinking ahead, I see...
He bowed slightly. “I- may I be excused for some time?”
“Of course.” Amon rapped on the door lightly, and it opened to four men in golden armour standing ready. “Your new, personal guards. Do not try to lose them.”
Beston knew them all, veterans of the royal guard.
He left without another word.
The sunrise was beautiful over Terrianth, glints of gold flashing on glass-paned windows and glimmering spires. One of the most prosperous cities in the realm, thought Beston as he leaned on the parapet of the castle wall. His new, silent guards were behind him at a distance, watching him so carefully he felt like a child beneath their stares. A child of twenty-one, probably better at fighting than they are. The idea of someone else protecting him for a change was amusing, and he let a smile through his roiling emotions.
He sighed and stood up straight, continuing to gaze over the buildings at the sun until it was too bright to look at. Then he turned around and descended into the castle, footsteps echoing in the empty halls as he walked to his quarters. It would be the last time he stayed there; along with other changes, he was being moved to “more secure” chambers, as the king had put it firmly. After all, the Prince couldn’t live in such an exposed area.
It wasn’t really that dangerous, he reasoned. The barracks of the royal guards were quite close, and he was a competent fighter himself. But there was no arguing with Amon Radcliffe if he had made up his mind about something.
When he entered his bedchambers, he found a gleaming yellow tunic studded with sapphires and lined with sunny velvet lace lying on his bed. Blue and gold, the colours of Alhallon. An apt choice. He bathed quickly and donned his clothes with the help of several new servants, then looked at himself in the huge mirror they held in front of him.
Hera had chosen the clothes well; the sapphires matched his blue eyes and his black hair looked good against the gold. He looked like... a prince.
Beston sighed again, letting it finally sink in. No more guardsman duty; he would have to attend meetings, meet people he didn’t care about, make useless small talk at dinners, and much, much more. He would have to learn all the subterfuges of court life, something he had always veered away from. Gods damn it all. He hadn’t lusted after power once, but here he was, being handed a kingdom on a gold platter.
There was a knock on the door, then Queen Hera slipped in. She was silent at first, looking him up and down, then she walked up to him and begun fussing over everything. He smiled slightly, reminded of his younger days when she would scold him for getting dirty with the stableboys while simaltenuously cooing over how strong he had become.
“...and that’s not all, you need to brush your hair properly, I can’t have you turn up looking like a badly plucked chicken. And I’ve selected a cloak as well-” She snapped her fingers and one of her servants hurried forward, holding a midnight-blue garment made of fine silk. “Put it on quickly and come to the Temple. The announcement will be made there.”
“Why the Temple?”
“The Sacrial insisted. Old traditions and all that, bloody zealots.”
He blinked. Hera had never spoken like this before; she was clearly irritated.
“Alright, I’ll meet you outside, Your Grace.”
She paused and looked at him from the doorway. “I think you can call me ‘mother’ after all these years, regardless of whether you are heir or not.”
A smile tugged at his lips.
She smiled back at him, then spun around and was gone, leaving behind the scent of lavender.