After a mad run for Alexandria to attend my own wedding on time, we finally are in Tyberian space. Man, that was close. If I was late to this, my dad would have my head.
So, here I am about to marry a total stranger for something our people did eighteen hundred years ago. Humph. And at the peak of that, I have to do it six months early! I had my time off from school planned out! I could have been back a month early, met this girl before the wedding, discover our lack of commonality, and ended the wait, knowing I would at least enjoy my fun once prior. Life just is not fair to royalty. It is these matters in which I envy the life of a commoner living under the peaceful rule of the Tyberian Empire. Instead, I have the privilege to be part of the insanity maintaining it. Hooray for me.
Should you wonder what has made it necessary for me to marry this girl, let me try to explain. What I know of history explains that not long after our people began to travel in space again, about nineteen hundred years ago, two families settled Thorvus-Maxia, the Thorvian and Maxian families. As if you could not figure this out. What you may not be aware of is the fact about eighteen hundred years ago, we started a war with them for a reason that is lost to time, and we fought for three hundred years. Realize this was not simply a war between the Alexandrian and the Thorvus-Maxian colonists; nearly every species we had contacted, up to that point, was involved. History says the Mercenary Guild got involved. This should be informative. The Guild only get involved if there is a guarantee of lengthy, unrestrained combat—decades-long combat, no-rules warfare. I would not want to be alive then. Without need of saying, peace finally came about fourteen hundred years ago, but three hundred years proved to be long enough to develop and harbor animosity. And this animosity, though not as serious, continues down to this day.
My father, the King, however, found a condition of the treaty was our houses had to unite in marriage (of our own free will, I might add), in order for there no longer to be a division between us. Well, other than the free will aspect, my father, the King, feels this is an equitable solution. Good he did not ask me about it.
I cannot tell you much about her, unfortunately. I did try when I was younger to at least learn a little about her, but because she has ignored my efforts, I have chosen to ignore this situation as much as physically possible. What I do know is not at all appealing. For example, I have learned (and do not ask how I know this, because I am not even sure my dad knows) she has some kind of emotional disorder brought on by events that occurred very early in life. It would have been shortly after our parents made this brilliant plan to bring us together in matrimony. Hmm. Maybe that is it. If it is, then I can guess she is about as excited about this as I am. Then there is, of course, the rumors she is disturbingly hideous, which I do not believe. Well, not really.
So, you probably are wondering how I feel about her, whoever she is. Well, as long as she is not overly emotional, clingy—or a controller freak, as I believe the humans call it—and she has pretty good teeth and hair, I can live with her. Otherwise, I will have to see about getting separate quarters … What am I saying? I am not talking about a horse! This is a person!
I guess I have not said any of this out loud. To be clear, who would I tell? My parents? What would I say? ‘Hey, Dad, I do not know if I could bring myself to marry an irritating girl.’ Yeah, I can just imagine how he would react. ‘Son,’ he would say ‘if I did not need you to marry her, I would disown you and banish you from Alexandria.’ No, I do not think this is one of those father-son topics. Well, at least I know her name. I have it written down somewhere … here it is! … Rebecca Maxia. That is a pretty first name in any case. I wonder if she will let me call her Becky? It would help if I at least could find an actual picture of the girl. They could have me marrying anybody, for all that is known!
Well, at the very least I can always say her name, and then I will know who I am supposed to be kissing.
This is the frustrated captain, signing off.
King Mordecai Tyberius stares intently at the copper-toned ship setting down on the tarmac before him. He folds his arms, his finger tapping his arm as the gantry lowers.
Richard steps off the Spartacus, his friends following. He sees his father, the king, is there to welcome him. On each side of the king are security officials wearing the standard-issue security uniforms, a double-breasted silver jacket, two rows of gold buttons up the middle of the chest on either side of center, trimmed in gold with ceremonial tails on the jackets, along with gold epaulettes and fringing, and the appropriate rank insignia marked in white thread. The pants, a wide gold strip of finely embroidered ribbon runs the length of them, each with a gold sheathed sword, less than half a meter, tied to the leg opposite the king. Each stands at attention, their hand on the hilt of their sword. They each bow as Richard approaches, their hand never leaving the hilt. “Son,” he says, now approaching Richard, “you really need to understand the seriousness of this wedding. This is more than just a dinner party you can walk in on late.”
Richard ignores his comment. “Glad to see you too, Father. How is Mother? That is good to hear.”
The king frowns, giving his son a piercing glare. He looks up to Richard’s friends, who are standing behind him. He quickly smiles, laughing at his son’s remark. “Son, let us head for home and discuss this. There are a number of things we need to talk about before this wedding happens tomorrow. There are traditions on both sides that must be upheld, protocols of honor, and ceremonial passage rights that you must understand and accomplish in order for this to be a success.”
Richard stares blankly as the king continues to rattle off procedures and regulations he is to perform for the wedding. Then, shaking his head, he walks toward the exit gate, his surprised friends following.
The king suddenly notices Richard is leaving. “Richard?” The king turns as his son walks past him along with his reluctant friends, and follows them. “Richard, you must understand these things must be done as they benefit …”
Richard stops, looking up at the clear blue sky. “‘Both Alexandria and Thorvus-Maxia, uniting them for the first time in nearly two millenniums. Then we can finally be one people again.’ I know, Father. You give me this speech every time I reveal my feelings on the matter.” He turns to the king. “Every time we do those stupid marriage drills, you have given me these stupid speeches for the past fifteen years.” He snaps to one of the security officers, the officer turns to see Richard pointing at the ground before him. The officer nods, then turns toward the king. “I know what this is supposed to do to benefit Alexandria, but I do not have to savor it.” Richard continues toward the gate, his friends still following.
