The storm had not let up since the General had first stepped into the tavern several hours before. If anything, it seemed to have gotten a bit angrier to mimic how the general was feeling. He welcomed the cool, comforting rain but could do without the persistent wind that wanted to strip him of the cloak that was protecting him against it. The walk back to the barracks was a long and muddy one that men of his status usually rode horses to. The General used the distance between the castle and the small village to clear his mind, but often failed to actually do so.
The path had long since been flattened and hardened by the footmen that usually walked its course. Even now the General was passed by soldiers that had recently gotten off duty and were heading to the tavern as well. Several managed to give the commanding officer a salute while others kept their face to the ground as they tried to protect themselves against the storm. He paused momentarily to look at the castle that ruled over his homelands and several regions scattered just beyond the king's borders. He felt a sudden empty as he realized what awaited for him inside. He sighed to himself and pushed himself to continue on the rest of the distance to the gates.
Just as the tavern had been before, the castle was alive with celebration but on a much larger scale. Guest kings and royal courts were attending the Prince's wedding. Yet, even in the upper classes the rumors of the Prince's feats were passed from tongue to ear. The general sighed once more as he pushed past the numerous guests that he swore under his breath were intentionally blocking his way. Several smiled and waved for his attention, but he politely bowed and continued on to his personal objective. Just as he reached the door, a voice called to him. The one voice he wished, almost prayed, that he could have avoided.
"Vledamir!" the Prince's voice called out to him. "My brother. Where have you been?"
The cloaked man stopped just within reaching distance of the officer's hall and cursed under his breath. Lowering his head and slowly turned to face the Prince and bowed as he had done many times over the years. He raised his head to see the Prince return the bow and straightened up to look at his kin who was accompanied by the person Vledamir could only assume was the princess he had gone on an adventure to claim as his bride and queen. The Prince held tightly on to her hand and smiled to his brother.
"Prince Rerian," he bowed once more as he spoke his name.
"Brother, how many times do I have to say there is no need for titles between us?" Prince Rerian chuckled. "We are blood after all."
"As many times as it is needed, m'lord," Vledamir bowed his head. "Despite blood, you are meant to be King."
"Bah! Have it your way then," the Prince sighed. He clapped a hand on his younger brother's shoulder. "Well, while we are on topic. This is my bride, Princess, soon to be Queen, Cerilene of the Grand Duchy of Meredith."
General Vledamir gave the Princess his full attention for the first time. As he met her gaze, the emptiness he had felt as he had looked at the castle from outside its walls returned by with a greater pressure. He winced in pain but otherwise kept his composure. He gripped at the plate mail that protected his torso and bowed towards the queen, more so in pain rather than obligation. He politely took her hand kissed her hand from his prone position.
"Never has such beauty been seen in these lands, or any other," Vledamir spoke the routine words as he had done for the Queens of other kingdoms. "But you will have to excuse me. I am not feeling as well as I should in such presence."
Without being dismissed, Vledamir left the future king and queen to their guests. The Queen recoiled a bit as if she had been struck, but Vledamir heard Rerian assure his bride that it was not her fault and it seemed that something was truly afflicting the general. He nodded in the direction of his brother before carrying his bride off to the company of those that wish to voice their praise and blessings for the two.
Vledamir stumbled down the hall clutching his chest. He slammed hard into the carved stone wall as he made his way to the sanctity of his room. The keepers in the castle had prepared it for him while he was away. The fire roared under the hearth as a kettle of hot water boiled over. Without bothering to undo the plate armor that had been fit to his body, Vledamir fell on the bed and quickly fell into a deep sleep.
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