IT was early dawn and Arstol found himself all sprawled out on the ground. In an open square at the borders of West Stongate.
The North prince had just woken up to the first ray of morning light; as it brushed over his eyelids with a soft, gentle gloss.
Arstol was startled that he found himself here. He was more surprised that he’d woken up to a place with normal sunrise and sunshine.
The young noble looked around. He could see stonewalls reaching up high above him. So he observed his surroundings awhile; and he wondered what that place really was.
The last thing Arstol remembered was being lost in the Dungeon of Fears, deep down beneath the heirsen world.
He remembered also that he’d lost his chariot there. And that he couldn’t find his way back.
Arstol had fallen down on the ground in that dark dungeon. He’d been weary and worn-out from his hopeless wandering.
And that night the young prince had lain on his back and stared forlornly into the darkness above him.
He just looked up and desperately pleaded the Father-King for help… there in that dungeon of bastards.
Just about then Arstol gradually faded out in his being. And that fleeting moment both his body and being dissolved into nothingness.
But by the time his eyes parted open again, Arstol saw himself at the border gates of an heirsen city.
Arstol jolted up to his feet now. And he roamed about the city borders, searching round if he could find a guide or someone.
The North prince roamed about awhile. And soon he came upon a sign at the gates that told that place was West Stongate.
Now Arstol desired to seek help from the protector of this city. Probably through anyone he could find to guide him to that prince.
But then he had a rethink: here was he, a noble prince himself; and here was he, in a disgraceful spot.
He wouldn’t want to drag the glory of his city in a mud. He wouldn’t want to get Highland North further soiled and dirty.
Arstol pulled back right then and turned back from the city gate. But then it seemed too late already.
For sentries standing over the stonewalls spotted this stranger. And the next moment a giant fishnet was flung over him as he made to pull away.
Thus the North prince was caught in the cruel net of West Stongate.
◙ ◙ ◙
Celson and Xandur spent the night at West Stongate’s governing house. Scheming, all the way from dusk to dawn, on how to trap Arstol.
But neither the Protector of West Stongate nor the Prince of Olde Glassfield had the least idea that Arstol was so close.
Neither of them knew the young noble was here.
Prince Celson heard everything Xandur had to say about Arstol. And already he was joining hands with the Glassfield noble to him take down.
What had started as a casual talk about Arstol, had burgeoned and ballooned into some elaborate strategizing.
One that took two princes talking all through the night.
And yet the night had dawned into day. But the plotters weren’t anywhere near a headway.
Celson had only wanted to pass time with the talk the previous evening when he settled down in front of Xandur.
He had asked to know who exactly the North prince was, for Xandur to hate him that much.
But when Celson heard about Arstol’s self-assured contempt on a fallen Xandur. When he heard of that haughty look that hurt Xandur’s pride, the West prince went completely berserk…
So much that time and night mattered little.
The Prince of the West simply loathed heirsens. Celson hated heirsens with little or no painted patch on their glass garments.
Celson’s glass skin was all designed in paintings of thistle flowers. To conceal the cracks that ran down his skin from head to toe.
So Celson hated his own failures in heirsens of pure glass. He hated heirsens whose crystals still shone in the radiant sun.
And thus, as the day broke in the morning sky, Celson and Xandur wrapped up their long, fruitless pursuit for that night.
But both princes wouldn’t have to look so far. For right in West Stongate was their target now.
Right within the walls… was Arstol.
◙ ◙ ◙
Prince Arstol chose not to prove his nobility, or resist his arrest in any way.
He was knee-deep in a messy situation. So he resolved he wasn’t going to get down dirtier.
The North prince told the guards when they came down on him. He told then that he was only a wanderer who’d just lost his way.
But the watchmen took the soiled noble to be some mischievous intruder.
Arstol crouched into a small bundle like an offender, as the border guards carted him away in a large wagon.
For the watchmen led him to their prince for a swift verdict on him.
Prince Arstol sighed and sighed. Not a fleeting thing mattered to him now.
Not the shame of being captured as an offender. Nor even the distress of his hectic quest.
For now, Arstol knew where he had erred. And it was as touching the battle for bastards; the quest to expand his city.
Arstol admitted this led him here.
Indeed, the young noble knew the Father’s verdict on the battle he so coveted. And he was also aware of his own motive for that battle.
Arstol was aware of his ulterior motive in going down to battle. That battle at the camp of bastards.
Yes, Prince Arstol remembered the Father’s answer. That answer he got the day he led his unicorns to graze the golden fields.
He remembered now that the answer had rolled out from his own lips, in fact. And he could recall the golden words.
That rearing is easier than hunting.
Broken and crushed by where his paths led him, Arstol now felt sorry for erring. And so he cried as the carriage carted him to Celson.
He cried some remorseful tears.
So then the cart arrived eventually. At the enemy’s governing house, it arrived.
Then the Prince of Highland North was held in bonds. And was made to wait for the Prince of the West.
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