The look of concern marred the handsome man’s face looking into the mirror. He pulled kid leather gloves over manicured hands with slow deliberation, like a man going to his execution. Done, and with nothing left to finish his ensemble, he sighed looking in the mirror. Absently he adjusted the gold circlet sitting on his brown-haired head.
Alone in the richly appointed room he paused anew, looking around as if taking in every sight, fixing them into his mind. Then squaring his shoulders the man wearing a sky blue surcoat with golden eagle device prominently in the center walked out the door of his private chamber.
Criosd Pherein, king of Carnelian, was met by his newly appointed High Steward, Alline, along with several bodyguards.
Sensing the uneasiness of his sovereign the silver-haired man spoke to calm his conscience. “All is in harmony Your Majesty. You have nothing to fear on your time away. The Council is in order and the Kingdom well served by the nobles who will remain.”
“One year,” the solidly-built ruler replied instead. “I will return with the army in one year after our time of exploration.”
The idea for the quest seemed wise at first, but in reality had been more whimsical. Peace had reigned in the twelve kingdoms that made up the Confederation of the Shires for years. So an expedition to explore what lay beyond the Great Sea to the east had seemed a good idea. It was an opportunity to not only look for areas of expansion but also a chance for many of the younger nobles and the armies of the land to be put into service. The idleness of the past years had made many restless so the proposed adventure had been met with great enthusiasm.
Several months of preparation brought the idea to reality. Now the force from Carnelian, the largest and most prosperous of the shires, was set to sail and rendezvous with the others.
With Criosd Pherein leading the expedition one by one the kings of the other shires backed away from going. Each had a seemingly legitimate reason for not going. One had a sudden illness, another the impending wedding of a child. A leeriness to leave their kingdom seemed to be the underlying reason behind the sudden busyness.
In the end, only Criosd Pherein was left to lead the quest along with a party of ambitious substitute nobles from each of the kingdoms. The king of Carnelian would command although he too had become increasingly wary of leaving. But the die was cast. Duty would not allow him to take the easy course his peers had chosen. Honor dictated he see this through to the end.
“Where is the queen?” Criosd Pherein asked, trying to distract himself from the heavy spirit that enveloped him like a wet blanket.
“I believe in the private garden Your Majesty,” Alline answered avoiding eye contact. The steward knew of the tension between the ruling couple over his departure.
The queen had not taken the news of his departure well. Already strained, this took their relationship to the breaking point. Criosd Pherein had half expected her to be absent from the castle when he departed.
Going out a guarded door into the walled garden the king saw his wife. She was more brilliant looking than the sunny spring morning. Wearing a blue silk gown that showed her appealing figure the gold thread woven throughout caught the light of the day.
The benign look on the face of Queen Refinnej did nothing to mask the fire in her eyes. Though appearing calm it was obvious the moment of parting would not be a pleasant one for the king.
“I’ve come to say goodbye,” Criosd Pherein said quietly.
“I pray your journey is successful husband,” Refinnej replied without emotion.
Criosd Pherein was stung by the seeming lack of care. He fought to keep his irritation in check. “The year will go by quickly then all will be back to normal.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” the queen responded, returning to her gardening.
The king gave up, resigning himself to his fate. He looked around, hoping for a spark of feeling from elsewhere.
“Where’s Rebekah?” he asked. “I’d expected she would be with you.”
“I’m not certain,” Refinnej replied, sensing that she had gone too far in her comments. She knew her husband had little choice in the matter so seeing the strained expression on his face caused guilt to well up like bile. The fact his beloved daughter was absent only made it worse.
“She went riding this morning but hasn’t returned,” the woman reported.
The look of hurt on Criosd Pherein’s face momentarily disarmed the angry woman. But her own injured pride at being disregarded in this whole matter would not allow the queen to offer any comfort to the man. Sensing this he shrugged his shoulders and opened his mouth to speak.
Awkwardly, Alline interjected into the scene. “Begging your pardon Your Majesty, but you must be leaving soon or you will miss the tide.”
The moment was lost.
Criosd Pherein took the hand of his wife, kissed it stiffly then walked away.
For a moment Refinnej considered running after her husband. Part of her wanted to, to tell him she loved him and understood. But a bruised ego overrode compassion. From a noble family in Carnelian, Refinnej had been thrilled when she had been chosen to marry the young prince who was heir to the throne. Their courtship was a whirlwind of activity with public appearances throughout the kingdom before a fairy tale wedding.
Most special to her was that throughout the whole process the young man and woman had found time to fall in love. In their private times and especially after their marriage the two had grown in intimacy. It was an ideal life for the woman.
Then the king died.
Her husband, the dashing prince, became the king of a powerful, demanding kingdom and life slowly began to change. A daughter, the Princess Rebekah, did nothing to change the drift that was happening in their relationship. While he’d been an attentive father he was also greatly in demand as an increasingly beloved sovereign over the land.
