The Audaxi Chronicles: Chapter 6
Althea stands there, with the Highland King, the ruler of the Lands and the son of the man who destroyed her people and instilled hate between the Highlanders and the Vaga. A part of her cannot believe she truly just asked him to end the hate, an extreme request, but in answer to an extreme favor.
He pauses, thinking intently, and then he says, “That is a mighty request. One which cannot be repaired with a simple word from me. The issue is…complex.”
Complex is an understatement, she can’t help but think. But he’s not wrong; even asking the Highland King himself wouldn’t erase the years of struggle and the history of pain on both sides.
“However,” he continues, looking past Althea with something new in his voice, “there might be something I could do. But terms of state take time and thought, much of which I do not have tonight.”
And suddenly, he looks weary again, the King of Highland shrugged off of his shoulders and concerned father revealed underneath.
They take another long moment, watching as the lights of the city begin to fade away, with the early nighttime growing into the deep, thick night, the nightlife and the late-night workers slipping into sleep. A surprisingly comfortable silence emerging, Althea wonders about the man standing next to her. Not the King of Highlands, she’d heard that story enough already, but Ri Sagar and what his story could possibly be. The son of Rinn the Conqueror, the progeny of the Destroyer, the Storm of the West.
“Sorry.” She suddenly blurts out. It takes her a full minute to figure out why she said that. “I probably should have bowed…or something. I’m not usually in the vicinity of those of noble birth.”
She laughs again, lightly and awkwardly and anything to fill the silence. Luckily, the king laughs with her.
“Many won’t agree, but sometimes it is good to have someone be informal, even if it might be disrespectful.” His eyes sparkle at her. “Modesty is a virtue, especially for those royal.”
Then, a shadow passes over his face, and his eyebrows furrow a little. “Plus, it is not surprising. I can hardly claim to be your king, and I wouldn’t expect someone to bend a knee to someone else’s royal.”
Whatever they say, their conversation circles its way back to the thick ditch between their bloodlines, the chasm between their peoples.
The king seems to notice the same, as he turns the conversation toward lighter waters. His eyes turn wistful, like he’s not looking directly at her, like he’s gazing into the past. “When Nolyn was little, maybe ten or eleven years, before he had begun fighting, before he had even picked the soldiers for his Audaxi, his personal band that are the guards of the Lands, he got it into his head that he would be the next Rinn the Conqueror. So, he stole a battle axe from the vaults–no ordinary battle axe, mind you, a gorgeous thing with jewels and gold and all–and he tried to sneak over the castle wall.”
Althea isn’t really sure where he’s going with this, but she appreciates the change of tone.
“So.” The king gives a whisper of a laugh, one that’s frightened to enter the world. “My son, the prince of the Highlands, decides that the best route over the castle wall is to climb a nearby tree and jump onto it. Here he is, future ruler of the Lands, up at the top of a stringy pine tree with a heavy battle axe strapped crudely across his back. Only, he apparently couldn’t tell that the tree was much further from the wall than he thought, probably about ten feet away.”
The king reaches out and opens the glass window before them, pushing the small metal handle out into the night air. Buzzing of crickets float lazily through the open window, late summer loudly announcing its presence.
“Well, what did he do?” Althea asks, trying to picture the patient she just tended to as a young boy stuck in a tree.
A wry smile creeps up onto the king’s features. “He did what every young boy would. He jumped.”
Althea gasps, as a good audience should.
“He jumped, and that was the scariest moment of my life. We had all been below the tree at that point, you see, and just seeing him, leaping through the air with that axe, hanging in the sky, terrified me.” He pauses for a sigh. “He was fine, of course. He somehow jumped that gap and latched onto the wall, clambering up. Nolyn seeks danger, but he’s always so lucky. Luckier than he knows.”
At that, he flashes her a little look, a little smile. Something about the look on his face makes her laugh, light and soft, but it still seems to echo through the castle halls. The king chuckles along with her, and time seems to halt in that moment, the Highland King and the Enchantress, looking out at the city and into the past.
