Welcome to November, the month where people all around the world decide to attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, this has a long tradition. In fact, on this particular blog, I’ve talked about it a lot. I’ve participated four times. Two were technically “losses” although those stories are now available wherever you buy books. The other two are first draft done and in various stages of editing and revisions.
But I digress.
The point at hand today is NaNo 2022. Today is November 1st. The day when I need to sit down with a careful outline and pen out the first 1667 words that will be my NaNo project. Except I didn’t pick a project until halfway through October, I didn’t bother to officially outline it, and technically it’s already started. Oops.
This month I plan to continue my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-with-no-goals attitude that I started in October and just sort of work on what feels right. Do I plan to track my words on NaNo? YES, of course. (Add me on nanowrimo.org where I’m TShips).
First up, my Kingdom of Fraun short stories. The series is FINISHED but I’ve always had the idea to write out some short stories from the world to allow fans a chance to dive back in. I’ve already finished three of the stories that will make up the collection but I want more in there. So today I plan to draft one of those.
FOR YOU … here’s chapter one of the biggest short story in the collection. The long awaited one. The one everyone wants. Read it, share it, and gush about it. Maybe that will give me the energy to burst through the rest of these!
My parents never had any other children. The way my mother tells the story, I was perfect. There was no need to keep trying. This, of course, is only partially true. It’s true in my mother’s mind, she’s made it true after annuals of telling it to herself over and over again. But, in the beginning, it wasn’t true.
There were only two truths that mattered on the day that I was born. The first is that I was the legitimate son of King Todd, a direct descendant whose lineage can be traced back to the first King of Fraun, Oberian, through his strongest son, Sarcheda. The second truth is equally important. I was a boy.
In my family history, males were adored. My family is royal blood in a realm known for strength. Women were considered the weaker sex. For this reason, female babies born to my family had a way of disappearing. I grew up being quizzed on the family tree painted on the wall of my family home. I knew that I was the ninth male born from my direct line since Sarcheda himself. My mother had hinted to me that she was born to an influential family in Sarcheda, but she would not talk about this when the King was around. Her history was not important. Her family didn’t give me my royal blood. Her family didn’t make me a prince.
“Prince Tin,” a voice interrupts my thinking. I turn away from the wall and find my tutor standing in the dark hall, his arms behind his back. Everything about Marcus would normally be measured against me and be found lacking. He is eight clicks shorter than me in a society that values height. He is rounder in the gut than I am. Despite the fact that my hair has not even ceased to grow, I can also lift more than he can. But Marcus has been my tutor for as long as I can remember and something about him commands my respect. It always has.
“Yes,” I answer.
“I need you to come with me, Majesty,” he says. “The new servant has been hired. He will be in charge of areas of the family home in which you are regularly in. He is expected to accompany you whenever you leave the home.”
I puff my chest out. “I don’t need protection,” I say. The reaction is instinctual. It’s foolish, I know. I have not reached adulthood yet in our society. Couple that with the fact that I am the only prince of the realm and you may reach the conclusion that I am in danger. My father has certainly reached that conclusion and I cannot argue with the King. I can, however, make the show of strength that is required to argue with a tutor.
“It is not for safety. I cannot tell you what it is for. I know only that your father wills it, Majesty.” Marcus bows his head. “I am sorry it displeases you. The boy has already been hired. I did my best to make sure it was someone I felt you could connect with.” Marcus raises his head and I notice a glint of something in his brown eyes. Mischief, perhaps? “I do believe you’ll find this young Sarcheda citizen someone who you can manipulate, Prince Tin.”
This thought is pleasing, indeed. It brings a smile to my face to imagine having another young boy who wants my life. Convincing this common citizen that I am the perfect prince with the coveted life could be fun. “Take me to him, then I will decide,” I answer.
“As you wish.” This time, when Marcus bows, it is not only his head that folds. This is a full bow. A respectful bow for the ruler I will be.
I follow Marcus out of the room and down the dark hallway. The torches he guides me past have been lit, meaning he walked this route to get to me today. Our footsteps echo on the stones, but there are no other sounds in the home.
He opens a door and stands to the side to allow me to enter the room first, as is a custom treatment for those of royal blood. There is a young boy in the center of the room. He has black hair but his skin is lighter than my family’s. He is young, perhaps not even full height. I take notice of his outfit, red shirt and black pants. They look as though they are too large for him, meaning he likely comes from a family who cannot afford to have the clothing altered properly. He is not wearing shoes, although that is common for Sarcheda citizens in this warmer weather. “How old are you?” I ask, my voice bouncing off the walls of the small room and echoing around us. Before he can answer I hit him with another question, “Are you even old enough to be capable of speech?”
