King Nikolai walked the courtyard turned graveyard. The moon had hardly risen to its peak when word of the disaster at the borstal woke him from sleep. Before the sun broke the horizon, he arrived at the borstal and was taken to the yard. He stepped over the dead bodies that still lay unmoved. Blood latched onto his boots and he carried with him the smell of burnt flesh. Dozens of Kings Men and several blessed children had their lives taken just hours before.
Rage weighed heavily in his chest. Had he not given the lord permission, he'd still have the blessed locked in their cells awaiting proper judgment. Yet, the lord's optimism and enthusiasm had swayed him. Now, neither would reap the spoils of discovering valuables. Checking his temper, he watched as the remaining Kings Men hauled the bodies onto wooden carts. Healers tended to frightened survivors.
Lord Brae joined him, stood quietly as they observed the yard.
"How many survived?" asked the King dryly.
"More than two dozen. Less than three. We have yet to check the extent of their injuries."
"And the girls?"
"We only lost a few. The rest await a healer."
"Any of value?"
"Only one discerned thus far. Skai is her name. She waits for you in her cell."
"A name appropriate for her gifts, I assume."
"Exceptionally so, your Godliness."
"Where is the boy who summoned these night creatures?" The King walked mindfully towards the door and through whisps of extinguished fires.
"In isolation. It took some coaxing, but the boy managed to dismiss the beasts."
"Let him remain there until we can further assess him. I will not have him causing unjust mayhem because he lacks the discipline to control his creations."
"As you will." Lord Brae bowed his head just as Aedon came jogging up to greet the King.
"Commander," the King addressed him.
"Your Godliness, my lord," Aedon bowed.
"What news do you bring us?" Lord Brae welcomed.
"All injured are now in the infirmary with healers. All non-injured have been returned to their cells."
"Excellent," Lord Brae said, hoping the return to order would please the king. But the hesitation hung on the commanders' lips. "Is there something else you wish to say?"
Aedon studied them then lifted his chin. "We have recovered all living and dead prisoners . . . except for two."
Uncertain, Lord Brae cocked his head. "They are missing?"
"Yes, my lord. We cannot seem to find them anywhere. I have sent my men to search every corner and crevice in this place. There is no sign of them." Fury flickered in the kings' eyes. Calmy, Aedon added, "I have sent a raven and requested that the Huntsman join us in the search."
"The Huntsman." The name rolled off the kings' tongue as if trying it for the first time. "A wise decision, and quick, too. When will he arrive?"
"I have left him in the cell of one of the missing girls."
"Take me to him." They plundered the halls, following Aedon's lead as he escorted them to the Huntsman.
He crouched on the floor of the cell, cloaked in fur and clad in black leather. His face was stern, silent, and unmoving as his hand caressed the ground. A sword hung at his side. At the door, the king stopped and waited.
"What of this one?" he asked.
Shifting, Aedon handed the prisoners' scroll to the king. "Witty and wise and an unruly tongue. A constant need to cause mischief. Doc had a hard time discerning her blessed, but from what I know of her, she knows more than what she lets on and hides it well."
"From what I've observed - and from Doc's judgments - she appears almost human."
"Preposterous. She would not have been brought here if that was so."
"A halfling needn't a true gift to be of value to you, my king." The Huntsman finally rose. "Her lineage alone makes her a natural fighter and her keen senses would be of great use in your army."
The king considered him. "What have you so far?"
"The veil was not affected by the chaos. The borstal remains impenetrable. Still, it is unclear how two prisoners were able to navigate the halls without being discovered. Let alone disappear completely. I would like to see the others' cell if you would."
They followed Aedon through borstal, turning twice before coming to the next cell. Several paces before they arrived, the king stopped.
"Do you feel that?" he asked. They all looked blankly to the King, except for the Huntsman.
"There is strong magic here."
King Nikolai moved slowly, stepping to the cell with revived curiosity. He hadn't felt such power in decades. The taste of it sweetened his tongue. Like honey and wine, it consumed him. Drew him. He needed it, desperately wanted it for himself.
"Open the cell," he snarled. Obeying, Aedon unlocked the door and stepped back for the king and the Huntsman to enter.
Gazing around the cell, he saw the rotting cot, the dirt-coated floor, the chamber pot. At his command, Aedon summoned a ball of fire in his hand and held it to light the room. Turning in slow circles, King Nikolai breathed in the magic. It smelled light and dense.
"My king?" Turning to the Huntsman, King Nikolai approached the wall of moss. "It grows out of place and burns with magic." He reached out to touch it. Everyone watched with puzzlement and horror as his hand passed through. Retrieving it, the Huntsman looked to the king who was completely mesmerized.
"I have not seen a portal in years." He reached out. His fingers had hardly grazed the surface of the moss when it shriveled and turned dead brown before it crumbled to the floor. The portal closed and his hand pressed against steel.
No one dared move as the King waged a furious fist against the wall. "What was she?" he growled.
"She is a naturalist. She can whip air like a jest. Her scrolls mentions nothing of this gift."
Why would it? the king spat silently. Having experienced the shock of discovering a new gift, he gave little grace for the girl who would not have told a soul, especially if she feared for her life. He shifted. "You will find her and you will bring her to me."
"With all due respect, my king," Lord Brae began slowly, "how can we be certain it was this one who created the portal? Could it not have been the other?"
"Then you will bring me both. Huntsman, you will join the new lord in the search for the girls. They are not to be harmed, mind you. I need them at their best for when I get my hands on them. Is that understood?"
"But your godliness-"
"This is your mess, Lord Brae. You will fix it else it will be your life you are pleading for next." Lord Brae swallowed, lowered his head to the king. Not a single cloud of doubt crossed his mind as he strode out of the cell, this was the one he searched for. The one from prophecy. And he'd found her.
When the others were gone, the Huntsman lingered in the cell. Without the distraction, he observed the room more closely. Everything had its place and was in it, even the dead flora. Yet, there was something about the room that felt different. It was not the magic, though, he knew.
He inspected the shadows and moved what little rested there. Fresh soil laid on the floor, no doubt from the passage through the portal. Crouching, he touched his fingers to it.
Color caught his eye. Out of place in the bleak grim, the Huntsman moved to it. The small pink petal peeked out from under the cot. Carefully, he plucked the flower between his fingers and observed its strangeness. He'd never seen anything like it. Unique in shape and color. Unfamiliar.
Where did you come from? he wondered. Several possibilities floated through his head, but none of his theories could be proven correct. Not then.
Standing, he tucked the flower into his belt and concealed it under his cloak. He will find his answers, he knew, when he found the girl they belonged to. With a final glance around the cell, the Huntsman left the borstal.
The hunt, he decided, was on.
About the Creator
From crafting second-world fantasies to scheming crime novels to novice poetry; magic, mystery, music. I've dreamed of it all.
Now all I want to do is write it.
My IG: https://www.instagram.com/iamtiffanieharvey/