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At the Heart of Nothing

Candles illuminated dark wood shelves filled with books and scrolls and loose parchment. In front of Charlion, his father watched him from neatly organized desk, only a few papers out of place. Probably whatever the king had been working on while waiting for Charlion.


“Nothing.” Sixteen-year-old Charlion tucked his hands behind his back. He forced himself to meet his father’s eyes, mustering all the confidence he could. He could feel his father’s eyes cutting into his soul. Why must he have a father who was so good at reading people?

“Nothing?” Faewylin, his father, repeated. “You have been missing since before dinner last night. Surely you have something more interesting to tell me than nothing?”

“Well, uh, I can make something up?”

Faewylin gave him a hard look.

“Really, dad, it’s nothing.”

“Where were you?”



He sighed. “Honestly, I don’t have anything to say, dad. I’m not going you give a list of excuses, and I’m not going to make up some lie, so I don’t have anything.”

Faewylin folded his arms. “Give the truth a shot?”

Charlion stared back silently.

“Then you are confined to your chambers until you decide to trust me. I promise if I find out from someone else it will be worse for you. You can go.”

“Yes, my lord.”’

Charlion bowed and left the office. Outside in the waiting room, Rylin fiddled with his fingers in one of three velvet chairs.

His friend looked up. “And?”

“I’m confined until I tell him.”

“That’s a problem.”

“You gonna be okay in there?” Charlion motioned back towards the office door.

“Yeah, the king will probably just send for my father.”

“He probably did that already.” Sir Jalmor stepped into through the door from the hallway. “What’s going on?”

Rylin jumped to his feet and exchanged a glance with Charlion. “Nothing.”

“You didn’t come home last night.”

“Neither of us did, probably why the king is upset.” Rylin commented casually.

“And where were you?” Sir Jalmor asked.

“Uh, out and about.” Rylin glanced at Charlion again.

Charlion shrugged. “Really, Sir Jalmor, it was nothing.”

Sir Jalmor tightened his lips and jerked his head towards the office. “Come, Rylin, let’s see what the king wants.”

As soon as Sir Jalmor passed them, Charlion gave Rylin a sympathetic smile. “Have fun.”

Rylin grimaced. “See ya later.”


Rylin turned and followed his father into the king’s office. Charlion sighed and took the door to the hall, heading up it to his chambers.

In his bedroom, he flopped on the bed, staring out at the gray stone ceiling. Would it be safe to sneak out tonight? He wished he could tell his father, he really did. Charlion hadn’t really been at odd with Faewylin in four years, since the beginning of the war with Kethoff.

The real question was what would he do if he caught Charlion sneaking out tonight? Dungeons? Charlion grimaced. As long as both he and Rylin didn’t get locked up, he would still be able to get out the next night.

Maybe he would suggest a few nights off tonight, until the heat died down. Right? His father would release him eventually without actually requiring an explanation?

Someone banged on his bedroom door. Charlion sat up. Brother Dan certainly wasted no time.

Charlion opened the door. “Brother, good morning.”

The gray-bearded scholar smiled gravely. “Morning, my prince. I heard you are confined to your chambers, so I figure we can cover extra in your studies.”

Charlion nodded a couple times. “That would be a wise use of time, I suppose.”

Brother Dan merely looked at him. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to come clean with your father.”


The brother shook his head. “Then let’s hit the books.”


Charlion laid on his bed staring up at the ceiling. His knuckles on his right hand throbbed. His focus had waned in the afternoon, and Brother Dan hadn’t been forgiving. He suspected the brother hoped to make his life just miserable enough he would tell his father in order to get out of studies all day.

A tap came from his window. Charlion jumped up and opened the window.

Rylin jumped inside. “You know, I can’t believe I’m risking my father’s wrath to help you.”

“If we get caught tonight, I’ll take the blame.”

“Like that’s going to get me out of trouble.”

“Let’s just go. I’m going to explain what’s going on and stuff.”

Rylin nodded. “Cool, I can get a full night’s sleep again.”

“Thank you. I know it’s a lot of risk.”

“I won’t be any sort of friend if I didn’t protect your honor.”

“Still, I appreciate it, it means a lot.”

“Let’s just go, before we end up in the dungeons or worse.”



Out in the forest, they stepped into a moonlit glade. Nightingales sung in the trees and the dewy grass glistened in the pale white light. The stars shone clear and cold. But Charlion focused on something else.

On someone else. On a stump in the center sit a maiden, black curls cascaded down almost to her waist, where a blue ribbon was tied around her homespun dress.

“Charlion!” She jumped up and ran across to him.

