Chapter One

Brandt

There was a time when the young Brandt Vonner liked to imagine there had been some terrible misunderstanding at his birth and his mother and father had taken home the wrong child. Of course, the thirteen-year old Brandt understood that he, like all the other noble-blooded Albion children, had been born specifically to continue the family bloodline and legacy.

Now, as Brandt waited outside the door to his father's study holding his graded card from Barrington Academy behind his back, he wished he had not been born a Vonner. Vonners were smart, quick-thinking and got excellent marks. The numbers on the card spoke another story. They were seared into his head. To be fair, he had gotten full marks in physical education but the other four grades were too dreadful and much less Vonner-like to even to mention. His father would have it out with him and he could already anticipate the shouting match awaiting him on the other side of these doors: how Brandt was a disappointment to the name of Vonner, how his stupidity would one be the death of him, how his father had been top in his class at Barrington and his grandfather and his grandfather's father, and blah, blah, nag, nag. He wasn't even sure whether or not to knock on the door at all and risk his father's wrath, not after all the trouble he had gone through to make his father proud at the Solpath match. But, his wretched tutor was just downstairs so there was no escape.

"…then, we'll have to go ahead with it unless we receive the funding for the new drifter prototypes," Brandt heard his father's rough voice, muffled from behind the door.

Despite the man's incessant badgering, it still amazed Brandt that his father, William Vonner, was General of the Albion Army, a fierce leader, an uncommonly brilliant tactician, a knighted gentleman, an esteemed and revered member of the Royal Council, and Chairman of Barrington Academy's Advisory Board. Wherever Brandt went, people turned their heads to get a glimpse of the famous generals' son, they adored his father and expected his son to be of the same caliber but Brandt could always detect their final disappointment in him. Everyone always seemed to be disappointed in Brandt, but none more than his own father, the great General of the Albion Empire.

With eyes cast downwards to the carpet, Brandt sniffed loudly and knocked two times on the double doors. Inside, he heard his father say, "I'm sorry, Clive, hold please" and then an irritable, "Come in,"

Brandt pushed the doors open, looking towards his father. Upon seeing Brandt, his father pointed to the chairs in front of his desk for him to sit at and then turned his back, resuming his conversation on the brass AutoTrans. Brandt sat down, his heart beating loudly and his stomach clenching with trepidation. His father turned his back and walked towards the window, listening to whoever was on the other line. Secretly, Brandt wished he could slip back out of the office and run far away from the Vonner Mansion but the time for escaping had come and gone. It was time for Brandt to face his fears and get the worst of it over. It was better than having the thought of punishment hang on his shoulders, dampening the rest of the late afternoon.

Brandt looked about the study. He had never liked this room; full of unhappy memories and failed attempts. The walls were a dark shamrock lined with a golden trim and the furniture was heavy and intimidating. There was a display case on the left filled with medals, pictures, trophies and expensive rifles and firearms, a case Brandt was forbidden to touch. To the right side of the room was his father's workshop with oils, solid brass rods, cleaning brushes and gauges all neatly arranged around the edges, his repair station as he called it. Once or twice, his father had tried to teach Brandt how to clean his weaponry but Brandt could never grasp the delicacy of it and after he managed to snap a couple of picks apart, his father had also forbidden Brandt to touch his workshop. Brandt sighed and glanced down at his report card again, the truth was he had done all the homework in class, paid attention to the lectures, even took occasional notes but when it came to the test, somehow, all he had learned evaporated from his mind. What he wouldn't give to be a natural intellectual like his classmate, Michael Fastmund, the bane of his existence.

"Alright, pleasure talking to you, Clive. Good day," his father finished and he set the device back down on its dock. "So what is it you need, Brandt?" The general asked, sitting down at his desk and fixing his son with an air of scrutiny.

"Your signature, sir, for my grade report," Brandt handed him his rumpled card.

His father took it in his hand and his lips pressed together into a thin, white line.

Brandt burst out, "I studied so hard and I even took notes and did all the homework! I just don't understand why I keep getting those grades," Brandt watched those sharp lavender eyes of his sweep down the page, his face becoming stiff and irate until he threw the card back at Brandt.

"Get out," he said, his voice trembling slightly. Brandt's eyes widened; his bottom seemingly frozen to the chair. "I've had enough to deal with already,"

"But, I need your signature," Brandt heard himself say.

