by A.C. Aurora
Before Prince Fenten's father leaves on a quest, he gives him a mysterious letter
On the eve of Prince Fenten’s eighteenth birthday, it was cold and wet. Rain was pounding on the roof and windowsills as thunder roared and lightening flashed. The young prince was in the ballroom overseeing the servants as they prepared for the celebration the following day. A servant was balancing himself on an unsteady ladder, trying to hang tapestries from the high, delicately painted ceilings. Another was scrubbing the marble floors, while a maid was placing flowers up and down the grand staircase that led to an upper balcony outside.
“Prince Fenten?” His most trusted and loyal servant and squire, Arthur, called from the other end of the room. The sound of his voice echoed up to the high arch ceiling as another loud rumble of thunder shook the castle. The candlelight in the gold chandelier dangling down from the ceiling flickered, casting dancing shadows across the wall.
“Might we continue this in the morning? The storm is growing quite fierce.” Arthur continued as a bolt of lightening lit the ballroom as bright as day. Other servants murmured as the wind rushed in from an open window and the candlelight grew dim.
“Very well, you are all dismissed.” Fenten replied, raising his voice so it reached all of the many workers. They nodded and bowed to him before exiting the room through two large wooden doors.
Fenten grabbed a candlestick from a small side table and started toward the living quarters. On the way, he paused in a narrow and circular hallway which was the interior of a turret. He listened as the wind shrieked outside the window to his left. The walls all around were stone and so was the spiral staircase on which he stood. His wrist brushed against the wall; it was like ice and shivers ran up his spine.
“Ah, Fenten.” His father, King Lucio, said upon sighting his son on his way down the stairs. The ruler of all Ryolon, King Lucio was a tall, strong man, but had kind eyes and a kind smile.
“Good evening, father.” Fenten walked up the stairs to the landing where King Lucio waited, holding a flickering candlestick.
“I have something we need to discuss, but we must go where we cannot be overheard.” The king led Fenten up the staircase, through a wide hallway, past the entrance to the throne room, and into the empty library. The walls were lined with books almost all the way up to the high ceiling, but none of that was visible in the darkness.
“What is it you wish to tell me?” Fenten asked curiously. Their candles dimly lit the room, but they were no match for the overwhelming shadows. He could barely see his father’s face in the weak light, but King Lucio’s expression seemed dark and forbidding. The wood floor creaked beneath them as his father shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Just as the king opened his mouth to speak another roar of thunder echoed throughout the castle.
When it passed, he started once again, “Fenten, there are dangerous secrets in this royal family’s past that you are unaware of. I will not tell you them now, not while I am alive and able to protect them. But in this letter,” he drew forth parchment and held it out to Fenten, who slowly took it, “you will find the knowledge you need.”
King Lucio stopped to take a breath as the pounding of the rain grew louder, “But I cannot put the burden of these dark secrets on you now, not while I still live. You are not to open this until my death, do you understand?”
“Everything you will need to know is in this letter. Please my son, do not let curiosity get the better of you. Trust me... some things are better left unknown.”
Almost two months later, one damp spring day, King Lucio left on a mysterious quest unaccompanied by any servants. True to the promise he had made, Fenten had kept the letter he had gotten the night before his birthday locked in a drawer and had not opened it, but with each passing day his curiosity grew.
It had been nearly a week since his father had left and Fenten was having target practice with his best friend, William, out on the grounds surrounding the enormous castle. It was such a bright day that the sunlight reflected on the pond to their left and sparkled magnificently. Geese honked at one another as they ambled by the stone wall set around the pond. The royal family owned many acres of dense forest and fields with overgrown grass. The area on which they practiced now was only a short distance away from the huge patio next to the castle where Fenten’s mother, Queen Rose, often held grand parties in the spring and summer.
