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Updated: May 12, 2020

Brigan rode through the night on the back of Big, his sturdy and trustworthy mare. A steady rain down poured on the both of them, a state the young commander and his horse found themselves in quite regularly. Thankfully his horse did not complain much, other than the occasional nudge of her head or delivering a face full of slobber. Big’s hooves beat the soggy ground in pace with Brigan’s heart, the sound too monotonous to cancel out the dark thoughts in his mind.

I wonder, at what point, at what age Hanna will be, when I can no longer hide my actions behind my eyes. He imagined her looking at him, the wonder and love gone, the joy receding from his returns, as she realized what the tears in his clothes depicted. On the rushed nights when the rain disappeared and the bloodstains on his hands remained, would she worry over his health? Or raise suspicions of whose veins he’d cut, he had butchered. Perhaps it was more than one, perhaps they had deserved it and maybe, just maybe he had been forced to act in self-defense.

He also wondered if those things would matter to her.

His mission this time had been different. Most days he rode out, frequently accompanied by Big, or at times a few of his trusted soldiers or spies, with an air of purpose. Whatever lord or captain or steward had endangered the king, his brother, and kingdom needed to be stopped. Sometimes it required intimidation, or a convincing speech. Other times, too often, his sword must be used.

Brigan banished thoughts of the day his first sword was forged in the castle smithy. For naturally, those memories brought thoughts of his father, the King Nax, who would visit Brigan’s practices in the training yard. As a young boy, Brigan had excelled in his swordsmanship, often sparring with boys who were his senior—and winning. His masters had been proud of him, convinced his determination and focus lay in the facts of being a younger brother and wanting to prove himself. Or perhaps, he was the competitive type and enjoyed the look of shame in the eyes of the older boys on the ground, disarmed and defeated by his strong-arm. Regardless, they gossiped between each other, he would make an excellent accessory to his brother, the future king, and to their court. There was no talk however, of Brigan’s wishes in impressing the current king, his father. For no matter how many skirmishes he won, no thought of how far he excelled in his training seemed to impress upon the man. Nax would visit the training yard, not often, but enough for his son to acknowledge that no matter his pains—there would be no bond of respect, or love built between he and his father. Nash, Brigan’s older brother, held all of the love their distant father was capable of giving. It was not a great amount, but it showed through all the same, during their rare hunting trips together or when Nax was sober enough to hold a stately dinner, and show off his favored son.

Cansrel had been different. Nax’s monster adviser divided his attention equally between the two princes, although in different ways. As the boys grew older, Cansrel attempted to influence a different kind of education towards Nash. Under the pretense of nurturing Nash’s kingly future responsibilities, the monster spent time in the boy’s ear and in his mind, luring him away with promises of young girls and parties. Brigan focused his counterinfluence of Nash doubly, along with Roen, their mother the queen. Many times Nash was able to deny Cansrel’s attempts at seducing him, practicing a strengthening of his mind as his mother had taught him. There was a part of Nash that truly wished to follow the beautiful and intriguing monster. As a young boy he was curious of the things of women and wild parties, along with a chance to spend time with his father—Nax was always in a good mood around Cansrel, and among the pleasantries the two could fabricate. Even the drugs the two of them delved into, these tempted Nash as well, because a small voice told him that perhaps his life would not be as hard or sad if he had help in handling it. He had always known from a young age that it would be his responsibility someday to undo all of the damage he observed his father and Cansrel create. Every time he came upon a crying and bleeding woman, or saw his people dirtied and starving outside the castle grounds, he was reminded. It was a heady thing, to see one’s father destroy an entire kingdom, and know it was his responsibility to fix it—as well as shoulder the blame of the things he could not remunerate.

“I will be with you always, brother,” Brigan would tell him. “Your burdens will be my burdens, and you will not hold them alone.”

The faith of his brother, and the love from his mother—these things kept Nash from falling for Cansrel’s enticements. Most of the time.

Cansrel’s regards for Brigan however, had an entirely different manner of approach. There were times Cansrel could sense Nash’s wavering strengths, for in many ways his mind and the mind of his father were quite similar. Brigan though, the younger prince was not only stronger with a sword than his elder brother, but shaper with his mind as well. When Nash was exposed to pain and fear, he faltered in his resolves. Brigan became stronger. The infuriatingly stubborn prince was unwavering in his regards towards the monster. Cansrel had adapted quickly from his strategy in luring the younger prince’s mind. No amount of women or riches or luxuries tempted him, even his greatest love of horses was unusable in the monster’s palms.

Luckily for Cansrel, he was well practiced in other matters of affecting one’s mind. If he could not twist it, if he could not buy it—he would break it entirely.

It was his favorite game, his favorite pastime. It had been some time since the monster had been faced with a challenge worth his time. Of course, the easiest ways—killing Nash or the queen were impossible. There would be no point in crushing the prince if it also took away his grip on Nax. The man was unstable as it was, given the increase in amounts of drugs he required nowadays. Cansrel was sure he wouldn’t live much longer, with his state of mind. By the time Cansrel had realized how too far he had taken the easily influential king, Nax was lost even beyond his reaches. It wasn’t ideal, but the monster was sure he could transition easily from his power over Nax to his son, how alike they were. Without Brigan, Cansrel was sure the prince’s will would crumble into his waiting hands.

Brigan rode faster, trying to escape his wayward thoughts. He gave thanks to the universe every day for the miracle that was Cansrel’s death. Memories of blood, so many memories often clouded his mind. The people Cansrel had casually tortured in front of him, or Nash or their mother. Telling them it was their fault. There were times Brigan would enter his rooms, encountering the bodies of his servants lying haphazardly across his carpets or propped up grotesquely in a chair. The smell of blood was a constant in the prince’s young life.

And now, here he was, flying through the night and the smell of the blood he’d spilled that night still in his nose and mind. He heard Cansrel’s velvet voice in his head.

They wouldn’t be dead if it weren’t for you. Can’t you see that? You could end their suffering, if you weren’t such a stubborn and insufferable boy. Your father would show you love if you stopped defying his wishes. Wouldn’t you like that? Wouldn’t you like—to deserve love?

An image of Hanna entered Brigan’s mind. No, he did not deserve her love, he believed.

Big rode on.

Shortly after Big’s hooves clattered on the castle cobblestones, Brigan eased his worries finding Hanna sound asleep. He silently thanked Tessa for watching over her, and carefully eased his frame onto the child-sized bed, careful not to jostle her awake. Holding his child, Brigan realized once again that she seemed bigger than the last time he had held her.

