A King’s Duty 3 - To Govern One’s People
To rule … His responsibility - dropped into his lap like an anvil. It was much too early.
It had been no sooner than a fortnight ago that the mere twenty-seven men har returned from the skirmish to Monsax, bloodied and beaten into a mere fraction of the fifty strong that had been sent out. Turmerick had been playing [abbr=A Fragrancian two-stringed string instrument similar to an [i]erhu[/i].]xuakla[/abbr] with his sister Clove, enjoying her sweet, soothing song that made him forget all about xweh-bach and all about the stress of his future responsibilities. She sang to him songs of old legends, such as the tale of the warrioress Cilantra and the first great Nelven expansion across Sso-Hwah; she sang to him myths of the gods and the Nelven creation - how the moon so wounded by all the horror in the night, wept tears of silver and shadow, which pitter-pattered down across the land and became the Night Elves.
Her song had been interrupted at the climax. Into their fathers hut where they had sat had come rach Rose, followed by six men carrying a stretcher. Their father’s corpse had laid upon it like some butchered animal - he had barely been covered by anything, and the stench of rot had already begun to set in. Turmerick hadn’t heard his sister’s cries, not his mother’s when she had found out. Even as the two of them had closed around him in search of comfort and to give comfort, he hadn’t been present. It was as though his world had collapsed in on itself, and now, two weeks later, he stood outside the entrance to his father’s hut, hand resting on the pommel of his sword.
The boy snapped back to reality and turned to face the druid Laurel, who offered him a rose. He had barely registered that the whole town had gathered behind him, all staring at him and the king’s hut behind him. Next to him stood his mother and sister, both dressed in their finest dresses, and the aristocracy lined the first rows of the crowd. The king swallowed nervously and accepted the rose. He hadn’t practiced his lines - he hadn’t had the focus. He didn’t know what to do, so even as whispers grew like weeds in the crowd behind him, he couldn’t do anything. Eventually, he felt a warm hand capture his own and he looked up to see the kind, silvery eyes of his mother.
“Turmey…” she whispered and gently guided the hand holding the rose. “... You are the heir, so yours is the first rose to be laid at the tomb’s door.” Together, they knelt down and laid the rose at the doorstep of the king’s hut. Turmerick suppressed a sob.
“So… He’s truly gone, then?” he whimpered and Queen Clove pulled him gently over to his sister, and the three of them hunkered down and laid their heads against each others’. Meanwhile, the druid continued to distribute roses to anyone who wished to lay them down at the doorstep, and a long line formed to do so. Princess Clove looked up and gave her brother a soft kiss on the scalp.
“He… He is,” she sobbed quietly, “... but don’t worry, little Turm. We’ll take care of you for as long as you need us.”
“For as long as you need us,” his mother echoed. King Turmerick found that he couldn’t process their words properly. His shoulders grew heavy with the thought of duty. As the line of people circulated around the plaza before the king’s hut and placed down their roses, the night passed quicker than one would imagine.
The shadows had grown stark by the end of the ceremony, and the sun was peeking sneakily over the horizon. The royal family, now that their hut had become the king’s tomb, stayed with the Rose family. Rach Rose had humbly offered for them to stay for as long as they’d need, as he had been there in the king’s last moments and heard his last will to his family.
“Your father, he…” rach Rose began as he and Turmerick sat alone in the living room of the Rose mansion. The nobleman suppressed a sob, and Turmerick felt his head grow heavy. He tightened his fists and looked away from the rach’s eyes. “... He came with some final wishes. He sadly didn’t have time to write them down, forgive me - I assure you, my account is true. I swear it, my king - I swear it.”
“O-okay-- I mean…” Turmerick felt his face freeze over with cold sweat. “... Y-you may speak, rach Rose.”
The nobleman bowed his head. “Great son of the moon, your father, he… I understood that you would be under quite a bit of pressure right now. Too much for any lad who only has seen twenty-five droughts. So… He proposed we would aid you until you come of an age where you feel more in control - more certain of yourself.”
Turmerick gingerly sucked on a tooth whilst looking down, flexing his long ears stressfully. “Did, did he say anything about how you would… Aid me?”
