A nobleman yearns to reach a place of dreams.
The nobleman Ziel stood atop the highest spire of the castle situated on a cliff overlooking the tumultuous Sea of Strife. The dark waters splashed and slammed against the jutting rocks on the beach below. He looked up, spying for that splendid sight which was the Heavenly Citadel that levitated high in the clouds. Most people of the kingdom of Merth thought the Citadel was a mere legend for very few had seen it.
“There must be a way. How did the Citadel get up there anyway?” Ziel said to himself.
“You’re thinking about it again aren’t you?” said a soft female voice behind him.
Ziel turned around and there was Princess Ithia. She wore a light blue gown and had black slippers. Her blond hair was almost golden in the morning sun.
“I tell you it is real. Others have seen it too,” nobleman Ziel said.
“In all my life only five people have claimed to have seen it. It is just a legend.”
“Are you calling me mad or a lair then?”
Ithia neared him and smiled. “Neither. Sometimes the light plays tricks on your eyes. I was in the forest once and thought I saw a unicorn.”
“This is different. The castle that levitates high in the air exists,” said Ziel.
“Believe as you will. But if you spread the matter, you may be deemed a fool by others,” said the princess. “I care about you. You’re like a second father to me.” She turned about and walked back to the spiraling staircase that had brought her to the panicle of the tower.
Ziel sighed, and walked after Ithia down the stairs.
At the base, King Terinth was talking with a knight. The king was in a sweat with wide glossy eyes and tears on his cheeks.
The Nobleman approached him as he turned to Ziel. “My Lord, what is wrong?”
“Something horrible happened! My son, my young prince has been taken by bandits! A ransom note was found at the castle gates.”
“How can this be? He is always lived in the castle under close watch. How could one go so deep within the royal hall and carry him off?” Ziel put forth.
“The last I saw him was in the throne room when he said he was going to the banquet hall for luncheon. I let him go without an escort. The way to the banquet hall is not but ten meters from the throne room. It is lined with guards for heaven’s sake and the hall is filled with even more! It’s my fault.
“What do the bandits want?”
“They want my very crown!”
“They wish to rule Merth? Preposterous!” said Ziel.
“The whole kingdom will fall into ruin if common, vile outlaws take control. The people would not stand for it. It is madness. But what choice do I have?”
Ziel looked squarely into King Terinth’s eyes. “The bandits must live in the Azure Forest.”
“Then I will send forces to retrieve young Galen.”
Ziel shook his head. “The moment they see anyone they may swiftly take his life. Allow me to undertake the task. I have more knowledge of the forest than any of your soldiers or scouts.”
King Terinth hesitated before he took a deep breath and nodded. “Very well. Make haste – and stay out of sight the best you can.”
Ziel felt his stomach tighten as he walked out of the hall and towards the stable hand’s quarters in a small wooden hut.
“I need the fastest steed you have,” said Ziel to the stable keeper Bronus.
“Then you’ll want Flame,” said Bronus as he brought out an orange – red muscular horse.
Ziel mounted it and rode off into the open plains as he headed for the line of trees bordering the Azure Forest. He had been through the forests many times and knew the paths and forest marks well. He soon came under a canopy of thick tree boughs and close leaves bunched overhead. He did not recognize the place he was at. Ziel frowned as he stroked his chin and peered around. Suddenly he heard the soft sound of footsteps on crunching leaves approach him from his left.
Then he saw the small form of little Galen running through a thicket of trees to the noblemen. “Galen! What happened to you? Where are the people who took you?” Ziel said as he slid from Flame and knelt.
“A little man with a beard saved me. He used magic.”
“Magic? Where is this little man that rescued you from the thieves?”
“He told me to bring you to him.” Galen turned around and ran back towards the thicket. “Let’s go!” he yelled.