He stared out the window overlooking the lovely castle gardens, as the group of flowers perked up to the morning dawn that was now sinking in. He frequently caught himself trying to soak up any beauty he could find in his few, small times of peace. The monster flowers were the most cherished of all, and a particular monster rose caught his eye.

Ah, Rose. He hoped he was making her proud raising their child. A smile lit his lips as he thought how she would’ve responded to Hanna’s many scrapes and fights she got herself into. She’s a little too much like her father, she would’ve said. She just needs a mother’s touch. If I were around, Hanna would learn how to act like a proper lady. Well, a lady with a unique appreciation for horses.

Brigan smiled once more. Yes, their love for horses was one bond that had been unbreakable, it was how Rose had first appeared into his young life. She had known how to behave among royalty, with an extra reserve and respect. However, when the stable maid had spotted the young prince tacking his horse incorrectly, she couldn’t help stepping in.

“You’ll pinch her mouth, where you’ve got the bit,” she had said, rather brusquely.

Brigan had given his mare a second look, and adjusted the bit how the maid instructed. He considered this curious girl, as she continued to check over the rest of his horse’s gear, for apparently he was not to be trusted with any of it. She chattered on as she touched and tugged, horse knowledge spilling out of her mouth as she went.

“You’re not very much like the other castle girls I’ve met,” he commented.

At this she stopped talking, and gave him a solemn glare. “And you’re not the most princely of princes I have met. Except—“she faltered, and thought for a moment. “You are a might better than the older prince at riding. You should tell him that you cannot interchange a horse like you can a pair of shoes. That is why they kick him.”

Brigan stared at this most unusual girl who seemed to understand horses as he did, and who also liked his riding better than his brother. He felt…he felt something like pride when she spoke of him like that.

She stuck out a stubborn chin. “Regardless, your mare will kick you too if you set her bit like that,” she announced.

He humbled himself quickly and stuck out a hand. “Thank you for the lesson. I’m Brigan. Will you show me which one is your favorite?”

She had grabbed his hand and led him down the aisle of stables. “Now that is a difficult thing. Probably Stormfeet or Tracker. Oh, but Noble is a beauty too. She has the most lovely mane and it barely gives me trouble getting the tangles out too. I’m Rose.” Brigan listened as her chattering continued on, listing many grand horse names and manners.

Hanna shifted in her sleep, bringing Brigan back to reality. Rose’s voice echoed in his mind as his long ride began to take its toll, and his body relaxed into sleep.

She just needs a mother’s touch.

Yes, Brigan thought sleepily. When the coming war is over and life settles more, I will have to consider it.

Lovely dreams invaded his head as he slept. Dreams of horses and of roses. The different shades of red and purple blended together into a beautiful mirage.

As the neighboring kingdoms grew more restless and the powers like Mydogg and Gentian grew bolder, Brigan adjusted to being constantly on the move, riding with his companies to whatever location he was needed. This time Brigan had gone north to deal with the Pikkian raids that were ever increasing. Before his departure he had received word from Nash that he was needed back home, due to the raiding happening there now. Nash included a note for Brigan to heed caution from the swell of the raptor hordes this season had brought down upon them. He would meet Brigan with the fourth branch among the Little Grays, before reaching their mother's fortress.

Brigan grew irritated reading his brother's orders. Communication between the two had always been an odd thing, although they knew to present a united front to the kingdom. It could not be described as a power struggle, like most royal brothers would experience. Brigan took command of most of the military decisions in the kingdom, while Nash handled the political side of things. The two acted as one organism, pulling strength from the other when needed. Together they attempted to heal a nation that had been hurt for decades by their father, and Cansrel. As young princes, Brigan and Nash had depended on each other utterly in order to survive Cansrel's influence. As adults now, they operated similarly in running the kingdom.

Regardless, Brigan thought, I don't need to be babysat traveling through my own kingdom. Especially if the raiding is getting worse, my men should be focusing on protecting the vulnerable cliff villages. Thoughts of the raptor problems spurred an idea in Brigan's mind to further recruit and train his archer companies. He remembered his mother mentioning a talented archer that was a lord living over a neighboring holding. At the mention he had wondered why this Lord Archer, with his impressive skills and presumable name hadn't crossed his desk before during his military recruitment.

His mother had looked down, too casually responding to his queries. "He wouldn't be likely to leave his lady."

Brigan laughed bitterly. "As I enjoy in leaving Hanna, day after day? Rocks mother, I have serfs dying every day, entire towns of them. War is knocking on our door any day now. I need every able bodied man and woman, especially one who masters a bow."

The queen stared at her son sternly. "You also need loyal and dutiful lords to oversee their own lands and people. There will be no use of winning a war if the fiefs are left with cruel lords overtaxing and abusing their subjects. I did not bring the matter up so that you could steal away my few good neighbors. Leave it be, Brigandell."

The prince stared at his mother, suspicious. "I have not known you to defend the houses of your neighboring lords so vehemently before. Usually you berate me for keeping so little company while I travel. What are you keeping from me?"

Roen sighed and looked steadily on her intuitive, relentless son. "You will no doubt heed my advice, Brigan, that Lord Archer is playing an important part right where he is--one that can not spare him. You can trust him, he is loyal to the crown. As is his father, the retired Lord Brocker."

Brocker. Yes, the name registered, another victim of his father's. And a mightily skilled one at that, the late King Nax's master of war. Brocker had spurred entire military knowledge volumes to be written, many Brigan had studied himself as a boy.

Brigan balked, yielding to his mother. "Of course, Lord Brocker is a loyal compatriot to the crown. I wouldn't be the man I am today without his paving the path before me. He and his son will always hold the respect of Nash and I."

Roen nodded soundly. "Precisely. Now heed the advice of your old mother, and leave them be, Brigan."

The prince responded by kneeling before the Queen, reminisce of her strength and perseverance she had always shown, being married to a mad king. He kissed her great ring on her hand, and then rose to kiss her forehead.

As Brigan rode now towards the Little Grays, his mind wandered back to that conversation, so near was he to his mother's fortress. She is hiding something from me, he conspired. No, more than that, her nature was...protective, almost. He was baffled, realizing the truth. His entire nature had been consumed with protecting the innocent for so long. He had put fear in many hearts, but only of those who killed and plundered his precious kingdom. The thought made him uneasy, that there was a creature living near his mother, who was dangerous enough to require protection from the king's commander.

"Commander!" The voice of one of Brigan's scouts interrupted his musings.

