The emperor treaded up the green hill, trying as best he could to take in the beauty of the day – the warmth of the sun, casting golden light across his now quiet land; the gentle breeze humming past, kissing his cheeks and making the tall dance; the tranquility of the lazy birds chirping and fluttering about, preparing themselves for the temperate winter to come.
Atop the peak was another man, so similar to the emperor himself, one would think that they were gazing upon the past and the present simultaneously. At times, he wished it was so. He wished his grandchildren were not sired by that man. Or… perhaps, rather, he wished god had made his daughter was stronger than she was. Had she been, then this entire situation couldve been avoided. Had she been, Nikolai Grisha wouldve never been created into abomination – or at all. The offspring of fear and madness, it was a perturbing sensation to try and conceive of what possibly he would become.
No, thought the emperor. Not possibly. Inevitably.
He expired a resigned sigh, and only then did his grandson notice his presence. How easy, the emperor thought to himself in a moment of morbid surmising, would it have been for that aberrant, winter child to have stabbed him in the back.
The young mans smile was far too jubilant for the occasion. The emperor desired nothing but to hide him from the truth, but that was an impossible prospect.
”Most beloved grandson, ” he exhaled his greeting.
”What brings you this far from the palace? ” Rens asked. ”And without your sentry? ”
The emperor waved a hand dismissively and, instead, cast his gaze over the golden sea of wheat in the valley below them.
”The harvest will be favored this year. ”
He only wished there would be peace in the land to enjoy it, but they had not known true peace for decades, and now a new adversary had arisen from the icy mountains of the north, casting a pall over any notion of the kind.
”As will prosperity – for the time being, at least. ” Rens studied his grandfather for a moment before following his gaze to the wheat field. ”Praxicles has agreed to an armistice in light of their Spring Festival. ”
”Epai Ixi, ” Emerentius corrected out of habit. His grandson had a bad pattern of cavalierness towards cultures that were not his own. It had caused him some trouble in the past during times of negotiation, and no matter how confident Rens was in the ability of his cavalry, King Praxicles was the very last person that the old emperor wanted to offend. ”That will only last twenty-one days. What do you expect to do when the last of their wine has been drunk? ”
It was more of a rhetorical inquiry, since, soon enough, Rens would no longer be the high general of the Casterian army. Still, that was not something he was aware of, and, anyway, the emperor wanted to know. Casterian history has proven the effectivity of slow and steady, and it was a tactic that his grandson never once strayed from. But at some point, one had to recognize where strategy ended, and attrition began.
And, indeed, it may have been the case that attrition could be utilized as a strategy, but very few people in the written history of mankind ever had such potent foresight to employ such unorthodox measures.
Rens was not one of them.
”I plan to continue our slow victory. Chip away at them piece by piece ” Rens exhaled the comment, studying his grandfather intently. ”They may not have our numbers, but it is nearly impossible for our army to conquer them in their territory – it is far too treacherous. ”
”And what if I were to say we no longer had the time it took to conquer Praxicles? ” The emperor muttered, his thoughts pulling him far from Siligo Field.
Rens shifted beside him, his brow furrowing. ”Has something happened, grandfather? ”
”Just entertain this old man, ” Emerentius replied.
There was a pregnant pause in which the emperor thought that his grandson would force out the truth from him, but instead, he just shook his head.
”If such were the case, we would have to expand our front from beyond the north. The Eurokadites have a vastly superior navy – our last attempt at a sea offensive ended with the loss of over thirty ships – but it would certainly take them by surprise. Hopefully scatter their forces enough to get some sort of hold within their kingdom. However, it would not be worth the risk unless time truly did become our enemy. ”
He lifted his gaze to his grandfather and continued when he noticed the old mans were glazed in introspection.
”On the other hand, there is also the possibility of seeking aid elsewhere. King Praxicles is a master politician. He finds friends in all places, which would mean we would have to offer benefits of a higher caliber, or at least at a higher quantity. Perhaps, we could utilize the power of the Sanctorum. ” He murmured the final bit, unsure of how the emperor would react to weaponizing religion, but when Rens realized it had not even a smidgen of effect on his moral compass, he frowned. ”Alright grandfather, I entertained you as you asked of me. Now offer me the same respect. What has happened? ”
Finally, the emperors golden eyes focused, riddled with consternation.
”The odds have shifted, Rens, and whether time be on our side or not, we must prepare for the possibility of it becoming a foe, indeed. ”
”Speak plainly, grandfather, ” Rens besought. ”Your words are shrouded in unnecessary code. ”
”The Mad King Bozhidar… ” His hesitation felt childish, even to him, but it was like a spirit overtook him, compelling him against it. As if speaking the words aloud would only bolster the truth of the matter – the death of mad depravity has now made way for the inauguration of something far worse: lucid depravity. ”He has met his end. ”
”With him gone from this earthly realm, ” his grandfather pressed forth. ”You, as his first-born son, have claim to his empty throne. ”
”Father has died? ” The general murmured the question to himself before lifting inquisitive eyes to his grandfather. They held no alarm, outside of that which was caused by the objective suddenness of his passing. Certainly, his grandfather noted, there was no grief. That was good. ”How? ”
The emperor turned back to the valley. ”My intelligencer claims poison. The majority of which was hemlock, by the state of his body. It was fairly slow and rather painful, he surmises. ”
”Poisoned? ” Rens demanded. The Mad King spawned six sons with the generals late mother, when it was still too early to tell the magnitude of the sickness tormenting his mind. When his grandfather eventually took custody, he was only in the beginning of his throes of lunacy. If anything, Rens was expecting a horrible and accidental self-injury. Or perhaps suicide. Not poison. ”By whom? ”
The castle physicians all claimed that the plague that took the lives of Bozhidars wife and the two youngest of the brood only exacerbated the madness, driving the septic stake even deeper into his skull.
