The Heart of Sorrow’s Keep
By Brenna Hanson
Date: August 22, 2018
Ch. 1111

The next day proved a lie to my words of a year before. Grandfather and I entered the embrace of the earth once more and picked our way through caves and tunnels until we reached Stonewood Castle. Guards stopped us at the trapdoor separating the old sewer from the storage room in the castle’s basement. Both boy and old man were gaunt with long hunger. It made me both thankful and ashamed for my own full belly.
“There is a cart of supplies below,” Grandfather told them. “See that it all makes it into the pantry’s inventory. I’ve tagged the cages of the hens that have stopped laying.”
Harold was a mix of happiness and agitation when we were taken to the throne room. His agitation won out after I explained the reason for my return.
“I’ll not let my sister walk naked into the arms of animals because some trinket told her to do so in front of poultry,” he said.
“I saw it as well, Your Majesty,” Grandfather said. “My late wife, God rest her soul, delivered the prophecy just as she promised long years ago. High King Dan would attest to the truthfulness of it if he were here.”
“Oh, pardon me,” Harold said. “The bobble told you in a dead woman’s voice in front of hens and a crazy old man. That makes it ever so much better. If Father were here, he might possibly lend some reasonable truth to this. He, however, is not. That leaves me to accept the word of a mage I have never met before today and a girl who might very well have been bespelled by him. The only documentation supporting the claim that this prophecy was ever recorded was written in that same mage’s hand and has been claimed to be spoken by that same mage’s late wife who cannot give testimony on her own behalf. You’ll forgive me if none of this will compel me to let you go running into a battlefield full of corpses – without a stitch of clothes on, no less! It’s ridiculous, Natalia. You should be ashamed for even considering the idea let along bringing it before me.”
“Harold,” I said. “What I’m telling you is true. There will be dire consequences if I do not do this thing that has been asked of me. Dire for our own people and dire for those with whom we can make a lasting peace. I see of future of blood and fire if I do not fulfill my duty. My heart knows this to be true. Please, just look at the locket. Look at it and see the faces of those who ensured that I would hear the calling.”
I handed him the locket and watched as a bolt of electricity jumped to his fingers. He stared blankly into space for a moment. The guards in attendance held their breath unsure whether to arrest me as a traitor or come to the king’s aid in some manner. Then Harold’s eyes cleared and met mine in sad amazement.
“I saw her,” he said quietly. “I felt her speak to my very soul. I saw a vision of the choice before us at this time. I saw the fields burning and the people starving. I saw the trees of the forest hung with the dead and dying. Two mighty peoples reduced to nothing but bone and ashes blowing away in the wind. All of that if I keep you here. Then I saw the land made whole and bursting with crops. I saw children born from the joining of two nations building one that is strong enough to stand against the years of a hundred generations to come. I saw your hand folded into the hand that loosed the first arrow in this terrible war. And I saw you happy. Truly happy in your new life. And all I need to do is lose my sister to Fate.”
“Not lose, I think,” I said. “Fate has a claim to all of us. You as well. I can’t believe that our destinies are not tied as closely as we have always been, Harold. I won’t believe that.”
“It breaks my heart to see you go again,” he said.
“It breaks mine as well,” I said.
At that moment, the gate guard rushed into the room. His face was white and held the pinched look of deep shock.
“Your Majesty,” he said with barely a full bow. There was a sobbing catch at the end of his words. “Prince Harold…”
“Out with it, man!” Harold shouted. “This is not the day to be humming and hawing when you have something to say.”
The man straightened himself, squaring his shoulders. He said, “Word has just come from the front, Your Majesty. Your father, High King Dan, has fallen in battle and taken the feral king of The People of the Trees with him into death.”
Silence, so deep and profound as to be nearly deafening, blanketed the throne room. I watched Harold school his features into strength even though I knew that his heart was breaking just as mine was. I was proud of him; so very proud of him in this most awful of moments. I broke the silence with the soft sound of my slippered feet as I moved to stand behind my half-brother.
“The king is dead!” I said as loudly as the lump in my throat would allow. “Long live the king!”
Those in attendance joined the chant. It rang through the hall where others picked it up. The word spread and the volume grew until the castle and all of its walled courtyards resounded with acknowledgment of the exchange of power.
“I must go,” I whispered into Harold’s ear. “I’m sorry to leave you like this but time is so very short and there is too much hanging in the balance.”
His hand found mine and squeezed. It was the only response he could give.

Font size
Font color
Line spacing
Background color