"Report, soldier," the commander's voice held steady, divulging none of his wandering thoughts.

"Sir, the King approaches with the fourth branch from the north, sir."

Brigan nodded, dismissing the scout. His heart lightened, a rare thing nowadays. He still believed his brother's actions unnecessary but he also rejoiced every opportunity to reconnect with Nash. In recent days, their meetings were never a sure thing.

The two companies blended together harmoniously, each unit falling into their correct placement without halting their pace. Brigan saw the flag of Nash's standard-bearer approach his position, as his men made a wide path open for their King.

Nash passed Brigan's soldiers, nodding to them with a firm regard. Whenever Nash left King's City, he always simultaneously carried two purposes. One, regarded whatever business he was attending to that better suited his position than Brigan's. Secondly, was to revitalize the hearts of his soldiers and vassals in a time when one's spirit was as vital as their sword. Gentian and Mydogg were open spring traps, waiting to recruit any mercenaries available into their armies. Brigan's men were loyal to him, willing to fall on their own swords if need be. But too many times Brigan knew, raiders had attacked a Dellian village, and left too many of his men without families to return to. It was a hard truth at times to accept, that they were actually protecting their loved ones, by leaving them vulnerable to attack. Brigan would always make his rounds after, giving consoling words to his men, and ensuring a party was dispatched to light the pyres to the dead. It was not enough, Brigan knew, but his men always responded the same.

"My sword belongs to you and the King, Commander," they immediately swore, kneeling before him.

Their words didn't bring him any peace, only a heavy heart. But regardless he honored their trust, their commitment to the kingdom, and thanked them. A small part of his heart was gladdened that most of all of his troops were too intimidated by him to look him in the eyes. He was haunted enough at night, without those eyes burned into his mind.

"Brother,"the King said simply as he met Brigan. Nash's horse, Tudor, trotted alongside Big comfortably. The two nickered to each other, describing whatever horse-sense had occurred along their travels. Nash rode regally, having gained some more expertise since his boyhood. He was no horse master like his younger brother, but he hid it well, straight-spined upon Tudor's roan back.

Brigan nodded, "Nash. Thank you for the forewarning. I've assigned more of my archers in the second units, although I pity their bow-arms. I had much need of them amongst our Pikkian neighbors."

Nash sighed, "Yes, they do love their navies. That's going to prove a problem for us in the future, I'd bet my crown on it."

Brigan had meant to lead their conversation into the fact of his brother's over-protectiveness, but Nash had just spurred an interest of militant tact, a weak spot of his younger brother's. "Well," Brigan pondered, "I could pursue a greater focus in building our archery reserves, to take their boats with volleys of fiery arrows. Although, of course, that would require foreknowledge of their position and plans of attack. They're just so damn fast, they hit hard and are back on the sea, out of our reach by the time we get there." Brigan glowered, irritated at being thwarted in any military tact.

Nash laughed, "Careful brother, or your face will be set permanently in a grimace. I fear the wrinkles have already imprinted, besides. I've heard rumors of me being knighted as 'The Glory of the Dells'. And do you know what they call you, brother?"

Brigan studiously ignored him.

Nash continued on. "Not even a guess? They call you the 'Gargoyle of the Greys'. Rocks, a gargoyle Brigan. How are we supposed to marry you off to some foreign princess, who likes the smell of stables, and will accept a step-child, if the prince she is marrying is dubbed a gargoyle? Honestly, Brigan."

The commander bristled, irritated already with the persistence the King employed today. And, he admitted, talk of his future marriage was never his favorite topic of conversation. Were they alone he would have already shoved Nash off of his horse. In front of their companies however, he was reduced to using words.

"If war is to be upon us soon, I'd rather our enemies hear of my reputation as a fearsome gargoyle. Your glorious-ness," he muttered towards Nash. "Besides, I don't see you favoring any nearby princesses either. And I know mother has been just as pestering to you about the matter as she has with me."

Nash remained quiet, an unusual thing for him. Brigan glanced over his horse at his brother, wondering what he had said to insist his silence. Nash revealed nothing, so Brigan muttered something about checking in with the other units. He spurred Big over to the command units, back to the supply units and then forward again with his archery unit.

It was here that his second-in-command, Musa, caught up with him. Brigan silently nodded to her. She was one of his luckiest finds, an intelligent and strong woman who was ever vigilant and loyal to the bone. Besides, she made him laugh. He needed her at his side.

"Commander, sir. I would never say anything to contradict the King, sir," Musa started.

Brigan nodded, allowing her to speak freely.

"I thought you should know sir," she continued, "that your nickname began with the men because of how a gargoyle is said to protect what they guard, as you protect the Dells. Not because of your countenance, or..." she faltered for a moment. "Or your handsomeness. Sir."

Brigan cleared his throat. "Thank you captain for the, uh, information report."

Musa nodded, "Yes, sir."

Brigan thought for a moment, deciding whether or not to ask a more pending question on his mind. "Musa, have you had a chance to talk with the men from the fourth branch yet?"

"A small amount, sir. I haven't heard any portent information to deliver to you as of yet, sir," she reported.

Brigan nodded. "Right. Although, captain, could you keep your ears open for anything on the subject of the King's interests, regarding potential brides visiting King's City? I'd like to be up to date on any possible political alliances we may be enticing," he finished. He trusted his second-in-command to be discrete with any information she gained from her commander, but he was still careful to keep his doings in line with the sovereignty of the crown. If rumors abounded that the commander had doubts in his brother's decisions, the result would be damaging.

It was worth the risk, Brigan thought, for Nash was a solid wall as far as influence came and went. Unless, of course, the influences came from a creature that held his mind in her palm. In this regard, he and Nash had always fought bitterly about. His brother rarely threw his sovereignty at Brigan, as a weapon to be wielded, except in these times.

Nash had glowered at Brigan, the last time their discussion had occurred. "I lean on your advice, on your sword, at all times brother. But your place of consult ends at my quarter's doorway. I am not asking."

"Rocks, Nash! Look at yourself. Look in a mirror. Your desire will bring the kingdom to ruin if you let it run rampant. I will dig up our father's bones and deliver them to your doorstep if you need reminding," Brigan was loath to compare the two, because Nash was not their father. But if it prevented the Dells from falling to the fate of another psychopath, he would.

Musa stared ahead, forehead creasing in thought. "Actually, sir, I had heard a rumor. It escaped my mind until you reminded me of it. They're rumors sir, but supposedly the King has taken interest in a noble lady that lives near Queen Roen's holdings."

