a rewrite of an older tale by Dot
Prelude: Marks of Royalty
“For want of a nail
the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe
the horse was lost.
For want of a horse
the rider was lost.
For want of a rider
the battle was lost.
For want of a battle
the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want
of a single nail.”
< - >
King Vegeta rubbed the bridge of his nose and looked at the report before him again. It was just as he feared: the apparent state of impasse in the war against the Suponjians was an illusion. They, and not he, had deeper pockets, and he could already see the supplies beginning to dry up. If he could not make a decisive move soon, he would have no position to negotiate from at all.
Worse, his enemies were inciting the hard-liners to see any offer of peace as a sign of weakness. He was already in a precarious position due to his obvious lack of an official heir. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to name his eldest daughter the Crown Princess at birth and deal with the shitstorm before it became the tinderbox it was now, but he’d allowed his emotions to get the better of him. With her mother dead moments after she brought the child into the world–there was nothing the doctors could do, or so they told him, but he had his suspicions–and the palace swirling in intrigue and rumors, he’d hesitated on elevating her to a position that would have brought nothing more than increased danger. Now, with the Naming Ceremony coming up in six months, he would not be able to seat her at his right without also finding her a suitor, an action that would alienate all of the Noble Houses whose sons weren’t chosen to be the Consort. Of the concubines who did have sons, all of their families would upset the current status quo if he elevated them further, whether they already had too much power to begin with or not enough to withstand the ensuing controversy. But of course it wouldn’t do for him to die with no official heir at all–the last time that happened, the empire descended into unrest and strife that began a change of events leading to the current crisis.
As far as the Suponjians went, he had sent a secret envoy to work out a truce; even if it fell through he would at least have more room to maneuver. His daughter, however, was much more problematic to deal with. Among his close kin there were a few potential candidates, but their ties to the rival Houses were a bit too chummy for his comfort. And his concubines—ha. They’d stopped overt plots once he’d put his foot down and executed his presumptive favorite for being too uppity, but male children still had the irritating habit of dropping dead from ‘mysterious’ circumstances he showed any sign of favor, real or imaginary. He even had to stop inquiring about the states of particular pregnancies lest they come to an unfortunate, premature end.
What he needed was someone from a place so obscure that no one bothered to make alliances. Yes, and an orphan, so that no in-laws could meddle with his affairs. And of course, the chosen Prince would have to look the part, so that no one would ask too many questions.
Right. Piece of cake.
< - >
The capitol of the Great Saiyan Empire, like the Empire itself, was a study in paradox. Lavish extravagance existed side by side with somber austerity: the slums of the poorest dredges of society wandered streets that were a mere pebble toss from the King’s palace.
It went without saying that the King considered his “neighbors” an eyesore, but most of the time he was too busy worrying about other things to do much about them. Besides, most of the residents left on their on volition. For every Saiyan born here, three others died, sold themselves into slavery, or joined the King’s army to fight in the glorious war against the hated Suponjians.
On an anomalous day, a sudden and rather inexplicable phenomenon emptied the streets of almost every young male around the age of six. Some went without fuss; some did not. Some had to be dragged, while others were chased down. Some fought back, with variable success. But even the entire city’s worth of children could not stand up to the might of trained solders, much less a handful of orphans whom nobody cared about. The disappearances, as far as anyone was concerned, meant fewer mouths to feed.
As for the children, they were herded into the barracks, given numbered tags to wear, and divided into groups of about thirty.
They were then marched into the King’s presence and told that the strong would leave the arena alive. Already accustomed to fighting for their survival on a day-to-day basis, they did not need any other encouragement to begin.
< - >
With one glance at the filthy bunch, Vegeta dismissed the large majority to be unsuitable. There were the weak ones, both those whose scrawny bodies would soon be crushed beneath the chaos that he was about to set in motion and those whose feeble minds were already overwhelmed by their sudden transplant. And then there were the wild ones, whose ferocity would help them through the fight, but whose utter lack of focus and discipline made them useless for any other purpose.
All too soon, the chaos had ended, and a handful of brats covered in their own blood and the blood of their fellow scum emerged from the pile of bodies. An aide took notes on the survivors, speculating on what rank they could achieve if they were placed into the military, pausing every once in a while to show it to Vegeta for his approval.
The arena was cleared and the guards tossed in the next bundle of chaff.
Vegeta sighed and downed the rest of his drink. It was, as he more or less suspected, a complete waste of his time. But if he wanted things done without the wrong people asking too many questions, this was the sole recourse.
Vegeta scowled. He should have been able to declare anyone his legal heir, and no one could so much as make a single peep. And yet, here he was, as one group of riffraff after another paraded in front of him.
Another slave refilled his cup, just as a new bunch filed in. Vegeta played with his wineglass, wondering if he would ever get a show worth his attention.
