Go To Next Part
Saturday, September 28, 2013
“Don't step in that!” Rohana warned just in time.
“Thanks! What would I ever do without you?” Chyllen (pronounced like chillin' lol!) asked as he successfully avoided the animal dropping.
Rohana snuggled up to her fiancé and rewarded him with a light kiss. “Let's hope you never have to find out.”
“I can't believe that we only have two months left to wait until we are man and wife. I was beginning to feel like it would never happen!” Chyllen joked with a soft laugh.
Rohana purred happily. “I know what you mean. I feel like we should just start our honeymoon now and,” she looked around to make sure that no one was close enough to hear her before continuing. Even so, she lowered her voice to a whisper. “Become one tonight.”
Chyllen groaned softly in longing. “Don't say such things! It's already taking everything I have to wait for our wedding night!”
Rohana kissed him lightly once more, whispering in his ear. “But why wait? What difference are two months going to make?”
“Because I believe that it's disrespectful to our Gods to share our bodies before they have blessed our union,” Chyllen reminded her.
Rohana sighed in defeat. “I know... but we've only been committed to marry each other since we about five years old. If the Gods had plans to go against our union, don't you think they would have made their intentions clear by now?”
“Shh!” Chyllen hushed her insistently. “Don't say that! It's as if you are challenging the Gods to tear us apart!”
Rohana laughed. “Don't be silly! I wouldn't let them! And besides, why would they? We were made for each other.”
Chyllen chuckled softly and held her close for a moment. “That's true.”
“Are you two walking or not?!” A man demanded snidely as he approached them. To be fair, they were completely blocking the path.
“We're walking,” Rohana grumbled as she and Chyllen started moving again.
“If you don't hurry, we're all going to be late for the announcement!” The man stated, implying that they were the reason he was running late, despite the fact that he had just now come rushing along the path.
With a nod of mutual agreement, Rohana and Chyllen joined hands and ran towards the Palace lawn. They entered via the foot path reserved for citizens who lived near enough to walk to the Palace that was set apart from the small city – both of which were surrounded by miles and miles of lush farm land. The path led from the gate to the large area reserved for citizens to gather for announcements – which was, of course, utterly crowded.
The whole Kingdom had come out to hear the announcement, which the King's crier's had insisted was very important and not to be missed. This sounded like a massive amount of people, but in reality was only about a thousand. The Kingdom had strict policies on procreation: Only married couples were allowed to have children, and they were limited to two so that the population would neither grow nor dwindle.
Stragglers continued to arrive for several minutes, but then the Palace bells began to chime harmoniously. The gathered crowd fell silent and waited with baited breath, impatiently hushing those with the audacity to talk. The only thing anyone really had to say anyway was: “What's going on?”
Finally, the King and Queen – a handsome couple in their 40s – emerged onto the balcony to make their important announcement. The balcony was only a few feet off the ground and was made out of marble. It had minimal railing and stairs that led to the ground so that the royal couple could walk among their people if they chose.
The Prince and Princess – who were 15 and 12, respectively – followed their parents at a proper distance. They too looked expectant, as if they had no idea what the announcement was about. They let their attention wander only briefly as they looked out over the landscape and admired its beauty.
“My dear people,” the King began. “Cherished citizens of the the Valley Kingdom – a tiny jewel set apart from the rest of the world here in our Gods given and peacefully secluded land...”
Everyone smiled as he pointed out the best part of their Kingdom – the reason that it was the pride and joy of every citizen. Here – because they were isolated in a valley that provided them with fertile land and hidden wealth – there was no such thing as poverty or starvation. It truly felt as if the Gods had blessed them and kept them protected from the harsh reality of the rest of the world.
With a deep inhalation of pride, the King continued. “I have gathered you all here today because I feel that we as a Kingdom are morally obligated to help those who are in need. Recently, I received a missive from our closest neighbor requesting aid. They have had terrible upheavals and a drought last year dwindled their supplies to almost nothing. This year's crop seems to be failing as well and they are just desperate! I cannot – in good conscience – ignore such tragedy when I have it in my power to help them!”
