After the death of her mother, Princess Ikia of Ha-or rebels against her adoptive father, King Emet. Her crusade against him starts simply but quickly grows dangerous when she agrees to betray him to the Emperor of the neighboring kingdom.
Prologue: The King-
Hundreds of people – all who had left their shoes at the door, for Shekina was sacred – had crowded into the Hall of the Judge, as was called the palace throne room where the Great King Emet of Ha-or held his court. The people were so crowded inside the long, large room that they were pressed against the clean, white stone walls and seated on the sills of the tall, narrow windows.
Thousands more stood in the courtyards outside of the palace in Sekel, the capitol city of Ha-or. They were standing on all of the palace steps, loitering in the dusty road around the water fountain, and crouching in the shade offered by the large trees and hedge bushes. Several children had even climbed into the limbs of the pear tree by the court steps.
Tens of thousands more Hayoris (as the citizens of Ha-or were called) had crowded outside the elegant, wrought-iron palace gates. The gates were open, of course, as everyday, but only a fraction of the interested spectators could fit inside the courtyard. Even though only a fraction of a fraction of its citizens were gathered around the palace, the entire country of Ha-or was alive with gossip about the case their beloved King was hearing in his throne room today.
King Emet had become a widower five years before. At that time, the King had not wanted to dismiss any of the Queen’s staff and, as a tribute to his wife’s memory, had put much thought into reassigning her maidservants. One was put in the kitchen, and a second was made nurse to the King’s then four-year-old son Matthew, known as Lord Emet. The third servant, a certain young woman named Rachel, became the chambermaid for the wing of the palace that housed visiting nobles. Rachel had been a trusted minor servant to the Queen and had attended without incident for five years, since she was a young girl. After two years of her new assignment, however, Rachel had run away one night. She had disappeared from the palace without a word but had taken enough valuables belonging to the King and various other nobles to equal nearly ten years of her wages. Rachel and everything she had stolen were given up as a complete loss until three years later when a merchant recognized a unique and distinctive platinum and sapphire ring that had belonged to the Queen. The woman was captured and brought before King Emet.
Even decades later, when the story was retold to young members of the palace staff by the older ones, the tellers would always remark how changed the once-respected member of the palace staff had appeared as she knelt before the King. The young woman, who had barely been twenty when she disappeared, had aged by fifteen years during her three-year absence. She had completely squandered the wealth she had stolen and had only been foolish enough to attempt sale of the special royal ring out of desperation. When she knelt before the King that day, she was very filthy (she stank), very ill (pale skin and sharp bones), and very pregnant. They would say that it took them a long time to figure out who she was, but that King Emet knew instantly, probably even before they brought her in. It was well-known that the King saw all that happened on the Continent. Rachel, as a Hayori, knew that just the same as the rest of the people.
Rachel also knew Hayori law. The second volume of The Book of Ha-or described very specific procedures for trial and sentencing when the citizens of Ha-or wronged each other, but the country was, in the end, a monarchy. Where dispute arose, King Emet had the final say; and he had the only say in matters concerning those who had wronged him alone. Rachel had lived in Ha-or all her life and was well aware of the open-ended extent of the King’s power. She huddled on her face before the King and wept while the scribe read a list of items that had been reported missing the morning after Rachel’s disappearance.
“Look at me,” King Emet told Rachel after the scribe sat down.
Rachel sat up, her legs still tucked beneath her. She had no shoes to remove out of respect for Shekina, and her feet themselves were caked with dirt. She struggled, flinchingly, to meet his eyes, and she would not dare show disrespect by standing up to the Judge.
“Did you take these items?” he asked her.
She did not dare lie. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“All of them?”
“And a hollow, silver ball from Lord Emet’s play chamber.”
The servants had assumed Prince Matthew had lost his ball while playing in the garden, so they had not reported it among the stolen objects.
King Emet nodded and turned to the scribe. “What was the value of the stolen items?”
“With the toy?”
King Emet nodded.
The scribe figured for a moment. “Eleven hundred fifteen gold coins.”
The common people in attendance exchanged looks. That was fully ten years wages; less room and board, the debt would take thirty years to settle for a healthy woman with only herself to support. This woman would soon have a child to care for alone and could not expect to pay off the debt in any less than forty-five years, though her appearance suggested she wouldn’t live forty-five days. King Emet’s only choice for anything resembling justice would be to put the woman to death today, and Rachel recognized that fact just as well as any in the room.
“What do you think I should do?” the King asked the young woman.
