The Secret of the Prince

Prince Title

The Hero Games Forum Superdraft

 

PART ONE            

At the beginning of time, a powerful deity, a member of the Pantheon, Brother Chaos was easily bored, requiring that he search for some form of entertainment.  The deity brought forth a civilization, a world wherein he could play. He brought forth a land, filled with disorder and strife; as he was want to do, because it was his nature.

He created a land of sin and greed, including a populace that thrived upon the baser instincts of the human condition as a bustling city-state known as Syn formed in his own image.  Gambling, fighting, struggle for gold… all taking place within the borders of the city state.

And as you knew would happen, the people of Syn looked to grab even more power, more control over their destinies than the ultimate manipulator, Brother Chaos, desired.  Conflict was inevitable and, in the end, devastating for Syn. The city was destroyed; lost forever by the whim of Brother Chaos. 

 Millenniums passed and the calmness, the order of the world sent the master of disorder into hiding, nay hibernation.  There was little for him to do, to care about. It was as if he ceased to exist. What is the purpose of a deity of chaos if there is no chaos to wreck?

 Without the hand of god, the land reformed, regrew, regained.  Nature took over and the land became rich with more than sin. The beauty of the land raised itself to the world.  Creatures lived once again, and the rebirth of humanity crossed the globe. Was this a God’s hand? No one was sure.

 A kingdom formed and grew successful throughout the years, the stories of Syn nothing more than a distant myth, a legend to tell the children, to warn of the dangers of selfishness and cruelty.  The kingdom of Galadral spanned to the distant horizon, but there was a secret, something that could threaten the peace that had been so hard won.

King Stanton strolled round the castle.  The decisions of a monarch always weighed heavily and Stanton took the job to heart.  Dressed in a flowing white robe, King Stanton’s pale complexion nearly shined out from beneath the hood.  It had been only a few months since the conflict inside the kingdom had ended and King Stanton was finally coming to grips with the results.  The betrayal had been painful, but the severing was necessary.

“Your majesty,” said the palace guard, approaching the monarch, “the Prince is out on the keep again.”

King Stanton knew what that meant.  The son, the heir to the throne of Galadral was putting it all on the line once again.

“Thank you, will you let Ariana know where I am,” said King Stanton.

 Ariana, the consort of the King, was a lovely woman, with flowing red hair and the kindest nature for which you could wish.  The guard knew the relationship between the king and the consort would strain the royal image, but he was completely loyal to his king. 

“Right away, your majesty,” he said. 

With a quick step, King Stanton motored toward the castle keep, worried that this time, the Prince would not be as lucky as he has been before.  The teen boy was walking the edge of the wall, hopping from one foot to another as the light air blowing his wavy, dark brown hair around his head. Hearing the approach of King Stanton, the boy dropped from the edge into the expanse of the air, plummeting down.

“Jessup!” screamed the king, rushing to the side, fear gripping at the king’s heart.  But before King Stanton could reach the side, the young prince sprung back over the king’s head, athletically spiraling into a perfect pose upon one knee.  Releasing the elastic rope that had been his lifeline for this stunt, Prince Jessup raised to his feet, the sparkle of the devil in his eye.

 “Your majesty,” he said, as if nothing had happened.

“Jessup, my dear child, one day your callous disregard for your personal safety will be the death of you…and then me.”

“Please do not worry, I know what I am doing,” the boy said, an arrogance washing across him.  It was true that Prince Jessup had been a daredevil since the day he could walk, fearless and brave.  It had frightened every caretaker who was assigned to the boy. They all loved him. He was as wonderful of a boy as could be imagined, but he was cursed with a destructive streak. 

“Luck runs out, my son,” said King Stanton.  “You cannot keep taking these risks.”

“This is who I am.  I am not willing to hide behind a façade,” he said, his tone turning darker.  “Life is too short to worry about such trivialities. Don’t you agree…. Mother?”  

King Stanton grimaced at the comment.  She knew that her masquerade as the male leader “King Stanton” had been difficult for her son to accept, but it was done for a reason, something that he could not know. 

“Please, Jessup, do not call me mother,” she said, knowing her words were a trigger, but not knowing what else to say. 

“Of course… your majesty,” he said, grabbing the elastic rope and flinging himself once more through the air, but this time, without the return flair.  King Stanton dropped her head, a tear rolling down her sculpted cheekbone.

“You could tell him.”

King Stanton was not surprised by the voice or the comment.  Ariana was one of the most honest people she had ever met and she knew that the secret was difficult for her to keep.  Yet she did it because she loved her. King Stanton thanked the stars every night that she had such a kind-hearted companion as Ariana.

 “He struggles enough with the lie of my gender, Ariana.  How would he react to this?”

“You should trust him to react as he would, Zara” said Ariana, using her true name.  It was not the first time they had engaged in this discussion, but it always ended the same.  King Stanton could not bring herself to reveal the truth to her beloved son. She could not risk it.

“I cannot lose him, my love,” King Stanton said.  “That would be unbearable.”

 Ariana embraced King Stanton in her loving grasp.   

PART TWO

Darkness surrounded the moment as the slight light from the dwindling fire illuminated a small section of the cavern.  Sebastian DeClerqc was anything but patient. The wizard paced around the dying embers fully engulfed in his flowing, blood red cloak.  Every few minutes, he would glance toward the cavern opening with the intensity of a burning sun, and yet no one was arriving.

The thin beard wrapped around his chin and he stroked it silently, fervently remembering the events of the recent past.  He served at the right hand of King Stanton and had for many years. Where did his loyalty get him? Absolutely nowhere so when an opportunity arose, he took it.  Some may define it as a betrayal, but it is one person’s POV. He was the ultimate opportunist and chances as this did not arrive often.

His actions resulted in his banishment from the kingdom, but he had gained an important piece of intel that he knew gave him the edge.  A second opportunity that he would not fumble this time. However, he could not make his next move on his own, hence the waiting.

The sudden appearance from out of nowhere of a sword pointed directly at his throat was not completely unexpected, but certainly disturbing to the wizard.

“Why should I not remove thy head from thy shoulders, traitor?”

The golden helmet was not as bright as the last time DeClercq had seen him, but it did not detract from his presence, nor did the finely trimmed white beard.  The locals called him The Elder. He had been the greatest warrior the kingdom of Galadral had ever seen. He had been retired from active duty for many years, but the deep seeded loyalty he had for King Stanton was legendary.  He had served King Stanton’s father for years prior as well.  

“Please,” said DeClercq, with the slyest of grins across his visage, “I mean you no harm and I only wish to speak. Ogden.”

Pushing the blade a hair closer to its desired target, The Elder said, “You do not have the right nor the respect to call me by my given name.  You call me Elder, understand?”

