Robert’s days had become a steady progression of the same thing.
But that was not a bad thing. Each morning we would wake up early and begin his lessons. Once his parents awoke he would eat breakfast with them and then continue his lessons until mid afternoon. He would then stop and read in the library until dinner with his parents, and then read until his time was up.
Then he would go to sleep and repeat his actions the next day.
While it was tedious it also had a nice rhythm to it. Each day he knew exactly how he would spend his time, or at least, the kinds of things he would spend it doing.
And his lessons were actually turning out to be rewarding. Learning statecraft reassured him that he would not fail, practicing riding in the valleys below helped him gain confidence in his own skills, practising his swordwork reminded him of the duties of others that were more dangerous than his own.
But by far the best lessons were about Sketching. Sketching and Sigils. He would walk into the dusty loft and sit waiting for William Turendel, his teacher, to arrive.
While waiting he would look at the Sigils marked on the walls in gold paint and practice entering the State.
Then Master Turendel would enter and begin to run him through his paces, trying to distract him, make him fail the state, attempting to interrupt him while he was Sketching, having him Sketch increasingly difficult patterns.
And the entire time he would discuss the theory, or the history of Sigils.
“Young master, you may think you have mastered this Sigil, but what if you are in a duel and then man in front of you attempts to Complete his Sigilian, draw out each and every Sigil in order to gain all their powers and more. Do you try and Complete your own Sigilian, do you try and Finish the Sigil you are working on, or do you continue to Sketch what you were originally going to?”
“I would not Complete because my Sigilian will be larger than his and I am not a fast Sketcher. Depending on if I knew how big his Sigilian was or not I would, if I had time, Finish the Sigil for Air and use it to knock him off his feet and disrupt his Sketching”
“Which would cause him to feel the feedback and, since he was trying to Complete that feedback would likely force him out of the State”
“Yes. If I didn’t know how much time I had I would Sketch a simpler Sigil, perhaps Fire or Duplication and attempt to use whatever powers I could Sketch in time to disrupt his own Sketching”
Master Turendel would nod and lunge to knock Robert’s hands wide to ruin his Sketching.
“Correct. If an opponent is attempting to Complete or Finish and you do not have time to do the same you should always attempt to ruin his Sketching. It is the safest approach, and while it is frowned on in some circles where they believe that a duel of Sketchers should set the strength of ones Sigils against the strength of the others, it is still an accepted move. Now then, I want you to Sketch the Sigil for air with your left hand while you copy this down with your right”
And he would turn and begin to scrawl notes on his chalkboard while Robert struggled to follow his instructions. And while the lessons were sometimes frustrating and always difficult he was really enjoying them.
And he was going to get to sit on his own throne.
Robert finished his exercises and looked out the window.
Today was the day. He was going to be excused from his regular lessons and sit on the throne, pass judgement on the issues of the citizens of Destria who had come to him for help.
He was, as always when thinking of having real power, equal parts ecstatic and terrified.
What if he failed? What if he said the wrong things? What if they came to him for advice and he could not help them?
But at the same time, he would have so much power! All the power that he could ever want or need. He would be able to do whatever he liked, which also scared him.
If he could do anything, what would stop him from doing the wrong thing?
Of course, his parents were still King and Queen, still in charge of Destria. He would not be able to ruin the realm completely, and if he did make mistakes they would fix them while he learned from them.
But what if his words ruined the life of a citizen? What if a farmer had a land dispute that he ruled incorrectly on, and so the man’s family starved?
Or was he overthinking this?
It was almost too much, but he forced himself away from the window and into his chambers to get ready for breakfast. He needed to be ready when the petitioners arrived.
Robert stepped into the throne room.
A third throne sat there now, a few steps down from his parents, but still a throne.
It was simpler, as he had requested, and with no gilding, carved lion’s heads, nothing like that. The only concession to ostentation was the house Sigilian carved into the back behind his head. When he sat down it would radiate outwards, which would look gaudy and serve to remind people the level of difference between them, something he didn’t want, but his parents had demanded that there be something to remind the citizens who he was.
Half turning he looked at the rest of the room.
The balconies ringing the room, the walkways crossing overhead, the guards stationed there for his safety, halberds or crossbows at the ready.
It was almost too much. He could not see how a petitioner could come in without feeling nervous.
“Sire? There is a big group today”
“Bigger than normal Rens?”
The guard seemed a bit surprised that Robert had remembered his name, but recovered quickly.
“A bit sire. They seem to want to see if you pass judgement differently from the King and Queen. But they also want to see you sire. While all of us see you daily you make even fewer public appearances than your Royal Mother and Father”
“So they are only here to see how I measure up to my parents?”
“Not at all sire. They also have legitimate issues that they wish to bring before you”
“Well, lets not keep them waiting then”
Robert turned and took the stairs slowly.
This was it, the moment he had been waiting for almost his entire life. To sit down on the throne…on his own throne.
The wood was warm and smooth beneath his hands as he grasped the armrests. He looked down on the entire room from here. It seemed that he would even be looking down on the guards on the balconies above him once he sat down.
He had to sit. He could not keep the petitioners waiting any longer.
But his knees refused to bend, refused to let him sink down.
“Rens, send them in. I’ll sit down once they’re inside”
“Just do it Rens. I’ll greet them standing, show them that much respect at least”
And while it would show them respect it would also give him another moment or two in which to steal himself.
As the doors began to swing open he composed himself and released the arm rests. It would not do to look nervous in front of the citizens.
The first few were hesitant, coming in slowly as guards filed along the front of the steps to block him from them.
The crowd almost stopped filing in when they saw Robert standing. Evidently they had not expected something like this.
