Good morning everyone and thanks for dropping by to read Chapter Thirty of The Cursed King. It’s been a busy, busy week and I’m starting to be social again, which means I’m having to actually think about when I’m going to find the time to write again. Whilst this is a welcome change, as it means that I can see more pub trips and catching up with friends on the horizon, it does mean I’m losing writing sessions to a few tinnies. Despite that, I’m still ensuring that I’m at least ten chapters ahead of you lovely people who are reading this, which gives me the breathing space and the opportunity to fix any plot holes before you guys see them. Though I’m sure some will remain – and that is what I hope you’ll keep me honest about!
Today’s chapter see’s Riechard lead his army south. After his brutal beating at the hands of General Karlon, Riechard is learning very quickly that bravery is as admired as much as stupidity is lambasted. He’ll need to walk that line carefully if he is going to succeed in leading his army to the doorstep of King Aron. I hope you enjoy this chapter and thanks again for reading. Chapter Thirty-One will be posted on 8th May.
As Riechard packed the last of his belongings onto his horse, he realised that he no longer felt any pain as he moved his shoulder. It was the most pleasant feeling he’d had felt since Karlon had driven his fist through his skull. The next few weeks had been nothing but physical torment for Riechard. The treatment that was given to him was little more than covering his wounds with ice, and drinking disgusting concoctions made by Dudsoner’s personal doctor. He had not dared look in the mirror since his fight, and every time he ran his tongue across his teeth, he felt the jagged bones that filled his mouth and he wretched.
Despite all of the pain, Riechard was as content as he had been since he’d arrived. He had succeeded in his quest to convince Dudsoner to give him his army, and now Riechard had gone from an army of five-hundred, to an army of four-thousand. It was not the eight-thousand men that Dudsoner had at his disposal, but it was enough. And in return for his alliance, he had promised the Warlord the lands from Dawnmount to Snowden, which once belonged to Ismann Warlords before they were brought into the Hartlands as Earls. The Northern Earldoms kept close ties with their Ismann neighbours, and many of their people lived peacefully entwined to this day.
Riechard had still not been acquainted with his bride to be, but Dudsoner assured him that she would join him on his journey to Silver City. The Prince was confused by Dudsoner’s casual attitude towards this. He made no indications that they could not spend time together, nor that they would even be forbidden from sharing a bed. Riechard had spent time with the girls at Steelmont and had been friendly with a common girl or two, but he had always controlled his desires. Now though, he had been thinking more and more about it. About every girl he saw almost. He wondered what Hilde looked like. If she was just half as pretty as Aesthala, then he would be happy. It was just as well that Dudsoner and Aesthala would stay in Ismann, as he did not fancy another beating from Karlon for spending time with the General’s betrothed.
Dudsoner had approved Riechard’s leadership of the army, as he knew the importance of showing a united front if he was to achieve his goal of taking back the Northern Earldoms. However, a condition was that Dudsoner’s Generals would receive equal say as Sir Gavon, Lord Salman and Sir William. He wondered what his Grandfather would have made of his agreement. After that thought crossed his mind, he did nothing but think of King Aedvard. Sat alone in his cell. Wondering what he was doing whilst all of this was going on. Riechard had not heard of how the war was progressing, and likely would not hear from Lord Steel or his father until he brought his army south.
When Riechard was finished packing his horse, he walked the long hallway towards Dudsoner’s office. Dudsoner, Karlon, Salman, Sir William and Sir Gavon were all there by the time he arrived, but none of them questioned his lateness. Riechard had been excused of much since his beating at the hands of Karlon. Even the fearsome General left him be, and for the first two weeks afterwards, could barely bring himself to look at the Prince. Riechard had wondered whether it had been remorse, but then Riechard looked at himself in the mirror and realised that it was out of disgust. Now that the swelling had reduced on his face, and his cuts had begun to heal, Riechard looked almost back to normal, and so Karlon held his gaze for longer. The Prince considered showing the General his teeth for a chance to see the big man wince, but he decided that Karlon’s reaction to his broken teeth would probably hurt himself more.
“Welcome, my Lord,” Salman greeted him. “How are you?”
“Well,” Riechard said. Riechard tried not to speak much as it caused him pain, but he had noticed that the less he said, the more he was listened to when he did finally speak. “Shall we start?”
