Chapter 2 Alastair
Prince Alastair starred out from his balcony looking over the small land that his family ruled. The walls of the castle were high to protect the castle town from unwanted invaders and creatures of the deep forest. It was fairly large for being such a remote kingdom with small farms in the distance that frequently were attacked by thieves, so much that they often had guards posted out in those areas to protect them. The door to his room opened, but when he turned around to see who was there he found that no one was there. Frowning he crossed his room to close the door making sure that the latch caught this time before he went back to continue his musings.
The stars were bright tonight and the northern lights moved like green ribbons across the sky. He smiled despite himself. It was a beautiful night, the scent of the garden wafted up to his room making him delirious. A soft knock on his door wasn’t enough to make him turn around as he called for them to come in. His fiancée Lynnette danced in twirling around in a dress with so many fluffy layers of orange cloth that all he could think of was a puff pastry that the chef had made the other night. Her mousy hair was piled onto her head with ribbons tied tight to hold it still and he smiled despite himself, secretly trying hard not to laugh.
“Oh darling, I’m so glad to see you too!” She said throwing her arms around him mistaking his amusement for excitement of seeing her. “Have you been here all night? I went looking for you after dinner.” He gently pulled away from her.
“I felt a bit tired so I wanted to take a bit of a nap.” He lied. In all reality he had come up to his room to slip away from her for a bit of a breather.
Princess Lynnette was a pleasant enough girl that he didn’t mind entertaining with stories or magic, mermaids and dragons, but he had always found her too young for him. The ten year difference made him feel awkward, more like an older brother than a future husband to a thirteen year old girl who still played with dolls. It made things even more awkward when she would tell him about how he reminded her of her older brother Prince Zaiden. He had begged his mother over and over again to postpone the marriage until she was older, but she wouldn’t budge on the matter. In her mind forcing his older brother Simon to marry her made it worse, and his younger brother Chase had been considered too immature for the marriage despite his much closer age. Their kingdom needed the protection and wealth that her parents could provide; the sooner the better. And he was the sacrificial lamb, just his luck.
Lynnette let out a squeal of excitement, jumping up and down running to the balcony.
“Can we go outside to look at the Northern lights?” She said jumping up and down. He patted her on the head her green eyes shining with excitement. It was a warm night, he saw no reason for her not to be able to go outside for a bit, but he wanted an escort.
“Go get your lady in waiting and we will go for a walk.” She frowned, but she happily skipped from his room. He didn’t like being alone with her too long, her hormones were not under control and he couldn’t bear having to try to explain to her again why something as simple as a kiss felt wrong to him. He didn’t care if this kind of marriage was normal; it still felt incredibly wrong to him.
Out in the moonlight Lynnette held tightly to Alastair’s arm while her lady in waiting followed close behind. Her lady in waiting was a haggard looking old woman named Ismere whose gray hair hung loose over her shoulders. Lynnette had told him at one point Ismere had been her mother’s lady in waiting, too. Lynnette had seen a portrait of them together when she was younger and while Ismere had been twice her mother’s age, Lynnette had mistaken her for her mother. According to what Lynette had said she had once been more beautiful than the queen or any of her attendants had ever been.
Alastair tried to catch a glance of the old woman out of the corner of his eye without her noticing, but her hawk-like glance and cold steel eyes caught him.
“Don’t try anything funny young man; I’ve seen many a prince try to take advantage of young girls like Lynnette. My job is to make sure she is far from trouble until your wedding night and to keep her safe from harm.” Alastair felt his stomach sink as he muffled a sarcastic laugh. The one she was really keeping safe from harm, was Alastair.
Time had not been kind to Ismere from what Alastair could tell; eighty years had taken its toll on her beauty, but not the sharpness of her eyes or wit. Long jet black hair had faded to silvery wisps, while royal blue eyes had paled to the color of steel. She knew her place in the world and if she thought he had over stepped his bounds her cane would not hesitate to whirl through the air, and he had no doubt in the older woman’s ability to cause him pain.
“Oh look how pretty!” Lynnette gasped pointing up at the sky. Ribbons of light filled the night sky seeming almost out of place for the warm evening. She grabbed onto his arm leaning her body against his forcing any space between them to disappear. “You know we could sneak out together tonight after everyone is in bed and no one would be the wiser.” She whispered in what he assumed was her most seductive voice. It sounded unnatural when said by someone with such a high pitched, innocent voice. He could feel the heat pouring off her body in droves, and the small connection between their bodies felt like the tingling of an electrical storm. His stomach tightened as he faked a smile.
