Ladies and gentlemen, this is the title of the brand new book that I intend to publish in the coming months. It is totally unrelated to The Lost Words quadrilogy. Moreover, I am inventing a whole new genre. Fundark. Or grimfun. Yep. Now, as to our protagonist. Imagine the perfect hero: handsome, tall, courageous, loves his father. Meet Prince Dietrich, the exact opposite.
Prince Dietrich has one ambition in life – for his father to die so he can become the ruler of Monrich. But King Ulaf has other plans for his son. Tired of Dietrich’s constant failures, he gives him one last chance. The prince is to marry Duchess Amadea of Sacony or face banishment to the Black Desert. Left without a choice, Dietrich embarks on his wedding journey. It’s meant to be a peaceful trip, but the spiteful Dietrich manages to kidnap a governor’s daughter, get himself taken hostage twice and start a war with three nations. And he hasn’t even reached Amadea.
If this sounds intriguing, then you might love the first chapter. So here it is. I will appreciate your comments and suchlike. Anyhow, this ought to whet your appetite and give you an inkling into what awaits in 2015. Hopefully, you will this highly amusing and interesting, both at the same time.
“Fathers aspire after the dreams of their sons.”
– King Kurt IV, 6th Century, murdered in his sleep by his firstborn
12th day of the Month of the Cornel
The dew on the grass blades pure and shiny like diamonds. The smell of fresh turf. The gurgle of a creek, happily bouncing off shiny pebbles. A lonely ewe, browsing a bush of blackberries.
Handsome animal, he thought. Such lovely woolly curls. Such innocent grace.
He stepped closer, careful not to alarm it. Awfully frightful things sheep, easily spooked, he knew. But he was a shepherd, and he knew his way around his girls. This one was called Betty. Oh, he really liked her.
The ewe flicked its tufted ears hearing the turf crunch wetly under his soles. He paused, poised, staring. Strange, he thought, what was he doing here, so far from the castle? Should he not be doing other things, a background thought nagged. He sniffed hard, trying to banish its pesky presence. Betty, that was what mattered.
The sheep was definitely alert now. It was still chewing on little berries, but it was looking across the meadow, straight at him. He relaxed his stance. If you crouched low, the animal might mistake you for a predator and take flight on instinct. Best if he approached casually. It would be a shame if he ruined this beautiful moment.
Betty wagged her tiny tail. He smiled. Then, she opened her mouth and called, “Dick.”
She knows my name, he thought merrily, warmness suffusing him.
He quickened his step, pulling on the string of his breeches.
“Dick,” she called again, but this time, her tone was gruff, deep.
He frowned. What was happening?
“Dick.” A masculine voice. He stopped walking, feeling annoyed. “Dick, Dick.”
“Dick, wake up,” his servant droned in a perfectly practiced tone of utter patience. “His Eminence King Ulaf, your dear father, has requested your presence.”
Dietrich pried his eyes open, staring at the gold velvet ceiling above his princely bed. He was at the castle, after all, in his princely chambers, and Crispin had just disturbed his sweet dream. It could have been such an adventure.
“Dick, your father -”
“Heard you,” Dietrich rumbled, his mouth sticky with night phlegm. He massaged his cheeks and then rolled over to the edge of the bed. Crispin rushed to don his slippers. “Couldn’t you have waited just a while longer?”
Crispin smiled, patting his shin. “It’s almost noon, Dick. His Eminence seems to be in a rather grumpy mood. I did not wish to risk his ire.”
Dietrich nodded. No, we do not want to risk Old Fart’s wrath. He stretched and rose, walking lazily across the thick Maniri carpet. “What does he want from me?”
“He didn’t specify.” Crispin pursed his lips. “Now, what should you wear?”
Dietrich looked down at his gold silk night gown. “I can’t go like this?”
Crispin wagged a disapproving finger. “Absolutely not.” He dashed into the adjacent wardrobe, muttering to himself.
Dietrich sighed and walked to the half-circle window corner of his sleeping chamber, sunlight stabbing at him through a hundred colored panes. The stretch of his father’s lands vanished into the summer haze behind the warped glass. Lands that should be be his, if he ever got the courage to murder his sire.
Crispin returned carrying a purple doublet with ivory buttons. “This one should do nicely.”
Dietrich shrugged. “I don’t care.” He lifted his arms and waited for his manservant to disrobe him. “I am hungry. I’d like to eat before I see my father.”
Crispin huffed as he pulled on the right sleeve. “We do not want to provoke -”
“Yes, yes,” Dietrich moaned. “Get me some roast then. I will dress myself. Go.”
Crispin paused for a moment. “All right. But make sure you do not tear out the buttons.”
Dietrich waited until his man left and closed the door. Then, he walked over to the small chest under the night stand, and lifted the lid open with his toe. Groaning, he lowered his bulk into a crouch and stared at the assortment of poisons, knives and the stylish Ravash assassin crossbow inside. He pictured himself hiding the small thing in his sleeve, and then firing into his father’s chest at close range, before his royal guard could react. He imagined the grimace of shock and outrage on Ulaf’s face, and snorted with pleasure.
He closed the lid.
