Part 12 of my ongoing story.
161: You can call it luck, but I know it’s magic.
Commander Tra’Khil had been leading the party for days into the increasing cold and snow of winter.
“Apologies, sire, we had not planned on this particular course of action,” Tra’Khil said as they trudged along.
“Understood, Commander. There is nothing to apologize for.” In truth, Kru’Nah wanted to throttle the commander for his unwise decisions leading to today. However, he couldn’t afford to slip from his royal posture any more. Further, with all the unpredictable deaths in this company from who knows what kind of evil magic, Kru’Nah couldn’t blame Tra’Khil for wanting to search out the culprit.
“Sire, perhaps it would have been best to remain at the outpost, then—”
“I’ll hear no more of it, Commander,” Kru’Nah said, keeping his eyes locked ahead, his back straight. He wanted to see Tra’Khil’s face, but this was not the time to show weakness. The commander was even out of his peripheral vision, but the prince would have to be satisfied with no more speaking from the commander to know whether his point had been made.
After several long minutes, Tra’Khil had not spoken. Kru’Nah’s point had been made. It was time to probe what Tra’Khil really knew.
“Commander, what of this string of bad luck of losing men?”
“Luck,” Tra’Khil growled. “Not luck. Bad magic.”
“Yes. Bad magic from those meddlesome Guardians.”
“Ah, yes, that’s right,” Kru’Nah said. “The Guardians. Unusual the Guardians would care so much about lowly soldiers.”
“Never meddled with them like this before.”
“What is it the writings say about the fates? The Guardians leave created to their fates unless what? Why can’t I remember?”
“Don’t matter,” Tra’Khil said in an uncharacteristically rough voice. “They are interfering. Doesn’t make sense to try to figure it out.”
“But if we can figure out why,” Kru’Nah pressed, “perhaps we can bypass further interference.”
Tra’Khil huffed. Then a previous conversation came to Kru’Nah.
“My mother,” he said flatly.
“Yes, I remember now. Unless those granted leadership endanger the order set by the Guardians.” Kru’Nah startled internally, but kept his exterior blank. Endanger the order. Perhaps it’s not Mother after all.
“She killed off her husband,” Tra’Khil said quietly. “Nobody’s supposed to know that. Married above her station to start. Defied her father. Sent him to live at the ends of the world.”
Kru’Nah chanced a quick glance out of the corner of his eye. Tra’Khil’s eyes had lost all bitterness, and instead, held a deep sadness. Tra’Khil knew all these things. He spoke with certainty, with resignation.
“Do you hold yourself responsible, Commander?”
“Not completely, sire. Your mother makes her own decisions, but of course, we are the ones to carry them out.”
“What else can you do, Commander?”
Tra’Khil grunted again.
“To defy her is to ruin your life. If only she took pleasure in just death, no, she must ruin someone. I am not blind to the things my mother does.”
“Sire,” Tra’Khil said, his voice tight. “There are things we should not speak.”
“I respect you in this regard, Commander,” Kru’Nah said. “We shall not speak of the things that upset the order.”
“Best if we do not,” Tra’Khil said. “We don’t need any more attention drawn to us. We have done enough.”
The two fell silent. Kru’Nah reflected on the conversation as he slowed to fall behind Tra’Khil, relinquishing the lead position. As prince, he should be better versed on the writings. After all, they mostly pertain to the highest in the land. But why, then, do the Guardians afflict the lowly soldiers?
Kru’Nah couldn’t answer these questions without consulting The Writings, and of course, the only known copy of The Writings were under constant watch in the castle. Only the Guardian Priests had real access and he could never be sure if what they told was actually in The Writings or if they had been abandoned to serve more selfish purposes.
In his entire life, he’d never once thought about this. It had never mattered. But with all these strange happenings, the importance of knowing the actual Writings became clear to him. How would he get to them? Even if the guards were missing, The Writings were still far from unprotected, and he didn’t know how to release any of the spells. Those spells were part of the rites of the Guardian Priests and he certainly wasn’t going to get one of them to do it, and who knows what havoc might wreak if he were to kill one of them anyway.
Then again, if all of this was due to his mother upsetting the balance, perhaps the priests were in on it, and maybe killing them would restore the balance. That still left the problem of how to access The Writings. Fortunately, he had many days of walking to come up with a plan. Day after day, they would have to trudge through these forests until they reached the burned section, which would take three days to cross. At least, it took him three days to cross when he left nearly six weeks ago now.
“Attention, sire.” Tra’Khil’s voice broke through Kru’Nah’s thoughts. He looked around and then heard the crunching of snow under runners. The soldiers immediately formed a protective barrier around him, and he knelt, out of instinct. As soon as his knees hit the snow, he grimaced. He should have remained standing, but he couldn’t go back now. All of these problems were dulling his senses of protocol, inhibiting his ability to think. If he was going to go home and take control, he needed to act in control, not like a young prince anymore. Those days were now behind him. They had left the moment he decided to pursue Allyandrah.
“They’re approaching,” Tra’Khil whispered. He was behind Kru’Nah.
“Hail!” An unknown voice rang out. “Hail to the Prince and His Entourage!”
Kru’Nah stood, facing the direction of the voice.
Three pairs of Kreulans appeared pulling a massive, magnificent sleigh.
“What is this?” one of the soldiers breathed.
Kru’Nah silently agreed. There was no way this sleigh actually fit through these woods and the trees. And who could afford six Kreulans? They slowed, whistling through the nostrils situated on the tops of their heads. As they stopped, each of them stamped their six hooves, flashing sharp teeth. Their wild, red eyes unsettled Kru’Nah.
“Prince Kru’Nah,” the driver said, standing and bowing with a flourish. “I bid you welcome to my sleigh, you and all your entourage. We are overjoyed that you are still alive and well. We wish to take you home.”
“H-Home?” Kru’Nah stammered, then winced internally. This was not the speech of a prince. And who was this stranger?
“Of course, my highly esteemed Prince,” the stranger said, with another bow. “I can have you there by morning.”
“By morning?” Kru’Nah asked, masking all emotion.
“I am Claudius,” he said and several soldiers gasped. “If I say by morning, by morning it will be.”
The legendary Claudius, here in front of them, and Kru’Nah had not even recognized him. There was more going on here than it seemed, and he suspected a spell was at the heart of it all.
“Will you not honor me, my prince?” Claudius asked. He stepped into the snow and slid open one of the doors.
Having no other choice, Kru’Nah ordered the men in. It seemed he had run out of time to make his plan. Both luck, and magic, seemed to be working against him.
To Part 13.
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