Chapter 3: Heir Apparent
The rhythmic pounding of one’s feet on dirt mixed with a heavy panting were the only sounds that could be heard in the small courtyard where I made my residence. After reaching my starting and ending point, I stopped running and bent over, gasping for breath. Running laps around my yard had become a morning routine over the last few years.
I was eight years of age. It had been four years since I had begun studying magic, and I could safely say that I had made quite the headway. Even though my talent for the elemental magics was essentially zero, with relentless practice, I could use most intermediate ranked spells. This was already good enough for the past me to be honest. After all, how many other 8 year olds in this world could confidently call themselves Intermediate Ranked Magicians in each of the elements? Of course it would only get harder from there. I was sure that in time I would be able to reach the Advanced level, but past that would be a nearly insurmountable task. That of course did not mean that I would not keep trying. The feeling of magical energy flowing through my body was the most freeing and uplifting feeling that I had ever experienced, and I wanted to see how far I could take it. Luckily for me, my talent with other magics was a little more substantial. Healing magic was the easiest, though still not quite easy per say, and reinforcement magic was just a little bit easier than the elements.
Regardless, I was wiping off the sweat that had accumulated on me after my run when I heard a familiar voice calling out to me.
“Young master, your father is calling for you.”
Turning my head, I saw the butler that had been there since the start of my life. With a smile on my face and sweat still dripping from my brow I turned in direction and nodded.
“Understood. Please let my father know that I will be there shortly. Allow me to get changed first.”
If he was officially calling for me, it would not do to go before him drenched in sweat after all. With a curt nod, he turned on his heel and left, leaving me to wash myself and change before leaving in the direction of the reception hall. This was not the first time over the years that my father had called me in such a way, and it usually carried with it official news of some sort. The last time I was called, the instruction to begin physically training myself was passed down. My father wanted me to have a good foundation for when I finally started training with weapons.
It didn’t take very long for me to finally make my way to the reception hall, as my courtyard was located in a fairly centralized position in our manor. Taking a deep breath, I pushed my way through the massive double door and entered. The room was enormous to say the least. A carpet wide enough for a dozen people to stand side by side ran all the way from the door to where my father sat. It was essentially a throne beneath him, and seated there he radiated power and dominance from his huge frame. Standing offset behind him was an equally large man that I vaguely remember seeing a few times as I was growing up.
Normally, this massive hall would have been filled with people attending to the court. Servants, minor nobles within the city and the like would all be here if my father had been receiving a guest or holding court for a crime, but as it was the gargantuan room felt empty. There was only myself, my father, the man behind him, and a dozen figures kneeling in front of my father. As my made my way in, a few of their gazes flicked toward me. Those eyes held a variety of emotions. Disdain. Contempt. Dissatisfaction. Of course those eyes weren’t the only ones that were held on me. My father stared down from his seated position above us with amusement.
One of the figures kneeling in front of my father stood and sprinted toward me before crashing into my side and clinging to me. It was a little girl, only as tall as my waist. She looked up at me with shining blue eyes filled with joy, and hint of dissatisfaction.
“Why don’t you come visit me anymore? Big Brother Darren never plays with me anymore either. I get so lonely!”
A smile crossed my lips and I lowered my hand down to the 4 year old girl’s head. I patted her head consolingly, but before I could open my lips to speak, another voice barked out.
“Sarah! Know your place! We are in front of our Lord Father. Now return to your position!”
The one calling was a young man whose position was right beside the previous kneeling position of the little girl, Sarah. She looked back and forth between myself and the other youth, confused. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes, not knowing what to do. To reassure her, I smiled and pushed her gently in the direction she was called. She was still confused, but nodded and ran back to take her place among the rest of my siblings.
That’s right, the 12 kneeling figures were all my siblings. Well, half siblings to be exact. I was the only child born from my mother, while everyone else was the son or daughter of one of my father’s other wives. 9 brothers and 3 sisters. To be honest, I was extremely surprised at first to find that I had 4 other ‘mothers’, but over time I got used to it. High nobles marrying a number of different women doesn’t seem to be uncommon in this world, and my father treated them all well. The little girl that had disrupted my entrance was my youngest little sister, Sarah, and the youth who called her back was her full blooded older brother Darren.
Ignoring the gazes of a few of my younger siblings that couldn’t control themselves, I made my way between the two kneeling groups, and lowered myself in the same manner.
“Father, your son has come as ordered.”
There was no response back for a long while. Instead, my father sat there with his cheek propped on one hand, looking at us in amusement. As more time passed, some of the younger children here started to fidget in discomfort. Either they didn’t like to stay in one spot for too long, or their knee was beginning to ache from kneeling. Just when it seemed like one of them would break however, my father barked in laughter and took to his feet.
“Good, good! It seems like my children are not an undisciplined lot! Good! Rise.”
He motioned for us to stand, and as one we did so. Though some of us seemed to be a little unsteady on their feet after standing. It made me wonder how long they had been kneeling before I arrived. Had they been waiting the whole time I was preparing? Before my thoughts could stray further however, the giant of a man in front of us began to speak once more.
