"Dark Stag" - Chapter 10


            Mother, Brija and I watched as Roi ride away on his horse. No one was taking it as hard as mother. She simply didn’t know he was going to be fine, that he was going to a place that was safe. We all returned to the brunch table, everyone silent. The king seemed shocked at the actions that took place this morning. Mother slowly turned to him.
“I don’t care…” She said, “...how fucked up those drugs got you, but you better hope and pray that my baby will be alright out there,” She got to her feet, “I’m telling you… His safety is your LAST hope…”
            She left the terrace, entering the palace. Everyone else was left at the table looking lost. Robin stared at me, before his eyes darted away as I became aware of this. I entered the home after mother. She was in the longue, pacing around.
“How could I let this happen…” She said, clenching her head.
“Mother, it’s gonna be okay…” I said, going to reassure her.
“No baby, you don’t understand. The drugs your father are on… The number of flasks? It’s not a good outlook for the future. I’m so worried about your brother…” She responded.
“Please don’t be. He’s going to a safe heaven far from this place…” I said, hoping to reassure her.
“Is he staying in the city. Is he going where Ki…” She paused, looking past me.
            A shadow moving across the floor caused me to turn. It was father, looking worried. I looked back at mother, her concern turning into fury.
“I need to talk to your mother alone…” He said, seemingly daunted by the task.
“Very well.” I responded, heading back out to the brunch. Again Robin was staring at me. Brija had left. She was walking down to the Aviary. I followed, “Hey…”
            She turned, waiting on me.
“This shit is so stupid…” She said.
“I know…” I said, “It’s just… I know.” We arrived at the aviary, both staggered by the fact that Roi had left. Brija, in particular, was hurt. She knew very little about what Roi had been through so the brunch was a revelation to her.
“I’ve been living in a shroud…” She said.
“Why do say that?” I asked.
“I don’t ever know shit… I had no idea that pa and Roi’s relationship was even that bad. Mom said father used to beat him! And Sir Socoshian… Did he really?” She asked, turning to me.
“I don’t know…” I said back, truly skeptical.
“Roi seemed so upset. And Dad… That’s the part that’s breaking my heart the most… He doesn’t care in the slightest!” Brija looked at me, shocked.
“I know…” I said, shocked too. I couldn’t wrap my head around what Roi did to uncover proof that father was on drugs.
“It just isn’t going to be the same without him.” Brija said, getting up, going to her kestrel. She looked at the tiny hooded bird which was tethered to the perch in it’s tiny little paddock, “This was such a mistake…”
“What is?” I asked.
“I never should have gotten this bird.” She said concern written across her face, “Believe me, raising her has been a joy but with things so uncertain, our family falling apart, I don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
“Things will be fine!” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder. She looked at me the same way Roi did, that questioning furl of the eyebrow. It made me hesitant, “I don’t have a jockey partner to ride with anymore, though. Roi was surprisingly good… In fact better than me…”
“What?” Brija asked as I walked to the workbenches to take a seat.
“Yeah… He smoked me in a one on one match yesterday. I’ve been trying to keep it together but it’s getting to me. Father always called me the best player he’s ever seen. Then Roi, who hasn’t played for years comes in and smokes me twice times back to back. He then tells me that father didn’t want him to compete because he didn’t want him to take my shine away, after father learned about what Sir Socoshian did to him…” I continued.
“That’s fucked up!” She responded.
“Really?” I asked, surprised she believed the claim.
“Roi left… He literally gave up… Everything about him, his reclusive ways, lack of self confidence, tendency to run through partners and then dump them suddenly, fearfulness around father…. Everything is fitting like puzzle pieces. And father… I don’t know, he’s not the man I thought he was. He’s a liar…” She said.
“No… don’t say that! He’s still our father and shouldn’t be called such!” I said. Again, Brija gave me that questioning eye before speaking.
“He is… No doubt about that, but open your eyes! Think for yourself! Evidence is adding up and it’s not in his favor! Roi confirmed he was on drugs, that Sir Socoshian was behind it! That isn’t enough evidence?” She asked.
“I mean…” I said, trying to find a reasonable doubt. I just didn’t want to believe it, “Roi, gave up on me first… He turned cold. He kept saying I didn’t think for myself and that I was impressionable and blind…”
“I see…” She said, her eyes scalding me.
“What is this… What are you doing?” I asked, hating this feeling of scrutinization. Her eyes were just so heavy on me.
“Nothing…” She said, returning to the paddock where her kestrel was.
            I didn’t know my heart was racing the way it was until she left. This couldn’t be happening. I could literally feel the family falling apart and it was just overwhelming. How could father do this to us? And was this sir Socoshian guy this evil? Did he really put Roi through all of what Roi claimed? Did he really try to put father on drugs?
“Richard?” Someone called out. I turned, surprised to see Robin. My stomach twisted into knots after seeing the boy.
“What?” I asked.
“Long time no talk right?” He smiled.
“What the fuck do you want?” I asked.
“I just wanted to talk to you.” He said.
“Why?” I asked. The boy paused, very, very upset.
“Don’t do this to me! You’re the one who replaced us with that southerner…” He said back.
“I didn’t replace you. He was a trainer and had insight…” I argued back.
“Look…” He said clenching his eyes, “I don’t care… That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. I came here to warn you…”
            Brija came from the paddock, her kestrel on her mit. She wasn’t happy to see him.
“What?” I asked him.
“Things are quickly spiralling out of hand. At first I felt betrayed about you ditching us but… Things are going to get bad. You and Brija should leave before they do…” He responded.
“What things? Have you forgotten the way you treated me? That was just wrong… You expect me to listen to you right now?” I said.
“You’re the one who betrayed me… us! We were a team and you just ditched us for that southerner! We were counting on you!” He countered.
“No, you were USING ME! If it wasn’t for my resources, it wouldn’t be a TEAM!” I said. It seemed to stun Robin.
“Using you? You took it upon yourself to VOLUNTEER YOUR FUNDS!!!! It doesn’t fucking matter to me! My family was well off enough to PAY for EVERYTHING!!!! Don’t blame me for anything… I was always there for you! How DARE YOU say I USED YOU!” Robin’s eyes got teary.
“What are you trying to warn us of…” Brija asked, intervening between the fight. Robin slowly turned to her. He clenched his head, gathering the will to confess something.
“Sir Socoshian… No… No… Things are going to get worse. I’m telling you now to both leave…” He said.
“What do you know, Robin?” Brija asked, edging closer to him.
“I can’t say…” He said, shaking his head before turning back to me, “Everything that Roi said about my father is right… He’s, an evil, EVIL man… I can’t even begin to describe what being raised by him was like…”
“Robin, if you tell us what’s going on, we can plan to avoid it…” Brija said.
“No… It’s already too big to avoid… Just leave. Everything is falling into fruition and there’s nothing that can be done. You two, leave…” He responded. Brija looked at me concerned.
“We’re not leaving. This is our home…” I said back.
“Then you’ll be stupid to stay. I’m sorry for making you feel the way you feel, and I’m sorry for everything that’s going to happen. It won’t reflect the way I feel about you or your family…” He said, backing away.
“No wait…” I said getting up after him, “Explain…”
“No, if my father finds out I told you, I’m going to be the one dead. Just leave… please I’m begging you! I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you…” He said.
“Why’d you tell me this much, then?” I asked. Robin looked at me utterly shocked.
“You really are stupid…” He said, leaving.
            It left me confused. Brija came up beside me.
“That boy is in the thick of this situation and can do nothing about it.” Brija then looked to me, “This is bad, Richard… very bad! We can’t just sit idly by and let this situation boil over. Sir Socoshian is obviously up to no good, father is not his reasonable self… What’s next? Us! We’re next!”
“You need to calm down. This situation will sort itself out…” I said, trying to find reason in all of this.
