Fay looked at Collum. His eyes were large, his breathing suddenly rapid and shallow.
“Coll?” He stood up, panic taking over him. “What is wrong?”
Collum looked at him. “I... I...” He tried to stand up. But immediately as he moved, his knees gave in, and he fell to the ground.
Fay knelt beside him, taking him to his arms. He watched stunned, as Coll spat hot, red blood all over his robe.
“Help!” Fay shrieked in terror. “Help!” He cried.
Collum grabbed and clutched the from of his shirt. “Fay...” he whispered.
Fay looked at him in a state of absolute panic. He hugged him close, his mind in frenzy, yet completely blank, he did not know what to do. “Helllppp! Somebody call a doctor I need help!” Doctor. That word put his brain into motion. He needed to take Collum to their healer.
“What are you doing?” Collum barely breathed out, coughing out ever more blood, as Fay picked him up.
Fay cleaned it gently from his mouth with his own sleeve, shushing him and hugging him tight. “Psst. Don’t talk, don’t speak. I am taking you to the doctor. You will be all right.”
Will he? Little voice whispered in his mind. Fay began to cry.
He made for the exist of the tent, desperate to save him. But Collum shook his head. “Fay...” he breathed out. “Fay I... I don’t think there is anything you can do. But... but it is all right,” he smiled at him.
“No,” Fay made another step.
“Stop,” Collum said. “There really is nothing to do now.”
Fay trembled, crying in agonizing helplessness.
“Sit,” Collum ordered.
“I love you,” Collum whispered, reaching out a hand to cup Fay’s cheek.
Fay’s whole body was shaking with violent sobs. “I love you, too,” he said. “I love you; I love you; I love you...”
“Good,” Collum smiled. “Look at me,” he then said, reaching to turn Fay’s averted gaze back at him. “This is not the end all right? We will... we will...” Collum gasped for air, coughing out dark, purple liquid that once was his blood, ”...meet again,” he said with his last breath, closing his eyes, fading away.
“No! Coll wake up! Open your eyes!” Fay cried. He shrieked and veiled, akin to a hurt animal. He screamed, holding Collum’s body in tight embrace. “Come back! Come baaack!”
“No!” He kept repeating. “No! No! No!” As though those words could change anything...
In that moment, someone entered the tent.
Fay looked up. It was the servant from before. The one who brought their breakfast.
He looked down at them, shock on his face as he shook his head to compose himself. With few long steps, he approached Fay. It was then, that Fay noticed the glistening dagger in his hand.
“I am sorry, your highness,” the boy whispered.
Drawing the dagger, he slit Fay’s throat.
And thus, Fay fell dead.
Shriek of agony reached Finnian’s ears. Fay! He did not know why his brother was screaming but he ran.
As he reached his tent and entered, smell of blood hit his nose. He turned in its direction and froze. Few feet away from him, there lay on the floor, his little brother and southern prince Collum. Embracing, and both unmoving, dead.
Finnian ran to his brother. He put a hand over his throat, trying desperately to stop the blood from pouring out. Trying to save his little brother even though he knew, he was too late.
He was already gone. Fay, his little brother, was dead.
Wail of pain, similar to the one he heard from Fay moments before, now echoed from his own mouth. Fay. Is. Dead. He was murdered. Someone killed him and took him away from Finnian. His whole being filled with fury of every demon and god. He wanted revenge. He wanted to kill. Thus, he vowed to find one responsible and punish them. Once the time was right. In the most horrendous ways.
But not only that. He, too vowed, before he shall go to find his own peace in death, to bring it between his kingdom and the Kingdom of the south. For that was what Fay wanted. To stop the war. To protect the common people. And these lands. He shall do all that in his honor and memory, he promised in his heart, as he knelt shrieking by his brother’s and southern prince’s corpses. Two young men, boys, children not long ago, both dead. And for what?
Even though he did not want to let go, he knew he had to. He had to bury his brother and let him find peace. And the following morning, he did so. In a sunlight clearing in the forest, he buried the two little boys, marking their graves with stones, crowning them with wild, forget-me-not flowers.
After the funereal, as he left, he felt nothing. And that nothingness was devouring him. But before he could succumb and let it swallow him whole, he still needed to fight.
But could he succeed? Could the two kingdoms find their peace? Or would the war prevail? That yet no one knew, no one could say.
And what was to be, from now on, the fate of southern price Coll and northern prince Fay? No one could tell. Yet, it is nowhere written in the stars, that the two shall not meet again, in their next lives. And some say, legend has it, that after the two princes were buried, there suddenly appeared, like spirits from another world, a little white dove, and a black raven, looking at the mourners from atop their graves, before flying together, somewhere far, far away.
At first, Collum sat on the bed, waiting patiently. Then, as he could not calm down, he began to pace through the room. Up and down, up and down, from one corner to the other, and then in circles around its edges, thought after thought racing each other in frenzy through his mind. He thought about his army, the attack, who has lead it, how to restore the order back, how to make the situation right. But most of all, he thought of Fay. Hoping he was all right. Wishing he would come back at last.
It seemed to Collum, each second stretched on endlessly, making his wait into infinity. Hours passed by, before finally, Fay came back. As he entered the tent, he remained standing in front of the exit, frozen, unmoving as a statue. His face was pale, his expression dull, his eyes glassy and full of tears. Collum’s stomach fell when he spotted him, bone deep sadness tugging on his heart. He sprang up, approaching him, taking both his hands in a gentle hold.
The touch seemed to have brought Fay back into reality. As though he was awoken from a deep trance. He looked at Collum, his eyes turning alive, focused.
“Fay,” Collum whispered, reaching out to wipe his tears away.
“Coll,” Fay echoed, his voice exhausted, resigned.
Hearing such resonance in his voice shattered Collum’s heart into million pieces. He stood up and tiptoe, hands around Fay’s neck, hugging tight. And still, Fay did not move. Thus, Collum embraced him ever tighter, whispering, “I’m here. Everything is going to be all right. I’m right here by your side.”
At that, Fay’s hands closed around him, as though he needed to make sure it was true. To be sure Collum was there with him.
“I’m here. Everything will be fine. I promise,” he kept whispering, as he caressed back of his neck.
After a long while of hugging, Collum managed to make Fay move, maneuvering him to sit on the bed. Then he poured him a glass of water, helping him drink it. Hopelessly, he watched Fay’s soulless form. Not moving, not looking at anything in particular, just being there. Not even crying.
“What is it?” He asked, his voice shaky. “Do you want to tell me.
Not looking at him but starring at the wall opposite them, Fay shook his head. Then nodded. And shook it again.
Collum kissed his cheek. Fay turned to him. “It is all right,” Collum said, trying to reassure, “you don’t have to tell me.”
Fay simply stared. Right into his eyes. Right into his soul. Then he pulled Collum into his lap, hugging him tight. Collum embraced him back, humming a comforting melody as he did so. Fay seemed to have relax a little under the soft tones, his breath deeper end more even with every note.
After a while, Collum asked again, “do you want to tell me? All and everything that you want and need. You don’t not have to. But I’m here if you do.”
Fay nodded. “Want to.”
And so he did.
Crying more, speaking louder and faster with every sentence, the tears and the words began to spill, taking away with them the sorrow built up within him. Once he finished, Collum could not decide, if he wanted to fight whomever wanted to lay as much as a finger on Fay; if he simply wished to embrace him and cry alongside him, making sure he knew he was going to stay forever by his side. Or if he wanted to shake him, tell him to stop blaming himself. Tell him none of what was happening was his fault, since this was the way their world had always been, and he was simply a person born into the ever-moving, rolling ball of hellfire this world was. Thus, there was little he could do about it.
It was too much to put in words all at once. So instead, Collum leaned down, kissing Fay with all his might, putting all his love, all those un-formable words and all of himself into it. Fay’s hand on his hips, he drew him closer. Collum melted into him, touching, and kissing everywhere, to make sure Fay knew. Knew he had him. Knew he would not leave. Knew they were in all together.
Fay kissed his neck and Collum moaned. With pleasure, with satisfaction, with love and knowledge Fay understood and felt the same.
Before they fell asleep that night, exhausted but relaxed, sorrowful yet full of joy, they made a promise. They vowed loyalty and devotion to each other, to the common people, and to peace. They promised to fight for what was right, and always hand in hand. They gave their words to love each other and to never leave, to spend together, every coming tomorrow they shall receive.
“Till tomorrow,” Collum whispered with one last kiss, closing his eyes and drifting into sleep.
“Uhm, till tomorrow,” Fay echoed, embracing him.
Thus, the morning of the next day came. They were still deep in the muddy chaos surrounding them, nothing yet changed. But in the morning light and in each other’s arms, everything seemed a little less daunting, a little more possible.
“All right,” Collum jumped out of the bed, grinning down at his beloved, “let us awake, eat some breakfast, and began the day’s work. We have much of it to be sure.”
Fay nodded, but instead of standing up, he pulled Collum back onto the bed and into a hug. “Breakfast will be here soon,” he said, pretending it was an explanation.
Collum chuckled and snuggled in closer. “All right. Let’s stay here like this till it arrives.”
Fay nodded, kissing his cheek.
Only a few moments later, someone was at the door, asking for the permission to come in.
“Enter,” Fay called out, not bothering to stand up, or even let go of Collum.
The servant entered, not doing a great job of disguising his nervousness. “Your breakfast, your highness,” he said, bowing down.
“Thank you,” said Fay. “You may go.”
In a whim, the servant was gone.
“Let’s eat,” Collum said.
Once again, Fay gave him a nod of agreement, but instead of standing up and heading to the table, he leaned in and gave Collum’s lower lip a little bite, before kissing him deep and breathless.
Collum chuckled against his mouth. “Not like this, I meant the f—”
He was stopped as Fay kissed him ever harder, Collum’s entire body tingling with happiness and satisfaction.
“Not like this,” he repeated once he pulled away. “I meant the food.”
Fay gave him a smug smile and one last little pack on the lips, before he stood, picking Collum up from the bed.
“What are you doing?” Collum asked with a chuckle. “You are being silly. I can walk on my own.”
“I know,” Fay said, but did not put him down. Instead, he carried him to the table, and only there he let go.
As they sat down to eat, Collum realized how hungry he was, saying as much, “I am starving! I have not eaten since... When was the last time I had eaten? I don’t know. But I’m going to eat now. And a lot!”
“Umn.” Fay nodded, looking at him fondly. “Eat. A lot. As much as you want.”
Collum flashed him a grin. He then reached for a tasty looking bun, taking a big, hungry bite. As soon as he swallowed however, he knew something was wrong.
When Finnian spotted the southern army coming down at them, rolling like a tidal wave about to devour them, he sprang into action at once. He shouted the command and his soldiers mobilized in a speed of a lightening. But even so, they were not fast enough. As southern army reached the camp, some of his soldiers were still not ready to fight. Those were the first to fall. Most of them young boys. Some looked younger then fifteen, as their corpses lay helplessly, like a sleeping children, on the ground of battlefield.
Where is my brother? Was the first thought Finnian had as the attackers approached him. When he thought about it, he had not seen him for quite some time now. Was he once again pacing and thinking in the seclusion of his tent? Finnian could not tell, and there was no time to find him, nor dwell on it, as one of the southerners swung their sword at him and he had to ward off the attack.
The battle raged on for some time, before his soldiers, finally, got it under control. Each of the northern soldiers was worth three of the southern ones, but even so, it felt like a miracle, when southern troops began to back away.
Finnian and his soldiers fought and fought, many falling, many injured, but still they pressed on, until they heard the southern general call, “retreat! Retreat!”
The southern troops obeyed and ran for their lives. Finnian was just about to slice the throat of the soldier he kicked to the ground, but as he looked into the men’s eyes, he lowered his weapon and let him join his fleeing brothers. He spilled enough blood even without taking the life from this one.
Finnian looked about himself, furious and mournful, as he watched his soldiers pick up the dead bodies of their friends after the battle. Panic squeezed his chest, and he began to look around in distress, calling his brothers name, “Fay! Fay!”
No answer came.
“Fay!” He called out again, louder. “Fay!”
“Brother!” A voice answered from behind him.
Finnian spun around. Few feet away from him, there stood his little brother. Tears of relief spilled on his cheeks. He ran toward him, his eyes examining Fay closely as he went. He seemed uninjured. And he was clean. There were no signs of battle on him. But there was someone beside him, holding his brother’s hand.
Finnian looked at the person and new furry awoken inside him, as his eyes met those of the southern prince.
“Brother,” Fay spoke before he could say anything.
“What–” Finnian wanted to scream at his younger brother about a million questions at once, but was stopped and cut short, as Fay said, “my tent, now!”
Finnian obeyed and followed, his eyes darting in disbelieve, toward his brother’s and southern prince’ joined hands.
What the fuck? What an actual fuck? His mind shrieked. What, in the name holly fucking goodness, is this?
“Wait for me here,” his brother said to the southerner, as they reached his tent, giving him something that looked suspiciously like Fay’s dagger, leading Finnian away into his own tent at once.
“What the fuck? What is supposed to be the meaning of what I just saw? Please explain to me clearly and concisely, for I think I must be going bloody insane!” Finnian rounded him as soon as they entered his tent.
“Calm down,” his little brother said to him, as though he did not just walk around their camp hand in hand with the southern price, almost immediately after his army attacked them.
“Calm down?!” Finnian screamed.
“Yes,” said Fay, his voice grounded, even, “calm down and tell me what happened here?”
Finnian must have heard wrong. “I am supposed to tell you what happened here? Shouldn’t you know? Shouldn’t he know?!”
