Story for the Day: Sarasa and Aldan
Captain Sarasa and Aldan are cousins, both of them high ranking in the Livanon royal houses and both of them complete opposite in character. Here for the weekend is more of their eternal rivalry.
It was Aldan’s first official day as a married king, and as there were ingratiating compliments to be collected, proceedings over which only he could preside, and a large breakfast planned at which he must display his latest acquirement, he roused tolerably early and entreated his wife to do the same that she might titivate herself, curl and pin her shining locks, adorn her limbs with bracelets of gold and layers of transparent silks to exhibit the fullness of her beauty and pay tribute to Aldan’s astonishing wealth. Though the treasury had been emptied for the wedding, the chief of the stock was soon replaced with the resources granted him on his marriage, and as all the powers of trade in Sesterna, his newfound ally, would supply Livanon with added business, his treasure vaults would be brimming with capital in a few months hence. He had only to sit on his throne in the grand hall, smile complacently, wave his little hand, twirl his tumbler of ice wine, watch his guests enjoy their poached eggs, buttered toast, and salted snails, and wait for his newest piece to arrive.
Sarasa, however, could not be so easy with regard to the kingdom’s fortune. Aldan may be well pleased to give lavish dinners and show his magnificence and grandeur to the rest of the royal houses, but he knew well that Aldan had not benefited by his marriage. Indeed Sesterna was the gainer here, for they had given everything for Daphni to be handed over with such a grant, hoping that their generous present and beautiful princess would bring Livanon’s prosperity to their failing realm. The dispersal of the Triumvirate had sunk Sesterna: they had desired to be rid of Marridon’s reins, and once they had freed themselves from the Chamber’s shackles, they had only then learned how very much they had been benefiting from Marridon’s advancements, rulership, and prosperity. They had descended by hurried gradations to Bellatrim dilapidated state, and if they were to reestablish themselves as a kingdom rather than a mere fief of Marridon, they must ally themselves well. Daphni must be married, her place as enticement for a treaty must be secured, and then they might rebuild everything they had lost. Sarasa had been sensible of their diminished sufferance, but was even more aware of Daphni’s depreciation of rank. In Sesterna, she was a princess, and here, she was only Aldan’s wife. Perhaps Sesterna considered the king’s wife as taking the place of a queen, but Livanon’s regulations against having women claim any right to the throne and their allowances and encouragement for the king to take many wives left the role of queen an impossibility as much as it was supernumerary. He saw that each kingdom believed it should profit from the other, Sesterna wishing to reclaim its wealth without much to give, and Livanon aspiring to maintain it without much means of doing so. He began to fear that Aldan’s marriage and alliance to Sesterna should be the greater depreciator of Livanon’s fortune than Aldan was himself. These were distressing notions, enough to have Sarasa decline his cousin’s invitation for the wedding breakfast. He knew his absence would be perceived as an affront, but it would be tolerably got over on Aldan’s side after he had felt it unpardonable that his cousin and closest family should not attend, tell everyone what an ungrateful Grand Prince he was, and declare that this is what comes from being left without a father to set him to rights and make him be useless as all the rest of the royals were. Nay, he should be giving Aldan something to discuss and complain, making the breakfast only more interesting to those who attended. He saw their union as undoing of everything his uncle had done, and though he must remain in the capital to honour the king and his new ornament, he would avoid seeing either of them in every manner possible. He was a captain, commander of the king’s armies; he must force himself on exertion and be out in the world: scouting, training, planning, overseeing; he had little time to spare in enjoying the splendor the palace afforded.
All this, however, could not deter Aldan from insisting upon his cousin’s attendance at dinner. He must come to represent the head of the Buthaena house, appear as Grand Prince and welcome Aldan’s bride. Sarasa sighed to himself: he must agree to this, though his disdain of needless flagrance and indulgence advised him otherwise. He would be at dinner, but he must do something to remove his mind from his disquieting musings at present. He would contrive to be out of the palace, about the barracks, attending to business in the capital, and too well employed to participate in any other one of the hundred festivities Aldan had devised for the morning. When the afternoon should come, there Sarasa’s comfort must lay, for Aldan would be engaged with state affairs and would be too dispassionate to the insipid throes of adjudicating to parade his endowment. Moments before the breakfast was called, Sarasa was gone from the palace, liberated from all the horrors of Aldan’s expensive machinations, and free to condemn his conduct in the training yard, where he might find a target or two that looked like his cousin and would have nothing in opposition to say for being attacked.
Never had Sarasa missed companionship more than he had done that morning. He had become so accustomed to hardy Frewyn conversancy that he was able to forget the pretense he must keep whilst in view of Aldan’s crown. He had grown to used to travel , to accomplishment, to the animation of worldly bustle to sit and surrender to the do-nothingness his cousin so coveted. The harps began their mellifluous song in the grand hall above, and as Sarasa remained in the garrison below, fathoming a life without Aldan’s reign, he pined for his uncle’s sense of forbearance and mourned for Aldan’s want of it. He knew that Aldan should eventually grow weary of Daphni regardless of how stunning she was, and though she may have married him to increase her consequence and the situation of her people, she could not be so terrible as to deserve him, for he would only take more wives to heighten his grandeur whether Daphni should assent to such an arrangement or despise it. She had trapped herself, bound herself to one who would only see her as a mere garnishing to his capital, and though she may be as conceited as the man she married, once acquainted with his character, Sarasa hoped that she would not regret her decision. It was a sorry business: all contractual obligation, with no affection and with little regard for why the marriage was requisite. Had Aldan not succeeded in repelling all of his father’s allies, he should not have needed to attract so divine a woman to his nest and deceive her with kind words to condemn herself. With mixed feelings did Sarasa walk to the center of the training yard and begin his morning exercises, and as he brandished his blades and began whirling them about in time with the plinking of the harps emanating from the grand hall, it was his deepest ambition that Aldan and Daphni should alter one another for the better, the former becoming sober by degrees and the latter learning how to manage and tame so unscrupulous and sumptuous a husband, whether by using what influence lie between her legs or by implementing her powers of ingenuous and subliminal persuasion.