First chapter of my working novel. Set around colonial times, but in a fiction world.
The King had been enjoying his afternoon walk through the palace gardens when word was brought to him.
“The Prime Master has news, your Grace. He says it is urgent,” the young squire had said, looking up at the King.
Maurice hated to be summoned, and Tolus knew it. It must be important. So, the King agreed to meet him at the royal work chamber. When he walked through the heavy wooden door he was greeted by a warm smile and a slow bow. “My King,” Tolus said with affection.
“Get on with it Tolus, you know I hate it when my walk’s interrupted. This better be important.” The King replied as he walked through the room.
“Your Majesty, a letter has arrived from Zaphirose in the New Lands.” Said Tolus Solientell, as he handed the letter to King Maurice.
Maurice threw the letter down on his desk without looking at it and walked to the large window at the end of his work chamber. Of course that’s what this is about. The room is one of the most intimate in the palace, finely decorated with expensive woods, metals and stones. Surrounded by bookcases the entire length of the wall. Everything from the tiles on the floor to the murals on the roof decorated with delicate rose patterns.
The letter sat on the large dark wooden desk in the back of the room surrounded by papers and stamps. Two small oil lamps rest unlit on the top corners of the desk. The back windows stood from floor to ceiling, so there was no need for candlelight during the day. The King stared distantly out the center window behind his desk.
He refused to read the letter. Ever since the founding of the colonial city of Zaphirose in Nu-Arizia he had received countless letters, and not a single one of them contained favorable news. The city was meant to be a great symbol for the Arizian crown. It was to represent an exemplary city from which every other city after it would try to imitate, but could never match. Everything about the city had been planned. From its location, where the long river meets the Truscan Gulf, to the color of its buildings. A golden rose, the royal symbol of Maurice’s house was to be stamped through the entire city, and great marble statues of the King were to be placed in the central plaza. In reality however, the city had turned into a meeting hub for pirates and smugglers, and was under constant attack by the savages to the west. Their raiding parties had already caused the disappearance of over a hundred settlers. To make matters worst, growing any sort of crop in the swamp formed from the overflowing river and the terrible storms coming in from the Gulf proved an impossible feat.
It was the single greatest defeat Maurice had suffered in his fifteen years as King of Arizia. The thought saddened him, and then the sadness turned to a burning rage. In an effort to calm his mind, he walked over to a desk placed in front of one of the bookcases and poured a cup of wine out of a golden amphora decorated with rubies, emeralds and sapphires. It had been a gift given to his grandfather, King Marien Dellaroise, by the then king of Dalis along with matching golden cups. One of the many priceless artifacts throughout the palace. Normally a servant would pour his wine, but he dismissed all his servants and guards from the room. When the King and Tolus spoke he liked for them to have their privacy, so they may speak freely.
The King stared into his cup, swirling it in circles and watching the wine match the movement of his wrist. “That fucking city.” He said without looking up. “It has been twelve years since its founding and not a day goes by without some problem arising.” He continued before taking a big gulp of wine. “I ought to just burn the damn letter and abandon the city. It has cost the crown more than it has benefited it.” The King finished, taking another sip of wine and turning to look at Tolus. His Prime Master was sitting in one of the large wooden chairs in front of the King’s desk. His right leg crossed over his left while he stared at the king. His clear blue eyes, hidden under his curly black hair, dark as the night’s sky forming a halo around his head. He was a thin man, but even sitting down he was extremely tall. The King hated standing next to Tolus. He thought it made him look small, even though the king himself was taller than most men. Maurice could easily take him in a battle however. I don’t believe he’s even held a sword before, thought the king. Though, Tolus’ sword expertise was not the reason for him being the King’s wisest and most trusted advisor.
“The city has been expensive no doubt…” Tolus began.
“Don’t…” the King interrupted angrily. “Do not try to tell me again why I need to be patient with this damned city,” the wine made him grow angrier instead of calmer. “ Twelve years. Twelve years the city has been running the Arizian Empire into the ground and I cannot allow it any longer!” He yelled before he tilted the golden cup to his mouth and finished the wine.
The king squeezed his grip on the cup before turning and filling it with wine from the amphora once again. Why does he insist so much? Thought the king. Can he not see how shameful and costly this colony has been? Tolus and his family have always given great advice to the King’s of Arizia, but how can he insist on such a failed experiment?
“Your Grace, if I may be so bold to state, the city has thus far been a disaster.” Agreed Tolus. “But your highness has been blessed by a marvelous opportunity.”
