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Castle Starlwart -- FWG Flash Fiction for 4/8/2023

I missed last week because I was traveling, but I'm back this week with a fantasy with a twist based on this prompt:

Castle Stalwart

When the Black Prince fled from The Usurper’s army, he knew the only refuge from which he could rally his supporters and mount a counterattack was Castle Stalwart. Surrounded by cliffs rising from the Misty Sea and supplied by the Forever Spring, the castle was impregnable, and its gardens and livestock made it immune to siege. The Stalwart family tradition of complete neutrality was a major complication, though.

The prince tried everything, including offering his younger sister in marriage to any of the duke’s sons. The refusal of that offer was accompanied, however, by an invitation to visit.

Whatever route the ferry took to the castle’s wharf was invisible in the fog, but he endured it for the chance to parley with the enigmatic Duke. He slaked his thirst from a goblet filled from the Forever Fountain as the duchess met him in the courtyard.

“Welcome, Your Highness.” The dowager Lady Stalwart bowed.

The prince nodded then looked around the gathering of retainers accompanying the Duchess. “I was hoping to meet with His Grace, the duke.”

Lady Stalwart sighed. “Alas, the duke’s line ended many years ago.”

“Ended?” Suddenly noticing that all the members of the court were women, the prince gulped more water, his throat suddenly gone dry.

A sly smile curled her lip. “Yes, you see the addictive water of the Forever Spring,” she nodded to the goblet in his hand, “is ill-named—at least for the men who imbibe it.”

From the workshops, stables, and kitchens, women—all women—stepped into the courtyard. The prince tried to cast aside the goblet, but his fingers refused to release it.

The duchess’s smile slid into a leer as the women crowded around the prince. “Your remaining days may be short, Your Highness, but the nights will be long, indeed.”

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