Chapter Two – Glory to the Crown Prince
When quiet was restored to the tower, High Priest Yanve laid a hand on the prince’s shoulder. “Kneel, my faithful child. It is time that we began the ceremony.”
Loracaz descended onto his knees, facing the altar and his family. For awhile, all that he could hear were his own movements and his shallow, uneven breaths. He tried to focus on keeping his breaths steady as relaxed his body on his heels. Then Liriel’s hand brushed over his shoulder. She reached her delicate hands around him to release the clasp of his cape, and he breathed in her scent. Some days, she was the only one who could help him focus his thoughts, to forget about the pressures of duty and obligation. Lately, only she was able to quell his tension, the urgent need to end his people’s suffering that troubled his mind.
Loracaz opened his eyes to see his family lighting the first of the candles that covered the altar. As his brother followed the empress and emperor to drop incense onto the embers within the jade-encrusted copper censer. He remained kneeling as the footsteps of many elves passed by on either side of him. He did not have to look up to know who they were; tradition began the coronation with the lighting of candles and incense by the nobility. Everyone from ruler to village leader, even those visiting from other kingdoms, would walk past the prince to bless his ascension by lighting another candle.
The more nobles that passed by, the more the altar glowed with the flames of the green and yellow candles. They gave off an aura so bright that it seemed as though the goddess herself were present. Being that the tower had always been where the legendary kingdom initiated its rulers, it was sanctioned as sacred ground by the Temple of Jenh, and it was a place where she would always be safe and welcome.
After a while, a hand was rested upon Loracaz’s shoulder, and he glanced up to see who it was. A Jzamneh elf– an ambassador from one of the forest tribes– stood smiling down at him. Loracaz know that the people of Jzamneh forest were the only ones who could compete with Onsira in their love for the elemental goddess. They fervently supported the prince’s wish to remove the Temple of Métius from Onsira and end the period of imperialism.
The ambassador offered him a reassuring expression before tucking a lock of bright hair, lavender with strands of yellow, behind his long ear and moving along. Loracaz could tell that he was worried despite wanting to appear glad, Jzamneh elves, like their fae brethren, were known for their whimsical nature, but this one had a serious air that was unlike any of his people.
Once the nobles had completed their blessings, High Priest Yanve held his hand out for Loracaz. “Rise, my child. It is time that you offer your own prayers to Jenh.”
Loracaz accepted Yanve’s hand and rose slowly. He approached the altar and gazed through the smoke and light to the shrine beyond it. It was as ancient as his kingdom, made rare forest-green marble that shone with veins of gold and crystal. Jenh’s image was carved at its center, true to the size of the physical form she took on Lorata, assuming the legends were correct: about two meters tall, perhaps a little less.
She was surrounded by each of her ten elementals, their carvings done much smaller, each one about the size of two hands. There were two more areas that were only partially worked, representing those stolen from her by the Demon King. Each elemental held a medallion that gleamed with a supernatural sparkle, a sheen too fine to be the reflection of any natural metal. These were one of the kingdom’s greatest treasures, one of few holy relics in the world not safeguarded by a temple: the crests of the elementals, the Zeah Medallions.
Whichever deity had control of a medallion had control of its elemental. Any mortal who desired access to their power owed allegiance to the god above them. All across Manataecies, it was known that without Loracaz I, all of the elementals would have been lost to Métius, and Jenh would have died slowly, drained of her magical being. Therefore, he had been entrusted with the shrine and the medallions within it.
Excepting Emperor Z’Lé and Zarrek, as well as the few sorcerers who had come, nobody who possessed even a single dark spell had been allowed into the tower. In order to safeguard Jenh’s treasures, it had been blessed millennia ago so that only those of royal blood could open the doors, and so that no being with a heart of darkness could pass through them. Short of being aided by the royal family, there was no way for any follower or beast of Métius to steal the medallions and corrupt Jenh’s power.