“Of course,” DeClercq said, spreading out the syllables in the words.  He slowly pushed the sword down away from his neck and moved a step into the darkness.  “You will want to hear what I have to say.”

“I cannot think of anything spewing forth from your lying tongue that would interest me, wizard.  I should be ridding the kingdom of your stench right now.”

“Ah, but you know that my life had been spared by your king… my life allowed to continue by royal decree,” said DeClercq.  “Though banished, I am meant to survive and you will not go against your king’s wishes.”

A knowing twinkle glimmered in the wizard’s eye and brought a pause to the anger of The Elder.  Sheathing his sword, the great warrior held out both hands.

“Fine, DeClercq, let’s hear what bile you intend to spread around your new, wonderful accommodations,” he said, glancing around the damp and foreboding cave.

The half smirk, eyes squinting at the heroic warrior told a dreadful story; what was coming would rock the warrior to his core.  DeClercq knew he had Ogden Wetherby aka The Elder right where he wanted him…right where he needed him.

“I know the truth, Ogden,” DeClercq said, deciding to push his advantage.  “I know what happened all those years ago. I know what you did.”

“What nonsensical blathering are you enouncing, wizard?”  The normal confidence was off kilter. It was as if The Elder had been caught off guard, not expecting what was being said.  Still, he played his role to the best of his ability.

“I always wondered why you retired, Ogden.  I mean, you are clearly still in fighting shape and your loyalty to the house of Stanton was never in doubt.  Was it just too difficult to maintain the lie?” The words slipped like oil from his lips. The Elder knew the reference, but he would not confirm the suspicions.

“You have now reached the end of the line, villain,” said The Elder, reaching again for his sword.

Seeing him reach for his weapon did not deter DeClercq from his words.  “Would that be the same sword that you used to murder the true King of Galadral?”

The shock of hearing this truth from the wizard’s mouth caused The Elder to pause his reach.  

“There is no need to deny the fact, Ogden.  You were never a very good actor and an even worse liar.  Men with such a deep moral compass as you have, are never skilled in the art of deception.  You leave such nastiness to men like me. But you never understood how the power of information was even more potent than your sword.”

Ogden Wetherby knew what DeClercq was saying to be true, but he felt the intense need to protect those he had sworn allegiance to and this detail would not stop that oath.

“You helped set the woman up in Stanton’s place.  You helped perpetuate a fraud upon the kingdom of Galadral, all the while promising to protect the land,” taunted DeClercq.  “Whose idea was it? Was it the woman or yours?”

Memories flooded back into the mind of the warrior of that tragic day.  He had served the Stanton family for decades, but it had been obvious that the king had been losing his senses for several months previous.  He was slipping into madness and there was nothing that could be done. The king did not confide in him any longer and the madness was a sickness consuming him.  When the king attempted to murder his own six month old son, Ogden had to act, an act of treason for sure, but he put his one-time friend down.  

He knew the enemies of King Stanton would seize this opportunity to topple the kingdom.  The baby could not rule as king so he planned a manipulation. The Queen would assume the mantle of leadership but as the king… only the strength of King Stanton, even one that would be only an illusion, could maintain the peace of the kingdom. The Queen, scared for the life of her only son, agreed to the charade and so became King Stanton.  

The two were the few who knew and they protected the secret for years.  Ogden did not think that the inclusion of Ariana into the secret was wise, but how could you fight the heart?  He had to step away from the kingdom when the pressure and the anguish of constantly lying had gotten too much even for his own broad shoulders.

“Did you ever know the reason that Stanton was going to kill the little brat?” DeClercq asked.  The question surprised Ogden. Where was he going with this, he thought.

“It was madness,” said Ogden, removing the sword from his sheath.  He knew what had to be done. He must protect the Stanton family under any threat.  

“Wrong,” said DeClercq.  “There was another reason.”

Letters appeared in the wizard’s hands.  Passing them to The Elder, he continued.

“If you believe I must be stopped, at least look at this before you stop me.  It may change your opinions,” the wizard said.

“Where did you get these?” the warrior asked, his eyes bulging from behind the golden helmet.  What he saw blew his mind and he immediately began questioning everything that he had done.

“It does not matter how I received these, but it is incontrovertible.  Because of an illness, King Stanton had been rendered sterile as a young boy and was unable to reproduce.  He knew he would be the final Stanton on the throne. Except…”

DeClercq paused to savor the exquisite irony here. 

“Little Prince Jessup is illegitimate.  He is not King Stanton’s son. He is a bastard and the Queen was having an affair behind his back.  He tried to ignore the insult for the good of the kingdom, but he could no longer stomach the lie. That was when you … prevented him from ending it.”

The letters dropped to the cave floor as The Elder stood, staring into the few remaining embers in the fire.  

“I assume you were unaware…” DeClercq said.

“Yes, I was,” The Elder said.  

“I am sorry she treated you as such a fool, Ogden,” said DeClercq.  “However, I know a way to right the wrong.”

It seemed like forever as The Elder stood there staring at the letters on the ground.  He was weighing options in his head. Finally, the decision was made.

“How?”

DeClercq smiled.

PART THREE

Word of mouth called her Wyldsyde.  The reputation was one of a handful, an animal, a force of nature.

Not everything you heard was true.  But not everything you heard was wrong either.

Appearances made this young girl with her coffee-colored skin and dark foreboding eyes out to be just a teenage girl out on a beautiful day.  Appearances did not tell the whole story.

Neika was her real name.  The name Wyldsyde was an image, one that she carefully constructed in order to survive.  The world may have seemed to be a safe one, a golden day of glory, but the dangers were real and it did not pay to be caught unexpected.

She needed the escape.  She needed the freedom.Her life was hard and this was a luxury.

Few people knew of this hidden area, where the soft sound of a waterfall filled the pond.  Surrounded by trees, the pond provided some of the best privacy in the land. Neika had spent many lazy days in this location and she wanted to spent a few fleeting moments alone, at least alone for the most part.  She knew how to navigate the creatures that shared this area. Fate would not agree today.

As the young girl made her way to the pond, she noticed a sword lying on the ground beside the pond along with what appeared to be clothes made of the finest cloth.  She recognized the fineness of the garment immediately.  

Her senses were on alert and she immediately spotted the boy.  At the top of the waterfall, with his back to the pond, stood the scantily clad boy, with wavy dark hair fluttering in the breeze.  He held his arms out and tilted his head back to the sky. Before she could utter a warning, the boy dove backwards into the air.

“No!” she screamed, knowing that, though the waterfall was not particularly high, the water beneath held unseen dangers.  As the boy fell through the sky, she spotted the crocodile sliding into the pond. She knew when and where to avoid these creatures, but this visitor clearly did not.  Without a second thought, Neika leaped gracefully into the pond. They hit the water at the same time and she desperately swam toward where the boy had gone under, Neika thought nothing of herself as she only hoped to prevent an unnecessary meal.  

