The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 5

Raimey smiled and laughed as he was borne between Jamie and Garvin down the hallway, his arms over their shoulders as they half-carried him along. He shed the last of his sleepiness, straightened, placed his feet in movement in accord with the others, and marched along with them. "I am being a burden to you. I am very sorry."

Behind them, Snave glided along silently; and for a moment Jamie turned his head and smiled at the gargoyle. What the wooden creature thought of all this was not known, save for the one pleasant wooden smile he had given Jamie and Garvin when they had closed shop briefly to be alone. That the gargoyle was loyal no matter what the circumstance seemed sure.

Thank you, Snave, for being there, he thought, wondering if the gargoyle could hear him.

Jamie let his eyes go back to Raimey, and grinned. "No burden at all. I feel the strength in your arms and the purpose of your gait. You are pleased to be whisked off to bed."

The retainer squeezed both of their shoulders. "You both were so wonderful back there. I have never seen people my own age do so much, so well. It makes me proud." He looked over at Garvin. "How could you possibly move so quickly? It was as if you were the wind in the form of a boy."

Garvin laughed. "Some magic taught to me by Jamie. But it only comes to me in time of danger. For right now, as an instance, I can move no faster than you." For a moment, his friend's eyes peered past the smiling retainer and met with Jamie's.

That Garvin was explaining the limits of his talent was apparent. That it was new, also seemed plain. Somehow, this was linked with the nether lens, to the moment when Jamie had given it instructions. But no mention had been made of Garvin at that time. He had not the knack for magic, that either Jamie or the Master had been able to detect.

But...the lens had acknowledged Garvin when he had spoken, and...and Flitch had said that the lens was created somehow out of the bond between Jamie and his best friend. Could it be...?

"Oh, please," Raimey said, as they came up to the room assigned to Jamie and Garvin and stopped. "May I go to my room and change? I have no wish to appear here this night dressed as such. These are more formal clothing, fit for dinner, not for relaxation." He smiled at Jamie. "If I am to visit as a friend, I would like to be dressed as one."

They stopped and let go of the retainer. He looked over at Garvin. "Do you mind? It will only take me a moment to change."

Garvin laughed. "You are free here, Raimey, you know this. To come and go as you please. You owe us no explanation."

The prince's lad smiled, his eyes bright. "I have no wish to upset you, is all. I will be right back, I promise."

"Then go, but hurry back." Jamie grinned. "I think none of us will be up late tonight. We would like some time to talk."

Raimey gave forth a delighted laugh and hurried off. "I shall be like the wind that Garvin was as he swept about the room protecting us," he tossed over his shoulder, and then was gone.

Garvin sighed. "I love you most and best, Jamie. But I may find I have some extra love in my heart for our Raimey, as well. He is sweet beyond words."

Jamie smiled, and put his arm around Garvin as he opened the door to their room. "He strikes me dearly as well." But then Jamie pulled Garvin into the room, waited for Snave to enter, and shut the door. "Quickly, before he returns. Tell me what happened."

Garvin nodded, the smile leaving his face. "I saw the small robed ones go after Raimey and Mort and Miles, and it was like a fire lit inside me. I simply jumped - and went completely over the table. I meant to grab the lance, but never did I expect to move so quickly. It was easy, and without drain upon me, and as if the robed ones moved in slow motion. I simply poked them in the head with the lance when they came near, and they vanished."

"You looked to be a ghost," Jamie said, shaking his head in wonder at the memory. "You moved so quickly that it was as if I could see right through you at times."

"I felt none of it, Jamie. It was as if everyone else moved slowly and I was quite normal."

Jamie licked his lips. "Tell me: when we were in the nether, and Flitch had me instruct the lens upon my chest - what were your thoughts?"

Garvin looked inward. "Why...I am not sure I remember...oh...but, yes, I do!" He looked up at Jamie. "I was thinking that this would somehow make your magick work better, and you would be that much greater, and I might be left behind. And I wished that I could also be improved, so that I could continue to assist you and not become a burden upon you."

Jamie felt his breath catch. He stared at the other boy, and then moved closer to embrace him. "Never, ever will you be left behind, my love," he said softly. "And never, ever be a burden. It hurts my heart to even imagine you thinking such thoughts."

Garvin smiled, and kissed Jamie. "I'm sorry. It's have moved so quickly, and you seem to be so strong and so sure. I was feeling inadequate to keep up with you."

Jamie tightened his grip around the other boy, and kissed him again. "You see what happened? You got your wish. You've no knack for magick of the type I use, so you found your own. Your physical prowess, quickness of eye and hand, it has been, well...somehow it has been organized just as has my magickal sense. It has become greater." He grinned. "We are going to make an amazing team, my Garvin."

Garvin sighed, rubbed his face against Jamie's. "I am so happy. I can contribute now in a powerful fashion. I can support you when needed." He drew back and smiled. "I can protect you, even."

Jamie nodded. "I think you can. it true it only acts in defense?"

"It must, as I can feel none of it now. Nor since the last of the robed ones vanished. But I do feel it is waiting, and prepared for the next time I need it."

They hugged each other warmly.

"Oh, Jamie," Garvin said, pulling back to look at him. "Your magick has improved so much...I was thinking: cannot you now restore the prince to what he was before, on your own? Why do you need that rascal Urvan to do it?"

Jamie frowned. "Magick is in the thing itself, Garvin, and magic with regards to people is even more complex than magic pertaining to things. All things are made of tiny bits that compose into what you see about us. But people not only are composed of bits, they have within the bits a separate secret, a tiny, hidden lock unique to each person, which is why we are all different. Magick that alters a person draws on secrets of this tiny lock, of which there are many, and complex in nature. To reverse what has been done to the prince, I would need to know which aspects of the locks have been tampered with." He sighed. "To plunge into it without having the correct key would likely make the problem worse."

Garvin nodded. "I should have known it was something of that nature." He shook his head. "Getting Urvan to willingly undo what he has done will not be easy."