“He didn’t know about the attack,” Fay said and Finnian wanted to pull his hair out from frustration.
“He said that so it must be true, huh? How come you believe him? Have you lost your fucking mind? Haven’t you always said, that out of the two of us, you are the one with a functioning brain? Because it sure as fuck does not seem like that to me, now! Fay what is going on?!”
“I will explain my part of the story soon enough. But first, please tell me what happened here?”
“I don’t know Fay, all right?! It was early in the morning, our soldiers were going about their duties, I was getting ready for the morning council, and would not I have been surprised when I would have come. Seeing, as I would not have found you there. Nor in your tent I suppose, nor anywhere in our camp, am I right?”
Fay nodded, but otherwise ignored the last part of what Finnian told him completely, asking instead, “you were about to go to the council, when you heard the approaching army?”
“Yes,” Finnian said trough gritted teeth, “after that, there was no time for anything else. Our soldiers began to mobilize and fight. By some miracle, we managed to overpower them in the end, and they withdrew back. And you know the rest. Now you know what happened here, so explain yourself as you promised!”
“I will. Soon,” Fay said. “But first, let us go help our soldiers collect the bodies and visit the wounded. And I need to find someone.”
“Who?” Finnian asked, having enough of this bullshit.
“Someone who, in the last battle, saved my life,” his little brother said, leaving the tent without another word.
Fay stepped out among the tents and into the whirlwind of after-battle, looking around, checking face of each passing soldier. He needed to find Ronan.
First, he made for the medical tent to check if he was not injured. He rushed inside, his stomach falling as he seen all those man, all those boys who had been brought in. Some with mild injuries, some with gushing stab wounds, some with missing limbs, all in immeasurable pain. All in fear.
Please let him not be here. Please let him not be here. Fay prayed as he searched the tent.
His wish was granted. Ronan was not among the injured.
Once Fay made sure of that, he stepped outside once more. No matter where he searched, he could not find him. After a while, he began to call his name, and stopping other soldiers, asking them if they knew him, if they seen him. No one did.
Until he spotted a group of boys in about Ronan’s age, sitting together in silence.
“Young soldiers,” he called, approaching them, “do you, know one named Ronan? He is your age.”
One of the boys looked up at him, not realizing who Fay was or forgetting, since he did not bow to him, he merely nodded to answer his question. But Fay did not care.
“Do you know where he is?” Fay asked eagerly, grabbing the boy by his shoulders. “I need to find him.”
The boy pointed numbly, somewhere toward the edge of their camp, several feet away from them. Fay turned in that direction. There, a group of soldiers was laying dead bodies in long rows, digging out a mass grave for them all.
Fay’s heart stopped; his stomach fell. No! No! It can’t be!
He sprinted out. Looking frantically from body to body, hoping beyond hope Ronan would not be there. But he was. He lay at the end of a row, near the forest. His eyes closed, his skin paler than usual, his chest still, unmoving. Fay dragged himself toward him, falling to his knees by Ronan’s side, taking the boy into his arms.
“No,” he whispered desperately. “No, this can’t be.” As though those words could change the fact Ronan was dead. Dead...
Fay’s body began to shake, with loud sobs. Shriek of pain and anger filled his lungs and the air around him. “No!” He screamed, crying. “Ronan wake up! Wake up! … What did I do to you? This... this is all my fault.” Fay hugged the little boy in a tight, desperate embrace, tears rolling down his cheeks and falling unto Ronan’s dirty, bloody, lifeless face.
For a long time, Fay stayed with him, drowning in grief and guilt. In hopelessness. In anger. In fury. For this was his fault. All his fault...
Once Finnian finished helping his soldiers, he returned to his tent, waiting for Fay. It took a long time till he came, and once he finally did, he looked... he looked... Finnian couldn’t even put the right word to the expression in his brother’s eyes. He only knew, he did not see them that broken since Fergal’s death.
“What happened?” he asked worried, taking his little brother into his arms, embracing him in a tight hug. The anger he felt before did not matter any more.
He sat his brother down and listened as he told him his part of the story. About the southern prince. How he took care of him when he was imprisoned, how he helped him escaped, how he wanted peace from the beginning, but Fay would not listen to him. How he almost died in the previous battle, but there was a boy who helped Fay save him. A boy who was now dead. And it was his fault, he said.
And he told him what turmoil and confusion he carried within him. How he wanted to stop the madness, but did not know how, yet he saw clearer than ever now, that the war can only bring harm. Only suffering. To them and southern people alike.
And he told him, he also wanted to stop the war because… because he fell in love. He loved the southern prince Collum, and he loved him back.
Finnian listened to his brother talk, more dumbstruck, yet more understanding with every word. And he knew his brother was right about the war; it was destruction and destruction alone, but he too, did not know how to stop it. For he knew better than anyone else, their mother would not allow it. Would not allow it because it was all part of her grand plan. All part of her scheme, about which, Fay knew nothing. But Finnian did. And he could not keep it a secret any longer. He needed to tell him all he knew, and he needed to tell him at once, if there was to be any hope whatsoever, to find a solution, and even more importantly, to protect his brother from harm. From harm which lurked at him in places he would least expect.
“Fay, little brother,” Finnian said once Fay finished talking, “as I listen to you speak I realize, there is something I must tell you. Something I wanted to shield you from and therefore I kept it a secret. But no more. The time came to reveal it.”
Fay looked at him with questioning eyes, “what... what is it brother?”
Finnian took in a deep breath. “There is so much more at work here. Dangers you are unaware of. And that unawareness is what kept you alive all these years. But now came the point where it could cause you a great harm. It is complicated story however, and for you to understand, I must start at the very beginning. Thirteen years ago. When the previous war between Dheasos and Thuaidia began. Before it did, our grandfather and the southern king had a council together, trying to decide what to do with these lands. I’m not sure why, but southern king seemed to have felt very strongly about them and about these woods in particular. He was trying to persuade our grandfather to stop logging the darkwood. Grandfather wanted to agree at first, but our mother and father persuaded him not to. And so, the southern king who seemed to want to protect this forest, but I suppose only wanted the darkwood for himself and his people, declared a war to our kingdom. In the first year of that war, our father died. In the second, our grandfather did. After the war was at its end, Fergal was the only one of the three of them, who made it home alive. However, he was wounded and even though it looked at first he might survive the injury, he did not. But it was not a natural death. None of their deaths were. Our brother Fergal was murdered. So were our father and grandfather. And do you know who killed them? Not the southern soldiers and the war. In truth, it was none other than queen Fiadh, our own mother.”
Fay looked at him in disbelief. Perhaps he wanted to say something, to defend her, but Finnian pressed on, “and I knew we were next. But I found a solution. I gave you a drug which manipulates one’s memory. It altered all your memories of our mother and it helped you forgot some of those you had with our brother, father, and grandfather. That is what the illness you had at the age of twelve truly was. It was no coincidental sickness. I did that to you. I manipulated your memory, and I made you into the loyal dog you were to our mother all these years. I knew she would still want to use you if she saw the unbridled loyalty you had for her. And it would buy me enough time to figure out a way to deal with it permanently. Other than to kill my own mother. Even after all she did, I never wanted to do that. Anyhow, after you were dealt with, I needed a way to keep myself alive. And since I had a reputation of the black sheep and the clown of the family, I used it to make our mother believe I am nothing but an innocent drunk who is slowly falling into insanity and madness among his wine and whores. It worked. And after that, we both waited. We were both on a look out. Me for any danger you might be in, ready to protect you; she for the best time to start this war. And then the day came. As you came to me and announced , we were going to invade the Southern kingdom, I knew, our mother was ready for her grand finale. Not only was she planning on taking these forests and all the darkwood for herself, but she also wanted to destruct all of Dheasos and make it part of Thuaidia, to become the universal ruler over the Aonar Island, And to do that, to ensure there would be no threat to her power, there is still one more thing to do: kill her two living sons, who have much better claim to the throne that she does. And therefore, I am sure, she is plotting to kill us both, during the war or after it is over, but she wants us dead all the same.”
Finnian fished, looking at Fay. He was starring back at him, need to deny what he heard clear within his tearful eyes.
“I am sorry little brother,” Finnian said, squeezing Fay’s shoulders, “but all I said is true.”
“But how... how... how do you know?” Fay stammered, ever more tears falling down his pale face.
“Listening behind the doors,” Finnian said simply and shrugged. “No matter how many times they told me, when I was a child not to do that, I still always did it. Information is power. And it is even more powerful, when no one knows you have it. I knew that from a very young age. And I lived by it.”
It was shortly after nightfall, when Collum reached at last the edge of Southern kingdom’s camp. As he entered the kindled lanes among the tents, light of torches hitting his tearful face, the soldiers could not believe what they were seeing. For ten days have their prince been gone. And suddenly, he mysteriously appeared in their midst, alive and unharmed. Afraid to approach him, they simply stared, as though he was a ghost, a malicious spirit with looks of their monarch, and not a man of blood and flesh. Barely noticing the stares, glares, and whispered questions of wonder, Collum dragged himself all the way towards the middle of the camp, toward the strategical tent, where, as he knew he would, he found his general.
“Good evening general ...” Collum breathed out.
The man turned, his face pale, his eyes large with shock.
“Your highness, my... my prince... Is that... Is that really you?” He said, making a step closer to get a better look at him.
Collum nodded. “It is me. I’m back.”
“How? Were you taken hostage by the northerners? How did you escape? Are you not hurt your highness?”
“I’m not hurt. Not hurt in the slightest. And I was not taken hostage. It is a long tale, however. I shall tell you tomorrow. I’m exhausted.”
“Yes, your highness,” the general nodded, still looking at him in disbelief, as though he, too, thought there stood a ghost in front of him. “I will inform the lords and our troops of your return. Go rest my prince. We shall talk tomorrow.”
At that, Collum gave him a nod and general bowed deep to him. Mindlessly, Collum walked toward his tent, and without even changing into his night robes or doing anything else, he slump down onto his bed. He knew he wouldn’t sleep, however. His tiredness wasn’t of a kind that sleep might heal. Moreover, it was of a kind that chases one’s sleep away.
Throughout the whole night, all the way until the first warm rays of morning sun appeared in the east, Collum sat on his bed, thinking, wrecking his brain for a solution. He mulled the situation in his head over and over again, but could not see the way out, he promised Fay he would find. Fay. At all times, at least some small part of his mind dwelt on him.
In the morning, when the general came to call him for the strategy meeting but found him pacing up and down his tent, hair messy and eyes bloodshot, he did not understand. Collum looked in amusement, at his general’s expression of mingled worry and something that resembled a... frustration perhaps?
“I didn’t get any sleep last night,” Collum chuckled awkwardly, answering his general’s unasked question. “Please handle things for me, today.” He ordered. “I still need some time to rest.”
“As you wish my prince,” general bowed and left the tent, leaving Collum to his thoughts once more.
Three days have passed since he came back. Two mornings exactly the same as the first one after his arrival: his general coming in to call him for his duties, yet leaving almost immediately and alone without his prince, as Collum sent him away. He knew he could not keep it up much longer, but he still didn’t have the solution he needed.
How can I stop this war? He asked himself on that third morning yet again, for what must have been the millionth time. He was beginning to think there truly was no way out.
And so, for the first time, he asked himself a different question: How can I fight this war? A tear rolled down his cheek, his chest in a painful clench. How can I lead an army against him? How can I fight him? The person whom... The person who is so good. So gentle, even though he does not look it. The person who I am in love with. ...? The person who I am in love with? Holly goodness in heaves above us I love him! I love Fay!
Collum jumped to his feet as the realization hit him. A realization he should have had as soon as Fay first lay his hands on his waist and kissed him. Or even sooner. When he came to see him everyday after the battle, making sure he was healing well. Or when they were in that cave, talking about anything and everything for two whole days and he felt so... so at peace! So comfortable. So happy!
“I’m in love with Fay,” he said in a barely audible whisper, as though the words were a treasure, he must keep only to himself. Though at the same time, he felt like he wanted to run toward the middle of the camp and scream it at the top of his lungs for everyone to hear. He wanted everyone to know he was in love wit the most loyal, caring, devoted men. The most beautiful being he had ever seen. The being who however, did not yet know it.
He does not know. I must tell him! I must tell him now!
Without thinking, Coll grabbed a piece of parchment and scribbled: I have not yet figured out the way, but there is something important I must tell you. Please come and meet me at our hill as soon as you can. I will wait. -C He rolled the parchment, and fetching a messenger owl, he fastened the message to its leg and send it flying toward the northern camp.
Immediately after, he cleaned up, put on fresh clothes, and ran out of his camp toward the forest beyond. Without a break he walked, to get to their meeting place as soon as he could.
The sun was setting down, dusk was settling about him. Soon, the darkness came. But he did not care. He was not scared or afraid. For he knew, soon he would meet Fay again.
Ever since their separation, prince Collum was not the only one who’s mind tried at all times to find a solution. Fay too, wrecked his brain for a possible way out of the mess he and his people had created. And frankly, he knew they are the ones who needed to be dealt with. From the very beginning, Southern kingdom wished for peace. Or so it seemed at least. Fay and his kingdom however, were the ones who attacked despite it all. And they were set on finishing what they’ve started. All his lords, and most of all, his queen. His mother. Since the first war all those years ago, when her husband and firstborn son died, she spoke of little else than the revenge she was going to get one day. And the day was there at least.
Fay felt stuck. Between two millstones about to crack his skull. He felt lost in a maze full of millions of possible paths and turns to take, yet each was wrong, and he could never find his way out. With each and every thought, he was pulled deeper and deeper into the dark lake of desperation. An impossible choice stood before him and he had no clear view of what was right or wrong, what he wanted and what he did not.
