Prologue: King Orwick's Vengeance
Orwick the Dignified was my father. He was, as his name suggested, a kind, respected man, though perhaps his stubbornness was his downfall - perhaps he'd still be alive today if he didn't have so much pride in the decisions he made. Half a decade ago, his most loyal soldier, the Elf Rurik, stood by his side - practised in the arts of fighting, but youthful - eager to put his life in danger for his beloved Elven King. Much had changed of late, however, and that devoted warrior hadn't been sighted in over a year - exiled beyond the castle walls because of the memories that my father couldn't drive out of his mind.
It was on a remarkably bleak day two years ago- where the clouds had turned black and blotted out the sun- when King Orwick was call upon rather urgently by a fearful guard, who solemnly insisted that he go to the main hall without delay.
I had to watch my father break down that day, as Rurik brought in the lifeless body of my mother and laid her on the ground before him. Her corpse was not only victim to third-degree burns, but the many shattered bones in her suggested that she had died from an enormous weight crushing her.
Watching from the sidelines at sixteen years old, unable to comprehend the demoralizing feeling in my chest tightening by the second, I watched as my father screamed at Rurik, his features contorted with rage like I'd never seen before. He banished him there and then, holding him accountable for the death of my mother, and as any devoted warrior did, he complied with his King's orders.
The King lived in seclusion after that day, rejecting both my brother and I from his affections. After a fortnight of grief, my father decided to seek out vengeance and slaughter the creature that had murdered his wife. Orwick the Dignified, without the assistance of the warriors he'd pushed away, stood alone when the Great Dragon emerged from its cave, ferocious and unafraid of the man wielding a steel long-sword. No one ever found his body, and it was said across the lands that the Great Dragon had swallowed my father whole.
Most amazingly, after my father's death, when hopes were seemingly non-existent, there was a light at the end of the tunnel that took the form of my older brother, Daeron the Brave, who took to the throne with audacious new laws and orders. Those laws shaped the Empire of Sentariel in a remarkable way, saving lives from starvation by introducing an order in which every wealthy family paid a small amount of money every full moon. This money was then given to the poorest of the Empire so that their lives would be worth living. Needless to say, the poor were too grateful for mere words to describe, so every able-bodied man of every household willingly devoted his life to fighting the many battles that Sentariel faced.
Happiness had appeared in the lands for the first time since my father had been killed, but that happiness, I am so regretful to say, didn't last as long as Daeron the Brave had hoped.
"-It wasn't long before King Orwick, driven mad by the loss of his dearest wife Lucinda, grabbed his steel long-sword and ventured out in search of the fearsome monster that would soon take his life-" Hearing enough, I rounded the corner and stepped into the main hall seeing Borston, the castle's cook, surrounded by the visiting children from the city, eyes wide with enthusiasm.
"But first," I continued the story for him, hiding my anger with exaggerated calmness. "He paced his study, and finally decided against asking for help, and he was so far into his stage of madness that he didn't even say goodbye to his beloved son and daughter, the Prince and Princess of Sentariel." I ended my story here, looking down at Borston who looked extremely guilty.
"Miss Alana, forgive me. I was just telling the children the story of Sentariel's past Kings and Queens; they wouldn't stop asking me." He bowed his head in sorrow as the children gazed at me, eyes bulging. Borston, though incredibly dim-witted, was large and muscular with a shaggy beard and shoulder-length brown hair. He was a warrior, originally from Axinton, just west of Sentariel, and he first came to the rescue of my brother when he came in conflict with a cave bear: they'd been best friends since.
"Princess Alana?" One of the children gazed up at me in awe, and I felt ill at ease under the intense gaze. "You're so pretty in real life."
I was taken-aback. "Oh no," I smiled and looked down at the young girl with a single, long plait down her back. "You're more beautiful than I am." The small girl giggled and reached out to touch one of my blonde curls hanging down, laughing harder as she pulled at it and it sprang back up.
"Alana," my brother's voice sounded from the stairs leading down into his office - the only place that was off limits to everyone but me.
"Excuse me, children," I smiled, touching the little girl's hair absent-mindedly before heading down the stone steps, hearing giggles from the children as I descended.
"You called?" I crossed the threshold of my brother's office. The interior decoration was extremely un-extravagant- filled mostly with my father's old belongings; books, swords, shields, even an apothecary table, though I never remember him using it. The ceiling was low enough that when Daeron stood up, the top of his head would slightly brush against it, but I knew he liked it that way; it was small, dimly lit and very much isolated. "What is it?"
"There's been another sighting," he said, beckoning me towards the chair opposite his desk. "Not too far from here, too."
"So soon?" I asked him, alarmed. "We need to act before they get into the main city."
"They?" Dearon sat back in his chair, running a hand through his long, silver hair. He studied me for a moment like he always did, trying to delve into the inner workings of my mind. So far, he'd been unsuccessful in figuring out my thought patterns. "What makes you think there are more of them?"
