This chapter: Enter princess!John... or... well.. Regent!John... Wouldn't he be edible in Jasmine's clothes? *drools*
Title: The Jewel and the Regent
Rating: T so far... will be NC-17 in later chapters. :D
Chapter 2: There's So Much More
Summary: In which John is irresponsible and runs away from home... Still an SGA version of Disney's Aladdin.
Previous Chapters: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3707373/1/The_Jewel_and_The_Regent
There's So Much More
The palace cut into the sky on a rocky outcropping that rose above the city. It had stood for generations beyond memory, made from a shining white marble stone that set it apart from the dull grays and browns of buildings that more common people lived in. Legend said it had been made by the servants of the Ancestors in a grand attempt to honor them. Those who set foot within its great halls often felt humbled by its majesty. Ornate carvings were set into the walls, statues lined the walkways, twisting corridors suddenly opened up into giant gardens set around glistening two-story high fountains. While it was much more complex than the simplicity of the Ancestors Gifts, it was just as impressive. The aura of awe that surrounded it seemed to prompt peace.
“I’ve never been so insulted!” a high pitched voice cut the air as a man resplendent in clothing made of rich silks burst in from the central garden. His long blond hair was pulled into a tail that reached nearly to the center of his back. His face was flushed, golden spectacles skewed to one side.
“My Lord Kavanaugh,” came the soothing voice of Elizabeth Weir from her seat to the right of him. She set her book down and stood gracefully, her red gown flowing out behind her as she stepped closer to him. The golden circlet on her forehead glinted in the light almost as brightly as her shining auburn hair. “You’re not leaving are you?”
“Not leaving? Of course I’m leaving. I don’t know how you expect anyone to win him over. He’s completely—”
“I might not finish that sentence,” Elizabeth said diplomatically. “You are talking about the Regent, remember?” She arched a fine eyebrow. Kavanaugh grumbled.
“Fine. I’m leaving,” he stated. Without another word, he swept out of the room, headed for the palace gates. Elizabeth sighed. Kavanaugh had been the sixth one this week.
“John?” she called as she stepped out into the garden. The sun pouring onto the trees and flowers made their colors even brighter, and the great fountain sparkled almost with a light of its own. It was a beautiful day outside. That didn’t seem to stop the small storm clouds of frustration from bursting in Elizabeth’s head. “John!”
“Over here, Elizabeth,” came the laconic reply. She followed the sound to find him sprawled out on a bench underneath a palm tree, one leg up and the other draping down to kick at the grass. He leaned against the trunk, the black of his clothes offsetting the silver bracelets and necklace he wore. Large emeralds glinted out from the jewelry, but somehow he exhibited an air of casualness that dampened the effect the finery had. Or maybe it wasn’t so much an air of casualness as it was the mop of messy black hair.
John had never looked completely at home in the clothing of his station. It was probably because he’d only had a year to get used to it, Elizabeth mused. After Sumner had died so suddenly, John had been forced to take his place as Regent. Elizabeth felt a pang of grief at the thought of her deceased lover. Acting as Regent hadn’t been easy on him, and though he was a hard and sometimes ruthless man, Elizabeth had come to love him in her way. Now that he was gone, she was truly feeling the weight of her title. It wasn’t easy ruling as the acting High Consort either.
Of course, John must be feeling the burden of his responsibility now, but he should be better prepared for it than she had been. After all, John had been discovered at an early age and placed in the care of the scholars at the palace in order to prepare him for the day when he might eventually become Regent. Three Hopefuls were chosen every generation. They were first discovered through their closeness to the Ancestors as was exhibited by their innate abilities with the Gifts. After that, they spent years being trained to be both the mouthpiece for the Ancestors and the figurehead protector of the people. John had seemed happy to let Sumner take the position. Sumner had never liked John, anyway, and knowing he was next in line to rule as Regent had seemed to cause his hostility towards John to magnify. John was charismatic, of that there was no doubt, but he was also reckless and hot-headed, as was exhibited by his treatment of Lord Kavanaugh today.
