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                Teela was sitting in one of the many bronze benches of the palace front yard, when she saw Adam pass by. The young prince and his noble soul made her heart beat fast. She watched him from afar, admiring his young robust, athletically shaped body, his shoulder-long blond hair, his deep, charismatic blue eyes, his respect inspiring, noble presence. She had to talk to him, for she knew she could not hold her feelings to herself for much longer. She yearned for him, day after day, night after night, however, the fear of refusal had always made her withdraw. As it would now. She was just too proud to let give away such feelings, feelings of need and desire. Besides, she knew of the prince’s current situation, and the anguish he was suffering. She could not tell him... yet.

                However, it was the prince who walked next to her. He politely asked to seat beside her, and started talking about strange demons to come, and Eternia’s need do face them. Then he told her that only brave warriors could match these foes, and that he somehow knew that he had some important role in this dramatic plot.

                None of this surprised the female warrior, for she had already heard all of this before. What did astonished her was his mention that he needed her. She started questioning about the true intentions of such statement.

                “Teela, dear friend of mine, time will come soon when my real duties must be fulfilled. I now ask for your secrecy, for I must confide you something few people can know about for the moment. Don’t be offended by the question, but can I trust you on this matter?”

                “Y-yes, my prince. Of course.”

                “My father does not see what’s to come. He does not allow himself to believe my words. As usual, his sole concern is to guarantee his male son will one day become king. He can’t even figure that if my precognition is accurate, I might not have a kingdom to reign. He has seated for far too long in the commodity of a safe and peaceful world to believe that might change.”

                Adam continued “But it will. And unfortunately, I feel that day is close at hand. I must leave Eternos soon, for I cannot wait for the enemy to arrive here to face him. I have seen a sign two days ago, soaring through the skies, whispering me to travel far West to where the ancient wisdom is. But the summoner did not call for me alone.”

                “Adam, you are talking in riddles. I do not understand. Who was this summoner?”

                “A great bird spirit, a giant falcon. I cannot be more specific for even I do not know more of him. All I know is that his call was strong. I was training swordfight with Zodac when he cried out. It pierced through my mind with such strength that Zodac managed to seize the chance and disarm me. It was the only fight he won in the entire afternoon.”

                “But... when will you leave?” – She quickly became frightened of losing him.

                “I do not know. He told me to be prepared, for he will come again soon, and that next time I must follow him. But, if he was an ancient spirit as I do believe, ‘soon’ might mean three days or ten years.”

                “And me... forgive me, but I don’t understand why are you telling me this. You said you needed me. Why?”

                “I told it to you because you are one of my best friends, along with Adora and your father. You three are the only ones I can trust this secret for now. And I said I need you because I want to ask you if you’ll join me.”

                Teela gasped. “J-join you?”

                “Yes. I will need competent, trustable fighters. Zodac is much needed here, much more than my father gives credit to. You and Duncan are the only ones I can call upon.”

                Adam noticed Teela’s nervousness, something atypical to the young warrior lady. She was always a determined person, of strong decisions and quick wits. He couldn’t figure out why was she so awestruck with this matter... maybe she felt that, to follow the prince, she would be disobeying the king. He couldn’t even imagine that were her feelings for him that made her hesitate. “I should have talked to Duncan first.”, he thought.

                “I... how can I say no to my prince? If you call upon me, then your wishes are my commands.”

                “No. I command no one. And what I’m going to say now is of much importance and you must take it deeply in consideration before you decide whether you’ll follow me or not. When I do leave, I will travel without my father’s consent, therefore outcasting myself from Eternos. I do not know if I’ll be well received here again, at least while my sister does not take Randor’s place at the throne. The same applies to you and your father if you chose to join me. I know this is a very serious matter, and that’s why I don’t want you to answer right away. Think about it, with time, and measure well the consequences of your decision. I have no need in rushing you.”

                She was speechless. What could she do? Betray her king to follow the deserting prince, or deny his invitation, and lose him, maybe permanently? It was so hard a decision, she didn’t even knew what to think, less even what to say. She just wasn’t prepared for this.

                Adam noticed her confusion, and decided to leave her with her thoughts. He slowly stood up, kissed the young woman’s brow, and walked away. He was also questioning himself if he had made the right decision in calling her, anyway. Not that she wasn’t needed, but what if he was stealing her promising future in Eternos to lead her to a quest that only he could figure out? And what if he had been wrong? What if the king had a point about his son’s paranoia and he had been in fact deluded all this time, dreaming about chivalric deeds against something that did not exist? He had never thought about this in such way, maybe because it had been always only about himself. Now more people could become involved, and that scarred him. He could not just lead people into a senseless dream. He got so insecure on this matter, that he decided to give it a long thought before talking to Duncan.

                The prince went to the stable, a large pavilion in the back of the palace, house to all the horses of the royal family and its guard. He pushed the heavy, screeching wooden doors and entered. Once inside he walked to his horse, Whitemane, a beautiful black steed, a light war horse of incredible might, strong and quick. From his forehead emerged a snow white mane (thus his name) that deeply contrasted against the pure blackness of his body. It was the finest horse in the kingdom.

                Next to him stood Swiftwind, Adora’s mount, a white riding horse not less beautiful than Whitemane. Differently from Adam’s horse, Swiftwind was entirely white, except for his golden mane and tail.

                He saddled the horse and opened the fence. With a quick move, he jumped on the horse’s back and headed towards the exit. Once outside, he signed the guard to close the stable doors, and without a word, he galloped north, outside of the palace’s limits.