“Have you forgotten how all of this started? It’s because of father’s unfair treatment of Kijus. Kijus then left, and father flipped out… His actions made no sense, so your brother, the one father hates, found out why father is acting irrationally and who was responsible for it! The man responsible for it has done unthinkable things to your brother, and to his own son! Wake up and think…” Brija said.
“This is impossible… You are just like Roi with your theories… I just can’t…” I said walking away. In all honesty, it was just nearly impossible to make sense of this all. How could there be people this evil in the world? How could father let himself slip from up high like this? This couldn’t really be what was happening…
            I wanted to fly my falcon since it had been a while but it was hard to get myself in the proper mindset to fly him. At the same time, not flying him was bordering on neglect. I entered the aviary again, suiting up to fly him. He was hungry and antsy in his kennel. He hopped on my wrist ready for a bechin. I gave him some dry lamb, the bird downing it swiftly.
“I’m sorry but things have been awful…” I said to him.
“Tell me about it…” Someone said from behind.
            It was Snare and Miles, surprisingly happy to see me.
“Wow…” I responded. I didn’t share the same sentiments they had, though.
“I’m sorry about your family…” Miles said.
“I’m sorry too.” I responded, strapping my falcon’s ankle to my wrist. I turned, heading towards the field.
“Come on, don’t give us this shoulder.” Snare pleaded.
“Why not… you both deserve it! You think I was literally going to replace you with Kijus? And you all used me!” I argued.
“No denying that we used you, but we are still a team that whoops ass! You can’t deny that!” Snare reasoned.
“We were, but those days are over. I’m not competing any more…” I said.
“What? Why not?” Snare asked.
“My brother and I had a one on one duel to make time pass. He destroyed me with little to no practice. I ask him how,” I said, leaning against the workbench, “He says he’s always been better than me but father didn’t want him to steal my light, so he didn’t play anymore… Father gave him Silver which was a problem for him for a few years… It just literally made me hate the sport…”
“Damn he must be… You’re still great, Ricky! Don’t let this defeat you.” Miles said.
“See, there’s so much going on that I just don’t know anymore… The last thing I want to do is play this sport at the moment. I just want my family to come back together…” I said.
“Let’s just fly our raptors for old time’s sake…” Snare suggested. I looked at the red breast sitting on my wrist.
“Why not…” I sighed.
            Miles and Snare geared up with their long wings, heading out to the field with me. We got into position, untethering our birds. Something was different about the red-breast today. He was more alert, more lively. He drooped his wings, in the wind, taking small reflexive flaps. Raptors generally did this when ready to fly. I took his hood off, the bird chirping. He looked down at his noose then to me.
            I untied the noose. He spread his long narrow wings, taking off rapidly.  He flew low and
straight before ascending. He continued and continued, until we couldn’t see him any more.
“What is that thing doing?” Miles asked.
“He’s not coming back…” I sighed. Snare slowly looked at me, heartbroken.
“I’m sorry.” He said.
“He needed me and I wasn’t there for him.” I said, this sounding very familiar.
“Ah… You make it sound so awful. Things like this happen. I lost my first raptor.” Snare chuckled.
“It’s different. This was my first raptor and the raptor I spent years perfecting my technique on! We built so much history and one little thing I forgot to do just washed it all away. That’s like what happened between my brother and I…” I said, clearly remembering.
“I never understood you two…” Snare responded.
“I know you’re probably tired of hearing his name but Kijus is the reason we were able to reconcile anything anyways.” I sighed, “He brought the family closer as a whole… snapped my sister out of her delusions, made Roi accept and love himself more… and made me fall in love with him. It’s just that I didn’t know Roi had fought so many silent battles living in my shadows. And when he tried to confide in me, I wasn’t there… Him leaving this morning was no surprise. I wasn’t supporting him. Father wasn’t supporting him. Mother and Brija didn’t know what the hell was going on. It’s just a big mess. If I was in his shoes, I just don’t know…”
“That’s hard for sure…” Miles said, prepping his raptor for flight.
“Do you know where he left to?” Snare asked, concerned.
“He’s alright… He went to a place we know very, very well.” I smiled.
“Where?” Snare continued. I looked at him unsure why he wanted these details. I just shook my head. He nodded, sensing the trust we once had was gone.
            I watched the two fly their raptors. It was beautiful but hard to watch. There was nothing in this sport for me any more. I returned to the palace, wishing this day would end. It was still fairly early in the day. Without my falcon, there was very little to do. Maybe I could read a few books or something, just something different.
            Upon entering the palace, I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go. I ended up in the lounge, going through the books. There was nothing special to read. I settled on an ancient African Mythology book. It started with West African tribes around the Senegal region. Just as it was starting to get good, father and Sir Socoshian sat down across from me. I looked up slowly at them.
“Long time no talk, my boy?” Father smiled. His missing teeth and rotten breath made it incredibly hard not to cringe.
“Hi, father…” I said, returning to reading.
“I never see you read…” He noted.
“Roi got me into it. It was all he ever did. He was the smartest person I knew…” I said. Father sighed.
“Reading is not the most powerful thing a man could do.” He chuckled. Sir Socoshian slowly looked at him.
“Power? To know is to have powers. And power is knowledge…” I said.
“So do you have knowledge of Roi’s whereabouts?” He asked.
“I don’t know…” I shrugged, resuming reading.
“You don’t know?” Father asked, shocked.
“Of course you do…” Sir Socoshian said, “I know he told you before he left. The way he left? All of this was planned in advance!”
“That means nothing…” I responded. I didn’t want to tell them where he was. Though I had a hard time believing Roi’s stories, I did believe that father hurt Roi and I wouldn’t want to risk this.
“Is this because Roi and the southerner are together? Are you still trying to protect that southerner?” Sir Socoshian asked, not understanding.
“No…” I denied plainly. 
            Faint steps from behind stopped just behind me. It was mother. She looked at Sir Socoshian, glaring.
“You spinless monster… Just asking for your prey, right? Tell me…” She said taking a seat next to me, “What did you see in Roi that made Richard off limits?”
“My queen, what are you talking about?” Sir Socoshian asked, completely lost.
“I’m just delusional then? You know exactly what I’m talking about!” Mother growled, “You may have everyone else fooled but I know a fraud when I see one. I’m from Burgundy… It doesn’t get more or less real than that! You want to play these games with me… you’ll lose!”
            Father looked fearful. It made me realize that there was more to mother than I ever knew. Sir Socoshians eyes darted around as though he were unphased.
“I’ll bring your son back here…” Sir Socoshian asked.
“No, I want Jared to bring my son back!” Mother said, pointing to father, “His son!” Father didn’t look pleased to hear bother call Roi his son. This was extremely hard to watch but I couldn’t leave!
“Why are you doing this?” Father asked.
“I let you do what you want, stayed silent for so long… Now, I’m taking charge because you are in no condition to rule this country! I’m speaking with the Council of the Ziggurats tomorrow and will be asking for power to temporarily be awarded to the Sorooshian House while you get help! You’ve lost it.” Mother said.
“NO!” Father shouted.
“No? Try and stop me…” Mother said, getting up to leave. Sir Socoshian eyed her threateningly as she left. His eyes then darted around, plotting.
            It was harder for me to judge what was the truth however, Sir Socoshian and father were both behaving questionably. I didn’t like the questions they were asking me. They were prodding for more information than what was needed. I decided to leave, heading up to my room.
“Roi? Where are you going?” Father asked.
“I’m having a rough day, father. Roi ran away, my falcon ran away and I’m seeing a side to this family that I never knew existed…” I sighed.
“Very well, my prince…” He nodded.
            I went to my room, wanting to cry. Everything was becoming so frustrating and I just wanted it to end! Still deep in my heart, Kijus was my main concern. It had been several days since he entered the brothels and I couldn’t help but be concerned. He still hadn’t written me since he had entered the brothel and I didn’t know if this was going to work. Considering everything else at play, Kijus’s issues felt far less important. I wondered what was going to happen to the kingdom.
