Julien did a double take when Evindr emerged from the dressing room a few minutes later. He wore he same sort of robes, woven with an intricate pattern similar to what Julien wore, but with even more of his chest exposed. Chains of gold and gems were draped across his uncovered shoulder and arm, and around his neck. He also wore a piece of something that covered most of his forearm – Julien wasn’t sure whether that was clothing or jewelry. His hair was braided in a similar style to Julien’s, with one more braid in front, on the right side of his face, fixed at the end with a decorative piece.
“We’re both wearing the style of the royal capital of Etrowyn,” he explained. “It will make sense that you are uncomfortable in it – you would have grown up in this region, wearing the northern styles, which are a lot warmer and heavier in most cases.” He stood close to Julien and spoke low. “Your lack of ease with your surroundings can thereby be made part of your cover story.” He continued to give Julien the details of how they would travel, things any real native of this world would know, about their transportation methods, and such. That’s right, Julien thought. He’s the only one who will know the truth…
Just then, Julien saw a young man enter the hall where they stood. He wore a robe of deep blue, and his blond hair was long, with some braids like they had, but less jewelry. He took a breath with what seemed to be nervous excitement as he noticed Julien. Almost as suddenly as he’d entered, Evindr had turned to face him. “Ah, Adriano,” Evindr said. He then turned to Julien. “Prince Julien, this is Adriano. He will be assisting us on our journey to Etrowyn.” Adriano still stood at the door. Evindr gestured for him to approach, and he did.
“I -ah – It’s an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” Adriano said, before bowing low to him.
Julien stood stiff. Considering the circumstances, he shouldn’t have been surprised, but hearing Evindr speak to him that way – hearing his own name used that way –
“Adriano, if you wouldn’t mind checking to see if all of our things are prepared for us to leave,” Evindr said. He had already moved towards the door through with Adriano had entered. “Highness,” he said, “We still have plenty to discuss. If you will…”
“R-right,” Julien said. Did that sound royal enough? He cringed inside – of course not. He tried to hurry, hoping Adriano didn’t notice it – or how close he was to tripping over his own robes. He saw Adriano stand and look at him once more before starting his task. Julien started to wave, but – no, that definitely wouldn’t look royal.
Evindr led Julien into a room with large windows that let in plenty of morning light. In the middle of the room sat a large stone table, covered with dozens of piles of books, scrolls, and loose papers – documents, maps and Julien could only guess what else.
“You will need to learn the basics of Thyreian royal court etiquette,” Evindr told him. “The sort of things a prince would be expected to know.” Julien watched as Evindr sorted through the piles, moving some books, pulling some towards him. “The prince was supposed to be living in hiding, and he would have only just learned of his true identity, so that will be enough to let you be excused from certain things, but others… we must make you familiar with our world and customs, first of all. The history of this country, important figures, all things you would know just from living here, even as an ordinary person.”
They started with geography. Thyreia sat mostly on a peninsula, with the capital around the center, on the Eastern coast. They were currently much higher up, into the mainland, even. Evindr taught Julien the regions and major cities, and the neighboring countries to the north and east, and across the ocean to the south.
Julien was surprised that he could pronounce the names easily – Evindr had magically given him the ability to communicate in their language, and he could read all the documents like it was his native language. But he kept forgetting which was which, and which was the name of a city, as opposed to the larger region. The more he tried and failed, the more frustration he heard in Evindr’s voice, and that only made him more nervous.
After a while, Evindr sighed and closed his book rather emphatically. “We’ll take a short break, now, alright?”
He watched as Evindr picked up a few other books and flipped through them, marking pages. Probably more things to study, Julien thought.
He pushed his shame aside and took the moment to ask Evindr more questions.
“Ah,” he started. Evindr looked up. Julien expected him to be annoyed, but he seemed willing to hear the question. Julien continued.
“Before, when that boy came in, you called me Julien,” he asked Evindr.