Big interrupted them, tossing her head suddenly in fright and letting out a whinny. Brigan reared her around instantly scoping his eyes across their surroundings. He didn't have to go far before finding the cause of her fear.

"Raptors! Archers--to the skies!" he yelled.

There were three of them, two fuchsia and purple, and another emerald-green. Brigan pulled his longbow, shooting alongside his archers. Four arrows flew, two flying true and killing the violet raptors. The green one evaded their volley, jumping along the rocks of the cliffs, as swift as the rapids of the River Dell. It was getting closer to the convoy, screeching a bellow of hunger and violence from its throat.

An arrow whisked through the air, whistling as it flew past Brigan's head and straight into the raptor's opened mouth. It fell over, bleeding silvery-blue blood out of its razor-teeth. Brigan whipped his bow around, looking for the archer that was not in his company.

A small group traveled along the cliffs above them. Brigan's adrenaline-fuled mind clicked a few facts into place. He was within the holdings that surrounded his mother's fortress, and the stranger was a magnificent shot to have taken out the coy raptor from his vantage--without hitting one of Brigan's men. So, this must be the Lord Archer, and Brigan appraised his name appreciatively. He raised an arm in thanks and then pointed towards the raptor in case the lord wanted the meat. The archer waved back that he could take it, and Brigan waved thanks once more.

He also internally conceded with his mother, that he was glad the lord was watching over the plains surrounding Roen's fortress. It was a small respite in his mind, that was always swirling with worries regarding his people, King and mother.

Brigan stayed in place as his company began their trek again. He didn't take his eyes off of Lord Archer's group, for another thought began to take hold of his mind.

His mother had said the Lord Archer was hesitant to leave his lady, a lady she had not named. When he had probed, she had become defensive.

Musa had claimed that the King had taken an interest in a nearby lady of his mother's domain.

It had been a while since Brigan had clouded his temper with thoughts of the Lady Monster. He liked to forgo her title altogether, and think of her only as a monster, because that was exactly what she was. He would have liked to kill her the day after Cansrel's announced suicide, but she was still considered a child at the time. He would've killed her anyway, but for Nash and their mother's intervention. Now he remembered, that sense of devotion they both held for the monster, and how his mother had acted regarding Lord Archer's lady. And now rumors flew, of Nash's inescapable infatuation with the monster. A circumstance Brigan had known would happen, which was the exact reason he had pushed for her death long ago.

Brigan double checked the boundaries of his mind, a muscle he had mastered living around Cansrel all those years ago. He would take no chances around this new monster, especially given her femininity. He doubted Nash would take the same precautions.

And there lay his greatest fears. For against his better judgement, against his senses screaming at him, he had let the monster live. Solely because he knew the kingdom could not last a break between Nash and himself, and that was what Nash was threatening if Brigan killed her. His mother was no help, somehow escaping the snares of Cansrel for years but instantly falling in love with his child.

Nash would fall in love with her. He had never even met her yet, and he was already in love with her. Their kingdom would fall to ruin, pliant to the monster's every whim. And he, Brigan, would have to stop his brother from turning into their father. Repeating history, it was so obvious to him. But this time was worse, worse because she was obviously much stronger than Cansrel had been, ensnaring Roen and Nash without even trying.

Death had stopped the evil that Cansrel and Nax had created together. If Nash fell to the monster's desires, Brigan would have no other choice but to kill him as well. At the thought, Brigan felt a solid piece of his soul wishing to die as well, for that's what killing his brother would do to him. He had no choice but to fulfill his duty to the Dells, and to every Dellian his father had tortured during his reign.

Nash, Roen, Musa.


Brigan glared at the monster once more. He wished she could hear his thoughts this one time.

Make one move, one thought, and I will burn your body alongside your father's grave. I swear it.

Brigan spent the rest of the ride to Roen's fortress fully absorbed in communicating with his units and captains, and always looking out for any more raptor attacks. He didn't trust himself to speak to Nash until they could have a private conversation in a room with doors closed, and hopefully plenty of glassware to throw.

They reached the outskirts of their mother's castle by nightfall. Brigan and Nash dismounted immediately as his men began to set up tents and camp. Some of the men didn't bother bedding down for the night, as Brigan had spread word through his command units that the Fourth branch was to leave tonight and head eastward. The east led to the Winter Sea, with a coastline that spanned the entire length of the Dells. It was a territory that was rich with the fishermen's docks and sea trade. Every seaman's dream was to catch a prized monster shark or swordfish. The predator fish were twice as deadly, but sold high enough on the black market to allow a man to launch his own estate. Brigan was more concerned with the vulnerabilities the vast coastline provided, opportune to any Pikkian pirates that ventured south. His men were spread too thin to protect every coast village, but he dared not leave it unguarded.

Brigan met with his Captain Lio, who would be leading the Fourth.

The prince laid a steady hand on the young soldier's arm. "I need you to stay vigilant, keep an eye on the Pikkians of course, but don't let your guard down--our enemies' spies could be wearing any colors."

The soldier nodded, "Yes, sir. I won't let you down, sir."

Brigan looked past him at the regiment, his men absorbing the opportunity to be close to home. He heard a few laugh, and wished once again for a different time. "Mydogg and Gentian are divided in strengths right now. They're outnumbered, which means they'll have to get creative in their tactics. Nothing is more vital right now than proper intelligence. That's what I'll be relying on you for the most. I'll try to convince Garan and Clara to send you some spies, I want one on every boat, soldier."

Lio showed excitement for the challenge. He was a good pick for the post. He had been a thief in his past life, quicker with his mind and fingers than he had been with a sword. Brigan had found him in Cellar Harbor and had appraised the young man's choice of marks. Instead of targeting lords or merchants, Lio danced with danger and uncovered which incoming ships contained disguised pirates, returning from their plunders on the coast. His quarries were always larger than he could've gained from the local aristocracy, but the consequences were deadlier. One day Brigan had been hunting down a particular ship, The Sapphire, whose crew were notorious of not just pillaging villages, but who also took the opportunity to throw the villagers off the cliff-sides. Most raiders left the towns standing, so they could repopulate their riches and be ready twenty years later for more attacks. The crew of The Sapphire held a different itinerary, to build a monopoly among the other raiders using fear and legend.

It was here, one dark night, Brigan had found their ship and arrested the crew. Days later, the storyrooms told rumors of how more than a few sailors ended up overboard, to feed the monster fish population. When Brigan walked past the raiders, he spotted Lio and stopped, noticing he was out of place. Lio had presented a beautiful pendant, that held a giant, glittering ruby inlaid with amethyst stones.