The king nods his head to the security officer, who darts away. “Where are you going now? You have to practice!”
Richard turns toward the king again. “I am going to show my friends Allsophoria for a brief span. I will be home in time to do the drills.” Two long, sleek black vehicles approach the gate as Richard speaks.
They climb into the first long, sleek black vehicle hovering on the other side of the gate. The vehicle then moves away. The king, looking down at the ground, finally enters the remaining vehicle, and it too quickly departs.
Richard stares out the window. Joe, sitting next to him, inches closer. “How are you about this wedding thing? I mean, really?” Richard remains silent. “You never talked about it in school, for something that will affect your life in such a profound way.” Richard continues to stare out the window.
Tess folds her arms. “Well, I don’t feel so bad since you didn’t mention to anyone how you feel about this.” She shakes her head. “Even to your best friend.”
Richard looks at a passing building, noticing the contrasting hues on the exterior. “I do not know. Before now, I would not think about it. I just thought of it as something I would not have to deal with until I was an adult. I avoided thinking about how my life would be after it happened.” Richard sighs. “It always such a distant future time. It was, until recently, six months away.”
Tess leans forward. “Well, it’s here now. And whether you like it or not, it’s about to happen.”
Joe nods, looking out the front windshield. “Yeah. You better learn to accept this reality.”
Richard sighs. “Yeah, accept it. It would appear I have little choice in the matter.”
“Yes, you do,” Joe corrects, turning back to Richard. “You can choose to accept it and make the best if it, or you can choose not to and hate the rest of your life.” He pauses for emphasis. “I hear your people are renowned for your long lives.”
Richard continues to stare out the window, then quickly turns to Joe. “I am guessing you could not reach Jen?”
Joe returns his eyes to the front windshield. “No, I got a hold of her. She’s upset I left the planet without getting her permission.” Joe smiles. “But I think she’s more upset about missing your wedding.” He looks over to Richard. “She loves weddings.”
Richard cracks a smile. “I will make sure she receives a copy of the visual historical record.”
Joe leans toward Richard. “Remember, your choice,” he reminds.
Richard nods as the sleek vehicle slows, entering a narrow drive. “That is something I will have to think about tonight.” The sleek vehicle stops in front of the Allsophoria Mall, the largest on Alexandria. Richard notices the vehicle’s slowing. “Why are we stopping here? Who said to stop here?”
“I’ve always wanted to come here,” remarks Ana as she climbs out of the vehicle, stands outside, and looks around. “I hear it’s the largest mall in this part of the galaxy.”
Tess climbs out, everyone else following. “Well, they’re still adding onto it, so it is getting bigger!” Ana and Tess walk into the mall through the large emerald-colored glass doors.
“Hey, wait a cycle!” yells Richard, the stragglers dashing to follow them.
Ana looks into store after store. “Wow! There’s so many of them! If I knew we were coming here, I would have brought more money!” Tess leads Ana into a women’s formal wear store with Richard, Joe, and Maice following.
Maice winches emphatically upon seeing the many stores. He turns to Ana. “Why are we here? Couldn’t we go to a firing range or something?” He stares off, wound up in this thought. “You know, there’s nothing like the smell of spent gunpowder in the wind or the feel of the kick from an antique nine millimeter as you hit the center of a bull’s eye.” He gestures as he describes the entire firing-range experience.
Before he can continue with his chain of thought, Richard brings him back to reality. “We do not allow concussive weapons on our planet.”
Maice, regaining his composure, grunts in disgust. “Your loss.”
“How do you like this one?” Ana holds up a green and silver dress in front of her. “Do you think I should get a silver or green wrap to go with it?” Tess nods approvingly, while Richard and Joe look over the dress, and Ana, as she models it before them.
“What’s this for?” blurts Maice, gesturing accusingly at the dress. “Why do you even need a dress like this?”
Ana sulks at him. “For Richard’s wedding? You have to wear something formal. Right, Richard?”
“Huh?” Richard, upon hearing his name, stops staring at the swirling dress. “Oh, yeah, definitely. In fact, if my family does not like what you are wearing, they will have the fashion police arrest you.”
She holds up the dress again to her body, sauntering over to Richard. “Do you think I can get in wearing this?” she asks softly.
Richard swallows, looking at the neckline, or lack thereof, the strapless formal dress would have on Ana. “Oh, you could get in even if you did not have it on.” Tess elbows Richard, Maice turning to him with a disapproving glare.
Ana smiles, glancing quickly at Maice as she walks toward the purchase counter. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Richard looks up as Maice quickly turns away. He cringes. “Uh, did I just say that out loud?”
Joe shakes his head, trying not to laugh. “Remember, you’re getting married tomorrow, Richard.”
The group then moves to a men’s formal wear store. Maice stops at the entrance. “Now what are we getting?” He glares intensely at Ana. “What are you possibly going to need from here?”
Ana stops, turning on her toes to face Maice. “Well, I don’t need anything from here, but you might.” He turns away from her as she put her hands on her hips. “For the wedding, remember?” Maice crosses his arms in defiance. “Maice, you have to wear a tuxedo.”
“No! I’m not wearing that! I can wear my service dress uniform!” He turns his back on the store, ready to walk away. Ana comes up behind him.
