Fangline accepted Al’bert’s invitation, and looked forward to it, but something had changed within him since the day in the riding meadow and he began to feel pulled in two different directions.
Zedwig he had scarcely seen since then. Either the mage was subtly avoiding him, or Fangline was suddenly acutely aware of how little he actually ran into the Royal Chief Mage when left to circumstance. When they were in the same place at the same time, there was little more that occurred than brief eye contact, as if each was hesitant to allow adequate time, communication, or proximity to muddle their lives with anything more.
Instead of dwelling on it, Fangline prepared for the weekend’s travel, which took very little time, and practiced avoiding his aunt, who seemed to constantly want him to do something horribly boring. He really did dislike her. She was along the same vein as Sangwine and his father, which made Fangline the odd man out. He struggled with it, especially because he could remember a time when his mother lived and he belonged somewhere.
These days, most of what he did was avoid them all as much as possible.
The hour before his departure, Geeves knocked on his open door.
“Your Highness, something has been sent for you,” said the butler, handing him something wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
“Thank you, Geeves,” he replied, and Geeves departed.
Opening it, he discovered it was a book: Advanced Theories on Destruction. Within was a small note, written in a tidy, pleasant hand.
I took the liberty of assuming you might enjoy something to read on your trip.
Fangline was delighted. It was like giving a man who loves shoes a cobblery or a man who loves food a buffet. He wanted to read it immediately, but time didn’t allow for it, so instead he set himself to wondering why his Aunt Ellinya couldn’t be so in tune with what he desired to learn to educate him like this? For all of his life, Fangline had always been told what to do. He’d never once been asked what he wanted to do. From the earliest he’d been told he’d be king; there was no alternative whether he wanted the job or not. What they wanted from him was to be an exact copy of his father, who was a copy of his father, and so on. Fangline wasn’t the sort who wanted to be anything but what he was. Zedwig offered him more than the mage realized. He gave him freedom, and for the first time the prince began to feel like an individual with purpose.
He wanted to scratch the entire trip and go find Zedwig most of all, but decided he should probably read the book first. To the Fromage estate it was.
The countryside was pleasant, and he passed it by on a gray and black horse that was one of his favorites. During the time it took to reach the fairly remote estate of Al’bert’s, he contemplated and surmised a theory on the strange anomaly of magic between himself and the chief mage, promising himself he’d bring it to Zedwig as soon as he returned home.
Riding to the front of the estate, Al’bert and Camilla were outside on the grass; both languidly busy with Al’bert throwing pebbles into the pond that mirrored their estate and a large chunk of blue sky. Camilla was wearing a light, airy thing that made her seem fresh and perfect for young summer and as he dismounted he was quite convinced the smile she wore was very genuine.
The greetings between friends were light and effortless; the world became sky and meadow and free will for the next hours that passed until dinnertime.
At the table, no expense was spared in impressing the prince with the fashionable nature of the Fromage estate. They ate, they talked, and very little of substance was taken in either mode.
Late that night, Al’bert came to find Fangline reading in his room.
“What is this? You’ve become bookish in my brief absence?” Al’bert asked, a grin upon his face, as Fangline looked somewhat startled at his friend’s entrance.
“A little,” conceded Fangline, leaning back in the comfortable chair he occupied. Al’bert, falling into an adjoining chair, inspected the cover of the book from behind.
“Advanced Theories on Destruction,” said Al’bert. “Now it makes a lot more sense. Although, it’s awfully thick.”
“It’s easy reading,” said Fangline.
“Sure it is,” said Al’bert, leaning back his chair and propping his feet on a footstool. “From whence did you pick that up?”
“The Chief Mage,” he replied, nose still buried in book.
“Zedwig?” asked Al’bert, although there was no reason for Fangline to answer, since they both knew the answer to that, so he continued to read. “I didn’t even know the elven mages use destructive magic. At all.”
“They don’t,” replied Fangline.
“Actually, isn’t it sort of outlawed?” Al’bert said, in a meandering way.
