The Prince of Darkness
...are the essence of humanity. They give my people pride in their lineage and their country. But I loathe the tales, all of them. They are snakes trying to slither their way through my ear canal to dig their venomous fangs into my brain. Legends are the reason I am severed from the rest of the world, why I could care less about who lives and dies. They are the reason I fear myself, why everyone averts their gaze when I cross their path, why I will forever be alone.
Legend says I am to single-handedly destroy the world. The world will end in fire and ash at the hands of the second-born son of the sixth king of the second era. Sounds like horseshit, right?
“The elder priests believe Darkness and Light were the first creations of the universe. Neither friends nor enemies, Light and Darkness coexisted in harmony for countless eons. Feeling its existence hollow, Light sought purpose. In search for fulfillment, it created life. Luscious dense forests of evergreen trees, sprawling prairies, untamed beasts on land, in air, and sea. Soon, the earth was overflowing with life. But still unsatisfied with its work, Light brought man into the world. Man became Lights most beloved creation, for in man, Light could annihilate Darkness.
Darkness soon discovered what Light had done. Enraged with betrayal and envy, Darkness planned to rob Light of everything it had. Knowing Light cherished mankind more than anything, Darkness instilled corruption into the heart of man. It cursed the king of mankind with an inevitable era of darkness that would come upon them in the most unlikely of times.”
“King of mankind? That’s referring to father, isn’t it?” My younger brother Magnus says as he cozies into his grizzly-fur blanket.
“Yes, my child, it is.” My grandfather was old, very old. Most days he could not tell my brother Magnus from my cousin Leah if they stood a foot in front of his nose, and my brother Magnus looks nothing like my cousin Leah.
I can’t help but roll my eyes at Magnus. He is always trying to show off in front of the adults. “Why must you always interrupt grandfather when he’s reading us stories? Do you know how rude that is?”
“Shut your mouth, Edmund, before I come over there and…”
“…and what?” I ask, trying to lure him in for a fight. I stand, my wolf pelt falling to the hand-woven Aubusson rug, and give him a sly stare.
“Both of you be silent. Let him finish,” Aldrich, my older and favorite brother, says, tugging on my hand to bring me back down to his side. I can never deny Aldrich, he is far too gentle and wise, so I do as he wishes and wrap my shivering body back in the fur.
“More, pa, more,” Tristam, my youngest brother, says. I don’t know why he always insists on listening to this damned story. He’s nearly four, I doubt he even understands it.
As my grandfather opens his toothless mouth to speak, my mother barges into the room. The light from the fire does her a kindness, making her tired, wrinkle-festered face beautiful, filling it with life she lost after wedding my father. “What are you doing, my lord?” she says, her deep purple satins flowing elegantly as she steps further into the room. I notice her feet, she’s shoeless again. “Haven’t I asked you not to tell this tale anymore?” She lifts Tristam into her arms, cradling him as if he were still a babe.
“Lady Zara, you know I mean no harm, it is only a story meant to fill their hearts with wonder,” my grandfather says kindly, though he does not smile. Grabbing his wooden cane hanging on the slate hearth beside him, he rises on wobbling knees. He is nearly a foot shorter than my mother. I suppose that is what old age does to a man. That and…other things.
“Well do not speak it again. Not in front of the boys.” My mother glares at him with her unforgiving grey eyes that are too small for her long face. She is a rather stale woman who knows little joy. But I know she is scorning him to protect us. And by us, I mean me.
I turn to hide my face, but I know she is staring at me, I can feel her eyes burning into the back of my head. If it were not for Aldrich reaching over to hold my hand, I would break down crying. I am a weak man, though many would hesitate to call a thirteen-year-old a man.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pansy. I skinned my first rabbit when I was five, and at seven I shot an arrow through the skull of a bull moose. When the beast refused to die, I drove my dagger into its heart a dozen times. Ten was when I first saw a man murdered, killed by his own mad brother who claimed to be possessed by the Prince of Darkness. I never shed a tear for any of them.
“This is why father thinks you’re inadequate,” Magnus says to mother, marching over to her, donning the look of arrogance he has grown fond of over the years. “Who cares if it’s more than a story? Your second born is doomed. Grow a spine and get over it.” He storms out of the room, slamming the oak door.