The cry of the boy’s voice told her that he had realized his error.  The creature’s powerful jaws had clamped around the boy’s left shoulder as he struggled in opposition.  Reaching the croc, Neika threw herself on the monster’s back, wrapping her arms around the neck. Fearing that she had no other option, Neika grabbed her blade from its pouch and drove it into the mighty beast’s eye.  The crocodile opened its mouth and, as Neika released the creature, it rolled away in pain.  

Turning her attention to the teen boy whose blood was polluting the water around him, she wrapped her arm around his torso and swam toward the shore.  She dragged his body up onto the grass, laying him gently down. Glancing at his shoulder, the wound looked remarkably better than she had expected. Pushing down on the wound to apply pressure, the boy snatched her hand and flipped her over.  He was suddenly on top of her.

“Well, I do believe that…” he started, but was not allowed to finish as Neika drover her free arm into his throat.  The sudden blow surprised the boy and she used that moment to throw him over her prone body, springing up onto her feet.  She immediately struck an offensive pose.  

“Back off,” she warned.  

“You…*cough*… misunder…* cough*” he said, standing and moving back toward his savior.  She threw a punch and he blocked the blow. This was followed by a series of punches and kicks, each defended by the boy.  Finally, he stepped back, putting both hands into the air. “Please…. I do not want to fight.”

Neika remained posed to strike as the boy backed away, grabbing his clothes.  Quickly putting them on, he turned his attention back to the girl.

“Please,” he said, “I only wish to thank you.  You saved my life.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, not dropping her guard.  

“I was out for a walk through the beautiful woods when I came across this peaceful pond.  I could not resist. I did not know of the animal life. I didn’t even know we had crocodiles in Galadral,” he said with a laugh. “I must apologize again, I am afraid.  I am so rude. My name is Alexander…”

“And you’re a liar,” she said.

“What?”

“Do you take me for a fool?  You think I don’t recognize Prince Jessup when I see him?”

Jessup paused a moment, looking at the intensity in this young girl’s lovely face.  

“I am sorry.  I should not lie to you after you saved my life from that reptilian beast.  It is just that, at times,” Jessup paused, taking a deep, cleansing breathe, “my name and title bring unfair preconceived notions about who or what I am.  I would think that, if anybody, you would understand… Wyldsyde.”

Jessup smiled kindly, his face looking more like a goofy little kid than a future king and Neika felt her anxiety easing back.  She did not trust him, but she felt as if she was not in danger.

“Of course I know who you are,” he said.  “My… King Stanton told me of a legendary thief and rapscallion named Wyldsyde.  The King told me that this Wyldsyde would be around my age, but I was told that I needed to be cautious.”

“King Stanton was right,” she said.

“Clearly your character has been misjudged.  You willingly threw yourself into danger to save the life of a stranger from a dangerous animal.  Thank you,” he said, dropping any pretense that he had shown up until this point. That look on Jessup’s face put Neika at ease.

“You’re welcome, Prince Jessup.”

“Please, just call me Jessup.”

PART FOUR

Jessup wanted to thank Neika for her bravery in his rescue and apologize for his lack of chivalry directly after, so he led her through the woods.  He had a specific place in mind, a place that he would visit with his mother. It was a place within the expanse of the kingdom where they could drop any pretenses and just be mother and son.  It was not something that they were able to do often and it had been years since they had returned. Matters of state always seemed to take precedent.  

“This is one of my favorite places,” said Jessup, holding back on the information about coming here with his mother.  The fiction of his youth was well known in the kingdom and, no matter how much he was annoyed by his mother pretending to be his father, Jessup would never betray her.

Leading Neika up a hill, they came to the edge of a cliff.  The view out across the expanse of the kingdom was breathtaking and Neika had never seen anything like it.

“I knew Galadral was beautiful, but this is beyond my imagination.” she said, staring out in amazement across the green and brown land.  “Why haven’t you come back here?”

“Oh, being a prince is not as easy as it sounds,” he joked, trying to change the subject.  “The sunsets here are magnificent.”

Though their initial interaction was awkward, Neika and Jessup had found plenty in common on the walk to this spot and the beauty before them made the moment even more special.  It was worth the fight with the crocodile and their own skirmish to end up here.

“I have lived here my whole life and I never knew that this was here,” she said.  “Thank you for sharing.”

The coziness of the situation was suddenly broken as Neika quickly turned from the cliff, struck her fighting pose and darted her eyes around the trees at their back. 

“Someone is there,” she said.

As Jessup turned to look, he heard a familiar voice.

“Prince Jessup, it is I.”

Jessup calmly placed his hand on Neika’s shoulder.  With a smile, he nodded softly.

“Elder?” Jessup said to the voice.  The Elder exited the trees, sword drawn.

“My Prince, this is the criminal known as Wyldsyde,” he said, slowly advancing to the pair.  “Be careful.”

“Stand down, Elder,” said Jessup.  “I know exactly whom this is. She saved my life earlier today from a crocodile attack.  She is my friend.”

The Elder glanced at Neika from head to toe a couple of times, taking mental notes on the young girl.  He had heard the reputation of Wyldsyde, but he knew that, no matter how competent, she would not be considered a threat to him.  

“Whatever you say, Prince Jessup,” said the Elder, putting both hands on the handle of the sword and holding it close to his chest, pointed end toward the ground.  It was a pose that Jesup had seen many times.

“Neika, this is my friend, The Elder,” said Jessup.  “He protected me for years. Please, be calm. I trust him completely.”

“Yes,” said Neika nervously.  “I have heard of The Elder.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Jessup.  “I thought you had retired. Is there something wrong?”

“No, Prince Jessup,” said The Elder.  “It was a coincidence. I like to come here to watch the sunsets like the old days.  It reminds me of good times. I saw you here with… this girl… and I did not… I may have jumped to the wrong conclusion.  My apologies, Miss Neika.”

“Of course,” she said.

“It is good to see you, my friend.  The castle has not been the same since you left,” said Jessup.

“I have missed the old days as well,” he said, a note of sadness in his tone.

“You could always return,” said Jessup.  “I’m sure the King would agree.”

“Perhaps,” he said, turning his attention to the horizon.  “The sun is beginning to descend.”

Jessup and Neika turned and looked to the sky.  The Elder put one hand in the center of Neika’s back and shoved her over the cliff.  Her screams cutting through the silence of the eve and echoing across the land.

“Naika!” screamed Jessup, but before he could spin to face his betrayer, The Elder drilled the boy in the chin with the butt of the sword.  The massive blow dropped the Prince to the ground, his face resting in the dirt.

Without a word or hesitation, The Elder sheathed his sword, reached down and picked up the boy, slinging him over his shoulder.  The great warrior pivoted away from the cliff edge and quickly departed the area with his prize.  

