Two armies faced one another, each eager to fight for their homeland. On one side stood the Perdel soldiers, their green and silver shone in the morning sun. On the other side Prince Ralf stood next to his father dressed in his royal armor. It was gold plated, but mostly covered by a red and white surcoat, the colors of Racarn. Each pauldron was shaped to look like the head of a lion. Ralf had always wanted to wear those one day. The Perdel general rode back and forth along the Perdel ranks shouting something to them.
“It is time,” Ralf’s father drew his sword and pushed his horse out in front of the ranks. “Soldiers, it is time.” Ralf started to smile. Since his first command he looked forward to his father’s eulogy of the infantry, as his father calls it. He was even scolded for it, after he mentioned it to his father. “The Perdels have spent many years envying us, looking to take from us what we have worked hard to create and build. They want our wives, our children, our land, and our lives! We have fought them off time and again, this will be no different!” The king turned his horse toward the invaders. “Today we protect our homes, and our people! For Racarn!”
“For Racarn!” The ranks of soldiers, Ralf’s unit among them, charged with his father’s words ringing in their ears.
The Perdel’s responded with a cry and charge of their own. Ralf’s unit crashed into the opposing army, mowing down Perdel soldiers.
Ralf’s horse gave him a vantage point over the Perdel foot soldiers. The first soldier he encountered, thrust his spear at a foot soldier to Ralf’s right as the two armies met, Ralf’s sword cleaved through the soldier with ease.
Before Ralf could recover from his attack, a spear was thrust his way. Ralf raised his shield in time, but the force knocked him from horse. Ralf somersaulted backwards landing on his feet. His horse galloped off fleeing the now raging battle.
In front of Ralf was a the man with the spear. He had a long dark beard in addition to the green and silver of the Perdel soldiers wore. Ralf charged forward first, eliminating the reach of the long spear. His short slash only bounced off Perdel armor. The Perdel soldier took a few steps back, but Ralf continued his onslaught. With a short slash, Ralf forced a block, and followed up with a heavier swing. The Perdel soldier didn’t react in time and took Ralf’s sword between his neck covering and shoulder pauldron. Ralf withdrew his sword and turned to find another Perdel soldier to fight.
He turned to his company as they watched their attackers flee, “You all fought well today. Collect the dead and tend to the wounded. Take no prisoners.” A few of his men grumbled, but most just started the long process of going through the dead.
Ralf turned to his second in command, “I’m going to report to my father, I’m leaving things to you here.”
“Of course, my lord. It will be my honor.” He bowed.
Before Ralf turned to leave a man approached gasping for breath, he was wearing the royal crest. He knelt. “Prince Ralf, I am the unfortunate bearer of bad news, even as we drive our invaders off. Your father fell during the fight.”
“I am the first born son of King Edward the III. It is my throne and kingdom! You cannot take it from me.”
The journey back to the capital had been a long and trying time for Ralf, with his father’s corpse in tow. Now, Ralf stood in front of his uncle, Duke Richard the III.
“Ralf, the throne will be yours in time. When you come of age, but you are not old enough. Fifteen is far too young. Stand aside. –”
“I must protest, I have been studying my whole life for this. I’m the only one who knows what my father wanted for our kingdom. I will be claiming my birthright.”
“You have been working hard, but let me talk to the council. I have full faith in you, but I’m afraid the council would have concerns. If I can convince the council that you are — should — take your place on the throne, you will not hear another objection from me.” Duke Richard smiled slightly.
“Alright, I will let you speak to them, but as tradition dictates, the new king must be crowned the night before my father is buried. If you delay his burial, I will hold it against you for the rest of your days.” Ralf’s eyes narrowed, “Godspeed.”
That night, as expected, Ralf was called into the Council of Racarn’s chambers. Ralf had spent the greater half of the day being dressed up for his coronation ceremony. He wore the white and red that adorned Racarn’s crest.
“Good evening Prince Ralf, as you might expect we have deliberated over your claim to the throne.”
“Thank you, High Counselor, council.” Ralf’s eyes passed over each member. He knew them all as long-time associates of his father. They were Dukes and Earls that had each served the country for — Richard, his seat was empty. Ralf’s face started to turn red.
“We have come to the decision that while your claim to the throne is valid…” The High Counselor trailed off as Ralf’s eyes burned into his own. “H-However, you are too young and not skilled to rule our dear nation,” he finished quickly.
As if on cue, Duke Richard pushed open the doors and strode into the room. Without waiting for the Duke to speak, Ralf drew his sword and turned on his uncle. A few of the council members gasped behind him.
“I told you this is how he would respond,” the Duke said looking past Ralf. The Duke also wore the white and red of Racarn.
