All of my chief protagonists are children and they are always ready to risk their lives, or give their lives for friends or country. Well most of what I write is heroic fantasy and that's what heroes do.
I happen to believe however, that courage is not the sole province of adults. Many children have offered and given their lives to save friends and family.
The people were really sorry for Prince Kyle. Such a beautiful child, it was a pity he was of little intelligence and while pleasant enough most of the time, had such a violent temper.
Even at nine, they were talking about extending the Regency. Perhaps as had happened on two occasions in the past, it would have to become permanent.
It was the tenth anniversary of King Savoy's death and Prince Kyle's tenth birthday was in two weeks. Or that's what everybody was thinking. They really should have known better, after all they dealt with the inheritance laws all the time. It wasn't as if those laws only affected the Royal family.
Prince Kyle was playing with a ball on the far side of the canal that ran right through the Royal Palace grounds. Of course, the canal had a steel grate at either end, so nobody could get into the Palace unannounced. While Kyle had never harmed another child, his tantrums were of such violence that no responsible parent would trust him around their children. That didn't mean he lacked playmates of his own age, there were many irresponsible parents among the Palace Courtiers.
But all them were at the commemoration ceremony for Kyle's father and two older brothers who had died violently in a war, ten years ago. His mother no longer took him after the unfortunate incident, two years before.
He wasn't alone, in fact he had six companions. A middle-aged man, who was called his tutor. Of course, everyone considered that a joke, as far as they knew the Prince didn't have the intelligence to learn how to read. Normally the adults around him would have included those from the many factions that wanted to keep their eye on his regent, his mother and her advisor, his Uncle Roger.
However, aside from Nara, who represented the peasant class and Sir Cedric who represented the nobility, the other three were two squires who were a little overaged, being in their early twenties. They were competent enough, they just hadn't caught the right eye to be knighted yet, or at least that's what they thought. And then there was the sergeant, the only official member of the Palace Guard, he was a man in his late forties, fat and greasy, he was a man Nara absolutely loathed.
To her the Prince seemed like a pleasant enough boy, just not very bright, as rumors indicated and she had never seen one of his infamous tantrums. The Prince's tutor, the two squires and Sir Cedric were back against the wall, sensibly staying in the shade. The sergeant was also in the shade but he was separate from the others, not because he was intimidated by the nobility, but because he loathed them.
That sort of left the job of staying near the Prince, to make sure he didn't fall into the canal and drown, to Nara. The Prince was leaning on the wall which bordered either side of the canal, as a safety precaution and he was looking at the clock, at the top of the main Palace tower. It read 12:05 PM.
Kyle turned around putting his back against the wall and asked what seemed like a simple question, “Do you know how old I am Nara?”
“Yes, Your Highness, you are nine and your birthday is in two weeks.” Nara answered absently not really paying attention.
“Oh, come on Nara, you know our religious and inheritance laws better than that. When did my father die?” he asked a little jeeringly.
“Ten years ago tod...” and then she stiffened as her full attention was caught and she realized what he meant. According to religious law, a child did not exist until he or she was born and inheritance law was based on that fact.
She looked him in the eyes and she was astonished by the intelligence she saw in those large green eyes. This was no dullard, despite what she had heard. She said, “You were born ten years ago today, otherwise you would not be the heir.”
“That's better,” he said encouragingly, “you must learn to pay more attention, especially in your profession. I was born at five minutes to twelve noon, ten years ago today. It's a good thing my uncle doesn't realize that, or we'd have twenty Palace guards here instead of one.”
He said scathingly, “You are aware that my mother, the regent, the oh so very incompetent regent, with the help of her advisor, my uncle is destroying our country. Oh, my mother isn't doing it deliberately, my mother is doing what she thinks is right and my uncle is taking advantage of the situation to make a great deal of money. Do you agree?”
Nara thought very carefully, not sure what to do whether she should be honest or tell a bold faced lie. Kyle said jeeringly, “Oh, go ahead and tell the truth, remember who you're talking to. If I repeated it they wouldn't believe me anyway.”
He threw the ball up into the air and caught it on its way down, “Your Highness...” she started.
