Plagued

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The Vital Missive

Mesha made it clear at breakfast the next morning that he did not want anyone bowing to him. Though this did not stop Sarah from referring to him as ‘Prince Mesha’ continuously. “You could have told us you were a prince. I feel so silly now!”

As Mesha took his seat between Lorance and Noddie he shared a greeting with Jethrow, who had already finished eating. Jethrow continued to watch Mesha, rubbing his good luck charm between his fingers.

Noddie, for her part, was in better spirits then she had been for weeks. They had arrived safely in Irestead, she had her friend back, and she was closer than ever to finding her uncle Lazren.

Lorance seemed extra cheerful to have Mesha back as well.

“It is good to have you back, bro- ah I mean, my brother,” Lorance hastily corrected after a stern look from Vince. “You have no idea how dull it has been for me. Not that the others are not good company, but it is not the same. And I am pleased to see you have finally made some friends on your own. I have been getting to know them and have found them to be interesting people. See, I told you friends would do you good. You would have more if you didn’t look so gloomy all the time, you need to smile more, Mesha.”

Lorance paused to place a biscuit in his mouth while Mesha gave his brother an exasperated but amused look.

Preston entered and fell to one knee near Lorance’s chair. “Pardon, your Highness, but we have received news from our western shore.”

“Mesha, this is Preston Clark,” Lorance informed his brother. “He is the head of the archers and an outstanding bowmen.” Preston lowered his eyes with humble pleasure.

“My greetings, Mr. Clark,” Mesha answered.

“It is an honor, your Highness. We are glad to see you are safe and well.”

“What news do you bring?” Lorance asked.

“Our scouts have informed me that an old Carosonian ship has crossed our southern border and is making its way northward toward the Shadowrock Cliffs. We know neither its purpose nor its home port for it flies no flag. What are your orders concerning such a ship?”

Noddie froze and Jethrow looked up. “That is Mordekah and his remaining men.”

“More robbers?” Sarah exclaimed in dismay.

Lorance focused on his own interlocked fingers, “It seems the robber king is gathering all his forces in one place. I fear he has something extreme planned for he has never acted as such before. Do you wish to attack, your Highness?”

Vince cleared his throat, “It would be unwise to attack at this time. We would not be able to prepare an assault on a ship without notice. We need a battle ship and cannons of our own.”

Mesha addressed Lorance, “Our main focus should be on reclaiming the pass. Without the pass we are cut off from the southern countries and our people cannot receive the needed supplies.”

Lorance dropped his head in his hands. “I am aware.”

He did some very fast and hard thinking. Then he raised his head once more and said, “I don’t like the idea of pulling our forces away from the pass. For the time being we will continue as planned, but we must keep a close eye on the ship. With any luck the Rovian Sea will ice over. The vessel has so far been able to slice through the thinner crust, but a strong freeze may be enough to stop it. Ironic that this would be the year the sea didn’t ice over completely.”

Preston bobbed his head, “Understood, your Highness. But there is still the matter concerning the robbers in the mountains. We dare not strike at the pass. The narrow path and high cliffs give them an advantage. We will not be able to take them by surprise again. If we have any chance at all we would have to lure them out.”

“Then we must find a way to draw them out from the mountains. What would be important enough to catch their interest?”

He looked over at his brother, but Mesha leaned back in his chair with a troubled expression.

Preston was dismissed and they all retired to a separate sitting room decorated in calming shades of blue and brown. Loaded bookshelves covered the walls and the Irestead flag hung over the mantle. They occupied seats by the fireplace while Lorance filled Mesha in on what had taken place in Bolzenar during his absence.

Mesha ran a hand over his worn face. “Things have become worse then I feared.”

“Did word reach you of Father’s death?”

Mesha’s hands tightened, “Yes. I heard. Honor to his memory.”

“There is something else, Mesha.” Lorance, reached into his pocket and pulled out a small roll of parchment sealed with the crest of Irestead and handed it to Mesha, as they both rose to their feet.

“Uncle Fawnton instructed me to give this to you.”

“What is it?”

“I do not know. Uncle would not tell me. He gave me orders to deliver it directly to you, I’ve never seen him so serious. This missive must be imperative. I admit I am quite eager to find out what he has written. Do you realize how much self-restraint I have had to exercise not to tear that message open?”

“I can only imagine,” Mesha replied, the corner of his mouth twitching.

The room was tense with anticipation as Mesha broke the seal and unrolled the short scrap of parchment. He read the message. Then blinked, and read it again.

Lorance sidled up to read over his shoulder. “Is that it?”

“Um.” Mesha Nodded.

“Well, what does it say?” Sarah demanded.

Mehsa turned the scrap of parchment around. “See for yourself.”

Written on the missive was a single sentence penned in curly script:

The king has taken the secret with him to the grave.

“That’s uncle Fawn’s handwriting,” Lorance observed.

“But what does it mean?” Noddie questioned.

One of Jethrow’s eyebrows lowered as he studied the words. “It tells us that King Maurus discovered something before his death. A secret that no one else was to know or would be able to discover. Most likely something concerning Mesha’s curse or Fawnton Niles would not have sent this to him and him alone.”