“Come on, Will, you can do better than that!” Fenten laughed as William missed yet another shot. Will, eighteen as well, was the son of King Lucio’s most trusted advisor. He had auburn hair and relatively light skin. His facial features were thin, angular, and intense, but still attractive. Admired more for his intellect than for his athletic ability, he was slightly shorter and thinner than his best friend. Just by looking at Will, his personality could be determined. His appearance was uptight, intense, and scholarly. Often, he would have a superior smirk on his face when he thought he was being particularly witty.
Fenten, however, wasn’t as clever as Will, but he was renowned for his physical skill. Tall, strong, and broad-shouldered, he triumphed over countless challengers at nearly every sport. His features were not as sharp as Will’s, but he was fairly handsome as well. He had a thin face with a straight nose and very dark, vivid eyes. His hair was dark as well and had a slight wave.
Fenten was regal, heroic, and commanding when need be, but he was always compliant and respectful to those of higher authority and their orders and expectations. While understandably overwhelmed by his position, he carried out his duties and kept up his appearance as a prince responsibly and morally. He had been best friends with Will for as long as he could remember. They had spent a sheltered and easy life in the castle, none of which would prepare them for what was to come.
“Go ahead then, let’s see how straight your arrow goes.” Will sniffed.
“All right, I will.” Fenten grabbed the bow and arrow from Will and prepared to shoot it right in the bull’s-eye. He pulled back and fired it straight in the center of the target. Looking smug, he turned around ready to gloat, but his best friend had lost interest in the challenge and was studying the target with a distant expression. Something else was clearly on his mind.
“What is it?” Fenten asked.
“This target practice has reminded me of the tournament held here last year, when you first met Priscilla, remember?” Will said.
“Of course.” Fenten certainly did remember his last sighting of his betrothed, the virgin princess Priscilla. This young girl’s father was an ally of King Lucio and ruled the Alexor kingdom many miles away. After Fenten had competed in the archery contest and triumphed over her brother, who was renowned for his skills with the bow and arrow, she had given him a lovely handkerchief, as a token of her favor.
“I was just thinking again of her mysterious absence from your birthday celebration.”
Two months ago, Priscilla and her family had been invited to the prince’s eighteenth birthday party, but they had failed to attend and no one knew why.
“You are very lucky. Everyone knows how gentle and dignified that girl is.” Will continued, smiling at Fenten, “Although her home is at quite a distance, so there is no way you can plan any secret visits to her bedchambers or anything is there?”
Fenten laughed, “Her father won’t let me get closer than an arm’s length to her before the wedding anyway.”
A moment later the grounds were ringing with the sound of pounding hooves. Will and Fenten both turned around to see a golden horse galloping their way, coming from the cobblestone road down past the hills.
“Prince Fenten! Prince Fenten!” Came a yell from the rider as he neared them. The middle-aged man pulled hard on the reins as the foaming horse skidded to a stop, just feet away, “urgent message for Queen Rose and Prince Fenten!”
“What is the message?” Fenten asked, grabbing the reins as the man dismounted.
“It is your father, I’m afraid.” The rider said as his feet hit the ground with a thud. He was thrown off balance for a moment and he wobbled. As Fenten led the horse in circles to cool him off, the exhausted animal’s damp breath blew on his arm. White lather covered the golden horse’s body and his sides heaved in and out with each breath he took.
“Is my father all right?” Fenten asked. He squinted as the sun shone into his eyes from above the castle, which cast its dark shadow into the woods. The enormous structure of all grey stone loomed hundreds of feet above them. There were four turrets rising up from each corner of the rectangular shaped castle and a passageway on top of the roof to walk between them.
The man took a deep breathe and looked directly at Fenten, “No, I’m afraid... King Lucio was found on a road far beyond the border of the Ryolon kingdom... He had a knife stabbed through his heart.”
“How... how could this happen?” Fenten staggered as the news hit him hard. Will looked over at his best friend to make sure he was okay, and then took a deep breath. He directed his attention to the man and began questioning him, “was he found in a city?”
“No,” the man solemnly shook his head, “the king was discovered by a farmer on a road in the countryside.” He moved his tongue around his teeth, “what I can’t seem to understand though, is why King Lucio was not accompanied by any servants.”
