Chapter 1 – Part 2

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Chapter 1 – Part 2

 

Chapter 1

The Ceremony

Part 2 - Rite of Passage

As tradition dictated, on that festive day, the Prince Heir of Mithir personally welcomed, with a fake but friendly and politically adequate smile, all those who had been invited to attend his Ceremony of Passage.

Inevitably his eyes were constantly drawn towards the high windows of the great hall, which led to the interior courtyard where the Knights normally trained. Any other day Elian would be outside, with them, dressed in the black uniform of the Order, wielding his sword. Now that same sword rested at his waist, no more than an mere ornament, and his vests were so uncomfortable that he doubted he’d be able to straddle his horse without tearing something up.
The huge white marble hall seemed to glow, the numerous candles reflecting golden flames on the walls, casting flickering shadows on the paintings that pictured the many generations of the Royal Family.
The royal ladies, dressed in long colorful gowns, strolled alone or accompanied, smiling and greeting politely one another. The gentlemen all bowed deeply at his passage. Cheerful voices resounded like echoes form a faraway past, the sound of the music forever lost, condemned to nonexistence by the collective of minds too absorbed by the political and social aspects of the party to be able to hear it.
The only guest that had made him truly smile had been Elipson. Like Denar, Elipson wore the ceremonial uniform of the Knights and held a special place among the Court. After all, she was the sole responsible for the instruction and training of half the Kingdom’s armed forces. She had smiled affectionately at him, hugging him tightly and thus shocking many of the presents at the obvious lack of ceremony and respect towards the Prince Heir. Elian hadn’t minded it at all.
Elipson was three years older than him. Her hair, tied in a ponytail as to not disturb her, was black and curly, and much shorter than the long hairs of the Court Ladies, only slightly touching her shoulders. Her eyes were gray and bright, constantly burning with that liveliness typical of a warrior.
After wishing him a happy twentieth anniversary, she’d taken her place beside Denar, though no words had been exchanged between the two of them.

The King rose and, with a slight wave of his hand, silenced all the voices that echoed through the room.

Elian looked around. The hall was packed with people. Some of the presents looked at him with nostalgic smiles, remembering a much smaller Elian that seemed to have grown up too fast. Others looked at him seeing the future King, ready to demand the right decisions that all expected him to be able to make. The young maidens looked at him as if they were huntresses that had just spotted a magnificent deer lost in the woods. From then forth Elian would be considered an adult and it was expected that he’d find a suitable wife as soon as possible, assuring a successor to the throne. Unfortunately for the young ladies he knew all too well all about their true intentions and had decided, long ago, to simply ignore them.

Taking a deep breath, he put on his ‘Highness expression’, the same they all expected him to wear, and just as it had been rehearsed, walked slowly over the red carpet towards the throne where, standing up, his father awaited him.

As he crossed the room all the guests took a knee to the ground, respectfully lowering their heads. By the corner of the eye he saw Denar and Elipson, side by side, kneeling as he walked past them.

Looking at his father he couldn't help notice the deep marks of the passage of time etched on the Monarch’s face, his hair, once bright blond, now gray and aged. Yet his eye still glowed with the light of pride for the son he’d raised, even though nothing would be able to mask his thin and tiered appearance. Endio had aged too fast in the last fifteen years, since, without any known or logical reason, he’d banned his sister from Mithir. Back then many had thought that the King would eventually die if the so beloved Lidya didn’t return. A thought that Elian dreaded terribly, for should something like that ever happen he would have to take up the throne.

Casting those dark thoughts aside, he looked at his mother, standing beside the King. Her sad gaze remained the same as always, lost in space, but when she found her son’s eyes a small smile touched her lips. A light and brief smile, but a smile, nevertheless. A smile of a woman stifled by life itself, by all the pressure, by all the anguish and sadness she had had to live through. Even so, she was still beautiful. A delicate and fragile beauty, no more than a fleeting shadow of the overflowing life that had once inhabited her. But then her Kingdom had fallen, destroyed and laid to waste by war, and her world had crumbled with it. Among those who had accompanied Her Majesty when she had moved to Mithir, some said that the now seemingly delicate Lady had once ridden her horse to war, after her father and brother had fallen in battle, fighting side by side with her men. It was said that many had lost their lives at her small, frail hands, and that it had been all those deaths and destruction that had forever stained her youthful joy.

Elian was proud of that pale, weak woman, but also felt sorry for her, sorry for all that she had lost and could never be retrieved.

When he arrived near the throne he drop one knee on the ground and lowered his head, waiting in silence. He felt his father’s hand, heavy, cold and shaky, land on his head and listened to his hoarse and slow voice as he recited the old speech of the Rite of Passage.

His mind wandered once more, through time, back to his childhood, back to his bedroom. Once more he felt the cold of the stone floor beneath his feet, he crossed those corridors and opened that door just so he could smile at those golden eyes drowning in bright tears.

