MellothandeIt was raining again. Young Prince Peter was sitting on the window ledge in the top-most turret of his family’s castle Caffelthorn. He used the turret room as his haven when he needed to disappear from his family. It was a large, empty room, always cold, even in the height of summer. It suited his mood. Peter would retreat up the long, winding stone stairs when he was tired of his lessons on how to rule, or when he had a chore he wished to avoid, like having to greet guests to the castle—guests who usually scoffed at his father’s gentle nature and good grace. Pity his father couldn’t fight back. Why couldn’t he just once show his anger and stand up to their rude whispers or sneering faces? Peter knew he was being silly. His father could not fight back, not if he wanted his family and friends to remain alive. Not if he wanted Caffelthorn, both the castle and the surrounding township, to continue to exist.
Peter stared out across the edge of the township, where the poorer families and their animals lived in shelters that backed up against the castle’s thick walls. He was idly watching a small gaggle of white geese chase a stray dog from their owner’s doorstep, and did not turn around when he heard the latch being lifted and the door to the room opened. He knew it would be his father.
‘Don’t take it so hard, boy,’ said King Essel.
Peter turned to face his father who stood in the doorway. ‘But I wanted a horse, Father, and you promised when I was six I could have one.’
‘We just cannot afford it, Peter.’
‘But you promised and I’m now eleven, and still no horse, not even a donkey. I think I have been very patient, Father.’
‘I know I promised this year would be different but you know our predicament here at Caffelthorn. The King of Vermgout demanded more taxes and we had to pay more to Lord Drot of the Collessians as well. Patience, Peter, we will get you a horse when we can.’
Peter understood his family’s predicament. As the Prince of Caffelthorn, once the centre of a great empire now reduced to a tiny territory, it had been his duty to listen to the small territory’s woes. Caffelthorn was trapped between the two great powers: The Kingdom of Vermgout to the East, ruled by the pompous King Vissony, and the powerful empire of Collessia to the West, where Lord Drot ruled with an iron fist. Caffelthorn survived because neither power would allow their enemy to seize control of the little territory caught in the middle. It was a precarious existence.
‘Please bear with us, son; the horse will come. We must be practical.’
‘That’s what you always say,’ said Peter sulkily. This year he had been foolish enough to actually believe he would be given a horse. He was eleven, almost a man; he could not continue to walk everywhere.
‘Because you must learn to be practical if this territory is to survive when you become ruler.’
‘Ruler! Lackey is more like it. Robert will be King of Vermgout by then and you know as well as I do how Robert feels about me.’
‘He’s young, son, he will grow out of it when he has a kingdom to rule.’
‘Did his father grow out of it?’
Peter watched his father blush. They had both suffered beatings at the hands of the young rulers-in-waiting of Vermgout and Collessia. It had quickly become a family tradition. Seek out the young Prince of Caffelthorn, goad him into a fight and then beat him up. Peter had no hope of winning, just as his father hadn’t. If, by some chance, Peter started to get on top of his bigger adversary, Robert’s men would step in and deliver several punches to drive him back and then Robert would finish him off.
‘Son, we are what we are. Between the Collessians and the Vermgouthians we survive. We must, or our people will be absorbed and our name lost forever.’
‘Our name, Father… The others laugh at our name.’
‘Yet once it was a great name; one day it will become so again.’
Genre – Fantasy
Rating – PG