“You promised! You told me that you would talk to the council. My father is dead, and what do you do to repay him? You try to usurp the throne!” Ralf shouted, the sword reflecting torchlight around the room.
“Ralf, I sincerely do not want the throne for myself, but the will of the council…” He raised his hands in mock surrender. “I asked each of them, individually, if they had any concerns about you on the throne. Each one of them suggested that I assume the throne for a few winters, only until you are able to come of age, nothing more.”
“I refuse to be subjugated after I trained for years to take over after his death. I am the rightful heir!” He swung at the Duke, but Duke Richard pulled out his own sword and blocked the blow with a loud claing that rang throughout the chamber. A second later, the guards rushed in from the hallway.
“Arrest the prince! The traitor!” One of the council members shouted.
Ralf seethed, sword still pointed at his uncle. “Take him prisoner! The Duke is attempting a coup!”
One guard took a step towards Ralf, while the other started in the other direction. They bumped into one another, looked around, and stopped in confusion.
“Useless bastard!” the Duke shouted, “Boy, better stop this before you get hurt.”
He swung at Ralf, but Duke Richard stepped out of the way.
“Unless you are going to surrender, be quiet. You wind-sucker!” Ralf swung again and again, but the Duke blocked each one with his sword.
“Child, you cannot win. I have allies everywhere,” The Duke threw down his sword, “I won’t fight you.”
Ralf hesitated, then started to swing at his Uncle–only to find a pair of arms holding him back, and a knife at his throat.
“My apologies Prince Ralf, but the Duke…” one of the counselors started.
“Silence! Take him away, for his own protection,” Duke Richard ordered and Ralf was dragged out of the chamber by two guards.
That evening Ralf found himself in the dungeon trapped in one of the cells, a lone torch hung just outside his cell. Ralf had only been down here once before when his father had locked up an assassin. The royal guard had caught the man as he was trying to sneak into Ralf’s bed chamber. Refusing to give up his secrets, the man had never left while alive. His body had been removed, but the stale smell of decay still hung in the air. Ralf had remembered thinking that the locked up assassin looked like any other man. Strong but not as deadly as he had been made out to be.
“The moment you underestimate someone you will be at their mercy,” his father had said. At the time it had been meant for adversaries on the battlefield or assassins like that one, but, now, Ralf had clearly underestimated his uncle’s longing for the throne.
A guard stuffed a tray of food at him brought Ralf out from his angry rumination.
“Here, eat.” The guard pushed the tray towards Ralf again. “If you don’t take it, I’ll eat it.”
Ralf stood from where he had been sitting and took the tray. On it was a cup of water, a small bowl of what looked like soup, and a piece of bread.
The guard turned to walk away, but Ralf stopped him, “How many prisoners have you had to serve food to?”
The guard hesitated for a moment, and this was the first time Ralf got a clear view of the guard. The man was only a few decades older than Ralf. He wore standard armor, a chain shirt with a red and white tunic bearing the symbol of Racarn. A sword hung on his belt, but the scabbard looked brand new, as if the man had never used it.
“Why do you care? You’re a prince, well maybe not anymore,” the guard scoffed. Ralf remained silent, and after sizing Ralf up, the guard continued. “Far too many. I’ve worked down here for years. Though this is the first time I’ve seen anyone from the royal family, down here.” The guard said a hint of sympathy creeping into his voice.
“My condolences for what happened to your father. He was a great man, it’s a shame that he’s gone now. The guardsman that worked here before me said he had served under two kings other than your father, but he was the only one to visit us when we had nothing to do.”
“Then you should know that I am the rightful heir to the throne! Not the Duke.”
“It’s not my place to decide. As much as you deserve the throne, if the council decides that he is the better ruler, who am I to question? I’m just the jailer, I’m not even a knight.” He paused, “You want me to let you out and help you claim your birthright, don’t you? It is my job to make sure you stay in that cell. Not a soul has escaped since I took over the watch down here. ”
“I don’t deserve to be here, I’ve lead more than one squadron in defense of our kingdom. I’ve fought and killed for our lands and people. I was born to be the successor to the throne. What more do I need?” Ralf stared at the guard.
“You’re royalty, that’s your burden. Not mine. I’ll be back in a bit for your tray.” The guard turned and left, leaving Ralf in his thoughts.
Years before, Ralf stood beside his father as a delegation of farmers from a small corner of the kingdom approached the throne. “Your Majesty,” the most confident of the group, a short gruff looking man, stepped out from the group of farmers, bowed and said, “I’m James of Saint Ulric, we came under a frost and lost all of our crop this year. We cannot pay taxes and have little for our own families. We humbly ask for your mercy, My Lord.” The man bowed again this time even deeper than the first. The other farmers followed suit and bowed as well.
