Chapter One

Prince Sii, Son of Dovvi Rapp, lounged lazily in his throne. The Principality of Faxil, over which he had reign, was in a somewhat peaceful period. The last time the Prince had engaged in war was when he was just a little boy, seven or eight years, and his figure showed it. Underneath floppy black hair lay dull, lifeless blue eyes. Pale skin was unmarked and a small sack of fat gathered under his chin.

The Prince stood up, revealing an extravagant costume clearly designed to emphasise his muscular build, one which he inherited from his father. His short torso was clothed in a slashed doublet, stuffed until he resembled a particularly supple pig, and various medals for wars he couldn't remember.

On his long, large legs, he wore tights, white (Or perhaps grey) in colour, and a pair of silk sandals. To complete the look he wore a circular cap, somewhat inspired by the Sameirens and made with only the finest cotton.

An older man faced the Prince and, bowing his head respectively, began to talk.

'Your Imperial Highness, word from your Lord A'Ken'

The Prince nodded his approval and at the end of the room, big bold wooden doors were pushed open.

'My Prince' an echoing voice tumbled through the hall.

'A'Ken'

'My Prince, Emperor Alvah has ordered the charge of nearing five-thousand of his finest men.'

The Lord, A'Ken, marched up to the throne and knelt before Prince Sii.

'Fuck...what have the Ridgeans done?'

The Lord got up, and looked apologetically into his master's eyes.

'They allowed passage...in return for supplies, your Majesty'

Prince Sii stood up, startling his bodyguard, who drew his sword on impulse.

'BASTARDS!' Sii bellowed 'BLOODY RIDGEANS! HAVE MY MEN FORM A DEFENCE WITIHN THE WALLS!'

The various guards who lined the walls jumped into action, running out of the room, rifles on back.

Lord A'Ken looked guiltily at Sii, who was practically foaming at the mouth.

'Your Highness, they're just Costains...a few hits from our artillery and they'll be running right back home.'

'It's the bloody nerve...that bastard Alvah doesn't have a hope and yet he orders his men to battle. My god, he's either a genius or a madman...WAIT! I see what he's doing! It's a battle of wits. Fucking chess master. If I balk at this, it shows I'm battle-shy, If I attack him it shows I'm impulsive.'

The Prince sighed and relaxed back into his throne.

'Your Highness, would it be possible for you to charge up the standing army?'

'I suppose so...a week is all I need to get twenty thousand.'

'How about this, your Highness? Me and the court stay here, fight off the Costains, while you go with the standing army to Huuk Cust? They'd never expect an attack so soon.'

A'Ken smiled; certain he had succeeded in winning over the Prince.

'MY GOD! THAT'S FUCKING GENIUS!'

Prince Sii jumped up once more and flailed his arms about. His face twisted as he ran over the possibilities. The Prince, although rash and harsh, was rarely obtuse and by no means stupid, and he realised the consequences of his absence from the realm.

'My eldest would rule?'

'With advice from your brother, The Duke Merrick.'

'I suppose that's impossible to avoid, my brother is such a man that nothing can deter him from power, my God, I could see him casting off wealth and land for a petty pageboy's authority'

'Quite, your brother is certainly determined...who do you ride with?

'My son Finn, daughter Raine and Brother Voi.'

'Indeed sir...but why do you ride with your Duke Voi?'

'He can command the army better than I...and he would support a coup should Brother Merrick become corrupt'

'Shall I inform the army?'

'Immediately'

A'Ken nodded and swiftly turned and strode out of the room. The red and grey banners fluttered slightly and outside, the Imperial Boys Choir was singing ''Till Death on a Faxilian Plain'

Prince Sii's bodyguard, a short, stout man, with blonde hair, watched the tall figure of A'Ken walk through the doors. He turned his head toward his master, who had lounged back on the throne and begun idly playing with the fabric.

'Your Imperial Highness?'

'Hmm?'

'With all due respect, your Imperial Highness...can we trust Lord A'Ken?...he is a Pasigiean'

'I don't know, Sir...he is a Pasigiean...but he seems to be relatively Faxilian in custom, to the point one cannot tell where he is from...I think I'll have to talk to Duke Merrick...bribe him with the south-west coast perhaps?'

Prince Sii scratched the back of his neck awkwardly.

'I could call the attack off...but that Alvah needs some sense beaten into him...and I could get the opportunity to gain some of the southern lands...but if I come back and Merrick has seized control...what am I to do?'

'Your Highness, if I may...my brothers and sons are all in the Imperial Bodyguard...between us we have at least one hundred men, let's say ten are incapable...that's at least ninety men sir. If we add that to the rest of the unit, and the citizen defence league...we have about four hundred good men who would protect your brother and son while they rule, but are loyal to you. I say on behalf of my men that Duke Merrick could never seize control of the palace or the walls.'

'You're a good man Stacker...make it so'

The bodyguard bowed, and turned to a small door behind the throne.

