Warning: This book, although it may not seem like it in the first chapters, is grimdark fantasy. From this chapter on, some things will begin to happen that may be disturbing to some people. Read it at his own risk. Also English is not my native language, so if you see any errors please tell me
The victory parade was even busier than the market in the morning. At the head was the carriage with a couple from the royal family, apparently cousins of the king. The man with black hair and pale skin was clearly consanguineous, while the wife had the characteristics of the noble families of the north: rosy skin and silver hair. Both were dressed in gold with white ornaments that looked like a flowering vine. From the next car, where the Houses of the South Zone were, you couldn't see more of his features. The royal family rarely mixed with the rest of their subjects, except for when they made public appearances at festivals, during council meetings or cases like the Queen who still maintained distant contact with Lord Krieger.
Around him the mob followed them, waving red flags, and applauding the champions. Hundreds of different instruments were playing, each one its own song, which only added to the hubbub. They advanced through the entire central street of the South Zone, because the Summer Festival was held in the Barrio that won the previous year.
Vican was sitting in front of his mother, his brother next to him was placed in front of his father. The carriage was used by his father only for the Festival: soft leather-covered seats, high ceiling that allows you to stand comfortably inside, cedar walls and two windows on each side from which to greet the crowd.
Like that, face to face, keeping silence while showing fake smiles to the public, it was even more evident Vican's lack of resemblance to his family. While his brother showed the wine red hair, square jaw and green eyes of his father or the pale skin and fine features of his mother; he only had green eyes to show, there the resemblance of him ended.
His hair was so dark brown that in the shadows it was mistaken for black. His skin, although pale, was more like porcelain, while his mother's had a pearly hue. His cheekbones were less pronounced and his features more childish than anyone in his family. The only assurances Vican had that he was not an illegitimate son were some portraits of his ancestors with similar characteristics, that a bastard would have brought the ruin of his family by being one of the most important prohibitions of the nobility, and that his father did not He loved him so much that he would not kill him if he weren't truly hers.
It was only two hours until dusk when they reached the south door of the Palace of the Hundred Towers, as the residence of the royal family was known, although in reality there were only twenty-five but from the outside they gave the impression of being many more. On both sides there were two towers of 5 floors each, from which continued the wall that measured more than half that height.
When they passed through the gates they could see members of the Golden Guard, the only armed force in the entire Kingdom, which numbered over 3,000 members within Konig alone. Their silver Mayan coat reached more than mid-thigh. His cape, belt, helmet and gauntlets were the gold of the royal family. From his right hip hung a bastard sword of damascus steel and from his left a stiletto of the same metal. Those standing on either side of the road carried spears that rose above their heads and ended in a metal point as sharp as a dagger that it must have been more than ten inches long. Normally they only left the Palace to accompany the royalty or to protect the commercial convoys that came and went from within the kingdom. They were such a closed and exclusive force that only members of military families and a few second-tier members of the lesser nobility could join their ranks. The rest of the Houses had to hire their protection when they transacted with the other cities because of the bandits that inhabited the Zähne mountain range west of the North Road.
To his left stretched the green lawn of the royal gardens where the daytime festivals were held, to the right the royal forest, in the center of which was the Council Hall, and to the front, the Great Hall. A square structure three stories high, with white walls and gold floral decorations mixed with flowering vines of different colors. From each corner a tower of 10 stories high rose where the members of the royal family lived and in the center of the structure a fifth tower was born, five floors higher than the others, where only the King and his personal guard could enter.
Soft music of violins and flutes enveloped the nobles as they passed the Great Central Hall that led from the doors to the ballroom. It was about 300 feet long and 20 feet wide; the walls were empty, painted a soft light blue and the white marble floor reflected the light of the candles and sounded with the footsteps of the nobles, being the only noise that broke the silence. The large golden doors at the end of the hall opened and the volume of the music rose slightly. Once inside the Hall the nobles separated into groups, their footsteps echoing off the marble floor, now a light shade of pink. The gilded walls were covered with portraits and statues of bygone kings and princes, interrupted only by mirrors and tables of shiny dark wood on which were glasses filled with Bauerian wine.
His mother's azure blue eyes, framed by her silver hair elegantly combed up, gave Vican a warning look as they parted in the doorway. His father and his brother left together, probably looking for someone with whom to brag about his victory and Vican took advantage of his relative solitude to admire the portraits that hung on the walls, true works of art if they existed in Konig.
This Hall and the Central Corridor that led to it from the entrance of each Neighborhood, were the only part of the Palace of the Hundred Towers to which the nobility had access. Every year when the Summer Festival ended, a small gathering was held in the Hall and the Konig nobility, along with the occasional member of royalty, made conversation and drank wine. Five years ago his parents allowed him to attend for the first time and each time his paintings had been more impressive than all the gold that surrounded them.