Dudsoner pulled a large roll of parchment from behind him and spread it across the desk, laying ingots at each corner to flatten it across the table. He pulled some crudely cut upright stones that were engraved with the symbols of the Northern Houses and some that were painted white without these symbols that represented his own men. Of the white stones, there were eight – each one representing five-hundred men. Of the stones with the emblem of House Byrne – there was just one north of the border. Scattered across the map were the positions of each active army from Mount Lakgard to Silver City. There were several stones at Hazelfield, which represented Prince Charles’ army, whilst King Aron’s army had been placed upon Silver City. The rest were scattered around each individual Earldom, yet to be pulled together in any meaningful way since the Battle of the Mountain Pass. Riechard knew that this would not last long. It would only be a matter of time before Prince Asher reorganised his Earls into more cohesive units. The map cut off at Silver City, as the Ismann had never concerned themselves with lands so far south, but it was big enough for what they needed.
Dudsoner motioned his hand between Mount Lakgard and Snowden. “It is important for you and your men to know, Lord Riechard, that there is no hard border between Ismann and the Northern Earldoms. You must remember that the ancestors of the Earls of Snowden, Dawnmount and Eboncrest were Ismann Warlords. They are in the Kingdom of the Hartlands and they owe fealty to King Aron, but do not mistake the people. The people who live here are as much Ismann as they are Hartlanders. They have lived in peace with each other for centuries and that is because these people have a culture all their own. They will not fight men coming from the North unless they are forced to. There must be no raiding. There must be no looting. You will walk through their lands and you and your men will not so much as steal a crust of bread that belongs to them.”
Riechard was stunned by Dudsoner’s compassion. He did not say anything for a moment. The men he had brought with him on this journey had been mostly docile thus far, almost too docile for his tastes, where discipline and following orders were fine, their lack of energy did not encourage him. Yet he knew what war did to men. Even the most mild-mannered man would become a savage beast when the adrenaline of battle was coursing through his veins. Riechard was unsure if he could keep the promise that Dudsoner was asking of him. “If we are allowed peaceful passage as you say, then we will have no problems. But if we are threatened, intimidated, or otherwise provoked whilst we march south, then, well… men…will be men, Dudsoner.”
“Men will be what you teach them to be,” a voice came from the doorway. Riechard turned around to see an armoured woman enter the room. She was of height with him and carried scars of battle upon her face. She had short, cropped hair and small, squinty eyes and a pointy chin, and her bare arms bulged with muscle. This woman strode into the room and removed her sword belt, placing it on a nearby chair before joining the circle of men around the desk. Looking at this woman, he felt that she would have been a far more suitable wife for Karlon than Aesthala, but the only interaction that she had with Karlon was a curt, respectful nod. This woman’s attentions focused on Riechard, as she stared into his eyes.
“Do you have men within your ranks who you trust to communicate these instructions to the lowest levels of your army?”
“Why yes…of course,” the Prince fumbled, unsure of what to make of this woman before him.
“Then we do not have a problem. I cannot make this clear enough. I have just returned from Dawnmount, and the Earl has assured our army safe passage through their lands provided that their Earldoms remain untouched. If we break this truce, then they will send the full force of their army towards us.”
Riechard understood their compassion, but he did not understand the threat. “We have an army of forty-five hundred. Why should we fear anyone? Peaceful or not, we will tear through their lands with minimal losses should they attack us.”
The woman slammed her fist on the table. “This is where our people differ, Prince. We do not treat our warriors as fodder for your wars. Each of our warriors are worth five of yours, and each loss of life is a scar on our hearts. Minimal losses…what is that to you? Twenty? Fifty? One hundred lives? To us, minimal losses is zero. None. If a single one of our warriors dies because of your incompetence of leadership, then I will finish what Karlon started. Now. Can I trust you to ensure that these instructions are followed?”
Riechard nodded. “Yes.”
“Good. Then I will see you at the front of the march. I will be waiting,” the woman picked up her sword and strolled from the room. Riechard looked towards Dudsoner and Karlon, who could not withhold the smirks from their faces.
“Who was that?” Riechard questioned, already half-knowing the answer.
“Why Prince Riechard, that is my daughter, General Hilde, and your wife to be.”