“Maice,” Ana says sternly, but with her voice still very soft, “the reason why you have been showing such poor progress recently is because you are resisting me all the time. You need to learn to compromise a little.” Maice turns around, his arms still crossed.
Her voice becomes a little less adamant, expressing more compassion. “Maice, I’m not trying to change you. I’m just asking for you to please cooperate with me on this. I’m sure you appreciate Richard’s invitation to his wedding…” She looks over to Richard. He nods in agreement. “So the least you could do is dress accordingly.”
Maice unfolds his arms. “All right,” he says defensively, “I’ll wear the suit.” He points a thumb at himself. “But I’m choosing which one I’m gonna wear!”
Ana smiles. “I want you to.” Ana turns around, moving back to one of the racks. She glances briefly at Maice, looking him up and down completely. She turns to the rack, immediately plucking a tuxedo from the assortment. “How about this one?”
Maice moves closer to her to get a better look at it. He starts to nod his head, then quickly shakes it, walking away. He walks back again, getting still closer, touching the fabric and checking the seams before stepping back and folding his arms, groaning. He looks at Ana. “Well, um, what do you think?” he asks.
“I like it.”
Maice nods. “I guess I’ll take this one.”
Ana smiles, patting him on the shoulder. “See? That wasn’t so bad!” Maice stands tall for a moment, his face beaming. Richard and Joe look at each other, hoping the other will have an explanation.
Before there is one, Richard hears his name yelled by a squeaky voice. A cold chill goes up Richard’s spine. “Richie! Hey, Richie! It’s me, Kat!” The squeaky voice yells. Tess, hearing the voice as well, starts to move away, disappearing into another nearby store.
Joe looks toward the voice. “Who’s Kat?”
Richard put his head in his hands, not seeing Tess conveniently disappear. “It’s Katherine, my… expressive cousin.”
A small girl, about eight or nine, runs up to Richard, jumping on his back. “Hey! Whatcha doin’ here? Aren’t you supposed to be doin’ your drills? Your dad’s gonna be mad when he finds out.” She looks over to Joe, blinking her big blue eyes. “Who are you?”
Richard vainly attempts to remove his cousin. “Kat, really! Why do you do this every time you see me?”
Kat ignores him, still staring at Joe. “How come your skin’s so dark? You forget to take a bath or somethin’?”
“Hey!” Richard finally pries Kat off his back. “Now that was very rude. You apologize to Joe right now!” Kat continues to stare at Joe to the exclusion of everything else.
Kat continues with her interrogation. “Just where are you from, anyway? How would you like if we invaded and made you people take a bath? Ya know, we’re the most powerful race in the galaxy.” Richard grabs her by the head and turns her to face him.
“Kat, are you listening to me? Why are you being so rude to my friend?” Richard releases his grasp, allowing for a response.
Kat shrugs. “I ain’t never seen nobody like him before. I wanted to know more about him.”
Richard rubs his face, wailing quietly in his hands. “Well, I do not think those are the best questions to ask someone the first time you meet them. They are in bad taste”—Richard folds his arms— “and lack tact, for that matter.”
Kat put her hands on her hips in opposition. “Well, them were the questions I wanted answers to.” Ana and Maice walk over to them.
Ana smiles, moving closer to Kat, bending down to her level. “Oh, hello there! Who is this, Richard?” Kat stares at Ana. Ana looks back, not letting Kat’s piercing stare perturb her. “What’s your name, young lady?”
Kat ignores her question, responding with one of her own. “What’s the matter with your voice? Why do you sound like that?”
Ana raises her eyebrows. “My voice?” she pauses for a moment. “You mean my accent! I come from an area called Mexico on the planet Earth.”
Kat continues, “Why don’t you talk like normal people? You don’t sound normal!” Ana scowls for a moment at the little girl, then looks up at Richard. As Richard moves toward them, she looks back at Kat’s fierce expression, her hands on her hips, stepping closer to Ana.
Ana shakes her head, looking away for a moment at Maice who is starting to notice the melee, a smile creeping onto his face. She turns back to the small girl. “You mean like you?” she says under her breath as she stands up.
Richard tries to laugh, finally stepping between the frigid, steely glares of Kat and Ana. “Well, Kat, I think I hear your mother calling!”
Kat quickly darts from Richard and continues to stare at Ana. “What did you say to me? I could have you put to death for bein’ a smart-aleck!” She wags her finger in defiance.
Ana turns away from her, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she turns. “Tell me when she’s gone.”
Maice, noting Ana’s irritation, grins deeply. “So I’m guessing she’s not being cooperative?” he remarks sarcastically. “Perhaps therapy could help her! It’s the answer to everyone’s problems!”
Kat turns to Maice. “Hey, nobody ain’t talkin’ to you! You shut up!”
Maice, still grinning, stares down at Kat, folding his arms. “Oh? And you think I’m going to listen to the likes of you?” he bellows.
Kat stares up defiantly. “You better, if you know what’s good for ya!” She points over to two not-so-disguised royal security officers sitting nearby who are now glancing up from their digital news pads. “I just scream, and they’ll drop you where you stand!” She cups her hands to her mouth, and begins to take a deep breath.
Richard covers his cousin’s mouth just as she starts to squeal, waving off the not-so-disguised royal security officers, and he leads her a little way away from the group. He sits her down on a nearby bench. “Kat, now you traveled too far! What is your goal with this? I know Feldspari can be blunt at times.” He looks up at Maice, who is now staring blankly at the not-so-disguised security officers. “But this is shameful!”
