Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chapter Three

Word Count: 3,463

The next morning, Syndra-Kai visited her father while he breakfasted, as she usually did. Since the Regent’s breakfast was typically an affair of state, with much business conducted over the hearty fare, it was quite common to have visitors. Syndra did not eat with her father, to avoid showing her face to outsiders. This morning however, her father ate alone, aside from his constant companion, his Chief Advisor, Du-Karel.

Du-Karel gave Syndra-Kai a look of disdain as she entered, as always appearing to try his best to peer through her layers of concealing clothing and veil. She ignored him as she went to her father and kissed him on the cheek. “Good morning, Father, I hope you rested well.”

Syndra’s father nodded and smiled as he took a bite of his omelet. Na-Jakar was the Imperial Regent, serving in her mother’s place since the former Empress, Heta-Nar, had died in childbirth when Syndra-Kai was only two. Heta-Nar’s reign had been short, but her husband and her people had loved her greatly. She had been a beacon of hope for her repressed nation because of her planned reforms.

Heta-Nar took the throne when she was 18 years old. Her mother had borne three girls before her own death, and Heta-Nar was the eldest. She married Na-Jakar, her long-time suitor and the love of her life, less than a year later, and it was no surprise when Syndra-Kai arrived ten months later. Noted for their fertility, The Empresses of Lunatia had never failed to produce an heir within a year of their marriage.

Complications during her second pregnancy cost Heta-Nar her life, and most of the grand plans she had for her country died with her. Na-Jakar lost much of his passion for life, and he left the rule of the country mainly in the hands of Du-Karel.

Du-Karel ran the country with an iron fist, increasing taxes and eliminating programs he thought unnecessary. Aid for the poor stopped, education reforms ended, and any ideas Heta-Nar had initiated to equalize power among the classes were put aside, in favor of proposals that favored the wealthy or the noble. It was apparent that Du-Karel favored the noble class, feeling that commoners should be considered no more than paid slave labor. Outlawed centuries before, slavery was illegal, but there was still a faction among the noble class that felt they were superior in every way to any other class, and abused that privilege. Heta-Nar’s sisters were a few of their number.

Syndra-Kai often wondered how Du-Karel had achieved such a position of power in the palace, but could only assume that her father’s fragile state after her mother’s death left him vulnerable to coercion. Still a child herself, Syndra-Kai had no say in government yet, but Xan-Rul had done his job as tutor to pass on her mother’s ideals. Syndra anticipated the day when she could ban Du-Karel from the palace and send him into disgrace with her aunts, who lived in the northern state of Cathantias. She was convinced Du-Karel was in league with them to wrest power out of her hands so they might continue their lavish and irresponsible lifestyle.

“Hello Syndra-Kai, my darling daughter! I understand that you had quite an interesting Choosing ceremony yesterday. I trust you were still able to approve an Eligible?” Na-Jakar said. Du-Karel’s face lit with interest. He obviously had not heard this piece of palace gossip yet.

“Yes, Father, rest assured that I have Chosen, wisely, I think. He is a man named Malik-Tor, have you heard of him?” Syndra asked.

Du-Karel answered instead, his nasally voice grating to her ears. “He is the traveler that writes of the customs in foreign nations, my lord. Indeed, he seems quite charmed by foreign ways.”

“Is that so? A well-traveled man might indeed prove a wise Companion for you, my dear. Indeed, our foreign policy could use some attention.” Na-Jakar continued eating, and Du-Karel stiffened at the perceived insult to his management skills.

“Sire, Lunatia is the jewel of the world, and all other nations have always bowed to her might. The silver produced in the belly of our mountains is the envy of all. It is only right that foreign nations recognize our power in this respect. To give them consideration beyond that of any common merchant would be to cheapen our own Empire in everyone’s eyes.”

Na-Jakar slumped, his momentary show of spirit dissipating. Saddened to see her father disintegrate under Du-Karel’s condescending stare was too much.

