Nate's eye hasn't moved from the Crown Prince Fyren and Soc. My hope that he would be fun disappears with every mouthful he takes of the urchin secretion.
The footman finally appears with my glass of juice. Its got straws and a teddy bear on a stick in it. Seriously, anyone would think I was five. I wish I was five because then Dad would have spared me this awful evening. I'd be tucked up in bed being read a story by Bessie, my nanny. That would have been preferable to this crap. Bessie’s now the palace housekeeper and we're not allowed to speak anymore.
“All rise,” yells my Uncle Fred. He's wearing his dress Soaring Warrior uniform of shiny leather and sparkling buttons. There's a bugle in his hand.
We all get to our feet. Nate is still mumbling about Soc and Crown Prince Fyren.
“His Majesty, King Lorenzo the second of Covesea Island and Associated Territories. His Highness, Crown Prince Socrates.” Uncle Fred places the bugle to his lips and sounds the King's Blast.
Massive arched shaped walnut doors are opened by two young warriors in their dress uniform.
Dad stands erect and three paces behind him Soc has his head bowed as convention demands. When he is in the presence of the monarch he must show that he defers power to him.
The band in the corner starts playing the Royal March. Dad and Soc walk in time to the music, down the length of the hall to the seats in the centre of the top table. As usual, they have the timing perfect. I’ve never been able to get the rhythm right and I’m always in trouble when I have to take part in a procession.
Dad stands in front of his throne, it's big and gold with claret velvet cushions. He raises his arms. “Tonight enjoy the hospitality of Covesea Island with food created by our internationally renowned chefs; accompanied by the alcohol we are famous for and served with dedication by my servants. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we must talk about matters serious in nature.” He sits down.
Soc sits down.
"All may now be seated," Uncle Fred shouts.
All of us obey the order.
To Soc's right is Crown Prince Fyren who moves a little closer to my brother and smiles at him – a smile that holds a warmth I cannot describe. A smile that I am sure makes Nate grab his drink and drain it.
Next to my dad is my sister's husband, The President of Cycloneica. He talks to my dad and Dad responds politely. Dad's face is tense but it could be the pain from his wound.
My sister is sitting next to her husband, wearing sea-green, the colour that the Queen of Covesea Island would wear. She is flirting with an incredibly fat man in military uniform. I think it's the dress uniform of The Covesea Island Consort's Guard. We don’t have a consort so they don’t come to the palace very often.
My sister is perfect, elegant and never puts her calculating little feet in any kind of mire. When she catches sight of me her nose wrinkles like she's smelt a dog turd and her mouth purses like a cat's arse that has recently sucked on a lemon.
I stick a tongue out at her. Flash. I pull it back in and pray I haven't been caught on camera. It's a good bet they caught my action but not hers; the press adore our beautiful princess who brought prosperity to the island with her marriage. Her expression sours further like she's spotted a maggot in the turd.
The expression of distaste vanishes as she turns back to the fat soldier she's trying to get into bed. My sister's a total slut and will sleep with anyone who can advance her in someway. It amazes me that the media take issue with the way I pick my nose but they don't care about her dalliances.
My stomach rumbles. I haven't eaten since breakfast. To distract myself, I pick up my butter knife and use it to engrave a picture of a bird into the napkin. It's a bird of prey and not my greatest work. The napkin is linen so Dad will be in a full lava flow if I use the pen in my pocket. There's a flash from a camera and I put the knife down in case it's aimed at me.
“Bastard, bastard, bastard." He throws his drink back and drains the glass. Although his mutterings are under his breath there is anger in them. Nate's eye never leaves my brother.
Crown Prince Fyren has .his hand under the table and it looks like it might be in Soc's lap.
“Socrates loves you.” The last thing I want is the only stable couple in my life breaking up. “Nate, there is nobody else.”
“Except the twenty million other people he’s Crown Prince to. He'll do anything to make sure these talks go right.” Nate clicks his fingers. “And Fyren has wanted to get his hands on Soc since we were teenagers. Valet, I want more to drink. Now!”