“Yes,” Evindr said. “You will go by your own name for the time being. Before the real prince was taken into hiding, not even his name was revealed, so the truth is, we do not know it. In any case, he will likely receive a new name during his coming of age, so it wouldn’t be worth the risk of having you memorize another name to go by – you aren’t trained for this sort of thing, so you would probably forget and slip up, even if we could use his name.”
“I see,” Julien replied. That made sense… but it still felt so strange to hear someone call him “Prince Julien”. He would have to get used to it – but not too used to it, he realized, feeling his face drop a bit of a smile that he hadn’t realized was there.
He would be returning to his normal life after all of this, right?
Evindr taught him the names of many of the people he would need to be familiar with, and showed him portraits. This world, it seemed, did not have photography, but there were spells that could accomplish almost the same results. Most important were Princess Demetria, the regent; and the three High Sorcerers in Etrowyn. There were twelve High Sorcerers in all, who served many functions in helping the kingdom run smoothly, but Julien would likely only need to know the three stationed in Etrowyn.
After that, they returned to geography, which which they did make some progress. Then, it was time to eat.
Evindr led Julien down a long hallway and into another room – less like a library and more like a dining room. In the middle was a large, round table with settings for two people – at least as far as Julien could tell. Two oval plates were set by the two chairs, but Julien had no idea what to make of the various dishes around them. Evindr sat down and Julien did likewise, but as Evindr began spooning food onto his plate, Julien just stared.
Evindr looked up, noticing Julien’s confusion. Julien picked up a spoon and tried to do the same as Evindr.
“No, not that one,” Evindr said. Julien looked at the spoon in his hand, then the one Evindr was pointing to. “You use the larger one to serve it.” Right. That made sense. But as for the rest of it… Julien took a closer look at the place setting. There were three spoons, a fork, a knife, and… Julien couldn’t even tell what the last one was.
Nevertheless, he tried. “Oh, I know this,” he said. “This spoon is for soup, right?”
“Do you see soup here?” Evindr asked, deflating Julien’s rare moment of success almost as soon as it had begun.
“I… I’ve studied this, though,” Julien said. It was true. He’d taken a special seminar on dining etiquette at his college, to avoid exactly this sort of situation… and to feed his inner trivia nerd. Mostly the latter.
“But that only covers your homeland,” Evindr said. “Not this.”
Julien blinked. Of course.
“Do not worry,” Evindr said. “You can learn it. Here,” he said, showing Julien the proper way to spoon what seemed to be a boiled grain from the central bowl onto his plate, covering more than a third, but less than half the plate. Next, the meat – a filet of poultry Evindr assured him was similar to his world’s chicken. “Make sure to place about half of it over the grain – and do not let the sauce drip.”
Julien paused to process Evindr’s words, then looked to see that the sauce had, indeed, dripped.
Evindr sighed. “You can learn this later. For now, focus on eating and regaining your energy. We must take one step at a time,” he said.
Julien heard the sympathy in his voice, but even so, he felt discouraged. The list of things he would have to learn just kept growing with every step he took, it seemed.
After they finished eating, their dishes were cleared away, and a strong tea was served, with a spicy taste, and slices of citrus fruit floating in the cups. They sat in silence as they drank it. Julien didn’t look at Evindr, but he felt the sorcerer’s gaze on him, evaluating him, sizing him up. Wondering if he’d made a mistake, probably.
Julien looked down at the ornate cup in his hands, at the bracelets and embroidered sleeves on his arms. At his own hair, long enough to see at his sides.
He closed his eyes, and imagined the shape of the peninsula in his head. The northernmost province of Iteion, then Decauros, where the capital Etrowyn was located. Olorion – was that immediately to the south or – no… he tried to focus. The next major city was –
“Come,” Evindr said. Julien’s focus shattered. He looked over to the sorcerer, who stood, pulling the sleeve of his robe over his toned, deep bronze shoulder, his long fingers brushing against the gold of his necklace, and his snow white hair.
