Soris got out of his father’s office. He closed the door behind him, then looked left and right, disoriented, down the spacious hall he had just entered. Everything looked just like it had five years before the burst of the great battles: the same long golden-yellow carpet with brown stripes and green-blue geometrical figures; the same plain cold stone walls, adorned here and there with pictures, illustrating either a landscape or the portrait of a notable ancestor of the royal family or the army; and the same arches of heavy, decorative marble, carrying the high ceiling. Only the people had changed.

He went to the right, unsure yet where to go, but eager to get away from his father as quickly as possible. No matter what, I can’t get used to his attitude. It troubles me, how he and Mom can change so radically.

I remember how Dad patted me on my shoulder, encouraged and cheered me up after each battle, and when we’d return to the palace, Mom would wait for me with open arms. She was so happy to see me alive, to see that I got out fine from the fights; that I was all right. Now, it seems I’m not important to her anymore.

An obtrusive, mean thought went through his mind: Now, c’mon, let’s be honest: it wasn’t only happiness coming from her maternal love. When you went to war, don’t you remember how she told you to come back alive because she didn’t feel like giving birth to another child? Ha, ha! You fool!

Soris shuddered, disturbed by this memory. She was just joking, he tried to console himself.

You're reading chapter 8 from The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1 - the General

At the first intersection of hallways, he stopped, propped his hands on his hips, and let out a heavy sigh. The feeling of being dead inside bubbled up again. It was like his strength had gone out entirely with the war’s ending, and now he saw his life as an endless row of duties and responsibilities towards the palace and the entire kingdom. He knew that now wasn’t the time to show signs of weakness; in fact, it never had been. Still, now he saw himself crowded with fear and discouragement.

According to tradition, he had already reached the state of a full grown-up and could have become king, but this didn’t make him too happy. To him, more power meant more hardships and worries. He couldn’t understand those who were so eager to get their hands on the throne.

To be the ruler of the kingdom meant to be a man totally dedicated to the wellness of the people, deprived of every means of distraction, and restricted in thinking by the laws and traditions of the palace—at least, that was what he thought. He already felt overwhelmed by the issues that had started by the time of the war inside the kingdom: the poverty of some villages; the large number of local thefts; the weakening of the security system; the people’s dissatisfaction towards the ruling class; and the pressure of the Central Palace. As if these weren’t enough, deficiencies also occurred in the internal discipline and organization of the palace.

Soris felt suffocated by all these, by the pressure of those around him, by their expectations of him, and the duties that he couldn’t forget about even now, when he was on sick leave.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

He lifted his eyes. The sharp marble rocks in the ceiling that he’d admired as a child were still there. Now they weren’t fascinating him anymore. They were like an abstract representation of his worries, and they’d been placed up there only to make sure they would crush him hard when they fell.

Soris shook his head, realizing that his mind had swerved into an exaggerated pessimistic vision. He laughed at himself, then thought, I think I’d better go and talk to General Waltario. I’ll go crazy if I sit by myself in this corridor any longer.

In just a few minutes, he arrived before a metal door and entered a dark and untidy room. The general had a passion for weapons, for studying and developing new ones, and for innovative security systems. That was why he owned a studio instead of a study. Here he had deposited all sorts of old and new weapons, either taken from the captured enemies or created by him, or by other craftsmen like him.

In the middle of the room were two large tables loaded with big rolls of paper—plans and projects for weapons, or maps of the kingdom.

Near the left wall was a modest brown couch on which the general rested sometimes. Soris was fond of this couch. During his discussions with the general, he used to lie down and stare at the strange objects, made from different metals, which hung on the walls.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

Noticing Waltario wasn’t inside, the prince happily sprawled on his favorite couch, which, no matter how shabby it was, seemed more comfortable than the bed from his own room. In his careless jump, he hit his right shoulder, which wasn’t completely recovered from an injury he had gotten in the last battles. He moaned a little, scolded himself for being reckless, then carefully stretched himself, sinking his head into a cushion. Soon the silence in the room slipped into his soul. He looked at each object in the room one by one, searching for a new one, and little by little sleepiness made his eyelids heavier.

Here he could sleep without a care because, to him, the general was a sort of second parent, with whom he got along better than with the king. That was why around the general, Soris indulged himself in behaving without restriction. Waltario was a man loyal to the royal family; he wouldn’t have ever disclosed anything to anyone.

Just when he was about to fall asleep, the door suddenly opened. Determined steps, followed by a metallic noise, were heard getting inside. Soris laid his head back on the cushion, relaxed. It was Waltario.

“I hope you don’t mind my presence here, General,” Soris said, getting his hands under his head. “No matter what I do, I always reach the conclusion that this is the most relaxing place.”

“Not at all, Your Highness. You may come here whenever you like. I promise not to let anyone disturb you,” Waltario said respectfully.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

Soris stared at him, then burst into laughter along with Waltario. This formal way of talking was mostly a joke when no stranger was around. Soris wasn’t a stickler for formalities. He allowed any trustful person to speak to him without honorifics.

“Ah, I’m so glad I can count on you, General,” Soris said, brightened up by his appearance. “Last night I had another nightmare. Actually this morning—‘cause I got up late. Even after sleeping longer, I feel as fuzzy as if I didn’t sleep at all! Maybe I didn’t actually rest that much. I didn’t fall asleep until three or four in the morning.”


