Joseph had been announced dead to the public one week ago. With it came a coronation, the new king, his son and spitting image of him. King Valentine.
The man looked no older than eighteen although his official age was twenty. And the press talked about his stern expression and serious personality.
Noa growled at the headline. “Your expression wouldn’t be that of joy if your father died and you immediately had to occupy his position. Now would it?” she scolded the newspaper as if expecting a response.
She was Valentine’s right-hand woman, his main adviser. And she’d been working in the palace since before Valentine was born. Noa was tall, taller than Valentine, she had long black hair that was almost always in braids. Today, she’d decorated it with ribbons, giving it a splash of colour.
“What’s wrong with seeming serious? I’m the leader of the kingdom, that’s serious business.”
Noa nodded, “true, it’d just be nice for them to mind their own business for once.”
“Well, I won’t be keeping my hopes up,” Clement chuckled. He was Valentine’s left-hand man. Looking to be about eighteen, he had black hair that reached his shoulders. “The press is just part of ruling.”
“I’m fine with that,” Valentine assured.
“So, where we heading, Your Majesty?”
“To the throne room.”
Clement chuckled although Valentine hadn’t meant it as a joke.
“No, Your Highness, I mean what direction do you plan to take our kingdom?”
“Oh,” Valentines paused causing Noa to nearly trip over him. “I guess I should start by finishing up what my father began? A public health system could benefit our society greatly?”
“Is that a question or an affirmation?”
“I must urge you to be confident in your decisions, Your Majesty.”
Valentine nodded, “then it’s an affirmation.”
“Very well, Your Majesty. And after that?”
“I think I’ll push forward with the Union. It’s been a while since any new species have joined.”
“Literally since it’s creation, Your Majesty.”
“Must you call me that every sentence?”
Clement chuckled, “I’ll call you Valentine, don’t worry.”
“Thank you Clement.”
Unsurprisingly, running a kingdom was hard work. It was the seventh meeting of the day, only three left. Clement was looking exhausted on his left. Noa maintained a serious expression to his right. Valentine’s expression was impossible to read. The perfect poker face.
“So that’s our situation, what do we do Sire?”
“Opinions,” he turned to his advisers.
Clement sat up, “I don’t understand how we’re even asking this question; freedom of speech is a basic right. Let them say as they please.”
“You’re missing the point Clement,” Noa sighed. “What they’re saying could potentially be dangerous. We are only as free as our neighbours. The king is a public figure, and they have every right to talk about him, but not make stuff up. What if instead of the king it was a civilian? They could ruin that person’s life.”
“If we stop them, it’ll be seen a silencing, just like when Maria—”
“It’s not the same, Clement. What Maria did was wrong, even she admitted that. This is a blatant lie.”
“But it’s a harmless one.”
“Can you both shut up.” Valentine growled. “That’s enough from both of you.”
Clement sat back, but Noa looked surprised.
“Send them a warning. Tell them to change the wording to specify it’s a rumour. That’ll do for now.”
“Yes Sire,” the adviser of public images bowed and left.
“We were discussing the matter,” Noa pointed out, “neither of us lacked civility. Telling us to ‘shut up’ is a very unking like thing to do.”
“I’ve been listening to you two bicker since I woke up. I don’t care how unking like I sound.”
“Well you should. You’re exhausted. Go to your room and rest.”
“That’s an order.”
“Who gives orders here?”
“Me. Now. Before the next adviser arrives.”
Valentine stood up; he opened his mouth to argue. Then the adviser entered, and he shut his mouth.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you’re meeting will be with me, the king was just leaving.” Noa informed. “Clement, accompany him to his room.”
The left-hand man nodded, “um, yes mam.”
Clement led Valentine out of the throne room and down the hall. There was a very tense silence until they entered the royal quarters.
“How dare she?” he demanded.
“I am the king; she cannot order me around!”
“She did so with Joseph, it’s nothing new.”
Valentine glared at Clement.
“She’s older than you and more experienced. I wouldn’t be offended. She’s just trying to help.”