The pristine view was engulfed by the glorious reds and oranges as the kingdom slowly entered into the darkness of the evening. The most gifted artist could not do the image justice.  

Breaking the peacefulness of the painting, a hand reached from beyond the cliff, desperately grasping for anything to grab ahold of, to complete the improbable return from certain death.  

PART FIVE

It had been a long day for King Stanton and she had swept into her chambers, pouring herself a glass of wine.  The challenges she faced daily was unlike any that a monarch had to face and she had been looking forward to unwinding all day long.  She lowered her hood and slowly sipped her red wine. The soft, warm breeze fluttered the curtains from the balcony.  

Is that open?” King Stanton thought, sure that she had closed it.

“King Stanton, I need to speak to you.”

King Stanton turned to the voice, staring into Neika’s young and sweating face.  Her eyes bulged in shock when Neika realized that she was looking at another female and not the “King” that she expected.  The confusion was written across Neika’s face.  

“Uh… what is…”

Before Neika could fully process what she was witnessing, King Stanton had her pinned against the wall, her arm pressed against her throat.  

“How dare you taint the sanctity of my sanctuary?  Your impropriety will cost you your head, little girl.  I shall summon the executioner and you shall be gone from this world within the hour.”

Unable to speak, Neika was surprised at the physical power of this woman. Desperate, beads of sweat rolling down her face, Neika tried to communicate without being able to form the words.  Mouthing “Jessup” over and again, praying that this woman would understand what she was trying to say. Finally, Neika dropped to the floor and Stanton stared down at her.

“What?” King Stanton said.  

“Jessup… it’s Jessup,” she said, grasping her throat.

“Speak up girl,” Stanton said.  “Why is my son’s name on your lips?”

“He is in danger.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Within the hour, King Stanton, once more in full King regalia, paced before the armies of Galadral.  Wyldsyde stood stoically beside her. The secret was safe. Neika had convinced her that she had no interest in revealing anything.  It was not an easy sell to convince her that The Elder had tried to kill her and kidnapped Jessup, but King Stanton could see the sincerity in Neika’s eyes.  

“My son’s life is the only thing that matters,” said King Stanton.  “This is a terribly dangerous situation. The Elder is the greatest warrior in Galadral and his traitorous actions have tarnished his reputation and spat upon our kingdom.” Turning to Neika, King Stanton continued.  “Wyldsyde brought me this news at great personal risk to herself. She was tossed from a cliff, survived, climbed up the castle wall, survived, all to provide us information on my son. She has my thanks and respect.”

Wyldsyde bowed.  “Thank you, your majesty.”

“Her unique skills will help us follow the trail and find Prince Jessup,” said the king, pulling her sword.  “For Galadral!”

Her army raised their fists into the air, supporting their King, preparing to launch their assault.  Little did they know what would be waiting.

PART SIX

The soft touch slid down across his cheek, slowly bringing back to an awareness of his surroundings, something that he hadn’t had since the blow of the sword handle had sent him quickly into the depths of darkness.  His brown eyes flickered open and he tried to reach for the pain in his jaw, realizing that he was unable to move.

“Welcome back, Prince Jessup.  I am so glad that you are still with us.”

Jessup could not believe who stood before him.  Sebastian DeClercq had been banished from Galadral for some time and the wizard’s crooked smirk sent chills down his spine.  Jessup realized that he was bound by his arms and legs and dangling from a makeshift trestle. He spied his sword, shirt and boots piled in the corner.

“What is happeni…” Jessup began, spotting his betrayer standing off to the side in the strange cavern that hid him.  “Ogden? What have you done?”

The Elder did not respond.

“Neika!” Jessup exclaimed,  memories flooding back as his confused state began to clear.  “You killed her, Odgen.”

“My,” said Declercq, “that is quite the feral reaction, boy.  Did the young lady mean something to you? How sad.”

Jessup struggled against his bonds, but they were too strong.  Snarling, Jessup puffed his bare chest out in an attempt to look less pathetic.  It only caused DeClercq to laugh.

“Let me go, wizard,” demanded the boy.

“Now where would the fun in that be, Jessup?” said DeClercq.  “No, you have a role to play here and, I have to say, we cannot do this without you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Aren’t you tired of the lies?  You’re but a boy… why do you need to keep the secrets of a kingdom?” taunted DeClercq.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know damn well what I am talking about, Prince Jessup.  The fact that the real King Stanton has been dead for years and that your wench of a mother has been imitating him ever since,” said the wizard.

Jessup glared in anger toward The Elder, the gaze burning like the fire of the sun.

“Oh, it was not Wetherby who told me this secret,” DeClercq said, noticing the deathly fire shooting from Jessup’s eye toward his former friend.  “I learned about that in my own special way. However, boy, the true secret is what compelled Wetherby to finally start thinking on his own.”

“What are you blathering about, DeClercq?”

“You know, Jessup, dear.  The fact that you are not the true heir to the throne of Galadral.  The fact that the man that your bitch of a mother has been pretending to be for so many years was sterile.  He was unable to have any children, so you could not have been his son. It was that truth that spurred him to take action against his bastard son and his faithless queen and which led to Ogden Wetherby, The Elder, taking his own violent action, mistaking the king’s rage for insanity and forcing his blade.  Ah, such a tragedy.”

Jessup’s face was a mask of horror.

“But…did you not know this truth?  Ah… it is almost too perfect,” said DeClercq.  

Jessup shook his head ever so slightly.  He did not want to believe the insanity that Sebastian DeCelrcq was spouting.  Jessup knew this man was crazed and evil, but he just could not shake the feeling that what he had said was true.  It made a sick sort of sense to the boy, filling in the gaps of what had been unknown.  

Another boy, who couldn’t have been more than a few years older than Jessup, cloaked in a purple cape, swept into the cavern.

“Master,” he said, bowing his head to deClercq.  “Please excuse this interruption.”

“Prince Jessup, may I introduce to you my apprentice, McKai.”

McKai looked at the tressed up prince and smiled, his long dark, wavy hair framed his face like a horrible portrait.  Jessup could see a darkness behind his eyes and an evil as he had never seen before. There were some cracks in this young man’s sanity.

“Pleasure,” he said, a sadistic glimmer brightening his face.  Turning back to DeClercq, he said, “Master, the forces of Galadral are on their way.”

“Excellent news, McKai.  Shall we take a look?”

DeClercq began spinning his right hand in a counter-clockwise circular pattern and an image formed in the air.  

“Ah, mommy to the rescue, Jessup,” he said, seeing King Stanton leading the troops.  Jessup looked at the magical imagery and he saw someone unexpected. DeClercq noticed it at the same time.  “Well, there is that little thief, Wyldsyde, side by side with Queen King. She’s doing quite well for a dead girl.”

DeClercq glared at The Elder.

