Note: this is a first draft. The only editting done is for typos/spelling errors.
Breakfast in the royal castle was usually a peaceful affair. The prince and princess, both being teenagers, rarely put in an appearance before eleven, which meant it was just king Henry and his wife. Henry spent the meal buried in the morning post, whil Merlina was content to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasted.
This morning however, she was shaken out of her revery as the king suddenly choked on his coffee, sending a good amount of it spraying across the table.
“I don’t believe it! Is there nothing the buggers won’t stoop to?”
“What have they done this time?”
“They’ve only gone and burnt down an entire neighbourhood,” said Henry, wiping coffee off the remaining letters. “Well, when they were caught they said they’d only meant to torch the one house, but it got out of hand. As if that makes it all right.” He glared at the offending parchment. “Did they say why they’ve started burning down property?” Merlina asked.
“Unsurprisingly, no. But I’d bet anything it was meant to look like an accident. It was one of those neighbourhoods tagged for ‘development’. You know the story. Whoops, there goes your home, what a shame. You may as well sell up now.”
He gave the leter one final glower before tossing it onto the ‘read’ pile.
“Those heroes had better get here soon.”
“Come on, the coach driver won’t hang around forever.”
“Coming, coming. Just looking for my crossbow bolts.”
LD sighed impatiently. It was always the same. Every single mission started with Angel searching frantically for one last essential supply. If it wasn’t weaponry, then her food for the journey went walk about. On one memorable occasion she had even managed to mislay her entire uniform, boots, cape and all.
The sound of hooves made her turn back to the road again, where the coach was just setting off, with Tommy running desperately after it. At the same moment a cry of “got it!” from inside the house announced that the missing bolts had surfaced. “Come on,” urged LD again. Angel slung her knapsack on her back, slammed the door and stuffed the keys into their hiding place, before sprinting after LD towards the disappearing coach.
From the bushes a figure watched the two girls racing down the road. He shrugged. It beat him what they were so scared about. They seemed like a bunch of hopeless amateurs to him. The one who lived here hadn’t even grasped basic security. Anyone who had spotted her ‘hiding’ the keys only had to stroll up and fish them out.
Which is exactly what he intended doing. After all, it was much easier than breaking in. He stood up and checked one last time that he had all the boobie traps. Even if they were lucky enough to succeed, he’d make sure that this one at least would not do so again. Pausing only to make sure the coast was clear, the intruder made his way over to the garden gnome where the keys had been so clumsily hidden and reached down.
Birds flew up in panic as a gigantic explosion rent the air. Slowly, the smoke cleared, leaving nothing but a crater and, presumably, and aweful lot of paperwork for someone. Looking stupid is not always the same as being stupid.
It was a few hours later and the coach driver was wishing he hadn’t relented and let his passengers catch up and climb on board. It hadn’t been too bad when they were inside, but twenty minutes in, they had decided to climb out onto the roof, what with it being such a fine day. He hadn’t even minded them bringing their wolf along, as it was so well behaved. In fact, the animal turned out to be the best behaved of the lot.
Even the constant good natured bickering hadn’t been that bad. But about half an hour ago the singing had started. Again, this might not have been a problem. In fact, the two girls had quite pleasant voices. However, the young man couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He was either unaware of this, or simply didn’t care.
He thanked the gods that tomorrow was his day off. Once they reached the coachin inn he’d be free of them, and good riddance. If somebody had told him that those three idiots were in fact the famed heroes of the realm, he would have told them to ‘pull the other one, it’s got bells on’.
And so the coach continued on its way. And the peace of the countryside continued to be ruined by what sounded like a wounded hyena in its last agonised death throws.
“Ye gods! That girl doesn’t do things by half.”
There was a group of people clustered around Angel’s gate, surveying the black crater in the middle of the lawn. A couple of people with strong stomachs were investigating the scene, to see if any clue might be found. One of them held up a blackened boot.
Sergai stared thoughtfully into space. It wasn’t usual for burglars to try their luck here. In fact, most people went the much longer way round, rather than travel through the neighbourhood. Somehow he couldn’t believe a lone criminal had just happened to be passing by, seen Angel leave and decided to grab the opportunity. He shrugged. It was too hot to worry about such things. Besides, he was getting another blinding headache. Vampires and heatwaves did not mix well.
“You don’t believe it’s that simple either, do you,” said Toya.
“I think it’s got something to do with that visit Angel got yesterday.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You haven’t heard the latest,” said Toya darkly. “Here.” She handed Sergai a letter. He read it, then reread it. Finally he stared speechlessly at Toya.
“Exactly. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the king’s head you should be wanting to rip off. He’d never allow this.”
“But… it’s got the king’s ceal and everything. You know it’s near impossible to fke thaqt.”
“Nearly, yes. But those buggers could probably find a way.”
“What? You think it’s them behind it?”
Toya stared thoughtfully up into the cloudless sky. “We should make sure if it’s the king’s wishes or not,” she said. “I mean, if they’re starting to use the king’s ceal to get away with this kind of stuff then somebody ought to warn him.”
The sun was just setting as the coach rumbled through the city gates the following evening. The three travellers were by now heartily sick of bumping along endless roads through equally endless fields, so it was with relief they climbed down and set off on foot for the royal castle.
The bored looking guard accepted the royal ceal that Tommy waved at him and let them pass, before going back to staring vacently into space. Guarding the king and his family, Angel reflected, had to be the most boring job there was. No-one in their right mind would try harming the royal family, since it was well known what the king would do to any would-be assasins.
It was obvious king Henry ran a very relaxed castle. Off duty guards lounged around in the corridors. There seemed to be a loud and cheerful party going on somewhere nearby. As they neared the great hall they passed princess Sasha, who was engaged in a very energetic swordfight with the captain of the guards.
“Ah, there you are,” Henry greeted them. “Drink?” He waved to a couple of hovering servants.
“It’s like this,” the king began once they were seated with their drinks. “For some reason, elders up and down the country are suddenly deciding to start improving the infrastructure. You know, laying down new roads, flattening villages for new markets, that kind of thing. Now, I’ve got nothing against the odd bit of development. But this much, and it’ just happens to be the kind of villages and neighbourhoods that certain people consider ‘undesirable’. There’s something decidedly iffy about the whole thing. I think Someone, or a whole bunch of someones, are behind it.”
“Don’t tell me, it’s those bloody priests again,” said LD, who was the quickest on the uptake.
“That’s right. I’m guessing they’ve finally learnt that violence doesn’t work so now the buggers are trying cunning. Are you alright?”
This was to Angel, who had just sprayed half her drink across the room.
“So that’s what they’re up to!”
She briefly explained about the letter and subsequent visit she had recieved. “Well that clinches it,” said henry. “Those fanatics have always hated your neighbours.”
They were interrupted by a clang and a crash of breaking glass from just outside the hall. “Sasha, what have I told you about fighting indoors?” came a stern female voice.
“But it’s started raining.”
“Then you’ll just have to wait until it stops. And you shouldn’t encourage her.”
The door opened and Sasha slouched in looking disgruntled, crossed the room and slouched out again through an opposite door, slamming it behind her. The king sighed.
“Teenagers… Still, I was probably just as bad. Now, where were we?”
As the council of war continued, nobody noticed the dark figure lurking up near the roof among the beams. He remained there for a few more minutes, listening intently to the talk below him, then made his way silently back into the deep shadows in the corner.
Copyright © Rainbow