Her head was bowed; her shoulders, slumped. Her head wobbled slightly as she weakly shook it in desperation. “I could never hope to repay you, Your Majesty” she told the King.
“That fact is clear to me.”
“Lord, I can promise to pay back whatever I can, but truthfully, my only recourse is to beg for mercy.”
The King frowned and nodded. He turned to a young page standing beside him. “Go get Hannah; she is in her apartment.” Hannah had been the trusted major servant to the Queen and was now nurse to Lord Emet, a job that was becoming less demanding as Matthew spent more time with his father and his tutors.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the page responded before hurrying out.
King Emet turned to his scribe and whispered instructions while the court erupted into a multitude of whispers. Why was King Emet summoning Hannah? Did Hannah know something? Did His Majesty want a witness to Rachel’s crimes? Why would he need a witness when the guilty party had already confessed to all? Did he feel that Hannah’s witness would calm the crowds when he put the woman to death?
The general consensus among the Hayoris was that the King would be only justified to do what must be done. They would not riot at the woman’s execution, and the King who knew all, already knew that. So why would he call for Hannah?
After a few moments, the King stood, walked to the edge of the platform that held his throne and raised his right hand. Only of medium stature, he still seemed to tower over the tallest of his subjects, and the crowd in the room fell silent immediately. “There is nothing more for you to see here,” he said. “Please go about your business.” He then nodded to the pair of sentries at the door, who stepped outside to deliver the order to the people in the courtyard and at the gates.
The curious citizens were disappointed, but the order would not be disobeyed. The Hayoris turned as one and began to file out of the palace, through the gates, and down the road. They would all return to their homes, fields, and shops in the city of Sekel and the towns and villages that surrounded it. When the citizens were gone, King Emet even sent most of his servants about their own business until only one sentry, one page, one minor kitchen staffer, one half-retired nursemaid, and the King himself stood in the throne room with the thief who was once again huddled, weeping, on the floor.
Book One: The Treason
Chapter one –
about twenty-one years later…
Miriam knew she was acting childish, but she was in the sort of mood where she did not care. She pulled a pillow over her head, but the pounding on the heavy wooden door still broke through her thoughts. “Princess Ikia,” the young page’s voice was nearing desperation. “Please unlock the door, your highness.”
Miriam sat up, punched the pillow, and looked around for the nearest blunt object, which was a sturdy pewter candlestick on her bedside table. She grabbed the candlestick and hurled it at the door, making solid contact. The pounding stopped, and all was silent until the nervous voice spoke again.
“Lady Emet,” said the page, “your father says you must come down for supper.”
“Tell King Emet that I am feeling poorly.”
“Yes, I gave him that message, and he said he knew that you were fine, and I was to bring you down for supper. No pretext.”
Miriam bit back a scream of frustration and kicked her feet into one of her solid cherry-wood bedposts. She was unable to bite back the shout of pain that followed the private display of will, and after a careful investigation, discovered that she had probably broken the second toe on her left foot.
The young voice on the other side of the door was wavering, tentative. “Lady Emet?”
“I’ll thank you to refer to me by my NAME!” she said, indignantly.
“Certainly, Princess Ikia.”
“MIRIAM! It’s MIRIAM!”
“Certainly, Your Highness. Princess Miriam.” His tone was familiar to Miriam, patronizing though slightly confused. Miriam wondered again how she could ever hope any of the servants would understand. Of course, her given name was Ikia, but her request was simple and reasonable if anyone ever cared enough to heed it.
The citizens of Ha-or, especially the palace servants, ascribed the King with the power of all-knowing, but not even he cared to understand Miriam. Many times Miriam had smirked to hear their stories about the King who saw all, especially “Rachel in the Hall of the Judge,” which she had heard a thousand times. Unlike the commoners, she did not believe that he knew everything. Even so, sometimes she couldn’t deny that something was different about him. For instance, whenever she was truly ill, he never requested her presence at a meal and always had broth and tonic sent to her room before she even notified her servants of her condition. But when she was feigning an illness, like tonight, he was resolute in demanding her appearance. It gave Miriam an idea of what Rachel was feeling as she knelt on the floor of the throne room twenty-one years before.
Despite her cynicism, even Miriam, who, with the possible exception of Matthew, knew King Emet as well as any other human being alive, could see why the young woman had been freely honest about her guilt. Miriam understood not only because she had witnessed the phenomena, but because she had been told many times how Rachel had felt during her trial and the moments afterward.