“Too much to ask for you to finish the girl off, Ogden?” DeClercq said with sarcasm dripping from every word.  “How did she survive?”

“I do not know, DeClercq,” said The Elder.  “I threw her off a cliff. If she survived, good for her.”

“Yes, good for her,” he spit.  “She shall be just one more soul to witness the grand rebirth of this world, once more in the image of its creator.”

“What?” Jessup said, unsure he had heard the wizard correctly.

“Yes, punk.  I am here to return this world to what should have never been lost.  This world was once a world of chaos and that was lost for an eternity.  False utopias rose and fell over the centuries, all just a pale imitation of what came first.  Galadral the worst of all. First led by a king and then by his manipulating bitch using the name of the true god of this land… Stanton, Brother Chaos.”

“You’re insane,” said Jessup.

“Nay, child.  I am merely chaotic,” he said, removing from his cloak a dagger.  “This is the Dagger of Time. I have travelled far and wide to reclaim this artifact.  Every second was worth the trouble though because, with this dagger, I shall return the world to the way it was destined to be.”

Running his finger across the blade, DeClercq turned to his apprentice.

“McKai, prepare the welcoming party for our dear Queen.”

“Yes, Master.”

“Leave her alone, monster,” Jessup said, struggling once again to try and free himself.  The futility of the attempt thrilled DeClercq.

“Soon, with the use of this magical blade, the rebirth shall be complete and the land that is hidden beneath us inside this cavern shall once again take its place above ground.  Because, this locale is the land that was once known as the City of Syn. Syn shall return. Once Syn is back, then shall the God of Chaos walk this world again.”

“You won’t get way with this, DeClercq.  We’re going to stop you.”

“Ah, such bravado.  You truly are an impressive lad.  How sad,” DeClercq said.

In a quick motion, the wizard turned the blade and drove it deep into the chest of Jessup.

PART SEVEN

“WHAT DID YOU DO?” screamed The Elder, rushing over to the dangling body of Prince Jessup, the blood dripping from the wound.  The Dagger of Time remained plunged into the boy’s chest. The Elder looked at the pale face of the boy he spent years protecting as the boy’s breathing became rapid.  The Elder removed his golden helmet as Jessup’s tear-filled eyes connected with The Elder for one final time. One deep gasp of air was all that remained as the life drained from his eyes.

“You knew this is what…” started DeClercq, but he was interrupted by the powerful hand of The Elder clutching around his neck and lifting him off the ground.  The legendary warrior’s face watered with tears at the loss, his teeth clenched in hate. DeClercq slapped helplessly at the arm, afraid that he finally may have pushed this man too far.

A flash of bright light was sent directly into The Elder’s face from the wizard’s hand, temporarily blinding the warrior.  He dropped the wizard to the ground, grasping at his face.

“Don’t… pretend… that… you didn’t know… this …is what… had to …happen,” said DeClercq, holding his throat and trying to gasp for whatever air he could get into his lungs.  

Dropping to his knees, The Elder finally cleared his vision.  He looked back at DeClercq with a deep seeded hatred burning inside his soul.

“The boy was innocent.  He had nothing to do with any of this,” whispered The Elder.  

“Wrong.  The boy was everything.” DeClercq replied.  “Since our ‘queen’ decided to put him at the center of this fraud, this was always to be his fate, as tragic as it may be.  Now, get up. The Galadral forces will be here momentarily and you need to be ready.”

DeClercq callously strolled right beside the grieving warrior, walking straight to the hanging body.  With a snarky smirk, DeClercq removed the Dagger of Time from the chest of the boy. The remaining blood on the blade seemed to absorb into the metal like a sponge.  

As he departed, The Elder reached for his helmet.  Turning the helmet so he could look at the front of it, The Elder longed for a day when this golden piece of armor stood for something, inspired the denizens of Galadral.  Where had that man gone?

Reaching over to the pool of Jessup’s blood that had puddled up on the ground, The Elder swept his gauntlet through the liquid, smearing it across the golden helmet.  He repeated this motion over and over until the blood stains streaked across the helmet’s visage. Placing the soiled helmet back upon his head, The Elder raised to his feet.

“Now… The Elder is dead, too,” he said.

PART EIGHT

With the Dagger of Time in his possession, Sebastian DeClercq knew the plan was moving quickly.  He was one step closer to reclaiming the world in the name of chaos. The plan was working perfectly.  Yet, he also knew one important point.

It was not his plan.

“I am here,” DeClercq said, entering a hidden location beneath the landscape of Galadral.  In his banishment, the wizard had found his way to this hidden land beneath the surface, a land that was once a thriving world of chaos.

Syn was the city-state that arose from the corruption of the world.  It burned brightly and ended abruptly like a candle in a breeze, a breeze from the God of Chaos himself.  Brother Chaos brought Syn into being and crushed it beneath his heel just as easily. It was the chaotic decision to make.  Brother Chaos was never evil though some of his choices could be seen as such. No, Brother Chaos was random. He was tumultuous.  He was disorder. It was in his name.

It was also a chaotic choice to remove himself from the game.  He would allow the world to become whatever it was going to become because that was the most anarchic thing he could do.  

Brother Chaos was named Hugo Stanton and his total disregard for his followers and the religion, Stantonism, founded in his name showed some that he had no love, no empathy for the inhabitants of Syn.  This was true. Hugo Stanton only cared for tumult.

So when Sebastian DeClercq stumbled into this chamber in search of a place to rest, a place to feel safe and to make a decision about his life, the wizard was shocked at what he found.  Or more accurately, what found him.

That was many months ago. The planning had taken time and as he grasped the magical artifact that had been driven into the chest of Prince Jessup, he could feel everything was falling into place.

“My lord?” he said.

“Yes, Sebastian.  I am here.”

From the shadows stepped a human-like figure, dark hair and a beard.  He carried himself with a swagger that DeClercq had not seen. It was as powerful at this very moment as it was when he accidentally stumbled upon him.  DeClercq, the powerful wizard, knelt down, bowing his head to the arrival of the man.

Brother Chaos.

“Everything is going perfectly, my Lord.  The Prince is dead, his blood feeding the Dagger of Time.  The Galadral forces are nearly here. Once they have been devastated, we will return Syn to the world and you will be free to resume your presence in the lives of your followers.  We shall reinstate Stantonism to the country as soon as we cleanse the pretenders away… those pagans… the queen… whose name in used in falsehood.”

Brother Chaos held out his hand.  Declercq handed him the Dagger of Time.  

“Good.  My self-imposed exile has gone on long enough.  It is time for Chaos to return to my world and reign supreme.  Finish… King…. Stanton’s forces off and return to me.  Then we shall bring forth Syn.”

“Yes…” DeClercq said, standing and leaving the deity alone.

Brother Chaos smiled as he looked at the Dagger.

