Here's the last chapter I'm going to share. Enjoy!
Hard Lessons To Learn
"Ouch!" Aduan cried out as the maid pulled on the strings of her corset. "That’s too tight! How am I supposed to look beautiful if I’m fainting all the time because I can’t breathe?"
"Forgive me, milady," the girl said.
Another one of her ladies-in-waiting walked up to her, carrying a dress the color of the sun, but Aduan dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "I changed my mind. I wish to wear my blue gown."
She gave a curtsey. "As you wish, Your Highness." She ran and fetched the beautiful light blue dress. She and the other two ladies-in-waiting helped the princess into it. Once that was accomplished, one of them hurried to get the jewelry and the other began to brush her hair.
"Ow!" she protested as the brush went through a very thick knot. "Do you want me to be bald?"
"Of course not, Your Highness," she said. "I shall take better care."
"See that you do."
There was a knock at the door, and one of the girls rushed to open it. She walked back in saying, "Lord Taon, my lady."
Aduan sighed. Taon had said that her lessons would start today, and she was not looking forward to them. She knew that they were going to be boring. "Show him in."
The vizier walked in. "Good morning, Your Highness. Are you ready for your lessons to begin?"
"No," she said, "but I don’t think there’s any way I can prevent them."
"Not if you want to keep your throne."
"Very well." She waved her ladies away and after a curtsy they obediently shuffled out of the room. "Where shall we begin?"
"I believe he first step would be the best place to start and that is learning that a trusted and effective ruler earns the respect of the people," Taon said.
"How do I do that?" she asked as she sipped from a gold goblet. She seated herself at the vanity in her chambers and began to inspect her reflection with a critical eye, making sure it was perfect.
"You will be receiving your subjects in the throne room," he told her. "They will come to you with their stresses and troubles. I will be there, recording every one. Then, at the end of the day, we will discuss how to solve them."
"Are they all going to have troubles to talk about?"
"Perhaps not. I also must remind you that some may come with gifts."
Aduan brightened. "Like what? Silks? Velvet? Gold?"
Taon shook his head. "No, Your Highness. These are hard times for Validor, and even if they were not, the people would not bring you those types of things for there is enough in the castle. What they will bring you are fruits and vegetables, poultry, pork, beef, or honey."
The princess wrinkled her nose. "Why would I want those?"
He sighed. "The people don’t have to give you anything at all, but they do. You need to take what they give you with grace and dignity, because whatever they do bring, it is the best they have."
She sighed and stood. "Very well."
They went into the throne room. Aduan did not sit in her father’s throne, for that throne was reserved for no one but the king or queen of Validor. She sat in the one beside it and waited.
"Send the first in," Taon commanded the guard at the door as he seated himself at a small desk near Aduan’s throne. He picked up the feather pin, dipped it in the ink, and waited.
The guard opened the door, and a woman walked in, dressed in slightly worn clothing. She carried a basket filled to the brim with fresh fruit.
"You may come forward," Aduan said.
The woman obeyed and curtsied before her. "My lady," she said. "I bring fresh fruit for your table."
"Thank you," the princess said. Uncertain about what to do next, she looked at Taon, who motioned for her to get up and take the fruit from the woman. She obeyed, set the fruit down beside the throne, then sat back down. A moment of uneasy silence passed then Taon asked, "What is your trouble?"
"I do not know what can be done about this," the woman said. "The land near the western border is dying. No one settles too far into the west, milady, and of course you know the reason why."
"No, I don’t," she said. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Taon wince. She knew that she had made a mistake, but she had to continue. "Tell me."
"Why, Morlaya is on our western border, my lady. I was at the king’s funeral, God rest his soul, and I heard that awful crow. Honestly, milady, I have never been so frightened in my life! I believe we need to fight Arvil, but that is your decision and not mine to make."
"Thank you," Aduan said. "You are dismissed."
The woman paused for a moment then, with a look of irritation, gave a quick curtsey and briskly left the throne room.
The princess looked at Taon. "What did I do wrong?"
"Never admit that you do not know anything," he told her. "If you don’t know, say something along the lines of ‘Speak as if I know nothing.’ The people need to feel that you know everything that is going on around you before you will ever earn their trust."
"Is that all I did wrong?"
"No. You have seen your father do this, Aduan. You should have known to take the fruit from her."
"And also, you never say ‘You are dismissed.’ When someone has finished speaking, you need to stand and kiss them on the forehead. This is a tradition that was started at the beginning of Validor’s history hundreds of years ago. Judging from her pace in departing, I do not doubt the fact that woman was highly insulted."
Aduan sighed. She thought she hadn’t been that bad. "I’m sorry."
Taon’s expression softened just a tad. "Perhaps you will do better this time."
From the west entrance into the throne room, Yeugh stood, watching the princess. After the woman left, Gallim walked up to him.
"How is it going?" the treasurer asked.
Yeugh sighed. "Not well. Aduan has no idea of what to do. She unintentionally left a woman highly insulted, and that is not the best way to start your reign."
"Indeed not," Gallim agreed as they watched Taon explain to her what she had done wrong. "Do you suppose Taon will get through to her?"
