A queen received a baby as a gift, but the baby is in mortal danger.
|“Wait,” said Vaz. “What is this?” His fellow soldiers seemed to desert en masse; groups wandered off into the woods, presumably to become brigands. The Odeisian army was crumbling to nothing. “What’s happened?” Vaz asked.
“Haven’t you heard Vaz?” said his friend, Obrik, frowning. “Odeis has been conquered by the Ultesnian Empire. There’s no home to go back to. Most of the villages were burnt. Yes, your village too. I’m sorry, Vaz. There’s nothing left for us to do but band together and do what we can to survive; come on!” Vaz’s face shadowed over; he had broken eye contact with Obrik, and merely shook his head to Obrik’s offer.
“Well, so long, Vaz,” said Obrik. “Good luck.”
Vaz chewed on leaves that he had gathered. The next day he would venture into town to look for work; perhaps he would never leave that drear little town, in a kingdom that until the day before he had been trying to destroy. He sighed. He knew that he should rest, but with a whole army of his former countrymen lurking about looking for people to rob, he did not dare.
Vaz suddenly felt uncomfortable as the dark of the night seemed to recede into morning light over a period of seconds. But the new light did not seem to emit from the sun; rather, it emitted from a form, many feet in the distance, which passed among the trees, walking in his direction. The form was intensely bright, but not so bright that it could not be gazed at, and with every step it took towards Vaz the day seemed to come on more and more. It seemed to be a tall, beautiful woman with long brown hair, and large, white, feathery wings. She was nude.
“Hello,” said Vaz, as she passed the final tree in between them.
“Vaz,” she said, standing before him. “You have spent your life well, and have always committed small sins, but never great ones. Now you have lost everything; particularly, you have lost your passion. I offer you an opportunity to venture on a mission of far greater virtue and significance than the one which you have lost. Do you accept?”
“Two months ago, seven babies came to the world, all of them wingless angels. Only they can defeat the demons that rule in secret, and bring the human race from hell to paradise. As soon as they entered the world, they were all in danger. One is now safe, but the others must be rescued.”
“Go now to Dwayne, whose soul is modest. He is the prince of the kingdom of Pin. He is in very great danger, and yet we cannot tell who or what it is that threatens him. Perhaps it is from one so lost in shadow that even the angels cannot see them.”
“Do you believe her, San?” asked one of the several Pinnish gate guards to another. “The Queen, I mean.”
“That she received that baby from an angel?” San said, ruefully. “More like she received it from Garyed!” San referred to the Duke of Garyed, the brother of the King. The men chuckled.
“Hail,” said Vaz as he approached them. “I have come as quickly as I could. The prince is in danger.”
“Hold on,” said a guard. “What danger?”
“I cannot say precisely. I must speak with the Queen.”
“Who are you?” asked the guard, regarding him skeptically.
“I was a soldier in the service of the kingdom of Odeis, before it was conquered.”
“So you are a brigand.”
“A vagrant then.”
“If you don’t listen to me and the prince comes to harm…”
“That’s enough. Go away and don’t come back.”
“An angel visited me and told me precisely that the prince was in grave danger…”
“Take him into custody,” said the guard. Vaz withdrew. The guard held his hand up, aborting his earlier order.
“Out of the way, peasant,” said a carriage driver to Vaz. Vaz had to jump to avoid being trampled. The carriage was massive and there were evidently several people inside it. It was coloured black with sparkling gold paintings on it of fairies, a unicorn, and a knight. The upper part of the carriage was subtly lined with rubies, sapphires, and emeralds which sparkled in the sunlight. The carriage drove up to the gate and stopped in front of the guards.
“Hail,” said a guard. “Who goes there?” A bodyguard exited the carriage, followed by an advisor, and finally a young man dressed in a red and black silk outfit. He was handsome and lightly muscular, with short, clean cut brown hair and blue eyes.
“Hello,” said the man. “I am Babenlo, Earl of Darsel in the Ultesnian Empire. I was passing through and I thought I would stop by to see some of my neighbours.”
“General Babenlo,” said the guard, awed. “It is an honour. Just let us raise the gate.”
Vaz emerged from the alley in which he had slept. He had succeeded in shaving, but he had smelled better, and he was underfed. Still, he had to try again.
He stood by the door of the town mayor’s office, for the third day in a row. He hoped it would go better than it had the two previous times, when the mayor, upon arriving at his office, had utterly ignored him. He hoped the mayor would listen to what he had to say, and warn the Queen.
After a few minutes, the mayor approached as usual; although this time he seemed grim. Vaz waited patiently for him to draw near to the door of his office.
“The queen herself believes in angels, sir,” said Vaz. “She knows, as I do, that the baby is special, a gift from the angels. And it is for that very reason that the baby is in…”
“Haven’t you heard?” said the mayor, looking up at Vaz for the first time. Vaz returned his gaze blankly. “The baby is…the prince is…dead…you knew that it was going to happen...oh Heaven, forgive me…”
“How? How did he die?”
“It was a nosebleed. Illness, they say. You can come in.” But Vaz turned away, and walked off slowly, as if carrying a massive boulder on his back.
“The Count of Terbet will be most gracious, my lord,” Babenlo’s advisor said to him. “His wife is from the Ultensian Empire.”
“These woods are lovely,” said Babenlo. “How old these massive trees must be.” They had departed the Palace of Pin and entered the woods a minute earlier. “What in the world!?” They came to a stop in front of a massive net that stretched from one great tree to another like an enormous spider web over the road.
Vaz gave a piercing war cry as he ran towards the carriage, his sword drawn. Five burly bodyguards exited the carriage, weapons drawn. Babenlo exited the carriage as well, but ran towards the net rather than towards Vaz. His terrified advisor followed suit.
“Stay there, Baltis, or you will pay,” said Babenlo evenly to the carriage driver. Babenlo drew his sword and, reaching one of the sides of the net where it was tied to a tree, he slashed mightily and cut it. The net fell to the ground, its tautness gone. Babenlo doubled back towards his carriage. “Now, Baltis, start the horses!” Babenlo shouted, halfway back. He glimpsed Vaz break the neck of a bodyguard, who then joined his comrades on the dirt. Babenlo jumped through the carriage doorway as the carriage moved. “Jump Cesar!” yelled Babenlo to his advisor. The advisor jumped, and Babenlo caught him and helped him into the carriage, which sped along the path and over the broken net, faster than the berserk warrior who chased it at a speed that defied experience.
“Goodbye!” Babenlo shouted merrily back towards his enemy, who gradually slowed, collapsed onto his knees, and buried his head in his hands.
"You devil," said Vaz, but the words were barely more than thoughts. Vaz was too out of breath to give them sound. "You monster."