His Two Royal Secrets(2)

By: Caitlin Crews

Ares accordingly...enjoyed himself. Recklessly, heedlessly, and thoroughly.

Europe was an ample playground, and he made friends in all the desperately pedigreed boarding schools he was eventually kicked out of. Together he and his bored, wealthy friends would traipse about the Continent, from the Alps to the beaches, and back again. From underground clubs in Berlin to parties on superyachts somewhere out there in all that Mediterranean splendor.

“You are a man now,” his father told him bitterly when he turned twenty-one. “Chronologically.”

By the law of their island kingdom, twenty-one was the age at which the heir to the throne was formally acknowledged as the Crown Prince and Heir Apparent to the Kingdom. Ares’s investiture cemented his place in the line of succession, and further, that of his own heirs.

It was more of the same bloodline nonsense. Ares cared even less about it now than he had when he was five. These days, Ares was far more interested in his social life. And what antics he could engage in now he had access to his own vast fortune.

“Never fear, Father,” he replied after the ceremony. “I have no plans to appall you any less now I am officially and for all time your heir apparent.”

“You’ve sown enough wild oats to blanket the planet twice over,” the king growled at him.

Ares did not bother to contradict him. First, because it would be a lie. He had indeed. And second, because the hypocrisy might choke him. King Damascus was well-known for his own years of sowing, such as it were. And unlike Ares, his father had been betrothed to his mother since the day of her birth.

It was yet one more reason to hate the man.

“You say that as if it is a bad thing,” he said instead, no longer playing games of statues in his father’s private rooms.

He was a man grown now, or so everybody told him. He was heir to the kingdom and now would be expected to carry out duties in the name of the crown he would wear one day. He stood by the windows in his father’s compartments and looked out over the sloping hills and crystal blue sea.

This would always be Atilia to him. The murmur of the ocean waves. The soft, sweet scent of flowers on the breeze. The Ionian Sea spread out before him.

Not the king and his penchant for smashing things and causing as much distress as he could at the slightest provocation.

“It is time for you to marry,” his father intoned.

Ares turned, laughing, and then laughed harder when he saw his father was serious. “You cannot imagine I will be amenable to such a thing. Can you?”

“I have no interest in suffering through the sort of twenties you will inflict upon me. And upon this kingdom.”

“And yet suffer you must,” Ares replied with a soft menace that was as close as he’d ever come to taking a swing at his father or his king. “I have no intention of marrying.”

His father broke a decanter that day that had been in the family since the 1700s. It burst to pieces slightly to the left of Ares, though he hadn’t moved a muscle. He’d only stared back at the old man.

But it had broken something in Ares nonetheless.

It wasn’t the shards of priceless crystal raining down on his traditional regalia. It wasn’t his father’s temper, which Ares found little more than tedious at this point.

It was the whole...show. The titles, the land, the bloodline. It all meant more to his father than he ever had. He hadn’t been raised by his parents, he’d been monitored by a succession of servants and paraded in front of his father only every now and again. And only when everyone could be certain his behavior was perfect.

Or tolerable, at any rate.

He couldn’t help thinking that really, he would prefer not to be a prince at all. And if he had no choice in that, well, there was no need to participate in passing the mantle of blood and nonsense on to the next generation. Ares had no intention of marrying. No interest in it.

But he was adamantly opposed to having children.

He couldn’t help but think it was the bloodline itself that had made his father a monster, coupled with the crown. And he was a monster primarily to his son. He was cold to Ares’s mother, but it was Ares who got splintered decanters and rage.

Ares had no intention of passing that rage along to his own children. Ever.

“You should not rile your father so,” his mother said years later, after Ares had indulged in yet another conversation with the king about his marital prospects. He was twenty-six. “We shall have to start importing decanters from the Southern Palace.”

Atilia was an ancient island kingdom in the Ionian Sea. The Northern Island was the most geographically north of the islands that made up the kingdom and was where the business of the country took place. The Northern Palace was accordingly the more stately residence of the royal family. The Southern Palace, on the most southern edge of the most southern island in the kingdom, was about relaxation, not matters of state. Beaches and ease and what breathing room a man could have when the weight of the kingdom sat on his shoulders.

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