The wagon carrying Adrina traveled many miles since beginning their journey that morning. She could tell that most the men were growing anxious to be hime.
The sores on her wrists had become almost numb to her, but she rubbed them anyway, bored. It had become increasingly chillier the farther they traveled.
Prince Carlowe was still seated next to her, silent as usual. He wasn't fidgeting in the slightest and kept his gaze steady in front of him. His eyebrows, she noticed, always seemed to be furrowed, as though he was continually deep in thought.
The Rebel soldier shifted her weight around slightly, accidentally bumping into his side.
He snapped his head at her instinctively, at which she mumbled an apology.
"No," he told her, waving a hand, though it seemed that he was slightly irritated. "I was just deep in thought."
"It seems to me that you're always deep in thought."
The Prince smiled, but in the smallest of ways. Adrina noticed he didn't show emotion too often if he could help it. "Yes. My mother used to say that all of the time."
"Used to?" Adrina asked, stretching her arms out in front of her.
The Prince grew rigid, as if he had shared too much.
Adrina pressed on, despite his silence. "Has the Queen grown ignorant of your pensive facial expressions?"
Prince Carlowe made a face, turning to her. "The Queen--" He stopped, as if to collect his thoughts for a moment. "Queen Nadine is not my mother."
Adrina eyes widened in shock. "What?"
She thought she saw one of the corner's of his mouth upturn, but it seemed to fade away as quickly as it came. "No."
"Then who-- Oh... Now I remember. I didn't realize that the late Queen had children during her reign."
The Prince nodded almost solemnly, looking forward.
Adrina thought for a moment, feeling heavily uncomfortable.
"My father remarried soon after. I was eight," he said aloud, though it seemed to Adrina that he was speaking to himself.
"Do you get along with Queen Nadine?" Adrina asked.
She felt a slight distaste in her mouth giving a title to the Dominion leaders. Norman and Nadine Ramos were no King or Queen to her. In fact, Prince Carlowe wasn't really even a Prince to her either.
"We tolerate each other," he confessed, but it seemed to pain him to share this much. Adrina wondered why he was doing so in the first place. "But she has always kept a certain amount of distance. One that I always understood."
The Rebel nodded slowly, thinking for the first time of her mother and father. They were back home, somewhere in the southern parts of Calaria. She wondered if they'd heard the news of her capture.
For a few moments, Adrina sat beside him in silence, contemplating on whether or not to speak. It felt surprisingly comfortable. She could deduce that he spent most of his days in a certain amount of silence. But, for some reason, she glance back at the Prince.
"Why haven't you killed me yet?"
He turned to her swiftly, a puzzled look on his face. "I have no intention of killing you at all," he told her, and then shifted his eyes back to the road. The entirety of the terrain was now dusted in a light layer of snow.
Adrina felt a wave of relief that soon faded. "So you're just going to keep me prisoner? Chain me up, imprison me, torture me for the rest of my life? I'd rather die."
The Prince snapped his head in her direction again, taking her by the wrist. "Do not speak to me in that way so loudly. There are those in this regiment that would not like it."
The Rebel clenched her jaw, challenging the Prince's gaze. "I'm not scared of you."
Prince Carlowe exhaled, and then released her wrist. He seemed convicted, but for some reason his steely gaze was not as threatening as she thought. "It's not me you should be worried about."
"I don't care what you do to me," she murmured, trying to release her hand. "I'll never tell you anything."
The Prince smiled wickedly at her, but it wasn't a happy smile. It was as though he knew something she didn't. "I don't need you to tell me anything, I assure you."
He finally let go of her wrist, Adrina's gaze remaining fierce. "Then what are you doing with me?"
She watched as he looked around, then back to her. "I intend to use you as a bargaining chip for a deal with the Rebellion."
"A deal?" Adrina cried in surprise.
"Yes," Prince Carlowe hissed quickly, openly annoyed with her outburst.
"What kind of deal?" she whispered.
The Prince retracted, as if he was putting up a large wall. "That information is privileged."
Adrina rolled her eyes, which seemed to irritate the Prince heavily.
"Look, why can't you just be happy that I'm not killing you?" His words cut through the air like ice and Adrina continued to sit in silence stubbornly.
Prince Carlowe mimicked her attitude, but seemed to eventually think better of it. "Look, when I can I'll key you in on it. But for now, it's best if I keep this to myself." His tone was much more relaxed now, as if he was working things through in his mind.
When she didn't respond, the Prince turned his gaze directly on her, willing her to look at him.