He approached his favorite and the most enigmatic of them all. It was a portrait of the first king of Nordland, Arnold Kaiser, standing over an entire bloody army trying to fight him; swords, spears, dented armor, and hideous expressions of hatred made a mound. Behind him was a golden glow that highlighted his silhouette against a red sky. His dark gaze and his black hair intimidate the viewer even more than the army at his feet. The image depicted the chaos Nordland was plunged into 153 years ago, where all regions were at war and men slaughtered each other like little more than beasts. This lasted until Arnold with some of his followers, who are now the noble families, carried out a campaign in which they unified all of Nordland, granting the people the longest period of peace that any other kingdom has ever seen.
- Impressive, don't you think? A female voice spoke behind him making him jump. He turned to find Lady Claríz Edelsteine.
"The painting, I mean," continued the lady, nodding toward the painting. Lady Edelsteine was an extraordinary woman, at the age of 18 she discovered a way to make diamonds with a procedure that her House jealously guards. Thanks to that, her father declared her his heir over her two brothers, a power that she exercises today at 24 years of age, in addition, because it is much safer to manufacture the diamonds than to transfer them from Gross, these are also more expensive and their sale made her family the second richest in Konig not counting the royal family.
-Ahm ... Yes ... yes-Vican replied as he recovered from his surprise-The staging is quite amazing, it is one of my favorite paintings.
"With good reason," the woman replied, diverting her blue eyes to the painting while her left hand played with one of her brown curls, "it is one of the most enigmatic in the room as well."
- How is that? - Vican asked as he frowned slightly.
"Doesn't it make you wonder how the battle really went? Or war?" -The woman's voice was heard far away as if she was lost in her thoughts.
-Yes, of course it does. - Vican answered with renewed enthusiasm. War, being such an alien concept, was intriguing to him from his early years of study. -If you are really curious, in the book written by Prince Alan Kaiser there are very detailed descriptions of the battles and military strategies used by her father in the Last War.
"Yes, of course," the woman replied with a nod, but her musical voice gradually acquired a tone of determination, "but I mean the reasons for the war. What was the politics behind it? How many sides were there? What start it?"
- You can find these answers in any history book Milady - the boy answered a little confused - There were no sides, no politics, men simply killed each other like savages.
- So they say, yes. But that's just one version of the story, right? - Vican corrected himself, it was not determination he heard in the woman's voice, it was resentment - There are no records of what the times were like before the end of the war - the woman's white cheeks turned pink as she spoke faster and faster - and all the adults who could bear witness died within a few years after the war ended.
What was this woman talking about! That bordered on treason, even doubting the King has driven entire families to ruin! Vican was alarmed, despite the defects his mother and father might have, one thing they did right: both he and his brother were faithful subjects of the King and had never even thought a word against him. .
"Many of them died young due to the consequences of the life they led," Vican replied, remembering his first lessons. "Many of my ancestors also died at a young age." The people were illiterate, lacked hygiene, and medicine was far behind. Who can live long in these conditions?
"And yet," the woman answered quickly, looking into his eyes, "despite that supposed ignorance, there were nobles from whom we descended and artists who drew portraits of her." They had a language as complete as ours and a religion that, although forgotten, still leaves its symbols in our society.
What is this woman doing? Is she trying to get us both killed? Or perhaps she is testing me, testing my loyalty to the King?
- Obviously not all of them were savages - Vican replied with all the conviction he could, trying not to squirm under the eyes of Lady Edelsteine, who seemed to be looking for something in hers - Arnold Kaiser himself had a group of allies who fought alongside him, a Krieger among them. -Despite his words, the woman still looked at him as if she will try to see into his mind - Anyway, that is a discussion that we should leave to historians, and concentrate simply on learning what they discover. In the meantime, I'm going to go get a drink. Would you like me to bring you one milady?
Hearing his question the young lady broke eye contact and smiled.
"No, thank you very much, my husband went to get me one a few minutes ago, he must be when she comes back," she said as she looked around the room.
-Good evening then Milady - Vican said goodbye as he walked away as fast as he could without looking like he was running away.
What was this conversation about? Was she crazy? Many have lost everything for less than that! Who says those things in a public place? In the Palace no less, surrounded by all the High Nobility! Have they heard us? Was Lady Claríz Edelsteine a traitor? She couldn't be, she was the head of one of the most powerful Houses in the kingdom. A spy maybe?
