A Little Fairy Dust
Mell Eight © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Excerpt from the first story, The Tower
“And now, Prince Haines will pick the person who will be honored with the Rapunzel Posting!” General Darien called out loudly, his parade voice easily carrying over the noise of a few hundred men and women enjoying the annual feast. The room immediately quieted. Every year the officers and select few enlisted who were receiving an honor came together for a thank-you and award ceremony, but only every seven years was the Rapunzel Posting awarded.
Ishiah watched as Prince Haines stood from his place on the dais, where all the highest officers had been seated for the ceremony, and walked around the table until he was standing in front of the plinth holding a golden bowl. The bowl was easily deep enough for a baby to bathe, solid gold, and encrusted on the outside with gemstones, and it matched Prince Haines’s outer appearance perfectly. Haines had golden-colored hair he kept pulled back from his face with a ruby-colored ribbon. His hand, as he lifted it above the bowl and hesitated there as if to drum up more drama, had a gemstone ring on every finger.
Those in the room held their collective breath as Haines dipped his fingers into the golden bowl. For the last seven days, the plinth and bowl had been standing in the entrance to the officers’ mess hall where any officer interested in the Rapunzel Posting could drop a slip of paper into it with their name on it. Ishiah had walked around that bowl before and after every meal for seven days straight. He hadn’t put his name in, but he hadn’t needed to. He was just as capable of reading the winds of his political fate as anyone else in the kingdom.
It was with no surprise to Ishiah that Haines pulled out a piece of paper and read out: “First Lieutenant Ishiah Fitzsimons!”
The room didn’t erupt into cheers as it would have for someone who actually wanted the post. Even the lowest enlisted man or woman in the room knew who Ishiah was. Fitz, meaning bastard child of royalty, and Simons, meaning the child of King Simon. Born to a mistress not even two months after Haines’s own birth, Ishiah was a constant reminder of the king’s infidelity to the political animals in the kingdom. He was also a second potential heir to the throne. With Prince Haines trying to solidify his status now that his wife was pregnant, Ishiah knew it was inevitable that he would be shuffled off somewhere. It was only a coincidence that the Rapunzel Posting had come due this year, and the convenience of it must have made changing all the slips of paper in the bowl to carry his name instead of the rightful candidates a worthy endeavor.
Ishiah stood from his seat at the back of the room and walked through the whispers and the tables toward the stairs that led up to the dais. He looked almost nothing like Prince Haines. Where Haines was golden, Ishiah was dark. His hair was black and was shaved tightly to his head on the sides according to military regulations, but he had allowed the wide strip on the top of his head to grow extremely long in the style of the eastern barbarians. The military allowed the enlisted barbarians to keep their ceremonial hairstyles or risk a potential uprising of the eastern territories, and many non-barbarian soldiers had chosen to copy them. Ishiah had originally done it to prove to the court that he was no prince—a prince wouldn’t dare emulate the barbarians—and had ended up liking the hairstyle enough to keep it. Tonight, his long hair was thickly plaited and the tail of the braid rested between his shoulder blades. His skin was tanned like his mother’s had been, the color of wet sand along the southern coast where his mother had been from before meeting King Simon. Only his eyes, gray shot through with blue streaks and wide in his face, proved his heritage. He shared his eyes with King Simon and Prince Haines.
Gray met gray as Ishiah climbed the stairs onto the dais and bowed to Prince Haines.
“Rise, soldier, and be honored,” Haines said loudly enough to be heard over the soft whispers of the gossipers that had begun to fill the room. “First Lieutenant Ishiah Fitzsimons, you have been honored with the posting in Rap Tower in the Zel Mountains. You hold this prestigious duty to guard our lands from the western invaders. For seven years, seven months, and seven days, you will be watching for any sign of the returning hoard, and you will be studying. The tower has been provisioned with every textbook needed so when your posting ends you will be prepared to take on the mantle of colonel and lead this army to victory!”
He paused and it took Ishiah a moment to realize Haines was waiting for a response.
“I am honored to be chosen,” Ishiah replied because that was the only thing he could say. “I will execute my duty faithfully and with diligence.” He bowed again.
