Lightning streaked across the sky. He was standing alone in the plains, rain pouring over him. At his feet lay a body, its glassy, golden eyes staring lifelessly at the sky. The body slowly began to rise, turning to face him. He knew who it was, but he didn't want to look. As hard as he tried to squeeze his eyes shut, he couldn't.
The corpse's emotionless face twisted into a pained snarl, shrieking for help. He couldn't help. The wind grew from a breeze to a howl, and a tornado spiraled out of the pitch black clouds, striking the corpse, tearing it apart bit by painful bit. He reached out in vain. Stop. Stop. Stop—
Weinwyr's eyes snapped open and he jerked upright with a scream, a gust of wind pushing those hovering around his bed away. Cold sweat rolled down his face as he regained his senses, the wind dying down and the soldiers recovering from their surprise. Five wickedly sharp pikes pointed at him, their wielders dressed head to toe in glimmering steel armor, the mark of Duriâ etched into the breastplate.
The last soldier to recover wore significantly less armor than his allies, opting only to wear a basic set of leather armor riveted with steel plates and simple vambraces. Groaning as he pushed himself up, the helmetless, frazzled soldier ordered, "Our guest finally awakes, and you all go pointing your weapons at him? Put those down before you hurt someone."
"Yes, sir," the five pike men said unanimously, withdrawing their weapons and standing at the ready, awaiting new orders.
"That's better. Go and fetch the doctor. Let him know our guest is alive and kicking. I'd like some time alone with him," the leader said. Each soldier saluted by crossing their arms over their chest before marching out of the tent, armor clanking together as they walked. Alone with who he assumed to be a commander, Weinwyr examined the other boy carefully. He didn't appear to be much older than Weinwyr himself, with a youthful, well sculpted face and a mane of thick blonde hair. His eyes were bluer than the sea itself, and Weinwyr couldn't help but be entranced by them.
Clearing his throat to snap Weinwyr out of his daze, the leader said, "It's good to see you're awake. My name is Tyiâ, and I run things around this camp. What's your name?" Seeing Weinwyr's hesitation, Tyiâ flashed him an equally entrancing smile and added, "You're safe here so don't worry, yeah?"
"My name is Weinwyr from Goedwren," Weinwyr said, his mouth moving on its own. Cursing himself for being so easily taken with Tyiâ's charm, he asked, "This camp is near Lynach, correct?"
"It is," Tyiâ answered, "We were lucky to have found you, with the state you were in." He looked as if he were going to ask Weinwyr more questions when the entrance flap to the medical tent opened. An elderly gentleman dressed in a white tunic entered, followed by a tall, imposing soldier. He was clad in Duriân armor similar to the pike men with gold designs worked into the armor for an extra flair, displaying his high rank. A long sword hung at his side and he held a plumed helmet under his arm. "General Oerwe. To what do we owe this pleasure?" Tyiâ asked.
"May I speak to you in private?" Oerwe asked, casting a wary glare at Weinwyr. His sharp, commanding eyes made the Goedwrenian shiver. The general's presence made the air thick with tension that dissipated as Tyiâ followed him outside. Weinwyr let out the breath he was unaware he was holding.
The doctor went about examining Weinwyr's injuries, gingerly removing the swath of bandages covering his side and shoulder once his arm was free from its sling. Weinwyr had some time to put what happened together after he blacked out: Tyiâ and his men must have found him after that windstorm picked up and had taken him back to their camp. Weinwyr gazed at his palms blankly. As far as he knew, he wasn't partial to the ways of magicks. Although Calren and Medren were able to toy with nature to some extent, Weinwyr was never able to do anything magic related. How was he able to conjure up such a powerful sort of magic? And why couldn't he have done it sooner?
Clenching his fists and his jaw, Weinwyr cursed himself for being so useless. If he was able to cast magic all along, he should have used it sooner to protect Cywar. He should have stopped Cywar from fighting Golldrus alone. He should have done more.
"Are you in pain, son?" the doctor asked, concern etched into his face. Realizing his arms were shaking, Weinwyr took a deep breath to try and relax, uncurling his fingers and shaking his head.
"I'm fine. Thank you for your help," Weinwyr replied, bowing his head in gratitude, hiding the weight of his guilt.