Julien blinked. “Right,” he said, getting up to follow.
He stared at the carpet as he walked, through the same hallway they had come through before, with windows on one side, rooms on the other. How could he manage this? He was crazy if he thought he could be anything to this effortlessly perfect figure – this actual sorcerer, something Julien hadn’t even believed possible…
He felt his breath growing heavier, his steps harder.
Evindr stopped, and Julien realized he had fallen behind.
“Is something-“ Evindr started, but Julien didn’t let him finish.
He ran – the other direction – the way they had come. Away from Evindr, away from the maps he would never learn, the names and faces… away.
He was crazy, he knew, to throw away something like this – the kind of adventure everyone dreams of. But he wasn’t cut out for it. Evindr had told him he’d be safe but that was before. Before he’d seen what a fool Julien was. A fool who can’t even pick up a spoon right.
When he looked around, he’d reached the end of the hallway. Obviously he had no idea where he was. He picked a door at random from the three around him. When he entered it, his stomach turned again – there were people inside. About ten – servants, he realized. He saw the boy from before – Adriano.
“Your highness,” Adriano said, bowing. The others gasped and bowed as well.
Julien turned and ran back the way he’d come. He tried the door on the wall perpendicular this time, and saw a spiral staircase, of the same white stone as the floors and walls of much of the rest of the palace. He ran up it.
The door at the top was locked. With nothing else to do, he sat down.
In the silence, he moved his hand back and forth slightly, watching the sunlight from the narrow window reflecting off of his jewelry. He might as well soothe himself with this, and create a memory of his brief time in a place like this. He laughed softly to himself. This could still all be a dream. And he would wake up, in his bed in his dorm room, literal worlds away from any of this…
His breathing had calmed down a bit by the time he heard footsteps. It must have been Evindr, he realized, even before he could see him. Something about the focused and exact nature of the steps reminded Julien of the sorcerer.
After a minute, he saw that he was right. The sorcerer rounded the corner and approached Julien.
Julien looked down again.
“I won’t force you,” Evindr said. Julien’s breath caught.
“But you said…”
“If you are not going to be able to do a proper job, then there is no reason to keep you here,” Evindr said. “A less exact physical match would do better than an unwilling prince.”
“I’m willing,” Julien said. “I just… I don’t know if I…”
Evindr sighed, and something about it made Julien look up. He gasped. With the sunlight reflecting off of the bright, polished stone around them, and directly from behind him, Evindr seemed to glow.
“As I said,” he began again, “I will not force you, but I do believe you can do it. I have already seen you display some cleverness, even with the stress that you have been under. I should have taken your mental state into account more. I apologize for that.”
Do you, now? Julien thought. But he didn’t say that. He smiled slightly. “And after you find the prince…?”
“You can return to your world freely,” Evindr said. “I will not detain you longer than necessary. I promise you this.”
He held out his hand.
Julien hesitated a moment before taking it. Together, they descended the stairs.
The lessons continued as they rode by carriage to the train station, and drove in through a special entrance to board their train.
Julien was stunned. He had never seen a train car like this before. It was ornate and beautiful. The seats were upholstered with fabric like their robes, all in green, with curtains to match. The walls had gold detailing, particularly concentrated around the windows, like a frame. It was definitely the sort of thing definitely made for royalty.
And again, he got that pang of remembering that all of this cramming wasn’t just theoretical. He had a role to play.
Once all of their things had been loaded and the assistants were out of earshot, Evindr finished the lesson they had been on before they left, but since they had already gone over so much, Evindr decided to leave it at that for the time being. They had been studying all day, and they both needed rest. They had just about finished, and Evindr was writing something down in a book. Julien was still processing the things he had learned, when a question entered his mind.
“I was just wondering,” Julien started. Evindr looked up at him. “N-not that… I mean… It’s just, why did they make this plan about hiding the prince?”