Brigan raised the gorgeous jewel to eye level. "A thief among a crew of murdering pirates. Now, what am I to do with you?" he asked the boy.

Lio had stared up at the frightening prince, who lately had the habit of misplacing sailors overboard. "Well Highness, I'm only good for thieving. I'm pretty good at sneaking, too. I--" he looked at the dark waters below, as men were screaming and flailing among the monster fish. He saw glints of lights off of the creatures sharp teeth.

Lio looked back at the commander. "I'm not the best swimmer. Sir."

Brigan stared at the boy, deciding. Yes, he believed he could find a use for a thief who was brave enough to take on risky marks, and smart enough to get away with it.

Lio looked at his commander now, a disciplined soldier and a better spy.

"If there's any secrets to be found, I will discover them, sir." He stared at Brigan with an unwavering countenance.

Brigan dismissed his captain and turned back around to stare at his regiment once more. He hoped this particular solider would make it out of this war.

Nash and Brigan put preparations in place and then met in the command tent to coordinate with their captains. There was an air of unease between the two royal brothers that no soldier dared to comment on.

Brigan pointed at the wide map as he spoke. "The Third Branch should arrive within a day or two. They'll accompany the King and myself back to King's City, and then I'll take the company south to the Great Grays. I don't want Gentian getting too comfortable down there, and it'll give me a chance to send scouts along the mountains and see if he's hiding any troops there."

Nash studiously avoided Brigan's gaze as he stared down at the war table. "I feel uneasy leaving the north at the moment. The raids are getting worse up here, and Mydogg presents a greater threat than Gentian right now."

Brigan bristled towards the King. "Any attack Mydogg could mount would take weeks to reach King's City, and if we weren't sound enough to spot an invasion parading across the country, we'd deserve to lose the war. Gentian is a solid two day's ride from the capital. He also has the mounted men that Mydogg does not."

Nash was being impertinent tonight. "And that is why you're going northward, brother. I trust you can handle one unruly lord who must coward behind his mountains."

"Rocks, alive Nash! I need you in King's City. That is where the center of our intelligence is, with Garan and Clara's spy network. You know this as well as I. Knowing our enemies' next moves are going to win us the war. Besides, the capital is vulnerable with both of us gone and our people need their King where he belongs."

Every soldier in the room evaded their King's eyes, pretending to be invisible. Nash and Brigan stared each other down for a handful of breaths before the King let out a sigh.

"Yes, of course. You're right. We'll leave as soon as the Third arrives," Nash's voice resounded in defeat.

Brigan bent his head, unhappy at having to argue with his brother in front of their men. He had butt heads with Nash many times before, but his brother had been exceptionally stubborn this time around.

Brigan rushed the rest of the meeting towards a close. "Right. Musa, report on our numbers again."

Their preparations finished, Brigan and Nash climbed upon their horses and made a path for the castle. Brigan was tired, his mind weary from the past days' events and eager to speak with Roen. As the gates opened for them, Brigan reined in Big to stop her gallop.

From the moment he had known of the monster's presence, Brigan had held constant control of his mind's stone walls. He had been prepared for any mental onslaught she might create.

He double checked his mental barriers now, as they happened upon the monster, in the flesh for the first time.

Brigan grabbed for his mask he wore, a mask he hadn't had use of since Cansrel's time. His facial features turned even harder than usual, bitter, guarding his body as thoroughly as he fortified is mind.

He was grateful for his preparedness, for he was mistaken in thinking the monster's control could not touch him. Brigan silently apologized to his mother for falling for the monster's charms. She was a slight thing, wearing a drab, brown dress. And she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

He hated it. This inhuman thing that invited him to come closer, to want to be near it. He desperately wanted to know why she held an expression of fright, and his sword-arm twitched to his scabbard in a natural way, wanting to protect her.

Brigan bared his mask of hate openly, guarding himself from the sight of her skin, her wild-flame hair, displaying colors he had never seen before. He was a blind man seeing for the first time, and he despised himself when he found that he wanted her body as well.

"Throw it to the raptors," he spoke in a quiet, frightening voice.

It fell to its knees, its eyes releasing him from its gaze.

Nash whipped his head over to glare at Brigan. "No one will be throwing any woman who looks like that to the raptors. Have some decency to Roen's guest, brother."

Brigan let his temper fly, unsettled still by it's presence. "It's not a guest Nash, it's not even a woman--can't you feel it?"

The Lord Archer stood, picking it up in his arms as he did. His eyes flashed in determination. "If you're going to throw her to the raptors, you'll have to throw me as well." He turned and carried the monster away without looking back.

Brigan glared at his retreating back until they'd left the room.

The brothers dismounted and handed the reins of their mounts to their waiting stable-hands.

"What an insolent lord. I'll have to speak with Roen about him," Nash complained.

Brigan pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let him have the monster, Nash. We're better off for it. It can cause less trouble in the bared mountains of the north."

Nash utterly ignored him. "Rocks, Brigan. I can't have you running around threatening to throw the ladies of our kingdom to raptors. Now it is clear to me why they call you a gargoyle brother, you've the manners worse than a Pikkian brute. And in the name of the Dells, stop calling her 'it'."

They reached the hallway outside of their guest rooms. Brigan turned to Nash, pleading with his eyes and voice low.

"Nash. She's dangerous, more so than Cansrel had even been, can't you see that? She will bring ruin to our kingdom all over again, just like her father--there's a reason why monster blood is stronger than mortal's. They don't just inherit their looks, or their powers, they are bred evil. We are their prey, and she sees us the same way the raptors do. Nash--" Brigan cradled his brother's neck in his hand. "The Dells will not survive another Cansrel. She is his daughter. Our rule will be over and the likes of Mydogg and Gentian will pick our bones."

Nash stared at Brigan with wide eyes. "Brother, she made me hear music in my head. The most lovely music. Did you hear it?"

Brigan released his King and stalked down the hall to his rooms. Entering them, he found his wish from earlier. Picking up a glass figurine of a rearing horse, he threw it into the fireplace with a great crash.

Once upon a time, the crystal statue would have seemed beautiful to him. Now, it was only grotesque. Compared to it. To her.

Brigan bathed quickly, too restless for sleep. Regardless, he needed to seek out his mother and keep a watchful eye on the King. True to his routine, he strapped one knife to each hand, an extra in his boot and belt and then his scabbard. He slid a finger behind the window curtain, alert for any spies or mercenaries. Finally, the commander cautiously opened his door, looking down both hallways.

