Inside the palace, Soris was talking to his father. The king seemed to have forgotten about the morning quarrel. He was looking, relaxed but focused, at some documents.

They were in a modest-sized room with two desks, and wooden furniture adorned with decorative sculptures. On the floor, a dark red carpet emphasized the sensation of warmth and commodity given by the sun rays, which spilled inside through big windows with golden frames.

Soris, leaning against a desk with his face turned to a window, said, “And now, Daniel is gone. I know it’s not urgent, but I’ll have to choose another guard.”

“We already know who’ll be your new guard. We won’t hold any contest this time,” the king said, putting some documents in a heap.

Soris turned towards him, startled. “But why don’t you want us to follow the rules? We’ve always been strict about this.”

The king stood calmly from his chair, made a few steps towards him, and replied, “For show, maybe we’ll do one—although I don’t think we should waste our time with such a thing. But practically, your bodyguard is already chosen. The Aripini family has sent us a man for this. It’s a sort of gift given by them because we finished the war, and their army could finally return home. They said they’d like to keep our good relations, even after the dire period.”

You're reading chapter 7 from The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1 - king talk

Soris took his eyes away from his father back to the window, smiling wryly. He crossed his arms on his chest and said, “They’ve given one only now, after the most difficult and dangerous part passed. During the war, they wouldn’t risk the life of their men.”

A sly grin emerged on the king’s face. “I see you’re displeased with something regarding the Aripinis?” he asked Soris, aiming for a certain reaction from him.

Soris sat silent for a couple of seconds. He felt the pressure coming from his father, so he carefully crafted his words before answering. “I wouldn’t say I’m displeased. It’s just a conclusion of mine after this long collaboration. They helped, I can’t deny, but with great cautiousness and restraint. They seemed to be much too focused on preserving themselves than giving help.”

Still grinning, the king lifted his chin and narrowed his eyes, waiting for Soris to finish his sentence. Soris unfolded his arms and turned to him. “Although much larger, their army was clearly less skilled than ours. We couldn’t ever send them in the first line.”

“And isn’t that normal? They don’t belong to a warlike kingdom. Nevertheless, you’ve got to admit that thanks to them, we came out victorious.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Soris conceded. “It’s just that I can’t believe those soldiers they’d sent were from their elite, as they were implying.” He hesitated a little, then added in a low voice, “I don’t think they’ve ever sent a person of value here.”

Reading chapter 7 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - king talk

The king snickered and crossed his arms on his chest. “Who would send their best to a neighbor with precarious destiny? But, son, what’s the matter with you? Do you perhaps regret that you sold your freedom for such an army?”

Soris immediately glanced at him, as if stricken by his words. The king watched him defiantly, visibly satisfied by this reaction. Soris frowned a little, tightly clenching his right fist. He wanted to knock off that grin on his father’s face, to surprise him with a punch, just like those words did to him. I so hate him sometimes, he commented to himself, hardly relaxing.

He closed his eyes and faked being amused by the king’s questions, then he retorted, “But, Dad, when did I say I had sold my freedom? That’s something only you did when you marr… pardon me, in fact, when you had been forced to marry Mom in order to make your army complete.”

Noticing that the king’s scornful attitude had dwindled significantly, he added in a normal tone, “Keep in mind: I wasn’t forced; I accepted willingly!”

“You say that because you’re only engaged now,” the king hissed. “When you become like me, you’ll understand. So don’t be so proud now, you airhead… The more I look at you, the more I start to believe that rumor about you destroying this kingdom. It’s just that you won’t do it willingly, but out of silliness.”

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Soris wanted to defend himself, but a thought made him hesitate. Why am I always having these kinds of discussions with him? I’m fed up with all of his prickling replies.

He gave up his pride and asked sincerely, “I don’t get why you always want to exchange these kinds of words with me. Why was it that when we were together on the battlefield, we were getting along so well, and now, when the big trouble’s finally come to an end, when we should be at peace in the palace, you only see the worst in me?”

“Ugh, there you go with your sentimentality,” the king groaned, passing a hand to his forehead in exasperation. “You’re so immature.”

Soris sighed, realizing there was no use to carry on.

The king reverted to his normal state and replied as an aside, “On the battlefield, we both had the same objective; you were on my side. Here, you’ve immediately gone on your mother’s side, therefore you’ve chosen to go against me—willingly,” he ended with a short grin.

Reading chapter 7 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - king talk

Soris gazed out the window to clear his mind. He was too tired to riposte. After a pause, he turned to his father and said resignedly, “Oh well, let’s leave this now. Tell me what you know about the candidate sent by the Aripini Kingdom.”

The king went to his desk and lazily searched through a pile of papers. Trying to remember something, he said, “It’s some guy… He’s Dual…”

Soris raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, a dual guy?” he asked.

The king let out a sigh. “Dual is his name; I wasn’t referring to his character.” He chuckled at the comical situation, then drew out a folder and gave it to Soris, saying, “Take a look at his files and see that I’m not lying. He seems to be quite a good boy, from the scores written in there.”

Soris took the folder and read it attentively. Indeed, “Dual” was the first name of the candidate sent by the Aripinis.

“He’ll arrive tomorrow afternoon. I hope you two will get along well.”

The prince stared at the file with the name and photo of the new candidate. He raised an eyebrow. Can I put my trust into someone with such a dubious name?

Reading chapter 7 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - king talk

The tall gates flew open before the big transportation car. Selunia got her face close to the window, touching it with hands covered by thick gloves. In the large yard, scores of soldiers strode from one side to another with different construction materials. They were helping with the restoration of a few depots that had been damaged during the aggressive bombardment from the war.

The palace proudly soared in the middle of the vast yard, covered by a dust veil that came as a result of the soldiers’ activity. The big building, five floors with three grand towers—which touched the sky with their golden conical roofs—had been spared the attacks. The enemy seemed to have wanted to conquer the palace as a whole, not ruined by their own projectiles. The sandy-white castle was decorated simplistically with light brown, curvy elements. Around it, there spread in a radial manner modest gardens full of shrubs, tall trees, hedges, and bushes of variously colored roses, which gave the place a romantic nuance.

Selunia gaped at her new home. It seemed a lot bigger than the White Castle, but less beautiful and less welcoming. It looked like a mere resting oasis for the army, not at all like an impressive palace to represent the royal family.

Reading chapter 7 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - king talk

The car suddenly stopped. Selunia snatched herself away from the window and turned to the general, waiting for instructions.

“Wait for me here,” he calmly told her. “You may go outside, but please don’t go too far away from the car. As soon as I settle a little discussion within the palace, I’ll come and get you.”

“All right,” she consented, hiding her nervousness.

The general left the car, took a view of the surroundings, then marched to the palace.

Selunia got out a few seconds after him. She twirled once in place, paying attention to everything around her. It was nice weather, a mild sun in a clear sky, accompanied by a fine breeze that slowly spread the dust and smell of construction. Selunia sighed a little. I think I’ll miss the perfume of hyacinths and moonflowers from the White Castle. Do my parents have any idea of the present state of the palace? I wonder why they’ve insisted so much for me to get here.

End of Chapter 7, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

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