“But it’s perfectly acceptable for you to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the country?” Gabrielle asked.

“Fürstin, do you know why I stayed with you in the trees when you were angered with your brothers?” Brida asked, placing a hand on Elise’s shoulders and forcing her stop her ruthless march.

“I assumed it was out of duty or pity,” Elise said.

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“Partially, yes. As a guard of Arcainia, it was my duty to see to your wellbeing. But more than that, it was because it is not good to fight a battle alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“You assume Prince Rune battles monsters on his own, yes?” Brida asked.

“Of course. I have seen him single-handedly kill vile creatures,” Elise said.

“There,” Brida said, jabbing a finger in the air. “Prince Rune kills the monsters alone, yes, but he never battles alone.”

“I fail to see a difference between the two,” Elise said.

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“Prince Rune might be the only man pitted against whatever ill creature has done Arcainia harm, but he is never there alone. Usually there is a squad of soldiers already fortified in the area who provide support for the prince. If there are no soldiers, then farmers, villagers, and everyday citizens will take up arms to support him. True, they never do any fighting, but they are always there to support Prince Rune.”

Elise considered Brida’s words and thought back on the times Rune took Elise monster-hunting with him. The captain was right. Rune never went alone into a fight. There was always a medical personal on alert and usually several other armed, burly men who made a wall behind Rune. Sometimes people were employed as distractions to make the kill easier.

“When you knitted, you fought a battle just as brutal as the monsters Prince Rune faces. It was not good for you to be alone, which was why I made it a point to stay with you until Prince Falk recovered his wits enough to follow you,” Brida said.

Her proclamation made Gabrielle’s eyebrows raise, but the beautiful princess said nothing.

“You are entering another terrible battle. It is not good for you to enter into it alone, Fürstin,” Brida said.

Elise mulled over Brida’s words, glancing at Gabrielle when the older girl took her hand and squeezed it. “Alright. But at the first sign of trouble you have to flee,” Elise said.

“Never,” Gabrielle said, embracing Elise before pulling her along. “Let’s go battle a witch.”

“This is ludicrous,” the cat said from Gabrielle’s shoulder.

“Yes,” Gabrielle said.

“You have lost the complete use of your mental faculties,” the cat said.

“Perhaps,” Gabrielle said as they turned up the hallway that ended at the throne room door.

“Your plan is absolutely mad,” the cat said.

“It is, but you wouldn’t miss out on it for the world,” Gabrielle said, pausing to scratch her pet under the chin.

The cat growled but did not speak further as the three mismatched warriors descended on the door attendant.

“Crown Princess Gabrielle, F-Fürstin Elise,” he gasped.

“She is expecting us, Arthur. There is no need to announce us,” Gabrielle said, tossing her head like a wild horse.

The middle-aged man studied the trio under drooping brows. “Are you sure you want to do this, My Ladies?”

“Yes,” Elise said, pulling her shoulders back. Although her heart was painfully full of fear, she would not let it hold her back. “Thank you, Arthur.”

The portly doorman bowed. “As you wish, Princess,” he said before he opened the door and stepped aside.

Chapter 14

Clotilde was seated in her throne, wearing a beautiful dress that was the deep green color of a peacock’s feather. She wore Queen Ingrid’s gold crown on her head and strings of diamonds woven into the braid of her blonde hair.

She smiled like a snake, her jaw opening disproportionately wide. “Darling Elise, I knew I would see you again,” Clotilde said as she stood.

Elise always thought as evil being black, but as she strode towards Clotilde, Elise realized that evil was not darkness, but a gaping hole. Clotilde’s greed and desire for power infected the very air. She pulled every spot of goodness and beauty to her, devouring them and never filling.

Clotilde was evil because of her vast emptiness and the underhanded methods she used to steal, kill, and destroy others to fulfill her desires and wishes. Black magic wasn’t black because of the color; it was vile because of the bottomless evil and the unspeakable acts it would do to get what its wielder desired.

At the foot of the dais the thrones were perched on, Elise halted. “Of course,” she said. “Someone has to set you in your proper place,” her words faltered when she caught sight of King Henrik.

He looked far worse than when Elise had last seen him. His hair was almost completely grey, and his skin was slack, hanging from his body like an ill-fitting cloak. All of his muscle was gone, and he looked like he lost a significant amount of height.

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