2. The Escape
“Hold on to me tightly, your highness. Wrap your arms and legs around me. And don’t look down.” Mr. Dulles moved nimbly along the rope against the wall. Ayron held on to him with all his might. His heart pounded inside his chest and he shut his eyes tight.
“Your highness, we’re on the ground now.” Mr. Dulles placed Ayron on the ground and pointed towards the outer curtain wall. “Do you see the watchtower over there? We’re going to run towards it and climb up the rope hanging from the tower.”
Soon, Ayron found himself outside the walls of the Marvelous Castle. It was the first time he saw the fields of Lilanie and Mount Ross up close. He held on to Mr. Dulles’ hand tightly as they dashed across a mint green field dotted with white flowers. The ground soon turned into a mass of dark red dirt, then it became rocky and slanted upwards.
As soon as they stepped onto the rocky ground, Ayron heard a muffled noise in the distance. He looked back and saw an army of grotesque-looking figures flowing towards them like water. They had extraordinarily bulky bodies and distorted facial features. There must be hundreds of them, no, thousands, maybe more.
“There are…so…” Ayron panted and his heart melted within him.
“Your highness, they’re the Hermonion soldiers. They are not exactly what we call a friendly people,” Mr. Dulles answered. “I don’t believe they are men like us. A mutation must’ve caused them to grow such oversized arms and chest.”
“Father…said…they have…great strength.” Ayron could barely speak while keeping up with Mr. Dulles.
“Yes, your highness. I’m afraid they are after you, as the prized Royal subject.”
“But I…haven’t…any prize…for them.”
“I’m afraid YOU are the prize, the heir to the Royal Throne.”
“Oh…so they…want the…golden…throne?” Ayron felt a painful soreness in his legs.
“Yes, the golden throne, and the kingdom of Orr with it! Your uncle plotted to take it by force. And he believes YOU are the obstacle after your father.” Mr. Dulles was still speaking normally running at full speed.
“I…can’t…can’t…run…any…more…” Ayron’s legs stopped moving and he panted heavily on the spot with his back bent. A great thirst surged up his throat. “I’m…sorry… Mr…Dulles…”
Mr. Dulles slung Ayron’s arms around his shoulders and put him in a piggy-back position. “Your highness, please rest for a while.” He continued running as if there was no added weight. Ayron was surprised at the remarkable endurance of this little man who had been the Royal Housekeeper for as long as he could remember. He wanted to compliment him, but all that came out of his lips was a tired, “thank you.”
Mr. Dulles soon made his way through the opening of two rocky dunes and started to ascend a rocky stairway made of unevenly cut stones. It spiraled upwards around the mountain. The stairs were tall and narrow. They were stacked in such a way to accommodate the steep slope of the mountain.
“Your highness, whatever you do, don’t look down. And hold on to me tightly.” Mr. Dulles glided up the stairs along the curvature of the mountain at the same speed as running on level ground.
“I think we lost them, Mr. Dulles.” Ayron caught a glimpse of the world below as he looked behind them. His heart skipped a beat. The opposite side of the stairwell was a cliff that descended sharply hundreds of miles below. There was nothing below them except for a few small trees jutting out of the rocky cliff.
“Perhaps for the moment, but they will catch up soon.” Mr. Dulles started to slow down as they continued upwards. “Your highness, do you think you can run again?”
“I think so.”
“What do you say to a shortcut then?”
“A shortcut?” Ayron’s eyes widened. Mr. Dulles is full of surprises.
“Yes. Bear with me for a moment.” Mr. Dulles inspected the rocks next to him and took a small step towards a certain spot. “Hold on to me tightly!” He pushed hard with both arms and rolled aside a large rock, revealing a hidden passageway.
“A passageway?” Ayron could not believe his eyes.
“Yes, it’s a shortcut to the Rock of Prayer.” Mr. Dulles chuckled shyly. He stepped inside and slid the large rock back in its place.
Ayron felt his feet touching the ground so he supported his own weight. “Mr. Dulles, I can’t see anything.” His voice echoed inside the passageway.
“Your highness, please speak softly. Our voices can travel quite a long way in this passage,” Mr. Dulles whispered in the dark. “The stairs here are smooth. We need to continue going up.”
Ayron lifted his left leg and tested the height of the stair in front of him. “Must we walk in the dark?” He whispered.
“I’m afraid it’s not safe to light fires in here. You’ll be able to see just fine after some time.” Mr. Dulles placed Ayron’s hands against the walls on both sides of the passageway. “Your highness, please start walking slowly and use the walls to guide you. It will become easier after a while because all the stairs are the same height.” Mr. Dulles placed his right hand lightly on Ayron’s shoulder. “I’ll follow behind you.”
“Mr. Dulles, this is like the hidden passages in father’s castle.” Ayron whispered with excitement. He kept his hands on the cold stone walls and moved slowly, planting each step firmly. Soon, he noticed a faint light peeping through the crevices of the rocks above him. “Mr. Dulles, I can see now!”
“Yes, your highness. Your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. Let’s continue as quickly as possible.” Mr. Dulles urged Ayron.
“How much farther do we have to go?”
“245 steps more,” Mr. Dulles whispered. “There were 272 steps from where we entered until the Rock of Prayer. You have taken exactly 27 steps so far.”
“You mean you counted the steps?”
“Yes, your highness, we must count the steps. This passageway is very particular. If we miss the exit to the Rock of Prayer, we’ll reach the top of the mountain after another 272 steps. If we missed that exit, we can be stuck inside for a while.”
Ayron counted the steps silently in his mind as drops of sweat rolled down his forehead. He bit his lips and dragged his legs when pain and soreness surged up. 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216…232, 233, 234. Just a few more steps. He panted. We’re al..almost there.
