Authors: Rae Brooks
“And so it was decreed, that should the kingdoms possess
only souls resigned to an inevitable war—without faith or compassion—that the
hero’s life would be forfeit, and so too would the lands.”
–A Hero’s Peace, v.i
he blue carpet beneath him was clinging to his feet. With
every step closer to those too-large teak doors, he felt more of a pressure to
remain where he was. But no. He wasn’t going to remain in this castle any
longer. He had been a part of this frivolous war effort for too long to stay
You’re too young.
You’ll never survive out there alone.
His father’s words hung in his ears as his feet carried him
towards the door, unfailing. He was only thirteen, but he was old enough to
know what he wanted, and he didn’t
to be here. Not in this
house—not anymore. This hadn’t been his home for some time. He hadn’t felt at
home since the loss of his mother. She had held this place together, and now
she was gone.
Now all that was left was his implacable father. His father
was not a monster. Nevertheless, he was desperate to bring an end to Telandus,
and that goal was all the older man thought about recently. Well, even if
Taeru’s brother was content to remain here, content that things would improve—
A prince. That was what he had been called his entire
life. A nobleman. When he walked the streets of Cathalar, he was recognized,
bowed to, and he hated every moment of it. He would have given anything to be
a bricklayer’s son. He wanted out of this—out of the politics.
The only regret he had as he moved towards the door was
leaving behind his sister. He would miss his brother as well, but recently,
Ryo had been painstakingly submissive to their ever-maddening father.
Telandus is worse.
They have done enough to merit father’s wrath.
Ryo had never wanted to go against father. Though, that was
probably due to the fear of losing another parent. The loss of their mother
had hit Ryo particularly hard. They had been very close.
The real regret, however, lay with Taeru’s sister. She was
still very young, and she had cried—oh, she had cried. How she had begged to
come with him. Telling her no had taken all the strength within him, but he
would not lure her out of the kingdom where a simple suspicion that she were
from Cathalar would bring the noose around her neck. He couldn’t bear the
thought of anything happening to her, and if they knew she was Cathalar’s
No, perhaps if she had been older, he would have considered
her opinion more viable, but she was only nine. She didn’t understand. All
Aela knew was that she was going to miss her brother.
Ryo probably felt the same about Taeru, though. After all,
he was as many years Ryo’s younger as Aela was his own. But that didn’t matter
now. What mattered was that the doors were upon him, and that he was leaving.
With that thought, he took one last glance at the castle.
The castle was always more intimidating from this angle.
His father wanted to make sure all visitors knew that the Lassau’s reigned over
this land and anyone who opposed them would be dealt with severely. The wooden
banister hung just below the crystalline chandelier. The silver inlaid rug
played over the blue carpet. Statues of men no one knew anymore decorated
either side of the room at perfectly spaced intervals.
Marble stairwells on either side of the too-large room
curved upwards towards the banister near the top of the room. Paintings and
artwork that his father didn’t enjoy—only bought to impress. Yes, with that
final glance, he was sure that this decision was infallible. With Aela safe
here, he could go try and do something—try to get her out of these politics.
He took a long breath.
Where will you go?
He heard Ryo’s voice whisper in
Taeru, are you coming back?
Aela’s soft voice
asked—weak, shaking with tears.
“Kilik!” A frustrated voice snapped him out of his
Taeru Lassau startled out of his reverie to glance to the
woman who had just spoken to him. She spoke to him under a name that was not
his own, but it was necessary. For, currently, he stood in front of one of the
many stalls of a common market. He blinked a few times. The girl who had
called him wore a ragged brown tunic with her blonde hair tied back with a
white bandana. Alyx Amaral. She looked rather cross. “Would you stop
daydreaming?” she hissed. “I’d prefer not to be out here all sun up.”
He frowned, glancing down at the few bags that he carried.
She was holding out another one for him. He took it with an apologetic
glance. “Apologies,” he said.