            The worrying put me to sleep. I woke up the next day, getting ready for the morning brunch. I wasn’t excited for it but had to go regardless. Everyone took their seats, silent after the events that took place yesterday. It completely took everyone’s minds away from the Kijus situation. Father looked as though he was in a very, very good mood today.
“I hope everyone’s dining happy this morning.” He smiled.
            Mother looked over at Roi’s empty seat going deep into thought as she ate. Still no one spoke. 
“As you all know…” Father began, “An archer has been taking out our scenting hounds with poison darts as well as poisoning our kennels. They didn’t take out all our dogs and our dogs led us to the Bolt Division…”
            Both Brija and I froze at the news. Father could see the reaction flash across our face. Mother noticed it too.
“Kijus’s scent was traced there, where an Illisian law official resides. This morning he just went into custody. He injured a number of my guard, including Sir Socoshian… even killed some.”  I sighed. Sir Socoshian was wearing an arm sling, seemingly proud of his injury.
“That’s good…” I said, continuing to eat. It was not the reaction father was expecting.
“And I still have my emergency meeting with the Council of the Ziggurat tomorrow… Would have done it today but somehow my caravan ended up getting surprise maintance done. How convenient… I wish I could have gone today though… There’s no hope for you coming to your senses…” Mother smiled, warranting a disgruntled look from father. 
            That was incredibly facetious! Everyone at the table looked on in shock, no one knowing mother was so cutthroat. It was a shock to both Brija and I, the two of us somewhat amazed. The brunch eventually came to an end, it being extremely awkward. As it ended, Brija didn’t bother to hide how upset she was. She made her way to the aviary.
“Hey…” I said, catching up with her, “Are you okay?”
“No… They got Mercury…” She said.
“I know. It’s awful, right?” I said, disgusted. She didn’t respond.
            We arrived, the girl going into her kestrel’s paddock. She didn’t gear up or anything, just grabbing the bird gently in her hands.
“What are you doing?” I asked. She still didn’t respond, walking towards the exit. She walked a considerable distance into the pasture, opening her hands. The kestrel flew away, hovering above her. She ignored the bird, heading towards the stables. The kestrel followed, the poor bird completely confused.
“What are you doing, Brija?” I asked.
“I’m leaving, Roi. I can’t take this any more…” She said. It made me pause.
“You can’t…” I responded.
“I’m not about to stay here and watch this place fall… It’s too much for me.” She sighed.
“So you’re just gonna cross the plains by yourself?” I asked.
“Yep…” She said back.
“Why are you doing that… It’s not safe out there… there are bandits, doyles, steppe lions…” I argued.
“It’s not safe here… I must say for you to be so incredibly smart, Ricky, you are failing hard to see this situation for what it is… You should leave too before it’s too late.” She responded.
“You and Roi are both little cowards…. You’re running away from your issues instead of facing them! Both of you!” I said out of rage. It made her stop.
“The only one who is being a coward here, is you! You’re refusing to see this situation for what it is because you’re afraid of the truth. The truth is creeping up on you and you’re just letting it! Take some initiative and get out of here before it’s too late. Come with me…” She said.
“No… I’m not leaving…” I said, losing my composure.
“If I lose you, Richard…” Brija said, her eyes welling up.
“If I lose you!” I countered, truly loving my sister. She came and gave me a hug.
“Don’t tell anyone I left. Act like you don’t even know! Let it be a surprise to them all! You know where I’ll be and how to get in touch with me.” She responded.
“I do.” I nodded.
            I left heading back to the palace. Guilt was eating me from within, just thinking about what would happen when everyone discovered Brija was gone. I wanted to find mother. I went up the stairs to her and father’s room, knocking. The King’s Guard was standing like statues at the door. It made me nervous.
            Mother answered the door, with a warm smile.
“Come on in.” She said. She closed the door behind me, her servants pouring me tea.
“No thanks…” I chuckled. They bowed, placing the tea back on the platter. Mother looked at me curiously.
“Why have you come? You never visit me…” She smiled.
“I want to come to the emergency meeting with the council tomorrow.” I said.
“Why?” She asked, surprised. It took me a while to gather my thoughts.
“I’m not sure. I feel like something might happen to you. I didn’t like the way Sir Socoshian looked at you last night.” I said. Mother smiled.
“I can handle myself just fine. I’m the one who taught your father how to use a saber and broadsword. I’m the ones that taught you and your brother archery.” She grinned, “But you’re not coming…”
“Why?” I asked, growing upset.
“For the reasons you said!” She looked around, “All my servants, go into another room…” The servants did so, “And close the door…” The women all crowded into a closet, “I don’t know what is going on but something isn’t right here,” She whispered, “And I have to fix this. I want you to leave… take your sister, and go.”
“I’m so confused… what’s going on, mother?” I asked.
“I feel like there is going to be an overthrowing, a mutany within this palace. I don’t want you to be here. I’m not going to the council to remove your father from power, but to inform the council of what is happening within the walls of this city. I tried to tell your father about Sir Socoshian but he’s too far gone to be reasoned with. His days are numbered, Ricky…” Mother said. Those words hit me hard. She placed a hand on my shoulder.
“No, don’t say that. We can still fix this…” I said. Guilt spread across mother’s face.
“This is all my fault. I let Jared take you under his wing and shelter you from what’s real. And now you can’t see what you need to see.” She said, her eyes welling up.
“You’re asking me to be a coward and run…” I said, so confused.
“No, I’m telling you to live to fight another day!” She said. The words stunned me.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You stay here your, death is eminent. I’m doing what I can to protect our family. Do you know why Jared was going so hard after Kijus?” Mother responded.
“No…” I said back.
“Because Sir Socoshian has a massive, massive drug industry and Kijus could bring this drug industry to the light. Sir Socoshian’s power has surpassed that of ours, Richard. He is at investor level. This is a fight we cannot win from these positions! The issue is that he made his money without taxation which means he can be smited by the Council. Kijus is a loose end that they need to take care of. Considering you, Roi and Brija were incredibly close to him, you’re also loose ends too. One loose end they don’t know about is me… I know everything that goes on within these walls.” Mother explained. It was a shock to my very core.
“What?!” I asked.
“I want you to leave without a trace… Make sure you’re not followed. Take a gun and a knife and the fastest horse…” She said.
“And you just want me to leave? Mother, I can’t!” I responded.
“I don’t want you to either… But I need you too! If anything happened to you, I’d burn this world! You’ve been training to be a ruler your entire life! This situation will get resolved… You will be able to come back one day and this will be yours.” She said, trying to reassure me.
“But there’s one thing that isn’t clear, mother… What’s going to happen to you?” I asked. She froze, not expecting the question.
“I’ll be alright! Don’t you worry about me! This is what I do. You don’t know how many silent battles I’ve fought. This is what queens are for!” She smiled.
“No…” I said shaking my head, “If you think I’m just gonna sit by why you make so many sacrifices to save this place? I’ll stand by your side every step of the way, but I can’t run away and hope for the best. I’ve already done that!” I said back.
“What do you mean?” Mother asked.
“Kijus…” I began, “I was in love with him. He left because he learned his sister was in the brothels and he was willing to do anything to save her. Family is all he knows, mother…”
“He’s in the brothels?” Mother asked, shocked.
“Yes. We’ve been covering and covering for him because of this. He claims he’ll get out but I don’t believe it anymore. He hasn’t written us back.” I responded.
“Tell me more about him?” Mother demanded.
“I don’t know much, surprisingly. He was always super careful about what he’d revealed. He always had this extremely poised composure. I never saw him get angry. But he always talked about the things he had to do to survive and they were not pretty. I don’t know if I believed him. He seemed to have gotten in way over his head…” I responded.
“The brothels have Sir Socoshian’s name written all over them. Sir Socoshian’s goons sell the drugs to the brothels for high profile clients… I’m pretty sure that is where your father got addicted. Your father never even knew Sir Socoshian’s plans. You’re like your father in many ways. Super caring, extremely passionate and gullible! I don’t know what the future holds for you but if you don’t want to be the mess that your father is, use your common sense and think for yourself! It takes nothing more than twenty seconds to reevaluate a situation, my son.” Mother said.
