The Peninsula

The Fiction and Poetry Archive of Liana Mir and scribblemyname

Chapter 2: City at the Heart of All Things

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Four Lands, One Heart

There was always the element of balancing political relationships and the intricately woven web of loyalties, rebellions, even small defiances, and having the right lineage in the first place when it came time to evaluate the four royal spouses a new monarch must take.

“The new ruler will be a woman, so we must take men.”

“She’s allowed any proclivities.”

“She was raised in a convent. She was not allowed to have proclivities. Besides, the point of the spouses are to potentially provide heirs satisfactorily of the blood of all four principalities under her rule, without favoring any. Selecting a female spouse would deprive that principality of any potential heirs.”

The most bookish of their number, rarely drawn into speech, perked up. “Actually, the point is to provide equal rulership from each of the—”

“The Southern Isles could use depriving,” another muttered, shutting the mouth of the first abruptly.

“Spoken as an unlearned resident of the Heart. Are you not a scholar?! Do you not stand counsel to royalty?” the Chief Scholar demanded.

His unwise companion shrank before him. “Of course.”

The others remained silent.

“The Northern Wind is far more dangerous, and yet we do not suffer them insult. The Southern Isles bring great wealth to our nation and have thus far missed the Plague. They guard our southern borders and secure a retreat from threats and difficulties that do not visit us so swiftly.”

Truly this plague had come from the gods, to claim the sacrifice of the entire First Family of the Royal House to require this particular ruler to come to the throne. It was a terrible omen.

“The last time the gods required a priest king ushered in a dangerous era with foreign intrigues. We must be united in the face of them. I heard the Northern Wind was also devastated through their royal lines.”

“Oh?” Their most bookish perked up again, more cautiously.

“The first prince remaining must be the ones the gods have marked. Or whoever survived in the midst of that court. Better if it is the same.”

Less room to wonder. Certainty was precious at times like these, when the only certainty that went without saying was that any misstep would have grave consequences.

The Four Lands had stood together for centuries, united under the molten metal heart of the City at the Heart of All Things. The northern kingdom of fire and wind, the western mountains of forest and ice, the eastern plains of iron and breath, the southern isles of stone and sea.

The King or Queen of the heart married the Princesses and Princes of their lands, uniting metal and fire, ice and breath and stone. This had gone on for centuries and generations, and would for centuries and generations more.

“I’m not the Metal Queen,” Eleya pointed out to her Chief Scholar.

“No,” he agreed. “It is acknowledged that the marriage has led to elements intermingling, and every person may be born with any.” He studied her carefully. “But we must choose your husbands to complement your element.”

She scoffed at him with an openness she could not have imagined taking to the Chief Scholar in all the kingdom before she’d been made Queen. It felt like fire ran up her arms under her skin, and when she spoke, her voice was cold and layered. “Let the gods decide.”

He stared at her openly. Had he never heard an oracle speak?

“The gods have chosen whom they will,” she told him coldly. They had taken by Plague any they deemed unsuited. What more did her counselors need to do?

He lowered his head and bowed. “Yes, my Queen.”

In the end, that is what they did. They sent to the Principal Houses of the Four Lands and asked they send their first princes of the appropriate lineage. Three were sent. One had already arrived.

Tanata had served as a loyal guard throughout the entire spread of the fever. He had been the guard of the middle princess of the royal line, and had remained by her side throughout the plague, guarding her against everything but the gods. The gods came and went and took her with them, leaving Tanata.

With little else to do, he took up with the Palace Guard for daily training and companionship and served within their ranks when asked. He may have been of the first line of the Principal House of the Western Mountains, but he was only the second prince. He had chosen years ago to do his duty and serve in the City of the Heart.

Every Principal Household was supposed to send a younger son to the capital to serve in whatever capacity suited them best. These were not generally the sons most likely to be chosen as Prince over all the Four Lands nor as Prince in the land to the Western Mountains, but Tanata’s parents had only brought forth two children, and he assumed one day he would be recalled to serve as Prince in the land.

He did not expect the Royal Counselors to inform him that his father had offered him to the new Queen. His father wished to keep Tanata’s older brother by his side, who was more familiar with his own land’s ways.

“I am honored, Lord Counselors,” he said slowly, “but it is not fitting.”

They exchanged glances among themselves.

One spoke, “It is a time of great trials from the gods, and you have always been loyal to the Royal House and to your charge in particular.”

“Yes,” he agreed with a slight nod.

“It is for this reason that the Queen has ordered the will of the gods to stand. You have remained here through the Plague and survived when almost all others fell. You are here and your brother, the Prince in the Second Land, is not. Your Highness, you are chosen of the gods as Prince of the realm.”

He had not wished it, never strove for it, nor reached for it in any manner, but he bowed his head in agreement. If the gods demanded and the Queen decreed, what had he to speak against it?