Begrudgingly, Adrina met his eyes. They were a dark deep blue and softer than she expected, revealing so much to her about who he was. Looking at him now, her views of the Prince seemed to change, almost as if she was seeing him in a different light. He didn't seem quite like the cold, evil nightmare she'd thought up in her head. There was, she supposed, always the chance that he was lying; that this was somehow a trick. But after searching his eyes, she really didn't think so.
"You are nothing like any other King the Dominion has seen."
Prince Carlowe took in a breath sharply, fixing his eyes back on the road.
When he didn't say anything, Adrina looked down at her hands. "You know, I... I'm not sorry that I killed the King. But I am sorry that I killed your father."
The Prince sat for a moment and then turned to her, his expression unreadable. "Funny," he mumbled. "I was thinking the exact opposite."
Adrina kept her eyes locked on his again, sitting in silence.
Suddenly, someone charged up to their wagon, breaking their gaze. Graymeer sat high on top of the horse proudly, his black cloak pulled over his head.
"Prince Carlowe," he greeted. "How are you fairing the last leg of the journey?"
Adrina watched as the Prince sighed heavily, fidgeting around in his seat, looking extremely uncomfortable. "Just fine, Graymeer. How are the soldiers?"
"Oh, they're fine. Happy to be back in the cold, I assume."
Adrina observed as Prince Carlowe nodded, sensing his irritation.
"Was there something that you needed?" He asked, a hint of detest in his voice.
"Ah, yes. Lady Jordanna expressed to me that the Mystics would like to disband from the rest of the army earlier, just after we come out of Snow Pass."
Prince Carlowe shook his head. "No. I want to speak with them as soon as we reach Aesir."
"Yes, my Liege. But Lady Jordanna..."
He continued to talk, but the Prince's eyes wandered elsewhere. Instead, they were fixed upwards to the trees. Adrina could feel the same intensity in the air; the feeling that something was wrong.
Graymeer continued to speak.
"Sh," they both said, Prince Carlowe standing up in the wagon and pulling it to a halt. His pale blue eyes shifted around them, his posture completely on edge.
Adrina scanned the trees on both sides, which were now completely covered in snow.
"What?" Graymeer asked, looking around.
There was a pause so quiet it was as if you could hear the snow hit the ground. And then, out of the tops of the trees jumped two large beasts, their coats white with small gray speckles.
The Prince removed his sword as one of them lunged at him. He cut his horse free from the wagon as the giant Snow Cat growled angrily. The other one leapt over to Graymeer, knocking him off of his horse.
Adrina struggled against the chains on her wrists, watching the two Snow Cats dance around Graymeer and Prince Carlowe.
The larger one hissed at Graymeer, moving towards him slowly, its back arched.
Prince Carlowe moved through the snow stealthily just as the other Snow Cat leapt towards him again. Unable to land a blow with his blade, the Prince knocked the cat down the butt of his sword. It flew across the path, white flurries flying into the air until it skidded to a stop.
Graymeer was now backing up towards the edge of the forest as the other Snow Cat crept further. Adrina could see from the wagon the pure fear in his eyes, his open mouth trembling.
Just as it was about to pounce, Prince Carlowe ran towards them. He stuck his sword into its side and the Snow Cat growled in pain before slumping over into the snow.
Adrina continued to struggle in the wagon, pulling at the chains on her wrists and ankles. She watched as the other Snow Cat lifted itself from the path, shaking its fur. Slowly, it inched its way towards her, its teeth bared, white eyes wide.
Desperately, Adrina tugged harder at the chains, but to no avail. She felt the fear rising in her, the burn of it creeping up her neck.
The Snow Cat lunged for her, growling in the air. Quickly Adrina slid to the other side of the bench and lifted her legs, kicking the animal in its face.
On top of the wagon now, the Snow Cat reared up and scratched Adrina's shoulder, it's sharp claws digging deep into her flesh.
She gasped at the sharp wet pain, just as the cat growled again, echoing through the entire forest. The animal's white eyes were locked on hers, her mouth opening but without sound.
Just before the animal could reach her, Prince Carlowe sailed through the air and knocked it off of the wagon and into the bank. He stepped over Adrina and jumped to the ground, plunging his sword into the great animal.
Adrina watched, her heart rate slowing. The Prince was breathing hard, but he didn't looked back at her.
Graymeer was still lying in the snow, trembling terribly on the other side of the path. By this time, several soldiers and Egor had ran up to the wagon.
Prince Carlowe removed the sword from the Snow Cat and put it back into its sheath in one swift movement.
