War Swords

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The Northwind Palace

Prince Carlowe stared ahead at the open road feeling detached. Still visible in the distance was the great mass of black stones, all put together and placed to perfection. The Northwind Palace, as it was so regally named, was even less welcoming from a distance than it was up close.

He could see the large black and gold flags billowing in the distance as they moved closer.

It was strange to be back, Prince Carlowe noted. He felt an overwhelming sense of dread, but also the familiarity of this being his home. The juxtaposition of the two often left him perplexed. Those black walls were home to some of his best and worst memories.

A steady flow of snow had been falling for quite some time, shortly after the Palace came into view. It was also much colder, something everyone seemed to notice.

The Prince glanced quickly over at Adrina, who he noticed was hiding her discomfort very well. She still had on her Rebel uniform, though her armor was removed as soon as she arrived at their camp the first night. The cold northern winds must have been chilling her to the bone.

"Egor," Carlowe called, without taking his eyes off the road.

After a few short moments, his giant-like friend came into view, walking along side the wagon.

"Yes, your highness?" His large black beard was covered with specks of snow.

The Prince turned to him, speaking in a hushed tone so that Adrina wouldn't hear him. He knew from experience how she would protest any assistance.

"Go fetch a large fur coat," he half-whispered, pointing to the back of the wagon.

Egor left without a nod and the Prince returned his eyes to the road. He smirked to himself, noting the stubbornness of the Rebel leader. There was something about her that he found amusing, though he had trouble pin-pointing what it was.

Eventually Egor returned, placing the large fur coat on the Prince's lap. It was made from one of the Snow Cats killed earlier. He had hoped that a few of the Dwarfs would use it for themselves, but they too were accustomed to the cold.

Their small compacted bodies made for great defense against the northern winds. It was a big reason as to why they were so often chosen as slaves to the Dominion. Goblins were too thin and manipulating. They were better suited for regulated work inside the Palace walls. Centaurs were too stubborn and worked better when regulated as well.

Without looking her way, Carlowe set the fur on the Shakel girl's lap. "Here," he said, clearing his voice. "It's a lot colder up here than down south."

There was a pause.

"I don't want it."

Prince Carlow rolled his eyes, smirking and shaking his head to himself. Once again, he unable to pull away the amusement from his expression. "I don't care if you don't want it. You need it."

Adrina turned to him, the noise of her shackles taking his eyes away from the road. "I don't need anything from you."

Carlowe raised his eyebrows at her response. "Sure you do. By the time we make it back to the Palace, you'll be frozen. You're of no use to me dead."

This rendered no response out of her, much to his delight. But while now words came out of her mouth, her eyes said quite a bit.

The Prince watched, delighted as she begrudgingly took the fur from his lap, pulling it over her shoulders. She was now a mass of white fur, and it did suit her well, he noted.

"Ah, now that pleases me," he admitted.

Adrina raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure you always get what you want."

Prince Carlowe tilted his head and considered the sentiment. "Hm. Not really. Though, most trivial things I do."

"Must be nice," she mumbled, sinking her chin lower into the fur.

He could tell that she was not up for much of a conversation. They remained silent for the rest of the journey, though Carlowe was fine with it. There was so much that had to be done, discussed, accounted for. So many things to consider and think about.

He was completely dreading making it back and dealing with it all.

Once the public learned of the death of his father, they would want to retaliate on the Rebellion ten-fold. But Carlowe knew that that couldn't happen.

Queen Nadine would be inconsolable at the death of her husband, of course. But she would be even more devastated at the loss of her title. That was one altercation that Prince Carlowe was especially not looking forward to.

In the case of Wren, he was unsure. Though only his half-brother, the two of them had taken solace in one another at the harsh antics of their fathers, especially when it was aimed towards them. But Wren was different than Carlowe, something he had always understood. He would not take this news well either.

The final lengths of the journey went by quickly, almost too quickly for Prince Carlowe.

It was midday when they arrived into town. Most of the people spent their time inside because of the frigid weather. But there were a few standing outside, greeting the soldiers with polite waves.

The Prince looked around agitated, a slight feeling of paranoia taking over. He had to get the Shakel girl out of sight.

"Egor," he called, hoping his friend would be at his side as quickly as possible.

Sure enough, the giant-like man made an appearance within moments.

"Yes, your highness?"

The Prince halted the wagon, jumping down from his seat. Looking around, he spoke quietly to Egor. "Load her in the back and take her to your home. I will come by later tonight."

Egor obeyed without protest or question. Adrina appeared to not argue her being moved, something Carlowe was appreciative of. If she made a scene, drew too much attention, and the public learned who she was, the effects would be astronomical. There would be a cry for a public event of her execution.

That was something he could not allow.

After Egor took his place at the front of the wagon, Carlowe hoisted himself up onto Pax.

With the entire Dominion army behind him, Prince Carlowe made his way towards the black gates of the Northwind Palace. It looked smaller up close, but his feelings were still the same.

He thought of his father, lying cold in the wooden box a few wagons behind.

It was his turn to lead, to be king now. He wanted so desperately to be a good one. But despite his heart's yearnings, there was something deep down inside of him that made him believe that he never would be.

Clenching his teeth and closing his eyes, Prince Carlowe walked through the black gates, ready whatever came next; ready to be king.

The second he felt the rush of the warm Palace air rushing past his face, he felt differently. He wished that he was anywhere else but here.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Graymeer appeared at his side. "Well?" he asked expectantly, folding his arms behind his back.

Carlowe took in a breath, his heart rate beginning to quicken. "Call on the rest of the advisers and council for an emergency meeting. But first, see to it that Queen Nadine is brought to the doors throne room. I will be waiting there for her."