Yeugh shrugged. "It is difficult to say. I personally doubt that she can rule Validor, and today’s performance has done nothing to cause me to change my mind. What do you think?"
"I have no idea," he admitted. "Part of me wants to believe that Aduan can do it while the other part tells me that I’m waiting for some miracle that will never happen."
"Bring the next one in!" Taon called, and both Yeugh and Gallim fell silent, not wanting to be noticed. They watched as a poorly dressed farmer came down the rich red carpet, leading a fat black and white pig. He bowed before the princess. "Your Highness, I bring this pig so that you may have meat for your table."
"Thank you." Aduan stood and took the rope from the man. The pig was curious about who was now holding his leash, and he stepped up to Aduan, sniffing and sticking his face in her dress.
"Eww!" the princess shrieked. "Take this thing away!"
Taon sprang up from his desk and hastily grabbed the rope, trying to glare at the princess and apologize to the farmer at the same time. Yeugh sighed. "I believe Taon is trying to teach Aduan what she can never achieve."
"Her father was a wonderful, compassionate king," Gallim said, " and her mother was a kind soul. I know she has some of their ability in her."
Yeugh crossed his arms. "The question is, can she discover it in time?"
The two men looked at each other in silence.
* * *
Well, that was a disaster, Taon thought after Aduan had seen two more people and insulted them as well.
"Am I going to see any more of my subjects today?" she asked.
"No," he told her. He couldn’t risk it. Aduan had a bad enough reputation already.
"Good," she said. "Now I shall go and change out of this dress. That stupid pig made it absolutely filthy!" She left the throne room briskly.
Once she was gone, Taon leaned his elbows on the desk and rubbed his tired eyes. He heard footsteps and looked up to see Yeugh walking toward him.
"Yes, Sir Yeugh?"
"I watched the. . .proceedings with interest," the knight said.
Taon sat up straighter. "Indeed?"
"Yes," he said and smiled a little. He walked up and sat on the edge of the desk, crossing his arms. "What were the people’s troubles? I couldn’t hear everything from where I was."
Taon sighed and looked at the paper. "Every single person complained about land dying near the western border. I believe I shall ride out there and see it for myself."
"You know why the land is dying, don’t you, Taon? It is because Arvil will soon launch his war and he’s starting by frightening the people. And what will be done about it? Nothing!"
Taon’s eyes narrowed. "Where are you going with this, Yeugh?"
Yeugh leaned forward. "Don’t wait the one month to teach Aduan everything she needs to know. We need an effective ruler now, one who will take action."
"The Council agreed—"
"We have more than enough evidence to present before the Council to prove that Aduan is incapable of ruling. There is no one who will vote in her favor, except for, perhaps, you."
"I will not give up on Aduan so easily, Sir Yeugh. I was closer to her father than anyone, and I promised him that I would teach her."
"So you are willingly putting your friendship with the king over Validor’s safety?" Taon did not reply but seemed startled by the question. Yeugh stood. "Think about it."
He left the room.
* * *
After Yeugh left the throne room, Taon went down to the stables and ordered one of the stable boys to saddle his horse. The boy obeyed, then helped the advisor to mount the powerful white stallion.
Taon cantered off the castle grounds and through the countryside of Validor, going to the western border. As he traveled through the different villages, some people stopped their tasks to bow as he rode past. The people did not trust Aduan, but they trusted Taon, and he held that dear; however, he wished that the people could trust their princess to care for and help them. The people of Validor were good, simple folk who wouldn’t give up too easily on their princess. But all knew of Arvil’s threat of war, and Taon was certain that the people were only going to allow Aduan so much time to become what she needed to be before they started demanding a new ruler from the Council.
Taon had been riding for two hours when he noticed odd patches of dying grass scattered about. Another hour of riding brought him deep into the western side of Validor, and he rode among dead and dying grass, trees, and other types of foliage. He pulled his stallion to a halt, listening and watching. No birds sang or flew in the sky, no squirrels sat in the trees, and there was no hum of insects. Taon dismounted and looked at the ground. It was dry, cracked, and hard as if it hadn’t rained for months. No ants scurried about. He sniffed the wind and smelled nothing but decaying foliage.
Suddenly, the white stallion shivered and half-reared, whinnying, his eyes bulging and nostrils flaring with fright. Taon grabbed the reins and patted his horse’s neck. "Easy, boy, easy," he soothed. The horse quieted under his touch.
Taon knew what had upset the stallion, for he had felt it as well. For a moment, he had been unable to feel anything except evil all around him. He climbed back into the saddle and rode back to the castle, his fears confirmed. The dead and dying land was Arvil’s doing, and it was not going to stop until it covered the entire land of Validor.
When Taon came back to the castle, he found Aduan in her chambers. "There you are," she said. "I was wondering where you were."
"I was out at the western border, my lady," he said.
Aduan turned sharply to him, her brilliant blue eyes flashing with anger. "I did not give you permission to leave the castle."
"With all due respect, Your Highness, I do not need your permission. It is my duty to investigate all of the people’s troubles, therefore, I did not need to ask you for permission to leave the castle." Another thing you would know if you would only study.
