As Prince Alexander of Trolta walked around his father's chambers, he eyed a crystal swan with two gems for its eyes- a work of art so beautiful that everything in the room seemed centered around it. "Now is the time for you to expand," he said, drinking from a gold chalice. "Your enemies can't stop you now."
"My decision is final," the king said. "I will keep the peace."
The king pulled himself out of a violet embrodiered chair and walked over to his balcony, for he was restless when he had a visitor in his chambers. The chambers were small, decorated with long, gold leaf scrolls lining the interior, like vines sprawling down a rock wall; hundreds of beautiful brass sculptures sitting on mahogany tables and shelves; and a marble floor that was as smooth as the still evening water of a lake. A large emerald fan hung from the ceiling, providing a slight breeze that made dark red curtains wrap around the columns at the entrance of the chambers. The king was a large, bulky figure, who always appeared to be bursting out of his wardrobe, creating a presence that dominated everyone around him, and no matter how much his son postured, he couldn't change that. "What peace are you referring to?" Alexander asked. "The dead are at peace. But what about their families? You call for peace when our security is at stake."
"The peasants won't stand for more bloodshed," the king said. "Do you want to destroy every possible enemy?"
Alexander put his chalice down on a table and walked over and caressed the crystal swan. "You risk our safety and claim it is in our best interest. Then you say it is what your subjects want," he said. "The Rostricans have rebuilt their kingdom with hatred in their hearts. Hatred of you and hatred of this kingdom. Now you accept peace."
"Treacherous," the king muttered under his breath. He paused, listening to the bustle of his attendants cleaning the palace grounds. Then he walked backed into his chambers and said, "Perhaps you should take that expedition you wanted. That might satisfy your passions. I will not stand for any more of this."
As the king turned his back, Alexander nudged the swan, causing it to fall to the floor and shatter in hundreds of pieces. The king quickly turned around, his face filled with rage.
"I will have it cleaned up and another one made," Alexander said.
"You know that was a rare gift. It was made especially for me," the king said.
"That's right," Alexander said. "Those gems are only found in the Thofelio Hills of Rostrica. Unfortunately, we have so few of them."
The king sent Alexander away. Alexander was furious after talking with his father, but that is what his spirit desired, and his hate fed the fire within him. He traveled by horseback to the King's Forest, where he was scheduled to hunt for grouse with his best friend, Francona, who was colonel of the royal guards. When he arrived Francona had the guns ready, and soon they went off hunting. The forest was quiet, except for the occasional songs of warblers and the scratchy sound of squirrels climbing up and down trees. "I can no longer wait," Alexander said. "I won't let father lose everything we have built."
"Don't be foolish," Francona said, walking over a fallen tree. "You will have control of the army as long as no questions are asked. Your father's death must be to your advantage, not for the benefit of the generals or your mother's friends."
Alexander heard a grouse take off in front of him, but he couldn't get off a shot through the thick brush. "I will have my mother's blessing no matter what happens," he said. "I must act before someone comes after me."
Francona stopped walking. He turned to Alexander and saw a different look in the prince's eyes. "There are no threats against you," he said. "Be patient. The right moment will come soon."
That evening the king sat in the palace garden with the queen. The moonlight glimmered off the top of the hedges, contrasting sharply with the darkness, making it appear as if heads of ghosts were swaying in the garden. "I hoped some experience would change him," the king said. "It would be better for him to explore the world."
"He's very much like you were at that age," the queen said. "You deny your past mistakes so much you forget they ever happened."
The king stared in the distance. "You are too protective of him. He has grown out of control," he said.
"You never lived in the shadow of your father like he does," the queen said, glancing at her husband. "Let him learn from his mistakes."
The king was agitated but didn't respond. He sat silently, enjoying the quiet evening with the queen.
Weeks passed. The king's birthday approached, and the queen wanted a special gift for her husband, so she asked her attendants to find the best weaver in the country. The queen's attendants searched far and wide, inspecting the work of every artist in the land. Eventually, they took the queen to the home of an old peasant woman whose beautiful garments surpassed anything the royal weavers could make. When the queen arrived at the peasant's home, she was overwhelmed looking at the rugs, quilts, gowns, and other fabrics scattered about the cottage. "I heard you are the best weaver in the country," the queen said. "And from what I see, they are right."