The general listened to him as he approached one of the tables and started to put the paper rolls in order. Soris had this habit of recounting all his daytime activities to Waltario whenever they met. Waltario didn’t mind that. He cared for the prince as if he were his own son. He had a lot of compassion for Soris, especially now, when he knew he was struggling with the past war traumas.

“You see, I’ve been awake since a few hours ago, and already feel as drained as if an entire day has passed! Oh, where did I get so much energy when I was little?”

“Did you see the doctor today?” Waltario asked, pulling on the handle of a drawer.

“Ah, yeah, I did. He changed my bandages again. He said I was getting better, but I still have to be careful in the future. You know how he is, boring as usual,” said the prince, closing his eyes.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

He carried on with the storytelling, relaying the witnessed and shared events at the palace in a descending rhythm controlled by the power of his drowsiness. The general didn’t pay too much attention to his monotonous story, but concentrated on how to bring Selunia into the discussion. He didn’t like to lie, and even less to the royal family. To him, no matter how good the reason, to lie or hide something from them seemed an unforgivable, condemnable deed. That was why he was having difficulty speaking. In everything he did, if he wasn’t sure that it was right, he tended to stammer, to not find his words easily.

Finally, he inhaled and said, “Now, please, Your Highness…umm, I mean, Soris. I know this isn’t quite the right time to ask for a favor… but it’s—it’s an old promise, umm, I mean…”

“Say what is it, General. I don’t need explanations,” said the drowsy prince, turning on one side.

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The general grasped a bit of courage. “It’s about my little girl.”

Soris opened one eye. “You’ve got a daughter, General? I didn’t know that.”

That one eye was enough to take the general’s breath away. He shuddered inside himself, where there was a great battle between what was moral to him and what he had to do.

“Umm… Well, yes. Something like that… Anyway, what I wanted to ask you was, if possible, to let me bring her to live here with me, because…”

“Of course, no problem,” Soris mumbled in a staccato rhythm, during his last moments of resistance before dozing off. “How old is she?” he asked out of mechanical politeness.

The general shivered again. He didn’t know her exact age. He didn’t take care of such details about her—he, the man with so many worries in his head. Troubled, he went on calculating aside in a whisper, “Eight years ago, when I was…”

Soris, in all his numbness, heard him. He said, while falling asleep, “Aha, eight years, then… Long live… You can bring her, there’s no pro…”

The general turned to him, heart racing in his chest. Soris was sleeping with his mouth open already. A second later, his hand slipped off the couch. Waltario exhaled with relief. “That was easier than I expected,” he commented under his breath.

He approached the prince and watched him with remorse. He knew that an approval received in such conditions wasn’t quite certain, but he took it seriously. A yes is a yes. I hope you can forgive me for lying to you.

He lifted the boy’s hand from the floor and put it carefully alongside his body. He covered Soris with a blanket that he kept in a sideboard nearby, took a deep breath as if he had gotten over a terrible obstacle, then left the studio and went to Selunia to give her the good news.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

Selunia had been strolling for a while round the car, scrutinizing the yard, from the dirty stone pavement to the shiny towers above. When some soldiers glanced in her direction, she went back in the car and prayed they wouldn’t come to question her. When everybody else was so busy, strolling in the yard could arise suspicion, and that obviously wasn’t what she wanted now, when she was only a masked soldier.

Shortly after, she saw the general coming out from the palace. No sooner had he gone down the stairs in front of the building than he got approached by two soldiers. It seemed they had something important to discuss. After a somewhat short talk, the two went away running, and the general rushed to the car.

Selunia, suspecting something had happened, went outside to meet him. “What is it?” she asked.

“Oh, no, don’t worry. It’s about a breakdown in the external supervising system,” he said in a calm tone, although it was clear he was troubled by what he’d heard earlier.

“Can I help?” she insisted hopelessly.

“No, no. You stay put. Come with me to take your luggage, and move into the room I’ve prepared for you. I’ve received approval from Soris, so you can come unrestricted.”

She followed him joyfully, thinking her name had been mentioned to the prince. Maybe it had brought up some memories for him.

Reading chapter 8 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the General

A quarter of an hour later, helped by the general, Selunia put her luggage in a tiny room on the first floor. It was a simple room with a rough wooden floor, white walls, and only strictly necessary furniture: a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk, two chairs, and a bedside table. From the dense smell, it was easy to tell that it hadn’t been inhabited by anyone lately.

“The bathroom is in the next room,” said Waltario, pointing at a door on the left wall. “Now I have to go. Make yourself comfortable here and, please, don’t go out until I come for you. Got it?”

“Yes, of course,” she quickly answered, seeing that he was in a hurry and his mind was focused somewhere else.

The general left the room in a blink.

Selunia sighed. I hope he won’t be too late. I don’t want to spend all my day here when there’s plenty to visit in the palace. She took off her helmet and set to search through her luggage.


Soris woke up abruptly. Oh, how long did I sleep? He stood up worriedly from the couch. The clock on the wall indicated that it was almost three in the afternoon. He let out a sigh of relief, carefully patting his costume. He brushed his hair with his hand a few times, then left the studio, full of energy.

End of Chapter 8, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

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