I never could understand why Magnus dislikes our mother. She does her best in raising us, always tending to our every need, though she spends much of her time sobbing in her bed chamber. Maybe he learned it from our father. Father was never pleased with mother. The only reason he allows her to remain in the castle is because she served her duty in birthing four sons, at least that’s what I always overhear the guards say.
My father is a ruthless man. The only thing he loves more than power are his children, fortunately for me. And regardless of the legend surrounding my being, he loves me unconditionally, treating me no different than my other, more worthy brothers. I think he sees himself in me, as I am the only son resembling him, with my forest green eyes, bronzed skin, and hair white as freshly fallen snow. My brothers, with our mother’s chestnut curls and fair skin, share only his eyes.
I look at my mother and I can tell by her quivering pout she wants to run away, lock herself in her room and cry hysterically, but Aldrich, elegantly tall like the rightful prince of Agnar he is, goes and wraps his arms around her, relieving all her woes. “It’s not worth spilling tears over, mother. Take Tristam to bed. I’ll have Mira draw you a warm bath, you must be freezing walking around like that,” he says, noting her bare feet and sheer nightgown.
She nods, her braided bun flopping around atop her head, and gives me another miserable stare. I feel a shiver scurry up my spine. “Could you please bring Edmund to bed?” she asks of Aldrich.
“I’m not a child. I can take myself to bed,” I say, a little too sharply, fed up with her relentless hovering.
“Edmund is nearly a man, he can tuck himself in for the evening,” Alrdich says, taking my side as usual, though he chooses to say it much more delicately than I.
“He’s only a boy.” Mother sounds offended. Tristam squirms out of her arms as if he were running from the ire.
“I’m not. Stop treating me like a helpless child.” I fall victim to my fury and stomp to the door, shoving my mother to the side and heading into the candle-lit hall.
When the door shuts behind me, I stand looking at the oil painting hanging on the wall across from me. It’s a rather disturbing image, one that has haunted my dreams for years. My father, a child of only ten, stands at the side of his father, conqueror of the savage world. They stand upon the corpses of dark-haired women, children, and the soldiers they once called husband and father. Any and every who stood against their reign slaughtered. But the lifeless faces and mangled, bloodied bodies aren’t what haunts me, it’s the perverted grin on my father’s innocent face that makes my body tremble in my sleep. Difficult to believe I am the one promised to destroy the world as I look upon my father and the anarchy he’s caused since his first breath.
I walk down the hall. The air is damp and piercing cold, making my wolf pelt feel a hundred pounds heavier. Beyond the windows lay only darkness and a wind so strong it makes the bare branches of the willow trees scratch along the glass like a cat clawing its way out of a cage. Nights never seem to end pleasantly as of late. When winter arrived two months ago, it brought with it malice and doubt.
Tensions between my father and mother have been on edge ever since mother tried to ship Magnus off to some seminary in the Kyseri Mountains to the south. She said she was doing Magnus a favor, that it was in his best interest to study under such intellectually prestigious men. ‘He’ll be a world-renowned scholar,’ she said, but we knew she wanted him gone for my sake. Magnus is always enticing me to anger, and mother fears our fights will feed the darkness buried somewhere inside me.
I look up from the red-carpeted floor and find my feet have carried me to my bed chamber. My door is ajar, blown open by the wind howling through my window. I forgot to close it again. Good thing mother isn’t here to see, or else she’d chide me for being so careless. I go to shut it, and as I place my hands on the wooden trim of the glass, a snow flurry floats inside, the first one I’ve seen all winter. Like a butterfly with broken wings, it flutters to the stone ground, vanishing on its first earthly kiss. Its beauty is surreal, and for a moment I forget that winter is the grim reaper. Every year, Agnar endures the bitter cold and its people pray the snow does not fall, for legend says when the snow falls, so does the light of mankind. A single snowflake is no reason to fret, but when the snow begins to blanket the hillsides with its soft caress, panic ensues and I am forced to hide away in the dungeons beneath the castle as a means of appeasement and security.
Original work by Ashley Danielle LeTourneau