The gulls cried and the waves crashed. The island kingdom of Alnwick had been consumed by two weeks of mourning. King Robert had passed and now his eldest son Malcolm was the rightful ruler. Malcolm was preparing to abdicate his throne. His birthright was a burden he had never wanted. In the cover of darkness he would depart to the East to live in quiet simplicity with Mae Ling, the woman who had stolen his heart.
Malcolm was strong and kind. He had all the attributes of a great king but since he wasn’t fully committed to his duty he felt the task lay better with his younger brother, Edmond. Edmond was equally as kind but he was but a boy of sixteen and not ready to rule a kingdom.
Malcolm looked out onto the sea. The salty air washed across his face.
“Are you sure about this?” asked Edmond.
Malcolm lay a gentle hand on his brother’s shoulder. “The throne of Alnwick should only be occupied by a ruler who is wholehearted. My mind is constantly driving me elsewhere. I can think of no one better for our people than you, little brother.”
Edmond had always looked upon Malcolm with admiration but his decision to abandon his people was difficult to understand.
“If you leave you can never come back,” Edmond reminded him.
Malcolm offered a smile, filled with warmth but lacking in intensity. “I leave today because I never wish to come back.”
Edmond opened his arms, wrapped them around his brother and embraced him. He lowered his voice and whispered in his ear. “You are a coward. You are running away from your responsibility and I will never forgive you. The moment you leave these shores you become an enemy of this real and as its king I will bring you to call.”
Malcolm stepped back, pushing Edmond away from him. He seemed a little shaken at first but then he laughed. “Save some of that fire in your belly for your council. You are going to need every last drop of it.”
Mae Ling approached them. “We have to go,” she urged. Her long emerald robes trailed in the soft white sand. A boat lay in wait for them.
Malcolm embraced his brother again. “Forget your childish tantrums,” he said. “If this is to be our last, we will not part in such a way.”
Edmond’s shoulders depressed. He clasped his hands together in front of him. “I’m sorry. I’m just upset.”
Malcolm sighed. “You will be king. You apologise to no one,” he said. “Learn that and you will be a greater king than I would ever have been.”
“Will you not change your mind?” asked the younger.
“The time for that is gone. For us this is goodbye.”
Mae Ling kissed Edmond on both cheeks. She took Malcolm’s hand and they crossed the beach to their waiting vessel.
Edmond returned alone to Eccleshall to face his people and accept his new place as king.
When Eccleshall was alerted the abdication of Malcolm, the mother of the princes – Jane – wept herself dry of tears.
“I have buried a husband and today I lose a son,” she had said to her youngest, clutching his hand gently. She had aged rapidly in a short space of time. Deep lines had formed around her eyes which leaked despair. Her copper coloured hair had dulled.
“You still have me mother,” Edmond kissed her hand. “You will always have me.”
The Queen Regent took a sharp intake of breath. She caressed her cheek. “You are a darling boy Edmond,” she said. “ Alnwick needs you.”
The Royal Council of Alnwick brought together noblemen from all round the island to the capital city of Harborough where Eccleshall lay. Not crowned yet, Edmond had chosen not to occupy his father’s throne but instead sat on a high backed wooden chair next to it.
“The behaviour of Prince Malcolm is disgraceful,” uttered Lord Miley, a very stern man from the upper shores. He took no notice of Edmond. Edmond sat quietly and allowed the Lords to conduct their conversation.
“We need to make this change as quickly and as smoothly as we can,” stated Lord Pilrick of the lower coast.
Lord Miley rang his hands in frustration. “What will the people say when it isn’t Malcolm occupying the throne?”
An argument erupted. Edmond stood. The Lords were too busy bickering over something they had already agreed they couldn’t change.
“If I may,” Edmond called over them.
Lord Pilrick rubbed his ample stomach and bowed low. “Of course, his Highness must have his say.”
The Lords of the council stared at at them. Most of them had known him as a baby in his mother’s arms. He was an adorable, fair haired prince who they enjoyed seeing playing in the yards of Eccleshall and learning the princely traits but they would never see him as more than that. He was much beloved but none of the Lords took Edmond seriously as a king. Now that he had their attention Edmond had forgotten what he had wanted to say, if he had had anything to say at all.
“I’ll do my best,” he muttered and sat back down.
Lord Miley said, “Of course you will.” His condescending tones where as good as a roll of his eyes. He was disgruntled that the little boy would play king whilst the adults attempted to conduct the true business of Alnwick.