He hugged her tight. “I missed you, Clare.” He stepped back and pushed a lock out behind her ear.

She giggled. “I missed you too.”

Rylin harrumphed from the forest edge. “Like you didn’t see each other last night, and the night before. Oh, and the night before, and the night before that. And—”

“We get it, Rylin.” Charlion called over his shoulder. He took Clare’s hand and kissed it, causing more giggles.

“How was your day?”

Clare smiled. “Nothing special, it was laundry day. So washing, hanging, ironing. You?”

“Well, Rylin and I missed supper last night and my father noticed that we didn’t get back until morning.”

Clare sighed. “And should I ask why you missed supper?”

“Uh, well….”

“Charlion! No wonder you were so cocky last night. You were drunk.”

“I wasn’t!”

“How many?”

“Just three. It was fun,” he added defensively.

Clare crossed her arms.

“Look anyway, um, so we’re actually confined to our rooms right now until I tell father, which obviously….”

“You’d better tell him you went out and got drunk, because someone is bound to have recognized you two at the tavern and so Sir Jalmor’s scouts will learn sooner or later.”

“We went disguised.”

“That was before you had three drinks.”

“Clare…, please. I can’t tell him. He’d be too disappointed.”

She shook her head and took both his hands in hers. “I love you, my prince. But you know it will be better if you tell him. I’ll come with you, if you want.”

Charlion shook his head instantly. “No, then it would get out that we’re seeing each other, and your father would be mad. I won’t do that to you. I’ll wait until you’re sixteen.”

“Go home and talk to the king, Charlion, and don’t break confinement again. I’ll wait for you.”


“You fought Garians when you were twelve, you can do this.”

“It’s not the same.”

“The sooner you get it over with, the sooner we can see each other again.”

“I guess.” He stared down at the grass waving gently in the wind.

Clare drew his eyes back to hers by the lightest touch of her fingers under his chin, a sad sort of smile on her face.


Charlion climbed back into his window. His bedroom was dark, same as he left it. He slid off the sill lightly. How was he supposed to tell his father he went out and got drunk?

“I assume your explanation for this is also nothing?”

Charlion jumped and spun around. “Dad, you’re here, what are you doing here?”

Faewylin stepped into the moonlight from the deep shadows by the dresser. “What were you doing not here?”

Charlion stepped backward, suddenly with no idea how to even start. Finally, he hung his head. “I’m sorry, I know I’m confined to my chambers. But, um, so.” He looked up suddenly. “Can you keep a secret if I tell you?”

Faewylin studied him. “It will stay between us.”

“I am, uh, so, and Rylin comes with me so it’s all proper you know, but um, I’m, you know—”

“You’re seeing a girl.” A smirk grew quickly on his father’s face.

“Yeah, but not exactly. She’s not allowed to see anyone until she’s sixteen. Nobody can know, or her father will be very mad at her.”

“I see. You could have told me that’s why you missed supper and never came home last night. We didn’t have to do this.”

Charlion didn’t say anything for a long minute. He could leave the conversation here. Let his father assume that’s all it was.

His father’s face had grown grave again in the stretching silent. “But?”

Charlion sighed. “There’s something else. I, uh, only see Clare after midnight.”

Faewylin said nothing, only waited.

Charlion swallowed. He pictured how Clare’s face would light up when he told her he told his father. But then his mind saw how his father’s face would worm over full of disappointment, lips pressed firmly together in the closest thing to anger that the king ever got.

He glanced at the window then down at the hardwood flooring. “I’m sorry.” Charlion twisted the fingers on his right hand until the bruises on his knuckles hurt. “I know what you’re going to say. I know it was a poor example to our people. And I know that a warrior, especially a king, needs full use of his senses. But we just wanted to try it once, and we didn’t get very drunk, it was only three.”

His father’s hand settled on his shoulder and Charlion looked up. Disappointment indeed etched lines on his father’s face but there was also something else.

“Thank you, Charlion.” Faewylin held his gaze, and an understanding passed between them. Then he dropped his hand back to his side. “Now, we both need rest. We’ll discuss this in the morning.”

“Yes, my lord. Goodnight, dad.”

“Goodnight, Charlion.” Faewylin headed toward the door, only to pause with his hand on the knob. He turned back to Charlion. “And when Clare is sixteen, and you have her father’s permission, I would like to meet her.” He opened the door and left.

Charlion crawled under his covers, listening to wind rush outside his open window. Presently, he fell asleep. And Clare’s smile greeted him in his dreams, and how she would hug him and tell him how brave he was to tell his father, especially when he could have left the conversation with meeting a girl.


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