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Read Part 17
206: You encounter a seer. They offer to peer into your future.
Kru’Nah took a deep breath and blew it out. He knew that a cloud of breath must have formed, but the blackness was so enveloping, he couldn’t see it.
“What else can I do?” he said to Claudius. “Of course I must do what is best for my people.”
“For your people?” Claudius asked, his voice seeming almost directionless in the darkness.
“Yes,” Kru’Nah said. “For my people. For—for Allyandrah.”
“Yes, for your love,” Claudius said. “Would you like to see her?”
Kru’Nah’s insides jumped into his throat. He swallowed, trying to regain control of his emotions.
“Of course,” Claudius said, “I don’t mean see her physically. I can look ahead and see what will happen. If she’s alive. If she’ll come to you. Now that you’ve chosen this wise path of serving the Guardians and the relic of the Guardians, there are a great many things I can do for you.”
Kru’Nah took a breath. It was a trap. It must be a trap. Or a test.
“I don’t wish to know the future, Claudius.” It was strange to use his name.
“Strange, indeed,” Claudius said.
“For if I know the future,” Kru’Nah continued, “then I will spend more time trying to ensure that future rather than relying on my intuition, as you said before. If this is a time where I need to rely on intuition, then I can’t have any distractions.”
“Do you even want to know if she lives?” Claudius pressed.
Kru’Nah hesitated. He desperately wanted to know.
“No,” he forced himself to say. “I cannot afford any distractions.”
“Of course, of course,” Claudius said.
They fell into silence again. The trees rushed past, though Kru’Nah never so much as felt the tips of a branch brush against him. There was nothing to see in the blackness, only his thoughts and anxieties to occupy him.
“How much longer until we arrive?” Kru’Nah asked.
“Oh, it won’t be long now. The sky should begin to lighten any moment now.”
As if he’d commanded it himself, the faintest shadows of trees appeared against the black backdrop. Kru’Nah took a deep breath.
“Are you sure you don’t wish to know? I could tell you all things,” Claudius said. “I could prepare you for whatever you may encounter at home. I could give you—”
“No,” Kru’Nah said, pretending his conviction was stronger than it really was. “No, thank you.” He could feel himself weakening against the offer, but he had to remain strong. No matter what Claudius offered, Kru’Nah knew it would be better for him to walk in unannounced and unprepared for whatever might happen.
“You are strong,” Claudius said. “The Guardians will have good use for you.”
“Whatever it is the Guardians need,” Kru’Nah said, “I am… honored… to serve.”
Claudius burst into raucous laughter.
Kru’Nah stiffened. He had no idea who or what he was sitting next to. Claudius may be the relic of the Guardians, but he still seemed completely insane.
Claudius laughed even harder. The woods themselves, now coming into clearer and clearer focus, trembled. The black trees stood in stark contrast to the snow-covered pines of last light.
Kru’Nah breathed slowly.
Claudius ceased laughing.
“You’ll need your cape, young prince,” Claudius said, his voice holding an ominous tone.
Fear ran through Kru’Nah. He woodenly stood and retrieved his cape, hooking it around his shoulders. He glanced around at his still-sleeping men and decided to let them sleep. Without knowing why, he returned to the front of the sleigh. The warmth of before had disappeared and the cold, damp night replaced the comfort of the blackness. They sped along and the castle came into view. Kru’Nah tried to keep his apprehension down, but it crawled up into this throat, threatening to choke him. Whatever was going to happen today was a complete mystery to him and he could do nothing more to prepare for it.
“This is your last chance, young prince,” Claudius said. “I can tell you what will happen.”
“No,” Kru’Nah whispered with his last shred of resolve.
“Very well, young prince,” Claudius said.
His voice had a strange inflection as he spoke, but Kru’Nah kept his eyes trained on the castle. He needed to muster every ounce of royalty he had left inside of himself. His mother would be unprepared to receive him. She would be even less prepared for Claudius. Would Claudius stay or would he go? And if he left, what would Kru’Nah say? How would he be able to stand up to his mother and keep his own life, even with the blessing of the Guardians and the relic of the Guardians?
The castle loomed larger and larger as the minutes wore on and just as the sun peeked over the horizon, they pulled up to the castle gates.
Claudius remained silent.
“Announce yourself!” boomed a deep voice from atop the gate.
Kru’Nah set his face and stood. He tipped his head up to identify the speaker.
“You fail to recognize your own prince?” he challenged, his voice steely and cold.
Immediately the gate began to roll open, the clanking of metal thick and dulled by the weight of the gate and all its settings. Kru’Nah set his face and climbed down from the sleigh, standing in front of it, waiting to greet whoever might be on the other side.
All fourteen gate guards knelt, faces low to the ground, bodies unmoving. Kru’Nah examined each of them slowly, deliberately, before taking in a deep breath.
“Rise, guards of the gate. Return to your duties and fail us not.”
“Sire,” they said in unison. They rose and walked in a single file back to their posts. Kru’Nah’s heart pounded inside his chest. He pulled from deep within his reservoir of royal protocol and remounted the sleigh.
“Ahead, good sir,” he said to Claudius.
Claudius whistled and the Kreulans walked forward, an unusual rhythm coming from their hooves on the cobblestone. Most beasts of burden only had four legs. The Kreulans were much different with six. Faster. More powerful. More unpredictable.
They drove through the courtyard and up to the door the led into the great hall. By now, his mother would be informed that Kru’Nah was home safely.
How she would respond, though, was an entirely unpredictable thing.