True Love Never Fails: 1. The First Challenge

Dominic nearly stumbled as a dark figure rushed into his arms.

“I just saw the list of challenges Father wrote up. I have been sworn to secrecy, so I can’t tell you what they are, but I can tell you that Father will announce the first one tomorrow” she said.

“It’s alright, Philomena. I’ll figure things out as the situation presents itself, and I shall be myself. That’s how you fell in love with me to begin with, remember? I want your Father to see me the way I am, the person you fell in love with, alright?” he assured her.

She looked up at him and smiled,” I wouldn’t want it any other way, though I fear some of these challenges were chosen so that you could lose. But I believe in you, and I will pray that you do win.”

“If we are meant to be together, we will be, don’t worry. But know that I will always love you,” Dominic said, pulling her back into his arms. They stood in their embrace for what seemed like only a few minutes before she began to move.

“Oh, I must return quickly before Father comes to see me. I will see you tomorrow, though we may not speak. Good bye, my love, and good luck.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and went back the way she came. He watched her vanish into the castle before he quietly followed and returned to his room. He crawled into bed with several scenarios running through his head.

The cock’s crow followed by a horn blast woke him up early the next morning. He quickly washed and changed, then dodged out of his room. A servant was waiting outside his door. “Mr. Savio, the king wishes to see you. Please follow me.” The servant lead him through a maze of corridors before halting in front of a set of double doors. The servant held a door open for Dominic and whispered, “Good luck.” Dominic glanced at the servant before going through the doors and joining the rest of the suitors. There were a good dozen or so, and from different walks of life, though the majority were rich. On the other side of the room, opposite of the doors, sat the King, the Queen, and their youngest daughter, the Princess Philomena. A few more suitors walked into the room after Dominic, and once everyone was assembled, the King stood.

“Welcome young men, who seek my daughter’s hand. By the end of this week, one will have my permission to marry the Princess. I have decided to give you three challenges this week. The one who passes all three challenges shall marry my daughter. For today, you will be given a set of problems for you to solve. Those who pass this test will continue on to tomorrow’s test. Those who fail shall go home immediately. Now, you may go eat your breakfast, and I shall see you in this same room tonight.” With those words, the royal family left the room followed some time later by all the suitors who were eager to begin their morning meal. Dominic noticed something was different this morning when he walked into the dining room. There were enough tables for each of the suitors to have his own, and there was enough space between them that more chairs could be added and if someone was writing something, others would have to move away from their tables in order to see.

A few servants came and started showing suitors to their tables, explaining the setup along the way, and handing out papers. “His Majesty wants you to be able to work on some of the problems here after each meal. You are to go to the garden after breakfast where you will have more problems to solve. Then, after lunch, you are to go to the library. The last problems will be given to you at dinner. When you are done with those, go to the room where you saw the royal family this morning and His Majesty shall tell you who stays and who goes. Good luck!” Once the suitors were all seated, then the food came out. Not too long after the servants left than a crowd of people came in and proceeded to sit at the tables. Several of the suitors managed to shoo them away, but Dominic and a few others let their intruders stay, offering food and and an ear. Dominic’s intruders began speaking all at once, though.

“Whoa, hold on! I can’t understand you when all three of you are talking! Now, when I point at you, I want you to tell me your name and your business. Once you’ve done that, then we shall continue. Let’s start with you,” he said, pointing to the only woman in the group.

“My name is Sara, and my husband had a son with one of our servants so that he can have an heir as I was unable to have any children. Now I have a son of my own, thank heavens, but the boy who is the son of the servant is older and I do not want him to kill my little boy because my husband’s fortune will naturally be inherited by my son. What should I do?”

“Do you or your husband have any family who does not have any sons?” asked Dominic.

“Why yes, my husband has a cousin who lives rather close to us. He has two daughters.” replied Sara.