Valentine snorted, “she’s trying to lead. She doesn’t want to let power slip away from her and into my hands.”
Clement looked towards the door, “Your Majesty, I don’t think that’s true. Please be reasonable here.”
“No!” Valentien turned on Clement.
He flinched, “I’ll leave,” and he turned to flee the room. Valentine’s shoulders sagged as he heard the door shut.
It had been so little time, was the power already going to his head? He sat down on his bed and felt tears running down his face. He’d had plenty of time to prepare, yet despite this, he still didn’t feel ready.
Noa arrived in his room once the day was over. She had a tray of food and his favourite coffee.
Valentine looked up. He whipped tears away. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m worried about you,” she walked in, placing the tray on his desk, “and you didn’t show up for dinner.”
“You sent me to my room like some child.”
Noa looked down at her hands, “I’m sorry. You’re right I was harsh. But I know what the beginning is like, I’ve seen it. And I could see you were exhausted and knew you wouldn’t take a break voluntarily.” She sat up straighter, “tell me I’m wrong.”
Valentine looked away.
“You’re going to be a great king, Valentine. But that doesn’t mean you have to work every day, all day. Later you won’t have a choice, but for now, you have me here and I’m happy to put the extra time in so you can have some time off.”
“It’s only been a week.”
“And starting is always the hardest. Especially you’re first time.”
“You’re doing far better than Joseph did. He was terrified his first week.”
“And still did an amazing job.”
Valentine nodded. “But he was sixteen.”
“And you’re a teenager.”
Valentine snorted, “I am not.”
“Oh, come on. You could trick many, but not I. I’m older than you, I remember being your age. Trust me. You may not officially be a teenager, but you got the maturity of one.”
Valentine glared at Noa, but didn’t deny the accusation either. He looked down at his hands before finding the words he needed. “Are you looking forward to retiring?”
Noa scrunched up her nose, “excuse me? How old do you think I am?”
Valentine chuckled, “I know you’re not retiring soon I just…”
Noa smiled. “I’m looking forward to it,” she admitted. “It may be typical, but I want to settle down with someone I like and who likes me back. Have kids. Watch them grow. Love them in the way…” her voice softened, and she stared out the window.
“I can’t say I have the same wishes.”
“Nobody does at your age, you want to change the world? Make a difference!” she made an arc with her arm in the air, “I get it. We all do at one point.”
“The biggest difference you can make, is in your own life. You gotta take care of yourself sometimes.”
“Gotta? If my mother heard you—”
“She’d what, fire me?” she laughed, “nah, that’s up to you now. And I trust you not to fire your best adviser.”
Valentine nodded. A realisation. Noa’s job was in his hands. Noa couldn’t step out of line if Valentine didn’t want her to. He smiled, “you really are best adviser. But don’t tell Clement.”
She smiled, “oh with enough training you’ll both outdo me in no time. Now,” she stood up, “I was thinking we all three throw on some casual clothing and head out for the night.”
“That doesn’t sound very responsible.”
“Responsibility is for work hours. Right now, I need a break, you clearly need a break and Clement certainly needs a break. I know the perfect place.”
“What if they recognise me?”
Noa smiled, “wear a hat and learn to use makeup. It’ll make your life way easier!” She shouted as she left the room.
Soon the two advisers and the king were standing in the hallway. Valentine wore a green suit that complimented his eyes. His hair was in a small ponytail. He’d applied makeup, managing to camouflage his features enough to fool most people in a dark environment.
Clement was wearing casual clothing like Noa had said, he also wore his hair up but had made it into a neat bun. Noa meanwhile had chosen a plain white dress. Her hair was loose of the braids. Amazing how a different hairstyle made her almost unrecognisable to anyone who didn’t see her often.
The guards offered up disapproving looks as the king refused to take any guards. But there was no arguing with the king.
Noa led the way down the dimly lit streets towards Oppida’s centre.
“Anything noteworthy about the establishment you’ll be taking us to?”