The further south their army marched, Riechard started to feel the cold even more. It was as though his skin had become used to the temperature, used to the icy teeth of the northern winds nipping at his nose and ears. He had become numb to it. Now that he was moving again, and south at that, it was as though his body had started to relax, confident that it would soon be warm again, and if not warm, at least not freezing. He had learned a trick from the Ismann. He paid a local clothier to line his coats with polar bear fur. Never in his life had he felt anything like it. It was soft and warm and comforting, as if he was being held as gently as when he was a baby within his clothes. It started with his coats, and then he bought hats and gloves and scarves and socks. Not a word of this was spoken to Dudsoner and Karlon. He did not want them to think him weak. But he had no doubt that all of their clothes were lined with the same insulation. Riechard had learned in his time in Ismann that these frosty warriors were hardly different from his own people. They too portrayed their prowess and hid their weakness as much as possible.
Riechard rode alongside Karlon, Hilde and his own party. He had not said a word to Hilde. Largely because she had not said a word to him. He wondered if she knew that she was to marry him. He did not imagine she would have been too impressed with him as a husband. She was fiercer than him, physically stronger and confident. There was nothing he could think to say to her, and he doubted learning more about her would make him feel any better about this proposition. He thought about Aesthala, and how he felt when he thought that she would be his betrothed. These thoughts caused him a discomfort that he did not quite understand, but they kept him company as only the distant sound of howling snow wolves and the breeze kept them company.
After a few hours, they reached a small hilltop. Karlon was there first, and waited for Riechard and the remaining leaders to join him. Riechard saw an askew black fort that was half sunken into the ground in the distance.
“That is Fort Leyster. It is two-thousand years old. One of the oldest stone buildings in Ismann, and almost useless. It is used by the Earl of Snowden as no more than an outpost these days, but we should scout it out, make sure that it it’s still full,” Karlon said.
“Why do we want it to be full?” Riechard asked.
Karlon eyed him strangely. “Because if it is empty, then it means they have already seen us and have run back to Snowden. Which means that they will have the edge on us.”
“The edge? What about our safe passage?” Salman quizzed.
“I thought you Blacklanders were meant to be smart. Our orders are not to engage unless they engage us. We will go to the fort and we will greet them. What reason have they to run if they are supposed to be friends?”
“Perhaps they do not see us as friends. But that would give no evidence that they see us as enemies. All it means, really, is that they are not there,” Hilde intervened.
“Live long enough, Hilde, and everything means something. Hilde and I will go and see. The rest of you, wait here.”
“I will go,” Riechard challenged him. “With Hilde. You will stay here with Lord Salman, Sir Gavon and Sir William.”
A smile very nearly creeped onto Karlon’s face. “Is that so? And why is that?”
“Because I want to walk, and the icy wind feels good against my broken teeth.”
Hilde did not say a word to Riechard as they walked down the snowy hill towards Fort Leyster. He did not dare make the first sound either, but nor did he make it seem as though he wanted to. He strode ahead of her, eager to ensure that he demonstrated his bravery and his urgency. There was something he could never respect about a man who dawdled and strolled. Riechard had felt the urge to press forward more and more as he grew older. There was no patience within him, only a desperate hunger to drive forward at all costs. Hilde more than kept pace with him though, and within no time at all, they were standing fifty feet from the broken wooden door that was half-hanging off its hinges. The building itself had held up better. The stone was strong, cut from the mountains that loomed over the snowy land like jagged Gods. It did not take either of them long to discover that it was empty.
“Let’s go,” Hilde said, “we will report it empty and we will move forward.”
“No. We should go inside.”
“There is no reason. There will be nobody in there, and if they are, they are of no concern to us.”
“I am curious.”
“And I am tired of this.”
“Then go back. I will go in and search myself.”
Hilde hesitated. “We should not split up. It is dangerous in these lands.”
“Then I suppose you better stay here.”
Inside the stone fort was unremarkable. There were some burnt out torches on the walls, and a few arrowheads littered across the ground. Even one or two rusted swords in a room that looked like it had once been an armoury. But beyond that, it was scarce. As if no one had inhabited it for months. They cautiously poked their heads around corners as they walked through the narrow alleys between the thick walls and up and down slippery steps where one wrong placement of a foot could mean a face full of icy stone.
“I told you. It is abandoned. There is nobody here.”
Riechard ignored Hilde and kept going. There was an air around the fort that he did not like, a thickness in it that was at a contrast with the thin air of the snowy mountains they walked upon. His fingers hovered over the hilt of his sword as he poked his head into another abandoned room. Immediately he pulled his head back and an arrow flew past. Without thought he drew his sword and thrust it into the empty air until it met resistance. The resistance was a wooden contraption with tightened strings along the floor. There was no one here. Riechard noticed the strings that were connected across the floor to a pedal.
