Harudan ran a hand through his hair, tempted to pull out the thick strands. He paced in front of his desk, letting out little grunts of irritation every few seconds. His pet drake, Ignis, was nowhere to be seen and was instead replaced by Sir Jonin, who stood next to the door in silence. The knight hadn’t said much of anything since the Princess had escaped.
“That monk,” he spat. “What was his name?” But Jonin only shook his head. He sighed as he pulled off his helmet, his first noise in hours. He pushed his short brown hair from his eyes and dropped the helmet on the desk. If it were anyone else, Harudan would have yelled at him to put it elsewhere.
From one of the drawers, Harudan pulled a thin band and used it to tie up his thick hair. The monk, whatever his name had been, had arrived at the same time as the Princess. They’d travelled together, according to her. That would have given them plenty of time to organise something.
But they shouldn’t have known that he’d been planning anything. He’d been careful not to alert the Princess of anything. The only people that had known what was going to happen were his Guard and he’d made sure that they wouldn’t say a word. He knew they believed in what he thought. It didn’t take much convincing.
The only person that had been worried was Jonin and he’d been more worried about what was going to happen to them than anything to do with the Princess. He’d been the one who wanted to kill her after all. He’d just wanted to make sure that Brenmar was going to survive what Harudan had planned.
And it would, Harudan knew that. He was the King, he would make sure it happened. His father had been too scared to go through with his threats when he’d been King, but Harudan wasn’t. He knew what needed to be done. The only way to silence Minisia was to take them over.
He could look after the country better than the Princess or her parents. For years before the tensions arose, they’d been asking Brenmar for help. They couldn’t look after their own, but under Harudan’s rule, they would thrive. All he needed to do was take over and wipe out their monarchy. It would take a few years and a lot of deaths but in the end, it would be worth it.
The treaty had been a trap for them. He wanted to lure the King of Minisia in and kill him while his guard was down. That way the war wouldn’t last as long. But instead, the man had sent his daughter. It was better than nothing at all, but it was just the start of a failing plan.
Now, the Princess was gone, taking a young monk and Nerin with her. Nerin, who probably didn’t understand what was going on at all. He was too young, too innocent. His baby brother, ten years younger than him. Harudan hadn’t wanted him to see what was going to happen when the treaty was signed. He was too young for such atrocities.
But he’d seen them anyway, thanks to that monk. Only Sol and Lune knew where he was. He was probably terrified for his life. Harudan could only pray that he was still alive. None of the guards had found him yet. Instead, they’d found the bodies of three of his Guard, cut to pieces. One of them knew how to fight and it certainly wasn’t his brother.
He had guards out patrolling the city for them. All they’d been told was to look for an Ishini monk and an Askari girl. He could only hope that none of them figured out that they were looking for the Princess.
His original plan had failed, but already he was coming up with a backup. The guards believed they were looking for would-be assassins that had tried to kill him and had kidnapped Prince Nerin. He didn’t know how long the lie would hold up, but if it worked for the guards, it might just work for the rest of the realm.
Part of him already knew that they wouldn’t find the Princess or his brother in Ishmar. The city was a maze and the little group of runaways already had a head start. By morning, they would be gone. It was already dark, meaning that it would be harder to catch them. He would have to do more.
“Jonin,” he said and gestured for the man to come closer. “We need to send patrols outside of the city. I want one group to head down the main path for the border-”
“The border?” Jonin repeated in his gravelly voice, his first words since the failure of the treaty.
Harudan sighed. “Yes, the border. She’s the Princess of Minisia. If they make it out of Ishmar, where’s the first place she’ll try to go?”
“Exactly. I also want a party sent out to my uncle’s home,” he said. “If Nerin escapes them. He might head there.”
Jonin nodded. “But wouldn’t your uncle tell us if he goes there?” he questioned.
Harudan shrugged. “I’d rather have someone there just in case,” he explained. Jonin turned to leave, but Harudan reached out to grab his wrist. “Not so fast, Jonin, there’s something else.”
Red eyes met his. “What is it?” If it were anyone else, he would have told them off for not addressing him properly, but it was Jonin. They’d grown up together, the knight was only a couple of years older than him. It would be strange if they fell into such formalities when they were alone together.
What he wanted Jonin to do would be a hard thing to ask. “I need you to gather the dogs and the best trackers you can find,” he said, never taking his hand from Jonin’s armour covered wrist. “The Princess’s belongings are still here. There’s a chance they won’t go to the border or my uncle’s home. I need you to track them.”
Jonin was silent for a moment, his face unreadable. “Harudan, that’s a bad idea,” he said, his voice quiet.
Harudan scowled. “And why’s that?” he asked.
“You need me here. What we’ve done will start a war, you know that. You need protection,” Jonin said. Finally, Harudan loosened his grip and let the other man’s arm fall away. “I need to stay here to protect you. I’m the Captain of your Guard.”
He stood from the table and walked around until he faced the other man. “And you’re the best tracker in the country,” he replied and sighed. “Jonin, you’ve trained me how to fight. You’ve trained every single member of the guard. They can protect me if I need it, you know that.
“I will sort out everything here. There will be war, we both knew that when we came up with this plan. But it needs to happen. Minisia has threatened us for long enough, it’s time I end it. But I need the Princess dead and I need my brother back. You’re the best tracker I know. Please.”
He knew without a doubt that Jonin would agree. The man had never been able to say no to him. It would be the same even if they weren’t King and Captain of the King’s Guard. It was just how they worked.
Jonin took a step back and ran a hand through his short hair. “I’ll find him, Harudan, I promise,” he whispered, eyes downcast and watching the floor with sad interest.