Like a little star in the night sky, there shone the single certainty he had. Among all those things he did not know, he knew one for sure. He wanted Coll to be safe, he needed to protect him, shield him from harm even if it would cost him his life.
Fay shook his head. It was all too much. He needed to walk, he needed air. He stepped out of his tent, but no further than five steps he went, before someone came rushing toward him.
“Your highness, your highness,” a young soldier called.
Fay looked at him and saw, there was an owl upon his arm. And at that owl’s leg, there was a small piece of parchment fastened there.
“Your highness we’ve caught a messenger owl and they sent me to bring it at once to you,” the boy said, bowing to him.
Fay untied the message from the bird’s leg. “Thank you, you may go now,” he said then to the soldier. He wanted to read the message immediately, but as the soldier was leaving, he suddenly realized, who the boy was. “Wait!” He called after him.
The boy stopped, turning, and walking back to him at once.
“I know you,” said Fay.
The boy seemed to be in shock. His eyes large, his mouth slightly opened, lost for words that his prince and general should remember him.
“You are that young soldier who helped me on the battlefield, aren’t you?” Fay asked.
“Yes, your highness.” The boy nodded, his cheeks deep shade of red. “I am.”
At that, Fay lowered his head, bowing to show his gratitude and respect. “Thank you, young soldier. You saved that person’s life that day. I owe you much more than any gold can ever pay, but I may try. I shall think of what to give you and you shall be rewarded.”
“There’s… there’s no... no need your highness. It has been an honor to serve you,” the boy stammered.
“There is,” Fay insisted. “Tell me, what is your name? Who am I indebted to?”
“This humble servant’s name is Ronan, your highness,” the boy answered. “But… but you really do not owe me an–”
Fay lifted his hand to stop him, the boy fell silent at once. “Ronan,” Fay said. “That is a good name. And, if I may, what is your age Ronan?”
“I will turn seventeen years of age next month, your highness,” Ronan answered, straightening up to his full height.
Fay was stunned. He is sixteen. This boy is sixteen! He is still just a child. What is he doing here? He should be at home with his family. Not fighting another’s war for them... Are there many more his age among my troops? Shall many children die on the battlefields of this war? And what for?! Fay gulped down. “And where are you from Ronan?”
“I come from the upmost part of the Northern kingdom, your highness. My village is on the very shore of Endless sea. I have lived there with my old father and three little sisters all my life.”
“Good,” Fay nodded. “Thank you. I shall give you your reward soon. And then you shall go home. You are already a war hero; you shall not stay any longer. You must go back to your family.”
“But–” Ronan wanted to protest.
“No,” Fay stopped him. “Thank you.” He bowed again. “Ronan of the Village of Endless sea, thank you for saving that person’s life. For that, I’m forever grateful. Now go young soldier, go in peace.”
“Your highness,” Ronan bowed, then turned on his heels to leave, his cheeks crimson still.
After he was gone, as fast as he could, Fay unrolled the parchment and read the message: I have not yet figured out the way, but there is something important I must tell you. Please come and meet me at our hill as soon as you can. I will wait. -C
Fay felt his flesh tingle in combination of excitement and panic, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if the news Coll must tell him shall be good or bad. Whatever it might have been however, he set out immediately, trying to not think too hard of it, focused solely on the prospect of seeing Collum again.
He hurried toward the hill. Ten miles later, he reached it. Collum was not yet there. If his calculations were right, he should appear some time after nightfall. Fay decided that till then, he shall collect wood and make fire. Even though it was already an early summer and these parts had milder weather than his home, once the night would set, it was bound to get chilly.
After some time, a small fire was kindled under the hill, its flames warm and comforting. Fay sat by it, waiting.
And he waited.
Once the night fell and Collum was still nowhere to be seen, Fay was beginning to worry. Thus, he stood up, about to make a torch to go looking for him, when then, there came a sound of steps. They neared and Fay recognized they belonged to none else but the one he had been waiting for. At once he was calmer. Yet still, he stood waiting in anxious anticipation.
Collum emerged from the trees at the other side of the small clearing, the fire just barely illuminating his face. Their eyes met. For a moment, they only gazed. Then they sprang forward, running to meet each other.
Collum jumped and hugged Fay round his neck. Fay curled both hands around his waist, holding him tightly, twirling with him through the air.
Once Collum let go and Fay set him on the ground, his hand immediately darted up to cup his cheeks, to pull his face up and see his eyes. Those beautiful, beautiful eyes!
“Hi,” Coll said, giving him the brightest of smiles, his eyes sparkling with joy.
“Hello,” Fay breathed out, giving the tip of his nose a small, gentle kiss. Then, letting go of Coll’s face, he took his hand, lacing their fingers together. “Come sit by the fire,” he said, leading Collum toward it.
There, as he was about to seat them down, Coll stopped him, taking both Fay’s hands into his own. “Aren’t you going to ask me what I needed to tell you?” He prompted.
Fay nodded at once. “Umn. What did you need to tell me?”
As he asked, Coll’s whole face suddenly blazed with heat which had nothing to do with the flames of their fire.
“I... I...,” he stammered. “All right, here goes.” He breathed in and out. Fay gave his hands reassuring squeeze. Looking right into his eyes, Coll began, “ever since we have separated, I thought of nothing else but the solution I promised I would bring. But... at all times, there was something else my mind dwelt on. You.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “and as I was thinking about you, I suddenly realized something. Something that was brewing underneath the surface for a long time, something I should have seen was there, but only fully realized this morning. I... what I realized is, I...,” he looked down for a moment, then back into Fay’s eyes, “I am in love with you, Fay. I like you so much I always want to be around you. I need you to be safe. I need you to be happy. And I simply need you. I want you. Because I love you.”
Fay was dumbstruck. Stunned. He felt as though his soul has left his body. Surely this must be a hallucination. This couldn’t be real. The feeling that he held so long for this man in front of him, the best person he had eve met, he... he felt the same? Fay could not comprehend, could not believe his luck.
He must have been looking at Coll in silence and surprise for some time, since what snapped him back out of shock was Collum asking, “did you... did you hear what I said?” The insecurity and fear of rejection clear in his tone.
Fay could not bear it; he could not let him feel such things. Gently, but with force and urgency of desperate longing, he pulled him closer. Chest against chest, hands on his hips, as he leaned in, sealing their lips, desperately pressing on harder and harder. Collum let him in immediately and monad as Fay kissed him breathless.
Fay then pulled away, kissing his ear, and whispering, “I...,” he was not good with words. “I... I love you,” he kissed the ear again, then the other. Then both his cheeks, his forehead, and his nose, staying close, looking into his eyes, “I love you, too. I have been in love with you for a long time. At first, I thought it was since my imprisonment in your camp, but then a long-forgotten memory came back to me. Do you… do you remember the time you came to the Northern kingdom for my tenth birthday celebration?”
It was Cullum’s turn to gape at him with shock and surprise now. “You... you remember?” He breathed out in disbelief.
“I did not. I had a memory loss shortly after that. Because... well... But recently some of those memories are coming back to me. And as this one of you, being so kind and nice to me, even though I did not know, and still do not, how to be nice sometimes... as it came back to me I... I realized I have liked you since then. As we went horse riding and watched the stars together and you smiled and I…”
Cullum’s, hand around Fays neck pulled him down, their faces close, too close. Fay felt Collum’s breath on his lips, as the man he loved whispered, “kiss me again,”
Not needing to be asked twice, Fay leaned down, kissing him. Slow, gentle kiss full of adoration at first, turning into one of longing and need. Fierce and fiery. Sloppy, hot, and wet.
“Fay...” Coll moaned his named.
Fay growled, his fingers finding laces of Cullum’s shirt. He desperately wanted to untie them. “Can I?” He asked.
“Yes, yes,” Collum said against his lips.
Fay untied the laces, his hand slipping under the fabric of the shirt, fingers exploring every part of Coll’s skin he could reach, as his mouth slipped away from the other’s lips and onto his jaw and collar bone, leaving love marks all over him as he went. Because he could. Because Collum liked it. Because he allowed him. And because, as unbelievable as it was to Fay, they were in love.
Fay loved Collum. And Collum loved Fay.
As the morning came, the two were awoken by singing of nightingales and rays of summer sun tingling their faces, urging them to wake.
“Good morning,” Coll whispered, eyes shut, still half asleep.
“Umn.” Fay kissed his forehead. “Good morning,” he said, hugging Coll close.
Collum melted into his touch, sending tingles all over Fay’s body. He was so happy and content, he never wanted that moment to fade away, to end.
The fate however, wished otherwise. As they lay there, happy, and oblivious to the world, bone chilling sounds suddenly echoed around them. They both jumped up, listening, dread settling in their stomachs.
The noise was a cacophony of galloping hoofs and shrieking man. A sound of battle.
Fay leaped up, running up the hill, Coll followed. As they’ve reached the top and looked down into the valley, a scene of horror unfolded in front of their eyes. Their troops were joined in combat, soldiers falling down as flies. What was worse however, to anyone with eyes it must have been obvious, that northern army was caught unprepared, overpowered by the sneak attack of Southerners.
Fay watched as his soldiers mobilized and fought back. Even though he knew his fighters were better and stronger than those of the south, being caught unprepared was a hard blow that their fighting skills alone might not be enough to beat. Hopelessness grabbed his heart. He could not tear his gaze away from the battle. He could not stop thinking of his brother, and of Ronan, and of countless of young soldiers, who might have been nameless to him, but were human of flash and a bone all the same.
As Fay watched, there came another feeling, another thought accompanying his hopelessness. No, it can’t be! He refused to believe it, as sly voice in his mind whispered: Think about it- what if Coll was part of the plan? What if he was send here to distract you, to make you think no danger was at hand, since he, the commander of the southern troops, was here with you. What if it was a trap all along? What if he betra– Fay shook his head. He refused to believe it. It could not be!
In that moment, Coll grabbed his hand and began to pull him in a hurry down the hill.
“What are you doing?” Fay asked.
“We need to stop it. I don’t know what madness possessed my army and I have no idea who is leading them now. Well, I might have some idea, but that does not matter now. What matters is that we need to get to the battle as fast as we can. To stop it. Surely my army will stop if I call of the attack.”
He did not sound sure in the least, but his words calmed Fay all the same. He did not betray him. He was on his side. All that he told him yesterday was not a lie.
Fay gently squeezed his hand and began to run along, hoping beyond hope, they could reach the battlefield in time.
Collum felt his heart beating million times faster than it ever had before. He liked it. Just as he liked the way Fay’s arms enclosed around his waist when he was kissing him. Just as he liked every single other thing about that moment. And he never wished to stop. And he wished for more. Happiness surging through his veins and soul, Collum felt giddy and elated, such as he did not in a long time. And so, he tugged on Fay’s robe- a little too hard- making the other loose his balance and stumble with him to the grass. Collum laughed against Fay’s lips, satisfied his plan worked.
He pulled away to see the other’s reaction. Fay was smiling. Something he did not do too often. The expression in his eyes was gentle and fond. Collum could not take it. He felt his cheeks grow warm. He turned around to hide the blush. But before he could do so, Fay stopped him, fingers holding his chin, turning Collum back toward him.
“Don’t turn away,” he said.
That only had an effect of making Collum’s face grow ever more crimson. But he fought the embarrassment whispering, “all right. I won’t.”
“Good,” Fay nodded, giving him a gentle pack on the tip of his nose.
Collum laughed, putting his head on Fay’s chest. For a moment, they simply lay there. Happy and content, soaking in each other’s presence, relishing in each other’s company. After a while however, Coll sensed something was bothering Fay. A fidgety energy was about him, his breathing growing uneven.
“Is something wrong?” He asked, sitting up.
As Fay sat up too, boring those ocean blue eyes into him, Collum saw they looked... Sad? Dismal? Rueful? He was not sure.
“What is it?” Coll asked in earnest.
“I... it... I need to apologize,” said Fay.
“What for?” Collum did not understand.
“For so many things...” Fay huffed out an unhappy laugh, his voice heavy and strangled. “I am sorry for how I reacted when you revealed to me who you are. I am sorry for this war. I am sorry I went into that battle before listening to you as I promised I would back in the cave. I broke that promise...” Fay inhaled. He began to cry, tears chasing each other down his cheeks frantically. “I broke that promise and as a result, you almost died. I am sorry,” he sobbed. “I am sorry I didn’t protect you. And I am sorry I got us into this mess, from which, I see no way out.”
“Psst,” Coll coaxed, reaching out his hand to wipe the tears from Fay’s face.
Fay pulled away, repeating, “I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.”
Collum moved closer, grabbing his cheeks. “Look at me,” he said.
Fay shook his head.
“Look at me,” Coll repeated, voice ever more insistent, “there is nothing to be sorry about. You don’t need to apologize.”
At that, Fay looked up at him. “There is. I do. And I am sorry. So, so very sorry. Do you... do you forgive me?”
Coll felt a painful tug on his heart. He could not bare to see Fay like that. He moved closer again, speaking gently, yet making sure every word was clear, “if there is something to be sorry for, then I forgive you.”
Fay kept crying. His reddening eyes glimmered with sorrow and remorse.
Collum leaned in: “I. Forgive. You.” He repeated, whispering against Fay’s lips, kissing him, fierce but gentle, trying to deliver his feelings through the action, trying to make Fay understand.
Fay pulled him closer, and Coll melted into his touch. He never wanted Fay to stop touching him like that.
