Beyond the Far Away Gates
Frederick awoke in a hot sweat, viciously torn from the rosy dream he was having, back into the grey dark of reality. The air, though clean and unsullied, lacked the comforting smell he dearly missed back home. His bed was lonely and drafty, something he regretfully desired out of weakness only a little over a week ago.
What a mess, he sighed.
He was in Illica, the City on the edge of the water in the southernmost Principality of the Alliance. He had arrived by a fleet of airships on the same day of his departure. It was an exhausting day of travel, spent mostly earning the rightful fealty of his battalion commander whilst they were high in the air. Lieutenant Colonel Leonhardt was an agreeable man at least, and an understanding of hierarchy between them was mutually reached. The lieutenant colonel was in charge of tactics and Frederick would lead a Company for added morale.
Upon arrival, he exited the airship to a standing ceremony of Illica troops. They called themselves Legionnaires, a throwback to the ancient empire that once inhabited their Principality. Their uniforms were stylized with the same throwback in mind, sporting plumaged armor that only served to be a hindrance in a real firefight. Frederick felt greater pride in showing off his battalion of better equipped Enforcers.
He was swiftly greeted by the City Commander with an Illican salute and praise to the Schraeder patriarch for all his work. It was an uncommon sight, a greeting he only ever received in other Principalities of the Alliance.
The City Commander was quick to exchange salutes with Leonhardt, doing his best to maintain amiability while also goading all ceremonial procedures along. Once those had been completed, Leonhardt assigned Frederick a handful of guards to accompany him, while he remained and attended to the delivery of armaments they had brought along.
It didn’t take long for observation to kick in, as Frederick noticed the weaponry the Legionnaires were holding was badly antiquated. The Legionnaires on ceremony at the front, carried ordinary, but still-primitive versions, of the Magnetic rifle he currently had slung over his back. However, the Legionnaires in the back, away from optimal view, seemed to be carrying small metal machine guns. He was unconvinced of their historical origin, but he knew that such weapons were considered obsolete at the start of the Principality War over seventy years ago.
How could they be so ill-equipped, he thought.
The City Commander beckoned for Frederick and his entourage of guards to follow him to the Illican palace. There was a briskness to the commander’s step that forced Frederick into a greater stride than usual. He soon noticed the reason for the continued urgency. Further down the air docks, behind the carefully posted Legionnaires, a scene was unfolding that Frederick had never before seen.
Beyond the attentive soldiers, was a crowd of people, sickly in complexion, darkened and filthy, gathering together to receive what looked like daily rations; food, water, and even some clothes.
“Those aren’t Citizens, are they?” Frederick asked in horror to the City Commander. The commander tried to usher the young man along, reluctant to even acknowledge the unsavory sight.
“Citizens? No, they are...hopeful applicants, Lord Schraeder,” the commander said.
Frederick was slightly taken aback by the honorific he was sure to hear his entire stay here.
“Applicants?” Frederick asked, perplexed. “You allow that sort of thing?”
“Well, not in the manner in which your Lordship is probably familiar,” the commander replied.
He carefully monitored his own voice so as not to sound too arrogant to the young prince.
“Our Principality doesn’t accept new Citizens,” Frederick stated firmly. “We only accept well-vetted Citizens from our direct neighbors...and even then, our Capital City of Solsgård only allows entry to those that have lived within our Principality from its inception.”
“My young Lord,” the City Commander implored, “Illica is a coastal city. Our Principality neighbors but one other to the North...Surely we do not have such luxury.”
Frederick thought the words over carefully, seeking the thread of logic that must surely be there. But he found no such thread, string, or fiber. He could no longer see the camp of gathering applicants as they continued to walk and decided to let the matter go for the moment. He would have sixteen months to investigate after all.
“Take a look, my Lord,” the commander continued forcefully, perhaps due to a misperception that he had stepped out of line with his previous words.
He pointed toward the walls of the City proper where bulbous spires were erected intermittently along it. Frederick had noticed the peculiar objects from the airship upon entering Illican air space.
“Our Molecular Barrier grows thinner and harder to maintain, but with the extra manpower you have brought us, we will surely have no fear repelling any outsiders that wish us harm,” the commander said.
