The honor came with power in my family. Without a grasp on the world around you, you were weak and powerless. And without power, there was no honor. From a young age, I learned that the Robespierre family never cried and never loosened their iron thumb on the world. The modern world would not function properly without our law and order, our influence, and control. With that, a huge responsibility was laid on my shoulders as a child, being the first male born in the family. I had three older sisters who were prepared for marriage since they could walk. I felt like I could understand their pain, being primed for a job I wasn't sure I even wanted since before I could remember. I remember a huge golden crown being placed on my head as a toddler. The crown weighed down my head as I slumped against my neck dramatically. My mother lifted my chin up with a kind force and looked me in the eyes. She had such intense blue eyes that seemed to pierce through the skin like a dagger. She told me that I would be coronated King Albert of the Modern World when I came of age. I nodded as I was told and wondered why the crown was so cold against my forehead.
Sitting in my deceased father's throne had the same cold feeling as the crown. Empty, uncomfortable, and so freezing that it caused a chill down my neck. Pressure built up in the air around me, closing in on my spot on the throne. I squirmed nervously in my tight clothing, wearily watching the throne room around me. It was more of a jail cell than an honor to me. The throne arms felt like shackles and the gold crown was the old ball and chain. Cold sweat beaded my forehead as I tried to take a deep breath. Honestly, I was so privileged and well-off. I should not feel such self-pity and misery. But a sense of imprisonment settled in my stomach like cement.
"Albert?" A steely voice echoed through the room like an amphitheater. I straightened up in my throne and looked around for the source of the voice. My mother, rigid and serious as ever, glided over to my throne. Her sharp blue eyes stared at me and washed over me like an uncertain wave.
"Sitten up straight," Her voice was low and harsh as it cracked with emotion, "Do not disgrace this throne room with incompetence."
"Yes, ma'am," I assured her, which was a compliment from her.
"So many ancestors fought for you to sit on that throne," Her voice was thick with emotion and admiration, "You were named Albert after your ancestors. It means noble and bright. Do not take that for granted. You must fight for your own mark on the world."
The odd feeling floated anxiously in my heart. I knew this throne was a privilege, this crown was an honor, but I felt like I was suffocating.
"Yes, ma'am," My voice was tight. It filled the cold air with doubt. My mother raised an eyebrow at me but did not speak anymore. Instead, she faced away from me and cleared her throat.
"A fight broke out at the docks this morning," She informed me, in an expectant tone, "They were locked aboard their ships before their hearings."
"O-oh," I mumbled, unsure of what to do. She expected me to solve this, but I had no idea. I studied the whole pride in my family and nationalism for my country, but I suppose I forgot to learn how to actually run a country.
"They are waiting for your decision."
I must have frowned because my mother turned around on me and glared at me so evilly I felt the cold dirt of my tomb surrounding me.
"O-Oh, I see. Yes, ma'am. Right away."
The blue daggers stayed plunged in my skin as I bounced off my throne with nervous vigor and scurried out of the room. Stepping into the open air and the view of the city below me, a feeling of self-awareness and indecision swirled around me. I was far too childish and inexperienced to be a king. I was still afraid of my mother.
Nonetheless, I shoved the feeling aside and traveled to the docks. Two massive ships, decorated with large red and black sail flags, surrounded by guards, were docked outside our town. Arriving at the scene, the low murmurs died down and the crowd all bowed their heads to me and watched me with curious, expectant eyes. I was tired of the feeling of their eyes creeping on me, analyzing me. A guard approached me, bowed, and watched me with those eyes, waiting for my approval.
"What happened here?" I finally asked. He straightened and faced me, not looking me in the eye. Nobody ever looked me in the eye except for my mother. I supposed that was what made it so effective.
"King Albert, sir, there was a heated altercation this morning. The culprits appeared to have been intoxicated, sir. They are awaiting trial and your charges."
I looked up at the sky, a tense feeling of responsibility choking me. I had the ability to have a man hanged. I had the ability to free a man. It was all up to me.
"Let me see them."
The guard exchanged nervous glasses with the other guards, "Uhm, sir, King Albert, I do not wish to command you or deny your commands, but I think..."
"I do not believe it would be safe for you to do that," Another guard finished for him. They were all looking at me patronizingly like I was still the little toddler with the crown too big for his head. Anger bubbled over in my stomach.
"I wish to see them. Who started the brawl?"
The guards seemed to have a conversation with their eyes among them. I crossed my hands over my chest boldly, pouting my lips, and narrowing my eyes.
