The itchy seams of the new white robes dug into his back like fine needles. But it was not the new attire that annoyed Justin the most about this particular day, it was the formalities. He was all for order and lawfulness, but he didn't enjoy the frills that came with it.
He was standing in a vast grey marble hall, filled with the white and yellow banners that represented his house. Next to him stood members of the family that were young, like himself - under-age individuals who had not gone through selection yet. There were 5 of them in total, the other children being siblings or cousins. Next to him on his right stood Jonah, his older brother. He would be coming of age shortly. In recent months he'd filled out dramatically. The man that stood next to him now was tall, well-muscled, with thick dark hair coating his tanned skin - a far cry from the scrawny pale boy Justin had played with in his younger days.
A sense of yearning pulled at Justin's heart to have those days back. Jonah had been much more agreeable back then, before his pride and sense of duty had enveloped him, turning him into a distant and arrogant man. He was certainly taking their father's place at the head of the family. Their father had been blonder of hair, but other than that, Jonah was his spitting image.
Those days were simpler times, before the weight of obligation had been burdened upon them. Justin knew his life was better than many that lived around him, but that didn't mean it was good.
Justin cast his eyes upon Jonah's serious face, already littered with small frown lines and creases around the mouth. He was staring intently at the display in front of them - their elder cousin, Cadence, was coming of age. This ceremony was the first of many that would happen over the next few weeks, ending with the joining of her highness with a low man or woman, such as the gods would appoint.
Cadence was a tall, willowy woman with long mousey brown hair. If it wasn't for the dullness of her locks, she could have been very attractive. The colour of one's hair was of vital significance - blondes were beautiful, lucky creatures; blacks were intelligent, witty creatures; and brunettes were strong, battle-proficient warriors. Those with hair colours that did not distinctly fit into a category were considered weaklings, and that was one of the reasons why Cadence was not a threat to Jonah's lordship of their house. The other reason was that her father, Justin's uncle, and her mother, were simply of lower standing. Standing meant everything. It was possible to raise your rank, but it was exceedingly difficult. It meant war - and not a mere local skirmish or two; but large-scale bloody campaigns that stretched across the lands and the decades, accompanied by a slew of deaths.
Cadence stood in the centre of the room, on the raised platform where the dark grey throne chair stood. On its seat was Justin's father, Lord of Flava, who was dwarfed by the chair's might. Once that man had dominated the large square hall from his circular platform that protruded from the centre of the room. But now, age had taken away much of that power, leaving him drawn, thin and frail. He had been old when his wife, Lady Madina, had conceived his heirs - Jonah, Justin and their younger sibling Dania. But recently his health had declined from what was becoming known as the 'grey sickness'.
This disease was a new, unexplained problem that took people of middle age. In essence, it accelerated their ageing until they withered and they died. It was little spoke of. The issue was too diluted and discreet to cause widespread fear - plus the Lord of Flava had ensured that the nature of his illness was kept quiet. But there was no doubt about its lethality. Justin knew that Jonah's coming of age had to happen imminently, whether he was ready or not, as the kingdom would soon lay open for a new ruler to take the throne.
Upon the high step made of white stone, Cadence clearly articulated her vows. They were the words that were drummed into each of the high ones from birth by their tutors.
"I vow to myself and to my kingdom,
I vow to my gods and my lord,
That I will take upon me my duty,
To continue the legacy founded by the high ones."
Cadence continued the rendition of the 'Great Pledge', but the words turned to a distant murmur for Justin, who stared off into the sky seen through the great kite-shaped windows that lined each wall of the hall. Outside, the sky was a gorgeous blue, and sunlight streamed into the room in great beams, creating diamond shaped bright patches on the floor.
Justin looked up as Cadence stepped out of the centre of the room and joined her elders on the opposite side to where Justin and the younger children stood. She had been brief with her vows, not adding anything of her own. Although Justin did not speak to Cadence, he liked that she was straight forward and brief with her actions. He had attended ceremonies in the past that had dragged on for hours.
Lord James of Flava, their father, uttered a few short words before dismissing everyone. Justin sighed with relief and darted out of the room, passing a gathering of low men waiting for their high lords inside the hall, so he wouldn't get caught up in the social after-gathering that always followed any ceremony. He slipped off to his chambers and changed into plainer, more practical clothes. Then, slinging a towel across his back, he headed off to the beach to escape the grandeur and ritual. The people of Flava were one of the few lordships that appreciated the beauty of the sea, probably due to the fact that they were bordered by it on two sides. Though, oddly, they did not make great sailors. The waters in Flava were warm and were considered a luxury to bathe in, not something for industry or commerce.
Justin jogged down to the beach, where many young children were playing or swimming. He made straight for the sea, running into the cool waves and feeling free - a feeling he longed for intensely with all his heart.