His father would anticipate something like that. No wonder he always insisted his knights check Dietrich for concealed weapons any time he summoned him to court. Bastard.
Carefully, he pulled on the doublet, mindful of the expensive buttons. But what about the trousers? He couldn’t choose a pair himself. He’d wait for Crispin to return. Naked below the waist, he walked over to the basin, full of water and lavender flowers, and splashed his face, picking gum out of the corners of his eyes and mouth.
Then, he walked into the slop room and pissed against the granite, bleached white from countless prior visits. Not just his own, but those of his family who had lived in the castle for the past five generations, and many other lords before their time.
Crispin returned with a platter covered with a kitchen rag. “I shall fetch you some hose,” he declared. Dietrich sat in a chair, and unveiled his breakfast. Pears, no he didn’t like fruit. Bread and venison would do. It was a disgrace that a prince of the crown should eat like a commoner, but his father delighted in torturing his son.
“We must hurry,” Crispin insisted, still winded from his dash to the kitchen. Dietrich munched and lifted his left leg. The servant did his best to slip the cloth on. Dietrich shifted his weight and raised the other leg.
“Now you look like a real prince,” Crispin declared, swiveling the tall mirror stand just opposite the bed.
Dietrich admired his figure in the silvered glass. Paunch, thick chest, thin legs. Not quite like the paintings of those heroes past. He threw the last piece of the bread crust on the floor. “Let’s see my blasted father.”
“Wait here,” he told Crispin just outside the vaulted entrance to the Hall of Kings, the seat of his family for the past five generations.
Inside, he saw his father presiding a meeting with a tall, willowy man in rich, scarlet robes. Alesteir, the university rector. Then, he noticed, his mother was there. Uh, not a good sign. His parents never got along, and seeing them together worried him.
Taking a deep breath, Dietrich stepped into the hall, frowned upon by his ancestors, painted on giant oils.
“Hold! Search him,” his father ordered, cutting the rector short.
Two knights moved to block his passage. Dietrich ogled them boldly. On a good day, he could probably take them down – with an arquebus from fifty steps away. But this close to their muscled forms, he raised his arms sheepishly, and let them pat him down.
“Sir, you do not think your favorite son would mock your orders?” he teased.
“My only son,” King Ulaf corrected him.
“He is unarmed, Your Eminence,” the guard on the left spoke and let Dietrich pass.
He approached slowly, trying to listen on the conversation. It might be important, and having an edge over his father was always a good thing, especially when he summoned him for a surprise morning meeting at noon.
The rector was leaning with one leg against a marble step and speaking, “This invention will revolutionize commerce, Your Eminence. It will revolutionize war. Professor Magnus believes you will be able to ferry materiel at twice the speed of a typical ox or mule caravan. And to much greater distances. Imagine that, Your Eminence. Steam, such a spurious thing, and yet to harness such vast power!”
King Ulaf did not seem convinced. He stroked his silver beard. “Is Professor Magnus the same one who suggested I ought to wash my hands before my meals and after my shits?”
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
“Is he the one who recommended throwing charcoal into wells?”
The rector nodded.
His father moved back. “I shall think about it. But it does not sound promising, coming from Professor Magnus. That man has some funny ideas. Thank you for your time.”
Rector Alesteir bowed and turned around, his eyes gazing past Dietrich, without acknowledging him. One day, when he became the king, he would make sure all those hotheaded fools at the university paid for their arrogance.
Castellan Helmut, standing discreetly just behind the dais, cleared his throat. “Your Eminence, Prince Dietrich II -”
Ulaf raised his hand. “Enough. I know my children.” He directed his steel gaze at Dietrich. “So, has The Saint finally blessed us with a late morning, or has my son decided to finally get out of his bed and do something worthwhile with his life?”
Dietrich burst with venom, but he could not lash out at his father. Instead, he looked at his Right Man Voytech, a scarred veteran of a knight and the chief reason why Dietrich didn’t dare attempt murder his father. “Voytech, I see you still haven’t embraced modernity,” he scorned the man’s old-fashioned armor, and the thick black-steel sword at his hip. “You’re too good for pistols?”
The royal guard flashed his crooked smile. “Those things? They are for boys who can’t fight.”
“Dietrich, pay attention,” King Ulaf snapped. “I have come to a decision.”
“Your mother and I discussed this,” the king spoke. “You are to marry.”
Dietrich had to admit he had not anticipated this. “What! Why?”
Ulaf leaned on his elbow against the gilt frame of his chair. “You are eighteen, Saint be loved. You are the royal heir. It is time for you to do some good for your people. You will marry Duchess Amadea of Sacony. Your wedlock will bond our two nations together, and bring wealth to our kingdom.”
Dietrich stared at his mother. She bore that sympathetic yet ruthless expression on her face, which meant ten thousand people could die before his mother would even blink. He looked at Voytech. The man was grinning. “I don’t want to marry,” he blurted.
King Ulaf sighed. “It doesn’t matter what you want. You have already refused twice before. No more.”
