The princes shadows, p.7
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       The Prince's Shadows, p.7

           Seoran Worg
 
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  Princess Larra pokes the sands below and sends it flying to Malvin direction. Malvin is staggering in reflect and suddenly princess’s wooden sword is in his throat. Just like that, she wins the first round.

  “You are cheating, Sis,” Malvin says pretending to be angry.

  “No, the sand is there. It is fair game to use.”

  “I forget, you always vicious, princess.”

  “Forget? It seems you’ve gone outside too often.”

  Who is he really is?

  Seeing them act so naturally, make me wonder.

  In the palace library, last night, I’ve read from an old book written in old hieroglyph about the history of Prince and Shadow. I come to know that when ones become a Shadow, they have to forsake their old life and live only for their master. The first shadow in history was made in the reign of Zen Varr, the eleventh Emperor. After big war, he had only one son left. So, he created the Shadows to protect his son. But who were they before and where they come from was not written there, or I simply miss because of my limited knowledge in hieroglyph. From what I can glean, the Masters only wrote the great deeds they done thereafter. And the royals only will create the Shadows when the continuality of royal line was in peril like now.

  “My lady,” the master forces my concentration back to the training. It seems my aim is getting worse as my mind wander.

  I try concentrate at bow in my arm and target ahead. The target is circle painted with small red circle in the center and others bigger circle in its outer rim. But my arrow still hit far off from the center, the small red circle. Master Hyun advises me to change the position of my arm a little lower. I shot again but still fail miserably.

  “One need patience to learn, my lady,” Master Hyun encouraged me kindly.

  Few minutes later, Malvin come to where I do my training. Unfortunately, once again, my hit is far off the mark. I feel trifle embarrassed.

  He is observing me now as I shot few more arrows, then stops me and gives advice.

  “Your hand should be here,” he rearranges my grip to the bow. “Isn’t it right Master?” He asks the embarrassed master with a wink.

  My shot is still bad but at least it is improving now.

  “See, it is better now. You are not bad for a beginner,” he says with grin.

  “Stop it,” Princess Larra join us too, “Do you really have to charm every girl, that you’ve came across?” she adds.

  “Jealous, Sis?”

  “No, merely annoyed,” she then adds to me, “Tomorrow, the empress expects you to attend the count. Be prepared. And you can finish now.”

  I leave then, but I still can hear Malvin says, “Do you real have to be that mean?”

  I am glad, this Shadow seems warm and kind. This place is daunting as it is, it is good to see a new friendly faces.

  ***

  The morning comes, today’s sky looks so blue streaked with soft white clouds. It looks so bright, even though I cannot see the morning sun from my room. Staring far ahead to the city below, I feel lonely and missing home. This place is so cold and unfriendly. And I have to watch my every step.

  I have been here for four days but I haven’t seen Ryn. I wonder where he is. Is he sent outside the palace to chase the lost soul? Wherever he now, I hope he is safe.

  Shortly after I change my clothes to official uniform, I join Marie and other court ladies at the throne room. I stand beside them, near the wall, we are meant to be invisible here. They will summon the court ladies if needed so they have to be ready. And I still don’t know what my role here is. There are other noble ladies and lord nearby, I don’t think they belong to the court lady or servant rank. Marie says they are the empress advisors while some of them are the empress’ cousins or member of royal family.

  The throne itself looks impressive. It looks like about seven-foot tall, shaped like a twirling storm that goes to heaven. It was made of gold and silver. In its right arm, a head of dragon is carved, while an eagle is on its other side. It is placed high above in a small raised dais that surrounded with half-circle stair made of white marble. Just below the foot of the stair, two female members of the Blessed stand guard. They wear war uniform, it is dark green in color. Their hair pulled up in simple knot. Not far from them, the ministers stand in two rows, in left and right side, in between path from the door to the throne above. And Varrian who want to make a formal complaint or seek advice form the empress will be bought through this path. He or she then stands just right below the stair.