After a while, he pulled away, flashing Fay a bright grin, to really persuade him he was not hurt or angry. That he was happy. So very happy in this moment.
Fay chuckled. He chuckled! Collum never heard him do that. It was so beautiful!
“Do it again!” He exclaimed delighted.
“What?” Fay asked, chuckling as he did so.
“That!” Collum said. “You are laughing. Chuckling! I like it! I love it! Best sound I have ever heard! Truly!”
Fay shook his head and rolled his eyes, but his expression remained fond. For a moment. Before it turned sad once more.
Collum felt that horrible painful tug at his heart again. “Is there more?” He asked. “Is something else bothering you?”
Instead, of an answer, Fay launched forward, kissing him, as though his life depended on it.
“Don’t go...” He whispered miserably as he pulled away.
“But I am not going anywhere!” Coll said uncomprehending.
“But you have to,” Fay said looking at the ground, his voice broken.
“Why do I have to go? Where do I have to go?” Coll asked, clutching at the front of Fay’s robe. He did not want to go anywhere. He wanted to stay right where he was.
“Back,” Fay whispered. “You have to go back.”
“Back…? …oh…” Coll suddenly understood. He shook his head. “No.” His eyes were starting to feel prickly. “I don’t want to go. Don’t send me away.”
Fay turned at him with such row hurt in his eyes, Coll began to cry. He hugged him tightly around his neck. At that, Fay pulled him into his lap, his hands around Collum’s waist.
“Let’s stay together,” Collum whispered.
Fay said nothing.
“Don’t you want to stay together?” Collum asked, looking at him with pure desperation.
“I do!” Fay breathed out immediately, grabbing him tighter.
“Then let’s do that!” Collum said, trying to wipe the tears away, tiring fruitlessly to stop them from falling.
“How?” Fay asked. “Our kingdoms are in a war against each other,” he said, pausing for a moment, and then, “we are in a war against each other.”
“But we don’t have to be!” Collum almost screamed now. “We started it. We can end it.”
Fay shook his head, ever more tears spilling from his eyes. “It is not as simple as that. Lords of my kingdom are still very much set on fighting and getting these lands. And even if they could be persuaded, I don’t think my mother would be. And after all, she is the one whom they are fighting for...”
“But... but...” Collum stammered, desperate to find a solution. However he saw none.
“And,” Fay pressed on, even though it seemed to have caused him unending amount of pain, “you also have to go because your troops probably think you are dead. Once you did not come back from the battle with them, that’s what they must think. And even if they went back and searched for you on that battlefield and couldn’t fond your body, they must have thought we took you as a prisoner. You can’t leave them in such doubt. If they believe you are dead, they probably informed your father already also. Think of him. You can’t leave him in such pain.”
Fay dropped his eyes as he finished speaking, looking tired, exhausted to the brim by those sentences he had to speak. Collum knew Fay was right. In all he said. At a loss for words, he simply nodded.
For a while, they both sat and cried, wallowing in their misery. Oh, what a mess everything was! And neither could see a way out. Perhaps there was none...
After a moment, Collum lifted Fays face, to look again into his eyes. “But I don’t have to leave right now, do I? Let us stay here a bit longer,” he said, leaning closer. And closer still. Their lips almost touching but not quite.
“Stay... a bit longer,” Fay whispered, repeating Cullum’s words against his mouth, before he sealed their lips with a kiss, putting all his sorrow and remorse into it.
And so, they stayed there. At the foot of that hill. Their safe place.
Several hours have passed. And yet it was still not enough. Nothing could be done, however. The time to go, the time to leave has come.
Fay was the first to stand up. Collum wanted to pull him back down immediately, before he said, “you need to get back before the night falls.”
He extended his hand to help Collum up. Coll took it, lacing their fingers together.
“Walk with me half the way?” Collum asked. He could not help it.
Fay nodded at once. Collum gave him a weak smile, not knowing, Fay would have come with hi all the way, had he only asked. And thus, they sat off. Collum tried to walk slowly, to stall a little, to gain a bit more time for them. Fay however, kept speeding up, tugging him by their joined hands. Collum knew, he wanted him to reach safety of his own camp as soon as possible, he only wished Fay was also aware, how little did he care for such things in that moment. How he would trade his safety without even blinking, if it meant he could hold Fay’s hand a little longer.
Once they’ve reached the half way, it was Cullum’s turn to be strong.
“I think this is goodbye,” he said, trying to smile. “Go on,” he gently let go of Fays hand. “You have to get back to your camp, as well.”
Fay took his hand back into his, shaking his head. “This is not halfway. I will go a little further with you.”
“It is,” Collum protested, laughing genuinely this time, endeared by the other’s childlike expression of protest upon his face. “It is halfway. You must go now,” he repeated.
Fay seemed to have fought with himself, but then nodded obediently as he whispered, “but before I go, I need you to promise me something.”
Collum nodded. “What is it?”
“I need you to be safe. So please, after you come to your camp, pack and go back to your capitol. To your home. Please don’t be a part of this war any more,” Fay said, looking at Collum with such desperate eyes, he almost gave in.
“You know I can’t do that.” He shook his head. “But I can promise you something else; today, when I said there must be a way out of this, even though we didn’t find it, I still believe there is one. I promise you to find it. A solution which will be good for both our kingdoms. And for us. And once I do,” he took both of Fay’s hands into his own, “I will come back to you.”
Even before he could finish, Fay pulled him into a hug. A hug of promise. And a hug of farewell.
“Come back to me,” he whispered into Cullum’s hair as he embraced him. Collum smiled into his chest, and let the warmth of the hug, even if only for a moment, wash all his fears, all his sadness away.
It has been almost seven days, since Collum last seen Fay, after their goodbye in the cave. Now, as he was standing at the boundary of his camp, accompanied by his general and two of the southern lords, waiting for the soldier who went to announce their arrival to his price, to come back and take them to him, Collum suddenly felt anxious, tense. He could not tell how Fay would react upon finding out his doctor Coll, was actually the southern prince Collum, his enemy.
“His highness agreed to meet you, now,” the soldier announced as soon as he came back, “follow me please.”
He led them through the camp, between rows upon rows of tents. Soldiers sitting in front of them, or walking passed them, gave them either pissed and threatening looks, or ones of surprise and confusion. As they’ve reached the middle of the camp, there stood a tent, much bigger than the others. Young soldier leading them stood in front of the entrance and announced their arrival.
“They may enter,” a voice from inside said.
The soldier stepped back to let them pass. Collum took in a deep breath and entered the tent. Inside, there were five man he did not recognize. But in their middle, there was one he knew. Fay.
“Your highness,” Collum approached him, bowing deep. “I am prince Collum of the Dheasos kingdom. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet and negotiate with me.”
He looked up, gave Fay a little smile, anticipating his reaction.
Fay did not move. Nor did he say anything. He merely stared; his expression unreadable.
After a moment, he turned towards the other man in the room: “Everyone out. I shall talk with the southern prince alone.”
No one moved. Cullum’s man gave him worried, questioning looks, but upon receiving a nod from him, they obeyed and left the tent, only then followed by Fay’s company.
“There,” Fay said, without as much as looking at him, pointing to the other room in the tent, separated from the main one, by a thick leather curtain.
Collum followed him. Once inside, Fay finally looked at him again.
“Hello,” Collum said, sending his way, what he hoped, was a friendly and apologetic smile. “Surprised?”
Once again, Fay gave him no answer, nor any reaction.
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you who I was before, but I thought...”
“You thought what?!” Fay growled. “You thought it would be easier to deceive me if you pretended you were a simple doctor, instead of the very person whom I am leading this war against? Is that what you thought?!” He screamed, hurt and betrayal clear in his wet eyes. “I trusted you! And you used me! You betrayed me!”
“No, Fay wait, it was not like that! You don’t understand!” Collum pleaded, trying to explain.
“Oh, I think I understand more than well! And it is northern price Fay or general Fay to you. Who do you think you are to call me just by my name?”
Collum watched, as tears rolled down onto Fay’s cheeks, and felt his heart fell. His own eyes were suddenly wet. He wanted to take his hand to ask him for forgiveness, to explain why he did what he did. But he didn’t get the chance to.
“Get out of my sight!” Fay said.
Panicked, Collum looked at him. “Wait, no! Please, let me explain.”
Fay shook his head. “There is nothing to explain. I was stupid, naive.”
It was Cullum’s turn to shake his head now, tears spilling out of his eyes.
“I never should have trusted you. Or anyone for that matter,” Fay continued. “Now, get out of my camp. You and your soldiers. Next time we see each other, it will be in the battlefield!”
Collum grabbed the other man’s arm, desperate for him to listen, desperate to explain, but Fay jerked away, piercing him with look full of heartache and anger, screaming once again: “Get out!”
Collum let go of his arm, lowered his eyes, and with feeling of utter failure and misery, he turned around to leave.
Fueled by furry and sorrow, Fay led his army, marching in the rhythm of war drums, to meet the southerners in battle. The drums were accompanied by horns announcing their arrival. Fay wanted southern troops to know they were coming. For no matter how angry, he would not lower himself to a level of someone, who would pull a sneak attack on his unprepared enemies, slaughtering them without a chance for a fair fight.
Fay’s troops stopped at the top of a hill, watching the plain in which far side, there was a southern camp with its soldiers getting ready.
At last, the southern troops assembled. For a moment, the two armies watched each other. Tense, anticipating, their banners rippling proudly in the morning breeze. Then, the horns blew, and everyone sprang into motion, all at once. Thousands upon thousands of horses and their riders galloping to meet each other in the middle of the plain. Thousands of warriors screaming and drawing their swords.
Deafening sound of countless weapons clashing all at once sounded about them as the two troops reached each other in the collision of death, many of the front line soldiers immediately fallen.
Fay swung his sword, sanding fighter after fighter down onto the muddy ground. He spurred his horse and it sped up. Swish! Another one death. And one more.
When then suddenly, a spear came flying out of nowhere, piercing straight through his horse’s belly. The poor animal screamed in pain and came crushing to the ground. Fay got himself quickly out from beneath it. His hearth clenched as he looked at it. There was no way to save the horse. The only way to help him now, was to end his suffering fast. Fay lifted his sword and with one clean stroke, he sliced the horse’s neck. Tears spilled on his face, but he shook them off, turning his attention quickly back to the battle.
No matter his disadvantage, he continued to fight. Even from the ground, he kept sending with each swing of his blade, more and more fighters into the death’s arms.
He had no idea how long a time has passed, but the battle was still raging wild, and he was beginning to lose his energy. His reflexes were slowing down. He sliced another man’s throat, but almost didn’t notice a fighter, who was coming at him from the other side. In the last second, he drew a dagger, throwing it at the attacker, sending him down, choking on his blood, Fay’s knife stuck in his chest.
Fay took a deep breath. He really couldn’t keep going much longer.
It was that moment, when Fay spotted another southerner lounge himself at him, pure madness in his eyes, killing intent pulsing through his every motion. And Fay was so weak all of a sudden. So weak, his arms did not obey when he told them to move and swing his sword. The southerner was getting nearer still, but no matter how much he tried, Fay could not fight any more. This was going to be his end. He was sure of it. And then the southerner was there, lifting his weapon ready to plunge it into Fay’s flash.
Then, a miracle came. Someone threw himself between him and the attacker. The southerner’s weapon bore into his savior’s left side, making him scream in pain and agony. Attacker’s eyes enlarged with shock, as he backed away and ran into the opposite direction.
Fay’s savior turned and their eyes met.
He fell onto the ground, fresh blood oozing from his side.
Fay knelt beside him. Pressing his shaking hands instinctively over Cullum’s wound. His mind blank, uncomprehending.
What just happened?
He looked down. Collum was smiling up at him, before his eyes closed, and his face resumed its neutral expression.
Completely panicked, Fay suddenly heard his oven voice howl over the noise of the battle, “retreat! Retreat!” And, “help! I need help. There is someone injured here.”
Recognizing the voice of their general, his troops began to retreat. Then someone knelt next to him. A young soldier he didn’t know. Without question however, he began to help him with Collum. He took both their capes and bandaged his wound the best he could. After that, he fetched a horse, running riderless trough the battlefield.
“Here your highness,” he said, helping Fay to put Collum on the horse.
Fay sat behind him, giving a nod of thanks to the soldier. Then, his mind still completely blank from shock and panic, his body acting on his own accord, he spurred the horse and galloped away from the battlefield. Not caring about anything else but the person sitting limp and lifeless, in front of him. About the utter idiot, who just saved his life. And no matter what it took, he needed to do the same for him.
Only when he finally arrived, with the rest of his troops back to their camp and brought Collum to their doctor, did he realize his face was wet and his sight blurry. He was crying.
He watched helplessly as the doctor began to uncover and treat Cullum’s wound.
Will he be all right? Will he heal? He wanted to ask. Please save him. Don’t let him die! He almost plead aloud. For if that person would die now, it would be utterly and completely, from each and every angle, his fault, and his fault only.
After the doctor was done, Fay sat helplessly by the bed and watched Cullum’s chest rise in even, but shallow breaths. He is alive. He will survive. He kept repeating over and over again in his mind, as though he could actually make it happen in that way.
He must have fallen asleep, because he suddenly jerked and opened his eyes with a start, as someone laid a hand on his shoulder. Fay turned around.
“God you are all right,” he said. “I could not have found you anywhere and when they told me you were here, I thought you were injured.”
Fay shook his head and Finnian pulled him into a bone crushing hug.
“Come, you need to clean after the battle and replenish your strength. They’ve already prepared supper for us,” said Finnian.
Fay however shook his head. “You go. I will come a little later.”
