Chapter 1: Escape
On the eve of his fourteenth birthday, Myroh lay upon the plush bed in his spacious sleeping chambers. He was thinking with great anticipation of the celebrations that tomorrow would bring. The old, bald man from the kitchens was speaking, “Yes, we have all that on the list for tomorrow. I just wanted to make sure that you did not want any other desserts, your highness.” He smiled, eager to please.
“Well,” answered Myroh, “I do. I will have lots of cake and pie and ice cream and cookies and cupcakes. But . . . what about pudding? I must have pudding, too!”
“Oh, of course. I am so sorry we did not already think of . . . ”
Myroh interrupted the blubbering man, “I want butterscotch pudding, bread pudding, chocolate pudding, rice pudding, and at least two other puddings. Surprise me. Go.” The man nodded his head and left the room, gently closing the door behind him. Myroh closed his eyes and thought of all the delicious food for the birthday feast. He imagined all the gifts that would be waiting for him in the morning. Most of all, he thought of the adoration they would pour upon him. He thrived upon the attention. He loved that they adored him. If he made a joke, they all laughed. If he smiled at them, they felt blessed.
He was, after all, the savior. The night before his birth, they told him, the prophecy had arrived unexpectedly—a sudden writing slashed upon the walls by a strange bolt of lightning during a storm. The message was difficult to read. The words in some ancient language with which the wise old ones were unfamiliar. Finally, they learned that that the king’s first-born son would be a great warrior who would lead them to victory over the barbaric Others living beyond the kingdom’s walls in the wilds. Myroh’s mother died shortly after giving birth to him the next morning. The people of Magus finally knew the king would make good on his promise to rid them of the evil Others. Myroh would lead them to victory once he was grown. Thus had begun the life of a boy who seemed to have been born with a golden spoon in his mouth. They had given him all he could want, even before he had wanted it.
A slight creak caused Myroh to start. He peered through the darkness. Was the door open? He sat up and squinted. Lit by the glow of an oil lamp was the girl who would fan him on hot days, but she had no fan in her hands. She was gently closing the door. She looked at him and placed a finger to her lips, begging silence.
“What are you doing here?” Myroh demanded.
“Please, not too loudly.” Her voice was soft and strange. He realized now that he had never heard her speak before. He was taken aback. He wanted to ask how she dared tell him what to do, but her voice left him waiting without words for a moment. She took the opportunity to continue.
“I’m here to help you. This is important, so please listen to me. We don’t have much time. And, if anyone discovers me here, we will both be in danger.” Again, he wanted to protest, but confusion seized his voice. What was this girl talking about?
“The wise old ones have been talking. A scholar of the old tongues came to them a week ago. She told them that they were mistaken. That the prophecy was not as they had understood it. The old tongues are difficult, and the prophecy was in a dialect that few within Magus bother to learn. It is so useless these days. At first, they would not listen to her. They thought she was crazy. A traitor, perhaps. But, the oldest one was nervous. He wondered if she might be right. So, they locked themselves away. They have been in the tower all week. They just came out less than an hour ago.” The girl’s eyes were wide. She had been walking towards him as she spoke. She was much closer to the bed now.
She must be mad, Myroh thought. This doesn’t make any sense. He began to feel a strange sensation. He was confused and uncomfortable. His skin felt cold. How dare she? How dare she make me feel this way? He threw off the covers and got out of the bed. The plush rug was soft and comforting under his tender feet.
She continued, barely stopping to breathe, “They think now that the scholar is right, and . . .”
“I want a new fan girl.”
The girl faltered. Her lashes fluttered in bewilderment. “You . . . I don’t think I have spoken clearly. Please, you must leave this place. They have been misreading the prophecy all this time! The words on the old wall say that you will lead the Others to victory over the kingdom. They are going to get rid of you . . . kill you . . .”
She had gone too far. He stormed past her, pushing her roughly in his anger. He would go straight to his father and demand she be punished for speaking to him like this. Was this crazy girl joking? Who in this kingdom would dare touch a hair on his head, except to worship it? The halls on this level of the palace were quiet. Candles shivered in the breeze from the open windows. As he reached his father’s chambers, he heard his father’s voice on the other side of the door.
“No. You are perfectly right. We must act quickly. Myroh is a threat, always has been. I should have known that he was not the savior. When he came to this world, I lost the only woman I’ve ever cared for, my very heart and soul. I thought that the heavens had taken my queen in payment for sending us a hero. But . . . I see now that it was an omen.”
