‘For the final time your Highness, these are the ancient laws,’ Balthazar says. ‘It is fated and it will always be.’
Luther stops pacing, stands before the fireplace in the Great Hall and allows the immense heat to overcome him. Turns around and pounds his fist on the huge oak table. ‘I don’t care for your ridiculous traditions!’
‘You know I’ve heard this all before,’ Balthazar chuckles and shakes his head. ‘Believe it or not your father was the same once. Worse.’ Balthazar nods over to the king who smiles back. ‘Acceptance is not easy I understand this. But as Guardian of Ceremonies it is my role to ensure that your family fulfils its prophesied duty.’
‘Please son,’ Constantine says. ‘Sit down. Balthazar’s right. I will die soon as my father did before me and as you must when your time is right. That is our tradition.’
‘In all my years I have not failed to uphold this and don’t intend to now,’ Balthazar says.
Some of the old advisors around the table have woken up, and now lean together and mumble among themselves at the recklessness they hear unfolding.
‘Please son, you must calm down,’ Constantine says. ‘Preparations are already underway. The Release Ceremony cannot be stopped; you know that and soon you will take my place.’
‘Your father is old now,’ Balthazar says.
‘He’s forty-two!’ Luther says.
‘It is old for a king. Your grandfather was given the Release Ceremony when he was not much older than you, your father became King when he was three. And you are already considered too old to be crowned. We mustn’t delay further.’
Luther remembers the old tales he was taught as a child, that the only way a man truly lives is by dying. Death, pure death that springs forth true life, it is said, is only reserved for the privileged few. Luther knows that for advisors like Balthazar such luxuries are denied, their fate is to die of natural causes in their own time and therefore never understand true living — women, traditions dictate, are denied pure death too. But learning folk tales was one thing, believing them was altogether different.
The prophesies say that Release Ceremony can only be performed once a man has known true happiness as divined by the Gods; only when a man has experienced the joys of love and has been torn apart by its absence can he be ready to die and live in immortality. And since the death of his mother, his father’s grief is now considered mature enough for him to be released.
‘I can’t be a part of this folly anymore! If this is tradition, then I refute tradition!’ Luther says.
‘That is heresy!’ Balthazar cracks his wooden staff against the stone floor.
‘No! It’s madness!’ Luther says. ‘I will consult the other kingdoms! We will instate a new tradition across this land!’
Balthazar laughs and sits down. ‘And how exactly will you do that when we are at war!’
‘Then we will end the war!’
Balthazar continues to chuckle at the young Prince’s naïvety. ‘The war has always been and always will be. That is the prophesy.’
‘Damn your prophesies! Things will change! I will ensure it!’
Later that night, dressed in the yellow robes of a servant, Luther peers down the dark corridors of the Red Palace where two guards stand silent outside Ariana’s door. Two darts laced with a sleeping potion ensures they won’t wake for some time.
He creeps through the darkness of her chamber. The night breeze through a tall window sways the muslin drapes around her bed. He approaches silently, guided by her scent. As he draws the curtains back, a hand grabs him and pushes a cold, silver blade to his throat.
‘Wait! Wait! It’s me!’ Luther says.
Ariana relaxes the blade from his throat. Luther turns around and puts a finger to her lips.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘We’re going,’ Luther holds her arms.
‘Going where?’ Ariana lays the dagger on her pillow.
‘We’re leaving this madness behind.’
‘But the prophesies?’
Luther caresses her face and smooths her hair back. ‘I don’t care for their stupid prophesies.’
‘But the ceremony will be soon.’
‘We will still marry. And we’ll remain together forever. But not here.’ Luther kisses Ariana as she clutches the dagger tighter in her hand. ‘If these fools want to kill themselves in the name of tradition, let them. We’ll establish our own traditions of love together someplace else. Come with me.’
‘But that’s crazy! We can’t do that. Everything has been written. We can’t change what is fated.’
‘Yes we can. And we will. Pack a few things. We leave tonight,’ Luther kisses her again.
Ariana clutches the silver dagger again and runs her thumb against the engraved trees on its handle.
‘But the prophesies!’
‘Be quick. I’ll come back for you in twenty minutes.’ Luther slips back into the corridor and steps over the sleeping guards.