Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time…
There was a beautiful, wondrous kingdom that was admired by all. There was a king and queen who were of surpassing beauty. They were very happy.
And when the queen gave birth to a son, the kingdom rejoiced. His parents loved to show him off to their subjects. He was born pure and good and full of a generous and kind heart.
When the prince, James, turned five, his father died. The entire kingdom mourned for months, even years.
But when Prince James turned nine, the queen remarried a prince from another kingdom, Frances, who most called Frank. Though to the queen, Frank was a loving husband, and to everyone else Frank was a benevolent ruler, to James he was verbally abusive. Frank became more and more jealous of the boy as the kingdom fell more and more in love with James, who showed kindness and generosity to everyone.
Just before James was to turn eighteen, the queen suddenly took ill and died, leaving James with only his stepfather, Frank.
Frank vowed to be a good ruler, but already James saw the changes he instigated. Higher taxes for all to the point many in the kingdom could not afford to pay and when they could not, they were thrown into prison.
On his eighteenth birthday, James decided to pay a visit to the closest village to the castle, and he walked around to find many families almost destitute, and even some starving and homeless.
He had chosen to go out by himself, which was almost never allowed.
This was even worse than he’d been told by McCoy, a royal adviser. He could not understand why his stepfather would do this. His mother would have been against this.
“Your highness! Your highness!”
James went to the man who called him, for he recalled his name was Royce, and he was a prosperous merchant. “Good day to you, Royce. I hope I find you well.”
Royce looked haggard as he glanced about as though looking for who might be listening. “I am not well, Your highness. And in fact, no one in the village is well. Thanks to you royals in the castle.”
“I don’t understand. Can you tell me what has happened?”
“It is your stepfather, the king,” Royce said. “He has raised our taxes once more.” Royce wrung his hands. “To half of what I bring in! How am I to feed my family and pay for my house or even buy the things that are required for me to sell?”
James was shocked. “I-I had no idea. Is this like that for all the villagers?”
“All of those here,” Royce replied. “We are barely making it, Your Highness. And some of us aren’t. I cannot speak for the other villages other than this one, but there are rumors they are the same. We thought you would be made king upon the death of the queen.”
“I…” He shook his head. “I will speak to my stepfather. Surely this is a mistake.”
Royce sighed, looked quite disappointed and turned away. “I have to get back to work. I have to find some way to feed my children.”
James bit his lip and stared after the retreating man. This was unacceptable. He had no clue it had gotten this bad and that was the problem. He should know. But Frank was keeping secrets.
He turned to go back to the castle, determined to have it out with his stepfather when there was a loud fanfare in the northern part of the village. James made his way through the village, past the crowd of onlookers to the northern part. There he spotted a magnificent black horse accompanied by two equally gorgeous brown horses. The man on the black horse, was a dark haired man with pointed ears and a slight green hue to his skin. He had never seen the like.
This man was dressed in velvet that was in rich hues of dark purple and there was a gold gilded cape upon his back. The two with him were of similar look to him but older and not nearly as breathtaking. For James could not look away from the one in purple.
The crowd made whispers and James strained to hear.
“His royal guard.”
James recalled his stepfather was supposed to be greeting dignitaries from somewhere else. Since he had been excluded from the meeting he had not thought much about it. Now he supposed they were the ones meeting with his stepfather.
Well, James needed to get back to the castle so that he could speak with Frank himself, so he slipped back the way he came and made his way up the hill toward the castle.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness, but your stepfather is busy right now,” McCoy told him when he got back to the castle.
McCoy’s eyes softened and he clapped James on the shoulder. “It’s not a good time, Jim.” McCoy was the only one who called him Jim. “Perhaps tomorrow.”
“But I went down to the village today and—”
“Please tell me you took a guard.”
“Well, no, but—”
“What? You aren’t to leave the castle premises without proper protection by orders of the king.”
“I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own home.”
“You aren’t, Jim. This is for your safety.” He glanced back at the closed door. “Listen, Jim, you need to keep a low profile right now. Your father—”
“Stepfather,” he corrected quickly.
“Yes, your stepfather. He’s been acting rather…erratic. It’s best you stay out of his view right now.”
James stared wide-eyed at McCoy. “Are you saying he’s a threat to me?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” McCoy looked uncomfortable and opened and closed his mouth. But then a guard came down the hall toward them and McCoy pushed at James gently. “Get out of here, Your highness. It’s your birthday. You should be outdoors. Go out and get some fresh air. We’ll talk later.”
James didn’t want to leave but the guard was eying him and McCoy, so he left and went out into the courtyard by the fountain. He sat down on the ledge and played in the cold water even as birds sang nearby. He smiled at them. He loved animals. He held up his arm and was delighted when a tiny blue bird landed on his arm just above his wrist.
James jumped, jostling the bird, and rising from the ledge of the fountain and turning to face the dark haired man in the purple velvet.
“You must be Prince James.”
“Yes, yes, I am.”
“I am Prince Spock. I came to see your stepfather.”
“I know. And I saw you earlier.”
“Did you? Where?”
“In the village and—”
James jumped and looked toward an open window on the second floor of the castle. His stepfather leaned out.
“Stop being a bother to the prince, James, and come inside where you will not be a nuisance.”
“Nice to meet you. I’d better go.”
“You were not a bother,” he told James.
James smiled and nodded. He took a step closer to Spock but then thought better of it. Frank was likely watching. “Thank you. Goodbye.”
Once back inside the castle, James was confronted by his stepfather.
“Go to your room.”
“I’m not a child anymore to be ordered to my room. I am eighteen now.”
Frank advanced on him. “I am the king and if I say you are to go to your room you will.” He grabbed Jim around the forearm. “Do not think to defy me. You will lose.”
“Let go of me. That hurts.”
Frank flung him away. “Do as you are told. Or you may find yourself a prince without a kingdom.”
He rounded the corner and disappeared down the corridor. James was about to head up the stairwell toward his rooms when he turned and followed after his stepfather. He stopped out of sight when he heard murmured voices.
“The people are wondering why the prince did not ascend the throne instead of you,” McCoy said.
“He is just a boy.”
“Still he has the royal lineage which you do not. It was expected that James would be king upon his mother’s death. You were only a consort and never had the title of king.” McCoy paused. “Until now.”
“The people will do as they are told jus as you will. James is a mere boy and a simpleton. He would run the kingdom into the ground. And you had better watch yourself, Leo, or I will begin to wonder where your loyalties lie.”
Frank moved on down the corridor.
McCoy began to turn away and then suddenly stopped. “Who’s there?”
James shrank back against the wall.
After a moment, McCoy followed in the direction of his stepfather.