Chapter 73

"Those who remain will be executed." The Regent gazed out the window and over the city, spread out in a maze of deep streets and stacked stone shops. From here they could see flags hanging between them, maroon arrows trembling in the wind.

He looked the part of a King, face lightly crinkled in his aging face. He wasn't much older than the brothers who stood behind him respectfully. His wiry hair still was still thick and hanging near his ears.

His pride, the determination in his eyes and the very solidness of his back told Capron that he was also a King who enjoyed his power.

"You do not have a problem with that, I believe, since it was you who gave me orders to remove them in the first place. We were not certain what to do at first. There was sheer panic, riots and the like. They were stripped of their power and hold over the humans within the city. Humans revolted. They killed most of them within the first day. We had to restrain them against our better judgment to prevent them from turning the streets completely red with the filth."

"Filth?" Capron couldn't help but repeat the Regent's choice word.

"Yes. Filth," he said angrily. "Rats that have lost their teeth. Rats that have lost their claws. They can no longer do damage but that does not mean they are not rats."

"Rats. A well chosen connection, my liege." Katrin walked a circle behind them, fingers playing with a vibrant purple flower she had plucked out of the bunch sitting on the drawing room desk.

Torin smirked. "And the only solution to rats is…cats."

Capron glared at him. Torin's smirk only grew and Capron began to have the sick feeling that Torin was starting something. That something being a game.

Oh, and Torin did like games. Capron remembered that much from their childhood. Torin had frequently outsmarted their uncle into leading unnecessary raids. He manipulated his friends.

He had once fancied a lord's ivory skinned almond eyed daughter. She nearly rivaled Torin himself with her speed and control of a horse. The girl had been with his best friend, and coincidently after a few shorts days after he had witnessed her ability, the two had broken up. Capron knew what his brother had done but the scheme completely slipped past the young girl. She was enamored with him. It didn't last, though. He had grown tired of her after that fateful summer ball.

He grew tired of everything. Eventually. He doubted that much had changed in the time he had slept away.

"Like a pack of wolves against an injured doe," Capron said stiffly. "That's all this is."

The Regent appeared interested at his comment. He turned around, leaning on his cane slightly. "Are you implying that there is a lack in honor of what is being done?" He asked. "Magicians have no honor. The cursed you and your brother. They made you weak in order that they could take this Kingdom without so much as a paper cut as evidence of their conquest."

"A curse I am no longer burdened of." Capron couldn't miss the side swept glance that Torin shot his way. The easily read confidence in his eyes. The man was an open book.

The Regent's thick brows drew in. "How? Both of you?"

"Our father completed his journey at the cost of his life," Capron said. "His cured my brother. I can't say the same for myself."

"Who was it? Who aided him?"

Capron felt his face drain of color. "I don't know." Capron had nearly forgotten the importance of choosing words carefully in his time away from royalty. Every word spoken had the power to incriminate, to be held against one at a later time. Quick words could at the worst mean ostracizing oneself. Not death, but something near to it.

Explaining that he knew exactly who his father had made the deal to, the very beings that caused his death, would likely cause the Regent's curiosity to peak. Where were these beings, he would ask. What were their names?

He gritted his teeth against Torin's glaring interest but managed to maintain a relatively calm expression.

Yes, the Regent would likely find out that they were the same beings who almost brought darkness on them all. The very being that had led his father to his death was now dead, but the other…The other could still very well be alive. Capron hadn't seen her empty body fall like a lifeless sack to the ground. He wasn't convinced that Ardis, or whatever had possessed her at the time had actually killed her. It would have been much too easy.

"I see."

He could tell the Regent didn't quite believe him, but the man pressed no further.

"I suppose that tale will wait another day," he continued, adding a small smile which stretched his chapped lips. "What I believe we should now attend to is the event of the coronation."

Torin's head lifted. "Yes. That is what I have been wishing to discuss. What—"

He waved a hand at Torin in dismissal. "A single King. A coronation for one. That is the way it was planned originally. Your father expressly stated in early wishes that the eldest would take the throne." He frowned. "And now that I have heard the entire story from you, I am relieved that the man who I pass the crown on to is a man of strength and unbending will."

To Capron's surprise, the Regent approached him and placed a hand on his should, his frown lightening into that of grim appreciation and dare he say it, pride.

"Capron Blackwell, son of our departed King Danell Blackwell, you have returned and cleared your name of those treasonous acts which you were unjustly blamed for. In two days time you will be given your birthright, a responsibility and title which should have been yours long ago," he said. "Halburn will have its rightful King."