"We believe he may be a rebel against the monarchy," The first guard explained uneasily, "A pirate and traitor. Suspected, of course, not confirmed until you do."
"Take me to him."
For once, the fire in my eyes lit under their feet as they nodded frantically and nervously led me to the boat under a red flag. Fear swished around in my stomach, though the rocking of the boat was not helping. One guard climbed up the ropes. I joined while the other guard followed behind. The deck was completely deserted as it bobbed in the water. The sun was beating down heavily, making the air muggy. The smell of salt and fish filled the air. Seagulls squawked and crowds of people spoke in hushed tones. One guard held open a door into the lower deck. Below waited for a crew of teenage boys, all about my age. They were dirty, smelly, and an odd and diverse group. They all looked very unhygienic and vicious. Suddenly the sword at my side felt useless and my heart was beating rapidly. My guards stepped forward as the crew of at least 10 or 20 stared at us with death glares.
"Show me who started the brawl."
A guard pulled his sword out and pointed it at a tall and slightly muscular boy with half a ponytail, the rest of his hair curtaining his face with grime and oil. His face was covered in scars and dirt. His dark eyes were filled with venom and snide cunning.
"Ah, a meeting with the King," he sneered, polishing dual blades, "I feel so honored."
I steadied my stance, leaning forward with my hand on my sword handle. We eyed each other for a while. His dark eyes stared into mine with amusement.
"What is your name?"
He pursued his lips and looked away cooly, "What is yours?"
"I am King Albert," I said quickly. I felt like I was in a trance, overcome with enticing curiosity for this boy. He was everything my family told me not to be. Dirty, carefree, rebellious, and uncouth. I frowned at him. He had me falling right into his trap.
"Now, are you going to answer me?"
He bared his teeth and flashed a yellow smile at me, "Nope."
When he stopped polishing the dual blades, the swung up in the air so quickly my guards didn't even know what hit them. Five other crew members took the guards down before they could even fight back. The leader's eyes were trained on mine. They didn't look bloodthirsty, though those dual swords sure did. Still, there was almost a curiosity in his dark eyes. I expected to see hate or greed but I could only see a wonder sparkling within them.
Of course, my swordplay was nothing compared to his. I lasted at least 30 seconds before my sword flew out of my hands and he had a dual sword pressed against my neck as I was pinned against the wooden planks. My guards lay unconscious on the ground below me. The rest of the crew stared at me greedily, as the boy looked me in the eyes with a smug appreciation.
"Alright, King Albert," His voice was rich with mockery, as he yanked the crown off my head and playfully placed it on his own head, "Let's negotiate."
I was bound to a wooden chair with the tightest ropes possible. The more I squirmed the more uncomfortable they felt. I would have to remember them as torture-devices for when I got off this ship and punished the entire crew. A little boy was playing with my sword.
"Hey, give that back!" I ordered him, but he only blew a raspberry and pointed it onto my nose. Nervously, I gave him my full permission to use it however he wanted. With psychotic giggles, he ran off with my sword. The leader was polishing my golden crown greedily. He spat on it and rubbed. I winced at the improper care of solid gold.
"So, King Albert," He said my name with a joke within it, "How old are you? Leading an entire country?"
"Why should I tell you?"
A large man with an ax aimed it closer to me threateningly. I gulped nervously and whimpered, "I'm 16. Why do you need to know? What do you want with me? Money? I can give you that."
The leader's laugh was rich and filled the dingy underground with a ringing bell sound, "Oh, such a sweet little aristocrat. Right, guys?"
The crew all mumbled and grunted in agreement and the leader had a glint of confidence. He eyed me with a smirk while placing my crown on his oily ponytail.
"We want change and we want it now. We've been trying to take down the monarchs for years now, and now the brand new teenaged king just walked right into our boat. It's almost too good to be true."
"It is," I hissed, "Wait until my family finds out about this. You'll be hanged before you can even plead."
He grinned at me with amusement, as if holding back laughter. His eyes were trained on mine intensely. It felt new and odd. Nobody really looked me in the eyes except my mother and now Abelardo.
"Oh, sweet little king. Don't you worry about a thing. Soon you'll be reduced to nothing but the class traitor you are."
My heart flipped in my stomach, but not necessarily for why I thought it did. The fear punched me in the gut when they aimed swords at me when they threatened me when they got in my face. But now, hearing about their rebellion, I felt light and free. Odd enough, being held hostage had me feeling freer than I had for my entire life.
"You'll end the monarchy?" I asked softly, my voice was filled with hope. The leader frowned at me curiously.
