Chapter 1: Jian
To All People of Darium:
Last night, the night of the thirteenth of August, the prophets foresaw the coming of the next great royal family, fated in the stars. The government has decided to take immediate action. The prophets have hand selected twenty girls and twenty boys, between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, to attend the Academy of Igetis on scholarship. At the end of the coming school year, these forty students will take a final test, to decide where these students will be placed in the new royal government. As to adhere to fate, those chosen can not refuse to participate. A pension will be given to each family of 500 coins. Below is a list of those chosen and the dates they will be accompanied by the royal guard to the nearest port, as to begin their travel to the Academy of Igetis in Alstrati.
My eyes mused over the list, but I paused when I got to the last name on the list.
Jian Yi of Anno’s Cove – Twenty First of August
My hand began to shake and my stomach did somersaults- from excitement- from nerves- from fear- I don’t know. I reached my hands up to rip the paper from the pole. I really didn’t care if no one else saw this. It was only for me.
“What’s wrong?” Rou asked. I forgot I had been reading the paper aloud to her. I must have stopped.
I opened my mouth and closed it, but no words came out. My tongue felt like a useless flab of meat sitting in my mouth.
This couldn’t be happening. What would Mama and Rou do without me? I couldn’t just abandon them, but I had to. There was no backing out. It said that in the decree. I was bound to go to the Academy of Igetis and I doubted they- whoever they are- would let me flunk out when I got there. Even with the pension, five hundred coins would only last them so long.
I found my voice when Rou asked me again, “Jian, what’s wrong?”
“We need to go home.”
The words tumbled out of my mouth like someone else had put them there. With one had, I held tight to Rou’s. With the other, I gripped the royal decree.
I would be leaving in a week and stars-know when I would come back.
“So, you’re leaving on the twenty-first? Right?”
“And when will you come back?”
“I don’t know.”
“I can’t believe it.
“Neither can I.” I said. Mauri laughed, but I
don’t see what’s funny about it. I didn’t really believe that I would be gone
by tomorrow. I didn’t believe that I was training to become the king, even
though that’s all I had heard about in the past few days. I only had to sit
through a few more hours of the ‘Jian will be king talk’ before I would be gone
for good. Sitting through more sounded better than leaving. Along with me, Mama
couldn’t believe that I was leaving, either, so she kept repeating it under her
breath as she worked. “Jian? The
new king. Huh.” She tried to hide
it from me, but I could tell. On the other hand, Rou didn’t even find it
strange that I would be king. She simply wouldn’t shut up about it. “Will you make my princess when you become king?” She would ask. It was pointless to tell her that
I might not become king, because she wouldn’t listen. When I eventually said
yes, she wouldn’t stop talking about what pretty dresses she would wear and
what kingdoms she would destroy. Mauri just kept restating the same thing over
and over again. I think half of what she has said in the past days have been “I”,
“can’t” and “believe”.
“What do you need to get at the market again?”
Mauri asked. We always made our weekly trip to the market together. Thursday
afternoons were reserved for that. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t walk
to the market together. Mauri has been my neighbor and best friend for years.
When we were little we both walked to school together, since Mama didn’t want
me to go alone. We do everything together. She accompanies me when dropping off
Rou and when I have to pick up and deliver loads of laundry to Mama’s clients
(so Mama knows I haven’t been alone for longer than a half-second). I think I
might miss her the most, which really meant a lot, since she only insulted me
every other half-second.
“Just some rice.” I say.
“Just some rice. You always get some rice.”
Mauri teases. She always teases. I swear it’s her only talent.
“That’s what Mama says.” I tell her, already
knowing her response.
“You listen to your mother too much. You’ll
grow up not knowing how to do anything yourself.”
“And my mama trusts you?”
“Your mama trusts me, since she knows I’m able
to protect you if we were attacked. Without me you wouldn’t be breathing.”
“Oh shut up. If the butcher’s son were passing,
you would stop and stare at him and let me be beaten to a pulp.”
Mauri laughed, her face turning red with blush.
