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Chapter V: DESTINATION DAY

 

                Mid-afternoon at the Eternos’ royal palace. The royal family and part of the court were still sitting at the lunch table, after their third dessert, chatting and laughing. It was a day of commemoration, it was Adam’s and Adora’s birthday.

                Still, Adam was unquiet. Four years had passed since the sign of the falcon, but he was feeling just like in that day. Tense, as if waiting for something. The last years had been hard on him, as he followed the king’s orders and studied the knowledges of etiquette, diplomacy, oratory, history, finance and bureaucracy. He was twenty five years old now, but felt older, as if his vital energy had been drained from him. By forbidding him of fighting, his father made his senses soften, his muscles dormant, and he became a man living with no joy. He wished life, but with action, adventure, danger, romance, not the boring slumber fashioned way of the palace.

                He took a look around the table, thoughtful, observing his company one by one, as if trying to paint a mental picture of each one.

                At his left was his sister Adora, whom age had refined, making her a very beautiful young woman. Her face was angelic, soft, fragile, yet her blue eyes enclosed great intelligence and wisdom. Her long golden hair shined, as if there was an aura of light surrounding her. Always quite delicate, sophisticated and naturally gifted for socializing, her deep presence made her as always the center of attentions, a fact she seemed to greatly appreciate.

                Beside her was Albow, her fiancé, a refined young man of luxurious tastes. He had a slim appearance, short brown hair and moustache. Albow was a trained archer, but for sport, for he had no wish for adventure. Adam never liked him much.

                Next was his best friend Duncan, the court’s man-at-arms. This was one of the rare occasions Duncan was out of his armor, dressing a ceremonial silk cloth. He was a rough, seasoned man in his mid-forties, his eyes a well of mystery and knowledge, knowledge of real life, of adventure, something nobody else in the palace had.

                Teela, Duncan’s adoptive daughter, stared back at Adam as he watched her. He shaked. She was so beautiful, her long wavy red hair, her green bright eyes, her few, tiny freckles, her thin, perfect lips, her tiny nose... Adam felt quite an admiration for the young woman, with whom he grew up together, more than with his sister. She too was a woman of action, trained by her father for battle, determined and brave. There was yet something more about her, something grand, magical, that Adam had never managed to figure out what it was exactly.

                She was dressed in a beautiful, ornamented silk dress, white and light blue. On her ears, small gold earrings with the shape of daggers, revealing the lady’s true combat nature.

                Adam went on. There was Zodac, still wearing his helmet, as always, even at a ceremonial meal. Adam pondered if he ever took it off. The council was all there, as there were some land Lords of Eternos. King Conbur from the White City of Menod was also present, along with his wife and his small son. He was a young king, in his mid-thirties, yet wise and just. Ending his way around the table, there were Adam’s parents, by his right side.

                Floating above the tabletop was a small, strange creature. He was an alien, magical being, who had been rescued from the Tar Swamp two years ago by a royal hunting party. He had traveled accidentally through a portal and landed on Eternia, where he got trapped in quicksand right after the arrival. He was saved and brought to Eternos, and because the king found his clumsiness funny, he became the royal jester. He was a small, two feet tall, legless creature, of blue skin, which could be seen almost only in his hands, since he always wore a large red vest, and a big, pointed orange hat which obscured almost all of his facial features. From the hat’s brim, two small blue pointed ears emerged.

                He was Orko, a fumbled magician, whose tricks always seemed to go out wrong. Everyone found him amusing, except for Duncan (who was Orko’s failed tricks favorite target). Adam had in the small tatter a good, trustable friend.

                At that moment, everyone was laughing out loud for Orko’s last mishap, except, of course, who had a broken egg dripping down his head. Orko was embarrassed, but he too couldn’t stop from laughing.

                That very moment, a stomp was heard. Everyone looked towards the window behind king Randor, from which the sound came. Yet, they saw nothing. “Probably just some thing tossed by the wind” – one of the councilors said – “or a small bird.” He was almost right. Only seconds later, just as everybody had lost interest on the window and turned elsewhere, a new stomp came, but this time, followed by a crash. A great falcon, of golden-brown, white and blue feathers entered the room with a shriek, leaving hundreds of small glass shards dropping by behind him.

                He flew around the table, scanning, as if looking for someone. Then he landed on the tabletop facing Adam, staring him deep in his eyes. Everyone was so perplex nobody said a word. The bird kept staring at the prince in deep silence for a couple of minutes. The young man stared back firmly, yet questioning, as if trying to read the falcon’s eyes.

                Then, the great bird spread his wings, its span the size of a man, and with a new shriek, launched himself towards the window. Adam saw him flying in circles around the palace. The prince stood up.

                He turned to Duncan. The man-at-arms nodded and left the room without a word. Then Adam turned to his father, who was still awestruck. “My king, my time to leave these lands has come. I have been called, and now, I must answer. I will journey to an unknown destiny without knowing when or if I will come back.” – his speech seemed to have been memorized – “I therefore, as your vassal, ask for your permission to depart.”

                The king frowned. “Don’t be ridiculous! You are my son, not my vassal, and the prince of Eternos. You have obligations to your family and your subjects. You cannot leave.”

