EVERYONE at the courts of West Stongate’s governing house were thrown in utter disarray… that moment the captured prince escaped on the back of a giant unicorn.
Xandur landed on the spot where the beast left off with Arstol. Celson’s guards, too, got there at the same time.
But then it was too late when everyone got there. It was too late and they were sorry.
For, indeed, their captured prey was up in the farthest skies, flying away on Princess Ereon’s winged steed. And ever before those heirsens could pounce on him.
Xandur held out a finger towards the sky, and he gasped aloud in a moment of shock. It was a wordless, trembling breath the noble prince gulped.
The guards rambled about the open courts right then. They hastened to get themselves prepared for any order to chase after.
But Prince Celson just stood fixated where he was; his lips trembling in a moment of speechlessness.
Thus, no order came for the guards to catch up with the fleeing prey. No order came to pursue Arstol in the open sky.
Celson picked himself up now. He staggered towards Xandur’s side.
Now he felt so futile. He felt shamed. And angry, too.
OUT 1ST NOVEMBER!
Everything had happened in front of Prince Xandur, Celson thought. Everything that showed his incompetence to keep his own captive bound.
Yet, he reasoned, this was the same Xandur that he usually looked down on, and showed lots of condescension.
No, Celson felt too incompetent and he just wanted to hide.
Now the two princes stood beside each other and helplessly stared into the skies above. They stared and glared as they watched the North prince go.
For, indeed, the bird the two kept a sleepless night to catch, had freely flown down into their net all by himself.
Yet in the next moment this bird was free again, soaring high in the boundless, open sky.
Celson and Xandur gaped at the North prince as he was being flown away by his valiant damsel.
They gasped in that wistful moment.
‘Arstol…! Ah Arstol..!’
Thereafter the two heirsens got themselves seated somewhere in the open courts, as Celson discharged the sentries off to their posts.
And there, both nobles grappled alone with the pieces left of that giant escape.
◙ ◙ ◙
Celson was the one who questioned first, where the two schemers sat.
‘But who was it who came to rescue him just now?’ he asked.
Xandur knew the Princess of Highland North; and so he had the answer.
‘It’s his solemate. Princess Ereon by name.’
‘Oh, is that so? Well, how did she know he was right here?’
Xandur didn’t have that ready. ‘I don’t know,’ he shrugged. ‘Anyway, I think the puzzle we should face now is: What is Arstol doing here?’ he put in.
Hearing this, Celson sat up. And he gave more attention to what the older noble was drawing out.
So Xandur went on. ‘Your watchmen took him for a suspicious vagabond trespassing your territory. But we know that’s not the case, Your Grace.
‘So the question is: What brings him to West Stongate? What exactly brings the North prince down West?’
OUT 1ST NOVEMBER!
Celson stood up and paced about, his gaze downcast. And he searched for answers in his roaming thoughts.
Xandur was silent; he had no clue himself. But in a short while Celson broke the silence with a certain possibility.
‘I get it now,’ he said with a sudden start.
‘You see, if the bird we’re looking for came wandering into our trap uninvited, it only means he needed something from us…’
Xandur looked askance. He couldn’t guess where his ally was going with the sudden idea. But Celson kept up with the fervour till he’d have been communicating.
And so the West prince shot on. ‘Highland North was caught roaming into our borders on foot. And our city sits right at the realm’s west boundary…’
Xandur nodded in affirmation. He was following with keener interest.
Celson marked the spark in his listener’s eyes. So he sat down by him and fired on with his logic.
‘You see, if Arstol’s princess had just come to rescue him with her own unicorn, then Arstol certainly didn’t come this far to roam the borders on foot…
‘He must have lost his unicorn around here!’ asserted the West prince.
Xandur nodded his head thoughtfully.
Celson backed up his point straightaway. ‘I’ve heard about princes who lost their unicorns and chariots at the Dungeon of Fears.
‘Arstol must have come to battle at the dreaded dungeon, and must have paid the price other imitators pay for embarking on a presumptuous venture!’
Xandur pulled a deep breath. He completely agreed with that viewpoint and he had no objection at all.
That’s it, he mused. That must be it.
And right about then, Prince Celson drew up a hefty implication from everything.
‘You know… right now I think a guardian is trying too hard to be a warrior.
‘I think Arstol’s trying to battle for bastards.
‘And if that’s the case… if it is true Arstol’s developed an obsession already, then it is good news for us!’
Xandur looked askance. ‘But how is that good news?’ he spoke up.
OUT 1ST NOVEMBER!
Celson smiled. ‘That way Prince Arstol has just beckoned on us. We’ll only have to offer him a price for his desire.’
Now Xandur didn’t like that idea at all.
He reasoned that Celson was enough trouble for him in the Great League. So he didn’t want to have to deal with another young superior looking down on him.
But old Xandur admitted things weren’t in his hands to decide. And so he bowed his head and sat awkwardly still.
Thus the older noble left young Celson to bask and bathe in his sudden plans. The plans to buy Prince Arstol over.
Like Xandur himself was bought at a price.
Soon Celson noticed Xandur’s awkwardness. He could feel the frosty airs oozing from him since he raised the idea.
The young prince could tell why the older one was feeling quite uncomfortable. But he didn’t expect that to happen.
And so he gave Xandur a piece of his mind.
OUT 1ST NOVEMBER!
‘Listen here, we equally bought you!’ Celson bellowed, turning to squarely face the elder.
‘We bought your desire for honour and glory. And at a good price for that matter!
‘It is sheer benevolence that we didn’t take your flaming tongue and handed you nothing. We could have taken it and given you nothing at all!
‘But then we like your kind, Xandur! And what we did for you is not the case with everyone at all!’
Xandur didn’t say anything. He just sat down, utterly quiet and still.
Celson looked at him a moment and took on a position to pacify him.
‘You see, Olde Glassfield,’ he resumed in a changed tone of voice. ‘We can take everything Arstol has and still don’t give him anything, you know.
‘The flaming tongue is what the North prince needs right now. But we can’t offer that.
‘We can only take a flaming tongue: we cannot give an heirsen one.’
Xandur swallowed a small sigh as the last words hit him hard. For that fact hit him harder now.
The fact that it was a worthless trade, selling himself to evil.
OUT 1ST NOVEMBER!
Celson went on all the same. ‘That tongue of fire and flames is a real treasure for us, when a fallen warrior sells it over to us.
‘But then it is dangerous fire, when an able knight war against ours with the flames.
‘Now if we get to buy Arstol with his desire, we can’t give him that priceless gift he desperately crave.
‘We will only promise him lies and destroy him once he takes that bait!
‘Now do you get it?’
Xandur raised his head with a spark of excitement in his eyes.
‘That’s perfect, Your Grace. That’s really good!’ he beamed.
Now Prince Xandur was relieved. For almost immediately he was back to his support for the Great League.
That dark league of fallen fighters to which he sold himself.
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