((A collaboration between gorgenmast and Vampiretwilight))
The former chamberlain of Felboge Keep bounced uncomfortably upon the back of donkey, swaying wildly with each step of his comically-small steed. He was nearly asleep and kept awake only by the sheer discomfort of the ride. Despite the discomfort, the chamberlain found himself nodding off every now and then. No harm in dozing once in a while, thought the chamberlain; the roads of the Imperial Heartlands were quite safe. Brigands and highwaymen were rare this close to the Capital after all.
The chamberlain had been traveling at a grueling pace ever since leaving the dominion of Ulrek Bathory. Four days ago he had crossed into Solleckshire, the wards of Matteas Bathory - who the chamberlain soon learned was rumored to have been murdered with his suitor by highwaymen en route to Castle Solleck. A dubious rumor. What sort of highwayman is brazen - or well-prepared - enough to ambush a Baron along with his entire retinue of guards? If such a tale were true, it would certainly be the work of Ulrek Bathory. All the more reason to hurry south toward the Capital and relay news of Ulrek's deeds to King Zachaeus. To that end, the chamberlain purchased the fastest means of travel he could procure without raising eyebrows: a young donkey from some serfs in Solleckshire, and proceeded southward to the capital as quickly as his humble steed could carry him.
It was dark now, and a thin sickle of a crescent moon dimly illuminated the surrounding countryside. Unyielding moor had given way gradually to a rolling patchwork of farmland, pasture, and woods delineated by cobblestone fences and the occasional wolf tree. The chamberlain reckoned that it was at least two hours past midnight, judging by how chilly and dark it was at this hour. Just a little farther and he would find a place to sleep for the rest of the night.
Up ahead was a crude wattle-and-daub hovel off the roadside. A patchy, moss-infested thatched roof and the surrounding acre of weed-riddled fallow field suggested that it had been abandoned for some time. The groggy chamberlain decided this would be as good of a place to spend the night as any he would find and guided the ass off the road up the short trail to the abandoned hovel. The chamberlain was too tired to to notice the fresh hoofprints and tracks in the dirt surrounding the hovel.
The donkey raised its long ears as the chamberlain dismounted and announced his discomfort with a short, wheezing bray. Something had spooked the beast.
"Shhh," the chamberlain hushed with a gentle pat of the donkey's snout. "Nobody's lived here in the better part of a decade." The chamberlain staggered around the back of the hut, noticing a gaping hole in the wall of the structure before unfastening the belt on his trousers hanging limply to his waist below the robe. The escape from Ulrek's keep had visibly exhausted the former chamberlain, who had resorted to poking two new holes in his belt to keep his trousers on his waist. Standing at the edge of the fallow field, the chamberlain gave a refreshed sigh as he unfastened his trousers and relieved himself into the brush.
The chamberlain heard something rustle in the weeds, startling the donkey and him as well. Warm piss splattered onto the leg of his pants and robe as he recoiled from the rustling bushes. Hastily, he refastened his belt and lowered the folds of his robe.
"Who goes there?!" Called the chamberlain, backing away toward the braying donkey.
Edward let out a groan after he was startled awake. He had fallen into a fairly deep slumber but the shout had caused him to awaken. Emily had awoken as well, having let out a gasp as a result. Edward tried to sit up, but Emily forced him to lay back down against the tree.
"You're too hurt." She had actually scolded him.
Edward sighed and complied. The princess nodded in approval before carefully replying to the shout. She had no idea who it was after all.
"Who...who are you?"
Edward rolled his eyes but Emily did not notice. He tried to reach out to hold her hand as well, but Emily still didn't notice. she kept her eyes in the direction that voice had come from.
"A... courier," the chamberlain responded after a moment's pause to the voice in the brush. "I am a courier on an urgent errand for his majesty King Zachaeus. In the name of your King, leave me in peace and in peace I shall leave you."
"Wait....you work for father?" Edward managed a weak reply, trying to sit up again.
"No you don't. Lay back down. You're too injured to move." Emily scolded him again.
"Alright alright, princess. I'm fine. Do not fret over me." Edward groaned afterwards.
"Not precisely, I am but a-... wait. Father?" The chamberlain repeated to himself, dumbfounded. "Who are you?"
Emily tried to shush Edward before he could speak.
"You're majesty, you need to rest."
Edward spoke anyway. "Edward...Bathory...Prince....Edward...Bathory. Son of..." He trailed off.
Emily bit her lip in worry.
"Edward Bathory?!" Without hesitation, the chamberlain bounded into the brush after the voice. Nestled within a bowl of stamped-down weeds at the base of a wolf tree, the chamberlain found the vampire prince sitting upright, with a beautiful young woman clad in a ratty cloak hovering anxiously above him. The chamberlain recognized the handsome young man immediately as Edward Bathory.
"Your Majesty!" The chamberlain immediately bent the knee and bowed low before him. But out of the corner of his eye, the chamberlain saw a dark stain of vampiric blood matting his palace finery. Even for vampire skin, Edward's was alarmingly pale, verging on pale purple. His thin lips were turning a worrying shade of blue. The chamberlain's heart sank, for Edward was nearly dead. If Edward's grievous wounds were not attended to, he would die. Ulrek would win his father's contest not with love, but with hatred and fratricide.
And that, the chamberlain decided, could not be allowed to happen.
"His Majesty needs immediate care," the chamberlain concluded, turning to the pretty young girl at the prince's side. "The best apothecaries and doctors in all the land can be found in the Capital. They will be able to help the Prince, but it is at least a day's ride away, and the sun will rise in a few short hours." The chamberlain paced about in the wet, dewy weeds, racking his mind for a solution. After a minute of pacing, the chamberlain tore his tattered robe off - still wet with a small patch of still-warm piss, leaving the chamberlain only ill-fitting trousers over his legs.
"It is a lowly thing for a prince to wear, but it is thick wool and it will protect you from the sun's light. You must put this on and come with me. I have a donkey that can carry you to the Capital."
Edward just barely managed a nod. Emily nodded. She frowned with worry as she looked at Edward. Edward let out a groan.
"Damn...silver blade."He managed to say that much. He could feel Emily put the cloak over him but he did not care. His eyes had closed once more.
Emily stood up and proceeded to help Edward get to the donkey.
"He fought a very powerful vampire hunter to save me. the hunter fled but not before they each took damage. The hunter had a silver blade."
A vampire hunter. So this was the work of his former master.
"Ulrek," said the chamberlain gravely as he supported the shuffling Edward to the braying mule. "I knew he was planning something of the sort. You must understand, I served under his brother, the Baron of the Great Weald. I saw what Ulrek was doing after he returned from the Capital and I knew he had malign intent. I tried to warn them, but I suspect my messages were never received, but I will see to it now that he and the King are sufficiently warned. Ulrek must not be allowed even another week unchecked."
Emily and the chamberlain helped Edward over to the ass and helped lift the wounded prince upon its thankfully-low back.
"It will be better than walking, your Majesty, but only marginally so. Brace yourself for a rather unpleasant ride. We will have to move quickly."
Edward groaned but otherwise did not respond. Emily nodded. She had had a bad feeling and told the chamberlin as much. She touched Edward on the cheek as they began to leave.
Edward needed help, and quickly.
With the vampire prince swaddled in a piss-soaked robe upon the tethered ass, Emily and the fugitive chamberlain of Felboge Keep made their way down the southern road toward the moonlit horizon and the Capital many leagues beyond. For if Edward did not survive the journey home, peace for the Empire Under Shadow would die with him.