Afraid to Lose
"An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes." –Cato the Elder
Disclaimer: I do not own The Swan Princess.
In two days I was to leave in command of the 12th division. It would be my first command and I could not resist the pride that entered my thoughts. There would be no mistakes. I would make my father proud. He would not regret giving me my own command. Naturally he had assigned a military advisor to me, Lord Conrad, a trusted noble from Roelande whom had served in my father's military council for years. Lord Conrad was a retired and heavily decorated general, additionally famous for his military knowledge and prowess. This was a further honor that my father had bestowed upon me.
The invading army we had brought to Burgundine was only a fraction of our military might. In my father's expanding empire, there was a regular network of forts and garrisons spread throughout the empire to keep the peace. In any country that had become part of my father's empire, their armies were disbanded and allowed to join ours if loyalty had been proven with time. The enforcement of laws was implemented by their own peacekeeping forces which were naturally watched with a keen eye for the enforcement of our laws, but also for any corruption and just treatment of civilians. We did not need any uprising because of any unjust actions done in Roelande's name. The idea was that eventually with time they would come to see themselves as the citizens of Roelande, not of their vanished kingdom. This is also exemplified through our public education system and libraries. My father had said to me once wisely, "If we treat the common man justly and better than his previous monarchs, he will come to embrace us as his nation."
The court systems were modeled on our own and those in it trained according to our ways. Our laws are universal; throughout the empire and replaced those of any new addition to the empire. As said before, we liked the previous monarchies in place and we even treated the common people better than their own monarchies a good portion of the time. But if there was any rebellion, it was stamped out swiftly and with no mercy. My father had created a just empire, but one that had to be ruthless at times. The forces throughout the empire were on a rotation system of sorts, for no soldier deserved to be at the front lines for too long of a time period. Excluding the naval forces we had brought, the army was made of the Left and Right Fronts. My father was in direct control of both, but left the actual directions for the Left Front to Lord Ehren. The Right Front was being led by my father, whose efforts would be concentrated on the eastern half of Burgundine. The Left Front would be focusing on the western half of which my new command was a part of. After my meeting with my father, he sent me to a military meeting of Lord Ehren's with his military commanders. My father did not usually attend the meetings between his officials and their own men beneath them. The general strategy plan had already been approved with my father and his council, so the more specifics from there would be handled by Lord Ehren with his own men when it came to their part.
The meeting was in a chamber in a part of the castle I had not been before. From the looks of it, I assumed it to be previously used by the nobles of the Burgundine court. A soldier standing guard outside announced my presence as I walked into the chamber. The room looked to be an antechamber to a bedroom perhaps. There were no windows; merely the walls and floors were made of the same stone used throughout the palace. Fine banners and a rug decorated the room, but the table in the center of clearly did not belong. It seemed Lord Ehren had disposed of any previous furniture that had existed. The chamber was crowded with eleven men that all turned or looked up from where they were standing around the rectangular table. Said table was covered with a map of Burgundine and red markers representing our forces. I had been to countless meetings like this with my father with his military council and leaders. All of the men bowed as I entered.
I had met Lord Ehren at the meetings with my father before. He was a man preparing to leave his middle-age with short hair, perhaps a dark brown once, was riddled with grey hairs along with closely trimmed beard. His face was strong with a nose on the larger side, but fitting for his build. He was shorter then I and of square muscular build. Hoe wore the more casual leather jerkins our troops would wear when not in combat, but these ones were of a finer make and accompanied with his dark red cape. The lines age were deep along his hazel eyes and mouth. "Your Highness," He greeted me formally with a trace of a smile. Lord Ehren was an experienced and capable military leader and from an old noble family of Roelande. He was a younger son whom had made his career through the military. It was his older brother if I recalled correctly who held the title of a marquis. He was an honorable and all together decent man whom was not without a sense of humor.
"Lord Ehren," I replied with a nod.
