Throughout the days ahead, Wendell still wondered about the princess, but had to think about other things. His supply of coppers and brassies was running lower, and the colder months would be coming soon. Sometimes he still imagined how it must be for her, to live in the castle, what she must say to her sisters, but he told himself that it was pointless, and sometimes he could only half remember what she looked like anyways.
He loitered about in the vicinity of the public square, hoping for a likely shop owner to ask him for help, but mostly doing nothing.
This morning, he went there as usual, after waking up from his place under the miller’s wagon. It was already a bit late in the morning, and he went along down the dirt path as usual, past the marketplace, and to the square.
There was a crowd of people pressing against each other to look at something, he couldn’t tell what it was. He went in among the crowd, and came near the front, where he could see a piece of parchment unrolled and nailed into a post.
“What does it say? I can’t read!” someone said, jostling for position.
Wendell maneuvered his way to the front, and one of the townspeople began to read aloud, in a large, husky voice.
“Dear citizens of this our royal city. Greetings, from King Rowan. I regret that I do not have any good news to share with you this day. One of the royal family, my own daughter, has been taken away, while she was in the royal gardens. It is rumored that she was taken to the north, where there is a great labyrinth hidden somewhere among the mountains.”
“I have asked my bravest soldiers to go and search out the entrance to this place, but they all refused my command, even on charge of death by beheading.”
“It is therefore my plea to you, that if any among you should wish to undertake this task, their reward will be very great, even to as much gold as can be carried away by ten horses, and they shall have their choice of the hand in marriage of any of the royal family.”
“I beseech you, that someone among you should carry out their duty towards me and my dear Karen, for I have had no rest and my heart fails me.”
“If any among you should not be of a most craven and ungrateful heart, they may approach me at will in the royal throne room, where I sit night and day awaiting your coming. King Rowan.”
Wendell stared at the parchment. It must be a dream. Any moment he was going to wake up sweaty and thrashing, and find himself under the miller’s wagon as always, with everything like it always was, facing another pointless day loitering in the marketplace, with the princess safely bored in the castle.
He had imagined so many childish, fanciful things about her before, wishing for her to appear in the marketplace. But suddenly those childish things had become soberingly real, and there was no way to make himself pretend she was just a dream now. There was a horrible feeling in his stomach, and he desperately wished he could wake up, but nothing happened.
Slowly, he turned and looked around at the square. He meandered away from the sign, and watched the people going to and fro, busily going about.