“Oh, call me Kyle. All my friends do. All two of them.” he said a trifle bitterly. “Sorry. Not right to take out my bitterness on you.”
She was touched by the heartbreak she could hear, in his voice. She said forcefully, “Yes, Kyle, your mother and your uncle are ruining our country.”
He threw the ball up once more and after catching it he turned and threw it as hard as he could across the canal. He said crisply, “Good, a long time ago when I realized what was happening, I decided to do something about it.”
She stiffened as she recalled what he had said earlier, “My profession, Your Highness?” she asked.
“There have always been rumors that my father could read minds. I don't know if he could or not, but I do know that I can. Don't go getting uptight just because I know your true profession.” he said reprovingly.
Nara asked, “What is my profession, Your Hi...”
“Kyle!” he said
“Very well, Kyle, what is my profession?” she asked, curious to know if he really did know.
“Of course, I really know,” he said with annoyance, “You're a Master Assassin of the Assassins Guild. Well,” he amended, “actually it's a sub-guild and it's part of the Thieves Guild. I can tell you, I really don't like your Guildmaster very much.”
“My Guildmaster?” she said faintly.
He nodded, saying with scorn, “Yes, High Merchant Sydra. He's the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild.” Looking back at the things she had learned over the years, Nara realized that everything fitted.
He told her compellingly, “You are no longer his Assassin, you are now mine, at least for a short time.” She looked at him and she realized that she was indeed his. Then again she belatedly realized what he had said, “For a short time?” she asked.
Kyle told her, “I intend to use a spell. It is a very, very old spell. More than five thousand years old in fact. In that period of time, it has been used 1342 times. The first time it was used, it was successful, it has never worked again. 1341 times the one who tried has died.” His voice was a little unsteady at the start then settled down. He had made this decision a long time ago. “The spell will allow us access to the Path of the Gods.”
“Why?” she asked and he knew she meant why would he go through with a spell that was certain to be fatal.
He explained gravely, “The regency must end now. Our country may not be able to withstand another four years of the type of regency that we have. Oh, the country may still be in existence, but it will be besieged by so many enemies from the outside, that it may not be able to recover. My death alone won't solve the problem. My uncle has already made plans and if I die for any reason, he will blame it on my heir, my cousin, Thorn, as an attempt to usurp the throne. The next eligible heir is his oldest son, Connor, who is only five and he's got it worked out so my mother would be named his Regent.”
He declared, “However, when I use the spell, the monasteries of St. James and of St. Mark, will be aware of my attempts to use these paths. While they stay neutral, unless the person who is attempting the paths attains the Coronet of the Gods, they will validate the fact that, what I do can only be done by my free will and can not be forced upon me. Therefore my uncle can't blame my death on Thorn and he will become the next King.”
Nara had been searching for vengeance against those who had destroyed her village when she was in her early teens, for almost fifteen years. She would have willingly given her life if she could have prevented that destruction, so she understand the fact that even so young a child would be willing to give up his life to save his country.
“How can I serve you if you have so little time, Kyle?” she asked.
He explained, “I can't influence people minds very much, but a little nudge here, a little nudge there and I was able to assure that the sergeant would be assigned here, this day of the commemoration. I know you dislike him intensely, but that is not the reason that I want him dead before I enter the Paths of the Gods. He is truly an evil man and I have no intention of letting him stay alive.” He smiled faintly, “If I knew that I would come out alive, then I would wait and he would be punished for the things he has done. As it is, I ask you to perform a service for me, for the first and probably the last time.” he cocked his head to one side, “Do you agree?”
“Yes, Your Highness, I will.” She said, gaving the deep bow required for a King, out of respect.
“Thank you,” she heard faintly from behind as she strolled toward the sergeant. As she expected enticing him away from the others was easy. Once well out of sight of the others, she closed the distance between them and with a flick the knife at her wrist was in her hand. She closed her hand over his mouth to prevent any outcry and expertly slipped the knife between his ribs from the back into his heart. She regretted that it was so quick and painless.
Much stronger than people would think, bearing in mind her small size, barely above five feet and slender, she easily took the sergeant's bulk and pulled him deeper into the bushes. Wiping her knife on his clothes she returned it to her wrist sheath and strolled back toward the others.
