Content Warning: Although it’s not explicit, there are references to domestic violence and child abuse. Basically, this chapter gets a little dark, but the comedy returns soon, I promise!
STRAUD FAMILY HUNTING COTTAGE, MARCH 1507
Vlad stared at the stranger standing outside of his house. His…ears…
“Whoa there, not here to cause you any harm,” the man said, holding up his hands to show he had no weapons.
“My home does not receive visitors. What brings you?” Vlad snarled, but a small voice in his head urged him to let the stranger inside.
“Aren’t you the Prince of Windenburg?” the man replied, and for a moment his smile looked almost mocking.
Vlad, who had not thought of himself as a prince in eight long years, felt panic crawling up his throat at the idea of sending the stranger on his way. He readjusted his grip and struggled to make his voice a warning. “Call upon my mother or sister if its royal favors you seek.”
The man spread his arms wide again, emphasizing that there was nothing to fear, even as Vlad’s pulse beat out a jagged rhythm.
“Listen here, Prince, my name is Akira Kibo and I didn’t not come here to barter with you. I came to warn you.”
Straud Castle, April 1507
DUNGEON, APRIL 1507
I have come to be your salvation.
Kaylnn and Atorn weren’t dead, Vlad could at least be happy about that. If they were, his father would be gloating.
“How was your visit with William? Full of sage advice I hope,” Josef wondered aloud, tone disinterested.
“William gave me wise counsel,” Vlad replied flatly.
“You must be starving,”Josef continued, his voice honeyed and dangerous. “And you need your wounds treated, is that not true?”
The monk on the left cleared his throat and whispered in Josef’s ear. Vlad strained to make out the words.
His father nodded. “Food or treatment. Pick one.”
Vlad choked down a laugh. Nothing was ever freely given, not when his father took orders from a bunch of heretical monks who thought they had the power to call on the God of Death. His eye, the one that wasn’t swollen shut, darted back and forth between the two monks as he considered his options.
His shoulder was dislocated, the gash across his eye was almost certainly infected and he had three broken fingers that would heal crooked if they weren’t set. Pain tore through his chest whenever he breathed so he must have a broken rib…or four.
But the food.
Oh, the food.
Vlad tilted his head, signaling to the monk with bowl of stew who merely smiled as he set it on the ground and watched Vlad struggle to pick it up.
Once it was in his hands, Vlad fell upon the bowl, gulping down the stew in ravenous bites, shoveling the meat and vegetables into his mouth with his fingers. He glanced up to see his father’s look of disgust and paid it no mind. Starving, Vlad had discovered, reordered your priorities. Pride was useless. You couldn’t eat pride.
With the small weight of food in his belly, Vladislaus could make better sense of the situation.
“May we discuss them now?” he paused at his father’s raised eyebrow, forming his mouth around that painful word. “Please.”