Here's chapter two. Enjoy!
Princess Aduan—Incapable Leader
It was a cold night in Morlaya. The wind whistled through the dark trees, an unspeakable fear groaning on it, traveling to every corner of the land. The sky, void of both moon and stars, was as ebony as the wings of the crow that was gliding through the heavens, cawing unceasingly.
Dark Ones walked in their oppressive land, their evil mounting with every step. Their black eyes gleamed with anger and hatred. They were ready to fight and slaughter whoever dared step in their way.
The tallest landmark in this land was Black Peak Mountain. Its sides were steep and slippery and it was up these treacherous slopes that a lone soldier was daring to climb. He had urgent news for his king and tried to ascend quickly, but he lost his footing on loose shale. He nearly fell down the steep sides, but righted himself and, not for the first time, cursed the mountain. But before he could continue his journey, a shadow landed in front of him and he recognized her as Janaan.
Janaan was an Excadian and as such, she was a born warrior. The soldier knew that they had excellent skill with any weapon. He admired her hawk-like wings that allowed her to travel quickly and easily.
"What is your reason for climbing the mountain?" She asked, placing her hand on the hilt of her sword. If the soldier failed to have a legitimate reason, she would kill him, as was her right in the laws her master had laid for his land.
"I have urgent news for our king."
Janaan raised an eyebrow. "Of great importance?"
"In the extreme!"
"Very well. Relay your news to me, and I shall deliver it to him."
The soldier obeyed. Janaan nodded once and flew to the one whose danger surpassed the mountain’s. She headed towards the terror that lingered in Dark Castle, which sat on the peak.
The castle had dark, imposing wooden doors with accents of black iron. The smallest flicker of light did not escape the gothic style windows. Seven towers rose from the main level of the castle. Black flags stood on top of each tower. These flags, caught in the chilling breeze and whipped relentlessly by the wind, brought little comfort to the soul.
The cold onyx walls served only to warn of the danger inside. This hideous place was the home to Arvil, King of the Dark Ones.
The only subjects who lived with Arvil were his most loyal ones. But proud as they were to be living in the castle, they trembled in constant fear.
Fear of their king.
Arvil was the most powerful Unicorn alive, born with the amazing gift of shape shifting, able to morph into any form he wished. His subjects were terrified of disappointing him. He had a reputation of slaughtering bystanders when he let his temper control him.
Arvil stood in the tallest tower in Dark Castle. He held his head and tail high. His long, thick mane hung over both sides of his neck. His heavily muscled body bore several battle scars. Half of his golden horn had been chopped off at an angle, and numerous chips and dents scarred its surface. His most terrifying scar was on the left side of his face that traveled from the corner of his eye down to his lip, twisting his mouth into a permanent scowl that showed off chipped white teeth.
He was a frightening being, his most terrifying feature being his eyes. They were darker than his body, and against his ebony coat they gave him a ghoulish appearance. He radiated with the type of evil that lurks in nightmares. He was a son of darkness who bathed in the terror he projected. There were many who believed that Arvil was the devil himself and they shook in fear at the mere mention of his name.
His chamber was round with only one window. No torches were in the room for Arvil preferred the shadows. He almost disappeared in the blackness, except for his heavy gold horn. No light at all hit the horn, but somehow it still glowed brightly.
This room was private. No one was allowed entrance without his permission. Usually, he walked all over the castle, feeling the terror he had instilled in his subjects, but for the past few days he had kept to himself. Only one week ago, the king of Validor had died. That same day Arvil had sent out his threat of invasion. But everyone knew that it was more than a threat. It was a promise and it had sent the people into a panic. The evil King smiled at the thought. He knew that there were those who wanted to destroy him, but that was not possible. He was the most powerful creature in history—how could anyone defeat him? There had been one who had tried and that was why Arvil had kept his battle scars—to remind all that no one could destroy him, and to haunt that one when they met again.
Someone knocked on the door to his chamber. Arvil looked at the door and said, "Open." The door obeyed and Janaan stood in the doorway. Her skin-tight black armor moved silently with her body, and her long black hair swayed from side to side as she approached him.
