Ten Years Earlier
Seventeen-year-old Arthur Mandegar bent the knee before his king. As he rose, draped in pride, he found the curious gaze of Prince Resolut staring back at him from his seated position. And behind the prince, King Barasa Crow Dumisani stood behind his palatial desk, glaring at his son.
“Apologies for the stoic stares and tension in the air, Arthur. My son and I were at odds on the matter of this Cathedral Eclipse. A costly endeavor I’m sure we’ll never see to completion. How sad it is, isn’t it?” the king continued to stare Resolut down. “Didn’t I tell you to stop before you got too far? I can’t wait to meditate in an unfinished cathedral and get rained on because there is no roof!”
While Barasa Crow laughed; the prince remained silent.
“Son, let me introduce you to a future King, Arthur Mandegar, with talents impossible for even you to achieve. Perhaps instead of fooling about with hammer and nail, you may do better to focus on a more fruitful future. One that involves leadership. Or Arthur here will be happy to take the role, I’m certain.”
Barasa Crow beamed, looking his young protege over.
“I am more than grateful for your praise. Thank you, my king,” Arthur said, smiling from ear to ear.
Resolut snorted and the king’s eye turned a rich amber red. The lethal eye. Arthur heard a rumor that the redder it became, the more ruthless his mood grew. He had studied the king’s abilities closely to prepare for his internship, well aware of the challenges he would face.
“I’m glad you’re here,” his red eye flit to Resolut and back to Arthur. It fades as his anger subsides. “You could show my fifteen year old a thing or two about managing finances. It seems our little architect didn’t balance the books correctly. Now he doesn’t have enough funding to complete the roof.”
Arthur inhaled and exhaled. A look of grave concern swept his face. His lips extend outward in a small, pinched pout and his head bobbed up and down listening on.
“I don’t balance any books – that’s what the project manager is for, the accountants,” Resolut bit back. “I just got a shitty one at that.”
“All responsibility lies with you. It’s your endeavor, son. Take responsibility for the inadequate hire, suck up your losses and move on. You know you don’t want to finish it. I can have what you built so far demolished if you like?”
“I’m done here,” Resolut said. “Good Luck.” He muttered to Arthur and rose.
“Go. Get out. I’m tired of seeing your face anyway, it’s enough you’re in here begging for money.”
“I wasn’t begging for money I was asking for advice. If you had listened—”
“If you were listening, you’d have left by now with the advice I just gave. Now that I see you’re as dim-witted as I thought, you will remain here and learn something.”
Crow looked at Arthur. “If things continue to spiral for my son, you may very well be the next king.”
Resolut rolled his eyes and sighed, uninterested, “great, can I go now?”
“No. You are going to remain here and see a living example of a genuine leader, other than myself.”
Resolut huffed and slumped back into his seat.
“Incredible. Some son I got here,” Crow scoffed. “Kids. Now Arthur, I understand you’re to attend Intelligentsia with a focus in political sciences?” He chuckled. “It’s not too late to turn back. Politics of Aeterna is one of the most difficult things to undertake. The world will watch you, every move you make, and judge you for it. They will knock you down further when you’re already six feet in the ground. Are you prepared to embrace a life like that?”
“Yes, I am,” Arthur remarked proudly. He looked over to Resolut, who lounged with his eyes closed.
“Well, I know you’ll fare well in the rough and tumble word of politics,” Crow smiled. “Once you graduate come straight to House Aeterna and there will be a position for you, one you’re more than worthy of.”
“Worthy of?” Resolut woke up, “and what would that be?”
“Let’s talk about worthiness, shall we? Arthur is the youngest student to enter Intelligentsia. He registered the highest intelligence quotient known, just a smidge above my own. And what was your score, Resolut? Oh. I remember, you didn’t take it yet. Just like your grandfather, slow to do everything.”
“That’s an excellent comparison, thank you. If you check crown records, you’d find grandfather shared a similar perspective on the matter. He knew there was no test written by another that could define a person, and I agree.”
“No, let’s talk more about grandfather, murdered by his own blood, murdered by you. No wonder mother left.”
Crow already had the granite pyramid shaped paperweight in his palm. Once the prince’s words sank in, he hurled it in anger. It hit Resolut square in the eye. He didn’t flinch. Instead, he smirked and resumed his sleeping position. Arthur wondered what his caramel complexion would look like once the bruises appeared. I hope I never upset him so, Arthur thought.
“God forbid you’re ever an advisor to this sack of shit, Arthur. Resolut isn’t as smart as you, but if you don’t watch out, he will take what should be yours. Behold the killer that sits beside you, just like his grandfather, a curse,” he turned back to Arthur. “Congratulations on your achievements. I’m happy to have you intern with us this summer and look forward to your work.”
