Life After Life

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Chapter 14 - Dorian

I laid in my bed and reread the letter from Veryan, we had been in correspondence ever since the day I was back in my kingdom. I looked out my balcony doors and saw that a light snow had dusted the railing, so much for the snow holding off. I couldn’t help but smirk to myself at Veryan’s comment on a witch casting a spell. I had become someone I didn’t even know, waiting like a little school boy for my letter once a week. My father had taken notice that I was corresponding with someone from Delgurany, but he had not asked who, he assumed it was the princess not a maid. Every time I thought of it my stomach soured, my time at the Delgurian castle, the facade. From the ball, admitting my false love to the princess, the attack. I was supposed to be wooing the princess and yet all my letters were to Veryan. I knew it could never be and yet I found myself writing to her every time I got a reply. I had even at times left my training early just to get a letter out the same day I got one in. I reread Veryan’s latest letter that had informed me of her current studies with the princess.

I rolled over onto my stomach and pushed my hair for the hundredth time out of my face as I read the part about how she was learning defend herself and use a weapon. Her weapon of choice was a cross bow and she went on about how she loved it. A little pride swelled in my chest as I read again how she shot a dummy right in the head. I put the letter down, I had replied days ago, and it was already miles away, traveling to her. I thought to myself how hungry I used to be to rule a kingdom, and now I was hungry for something else. I laid there another moment before I decided that I should get up and start my day. I rang my bell and servants came rushing in to help me get dressed for the day.

I strolled into breakfast, not caring how late I was. Father had already left, and mother sat quietly sipping her tea and reading the letters she had received today. I glanced over and saw that Micelo was sitting crunching on his toast reading letters as well. As I pulled the chair out letting it scrape against the floor loudly servants were quick to place in front of me my favorite food, Toast slathered in butter with an orange already peeled and eggs that were fluffy and perfect. My stomach grumbled how hungry it was and I quickly devoured my plate.

“Careful Dorian, if you eat too quick you’ll get sick.” Micelo chastised me and my face immediately sours.

“Thanks dad, I’ll be sure to remember that.” I adjusted my shirt collar and stood up quickly “I’m off to go train.” No one said anything as I left, and I was glad for their lack of attention. Our hallways were lined with tall windows that looked out on our courtyard, most of the plants leaves had fallen off as snow gathered lightly on their bare limbs.

The sun was hidden behind the clouds, so the outside world was nothing more than just a soft gray and white. My boots clipped on the marble flooring as I walked towards the sparing room. There were 2 guards waiting for me, knowing my daily routine they were not dressed in the normal guard attire, but just shirts and trousers like me. I stood in the middle of the room, it was tall ceilings and marble flooring allowed me adequate space to train. While I stretched Wade and Kaapor stretched as well. They were brothers both had shaved heads and plain brown eyes that stared at me dully, Kaapo stood just a little taller than Wade even though Wade was older.

“Good morning your highness, how would you like to start today?” Wade called to me.

I cracked my neck and finished stretching, “Like always, no holding back 2 against one.”

They both bowed low to the floor “Yes your highness.”

I squared my shoulders as they both began to circle me, Wade pulled out a dagger from the sheath on his thigh. The metal glinted in the faded light streaming in from the window. There was no fire place in this room and my breath exited my body in puffs of smoke, soon my body wouldn’t be cold. Kaapo made the first move swinging his large fists towards me, I dodged his attack and blocked his punch sending him careening the other way, I regained my footing just as Wade sliced the blade through the air too close to my arm for comfort. I blocked quickly and pinned his arm behind his back and pushed him away. It continued like this until all three of us were breathing heavy with sweat coating our backs. I had disabled them both, their weapons laid on the ground forgotten.

Kaapo gave me a dirty look “One day highness, I’ll beat ya.” I rolled my eyes and let my hands rest on my hips, I took a deep breath trying to calm my racing heart.

“Thank you both, that’ll be all for today.” They nodded and headed out the door to go get ready for the rest of the day. I walked over to the enormous window my back turning to the door, I looked out at one of the many gardens on our palace lawns. A bench was now covered with a light dusting of snow, my mind flashed to that night with Everose and I feel my cheeks get warm.