Crown Prince Fyren produces a black bottle and pours red liquid into Socrates glass.
Usually Dad moderates Soc's alcohol consumption at these events. He’s allowed two glasses of wine.
Soc looks at Dad. Dad nods.
Flames flicker, reflecting off the gold rims of the plates, the crystal glasses and the gold cutlery. Heavily scented floral arrangements are arranged round the diamond encrusted candelabras in the centre of the tables. The room is decorated in the manner of a bygone era, back to a time when the Covesea Island royal family could afford the opulence. One of those diamonds would feed the blackmailing kid for a year and give Ursula a decent place to live. These banquets are a ridiculous waste of time and money.
Over a hundred eyes are watching me, the son of the king, being shown to his seat by a footman. He's dressed in the black uniform of the lowest servants. Well the lowest servants allowed out in public anyway. There is a rumour that there others that do more menial tasks that wear brown but I've never been allowed to meet one.
Flash. Flash. Flash. Cameras and phones take pictures of my every step. I'm tempted to do what I usually do and stick a finger up at them, but Dad’s wound worries me and I don’t want to make his stress levels worse tonight. Instead I retreat into an imaginary world. Earth. It’s the planet from the franchise of books that grandfather made it a capital offence to read, a place where other people are princes and where nobody cares about Prince Angus, the geeky son of King Lorenzo II of Covesea Island. The trouble is the Angus I imagine in that world would stick his finger up and its not helping with my desire to do so.
“Your seat, Your Highness.” The servant dressed in the dullest grey bows and pulls my chair out. His outfit marks him out as being of a level considered able to touch items that members of the royal family may interact with.
He coughs and looks around nervously then. Once he’s sure nobody heard me, he takes my beret and disappears into the darkened edges of the banqueting hall. It makes him uncomfortable that I know his name. Servants and princes aren't allowed to interact. I doubt Dad would actually carry out the death sentence because I knew his name. My grandfather would have.
I sit down. The rest of my family will sit at the top table. As the wife of the President of Cycloneica even my sister receives that honour. My position several places down one of the side tables makes my point more clearly than any words – I’m surplus to requirements. That’s official.
“Sir Nathaniel Smith,” a footman I don't know makes the pointless introduction.
“Nate.” My grin is genuine. With Nate sitting next to me this evening might not go so badly.
“Hey, Titch.” He and Soc started calling me that when I grew considerably taller than both of them. We embrace warmly. He winks at me with his good eye. The other is covered with the coolest eye patch, it’s crocheted with sparkles through it. He becomes distracted by the top table. “Did Socrates organise the seating?” The tone of his voice is harsh. Automaton-like he hands his gloves and hat to his valet who has stepped out of the dark to care for his needs.
“He's pretty much organised everything with Dad being injured.”
“I know – he's badly hurt. Don't think he should be doing this.” I wish I hadn’t brought it up because Dad had been trying to hide it even from us. As a prince I'm useless, I can't even keep official secrets.
“I didn't mean your dad, I meant my so-called lover. He's a shit.” He allows the footman to help him sit. “I'll have an urchin secretion.” Nate’s attention never wavers from the top table and a man with flickering blue skin on the top table – a barbarian.
Barbarians have to have special permission to visit Seatown and I have never been granted permission to leave so I don’t meet too many.
This one looks bizarre with his flame-shaped ears and hair all the colours of a roaring fire complete with a dusting of coal. Maybe the coal dust isn't natural it could be a gel--I guess. Oh by the Universal Father in whom I do not believe this is like when Socrates gets me admiring his arse now I'm wondering about hair gel. I run my hands through my hair. Dad insisted I combed it and when it wouldn't obey the laws of nature he had Gilbert scrape it back into a pony tail. Its never seen a drop of hair gel. "Who is he?"
“Crown Prince Fyren of Scortia.” His anger hasn’t lessoned. “Don't let me drink too much.”
A footman pours the bright tropical sea coloured liquid into the glass that Nate is holding up.
In hope he will fill it I hold mine out. Getting drunk may help this evening go well as it looks like Nate is going to be poor company and they have yet to sit anyone on my other side.
