Chapter 2
Betrayal

AZ 1451 - Late Summer
Castle Zephyr, Hesperia, Zephyr

Solon sat alone in the palace library. In many of the difficult times of his life and reign, the library was his refuge. However, he did not find any solace there, not this time.
At the beginning of spring, his son Carpos, the Crown Prince, requested that he be sent to Notos for an official inspection of the Third Legion and the progress of their war preparations there. At first it looked like a promising sign for a son who disdained his official duties, but then it all took a terrible turn for the worst.
Not long after the Prince and his entourage arrived in Notos, the city of Hebertos fell to the rebel group known as the Promethean Alliance. According to the sole survivor of the local garrison, Carpos and his personal guard were behind the attack. The survivor was branded with the Prince's own signet. At best, Carpos was murdered by his own men before they defected to the rebel cause. At worst, he had thrown in his lot with the rebels and raised the banner of treason against his homeland. Either way, Solon's son was lost to him.
Solon had shut himself away in the library ever since he first read the letter from Duke Cronos. Xanthe was with their daughter. Apparently the girl knew of Carpos' plans but said nothing because she did not want to believe he would go so far. Solon could not blame her. Even if Carpos had told him to his face, he would not have believed it either.
Where did he wrong? His children represented the union of human and Xotika in symbol and in truth. They were supposed to be an inspiration to the people. They were supposed to lead the way to a bright new tomorrow. Now what would become of Solon's vision for the future of Zephyr?
"Your Majesty?"
Solon turned slowly to see Lord Aristides standing there. He had given strict orders that no one was to disturb him under any circumstances, but Aristides was one of the few men who would ignore such an order. Although he wanted to wallow in despair and self-pity, in a way Solon was glad to see him.
"It has been two days, Your Majesty," Aristides said. "What troubles have made you seclude yourself so?"
Solon did not want to say, but the words spilled from his lips unbidden.
"My son... my boy... He is lost... He is lost..."
"What has happened to the Prince?" Aristides asked.
Solon did not say, but briefly glanced at the letter from Duke Cronos lying on the table. Aristides stepped forward and reached for the letter.
"With your permission, Your Majesty."
Solon said neither yes nor no and Aristides took his silence for consent. Holding up the letter, he quickly read through it. When he was finished, he lowered it slowly.
"This is a dark day for Zephyr," he said. "Who knows?"
Solon mumbled, "The Duke, Xanthe, Daphne, myself... and now you."
"And with me it must end," Aristides said.
He held the letter over a nearby candle. Solon reached out to stop him, but it was too late. Just as the flame was about to burn his fingers, Aristides clamped his other hand over it to snuff it out. It had to hurt, but he did not show it.
"We must protect the honor of the royal family at all costs," he said, grinding the charred parchment in his hand. We say nothing of the Prince, not in public, not within the palace walls. Duke Cronos understands this. He will keep things quiet in Notos.
"In the meantime, you must send word to Duke Cronos. Our spies must uncover the truth and do what is necessary if the Prince has indeed betrayed Zephyr."
"But--"
"Your Majesty, it must be done."
Aristides was as grave and unmovable as the mountains. Solon could not deny the bitter reason in his words. With the ambitious programs to change society and now the buildup for war, public order hung by little more than a thread. If it became known that the Crown Prince was mounting a rebellion, the kingdom would fall into chaos. As much as it pained the King to admit it, the life of one foolish man could not compare to the very survival of the nation.
Solon nodded weakly, all the confirmation Aristides needed.
"I pray you do not tarry, Your Majesty," he said. "And as much it pains you, you must return to your daily business. The more you are locked away like this, the more suspicions will be raised. If you will excuse me, Your Majesty, I have other duties I must attend to."
With a curt bow, Aristides left. Solon did not watch him leave. Instead, he stared at the ashes and bits of half-burnt parchment on the floor.
"Is this your grudge against me, Brother?" he wondered aloud. "Or is it the curse of my birth still haunting me?"