He shook his head and rubbed his hands across his face, the two-day old stubble scratching them. He had to come up with a new game plan. He must find this person and protect him or her. He must!
The only good thing about him not being able to find the one was that no one else could, either. At least the person had been able to stay quiet; or the parents had been able to keep their child hidden for the past ten years.
But how much longer would that last?
Brennan was his country. He had played in her forests, fished in her waters. The castle in Trodin, where he now stood, was the castle he had grown up in. As a boy, he had traipsed from one of her borders to the next, learning how to take care of her. Now, as a grown man, he had treaties with her neighboring rulers to ensure her peace. This was his home. His father had ruled before him, and his father before him, and so on as far back as his family could be traced.
Connor could not let someone exploit any of her people. Not while he was alive and could do something about it.
The high king pushed away from the window and began to pace. So entranced was he in his thoughts that he did not hear the door open, and was startled when a hand gently landed on his shoulder. Connor whirled, raising his hand to strike the intruder.
“Setina,” he breathed shakily when he recognized his wife. His hand shook as he ran it through his thick, black hair.
“Connor,” Setina laid a soothing hand on his cheek. “You need to get away from all these plans,” she gestured to all of the maps and scraps of parchment on her husband’s desk. “Come down to the dining hall and eat something. I had the cooks prepare a meal for you.”
Connor sighed and turned away.
“I can’t leave now, Setina. I have to go through everything again. I must have missed something. There has to be something else.”
Setina put her hands on her hips and frowned, glaring at him. She was a very petite and sweet woman, but the effect was frightening for High King Connor. “Not until you eat something. You’re not going to get anywhere on an empty stomach. Now, march downstairs and eat!”
Connor glared back for a moment, then conceded and headed towards the door.
Lord Teiran was a general in High King Connor’s army. He had joined when he was sixteen years old and worked his way up to the top. Now, twenty years later, he and his men had spent most of the past ten of those years combing the country, searching for some kid who was supposed to be all-powerful.
Ever since the day he had become a soldier, he had blindly followed his high king into whatever had been asked. But this time, he was starting to have some doubts. Deep in thought, he barely noticed the girl sliding his hand down her stomach.
The only people who knew about this so-called prophecy were the royal family and the high king’s generals. And his majesty wanted to protect the kid.
Lord Teiran almost laughed out loud. Why would anyone want to protect something that they could use instead? This child could bring him absolute power, and his men would follow him anywhere. Especially if he told them what was really going on.
Teiran grinned as a plan began to form in his head, and slid his hand lower.
Setina rolled over and held out a hand to her husband. This wasn’t the first time she had woken up to find his side of the bed empty; but it seemed to be happening much more lately. She could tell that he was worried, which made her worry, too.
Setina smiled at the thought, then called to her husband once more.
Setina had known her husband all her life. Her father was a king in the neighboring Tamare, and she and Connor had been betrothed since they were small children as an act of peace between the countries. She had hated the idea at first, but had grown to love Connor throughout the years. He was a kind, gentle man who always put his country and people before himself. And he treated her with respect, unlike the way most men treated their wives nowadays. He valued her opinion, even asked for her advice in stately matters. In their years together, they had created a family. They had four wonderful children, three boys and a little girl. Connor had been thrilled to have boys to teach and who would one day take over the kingdom, but little Sophie was his pride and joy. She had the high king wrapped around her finger.
At the sound of her voice, Connor glanced up quickly, and then turned his attention back to the letter in his hand.
“In a minute, darling,” he answered absentmindedly.
Setina swung her feet over the edge of the bed and tiptoed across the cold stone floor to peer over Connor’s shoulder.
“Who is that from?”
“My cousin, High Lord Cent. He thinks he found the one.”
The high king pointed excitedly to the letter in his hand. He rushed over to his desk and grabbed a map. Dipping a quill in a bottle of ink, he circled a small town on the edge of the map. Then he turned and picked up his wife, swinging her around in a circle. Her surprised shriek was cut short by his mouth pressing on hers.
He paused for a moment to draw out the suspense. “Many centuries ago, a prophecy was made that a child will be born who will be the most powerful person in the world. That child was born ten years ago. Our high king wants to find this child to protect him or her.” His lip curled. “Protect? Why would you protect something like that when you can simply take its power? I have called you here because I have a plan. A plan that will make us all very rich men, and, hopefully, very powerful men.”
He stopped there, and there was a sudden uproar as everyone in the room tried to join him at the same time. Teiran smiled gleefully and held up both hands. Silence fell. “First, I need you all to weed out your most loyal men to recruit to our cause.”
High King Connor paced back and forth in front of the fire, then sat down at his desk. He picked up his quill, dipped it in a bottle of ink, then dropped it and stood up again. He had been trying to write a letter to his cousin, High Lord Cent, but was unsure of what to say next. He wanted Cent to bring the child into his keep for protection, but he did not want to alarm the family or send them on the run. He ran his hands through his unkempt hair and continued pacing.