"Thank you," the weaver said. "I am honored you stopped here."
The weaver lived alone with her son, Theodre, who helped her with her work. Her husband died years ago, and her other son was killed during the last war with the Rostricans.
"I want a present for the king's birthday," the queen said, as she walked around, feeling the soft fabric of the weaver's art. "Can you make a robe for him?"
The weaver paused, catching her breath. "It would be my pleasure," she said, smiling.
After working day and night for weeks, the weaver finished a beautiful black robe with red lining, white cuffs, and a golden inscription of the king's insignia on the front. She gave the robe to the queen's attendants, who paid the weaver with a pouch of gold coins.
The queen told Alexander about the special gift, and he talked with Francona. "Perhaps your time is now," Francona said. "We can blame your father's death on the weaver and connect her to the Rostricans."
Alexander ordered the assasination. Francona acquired some poison, snuck into the queen's chambers, and lined the king's robe with the deadly liquid. On the king's birthday, a grand celebration was held, complete with legions of marching soldiers, a banquet feast of the king's favorite delicacies, and music by the best symphonies in the kingdom. After the king was presented with hundreds of gifts from different villages, the king and queen led a dance in the ballroom before retiring to their chambers. Then the queen gave the robe to her husband. The king instantly cherished his gift and wrapped it around his massive body. As he admired himself in his full- length mirror, he took the queen in his arms. But then the poison seeped into his skin and struck his heart. He gasped and collapsed in the queen's arms. She couldn't hold him and he fell to the floor. Frantically, she tried to revive him, but the king was dead.
News of the king's death quickly spread through the kingdom. The queen was lost in sorrow, but she took over rule of the kingdom. Francona ordered the royal guards to arrest the weaver. "Without doubt, she is guilty," Alexander said, comforting his mother. "She received poison from the Rostricans, and we know she blamed father for the death of her son."
"Then I want her killed," the queen said, leaning into her son's arm.
"I will handle the execution," Alexander said, "but we must attack the Rostricans now, or we will pay as father has. We have no choice but to conquer them."
The queen stepped away from her son. "Give me time," she said.
"We don't have any time," Alexander said. He approached his mother, his face leaning over her stooped shoulder. "They wouldn't have killed father unless they had attacks planned. You can't put the kingdom at risk."
Again the queen stepped away from her son. "I won't make that decision until I investigate everything that is happening," she said.
Alexander left the queen. Theodre protested against his mother's sentence and demanded to see her. The queen allowed Theodre to visit his mother the night before the execution, but she ordered the jailer to listen in on the conversation. Theodre was led to a room near the royal dungeon where his mother, chained to a stone table, awaited him. The room contained no windows, but there was an opening in the rock walls, allowing the jailer to hear everything that was said. "Mother, I have to get you out of here," Theodre said, looking sympathically at her.
"My fate is sealed," the weaver said. "I won't let you throw your life away."
"I lost my brother and did nothing," Theodre said with tears in his eyes. "I can't let them kill you."
"Your vengence will make you worse than your enemies," the weaver said, pausing. "All I ever wanted was for my children to be happy."
"How can I live?" he asked. "I can't stand to see you die."
The weaver caressed her son's face. "I never told you this before because it was too dangerous to consider, but the way the world is now, it is the only chance you can find happiness," she said. "Underneath the floorboards in my bedroom you will find a key that was retrieved by your grandfather during the Trillian Wars. The key opens the Ederian Medallion, and whoever opens the medallion is given eternal peace. With that, I hope you can help others."
The jailer listened on intently. "Where is the medallion?" Theodre asked.
"Legend says it is in a cave in the Plovia Mountains," the weaver replied, "but nobody has seen it for centuries. I wish I could tell you more to protect you. I want you to look at others with love again."
Theodre didn't respond. He hugged his mother, and as he held her in his arms, he didn't believe he could ever find peace. The guards came and took the weaver back to her cell. The jailer went to the queen and described the encounter between the weaver and her son. "They didn't mention the assasination? Or revenge?" the queen asked.