  My father was once a member of this court, he was one of those ministers. He must be very happy if he were the one that stand here.

  The minister is divided into the four rank: highest minister, high minister, minister and junior minister. My father was one of the high ministers of law. If he were here he will stand in those rows, wearing his blue robe of high minister. The highest ministers wear purple robe, they will stand next to the foot of the stair, near the empress, next to them are high ministers in their blue robe, then ministers in green robe and the last are junior ministers in their yellow robe.

  At the throne, the empress sits. She looks different from what I’ve envisioned before. She is woman in her early forty but her hair is snowy white, on top of it, a crown inlaid with blood red diamonds is laid. Her skin still smooth and unlined, though. And her figure is slim bordering at being too thin. She has the same light brown eyes but it dulled with worries and heavy burden, her high cheekbone seems hollow. Her eyes and cheekbone are the mark of royalty in her features I’ve noticed. Many will call her pretty, even with sign of weariness she still has Varr good looks but it dims in comparison with the princess, crown prince or his shadows.

  I don’t know how many hours had passed since I am here. Many had been bought in front of the empress. They ask advice or complaint from small matter like a family squabbling to the matter of crops and starvation in the east.

  Despite commands me to join this court, the empress doesn’t even looking at my direction. I guess she doesn’t even know who I am or why I am here.

  Does she really want me here? I wonder. Maybe this is just the princess cruel jest.

  Looking back at the ministers, I assume that Lord Jim Dubh and Max Zorg are their leaders. Lord Jim is in opposition while Lord Max is a loyalist, the two of them are the most vocal, and argue the most with each other.

  After no more Varrians that comes to the court, the ministers start discussing about the wars. It starts with report from the north, the war with Cryg Confederacy at the northern border. The Cryg Confederacy under Prince Wang is getting more aggressive. Two more villages near the border have been captured. The report says the remaining soldier fall back to the south of the Shan River. Many of them are heavily wounded or crippled. It’s also said that Prince Wang employ big and strong animal with long nose, two sharp tusks and grey skin. It is said that these beastly animal not easily wounded by a mere arrow, for they have thick skin. It is also said that these animals come from across the East Sea.

  Some of the minister demands the queen to send the Blessed warrior to recapture those villages. But the empress denies them and says that the Blessed are needed in the city. As she believes the lost souls will attack at any moment. And she reminds them that her husband, Lord Isa Seth, is in the north leading the army. The empress’ consort is also a Blessed but he is more renowned in his prowess leading his army to the war. The Empress has two children by him. But they have no right to the Varr name, since it is only passed down through a male line.

  But one of the ministers insists that they should be sent to the north. “It is matter of life and death, your majesty. We shouldn’t abandon our people,” said Lord Don Kim.

  The empress paused as if in depth thought, “Your son is one of the Blessed as recall,” she says in cold voice, “I will send him there if you insist,” with that Lord Don’s face paled considerably.

  After the matter in the north settled, they discuss pirates attack in the south. These
attacks are recently reported in west shore too. The nobles that have land near those shores demand the empress to send more soldiers. Again, Lord Jim is the most vocal about it. But the empress refuses their request.

  Another matter is drought in the east, this time is critical time of farming, and the east is the only lucrative place left untouched by war or pirates. With the drought strikes, the ministers afraid that the harvest will not be suffice to sustain the Empire.

  “Please send the Blessed to summon rain, your majesty,” Lord Max pleaded.

  “I’ll think about it,” is the empress cold responses.

  The empress soon dismisses the court. I can see that the ministers leave with dissatisfied face. They are leaving in small groups, talking in hushed tone. Few minutes later, only few court ladies remain in the room, and I am one among them.

  “Annoying bunch of lord, all of them,” the empress says, then see looks at my direction, for the first time she pays attention to me, “Come closer child,” she commands me to the go up to the throne.

  I walk slowly to the stair and go up, following her command. I stop few steps below and bowing deeply.

