The band played a romantic Veretian song as lovers danced along the ballroom floor. The people of Vere danced and ate and drank and sang, all to give the crown prince a proper send off. In a week, Prince Auguste would be traveling to Patras to begin their alliance with Vere. He would be marrying the King’s oldest daughter, who he had only spoken to through letters. King Aleron wanted to give his son a proper goodbye, for no one knew when the crown prince would be returning.
Candlelight lit the room with a soft, warm glow. Prince Laurent, a boy only ten years young, danced with mother as she gently sung along to the music. He smiled up at her, blue eyes shining in the lights. Hennike took her son in her arms and kissed his cheek, holding him close as she continued to sing. Aleron walked over to his wife and son and ruffled Laurent’s hair, taking his wife into his arms.
“Why don’t you go see your brother?” he said, kissing Hennike’s cheek. “He has a gift for you.” Laurent nodded and ran over to the throne where he jumped into Auguste’s arms. Auguste held him close and sat back down in the throne, sitting Laurent in his lap.
“I have something for you to remember me by,” he whispered, reaching into his pocket.
“Do you have to go to Patras?” Laurent whined, burying his face in his brother’s shoulder. “I want to go with you.”
“Look at me, little rabbit.” The young prince looked up at Auguste who gently cupped his cheek and smiled down at him. “I need you to stay here in my place to watch over Vere and keep her safe. It will be your duty to make sure that peace remains in the kingdom. Can you do that for me?”
“I think so.” Auguste pressed something into Laurent’s smaller hand.
“I want you to have this.” It was Auguste’s pocket watch. He never let it leave his side. “To count the hours until you see me again.” Laurent held it close to his heart and, wrapping his free arm around Auguste’s neck.
“I’m going to miss you.” Auguste hugged him back, kissing the top of his head.
“I’m going to miss you too, little brother, but don’t worry.” The crown prince lifted his brother’s head and smiled. “When I come back, I’ll have a niece or nephew for you to meet. And I promise that I’ll write to you everyday.” Auguste lifted his necklace from around his neck and let it fall around Laurent’s. It was his sapphire; the one that had been given to him at birth. “And this, my little rabbit, will keep you safe when I cannot. If you’re ever scared or alone, just look down at this jewel and remember that I will always protect you.” He carefully brushed Laurent’s bangs out of his face and smiled.
“I want to give you something too.” The prince climbed off of his brother’s lap and ran to his room, Auguste laughing as he did. He dug through his most treasured belongings until he pulled out a scarf that had been given to him. It was a pale blue knitted with gold thread and made with a soft material. It had been a gift from the country’s most famous cloth merchant to welcome the second prince into the world. The royal family’s crested was stitched into each side. Above the crest was Laurent’s initials. He bundled the cloth in his arms and ran back to the ballroom, almost running into several servants as he ran by. Women giggled as he passed, whispering about the young prince and his antics. Laurent climbed back into his brother’s lap and wrapped the scarf around Auguste’s neck. Auguste traced the stitching with his fingers, his eyes wide open. “Now you won’t forget about me.”
“Oh, Laurent, I would never-” The crown prince was cut off by the band stopping the music and the candlelight going out without warning, as if a windstorm had seeked shelter in the ballroom. The bright, warm energy that had been in the room was gone, being replaced with a cold fear. Auguste wrapped one arm around around Laurent as he stood and gripped the hilt of his sword, prepared for an attack. Laurent dug his nails into the laces of Auguste’s vest, sneaking glances when he could. Auguste pressed Laurent’s face into his shoulder to keep him from seeing what was happening.
The wide ballroom doors swung open, sending a cold gust of wind into the room. Auguste held onto Laurent tighter, prepared to take his brother and run if needed. Heavy footsteps filled the ears of everyone in the room, causing everyone, save for the king and his soldiers, to shrink back in fear.
“Brother,” an ice cold voice called out. “Such festivities that I was not invited to. Am I not allowed to see my nephew off before he travels to Patras?”
“Reymond,” Aleron said, his voice tight and commanding. He gripped his sword like Auguste had been doing, prepared to use it if necessary. “You were banished from this land long ago.”
“I am your brother, Aleron, and I will not be treated this way.”