Evindr blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Julien said, “It just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me…” Evindr didn’t respond, so he went on. “So few people knew where they sent him to the point that, when it came time to bring him back, no one knew where he was? That seems a little…”
Evindr looked stunned for a moment, as if he didn’t understand what Julien was asking. Then he simply replied, “The High Sorcerers have their reasons.”
“O-okay…” Julien replied. It seemed like that was the end of that, at least for now.
They lapsed into silence.
Julien watched Evindr as he sat calmly, looking out of the window at the passing scenery. Were all Thyreian sorcerers that… what, exactly? Julien couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “Serious” wasn’t the right word, nor was “formal” – he did smile sometimes, but there was something about his general manner that made it always come as a surprise when he did. Maybe that seriousness was necessary for someone as powerful as Evindr.
And Evindr had to be powerful, right? Julien knew nothing about Thyreian magic, but he could tell that that spell, the one that had summoned him there, was incredibly complex – there couldn’t be that many people able to perform magic like that.
He wondered if Evindr used any magic to improve his looks – maybe it was silly to wonder about that, but, well… just like it wouldn’t make sense for everyone here to have such powerful magic, it wouldn’t make sense for everyone here to be that gorgeous. Julien took a moment to appreciate the opportunity to just look at him. That silky hair – white, not grey or light blond, but truly snow-white. His bronze skin, and green eyes, and his gaze as he looked out of the window. The expression in his elegant eyebrows – firm, but not tense. Calm, focused. Julien could tell there were important things on his mind. Well, obviously. That brought Julien’s mind back to the situation at hand, and their plan.
That was a sobering thought.
He was scared, even after what they had discussed. He wasn’t the type of person to act on impulse. He had them, of course, but he tended to let his rational side guide him in making decisions. And right now, his rational side was telling him to be very, very scared. Venturing into a completely unknown place, with a guy who claimed to be a sorcerer. The most beautiful human being Julien had ever seen, but he was a fool if he let that sway him, right?
As for his irrational side… Well.
He smiled in spite of himself. How often does a person get the chance to live as a prince in a real royal palace? Even if it’s only for a short time, it’s… intriguing, to say the least. The possibility that Evindr had been lying about this whole scheme did enter his mind, but seeing this gorgeous train car put an end to that. He had never seen anything like it.
Would the real prince be used to these things?
And that’s where the real worry came. Evindr would help him, but how far could he really do it? Past a certain point, Julien was alone in this strange place, impersonating – what, exactly?
What sort of hopes did the people of this land have pinned on their long-lost prince?
Julien noticed Evindr’s face change, as if he’d noticed something. He turned to look out of the window to see what, and gasped.
It was the Royal Capital, Etrowyn.
As the train approached, they could see the edges of the city. In the light of early afternoon, the buildings seemed to shine. They weren’t modern glass, like in the cities Julien was used to from his world, but there were plenty of shimmering tiles and large windows, even though the style of architecture seemed more old-fashioned. The buildings had plenty of decorative elements, almost like baroque palaces in Italy, but not exactly – the style of this country was its own.
Many of the buildings had balconies that were contained as part of the buildings – loggia, Julien remembered they were called. He noticed a lot of colorful buildings, but none so bright as to be gaudy. Most had colorful walls – purples, blues, and greens were common – with white decorations over them, around the tops, doors, and windows.
As they got out of the train, Julien saw Adriano hand Evindr a staff. It was about two feet long, and made of a dark blue material that looked like glass, with gold decorative parts at the bottom and through the main portion. At the top, there was a sort of orb, with plenty of gold decoration around it. The orb glowed blue and green. Julien gazed at it and felt his excitement bubbling. It must have been some sort of sorcerer’s tool, almost like a magic wand.
Evindr turned to Julien and looked at him. Later.
Right. A prince would definitely be familiar with those.
Still, though. It was hard, but Julien managed to keep from letting a geeky smile take over his face.
