I was standing in my private study next to the large windows overlooking the courtyard. A 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. 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. In the distance, heavy clouds obscured the eastern horizon.
It occurred to me that I was the cause of my soldiers’ certain doom and I felt helpless.
Until the previous evening, I had been the future king of a vast kingdom. Our domain was unequaled in riches and power within the cradle of the ancient mountains of Heldran.
I was sixteen when the ruling of our kingdom fell on my inexperienced shoulders. That was six months ago. My father, King Kaspar, was still in his strong years and a great leader of our kingdom. Then 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 up to my father’s misfortune, there were several reports of unexplained disappearances, and a feeling of unease grew slowly among the people.
The king, concerned by the accounts, sent several search parties of seasoned soldiers to investigate, but none of them ever returned. Fear spread and many began questioning whether the king was doing enough.
I can still see my father waving to me as he left that mild spring day for his walk. It was his habit to take a walk each day through the woods bordering the back of the castle. It gave him the time to weigh the heavy decisions facing him and the kingdom. Save for his two bloodhounds, 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'd confessed to me that he was afraid his inner voice might be drowned out by the murmurs of his advisers, as each tried desperately to sway him one way or another. That day, however, he never returned from his walk, the hounds vanishing along with him.
Losing my father caused a deep mantle of confusion and grief to settle over me. During that time, I feared I’d 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 expected to hear my father’s confident voice and feel his presence, but my new position required all of my attention, and that meant burying my feelings deep inside. Working day and night, I was learning how to lead my kingdom and how to provide fair judgment in the matters presented before me, while considering ways to ensure that no one would go hungry through the winter to come. And I was pretty good at it.