"Oh," she said, remembering that indeed was true. "Well, what were the people’s troubles?"
Taon was slightly shocked, though he didn’t know why. He should have expected this. "You have forgotten the problems of your people?"
"They seemed trivial to me at the time and, therefore, I deemed them not worthy of remembrance. I ask now merely out of curiosity."
"What is wrong among your people is something you should always know; that way we can do something to fix it."
Aduan sighed, showing her complete boredom. She truly did not care about the people. "Are you going to tell me what the peasants troubles are, or do I need to dismiss you?"
Taon closed his fists in anger. "Never refer to your people as ‘peasants.’ To satisfy your curiosity, everyone expressed concern about the western border, and I must admit, I am concerned about it as well."
"While I was there, I felt a sharp sense of evil. It was very near. The foliage is either dead or dying, no animals—not even insects—were present. The ground was very hard and dry, as if it hadn’t rained for two months, and we had rain only last week."
"Perhaps we didn’t have any out there," the princess said. "And about that sense of evil, I believe you were imagining things."
"My horse felt it as well and was spooked."
"A great many things will spook a horse. I don’t think the western border is of any concern."
"I know all this is Arvil’s doing," he argued.
"And I feel that it is not."
Taon raised his voice. "Your Highness—"
"This discussion is at an end!" she yelled.
For a moment, Aduan and Taon just stood, staring into each other’s eyes, both furious with the other. "Very well, Your Highness," he said through clenched teeth. He bowed and left.
* * *
The next day, Taon decided that Aduan should study before she tried again to meet the people. Until he deemed her capable, he would receive the people himself. He knocked on the door to her chambers, and one of her ladies-in-waiting answered. He stated that he wished an audience with the princess, and the girl conveyed his request to Aduan, who granted it.
"That will be all for now," Aduan told her ladies as Taon walked in. They curtsied before her and left.
Taon bowed. "I do hope your anger towards me has diminished."
"It has," she told him. "Rise and tell me what you have come for."
"Your lessons, my lady."
She sighed. "Very well. Let us sit." She walked over to a small table and sat, indicating for Taon to sit across from her.
"I have decided that you need to be taught how to act like a princess, for it is very similar to how a good queen should act."
"But why must I be taught how to act like a princess when I am a princess?"
"Answer this question. What is a princess, who is she?"
"She is the daughter of a king and queen, destined to rule if no male heirs are born."
"That is the. . .technical definition," Taon said. "I mean her characteristics."
"Characteristics are different in one person than another. You know that, Taon."
"Yes, but there are several characteristics that every princess needs to have."
Aduan was intrigued. "Like what?"
"A princess must be noble, carrying herself with dignity and poise. When she speaks, she carefully chooses her words and exercises control over her emotions, never getting overly excited or angry. She makes choices based on what is right, not how she feels. She is selfless and humble, thinking only of others and focusing on their needs. She listens attentively and seeks and accepts advice when she thinks it sound. She never demands nor expects special treatment. She must always be trusting, forgiving, faithful, respectable, and admirable."
Aduan lowered her eyes and thought for a moment. "I never knew that’s what a princess should act like." She looked back up at Taon. "This is not going to be easy."
"And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not all that it will take for you."
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Most times, when a princess is your age, she knows all the laws of her land, is able to receive her people without insulting them, has the people’s love, respect, and trust. She also knows how to handle herself in difficult situations and stand firm no matter what. She cannot be ignorant, immature, or easily swayed. She must be a strong leader, powerful and bold. She must be able to effectively rule her country with dignity, knowledge, and grace."
"Is that all?"
Taon shook his head. "No. You must memorize the laws of Validor and familiarize yourself with the different statuses of your people. You must learn how to effectively command those who serve you. You must also learn how to defend your country and learn just how important it is to be prepared when there is threat of war."
Aduan laughed. "Oh, Taon, do you still think that Arvil is going to attack us? It has been rumored that he will attack us and possibly Excadious and Shaldothe for over three hundred years. I don’t think there is any reason for worry."
Taon sighed, wondering how she could so easily dismiss the warning given to them by the crow. "Very well. I will discuss this with you no more for now. At this time, it is more important that you understand what is expected of you and that you learn it."
"I told you I would try."
"To be honest, so far, you haven’t been trying hard enough." When Aduan’s cheek’s flamed red and her eyes flashed with anger at the insult, Taon raised his hand. "I know you took what I just said as an insult, but you must be told the truth if you are to learn anything, no matter how much it hurts. If you do not learn enough in less than one month’s time, the Council will vote you off the throne."
"They will not!" she stated. "It is mine by privilege and birth!"
"But it is also a responsibility, and one that you have neglected to claim. If you do not, then your throne will be taken from you and someone else will claim it."
Aduan slammed her fist on the table. "No!"
"Then you must be willing to learn."
Taon thought a moment. Then he said, "Tomorrow, in the early morning, I would like to take you somewhere. Have your ladies-in-waiting pack some warm clothes for you."
"Where are we going?" she asked eagerly.
He only smiled and did not answer.