Brigan didn't bother checking Nash's rooms for experience had taught him which places his brother tended to migrate to. Slipping down unused hallways and back staircases, he made his way to the castle dining and commune rooms. Reaching the great heavy wooden doors, Brigan heard the raucous laughter and music before entering.

Nash was sprawled across a sofa with many throws and pillows adorned in delicate embroidery. He embraced a woman in each arm, while his favorite men encircled him, drinking and telling their war stories.

"Brother! Come, join us. Put your sword down for a spell, I promise no raptors will be interrupting us here." Nash slurred his words and began threading his fingers through one of the woman's hair. "That is, unless you'd like to be eaten, my dear."

Brigan took note that the King had preferred the company of a few red-heads this time, as the woman giggled and stretched out her pale neck for Nash's appreciation.

Nash's crowd of comrades had quieted at the sight of their commander, making room for him as he approached. A soldier named Rey approached Brigan. "Commander, can I fetch you anything?"

Brigan waved a hand in dismissal. It was well known among the branches that their commander rarely drank.

"I suppose this is the best place I can leave you, Nash. As long as you'll be coherent enough to ride out when the Third arrives. Have you had the grace to seek out Roen yet?" Brigan settled in a nearby chair, and their company relaxed into their previous engagements.

Nash leveled his gaze at Brigan. "Of course, brother. What kind of beast do you take me for? I've already debriefed her about the ongoings from the north. Given her Clara and Garen's love, and their thorough intelligence reports. Our sister has become quite garish in her interrogation techniques as of late. I believe she's acquired a certain number of extremities from the captured spies of King City's dungeons. Reminds you of someone, doesn't it?" He took the other woman's hand and dipped her fingers in his wine, before drinking it from her fingertips. Brigan then noticed one of his mother's heirlooms, a thick gold necklace he'd seen in her rooms, laying between the woman's breasts.

Brigan glared and then sighed and looked away. Yes, he supposed a bit of their father's tendencies had slipped their way into all of them. Especially during this trying time. He made a note in his ever increasing list of things he needed to attend to once they reached the capital.

"I'll deal with Clara. She is a little too spirited in serving the cause at times," he admitted.

Nash laughed bitterly. "You've a soft spot for our sister. I, on the other hand, am only worthy to be thrown into the Winged River. That's hardly a fair trade, Brigan."

Brigan frowned at his brother. "Clara is not the King. She doesn't have our people looking to her for guidance, while their towns and families are raided and butchered. Meanwhile you are--" he waved a hand. "I barely even recognize you as a brother anymore, much less a king."

Nash smiled and played with the thick gold necklace hanging around the woman's throat with his fingers. "I hope by the time this war is over that you will not indeed be able to recognize me, brother. We are losing, being attacked and appraised from all sides. The two hundred raptors outside my window are waiting for the Dells to fall, they can smell it. Mydogg and Murgda are rumored to be plotting together. Gentian and Gunner have combined their armies." Nash raised his eyes to meet Brigan's. "I have you, and Roen, and Clara and Garen. But I need one more weapon to win this war. Don't you see, brother? I have to change, myself and my tactics. I will not only take their armies, but their minds." At this, he smiled contentedly and leaned back, pulling the woman with her wined fingers into his lap.

Brigan gritted his teeth. "She's not the answer to our problems, Nash. You cannot use her power to win the war, because you can't control her. You've underestimated what she can do."

Nash clutched the necklace in his hand and pulled the girl closer. "No brother, I've come fully to appreciate the power of a beautiful woman." The girl smiled and bent her head back as his other hand stroked her side. "Take Ava here, for instance. She has the grace of a deer, and her autumn hair is lovelier than the Dells. Nothing of course, compared to the Lady Fire, but a decent substitute." Ava frowned at his words. Nash smiled coyly at her, "Do not take offense, little dove. Your beauty weakens me, just as my brother says." He looked back at Brigan. "I take it mother has not told you about her expected visit from Lady Murgda and the Lord Mydogg?"

Brigan looked back at Nash in surprise. "No, I had no idea. She knows I don't approve of her taking unnecessary risks with them. I've told her a thousand times to let Clara and Garan take the initiative when it comes to peace talks. Roen told you?"

Ava slowly moved to stand and Nash pulled her back down. "Don't leave me just yet, my dear. And no brother, she did not. My spies informed me before I had even left King's City. That is why I insisted on escorting you back home. I fear our dear mother is unstoppable when she has a certain tactic in mind, and I felt better being here in case she had any rats hidden in her walls. It's that time of season, you know."

Brigan gave Nash a renewed look of interest. Here he was, squandering their mother's wine, jewelry and women and meanwhile he'd been hiding his plotting their entire journey. That was, he realized, the true difference between them as brothers. Brigan remained steadfast, as always, keeping to his disciplines and ever alert. Nash on the other hand, chameleoned between playing the part of a king and a fool. And sometimes, he managed to be both.

"Your highness, your grip is too tight," Ava whispered. Indeed, Nash gripped their mother's necklace in his hand, as is strained against her neck. Brigan moved to stop his drunken antics.

Nash held his hand out. "Peace, Brigan." He wrapped the chain around his hand and tugged it tighter. Ava's cries were deafened against Nash's chest and the soldiers nearby didn't hear or notice.

Brigan gripped his sword hilt. "Nash, stop!"

The King looked up from the girl to Brigan. "You were right brother. Beautiful women are dangerous. They intend to come to their king's bed and then murder his mother in the night. This particular one happens to be a cousin of the Lord Mydogg. Interesting timing, wouldn't you say?"

Brigan stared at the girl, as her deep auburn hair draped over her face and her body stopped struggling.

Nash stroked her hair as he looked up at Brigan, his relaxed frame in the same position as it had been since he'd walked in. "I'm disappointed in you, brother. You've been so focused on the Lady Fire who is to ruin me and my kingdom, that you missed the real threat hiding in wait to kill dear Roen. How careless. Regardless I'm sure our mother will still favor you, as she always has. But perhaps, it is not I who has been charmed by the monster."

Brigan stood and left Nash's smug face.


Brigan sought out Roen’s chambers and asked her if they could make their way to the stables. In his current mood, only the atmosphere of horses would calm him. It was also strategic, because spies were more likely to stake out the Queen’s rooms than they would the stables. The king’s commander didn’t want this particular conversation being overheard by anyone.

