AN: Posted an old version of this same plotline several years ago. I'm working on revisions as I have time. Critiques and comments much appreciated!
Joel Dagny sat cross-legged on the rug in his father's study. The rich colors woven into an intricate pattern made no impression on the nine year old with messy brown hair and baggy pants stained with mud at the knees. Joel's favorite object in the study was a bookend. The roaring lion, carved from a block of dark wood, obscured items that other eyes would have been drawn to – the deep purple cloak edged with gold that was flung across the back of the chair or the royal seal left carelessly out on the desk. Joel studied the chess board in front of him while waiting to see which piece his father would move. He thought his father would choose to move the knight, but it could also be the bishop. He needed to plan for each scenario, each contingency. Contingency was a fun word to say, he had just learned it earlier that day from a traveling scholar who was staying at his grandfather's inn. David, Joel's father and the twelfth king of Sedar, scratched his beard and finally picked up the knight. There was a knock at the door. "Come in." David twisted his shoulders about and faced the door without setting the knight back down on chess board.
A guard in Sedar's green and black livery pushed open the door and stepped in. He stopped just inside the room and saluted David. Joel frowned. He still didn't know where his father would set the knight back down.
"Speak, James, you have my permission."
"Sire, the Queen sends for you."
David nodded to the guard and set the knight down to the side of the board. "I'm sorry, Joel. We'll have to play again some other time."
Joel looked down and nodded. "Okay, Papa." He was used to having games with his father interrupted by one matter or another, but that didn't mean he was particularly fond of the pattern.
David ruffled the boy's hair. "You had best go home now. Abram," he called into the hallway. A middle-aged man wearing uniform of a high-ranking officer stepped into the office.
"Abram, would you take Joel back to his grandfather's inn, please?"
"Of course, my lord." Abram smiled at Joel and extended a calloused hand. "Come along, Joel."
"Can I come back tomorrow, Papa?"
"We'll see, Joel. I would love for you too. I'll send for you if I have some time."
"Okay. Bye-bye, Papa."
"Goodbye, Joel." David smiled. "Abram, tell Isaac hello for me."
Abram took the boy's hand, and they left the room. Joel walked a bit faster than he normally would to keep up with Abram's gait. He held any questions until they had exited the palace grounds and entered the streets of the city.
"Abram, why do I have to leave?"
"Your father has business to attend to, Joel."
"But James said it was Lady Marian who sent for him, he usually tells her to wait."
"Joel, my boy, this is a matter that will not wait."
"Haven't you heard? It's been all over the town for months now. The Queen is expecting a child." They passed a monk returning with a basket of bread to the monastery located across a wide square from the palace. Abram dropped Joel's hand and folding his hands in front of him inclined his upper body to the monk. Joel looked up, and then followed suit. The monk returned their bows and continued on his way. Joel watched the monastic and then looked back at Abram.
"Maybe I heard."
"David should have told you. The child will be your brother or sister." Abram watched a baker across the street closing heavy shutters over the windows of his shop. "Come along, Joel. It's getting dark and your mother will be worried."
"I've always wanted a brother." Joel grinned. "Yul's older brother takes him fishing at the river. Will I be able to take my brother fishing, Abram?"
Abram chuckled. "Perhaps Joel, it's somewhat complicated. You see, Queen Marian's baby will be the heir of the kingdom."
"I know, Papa told me that when they married. But he should still know how to fish. Maybe Grandpa can teach him how to make lures."
"Oh, Joel, how do I explain this to you? Some might not want you to spend as much time at the palace."
"Because, you're the older son, and some think you might plot against Queen Marian's child."
Joel shook his head. "I won't."
"I know you wouldn't, but not everyone knows you as well as I do." Abram stopped outside the well-lit door of Isaac Dagny's inn. The soldier bent down until his face was level with the boy's. "Joel, I'm afraid that things will change somewhat for you, but no matter what does, know that your father does love you very much, and he only wants what is best for you."
"Why would things change?"
"Oh, Joel, you'll understand soon enough, I suppose." Abram pulled open the door of the inn and shooed Joel inside. "Go find your grandfather and tell him that I need to speak with him." With a quick wave to Abram, Joel darted inside the bustling, well-light common room of his grandfather's inn.
The nuns at the orphanage gave me the name Amirah. One of them, who could read and who taught the children to read, said it meant 'Princess' in the language of the southern nations. And, or so she told me, I, with my huge blue eyes, certainly looked like a princess. It would do, at least, until I remembered by given name.
They wanted me to remember things. They asked me to tell them where the cut running down my face had come from. After all, who would have hurt such a pretty little girl? I barely remember thisquestioning and naming. I dream sometimes. I dream of crying alone. Of finding a glass bottle. I think it held some type of alcohol at one time or another. I dream that I break the bottle against the stone wall, pick up a shard in my small shaking hand, and slice my face. Starting at my forehead. Across the bridge of my nose. Down my cheek. So I won't be a pretty little girl anymore. Why do they ask me to remember these things?