At sixteen years of age, Jaron Artolius Eckbert III claimed victory in a war launched against Carthya. A year later, he would go on to marry his great love, Imogen, but the events of this story describe some of what happened during that missing year.
One may ask, how is the great King Jaron described by those who know him?
The answer rarely includes the word “great,” unless the word to follow is “fool,” though I have also heard “disappointment,” “frustration,” and “chance that he’ll get us all killed.”
There are other answers, of course.
“He was born to cause trouble, as if nothing else could make him happy.” My nursemaid said that, before I was even four years of age. I still believe her early judgments of me were unfair. Other than occasionally climbing over the castle balconies, and a failed attempt at riding a goat, what could I have possibly done to make her say such a thing?
My childhood tutor: “Jaron has a brilliant mind, if one can pin him down long enough to teach him anything he doesn’t think he already knows. Which one rarely can.”
It wasn’t that I thought I already knew everything. It was that I had already learned everything I cared to know from him, and besides, I didn’t see the importance of studying in the same way as my elder brother, Darius. He would become king. I would take a position among his advisors or assume leadership within our armies. My parents had long abandoned the idea of me becoming a priest, at the tearful request of our own priest, who once announced over the pulpit that I “belonged to the devils more than the saints.”
To be fair, I had just set fire to the pulpit when he said it. Mostly by accident.
My mother loved me, and so did my father, though I frequently upset him with my inability to live up to Darius’s example. That’s why I had to be sent away at age ten, to save my father embarrassment while I was molded into a proper prince overseas.
I had no intention of becoming a proper anything, but I left willingly and for one reason above all others: I no longer wished to be the subject of so many conversations.
If only life were that simple.
Soon after my ship launched across the Eranbole Sea, pirates attacked and the ship was lost. I was presumed dead, which was a surprise to me since I considered myself very much alive. The second surprise came after my father found me in Avenia. Rather than bring me home, he asked that I remain missing, preserving our small country of Carthya from having to go to war.
And so I became Sage the orphan, certain no one would ever speak of me again.
Yet they did.
Mrs. Turbeldy, the mistress of the Orphanage for Disadvantaged Boys, called me a liar and a thief. I resented the insult. Lying was beneath me.
Master Bevin Conner, the man who took me from the orphanage with a plan to install an orphan boy as a false prince on the throne, called me a devil prince. That may be true enough, but what he didn’t know was that I was the true prince, now to become king since Conner had killed my parents and brother, hoping to overthrow the kingdom.
Two other boys competed against me in the plot to become the false prince. Tobias believed me to be uneducated, and perhaps compared to him, I was. Roden believed himself to be a superior swordsman, and in that, he was mistaken, though I have yet to convince him of that fact.
Conner’s servant, Mott, became my trusted friend and most reliable companion in battle. No doubt he had plenty to say about me, though most of his cursings against me were well deserved.
And then there was Imogen, the one person who always saw me for who I truly was. Not as a prince, or as an orphan who too often caused trouble, or even as a fool. She simply saw me. Though we’re both still young, I hope to marry Imogen one day.
It took a near revolution, a defeat of the pirate king, war, more than a few near-death experiences, and one poorly conceived jump over a cliff, but eventually Carthya was at peace.
Now I am king, known as the Ascendant King of Carthya. The title is a great honor. But since I have never held on to a kind word about me for more than a few months, change is certainly coming.
And when it comes, if the worst I am called is a “great fool,” I will be very relieved.
For the past several months, my country of Carthya had been at peace. Imogen and I were happier than ever, our enemies were at bay, and the closest thing I had to a mortal wound was a bruise on my thigh from when I’d bumped into my own throne last month.
In other words, I was bored.
I was also irritable, restless, and, according to Imogen, the sole reason we’d gone through eight cooks in the last month. Nine, if we counted the one who ran out crying before we’d even offered her the position. That was only half of my recent failings. I had yet to fully explain to Imogen why the Carthyan flag appeared to have been torn free from the center spire of the castle.
For those reasons, when Imogen had ducked her head into my meeting with the regents three weeks ago, suggesting we go on a trading mission to Bymar, servants had actually come running into the throne room to see what all the commotion was. There was no commotion, only me doing a literal somersault across the meeting table and frightening Mistress Kitcher so much that she leapt away and lost her wig. Hence all the screaming. Mine, not hers.
Three days after that, to the relief of a significant percentage of the Carthyan population, we had set sail for Bymar, where Amarinda was born and raised. She had been a princess there and betrothed to the throne of Carthya, which originally meant she was intended to marry my brother Darius. After his death, the task fell to me, but since Amarinda would have rather married a mossy rock, we broke the arrangement. She and Tobias were now betrothed, as were Imogen and I, and all was well.
The voyage had been an enormous success, an advantage to all parties, and now, a little over two weeks later, we were headed home as guests of the Avenian pirates aboard the Red Serpent, a small but comfortable cog ship. It felt right to be going home, though I already dreaded what awaited me. More meetings, more formal suppers. More routine.
With only three days left in our journey, I was spending the waning hours of sunlight studying Bevin Conner’s old journal. I had read through
it dozens of times since his death, always searching for a better understanding of his twisted motives and corrupted sense of heroism.
Conner had clearly specified the items that were to be passed along to his heirs, but as he had none, the items had stayed with me. Imogen wanted all his former possessions destroyed. She believed they were holding me too much in the past, but I felt there was more to be learned from them. Particularly his journal.