“Then you leave me no choice. Guards! Arrest-” Before Aleron could finish, Reymond thrusted his hand forward, sending a large ball of fire towards the wall and setting one of the banners ablaze.
“You were always father’s favorite. You were always going to be king. That will be no more. I will no longer be made a fool of by the likes of you. Say goodbye to your kingdom, brother, because this will be the last time you see it in peace and prosperity. I will not rest until the entire royal family is dead!” The windows in the room shattered as he yelled. Auguste covered Laurent’s body with his own. Reymond let out a laugh at the Veretians cowering before him before turning on his heel and walking out of the room, filling the room with silence. There was still a faint smell of smoke from the banner where embers were still falling to the floor.
“Your Majesty!” The captain of the royal guard yelled. “Should we go after him?”
“No,” Aleron said with a shake of his head. “Take my sons to their rooms. Auguste, we will wait to send you off. I don’t want to risk your life.”
“Of course, father,” Auguste answered. He picked up Laurent, who was still clinging onto him. “I’m going to take Laurent to bed.”
Whispers spread though the streets of Vere about the Regent’s threat. Aleron had his guards on constant alert should his brother make an appearance himself. Auguste stayed by Laurent’s side as much as he could to keep him safe. If Auguste couldn’t watch over him, two guards were put outside of Laurent’s room until he could return.
The royal family feared their fate. It had been five years since the king’s brother had been banished. Aleron had always trusted his younger brother, but when he had learned about Reymond’s involvement in the dark arts, he had no choice. During a council meeting, Reymond had suggested cursing the king of Akielos with a deadly illness and Aleron banished him to Vask with an order never to return to Vere again. He hoped that his brother would stay in Vask, but there was always something that told him that his brother would return. And now that he had, Aleron feared for the lives of his wife and sons.
The uprising happened before the royal family could prepare to escape. Soldiers were slaughtered by the townspeople and the doors to the palace were broken down. Rooms were set ablaze and King Aleron was decapitated only moments before his wife shared his fate. Laurent ran to his rooms as servants pushed past each other to escape the fire and the slaughtering. Yells from the rioting townspeople could faintly be heard as they echoed through the halls. The prince ran into his rooms and dug through his drawers until he found Auguste’s necklace and pocketwatch. Auguste ran in just as he shoved the watch into his pocket.
“Laurent, we have to go now!” Auguste picked up his brother and began running through the halls, shielding Laurent’s eyes from the destruction that surrounded them.
“Your Highness!” the captain yelled. “Over here!” A loud scream of pain soon followed. Laurent buried his face in the scarf around Auguste’s neck. Auguste continued running, slamming his shoulder against a door to open it. The cold hit Laurent before he could prepare for it. He shivered, causing Auguste to pull him closer as he ran. They reached an icy path, the only safe way to escape if they wanted to survive. Auguste suddenly fell, sending both of the brothers to the icy floor. Their uncle stood above them, his bloodied sword dripping crimson onto the ice and snow. Laurent looked over to his brother who was gripping his side. His vest was stained with blood.
“Did you two really believe that you were going to get away?” Their uncle laughed and pointed his sword in Laurent’s direction. “Perhaps I should kill the younger prince first and see what the crown prince does.” As the Regent pulled his weapon back, he let out a cry of his own before falling to his knees. The captain of the guard stood above him, one eye squeezed shut and bleeding.
“Your Highness,” Jord said, helping Auguste to his feet before bowing lightly. “Are you alright?”
“I should ask the same of you,” Auguste responded, picking Laurent back up. “We need to get to Patras. Hurry.” The three of them ran to the train station, immediately finding themselves in a crowd of people trying to escape themselves.Veretians pushed past them without realizing who they were. The last train to Patras was leaving, causing them to quicken their pace. Jord jumped onto the back of the train, reaching out to Auguste. The crown prince grabbed his hand and started to pull himself up, holding Laurent close to chest. Someone roughly shoved Auguste, causing his grip on Laurent to loosen. Before the prince could grab him, Laurent had fallen to the platform below. His head connected with the base of a nearby lamp. He could faintly hear Auguste call his name as he fainted, Veretians still trampling each other above him.