“Magery isn’t my strong suit, but I could have sworn I’d heard that somewhere.”
“So is glamour,” replied Fangline dryly, glancing around the book at his friend.
“At least glamour is nearly impossible to prove,” said Al’bert, leaning back in his chair and not in the least disturbed by the lawlessness of his blood relatives. “Destructive magic, well, blows up things.”
“Does it ever,” grinned Fangline.
“What, you’ve seen it?” Al’bert asked, sitting up with interest.
“Just a little,” he replied, and he began to say something else, then stopped.
“What?” prodded Al’bert, who was very good at knowing when to press Fangline and when to leave him alone.
Fangline put the book on his lap, marking the place with a finger. He glanced sidelong at Al’bert.
“I talked Zedwig into trying it.”
“The Royal Chief Mage?” Al’bert exclaim-asked, then laughed. “Well, you don’t exactly beat around the bush, do you? How in the blazes did you manage to talk him into doing something that is entirely against everything our country stands for?”
“It shouldn’t be,” said Fangline in a somewhat brooding way.
“Well, it is,” said Al’bert. “Zedwig could be, no he would be discharged immediately for that, or maybe even thrown in the gaol! Or both!”
Al’bert thought about it for a moment.
“Well, at the least he’d be severely reprimanded,” he said plainly.
“What is the matter with our society that we are so obsessed with remaining peaceful that we fail to learn the most basic offensive abilities?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” said Al’bert. “We do learn sword mastery and that sort of thing.”
“Sure, to use for defensive purposes only,” said Fangline irritably.
Al’bert sighed back into his chair over his friend’s dark mood.
“Schloeffelonia is just what it is. It’s been run by the Schloeffels for thousands of years, and they are pacifists,” said Al’bert.
“Not all of us,” rejoined Fangline.
“I wonder if they’ll beat it into you eventually,” said Al’bert with a grin.
“They will not,” he replied.
“Then what will happen when you are king?” asked the Comte.
“Perhaps we should think in terms of if I become king,” said Fangline.
Al’bert turned a curious, if not slightly alarmed, eye on the prince.
“Do tell me what you are talking about,” he said.
Fangline glanced away to the window, dark and empty, and only showing the dim reflection of the two lamps within his room. He drew a breath.
“It’s always been obvious to me that Father favors Sangwine over me,” said the prince, bitterness in his voice. “It is Sangwine he wants to be the king. It is Sangwine who is just like him. It is Sangwine who does everything exactly how they should be done; like a Schloeffel… and not like me. I am not one of them.”
“Then you’ll rule in a different way,” said Al’bert. “All you have to do is bide your time.”
“It isn’t just that,” said Fangline restlessly. “It’s everything. I can hardly stand to live there anymore.”
“At times I simply wish for an end to the entire Schloeffel line,” Fangline said quietly. “A clean start. The old wiped entirely out of existence. Only then could it truly change.”
“What?” Al’bert asked, shocked by the concept. “You don’t honestly believe that?”
“I wonder sometimes,” he said. “I don’t think I could ever really be king, not with my aunt looking over my shoulder, or Sangwine ever-present, fretting over details. That wouldn’t be being king. That would be being a trained animal.”
“It sounds lousy when you put it that way,” said Al’bert. “But then again, you would be the most powerful man in the entire country. That isn’t all bad, is it?”
“I’m just not sure I want it on those terms.”
“Then what are you going to do?” asked Al’bert. “Relinquish the inheritance to Sangwine?”
“I don’t know,” said Fangline darkly, obviously disturbed by the idea of relinquishing anything to his brother.
There was a long moment in which each of them sat quietly in their own swirling reveries. Al’bert broke the silence first.
“Well,” he said, rising. “I’ll let you resume your studies, but remember we’re going hawking early.”
“Of course,” replied Fangline.
“And when you take over all of Schloeffelonia after murdering your family, make sure to call yourself ‘Overlord of Darkness’,” grinned Al’bert. “It’d just fit.”
Fangline chuckled as Al’bert left like a shadow.