He paused to look around. Everyone was nodding their head in agreement. Even the smallest children – those that were old enough to understand what was being said – nodded their heads as if this was common sense. No one had the slightest doubt that this was the right thing to do.
“As you know,” the Queen said, taking over the announcement. “Our Kingdom is overflowing with wealth. We have an abundance of food and other crops that is far more than we could ever need. Due to generous sales of our excess and the gold that lies buried under out very feet...” By this, she referred to the fact that under the valley was an impossibly rich gold mine that the Kingdom had preserved as much as possible because gold could not be eaten and people could only display so many things in their homes before they became worthless and discarded.
“We are the wealthiest nation in the world,” she stated, almost sadly. Her eyes were full of compassion. “But wealth is not everything and gold cannot buy health. It is vital to me that we do what we can to share the blessings of our Gods with the rest of the world.”
“And yet we do not want to simply squander our divine inheritance,” the King added. “So this is what we have decided. We will send a small delegation to our neighboring Kingdom to bring them aid in their time of need. Our son – Prince Orion – shall represent our Kingdom, accompanied by my most trusted adviser – Lord Arturos. However!” The King emphasized the word just in case people were tempted to start discussing the news. “We have also decided to send someone else as a delegate; an Ambassador of Goodwill to teach others of our Kingdom and learn about our neighbor in exchange.”
The Queen nodded in agreement. “Three is a sacred number, so it makes total sense that our delegation have three officials to represent us. They shall be accompanied by four guards for a total of seven members in the party.”
“Divine seven,” people murmured automatically. Seven was the number most sacred to the Queen of their Gods. To say “Divine seven” was to say “By the Goddess' will” or “Bless you” or “Good luck!”
The Queen smiled. “Yes, divine seven. However, that immediately presented us with a problem! Who – in all the Kingdom – was the most important citizen? Who would be the right person, the divine person for the delegation? Who would represent our Kingdom the best? As you can see, it is the most vexing conundrum for each and every citizen of our Kingdom is equally important! There are no unnecessary people in our Kingdom. Everyone is valued and cherished as if a member of our family!” She ended with a deep sigh.
The King put a hand on her shoulder to provide her with comfort and support. “We simply could not decide... so we decided to let the Gods decide for us.” He gestured to a servant wearing a soft and fashionable uniform.
The servant strutted like a peacock toward the center of the balcony where another – equally proud to serve – servant quickly set down a small marble table. It was sacred; a portable altar to the Gods. Once the table was in place, the first servant set the valuable item he'd been asked to hold perfectly in the center. It was a large and ornate crystal bowl that had been gilded and delicately painted with real gold.
“In this bowl,” the King stated as clearly as possible so that all his citizens could hear him. “Are the names of every citizen 18 years of age or older who is not currently sick or disabled. In a moment, Prince Orion shall – guided by the Gods – draw the name of the most important citizen in the Kingdom; the citizen that shall accompany him on this most important mission of mercy.”
Prince Orion took a deep and steadying breath to calm his nerves at being thrust into the center of attention so abruptly. Then he walked to the bowl, closed his eyes until he felt serene and at peace, and slowly reached in to draw a name. He swirled his hand around three times, and then closed his fingers on a slip of paper. A moment later, he opened his eyes and turned to give the paper to his mother.
The Queen grinned – her eyes watering as if she was about to witness her child's first steps – and opened the paper. With a joyous nod, she exhaled as if in relief. “It's... Rohana Mendara!”
“Congratulations my dear!” The King added, clapping happily.
Rohana had a hand over her chest and felt as if she couldn't breathe. She gaped unseeingly at the ground, highly tempted to insert a finger into her ear and clean it out. Surely I couldn't have heard that right!
Chyllen was also too much in shock to move. He gripped her hand far too tightly as he stared at her. His eyes were wide and his mouth was dry. He swallowed once to wet it, but that didn't help.
“Rohana? Where are you, my dear?” The King asked, puzzled as to why she hadn't immediately ran forward to claim her place on the balcony.
Finally, Rohana's parents made their way to her side and loudly called out for all to hear: “Clear a path!”