An older woman’s voice now. Crackly, as if cobwebs had stopped up her mouth. “Yes. You see why we must get rid of him.”
“That’s right.” The king’s voice was deep and firm. “We must get rid of Myroh. Send the guards to his room.”
Myroh stood frozen. Eyes wide. He heard footsteps from inside the room. They slowly grew louder, came closer. He took a step backwards. Instinct took over as his breath quickened. He turned and ran. As he came around the corner to the hallway where his bedchambers were, he looked over his shoulder. He suddenly hit something hard and fell to the ground. He lay on his back, blinking, trying to reorient himself as he realized he had collided with the fan girl.
“They’re coming for you now, aren’t they?” The girl whispered.
“Come with me. I will help you.”
He saw her face above him. She reached out to him. He didn’t know what else to do. He took her hand.
They rushed through the hallways, down the stairs. She pulled him this way and that, down more stairs. As they entered a dark corridor in which he had never been before, he thought he heard muffled noises above, heavy steps over his head.
“This way.” She slowed down and pulled aside a tapestry. She dragged what looked like a normal stone out of the wall, revealing a hole near the ground, just big enough for a person to crawl through. “You first.”
“They are looking for you. Hurry. Crawl through that hole!”
He looked at her disbelievingly. “I don’t crawl. I don’t go into holes. This is all a mistake. This is all wrong.”
“Listen to me.” Her voice was calm. “I will explain more later. You said yourself, they’re going to kill you. You need to get through that hole. Now.”
The hurried footsteps overhead grew louder. They must be right above them now. Myroh took a deep breath and grimaced as he dropped to all fours. He crawled into the hole. The girl with the fan went in after him, pulling the false stone into place.
“I can’t see a thing.”
“Here.” With two flints she lit a small lantern she had pulled from a bag tied to her belt. Myroh saw that they were in a small hollowed out cave behind the wall. He stood up and wiped his hands on his pajamas. The ground was dirty. It smelled funny. Two tunnels branched off ahead. The tunnels were low to the ground and small, only big enough for one person to crawl through on hands and knees at a time. “We need to go through the one on the left,” she told him as she tied the lantern to the left side of her belt. “You go first. I’ll tell you what to do.”
“Through one of those holes?”
“You’re serious? On my hands and knees through the dirt?”
“It’s your only way out. It’s the only way to save you.”
Myroh blinked back angry tears and began to crawl on his knees.
He stopped suddenly, and the girl bumped into him. “Please don’t stop like that. It’s pitch black in here. Let me know before you stop, please,” she sounded frustrated, although she tried to mask it.
“There you go again—giving me orders. I am the prince!” Myroh retorted angrily. “I will not go any further unless you tell me where we are. What is happening? My hands are sore. My trousers are torn. I have never been so filthy in all my life!”
“We are almost under the walls. It won’t be much longer. We’re getting closer to the border. We’ll come out on the other side of the wall. Then, I will take you somewhere safe.”
“No. I am sore and tired. I want to get out of here, now.”
“Just a little further. There is nowhere to go but forward.”
Tears began spilling down his face. He had never felt this way. The world had seemingly turned against him in a few seconds.
After a while longer, they crawled out into a cave much like the one at the beginning of the tunnel. Myroh sat on the dirt floor and looked at his bloody palms and knees in the dim light.
The girl with the fan walked towards a dark hole in the ceiling of the cave. Some wooden bars, twisted like old tree roots, protruded from the wall, forming the rungs of a ladder that led up into the darkness. “Come on,” she waved her hand for him to follow as she began to climb.
“Where are we going? I can’t believe this! There must be some mistake! Why would my father want me dead? He couldn’t! None of them could. We should go back and talk to him. It’s a misunderstanding!”
“Please, not so loud. We are under the ground just beyond the walls of Magus. If anyone hears us, that will be the end. You think this is a mistake? Well, it’s not. They are looking for you now. When we reach the ground, we will be just inside the edge of the woods. But, I’m sure that you will be able to see the guards running about on the walls of the kingdom. You will hear the chaotic searching. Once they realize you are no longer in Magus, the king will send out his army to catch the boy who spells doom for them all. And, that boy is you. We must be far from here when that happens.”
He would not have believed her if he had not heard his father. We must get rid of Myroh. “Alright. Let’s go.”