The story I’m about to tell you today is one of our histories. But the place, the people, everything you’re about to hear, has all but disappeared into the pages of history. The only thing left of Verlian is stories. Some stories are meant to entertain us, some are meant to guide us, some are meant to touch our hearts, and some can do all three. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about this one. This is just one among many stories but that does not make this lesson any less important. Remember all that I say and heed my words lest you fall into the same trap as I did so many years ago.
Now this story begins a long time ago in an archipelago of islands in what is now called the Pacific Ocean. Now don’t go mistaking these islands for Fiji or Hawaii, those are beautiful themselves. But they aren't Verlian.
Verlian was a small archipelago of five islands, each ruled by the benevolent Queen Annemarie and her husband, the Prince Consort Riccardo. Each island specialized in a different craft with a correspondent name. At fifteen, parties were held in celebration of the reaching of adulthood and you were allowed to apply to one of the five islands to travel to begin your apprenticeship. This was not to say that they would choose you of course. If you were deemed unfit, you were politely denied an apprenticeship. At least for that year. You could apply to each island once every year with the hope that the next answer would be different.
The islands were as follows: the Blade Island for its battle craft; the Star Island for its erudite courses; the Pearl Island for its governmental training, it was the capital of Verlian for a reason; the Flower Island for its agriculture and crafts; and Sun Island for its healing programs. They apprenticed for five years usually and sometimes after they finished, would even travel to a new island to seek to add more to their array of skills. The queen and prince consort had small palaces on each island, small so as to give their subjects as much money, area, and resources as possible. See how meticulous and very just these two rulers were?
Annemarie and Riccardo had but two children, a boy, and a girl. The boy was the elder one with eyes like his mother’s that sparkled like the sea and hair black as coal. As a child he was kind enough, I suppose, though it was hard for him to imagine anything less than what he had, he was a tad selfish already. And though he knew the grave dangers of the world around, he was content that he should never face that world. His sister wore the same eyes, but her hair was different, she took after her mother’s soft brown curls that fell past her shoulders. She was the one who believed in true love and fairy dust and happily ever after’s. She was the one who believed in change, who saw the good in where everyone else could not. Despite their differences, they shared a unique bond that only siblings know. A bond where you can argue for hours on end with each other but pick on one and you’ll be facing the pair united together.
As children of the throne, they were obliged to spend at least an entire year at each island to become well-rounded adults fit to lead or follow the path they wish to travel. Of course, they began their studies when they were much younger but traveling to each island gave a new perspective to each critical skill.
So when the young prince reached his fifteenth year, things started to change. He left his thirteen-year-old sister at home and journeyed to Blade Island to begin his first apprenticeship. He stayed for six months before returning to check in on his family. Already his sister saw signs of the change in him. His usual cheerfulness seemed to have abandoned him and he was distant the entire visit, seeming to count down the days until he would return to the warrior island. A further six months later, the young man that the prince had turned into returned once more. This time with four other nobles with him. The change within him was no longer subtle and the nobles only seemed to further his selfish and arrogant nature.
In the weeks next, he became sullen and belligerent, eager to make trouble and thinking he deserved the world. At one point during that time, he even proposed that the Blade Islands lead Verlian in conquering the world. It was said in confidence only to his mother and father, but the effects were substantial and instantaneous. They were stunned, what the prince, their son, was wishing for, was war. This ambition they saw in their son, made them afraid. Afraid of what he’d do as a ruler, afraid of him affecting others. So they came to an agreement.
With the hopes that their son would find his path in the world once again, they sent him to Sun Island. They placed their faith in the Sun Island’s teachers and masters of healing, being able to show the prince a gentler side of the world. Alas, their faith was not well-founded for the heir to the throne was reported to do the minimum of what was asked of him. Such a contrast to his eagerness to learn the way of the warrior. He sulked and quarreled and caused trouble for everyone, disappointing his family greatly. The only ones he wished to spend time with were the nobles who he’d brought back from the warrior island. Perhaps had he not met those nobles, or had gone to the Sun Island first, the prince would not have continued to stray down the dark path he had chosen. But he did.