"I presume your father just gave you the news," He stated kindly enough. "May I be the first to congratulate you on your new command?"
"Thank you, Lord Ehren," I responded. The formalities always had to be dealt with first, though I itched to get down to business. My father had taught me that the formalities always come first and were necessary, lest you provoke someone needlessly. It was well said when my father always observed the decorum, even with our enemies. We had sent a message demanding for Burg undine's surrender prior to our starting the attack on the capital. King Derek had refused obviously and now paid the consequences. "I will extend what an honor it is to be serving under your command," I politely returned to Lord Ehren.
Lord Ehren smiled and laughed amused. I felt a flash of irritation. Was he daring to mock me? Lord Ehren saw the look on my face that I could not prevent from showing itself and his next words calmed my ruffled ego immediately. "Apologies Sire," He said with amusement still apparent. "Technically the honor is all ours," He explained, inclining his head to the rest of the men present. I glanced at the group present and recognized the awe in some, except for Lord Conrad. "You will be king one day."
"I am also young," I admitted honestly, touched now by Lord Ehren's reaction. He was an honorable and infamous man for his military expertise. Though not as quite as famous as Lord Conrad. He honored me as he should, but I was still quite inexperienced compared to him. "And will learn from your expertise," I finished, seeing the appraisal and approval on some of the men's' faces. "And others."
"And mine, Your Highness?" Lord Conrad inquired in half-jest. I bowed my head towards him. Lord Conrad had served my father closely for years and I had known him since I was a boy. We knew each other well enough and he was an old favorite of my father's. Unlike Lord Ehren, Lord Conrad was an old man for his hair was entirely grey with age, along with his closely trimmed mustache and pointed beard on his chin. His longer hair was pulled back and was starting to bald form his receding hairline. Light blue eyes gazed at me with slight mirth from a face marked with lines and several scars. Even though he was somewhere in his sixties, he was still a soldier to the bone and kept his thin, but muscular body in shape. He was the only man in the room who was eye level with me. He was once supposed to be one most handsome and sought after man at court in his younger years. Lord Conrad is a famous military man, but also for his bravery and bold speech.
"Of course, Lord Conrad," I said in acknowledgement. The corners of my mouth went up in the smallest of smiles. I was glad he would be with me on this campaign.
"Sire, let's get the introductions underway," Lord Ehren addressed me, earnest to get back to the meeting. I nodded in agreement. He introduced seven of the men in the room by name and rank, each bowing as they should upon their introduction. They were all of varying ages, but mostly middle-aged. Several were perhaps in their mid-twenties. Each of them was a commander of a division, the same post that I now held. There are eight divisions in the Left Front, making me one of the eight commanders. Some I recognized by family name to be nobility, but not all of them were. Many commoners worked their way up through the ranks, but if any of these men were, I was not entirely sure which were. Except for one young man near my age who hovered at the edge of the group. He was clearly a scribe with quill and paper on hand, most likely Lord Ehren's personal secretary. Finally the meeting commenced, there was the usual discussions and planning of tactics, specifically for the upcoming attack on Taunusburg. It was decided that three divisions, mine included, would be a powerful enough force for the battle. The other five divisions would be implemented across the countryside, going from town to village.
We would be marching for Taunusburg in two days.
After the meeting, I proceeded to try to learn what I could of my yet to be captured enemy, Princess Adalaide. The reports that we had heard before the invasion were somewhat vague. She had not been a top priority for she was the youngest and not the heir. A daughter. Nothing more. In the royal wing, one of our soldiers led me to what was believed to be her room. The room was much smaller then what my sister's had, but fit enough for a princess. Windows ran alongside one wall, showing a view of the gardens below and ocean with part of our fleet anchored in it. The rest of the naval force was patrolling and taking control of the Burgundine coastal villages and towns. There was a small room wash room adjacent. A thick, embroidered rug covered and several banners with nature scenes. There was a four poster bed and wardrobe and chest on the opposing wall. In the corner a bureau with a mirror and to my immediate left a desk and chair with a small shelf on its other side. The room still smelled of her….had she frantically packed before fleeing? I wondered.