I sighed loudly and shut my eyes tight as if it could get rid of the guilt I felt. I pressed my forehead against the freezing glass and let my breath fog up the small part of the window. Just as I finally let go of the image of the princess, Veryan flashed into mind and the guilt vanished just like that. I sighed again and pushed off the window, walking towards the door. Although I was done fighting, my heart was still beating heavy in my chest. Something felt off and I couldn’t place the reason why. I headed towards my study, already dreading the same old routine; old war generals droning on about outdated information, uneventful border patrols the list goes on and on.

Although Delgurany had been the victim of some petty attacks, Rimerona had not felt any of those. I neared the entrance to my study; guards were posted on either side of my door. They nodded at me as I approached but looked at me a little apprehensively. I glanced down and saw that I was still in my sparing clothes, completely underdressed. I ran my hands through my hair finding nothing to run my fingers through, I had forgotten that the maid had cut it earlier.

I took a deep breath in and marched through the doors, I was greeted by stares, I grit my teeth thinking of how father will berate me later. All the chairs scraped against the floor as all 6 generals show their respects. Their numerous metals all clinked together as they moved filling the room with quiet tinkling. They made fists with their right hands and place them over their chest while bowing, they mumbled variations of your highness and prince Dorian. I gave a curt nod and took a seat, they all followed suit except for one general who remained standing, he began his usual speech, of how the new recruits were coming along and how training was going. He spoke of how the soldiers were happy, some itching for battle but as a war was not in any upcoming future of Rimerona they’d have to be satisfied with training for now.

I was about to completely tune out when I heard something that caught my attention. I sat up interested now, I realized the speaker was the third general down the long table in front of me, he oversaw our border along Delgurany.

“Although they did not cross into our border they were seen heading west towards Carastil”

“How many?” Every eye snap to me, they were so used to my silence in these meetings I think they forgot I was there.

General Sastain cleared his throat “Uh- two sir. It was a male and female.”

My gut told me to press further “describe them.”

The General nodded and continued “they both wore commoner clothing, the male had brown hair, the girls was fair skinned with short black hair. Our soldiers did not engage so that all the information I can give. I can send word to stop them if that is your wish your highness?”

I heard him, but my mind was already coming up with insane scenarios of why Hayther and Veryan were traveling through the forest together, towards the forbidden forest.

“No need” I stood up abruptly “Excuse me, I have business I must attend to.” I marched straight towards my bed chambers, passing through the halls unaware of anyone’s presence. Except for my brother’s, Micelo stood by a window staring out at the snowy ground I slowed down as I approached him. The light coming from outside had turned his pale blonde hair to almost white, his blue eyes grayer, he looked right at home with the snow like some kind of Ice king. He wore a white blouse with light blue and red striping that curl around his bicep on his right arm,

“Little brother where are you off to in such a hurry?” I didn’t stop to talk, I started to pick up my pace again “Maybe it has something to do with the letters you’ve been receiving from Delgurany, from a certain lady in waiting?” I stopped dead in my tracks he couldn’t know about Veryan, it was not possible. If I turned and tried to argue it would only solidify the matter in his eyes.

I continued down the hall and from behind me I hear him call out “I like you with short hair.”

I grabbed a servant on my way to my room.

“I need supplies for about a 6-day journey and a horse ready to go.” he just kind of stared at me so I pushed him and rumbled “NOW”.

I threw my door open, thoughts racing through my mind, why was she traveling towards the forbidden forest? A feeling lodged itself deep in my gut. I had to get to Veryan. I pulled on a clean uniform my shirt just like my brothers, the red striping curling at my bicep, riding boots secured over my brown trousers and my thick light blue cloak around my neck. I went running towards the stables, my cloak sweeping out behind. Once there I saw that Manen, my black and white shire was waiting for me saddle bags loaded, he pawed at the snowy ground, his breath came out in puffs that matched mine. I stopped near his face and rub between his ears

“Ready Manen? It’s going to be hard riding.”

his response was a short puff of air and a shake of the head. I pulled my winter hat on, my shaved head not used to the cold again. I hoisted myself into the saddle and began my journey, I kicked Manen into a trot and I thought back to when I very first met him. I was 9 years old when my riding lessons began. It was a cold day just like this, the snow had just started to fall.

