Author's Note: A shorter chapter, this time. I didn't foresee this chapter at first, but I wanted to go a bit more into Vayne's complicated thought process, the way he thinks as he works through his daily life as a busy Prince even at the age of sixteen...so here we are.

FOUR
THE PRINCE

Even as a prince, Vayne knew perfectly well that the times he could actually claim as his own were few. His duties as prince kept him from being idle, and Vayne was left with little time to brood. He would wake, report to his own Imperial office, an unnecessarily spacious and luxurious office designed to bring as much comfort as possible without sacrificing practicality, and do his set of paperworks and routines, respond to the forms and formalities that must be obeyed. The tedious tasks would catch up with him until noon, where he would then permit himself to indulge in lunch. Vayne knew that he had much work he had to do, yet risking his health for such was not the way to go. The Empire needed a strong, healthy Prince at the reins. So he knew better than to skim lunch or cut down on sleep. Nutrition and rests were important.

There was some time that he could claim to himself shortly after lunch, before he must report to his classes, where his tutors would lecture him on the finer points of Archadian history and literature. At some point during his youth, Vayne attended a prestigious military academy reserved for the sons of high-ranking aristocrats, but by his second year in, Vayne embarrassed his instructors by learning all he could from them, and more. Considered a military genius, Vayne stood out in the military academy, and Gramis, seeing that his son could no longer be occupied by the curriculum being taught in the academy, withdrew him back to the Imperial palace, where Gramis consulted a retired general to tutor him in military strategy instead. A combat instructor was also responsible for coaching Vayne through unarmed combat as well as fencing, but the instructor had long remarked to Gramis that, had Vayne been a man and not just a boy, and with more experience, at that, Vayne could've bested any instructor years ago.

Funny what an inferiority complex could do to a man.

The studying and training went on towards the evening, before Vayne would retire for dinner, although it was likely that, at the same time, he would bring documents along with him, the tying of loose ends of the day, whether they be imperial paperwork or homework, and complete all that as he ate. With that, Vayne had the evening to himself, unless there was some formal occasion he had to attend, or unless the day's work had been extremely extravagent.

The daily chores of being an Archadian Prince, Vayne thought to himself with some humor.

Vayne was not exactly at all surprised when he entered his office in the morning just to find a document on his desk, stamped with the Emperor's seal, which confirmed his responsibility for the oversight position over the Ministry of Law to ensure the Empire could keep an eye over the proceedings of the Judge Magisters. Vayne would probably be considered too young for the job by the aristocrats, and there would probably be gossip in the halls of the palace soon, mumble-mumble amongst the aristocrats that Vayne had goaded his father into giving him more power, or that the Emperor wanted an imperial hand over the Ministry of Law. It was no secret, after all, that Vayne was the youngest person ever given the role to watch over the Ministry of Law, and that it was a task usually given to those not directly affiliated with the Imperial Household. The Ministry of Law was already close enough to House Solidor, too close for the comfort of the Senate or the aristocrats, and this move probably turned some heads in alarm.

Not that Vayne actually care too much about that. As he sat down in his seat and read over the document, scanned it over, he merely put it to the side and began reading the next ones. Vayne was good at reading between the lines, and he knew that the decision made by Gramis was not to hold control over the Ministry of Law, but to delegate more responsibilities upon him, to occupy his time, to rob him of his ability to brood over certain things, such as the deaths of his brothers. Vayne, in a private moment inside of his office, smiled just a bit at that, although it was far from a friendly smile; he was amused at how his father was making a veiled challenge towards him.

So obvious, Vayne thought to himself, or perhaps he purposefully wants me to know. Yank me a bit. Telling me he's watching me.

So Vayne's daily schedule encompassed not only a trip to his own Imperial Office, but also to his office at the Ministry of Law, where Vayne was received by a squad of armed Judges, which Vayne immediately identified as part of the 10th Division as soon as he saw that the man to formally receive him was the recently promoted Judge Magister Zargabaath, clad completely in armor as a silent, vigilant icon of law and justice.

Despite some differences, Vayne actually harbored a liking for the quiet, military-minded Zargabaath. Vayne had taken time, just as his father had, to study those who pledged loyalty to the Empire, to study their past, their traits, their habits, their motives, their lives, and discern details from them, to know who they are. And Vayne had a pretty keen idea on who Zargabaath was, and who Zargabaath is. A man who would forever remain loyal to the Empire, a man whose neutrality amongst the political struggles of the Empire has already made him quite a judge of repute. His loyalty lay not with any political camp, but with the Empire and the masters he served by law, which would be the Emperor, no matter who he may be. A man of honor and conscience, a man whom would lay even those aside when in pursuit of duty. Vayne knew all this, and it was precisely why he had sent for him to cover up the death of his brothers a month ago. Zargabaath knew how to do things right, and he knew how to keep a secret. They were qualities Vayne admired quite well, and it seemed that, with his excellent maneuvers to ensure that the death of Vayne's brothers remained to be an honorable death on the battlefield in the eyes of the public, Zargabaath had been rapidly promoted as the Judge Magister of the 10th Division by the personal recommendation of Emperor Gramis himself, with approval by the Senate, a move that undoubtedly raised a few alarms from aristocrats who wondered if Zargabaath was siding with House Solidor. But since his dossier proved otherwise, Zargabaath remained, and continued to be believed to be, neutral.