"Yes, little king. The wealth from this crown will be distributed evenly among the people, besides me and my crew, obviously. Finder's fee and all that."
My eyes glazed over with relief and excitement, "I won't have to be king?"
Everyone in the crew stared at me with bewilderment. A smile spread across my face as I watched a look of shock come over the leader's.
"Oh, bless you, fine young men," I sighed, "You have saved me from a lifetime of servitude and imperialism."
"Look, I don't know what kind of game you're trying to play, but-"
"You're the leader of this rebellion, aren't you?" I asked him, the fear was completely dissolved and replaced with admiration and relief, "What's your name? I'd like to join you."
"Wh-what-" He stuttered, completely taken aback. In a trance.
"Abelardo. Leader of the Fighters for Freedom."
His dark eyes looked glassy as he stared back at me. They were sparkling and glistening with wonder and adulation.
"You're more of a leader than I ever was," I admitted to him, "It's like they threw a crown on me and threw me into the sharks."
"You... you don't want to be king?" One of the crew members asked.
"Why the heck would you want that?" Another asked.
"You'll never starve. Ever. What's your problem with being king?" A younger one asked me, their eyes glistening with curiosity.
"I guess I just feel trapped," I admitted to the crowd that was forming around me. They sat around like I was telling ghost stories around a campfire. Abelardo stood to the side, polishing the crown with an uncertain glare in his eyes. He locked eyes with me every so often, in order to withhold his dominance against me.
"Your ancestors took over my land," A little boy with tan skin like Abelardo's and a scar over his lips said bitterly, "When my grandparents were little, they were their own separate village. Then your ancestors came and ransacked the place, then took our land and annexed us."
"Same" A large man with long black hair and huge hands lamented, "Your ancestors killed almost all of my people. I think there are only three left of us, including me."
My heart was sinking deeper and deeper. Guilt was eating me raw. How could I have taken pride in these things? They were evil, pure evil.
I spoke to all of the crew that told me their experiences. They took my ropes off and I stretched out my arms. After speaking with everyone, sharing my condolences, and listening intently, I felt like human garbage. I couldn't believe I had been taught so differently from the truth. They made me believe my ancestors were the good people who created a perfect society, but really we were the villains in someone else's story. They gave me a glass of beer, which tasted earthy and bitter. I choked loudly on it and spat it out. Abelardo stood above me patronizingly, a small smirk on his lips as he judged me. He took a huge swig of his own ale and wiped his lips at me with bravado. I narrowed my eyes defeatedly but with
"Everyone, I'd love to announce something," I said loudly, my head felt foggy, "I denounce my status as King of my country. I would rather join the Fighters of Freedom."
Abelardo's eyes widened with sincere shock and concern. Everyone around me cheered as I giggled ridiculously. It sounded so novel and comical, that I could just give up being king to get drunk with a bunch of misfit pirates every day. But still, it felt so much better than the cold throne room. As everyone shouted around me and drank, Abelardo grabbed my arm and pulled me up to the deck of the ship. The sky was dark and the moon was out. Nothing but the black ocean surrounded us. I hadn't realized that nightfall had already arrived or that we had set sail. The deck was deserted except for one lookout in the nest on the mast. Abelardo's dark eyes looked so warm in the moonlight.
"Albert," Abelardo said softly, gripping my shoulder, "I appreciate your support. You have a good heart, you know. But you know this would never work."
My heart felt like lead, "What are you talking about?"
"I mean," He struggled, keeping his eyes on the vast ocean around us, "This isn't how it's supposed to be. You're the king of the imperialist nation. I'm the leader of the rebellion. You can't just join us because you want a change of pace."
"Well, why not?" My voice was slurred.
"Because, because you just..." He struggled, staring at my eyes for no longer than a few seconds at a time, "You've never experienced anything like us. You've been pampered your entire life. This is all a game to you, while this is our life. My struggle and strife isn't a little game for aristocrat boys like you."
I felt sick with the salty air, the rocking of the boat, and the beer in my stomach burning it like acid. I wish I hadn't, but I couldn't control my movements anymore. They were all slow and without control. My head lay against his shoulder as I stared at the horizon where the sky met the ocean. It was difficult to see where one started the other ended since they were both so dark.
The worst part? He leaned his head against my own. It felt intimate and warm, nothing but enemies embracing on the open ocean. It was unspoken, but there was love. There were acceptance and forgiveness. For the first time in my life, I felt free. Being held hostage by a group of heathens felt more liberating than being king of an entire nation. Maybe this wasn't how it was supposed to be, but standing out on the ocean blue, going against everything I had been taught since childhood, it felt right.