Listross pulled back on the reins. His horse whinnied and stopped.
“I just needed a drink, please, Prince Listross, I was just about to get back out onto the field.” The ferronian’s blond hair was caked to his forehead with water he had dumped on it. He pressed himself against the well, slowly making his way to the opposite side.
Listross hopped off his horse and undid the clasp that held his whip in place on the saddle. “Slaves can get water when they break for lunch. It looks like I’ll have to teach you how to work better and harder.”
The man turned to run, but froze and screamed as the whip fell on his back.
He tried to take another step away.
The man fell to his knees. Listross stepped closer for a better angle.
As he slammed the whip down for a third strike, he felt small arms wrap around his leg.
“Daddy, stop! You’re hurting him.”
“Emmya, you’re too young to understand.”
“No, I’m big now. You’re acting like the bad guys who killed Mommy.”
“It’s called justice. He’s getting what he deserves.”
Listross let the whip fall twice more. Emmya pulled at his legs and cried.
“Emmya, stop pulling on me. I’m trying to do my job.”
“Get a different job. I don’t like this one. You shouldn’t hurt people. That’s what mommy and Grandmother said!”
The man attempted to stand and walk away, but Listross slammed the whip down again. Emmya jumped in the way. Listross tried to pull it back in time, but the tip snapped against her cheek, leaving a red welt.
Her pale green eyes filled with water as sobs burst from her gut.
Listross reached to scoop her up, but she ran back through the small town towards the manor house. He watched her curls bob as she left, his heart feeling the sting of the whip on her cheek.
With a growl in his throat he raised his whip once more on the man. “This is your fault!”
Listross stopped and lowered the whip. “Get back to work.”
He turned and latched the whip on his saddle before mounting and riding off after Emmya. It had been three days since he had taken the town. Listross and his men had claimed the homes for their own. A little more than half of the Ferronians that once lived there he had sent with Grink and a few men that morning to a plantation. The Ferronians there would work the fields under the Tavalaskians. Once that was settled, he planned to send Grink on campaigns to secure the south of Tavalask.
Listross dismounted and tied up the horse to the hitching post to the left of the front steps of the manor house.
He pushed open the door of his new home and wandered down the various hallways, poking his head in the rooms, looking for his beloved daughter. Every year shortly after her birthday for about a month, she would cock an attitude and fight against him and Ideara. Listross sighed and licked the back of his teeth wondering how he was going to raise Emmya without her.
“Daddy was never like this before.” Emmya’s voice came from the kitchen Listross stopped outside the door.
“He’s trying to help your people. He has a lot on his plate. I wouldn’t think too much about it, Emmya. He’s still your daddy.” Eppra sounded a bit distracted. Listross had determined to forgive her for trying to kill him after the attack if she would be his servant.
“But he’s not.” Emmya was crying. “He’s a bad guy. He’s not really helping my people, he’s just being mean to yours. What’s the difference anyway. We both have eyes, hands, noses, toes.”
Eppra sighed and stopped clinking the dishware. “Sometimes when people are hurt too much, they just turn bad.”
Listross peered through the crack between the door and the frame. Eppra held up a bruised apple.
“Remember how we dropped this apple quite a few times yesterday when we were playing catch?”
“Yes?” Emmya sat on the counter, tear stains on her cheeks.
“Well, when we dropped it, we hurt it. See?” Eppra took a small knife and peeled the skin off, revealing the brown mush. “This is what your daddy is right now. He’s like a bad apple that’s been hurt too much. It’s pretty much no good for anything except for the seeds inside. You are that seed. When you grow up, you can take over for your evil daddy and be a good princess.”
Listross stormed in the room and took Eppra by the wrist. In her shock, she dropped the apple that splattered on Listross’s boot. “I’m evil! You dare defy me you wench!”
Leaving Emmya on the counter he dragged Eppra through the hall and down the stairs to the cellar. He opened the metal slatted door and pushed her in.
She rose and grabbed the bars glaring. “You know better than this. You know I’m right. You’re acting evil, killing without thinking. Taking your anger out on anyone who dares look at you the wrong way. I was all for the Tavalaskians having their freedom, but under someone like you? It would be better for your people if you were dead.”
“I will not die until I have fulfilled my father’s wishes. You, on the other hand, have pushed your luck too far. Telling my daughter her father is evil? Saying it would be better if I were dead. You will be executed tomorrow morning for treason.”
Listross turned to storm out. Emmya stood frozen behind him, her small hands covering her mouth. Slowly her hands dropped as a scream and tears burst forth.
“I hate you! I hate you! I don’t want you to be my daddy!”
Emmya dashed up the stairs.
“Emmya! Don’t say that. You don’t mean it.” Listross sighed frustrated.
“She loves me like a big sister. A female role model. Possibly a poor substitute for her mother. You’re the reason her mother died, and now you’re the reason I’m going to die.”
Listross screamed and kicked at the metal bars.
