Amaltea starts awake at the first deep tolling of the temple bell. After a count of many seconds it rings again, full of doom. Tears well in Amaltea’s eyes.
“Oh, no. Oh, God. Why?!” she asks the ceiling, then weeps into her pillow. The bedroom here in the imperial palace is cold despite the fireplace. Her husband is not here.
As if in answer to a prayer, the bedroom door opens. With hunched shoulders and plodding feet does Xenograg return.
“Xeno!” Amaltea slides out of bed and runs into his arms. Xenograg clings to her as tightly as she does to him. She looks up into his face, sees his iron mask of tense muscles.
“The prince is dead,” is all he says, his voice cracking with even those few words.
“Oh, Xeno. I’m so sorry.”
“I know, love. I…know,” and Xenograg finally breaks down, crying out his grief. The mournful bell continues to slowly toll, bringing the sad news to the world. The heir to the imperial throne of Demodar is dead, age but three days. He was now with his mother again, the empress having died in childbirth.
Three days. Long enough to have been loved and given a name: Xenoden.