The throne room was unusually quiet. King Alexander Tronin had sent his courtiers away for the morning. The only other person in the room was his mother's brother, Horeous, who had been the Captain of the Guard under the old king's rule. Once a virile, handsome and brave soldier he was now nothing more than a stooped and aged old man reduced to acting as a financial advisor to his nephew. Not that Horeous minded. Someone had to take stock of the figures and make sure that the new ruler didn't run the kingdom into ruin. Unfortunately that was exactly where King Alexander was steering the realm.
Since taking the throne a little over a year ago the new king had strutted about the castle issuing orders and making noises about wanting to be more involved in the governing process then his father was and to be a champion of the people. In reality, with the exception of firing all of the old advisors and raising the taxes the king had done little to help the people he ruled. Now there was only one advisor, Horeous, and he felt the mantle of his station keenly. He knew that he was the kingdom's only defense against financial ruination. He tried on several occasions to speak to Alex about the state of affairs, but the king, consumed with something he would speak to no one else about, had told him he worried too much. Everything would work out for the kingdom's benefit if everyone would just give him some time.
Having known Alex since his birth, this pronouncement, made with a sly grin that had always meant trouble, had distressed the old man. He wished for the millionth time that his departed brother-in-law had lived.
Now the old man stood at the bottom of the stairway that led up to the dais upon which the king was fidgeting on his throne. Horeous recited figures from a dusty and worn ledger he held in his hands. His feeble voice bounced off the bare stone walls of the cavernous chamber and he made a mental note to check the treasury for the money to have more hangings and banners woven to take away the starkness of the room. As it stood there were only a handful of tapestries on the walls, mostly battle scenes that Alex had admired since he was a small boy.
The old man cleared his throat and the sound echoed in the vast emptiness. Not that it mattered. He wasn't even certain that his nephew was paying any attention. It would be no different from any other time the old man had stood before the throne in the past year, bemoaning the financial state of the kingdom. As always, Alex was consumed with something else entirely, something that he could not even tell his uncle and one time mentor.
Horeous stopped speaking and scratched at his steel gray beard. His blue eyes searched the youthful face of his king for any signs that the new ruler had any awareness of the deafening silence of the massive chamber.
Alex sat impatiently on his throne. He looked hardly more than a petulant boy as he shifted his position, listening with less than half an ear as the old man droned on. The king now wished he'd had the sense to send his uncle from the room with the rest of the courtiers. If he had then he would now be enjoying peace and quiet as he waited for Ethan to bring his sister before him. It took a few moments for Alex to register that Horeous had stopped speaking. He sighed heavily and focused his attention on the figure at the bottom of the stairs.
His uncle was watching him intently, trying to figure out why he was so anxious. Alex had no intention of letting his uncle in on the secret.
"Is there a problem old man?" He asked and the tone made Horeous wince. There had been a time when his nephew would never have dreamed of speaking in anything but a respectful tone to his uncle. Alex ran a hand through his short golden hair, smoothing it into place. He wanted to make sure he looked every bit the omnipotent ruler when Tamara was brought in.
"No sire. No problem." Horeous replied, a note of sadness in his voice. Alex heaved another sigh. The old man was playing his games again, living in the past. A past where he had meant everything to an abandoned young boy. Now the boy was king and needed no one. He could not afford the weakness.
"You've stopped giving your report. Surely something must be on your mind if it has taken your attention away from your precious figures." The maliciousness of the comment was not lost on the older man. He fought to keep the scowl off his face and the disapproval out of his voice.
"I feared I was boring you sire. You appeared to be a million miles away just now. I thought perhaps you might wish me to stop." He kept his tone neutral as he spoke. Alex leaned toward him, his face and voice both tightly controlled.
"Appearances can be deceiving my dear uncle. You'd do well to remember that." He sat back again and began inspecting the nails of his right hand. He enjoyed the way the old man had shrunk from him just then, he anticipated his sister reacting in quite a similar manner. Horeous was still silent. Alex scowled. "Finish you report. When I want you to stop speaking I will order you to be silent. I have no wish to be bothered with this drivel later."