The wind whistled faintly behind the shutters of the window. The walls of the room were covered in tapestries, keeping in the warmth and keeping out any noise. The only sounds in the room were the crackling of the fire in the hearth and the clacking of his boots against the stone floor. He sat down and picked up his quill once more, but was interrupted by a loud yell.
High King Connor looked up as his eldest son, William, came crashing into the study. The 14-year old boy was holding a sword and breathing heavily, his hands shaking wildly.“Father!”
“What’s wrong, boy?” Connor bellowed as his son scrambled over to him.
“The castle has been breached; they’re slaughtering everyone in sight!”
Connor studied the panic-stricken look on the boy’s face, with his wife’s cheekbones and his eyes. Terror shone from those eyes.
“Who?” Connor asked.
William shook his head, his mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out.
“Who?” Connor shook the boy.
“Lord Teiran and his men,” he whispered.
The high king’s face turned white.
“Go,” he ordered, “find your brothers and sister. Get them out of here!”
He shoved his son towards the door. William turned and ran back the way he had come.
Connor looked down at all of his maps and the letters on his desk. All of his plans, his secrets; he couldn’t risk them getting into the wrong hands. He scooped up all of the papers and threw them into the roaring fire behind him. Then he stood and watched the dancing flames until they had consumed and destroyed each one. Then he turned and followed his son.
He ran through the castle, searching for Setina. He could hear the screams of his people echoing through the stone walls.
Rushing down a flight of stairs and down a corridor, Connor slipped in something and, while trying to steady himself, he tripped over something large and solid in the middle of the floor and landed in a puddle of wetness. Sitting up, he looked down and began to swipe at the mess that was now all over his clothes, but stopped and stared in horror. He was covered in blood, sticky and crimson.
Realizing that the thing he had tripped over must be the source of all the blood, he turned around, and screamed.
His wife, Setina, lay sprawled across the corridor, eyes open and staring in terror and pain. A deep gash spread from one side of her throat to the other, stained red from the blood that had gushed out and pooled around her.
Connor scrambled away from the body as fast as he could and pulled he knife from his boot. Teiran was going to pay for this, one way or another.
As he stood up, dark laughter rumbled from the end of the hallway. A group of soldiers—his soldiers—ran towards him, followed by Teiran.
Connor raised his knife to slash at the first soldier, but stopped short when he saw the little girl Teiran was dragging behind him, her dark curls bouncing with each step she took.
No! That evil monster had his Sophie. His youngest child, his only daughter.
Connor dropped the knife. It clattered loudly when it hit the hard, stone floor. Strong hands grabbed him and forced him to his knees.
“Why?” he gasped at Teiran.
The man laughed harder as he dragged poor, terrified Sophie around to face her father. Her bright, blue eyes were wide and shining from the tears now running down her cheeks.
“Because I could,” he answered coldly. “Why protect power when you can use it? Use it to crush those weaker than you, those who defy you. Use it to raise yourself above everyone else. You are a fool, Connor. You have always been a fool, and now you will die a fool.”
He emphasized his words by spitting in his high king’s face, the thick liquid hitting and running down Connor’s chin.
Connor stared at his little girl, trying to will her comfort. She would be scarred forever, if Teiran let her live, which Connor doubted. Tears welled and spilled down his face. Teiran smiled a greasy, greedy grin. He ran a finger down Sophie’s cheek, and she flinched from the sudden contact, shuddering.
“Such a pretty face. You know, her brothers fought bravely to save her. But in the end, they fell to my men.” He paused thoughtfully. “I wonder what’s left of your daughter now, after watching her entire family killed before her eyes. Maybe I’ll spare her life and save her from that pain.” Teiran chortled at his own joke, then grabbed Sophie’s chin and forced her to stare into her father’s eyes.
The high king flinched as he felt cold steel bite into the flesh of his neck. Warmth pooled out of his neck and flowed down him as he began to slip into black. The last thing he heard before it consumed him was a little girl screaming.
Lord Teiran—no, High King Teiran stood at the top of the tallest tower in Castle Trodin and looked out at the kingdom that was now his. It was pitiful, but he would soon change that. Grinning, he turned his gaze towards the courtyard below, where his men were slaughtering the last of Connor’s loyal guards. Dark, thick blood ran across the cobblestones and pooled around them. Tonight, he would bathe in that blood. Tomorrow, he would begin his search for power. Then, he would rule the world.
And those pitiful fools down there thought he was going to share his power with them. A wonderful way to assure their loyalty. His grin widened. They should know better. Like he was ever going to share his power.
High King Teiran threw his head back and cackled gleefully to the black night sky.
Beth Goodwin is a junior at OSU Newark. About this piece she says: “I love writing, and in my spare time I am writing a novel. My short story is based off of that novel, and serves as a sort of prologue to it. It is set several years before the novel’s opening scene.”