by Dennis K. Hausker

Prince Damon competed with his younger brother Prince Tabor to be crown prince, but Tabor bested him in the final contest. Thereafter, Damon feels his life has no meaning until stunning Beth rides into his life fleeing the great trauma of her life. Fate is not done with Damon who is forced to overcome self-pity to become the person he was meant to be. Their world is threatened with destruction as the vast barbarian horde, the Argore, suddenly invade the lowlands from their mountain realm. Damon, shackled with doubts, strives to become that better man, trying to win the love of Beth, but her disdain and personal focus on revenge thwart him time after time. Is it him she rejects? Does her heart belong to another?


Chapter One

Prince Damon pivoted to parry the thrust from his brother’s attack, Prince Tabor. He was starting to fatigue in the lengthy contest and that meant he was worried if he could win this fight. It wasn’t as if this battle was insignificant. The ascension to their father’s throne was determined by who won the match.

He looked into his brother’s eyes and saw confidence. Tabor was the younger of the two, but he was the stronger physically and more aggressive in his tactics. They’d sparred for all of their lives and Damon won very few of those fights. It was part of the reason he wasn’t confident in his fighting or in his chances to win the throne. Tabor had always been driven in his practices while Damon had not. To an extent, constant losses for many years led to his defeatist attitude against his talented brother. Damon never mustered an answer to that talent and that was true in more than just the sparring pits. All their lives, Damon’s best efforts had never been enough and it seemed nothing had changed for the better in this critical test.

Tabor made a feint and then swung decisively driving Damon back against the wall, unable to escape. At this point, there could only be one outcome. Damon glanced at his father who was eyeing the match closely. He felt ashamed to fail before him, again. His mother was seated beside her husband. Her eyes were filled with sympathy for her older son.

Time seemed to stand still in Damon’s mind as he watched the final stroke approaching him, knowing he couldn’t stop it. The strong blow knocked his sword out of his hand leaving him defenseless and defeated. Tabor cried out in triumph and thrust a fist into the air. He turned to face his father who smiled with pride. Damon stood aside ashamed, too embarrassed to move. He looked down at his sword, useless to him on the ground, like it was a symbol of his life of futility.

The king stood up and turned to the assembled throng. “The decision is made. Tabor will follow me to the throne of Kragan.”

The large crowd of people cheered loudly and hurried from their seats to surround the victor. It wasn’t a surprising outcome for the contest nor was the effusive response from the crowd. Tabor was a popular figure at court. His outgoing personality lent to his air of command and competence. He was a dashing figure, well-muscled, with thick dark hair, and highly sought socially. His easy confident manner charmed the ladies and intimidated his rivals. He was a sharp contrast to his brother, Damon, who wasn’t a bold young man in any substantive way, and to this point, Damon had been unlucky in love in spite of being a prince of the realm. Receding away from the limelight was Damon’s learned habit though to an extent it was one forced on him. His romantic choice of aiming selectively at stunning women was wrong for him and added an element of needless self-destruction with their inevitable rejections. Damon wasn’t one to indulge in palace intrigues or games in pursuing women.  

Damon watched his brother basking in the adoration of the masses. Not a single person came over to offer condolences, nor did they even notice him, as if he’d dropped off the planet. Shame flamed his cheeks to a deep red and he lowered his eyes, again, to stare at the floor. Picking up his sword to put back in the sheath, he slunk around the crowd and made his way toward the door out of the training pits. Before he could get out the door he heard his mother’s voice.

“Damon, wait a moment please.”

She glided across the floor, ever the regal beauty, a fitting queen for his father, the king.

“I’m so sorry, son. Don’t let this ruin you. There’s so much you can accomplish in your life. You’re a wonderful young man with a great deal of potential.”

“We just saw who has the real potential in this family, Mother. I appreciate your attempts to console me, but I’ve always known how this would end. He’s been the pride of the king all of our lives, and I must admit he deserves it. I couldn’t measure up to Tabor before in any meaningful way and I can’t measure up now. He should be the next king when the time comes. I don’t dispute it.”

“Damon, please don’t say belittling things. I know it’s difficult, but please stay and support your brother. It would be a noble thing to do that would make a great statement to the people about your fine character.”

“I wish I was noble, Mother. In truth, handling the shame is too great a burden for me. Maybe that’s another of my many weaknesses. I need to be alone right now, I’m sorry. I love you, but I’ve just experienced the greatest failure of my life. It’s beyond what I can endure. I really wish the best to Tabor, but I’ve got to go.”

The queen suddenly grasped her son and embraced him tightly. He closed his eyes as his turbulent emotions roiled explosively within him. After a brief time, he pulled out of her hold, kissed her on the forehead and hurried out the door. No one else noticed him leave, or cared.

He went to his rooms to bathe and change his clothes. Though he was a prince, Damon chose to dress relatively modestly, unlike his brother who tended toward ostentatious garb. Drawing attention was not something Damon ever sought. He glanced in the mirror at his reflection with sadness. His hair was thick like his brother’s, but brown in color like his mother rather than the black of his brother and his father.

“You did it this time, Damon,” he muttered pensively. “This time there are consequences you can’t avoid.”

For a stranger to the city, if they saw Damon walking about the palace, they would have assumed he was a servant rather than a royal prince and Damon was fine with that.