Kat, pouting, crosses her arms, looking away from Richard. “You always got a lot of friends. Nobody ever wants to talk to me!”
“Kat, the way you treat people, it is a wonder somebody has not tried to hurt you.” He sits down beside her. “You cannot expect people to like you if you are bullying with your words. You have to treat them the way you want to be treated.” Kat looks at the ground. “Now, if you apologize to everybody, they may let this incident slip.”
She looks up at her cousin and then nods approvingly. “Well, okay.” They get up.
“Good. Now let us go over there and see if we can make you three new friends.”
A sleek vehicle pulls into the drive of the Castle Tyberius, the capitol of Alexandria and home of the Tyberian House. Joe gazes from a window in the sleek vehicle, taking note of the large castle they approach. “Did you ever visit the United Kingdom?” Richard shakes his head. “You probably would be surprised to see the similarities this castle has to some there.”
“I saw the one in your home city,” he points to a tower. “It has similar architecture,” he admits, “but it is smaller.”
Joe laughs. “The castle in Wichita?” He shakes his hands, still laughing. The others, overhearing their conversation, start to smile. “That is hardly a castle! There are real castles in Europe.” Joe gestures grandly to the castle. “Castles, like this.”
This one, Joe sees, is constructed entirely of a white marble and ivory. The eight towers, two at each corner, are capped with a roof made of titanium shingles shaped like cedar shake shingles. The trim around the windows in the walls and towers are deeply overlaid in pure, glistening gold.
In preparation for the wedding, several of the servants are hanging large gold banners, ornately embroidered in an ivory white, the seals of the Tyberian and Maxian families on each them, from the castle towers.
Richard jumps out of the vehicle, the others close behind him. As the sleek vehicle pulls away, the quintet climb the ivory stairs to the entrance.
Queen Anastasia Rochelle Macabee-Tyberius, hearing of his arrival to Alexandria, awaits him at the entrance. She hugs him as he reaches the doorway. Richard blushes.
“I am so proud of my son! He will be married by this time tomorrow!” Seeing her son is now trying to smile and squirm away, she lets go. Ana and Tess look away, trying to hide her grins.
“Hi, Mom,” Richard says, still smiling at his mother. His mother pauses, smiling and nodding, finally grasping one of his arms.
After waiting a few moments, she chooses to break the silence. “So are you excited? Tomorrow is your big day!”
Richard’s smile disappears as he lets out a deep sigh. “Yeah,” he says quietly, “excited.”
Still smiling, she shakes her head. “Richard, what is wrong? You can tell me.”
Richard fakes a smile. “Nothing, I will be fine.” As he finishes, he sees the King approaching rapidly. Richard’s mother turns to look and then quickly back to her son to see his expression change to one of disgust.
She steps up to him, taking his hands. “Richard, please understand. Your father wants you to be happy. This is going to be difficult for him as it will be for you.”
Richard scoffs. “Yeah, I am certain it will be difficult for him.”
The king stops a little way away from them. He points to two security officers standing along the walls, the two immediately moving to Richard’s friends. “Show our guests to their accommodations.” He looks over to Richard as the guards escort his friends away. “Son, you are late, and we have a lot of material to cover.” Richard looks at his mother one last time, nodding respectfully. She smiles, nodding in return as he then follows his father down the long entrance hall.
As they turn a corner up the hall, the king turns to Richard, his arms behind his back under a long flowing cape. “How is your ship doing?” he asks spontaneously.
“Fine, just fine,” Richard coldly replies.
The king continues unabated. “You know if you need anything, you can always come to me. I want you to know I am here to help.” Richard grunts.
The king stops. “Richard, there is something you now need to be aware of regarding your marriage.” Richard turns to him in apprehension. He then begins to search the hall, carefully eyeing the corridors. He turns back to Richard. “Let us go to my study.”
Richard’s mouth drops in shock by what he hears. His shock broadens when he finds himself before the door of the ‘forbidden room.’ He begins to wonder what would cause such a drastic turn of events since, before now, his father would have him expelled from this area of interstellar space for looking through the keyhole of his study.
A sense of anticipation, mixed with fear, begins to fill Richard as his father opens the door and steps in. He turns, realizing his son is still standing in the doorway, peering nervously in the open door. He quickly waves to him. “Please, come in. There are things you must now know.” Behind the door, Richard can see a winding stone staircase leading down to a basement lair.
As they proceed, his father continues. “Son, for nearly two millennia this castle has served as the home of the Tyberius family. Each king who has taken the throne has recorded the events of our planet, as well as chronicle our early attempts at space exploration.” As they near the bottom, Richard can already see into the next chamber.
Its walls are lined with shelves, nearly to the ceiling, of dusty, brown scrolls. Each of the rolled-up scrolls are tied neatly with a wide silk ribbon, though these vary in color. The majority of the ribbons Richard sees on them are green or gold.
Upon reaching the bottom his father immediately moves over to a table in the middle of the room. Atop this table is an opened scroll, two-thirds of it still rolled up. Richard can see this scroll’s ribbon is a vibrant scarlet. “In here, we also keep information that must not become common knowledge—information about battle strategies, weapon designs, and additional information on events as they actually happened.”
Richard stops at the entrance. “Why is the historical information kept secret? Should not the commoners know these things? They trust us.”
His father continues toward the table. “Son, it is for their benefit we do not tell them. If they knew these things, our whole society could collapse.”