Janaan’s parents had come to Arvil from Excadious before she had even been born and pledged their allegiance to him. Janaan had grown up in Morlaya, never seeing her true home. Out of all the Excadians loyal to him, Arvil preferred Janaan. Although she was young, her mind and her skill were at the level of someone much more experienced and aged. Arvil sensed great promise in her.
"What do you have to report?" Arvil asked her in his deep, rough voice.
"The Council of Validor has just met," she told him. "Princess Aduan refused to attend."
"Indeed?" the Dark One King said. "I thought she might not."
"Could it be because she is in mourning for her father?" the Excadian asked.
Arvil nodded. "That and the fact that she does not think council meetings are important. She wishes to rule her land, but she has never been trained. She has been raised to live in comfort and have everything her heart desires. This is exactly the type of ruler I have been waiting for. One who will not stand against me, one who will not ruin my plans." He snorted. "As if anyone could!"
"Of course, my lord," Janaan said. "But it is rumored that Aduan has a strong will. There is a chance, however slight, that she may pose a threat to you."
"She is only human and, like every other being, below my hold on power."
"I still advise caution, my liege," she said. "Also, it may be advisable to send a few spies into Validor. Taon is going to start training the princess in what she needs to know in order to become queen. It may help us to know how she will accept it."
"A good suggestion, Janaan," Arvil said. "But why send a spy when I can go?"
In the blink of an eye, Arvil shifted from a Unicorn to a common crow. He jumped into the air and flew out the open window, heading to the land where the leaves were green.
* * *
Taon waited for Aduan in the office that had once been her father’s. He paced the room impatiently, several scrolls tucked under his arm. The princess had agreed to meet him here at nine o’clock, and she was an hour late.
At last the doors opened and Aduan walked in, dressed in a long flowing gown that was a bit too formal for the day. Her bronze hair grew to past her shoulders and had been left down. She had beauty of such magnitude that it had earned her the name Validor’s Treasure. Taon only wished that her spirit inside matched the outside.
"My lady," he said, bowing before her. "We had scheduled our meeting for nine."
"I am perfectly aware of that," she said. That statement told Taon that she did not care that she was late and wished to continue as if she had arrived on time, offering no excuse for her delay.
The princess seated herself at the large desk that had been her father’s and was now hers. She looked up at Taon, waiting for him to begin his speech.
"Your Highness," he said, "as you know, Arvil has sent out his warning of invasion, which means that the war we have dreaded for so long will soon be upon us. Now, if I may direct your attention to this map. . ."
He set the scrolls down on the desk and unrolled one in front of her. It was a map showing the lands of the world. "Validor is the only land that borders Morlaya. If we fall, then he can proceed to Excadious, and then Shaldothe, the land of Unicorns."
Aduan waved her hand impatiently. "Why do you bore me with these petty details?"
"They are not petty, Your Highness. If we do not find a way to stop Arvil, then the world that we know will be lost. Arvil will take over our lands and our lives. We will be slaves to his will, helpless, with no one to come to our aid. The time for action has come!"
Aduan leaned back in the large chair. "And what action would you suggest?"
"More intensive training of our army. Border patrols. Try sending a spy within Arvil’s domain."
The princess began to laugh. "Dear, dear, Taon," she said. "You really are wasting your time. People have been afraid of Arvil declaring war for over three centuries. If he hasn’t attacked by now, he never will."
"But, Your Highness—"
She slammed her hand down on the desk. "I will hear no more of this!"
Taon stepped back and bowed in apology.
"You are dismissed," the princess said.
"As you wish," he said. He gathered his scrolls, bowed again, then left the room, feeling frustration grow in his heart.
Neither Taon nor the princess had noticed the crow that had landed on the stone windowsill. Once the vizier left the room he took off, his cawing sounding much like laughter. And if anyone had paid attention to his direction of travel, they would have noticed that he was flying west to Morlaya.
* * *
When Taon emerged from the royal office, he noticed that Yeugh was standing in the hall waiting for him. "How did she respond?" the knight asked.
