A chance meeting between a prince and a peasant results in consequences that will not only change their lives, but also the kingdom.

Cover by Zillah Designs.


22. Chapter Twenty Two: Khyber


      Preparations were underway for Abelard’s wedding. He had been found drunk in a tavern a few days after he had stormed out of the palace. Now, a week later, he spent most of his time taking his anger out on the targets at the archery range, or on the swords master.

      “Why do you leave the palace so much?”

      Glancing up from where I was sat beside the fireplace in the library, I saw Leanda hovering nearby eating some candy.

      “I like the fresh air.” I replied, returning to my book.

      “It’s cold outside. Anyway, surely the air at the palace is fresher that the air in the upper town which is nearer to all those revolting peasants.” Leanda crinkled her nose in disgust and popped another piece of candy into her mouth.

      Angry at her words I muttered. “You’re looking a bit chubby maybe you shouldn’t eat so much.”

      Leanda cried out in outrage and hit me on the arm. “Don’t be so mean, that’s Abelard’s job. You know, you’ve been acting different recently.”

      Ignoring her I concentrated on my book but Leanda pulled it from my grasp and threw it on the floor.

      “What?” I demanded in exasperation.

      With a sniff she stood up. “You’re no fun. I hope that Abelard’s fiancée is more entertaining than you, though that wouldn’t be hard.” Leanda span on her heel, making her skirts flutter, and glided out of the room.  

      I rubbed my temples and retrieved the book. Then deciding that I should leave the palace in case Leanda wanted to pester me again, I found Orien and we went to the warehouse in the lower town. Where the warehouse used to stand was a pile of smoking rubble and ashes.

      “What in the name of the Goddess happened here?” I gasped frozen in place.

      Had everyone perished in the fire? Had Samera? Filled with fear I ran into the ruins. There was someone searching the ashes nearby.

      “Samera?” I called my voice hopeful. Moving towards them I saw that it was indeed Samera. I felt overwhelmed with relief.

      Her face was stained with soot and tears. “I can’t find them.” she whispered, her hands hurling rubble away.

      “Who?” I asked, kneeling down beside her. “What happened?” Samera’s hands were bleeding and I grabbed them to stop her from hurting herself anymore. “Samera, where is everyone?”

      “You have to help me find them.” she begged, her blue eyes wild. “Chia and Birna, they have to be here somewhere.”

      Not for the first time I was amazed at how much Samera’s speech had improved over the past week. The only sign that she hadn’t fully recovered yet was the slower pace at which she spoke.

      “Of course I will help you, but you need to tell me what happened.”

      Orien started searching the ruins.

      Trembling Samera said. “They came in the middle of the night. They stole the supplies and then they set the building on fire. We tried to get everyone out but... you have to help me find them.” she was clutching at my hands looking so exhausted that she might pass out at any second.  

      “They didn’t try to hurt you did they?” I asked, refraining from the urge to wipe the black from her cheeks. Samera shook her head and I sighed in relief. “Did you recognise them?” she nodded, her lips pressed tightly together. “Was it Kale’s men?” at her nod I cursed under my breath. I don’t think I’ve ever hated someone as much as I did Kale.

      “Khyber,” Orien shouted from the other side of the ruins.

      Helping Samera to her feet I guided her through the rubble to where Orien was stood. As we neared him I saw that he was crying. I tried to block Samera but she ducked my arm.

      “No!” she yelled falling to the ground beside the disfigured bodies of Chia and Birna. Samera clutched her head in her hands as sobs racked through her.

      I placed a hand on her back and stooped down next to her. I wanted to console her but I didn’t know how. Turning to me Samera rested her head on my chest. I wrapped my arms around her and held her as she grieved. Beside me, Orien was muttering a prayer to the Goddess for the poor children. 

      Once she had calmed down Samera took us to Kushla’s house, which was where most of the survivors had gone. Every available space was taken up by people covered in burns or coughing from inhaling too much smoke. Samera went and found Chia and Birna’s mother to tell her the bad news.

      Myra was nearby so I asked her. “Is there anything you need? Food? Water? Clothes?”

      She smiled at me gratefully. “Some bandages would be useful, your highness.”

      “How many people died?”

      Myra’s eyes were full of heartbreak. “Nearly everyone, your highness; out of the hundreds that were in the warehouse only forty survived, and more are dying because of burns and smoke inhalation.”

      My hands clenched into fists. “Kale will pay for what he’s done, I swear to you.”

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