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Thank you Renee and Katie along with all the other great blogs that are on this hop.
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As he bounded off the dais, Waldrom screamed, “What’s going on here?”
A wild rush of wind ripped the tent flaps open, and a horse and rider burst through. Joachim gaped at the body of the dead soldier. His heart raced and leapt to his throat. His gaze traveled up the horse’s legs. A man’s black boots. A scream caught in his throat, and tears filled his eyes. He stared into blue eyes.
The horse pawed the ground and snorted. The rider dismounted and stood next to the dead guard.
Wriggling free of Waldrom, Lilia ran to the rider. She threw her arms around him. “Brandan, you’re here. You’ve come to free us.”
The prince pushed her aside. “Brother, I see you are trying to usurp me again. It appears I got here just in time.”
“No, you’re wrong. I have no desire to take anything rightfully belonging to you.” Joachim stepped toward his brother and reached out a hand to him. “I want to help you and see what we can accomplish together.”
Swatting his hand away, Brandan laughed. “Help me? You’re the one who needs help. Anything you have to offer is worthless to me. Now out of my way. The king and I have business.”
“No, listen to me. You can’t do this.” Joachim spun him around.
He clouted Joachim, knocking him down. “King Waldrom, we need to talk. He’s deceiving you.” He spat at Joachim then turned and bowed to Waldrom. “I’m at your service, My King.”
Regaining his feet, Joachim pushed Brandan into the guard standing behind him. The guard wrapped his muscular arms around Brandan. “What should I do with him, Sire?”
Brandan flipped the soldier to the ground and put his black booted foot on the man’s chest. “The one you should be detaining is standing there, you fool.” He pointed at Joachim.
“What are you doing?” Lilia grabbed Brandan by the arm. “Stop this, or
Waldrom will imprison us all. Why are you jeopardizing our lives?”
He looked at his mother. “Don’t worry, Mother. The only one in any danger here is the traitor you see standing before of you. First, he betrays me, next he kills Father, and now he would betray you and Waldrom. Guards, seize him!”
The king stepped forward and raised his hands to stop the guards. “What do you mean a traitor, and how do you know this?”
“Because I know my brother, and that’s the way he thinks. He’ll lie, cheat, and kill to achieve his own ends, and his goal is to have both countries under his to rule at any cost.”
“Why should I trust you over him?”
“Because I’m just like you,” Brandan responded.
Walking around the twins, Waldrom rubbed his goatee thoughtfully. “My boy, you present an interesting dilemma. How do I choose one over the other? How do I know which one to believe? Guards seize both of them.” Two guards stepped forward, and each grabbed a twin.
“You’re wrong.” Joachim struggled to break free. “This is wrong. I’m not a liar. I only want what’s best, and that’s for us to be together.”
“You’re the one who’s wrong.” Brandan pulled his arm free. “I’ve no use for you.” He turned to Waldrom. “Get him out of here, so we can finish.”
Joachim broke loose, stepped across the gap and grasped his brother by the tunic. Brandan jerked around and punched him. He rubbed his jaw and shoved Brandan, who fell to the ground “What happened to you? You’re not the brother I know.”
Standing up, the black prince pulled his sword. “Nothing is wrong with me. I just realized who I am and who truly cares about me…and it’s not you.” He rested the point of the sword on the cut Waldrom had given Joachim. As Brandan pushed the tip in the scratch, he re-opened the partially scabbed wound. Joa laid his hand on the side of the sword and pushed it away. Guards grabbed Joachim’s arms.
“Enough! I can see you two will not make this easy. I put before you a challenge, which will determine my choice. You will travel to the Cave of Njori and extinguish the flame of Asha. Melvane will accompany you and testify to its completion.”
Brandan replaced his sword and walked over to his horse. “I don’t see the need for this. It’s obvious I am the one, but I’ll go along if that is what you want.” He remounted his horse and reined it around to exit.
Still in the grasp of the soldier, Joachim yelled, “No, Brandan, stop! You can’t do this. We can’t. It’s the light of Asha, never to be extinguished. If you do this, you’ll destroy all hope and any chance we have of defeating this evil.”
Brandan laughed and kicked his horse. “All the more reason to get this done quickly. Guards, find a mount for my brother.”
“No, I won’t go. I can’t do it.”
The king raised his hand. “The choice is made. Guards, take Joachim to the prison tent. Brandan, we will deal with this inconsequential flame later. Right now, we have more important business to attend to.”
He signaled two of the guards to remove Joachim and then, as if it were his own idea, said, “I knew all along he was a traitor. I was only crowning him to draw out the true Prince of Sidramah. Brandan, thank you for arriving so soon and before these Wisdoms regretted what they did here today.”
As the guards dragged him from the tent, Joachim struggled and screamed, “No, he’s lying! Brandan, why are you doing this?” His cries echoed through the camp as Waldrom returned his attentions to those remaining in the tent.
* * * *
The burly guards pushed Joachim into the prison tent. Most of the Cratonites taken captive during the preceding battle had already been put to death or enslaved.
One lone dark figure sat in a corner. Joachim walked over to the opposite corner and fell to the ground. The tent smelled of unwashed bodies and excrement. The ground was mushy and muddy. Joachim felt it seep into his clothing. Two camp dogs covered with blood and dirt wrestled over what appeared to be a human leg bone.
