In a small island undiscovered by great colonizers, was a flourishing empire called Aldhambra. People were curious and decisive to explore science and numbers as the Moorish were, yet religion raised fear and confusion as to prevent them from going beyond the knowledge, just as what the neighboring countries of Christendom had implemented.
When the mighty emperor of Aldhambra died because of a plague still unknown to many, strange phenomena started to occur, thus causing the first huge rally in the history of the empire. What they wanted was a change of the royal family as the heir to the throne was perceived incompetent to rule.
Lord Josiah of Swynwick castle, the richest man in nobility and the son of the late emperor's brother, was the best candidate to replace the crown prince. Will he be able to bring peace and order once again through his new kind of ruling? Or will his reign be the end for the entire empire?
This is the journey of a man whose best confidant was a vassal of his house -- a woman pretending to be a man at that.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, songs, places, events and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Chapter 1 - Jemicah
Aldhambra center market
"It's struck her, she's dead!" A servant of my humble house told me in panic as we met discreetly in the market.
One merchant was distracted by the message, which I believed was the most heard news being disseminated by many these days. He put some sack of rice into place before leaning over to inquire about the matter.
"Must be the plague, eh?" He asked, certain that it was the only reason of this conversation filled with fear and worry. "Young lad, which village are you from?"
"I'm from the West. Our village has the most number of deaths, so they say." I spoke bluntly, like a man of full confidence though in the inside, I only wanted to scream and cry like a little child who just lost her mother.
The merchant closed his eyes for a moment, as if chanting a prayer. "God save the soul of another poor man. I live in the Northwest, just a few steps away from our boundary. Anytime soon we could all die."
I myself couldn't help but close my eyes at the thought of it. As though I wanted to imitate him, I only prayed to God my mother would reach the paradise and not the abyss we believed to be ruled by unpleasant creatures.
She may have not been the perfect mother to me, but I knew she did her best to take care of my twin sister. I couldn't blame her nor my family to why I was needed to be disowned and hidden by my own clan. None of these was their choice, because it was tradition to kill the second baby when born a twin. The law said two babies of the same mother brought bad omen, and a threat to the monarchs ordained by God himself.
"Is my sister well? No signs that she's affected by the plague?" I asked, frightened that she could be next.
The servant, who was just a man younger than I was, nudged his head. "She's being taken care of your relatives in the East. There's nothing to worry about her, she's safe."
I breathed heavily, in relief at least. God knew how much I longed to see them, but I could only stare from afar otherwise my whole house would meet its downfall.
I belonged in the house of Mathar Kiriam with a promising fortune, enough for being the 3rd rank in nobility. My father worked in the council of justice, and I often saw him in the palace as I was always with my lord Josiah. Nevertheless, my father seemed not to have any clue that I was his daughter disguised as a man.
"Thank you, you may go now." I said and gave him two pennies for his service. "No one shall learn of this meeting."
I watched the servant walked off the streets, a part of him I quite envy. He was free to see my family, yet I was not. I had my own land, while he had nothing but a few pennies, and yet he was free to act his gender. Through my lord's grace I was given a name of my choice, Micah. I was adopted by their house when I was ten, and since then I devoted my life into service as a man, a servant, a knight, and even a friend to the heir of Swynwick castle.
No one knew of my disguise except the headmistress, who only kept her mouth shut until now because she took pity of my situation. She said it wasn't my choice to be born as a twin, and that no one was going to adopt me anyway had I lived my life as a woman. In fact, she respected me equally because I was able to hold it longer than she expected. I was growing pretty with my chest bigger, and my waist slimmer as any lady could be, yet I was tough as a man. Even my lord's fighting skills were no match to what I was capable of.
I rode the horse on my way to the castle. I used to only wear a knight's armor even if I wasn't going to war because these were the best clothes to hide my full breast.
"My lord!" I uttered, and as soon as I dismounted, I took a step foward to make a bow; my knees on the ground, and my right arm on my chest.
He placed the sword on my shoulder, and when I glanced up, he was looking forward for a duel.
"I've been training hard since you left, Micah. Now it's an order to take my challenge." He said, gracefully as ever.
I stood up and pulled a sword as well. I could never refuse him so I wouldn't mind getting a small wound, perhaps, out of this fight. I wanted to let him win, but I knew he would find it an insult if I seemed to be defeated on purpose.