Jamie had already realized that, and nodded.

"But," Garvin said brightly, "you have bested him once. Perhaps he will fall into line and do as you ask, anyway."

Jamie laughed. "I don't see that happening. I chased him off only because I selected a very rare magick that he had never encountered, and so could not immediately defend against. I will assume that by now such an attack would not take him so easily, as he has devised a counter to it, or a method to deflect it's potency." He leaned forward, laid his forehead against Garvin's, and looked into his eyes. "It was luck, my love. Luck, and Getrell with his sword, and our dear Snave with his energies, and the three wizards appearing when they did." He smiled, kissed the other boy. "And my dear Garvin, who spun like a dervish and pounced like a cat, and who surely saved the three retainer boys from harm."

Garvin smiled, and shook his head. "All of them - Raimey, and Mort, and Miles - they are older than us, yet I feel protective of them, as if they were small ones."

Jamie nodded. "They are sweet, all of them. I have seen this before, in my best friend, who also comes from a life on the streets."

"I was never better served, than to be brought into the shop by the Master and placed into your arms. I treasure that, my Jamie." Garvin blushed slightly, but his smile was strong.

"Yes. So, too, do our three retainers, with regards to their circumstances now," Jamie said, nodding. "The prince has a gift for seeing a sweet nature, and despite the surroundings of their early years, the streets no more crushed the sweet nature of those three than it did yours. All have blossomed under circumstances of love and a freedom to be themselves. The happiness that Raimey and Mort and Miles feel is writ upon their faces and advertised within their eyes, and every time I see it my heart just swells."

There was a light tap at the door, and Jamie released his friend and went to stand behind it. "Is it you, Urvan? Come to do battle again?"

"Oh, no, it is I, Raimey." Jamie could almost see the other boy smiling through the door.

He opened the door - and smiled. "Oh. Garvin. This you must see."

Garvin came around the door and his face, too, stretched into a smile.

Raimey was covered, ankles to neck, in a soft blue suit of clothing that looked so perfect for sleep that no other use could be said for it. The clothing was loose and airy looking, and suggested that the wearer would find its touch against the skin most pleasing. A pair of light blue sandals adorned Raimey's feet, completing the outfit.

Garvin gave a short laugh. "That makes me sleepy just to view."

Raimey smiled. "They are for relaxing, as well as for sleeping. Do you like them? I can get you some from the supply room, if you like."

Jamie and Garvin looked at each other, and started laughing. Raimey smiled, came into the room and shut the door. "Is that yes?"

Garvin stopped laughing first, and smiled. "They are exquisite, I must say. I cannot accustom myself to all the softness I see about this place."

"We are not used to such things," Jamie confided. "Please pardon our laughter."

The retainer patted his clothing, grinning. "They are very soft. I think you would like them."

"We generally sleep without clothing," Garvin added gently, smiling at the retainer. "And enjoy the softness of each other."

Raimey laughed himself. "That feeling I know well. But this will have to do me for this evening."

Jamie reached out and felt the sleeve of Raimey's clothing. "I have never seen material like this," he said, feeling the lightness, but incredible strength of the suit. He gave it a light tug, marveling at its resiliency. "It stretches but does not lose its shape. May I ask where you got it?"

Raimey smiled. "It was made by Lestho, the mage, to match the picture of it I had in my mind. I wanted to surprise My Prince with it, and he was surprised." Raimey's smile widened.. "He said it was cute and quite appealing to the eyes, but that I would only be sleeping in it when in my own rooms."

Jamie nodded. "You care much for the prince, I sense."

"I love him. I have never stopped thanking the fates that brought me to him." Raimey's eyes were soft with feeling. "He loves me, when I never had love before."

And Jamie was seeing that now. That Raimey was fit and well-taken care of was obvious. The streets bread thinness into its unwanted denizens as a matter of course, and it saddened Jamie to think that Raimey may have once been so. But now he was sleek and quite beautiful, his skin firm and tight over a splendid underlying muscularity that told of activities that toned and strengthened without bulking. He was, in every estimate, a delight to look upon.

Jamie looked at Garvin, who's eyes also looked quite pleased with what they saw. Raimey made no attempts to conceal his own curiosity, and gazed upon them with interest, a small smile upon his face, and the sparkle of humor lighting his eyes.

"I would say that the two of you are equally blessed. How did you come to be together?"

They adjourned to the sitting area of the room, and found places in the comfortable, overstuffed chairs there. Jamie and Garvin took turns relating a somewhat edited tale of how Garvin came to be the apprentice of the Master Thorvil, with Jamie starting and the other boy following his lead.

Raimey finally nodded as the tale was completed. "Again, I see the hand of the fates in this. All of us have been fortunate to find love, where we never had love before."

He sat forward in his chair, looked over at Garvin, then back to Jamie. "Once I had no love, neither given to me nor for me to give. I do not remember my mother at all. I just remember living in the shadows of carts and stands, and eating what I could find, before others like me could eat it first. I took things that were not mine to take, and I traded them to those who wanted them and who had things that I needed. It was simply the day, for each day was as the day before and the day after, with small snatches of sleep in between."

He nodded. "And one day the prince rode through, and he spied me in the shadow of a cart. He drew up his horse, and those about him also drew rein. He got down, and he looked at me, and he asked me my name. In truth, that was all I had to give." Raimey sighed. "I knew who he was. I had seen him before." He looked at Jamie again. "I do not know my exact age, just the year of my birth. I am sixteen now, the anniversary celebrated each mid-year by request of the prince. Then, when I first met him, I was but eleven. He was twelve."

The retainer leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Once my name was told, he smiled at me and asked if I was alone. I said I was, and he did the strangest thing I could imagine: he asked if I would like to come with him and see the castle."

Raimey laughed. "Who would not wish to see it? It has loomed above us in its mountain setting since the first day I could recall, a place that seemed magickal in my eyes. The home of those who could only be the favored of the smiling spirits." He shrugged. "So I went with him. He had me climb onto his horse in front of him, and he put an arm about my waist, and we came here, to this place."

