Chapter 6 – Tricky Mission (The Prequel)

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In a distant watchtower of the Arid Kingdom, a group of soldiers was keeping an eye on the thick fog which swirled over the forbidden forest of the White Castle.

Standing by a window-gap in the round wall of stone bricks, Officer Dean rubbed his chin covered by a mat of brown hair and thought aloud, “It could be a natural phenomenon or something else. It’s the first time I see this with my own eyes and it’s so strange that it doesn’t expand away from the white stronghold’s area.”

A soldier staring with a pair of binoculars shouted, “I saw it again! I’m certain that was a human shadow with wings in that big cloud.”

Dean lifted a bushy eyebrow. “That could be just an illusion.”

The oak door of the room opened and General Waltario walked in, followed by his younger brother and two other officers.

Dean turned around in a blink and offered his respectful salutations, then hastened to say, “Sir, we’ve already set some boundaries around the danger zone. Thankfully, there weren’t many merchants coming today.”

“You did well,” Waltario assured him as he meandered closer to Dean’s window. “Give me some binoculars.”

The soldier from the other window handed over his. “I saw human allures in the cloud,” he said with startled young eyes.

With a flick of the wrist, Dean beckoned the soldier to retreat then turned to the general. “Sir, I presume this is what is called the Rainbow Mist.”

Constantine Waltario remained silent as he watched the fog through the magnified view. Now and then, flashes of light blasted between the moving cinder clouds. The Rainbow Mist was a public lie his father had created to cover up the strange happenings around the White Castle’s area to keep the people calm. It worked well to describe it like natural phenomena that came from the sea, but he knew it was not safe. Thankfully, it was always up to the White Castle to deal with the real causes of it.

The general let the binoculars down on the window ledge. “Yes. That’s the Rainbow Mist. Tell the soldiers not to stare at it to avoid getting caught in a fleeting illusion. Also, make sure no one passes by the streets around the fog. The roads will be open again after the fog disappears, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Dean jumped in place to perform his bow, glad that his assumptions had been right.

Waltario left the room at calm pace followed by his crew, but then, as they climbed down the spiraled staircase, he said to his brother, “Go ahead and gather the special team. I’m going to talk to the king about this.”

His brother nodded then started running together with the other two special soldiers.

*

Hidden behind a bush of the royal garden, Soris watched the servant with the bottles advancing toward one of the side entrances of the building.

“I should be able to get the bottle before it goes into the cellar,” the prince said to himself and to the dark-haired girl who stuck close to him.

“How?” she asked.

“Wait here,” he whispered with excitement spread on his face.

The prince sprang from his hiding spot and ran to the servant, then, as he got close enough to the bored man, his feet movement turned into a playful gait. “Hi, mister!” he greeted, jumping at the man’s elbow.

“Oh, good evening, Your Highness,” the servant replied, surprised by this unusual meeting. The way the child clung after him signaled him that the prince was up to some mischief, so he sped up on the white stone alley. Ten more meters and he would be inside the palace.

Jumping automatically by his side, the prince watched the liqueur bottle with red seal on the neck, wrapped in twine, sitting quietly in its place in the box with rattling bottles. It was so close to his eyes, so defenseless. The boy stretched a hand and grabbed the bottle’s neck. He was just pulling it out when the servant suddenly lifted the crate.

“Your Highness, may I know what you’re trying to do? Alcohol is not for kids, and besides, these are all empty bottles,” he explained, keeping the crate up to his chest.

The prince tried to jump and rise on his feet, but it was of no use. His plan had failed. The servant marched inside the building. The boy stopped and watched with dismay how the bottle was getting away from him. If only he’d been quicker. Just when his spirits were going down, Ines showed by his side, “What are you doing? He’s getting away.”

The prince suddenly regained his composure. “Indeed. Let’s go in.”

Ghosting after the servant’s shadow, they halted before a corner and swiveled their heads around. The servant put the crate into a storage room, then locked the door and left to mend his other tasks. Soris retreated from the spying posture and let his chin rest in his palm. “Why didn’t he take the bottles to the cellar?” he wondered. “That’s where the wine barrels are.”

“If only we could open that door,” Ines thought aloud sparking a revelation in the prince’s mind.