A path was cleared. Rohana felt numb as she followed her parents– who tugged her along as they smiled and waved at all their friends and relatives. People whispered excitedly as she passed them. Her friends were both happy for her and jealous that they hadn't been chosen. Neighbors all informed each other that she had always been the kindest girl her age.
Far too soon – in her opinion – Rohana was standing in front of the King and Queen. Her parents were behind her, having dropped to their knees in respect. Rohana felt a moment of blankness – no thoughts of any kind – before her brain started to function once more and she curtseyed.
“My King, my Queen,” she murmured.
The Queen pulled her into a hug. “Stop looking so frightened, my dear! This is a great honor; the Gods have chosen you as their living representation!”
It was not as strange as one might think for the Queen to hug a subject. The King and Queen often invited a citizen or even a whole family to join them for lunch. They had chatted with and held hands or hugged everyone on more than one occasion, so this was no surprise to anyone. Even so, it felt strange to Rohana.
She squared her shoulders and took a fortifying breath. “I must humbly apologize, but I must decline.” Rohana pointed in the general direction where Chyllen had been standing with her a few moments ago. All the way at the back of the crowd. “I'm engaged to be married in just two months! I cannot just abandon my fiancé for an indeterminate amount of time! I...”
Tears welled in her eyes and threatened to fall. “I love him so much that I cannot bear the thought of being without him. Not even for a day!”
The entire crowd gasped in disbelief that their chosen one dared to refuse her duty to the Gods. Yes, they were sympathetic to her reasoning, but even so... One risked dire consequences when they turned their back on the Gods...
The King and Queen looked more displeased than anyone had ever seen them. They stared at Rohana intensely for several long and silent moments before they snorted with amusement. Both exchanged grins before the Queen spoke.
“Oh come now! There's no need to be so upset and dramatic!” The Queen kissed Rohana on the cheek. “I said that there would be guards, didn't I? Who better to guard your virtue and safety than the man about to become your husband? You'll likely be back before the wedding date, and if not, it can easily be solemnized in the other Kingdom and celebrated when you return.”
Rohana exhaled more air than she thought her lungs could possibly hold; she was that relieved. She tapped her chest with a hand to remind her body to do its job, and when she finally felt like she could breathe again, she started to giggle.
The King and Queen joined in on her giggles as the crowd slowly went from chuckling to outright laughter. Rohana's head bobbed slowly at first, but then increased until she was nodding way more than necessary.
“I sincerely apologize for my misunderstanding!” She finally thought to say. “Of course I would be honored to represent our Kingdom and our Gods as an Ambassador of Goodwill!”
The King put an arm around her shoulders and tilted his head close to hers. “Don't worry, I'm certain that you will be a shining example of everything that's good about our Kingdom. They'll love you! Probably... Good luck!”
With a devil may care grin and a quiet cackle, he turned to his wife, tucked her hand into the crook of his, arm and then led her back into their Palace.
Rohana stared after him as she felt her sense of unease slowly sink back in. She turned to look at Prince Orion – who had started laughing at the expression on her face.
“Never mind him,” Orion stated with a sparkle in his eyes and a grin on his lips. “He's a practical joker. He's probably going to be roaring with laughter all night at the thought of you wondering what he meant by that.”
Princess Arianna giggled and nodded in agreement. “He's right. Daddy just loves to make people wonder whether or not he's being serious.” She turned her smile to her brother and then held out her hand expectantly. Prince Orion tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and prepared to lead her back inside the Palace. He delayed by just one moment.
“Go home and celebrate your good fortune tonight because I'm certain you'll be summoned to the Palace first thing in the morning,” he instructed.
Rohana nodded in acceptance. “Yes, my Prince. I look forward to our journey,” she murmured politely.
“As do I. See you tomorrow,” he responded just as politely, and then led his sister away.
“Celebrate is right!” Rohana's mother practically shouted, startling her since she had forgotten that her parents were literally right behind her. They pulled her back into the crowd, which promptly picked her up and carried her to the town square where an impromptu party materialized around her.