High Priest Yanve handed Loracaz a match, which he then used to light the three wicks of the wide candle that awaited him at the center of the altar. The wax had been embellished with complex designs, including the royal emblem, and had been specially made with layers of yellow and green. He stepped back, and took a handful of incense as he closed his eyes. The grains felt like crumbled pebbles in his hand, their shapes familiar and comforting to him; he had made countless offerings to Jenh before that day, joining in the rituals at the temple alongside Liriel.
Every man and woman in the hall fell silent when a bard lifted his flute to his lips to play the complex notes that melted together into a song of devotion, and Loracaz began his silent prayer. He offered a pinch of the incense with each pause in the music, as though in a subtle harmony with the tune, and the mellow aroma of its smoke wrapped around his body. By some trick of the light, it seemed to glow with the goddess’s colors and merge with his aura. Those watching him would later sweat that they had seen Jenh herself surrounding him, as though she had come to bless his coronation.
When his hand was empty of the final grain of incense and the bard’s song ended, Loracaz opened his eyes. Each medallion in the shrine was glowing with the colors of its crest, signifying that Jenh had heard his prayers. High Priest Yanve approached the shrine and touched a panel below the image of the goddess.
“Holy mother of our world, I ask that you release your seal upon this door and allow us to anoint for you a prince, destined to be king of the First Kingdom.” Respectful and profound, a deep sense of patience filled the high priest’s aged voice.
Then High Priestess Liriel joined him, laying her hand over his.
“Mother of all Lorata,” she began, her every word perfect and graceful, “caretaker of all life, I have come to ask for the crown meant for Onsira’s prince, and your sanction that I may one day descend from the temple to rule by his side.”
Few clergy ever asked for such sanction, but it was a necessary part of the coronation if they ever wanted to leave the temple and remain in the goddess’s good graces. Only those joining the royal family ever went through such high ceremony to leave their duties, and since Liriel already knew that she wanted to spend her life with Loracaz, his coronation was was an auspicious time to do it. She would still be expected to keep all of her vows until it she had taken the Kuetzarrin rites with him, but that day was not far off.
The glow around the shrine brightened, then channeled into the image of Jenh. With a soft sound, like the shifting of stone, the panel loosened from, and the temple leaders lowered it like the opening of a castle drawbridge. The release was a sign of approval, an indication that Loracaz had the goddess’s blessing, as did Liriel.
Inside the shrine was an open space, like that of a cabinet, in which the crowns were kept. They laid on velvet cushions, covered by silk scarves similar to Jenh’s: swirls of varying shades of yellow and green. similar to those depicted with Jenh in her images. Two of the cushions were empty, their crowns having already been given to the king and queen. On either side of those were the smaller, less-adorned crowns of the prince and princess. Onsira had not had a female heir since Arialla had given up her tiara to succeed her aging mother, and there it would remain until Liriel was ready for it.
Yanve pulled back the silk that covered the circlet that Loracaz would wear. Nested with it was a medal, a star formed by twelve diamond-shaped pieces that fit perfectly together, some gold, some silver, some bronze, and others emerald. It hung from a wide ribbon of silk that was dyed to a deep green to contrast with the shine of the metals. Yanve picked up the medal first, then laid in Liriel’s hands with a bow. She walked around to the front of the altar and smiled to her beloved.
“Loracaz,” she said to him, “with this medal, I grant you the rights to the crown. Wear it with pride, for it is the first symbol that you shall bear as Onsira’s heir.”
“I shall treasure it always, my beloved,” he replied, and lowered his head to allow Liriel to place the ribbon around his neck. He had only a moment to admire its gleam before she spoke again.
“Give me your ring, my dear Loracaz.”
With a nod, Loracaz pulled the platinum band from the ring finger of his right hand. It had become tight around his skin, and having the air tingle around it in its absence gave him an odd feeling. He placed it in the priestess’s hand, and she turned towards the thrones, looking directly at Zarrek.
“Zarrek, come to me and accept your ring.”
Her were gentle, though they left her tongue reluctantly. She had often discussed with the empress and Yanve whether a boy who visited the temple of any deity besides Jenh should be given the chance to one day govern Onsira. It had been in vain; never had Zarrek spoken against Jenh, nor did he openly promote the path of Métius. Although he practiced the dark ways, he had not spoken of them as superior, and officially his position was a movement towards unity. He had as much right to his heritage as Loracaz did, according to Onsiran law.