“Just so you know,” I began, “Brija already left… She left as soon as she learned Sir Socoshian arrested the official Kijus had helping him. She said she could see clearly what is going on…”
“Then she is truly my daughter…” Mother said, sitting back in her chair deep in thought, “You should have left with her. I may have seemed upset when I saw Roi leave, I was, but that was what he needed to do! Brija leaving, tomorrow I’m going to have to put on the waterworks but I’m proud of the girl! You… Use your common sense before it is too late.”
“Okay, I’ll leave when you come back…” I responded.
“Is that a deal?” Mother smiled, extending out her hand.
“Yes.” I smiled, shaking her hand.
            This deal was going to be honored. It was the only thing I could think about until tomorrow. When tomorrow arrived, the brunch took place. All eyes fell upon Brija’s empty chair. Mother clenched her head, tapping her foot.
“Where is my daughter?” She said through the grit of her teeth. Father was staggered by the sight.
“I...I….” Father said, trying to find proper words.
“You’re just letting your family fall apart! One day,” Mother said reclining in her seat, “You’ll have to realize that everyone else isn’t the problem. It’s you!”
            Father got to his feet, unable to bear mother’s burning gaze. He searched the palace for his daughter, her room, even the aviary. To his shock, even her kestrel was gone. He began to shake, unable to return to the the brunch. He walked past us all, heading into the palace. Mother followed him. Sir Socoshian eyes crept along as mother entered the home. He took a bite of his scone as the door closed.
            Robin looked nervous. The boy was obviously torn between his father and us. Mother came back out.
“Ricky…” She said, her voice low and womanly. I hurried in after her.
“Yes…?” I asked.
“Your father is in a very precocious state at the moment. Don’t let this fool you into believing he is back no normal. Keep those drugs away from him if you can… I’m leaving early and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” She responded. I watched as she left.
            She rushed out of the home, rushing off the terrace.
“My lady…” Sir Socoshian began, “You’re leaving already?”
“I have to find my daughter. This has gone too far…” Mother said. Sir Socoshian sat back down, worry written across his face. We all watched as mother made her way to the stables. She wasn’t riding with a carriage which had me confused. Maybe she was going to speak to the Council. I hoped so! This was one hell of an awful situation.
            The wait was scrutinizingly long. I sat in the lounge, waiting for mother to return. Father hadn’t came out of his room since mother left. I was too afraid to enter it, unsure how he might react or what I might see. When mother walked through the door, that evening my heart could finally relax. 
“You’ve returned…” Sir Socoshian smiled, seemingly enthused to see her.
            As she came further down the hall, two blood covered sabers were in her hands. She was not happy. She extended out her blade as she passed by Sir Socoshian.
“Shut your fake mouth…” She said. It shocked Sir Socoshian, blood from the blades dripping on his shoes.
“What happened?” I asked. She didn’t respond. She marched up the stairs, extremely upset. I followed, wanting to know.
            She arrived at her room, dropping her sabers on the floor. She tossed the doors open, not hiding her rage any more. She froze at the sight of father sniffing white powder from a flask.
“My king…” She said, seeing the man a sobbing mess. His breathing was choppy.
“I messed up everything. My baby girl is gone…” He cried.
“We’ll bring her back.” Mother said, easing over towards him, “You don’t need this anymore.” She reached for the flask, only to have father refusing to let it go. He glared at her, “Baby, let me take it…”
“No…” He growled.
“I just walked from the highland steps because some masked horse riders shot my horse,” Mother said, “I am trying to fix this, you have to let me.”
“You went to the Council?” Father asked, betrayal written across his face.
“No, I tried. Before I was even halfway there masked riders stopped me. I fought them off and walked back.” Mother said, trying to appeal to father’s senses.
“I should have watched him.” I said, feeling responsible.
“No, Ricky get out of here.” Mother responded.
            Father looked at me menacingly.
“Get out! You don’t need to see me like this!” Father said, getting to his feet. He placed the flask down on the table, pushing me out the door. As he did, he turned seeing mother collecting all the flasks, “Put them down…”
“No… these are killing you!” Mother said trying to reason with him. Father slammed the door, shutting me out. I felt shut out.
“GIVE ME MY FLASKS WOMAN!” Father screamed.
“NO! YOU’RE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF! I’m not going to let you kill yourself Jared! I LOVE YOU!” Mother said.
“GIVE THEM TO ME!” Father screamed. There was a thud followed by screams and struggle.
“YOU’RE HURTING ME, JARED!” Mother roared. My hand shook as I cautiously reached for the door. I paused as things grew silent. Maybe things were simmering down in there. I looked at the two guards, both still standing like statues at the door.
            Suddenly there was a giant thud at the door causing all of us to jump. Mother slipped out of a door, rushing towards the stairs. She was very bruised. Father rushed after her, grasping for her. He stepped on her cloak, causing her to trip across the foyer. She tumbled over the railing falling thirty feet to the longue below.
“GISELLE!” Father screamed, extending his hand out from the balcony. Mother lay on the ground, barely alive. The flasks were in her hand. She dropped them as her life began to fade. Her blood pooled on the black tiles spreading more and more.
            Father’s breathing grew sharp and rapid as he realized what he had just done. He backed away, horrified by his actions.
“No...no…” He whimpered. Tears streamed down his face.
            Mother’s sabers still lay on the foyer floor. I picked both of them up, creeping towards father.
“You monster…” I growled. I rushed towards him, drawing the sabers up, ready to stab this evil man! I was picked up by my waist from behind, the swords taken from my hand. The two guards had me, toting me down the stairs. Father looked at me, seeing he wasn’t the only one in shambles, “YOU KILLED MY MOTHER!” I said, tears and snot dripping into my mouth, “I can NEVER FORGIVE you! NEVER!!!!”
            The guards toted me through the lobby, past my mother. I had to see her.
“LET ME GO!” I screamed, kicking and twisting trying to get free. However the men were much bigger than me. Everything slowed down as they dragged me to the terrace. This couldn’t be happening. My mother didn’t just die at the hands of my father. No, this was not real. If it was, what was I supposed to do without a mother?
            They held me out on the terrace until I calmed down. Eventually I just sat there, until the sun rose. My mind kept replaying the horrible death over and over again. It sat so heavy on my heart. I was without a mother…
“Richard…” Someone said. I slowly turned to see Robin coming up the stairs,“I’m so sorry about what happened. I know what it’s like to be without a mother! Trust me. But you have to listen to me. With your mother out of the way, my father can make all the moves he want. My father tried to kill your mother in the steppe yesterday! He gave your father those drugs last night as a fail safe because he knows what stage of addiction your father is at. He also knew your mother would try and take those drugs from him! He’s plotting, Richard! With your mother out the way, my father can go after your father. It’s my final warning to you. Leave. After this, my father will come for the children… You’re next!” Robin said.
“What does he want?” I asked.
“This…” Robin said, pointing to the palace, “That!” He pointed to the kingdom beyond the upper ring.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked.
“You’re stupid… You’re just stupid. Do I need to spell it out to you? Leave before it’s too late, Richard… for me!” Robin begged.
“No! I can’t leave! This is my home, my kingdom and I can see now that it needs someone protecting it… And I will protect it…” I said.
“How?” Robin asked, fully skeptical.
“I don’t know yet but I will…” I said getting up, heading back into the palace.
            Father sat in the chair just in front of where mother tumbled off the foyer and hit the floor. He stared at the spot for so long.
“I’m sorry…” He said, tears rolling down his cheeks. He looked up at me, “How long have you been standing there?” I just walked away, unable to look at him, “Don’t leave me!”
            How could he say this? After all of what he put the family through he deserved to be deserted! I went to my room, a flood of emotions hitting me upon entering. Something silver sitting on my balcony glimmered. It was Bazahra! After several days, she has returned. What was this?