Finnian nodded. “All right then. But don’t take too long.” Giving him one more squeeze, he left.
Fay turned back to the bed on which Collum lay, still unmoving and unconscious. Fay watched him, and as he did so, his chest filled gradually, with anger and incredible frustration, as the scene from the battlefield began to replay in his mind. The sound of blade plunging into flesh, Cullum’s scream of pain, his smile before he fell into oblivion, the blood pouring from his side. Fay began to cry again.
“Doctor,” he called and looked around.
The healer was at the other side of the tent, tending to one of many injured soldiers they brought from the battle. In a haste, he finished what he was doing and hurried toward Fay.
“Yes, your highness,” he bowed.
“I need you to take especially good care of this patient, and I want you to send for me as soon as he wakes up. Understood?” Fay commanded.
“Yes, your highness,” the healer bowed even deeper.
“Very well,” Fay said. “You are responsible for him now. Make sure he heals.”
“I will do my best your highness!”
Fay nodded, and with one last look toward Collum, he left.
He had no idea what he was doing all that evening. His body seemed to be acting on its own accord. But somehow, it got itself successfully cleaned and tucked into bed, for that was where he woke up next morning, clean and rested in his tent.
As fast as he could, he got dressed and was about to go check on Collum when suddenly, someone was in front of his tent, asking for a permission to enter.
“Come in,” Fay called out.
A soldier entered and bowed. “Your highness royal doctor send me here. He said to tell you that the patient you ordered him to take care of has woken up,” he announced.
Upon hearing the news, Fay sprinted out and ran toward the medical tent. He stepped in, his eyes founding Cullum’s bed immediately. Their yes met and Collum set up, his face screwing in pain as he did so. Fay closed the distance between them in few long strides, kneeling by his side.
“You are in pain,” he said, a comment not a question. “Lay down.”
Collum obeyed. For a moment, they only stared at each other. Fay didn’t know what to say, but as he looked at Collum, he felt the anger from yesterday melt away, as it was replaced by relief.
“You are crying,” Collum whispered, cutting of the train of his thought.
Fay touched his cheeks. He really was. Quickly, he wiped the tears away and shook his head. In that moment, someone else approached them. Fay looked up. It was the doctor.
“Master healer,” he stood up. “How is his wound? How long it will take to heal?”
“Not a mild injury,” doctor assessed, “but by far not the worse I’ve seen here. And in all honesty, it looks worse than it truly is. He shall be able to leave the bed in about ten days.”
Fay nodded and dismissed him. Then he turned back towards Collum. “Rest,” he said, and as he was unable to form any further words, nor keep looking at him without tears spilling on his face again, he turned on his heals to leave.
Ten days have passed, and just as the healer promised, Cullum’s wound looked much better. It was almost fully healed. He was in no more pain, and he could walk. Fay was glad. Very glad indeed.
“Come,” he said on that tenth day, when he once again came to see him, after Collum finished changing into clean clothes.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Outside,” Fay said simply, leading him out of the tent and trough the camp.
Once at its end, Collum asked again, “where are we going your highness prince Fay?”
“On a walk, prince Collum,” Fay answered, guiding Collum towards the forest.
“I never said you must call me that. If I remember, I told you to call me Coll.”
Fay nodded, walking on without looking at him. He didn’t know what was happening, but he felt his cheeks grow hot upon hearing the sentence.
They walked and walked, until they’ve reached foot of a small hill. Fay stopped there.
“Why are you not talking?” He asked Collum, “you used to talk all the time before.”
“I did not want to disturb you,” Collum said, his eyes pinned to the ground.
“You are not disturbing me!” Fay answered quickly, surprising them both, making Collum look up at him.
That in turn, made Fay avert his gaze and stare at his boots, as he felt his face heat up once more. After a moment of silence, he asked, “why did you do it?”
“Did what your highness?”
“Not your highness. Fay. My name is Fay,” Fay said softly, in an almost whisper. For if he talked any louder, he was afraid Collum would hear how shaky his voice was, how full of the tears, he was desperately trying to hold back.
“Why did you save me on that battlefield?” Fay asked. “You don’t go around throwing yourself between other people and the swords aimed at them!” His voice was growing louder. “He could have killed you!” He was screaming now. “You could have died!” The tears spilled out.
Collum gaped at him, then smiled. “I didn’t though.”
“But you could have!” Fay shouted again. “Why did you do it? Why?” he wanted to grab and shake him. To make him understand he can’t do such things.
Collum huffed out a laugh. “I... I…” he stammered, “well… when I saw, among all that chaos and all that death around me, how you were standing few feet away, looking so resigned and ready to accept your fate, so tired, and so scared as one of my own soldiers was running at you, about to deliver the fatal blow, my mind stopped working. The only thing I knew was that my fried was in danger and that I needed to save him. Even if he was on the enemy side. Even if it would mean to kill one of my own. Even if it would mean to die for you. I needed to save you... my friend.”
After a moment of silence, he added, “and I did!” Grinning proud, looking right into Fays eyes.
That was too much. He began to shake, tears pouring out of his eyes like waterfalls. He turned away and covered his face.
He heard Collum chuckle behind him. “there is no need to cry. Look I am all right.”
Fay did not look. Nor did he turn around.
“Hey!” Collum pulled on his sleeve.
Suddenly he inhaled sharp and whispered, “Fay, slowly turn around and look.”
Fay though it was supposed to be some stupid joke, but as he turned around, he could not believe his eyes. Few feet away from them, there sat a tiny Fairy atop a blue forget-me-not flower bud. And she wasn’t alone. Few flowers further, there was another one. The little glowing beings flew to each other and laughed like when bells chime.
Fay gaped at them and watched as they flew through the air. Their wings shaped like those of butterflies, but thinner and almost translucent, with glowing silver lining around their edges.
Little beings laughed on, as they began to chase each other from flower to flower, hiding after a while, back among the thick bushes of their forest homeland.
Fay was stunned. For a moment, he completely forgot where he was and what was happening.
“See?” Cullum’s voice brought him back to reality, “I told you I’d show them to you one day,” he beamed.
Fay looked into his smiling eyes. Suddenly overpowered by a feeling, by a need to... Without thinking, he put his arm around Coll’s waist and pulled him close, letting himself drown in those beautiful brown eyes. Then, closing his own, he leaned in and slowly, gently, pressed their lips together. As he did so, his chest exploded with something he had never experienced before. Hungry, desperate, he pulled Coll closer still, before suddenly, his brain sprang to action again. As he came back to himself, he pulled away immediately. God what did I do to him?
“I... I am sorry, “ he whispered, letting go of Coll’s waist and backing away.
“What are you sorry for?” Coll frowned at him, making a step closer.
“I...” Fay stammered.
Coll made another step toward him, grabbing and clutching the front of his robe. “Are you sorry about this?” He asked, as he leaned in and pressed their lips together once more.
Immediately, Fay pulled him close, his hands once again at his waist, as he kissed him, slow and gentle at first, before Coll opened his mouth fully, letting him in. Fay pressed on, Collum moaning against his lips, as the kiss turned ever hotter and sloppier.
Only because they needed to breath, they pulled away from each other at last.
“Are you sorry about that your highness?” Coll teased.
Fay shook his head.
“Good,” Collum smiled. “Me neither,” he whispered.
Fay could not help it. What was he supposed to do when Coll was saying such things and kept looking at him like that? And so, he allowed himself to pull Coll into another kiss, being rewarded immediately, by another one of his satisfied moans.
Fay stared at the enemy doctor, trying to both, intimidate him an asses his intentions. He could not have guessed them, however. And so, he took the spoon into his mouth and swallowed its content, all the while still gazing into the doctor’s eyes. If he was to die, he was determined to go with his head held high.
Almost immediately after drinking the potion, Fay fell back into yet another dreamless sleep.
Once he woke up, there was no way for him to tell how much time had passed. But what he could tell, was the fact that he was still lying on the same bed, still accompanied by the same southern doctor. And more importantly, he could tell he was alive and well, in truth, feeling far better, than he did the day before.
“Good morning,” the healer approached him, noticing he was up.
Fay didn’t answer.
“How do you feel?” Doctor asked, putting a hand on his forehead to check for fever.
Fay jerked to shake it off.
“You seem to be doing better,” the healer smiled, “here, let me check your the wound.”
Fay glared at him but let him do it all the same. Obediently, he did not move as the doctor rolled up his pants, putting the bandages away to reveal the injury. The wound underneath was very obviously healing, pain and swelling subdued by multitudes compared to the last time he was up.
He really seems to be trying to help me...
Fay watched as the doctor took a piece of wet cloth, cleaning his injury, before applying a layer of green, gooey ointment of strange smell on it. Immediately, as the cold sensation the medicine brought hit his senses, he felt lighter, better, and could not help a sigh of relief escaping from his lips.
“Better?” The doctor asked.
“I’m glad,” the healer beamed.
“Thank you,” Fay whispered, starring to the ground.
“You are welcomed.”
Fay looked up at him. The doctor beamed even brighter. Something felt strange. Fay could not place it, he could not say with certainty what exactly it could be, but something was off. Though not in a bad way, not even a little bit, not at all.
“Why are you helping me?” Fay asked.
“What do you mean?” The doctor seemed as confused as Fay felt.
“Shouldn’t you be torturing me to get information about northern army out of me? I am an enemy soldier after all.”
Doctor laughed. “Torture you?” He asked. “I can’t do that. My duty is to heal. I’m a doctor after all.”
“I...,” Fay was a little stunned, “I don’t mean you. But the southern soldiers, or your king.”
“Our king is not here. Maybe you mean our prince?”
“Your prince?” Fay asked.
The doctor nodded. “Uhm, prince Collum.”
Prince Collum. Fay’s mind echoed. He did not hear that name in a long time. “Prince Collum,” he whispered.
“Yes,” the doctor said, “perhaps you mean him. He told me he will meet you and talk to you after your wounds are healed. But fear not young soldier, I do not think he will torture you. Our prince is not like that. Now, in order to heal you must rest. Close your eyes and get some sleep. I will bring you food later.”
“Wait,” Fay grasped him by his wrist before he could leave. “Would you... would you tell me your name?” He wasn’t sure why, but he truly wished to know.
The healer seemed to hesitate for a moment before he said: “Coll. You can call me Coll.”
“Like... like your prince?” Fay asked.
“Indeed,” the healer agreed, “it is quite a popular name in these parts.” And with that, he left.
Fay laid on the bed for several hours, thinking about all that has happened since he was captured and about how he could escape. But tried as he might, he could not stop his thoughts from running back to dwell on the young healer. Something about him was bothering Fay, but for the life of himself he could not tell what it was. And yet, he felt at peace around him. Which in itself, was also quite strange.
“I come bearing gifts,” the healer, Coll, exclaimed as soon as he entered the tent.
Delicious smell of the steaming dish on the tray he was carrying hit Fay’s nose and suddenly he realised, how hungry he was.
As though reading his mind Coll asked, “you must be hungry, huh?”
“Good. Let’s eat then,” he waved him over towards a small table at the back of the tent, where he set the dish, filling two bowls with it.
Fay sat down.
“Go on, eat,” Coll encouraged him.
“Thank you,” Fay bowed to him, taking a sip of the meal in front of him. It seemed to be a soup of sorts. The kind full of vegetables and meat and spices, the kind which fills one’s empty stomach, as well as their weary heart. With a satisfied sigh, Fay began to eat. After a few mouthfuls however, he looked up and noticed, Coll was staring at him instead of eating his own portion.
“It is good,” Fay said, not sure why, but trying, to be genuinely nice. Though he did not know if he did it right. He did not do it often.
“I’m glad,” Coll smiled, “here, it is even better with bread.”
Fay took the loaf he handed to him, bowed as a thank you, then continued to eat in silence. He felt he was being observed by the other man still, but as he did not now what to do about it, he chose to ignore it.
“Tell me,” Coll said suddenly in between two bites, “where are you from?”
Fay looked at him, eyebrows raised, as though it was not obvious.
“I know you are from the Northern kingdom, obviously,” Coll clarified, “but which part? Which village or which town?”
“Would you know what I am talking about if I told you? Do you know my kingdom?” Fay asked.
“I have been there once,” Coll stated proudly.
Fay did not expect that. “Really?”
“Yes. Indeed, I was. But it was a long time ago. I do not remember it all that well. But I remember very clear how much I liked it. It is very beautiful there.”
Fay smiled a little. His homeland really was stunning. With its rocky hills and the pine tree forests. Magnificent.
“It is, isn’t it?” Fay nodded.
“So?” Coll asked.
“Which part of the Northern kingdom are you from?”
“Oh, I... I...” Fay stuttered. He could have just come up with anything, a village, or a city, real or imagined and Coll would never know. But he hated lying. He would rather stay silent than lie. And he especially didn’t want to lie to Coll, to this strange young healer, who, despite being his enemy, showed nothing but kindness to him ever since they have met.
Once again, Coll seemed to have read his thoughts like an open book as he smiled and said, “you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. How about you tell me something else about yourself instead?”
Fay looked at him. Why does he care? Why does he ask? He does not seem to be interrogating me to then report to his higher-ups, since he just lets me not answer if I wish to do so, and since his questions are just so... so innocent. Like he himself seems to be. What a strange creature he is...
“What do you wish to know?” Fay asked.
“Hmmm,” Coll thought for a moment, “let’s see... something that is easy to answer. Like... Oh! Like what do you normally do? When there is no war and you don’t have to fight as a soldier of your kingdom?”
Fay stayed silent again. What was he supposed to say to that? What answer could he possibly give, that would not give him away instantly?