There was food and music; sweet juices and a couple of bottles of fine wine. People danced and cheered her on until her head felt like it was spinning! Finally, Chyllen managed to grab hold of her and claim a dance. He held her close and simply savored the feel of her in his arms for a long time. She clung to him until she stopped trembling from the shock of her day.
“So...” he murmured supportively. “I guess we're going on a mission.”
She sighed in relief that he would be there for her every step of the way. “Yes... I guess we are...”
Lord Arturos put a comforting hand on Rohana's shoulder. He was in his 70s and very wise. He was also kind and had taken it upon himself to look after Rohana and Orion as a father would. Rohana squeezed his hand gratefully.
“Are you all right?” Arturos asked in concern.
“Yes,” Rohana assured him. “Just... flustered...”
The entire delegation was currently waiting in an antechamber outside the throne room. In just a moment or two, they would be introduced to King Felix of Uridian. Rohana had to remind herself to breathe.
To think, I – the simple daughter of farmers – am about to be introduced to a foreign King as if I was a Princess or something!
She tugged at her sleeve nervously, and then forced herself to stop. She had been given a wardrobe fit for royalty and she didn't want to ruin any part of it with her carelessness. She sighed, impatient with herself.
In her Kingdom, everyone owned at least one item that could be considered fit only for the Palace ballroom. This was not the first time she had worn an expensive dress, nor would it be the last. The only person concerned about whether or not she ruined the dress was her, and it was mostly because she kept telling herself that she didn't deserve any of this.
Rohana glanced towards Chyllen just as the large doors were opening. He looked heartbreakingly handsome in his uniform of the Royal Guard. The sight of him was enough to lift her spirits, but even better was when he caught her looking at him and grinned. He had faith in her even if she didn't.
They walked forward as a herald announced them. Rohana smiled as even the herald seemed confused. She wanted to throw her hands out and tell the herald that he wasn't the only one, but she kept her mouth shut.
“Presenting his Royal Highness, Prince Orion of the Valley Kingdom; his trusted adviser Lord Arturos, and... Rohana Mendara, their most important citizen chosen by the Gods of the Valley to be the living representation of their will on Earth...”
The herald scrutinized her in disbelief for a moment before recovering his composure. “The delegation from Valley Kingdom has come to aid our newly crowned King in answer to his heartfelt request.”
“Welcome,” King Felix bade them, officially ending the herald's duty to keep explaining what was happening to the courtiers in attendance. “I thank you for coming. Words simply cannot express how deeply I appreciate you being here in our time of need.”
Prince Orion simply nodded his head regally while Lord Arturos gave a light but elegant bow. Rohana felt a split second of panic as she wondered if she should copy their nonchalance in greeting the monarch. Quickly deciding, she performed a curtsey. Not a deep and painstakingly held curtsey of obeisance, but a smaller, graceful curtsey of respect. Behind them, their Royal guards gave matching deep but brief bows, which made Rohana question her choice. After all, a commoner was supposed to exaggerate their respectful gestures, right?
The only thing she had to base her limited knowledge on was the handful of books from Uridian that all the girls passed around in secret. In them, all men in Uridian were charming rogues who poetically tried to woo the ladies. Well, all except for the old King – who was portrayed as strict and unyielding; an indomitable force of will never to be disobeyed. And all the Ladies were portrayed as easily swayed by pretty words while trying their best to maintain a certain distance between themselves and the men who pursued them. Any one of them lucky enough to be presented to the King was expected to nearly swoon as she elegantly collapsed to the floor in a perfect curtsey.
Rohana mentally cringed. Why oh why didn't the King and Queen prepare me for this??? In their Valley, respect was kept simple, and very rarely did anyone have to bob a curtsey for longer than a couple of seconds. Most often, the King or Queen would take a citizen by the hand to convey a sense of caring and concern.
I wonder what they would do if I suddenly took King Felix's hand and started chatting like I would with my King? Rohana wondered, trying to stifle a giggle as the image of scandalized faces floated in her mind's eye. Felix recalled her attention to him, allowing her to successfully maintain her composure.
