Aleneo held his arms out for the servants to place the amor onto his shoulders. They pulled the straps at the side tight and buckled them in so that they fitted to his slim waist. He gazed back at his reflection in the large golden mirror leaning against the post of the tent. He turned his head to the side, admiring the gold shimmering paint applied to his fair skin. He turned his head to the other side. He smirked at his beauty, knowing already that the crowd would go wild to just get a glimpse at the infamous prince of the dark kingdom.
His long golden hair was pulled back into a long braid. His closest servant, just a boy when Aleneo was young, stood behind Aleneo now as a man. He took Aleneo's long braid and pinned it to his head.
Aleneo watched Cephus delicately position the braid so that it would lay under Aleneo's helmet. While trying to be patient, Cephus struggled to get the helmet on. He frowned, pulling the helmet off again to reposition it.
"May I suggest you cut it off?"
If it had anyone else to suggest such a thing, Aleneo would have cut their tongue out. Cephus, however, while still a servant to the crown—a slave in other terms—he was Aleneo's dearest friend. Though Aleneo's definition of friend was vastly different from others, even among fairies who were known to be backstabbers at heart, he trusted Cephus would his life. He'd become more than a servant in the more than thirty years together.
Aleneo laughed as if Cephus had told him a joke. He knew Cephus wasn't joking. While not uncommon for fairies to wear their hair long, durring battles they would cut it off. It was sort of right of passage that all men were expected to do. Though they weren't at war and this was a tournement, this tournement was for the crown.
And if Aleneo didn't win he wouldn't be king. And if Aleneo wasn't king, Cephus would be put to death.
Aleneo kept his smile up as he turned away from the mirror and held his arms out as if to hug Cephus. He wouldn't because he didn't do hugs. Any show of affection made his skin crawl, but he knew normal people hugged their friends so he made a show of it to appease Cephus.
Cephus knew Aleneo too well. He didn't crack a smile and stood offishly.
"Don't worry, Cephus," Aleneo said with a fake sweetness that almost made his teeth hurt. "I'm going to win. No pins in my hair are going to stop me."
He took the helmet from Cephus's hands and placed it on his head himself. It slid right on as if willed to follow Aleneo's command. He turned back to see himself in the mirror. Instead of a helmet, he saw his father's crown on his head.
The throne would be his. He would do anything to make that happen.
The arena was overtaken by fog. The cold weather left frost on the fallen leaves that covered the pathway to the ring where the fights took place. Aleneo sat upon his steed, Angel. She'd just turned ten the month before and only grew in strength and agility with age. She was white as virgin snow except for the spot of black at the base of her back just above her tail. Her hair was feathery soft and even whiter than the rest of her.
She wore armor to match Aleneo's. The cold metal pieces stuck out on her ivory skin. Aleneo would be a liar if he said he didn't pick her for how she enhanced his beauty. He loved attention and having a horse that matched his flair would only gain him more.
And when they entered the arena, Aleneo was only proven right about his choice.
The citizens of the Dark Kingdom turned, bowed, and gaped as he lead Angel to the center of the arena where his parents, the Queen and King, were waiting for him. This was a once in a life time event. People from all over the country came to see the battles that would take place here at the heart of the Kingdom. Their next king would be crowned before them—his strength would be proven to them and there would be no doubt that he deserved to rule them.
That person would be Aleneo. It was his birthright. It was his destiny. He deserved it.
His confidence wasn't unmatched though. He saw his competitors on the sideline as Angel trotted across the dirt covered field. He glanced over them, not really caring about most of them as they would fall in the first round and never challenge him. There was one though that gave him a mental pause.
Angel had already moved past the line of competitors and stopped in front of the balcony where the Queen and King were sitting.
The person that Aleneo expected to face in the final round was Teryn—his cousin.
Teryn looked nothing like Aleneo and looked everything like King Tilen. It was expected since Aleneo was not at all blood related to his mother and father and in turn Teryn. Teryn was King Tilen's nephew on his sister's side and the first surviving son of two others who had died before their first birthday. The two had been forced together many summers and winters over the past forty-five-years. They hadn't gotten along since they were babies, trapped together in a bassinette for hours on end.