“What do you do when you have a time to spare?” Coll elaborated.
That he knew, that he could say, “I ride my horse. And explore the mountains.”
Collum beamed and nodded, but said nothing, as though he wanted him to continue. “I have a beautiful black mare of a name Daray. We explored may of Thuaidia’s hidden places together.”
“That must be glorious,” the healer smiled. “Horses have always been my favorite creatures.”
“As are mine,” Fay said nodding, and in spite of himself gave the healer a little smile.
Collum laughed, seeming delighted. Going back and forth like that, they talked for a long while, about everything and nothing. Fay even forgot for a moment, where he was and what was happening around him.
In a similar fashion, four more days have passed, all the while, the young doctor was becoming bigger and bigger riddle to Fay. But, if one could so say, in the best possible way.
On the evening of the fourth day, when Coll came once again to check on him and to bring him dinner, something unimaginable had happened. Putting a finger over his mouth to signal to Fay to stay silent he handed him a little paper. On it, a note was written. It read: I will help you escape from here. We will do it tonight.
Fay looked at Coll in disbelieve, and the other nodded with a smile. About a million questions were brewing at once in Fay’s mind, and he could not ask any of them. Desperate for some more information, he stared at Coll, trying to ask him in this way to explain.
But Coll simply said, probably for the benefit of the soldier who were standing guard in front of the tent, “the wound looks better. Now, sit and eat your dinner, please.”
With that, he took the note back from Fay, flashed him another grin, and left.
Several hours have passed and evening progressed into the night. Everything was quiet. More so than usual. Fay did not like that. Instead of fidgeting nervously however, he sat onto has bed, calming his mind with deep breaths, obediently waiting for Coll to show up.
And he did. As he promised he would.
Holding two cloaks and a bag, he entered the tent.
“I’m here,” he announced.
Coll handed him one of the cloaks. As Fay took it, he found, wrapped inside it, there was his sword and knife.
Fay looked at Coll in disbelieve. The other man was not looking however, busy packing flasks of various shapes and sizes into the satchel he brought with him. Finished, he swung it across his shoulders and wrapped the cloak around himself, only then turning back to Fay.
“Let us go,” he said.
“Wait,” Fay stopped him. “The guards-”
“Are taken care off,” Coll beamed, “just put the cloak on. And the hood. In case we meet someone as we make our way through the camp.”
How? What? Why? How are we going to do this?! This is insane! Were just some of the thoughts which rapidly swirled in Fay’s mind. “Are you sure we can do this? Because if they catch us-” he began.
Coll however, cut over him once more, “they will not.”
Fay ignored him, determined to say what he wanted to say, “if they catch us, you shall be in trouble for helping me. Maybe I should go by myself.” Or not to go at all. He thought, but did not say, since more than anything, he wanted to get out of enemy camp. While also less than anything, he wished to get Coll into trouble, to get him hurt...
“How are you going to get out of here without me? You know nothing of the layout of this camp. Now come on. Let’s go. We don’t have much time,” Collum commanded, with finality and a tone that left no space for further argument.
Fay trusted him. He wasn’t sure why, but he truly did, and so, he obeyed and followed. As they’ve exited the tent, Fay noticed his two guards were laying down on the ground, sleeping, most likely drugged. Looking at Coll and receiving a grin and a wink as an answer, he smiled. Quickly, he put the hood over his head, and followed Coll where he led.
Miraculously, they’ve made it toward the edge of the camp without meeting a single soldier. Once out of the camp and in the forest, Coll sped up and so did Fay. After a while, when Fay supposed they were finally far enough from the camp, he grabbed Coll’s wrist, to stop him for a moment from advancing any further.
“I think you should go back, now,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Coll asked.
“You have to go back,” Fay repeated. “If you go back now, they will probably think I’ve escaped on my own somehow, and will not blame you. You must go back.”
“Let me accompany you a little further,” said Coll, and without waiting for an answer, he continued to walk, not a single trace of care on his face. Fay almost expected him to start to whistle. And even if he wanted to protest, he decided to let it go for time being. As he stepped out after Coll to follow him however, he suddenly heard from their right-hand side, a low, menacing growl.
Fay and Coll both turned in its direction. From there a pair of huge, silver, gleaming eyes was staring straight at them.
Fay felt as Coll reached out for his hand, tugging him gently, beginning slowly to back out.
The growl echoed again, followed by a sound of twig being broken under somebody’s feet. Only it wasn’t someone, but something. And it was not a feet it was a paw, darting forward, emerging from the trees, creeping after them, led by those eerie white eyes. Next moment, as the moon came out from behind a cloud, Fay saw, in its full glory, the animal which was clearly about to attack them, its mouth opened and growling, revealing rows upon rows of sharp fangs and hungry teeth.
Head and body shape of a mountain lion, only five times bigger at least, its paws huge, dagger-like talons at their ends. Wings of a bat were folded on its sides, and along the middle line of its body, starting at the very top of its head, going all the way down to the tip of its raised tale, the beast had many, sharp, scaled thorns. From among the mane, which crowned its head, a pair of horns was raising.
But what captivated Fay the most, what really made him freeze, was the pair of gleaming, pupilless, white eyes, looking without a mistake, straight at Coll and him.
Fay reached with his free hand, for the sword at his side.
The animal roared and Fay waited no more, drawing the weapon at once.
“No don’t!” Coll shouted.
But it was too late. The animal sprang with a mighty roar in their direction, talons, fangs, and horns ready to attack.
Fay was pulled, with a strong hand clutching his own, in the opposite direction and into a sprint.
Fay staggered after Coll; mind blank but for the image of the beast in it.
They ran on, the animal pursued.
Then, sky was lit up like the day was back, lightening tearing it in two. The animal hissed and growled. Deafening thunder echoed all around like a heavenly drum. Immediately, it started to pour. The cold rain helped to cool Fay down. Both his body and mind cradled into concentrated ease. Non the less, he ran on. Coll however, suddenly stopped.
“We don’t... need to... run any more; they are... afraid of... water. It ran... away,” he said, breathing heavily.
“They?” Fay asked.
“No time to... explain,” Coll shouted over the downpour. “We need to... find... shelter, first.”
Coll began to move again, and since Fay had no idea where to go, he simply let him lead. On and on they, went, for quite some time, and the rain would not stop. Not only their cloaks, but it felt like their very skins were soaked through. After some time, Fay started feeling stinging pain in his thigh. He knew his wound reopened. Probably from all the running and marching in the rain. But since there was nothing they could do about it at the moment, he gritted his teeth and without a word, walked on.
Finally, like a sun of spring after long winter, they found their rescue. A cave. Or rather a niche in a hill. Coll pulled them in and immediately started to look for something in his bag.
“Here drink th-” he was handing a syrup of sorts to Fay, stopping mid-sentence, looking terrified at Fay’s wound, “it reopened.”
Fay nodded, “I know.”
“Why didn’t you say an... You know what. Never mind. No time for this. Drink the syrup, while I take care of it.”
Ever so gently, like all those times before, Coll uncovered his wound and began to clean it. Fay watched as his hands and fingers moved deftly, applying the medicine his injury desperately needed, and covering it in clean bandages again. Warmth, that had nothing to do with the soothing potion in his hand, spilled all over his chest.
“Done,” Coll smiled at Fay. ” And I told you to drink it,” he added noticing the flask in Fay’s hand was still half-full, “why aren’t you?”
“I thought you might need it, too,” Fay said, handing the potion to Coll.
Coll took another bottle out of the bag as an answer, “I have my own, see? Now drink up. Cheers!”
For a while, they only sat and drank in silence, before Coll spoke up again. “I think we will be stuck here for several days,” he said.
Fay turned to look at him, clearly sending a message: Why? What do you mean?
“First of all, you really shouldn’t move, until your injury finally heals. It isn’t deep, but it keeps reopening, which is not good, at all. And second of all, once it starts to rain in these parts, it usually keeps pouring for at least two or three days.”
Fay did not like that. “I can stay but you should go. You really need to get back to your camp before they notice I am missing. Otherwise they’ll punish you. Severely!” He said, almost as if he was pleading with him, putting a strange tone of meaning and urgency on the last word.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Coll dismissively waved his hand over it, “they will not punish me.”
“How come?” Fay asked.
“They need their doctor, don’t they?”
That didn’t seem likely to Fay. The army will just hire a new one.
“Besides,” Coll continued, with a smile, “who would take care of you, if I’m not here?”
Myself! I can take care of myself. But you apparently cannot. Holly goodness of heaves! He really needs to go! Is he dumb?! Fay was beginning to feel agitated, now.
“And what would you do if the Lerahgen came back?” Collum added, his tone teasing.
“Lerahgen?” Fay asked.
“The creature we’ve seen before. Queen and guardian of the forest.”
Fay knew Coll was trying to distract him from the previous topic, but he really wanted to know about that beast. He had never seen anything like it before. And so, “tell me more about it,” he said, “what was it really?”
Coll looked at him, eyes squinting. He seemed as though he was examining something. As though he was hesitating, unsure if he should or could tell him.
“Do you trust me?” He then asked.
Fay nodded. “I do.” He really did.
“Can I trust you?” Coll continued.
Fay nodded again. “Yes,” he whispered. I hope.
“All right then. But know that what I’m about to tell you is a secret, which, as far as I know, only one northern person knew before you. And one that not too many southerners actually know themselves. It is the secret of these woods and the truth about the war from eleven years ago. Back then, that war was fought precisely over these territories which your and my prince fight over now. I’m sure you know that. But I’m not sure you know why these forests are so important to our kingdom. Why we try to protect them and keep them so fiercely.”
Fay huffed with irritation. For the first time with Coll, he realized and understood, he was really a southerner after all. “I do know,” he said, “I think mine kingdom and yours have precisely the same reasons to keep fighting over these lands so fiercely. The darkwood trees.”
“No,” Coll shook his head.
Fay frowned. “What do you mean?”
“The darkwood trees are valuable, of course. The most valuable material on this island, one might say. But that is not the reason why we southerners try to protect these lands. It is because they are home to many beings and creatures your people see only as myths and legends. But they are real. Like the Lerahgen we’ve seen, but also many others. There are does with healing tears, talking bears, and ferries. So many beautiful ferries! And the birds in these woods, they say, are spirits of those who died an unjust death, waiting to be reborn. These woods are their homes. Destroy the woods, you destroy their place to live, and with it the beings themselves. It is not fair to them. To be sentenced to death, just because the lands they are inhabiting are made of material, which makes the most gold. That is why we fight. That is what we are trying to protect. Do you understand now?”
Fay did. But also, didn’t. Hi sighed. “I had a teacher when I was young,” he said, “he always thought me that to protect and fight for those who cannot defend themselves, is the greatest honor. And I see that is what your kingdom is doing, but so is mine. We need the wood to become more prosperous and to make the lives of the common people in my land much better and easier. That is what my prince is truly fighting for. Is that not equally, if not even more important?” He fell silent for a moment, then a bit irritated, he added, “is it even right to protect those creatures? For it seemed to me like the one from before would kill us without blinking had it been given a chance.”
“She would. But only because she was scared. You probably haven’t noticed, but there were four little cubs with her as well. She was just protecting them. In her eyes, we are a very real threat to them. And based on what we just said, tell me, is she wrong?”
Fay did not answer. He couldn’t. Coll didn’t seem to need an answer however, as he continued, “you would understand if you would have seen it all. Just wait! Wait till you see the ferries! I will show you one day.” He grinned, and Fay, not sure what he thought or felt about it all, simply nodded.
Two more days have passed till the storm eased, till it stopped raining at last. And since they did not have much to do, they spent them mostly resting and talking. Not about the woods and their creatures, however. Nor about the war. No more. Mostly, they talked about simple things, about anything and everything, letting the conversation flow, wherever it took them. And Fay once again thought, like he did during the time of his imprisonment in the southern camp, how strange it is, that they talk so freely and easily with each other. No less because Fay was never one to talk much, and it has always been hard for him to keep the conversations with other people. No matter who they were. But with Coll, it seemed to have been different. It was easy, effortless. Even when they talked about the war on that first day and he was frustrated, irritated, angry even, it was not at Coll. And despite those feelings, even in that conversation, he still felt comfortable in the discomfort, and calm in the storm.
“Well, the rain have stopped, and your wound has closed,” Coll said. “I think the time has come for you to return to your camp at last.” He smiled, but there was something sad and almost solemn about his expression.
“It has,” Fay nodded. And then, without thinking, “come with me?”
“What?” Coll must have taken it as a joke because he snorted and laughed.
“I mean it,” said Fay. “You have been away for far too long and if you go back now, they will punish you. They might,” he gulped down, “they might kill you.”
“They will not,” Coll said simply.
“How do you know?” Fay asked, a bit angry now, that this naive doctor keeps saying he shall be fine, when clearly, the situation says otherwise.
“I just know,” Coll shrugged.
“Come with me,” Fay repeated. “I can protect you in the northern camp. No less because... no less because...” All right. Here I go. “Because I am no other than the northern general himself. I am the prince Fay of Thuaidia.”
Once again, Coll began to laugh. It seemed he had a fit of sorts, because he did not stop for a long time.
“I am serious. It is the truth and nothing but truth. I am prince Fay. So come with me. It will be much safer for you in the northern camp now.”
“I believe you your highness,” Coll said, bowing to him.
Fay frowned at that, not liking this new behavior in the least.
“But I cannot come with you, please forgive me.”
Why is he so formal all of a sudden?! Fay gritted his teeth in agitation, as he tried to ignore the knot of sadness and lump of tears, that seemed to be forming in his stomach and neck.