"I - I just think there'd be more than one," I quickly tried to recover from my mistake, but drew short of excuses I could have made. I sighed, resigned.
"You spoke to someone about this?" his voice was incredulous, eyebrows raised.
"I wanted to hear things from a victim's point of view. Their report of the dragon's appearance was completely different to Borston's, and we all know how vividly he remembers that day. I want to help - is that really so terrible?" my defensive tone sparked frustration in Daeron.
"I told you - you mustn't talk to people about these things. You aren't a detective; you aren't a guard, so stop acting like you are and act your age."
"There has been enough death for us to ignore now, Dae. The time to act is now; and if you don't want me talking to the victims, then I'll leave that to you - but I'm going to help whether you like it or not." I folded my arms, brows furrowed, completely adamant that Daeron wouldn't control me this time. Then I saw my brother resign, like he did when we were children. He heavily exhaled and rolled his eyes slightly, a smile playing on his lips. "Thank you," I smiled at him, and as I stood up to leave, so did he.
We exited the room in silence, listening to Borston teaching the children how to shoot a bow and arrow whilst they sat and laughed at his attempts to demonstrate without a weapon.
Daeron led me upstairs into the room where he always held his council meetings. I was very curious to know what happened in these discussions; whether my brother took the Empire as seriously as I thought he did, or whether he let the others make the decisions. I remembered a year ago I tried to eavesdrop on a meeting, and he was so cross when he discovered me that he ordered Borston to guard my room for the rest of the night, making sure that I couldn't get out again.
To my surprise, as we rounded the corner we were met by five very serious faces, all sat in their designated seats awaiting the King's arrival. When Daeron walked towards the table, they didn't stand and bow like every other person did in the castle, instead they all nodded and mumbled greetings under their breaths, barely moving their eyes away from the piece of parchment that lay unrolled on the table. I'd never met these five men, and the first thing I noticed was that they were all Elven, and all wearing the same clothes: black robes, black boots, and every one of them had shoulder length, black hair. It was as if they'd been cloned with all of their emotions wiped clean from their faces; it was a truly boring sight.
"I hope no one will protest if the Princess joins our discussion today," Daeron addressed the assembly courteously, giving each man a searching glance before one of them spoke.
"She has no business here," he said, his voice deep and brooding, though his face seemed youthful in comparison to the others. He looked up and scanned my appearance, silently scrutinising my turquoise dress with elongated sleeves and the tiara placed carefully in my wavy hair. "This is serious business."
Fury burned inside of me as he and the four other men judged my appearance. "Look, if it was my choice, I wouldn't be wearing this dress - I wouldn't be wearing any dresses! For god's sake, I have a maid who cares more about my appearance than she does hers!" I said, speaking of my kind maid Rosalina.
After an aggravating moment of silence, I spoke once more before sitting down next to my brother. "I belong here - it's time I proved it."
The council members started to speak of the dragon attacks, starting from 2 years ago when my mother was killed and listing them one by one until we reached the present day. I was alarmed as the number of sightings and fatalities steadily rose throughout the discussion, and eventually I felt angry that my brother hadn't involved me sooner.
"What do we do?" Daeron sighed as he placed his head in his hands. "We're not even sure how many dragons there are!"
"You made us believe that there was only one," an older member of the council protested, fear apparent in his small blue eyes.
"Alana has... spoken with the victims of the attack. She says that their descriptions of the dragons greatly varied." I nodded in agreement to his statement, smiling inwardly because he'd actually considered my theory without brushing it off completely first.
"Didn't your assistant see one? The warrior?"
"Yes, Borston had a close encounter a few weeks back," Daeron replied to the youngest of the council members.
"King Daeron! King Daeron, you must come at once!" One of the dwarven servants rounded the corner, red-faced and breathless, looking wildly around for his King.
"What's the matter, Borrick?"
"There's been another dragon sighting near the city!" he squeaked. My stomach dropped. The latest dragon attacks had been slowly advancing towards Sentariel's capital city, and now they were closer than ever. This meant trouble, and I wanted to help - I owed it to my father.
Standing up and without taking a second glance at the table, I exited, running towards my brother's armoury where I changed into finely-crafted golden Elven armour - the best armour across the lands. I chose a bow and arrows from a selection of weapons, and as I turned around to leave, my brother stood there, paler than he'd ever been before.
"I have to do this," I explained to him, walking towards him. "Please, let me help."
With a curt nod, a sick looking Daeron ordered for me to wait outside while he changed also. Pacing back and forth for a few long minutes, I finally looked up as the door opened to reveal my brother who wore similar armour to mine. He smiled slightly at me and gestured for me to follow him.
As we entered the courtyard outside, we could immediately hear the thundering roar of the angered dragon, and saw that the skies had darkened immensely though it was barely afternoon. For the first time in a long time I felt truly fearful; as I looked into the skies and saw a flash of amber, I wondered how many people would die today, and if I would be one of them . If this was the same dragon that tore my family apart two years ago, I knew I wouldn't stop until the beast was dead.