Chapter 3 Ten Years Earlier in Tipharah
I, Magnolia, will write this as how I imagined it. As Peter stated, this occurred ten years ago, when he was the youngest prince of Tipharah.
It is said you will never find a lovelier place on the face of the Earth than the grand city of Tipharah. It held more beauty than the hanging gardens of Babylon. Magnificent cobblestone streets led past simple cottages, grand halls, and lush gardens that grew every flower, every color, and every smell. A great river slithered its way through the center of the city, fed by a shimmering waterfall not a mile from the gates. The marketplace was bustling, alive with exotic noises and voices of people of every class and degree. Even the beggars believed they were rich in that blessed place.
The king himself was a good man and was very firm in his beliefs and the traditions of Tipharah. He was a follower of Adonay, the one true God of the Earth, who he loved with all his might. Wherever he roamed he kept the Book of Adonay close at hand, and would often be found reading it in his spare time. He meditated on the laws day and night, and made sure his acquaintances were acquainted with the letter of the law.
However, as the wealth of his kingdom grew, he fell into the pit of pride and arrogance. He enjoyed the words of praise and forgot the hardships of the past and the power that brought this golden age. Warnings of coming danger were ignored or dealt with little thought. Finally, his days of peace were numbered when a messenger arrived from his old friend and ally.
The messenger, Pager was his name, came with disturbing news about the Binah Wood, the enchanted forest amidst their land. The rivers no longer flowed with natural water. The trees were sickly and nothing edible grew. King Frederick was willing to attribute these happenings to a natural pollution, till Pager mentioned many mysterious murders were also occurring among the protectors of the Wood. As a result, it was believed that they were being attacked by an invisible enemy.
King Frederick stared at him in utter disbelief. He shook his head. "Impossible." He muttered. "The Binah has never asked for help before. Why now?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures." The messenger responded. “My master is quite sincere in his request for aid. I would suggest you fill your end of the agreement."
"There was never an agreement between us."
"Then the common understanding, your Highness." He stated, irritation filtering his voice, which had a very unpleasant, nasally sound. "You realize that if the Binah Wood is invaded, your kingdom will fall as well."
"Impossible." The king muttered again. He glanced at his Book of Adonay, lying open on a table a few feet away from his throne. He knew it would advise him to help. Still, he loved the days of peace. Food was plentiful and trade was smoother than a jewel. The last thing he wanted was a war with an unknown enemy. "Until you know who this enemy is, I cannot provide any aid. Besides, I am more than certain the Binah can withstand these attacks, if that is what they are."
"Pride has clouded your mind, oh King." Pager's voice became dangerously low. "Very well, I will deliver your message to him. But be warned. Evil knocks at your gate which you have left unlatched." Without another word, he departed.
It was not an hour later when his words proved true.
Frederick had two sons. The eldest, Simon, was tall, muscular in stature, confident, and the heir to the throne. He surpassed his tutor’s expectations in classes and studies, and often proved he was more than capable of ruling the kingdom. He was, without a doubt, his father’s favorite.
Peter, on the other hand, was weak, not brilliant in mind, and often overlooked by others. Unwilling to be continually humiliated, he spent his days avoiding his tutors, reading in precarious places, and playing silly pranks on the servants. Trouble was his constant companion.
Nonetheless, it was Prince Simon who evil devoured. When he passed the peasants on his habitual stroll, they bowed low and made way for him, praising him for his brilliance and exquisiteness. He smiled and allowed his heart to swell with pride, till different words reached his ear. “Bloody disgusting, that prince.” He froze in his steps. “Look at him strut like a peacock.”
He turned towards the source of the words, a feeble old man leaning on a staff and gazing at him with piercing eyes. The prince tilted his head. “What did you say?”
“I said you should not be strutting around like that. You are making yourself a bloody target.”
“Yes, a target. Not to mention you are acting like a big head. Look at all that fine clothes and jewels you are wearing. I have never seen the king wear things like that.”
“Times are changing.”
“Speaking of which,” the man hardened his gaze, “I saw you talking to a hooded stranger a couple nights ago, a man with the ring of fire in his eyes. By any chance, did I hear you strike a deal with him? Something about allowing sorcery…” The man never finished his question, for the next moment Prince Simon pulled out his dagger and drove it into his accuser’s heart.
