Beyond the Far Away Gates
The hot August morning followed its routine closely, threatening debilitation to all living creatures at the start of the day. Frederick had grown used to it by now, waking early from the heat’s insistent permanence. He awoke this day no different than the rest of the week, his adorable sister sleeping in a peaceful slumber next to him. He found the attachment endearing but couldn’t resist the thought of a nice cool bed devoid of other bodies.
Frederick gingerly climbed over the sleeping girl, and readied himself for the morning procedures; shower, clothes, breakfast, sister. It was a simple enough pattern that he fondly enjoyed. Karin had also fallen into a similar repetition, grateful that she was able to exchange Citizen School for time with her dear brother.
Once both siblings had fully awakened and finished the morning essentials, they made their way down the hill to the City proper. The merry two walked hand-in-hand, playfully leading each other down the snaking hill path. For the first time all week, Frederick sensed a perfect calmness in Karin. She was not dwelling on the soon-to-be departure and instead had her sights purely on the day’s enjoyment.
The sounds of the City were duller during the week. Less people bustled about with a leisurely energy, surrendering instead to the purposeful haste of the professional world. Frederick and Karin preferred days like these. The Central Promenade could be enjoyed with its same architectural beauty but without the added pressure of navigating the added obstacles that were, Citizens. This would be the last day the two of them could enjoy the City as it was in this depopulated state.
Karin, perhaps realizing this, dragged Frederick to her favorite café where they could enjoy each other’s company in the shade. The drinks here were sweet and perked up any less-than-eager morning goers. The usual amount of wandering eyes made their way to the Royal siblings as they sat and enjoyed their morning drinks. Frederick did his best to ignore the annoying glance-stealing that the Citizens around them took. Karin didn’t appear to mind at all.
As they finished their drinks, their talk turned to the next activity that would occupy their time.
“I had something special in mind for you today,” Frederick said.
“I can’t wait!” Karin said excitedly.
Her cheery outburst turned the heads of several Citizens around them.
“Don’t get too excited,” Frederick said, “I don’t want to get your hopes up if you end up disliking it…”
“It can’t be as bad as that musician we listened to the other day,” Karin joked.
Frederick laughed, also reflecting back on the musician they had heard playing two days ago. The poor brass-player had tried to recreate an old 20th century sound that he no doubt learned about in a southern Principality. The structureless sounds of dissonance cost him the attention of loitering Citizens as well as a visit from the patrolling City Enforcers. He was promptly fined for playing inappropriate music and eventually removed from the public sight.
“I can guarantee it will be better than that, at least,” Frederick said with a grin.
The two fiddled around with their empty cups for a moment more whilst continuing their ridicule of the musician. The Citizens around them no longer bothered with subtlety and opted instead for entranced stares. What irritated Frederick most, however, were the lingering stares upon his sister that he could do nothing about.
He hoisted his Magnetic rifle with vigorous style on his shoulder to remind the surrounding Citizens not to get too familiar with their lowly eyes. The message was received and the interlopers went back to their benign day as the two siblings left the café.
The heat had increased yet again and the few Citizens strolling about clung to the shadows of the Promenade shop walls. The siblings did the same. Frederick directed them to the end of the Central Court Promenade where the shopping district turned residential. The place he wanted to take Karin was the small store at the very end.
“Frederick!” came a shout from behind.
Frederick wheeled around in dread, having recognized the voice.
A girl with delicately attractive features was running toward him. Frederick’s left hand was stuck holding his rifle strap securely, and his right was occupied by Karin’s. He was completely vulnerable and the charging girl took the opportunity. With an effortless attempt at stopping her momentum, the girl clasped her arms around Frederick and stole his head down with a kiss.
Karin whimpered out a high-pitched squeak at the unsightly display.
“Damn it, Vaela!” Frederick shouted at the clinging girl, prying her off in an awkward struggle.
“How many times do I have to tell you off for doing that!” he said.