“I don’t think that would be very proper Lynette.” She glared at him pouting her lips.
“You’re such a prude.” She sighed. They continued walking in silence until someone shoved the two of them apart.
“I’ve been looking all over the place for you brother!” Chase yelled, throwing his arm enthusiastically over Alastair’s shoulder. Lynette screamed in disapproval at being dislodged. Chase winked at Lynette before pulling him off to the side. “Sorry Lynette dear, I need to steal him away for a minute.” Her face contorted in annoyance as she stormed off to join Ismere. Chase smiled at the annoyance of the young princess as he tugged his brother off to the side.
“So Simon had an idea.” Alastair waited for his brother to continue, but was only met with silence until he finally commanded him to speak. “Sorry,” Chase said with a laugh. “Simon thought that we should get some gear together and go on an adventure tomorrow.” Alastair felt his mouth hang open as his mind went blank. Chase starred at him smiling reminding him of a friendly dog merely wagging its tail. That was it; an adventure? He knew that Simon must have much more planned than what little he had sent Chase out with. The only way to know what his older brother had planned was to go ask him. Chase was never given messages that were too long since he had such a short attention span. He shook his head sending Chase away and returning to Lynette’s side.
“Lynette, I need to go talk to Simon so I think we should probably call it a night.”
“Not until you give me a goodnight kiss.” He winced in reaction to her demanding voice.
“Just one kiss, close your eyes.” She puckered her lips together and tried to stretch herself to stand up to make it easier for him to give her a kiss. He sighed and pecked her lightly on the cheek.
Alastair rushed to Simon’s room and pounded on the door. It had taken him longer to shake himself free of Lynette than planned since she had slipped away from Ismere and followed him to his room. She had continued her demand for a ‘real’ goodnight kiss until he found himself trapped on the balcony where he threw himself over the edge and clung to the trellis and climbed down.
“I can’t believe you!” She hissed, though quietly since she didn’t want to alert Ismere who was certainly looking for her now. After that he ran as fast as he could so Simons room.
“Come in.” Simon called from inside. He slipped in locking the door behind him before looking at his brother. Simon smirked at him in the candle light, his finger holding his position in the book, the orange flame gleaming in his black hair. “Lynette followed you again?”
“I need to get a lock on my door.” Alistair said with a sigh laying his hands on the door. “She’s getting more insistent about alone time and goodnight kisses. I’m worried if this progresses that this girl is going to crawl in my bed while I sleep.” Simon put a book marker in between the pages and closed it watching him.
“Do you really think it will progress to that degree? Lynette has always been so well behaved in the past.” His voice was soothing and deep like their fathers had been and he felt his shoulders relax.
“She just,” He ran his finger through his own black hair. “She is starting to act strange. She has it in mind that I need to treat her,”
“Like a woman?” Simon offered the words, and Alastair wince. “The girl wants you to treat her like a woman, like her betrothed, which is why I sent Chase down to get you. I had an idea; Sit.” He gestured to the chair nearby and Alastair obeyed his older brother feeling like a dog.
“Simon, I just can’t do this! She’s a child for god sakes! Nothing anyone does will make me see her otherwise until she is older.”
“Calm down. Just listen. This kingdom is not very big in the least, in fact we are merely a speck when it comes to kingdom size and we have many other allies close by. I have been hearing of girls going missing and all sorts of happenings in the northern mountains where spell casters are very heavy. I say we see go see about doing some princely heroics and find a girl in a wealthy family for you to marry and rescue her.” Alistair felt a twinge of pain in his forehead.
“That’s your brilliant idea?”
“Look at least this give you a choice in the matter; opens up some options rather than leaving her as your only choice.” Alastair shook his head in disgust.
“Why can’t Chase marry her?” Simon shrugged with a slight smile. They looked quietly at each other as Alastair tumbled the idea around in his head. He looked around his brothers’ room. Simon’s suit of armor and his sword stood in the corner polished and gleaming. There had been another reason they didn’t want Lynette marrying Simon, he was a knight. Though he was first in line for the crown they knew that he was most likely to die first and not wanting to leave someone so young windowed, they had placed Alastair in the place of marriage.
“So how early do you want to leave?” Simon clapped his hands together smiling.