The lad stood from his seat, smiling calmly, and stepped towards Liriel. She gazed at him, impressed by how regally he carried himself, and by the strength and confidence that he bore. His noble airs were like those of a dragon: unrelenting and fierce in the face of any who dared to doubt or defy him, yet careful and patient when he needed to be.
It was his father who had instilled in him such a strong ambition to one day sit upon Onsira’s throne as its king. His burning desire worried Liriel, not the least of which because of the way he contrasted with Loracaz’s gentle and caring nature. Zarrek’s golden eyes burned like the points of an all-consuming flame at he looked back at her; he knew precisely how she felt, though neither of them were willing to speak of it.
“With this ring,” Liriel began, looking at the emerald inlaid in the platinum, “I bestow upon you the honor of the royal family, the mark that you are an uncrowned child of our monarchs. May you earn the right to follow your brother on the path to leading our kingdom with the benevolence of our Goddess Jenh.”
Nervous that she was blessing one who had no right to rule by sin of evil communion, High Priestess Liriel did the one thing that she protocol allowed for: she slid the ring onto the ring finger of Zarrek’s outstretched hand. His body was fine and regal, chiseled from the same strength that his father bore; strength earn from swordsmanship and archery. Zarrek admired the ring a moment before shifting it to his middle finger.
“Was it too tight? You have grown more than I had thought.”
“Indeed,” the young prince replied with a nod. “It fits this finger better.”
This was a sign that Zarrek trained more often than she had first assumed. It was as though he grew faster in strength than in age; he would he a giant of a man one day, foreboding in both power and size. Liriel would no longer doubt her beloved’s claims of how easily he lost to the younger boy when they sparred.
“Prince Zarrek, guard your ring well. It is the sign of your heritage.”
“I shall, High Priestess,” Zarrek assured her, his smile wide. “You have my thanks.”
Zarrek went back to his seat, leaving Liriel to pause a moment, startled by his grace. Rarely did he thank anyone, and even less frequently did he do so with honest gratitude rather than his usual tinge of arrogance. It would change her view of him from that of a boy who expected the throne with impatient, demanding airs, to that of a regal youth abiding his childhood expectantly, giving gratitude where it was due. Had she been a lesser priestess, she might have suspected the child of deceptive manipulation, but she knew enough to tell that he was being sincere.
Loracaz nodded to his younger brother. From that day on, Zarrek had the right to the throne after him. Should Loracaz and his parents die, the kingdom would fall to Zarrek without any need for approval from the Council or the Temple of Jenh. Although the nobles who could trace their bloodlines back to Loracaz I were many, and the council would be able to choose among them if Zarrek were to perish as well. The ring was a mark of superiority over them and, should he ever have any, his younger siblings. It was also the one thing that he could show others to prove his regal blood.
Despite his arrogance and questionable associations with Métius, Loracaz saw the good in his brother. Zarrek knew Onsiran law as well as Loracaz did, and possessed the same charisma and strength as his father. Should tragedy ever befall Legend, he would be a valuable ally to see the kingdom through it. What the prince did not like was the condescension, the comments that Zarrek should have the crown first.
Loracaz also hoped that his brother would not take his visits to the Black Temple too far; understanding their religion, even being fluent in Draconic, was fine, as long as it did not become outright worship. Onsiran legends told far too well the dangers of letting Métius have any influence.
That was another of Emperor Z’Lé’s points for his disapproval of Loracaz: he spoke few languages. It had been centuries since the dragons had acted upon their jealousy of the elves, and few dragons still took interest in evil power. Indeed, many had the magic of the goddess. If there was to be unification, the emperor argued, the royal family should speak all the languages of their people. After all, they had nothing left to fear from the dragons.
Z’Lé had been fluent in Draconic as well as Elvan long before becoming Arialla’s suitor, and was making efforts to study the whimsy of Fae. Oddly, she had been humored by the sight of a man of over six feet who wielded a broadsword trying to speak such a playful, spirited language. Had it not also enamored her, of course, he would not now wear Onsira’s highest crown.