“Thank you,” Arthur smiled.
Arthur fiddled with his Intelligentsia class ring, easy to spin around his finger after his unexpected drop in weight.
The stress of being the king’s advisor and the burden of running a country weighed him down, and the allegations made against him by crown secretary Abigail Sweet only added fuel to the fire.
The king’s voice echoed in Arthur’s head while he watched Abigail’s salacious interview. Tall tales of scandal spilled from her full lips: He’s the jealous type… vengeful… took liberties… abuse… bestiality… she said without remorse. Who got to you? Who put you to this lie? Arthur pondered.
Kill him… Kill him…
When photographs of a golden-haired puppy were mentioned, Arthur hurled the remote at the television while Winter Velia, off-and-on friend, watched on.
“I want to know if you’re telling the truth. I want to know everything that happened, may have happened, almost happened, and didn’t happen.” Winter began.
“NOTHING HAPPENED!” Arthur yelled; his hands waved around in the air. “I’m sorry for yelling, I’m dedicated to my work; I do not have time nor the desire for anyone or anything else unless it’s pre-scheduled. I’m lucky enough to have free time I reserve for sleep, which I only get about 5 to 6 hours of, mind you, not enough.”
“Who do you love?”
“What? What do you mean, who do I love? Is that a trick? I just told you I’m busy.”
“Who… Do… You… Love? Here, in this castle. I always wondered how a no name like you rose to such a prestigious position. You must have some close ties here, someone who may want something… from you?”
“No name? Are you suggesting I do not belong here?”
“You don’t. It should’ve been my father advising the king, but I can let some errors pass,” Winter smiled. “Regardless, you’re my friend, that’s why I reached out as soon as I heard; I want to help you.”
“I appreciate it. You haven’t changed, Winter Velia. I’m grateful for a friend like you. I’m serious though, I don’t love anyone here. I—I may have… asked a girl or two out from time to time but I had a messenger sent to arrange it. They were both rejected so in those particular instances there was never any face to face contact or physical action with them.”
“Stop. Stop right there. If you know you did nothing wrong, do not mention the words physical or action. Since you said that, I’m picturing you meeting with these women face to face and engaging in physical action. If it doesn’t exist, it shouldn’t be in your vocabulary. Paint the picture of yourself you want the public to see.”
“Got it,” Arthur sighed; he ran his hands down his face, exhausted. “This is all so confusing. Why me? What did I do? I’m the youngest advisor to the king. Should women attack me for no reason because of that? No!”
“Why Abigail Sweet though, what’s your relationship been like with her? She doesn’t seem like she’d be interested in a person like you.”
Arthur grumbled under his breath, “uh, I don’t know, I don’t know her, Winter.”
Winter scowled, “why the seriousness with that answer, and why did you use my name just now?”
“Because I’m addressing you?”
“You’re lying, don’t lie to me Arthur, I can tell by how upset you’re becoming; the truth should set you free, not bind you down. If I’m going to help you, I need to know what happened in order to defeat the enemy, the source of this big lie. What happened with you and Miss Sweet?”
“Ugh, damnit. DAMNIT!” Arthur leaped from his seat with clasped hands, shaking his head in visible frustration. “I don’t even know how I can say this… I think this has to do with, uh—someone asked me to do the unconscionable.”
“Yes or no, does this unconscionable request involve Abigail Sweet?”
He hung his head, “no, someone else.”
“Keep that head up,” Winter slid her long finger under Arthur’s chin, forcing it up with her pointed red nail. “Did you do anything egregious with anyone?”
“Good. I’ll have my team investigate her claims more and counter them one by one. And don’t worry about the puppy, it’s obvious it’s a fake. What you need is a good old-fashioned distraction to shoo this all away. I can come up with something. In the meantime, bare your soul to me, Arthur Mandegar, let me slither around inside for the truth.”
Arthur gazed out a large circular window overlooking the sprawling castle grounds when crown attendant Edward Drake entered the room. He passed the advisor a slip of paper.
“Is he lucid?” Arthur asked, ripping the note to pieces.
“Yes sir,” Drake said.
KILL HIM! Arthur squeezed his eyes shut; he shook his head, but the voices remained. “Alright. I’m ready. Winter, come with me.”
“Advisor Mandegar, I wouldn’t recommend that,” Drake said doused in concern, walking alongside them both. “The king is not well—”
Winter pulled Arthur’s arm, sweeping past Drake. Arthur looked back at him. “So sorry, Drake. We’re all friends here, well, I thought. It appears I need to be accompanied by a witness to prevent any other shameful tales against me!”
