The sun was shining, and the world seemed dazzlingly brilliant. Newel mounted his horse and rode for the castle. With the news of his expected heir still ringing in his ears, he could not wait to look his brother in the eye, knowing that, at last, Newel had everything he wanted.
Nothing but the sweet taste of long-awaited triumph filled Newel's mind as he arrived at the castle. One servant helped him dismount, and another took his horse's reins.
Newel bounded up the steps and into the castle with the light step of a man coming home after a long absence. For once, Newel truly felt like he owned the world.
"The Duke of Northumber," exclaimed a steward, rushing up to assist him with a look of surprise that said he was not expecting the visit. "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for my brother," Newel answered. He waved the steward away. "Never mind, I will find him myself." And Newel strode off, leaving the steward unsure whether he should welcome the Duke or call for the guards.
Ah, these halls felt like home. They had always been his home, and he had always expected to be master here. For a long time, Alton had outdone Newel -- but no longer. Newel would have a son, just as Alton did. And Newel's son would become a great man.
Down another set of steps and through another hall. Newel continued to survey the castle and search for his brother. His spirits were high, but something about the familiar walls brought his mother's voice to his head.
"You will be king, Newel," she whispered, as she had whispered a hundred times before.
"My son will be king," Newel said aloud. The words were sweet to his lips. What a feeling of restitution they gave him! After all the trauma of his childhood and the buried hopes of his adulthood, his dreams would be fulfilled in his son! And he would finally feel that he had done what his mother always wanted.
His mother's face rose in his mind, but, instead of looking pleased as he expected, she looked troubled and distressed. Newel stared wonderingly at her face.
"HE is in the way," he heard her voice softly, almost audibly.
"Who?" Newel asked her.
But she was gone, and Newel was only staring down an empty hallway. Newel stopped, feeling hesitant and unsettled. He turned and looked both ways along the hall as if he expected to see her. But he saw no one and he only heard a distant sound of swords ringing against each other.
Like a man lost, he followed the sound of the swords until he stepped out into a courtyard and saw the swordsmen. It was his nephew and another young man, clearly enjoying their swordplay. Newel stared at his nephew as if he had not seen him before.
The prince was a young man of twenty years, strong and handsome. His expression was focused on the game at hand, lending even greater handsomeness to his features. And he was clearly winning against his opponent. His movements were swift and fluid, full of the grace of natural athleticism. He was everything that Alton had been at that age, and Newel's heart squeezed in fear.
With a well-timed blow, the prince sent his opponent's sword clattering to the ground. Both young men bent over, panting and laughing, and high on a balcony above them, a girl's voice rang out with praise.
"Your father shall be so proud of you," she said, clapping her hands delightedly, her eyes full of admiration.
Suddenly, in Newel's imagination, he saw his own son there, crouching shyly in the corner as Newel himself had once done, eclipsed by the son as Newel had been eclipsed by the father. History was repeating itself, and, for a moment, Newel felt powerless again.
But, no! He would not let that happen! And this time, he was not powerless.
He turned from the scene and stormed away. "Mother," he murmured. "You were going to do whatever it took to put me on the throne. Now I am going to do the same for my son. He WILL reign! He WILL be great! I will make him the most powerful king in history!"
He turned a corner and trotted up a set of steps. "I will take my time. I will invent the perfect revenge. Alton will pay for everything he has done to me." A dark, evil laugh was bubbling in his chest over the thought of the reversal of roles his plan would bring about. But patience reigned him in and held his laugh in check. He had much to do to prepare. He would need to call a meeting with his Rats.
The things he had never been brave enough to do before were now his delight. His son was his catalyst, and the world would soon be his. As he strode from the castle and called for his horse, Newel looked darkly at the bright sky.
"The sun will never again shine on this castle," he silently promised himself. "From now on, a cloud of thunder will shadow it. I will be that cloud."
Fear me, Alton. Fear me, at last.