“Just as you have responded to our need, so too has a delegation from the Great Kingdom. Have you ever met Prince Henry, son of Queen Dantaelian?” Felix asked curiously.
Prince Orion shook his head. “No, Majesty, I haven't.”
King Felix gestured to a pair standing just off to the side of his throne. “Prince Henry and his twin sister, Princess Eve, arrived just this morning. It seemed the very moment I had lost all hope of gaining any aid from my neighboring Kingdoms, they swept in like angels of compassion.”
Lord Arturos bowed to them with deep respect – which confused Rohana as she wondered if she was supposed to mimic him, or follow Orion's lead and do nothing. She also studied them carefully, frowning as she realized that they could only be about 16 years old, and yet they had an aura of power to them that was almost palpable.
“We are delighted and honored to find ourselves in such esteemed company,” Lord Arturos stated.
Prince Henry smiled lightheartedly and bowed ever so slightly to the delegation from Valley. “No, it is we who are honored to meet citizens from the famous and mysterious Valley Kingdom.”
Lord Arturos nodded in regal acceptance, and then turned to look expectantly at Prince Orion. The Prince responded by returning his attention to King Felix. Rohana marveled at his confidence. Only 15 and he acted like a man twice his age!
“King Felix, we of the Valley Kingdom have brought a variety of food, medicines should they be needed, and a small amount of gold to help you survive this time of scarcity,” Prince Orion accepted a large and heavy wooden box about 10 inches squared by four inches deep. He stepped forward and presented the box to King Felix with a small flourish.
King Felix opened the box curiously and then gaped at its contents in astonishment. He had expected the box to contain small vials of medicine, but instead, it held a dizzying amount of two inch long by half an inch wide and deep gold bars ready to be melted down and minted into new coins. Recovering from his blunder as quickly as he could, King Felix closed his mouth and grasped for words.
“I am... stunned by your generosity!” He finally managed to say.
Prince Orion didn't really know how to respond to that, so he hastily stepped to the side and gestured to indicate Rohana. Rohana took a deep breath and then squared her shoulders before accepting a small bundle from Chyllen. She stepped forward and took yet another deep breath to steady her nerves.
“A-a-as the one chosen by the Gods to represent them and our Kingdom, I hereby give you this gift.” She dropped to her knees before the King as she removed the white silk cloth embroidered with fine strands of real gold and tiny pearl beads from the present. The cloth was a sacred relic that must be returned to the temple, but it was necessary to protect its contents from being touched by anyone not chosen by the Gods.
Holding up the sturdy yet delicate looking crystal chalice, Rohana explained the gift to its recipient. “This is the Chalice of Divine Abundance. It was given to our people centuries ago by the Queen of the Gods herself. Anyone who finds themselves in need of a miracle should sip from the cup and pray to her for her favor.”
The chalice – which had naturally been empty during transport – unexpectedly began to fill itself. Rohana gasped in awe, and then quickly continued. “If the prayer moves her, tears from the Queen of the Gods will fill the chalice... The Queen has heard your prayers and gives you favor!”
King Felix stared at Rohana in silence for so long that she forced herself to look directly in his eyes. Her head tilted curiously, wondering what it was she saw in his expression. Whatever it was changed quickly as he focused his attention on the chalice.
“Once more, I am stunned with awe and find I have no words to express my gratitude,” he said, making no move to take the chalice from her. He was just a little afraid that accepting favor from a foreign Goddess would grievously offend his own Gods.
Rohana got to her feet and leaned into the King until the chalice was right below his lips. “Please, my King, take a sip of the Divine Tears and accept the abundance our Goddess plans to send your way!”
His eyes studied her face for a moment before his features softened and he bent his head to comply. She tilted the chalice to make it easier for him. When he straightened his head once more, she smiled, utterly relieved that she had performed her duty without screwing it up somehow.
King Felix returned her smile. “I must admit, I certainly feel blessed already.”
Rohana thought his smile was beautiful in a tragic and poignant way. It was obvious by the serious lines on his young face that he hadn't had a reason to smile in a long time. She silently prayed that she could make him smile at least once or twice more before she returned home.
Go To Next Part
Go To Next Part