Horeous nodded quickly and, licking his dry lips, resumed his report. Alex went back to his waiting. He disliked being kept waiting. He was sure that Tamara was dawdling on purpose, seeing how far she could push him. He could imagine her surprise when she discovered it wasn't far. She had pushed too much already.
He had specifically demanded that the princess be brought before him as soon as she was located. He had not been at all happy to discover that she had fled from the boarding school he had sent her too. He had soldiers combing the kingdom and the surrounding countryside for any sign of her. He desperately hoped that she hadn't had the sense to board a ship and leave the continent, and so he was delighted when Ethan came to him last night and informed him that Tamara was found and home. Then the captain had told him that the princess was locked in her room and refused to budge until morning.
The king had flown into a rage, throwing things across the room and spewing obscenities, demanding to know why his orders were not being carried out. Ethan had taken the blame for Tamara's insolence, but Alex knew better. When he had calmed down, things hadn't looked so bleak. The only thing that mattered was that she was within his walls and under his roof. The rest could be handled at his leisure. He had plans for his sister, plans he had been waiting a very long time to put into motion. A few hours more would make no difference. Vengeance would be his. He had demanded that Ethan bring the princess before him first thing in the morning. Alex had slept soundly after that.
Now here he sat, listening to the renewed droning of the old man's voice blathering on about the poor state of the economy and the unhappiness of the over taxed peasants.
"But they are always unhappy Horeous. It wouldn't matter what I did, they would never think it enough." He responded at the appropriate lull in the report.
"If you could but lower the taxes..." Horeous began, but Alex cut him off.
"If I cut the taxes then the military would be compromised. You know we can't let that happen. After all you were Captain of the Guard once. With a weakened military we would be susceptible to attack from Blackpool's forces. I dare say the people would be even less happy then." the king declared.
"I don't think they could be any less happy." the old man muttered under his breath. Alex was about to demand to know what had just been said when the door to the great throne room opened and the sound of voices raised in argument floated to him. He stood, his mouth twisting into a cruel smile as he recognized his sister's voice.
Tamara strode into the throne room shaking off the restraining hand of a desperate Ethan, who attempted to hold her back.
"You must wait until you are properly announced to the king. You know that." He hissed as she pushed past.
"I do believe my brother will know who I am without benefit of a formal introduction." She replied, highly annoyed. She marched over to where her brother stood on the dias. Alex carefully schooled his features into an unreadable mask so as not to betray his disgust at seeing his sister. He would not be provoked by her insolence.
"Tamara!" Horeous cried and moved to embrace her. He had been shocked to see her standing in the doorway. He had despaired of ever seeing her again. She looked over to him and a genuine smile lit up her face. "Oh you are a sight for these poor old eyes."
"Uncle Horeous! You don't look even an hour older than you did when I went away." She said as he enfolded her in a warm hug. Tears brimmed in his eyes.
"You have a silver tongue. Just like your mother." He replied. "Things haven't been the same since you were...since you left." He told her as he let go of her and held her at arms length. "You've become quite a beautiful young woman. Your father would be so proud. Your mother would be too."
"Now who's got a silver tongue?" She chided, overjoyed.
Ethan walked past them to the dias and knelt before his king. He dared not look up. He had tried to put the image of his friend's rage the night before out of his mind, but couldn't. Now, with Tamara's barging into the room unannounced, he felt a dread he could not quite place take root in his stomach as he faced his sovereign.
"Rise, my friend. Join me." Alex commanded and the captain quickly did so.
"I apologize, majesty. She refused to follow protocol."
"Well, you can hardly be held accountable for her behavior." Alex replied, a thin smile working it's way to his lips. A shudder went down Ethan's spine. He saw the object of the kings attention and and felt an overwhelming sense of danger. He had an almost uncontrollable urge to grab the princess by the arm and drag her from the room. Alex's icy blue eyes were locked on the figure of his sister where she stood speaking quietly with their uncle. Ethan knew that Alex was less than fond of his sister. It was an emotion that up until last night he himself had wholeheartedly shared with the king, but now there was a coldness in those icy eyes that the captain had never seen before. He was about to question Alex, to see what was wrong, but Tamara was approaching the platform.