He breathed out a sigh of relief and leaned back against the table. “Thank you,” he said as the door opened a crack. He smiled when Ignis bolted up to the table and chirped for pats. “How long will it take you to get everything sorted?”
“When do you want us to leave?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Then, I should be able to get the dogs and men ready by morning,” Jonin answered, reaching over to give Ignis a scratch behind the ears. The drake had been a gift from him for Harudan’s birthday a few years ago. “I’ll send the other parties out now then. Do you really think we’ll have to chase them all the way to the border?”
Harudan shrugged and shook his head. “I have no idea. I hope not. You’ll be faster than a group of kids anyway. You should be able to catch them quickly.” Just a group of kids ready and willing to kill if need be. Three people were already dead at their hands. He didn’t want Nerin to be a fourth, but he couldn’t even guarantee that his brother was still alive.
Jonin sighed and rested a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll bring him back alive, Harudan, I promise,” he said. A small smile pulled at his thin lips, a rare sight. If it was possible, Jonin would bring his brother back alive. The man never broke his promises. After all their years together, Jonin had never once broken a promise he’d made to him.
Harudan patted the hand on his shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispered.
They were silent for a while, content with each other’s company. A lot of the time, they didn’t need to speak. They could just sit in silence and be comfortable. For the first time in a long time, it was not the most comfortable of silences. Dreadful thoughts weighed on Harudan and he knew they weighed on Jonin too.
The knight was the first to break it. “What are you going to do about the war, Harudan?” he asked and moved his hand back down to his side. “You’re going to need more advisors, someone who knows what it’s like on the battlefield. You need to be able to convince the other nobles to join you-”
“I already have most of them. There’s just a few more I need to bring to my side. I don’t want them defecting to Minisia at the wrong time,” Harudan answered. Not all of the nobles had agreed with his views on Minisia and the Askari, but they would soon. “The Princess needs to die, but I should be able to figure something out.”
He would have to tell them something. He would have to tell Minisia something too if he wanted to go to war with them. He couldn’t tell them that the Princess was dead. If he was unlucky, they would find out that it was a lie. It could be that the excuse he’d used on the guards would also work with the rest of the realm.
In the middle of signing the treaty, Princess Sharina and her guards attacked him. His own Guard was able to protect him and kill them all, but the Princess escaped. Because of this, the treaty is null and void. Instead, he will be declaring war on Minisia for the crimes they had committed.
It had been the excuse he was thinking of using when he found out the Princess was the one that would sign the treaty. It would have been so much easier to kill the King, but the made had to make it difficult for him. All Harudan had known was that he would still go through with it and that he would make something up afterwards.
The Askari deserved it. Brenmar hadn’t had the resources to look after both countries ten years ago. They may be able to keep themselves warm, but that didn’t mean they could grow enough food for everyone. They had struggled too. And the Askari had demanded to be fed as well. The only thing his father could do was say no.
It was the Askari who had taken it badly. They were the ones who had threatened war even when they weren’t able to go through with it. His father had only retaliated accordingly. And now things were finally coming to a head. His father had been too scared, but Harudan wasn’t. He would take what he wanted and make Minisia better. The country needed a ruler that didn’t make rash decisions and sacrifice food for the military.
His eyes in the country told him what it was like. Every winter, people died of starvation because the monarchy was too busy focusing on an army it wasn’t really using. That starvation and lack of money forced more and more people to join. It paid well, according to Harudan’s spies.
But they were all untrained, useless, easy to take down with his superior army. That didn’t mean that they wouldn’t put up a fight, it would just be an easy fight. He would give them a better option, be a better leader. He would make sure they were fed and safe and happy. They might not want him at first, but he would prove that he was better in every way.
“I had better get everything sorted for tomorrow,” Jonin said, pulling Harudan from his thoughts. “I know you’ll think of something, Harudan, you always do. Just tell me what you’re thinking.”
Harudan hummed in response. “Ignis knows your scent,” he said and reached down to give the drake in question a scratch. “And there’s the ravens too. Whatever I decide, you’ll know. Ignis will tell you.”
Jonin nodded, a hint of a smile on his face. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I couldn’t do anything without letting you know anyway,” Harudan said with a light laugh. He ran his fingers along the side of Jonin’s gloved hand. “Come back quickly, alright? And bring Nerin with you.”
“Of course. I will see you in the morning. We leave at dawn.” Jonin was gone a second later, leaving the room almost silent. The only sound was the quiet chirping of Ignis, who’d fallen asleep on the desk.
There was so much to sort out. Funerals would be held for the fallen guards. He would have to hire new people. Someone needed to go through the passages and map them out. He hadn’t even known they were there. Then there was the war and the nobles and getting the rest of his army ready to fight.
Some of them were still on the border, pillaging the border towns when they felt like it. It was something he or his father had ordered, but they needed to do something and the border towns were scummy enough that it didn’t matter. Neither country cared too much about them.
Knowing his luck, they would be quickly destroyed in the coming war. It wouldn’t be a good look for him, but he would be able to get past it. It would just take time and effort, like most things.
There were things he had to get sorted first. Like the Princess, who needed to die before she got back to Minisia. And, of course, Nerin, who snuck around far too much for his own good. But he was still his little brother. He didn’t deserve whatever was happening to him. He was too kind and innocent for it.
It would take some time to explain to him why he did what he did. Nerin knew the truth. He would know that the reason for the war was a lie, but all Harudan needed to do was explain it to him as carefully as possible. He was a child, and children believed everything they were told.