Chapter Five

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The sun crept over the horizon as Seros, or Kareth, or whatever his name really was, dropped off of his horse and stroked its snout. They had raced away from the town of Haxely, never pausing for a break, pushing their mounts until they were lathered and braying. Selene had held her tongue and followed the mysterious man the entire night, knowing that their horses were one misstep away from sending them both plunging to the ground in pain and possible death. Thoughts raced through her mind about this man that claimed to be the Lost Prince. Could it be true? she thought to herself.

Stories rarely spoke of what their hero looked like, at least not in a manner that truly depicted them. It was said that Kareth was handsome, that his face could have been carved by the hands of the gods themselves. Which made sense, for beauty goes hand in hand with power, and the gods knew this best of all. People also said that he was fearless in ways unnatural to the men of the Vint. Fueled by rage and fury and hate, he brought the hopes of peace and freedom to an empire that was anything but. She pondered, realizing that she had so many questions to ask him, but absolutely no idea where to begin.

“We will let the horses graze for an hour, and then be off again,” he said as he swung his shoulder pack off of his arm and onto the ground. “We will not be tracked until at least midday, I would think. Their scattered horses should see to that.” He smiled at her an easy smile; a kind smile.

She looked at him for a long moment, questions settling at the tip of her tongue, but unwilling, unable, to leap off.

“I am sorry that I lied to you, Selene, but these days it becomes harder to tell friends from foes. The King’s treasury is vast, and gold shapes the minds of even the most disciplined and honorable men.” He paused, "and women," he added with a smile.

 Selene nodded and dropped off of her mare. “You are him then? You are Kareth?”

He chuckled at that. “That is an old name, but aye, it is one of my many.”

Conflict grew inside of her about whether or not she should feel excitement or fear at the sight of this man, this hero; this nightmare named Kareth. “I must admit, I never fancied a meeting with a real prince, lost or not.”

“I am a prince, I suppose, but not like any you were like to meet. This kingdom is rotten, its people full of piss and wind, and its lords and knights black to the bone. In that regard, I am no more a prince than you are. In Panthos, however, it was different. Your Silent King hated us for it, but he knew how dangerous the free folk could be. Bend the knee they did, but bend it out of respect and honor, not fear and greed. That is how the people of Panthos differed from these humble crows here in the north.”

Her mare joined the other horse to graze as Kareth sat beneath a small tree. He pulled out the dirk he had used in the inn and cleaned it off before he began sharpening it.

“Sit child. I know you must have questions.”

She sat there for a long moment watching him run a wet stone up his dagger before speaking. “Why did you help me? Certainly you have troubles of your own. Why add a stupid slummard girl to your worries?”

He stopped sharpening for a moment and tilted his head to the side. “Is the world such that a man cannot simply help one in need without another motive?” He chuckled under his breath. “To be honest, child, I watched you the entire night. I was in the inn. Though, no doubt you did not notice. You had your hands full with the Butcher and his men. You are a rare breed, and I could see it. Scared, simple, and completely unaware, but a rare breed nonetheless. You also possess courage, and the ability to adapt, which are two traits that I find exceedingly important for one’s survival. I spoke to that Grest about you, terrible fellow by the way, and not at all helpful, but he did end up assisting.”

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