At exactly 272 steps, Mr. Dulles rolled aside a large rock and light poured in like a flood. Ayron cringed and covered his eyes with his arms.
“Your highness, your eyes will adjust to the light soon.” Mr. Dulles led Ayron out of the passageway into the open. They were on top of a large flat rock which lay on top of the Rock of Prayer. The Rock of Prayer was not only extraordinary in size, but it extended into the Heavens and sat on top of clouds.
A gentle cool breeze caressed Ayron’s cheeks. He stretched out his arms to feel the cool and crisp air. The blue sky above wrapped around the distant purple mountains on the other side of the Valley of Gor. They looked like tiny shaggy mushrooms. Below the steep cliffs at the bottom of the Valley of Gor was the Pearl Sea. Its creamy-white waters glittered under the sun like a thick pearl necklace with millions of pearls.
“Your highness, you are on your own now.” Mr. Dulles reminded Ayron. “Go southward towards the sun as far as you can. And pray to God in your heart when you jump off the cliff. Someone will catch your fall.” He lifted Ayron down to the Rock of Prayer from the large flat rock they were standing on.
“Yes, Mr. Dulles.” Ayron held on to Mr. Dulles’ hands. “You aren’t coming with me?”
“Your highness needn’t be concerned about me. I must report to your father.” Mr. Dulles placed his hands on Ayron’s shoulders. “Promise me you will be brave and not let the Hermonions lay a hand on you.”
“I promise!” Ayron wiped the tears from his face. “Did father prepare a surprise for me?”
“You can think of it like that.” Mr. Dulles hid the quiver in his voice. “Now you must go. I will see you off from here.” He kissed Ayron’s forehead with affection. “May the God of your fathers protect you on your journey!”
“Please take care of father for me!” Ayron only took a few steps before he turned back to see Mr. Dulles again. He didn’t want to part with the little man who took care of him for the past ten years. His body froze and emotions welled up from inside. I must be dreaming right now. Today is father’s birthday Celebration. When I wake up, there will be a proper breakfast with father and mother, and…
“Your highness, you must go now.” Mr. Dulles interrupted Ayron’s thoughts. “You must hurry before they get here!” He hid in the shadow of the large rock that guarded the entrance of the passageway. Only Ayron knew he was there.
“Mr. Dulles, I’ll miss you!” Ayron’s heart was torn apart as he hastened towards the sun, but he was too numb to feel the pain. Tears blurred his vision and rolled down his cheeks. Mr. Dulles, I promise to be brave. I promise! Father, mother, and Ayden, I promise to be back as soon I can! I promise! My God, please help me! Please help me!
He paused in his tracks when he was only a few inches away from the edge of the Rock of Prayer. Ahead of him were empty space and the clear blue sky decorated with a few white fluffy clouds. Behind him was the Hermonion army drawing closer with pounding steps. He knew what he had to do, but he hesitated.
“Don’t come any closer! Or, or I’ll jump.” Ayron pointed his small dagger at the grotesque figures. It shone like a brilliant red ruby.
“Your Lordship, be not so cross, we wish only to have word with you!” The commander of the army drew his large blade. His voice was just as grotesque as his figure. He had the form of a large stout man, but parts of his suntanned skin formed scabs, like the scales of a fish. He wore a dark burgundy robe of rough linen. The army behind him had a similar appearance and wore clothes that looked like potato sacks.
“Stay where you are!” Ayron let out a thundering voice with all his strength. He shifted his heels to the very edge of the cliff.
“Your Lordship, you are Prince of our kingdom!” The commander of the army answered disdainfully. “We are servants of your king! Therefore, we are servants of you!” He turned around to the grotesque figures behind him and shouted. “Do him no harm! This boy is our prince!” Then he lowered his voice and added in the language of the Hermonions. “We need to catch him alive. There’s very little reward for a dead Prince.”
“I’m not your Prince!” Ayron understood the language of the Hermonions perfectly.
“Yes, of course you are honoured Prince! Your father is Gorion, great king of the grand kingdom of Orr. He sits on his glory golden throne this day!” The commander of the army scoffed.
“My father would never send anyone to capture me!” Ayron stared at the grotesque figures with hatred and swung his dagger in front of him.
“Your Lordship! Our Prince! Why you say capture?” The commander of the army looked around at his soldiers. “Oh, no, no, no. We are no here to capture your Lordship. We want to bring you back to Marvelous Castle. Give me your hand and I bring you back to safety.” He reached his oversized left hand covered in thick scabs towards Ayron. “Your Lordship must stay away from danger cliff! We no want to see your foot slip. Now, give me your hand.” Even his coaxing voice sounded grotesque.
“No! You’re lying! Stay back!” Ayron leaned back to dodge the grotesque hand. His right foot slipped on a small pebble and his body fell backwards into the empty space. “Ahhh!”
“Come back here! You little bastard!” The commander of the army missed the tip of Ayron’s cape by a millimeter. “Idiots! You’re all idiots! Bring him back!” He broke into a rampage and swung his large blade at his army and shouted in the tongue of the Hermonions. “Don’t let that little bastard get away! Why are you all standing there? You are all useless idiots! All of you! Go fetch the boy! Fetch the boy!” He grabbed a few of them by the collar and threw them over the cliff.
Suddenly, a pillar of intense red light, as bright as the sun, shot up from underneath the cliff. “Ahhhh! My eyes!” “What just happened!” “Ahhhh!” Many of the Hermonion soldiers collapsed on the spot and grasped their faces in pain.
“What’s the matter with all you bloody idiots! It’s just the bloody sun!” The commander of the army waved his large blade while cursing his soldiers writhing in pain. The heavy blade fell with a thump as soon as he turned around. “Ahhhhh! That bloody light! My eyes! My eyes!” He skipped around screaming.