It was true that Vican had quickly become famous for his study preferences; It has happened before that misguided scholars end up becoming traitors and questioning the King. Perhaps some fear that he in the middle of his studies has come across some forbidden books, something that he has always avoided since his early years. Vican limited himself to studying only the history taught by his tutors; Doing more research or asking too many questions could easily be interpreted as questioning the honesty of the kings and princes who have written the history books.
He reached one of the tables where drinks were being served with his heart still pounding. He was tempted to have a drink of wine, but he was not old enough yet and did not want to draw more attention to himself, so he had instead a grape juice in a crystal glass in the same way as wine glasses. by his side. He hadn't had the second sip yet when someone caught his eye by clearing his throat. Looking up from his glass she found herself face to face with Lord Ludwig, his brown eyes staring at him with amusement.
- Good evening, my lord. What can I help you? - Vican hastened to say.
- It is certainly a good night, young man. You are the youngest son of the Kriegers, aren't you? asked the man as he took a glass of wine in each hand.
- Yes Milord, tonight we are celebrating the glory of our House - Vican mechanically pronounced the rehearsed phrase.
- No wonder! What a brilliant performance from your brother. - Said the man raising his voice slightly with the glutural Bauerian accent - Me and my daughter were now talking about this matter casually, but we did not dare to address him directly, afraid of appearing rude when approaching without a previous introduction.
So that's what this conversation was about. In fact, it had taken too long for noblemen to appear willing to speak to his brother, and if he remembered correctly, Lord Ludwig's daughter was the same age as her brother.
"No problem Lord Ludwig, I can personally introduce it to you," Vican tried to put the most polite tone possible in his voice, as he prepared to receive the blow to the stomach that was going to be the next few minutes. - my brother will be delighted to meet you.
They slowly crossed the room to meet Lissa Ludwig, who was indeed 16 years old. She was a beautiful young woman, who had the best oriental qualities, her brown skin was a shade lighter than that of her father, her black hair fell in bright curls on both sides of her face covering part of her cleavage and highlighting her golden eyes. Vican guessed that she must have looked a lot like her mother because it was almost impossible to find features of her father's short, plump, and darker skin in the daughter. She wore a dress in the colors of her house: maroon, made to the hips and falling with soft flights to the floor, adorned with buckles and copper threads. After the brief introductions they proceeded to look for his brother, a task that did not take too long. There was only one 6 foot boy, with flaming red hair in a ponytail and dressed in an emerald suit. He was talking to Tobías Maier and his sister, of all people.
"Good night, I ask his permission," Vican said in a polite tone, containing his anxiety when the three people turned to stare at him. - Lord Ludwig and his daughter Lissa Ludwig would like to personally present their congratulations to the champion of the Summer Festival.
"A pleasure to meet you Lord Ludwig, Lady Lissa," said his brother, giving each one a nod.
- The pleasure is all mine, boy! Ludwig answered in the same high, gluttonous voice that he had used all night as he waved his hands in the air, "How magnificent your performance at the Festival!" And that final fight? It was not only a show of dexterity, but also of cunning.
- Thank you very much, my lord. Much of that I owe to the long tradition of Krieger warriors. False modesty dripped from Northen's voice.
- I don't doubt it young man, I don't doubt it. - The man nodded smiling - It only remains to wait and see how the youngest of your House develops. Do I understand that next year he will be fifteen? What a decision they have in their hands! - Lord Ludwig finished, referring to the tradition in which when the youngest son was old enough to be a contender, the eldest gave him his place that year so that he would have the opportunity to prove himself.
"I don't think so, Milord," replied his brother with a tone of voice that Vican knew too well, "my brother has a preference for activities a little more ... delicate."
"Well, I'm sure you've given your House enough pride for both of you," Lady Lissa intervened for the first time, accompanied by a chorus of laughter.
Northen had always had the ability to manipulate a conversation so that everyone would end up flattering him and humiliating Vican. For these occasions the boy had created an escape route: he actively ignored the comments turning them into an annoying noise and concentrated on the small details and the gestures of the people.
At this moment Tobias's sister was speaking -Thanks to the Origin, his life did not depend on him remembering the girl's name! - She was a few years older than Tobias and they couldn't be more alike if they had been twins. The same dark brown skin and eyes, the same black hair, and the same square jaw. She also had a habit of wrinkling her thick nose like if she was smelling something unpleasant.
Next was Lady Lissa, even with her technique he couldn't ignore the musical tone of her voice with the Bauerian accent. But that did not mean that the young woman did not have a tic: her hand wrinkled slightly when she faked a smile and her fingers played with the flights of her dress. She and her father had a habit of highlighting her words by waving her hands, although she did so more gently. Her father, on the other hand, just smiled and reaffirmed everything Northen said, who looked delighted to be the center of all the adoration.
- Everything is ok brother? - Northen's cocky voice brought him out of his reverie - You seem a bit upset.