“Well, I do not understand.” He folds his arms. “You mean, there is history that is a lie?”
His father smiles, shaking his head. “Oh, no! Nothing of the sort. In principle, all you know is true.” His father grabs another scroll, also with a vibrant crimson ribbon binding it. “You see, the details for many of the conflicts of our peoples have been obscured. Details like how they started or who did what, sometimes even why. Some events were not recorded or verified in the official historical records, or lost because their relevance was lost to time.”
Richard walks closer to the table, in meditation. “You mean…” he says, thinking a little more, “you mean like the reason we fought the Maxians to begin with. I never understood that.” His father continues to probe the contents of the scrolls.
“Ah!” he exclaims, finally reaching the passage he sought in the scroll he holds. “Of course! I would expect you might not. Which is the reason why you may not appreciate the significance of your wedding.” He looks up to his son. “You see, your wedding will mark the first marriage of a member of the Tyberius and Maxian Families in eighteen hundred years. Since then, there has been a strong animosity between our two families.”
He motions for his son to move nearer. “In the hundredth year of the reign of Orpheus Tyberius,” his father begins, summarizing the text, “he married the daughter of Thoust Maxia, named Rebecca. They were happily married for over fifty years.
“Then, on their fiftieth anniversary, the Guild of Science presented to the king a device they called the planet hopper.” He looks up at Richard. “It was basically a crude version of a spacecraft, lacking any of the capabilities we know them to have today.” His father looks briefly to a shelf before himself. “They were able to develop it quickly, basing the design largely on remnants of Thorvian vessel fragments found throughout Alexandria.” He looks down at the text. “Despite its rough finish, the queen found it fascinating, taking an interest in this technology. Before that week was over, she made preparations to venture out to a nearby planet. This was against his wishes, thinking about her safety. Despite this, she ventured out and safely returned from the planet we now know as Thorvus-Maxia.”
“It is amazing she even found a habitable planet!” exclaims Richard. “If she had missed and had landed on Borvine or Thellos, she would have died in their atmosphere!”
“Yes,” his father said in agreement. “It was indeed fortunate the planet was where it was when she launched, since it was not until after her trip that the Guild of Science realized how to properly apply the laws of physics to calculate a flight course.” He glances back to the scroll. “After several more successful flights, the king decreed that the planet be populated with any who wished to venture to this world.”
Richard looks up. “But all of this is in the official account.”
His father points at a paragraph in the scroll. “That is true. But at this time another family was trying to come to power.” He looks up to Richard, pausing. “No, they were seeking to return to power. They were headed by the grandson of the infamous Phalanx Thorvus. He sought to rule this new world, since his family lost control of Alexandria nearly two thousand years ago today in the fall of the Thorvus Dominion. He likely thought to put a rift between the two most powerful families on Alexandria, to accomplish his goal.”
Richard nods his head, his mind seeing the connections. “You mean us and the Maxians. But how would he benefit from that?”
His father unrolls the scroll further, revealing papers still within the scroll. “At this point in time, both of these worlds were under the control of our families, primarily the Tyberian family, since we were ruling at that time.” He pulls a page from among the papers. “But after a while, the Thorvus family introduced the idea to the Maxian family they should exclusively rule the new world, since it was a member of their family who had ventured out and found it in the first place.” Richard’s father shows him the page, the words “Letter of Protest” ornately scripted at the top of the page.
Richard nods. “This is simply how a concern was first raised.” He lifts the page. “The first efforts of civil discourse.” Richard takes a casual glance at the material, then frowns. “This is a binding legal document, is it not?” His father nods. “The objections raised have no merit. Everyone would know this.” He notes the large ‘X’ in the corner. “And it was raised anonymously? Who would take this serious?”
“In my research,” his father explains, “I thought about how this could be presented acceptably, while the author remain anonymous doing so.” He looks under the table, grasping a few papers. He pulls one page out, handing it to Richard. “It appears it was not as anonymous as presented.” His father points to certain letters and flourishes on both documents. “Each family head, each noble would have a scribe for all their documents. Since these men prided their technical mastery with the pen, each document they produced was considered a masterwork.”
“It would appear these were written by the same scribe,” Richard states, making a closer examination of the penmanship. “Who produced this document?”
“A scribe in the employ of the Thorvian House.” Richard looks up. “This would likely be known by nobility, increasing the likelihood of its acceptance.”
Richard lays the second document down. “To what end? It would seem nothing to be gained in opposing this.”
His father nods. “The House of Maxia only sought to rule this world with our family, and we were more than happy to share with them in this privilege.” He lays down other “Letters of Protest,” dated after the first. Richard sees all of the letters share similar penmanship. “But the Thorvian head continued, eventually making the Maxian house feel we were cheating them out of what was theirs.”
Richard looks up from the documents. “Was the planet theirs? The Queen did find it.”
“Technically, no,” He says, rolling the scroll over to get to the next paragraphs. “You see, the queen has written here with her own hand”—he pulls out a ‘Letter of Ownership,’ written in a fine, delicate script— “the fact she originally claimed it for the house she has married into, the House of Tyberius. But despite this, it would appear her father was becoming more and more unreasonable on the matter, judging from the journal entries referenced by King Orpheus. After a while, it is likely her frustration with her father was directed negatively to her household, including her children and husband.” Richard reads along with his father in the records.