            I approached the regal raptor, unsure what to expect. I opened her flight pouch, shocked to see a letter. It was from Kijus! I wasted no time in reading it:

‘I didn’t know you had written me! I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to you in time! I’ve been busy beyond belief. This is an awful, awful place but I must reassure you that I am fine. I miss you so much and will be able to see you again some day very soon. Thank you for being there for me even thought you didn’t have too! What I’m doing, I must admit, is stupid and selfish and for you to be by my side during this means the world to me! You literally have no idea what this means to me. Thoughts of seeing you again is the only thing giving me sanity. I love you, Richard…
Yours Forever,

            I never felt so relieved in my life. However, it made so many questions arise. What horrible things did he have to endure? What took him so long to reach me? When was he going to write me again? Did he know about Mercury being taken? I had to write him. I scrambled across the room for pen and paper.
“Stay, Bazahra…” I said, the large raptor somehow understanding. I began to write:

‘My god, Kijus, I am so glad to hear from you! I’ve been missing you so! I have so many questions but they’ll have to wait. Father is on really, really bad drugs. That is why he’s been acting crazy. Roi found this out and confronted him then left! The day after, we find out that Mercury has been captured. Brija leaves after learning that. Mother and father got into a fight and… she was killed. I don’t know what to do. I would leave too but father is not one hundred percent to blame. His left hand nobleman has had his hand in all of this. It runs deep, Kijus. Father isn’t the issue. Sir Socoshian is! He’s starting a mutinty and I don’t know what to do. It’s only father and I left and father is in bad shape. The drugs are pulling a number on him. His days are numbered. I’m going to lose the everything.
I must thank you though. If it wasn’t for your actions, I don’t think we would have ever found this out. We would be just sitting duck on the pond until it blew up. When you were here, you brought our family together, amended the relationship between my brother, sister and I. You made us work together, something we’ve never done! When you left, you showed us what was really going on behind these walls. You have a profound effect on all things. This is why I love you! You bring honesty and truth to everything!
Your love,

            I wrote one for Roi too! He needed to know mother was gone. A part of me told me I should have left while another part of me told me to stay. I folded both letters up, placing them in Bazahra’s pouch.
“Okay, go…” I said.
“So you do know where Kijus is?” Someone from behind me asked. It was relieving to see it was Robin. I just stared at him, “I’m worried for you, Richard.”
“That was Silver! I was writing my brother. He’d want to know our mother is dead.” I said back.
“Oh. I thought it was Kijus’s raptor.” Robin said.
“You need to leave me alone…” I responded.
“What do you want me to do? I’ve never known you to be this stubborn, Richard…” Robin countered.
“This is my life! It has been changed for forever. I’m clinging on to the pieces of what once was…” I said back.
“I just should tell you but even then I don’t think you’d get it…” He said.
“Tell me what?” I asked, growing upset, “I’m so tired of people acting like I’m dumb, saying I don’t get shit.”
“You know why Jon and I started getting close? Both of us felt betrayed by you and Roi. It was only to make you jealous…” He said.
“That was something I could see as clear as day…” I shrugged.
“And… it didn’t work. I could see your heart was somewhere else…” He said, unable to look at me. I instantly knew where this was going, “I thought worst case scenario when I first saw Kijus. He was gorgeous, regal, smart, talented. I was jealous…”
“Oh no…” I sighed, not wanting him to continue.
“And I was right to think for the worst. In a flash, he undid the years of courage building I had spent trying to eventually one day tell you the way I feel. I could see it in the way you stared at him, the way you two would smile, how much time you two spent with each other and how when he left, you seemed the most devastated. I couldn’t help but feel betrayed…” He said, clenching his eyes tight. His nostrils flared as his voice broke with speech. Tears cascaded down his cheek.
“I’m so sorry I was blind to this! Kijus was the first person I ever experienced feelings for.” I said.
“Ever?” Robin asked, the word hitting him like a hammer, “I want you to understand just how much you meant to me. My father would be frustrated with his activities not going the way they wanted. He’d either beat me… or fuck me. I didn’t WANT EITHER!!!!... And I couldn’t tell no one! When I… When I was introduced to you, the way you introduced me to lure polo… It took my mind away from it. You have this way of putting me in this simple state of peace and I just wanted to be in that state for forever! With you… You’d make me forget about it all… And when I’d go home and it was time for father to pound out his frustrations, I’d think of you. That tomorrow I’d see you again and that this would all be over. You were my light in my shroud… and I hate! I HATE how I couldn’t tell you that! I hate how everything I worked for and built, to tell you how you were my hero got erased by that FUCKING southerner! I just want you to know. Your heart is rare, man. Tell Kijus he’s lucky to have you and that he stole my soulmate…”
            Robin left. To think that this boy was molested by his father night after night and told no one, to think that I was his only confidant yet was so blind to not even see it. He didn’t betray me! I betrayed him… But it did nothing to change the way I felt about Kijus. He still had my heart. I maybe was Robin’s hero, but Kijus was mine!
            I stripped off my clothes, crawling into bed. The sleep was not pleasant, dreamless and tense. I got up unrested heading down to the lounge. There was something I had to do.
“Sir Socoshian…” I called out. Moments later he appeared, cool, calm and collected, “Where is my mother?” I asked.
“She’s been moved to a mortuary where her body is being prepped for resuming. I’m getting her funeral planned…” He said. 
“No need… I’m doing it.” I said, full of bitterness.
“May I ask why?” He wondered.
“Because my mother died a hero trying to undo… this mess…” I said, my eyes burning deep into him. It was then he realized I knew a lot, “She needs the funeral of a hero… You wouldn’t be able to give her that!”
“I assure you to rest easy. The funeral is being planned by professionals. There is a certain ceremony that must be practiced for the death of a lady of a house!” He refuted.
“Well where is her body?” I asked.
“She’s in the main mortuary in the middle ring…” He responded.
“Okay…” I said back, hating how nothing was going to plan.
            I didn’t want to go though. I just knew something horrible would happen to me. It was like I was trapped here until something else horrible happened to me. I had to go find my father.
            He was in his room, lying in the bed holding mother’s robes.
“Father…” I said, “Get dressed, we’re going to the mortuary…”
“Why?” He responded.
“Mother’s body is there and I want to see it. Plus, there are details I want in her funeral that I feel the funeral directors need to know about.” I said.
“I don’t feel so well, Richard. Maybe tomorrow…” He said. I just stared at him.
“I wonder why…” I responded, “You know… I’m all you have left right…?” I was feeling very courageous.
“I…” Father said realizing it just now, “See that…”
“I want some honesty from you, pa. Did you let Sir Socoshian do what he wanted to Roi?” I asked. Father tensed up, closing his eyes.
“Yes…” He responded.
“Why?” I demanded, looking at him in disgust.
“There are things at play beyond my control. Sir Socoshian has been far more powerful than me for a long time. I am a pawn at his hand but there are still people more powerful than him that can smite him. He went after Roi and there was nothing I could do because I feared for what he could do to us all. I told him that you were off limits and that he couldn’t touch you… He agreed but with a number of conditions I had to comply with…” Father said, shaking his head.
“This man… This evil, evil man is responsible for all of this…” I said, clenching my head.
“Watch the way you speak boy. There are eyes and ears everywhere…” Father warned.
“Do you know what he’s trying to do?” I asked, not caring.
“No…” Father said. It was shocking considering father knew of Sir Socoshian’s power.
“Are you lying to me?” I asked.
“If you know something I don’t know I’d like to know.” Father wheezed, obviously in pain. I said nothing.
“Explain to me why you treated Roi like you did?” I asked.
“It was one of Sir Socoshians conditions. He wanted him abused, broken and submissive…” Father said, speech sounding hard.
“How can you even live with yourself?” I asked, appalled by this man.