Will shook his head as Fenten looked down at the green grass and took calming breaths. Still in shock, he whispered, “My father... is dead.”
Then something clicked in his head.
“Will, there’s something I must tell you.” Fenten, mastering his emotion, leaned over and whispered. Will looked back with his eyebrows raised, but then he nodded.
“Thank you, good sir.” Will said, “Now could you kindly break the news to our poor widowed queen?”
The messenger bowed his head respectfully before taking his horse’s reins from Fenten, remounting, and setting off at a trot up to the castle.
“What is it? Do you suspect your uncle maybe? He is the new ruler after all, as you are too young; would he kill your father to gain control of the kingdom?” Will said once they were alone again. A gander gave a loud honk in the distance as the sun fell behind a cloud, making everything seem more sinister.
“I don’t think that’s it.” Fenten started to walk quickly and Will soon followed. They went across the fields, and to the moat surrounding the castle. The wooden drawbridge was already down so they walked across and up the stone steps leading to the castle. Then came the main doors which were at least twenty feet tall; they were wooden with brass knockers.
“Fenten, are you going to explain?” Will asked impatiently. They were striding through the foyer which had large paintings of the entire royal family hanging in chronological order on the wall; Fenten’s portrait was the last picture in the row.
“Hold on.” Fenten answered vaguely. They started up the stairs, Fenten in the lead and Will struggling to catch up. The stone figures on the banisters seemed to watch them as they moved. The floor was carpeted with red and gold and suits of armor were posed on each landing.
“Fenten, what’s going on? You’ve just experienced a shock, maybe you should sit down.”
Fenten halted suddenly and Will slammed into him and almost fell over. Fenten paid this no notice, “Will, you don’t understand. There were certain... secrets my father kept hidden.” He started climbing the stairs at a rapid pace again; Will sighed and followed.
“What do you mean?”
Fenten didn’t answer right away. Instead, he continued to the top of the staircase, and onto a magnificent loft landing with gold torches placed inside the indentations on the wall. There were deep blue curtains dangling from the ceiling by a beautiful window looking out over the grounds. After they turned left, this loft led them into a narrow and dark hallway. That opened up into the beige and green foyer, which contained the entrances to the exquisite chambers of the royal family. Servants were in the process of dusting and they bowed as Will and Fenten passed through.
They walked in silence until entering Fenten’s bedroom, where he finally answered, “I believe those secrets my father attempted to conceal are the reason of his assassination.” Fenten took a deep breathe and his dark eyes wandered around the large bedroom. It had stone walls with paintings of the family at important events hanging on them. His floor was wooden, but was mostly covered by a rug from the East. There were wooden chairs in one corner of his room and a small table next to each of them.
“So you think that someone found out about whatever King Lucio was hiding and then... murdered him?” Will sat down on the enormous canopy bed, but Fenten stayed standing in the center of the room.
“Yes.” Fenten started pacing up and down his room.
“So far all we know is that King Lucio was protecting a valuable concrete object, not an idea or knowledge.”
“But we don’t know that.” Fenten stopped pacing and looked at Will. From a window in his bedroom, sunlight shone through and reflected on one of the picture frames; it flashed in his eyes as he turned his head.
“Well, killing him would do no good if King Lucio was the only holder of the knowledge. But if it was a concrete object and your father was getting in the way of someone’s goal to obtain it, they would kill him.”
“That’s true. Could it be that my father went on the quest, where he happened to be killed, because he knew someone was after his secrets?” Fenten wondered, rubbing his forehead.
“Maybe, but it could also be that he was killed because of whatever he was doing on the quest.”
“Well, there is only one way to find out.”
“How do we do that?”
“There’s something else you need to see. It’s a letter my father gave me before he died. I think he knew something like this was going to happen.” Fenten’s eyes grew cold and dark as he stared out the stone-framed window.
“Why do you say that?”
Fenten sighed, “Because he told me not to open the letter until after his death.”