As she approached Kyle, she gave a little nod, He nodded in satisfaction, but his eyes gave him away, he hadn't been happy arranging for the sergeant's death. When he spoke, however it was in a calm voice. “Well, you've accomplished half of the vengeance you have been searching for.”
Her eyes flicked to his. Kyle nodded, saying, “Yes, you've been looking for Demetrios for years. In fact, Demetrios was two men, not one. The sergeant was one half, his brother the other and in killing the sergeant, you killed the most important of the two. He was the thinker, the planner. Without him, his brother is nothing but a common bandit. Still dangerous like a bear, but he can no longer rely on the cunning of the fox.”
She was angry with the boy, she hissed, “Why didn't you tell me!”
His eyes looked into hers calmly. He said, “I could have, but I didn't. What you did was for the Crown, the fact that you didn't know that you were also getting revenge, is it really that important?”
She opened her mouth to answer him harshly, but then closed it, as she thought it over, she realized that it was no less satisfying, a resolution to her vengeance. It would be no different if she had killed the sergeant and then found out much later that he was Demetrios. She murmured, “No, you are right, I feel joy that my revenge has been partly completed. The fact that I didn't know in advance, doesn't make my joy any less satisfying.”
“Good!!” the boy said emphatically. “I hope you will have the opportunity to complete your vengeance. I would not tell my cousin that you are an assassin. He would not approve. I have been preparing a book on those who can be trusted and those who can't for the last three years. It's in code and my tutor has the book. The fact that High Merchant Sydra is Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild is included. The fact that you belong to the Assassins Guild, is not, only the fact that you can be trusted absolutely. Come, it is time to work the spell.”
He took her hand and the smallness of his hand in hers reminded her of how young he really was. Her heart ached for him, mixed with admiration for his courage. As he approached the four men, he nodded to his tutor and the man nodded back and began following them. Kyle went behind a couple of trees and several bushes which started several feet from the wall and obscured the view from the Palace if anyone happened to be watching.
Taking a piece of chalk out of a pocket, he looked at Nara. “I'd like to borrow one of your daggers. Ah, not he one you just used.” he said with a brief smile. She drew the dagger from the nape of her neck and handed it to him. He murmured several words under his breath and then pricking his finger, he let the drops fall on the piece of chalk. He murmured one final word and as he handed the dagger back to Nara, the small cut on his finger healed completely. Looking at the piece of chalk, she was startled that now instead of white it was a blood red color, glowing slightly.
Since she knew that he hadn't drawn enough blood to cover the whole piece of chalk, she knew it was part of the magic. Moving to the wall he raised his hand and started drawing a line with the chalk. Blood red in color, it glowed lightly. He drew a horizontal line about six feet long, Behind them three of the men were completely baffled by what was going on. The other, Kyle's tutor had a somber look on his face.
Without raising the chalk, Kyle drew a vertical line, down to within six inches of the base of the wall and a horizontal line, about half way and then a vertical line which didn't quite touch the first line, a half inch horizontal line, then a vertical line. He drew a line down to the base of the wall, a horizontal line and then a vertical line to join up with where he had started.
Lifting the chalk from the wall, he murmured another word and then drew a small circle, halfway between the top and bottom. Murmuring a second word, he drew a second circle, just opposite the first.
He spoke one final word, much louder though only the tutor understood what he said. At the same time, he broke the chalk in two. The red which had been covering the chalk leaped to the wall and began tracing the drawing, slowly at first and then faster and faster. Abruptly it stopped and suddenly in the wall was a doorway.
Grasping the circles, which had turned into doorknobs, Kyle turned them and opened the door, onto light. Inside was what appeared to be a stone floor stretching into the distance.
Kyle turned to look at the adults, “I need at least three witnesses, Jarom, my tutor has said he would be one. I need two others. I promise you that you will be in no danger.
Nara said immediately, “I will come, Kyle.”
Not to be outdone by a mere woman, the two squires and Sir Cedric immediately volunteered their services. Kyle turned back to the door and then looking over his shoulder, he gave a little grin, saying with amusement, “I'm sorry the doorway, is so small, but I'm not very big.”