The rach clicked in affirmation. “Naturally - your father stated very clearly that you were to apprentice in every office and learn everything there is to learn about leadership and governance.”
The king swallowed. “That… Is something he would say, I suppose… What’ll, what’ll become of my kingdom?”
Rach Rose sucked in a slow breath. “You needn’t worry about all that. Your father stated further that the affairs of the state were to be handled by myself and my rachfi, rach and rachfi Nilla, rachfi Jasmine and the seers Laurel, Cacao and Chive. Your kingdom is in very, very good hands.”
The king drew some concerned breaths and sniffed. “B-but…” Rach Rose’s hand on his shoulder silenced him and he looked up to meet the nobleman’s smiling eyes.
“Understand, son - we’re doing this to help you; to help Fragrance prosper. Forgive my frankness, but if we left the role of leader in the hands of a young boy such as yourself, well… Are you familiar with the baqualo herders out on the Xorsha?”
Turmerick clicked a no and hung his head.
“Do you know when to sow the wheat and when to sow the rice? Do you know when the jasmine flowers bloom? Do you know when the almonds are at the ripest?”
The king suppressed a whimper. “... N-no…”
The rach sighed and placed his forehead against his. Turmerick whimpered. The rach’s breath smelled of death hastily scrubbed away by chewed mint leaves, and his rose perfume did its best to drown it out by drowning everyone around him. “Your kingdom is safe, son - trust us. Once you come of age and feel ready, we will give you back your kingdom. Doesn’t that sound like a deal we can both be proud of?”
A moment passed before Turmerick said, “I guess…” Rach Rose clapped his hands together softly and smacked his lips in satisfaction. He snapped his fingers and the rachfi Rose entered through a carpet door, dressed in beautiful, white clothing that contrasted her dark skin and black hair - exquisitely bejeweled and wealthy even for a nobless.
“Belladonna, my love, would you bring the king to his mother and sister, along with whatever they may wish for of food, drink, games or comforts. They are to be treated as one of our own flesh and blood - no wish is too much for them to ask. After you’ve done that, send word for the seer Cacao. I have some notes I wish to have set in writing.”
The rachfi Belladonna Rose bowed, approached the king and kindly escorted him out of the room. Turmerick cast one last glance over his shoulder to catch rach Rose rubbing his hands victoriously. A burning sensation within him couldn’t help but wonder if he had made a terrible, terrible mistake.
The two of them had exited into the courtyard of the mansion grounds. The homestead of rach and rachfi Rose in Fragrance was humbler than those of their aristocratic peers, but it was nothing compared to their villa back in Scenta. It consisted of four clay huts within a perimetre fenced with wicker walls. The main hut served as the family’s house and main building; north of it was a guest hut currently occupied by the royal family; south of it was the Rose family’s bath house, which was almost as large as the guest hut; finally, a small house reserved used as a food store. Of course, queen Clove, princess Clove and crown prince-crowned-king Turmerick had no reason to complain; sure, their temporary home was smaller than their previous one, but it had been lent to them through the compassion and honour of the Roses. Besides, they all fit - mostly.
The pair entered the small hut and were met with the sudden gazes of the queen and the princess, both of whom smiled as soon as they realised who had come. “Turm, you’re back!” whispered the princess gleefully and took her brother’s hand affectionately. His mother reached out to touch his belly.
“The rach wishes to inform you that whatever you may request while you are guests here, may be granted to the best of his ability. No expense shall be spared if the royal family demands it,” the rachfi whispered respectfully, knelt down and offered forth her hands, palms facing up. The queen looked at her children.
“Would any of you like anything?” Turmerick shook his head. Clove smacked her lips with interest.
“Could you bring us some chamomile tea and some maokl, please?” she asked.
“Some chokham, too, if you could,” added the queen and touched the rachfi’s hands. The rachfi slowly brought her hands back to her sides, rose up and left the hut. Silence fell upon the hut once more before the queen asked, “So, what did you and the rach discuss?”
Turmerick shrunk. “I… I’m not sure I wanna talk about it.”