Frederick looked incredulous at the commander’s words.
That was their Molecular Barrier, he thought. And those spires were the Molecular projection nodes...
Frederick gripped his emotions with a strangling clench. This City was incredibly vulnerable, almost stupidly so. If even one of those spires was destroyed, broke or fell into disrepair, the City would be defenseless against any missile attack, nuclear or otherwise.
The Commander looked back at Frederick and saw that his words had elicited a reaction from the young prince.
“You can tell just from one look at it, can’t you, my Lord?” he asked.
“Yes...” Frederick replied, not bothering to play dumb.
“Then you are exactly what we needed to ensure the safety of Illica and the Principality,” the commander said.
Frederick followed the commander with a greater sense of haste. He couldn’t help but wonder at what his father was thinking in sending him here. There was a possibility that his father had secretly sent some engineers in his battalion to carry out their own covert retrofitting operation of the Illican Barrier, but he didn’t really consider that likely.
“Are you expecting an attack from the outsiders soon?” Frederick inquired.
“It...is likely to be soon, yes, my Lord,” the commander said. “But with your arrival, they will surely back off for some time.”
“Are outsiders capable of gathering such information?” Frederick asked. “Are they really aware that I’m here?”
He was certain that from the Northern direction they had come from in the airship, being spotted by outsiders would have been utterly impossible. In the distant seascape that Illica looked onto, murky brown clouds of ash and radiation stirred. The lands beyond those clouds were only death and soot, a remnant of the end of the Principality War. Surely no being could immerse themselves in such toxic filth for long enough to obtain the necessary information.
“Unfortunately so, my Lord,” the commander responded. “They have adapted quite well to certain conditions and...well, I should let the King speak more on that matter.”
They continued on, into the narrow streets of Illica Proper. The buildings were implausibly cozy, violating all sense of privacy that one might want. The small streets fit snugly in between, providing little space for the frantic foot traffic. The Citizens around didn’t seem to mind, never apologizing or being bothered by the constant bumping into one another.
The bickering and shouting of people several streets away could be heard reverberating off every building around. Illica was a noisy place, with noisy people. Frederick already felt the wavering signs of untempered annoyance.
“Welcome to the palace, my Lord,” the commander said as they had finally snuck their way onto what was a fairly large plaza.
The plaza was filled with an energetic buzz. The pipeline streets all emptied to this spot in the City Center and the Citizens were more than happy to follow the City’s intention. Vendors operated in contained little squares that seem to have sprung up erratically. Musicians played at nearly every corner, precisely knowing how far away to be from the next so as not to overlap their tunes. Their interest was not in the bustling plaza, however, but the grand building overlooking this busy square.
Before them, stood a building that looked older than anything he had ever seen. It was columned and bold, with eye-catching corners and rotundas. A powerful vignette of carved marble flowered all along the outside walls, or, almost all of it...Part of the entrance was missing a hefty amount and had scorch marks and swirls where the rock had melted.
“Why is this wall damaged?” Frederick asked.
“Oh,” the commander answered rather reluctantly, “that was caused by the palace bombing, years ago…”
Seven years ago, to be more precise, Frederick thought.
He knew this encounter was in the works for some time now. His mother had died in that bombing, after all. He had intended on asking around about it, but now that he was presently confronting it, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to.
“Shall I...give you a moment, my Lord?” the commander asked, looking far more uncomfortable than Frederick did about the ruined sight.
“No, there’s no need to linger,” Frederick stated.
They passed through the damaged entrance with little more than a passing glance.
The commander led Frederick far into the depths of the ornate palace. Paintings and embroideries lined the walls, complemented by the white and black ripples in the marble walls. The soft echoing tap of their feet on the also-marble floor added a charming resonance to their stride across the room. Everything was designed for a proper aestheticism, nothing gaudy or overbearing.
Frederick likened the palace to the fanciful museum he had been to in Harald’s Principality many years ago. He was only a boy then, but he remembered that each wing of the museum had a room emulating the cultural aesthetic of each Principality within the Alliance. He could say with certainty that the museum was triumphant in exhibiting at least one Principality to perfection.
“The King is waiting for you just inside, my Lord Schraeder,” the commander said, gesturing to the closed door in front of them. Frederick relieved his guards, handing his Mag-rifle to one of them and ordering for them to wait outside.