The crowd became silent as a graveyard. The prince wiped his blade and gave an order. “Bury him. He was mad in the mind, and he drew his sword to attack me. Is that clear?”
There was quiet murmur of agreement from a few of the peasants. The prince returned to the castle and all but five of the people dispersed. After some discussion among them, two left to tell the king while the other three stayed to protect the body as proof of the prince's deeds.
Chaos erupted within the castle when the king and his court were told of his elder son's treachery. King Frederick searched frantically for some possible way to spare his son of the punishment that awaited him, but the laws were clear and tradition set. The heir to the throne was sentenced to die.
After the execution took place, the chaos grew and spread throughout the kingdom. The king’s rule weakened. Mobs rioted within the streets. The story of the prince’s murder was twisted as it passed from one ear to another. “The prince was not to blame. I would have reacted as well, the way that man accused him.”
“He did more than accuse him. He attacked the prince.”
“Yes! I was there!” A wide eyed trouble maker cried out. “He punched him and broke his nose.”
“I do not remember his nose being broken.”
“Why did the king allow his son to be killed? He had no reason to do so!”
“He must have been jealous. The king is hungry for power, even if it means killing his own son.” The trouble maker reasoned.
“That must be it.”
“Yes! Yes, it must be!”
“We will not stand for this!”
Though the guards and servants told the king repeatedly about the riots, he did not heed their words. His heart felt as if it was torn in thousands of pieces and scattered throughout his body. They tortured his mind, burned his throat, and even sucked the life from his limbs. Of all the people who had to be a traitor, it was his own son. As his father, he was sure to blame. But what did he do wrong? Anger and grief overtook him. He refused to enforce his rule. “Ischuros is better off without me.”
His wife, Queen Anna, said little in response. Instead of expressing grief in the normal fashion, she seemed to become a living stone. Her face remained expressionless, and her once warm eyes were cold. The king wished he could comfort her, but it did not seem possible if he could not even console himself.
A few months after the execution, when the riots receded, someone gained admiration from the citizens. His speeches caught the attention of peasants and nobles alike. He spoke in the temples, on street corners, and even on the city gates of hope, beauty, and freedom. He grew so loved by the people, that King Frederick was urged to invite the stranger to speak in his court.
As the man, Nachash, stepped across the threshold, a murmur of curiosity and shock traveled amongst the court. He was a strange man, yet he had an undeniable appeal. His clothes were dark and covered nearly every inch of his body except his head. His blonde hair was loose and long, and his face was flawless, as if it was carved from marble. He was pleasing, but his eyes, which were as black as a bottomless pit sent cold shivers through a person’s spine.
King Frederick was suspicious of him, but when Nachash opened his mouth all doubts and cares were temporarily erased. He was silver-tongued; words flowed from his lips like liquid honey. He painted pictures of riches and glory beyond any imagination. He claimed the grand city of Tipharah could be made into the greatest in the world. There would be no criminal activity and the children of the future would be protected from such evil thoughts. He claimed he had the solution for freedom for all.
Enchanted by Nachash’s words, King Frederick forgot his suspicions and did not hesitate in giving him a place in the court. After a month he became the king's closest advisor, and in essence, the power behind the throne. It was he who spent time with the people and became the figure for them to follow. His words were law.
King Frederick's focus now resided with his younger son...his only son. For a short time the young Prince Peter willingly listened to his father, but as the months passed he grew more resistant. He compared himself to his deceased brother, and fear overtook him. He was nothing like his brother. He was not strong or brilliant in any way, nothing like a future king should be. But if he dared to imitate his brother...
After a few months of the constant tutoring, Peter took to adopting his old habit of finding different places to hide to avoid his lessons. One of his favorite places was the grape vines that climbed over the garden walls. When Spring was lush and the flowers and leaves were fully bloomed, it was an ideal and comfortable place to hide. He could take one of his favorite books and read without fear of interruption. If he was especially bold, he would take his brother's and read them without his father's knowledge.