He entered with no hesitation, as did Jarom and Nara, the other three looked at each other and then with determination they followed, ducking to fit under the lintel. When they stood up straight, they found that instead of being in a chamber with a stone floor, they actually seemed to be outside and there were two glowing gravel paths, in the grass, heading off into the distance.
When the three men moved away from the door it slammed behind them and they looked back in trepidation and it was gone. Kyle reassured them, “Don't worry about the door. We're in the Chamber of the Paths of the Gods in the Monastery of St. James.”
One of the squires protested, “But I always heard that there were three paths?”
The silence seemed to last forever, but in reality was only a few seconds, before Kyle answered. “The spell I used is in fact a demand that the Gods turn their attention to the Paths. Whether the originator of the spell intended for only two paths to appear or the Gods were pissed off at him and only let the Left Hand and the Middle Path appear I don't know. Possibly that's why it's so dangerous.” and he looked significantly at Nara. “However, it doesn't matter, you will be taking the Middle Path, which here is on the right. No one has ever died on the Middle Path in all our history. I will be taking the Left. Of all who have taken the Left Hand Path fully half have died, so it is very dangerous. Calling the Gods this way is much more dangerous than doing so from the Monastery of St. James.”
Only his tutor and Nara knew that he was facing virtual certain death and both gave him a hug to say goodbye. He held onto her a little longer than he did his tutor, his mother wasn't very maternal and he couldn't remember ever being hugged by a woman before. He whispered in her ear, “Thank you.”
He straightened and faced his destiny. He stepped on the path, gravel crunching under his light weight. If the accounts were accurate, he should first meet the Goddess of Healing, in a small copse of trees. After a few minutes of walking, he saw the trees and as he approached, he was uncertain. He saw a woman, yes, but there was also a man, as well. He had never read in any accounts of something like this happening.
As he got close enough to recognize them, he saw that indeed, it was the Goddess of Healing, but the man was the God of War. As he came within a few feet of them they stood and bowed to him. Stunned and caught off guard, he finally managed to return their bow.
They sat down again and motioned him to a rock just the right size for him to sit that suddenly appeared. He sat his arms around his knees, too shocked to speak. The God and Goddess looked at each other with a smile, then the God of War, Konvar looked back at the boy. In a deep, elemental voice Konvar spoke, “We have been watching you for several years, since you found the spell that would open the Chamber of the Paths of the Gods.”
He told Kyle, “We are here to put your mind at rest. Of all of those who used the spell only two have been worthy, the first one, your very ancient ancestor who devised the spell and you. Oh, we don't say that you are perfect, you have many of the faults that humans are prone to have. But only you and your ancestor were thinking of your country when you used the spell, all others were thinking only of themselves and how good a ruler they would make. You came here to die, so that your cousin could become ruler.”
“He would make a good ruler, but we think you will make a better one. We will send you and your friends, directly to the exit chamber.” Konvar said.
Kyle jerked upright, blurting out, “Before you do so, could I ask something of you?”
“What is it, little one?” asked the Goddess of Healing.
He explained, “I know the bells all ring when a chosen one is selected. Could you delay that for a few hours? I want time to get people in place to gather in those who have been raping my country over the last ten years and recover as much from them as possible. If the bells start ringing right away, then those people will start running and with the chaos the country will be in for the next few days many of them will be able to escape. I will start with a very poor country to rule.” he almost begged.
“That is quite agreeable. Will six hours be enough?” asked Konvar.
Kyle said his eyes twinkling, “Oh, I should imagine. After all I have a whole monastery of Mages to help me and since I know who I want, it's just a matter of finding them and making sure they don't stray.”
Konvar laughed, “Yes, I think you will make a very good ruler. Goodbye little one, we shall watch your reign with interest.”
With a clap of his hands he transported Kyle and his witnesses to the Chamber of Exit, where they were met by the Abbott of the Monastery of St. James and several of the leading monks.
The Abbott bowed deeply to Prince now King Kyle. Standing up he said dryly, “I always thought that the tantrums you had were a little too convenient, since they were always against men who were very close to your uncle.” Kyle could see by the large grandfather clock against the wall that it was three o'clock. Somehow, what had seemed like a few minutes to them had been almost three hours.