In his first ten seasons, Caedros was just a child, not a prince, not eligible, barely worthy of instruction as he learned only the basics to all children: how to run, laugh, play, speak, feed himself, and trail after sister or mother with a silent tongue as they did business in their court. In the seasons after, he began to be instructed properly in the ways of the court, given lessons taught to princes, taught to understand his own land and their customs and the laws that governed it. He was a quick learner. By his fortieth season and the tenth annual celebration of his birth, he was declared a worthy eligible member of the Principal Household and a potential marriage partner for the future Queen.

At the time, it meant nothing except that he was to abstain from the attention of women and girls and begin learning the politics and governance of their entire kingdom, not merely the first of the Four Lands, the Northern Wind. It meant nothing because there were cousins and brothers well ahead of him in ranking and skill. He was younger than their seventy to eighty seasons, his voice had not yet deepened, and he still preferred to trail after his sister, the most ferocious and powerful princess his family line had produced in three generations. She taught him how to rule more than any other, and if some thought him too womanly in his manner of command, they did not discover his ire by telling him so.

He was never favored for becoming the Northern Prince in the sacred royal marriage. He was favored for ruling the Northern Wind under the future Prince’s authority, and that was what he trained for in earnest. The lessons toward ruling as the Prince himself were a perfunctory addition.

This was never meant to happen. The gods often chose rulers, deposing or claiming the life of one earlier in the hierarchy. It was understood, and Caedros would not have resented it so fiercely if only his older brothers had died, if only his cousins, if only every eligible male in the line ahead of him had died. He wasn’t a hundred seasons yet and without those remaining years, he would not be chosen as Prince unless there were no other male of his line available.

But his sister.

He cared for her ceaselessly from the moment the Plague glazed over her eyes and shortened her breath. He stayed by her couch and gave her medicines and comfort, read her the stories she’d once read to him. He had no hope for the men who had taken ill and cared less than he dared admit. The gods would claim whom they would, but his sister was not eligible, his sister did not stand in the way of the gods’ will for succession, so surely his sister could be saved.

That is where Mendit found him, beside his sister’s bed in the early morning hours when the entire Principal city around them reeked of illness and death. He had closed her eyes gently, as he had closed their mother’s, their father’s. Now he could not even see the manservant for the tears that filled his own eyes.

“My Prince.”

Not Caedros. Not your Highness. He was alive in the midst of devastation and he had been chosen of the gods to rule.

Never had he hated them more fiercely.

The First Prince of the Southern Isles was a scholar at heart. His father had successfully forced him to train in the basic arts of governance, diplomacy, and such physical exercises as swordsmanship and riding, but Sahasarel remained a scholar, who preferred to learn all he could about the world through books, the people most others wouldn’t even talk to, and by getting himself into situations and scrapes anyone else would be wise to avoid.

“Scholar?” The captain scoffed and shook his head. “That boy is a menace and has not a lick of the self preservation any other creature was born with!”

“I won’t fall,” Sahasarel called down from his happy perch against the mast, half hanging off the crowsnest instead of being sensibly inside it. If the Prince were to fall, the captain would perhaps not be held liable, but the kingdom would be short another ruler, and the lookout made a point of dragging Sahasarel back to safety.

He was sailing to the coast at last, Sahasarel thought happily. He’d been on the isles his entire life and the only time he’d supposedly visited the mainland was in his infancy, so he had no recollection of the event. Now he’d been summoned to the City of the Heart to meet his future spouses in the Royal Marriage, something that had never quite felt real to him.

There had always been a chance someone else would receive the call, based on the Queen’s element or the loyalty and defiance and politics demonstrated by those from the Court of the Isles. He’d heard the first of a line had been passed over once from the Court of the Wind, but Sahasarel had apparently been deemed acceptable and chosen.

He wondered what they would be like and what it would be like to be married to more than one person. His father, the Prince in the land, said Sahasarel be joining a harem; his mother merely shook her head, giving his father a warning look that implied such a statement was bad politics. The books all agreed it was a political arrangement devised to ensure the equality of all Four Lands, except those books given to rhetoric or propaganda, where the marriage was described rather mystically.

He was sure the truth was somewhere between all, and he was eager to find out for himself.

The message that came to the Court of the Plains was simple, and the Principal House wasted no time consulting oracles or counselors. The Prince in the land went out into the courtyard where his eldest son was overseeing the training of new guardsmen, and told him he would leave in the morning for the City of the Heart.

Nirune canted his head obediently and returned to watching the trainees. No one had a better eye for a bad apple than Nirune, so his father left him to it.

They came to the City at the Heart of All Things, and the palace of the Royal House received them.

Series Navigation<< Chapter 1: Beloved of the GodsChapter 3: Patterns in the Winds >>

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