"No," the jailer replied. "Do you want him killed?"
"No, let him go," the queen said, "but have your guards watch him closely to see who he meets with. And retrieve all of the weaver's possessions, including that key."
"Do you believe that legend?" he asked.
"No," she replied, "but I don't want any memories left of her. Have a fake key made and leave it in her cottage. If her son wants to chase ghosts, let him."
Before Theodre was released, royal guards took everything from his mother's home and left a iron key under the floorboards in the bedroom. They brought the real key, which was made of jade, to the queen. The queen was amazed at the intricate designs engraved in the jade, and the very touch of the key comforted her, so she attached it to the diamond necklace that she always wore. When Theodre arrived at the empty cottage, he searched underneath the floorboards and retrieved the iron key.
The next morning thousands of people crowded the public square for the weaver's execution. As the weaver was led to the scaffold, the crowd threw stones and yelled obscenties at her. The weaver looked down, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Theodre arrived and stared at his mother. Then he looked through the crowd, listening to the jeers and taunts of the peasants. When a man near him threw a stone towards the scaffold, gesturing wildy with eyes frozen with hate, Theodre hit him, starting a fight in the crowd. The guards who were following Theodre rushed through the crowd and arrested him. As they dragged him off to jail, Alexander spotted them. "No. Keep him here," he said.
The queen, who was sitting in the royal balcony, looked on as the hangman put the noose around the weaver's neck. The weaver appeared frail and unconnected to everything around her, like a wounded bird lying in a barren field. The crowd became silent. Theodre fought to escape, but three guards held him back, clasping his arms and covering his mouth. Then the platform boards opened, dropping the weaver's body, which jerked violently. Rumbling spread through the crowd until the yelling and obscenities returned. The queen cringed as she watched the weaver struggle with her last ounce of strength, and she was apalled as the cheering reached a fever pitch when the weaver's body became motionless. Images of her husband's collapse flashed through her mind. Anger engulfed her, but as she stared at the weaver's lifeless body, she wondered what emotions drove the weaver to murder. Then the crowd went on their way as if nothing had happened. The queen was disgusted, for the king's spirit was nowhere to be found.
When the queen returned to the palace, she asked to see Theodre. The guards brought Theodre before the queen. The queen had prepared a long speech, but after looking at the hatred in his eyes, she had little to say. "If you leave this country and never return, I will grant your freedom," she said.
Theodre stared at the queen. Moments later a guard shook him, making him gesture with a slight nod. Then the guards took Theodre to the border and released him with nothing but the ragged clothes covering his body.
Theodre walked through the countryside until he came to a small farm where a family provided him with food and an old horse. For days he rode until he reached the Plovia Mountains, which made part of the border between the two kingdoms. He went to the south side of the mountains where he searched and searched until he found an entrance to the underground caverns. Leaving his horse in a small grassland, he entered the caverns. For hours he walked around, looking into every pathway and opening he encountered, but he didn't see anything besides the stalactites and stalagmites that formed the intricate patterns decorating the caves.
Then, as he entered a large tunnel, he came to a hole that spread across the width of the cavern. Sprawled in front of the hole were two skeletons of dragons that appeared like refined sculptures instead of rotting bones. At first the skeletons frightened him, for he feared there were live dragons in the cave, but there was something about the way the bones laid next to one another that made him believe that they were the last of their kind. He walked past the skeletons and up to the hole. The hole was too wide to jump across, and its sides were made of slick, hard granite, making it impossible to climb down. When he looked into the hole, the only thing he saw was a flicker of light deep in the darkness.