“Riechard? Are you in here?”
“Stop! Don’t move another step!” Riechard shouted. There was a stock of arrows feeding into the contraption. He removed each one cautiously until there were none left. He threw his skin of water at the pedal, and though the bow loosed, there was nothing in it to fire. “Come in. It is safe.”
Hilde stepped into the room and looked around. She studied the trap and picked up one of the discarded arrows, focusing on the arrowhead. She unwrapped the ties and pulled the arrowhead from the shaft. “I know this fletcher’s work.”
Riechard was taken aback. “How on earth can you know a fletcher’s work from a single arrow.”
“I am a warrior, Riechard. I do not know where rich men live or what symbol they wear on their coats, but I know weapons. These arrows were made by Lars Fletcher of Snowden. He is the personal blacksmith of the Earl of Snowden.”
“He made this contraption?”
“Of this, I am not sure. Though this is not the work of just a fletcher if it is.”
“Someone set this trap. Your father was wrong. We do not have safe passage. We need to engage them, go in with our full force and show no mercy.”
Hilde scoffed. “Your thoughts try and get to the answer in a direct line, even if there is a stone wall in the way. It will make your head hurt if you do that. Let’s leave this place. We will speak to the others. All we know is someone has left a trap. What we do not know is why…or for whom.”
“A contraption, you say?” Karlon questioned as he sat by the fire chewing on a roasted goat leg before sucking the meat off the bone.
“I have not seen many like it. Most of the ones I have seen are poorly made and easily broken. This one was no different. Riechard made this one ineffective in moments. The question is why it was there.” Hilde told him.
“I have seen similar things before,” Salman announced from across the fire, sipping soup out of a bowl. “Not here mind, but back in Antinna. The High King of Antinna is mighty fond of them. Though they are used to take down ships, not individual men. We’re talking about arrows the length of boats and contraptions the size of houses.”
“I cannot speak to why it was here,” Karlon said. “These are not the makings of an Ismann. We will continue south, and we will not engage until we are engaged with. We will follow Dudsoner’s orders.”
“We should march on Snowden. The other Northern Ealrdoms must know that we will not be intimidated.” Riechard protested.
“Then write them a letter and tell them. We will continue south. This is not enough evidence to risk an action that will lose us fighters.”
“We are walking into a trap! This fort is rigged. Perhaps we are walking into an ambush.”
“Karlon. I hate to agree with Riechard, but I believe he might be right. At the very least we should show caution. Change our route south perhaps.”
“Enough! I am not going to be thrown off course by a half-broken wooden box in an abandoned fort. We will continue.”
“You are not the leader here, Karlon. You do not make the final decision.” Riechard said.
“And you are? Perhaps I should beat you into the slush again to show you who your superior is!”
“Shut up,” Hilde called. “There are four leaders here. Two Ismann, two Blacklands. We will vote. I vote we change route. Move towards Dawnmount through the mountains.”
“I agree,” Salman said. “If caution is what is on your mind, Karlon, then this is the most cautious way.”
Riechard nodded. “A change of route works for me.”
Karlon sighed and pushed himself to his feet. “Then it is settled. We will move towards Dawnmount.”
“I have known Karlon since I was a child. My father took him in as an orphan after a battle that Karlon’s Warlord lost. He was found in a cave, just nine years old, clutching a dagger to his chest and standing over his dying father to protect him. When he was found, he told me that Karlon went for him with the dagger without hesitation. It took him off guard enough that he managed to cut his leg, but the boy was restrained. He liked his spirit and so he told his men to leave him be, and did the best he could to help keep his father alive. The man died, but Karlon recognised that my father tried to save him. Since that day, they have been inseparable. When my father became a Warlord in his own right, Karlon was immediately made General. My mother used to say that the Gods blessed my father with two daughters, because he would have struggled to love a son like he loved Karlon.”