Loracaz, meanwhile, struggled with anything besides the common Elvan tongue; he knew only enough Draconic to conduct formalities, and slightly more Fae. Had his father not forced him to memorize the phrases and symbols, he would have known no Draconic at all, for he feared it. Their writing system was also the basis for the tomes of dark magic and the stories of Métius, and it sounded eerily similar demonic prattle.
After a moment, Yanve approached Loracaz with the crown in his hands. It was adorned with a cluster of diamonds similar to those of his medal. Loracaz did not hesitate in kneeling gracefully before the high priest. Enraptured by the ceremony, the audience was completely quiet, respectful of the gravity of the moment.
“By her grace and wisdom, our beloved Goddess Jenh has accepted you as her prince,” Yanve declared. “By virtue of your bloodline, your knowledge of tradition and law, your conduct, and your skilled diplomacy, you may rise to the heights of your birthright.”
A smile graced the old priest’s face as he began the next phrase of the old words written for the coronation. “Our goddess is proud if your devotion to her, and wishes you a long and prosperous reign. Loracaz the Second of Onsira, I bless you with the name of the ancient family that became sacred by the deeds of Jenh’s hero: Antraius. With that name I grant you the title of heir of the family and the throne. Henceforth you shall me known as the crowned prince of Onsira!”
Loracaz lowered his head, feeling his heart struggle to break free of his chest. When the cold metal, a rib of silver traced by thin twists of gold and bronze, touched the back of his ears and came to rest on the thick waves of his hair, the silence in the tower was replaced by a deafening cheer. He felt as though the waves of Blueshade crashed against his head, that he was drowning in the praise and rejoice that echoed into the spire.
Then, like the calm of a storm, a pair of silken hands caressed his cheeks and pulled his gaze upward.
“Rise, my love,” Liriel whispered to him. Or did the clamor around him only make her shy voice sound like a whisper? “We have made you our prince.”
Once on his feet, Prince Loracaz Antraius II turned to look around him. Far above, an immense bell began to ring, followed by a whole range of smaller ones. Though he was dizzy from the exhilaration of at last undergoing his coronation, his thoughts fluttering in the consuming smoke that filled the air, Prince Loracaz II turned and gave a low, sweeping bow to his people. They may not have been able to hear any of his words of gratitude, but they could see it in the grace of his movements.
Then her turns to Liriel. “Thank you, beloved priestess,” he said to her.
In that moment, gazing at the way glow of goddess’s blessings mixed with her natural beauty, he wanted nothing more than to pull her close, to kiss her for as long as he could. Staring back at him, it seemed that she wanted the same thing. Before he he had a chance, however, several voices vied for his attention, and a hand pulled him away from the priestess. Loracaz turned and was caught by the arms of his mother. She clung to him, whispering into his ear.
“My precious son, I am indeed proud of you. I have no doubt that you shall bring justice to us all.” Arialla released her son and looked into his eyes. “With this comes the full power of Zeah, and command of many royal duties. Use it to ascend your throne as king, not as emperor; free Manastaecies from your father’s imperialism.”
Loracaz nodded, too taken with emotion to form any words. Despite the immense pride and relief that she felt, he sensed from his mother the deep, hidden impression of worry. She had whispered the words to him, held his gaze with eyes ready to flood with tears not of joy, but of a clenching, desperate fear. Before Loracaz had a chance to ask his mother what troubled her so, she rushed into Liriel’s arms.
The voice came from behind. Prince Loracaz turned his eyes slowly from his mother, then nodded to his father.
“I know that you will accept your obligations gratefully, and that you have always worked hard for our empire,” Z’Lé told him in slow, deep words. “I cannot, however, grant you more than a few duties unless you can also defend these people,“ he gave a sweeping gesture to the audience surrounding them as he spoke, “whether by sword or by spear.”
“Aye, Father,” was all Loracaz said in reply. He had been expecting such words from his father, and could hardly admit to being shocked by his desire to limit his power.