Frederick entered the room to a more familiar sight. The room was far less impressive than the palatial halls and vestibules he had just passed through. It was far more business-like, mimicking the 21st century corporate-spartan style that his father worked out of in his top floor suite.
“You must be the young Schraeder prince. It’s good to finally meet you,” the King said.
He arose from a couch he had been sitting on across from one other in the room.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” Frederick said with a head bow. “I am Frederick Schraeder of the Arhus-Rhine Principality, fourth son of Siegfried Schraeder.”
He had never had to give a proper introduction before, but had been coached by Katherine before his arrival.
“Please, please, there’s no need for such formalities,” the King said.
Defying his own words, the King introduced himself formally, in kind.
“I am King Lodovico Medicii, House of Illica, ruler of the Savona-Messina Principality.”
The King gave a slight head bow as well and then extended his hand to Frederick. Frederick accepted it into his own with a gracious smile.
“Now, you’re probably wanting to know who these two lovely ladies are,” the King said, having noticed Frederick’s gaze wander to the other two people in the room.
The two young girls gracefully rose from their couch and waited patiently to the side of their King.
“This is my eldest daughter, Serana,” the King indicated to the first of the standing ladies. She seemed to be about his age and was quite tall, meeting his eyes with the top of her head.
Serana stepped forward and curtsied politely, catching Frederick’s eyes all the while. She had beautifully long carob hair, fashioned into a crown braid, further extracting the beauty of her natural features to the forefront. Her eyes were of an unusual honey amber with light brown streaks stretching from her pupils. She managed a perfect combination of sultry and cute with her well-placed cheekbones and full attractive lips.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Schraeder,” Serana said.
Her eyes never left his and it was clear she had poured everything she had into evoking his male prerogative.
“Please, call me Frederick,” he said. “I’m not used to the titles, and it will be easier for everyone.”
“But one day soon, you will have a title that people must call you by,” Serana said. “Your destiny as a Schraeder calls for you to be more...to be a King...or am I wrong?”
Frederick squirmed at the thought. It seemed too bold to say such a thing in front of her father, the King, and with such little prompting. Frederick broke his eyes away from the seductive girl to see the King’s reaction. There was none to be found, just a static smile and lifeless eyes.
Has he already resolved to give me his Principality, he wondered. Did he misunderstand the contract we negotiated, or is he hopeful that I will remain after the sixteen months and give in to male desire? Or is it pure desperation...
At this thought, Frederick became aware that there was nobody else in the room with them, just the King and these two girls. A meeting of royals would almost certainly involve the introduction of all members of the immediate family, and would even involve the cousins who were far removed from the line of succession. It seemed the House of Illica was in its dying breath.
“Perhaps you’re right,” Frederick said. “One day…”
“I hope you’ll grant me some of your time during your stay, Frederick,” Serana said, curtsying herself back next to the King.
Frederick already knew that his time here would largely be allocated to remaining by this girl’s side. He couldn’t yet think of a scenario in which she would be occupied with something and he would not.
“And this,” the King said, with no emotion having been gained or lost, “is my younger daughter, Amelia.”
The younger girl stepped forward and copied her older sister. Amelia looked to be about Karin’s age and held that same adorable immaturity to her that brought out Frederick’s protective nature. She possessed her older sister’s cuteness but had put considerably less effort into announcing her true beauty, leaving a rather plain look about her. Every Elite, royal or not, understood the brittle nature of first impressions. It was obvious there was to be no attention drawn away from her older sister, Serana, during this meeting.
“It’s nice to meet you, Frederick,” she said, taking the initiative of listening to his earlier titular demand.
“I hope you find your time here enjoyable,” she said with a genuine tone.
“I’m sure I will find it agreeable in the company of two lovely princesses,” he said.
Amelia smiled a familiar look that reminded him of Karin and returned to her place by her older sister.
“I would love for you to enjoy some time in the City with my daughters, Frederick,” the King said, “but we should get you accommodated first.” His voice added a notable reluctance to his sentence when he said the word “City.”
“Of course,” Frederick responded, feeling more and more like a hostage.