                “I had presumed I would not have your consent. But I will leave nevertheless. I therefore self-exile from Eternos and your rulership, never to return.” – Adam’s voice was firm as steel.

                “What foolishness is this?” – the king replied – “A bird comes in here and charms my son into madness? What kind of dark magic is this? And what has Duncan to do with that?” – he turned left – “My council, what do you think of this?”

                He obtained no answer. Marlena, too, was oddly silent. Her eyes seemed to reflect a strange serenity, as if she too had been waiting for this moment. She had been always quite perceptive, and must had guessed her son’s intentions long before.

                Desperate, the king shouted: “Has everyone gone insane? You shall not set a foot out of this palace – Zodac, grab him. We will keep him locked until he regains his sanity.” But Zodac did not move. “Zodac! What is going on here, by all gods? Guards! Guards!” – he screamed – “Guards! Everyone is crazy!”

                But as the guards entered through one door, swords in hand, Duncan arrived by the other, now dressed in leather and wearing his chest plate armor, and shoulder and leg protections. He was carrying a pack in his back and another in his hand. In his other hand was a sword, sheathed, Adam’s sword, besides from his own, in it’s scabbard on his belt, where he also carried his mace.

                That very moment, Krygar entered the room. Adam’s small pet tiger had grown to adulthood, being now a full sized, fierce battle cat. His presence made every single guard come to a halt. The Adam spoke, in a deep, wise voice, surprising everyone with an unusual tone – “Mother... king Randor... Council of Eternos... I know that you all have judged my visions of the future as childish chivalric dreams or even as a glimpse of insanity. Even I had moments when I doubted my own beliefs. However, I know now that I have not been wrong. The follower of the ancient ones has determined that one day, when evil should once again arise, a man, a warrior, would rise to face it. I do not know for certain if I am the one from the prophecy, but I have reasons to believe that I am.”

                “And so, I must now leave, even if against my king’s will, to face whichever destiny is reserved for me. I will have to quit of an important heritage to embrace another one. I ask for your understanding, and wish to be able to return to Eternos as a friend, one day. However, if such shall not be possible, then I shall leave you with grief and a wound in my heart.”

                He paused, looking at Marlena with sadness, a tear almost sprouting in his eye – “You must chose now in which conditions I shall depart.” Krygar came by his side, and the prince caressed the huge beast’s fur.

                “I choose that you do not leave under any conditions! I will imprison you until...” – Randor started.

                “Will that be the way by which you will solve all your matters, king Randor of Eternos?” – Adam replied – “Know then that I will not fight the royal guard, but neither will I be held captive.”

                “We shall s...”

                “No!” – Marlena interjected – “Randor, you are the one who’s becoming insane; you cannot treat your son as if he were a criminal simply because he believes in ideologies different from yours. We cannot forbid him, or imprison him. This decision was his to take, and he has made his choice. No matter how much it will cost us, we cannot oppose him.”

                Defeated, Randor felt silent. Marlena, as always, had waited until the last moment to give her judgment. And, as always, her irrefutable wisdom won.

                “It lightens my heart to hear those words, mother. Knowing that you understand my decision, even if you don’t agree with it, softens the hardness of my depart. I will come back one day, with the hope of finding friends in my homeland.” – Despite of his words, he knew that, when and if he would return, his father would not receive him with open arms.

                Zodac" - he turned to the proud soldier - "I trust you to defend the kingdom. Your army may become much more needed here than anyone would believe, I'm afraid."

                "I hope not." - the grim man replied - "But if shall be, then trust me that we will be ready."

                "I do, my friend." - he turned around - "Adora, I..." - he fell out of words. They looked deeply in each other's eyes and hugged strongly. The two twins shared so mighty a bond that no words needed to be spoken. Nor would any express their feelings better.

                Then, the prince came near his mother, and gently kissed her brow. A tear fell from her eye, and she hugged him. He then turned to Randor, wishing to hug the old king, but he turned his back. Adam bowed his head in sadness and turned away, next to Teela.

                "Dear friend of mine, four years ago I asked you if you would join my quest. I also told you to think with time and measure well your decision. I have never asked for your answer, but now I must. Have you decided?"

                She stood silent for some seconds, seeming uncertain. However, her decision had been taken long ago. She was determined on her choice. However, now it was hard to say it.

                "Yes, my prince. I shall join you." - she glanced at king Randor, deeply ashamed.

                "No. Not your prince. You will follow Adam the warrior, or stay in Eternos serving Randor, your king. Is your choice still the same? You seem doubtful. I do not wish..."

                "I am certain. I will follow Adam the warrior, if that's how I must treat you now. Just give me one instant to get some personal objects and I will go."

                "I have already packed some things for you" - Duncan interjected - "traveling gear, I mean. You just need to get the personal objects, really." - he paused for a couple of seconds - "I have always believed you would come, daughter."

                Soon she was back. They went to the outside garden, where Whitemane and two more steeds were waiting for them. Both she and Duncan fare welled their friends, and mounted. Adam was already mounted on Whitemane, his sword in his belt, his backpack in place, and with Krygar side by side. He turned back and simply said: "Best wishes!"

                Without any other single word, he rode forward, his two friends following right behind him. High above, a giant falcon glided with enigmatic majesty.

 

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