Things had spiraled all out of control since the Princess had first come to Halburn, parading through its halls as though they were a new conquest. She had two guards in tow at most times even when she practiced her archery near the stables. Her amber eyes were akin to a hawk's as she observed the castle's inhabitants and her auburn hair was almost always plaited neatly behind her and fastened by silver clips. He studied her when she passed below him through the halls.
He had been observing her in the weeks she had been there. He had to know her plans, her weakness, her purpose. Capron knew Torin had called Nymra here before Capron himself had sent his twin with his escort out of the castle walls and past Halburn's borders. It had not been the Regent's doing. Capron didn't believe that man would play with such affairs even if it meant he could leave and return to his kingdom sooner.
With every pointed stare, every sideways smirk and knowing gesture, Capron did not let his cool demeanor falter.
He had known women like her before, so certain of their own charm and skill that the idea of a man simply not being interested was out of the question. A few well placed silky words and sidelong glances and they would have a man on his knees with his pockets emptied. She had changed much in the years they had been apart.
But now that the Princess had caught Ardis in her act and imprisoned her in his own dungeon, he found himself with a newfound hatred for the woman.
He had let these things happen because there was no other way.
Even in his own home, he felt powerless.
Had Capron fought the Princess in Ardis's defense, he had no doubt the Regent would remain, forcing Ardis permanently out of the palace. An unstable leadership in Halburn would be bad for the Regent's own Kingdom. After all, a weak Halburn could provide trouble to those neighboring them. The last thing anyone wanted was a war between humanity along with the magicians. A weak Halburn was for the taking. And all the work stabilizing things during the Prince's time away would be for nought.
He made sure the fact that Ardis was in the dungeon was kept under wraps.
Seeing her led downward into the cells below the halls ripped at his heart. The door shut behind her. The guard locked it.
Not once did he see her vibrant green eyes turn to meet his.
Once they were out of the dungeons his indifferent, cold facade broke. "You tell anyone she is in here or about what she did and I will kill you myself."
The Princess turned toward him, "I assume words such as these don't come from you often. Therefore I don't doubt you'll act. But tell me, what other choice do we have?"
Perhaps if he hadn't known Ardis, the Princess's plumps lips and amber eyes may have drawn him to her. If he had been another man, the man he was before all…this, perhaps then he would've fallen into her trap.
She took his silence as cue. "You and I share commonalities. We know how things should be. As children we grew up with an understanding that there should be an order to things if we are to survive against them."
The last word she said hung in the air between them like a poison.
"You have no future with this girl. You know what she is and you know what you are called to do."
He turned to the cold ever present within him. He called to it. Then he thought of the green eyes that turned white, the cascade of blonde hair, the wild girl that could call to him into her mind. The girl who could change him.
"What is it you want," he asked, the words steel and iron in his mouth. He already knew but he needed to hear it.
"What Prince Capron Blackwell, the man exiled, should very well want. A unity of Kingdoms and the prevention of the violence of magic growing back within Lantia."
Surely the very aura he gave off should have dissuaded her words. Was she that thick?
Even if she understood his childhood, even if she was raised akin to him, sharing the same opinions on matters as royalty was in this age, the age of fearing magic, he was different.
He was different now. And he couldn't go back. Not when Ardis was still there, down in the dungeon because of this woman.
He could almost feel the cold sinking into his very bones. He imagined her, alone in the dungeon, believing him to have betrayed her. But it was for her safety both from the magicians and from those within the palace. No one knew her location save the Princess, himself, and a few guards.
But perhaps now the word would break.
If Ardis knew his thoughts now, he was certain she would fight him, tell him he was the one who needed protection. He laughed internally at the thought.
Any threat to Ardis was a threat to himself, that much was certain. The memory of the dagger in her chest, of all the blood, her body on the bed. The certainty that he had lost her forever.
He was surprised it hadn't killed him too.
Now he wanted a kingdom that kept her safe. He wanted a world that she was welcome in.
And he sure as hell wasn't about to let a woman who had enslaved her have a part in that world.