His eyes settled on a scruffy, vicious little brat wearing the number Eighty-One. He found himself sitting a little straighter as he watched Eighty-One fend off another group who had put aside their differences to prey upon those weaker. Eighty-One, instead of curling up and resigning to his fate, stayed on his toes and used his small size to his advantage, darting between his attackers and causing them to hit each other instead. And when Eighty-One struck out, he always aimed to cripple his opponent and let the mob take over. He wasted very little energy, choosing his battles so that he would seldom be caught in a compromising position.
Vegeta gestured to his aide, and a few moments later the Captain of the Seventh Regiment was kneeling before him. “You called me, Your Majesty?”
“His Majesty wishes to recompense you on any losses you may have incurred on your mission,” the aide intoned, speaking for Vegeta as the Captain was otherwise too far beneath the King’s notice.
“Despite your assurances that such a task was a simple matter and you require no reward for doing your duty, His Majesty is concerned for the welfare of your men.” He waited for the Captain to bow, acknowledging the great honor the King was bestowing onto him. “His Majesty gives you permission to speak frankly, Captain. Did you encounter any difficulty?”
The Captain replied, his face to the floor, as the aide hovered over him and took notes. The aide then turned towards the King. “The Captain is ashamed to report, Your Majesty, that number Eighty-One nearly slipped from his grasp. A number of men were taken by surprise by his agility and would have been seriously injured had they not worn their armor. However, they finally managed to wrestle him down and bring him in.”
Vegeta dismissed the Captain with a fractional nod. He allowed a small smile creep onto his face. Maybe this was not such a waste of time after all.
By the time he turned his attention back to number Eighty-One, all other motion had ceased. The boy stood, staring at the scene before him, as if he were just waking from a long nightmare.
“Insolent boy! You are in the presence of the King!” A soldier shouted. Two of them moved forward to push Eighty-One into a kneeling position. He thrashed, snarling, and put up enough resistance to require a third to force him to the ground.
The King’s aide stepped forward, tapping his heavy staff on the ground so that all eyes were on the throne. “The King has chosen his Heir. Long live the King!”
The boy was free to stand again as all present knelt to show their allegiance. “Long live the King!”
< - >
“You don’t seem angry.”
“Why should I be?” The Princess–she was ‘Nataku’ now, after some god or other, she never bothered to pay much attention in any class that wasn’t combat-related, but she did remember that Nataku was a boy’s name–shrugged, and then winced as the hairbrush caught in a nasty tangle. “Why should I care that because I’m a girl, I have to be engaged to some stupid Prince that no-one’s ever heard of before?”
A light sigh. “You are mad at His Majesty.”
“What, you expect me to be happy about this, then? Ow!” Nataku pulled away, rubbing her sore scalp. “Forget it! Go away! I’ll brush my own hair!”
“Very well, then.”
Nataku grabbed the brush, and began yanking it through her hair, hating every awful strand of it. She had just gotten started when a loud crash sounded in the distance, followed by voices shouting.
“Please stop, Your Highness!”
Her own problems forgotten for the moment, Nataku walked out into the hallway and looked towards the noise. She felt her fists clench as she saw the Crown Prince careening towards her like a wild animal.
“What’s all the ruckus?” This brought the chase to a sudden, screeching halt. She turned to face the Prince’s servants—they’d been her servants, before—and crossed her arms, scowling. “What’s the big idea, running around shouting like the palace is about to burn down?”
A resounding chorus of thuds echoed as they knelt per the demands of protocol. The Princes’ Intended, despite being female, still ranked higher than all of them combined. “The fault is ours, Lady. We did not mean to disturb you.”
Nataku scowled deeper. “What did you mean to do, then? Wake the dead?”
The one in the front bowed until his forehead touched the ground. “I beseech you to be merciful, Lady!”
“Whatever.” Nataku made a shooing motion. “Get out of my sight, before I decide to change my mind.”
“But, His Highness—”
“His Highness may do whatever he wishes, does he not?” Nataku glared at the upstart who dared to question her. She punched at the wall just hard enough to drive the point home and was pleased to see several jump. “Now, scram.” She took a single step forward.
“Don’t make me say it again.”
< - >
— On the Eve of Planet Vegeta’s Destruction —
King Brillo found himself enjoying the book more and more as he kept reading. This account of the Hundred-Year War, despite its rampant inaccuracies, surprised him with its portrayal of the Supojians in a sympathetic light, and pulled no punches when it came to exposing the intrigue and corruption of the Saiyan Empire.
Suggesting that one of their rulers was some pauper off the streets passed off as a legitimate king! Even a Saiyan wouldn’t be able to miss the allusions to the current Royal House. It’s only a matter of time before this book is banned entirely. He turned the page. Such a pity. If the Saiyan were more given to self-examination, they wouldn’t be in such dire straits now.
