It was a beautiful sunny day, and everyone in the city of Selenia was outside in the warm summer air. It might have well been dreary and wet, for everyone, man, woman, and children of all ages had a solemn countenance. Most people sauntered down the streets and walkways, only a handful ran, looking for a television screen. TVs, radios, and computers were all looking at the same live event.
Last week, the beloved king of Solumia, was in a car accident with his oldest son Arthur. The king didn’t survive, and Arthur was put in a coma. Another car broke down and lost control, slamming into the driver’s side, where the king was sitting. It was announced that night that the king had died.
The city had been in a state of limbo for the week, some in disbelief or in denial. How could the great King Aquilan die in a car accident so suddenly? People thought it had to be a hoax, or some doctor had to be able to do something. They didn’t know how to deal with the news.
Today was the funeral procession. The body would be taken around the city one last time before being laid to rest. The royal family, minus the injured Arthur, would travel with the body. People gathered around the procession route or the tomb prepared for the king to finally see for themselves. It had been deemed a national day of mourning, and everyone in the vast kingdom was given the day off.
Carter stood with the crowd of people at the grave. It was a little before midday when the body was set to be lowered into its final resting place. Carter, like everyone sixteen or younger, was more amazed than anyone else in the kingdom. Aquilan had been king since before he was born. He and his generation had always lived under Aquilan, so used to seeing his face at festivals and on TV. The king had also spoken at his graduation from school, as the king always had. To be the last graduating class of King Aquilan was a heavy thought.
Carter couldn’t stop taking his eyes off the ornate dark-wood casket with the king’s seal on it. He legitimately loved the king, and couldn’t imagine a world without Aquilan. It was like as long as that casket was visible, he wasn’t really gone, but it would be buried by the end of the day. A world was ending before his eyes.
Some dignitary was speaking, but Carter wasn’t paying attention until now. “And now a few words from His Majesty’s family,” he said into the microphone.
Carter looked up to the royal family on the stage that had been set up behind the grave. A handful of important people sat up there, but all eyes were on the royals. They wore no special garments for the occasion, black suits and dresses, but everyone recognized their faces. The queen sat with her arms around the young princess, still a teenager, who had been crying harder and harder the longer they were on the stage. Neither of them stood up to say anything, but on the queen’s other side sat the king’s other son, Alexios, and his wife Celeste. Alexios stood up, straightened his suit and walked up to the podium in the middle of the stage.
“Thank you, Governor,” he said first. He took a second to look out among the crowd. “And thank you all for being here today. The support this nation has shown my family this last week is beyond thanks. I see a nation that loved my father as much as he loved it back. While we’re here to mourn the man’s death, let us not forget his legacy. We are his legacy. My father devoted his life to making this kingdom the best the world will ever see, knowing full well he would not see the climax of our world. Let us continue his vision in his absence.”
Alexios looked among the crowd again. “My father formally announced that our brother Arthur would succeed him. It’s unfortunate to say that because of our brother’s injuries, he cannot assume the crown. Our mother, Queen Juna, has also decided to step down from ruling alone. As my sister Avalon is too young, I will accept the responsibility of the crown until Arthur is well enough to accept his birthright.”
With that, he sat back down and took his wife’s hand. A priest took the podium and spoke to the people. An undertone of uncertainty formed after the prince’s words. Carter looked around to see people whispering to each other discreetly. Carter could only guess what everyone was concerned about
No one ever thought Alexios would become king as long as Arthur was around. Alexios was three years younger than Arthur. He still attended University, and only married last year. He lived life normally, yet was well off because he was royalty but it never seemed he would take the throne. Alexios’s positions were mostly ceremonial; he had never accepted real power before.
Arthur, meanwhile, had been essentially training to take his father’s place. He’d shadowed his father since leaving school, taking on more and more responsibilities as he got older. He represented the royal family on many counsels, including the treasury and internal commerce. He had developed into a strong and virtuous man, as well as a savvy politician, and people knew he was going to be great.
A nation grieved in silence that night, but the world was continuing the next morning. Carter sat with his family at dinner in their apartment in the city. The television was off; they had had enough of the sad news, but no one talked. Carter sat facing the window that had a great view of the Capital Mansion, where the royal family had retired together.