“I must go back to my camp. But there is a way in which you can help me if you wish?”
Fay nodded. He wanted to.
“You can make me a promise,” Coll said.
“You can promise me, that when my prince will come, as I know he will, to see you in your camp to negotiate peace with you, please promise me you will hear him out. That is all I’m asking of you.”
“I promise,” Fay nodded. “For your sake and your kindness, I will do it.”
And with that, they went their separate ways, each in to the direction of their own troops and camps.
“Your highness, your highness,” a young soldier called, running without permission, straight into prince Cullum’s tent.
“What is it?” Collum asked, steadying the hurrying youth with a hand on his shoulder, as he barely managed to came to a halt in his momentum.
“They’ve... they’ve brought in a prisoner. A... a spy from the north... northern troops. He is in the healer’s tent now,” the boy got out breathlessly.
“Why was he brought into the healers’ tent instead here before me?” Collum asked.
“They said he attacked the soldier who found him spying, and... and as our soldier fought back, he... he smacked him over the head with his sword sheath and the spy fell down unconscious.”
Collum needed to hear no more. He hurried towards the healer’s tent to check on his soldier and the prisoner he brought in.
Everyone bowed to him as he entered. Collum nodded toward each and every one of them, studying them with his eyes for injuries, before asking, “which of you brought in the prisoner?”
“Me, your highness,” younger of the two present soldiers stepped forward and bowed.
“Are you alright? Did you get injured during the fight?” Collum asked approaching and inspecting him closely. He looked healthy enough to him.
“No, your highness. I didn’t,” the soldier confirmed.
“Good,” Collum nodded and turned toward the healer and the prisoner lying on the bed beside him.
“And how is the pri...?” He stopped mid-sentence, squinting at the unconscious man’s face. He could not believe what he was seeing. Yet, he was sure he was not mistaken.
He turned back to the soldiers. “You are excused,” he said, “please go about your duties now or go rest.”
Dismissed, the soldiers bowed and left. And still, Collum only watched stunned. After a good moment he needed to compose himself, he cleared his throat, speaking at last, much to the relief of the healer, who hovered nervously by his side.
“How is the prisoner? What exactly are his injuries and how severe?” Collum breathed out, his eyes travelling down the sleeping man’s face and body, stopping at the bloody wound in his leg.
“It is nothing to worry about your highness. I believe he should wake up soon enough. And the cut in his thigh is not too deep, at all. It shall heal all right,” the doctor said, this time to his prince’s relief.
Collum nodded and let out a breath, defusing at last. The healer looked at him with raised eyebrows, not understanding why his prince seemed so concerned for the prisoner’s well-being. And Collum didn’t blame him for it, nor did he find it strange. Off course the doctor would not understand. For unlike him, he had no idea that the man lying there under their noses was no other than the general of the northern troops, prince Fay of the Northern kingdom himself.
“I shall be taking care of this patient myself,” Collum suddenly announced, as a plan began to brew in his mind.
“But... your highness-” healer was about to protest.
Collum lifted his hand. “No. I said what I said, and my word stands. Please, dear doctor, just show me what he needs, and I will do everything on my own. And I shall also need healer robes. Such a kind you wear.”
The doctor looked at him bemused but did as he was told. He explained to Collum everything he needed to know and leaving him with a grey healer robes to change into, he exited the tent, shaking his head with a little dismay his master went mad, and with a still growing portion of confusion.
Alone at last, Collum began to change. After he did so, he sat by the bed, looking again in shock and disbelief at the face of a boy he once knew and thought of as a friend, at a face of a man, who was now leading a war against him and his kingdom.
He sighed as memories began to pour into his mind.
It was thirteen years ago. He was nine at that time. One day, his father received a royal letter from the Northern king, inviting him and his son, to come and celebrate the tenth birthday of the youngest prince of the Thuaidia. A big affair, indeed. Huge one even. Once in a lifetime event.
Becoming ten years of age meant for a young noble boy to be introduced to society and to become a man. Therefore, it was a custom to celebrate it in an extravagant and lavish manner, inviting to join not only all the important lords from one’s kingdom, but the royal family of the neighbouring country as well. And so it happened, that one gorgeous summer day, Collum sat on a horse, trotting beside his father, followed by an escort of courtiers and soldiers, making their way north toward the capitol of Thuaidia.
Once there, Collum could not help the excitement he felt. He had never before experienced something quite like it. And what was more, he had never before visited the Northern kingdom. Oh, and how he loved it now that he had. It was so different from his home, but so beautiful in its own fashion, with tall mountains and silver strings of many cold brooks and waterfalls.
Collum did not however, get much of a chance to explore. The birthday banquet was starting on a second day upon their arrival, and they needed to get ready.
As the evening of the big day came upon them, all prepared, handsome, and proper, with his yellow festive robes and his dark wavy hair combed in a manner that strongly clashed with their usual messiness, standing by his father’s side in a huge hall full of many guests, the little boy could not decide, if he was excited or panicked, somehow, the two emotions feeling exactly the same at the pit of his stomach. Yet, it was probably the latter, since beside himself, he could not see there any other children. But they must have been there. At least the one who’s birthday it was.
Relieved, he spotted him soon enough. A boy about his age, with long black hair and pale skin of almost pearly white colour, opposing his own tanned tone. Still looking the other boy up and down, he startled a little, as their eyes met and the northern prince, with his father and two older brothers, began suddenly to move toward him.
“King Diarmuid,” the northern monarch said, bowing to Cullum’s father in respect.
“King Lorcan,” his father answered, returning the bow. “Thank you for your kind invitation. And please allow me to introduce my son and successor, prince Collum.”
Collum bowed to the southern king, and to his surprise, the king did the same.
“Pleasure to meet you, young man. And please allow now me, to introduce to you, my grandsons,” he said. “This is my oldest, Fergal,” he continued pointing to the tallest boy. “This is Finnian. And this,” he concluded, “is the reason we are all gathered here today. My youngest grandson Fay.”
The boy looked at him briefly, expression unreadable, before pinning his eyes to the ground.
After few more exchanged words, the northern monarch excused them, in favour of doing the rounds and greeting the other guest as well.
Collum tried again, to catch the youngest prince’s eyes before they left. The other boy however, looked stubbornly anywhere else but at him. And that simply wouldn’t do. The first chance he will get, he must approach him and befriend him. Why else did he came to this banquet then, if not finally, for the first time in his life, to make friends. As an only child, and king’s son at that, he never had a chance to find some. Few years back, he should have had a sister, but even before he could meet her, she died, and on that very day, so did Cullum’s mother. So, as he looked up and down the room, his eyes finding quickly and landing on, the three princes of the Northern kingdom, he could not stop the tiniest pang of jealousy from tugging on his heart. More than that however, he sensed a chance. And he was determined to use it.
The three brothers must have noticed that he was staring at them. Or better yet, the older two seemed to, as they whispered something to their youngest, and turned him by his shoulders, to look in his direction. Immediately, the boy turned away again. No matter. Collum was not to be discouraged. If the prince was not going to approach him, he shall do so himself.
In few long strides he did so, tapping at his shoulder, to make him turn around.
“Prince Fay,” Collum greeted him with a bow and a grin.
“Prince Fergal, prince Finnian,” he turned toward his older brothers.
They both bowed to him, as the oldest brother said, “please excuse us, prince Collum. Finnian and I have to go. Our grandfather is summoning us. But fear not, our youngest brother will be happy to keep you company.”
And with that, they left. Before they did so, however, their youngest brother pierced them with such look of anger and betrayal, that one had goose-flesh all over one’s spine, even if he was not on the receiving end of the glare.
Collum tapped Fay’s shoulder again. He turned.
“Hello,” Collum waved at him.
“You said that already,” Fay responded curtly.
“I know. Uhm... Nice banquet,” Collum tried to converse.
Fay said nothing, nor did he acknowledge in any way that he even heard him.
“Are you enjoying your birthday?” Collum tried again.
Fay shook his head and with nothing else, he left.
“Hey!” Collum called after him, but was cut short by his father’s voice, calling him to come and sit down.
The official part of the banquet was starting. The speeches, the ten-course meal, the presents and, to top it all, fireworks at the end. After that, everyone of the age pretty much just gave themselves in, to the joys of vine, drinking and drinking, not caring about much else.
It was at that moment, that Collum noticed Fay sneaking away somewhere, and since he had nothing better to do, he decided to follow.
As quietly as he could, Collum crept behind Fay, following him into a dark corridor and trough arched door leading outside. Collum looked around, as he found himself in a beautiful garden flooded by the moonlight. He turned right, the same way Fay did, and into an alley of tall sycamore trees. As soon as he entered the lane however, he bumped into Fay who was standing there, hands crossed, fixing him with a cold gaze.
“Hi, he-” Collum began.
“Why were you following me?” Fay asked, voice even, yet razor sharp.
“I... I wasn’t!” Collum tried.
The lying did not work. Fay raised his eyebrows, letting him clearly know he saw right through it.
“All right, all right, I was,” Collum admitted, “but only because I was bored and didn’t have anything else to do and you looked like you were off to do something exciting.”
Fay only stared, expression unmoving and unreadable.
“Sooo, can I come with?” Collum grinned.
Fay turned around and continued to walk, wherever it was he was going before. But he didn’t say no, and therefore, Collum decided to take it as a yes, and granted himself a permission to follow.
At the end of the lane, they came to a building, that didn’t seem in anyway interesting. Except for the noises coming from it. Braying of horses.
“Stables!” Collum exclaimed excited, entering behind Fay, who just kept on ignoring him, walking silently toward a box with a gorgeous black horse.
“He is beautiful!” Collum admired. “What is his name?”
“She,” Fay corrected. “Her name is Daray.”
“It suits her. Can I... can I pet her?”
To Cullum’s surprise, Fay nodded. “If she lets you,” he added curtly, opening the door of Daray’s box.
Stepping in and gently whispering to the mare, Collum patted her neck, and nose. “Aren’t you a beauty? Yes, you are, yes you are!” He smiled.
It was in that moment that he heard a familiar noise. Neighing of his own mare.“Arin?” He turned around immediately, following the noise. “Arin where are you?”
Upon hearing his voice, Arin brayed happily again, few boxes further.
“Here you are!” He called, entering the box without any hesitation, and hugging his friend. His best friend.
Looking over his shoulder he noticed Fay followed him and was now watching Arin with soft expression in his eyes.
“She too, is beautiful,” he said.
Collum flashed him a grin in response, which Fay didn’t seem to like much, since after that, he turned around and returned to Daray immediately.
“Hey, here’s an idea!” Collum called out to him, “since we are already here, why don’t we saddle Daray and Arin and have a little ride around. Maybe even a race?”
Fay, seemingly liking the idea and the challenge, started to get Dray ready in and answer. Collum chuckled, doing the same. In no time at all the preparations were done and the two boys were sitting side by side on their horses’ backs.
“Where to?” Collum asked.
“There,” Fay nodded toward the edge of the garden, where it seemed to meet a boundary of the forest spreading beyond it, and spurred Daray into a gentle trot.
Following the suit, so did Collum.
After they’ve reached the forest, Fay gave his mare’s hips a gentle squeeze and Daray sped up. Braying with excitement, Arin began to gallop, too. For who knows how long, the two youths kept riding through the forest, galloping here, trotting there, once racing, once riding side by side in perfect leveled harmony, until they’ve reached a clearing at the top of a mountain, and halted.
They stood there in silence for a while, watching the moon and the starts, their horses breathing heavily.
“Thank you,” Fay said suddenly.
“You are welcome,” Collum said, even though he had no idea what the other boy was talking about. “But what for?” He asked, grinning.
“This,” Answered Fay with a nod toward their horses. And toward the forest. And then, toward Collum, pinning his clear blue eyes into him.
“Oh, there is nothing to thank me for. I think I should be thanking you for letting me come along,” Collum said, meaning every word.
Fay just kept on starring, then ever so slightly, he smiled.
Serenity and warmth that spread trough Collum’s chest at the memory was not meant to last, as he was brought back to reality by the sounds of pain coming from the bed by his side. He looked at now grown Fay, wondering if he changed much.
That is, till the man in question opened his eyes, looking bemused all around the tent for a moment, before his eyes landed on Collum. Something must have snapped suddenly inside him because he sprang to his feet, his hand clutching on Cullum’s throat, making it impossible to breathe.
Had he not been injured, Fay might have gotten better of him, but situation being what it was, Collum manhandled him back onto the bed without much difficulty. Fay did not want to give up without a fight however, keeping on tossing and turning even as he was pinned to the bed with full force of Cullum’s weight.
“Stop it or I will have no choice but to tie you to the bed!” Collum threatened.
“Who are you?” Fay growled through his gritted teeth. “Where am I?!”
“I am your doctor, and you are in the war camp of the Southern kingdom…” Collum answered, trying to sound calm and somewhat reassuring even though he just delivered the news of his imprisonment.
Suddenly a smell of blood hit his nose. He turned around and saw, that the wound in Fays thigh reopened.
“Now please calm down. Your injury just gotten worse because of all your movement. I strongly advise you to stop and let me take care of it if you do not want to lose that leg.”
Collum knew the injury was not so serious it should really regress into such stage where it would be necessary to amputate the whole limb, but to scare Fay, seemed to him at the moment like the only way to make him stop struggling.
Fay let out another low growl, looked at his leg and as he saw it was indeed all covered in blood, he stopped moving at last.
Collum breathed out with relief and got to work.
After the wound was covered in fresh, clean bandages again, he reached for a herbal drought, which the doctor told him should ease pain and help the patient fall asleep, pouring it onto a spoon and handing it to Fay.
