Okay. Confession time. I’ve been delaying posting the beginning because I’m a little embarrassed. This first Arc is really quite rough, as (obviously) it was the very first part I wrote for Fall of Kings. In the hundred and twenty pages or so since that time, the story has evolved and changed and I keep going back and editing and tweaking the first sections, but there is still so much to add in and I keep having random plot bunnies appear and lead me down winding trails… I know I want to add in scenes to replace some of the lengthy narrative progression. Arc 1 is complete and Arc 2 is mostly complete, with some patchwork holes and some overhauling. Arc 3 ventures into much murkier territory and Arc 4 does not exist at the moment. What you’ve seen thusfar is Arc 5 territory, venturing into the sixth and final Arc. And there you have it. I do want to update and get going on the beginning, though, because there are definitely some fun parts that I quite enjoyed, and posting parts motivates me to continue working on the rest of it. Comments appreciated but not necessito. My spam filter keeps me pretty busy anyways ;] Total Word Count (not affected by my revisions, sadly): 54,653. Cue the THX theame.
No one was quite certain what provoked it. Only that once the classist rage had been awoken, it was a sleeping dragon that would rampage throughout the Northern Kingdom with a vengeance, wreaking havoc and overturning whole villages, whole kingdoms.
His advisers told King Richard to remarry, to have another child – one that proved more fitting to rule. One that was more regal than the pale, sickly infant with a smattering of jet black hair and icy blue eyes. The babe had barely survived his journey into the world – which was more than any could say for his mother, the concubine.
Looking back, no one wanted to claim that they were the first to urge the King to divorce the Queen and take the concubine who would produce such a child. But the King was running out of time – he needed an heir, and he was quickly falling prey to a wasting disease acquired in the southern provinces.
Amongst the nobles, fear-mongering and rumors flitted about like butterflies in spring – stating that the child, born half-royal and half-commoner, would bring the downfall of the monarchy and civilization as they knew it.
They were right.
One of the few things that the king had done for his son was to name him. Edmond Amadeus Holloway. Born during a thunderstorm, fighting to survive the same complicated birth that took his mother’s life, his existence would be marked by similar storms.
Advisers and nobles of every rank encouraged King Richard to remarry. He might have honestly been considering taking their advice to heart. However, before he could take action he succumbed to his disease.
As the pallbearers carried the casket to the ship at the Royal Pier that would bear their departed leader into the Beyond, Tatsuo, the Grand Duke and the king’s chief adviser, sighed grimly. The realization settled in that however sickly and unwanted the common heir was, they were stuck with him.
From his vantage point at the end of the northernmost pier of Castle Fortinbras, Tatsuo had a perfect view of the ship as it was tugged eagerly along by the frigid winds and into the Frozen Sea. Flames from the ship’s forecastle steadily spread across the fuel-soaked deck and consumed the mast. Yet still the ship sailed on, observed by mourners gathered at windows and balconies across the castle. Flaming pieces of wood and sail fell in graceful arcs to the freezing waters below – a beacon in the early morning light.
And all who watched its solemn journey knew that everything was about to change.
Tatsuo fought to keep his face from twisting into a frown and glanced beside him. A nursemaid had swaddled the young –must he say it- prince in a velvety midnight robe embroidered in silver thread. The babe yawned, revealing toothless gums.
His crime was not of passion or vindictiveness. Edmond was simply the unfortunate offspring of a commoner and a king. He was a common heir. Unfit to rule. It wasn’t his fault – the weakness simply flowed through his veins. The fact was plain to any who caught the babe’s trusting blue-gray gaze. The proper heir possessed royal traits – hair darker than the blackest midnight of winter’s heart. The proper heir possessed eyes of endless deep blue, bluer than the ocean on a clear summer’s day.
This child… like his hair, like his eyes, like his blood: he was close, but not good enough.
Baby Edmond snuggled his black head further into the robe and away from the biting chill of the wind.
So. This was their future. The fate of the Northern Kingdom hung in the hands of a common heir who had yet to figure out that his hands were attached to the ends of his arms.
Tatsuo lost the battle to his expression blank and left quickly, scowling.
Not if he had anything to say about it.
A plump, matronly woman bristled her way through the corridors of the castle, moving quicker than one would anticipate for one of her shape. Exasperation manifested through the sharp downwards curl of her lip, which she struggled unsuccessfully to contain. She bore a single silver tray that contained a number of dishes balanced expertly between steady hands, carrying it up staircases and around sharp corners. The path was a familiar one to her; she could walk it blindfolded while balancing half a summer ham, a loaf of bread, and a full tea tray if necessary.
But while the path was a familiar one, the sight that awaited her behind her destined door was not.
Nine-year-old Prince Edmond sat on the stone floor in front of an armchair by the fireplace, hugging his knees to his chest. The knuckles on one of his hands were bruised, but no more magnificently than his left eye. It was a startling purple-blue and nearly swollen shut. His other eye was rimmed with red and stared into the fire distantly as tears pooled in the corner and spilled over, dribbling down the side of his face and dripping from his chin.