“Lunatia has indeed become a rich country because of the blessing bestowed upon us. However, I feel it is the responsibility of those blessed thusly to look after the less fortunate. It is the merchants and the commoners that have made this country what it is. Their work brings forth the silver for trading, making it accessible to the rest of the world. To treat them as less than equals would be a great dishonor, considering the service they provide. Unless, perhaps you propose to start mining silver yourself, Du-Karel. I hear that it is a dirty job, though; it would be a shame to mar your fine clothes.”

Du-Karel stiffened further, if such a thing were possible. “You are still a child, Princess; I would not expect you to understand these things. It is knowledge that comes with years of experience in dealing with these people that shows you how low they can be,” he sneered.

“Need I remind you, sir, that after tomorrow I will no longer be a mere child. I will be Empress, and if you are not careful, you will be out of a job.” Syndra-Kai stood. “Father, I am glad to see you are in good health. I shall retire to my studies and preparations for Initiation. I hope that you may be able to teach your lapdog here some courtesy before then.”

She hated having to ignore the feeling of hurt she saw on her father’s face as she left the table. Du-Karel’s face held an odd expression, almost one of triumph. He knew very well that her father had no real power over him; her father was the lapdog. She would not be rid of him so easily, either. He had involved himself deeply in every matter of state, and unfortunately, she would require his aid until she was able to navigate the treacherous waters of politics alone.

Still, she felt the need to be cruel to her father. She felt that he had dishonored her mother by his weakness. She would not do the same.

Upon returning to her quarters, Xan-Rul waited for her.

“Good morning, Princess. I trust your father is well?”

She flung herself down on the bed. “As well as ever. Du-Karel still has my father by the nose, and I cannot wait to rid the palace of his presence. Have you seen Malik-Tor today? How is he?”

“Yes, I have been to see your Chosen one. He is well, though he did not welcome the reason for my visit. There are some things he needed to be aware of about his role in the Initiation,” Xan-Rul replied.

“What sort of things?”

“What to expect after castration, for one.”

Syndra-Kai had removed her veiling, and her face blanched. “Must you always be so blunt, Xan?”

“I have learned in all the years of knowing you, Syndra-Kai, that if I were anything but blunt, you would pester me to no end,” he said.

“Just what should one expect in his position, Xan-Rul? Pardon my curiosity, I still think it is hideous perform such an act on another person, but you have lived through it, as every Chosen one before you.” Syndra gestured for him to sit in their customary seats; she lounged on a sofa, and he sat as formally as usual in an armchair at her side.

“It is a very simple thing, really. It is quite common to castrate an animal for any number of reasons, the method is similar for a human as well,” he began.

“How is it done? Does it hurt?” she asked.

“Initially, yes. It is usual to receive some kind of drug to dull the senses beforehand. After, it is really just a dull throbbing until there is nothing left,” he said.

“I have seen medical books; I am not completely naïve as to a man’s anatomy. Is the man cut?”

“No, there is a tool used to crush the blood vessels leading to the man’s productive organs. The lack of blood causes them to shrivel and die. Everything else is intact, but there is no desire for physical pleasure any longer,” Xan-Rul said.

Syndra-Kai gulped. Her thirst for knowledge was great, but sometimes, even she wondered if she went too far. What she had heard greatly disturbed her, though she was relieved that Xan-Rul appeared to be un-distressed. His serenity passed to her as well, and she felt better.

“How did Malik-Tor take this information?” she asked.

“As any man hearing of such things reacts for the first time would react. He clutched himself, backed away, and turned quite pale.” He chuckled. “I don’t know how you got him to agree, Syndra-Kai. He seemed quite fierce last evening, but today he is quite calm.”

She swallowed nervously. “I explained to him that I had no great love for the custom either, and that I wished it were unnecessary, but if I were to change it, I needed his agreement. It didn’t hurt for me to tell him a little of my cousins, as well.”