“Wait! Galen!” Ziel ran after him. He was hard to follow with all the close foliage. Then he broke out into wonderful sunshine into an open grove. A few meters in front of him was a wondrous sight. A pyramid that glowed with a soft blue hue stood before him. In from of it was a short man with a beard dressed in a brown cloak.
“My word! What is this marvelous pyramid? Who are you?”
“I am a dwarf wizard. This pyramid keeps the entry to the castle that drifts in the clouds.” Just as Ziel was about to speak, the dwarf put up his palm. “I smote the thieves with blindness and took the young prince to my pyramid.”
“I yearn so deeply to go to the Heavenly Citadel. Yet I must return Galen to his father.”
“I will watch him until you are ready. I give you permission to enter.”
“Truly? I am most thankful. This is a dream come to pass.”
The stout wizard waved his hand and a doorway appeared. “Enter.”
Ziel walked inside and saw a vaulted ceiling above a large hall. There was a platform with a sword thrust into it. Human bones lay all over the surface. The nobleman cringed at the sight. He was curios and went to the sword. After examining it, the only thought was to pull it from the ground. He did so and a huge beast landed in front of him. It was horrid. It had the body of a lion, the head of a dragon with scorpion’s tail that hung over it is back. And on its back were long bat’s wings.
The monster roared at Ziel. A spray of saliva spewed from its mouth carrying a putrid smell. The nobleman backed away breathing heavily.
The sword! It was put here just for that purpose! he thought. Ziel brandished the sword in a tight grip. “Come on you abomination!” he exclaimed.
The manticore lunged at Ziel but he saw it rear its legs first and he dodged it. The beast turned, bearing its scythe – like teeth. Next, it took to the air and soared high around him. It circled once again and lowered, meaning to swoop over him and snag him with its sharp claws. The manticore’s paw ran right into the pointed sword held by Ziel. Blood came out, staining the grey stone ground. The monster thudded onto the ground all four legs.
It roared even louder as its eyes flickered and glared at the human. It ran for him, with each step shaking the ground. It reared its long scorpion tail but Ziel stepped back in time just as it was driven and planted into the ground in front of him like a nail. Ziel slashed at the immobilized tail and severed it. The cut limb writhed around like a struggling worm. Then, as the ruthless creature squirmed and tossed its body to and fro in pain, Ziel ran to it. Avoiding its thrashing body parts, he saw its yellow belly expose itself for just a moment and he thrust his sword into it. The cry of the manticore was deafening. Then it rolled onto its side, motionless.
Ziel fell to his knees, still clutching the sword’s hilt. He smiled as he gazed upon his fallen foe. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he stood. A set of stairs appeared with a beam of soft blue light shooting upwards.
“You have proven your valor. You have succeeded where many others have failed.”
The voice was the dwarf’s who stood behind him at the pyramid entrance.
“That light leads to the Heavenly Castle,” Ziel put forth.
“Yes. You are free to make your home there and see its marvels,” answered the dwarf. And don’t worry about the prince. I will return him to Merth.”
“But I have duties and things that need to be put in order,” returned Ziel.
“I will see to all that my own way. Now go without hesitation.”
Ziel blinked and smiled as a tear ran down his face. “I wish I could say bye. Would you allow me to write a note to my friends and kinsman before I leave?”
“I have always kept a scroll and a quill with me in case anyone slayed the manticore.” The dwarf gave Ziel the items and he wrote a brief note saying how he will miss all he knew and held dear. But most importantly, he said he was going to the Heavenly Citadel.
“This is a one way transaction isn’t it?”
“Yes. You may never return,” replied the dwarf.
Ziel sighed deeply and faced the beam of light and ascended the stairs and entered the blue illumination. He saw the ground distance from him as his body rose into the sky within the light. Suddenly, he was on a balcony of the levitating castle looking down at the Kingdom of Merth and the whole ocean. A group of people in people in golden robes and silver hair stood several meters from him. He glanced once more below him than went to join those who live in the Heavenly Citadel.