In hindsight, it started as a sting at the back of his neck. He didn’t think much of it, just rubbed absently at the irritated skin without looking up from his book.
“Your highness?” his valet asked.
“Just an itch,” he waved it off.
Overnight, it turned into a stiff neck. Halfway through the day, it turned numb. The morning after that, it turned into fire.
“The prince has been poisoned!”
He heard the controlled panic as people rushed around him as if he was floating in a sea of cotton inside a glass jar. He couldn’t feel his body by then. Couldn’t really tell if he was really there or if everything was just a dream. Darkness nibbled at his mind. He trusted his body to his physicians and let himself slip away.
When he woke, it was to a warm glow that suggested that the sky was dark outside, and only his valet sat by his side.
“Are you here to finish what you started?” he rasped. He kept his tone carefully neutral, holding back his hurt and disappointment.
His valet’s face fell, but the older man didn’t deny it. “I’m sorry. They have my family.”
“You could have told me. You still can tell me who’s behind this.” By now, he thought that he’d made it clear to his staff that they had nothing to fear from him. They even had secret codes for when discretion was needed.
“He can’t,” a new voice said from above them.
A shadow dropped from the ceiling and slammed his valet to the ground, knocking him unconscious in the process. When the intruder looked up, his breath caught.
It was his head maidservant, a serious but hardworking woman who had practically watched him grow up.
Betrayal punched the word out of his lungs. “Why?”
“Because your father is a hard man, and you are his only soft spot,” she said as she snapped a collar around his neck.
He jerked as lines of fire raced down his limbs, cutting through the numbness. Next came a chill that surged back to his heart as his body shrunk. He panted as the world swirled around him, unable to move as she changed him into a smaller set of clothes better suited to his new size. Strong arms slipped under him and pulled him out of bed.
“Surely there’s another way?” he tried one last time as she cradled him, folding his arms over his chest to keep them out of the way. Where were the guards? Why wasn’t anyone coming?
“We’ve already made our move. It’s up to your father to take the next step.”
He couldn’t see her anymore. He didn’t know if it was because the darkness in his vision had taken over or if his eyes weren’t open in the first place.
“Whatever happens, you’ve taken good care of us. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Can you really?” “Who’s behind this?” “Why are you doing this?” “Why you?” The questions rolled in his mind, but he’d lost his voice, his strength completely drained. His consciousness followed closely behind like a bag tied to a sinking anchor.
He faded out without a sound.
September post count: 7/12