“John—” she started in an angry tone, but was cut off by a quiet rumbling growl and a massive head bumping into the back of her knees. “Oh! You startled me, Ronon,” she chastised, stooping down slightly to scratch behind the ears of the huge lion. Ronon took the attention and then slunk over to lay at John’s feet. Elizabeth followed him to stand underneath the shade.
“Mind telling me why Kavanaugh stormed out as if you’d insulted his ancestry?” Elizabeth asked. John flashed a wicked grin.
“Oh, probably because I did,” he answered, seemingly unconcerned. Elizabeth let out another tired sigh. She’d been doing that a lot lately.
“John, you have to stop rejecting everyone,” she said, moving to sit next to him on the bench in a rustle of skirts. “The law says you must choose a Consort within a year—”
“Of being appointed Regent, I know,” John cut her off. “Begging your pardon, Elizabeth, but the law is stupid.”
“You only have two more weeks to choose,” Elizabeth pointed out. John shrugged.
“Plenty of time,” he said, giving her another lazy grin. She held his eyes in a questioning stare.
“Stop it,” she said gently. “You know it’s never worked with me.” She watched as John turned away from her to scratch Ronon on the head. When he turned back, the devil-may-care expression he usually wore had turned into something much more intense.
“Elizabeth, I hate being forced into this. You know that the title of Regent makes me little more than a…a cause to rally the Guards. All the people want is to see me pampered and complacent, not to make any real decisions. Everything is decided by the Council, and they’ve been controlling my life for the past 20 years.” He looked away from her with a frown. “It seems like all anyone really wants from me is to watch me make the Gifts light up and then worship me as if I’m some sort of demi-god. I didn’t ask for this.”
“I know. It may be hard to affect change in our positions, but think about how much more we could do than those who have no voice. I’ve been working with the Council recently, and they’re becoming more interested in the things I have to say. It’s a slow battle,” she explained. “Try to understand. As soon as the year is up, I remain here simply as High Consort to the Fallen Regent. I won’t have the voice or the small amount of power that I do now. I want to make sure that you’re taken care of.” She let her affection for him suffuse her last words. She placed her hand on his arm and gave a slight squeeze. John smiled sadly, then stood and walked a few paces away.
“You try to understand, Elizabeth,” he said after a pause, looking back at her. “I haven’t been outside the palace since I was 12 years old. It wasn’t so bad before with Sumner… no one seemed as concerned with where I was every second of the day, and I was slightly free to have as much of my own life as the Council would allow…but now I feel like I’m some animal in a zoo. Hell, the only real friend I have is Ronon.” The great lion gave a loud rumble at the mention of his name.
“You know that’s not true, John,” Elizabeth said. “I know it must be hard, but it’s your duty—”
“My duty?” John cut her off, his eyes blazing with a quiet fury. “How the hell can it be my duty when I’ve never been given a choice in the matter!?” He clenched his fists at his sides and turned his back to her. Elizabeth’s eyes snapped up and she stood abruptly.
“Yes, it’s unfair, but for once, maybe you should stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about your people. Because whether you want them or not, John, they are yours.” Her usually calm and melodic voice had taken on an intensity it rarely did. John had always been able to push her too far. “The bottom line is that you’ll just have to learn to deal with it.” And with one last heated glare in his direction, she left him with his thoughts.
John winced, then turned to walk deeper into the garden, Ronon trailing his heels. The beauty of the scenery failed to reach him. All the finery in the world was pointless when it was thrust upon you. The helplessness of his situation seemed to be closing in on him. His body was constantly pumping out adrenaline, but there was nowhere to run. At every turn he hit a wall, whether that was in the form of Elizabeth, the Council, or the responsibility that Sumner had left him.
He knew that he must choose a Consort, but his instincts all rallied against it. It wasn’t just that he was helpless, he also refused to force his situation on anyone else. He didn’t want to do to someone else what had been done to Elizabeth… how she’d been forced to abandon her home, even a man she loved, because Sumner had decided she was the most pleasing to him. If there was love involved, that might be different, but John didn’t fool himself into thinking that he’d find love in the short matter of two weeks. He put up with the parade of men and women seeking his attention without really intending to pick any of them. None of them really wanted him, anyway; they all just wanted what they thought was an extravagant and care-free lifestyle. Most of them probably wouldn’t care that they had to give up their freedom to attain it.