"Maybe you need to go out to cool off," Tobias contributed, mocking with evidently false concern.
"Actually I do," Vican answered knowing that he was giving them more ammunition for their taunts, but he needed to get away from these people. - I'll go get some air outside for a few minutes.
He strode away without waiting for an answer. This time his flight was evident but he couldn't care less, this had to be the worst Summer Festival he had ever attended. Sure, it was better not to stamp it too quickly, next year was definitely going to be worse. Everyone was going to be comparing him to his brother: if his father did not allow him to participate it would be the same as shouting his incompetence all over Konig, if he participated and lost it would only be one more evidence of his inferiority and, even if he won, he would lose all news quickly. it would still be the second to do so.
When he reached the great doors of the Hall, two guards opened them for him and he stepped out into the corridor, where the noise from inside seemed more distant and harmless. He made his way to the outer doors, the lighting gradually dimmed as the candles went out and the echo of his lonely footsteps echoed in his ears. By the end, the sound of the Hall was almost imperceptible. He gently pushed open one of the heavy steel doors, just enough for him to get out.
Outside the night air hit his face and moved his hair that reached below his ears in unruly waves that quickly tousled. Only now, far outside, did he realize how overwhelmed he felt surrounded by all those strangers.
He still carried the glass of juice in his hand, now empty. He approached the stairs and sat on the first step, placing the glass on the right side of him. The sky was clear, the stars twinkling accompanying the Daughter Moon that shone blue, full in its entirety, and the cold wind made her skin crawl. It was the night of lovers, that moment in the month when the blue light bathed the lovers who were hiding in the shadows. He lost track of time within his reverie until the weight of a gaze made him squirm and look behind him.
- What's wrong Vicky, are we disturbing you? - Standing in a semicircle blocking the small entrance to the palace, was Tobías Maier, accompanied by Maric Reisender to his left, Amin Kramer and Uloas Kinder at the ends. The last two made sense, they were distant cousins of Tobias, but Maric seemed completely out of place. - I only told your brother that we would keep you company.
A bead of cold sweat ran down his back. He tried to stand up, but Uloas quickly stopped him by the shoulders hitting him against the floor, seconds later Amin was holding his feet and Maric his hands at his sides, leaning over him from his left, while he managed not to look him in the eye .
Vican couldn't move past the tremors that ran through his body. He couldn't scream. Probably no one would listen to him, and if they did, he could only imagine his father's gaze from the shame of finding him like this. No, he had to solve it alone.
"They won't hurt me, at least not seriously or visibly. It would be a serious crime, even more so committed in the Palace!"
- Relax Vicky, you seem agitated-Tobias spoke with a soft voice, as if she were comforting him, while he crouched to the left of him, next to his head, to the right of Maric - Maybe you need some Water?
And suddenly a drop of saliva fell on the corner of his mouth, causing her eyes and his lips to close tightly. A hand, Tobias's apparently, grabbed his jaw roughly trying to open it while he tried to move his head to the sides. He heard laughter from around him and more drops of saliva fell on his face. Suddenly, between its shaking and the wet, Tobias's hand slipped and guided by sheer instinct, Vican bit it with all his might.
There was a scream and a moment of confusion as his right hand, suddenly released, slammed into the forgotten crystal glass, which, in a single movement, he grabbed and smashed it against Tobias's face.
Surprised by the rapid events, the boys released him and Vican fell down the stairs to the right of him. He got to his feet quickly and ran into the forest. He heard screams behind him but he couldn't stop running. At some point he had stopped shaking, everything around him seemed to happen slowly and fear moved behind his consciousness, where he could feel it but did not flood him.
In front of him the shape of the Council Building appeared through the trees. It was a circular structure two stories high, it is believed that before the Last War it was a temple of the Old Religion; but during the reign of Walter Kaiser, son of King Arnold, the structure was destroyed inside and modified to house the meeting of the first council.
The doors were little taller than a man's height, and although they were made of steel, they were not closed. Only council members and a specific guest were supposed to be allowed in, but since few had access to the Palace for most of the year it was understandable that they weren't closed.
Vican quickly thought about the consequences of entering but the screams behind him grew louder and with a single movement he pushed open the doors, entered and closed them again. With his back still against the doors, he heard his pursuers stop in front of the building, probably considering whether it was worth the risk to enter. For a minute that seemed to last hours Vican could only listen to them in silence until the footsteps receded into the forest.
Suddenly the realization that he had managed to escape hit him and the fear he was suppressing brought him to his knees. The tremors ran through his body again, tears mingling with the saliva on his face. He frantically wiped them off with trembling hands and stood there in the dark, his breathing ragged and suppressing the sobs that rose from his chest.