Do you know what’s amazing? Coincidences. They’re such simple explanations for extraordinary events occurring simultaneously. Of course, extraordinary doesn’t necessarily mean good as this story will show.
Some time ago, there was a kingdom. The exact location of it isn’t important, but just know it was situated near the ocean and was extremely prosperous at least compared to many others. There was corruption as to be expected when a small group of people hold most of the power. However, as far as scenarios like that go, it was pretty much an “as good as it gets” situation.
Executions were a rare occurrence save for the case of murder and similar criminals. Thieves were made to work which admittedly was not ideal. Compared to rotting in the dungeons, though, it was. The kingdom’s rulers, King Hidred and his wife, Queen Eanwin were for the most part just rulers, provided they were sober. To be fair, technically they were for four days out of the week with exception of holidays and other celebrations.
Relating to that subject, there was one about to take place. In particular, the birthday of the princes and princesses. Yes, I said birthday as in singular. You see, each one of them coincidentally happened to have the same one, being born exactly one year after the other. Well, not exactly if you want to get technical about minutes and such.
On the female side, there were princesses, Alvena, Hertha, Jolene, and Udele. On the male side, there were princes, Beorhtric, Eadwulf, Heath, and Sawyer. Another coincidence is that each one born of them was always the opposite gender after the other with Alvena being the oldest. Then Beorhtric was born second. Hertha was born third.
Eadwulf was born fourth and so on and so forth. Their birthday was going to differ greatly from previous ones. The reason for this is that the King and Queen were about to retire from the throne. If you’re wondering why they’d give up their power, put simply, they desired to spend the rest of their lives solely in hedonism rather than coupling it with the responsibilities of maintaining a kingdom. What kept them from this is making sure their successors were worthy.
This was their main reason for having eight kids. Well, that and the fact King Hidred was poorly skilled in retreating especially when it came to matters involving their bedroom. What neither of them counted on was the fact their kids would end up hating one another. They would try to have each other killed in various ways in order to achieve the throne with an “only game in town” mentality. Ordinarily, these crimes would never go unpunished, but the princes and princesses were all clever enough to make sure no misdeeds could ever be traced back to them.
On one occasion Alvena tried framing Beorhtric as a method of eliminating competition. Unfortunately for her, he had several scapegoats to shift blame onto. The reason their birthday, which took place on March Third, was going to be different is that the king and queen were not going to be present. Years of unspoken tension during it took their toll and they thought it better to spend some time away for a change. Therefore, the rest of the royals would be celebrating without them while they spent the day hunting.
The morning of came and they sat in the royal dining room, eager for the celebration. Some may even say, a little overeager. Alvena sat across from Beorhtric. Hertha sat across from Eadwulf and Jolene sat across from Heath. Each one with a pair of their own personal highly skilled guards for protection.
“Happy birthday everyone,” Alvena said, not really meaning it “I trust you’re all doing well this morning.”
“As well as can be,” Beorhtric replied to her. “By the way, where are Udele and Sawyer?”
“Where do you think?” Eadwulf told him. “Sawyer is probably snoozing his lazy ass off again.”
“Yes,” Hertha chimed in. “And I’d bet that Udele has gotten lost in another book for the umpteenth time.”
“What did you all expect?” Heath asked. “After all, it isn’t like this is the first time they’ve forgotten about an important date.”
“Yes,” Jolene spoke up in agreement. “But they’ve never done it on our birthday. Even for them, this is unusual.”
Her words caused a wave of suspicion to wash over the table. Nobody outright said anything. If there was a word to describe the mood that now hung over the table, as though it were the chandeliers, it would be accusatory.
“Well,” Eadwulf said, clasping his hands together. “I guess we’ll have to get started without them.”
Everyone else agreed. Then a banquet was set up. Much like their guards, they also each employed their own personal chef because they could never agree on what to eat. That and their fear that too few chefs could easily be replaced with ones who could poison their food. Not that their current system guaranteed that not to happen.