“Stop.” The King said abruptly as he turned and walked to the large wooden chair behind his desk. “Unless you are about to tell me that someone has magically found a supply of gold the size of the Truscan Gulf located within the city then I do not want to hear any more about Zaphirose.” The city represented failure. Maurice hated to fail, ever since he was a kid. He did not even want to establish the colony in the first place. “Aziria is already the greatest Kingdom since the collapse of the mighty Arriagan Empire.” He used to say. There was no need to expand it. But then the Bryanesse and Dali Empires began to colonize and grow their trade. Maurice had no choice but to explore and establish new colonies as well. The initial efforts proved successful, and many cities continue to exist and prosper to this day. But Zaphirose was supposed to be the greatest city outside of the Arizian capital, Borris. Its palace was even built on the only rose garden outside of the Arizian Gardens, where his family had come from. Dellaroise, Maurice’s family name meant ‘Of the Rose’ in the ancient Lucian language. So, the rose garden was taken as a sign from The God. But now Maurice’s enemies would whisper to each other about his failed attempt at true greatness.
“I am afraid I cannot give my King such a delight,” said Tolus interrupting the King’s thoughts. “But please your Majesty hear the news the letter has brought. It may not be gold your Grace, but it is a gift that could help Arizia become the most powerful colonial empire in the known world.”
“Precious stones?” The King asked sarcastically. “Has someone found a pit of diamonds? Perhaps some actual arable land has been harvested? Or maybe someone finally conquered the bloody Tibur Island and killed all the damned pirates?” continued the King aggressively.
“A hurricane has wiped out nearly the entire city, your majesty.” Tolus stated abruptly. “Nearly every building has been brought to the ground and a great deal of the unruly population was brought down with them.”
The King leaned back on his chair, carefully maintaining a neutral expression while he attempted to suppress his anger. He took a small sip of wine, and stared at the liquid in the cup. “Alright Tolus, alright. You have my attention.” He paused to take another sip of wine and looked up at the Prime Master. “Explain to me why a city that I have invested, not only incredulous amount of coin, but also twelve years of my bloody reign getting hit by a damn hurricane and wiped away is good news to me” the king said softly, with a growing impatience in his voice. He did not enjoy yelling, especially not at Tolus, who was his oldest friend and surely had good intentions. But the shame of failure clouded his mind red with anger. Besides, if Tolus was taken back by the King’s outbursts he did not show it. He sat in the chair expressionless, waiting respectfully for the King to finish his sentences before calmly responding.
“You see your majesty, most monarchs are fragile. A loss of this caliber would prove lethal to them.” Tolus began in a voice so calm the King could feel his shoulders relax into his chair. “But there are those kings, rare as sapphires, who manage to benefit from disasters just like this one. Instead of collapsing, they thrive when exposed to disorder. These kinds of leaders emerge from their troubles even stronger than before. They show their enemies that not only can they not be brought down by misfortunes, but that they grow from them. And tell me your Grace, what is more terrifying than a man who manages to grow stronger every time he fails?” Tolus asked, clearly not waiting for an answer. “It is those rulers who are remembered in history as truly great.” He continued, his blue eyes glued to the King’s own eyes. “I see you raising the Arizian Empire from this tragedy to the most powerful colonial power the world has ever seen.”
The King stared at Tolus for a moment, taking in what he had just said. He’s right, thought the King. Maurice’s enemies see this city as the greatest failure of his reign. When the great Arriagan Empire collapsed it split the continent it occupied into three kingdoms. And these kingdoms have competed for dominance ever since. Colonization has been the only instance in which Bryon and Dalis have surpassed Arizia. But the King had tried everything. And while Tolus’ idea excited him, he thought of it as just that, an idea. What could he possibly do differently this time that could make the city function properly?
“And how exactly am I to do that?” The King said incredulously, breaking the silence. “You said yourself there is practically nothing left. What do you think that devil city can give to us now that it couldn’t while it was upright?”
“Along with destruction and loss the hurricane has given us the gift of a new start, your majesty. We can now rebuild the city from its foundation up.” Tolus explained. “Its location already makes it the ideal port city that we need to establish Arizia as the top commercial empire in the known world. To the north, we could build the greatest church the New Lands have ever seen, and to the west an Arms Palace to frighten the savages from coming into the city. We could design everything from the grid plan for the streets to the color of each home, your Grace. From its ruler down to rebuilding its reputation as the exemplary Arizian city.” Tolus said before putting his elbows on the wooden desk, leaning towards the King and whispering enthusiastically, “your majesty you have been given a fresh chance at building the city you have always dreamed about.”
There was something in the way Tolus held his gaze that made the King believe him. He could tell Tolus was truly passionate about this city. And just like his father, King Enas Dellaroise, became known for the lands he won at the Wars of the Border against Bryon, Maurice could be known as the man who grew the Arizian Empire to twice its size. “You really think the city can be rebuilt to perfection?” Maurice asked intrigued.