"You've been here since?" Garvin asked, obviously entranced by the story, and comparing it in his mind to his own memories of the Master finding him in an alley and carrying him home with him.

"Yes. The first thing the prince did was show me to a bath and allow me to clean up. I had never had a bath, not a real one, not in a tub that tyrbeasts had not drank from first; and it was so wonderful to feel clean I could not bear the thought of it going away from me." He smiled. "When I returned to the room he had given me, it was to find my clothing gone, replaced with clean, soft things that touched my body with affection. And shoes! I had never had coverings for my feet, and the ones left me were soft and comfortable and I could not believe they were for me." Raimey closed his eyes at the memory.

"Obviously, you wished to stay," Jamie said, smiling.

Raimey nodded, and opened his eyes. "Yes. I found myself with food enough to be filled for the first time in my memory, and under the instruction of a tutor, who was showing me the way of speaking more properly, and teaching me letters, and reading, as well as training me in the ways of the world. I was enchanted, and loved learning those things. I still do, in truth."

"And the prince?" Jamie asked.

"Never asked for anything," Raimey supplied. "I, and Mort and Miles - they are brothers, you have surely noticed, and who were here before me - simply lived here, and enjoyed life. The only thing the prince ever did was to kiss me upon the cheek at night before bed. I grew so I loved his touch, and could not wait for night to fall to receive it." Raimey smiled. "He saw that, I think, and allowed me more touches, just things to show his fondness: a pat on the arm, a hug about the shoulders, sometimes he would place his forehead to mine and smile into my eyes. I loved all of those things, and gave back each, gladly."

Raimey's eyes glowed at the memory. "And then one day, while Mort and Miles and I waited for our prince to finish a visit with his father, Mort asked me if I had been to bed yet with the prince". Raimey laughed. "I did not know his meaning. I asked him, and he and Miles explained that so close had they grown to the prince that once Miles had chanced to ask if they could sleep in his bed with him. The prince had at first said no; but they had seen a playfulness and fondness in his eyes, and they had persisted in asking, and they won in the end. And Mort and Miles told me that they had slept only at first, but that they had wanted to hug and kiss the prince, and slowly they had become familiar with his body, and he with theirs."

Raimey blew a small gust of air between his lips. "I was amazed at what they told me they did together; but that night, as I lay in my bed, I thought of it, and then I dreamed of it, and then I knew I wanted to be part of it. So one night when the prince was with his protector-in-training" -- Raimey smiled -- "Getrell, of course, I crept down the hallway to the room of Mort and Miles and asked to be allowed into their bed. For they slept together in one bed, and still do. They admitted me, and I had my first experience with how my body could pleasure me."

Garvin leaned a little closer against Raimey. "And so you told the prince?"

"I asked him, one day when we were riding, if I could sleep with him in the fashion of Mort and Miles. He was delighted to hear it, and told me I could have that very night with him. And when darkness fell, and it was time, he admitted me and I lay down with him. And the first thing he said was that my body was my own, and that he would love to share it, but that it must always be my idea. I had already made up my mind on that." He shrugged. "It has been so ever since."

"I can see that you love him." Jamie said. "Your eyes tell of it, even as you speak it so."

"Yes. So very much. He loves me, and I can see it and feel it, just as he loves Mort and Miles. And Getrell. We are a small family here. Other boys he has found in the streets have also been brought here, but they are placed with families that live and work within the castle, and the prince pays to support them. But no more have been admitted to our circle. Well, until now."

"What do you mean?" Garvin asked.

"You refer to us?" Jamie asked, at the same time.

"Yes. I can see the way the prince looks at both of you. He is enchanted with you. Mort and Miles also think you both are exciting and beautiful. And of course --" the retainer lowered his eyes "-- I do, as well."

Jamie reached over and rubbed Raimey's arm. "Garvin and I both are equally enchanted with all of you. We both find Sedwick adorable, and of course yourself and the other boys, too." Jamie looked at Garvin, and offered him a small smile before turning back to the retainer. "We love each other, though. I do hope the prince will eventually understand that."

"He knows of it now," Raimey said. "As do I." He shook his head. "It is a wonderful thing, what you have together. You need not worry that anyone here will sunder that."

"But what of the prince's invitation?" Jamie asked. "He asked us to spend one night with him."

Raimey laughed. "In sleep, dear Jaime. The prince believes that bonds are forged in sleeping with others. You need not have sex to forge those bonds." His eyes were bright now. "The prince has a bed even larger than yon canopied monster there." He pointed at the bed on the other side of the room. "There would be room for all of us in it, and more. What he asks is that you share the space with him in sleep, is all."

"Oh." Jamie looked at Garvin, who simply grinned and shrugged.

Raimey leaned forward. "Of course, he would not refuse other activities, were you to offer them. But he neither expects them nor would ever ask for them. What he desires is to share spirits in sleep." He nodded. "You could do worse than accept such an offer. The bond you will feel after - and the bond the prince will feel - will be a friendship that all of you may come to treasure."

"Just sleeping together in the same bed," Jamie mused.

"Yes. There are subtle spirits in sleep, that, when shared, bring such as us closer."

Garvin reached over and patted Jamie's arm. "Perhaps we should research this phenomenon, Jamie."

Jamie looked over at his friend, at the suggestion he saw in the other boy's eyes. "Are you saying...?" He let his eyes flick to Raimey.

Garvin nodded.

Jamie looked back at the retainer, whose eyes looked large with wonder now. He could not have helped but to have picked up on the suggestion Garvin was making.

Jamie and Garvin both laughed at the look on Raimey's face. "Would you sleep with us tonight, Raimey?" Jamie asked. He held up a hand. "In all innocence, I might add? Just so that we can see how those sleep spirits work?"

"Oh...I would be honored," the other boy breathed. "And I will maintain my distance, I promise."

