Besides for a few short, personal meetings, usually when Riol had misbehaved or otherwise called attention to himself, he never saw the king outside of state dinners and other such flamboyant events.
Oh, he had a suet of rooms, next to Olix and garbed just as nicely. He had tutors and arms training—but unlike his brother he was never the focus of any ball, or any dinner. Daughters of nearby kingdoms were never invited to dine with him. At Olix's coming-out ball, Riol had danced song after song with ladies that only sighed, looking forever over his shoulder, waiting for a chance to dance with his brother. His father had never ordered a new riding suit for him—better to get hand-downs from Olix, since he'd be leaving soon, anyway. His father never even acknowledged him. He was an extra, a spare—better a girl, to be given in marriage—then a boy who was worth nothing.
It was worse because now even Olix ignored him. Olix, who had once been his friend, was now silent and baleful whenever Riol attempted to speak to him, to talk to him.
It was like he now views me as some kind of threat--thought Riol.
Slowly over the years Riol appeared less and less at dinners, less and less at state events—and surprisingly no one noticed. Well, except the King's magician—who always took time to tell fabulous old tales at night, when Olix was sleeping. Not that Olix had any interest in old tales, that is, but he might have viewed Riol's friendship with the Magician as rather odd. If he noticed.
At nineteen, Olix he was now a fully trained solider, and next month would began his last official year of courtship before choosing a bride.
He'll be married before he's was twenty, thought Riol, glumly. And I won't be welcome here anymore, after that.
|Source "The Choices"|
A king never kept his blood near him, he droned sarcastically to himself. So he would be shuttled off to Wilindolyn, or Graymere, or somesuch kingdom, traded away for one of their bloody second sons, and bound in service to some unknown cause for the rest of his life. To fight battles over their land. To shed his blood for some trivial desire of theirs.
Even if he was being forced--he'd already knew what choice he would make. The thought of being a monk like his uncle Rex or his twin Reichi disgusted him—death would be better then to be locked behind stone, copying out faded manuscripts for all of time. Oh, sure, they traveled sometimes—to assist the Church, to minister to the lost, or to counsel young second-sons as their choice approached. The most boring life in existence. And he thought life right now was bad. That would be...would be...hell.
At least knights were well received. And could attend balls and escort young maidens. Maybe even exchange a kiss or two.
Uncle Reichi had visited many times in the last six or so years, and each time Riol had dreaded his coming. For one, he smelled like day-old fish. It was all Riol could do not to gag in his presence when he came tottering in, with his crusy, dank robe flowing out behind him and his staff of Greater Stickiness clinched in his sweaty palms. Ugh.
Uncle Reichi's story had come to him in bits and pieces over the years, from an oddment of tutors and religious persons, with a few choice tidbits offered from Reichi's own lips. He was a second son under King Heyol, Riol's grandfather, born as a twin with Rex, who was thus a third son. At fifteen he had been forced to join a very poor parish in the backwoods hill-town of Illwithie after some mistake involving a maid--and that was that. He was about 50 now, and thin, with white cheeks and graying hair, that stood out all in tuffs under his little pointed hat. He could have joined any other parish, in any other town—and why he'd settled on the absolute poorest after the whole maid scandal was beyond Riol.
It wasn't that he didn't like Uncle Reichi. He seemed nice enough, for a monk. It was just so tiresome when he was younger to be told to sit still, and then to be given a lengthy sermon on sin and hell, before receiving a lecture on the state of his heart and opulent surroundings. Riol was sure Uncle Reichi meant well, he knew—but monk-hood was not for him.Mass on Sunday like everyone else was one thing, but giving his life away to the church?
No, thank you. As in, I'd rather be fed to the moat alligators.
However, his lack of zeal over monk-hood didn't mean he was jumping with excitement to be a knight, even if it did sound less boring. But more dangerous. A lot more dangerous. Uncle Undine visited from the castle of Wilindolyn quite frequently, and his tales were of a different sort then soggy manuscripts and pockmarked peasants. Camping in the rain, running a sword though a man, marching for days to the north, where the wilds were—drills, drills, drills—and in the off-years, the slow times between wars—guarding the castle, the king, or any noble. Waking at all hours, training rigorously--a knight was always busy, from sunup to sundown. And at any time he could be sent off on a quest at the whim of his Lord, to spend the rest of his life wandering the wilds, like a needle in a haystack. Riol knew for a fact the reason Uncle Undine hadn't visited last winter was because he was off searching for some magic swan or something that was supposedly in the Northlands. He was probably cold, miserable, and wet in front of a spluttering campfire right now. And all because the King of Wilndolyn had promised the stupid bird as dowry for his daughter's impeding marriage to the Prince of Graymere.
Not to mention Uncle Undine was missing part of his left ear, and several of his fingers from skirmishes with Graymere back before the truce had been signed and the marriage alliance drawn up.
No thank you, actually, to either choices. Riol said, to himself again, his back pressed on his bed, an discarded book just beyond his fingertips. I'd really rather go courting.
Courting! Riol felt himself blush as he thought of the palace girls, with their long silk dresses and pretty, perfumed faces. Olix would marry, soon, and produce heirs. Then Olix would be King after their father died, while Riol would take his few years of arms training and secondary tutoring and become a knight, or worse, a monk. And of course, probably never be allowed alone with a girl. Much less get around to producing anything beside rainy campfires and rusty chain mail.
Well, there wasn't much he could do about it. Tomorrow he would turn sixteen. And tomorrow he would be forced to choose.
Click here for for part five!