Kyle's eyes twinkled, saying, “And of course he couldn't afford to keep them around when I had a tantrum whenever one of them showed up. That meant he had to arrange to meet them somewhere else and at least I could inconvenience him, even if I couldn't stop him.”
He looked beyond the Abbott at the wall of symbols. He began to make his way to them. He stood in front of them for a minute before he stood on tiptoe and touched the Coronet of the Gods and it came into his hands. Made of silver rather than gold, it in fact was a simple headband of cloth, rather than a solid one of metal. He put it on and everyone in the room could hear a ringing in their ears. Kyle spoke without turning around, “I asked the Gods if they would delay the ringing of the bells, until I had time to make arrangements and they agreed to a delay of six hours.”
Below where the headband had been, were two rows of five symbols each, in a ruby red color. He had to touch them each in order, to see which gifts the Gods were prepared to give him, if any. Sometimes all they gave was the Coronet. He began to touch them one by one, as he touched each one a gong rang out. The symbol went as gray as the wall and appeared in red on the headband.
The monks’ breath became louder and louder as one by one, all of the symbols disappeared from the wall to appear on the headband. Never before had more than four symbols appeared on the Coronet of the Gods, but this was a particularly perilous time for their country and Kyle would need all the help he could get.
Kyle turned to the Abbott who was looking at him with astonishment. He said, “I asked the Gods to delay the ringing of the bells so I would have time. I ask that the monks do not talk about this until the bells start ringing.
The Abbott, bowed to Kyle, telling him, “We are yours to command, Your Majesty.” Speaking to the other monks, “Make sure that silence is the watchword until the bells ring. Come with me, Your Majesty, Witnesses, we'll go to my quarters where wecan be more comfortable and private.”
He led them along the corridor to a door behind which were spacious quarters. He offered them seats on the comfortable armchairs and sofas, which they took. He offered the new King his own personal chair but Kyle declined, saying that he hadn't come to take someone's chair and the Abbott sat in the large, ornate but still practical, comfortable armchair.
Kyle said, “Your brother, always comes here, after the commemoration ceremonies doesn't he.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, he...” He said hesitating there.
Kyle nodded, saying, “He likes to blow off steam about the costly and needless ceremonies that are held for my father and my brothers, when a simple church service would be more appropriate, for an impoverished country. Right?”
Only Nara and Jarom didn't look at him in astonishment. As Jarom had always known and Nara had learned earlier, he was much more intelligent than rumors indicated. The others in the room were just beginning to realize it.
The Abbott was still reluctant to say anything about his brother, so Kyle let it pass, instead he looked at the two squires. While not twins, they were brothers and there was only nine and a half months difference in age. “The reason why you haven't been made knights yet, is that I chose you as the personal bodyguards of the new king, which I thought was going to be my cousin Thorn. Individually you aren't the best fighters around, together you are almost unbeatable. The King, which to my astonishment I find is me, is going to need your abilities and you will be knighted and confirmed in your positions at the first opportunity.” The two squires looked at each other with delight. Those positions were the most prestigious that a knight could hold.
Kyle looked at Nara, saying, “I need your help as well and I've always thought that the position of women in our society should be improved. If you accept the position of Chief Provost Marshall, that will help them and also give you the opportunity to actively search for those who destroyed your village.” Her face lit up at that. “I'm afraid that the Assassins Guild will have to be disbanded, perhaps you could use a few of them to help you. Some of them must be trustworthy. And I insist that you personally arrest the Guildmaster of the Thieves Guild, High Merchant Sydra. It's nice that he has no relatives, I can confiscate his estates, without worrying about what his family is going to do to survive.” She gave him a feral grin at that and he returned it.
Turning to Sir Cedric, he put a solemn look on his face, saying, “I'm afraid you aren't quite ready to be Marshall of the Army yet, I think I'll have to give that position back to my cousin, Thorn. How does Vice Marshall suit you.” The big grin on Sir Cedric's face answered that question.