What would she look like now? For sure she had also grown. Would she be tall like he remembered his aunt to be? As much as he tried, he just couldn’t picture her. All he could remember were her eyes, that were the color of gold, and a baby’s smile on a round, soft face. And suddenly he was afraid … What if she was nothing like he expected? Like he idealized her? What if Denar was right, and she was like all the other noble girls he knew, frivolous and empty, worrying only about their looks and about their desires? Maybe she was nothing like he’d dreamed her to be during all those years.

In any case, soon all his questions would be answered, and Elian took a deep breath looking for some comfort on that single certainty, trying to cast away the anxiety that weighted on his chest.

“Thus, Elian Darclya, on this seventh day of the present month of Kafuna, I hereby declare you a free citizen of the Kingdom of Mithir. May your soul be noble enough to bring responsibility unto your mind and to bestow upon you the power to distinguish between good and evil! Now rise, my son!"

Elian stood up, facing the bright and deeply moved eyes of his father as he held his face and kissed him lightly on his forehead.

“May you be all that I couldn’t be,” the King added in a whisper, and drawing Elian’s sword handed it back to him as symbol of his independence.

Elian nodded lightly, accepting the weapon with both hands, and, just as practiced, kissed its pommel and returned it to its scabbard.

Bowing reverently he stepped back and turned around to face his guests. A gigantic round of applause echoed throughout the room, congratulating the Prince for his birthday, and Elian made himself smile once more, stepping down the few steps that kept him apart from the rest of the guests.

He walked through a hearty human corridor, where curtsies and wishes of happiness accompanied his every step. And finally left the room, followed by his guests, entering the annexed hall where the main festivities would take place.

In there large tables filled with all kinds of delicacies awaited them and the music filled the air once again.

Holding a glass of wine, which he still hadn’t had the chance to taste, Elian stepped discreetly away. After hundreds of handshakes and another hundred congratulations, he’d finally managed to get rid of all those ceremonial greetings that tired him so much.

Smiling happily, Denar approached him and sat beside him.

“What a party, hey?”

“Yeah. I’m the perfect excuse for all these noble gentlemen get stuffed for free.” Elian criticized looking at the plates that passed right in front of him, filled with food to the brim.

“Without a doubt!” Denar agreed. “Does it bother you?”

“No. Not really. I couldn’t care less,” he answered and placed his untouched glass of wine on a tray that had passed right in front of him on the hands of a young maid. “Soon, all this … will cease to exist.”

“Why would you say that? Sometimes you’re really negative about the world around you,” the Knight remarked, smiling lewdly towards two young ladies that, not far from there, kept their undivided attention fixed on the Crown Prince.

“I know … and you know I know.”

Denar took a deep breath and decided to drop the matter. By now he was too used to the strange things that sometimes Elian would to say, and his attention fell on Elipson that walked towards them with a smile on her face.

“Dela and Libel are dying to talk to you,” she informed Elian in a mocking tone, to which he sighed deeply.

“And I am dying for this party to be over. You know how I fell about them, right?”

Elipson smiled once more. Of course she knew. She’d known him since he was a child.

“Are you really going today?” she asked, changing the subject, and Elian nodded.

“Yes. I’ll be taking Denar with me, so that father won’t worry himself to death. We won’t go too far. Just enough to comply with the tradition.”

“That’s good, then. News from the North arrived yesterday. The Armies of the North are getting closer every day. We have to establish defense tactics, should the need arise,” she reported.

“I already spoke to the King about this matter,” Denar added. “But His Majesty didn’t seem to take my advice too seriously, and to see this as nothing but a remote threat.”

“Don’t worry. As soon as I return I’ll call upon the Council so that we may all discuss what needs to be done,” Elian assured and Elipson nodded lightly in accord.

“And so … Will you be traveling anonymously?”

“Yes.”

“We will?!” Denar asked choking and Elian looked at him, amused.

“Something wrong?”

“To tell you the truth…?! Yeah! I can actually think of a dozen or so ‘somethings wrongs’!” he retorted and Elian smiled, slapping him friendly on the back.

“Oh, come on Denar! You’re always telling me about your adventures before coming here! And about how exciting it was to sleep under the stars, and all that …! Don’t tell me you don’t miss those times!”

“No, I don’t. Not in the least!” he countered immediately. “Elian, you don’t know what’s like to travel without any support, without knowing what awaits you. You’re used to have all you need at arm’s length. Sleep under the stars …! Sleep out in the cold, you mean! Besides, you’re a Prince! What if something happens to you?!”

“Nothing is going to happen to me. Isn’t it to deal with that eventuality that you’re coming with me?” Elian replied with complete confidence, leaving Denar speechless. “And as for not knowing what it’s like, well, it’s never too late to learn, right? Isn’t that what it’s mentioned on the old documents of the Ceremony of Passage? ‘Sleep under the stars…?’”

“Who says it has to be read literally?” Denar grunted, sighing bitterly and, with a last ray of hope, looked pleadingly at his Prince. But Elian’s dark eyes smiled at him, undisturbed. There was nothing he could say that would make him change his mind. “Right … under the stars it is …” he conceded, leaving a victorious smile on his Prince’s face.

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