Theodre stood motionless next to the hole. Memories of his mother, father, and brother, and the life they once had, flooded his mind, but they couldn't fill the void inside him. Searching for peace seemed trivial now, and he wanted to leave, but there was nowhere for him to go. After staring in the hole for several minutes, he closed his eyes, leaned forward, and jumped in. His body dropped fast, as if an arrow was shot into the depths. Faster and faster he fell, and the force of the rushing air stunned him. His eyes frantically searched the darkness, but the only thing in sight was the tiny spot of glowing light below. He continued to fall, and then his body stopped in midair. His mind felt disconnected from his body, and he quickly tried to collect himself. Slowly he floated down with his legs dangling in the air, and then he saw the bottom of the hole that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
When he reached the ground, bright lights shined in his face causing him to squint. In front of him was a cave filled with thousands of medallions attached to gold chains hanging from the ceiling. Each medallion was engraved with an image, with scenes containing animals, stars, spirits, and humans. He was in awe looking at the medallions, but he didn't know which one was the Ederian Medallion. As he walked through the cave examining one medallion after another, an intense feeling came over him, a feeling of freedom he had never felt before, inspiring him to return and demand justice in the world.
After looking at hundreds of medallions, he decided it was hopeless to find the Ederian Medallion and whatever magic it possessed, so he walked back to the entrance of the cave. As he reentered the hole, he noticed a dark image on the wall, a small image of earth, projecting from one of the medallions. He tracked the projection of the image back to the medallion, took the medallion off its gold chain, and tried opening it with the iron key. The medallion didn't open, and as he looked at the key, he realized it didn't fit any of the medallions. But he knew in his heart that the medallion in his hand was the right one, so he put it in his pocket and walked back to the entrance of the cave. Then a wind blew through the hole and picked him up, returning him to the tunnel above.
After leaving the cavern and retaining his horse, Theodre left the Plovia Mountains and traveled to Rostrica. For days he made his way through the underground before joining a rebel group. The rebels were incensed at the peace accepted by their king, leaving the peasants poor and starving, and were determined to ignite another war between the two kingdoms. Because of the murder of his mother, Theodre was embraced by the rebels. He worked day and night, recruiting peasants and acquiring weapons, and before long, he became one of their leaders. King Juna of Rostrica increasingly worried about the rebels and did whatever he could to contain them.
Now, the queen was caught between the battle for power in her kingdom. Alexander, who constantly watched over a military buildup, continued to demand war, while the king's former generals encouraged the queen to protect the borders of the kingdom, avoiding more battles. As the tensions in Trolta increased, there was no communication with Rostrica. So one night the queen dressed as a peasant and traveled into Rostrica, accompanied by her close attendants. For days they wandered through villages, encountering hungry children begging for food, old women hunched over in alleys, and naked peasants lying in the dirt street. Eventually, they met one of the rebels who was informing the peasants of a secret meeting.
That night a meeting was held in an abandoned farmhouse outside a village. When the queen arrived with her attendants, she looked through the crowd, watching hundreds of angry peasants talking and milling around. A half-hour later the leaders arrived and the queen spotted Theodre among them. The eldest leader stood on an old wooden chest and said, "The king of Trolta deserved to be killed, and our king deserves the same fate."
The crowd cheered. One by one the leaders gave speeches, condemning both kingdoms and calling for a revolution, and with each speech, the atmosphere intensified. Then the peasants took turns speaking, telling stories of family members killed during the last war and the brutality of King Juna's soldiers. The queen saw the hatred in the eyes of the peasants, reminding her of the crowd at the weaver's execution. As she listened, a sick feeling came over her. The feeling grew worse and worse until she felt empty, causing her to leave quietly with her attendants who escorted her back to Trolta.
For days the queen was distraught. She loved her husband, but she now realized she was blind to his crimes. She called for a meeting with King Juna, and despite objections from Alexander, they met a few days later.
"I am concerned about the rebels in your country who want war," the queen said after a tense introduction between the two. "They are desperate to try anything."
King Juna was taken aback, for he thought the queen was trying to distract him. "I have done everything I can, but my resources are limited. The last war caused so much destruction," he said. "My concern is with another attack from you. Your son lusts for blood and our land."
"My son does not speak for me," she said. "I am prepared to offer you food for your people, trade to help rebuild your country, and the land you wanted to keep at the end of the last war."
"Why?" the king asked. "Your husband demanded that land, killing hundreds of my people to keep it."
"I don't desire more violence," she said. "I have given you my offer."