Kyle waved at his tutor, saying, “I'm afraid that Jarom won't accept anything more than an advisory capacity, but I assure you I'll listen very closely to his advise, as I always have.” He was pretty well finished with what he had to say when a knock came on the door.
When the Abbott said come, the door was opened by a monk and Marshall Govan, chief of the army and the Abbott's brother, strode in, evident disgust on his face. He stopped abruptly when he saw all the people in the room and when he caught sight of Kyle he went completely still, eyes feasting on the sight of the boy he expected to be dead, wearing the Coronet of the Gods.
With a whoop of joy, he threw the hat he had been holding in his hand into the air and strode over and picked up the boy, holding him at arms length, he said, “Somehow, you made it.”
Kyle nodded, saying, “Yes, Gov, I made it. Somehow, the Gods decided I was worthy and I made it. You realize of course that means you have your old job back.”
Govan put him down in a standing position on a chair. He put one long finger, on Kyle's nose, saying, “You bet your bottom on it, I was made to be a Spymaster, this acting as a general has almost put me in my grave.” Then he realized something, “Why haven't the bells rung?”
Kyle plopped back into a sitting position on the armchair and after looking at the small clock on the wall. “They will, in about five and a half hours. I asked for a delay and they agreed to six hours.” He looked at the Abbott, “Now we need some magical and physical aid. I want my cousin Thorn transported here. Govan has to contact a lot of people, to make sure that those who have been taking advantage of the regency are rounded up. He also has to contact garrison commanders in and around the city so the transition from a regency to a reign is done peacefully. That's the magical part. For the physical part, I want the monks of St. Mark to start moving through the city, to the various garrisons in and around the city, to confirm that a new king has indeed been chosen by the Gods and they are to accept it peacefully.”
He said firmly, “Once the bells start ringing, the whole country will know, but I don't know if there has ever been a delay needed so I don't want some skeptics starting an armed rebellion in the meantime.”
It was almost nine o'clock and in the chief audience chamber of the Palace, King Kyle was sitting on the throne waiting for the hour to strike. There were those from the Abbott's chamber plus a few others that could be trusted.
The clock hand moved to nine and the bells began to ring, all of them, church bells and civic bells in the cadence that had announced a new Gods’ chosen King for thousands of years. Four rings, then a pause to allow the ringing to stop then three rings and then four. Repeated over and over, there was no place in the country that the bells couldn't be heard. For one full hour the bells rang and then they stopped, just like that.
Three weeks later, judgement was being held in that same audience chamber. Kyle had dealt with those who had taken advantage of the country's regency to get wealthy. With some, he had simply released them, they were guilty of doing business, not trying to kick their country when she was down. Others who had deliberately and illegally taken advantage of their country, Kyle had given them huge fines to pay and exiled them to their estates for periods of time, ranging from one to ten years.
It was time for his mother and his uncle now and they were ushered in together. He looked at his mother, who seemed forlorn, but not really sorry for what had happened, just sorry for herself. He said firmly, “Mother, I can not really put the blame for what you have done on your shoulders, my uncle was the one primarily responsible. But you were the regent and the one who endangered our country, by taking his advice and allowing him to do as he wished, so I cannot let you go completely unpunished. One of the estates that Roger acquired illegally cannot be returned to its owners because they are no longer living. It is less than an hours ride from the city.”
He said, “So you too will go into exile, on that estate, until I decide you have come to regret what you have allowed to be done. I would tell you I would visit frequently but we both know you never came to see me when I was ten yards away so I doubt you will care whether I visit or not. But I will come, at least once a week. It will be your decision whether you want to see me or not.”
She was led out, to be transported to her place of exile, while Kyle turned to face his Uncle Roger, his face hard. He said coldly, “Uncle unlike my mother, I can and do blame you for what you did to my country. Deliberately, with malice, you set out to rape her, making yourself incredibly wealthy in the process. When I began to get older you began contemplating arranging to have me killed and blaming it on my cousin and heir, Thorn, just so you could extend the regency period.”
“One of our greatest kings said that the most important qualities a king could have were compassion and ruthlessness. With my mother, I showed compassion with you however, it will be ruthlessness. You will be taken out and executed before the sun goes down.”