He retched, and tears coursed down his cheeks. The prince buried his head in his hands. “How could Brandan do this to me? I only wanted to protect him from Waldrom and the evil, yet somehow it got to him anyway. And what have I done to Father? I know I wasn’t there to kill him, yet everyone believes I did. How can this be happening?” As the tears dried on his cheeks, Joachim fell asleep, and dark dreams began to plague him.
He stood in the Cave of Kobata. A Nemean lion leapt on his back. He twirled around, throwing the lion off, and then reached for a knife hidden in his boot. He went to slash the lion, and it turned into Waldrom. He paused in confusion.
“Your father and brother have deserted you.”
“No, Father loves me. He would never leave me.”
“Don’t you see he already has? He no longer searches for you, and Brandan has betrayed you. You have no other option than to kill them. Remove them from your life before they do so to you. You no longer need them.”
The king changed into his father as Joachim finished the slashing motion putting his knife into the heart.
“Joa, why are you doing this to me?” Theodric asked as he died.
The prince ran across the cave to a tunnel leading farther into the mountain and felt a stabbing pain in his heart as he fell to the cold, hard floor. His father was dead, and it was his fault. He killed his father. The pain of abandonment and desolation overwhelmed him.
The prince jerked awake. I killed him. He dropped his head into his hands. A hand touched his shoulder. He looked up and saw the dark figure who had been sitting in the corner.
“Listen, my boy. You’ve done nothing wrong. You couldn’t have killed your father. Pull yourself together. You must find a way to escape and get back to him. Your father needs you now, more than he has ever needed anyone.”
“No. Don’t you see I’ve killed him? I can never be forgiven for that. There is no place left for me to go.”
The man shook Joachim. “You didn’t kill him. Sidramah is planting these thoughts in your head, so you’ll become discouraged and give up. You can’t let him take your heart and mind. You must fight him. Come, you are needed.”
Joachim pushed the stranger away. “Who are you, and why do you care what happens to me or my father?”
“My name is Salochin, but that is unimportant. Just know this, you must find your way out of here quickly.” Salochin turned and walked into the shadows and disappeared.
The prince sat for a moment, attempting to assimilate what he had seen. Who was that man, and why did he care? He didn’t have time to figure it out. Right now, he needed to find an escape. He stood and walked over to the spot where Salochin vanished. He ran his hand up and down the wall but didn’t find any tears or weak spots. How could the man have gotten out of the tent? Joachim walked around the inside perimeter of the tent, poking and prodding, trying to find a weakness or an opening, but he found none. Soon, he sat down in a discouraged slump.
He wished Brandan were here. His brother would be able to find a way out. Joa recalled how as children his brother always found a way to hide, to escape. But, how did he do it? The prince couldn’t remember the invisibility spell. He thanked Asha King Waldrom hadn’t felt the need to bind his powers. “What were the words for that chant?” It hadn’t been a chant but a way of thinking. He imagined a white light surrounding him. The light started to blur and take on the color and shapes of his surroundings. He faded into the light, became a part of it. When he had completely disappeared into the camouflage around him, he walked out of the tent and through the camp. Brandan’s spell appeared to be working for him. Joa could see everything and everyone in the camp, but no one seemed to be able to see him.
He kicked a cook fire which set one of the dilapidated tents aflame and watched as its inhabitants ran to escape. When he reached the tethered horses, Joachim set them loose and smacked them, so they would wander off. The few guards on duty were dozing, and Joachim full of overconfidence with his success thus far, tried to walk past them.
A scraggly looking dog covered with sores and dirt lay in his path. Joachim failed to see the dog and stepped on it. The animal jumped up and yelped in pain, waking up a tall, skinny lookout. The guard’s eyes widened as he looked into Joachim’s face and sounded the alarm with loud shouts.
When the guard yelled, Joachim froze. The little Mantion stepped over the dog and pointed his long spear at Joachim’s chest. A second guard stepped up behind the prince and put a spear point to his back. Joachim’s heart beat so fast it felt like it would jump out of his chest. They saw him. What had he done wrong? He panicked. “Frog!” he yelled. The two Mantions turned into frogs and leapt away.
Joachim took a deep breath and bolted into the woods surrounding the camp.
The sun had gone down, and clouds covered the quarter moon in the sky.
Shadows scared Joachim as he ran through the forest. Soon he collapsed in an exhausted heap. This must have been how his brother felt after doing forbidden magic. Even though he had lectured Brandan about it numerous times, he never realized how much energy was wasted by actually using the magic. Now he had used the black magic. He had killed his father and abandoned his mother and brother. He had no place to go. No one would welcome him, except to punish him for his crimes.
The stranger from the tent materialized in the darkness. “Go to Crato’s battle camp. You are guilty of nothing except caring about your family.” He disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared.
Now he was seeing phantoms. He must be more tired than he realized. He shook his head. Maybe he would find a place to rest for the night and then decide in the morning what to do.
Palace of the Twelve Pillars. Here is the link to the video trailer: http://youtu.be/PD0Jp99jZA4