“Well, then, if your husband’s cousin doesn’t mind, I would suggest sending the servant woman and her son to him. Then the boy may inherit your husband’s cousin’s fortune and possibly marry one of his daughters,” said Dominic.

“Why that’s a splendid idea! Why didn’t I think of that! Thank you young man, I must go tell my husband.” She bent over and kissed his head before heading out of the dining room.

“Well, that was nice and quick. Let’s hear your story next,” he said, pointing to the man who had been sitting next to Sara.

“Alright, my name is Jacob and I fell in love with a girl named Rachel. Her father and I made a deal that if I worked for him for seven years, I could marry Rachel. The wedding is supposed to be today, but I found out last night that her father was going to give me her older sister, Leah. I talked to him before I came here and he said that it seemed unfair that his youngest should marry before the oldest and that if I marry Leah today and work another seven years, I can have Rachel. But you know the King’s laws, I am only allowed one wife and if I marry Leah, then I cannot marry Rachel. Do you think there is a way around this?” asked Jacob.

“Well, you are right, the laws of the King specifically say you can only have one wife. You should mention the agreement you made with Rachel’s father seven years ago and hold him to it. To make it a little easier, do you know of any men who is looking for a wife and might like Leah?” inquired Dominic.

“Well, now that you mention it, maybe my own brother might, but we haven’t been in contact for quite some time due to a disagreement we had several years ago. I don’t know if he’s still angry with me nor how he would receive me,” replied Jacob.

“Then you should postpone the wedding, reconcile with your brother, and present him to Leah and her father as a possible match for her. If it’s been more than seven years, then your brother might be willing to listen to you. The two of you can forgive each other and can become neighbors, if possible,” smiled Dominic.

“You know, I should give it a try, this could work out for all of us. Thanks pal!” Jacob slapped him on the back and darted out of the room.

“Alright, you’re the last one. What’s your tale?” Dominic said to the last man at the table.

“I’m David, and my situation is very different from those you’ve just heard. Have you heard of Saul, the governor the King chose for Jaruli?” asked the man.

“Yes, I have,” replied Dominic.

“The King wants me to replace him, but, well, he’s not taking to the news too kindly. He’s tried to take my life a couple of times. If it weren’t for his own son, my best friend, Jonathan, I would have been dead by now. Here’s my problem, how can I take what the King has given me if Saul refuses to give it to me and to do it without causing too much bloodshed?” asked David.

“Have you not informed the King of this?” inquired Dominic.

“I have, but he wants me to figure this out without his help. I actually just came from seeing him and he told me to ask one of you for aid. I’m glad I decided to come to this table first, otherwise I would have been turned down by some of the other men here,” David replied, indicating all the men sitting by themselves.

“I am too, this is really important and must be resolved right away. I do have an idea. I suggest letting Saul be the governor for a few more years, and if he still refuses at the end of those years, then you shall have to have the King remove him by force. Not only is he making himself out to be a bad example for the people, but he also bringing about a rift in this country. We can’t have the country split in two or more factions, especially because of our enemies. They would take that opportunity to strike,” said Dominic.

“They would indeed. But how many years should I let Saul continue on as governor of Jaruli?” asked David.

“How many times has he tried to kill you?” asked Dominic.

“Five, why?”

“Let that be the number of years he has left to be governor,” came Dominic’s reply.

“That sounds fair. But if he tries to kill me again?”

Dominic laughed, “ Then for every time he tries to kill you after this, a year gets taken off of his term.”

David smiled, “That’s a good idea. Thank you. May I ask for your name? We gave you ours, but we were so worried about each of our own problems that none of us actually asked you for yours. That was rather rude of us.”

“I didn’t think it was rude, I actually prefer being anonymous. But since you asked so kindly, I’ll tell you. I’m Dominic Savio,” replied Dominic.

“Are you the eldest son of Charles Savio, the blacksmith of Murindo?” asked David.