Richard’s father smiles, seeing his son lean closer to the documents, reading for himself. He points to another paragraph. “It appears likely her husband did little to ease the situation. In his writings, Orpheus rarely speaks well of her father, save his departure to the new planet.” Richard’s father points to a dated passage. “Within fifty years of discovering the new world, the queen moved to the other planet as well, with the rest of her family.
“Within days of her departure, and even in his writings leading up to it, he admitted he failed her as a husband, not valuing or appreciating her view of the matter. So, in an attempt to win her back, he trekked to the other planet, despite his failing health, with a convoy of various gifts.” Richard looks up. “When the queen heard what he was trying to do, she went out to meet him.”
Richard folds his arms. “This is one of those discrepancies.” His father nods. “I thought, the official record shows, we were going over there to fight to get the planet back. And I thought the king was injured in this battle, which was the reason he was in poor health.”
His father looks up again at his son, placing his hands on Richard’s shoulders, smiling. “That is right! This is what the official history textbooks say happened. My research into the matter reveal the lineage of many of the historians of the day were predominantly of Thorvian descent and, thus, shifted the blame far away from their family. The official history fails to even mention their ‘protest’ of the planet’s ownership.” He points down at the scroll. “But it was they who started the war that lasted for nearly three hundred years and, in the process, annihilated themselves.” He points to a page taken from King Orpheus Tyberius’s personal journal marked with the king’s seal.
“When her ship approached the convoy of her husband, the Thorvians used a new weapon that we know as the fusion pulse cannon. It instantly destroyed her ship. The stunned king watched helplessly as her ship melted away into oblivion. Although he was overcome with grief and thoughts of revenge, the king realized the significance of this event. But he was unable to do respond in kind since the Thorvians were armed and he was not. So, they rushed home and prepared for war. And not a minute too late, since the Maxians led an invasion force into Allsophoria two days later.”
Richard stands up. “So we were in a conflict that should not have happened.” He pauses, thinking for a moment. “But why did the Maxians not try to find out what happened? Did they not investigate the wreckage?”
His father stands up as well. “Richard, understand the situation was especially tense, because of what this planet was made to represent. The slightest hint of aggression would have started the war much, much sooner. In addition, the families had members who were all too ready to make the first strike against the other. So when this incident happened in space, they were filing into battle before anything could be said to the contrary.” He gestures to a small stack of books nearby. “Even the official history, for some centuries after the conflict, was never verified properly. This is why, to this day, the official accounts still contain these errors.”
Richard’s father looks down at the scrolls, grasping another grayed scroll, unrolling it on top of the previous. “It took three hundred years for us to finally stop shooting at each other long enough to even attempt a treaty.” He looks up at Richard. “By this point, we had brought several other worlds into our conflict, some suspect even the Mercenary Guild, so it had become more than just our personal conflict.” He looks down at the account. “The head of a mediation family known only as the Maelstrom was called in to direct the peace talks.” He looks up to Richard. “With their suspected mastery of time, this race devotes their efforts to finding peace for warring planets.” He turns again to the scroll. “After a few months, we had put down arms against one another. But the Maelstrom said in order for the peace to be complete and to last, our families must unite.
“Obviously, we did not. Then, about twelve hundred years ago, The Maelstrom checked up on us. When they saw we were still separated and animosity had built up between us, they warned us of the doom we faced by not respecting their wishes. They said that within twelve hundred years’ time, our worlds would be destroyed because of this. The Maelstrom said this 1198 years ago as of tomorrow.” Richard’s heart skips a beat on hearing this.
Richard looks up. “Why has nothing been done about this sooner?”
“I did not read about this until about twenty years ago, not long after you were born. I quickly informed the king of Thorvus-Maxia. At first, he thought it was some hoax I had formulated. But after reviewing his own records, he knew I was right.
“So from that point, we made careful plans to have you two married as soon as you were of age. It had to be done without your consent, since we are not afforded the luxury of allowing you to come to love each other.” He looks at his son, putting his hands on Richard’s shoulders. “This is the reason I cannot emphasize to you enough this wedding is for the benefit of both of our worlds. It means more than just peace,” he states earnestly. “It means our survival.”
Richard sits on the edge of the table, starting off into space, trying to comprehend this simple statement. It is something he continues to think on as he follows his father back up the stairs to his marriage drills.
Richard strides briskly down the guest wing hallway, searching for a specific door number. He looks down again at the “42” he has written on his hand and the abbreviated map along with it. He finally sees the number on a door just ahead on his left. He knocks on the door.
Joe opens the door. “I’m surprised you can find your way around this place,” he comments. “It’s huge!”
Richard smiles, showing his friend the map. “Oh, I still get lost.” He gestures for Joe to follow him.
“Where are we going?” he asks, closing his door.
“We are having the wedding rehearsals.” He looks over to Joe. “And I need my best man to be there.”
Joe jumps. “For real? You want me to be your best man?”
Richard laughs little. “Well, actually, I have to have more than one. And they have to be friends of mine. As part of tradition, it is a display of familial strength. By having a large number of best men, it shows I have many ties to many families, families I can call on in a time of war.”
Joe steps back. “Are you planning on going to war anytime soon?”
Richard, seeing his fear, shakes his head. “Oh, no, no! It is a tradition I have to uphold. We are not going to war.” Richard leans forward. “At least not right now.” Richard smiles lightly.
“Ha, ha,” Joe remarks, following him down the hall. “So what does she look like?”
Richard stops. “Um, I dunno. I have not seen her. But I was assured she was here, so I might see her tonight.”