Garvin laughed. "Touching is not forbidden, Raimey. Warmth is always best when shared. Just...understand that Jamie and I hold feelings for one another."

"I will not trespass, I swear."

Jamie nodded. "Then you are welcome." He stifled a yawn. "And I, for one, am having trouble staying awake."

They moved to the bed. Jamie and Garvin undressed to their under tunics, and then the three boys climbed into bed. Jamie had to jump back out again to pull the shields over the firefly lights, settling the room into a night split only by pale moonbeams from the balcony door, but then he scrambled back beneath the covers.

They talked together for a few minutes, but quickly fell asleep. It had been a long day for all of them, and now a long night to recover.

In the near darkness of the room, soon filled with quiet breathing, there was the tiniest creak of stressed wood, as Snave looked upon his now three sleeping charges, and smiled.

In the morning, the first early light streaming in through the etched glass doors awakened them. They all three crawled sleepily from the bed and went around to the bath to relieve their bladders into the trough there, and then scampered back to the bed and piled in, covering themselves against the early chill. The night had seemed warm beneath the covers, but the morning was cool without them. They laughed and squeezed close, and drowsed a bit longer.

When they resurfaced, the sun was stronger, and Jamie and Garvin went and bathed away the night's stickiness, while Raimey went to his quarters to do the same. He was back shortly, looking cute as could be in gray shirt with deep red piping, and black pants tucked into soft gray leather boots.

Jamie and Garvin realized that they should have brought more with them, a decent change of clothing, at the least. But they had somehow not considered that they might even be staying a single night.

"Oh, come with me, then," Raimey said, leading them down the hallway to another room. They went inside, and Jamie and Garvin simply gaped. The room was filled with racks and drawers, all of which held clothing in a myriad of colors.

Raimey stepped back and looked at them with an appraising eye. "You both are of a size, slightly smaller than I or Miles - Mort's size, I should say." He pointed to the racks and drawers on one side of the room. "Help yourselves to what is there. They are Mort's things, technically, but he will not mind, as they will be replaced by the castle outfitters before he even misses them." Raimey sighed, and smiled, looking at them fondly. "In truth, I think the two of you will clean up nicely. Your other clothing, while fine for the road, is scarcely proper for those of your standing."

Jamie and Garvin laughed, and selected new outfits, which smelled fresh and clean; and they even allowed Raimey to press upon them each a pair of the lovely gray boots such as he wore himself.

As they straightened up and looked at each other, Raimey sighed again. "You are both fetching beyond words. So regal you look, in those outfits! I had no idea in mind that the clothing we wore here was so fine. I guess I am just used to it now."

Jamie was pleased with the clothing, which was softer, more comfortable, and of better fit than any he had ever possessed. A full-length mirror on one wall revealed he and Garvin in their new splendor, and Jamie had to admit that Raimey's appraisal of their new look was an honest one. He and Garvin looked wonderful!

They heard a clatter of boots in the hallway, and Miles stuck his head in through the doorway. "Ah, there you are. Sedwick sent me to see if you were up and ready to break fast." His eyes settled on Jamie and Garvin, and he grinned. "You make my eyes dance, you two. Will you come and eat?"

They all went back to the room given Jamie and Garvin, who transferred their valuables from their old clothing into their new. The new trousers had a very nice hidden pocket, strong and flexible, and secured with a flap; and Jamie placed within his silver partlets and the tiny pearl orb given to him by Flitch in the nether.

"We are ready, Miles," Jamie said, straightening.

Miles and Raimey had their heads close, and Miles was whispering to his friend," Were they as wonderful to sleep with as appears it would be?"

Raimey tilted his head to one side and smiled, his eyes finding first Jamie's, and then Garvin's. "Oh, yes. It was simple, but ever so sweet."

Jamie and Garvin both smiled. "It was just as wonderful for us," Jamie said. "Your Raimey is a sweet one, Miles."

Raimey blushed a bit, but Miles clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. "He is that. Many are the times I have held him as he slept, and loved that sweet face with my lips."

Raimey looked surprised, but leaned over and gave Miles a quick kiss upon the lips. "I am no sweeter to hold than yourself, Miles."

They grinned at each other, and Jamie could see the fondness between them. It was truly a wonderful thing that the prince had made here - a place where love could be shared without fear or anxiety.

Miles snapped his fingers. "The prince awaits us. We should go."

They left the room, closing the door after Snave had fallen in behind them. Again, Jamie grinned over his shoulder at the wooden gargoyle, pleased that he was there, and feeling secure just by his presence.

They entered the dining hall, and Mort jumped up from the table where he had been seated beside the prince. The other boy noticed their clothing right off, and smiled at Jamie and Garvin. "My, don't you two look grand!"

Sedwick also stood, his eyes holding as much of a smile as his lips. "My stars! You two are absolutely beautiful! Stunning! Lovely!" He grinned. "The clothing looks nice, too."

Jamie laughed at the light in the prince's eyes. "A fine tribute, from one so appealing as your self," he dared.

Sedwick looked pleased. "Already we joust, and not the first spoonful in our mouths yet." He sighed, looked at Raimey. "Hello, sweetness. How was your night?"

Raimey smiled and managed to look somehow fulfilled. "It was as you suspected it would be, My Prince."

Sedwick's eyebrows went up. "Indeed? You lucky devil. It seems your status has come far in the world, that you have the envy of a prince upon you."

Raimey actually blushed. "I believe you will find them interested, if you just ask them, My Prince. It was just sleep, but it was wonderful to share."

Sedwick's eyebrows again bounced upwards. He looked at Jamie, and then Garvin. "You've considered my desire to have you both spend a night here once this affair is concluded?"

Jamie nodded, and moved closer. "Yes. We have."

Garvin came to stand next to his friend. "We are accepting, Sedwick. Understanding that Jamie and I are the loves of each other, of course."

