Fairytale for the lonely heart, chapter 100

Helen gripped Castor’s shoulder, “are you alright? You seem upset.” Helen held the horses reins as she lead the party to the edge of Pyropolis. It was still dark when they left that morning but they had walked slowly and now the sun was high in the sky. A beautiful sunny like today would be a blessing to most countries but most countries were not mostly desert and hot air.

“I am fine,” muttered Castor, “it is just that… I guess I failed right? I couldn’t bring a flower back. I was so close.. but then Pollux got in the way.”

“You don’t really think THAT is what he intended?”

“What else am I suppose to think?” grumbled Castor. He kicked a stone on the ground which rolled a foot away. Anneli held Castor’s hand tighter than usual.

“It could be worse,” replied Helen.

“It can always be worse, it doesn’t make me feel any better udade.”

“Have faith,” replied Helen and slapped Castor on the back. It stung more than she intended. Castor’s wounds besides his cracked rib had already healed but he was still sore. “Wait for me here,” instructed Helen, “I’ll see about getting some camels.”

Castor leaned against a tall fence which enclosed around a group of horses and llamas. Helen entered a small stone building, with a wooden sign above the door proclaiming ‘CAMELS AND HORSES FOR TRADE, SALE AND RENTING’ in three languages. The air was dense with the musty pungent smell of wet sweaty fur and animal refuse. Disgruntled horses neighed and kicked in their overcrowded and overheated lodgings. A camel in the fenced plot in front of Castor stared at him for an extended minute silently judging him while it chew cud.

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Chapter 71 reveals secrets

“What are you doing here Helen?”

Helen had just returned to her room from the bath wearing a blue Kaftan with white embroidery at the borders. Pollux was pacing up and down in her room, fuming.

“Do you think you can just strut back here after what happened last time? You need to at least tell us before hand! Father is still furious about what happened then, he even threatened to disown you if you came back.”

“Calm down brother, he won’t disown me. Those were all empty threats.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I came back for Castor’s funeral. Even if you don’t have his body there will still be a ceremony won’t there?”

Pollux froze. His voice quivered as if he were confronted by the ghost of someone he had betrayed. “How did you know?”

“I got a letter from father.”

“Father still keeps in contact with you?”

“No, it was the first time since I left the last time. I was really shocked, I thought he would be the last person to send a letter about Castor’s death.”

Pollux rubbed his mouth as he did when he was stressed.

“Brother,” spoke Helen in an uncharacteristic soft voice, “did father have Castor killed?” Pollux did not reply. He looked back at Helen with a painful expression, full of guilt.

“I suspected as much,” murmured Helen regretfully.

“Right now, the situation is quite delicate. No one outside the court knows of his death and we cannot let the news spread. After what happened, no one doubts brother’s death was father doing. Yet if any of the other kingdoms and domains find out about his filicide they won’t hesitate to make a fuss. This desert has-”

“What happened? You said ‘after what happened’. What happened?”

“A few weeks ago, the royal fortune teller said the gods wanted Castor to be king,” explained Pollux.

“What! No one believes in that any more! It is just a tradition!”

“The people of this kingdom believe in the tradition. They want to believe it is the will of the gods. They want to be in the favor of the gods. This desert has been on the verge of war for the past few months. War will break out soon and we don’t have a large enough army. We will have to conscript citizens and what do you think will happen if they know that their king was not chosen by the gods.”

“They will think the war is divine punishment,” replied Helen.

“At best they will be resentful and worst they will revolt.”

“But still killing brother is not right. He did not even want to be king.”

“I know.” Castor was exhausted every single moment in the palace had been tense and stressful since the news of Castor’s death had arrived. “It was incredibly short sited of father. He is now trying to pretend Castor never existed. There is not even going to be a funeral, father wants to give him a plaque with the fallen soldiers’ graves.”

“Father is such a monster.”

“But, there is a chance Castor might still be alive.”

“How?”

“You see, there is something not right with the details of Castor’s death. There is still a sliver of a chance he survived.”

“Oh no!” said Helen, he eyes widening with fear.

“Why? It is good news!”

“No! It is amazing that brother might still be alive but-” Helen’s voice became weaker.

“But,” she continued, ” mother is coming.”

“Why would mother be coming here?” exclaimed Polloux.

“I told her of Castor’s death, of course she is coming here. He was her favorite son after all.”