King Juna was skeptical, but he sensed the deep feeling the queen had for her dead husband. "I will accept your offer," he said, "but I will not tolerate any broken promise, and you must discontinue building up your army."
The queen agreed with King Juna, and the next morning dramatic changes were made. Soldiers from both kingdoms rode through the villages, handing out food, clothes, and other goods to the peasants. Land was handed over to the Rostricans, and the queen traveled through her kingdom, examining the working conditions of her subjects. As the weeks went by, the climate in both kingdoms improved, relieving the tensions between them.
After witnessing all the changes, the leaders of the rebels gathered together. "These are some of the things we have fought for, and the peasants are living in peace," the eldest leader said.
"But these are just payoffs to keep us from defending ouselves," a young woman said. "We are not fools. They will conquer us and take everything back."
Theodre was surprised by the changes being made. He saw hope in the eyes of the peasants, something he had waited his whole life to see, and despite his skepticsm, he now had hope as well. "We should back off for the time being," he said, "and see if the promises are kept."
"But you are one of them, despite what happened to your family," the young woman said. "You haven't suffered like we have."
Theodre was silent.
"He has lost his people as well as his family," the eldest leader said. "If he can forgive, why can't we?"
Alexander was incensed when he was ordered to stop his weapon production and training of new soldiers. He desired to kill his mother and take over the kingdom, but he was concerned about the response of the peasants, who accepted the peace, welcoming their opportunity for a new life. One morning he visited Francona at the camp of the royal guards. "I rebuilt the army to immaculate the time when father's empire was at its peak," he said. "Now she wants to stand in my way permanently."
"The peasants have embraced this new world of hers," Francona said. "They have become unpredictable as their chains have loosened."
"I will not allow this to continue," Alexander said.
"You won't have to," Francona said. "We can turn the peasants against her. Let them destroy their own symbols."
Francona ordered the royal guards to put poison herbs into a cargo of food sent to a village in Rostrica. A few villagers ate the poisoned food, which quickly spread to their neighbors, killing family after family. The village was quarantined to control the spread of the poison, and all food and supplies from Trolta were banned. King Juna demanded answers, but the queen denied any knowledge of the tragedy and asked how her kingdom could help. Alexander's soldiers spread rumors through the kingdom that King Juna attacked his own people to start a war and display his use of poison. Immediately the armies of both kingdoms amassed on the border. The rebel leaders were horrified by the deaths of the peasants and encouraged the war, hoping both armies would be destroyed.
In his heart, Theodre felt something was wrong, so he spoke out against more violence. Most of the rebels denounced him, but some believed in him and they followed him from village to village in Rostrica, calling for peace.
The next day a group of royal guards, on orders from Francona, dressed as Rostrican soldiers and looted a Trolta village, killing all the peasants. Alexander went to the queen, demanding an attack. "You have waited too long. Now you see the result," he said.
"How did these soldiers get across the border?" the queen asked, infuriating Alexander. "We must talk to King Juna and stop those who are responsible."
Alexander left the queen, gathered Francona and the royal guards, and marched from village to village calling for war and demanding that he take over the kingdom. As they marched, thousands of angry peasants joined them, screaming for blood.
The queen gathered her attendants and went to all the peasants she was fighting to help, asking them to stand by her plans for the kingdom. She was threatened and belittled, but she continued, picking up followers along the way, many of whom that divided with their families. She knew that she had lost control of the kingdom to Alexander, who had converted her husband's generals to his cause, so she led her followers on a march to the border.
Already at the battleground was Theodre, who led his followers through the Rostrican army lined on the hill, pleading with them to remember how much the kingdom was improving. But King Juna ordered his soldiers to beat the protesters, forcing them to escape into a large valley between the Plovia Mountains.
The next morning Alexander approached the border with the royal guards and the peasants, joining the army that was already amassed there. The armies from both kingdoms lined the cliffs, preparing their weapons. As the sun was high in the sky, the queen arrived with her followers and led them down into the valley. When she saw Theodre, she took the key off her necklace, and then approached him, holding the key in her hand. "I don't want this war, but I cannot stop it," she said. "This belongs to your family."