                The young man traveled for a couple of hours, his horse riding fast, towards the Evergreen forest. Shortly after he passed the great wood’s boundaries, he commanded Whitemane to a halt. They were near a small lake of crystalline waters, surrounded by small bushes, short grass and a couple of oak trees. There were plenty of small birds, butterflies and squirrels in the surrounding area, creating a natural, relaxing atmosphere. It was the ideal place for a man to sit down and let all his troubles go away, to meditate deeply in peace and quiet, only the songs of the birds to break the silence. It was the place he was looking for.

                He sat by the lake, playing with his fingers in the water and watching his horse walk by, freely. He thought about glory to come, and great epic battles against a dreadful evil, battles which he had been able to foresee for many years, yet never knowing their outcoming. Then he thought of himself roaming free throughout the lands of Eternia, Teela and Duncan with him, helping people in need along their way, and seeing strange and beautiful faraway places. Would the future be as he imagined it, dark and terrible, but on the other hand, glorious and epic at the same time? Or could he just be leading Teela and her father towards an uncertain fate?

                As he pondered such a polemic question, he suddenly heard a noise from within the trees. It seemed like the cry of an animal being attacked, a young animal. He stood up and unsheathed his sword, walking towards the origin of the sound. Some yards after, as he watched from behind a bush, he saw a small baby tiger lying on the floor, panicked, his mother by his side, fallen, blood all over her body: Surrounding the two felines, eyes shining, his long tongue whipping the air, there stood a large, threatening reptilian, also wounded, probably resting from his victorious battle against the mother tiger before slaying her cube and eating his victims. It was a land dragon, a draco.

                Something in the cub touched Adam’s heart. The small, green, golden striped animal was beautiful, and his eyes had a deep, empathic expression. The prince knew he had to do something.

                And it could not wait. He leaped through the air, his sword in his hand, landing face to face with the great lizard. The reptilian was at least nine feet long. He stared at the warrior, confused by the sudden change of his situation, and carefully studied the man’s eyes. Dracos were enough intelligent to measure their enemies and retreat if they believed they were in disadvantage. To his own disgrace, this one thought he had the upper hand.

                He was wrong. The instant he gave a step forward, the prince’s sword sliced through the air with great quickness, landing on the lizard’s right front leg, wounding him deeply. The beast shrieked in agony, but managed to jump over the warrior, making him fall on his back in pain from his great weight. However, Adam was not defeated. With his left hand, he mightily held the large, salivating mouth of the creature away from himself, while struggling with his right hand to pierce through the draco’s though skin. The monsters fought hardly to overcome his foe, but with no success. After some failed attempts, the sword finally found a weaker point and cut through, possibly hitting some vital organ inside the beast. A few seconds later, he stopped struggling. The prince had won.

                Adam pushed the heavy carcass away from him and crawled from it’s below. Then he held the sword’s hilt, and pushed it strongly in order to free it from the creature’s bones. He cleaned the blade with a large leaf while he walked towards the felines, slowly, not to scare them.

                He analyzed the adult first. It was indeed a female, and not breathing. The reptilian had managed to wound her mortally, leaving the scarred cub motherless. Then he turned to the small baby tiger, still scared but calmer now, watching his savior’s eyes in suspense. He slowly sheathed his weapon, then carefully took the animal in his arms. It was a male.

                The tiger felt somehow safe in the warrior’s lap, and exhausted, he immediately fell asleep. Adam brought it near the lake and called for Whitemane.

                As the horse appeared, the prince was still considering what to do with the baby feline. Young as he was, he would be helpless in the woods, and probably fall as prey to some other predator nearby. He wouldn’t last two days. Even knowing that he would be taking the animal away from his natural environment, Adam felt that in order to protect him, he had to take him to the palace.

                He mounted Whitemane, the cub in his arms, and left, not knowing he had just gained a loyal companion for life.

                It was almost evening when the prince arrived. He had already left his steed at the stable, and went with his protégé to his chambers. That night he requested to dine in his room alone, and arranged there a basket and a blanket to make the tiger a bed. He tried to give him milk, but the tiger refused. He felt the animal’s day had been just to painfully and did not insist. He would certainly be hungrier the next morning.

                Adam was finishing his dinner when someone knocked at his door. It was Duncan. Adam invited him in, and both sat by the fireplace, next to the place the tiger was sleeping.

                “A tiger?” – Duncan asked – “What is a tiger doing here?”

                “I found him in Evergreen. His mother had been slain by a draco. I just had to save him. I killed the draco, and knowing the cub would not survive in the forest alone, I brought him with me.”

                “It’s a most uncommon pet, my prince. It will grow to become a fierce predator, you know. Does the king know about this?”

                “No, but he will. I do not know what will I do when he becomes an adult, but for now he will stay here, the king liking it or not. He will not dare to forbid me of that as well.”

                “Teela talked to me. She said you asked her to join you in your quest to come. She also said you would ask me also.”

                “Yes, I planned to do it, but then I became doubtful. Not for your value, but for the right I have on making this request. I might just be asking you to join me in an insane dream... I don’t know.”

                “But I do.”

                “You... do? I don’t understand.”

                “And I may not allow to explain it to you fully right now, but I can tell you that you are not wrong on your quest and on the people you chose to follow you.”

                “But... how do you know? How can you? You have to tell me.”

                “I’m sorry, but I can’t. Don’t ask me. What I can say to you is that when the time comes, you can count on me. And even if I can’t talk for Teela, I’m almost sure you can count on her as well. Now just let time pass and the day when all will be explained to you shall come.”

                “Duncan, I...”

                “Not now. Do not insist. Sleep now, and prepare yourself for the time of your journey. It might be soon.”

                With this, the man-at-arms left the chambers, leaving an intrigued prince behind.


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