Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: July 18, 2021
Ch. 44

He paused and his face softened. I understood the first part of what he said next.

“I am a lucky man, too. You are as beautiful. It warms my heart to look upon you and know that you are mine. I will enjoy our year of…”

“…Courtship.” River finished when I looked at her.

Then King Ember kissed the tips of his fingers and pressed them to my lips. His soft touch sent a jolt through me that I saw mirrored in his eyes. He smiled again and walked away.

“You will see him again at the feast, Your Majesty,” River said. “Best to rest up before then. It will be a long night full of celebration once the funeral for King Fern is over.”

A runner came to us from King Ember’s escort. He inclined his head in a bow to me but addressed his conversation to River. He bowed again before trotting back to join the men.

“That was Stoat. He said that you are expected at Stonewood Castle in two days for your father’s funeral.” River said.

I felt my heart catch with the reminder of his death. So much had happened to change my world. It was hard to keep up. River gave my shoulder a squeeze to remind me that I was not expected to bear my grief alone.

“Thank you, River,” I said. “But how did he know? None of my brother’s men could have explained it.”

“You would be surprised. Warriors the world over have been making their meaning clear since time began. Language has little to do with it,” River said.

Just then a stone whizzed past my head. I looked around but saw no one who might have thrown it. Everyone nearby was focused on the tasks of their day. River placed her old hands on her hips and glared a circle around the village. When she could find no one to blame, she patted my shoulder and nudged me forward once more.

“Not all of our people are happy with your coming,” she said. “Still, I expect better of them than choosing to be a coward throwing stones at a girl.”

When we got back to the Great Hall, I found a sealed message from Stonewood Castle. Inside, in Harold’s precise hand, were the details of Father’s funeral arrangements. In addition, separate arrangements had been made to honor my older half-brothers, Prince Edmont and Prince Col, although their bodies could not be recovered from the battleground. Finally, Queen Mara and her ladies would be mourned during a long overdue feast.

Rolled into the invitation was another letter. This was written not from a king but from a heart-broken near-twin to his sister. It read:

My Dearest Natalia,

I hope my words find you well even as I know the accompanying message breaks your heart. Fate has taken so much from us in so short of a time. First, our mothers, whose murderer sadly continues to evade justice. Then our brothers who should have come to take the crown from my head when Father fell. I know you loved them even though they treated you like a silly girl in the way of all older brothers. They loved you, too, though they knew no better way to show it. When Father died, I thought I could handle no more loss, but Fate ripped you, my closest sister, away as well and gave you into the hands that killed so many of our loved ones.

Natalia, tell me that I was right to let you go. Tell me that my first decision as High King was not only in desperation from a terrible vision but in belief in a beautiful reality to come. Tell me that there is hope for you to find happiness as the queen of such a strange and vicious people. Tell me that our two kingdoms will benefit from our great sacrifices.

And please, come home to share our grief. I am not sure whether to think of you as queen or prisoner in your new land. If prisoner, send word and I will come free you with my own hands. If queen, as I hope and pray, come home for this short time that I may have the strength of the sister I love most beside me. Come home so that we may mourn our great and terrible losses as orphans together. Come home that we may each help the other bear the weight of the crowns so unexpectedly upon our heads.

My best hopes and dreams for the future ride within your heart, my sister. May our kingdoms find peace and our peoples know love.

From my heart to yours,


I finished the page and then reread it, drawing each word into my aching heart. I was thankful that River shooed everyone away so that I could read my missives in privacy. I gave into my tears and curled up on the bed to sob out my sadness and the pain of homesickness Harold’s letter brought to the surface. When my tears were spent, I slept. My final thought before I drifted into an exhausted sleep was of admiration for King Ember. Somehow I doubted that sending his new wife back into the hands of his former enemy had been as casually decided as Stoat’s delivered message. The fact that he had respected me and my family enough to make sure I knew I would be returning to Stonewood Castle said a great deal about the character of this stranger I had tied my life and the future of two kingdoms to.

Font size
Font color
Line spacing
Background color