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THE QUEEN WITH A SHADOW CROWN – 11

July 16, 2019

“The war is won, your highness. Your son has made short work of it,” the king’s personal guard exhilarated.

Relief surged into the king. My boy, he thought. He was starting to feel much well already. The past three days, since the war had begun, all he had done was sleep only to wake to some strange news, this or that about the war. Then helpless, he would sit in the gloom of his room, wallowing in memories, musing, and thinking of his dear son.

All he did, he did for love. He is yet a boy, prone to weaknesses. A good boy still, he didn’t mean to betray, he would tell himself. It’s immature of me to think of this as a betrayal.

The prince and his friend had apparently reached the war grounds after the war started. Yet, word passed around that he rode the mare of wroth, a fire burning so bright in his eyes that had they escaped him, the heat would have scorched the Earth. He fights like Ares, your highness. He fights the way I’ve never seen him fight before, the minister had told him two days past.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been as hard on him, he thought. Just how handsome he had looked in the shy red morning light, sweat bringing to life the suppleness in his muscle. He deserves someone like the veiled princess after all; my son.

But was all that King Erwin told about Miraea real? Could she have done that? He had known her only a short while. Not well enough even then.

A set-up rumor, inquisitiveness, and idiocy enough to get charmed by a stranger, that’s all. As a king, I have to be warier, he cursed himself. and of course, Erwin couldn’t have lied. He did prove his words with the dagger. And oh, didn’t Drykar confirm the dagger to belong to her too? Plus, how else could they have known of the prince and the girl meeting in the woods all that hadn’t happened? Yet somehow, viscerally, he couldn’t believe that of her. A strong gut feeling against proof.

A knock sounded on the door. “Sire?” It was the healer.

The king sat up a little straighter. “Come in.”

The healer was round at the belly, a shallow patch of hair sticking to his big head. His face was amiable enough. 

“Your face looks much brighter, your highness.” He extended a goblet carrying a thick olive liquid. “This potion will swallow the last of your illness.”

The king took it from him and sipped heavily. It tasted of mint and fire, burning hot down his throat. There was something else in it as well. Something tart.

“This room sickens me, healer. I want to go down to the court.” 

The healer hesitantly looked out the window. “It’s the waning of night, sire. The wind whistles with the promise of chillness. Dawn is just a few hours away, and so is the young prince. I promise to take you down to greet him. Till then, please do rest.”

The king slumped back against his blankets. 

“Has Drykar left for the palace?”

“He returns, yes. That’s what I’ve heard. But there’s word that he is wounded. And…” the healer hesitated.

“Go ahead.”

“The commander’s son is dead.”

The king closed his eyes, breathing in deep. The commander’s son, Valhal, was a sweet young boy, a year younger to Drykar. He was a good fighter and a cheerful boy, dreaming of succeeding his father one day; to become Drykar’s commander the way his father was the king’s. Now that day will never come, he thought miserably.

“The boy will not be forgotten. We’ll honor him in death. Any other casualties?”

“Not that I know of, sire.”

The king nodded. “Dawn then.” he returned the glass, empty. A warm feeling began to settle over his stomach.

“Yes, your highness.” The healer bowed and left, leaving the king to his gloom and isolation. 

The king glanced out of the window. A crescent sliver of a moon was ruling the darkness high above. So powerful, she never had to fight to keep the throne of the night to herself, did she? he thought to himself. It’s only us humans, weak and undeserving, fighting over crowns in fear of seeming powerless. What has the moon to fight? 

About four hours for the moon to fade though, and for Drykar to return. How many battles had he won by now? His first victory was at the age of fourteen. He had taken on a fort near Hagglegroove while returning from his journey to the north. Hagglegroove itself belonged to King Gessoume, but the fort had been captured by a savage tribe from the woods a while ago, and an unruly leader reigned the areas adjoining the fort. He didn’t recall the name of the fort anymore, that had become so old. But after the victory Drykar had returned the fort to King Gessoume and bought his friendship instead. What’s bricks and stone to relationships?

That day on, to this, he won…and only won. He won states and crowns, respect and love, trials and failures. And there was Synnefro too, his loyal friend. It warmed the king’s heart to see that lad play his son’s mother at times. Both motherless, yet Synnefro cared for the prince the way a mother would at times. The king was itching to have him back from the war too.  

In the long end came dawn, creeping slowly, bleeding red with the wounds of battle. Blood washed over the darkness as the moon died soundlessly. A golden arrow of light struck the horizon. In time, a trumpet heralded the prince’s return. 

The king scrambled down his bed. He had dressed overnight- cream doublet and a deep purple cape to match his purple pants. The healer escorted him down to the palace gates. Most of the state was up and out already, waiting to catch a glimpse of the prince post the war and in a few cases to welcome their own sons and husbands. The palace outdoors was a garden blooming with thousands of colorfully clothed gay people, buzzing expectantly. 

A royal steed bearing the commander swam into view, his face solemn and grave. The call of the trumpets turned to mourning as the commander’s son’s hearse followed. A wave of gasps broke over the people, from those near enough to the procession to see the source of shock to those far enough to hear the gasps and crane their necks to see or whisper to the neighbor for information. A tense hush blanketed the early morning. But it wasn’t the dead boy that people were looking at. They were pointing to something behind the hearse.

The king frowned. “What’s happening?” he asked his minister.

But the answer itself rode out to meet him. Red eyes and dark patches beneath, sorrow devoured hungrily at the handsome face of the prince. The usual air of victory that hung zestily over him after every battle was gone. In its place, an unwonted darkness accompanied the young boy. He never turned to greet the people. Instead, his eyes were grimly cast forward though they seemed to gaze at nothing in this world. Blood had dried unwashed over his wounds, very few of the big ones cleaned and patched. Synnefro rode beside the boy as ever, every now and then stealing concerned glances at the prince who rode forth steadily, a wounded, demented corpse. All the fire that was supposed to have claimed him during the war had died away now, leaving in its wake only burnt black embers.

“What happened to the prince?” someone called out. Many followed. The prince seemed deaf to their calls and Synnefro nervous to answer.

The procession reached the royal gates. Shouts echoed from the mob. The prince dismounted his steed. That’s when the king saw. The father’s heart spiked up. His eyes…this wasn’t his son!

***

To be continued...

(One final chapter)

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© 2019 Sahana Narendran

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