Crofton stared at the letter in disbelief. The paper shook in his trembling hands. It had been delivered on his doorstep not long ago and he'd already sent some of his men out to see if they could spot the intruder who'd left it. Just from glancing at it he'd known it was not a good sign. The seal was in the shape of a dagger and everyone knew what that meant. It was the sign of the Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains were a home for all robbers, gangsters and villains alike. They dwelled, like squabbling dragons, within a cave deep inside, standing vigilant over their stolen goods. The last honest person who went into the mountains had never returned and the bloodcurdling screams were enough to ward most sensible folk away. Unfortunately, Crofton's village was the closest to them and most frequently prone to attacks. He knew it was no mistake that this letter had been left for him. It was from a leader to a leader.
Crofton read the letter for the third time that morning.
You are probably aware by now that your precious apprentice Jack is missing.
Crofton sighed, it was true. When he'd gone to check on his apprentice the bed had been empty. Jack had gone. At the time, Crofton had assumed that the boy had simply awoken early to do something useful, like help his mother tend to their farm, but when he had not returned by breakfast the old man had been unable to hide his concern.
This was by our doing. If you do not pay the following sum of a thousand gold pieces I'm afraid that my finger might slip and he will endure the most terrible fate known to mankind. So, if you want him back in one piece I suggest you hand over the loot before sundown.
"What should I do?" wondered Crofton. "The Blue Mountain people do not make empty threats, especially their leader!"
A knock at the door stopped his thoughts in their tracks. The leader wearily walked over to answer it. Things simply couldn't get any worse.
He opened the door to see Prince Howard. The man stood as proud as ever, his blonde locks shining like melting butter in the sun.
"Heard there was a problem. Your guards found the culprit yet? Who the devil has taken him? Is there a ransom note?"
Crofton was startled by the young man's curiosity and enthusiasm. It gave him a headache. The man almost seemed glad that Jack was missing.
"Before I answer your questions let me ask you something. How do you know about all of this?" Crofton asked, sitting down at the bed.
"Oh Crofty! I'm a prince, I get around."
Crofton motioned for Howard to sit down and he joined the old leader at the bed.
"This was found on my doorstep." explained Crofton handing over the letter.
The prince examined it carefully, noting the seal before reading the message.
"Scar. I should've known!" he cried. "Don't worry Crofty; I'll get your apprentice back before you can say kidnapped!"
But this was what the leader had been afraid of, Howard may be brave but he never stopped to think.
"Prince Howard wait! Nobody has ever come out of there alive. How will you be any different?" Crofton asked. "Please at least take that clever servant of yours, James."
"Relax old man!" Howard snorted. "I'll be fine. I don't need a servant to help me with everything!"
Before Crofton could stop him the prince walked out of the room, his head held up high.