Rather it merely reduced the chances of it occurring. The food consisted of beef, mutton, fish, and pork all served in pies. Along with it were sides of dumplings, freshly baked loaves of bread drenched in butter, fresh fruit, and vegetables served in a stew. The main event of the birthday was, of course, the cakes. For it, they each were going to it their own individual yeasted chocolate cake with fruit glaze.
“You know,” Alvena said, digging into her cake. “I think this will be our best birthday yet.”
“And why is that?” Beorhtric inquired, raising a piece of his own to his mouth.
She smiled and snapped her fingers. The doors to the dining room were kicked in and a group of ten men armed to the teeth burst in. The guards on standby drew their swords, getting ready to fight. All the while, Beorhtric never ceased the process of eating a piece of his cake. Nor did the others.
He whistled and this time ten more men burst in through the window shutters, armed with bows and arrows. This was followed by more people who were with Eadwulf, Heath, Hertha, and Jolene respectively.
“So we all got the same idea,” Heath said, unsurprised, eating more of his cake.
“I should have known you’d copy me,” Herthat glared at him. “You’re always copying me.”
“Calm down,” Jolene told her. “It’s not as if any of us were going to let an opportunity like this slip by.”
“Yes, no how are we to go about this?” Eadwulf asked. “Last one standing?”
Everyone agreed and the royals drew their swords. They were skilled with the blade even the females of the family despite it not being seen as “ladylike”. Most of the retorts to this involved something along the lines of, “In case someone tries to stab me in my sleep, I have to be ready to slice that bastard open.”. The only ones who weren’t bloodthirsty were Sawyer and Udele. As a matter of fact, their swordsmanship mainly came from self-defense.
That isn’t to say they didn’t enjoy swinging a sword around because who doesn’t? Yet, they were content to be left to their own devices and not engage in violence unless absolutely necessary. I’d like to tell you that what ensued in the dining hall was an epic battle. However, the fact of the matter is when you have over sixty people ready to fight in a single room it results in what is known as a “clusterfuck” and an especially bloody one at that.
Swords clanged and arrows flew. It wasn’t long before the number of people involved was significantly reduced. Soon, it was only the siblings left, all of whom received minor but not crippling wounds. There was a brief staredown as grips on swords’ handles tightened. With mad fury, they rushed each other, blades swinging.
“Give it up, Alvena,” Beorhtric said. “My swings have always been stronger.”
His sword came down like a hammer towards her head. She sidestepped the attack with ease.
“And mine have always been swifter,” she retorted, bringing up hers in an upward motion.
Beorhtric managed to leap back in the nick of time. However, his chin was grazed, resulting in Alvena smirking at him.
“You wear your arrogance like your crown,” he told her.
“And I have the skills to back it up. In the end, the throne will be mine.”
“That’s enough!” A thunderous familiar voice boomed at them all.
They all turned to see King Hidred and Queen Eanwin standing in before them along with the castle guards. Having been caught quite literally red-handed, their children were at a loss for words. Finally, Eadwulf was the one who spoke.
“Mother, father, “ he said, attempting to keep a leveled tone in spite of the blood covering his clothes and failing miserably. “We thought you were on a hunting trip.”
“We were, but we never said we’d be far away,” Queen Eanwin explained. “We really wanted to see how you’d behave if we weren’t around.”
“One day,” King Hidred spat. “We can’t leave you all alone for one day without you trying to kill each other! Now the floor’s covered in blood and bodies and…Where’s Sawyer and Udele?”
As he was about to order one of his guards to go get them, everyone noticed them already standing before them, mouths hanging open at the gruesome sight.
“Where have you two been ?” Queen Eanwin asked them.
“Sleeping,” Sawyer replied.
“Reading,” Udele said.
Both Sawyer’s room and the entrance to the castle library happen to be located on the other side of the castle, away from the dining hall. This means the noises coming from it never reached them. Besides that fact, both of them knew their brothers and sisters would be up to something. Therefore, they decided not to engage in whatever it may be under the wisdom of the winning move sometimes is not to play.