Finding himself alone, Sii looked around him. New flags had been placed along the length of the room, depicting the coat of arms of both Faxil and Samire, comprising the North-East Alliance, and, while not strictly a union, joined the states together in a common currency and government, with each side having an individual parliament that met yearly. Although it was his late father's doing, Sii felt a little personal pride and responsibility, knowing that the Sameirens were a useful ally and their naval and trade prowess would surely come to benefit the alliance. Along with a shared and linked spice route, the Faxilian Prince sends a group of his best soldiers to Samire every month, and the Sameirens do the same. Because of this, Prince Sii had a group of two hundred Sameiren riflemen, a group of two hundred horsemen and one hundred battlefield saboteurs.

Although he wished the Sameirens to stay and watch over his brother, it was in the best interests of the campaign to bring them along and utilise their experience against the Costains. The Costains in terms of brute military strength were certainly no match for The Alliance, but they were cunning and underhand, and had a long history of tricks on the battlefield.

The current Emperor of Huuk Cust, Alvah, learned shrewd strategy from his uncle, the previous Emperor. Alvah was raised in a military-focused Empire, and raised to be great soldier, as opposed to Sii, who had been raised in a culture-based society, and raised to be a great Prince.

The Costains oftentimes held great marches and celebrations of their empire, and had an extreme focus on the individual as opposed to the state, as in, their focus on pure skill-based work, smiths and tailors, as the pillars of society rather than the downtrodden. The Faxilians had more focus on the leader, the Prince and his Dukes, rather than individual people, and, a famous Eastren saying goes 'The Faxilians are masters of metaphor, the Costains are champions of the candid.'

Indeed, these differences caused a great rift to form between the two cultures, and, time and time again, resulted in war. Although the Sameirens were different to the Faxilians, they were closer to their culture than the Costains, and therefore an ally.

The Sameirens themselves had a focus on discovery and knowledge. They were poor in the sense of military and economy, but had a bustling navy and connections to ports of the world. They had a Prince, like Faxil, although the country was truly run by the Admirals.

Prince Sii ambled towards the door behind the throne, his hands on his hips, and whistling a tune. As he pushed the door open, Sii caught a glimpse of his two brothers, Duke Merrick and Duke Voi.

'Brothers!' he called

The pair turned to him, and bowed their heads respectively. The Prince walked to them, the courtesans in the room curtseying.

'Brother Merrick, I ride for Huuk Cust in a week...I'm granting you watch over your nephew who shall rule in my place and' he turned to Duke Voi 'you ride with me, as a siege expert'

Duke Merrick, who already looked sinister enough, had a sly grin on his face that worried Sii. Although many things worried Sii, his brother's smile was at least justified. Merrick had piercing green eyes and the same jet-black hair as the Prince, a long, bird-like nose, and curved lips. He stood taller than Sii, at about six foot, and he was slightly slimmer.

'Oh! Fantastic news Brother Prince'

'Your sarcasm has been noted Brother Merrick'

'Really? I didn't realise that I was being sarcastic'

'I assume you are making fun of me...you always used to as a child, jealous of your big brother with the throne'

Duke Voi snickered at this

'Brothers, do not fight, and if you do, fight together against the Costains'

'That's just like you Voi, always the middle child mediator'

'I am what I am Brother'

'Merrick, can we make a deal?'

'Of course Brother Prince'

'South-west coast'

'What?'

'The towns along the South-west coast'

'For what?'

'Your promise not to try to scavenge any power out of my leaving'

'Okay Brother Prince, I agree'

The two brothers looked apprehensively at the other, and shook hands.

Duke Voi watched the two part ways. He smiled an all-knowing smile and turned towards the bar, a small circular structure in the middle of the grandiose hall. While such a thing should have been out of place, Duke Voi had purposely requested it, and, due to the way with words the young noble had, it was approved. He strode purposefully across the floor,

Stopping only to reject hands offered to him. It was safe to say that the middle brother had no interest in dancing.

The Prince's son Finn looked anything but an heir to the throne. An unremarkable shade of brown lay lazily across his face, and he wore a peasant's outfit, black working trousers, a cotton shirt, and a simple grey coat. His older brother was almost the polar opposite. The image of his father, Kamil stood five foot nine, with a slim waist. Unlike Finn, he was dressed like a Prince-to-be and made full use of the abundance of military clothes his late grandfather had left.

'Kamil!'

The boy immediately saluted, with a face set in a confident smirk.

'Yes Father Prince?'

'Stand down...'

'Yes Father Prince'

The boy put his arms behind his back and he looked expectantly at his father.

'Finn'

The younger boy gave a grunt of recognition and looked up wearily.

'What?'

'Is that how you address your father?'

'Sorry Father Prince' he mocked.

Finn gave an acidly stoic look to his father.

