Xavior was hiding in the stables. It was the one place he could escape too, where the horses listened and he felt the most at peace. Today was his eleventh birthday, and, for his people, this was a very important birthday, marking the end of his childhood, and the beginning of kingship training with his father.
The last few days his older sisters had been fussing over him non-stop. Having had enough, he decided avoidance was the best option. So many thoughts ran through his mind, but always came back to one; his grandmother, Magdalena. With no explanation, she had fled the kingdom the night of his birth.
“Why did she leave? What did I do?” The black gelding in the stall beside him snorted in sympathy.
“No one knows the answer to that my sweet.” He had been so deep in his thoughts, Xavior hadn’t even heard his Aunty Zavia enter.
He’d always felt as if the people were keeping something from him. “Or no one will tell me the truth. She’s my Grandmother Aunty, and she abandoned her kingdom, and me. Why?”
“I don’t know child. Come now, you are late for the festivities, and not yet even dressed!” In true Zavia fashion, she quickly changed the subject. “Whatever will I do with you? It’s not every day our young prince turns eleven, you should be excited!” He was grateful that she had always treated him just as any other boy.
“I know, I’m…” He kicked a heap of dirt at his feet. “I’m nervous.”
“Oh, my child, it is common to have nerves, but this will not be the last crowd you face, so it’s best to get used to it now.”
“Thanks for reminding me, Aunty.” Xavior said, childishly rolling his eyes.
“Come now, Xavior, I have something for you.” She flashed him a smile as she reached around her neck and unclasped her necklace. “I want you to have this. Happy Birthday, my boy.”
“Aunty, I couldn’t! You’ve had that longer than I’ve been alive!”
“It has served me well through many years.” She held the gift out for him.”I pray it will now do the same for you as you begin a new journey in your own life.”
Curled up within her palm lay the symbol he recognized all too well. It was the very symbol that flew high atop the castle peaks and rode alongside the soldiers as they marched out to battle. A snake in the shape of a circle, the end of its tail caught within its own jaws. “Now dress, and be quick about it. They await you, Xavior.”
He saw a tear escape her cheek and soak into her apron. Zavia had never been keen on sentiment, so he stole a quick hug before running out of the barn. Just before he reached the door, he turned and held up the necklace. “Thank you, Aunty Zavia, I will treasure it always.”
Xavior was born the day of the winter solstice, and the beginning of the festival of Yuletide, when his people would celebrate the mark of longer days ahead, and the rebirth of the sun’s power and spark of life. All had rejoiced when his parents finally brought a son into the world, and it was thought to be a wonderful omen to their culture that he had been born at this time.
The major event of the Yuletide season was the grand feast, and as Xavior stood outside the doors to the dining hall, he could almost taste the food it smelled so good. He summoned the courage to go inside.
As expected, he was greeted by a swarm of dresses and squeals. “You look so handsome, Xavior!” Krisztina cooed.
“Our baby boy is turning into a man, before our very eyes!” Ibolya said, pinching his cheeks.
“No sister, a King!” Helena proclaimed, lifting his arms into the air and dancing about.
The dining table was overflowing with sweet and savoury dishes of every kind, and the hall was decorated beautifully for the festivities. The Yule tree had been brought inside to keep the wood spirits warm over the winter months, with bells and treats hung from its branches and the sacred star placed a top.
The people of the kingdom sang and danced into the night, but when a commotion broke out near the doors, the King rose from his seat and the people fell silent. The King’s man looked as if he’d just seen a ghost, and bowed before he spoke. “Queen Magdalena has returned, your Majesty.”
A wave of shock rippled across the people. “She’s in the library and wishes an audience with her grandson, Prince Xavior.” The King’s face turned an angry shade of red, and he looked to his son. Awash with disbelief, Xavior managed a nod to his father and the King announced that the festivities were over for the evening.
An excerpt from the short story ‘The Eleventh Hour’ by Jacqueline Knighton.