It's been a long while since I've updated, and I only have the lame "other stuff to do" excuse. Anyway, this chapter includes the events leading up to Soren's first trip to Goldoa, the visit itself, and the consequences of the trip. In other news, how is there still snow outside?!

Five years after the prince had returned to the keep, and he was still suffering from the effects of the 'trip.' Or rather, those who worked and lived in the keep were suffering the effects. Even the most unobservant of the maids could tell after just a few moments in his presence that he was dangerously unstable. He hadn't actually attacked anyone yet, but that was hardly reassuring. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time.

The servants weren't the only ones to notice the change. The soldiers that had been hand-picked by the king to protect the keep prided themselves on their bravery and skill, but even they flinched when the prince turned his attention to them. Not even Ashnard had that effect on them.

When Soren finally achieved the status of Wind Sage and received a wyvern from his father, the inhabitants of the keep were almost ecstatic. If the prince had a convenient way to leave the keep, they hoped he would take it and give them at least a few minutes of peace a week. The only thing stopping them from celebrating was their fear of drawing the prince's attention.

Only one person was upset with the gift. To Ena, it was just one more similarity between the father and son. It was her job to take care of the prince, and for the first decade it was a duty she enjoyed. He had been almost nothing like his father, reminding her more of a young Rajaion. These days she had difficulty thinking of Soren as the nephew of her beloved, instead of Ashnard's heir. The most disturbing change, at least to her, was that Soren hadn't contacted his mother in years, and had in fact thrown his sending stone from a balcony. It was only through sheer luck that Ena had found it before anyone else. She decided the discarded stone would be a plausible reason for seeking him out.

She found Soren just outside the door to his chambers. She stopped just outside of the range of his spells and bowed slightly before speaking, "My lord prince. I found this outside and thought you must have dropped it." She held the stone in front of her, expecting the prince to take it.

Soren glanced at the stone and then back at the dragon. "I threw that away a year ago." He stepped toward her, and she barely resisted the urge to retreat. "Why are you only attempting to return it now?"

"I...I merely lost track of time."

"That is a lie. What did you hope to accomplish by bringing this to me?"

"I had hoped that you would use it. Perhaps you could ask Prince Kurthnaga for permission to enter Goldoa. It may do you good to get away from-" Ena was so startled by the sudden narrowing of the prince's eyes that she stopped mid-sentence.

"Goldoa?! Are you trying to get me killed? No, that is a foolish thing to ask. Of course you'd love to see that. So why send me away when you could kill me here? Unless you think it would be more fitting for Kurthnaga to correct his sister's mistakes."

Ena could have restrained herself if Soren had only accused her of wanting him dead; at times, even if she hated to admit it, that was exactly what she wanted. Or rather, she wished he hadn't been born in the first place. But to bring Kurthnaga into it, that was something she couldn't handle. Without stopping to consider her actions she slapped the prince with her free hand.

Soren was completely still for a second, before raising his hand and sending an elthunder spell at the dragon. It was only at the last moment that he redirected the attack to have it strike the wall instead, burning a large hole in the tapestry. Ena stared at him for a full minute before turning and running back the way she had come.

Once she was out of sight, Soren grabbed the sending stone from where Ena had dropped it and held it close. He wasn't sure if he wanted to use it or not. He leaned against the wall as he thought back on the way Ena had treated him in the past. In his early memories of her, she had been kind but strict, and always seemed to have a sad look in her eyes when talking to him. In the past five years she had retained that sadness, but the kindness had been replaced with what he could only assume was hatred. And then there was just a few minutes ago. That was the only time he had seen her afraid of anything. Had he really changed so much that he could frighten a full-grown dragon with a single spell?

It took him almost an hour to make up his mind.

His mother had promised to inform Kurthnaga about his arrival, and a servant had been ordered to prepare supplies for a long trip, so all that Soren had to do was get to Goldoa without being stopped or killed. For the most part, this was simple enough. The guards were accustomed to seeing him leave on his wyvern, and the longer he stayed away the happier they were, so they were unlikely to report him taking so many days' worth of food.

In theory, it would only get easier once he was out of sight of the keep. His wyvern was not eye-catching, being of the same breed that was given to new recruits unable to afford one on their own. Anyone seeing him from a distance would assume he was just a regular patrol. Unfortunately this made him easy prey for the Begnion border patrols.

Soren knew for a fact that he was still within the borders of Daein, and would have finished the pegasus knights off if he'd been able to cast spells. As it was, he had to be saved by their commander, who ordered her troops to fall back before turning and asking if he had been hurt. He continued his journey to Goldoa without answering her, and was relieved to see she didn't try to pursue him.