Xan-Rul frowned. Syndra-Kai’s aunts and cousins had been banned from court long ago. It was one thing her father had managed to keep intact since her mother’s death; even Du-Karel could not convince him to reverse Heta-Nar’s ruling. Xan-Rul shared the family’s dislike for their relatives.

“But you say he is still calm today? You do not fear he will run, do you?” Syndra asked. She needed to find out any possible repercussions that would occur after she helped Malik to escape the city.

“He seemed quite prepared to do his duty, even if he was a little disturbed by what I had to say. I think he will see his end of the bargain through.”

Syndra sighed with relief, a soft exhalation that caught Xan-Rul’s attention.

“Your rash actions yesterday could indeed have jeopardized your throne, Princess. You would do well to remember that. A girl in your position could lose much by acting on emotion rather than logic,” he reminded her.

“I know this, Xan-Rul. I just cannot help it sometimes. Perhaps I am still too much of a child to manage this,” she said, thinking of Du-Karel’s words to her earlier.

“Nonsense. You are a very levelheaded young woman, and you have learned everything that can be from a book. Experience and wisdom will come with time. Do not fret. This Malik-Tor seems wise, and may prove of use to you. You cannot ask for more from a Companion than to be your most trusted Advisor.”

“But what if he changes his mind, after? What if he chooses then to run? Do you still think me capable of this, Xan-Rul?”

Xan-Rul looked at her, considering. “It would be dangerous for him to run, Princess. I do not see how he could escape the role he has been Chosen for.” He peered at her closely, but Syndra kept her face casual, and her eyes downturned, as though she were simply nervous. “If he should escape, it would be of no great concern. He would be an outlaw, no longer permitted in Lunatia. What matters is that you become Empress. Why do you really think a commoner is Chosen? They are disposable.”

Syndra-Kai looked up. It was untypical of Xan-Rul to sound so critical, though she knew his inclinations. Usually he was the picture of calm, accepting fate with patience and approaching sensitive topics with logic, not emotion.

“Xan-Rul, you are not disposable. You were my mother’s dearest friend, and you are mine as well. I would not be who I am today without your guidance. Were my mother alive, she would proclaim it to all who would hear.” She reached out a hand and laid it atop his.

Taking her tiny hand between his larger ones, he smiled wistfully at her. She could see emotion in his eyes as he looked into hers. “Thank you. I have tried my best to teach you, as she would have wished, in what capacity I may. You are a good daughter.” He straightened in his seat again, regaining his composure. “You know, she did have plans to do away with this custom before you came of age, just as you do.”

“She did? I did not know that! Why didn’t she?” Syndra-Kai sat up.

“Well, when she became Empress, it was a whirl of courtship, marriage, your birth… She started many things she was unable to see through to fruition. She probably thought she had plenty of time, and then it was too late.”

Syndra-Kai sighed, bringing to mind the phantom image of her mother she kept in her head. She could not remember her, and the one portrait that existed was in her father’s chamber. She had only seen it a few times. “I hope I make her proud.”

“You will child, I feel certain you will. Just be strong, and keep your own counsel. Let no one tell you how you should be or do things.” Xan-Rul stood, looking down at her. “Now, child, there are some things I must say to you as well, and you will probably be displeased to hear them, but this is how things are done.”

She looked up at him, curiosity shining in her eyes. “I know what is expected tomorrow, Xan-Rul. I have a thorough education.” She assumed they would be discussing the physical aspects of her Initiation again, which had been covered when she had asked where babies came from as a child.

“No, my dear, I think your Chosen one will take care of that just fine.” Syndra stuck her tongue out at him. “There are some formalities that you need to be aware of. All of these things are revealed to you in stages, so as not to overwhelm you. The first of these things is that you will not immediately become Empress the moment you are bedded.”

“What? Then what is the point of all this ‘custom’ and ‘ceremony’ if it is not about becoming Empress?” Syndra drew her brows together, ready to burst in sudden anger.