“I know where I can get some keys!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “Princess, you wait here and keep an eye on that door. I’m going to come back with the keys.”

Ines nodded, happy to play a part in an important mission. The boy guided her to a hiding spot beside a forgotten cupboard in the corridor, then he started for the superintendent’s room where he was sure to find a copy of most of the keys. His hopping steps led him there in just a few minutes, and with the help of a chair, he managed to reach up to the key ring hung on a wall, under the marking of letter A which stood for the first floor’s rooms.

General Waltario had been right to say no one would expect anything from him. Running through corridors, he’d passed by both nobles and household staff, but nobody ever stopped him to ask where he was going or what he was doing. They all minded their own businesses, not giving a care about a child who was probably just playing by himself. One last corridor and he would arrive at the storage room, open the door, take the bottle, bring it to Waltario, and then…

Something like a claw grabbed him by the collar. “Prince Soris, where do you think you’re going?”

The boy tried to squirm free, begging his captor, “Mister Clark, please, let me go. Someone’s waiting for me.”

Clark’s statue-face barely showed a glimpse of a frown. “Who could be waiting for you?”

Tottering on his toes, the prince mumbled hesitantly, “Well, Princess, the girl with purple eyes…”

Clark gave a hoot of derision, then dragged the boy back to his room. “I might be a pushover, but never a fool, my prince,” he commented snidely. “I’m sure your princess with purple eyes can wait until you pay for your misbehaving. The king has allowed me to punish you. You are not to leave your room until dinner.”

The boy watched with increasing sadness how he was being taken farther and farther from the storage room. The messenger would definitely take the bottle way before dinner. As he reluctantly followed the inexorable supervisor, he struggled to hold back some tears of frustration.

*

Dozing off by the old cupboard, Ines’ attention was drawn by the noise of a horse and the grinding wheels of a cart, echoing from the courtyard. Soon, hurried footsteps approached the silent corridor, so she shrunk by the wall. The whispers of two men reached to her ears.

“Everything is there just like you asked.”

“Good. Help me load my carriage. I need to leave quickly. The roads are going to be blocked because of the Rainbow Mist and I do not want to take a detour. Why would I waste so many days passing through the villages because of some damn fog?”

Ines recognized the first man to be the servant, then she dared to stretch her neck and glimpse at the newcomer. A man in dark clothes wearing a well-defined black mustache waited for the servant to unlock the door. His shiny thick hair followed the shape of his head like a helmet, just like his vest tightened around his slender waist. He was a merchant that came to the palace to bring all kinds of things for the courtiers and take back most of the broken things that could be repaired: from clocks and jewelry to chairs and clothes. Also, the liqueur bottles he brought were one of the best in the entire kingdom.

Ines took the piece of crystal out of her pocket and concentrated on making the spell, then she stepped forward, her heart skipping a beat whenever the two men looked her way but failed to see her. Unconsciously squeezing the piece of crystal in her wet hand, she waited by the merchant’s side, and followed him in the storage room, as the servant opened the door. Under the diffuse veil of light spread by a bulb, they passed by many boxes and shelf units stacked with dusty objects. The grey floor was crowded with parts of broken furniture, so their steps had to be careful.

The merchant rested hands on his hips and sighed. “I won’t take everything today. I’ll take only this, these, and these,” he said, pointing at some boxes overflowing with shiny clothes.

“Oh, we need these chairs repaired quickly. Please take these ones, too,” the servant said, lifting up a pack of wooden pieces.

As they started transferring objects, Ines searched for the liqueur bottle. She found the crate placed primly on a shelf which was out of her reach. When the two men were out of the room, she stopped the spell so she could focus on finding something to stand on. She pushed some box in front of the shelf unit, then hurried to hide behind a desk with two missing legs. The servant returned and, contrary to the merchant’s wish, rushed to pick up some other boxes with things his friends valued.

When he left, Ines darted from her place and jumped upon the box, stretching her hands to reach the crate. With a little effort, she managed to grab the bottle’s neck, but it was hard to shift it from its socket. Steps approached the room, so she had no more time to withdraw. She summoned the power of the crystal and turned invisible just as the merchant entered. He noticed her dark hair fading to nothing.

