*Bond in enmity under the spell of the witch of the seven seas, kingdoms of the earth waged wars amongst themselves.*
Far towards the North, in the Kingdom of Drazul, King Zed prepares for the unspeakable journey to the Dark Mountain, to make the sacrifice of his only son to the Devil.
Five years old Marcus waits in the Royal carriage as instructed by his father. Although it is way past his bedtime, the young prince is still wide awake, curious to know and see for himself to where they were journeying at this middle of the night.
Another three ordinary carriages were with them, escorts, his father’s knights. But the young prince is scared stiff about voyaging beyond the four walls of Drazul in a time when enemies lurked beyond the city’s gate. These enemies were humans, but some much more than humans, men who could shapeshift into ferocious beasts called the werewolves, they hunted in packs. Young Marcus knows about all these, and they terrify him to his bones no wonder when his father joined him later in the golden royal carriage, he breathed relief.
Marcus tilts to his father and waited until he was well seated opposite him. “Where are we going, father?” His small voice puckers through the silence of the night.
King Zed looks at his son and his thoughts wander to the priestess’s words the other night.
…The Zanos are coming for you, King Zed. They will be upon your city in three days. They shall pull down your fortress, they shall s*******r your men, r**e your women and your children shall be taken captives before your very eyes. In three days, these shall happen and Drazul shall lie in ruins unless you take on another course… the sacrifice is the only way, the prince must be sacrificed to the Master. Sacrifice your son to the Master and he shall grant you the victory you seek…
King Zed brings back his attention to the small space of the carriage to behold his son’s piercing gaze under the illumination of the burning lantern. “We are taking a trip to the dark mountain.”
Little Marcus becomes even more curious. “Why, father?” he asks.
“Because our people’s lives depend on it.”
The young prince gulps. “Is it because of the Zanos? Miriam said they are coming after us, is it true we stand no chance against them, they will kill us all?” His voice trembles.
King Zed tries to remember who Miriam was. Miriam, Miriam, Miriam…he pondered. And then it snaps in his head, yes! He remembers; Miriam is the prince’s new nanny. Zed frowns after the remembrance. “How many times have I told you to stop engaging in side talks, Marcus? Every information must come from me, I thought I made that clear enough!”
“I’m sorry, father, please don’t hurt Miriam.” Young Marcus feared for his nanny, he doesn’t want her suffering the fate of her predecessor. “Don’t throw her into the den of scorpions.”
King Zed said nothing, after a while, he sighs. “I won’t because she speaks the truth.”
The prince’s eyes widen. “Is it true? The Zanos are coming? We stand no chance against them?”
“I’m afraid, yes.”
“They will kill us all?” Little Marcus gasps.
King Zed shakes his head. “No, never, that’s the reason we are embarking on this journey. We are going up the dark mountain to make the sacrifice that would deliver us from the hands of the Zanos,” he says and sees his son’s shoulders drop with relief.
Although breathing relief, Marcus is still curious. “What sacrifice?” he probs.
“Sire.” A knight interrupts through the wagon’s open door. “Everything we need is ready for the journey,” he reports.
“Then let’s get going,” King Zed commands.
The knight bows and he shuts the carriage’s door while King Zed latches it from inside.
The journey to the dark mountain was a silent one. Inside the royal carriage, little Marcus almost passes out terrified by the constant howls of wolves to the full moon above, he’s also terrified by the constant lightning and thunder taking turns across the sky. The winds blow hard against the carriage, splashing drizzles of rain against the carriage’s shut windows.
The Little Prince was silent, shivering right until they arrived at the plains of the dark mountain where his father opens the carriage, alights, and turns around to help him down the carriage. Little Marcus alights from the carriage and quickly scans their environment. A forest to the left, the sea by the right, and the cliffs of the mountain standing gigantic in their front. Marcus brings back his gaze to his father.
“We continue the rest of the journey on foot,” King Zed says and offers a hand whilst he holds a burning torch in the other.
Marcus looks at his father’s stretched hand, he gulps and reaches for it.
And so they began to trek, they climbed the cliff. But halfway through the cliffs, Marcus tilts behind and is shocked to see no knight escorting them. Little Marcus’s eyes widen and he becomes scared-stiff than surprised.
