Chapter One: Maybe It is Time For A Change In Scenery
1:30 AM, In the royal bedchambers, Elmswether Castle, Elmswether
-\-Cyrus stared in dismay, frozen in place, and clutching Katie's and Ria's hands, as Jakob, wonderful Jakob, and Lily were dragged away by guards he had known all his life. Cyrus heard a choked off moan next to him and turned to see Kaleb, his eyes fixated on Lily's struggling form, as he was gently led away toward the castle, a handmaiden murmuring in Kaleb's ear. Cyrus could tell he wasn't listening.
Another guard came up behind him, grabbed the nearly hysterical Ria, and made to jerk her away from Cyrus. He broke out of his trance like state and dropped to his knees, quickly pulling the little girl into his arms and lifting her, while at the same time clutching Katie to him tighter. He glared at the guard.
"They were with the others, they abetted in your..." The guard attempted to justify his actions, but Cyrus was not hearing it.
"No. They stay with me"
The guard, Gantos Marcus, Cyrus registered vaguely, looked uncertain, but led the three of them up to the castle just the same. Cyrus managed to convince Gantos that he was filthy and should be allowed to go to his room to clean up before greeting anyone. The truth was both Katie and Ria were sobbing quietly and Cyrus was not holding up so well himself. He wanted Jakob back.-\-
Cyrus Manng jerked violently awake and sat up in his bed, the silk sheets falling down to his waist. It was very early; the sun had not risen yet. He gazed around his room, taking in the forgotten clothes strewn about haphazardly, and the mirror standing in the corner. His room was dark, but shadows kept to their places next to the objects they came from, so the overall effect was simply mysterious rather than spooky. There was nothing and no one but the dream he'd had to attribute to his sudden wakefulness.
And what a dream it was! There were exactly three people in the dream that he had recognized, Gantos, Kaleb, and himself. Yet the others had seemed familiar and very close to him. He had known all their names, and quite a lot about them, but that knowledge was fading very quickly now, like sand flowing out of a broken hourglass. The only thing he could really remember was a pair of deep, sapphire blue eyes, and that name. Jakob.
Cyrus snorted. It was a commoners name and he was the Crown Prince of the Land of Elmswether! Why bother with commoners? And there was no way he was going to look for those eyes every time he left Elmswether Castle. It was bad enough that he had dreamed of them at all! He shook his head as if to rid himself of the eyes and the name, and the dream itself. Standing up, he grabbed a robe off he chair next to his bed and stalked over to the door. He wasn't going to get any more sleep tonight and if he couldn't sleep, Kaleb wasn't going too either!
1:30 AM, The castle library two floors down, Elmswether Castle, Elmswether
Kaleb McRinger yawned a little and stretched his arms. It was extremely late, and the library was dark. Shadows danced around the tall bookcases, originating from the small reading torch he'd brought along. He heard his back pop and groaned softly before returning to his book.
Titled "Elmswether: A History", the book had entries that went as far back as the establishment of the land of Elmswether and the building of Elmswether Castle. It even had entries from the journals of the founders; Mabre, Sematand, Hoggee, and Rigabowell. It was a very thick tomb, and was made thicker by the fact that the palace scribes constantly updated it.
Kaleb was not entirely sure why he was reading the book, despite its very interesting contents, when he could be sleeping or training. He knew that this late at night, the training fields would be deserted, and his bed was calling him. He turned back to Elmswether: A History. It was open to part of Hoggee's journal now, detailing the creation of Elmswether.
"We stood back in wonder as Mabre and Sematand put aside their petty rivalries and lifted to last stone of our great castle Elmswether into place together. And there was much rejoicing in the peoples, for our four great legions were united in this brick. And all our hopes and dreams fell into it and twas holy in spirit. And I wept with it gladly. "
Kaleb sighed and flipped the page, and then another, reading the rest of Hoggee's journal. The world was so happy and peaceful then, rather than now. Now when Woodshill and Gaynar, originally founded by Mabre and Sematand before they untied as Elmswether, were on the brink of civil war. Now when the leaders of the states were more concerned with furthering their own fortunes than the needs of the people.
Despite all Kaleb's efforts to convince his best friend otherwise, Cyrus was determined to believe the other lords only looked after his needs. The Crown Prince, although not stupid by any stretch of description, was exceedingly naïve.