He stopped as he reached the edge of the garden. Golden cages filled with brightly colored song birds stood here to add a layer of music on top of the tinkling rush of the fountain. Suddenly, their songs seemed to take on a sad note to him; he certainly knew what it was like to live in a gilded cage. One of Ronon’s large paws cuffed John lightly in the back of the thigh as he stared at the birds, jolting him out of his thoughts.
“Well,” he said, pausing to give a short couple of pats to Ronon’s muzzle, “it’d be a shame for all of us to be stuck here.”
He walked over to the cages and one by one twisted the catch that opened the doors. In a flurry of feathers, he watched as the birds flew off into the endless sky that stretched beyond the palace walls.
Not for the first time, John wished that he could somehow taste the freedom of flight.
Elizabeth stormed into the throne room, her face twisted into a grimace of frustration. She sat down abruptly on the smaller of the two jeweled seats. John could be so childish sometimes. He hated responsibility and prized a freedom he’d never really had above everything else. If he only tried, she knew that he could make a much bigger difference than she could ever hope to. Times were changing, slowly but surely, and John’s easy charisma would inspire more than enough loyalty in the Council to get past some of the bureaucracy and force them to take action. With the number of people starving in the streets, the unrest that permeated the middle class, and the dogmatic religious views being taken to extremes, action was needed now more than ever.
She wished John could just get past his obsession with escaping it all. Elizabeth understood what it was like to give up freedom better than anyone. Though she still missed her home and the people she’d left behind most days, she had gained the unique position to perhaps stop similar pain from being inflicted on others. It was a sacrifice, but one that she hoped would eventually be for the greater good. If only she could get John to see it that way.
She was startled out of her brooding thoughts by a long shadow that fell over the folds of her skirt. Looking up, she locked eyes with the Leading Voice of the Council.
“Kolya,” she greeted. “I didn’t see you come in.”
“Please forgive me if I startled you, my lady,” he oozed with a bow. Elizabeth bit back a wince. Something about him had always made her uneasy. “Tell me,” he continued, “how goes the search for the next High Consort?”
“You know John,” she said. “I doubt we’ll ever get him to agree to taking a lord or lady as Consort, and he seems even less interested in searching among the royalty of other lands.”
“Thankfully Sumner had no such qualms, else we wouldn’t have the pleasure of being graced with your presence,” Kolya interjected. The pang of old loss hit Elizabeth. It seemed to be one of Kolya’s favorite things to remind her of where she’d come from in a way that could never be overtly taken as an insult but that always stung just as painfully.
“What was it exactly that you wanted?” she asked, her tone of voice carefully hiding any animosity she felt towards him. Kolya flashed a smile that looked as if it had been painted on.
“I was wondering if I might offer my services in finding the Regent a suitable companion,” he said. “All I require to do so is the Gem of Recall.”
Elizabeth glanced down at where the Gift of the Ancestors dangled from her golden belt.
“You know I can’t offer that, Kolya,” she said. “It’s a Gift that must only be held by the High Consort.” Kolya’s brows knitted together.
“I wouldn’t worry about that, my lady. I will return it to you as soon as I’m finished with it.”
As he said this, he tilted his left wrist slightly towards her. The motion was so subtle it wouldn’t have been noticed except for the loud whirring noise that emitted from the thick bracelet he wore. A bright purple light suffused the room, and when it had passed, Kolya was gone.
Elizabeth had no memory of their conversation, nor did she notice the Gem of Recall had disappeared from her belt. It was as if the past few minutes had not occurred, and she continued to worry over the situation with John like there had been no interruption.
Kolya swept through the palace towards his personal laboratory. He briefly touched the manacle on his left wrist. The discovery of this particular Ancestors’ Gift had been most fortunate for him. Of course, no one but the Regent was allowed to actually make use of the Gifts, and anyone caught abusing them would face the highest amount of scorn. Kolya chuckled.
How would anyone punish him for an act they couldn’t remember?