“The ceremony of Initiation means that you are considered a woman and an adult, no longer a child. However, in order to rule, it is only proper that an Empress choose a mate, so they may rule in harmony. The Empress gives life to the country, and her husband ties her to the earth. Marriage is an even more important ceremony than the Initiation,” Xan-Rul said.

“Well, I certainly understand the need to be married one day and have an heir, but are you saying I do not have any real power until I am married?” Syndra-Kai asked.

“In a way, yes. If a girl must become Empress as early as age sixteen, she must wait a period of one year before she can assume the throne fully. This is to allow her time to find a husband, so they might rule Lunatia together, though the Empress has more power.”

“A year before I can do anything? That is ridiculous!” Syndra-Kai remembered the look of triumph Du-Karel had given her before she left her father. “Who else knows of this stipulation?”

“It has been a long time since we had need for a girl as young as you to take the throne, but it is in the laws,” Xan-Rul replied.

“So why have you not told me of this before?” Syndra demanded.

“It was not permitted, Princess. A girl is only told of these things just before her Initiation, whether it is applicable or not,” Xan-Rul said.

“And I am sure that my aunts are well aware of this and all too ready to be there in case I fail,” Syndra said.

“It is unlikely you will not be able to find a husband in the time allowed. Once you are Initiated, you may remove your veil, and you are quite beautiful. I am sure you will catch the eye of some worthy,” Xan-Rul reassured her.

Syndra-Kai glared at him. “So what am I supposed to do for a year before I have to get married? Just meet potential candidates who are going to lie, cheat, or steal to win my hand?”

“You may do as you wish, Princess. Once considered an adult, you may travel all of Lunatia; or even foreign nations if you desire. The only restriction upon you is that you must wed a Lunatian.”

“I can really go anywhere?” Syndra-Kai’s eyes lit up. She had never been allowed outside the palace walls before, even into the city of Lunatium itself.

“With the proper escort, of course. Perhaps Malik-Tor might wish to show you some of the places he has seen,” Xan-Rul suggested.

“Well, Xan, I think that is the best piece of news you have given me in a long time. I have always wanted to travel!” She twirled around the room. “And a whole year to do so?”

“One whole year. If you can just keep your patience a little longer, you will be Empress one day, Syndra-Kai, fear not about that. You may also participate in the government, though you can make no changes. Your opinion must be taken into consideration,” he added.

“Was there anything else you needed to tell me before my Initiation?” she asked.

“That is all for now, Princess. I will leave you to your meditations and preparations for tomorrow. Today is yours; you know to ask the maids if you need anything.”

“Thank you, Xan-Rul. You have always been honest and kind. Rest assured that as long as I am able, you will have a place in the palace,” she said.

Xan-Rul bowed as he left the room, there being nothing left to say.

Syndra-Kai walked to her balcony, screened to protect from spying eyes. From this height, she was able to see over the palace walls, westward towards the main city gate and the mountains beyond. One day soon, she would be able to touch those magnificent peaks herself. First, she needed to prepare for the coming Initiation.

She moved to the far corner of her room, and twisted a sconce on the wall until it hung upside down. A panel cleverly hidden in the marble of the wall itself moved silently back, revealing a catch. Pressing it, the whole wall swung inwards to reveal a dark corridor. She grabbed a candle from her bedside and lit it before entering, pushing the wall closed behind her. She marveled at the hidden passage’s design. Even after years of disuse, the mechanism worked like a charm.

She began to walk down the path and stairs she had taken many times, though never to their ultimate end, outside the city walls. She had discovered this way as a child and explored its mysteries, finding hidden doors into storerooms and other suites in the palace. Before, she had explored with curiosity, now she moved with purpose. She had to gather supplies for Malik-Tor, to aid him in his escape.