The prince's face moved through a number of emotions before settling upon one of pleasure. "I thought...I mean, with my deformity now...I cannot...I considered that you would not care to be with me. Even just to sleep."

Jamie shook his head. "Your very own words, Sedwick, so well-spoken to Urvan: affection depends on no one body part. It is something combined that comes from the heart, and is received by another."

Sedwick chewed his lip, and his eyes grew moist. "I look forward to the conclusion of this affair. I really, really do." But he smiled, and indicated the table. "Shall we break fast together?"

Jamie and Garvin sat in their same seats from the previous evening, while the three retainers went to their table behind the prince. Absent this morning was the fourth plate at the prince's other hand.

"Getrell not eating with us?" Jamie asked.

"It is not his habit to break fast here. He eats with his men, most meals, but considers the first one of the day the most important to attend. It is at the morning meal that he can informally discuss the upcoming day with his soldiers, a practice that has proved both popular, and expected by the men. They expect him to be here in the evenings, however, to give me the results of the day."

The prince placed his hand upon the summoner, and the meal was brought in by the same four men dressed in white. There were steaming sausages and hot porridge with sweet sprinkles, and tossed eggs cooked into omelets with cheeses and pork cubes mixed in. Cups of sweet juice were placed before them, and serviettes offered; and then the kitchen staff retired again.

"The food here is excellent," Jamie offered. "Worth having to face down the occasional evil mage to indulge in."

The prince smiled. "What of that? What shall be your next step now?"

Jamie and Garvin looked at each other before Jamie fastened his eyes back upon Sedwick's. "Well, what can you tell me about where Urvan lives? I must confess, with all the excitement of late, I have yet to look over the material you gave me on him."

The prince nodded. "Well can I understand that! But I must say we do not know where the red one makes his home. He appeared at the gates one day to speak with my father about employment, and when he left, he vanished just as mysteriously."

That would make things much harder. Knowing the base of the enemy was the first order of doing battle with him.

"Perhaps someone we could ask, that knows of him?" Garvin chanced.

Jamie nodded. Ideally, such a person would be the Master, Thorvil himself. The old man knew of everyone and everything within his normal sphere of operations; but the Master was unavailable, away at the Conference on the Arts.

If Snave could speak, he might well know. Jamie knew little about the wooden gargoyle, save for the fact that he was as ancient as The Master himself. But to even ask him now, in front of the prince...Jamie felt it would be a tactical mistake to reveal his weakness in the gathering of intelligence on Urvan's whereabouts.

Was there a spell of sorts he could utilize? The tracking spells he was familiar with required an object that belonged to the one being tracked.

"Have you anything here that belonged to Urvan? Something I could use as a focus to track him?"

The prince considered, but then shook his head. "Not to my knowledge. The bed in his room didn't even look to have been used when we inspected it after his flight. Certainly, no personal affects were found." He took a forkful of egg as he considered. "I could ask Kundun if Urvan left anything in the wizard's lair downstairs."

"A good idea, for it might provide a lead," Jamie decided.

The prince gave a short nod, and placed his hand on the summoner. "Master Kundun, I need to speak with you."

To the prince's right hand, and directly in front of Jamie and Garvin, a ring of smoke an arm's length in span formed out of the air, and it's interior glazed over into a swirl of colors, slowly coalesced into a face, and Kundun stared out at them.

"Your Royal Highness, how may I assist you?"

The spell was expertly done, a more intense form of magic than had been the auditory-only scroll sent to The Master's shop to summon them. That Master Kundun might not be as knowledgeable in some areas as The Master Thorvil - or even Urvan - took nothing from the quality of the magic that the old mage could perform. Even as Jamie looked upon the viewer, he understood the spell that had originated it, one of several of this type he had read of in Master Thorvil's library, but had not really remembered until the nether lens had entered into his life and organized his thoughts and memories into useful information.

That Kundun deserved the title of Master Jamie was certain. The quality of a mage's magic said more about his skills than did the amount of magic he knew.

"The Master Thorvil was wondering if Urvan left any belongings among you that might be used to track him down?"

Kundun smiled, and his eyes went to meet Jamie's. "It was one of the first things we thought of here, too. But nothing has been found that belonged to that snake. Those of his ilk seldom leave anything in their wake save trouble."

Inside Jamie's head, pages again turned at great speed, as the lens upon his chest brought forth all mentions of magicks that might be used to find the red mage.

Jamie frowned as he absorbed it all. "How about glasses or plates - silverware - anything he used to eat with?"

Kundun looked surprised. "There is a glass of wine, half finished, still upon his desk. I meant to have it removed, along with several other items he left from a meal. But I have not had the time."

"Save them for me," Jamie said, a new excitement bubbling up inside him. "I will be down shortly to see them."

One of Kundun's eyebrows went up in doubt; but he smiled. "As you wish. We will keep them here for you."

"Thank you." Jamie looked over at the prince and nodded.

"My thanks, Master Kundun," Sedwick said, smiling. "I will accompany Master Thorvil to your rooms after we complete our meal."

Kundun bowed his head at the prince, nodded to Jamie, and then the smoke ring dissipated suddenly into the air and was gone.

"A well-done piece of magick," Jamie said admiringly. "His image was as sharp and clear as any I have ever seen."

Sedwick frowned. "Really? Ever since Urvan twisted our mage's tail, I have had doubts that he is the Master he says he is."

"Have no doubt then," Jamie said, "for only an expert practitioner of the magicks can summon them with the quality of your Kundun. The title of Master refers to skill more than knowledge. Urvan may have known a few things that your Kundun does not, but that has no bearing at all on the expertise of the man. The magicks I have seen Kundun perform are of the first rate. Surely he is a Master worthy of the title."

The prince smiled. "That is reassuring to hear. I know that ever since Urvan embarrassed him, Kundun has been studying new magicks. I thought perhaps he was worried about his employ here. But your words make me see that perhaps he is trying to ensure that what happened once does not happen again. In that regard, then, he is to be admired. Only a fool fails to reinforce the gate once he has seen it breached."