I cupped my hands in front of my mouth to keep them warm, snow hung off everything clinging to anything that it could. I stood at the opening of the stables, some of the horses were in their stalls. A loud thundering noise came from behind me and 3 horses came galloping up. The one leading them stopped just short of me, shooting mud and snow towards me.

The boy on top of the horse laughed “Little brother, do be careful! I know it’s your first day but normally you move to allow horses through.” Micelo slid down out of the saddle and landed with a hand on his hip, looking annoyed at my presence. The other two boys dismounted, and stable boys ran out to collect the horses.

Micelo’s instructor came cantering up, his hair in a disarray around his face “Your Highness, I must ask that when it is snowing do be more gently with the horses.” Micelo just stared at me not even glancing at the instructor, even at only 14 years old he stood like a king would. A burning sensation lit in the pit of stomach again, I would never be king. Even at 9 this bothered me.

“Prince Dorian, if you will please join me in the stables so we can begin your first lesson.” I turned around and followed my instructor inside.

I could feel Micelo still staring at me, and I tried not to shutter.

We passed empty stalls as my instructor told me “So today you will be riding Ritzer.”

A scraggly grey horse looked back at me. I felt my shoulders slump, thinking back to the horse that Micelo was riding. A banging noise in the stall next to Ritzer draws my attention. A black and white horse was kicking the door.

“What’s his name?” I said as I walked towards him

“Oh, that’s Manen. Careful he’s a little bit spunky he’s not fully broken yet.” I stood there staring at him, and I felt like something clicked.

“I want to ride Manen.” I whispered.

I snap back to the present as Manen ducks underneath a snow branch, hitting me in the face with it. I sputter and spit pine needles out of my mouth.

“Alright, no more taking it easy.” I muttered as we go into a full gallop south. All the while Veryan on my mind.

We kept traveling until we reach a small group of houses on the road. There was a small inn and I decided to stay there, I pulled on Manen’s reins telling him to slow down. At the Inn’s stable, I dismounted and shook the snow from my shoulders, a scrawny stable boy stared at Manen. I reached into my cloak and pulled out 6 gold coins/

“Make sure you take good care of him.” I said as I handed him the coins.

I thought the child was a mute the way he just kept staring at the coins and Manen until he busted out “Absolutely! He’s beautiful!” I smiled and removed my gloves, I headed inside to secure a room for myself.

Inside a fire glowed in the corner washing the small dining room in a warm amber glow. I basked in the warmth for a moment, I’ve always hated the cold. I walked towards the Inn Keeper, she was shorter than me and rounder too. Wrinkles and scars indicated that she had worked hard her whole life.

Her voice was pleasant “What can I do you for?”

I smiled, “a room for tonight, something to eat for me and my horse.” I pulled out a small brown bag full of coins and placed it on the counter. She picked it up and weighed it in her hands, she made a face at the lightness of it and peeked inside. Seeing all the gold coins and she made no protest and tucked it away quickly.

“Yes sir, let me show you to our largest room.”

I glanced at the other patrons, there was only an old man who was asleep in the corner near the fire and a woman who watched me. Her hair was heaped upon her head in a messy bun, and her dress was low cut with a corset tightly worn on the outside. She smiled at me and I quickly realized that she was a prostitute, I turned away and followed the Innkeeper.

She opened a heavy oak door to a large bed chamber. A small fireplace in the far corner of the room made it nice and toasty, a table with fresh bread sat near the fireplace along with bed large enough to fit 4 people. “Would you like your dinner brought to your room or the common area?” she asked me sweetly.

I was quick to stammer out “Here is fine.”

She chuckled “Don’t worry Miss Leena won’t bother you unless you bother her first.” I felt heat spread across my cheeks and suddenly I was uncomfortably warm. She closed the door saying something about food being ready in 10 minutes. I took my cloak off and hung it on the hook mounted to the wall near the fireplace.

I sat on the edge of the bed and laid back pulling my hat off and letting my arm fall over my eyes. I pretended to be such a lady’s man in front of high society girls because I knew that it was just talk, but I was ashamed at how easily flustered I got by a common streetwalker. My father’s words rung in my head from the day he slapped me in Delgurany “You are a failure! You can’t even seduce a simple-minded princess!” It didn’t matter I told myself, nothing he said mattered. Guilt started to build in my stomach, I didn’t even know where I was going, I should have thought of a better plan.