“I would like to sort out protocols with your battalion commander that arrived with you. I understand he is dealing with off-loading weapons and supplies at the air docks, so I will make my way to him now,” the King said.
Frederick thought it odd that the King would go to such trouble, but he ultimately remembered how his contract here was negotiated in the first place. It was soldiers and defense this King needed and wanted, anything else was an extra bonus. He disregarded the unusual circumstance and chalked it up to a difference in priorities.
“I would ask that you stay in the palace in the meantime,” the King pressed.
The King took his leave and left the two girls with Frederick.
“I would love to tour you around,” Serana spoke promptly.
She stepped as close to Frederick as she could without contact.
“There is a lot of engaging history to this place that I’m sure you’ll enjoy,” she continued.
“I wouldn’t mind the company,” Frederick said, taking the cue to offer his arm for her to grab and lead.
She grabbed it firmly and provocatively, the way Vaela might have done if Karin were around.
“Unfortunately,” Amelia spoke up at the obvious signal she was receiving, “I have another obligation to attend to before I can join the two of you. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.”
Frederick would have preferred Amelia stay and curb her older sister’s determined flirtatious manner with her presence, but he understood this had all been planned.
“It can’t be helped,” Frederick said. “I’d enjoy your presence another time, though.”
With another curtsy, Amelia let herself out and left Frederick to play victim to her older sister.
“Shall we begin our tour, Frederick?” Serana asked.
“Lead the way,” he replied.
Serana led him alluringly along, becoming intimate with his flank all the while.
For the rest of the week, Frederick was escorted around by the beautiful Serana. Rarely was he able to get outside the palace walls, venturing only so far as the plaza outside before being stopped by Legionnaires who would say it wasn’t safe to go any further.
“King’s orders...it’s not safe for you or his daughter,” they would say.
“I can protect us both just fine,” he would insist.
“Sorry, my Lord, you must remain in this secure vicinity…” they would reluctantly respond.
Even the sight of the Mag-rifle across his back would not persuade them to let him through.
It would have bothered him immensely if it wasn’t for Lt. Colonel Leonhardt filling him in on this outrageous captivity. According to Leonhardt, outsiders had entered the Principality from the Eastern shores, and there was a high likelihood of them infiltrating the City.
All this did was serve to raise more questions. Neither he nor Leonhardt had ever seen an outsider in person, so the matter was sensitive and dangerous. No amount of questioning from the palace guards or the Citizens in the plaza could give him the answers he sought. And so, his first week went by almost completely in the dark.
Now, while he lay in his lonely foreign bed, he only had thoughts of one thing. He pulled out his personal terminal and switched to his private channel Karin had set up for the two of them. There was a new entry that had come in only a short while ago. He tuned the black wheels on the device and played the recorded message. It initiated with a static crunch and Karin’s voice graced the room.
Good morning, Frederick! I hope you slept well...I know you said you’ve been having trouble, and it’s the same for me. I tried listening to your voice from one of the messages you sent me, thinking it might help if I play it back before sleeping...but all I can do is imagine you right here next to me and then I just stare at your picture in my locket…
Frederick laughed, he had thought of trying something similar. He found Karin’s voice quite soothing, even mixed in with the occasional crunch of static.
Today will be my first day back at Citizen School. Father assured me that I will be in a different class and have a different schedule that won’t have me running into you-know-who...Apparently he’s already back attending. I heard his ribs are still broken and quite uncomfortable, though, so I at least know where to kick him if he gets too close…I don’t think there will be any problems, though.
Katherine also said she would wait for me outside the school on the days she can get out early...Did you ask her to suggest that? It sounds like something you would insist upon, but I know she can be just as protective as you, haha! I don’t think she’ll be meeting me after school a lot, though...I know she’s always really busy, but it means a lot that she’ll give me what little time she has...She’s a really great sister...she reminds me of Mom a bit…Sorry...I didn’t mean to bring that up…
Anyway, I need to start getting ready. I have to start cooking my own breakfasts now after all, haha! It’s not as good as yours, that’s for sure, but I’ll get better! I’ll send another message tonight...I know you’re probably really busy, so if you don’t have the chance to send one back, I’ll be content in re-listening to one you already sent, haha!
Can’t wait to hear from you!
Love you, always and forever!