Chapter 1
State Secrets

AZ 1453 - Autumn
Castle Zephyr, Hesperia, Zephyr

It had only been a few months since the fleet left Zephyr and the kingdom seemed to be at peace. The burden of the preparations for the war had been hard on the people, but they were persevering in the face of austerity. The grim predictions of Carpos did not look like they would come to pass. It offered no small comfort in these trying days.
Princess Daphne was taking a walk on the ramparts, a habit she had picked up after her parents left, and was looking out westward to the Delate Mountains. A herald rushed up to her, but was stopped by the Bodyguards who accompanied her.
"Your Highness!" the herald cried, dropping down on one knee and bowing his head. "There is an urgent need for your presence at the harbor!"
"What is it?" she asked.
"Forgive me, Your Highness," the herald said, "but I was told only that you must come to the harbor immediately."
"How can you expect Her Highness to leave the safety of the palace without a clear reason?" one of the Bodyguards demanded.
"It is all right," Daphne said. "Surely our situation is not so dire that we must suspect our own countrymen. Nevertheless, I will take ten Bodyguards for my retinue so Lord Menelaos will not worry."
"As you will, Your Highness," the Bodyguard replied with a bow.
A carriage was hastily prepared and Daphne was soon on her way. Her father did not like her to leave the palace, so she rarely had the chance to be out in the streets of Hesperia. The ancient city prided itself in its impeccable appearance; tall buildings of white marble, sprawling colonnades and polished streets. Nearly a quarter of the populace found work doing nothing more than keeping the city clean and in good repair.
The harbor was not as spotless as the thoroughly gentrified Old City, of course, but it was far better than most other ports, at least as far as Daphne had heard. The herald guided her entourage to a ship moored at the far end of the harbor. Upon boarding the ship, Daphne was taken below decks, where she was met by a man of the Royal Bodyguard standing next to a supine figure covered in a burial shroud. Though the Royal Bodyguards were known for their proud bearing, this one looked worn and haggard.
"Your Highness," he said in a low voice, "I must speak to you alone."
Daphne looked to the two Bodyguards who had accompanied her below and told them, "Return above decks."
"But, Your Highness!" one of the Bodyguards interjected.
"There is nothing to fear," the Princess said gently. "He is one of your own after all. If I cannot trust a man of the Royal Bodyguard, who can I trust?"
The treachery in Notos had made her protectors paranoid, but their misgivings could not outweigh her command. The quietly exited the cabin, leaving the two of them alone. The Bodyguard seemed to be struggling for the words he wanted to say.
"Your Highness... There is no other way for me to tell you this... It is my sad duty to inform you that lying here is... His Majesty the King... Your father... is dead..."
The Bodyguard pulled back the shroud to reveal a body wrapped in strips of linen. Removing his gloves, he began to gingerly unwind the strip around the head, revealing the lean, pale face of Daphne's father.
She recoiled slightly, holding her hand to her mouth. Tears began to well up in her eyes. Her strength of will alone kept her from bursting into a fit of sobbing. The Bodyguard bowed his head as he rewrapped the King's face and covered him with the shroud.
Fighting back his own tears, the Bodyguard said, "Forgive me, Your Highness... His Majesty fell ill on the way to Notos and perished only days before we arrived in Kalonis... I was sent alone to bring the body back to Zephyr. Her Majesty the Queen sends her advice to keep His Majesty's passing a secret but leaves the decision in your hands."
Though the weight of her sorrow threatened to crush her, Daphne had push it all aside. Her duty as the acting ruler of Zephyr came first. She could not afford the luxury of being a woman mourning the untimely death of her beloved father. Regaining as much of her composure as she could, Daphne spoke with detached resolve.
"The spirits of the people will be crushed if it becomes known that my father has already died before the fighting could even begin. We must keep this knowledge secret until our forces return from the war.
"I will have a carriage sent here after nightfall to bring the body to the castle. We will keep the body in the antechamber of the Royal Tomb until a proper ceremony can be performed. Since you have stayed by his side all this time, you will travel with the King until he is laid to rest."
"It is a great honor, Your Highness," the Bodyguard said. "I hope to prove myself worthy of such confidence."
"You already have," Daphne replied with a weak smile. "The carriage should come around midnight, so be prepared."
"I will, Your Highness."
The Princess' Bodyguards were waiting for her and formed up at her sides the moment she emerged from the cabin. She knew they could sense something was wrong, but they asked no questions. Each step she took seemed more agonizing than the last.
When she was in her carriage and it took to the road, she was free to open the floodgates of her heart. She wept for a long time, her wailing drowned out by the noise of the busy harbor, the sound of the horses' hooves striking the pavestones and the rumbling of the carriage itself. For that brief time, her grief could be open, but she would soon have to bottle it up again for the good of those who did not yet know that their king was lost.