1. The King’s Birthday
“Quick Jimmy, help me get dressed! It would be a disgrace to be late for father’s birthday celebration!” Ayron threw off his geese down duvet and leapt out of bed with a jolt. He was clad in a royal blue satin night gown and slipped his feet into a pair of light brown fur slippers. His chamber was on the second floor of the Marvelous Castle. Two large windows on the south side of the room overlooked the entire kingdom of Orr. The thick purple curtains were tied back with golden threaded ropes, and warm sunlight poured into the room.
“Yes, your highness!” A humbly dressed boy with a soft complexion and short brown hair rushed into the room. He held a stack of exuberant purple and gold garments atop a golden platter with both hands. “Your garments are here. I was afraid to disturb your highness, so I waited outside.” He laid out the garments on Ayron’s bed and helped his young master undress.
“Jimmy, you won’t get in trouble for waking me up in the morning!” Ayron’s pale blond hair glittered under the sunlight. The two boys were both around ten years of age and similar in height. “I told you so many times. I’m a prince, not a monster.”
“Yes, your highness. I’m terribly sorry.” Jimmy kept his face down as he wrapped a golden silk undergarment around Ayron’s slender body.
“It’s alright, Jimmy. Is everyone waiting for me? I hate being the last one to arrive at meals.” Ayron adjusted the undergarment around his waist.
“Your highness, please let me do the work,” Jimmy answered in a low voice. “I was waiting outside your room the past hour.” He unfolded the deep purple robe and dressed his young master from behind.
“Did mother call for me?”
“Your highness, I did not speak to anyone this morning. My lady the queen gave me these garments last night.” Jimmy carefully placed a gem studded golden belt around his young master’s waist and adjusted it until it was perfectly aligned.
“Your highness, please forgive me.” Jimmy bowed in front of his young master. “Your servant does not know the arrangements for today.”
“Jimmy, you don’t need to apologize for everything.” Ayron smiled.
“Yes, your highness. Please forgive me.” Jimmy unfolded a velvet purple cape and wrapped it around Ayron’s shoulders. He fixed it in place carefully with the golden gemstone studded buckles.
Ayron waited patiently for Jimmy to finish with the cape. “Could you help me put these lovely boots on?” He sat down gently on the edge of his bed.
“Yes, your highness.” Jimmy carefully slipped a pair of gold gilded leather boots onto Ayron’s feet. He made a few more adjustments to his young master’s outfit and stood to the side humbly. “Your highness, it’s ready.”
Ayron made his way over to his full-length golden framed metal mirror. “What a beautiful robe! I look like a proper prince!” He admired his outfit from different angles, but his eyebrows knitted when he saw his hair. “Jimmy, I’m not pleased with my hair. Could you fix it for me?”
“Yes, your highness.” Jimmy quickly returned with an ivory comb and brushed his master’s silky hair gently.
Ayron studied himself in the mirror again, “I still don’t like it. It doesn’t look princely enough. Could you make it better?”
Jimmy’s face suddenly turned bright red and his voice shook, “Your highness, I, I, I’m afraid I don’t have the skills. I’ll call the Royal Hairdresser at once.” He disappeared into the hallway before Ayron had a chance to answer him.
“I don’t understand. Why is he so scared of me?” Ayron let out a gentle sigh. He sat down at the edge of his bed and looked through the large windows. The entire kingdom of Orr glittered under the golden sunlight. It looked like a quilt with various patches of green held together by two golden threads, which were the Tera River and the Ring River. It’s never been so empty outside the castle on father’s birthday before. What happened to the crowd? Ayron made his way to the edge of the window to take a closer look. Why are there so many funny-looking soldiers inside the curtain walls? I’ve never seen them before…
“Good morning, your highness! My lady the queen sent me to bring you for breakfast.” A primly dressed middle-aged man appeared at the doorway. He offered his left arm. “May I have the honour of escorting your highness?”
“Good morning, Mr. Dulles!” Ayron ran towards the middle-aged man with excitement, “Has mother been waiting for long?”
“Whether it has been long or not, it is foul manner to keep a lady waiting.” Mr. Dulles was a slim man and no more than a head taller than Ayron. He offered his arm again, “Your highness, let us not allow any delay to get in our way.”
“But Mr. Dulles, I can’t go with my hair like this. Jimmy went to call the Royal Hairdresser. They should be here any minute now.”
“Your highness, you’re the very image of perfection!” Mr. Dulles glanced at Ayron from head to toe with enthusiasm. “I was going to offer my compliments on the way. The queen has called you for an urgent matter.”
“Take me to mother then.” Ayron looped his right hand through Mr. Dulles’ left arm at once. “I can’t wait to see the surprise she prepared for father.” He kept up with Mr. Dulles’ brisk pace eagerly.
“Your highness! Mr. Dulles!” A panting female voice shouted from behind them, “The prince cannot…go like this! I must…I must fix his hair!” A plump lady stood only a few meters away, waving her handkerchief. She huffed hysterically to catch her breath. Jimmy followed behind her heels like a shadow.
“Mrs. Wiggs, I’m afraid the hair dressing has to wait! We will send for you when the prince is ready!” Mr. Dulles answered without slowing down.
“Mr. Dulles, isn’t the Great Hall on the ground floor?” Ayron asked when they walked right past the grand stairs.
“Your highness, forgive me for the haste. The queen asked for you in her boudoir for breakfast this morning.” Mr. Dulles led Ayron to the door of the queen’s chamber and gestured for him to enter.
“Am I going to dine with mother alone?” Ayron was surprised.
“Your highness, the queen awaits your presence inside. I shall stand guard here.” Mr. Dulles bowed his head and closed the door behind him.
“Good morning, mother!” Ayron ran towards the queen with a big grin on his face.