In Fraun, citizens who have reached five annuals are capable of speech. This boy is small, young. Again, I have to wonder the purpose of him being hired to work around me and accompany me to town. If my father wished me to have safety, wouldn’t he have hired a larger boy?
“Nine annuals, Majesty,” the boy answers. He bows deep, his nose practically reaching the clean stones of the floor.
I step closer to him, my feet falling heavy and slow. I squint my eyes as I consider him, now standing fully again before me. He waits as I walk around him as I would a roach for consideration, as if he were property of mine. When I am again facing him, I cross my arms. “You are much younger than me. I am fourteen annuals, perhaps you already knew that. You obviously aren’t for my protection. Tell me what your new job is, as you see it,” I command.
“I am to keep you happy, Majesty.”
“How do you plan to do that?” I ask.
“I will keep your home clean, fetch you food and water if you need it, hire you a roach if you require transportation, and speak to any common citizens you wish me to speak to on your behalf.”
I like the sound of all this, of course. But I still don’t understand why my father wished for this. Behind me, Marcus clears his throat. “Prince Tin, a word,” he says.
“Wait here,” I tell the boy. Then I turn and walk to Marcus. I stand in the doorway, my back to the new hire.
Marcus leans in so he can speak to me in secret. “Your father has a man he treats in much the same way,” Marcus points out. “He has a servant dedicated to his needs and happiness, surely you’ve noticed this.”
“I have,” I answer. I prefer not to think about this man too much. My father has been known to delegate everything, including discipline of his only son, to this man. The thought, which I was trying to avoid, makes me flinch. I hate the show of weakness and I’m grateful my father wasn’t here to witness it. I hope Marcus doesn’t feel the need to tell his king. “Is that what this boy is to be for me?” I ask.
Marcus takes his time answering. He seems to roll the question around in his mouth, tasting it. He smiles at me like I am dinner being offered to him after a period of fasting. “He could be. Right now I believe he is a peace offering. You and I both know that your mother believed your father was wrong the other night. His punishment was too harsh.”
I flinch at the memory of my father’s fist, the strongest one in the realm, landing between my shoulder blades and along my side. For a breath it feels real again. I can almost imagine I’m curled in a ball on the floor, my instinct to protect myself. I can hear my father screaming at me, his anger growing stronger the more I pull back from him. “This is what I’m talking about,” he screams in my head. “Look at how weak you are. Why are you turning from this confrontation? Show me strength!”
I clench my teeth, ball my fists, and force the memory out of my head. “What is your point?” I ask.
“I think she suggested your father do something kind for you. This,” Marcus gestures behind me to the boy who must still be standing there, waiting for instruction, “is your peace offering. Your father sees this as a gift, a kindness.”
“He is young,” I say.
“That he is. Young and impressionable.”
I turn and look again at the frail, small boy. I imagine him larger, older, full height. I imagine he will have an impressive body structure if he is trained right and fed the proper diet. I approach him again. “You are from Sarcheda, yes?”
“Yes,” he answers.
“You have a family? How many of them live in your home?” I know homes in Sarcheda typically hold more than my family home. Three people in one house is unusual, but we are not ordinary. We are royal blood. Besides, we have servants who also live in our home to meet our every need.
“Four others,” he answers. “All older than myself.”
I nod as if this matters to me, which it doesn’t. “Where is your home?” It may sound as though I care about this child. I don’t, not really. What I care about is how long it will take him to get to my family home each morning.
“We’re on the edge of Sarcheda, sir. Near the ravine.” He gestures with his hand, off to the North.
“If there were an empty room at my family home and you were needed, is there anything to prevent you from being allowed to stay here?” I ask.
He doesn’t pause, doesn’t need to consider it. The answer is automatic, which earns him some of my hard to come by respect. “Nothing would prevent that, Majesty.”
“Alright,” I nod at him. “I accept your position as my servant.” I decide this is exactly what I will call him when people ask. My father has hired me a servant, I think. I can work with that.
I turn to leave the room. I’m one step from the door when I think to ask him something I probably should have asked when I met him. I turn back toward him. “What is your name?”
He smiles, glad to be asked the question that likely makes him feel as though we are to be friends. This is an important impression to give him if I desire to mold him to my whims. “My name is Toby,” he answers. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”