“That nobody calls it an establishment,” Noa laughed, “it’s called a pub, I can imagine you haven’t been to many.”
“I’ve been to pubs, Noa.”
“They serve this thing called alcohol but it’s only for adults.”
“You are this close to losing you’re job.”
Noa laughed, “and it’s the perfect place to flirt.”
Valentine rolled his eyes, “I’m not looking to flirt. I can’t afford a relationship right now, it would distract me.”
“I’d like a relationship,” Clement whispered.
“Who said anything about a relationship?” Noa laughed, “flirting doesn’t mean you’re looking for a relationship. It’s one thing you might be looking for but I didn’t buy a flat outside of the palace for nothing.”
“It has several rooms,” Noa smiled at Clement, “you’re free to bring somebody back with you.”
Clement nodded, “if I’m allowed, Your Majesty.”
“I don’t get to tell you what you do with your personal life Clement, you’re an adviser not… I don’t even know.”
Clement smiled, “but maybe you wanted me to be concentrated on my work. I’d respect that.”
“I expect you to be concentrated on your work no matter what you do with your personal life.”
“Of course, Sire.”
They reached Noa’s favourite pub. It seemed quiet from the outside, good soundproofing. Light flooded out onto the stone pavement. There was a big blackboard up with a list of drinks and prices.
Upon entering there was music. A band was playing on a small wooden stage, people were dancing, others were sat down at tables or at the bar. Noa went straight to the bar and ordered three cocktails.
“Who are your friends Noa?” the bartender smiled.
“None of you business,” she smiled back.
He shrugged and handed her the drinks, “I’d offer you a discount for bringing me new clients but—”
“No thank you.” She paid for the drinks, “I was not trying to do you a favour.”
“Of course, you’re doing your friends a favour bringing them to the best—”
“Goodbye,” she grabbed the drinks and left, smiling all the same. She placed the drinks down on a table.
Valentine pulled his closer, sipping at it slowly, watching the people around the bar.
“Anybody draw your attention?”
Valentine glared and was about to respond. But Clement nodded, pointing to a guy in the corner at the bar.
“Hm, he is cute, if he’s not into you I may give it a try.”
“Bit young for you wouldn’t you say?” Valentine pointed out.
“What is it with you and my age today?” Noa groaned.
“Not just for you, they’re too young for Clement and for me.”
Noa bit her lip, “Valentine.” She held her hands together and took a deep breath, “you’re twenty.”
“Twenty,” she repeated, “nobody is under eighteen. Max two years, stop acting like you’re some ancient king and enjoy your youth while you can. Trust me on this one.”
Valentine sipped his drink a little before finally getting up and finding a gir. Blonde almost white hair tied into a neat bun, he offered her a drink and made some small talk.
Clement made his way to the back of the pub. And Noa found some cute guys that looked about her age.
They would regroup every hour or so at the table to talk about their progress. Clement expressed how it was his first time flirting and he felt uncertain weather they were flirting back or just being nice. Between Noa and Valentine they tried to work it out. But neither of them were interested in the same gender and were as such uncertain as to how that changed things.
Valentine shrugged and said the girl was nice but not his type. This seemed to be the case for every girl.
Noa was trying to decide which one she’d go home with though she didn’t vocalize that out loud.
Soon Valentine was bored, “I think I’m going back to the palace,” he whispered to Noa who was chatting with the bartender.
“What, so soon?”
He nodded, his eyes were slightly fogged over, he’d had a couple too many drinks. “I don’t… I’m not…” he searched for the words, “I’m sleepy.” He finally decided.
Noa nodded, “Clement going with you?”
Valentine gestured to Clement who was sitting at a table with a couple of different people chatting. “Let him make friends that aren’t me, okay?”
Noa nodded, “you want me to keep an eye on him.”
“Well, if those are your orders. Guess I’ll have to stay here a bit longer, two more drinks please,” she smiled at the bartender.
Valentine rolled his eyes, “don’t drink too much. You have work tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sure, go run back to your silk sheets.”