Simon and Peter had not been close, due to the difference in their ages, but Peter had fond memories of him. More than once they had sneaked into the kitchens to grab a sweet treat, frightened the maids with silly tricks, and shared books and stories. The memories were few and far between, but they were fun all the same. It hurt and confused him when Simon was put to death. Why did it happen? How could have Simon turned out so bad? He had everything right, or so thought Peter.
Peter flipped another page in his book. It had belonged to Simon, and it was rather strange. One could not tell who the hero was, for each character was a villain. They murdered at will, stole from each other, and even practiced magic. He shuddered, shook his head, and closed the book. Who would even write things like this? Why would Simon read this? Figuring he had been hiding long enough, he pushed the leaves aside and crawled out of the vines.
The boy jumped out at the sound of his name. He turned to face a darkly dressed stranger who was sitting on top of the wall with a rope in his hand. There was something about his face, his eyes that Peter did not like. They were bright...no...glowing like red embers.
"What do you want?" Peter asked warily.
The man smiled and beckoned him forward. "Come with me. I can help you." He allowed one side of the rope to drop. “Please, come.”
Remembering his father’s warnings of strangers, Peter shook his head and turned away. Without warning, the garden erupted into flames. The tongues of fire licked at his skin, and the smoke stung his throat. He cried out in shock and fear, and again the man held out his hand. "Come, quickly! I can protect you!"
Whether or not it was true, Peter never found out. Something small and black slammed into the man with surprising force and he toppled off the wall. The flames vanished from sight, as if they had been doused with water. Frightened, the young prince fled.
Unfortunately, it was Nachash who he came upon first. Nachash shook his head when he saw him. "Your father had me pull away from my duties to find you. Where have you been hiding?" Through gasping breaths, Peter told him what he saw. Nachash frowned as he studied the boy and his panicked state. "Fire? Where was the fire?" He led him back to the grape vines, but there was no sign that such a fire existed. The plants that would have turned to powdery charcoal by the flames were as green and lush as before. Nachash rubbed his chin doubtfully. "What did this man look like?"
"He was dressed entirely in black, and his eyes were glowing!"
A flash of realization passed through the advisor's face, but it melted into a smirk of disbelief. "And you say something black pushed him off the wall?"
"Are you sure you did not imagine all this?"
Peter's gaze fell to the ground. Could he have? There was still one last bit of evidence to be found. He turned away and climbed the grape vines.
"What are you doing?" Nachash asked.
He did not answer as he peeked over the wall and searched for any possible clues revealing the man’s presence. The shrubs on the other side appeared undisturbed. No ripped piece of cloth or rope had been snagged. Disheartened, the prince climbed back down.
"Well?" The advisor smirked again
"I guess I did imagine it." Peter admitted glumly.
"Have you told your father, or mother?"
"Good, then take my advice. Do not tell anyone what you saw. Who knows what conclusions they will come to. Now, go back and find one of your tutors. It is probably time for geography now. I will send one of the servants to calm your father." He turned to leave.
"Do you think I am going mad, Nachash?" Peter asked anxiously.
Nachash paused and gazed at the young boy, giving him a reassuring smile. "No, but others would undoubtedly believe the idea of madness. Madness seems to be the best explanation for anything one would consider unusual. Even your father..." He paused and shook his head. "He does not trust you as a father should trust a son. Perhaps you can prove yourself to him."
"Turn madness into brilliance, what is terrifying into beauty, and what is hated into something lovable." Irritation filtered his next statement when he saw Peter did not understand. "Change your opinion of madness, your highness. Do not look at it as madness, but as an opportunity for greatness." Without another word, he turned away.
A day later, when the sun was setting, Peter snuck along the armored halls. He had successfully evaded his geography tutor, and was now creeping towards the kitchen.
He stifled a gasp as the sound of approaching footsteps echoed through the hall. Desperately, he slid behind one of the suits. His legs were exposed, but the rest of him was covered by the gleaming shield. He figured if the approaching person was too busy to notice, he would be safe. However, if they glanced at the right place, there would be no escape.
Unaware of his son’s presence, King Frederick briskly passed by while muttering to himself. "Had to run again, had to hide. It is for his own good. Why..." He slowed and wearily leaned against the wall. "Why? What have I done to deserve this?"