Jamie opened his mouth to reply, but held his tongue when a soft chiming sound rang in the air of the room.

The three retainers jumped up from their table, grabbing last gulps of juice and bites from their plates, and Mort and Miles hurried to the prince, kissed his cheek, waved and smiled at Jamie and Garvin, and left.

"Tis time for their studies," the prince said, explaining.

Raimey came and kissed the prince also, then looked over at Jamie and Garvin. He smiled, came around behind Jamie and hugged him from behind, and then he performed the same for Garvin.

"Will you be here the day, or are you leaving?" he asked.

"If we leave, we will return," Jamie said, smiling. "Be assured we do not forget our friends."

"Right on that," Garvin added, laughing. "We will have you in mind, for certain, dear Raimey."

The other boy smiled, kissed the prince again, and ran out after the others.

Sedwick smiled at them. "I see my sweet Raimey has left an impression upon you."

Jamie laughed. "How could he not? He is full of love, that one."

"And bright with it," Garvin said, making a face.

Sedwick looked at them a moment with no expression, and then suddenly looked sad. "There is a confession I must make to you. This place has been enchanted."

Jamie and Garvin looked at each other questioningly.

"How so?" Jamie finally asked. "I feel nothing."

"It is a subtle magick, I have been assured. But it is there, nonetheless." He nodded. "I wanted a place full of love, you see."

Jamie shook his head. "No, I don't understand you."

The prince sighed. "When I brought Mort and Miles here, I was very young." He laughed. "Well, I was young when I found Raimey, as well." He sat forward, his eyes intense. "I wanted to bring them here to give What I saw they had in the streets of the town was nothing. Not fit for an alley cat." He winced. "They were alone."

He stood up and paced around his chair. "No one should be alone. Unloved. Without basic needs. The least of all, the young. I brought them here because I wanted to give them those things." He licked his lips. "And I wanted their company because, in my heart, I loved them at first sight."

Jamie looked at Garvin and smiled. "I know that feeling, Sedwick. It is not one to be embarrassed about."

Garvin reached out and placed his hand on Jamie's, and smiled. "No, it is not."

The prince laughed. "And I am in no way ashamed that I feel so. But just because I loved them was no reason to expect them to love me. So when it happened, I was both astounded and...and pleased. They found their ways into my bed all on their own, and I welcomed them."

"So what is this enchantment?" Jamie asked. "If all here is willingly done, what needs the assist of magick?"

The prince nodded. "Mort and Miles are brothers. They loved each other long before I found them. When I brought them here, they came to love me as well. But when I brought Raimey here, it changed things. And not in a good way."

Jamie frowned. "There was discord among them?"

"Not openly. But Mort and Miles grew jealous of what they saw as an intrusion into their private realm. They were kind to Raimey's face, but one day I chanced by their room and heard them planning something to be rid of Raimey." Pain came onto Sedwick's face. "Raimey was just then coming out of the armor he had forged to protect his nature in the streets. He was a sweet boy and I loved him immediately. But my first two boys were jealous of the attention I gave to him. They wanted him gone."

Garvin frowned, then looked sad. "I cannot imagine them not liking Raimey."

"Nevertheless, it was so," Sedwick said. He paused in his pacing. "I knew not how to deal with it. I could have confronted the two plotters, but that would have resulted in fear and resentment. Bitterness, even. They would never accept Raimey after, no matter what I said, seeing him as the source of their pain, and everything between them forever after would be the acts of an endless play written in anger."

"You went to Kundun?" Jamie surmised.

The prince nodded. "Yes. I told him my problem, and his answer was to magify the place. An enchantment that would erase jealousy, and hate, and envy, and all the negative things feeding the widening gulf between my boys. I wanted them to love one another as much as I loved all of them. This enchantment would enhance the positive feelings, and allow for affection where none before had existed."

Jamie understood now why the prince was confiding this to them. "So you think that Raimey's affection for us is by way of enchantment?"

Sedwick smiled. "Well, not entirely. Raimey is a boy with much affection inside him. I can see in his eyes his affection for you both, and my own heart tells me much of it is natural." The prince spread his arms and leaned on the table, watching them. "I am far more concerned that your affections for him are enchanted, and that once you leave here he will be forgotten. It will break his heart to have you leave, and never once think of him again."

Garvin looked astounded. "Oh, I cannot imagine doing such a thing! We are very fond of Raimey, My Prince."

"You did not think you both became fond of him unusually quickly?"

Jamie smiled. "We became fond of him because we both can see the sweetness in his heart. You will note that, while both of us like Mort and Miles, we have not fallen for them in the same fashion as we have your Raimey."

"And your Raimey, also, I think now," Sedwick said. He smiled. "I believe you, as Kundun told me that knowledge of the enchantment would noticeably lessen its affect, and you both now know, and yet you still speak of Raimey with fondness. But - please: never mention this again. For my sweet ones to learn of it might cause a return of the old problems. Today, Mort and Miles and Raimey truly love one another. I cannot bear the thought of that being reversed."

Jamie shook his head. "You have our word. It will not be mentioned again. But Sedwick, perhaps you should give your boys more credit for the way they feel on their own. Time has passed since Raimey came to this place. Surely, if you helped the others to love him, they need no such help now. I see it in their eyes when they speak together, and in the way they sit with one another at their table. They are a family now, I think."

Sedwick was quiet a moment, thinking. But then he nodded. "I never brought another to our home here, you know. Once I saw how things could be, the children I pulled from the streets went to families here in the castle, who I felt would love them. Boys and girls alike. If they live in the shadows of the streets and I spy them, they will be offered the chance to come."

"It is a wonderful thing you are doing, Sedwick."

"It is so small a thing, to give someone a chance at life. I have the means, and I have the will, and so I must." He frowned. "There is some selfishness in it, too. I long for company, although I would never take it. That these friends of mine have come to love me so closely, I can only be grateful for."