“I do your majesty. It has the ideal location for trade and travel, and with the proper planning and leadership the city could be made into your original wish.” Tolus said hastily.
And suddenly, for the first time in his thirty-eight years, Maurice became suspicious of Tolus. Perhaps it was the wine, but it just did not make sense. Tolus had always advised him to be cautious; the man himself had been against the original establishment of the city. His support for it did not come until the planners realized that no one wanted to leave their comfortable life here in Arizia to establish a colony in a far off land and the King was forced to order all the prisoners sent to build the colony. Tolus had suggested that not only prisoners be sent, but also anyone who wished to start a new life be allowed to go to the colony, change his name, and start over. In return for this kindness, they were to build the city according to the King’s plans. But this had failed them. Instead, the unruly population sent to build the colony did as they pleased, seldom listening to the Chancellor and turning the colony into a place of sin instead. The church that was planned had never even been built. A city without a church is a dishonor to The God; perhaps that is why he had been punished with such shame. So why did Tolus want this city rebuilt? Perhaps he has become ambitious and wishes to rule instead of staying here advising for the rest of his life. Maurice knew Tolus’ wife grew more and more sick with each passing day. Perhaps Tolus was planning on leaving him once she finally passed.
“You have clearly given this a lot of thought Tolus.” Maurice said before taking a big sip of wine. “I suppose you’d want this ‘proper leadership’ you mentioned earlier for yourself?” asked the King suspiciously, as he pointed to Tolus with his priceless golden cup.
“Pardon me, my King?” asked Tolus, clearly upset by the King’s accusation. Maurice said nothing; instead he just laughed and finished what was left of his wine, feeling it burn down his throat.
“Please forgive me if I’ve done anything to make you doubt me, your Grace. My place is here by your side. I would never think of abandoning my duty to you or the realm.” Tolus exclaimed proudly. “However I have been closely watching the situation in Zaphirose, and I do have someone in mind for the Chancellor position.”
The King snorted laughter at Tolus’ last comment. He got up to refill his wine and for a moment lost his balance, having to steady himself by holding unto the table. “Let me your Grace,” said Tolus getting up from his seat to help the King pour his wine. “Pour yourself one as well,” ordered the King. Maurice did not like to drink alone, and he knew Tolus dared not refuse him right now. The King walked back to his chair and sat down heavily. He took a lengthy gulp of wine and waited for Tolus to sit down before speaking. “Well then, who is he and what has he promised you?”
“My King you wound me, I want nothing more than to bring honor to Arizia and to my King.” Tolus claimed with sadness in his voice. It wasn’t the King’s intention to accuse Tolus of disloyalty. In truth he knew Tolus was the most loyal man in all the Empire. It was the wine that was making him suspicious. But his nightmares about the woman had been feeling more and more real, and wine was the only thing that helped him forget. “The man I have in mind is Lord Borelis De Vielli your Grace,” Tolus said, interrupting the King’s wondering mind. “He is a distinguished noble merchant from the Icepass who could give the city the economic boost it so desperately requires.”
“De Vielli? As in the noble family my grandfather exiled to the New Lands?” The De Viellis were once a great house who had since lost all their lands and riches due to their addictions and gambling. The King understood that Tolus’ family had once been close to the De Viellis, but the Solientells were the best lawyers in the land, they were close with most great noble houses. “Their demons all but destroyed their entire family, and how can a man from the Icepass represent the interests of the crown on this new city?”
“Lord Borelis might have been born in the New Lands your majesty, but he is as loyal as any man born in Arizia, I assure you.” Tolus defended. “And as far as his family’s past is concerned Borelis is not such a man. He has single-handedly raised his family from the doom they caused themselves. He is now the richest man in the New Lands, perhaps even the entire known world. There exists no better man for the task, you Grace.” Tolus continued before reclining back in his chair taking a sip of wine. “As for the representation of your interests… there are other ways that can be assured.”
“And how is that?” asked the King.
“You could perhaps send a member of your royal family to the colony, your Grace,” proposed Tolus.
The King burst into a roaring laughter; so violent he nearly spit out his wine. “Are you mad?” The King managed to ask in between laughter. “Why would I ever send one of my children to a flooded swampland filled with pirates and conniving merchants?” laughed the King.
“You wouldn’t need to send them right away your majesty.” Tolus began to explain; he remained just as calm and stoic as he has always been, not allowing his expression to give anything away.