He knew, however, that they were very lucky to live in Elmswether, even if others didn't realize it. He had read about the time before Elmswether, when the land had been divided into the four parts and they had warred furiously with the surrounding countries of Heorshe, Zuamarth, Mystgroto, and Miiastan, with no end in sight. It was only thanks to the founders that Elmswether was the great and prosperous country it was today.
Kaleb, however, did not know anything about the bordering countries, besides folklore and myth. He knew they had some power that Elmswetherians could never begin to comprehend, and that was why they were so secluded. All along the border, sans where the ocean met land and where the border included the great Sibberation Forest, were forts and battlements, heavily fortified and within sight of each other, keeping the dangerous criminals out.
He could recite a great bit of lore about the other countries though, especially Zuamarth. The other country rivaled Elmswether in size, but was made up of unforgiving forest and mountains, and a vast desert with no water. There was no great threat there, what with it being ruled by women. But, he'd heard, immortal women with powers over the Sun, Moons, and Hakesaxon, their planet, and they were ruthless and cruel, eating other people and sucking the innards out of their bones.
The people there were not any better. With oddly colored skin and hair, and very disconcerting eyes, the people, even the peasants, could probably take over an entire army out of fear factor alone! They were insane, all of them, and preformed crazy rituals and turned into animals at the moon.
When he was younger and knew no better, he had asked his father about why the other people, if you could even call them that, were so different. He had been told that it was because they prayed to animal gods, and worshipped women as High Queens. Another servant had said it was because long ago, back when there was no Elmswether, back before the people could read, write, and talk, they had been warring because of two gods.
They had been the Sun God and the Moon Goddess, Arixas and Mannin. Arixas had favored those of what would become Elmswether, and graced them with his image, golden flesh and light hair. Mannin had been in love with one of the generals of an army of Zuamarth, and had given her people her image, ever changing as the moons itself.
The two had vowed a sacred oath by the house of Abaddon, which was the house of the God, never to interfere again with their chosen people. However, Arixas had grown weary and worried as he watched his Children of the Sun never prosper and live in peace, and had granted them the four founders to end the fighting, and good farmland in order to live happily in peace forevermore. Enraged by this treachery, Mannin had given her chosen children the power of the Gods, ever changing as was their looks.
The One God Adonai, in whom Kaleb heard the other citizens did not believe, found out about their meddling and sentenced them both to live the rest of their lives as human. Arixas had mated with one of the heirs of the original founders, giving the Elmswetherians their royal family. Mannin had disappeared from lore.
Kaleb did not believe most of the story, although it did account for many things. This was simply because Adonai was the One God, and there never were any others. Cyrus' family had been the blessed one to receive his goodwill, yet the young male, Kaleb's best friend, did not believe much of anything about the old tales. Actually, that wasn't true. Kaleb doubted he even knew the old tales existed.
Kaleb loved his best friend dearly, but Cyrus was spoiled and foolish, knowing about politics and world history only on a need-to-know basis. Unfortunately, none of the people in the castle seemed to think he needed to know, and Cyrus agreed with them.
Cyrus's voice ran through the corridors, mindless of the late hour and other occupants of the castle.
"Where ARE you?"
Kaleb sighed and closed Elmswether: a History. Honestly. He was the head of Cyrus's guard, not his babysitter.
1:30 AM, The bedroom, Blackelms Forest, Zuamarth
Lily awoke with a start and was instantly confused. What had woken her? Jakob was in his bed, snoring softly, Katie was murmuring nonsense words in her sleep and Ria was… Lily gave a wry smile. The child was about as clever as they come but quiet she was not. She wondered what Ria wanted now. The little girl had been rather restless a couple of nights now, and it was making Lily nervous. Though she may not be related to any of the other occupants of their home that did not mean she didn't care for them.
A crashing noise came from the other room and a childlike voice said a couple of words that its owner should not know.
Jakob shot up in bed, instantly alert to the potential dangers. Lily favored him with a glare. Really, Katie and Ria were only four summers old, they didn't need to be exposed to foul language, and she never cussed. For all the work Jakob put into teaching the girls to be proper young ladies, he certainly could be careless. He noticed her glare and grinned meekly across the tiny room at her, before getting up to retrieve his wayward sister.