“Cotton, but thanks, ‘night,” and he exited the pub. He blinked at the darkness of the street and took in a deep breath of cold fresh air. The music was no longer audible and it was refreshing.
He began to make his way back to the palace. The sound of his steps on the stone pavement felt louder than usual. No other city noises to drown them out. He realiced the streets were dark and made a mental note to improve lighting.
Soon he could see the palace, the brightest part of the city, looming over it all. He paused to stare at it. He’d been born in it. It was home. Yet it was so big. He thought about Noa’s choice to buy a small city flat, would that perhaps feel more homely?
Then again, if he were going to buy a place, wouldn’t it be wiser to choose some place outside the city? Even if it were just the outskirts with the fields. A change of scenery.
These thoughts were interrupted by a knife at his throat.
“Empty your pockets.”
The coldness on his throat was intimidating. Valentine did as he was told, holding up a note with his meetings for the next day and a couple of coins.
The man grunted, “you really think I’m going to believe a guy in a suit like that only has a couple of measly coins?”
Valentine didn’t respond as the man dragged him and pushed him against a wall, searching him. Valentine closed his eyes, he could feel the slightest trickle of blood slipping down his throat, probably staining the white shirt. Blood stains were such a pain to get out.
Meanwhile, Noa had decided to put her desires for the night to the side. Clement had one drink too many and worse of all, Noa could only blame herself, having bought each and every one of them.
They walked through the alleys and Clement occasionally giggled, trying to put into words his attraction to the different people in the bar.
“I’m glad you’re experimenting, brother,” she whispered, “but please lower you’re voice, we don’t want to wake up the entire capital.”
“Sorry,” he whispered back, “so anyway—”
Noa raised her hand, and Clement went silent. He looked at her questioning and she gestured with her chin to a dark alley. “I think it’s a mugging,” she whispered, “stay here,” she pulled out a small dagger sneaking up slowly.
“You don’t have anything,” the man sounded disappointed, he looked down at the paper and the coins, unfolding the paper. Valentine, hearing the paper unfold had to hope he didn’t realize what the list was and what it meant.
“Agh!” the man exclaimed letting go of the knife.
Valentine didn’t pause to wonder what happened, he twisted and pulled a knife out from under his sleeve holding it to his attacker’s throat, it clanged as it bumped into Noa’s dagger.
“Valentine,” her eyes widened.
“Oh, hey Noa.”
“Did he recognice you?” her grip on the man tightened.
Valentine looked at the man, young, lean and bleeding from the shoulder where Noa had stabbed him. “No, just a normal mugging. Not that I had much,” he knelt down to pick up his list and spare coins. “What brings you around here?”
Noa gestured behind her to Clement who waved.
Valentine waved back, “well, thanks, I’m glad showed up.”
Noa nodded, “go get a guard.”
Valentine ran of towards the palace, coming back with a couple of guards moments later. They arrested the man, allowing Noa to finally put her dagger away and look over Valentine properly.
“Why didn’t you use your knifes? Did I not train you well enough?”
“You trained me perfectly Noa, he caught me off guard, from behind, lost in though.”
“You can’t afford that kind of liberty Your Majesty,” she crossed her arms, “if this happens again I’ll personally ensure you are never without a bodyguard.”
“Excuse me but it wasn’t my idea to go out tonight.”
Noa scrunched up her nose, then softened her expression, looking back at Clement. “Let’s get you two back to yours rooms. Tonight, did not go as planned.”
They walked in silence back into the palace, through the garden, up the stairs, passed the guards at the door into the hallway. Once at the doors to their quarters. Noa whipped her eyes of some tears, “I’m sorry.”
“For?” Clement and Valentine both looked surprised.
“Tonight, was a terrible idea, I don’t know why I thought the thing that makes me happy would do the same for you.”
“Hey, it wasn’t a terrible idea,” Valentine smiled, “I’d prefer a glass of whisky and a good book in front of the fire, but that’s me. And I only know I don’t like that environment because I tried it.”