Damon waited for a time, calming his nerves before he left the privacy and relative security of his rooms. Ironically, the first person he saw was the last person he wanted to see. Selena was the main object of his affections, at least from his vantage point. She was the consummate maiden, a stunning beauty, and the heart throb of nearly every young man in the city with her long dark hair and angelic face. She broke hearts merely by passing by, her aura was so enthralling. Adding in her charm, and her fine mind, it made her the perfect mate for the next king. She’d always acted coy with Damon, but he’d believed her heart belonged to Tabor. He wasn’t wrong in that assessment.

As usual, she was in the midst of her entourage, those ‘hangers on’ that sought self-validation by associating with persons of import. Every face turned to Damon. He saw universal disdain and contempt as he neared them. It took a great deal of courage to approach the intimidating assemblage without revealing his extreme distress. Only Selena’s face was not reproachful. She had a look almost of confusion, like she was unsure how to act toward him.

Damon couldn’t gather his wits to speak to her. He nodded as he passed. She returned his gesture. He heard them whisper and snicker as he walked away toward the main palace entrance. Damon took a deep breath as he fought the rise of his emotions which were transforming from self-pity into anger. He scowled at the glance from the guards as he went outside into a light rain, making no attempt to cover himself, or to hurry. Getting wet had no impact on him in his current mood. Rather, it was fortuitous because it meant fewer people were moving about for him to face.

Damon went straight to the stables to get his horse and rode steadily out of the city headed for the nearby forest. He never looked back at the city of his birth. The painful issues there were too powerful to face. Solitude was the only thing he sought. His emotions were heavy burdens dragging at his spirit. It was hard to feel any optimism as his future life seemed pointless after his defeat. 

Wallowing in self-pity wasn’t his intention when he left the city, but it occurred nonetheless as he sunk into self-castigation and remorse reliving the individual failures in his life in his thoughts. It was a necessary process of catharsis he needed in order to cope with the traumatic event. Seeking out a secluded spot where he could be sure to have no visitors Damon sat down, hidden inside a thatch of brambles, on his riding blanket to heal his emotional wounds. Rather than finding peace, his mind punished him further with visions of ridicule behind his back amongst the courtesans. It compounded his angst with imaginations rather than facts. Damon wasn’t particularly hungry but he ate a brief meal of slices of fruit, chunks of meat, and cubes of cheese. He washed it down with cold water from his drinking gourd. It stilled the rumbles in his stomach enough he could close his eyes to doze off briefly. The rain tapered off and ended so he felt no urgency to return to the city.

Instead of a brief nap, he awoke the next morning at sunrise sitting up with a start at the sound of the crack of a dead branch lying on the ground being broken. He looked cautiously out from his retreat and saw a large elk stopped only a few feet away. It turned its head in every direction and sniffed the air. It happened Damon was down wind so it didn’t catch his scent. Suddenly there was a blur of motion as a cat sprang from the underbrush. The stag tried to flee, but the cat was too close and leaped onto its back. The stag bellowed in fear and tried to shake the cat off, but it was too late as the predator closed its powerful jaws on the neck of its prey. The stag struggled to survive, but it was a hopeless fight for a dying creature. A snap of its neck in powerful jaws ended its life and the big cat dragged it away into the brush to feed.

Damon was stunned by the fight so close to him. Even though he routinely hunted elk, the plight of this unfortunate creature touched him deeply resonating with the anguish he already felt. The cycle of life was displayed before him in all its most brutal forms. In this world there were only predators and prey.

“Damon, what’s wrong with you. Animals die in the forest all the time. You’re lucky the cat didn’t come after you. Sitting out here alone probably isn’t the best idea.”

He gathered his things and got back on his horse to return to his father’s city, Kragan. There was safety in the city, but Damon always felt more at home in the woods. It was one of the few places where he was better than his brother, being the better hunter and tracker. Damon really didn’t mind his own company. In the woods there were no smirking faces to deal with.

On the way back he shot another elk, carried it through the city gates where he made a detour to the poor section of town. He saw a young mother with her brood of scrawny children and stopped at her door.

“Here is meat for your table, madam,” he uttered shyly. “You must feed your family.”

He saw tears form in her eyes.

“Thank you, my lord. My husband was taken by illness. It’s been so difficult without him.”

Her misery resonated with Damon. He got off his horse and carried the heavy animal around behind her house. He stayed long enough to help her dress the kill and extract the meat. She had no children old enough to help her, a woman poor in wealth but she had something Damon didn’t see in the palace women, she was courageous, determined, and self-reliant. She wasn’t going to let the tragedy in her life destroy her. It heartened him to reconsider his own poor approach to adversity.

“My Lord, I have no way to repay your kindness.”

“Madam, I require nothing from you. It’s my honor to be of service, especially to a mother in distress. Think nothing more about it.”

He saw something in her eyes he wasn’t accustomed to, adoration.  That was normally reserved for Tabor. She curtsied to him and he returned a bow before he continued his ride back home. His ‘good deed’ managed to ease his emotional distress and replace it with a feeling of warmth at helping the young widow.

When he walked back into the palace he actually smiled as he thought about the look in her eyes. Damon had little occur in his life that allowed him to feel validation. It gave him hope that perhaps he could find useful purposes for whatever remained of his life.

Dennis K. Hausker - "Kragan"


Amazon Kindle

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.



? Heat Level: 3