I flung open the wardrobe and saw that it seemed untouched. There was no riding dress or cloak. She had not packed, but instead took only what was necessary or perhaps even only the clothes on her back. Next I explored the bureau, discovering that there was no expensive jewelry. The reports that we did have of Princess Adalaide reported that she was pretty enough, typical of any princess, but not a grand beauty. She was something of a scholar supposedly and spent much of her time in the library. That was all we knew. I poured over her books, finding them to cover history to philosophy, a surprising selection for the average princess, but not to extraordinary. There were several half-written letters on the desk, addressed to several childhood friends who must be young noble women. Her room told me several things about her….she seemed to be realistic, prudent even, by taking only what was necessary. Jewelry to use for money if needed and only one or two garments. Of course someone could have restricted her packing. She had an interest in reading and from her choices in books, was probably somewhat intelligent. Other than that, the room could tell little else about her. Where was she now? Cowering somewhere in the capital or fleeing to the countryside? Was she truly already over the border as her brother had claimed? My father did not believe it and he was usually right.
Next I went to the library with a faint hope I might learn more there. If I understood her, at the least had an idea of what she is like, I would know what to expect when she finally reveals herself. Then I will track her down and find her. I was also curious to see the library for I had heard Burgundine was proud of its size. I had been interested to see if it would match the size we had back at home in Roelande or the public library my father had built in the Capital over twenty years ago. My father had taught me that knowledge is precious and can be finitely more powerful than any force at times….though why he chose to share it freely with the common masses I did not quite understand, especially if it was a potential threat. The idea, according to my father, was that to have an educated people on our side was the principle desire and in the simple fact that no nation had created a public education system that my father had initiated, along with a string of public libraries through our domain.
The midday light streamed through the windows, creating a sense of peace in the silent library. I found myself feeling a peace, a comfort of sorts that I usually found only in the thoughts of my family. The image of Mailou rose before my eyes. She would have looked around this palace inquisitively, exploring every nook and cranny. The sunlight would have gleamed in her fiery red hair. "Rick," I could hear her say."
I was rooted on the spot while lost in my thoughts. Reality returned, but the comfortable atmosphere of the library remained. I wandered amongst the books and found one private corner where several comfy chairs laid nestled by a window, hidden amongst the shelves. This is where she came, I thought. She probably considered this her private sanctuary. It was a good spot with the window for the view and the sunlight. There was even a small stack of books lying on the ground next to one of the chairs. I walked over and bent over to pick up the two books on the top of the stack. I read the titles: A Collected History of Magic throughout the Southern Kingdoms and Magic? Benign or Evil? So she had an interest in magic, I thought amused. My father would begin to teach me his magic after we have conquered Burgundine. Did she want to learn magic? While magic was certainly beneficial to my father in many ways, it did not maintain his kingdom for him. That is what he had taught me. I placed the two books on the cushion of the chair. The next several books were also on the usage of magic. The four books had markers in them, places she had found to be of interest. The last two books in the pile had no pieces of paper sticking out of them, showing that she had not read them yet. The first one was on various stories of any sort, many more like myths I realized I skimmed its pages.
The last book was on Mythical and Magical Creatures, according to its title. I flipped open the book and was startled to see that a good middle section of the book had been cut out. In it was hidden a golden heart-shaped locket on a golden chain beside it, not belonging to the book. It's not what it seems. I took the locket out of the book, examining the swan that was engraved on the front of the locket. I opened the locket. My fist clenched the locket instantly….for the two images painted there made no sense. The one on the left was of youthful woman and an almost the exact replica of my mother. The same eyes and hair, although there were differences in the shape of this woman's face. It was softer and she had a rounder chin. I had never seen a portrait of my mother's mother at all. This woman could easily have been her mother for my mother has no family left. Or perhaps a relative from her mother's family? But….the resemblance….and on the right side was a painting of a beautiful baby girl with the same eyes and golden hair. I closed the locket and turned it over to examine the back. The tiny scrawl engraved there made me feel as if someone had knocked the wind out of me when I had fallen of my horse when first learning to ride.
