The Wolf Prince - By Karen Whiddon
As dusk settled over the land like a tattered cloak, Prince Ruben of Teslinko stood alone in the crumbling, condemned tower of his ancestral home and wondered if madness had finally come to claim him.
If not yet madness, then complete blackness of soul. Worse, he could see no way out. He was trapped, as surely as a wild animal caught in a snare.
At the thought, his inner wolf snarled. The beast had been furious as of late, clamoring for him to shape-shift, to change. Stubbornly deliberate, Ruben had remained human for two entire days now. Normal for most Shifters. As for him, forty-eight hours felt like a death sentence.
If only death could come so easily.
Again, the black thoughts. Nothing would help him. Nothing save changing, letting his beast take over once more. Each time, he remained wolf longer and longer, having to battle the wolf inside to shift back to human. And then once he had...he wanted to die.
He’d lost control. More than that. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t seem to regain that part of himself he’d given over to the wolf. The human part, necessary to survive in the kingdom of his parents, the world of his people. Something had broken inside him and he didn’t know how to fix it. Being human felt like how an addict must feel without the drug. Craving it, shaking, unable to sleep, or eat, or function.
He was damaged, ruined, borderline insane. And he—or rather his wolf—didn’t care. Always, the idea of changing, of remaining wolf, beckoned like a glittery bauble forever out of reach. The struggle to keep from giving in grew more and more difficult, compounded by the fact that he really did not care. He’d rather be wolf than human. And though he knew this was considered wrong, it was the way he felt.
Worse, he could only think of one reason why he should try to repair his damaged psyche, because he sure as hell would rather stay wolf than man. But as his father’s sole heir, the fate of his bloodline rested squarely on him. Unless his hidden madness overwhelmed him, Prince Ruben would rule Teslinko one day. Therefore, he couldn’t give in to his deepest, darkest desire and vanish into the vast forests surrounding his father’s lands. Forever to walk on four legs instead of two.
Even the thought made his insides quiver with longing.
Rather than pace the confined space, stepping carefully to avoid the crumbling stones and gaping holes, Ruben gripped the stone window ledge so hard his knuckles turned white. Breathing rapidly, he watched as vehicle after vehicle snaked up the winding, ancient road toward the royal castle. Not to the old part where he now hid, but the sleek, renovated, modern building where his family resided.
No one but Ruben ever visited the decrepit ruins. He preferred it this way, relishing his solitude over the hundred irritating daily tasks a royal prince must perform.
He counted this night among those onerous duties.
His parents, King Leo and Queen Ionna of Teslinko, were having a huge ball. Tonight, and again one week from tonight, and once more a fortnight from tonight, and so on. As long as it took, they had said, making no secret as to their reason. Now that his sisters, including Alisa had been married, all eyes had turned to Ruben, the youngest child and, as the only male, the royal heir. His parents had decided Ruben needed to settle down and produce an heir of his own. This event would be the first of the many it took to find him a suitable wife.
Which was the absolute last thing he wanted.
Ruben could have told his parents they were wasting their time. But as much as he loved them, he was well aware of their shortcomings. They heard only what they wanted to hear, steadfastly refusing to believe their only son could do any wrong.
He certainly hadn’t told them of the dark cloud that had settled over him. They weren’t aware of the possibility of his encroaching madness, nor that he’d reached a decision never to marry. How could he, when he could be a danger to anyone who got too close to him?
So he’d suffer through who-knew-how-many balls, dances or parties, all the while hoping for a miracle that would likely never come. Pity he didn’t believe in either magic or divine intervention.
These days Ruben didn’t believe in much of anything. Least of all, in his ability to lead his people.
Below his vantage