  “Rise,” she says. I raise my gaze slowly and met her gaze straight in the eyes. I feel the pull. The empress tries to take my energy but I hold it like I did with Ryn.

  Shortly, she releases me from her spell, “I can feel your power. That’s good,” with that she dismisses me.

  ***

  Dawn has broken and passed, from misty window in my room, I can see a drizzling rain fall to the land below, creating a hazy world. In days like this, I remember sitting in front of the heart with a cup of chocolate with my father. We just sit in silent, I with my stories or language book from the west, and father with his ledger.

  With a heavy sigh, I push myself down from the window sill and walk out the room. I walk briskly passing many corridors to the training room. It is bad thing to let the royals waiting for me.

  I suppose to train again with the princess but I cannot find her there as I enter the training room. I only see Master Hyun and three children aged around eight or ten years old. The master steps forward, bowing.

  “My lady,” Master Hyun greets me with anxious face.

  He introduces the children to me. One of them is Prince Mex Seth, the other two is his cousin Lord Marig and his little sister Lady Blyn Dubh. These two cousins are children of the empress’ niece, Princess Melarra Varr.

  The little prince has round face and fat cheek. He has light brown eyes too. So are his cousins.

  “The princess commands, that you will train along with Prince Mex and his cousins,” he says with apologetic face.

  I just nod. I know, I should feel offended, commanded to train with children is an insult I suppose.

  “Who are you?” asks the little lady. Her eyes are light up with genuine curiosity. She is the youngest of these three and her brother is the eldest.

  But Master Hyun answers it before I open my mouth, “She is the Hallowed, my lady. Should we start the training now?”

  He leads the children to the center of the room. And I follow right behind them.

  But an hour after the training, I find that it’s easier to train with children than adult. They still have an innocence soul and carefree demeanor. And their sword fight is still not good enough. I don’t hesitant or embarrassed training with them. I am on their level.

  I start enjoying the sword fight. No, I will not call it fight, I prefer to call it sword dance, for its movements are graceful akin to dance. Mater Hyun teach me from basic again and he often corrects my stance. Yes, at least I should know the basic. Maybe someday I can be as good as Ryn if I try hard enough.

  ***

  The sky still dark outside and I can see a faint holy fire’s light smeared in the sky. But I keep my resolve and come down to the training ground. Since no one bother to train me in meditation anymore, I do it by myself.

  Ryn, where are you? Are you angry with me?

  No, I don’t need him. I can do it by myself. I do nicely even without him. Now, I can direct my energy to the sole of my feet easier. I do as he advised, to block my sense from outside world and focus to my breathing and energy flow. I can feel it in my body, in my bone, in my blood. The awareness come slowly day by day but I can feel it clearly now.  My control is not yet perfect, I know. Maybe it is worse than the little Lady Blyn or her brother, but I am improving, and that is a good thing.

  I erase the beads of sweat from my forehead. Hours must have been passed since I start my own training. Now sky is bright, I sit on the small bench near the wall waiting to other to come. And shortly, we all gathered. Prince Mex, his cousins and Master Hyun come together.

  Today we start with arrow training. We are lined up, around twenty feet from the wall, facing it and the targets that hang on our eye level.

  As time pass by, it is known that Lord Marig is the best shooter among us. I can say that my skill in bow and arrow is improving but still lacking a lot.

  Lady Blyn challenges her cousin in shooting match in childish petulant voice. And soon, not far away from where I take my aim, their match begins. The winner can take the first flower cake from the kitchen, she says. I know this cake; Marie sometimes brings it to my room. This cake is made from red bean, shaped in flowers such as orchid, peony, lotus and rose. I can see that this cake somehow is very important for these children.

  “I wonder how can a prince be so untalented like you, Mex,” the eight years old Lady Blyn complaints.

  “Don’t be so smug. I will hit the bullseye soon. You just see.”

  “I can’t believe mother betrothed me to you.”