The tent flap opened again and Tyiâ returned alone, a hand to his chin and brows furrowed. Upon seeing the doctor carefully adjusting Weinwyr's sling, his face brightened and he asked, "How's our guest doing, doctor? Healing well, I hope?"
"Both injuries are healing, though it will be another two or three days before he can move around fully," the doctor concluded with a nod. Saluting Tyiâ and bowing to Weinwyr, the doctor made his way out of the tent, and once more the boys were alone.
"I'm glad to see you're doing better," Tyiâ said, pulling up a chair and sitting next to Weinwyr's bed, "When my men and I found you two days ago, we weren't sure you were going to make it."
"It's really been two days?" Weinwyr mused. He found an interest in the linen of his bed sheet, falling silent.
"What are you doing in Duriâ?" Tyiâ asked to break the uncomfortable silence. When he saw Weinwyr's suspicious look, he laughed and said, "Don't worry! I'm not going to turn you in or anything. I mean, unless you were some kind of criminal, but something tells me that isn't the case." Another debonair smile.
Weinwyr's paled cheeks flushed the slightest shade of pink. "I'm on a diplomatic mission to the king of Duriâ," he explained, again amazed at how his mouth seemed to act on its own accord. "A town in my country was destroyed by Duriân troops despite the armistice." He eyed Tyiâ warily, gauging his reaction. "Our leader suspects there's corruption in your army."
"Corruption, eh?" Tyiâ repeated. He rubbed his chin and let out a contemplative hum. "That would make sense. Ever since my father signed the armistice with Goedwren, these incidents seem to keep popping up—"
"Did you say your father signed the armistice?" Weinwyr interrupted incredulously. He pointed a disbelieving finger at Tyiâ, quickly making the connection. "Then that means you're the prince of Duriâ?"
"Oh, didn't I mention it?" the prince asked. Weinwyr shook his head, so Tyiâ laughed sheepishly. "I really can be an airhead sometimes." Standing and bowing with a flourish, Tyiâ said in a melodramatic voice, "I am Tyiâ, the shining Prince of Duriâ, son of King Suriâ. At your service, Weinwyr of Goedwren."
Silence fell between the two once more, but it did not last as the two boys busted out laughing at Tyiâ's antics. Although it had only been two days, Weinwyr felt as if it had been eons since he'd genuinely laughed, and he needed it. The gravity of the mission, the fear he had felt when the bandits were going to kill him, the loss of his travel companion; it all weighed down heavily on Weinwyr's shoulders, and he was grateful to Tyiâ for making him laugh. He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"Sorry, was my introduction that bad?" Tyiâ asked, putting a gentle hand on Weinwyr's shoulder.
"It's not that," Weinwyr mumbled into his palm, "So much has happened lately, I'm just so relieved I can laugh."
Curling over himself, Weinwyr sobbed softly into his hand. He couldn't put how he was feeling into words, and Weinwyr hoped he wasn't acting too strange in front of such an esteemed member of the royal family. He felt himself being gently pushed back into his pillow. Peeking through his fingers, Weinwyr looked up at Tyiâ, and the prince said in a soft, sweet voice:
"I'm sure it's been a long journey from Goedwren. I want to hear all about it, but you should rest first. I'll be here if you need anything."
Weinwyr managed a smile and nodded gratefully, wiping his eyes. He hadn't been awake very long, but his nightmare, check up, and overwhelming emotions drove him back into exhaustion. When he finally fell back asleep, Weinwyr was able to sleep peacefully with Tyiâ by his side. No nightmares plagued him that day.
For the next two days of his recovery, Weinwyr spent most of his time talking with Tyiâ and occasionally the towering General Oerwe. Oerwe informed the both of them on the second day that the bandit group known as the Red Dragons was apprehended. "On your orders, we will escort them back to the capital to be tried, your Royal Highness," Oerwe said.
"Understood. Have your men prepare to move out by tomorrow, General," Tyiâ said, "It's time I returned to Rhefryn, as well."
