The Successors Part II
Phan Sinh Vang lay on his bed, staring blankly into nothingness whilst the court panicked around him.
“What do we do?” screeched one advisor. “He’s in no fit state to rule as it is! And now, of all times, when we have emissaries from other nations in our kingdom!”
“Patience, patience!” shouted Master Chu beside the king’s bed. He tried his best to wear a visage of calmness and control, but those closest to him could recognise the faint, maddened wavering tones in his voice. Chu was a man whose usual weighty burden had now increased a hundred fold, and he was on the verge of snapping violently.
“What we do is we try to carry on as normal,” he continued. “We must not let instability take hold in our kingdom, especially since the last few men that the king trusted have all passed away. We must all keep up the pretence that his majesty is simply battling this… what did we call it? A fearsome malady? But we must not let the world know about his… current state.” Chu risked a glance at the king’s face. He sighed the king’s eyes twitched, but continued their long stare into the abyss.
“Lie? To the court?” questioned the diplomat. “Do you really think we can contain this for much longer?”
“We have to try!” Chu stated, his voice beginning to noticeably quiver. “Otherwise, can you imagine the chaos? Can you imagine someone as ambitious and power-hungry as Trieu hearing of this, and planning to take what rightfully belongs to the divinely-chosen Phan dynasty?”
The diplomat’s eyes widened. “I see your point. I’ll try and keep as quiet as I can.”
Suddenly, Vang uttered a faint moan. His back arched and his limbs began to quake, and he panted helplessly like a fish out of water. He let out another cry and the shaking became more violent, his arms bashing against the walls and his legs flailing in the air – all while the king’s eyes turned wide with fear and pain.
“Physicians!” screamed Chu. “Get the physicians in here at once!”
The diplomat hurried out, shouting for the doctors. They swiftly entered, some clutching boxes of herbs and small tinctures, and held the convulsing king’s limbs as still as they could while they tried to force some crushed leaves and fluid down his throat.
Chu stared at the pitiful spectacle and wondered why the gods had cursed his king to suffer such an untimely and ignoble demise. He remembered when it all began, mere days ago, when his majesty’s face suddenly claimed to have a headache in the middle of the night’s feast. He remembered how his lord’s face began to droop, and how his formal goodbyes were suddenly slurred and hesitant. He remembered how, barely a few minutes later, he heard the piercing screams of a pair of servants, who had found the king collapsed in the hall with a thin line of red drool hanging from his mouth.
He knew that his majesty was not long for this world. But as long as his physicians could keep him alive, and as long as he could claim that the king was simply suffering from illness… he had time to save the kingdom from chaos.
Vang’s convulsions had finally calmed, and he had collapsed on the bed from sheer exhaustion. The physicians crowded around him, questioning each other on the nature of the king’s illness and the best way to treat it. Chu, on the other hand, pulled out a small rectangle of cloth and a little pot of ink from his own satchel and pushed his way through the group.
“Your majesty… your majesty…” he whispered gently. “Please look at me your majesty… I need this one thing from you.”
Vang turned his head towards the voice. His mouth twitched lightly, as if it was trying to form the beginning words, but all that emerged from his lips were squeaks of air.
Chu proffered the piece of paper towards the king. “I just need to you sign this, my liege. Just something, anything – a thumbprint, a cross… please… please!”
The king simply stared at him, gasping helplessly. His eyes were vacant and without life, puffy and red from the tears he shed during his convulsions. Chu knew the king was beyond this mortal realm, in spirit if not in body. Nevertheless, something still had to be done. He gently took the king’s hand – though it was stiff, Vang offered no resistance. He gently dipped his finger into the ink pit, then pressed it against the cloth.
“Very good, your majesty,” breathed Chu. “I shall send this out at once. I… hope you recover soon, my liege.”
The master bowed respectfully, then passed the note to the other advisor. “Send this out to all the provinces. Let it be known that his majesty has passed this edict for the stability of the realm.”
The advisor skimmed the text. “Edict of the Succession?” he questioned. “I don’t see the point in this. Yes, it may clarify for future generations that the king’s first born son should succeed him, and there’s a whole host of other rules here, but his majesty has no blood relatives…”
He stopped talking when he saw Chu’s satisfied expression.
“Are you sure about that, advisor?” he asked.
It was later at night, and Chu was seated in his office. A lamp flickered beside him as he read down the long manuscript that he had at his desk.
Genealogy had long been one of his favoured hobbies, and he had spent many hours of his time poring through and organising the newly-established archives attempting to show the noble bloodlines of all the major families of Au Viet – the Thes, the Songs, and more besides. When he had investigated the royal bloodline, however, he found something very surprising.
Chu placed a finger on the present king’s entry. Phan Sing Vang, son of Phan Thuc Khong and his wife Khiem. He traced his finger up to Phan Thuc Khong, son of Chief Phan Tan Giap of Long Bien and his wife Hoa.
Then he traced to the right…
As far as he could tell, very few people at court had spoken of Khong’s younger brother. It seemed as though he had played some minor role in helping him conquer the disunited Au Viet tribes, and then had vanished from the historical record like a leaf in the wind. What had happened, in fact, was that Khong had made his brother the governor of Quang Nguyen province, a peaceful backwater close enough to the capital so that he could keep an eye on him, yet small enough that any armies raised from that province could pose only a minor threat, and that any attempt by that brother to conquer Long Bien would face the combined might of all the other five provinces as well as Khong’s other conquests.