So when he returned for his sister’s coming of age ceremony upon completing his second apprenticeship, he was met with a warning. His parents told him that should he continue the way he was heading, he would be removed from the line of succession and the crown would pass over his head right to his sister. Enraged, he stormed from the room, leaving a lost and absolutely devastated sister in his wake. When she came to him, intending to resolve their differences, he snarled at her and slammed his door shut in her face.
He resolved to be better, to keep the crown in his reach. But what had begun could not just go away. Too accustomed to his harsh and cruel nature was he, that he couldn’t seem to fall out of the habits he made. His will was not strong, and he did not try to fight. But his loving, forgiving sister attempted to aid him. Multiple times, in fact. She went to him, begging, no pleading with him to stop, to remember.
Every time, the prince laughed in her face, telling her that he did not need her, he was fine all alone. He was simply too conceited to accept help from his sister. A girl two years younger than him, might I add. But she kept coming back, again and again. Until one day she did not because she finally knew that her brother was gone, he wouldn’t accept help from her.
The prince relished the peace and stated with vigor, “I will return to the island of the blade. I will do nothing else, you can’t force me to stay.”
With despair, the king and queen realized what their daughter already had. Their sweet little boy was no more, only this cruel, ambitious prince stood in his place. So with great sorrow, they said, “No, we cannot. But neither can we put our crown on your head for you will never be the ruler our people need.”
And so it was done, and he raged a mighty fit, vowing to never forgive them for their declaration. He turned on his heel and left to his rooms where he immediately packed up his bag and weapons and tools. When he rose to leave, a figure stood in his way. “Brother, you needn’t go away.”
The grief in her voice brought some of his old self forward. “I can’t stay. I’m sorry, I love you. But I don’t want to stay here with the people who stole my birthright from me. I can’t, I was born to rule.”
She bowed her head and when she spoke again, there was a thickness to her voice that he never forgot. “It was your birthright, yes, but ruling is not about power, it's about supporting and empowering those you lead to do better. You are not ready to do that. Not yet.”
“You don’t understand.”
“But I do. I know you aren’t ready to lead but in time you can be. Earn back the crown, prove everyone wrong.” She was so reasoning, so kind but alas the prince only heard her opposition to him.
“I’m leaving, will you stop me?” The prince’s voice took on a dangerous tone then, eyeing the sword at her hip.
“You know I will not. Please, I beg of you, don’t go.” She extended her hand to him, desperation leaking into her voice.
But the proud prince squared his jaw and said, “No.” He brushed past his sister and she watched him go, hand still extended, afraid and alone.
That was the last time I ever saw her, and it was also the biggest mistake of my life. I know she would’ve forgiven me, she could’ve helped me start over. But I didn’t listen, I had always been too proud and vain.
For yes it is my story I speak of, my story of love, my story of pain, my story of loss, my story of gain. I wish I could start over, but I can't, I can only move forward from where I am.
What next, I suppose you’re wondering. Well, I made good on my promise. I conquered many lands laying siege to countries of peace and prosperity. At first, it was easy but by and by, I saw the effects of my blade upon the people I attacked.
The nobles, some say they were my poison, my downfall. But I know better. They could not possibly have fueled a fire that was not already there. They simply edged me on. And I didn’t resist, I accepted my position as leader. My will was never strong, I was too easily swayed. That is not a good trait for a ruler, they need to have a will of steel and a heart of gold. Over time, I’ve realized that my sister was right, I wouldn’t make a good ruler when I was that age. And I can only hope to be a good ruler now.
Another thing experience has made me finally realize what I should have learned long ago. At my young age, I didn’t see the value of love and family to glory and wealth. But what I now know is that nothing in the world can take the place of a loving family. When I left my sister, I made a choice, the wrong choice. I severed ties that can never be repaired. My mother and father were lost on an ambassador mission in a warzone so it’s too late to make amends to them and I doubt my sister ever wishes to see my face again.
So when you ask me now if it was all worth it, was everything that I lost was worth less than I gained? Was throwing away my family worth my kingdom and my throne, was it worth my crown and the loss of my home? The only true answer I can give you is really quite simple and that answer is no.