Kellin sat in his study with his hand on his forehead and his eyes closed. As usual, a throbbing headache had disrupted what little peace he had these days. His handsome wooden desk was littered with all sorts of documents that he did not wish to review. He could feel himself about to break-down and cry like he had not cried since he was crowned king.
He had lost his mother, his father, and now his older sister who had been like a mother to him ever since their own mother had passed. He ruled a kingdom that did not belong to him anymore and was a slave to the Empire. The worst part of it all were the punishments. Kellin shivered as he recalled the last punishment he had received from General Marcus Valva. When Kellin had lost his temper over the destruction of Jesk and the death of his sister, the general had been most displeased.
After being stripped naked in front of his royal guard and whipped by the general, Kellin had lost what little dignity he had left. General Marcus was a cruel man and enjoyed hurting and humiliating others. Worse than the pain was having to look at each member of his royal guard as he received fifty lashes. His royal protectors were forced to watch their king being abused and insulted by the imperial general. He knew that they would all die for him if he told them to, but what would that solve? He would not allow any of them to die pointlessly. It was the whole reason he had agreed to the terms offered by Prince Tarius and General Marcus. He did not wish to see any more men die for nothing.
Kellin felt his eyelids closing as the candlelight flickered. “You look tired my king” General Marcus said as he walked through the study door. Kellin’s heart sank. General Marcus had been away for some days which had given him some measure of relief. However, the general’s absence had been shorter than Kellin had hoped.
“You are back already general?” Kellin inquired while trying to mask his fear and disappointment.
“Oh yes” The general replied with a wide smile “I fear I cannot leave you to your own devices for too long, my young king. You still have much to learn when it comes to governing such a vast kingdom.”
Kellin started to feel dizzy and weak as sleep threatened to overcome him. “Please Lord General,” Kellin said desperately “It has been a full week since I’ve been allowed to sleep. Just a few hours is all I ask. If I do not rest, I fear I will collapse!”
General Marcus smiled charmingly at him and said “If you collapse then I will wake you. Do you not yet understand your highness? You will sleep when I allow it. You will eat when I allow it. You will shit when I allow it. Is it becoming clearer?”
Kellin began to cry now. He could not control himself any longer. He was scared and lonely. He wanted to mourn for his sister in peace. He was tired, and he was hungry. His body still ached from his previous punishment. Hot tears streamed down his face as he cried uncontrollably. General Marcus could be heard laughing at him. “Silly boy” he had said “What good will crying do? You are mine for the rest of your days. No amount of crying will change that”
Kellin had thought about ending his own life many times since he came to know General Marcus. However, he could not bring himself to do it. If he were to die now, the country would be thrown into chaos. More importantly, he did not want to leave Azzara all alone. But Azzara was gone now, and the sweet relief of the eternal sleep seemed quite comforting.
As thoughts of how he would kill himself swirled around in Kellin’s head, there came a firm knock on the door of the study. “What is it!?” General Marcus shouted harshly.
“Apologies my lord, your highness” a voice came from behind the door “There’s a woman here your majesty. She demands an audience with the king.”
“Demands!?” General Marcus said indecorously “who dares demand the presence of the king!?”
“She claims to be a Rune Knight from Fiondan, my lord.”
Kellin’s eyes widened. It was the first time he felt awake in over a week. It couldn’t be? He thought hopefully.
General Marcus opened the door of the study, and one of Kellin’s royal guards stood on the other side. “I will handle this,” he said to the guard, and then he turned to Kellin “You will remain here!”
The General swooped out of the study toward the throne room. Kellin got up quickly and followed General Marcus silently. He hid behind a pillar as he witnessed the general make his way toward the steps of the throne. The throne room was packed with the members of the royal court. It seemed the arrival of a Fiondan Rune Knight had drawn much attention.
“Good evening to you, my lady” General Marcus had said having returned to his usual charismatic demeanour.
Kellin did not have to wait for the woman’s introduction to know who it was that stood before the royal court. He would recognise that yellow hair anywhere. It was really her! Kellin felt a great relief wash over him. Just seeing her here had given him strength and hope.
“I am Knight-Commander Vallarie of Fiondan’s Rune Knights,” Vallarie said impolitely. “I wish to speak to King Kellin.”
General Marcus sauntered toward her with a smile on his face “Dear, dear” he said with a tut-tut “A foreign commander comes to neutral territory, barges into the royal palace and demands an audience with His-Royal-Majesty? I should have you thrown in the dungeons.”
Vallarie stared at the general through narrowed eyes “I’ll have you know, General” she said with the same impolite tone “That I intend to stay on this spot until I see the king…although if you wish to throw me into the dungeons, then I welcome you to try.”
