Beyond the Far Away Gates
The golden haired twenty-one year old, Frederick Schraeder, stepped through the threshold of the Central Capitol Penthouse. His body tingled all about with regret. He had known this “request of presence” was inevitable after he had made the decision to take his dearest sister to the Central Court Promenade yesterday. As expected, Karin had been spotted and reported as truant. As the one responsible for her truancy, he had been summoned to his father’s suite for punishment and correction.
“It’s been too long, hasn’t it, Frederick?” said an alluring female voice as he entered the top floor.
“A couple months, maybe more,” he replied, thinking it had hardly been long enough.
Two eyes of ocean blue washed over his face gently, identifying new features of maturity across Frederick’s face. The beauty before him that so intently studied his face was that of his eldest sister, Katherine. The gorgeous nature of her whole being was terrifying to describe. As such, all who gazed upon her unanimously uttered the word, divine.
“Oh, don’t be so cold, you know I love when you stop by,” said Katherine. Her eyes shifted across Frederick’s face, trying with a feminine guile to lock his eyes onto hers, a trick he was all too familiar with.
“You’re still mad at me for those suggestions I made to Father, aren’t you?” she asked with the subtlest of pouts.
“I would hardly call them suggestions,” Frederick replied. “Suggestions imply a degree of agency. I stop nowhere short of calling them arrangements.”
“I assure you, I had nothing but the best in mind for you,” Katherine said.
Her eyes retained that beautiful gentleness and compounded her genuine tone with which she spoke.
“Were the girls not pretty enough?”
Frederick exhaled sharply, not wanting to relive the exhaustion of turning down three marriage proposals that had been all but set in stone. Shrewdness was not a strong suit of his and he had little desire to be confrontational with his father, but he had somehow managed to convince him to delay the inevitable.
Of course, he knew that although he was victorious in his wishes, his credit had dwindled significantly with his father. There would be little say for him in his father’s next decision and this bothered him greatly.
“You know it had nothing to do with their looks,” Frederick insisted. “Had the arrangements been to my specifications, there wouldn’t have been a problem, and I would have chosen one...reluctantly, anyway.”
“My dear Frederick, you know most Elites would be unwilling to accept such unorthodox proposals. Most will and do see it as a power-grabbing scheme,” Katherine said.
“Be that as it may,” said Frederick, “if my simple demand can’t be met, then I have no reason to consider such Elites an ally.”
“And what of poor Karin?” Katherine asked. “If she ever outgrows her doting brother, will you accept the inevitable?”
Frederick hadn’t the capacity to respond. He had frequently asked himself this question, with little encouragement from the answer.
Karin would be eligible for marriage in only two years, and he knew very well that things could change from what they were. He had no intention of keeping his sister from being happy if she so chose, but there was no inward answer he could supply for his own actions, be what they may.
“There’s no reason to contemplate that now,” Frederick said. “Karin can make her own decision when the time comes, but for now, she has entrusted her well-being with me. I won’t allow her to be shackled and shipped away before she even gets a say.”
Frederick did his best to maintain calmness in his voice and his soul. To him, this was all just part of Katherine’s test to see just how immature he still was. Her constant provocations always felt laborious but they also had a distinct purpose about them.
“Always the ever-caring brother, aren’t we? Or perhaps...it’s something else?” Katherine responded, her gentle tone quelling the almost flammable air.
“I really should be seeing Father now,” Frederick asserted.
He was quite done with this conversation and knew better than to fall completely into Katherine's traps.
Katherine only smiled and pointed him toward the closed door in the room. He approached it with caution barely acknowledging his other surroundings that seemed so distant and blurred. He knocked and waited for the commanding voice beyond to permit his entry.
“You may enter,” the voice said.
Frederick opened the door and found his eyes drawn immediately to the man behind the grand desk in the room. Behind his father, Frederick could see the entire City and its surrounding territories. They were in the tallest building in the Principality on the highest floor, and yet, Frederick could not resist being drawn away from this splendid vista to focus on the more impressive figure that sat before him.
His father was what any in the Allied Principalities would consider perfection. His imperious height dominated the features of any room. His muscular body commanded submission to any who spoke with him, and his handsome face captivated even the angelic. He was not shy of capability, either. His actions, decisions and deeds spoke for themselves. The very City they lived in may have been built by his bare hands alone, no one would dare contest this.
It was hard for Frederick to find any spare animosity toward this man. His pride for being related to this greatness was too powerful. Instead, any hatred or ill will could only be managed as discomfort in his father’s presence and as mistaken intent in his absence.