A cloaked figure slipped down the Great Hallway, keeping to the shadows. He let out a quiet curse as he noticed another Guard on patrol. Cutting back in order to avoid being seen, he hid behind a statue until the Guard had passed. This just wasn’t working. It’d been hard enough sneaking out of his suite of rooms without being noticed. He was starting to wonder if it would be possible to escape at all.
After another hour of attempting to get closer to an exit, John was about ready to admit defeat. Doubling back for the fifth time, he padded silently through several dark, interconnected rooms. It was the middle of the night, and the only light was coming from windows that allowed the moon to shine in. Except the only windows were on the right, and John could see a faint light creeping across the floor from the left. He decided to see where it was coming from. He wasn’t making any real progress, anyway.
The light turned out to be a lamp lit in a small office near the infirmary. Peaking through the half-open door, John could make out a hunched figure seated at the lone desk. John rarely ventured to this part of the palace as his only memories of being in the infirmary were…unpleasant, to say the least.
As the man at the desk stretched and yawned, he turned slightly so that John could see his profile. With a grin, the Regent slipped into the room.
“Hey, Doc,” he said abruptly after watching the man for a minute or two. Carson Beckett jumped and whirled around in his chair, eyes wide.
“Bloody hell!” he exclaimed. “Give a man some warning next time!”
John just grinned wider. They’d met when the foreign doctor had been appointed Head of Medicine at the palace, and Carson had insisted on examining all those who would be considered under his care. Unfortunately in John’s eyes, the Regent had fallen under that category. His various training-related injuries over the years had taught him to hate hospitals. He hated doctors in general, actually, who were normally morons who did more harm than good with herbal cures and spiritual healing. John had expected the worst.
Only the strange thing about Carson was that he didn’t buy into that school of thought at all. When John had braced himself for some lunatic to come into his quarters and rub different nasty smelling salves all over his skin, balance a piece of wood on his head and then tell him to grind it up and eat it with his eggs in the morning, Carson had bustled in, checked his pulse, looked into his eyes and throat, taken a blood sample, and then asked him if he had any health concerns he wished to discuss. John had blinked in amazement. No doctor had ever asked him how he actually felt before. Mostly, doctors were the ones who told John how he should be feeling according to their examination. If he didn’t feel that way, they would scoff at him like he was an idiot.
Over Carson’s time at the palace, John liked to think he and the doctor had built up a mutual respect of some sort. John still avoided the infirmary like he avoided the heat of desert sand, but Carson usually checked in with him once every other week to see how he was doing. They weren’t really friends, per se, as John didn’t get close enough to anyone for that. Most people didn’t really see John but rather the figure he represented. It was better to keep his distance and save himself the disappointment. He’d never live up to anyone’s expectations, anyway.
“What in the Ancestors’ names are you doing up this late, anyway?” John asked.
“I could ask you the same thing. And roaming the halls in a cloak, no less? If I were a more suspicious man, I’d say you were up to something,” Carson replied. He raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been having a bit of trouble stirring up trouble, ironically,” John said.
He steeled himself. There was really nothing for it. He probably wouldn’t be able to do this on his own, and the respect he held for Carson prompted him to trust the man a little more than he would otherwise. The worst that could happen would be for him to end up caught and back in his own quarters, which seemed to be the way things would go if he continued to sneak around the corridors aimlessly looking for an escape route.
“So… if you’re not doing anything too important, want to help me find a way out of the palace that isn’t overrun by Guards?” John winced. There was just no way to say that casually. Carson’s eyes widened.
“Is that what you’re trying to do, then?” he asked. “Why do you think I would help you with such a nefarious plan?” There was a ghost of a grin about Carson’s face.
“I could just order you to help me,” John pointed out. Carson snorted.
“I’m sure you could. Doesn’t necessarily mean I’d do it. I’m not technically one of your subjects, anyway.” John chuckled. He never had been able to cow Carson with threats or the privilege of his position. It was one of the things he liked most about the doctor. As John’s laugh faded, Carson’s face suddenly became serious.
“I don’t see what you hope to gain from this,” he chastised. “There’s no way they’d all just overlook the fact that you’d gone missing, you know.”
