Authors: B.T. Narro
Chapter 1: Lies
The little Prince tightened his arms around my stomach. It meant either our horse was going too fast for his liking or he had a question. Since we’d been at the same slow trot for the last few miles, this time it had to be a question.
“Jek?” He always started with my name, even though he spoke to none of the others but me.
“Yes, Harwin?” I kept my tone soft, saying nothing of the seven-year-old’s annoying habit of waiting for my answer.
It had taken several strange questions before I realized that Harwin didn’t know I was only seventeen and not thirty-something like the rest of the men with us. For one, he’d asked who I was married to and if her family was rich. The question had made me laugh. Though some men were married by my age, most were of nobility.
“Don’t you mean Prince Harwin?” His voice rose, suddenly finding courage.
I was hoping he would notice that I’d dropped his precious title. I did it to prove a point. Keeping my hands tight on the reins, I gave a look behind my shoulder.
“See that lake we just passed?”
“Why don’t you call me Prince?” His courage was morphing into annoyance.
“I’m explaining that to you. See the lake through all these trees?” I kept my voice patient and pointed behind us.
His grip around my stomach switched to one hand as he shifted in the saddle behind me. “Yes, I already saw it before.”
“That’s Lake Mercy. It’s in the center of this forest and right between Zav and Goldram. Do you know what that means?”
He shook his head. I could hear his leather riding helmet rattling. The stupid thing was too large, but it was the only one we’d brought. “No,” he whimpered.
“It means we’re in Goldram now. But you’re the Prince of Zav, aren’t you?”
He grunted. “Just because we’re in Goldram doesn’t mean I’m not a prince anymore.”
“That’s right. You’re still a prince.” I let a short silence calm his budding attitude before continuing. “But Goldram and Zav aren’t getting along too well. Has your father told you?”
“He says we’re preparing for war.” Harwin spoke with the usual pride he had when knowing an answer.
“Right again,” I said. “If you prefer, I’ll still address you as Prince Harwin. However, others here in Goldram, who aren’t too pleased with your father, may not give you the same courtesy. I just wanted to prepare you for that.”
Preparation and keeping him informed were a big part of preventing tears; I’d found that out early. He cried the entire first day of this
, as we were calling it,
because no one would talk to him. When he started up again the next morning, one of our men threatened him with a backhand if he didn’t shut up.
A lot of good that did. The poor child wailed even louder. The big oaf turned to us with a confused shrug, like he’d actually expected his threat to work. The little Prince has been riding with me ever since.
“Do you understand?” I asked when he made no reply to my explanation.
“I do.” He fidgeted in the saddle. “Can I ask my question now?”
His grip tightened even more than before. It could mean only one thing. He was going to ask me something about my darkness. He’d first brought it up four days ago when he was wondering about the other rumors he’d heard of me. I’d given him just a simple “yes” to his question about the darkness being real, adding no elaboration. I didn’t want to scare him, after all. Since then, he’d asked about it only twice more, each time squeezing my stomach so hard I felt him pushing into the base of my ribs.
I was fairly confident my darkness was the first time he’d heard of unrelenting torment, and it brought forth his morbid curiosity.
“Have you always had…” He didn’t even want to say its name—the name I’d given it based on the light-devouring black color it had no matter what shape it took during my nightmares. “You know…it?”
Always? No, but I knew the next question would be how long I’d had it. I had to think about that.
It was hard to remember what life was like before my darkness, but I did remember the first night it attacked. I was twelve, I believe, still at my real home with my father and older sister on the farm. Sannil wasn’t my birth father, but he’d raised me from the age of one, so he might as well have been. When I thought of my years on the farm with my father and sister, I remembered work, meals, songs, stories, and, of course, staying up late to cast magic with Sannil.
There wasn’t a lot of excitement. Sometimes I missed that. Since leaving for The Nest at sixteen to work with a blacksmith, excitement became unavoidable, finding me like a plague.
“I’ve had it for five years,” I answered, giving a hint that I wished to say no more.
He didn’t pick up on my tone. “How did it start?”
I inhaled loudly as more memories assailed to me. I found it easier to accept them with a breath than without.
