Robert stood at the edge of the balcony and stared down.
The kingdom lay below, spread out before him. Castle Destria floated through the morning mists as he turned and stomped back inside.
But he had a duty now. The axemen would be calling.
They were always demanding something of him. Always.
He was not allowed to fight in the wars (for which he was grateful) but he was not allowed to stay idle at home either. He was not allowed to spend his time in the library reading about the history of the country, and he was not allowed to sit on the throne, though he dearly wanted to do both. He was not allowed to, not allowed to, not allowed to. It seemed that those were the most common words in his life.
The only thing his parents did approve of was his uniform, always pressed and tidy, perfectly straight.
Robert dearly wished that he had siblings like the Prince of Dunesain. If he did then perhaps they would bear some of the constant control he suffered.
“Robert. You are late”
“Don’t be hard on him. He is a good boy most of the time”
Robert bowed to his parents on their thrones. Someday he would sit on the throne. Part of him rejoiced at the thought, of freedom from his parents and of the power of a king, but more of him shuddered.
Yes, he would be king, but what if he failed? Would he be forgotten? Would he be remembered as one who succeeded, who led the kingdom from a position of strength, or would he become a pawn of the Dukes?
“Son, why don’t we retire to the dining room? It has been a few days since we last ate breakfast as a family”
“Of course Father. If you insist”
As the doors opened ahead of them the pair swept down the hall, Robert trailing behind them. It was always this way. In their shadows. Never allowed to be free, to do as he pleased.
His parents went straight to their seats but Robert stopped to thank the doorman. Being the Crown Prince he knew the pain that a thankless job could bring, which was why he always made sure that the servants did not have them.
They seemed to like him for it, but it was nothing special. It was just common courtesy.
He sat and looked down the table at his parents. His Mother, aging yet still beautiful, and his Father, as stern and stoic as always.
After a few moments of silent eating Robert spoke.
“Father, what was it you wished to discuss?”
The King paused, fork halfway to his mouth.
“Can we not just enjoy a breakfast together? Must there be something to discuss?”
“Dear, don’t be coy. You only make a fuss of gathering us here when you have something you want to say”
Robert nodded thanks to his Mother. Though she often took his side at times like this, she could, in her own way, be even worse than his Father.
“Very well. I shall begin. Son. You are going to be twenty years of age next harvest”
“Have you thought about what that means?”
“I will be a year older Father. I will have spent another year trying to repay the debt I owe the two of you”
Every word measured, every sentence a sortie in the constant battle that was his family life.
“Oh, see what a dear he is? You were right to suggest this my husband”
Concealing a frown behind another bite Robert cursed silently. His Mother was with his Father on this. Never a good sign.
“That is not what I meant Son. I meant about you being a year closer to your inheritance”
The words brought Robert to full attention, head snapping around. His inheritance? The kingdom? It was too soon. They could not mean for him to be king already!
They did not.
“Your inheritance is to be King. However, what should happen if you should pass away before us? What happens to the kingdom then? Succession wars? A council of the Dukes? Death, famine, disease?”
The King shook his head.
“No. Since we cannot have another child, the duty falls to the Crown Prince to prevent that. It is time for you to find a wife”
The servants were quick to pick up Robert’s fork when it hit the ground.
“You can’t be serious”
“We are. We already have several Ladies picked out for you to meet before you go off to try and woo them on your own”
Robert sank into the cushions. He did not. Want. To do this. At all.
On top of all the other stress he had now they wanted him to deal with this? It was truly cruel.
“Son. Stop gawking, and pay attention. You’re going to listen to me now. You have a responsibility to the people. You know this”
“I do Father”
“Then you know that your duty is to provide a safe and united Destria for them to live in! You skip your lessons on Sketching, you ignore our lessons on statecraft, and you shirk as many other duties as you can! And for what? To study history books in the library”
Robert nodded slowly. He knew that there was no stopping this explosion, unless his Mother intervened. From the sad smile on her face he knew that she would not this time.
“You’re my Son, your mother’s Son. You need to stop walking through life with your head in the clouds and do something important. Do you understand? Do something to help this kingdom! Now, you’ll start by getting married. Are we agreed?”
Robert took a moment to think carefully about his next words. He needed to try and win this battle now, before it got out of hand.
“Mother. Father. You know as much as I do that I care deeply for this nation and for the citizens of this nation. However, I will not tie myself into a promise to find a wife until I find someone who I can build a loving and stable relationship with, as well as someone whose marriage will allow me to strengthen our political situation.
“So, until that moment I cannot agree that I am going to start by getting married. My lessons I can attend, my duties I can stop shirking, and I can begin to do ‘important work’. However, I will not give up my studies of the past, as they are what will allow me to make informed decisions about the future. That is why I read the history books, so that I may learn not only from the two of you and my teachers but that I may learn from the mistakes of the past”
His parents exchanged glances before his Father turned back to him.
“That is a much more reasoned response than I expected. It would do you good to talk so more often instead of acting the petulant child. A compromise then. You shall return to your studies, as dictated by the two of us and your tutors for a minimum of three hours each day. If we feel that we need to increase that number then we shall. However long you spend on your lessons you shall be allowed to spend half as much as you wish, including in the library. The time will be yours, so you will not be interrupted.
“You will meet with the ladies that we find who we think might be suitable, and you will play the part of the gracious and charming host. On those days when you are to meet with them you will be excused from your lessons.
“The three of us shall dine together at breakfast and supper, as befits a family. Your dinner you make take at any time as that gives you the most freedom to pursue your studies.
“You will also hold audience once a week, in the morning. You have watched us enough times to know how it is done; we’ll have a throne constructed so that you may greet petitioners properly. In this way you will learn justice and fairness first hand, as well as how to deal with the populace. You will learn your lessons at a faster pace, because the more time you spend on them the more time you may spend doing what you wish. You will, if not find someone who you can care for, at least see the types of ladies who are out there and who may be amenable to marrying you. You will also learn how to deal with women and how to be a better host, both skills that you currently sorely lack.
“And finally you will be able to talk to us at least twice a day to ask us questions about those matters that confuse you, and for us to ask you about your studies and other affairs. That is my compromise, but it is non-negotiable”
Robert cut a piece of steak and began to chew to buy himself time. The terms were stiff, but they were likely the best that he would receive. This way at least he would still be able to read the histories and have some free time. And, it would likely stop his parents from bothering him for the foreseeable future.
“I have one amendment to request. I know that you said non-negotiable, but I would ask that this agreement not be changed by either party, and that neither party attempt to escape its rulings in any way. Should one of us try to escape then the other party is free to make one change to the established rules, whatever they be. Does this sound fair to you?”
It would prevent them from worsening the agreement over time, and would also prevent him from trying to shirk it as he had everything else.
His Father closed his mouth, surprised that his Mother had spoken when she had been silent throughout his speech about the rest of the terms before rising and shaking Robert’s hand. His mother shook it next and then all three sat down to finish the breakfast.
“You had that deal planned the entire time didn’t you? The two of you plotted ahead”
“Of course Son. Why would we go into this without a clear picture of the outcome we wanted?”
“You would not, which is why I was worried. However, I feel that the agreement is not trying enough to try and get out of”
“But you were worried that you may change your mind in the future and so added the last clause”
“That’s right Mother”
“Well Son, it seems that you have made a wise choice. For once”
“Of course Father”They finished the rest of the meal in silence, Robert contemplating how long he should spend each day studying and how long he should spend on reading, his parents planning who would be the first lady to show to him.