“What are you thinking about, Carter?” his mother asked, drawing him out of his own head.
Carter looked from the window to his plate. He moved his food around a bit with his fork before looking to his parents and asking, “Do you think Alexios will be a good king?”
“He’s still a kid,” Carter’s father grunted after a moment. “He’s lived his life in the fairy-tale version of royalty his whole life.”
“Is that bad?” Carter asked.
“It means that he has a tough job now, and he’s going to have to learn as he goes,” his mother answered.
“You know Dane is going to walk all over him,” his father commented. “The man got nowhere with Aquilan, and now he all he has is a novice on the throne to step over.”
Carter agreed. Tomias Dane was a kingpin in the shipping business. He had his hands in almost all of the trade going in and out of the kingdom, and hardly anything left the docks that weren’t on a ship he owned or financed. He was power-hungry, putting others out of business as his wealth grew to where he was the wealthiest person not of royalty. Aquilan did everything in his power to keep him from gaining a monopoly, but Dane was highly influential in the Counsels. He proved he wasn’t going to go down easily while Aquilan was alive, and now Alexios has to deal with him.
“Alexios won’t have to deal with him for long,” Carter’s mother pointed out. “There isn’t going to be a coronation, which means Arthur will be back soon enough.”
“The silver lining in all of this,” his father grunted.
Carter sat back and listened to his parents talk about Alexios, and it quickly became apparent that neither had any faith in him. He soon drifted back to looking out the window, toward the palace. The white building glowed in the starlight, watching over the whole city from its hill. Towers and walls from the old kingdom remained standing, but modern defenses had been added over the years. The old fortress was almost approachable.
One tower in the middle, taller than all the rest, was built after the last Kings’ War over two hundred years ago, and was simply known as the Beacon. The tower was bigger than any other structure in the kingdom, and its only equals were its sister beacons in Solumia’s neighboring kingdoms, Emporion and Romula. It is said on a good night the other two could be seen from any one of the three. As long as all three beacons remained lit, peace would last between the three kingdoms. Carter always dreamed of going up into that tower and seeing for himself.
The Beacon was lit, as it was every night, but the palace had a dark feel about it, an uncertain feel. Things were obviously going to be different, but at this point, no one knew how different.
Alexios sat next to the bed of his brother Arthur. The once strong Crown Prince now needed machines to help him breath and take away his pain. Three of his limbs were broken, and most of his ribs on his left side were broken, and countless bruises and cuts all over his body was the result of his accident. The doctors said he was stable, and that he would eventually recover, but that would be a while.
He’d been sitting there since the doctors left almost two hours ago. He didn’t say a word to the doctors and he remained silent. Their family left him alone in there, either thinking he needed to be alone with his thoughts or just not knowing what to say to him. Only his wife Celeste knew for sure he was going to step up to be king before he announced it, the rest of them could’ve only speculated.
There was a soft knock at the door followed by a quiet “Alex?” He recognized his wife’s voice and went to the door. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but when he opened the door he saw that his wife had changed out of her funeral gown and into her white sleeping gown. As soon as the door was open wide enough, they embraced like they never had before. Young love had always defined their relationship, always certain of itself and uncaring of the world’s eyes. This was a reassuring but still nervous embrace, supportive but fearful.
“Cel,” Alexios whispered into her ear, “did I make the right choice?”
Celeste looked over his shoulder to her unconscious brother-in-law. Swallowing, she replied, “You made the noble choice, Alex. Dad would be proud of you, and Arthur would thank you if he could.” Celeste pulled out of their embrace. They touched foreheads for another minute, pouring strength into each other. “Don’t be up too much longer,” she told him before heading off to bed.
Alexios turned back into the room and headed for the window, looking out into the city. Everything was bathed in the soft light of the Beacon behind the palace, making little need for street lights, not that any nightlife could be seen tonight. Alexios had to be strong for them and for his brother behind him, just as his father and grandfather before him. He stood up straighter to mask the nervous beat of his heart.
Tomorrow, the reign of King Alexios Xavier Juventas Arcean began. He prayed to God it would be a short reign.