For Princess Odette, may your mother remain close your heart, from Queen Uberta and Prince Derek.
I rose to my feet in silence, scrambling in my mind the reason for the existence of this locket and why it had been hidden away in this book. It seemed Princess Adalaide had not even the book for it had been at the bottom of the stack. That baby….that infant was my mother and the woman was her mother…
Why would this have been a present to her from them? Perhaps….it was different when my mother's father had ruled….perhaps it had been a present when she would have been presented to the other kingdoms. The same had been done for my sisters, even more so for me, with our nobility and the kingdoms we had conquered. Yet if that was the case, what was it doing here? At their library hidden away with the words written it's not what it seems?
I wanted to know. No, I needed to know the answer. My mother has never been to Burgundine. She was saved by my father from a terrible creature that had killed her father. My feet led me out of the library and to the only person that I could think of to ask. There was a dark cloud that had taken a hold over me. Somehow I knew that I should not go to my father with this, though I refused to think that was because I suspected he might lie to me. The very thought was sinful and I thrashed it out of my mind as I stormed down to the dungeons...
Several soldiers stood guard and bowed towards me. "Take me to Queen Lida's cell," I ordered them harshly. King Derek was already on his way as a prisoner to Roelande and I doubted that Prince Enric knew anything about this. One of the soldiers led me to her cell without protest and unlocked it. I slammed the cell door shut behind me as I walked into the dank cell. Queen Lida had been curled up against the wall and stood up to her feet hastily. I was not startled to see the bruises now marring her face. The torture had just begun. They had probably had finished with her for the day and would continue tomorrow. I noticed that she favored leaning her weight on her right foot that she had not done in our last encounter.
"Do you know what this is?" I demanded bluntly with blazing eyes as I held the locket out in front of her by the chain.
Queen Lida took a sharp intake of breath at the sight of the locket. "My god," She whispered with amazed eyes. Her face had the hints of being in pain, yet her shock seemed to push it aside. "Where on earth did you find that?"
"That doesn't matter!" I snapped uncivilly. I had inherited my father's temper as Mailou had. "Tell me what you know of it!"
Queen Lida's eyes shifted from the locket to my face with the exhaustion and pain returning to her face. "It belonged to your mother," She informed me quietly. "She was engaged to my husband from the time they were children."
She was lying. Queen Lida was trying to make me betray my father with sinful thoughts. My mother had never been to Burgundine before! "You're lying!" I snarled vehemently and with iron hands I grabbed Queen Lida's shoulders. She winced at the contact as I shook her. There was no denial or fear in her eyes, which made me more furious as I felt the flames cloud my mind. My hands pushed her and Queen Lida fell back into the stone wall with a cry of pain. She did not fall to her feet and somehow managed to maintain her royal dignity as she looked at me.
"I'm not lying," She countered as I glared at her. "She was engaged to Derek until the day she disappeared when her party was attacked. Her father was killed and she was thought to be dead. I was already married to Derek when he received news that she had returned to Roelande with your father." Queen Lida hissed at the ending at the mention of my father. "He claimed to have saved her from some sort of monster. After that your father began his wars."
"You're lying," I swore to myself as it was an oath. I should have gone to my father, I thought hazily. Not to her. She was the enemy and trying to mess with my mind. I whirled around and charged out of the dungeon. There was no way a word what she had said was true. She was lying. It was a lie….my fist clenched around the locket…
If she was lying, I thought darkly through the red haze of my thoughts, then why did this locket exist?
A/N: Ah...yeah...it's been awhile, dear readers. I will try to be more regular on the updates from now on, but I've been busy on my exchange program. Thanks for reading and please review!