The air in the royal bed chamber was heavy with incense as Prince Kaymal and Princess Saiber entered. Damask curtains blocked out the sinking sun, forcing their eyes to adjust to the dimness.
The candlelight caught the glinting edge of something square, as the elderly priest removed it from under the king’s pillow. He then closed his master’s eyes for the final time.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness, you are but a moment too late. I heard his last rites, and your father went quietly. I will leave you to pray.” The priest backed out of the room with a low bow, hands concealed within his black clerical robes.
“Saiber, you should be with Tynon.” Prince Kaymal cradled his head in his hands and sat at his father’s bedside. “You only gave birth two days ago, I could not bear it if anything happened to either of you. The first-born among us do not fare well. My poor brother lasted only a week.”
The princess gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze and left for the nursery.
That night, Prince Kaymal walked back and forth in his bed chamber, mumbling and cursing to himself.
“Oh, my love. Are you grieving for your father?” Princess Saiber opened her arms to her husband, but he continued to pace.
“Remembering the times he took me to the cave mouth as a child. He forbade me ever to enter, always so worried for my safety after my brother died so young.” He stopped mid-stride and let out a long, slow breath. “But there is something else. I think Father Maystone has stolen from me.”
“What has he taken?” Saiber’s eyes narrowed.
“My father had a wooden box.” Kaymal indicated the size by cupping his hands. “It was made on the day I was born, apparently. He thought I didn’t know. He had pockets sewn into his robes to conceal it. He ate with it, slept with it, took it wherever he went. I believe it contained a treasure or family secret which he would bequeath to me. But perhaps he forgot, or perhaps, he was silenced.”
“Perhaps it was never meant for you my love. Maybe you should let it go.”
“I will be crowned king in seven days. My father was a great man, he rid the lands of magic. He outlawed spells and potions and forced unnatural beings to surrender their powers. I must follow in his footsteps, keep the wizards and witches away. It is a huge task to keep the people safe and free from these threats. There are still magicians in the outerlands who we must guard against. How will the people trust me to do this if I do not know all the secrets of the kingdom?”
“The people love you Kaymal. You do not need a wooden box to secure their loyalty.”
Prince Kaymal ordered his knights to search the castle grounds and beyond. Days passed and his eyes grew dark. There was only one night left before the coronation.
“If they cannot find it, I will look for it myself.”
“Kaymal, you must rest. Tomorrow is the most important day of your life.”
“I will be a failure if I do not find my father’s box before I wear his crown. Where else can I look? Have you any ideas?”
“Have you asked Father Maystone? What does he say?”
“I asked him, begged him, threw him in the dungeon. The man will not break.”
“You threw a priest into the dungeon?”
“Only until he decides to talk. What else was I to do?”
Prince Kaymal took his fastest horse and a glass storm lantern out into the dark. He rode through woodland and over fields, crossed the stream at the boundary to his land and kept going. Close to midnight, he stopped at the entrance to the caves he remembered from his youth. He tied his horse to a tree, and stood in the mouth of the caves, watching the bats swoop and swoosh in the lamplight.
It was rumoured that spirits of enemy soldiers resided within, once driven into the caves to starve. The tunnels were said to go so far under the mountain that men got lost in them and perished. Tales of brave knights never emerging played on his mind. After much deliberation, Kaymal entered the gloom, against his father’s wishes.
It was dawn before he emerged, lamp dimming, feet aching, eyes strained. The prince stepped out into the morning. The gentle warmth of the rising sun brought him relief from his claustrophobia. He took a moment to pat his horse, and then sat on the grass, unwinding a strip of leather from around a small, wooden box. Just as he remembered, it was crafted from highly polished oak; silver clasps at the front, silver hinges at the back, the royal seal carved into the top. It fitted perfectly into his cupped hands.
He opened the clasps and, with shaking fingers, lifted the lid.
An almost imperceptible hiss was released and a snaking mist followed, dancing before his eyes. He retrieved a single piece of parchment from the box and began to read:
King who banished magic folk,
Shall suffer the curse that they invoke,
To rid your kin of first-born death,
Speak these lines with your dying breath:
As his eyes met the second verse, the snaking mist became more visible in the air, and a rasping whisper started.
It was weak and rough, but unmistakably his father’s voice:
Within this box my words be hidden,
Til another hears them bidden,
If my final breath meets light of day,
The finder then, my debt will pay.
Prince Kaymal vaulted onto his steed. Clutching the box in one hand, he galloped back to the castle, spurring his horse over the stream, through fields and woodlands. They arrived, both exhausted, in the castle grounds and Kaymal dismounted, hardly able to stand.
“Where is my son?” He shouted to the guards. “Where is my wife?”
He strained his neck to look up to the nursery window. As he watched, Saiber leaned out over the courtyard and shouted to him.
“Help! Help! Prince Tynon has turned blue!”