The cathedral erupted in cheers and applause. I shouted and clapped along with everyone else, but my heart wasn’t in it.
“It had to be done, Conrad.”
My father had never looked so regal before, standing on the steps to the altar, the purple robe and heavy crown resting on his shoulders and head as if he’d been born to them. Smiling, he lifted one hand as if in benediction, and the cheering doubled in volume. It only began to die down when the trumpeters began to play a triumphant fanfare.
Still smiling, my father started down the stairs. He paused at the first pew, and I joined him, making sure a smile was pasted on my face. We paced down the long aisle together. The cheers began again, accompanied by flowers.
“He was destroying the nation. If things continued as they were, there would have been rebellions and famines everywhere in only five or ten years.”
The doors to the cathedral were wide open. Guards were working to push back the crowd outside the door, making a pathway through the city to the palace. We stopped in the doorway for a brief second. I blinked in the sunlight, my ears filled with the loud roar of the crowd. More flowers were thrown on the street.
“Hail the king!” Someone in the crowd started the shout, and it spread quickly. “Hail the king! Hail the king!”
My father started forward again, his warm smile firmly in place. I followed a half-step behind.
“Hail the king! Hail!”
“I tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. I had to do something.”
We made only one detour on the way to the palace: a brief stop in the royal graveyard to leave flowers on the fresh graves of my uncle and his son, killed together in an accident so horrific their bodies had been nearly impossible to identify. My aunt hadn’t yet come out of her rooms where she had locked herself in to grieve. I wondered if she knew the truth.
“Believe me, son, I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t necessary.”
That necessary tradition fulfilled, we resumed our walk to the palace. I kept my head up, looking forward. I didn’t want to see the flowers my feet were crushing into the paving stones. Innocents bleeding and dying.
The cheers and cries of “Hail!” didn’t end until we reached the throne room. My father ascended the stairs to the throne and sat down in perfect silence. There was one final cheer, and then I was stepping forward and kneeling in front of the throne.
How could you do it? How could you how could you how could you...
“We name thee, Conrad, our heir and prince, and bestow upon thee the dukedom of Harasall. Swear now thine oath, and take up thine office!”
How could I?
“I pledge my life and honor to thee, my lord and king, and...” The words I’d memorized only last night fell easily from my lips, the age-old oath of fealty and service, binding me to my father and king.
“We accept thine oath, and pledge unto thee our protection and love in return for thy loyalty. Rise now, and take thy place beside our throne.”
“It had to be done, Conrad. It had to be done.”
I stood, bowed deeply, and went to stand beside my father—my father, a usurper and murderer.