She paced the floor, running near holes in the stunning black marble floors. Her boots offered a calming, steady pattern, but try as she might, nothing would calm her racing, restless heart.

The palace stood as a dark beauty towering over her in proud protectiveness. She had seen the sharp blades of towers as they had approached from the city spread in layers down below. When they had entered through the grand front doors, Capron and Torin had almost immediately been whisked away by two of the guards. Katrin had left her too, asking, with a sly smile and a blink of her fair eyes, if another guard could give her a tour of the grounds.

Capron had at least given her some sort of recognition.

The palace is safe. You can go wherever you wish. This hopefully won't be long.

While he had looked at her with the barest hint of sympathy, Torin stepped away from her with a look that burned. She was an animal to him, something feral. He only wished to use her and she could see that desire written all over his face.

It made her skin crawl and something inside her just wanted to lash out and show him he would never have any power over her.

But that burning anger faded away as the light in the palace grew darker and she grew tired of being on her feet. A dullness in her mind throbbed like some inner heartbeat. She realized that she was irreparably lonely, walking there in circles by herself.

She needed air. The fresh cool air that she suddenly missed so much.

The grand doors were still open. For what the waited for, she was unsure. Guards stood there though, replacing the ones that had left with the Princes. They spoke not a single word when she walked past them and into the evening light.

The frost covered grass crunched beneath her boots. She breathed out and the cloud hung before her like some sort of dragon's breath. And she thought of him.

And she saw her mother lying in the grass not so far off.

She heard a woman telling her that her father had been killed.

And she saw the shifting shadow of the woman smiling before she faded into the desert air.

She felt the dirt over their bodies, of those who were dragged away. She felt the dried blood clinging to their hair. She felt the wet cold. She felt the weakness.

She knew, somewhere in the still part of her mind, that she shouldn't have stayed alone. She shouldn't be outside thinking. Peace was never meant for her because peace meant remembering and that was the last thing she ever wanted to do. It was better to forget, because what she had done could not be forgiven. It could not be repaid.

As the little warmth coming from the orange sun slowly dwindled, she heard a call from far below. Down the crest of the hill and through the iron bars of the gates, tiny flames flinched and flickered.

The pain in her chest subsided as a new feeling of urgency took its place. There it was again. The call.

Her feet were taking her on a ride, flying swiftly across the grass, her knees pumping with an anxious ferocity.

"Ardissa Farrow!"

Her throat burned as the hill dropped steeply down, her legs almost unable to keep up with the speed she now raced.

She flew until her hands gripped finally curled around the bars, her momentum carrying the rest of her painfully against it. Her hair flew against her cheek as she frantically scanned the parade of people, the tinkling of metal chains worrying her further.

"Ardis." It was a woman who hissed at her as she approached from the side.

Ardis knew the voice. She squinted her eyes, trying to see the form in the dying light. "Callana," she called out.

A torch moved and illuminated the woman's ghostly face. Her strong, fiery eyes now were dark and empty.

"Child, you must leave." Her voice barely reached Ardis as the woman was yanked further down the path. Ardis moved to keep up with her, and realized that she would not have much longer to speak with her.

"I didn't mean it. It's inside me. I didn't know what else to do." The guilt in her heart drenched her words. "Please. Whatever happens—"

"There is no place here for you, girl. You must leave."

The parade halted suddenly and Ardis could hear the armed men leading it, yelling at some peasants who had strayed too close to view the spectacle.

But Callana only grew more frantic, her hands twisting in the shackles. "Whatever you feel for this man, you cannot remain here with him. It will be your demise."

Ardis's eyes burned, she did not understand what the woman said. "Your nephew, I will bring him to you. He will understand."

The woman stumbled over to the gates, the length of her chain preventing her from being able to touch the bars that separated them. She was closer now, though, and Ardis could read the frustration in her lightly wrinkled, dirty face.

"I will be fine. You must understand me, Ardissa Farrow. You do not belong with him. You do not belong in this place. You will be killed and all will be for nothing."

Ardis reached through the bars, trying to touch the woman, to find some way for her magic to release her from the bonds. But the woman shied away from her touch and the parade began to move once again.

"I must protect him," she said, words leaving her lips unintentionally. "I cannot leave now and never will I. I will always be at his side, even if it means my death." She swallowed. "I owe that much to him."

"They know of you, Ardissa. Even now they hiss and curse at what you have done," Callana's voice held an edge of danger. "You have only enemies now, no matter how hard your decision was to make."

Ardis stopped breathing, hands turning numb against the cold iron gates.

"What is inside you will soon fade away into nothing. It will return to where it belongs. The curse will end. And when that time comes you must run, for they will all be planning to destroy you."