The Last King

It was difficult not to love Jariq, and it was just as difficult not to wonder if such a boy as him was really cut out for the circlet of silver that his quiet, melancholic father wore with such austere dignity. Jariq was known throughout Clembay as the plump little princeling who stopped his carriage to rescue injured animals, whose one eyed kitten and lame puppy followed him on his frequent raids of the royal kitchens, who burst into tears when he first saw the crescent mark on the collarbone of a half- starved Rishvik ploughing his master’s fields. He was consistently reprimanded by tutors and extended family and even servants for the innocence with which he breached the divisions that seemed so insurmountable to those who lived well within their confines. Curiously, however, his immediate family never chastised him, except to pull him up every now and then when they discovered his thefts of the evening’s desserts.

King Jeorgil mustn’t be so soft on the boy, the steward muttered to the other servants. Queen Aliyah and the Princess Jerrilyn followed in Jeorgil’s lead, however; they rewarded what the others thought of as the boy’s effeminate ways, joining in all his little games as he ‘knighted’ his kitten to the Order of the Dawnstar, and named his flightless sparrow the First Ranger of the Keep. Jerrilyn and Jariq were inseparable, to the extent that when the Princess was betrothed to Lord Frohar of House Jarsdel, a young Prince Jariq burst into tears at the ceremony and proposed marriage to Frohar’s matronly cook, so that when the time came he may follow his sister to her new home. The incident amused most people who were present, especially Princess Jerrilyn and Lord Frohar, who wiped tears of laughter from their eyes as they assured the little prince that he would be allowed to visit his sister as much as he wanted, and that a marriage to their cook wasn’t strictly necessary. But not everyone was amused. The Emperor called Jeorgil aside after the ceremony, at the feast, and warned him that he had better ingrain a sense of propriety in his only son and heir. The Hanviks could not mingle with the lower castes, and a Prince of the Nine could not be seen making such a fool of himself in front of everyone, no matter how young. King Jeorgil bowed and accepted the Emperor’s warning in stoic subservience. But he never obeyed.

His family’s love and acceptance of him, their nurturing of his nurturing ways was to be the Prince’s salvation. Others hoped that his close friendship with his maternal cousin and fellow royal, Prince Danuj of House Valerius, might be a good influence on him. After all, Danuj was the spitting image of an ideal royal heir; handsome, physically strong and martially skilled, with charisma, knightly chivalry and a natural aptitude for diplomacy. But if anything, it was Jariq who rubbed off on Danuj. King Domas complained to his wife Queen Aria that thanks to her sister’s son, their own son had been getting soft hearted and spending more time with books and animals with his sister, Princess Druhi, than he did on the training field with the other boys. His infancy was marked with anomalies that endeared him to those closest to him, and his boyhood full of tenderness easily invoked by injury, ill health, and most especially hunger.

Who can say at which crucial moment a man is made into follower or leader, or what chain of successive elements factor in his choice between complicity and courage? Was it the time Jeorgil refused to discipline him for his show of tender brotherly affection for Jerrilyn, or the times his mother smiled upon his Varnik playmates and overlooked his interactions with the Rishviks of Clembay? Jariq never knew it, but he was groomed for rebellion. By deliberately failing to instil in him the prejudices that held the Oligarchy aloft, Jeorgil raised a son who was, by the time he met and fell in love with a Rishvik girl, willing to burn down the Empire rather than abandon the ones he’d sworn to protect. Which was just as well.

For Jariq would grow to be the bane of kings, and in his ascension all the world would know the wrath of a gentle heart roused by grief.

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