All I knew was that I had to get to the forbidden forest. Hopefully I would find Veryan quickly, dread pooled in my stomach as Hayther’s face flashed into my mind and the last encounter we had as well. I groaned a loud and heard my door crack open.

The Innkeeper stared at me through the door “Dinner is served sir,” she brought in a bowl of steamy soup, some bread and ale and then left. I fell asleep with a full stomach and dreamt of seeing Veryan again.

For a day and half, I rode hard, barely stopping. Inside the Forbidden forest with its oddly shaped trees and thick underbrush, I was thankful I made it with some sunlight still left. I found tracks that looked like two sets of human footprints. Hoping they were Veryan’s and Hayther’s I followed them. Finally, around twilight I saw smoke rising, just east of me. I brought Manen to a halt and dismounted him. I tied his reins to tree far enough away not to be noticed but close enough if I needed to escape. I quietly walked towards the voices I heard. I stopped just short of their camp and there she was. Veryan sat near a fire roasting what looked like rabbit.

Without even thinking I rushed out of the woods. “Veryan! Thank the stars you’re safe!”

Hayther sprung up from the other side of the fire “How did you fi--- Prince Dorian?” Veryan’s face looked blank like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. I felt my smile fade, something did not feel right.

Veryan asked me “How did you find us so quickly? Did you get my letter that fast?”

I shook my head “No our southern border patrol reported a sighting of two Delgurian’ s going into the forbidden forest and I had a gut feeling.” She stood up quickly and rushed to me. I realized that I was not much taller than her and her head laid perfectly on my shoulder

“I knew you’d come.” she whispered, I placed my arms around her for the first time and reveled in how right this moment felt, until a snort came from the pig next to the fire.

Hayther snorted again “I’m sorry” he held his stomach as he tried to stop laughing “what is happening?”

Veryan pulled away from me, it was a lot warmer here than in Rimerona but still a cold feeling settled into the place she just was.

“We’ve been writing letters to each other ever since I left to go back to Rimerona.” Veryan blushed “He saved my life Hayther.”

The growing darkness made the campfire threw shadows on his face.

“Are you forgetting what he was going to do to Everose, in order to get the crown.” Hayther was more hostile than I had hoped, Veryan crossed her arms over her chest and looked the other way.

“Hayther I understand why you hate me. But before you punched me in the garden I had just apologized to Everose, but please understand my father made me do those things, I had no choice.” I said as I absentmindedly touched my jaw with my father hit me and I could almost feel the scars on my back when I spoke of him.

“I don’t care.” Hayther huffed out.

I sighed a deep and heavy sigh “I know that I can never take back what I did, but I can say Everose was hurting that night at the ball, I saw her come in and she was about to cry, so I was there for her.” I hesitated, knowing that I had to tread lightly around this topic, but my annoyance won over and I continued “I didn’t see you anywhere at that ball after dinner. You don’t know what my father has put me through, since I am the second born son and I’ll never be King, therefore I must work harder to be better, my father has drilled that into me.”

Hayther rolled his eyes “Oh what did daddy yell at you?” at that comment my anger took full control.

I said in a mocking voice “No daddy didn’t yell at me” I lifted my shirt up off my back and turned around letting the fires light dance on them “he left a permanent scar.”

Veryan gasped, and as I turned around neither one of them will meet my eyes. I pulled my shirt back down feeling like I had made my point.

“Now do either one of you want to tell me why you both have left Everose?”

Hayther still wouldn’t look at me but Veryan’s beautiful blue eyes were staring at me intently as she said, “She’s been kidnapped.”

I went back to get Manen and brought him to the fire. Veryan offered me some of the rabbit meat she cooked, and I shared some of my bread with them as I sat down. Veryan told me everything that had happened since I left.

Hayther recounted the night of the kidnapping “Eric escaped with the help of his group and Axel” the last part he spits out.

I gasped “No, Axel who was assigned to me?” Hayther and Veryan both shook their heads in confirmation.