Roen chattered on about the weather, her latest dress shipments and a new recipe her castle cook had developed using raptor meat. As they entered the vacant stables, Brigan heard Big neigh her welcome. He went to her and stroked her muzzle, whispering calming words to her. He slowly felt his anger subside, glad to be away from people and surrounded by these magnificent beasts.

Roen moved to stand next to him. “And how fares my northern neighbors?”

Brigan scoffed. “I fight these looters and smugglers because they oppose the king’s rule. But what right to rule do we have, really?”

Roen took his arm. “You frighten me when you talk like this.” Her eyes were kind but firm.

Brigan pulled away and began to walk down the path of stalls. Soon they would be at war and he would have to recruit more men and women to die. He would ask this of his people, and tell them how it was their duty and honor to fight for the king. Brigan turned back towards his mother. “What has the king done in thirty years to deserve allegiance?”

Roen remained calm. “Brigan—“

“I understand the motivations of some of my enemies better than I understand my own.”

“Brigan, this is your fatigue speaking. Your brother is fair-minded, you know that, and with your influence he does good.”

Flashes of that night reappeared. Nash, bewitched by the monster, listening to whatever she had put in his head and reveling in the experience. He had ignored Brigan’s words because he had wanted to be overcome by her.

Nash, strangling the spy with Roen’s own jewels. He had done right, Brigan admitted, for he himself would have killed her as well. It was too much of a risk to let her live, underneath her target’s roof and with her cousin visiting within a day.

Nash had done right. He had just done it with Nax’s flair of doing things. That’s what Brigan realized bothered him the most.

“He has some of Father’s tendencies.”

Roen skirted his logic. “Well, what will you do? Let the raiders and smugglers have their way? Leave the kingdom to Lord Mydogg and his thug of a sister? Or Lord Gentian? Preserving Nash’s kingship is the best hope for the Dells. And if you break with him you’ll start a civil war four ways. You, Nash, Mydogg, Gentian. I fear to think who would come out on top. Not you, with the allegiance of the King’s Army split between yourself and your brother.” She knew which topics made her youngest uncomfortable. While Brigan was stubborn and he and Nash fought often about the duties regarding the crown, Brigan had always worshipped his elder brother.

Brigan conceded at last with Roen. “Mother, you go too far. I could never break with my brother, you know that. And you know I don’t want the kingship.”

“This again, and it’s no comfort to me. If Nash is killed, you’ll have to be king.”

“The twins are older than I.”

“You’re being deliberately obtuse tonight. Garan is ill, Clara is female, and both of them are illegitimate. The Dells will not get through this time without a king who is kingly.” Part of Roen’s heart hid itself, disapproving of her lies to her son whom she loved. Here she was, convincing her son who had been forced to mature too early in life, to fulfill a duty that was not his. He is still my son, she thought, and the Dells truly do need him.

“I’m not kingly.”

“Twenty-two years old, commanding the King’s Army as well as Brocker did? Your soldiers would fall on their own swords for you. You are kingly.”

“All right. But rocks, Mother, I hope I’ll never be called king.”

“You once hoped you’d never be a soldier.”

“Don’t remind me. My life is an apology for the life of my father.”

They both fell silent. Roen grieved for a life she wished she could have given her sons, one of peace. Where monsters lay in storybooks or among the dark woods, instead of upon their doorstep. She wished she could tell Brigan the truth of his parentage, and speak of his true father with pride instead of guilt.

She could not. Both of her sons needed to hold strong right now, more than ever. Brigan discovering his real father would divide him even further from Nashdell. “Just tell me you’ll do your duty, Brigandell.

Brigan laughed, distracted from his heavy heart. “I’ve become such an impressive warrior that you think I run around the mountains sticking swords into people because I enjoy it.”

Roen sighed, exhausted. “When you talk like this, you can’t blame me for worrying.”

Brigan bowed his head to Roen in respect. “I’ll do my duty, Mother, as I have done every day.”

Roen cupped his face. “You and Nash will make the Dells into something worth defending. You’ll reestablish the order and the justice that Nax and Cansrel destroyed with their carelessness.”

Cansrel. Brigan’s face hardened hearing his name. Memories of Nash’s plan to entice the female monster played in his mind, souring his mood once more. “I don’t like this monster.”

Roen leveled her eyes to that of her son’s and softened her voice. “Nashdell is not Naxdell, and Fire is not her father.”

“No, she’s worse; she’s female. She’s a thing I can’t see Nash resisting.” He hadn’t even tried to, he was lost to her already.

Roen’s mouth set a firm line. “Brigan. Fire has no interest in Nash. She does not seduce men and ensnare them.” She had only known Fire to have one consort in her life, and he was more than happy to receive her attentions. In fact, Roen would have probably used some of Fire’s mental capabilities to put the scoundrel’s habits to rest by now.

Brigan did not tell Roen his true thoughts. That the monster had already ensnared himself without even trying. “I hope you’re right, Mother, because I don’t care how highly you think of her. If she’s like Cansrel I’ll snap her neck.” The sight of her had permanently infected his mind, an unshakable feeling like one of his father’s many drugs. He could not trust his own eyes or mind, but she couldn’t use her words against him if she couldn’t talk.

Wishing his dark thoughts away once more, Brigan reached towards the nearest horse to him and laid a hand on his muzzle, stroking his nose. “Poor fellow, we woke you. Go back to sleep.”

“It’s her horse,” Roen said. “The horse of the monster you threaten.” This too, she knew, was the nearest way to her son’s protective heart.

Brigan tilted his head, curious of the monster’s pick of steed. “Ah well. You’re a beauty, and your owner is not your fault.” The contented horse nuzzled his hand.

Brigan stepped back and wrapped an arm that was not covered in horse spit around Roen. “Let me escort you back to your rooms, Mother. I fear the nights ahead will only get longer.”

Roen stared ahead. “Yes, well. As much as I enjoy having you home son, you and Nash are needed in the south. I understand you plan on the Third reaching us by tomorrow?”

Brigan kept his tone leveled and joined his mother in determinedly staring at their surroundings. “Yes, Mother. Unfortunately we cannot delay our departure. As much as I would’ve loved the chance to be able to greet your northern guests.”

Roen didn’t react, her sovereign propriety an iron will. “Yes, that’s too bad. Ah well, I know how politics bore you. Your siblings inherited more of a taste for such a thing. And I’m sure you wouldn’t dream of leaving your poor mother unprotected, so I will require a few extra men once the Third arrives.”

Brigan laughed at her tactic. “Yes, Mother. You will have them. I was a fool to worry about you handling those Pikkian thugs.”