“What is this?” Fay asked suspiciously.
Poison. I am poisoning you. Collum wanted to say, just to see how Fay would react. And also, because the question was just so stupid! If he was really giving him something venomous, does he think he would tell him? And so...
“If I tell you, it is poison, will you not drink it?” Collum asked with an air of someone giving their friend a dare.
Fay turned his gaze up from the spoon to look at him, pinning his ocean blue eyes right into Cullum’s brown ones with such leveled composure, Collum almost smiled. Maybe he didn’t change that much after all.
Prince Collum of Dheasos looked about himself and sighed, as he watched his soldiers pull up the tents of their war camp. He knew the war was inevitable, he knew it was coming, he just didn’t know it would come quite this soon.
Few days ago, when his father received a letter from Northern kingdom, declaring an open war with them, he did not hesitate. He took his man, ready to meet the northerners in the field, if necessary, but prepared to negotiate peace first.
Now, as he watched his man get ready, he knew he must try all he can to prevent this war from happening. Otherwise, all these people, these boys, some of whom were still younger than him, will not live to see another summer’s sunrise.
He entered the main tent, where general of his forces was waiting for him, accompanied by many lords and royal advisors.
“My prince,” he said by a way of greeting, bowing his head.
Prince Collum nodded in his direction, “general.” Then looked at the others, “my lords.”
All that were present bowed to him, murmuring their greetings of respect.
“Let us begin this meeting,” Collum said after that, “I know we do not have much time and I know the northerners might attack us soon. Therefore, before we let that happen, I shall go tomorrow, alongside those of yo who will be willing to accompany me, to meet the northern prince and offer to negotiate peace with him.”
Immediately, sounds of protest erupted all around him, coming like tidlewaves from every directing.
“What you want to do is truly noble, my prince,” voice of the general spoke over all the others, making them fall silent at once, “but I must say, I do not see it working. I have fought many many battles in my life. I have been named royal general by your father many years ago, so please, do believe this old man when he says, his experiences and instincts both tell him your plan will go in vain. It will not work. If anything, it might make the situation worse for us. So much can go wro-”
Collum raised his hand and even though mid-sentence, general stopped speaking right away.
“I know general. I realize my plan is risky. But I will do it all the same. I leave tomorrow at dawn. Those of you who wish, can come with me. I shall try and we shall see. If I fail, and only if I fail, we will fight this war. That is my last word!”
“Here is what I propose,” Fay spoke, addressing the man assembled around him. “I believe, that before we attack, the best tactic and the best approach to ensure our victory is to send a spy to the southern camp.”
Sounds of agreement carried through the room.
“That sounds sensible. I agree.” Finnian supported his brother, “but whom shall we send?”
Even before he finished the question however, even before he looked at his brother for an answer, he knew it.
And sure enough, “I shall go myself,” said Fay.
“Absolutely not!” Finnian protested immediately. “The general does not go around doing tasks such as these. They should be given to someone... someone...”
“Replaceable?” Fay asked, finishing his brother’s thought for him.
“I did not want to put it like that, but yes. You are our general and-”
“And?” Fay did not let him finish. “So, what if I’m your general? Is my life somehow worth more than those of any of our soldiers?”
No one dared to answer. They’ve all seen the anger boiling just below the surface of their leader’s eyes.
“Did not think so,” Fay continued, “it is decided then. I will go as a spy to look around the southern camp, to assess their numbers and bring back any information that might be useful to us. I shall set off tomorrow before dawn. It will take a day to get there, and few more to look around and get back. Wait for me for six days, and if I am not back by that time, my brother will be in charge, and he will decide what you shall do next.”
Knowing his brother did not like the plan, nor what he just heard, Fay hurried to add, “do not fear. I am sure nothing will happen to me. I will be back.”
He looked straight into his brother’s worried eyes as he said so, staring to the very core of his older sibling’s soul. Don’t be frightened, don’t worry about me. I will be back, I promise. He tried to convey without words, so that only his brother understood. He knew Finnian did not want to, but he nodded all the same, promising to obey him in the end.
Few hours later, just before dawn came and covered the lands in the greyish blanket of darkness, Fay hugged his brother goodbye, setting off and letting himself be lost among the shadow of trees, as would any mighty deer. And as such a woodland creature, he too, walked briskly and made but a few stops, moving quiet and unnoticed through the night.
As he went on and on, all hi attention solely on the mission ahead, he barely managed to notice the gorgeous forest surrounding him. Trees tall and full of secrets, wind rustling gently in their branches, singing its song accompanied with the cawing of crows and melodies of crickets. Beside them high up in the sky, and a few does hiding in the bushes, there was not a living soul to be seen. Before long, the night had fully settled and an impenetrable darkness hid him like a thick cloak. Hidden under it, he approached the edge of the forest, spotting at last what he was looking for: the enemy camp.
Finding a good, concealed spot from where he could watch safely, Fay crouched down and began to observe. To count the tents and the soldiers, to try and spot what kind of weapons they had, how many horses...
Few hours passed like that and not much has happened. Soon, his lids began to grow heavy. Before he could doze off into a sweet oblivion however, something cold and sharp landed at the side of his neck.
“Who are you?” A gruff voice from behind him asked. “Slowly turn around. Make no sudden movements and reveal yourself,” the voice commanded.
Fay stayed quiet, for his accent would give him away even before his half-concealed, hooded, face could.
Slowly, he turned around, reaching as he did so, for a small dagger at his side. He grasped its handle, keeping it, however, still hidden beneath his cloak.
“Who are you?” The man, a southern soldier, pointing a sword at his throat asked again.
Fay pierced him with his eyes, staying motionless, keeping his silence.
“Who are you?!” The man repeated.
Your worst nightmare. Fay thought, before lunging without warning to the side. The maneuver so fast, the other man forget for a second, to react.
The next moment, as he collected himself, Fay was already running away.
The man sprinted out, chasing him with long strides.
Fay knew he would soon be caught. He drew the dagger from beneath his cloak, turning around to attack the other man, as soon as he would approach. The man was already there, however. Mid-turn, Fay felt piercing pain in his right thigh and a strong force hitting the back of his head. The world swayed beneath his feet. He fell to his knees, and darkness covered his eyes. Mind black and body limb, Fay floated helplessly, into a deep, deep nothingness.
Time for Revenge. For some, their favorite kind, for all in the Northern kingdom Thuaidia, a long awaited one. But none anticipated the moment as impatiently, as did the queen Fiadh herself. Yet, like any person with half of wits she, too knew, revenge was a dish best served cold. It was the eleventh year of her reign, when she decided the right time came at last, to take back, what once was hers.
Before she came to power, her father lost a war with the neighboring kingdom, and the most valuable part of their land with it. Now, more than a decade later, kingdom of Northern Thuaidia was once more, strong enough to take it back.
As a queen, she could not lead the army herself. There was one, however, who could. Her youngest son Fay. And thus it happened, he found himself kneeling in the crown room, looking up at his mother, his gaze eager, full of expectation.
“My son. My dear, brave general. Do you know why I called you here today?” The queen asked.
“I think I do mother. But please, do tell me still,” said Fay, inclining his head in a bow of respect.
“I think you do, too,” his mother answered, her expression turning for a moment, ever so slightly insane, reminiscent of a predator on a hunt for prey. “And you are not mistaken.”
“When? When are we going to do it mother?” Fay asked.
“It depends. How fast can you prepare and assemble the royal army, alongside all our troops who are under the commands of our lords?” The queen asked, rising with the question, an unspoken challenge.
“Just say a word, mother, and I will get them ready in a month!” Fay proclaimed, rising to his feet with confidence.
“Then moth it is,” his mother smiled pleased.
Fay nodded. “Your wish is my command,” he said before turning on his heels, leaving the crown room quickly, to begin the preparations for upcoming invasion of the Southern kingdom at once.
First, he needed to find his older brother. No matter how much he would like to think he can do this quest alone, he couldn’t. He needed help from someone he could trust. If his brother would be of any help off course...
It was no problem to find him. As always, he was lying in his chambers, drunk and surrounded with prostitutes. Fay pressed his ear to the door. Listening, cold sweat ran down his spine.
“Brother,” a voice rang from inside.
Fay braced himself and entered.
“Were you listening behind that door just now?” Fay’s brother asked, drunkenly. “Don’t do that, Fay. Did you forget you were the one, alongside all the adults, who used to teach me this lesson when we were younger? Now I might be too old and too far gone for the repair, but you still can learn. Remember your manners, and stop eavesdropping!” He said and laughed, turning his attention back to the prostitutes with as much as another blink of an eye.
Fay stood there for a moment, taking a breath to compose himself.
“Brother,” he then said.
“Brother,” Fay tried again, louder.
No response at all came.
“Finnian! I need to talk to you!” Fay screamed, finally getting his brother’s attention.
“Yes dear, what can I do for you?” His brother asked in a slurred, drunken manner, mockery clear in his tone.
“I need to talk to you. Alone!” Fay said trough gritted teeth.
“You heard him ladies,” Finnian spoke to his companions, “out you go.”
The girls pretended to whine in protest but stood up and left all the same, the pleasant fumes of roses they left along the way, doing nothing if not making Fay even more sour. Once alone with his brother, Fay took a jar which was full of vine, poured the liquid out of the window, then filled the jug with water from the nearby basin, strode towards Finnian’s bed, and poured it with great satisfaction, all over his head. His brother jerked in anger and surprise, his drunk brain realising only now, as he was full and well wet, what the younger man has done.
“Hey! You little bastard!” Finnian stood up and reached his hand toward Fay to slap him, loosing the balance immediately and falling onto the ground like a rotten pear.
“You bastard, you fool, you dimwit!” Finnian hissed.
It took him a moment to collect himself and calm down. Fay watched for a while, but soon, the patience left him.
“You done?” He asked, giving his brother a hand to help him stand up. Not waiting for an answer he continued, “as I said brother, there is something important I need to talk to you about. But I’m not sure you are in a state of mind to listen to me and comprehend normal human speech. Are you? For what I’m about to tell you is really...”
“Important,” Finnian cut through him in a mocking tone. “Yes, I know. And yes, I am listening, little brother, so go ahead and tell me.” He patted Fay’s head and set behind the table.
Fay jerked. Heavens, how he hated when Finnian was behaving all smug and condescending! He was the one who got it together, he was the one who actually used his brain, unlike his older brother, so how dared he look down on him?!
“All right then,” Fay said trough gritted teeth, sitting down opposite his brother, “mother has decided, the time has come to take back the land Southern Dheasos took from us. We are going to invade in a month, And I am the one who will lead our army.”
Finnian froze, goblet of vine hanging loosely in his hand, midway toward his mouth. His eyes, suddenly opened large, gazing at Fay with earnest interest. Not the reaction Fay had anticipated. Not in the least. He thought he will be laughed at, or screamed at, or both. But not this.
“Brother?” Fay asked after a moment, when Finnian still hadn’t moved, and just kept staring at him with something that was beginning to look almost like concern.
“I will go with you!” Finnian spoke suddenly. His voice filled with such resolution, as Fay did not hear there in many years.
“That is precisely what I came here to ask you,” Fay nodded. Surprised, yet happy, overjoyed. “I do not like to admit it, but I cannot do this alone, and I need your help brother. Or rather, I need help from my brother Finnian whom I knew eleven years ago, when I was still just a little boy. Finnian whom I’d known before our eldest brother died. Is he still here?”
“He is here,” Finnian said. “I am here,” he whispered, and with that, his promise was sealed.
Three weeks have passed since Fay took the command from his mother, to prepare for the invasion of the Southern kingdom. Preparations were in full swing, and everything went smoothly. Fay was quite satisfied with himself. But not only himself. He was proud of Finnian, too. He really came through on his promise to help Fay. He was by his side the whole time and he did not touch alcohol since he heard the news. He was sharp and cleaver again, and Fay really felt, as though the brother of his childhood was back.
“Everything is looking great general,” Finnian said, as they concluded another strategical meeting with all the lords and captains of their troops.
“You can simply call me Fay or brother when we are alone,” said Fay.
“All right little brother,” Finnian grinned.
Fay smiled and was just about to leave the room, to go tend to all the important tasks still laying ahead of him and in between him and the invasion, when he was suddenly pulled back inside by his elbow.
“Listen little brother, we barely had time to talk just the two of us ever since this madness started. And I doubt we will have much time once on the battlefield, so I wanted to talk to you now, as it finally seems we got the chance to.”
“All right,” Fay turned to him. “What do you want to talk about?”
“First, I wanted to say how proud of you I am. And I know Fergal would be, too.”
“He would be proud of both of us,” Fay said firmly. Little smile playing at the corner of his lips.
Finnian mirrored his expression, smiling, too. It was the first time since their brother’s death, that they talked about him without tears in their eyes or without words of pain.
“And speaking of Fergal, I am sure, he would agree with me on this second thing, too. Fay, brother mine, once we are out there, I need you to promise me to be careful. I can’t lose you, too. Promise me you will look out for yourself. Promise me you won’t risk too much; promise me you will let me protect you.”
At those words, something unpleasant swirled at the bottom of his stomach. Agitation? Likely, but he could not say with certainty. Anger and fear combined? Most definitely. Too proud to show any sign of weakness however, he straightened, standing taller than before, smile from a moment ago gone from his face, not even ghost of it left, replaced by a frown, making his eyes grow dark.
“I am the general of the royal army,” he said, “and the leader of our troops. I am willing to give my life for our kingdom, and I will not hold back while others fight and die. I am sorry brother, but I cannot make any such promise.”