And for the Kingdom.
I solemnly intoned the words along with the rest of the Vulpines, the guard unit responsible for taking care of the royal family. The Fox, the head of the Vulpines, carefully laid the Book of Laws back into its golden case as if it were a newborn baby. But the book is even more precious than a newborn.
Each of the new recruits lowered their right hands from their mentor's hand, and ducked their head as a sign of respect of the aging members of the clergy.
I chanced a quick glance at the girl beside me. Achor, my best friend. She saw my glance from the corner of her eye and quickly returned my grin before we were ordered to rise.
"Young kits, welcome to the order of the Vulpines. You are now foxes in your own right, and everything you think, say, and do is for the kingdom," said the Fox, his strong voice ringing through the giant hall as he began pacing in front of us in his well worn path in the copper carpet.
"You are dismissed to begin as the fox and the lion. Remember your teachings from Machiavelli. You are the next generation for the kingdom," he said gravely. "For the kingdom!"
"For the kingdom!" The shout rang out lustily, ringing in the golden rafters, my voice as loud of the rest.
As the echoes dissipated, the kits were dismissed.
"A word please, Dauphine," said my mentor, Father Shri, as he grasped my hand tightly. "The Fox wishes to speak to you."
My eyes widened. The Fox never spoke to a kit unless it was to punish. Had he heard about the time when Achor and I had thrown water balloons into the church courtyard during a period when they were not allowed to speak?
The rest of the kits were gone, leaving me, the clergy, and Achor. He found out about the water balloons...
I could tell by the way Achor was chewing on the edge of her lip that she was thinking the same thing. Millions of punishments that the Fox could administer to two lowly kits ran through my mind in the few seconds that it took for the Fox's polished red-brown boots to step down from the platform and stand in front of us.
“Dauphine and Achor,” he began, his loud voice now dropping to a low tone for only Achor and I to hear. “You both have been chosen for something very important to the Kingdom. This will tax your abilities, and challenge and make stronger everything that you have learned of Machiavelli's teachings,” he said gravely as he began pacing in front of us, the copper bristles of the carpet slowly bending beneath his weight.
He finally stopped pacing and faced us both, looking us over with a critical eye. “Come with me,” he finally said, then walked past us and toward a wall in the church.
Achor shrugged, and we both began to follow him. When he reached the wall, he pulled back an ornate gold and purple tapestry, revealing a large door cut into the wall. Wordlessly, he set the curtain on a small hook protruding from the wall and walked through the doorway. Mystified, Achor and I followed him.
We walked together down the hallway in a train of three, the Fox, me, and Achor. A strange train to be sure, but even stranger was the corridor we were walking down. The ceiling and walls were made of jagged rock, like it had been an unfinished section of the church. Veins of gold, silver, and bronze ran through the walls, dimly glowing in the darkness. Geodes of all sizes lay scattered around the floor. Why hadn't this wealth been mined?
While this thought and others continued running through my head, the Fox stopped walking, and I ran into him. I jerked back and mumbled an apology as Achor stifled a laugh behind me. The normally stiff Fox ignored my apology and almost seemed...nervous.
“All the kits have been watched since the beginning of the recruitment process,” the Fox said softly. “By the end of the first day of your training, you two were the only candidates left for this. You both were the only ones who demonstrated truly the Machiavellian style that the Kingdom needs to survive. You both are the only ones out of the hundreds of recruits who can be both the lion and the fox,” he said quickly, his voice rising to a feverish cry. “This, what you have been chosen for, is an honor reserved to a rare few. You are kits no longer,” he hissed desperately, his eyes jumping between Achor and me. “You are now Vixens. Through this door behind me lies your destiny, your lifeblood, and the lifeblood of the Kingdom. After walking through this door, you have no choice but to accept, no matter what you may think. You still have a chance to back out if you so wish,” he said gently, as if speaking to a child.
I shook my head. “'For the Kingdom' was part of the oath that we just took. Whatever needs to be done, we will do.”
Achor nodded in agreement.
A slow smile broke across the Fox's face. “Enter unto your destiny,” he whispered as he pushed open a small door behind him.
Achor and I ducked to step through the small door, and were momentarily blinded by bright white light. Our eyes became adjusted. I looked around, trying to get my bearings. And what lay before me was the most impressive and frightening thing that I had ever seen.