She was seated next to a small but extravagant dining table. Her delicate figure looked majestic in a long purple satin dress embroidered with gold. The golden crown atop her head completed the attire. “Oh, my handsome boy! How lovely it is to see you!” She held Ayron in her arms tightly.
“It’s lovely to see you too! Did you prepare a surprise for…” Ayron glanced behind her mother and saw a strong figure half hidden behind the thick curtains, “Father?”
“Ayron, keep your voice down.” King Gorion put his index finger to his lips. “These walls have ears.” The king wore a gold-embroidered purple robe embellished with large rubies and sapphires. His fur-lined purple cape draped to his ankles. The large jewel-decked golden crown on his head sparkled in every direction.
Ayron dashed to the king and threw himself in his broad chest. “Father, why are we dining here today?” The agony in his father’s warm blue eyes made him uneasy.
The king looked at the queen and she answered with a sorrowful smile. Her dark brown eyes flickered in the sunlight.
“Mother, what’s wrong?” Ayron studied his mother’s face.
King Gorion held Ayron’s shoulders with his large strong hands. “Ayron, a great darkness has fallen upon our kingdom. The light that God has given me is not enough to withstand this darkness.” He glanced outside for a moment, then at Ayron again. “But the light God has given you is greater than this darkness.”
Ayron followed his father’s glance. “Is there going to be a storm? That wouldn’t be good for the celebration.”
“I’m afraid there’s no time for me to teach you everything. You’ll have to learn on your own.” King Gorion gazed at Ayron and kept his voice from shaking. “Promise me you will learn to understand the light that’s inside you! It is the only light that can overcome the darkness that has overtaken us all.”
Ayron was at a loss for words. His eyes were locked on his father’s face. What’s father talking about?
“Your father is speaking metaphorically.” The queen placed one hand on Ayron’s back. “Our kingdom is surrounded by a Hermonion army. Your uncle Noam brought them in. He made an alliance with them.” Her voice quivered as she spoke.
“The Hermonion soldiers!” Blood rushed to Ayron’s head suddenly. He has heard many stories of the ruthless Hermonions. “Is there going to be a battle?”
“No, my son. We have already lost.” King Gorion bowed his head in despair. “The disasters foretold by the prophet Faibius are here. The curse of the Marvelous Castle is finally being fulfilled.”
“But aren’t prophecies for the future?” Ayron’s body and mind froze.
“We are the future. That prophesy was written several hundred years ago.”
“Ayron, come and have some breakfast.” The queen held her tears back. She took Ayron’s hand and led him to the dining table. It was full of silver platters with pastries filled with chocolates, berries, nuts and cheese.
Ayron took a few bites from a chocolate cake and put it down. He stared at the silver platters and didn’t say a word.
“Aren’t these your favourite? I asked the chef to make them especially for you.” The queen ran her fingers through Ayron’s hair. “You need to eat something before your journey.”
“Where are we going?”
The queen held Ayron in her breast and said tenderly, “Do you remember the stories I told you about the Zuries?”
“They are a real people and live in the Valley of Lolaville, hundreds of miles below our kingdom. My father is the valiant king of the Zuries. You must find him and tell him that our kingdom is in trouble, and ask him to come and help us.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?” Ayron’s mind was still numb.
“We must stay here, to protect Ayden and our kingdom.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Then I’ll stay with you, to protect you and father and Ayden!” Ayron answered in a firm low voice, trying to grasp the situation.
“No, you must leave before it’s too late!” The queen’s words were mingled with tears. “It’s too dangerous for you to be here…Noam will not be generous with you…”
Ayron felt a soreness in his throat and his eyes blurred. “Mother, please don’t send me away. I would rather die with you and father than run away!” He clung on to his mother and would not let go.
“Ayron, this is a command!” King Gorion’s voice was firm and resolute. “You are leaving with Mr. Dulles, at once.”
Ayron fell silent for a moment, then wiped the tears streaming down his cheeks. “Is it a long journey to the land of the Zuries?”
“Time will pass by quickly when you’re away from home.” The queen stood up gently and led Ayron to her bed. “Let me help you change into these. I made them especially for you with snow silk.” She unfolded a stack of white garments. “They will keep you cool in the heat and warm in the cold. And protect you from arrows and swords.” She spoke with her face down because it was too painful to look into Ayron’s eyes.
Ayron was soon all white, complete with a pair of matching boots and cape. The new garments did not have the glory of the purple princely robe, but they were comfortable and light, perfect for travelling.
“And take this dagger with you. It’ll protect you from danger, and your grandfather will recognize you by it.” She tied a light-grey leather belt around his waist. It held a leather sheath with a ruby dagger strapped inside.
“Now, listen to me carefully.” King Gorion knelt in front of Ayron and looked intently into his eyes. “Go to Mount Ross and jump off the Rock of Prayer. Pray to God in your heart and He will help you! Take courage and do not be afraid!” He tucked a small book inside his robe. “Take good care of this, it will guide you to the light within you.”
Ayron knew that it was the sacred book his father often meditated on. “Father, I’ll come back soon!” Just as he was about to put his arms around King Gorion, Mr. Dulles took hold of him and tied a piece of rope around his waist. “Your Highness, we haven’t any time to lose.”
“We shall see each other again at the appointed time!” King Gorion planted a gentle kiss on Ayron’s forehead. “Mr. Dulles will take you to the Rock of Prayer, but you must be brave after that!” He slipped out of the queen’s chamber and shut the door behind him.
“My son, may God be with you!” The queen held onto Ayron’s hand until the moment he climbed out the window with Mr. Dulles.
 The second floor in U.K. and Europe is the third floor in North America.
 The second hour is between 7-8 AM.
 The first hour is between 6-7 AM.