“Not very much longer, I suppose…” Father said, coughing, “Don’t think I didn’t feel guilt. I was never this regal, brave person I facaded to be. That was for you, because I needed you to be a stronger leader than me one day… One day you were going to learn of Sir Socoshian’s endeavors…”
“How fucked up is that? You were just going to pass on the torch…?” I asked.
“You’ve proved to me you have what it takes to be a leader, Ricky. The torch will be passing on to you very, very, very soon…” Father hinted.
“I don’t want this shit!” I said back, “I see poverty… I see homeless people, I see uneducated people! I see slavery! I see drugs and dealings! No, I don’t want that…”
“That is what Sir Socoshians hands are all in! You’ll find it is hard to find an industry he is not in. He has eyes and ears everywhere….” Father responded.
“Yet he can’t find Kijus…” I said, arms folded. Father just looked at me.
“You’re treading on thin ice boy… I’m sick and can’t fend him off like I have in the past. Your newfound boldness won’t serve you well! You better learn how to poker face your way through this or Sir Socoshian will be on to you! I never wanted Kijus… He did…” Father said.
“How could you let this man control us like this!” I asked, so upset.
“It’s my fault. I had him doing all my affairs… Little did I know, he had a huge drug ring before I started letting him do my affiliations. I introduced him to very, very high people. His affairs were more alluring than mine and he won the allegiances that were mine since birth…” Father said clenching his head, “I was stupid… Didn’t listen to my wife like I should have. I thought I had everything figured out…”
“This is horrible, dad…” I said back.
“It’s too late to fix…” He said, feeling doomed.
“No it isn’t…” I responded.
“How can you fix this?” He asked.
“You just better have everything together tomorrow… Be ready at sunrise!” I said, leaving.
            I walked down the stairs to my room. I didn’t want to be seen. Paranoia crept in, feeling as though everyone was working for Sir Socoshian. I hated how the truth hit me this late. Why couldn’t I see it like Brija or Roi. Maybe I should have left! It definitely seemed far too late to leave now.
            Sleep was difficult that night. The morning came, the brunch happening as normal.
“You ready?” Father asked.
“...More than…” I said back, getting up. Sir Socoshian looked alarmed.
“You’re leaving, my liege?” Sir Socoshian asked.
“We’re heading to the mortuary.” I said.
“Well my company will be needed.” Sir Socoshian said, rising from the table.
“No…” I hissed, shocking the man.
“This is a time for a father and son to bond. I hope you understand.” Father said with far less hostility.  
“Yes, your grace…” He bowed, sitting back down.
            Father and I were off. He wheezed and ached his way to a horse. He stood there daunted by the task of climbing on it.
“I don’t know if I can get up there…” He said.
“You can and you will…” I said back. He sighed, using every ounce of strength he had to climb on the horse. It looked painful, “You good?”
“Let’s get this over with so I can get back in the bed…” Father said.
“Very well…” I sighed.
            We both were off, heading out of the upper ring. We rode to the middle ring, taking the fairly swift ride to the mortuary. There, we were recognized as the royal family.
“We’re here to see Queen Giselle…” Father said.
“We’re sorry but the tradition for the death of a house of a lady is a closed casket. We cannot allow you to see her.” The mortician responded. Father grew angry.
“What?” He responded.
“We’re sorry your grace but the casket has already been sealed.” I said back.
“She died a hero…” I said, very upset, “She deserves a hero’s funeral…”
“I want to see her face before you put her in the ground…” Father said, his eyes welling up.
“If we crack open the casket we risk damaging her.” The mortician responded.
“I wanted to plan her funeral, make it about things she liked. I didn’t want this cold ass shit!” I hissed.
“We can still incorporate all that she likes. The funeral isn’t until another week.” The mortician responded.
“I just wanted to see my wife resting…” Father cried. I looked at father, not used to seeing him this way. It was the opposite of everything he taught me. Don’t let people see you down, don’t let people see you cry. It was bothersome…
“This is what I want…” I began, speaking the the funeral planner, “I want sabers, I want bows...  I want detailed portraits of her, since we can't see her actual face, and I mean DETAILED!!! I want all her favorite foods, drinks, everything she ever loved… there!”
            The morticians all looked at each other, daunted by the task. Father and I left. It was a long and taxing week waiting for that funeral. Father seemed to be holding together better than I thought he’d be. I spent a lot of time with him, making sure that he stayed away from those drugs. We sat down the night before the funeral, our conversation in his room the week before loomed heavy in my head.
“Would it be a slap in the face to learn that… the son Sir Socoshian didn’t touch turned out gay?” I asked with a thin smile. Father’s eyes bucked wide, his breath ceasing for a moment.
“You’re not…” Father said back, shocked.
“But I am.” I responded, prying for a reaction. Father sighed, shielding his face.
“This week just keeps getting worse and worse,” He said, “I lost my family… Killed my wife and my last hope to saving this place just went down the drain…”
“What does that suppose to mean?” I asked.
“I gave birth to not only one, but two disgraces!” He said, completely shocked. It made me smile.
“You know for a long time, I was so afraid of you knowing because I wanted to be everything you wanted me to be. Now that I know why you wanted me to be this way, I’m beyond proud! You know, father… Mother learned this and didn’t give a care beyond the fact that I was healthy and happy. Of course, at the time of this discussion we had more concerns…” I responded.
“You are a mix,” Father began, leaning over to look me directly in the eye, “Between your mother and my worst traits!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, laughing.
“Well…” He coughed, having a hard time speaking, “You have my foolhardiness, my pride, my gullibleness… You have your mother's assuredness, standoffishness and I see a budding killer in you, just like your mother. Don’t think I forgot you were about to gut me!”
“And I didn’t have reason to?” I said back.
“I would have if I were in your shoes.” He sighed. All of this got me to thinking.
“Pa… I don’t know much about mother. What was she… I...I just know she’s from France…” I said.  Father looked overwhelmed.
“Your mother was… See, France is not a place you want to go without proper protection. My father, the old king before me, took the family on a trip to the west. We toured Greece, Romania, Croatia, Italy, France and Spain. It was in France where your mother and her clan were hired to protect my family. She and I were just children at the time but I saw her in action. Your mother was a badass, trained to be a cold assassin. It was in the days when I didn’t look this awful. Believe it or not, I was a dashing young man at one point, just like yourself. She left a lasting impression on me. However, I couldn’t say I did the same for her. So in my own time, I came back to visit her. I inevitably told her that one day I was going to be king and that if she’d be my wife, she could be queen. At first she was opposed to it but her clan talked her up to it. She didn’t do it for love. She did it for the benefits to one day repay her clan. It was an adjustment! It was hard to break that outer exterior and make that woman love me but she did so after years of hating me… What we had was good but I didn’t know just how worthless I really was until Sir Socoshian squeezed his way into our lives. Giselle slowly became less talkative, more quiet. She’d sit back and watch, and smile. She grew a heart… I think it was because she had her first child. But your mother was at one point a cold blooded killer, literally an assassin… I thought after twenty five years of marriage, her ways had escaped her but she still had it…” Father rambled.
“This clan she belonged to…?” I asked.
“It was called the Lutna Company…” Father said back, having to reach deep to recall.
“Interesting…” I said back, noticing a striking coincidence, “The mortuary… The people in there… were all French, father.” Father looked at me intently, before thinking, “And they were all women…”
“Let’s not think much into it.” Father said back, “I don’t need anything to make my heart pace more than it is…” It made me concerned.
“You’re having withdrawals?” I asked.
“Try pricking yourself with a thousand needles on every square inch of your body. Every move I make, Ricky, it hurts… and it’s getting worse and worse day by day… I’m either going to die from the drugs or die from the withdrawal.” Father said. It shocked me! I didn’t think he was previously aware of how bad a shape he was in.
“Socoshian has been trying to kill you…” I responded. Father’s eyes wandered across the room, as though shock had evaded him and he was looking for it.
