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.
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.