“Sit down,” his Father commanded. “We have some things we need to discuss.”
Frederick sat down with little hesitation and little will of his own.
“First, I want to know why you tempted your sister into truancy yesterday,” his father demanded.
As was common for most in his father’s presence, Frederick had almost blurted out that it had been Karin’s idea of truancy, not his. A sharp pain of guilt drove through his body at the mere thought of shifting responsibility. He would have to punish himself later for the grievous error.
“Father, you know I don’t approve of Karin’s enrollment into Citizen School. Yesterday I decided it would be in her best interest if she instead spent the day learning from me,” Frederick responded.
“You’ve made it clear how much you detest Citizen School and it’s Citizens, and I hesitate to disagree with you fully on your opinion. However, as Elites, our family has a duty to the people we preside over,” his father said.
He crossed his arms and sat back in his chair satisfied with his light admonishment.
“So what was the real reason you took Karin out?” his father asked.
His imperial blue eyes poised like lethal lights at Frederick, daring the boy to be dishonest with him again.
“I believe Karin is being bullied by her classmates and I couldn’t stand the thought of something horrible happening to her,” Frederick said.
“I agree, that is cause for concern,” his father said.
The accusatory tone had lessened considerably as a fatherly concern spread itself wider.
“And Karin herself didn’t suggest truancy to you?”
“No, I made the decision on my own,” Frederick said with all the urgency he could muster.
His father’s eyes winced slightly, knowing he had just heard another lie. He decided to dismiss it, knowing further insistence would be inefficient.
“Very well,” his father began, “I won’t punish either of you, but I will be speaking with Karin about this directly.”
Frederick’s eyes betrayed his face, widening with momentary despair at the thought.
“She is my daughter, you know,” his father said in response, “and I can’t and won’t ignore any abuse my children might be facing. That being said, there is only so much authority I’m willing to exert...our Principality is in a precarious situation at the moment, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
Frederick nodded his response. He knew all too well that the outside world was positioning themselves carefully against the Alliance. It was to be expected, after all, the Principality Alliance had given the immoral outside forces a defeat nearing total annihilation in the previous war three decades ago. And those same despicable outsiders had finally retaliated seven years ago against the Alliance leadership and their families…
“This brings me to the other matter at hand I have for you, today,” his father said with a powerful sternness returning to his voice.
“I have another marriage proposal for you.”
Frederick didn’t dare interrupt, knowing that he could not afford to cut short his father’s words like he could with Katherine.
“This one,” his father pressed on, “is a bit different in matters concerning the contract. I think it’s more suitable to your own wishes.”
“How so?” Frederick asked.
He doubted it would fulfill the one and only demand he had of any of the incoming marriage proposals, and his father was giving the indication that he was correct to doubt this one as well.
“For starters, the Principality in question would like a sixteen month commitment prior to the engagement for fidelity building,” his father said.
“You mean they want me to be a civil servant for sixteen months before I’m allowed the privilege of marrying one of the Principality princesses,” retorted Frederick.
His disdain for the other Elites of the Principality Alliance wasn’t nearly as impassioned as it was for his distaste of his own Citizens, but that constant bitterness kept him mindful of their deceitful words.
“Well, that much is obvious,” his father stated. “But, such an unorthodox proposal leaves room for negotiation and perhaps your demand could be accepted.”
“And where is the location of this Principality?” Frederick asked, slightly amused that his father was making a rather weak attempt at persuasion.
His father smirked and exhaled powerfully at the question. He had raised no idiot, and moments such as these reaffirmed this.
“It’s precisely where you expect it,” his father said in no uncertain manner. “They are the southernmost Principality in the Alliance, the vanguard for the rest of us against those abominable outsiders.”
“Is it the same City where Mother was killed?” Frederick asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” his father said and added, “and where I lost my other wives; your aunts...You mustn’t disparage their memories either, Frederick.”
“Sorry,” Frederick said with respect, “that wasn’t my intention. I know the pain my other siblings share is no different than my own.”
He had been over this before with his father, but he was still surprised at just how genuine his own words could be on the issue. He held no animosity for his half-siblings, save an older brother with a warped sense of ambition, but other than that, he knew they all shared a common struggle and similar wounds.
“It should be obvious,” his father said, breaking the momentary silence, “that this proposal can be construed as an attempt to make amends and secure their position in the Alliance. There is no obligation defined in the contract that you must marry after the sixteen months have expired.”