Joe scratches the back of his neck. “I hope so. Otherwise, how will you know who you’re marrying? Or if you got the right girl?”
Richard tries to laugh. “With all that is suspended from this, I cannot imagine that happening.”
The two continue down the halls, finally emerging in one of the main corridors, leading to the banquet hall. Joe looks up at the architecture. “This really is a huge castle.”
Richard nods. “Yeah, the Thorvians liked big.”
Joe looks over to Richard. “The Thorvian family built this castle? So, this place is about two thousand years old?
“Over five thousand years old,” Richard admits. “It has definitely seen a share.”
“Seems strange your people would allow it to stand, considering what the Thorvians represent.”
Richard shakes his head. “Actually, that is exactly why it is still standing.” Richard looks at Joe. “It is a constant reminder of the oppressive rule they imposed on our world, on a large area of the known galaxy. Only by knowing and understanding the past can you avoid repeating those mistakes.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Joe remarks.
They enter the coronation hall. The coronation hall at the center of the castle is an area of the castle that once was the courtyard within the castle, but official Tyberian record notes three thousand years earlier it was covered with a titanium and tinted-glass dome. While the pale azure metal stands in stark contrast to the marble and ivory used elsewhere throughout the castle, Richard looks over the efforts to bring the materials into harmony, including a marble and titanium rail on the third floor terrace surrounding the hall, and marble trim at the base of each decorated titanium column. Each column has the likeness of a tree with branches of titanium appearing about thirty meters up, broad leaves decorating each. The glass roof, framed in titanium, is tinted to appear like the sky, partially filled with fluffy clouds. At the center of the roof is a clear, round portal, allowing natural light through at full intensity.
On either side of a main, carpeted aisle are hundreds of chairs. At the end of the aisle, at the center of the room, is a raised platform where Richard’s father and a few others are standing. As the two make their way to the platform, Richard’s father takes note of their arrival, moving to meet them. “Thank you for being punctual, son,” he remarks, hurrying them onto the platform. He looks over to Joe as they ascend the platform. “Is he to be the primary?”
Richard looks back to Joe. “Yeah, if it is to be,” he huffs, noting a reflection in a huge pink crystal on the corner of the stage. He quickly turns around.
From a side access, beneath dense, pewter-grey velvet curtains, near the coronation hall main entrance, three women emerge. “Look!” Richard says in awe, pointing at the trio, “Is that… her?”
The three, walking single file, quickly make their way to the coronation hall main entrance. The leading and trailing girls giggle as they look about the room, pointing at things they see in the room. The middle girl, however, doesn’t show the same excitement on her face as the other two.
Joe glances at the girls. “I’ve never seen anyone dye their hair that shade of blue, or purple, before. There a reason?”
Richard focuses on the middle girl, whose hair is an especially deep violet color. “Everyone on Thorvus-Maxia has a blue tint to their hair, because of the minerals impregnating the soil and air on their world,” Richard relates. He continues to stare at her hair, a deep shade of violet, taking on a distinct lavender tint at times when the light strikes it just so, setting off her light brown eyes and dark pink lips. Joe looks at Richard as he starts to smile, taking a step closer to her.
When Richard looks closer, he frowns, seeing she stares blankly forward, in their direction of travel, looking down when she nears another person. When they reach the hall’s entrance, the middle girl stops, looking across the hall at the platform. When she sees Richard, her expression changes to a look of surprise, seeing that he is looking back.
But, she pauses to reset the moment. Now staring intently at Richard, her eyes search deeply into his. As she stares, Richard then feels the vacancy of the hall. For that moment, it having only two occupants.
When one of the other girls suddenly grab her arm, she, only then, turns away, disappearing down the main entrance. Richard turns back to his father.
He nods his head. “Yes. That was Princess Rebecca Michelle Maxia.” He smiles. “Your future bride.”
Richard looks back at the vacant area the princess previously occupied, as his father turns to the master of ceremonies. Joe steps closer to Richard. “Not feeling so bad about this wedding thing?” he comments, noting Richard’s reaction to her entrance.
Richard smiles. “Well, at least my worst fear is put to rest.”
Joe folds his arms. “And what’s that?”
Richard raises his eyebrows. “Well, I can clearly see she is not ugly,” he sarcastically remarks.
Joe smiles, shaking his head. “It’s good to see you’re in good spirits about this now. It’s downhill from here!”
“He will need this.” His father beckons, handing Richard a long brass horn.
Richard looks at the instrument. “What will he need this for?”
Richard’s father gives him a look of befuddlement. “The primary must announce the close of the ceremony.”
Richard suddenly cringes. He looks over to Joe, trying to counter Joe’s frown with a larger grin of his own. “Sorry, I forgot about that detail!”
“How convenient,” mutters Joe, taking the horn. “So what am I supposed to do with this thing?”
“At the end of the wedding, the master of ceremonies will direct you to blow the horn, and you blow it for about three or four seconds.” Joe looks at the horn. “It is a silly tradition, but it dates back to Thorvian times, so me breaking it now would probably not be in our best interests.”
Joe looks up. “I’ll do it,” he comments. “But just remember, I never learned how to play an instrument!”
After nearly two hours of rehearsals, the party rests as an informal table setting is made on the platform to serve the wedding party dinner. Several tables are bought in and arraigned in a U-shape on the expansive platform, giving room for the entire wedding party and participants to have a seat.