Edmond had watched his father conduct the council before. Robert would never have allowed them to rattle on they way they were. Edmond knew he was failing before he had even been given the crown. He cursed Malcolm for his selfishness. He cursed his brother for even thinking he deserved to leave. Mostly, he cursed Malcolm for not taking him with him.
A heavy bell chimed alerting the council to a visitor. It was only with that the Lords silenced. An Alnwickian guard pushed open the door. He stood tall, stared straight ahead and bellowed, “His Grace, Justus Vosoloo, Royal Council of Navaria!”
In stepped a man with a looming presence. His fingers were laced in gold and his towering, muscular frame was clothed in the finest of red and black fabrics. His strong, square jaw was set in bemusement.
“Alnwick welcomes Your Grace,” began Lord Miley, “But I must say, your timing doesn’t serve you well.”
Justus removed a golden handkerchief and wiped his forehead. The warmth of Alnwick bathed his soft, black skin in the dew of perspiration. “King Roman of Navaria has requested my presence here. He received word from Prince Malcolm that he no longer wished to be king of this great realm. He was instead leaving the duty to Prince Edmond.”
Lord Pilrick’s brow had knotted in a severe frown. “With respect, Your Grace, but what business is that of Navaria?”
“None,” replied Justus. “My king just wished me to offer respect to His Highness. He was concerned that in the bounds of great knowledge of this council his little cousin may find himself overwhelmed. I’m here to observe and offer advice if called upon, nothing more.”
Lord Miley grunted. “This is a very difficult time for Alnwick. We do not need some foreign devil making it worse.”
Justus raised his voice slightly. His resonating tones danced around the walls of the hall. “I beg to differ, My Lord,” he answered. “This situation will only be difficult it you allow it to be. Of course I can only go by what I hear but I’m sure Prince Edmond will make a fine king.”
Justus crossed his arms over his chest, observing closely. Edmond stared at a portrait of his father that hung on the wall. It had been created early in his reign. Robert was a pillar of masculine strength. He was broad shouldered, strong armed and with a full beard. Edmond pushed himself to be something of the man his father was.
“I want to speak to Justus,” he cried out. The Lords slipped into stunned silence once again. “Get out!” he called.
The looked at each other for approval before finally granting the prince his request. When they were alone Edmond gasped, the pressure from the council lifting from his chest.
“I can’t do this,” he admitted.
Justus pulled him from the wooden chair and onto his feet. “Of course you can,” he said. “It’s in your blood.” He pushed Edmond onto the throne. “Don’t let them bully you.”
“I still can’t believe what Malcolm has done,” Edmond stated.
Justus took the wooden seat. “Sometimes we take a path different from the one others think we should. A lot of responsibility has fallen on you but I’m here to help, Your Highness, or should I say, Your Majesty.”
The Alnwickian Lords did what they could to keep Justus at bay. His powerful presence at Edmond’s side had made things difficult for them.
With Malcolm gone they would have Edmond as a suitable figurehead on the throne. He would smile and wave at the people whilst they made the true decisions. Justus was encouraging Edmond to have more opinions of his own which was dangerous.
Edmond had been summoned to the hall. He tried carrying an air of superiority but it only resulted In his shoulders hunching. He tried to keep strong eye contact but every time he was addressed he would tremble. As a prince he had had no fear. He had given public addresses and he had held the crowd to his opinion but as a king it was more difficult, more real.
He noticed that Justus was absent. “Where is His Grace?” he asked. Some of the Lords looked up but none of them answered.
“His Majesty would like to take a walk,” said Lord Miley.
Edmond had not made any such request, “Would I?”
“Of course,” Lord Miley insisted. “It’s such a nice day and we would love to hear your thoughts on the future of Alnwick.”
Edmond was flattered. He was making progress with his council. Their true intentions were not apparent to him.
“If he can form opinions, let him form ours,” Lord Pilrick had said earlier that morning.
They pulled the boy away from his Navarian guard dog. They were confident that by the end of the day they could have Edmond dismiss Justus and have him sent back across shore where he belonged.
As they were heading towards the gardens a young girl tried to push through. “Your Majesty! Your Majesty!” she cried, waving a note above her head. “I must give this to you,” she insisted.
Edmond felt a sharp tug on his arm. He was dragged away from the girl. “Who was she?” he asked.
Lord Miley and Lord Pilrick shared a stare.
“She’s no one, Your Majesty,” said Miley.
Pilrick dismissed it as though it were of no consequence. “Just a silly girl, nothing to be concerned about.”
The reign of the puppet boy king began. Edmond never forgot the girl. She wasn’t seen around the castle and he worried that he would never learn the urgent message she carried until the of her return when the kingdom of Alnwick would erupt into war.
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