“Until it stops being fun for me!” the girl, Vaela, responded.
“Why are you here?” Karin demanded.
Her face had grown pink in jealousy and all but insisted for the swift departure of this depraved girl.
“Aww, don’t be so mean to your older sister, Karin,” Vaela responded. “I simply saw the two of you walking and decided to say hello.”
“That’s not how you say hello!” Karin retorted.
“Oh? But how else should I greet my favorite brother and sister?” Vaela asked provokingly.
“Vaela...stop, please,” Frederick said.
This attractive girl that had nearly tackled Frederick just a moment ago, was none other than their older sister, Vaela Schraeder. She was granted a sublime beauty that all the Schraeder daughters possessed, but often took liberties in expressing it, rather provocatively. In terms of raw beauty, however, Katherine had total domain over all her sisters.
“I’d ask you to apologize for upsetting Karin, but I doubt that would help right now,” Frederick said.
“But of course I’ll apologize to my precious little Karin!” Vaela said.
Her tone never changed. It always contained an impish air to it, as if nothing could or should be taken seriously.
Vaela embraced her younger sister against the squirming girl’s will and planted a kiss on her red cheeks.
“See, now you don’t feel left out, right?” Vaela said.
“No, that’s not the issue!” Karin replied. “You can’t just go around and make such a scene! And especially not with Frederick!”
“Oh, I see…” Vaela said with bemusement.
Frederick sighed heavily at the constant provocations of his older sister. He knew Karin wasn’t lacking in wit and normally could play along with a joke, but Vaela was something of an anomaly to her. She knew how to push all the right buttons, and in particular, seemed to enjoy using him for such ends.
“I think I know what the problem is now,” Vaela said.
She lowered her head to Karin’s ear and whispered something Frederick couldn’t hear. Karin’s eyes widened in shock and her face became utterly flushed. There was no response to what was whispered, only a shrill sound of embarrassment. Frederick could only wonder at what was said, and fancied the idea of sending Vaela away.
“If you like,” Vaela continued in a barely audible voice, “I can ask if he’ll-”
“No, no, no! You can’t ask that!” Karin cried.
“But what if he also-”
“It’s not the right time for that! Not yet!”
“Oh? So, then you were going to ask him?”
“Alright, stop,” Frederick commanded. He had grown irritated at trying to figure out what exactly they were talking about. “No more, Vaela. That’s enough for today, don’t you think?”
Vaela frowned with a pout, unhappy to end her entertainment so quickly. She rebounded back to a gentle smile just as fast.
“Okay, okay,” she agreed.
She gave a smirk to Karin feeling a sense of victory over a non-existent competition.
“So what are you two doing out here, anyway?” Vaela asked.
“I could ask you the same question,” Frederick retorted. “Did you follow us?”
“Ohh! I see now,” Vaela said.
She turned knowingly to the store several feet before them, looking curiously into the window display.
“You wanted to buy your darling sister a present! I bet it’ll be expensive, too!”
She twirled in dramatic fashion, imitating an old 20th century dancer.
“Leave it to my favorite brother to adorn me with even more beauty!” Vaela proclaimed.
Frederick ignored her claim that it was for her, knowing better than to extend their interaction right now.
“Is this really where you were taking me, Frederick?” Karin asked.
She was less shaken and had recovered some of the paleness in her cheeks.
“It is,” Frederick said and added, “I had something made, just for you.”
Karin went red in the face again but this time, with gratitude.
“So, what did you get her?” Vaela asked.
“That’s still a surprise for another minute,” Frederick said.
“Do I get something too?” she pestered.
Karin muttered under her breath, something a little louder than she intended.
“You already got something…”
“What was it I already got from Frederick?” Vaela asked, swooping down quickly to Karin’s level.
“Vaela...” Frederick warned.
He doubted his harsh tone had any weight in tempering Vaela’s constant badgering, but she backed off all the same.