“I am. So you’ve heard of my father.”
“Not only that, I’ve heard of you as well. Father John Bosco sings your praises whenever he gets the chance, you are one of his best students.”

Dominic blushed, “Oh, I wouldn’t say that I’m one of his best students. I have to work hard to keep up with the other boys. I don’t want to fall behind, but I’m not on the same level as many of them. I think I should talk to him about stopping that, I really don’t like it”

David laughed, “Well, according to him, you definitely are one of the top seven students in his class, hard worker or not. And I’m sure Princess Philomena wouldn’t mind a good word or two about you reaching her father’s ears,” winked David. Dominic’s face got even redder. “My apologies, my friend. You have helped me solve a problem and here I am teasing you about your romance with the princess. I am truly sorry about embarrassing you, but Father Bosco’s opinion of you would in fact help you rather than hinder you. Now I shall leave you to eat the rest of your breakfast in peace.” David bowed, then moved closer to Dominic’s ear and whispered, “And the best of luck with winning the King’s approval to marry the princess. Though, from what I’ve heard and seen, you have no competition.” David stood back up and winked before leaving the dining room. Dominic finally stirred a few minutes after David left, those words had left him stunned. He began eating again, though he was still digesting those final words, “no competition”. Was he really here because of a problem, or was he testing me? Dominic thought. What exactly does he know? He realized he would have to find out later, as breakfast was over and he needed to go to the garden.

Even though he was wondering around in the garden, he found himself gravitating towards the cherry tree, the very place he had first met Philomena. By the tree stood a table with three chairs around it, much like how the dining room tables were set up. He sat down in one of the chairs and noticed a piece of paper similar to the one he had in the dining room. Oh, I didn’t get to finish that other paper. Maybe I can finish this one without any interruptions.He bent over the paper and worked on the numerous problems presented. Some answers he knew right away since he remembered them from school, others he had to figure out on his own. After a few minutes of problem-solving, Dominic heard some voices that sounded like they were approaching the cherry tree. He glanced around, trying to find the owners of the voices he could hear. Two men came around the bend from behind the cherry tree. One looked younger and happier while the other looked older and grumpier. The two men stopped when they realized Dominic was watching them.

“What are you looking at?” grumbled the older man.

“Now, now, he was probably wondering who was disturbing his quiet, study time,” laughed the younger man. “We apologize for speaking so loud.”
“Speak for yourself, I want to find just one of those fellows to talk to and leave soon,” snapped the older man.

“Who exactly are you looking for?” asked Dominic.

“Oh, the King was unavailable when we wished to speak to him, so one of the servants told us to come to the garden and find one of Princess Philomena’s suitors to talk to. We did find some, but they turned us away to work on some problems the King gave them. That’s mainly why Jonah here is so grumpy, we’ve already been turned down by eight others,” replied the younger man.

“Well, I’m one of the suitors, and I wouldn’t mind listening to you. Please, have a seat,” said Dominic, standing up to offer the other two seats.

“No way! You’re not even an adult!” shouted Jonah.

“I am sixteen, sir, and the princess is only fourteen, I don’t see what’s . . .”

“You can be a suitor for the princess, but I’m not talking to a boy! I want to speak to an adult!” Jonah continued to yell.

“V-very well, sir. I-I only offered because you have been turned down so many times and because the servant said one of the suitors, o-one of which I am. Y-you may continue to look for someone more to your tastes, b-but this table is still open to you if you cannot find anyone so suited to your liking,” Dominic stammered, taken back by the outburst.

“Oh, now look what you’ve done. You’ve hurt the poor boy’s feelings. Now we are going to sit and talk with him because of it,” said the other man. The sternness in his voice surprised both Dominic and Jonah.

“Alright, Joseph, we’ll talk with this one. When we’re done we’re still going to look for a real adult,” growled Jonah, glaring at both Joseph and Dominic.