“I know,” John said, looking at the ground. Carson had the annoying ability of making him feel like a misbehaving child.
“Then what, pray tell, is the point of this exercise?”
“…I want to know what it’s like again,” John muttered after a long pause.
“What what’s like?”
“Being… allowed to do what I want,” John stated quietly. “Able to talk to people without them looking at me like—like I’m some sort of all-powerful freak. Being free…” John trailed off, refusing to meet Carson’s eye.
He didn’t like to talk about his feelings. With Elizabeth, he was flippant, acted like he didn’t care. When that failed, (and it usually did) he’d act angry or frustrated. She was the only one who could get an honest answer out of him. He hated leaving himself vulnerable. If there was anything his training to become Regent had taught him, it was that weakness of any sort was unacceptable.
When he looked up, Carson was staring at him blankly. He looked more surprised than anything else. John was heartened by the fact that he didn’t see any anger, or worse, pity.
“Look, Carson, I know that I won’t be able to be gone long. It’s not like I have any idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. Hell, the Guard’ll probably find me by the end of tomorrow even if they’re not trying too hard,” John said. “But before I’m forced to pick some damn High Consort who I don’t really know or care about all for the supposed good of my people… I want to feel what it’s like to be normal again. Even if it’s only for one day.” Carson’s eyebrows raised.
“You do realize that if I were to help you and I was found out, it could go very badly for me,” he said. John frowned. He hadn’t really thought about that.
It was true that many of the Council had vehemently opposed giving a foreigner the position of Head of Medicine. That same faction was constantly looking for an excuse to get rid of Carson. It was frustrating for them that Carson did his job too well and was hailed by many to be the most brilliant medical mind of his time. Helping John to escape would provide the perfect opportunity for them to justify running Carson out. John sighed.
“I guess you’re right. Listen, I’ll just try to slip past them myself. Unless you plan on raising the alarm.” John really hoped Carson wouldn’t. If he did, it would be impossible to try again tomorrow night. With a short nod to the doctor, John turned to leave.
He was stopped when Carson grabbed onto his sleeve. He looked back to see the man’s blue eyes twinkling in amusement.
“So dramatic. Always taking risks yourself and never letting anyone else do it for you,” he said, standing abruptly. “Come on, then. The Council doesn’t have me fearing them as much as they’d like, nor do I hope they ever will.” With a short smile, Carson turned and beckoned him through the door that led out of his office and into the infirmary.
John stared after him for a moment, and then slowly began to follow. Carson led him through a softly lit wing that housed mostly empty beds and random equipment. After a few twists and turns, they came to a dark hallway that had an air of solemnity about it that was caused from more than just the darkly painted walls.
“Where are we?” John asked in a whisper.
“Ah, well… The apprentices like to call this the One Way Hall. It’s the only way out of the palace that isn’t guarded.” Carson grimaced. “They don’t really need to, I suppose. The only people we usually take through here are the ones who won’t be coming back.” He smiled weakly at John.
John’s eyes widened. He prayed that this wouldn’t be a bad omen for the rest of his trip. It did have a morbid kind of humor about it, though. John would like nothing more than to never have to return to the palace. When he was forced to come back here, he only hoped this hallway wouldn’t be the path he took the next time he managed to get out.
After walking for a few minutes, they finally came to the end of the hall. A large iron door stood at the end, bolted shut from the inside. Carson slid back the lock and pulled it open with a creak. His right hand went to grip John’s shoulder.
“Good luck, lad,” he said. “And when they catch you and you’re forced back into this horrible life of luxury,” John snorted at Carson’s obvious mockery, “know that if it ever gets too much for you, you’re welcome to come have a chat with me. Preferably before you get it in your head to go gallivanting off alone.” He paused. “You deserve a little holiday, though. I can’t imagine what I’d do in your place. I’d probably go barmy.” Carson let go of his shoulder.
John gave a genuine smile and turned to leave. Maybe he’d have to rethink the whole “not friends” situation between him and Carson after all.
“Oh, wait,” Carson called after him. John paused on the threshold. “If you’re thinking you don’t want the Guard to catch up with you for a while, it might do you good to look up an old friend of mine…”