“If there’s nothing else, would you mind if we had this time to ourselves,” Frederick continued.
“Fine, fine,” Vaela said. “I just wanted to see you two before I have to leave.”
“You’re leaving, as well?” he asked.
He couldn’t help but find immediate sympathy for their common plight.
“Father finally found a good match for me, or so he says...but I think Katherine coordinated the whole thing,” she replied.
Frederick couldn’t help but feel it was the same with his own circumstance.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To the island Principality in the West. Deslin,” Vaela said. “I leave in four days.”
“You’ll be in one of the safest Cities in the Alliance, then,” Frederick said.
He was glad for her. He wished no ill will for her and found a hidden comfort that should the need arise, Karin could safely seek shelter with another member of the family. He disregarded the recent contention between the two in favor of his own idealistic vision.
“And is your marriage to the first prince?” Frederick prodded, wanting to know just how much authority and power she might suddenly get to wield.
“He’s the King, actually,” Vaela said proudly, “His father and mother, the former King and Queen, recently passed. Unfortunately, the prince was an acting diplomat and is still stuck in some mire of bureaucracy in the South. I’ve been told I may have to wait for a month before he returns.”
“Why not just stay here until you know he’s back?” Frederick asked.
“The arrangement is already sealed, Frederick. Once I step foot in that City, I’ll be acting Queen. I figure I may as well try to make myself at home and orient myself before my King arrives,” she said.
Frederick pondered on her words, relating it to his own situation. As a prince, a Schraeder prince no less, he could easily take full authority over the City of Illica and its surrounding Principality through marriage as his father had already pushed for. Should things become too dire, he might need to consider that option as a last resort. It would be an admission of defeat, though, as he would be committed to dying to the last Citizen there...He found nothing charming about the idea.
“Perhaps I’ll call on you for aid in the South,” Frederick said.
He didn't really expect he would call for aid, and he jested the words more than not.
“I’ll send anything I can to help,” Vaela replied.
He sensed that she truly meant it, and got the feeling that she might send aid even if he didn’t ask for it.
“Well, I have a few things of my own to do, so I guess I’ll leave you two darlings alone,” she said.
Vaela grabbed Karin again in a forced embrace and gave the girl a loving peck on the cheek. She whispered something in her younger sister’s ear, this time causing no fluster from Karin. She turned and swooped in on Frederick once again and pecked him too, no longer finding joy in antagonizing Karin like she had before.
“Eccentric, crass, improper…” Frederick said aloud to Karin as Vaela grew smaller in the distance.
“Deviant, overzealous, seductress…” Karin mimicked.
He laughed at the harsh words, finding the one-sided chemistry between the two sisters darkly comical.
“But, I suppose she has a certain charm to her,” he added, attempting to lighten the piling derision.
“An arrogant charm,” Karin corrected.
Her frowning face turned back to its normal loving cuteness as she reflected on her anger and irritation. Frederick smiled at the young girl’s self-denial.
With Vaela’s parting, Frederick and Karin were finally left to enter the store they stood in front of.
“Welcome,” the shopkeeper said as the two entered. “Ah, yes, this must be the young princess you were ordering for the other day.”
“Indeed it is, and I’m hoping she likes what I picked out,” Frederick responded, giving Karin a warm smile.
The store they had entered was filled with glass displays and cabinets full of glinting metals and jewels. Each rock, gem and metal varied in size and were priced respectively. Every Citizen could afford these shining trinkets as the commercial overindulgence for such valuables was wiped away with the new ethics and morals of their victorious Alliance.
There was a natural appreciation for beautiful adornments in Citizen and Elite alike, however, so a compromise was made. The gem or metal could be bought for a nominal fee, but the expense came in the creativity of the desired cut or engraving.
For Frederick, price was a hand-waved issue. This in turn, put considerable pressure on his person as it became his responsibility to wow and amaze with a truly creative piece of art. His hopes right now, were just that.