  “Why?” the little prince looks offended.

  “One, you look pudgy,” I see, that it is true. I forget that child sometimes can be honestly cruel too.

  “Second, you are Unblessed.”

  At that the young prince looks angry. It seems, the little lady hit a sore point.

  “I am still nine. I will be later,” Prince Mex says with conviction. “All my sibling is Blessed. So I will be, later,” he adds petulantly.

  “Later? When?” Lady Blyn says with exasperated look, “I can’t understand why mother chose you.”

  “It’s not your mother does the choosing. It’s mine!” Prince Mex shouts.

  “I prefer your brother and his shadows!”

  “It’s funny. You can even tell which is which!”

  “I can!”

  “You can’t! Stupid!”

  Now, their bickering becomes full blown brawl. Although smaller, Lady Blyn is a fierce fighter. She manages to pull the prince hair. Not want to be outdone, Prince Mex pulls her hair too. Seeing all this, Lord Marig just laughing and let them be, like this happens every day.

  Honestly, I don’t know what to do. They are royals after all. Commoner need their permission to merely touch them.

  Master Hyun tries awkwardly to calm them down, “My prince, my lady, please…” he says worriedly.

  “Does she prefer us than you, my little prince?” I hear Malvin’s amused voice from the door.

  With that the brawl is stopped, and Lady Blyn looks a little bit embarrassed.

  The prince and his Shadows walk to our direction. The three of them wear training clothes in dark red colors. From afar they look almost indistinguishable. They are around the same height, gracefully slender in build with long legs. Their hair is long, little pass their shoulder and worn down. I see the real prince leading the way, Ryn in his right and Malvin in his left. This is the first time I see Ryn since I come to the palace. He looks fine, and I am glad nothing happened. But he won’t even meet my gaze, he looks straight ahead, calm and unruffled.

  Why is that?

  “Mex, is that how a prince treat a lady?” the crown prince asks his little brother, but not unkindly.

  Now, Prince Mex looks embarrassed too.

  “I am sorry, brother.”

  “Say sorry to the lady.”

>   The prince say sorry even it is said in constrained expression and unconvincingly. But Lady Blyn seems satisfied and accepts it smugly as if to say, See? I win this round.

  After it all done and settled, he says to the master, “Master, escorts them out.” And the master eagerly takes the children out. He seems relieved.

  Now, only the four of us remain. I keep my gaze lower. From the corner of my eyes, I see Prince Lex gives signal to his Shadows to leave, and soon they follow the children out. My heart is beating madly, I afraid the prince can hear it in this silent room.

  Chapter 6

  Looking closer, the difference between Prince Lex’s face and his Shadows become more prominent. First thing I’ve noticed is his eyes, it is look bigger than the other two. The shade is different too, the prince eyes murkier than Ryn’s but lighter than Malvin. And his jaw is stronger and more squared, his lips thinner, the combination of his jaw and lips make him looks colder, give him an unapproachable air.

  The prince takes my chin in his finger and tilts my face so he can see directly into my eyes. Bravely, I hold his gaze. I feel the pull of energy. He tries to draw it of my body, but his time, I successfully block the path.

  “I see that what Ryn said is true,” he then releases my chin and he start pacing around in long stride to and fro.

  He back again stands in front of me. My heart is beating madly.

  “We will go to the east in ten days. Summoning the rain,” he says, “I will continue your training from now on.”

  “Yes, your highness,” I answer dutifully.

  Summoning rain is one of the Blessed main duties especially in peaceful time when they are not being sent to war. This summoning ceremony will be held whenever drought occurred. From my history lesson, I know, that two or more Blesseds of each elements –fire, ice and wind– are needed. And it will be led by member of Varr family.

  He starts pacing again, and I wait in silent.

  Whatever he means to say again?

  And he back standing in front of me again, he stares at me for a while as if want to say something, but he only says that I may go now.

  Following his commands, I bow deeply and leave the room.

 
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