General Marcus’s smile had vanished now, and his eyes flashed dangerously. It would appear that The General did not take kindly to being challenged in this manner. Kellin had decided to intervene. It would mean that he would receive a harsh punishment later, but it was worth the risk of hearing what Vallarie had to tell him.
“My dear friend,” Kellin said warmly as he walked out from his hiding place and toward his throne. General Marcus shot Kellin a deadly look that sent chills down his spine. Fear clutched his heart as The General’s eyes flashed dangerously. However, he would not bend this time no matter the punishment.
Kellin sat himself down on his throne as Vallarie got down on one knee and bowed deeply.
“Your Highness,” she said.
“Rise Vallarie,” Kellin said to her “It gladdens me to see you after so long my old friend.”
General Marcus snapped his fingers, and three imperial soldiers had made their way behind Vallarie. “You need not concern yourself with this person your highness” General Marcus said, “Arrest her and throw her in the dungeons!”
Kellin raised his hand “No, leave her be. I will hear what she has to say”
The General shot Kellin a murderous look this time. Marcus would dare not act out in front of the entire royal court. However, he did not wish to think upon the punishment that would be in store for him later.
“Thank you, your highness,” Vallarie said gratefully.
“You are a long way from home my old friend,” Kellin said, “what brings you this far?”
“Your Highness, there is a matter I wish to discuss with you…” Vallarie looked around the throne room at all of the eager onlookers “In private”
“In private!” General Marcus exclaimed “surely you jest!? You barge into the royal palace uninvited! You demand an audience with the king! And now you wish to speak with him in secret!? Whatever you have to say can be said in front of the royal court, Knight-Commander!”
Kellin sat up from his throne and walked toward the chamber behind the throne room. “Follow me Vallarie. We will speak in here.”
Kellin did not turn around to see the general’s reaction or to listen to the whispering of the members of the court. He could hear Vallarie’s metal greaves clunking behind him as he opened the door to his study.
“Shut the door behind you,” he said to Vallarie as he settled himself down on his chair. He motioned for Vallarie to sit down opposite him and stared at her for a long while before speaking. “I’ve missed you,” he said with a sigh.
Vallarie bowed her head “and I you” she gave Kellin a look of deep concern “You don’t look well your highness.”
Kellin smiled sadly “It is the burden of a king I’m afraid. Speaking of which, how is your brother?”
“He is well your highness. When I return home, shall I give him your regards?”
“Yes, please do,” Kellin said with a smile. “Now tell me what it is you travelled all the way to Gillia to speak to me about.”
“Your Highness. Upon hearing of Princess Azzara’s murder, I had decided to travel to Gillia to undertake my own investigation. As you know, her-highness was like a little sister to me.”
“I am aware,” Kellin said with a nod “You two were inseparable when you were together. I was so jealous” he laughed ’You two would never allow me to join in your games!”
The two of them laughed heartily. “We thought you too young to understand our games, your highness.”
Vallarie’s smile faded as she began to speak again “I have found evidence that your sister, Princess Azzara, may yet be alive.”
Kellin felt his jaw drop as he stared into Vallarie’s eyes. She was serious. This was not a guess or wishful thinking. Could it really be?
Vallarie continued to relay all that she had found out at the village of Jesk. She spoke about the hut and all she found inside. She even showed him the Tiara.
“This is what she wore the last time I saw her,” Kellin said as he stared longingly at the tiara in his hands.
“Then it is true,” Vallarie said excitedly “Azzara must have escaped the attack!”
Just then, the door of the study creaked open, and General Marcus had walked in. Kellin had not seen this look on the General before. He looked like a man possessed. He walked toward Kellin with a wicked smile on his face.
“This is a private audience!” Vallarie shouted at the General. However, he did not seem to hear her. He continued to walk toward Kellin with sinister purpose. Kellin quickly looked at Vallarie as he stood up “Vallarie run! I do not believe the villagers attacked my sister! General Marcus is a-” but what he was, Kellin had never finished saying.
He felt a sharp pain in his chest. General Marcus had pierced his sword through Kellin’s heart so quickly that he barely noticed that he had been stabbed. As blood spluttered from his mouth, he could vaguely hear Vallarie’s scream of anguish as she drew her Rune Sword from her sheath.
Kellin’s eyes became blurry, and his thoughts become mangled as he fell to the ground. He could hear the clash of steel and shouting, but it sounded so distant. Kellin looked up at the ceiling and saw his mother standing before him. “It is time to sleep my son,” she said to him. Kellin smiled ‘Yes, it is time to sleep…finally’ he said in his mind.
Kellin closed his eyes and saw no more.