When everyone else had gone, King Emet had turned to the page and sent him into Sekel to get Owen De Burgh, the best physician in all of Ha-or. He asked Hannah to take Rachel up to the nicest guest suite in the west wing of the palace and get her clean robes from the late Queen’s closet. Then he had turned to the kitchen staffer and told her to fetch hot water for a bath and a meal of broth and tonic.
The next day, King Emet married Rachel so her child, born two weeks later, would have a name. Emet gave the child, a baby girl, the name Ikia; Rachel had given her the second name Miriam. That was how the story of “Rachel in the Hall of the Judge” became the story of “The Nameless Child of Thief and Harlot Becomes the Lady, Princess Ikia Miriam Emet.”
Ha-or had had a rich tradition of storytelling before that point, but Rachel had told Miriam many more recent stories, along with the old Hayori myths. She had heard grand stories of how Emet had shown such mercy to her mother. She had heard how the two had even fallen in love. She had heard simpler stories of family picnics with the young Matthew and baby Ikia. She had heard how King Emet had run around to all his servants announcing his daughter’s first steps. But Rachel had never fully recovered from her illness, and her stories stopped when Miriam was five years of age. The nurses, maidservants, pages, sentries, and kitchen staffers took over as raconteurs; but twenty-one-year-old Miriam was quite honestly sick of all the stories.
Meanwhile, the young page was still trying to beat down her door. “Princess Miriam? Are you well?”
“Simply wonderful,” her voice dripped sarcasm. She did not tell him about her broken toe.
“Well, then… I…” She heard him pause as he gathered his courage. “Then I must insist you accompany me to the dining hall at once.”
Miriam had a bit of tantrum then, stamping her feet on the stone floor beside her bed then choking on the pain that action sent through her damaged foot. This particular page was all of twelve years old and had been serving in Emet’s court for only a few weeks. He would not want a failure to bring her to a meal on his record so early. He wasn’t returning to the dining hall without her. She breathed in deeply and shouted through the door. “I am coming. I have a thing or two to attend to first, though.”
Miriam limped around her room, pulling a dress on over her shift and tossing a proper supper robe over her shoulders. She ran a comb through her hair a few times and regarded her reflection in the glass. Her clothes and hair looked slightly rumpled, and her face was not made up properly, but she was Lady Emet, so it would pass. She slipped on a pair of flexible and well-padded chamber slippers and went to unbolt the door.
The pint-sized page offered her his arm, and she placed her hand inside the crook of his elbow and locked her jaw in hopes she might be able to walk almost normally. He began leading her down the three flights of stairs to the dining hall.
Inside the hall, King Emet, Prince Matthew, and nearly a dozen guests were still standing behind their chairs at the fully spread table. As King Emet was no longer married and she was his only daughter, Miriam was considered the hostess, thus no one could sit to eat until she had. The page led her to the head of the table where King Emet stood. Emet smiled at Miriam, placed his hands on her shoulders, and kissed her cheek while the page bowed low and disappeared into a dark corner of the hall.
“Good to see you, my daughter,” the King greeted, momentarily capturing her eyes with his own.
“And you, Father,” Miriam murmured, managing a stiff smile for his benefit. She could return his gaze for only a moment before glancing away. His dark eyes held a paradoxical combination of serenity and intensity, and she could never meet them for long. It frustrated her further that he could remain so calm when he must have known how angry she was after the argument they had earlier. Even when he was very angry, he never lost control of his emotions or his tongue. This often caused Miriam to lose control of herself even more than she would have if arguing with another person.
Now, he lifted a wineskin from the edge of the table and handed it to her. Miriam took it, realizing it was cold, cold water that had just been drawn from the deep well in the palace’s cold cellar. “For your foot,” he whispered as he pulled out her chair, the hostess’ chair to the left of his own.
Miriam set the skin on her chair’s footstool and took her seat, propping her broken toe against the numbing cold. Once she was seated the King, the Prince (at the King’s right), and the guests followed suit and all began to eat the meal that had begun to cool during the wait for Lady Emet.
Raelee May Carpenter is an ordinary person, a Christian, and an author of contemporary fiction, inspirational essays, and urban mythology.
Raelee's work is passionate, descriptive and just a little edgy. Her three lifelong passions are faith, people, and words.
She's a tone-deaf music fan and "Mumma" to a young-at-heart, rescued Beagle mix. Her favorite thing to write about is Grace.
Her sophomore release Kings and Shepherds is available in Kindle format from Amazon.com.
You can find her on the web at her website, facebook, and twitter.
You may purchase the book at:
Raelee May Carpenter is giving away a Kindle copy of Kings and Shepherds. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice—once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post)