“I liked it,” Clement smiled, “now I’m tired and my head feels real heavy but, I’d go again and drink some water here and there.”
Noa gave a sad smile, “you got in trouble because of me. We shouldn’t have split up.”
“Okay, we should stick together for these outings, but it wasn’t your fault. It happened tonight but could have been any other day. You know how often I sneak out to the market?” Valentine shrugged, “you’ve had enough to drink, go to sleep Noa, you’ll see clearer in the morning.”
Noa nodded and wondered of into her quarters, her shoulders sagged and clearly not over it.
“Want to come in for some tea before bed?” Valentine offered Clement.
He nodded, “yes please E—Your Majesty.”
Valentine gave a tired smile as they walked into his quarters, he put on the kettle and picked out both of their favourite teas. “So, any closer to knowing what you like?”
Clement leaned back. “I’m more attracted to the guys, like, they’re cuter in appearance. But then, I sit down and talk to girls and their so sweet and soft, not that some of the guys aren’t soft,” he hesitated.
“I know what you mean,” Valentine poured the tea.
“There’s just something so comforting about the girls, the guys feel more… more…” he tried to find a word to express the confusing and complex emotions that were spinning around his head.
Valentine waited patiently.
“Maybe it’s the fact I don’t know if would want to adopt to start a family, like, I like the idea of my own children.”
“You’re too young for children.”
“I know, I know, I don’t mean yet.”
“Besides, if the children are your own, they will inherit your blood, with all that that entails.”
Clement looked thoughtful, “you think I should settle down with a guy and adopt?”
“I think you should settle down with someone you love, guy or girl or whatever, and adopt.”
Clement looked down at his hands, “I don’t have that many problems, do I?”
Valentine sipped his cup, “not you Clement. I mean,” and he grabbed the mans left arm, raising his brows, “you know.”
Clement’s eyes widened and he raised his brows in realisation, “oh. That.”
Valentine sipped more of his tea, “I mean you don’t have to. It’s ultimately your choice. But I wouldn’t have children.”
“Noa wants her own children.”
“She’s very brave…” Valentine smiled. “I wouldn’t worry about those things yet. First you have to figure out what you like, find someone you like and settle down. Then you can worry about having children.”
“And what if… what if I want a child, but am not ready to settle down with anybody?”
“I feel… I feel like I’ve been alive for ages, Valentine.”
“I know, I know but… it feels that way. I love children, they’re adorable and… and everything I went through, and everything you went through…” he paled. “I just… I feel like I somehow have to prove the world wrong, by doing better and… and…”
Valentine sipped at his drink. “What you went through was neglect,” he sipped at his tea, “and because of that you feel like you don’t have a family.”
“No, no, let me finish. It’s fine to feel that way, I think of you as family, but we’re very different, and well… I get it. And I know you intend to give any kid, yours, adopted, whatever, the best possible life. I know you plan to raise it lovingly. But,” he took a deep breath, “you need help. You need to feel whole, you can’t fill the emptiness with a relationship or a child. So until you feel whole on your own, I wouldn’t approve of you getting a child.”
They both sipped their drink for a while in silence.
“However,” Valentine realised, “I would support you and the child, weather I approved of your decision or not.”
Clement smiled, “is that why you don’t like people?”
Valentine scrunched up his nose, “I like some people.”
Clement laughed, “very few.”
“I have high standards.”
Clement nodded, “sure. But what you say makes sense,” he sighed, “I’ll try to work on myself.”
“Good,” Valentine nodded, placing his mug in the sink, “until you figure all of that out though. I think I need a good nights sleep.”
Clement handed him his own mug, “now that’s a good plan.” Clement moved to the door.
“Clement,” Valentine stood at the door to his bedroom, on the other side of the quarters.
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“Remember we have a meeting tomorrow at eight.”
The man bit his lip and nodded.
“Don’t be late.”
“Yes…. Your Majesty…” he groaned as he left to return to his own quarters.