Prince Colwyn smiled as he stepped onto the pier in the harbour of Calfiris. It was good to be home.
The arrival of his ship the Sea Squall, now a lot more battered than when she had left three long years ago, had not gone unnoticed, and so a squad of guardsmen hastened down the pier to meet him.
“Your Highness, it is good to have you back, Sir!” their captain exclaimed, and almost forgot to salute in his excitement.
Not that Colwyn cared much about protocol. He never had. He looked up at the castle on the hill above the harbor, glistening pink and gold in the first light of the morning sun, looking just as it had when he’d left.
“Thank you, captain. I’d like to see my parents now, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” the captain said and this time he even remembered to salute. “I shall escort you to the palace at once.”
Colwyn did not have the heart to tell him that he already knew the way.
His parents both hugged Colwyn, which was unusual, because Father had never hugged him in the olden days, not even once.
They had grown old in the years Colwyn had been gone. He remembered Father as a powerful man, a warrior king, no longer young but still strong, with a beard only slightly shot with silver. The man who embraced him, however, was old and frail with a shock of white hair.
Mother had been an attractive woman, her face still largely unlined and only a few threads of silver in her auburn hair. The woman who hugged him and kissed him, however, was a wrinkled elderly lady with wisps of white hair escaping from underneath her wimple.
“It’s good to have you back, son,” Father said, and let his fingers, his aged wrinkled fingers, trace the muscles on Colwyn’s exposed arms, “You were a skinny boy when you left, but you’ve grown into a man, strong, powerful. What about the Anzelzus and his forces?”
“Vanquished for good. They shall trouble us no more.”
Colwyn himself had made sure of that, by thrusting his blade through the demon lord’s chest.
Father awkwardly patted him on the shoulder. “Good, son. You did well.”
It was Mother who asked the dreaded question. “What of Andric?”
Colwyn lowered his eyes. “Lost in battle, almost two years ago now. There was nothing I could do. I’m sorry.”
He watched tears well in his parents’ eyes and suddenly felt guilty all over again, guilty for being unable to save his older brother, the heir to the throne and the golden boy who could do no wrong. Colwyn had had two almost two years to mourn his brother, and the wound struck by the loss had scabbed over by now to the point that there were days when he barely felt it. But to his parents, the loss was fresh, the pain still raw.
Once again his father hugged him, pulled him close.
“Andric was always too bold for his own good, always took too many risks. Even if you tried, I doubt you could have stopped him from getting himself killed.” Father let go of him. “I’ve grown old, son, and the crown rests heavy on my brow. And with Andric gone, you will have to take over soon. I wish I could give you more time to prepare, but…”
Colwyn nodded. Part of him had expected this, as soon as the Sea Squall pulled into the harbor. “I understand, Father. And I will do my duty. But first, there is someone else I need to see.”
Mother nodded, a knowing smile on her face. “Alisa.”
“You… you know?”
Father put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve known for a while. And no, we have no objections. We never had.”
“You could have told us before, though,” Mother added.
“And now go and see her, son. I’m sure she’s already waiting.”
Colwyn smiled. “Yes, I will.”
Not long thereafter, Colwyn dismounted outside a modest cottage on the outskirts of the city. Everything still looked the way it had on the day he’d left. The roses blooming in the garden, the ripe apples on the trees in the orchard, a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney.
Colwyn had loved Alisa from the moment he first saw her—in the palace courtyard, as she brought a basket of apples for her father, commander of the king’s guard. Colwyn had stolen an apple from her… and a kiss. Alisa had slapped him, a shocking thing for a commoner to do to a prince, but Colwyn did not mind. They became friends and finally—with some encouragement from Andric, who’d been so much bolder and more experienced at dealing with girls—lovers.
Finally, only two days before Colwyn and Andric had left aboard the Sea Squall to fight the demon lord Anzelzus and his dark forces, Colwyn and Alisa had become husband and wife. They’d married in secret, fearing opposition from their parents. A small temple, a priest bribed with a bag of gold, a quiet ceremony. Andric had been the only other person who knew, the one who stood beside Colwyn as he swore the marriage oath.
As Colwyn walked up the path to the cottage, the door flew open and there was Alisa, his wife and the love of his life. She, too, had changed in the years he’d been gone. If anything, she’d become more beautiful. Her lithe girlish body had taken on womanly curves and her cheeks were glowing. The sun kissed her copper-gold hair.
By her side stood a large shaggy dog. Grummel, Colwyn’s childhood pet and constant companion until he left for war.
Grummel came toward him in leaps and bounds, barking with the intense joy only a dog can feel. He jumped on his hind legs, tongue extended, to lick Colwyn’s face.
Colwyn grinned and patted the dog’s head. “Yes, pal, I missed you too.”
And then Alisa was there and Colwyn pulled her into his arms, holding her close.
“I knew you’d come back,” Alisa whispered. “I always knew you’d come back to me, to us.”
Colwyn said nothing. He just kissed her, kissed her until he had to come up for air, and then he kissed her again.
He did not know how long they stood there outside the little cottage, just holding and kissing each other, while Grummel rubbed his shaggy fur against them both.
What finally brought them both back into the real world was a small voice. “Grummel…?”
Colwyn tore his eyes from Alisa to see a little boy of maybe two or three years standing in the doorway of the cottage.
The boy took a cautious step out of the door. “Mommy? Who’s that man?”
The words of the little boy, so innocent, hit Colwyn like an arrow to the heart. Of course, he’d been gone for three years. Alisa had probably mourned him, then moved on and found someone else.
Alisa looked at him, tears welling in her eyes. She kissed him on the lips, a quick, furtive kiss.
“I did not want you to find out like this, but…” She turned and called for the little boy. “Come here, my darling. Come to Mommy. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
The boy ran toward Alisa on short pudgy legs, arms outstretched. Colwyn could see the resemblance now, the same copper-gold hair, the same verdigris eyes. Alisa picked him up and settled him on her arm. The boy regarded Colwyn with curious eyes and the sight almost broke his heart.
“Colwyn, may I present your son, Prince Devyn.” She turned to the boy. “Devyn, this is your Daddy, who’s finally come home from the war.”
It took a few heartbeats for the truth to sink in. “My… my son?”
Alisa nodded and smiled. “When you went away, you left me with a gift to remember you by. The greatest gift of all.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? I’d never have left, if I’d known.”
“Because I didn’t know. I only found out after you were already gone.”
The little boy, his son, Devyn was watching him with keen eyes.
“Are you really my Dad?” he asked.
Colwyn grinned, while tears filled his eyes. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
He put his arms around Alisa and Devyn and pulled them both close: his wife, his son, his family.
After three long years, he was finally home.
— Cora Buhlert
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