Chapter 5:

Birthday Party

Mad God


“Ugh… this is so uncomfortable…” Ren moaned while her mother dressed her in a white dress and made her hair in two lovely little buns held together with violet ribbons.


“We are going to the Prince’s birthday party. You can’t go willy-nilly, wearing nothing!”


“Still, this dress is hard to move around in, and I don't like the shoes!”


“Me neither, but it’s an official event. Like it or not, follow the rules!”


“Booo, if I become the queen, I’ll change the rules!” Ren pouted childishly.


“We’ll see that!” Anya laughed, flicking her little forehead. “It will be the first time you two meet. You need to leave a good impression!”


“It's not like we are getting married tomorrow. I’m just five and a half, and he just turned eight.”


“True, and sometimes your Dad and I completely forget that.” Anya sighed. “Honestly, you speak and act like an adult most of the time. Except when you stir up trouble, left and right!”


“I’m just smarter than my peers. That's all! Ow!” landed another flick on her forehead.


“More modesty, less preaching. Now come, it’s better to arrive early than be late. This will be the first formal meeting and the occasion where the engagement is finalized. Your father has been seething since Monday, I just hope he can control himself enough not to cause a scene.”


“Hehehe, you would like tha- ow! Moooom!”


“You are getting more and more like your father! Move your legs more, not your mouth, you little twerp, or I’ll spank you!”


“Hauh… o-okay…”


….

…..


When the carriage arrived at the palace, the royal guard, in their golden armor, were there to welcome the guests.


“You should wear something like this more frequently.” Anya smiled as she got down the carriage, holding her husband’s hand, who now donned a white officer’s uniform decorated with red buttons and a belt and with the symbol of his military rank and achievements.


“Still hate it. It sticks to your body after just an hour, like a wetsuit….”


“I thought the same, Dad!” Ren’s voice came as she hopped down from the carriage.


“Oh, you two!” Anya sighed, rolling her eyes before they walked up to the palace’s stairs into the Assembly Hall, which was now changed into a ballroom.


Officials and Ministers were already there, standing around with a drink in their hands, talking about current policies and happenings in the empire. There were tables all around where the attendants’ children were sitting, forming their little groups, talking and laughing while they waited for the arrival of the Emperor and the fourth Prince Leinor.


When Xendar and his family arrived, the place quieted down a little, mainly because everyone knew the little girl walking between them was named the prince's fiance as soon as she was born. Everyone became a bit excited if there would be an exciting show to watch when the Prince arrived or if Anya could regulate her husband. If someone brought this up to the face of Xendar, it was like slapping the bottom of a sleeping bear. On the other hand, Ren looked around curiously, mostly checking the food table, curious if she could spot something tasty, but to her disappointment, it was primarily fruits.


“What kind of birthday party is this… there are no sweets around…” she moaned softly.


“Don’t compare yours to his Dear, this is a public event. When we celebrate yours, it's only our family’s business.” Xendar patted her head.


“Still… at least they could have presented some cookies or something!” Ren murmured, clearly disappointed.


“My, my! After half a decade, you are finally willing to show your daughter to the public?” came a laughing voice from their left, and a man in his 40s walked towards them in a similar military uniform as Xendar, only his decorations were colored green. His jet-black hair was neatly combed backward, and his short beard had a few gray lines on the sides. He was a bit shorter than Xendar, and the woman walking next to him looked to be in her early 30s, wearing a bright green dress decorated with light turquoise, swirling symbols. Her black hair was tied behind her back, and her brown eyes scanned Anya up and down with subtle jealousy.


“At least I don't need to go get my kid from the city guards every weekend when he’s out partying, Frennar.”


“You know how young boys are; their blood boils the hottest when they are at that age.” Frennar laughed.


“True, no wonder he is one of the decorated silk pants of the city.”


“Dad, aren't silk pants easy to get dirty?” Ren asked with innocence while Anya held back a chuckle.


“Oh yes, they are, sweetie. Sadly they are too sensitive!” his dad answered with a grin.


“I see your parenting is the same as how you handle your troops, Xendar.”


