Excerpt from the Prologue of The Third Prince.
The storm was wicked. It whipped the coast with violent torrents of freezing-cold rain and hailstones the size of a man's hand. The ocean was as angry as the wind, pounding the granite shore, trying to pulverize it to dust. The horses were wild. The storm had them in a frenzy. The only horse not rearing and whinnying like a possessed spirit was an old mare.
She stood in the corner of the large barn panting and trembling, her gentle eyes wide. She was foaling, and the birth was not easy. The farmer had no idea. The mare was not bred. Not by him at the very least. How she came to be in foal without a stallion around was anybody's guess. Still, here, in this storm, the mare was foaling. It cost her everything to bring the twin foals into existence.
After the storm had passed, when the farmer went to the barn to check on his horses he was shocked to see his old mare dead, and a white filly, also dead. Resting placidly on his legs was a black foal, larger than it ought to be, staring at the farmer with eerie blue eyes.
* * *
It was five years after his birth. She remembered well the night he was born. It had been stormy. There were reports of hail on the coast, but inland there had been only rain and thunder. The birth was not easy, but it could have been worse. Of all her children, she had wanted this one the most. She had loved his father as she had loved no other. Even now, she was reminded of him as she looked at her son. But the child was born cursed.
From the moment he was born, she noticed the shadows dance around him. He saw them also. They entertained him. It wasn't long before they began to work on her. She started hearing voices, feeling strange emotions, seeing things. It swelled into exquisite torture until it was impossible to resist. She was slipping into Darkness. It was more than just a feeling. It certainly wasn't despair. The Darkness was trying to claim her, as it had claimed his father. She knew it. And if it claimed her... she pushed the thought from her mind. She would not let them claim her son. Not her perfect son. Not the only child born from love. She knew what she must do. It was the only way to save him. For if she were to Fall, there would be nothing stopping it claiming her son. She would not let it happen. This was the only way. It was all for him.
She let the thought sustain her as she picked her way, barefoot, through the palace gardens towards her private corner. It had been created just for her as a wedding gift. She barely contained a snort. Her husband, King though he was, was not someone she ever would have willingly wed. The marriage had been a necessity. The alliance the marriage would create would have been enough to bring her entire race out of hiding.
The Keshaly’i. They were slowly filtering out of the wilds to make contact with the impetuous race of Men. Despite the alliance, the relationship was shaky. Anything could break it asunder and bring it crashing down with the deafening ring of war. The Keshaly’i, even with the Sammonishy'i as natural allies, had to tread carefully.
Men. She could not help but dislike the race. With very few exceptions, she found the race to be entirely without a sense of honour, hypocritical and wilfully ignorant. Ignorance was bad enough, but wilful ignorance was unforgivable. It was their short lives. It is hard to accumulate any sense of wisdom if there is not enough time in which to acquire it. Not one of the race ever lived past sixty, let alone one hundred. So to her, they all seemed like foolish children who had not been disciplined properly.
There were some exceptions. Stran, the General who kept Medrim together despite years of attacks from an unknown enemy, seemed to be one of the most decent Men alive. Though she had only met him once, she had liked him immediately. He seemed honest, though sometimes brutally so, and stalwart. Several of the wise ones of the northern Men were also finer examples of what Men had the potential to become. Even so, she despaired of the race ever learning anything else but greed.
She pushed these thoughts from her mind as she spotted the grand tree that stood in the centre of her garden. Her son was only five. It was young to be leaving him; cruel, almost, but for her reasons. It was all for him. To save him. To save him from the terrible Darkness and all it threatened to consume. Her perfect, golden-eyed son. Her heart ached for the love and grief that welled up in her chest at the thought of him. She wanted to turn back, to run back to the castle and look upon his sleeping face once more, but she could not. He would understand. He must. It was all for him. She pressed on.
Despite the gardener's insistence that it was nearing the end of its life, the tree thrived under the care she had provided. It was a gift of her people. There was not one form of life that did not prosper when the Keshaly’i were close. The moon was bright tonight, almost full. Everything was touched by the silver light so that it appeared to be day but somehow more gentle, more peaceful. She was glad for the light. The Darkness would not be able to claim her if the moon stayed bright. She watched the moon for a moment. It was surreal. Everything here was so beautiful.
That was the nature of death. It impressed upon those who were leaving the beauty of what they were leaving behind. Some thought it death’s cruel joke. The Keshaly’i thought differently. It was the revelation needed to pass on. It had the power to bring a soul into the next level of existence; or for souls of lesser standing, it was a powerful lesson to learn; to take with them into another life. This life, this world was beautiful; precious.
But she was delaying. She stole a quick look around her to make sure she was quite alone. Then, with a shaking hand, she lifted the dagger from her breast. She couldn’t help but notice that this too, bringer of death though it was, was stunningly beautiful. It was an ancient dagger, an heirloom of her family for generations beyond recall. It was one of the first ever to be created. It was the gift that once stood for the union of all three races. That union was now long forgotten.
What happened to the daggers given to the Sammonishy’i and to Men none seemed to know. They would identify the foremost families of those races. They were given as gifts to the heads of those families who had fought so valiantly against the Darkness when last it struck.
The Darkness. The eternal enemy of light and life. It was coming again, and trapped in the world of Men, she was the only one who knew.
She turned her eyes away from the moon. It was time. Though she was not a warrior, she would do whatever she could to protect those she loved from the Darkness. Her son. She could not let him be taken. She raised the dagger high and, weeping, plunged the cold steel through her chest, piercing her heart. It was the only thing she could do for him. A mother’s sacrifice.
She could not hear her son’s scream as she fell lifeless to the ground. She could not feel his trembling hands as they shook her or the hot tears fall onto her chest when he buried his head in her breasts. She was gone. She did not know that her son, had followed her, had seen. Her five-year old child, golden-eyed and third born, had watched her die.