"Sire," Zargabaath saluted Vayne as he received the prince emerging from the Pandaemonium-class airship, official airships to the Ministry of Law and sister model to the Atomos-class transport airships used by the Archadian army, that had landed on the airdock of the Ministry of Law overlooking the Archadian metropolis, "I am Judge Magister Zargabaath of the 10th Division. We have been waiting for your arrival, Lord Vayne. Permit me to escort you to your new office."

Vayne found some humor in the fact that Zargabaath, who knew perfectly well that Vayne knew exactly who he was behind the armor, would introduce himself so formally, but Vayne knew formalities had to be obeyed, so he humored Zargabaath. "As you were," Vayne gestured to the ranks of judges in parade formation around him, then turned to Zargabaath, "Please lead the way, Judge Zargabaath."

Zargabaath freed himself from the salute as he turned, his cape billowing behind him, and began walking into the halls of the Ministry of Law with two judge escorts, clad in black armor, trailing Vayne. As they walked into the cool halls of the Ministry, as opposed to the scorching heat of Archades outside, Vayne found himself in the splendid marble halls of Archadian architecture, and was not at all surprised to see eyes around every corner, watching with curiosity as the occupants of the building studied the new sixteen-year-old who would be watching over their activities.

"All seems orderly here," Vayne remarked to Zargabaath, testing the ice in the Ministry, seeing what Zargabaath's reaction would be, and what he could discern from it.

The slight hesitance before Zargabaath's reply betrayed much to Vayne, a realization that Vayne did not show. "Yes, Milord," Zargabaath agreed as soon as he recovered from a nearly undetectable lapse, "The Ministry of Law strives to ensure the integrity of the law in the Archadian Empire."

A neutral response, Vayne thought to himself, Zargabaath wants me to know as much as he isn't willing to say out loud.

"That taxpayers waste their gil not is truly a sight to see," Vayne smiled slightly, hoping that Zargabaath would take the message as "I appreciate your work here".

A very slight nod from Zargabaath, a bob of his helmet, one that preceeded two seconds before he spoke again, told Vayne that Zargabaath did understand. "We are all we can be," Zargabaath replied. Once again, a neutral response behind both feigned and real subservience, meaning Zargabaath was watching what he said here, which also meant that the ice here was untested, and that Vayne needed to watch his step around the Ministry of Law, even if it did, informally, side with House Solidor.

Not too long afterwards, Zargabaath, not being one of many words, had wordlessly guided Vayne to his private office in the Ministry of Law. Vayne admitted that connections had done some good; the lush and luxurious office, which seemed more like a large study than anything, seemed to be too plush an accommodation for a sixteen-year-old. Vayne would have to be careful not to seem like he was flaunting power around here; the last thing he needed was to attract scorn and contempt from potential allies.

"Is the office to your liking, Sire?" Zargabaath asked after Vayne had entered and studied the space for at least ten seconds. He stood in front of the door, while the two judges acting as escorts stood outside the office. Vayne himself found himself admiring his new workspace in silent contemplation as he stood in front of his own desk.

"It will do fine, yes," Vayne nodded with approval, "Thanks be to you for escorting me here."

"Sire," Zargabaath returned the nod, then added, "Should you ever require but anything, I am to accommodate your needs in your responsibilities in oversight." He saluted, awaiting for Vayne to dismiss him. Vayne returned the salute, and Zargabaath whirled around before leaving the office, closing the door behind him.

Vayne released a sigh from his mouth, leaving him in relative quiet. He knew that there would be mutters of contempt along the halls of the Ministry of Law soon, complaints of why they were being supervised by a sixteen-year-old. Vayne had no doubt that the Ministry of Law was one blade he would have to wield and polish to use in his bid for Archadian politics, and, to do that, he would have to ensure he develop trust within the Ministry in him. Spinning in his mind were already several policies he believed should be enacted to achieve this purpose. The ranks of the judges will need to be skimmed, Vayne thought to himself as he circled around his desk to seat himself, to give the Ministry of Law some mystique, allow for the Ministry of Law to seem like an elite organization to which the title of Judge is claimed...no, that wouldn't do. It would give the aristocrats an opening, allow them to claim that House Solidor is removing potential political opponents from the Ministry of Law. Fire the wrong man, and a hurricane they shall being forth. So the current staff cannot be touched. I shall have to limit employment in the Ministry of Law, then, but provide more funding. Still, approval from the Emperor and the Senate is required. Perhaps I could come up with a clause, something that would...