“Then come, join me for a toast and some dessert.” Prince Haines gestured to the seat at the table that had remained ceremonially empty throughout the banquet. Ishiah walked over to it and stood behind the chair until Haines had retaken his seat. Ishiah sat and servants immediately entered the room bearing dessert trays.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant,” General Darien said from Prince Haines’s other side once the chatter around the room had risen enough that it would be difficult to hear what was being said on the dais. General Dairen was smiling at Ishiah, but there was a hard glint in his eye indicating he was aware of the political maneuvering that had gotten Ishiah the posting.
“Thank you, General,” Ishiah replied.
They fell silent as plates of cake and glasses of champagne were placed in front of them. Prince Haines lifted his glass first.
“To Lieutenant Ishiah, who I know will be the most successful officer to come out of the Rapunzel Posting.”
Those who could hear Haines also lifted their glasses in a toast. Ishiah took a long sip of the champagne, hoping to let the resentment he could feel bubbling up in his chest pop along with the bubbles in his drink. The dais was silent after that as they all applied themselves to their cake. Only once everyone else was distracted by other conversations did Haines fully turn toward Ishiah.
“I am sorry, Ish. I know this isn’t what you would have chosen,” Haines began, his voice soft so they wouldn’t be overheard.
“Of course it’s not, Hay,” Ishiah replied, his voice tight with the anger he was trying to keep suppressed.
Haines shook his head firmly as if he needed to brush away Ishiah’s feelings in order to finish what he had to say. “There were whispers at court. The malcontents unhappy with some of the policies Father and I have been implementing were talking about replacing us with you.”
“Hay, those whispers started the day father announced to the court that I was his child,” Ishiah replied, his anger making his words more of a growl than actual syllables. “Just admit that you’re scared and instead of coming to talk to me about a solution you hatched this scheme instead.”
“Fine!” Haines snapped, although his voice still managed to remain quiet. “Of course I’m scared. Victoria is three months pregnant and extremely vulnerable. I want my child to have a chance to be born, not murdered in the womb by some idiot who wants to put you on the throne instead of me. I only had a few options, Ish, to remove you as a threat. I could have killed you, of course, but that wasn’t an option I was willing to consider. Father suggested making you an ambassador to one of our trading partners across the ocean, but I know you would have hated that. Think about it, Ish. Seven years and you’ll come out of it a full colonel with a big enough salary and enough prestige you can settle down comfortably anywhere in the country. When General Darien suggested you as a good candidate for the posting, Father and I agreed.”
After seven years of being out of the spotlight of the court, Ishiah would be all but forgotten by the malcontents. Haines would have cemented himself as the heir and his child as next in line. And, if Ishiah chose to live somewhere far away from the capital after the posting was over, his status as bastard son of the king would be all but forgotten.
And all of it had been neatly thrust on him in a way that left zero room for his refusal.
It took a moment for Ishiah to bury his anger again. Raising a fist toward Prince Haines would get him put in jail, which would be even worse than being put in the tower for seven years.
“You still should have talked to me about it first,” Ishiah said once he was certain his voice could remain soft enough to keep their conversation private. “Instead of springing it on me like this. Treat me like a brother, Haines, instead of like the enemy you fear I’ll be turned into.”
“You’re right.” Haines let out a heavy sigh. “You are right,” he repeated. “Forgive me?”
Ishiah frowned at Haines for a long moment before sighing himself. “Eventually, Hay. Let me be angry for a little bit longer. I expect you’ll write me weekly and that my niece or nephew will start writing me as soon as they’re able.”
“I’ll write you, Father will write you, and I’ll make certain my child will write you. Ish, this posting is an honor, you know. We make sure not just anyone is picked for this. They have to be highly recommended by their peers and their superiors. If you hadn’t been, you’d be on a ship heading for an ambassador posting instead. Please, I know you didn’t want this, but be honored you are thought of so highly.”
“I will be, Hay. As soon as the anger and betrayal fade, I will be.” Ishiah cracked a tentative smile for Haines to show he meant it. “Besides, now you’re going to have to figure out someone else for the court gossips to focus their ire on. Who will be the next family scapegoat now that they don’t have my hair or the fact that I keep showing up to court events in my leather armor to harangue you over?”
“I’ll be certain to let you know who they pick and why,” Haines replied with his own hesitant smile.
Ishiah might be angry with him, but they were still brothers. They would get through this, and in seven years who knew what the political climate and their relationship would be like.