Of the four nations, there is none as well situated as the kingdom of Dawn. Most of the nation sits within the arms of the Raven Mountains, protected as if by a hundred miles-thick, sky high wall. Even if a way was found to scale the mountains, an army would have to make the long trek through the inhospitable Mogav desert to assail the kingdom from that side. Dawn’s strongest asset, however, is its king. King Jedidiah is reputed to have many strange powers. He has ruled the kingdom for as long as memory serves, never aging. It is said in tales (for no records of that time exist) that a great army once marched upon the kingdom and was vaporized in a moment, as if they were nothing.
The kingdom keeps no army, for no one in living memory has ever dared to set themselves against it. Its people live off their fertile lands, which can only be likened to a paradise. Droughts and famine do not touch them, the plague avoids them, and no one is hungry no matter how poor. This is not to say that the kingdom does not have its share of troubles. In fact, this is a story about one such trouble that almost destroyed this very prosperous nation.
It started several moons before the prince’s birthday celebration. Young William, his father’s most treasured possession, would be turning 12 years and the king had a lavish celebration planned. But on the heels of the festivity came trouble in the form of a young noble named Chester. Chester began stirring up the people, demanding lower taxes from the king and claiming that his policies placed undue burden on the people. It was a ridiculous claim. Dawn had the lowest taxes of the four nations (though that changed after this event), and the people had never suffered from his demands. Still, by some miracle, Chester gathered a large following so that it became obvious that the king must do something before his kingdom fell apart.
The preparations for the prince’s birthday were used as proof of the king’s greed. His people, it was said, never saw such rich food and decorations. They worked hard and yet lost some of their effort to the king who did not need all that he took. Such claims stirred up the people even worse, because men are apt to think that they ought to have more than they already do. So, Chester grew confident in his rebellion because he had won the hearts of the people.
The young prince, however, played as if he had no care in the world. On this day, like many others, he finished his lessons and let himself out of the palace to find his friends. A group of young boys, momentarily freed from their chores, were playing a game by the river, trying to see who could first catch a river snake.
“You’re late, Will” It was Zima, Will’s longtime friend and playmate. “We were going to start without you.”
“Forgive me Zima. I got here as soon as I could”.
Prince William was the humblest child you would ever meet. Without the guards who always trailed him, and his stately appearance, one could never tell that he was a prince. He played in the mud with the other children, and scandalized the nobles by having a cobbler’s son as his best friend. There were endless petitions to the king to teach the young prince to respect his position, but the king would only smile and ignore the concerns. William was his only child so what William wanted, William got – whether it was a new horse, or a palace grander than his father’s. William, for his part, did little to take advantage of his father’s love – he was the most unnatural child in the four nations.
“Is Will going to play too?” another boy asked “That’s not fair”.
“That’s right”, a third boy put in. “He doesn’t even have to try”.
In a second, all the boys were grumbling and eying William in discontent. They could do that, you see, because they had no need to fear his displeasure. He was a very humble child.
“Will won’t do whatever it is he does to the fishes. Will you?” Zima came to his defense.
William shook his head emphatically. “I’ll search just like you. I promise.”
“It’s settled, then. Let’s go.”
Most of the boys accepted his word and began to choose their fishing spots. An hour later, it became evident that William was keeping his word. He had done no better than the other boys.
You see, William must have inherited some of his father’s power, because he had the remarkable ability to call animals to himself. If he allowed it, they followed him everywhere. Some said that this was no magic, because he treated the animals so well, but it was mostly apparent in fishing. He only had to step in the water to be surrounded by fish. He never killed them, however. Whatever fish he caught, he put back in the water. He didn’t need them, after all, and he was known for his reluctance to hurt anyone or anything; a most curious boy, to be certain.
More hours passed, and the day began to fade into the cool of evening. The boys had caught lots of fish, but they were yet to find any snakes. Suddenly, Will stopped and sat up, staring out into the west at the setting sun. He returned his gaze to the water, and then for a moment, his face showed panic.
“George, look out!”
No one else had seen the water snake sneaking up on George. His reaction was too slow. The snake sank his fangs into the boy’s foot before slinking away, as if aware of its mischief. George stumbled, but Will was there to catch him. Still, his cry of pain was strong enough to bring the women running.