They reached the door to Roen’s rooms. She leaned forward to kiss her son’s cheek. “Indeed, my son. You have too much to worry over already, don’t burden yourself with thoughts of me. Mydogg is a wisp compared to what I dealt with when it came to your father and Cansrel. And on that note, forget about his daughter as well. It is enough to have one monster ravage your nightmares.” With that, she turned and entered her rooms.

Brigan stared down the empty hallway, deciding. Rocks. I’ll give the monster a test and see if it passes. I’ll watch over Nash and make sure she doesn’t try to seduce him. We shall see if Roen is right about it. He also admitted to himself that he wanted to test his mental strengths against her again. The last time, she had startled him. He felt he needed reassurance of his own defenses before sleep could find him.

He did not admit, however, that he also wanted to keep his brother away from the monster for another reason. He banished the thought, and headed for her rooms.

Brigan focused on guarding his mind while he laid in wait. It was a skill he’d had to master, growing up in a castle with a strong monster looming about. He had crafted it based on his mother’s instructions, from watching Cansrel prey upon others and through trial and error. Brigan had been taught to form his “mind palace,” a formidable thing that was as familiar to him as the real one in King’s City. Certain things were locked away tight, in far off rooms or dungeons; things like feelings, impulses and ego. Others he held proudly at the gate; such as responsibility, honor and duty. It also helped him to separate his personalities. He locked away Brigan the son, father or lover. In his stead was Brigan the commander and prince, guarding his mind palace.

The whole process was intricately built, but easily returned to when he was in need. It was almost a natural thing for Brigan, because he was used to frequently switching between his forms as a person versus a royal and militant figure. Although nowadays, Brigan found himself identifying as a commander instead of as Brigan almost permanently.

Like now.

His eyes immediately caught sight of it, in a blinding way as if the sun were to suddenly burst from the clouds. He noticed the monster looked tired and distracted, buried his empathy and curiosity in his dungeons, and brought suspicion and indifference forward. He saw its beauty, hid his appreciation and lust in a closet, and claimed feelings of bitterness for a thing he couldn’t have. Chivalry was stuffed under a rug. Decorum was pitched out a window.

A different Brigan emerged. He labeled it as the prince, as the commander. But he knew it wasn’t, he wasn’t. A creature more monstrous emerged, ready for battle with another monster.

He pushed the female monster against the wall and yanked its arms above its head, trapping its body with his own so it couldn’t escape before he’d had his words with it. His buried feelings of intrigue attempted to free themselves from his palace, given his closeness to the wildly attractive monster. A snarl erupted on his face as he tried to regain power over his mind, and blamed her for it, of course. Brigan focused his mind to stay on topic, and say his peace so he could escape the monster’s influence as soon as possible.

“Show the slightest interest in befriending the king and I will kill you,” he growled to it.

The monster held a pained expression in its face, while also showing its disgust for him. The disgust he would take gladly, but he wondered if its pain was a ploy to get him to release it. I won’t fall for it and I have no sympathy for you, he thought.

The monster spoke in his mind. Brigan hated it for having the ability, for giving him cause for worry of the stability of his palace. And not only was its body trying to ensnare his every feeling, but now even its mind called to him like a siren song, beautiful and inescapable.

How like your brother you are, only less romantic, it thought at him.

Brigan struggled to overcome the sight of it. He juggled his hold over his palace. He evaded the alluring sound of its mind. And Nash. Nash had tried to make contact with the monster. Nash had killed a girl tonight who was planning on killing their mother. She had been wearing a red ruby. Strands of red hair, more illuminous than that jewel hung in front of his eyes. This girl. He didn’t want Nash inviting her into his bed. He wanted her for himself. Is that why he was like Nash? Because they wanted the same thing?

Brigan quickly realized intelligent thought was going to be impossible around this monster. He gripped the basest qualities of the Brigan who stood guard over his palace. Not a girl--it’s a monster, he thought.

He gripped its wrists tighter. “Lying monster-eater.”

It gasped in pain. You’re a bit of a disappointment, aren’t you? People talk about you as if you’re something special, but there’s nothing special about a man who pushes a defenseless woman around and calls her names. It’s plain ordinary, the monster thought to him.

Brigan would have laughed if he hadn’t been concentrating so hard. “I’m to believe that you’re defenseless?”

I am against you. Its eyes flashed at him.

Hmm, so his test had worked. Not without great pains, however. Pains that he doubted Nash had even attempted.

“But not against this kingdom,” he accused it.

I don’t stand in opposition to this kingdom. At least, the monster tilted its head, no more so than you, Brigandell.

Brigan stepped back in shock. It knew. It had gotten through his defenses and had gleaned information from his conversation with Roen. What else had it heard? And then…

It said my name. He liked it when the monster said his name.

It stared at him in contempt. Brigan tried to ignore his confusing thoughts, focusing on his anger instead.

It spoke, aloud now. “I can see that you studied the example of your father before deciding the man you wanted to become. The Dells are in fine hands, aren’t they? You and your brother both—you can go to the raptors.” Its voice turned into a spiteful hiss, but somehow still sounded melodic to his ears.

Brigan bristled at the fact of this monster speaking of his father, true or not. “Your father was the ruin of my father and of the Dells,” he spat out. “My only regret is that your father didn’t die on my sword. I despise him for killing himself and denying me the pleasure. I envy the monster that ripped out his throat.” He held on to his anger and spite, finding safety in those feelings, far away from the more luring ones.

And then, it stared at him, straight into his eyes—into his soul. It measured every detail of him. Its eyes were a sharp and bright green, capturing him. Brigan quickly evaded its gaze and caught the sight of blood on its dress, near the shoulder. He hadn’t noticed it had been wounded. In fact, half the palace could have dropped into the Winged River and he wouldn’t have noticed. The monster’s face had stolen his attention from the very start.

Alright, so perhaps it is defenseless at times, if it can be wounded, Brigan thought. He struggled against Brigan the father who was shouting curses at him from the dungeon. He tried to ignore Brigan the protector and chivalrous who admonished him from behind a locked door. In the end, he was only capable of allowing a feeble apology. “I didn’t know you were wounded.”

He felt the monster glaring at him. “You’re inhuman. You do nothing but hurt people. You’re the monster, not I.” It turned away and left him. A small part of him noticed that wherever the monster was headed, it was not to its rooms.

Brigan headed towards his own, knowing the peace he had found with his mother and from the stables was long gone. Another sleepless night, then.

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