For a nine year old, he was surprisingly silent when he cried. In his younger years he had thrown tantrums of epic proportions, knowing that he could get his way most every time from anyone, noble or servant. But at some point over the years, Edmond learned that with few exceptions, they only did this to placate him – not of any genuine concern.
So as he learned to get his way through charm instead of fits, his fussing went from over-the-top to hardly noticeable – except when caught in private moments like this.
“Well, I’ll say this, your highness – when you do something, you never do it halfway.” The matron remarked not unkindly, sweeping into the room and setting her tray down on a side table beside the armchair.
The boy started, scrubbing at his face hastily. “Mrs. Tibbets, I- ah, I was just…”
Mrs. Tibbets raised an eyebrow. “You were what? Going to invent an accident to cover for your fight with the Earl of Rosenthal’s nephew?”
He flushed. “So you heard about that.”
“Yes, dear. Everyone heard about that. The King of the West has properly heard about it by now and is teaching his daughter to counter a right hook.” Mrs. Tibbets replied, taking the lid from the tray and revealing a bowl of lemon chicken soup garnished with a sprig of mint, a teapot, cup, and some thick slices of bread. “I have your luncheon, young master.”
“I don’t feel like eating at the moment.” Edmond mumbled, resting his head on his knees.
“That may be, but despite your feelings, a growing boy needs food. Now, are you going to eat, or shall I inform the King that you’re ‘feeling’ unwell and he should cancel his visit entirely?” Mrs. Tibbets replied in a no-nonsense tone.
Edmond’s black head perked up in horror. “You wouldn’t!”
“I would.” Her silver eyes, matching the shade of her hair, betrayed her amusement. “Eat up, young master. You’ll feel better.”
Minutes passed in companionable silence as Edmond ate his meal and Mrs. Tibbets fussed about his bedchamber, dusting and picking up a bit.
Most of the servants would give in to his tantrums. Most of them would placate his every desire.
Mrs. Tibbets, Edmond’s chamber matron, was not one of them.
At last, the room finally passing even her high standards, she broached the subject that was on the minds of half the scullery staff at the moment.
“So, what did the Earl’s nephew do to provoke you into splitting his lip?”
Edmond scowled and pushed the empty bowl away. “Holden’s a foul pig head. He was being himself.”
Mrs. Tibbets pursed her lips and began fixing him a cup of tea. “That might be true, but name calling and hitting are hardly a good way of dealing with that. What exactly did Holden do before you hit him?”
The boy took the cup and glared into it fiercely, knowing already that it wouldn’t contain enough sugar for his tastes. “He said something nasty about Mother and called me the Common Heir.”
The middle-aged woman shut her eyes briefly, knowing all too well what a sore spot that was with him.
“I don’t get it. Why would make me a bad person that one of my parents didn’t grow up in a manor? Why does it make me any worse that Mother came from Barrow instead of Castleguard?” Edmond asked, his grip tightening on the cup. “It just… doesn’t make sense.”
Mrs. Tibbets looked at the boy with eyes full of compassion. He shouldn’t be dealing with this at his age. “You’re right – he probably did just want to say something mean. But did you ever stop to wonder why?”
Edmond looked up, confusion in his pale blue eyes as he struggled to comprehend that there were motivations behind cruelty.
“Perhaps Holden’s parents taught him that being unkind is perfectly acceptable behaviour. Perhaps he learned those words from them. Perhaps they raised him to think that commoners are less human than nobles are. They’re wrong, but there are people that believe that.” Mrs. Tibbets continued, stacking the dishes on the tray. Balancing her words as intently as she balanced the china, she pursed her lips before proceeding.
“You’re a very special boy, your highness. You have one foot in both worlds. You have the power and the ability to change things for a lot of people that need special help. And I think that there are those who are afraid of that – afraid that you’ll grow up and change the way things have been for hundreds of years.”
Staring into the twisting, shifting forms of the steam that rose from the milky depths of his teacup, Edmond bit his lip thoughtfully. “You really think I can do all that?”
“I know so, your highness. I love this kingdom, but something is clearly wrong if the crown prince himself is disdained for having common blood.” Mrs. Tibbets affirmed, wearily attempting a smile.
The boy frowned, wrinkling his nose. “What’s ‘disdained’?”
Mrs. Tibbets hesitated, worn hands halting above the dishware. Her instinct was to shield him from the harsh implications, but she knew she had to speak the truth. She settled for a happy medium between the two. “It means… dislike. Disrespect.” Also, hatred. Contempt.
Edmond was quiet, wheels churning in his head. Finally, he asked in the queer solemn voice of a child in thought, “If you can ‘disdain’ a person, can you ‘dain’ them?”
The lines on her face smoothing slightly as her expression shifted from concern to mild puzzlement, the matron shook her head. “No, I don’t think it quite works like that.”
“Well, even so. I dain you, Mrs. Tibbets. Even though you’re common, like me.” Edmond said softly, still staring into his teacup.
A soft smile of surprise and affection crept across her wrinkled visage. “I dain you too, your highness. Now, stop coddling your tea and drink it.”
The boy made a disgusted face. “I don’t want to!”
“I don’t care. Drink it anyways.”
But a smile hovered about her lips even as she pronounced the firm judgment.