Hilde reminisced fondly as she rode alongside Riechard. A tension had broken between them since their meeting. A shared bond in convincing Karlon to change course. The terrain was far kinder than it was nearing Snowden. There were more trees, which meant more protection from the snow, and a gentler landing for their horses which made navigating them easier. He watched Hilde as she spoke, and wondered if he could ever love such a hardened woman. All of the women he had ever known had been like Aesthala. Gentle, soft and pretty. Hilde was none of those things, although he did like that he could speak frankly with her and that she could wield a sword. He was far more curious as to whether or not he could best her in a skirmish than what their children would look like.
“Why did you agree to marry me?” Riechard asked bluntly.
Hilde turned to him and almost rolled her eyes, as if she thought that he was imploring her to sing him words of praise. After a second though, her face softened and she spoke. “Our lands are not rich. Our only export is war and we cannot farm and grow crops like you can in the south. We are hunters and fighters. Marrying you is the best thing I can do for Ismann other than fighting for it.”
Riechard nodded. There was not much he could say to that, and he had half-hoped that she would ask him the same question, but it never came. He supposed he would have told her something similar. It was convenient, and smart. And as much as he wanted to shoo Isabel from Duncath, now that he knew the true hardness of the lands, he was glad that he did not condemn her to such a fate. Besides that, it was he who needed the army, not her, and it would not have been fair for her to go out into the cold for him.
Ahead of them, Karlon had stopped his horse and was looking through the trees and over the hills. Riechard pulled up his own horse, shook the snow off a branch and hitched him to it. As he gazed over the hills, he saw why the General had stopped. They had arrived at Dawnmount, and outside of the city that was being kissed by the indigo dusk sky, there stood what looked to be a thousand men lined up, fully-armoured and surrounded by flaming torches all looking up towards the hills, as if they were waiting for them.
“What are they doing?” Riechard asked.
Karlon did not answer him for a moment, and Riechard was about to press the question again, eager not to be ignored by him. But then Karlon replied, in a tone much softer than Riechard had become used to. “It is a fallar,” Karlon said.
Salman appeared from behind them, but Riechard had been so focused on the army at the foot of the hills that he had not even noticed his approach. “But who is it for? Us or them?”
“What is a fallar?” Riechard asked
“It is hard to explain,” Hilde said, hitching her horse beside Riechard’s. “It means different things, depending on the shape of the moon. What it means, is that the Earl is not convinced on our passing. He also does not seem to want a battle. It is a ritual. The army will wait, and they will chant, and they will stand in defence of the passage until the Gods have spoken to them.”
“So the shape of the moon decides whether or not we pass?” Riechard said, unable to restrain the contempt from his voice. “What about the agreement with Dudsoner?”
“Gods trump Warlords. We will have to wait. Interrupting the ceremony is a bad omen,” Karlon whispered.
Riechard stared at the tiny flames from the torches and looked up towards the sky. The moon had not yet become fully visible, but it was beginning to take shape against the ever-darkening sky. “We should join them in their ceremony,” Riechard said.
“Did you not hear me? We cannot interrupt. If we do, it will not matter the shape of the moon.”
“Well what shape does the moon have to be for us to pass?”
“That depends on what has been assigned to it. There will be a priestess with the Earl who will tell him her visions and forecast the months to come.”
“Then let us change the vision.”
“What are you talking about?” Hilde quizzed him.
“I do not know about you, but I don’t think any of us want to leave this opportunity up to chance. I need to get south. We will not interrupt their ceremony, but we will stand and face them. We will not provoke them. Nor will we antagonise them. We will stand by respectfully. Let them chant, and whilst they do, let them gaze at the almighty force of our four-thousand men. Let them watch what might befall them should the shape of the moon fail them. Perhaps fortune will favour us.”
The chanting became hypnotic as Riechard’s army descended from the hills. Looking up towards the stars, the translucent moon slowly opacified as the dusk sky blackened from its twilight hue. The air was chilling, and Riechard knew that they would either camp here or die here on this night. There were no alternatives. As his horse carefully navigated the unfamiliar terrain of soft snow and hard earth, he looked over to Dawnmount. Calling it a city was generous. It was a large town, of equal size, he thought, to Steelmont where he grew up.
Its significance was in its history. The Northern Earldoms of The Hartlands were a peculiar region. A place where vampires were said to roam freely and mingle with the people. Where they were protected and even honoured. Though there had been nothing to substantiate these claims, he had heard that many southerners avoided travelling to these Earldoms for this very reason, fearful that they would one day wake up to find themselves deathly white and hungry for the blood of their own people. Riechard did not believe such silliness, though he would be hard-pressed to explain why he felt a shudder down his spine the closer he walked towards the city.