“What on earth?” he exclaimed and blinked rapidly. He closed in towards her, scanning the shelf. He saw the crate and took it in his hands. “I must be seeing things,” he muttered to himself and moved out, to the girl’s dismay.

Ines followed him in the corridor but stopped for a moment as her knees suddenly became weak. When no one was around, she deactivated the stone and took a moment to rest, remembering her mother’s teachings. Every crystal fed on the owner’s energy. She must have overused it already.

*

Trapped in his room and sitting at his desk, Soris watched the two supervisors talking leisurely and once in a while shooting a suspicious glance at him. Eyes back to the blank sheet of paper, he sighed. The Poem of Redemption had hundreds of verses and he could barely concentrate on copying it. Princess was down in the palace, keeping an eye on the storage room where the messenger could come in any moment for the secret bottle, while he was imprisoned in his room, thinking of an escape route. Dabbling his feet in the air, he transcribed the first verses, then dropped the pen on the table.

Clark eyed him immediately. “Anything wrong, Your Highness?”

“Yes. It’s stuffy in here. I need some air.” He hopped down from the chair and hastened to the balcony. Searching just around the corner of the building, he noticed the merchant’s chariot standing still as it was being loaded with wooden boxes. A thought answered his previous questions. Maybe that’s why the servant didn’t take the crate to the cellar. He was going to pass it to the merchant. Why didn’t he think of that? Soris grew restive with each second, thinking he would lose the messenger’s track.

“What are you watching so intensively?” Clark asked, as he and his friend approached the boy.

Both supervisors behind his back, the boy turned to them and heaved an upset sigh, then dragged his feet back in the room. The desk with the heavy book was waiting for him quietly, but then, so did the door at the back of the room. No one was expecting him to run now. So what if he gave it a try? As soon as that idea sparked in his mind, Soris ran to the door and snatched the key from the lock.

“Oh, no!” Clark gasped. “He’s getting away!”

On the other side now, ignoring the supervisors’ yells, the prince hurried to lock them in, then ran as fast as he could toward the left wing of the palace.

Loping down a servants’ staircase, he stopped on a landing to catch his breath, then looked over the big open window at his left. The carriage hadn’t left yet, but he could hear the merchant’s farewell talk with the servant. Just then, from the hedge bordering the alley, Ines stepped into the picture, looking left and right. Soris waved. “Princess! Over here!”

The girl looked up and smiled, then she beckoned to him to keep quiet. He turned silent as she pointed at the carriage, trying to tell him that the object of their mission was right there. To the boy’s great surprise, she snuck inside the coach’s open back doors. Although that seemed crazy, he jumped with enthusiasm. Once she had her hands on the liqueur bottle she would come out and his mission would be accomplished.

“All right. I’m going now. Take care,” the merchant said as he came out from the palace and went to close the coach’s doors. Soris gasped. Leaning over the window, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Hey, Mister! Hey, over here!”

The messenger looked up and recognized the prince. “Oh, Your Highness,” he said, bending his head respectfully. “How may I be of your service?”

Soris glanced at the carriage, hoping to see Princess coming out. “Can I have some wine?” he asked pushing a grin to his cheeks.

The messenger puffed with laughter. “Oh, my apologies, Your Majesty. I have no wine for your age.”

Soris, smile on his face, was kicking the wall under the window with the tip of his right shoe, as there was no sign of the girl coming out from there. “Come on,” he mumbled between his teeth, then returned to the merchant. “Sir, but you must have something for kids too. I’m sick and tired of drinking only water.”

“Okay. Next time, I’m going to bring you some grape juice.”

“Yay,” said the prince, clutching the window’s margin with despair.

The merchant ignored the child’s other talk-baits, excusing himself. Inside the caravan, Ines, a bit lightheaded, was still searching through things when the messenger came to close the doors. She quickly turned invisible and hastened to get out, but her energy levels dropped low, so she arrived before the doors when they were already closed. She tried to push them open, but it was futile. They were locked.

The cart jolted, then started advancing. Panic-stricken, the girl turned around in the dark place. “Oh, mommy. What am I going to do? Why am I so tired?” she mumbled to herself before collapsing on the cold floor, drifting into deep sleep. The power of the crystal had drained her energy.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoy the story!

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