“A snake bit George!” one of the boys exclaimed. Mina, George’s mother, was distraught. Water snakes were often poisonous, and she took it upon herself to berate her son – as mothers often do when they’ve had a scare.
“He’ll be alright, Ma’am”, said Will. “Look. There’s no harm done.” The wound was already closing due to Will’s ministrations.
“Oh, thank you, Your Highness”. But Mina grabbed her son anyway, looking him over as if she expected more injuries.
“What did I tell you? You could have died! Why have you decided to do this? What did I do to deserve such a foolish son?” On and on, she went, brushing aside any attempts to stop her.
“We were safe, Ma. Will’s with us.”
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I should have paid more attention. Please don’t punish him. He was very careful”. Will tried to soothe the upset woman.
Mina burst into tears then. “I can’t thank you enough, Your Highness. He’s my only son, you know. I keep begging him to have mercy on his poor mother…” And on and on she went. Everyone knew Mina was prone to hysterics, and there was no way to stop her until she was ready.
So, the game was over and the boys dispersed. Will said goodbye and left for home, his two guards trailing him as usual. He barely noticed anyone on the walk to the palace. His mind was fixed on whatever he had seen in the west. Trouble was coming.
“Have the Dewitts arrived yet?” Will asked one of the servants as he approached his bedchamber.
“Not yet, your highness. They are expected before noon tomorrow.”
“I will see them when they arrive.”
The servant gave a quick bow and disappeared to do whatever servants do when their masters do not require them.
Chester Dewitt and his parents, heirs to a small Barony, arrived early the next day to the news that the prince wanted to see them. An odd look passed between the three. The king had summoned them and several other nobles to speak about the brewing rebellion, but they had not expected to speak to the young prince. Nor could they imagine what matter of importance they could discuss with an 11 year old.
“Of course”, said Baron Dewitt “we’ll see him after some rest. We have travelled a long way.”
“Forgive me, sir, but the prince demanded to see you the moment you arrived. Any delay would greatly displease him.” Seeing the amusement on their faces, the servant continued “If the prince is displeased, the king is displeased.”
So the family was quickly guided to a drawing room where the prince sat doing his schoolwork. He immediately dismissed his teacher, offered them seats, and began speaking.
“Why are you doing this?” He addressed Chester.
“I beg your pardon, your highness”
“Why have you decided to work against the peace of the nation?”
“That was not my intention, sire. The people – “
“You do not care about the people. Speak plainly; there is no one here to deceive. You are either driven by your own greed, or an idle desire to make trouble. Which is it?”
“I assure you my motives are pure, highness. The crops have not done as well these few years and the cattle recently suffered a minor plague. A little relief would be good for the people.”
William nodded as if Chester’s words made sense. Then, fixing his eyes on some distant scene only he could see, he spoke gravely.
“You are playing with fire, Dewitt. I saw the entire kingdom burning and you in the middle. This fixation of yours will not end well – for anyone. I beg you, end it.”
“Your pardon, highness – “
“There will be none if you continue!” His voice was rising now. “Do you understand that?”
“Your Highness, the king has summoned me to discuss this. He will make the decision.”
“Yes, he will. He will demand that you end your rebellion immediately. That is all the warning you receive. The next time you stand before the throne, it will be too late. You are dismissed”.
Given the fact that the prince was something of a joke among the wealthier members of the kingdom, the Dewitts had not expected to be treated so rudely and the baroness was quick to make her displeasure known. A very displeased look covered her face as she rose in anger.
“Why, your highness, there is no need to be so rude. We are not enemies or peasants. I cannot believe you teachers let you act in this manner. Why, I’ve never been so insulted.”
If they had been dismissed by the king, none would have dared complain, but the prince was still a child, and on first meeting the nobles tended to treat him like they would any other child. He listened patiently while the baroness ranted.
“I dismissed you, Baroness Dewitt” he said when she paused “because I have lessons to attend to. If you do not leave, I will have the guards escort you.”
It was only then that the Baroness noticed the three fully armed guards scowling down at her small frame.
“Good day to you, madam”, Will said.