Winter pulled his arm harder ahead. Drake rushed in front of them both, looking back every so often to ensure he remained ahead to reach the king’s chambers first and introduce them. The king didn’t like when his staff skipped introductions. The last time someone came in unannounced, the king sent the offender and Drake to a seclusion cell for nine days, although it was Arthur’s error.
“Your Grace, I have Advisor Mandegar and Miss Winter Velia.”
They found King Barasa Crow seated behind his desk, a first since he had been bedridden for so long. He was haggard and tense, struggling with a handkerchief he held to his mouth, cursed with a coughing spell. Mid-bow, Arthur noticed a red stain as Crow threw the cloth away.
“Velia? Are you… September’s child?” Crow asked with squinted eyes.
“In human flesh. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Winter smiled.
“Not mine.” Crow coughed more. Winter backed away, covering her mouth and nose. “Are you trying to insult me, bringing this… this thing into my home, Arthur?
“Crow, I—” he stumbled over his words.
“They’re all around me now, enemies. This is it; this is when they said death would meet me. I knew a long time ago the only way out was a blood sacrifice and you couldn’t even help with that, even after the Abigail pressure.” In the corner of Arthur’s eye, he saw Winter back away further, blending into the shadows of the room, and realized he was on his own.
Crow continued, “I told you to kill him. Now look what you’ve done, our country will fall to ruin because of your weakness. My advisor, I loved you like the son I never had. Didn’t I teach you everything you know now? DIDN’T I?” Arthur said nothing. “Hmm. Silent. I should’ve known—your type is weak. You talk a lot, so much bravado until responsibility comes your way and you hunker down into silence.”
Arthur hung his head. Somewhere in the distance, he knew it upset Winter and put his head back up.
“Yeah—can’t answer that, huh? I thought paying that woman to say what she did would be enough to toughen you up a little and handle Resolut. You failed me. My advisor.”
Crow flung a magazine across the room, hitting Arthur in the face. A sliver of red crawled down his cheek from the fresh paper cut. He’s motionless, stoic, his brown eyes locked on the carpet fibers.
“Make preparations to have it done, as I’ve laid out here,” he taps a file on his desk. “I want to see every second of his death.”
Kill him… Arthur failed to move.
“Did you hear me? This is your last chance. Kill him, take the file,” he stumbled over to Arthur. An ugly glob of excessive fat, a gigantic, deflated ball. He didn’t make it far, and began to drag himself across the room. “You …fail me again?” He sneered, growling and coughing. Arthur’s red faced but maintained his stoic stance.
“I will not carry out the order to kill the prince. If you insist on his death… you do it.” The words seemed unreal, as if someone else had spoken up on his behalf.
“FIRED! Get him out! GET OUT! GET OUT!” Crow screamed. Edward Drake and several crown guards poured in. Arthur faced them, his hands raised high and palms open, reflecting his innocence. The guards rushed to help the king.
“KILL HIM! KILL HIM! CURSED! HE’S CURSED!” he fell to the floor and crawled to Arthur. One guard grabbed his leg.
“HE NEEDS TO DIE! DO IT!”
Crow slapped the floor with his hand. In his other, Arthur noticed a dagger. The guard dropped his grip when Crow rolled around, flashing the weapon, his lethal eye aglow.
“Stop him!” Arthur backed away. He turned and noticed Winter’s glowing glasses from a shadowed corner.
More guards step in, nervous to restrain the king again. He lurched forward, clutching at his chest. His eyes fade from red to black. He fell to the marble floor with a mighty flop. Crimson liquid trickles from his mouth, and excrement pooled beneath him, stretching across the floor. Drake touched his flabby neck while everyone held their breath, waiting.
“The king is dead!” Drake’s eyes flit from Arthur to the crown guards. “Recall Prince Resolut!”
The guards nod in agreement. Winter emerged from the shadows; her glasses normal again.
“Congratulations, Arthur, this distraction will do,” Winter smirked.
“When Resolut becomes King, there’s no way he’ll keep me on as his advisor.”
“He may not but at least we’ll be able to clear your name,” she points to her glasses. “I captured it all.”
“You didn’t do…?”
“Within castle walls, surrounded and without my personal guard? Of course not. You’re a special fool, aren’t you?” Winter scoffed.
A grim-faced Drake returned, leaning into Arthur’s ear. He clasped his eyes shut when Drake pulled away and went back into the crowd of grim, important, concerned people surrounding the room.
“What is it?” Winter asked.
“Armed Forces just informed us of the prince’s disappearance,” Arthur whispered. “Something went wrong with a mission he was on.”
“What mission? We’re in peacetime… Wait, so what does that mean, you’re not… wait, are you in charge?”
He turned to her, “I need you… I can’t do this alone.”
Winter smiled, “I’m here to help.”