Riechard and Hilde were the first to reach the bottom of the hill, where the opposing army craned their necks towards the moon. Not a single man or woman within that force looked towards them. They were focused on their ritual. Their lips moved with an unnerving symmetry, their voices danced in the icy air and the last of the remaining specks of light shone on their warm breath met it. Before long, their army was behind them. As Riechard had instructed, there was not a single shout or provocation. The message had been received loud and clear by each of the four-thousand men. All that could be heard was the clanking of metal, the shuffling of boots and the whinnies of horses. But not a single one spoke a word.
Whilst some of their men gazed up at the moon, Riechard and the leaders stood defiant. Assured that the shape of the moon was of no consequence of them. If it was favourable, then they would pass. If not, then they would fight, and then pass. Riechard no longer felt the pain in his face. This is what he was made for. He was made to fight. To finally use his sword to progress the interests of his Kingdom. To lead, not from a throne, but from the front line of battle, with an army at his back and his sword at his side. He felt Salman’s eyes on him, and he wanted desperately to look back at him, to acknowledge his acknowledgement. But he did not. Riechard’s gaze was fixed on his path. This was not the road he would die on. He felt it in his bones.
Then, halfway through a chant, they stopped. A sickening silence seemed to grip the entirety of the earth in that one moment. Riechard’s fingers itched and he hovered his hand over the hilt of his sword. The gaze of the army slowly panned down towards Riechard and his soldiers. From the town, a horn was blown. Once. Then there was a pause as the Dawnmount soldiers stood to attention. Then it was blown again. All that he heard next was Karlon’s voice roar, that reached the last line of army behind them. He felt a rumble beneath his feet and Riechard drew his sword. He felt his pupils dilate, as if he had just swallowed a bolt of lightning. All of his muscles twitched as his heart pounded inside his chest. He was charging forward, as others ran past him from the opposite side.
It was like a dream. As if he was not the one in control of his body. He hacked away at any flesh that he saw before him from his horse. He looked up to see a familiar face, but they were all merged into one. All that separated his men from Dawnmount’s was those that attacked him and those that did not. Then he noticed that he was not alone. Sir Gavon and Sir William were by his side, thrusting their swords at anyone who got close to him. Riechard stood at their backs, so that they stood in a triangle. Riechard had expected to be parrying swords and navigating armour, but his steel cut through wooden pitchforks and his sword found its way easily through boiled leather and into the soft flesh of his enemies.
He danced elegantly through bodies that were no more than the sacks of flour he practiced on in the courtyard. Though now he fought without a blunted blade. It was sharper, and what came out of these sacks was wet, and they screamed in agony as he pulled out his sword. It felt like only moments had passed, but his arms were sore and his legs were tired. He looked around him, and it was a massacre. There were only Ismann and Blacklanders standing. In large groups, they surrounded men and forced the ones with expensive armour to surrender whilst picking off every other man that came close to them. He looked towards the gates of the city, and there were men pounding on them to let them back in. Then he saw, arched around them in a semicircle, were Hilde, Salman and their warriors, holding them to the doors with the points of their swords.
The horn blew again. This sound caused an eruption of cheers. It was the sound of surrender. It was the sound of victory. As Riechard looked up towards the sky, he saw the moon. How beautiful it was sat against complete darkness. He had never seen anything quite like it. The moon was full and clear, but a shade he had never seen before. He had heard of the Blood Moon, but had never seen it for himself. He smiled and could not help but laugh. What an omen it was. An omen that no doubt would have inspired any army to believe that they should fight. That the Gods were on their side. Riechard turned back to the city and watched as the force of his army crushed the remaining soldiers against the gate until the sheer weight of the thousands of soldiers broke down the weak wooden barriers. They spread like fire around the town, bursting into houses, putting their swords into whoever they could see.
Riechard stayed by the gates. There was nowhere else he wanted to be. The moment he walked into the city, the moment the spell of battle would be lifted. Then, it would be the next step. He wanted to wait. He wanted to savour the aches and pains that he felt in his body, the sweat in his hair and the blood on his hands. He knelt down pushed both of his palms into the snow. When he pulled them up, he saw Karlon standing before him with his hand extended. The General pulled the Prince to his feet by his forearm. Then turned away towards the burning city as Riechard basked in the flames and the light of the Blood Moon.