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Empty Halls

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In the end, Goleeta was surprised to find that she did not relish her victory. She had always thought that with Tormack gone, and the Sacred Shield and the throne of Dindal restored to their rightful owner, that the rest would take care of itself. That the people of Dindal would return and soon her kingdom would be just as it had been.

She had been wrong.

It was days since Galtar and his Golden Lance had brought Tormack down for good. For days now, Goleeta had sat upon her father's throne as Queen of Dindal. But she ruled a kingdom of ghosts.
Galtar said it would take time for word to reach her people, and even more time before they could return to their homeland. His voice was gentle and strong when he told her these things. He never doubted, not for a moment. And Zorn was relentlessly encouraging to his big sister, disconcerted at seeing her falter for the first time in his life.

Goleeta knew they were right and tried to take heart from their certainty. She knew it would take time. All she needed to do now was be patient.

But sometimes, especially as the days edged toward twilight, she thought that the castle must be haunted. There must be some reason that the people of Dindal had not returned. The thought that her people may have found new homes elsewhere and might never return to Dindal ate at her constantly, but most especially at night.

Maybe her efforts to reclaim her throne and her destiny had been nothing but the silly determinations of a princess without a clue. Maybe no one cared what became of her or the kingdom that had been her childhood home and her birthright. Maybe it had all been for nothing.

It was easier by day, as she worked alongside her companions to remove Tormack's taint from the castle. With her body busy, her mind could rest. For Galtar and Zorn, she could force good humor and put on a brave face.

But in the gloom of dusk, when she wandered alone through old familiar halls, she was painfully aware of how the castle walls loomed like so much stone and the chambers languished empty, devoid of life. Gone were the warriors, the advisers, the servants, the men and women and children who had made Dindal what it was. Thork was the only animal in the stable. There were no supplies of food stored within the castle. Soon they would face the necessity of abandoning the castle to search for food. It was an unpleasant prospect, too much like admitting defeat.

Dindal was hers once more, but the victory felt more false with each passing day. This had been her dream for so long, but the reality was more like a nightmare.

She'd thought the hard part would be over when Tormack fell and she took back what he'd stolen. She'd been wrong about that, too. It was only just beginning.