I was standing in my private study by one of the large windows overlooking the courtyard. A massive dark oak desk, with legs sculpted in the shape of dragons, took up half the room. Heavy velvet curtains, the color of indigo skies, were pulled to the side and tied up with intricately braided ropes of silver thread. Through the open door to the left of my desk, I could see into the elegant room that served as my bedchamber. In all, the suites I lived in consisted of a small antechamber, an office, a bedroom, and a washroom. I had yet to move into what had been my father’s royal quarters.
My skin barely registered the cold of the window pane as I watched my troops gathering by the castle gates. Tendrils of early morning mist still hovered among the tops of the trees lining the large courtyard. I was the cause of my soldiers' certain doom, I thought, breath freezing in my lungs. Why am I not among them, leading their quest?
It was a gloomy day, foretelling unimaginable events about to unfold.
Until the previous evening, I had been the future king of a vast kingdom, unequaled in riches and power within the cradle of the ancient mountains of Heldran. Young in years, I was only sixteen when, less than six months ago, the ruling of our mighty kingdom fell on my inexperienced shoulders. My father, King Kaspar, was still in his strong years and a great leader of our kingdom when he vanished without a trace. No one knew what happened, but most blamed the ‘unnamed’ evil lurking in the mountains to the east. In the months leading to my father’s misfortune, there had been several reports of unexplained disappearances, the feeling of unease slowly growing among the people. The king, deeply concerned by the accounts, had sent several search parties of seasoned soldiers to investigate, but none of them ever returned. Fear was spreading and many were beginning to question whether the king was doing enough.
That mild, spring day, the king and his two bloodhounds left for a walk through the woods bordering the back of the castle. It was my father’s habit to take a walk each day and weigh the heavy decisions facing him and the kingdom. He insisted on being alone on these walks and often reminded his advisers that he needed this quiet hour to listen to his own heart. He had confessed to me that he was afraid his inner voice might be drowned by the murmurs of his advisors, as each tried to sway him one way or another. That day however, he never returned from his walk, the hounds vanishing along with him.
The king’s disappearance caused great grief to his close advisers and struck panic in the hearts of Heldran’s citizens, but no one could truly understand what it meant to me. Within days, I was thrust into my father’s role. My young age meant that I would have a close group of my father’s advisors guiding me through the difficult decisions I would have to face in the near future. Even so, the weight of caring for the kingdom while also trying to unravel the mystery of my father’s disappearance seemed at times more than I could bear.
Losing my father had caused a deep mantle of confusion and grief to settle over me. During that time, I feared I would never find my way out of the choking darkness, but after several months, the stab of pain I used to feel every time I thought of my father became more of a deep ache. I still missed my father’s confident voice and presence, but I had thrown myself into my new role with everything I had, burying my feelings deep inside. Working day and night, I was learning how to lead my kingdom, how to provide fair judgement in the matters presented before me, and considering ways to ensure that no one would go hungry through the winter to come.