“I have decided that now is the time to tell you all of the traditions of the Geralt family. Most of you surely recognize this man standing beside me. This is my brother Bernhardt. He is my right hand man, and my shield bearer in battle. He is also the general of my armies. Aiden, step forward.”
With a nod, I stood forward until standing between my father and uncle. They both looked at me warmly, and I could hear my uncle chuckling under his breath. Several of the children beneath us looked confused to say the least, but a couple of the older ones had a knowing look in their eyes, as though they understood what was going on. With a heavy thump, my father’s massive hand landed on my shoulder.
“Aiden here is my heir. He will be the one to inherit the dukedom and my territory. He will not be able to do everything on his own though. He will need someone that he trusts by his side, and that someone will be one of you.”
He paused, taking a long look at the children in front of them. Their ages ranged from 4 years old, all the way to 14 years. Hair and eye color covered essentially the entire spectrum. Browns and blues and greens with brown, blonde and black hair. It seemed that my father had a varied taste in women. I myself had inherited the brown hair and eyes of my father.
“In the future we will be paying close attention to all of you, and one of you will be chosen as the right hand of the future duke. Regardless of whether you are chosen for that though, try hard. Our land always has positions for those of talent. Dismissed.”
Many of the older children nodded in understanding. While they had not heard the specifics, they had expected it to go somewhat like this. The youngest ones merely looked around in confusion before nodding as well in imitation of their older siblings. I could barely contain a sigh after seeing the many looks of envy and even anger that many of my own brothers sent me. I was an only child in my past life, so I didn’t know what it was like to have siblings. I felt like this was not it however.
Just as everyone was getting ready to leave however, one small figure stood forward. Well, small compared to the giant adults. It was a sibling of mine by the name of Alexander, son of our father’s third wife. Though only a year older than me, he was particularly large for his age, clearly inheriting the size of our father. He stepped forward and looked at me in defiance.
“Why is it already decided that some runt like him is going to be the duke! My sword instructor said that I have the most natural talent he has seen in years! I would make a much better heir than he would!”
I’m sure that I would have been angry if I was truly an 8 year old child, but as I was, all I saw was a child’s outburst. He was right that I was on the smaller side. That had been inherited from my mother.
Alexander glared at me with hatred and defiance. I could tell that he really meant what he said, even if he was only a child. It was not my place to put him down though, and without using my magic, he would probably pound me into the ground anyway.
Instead, my father stepped forward imposingly, and the 9 year old shrunk back. With slow, measured steps, the giant duke approached the rather large child before standing before him. He towered above and cast a wide shadow over the much smaller form. In an instant, a crisp smack echoed through the mostly empty room, shocking all of the children there. Alexander crashed to the ground, his right cheek red from the impact. Our father loomed over him, his right hand still in the air, the back of it still equally red. He sneered at his own child and his voice boomed throughout the hall.
“I had thought that all of my children were worthy of praise. I didn’t realize that a worthless one who would destroy our tradition had slipped through.”
Alexander could only stare in horror at the giant man. He was still only a child after all, brought up to be nobility, it is unlikely that he had ever been struck outside of weapons training. His breathing quickened, and he looked between Father and myself in a panic. He had probably never expected that his outburst would be dealt with so harshly. He hurriedly feel to his hands and knees and prostrated himself.
“Forgive me Lord Father, I spoke out of turn. It was not my place.”
His body was shivering and his voice trembled, but the man before him did not soften in the slightest.
After a moment he scoffed, breaking the silence.
“That’s enough. Everyone leave.”
All of the children bolted in a hurry, but as I made my way to follow, a massive hand pressed firmly on my shoulder. I felt like my uncle was bolting me to the ground, and I couldn’t take a single step. Strong. He must be very strong.
After all of my siblings left, our father finally let out a sigh of relief and turned to face me. His eyes were no longer filled with the cold gaze of an executioner. Instead, they held warmth and understanding. He smiled and patted my open shoulder.
“Good work. You didn’t lose your cool when challenged. That’s my son.”
He strolled past me and slumped once again into his seat, much less imposing now. Instead, he seemed relaxed and carefree.
“You are probably asking why this happened today. Some of your siblings are barely old enough to understand, while some of them had already expected such an event.”
I nodded. The thought had passed my mind. He could have just told me in private, but instead made it a big announcement to all of my siblings. While they had not been explicitly told prior, it was clear that some of the older children fully understood that they were not going to be the heir. Some clearly hated me for it. Of those that were old enough to understand, very few of them did not resent me. It was almost like a show of force. Only one had been brave enough to speak out, and he had been shut down immediately, solidifying myself in that place.
“It is because the time has come for you to prove to them that you will be a lord worth serving. It is time for you to train in earnest.”
Both my father and uncle looked down at me while grinning. They were clearly excited to see what would happen. To see my reaction.
“It is time for you to learn the sword.”
A/N: Thank you for reading, if you did so~ Next chapter on the way sunday, so look forward to it.