The shopkeeper went into the adjacent back storeroom and returned with a small locked box. He procured the key from a loose pocket and presented the fresh jewelry on a velvet cushion.
Karin inhaled sharply at the elegant gift being presented to her. Her hand reached for the silvery chain and unraveled the length of a dazzling locket. The narrow chain was impossibly studded with small diamonds and incredibly detailed markings. Only holding it up to one’s eye would show the brilliance of the craftsmanship. The silver locket itself was expertly engraved and chiseled into a detailed vignette of a long-forgotten palace garden, suffused with exotic flora and fauna. The entire little masterpiece fit squarely in Karin’s delicate hand.
The young girl was absolutely speechless. Her brain told her to cry and her body told her to jump in glee. She froze in a state of indecisiveness.
“That turned out quite beautifully,” Frederick said.
He took the necklace from her hand and laced it around her neck.
“You have quite the eye, Mr. Schraeder,” the shopkeeper said, admiring the beautiful ornament around the young girl’s neck. “I’ve seen all manner of designs come through here, but I’ve never quite seen something of such simple form containing so much refinement.”
“I learned from my father that you shouldn’t cover up beauty with more beauty,” he replied. “He used to give our mother small gifts and nice clothes that always seemed rather plain by themselves, but when she wore them, even the most professionally tailored dresses or colorful gems couldn’t compare.”
Frederick was glad to have remembered something so small and seemingly insignificant. The objectivity of beauty was not something taught in Citizen School, in fact, it was entirely missing from the core teachings. He now understood why. Looking at his still stunned sister, he noticed a new perfection to her angelic visage, something that could never again be replicated anywhere else.
He understood perfectly well that the locket had nothing to do with this newly discovered beauty emitting from the girl. It was a secret he refused to reveal to even someone as trivial as the shopkeeper. It was the primal joy of altruism. It was seeing Karin light up with curiosity, joy, affection, delight, excitement, shock and many other emotions all at once. It was the rare state of seeing everything together in a natural form. That was the source of this perfect beauty.
If you don’t know what makes something truly beautiful, he thought, then you will never truly see anything unique in this world.
The thought was pretentious, he knew, but he couldn’t tear himself away from it.
“I’m going to assume you like it?” he asked Karin, trying to restart her thoughts.
“I love it!” Karin exclaimed, "It's positively wonderful!"
Finally settling on how to react, she embraced him completely and held true for what seemed like ages. And for her, it just might have been.
Frederick stroked the girl’s hair in adoration and cherished the entire feeling of the moment. With any luck, moments like this would become mental braces for his upcoming time away.
“It really does look beautiful on you,” he added.
“Does it make you-no, nevermind,” Karin began to ask.
“Does it make me, what?” Frederick tried to inquire.
“It’s okay, I’ll have my answer eventually. For now, I’ll just have to wait,” Karin said.
He gave a playful frown to the young girl, accepting that he would just have to be patient with Karin and her feelings. A greedy side of him wanted to know everything she was thinking right now, but the calmer virtuous part of him knew not to spoil such things.
“You two are quite the couple,” the shopkeeper said boldly.
His eyes framed the perfect portrait of the duo as they held a picture-perfect pose.
Even Frederick blushed a little at the shopkeeper’s words. Normally he might challenge an indecent statement like that, but he chalked it up to a connotative misunderstanding.
“Thank you very much,” Karin responded politely.
Her face was alight with joy at the man’s words.
After relieving the shopkeeper of their awkwardly long show of affection, Frederick dealt with the trifling procedures of patronage; fitting the necklace length, choosing a jewelry box and finally paying for it all.
For the rest of the day, Karin walked with an alluring step, twirling her new little treasure around her neck. Her thoughts were solely on how best to repay this precious gift, something with which he would always remember her. The words Vaela had whispered to her earlier, spun around in her head in a dizzying mess. She didn’t dare announce them, for she didn’t yet have the courage.