Z’Lé added several words in Draconic, but Loracaz could not understand it enough to know what it meant. He could only assume that it entailed pointing out that very lack of understanding, and the rectifying of that gap in his knowledge.
“If it is for the glory of my people, then I shall do what must be done.” Loracaz managed to force the words out, but hated having to say them. His father should have supported him fully, he thought to himself, if he was a true Onsiran.
Having heard the acceptance of terms that he had been hoping for, the emperor smiled widely. “I am glad that you understand, my son. Perhaps you shall make me proud after all.” With those words, he offered his hand to Loracaz. The prince accepted it, and his father pulled him close to embrace him.
“You are a fine lad,” Loracaz was surprised to hear from his father. “Even if you are lacking as a prince, I am glad to call you my son.”
When Z’Lé at last released Loracaz from his crushing arms, leaving him confused and uncertain, Zarrek stepped forward. The cheers were beginning to subside as the brothers smiled to one another.
“If you cannot defeat me in battle, Father will give me your crown,” Zarrek informed him.
Loracaz chuckled. Zarrek had become known to say odd phrases instead of praise, but they knew one another well enough for the prince to recognize that this was no criticism. Though they had different methodologies, both boys wanted only grandeur for their kingdom. Zarrek actually wished his brother well with those words; he hoped that he would not fail in learning how to fight and thus necessitate the younger’s ascension.
“Very well,” Loracaz told his younger brother. “If you defeat me on your twentieth birthday, I shall gladly take my ring back, and give you this circlet.”
They had only a moment to exchange knowing smiles before a man approached the dais, a youth at his side. In his hands was a long object, cloaked by a leather cloth. It was longer than the elf was tall, with a slight curve to it, something that Zarrek would have guessed was a sword. When they knelt before the royal family, High Priest Yanve acknowledged them.
“Noble blacksmith, surely you understand that gifts are to be presented during the festival,” he told them.
“Aye, Holiness. Please forgive us.” The two commoners kept their eyes down as the older one addressed the priest. “We only hoped to present His Royal Highness with a very special gift.”
When Yanve turned to his emperor, Z’Lé nodded to him. “It is all right, Yanve. I asked them to present this now.” The hall quickly fell quiet at these words; Z’Lé rarely accepted interruptions with good humor. “Rise, Master Shiirul, apprentice Rankin.”
Emperor Z’Lé turned to Loracaz, beckoning him forward. “Come, my son. We have a gift for you.”
As the kingdom’s master blacksmith and his apprentice stood, Loracaz stepped to the edge of the dais.
“Praise to the new prince!” the blacksmith hailed.
“Your words are too kind, Shiirul,” Loracaz replied. “I am glad enough that you came to the coronation. What do you have brought with you?”
“It is a special commission from His Imperial Lordship and Her Ladyship, your Highness,” Shiirul explained. “A birthday gift as much as a token of ceremony.”
With a nod from his master, the apprentice pulled back the cloth. Beneath it was a gleaming sheath of polished green and yellow lacquer, painted with the same elaborate designs that graced the walls of Jenh’s temple. Just below the hilt, the sheath bore the emblem of a shield, marked with the initial of the prince’s name; the Elvan character for L. The hilt’s guard was wide and flat, and it was finished off with a grip long enough for two hands and a pommel with the same initialed shield.
“Wh…” Loracaz stared at the weapon, wondering if it was meant for ceremonial use alone, so absurd was its length. He dared not ask Shiirul, for fear of insulting the gift, and looked to his father instead.
“Show him the blade,” Emperor Z’Lé ordered.
Shiirul held out the sheath as his apprentice ceremoniously untied the peace strings; Loracaz found it odd that they were spaced along the length of the sheath, rather than merely tying the hilt to it so that it could not be drawn. When the youth stepped back, he pushed open three tiny latches with his thumb. The hall was so quiet with curiosity that the prince could hear each click.
The casing opened, and there before Loracaz was a gleaming shaft of metal, the light dancing from the careful etchings that blossomed like spring roses along its length. The edge was perfectly beveled, the point a calculated angle off of its curvature. So meticulous was every detail of the weapon, it may have been the blacksmith’s finest work. It took all words away from the prince to whom it was being offered.