He found Ria sitting in the middle of the kitchen, bowls and plates surrounding her haphazardly. He raised his eyebrow at her; she just pouted and raised her arms to him, wanting to be held. Jakob crossed the room quickly and scooped his little sister into his arms before brushing aside her shaggy brown hair and looking back into her light blue eyes.
"Hungy" She complained
"No Ria, you are not hungy. Say it properly"
"Hungy" Ria repeated obstinately, her pout deepening.
"If you don't say it right, there will be nothing to eat now or for breakfast either" It was an empty threat and they both knew it. Jakob could never deny any of his girls anything. There was an intermittent pause as she scowled at him and he glanced around the open room. It contained the fireplace to the South, and a door out to the surrounding forest. A couple cabinets on the front wall held food and tableware as well as the door facing towards the town of Rivervale. Their makeshift sink was digging into his hip, and he moved infinitesimally to the right.
"Hungry" She said, relenting, as she realized he was paying her no more attention then he would a rock.
He shot her a lopsided grin, "Good girl" he praised. "But the next time you get hungry, wake me up! Don't go prowling around the house. It's dangerous." He shot her a pointed look, then around at the scattered eating implements.
"Sorry, Jay" She whispered, peering through her lashes at him.
"Oh don't pull that innocent face with me, Ria Pike. I know you far too well"
She giggled and then adopted a mock stern face, impatient with her older brother for not immediately retrieving the food. "Hungry"
"Yes, yes" Jakob moved fluidly to the cabinet and pulled out a single piece of chicken jerky, which he broke into fourths. He handed one to Ria and put the rest away. Then setting her on the heavy table, he moved about the room picking up the bowls and plates, placing them in a neat stack by the cabinet where the food was kept. Jakob gave an exaggerated look around the small cabin before pulling out a small piece of sweet bread and handing it to the excited toddler.
He scooped her up again and moved past the bookshelf/clothes cabinet/knick knack shelf that served as a wall between the two rooms, in the cabin they called home.
They found themselves in the bedroom, which was a tiny, roughly rectangular shaped area with three beds which were little more than wooden cots cushioned with pine branches and deerskins. The beds took up most everything in the room, leaving just enough space for three people to stand in the middle, if they didn't mind standing on each other's feet. Lily's bed was next to the dividing shelf that housed their entire collection of books, a grand total of twelve well-loved novels. The twins, Ria and Katie's bed, was under the window, and as Jakob watched his other sister, Katie awaken slowly, blinking blearily and yawning.
He placed Ria down next to her and watched them immediately split the food he had doled out. Glancing back at Lily, his best friend and closest confident, he realized she'd already fallen back to sleep. Being on their feet all day and then some had the effect of making them covet sleep whenever they could get it.
Jakob returned to his own bed, which was situated right next to the wall. Sighing, the fifteen summer's old not-yet-man lie down and fell asleep, feeling as if the entire world was seated quite firmly on his rather inadequate shoulders.
2:25 PM, Outside Elmswether Castle, Elmswether
Cyrus smirked at the other boy, smirk widening when he saw him shudder. It was fencing practice, which Monsieur LeFau taught with servants, and it was Cyrus's best class. He was not entirely sure what the point of these lessens were, if he was just going to beat another servant. He tilted his head just so, and a lock of his fair colored hair fell into his eyes. The other boy swallowed.
Cyrus knew he looked intimidating and powerful, and he used that to his full advantage. That blessing came with being the Crown Prince. People were already scared of you. The only person worth his time was Kaleb. He waited. The other boy shifted, uneasy and wanting this mock duel over before it started.
Cyrus was moving almost before Monsieur LeFau opened his mouth, and certainly before the other boy could even think of defending himself adequately. A simple lunge and flick, coupled with an exuberant spin to avoid a last minute parry, and the other boys stick went flying across the arena, nearly hitting some of the other students.
He snorted in derision, and picked Kaleb out of the crowd. Making a lazy jerking motion with his hand, he started back up to Elmswether Castle. Kaleb trotted behind him obediently.
"The lesson still goes."
Cyrus ignored the soft rebuke, knowing it was the only complaint the slightly bookish guard would make. They trooped up to Elmswether Castle in silence, and entered through a door that stood ajar. Kaleb shoved his equipment roughly into a female handmaiden's hands.
"Where are we going?" he asked the Crown Prince, a little worried at the look in his eyes.