"There will be no unity."
It was as if those were the last words she expected to come from his mouth. He briefly enjoyed the woman's parted lips and raised eyebrows. She seemed to be searching for the words to say in response.
So he spoke. "I'll repeat this once more. If you tell anyone where Ardis is now, I will know."
Her face paled slightly of its own accord. Gone with the confident facade of a seasoned princess. "And you would really kill royalty? Do you wish to start a war?" she hissed, her voice lowering despite them being the only people around.
"Lantia has seen war for years. Perhaps it's time for a change in leadership."
The woman looked at him anew, as though he were no longer a Prince, but a madman on a mission. If it were possible, she turned a shade truth, the only way he'd think of killing her was if she was directly threatening Ardis's life. But, he did believe that new leadership would be needed if he and Ardis were to accomplish a change in heart between the Kingdoms. Although he hoped it would be much more peaceful that what he was currently letting on.
"I hope you realize that the words you speak now will cement your place in our land for years to come. The enemies you make now will haunt your future."
As far as he was concerned, Sharpspeak was far enough away and high away enough in the northwest mountains of Lantia not to be much of a threat. And, as far as he was concerned, a woman with a history of animosity toward Ardis was already an enemy of himself.
"I hope they will."
And he left.
"If the girl goes to them, they say they will leave in peace," the Regent told both the Princess and Capron.
It was an audience with the Regent. Felix was there only because Capron explicitly told both the Regent and the Princess that he was his consult, soon to be Knight once things were finalized. If Ardis was Capron's counter, the force pushing him to the right when the right was a steeply sloped rocky path in the night, then Felix was his torch and companion on that journey.
Companion perhaps until Capron had told him of Ardis's location. Felix was not thrilled at the idea. Capron could see the accusation in his friend's eyes and it stung.
But he had to protect her. He wouldn't have let it happen otherwise.
Then why couldn't he bring himself to face her now?
He could imagine the betrayal in her eyes. The cold walls. He wouldn't wish that on anyone let alone…her.
If he went down there he was sure he wouldn't be able to come back.
"How did they know she was alive?"
"One of the magicians that she attacked got away," the Regent replied. "Word travels fast among them."
"And what's to say they won't kill her and just stay here?" Felix asked. "She's on our side, she's our friend. She's the best thing we have right now if things go south."
"We don't need to fight magic with magic. We have plenty of other resources and men to fight when the time comes. Giving her over might not do anything but restore the people's faith in their future king."
Another day had passed and Capron had still not set foot in the dungeons.
The Princess called an audience with the three of them once more.
"The girl willingly gave herself over to them?"
"That was her choice," the Princess responded. "I suppose it was noble in a way, sacrificing herself for the good of your Kingdom. It isn't something I would have expected from her. And I have known her since she was a small child."
"And you are sure she went to them and not simply into hiding somewhere?" the Regent asked.
"I suppose we will know soon enough."
"You were willing to take the risk?"
"She could not have entered into my service again after what I saw. It was either I take her with me to Sharpspeak and have her executed according to our laws, or have her kind sort things out themselves. I am certain that they will be far less merciful than I. Even if she ran to hiding I don't believe any are on her side. They would find her."
The Regent nodded. "Well this makes things a bit easier."
The Princess's slight smile was enough to make Capron's blood boil.
The Regent continued. "I suppose there is little reason for you to give them mercy now Your Highness. The path is clear. I believe my job here is done." He turned the Princess. "I am sure you will be able to assist him in recalling his duties henceforth."
Capron gritted his teeth hard enough that a sharp pain wound itself upward to his brow. He stormed out of the room, Felix on his heels.
His friend grabbed his arm roughly. "She would never run away like that. Not without telling you."
"You're so sure of that?"
"The two of you have been through too much together. You should know."
Capron's chest deflated. "She's been blocking me out. I wouldn't know either way."
"Have you gone to see her?" Felix asked.
Capron didn't respond.
"Fool." Felix shook his head. Capron could see the anger in his eyes. "Then you have lost her."