The Wolf's Cub

Castle Darkwall, Gladius

"A legacy is never an easy thing to live with. There is either a greatness you can never live up to or a taint you can never live down. Living with a legacy will drive you to make choices that can ruin you."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Terentius, Captain of the Gladian Guard, paced back and forth in the map room, a place he would often go for solace ever since King Randwulf left. He occasionally stopped to stare at the map of Byrn posted on the wall, based on an original made more than two hundred years ago. Though its accuracy was questionable, it was all Randwulf and the Marauders had to go on. Of course, they would raze the foreign kingdom from one corner to the next, so an accurate map was not terribly necessary.
The Captain then looked to the opposite wall and gazed longingly at the map of Titan. Although the memories were not particularly fond ones, it was still the land of his birth and he hoped to return there one day. Glancing at the map of Gladius promptly banished such wishful thinking.
The revolt twelve years ago was a joke, but now it was different. A mere four people bested forty of his men and one of the warlock's uninvited creations. That was a single battle. Even worse, the mayor of Corinth was dead along with at least a score of the townspeople. It could easily spread like wildfire and consume the entire countryside.
He had already sent word to his garrisons that he was sending reinforcements. He needed to keep a tight grip on the people and hold on to the kingdom until Randwulf returned. The King's indebtedness to him would not be enough to suffer its loss. The Captain had to act quickly to prevent such a thing from happening.
If the ones responsible for the attack were still in any of the towns, Stormtree was the most likely place. He had to act quickly if he wanted to capture them. He would deal with it personally. It was the only way he could make amends for his failure.
The door opened behind him. He turned to see Randwulf's son and heir, Prince Claudius. The Prince was a timid young man of slight frame with close-cropped blond hair and deep blue eyes. He was dressed in a finely embroidered jerkin worn over a silken shirt and dark hose. He rested his hand on the hilt of the épée strapped to his belt.
"Captain," the Prince said, "you want to hunt down the rebels that you fought with yesterday, am I right? Allow me to lead the detachment to Stormtree. I need this chance to prove myself to my father."
"B-but, Your Highness!" Terentius stammered. "These are no ordinary rebels! The King would kill me if anything happened to you."
Claudius bowed his head and sighed. "I doubt I mean that much to him..." He raised his head and looked at Terentius with rare resolve. "I must do this. Please..."
"Well, well," a voice said, "the young Prince's warrior blood has finally come to a boil."
Both Terentius and the Prince turned to see Edytha, the Captain's wife. When did she come into the room?
Edytha walked up to the young Prince and caressed his cheek. "Why not?" she asked rhetorically. "He is, after all, the son of the great Randwulf the Conqueror."
The Prince withdrew from her touch. Terentius could not blame the boy. Tall, elegant and self-assured, his wife was a very intimidating woman. Even some of the stoutest Palace Guards would shrink from her gaze. That gaze was now fixed on her husband.
"There must be no mistakes this time," she said. "You underestimated the son of Luther and his companions. Now is the time to strike. They may have won the battle, but they are worn from the fight. They will make for Stormtree. It is the closest town next to Corinth and the Drunkard Prince feels safe there. I have already made the arrangements."
"What do you mean?" Terentius asked.
Edytha smiled. "The son of Luther and his companions are walking into a trap. I have sent word to the garrison and put them on alert. They will go into Stormtree freely, but they will come out in chains. Two of the Stalkers will be assisting us. The Drunkard Prince thinks he has won a victory. He will want to celebrate with all the other drunken loyalists. His guard will be down and his companions will no doubt be just as careless. Even if one or two have the wits to keep a clear head, it will not be enough."
As formidable as his wife's plan sounded, Terentius could not help doubting. "But they killed forty men..."
"They were prepared for battle then. They ambushed Guardsmen unprepared for what they were up against. Surely you remember what happened to poor Lieutenant Svenson. The son of Luther did that all on his own. This time it will be different. It is our turn to catch them unawares. There are sixty-four Guardsmen in Stormtree and I intend to use every single one of them." She glanced back at Claudius. "Then there is the matter of His Highness and his escort. Send the Palace Guard. Twenty men should do. If His Highness has the courage for it, he can be the first to confront them. It will be the signal for the garrison to make its move."
"I will do it," Claudius said.
"But, Your Highness, I--!"
"You need not fear," Edytha interrupted. "His Highness will be well protected."
The Captain was practically quaking at the thought of all that could go wrong. "But if anything should happen to him, it will be our heads!"
His wife did not share his concerns. "A man of House Wulf is not easy prey," she said smoothly. "You will see. The threat to this kingdom will be settled and both you and His Highness will profit from this venture."
"I should go with him at least," Terentius said. "I have a responsibility to take care of this myself."
"No," his wife insisted. "If you accompany His Highness, it will make him look like a mere figurehead. That is not what you want, is it, Your Highness? You want to prove to His Majesty once and for all that you are worthy of carrying his name, do you not?"
Terentius never claimed to be a particularly intelligent man, but he could tell manipulation when he saw it. Claudius was easy prey for Edytha's craft and there was nothing he could do about it.
The Prince looked to Terentius and repeated his plea from before. "I must do this, Captain."
The Captain shook his head in exasperation. "Very well, Your Highness... I will give you my best men. Please, come back alive."
Claudius smiled weakly. "I cannot afford to fail."
"And you will not," Edytha added.
Claudius turned and walked out of the room. As he was walking down the hallway, a portly old servant hurried up to him. It was Norbert, his caretaker, a man who had been more of a father to him than his real sire. Norbert's soft green eyes were filled with concern.
"Young master, I pray you do not mean to challenge these rebels."
"I must..." the Prince replied in a detached voice.
"You mustn't risk your life like this!"
"It is something I must do. I must prove myself to him." Claudius patted Norbert on the shoulder and tried to smile. "Wish me well."
On the verge of tears, Norbert muttered, "Return safely, young master."
Claudius continued to walk. He was not half the warrior his father was and even less of a king. His father always seemed to scorn his weakness, but he finally had an opportunity to reverse those feelings.
He was no fool. He knew the Captain's wife did everything in her power to compel him to go on this expedition short of dragging him all the way to Stormtree on a leash. He did not care. Manipulation or not, she had offered him his best chance at winning his father's favor. Though his very life was at stake, the young Prince could not afford failure and would stop at nothing to succeed.