“Well,” King Hidred said. “I’ll tell you all right now that we’ve come to a decision as to who should succeed the throne.”
He then turned to the only two of his kids whose clothes weren’t spattered with blood.
“Udele, because you seem to be the only one here that I didn’t raise to be a self-centered brat, you are now next in line for the throne,” He said. “I would have considered you if you didn’t sleep all day, Sawyer. No offense.”
“None taken,” the youngest prince said with a nonchalant shrug.
“Escort them to their cells,” the queen ordered the guards. “We hoped we’d never need to use them.”
The rest of the royals were then imprisoned in a special section of the dungeons reserved only for them. Compared to the rest of it, they were actually quite nice. Their parents’ hope was that some time to themselves may give them time for self-reflection and maybe make them less violent. Although, the king and queen weren’t holding their breaths. It is a well-known fact that murder and parties don’t mesh well unless the party is about murder.
In spite of this, more food was made for Sawyer and Udele. Even though the celebratory mood was a bit sour on the count of what happened earlier, they still shared a cake. This one was chocolate, glazed with honey, and decorated with raspberries, red currants, and sliced strawberries. There were also some green apple slices for a little tartness.
“So, I imagine you have a lot to think about,” Sawyer said, cutting himself a slice.
“We both do,” Udele replied, getting one for herself. “Shame about what happened.”
“It was only a matter of time and at least they managed to get this place cleaned up. Have you been thinking about how you’re going to rule?”
“I’ve read a lot on the subject. I just hope I can do it well.”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it. You are the smartest out of all of us.”
Udele blushed a little at that.
“Oh, almost forgot,” Sawyer said, raising his cup. “Happy birthday.”
Udele did the same.
“Happy birthday,” She replied and the two clanged their cups together.
Eventually, it came time for her to assume the throne. I wish I could say all those years spent in the dungeons made her other brothers and sisters learn their lesson. Unfortunately, some people are just bastards and there’s nothing you can do about it. They tried many times to escape only to be foiled again and again. It’s a bit ironic because if they would have worked together they most likely would have been successful.
Sometimes, ego can be one’s greatest hindrance. Still, it actually ended up working out in the long run for the Kingdom. Udele came to be known as “Udele the wise”. Under her rule, the people entered an age of enlightenment in art and agriculture, thus making the land even more prosperous as a result. Meanwhile, Sawyer earned the title of “The Lazy Prince”. While not the most endearing name, it was better than being imprisoned and known as “one of those princes or princesses that tried to murder their own brothers and sisters”.
Three years into Udele’s rule, her birthday arrived once again. The former King Hidred and Queen Eanwin were enjoying a relatively peaceful life together without the responsibilities of the throne. Although, they did still often visit their imprisoned kin. Such was one of those days and they along with their guards brought them special treats for their birthdays. They begrudgingly accepted them.
Udele, carrying a platter of cake, fruit, other sweets, and two cups of wine approached the large cherry blossom tree located in the center of the courtyard.
“Sawyer,” she said to the prince who was napping with his back to the tree’s trunk.
She repeated herself a little louder and he opened his eyes, stretching and yawning.
“Did you have to wake me? I was having such an entertaining dream.”
“Really? What was it about?”
“It was about…Aw damn it, I lost it. Something about harpies I think. Anyway, what have you got there?”
Udele kneeled down, placing the platter between them.
“I thought it would mean more to bring it myself. Plus, if I’m being honest, I needed some time away from the throne.”
“A queen’s work is never done, eh?”
“No it isn’t, but I can at least take it easy every once in a while. “
The cake was once again chocolate. However, this time it was decorated with almond slices, cinnamon, and pomegranate seeds stuck to it with a lemon honey glaze. The prince and queen wished each other a happy birthday. Then they shared their meal, glad that of all their siblings, at least they at least had a good relationship and also that they weren’t crazy and power-hungry.