Both the queen and the princess blinked suspiciously at one another and shuffled a little closer to the king. They both placed a hand on one shoulder each and offered his worry stares with quartz eyes. Turmerick looked down in shame, twiddling his thumbs gingerly. They gave off a dry rubbing noise than only seemed to intensify the awkwardness of the situation. The princess leaned in and rested her cheek atop his head. “You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to, Turm… We support you no matter what you said.”
“You… You will?” whimpered the boy.
The queen sighed. “Of course, we will. We, we have no one but each other now. We cannot afford to anyone. We have already lost one too many.”
Turmerick wiped some tears away. “I, I…”
“Hussshh… Shh, shh… Don’t feel like you have to tell us anything. We’ll be here when you are ready,” reaffirmed princess Clove. The prince nodded, and as he kept crying, his family only hugged tighter. The night quickly passed like this - after they had eaten, Turmerick went to take a bath at the mansion bath house, allowing himself to take in every facet of the beautifully shaped clay tub and the silver-decorated room. His fascination wouldn’t be allowed to last, however, because as he stood admiring the metallic stars filling the domed ceiling, the fire under the tub was lit by the rachfi, who had entered with oils, herbs and ash in various containers. The rachfi bathed him herself, despite his insistence that she didn’t have to. She scrubbed him from top to toe and cleaned his extremities thoroughly, wetting his hands and feet with water before rubbing them in with ash and then quickly rinsing them in water again. As she then let him soak in the herb-infused bathwater, the king asked:
The lady, who was busily washing herself over, too, offered a click to let the king know she was listening. Turmerick drew a slow breath through the nose and looked up at the ceiling of the bath hut, which was barely visible in all the steam from the hot water.
“Is, is it a rachfi’s duty to wash the guests?”
He received at first a surprised giggle in response. The rachfi ran her fingers through her black hair, infusing it with herbal and flowery oils as she laughed - her voice was like his mother’s, Turmerick thought, though somehow even smoother. She turned to him with a smile that was hard to make out in the shadow and steam, and spoke, “No, but as with any wife, it is a rachfi’s duty to obey her husband’s commands - and he has commanded me to see to the great son of the moon and his family’s every need.” She then turned back to her oils. The king frowned and blew bubbles at the top of the water.
“Do you do everything he says?”
“More or less,” came a soft reply.
The rachfi cocked her head to the side. “Did your mother never tell you? Not your sister, either?”
“Tell me what?”
She scoffed as though someone had asked her to explain why water is wet. “Well, the way it’s always been, moonson, is that the woman cares for the home, the children and her man, so that the man can be certain those and that which he values are in good hands when he goes out to hunt.”
The king furrowed his brow and flexed his ears. “But… The rach doesn’t hunt.”
The rachfi sighed. “That’s true, but… Well… He’s very busy with his military career and with his office as the new governor of Monsax.”
Turmerick blinked. “What’s a governor?”
The rachfi smacked her lips looking for words. “A king of sorts, except beneath the king.”
The prince held a small breath before eventually clicking in gradual understanding. “I see… So the rach leads his own village now? Will he leave Fragrance?”
“Oh, no! No, no, no,” the rachfi assured him. “Rach Rose is eternally loyal to Fragrance and the great son of the moon of the Enzan. He’s simply making sure more land is claimed for the city and your future rule, my king.”
Turmerick tasted her words and found them sweet - a little too sweet, perhaps, but he reasoned that they were flavoured by her kind spirit. He nodded with a weak smile and made himself a little more comfortable in the tub. “I’m glad to have so many loyal subjects. I can’t wait to be king now!”
The rachfi gently ran her hand through his hair, though her expression was obscured by the steam except for her face. “Yeah…” she whispered soothingly, “... we await that day eagerly.”
After his bath, the king returned to his chambers. Outside, he heard his mother and sister sit with the rest of the Roses, playing music and enjoying themselves with them. He didn’t feel like joining them - he couldn’t bring himself to ignore the mood still hanging over the village, all for the simple illusion of politeness. He sat down before the mount of his family sword, the Enzanchenn. He stared long and hard at its golden sheath, its sunlike hilt and overall majestic appearance. Despite those qualities, it had been useless in his father’s fight against the vampire. It hadn’t protected him, it hadn’t brought him back home alive, it…
It had just gotten him killed.