“Is that–“ Zarrek began. He looked to his father, unsure whether he should speak.
“It is a re-creation Engelhart’s sky-blade,” Z’Lé told him. “Go ahead, Zarrek. Tell your brother about it.”
Loracaz looked to his brother to hear the explanation.
“It was an experimental blade three centuries ago,” Zarrek began. “Englehart, one of the greatest blade-masters in history, wanted a way to take out two men with one blow in battle, so he designed this. When it was finished, he found only a few men willing to train with it, and only one of them could learn its secrets. The others treated it like any other sword, and died in battle.”
“You know so much about it…” Loracaz breathed.
“Your brother studies arms and armor while you read history,” his father told him. “These are the things that make history, Loracaz. If you can learn to wield this sword, the empire will be yours.”
The words brought a gasp from Loracaz.
“It is one of the hardest weapons to learn,” Z’Lé went on, “but that is reasonable, if you wish to have the mightiest station in the our empire. Your mother wanted you to train with a spear, just as your namesake had. That weapon, however, is reserved for the knights, and all of our knights train on some variety of sword along with the spear. I decided that this sword is long enough to be like a spear, and that it would be your sole weapon.”
Loracaz held back the urge to call it an insult and a mockery to say such things, and held his hands out to accept the two-meter-long sword gratefully. In his hands, the leather cloth felt as soft as silk, suiting the magnificent elegance that juxtaposed the deadly purpose of the weapon. The cutting edge shone with the sharpness of a dragon’s claws; he daren’t even touch it, for fear that such a test of its refinement would wound him. This was no ceremonial blade, no matter its length or the intricacies of its beauty.
“Thank you, Shiirul. Your workmanship is the finest that our kingdom has ever known, and it is an honor that I should wield this masterpiece.” He turned to his father, and bowed slightly. “You have my thanks, Father. I shall use this sword to bring glory to Onsira.”
Loracaz then turned to present the gift to his people, raising it up so that those in the upper levels of the tower could see the light gleaming off of it. “By this sword, I swear to defend you all!”
Another round of cheers came from the audience. As they cried out their praise and pride, Liriel and Yanve came up beside him.
“It is time that we move on to the temple,” the high priest whispered.
When Loracaz agreed, Yanve signaled for the bards to begin the exit procession. Shiirul and Rankin closed the casement around the sword and wrapped it in back the leather covering. Yanve insisted that they follow Prince Loracaz to the Temple of Jenh with them, and they joined the procession without any questions.
As music rose up from the horns, drums, and strings of the bards, High Priest Yanve led the nobles out of the tower. Prince Loracaz followed him, Liriel at his side. She added to the procession with her song, which floated out into the garden and the palace. The royal servants knelt as they continued through the open hall towards the front doors of the palace. The guards there saluted him, and pulled open the doors. Outside, another throng of celebrants waited in the courtyard, many with baskets of flower petals to toss in joy for the prince. Loracaz waved to the crowd, smiling back as they exalted him.
On the ramparts of the wall surrounding the courtyard Loracaz noticed a pair of dragons, blue as the night sky. Above them, several others flew. He watched them nervously, unsure what to think of their presence. Pausing, he looked back at his father, who appeared nearly as uncertain, but in the end raised a hand in greeting to them. The blue dragons let out their own cries of joy, which greatly relieved Loracaz, who smiled and continued onward.
Once outside the palace gates, the prince met his carriage. Liriel and Yanve climbed in first, then Loracaz, and the Shiirul and his apprentice. His family waited outside, waving to him as his carriage pulled away and theirs arrived. They would follow him to the temple in order to complete his ceremonies, foremost among them receiving the blessings of Jenh and her elementals. Later in the day, he would attend the festival being held in his honor.
When the door was closed and the carriage rolled along the streets, cheered by the city’s residents, Loracaz turned to the priestess. “I had not expected it to be like that,” he told her.
Without saying a word, his beloved Liriel gave him a knowing smile.