”It seems as though the elixir could only have come from the Casterian priest that the bastard prince holds close, ” Emerentius answered. ”Vitale Sicarius. The high priests of Sanctorum say he was called upon by King Bozhidar when Prince Nikolai fell stricken with the plague after his eighth year. ”
”The plague? ” Rens pressed. ”Since when did that occur? ”
”Sickness and frailty are things Krovs hide, ” the emperor replied. ”Out of pride, Id assume. Though, it is curious that the Sanctorum failed to notify me. ”
Rens nodded, in complete concurrence. The church may have claimed autonomy, but every creature within their walls was Casterian, so their loyalty should have been evident.
”And this priest, grandfather. Vitale. He managed to heal him? ”
”As contrived as it may seem… ” The emperor took a breath, gesturing in a bemused manner. ”Prince Nikolai survived. In a fit of lunacy, Bozhidar mistook the word physician for alchemist whilst composing his message. The Prima Praefectus obliged with the most esteemed of his flock. That damned madness saved his sons life. ”
”An alchemist curing the plague? Thats revolutionary. ” The general murmured the comment. ”How is it that such vital information was not shared – at the very least, the with Royal Physician Guild. ”
”Because the priest never returned from the Mad Lands. Bozhidar found it fitting to keep for himself. The circumstances of his residency at Castle Mechi – even to my intelligencer – are shrouded, ” Emerentius informed his grandson. ”As it seems that he and the late, Mad King had very minor contact afterward. If the poor priest was not cloistered within his rooms, he was at the side of Nikolai, who did nothing but berate him. ”
Rens narrowed his eyes. ”What could they possibly have held over his head? For six plus years he has remained and, yet only now he chooses to poison Bozhidar? Thats- ”
”Quite odd. ” The emperor intervened. ”Not only in the allowance of the passage of so many wasted years, Rens, but also in the desecration of the second tenet of Sanctorum. ”
”Breath is more sacred than blood, ” Rens recited, as if it would somehow give him insight.
”A priest of Pater Deus killing on his own free will? ” The old man posed suspiciously.
”Then, ” his grandson sighed, finally coming to the only logical conclusion. ”It was Nikolai. ”
The emperor nodded. His eldest grandson was astute and decisive when placed upon the battlefield, but the delicate matters of state were always a bit over his head. It was unfortunate, since his brother Durans was far superior in both foresight and stratagem, but nothing could be done. Durans was third in line of succession, and lame, at that. Only Rens could play the role of the Krovic king. Only he had inherent right to the regalia of Rodakrov.
But it wasn as if Emerentius was sending him there emptyhanded. He was to be accompanied by the kingdoms brightest advisors, approved by the emperor himself – advisors who knew the motives of Casteria and the means by which they could come to fruition.
”You will ride north, my child, to Castle Mechi. ” The emperor tempered the command by lifting a gentle palm to meet his grandsons cheek. ”And you will take the crown that is yours by birth. You will reign as king of Rodakrov and you will rid the kingdom of the title Mad Lands. Shed it off all wickedness and bring it into the light of righteousness. ”
”And what of the battle fronts, grandfather? ” Rens implored. ”What of the Primus Cavalry? ”
”Your brother has trained long and hard, ” the emperor reminded, knowing it to be true, since he, himself, personally took on the task of instructing the second in line in all areas of military conflict. Emerentius was prepared for this day – the death of their mad father – but he didn think it to come so swiftly. He didn think Nikolai would grow to be such an abominable creature – not this soon. ”As you will rise to kingship, so, too, will Ciro rise, and he will become General of Primus Cavalry. You may have Krovic blood lingering in your veins, Rens, but you hail from the irreproachable emperors of Casteria. You are a son of the proud name, Aquiladessi. ”
He watched his grandson careful, and when no more opposition arose, he continued.
”We already possess the holy Sanctorum. With you as the king of Rodakrov, we will soon take Eurakos, and Vukland will shortly follow after, and, upon my death, you will be emperor of not Casteria, my child, but of the entire West Continent. The Aquiladessi blood is fated for divinity, and you are destined to be the vessel which lifts the name to the heavens. ”
Rens swallowed, almost as if he were nerve wracked.
”My child, ” the emperor besought, offering him a kind, gentle smile. A reassuring smile. ”My dearest child. Your legacy is now eternally guilded. You will be the hero that brought House Kazbirati to its knees. You will be the hero that ended the very bloodline. Is this not something you desire? ”
”It is, ” Rens interjected hastily. ”I do desire such a legacy, grandfather. ”
The emperors smile grew to something far more genuine, his stomach fluttering with the prospect of ultimate supremacy.
”Good. Then it is settled. Go prepare. There is no time to waste. ”
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