They finally reached the castle after a week of almost constant travel. The wagons had taken a beating on the road and limped on wheels repaired so often, they were barely holding together. The men had not faired much better. The soldiers were slumped in their saddles, sometimes sleeping as they rode. Only the Prince and the guard remained straight backed and alert, as their eyes fixed on the grey turrets rising above the trees.
The huge wooden doors swung open to accept them into their new home, but as they limped into the central courtyard even the Guard could tell there was something wrong. The place was deserted. Where were all the people that usually thronged a castle such as this? The Princess emerged form the wagon and as the Prince helped her to step down, they both stood in the empty arena, looking around with puzzlement.
Then a small crowd of people emerged from a doorway above them and hurried down the steps, dignitaries by their rich attire. A short, officious looking man stepped forward and all of them suddenly sunk to their knees in front of the Prince. He looked down at them in obvious amazement. This was clearly not normal behaviour.
'Your Highness,' the man said, his head bowed, almost touching the stone cobbles. 'Did you receive our message?'
'No,' the Prince replied and added impatiently, 'What is wrong?'
'The King is dead,' he said and all the kneeling courtiers replied as one, 'Long live the King!'
The guard's eyes were fixed on the Princess and he saw her face go pale, and her legs start to collapse from under her. The guard shot forward and took her arm, supporting her against his strong body. She trembled under his hand, her head slumping onto his shoulder.
And what of the Prince? He was standing surveying the men in front of him, a look of cold triumph on his handsome face.