They stand there for the better part of an hour, the king telling stories of his son and Althea sharing some of the Vaga children. The Highland King slowly seems to relax, and Althea cannot help but become determined to make him laugh.
She gets close, after telling a particularly unfortunate story of a Vaga boy who began feeding some bear cubs when they were in the Yuo Forest up north, near the edge of the map. Needless to say, the mother bear did not take happily to the Vaga camp in response.
The king chuckles at that, but just then, a loud clanging from behind them interrupts.
Looking around, they see the door to the prince’s room had been thrown open. Stumbling out the door is the prince himself, pale as freshly fallen snow and sweating profusely, wearing a simple white shirt and brown slacks. Galen trails behind him, a look of painful and obvious confusion and stress apparent on his face.
“Father!” Prince Nolyn blurts out, stumbling down the hallway toward them. The king rushes forward, catching the prince by his left arm before he can fall to the ground.
“Nolyn, Nolyn.” The king’s voice is soft, reassuring, dripping with fatherly love. “You shouldn’t be up yet.”
Althea’s eyes widen, and she steps forward to the king’s side. “You really shouldn’t be up yet.”
She locks eyes with the prince’s. His green eyes pop out of his white face, along with his tussled, rich auburn hair. She can see, now that he’s standing and she’s looking outside of him instead of inside, he’s about her year, maybe a year older. His eyes narrow.
“Why is there a vagarinn here?” The question lands in the middle of the hallway, spite and vile weighing it down like a stone in water.
A pit forms in Althea’s stomach, one that she didn’t realize was waiting to open up. She had been expecting this, but she had allowed herself to relax and become comfortable.
Her jaw clenches. The king and Galen avert their eyes from the Enchantress, avoiding the offensive name the future Highland king just threw at her. Something in her breaks a little, and she knows she’ll regret this.
Rolling her eyes, she steps up to him. “Ah, well, this vagarinn just saved your life, so a little respect would be nice.”
Galen visibly tenses, and Nolyn opens his mouth in aghast anger. “What did you just say to me, you little…”
“I said,” she says, “I saved your life. In fact, I brought you back to life.”
He whips his head to his left to the king on his arm, still looking terrible and angry. “What the hell? What is that talking about?”
She blinks incredulously at that, but the king responds before she can. “You were dead, Nolyn. We…we were desperate. The Enchantress was the only one who could help you.”
Where his wound is, Althea can see a patch of red bleed through on his shirt, dampening with each second. She steps forward, leaning down to inspect the wound, and the prince pulls away, instinctively, as though her touch would burn him.
That just makes her grab him by the waist and pull him to her, so she can see the wound. Luckily, it seems that he simply reopened it in the process of standing and walking and all. As she inspects it, she vaguely hears the prince protesting and arguing with his father.
Interrupting whatever the prince was complaining about a few seconds later, Althea finishes her inspection and says, “Alright, you need to lie back down. For at least a week, until this closes.”
“I am your prince!” Now he sounds like a petulant child, trying to sound forceful and powerful, but his feverish look really diminishes his intimidation. “I do not take orders! Especially from Vaga scum like you!”
Anger rises like bile in her throat. She can’t help but realize that no one probably ever disagrees with him. Surrounded by subjects who he rules over and nobles who are eager to please and soldiers who are under his command, no one must ever challenge him. Shame that’s about to end.
“Scum?” She says, unable to help sounding exasperated. “Was I scum when I restarted your heart? Was I scum when I drew out the poison from your blood? Was I scum when…”
“Wait.” The king’s voice interrupts, soft and tired but with natural command. “Poison?”
Everything quiets suddenly, even the prince, though his face still betrays anger. Althea bites her lower lip, realizing her mistake.
“Did I not tell you?” She says. “This wasn’t a hunting accident. This was an assassination attempt.”
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