Vince’s eyes widened. “The king may have found information about removing the curse.”

“But this message doesn’t say what it was!” Sarah pointed out in dismay, “The king was the only one who knew and now he is dead.”

“Well that is infuriatingly unhelpful!” Lorance exclaimed looking away with his hands on his hips.

“It must be important or uncle Fawn would not have gone through so much trouble to get this to me,” said Mesha slowly.

Sarah took the parchment from his hands and held it up to the light. “You sure there’s nothing else written on it? words written in invisible ink perhaps? I’ve heard of such a thing before.”

“Nothing.”

They all slumped in disappointment.

“You don’t suppose he’s telling you to give up?” Sarah ventured cautiously. “It sounds like he’s saying it’s a lost cause. Maybe he realized there was no cure, and this message is to tell you to stop focusing so much on the curse and go back home?”

Mesha shook his head forcefully. “No! If that were the case it would have just said so! No. There has to be something I am not seeing.”

Vince put a hand on Mesha’s shoulder. “Maybe Fawnton knows what your father discovered. He was at the King’s deathbed after all. Perhaps the message was too dangerous to put into a letter so he is prompting you to go to him so he can tell you in person. This could mean that Fawnton is the only one left alive who can tell you.”

Mesha rolled the missive back up and placed it in his pocket. “I will give it some thought.”

Noddie gave the message some thought too. The more she contemplated it the more she agreed that something important must be within in the missive itself. For Fawnton could not expect Mesha to return to Bolzenar.

She decided to ask Mesha if she could see the message again and was walking down the hall toward his room when she heard something that drove the short letter from her mind. Raised voices were escaping from a room nearby. It was Lorance’s voice and he was talking to Vince.

“But we have to go back! My people need me and I’ve deserted them. I’ve left them to be preyed upon by fear and death! Who knows what Hemlin is doing in our absence!”

“You must be wise, young prince. Going back now would do more ill then good.”

“We can’t fight the robbers at the pass or capture their ship to the west and we haven’t found a cure for the plague. There is nothing else I can do here! We’re wasting time!

“Patience, Lorance. A wise ruler knows that proper timing can mean the difference between victory and defeat.”

“I am not the ruler of Irestead. Neither is Mesha. And if Hemlin is not restrained soon neither of us will live long enough to be!”

“Do not talk so, my Prince.”

“I don’t care about my informal speaking habits right now!”

“I was referring to the negative assumption of the noble princes of Irestead. Both of whom have the potential to become the greatest king our country has ever known.”

There was a stifled sob. “I don’t feel noble or great. I feel useless. Everyone is turning to me for strength and answers, even Mesha, and I’m just as lost and uncertain as they are! I want to go home. I want to make things right again, and I don’t know where to start. All I have done is abandon my people.”

“Your people are loyal to you despite the ill fate of this land. They pray for your safe return. I know it is hard being the one people look to for guidance, but you must return when you are prepared to triumph, or you will disappoint your people much more. Lorance, every king in history has had to bear a heavy mantle. And this is an extraordinary weight to carry, but thus far you have carried it with a grace and determination that any king would be proud of. For it is good deeds that have earned your ancestors the title of Great King.”

Through the crack in the door Noddie could see Lorance encircled by Vince’s embrace. She barely heard his whispered words into the boy’s ear, “Patience, Lorance.”

Noddie quietly retreated back to her room. She never considered what great expectations must be placed on a Prince, let alone a prince of a struggling kingdom like Irestead. She was surprised Mesha and Lorance did not crack under the pressure. Then again, it was no wonder Mesha felt the frequent desire to run away.

At dinner Lorance appeared tired, but gave no evidence of his break down an hour or two before.

As the food was cleared, talk turned once again to the strange missive from Bolzenar.

“But what can we pull out of one sentence?” Sarah asked as she twisted a strand of her hair around her finger.

“If my father was able to discover something, there has to be a chance that I can as well,” Mesha stated, a stubborn edge to his jaw.

Vince stroked his chin, “Your father was an avid journal keeper. He wrote down all of his history and research faithfully. If the king did find anything he would be sure to have it documented. Hemlin knew this as well. It would not surprise me if all the royal rooms and books were searched after the king’s death. Knowing Fawnton he probably would have hid anything important beforehand. Someplace where Hemlin would be unable to find it.”

“Or destroy it.” Jethrow added. “The king could have burned the papers himself in despair if he discovered there was no cure.”

Vince waved his words off. “No. That was not his way.”

“Okay, let’s assume he found something and wrote it down. Where would he hide it?” Sarah asked.

“The vaults?” Lorance suggested.

“With all the other records? That would be the first place anyone would look,” said Mesha.

“The green room?”

Vince shook his head, “He went in there to forget his troubles. I doubt he would hide them there.”

A long silence ensued as they thought over other options.

“Wait,” Mesha gaped. His eyes glazed over in realization. “I think uncle Fawn has just told us.

“How do you mean?” Noddie asked.

“Remember what the note said? That ‘the king has taken the secret with him to the grave?’”

“Yeah.”

“It didn’t say his secrets but the secret. He found something. And whatever it is we will find it in his grave.”

Lorance raised his head. “The Island of the kings?”

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