Teryn was tall, brood, with tan skin, and inky black hair that used to be long like Aleneo, but was now cropped short. He still had the slim form that all faries alike had. Aleneo was as slim though he heard it wasn't as prominent in humans. He wouldn't know since he'd never seen another human and didn't plan to. He didn't care one way of another about his blood as he was a fairy in every other aspect.
Aleneo relaxed his hand on Angel's reigns and put on the prettiest smile he could for his parents. "Good morning, mother, father."
He nodded to each of the them individually.
Queen Alette giggled. "You're late, my son."
King Tilen shook his head. "Come sit with us before the crowd becomes too restless."
Aleneo threw his legs over the side of Angel with giddiness he hadn't felt in some time. He knew it would be a head rush to be here, finally, after so many years of anticipation. He'd trained for so long that it almost didn't seem real that it was happening. He would make his parents proud. He would not let all this time be wasted for nothing.
A servant lead Angel away to the stables where all the horses of the competitors would be held. They would be guarded and inspected before the challenges to make sure there was an even playing field. Even the most prestigious and trusted magic user was hired to ward off any tampering that might take place inside the arena.
Cheating would be punished by death.
Aleneo took his time going up the steps to the balcony. There was a chair set aside for him that was made of plush leather and was adorned with pillows for ultimate comfort. Next to the chair was a table with a bowl of grapes that were ready to pop, an array of cheeses neatly piled in a board, and next to both of them were three bottles.
He sat in the chair and immediately went to the bottle and picked which one he liked. One was water, one was wine, and the other was a warm drink called renagiv. It was the only drink that could get a fairy drunk as it was enhance with magic and had to set ten years to age for it to be ready for consumption.
Aleneo wrinkled his nose. He never could stomach renagiv. It was too much for his stomach. He opted for the wine. It had a sweet aroma and taste that he preferred to the renagiv which had a more vinegar taste.
As he got settled in, kicking his feet up on the decorative stone carvings of lions and bears in the balcony, the beginning ceremony for the tournament began.
Two soldiers of the kingdom's arm came riding out on two horses. Behind them, attached to the horses, were two men. They were dragged across the dirt with their legs bound and tied to the horses' saddles. The soldiers stopped. The men being dragged were covered in cuts, blood, and bruises. They were naked except for the cloth covering their privates and the gags tied around their mouths.
Aleneo watched with disinterest as the soldiers hopped off the horses and grabbed the prisoners.
King Tilen stood up. He spread his arms with a dark smile on his face, alluding to the gruel fate the tied men were going to face in a couple minutes.
"The edges of the Eastern forest have been secured once again!" Tilen paused as the crowd erupted in applause that shook the foundation. His grin grew wider.
Aleneo couldn't see it, but he knew the dark look his father got when he was about to inflict pain on others. When Aleneo had been a boy, he'd been fearful of it, but as time went on, he got used to it until he started to look forward to it and wanted to have the same experience.
He picked up a grape and threw it into his mouth. He chomped down on it, the skin ripping and the juice bursting on his tongue.
"These men are the last of the Hinythian troops who were sent to strike a village on the edge of our border. Today, you will choose their fate and send a message to the King of Hinyth."
The screams of the crowd drowned out the muffled cries of the captured Hinythians. Aleneo contined to eat, humming to himself as he tasted a few of the cheeses. They complimented the grapes very well.
A stretcher was brought out and the men were shoved onto it one after another. Their limbs were stretched until they popped out of the sockets. Then the crowd demanded for more bloodshed so nails and hammers were brought out. For every joint in their body, a nail was driven in that spot.
Alette leaned over. "The least you can do is to act like you're paying attention."
Aleneo gave her a sweet smile to appease her. "I'm paying attention. It's just you know we see this all the time when we're home."
Alette sighed. "This is a special day for your father. Let him enjoy it."
Holding a grape against his lips, he nodded. "I will."
The grape popped and shot juice in his mouth as the soldier put one of the prisoners head into a press and squeezed it until it burst red across the dirt.