When he finally passed into Goldoa, he spent a few minutes circling the place where he was supposed to meet his uncle before he saw the small figure waving him down. He guided his mount to the ground and waited for Kurthnaga to approach him.

"Senerio?" Soren looked at him, wondering who Senerio was.

"I'm sorry?"

"Oh," Kurthnaga paused to remember the name Soren usually went by, "would Soren be better?"

Soren slid from the wyvern's back. "I'm not sure I understand the difference."

As they walked to the nearby city, Kurthnaga explained that Soren had two names, one from each of his parents, as well as various things about their family and Goldoa itself. By the time they reached the city, Soren was comfortable with being called Senerio, and had decided that he would not be going to the palace.

They spent much of the rest of the day listening to a group of musicians in the town square. Soren had heard the music from a distance and had been unable to resist going toward it. He'd rarely listened to music before, and he considered even this small performance a treat. It wasn't until after the sun had set that the musicians packed up their instruments and the two princes headed for the mansion where they would be staying for the next several days.

The next day Kurthnaga left his nephew in the local library, saying that he had some things to take care of. This suited Soren just fine. He could ignore the stares of the Goldoans if he had to, but he would rather not have to put up with them at all. The weather was nice, so there were few people in the library to stare at him, and few things to distract him from his reading.

Unlike the day before, it was only mid-afternoon when Kurthnaga returned to the library and brought Soren back to the mansion. He didn't know what to make of it until Kurthnaga led him to a room that had been empty the night before, but was now filled with a collection of brand-new instruments.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying out the instruments and trying to find one he liked. The stringed instruments hurt his fingers, and while he liked the sound of the brass ones when accompanied by other instruments, he found that without the accompaniment to be too harsh for him to enjoy. The woodwinds he found had a very soothing sound, but he didn't much like the concept of the reeds. Eventually he settled on a simple wooden flute, and would have spent the whole night figuring out how to play it if Kurthnaga hadn't been there to remind him that he needed sleep to live.

The following days were spent with Soren following Kurthnaga around the town and practicing the flute at every opportunity. He was much more comfortable in Goldoa than he had ever been in Daein. The weather was warmer, and Kurthnaga was the first person Soren had ever considered his friend, even if he was his uncle. If it weren't for an unexpected visitor, Soren would never have left.

It was late at night when the visitor arrived, and Soren would have ignored the arrival if he hadn't heard the door slam. He set the flute down on his desk and walked to his door, intending to go downstairs to see who had arrived, but only had to open his door to know that it would be in his best interest to stay put.

He could hear the visitor shouting from the other end of the building, but was unable to hear Kurthnaga's responses. At first it was nothing new. The visitor apparently wasn't happy with a Parentless being welcomed as a guest in Goldoa. Soren was about to resume his practicing when he heard the visitor say the name Rajaion. That was the name of his father's wyvern, but why would that matter to the man? Now that he was reminded of it, he found himself wondering where his father had gotten such a magnificent mount. His silent question was answered only a short time later.

Soren sank to the ground. How could Ashnard do such a thing? He shook his head. Ashnard could subject his son to mental torture, of course he could turn a stranger Feral if it suited his purposes. After that, he tuned out all sound, so he didn't hear the door slam once again as the visitor left, and didn't notice Kurthnaga approaching him until he was pulled to his feet and led back into his room.

The two of them sat on the edge of Soren's bed for a while before Soren broke the silence, "Who was that?"

Kurthnaga paused before answering, "Ena's grandfather, Nasir. Senerio, I'm so sorry. You shouldn't have had to find out like that."

"I shouldn't have had to find out at all, because it shouldn't have happened at all." Soren paused to give Kurthnaga a chance to respond. When he didn't, Soren continued, "I will be leaving tomorrow."

The return trip to Daein was uneventful, but his arrival was worse than he had expected. He arrived just before midnight, hoping to avoid contact with anybody. As he rounded a corner, nearly walked into Ashnard, and a punch left him sprawled on the floor. He tried to push himself off the ground, but stopped as his throat made contact with Gurgurant's rounded tip.

"Where have you been?"

Soren still remembered what had happened the last time he had lied to the king, how he had barely been able to move for days afterward even after healers had been summoned, so he answered, "Goldoa . . . sir."

"You are never to leave the keep without my permission again, boy. Understood?" Gurgurant'e blade pressed into his throat, and Soren tensed as he felt blood run down his neck.

"Yes, sir."

Snow. In April. I should be used to this by now, but I'm not.