Vayne's thoughts were interrupted as he completed the half-circle around his desk to spot a document folded in half, situated neatly in front of his seat. Picking it up and unfolding it, Vayne quickly read the contents of the document, which was, in fact, not a document at all, but, rather, an invitation, he placed it back down on his desk as he swirled his office seat around and sat down in it, leaning against its back, closed his eyes as his two fingers rubbed against the bridge of his nose and permitted a sigh to escape his throat. And smiled.

The invitation, apparently, had made it to the desk about one hour before he had, and with apparent haste. The Emperor Gramis was holding a banquet at night, and apparently, Vayne was on the invite list. Of course, the fact that Gramis had his own aide sign the invitation personally indicated to Vayne that this was not actually an invitation, but a summons. Gramis' message was clear: Vayne was not to miss this banquet.

Vayne sat there, smiling, looking at the invitation, contemplating, with a side of irony, at what a shrewd move his father had made. Undoubtedly, it was another move to occupy Vayne's time, something to keep Vayne's mind off dangerous thoughts while delegating him to more responsibilities. Vayne knew that he had the capacity to brood under such circumstances, but he also knew he was a fool if he would let his own father know. Yet Gramis was obviously not the individual to throw a banquet just to occupy his son. Vayne knew what his father was getting at, and admired with a message Gramis was sending him, that Vayne would receive a signed invitation, and on his desk at the Ministry of Law rather than his Imperial office. Vayne's oversight position in the Ministry of Law would soon be the topic of gossip. Controversial gossip, at that. Thus, Gramis was throwing this banquet to call forth the aristocrats and see who remained on his side, who could be bought under their allegiance, what support he could garner, and how the gossip was going on the side of the aristocrats. And Vayne being at his side would be sign enough for this, or at least the trigger to the torrent of gossip that would accompany the banquet in step.

A truly well-calculated move, Vayne thought to himself, although it is a pity my father does not use his cards properly against the Senate. Already, the gears in his head began to turn, a slow realization coming upon him that he may have to do some information gathering during this banquet. He would have to build up a reputation in the Ministry of Law, quickly, and garner as much respect he could within a single day, where he could at least gain the support of a few judges who would be willing to assist Vayne in eavesdropping on some conversations during the banquet, picking up words that would never be uttered within the earshot of the Emperor or Vayne.

Zargabaath is too obvious a choice, Vayne mused, and I will need him to continue to be neutral. To ask him to condone this is to tell him I am but concerned of my own profits. Even should he accept, it would not demonstrate loyalty, although it would be taken as such by the aristocrats. No, Zargabaath is far too useful to have to carry the burden of being assumed as the Imperial family's favorite. It would have to be someone else. Vayne already intended to have a roster of the key members of the Ministry of Law, dossiers to accompany them, and have his own agents sniff out little climbers, ambitious individuals in the Ministry who could be persuaded to sympathize with the Imperial family.

The Senate believes they can tie my hands with the law, Vayne thought, yet they will be mistaken. I shall let them take the reins of history not. Yet the Ministry of Law, one of the many swords House Solidor brandishes, can be used against us as well. More intimidating are the enemies closer to home than the enemies further away. I must tread carefully here, for many here, too, are too tightly bound by law and law alone.

Somewhere in the back of his head was the pondering of what he would have for lunch. But as soon as that idle train of thought became an actual conscious train of thought, Vayne immediately snatched at it, turning a whimsical thought into something productive. I'll have my lunch here today, with the other judges, in the mess hall. It'll build up an image, make myself seem more workable. It is not adequate to gain support from just the war council, but also the rank and file. I must learn to work through bureaucracy here just as I must learn to mingle with the men under me...all while seeming as composed and proper as a Prince should. A razor-thin line shall I tread upon...yet I can do it.

Paperwork was almost as tedious in the Ministry of Law as it was in the Imperial office, no doubt the work of his father, who insisted more bureaucracy be passed to him. Vayne took just a moment to admire how well-thought out these series of moves his father had condoned were. There was just the slightest moment of an intense urge, a great desire to spring before his father and say, "I'm more capable than you think I am. I shall take and I am taking all this you are giving me...and still following my own agenda, still working my own plots, still brooding over my own thoughts." He wanted to prove that he was superior, superior to the aristocrats, superior to his brothers, superior to the Senate, superior to his father. His deeds had long gone unrewarded, and he desired recognition instead of toiling away in the shadows with no one ever seeing him.

But it was just strong desire, an impulse, and Vayne's cold logic, tempered by not only his father but Archadian politics, prevailed. It was not easy for Vayne to pretend to be stupid, pretend to be just a lamb, but Vayne knew exactly how rewarding it was for him to be a wolf under a sheep's coat.

Moving the stack of documents from the corner of his desk in front of him, Vayne picked up his pen and began to work.