Hayther stared into the fire and said, “There’s one more thing.” Veryan looked at him surprised, apparently she hadn’t known there was anything else “The night after her mother’s funeral, Everose made me take her down to the dungeon to see Eric. While we were down there Eric said something that has bothered me a lot.” We both looked expectantly at him “He said ‘There is an old prophecy in Carastil. The first female born of Delgurany blood named after their goddess, she is said to have lived a thousand lives, will have to make the ultimate sacrifice. She will pay with her blood and right the wrong that she created eons ago. Only then will Carastil finally prosper again.’” Veryan’s hands covered her mouth as she looked paler than the moon.

I stayed quite as Hayther shook his head “It doesn’t make any sense. It was probably just Eric trying to scare her.” I tried to rationalize it, and Hayther stayed quite a moment longer before he muttered out “He said the gods spoke to him.”

Veryan looked visibly shaken but didn’t say anything. I sat there for a while, letting it all sink in “So what’s the plan?” I asked.

Hayther perked up a little at my question “Tomorrow, now that you’re here, we’re going to rescue the Princess.”

We took turns with the watch. In the morning Hayther went to check the snares and see if any animals were caught in the middle of the night. We packed up and Hayther went to scout ahead.

“They’re about half a day ahead of us. But we should make it to them by night fall tonight, they’ve been slowing down.” Veryan explained as we walked. Hayther had taken Manen so that he could get back quicker.

I nodded “Good, then we’ll have the cover of night on our side.”

We walked in silence filled awkwardness. We had never interacted this much in person before and it was hard to picture Veryan saying all the things from the letters she wrote, and I was sure she was finding it hard to picture for me as well.

“So, I see you brought your crossbow? You must be pretty good at it.” I chuckled.

She raised an eyebrow at me, and without looking away aimed and fired, hitting a tree in the dead middle of its trunk. I let out a low whistle as she went and pulled her arrow out. She loaded it back into the bow with no problem. “

I’m impressed.” I said as I watched her bicep flex as she pulled the cord back, so it was loaded and ready for the next shot.

She just laughed and said, “No worries I’ve got you covered.”

She wore a pair of black trousers and a white blouse today, I had never seen a woman wear that kind of clothing. The outfit was form fitting and it showed very well on her. She caught me staring and I glance up towards the sky, but you could hardly see it, we had entered a part of the forest where the trees grew thick and close together at the top.

“I’ve never seen trees grow so closely together.” I said

“This is a strange forest.” She smiled at me and brushed her hand against mine.

Instantly my smile grew bigger. Conversation flowed easily between us once we had broken the ice. Hours passed unnoticed until we heard the pounding of hooves and ducked behind some trees until Hayther let out the signal to let us know it was him.

“Okay they’re traveling pretty slowly, if we hurry I think we can catch them before nightfall.” He said.

I looked to Veryan “What are we waiting for then?”

We started to hurry off when suddenly a horrible screech pierced the otherwise stillness of the forest, Veryan’s eyes went wide and Hayther went pale. Manen’s ears were pinned to his head and his nostrils flared.

“What was that?” I whispered.

They both shook their heads, we looked around but there was no indication of any animal near us. It screeched again, and we realized it was coming from in front of us, towards Everose. With every screech that reverberated around us we hurried a little more.

Hayther muttered “I got a bad feeling about this.” and kicked Manen into a trot away from us,

Veryan hissed Hayther’s name but he was already gone. We started running towards the noise even though I felt like we should be running away, until finally a thunderous boom echoed all around us, one last screech and it went quiet.

We could see the trees thinning a little up a head and Hayther at the tree lining frozen. The pungent smell of blood slammed into me like a wall. I stopped and Veryan crashed into me.

“Look at this.” I whispered.

What looked like a dead horse laying in the grass was only the back half of a horse. Veryan made a gagging noise and went to puke away from the horse’s carcass. There was no rotting smell, so it must have been fresh. I pull my eyes away from it and continued towards Hayther.

Veryan joined us as we stopped next to Hayther and I heard him whisper “Oh my Goddess.”

I shielded my eyes and looked in the direction that he was staring and saw a cave with the opening covered by a bunch of rocks and a smashed dent that fit the size of the head of the dragon that was flying away now.

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