Shortly after finishing with the small office matters, Soris went to one of his favorite places in the palace: the superior terrace. It was a large terrace situated on the third level. He liked it for the panoramic view it offered, and because it was a secluded zone, away from the indiscreet eyes of the servants.

Stepping on the decorative stone pavement of the terrace, Soris stretched his arms and gazed at the high clear sky, which calmed down his thoughts. A sweet perfume greeted him. Big pots of ornamental plants guarded the entrance, some carrying fluffy purple blossoms, others slender white flowers.

He sauntered towards the simplistically-sculptured marble balustrade. Through its gaps, he could already see the green tops of the trees from the royal garden. Reaching close enough to rest his hands on the balustrade, he gazed at the great landscape before his eyes, as if he saw it for the first time. Past the simple assortment of rose bushes, past the labyrinth of alleys in the courtyard, far into the distance, forests and human settlements alike dominated the vast territory bordered at the horizon by a row of hills.

How good that the war is over. Now nothing threatening can be seen from afar. I can’t believe it’s been quiet for so many days.

You're reading chapter 5 from The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

A gentle breeze fondled his face, moving the strands of hair on his forehead. It was at last peace, peace that gave him a bit of joy. But more often than not, this happiness sounded hollow in his soul, like a falling drop of water in a big glass, water that was going to evaporate quite soon. He couldn’t explain it to himself, but the ending of the war, which he’d awaited with so much enthusiasm and impatience, didn’t make him very happy. He felt empty inside and rigid on the outside. Any emotion was faint, his life meaningless. Despite many resting days, he was still tired. He had the sensation that his whole body had been trampled over by a mass of people.

He propped himself on his elbows on the balustrade’s edge. He exhaled as he thought: The doctor told me I was suffering from post-traumatic stress after so much war. I was only sixteen when I went along with my father on the battlefield. It’s been five years since then… I’ve been a witness to so many killings, and I myself, in my turn, killed so many people, whether I wanted to or not.

He remembered the old woman from the morning nightmare. It hadn’t been just a figment from the dream world. I didn’t want her son to die. That only happened because he’d chosen to be my personal guard.

Reading chapter 5 from book one of The Arid Kingdom series - the prince's life

Everything around him became a blur. A hurricane of dark memories rolled before his eyes: people screaming, blood gushing out of wounds, corpses falling to the ground. All of his muscles tensed. His face contorted, and his breathing went shallow. Suddenly he shuddered and covered his eyes with a palm. Feelings of regret and guilt blew over him like stormy waves. He murmured under his breath, “That’s the past. You’re here. This is the present.”

He uncovered his eyes and stared again at the sky. After taking a deep breath, he let out a long sigh and thought: How I wish I could fly, float like a cloud in the air…

A sweet childhood memory enlivened his pale face. Whenever he wanted to feel free, he would come here and get up on the balustrade, spread out his arms, and look below him, at the dangerous distance between him and the ground. That gave him the illusion that he was flying, that he was above all of his troubles. He wanted to do that again now, despite the weakness he felt deep in his bones. Cautiously, he put up his right foot on the balustrade. I can’t wait to see myself up there…

Right at that moment, he heard Daniel’s horrified shout behind his back, “Soris, for God’s sake, don’t kill yourself!”

An arm grabbed him and yanked him off the marble railing. He landed back on his feet, wobbling a bit until he found his balance again. Daniel was white as a sheet, eyes wide open, mouth incessantly pleading, “Soris, I beg you, don’t kill yourself! You can’t do this! I know your life is hard, but please don’t do this! The people need you!”

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For a fair amount of time, the prince struggled in vain to explain that he didn’t wish to take his life. Daniel was hard to convince, especially since Soris’ health condition was well-known by most people around him. Daniel overwhelmed the prince with encouragements and compliments.

“Enough, Daniel! This discussion is over now!” Soris snapped. “Tell me why you were looking for me!”

“Well, umm… I don’t think this is the best moment…”

Soris narrowed his eyes at him.

“But, fine. I wanted… I wanted to bid you farewell before I leave. I know I’ve been your guard for only a short time, but I wanted to tell you that I was… I was more than honored to do that. Today I’ve received His Majesty’s permission to leave this job, you know, now that the war is over. I must go home to my own family… I hope there won’t be a problem.”

Soris watched him silently for a couple of seconds. He couldn’t deny that Daniel’s departure saddened him a little. Daniel had been his personal guard for only three months, and a good friend as well. Soris appreciated that he was unobtrusive, serious, and respectful, for which reason he allowed him to talk without honorifics. But he knew, also, that Daniel, just like all others before him, didn’t wish to take on such a dangerous job.

“No, of course it’s no problem, Daniel. You’re free to go. You deserve to live a happy life for all the work you’ve done lately,” he answered with mechanical politeness.