Taon sighed. "Exactly as I had expected."
Yeugh shook his head. "Regrettable."
"Yes, indeed," he said. "I do not know if I can accomplish what needs to be done in one month. There’s not enough time."
"There never is," the knight told him. "You must teach her what she needs to know and make her understand, or the Council will remove her from the throne."
"Never before in the history of Validor has that been done," Taon said.
"But the law states that the Council members have that right. We are both on the Council, Taon. I know you are very loyal to the princess because of her father. Although he was my friend, I will not keep Aduan on the throne if I don’t think she deserves it, even though she was the king’s daughter. The other members feel the same as I. If we do have to vote her off, I know of no one else but you who would hesitate to relieve the princess of her crown."
* * *
Later that day, Aduan went outside and sat on the bank of a small sparkling stream, protected from the sun by the shade of the sycamore tree behind her. She had removed her shoes and stockings and was dangling her small feet in the cool water. Red and yellow songbirds perched in the branches above her, their song light and sweet.
For a time, she was left alone. But soon Taon came out. Normally she hated any interruption of her pastime, but today she did not mind because she wanted to see him. She gestured for him to sit beside her. "A lovely day," she said.
"It is," he agreed.
"Taon, I have decided that next Sunday will be soon enough for my coronation."
Taon took a deep breath, preparing himself for whatever might come. "No, Your Highness," he said quietly.
Aduan recoiled as if she had been slapped. "What did you say?"
"No," he repeated.
"Is there something scheduled for that day?" she asked.
"Then why can’t I have my coronation?"
Taon sighed. "Because the Council did not approve it."
"Ugh," she said, irritated. "Why not?"
"For one thing, you did not attend the meeting."
"Taon, you know how meetings bore me."
"Meetings are a part of life, especially in the life of a queen," he told her. "The Council does not believe you are ready to assume the throne."
"They don’t have to," she said to him. "I am the rightful heir and therefore, the throne is mine. They cannot keep it from me."
He sighed. "According to the law, they can. And from what I have heard, they will not hesitate to do so."
Aduan leapt to her feet, not caring that the wet sand was sticking to her feet. "This is outrageous!"
Taon stood and faced her. "Nevertheless, neither one of us is above the law. You have one month to learn what you need and try to convince the Council that you are capable of assuming the throne and wearing the crown with dignity and grace. If, at the end of that time, they feel that you are ready, you will be crowned. However, if they feel that you are not ready, they will appoint a new ruler for our land."
"But what about you?" she asked. "Can’t you make them change their minds? After all, you are the highest ranked member of the Council."
He sighed. "I am only one member of the Council, not the Council itself. My vote does count, but we do not need a unanimous vote on anything, even on a matter as serious as this. The majority rules. You would know that if only you would study."
"Study? Is that all I have to do?"
Taon sighed again. "You have much to learn, for ruling a country is much more than that."
"What do you mean?"
"You must become a friend of the people, someone they feel that they can trust. You must know how to govern and command your country."
"Can’t you do that?" she asked.
He sighed. "I cannot do your job. No one but you can. And if you don’t, then the Council will remove you from power, and nothing in the universe can change that vote."
"Then I am going to pass a law," the princess declared. "No one, not even a member of the Validor Council, can vote me or any other ruler of Validor, off the throne."
"Your Highness, you cannot pass that law."
She put her hands on her hips. "And why not?"
"As I said, you would know these things if you would study. The reason you cannot pass that law is because all laws go through the Council. There is absolutely no way they will support it because it allows for a dictator to seize control. Also, you must be a queen before you can propose a law."
Aduan made a sound of irritation. "But how can I secure my place on the throne?"
"By learning what you need to. If you wish to learn, I shall be your teacher. But as I said, we only have one month, and that is barely enough time to accomplish anything."
Aduan sighed. "All right," she said. "I’ll do it."
Taon smiled at her, pleased by this first step. But it is only the first, he reminded himself. The question is, will she truly listen to what you have to say and apply it? Will she become a capable leader or have her throne taken away?