I had been teasing her about the butcher’s son, Mikeli, after I caught her
staring at him months ago. He used to be a grade above us in school and a jerk,
but I’m pretty sure Mauri had a crush on him then. Every girl did (
I might have had a small one also).
Just like Mauri wouldn’t let me here the end of
how amazing she was, I wouldn’t let her forget about Mikeli.
“Look there he is, Mauri.” I said, pointing
down the street. “Look at those muscles.” I don’t know if Mauri looked, but I
sure did. He had short blond hair and toned muscles. I would be lying if I
didn’t admit he wasn’t in the least bit attractive.
Mauri slapped my arm, rousing me from my
trance. “Jian, it looks like you’re paying attention to Mikeli more, than the
rice stand. You just passed it up.”
“Oops.” I said. She rolled her eyes at me, as
we walked to the rice stand.
“Could I have three pounds of rice?” I asked
the merchant. I watched as she weighed the rice and I paid her with nine silver
“How does it feel to have ordered rice for the
last time?” Mauri asked, as I followed her away from the stand.
I rolled my eyes at her. “I’ll order rice again,
Mauri.” I said, already knowing where this conversation was going. I didn’t
want one of my last conversations with Mauri to be about this. Everything had
been about this for the last week and I was already sick of it. I didn’t want
to have a whole year be dedicated to it. I wanted to hold onto my last piece of
normal for as long as I could and know even that was escaping from my
“A king does not order his own rice.”
“Mauri, I’m not going to be king.” I refuted.
“After this school year, I’ll figure out a way to come home. I’m not working
for the government.”
“Why not?” I said. “You, Rou, and Mama are
here. What reason is there not to be here?”
Mauri rolled her eyes at me- something she did
often when she was with me. “Jian, you don’t get it, do you?”
“No, I frankly don’t.”
“Well, you should.”
“What should I get?”
“If you are in the castle, making decisions,
you could cause so much change. You could stop the poverty here. You could fix
things. You can get better schools across the entire kingdom. You can make a
better life for everyone, including us. You can’t do that here. If you could-“
“But, I’m not going to be king, Mauri. I don’t
even want to talk about this, Mauri-“
“No. Jian. You can’t just run away from this.
The prophets choose you for a reason. I believe you can be king. I don’t care
if you won’t have us by your side. You have what matters- a good heart. You
have to start sharing it with others.” Mauri said.
She was probably right, but I didn’t want to
listen to her. I didn’t want to have to imagine a future without Mauri, or with
Rou, or without Mama. It was too hard to imagine a future any different from my
present. Getting Mama’s laundry orders with Mauri, bringing Rou to school,
cleaning around the house had become a reality I couldn’t imagine escaping
from. I used to dream plenty of things about my future. I wanted to be a
pirate, or a knight, or a king. I just wanted to be something else…
I guess, if I stay here, I would eventually
have had to get married- probably to Mauri. After all, everyone in Anno’s cove
was waiting until we announced our relationship to call it official. We would
have kids and she would become a fisherman, like her father, and I would
continue on my mother’s business of washing clothes. I would live in Anno’s
cove until the day I died.
Did I want that.
I didn’t want that.
I didn’t want to have to watch Mama work
herself to death. I didn’t want Rou to grow up as fast she already was. I
didn’t want to marry Mauri, as much as I didn’t want to imagine my life without
her. I didn’t want to be trapped here forever, looking back on my days and
regretting my decisions.
I didn’t want to settle for the life I had
handed to me.
“You’re right.” I admitted. “I’ll try my
“I knew you’d come around.” She grinned. “I
don’t think Rou would be able to forgive you if she doesn’t get her own private
palace. I don’t think I could forgive you either, if I were her.”
I laughed at the idea of Rou being a princess.
She barely had the manners to greet someone at the front door,.
“You’ll promise me, you’ll take care of Rou and
my mother? Mama won’t be able to clean as much laundry without me, delivering
the clothes. I don’t know where they’ll get their food.” I pleaded. I don’t
think I could leave them here, without knowing they wouldn’t go hungry.
“Do you think I’d let Rou and your Mama starve,
because you are not there?”
“You are a fool, Jian.”
“You say that a lot.”
“And for good reason.”