“Good… then… Farewell, Soris.”

Daniel made to leave, but then quickly changed his mind. He turned and added, “A-And, please don’t try to kill yourself again. There are pretty things to see in life too, believe me. I’d feel very guilty if something happened to you after I’d left.”

Soris let out an exasperated sigh, but forced a smile and said, “Rest assured; I won’t commit suicide.”

Daniel respectfully bowed before him, saluted him for the last time, then left the terrace, and in the end the palace, in a hurry.

Soris watched his departure. Daniel seemed really happy to leave. No regrets. He hadn’t grown fond of the palace at all, or at least a bit fond of the prince, whom he’d fought alongside, cheek by jowl. He simply ran away from the palace as if he had escaped from prison, without looking back even once.

Soris distanced himself from the balustrade enough to lose sight of the courtyard. I’m lonely now, but tomorrow is a new day. At the end of a long war, it’s only normal for everything to change around me.

He turned in place, looked everywhere to make sure no one from the palace saw him, then stretched his arms carelessly, yawning loudly. He had no idea that, actually, someone was really watching him and saw even that free behavior, that minor deviation from the royal family’s conduct rules…

This is Chapter 5, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

Soris’ face was projected on a magical screen, supported and charged by a frame of multicolored sharp crystals that was placed on a stone wall inside an underground cavern from the desert zone, far away from the palace.

Eight people were watching him in real time, how he was carelessly yawning.

Among them was a young woman with straight red hair, shoulder-length, kept to one side by some floral-decorated pins. Her dark eyes followed the face of the prince with much interest.

The rest was a group of men with barbaric faces, dressed in war costumes improvised from leather and pieces of old armor, packed with pistols and knives. They sat on wooden barrels, looking at the prince with hostility. From time to time, some were turning faces full of disgust or disappointment toward the young redhead, who was blatantly fascinated by the prince’s appearance.

Her armor was also improvised, but in such a manner as to make her look fancy. She wore a tight knee-length scarlet dress, a wide metallic belt squeezing her waistline, emphasizing her curvaceous figure; she also wore vambraces and tall boots with metallic decorations. The purpose of this equipment was more esthetical than practical.

Vittria was her name and, although she looked undeniably seductive, not a single man around her dared to touch her; that was because she was very skilled in wielding the magical scepter on which she was now leaning—a long mace made from light metal, with a great shining black crystal at the top.

“Oh, the prince is so… so adorable!” she chirped excitedly, getting on the nerves of those around her. “Too bad he’ll have to die,” she added, curving her red lips in an evil smile.

“To hell with that spoiled prince!” said Leido—a man in his fifties with a rough voice. “Don’t you see how happy he is, while we’re sitting here in this pothole watching all of his daily moves? I say let’s not wait for our master anymore, but let’s attack them right today! Master Bardan used to say: Attack whenever there’s a chance. And now, look what a great opportunity we have: they’re all crushed after so much war. On top of it all, they’ve got no idea about magical weapons! It’s perfect! Let’s attack the royal family!”

Everybody turned their faces to him, with much approval. Their eyes lit up with desire and excitement. It was as if he’d said aloud what they’d been keeping hidden in their minds.

“You said it!” one roared. “Let’s make them our prisoners tonight!”

“That’s right!” approved another. “If we attack them tonight, we certainly won’t fail. Let us impress our master! It’s been a day already since he should have arrived here with the so-called new weapons. I say we’re strong enough just the way we are. Vittria, you ready to launch the night spell?”

The young redhead tossed her hair. “Are you still asking? All we need is just a small plan and this night…”

“Let’s attaaack!” the fiery crowd bellowed, brandishing knives.

When the chorus of voices died down, one of them dared to ask, “But what if our master doesn’t come back soon? What are we going to do?”

“We’ll manage; why are you so scared?” Leido said. “Once they’re captured, it won’t be so hard to keep them tied up until Masta’ Bardan comes.”

“But why not wait for our master? He said we’d attack as soon as he came.”

Leido pondered a little, then added, “Because later they might restore their protection system, just like it was a year ago, when we couldn’t even monitor them through the Magical Eye. Didn’t you see how quick that general was to move? We already can’t pass through the front forest of the palace without being detected!”

“And let’s be honest,” another man said, “who hasn’t gotten bored waiting? If Masta’ Bardan came, we’d attack them today. Why postpone our prior plan because of his being late?”

Everyone looked at him with agreement, glad that they’d found all the arguments to justify their rash decision.

Vittria sashayed towards the magical screen. She stretched her hand out for the hair on the projected image of the prince, as if she wanted to touch it. She said in a low voice, “Oh, I can’t wait to meet you.”

End of Chapter 5, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

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