“Fool,” he said, laughing.

PART NINE

Wyldsyde had been tracking the path left by the Elder since they left the castle.  She had a heart-wrenching thought … “this had been too easy.”  She knew that she was following The Elder, one of the greatest heroes to ever live and, while he is clearly not at the same level he was at his peak, he had dispatched her and Jessup without a second thought.  She was on her guard. She had to be, because King Stanton was anything but focused. She was scared and that emotion was taking her out of her game. At she could not shake the idea that this was a trap.

That thought did not leave her when they found the entrance to the underground cavern.  

“My King,” Wyldsyde said.  “We must be careful. This all feels too mundane.”

“Anyone who comes to face us will not find us wanting.  They will only find death until I have my son back.”

“Yes, my King,” she said.  This all seemed to Wyldsyde like a tragedy waiting to happen.

She could not believe how right she was.

Once inside the cavern, the forces almost immediately discovered Jessup’s hanging body.  King Stanton cried out in anguish, rushing to her son’s frame and throwing her arms around him. 

“Cut him down,” said Wyldsyde to a nearby soldier.  She was choking back her own tears as the tormented howls of a parent echoed through the cavern.  

In the grief-stricken heartbreak, the disguise that had done such a good job of preventing detection for so many years, fell aside.  King Stanton did not care any longer. There was no reason to continue the facade. She was no longer King Stanton. She was Zara Stanton, now and forever.

The Army of Galadral could not believe what they were seeing.  The gasps were nearly as loud as the cries of pain coming from their monarch.  Grumbling quickly spread like a cancer through the men. Wyldsyde was having none of it.

“This is not the time for anger over a deception!” blurted out Wyldsyde.  “We have something more important… more pressing than that. This turn of events can wait until we bring that traitor to justice for this heinous crime.  Prince Jessup was kind and honest and deserved more than being murdered in a cave, hung up like a deer by someone he trusted.”

Zara clutched her son’s body, kneeling on the floor.  She was past any semblance of leadership. She could not find a reason to push on.  Wyldsyde could see the state she was in and she did what needed to be done to step up.

“Such noble words for one so young.  Truly an inspiration. It is sad that you will die here as well.”

Sebastian DeClercq stood in the room, The Elder on one side, McKai on the other.  

“Who are you?” Wyldsyde said.

“This will be the final time that someone does not know my name, child” DeClercq said.  “McKai.”

The young apprentice began a complicated procedure of hand gestures, opening what seemed to be a portal.

“This is the site of the City of Syn and the lost souls are plenty,” said DeClercq.  “This is where my apprentice excels. Summoning these souls… the army of Sluagh.”

Sluagh are the spirits of the restless dead, the spirits unable to gain access to any afterlife because of their sins.  Truly the City of Syn had plenty of such creatures. Spirit after spirit flew from the portal, flying into the clash. The Forces of Galadral began their battle, unsure of how to fight these spirits.

“I got the kid,” called out Wyldsyde as she began to make her way toward McKai.  The Sluagh swarmed around her, but she was quick enough to dodge their advances.

DeClercq levitated Jessup’s sword to him, moving across the floor to the grieving mother.  

“Lies have a way of coming back to haunt you, your majesty,” DeClercq said, grasping the sword with both hands.  “Oh, how I have been waiting for this moment.”

DeClercq raised both hands over his head.  Zara did not make a move. She would not move.  Her life was over now anyway. She had not even realized that her own sword was being drawn from her sheath.  

DeClercq brought the sword down toward the head of the queen only to feel it blocked.  Another sword had come up from beneath Zara.

“What?” DeClercq stammered, not sure what had happened.

Pulling free from Zara’s grasp, Jessup stood to his feet, holding the sword in opposition to the blow DeClercq had attempted to deliver.  The killing wound to Jessup’s chest was gone, no longer there, but he did not wonder about any of this. He was reacting.

“Leave my mother alone,” he said.  

“You’re dead,” said DeClercq.  “I killed you myself!”

“Clearly you are a failure, because I am not dead.  That will be something that you will not be able to say very soon,” said Jessup.  He moved forward with his mother’s sword. DeClercq, who still had Jessup’s own sword, swung it again, only to find it blocked without much effort.  Since DeClercq was never a swordsman, it only took two more moves to find the sword flying free from the wizard’s hands.

Meanwhile, the Galadral forces were not having much success with the wicked creatures from Syn.  They would thrust their swords at the monsters, discovering that the swords could only keep them at bay.  Other times, the Sluagh flew right through the soldiers, pulling their own souls from their bodies. The battlefield was beginning to be littered with the falling bodies.

Wyldsyde had made her way to face with McKai.  Realizing that the Sluagh were not able to stop her, McKai stopped the motions of his portal spell to turn his own attention to Wyldsyde.  As soon as he stopped, the portals disappeared and the continuing flow of Sluagh stopped coming. Those here were still here, but at least the constant swarming could be prevented.

“This did not need to be your fight.  In fact, Wyldsyde, there is a place for you in the new world Master DeClercq is creating.  You would fit right into the chaos we intend to bring,” McKai said.

“Thanks for the thought, junior, but  I have my own ideas for my future.”

Flames shot from McKai’s hands toward the teen girl.  She rolled out of the way. He sent a second fireball from out of nowhere toward the agile thief.  This one also missed. McKai was becoming frustrated with her quickness, but continued launching the flames in her direction.

What he did not realize was that, with each move, she intentionally got closer to the apprentice.  She lunged at his left leg, driving her foot into the side of McKai’s knee. It buckled sharply, a loud crack heard throughout the cavern.  McKai cried out in pain, dropping his hands to his knee. Wyldsyde spun from the ground and drove a spin kick to McKai’s chin, knocking him backwards into the cavern wall.  He struck his head on a protruding rock, knocking him out. McKai dropped to the ground, blood pouring from his head wound.

With the apprentice down and out and their anchor gone, the Sluagh disintegrated from this plane. The remaining soldiers tried to compose themselves after the devastating attack of the creatures.

DeClercq was unhappy.

“I knew that little brat would be trouble,” he said.  With a wave of his hand, a force knocked Jessup back off his feet and he moved like the snake he was to, once again, try to kill Zara.  

This time the Queen was ready.  She had found the will to live and she drove a blow into DeClercq ribs. The wizard was shocked by the force of the blow and he went to retaliate.  There was Jessup again, swinging his sword at him. DeClercq magically deflected the blow, and Zara delivered a second blow. Mother and son battled DeClercq for several moments, blow after blow, block after block.  

“My lord, Brother Chaos, hear my prayer,” said DeClercq just before he released a widespread force blast, sending both mother and son backwards.  The wizard huffed heavily as he tried to recapture his energy for one more blow. The last one was able to stun his foes, this time he would end it.  “This is now over!”