“Bright and early is what I told Chase, but I want both of you fitted into some leather armor before we leave. Plate armor is too heavy for either of you, but we can’t have you getting torn to shreds if we wander into something nasty.” Alastair gritted his teeth at the idea of finding something ‘nasty’. He could only imagine what his brother had in mind, but knowing Simon he wouldn’t purposely get them in too far over their heads. Or so he hoped.
Alastair turned to leave when a scent caught his nose; a strong familiar scent of oiled perfume. Holding a finger up to his brother to signal for him to be quiet he strained his ears. Crouching he looked through the keyhole to see Lynette standing with her back against the wall waiting for him, her tiny arms crossed in front of her chest. He muffled the groan that had made its way into his throat and waved his hand silently towards the door signaling for Simon to take a look. Simon raised an eyebrow at him before getting up and checking the keyhole for himself.
“She is persistent, I’ll give her that.” Simon said standing up. Alastair sat with his back to the wall looking up at his older brother. He closed his eyes with a sigh.
“I can’t handle going down another trellis tonight.” He said sighing. Simon shook his head a smirk forming across his lips.
“If you’re so desperate to avoid her you can sleep on the floor. There are plenty of blankets in the linen closet. Maybe we should also get a lock fitted for your door before we leave too.”
“Maybe.” He said softly. He starred up at the ceiling. Simon waved his hand over the candle flame in front of him on the table watching the flame dance as it threatened to scorch his skin. “This idea is crazy Simon, how can it possibly work?” Simon sat back down in his chair opening his book. From where he sat Alastair couldn’t read the title.
“We won’t know unless we try. I mean come on, where is your sense of adventure?” Alastair waved his hand.
“Last I checked I had none, I like being safe in these walls.”
“You’re missing out.”
“I don’t think I am. Monsters, spell casters, assassins and who knows what else all trying to kill us; Sounds fantastic.” Simon shook his head.
“That’s not all that outside these walls Alastair, there is so much more.”
Simon shook Alastair awake in the early morning; the sky was pink with dawns light that had yet to come over the mountains and the pale wisps of clouds thin as lace crossed the horizon. It was a sight that Alastair rarely saw since he often slept late into the afternoon after the orange light of day burned bright and hot. He shook the stiffness from his shoulders that had set into his bones from sleeping on the floor and climbed to his feet. Simon peered through the keyhole and stood up shaking his head with a sigh.
“She fell asleep in the hallway waiting for you.” Alastair bit his lip. Simon dressed quickly before putting on his own leather armor. It was hardened leather made into plates over his chest, shoulders, thighs, shins and forearms. It was different seeing him in this armor instead of his shining suit of metal that he would wear when greeting the people. It was dark brown and scuffed, damaged from time and fighting, with his emerald green clothes showing through. It made him look more like an old adventured than the prince of Arenhod.
The brothers slipped out into the hallway Simon locking the door behind him as they tiptoed around a sleeping Lynette. “You should really tell her goodbye.” Simon mouthed to him. Alastair shook his head and Simon rolled his eyes. Outside the morning mist clung to the grass bringing a clean crisp scent into the air. The blacksmith was already awake pounding away on his anvil, flames bellowing behind him and the sudden hiss of water as he plunged the long sword he was working on into the cold water.
“Good morning Isaac!” Simon called waving to him. Isaac raised his hammer in the air in greeting. Isaac was a larger man with bright red hair braided down his back and a fluffy red beard. He reminded Alastair of a dwarf, but the man was far too large. He had once heard someone joke that Isaac was the son of a dwarf and giant. He shook the idea out of his head, but as they drew closer to the man he pondered the possibility of him at least being a half giant. His hand holding the hammer could easily cover Alastair’s face while he stood a good foot over the two of them. Alastair had never really met Isaac, but he had heard his name in the castle. “As you know this is my brother.” Simon said waving a hand towards him. Isaac nodded.
“Yeah, he won’t be hard to fit.” Isaac said. “He’s a common enough size.”
“What would you recommend for a beginning weapon?” Simon asked. Isaac laughed.
“I don’t think it’s wise to give anyone with no training any weapon. They’re more dangerous in the hands of the untrained than protection.” Alastair felt his stomach sink knowing Isaacs words to be true, but with brief hopes that it would convince Simon to rethink his crazy idea.
“He’s actually pretty good with pole arms.” Simon offered. But, of course, there was that.