He felt his nose itch again and his eyes well up. He tried to swallow the whimpers, but a few broke through still. He collapsed forward onto his hands and drew a sharp breath. “Why… You were supposed to teach me everything I needed to know… So why did you have to go and die? For what?”
There came no response, as expected. Turmerick looked over his shoulder and listened carefully - the music was still playing in the yard, followed by soft applause. He sighed his relief and looked back at the blade. Sharing his sorrows with it seemed to… Calm him somehow. He reached out and grabbed it by the hilt, dismounting it and pulling it to himself. He immediately needed his second hand to support the weight. It was heavy - much to heavy for him to use still. He would need to grow much stronger.
He cast a glance over his shoulder. There was no one there. He stepped over to the curtain door and peeked outside. Nobody there - the other were behind the large hut.
“Hello?” whispered the king quietly, looking around anxiously. He couldn’t locate the source of the voice for the life of him, and it carried an eerie resemblance to… To…
“The sword, Turmerick. Look at the sword.”
The king did as told and, as he held the sword pointing upwards with both hands, he could have sworn that he caught a glimpse of his father’s face in the sheen of the hilt. The shock nearly made him drop it, but the voice spoke soothingly: “Turmerick. It is I, your father.”
The king collapsed onto the floor and once more eyed the doorway. “F-father?!” he tried not to whisper too loudly. “Wh-what’s going on?!”
“The sword given to our family by Kiim’Jaav’Guul has the ability to store souls. In my dying moments, I chose to preserve mine so that I could council you even after death.” He paused. “... I see now that I was right to do so.”
Turmerick began to bawl and the sword gave a sympathetic sigh. “D-daddy, I-... I miss you so much! Why did you have to go and--”
“I did what I thought was right. I see now that I couldn’t have been further from the true path. I knew the day of my death was close, but… I hadn’t expected it to be this soon.” The sword exhaled sharply. “But we can dispell the emotions later - for now, you need to listen to me.”
Turmerick barely had time to recover from the emotional shock before Safron continued, “I do not know what the rach told you, but if you’re staying at his home, then my fears have become reality - the aristocracy holds power over Fragrance and our line are their puppets to parade for the people.”
The prince shook his head in disbelief and confusion. “Father, I don’t--”
“You cannot let him know that I am still here. Rach Rose has only power in mind. If he realises he does not have complete control over you, your mother and your sister, then he will find ways to dispose of you.”
Turmerick felt his breathing accelerate; his heart thundered in his chest and threatened to escape through his ribcage. “Oh gods… Father, I’m scared, so scared!”
“Sssh! Don’t be, my son. Here’s what you will do: You will live as though nothing has happened - you will apprentice and learn under the rach and all the other aristocrats. When the time comes, and you will know when, you will retake power in Fragrance and restore our line.”
“Father, I-... How do I--”
“Don’t lose hope, my son! You will never break unless you allow yourself to be broken. For now, do your best to excel in every class - become a paragon of our people; gain the trust of your peers. You will need their support when you lay forth your claim to the throne. The rach will no doubt try to marry your mother and sister to one of his cousins in Scenta. Do whatever you can to keep them with you here in Fragrance - they are your only family left.”
“I-... I will try,” came a whimper. The sword stared back.
“You’ll do me proud, son. I have no doubt. Now, go out into the courtyard and join the others. You will need to build your network early, lest it’ll be weak and disorganised when you need it.”
Turmerick clicked a weak affirmitive and wiped his eyes again. “I’ve missed you, father.”
There was a pause. “And I, you.”
King Safron’s burial is all sad and stuff. He’s entombed in the royal family’s old hut, so they crash at rach Rose’s. Rach Rose and Turmerick talk about the future of Fragrance and rach Rose says the grown-ups’ll take care of the city until Turmerick comes of age. Later, Turmerick takes a bath and chats with the rachfi (rach Rose’s wife) about gender roles. He learns that Fragrance is patriarchal af. He later unveils that his dad is still alive inside the Sword of Aquibeophatian. Let the Fragrancian oligarchy state begin!