His father looked at him solemnly, in such a manner that meant refusal here and now would be one of Frederick’s hardest fought battles.
“This certainly sounds better than the previous proposals. However,” Frederick tempted, “I’ll be walking into an almost certain active warzone, correct? The Alliance isn’t going to be able to maintain a ceasefire for another sixteen months, is it?”
“It’s highly likely, you would see action, yes,” his father responded. “I will be sending a battalion along with you as per the defensive pact.”
“Then you should know I would never allow Karin to come along with me to such a hostile environment. My demand can’t be met, nor would I even suggest such a thing here,” Frederick said.
“Which is why I was prepared to suggest a proposal of my own,” his father said.
Frederick caught the meaningful shift in his father’s tone. His father was intending to acquiesce to his demand, in exchange for this sixteen month contract. Frederick pondered on it briefly before asking the question pestering his mind.
“How bad is it that a battalion needs to be sent? Is their Principality so depleted of Elite stock that they would request a foreign Elite to lead the defense of their City?”
Frederick couldn’t help but add a dash of ridicule to his words.
“Don’t make the mistake of being too arrogant, Frederick. You’ll likely be high in the hierarchy for our troops, but they certainly won’t hand over complete authority to you,” his father stated.
“Unless I married into it, of course...like Harald and Heinrich did?” Frederick stated rhetorically.
He hardly desired power the way his two brothers had, but they did cause a bit of envy with the amount of authority and freedom they had over him.
“Naturally,” his father responded anyway.
His father’s gaze judged Frederick more thoroughly with each question and answer they bantered with back and forth. Frederick got the same feeling when talking with Katherine, a trait she surely picked up from Father, this same man. There was a positive feeling of having passed this judgement, but he wouldn’t know for certain until the time came to be told directly.
“Now, if you’ll have my suggestion, I think we can finally move forward with...many things,” his father directed.
“Okay,” Frederick said rather plainly.
There was no going back now, he thought.
His father’s proposal, whatever it may be, was as good as accepted.
“Accept the sixteen month proposition. I will counteroffer with a contingency of breaking off the contract after that period, and leave the decision of your staying and marrying up to you entirely. I will send a battalion along with you, as well as a supply of armaments. Their tech is woefully obsolete and I’m sure they’ll be grateful for the provisional upgrade,” his father stopped, making sure that Frederick hadn’t already silently objected to what he had just proposed.
“Once the sixteen months is up,” he continued, “You may return to this City, and I will allow you full agency over any marriage proposal or lack thereof.”
Frederick couldn’t conceal his disappointment. He cared very little about his own agency in these matters as long as the one precious person in this world would be within reach of him at all times.
“Know this,” his father started in response to the obviously unenthused son in front of him, “giving up guaranteed political power in uncertain times such as these, is a greater reward than you seem to realize.”
Frederick couldn’t understand. It seemed such a simple matter to appease him by affording Karin this reward of agency instead. As much as he could discern from Karin’s feelings and desires, she had not the slightest inclination of dedicating herself to an unknown Elite. It was likely she would resist utterly if forced. And then what might she do?
“Why won’t you just-”
“Sixteen months,” his father interrupted, “that’s all I ask.”
Frederick could do nothing but stare blankly back at his father, unable to understand this imposed obligation. Surely one instance of truancy was not enough to warrant such harsh conditions.
No, this had been planned for some time, thought Frederick.
“Frederick, do this for me and survive.”
His father cast his fierce blue eyes upon him, stopping any rebellion in Frederick’s mind. His father would make good on his promise. Those eyes indicated it perfectly well. It had been seven years since he had seen his father look at him in this way, and he had remembered well what dedication came with it.
“How long do I have?” Frederick asked, accepting his fate.
“Mid-month,” his father replied, “the fourteenth.”
“Can you grant me-”
“Yes,” his father interrupted, “you can take Karin out of Citizen School in the meantime.”
Frederick smiled his most miserable smile.
Is the world mocking me, he wondered.
It felt like the Devil’s Bargain, the kind that always goes wrong in the end because of an overlooked detail.
“I’ll take advantage of that then,” Frederick said.
“It won’t be so bad, Frederick,” his father ensured. “You have the makings to be a leader one day, like your brother.”
“Who, Harald?” Frederick said in a venomous spray.
His proclivity for rebellion certainly felt on par with that of his older brother, Harald, he thought.
“Haha, no, certainly not,” his father laughed. “You’re much more like Graham than Harald. It would be another matter entirely if you shared the same nature as Harald!”