“I know. That night I went to the brothel, I tasted those salts for the first time. It was an instant addiction. I had to get more but my sources couldn’t get ahold of any. By chance I brought the subject to Sir Socoshian who agreed to get me all I needed. However, like everything with him, it was a trap and there was a catch… He said if I he got me the drug, I couldn’t just stop taking it when I got tired. I’d have to keep taking it and keep taking it… I asked him why. He told me plainly so I could die. I already was in deep with him with a loan pandering scheme from years ago which is something you don’t want me to get into and I needed to taste those salts again… so I did it. I sold my soul to the fucking devil. Not even your mother was aware,” Father said, making this strained pushed sound. I couldn’t tell if it was coughing or laughing, “It didn’t dawn on me until weeks ago that I was going to die…” Tears cascaded down his face, as he continued to make that strained coughing laugh, “My ignorance, my infidelity, my lack of commitment to your mother brought this evil seed upon us all…”
“Pa, don’t speak this way. You can live!” I said, truly wanting him to recover from it.
“Do I deserve it? Your father is the biggest coward on the face of this narrow earth, Richard! I couldn’t stand up to this man who molested my baby boy, weaseled his way into my wealth and took it over right up under my nose. I feel as though I do…” I said back. How was I supposed to respond to this? He sounded defeated and it was heartbreaking to hear. He was, afterall my father, and his evils were not as great as I thought. They weren’t entirely all his.
            We sat in my room the entire night. It was nice to get a true understanding of him, despite it being so bittersweet. Instead of the daily brunch, we were all taking the time to look our best for the funeral. The tailors prepared a fitted black trench coat, with black shoes, trousers, blouse, brimmed hat and white scarf for me. My father wore his signature golden chest plate but instead of a red cape, a black one. 
            A chariot awaited us outside the terrace. We rode to the funeral, getting there early. It was surprising to see just how many people showed. The Sorooshian from the Caspian Ziggurat were here. The Jordans from the Highland Ziggurat were here. A number of other houses from foreign Ziggurats also showed.
            Everything I wanted at the funeral was there. Her sabers were over her casket. There were portraits of her, good ones! Her favorite foods were all here as well. This was shocking! These funeral directors were good! Father and I looked at each other, somewhat creeped out.
“Do they know I was mad when I requested all of this?” I asked him.
“This is impressive.” He chuckled.
             A funeral assistant walked over to me. She wore a dark, heavy dress, her hair pinned up under layers of sheer. The young woman’s skin was fair, very fair, quite different from the middle eastern people of the region. She was a foreigner.
“We have to prepare you for the speech you’ll give for your mother…” She said, taking my hand. Her voice told it all. She was definitely French. However, that wasn’t my concern.
“Speech?” I asked, completely unprepared.
            She took me to the rear, looking back over her shoulder. She then pushed me into an office, locking the door behind herself.
“WHAT…?” She placed her hand over my mouth before pulling up her dress. It startled me! There was gun and a holster.
“You’re going to need this! Don’t let anyone know you have it...Anyone!” She said, her accent French and strong. Something was definitely amiss, no second guessing it at all.
“Why?” I asked, concerned. The woman stared at me for a long time, her eyes hinting at something. She took a long deep breath…
“Your speech… Will be about your mother, and her will to live! About her love for her children and how she’ll always protect them. About how she’ll never be out… of… you… reach...” The mortician responded. Her tone was very implied, there being a deeper message somewhere in there… Something happened when mother went to the council and I think I knew what…
“I understand…” I nodded.
            The mortician then opened my coat, pulling me in close.
“Whoa…” I said, overwhelmed. She took off her holster, securing it around my waist.
“It’s yours… my prince…” She said, stepping away. She then bowed. These actions of hers were beyond confusing. Not even keen and observant Roi would have understood this.
            I buttoned up my jacket, leaving. It was hard to keep my composure after such a strange event. What did this mean? However it was too late to know. The funeral had started. I took my seat next to father. As the ceremony progressed, he seemed to be losing his mind. His head would follow things that weren’t there, his eyes would twitch and glaze. Even his hands shook. He wasn’t well.
“I’m speaking on your behalf…” I whispered, not wanting him to risk revealing his condition to all in attendance of the funeral.
“No, the show must go on.” He responded, “These lords and ladies from other Ziggurats take note of anything out of place. We have to brave this out…”
“Fine…” I said.
            It was nerveracking seeing him give his speech! However, he pulled it out. Socoshian seemed on the edge of his seat too. What was he anticipating? We watched as father finished his speech. He sat back down, sighing. Everyone around us seemed to know something wasn’t right but father kept his composure well.
“I don’t want to deal with condolences… The guilt is worse the the withdrawl.” He whispered.
“Okay, we’ll leave as soon as this is over.” I responded.
            Sir Socoshian eyed our whispering back and forth. The whispering came to an end when it was time for my speech. I kept in mind what the funeral assistant had told me, walking over to the podium.
“I begged for the funeral of a hero for my mother…” I smiled, Sir Socoshains eyes lighting up in concern, “I wanted everyone to see the woman who mattered the most to me. However, her funeral… was already planned. They gave her the funeral of a lady of the house. I felt she deserved way more than that. There was no other person with a will to live like she did. She protected her family with the ferocity of a lioness. Sadly my sister and brother are out of town and weren’t able to make it but they’ve been informed of this searing tragedy.” I looked back at the casket, “I just want to say that she… though she’s gone, she’ll forever be here! Just know, her reach is ever extending and ever lasting. May she guide and protect us as she’s always done from the afterlife with the grace of the maker…”
            My speech was over. Sir Socoshian stroked his chin, obviously deep in thought. I returned to my seat.
“What was that?” Father asked.
“That was what the funeral assistant told me to say.” I shrugged.
“It’s almost like insinuating that she is alive…” Father responded. Father and I both looked at each other making the same realization.
“You don’t think…?” I asked, father getting up, “No, father no…” He slowly pointed to the casket, then looked at me.
            Everyone stared, confused at the man’s actions. He then sat back down, making the exact same realization that I did. If mother was somehow still alive, this was certainly not the place to reveal this level of scandal! It might draw attentions to her way too soon…
“We’re definitely going to have to stay now…” Father whispered.
            Minutes later, we all relocated for the burial. We watched as the casket was lowered into the ground. Father tossed the first dirt on the casket before a team of diggers buried the casket. Then came the reception. At this point, I was ready to get back home. These type of events with the fakeness, the hugging, the greetings. Even seeing the close friends of ours, the Sorooshians, did little to aid my heart ache.
            The funeral assistant that gave me the gun, stood in the entry to the cathedral. She entered
As soon as she noticed me. I followed, needing answers. She walked to the back, to the offices behind the pulpit. Again, I followed, entering the office after her.
“Hey…” I said. She looked at me with deep cutting eyes.
“Yes?” She responded.
“Is my mother in that casket?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t she be? Be warned, my prince. That gun was given to you for a reason! It is not your insurance for survival which is why you should leave before your father dies. Escape through the catacombs if you can… It will lead you to us where we can assist you in getting out. We’ll always be ready…” She said.
“What is going on?” I asked. It was clear she knew far more than I was expecting her to. Not only that, but it seemed she couldn’t tell me either! Considering giving trust had gotten me in a hard spot before, I couldn’t just let her have it. This felt like my mother’s work. It made me wonder where did she go in that time she claimed to have been looking for my sister. I left, ready to get home.
            Father was being swarmed with condolences and questions about what happened. He danced around them the best he could, hiding just how sick he was as well as he could.
“That’s so sad…” King Sorooshian of the Caspian Ziggurat said, battered by the news.
“It is. But sadly, I have affairs to attend to with the funeral director.” Father smiled, seeing me approach.
            We both headed back into the cathedral, sitting down in the rear. Father flagged down a funeral hand.
“Fetch our carriage and pull around here…” Father said.
“Yes sir.” The hand said. Father then slowly looked at me.