“I'll get your seaberry juice, Your Highness.” The footman bows and disappears. Clearly, he hasn't forgotten I am only sixteen and that the king doesn't allow me to drink.
“I've never seen a firefolk before.” I'm struggling to draw my eyes away from the engaging Prince Fyren “That's South of Covesea isn't it?” Geography has never been my strong point. I like science.
“Yes. Too bloody close for my liking.” He downs the secretion and hods his glass out for a refill. "He's had his eye on my Socrates for years."
“Lady Aya Luis.” A footman announces. He goes to take her shawl...
...but she pulls it further round herself. “No thank you. I am not permitted to uncover.”
She reminds me of my girlfriend with her cherry-red hair and aquamarine almond-shaped eyes, but she’s much older than Bea because her hair is going light pink in places. For a lady who must be at least middle-aged she is strikingly pretty.
“I can manage thank you, Sir. I am not permitted to engage with males.” Her head remains bowed throughout our interaction and she sits down. I’ve never seen a person hunch so much before. Her attempts to make herself inconspicuous make her stand out more.
My brother swans into the study.
“Thanks, Soc, son. I couldn't manage without you.”
“Everything is done. Delegates accommodated, food ready to be served and alcohol is oiling the wheels.” He smiles and approaches me. “Hey, Titch. Looking good.”
“Yeah right. Not even you could look good in this thing.” We embrace. For all our differences he's not a bad big brother and I almost like him.
He punches my arm. “Idiot.”
Since I was a small child it has been our “code” for you’re not forgiven but you will be soon. The force of the blow indicates he's more than a little pissed at me.
“What was that for? I’ve not done anything to you.” I rub where the bruise is forming.
“For Litae's sake! I didn't hit you that hard. It's for worrying Dad -- again. He's been sick with panic half of the day and a good portion of the Soaring Warriors have been out searching for you.” He picks up my burgundy beret. I hate it, because it looks like a bloody turd on my head. With his usual flair Soc arranges it as reasonably as it can be arranged. He smiles with satisfaction.
The smile would get on my tits if I had any. It was so smug and superior. I rearrange it. It doesn't look anywhere near as good but at least Soc didn't do it.
“Dad? What? Shit?" we both say together.
He's sat on his desk with his tunic off and holding his undershirt up and his shorts and leggings are partly down.
Gilbert is unwinding a cotton bandage.
“I was shot earlier. Consequences of escaping my guards in an attempt to find you.” His face contorts in pain as Gilbert lifts the bandage off the wound “Ahh … all that is good... on this...” He catches my eye and stops.
I guess he was about to swear. I've never heard Dad swear before. He hates it when I do.
“Loren, this is nasty it really needs a doctor's care.” Gilbert continues to clean up the wound. "It's beyond my abilities."
“I have to attend the banquet and the talks. A doctor will insist I don't. There isn't another King Lorenzo the second and I can't delegate this. Just patch me up and pump me full of painkillers.”
“I can clean it up, but...” Gilbert opens his make up bag and takes out his first aid kid. “Loren, at least let me phone Dr Falmouth.”
“It's Your Majesty in this instance. Just do as I order you. Ahh.” He closes his eyes. “Angus, promise me you won't escape your guards again.”
“I won't, Dad,” I whisper it but my fingers are crossed behind my back. Although I don't want Dad hurt, I can't promise to stay in my prison without escaping occasionally.
Soc places his arm round me. He's transfixed by Dad's wound and his face is full of concern. “Dad, maybe you should see a doctor. I'll preside over tonight and you get some rest."
"No!" Dad shouts. "By all that is good on this planet I need to do this. I'm not willing to put either of you boys in danger."
As I've been writing Angus, Imagine Dragons have provided the sidetrack. This song was used for this scene:
“Well that's easy the twenty million always come before me.”
He sighs. Dad is the king of sighs. Sighs is one of the associated territories in his signature. “Angus, you know that's not true.” He turns the PC POCKET over in his hand. “Is this the one you wrote the algorithms for?”