Eppra scoffed and turned her back, but Listross was already jogging up the stairs after Emmya. He searched the house, calling out her name, checking every room and hiding spot.
He poked his head out of the fifth bedroom, scanning the whitewashed hallway. His gaze caught on the end. The front door was open.
Listross bound through the door. The horse was untied from the post. Listross shook his head, She couldn’t have mounted by herself.
“Emmya!” Listross ran down the main street, the careened to the left down the first side street.
As he ran, he asked everyone, both Ferronian and Tavalaskian if they’d seen her and called out her name.
By the middle of town, his mouth was parched from yelling, and his chest felt like it would explode from the stress. Tears filled his eyes.
“Oh please, Tavala, if you can hear me, help me find her. I can’t lose her too.”
Flouth jogged up from a side street. “I heard you can’t find Emmya.”
Listross shook his head.
“What happened? Explain to me as I help you look.”
Listross took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears and sweat from his face.
“I whipped her.” Listross squeezed the cloth as they started the search.
“Yeah right.” Flouth chuckled.
“There was a lazy Ferronian. I was whipping him back to work. Emmya came up and tried to stop me. She got in the way and I couldn’t pull back in time.”
Flouth stopped and looked at Listross emotionlessly. “Okay. So she ran off and now you can’t find her. You checked the manor house?”
“I found her in the house. She was talking with Eppra. Eppra tried teaching her that I was evil and shouldn’t be king, I threw Eppra in the dungeon and sentenced her to exicution in the morning for treason. Emmya heard and ran out crying. That girl needs to die. Emmya’s getting too close to her, almost seeing her as a substitute mother.”
Flouth grabbed Listross’s arm and spun him around to meet his eyes. “Listross, Prince, whatever. You’re being a fool. Emmya needs Eppra. She needs a friend and you have been overly harsh with the Ferronians. You whipped Emmya. And you don’t immediately comfort her, you go drag her friend to the dungeon. Do I need to take that crown from your head again? IS THIS WHAT IDEARA WOULD HAVE WANTED?”
Listross took a step back staring at his friend. His brow slowly furrowed. “You don’t understand the stress and responsibility I’m under not only trying to rule our people but to free them!”
“That’s ridiculous! I’ve been with you from the very beginning. I’m your friend and second in command!”
Listross scoffed. “If you were my friend, you wouldn’t be confronting your prince in the middle of town!”
Flouth cocked his head to the side. “Sorry, but you need this.”
“Wha-” Listross was cut short by Flouth’s fist to his jaw.
Listross threw a punch to Flouth’s nose, but he ducked out of the way, kicked his leg out, and swept it under Listross’s feet, knocking him to the ground.
Listross looked up as rage filled his veins.
Flouth looked around. “WHAT ARE YOU ALL LOOKING AT. GET BACK TO WORK, SLOTHS!”
Listross watched as the small crowd of townsfolk feld the area, ducking into houses and down alleyways.
Flouth held his hand out. “Now, Prince, if you’ve found your sense, I think it would be a good idea to go to your daughter’s friend for help finding her.”
Listross stared at Flouth’s outstretched hand for three long breaths before taking it. Flouth pulled him to his feet.
“I don’t forgive you for that.”
Flouth laughed. “Eh, I’m big enough that I don’t need your forgiveness to live happily.”
Listross chuckled and shook his head, sighing. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. If you ever need me to knock your sense back into you, let me know.”
“If you ever punch me in front of our citizens again, you will not be second in command.”
Flouth shrugged. “It might just be worth the risk.”
Listross licked the back of his teeth, lost in thought as they traveled to the dungeon.
“Eppra. I’ve decided it’s in Emmya’s best interests not to have you killed. Please help us find her.”
She rose from the dirt and brushed off her dress, her eyes bouncing between the two men. Silently she walked through the door they held open for her. “I’m doing this for Emmya, not because I like you.” She flicked her hair over her shoulder, the tips of it brushing against Listross’s nose.
“Just help me find her. I can’t lose her, too. I’ve searched the house and half the town.”
Eppra glanced back at the prince. “I have an idea.”
Flouth and Listross followed Eppra up the stairs of the manor to a storage closet. “I showed Emmya this spot yesterday. It’s where I hid when my father was drunk.”
She opened the closet door and pointed to a small crawl space in the back right corner.
Listross nodded to her. “Thank you.”
“Prince, I was about to explain that there were still some good parts of the apple left, other than the seeds, when you cut off the bruises. You just have to be willing to put in the work to cut off the bruises.”
Listross nodded. He got down on all fours and crawled under the small table kept in the room about the little door. He knocked on it twice before opening it. “Emmya?”
Wet jade green eyes stared back at him from the dark interior.
“Oh, Emmya, I’m so sorry. I haven’t been a good daddy recently.”
She sniffled twice as she worked her way out of the small space and into his arms. “Are you still going to kill Eppra?”
“No, no. She’s your friend.”
“Good. Then I forgive you.”