“My vanguards are filled with soldiers, and that's why your archers are filled with backdoor lovers.”


“Everyone knows you used some backdoors in the past, farmboy.”


The air around them was getting tenser and tenser, but Anya only watched calmly, not interfering with their argument, not even sparing a glance at Frennar’s wife. At the same time, Ren blinked her big eyes, trying to figure out what was happening.


Farmboy? Was Dad a commoner? I didn’t know about that… Well, I never asked. But now that I think about it, I never met my grandparents. Shouldn’t I have some? Even Mom never spoke about hers. Huh… now I'm curious!


“Please, just stop, you two. This is the young Prince’s night. We shouldn’t cause trouble for him.” A calming, young male voice arrived behind them, and another officer walked up to them wearing the same uniform but with blue-colored accessories. He was only in his twenties, at least from the outside. He was charming and dashing with curly blond hair and aquamarine-colored eyes.


“Ultar.” Both of the generals nodded at the same time.


“Mom, who is it?” Ren whispered.


“He is Ultar, the leader of the Defence Force. Usually, if an operation occurs, your father is responsible for the offense, Frennar for support, and Ultar for defense. In peace times, he is responsible for policing the military.”


“Looks young. Is he a genius?”


“You could call him that, but looks are deceiving. Your father has long passed 80. Even if he never reaches Harmony, he still has the same amount of years ahead of him.”


“Mm. I understand, Mother.” Ren replied.


After Ultar interfered, the other guests lost interest in the little scuffle between the two Generals, and soon everyone returned to their mingling, catching up with other families. Only Ren’s family was sitting at a small table quietly while Anya fed grapes to her daughter, sitting in her lap.


“Are we not popular amongst the others?”


“Kinda.” Xendar nodded while holding a glass of red wine, slowly swirling it. “I came from a lowly background. My parents were farmers in the border region before demons slaughtered the village,” he said in a plain voice to her daughter. “That's when I joined up with the military and met Dermitos.”


“Who is that?” Ren asked as her curiosity exploded with full force as she had never asked her parents about anything like this.


“Oh, yeah, you still don’t know, ahaha~” Xendar laughed while stroking his child’s head. “It’s Aerthus’ name before he ascended the throne and took up the title of Emperor. He was only an officer back then, gaining military experience like most princes. We bonded after hard-fought battles and became brothers not by blood but by steel.”


“Your father helped his fight for the throne and rose to General after he ascended. It’s a famous tale in the Empire, a citizen climbing the ranks to the highest point. Of course, not all of the others who were born into it took this nicely. It's hard to swallow, but they accepted it, more or less.” Anya chimed in.


“Dad, you are so cool!” Ren praised with shining eyes, which prompted Xendar to laugh sheepishly, getting a bit shy, which was as rare as a white raven. “I’m sorry about grandpa and grandma….”


“Don’t worry, sweetie; it happened long ago, and I avenged the village.”


“Mm… Mom, what about you?”


“Well…” she smiled, looking a bit sad. “I was expelled from the family and country for my actions.”


“What?!” Ren gasped, blinking rapidly.


“I was the princess of the Empire’s eastern neighbor, the Kingdom of Ten.”


“The… Kingdom of Ten? Princess?”


“Our eastern borders, along the Shert river, are our strongest neighbors, the Kingdom of Ten. It is an alliance of 9 regions, all ruled by a powerful family, and they are the vassals of the Naulin lineage who unified them around 2000 years ago, near when our Empire was born. Of course, if you would ask them, they say there are nine kingdoms and nine kings, but… everyone knows that is not the case. It was a warring period back then, and they were afraid to be annexed by Aerthus I. In the end, one line rose above the rest.”


“Wait, then I am a princess?”


“In our eyes, yes~,” Anya said, hugging her and planting a kiss on her head. “I was sent here as an alliance offering to marry the then Crown Prince Dermitos.”


“Wha… wha… what?!” Ren stuttered as she almost couldn’t contain herself from crying out, as this story sparked her fantasy the most.