He looked back over at Adrina who was clutching her shoulder, blood seeping through her fingers. His expression was again unreadable, though he was frowning. "Egor," he called, keeping his eyes on her wound.
"Yes, Prince Carlowe? Are you alright?"
"Quite alright, my friend. Please tend to Adrina's wounds and alert the Dwarfs to the bodies of the Snow Cats. Some of them are not properly dressed for the cold, I'm sure they could use the fur."
"Yes, Prince Carlowe."
Graymeer had finally picked himself up, dusting the snow off of his body.
"We'll sit tight for a few moments. I think Graymeer is still collecting himself," The Prince said, winking at the giant-like man.
Egor chuckled and then stomped his way over to Adrina. It was strange to see the Prince make light of anything. "You alright, Miss 'Drina?"
She nodded, removing her bloody hand from the wound. "I think so."
"Let me find some salves and bandages."
The Rebel waited patiently, the pain in her shoulder starting to subside. She was lucky to be alive, this she knew. Being without a weapon was completely terrifying. She'd never felt so powerless in her entire life.
Eventually Prince Carlowe came and sat down right next to her as Egor came back. "Ah, Egor. Thank you, but I'll just take care of it so that we can be on our way."
"Prince Carlowe, are you sure?"
The Prince nodded, gesturing back behind the wagon. "Yes, yes, don't worry about it."
Adrina watched with her arms folded as Egor trudged back behind the wagon. After he was gone, Prince Carlowe took out the salve and opened the lid.
"Here," he said forcefully, "give me your arm."
Adrina furrowed her eyebrows, not ready to comply. "I'll do it myself, thank you."
"Come on," he persisted, reaching for her. "Just let me--"
"I said, I'll do it myself," she repeated, a defiant expression still about her.
Princ Carlowe ran a hand over his dark hair and set down the salve with a bit of force. "Fine," he said through clenched teeth. "Have it your way."
Adrina took the small bottle and rolled up one of her sleeve. She winced at the sight of her wound and even more when she rubbed the solvent over it.
She knew he was just trying to help. But the thought of him aiding her in anyway had her completely out of her mind.
After finishing, she set down the bottle and reached for the wrap. Trying to wrap her shoulder without moving her other arm proved to be quite the challenge, something that Prince Carlowe took notice of.
"Just let me help you."
Adrina shook her head just as the roll of cloth fell from her arm. She groaned, attempting to pick it up but Prince Carlowe snatched it first.
"Just let me do it," he repeated, clearly annoyed. He almost always seemed annoyed or irritated. His often furrowed eyebrows made sense to her.
Adrina watched as he placed one end of the cloth tightly to her bare arm, and then wrapped it slowly around her shoulder. His rough fingers grazed her skin slightly as he worked, something she tried not to think about.
"There," he relented, pulling down her sleeve. "Now you can stop being so stubborn."
"I was not being stubborn," she argued, rolling her eyes.
Prince Carlowe scoffed, patting his horse that was now tied up back to the wagon. "You most certainly were."
"Just because I want to do something for myself does not make me stubborn," she challenged, feeling the blood rush to her cheeks.
The wagon began to climb a small hill as Prince Carlowe answered. "It most certainly does. Why can't you just thank me and be done with it?"
"Thank you?" Adrina cried, positioning her whole body so that she was facing him. "Thank you for what?"
The Prince made a face, furrowing his eyebrows into that same familiar look. "I just saved your life, the least you could do--"
"Saved my life?" she repeated, lifting her chin and laughing to the trees. "If you didn't have me chained up in the first place then I wouldn't even need your help."
"Well, you did," he stated matter-of-fact-ly, inching his face closer to hers. "And you are stubborn. Look how hard it is for you to accept help when you really need it. You're not the least bit appreciative."
Adrina pursed her lips, looking back into his dark blue eyes. "Fine," she mumbled, clenching her teeth. "Thank you."
Prince Carlowe sat up, a slight smirk on his face. She wouldn't really call it a smile, though. "No need to thank me," he said, just as they were nearing the top of the hill. "Call it a favor."
She rolled her eyes, laughing in disbelief and completely unable to believe what was coming out of his mouth.
Abruptly the wagon was pulled to a stop.
Adrina gazed out into the valley that sat just below the Orion Mountains. It was completely covered in snow, a large black castle in the distance.
Prince Carlowe sighed. "Well. This is home."
The wagon continued to move and Adrina studied the black castle in the distance, the sight of it almost ominous.