Things were certainly not what they were back in his
father’s castle. The ground he stood on was of dried dirt that got into
people’s eyes at the slightest gust. The stalls before him were dilapidated.
Most of them didn’t have much more than a few wooden boards upon which their
blemished wares were displayed. The food stalls were a little more kept up,
though not much. The buckets of apples and assorted fruits sat before a steadily
growing crowd. The vendors struggled to keep order, but order was seldom
present on the market streets.
Not that any of the bloody noblemen would know. They only
appeared to hassle the lower class citizens, and that was over petty crimes
that didn’t really affect the lower areas. No, all the noblemen cared about
was their precious Shining District. Aptly named too, as he had discovered
from his few excursions there, that everything glittered. It reminded him very
much of the Upper Town in Cathalar. Nevertheless, he had long since left
Cathalar. Still, a series of traveling misfortunes had landed him right back
in the thick of war. Now, he resided in the slums of Telandus—the very city
his father had sworn to destroy.
There had been no war—not a real one. Not yet. For now,
Cathalar and Telandus vied for the support of the neighboring nations. On that
point, Cathalar held an absurd advantage.
However, Telandus’s interest in Cathalari citizens, even
their nobility, was not nearly what Taeru had expected. In fact, countless
direct encounters with guards had led to little more than disinterested glances.
Such was the life of the commoner, and Taeru didn’t mind one little bit.
He’d been here for five years. Sadly, the commoners of
Telandus were a bit more cutthroat than those of Cathalar, but Taeru had been
lucky. Alyx and her family had taken him in, despite all odds. Apparently, he
had appeared sympathetic with his tattered clothing and dirty face. He still
fought to earn the kindness they’d shown him, and he still worried he fell
short. He did most of their shopping and any hard labor that needed doing—and
there was plenty of that—he was the one to do it.
Alyx was the daughter of the woman who had taken Taeru in.
She was a year older than he was, though she reminded him very much of his
younger sister, Aela. She was adventurous without really understanding the
connotations of what being adventurous meant. He had been forced to step in on
her behalf on plenty of occasions. He considered that his way of making up for
imposing on her family.
Taeru had done everything he could to ensure that he fit
into Dark District, Telandus’s name for its lower class citizens’ home. He’d
even picked up a job with one of the trading caravans. Every sun he went to
the city gates at dawn to help them transport their goods to the marketplace.
Horses were not permitted beyond the city walls unless they belonged to the
noblemen. There were a few trading companies with the permits required for
bringing horses beyond the gates, but the one he worked for was not one of
Dark District was a mess. Taeru had ventured many times to
the commoner’s residence in Cathalar, and it outdid these slums by leagues. In
Dark District, there were very few actual roads. The few that did exist were
nothing but a few sparsely placed stones, which were all cracked and
weathered. All the buildings were low to the ground, and the slightest rain
could collapse the roofs of most of the homes. They were built much like
shacks—with tin roofs. However, the very same roofs could be used for travel
should one know where to place their feet.
The market was the only decently lit part of the district,
since trading had to continue during the moons. It resided in the very center
of Dark District.
The rest of the district was comprised of the dark alleyways
that held the homes of the commoners. There was crime, though not as much as
one might expect—or at least, not as much as noblemen liked to pretend there
was. In fact, the main problem the common folk faced was from adolescent
nobles coming to Dark District to pick on those that could not defend
Alyx finished her shopping, and Taeru made sure that he
remained appropriately attentive. He ended up carrying more bags than usual—as
his extra earnings of late had left Alyx with a want for new clothes. As they
headed back towards their small home, she spoke. “Can you imagine having a
servant for this sort of thing? All you would have to say is, ‘Sir, go get me
such and such’ and you’d have it!” she sounded whimsical. Taeru wished he
could tell her that it was not all it was cracked up to be, and that sometimes
servants offered very scornful glances that made you feel guilty for many
Instead, he simply laughed. “You’d get bored, I believe, my
Alyx grinned but then offered the easiest of shrugs. Taeru
had always thought Alyx was pretty. He was glad she didn’t have access to
those fancy dresses the noblewomen wore. To him, they seemed unnecessary, and
they looked downright uncomfortable. Perhaps it wasn’t fair of him to be glad
that she didn’t have access—if she wanted them, she ought to have them. Alyx
was as sharp as she was pretty, and he was certain she’d put any dress to good
“Perhaps,” she said, “but the option might be nice.”