"For what?" His father yelled "My approval? Because I'll tell you one thing: until you get those grades up, you're not playing Solpath, you're to come straight home every day after school!"

"But, father—"

"GET OUT OF MY SIGHT, BOY!" The general's head snapped up and those pale violet eyes of his open wildly with fury. Stiffly, Brandt rose from his chair and bent down to pick up the grade report, his face flushed. He didn't need telling a third time. It hadn't nearly been as bad as he had thought it might have been and yet still the sudden tightening of his throat left him with an inescapable mix of hatred and self-loathing. He left the room and slammed the door shut, the bitter sting of bile rising in his constricted throat.

"That bad, was it?" A soft boyish voice hummed over the autoTrans. Brandt sat alone in his bedroom facing an empty space of wall while he listened to the only person in the world who seemed to understand him. "Is your tutor there? He could help you?"

"My father fired him," Brandt replied glumly. "Can't you just come back and help me yourself?" he begged. The voice giggled.

"I wish more than ever that I could, but I am to remain here with my older brother, Julian, until the coronation of the Nandruian Queen is over," the voice sighed. "I wish you were here, you would have loved the Opening Ceremony," there was another soft giggle. Brandt wished he too were in Nandru, witnessing important galas and coronations instead of doing homework. Everything seemed so much more exciting whenever he was with Leonas DeVallarie, Second-crowned Prince of Albion.

"I wish I was there, too. " Brandt said with more bitterness in his voice than he had intended. Absently, he began flipping through the pages of his textbook; the text was small and densely packed. Leo would probably have no problem understanding it; the boy was a natural genius. And two years younger than I am, Brandt thought.

Across the line, Brandt could hear a cool female voice ushering the Prince off the autoTrans. "I've got to go, Brandt," Leo replied. Brandt's heart sunk, he had hoped Leo would have at least insisted to speak with him for a little while longer.

"Alright, Leonas. Come home soon!" He tried to sound cheerful.

"You'll be the first one I'll come see when I do," Brandt could hear the genuine smile in Leo's voice. It gave him comfort to know that he was the only one who could make the Prince truly happy. The only one the Prince could rely on.

"Goodbye," Brandt replied and the line went silent. The shadows on Brandt's wall were growing longer as the sun descended down between the Caspian Mountains and he wondered if Leonas, too, could see the sunset from across the Pulan Ocean in Nandru.

Leonas was probably the one good thing Brandt gained from his father's status within the royal court. The King of Albion and his father had been close acquaintances for a long time and so Brandt used to visit the palace frequently. Brandt met Leonas when he was six and Leonas four. He remembered clearly as if it were yesterday.

Brandt's mother had led him outside to a courtyard garden while the King and his father discussed affairs. The Queen was waiting on the opposite end of the courtyard and when they met in the middle, Brandt first caught a glance of a small little girl hiding behind the Queen's dress. To get her to come out, Brandt and his mother picked berries from the garden in hope of luring her out. When she finally came out from behind the Queen's dress, Brandt thought she was a sprite. The girl had a head of thick flaxen curls which fell down to the nape of her neck in spiraling tendrils, glittering olive eyes and a pale, pearly complexion, with delicate features and long, thick eyelashes.

It was then that Brandt noticed she was wearing a coat and trousers and he remembered being very confused about that. What girl wore boy clothes? What princess wore trousers? The Queen laughed, "Brandt, meet my son, Leonas,"

Brandt laughed thinking back on the memory fondly. Oh how he had teased Leo about how much he used to look like a girl. Leonas…everything seemed to come naturally to him. Oh how much everyone loved the youngest DeVallarie prince and yet they didn't even know the prince, not like Brandt did. Leonas told Brandt everything something the media would kill to hear and for the most part Brandt felt privileged. He was the luckiest boy to know the Prince of Albion, to be important enough to trust, it all felt so right.

But, at home, Brandt was just a boy. He wouldn't know Kings and Queens from distant realms, he wouldn't command an army, he wouldn't be known for some scientific discovery, history would just ignore him and his name would be lost and forgotten, forever. He would be a nobody.

One day, Brandt would prove them all wrong. One day he would be somebody, he would conquer all of Ando if he had to…if only he could concentrate long enough to finish his homework waiting for him on the desk in front of him.