I nod. Although I'm secretly quite proud of the PC POCKET, I don't want Dad knowing how much it means to me. He can't know that I'm missing it already.
“Professor Laurence was impressed with your work. It’s a shame you can't show that side of your nature more frequently.” He goes over to the desk and puts my PC POCKET in a drawer. “It can stay here until your attitude improves.”
I'm saved from uttering something I would probably be made to regret by a knock on the door.
“Enter.” Dad stands up and winces. He places his hands on the desk and closes his eyes, for a pain filled moment, before plastering a smile back on his face.
I want to ask him what’s wrong, but Sir Gilbert Phinn, Dad's valet comes in. He holds two garment bags in one hand and his make up case in the other. “I've brought the young prince's uniform as well. He is still going?”
“He's not getting out of it that easily.” Dad takes one of the garment bags and hangs it on the empty bookcase behind his desk.
Empty bookcases were a feature in many island homes. They used to hold books until my grandfather went nuts and said the books were whispering to him. The ones in his study were the first to go. He reckoned all history would rot our brains and had every book in the kingdom burned; although Dad had rescinded grandfather’s rules, those writers that hadn’t been killed were a scared bunch these days and the dull state sponsored texts my grandfather had commissioned still dominated book sales on Covesea Island.
“Your Highness.” Gilbert's ebony eyes sparkle with humour and he bows whilst holding out my garment bag.
Reluctantly I stand up and take it. “I'd rather be whipped.” I hang mine on another empty bookcase on the other side of the room. Slowly, so I can postpone the inevitable I lower the zip on the garment bag. “This is torture, wicked, evil, undeniable torture. Pulling my finger nails out with pliers would be preferable.”
“Angus, just get on with it. Or I'll confiscate the phone permanently.” Dad pulls his white undershirt over his head. “You're not a baby. Get dressed and do your duty.” Again he pulls a face.
“Sir.” It takes some effort not to sarcastically bow or salute or something. Instead I pout at the turquoise monstrosity that I am expected wear. I remove my jeans and take off my Skuas t-shirt, The Skuas are my favourite band but Dad hates them. He blames their influence for my attitude towards duty.
Like Dad I start with the undershirt. Mine is pale grey and it always looks grubby next to his bright white. The leggings with a stripe down them come next. “Just what I need – longer looking legs.”
“Angus… please.” Dad has his emerald-green tunic on, the gold falcon on his chest is glinting in the evening sunlight that is streaming through the glass doors that give access to the grounds. “Tonight is no picnic for me either. And quite frankly I'm too worried to deal with your crap. Gil, have you got painkillers?”
Gilbert holds out some tablets and a glass of water.
“Well let me go to my room.” My turquoise tunic comes down to my thighs. I pull a face and check it in the full length mirror by Dad's desk. The leggings are already riding up and I grab hold of the material and yank them out of my crack. Tugging at the neck of the tunic helps me feel like I'm creating room for my body.
There's a loud smack. I turn. Dad has smashed his hand down on the desk. “Angus, for Litae's sake, just behave. A few hours that's all I'm asking for.”
“Yeah. Let's guess twenty million people's lives are riding on me being a good little boy?”
“It bothers me you don't seem to care.” He holds his arms up so Gilbert can attach his sword belt.
I turn my head so I can't see. It's the same sword I watched my grandfather use to dispatch people he didn't like and I don't understand why Dad persists in wearing. “Why do you wear that thing?”
“Loren, maybe I should check the wound?” Gil's voice is one of concern. "Let me see it?"
Dad shakes his head. “I'm fine. Just fine.” He manoeuvres round the desk and sits in his chair. “Just need to sit down for a bit.” The beady eye of the falcon on the front of his tunic peers at me over the top of the desk. When my grandfather wore me it terrified me but now it just accuses me.
A night of blood, mayhem and magic thrust Prince Angus, the youngest son of the king, onto the throne of Covesea Island. He's never wanted to be king. Social media calls King Angus a clown. His subjects don't rate his ability to lead them in the trade negotiations with one of the planet's superpowers.