“Thank you Jonah. Now, since you now know our names, young fellow, why don’t you tell us your name?” Joseph asked, his voice back to its gentleness from earlier.

“Oh, um, my name is Dominic Savio, and thanks for . . .”
“Oh, great! Not only is he not an adult, he’s also the son of a blacksmith! How much worse can this get?” Jonah shouted in fury, as he was sitting down.

“He is also one of Father John Bosco’s best students. Just because he is from a more poor family compared to yours doesn’t mean he’s stupid,” Joseph calmly retaliated.

Jonah grumbled and rolled his eyes, “Well, then let’s hurry it up and get this over with. I’ll go first. Have you heard of Neline?”
“Yes, I have. It’s that new territory that finally repented and began obeying the King’s laws,” replied Dominic.

“Yeah, that’s the place. I was the one sent to tell them that the King was going to destroy them,” said Jonah.

“That was you? You mean you’re the one who got . . .” Dominic started.

“Let me finish, kid,” growled Jonah, interrupting him. “Yeah, that was me. Don’t even mention anything else. My problem is is that the King said that he would destroy them, but he decided to let them live! How could he have done that if he sent me to tell them they would be destroyed! It makes me look bad!”

“Didn’t the King also say that those who repented and obeyed his laws would be spared?” asked Dominic.

“Yes,” grumbled Jonah.

“So what’s your problem? They decided to reform their ways and the King decided to give them a second chance. He can’t keep killing everyone who disobey the laws, even if they do it just once. There would be no people left and we wouldn’t get the chance to learn from our mistakes. Is there anything wrong with giving someone a second chance? If you were to make a mistake and want a second chance, wouldn’t you like to be given it?” Dominic asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” sighed Jonah. “But I was sent there to inform them that the King was going to destroy them, no doubt about it! How can those people take anything he says seriously if he says one thing, then turns around and does something else!”

“It may seem like that, but I believe His Majesty wanted them to know that he is kind and merciful. Nobody in their right mind wants to be ruled by a tyrant. I’m sure it also eased any fears about him being such a man,” stated Dominic.

“Wow, he is not just smart, he is also very wise for a boy his age. We should listen to more people like this, we can learn quite a few things from them,” smiled Joseph. “Did that solve your problem, Jonah?”

“Maybe, I still want to talk to an adult. I’ll leave you to have your brains picked while I go look for one,” grumbled Jonah. He didn’t wait for an answer as he stood up and stomped off.

Joseph laughed, “You’ll have to excuse his behavior, and, um, give him a second chance.” He winked.

Dominic smiled, “Thanks for standing up to him and giving me a first chance. Apparently you’ve heard Father Bosco singing my praises, and you aren’t the first to tell me about that.”

Joseph chuckled, “No problem, and yes, he’s been going around telling everyone. Who was the first?”

“David, the guy who’s supposed to be Saul’s replacement,” replied Dominic.

“Oh yes, I believe we ended up in the same audience. So he came to you with his problem, eh?”

“He did, and we worked it out rather well. What’s your problem?”

“Well, it’s actually more of a suggested solution for a problem that needs approval rather than a problem that needs to be solved by someone else. Here’s my situation. My older brothers sold me into slavery as they were jealous of my relationship with our father. I worked hard, and not only was I able to become free again, but I also attained a high status within Egytro. Now, you’ve heard of the drought that is occurring on the eastern part of Panchaea?”

“I have,” replied Dominic.

“My family is living in that area, and since Egytro is one of the counties that is the closest, my father must send my brothers to obtain food and supplies. I am head of the storage vaults now, and I had made sure that we would have enough food as the governor had a dream predicting the coming of the drought. So my brothers have to come to me, but they won’t recognize me. So, here’s what I want to do. I’m going to detain one of my older brothers if they don’t have Benjamin, our youngest brother, with them. When the rest return with Benjamin, then I’ll place a jeweled cup within his pack and claim that he stole it. If they are truly sorry for what they have done to me, they will try to protect Benjamin. If they haven’t, well, then I guess I’ll just keep Benjamin with me. But if things go according to my plan, and they are truly sorry, then I shall reveal myself and forgive them. Perhaps my whole family can move to Egytro. What do you think of that?” asked Joseph.