Abruptly, a sword blade sliced through DeClercq’s throat with little resistance, the neck bones holding nearly zero opposition to the powerhouse blow.  His head fell to the floor and rolled away as the body collapsed to the ground. The Elder stood behind the beheaded body, his sword dripping with the wizard’s blood.  The Elder’s golden helmet rested on the floor beside him. The greatest warrior in Galadral’s history let his sword clank to the rock surface at his feet.

“Yes, this is over.  I should have done that earlier,” said The Elder.  He made eye contact with Jessup. “I’m sorry.”

Jessup nodded in appreciation for everything that he had done for them for so many years.  One final heroic gesture for the warrior.

The cavern began to rumble, rocks falling from above. 

“It’s not over yet.”  A classy female voice rang through the cavern.  A monstrous creature flew up from a nearby pit.  

The City of Syn was also the home of a creature, a monster that would cause devastation and chaos.  The God of Chaos loved it. This was the monster known as Tiamet the Chromatic Dragon. A five headed dragon with heads like a rainbow: black, white, blue, red and green.  Massive wings spread across the cavern as it raised into the air.

“We are here, finally untethered by our chains,” Tiamet said.  The voice was opposite every expectation you would have formed.  Dropping from the back of the dragon, Brother Chaos glanced around at the carnage surrounding them.

“You may be spared if you drop to your knees right now and swear your loyalties to the return of the one and true… Brother Chaos… or you may die.  Choose quickly.”

PART TEN

“You’re a liar,” said Zara, standing strong with Jessup and the former Elder standing beside her. Wyldsyde rushed over to Jessup.  The few remaining soldiers filed in line behind their “king” ready to lay down their lives for Galadral.  

“I’m a liar?” said Chaos.  “That is ironic coming from you, King Stanton. Or should I say Queen Stanton?”

“Yes, I misled a lot of people.  I lied to their faces. It became second nature to me.  I saw a liar every time I saw my reflection and that is how I can recognize a liar when I see one.  You’re no God!” she exclaimed.

“Perhaps that is true,” he said.  “Perhaps I was instead a high priest of Stantonism and when I found Sebastian Declercq, I saw an opportunity.”

He spotted the decapitated head of DeClercq on the cavern floor and he shook his head.  

“Poor Sebastian.  He could have used some of your common sense, your majesty,” said Brother Chaos.  “However, the world knows nothing and, once we finish you off, there will be no one to question my authority.  Besides, what could keep me in the good graces of the God of Chaos more than causing chaos in the world? I am sure the real Hugo Stanton would appreciate the moxy.”

“You miscalculate your importance, Imposter,” said Ogden.  

“Is that so, Elder… or are you simply Ogden Wetherby now?” Brother Chaos said. “ It seems that you threw away your life’s work… your spotless reputation… over nothing.  You handed the boy over to his death… although I must wonder why the boy is not dead. Your blood did power my dagger, after all.”

As Tiamet the Chromatic Dragon continued to fly just above Chaos, he pulled out the Dagger of Time, spinning it around.

“With this magical artifact, I will return Syn to the surface, and reconfigure the world in my image, under my control.”

“How do you plan on using a magical dagger,” asked Wyldsyde, “since Declercq is dead and…” She looked over to where McKai had been knocked out, but he was gone.

“DeClercq and his child apprentice were always expendable.  I don’t need them,” he said, as the dagger began to glow. “Legend says that this dagger was used by the real Brother Chaos to wipe out Syn and now, I shall use it to return the city to prominence.  The Word of God shall come through me.”

The ground began to rumble, quivering as the dagger glowed brighter, like a miniature sun in the hand of Chaos.

“Tiamet, kill them all,” said Brother Chaos.

The massive five-headed dragon flew toward the heroes of Galadral, releasing her brutal flames from her red dragon head.  The remaining soldiers scattered, trying to avoid the fire spurts. Zara grabbed Jessup and Wyldsyde and pulled them aside.

“Jessup, you must get that dagger and stop this quake,” she said.

“How can I stop the quake?  I don’t know any magic,” he replied.

“But it is in your nature.  My son… all of the other lies I have told was to protect you from the one big one.  The King was not your father…”

“I know, Mother.  DeClercq taunted me with that.  That is a matter for another time.”

“You do not understand.  King Stanton always believed that I betrayed him with another, because he was unable to procreate, but that was untrue.  Your conception came to me in a dream… or I should say… your true father came to me in my dream… “

“What are you saying, Mother?”

“You were an immaculate conception, placed within me inside my dream by Brother Chaos,” she said.

Jessup stared disbelieving at his mother.  What had she said to him?

“I’m sorry, but we do not have time to waste, my son,” she said, turning to Wyldsyde.  “Help him.”

“Yes, my queen,” Wyldsyde said, grabbing Jessup by his arm and pulling him toward the imposter Brother Chaos.  Suddenly, the teen girl shouted. “Look out!”

Tiamet lunged at the queen, the mouth of the white head of the dragon open wide and preparing to devour the royal lady.

“Mother!” shouted Jessup, trying to pull away from Wyldsyde, but knowing he would never reach her in time.  

At the last instant, before the jaws of the blue head clamped down around Zara, Ogden appeared from out of nowhere, knocking the queen away.  The powerful jaws of the beast snapped shut across Ogden’s torso, her viciously sharp teeth impaling into his chest and legs. He did not scream.  He would not allow it as the dragon flew back into the air. The pain was unlike anything the greatest warrior of Galadral had ever felt before and he was afraid he was going to be torn in half from the power of the bite.

Ogden cleared his mind from the pain, struggling to control his appendages.  I have to do this, he thought.  Battling the anguish, Odgen positioned his sword just beneath the dragon’s blue head, thrusting with all his remaining strength so the blade drove into the soft flesh beneath the dragon’s blue head.  The head reared up, dropping Ogden from her mouth. The sword remained jammed into the long snake-like neck of the beast.  

The warrior crashed to the ground with a mighty thud and Zara was at his side immediately.  With whatever strength she could muster, she dragged the fatally wounded hero to the side of the cavern.  She spoke softly to him as the battle raged around them.

The blue head of Tiamet hung impotently, the blood draining from the wound.  The other heads were raging in anger over the loss of one of them. Wyldsyde recognized what had to be done.

“Jessup, with the Elder down and the rest of the forces so wasted, I’m going to the dragon.  You have to get that dagger.”

Before he could argue with her, Wyldsyde ricocheted off the cavern wall, flipping herself through the air.  She grabbed ahold of the dragon’s tail and began pulling herself up the monster.

“She is marvelous, isn’t she?” said Chaos, admiring the efforts of the girl.  “It is a shame that it is all for naught. There is no way a young girl like that can take down a dragon as old as Tiamet.  She just committed to her own doom.”

“Don’t underestimate her, Imposter,” said Jessup.  “She can handle herself.”

