Author’s note: I was editing this chapter and it took me quite a long time since I get confused when the Royal places/titles get capitalized 😅😅
The Royal Guards bowed as they saw the hulking figure of a man come their way. Although he was ruggedly handsome, he had a large scar across the bridge of his nose, which gave him a sinister and terrifying aura, a fact which he himself would secretly lament over bitterly. His massive biceps were emphasized by the tight sleeves of his tunic, and his long curly hair was tied behind his head with a leather string. He walked with a stately air. This man was no other than the Great General Cassius.
As the Royal Guards bowed, their eyes caught sight of the little figure being held against the Great General’s brawny chest.
“Papa! Papa!” The boy danced in his arms.
The Royal Guards had heard that the General’s wife had given birth, yet still their eyeballs popped out of their sockets when they saw the General’s usual stony face soften with affection. This was completely unheard of! Their Great General was supposed to be incapable of such human emotion!
General Cassius saw the expression on the guards’ faces, and glared. The guards stiffened up and saluted, sweat dripping down their foreheads.
“His Majesty awaits you, Great General,” a tall lanky man said as he stood by the arched pillars of the inner hall. He pushed his spectacles up his nose then bowed. “This butler will accompany you to the drawing room.”
General Cassius followed after the butler, rubbing his stubble against Luce’s face in order to trigger his giggles. This was a sound he loved hearing everyday. He stopped in the middle of his actions to look around the hallway to check if any of the Royal Guards had seen him being so affectionate. He didn’t want to ruin his reputation of being a gelid brute. Since the King was of a sublime character, the General needed to possess an iron hand to contrast it. This was what made people listen and follow him. This was how order was created in the Kingdom.
“Is His Majesty not preoccupied?” General Cassius inquired.
“He has deliberately excused himself in court sessions to meet you personally, General.” The butler looked back to see the worried expression on the General’s face. To assuage his guilt, he added, “The Queen handles court matters as good as the King, so you needn’t worry.”
The pageboy opened the door to the royal drawing room, and the butler entered as he announced the arrival of the Great General with mellifluous tones.
General Cassius lowered his son to the floor and helped him stand. Then he quickly kneeled in front of His Majesty who sat behind his desk.
“Your Majesty! I apologize for my extended absence! Please deliver any sort of judgement upon my insolence!” The General faced the silk carpet as he kneeled on one knee, his anxiety heightened with each second of silence. This was all his fault, he thought. He deserved punishment for neglecting his position, but he didn’t have the heart to leave his wife or son alone.
“Papa?” Luce looked questioningly at his father, who was kneeling with an anguished expression on his face.
“You may rise, Cassius,” King Altair’s voice was gentle. “I understand your grievances, however, I still cannot overlook how you have left your post for almost two years.”
General Cassius gulped.
“There have been reports of you coming by a few times a week to oversee your men, so my punishment will not be hefty.”
The General waited with bated breath for the final verdict.
A slow smile formed across the King’s face. “You have to congratulate me.”
“Huh?” The General thought he heard wrong. He coughed. “I mean, pardon, Your Majesty? I seem to have misheard…”
“You have not congratulated me yet! My princess is almost two years old! That is one offense I cannot overlook!” The King pounded his fist against the armrest of his chair. “I have been waiting for my friend to come see me, yet all he would visit were his men! As your friend and not your sovereign, I feel quite affronted!” The King narrowed his eyes, looking upset.
“I–I’m sorry, Your Majesty.” The General was tongue tied, and did not know what else to say.
“I have already sent out my butler and guards out of the room. You may call me Altair now, Cassius.” The King smiled and stood up from his chair. “You were a loyal knight of mine since I was a child. Do you think I would dismiss you from your post so easily?” He walked closer to pat his friend on the shoulder. “Besides, what kind of leave of absence entailed the person to be occasionally present?”
General Cassius realized this and laughed out loud. “I couldn’t just leave my men. The captains become quite lonely without me.”
“On the contrary, I think they are quite glad the walking devil isn’t around,” the King replied, his mouth twitching with mirth.
“Papa,” a little voice called from behind the General.
“Luce!” The General exclaimed, feeling guilty that he had momentarily forgotten his own son.
“Luce? Is he your son? I cannot believe you have not even introduced your son to me!” The King pretended to be livid.
“I apologize again for being too preoccupied with personal matters, Your Majesty.” General Cassius bowed his head in his direction before lifting Luce in his arms.
“Altair,” the King reminded.
“Altair.” General Cassius smiled and nodded his head. He took Luce’s small arm, and shook it in front of Altair’s face. “Say hello Luce~ this is His Majesty Altair. Say Al-tair~”
“Ah,” Luce complied, “Twhe.”
King Altair laughed. “He reminds me so much of my darling princess! Ah, if only she were here!”
The King quickly went to his table and rang a small brass hand bell. The drawing room doors immediately opened, revealing the tall butler.
“You called, Your Majesty?” The butler bowed with a palm across his chest.
“Please bring Princess Alenaire to the drawing room!” King Altair commanded.
“As you wish, Your Majesty.” The butler closed the door behind him after another graceful bow.
Two little people came in through the door after a few moments. Prince Alasdair held Princess Alenaire’s little hand in his, and he walked through the room with a proud air.
“Daaaddyyy!” Alenaire squealed, her eyes glittering with happiness as she tottered to where her father was standing. The adults in the room held their breaths, preparing to catch her if she were to fall flat on her face on the carpets. However, their worries were not needed, as Alenaire finally arrived beside her father to hug his leg. The King’s heart warmed, and he raised her in the air amidst her giggles to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Who that?” Alenaire hugged her father’s nape, pointing at General Cassius and the boy in his arms.
Alasdair stood beside his father and reprimanded the little princess. “Don’t be rude, Alenaire! That’s the Great General Cassius!” He had always looked up to this burly general, and his greatest wish was to become as strong and powerful as he.
“Hello, little princess,” General Cassius said with a genteel tone in his voice. “I’m General Cassius, and this is my son, Luce.” He turned Luce in his arms in order for him to see the princess face to face. Cassius lifted Luce’s little arm again and shook it. “Say hello to Princess Alenaire, Luce!”
Luce stared at Alenaire for a few seconds before burrowing his face back against his father’s chest.
“It seems Luce is shy!” The King laughed.
“He’s just acting cute,” Alasdair said as he puffed his cheeks and crossed his arms over his chest. “Boys like to act cute in front of girls!”
“Is that a tactic of yours, little prince?” General Cassius teased, and Alasdair’s face turned red from embarrassment.
After a few exchanges of pleasantries, the King decided it was time to take on a more serious note.
“I have a few things to talk to you about, General. It’s about our northern borders.” He placed Alenaire on the ground, and Alasdair held her hand.
General Cassius released Luce from his arms as well. He told his son, “You can play with the princess while the King and I have some important matters to discuss, okay?”
Luce looked at his father, wide-eyed. He then nodded his head slowly, watching his father and the King walk to a large round table where the kingdom’s map was displayed.
Luce turned back to the princess and her brother. He waved and smiled, as the dimples formed crevices in his cheeks. He uttered, with a slightly bashful tone to his baby voice, “Hi.”