"We have been betrayed!"
Though standing with a large collection of my men, I was the first to reach the wild and exhausted rider, catching his horse's bridle and demanding an explanation.
"What is the matter, young Ivan?" I demanded sternly of my attendant. "Under what terms do you come with such news?"
"My Lord, someone has come upon the castle. Someone has... they were slaughtered! I don't know who it is, but I saw them die! I found a horse and... but I had to tell you! I had to find you and warn you!"
The lad was being supported by some of the soldiers previously in my conversation. In his rush to give me news, he had stumbled off of his horse and landed roughly in the dirt at my feet. I reached out to give him courage and support.
"Ivan, come in and take nourishment. Then you will start over."
"No, Prince Stephen, please, you must return with your men. It may already be too late!"
I was already assisting him quickly to a small area where only the men of Dur'Abarshan were residing. Despite the urgency of his news, the open yard of the court of Pensmont was no place to air out the business of my family's land. Directing trusted servants as I went along, I practically carried my young attendant into a small room and thrust a pint in his hands.
"Tell me lad, tell me slowly and with care what you have seen tonight and why have you traveled all this way to tell me." I seated myself, trying to appear calm and attentive so that I could get a true picture of what his urgency could mean, whilst my insides trembled and heaved at what I had surmised.
Standing in Percy's room, my heart continued to race over the news I had shared with my youthful King-Brother. Ivan had told me about visiting his mother outside the castle walls, only to witness guards and lights literally being extinguished along the battlements. Hurrying to the servants' entrance, he found a locked door and no guard to allow him passage. Alarmed at the sudden darkness and closure of the castle, he knew that I must be informed immediately. I sent him to my own rooms to rest, knowing that nothing in this night would allow me sleep and closure.
And now I have had the burden of sharing the fearful and questioning news with an unprepared man, soft in the ways of battle and nervous in the face of hardship. For now the emotion had drained from Percy's face, nothing escaping him but a blank stare of what can only be known as frozen fear.
"What does it mean, Stephen?" he whispered finally.
Taking a deep breath, I knew that my words would determine our next moves, possibly for several days if Stephen did not come to grips with his responsibility as leader and lord.
"Brother, the fact is that our guards have not been given a provision for this action. There is not a conceivable position in our history which tells our men to extinguish all lights and remove outer guards. Something is very wrong. I must take the Knights back home to determine the situation of our kingdom." I paused for strength, "I would recomend that you stay here with Agatha in Pentsmont for your safety."
"What of Ella?" I was startled at Percy's sudden reaction. I had not thought of her in these moments of deliberation and strategy, and I was shocked that his is where his mind was lingering at such a time.
"Why... yes, she must stay here as well. She certainly should not need be part of our military-"
"No!" Percy cut me off, leaping from his chair and rushing to a window. Turning back to me, he continued, "She is gone! I know it... I saw her - after the ball. She... ! Stephen, do you think? Gods of Earth, I will not believe it."
I could not follow my brother's rambling, going from fear to nerves, and ending in a rage of disbelief.
"What are talking about, Percy, please tell me what you-" Again he cut me off,
"She has gone from here! Wearing the clothing from the day we met. Her dress of the forest. Her... her natural place of birth... she said...goodbye." Once more Percy's anger had left him, and he sank into a chair, the light in his eyes dull and decades added to his youthful frame.
"Stephen... I believe she has betrayed us. She and her people. The people our Father tried to banish for so many years. I have truly been made a fool."