“Having a member of the royal family in Zaphirose would not only guarantee that your interests are taken care of, but it would also show the people and the rest of the world that the crown whole heartedly supports the colony’s new capital city. Imagine the inspiration this would bring for the settlers of not only Zaphirose, but the entire colony of Nu-Arizia, that the King believes in it enough to send one of his own royal children.” Tolus continued. “Your child would not even have to set sail to Nu-Arizia for at least two years, until most of the structures have been built and the system set in place.”
It wasn’t an entirely terrible idea thought the King. Neither of the other two kingdoms had sent anyone of royal blood to the colonies, he would be the first King to fully commit to expanding his empire. In two years his children would be old enough to do their duty, and a true royal does whatever is required for the good of the realm. He had four children anyway; sending one to the colony would not create much vacancy for him here. But Letitzia would never allow it. She loved those children more than anything, and Maurice loved her more than anything. He hated upsetting her, she was the most important person in the world to him, and he was unsure there was anything he’d put before her. Maurice knew that was not right. Surely The God and the realm should be more important, but he could not help it. He loved her, rare as that is, he really, truly loved his wife.
“Alright, you’ve given me much to consider Tolus. Of course, I have to think about this properly as well as consult with the Queen and the rest of the roundtable.” The King stated.
“Of course your majesty, I understand completely. This is a great decision. Though I must insist that it be a quick one, before the city falls to irreparable chaos.” Tolus responded.
“Very well,” the King said. He felt the need to tell Tolus about his dreams. After all, he was the only one who knew what happened. The King had trusted him with this secret and the atrocities it required. That’s when Maurice truly knew how deep Tolus’ loyalty went. “There’s something else,” began the King.
“Yes your Grace, what do you need me to do?” asked Tolus.
“Nothing, I just need to confide in you once more, my good friend,” the King continued as Tolus gave him a warm smile and calmly bowed his head, giving the King his reassurance. “The dreams I told you about are getting worse. I cannot sleep without seeing her. I dream of her showing up at my chamber’s door, her stomach bloody. Laying a wrapped, bloody blanket at my feet. I’ve never been able to look inside it, but I hear its cries…” the King said, almost in tears. He took a big gulp of wine.
“It’s just a dream my King. Nothing more.” Tolus responded.
“The worst part is that if I had to choose again, I’d choose the same,” the King admitted. “That’s how much I love my wife, Tolus. I would rather kill an unborn child than to upset her with news of my betrayal.” The King looked down at his cup. “Even now, the thing that troubles me the most is worrying she might find out…”
“She will never know, your Grace,” Tolus stated rapidly. “ The only ones who knew were the two of us and the whore. I would never betray your trust, and she rests peacefully at the bottom of the Palarie Ocean. It was not easy. Honestly, it gives me night terrors as well, but its better this way,” Tolus assured him.
“You’re sure she’s dead?” Maurice asked. He knew the answer. It had been fourteen years. If the whore were not dead surely her or the child would have appeared by now. Terrible as it was there was no doubt in Maurice’s mind that if they came to him again he’d drive his sword through them right then. The Queen could never know he betrayed her and lay with another. He had promised her he would not be that kind of man to her. But when she had trouble getting pregnant he lost himself and fell to his demons. His wife came from from the independent kingdom of Sargoza, the Holy Land of The God, the woman was practically an angel, and he betrayed her. He’d been so upset that when Tolus told him the whore was pregnant he didn’t even go to see her. He just ordered Tolus to get rid of both of them, permanently. But lately Maurice had found himself wondering about the child, and whether The God would ever forgive him.
“Yes your Grace, I tied the rocks to her feet and threw her overboard myself. ” Tolus responded with a tremble in his voice. Maurice knew speaking of this was difficult for Tolus. After all, it was him who had to kill the whore and her unborn child. “Was it a boy or a girl?” The King heard himself ask, surprising not only Tolus but himself as well. He had never wanted to know. Better just to forget he thought. “I don’t know, your Grace. The babe was still in her belly when the water consumed them both” Tolus admitted.
The King could see the pain in his eyes. “I want you to know how grateful I am to The God that he brought you to me Tolus. There has never been a more loyal man than yourself,” the King said proudly. He loved Tolus, he was his oldest friend.
“I wish I deserved such admiration, your majesty,” Tolus responded humbly.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You were just doing your duty and following my orders,” the King assured him as he stood from his chair, finishing the last of his wine. Maurice knew that was the truth. Tolus even begged him not to do it, but the King had insisted. Tolus might have pushed her overboard, but it was Maurice The God would punish. “I must be going now. It’s late and I must speak to the Queen tonight. Convene the roundtable early in the morrow. We will hear their thoughts then.”
“Yes your Grace, I hope you manage some rest tonight, and may The Eye of The God watch over you.” Tolus responded as he rose from his chair.
“You as well,” Maurice responded.