“A spear then,” Isaac said without a second thought. “I’ve plenty made in back. Take a short sword for him too, just in case.”
After Alastair was geared Simon went to raise Chase from his slumber leaving Alastair alone with the horses and three packs of gear. The stalls hadn’t been mucked yet this morning and he suspected that the stall boy had slept in, a beatable offence if the stall master found out. The stalls had an almost sweet scent to them from the hay that had turned, leaving an apple like scent in the air. His horse, Sammy, was a roan stallion with a white blaze up his muzzle and stockings on his front two legs, broad shouldered and strong, but certainly no war horse like Simons black stallion. Standing a food taller than Sammy, the powerful horse’s kick alone could kill a man. Luckily for everyone, Lima was a tame quiet stallion who enjoyed chomping blades of grass over rearing up to resist being brought in or rode.
Sammy nuzzled at Alastair’s pockets in search of apples, but when he couldn’t find any he nipped at his shoulder. Alastair pushed the horses head away from him, but out of the corner of his eye he swore he saw someone standing at the entrance to the stables. Turning his head to say hello to the stable boy he was surprised to find himself alone. Maybe stress, he wondered, or fatigue. He checked the saddle and barding to make sure they were in place, even rechecking the blanket to ensure that there were no burs or spines picking at Sammy as he waited patiently then eventually sitting on a bale of hay.
“The prince waits to start his adventure.” A female voice said from somewhere above him in the rafters. Alastair jumped up looking into the early morning shadows. All he could see were the pigeons fluffing their feathers as they cooed softly.
“His adventure will get him in trouble.” A male voice replied.
“She will get him in trouble.” She replied again. Alastair dropped his supplies to the ground and located the ladder to the rafters and loft. Hand over hand he started up the rungs.
“I argue. Not her, his heart.”
“His heart or his mind?” The woman asked inquisitively.
“Maybe something else.”
“How much trouble will he get into, do you think?”
“I think he’s coming.” The male voice said softening.
“Let him come.” The voices were getting louder the closer he came to the top of the loft.
“Maybe you’re going crazy, young prince.” He climbed faster, but the ladder felt as though it was growing taller with each rung.
“Are you sure you’re really hearing us?” The woman taunted.
“Or maybe,” The man said softly.
“We were never here at,” Alastair popped his head over the edge of the loft and found that he was completely alone. A shiver ran down his spine as he pulled himself up over the edge. There were footsteps in the dust where he heard the voices, but no trace of where they had come from or where they had disappeared to. He suddenly felt dizzy with his mouth dry as his heart jumped into his throat. A soft laughter filled the air above him, a mix of the two voices gently disappearing. Alastair climbed down as fast as he could without missing the rungs and before any more thoughts crossed his mind he grabbed his supplies and Sammy’s reigns and headed out into the sunlight to wait.
When Simon finally showed with Chase in tow he must have seen the look on Alastairs face because he smiled saying “What? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Or heard one,” Alastair said under his breath. “or two.”
“What was that?” Simon asked raising his eyebrows. Alastair shook his head.
“Nothing, I just don’t think this is a good idea.” Alastair said shaking his head the soft chatter repeating itself in his memory.
“Oh that’s nonsense; you’re just not use to having a sense of adventure.” Simon said slapping his back as an unusually silent Chase crawled into the saddle of his horse. His blonde hair fell into his half open eyes. Alastair climbed onto Sammy’s back with a soft sigh. It was too late for turning back now; he knew that as Simon came riding out of the stables on his black stallion. He was sure that Simon would tie him to the saddle if he tried to change his mind now. Second thoughts caused by disembodied voices. Maybe he was losing his mind.
“Alastair! Don’t leave without me!” Lynette’s voice called from across the stable yard. The three young men wheeled their horses around to see Lynette trying to pull free from Ismere’s grasp and climb onto her tiny white pony. Alastair’s stomach turned and he felt as though he was about to be sick. In that moment he knew that he was at the tipping point. He grabbed the reigns and kicked his horse into a running start. Simon howled in excitement following suit with Chase in tow. Alastair looked over his shoulder and he could see Lynette trying to keep up with them on her tiny white pony, pink dress fluffing in the wind.
Alastair felt some remorse for the young woman, he didn’t want to hurt her, but as she tried desperately to catch up to them, it only cemented his decision making him ride harder than he had ever ridden before.