“Come in ladies and gentlemen. I am sure that there are a lot of you and that you all have pressing business. The sooner we start, the sooner you can have your answers”
That seemed to break the spell and the room filled up quickly. There were people from all walks of life here, merchants, farmers, soldiers. Robert could identify some by their clothes or appearance but others were a mystery to him.
He even saw some of the dark skinned people from the mainland. Either they had been visiting the island and come to him for a ruling or to see him, or they had made a long journey indeed.
Once everyone had filed in and stopped moving Robert spoke.
“If any of you are here to observe to meet me and not to have an issue resolved I ask that you make your way to the back or edges of the room. If you have a question you wish to ask me, or a dispute to be ruled on, make your way away from the edges and back, but don’t push. I’ll get to everyone today, or if I can’t then I am sure we can find a place for you to stay for the night and I can assist you tomorrow”
There were audible gasps at that. The crown prince had invited them to stay the night should they have need of it! By the time they told their children and grandchildren this story it would be a personal request to them and them alone.
Or perhaps not. Robert really didn’t know how these people thought.
“Once you have moved to the correct area we may begin. Captain Rens, have the guards select people and escort them past the line. I’ll talk to them face to face, not try to make them out in a crowd”
He couldn’t delay any longer. As Rens organised the guards and pulled two men from the crowd he grasped the armrests again and sat down.
The throne was an uncomfortable wooden chair, flat and hard. He would not be able to get comfortable on it, which he knew was intentional; rulers should never grow too comfortable in their power.
But otherwise it felt like a normal chair. It felt no different, he felt no different.
He had not expected that, but it was how it was.
The first two men were dressed as a farmer and a merchant. Both seemed nervous, but the merchant also had an air of confidence about him.
“These two have an argument about trading. They feel that you will be able to settle it for them”
“I shall try my best. Go ahead. I’ll listen to both sides of the story before making my decision”
The merchant stepped forwards and bowed low.
“My liege. I must say that I am incredibly thankful for the honour that you have done us by standing to greet us and by offering us to stay here. It is indeed an honour to know that you care for our problems and disputes.
“Now, as to our dispute. This man has accused me of stealing from him. He found an item on his property, a fragment of pottery worked with silver and gold and a scene painted on it. He wished to sell it to me, but once I offered him a fair price for it he decided that he wanted more for it and changed his mind. I offered more, as much as I could pay him and still make a profit, and he asked for yet more, claiming that I would simply sell it to a collector and more than make back what I had paid. He told me that unless I was willing to pay the higher amount he would never sell it to me and would find someone who appreciated its worth.
“I gave up on trying to obtain it and left. The next day he returned to my shop and accused me of following him home and stealing it in the night. He claimed that his house had been broken into while he slept and that that was the only thing stolen. He reasons that I knew about it and must have wanted it badly enough to commit a crime. He brought it to the mayor, who decided that I was innocent. He continued to complain and rant so I suggested that we come to you so that you could settle the manner once and for all”
He stepped back and Robert looked to the farmer.
“Is all of this true?”
“More or less sir. I found the pottery and brought it to town wrapped in a cloth, so nobody would have been able to see it but him and the appraiser. When I unwrapped it in his shop we were the only-”
“Sorry, a moment. You took it to an appraiser?”
“Yes. Thats how I knew that he was not offering me a fair deal”
“Could the appraiser have stolen it?”
“No, he left town that afternoon”
“He was a traveling merchant?”
“Yes. He said that I was the last one he could see before he packed up”
“And since he was passing through he would give you a fairer more honest estimation?”
“I hate to say it, but I think that you may have fallen into a classic trap. He gave you a price which nobody would be willing to pay. He overvalued it greatly so that you would not be able to get rid of it.
“When he ‘left town’ he either sent someone after you or doubled back himself to follow you home. He would have been the one who stole your find, knowing that you would blame it on the merchant you went to see that day. I think that that is the only possible situation unfortunately. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the pottery back for you.
“However, that does not mean that we cannot do anything” Robert turned to the merchant “How much was the item worth by your appraisal? I would like a completely honest appraisal now, no need to bargain or try to conceal the truth. If you would prefer you may tell the captain here”
“Not at all sir. I offered him 20 crowns, which I feel is a fair price. I have no idea how long it would have sat on my shelf before a collector came by. And unless they knew what it was the most I could sell it for would be 30 crowns. If they knew what it was or when it dated to I hoped to get closer to 40 crowns. I’m just disappointed that I lost out on a chance to make a profit from this man’s greed”
“Stop. There is no need to insult your fellows. He was the one who lost more than you in this situation.
“However, you did both lose out. I am willing to write you both promissory notes for half of what you would have made, so 10 crowns and 5 crowns respectively. You can take them to the treasury later and have that amount paid out to you. My only condition is that you both warn others of this kind of scheme and help them to learn from your loss. Does that sound fair?”
The two looked at each other and then nodded almost in unison.
“It does sir. Thank you so much sir”
Robert waved for some paper and a pen and quickly wrote off two notes to the treasurer. The two would be paid, but he was not quite done yet.
As the two left the room he called over another guard. Speaking quietly he gave his orders.
“Follow the two. Make sure that they don’t fight. Then call the merchant aside and ask him if he would be able to get his hands on the piece, as I am interested in purchasing it. Make sure that you state that I’m not accusing him but that if on the off chance my guess was wrong and he had taken it I would be interested in buying. Tell him that I’m a student of history and that I find such things fascinating.
“If he says that he can get his hands on it let the farmer know that I wish to speak with him. Set him up rooms in the servants quarters and I’ll talk to him later. Let the merchant go because he will return with the mask in order to be payed. Don’t follow him. We’ll deal with him when he returns. Go, catch them up”
As the guard ran off Robert turned back to the rest of the crowd.
There were still quite a few petitioners, and there was only so much time in the day.“Who is next?”