She wondered what it might be like to travel with Malik. Reading of his travels was exciting, he had a gift with words and describing things he had seen, it was as though she were there herself. The man himself intrigued her, and not just his handsomeness. He had an air of mystery and even a little danger that she was both intrigued and frightened of. She wondered if he might be willing to go ahead and carry through with the physical part of the Initiation, though it scared her. She knew what was involved, but it sounded painful, not to mention humiliating, having to submit to a man and let him do such things to her. She shuddered, but at the same time, she was oddly aroused.

She shook herself and continued on her mission. She had plans, growing in magnitude all the time, and she had very little time in which to worry about a silly erotic fantasy. He was there to allow her to become Empress, that was all, and he had made that perfectly clear already by even mentioning that it was not necessary to perform the act. He did not want her, even if she was beautiful. She was just a child in his eyes.


Arielle said...

Love it! Even though when I was sixteen, I still thought sex was gross. ;)

Can they just pretend he got castrated? I mean, since they don't lose any body parts, no one will know!

Kestrel said...

I am thinking of making her older, maybe eighteen?
But you forget about her age as the story goes on so it becomes less of a big deal... For now I'm just writing as the story came to me...

You'll have to wait and see what happens, Some interesting twists in the future... but I wanted to include a description of what exactly happens to a Companion... ;) But yes you would know if you faked it, because they shrivel up, so you could tell the difference... (ew) I have a post about it on the other blog, look under "Need Help"...

I think Xan-Rul has become one of my favorite characters, he's getting a bigger part later on down the road...

Anonymous said...

I love the opposing motivations you got going here. Syndra is "all business" and Malik is well...I don't know yet. Great ending to chapter 3!

Arielle said...

Hmm eighteen might be better, or maybe even seventeen because since she has to wait a year before she takes the throne then she'll be eighteen.

Ah, it's under the research label. :3
We talked about castration in my Criminology class a few semesters back. Basically it was about castration of sex offenders, to keep them from offending again. But yeah, it is eww, especially when they do it themselves.
Maybe he'll recover! :P

Kestrel said...

Faye - I know Malik is a little blurry at this point in the story, I am ironing out his kinks so I can describe him best... He is the kind of guy that lives life from the outside, he is the "watcher", reporting back on what he sees, but never really belonging or participating. He thinks he prefers it that way, but he is finding it harder not to become involved as he sees what his country is, and as he gets to know Syndra, he feels the urge even more to be drawn in and part of something greater than himself. But he is that "resisting" hero...

Arielle - I read some really disturbing stuff while I was researching, I can't believe anyone would do something like that to themselves, but I think chemical castration of sex offenders is not an unjustifiable punishment, depending on the severity of the crime. In some cases, offenders have actually ASKED for the process as they recognize they have a problem, but are denied it because of groups saying it is "cruel and unusual". I could see 'cruel' but castration has been fairly common in history, so its not 'unusual' lol.

_-*Kristen*-_ said...

castration wouldnt be cruel if they asked for it in my opinion.

but i really cant wait until the next chapter, i love how you have your characters with such a strong sense of identity on here. i really wish that i could end up doing that with mine.

Kestrel said...

Hey Kristen, I agree with you about the castration thing if they are asking for it.

I think you are coming along with your new story beautifully, so I think you will get there eventually. It might help you to write up a character profile for each of your main characters, think about what motivates them and why they do things the way they do... I have Character Profiles up on my other blog, you could maybe use those as examples? Hope it helps, it did for me.

Anonymous said...

Hey kestrel, how's the writing going? I wish your book was in print cuz I can't put it down! What do you call it when you can "see what you read" in your head like a movie? lol * iburbpzb! you're excused :P

Kestrel said...

I wish it was in print too! I have been steadily plugging along, trying to let it flow easily. It's been hard with so much going on here lately, but I am thrilled with what I have so far.

I am so glad you are enjoying it, it really validates the way I feel about it. Do you get that from your writing as well? Cuz I'm hooked on your story too...

I don't know what you call it when you're reading and 'watching' at the same time, but I know the feeling well... 'Visualization' maybe?