“If you knew how I felt…” He sighed.
“I can only imagine…” I said, sympathizing. He seemed pale and looked noticeably thinner, “Have you been eating?”
“What do you think?” He asked, as though the answer was clear.
“I’d think you haven’t but I could be wrong.” I said back.
“Well, I have. I can’t keep it down though. I’ve been vomiting like crazy.” He said.
“That’s awful.” I said.
“It’s the withdrawal… It keeps getting worse by the day.” Father said.
“You’re not thinking about going back to those drugs right?” I asked, concerned.
“Between dying from feeling like every part of me is being stabbed or dying of an overdose of a drug that literally takes my pain away… Of course  not…” He said sarcastically. It put into perspective how slim his choices were, as he looked at wishing I’d just get his plight, “You realize you’re waiting for me to die right?”
“Don’t speak that way…” I said, not wanting to think about it, “If so, I’ll wait…”
“You’ll wait on Socoshian to snatch the power from you? I’m the last thing in his way… I want you to leave, son…” He said back.
“Leave to where? To everyone telling me to leave, it’s not that simple! Beyond the walls of this city, the walls of the upper ring, I have nothing! People won’t take care of me! Where am I supposed to go, father?” I asked.
“Wherever your siblings went. I may be dumb but I’m not stupid! I know you know where Kijus is and I know you know where your brother and sister went. The reason I’m telling you to leave is because, I fear for you… You have yet to see what Socoshian can do. Everything he does now is with a smile on his face because he still has to facade as though he is my hand… Especially today… Other houses are here that won’t stand for his mutiny! But when they leave things will return to the way they were. My days are numbered… I might not even have a week left… You should leave before it’s too late…” He warned.
“I’m not leaving you…” I said back. Father looked at me with frustration, but understanding.
“You’re stubborn just like your old man…” He smiled.
            The funeral hand returned.
“Your carriage awaits you…” He said. Father and I left, heading back to the palace. The whole while, father looked uncomfortable. It was shocking to see how well he faked being fine back in the cathedral.
“Everything is about image. If you look strong, you are strong. But I was reaching my breaking point there. Boy, I’m in pain…” Father sighed. It made me feel so helpless! What more could I do?
“I wish I could fix this…. I just…” I said, frustrated with all of what happened.
“You shouldn’t be worrying about me. I’m an evil, piece of shit that deserves this. You’re young and talented… You should be worrying about yourself! Do you know after I die, you’re next? Has it dawned on you yet? Is that something you’re fine with? Dying?” He asked.
“No…” I said back.
“Aren’t you madly in love with Kijus… Don’t you want to see him again?” Father continued.
“Yes…” I responded, not liking how he was twisting this.
“Then why are you still here playing this gambling game? Is your mother’s death and my state of health not proof enough of what is going on behind these closed doors? Why are you here?” He asked as the carriage stopped at the brunch terrace.
“Because, you’re my father! You’re the reason I’m here! You may not deserve it but I still have respect for you… If leaving was that easy for me, I would have been left, but it’s not! Roi did it because he was hurt! Brija did it because, she was strong! I can’t do it because I’m neither… Father I’m this gullible, easily manipulated, open to everything type of person… I can’t process these types of things, death, scandal, treachery… It’s all, awful! AWFUL!” I said, trying not to cry in front of him.
“You need a push…” Father said, staring deep into my eyes. It made me raise an eyebrow. What did he mean by push?
            He got up, heading into the palace. It was hard watching him struggle up the stairs but he made it. The evening rolled in, the sun sitting low. After reading a number of books about survival, knocking on my door startled me. I looked at the gun sitting on my sectional, placing it under my pillow. The knocking persisted.
            I opened the door, not pleased to see it was Robin. He looked alarmed.
“This will be the last time we can speak, but I have things to tell you!” He said.
“What can they be?” I asked.
“Father was suspicious about the closed casket at the funeral so he ordered men to dig up the body. They cracked open the casket and found a replica of your mother’s body with fake hair, fake teeth, skin, nails… everything. It was a very, very life-like, plaster mold of the queen but wasn’t her….” He said. It startled me!
“What?” I asked back.
“That’s what we’re all saying! Father is now tearing the city apart looking for her. He has the morgue being searched as well as the mortuary and the cathedral. The people working there seem to not know a thing but father might have them imprisoned or worse. I don’t know what’s going on but shit is about to hit the fan twice as hard as it did last week…” He responded.
“Last week?” I asked.
“You don’t know?” He gasped, covering his mouth, “Okay, father had that official who was a southerner be interrogated for the whereabouts of Kijus. They were probably going to kill him but somehow he escaped without a trace… Everyone in the Official headquarters that night were slaughtered! It was bad! BAD! I mean blood everywhere! The investigation is still going on, but they left no trace! Not a damn thing! My father didn’t even tell yours… Which to me is a sign! Take over is eminent…”
“This… This…” I said, having to take a seat.
“Look Ricky, you might still hate me but I can’t say the same for you! If I could, I’d be with you for forever but your heart’s not with mine. I’m standing before you, betraying my father, letting you know about the snakes in the grass! If tonight is not the not you leave, I’m afraid death is eminent for you. There’s nothing I can do about it…” Robin said, leaving.
“Thank you for that information…” I said back, looking at the balcony. I really wished Bazahra or Silver were here. This would be vital information to send but like always, things never went to plan. The next person to tell, was father.
            I went up stairs to his room, the man wasn’t there. I then went down stairs to the lounge, the man sitting there doing the unthinkable. He was snorting those salts again, Sir Socoshian sitting right across from him, watching! It made my heart stutter!
“FATHER!!!” I screamed rushing over to him.
“Boy…” Father said looking at me with those glossy eyes, “I need this… You don’t know what real pain is… Or demons… yet!” He then resumed snorting. I slowly turned to Sir Socoshian.
“How could you sit here and let him DO THIS?” I said, losing every ounce of composure I had.
“I’m only obeying my king’s orders. He wanted drugs so I supplied him!” He said back.
“You’re the real monster in these walls! I want you to know! One day, you’ll rot in HELL for this! I want you to know…” I said, rushing off.
“Get me more!” Father said. I paused, looking back at the man. He swayed back and forth. It was clear to me that this was that push he said I needed. Did this make me want to leave? No! It made me want to snap Sir Socoshian’s neck.
            I couldn’t just leave him alone with this evil man! I returned, sitting in front of him. I watched him snort more and more, shaking uncontrollably as ecstasy filled him. He looked up to the ceiling, smiling. He then fell backwards in the sectional, laughing.
“It still hurts…” He chuckled in deep pain. This sight was breaking my heart, as he sat with his robes on. I could see his heart racing from this distance, it seeming as though it was bulging. It was almost like watching someone with blunt force trauma with extreme bruising, having their lungs and chest bulge. It then became clear to me, father couldn’t breathe!
“Pa!” I said, rushing over to him.
            He gave me one last look before his stare went on for forever. His breathing ceased, his lips turned purple. His heart beat no more. This man sat here to kill himself, in an effort to make me see things his way, to get me to leave.
“My liege…” Sir Socoshian asked, getting to his feet, “Get a medical team, NOW!”
            I looked around for anything I could use to bludgeon this man. I reached for a leaning fixture beside the sectional.
“You’re a true and utter DEVIL!” I said, drawing the lamp back. Just as I was about to hit him, a number of King’s Guards swarmed me. They took me to my room, standing effective guard over me. It was so frustrating, sitting here. The tears wouldn’t stop.
“Let me kill that monster!” I begged, “Please, he ruined everything! EVERYTHING!!!”
“No my your Grave…” They said, “You don’t see what we see!  We’re your mother’s guard, loyal to her, loyal to you!”
“What?” I asked.
“Do you have the gun the assassin gave you?” The guard asked.
“How do you know about that?” I asked, quite afraid. The guard gave a triumphant smirk.
“We’re Lutna Clan…” He said.
            It shocked me to the core…               


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