The ground was shaking worse now than before, as the quake continued to sign the return of Syn.

“You can’t stop this now, boy.  Your time has passed.”

Jessup leaped at Chaos,grabbing his right arm.  Chaos grabbed Jessup’s opposite arm and the two struggled for control.  Meanwhile, Tiamet was trying to knock Wyldsyde from her perch on the dragon’s back.  

“You have no weapon, girl,” said Tiamet, “and it is just a matter of time before you fall from my back.  You will never puncture my back with your human’s sword. There is too much armor there. Ha. I cannot wait to taste your charred flesh, child.”

“Do you hear that, Jessup Stanton?” asked Chaos.  “The girl is dead… she just does not know it yet.”

“You talk too much,” Jessup said.  He had maneuvered him toward the cavern wall so he could roll backward to his back.  As this happened, Jessup placed a foot into the chest of the imitator, flipping him over top and slamming him upside down into the wall. The Dagger of Time clanked to the stone ground. 

Jessup pounced on the Dagger of Time, but he did not attack Brother Chaos.  Instead, he turned to the flying dragon.

“Neika!” he shouted, throwing the dagger through the air.

The toss was perfect, the dagger spinning like an arrow on line for a bullseye.  Wyldsyde reached to the projectile, snatching the dagger from the air. Positioning it quickly, she plunged the magical dagger into the heavily armored back of Tiamet.  The blade sunk into the back of the creature and she reared back, an inhuman screech coming from the remaining four heads. Wyldsyde pulled the dagger out and repeated the blow for a second time.  Again and again. Each thrust resulting in an anguished cry from the monster.  

Brother Chaos stood up, shaking his head.  The anger flashed across his face.

“I’m going to kill you, boy!”

“I am the future king of Galadral.”

Jessup began raining blows, punches and kicks, upon the frame of the imposter, moving quicker than he had ever moved before.  Each blow precise and with purpose to incapacitate his enemy. He had been training in fighting, but he was now at a new level and it scared Jessup a bit.  But that did not stop him. As the dragon crashed into the wall, slumping to floor, Jessup delivered a spin kick to the face of Chaos, sending the man into unconsciousness.  

The quake was getting worse with each passing second and stone columns were beginning to smash up through the floor.  Time was against them.

“Mother!  Neika” cried Jessup.  “Get the survivors and the wounded out of here.  I’m putting an end to this once and for all.”

Wyldsyde tossed the Dagger of Time back to Jessup, who moved himself into position.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but it just seemed as if he were going by instincts.  As the rest of the troop departed, he held the dagger above his head, driving it down into the floor.  

“No!” screamed Chaos, who head regained his consciousness and leaped on Jessup’s back.  “This is my destiny. You cannot take it from me.”

The roof of the cavern began to collapse, a chunk of the rock landing on Chaos.  He cried out in pain and the area continued to crash down around them.

Zara, Wyldsyde and the remaining soldiers had gotten everyone out of the cave, including Ogden, who held on to his final breath desperately.  As they finally escaped back into the nighttime sky, the ground collapsed, sinking in on itself, completely burying the entrance to the underground passageway.  

PART ELEVEN

As the ground fell into the abyss, Zara’s eyes displayed the utter fear and shock that was ripping through her heart.  Shaking, she was too consumed with terror to even say a word.

“Mom.”

The single word broke the silence, sending a wave of relief washing across her as Jessup worked his way from the dirt.  She rushed to him, throwing her arms around Jessup and pulling him close.

“Praise be,” she said, finally able to catch her breath.  She kissed him on his forehead and then on the cheek.  

“Good job, kid,” said Wyldsyde.  

“What happened to Chaos?” asked Zara.

“He got buried by the falling rocks.  So did the dragon. I do not know what his fate was, but, if he returns, we’ll deal with him.”

A deep gasp drew their attention to the wounded Ogden Wetherby leaning back against a tree.  Jessup hurried over to the warrior. It was obvious to the boy that he did not have much longer.  

“I… am so … happy …you survived, my Prince,” said Ogden, struggling for each word.

“Take it easy,” said Jessup, kneeling down beside him.  

“I have… to say this…to you,” he said, tears scattered across his cheeks.  “I was… foolish. Lost…myself. I’m *cough* sorry for …*cough* my …betrayal.”

Jessup placed his hand on Ogden’s chest.  

“When push came to shove, you did what was right.  You sacrificed yourself for my mother. You are forgiven… Elder.”

Ogden weakly smiled.  His eyes closed and, with one final breath, Ogden Wetherby died as the Elder. Jessup patted his chest.  

“Your majesty,” said one of the soldiers, “What do we do now?”

“This has been a terribly tragic day for Galadral,” said Zara, “and the truth behind my rule will need to be revealed to everyone.  It is now time though. For me to abdicate the throne because Galadral has a king. His name is King Jessup Stanton.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Next day.

Jessup knelt beside the sinkhole where the city of Syn nearly devastated the world.  The boy was lost in his thoughts of what had happened and what could have been. His life was forever changed from the events of the conspiracy.

“What are ye doin’ boyo?”  The bald-headed old man, hunched over, limped his way over to Jessup. The old man’s body rounded, his neck tilting to the side like a turtle.   “Oy, what happened here?”

“An underground cavern collapsed, sir,” said Jessup.

“Ah… no.  Anyone hurt?”

“Sadly we lost a lot of good men,” said Jessup.  

“That’s such a tragedy,” he said.  

“Yes, sir, it was,” said Jessup.

“You seem familiar to me, boyo,” he said.  “Do I know you?”

“I am Prince Jessup of Galadral… soon to be the King,” Jessup said.  He had no desire to hide the fact. Lies were over.

“Soon to be king?  Inconceivable,” he said. 

Jessup snapped his head to look at the old man.  His words strange, but somewhat familiar too. The old man twitched his head back and forth and he had a smirk on his face.

“It may be inconceivable, sir, but it is true,” said Jessup, turning back to the sinkhole.  “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

“No…no… I am fine,” he said, smiling.  “King? Your father must be very proud of you.”

Jessup looked back at the old man who was standing straight, with a presence that had changed dramatically.  The glimmer in the old man’s eyes showed an unspoken secret.

“I never met my father,” said Jessup, slowly and cautiously.

“Oh my… I would not be surprised to know that he is watching you, Prince Jessup, soon to be king.” the old man said.  

Jessup stared closely at the old man.  Inside his heart, he knew who this was.

“I don’t know about that, sir.  That seems to be inconceivable.”

The old man laughed.  “Good luck, son. Remember, the world is a chaotic place…and that is a good thing.”

Jessup turned back, but the old man was gone.  He glanced around knowing that he would not find him.  Those few words were enough.  

“I’ll remember.”

END

cast

 

The Secret of the Prince

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