He frowned as he noticed the console light flashing, indicating an incoming message. He frowned even deeper as the liquid crystal screen showed that it was General Lufa who had the audacity to interrupt his precious personal time. “I thought I made it clear that I was not to be disturbed until we arrived within firing range of Planet Vegeta.”
“Forgive me, my Lord, but there might not be a Planet Vegeta if I delay this report any longer.”
Brillo sat up, tucking a page of the book into itself as a placeholder. “Well, then, out with it. What’s wrong?”
“Frieza’s ship has drawn near geosynchronous orbit over Planet Vegeta, and a battle has erupted in its upper air space. We’re too far away at this point to determine any details, but—”
Brillo smiled. It was not a nice smile. “Karma, my dear general. It will be slightly disappointing that we won’t be able to destroy the Saiyans ourselves, but I knew that they would pay for their treachery one way or another.” He set the book down; as fascinating as it was, something much more entertaining had come up. “Approach as close as you can without being noticed. I want to see this with my own eyes.”
“Of course, Your Majesty. I’ll relay your orders to Engineering.”
< - >
From the looks on his subordinates’ faces, Brillo could see that they, too, had mixed feelings about the destruction of Planet Vegeta. The Suponjians and the Saiyans had waged war for so many long and bloody generations and had just managed to eke out an uneasy peace when the previous Vegeta brought Frieza into the equation. And now, Frieza, being no fool, had eliminated almost all of the Saiyan before history could repeat itself.
Lufa spoke for them all. “Now what, my Lord?”
“Tonight, we meditate on what has happened. I’m sure that what has transpired here was a great shock to many of us and we’ll all need some time to deal with our emotions. Tomorrow, I will meet with the Strategy Group to discuss further plans.” Brillo gave a slight nod. “Dismissed.”
Lufa remained where he was, still staring at the new expanse of space dust flying past the screen. “If you don’t mind, my Lord, I think I’ll stay here a while.”
Brillo nodded again, this time with understanding. “Take as long as you’d like, General.”
< - >
“So.” Nataku managed to suppress a smirk as the Prince flinched at the sound of her voice. “We meet face to face at last, Little Prince.”
The Prince did not reply, but instead rose to his feet, averting her gaze as he did so.
Nataku blocked his progress with her arm. “And where do you think you’re going, Little Prince?”
He tried to sidestep, still not looking at her. “Home.”
“Che, are you high? This is your home now.”
“This is a prison.”
Nataku clapped him on his shoulder. “Congratulations, you figured it out! You must be a genius.”
He pulled her hand off and began stalking down the hall. “Either help me or go away.”
Nataku skipped after him, dancing in front of him every once in a while. “I am helping you, Little Prince. Nobody will dare to bother you as long as I’m around. Plus I know this place like the back of my hand.” She jumped onto a window sill and balanced on one leg. “Including all the secret little corridors the servants use to stay unseen.”
This time he stopped and gave her his full attention. “Where.”
“Nuh-uh. Not gonna be that easy, Little Prince.” She jumped down and landed on one leg. “I might be engaged to you, but I still have no idea who you are.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What do you want?”
“I want my old life back, but since that’s impossible I’ll have to settle for Plan B.” Nataku walked up to the Prince and once again had to hide her pleasure as she realized she was taller than him. “I’m going to make you the best damn King this planet has ever seen, and then I’ll marry you and become the greatest Queen.”
< - >
— On the Eve of Planet Vegeta’s Destruction —
Brillo was starting to get annoyed. At this rate, he would never be able to finish that book. “What is wrong with you, Lufa? What is this big surprise you want to show me?”
Lufa took an ecstatic, dancing step down the hall. “If I told you, my Lord, it would no longer be a surprise. And what a delightful surprise this is!”
Brillo shook his head, wondering to himself if his most trusted general had gone insane with grief. A few minutes later, Lufa paused, indicating that they had reached their destination, and Brillo recognized it as one of the docking bays. In the corner was a large spacecraft bearing a distinctive spherical shape. “You didn’t—” he began to pick up on why Lufa was so excited.
“We did.” Lufa seemed to be on the verge of another joyful outburst, but contained himself as he approached the other crew members, who had gotten the door open and was extracting the still unconscious occupant. “A Saiyan, my Lord! And a powerful one, if the readings are any indication!”
Brillo smiled again, and this one was even less pleasant than his previous grin. “What did I tell you about karma?”
Lufa mirrored the expression. “Should we call the Strategy group in right now?”
“I don’t see why not.”
Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress’ Notes:
The book that Brillo was reading is part of the new (but not necessarily improved) version of Marks of Royalty. More of the story will be quoted and alluded to as the chapters progress.
I’m keeping the new character’s true identity vague this time around, since Vegeta already has enough childhood friends to populate a small village.