Last time a prince and his blind friend were kidnapped. The captors planned to sell the prince to an enemy of the king and release the blind boy to die when they got deep enough into the forest. Read the first half here.
The next ten minutes filled with the clatter of packing, then we were yanked to our feet and placed closed behind two horses—our horses, still scented with the fresh hay of the royal stables. A taut rope stretched between my wrists and the warm creature in front of me. Then the rope around my feet was unbound and the taut rope at my wrist jerked forward. We marched into the forest, toward our deaths.
My thoughts ran in a tangle around my feet, tripping me as much as the roots.
When they let me go, I’ll be lost in the forest’s depth. Can I use the heat of the sun on my face to guide my way back? But what way are we traveling right now, in the dark?
Felipe cursed beside me as he stumbled, scrambled, fell, scrambled, and fell again. His body dragged on the ground, thumping.
“Moonbeam and Sunbolt, halt.” I called, and the two horses stopped. I leaned over and helped Felipe back to his feet. He grunted his thanks.
The old woman called from the height of the horse. “If you stop the horses again, I’ll gag you and not let it out till tonight, not even to let you drink.”
“If you drag the prince all the way, you’ll have nothing to give to the king’s enemy, at least nothing more than a corpse. Do you think he’ll pay for that?”
The rope jerked me forward again. I pushed my shoulder under Felipe’s arm. “Lean on me. I can keep my feet well enough.”
“That’s right,” said the woman. “You keep him standing, blind boy. Every time he falls, you’ll get an extra stroke from my grandson’s stick when we let you go.”
When they let me go, I thought as I jogged, trying to keep Felipe upright. When they let me go, I have to find my way back to the king, then guide him to rescue Felipe. But how? There has to be a way to mark the path. The gurgle of a stream lay on our right, but there were many streams in the forests. The scents of pines and oaks were common. What wasn’t common? What would mark our way? Felipe sweated next to me, his fear swelling over his jasmine scented perfume. His perfume.
“Felipe,” I whispered, hoping the horses would cover my voice. “I have an idea.”
He stiffened next to me. “What?”
“Where’s your perfume vial?”
“Hanging from my neck.”
“Fall, and when the rope goes slack, get it out and give it to me.”
“Oh.” His voice rose in hope. He stumbled, filling the air with curses, which mingled with the curse of the woman as the horses stopped. When I helped him to his feet again, he slipped a crystal vial into my hand.
We marched, stumbling behind the horses, through the chill dawn, into the heat of the day. Every hundred steps I let one drop of perfume fall to the forest floor. Hopefully it would last until they released me. Hopefully I could pick out the scent on my way back. Hopefully. So many hopes. But it was better than doing nothing.
Only a little perfume remained when we stopped to rest when the sun warmed the side of my face. We’d traveled mostly north-east. It was midmorning, around the time that Felipe usually rose. He’d finally be missed and the king would send a search party, but if the king reached us with baying hounds, Felipe would die.
I dropped to the ground, groaning. “I can’t go any further.”
The fortune teller’s grandson shoved a flask of water into my bound hands. “It’s taking too long. We should have taken our mules. With everyone riding we’d have gone faster.”
“You know,” said the fortune teller, “that the mules would have bit and balked if placed next to these horses.”
“Then kill the blind one and put the prince on the horse with you.”
I squeezed the flask, spilling water. Please, I prayed, please don’t let them kill me. If they just let me go, I’m sure I can find the way back. Let me help Felipe. Please.
The old woman cackled. “You are right. We need to hurry. The prince will ride with me.”
The grandson leaned closer to me, his rancid breath pushing my hair back from my forehead. The sharp metal pressed against my throat.
“Wait!” cried Felipe. “Please, don’t kill him. Please. I promise to not cause trouble if you just let him go.”
After a long silence, the woman huffed. “We’ll be merciful. Let the wolves or hunger finish the job. Beat him then cut his bonds.”
I hugged Felipe, wincing as the newly split skin pulled over my back muscles. The old woman remembered her promise of an extra stroke for each time I slowed them down—remembered and paid ten times over. But I wasn’t dead and they were letting me go.