Jamie grinned. "Were you not a prince, I would want to give you a hug for it."

Garvin nodded, laughing. "I as well."

Sedwick's eyes lit up, and he smiled. "A prince of the realm may be hugged. I have seen the rule myself. I had it writ into law."

Jamie and Garvin smiled at each other. As one they got up, went around the table, and embraced the prince. Then, at an exchanged wink, each took a cheek and kissed it warmly.

Sedwick bounced on his feet, beaming. "Well, that was certainly a day maker, if I ever have had one! Don't let me stop you!"

Jamie and Garvin laughed, and squeezed the prince even harder.

Sedwick hugged them back, gave each a kiss. "I am so looking forward to the conclusion of this mess so that we can enjoy a night in each other's company."

"Are Raimey and the others also invited?" Garvin asked.

The prince laughed. "If you wish it, I wish it." He relaxed his grip, smiled at them. "My bed will hold all six, I must say."

Jamie nodded. "Then it will be so."

An idea had been nagging at the back of Jamie's mind. Perhaps someone who could shed some light on the mystery of Urvan. "But first, Sedwick, Garvin and I must go back into town. I know someone there who may be able to help us to locate Urvan's lair."

The prince gave Jamie a last squeeze and released him. "Do you wish to first see Kundun about the things he is holding for you?"

Oh yes - that. "Yes. We'd better do that first. Are we ready?"

They separated, and the prince led them back through the door the mages had appeared from during the battle with Urvan. They proceeded down a corridor that passed a kitchen, where the white-suited staff was both cooking, and cleaning dishes and pans. If they saw the prince and his small group hustle by, they gave no notice. Snave, as usual, brought up the rear.

The corridor emptied into another, cross corridor, down the right side of which were more doors, and a large one at the end. But the prince turned left, and immediately stopped, spreading his arms to halt Jamie and Garvin as well. Before them, a dark hole gaped in the floor, as wide as the corridor, and as far across as two tall men, beyond which stood only the blank face of a stone wall.

Jamie felt a strange, gentle tingle, that seemed to run over the surface of his skin. He looked at Garvin, and could see from his expression that the other boy was feeling the same thing.

"You feel it?" Sedwick said, smiling. "That is both a warning to watch one's step, and a guarantee that it is safe to proceed. If you will" -- he indicated the hole in the floor before them -- "you may either step with me as I go, or follow."

Jamie smiled. "Let's all go together."

They joined hands, and as the prince stepped into the empty space above the hole, so did Jamie and Garvin. Jamie did it because he knew it could only be safe if the prince did it, and Garvin went along because Jamie did it. That it was actually an act of faith on the prince's part in the first place would have troubled Jamie somewhat if he'd thought about it, but he didn't.

Snave came with them, floating just a bit behind them as they slowly descended a dark shaft lit only by a square of light below, which was expanding as they neared it. By the original smallness of the square of light, Jamie judged that they were going deep beneath the castle's ground floor, to the very footings of the structure, if not deeper.

They arrived into the square of light, and their feet touched down softly on the stone floor. Now Jamie could see both how the three mages had shown up so quickly when the fight with Urvan had started, and also how their lair could be easily defended in time of crisis. By shutting off the charmed flow of the ascent/descent within the stone shaft they had just traveled, the way to the mages holdings would turn into a sheer drop the height of many men. Even those descending by rope would arrive in the confines of a three-sided stone trap, there to be forced to deal with the magicks of the defenders.

Before them now was a large room, again lit by the firefly glow of the small, caged yellow-white orbs. Jamie immediately recognized the elements of a magickal laboratory. The room was a larger version of the workshop that the Master Thorvil maintained on the second floor of his shop. Every manner of imaginable device was here, all ready and set to do the bidding of the three mages, who worked at a long table laden with bottles and vials and strange devices, which ran down the center of the room. The walls to either side were hugged by bookcases containing a library as vast as Thorvil's own, as well as thousands of small containers, boxes, and chests.

Jamie was impressed. This was a place where magick was both studied and performed daily.

"My Prince," Kundun said, coming forward and bowing his head. "And the Master Thorvil. I am honored to have all of you as guests here."

"We've come to see what things Urvan left," Sedwick said, smiling. He looked to Jamie, as if to pass along the narrative to him.

"Um - yes." Jamie tried to sound as if he knew exactly what he was about, even though at the moment he was largely guessing about what he wanted to do. "You said the man left the remnant's of a meal?"

Kundun nodded, opened a hand and waved it at a desk and countertop unit over near the wall. "If you will. Urvan worked here."

They went over to the work area, and Kundun showed them a glass half-filled with red wine, and the rind of a bread crust upon a plate, with a few small bits of vegetable matter still clinging. Jamie nodded, and concentrated.

He had already set up the magic he wished to use. He focused on the food remains first, setting loose the lock tied in the back of his mind. The spell formed into a deep red thing, long and thin, which pounced like an angry serpent upon the bread, sniffing, tasting, touching. There was silence from the others as they watched it work, though Garvin stepped a little closer to Jamie, his eyes set in fascination. Jamie watched the serpent thing finish sampling the bread crust, nodded when it looked up at him and shook its tiny head.

The bread would not do. He redirected the serpent to the glass, where it reared back and looped over the rim, stuck its small snout into the liquid below. It withdrew, paused as if considering, and then looked up at him and nodded. But it was a small nod, indicating that what Jamie sought was indeed there within the glass, but in quantity nearly insufficient to perform the task at hand.

It would have to do.

"The glass," he said, pointing. He released the knot, and the red serpent vanished.

"Fascinating," Kundun said softly, smiling at Jamie. "You do intrigue me, Master Thorvil."

Jamie smiled. "For every piece of knowledge I have that you are not familiar with, I greatly suspect you have its match, Master Kundun. We are walking through fields of my expertise at the moment. I much imagine yours to be just as fertile."

Kundun smiled and bowed his head. "You do me an honor, sir."