“That sounds rather good. I would have been against it if you were to harm your brothers in an act of revenge, but you are willing to forgive them if they are truly sorry. Besides keeping Benjamin with you, what would you do if your older brothers are not sorry?” asked Dominic.

“I would just send them away and tell them to never show their faces to me again. I will provide them with the food and supplies that they will need, but they would speak to one of my servants rather than me,” replied Joseph.

“Well, then, I see no problem with your plan. I wish the best of luck to you and I hope that everything goes well,” smiled Dominic.

“Thanks, Dominic, I hope it goes well too. Well, I’d better catch up with Jonah before he bites someone’s head off. I hope to see you later, and good luck to you too!” said Joseph, rubbing Dominic’s hair before taking off in the direction Jonah took.

Dominic sighed while fixing his hair, “Well, that’s two rooting for me, besides the princess. Now let’s see if I can finish these problems.” He turned his attention back to the paper resting upon the table.

“Dominic Savio.” Dominic was so focused on the paper that he jumped when he heard his name. He turned around to see a sandy-blond servant approaching him. “I’m sorry I startled you, but I’m letting everyone know it’s time to go in for lunch.”

“Oh, thanks Gabriel.” Dominic rose to leave.

“Please leave the paper here, I’ll gather them and give them to the King.”

Dominic blinked, “But I’m not done.”

“That’s alright, the King only wanted to see which problems you would tackle first. He won’t mind if you didn’t finish, only that you do it in the correct order and get the right answers,” Gabriel assured him.

“Oh, I see. I hope I did do in the right order. So, I guess I’ll see you around,” Dominic smiled at him. Gabriel nodded and smiled back before heading off in the opposite direction. Dominic made his back towards the dining room. He was ushered back to the table he sat at this morning and found the piece of paper he was working on at breakfast. “Oh, I completely forgot to finish this. Well, better get going on this before the food is served.” Dominic hadn’t been working on the paper for long before the lunch bell rang and the servants came out with trays of food. Lunch was surprisingly quiet as no one came to interrupt and everyone ate in silence. Lunch also went a lot faster so many of the suitors left around the same time to head to the library. The library was set up much the same way as the dining room and the garden, there were enough tables for each suitor to have his own. Dominic noticed that the paper this time only read “List Book Title and Author That Was Read Below”, so he went off in search for some books to read. He came back with a rather large stack that he set down on the table. He grabbed the top one, got comfortable, and began reading.

After a while, Dominic was finished. He put the book down and was reaching for the next book when he noticed a man watching him.

“Hello, may I help you?” asked Dominic.

“That book you just read. Is it very good?” asked the man.

“Yes, it was,” replied Dominic.

“That is good.” The man sat down and picked up the book Dominic just finished. “Perhaps I should read this as well, but not today. Today, I have a situation that needs immediate attention. Will you be kind enough to read those later so that you can help me figure out what to do?”

“I would be happy to help. What is your situation?” asked Dominic.

“The King is promoting me to governor of Iselum in six years, and told me he would pay for the rest of my college, as long as I get a specific major suitable for the governorship. There are three majors, Economics, Logic, and Ethics. Which major should I get?” asked the man.

“Hmm, can you get two minors?” asked Dominic.

“I can,” answered the man.

“Then I suggest majoring in Logic with your primary minor in Ethics and your secondary minor in Economics,” said Dominic.

“Why in that order?” asked the man/

“Wisdom is necessary for any ruler, as well as mercy. Money is not a necessity, it’s more of a privilege for those in the higher class. For those of us who are poor, money is a necessity as it’s the only way to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Not only that, but you will be representing the King, so being a wise and merciful ruler will be the best option” replied Dominic.