"Father said there was a cabinet meeting. We're going to find out what's so important."
Kaleb blinked once, and then gasped. "Cyrus! We…well, we just cannot! I'll be demoted and sent to some sort of run down servant's village to see to the keeping of wild beasts or such, and you'll…well, you'll…" He trailed off, unable to think of anything they would do to his friend.
"Exactly. They wouldn't dare punish me."
"I cannot assist you."
Cyrus got a nasty look on his face. "Oh yes you can, or I shall casually let slip that it was you who raided Cook's honey."
"It wasn't I!"
"I know that. You know that. No one else does. Who might they believe, I wonder?"
Kaleb looked horrified, and then resigned. He said nothing. For some reason, this bothered Cyrus. "Look, Kale, they won't find out. Besides, you cannot truly say that you do not wish to know what they are talking about! Further, if you don't assist me, I shall do it myself, and not bother to be quiet about it, and then you will catch it. You are my guard; therefore you must do as I say!"
Kaleb still said nothing, but he looked a little less distraught about the whole ordeal. The two hurried up a flight of steps and down a corridor, before arriving at a locked door.
Cyrus eyed the dirty floor with distaste and shot a pointed look at Kaleb, who looked disgusted, but got down to listen anyway to avoid debate with the already testy young heir.
"…nar is serious! They mean this threat against us!"
"Even they would not dare to touch the Crown Prince."
"We do not know what they would deign to do. Our contact was recently…disposed of."
"But kidnap the Crown Prince? Insanity!"
"It is perfectly sensible insanity then. Kidnap the only heir to the throne, and not only do you have the perfect bargaining chip, but you also have a chance to impose your rule. Use the right people, say the right things, and you could have control over anything, and everything."
There was a tense silence.
"What do we do?"
"Increase the guard. Never let the boy go anywhere alone. Also-"
The rest of the sentence, Kaleb never found out. Cyrus apparently got bored with waiting and dragged him up from the floor. He then proceeded to yank Kaleb around the corner so they could discuss. When they were a good distance away, Kaleb relayed the information in a furious whisper.
When he was done, Cyrus did not look concerned. "I can take anything they wish to attack me with." He attempted to walk out of the castle, most likely more agitated by the confines of the stone walls than he truly liked to show, but Kaleb caught hold of his arm, instincts telling him to stop Cyrus before he got himself killed, and breeding telling him to let go of his arm, what was he thinking, this was the prince, let him GO!
Cyrus gave him an unreadable look as he caught the use of his childhood nickname.
"Listen, should I be unable to handle the situation, I am quite certain you can. It is hardly as if I wander about without you normally. You are very good at your job, should I come off as over sure, it is only because you have always been at my side."
Kaleb felt himself flush at the praise, rare in coming but always exuberant. The way Cyrus said it, confident, almost in reverence, convinced him nearly against his will, and he let his hand slide off the other teen's arm.
2:25 PM, Directly inside, Elmswether Castle, Elmswether
Mariana watched from her place in the servant's corridor as her Prince Manng and His Lord Kaleb McRinger stood at their fencing lesson. Her Prince lunged forward gracefully, she felt a bubble of excitement, apprehension rise in her chest, despite her knowing the His Highness, the soon-to-be-king Cyrus Manng, was exemplary at fencing, and they were only using carved branches. The other boy was disarmed with absurd ease, and Mariana frowned. His Highness didn't seem changed from his normal decorum. Surely the herb had worked.
She had been assured by the strega that the herb instigated changed outlooks upon life, not that Mariana would know. She had been born, bred, and would die in the castle. She would never leave, and she never wished to. Her life was good here, and it could get no better. Yet, someone wished the Prince have a different perspective, and given the truth, Mariana could see why.
Oh, but what if she had used the wrong herb, or the strega didn't know what she was talking about? What if even now, His Highness was slowly suffering from some unknown poison, and she had given it to him in his noon tea!
She watched him traipse up to the castle carefully; trying to see if he looked any weaker or less…full then he did yesterday. She couldn't see a change. Perhaps the herb needed more time to work? Or perhaps there simply was not enough, yes that would be sensible.
Lord Kaleb shoved his gear into her arms haphazardly, and she scurried off to the laundry. Well, she would simply have to try again. It was imperative.