Theodre looked into her eyes and the eyes of her followers, including peasants from the village he was raised in, and he knew she was sincere. "Thank you," he said, taking the key from her hand.
The protestors approached each other cautiously. Then they lined up next to one another, spreading across the valley as far as they could. Using the key, Theodre opened the Ederian Medallion. A glowing light shot out of the medallion and peace flowed through Theodre's soul. For a minute he embraced this feeling, and he looked at the thousands of soldiers above him. Then he climbed down from his horse, walked over to a large boulder, and smashed the Ederian Medallion against the hard rock, causing a bright, glittering mist to hang in the valley.
Alexander ordered his troops to attack. His army charged down the hill with their swords raised above them and screams of victory clamoring in the air. King Juna's army descended into the valley in response, causing the protesters to join arm in arm. When the two armies reached the bottom of the valley, the protesters stood motionless. As the armies rushed to fight one another, they attacked the protesters, killing them all.
But then, like a comet striking the earth, a large rumbling shook through the valley. Suddenly, the earth opened up, creating a gigantic gorge, going deeper and deeper with each passing second. As the gorge opened, hundreds of soldiers and peasants fell to their deaths, while others retreated quickly, scrambling to save themselves. The gorge opened deeper until it surrounded Trolta, cutting it off from all the land around it. Swirling winds blew through the gorge, howling like thousands of wolves, making the gorge inhabitable, and creating a looming darkness that spread over the kingdom.
Weeks passed. The weather became so poor that it was impossible to grow food in Trolta, and thousands of animals died, leaving little to hunt for. Rostrica was also affected, causing the Rostricans to search in distant lands for a hospitable place to live. Alexander demanded a bridge be built over the gorge, but that was impossible, so he ordered groups of soldiers and peasants down into the gorge to search for a way across. Everyone he sent down perished except for a few brave souls who traveled back, describing the horrors below. Upon their return, Alexander had them killed them for cowardice.
Eventually, when the misery in the kingdom appeared to be an eternal sentence, with soldiers and aristocrats as hungry as the poorest peasants, the peasants rebelled, fighting with the spirit buried inside them. They overthrew Alexander, Francona, and the royal guards, with no resistance from Alexander's army. The surviving peasants and soldiers prayed and prayed for help, but nothing changed. Days passed. The climate became worse and worse. Everyone was on the brink of starvation, so they agreed to bundle their remaining food and supplies and travel down the gorge where they would die together, or make it safely to the other side.
As they traveled down the gorge, they needed all their spirit and unity to fight off their hunger, the rough terrain, and the winds that intensified every day, appearing to feed off some demon in the earth. A few died along the path, but the survivors made it to the bottom of the gorge, and as they were running low on water, they came to a small, peaceful valley that contained two springs flowing out of a rock wall. They drank from the springs, barely taking time to breathe. Then they set up camp in the valley, searched for food, and planted their remaining seeds in the soil next to the springs.
That night the peasants and soldiers slept peacefully for the first time in weeks. The next morning thousands of beautiful flowers and trees bloomed in the gorge, climbing higher and higher to the top, filling the sides of the gorge with vegetation and fruit. The sweet songs of birds were heard once again, and animals darted through the lush environment. The peasants ate heartily, looking on in wonder, dreaming of climbing back up the gorge. As they prepared to leave, an elderly woman said, "We must stay the night in honor of those who died."
So they remained in the valley, memoralizing the victims with prayers and songs, and walked around telling stories of lost loved ones. The next morning they traveled up the gorge, filling their bellies with delicious fruit along the way, sleeping peacefully every night until they reached the top.
When they arrived back home, the climate was back to normal, restoring life to the kingdom. The peasants and soldiers formed a new state, a state honoring the rights of everyone, and they welcomed people from neighboring kingdoms to come and share in their abundance and live in a free country. They built a large pearl bridge across the gorge that escalated into the sky with two tall poles in the center, appearing like a giant spirit had awaken from inside the earth and was reaching to embrace the stars. The bridge was protected by the new citizens, who walked across it whenever they needed inspiration. It still stands there today, making a bid for immortality.