 

Chapter 51 describes turmoil

Despite their doubts and frustrations the traders and their cargo safely arrived at the oasis a few days late. ‘We had trouble gathering supplies’ ‘we got lost along the way’ ‘our horses got sick’ claimed the traders trying to justify their lateness. Fortunately the leader of the scouts had other things on their mind and only replied to the excuses with an icy glared. Once everything had been settled Helen began to pack her things and ready a camel for the trek across the desert. The chief of the oasis met Helen as she was giving detailed instructions to the stable hand on how to correctly care for her horse. She was surprised to see him as the chief despised the scorching afternoon sun and preferred to stay in the tents until evening. As he approached her she saw the crumbs on his beard and smelled the thick smoke that clung to his clothing but made no acknowledgement of him nor his appearance.

“when are you leaving Helen?”

“Soon, I should at least go back for my brother’s funeral.”

“Before you go, there is something I need to tell you.”

“well what is it?” demanded Helen. She was always very abrupt with everyone and was often very rude to people she liked and trusted and to people she disliked.

“I know you do not want to involve yourself in the politics of your kingdom but I would advice you to tell your father and the court to keep your brother’s death a secret for as long as possible. Any weakness and instability will make your kingdom a target.”

“And why is that?”

“The kingdoms surrounding the desert are rather volatile at the moment. In the Habi to the south the aging king has yet to choose an heir from his sons and they are all itching to spread their country borders or to start a war to prove themselves. The sunken city east of Apophis has been eyeing the oasis and has been expanding their military. If they control the oasis they control trade and travel in the desert. I have no intention of picking sides or making enemies. As long as you can maintain the facade of a strong leadership Habi and the sunken city will not risk starting a war soon. But war is imminent, maybe not now but in a year or two surely.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“This oasis cannot handle another war. We need more time and unfortunately it was Castor that was the likable, trusted diplomat, if he is gone your proud brother and stubborn father will not hesitate to jump into battle.”

“I have no intention of taking my brother’s place.”

“Please Helen. You are the only one who can stop it now. The people of the oasis need you, I need you.”

Chapter 50 on moving forward

That night Anneli and Castor sat by the fire; Anneli watched the crackling fire mesmerized by the dancing orange flames. “How come you are not afraid of me?” asked Anneli. Anneli was tempted to reach he hand into the flames but knew it would burn him so he did not try.

“Considering how the people here reach to you I am not surprised you think that. But where I am from it is no strange to see monsters and demons like you around. Many people keep demons a pets or helpers in my country.”

“Where are you from?” The words seemed to slip out of Anneli’s lips unconsciously as he was almost hypnotized by the snapping of the fire wood and heat that emanated.

“Well in my country where the river meets the ocean is my city. The way the land curls by the sea creates a harbor. In the ancient times Pyropolis was a giant temple city to worship the fire goddess but now it is just a port city. There isn’t anything much beyond the city, it is just the desert which spreads for miles and miles beyond the horizon.”

“Are you going to go back there? After you get your rose…”

“Yes, but I doubt I will stay there.”

“How come?”

“I’m not really very welcome in my country anymore, after I finish my task I will probably leave and never go back.”

“How come?” Anneli was prodding a sensitive topic with a iron rod. Castor did not want to answer honestly but Anneli knew nothing about his past anyway.

“My father is very disappointed in me and my brother prefers if I never existed. There is nothing for me there anymore.” Castor glanced at Anneli who was still looking into the fire, “I will still take you to the desert don’t worry.”

Anneli leaned against Castor’s shoulder. “You know Anneli,” began Castor, “I don’t know what you are planning on finding in the desert, there is honestly nothing there but sand and scorching heat.”

“There is nothing for me here either so it doesn’t really matter,” replied Anneli.

“What if you don’t find it?” Castor began to fiddle with his knife.

“I don’t know, but if what I was told is true I want to go find someone to love even if it is impossible.”

“What if you do find it in the desert?”

“Then there won’t be a reason to leave, if I can be someone I love and who loves me.”

Castor wanted to say that he does not need to go to the desert do that, but he did not say a word.

Chapter 42 is a warning 

Deep within the desert is a large and luscious oasis. The city around the oasis has in recent years grown large and wealthy with the travel of traders through the desert. 

The scouts returned to the oasis by mid afternoon having not met any lost travellers or foreign troops. 

“Open the gates!” shouted one of the guards as the scouts came from beyond the dunes. The heavy iron gates opened just as they came galloping in. One of the stable hands ran up to the leader of the scouts. 

“I can take my horse to the stable myself,” said the leader. Their face and body were covered in thin white robes to protect them from the sand and Sun. Only their eyes which glared at the stable hand were not covered. 