I slipped the perfume vial into Felipe’s hand. “Don’t give them any trouble.” Hopefully, he’d continue the path, and hopefully he wouldn’t be caught doing it.
“That’s enough.” The old woman jerked me back. “Get going, blind boy.”
I cursed at them as I stumbled away, as if I was certain of my death. The woman and grandson laughed, then horse’s hooves beat a departing rhythm into the forest floor. I was alone. If I could find the king, we could quietly rescue Felipe. The king’s hounds would follow the scent. We’d left a clear enough path. But I had to meet the king first. I had to warn him.
After breaking off a sturdy branch, I tapped my way, traveling south-west with the sun warming my left side. Where was the jasmine scent? Pine, fire, oak, stinking chamomile. I turned left. We’d passed that foul odor before.
A hundred steps. Where was it? I swerved to the right as a trunk blocked my path. Then left to correct it, then circled back. The slight wisp of floral rose as I kicked through the leaves. There. Finally.
The hours pressed one on top of another. My nose tingled and my forehead ached as I snatched at a path, following the whispers of jasmine and hampered by the tripping of roots, hoping to put enough space between Felipe and me before I met the king. As the air cooled into late afternoon, the baying of hounds bounced off the trees. I screamed, “Here, this way!”
Thudding hooves surrounded me, and a gauntleted hand grasped my shoulder. “Where’s my son?” The king’s quiet voice shook with anger.
“The fortune teller and her grandson took him.”
“Where is he?” His voice rose as his grip tightened on my shoulder.
“I marked the path with his perfume. But they will kill him if they hear you coming. Muzzle your hounds. They plan on giving him to your enemy.” My words tumbled disjointedly.
The thick leather of his gauntlet dug into my shoulder. Then he sighed. “We will proceed quietly. You have our gratitude for your warning, and for marking the path. Though there will be a reckoning when we all return. Lead on.”
A knight pulled me up behind him—’twas not the king by his build. I wrapped my arms around his armored waist. The fear of punishment tanged in the back of my throat, but it was deserved. I could have stopped Felipe. I could have kept him safe. And now he might die, even if we were careful. Trouble’s scent filled my nose. I was so stupid! Tears leaked out of my sightless eyes and ran down the knight’s armor.
The king spoke at my side. “Tell me if you hear or sense anything. I want to know before we are close to them.”
I sniffed. I couldn’t let my nose stuff up with tears when I needed to be a second hound to the king’s kennel.
We followed the whimpering sound of muzzled and leashed hounds. Felipe was hours ahead of us, but we proceeded carefully. Night fell with a chilly wind, and the stink of lanterns joined the sweat of horses. The hounds’ whimpering increased. Would our light, our sound, or our stench give us away first? We had to be getting close.
“Your highness,” I whispered.
“Yes, Leo.” The king spoke in a hush.
“I think we should proceed on foot. They had to have camped somewhere. They have no change of horses and one bears two people. And if you can go by the light of the moon, then don’t bring any lanterns.”
“Shutter the lanterns.” The king commanded.
“It’s not the light,” I said. “It’s the burning oil. They will smell us coming.”
“I see. Lead on.”
I took the leash of one hound and followed his urgent tug as heavy footsteps followed. Hints of burning pine whispered in the air. I held up my hand and the heavily armored forms gathered around me.
“They have a fire that way.” I pointed slightly left of the scent’s direction, accounting for the wind’s drift.
“I can’t see anything,” a knight grumbled. “Why are we following a blind boy?” Several others murmured their assent.
“Hush.” The king’s whisper silenced them. “When we can see the fire, circle around. The flames will reveal the criminals but blind them to us. Be silent. Kill them before they can hurt my son. Now go.”
It happened as the king commanded. The slash of steel. The screams of death. The cry of rescue. And Felipe was at my side again, his arms around me and his face buried in my shoulder. “You smell like a hero,” his voice choked up.
“No, I don’t. I smell like trouble.”
Felipe laughed, then groaned as the king clasped my shoulder. “Don’t be hard on him, father. He saved my life.”
The king’s voice rumbled. “Your trouble has just earned you a place in the royal academy beside my son.” I stood slack jawed as the king continued with dry humor in his voice, “You’ll be too busy for anything else.”