The Sleeping Prince - Melinda Salisbury

The night guard on the East Gate reached to scratch the sudden sharp itch at his throat. As his legs gave way beneath him and he crumpled, he saw his fingers, slick with blood, black in the dim glow from the lamp that lit the gate. He was dead before he hit the ground.

The golem stepped over his body.

The second guard turned, lips parted to scream, or swear, or beg, his sword rising to meet the creature, but too late. A silver flash through the air and the guard collapsed, his blood mingling with that of his colleague.

The lumpen, blank space where the golem’s face ought to be was tilted towards the sky, as though sniffing or listening. It passed through the gate, its misshapen head knocking the lamp, sending it swinging, casting nightmarish shadows over the thick stone wall. As the oil spilled and smoked, and the flame guttered, the golem trod a trail of bloody footsteps through the gate and into the slumbering royal town of Lortune, dragging a club as long as itself in one hand, a large double-headed axe in the other.

Moments later a second golem followed, an axe and club of its own clutched in its twisted hands. Its weapons had yet to be christened.

The two creatures moved forward, slowly but steadily, their gait rocking and lilting, the motion more reminiscent of ships on the ocean than anything that moved on land.

The Sleeping Prince followed them.

In contrast to the monstrousness of the golems, the prince was beautiful. His silvery-white hair reflected the moonlight, flowing down his back like a waterfall. His eyes, when the light of the lamp caught them, were gold: like coins, like honey. He was tall and slender, and moved with a grace that made each step look like the beginning of a dance. In each of his hands he carried a flat, curved sword, the gold hilts adorned with symbols from a long-dead world, but he had no plans to use them, or to bloody himself at all this night. If all went as he expected, he wouldn’t need to. Tonight, the swords were mostly for effect, so that anyone who happened to be awake – an old woman with pains that kept her from sleeping, or a small boy woken from a terrible dream – might look from their window and witness his magnificence, as he walked through their town. He wanted to be seen – not by everyone, not yet, but certainly by a few. He wanted the rumours to spread of how he walked unchallenged into the city and took it. How with only two golems he invaded the town of Lortune and its castle, killing no one, save for those paid to keep Lortune from being invaded. He wanted the townsfolk to whisper behind their hands of how regal he looked as he strolled past their homes. He wanted them to remember that he could have had them all killed in their sleep but he hadn’t; he had spared them. His people.

He wanted his new people to think well of him. Eventually, at least. His father had told him there were two ways to rule: through fear or through love. He could not expect the Lormerians to love him, not yet, but he could make them fear him. He could easily do that.

He followed his golems through the silent streets, casting a critical eye over the dirt pathways and roads, the stains from sewage flung from windows on to the pathways, the buildings that huddled in the shadow of the castle, cramped and dirty, looking more like outbuildings than prosperous merchant houses and businesses in the capital of the land.

His lip curled with distaste as he peered into the windows of some of the homes they passed, with their utilitarian furniture, their drab decor. He looked up at the castle of Lormere, a thick, square keep, flanked by four towers, dark as its occupants slept. Ugly, like the rest of town. But better than no castle at all…

The golems did their work again on the Water Gate, the least secure of the entrances to the grounds of Lormere castle, even with the extra guards assigned by the new king. This time, eight bodies – four armed sentries at the gate and four more stationed atop the battlements – had fallen, forever silenced. The Sleeping Prince had been forced to join in the fight this time to end it quickly, engaging the men on the gate while his monsters