The prince’s prediction was correct. When the king called together the nobles that afternoon, it was to threaten them. The least punishment that would be meted out to any who did not cease rebelling, and make their subjects do the same, would be the loss of their lands and titles. The King’s threat might have tempered the rebellion if not for the events of that evening.
A ball had been planned. It was a major affair for those landholders who wished to present their daughters to the king. The prince was still not betrothed, and every ambitious noble within the kingdom and without hoped their daughters would be queen. Every year, therefore, beautiful young girls were brought before the prince to see if one of them would win his favor. To their dismay, the prince never seemed to favor any girl above the others and the king’s refusal to choose a bride for the indecisive prince prolonged the situation. The truth was that the prince had no interest in brides and his father ensured no one pressured him on the issue. So, while the kingdom held its collective breath at each yearly parade of girls, both father and son knew that no girl at the ball was likely to catch the prince’s eye.
This year, however something new happened. The king of Tate, Dawn’s neighbor to the west, brought his daughters. He did that every year, of course, but the novelty was in the way he was received. The prince and king always welcomed all participants to the ball. And even though the kings of Tate and Dawn were bitter enemies, both sides always behaved with a certain degree of hospitality. This year, when King Maduch bowed before the king and prince, their response was cold. There were no tense words, but it was evident that Jedidiah and William were greatly displeased. They did not acknowledge Maduch’s greeting. Maduch, for his part, acted as if he had been warmly received and proceeded to present his daughters. The Prince smiled at them as he always did, and the procession moved on.
King Jedidiah’s coldness proved warranted. No sooner had the procession finished than Maduch began inciting the nobles to greater rebellion. He told them that his kingdom had lower taxes – which was only partially true. He allowed his subjects to pay lower taxes during bad years in exchange for higher taxes during other years. He sympathized with their cause, and claimed to have a plan to help achieve their goal. It was mutually beneficial; he assured them when they asked his motive. Lower taxes in Dawn would mean lower prices on their exports to Tate. Of course, that was only part of the reason, but they did not know that.
That was how the tragedy happened. The nobles ingested those lies, and spread it to their people on their return. Maduch’s evil plan was hatched and presented during a secret meeting a week later. It was a simple plan. Maduch would help kidnap the prince, and hold him for ransom. Everyone knew that king Jedidiah would do anything for his boy. The boy would not be hurt, of course, but he would be kept secure within Maduch’s borders so that a rescue attempt would be impossible. A longstanding peace treaty between the two kingdoms ensured that Jedidiah could not send a rescue party into Tate without Maduch’s permission.
The prince was only minimally guarded because he had powers of his own, but it would be a simple matter for a maid to drug him while he was asleep. The guards could be disabled, and the prince gone before an alarm could be raised. It was so easy as to be amusing.
The people were naturally apprehensive about the aftermath if their plan succeeded. Jedidiah could have them all arrested for treason, assuming he knew the participants in the plot. But Maduch was able to quell their fears. Jedidiah wasn’t the only one with magic. Maduch could protect their identities, and Jedidiah wasn’t the kind to arrest innocent people to make a point.
The people fell for this plan for one reason: they knew that Maduch hated Jedidiah, and so he had a reason to help their rebellion. They did not imagine that he could double-cross them, but that was what he did.
It was six days before the prince’s birthday when the plan was to be executed. It was executed, but not as it should have been. The maid (who was coincidentally Zima’s mother) was to go into the prince’s bedroom just before midnight while the guards were disabled. But a few hours before dawn, every household in every city in the kingdom was awoken by the sound of breaking doors. Heavily armed soldiers dragged men, women and children out of their beds and into the streets. Those who resisted were killed and everyone else was captured. The king of Tate had unleashed his entire army on the citizens of Dawn. Never, in the history of Dawn, had there been such a ruckus as there was that day. Only those in the palace escaped. It was as if Dawn had lost a war simultaneously in each of its cities. Virtually its entire population was killed or led out in chains with very little resistance.
The strangest part of the event was that the king and prince stood on the castle walls watching the invasion. The young prince was sobbing in his father’s arms. The king watched with a face devoid of emotion. He was powerful enough to destroy the invaders without moving, but he did nothing.