It's Only Forever

Chapter One

auau - a kert ab - kua her entet an reX - n
I am silent, I am pure, because naught do I know

Yuugi Shemnkotek was the sixteenth prince of Carni.

At fourteen years old he stood four hands shorter than his closest brother and his slender arms bore little weight for a boy in his prime. His lithe form lent itself to dance beautifully, but stumbled amateurishly in hunting and sport. The smooth alabaster of his skin refused to darken to the healthy brown of his people but burned in the sun, driving the young prince to dwell most of his life in the depths of the palace temple. Large, dark blue eyes dominated his youthful face, only magnifying the naivete and innocence his curved features projected.

Despite his small stature, he held himself with the grace of the princeling he was, his head high and his slim shoulders squared; though beneath his robes he trembled with uncertainty, he would never allow his doubts to show. He didn't wear a crown, or gold, or fine linen or even the branding tattoo of House Shemnkotek that each of his brothers wore, but he refused to be humbled to anything less than his birthright.

Yuugi was a prince with absolutely no trappings of his office, save royal dignity. With fifteen elder brothers before him, all tall, broad-shouldered and strong; his chances of ever coming to the throne were astronomically small. Although his blood would forever keep him safe from exile or death, his father was loathe to give his youngest even the smallest luxuries while he lavished gifts upon his other heirs. Syret was a hard, war-like king who desired little but territory and power; that he could sire such a pathetic, delicate, helpless creature drove all mercy from his hand.

Yuugi had learned from his earliest years to keep away from his family as best he could, spending his time instead with the priests of the Moon Goddess, Althen, listening in when they taught lessons to the noble children. His own education was sorely neglected, considered wasteful by his father, but he learned much from his eavesdropping and developed a quick ear and quicker mind.

He didn't mind his situation, in fact, he rather preferred this arrangement of being almost completely ignored. He had no love for his father and he didn't covet the crown, it had never seemed appealing to him as he watched his father's rocky reign and the greed dancing behind the king's eyes. Yuugi took his joy from his lessons and his small discoveries in the deep cellars of the temple; he had never missed being waited on or groveled to because he had never experienced it. Syret left him alone and that was the way he liked it.

He expected to pass his entire life much as he had passed his childhood, in shadow, in secret, in seclusion and loneliness... He could never have expected the summons to come when they did.

Yuugi lay against the rough, but welcome coolness of the temple stone, wondering absently what quarry such good blocks had come from as the priest, Smealh, drabbled on and on about the conquest of Syri, the newest province. He loathed these days when the priests would teach modern events rather than history. He lived only for days long passed; tales of the exotic out-lands explored by the first king Shilnobi, the discovery of the script, the divine gift from Althen... He loved script, it required so much concentration, so much precision. He could write full forty-six ana'has; his proudest accomplishment.

His most favourite thing in the world, however, was when Smealh spoke about Khm'ma'ht, the Land of the River, where men are so great the very winds bow to their will. They created the linen that the king, his father said was finest in all the wide world- and his royal father had very discerning tastes. They educate their children in the art of writing and history is taught most strictly along with maths and magic; even a girl may go to the temple and become a priestess. The traders speak of the land with trembling words, they say there is a mystical air over all parts of the kingdom; that their king is no mere man, but a genie. Yuugi longed with all his being to see it for himself, a place off the edge of the map upon the temple wall; a place where gods still walked the earth among men.

He had once gathered enough courage to ask Smealh about the trader's tales, about what the spice merchants said of their king and his magical powers. The old priest went red around the ears, damning them as corrupt and evil at the top of his voice, a knarled, outstretched finger pointing threateningly at Yuugi's chest for daring to raise such an offensive subject. They worshiped their king as a god along with countless other daemons and spirits, for this Smealh cursed them to the wrathful judgement of the Moon Goddess.

Yuugi had heard this silently, but didn't quite believe it- surely such wonderful, intelligent people who hold such powerful magics in the palms of their hands must know the true nature of the world? How could they heal broken limbs and stop wounds from becoming sickness as he had heard if they didn't have the help and blessing of Althen? It could not be so... not that he was so very convinced of the Goddesses' great powers. His own prayers had done little to help him.

The young prince sighed as his hands pulled apart a wilted lotus flower. Merlc, the spice trader's son had brought it for him as a taste of Khm'ma'ht; its scent had been divine, but it faded so quickly it made Yuugi wonder if it needed the magic inherent in its own land in order to survive. Perhaps he had not watered it fast enough.

The wistful musing was interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps, the vibrations of which Yuugi could feel in the floor beneath his sandals; his brow furrowed and he drew back behind a thick pillar as the sounds grew nearer.

A palace grunt armoured in heavy leather was mumbling impatiently to the blue-robed priest, his brimmed helm pulled low over his brow, shadowing his face. Sweat was rolling down his dark brown skin, weather beaten and sun-baked from hours of service in the Imperial forces. He looked up suddenly from the conversation, making all the children start, his fat finger pointing to the dark corner behind the column where Yuugi had hid himself. Smealh nodded solemnly and the guard moved forward.