The king sat still for a second contemplating the farmer’s statement. “My advisors tell me that you lost only half of your crop from the frost you speak of. In addition, I was told that much of the crop was left in the fields until the usual harvest time had ended and winter was almost upon you.”
The farmer looked shocked, “Pardon, My Lord, but no such thing happened. We –”
The king cut him off with a motion of his hand, “However, I will give you 100 cores of grain. Will that suffice to help you through the winter?”
Somehow the man looked even more shocked, “Y-yes, that will be plenty.Thank you, your Majesty.” He turned back to the rest of the farmers, who were equally agape with surprise.
“Father, why didn’t you punish that man who tried to trick you?” Ralf asked as the farmers left. “You should have put him in jail!”
“If they need the food that badly that they go so far as to try and steal from the rest of the kingdom, they must need it more than anyone else.” He placed a hand on his son’s shoulder, “Be kind, calm, and patient; you can’t catch a fish with anger.”
“What does fishing have to do with this?” Ralf had asked.
“Water, sir?” The guard had returned. The lack of windows confused Ralf’s sense of time, and he accepted the water gratefully.
“The people,” Ralf said. When the guard gave him a confused look Ralf continued, “My father won over the people. My uncle did something similar, but only with a select few important council members.”
“Still trying to figure out how to gain the throne?” The guard replied.
“I ended up here because I didn’t consider what other people wanted, other than myself,” Ralf continued.
“You are not the same Prince that I talked with just hours ago,” the guard stated.
“But what does it matter now? I cannot prove that I care for the people from this cell,” Ralf gestured frustratingly to the iron bars and brick walls. “If only I could talk to the people from here.” Ralf imagined himself sitting on the throne, or standing on the balcony that overlooked the main plaza.
Ralf heard a few clangs of armor and two armed men appeared in front of Ralf’s cell. “Quick, get him before he alerts the other guards,” one of the men said to his companion. The two of them rushed forward swords drawn.
“No, stop, this man will not alert anyone else. I will not let any harm come to him,” he said forcefully, the two men stopped.
They peered at the guard warily, but turned to Ralf. “Your highness,” one of the newcomers started as they both bowed, “I apologize that we could not come sooner. The palace isn’t a safe place for you anymore.” He grabbed a key from the first guard, “We need to get you out of the city, possibly even–”
“Once again, I must refuse,” Ralf stopped him. “When is the coronation ceremony? I need to address the people. I will not let a traitor ruin my father’s legacy.”
The newcomers stopped in surprise, but Ralf’s guard only smiled, “The ceremony is set for tomorrow morning.”
Shortly before dawn Ralf and the three guards left the dungeon. After a short walk the group exited into the main hall. The large room was empty, except for a handful of servants that were adoring multiple tables for a feast. Upon seeing the group enter the room from the dungeons, the servants scattered.
“Move, gossip spreads quickly,” urged one of the guards.
The group crossed the hall, and reached the main gate to the castle. A crowd and a man shouting could be heard from the other side of the doors.
“Your highness, once we open these doors you will only have a short time to speak before the Duke tries to silence you. However, I should go first just in case.”
Ralf nodded, and the two other guards pushed the doors open. The sun still hung low in the sky, and the morning rays blinded Ralf for a split second.
“Who dares to interrupt my coronation ceremony?” The Duke shouted.
“I do!” Ralf answered as he strode forward. Gasps could be heard throughout the crowd. “Prince Ralf Lanton the fourth and heir to the throne!”
“You should be in the dungeons! The council saw you unfit for the throne. You’ve come to usurp it from me, traitor!” The Duke shouted, but Ralf ignored him.
“Contrary to what my uncle believes, I am not here to usurp the throne. I am not here to claim my birthright or to force my way into power. I am here on behalf of my father, to uphold his legacy–”
“Which is what? To fall in battle when the country needs him most?” Duke Richard jeered.
“My father’s legacy was his love for his people. He told me once that he did not wish to be king, and he didn’t wish it on me, but it is my burden to follow his example. I will not let someone scheme and trick their way on to the throne. A king treats his subjects with patience, adoration, and kindness. Not as subjects to order around, steal from, or use for personal benefit!”
“Guard, seize this traitor– he belongs back in the dungeons!” One of the guards started to move, but the guard commander reached out and stopped him.
Ralf turned to face the crowd, “I will not take the throne unless it is the will of my people. I was born into the royal family, but that alone does not make me a good king. I cannot do this without the help of my people. A king alone does not make a kingdom.” He bowed, “If you will have me, I vow to be a king worthy to follow my father.”