Dietrich clearly remembered the earlier attempts to partner him with a noble woman from a foreign land. The first time, he had been awfully lucky. His bride-to-be turned out not to be a maiden, forcing his father to cancel the wedding and declare war on Ostland. Well, Dietrich had bribed Baron Kurcon, the world’s most renown libertine to seduce his wife-to-be and deflower her before she met Dietrich. It had worked, but the deal had cost him a huge amount of his personal stash of silver.
The second time, he had begged and cried until his father had finally relented. After all, Horsega was a relatively poor state. He guessed he could not count on that this time.
As if reading his mind, King Ulaf continued, “Her father promised a most handsome dowry. Exclusive trade of wine and spices, the lease of their Hermoli port for ten years, plus the use of their shipwrights to build my war fleet. A hundred thousand silver, plus your bride’s weight in diamonds, and it is past time that we had our own. Your late aunt Monica had to rent her diadem for her nuptials.”
Dietrich grimaced wryly. It sounded like a nightmare.
“In fact, Duke Ettore has even offered me twenty hundredweight of Nibusi silk and a full deck of cannons if you were to voyage to Sacony.” The king shrugged. “I accepted.”
“Fresh air will do you good, son. When was the last time you trained with a rapier?”
Last month. “Last eightday,” he mumbled. Voytech winked at him, son of a bitch.
“Bah. You are to become king one day, Dick. I cannot have you waste your time sleeping, whoring and shirking your duties. A real prince must be an example to his nation. How will they respect you if they only see a fat coward, who wouldn’t even change his own breeches?”
“Princes are not meant to change their own breeches,” Dietrich hissed.
Ulaf rubbed his face. “Son, when I was your age, I have already killed ten men, spent a year sleeping in a tent on a military campaign, hunted boar in the forest, and lived through a battle wound. Now, you’re my only heir, so I cannot send you to war, but you sure could learn a little more than the comfort of castle walls and all this opulence. You will travel to Sacony, and you will engage Duchess Amadea in her father’s court. This will honor him. Then, you will journey back here, with her entire family, and we will hold the wedding ceremony in the Great Field. There and back, about two months, that will give us enough time to prepare the greatest banquet of the decade.”
Dietrich felt his whole world falling apart. He didn’t want to go anywhere. He liked the warmth of a goose-feather mattress, he liked rich food, he liked silks and jewelry, and he liked the wenches in the town. A strange thought occurred to him. “How old is this Amadea?” Maybe that could save him?
“Fourteen, just four years your junior, and she has already bled.”
Damn. “Well, what does she look like?”
King Ulaf waved a hand. “What does it matter? Look at your dear mother. Marriage is all about strengthening the power of the royal line. You will do your duty.” The king snapped his fingers. “But Duke Ettore was kind enough to send us a canvas.”
Helmut walked behind the dais, and came back with a large square, covered in white cloth. He unveiled the picture with a flair, and grinned stupidly at Dietrich.
The painting was exquisite. Extremely detailed, and rich in color. It also showed the chubby face of a young girl with black eyes and black hair, staring vapidly at the artist. Dietrich didn’t like her one bit, but she wasn’t a hideous monster as he had expected. Then again, it was impossible to really know what she looked like. But given she was worth her weight in diamonds, her father might actually make sure she slimmed before Dietrich arrived.
No one would dare cross King Ulaf, he thought, not after Ostland.
So, his wife-to-be had a healthy appetite it seemed, almost like his own. He imagined himself lying on top of her, producing royal offspring. The memory of his earlier dream interposed. He shook his head visibly.
“The girl is already learning our language,” his sire added.
“I don’t want to go,” he declared.
His father didn’t get angry. He never got angry. “Son, I have decided and you will not disobey me. In fact, if you do not marry Duchess Amadea, it will be the last time you ever get a chance for a wife.”
Good? Dietrich thought with mounting dread.
“If you refuse, then I will disown you. It will pain me a great deal, but I will defer the heirloom to your cousin Rotger.” The king shrugged, a pained emotion crossing his face, probably over the memory of his late brother. “He is the man you should have been.”
The son you would rather have, Dietrich thought, long past disappointment. Strangely, he didn’t hate his cousin. In fact, he liked Ruddy very much. “Father -”
“Listen, Dick. If you don’t want to marry the duchess, then you will find yourself on a ship, sailing for the Black Desert. I hear the weather is quite hot there, you would lose some of your lard in no time.”
“It is for your own good,” his mother chimed in.
My own good, he thought inanely. Like saying the trots were good for keeping one slim.
“So what will it be, son? Will you travel to Sacony?”
Dietrich looked behind him, at Crispin’s shape standing just outside the hall, watching expectantly. His manservant must have known. Ruddy must have known, too. Even his sister, Wilhelmina, she must have known.
No escape. He was trapped.
Time you became a man, Voytech mouthed silently, his split lip marring the words slightly.
Dietrich looked at the portraits of the dead kings, mocking him with their wooden stares. He looked at the forest of armor suites and trophies that his father had ordered displayed, so everyone would remember the terror of Ulaf’s Wars.
He wanted to be king. He wanted to see his father dead, so he could claim the throne. But this whole thing had happened all too suddenly. His own fault, he should have been prepared.
You win this one, father. I still hate you. “Yes, I will do as you say.”