Seeing this, Yuugi very nearly let out a strangled yelp. Only slightly more disturbing than the old priest's betrayal was the agonizing question of what purpose for which they could want him. The sickly youngest son meant nothing to the court or its proceedings and his presence was neither requested or tolerated. Yuugi could only look on in horror as the mountainous guard thundered over to his hiding place and pulled him roughly to his feet by the scruff of his neck.

"The Shah in shah calls for the prince Yuugi Cal'medire Shemnkotek, Thane of Calmi to attend his grace." The rough, rumbling voice very appropriately matched its owner's appearance and boomed into the boy's ears in something like a tidal wave of sound.

Before Yuugi could summon the courage or the wits to reply he was being bodily dragged along the corridor towards the throne room, on a collision course with the huge stone doors that required ten servants either side to open.

The doors withdrew, swiftly as if they weighed no more than so much air and the king was there before him; lounging, as always, sprawled across a bed of furs and linen pillows stuffed with down and sand. He wore an elaborate headdress of gold, feathers and precious stones that made him look ridiculously like a peacock had made a nest on his head; not that anyone would dare to laugh.

Yuugi could only stare about himself in bewilderment as he was placed roughly on his feet at the edge of this opulence, furs and linens spilling onto the sand from the king's pavilion. He had been accustomed to this room, often watching the proceedings of state from the galleries above the throne room where the lower nobility could come to gawk at the wealth of their ruler. It had been a long time, however, since he had stood so close to his father, longer still since he had met his eyes so directly and Yuugi felt his blood go cool at the cruelty in that gaze.

An ambassador leaned toward the king, speaking swiftly and in a voice so low that Yuugi, standing scant arms reaches away could not understand what was being said. The man was tall and thin, unnaturally so, his arms frail, but his grip on the walking cane he carried murderous; whatever he was telling the king was making him smile wickedly.

Syret, King of Carni was giggling, his amusement even greater and more twisted than that of the ambassador. Yuugi lowered his eyes in contempt, knowing from watching this man and his moods that only the promise of bloodshed could make him so happy.

His father's fierce gray eyes snapped over to him, glittering intensely as if challenging his son to voice his disgust, "Yuugi! Come to me, come to me, our farcical littlest prince!" Syret laughed uproariously at his own joke as the small figure slowly approached, and the look of challenge was gone as quickly as it had come. "We have finally found a use for you, most delicate, pretty child."

"If there is any way in which I may serve you, the king who is beloved by the Goddess, I will thrust my life energy into it." Defiance would be useless, he would be beaten for it and forced to complete whatever task he was to be given. Yuugi had learned only to fight the battles he needed to fight in order to survive and suffer through the rest in dignified silence. He refused to give his father the satisfaction of breaking him, if nothing else.

Syret regarded him carefully for a moment, "Yes, well, quite..." He seemed to lose himself in thought for a moment as his gaze slid over his son in disturbing detail before he shook his head (ruffling his magnificent headgear) and gesturing his ministers forward with a hand. "Explain to my son his new purpose."

"The Shah in shah wishes to possess the Land of the River for his own uses." The ambassador who had been speaking in the king's ear made two long strides toward Yuugi and loomed over him, relishing his height and glaring down at the prince with sinister countenance.

Yuugi was shocked out of complacency by the stupidity of the court in attacking Khm'ma'ht; a people who had existed in much the same way for thousands of years. They had defeated the strongest armies in the known world without even making full use of their vast resources. How could the small, poor nation of Carni hope to survive such a conflict at all, much less emerge victorious from invasion! From whence would Syret summon up his army, where would he find the wealth and food he would need- didn't he even realize that his own people would never stand with him in such a useless war?

"My royal father does not seem to-" he began in dismay, honestly unable to remain obediently silent in the face of such suicide.

A sharp crack resounded loudly through the cavern-like room, the explosion of sound of flesh meeting flesh as the ambassador slapped him hard across the cheek. "You will speak when required of you, understand?" he hissed.

He nodded, resisting the urge to paw his stinging cheek. Father, what do you think you are doing?

"You, little prince," the tall man continued, satisfied the lesson had been absorbed, "are going to aid your king in this venture."

Yuugi's already large eyes widened to perfect roundness. He? The smallest, weakest prince of a small, weak nation was going to bring about the downfall of the greatest empire in all history? The nation he would give absolutely anything to be a part of instead of this insignificant blot on the desert's surface he now called home. His father wanted him to go against everything he had ever believed in, everything that had ever given him so hope or happiness in his solitude; and do it for him; this man who made every moment of his life a living hell? It was too cruel, even for Syret...

"I have offered our friendship to the heathen king of Khm'ma'ht, and he has accepted my terms and a gift as a token of my esteem." Syret's smile was sinister and his laugh sent shivers down Yuugi's spine. "We will send the Pharaoh a bride in order to cement our 'alliance'."

"When he discovers our insult he will be so offended he will attack immediately." The ambassador continued sardonically, his eyes alight with malicious anticipation..

"The commoners cannot deny the need for defense and they cannot deny the need for punishment that Khm'ma'ht would attack unprovoked!" The king struggled for breath as he laughed, clutching his pillows and his finery. "They will stand up gladly to give their lives for the defense of their country against outsiders!"

They had explained little of their actual plan, but to Yuugi, tiny in the wake of their vast plan and their sick hilarity, it was all so repulsively clear.