Jamie nodded, looked back at the glass of wine. "There is insufficient material present to sniff Urvan to his lair. However, I do believe there is enough to obtain a direction in which to search." He looked at Kundun. "Have you a small needle? It must be of fine iron. Steel, if you have one, would do even better."

"Yes, of course. A moment." The mage hastened back to the workbench in the center of the room.

"You have something, Jamie?" Garvin whispered.

"Maybe. Again we will use the tiny locks that are unique to each of us. By drinking from that glass, Urvan has left within some of his spittle. Scarcely enough for our needs, I'm afraid, but we can at least see the direction in which he went."

Prince Sedwick looked at Jamie uncertainly. "You plan to track him from his spittle? I have never heard of such a thing."

Jamie shrugged. "Tracking spells require something that belongs to the one being tracked. There is nothing more personal than a body part, however tiny it may be."

Kundun returned with a small steel needle. "Will this do?"

Jamie took it, nodded. "Oh, perfect. Thank you."

He laid the needle on the table, while in his mind pages flew, finally opening to the correct spell. This one was verbal, and in H'lashi, and Jamie didn't speak a word of the ancient language. So he had to tie a small lock first that would translate the spell, and he spoke it aloud as the words floated from the page and turned to ones he could read, right before his inner eye:

Nature's secrets often say,
the smallest bit shall point the way,
let Urvan's ghost come out to play,
direct us to him now, this day!

The needle suddenly vibrated against the tabletop, and Jamie quickly grabbed it up and dropped it into the wine. It landed and stuck fast, riding the surface tension of the liquid, and suddenly spun at great speed into a blur of motion like the possessed needle of a demon compass. They all watched in frozen silence as the needle nearly vanished with speed; and then just as suddenly it slowed, winding down, its spin losing energy, its impetus somehow withdrawn. The needle became visible, and then it was plainly what it was, a fine sliver of steel riding the surface of a glass of wine.

And then it stopped.

Everyone looked up, at the far wall, where the needle was now pointing.

"What direction is that?" the prince asked, turning to Kundun.

The old mage pulled at his beard. "South, Your Royal Highness."

"South?" Sedwick looked back at Jamie. "What is there to the south?"

Jamie grimaced. "The town, of course."

Sedwick shook his head with certainty. "He would not go there."

Jamie had to agree. "No, My Prince. He has gone beyond that."

Sedwick's eyes widened. "You mean --"

It was Kundun who spoke what Jamie was thinking. "The Forest, Your Royal Highness. The red one has gone to the Forest of Night."

Jamie swallowed hard, realizing now that it was to be a chase, and that the path likely would be a dangerous one, indeed.

"What do we do about that?" Sedwick asked softly.

"We follow him, of course," Jamie said.

Garvin gasped, but said nothing.

"This is not a wise course to take," Kundun said, shaking his head. "Master or no, the forest is a deadly place for men."

"Then we will be careful," Jamie said, with far more assurance than he felt. "Very careful."

"I could send a dozen men with you," Sedwick offered, looking pained. "To look out for you, at least."

Jamie shook his head. "The greater the size of the party, the more chance of disaster. No. It will be myself and Snave."

"And I," Garvin said, stepping up to Jamie. "You will not leave me behind."

Jamie looked at his friend, saw the determination in his eyes. "Of course. I meant to say you as well, Garvin."

The prince simply nodded, and then looked at Kundun. "Many thanks, wise mage."

But Kundun looked at Jamie. "Two mages might stand a chance."

Jamie smiled. "You tempt me greatly. But I cannot allow it. You are needed here, to defend the realm."

Kundun also looked pained. "Yes."

"Thank you, Kundun." The prince actually reached out and patted the old mage on the shoulder. "Your courage gives me pride." He smiled. "I would speak with you a moment." He looped his arm around the mage's, and pulled him away.

"Oh, Jamie," Garvin whispered. "The Forest of Night! I've heard horror tales of that place!"

Jamie could only nod. "You need not come."

Garvin pushed him gently. "Don't be a fool, Jamie. I go where you go." He grinned. "You will need my speed, I think."

Jamie brightened. "A major asset, certainly." He grinned. "Although your smile is what energizes me. And your pretty eyes."

Garvin smiled a moment in return; but then worry returned. "We know nothing of the place, Jamie. I would feel a little better if we had least had some knowledge of where we were going."

Jamie nodded. "I had in mind to stop in town on the way to ask someone there about Urvan. Might as well inquire about the forest, too."

Garvin eyed him. "Who would know, Jamie? The Master is away."

"Yes. So we will ask the next most likely one to know. Someone even older than the Master."

Garvin frowned...but then he smiled. "Oh! You mean --"

Jamie nodded. "Yes. Let us just hope that Wanda Pegfoot is in when we get there."

Kundun and the prince returned.

"I have a thing I wish to give you, Master Thorvil," the old mage said, holding up something that glittered in the light from the overhead.

Jamie peered at it. It looked like a small length of fine silver chain.

"May I see your wrist?" Kundun smiled as he held out his hand. Jamie looked at Sedwick, who smiled and nodded.

Jamie extended his arm, and the old mage took it carefully and wrapped the tiny chain about Jamie's wrist, and fastened it with a small clasp.

Oh. A bracelet. And it fit perfectly. Jamie stared at it, at the odd way the light reflected from it.

"What is it for?" he asked carefully.

"Luck," Kundun said. "And I mean that quite literally. This charm will enhance your chances at a positive outcome for everything you do, by an order of ten."

Jamie felt his eyebrows jack up. "Considerable."

Kundun nodded at the bracelet. "It is one of the treasures of the realm. His Royal Highness has ordered that you have it."

Sedwick leaned forward, grasped Jamie's shoulder and squeezed it firmly. And then he grasped Garvin similarly, and pulled both of them close.

"Come back safely. Both of you."

Jamie stared at his best friend across the gap between them. Garvin looked unsettled, but not frightened.

"We will, Your Royal Highness. I promise."

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