The fairy tale turned into a sad story of reality for the now queen of Carnelian. Another darker chapter began the day her husband told her he would be leading an expedition across the Great Sea. That was bad enough, but to be informed it was to last at least a year was the last straw. The quest became a flashpoint for the bitterness and disappointment that had grown within the woman.
But she still loved her husband, deeply. She wondered where they would be a year from now. Little did she know it would become much longer and the strain even greater.
Walking to the docks, the king filled the time reviewing orders and protocols for the time he would be away in an attempt to eliminate the void of joy he felt. He was met partway by a tall, athletically-built noble with flowing blond hair.
“All is prepared my king for our departure. We had some trouble finding proper berths for the horses from your guard but it’s been sorted out.”
“Thank you Lord Absalom,” Criosd Pherein replied absently, “I knew I could count on you to ensure everything.”
The young nobleman looked at the king then to the high steward beside him. Alline shook his head slightly as if saying to the man to ask nothing about the king’s mood.
The sight at the dock did little to encourage Criosd Pherein either.
Ahriman, another of the Royal Advisors of Carnelian, waited. He had been none too pleased when Alline was chosen to be high steward in the King’s absence. Surly at the best of times, the dark featured man had made his displeasure known. He became moody at best and defiant at worst since then.
Standing beside the brooding advisor was another handsome young man. A younger version of Criosd Pherein, he was wearing armor bearing the golden eagle device of royalty in Carnelian. Prince Adonijah, nephew of the king, had assumed he would join the company that was going on the expedition. When the prince found out he was being left behind to finish his education and training the teenager had bitterly protested. The king would not relent so the relationship between the pair had become strained.
The prince’s attractive face was marred by a bitter look. Before the king could say anything, Adonijah spoke. “I don’t know why I can’t come along uncle. It seems terribly unfair that others my own age get in on the sport and I’m left back here.”
“We’ve gone over this before Adonijah,” Criosd Pherein replied, unsuccessfully suppressing a sigh. You haven’t finished your training.” Then trying to put a favorable spin added, “Besides, your voice is needed at court to represent the kingdom.”
The prince glared at Alline. “Yes, but only in concert with the High Steward,” he retorted.
His heavy silk cloak flaring as he turned, the youth wheeled and stormed away.
“Ah, the passions of youth,” Ahriman stated lightly. “Do not worry Your Majesty. The boy will come to understand the wisdom of your decision. The land is in good hands,” the royal advisor stated confidently. “The High Steward, remaining nobles and I will ensure all is well. Besides, a year is not that long a time. You’ll see how he will mature. You have made the right decision. Yes, all will be well.”
Criosd Pherein couldn’t help but stare at his formerly surly advisor. The man made no mention of his hurt at not being chosen. Instead, he’d shown himself to be useful in preparing the contingent to leave. Looking about he could see that all the final preparations the advisor had been given were accomplished faster than scheduled. For the first time in many days the king began to feel more comfortable about what he was doing.
“Thank you Ahriman for all you’ve done. I know you were disappointed by not being chosen high steward. I appreciate your assistance this past week and your willingness to serve where asked. I won’t forget what you’ve done when I get back.”
“My only desire is to serve you my king, as I served your father before you,” the advisor declared giving a low, elegant bow.
The sight of the captain of the ship bearing the king’s banner pacing nervously about the bridge brought the conversation to an end. Shaking hands with each of the men who were staying behind to look after the kingdom Criosd Pherein left with Lord Absalom and his bodyguard.
The tethered ships in the convoy were untied. Sails dropped, catching the blowing wind allowing them to move from their berths. Soon the ships were sailing down the River Halcyon to rendezvous with those of the other kingdoms from the Confederation of the Shires.
With the ships gone, dockworkers went about their business leaving Alline and Ahriman alone watching the ships head for the horizon.
“Well, let us see what the year brings,” the high steward commented.
“Indeed,” Ahriman responded, “I’m sure it will be most profitable.”
The sound of galloping hoof beats echoed through the morning air. Purple cloak straining to free itself in her wake Princess Rebekah rode as hard as she could, far outstripping her escort. The young royal’s retainers and guards were unable to keep up with what was reputed to be the swiftest horse in the kingdom if not the whole Confederation.
The impetuous teenager had strayed farther then she’d expected on her morning ride and self-absorbed by her own struggles lost track of time. When the hour and distance from the capital had been pointed out to her she desperately tried to get back to the royal castle. Despite the advanced hour Rebekah was certain she could still make it in time to say goodbye to her beloved father. But nearing the capital city of Ammon Ramlah the sight greeting her caused the princess’ heart to sink. Cresting a hill still far from the capital she saw in the distance the pennants of the ship carrying the golden eagle device of her father sailing down the river and away from her. Already it was nearly over the horizon. Hot tears filled her sky blue eyes and the teen began to sob uncontrollably.
She was too late to say goodbye to her father.