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A Common Life
standalone | short story
Prince Monrose wants only two things: to become a commoner and to marry a farmer’s daughter.
War Mage Cassan’s purpose in life is to serve his queen, the woman who plucked him from the ashes of his home and saved him from his own magic.
Unfortunately for Cassan, today serving his queen means playing bodyguard to her romantic son. When they set out to fetch Monrose’s intended bride for the queen’s inspection, Cassan doesn’t expect much danger. He certainly doesn’t expect Monrose to insist they save his would-be father-in-law from a deadly creature of dark magic.
But Monrose is his prince and orders are orders, even if they come from a foolish dreamer with an inadequate sense of self-preservation.
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Cassan’s magic couldn’t make him invisible, so he stood still and silent and pretended. Pretending to be deaf was harder, but he gave it a valiant effort.
Five feet to his left, his liege, Queen Ellatine, sat nearly as stiff and silent as him in her plush throne. The only other occupant of the audience chamber, Prince Monrose, more than made up for their lack of movement and volume.
“Don’t you see, Mother?” he cried, arms thrust toward her imploringly. “I’ve finally found my purpose in life! Aren’t you happy for me?”
Glancing from the corner of his eye at the queen’s face, Cassan saw the smallest downward twitch of her mouth. “‘Finally’?” she asked in a voice that betrayed nothing but polite surprise. “Have you been seeking it so long?”
“All my life!” Monrose replied.
“That long?” The trace of mockery in the queen’s tone was lost on her son. “And tell me, child of my womb, after seventeen long years of seeking, what has led you to this revelation?”
Cassan could see the answer in Monrose’s eyes immediately. He would have sighed in exasperation had the very concept of doing so not been unthinkable.
“I’ve met a farmer’s daughter,” said the prince. “She’s told me all about working the land and living in the country, and nothing sounds more perfect. The wide open fields and forest, pulling food from the earth with my own two hands, not having to answer every moment for where I am and who I’m with.”
You don’t answer for that now, not for lack of poor old Alric’s trying, Cassan thought, but said nothing.
“And I suppose this idyllic country life of yours wouldn’t be complete without marrying this farmer’s daughter,” said the queen.
Monrose’s eyebrows came together. “Of course I mean to marry her. Did I not tell you that part yet?”
The queen let out a soft sigh and rubbed her brow with delicate fingers. Cassan looked at her with concern. The prince was pushing her too far with this nonsense.
“Monrose,” the queen said with mixed kindness and impatience. “You are a prince of Kinmar: the largest, wealthiest, and most influential kingdom in all the civilized world. You cannot simply marry a country girl and become a farmer.”
For five solid seconds, mother and son shared a look of utter bewilderment. Then the queen let out another long breath. “This is my fault. I have been far too lenient with you, letting you sneak away and dress as a commoner to have your little adventures.”
“My queen!” Cassan blurted, unable to contain himself at this outrage. “This is not your fault.”
She turned her head to give him a weary smile. “Oh, but my dear Cassan, it is. Monrose is my baby, and he’s been spoiled like one. His father washed his hands of the boy years ago. Monrose has always had a fascination for common things, and I let him indulge it because I saw no harm.” She chuckled mockingly at herself. “If he has no appreciation for his place in this world, I have only myself to blame.”
“Blame?” Monrose yelped, stepping closer to address his words to both of them. “Why do you speak of blame? This is a good thing! I’m to be congratulated.”
“Congra—” Cassan gasped in indignation, but cut off the word and tried to regain control of himself.
“Cassan!” Monrose sounded, absurdly, as if Cassan had hurt his feelings. “How old were you when you found your life’s calling?”
After a lengthy pause, Cassan realized it wasn’t a rhetorical question. “Seven.”
Monrose threw a hand out toward him as if Cassan had proven his point. “Seven! And I’ve been floundering a full decade longer! I’d have thought you of all people would understand the joy it is to find one’s calling!”
“Our situations are not remotely similar,” Cassan groused.
“Oh?” Monrose challenged.
Cassan didn’t even try to hold back his glare. “I had no life, no family, no prospects. My unrestrained magic had burned down my house and killed my parents. Had Queen Ellatine not mercifully taken me in and seen to my training, I’d have been executed or, more likely, abducted by some dark mage to be turned into god-knows-what. It is my lifelong duty and honor to serve my queen because without her I would quite literally be nothing. Your infatuation with some farmgirl Does. Not. Compare.” Even as he burned with irritation at the whelp, he raged at his own lack of self-control. His liege should have him flogged for speaking to her son in such a way. If any of the other royal retainers had heard him, he’d never live down the shame. How long would it be until he got a grip on this damned temper of his?
But Queen Ellatine didn’t send him to be flogged or berate him or even appear displeased by what he’d said. There was gentleness in the look she gave him. And pity. And pride.
“‘Infatuation’?” Monrose repeated in an undignified shriek. “I’ll have you know I love Sella with my whole life and soul! She is my other half, the missing piece of my heart, the woman I was made for!”
“Infatuation,” Cassan ground out between his teeth. “Puppy love. For that, you’d throw your whole life away?”
Monrose crossed his arms and gave Cassan a long look. Eventually, in what Cassan could only assume was meant to be an insult, he said, “Cassan, you are the oldest twenty-year-old I’ve ever met.”
“If by ‘old’ you mean ‘mature’, then I thank you.”
“I mean a cynical, heartless, fuddy-duddy.”
Cassan wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly. “A what?!”
Cassan fisted his hands at his side to keep from boxing the boy’s ear.
“Children, please,” said the queen. Her tone was calm, and she looked between the two of them fondly.
Regaining his composure, Cassan bowed his head. “I’m sorry, my queen.”
She waved his apology away with one pale hand. “It is true . . .” she mused, “that the line of succession is well-secured without you, Monrose. With your father’s ill health, Talence will likely inherit the crown soon. He’s assured me he plans to take a wife and make some heirs before he hits forty, crown or no. And there’s your sister, Vittorina. She’d make a fine ruler if something were to happen to Talence, not to mention she’s already produced several heirs of her own.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Monrose broke in. “It’s not like anyone expects anything of me!”
“Not something to brag about,” Cassan muttered under his breath.
By the resigned look on the queen’s face, Cassan could see her resolve wavering. Eventually, she said to Monrose, “You are being a young fool, but if you are so determined, I suppose I could at least meet this girl.”
Monrose beamed in elation. “Mother—”
She held up a hand, silencing him. “I’d like to determine for myself if she’s merely another young fool or if she means to entrap you in some way. There are dangers in this world, my son, which are not easily spotted by hot-blooded young men.”
Monrose wasn’t quite so excited by her answer now. “You want to interrogate the woman I love?”
“Nothing so crass. I want you to fetch her here so I may meet her. If she is as wonderful as you say, I’m certain you have nothing to worry about.”
He thought this over and seemed to find it acceptable. “All right,” he said with a nod. “I’ll go get her at once. When you meet her, Mother, I’m sure you’ll love her as I do.” He turned to go, but the queen’s voice stopped him.
“I’m sending Cassan with you.”
Cassan blinked. “My queen?”
“It’s a slow day,” she told him. “I won’t have need of you. I’d feel better if you went along to keep an eye on my son.”
Cassan suppressed a grimace and bowed his head. “Of course, my queen.”