“That is very true. Thank you, young man, I will inform the King of this decision. Now I leave you to the rest of those books.” The man smiled as he rose from his seat, gave a little nod to Dominic, and left the library. Dominic waited a few minutes after the man left to see if anyone else would need his aid, but since no one else showed up, he went back to reading the rest of the books. After the fifth book, a hand was placed atop of Dominic’s stack. Dominic looked up at the owner of the hand.

“It’s dinnertime. You can leave the books here and come back to them tomorrow, alright?” said Gabriel.

“Alright, thanks,” replied Dominic. He rose and headed for the dining room. There was no paper waiting for him this time, only dinner. A man who looked to be in his late forties arrived at Dominic’s table only a few minutes after Dominic had started eating.

“I am in need of assistance. Will you help me?” asked the man.

“Of course. What do you need help with?”

“The governor of Julhem married a woman from one of our neighboring countries, and she is trying to drag the people into destruction. She is set upon disobeying every single one of the King’s laws and getting her husband and the people to follow suit. Many of the people have refused, and many of those have moved out of Julhem into some of the surrounding city-states. She is now bringing in her religion, and this one is certainly one of the worst religions as it requires human sacrifices, namely children.”

Dominic gasped, “Have you told the King about this?”

“I have, but there is something else. A man named Naboth has been executed and the King wants me to investigate. If I find out that the man was falsely accused and executed on her orders, then the King will send in his army and retake Julhem. However, she has told me that if she ever saw my face again, she would kill me. I cannot be of service to my King if such an order was to be carried out. What am I to do?”

“Could you have someone she has never seen before, but someone you can trust go in and investigate for you?” asked Dominic.

“She would figure it out, that woman is very smart and very sly.”

‘Is there someone you could trust who is higher up, like a soldier, or one of the governor’s advisers?”

“No advisers, they’re all with her and many are in fact from her own land. Maybe one of the soldiers, but he would have to be one of the lower ranks as I know she’s already won several of the commanders of the army over to her side as well.”
“Couldn’t you ask for aid from some of the commoners or the servants? They would hear things and not know what to think of it. You might also want to get a hold of the men who were present at Naboth’s trial. They might be able to fill in a few details.”

“I could try that, and then there’s . . . hmm, that might work.”

“There’s what?” asked Dominic.

“Oh, Naboth ran a vineyard and was well known for his wines. I could still get someone I know and trust into Julhem, perhaps even me. We could disguise ourselves as coming from Fralis to buy some of his wine for, let’s say, the opening of our new restaurant. You know how the people of Fralis are. Anyway, the news of Naboth’s death has only reached the King’s ears, only a few others besides the three of us know of this. The people west of Itame would definitely not know about Naboth’s death, so we would at least hear the basics about what happened. We would have to do some digging if we are to find out what really happened, but we should figure that out as we go as we will have to be very cautious if we are not to be found out.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I wish you the best of luck,” said Dominic, rising up along with the man.

“Thank you, and the best of luck to you too,” the man said, shaking hands with Dominic. Dominic watched the man leave, then sat down to the rest of his meal. As soon as all of the suitors finished, they lined up at the door, and Gabriel came to lead them to the room they had seen the King earlier.

When they entered the room, another servant gave each man a slip of paper with his name on it.

“Do not open these until the King tells you to,” the servant told them. They proceeded towards the thrones upon which sat the King, the Queen, and the Princess Philomena, as before.

“Well, today was rather productive for some of you, but not for others. The paper with your name on it will reveal who stays, and who goes. Whoever has the royal seal on the inside on your paper stays. If your paper is blank, then you shall leave. You may unfold your papers now.”

There was no other sound than that of rustling paper, then came the little cheers of the victorious, and the groans of the defeated. Dominic only gasped when he saw what lay beneath his name.

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