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Part Two: Chapter 18

Dragan found his brother in a derelict courtyard on the northwestern side of Saedus’ tower. The prince was propped there against the ruined battlements of some long-forgotten fortress; yet, cold and lonely under a gray sky, the great alp Gorm Vûdoc dominated the scene, engulfing and diminishing Baeldrin’s figure. Hundreds of deep, wine-dark crags appeared to roll from the peak’s snow-laden shoulders as water over a fall, splashing down into a torrent of rent earth upon the various levels of the mountainside. The DoomBringer had always considered this a prospect of which the eyes could never tire—yet clearly at present Baeldrin was staring only at the rubble beneath his palms. His kingdom, before it’s all over, Dragan mused as he approached. His mood was somber.

Marking his company, the prince turned while dusting his hands against one another. “Come to say farewell?” The greeting was unpleasant.

Dragan retrieved an object from his cloak and, moving in closer, pressed it to Baeldrin’s chest—firmly but without affront. “Take this, half-brother, and relieve me of half my burden.”

Baeldrin took the mass into his hand and, peering down, saw what had been gifted. The Sun of Domal. Looking back up, he noticed a glint of silver under his rival’s cloak—and understood then the meaning of the Bastard’s words. “What burden did this place on you?” he replied, holding the pendant aloft. “Were you foolish enough to think such a trinket would prevail over blood? It entitled you to nothing. And now you gift it to me as if I were some beggar.”

“Say what you will. Yet the light in your eyes could’ve lit Mother’s hall when I set it on the table.”

Baeldrin turned his head, puckering his lips in agitation and embarrassment. “And the enchantment beneath your cloak isn’t lost to me,” he replied in a voice laden with mockery. “This is the price of your vanity? A dog on a leash…”

“Tread carefully, brother, lest your hypocrisy run wild.”

At these words Baeldrin marked an ominous glow ripen deep in his sibling’s eyes, and suddenly he was frightened indeed—yet somehow he managed not to reveal or succumb to it. “Hypocrisy? You compare personal glory to the fate of nations? Your exploits are the petty stuff of bards. Stories told to the young and idiotic to keep them dreamy and complacent. You’ve no idea what it takes to turn the gears of the world. To manipulate the course of history!”

Dragan’s brows furrowed. “Taunt me a third time, and it will go ill for you, Prince of Domal.”

In his pride and agitation, Baeldrin opened his mouth to say: would that your prize donned my chest, bastard, then threats wouldn’t fall so readily from your tongue; but he shut his lips without speaking, unwilling to test the fidelity of the haughty words.

“I didn’t come here for this,” Dragan went on. “Whether you admit it or not, the man who possesses that pendant—freely given by the king—is by tradition heir to Domal’s throne. And though you’re correct in that a trinket alone can’t bestow its bearer the crown, not possessing it would only serve to create doubt and incredulity within your court. My fame doesn’t lie in the ruling of others. So take it…and speak no more of your spite to me.”

Fame or infamy? asked the prince inwardly, but he said no more. He placed the Sun of Domal within the folds of his red tunic then turned to resume his position amid the ruins. He made no gesture when Dragan exited the courtyard with parting words—yet the final say resounded in his thoughts as he gazed out to the horizon: keep my secret, keep your head.

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