Richard, who returns from walking the perimeter of the hall, including the corridor outside its perimeter, approaches his father. “I thought everyone was to participate in the rehearsal,” he says. “I thought perhaps she was waiting in the corridor, or nearby, but she is not here, it would seem.”
His father, who is standing at the approach of the platform, watching the table arraignments and food being brought in, turns to his son. “It was at the request of her party you be formally introduced at this meal,” he replies, adding, “I believe they do not see the need for a rehearsal the way we do.”
Richard smirks. “I think I like her already,” he remarks.
Richard’s father smiles. “Come, have a seat at the table.” He glances back, seeing a door being opened. “I believe it is time.”
As they make their way to the table, Joe steps over to Richard. “I did okay on the horn thing, right?”
Richard laughs. “I have never heard it played with more authority, my friend!”
Joe folds his arms. “Is this a nice way of saying it’s too loud? Be straight with me now!”
Richard sits down, directing Joe to sit on his right. “Joe, if anyone manages to sleep through this wedding, they will not sleep through your stirring solo!”
Joe smiles. “Just for that, I’ll blow it even louder!”
As they both start laughing, Richard’s father moves behind his son. He puts his right hand on Richard’s shoulder as he does, using his other to point toward the entrance of the banquet hall. “Here she is.”
Entering the banquet hall are three men and four girls. The men, dressed in the official garb of Thorvus-Maxian statesmen, a long silver cloak with an intricate woven border in two shades of blue along the sleeves and collar, lead the procession, the man in the middle leading the group. While his mane still has a strong blue tint to it, it is graying, a sign of his age. The other gentlemen appear to be much younger, closer to Richard’s father’s age. Of the four girls, each wearing a long white simple dress with a similar intricate border on the sleeves in pink and silver and a wrap watching the intricate sleeve border at the waist, Richard immediately recognizes the girl in the middle from earlier.
As they step onto the platform into the midst of the U-shaped table arraignment, the group splits, the younger men and three of the girls moving to stand at their seats around the table. Once the older man stops, Richard, along with the others already seated, quickly stand.
The older man clears his throat, the young woman standing beside him now staring straight ahead, just over Richard’s shoulder. “Your Majesty, King Tyberius, ruler of the realm of Alexandria,” he starts and then, turning to the girl behind himself, continues, “may I present Crown Princess Rebecca Michelle Maxia, heir to the throne of the Thorvus Dominion and Maxian Republic.”
The king bows graciously. Richard tentatively follows, lapsing on the code of conduct on this matter, since he is staring at the princess.
“The princess has long awaited this union and hopes it to be the beginnings of a stronger unity between our families.” She looks down, bringing her hands together before herself.
The king nods. “Yes, I am certain everyone can see the benefit this has for all our peoples.” He directs them to sit at the head of the table. While Richard is expecting his father to flank him on his left, he is surprised to see the princess will be instead, to her equal surprise. After seating himself to Joe’s right, glances to his son’s surprised look. “I think it only proper the guests of honor should sit at the head of the table,” he remarks.
Joe leans over to whisper in Richard’s ear. “She probably has cooties,” he whispers, once others begin to talk among themselves.
Richard tries to ignore his remark, trying to instead think of something intelligent to say to the Princess. When he looks back at her, he notes she has the same detached expression she had earlier. She reluctantly looks at him, forcing herself to smile. “It is nice to meet you,” she says quietly.
“It is nice to meet you as well,” Richard responds, his brain not providing him much in the way of intelligible comments. “Um,” he starts again, “so how was your trip?” She cringes as he finishes his remark. “Okay, wrong subject,” he comments to himself.
Joe, seeing his friend’s failed attempt to communicate, tries to intervene. “I’m Joseph Pike,” he starts, “and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance!”
Surprised by Joe’s remark, she looks curiously at Joe. “It is a pleasure to meet you as well,” she comments in a distracted fashion. “Your complexion is different from any Alexandrian I have ever seen,” she comments candidly.
Joe smiles. “That’s because I’m not from Alexandria! I’m actually from Earth!”
The princess’s eyes light up, leaning closer to Joe by pressing closer to Richard, to inquire further. “I have never been to Earth!” She looks at Richard. “Is it anything like Alexandria?”
Richard smiles. “Well, in many ways it is much like our worlds, and in many special ways it is different.” He leans toward her, though careful not to get too close. “Their people are much like ours in complexity, but they rival us in their variety.”
She glances back at Joe, speaking more quietly. “Forgive my inquiry,” she starts. “Do all Terrans have this, well,” she stops speaking for a moment. “Deep Nubian complexion?”
Joe busts out laughing, nodding fervently. “Absolutely!”
Richard smiles, grasping his now animated friend. “He would like you to think that,” he responds. “No, their complexion ranges from a very fair light beige to a much darker shade of umber than my friend.” She leans forward. “And there is much in the way of variety between them.”
“I wish to see more people like this,” she trails off. As she does, she appears to withdraw from the conversation emotionally. “Your friend is very interesting.”
Richard, frowning, is trying to figure out what just happened. “Um,” he starts, “we could always visit Earth, if you like.” She starts to fold her arms and then decides to rub one instead. “Unless you have some reluctance of travel?”
She forces herself to smile again. “I do not wish to talk further about it.”
The king, seeing the conversations are dying down, raises a hand to signal for the first course and dinner to begin. After plates and utensils are placed before each, the king stands. “I would like mark this occasion as a favorable start to a grand future between our peoples.” He claps his hands, everyone also raising their hands to clap, some standing. “To unification!”