“Might be,” Taeru agreed. “Why are you dwelling on it now?
You aren’t the one carrying all these bags,” he teased. Taeru had been correct
about his desires, though. He had been a “commoner” for five years, and he
felt more contented every sun. However, he still missed Aela fervently. He
found himself wondering what she had grown into in his absence. He doubted very
seriously that she worried with him much anymore.
Alyx shrugged again, though she didn’t contest that she was
not carrying the bags. “There is a ball coming up for the prince’s return. I
was thinking about how lovely it would be to attend. A real ball—not the silly
affairs we have down here in Dark District.”
“The prince?” Taeru asked dryly. He knew only one prince
of Telandus, and Taeru was sure that prince had not gone anywhere, nor would
his return merit any sort of celebration.
The girl beside him let out a carefree laugh and shook her
head. “Not Tareth,” she said. “His older brother. He’s been gone…” She
started, as if something had just occurred to her. “Oh, that’s right. He’s
been gone since before you arrived in Telandus. In fact, he left only a few
moon phases before. He’s been in Dokak bartering for their support in this
prophesized war with Cathalar.” More of this insufferable war. He was sure
that he would never escape it.
Taeru vaguely remembered being aware of the Tsrali house
having two children. His father rarely spoke of them, except to curse their
name and inform the house what horrors would befall them should they ever be
within his reach. “I was not aware Lord Tsrali had another son,” Taeru said
Alyx didn’t seem surprised at this. “You wouldn’t. He has
been gone for some five years now. He is very handsome, though. Tall,
blonde—nothing like that vile brother of his.”
“I highly doubt they are that different,” Taeru countered.
He couldn’t imagine any Tsrali child being anything but a menace and a fool.
After his countless run-ins with Tareth, the name left even more of a bad taste
in his mouth than it had before he’d left Cathalar.
Alyx shrugged. “I don’t know either of them personally,”
she said, “so you may be correct.” Then, she seemed to decide that they had
trailed too far from her original topic. “But, regardless, there is a ball to
commemorate his return. It is to be a grand affair.” She spoke with the
dreamy voice of someone who knew nothing of noble affairs.
Taeru offered a brief smile in return. There was no sense
trying to dissuade her of this opinion, so he decided simply to be agreeable. He
couldn’t help being a little annoyed with the idea of another Tsrali. Tareth
gave him enough trouble. He could only imagine two of the brutes coming to Dark
District to cause trouble. Still — maybe, travel had matured the older
brother, and he had less interest in terrorizing commoners.
Their conversation continued—or Alyx’s side of it did
anyway—until they reached the small house. The Amaral’s had done well for
themselves. Their house was much larger than the other shacks around, though
it was still certainly a shack. Their roof didn’t leak, though.
As they entered, a little boy skipped towards the door to
greet them with what appeared to be a frog. “Why is that in the house?” Alyx
shrieked. She swatted at him, trying to ward the child away from her.
“I caught it,” the boy announced proudly. He moved to
Taeru, who had not fled the scene as Alyx had. “See, Kilik? I caught it
hopping around near the sewers!” he said. Taeru offered an amused smile.
“Oh, by the Light,” Alyx groaned, “do you realize how many
diseases that creature probably carries? We’ll be lucky if we aren’t all dead
Taeru placed the bags on the floor and took the creature
from the child. “Aitken, I’m impressed. And here I was thinking that you had
no reflexes.” The sandy haired boy was Alyx’s little brother. He was a very
cheerful little boy, and Taeru enjoyed teasing him.