Frederick scowled as his loyal knight approached. "What is it now, Rowan?"
Sir Rowan narrowed his dark eyes at the king's tone of voice. It was uncaring, irritable, not the attitude his king should have. "Trouble, as usual." He said, matching the tone. He clenched the pommel of his sheathed sword a little threateningly.
"Have you told Nachash?"
"If you want my opinion, your highness," Rowan stated icily, "Nachash is behind it. He is fanning the flame."
"What makes you say that?"
"His actions and orders are suspicious. He allows the people to congregate...and I do not mean normal congregations, but into mobs. More than once they have given, what they call, demonstrations. The armory has been attacked. Sir Udolf was beaten, and we were given strict orders to not interfere. How are we supposed to protect the people if we cannot even defend ourselves?" When Frederick did not respond, Rowan continued. "With all due respect, I think you’re caught in his charms just like everybody else. Am I the only one who sees past his silver tongue? He is setting us up for something, making us weak. Does this not concern you?"
"Of course it does. Everything concerns me. I am worn out from being concerned."
Rowan clenched his jaw in frustration. "This is not how it should be, Frederick! You are our king! Just because you lost your first born does not mean you should give up your kingdom as well!"
"You have not lost yours, Rowan. You have no idea what I am going through."
"My son will lose his father if you remain..." He allowed his words to hang in the air before he continued. "I had hoped that Pager was successful in talking some sense into you. Obviously he failed."
"I saw him yesterday. Did he not come to you?"
"No." Weary of the conversation, he walked on.
Rowan, however, refused to give up. He followed him and continued to speak. "He told me he was going to you. He had a message."
"Must not have been too important if he decided not to tell me."
"It was. Phasko has failed." The two disappeared into another corridor.
Peter relaxed, but guilt, confusion, and fear wrenched his heart. He did not understand everything they were talking about...yet...
Another set of footsteps halted his thoughts. He inwardly groaned. He was beginning to become stiff from standing so still. Surely this person would walk on without stopping.
Nachash came into view, but he slowed and his eyes widened in alarm. Whether it was a sound Peter did not hear or another indication of an approaching presence, it made the advisor jump. "Do you have to keep sneaking up on me like that?" He turned to face an unseen visitor. Peter dared not move to see who it was.
"You know what I have come for. Nashak wants the boy."
I did not imagine it! Peter thought as he recognized the voice of the stranger he saw on the garden wall.
"Whatever for?" Nachash asked.
"Same as last time, political reasons."
"A pity Simon had such a temper. It would have been so much simpler. As far as where Peter is, I do not know. He snuck off again. I would not worry about him too much. He is timid and easily controlled."
"Nonetheless, Nashak does not want him here when the invasion occurs. Speaking of which..."
"I have taken care of everything. I have never seen a people so ready to be rid of their king. It is amazing what rumors can do."
"All of them?"
"Well, no...there are some who remain loyal. We will have to deal with them afterward."
"I am concerned about you, Nachash."
"It has not started yet. I see your eyes. You are still a mere man."
"I am doing everything you told me to do. If the fault lies with anyone, it lies with you." Nachash must have seen something frightening in the man's face, for he quickly changed his tone into. "I am doing everything right. It will start. I am certain of it. I can already feel it."
Nachash changed the subject. "What stopped you from taking the boy yesterday?"
"A bird, of all things. No worries, I took care of it."
"Nashak is coming tonight. I need the boy now."
"Search the castle if you will. He could be..." Nachash stopped, and he sucked in a sharp breath. "Tonight? He is coming tonight?"
"The Binah has been defeated. We have delayed long enough."
"Very well, does he still want the king dead by the time he enters the castle?"
"If you can handle it."
"I can handle it."
"Good, help me find the boy first."
"Do it your...all right, all right! I will!"
Their footsteps faded away. Heart pounding and palms sweating, Peter hesitantly slipped from behind the armor, glanced down the hall to make sure he was alone, then briskly ran down the corridor where he knew he would find his father.
Chapter 3 Ten Years Earlier in Tipharah