Dream Of Empty Crowns
Gordon was falling from the airship, again.
He was on deck watching his kingdom's soldiers fighting the man with the patch and the fierce warrior girl, her long blond hair swinging as she leapt onto a soldier. The clanging of longknives rang in his ears and he could actually smell the sweat and the metallic tinge of blood in the air. Almost glimpsing her face this time, something heavy hit him and Gordon was over the railing and falling. His body turned and he was now facing the vast armies below.
Gordon's eyes darted wildly over the massive sea of men crashing against each other. Fire was everywhere, surrounding them, washing over buildings and forests. Gordon flinched as the massive, strange airships exploded out of the sky around him. As the ground rushed toward him, Gordon looked away from the armies and saw the shadow, which appeared as big as the world, blotting out the sun, making everything else seem gray. It was almost like a man, with dark eyes.
It was laughing.
Gordon jerked awake, hoping he had not screamed like last time. He didn't want to worry his uncle Loren in the next room. Gordon concentrated on slowing his breathing and wiped the cold sweat from his brow. He decided against getting up and lighting the gas lamp on the wall. Instead, he lay in his dark bedroom with eyes wide open; trying to forget his dream and forcing his thoughts back to the beginning of the exciting day.
Asa, Gordon and Skyler had decided years before to put their names in the tower together. They were all ten then. Now, they were thirteen and it was King Stathen's last trial. Gordon and Asa were certain Skyler would be chosen; Skyler won at everything, he always seemed to know more about any subject, and everyone looked up to him in school.
Gordon's uncle Loren told them to put their names in long before today, but they made a pact to do it together, and Asa always did everything late. The law said every thirteen year old had to put their name in, as long as it was before the choosing ceremony. On the road to the palace, Asa, thirteen and small for his age, swung his name board at his side. As usual, he was bare footed. Gordon scratched his thick brown hair and thought, my uncle's right. I do need a haircut. Not wanting to drop his board, Gordon held it tight in his right hand. Skyler had carelessly slid his into a back pocket. Gordon smiled as he realized they looked like steps, Skyler half a foot taller than he was, and shorter Asa walking next to him, all in order of height.
“So Asa, is the paint still wet?” asked Skyler.
Asa glanced quickly at his name and let it hang by his leg so the other boys couldn't see. “Shut up, Sky. When did you paint yours?”
“About two moons ago, like I was supposed to,” replied Skyler, “How about you, Gord? When did you paint your name board?”
Gordon didn't answer as he popped a sweet into his mouth.
“Gord?” Asa asked, concerned, “you okay?”
Gordon chewed for a moment. “I'm good. It's just a little longer to get to the tower than I thought. I think I brought enough sweets and sour cakes, though. And I finished my name board a while ago.”
The road to the palace was alive with activity. The closer they got to the tower courtyard, the more crowds of people they saw. The roads had become markets. All along the road, there were pots of stews, and sweets, and traders selling three pointed banners. Gordon got out a coin and thought of buying more food, just in case. He decided against it, but smiled as he rubbed his finger over the triangle on one side. He flipped it over to see the profile of the famous firstcouncilor Trunculin on the other.
As the boys continued toward the tower, Gordon began flipping the coin carelessly. Asa made a grab for it and missed, just as a girl from school came up to them.
“Want to see my name?” Enricca had broken off from her group of friends to come over to the boys. She held up her name board to Skyler. Enricca had painted it with at least five different colors, with tiny triangles all around her name.
Truly impressed, Asa asked, “How long did that take you?”
“Probably forever,” offered Skyler, “That looks dumb. No one's going to see it anyway.”
“Shut up, shoe boy. When I'm queen, I'm going to… throw you in a deep hole to rot. I'll ban the name Skyler forever,” replied Enricca.
“Sure. Except there hasn't been a queen chosen since before Salenn the Peacemaker, like a hundred years ago. Asa has a better chance than you,” replied Skyler.
Asa said, “Hey!”
Gordon jumped in, “Come on, you know any thirteen year old can be chosen, even Asa.”
“Hey!” protested Asa again.
“Your name board looks nice, Enricca,” offered Gordon.
Enricca smiled, “Thank you Gordon,” as she sneered at Skyler.
“Oooh, Gordon, why don't you just kiss Queen Enricca, then?” mocked Skyler, pushing him toward Enricca.
“Stupid boys…” Enricca walked back to her pack of girls across the road, with a wry smile.
Gordon shook his head, confused, “Sky? I thought you liked Enricca.”
“Shut up,” was all he said, looking straight ahead. Gordon realized it was Enricca calling him 'shoe-boy' that had made him mad. Pointing out that Skyler's father was a shoe maker always seemed to embarrass him. Gordon also knew that Skyler did like Enricca.
They could just see the top of the tower. There were lots of people everywhere they looked. It was loud, but with happy, friendly sounds, thought Gordon. Everyone seemed to feel they were a part of the same excitement, old and young alike. Gordon recognized many of the boys and girls his own age from his village. He spotted at least four boys and girls from his school, name boards in hand. As the three boys made their way closer to the tower, they saw the long line of thirteen year olds, all ready to climb the steps.
“Ugg. This is going to take forever,” moaned Skyler. “Why did you have to wait so long, Asa?”
Gordon jumped in before Asa had a chance to say anything, “Uncle Loren says the lines have been this long every day for a while. He says it's the biggest choosing he's ever seen.”
They all looked at the line in front of them.
Skyler shook his head, “How are there this many thirteen year olds in the kingdom?”