'You ride with me, boy'

'Fantastic, so now, on top of being heir to the largest realm since the snake era, I can also be hacked to pieces in combat by a bunch of war-mongering Costains, any other plans for your offspring, Prince? Why not feed me to a bunch of wolves, maybe dye me red and shove me in a bull-fighting arena'

'Be quiet boy! You are to command a group of bodyguards, you know'

'Oh how thrilling, a group of brain-dead, muscle-bound henchmen who don't know the difference between a book and a sandwich'

The boy spoke in a very deliberate nature, deadpan and melancholic, slow and steady, that most people thought him an idiot.

'Don't take that tone with me-'

'What tone?'

'-boy! You'll march with the army to Huuk Cust, command a unit and you can get extra money for your namesake'

'You can't buy me with gold...I'm not my father's son'

'Finn, mark my words, I don't exactly shower you with praise-

'God forbid'

'-But by my Lord, you are truly unshakeable. You're wearisome, unremarkable in every way, and you'll probably be the best Prince this world's ever seen'

The young man frowned, and a glimpse of a smile flicked meaningfully across his face.

'I'd rather be a merchant, less occupational hazard'

The elder brother, Kamil watched enviously.

'Father Prince?' he piped in, and beside the lumbering manner of his brother and the occasionally violent outbursts of his father, his plum, and bright voice seemed almost normal.

'Yes?'

'I would rule, yes?'

'Yes'

'Who would watch over me?'

A sigh came from the Prince 'Your uncle, Duke Merrick'

The boy smiled toothily.

'I like Duke Merrick'

'I bet you do brother'

'And what is that supposed to mean?'

'How fitting you enjoy the company of a fellow moron, and that I enjoy the company of the only sane man in court'

'MORON?!'

'Well done, you can describe yourself, now try – imbecile'

Kamil yelled in anger, and swung a jewel encrusted fist towards his younger sibling. Finn caught the hand in mid-air and twisted it around.

'Yarrgh!'

'Not only are you a moron, you're weak as well'

'Fuck you, brother'

Prince Sii stepped in and separated the two. More and more, he saw similarities in his brothers and his sons. It could have been a symptom of court life, but it could have been, as Finn pointed out, that Merrick had always been Kamil's uncle and Voi had always watched over Finn.

The Prince wondered when he would get a son to follow his example, and not the poisonous lies of his brothers.

His sons glared at each other from across the room.

'KAMIL!'

The boy immediately stood up and saluted.

'Go and practise with the generals'

'Yes, Father Prince'

The heir marched out of the room like a young noble ought to. Straight back, head held high and a menacing, serious look on his face.

Finn lay around for another minute before wandering off to the main hall in hopes of a free ale from Duke Voi. Sii stood in the loneliness of the room, reflecting on the absence of connection between him and his sons.

'When will my boys follow me?'

'When, my Price, you stand up for yourself'

An elegant lady spoke from behind the Prince. She had a face that was disarmingly nonchalant, framed by chocolate brown hair that cascaded down past her hips. She stood with her hands clasped together, and her eyes half-closed, lethargically.

'And how do you propose I do that Princess?'

'You are angry often, aren't you?'

'You can really read people can't you' He snarled

'You dress in finery, Prince, but you have a mind as fine as an axe. You cannot buy your sons and you cannot berate them either. You must show them you care. Your brother the Duke Voi was starved of attention; he has become bitter and conniving. Your brother Merrick was given too much attention and he became egotistical. You must show your sons the way to rule, the way to act, and the way to be. When you allow your brothers to mentor your sons, all it creates is a new generation of feuding siblings.'

'You have a lot to say'

'All I have to say is the truth and the light.'

'Uh....I leave in a week, for Huuk Cust'

'War? War brings death, Prince, you should know this'

'I do. I do. But Faxil needs me. It needs me to exterminate the Costain pests.'

'You forget that the Costains think you pests, and that you are all human. Extermination is not war, Sii.'

'My father didn't seem to think so'

'Your father was a soldier, and you are a Prince'

'Well I'm sick of the responsibility, I've never fought, Satomi, these medals on my chest show my father's achievements, not mine. The Costains burn our crops and dance for the glory of their godforsaken Empire'

'I shall not tell you what to do, Sii. But think before you charge on Huuk Cust.'

'I've thought'

'Have you? Or have you let your Lords influence you?'

'He's loyal'

'He's a Pasigiean'

'Look, Satomi, I march for Faxil and I march for my people. Costains only understand war.'

'Costains understand as much as you. You think a people don't know what's good for them?'

'They're led by a traitor and a tyrant'

'A traitor to whom? He may be a tyrant, but he's a damn good leader'

'I march, Satomi'

'You march, Prince, but I warn you, the Costains are vengeful, and you are weak'

'I've had enough of your talk! Leave me!'

The woman sighed, and exited through the main door that led to the gardens. She bent over to pick a flower, and slowly sauntered around the square.