Alex looked down on her imperiously. She seemed unfazed by his attitude. She walked with her back straight, her eyes never leaving his.
"Kneel before your king." He commanded when she reached the base of the stairs. Tamara stood her ground, one eyebrow raised. She allowed all of the anger and indignation she felt the day before flood her being, giving her the strength she so desperately wanted to show before him.
"Kneel? Before you?" She inquired. Horeous looked from one to the other, clearly uncomfortable at being present at this reunion. He was not unaware of Alex's feelings toward his sister.
He remembered a time when the then young prince had confided in his uncle, begged him to explain why his father paid no attention to him. Why did his father dote on his sister? The sister who, to a young boy's mind, had already taken away his mother. Horeous recalled the time when the kingdom had mourned for it's queen, lost in childbirth, and for the tiny newly born babe left motherless. No one seemed to remember the toddler, their heir, who had cried himself to sleep more nights than the old man cared to count, desperate for his mother's soothing voice and comforting embrace. That no one included the boys father, the great King Tronin.
The king had all but forsaken the young Alex, consumed as he was with his new daughter, the child that his adored queen had died to give him. It had been left to the boy's uncle, Horeous, to pick up the pieces and try to give the child the attention and the love that he deserved, but Horeous had been an active soldier then and he knew that no matter what he gave when he was home from campaign it could never be enough. The prince had always coveted his father's attention and approval. He had even gone so far as to tell his uncle of several ways he had devised of getting rid of the princess forever, then Alex would be the only child again. His father would have to love him then. The plans that the child came up with scared the old soldier so much that every time before he left on assignment he made the young prince promise not to act on any of his ideas. And every time he came home he would learn of some familiar accident that had befallen the princess while he was away, always at the hands of the prince's trusted friend Ethan Jarrett.
Horeous had thought that time would heal the emotional scars that his father's rejection had left on Alex. Unfortunately, even with all the marriages and the subsequent children the king sired the boy had never stopped coming up with new ways to get rid of his only full sibling.
Horeous felt the tears well up in his eyes as he remembered that desperately unhappy and forgotten child. He looked at his niece and nephew again. Perhaps it wasn't too late to put things right. With their father gone, perhaps they could find some common ground. Someone would have to make the first step thought. Finally he took Tamara's arm and attempted to guide her to where she was to kneel in obedience. That would be a fine start. Tamara shook herself free of him though.
"I prefer to stand, thank you uncle." She replied calmly.
"It's expected of you, my dear." He told her sternly wishing she could see the wonders he thought this one simple act could do for her relationship with her brother. She merely shook her head.
Alex was fuming. He didn't think that he was demanding so much of his sister to ask that she kneel before the throne. In fact, he had seen her do it countless times when their father was still alive. He felt his anger growing. He wanted to go down the stairs and force her to her knees. Before he could act Ethan did.
Ethan had watched the entire display in disbelief. He had expected the princess to be disobedient to him, but to openly defy the king? He descended to her level and stood before her, blocking Alex's view of her.
"Are you out of your mind?" he demanded in a heated whisper.
"I will not kneel before him." She declared in the same tone.
"Then perhaps I should tell your brother where I found you and how." He suggested. She was surprised to find that he hadn't done that yet. "Surely you know that he would not be pleased to hear that. It could go very badly for your friends."
"Are you threatening me?" She demanded, but he had already turned away and ascended to the dias again. Alex was watching her expectantly. Horeous was all but begging her to be obedient. She looked again to Ethan. A ghost of a smile touched his lips as he stared down at her. He would keep her secret if she swallowed her pride and knelt. She clenched her teeth, her nostrils flared. She felt the deflated whoosh of air leave her lungs as she exhaled.
Defeated, Tamara sank to her knees.
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