Oerwe saluted before exiting the medical tent. During his two days in bed, Weinwyr took the time to study the general. General Oerwe was the first out of three generals of the Duriân army and was a man of little words. Weinwyr couldn't tell if the general was involved in any potential corruption or not; Oerwe's face betrayed no emotion. Tyiâ had informed him that Oerwe was a highly accomplished swordsman and master tactician, one the prince could trust wholeheartedly.
"Of course, you will be joining us on our return to Rhefryn, won't you, Weinwyr?" Tyiâ asked with a grin, effortlessly switching from business to charming, "To complete your mission?"
"Absolutely. I need to finish what Cywar and I started out to do," Weinwyr replied. Upon mentioning his companion's name, his expression fell. "It would be a disservice to him if I didn't."
Tyiâ hummed in agreement, an indiscernible emotion on his face. "How are you feeling? Well enough to walk?" he asked. Weinwyr nodded, so Tyiâ offered him a hand and said, "You should pay your respects to him before we leave."
Taking Tyiâ's hand, Weinwyr hauled himself to his feet with a grunt. The doctor had been requiring Weinwyr to walk around in short intervals to keep him active while he healed, and it was paying off. Though his injuries were still sore, he was able to move independently and perform basic tasks, though feeding himself was still a chore; holding a spoon with his right hand was more difficult than he thought.
Light gray clouds covered the sky as Tyiâ lead Weinwyr through the camp. General Oerwe's party bustled about, preparing for the journey back to the capital. "Tell me," Tyiâ said suddenly, "You mentioned in your tale those bandits claimed you had a bounty on your head. Do you have any idea why?"
Weinwyr had time to mull over any possible reason why someone would place a bounty on him, but every reason seemed as improbable as the last. "Maybe a trader put the bounty on me when I was a kid," he suggested jokingly, "'Wanted for honest trading. White-haired Goedwrenian child, dead or alive'."
"I doubt that," Tyiâ snorted.
"What, me being an honest trader?"
"I just can't see it," the prince teased, and the two boys chuckled softly among themselves. Putting a hand to his chin, Tyiâ wondered aloud in a serious tone, "It is concerning to say the least. If everything you've told me is true, then you shouldn't have someone trying to hunt you down. Why would anyone do that?"
Shrugging, Weinwyr said, "I couldn't say. I'm just as confused as you are." He suspected he would have to question Golldrus now that he was captured if he wanted answers, but the idea made Weinwyr's stomach knot. He wasn't sure if he could face the man who killed Cywar so soon.
The pair of boys fell into silent contemplation as they continued to walk, exiting the camp to a nearby, gentle hill. Wildflowers dotted the grass, and at the top of hill was a mound of fresh dirt. A small block of granite indicated the gravesite. Catching his breath, Weinwyr gazed forlornly at the grave, unable to say anything. Guilt and heart-wrenching sorrow washed over him.
Tyiâ picked up the slack. "I may not have known him personally, but from what I have heard, Cywar was a great companion and fought to the bitter end," he said, "He was given a great task, one that no ordinary person would have been able to follow through.
"He was an exemplary prince and an inspiration to us all. May Iâ lead him to the land of Lau in peace," Tyiâ concluded with a crack in his voice, crossing his arms over his chest and bowing deeply to the grave.
Weinwyr struggled to choke back his emotions. Placing his right hand over his heart, he bowed, as well, tears falling against the grass. It wasn't fair that he got to live while Cywar was killed brutally defending him. Rage flared to life in Weinwyr's heart. If anyone should have died, it should have been Golldrus. He should have run the bandit leader through when he had the chance.
Furiously wiping his tears away, Weinwyr scolded himself mentally. Even at his angriest, he had never wished death on anyone. His father had taught him to always manage those thoughts, for if they manifested, there would be no turning back. Drawn out of his thoughts when Tyiâ rested a hand on his shoulder, Weinwyr glanced at the prince, offering a small smile.
"Thanks for your words, Tyiâ. I'm sure Cywar appreciated them, too," he said, voice barely above a whisper.
Tyiâ returned the smile and said, "Let's go back. We'll be setting out for Rhefryn tomorrow, and I think we both need some rest." Nodding in silent agreement, Weinwyr allowed himself to be escorted by the prince back to camp, casting a glimpse of Cywar's gravestone before it disappeared from view, obscured by the vibrant wildflowers guarding his grave.