He started the attack, running forward, his sword pointing directly towards me. The way he held it was predictable, so in an instant I had the chance to wield mine and blocked his. With my full strength, I nudged his sword and partly twisted my body so I could trip him through his ankle. I may not be the strongest person given that I was only a woman, yet I moved the quickest, so in almost just a blink of an eye, he was lying over the field, and my sword pointing towards him in victory.
Chapter 2 - Josiah
Since my father was in sickbed, I found sword fighting a great help to release my anxiety. I decided to train hard by myself from now on. For as the second man of the house and the sole heir to our vast fortune, I knew our people were expecting a lot from me. I was barely good at anything but books. I wasn't into sports or any physical activities, and I could not even protect myself so I kept my vassal, my personal servant by written law with me all the time.
I was a scholar of medicine, studying the nature of animals in particular. We were able to dissect the frog only because of our interest although it was out of our field and considered sin. But some of us brave and curious scholars continued to do so in hopes of finding a lead to the very source of plague and a possible cure for it.
With one final whip, I turned around the thin air and swung my sword pretending to have killed my enemy, until I pushed it down the muddy ground in victory. I was heavily panting when I caught sight of my vassal, looking so distant on his horse. I didn't want to look tired in front of him so I had to compose myself and pulled back my sword. I dared not to miss another chance to battle with him and finally, if my luck allowed me this time, defeat him.
"My lord!" he called in his usual high-pitched voice. He then bent down to pay his respects, and at once, I was glad that he's back to keep my company.
"I've been training hard since you left, Micah." I said, casually holding my sword on my right hand. He looked quite surprised at my sudden enthusiasm, which was good because fear may cause distraction, and distraction to defeat. "Now it's an order to take my challenge."
He took a step back and grabbed his sword as well. He seemed pleased to do this, as if regarding this as a favor than a real duel.
I had myself well-prepared for the two days that he was gone, so why it was that I hardly even gave out my best strength when he won at once; and I, as if tricked by his wit, was now lying with my back on the field. Perhaps I had been too exhausted from practicing that I missed his strategy to defeat the opponent in his own fastest way.
He held out a hand to me, offering no hidden scheme but just a sign of truce and friendship. But as they say, even if you were not the best swordsman to outwit your enemy, you could always play tricks on them.
Once I held his hand, I harshly pulled him closer and nudged my sword toward his stomach, but in his haste, he moved sidewards so I had his arm wounded. As soon as I let go, he was bleeding. There was a moment of silence between us, and I could not even triumph as the victor, considering I hurt him and I felt bad because he appeared to be in so much pain.
But there was one thing I realized about the way he fought: he wasn't so strong as a man could be, he was only quick.
"We should bring you to the infirmary," I suggested as a friend and not his lord this time.
"I'm fine, my lord. This is nothing," he replied although I could see the pain he was holding in through his lady-like face. "It was a nice duel, you've improved a lot, my lord."
I knew he wanted to say I tricked him so I could win, but then again it would be crossing the line of chivalry. I could not even apologize to him directly as we were no longer children who had no full knowledge of the ranking system in society. Even uttering the word 'sorry' to a servant was considered inappropriate.
"I'll come with you," I said no matter how he insisted to go alone. I'd been wanting to ask him about the village anyway. "How's the people outside? Do you think my father has the plague?"
I could only trust Micah for this mission so I personally assigned him to observe the village and report to me the symptoms and the herbal medicine being used by the villagers to at least ease the pain. Our family physician would not even do something about it, because it was treason to give medicines out of their league to a royal duke.
"I'm afraid so, my lord. They say the fever lasts for a week, and then there will be rashes all over the body, some would even have bruises, and dark circles under their eyes," he told, and from his pocket, he handed me a bag of herbal plants. "I bought it from the merchant in the center market. They sell it for quite an expensive amount since it's a rare plant."
I heaved a smile, pleased as I was, but seeing him still hurt, my conscience struck me again.
"My lord, I can go by myself now, you must hurry to see your father before it's too late." He said as if blocking my way to enter the clinic. I realized he would not move an inch away so I could take my leave and do what I have to do.
"I'll see you later, Micah. Get well," I merely uttered, turned my back from him, and went to the main castle where my father's chamber was located.