This branch of the Phan dynasty thus realised that Khong saw them as a danger. Politely discouraged from attending court lest the king find them engaging in excessive skulduggery, the brother threw himself into local rule. He ruled decently, if the fact that he didn’t die before his time hinted anything. More importantly, however, he had married and had fathered two children, including one son who had become the new governor on his death. That son had also married, and had sired children of his own…
Chu’s finger traced down this branch of the family, and landed on the new heir apparent to the Au Viet throne – Phan Doi Manh, the newest governor of Quang Nguyen. Approximately thirty years of age, or so the records claimed, he had ruled adequately for the last seven years after the death of his father, Vang’s cousin. In an even happier coincidence, considering the numerous delegations waiting for a message from the royal court, he was unmarried.
Chu smiled. With Vang childless and with the Edict of the Succession now being spread across the land, Manh would soon realise that he was certain to become the new king. It would not be long before he presented himself at court.
And present himself he did. He rode into Long Bien barely a day after the proclamation had been sent, tearing down the streets on a panting brown horse. He rode straight across the river and headed straight into the courtyard of the royal palace, immediately accosting a guard and announcing his presence at the royal court. Chu was quickly informed, and had to hurry down to meet him.
“Lord Manh,” he spoke, bowing respectfully. “I am Giang Lam Chu, chief advisor to the king. Welcome to Long Bien. I’m sure you know by now that-”
“I am to be the new king?” Manh panted. “Yes, I received news of the edict. I am surprised his majesty formally accepted it, though. He always hated my side of the family – like my great-uncle, he always distrusted it. We never received any communication from him, and when official business did come through it was always curt. Ha! How do you think we could have ever made a plot where we are? Quang Nguyen is swamp and rice paddies, nothing more!” Manh looked around as he spoke. “Where is he, anyway? I know he’s sick, but he could at least have taken the time of day to greet his new heir.”
Chu sighed. “His majesty is… more than just sick, my lord. Follow me.”
“…oh,” breathed Manh, regarding the twitching body of the king.
“You see, my lord?” explained Chu. “This is why we issued the edict. We could not risk a power struggle at court, so we had to make the succession as smooth as possible. If that meant giving the throne to someone our present king hated, so be it. You are a Phan, and your family was chosen by the gods to lead the Au Viet to glory. You are the next eligible member of that family.”
Manh remained silent for a few moments, taking in the wretched sight of the once-great king. “You know,” he finally spoke, “I almost feel pity for him. We may have had our mutual emnity, but… he was a good king, if not a good man. Even then, no man deserves to die in such a way.”
“Indeed, my lord. It is a tragedy.” Chu’s eyes began to glisten with tears. Even if Manh was not a friend of the king, he was, and he almost wept at his condition.
The silence continued, and as the minutes passed Namh’s face seemed to soften even more as both the king’s state and the increasing realisation of the burdens of the throne slowly sank into his mind. Eventually, his own eyes beginning to grow wet, the heir left the king’s bedchamber to compose himself. Chu followed discretely.
“Master Chu,” Manh spoke, “I realise that I am taking on a heavy load by taking the throne. I may have had experience ruling over Quang Nguyen, but to rule a kingdom is a greater task indeed. What do I need to do? How can I best prepare to take up the mantle?”
“Well, my liege, there is actually something we can do now,” Chu replied. “Before the king… took ill, he was searching for a bride of his own. He sent emissaries to the Dvarian kingdom, Kailamantan and Nippon asking for potential brides that he could marry. I know, it sounds like too little and too late, but his majesty was desperate for an heir of his own flesh. Even so, the Dvarians and Kaila immediately sent their own potential matches, and they are currently waiting in Da Nang and Luong Pha Bang respectively. The Nipponese also requested a meeting to present their own daughter. I believe the best path for us is to secure your own marriage to one of these eligible brides, thus securing a valuable alliance in case instability does break out, and to ensure that you produce progeny of your own in good time. What do you say, my lord?”
“That sounds like the best course of action for now,” Manh replied. “I do not know if I have any authority yet, but if you could, please inform the princesses that I will see them in good time and inform the Nipponese that I would be pleased to meet their young princess. And… if you can, may I please have a bedchamber to rest in? I rode without stopping from Quang Nguyen, and I am absolutely exhausted from the ride and from the day’s events.”
“Certainly, my lord,” Chu bowed. “I shall arrange those things for you directly.” He looked into the heir apparent’s eyes, and he saw the fatigue and fear within. “Do not worry, my lord,” he spoke gently. “It may seem daunting now, but you can trust me. You are in safe hands, as long as you tread carefully within the court and follow my advice. Whilst all the courtiers and soldiers here may seem friendly at first glance, there are crocodiles among them who would seek to consume you and take power for themselves. I do not know what the court of Quang Nguyen was like, but here there is a constant struggle for power, authority and favour – and, if I may use this metaphor, you have now become an extremely lucrative pawn in a very interesting game…”
submitted by Senior-Wrangler
[CN] Swallowed Star - Volume 5 Chapter 33
Swallowed Star (IEatTomatoes)
Thon Phe Tinh Khong Synopsis
Year 2056, in a city in the Yuan Jiang Su Jin area. On top of a ruined, shattered six story residential apartment sits a teenager wearing a combat vest, militaristic trousers, and alloyed battle boots. On his back is a hexagonal shield and equipped is a blood-shadow battle knife. He sits there silently on the edge of the roof. At this time, the sparkling sky was shining and there was a refreshing breath within the air that blew towards him. However, there was only silence within the ruined, deserted city, with an occasional howl that makes your heart skip a beat.
Translated by Zebulin
submitted by tarnax10