“Ahaha, and your mother wasn't happy about it! She was pretty vocal too! When I first met her, I was mesmerized immediately.”


“But, but, what about the Emperor? And the marriage? How did you end up with Mom?”


“I ask myself the same question a lot of times….” Xendar sighed, smiling at Anya. “I still don’t know why she fell in love with me.”


“A woman's heart is unpredictable~” Anya giggled, looking lovingly at her husband. “It wasn’t as complicated as you think. Dermitos likes submissive women. I was anything but that, and he didn’t want a wife he couldn’t control.”


“Damn… ouch! Mom!” Ren yelped as her ear got pulled at.


“This is your fault, XenXen! I told you not to swear in front of her; she's picking up your bad habit!”


“Moooom, go back to the story!”


“Khm… anyway, everyone was thinking about how to annul the marriage, and to be honest, things just snowballed as I got closer to your Dad. Finally, when Dermitos ascended the throne and announced I would be wed to the newly appointed General of the Vanguard, Xendar, it was a pretty intense period.”


“Yeah… I bet!” she rolled her eyes, making Xendar chuckle a little.


“Your mother made a tough choice.” Xendar whispered as he held Anya’s hand, “She forsook everything to stay with me. She was of direct lineage from the Naulins, and because of me, she was stripped from her name, her records in the family lineage, and she was forbidden ever to set foot into the Kingdom.”


“It was my choice… and I would do it again, XenXen.”


Xendar didn’t speak more, just leaned forwards to give a small kiss on Anya’s lips while Ren watched with apologetic eyes.


“Mom, sorry I asked….”


“Ahahaha, don’t be sorry. I have my own family now!”


“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll make them come and beg you to return!”


“Oh, you little! It’s not important anymore! What matters is that you have a happy life!” Anya giggled, and she wanted to speak more, but the trumpets cut her short, signaling the arrival of the Emperor and the fourth Prince.


Everyone stood up for the arrival of the royal family. The first who came in was the Emperor, wearing a golden robe with a half smile on his face. Behind him came a young lady in a golden dress with loose, black hair, golden eyes, and pale, fair skin while the young Prince walked behind her.


He was wearing a white military uniform similar to Xendar’s, held on him with a small, golden belt that looked a little bit funny on a young child, but nobody dared to laugh. Leinor was the Emperor’s fourth son, while the firstborn and second child were twins. They were already way older by decades. His third brother also had his Coming of Age ceremony years ago. All his brothers were away from the capital, but even if they were not, probably only his eldest would come and congratulate him.


He looks a little bit timid.” Ren thought as she watched him with a smile, as this was the first time she met with her so-called fiance.


She wasn’t wrong; it was clear that Leinor wasn't a fan of walking before everyone like some rare animal. His shoulder-length golden hair was combed backward and held together with a golden band. When his amber-colored eyes met Ren’s, the little prince was taken back for a second, but soon he turned away his head, which started to redden a little while following his mother’s steps.


“Thank you, everyone, for coming!” Aerthus IX said in front of everyone, “My youngest son has aged another year. It will soon be his Coming of Age Ceremony! Soon he will start taking responsibility just like his brothers!” Which told the underlying message to everyone, the fourth Prince was more talented than the third. “Please, everyone, when that time comes, look out for him.” Aerthus IX smiled, and the nobles and officials replied smilingly one by one, as nobody would dare to say no.


“Well, before we start the party, why not liven up the place a little more?” The Emperor laughed. “There are a lot of younglings here. I heard some are even gifted with great talent like the finance minister's son who, being only 13, already started cultivating.”


His words started a round of murmurs and made the minister’s chubby face bloom into a smile while his son beside him looked on proudly.


“I’d like to see the next generation of my beautiful country! A friendly little spar and demonstration may be in order. What do you all say?”


Xendar was furrowing his brows while listening to the Emperor’s voice, not knowing if he was doing it deliberately, knowing something, or if this was just a coincidence. Anya also was thinking hard, but that's when they and others heard Ren speaking up loudly and excitedly.


“That sounds fun! I wanna play too!”