He had skated along the outer borders of the North Arbors and turned west to Chrisoncor. Grim had been scarce since his last encounter with them. Milos was currently huddled in the wine cellar of the earl of Chrisoncor. Hardly a place of comfort, considering that he was one of the king of Arnay’s closest allies and that approximately ten thousand of the king’s men were camped nearby. Then again, the wraith did tell him that his advice was hardly a kindness.
Discovery by the king’s men couldn’t be the reason they told him to come this way, as it seemed that it was going to happen regardless. Who knew what the wraith had seen in the future. It must had been very important considering that the wraith had tracked him across the lake and to the outskirts of Catalands, miles away from any large fresh water sources to warn him.
He heard footsteps coming from the floor above him. He cursed to himself as no one was supposed to be home. The shuffling continued and then stopped. He held his breath as the door to the cellar opened.
“It gets stronger,” says the voice and he stepped down into the cellar.
“Are you sure?” asked another voice.
“Yes, the creatures said that she would be here waiting and obviously they were right as the sceptre is glowing.” he came down more steps. “Princess, you can come out of hiding as it is only a matter of time before we find you.”
“It is not what you think, we mean you no harm.” said another.
Milos recognised the voices now. It was Lord Baston and Conway. But why were they looking for Aliana? She was supposed to be in Turion. He knew that his wife could be stubborn at times and he was beginning to question whether she had indeed stayed home as he’d asked.
He had the strangest feeling just a few hours after he had left Turion. He was fine on the river boat and then there was this sudden absence of feeling and emptiness that had filled him. His thoughts switched immediately to Aliana. He could sense that something was wrong.
He had panicked as the feeling lasted for a few minutes. He couldn’t feel her nor could he sense the earth around him. He about ready to blow his cover and was on the way to speak to the captain of the boat and order him to bring him back to Turion, when he felt the flare of her fire returning. He had been drawing on the earth so much that he had probably cause a minor quake somewhere else. The damage wouldn’t have been severe as his focus was scattered.
As the minutes passed her fire became stronger and his worry decreased. Something had happened as he left Turion, but it seemed that Aliana had managed to deal with it. He just hoped that lordling Doranand had nothing to do with it or was at least doing as he’d requested.
Milos came out from behind the crates. The men had their backs to him. “Princess,” called Baston.
“I am not the princess, so you will have to make do with me a lowly prince.” said Milos. His hand was casually rested on top of the pommel of his sword. The men turned to face him, both pulling their weapons. “Lord Baston, Conway, what business do you have with my wife?”
“Prince Milos.” said Baston. “Where is Princess Aliana?” he asked looking around the cellar.
“Safely stowed away in Turion.” He hoped.
“I told you that those wraiths were wrong.” hissed Conway.
“What wraiths? River wraiths?” asked Milos. He was sent here, to them?
“Yes, they said that we would find the princess here apparently they were wrong.” said Conway frowning as he looked at Baston.
“No, actually. They would said we would find the one who could stop Ana-Moriah here. We both assumed that it was the princess.” He said putting his sword back into the scabbard.
“You want to get rid of Ana-Moriah?” asked Milos sceptically, still not letting go of his weapon. “I thought that you were loyal to the king.”
“We are loyal to the Crown and currently it isn’t sitting on the right head.” said Baston.
“How do we know that we can trust him? He is the enemy.” said Conway as he attempted to whisper in Baston’s ear.
“The wraiths are rarely wrong and Queen Allison in her final instructions said that we should trust them. Trust them and the gem.”
The sceptre. On top of it was an enormous red gem that seemed to glow with an inner light. This was what had gone missing and what Aliana had mistaken to be the red sapphire.
“You stole the sceptre. That right there is why the princess left Evan.” said Milos.
“We didn’t steal anything. We were given this for safekeeping by Queen Allison herself before she died. I had convinced the king to send Aliana here so that I could have given it to her. Thus, removing her father as king and preventing Ana-Moriah from gaining the throne. She however, chose to disobey our orders and ran away with you instead.” said Baston.
“For your kind information, she was the one that abducted me. I had no intention of going to Turion so early. She however convinced me under some duress. Though at that time she didn’t know who I was. But I digress.” he said shocking the men but continued. “And why would she have come here or believed you? You treated her like a child at almost every turn. If your approach had been different then she would have listened. Maybe.” He tacked on as he couldn’t vouch for his wife’s obedience.
“The approach was right. The king wouldn’t have believed that their loyalty was with him instead of the Crown if they’d acted otherwise.” said another voice coming from the top of the cellar. “It achieved the desired effect.”
“Huma,” said Baston. “What are you doing here, alive at that?” He had an uncanny gift making good news sound horrible, Milos realised.
“Ana-Moriah may think that she killed me, but I had been waiting many moons for her to come to Evan. We foresaw it.” he said coming to join the group.
“We?” asked Milos as he looked at the decrepit old man he’d often seen in the palace. He had often wondered about the dingy green cloak that he’d chosen to wear at times and then he laughed. “You are a river wraith!”