Graymeer nodded. "Of course, my prince. And what of the late King's body?"

"I want it placed at the foot of his throne immediately."

"And what of Prince Wre--"

"I will deal with my own brother," Carlowe said, his words cutting through the air sharply. "But I will deal with the Queen first."

His words echoed through the empty foyer, a moment of complete silence to follow.

"As you wish," Graymeer finally said.

He disappeared down the hallways without a sound. Slowly, but deliberately, Carlowe walked the halls towards the throne room. It wasn't too far off, and many of the guards and servants smiled at him.

They obviously hadn't heard the news yet.

Graymeer was quick, Carlowe noted. He watched on as his father's coffin was carried through the front doors of the throne room. After they were closed with a low sound that seemed to reverberate off of the walls, Carlowe studied his surroundings in silence.

He'd probably stood in front of those doors a million times, waiting to speak with his father; at one time his mother.

The memory of her still pained him.

But the doors had always been spectacular. They were large and painted completely black, with gold and silver designs covering them entirely and intricately. The ceilings above him were ancient and from the Raygorian era, when Raygor himself walked these very halls. They were dark grey, as were the rest of the walls in the Palace.

Carlowe had spent so much time here that he found the darkness to be almost normal, though he noticed it more after he had been away. He wondered how his mother liked it here.

His father didn't like to talk about her. Even as a child, whenever Carlowe brought her up or asked questions, he recalled his father growing angry to the point of shouting or violence. Over time, Carlowe had learned to keep quiet about her. A few of the staff told him small snippets and stories of her life here, but most of the ones that knew her were long gone. Now that his father was dead too, Carlowe felt that his mother had died all over again. It seemed that his chance, though a small one at that, of knowing her was now completely lost.

It was as though he'd lost both of his parents on two separate occasions. He remembered how his father changed when his mother died. The man he knew as a boy had been lost long ago. And now that his father was truly gone, any chance he had of knowing his mother was gone too.

Prince Carlowe's thoughts were broken by a sudden amount of giggling coming from the other end of the hall. Queen Nadine was making her way over to him, her striking beauty and dark skin immediately recognizable. Two of her ladies in waiting were fawning over her as they all walked up to him. She'd always enjoyed attention.

When they finally reached him, the Prince was waiting silently, his hands behind his back.

Queen Nadine raised a sharp eyebrow at him. She was smiling, but Carlowe knew from experience that her smiles were often misleading. "Carlowe, it's so nice to have you back in the Palace. I trust your business was productive?"

The Prince swallowed nervously, glancing in the direction of the two ladies. "Uh, I suppose time will only tell."

The two ladies laughed, but Queen Nadine was not as amused. She smiled politely, as she so often did, but Carlowe could tell that she was annoyed with the way her ladies fell all over him.

"Tell me," she began, smoothing her hands over her deep purple dress. "Where is my husband?"

Prince Carlowe's expression grew harder. "Queen Nadine, may we please speak in private?"

The two ladies giggled to themselves again, but the Queen would not have any of it. "Oh, go on, you silly little girls," she hissed. "Wait for me in the parlor."

The ladies' laughs immediately stopped upon her request. They bowed before scurrying away, the Queen rolling her eyes after them. "Now," she mused, eyeing the Prince carefully. "What is it that you want from your wicked old step-mother?"

Prince Carlowe smirked, though he knew she wasn't joking. He picked through his words carefully and as quickly as he could.

"Would you just come out with it already?" the Queen complained, inspecting her nails.

Prince Carlowe took in a deep breath. "The King has died. In battle, the King died."

Queen Nadine snapped her head up at him, her large brown eyes wide. "What?" she yelled.

Carlowe backed away a step, nodding furiously. "Yes, he--"

"WHAT?!" Her hands balled into fists, completely enraged.

The Prince glanced around him for the guards down the hallway. Me motioned for them immediately, feeling his heart beat quickening the more she wailed.

"WHAT DID YOU DO? YOU CALL YOURSELF HIS SON, BUT YOU LET HIM DIE?"

The Queen continued to screech loudly, taking a vase of flowers from the nearby table and slamming it to the ground. The glass shattered loudly, Prince Carlowe flinching at the sound.

"Take her to the Queen's chambers," he ordered the guards, just as they were about to reach her.

The two men grasped the Queen's arms, but she continued to yell and fight them.

"WHO DID THIS?" she screamed, struggling against the guards' arms. "I WANT TO KNOW WHO DID THIS!"

The Prince clenched his jaw, unable to pull his eyes away from her seething stare. It seemed to cut through him like a knife.

"I WANT THEM DEAD! I WANT THEIR HEAD ON A PIKE! ALL OF THEM! I WANT THEM ALL DEAD!" she screamed from down the hall, the hatred in her voice undeniable.

Her voice continued to echo throughout the halls but Carlowe stood motionless. He imagined, for a moment, Adrina's head on a pike. Shaking away the image he turned around.

Once he could no longer hear her screams, the Prince exhaled slowly. He continued to stand in front of the doors for a few minutes, not really thinking about anything, just breathing.

Eventually he made his way into the throne room which was, thankfully, completely empty. The large black throne was at the end of the room like it always was, a giant Dominion flag behind it.

Prince Carlowe strolled up to it slowly, passing his father's wooden coffin that had been set on the table. He let his fingers graze the top of the box before he sat down on the throne. It felt cool beneath his body, but slightly familiar. He glanced at the Queen's throne, set up slightly below the King's on the left. He wished that his mother was sitting beside him now.

He knew that he must meet with the advisers and council at once, but for now he just wanted to take solace in the silence he was so fond of.

For now, he wanted to remain alone.

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