“The chief wants to see you. He said it was urgent.” The leader of the scouts unhappily got down from their horse. 

“He needs water, at least two buckets,” instructed the leader of the scouts. The stable hand nodded. “And you need to brush him and cover him in a blanket.” The stable hand continued to nod. “He also needs-” 

“Yes, yes, I know. You need to go quickly the cheif does not like to be kept waiting.” 

The leader of the scouts took their bags off the horse and stormed off towards the direction of the cheif’s tent. Throwing open the fabric door of the tent the leader of the scouts walked up to the cheif of the settlement who was smoking cardamom flavoured smoke. 

The cheif exhaled a puff of smoke and chuckled to himself,”Ah- Helen you look as unpleasant as always.”

“I am in no mood to put up with your frivolous errands. The suppliers were supposed to arrive yesterday and are still no where in sight. The local bandits have become more idiotic and bolder and even attacked one of my men. If they intercepted the traders we will be in trouble and we will soon run low of flour and dried-” 

“Yes, yes, I know Helen. I am worried too but all we can do now is be patient and wait.” 

Helen was tired and in no mood to entertain the cheif. “Then why did you summon me sir?” She was fumming at the ears and spitting venom. 

“You received a letter from your father.” The cheif picked up the folded piece of paper for Helen to take. She did not take a step or lift a finger. 

“What does it say?” asked Helen impatiently. 

“Well it is a private letter.” 

Helen laughed sarcastically, “Ha- like privacy ever stops you, stop kidding I know you’ve already read it. What does it say?” 

The cheif was silent for a moment. It was not news he wanted to convey to Helen himself. 

“Your brother died last week.”

“Which brother?” 

“The second prince Castor.”

“Well my father must be happy,” replied Helen. Her voice was softer and choking as she was trying to hold back tears. 

“It may be best for you to return home for th time being.” 

“Now is not the time!” shouted Helen, more angry than usual, “I’ll wait until everything is settled here and the traders arrive with the supplies.” 

“Alright.” replied the cheif knowing she must be very upset. 

“I need to send a reply to my father and brother Pollux. I will bring the letters this evening please ensure it gets sent quickly.”

“Yes, of course.” 

Helen left the tent as tears began to fall like an unstoppable river. The cheif resumed smoking as he read over the letter. 

He exhaled a puff of flavoured smoke and said to himself, ” a time of turmoil is upon us.” 

Chapter 31 suggests an uncertain future 

Ten days after Prince Castor had set off on his quest a message arrived at the Kingdom from a navy ship near foreign shores. 

There was a terrible storm near the coast of the northern land. The boat the prince was on was destroyed. Most of the crew survived, the prince did not.

It was a great tragedy. The prince’s death was mourned. Yet soon everyone moved on and carried on with their lives. 

“What brings you here?” demands the king seated on his jeweled throne on a steady carpeted platform. 

On either side of the king was the king’s advisor and prince Polloux on lower seats. 

“It is very rare that I come to see you unannounced and unsummoned,” said the royal fortune teller.

“Yes, what business do you have with me right now? I am very busy.” said the king in a loud booming voice. 

“I heard news of the Prince’s death.”

“Yes…” the king tried his best to hide his guilt behind a monotone response and an emotionless face. The king had learnt the best way to keep a secret was to talk about it as little as possible. 

“That news is wrong. Prince Castor is alive.” said the Royal fortune teller. The king burst out laughing. Prince Polloux found his father’s actions cruel and disrespectful. The minister read the unfurled scroll in silence. 

“The gods have said-”

“THE GODS ARE WRONG!”shouted the king. “They were wrong when they said Castor would be king and they are wrong now! My son is dead!” 

“The gods are never wrong!” The fortune teller shouted back. “Their decrees are often vague or misinterpreted but this time it is very clear! Prince Castor is not dead no matter how much you try to erase him.”

The king for once was silent. He was stunned at the behaviour of the calm and dignified fortune teller.

“And for the record… I never said Prince Castor would be king. I said he should be king. And if he is dead like you truly wish him to be there will only be greater tragedy that will befall this country.” 

The fortune teller turned on his heels and walked to leave. At the door the fortune teller rapidly turned back to shout one more remark at the king. “There are worse things in this world than a child who is abnormal!” 

The fortune teller than stormed out. The king slumped in his throne his mind heavy in thought. The Prince and minister watched him quietly. The guard in the room was very excited to tell his colleagues about what he had just witnessed.