“Something inside me snapped into place one evening while I was casting. All my spells were working. I remember holding my staff with so much confidence I never wanted to let it go. I even took it to bed with me, falling asleep with my arm wrapped around it. It felt like sliding that last button into place on a new shirt I knew would be my favorite from then on.”
A chill ran down my neck as I heard myself speak.
“Isn’t that a good feeling?”
“It was, until I fell asleep and had the first of many nightmares that…”
I stopped myself. It was a bad idea to give more details—to tell him that I awoke most mornings with bruises and cuts from the attack. But I couldn’t leave it in the middle of a sentence, otherwise Harwin would whine until I finished, and then his whines would turn to pouts when he heard what I had to say. So I told an innocent lie with a culminating tone.
“It isn’t so terrible.”
“I hate nightmares.” Harwin’s voice was worried. At first, I thought he was sympathizing with me, but then I realized he probably was just hoping he wasn’t going to have a nightmare of his own. I found a strange humor in that. If he’d been old enough to realize what really was happening, this
would be his worst nightmare.
But he still was young enough to believe the most ridiculous lies, like that his father, the King of Zav, wanted us to steal his boy from the castle grounds and take him to Goldram for leverage in this upcoming war.
Of course, we didn’t explain it like that. We’d told him we were friends and that his father wanted him to come with us. We listed a few names the Prince would recognize, such as his mother, his sister, even his favorite portly chef who actually was working for the King of Goldram this whole time by sending information back to our king.
I was just a common boy who grew up on a farm, so I didn’t know what methods were used by the chef to relay information across hundreds of miles, nor did I know what sparked this war in the first place. All I knew was magic, and I knew it well. I had my darkness to thank for that. In fact, my magic and my darkness were the only reasons I’d gotten involved in this kidnapping.
The four other men with us were offered money and nobility, neither of which I cared much about. My prize was something I’d dreamed of in the rare moments of sleep when my darkness didn’t cut open my stomach, or rip out my heart, or slice off my limbs.
My prize for the delivery of the Prince of Zav was the end of all that. It was the cure to my darkness.
A simple little potion was all I needed, or so I was told. I figured my magic ability would be gone along with it, but that was a small price to pay.
We were already in Goldram and would be at the Takary Palace the next day. It seemed too easy.
A whistle shattered my thoughts. “Jek!” It was our rear man shouting my name—not a good sign. “They picked up our trail!”
I turned to find a dozen horseback riders close, maybe two hundred yards behind us and galloping at full speed. My first reflex was to draw the wand on my belt. My second was to worry what that would look like through Harwin’s eyes.
He started to ask, “Why are there—”
“Hold on tight!” I interrupted, whipping the horse around so I could find someone to take the Prince from my saddle. Harwin gasped from the sudden movement, pulling his arms together around my waist. I gasped as well. The little guy was strong.
“Not that tight,” I wheezed, but he didn’t let up.
“I’ll take him,” a rough-voiced man said. To my dismay, I saw he was the one who’d threatened Harwin the first day. There couldn’t have been a worse person to offer. “Give him here, hurry.”
He leaned toward Harwin, resting a big arm in the air. I knew the man wouldn’t harm the Prince, but Harwin didn’t know that.
The frightened boy leaned away, nearly pulling me off the horse. As I pushed myself back upright, I took a moment to glance at the riders coming to claim their king’s son. They were close enough now for us to see the scowls on their faces and the swords in their hands.
“Let go, Harwin,” I told him. “You’ll be safe with him.”
“I don’t want to!” the boy screamed as Rough Voice scooped an arm around him and snatched him from my saddle.
“Lose ’em,” Rough Voice ordered me. He kicked his horse to speed off with Harwin under his armpit like a rabbit hanging in the jaws of a wolf, though this rabbit was screaming and flailing about. The rest of our group followed him. I waited, readying myself.
It took all my focus to gather enough Sartious Energy for the long wall I needed to create. Feeling it enter my body was like drinking hot tea on a cold day, prickling my insides with warmth. But that sensation wouldn’t last—the Sartious Energy soon begged to be expelled like an itch calling to be scratched.
Being heavy, Sartious Energy was impossible to control at long distances, so I had to wait until their horses were just in front of me—when the confusion in their eyes turned to bloodthirst because they thought surely there was no way I could escape after waiting so long.
It was only then that I snapped my wand at the herd of them, discharging all the energy I’d gathered.