“Very intuitive young prince.” he smiled. “And you are one of the holders of elemental magic, and from the rumours going around, earth magic. Which is why the ruby glows in your presence.”
“I thought it was a sapphire.” said Milos.
“You more than anyone else knows, that the sapphire is only a title.”
“So we had a river wraith as chief advisor all this time.” asked Baston.
“Yes. My age does lend experience. A decision which the Queen Allison has never regretted. Years ago, I foretold this very future to her. She then made the choice to give you the staff. For the protection of the princess when Moriah came.”
“But then why is he here?” asked Conway.
“He is here because he is the one that will be used to stop her. The princess had to meet Milos or her destiny wouldn’t have been realised.” He then looked at Milos. “Elemental magic only becomes activated in the presence of another who holds such magic. The two then become one connected by power, friendship and or marriage. One cannot be without the other. The princess might not have wanted to go with this young prince, but really on a primal level she could not have said no. Neither could he to her.” said Huma as he pointed to Milos with his chin.
Milos wasn’t so sure about that. She said no to him. I don’t love Milos. Her voice came back to haunt him and he shook his head as he tried to dispel the errant thought.
“We will not be giving him the staff.” said Baston imperiously. “It will be like handing over our sovereignty.”
“And you shouldn’t as it belongs to the Aristagona line.” said Huma.
“What exactly do you want us to do with him Huma? I am to be on my way to Lurion and Baston has to go back to Evan.” asked Conway.
“Your main purpose is to get Prince Milos to Evan safely. The rest is up to him.”
“I cannot be seen with the enemy.” said Baston. “The king would have my head for treason.”
“Then don’t let me be seen then.” said Milos calmly. “It is no use worrying about treason when you have already said that your loyalty is with Aliana and by extension me. I am to be her king after all.”
“You will be a Queen’s consort and nothing else in this country Your Highness." said Baston.
“Titles are irrelevant,” said Huma. “But he is right, you still owe Princess Aliana your allegiance. You gave Queen Allison your word, so if you valued your friendship, then keep your promise.” The old man tightened his jaw but said nothing. Huma turned to Milos. “He will get you to Evan but you will have to face Moriah yourself.”
“But if you get caught, do not expect my help. I will deny having this meeting or ever seeing your face before.” said Baston.
“Considering that Huma is supposed to be dead, it will be highly improbable that a meeting such as this had occurred. Seeing your face has been far from a pleasurable experience, so I will not regret washing it from my memory Lord Baston.” said Milos.
“Conway?” asked Huma.
“I do not like this, but I will go along with it for now. We never met. Now I am off to Lurion.” he said taking the stairs out of the cellar.
“His courage is admirable.” said Milos under his breath.
The old wraith came up to him and held him by the shoulder. “At all times keep this on you.” he said handing him a cord on which a roughly hewn black pendent hung. Being near it made Milos feel disconnected from the earth and almost normal. He stepped away from it.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Obsidian forged in the Landing. In large amounts it closes off the elemental magic from its conduit, but it also shields you from detection. Hold it.” he said giving the stone to Milos. Hesitantly he took it. “Look.” he said pointing to the sceptre. The gem which had once shone brightly casting its glow around the room, slowly dimmed. Milos handed the gem back to Huma and watched as its brilliance rekindled.
“It is all I have to offer in protection from Moriah.” said Huma. “She sensed you easily the last time you were there and the grim too can sense elemental magic, so it will make your travels easier.”
Milos noted that he said easier not safer. “Then I will take it. Thank you.” he then placed it around his neck.
“I must reach Evan by nightfall so if I you are to leave with me. I will be outside.” said Baston.
“Or upstairs hiding the sceptre.” Milos piped up. The baron glared at him but said nothing as he went upstairs.
“It is not an easy road that you will have to travel Prince Milos, but confidence must be your ally. If you allow doubt to win, the battle is already lost.” said Huma.
“I will keep that in mind.” he said. He followed the wraith outside and watched as she disappeared into the Arbors. He’d planned on going to Evan to kill the queen. His plans on paper were sound when he’d made them in Turion. Sound enough that he’d made his father believe him. Now he had the task of trying to believe them himself and that was becoming more difficult the closer he got to his goal.
The earl came out of the castle carrying what looked like armour and a red tunic. “Here.” he said shoving them into Milos’ chest. “I will carry you past the gates of Evan and after that you are on your own.”
“That would be more than enough.” said Milos.
“You have your own mount?” he asked gruffly.
“It is in your stables.” the earl looked at him dumbfounded. “If a stray horse was wandering around your estate it would look suspicious.”
To his surprise, the man’s lip tilted slightly as he grunted. “I need to have a serious talk with my stable hands.”
Milos slid into the armour and pulled the tunic over his head. “No need to be hard on the man. I can be extremely convincing.”
“I hope that you will be convincing enough when the time is right.” he said before walking towards the stable.
“That is indeed something to hope for.” whispered Milos mostly to himself as he followed the earl.