They took a carriage to the palace, similar to the one they had taken to the train in the other city. The prince’s return had apparently not been announced, since there were no crowds around the entrance to the palace complex. The palace, as Evindr had explained to him, was part of a complex of several buildings, which served as headquarters for plenty of different services of the kingdom. Aside from the royal palace, there were centers for official authorities on various topics. Most important of these was the Palace of the High Sorcerers, across the grounds of the complex from the royal palace. It was just as grand as the royal palace, and larger in size. The High Sorcerers lived there, as well as their students, and many others, mostly sorcerers who worked under the High Sorcerers.
“The High Sorcerers’ students?” Julien asked. “Are you one of those?”
“Yes,” Evindr replied.
“Wow,” Julien said. “Then does that mean you’re one of the best? I mean, it must be difficult to get a position like that.”
“I mean,” Julien started, “Unless they just automatically give those positions to children from important families or something-”
“That would be silly,” Evindr said. “Positions in this kingdom are decided first and foremost by skill and aptitude, particularly where sorcery is concerned. To do otherwise would be to hold ourselves back.”
“That’s very enlightened of you,”
“It’s simply pragmatic,” Evindr said.
“Then wait,” Julien said, “Why do you still have kings, then?”
“We simply have never had a problem with them,” Evindr responded. “Our royals are brought up to be competent and fair leaders who truly want the best for their people. Because of that, we do not have the concerns that others have had, with kings who only think of themselves.” They could see the palace ahead of them now. They were almost there.
“I mentioned before,” Evindr continued, “That magic use requires intense meditation, focus, and clarity. In such a mind, thoughts of selfishness, boundless anger, or revenge simply cannot thrive. Therefore, our rulers have never had the opportunity to develop the thoughts that would lead them to become tyrants.”
Julien took a moment to digest the answer. It seemed simple, and yet… but he also had a different concern.
“Will I…” Julien started. “Will I be expected to know magic?”
Evindr paused. “Eventually, perhaps,” he said. “But do not worry. We will cross that bridge when we get to it,”
They arrived at the royal residence, and got out of the carriage. They were led to a room within, up the grand staircase and down several hallways. Eventually, they reached a pair of large doors. The servants escorting them bowed as they opened them.
Julien took a deep breath before heading inside.
Princess Demetria stood in the center of the room. At her side were the High Sorcerers – or, two of them at least. Julien recognized them as Escala and Besarion. The third, Karolis, was not present, Julien noticed, but he supposed it wouldn’t do to ask after him now.
Evindr knelt before the princess. Julien knew that as the prince, he shouldn’t, but it was awkward.
He looked at her. She seemed smaller than she did in the portrait Evindr had shown him. Her dark red hair was done up in a complicated-looking style with plenty of braids and jewelry. Her complexion was darker than Julien’s but not as much as Evindr’s, and her clothing was similar in style to what Evindr wore, and what he’d had Julien wear, with what seemed to be a lot of complicated pieces, and a draped style that reminded Julien of the ancient empires of his world, more than anything he’d seen before in person.
After what probably seemed to Julien like a longer time than it was, she spoke. “My cousin,” she said. That’s right, he recalled, they were supposed to be cousins. “I hear you are called Julien, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Julien said. How should he address her? “Princess Demetria,”
“Please,” she said. “You may relax – at least as far as introductions are concerned. Evindr, please stand, and welcome back,”
He did as requested. “Thank you, Your Highness,” he said.
A grim expression came over her face. “Now then,” she said, “I wish I were able to give you some time to relax after your journey, but there has been… an incident,”
“What sort of incident?” Evindr asked.
Julien looked between them. He could tell from their faces that this was serious.
“I’ll get straight to the point,” she said. “There has been a theft from one of the palace vaults.”
Julien tensed. Evindr had told him about those – the kingdom’s greatest treasures, mostly powerful magical artifacts, were hidden in secret vaults within the palace. Very few had access – very few even knew the locations.
“What was stolen?” Evindr asked. Julien could see that he was bracing himself.
Demetria took a deep breath, then told him. “The Sword of Orowyn.”