“Father! Father!” He taps his father’s hand with his other hand, pointing to space behind. “The knights, they are not with us!”
“Because we don’t need them at this point.” His father explains.
“What of the sacrifice, the items, who is going to bring it?” The young prince tilts again behind, to be sure he had seen right, that there was no knight with them. Indeed, he was alone with his father, they were alone halfway to the top of the cliff.
Instead of answering the question, his father hushes him down. “Quiet, Marcus! This is midnight and you know we are on top of a cliff, every little thing you say echoes down to the lands below and we must not be heard.”
Young Marcus becomes tense, and he begins to miss his late mother. Perhaps if she was here right now with them, things would have been much better. She would have kissed him here and there, on his temples, on his cheeks, his palms, anywhere motherly possible just to reassure him that all was well. For the first time since the journey, Marcus sensed something fishy. And then this voice kept telling him to yank his hand free from his father’s grasps and take to his heels back to the waiting carriage, but the little prince played deaf ears. Why? Having known his father for the past five years of his life, of how strict and mean he could be, of how he will punish him dearly if he tries such nonsense, and so Prince Marcus played a deaf ear.
Curious and determined to know and see what lies ahead of them, Marcus obediently follows his father, unknowingly to his death. And then a dark cave comes into view, Marcus peers further and sees someone lurking at the entrance, a shadow of a woman.
“We are close,” King Zed announces, happy with every step that he took, how close he was in sealing a deal with the Devil.
Marcus sees the excitement in his father, yet he has no glimpse as to why. The lad says nothing, but he is curious to know who it is that stood at the entrance of the cave.
Marcus gazes up at his father, and he sees that the king too had seen the person in front of the dark cave.
“Who is that, father?” Marcus asks, pointing to the shadow, his voice a whisper.
“That’s our host,” King Zed replies. “She’s Eartha, the chief priestess.”
“She lives here?” the little man continues to prob.
King Zed glances at his son noting the young prince inherited the inquisitive spirit of his mother, the late Queen. “Yes, she lives here and she’s going to help us with the sacrifice.”
“The sacrifice, father, we aren’t with the items. What shall we use now?” Marcus throws another glance behind and is disappointed to find they were still alone, with no knights to guard them, not even one. “We need to go back and get them.” His voice is much worried. They neared the priestess and a certain strange breeze swooshes past them, Marcus noted it felt very strange and carried a creepy smell... the stench of death!
King Zed leaves his son’s hand and uses the now freed hand to playfully ruffle the lad’s hair. “We have everything we need for the sacrifice, don’t worry about that.”
A shiver charred down the lad’s spines, yet he maintained eye contact with his father. “Everything?”
“Yes,” King Zed nods. “And now quit talking, unless you’re asked to speak. And remember, you must do as told, alright?”
Marcus nods to the instructions, at the same time swallowing a sudden lump in his throat.
Eartha wore the longest of smiles when she saw the troubled king come forward with his son clinging to his side. “Alas, you decide to take another course, King Zed! Good choice, good choice.” She greets, arching forward in a bow rather than a curtsey.
One closer look at the middle-aged woman dressed in a white sleeveless gown, Marcus slowed his pace even before his father turned and ask him to do so.
“Wait here Marcus,” King Zed commands.
Marcus nods in obedience to his father, and then his gaze travels past his father to the waiting host, Eartha, whose plaited white hair resembled real horns, twisting well in twos by either side of her head, whilst the cowries tied to her wrists and ankles chirmed when she moved.
Marcus looks with eyes while his heart palpitated, as his father walks over to her.
King Zed stops before Eartha and he murmurs something to her. And then he casts a glance behind to his waiting son who now held the burning torch. “Is everything ready?” King Zed asks the priestess, bringing back his gaze to her.
Eartha smiles. “Yes, everything is ready. The portal to Hell is open and the grand Master awaits your sacrifice so he might grant you the victory you seek against the Zanos.”
A thunder rocketed the clouds and vibrated the mountains. Eartha’s smile elongated. “The Master hates to wait, let the prince come forward now,” she said.
Perspiration prickled King Zed’s skin and he nods to the priestess. He walks to a shivering Marcus. “Remember to do as instructed,” he says to the lad. And then he beckons him to join them. The poor lad did.
“Hello, child.” Eartha collected the torch from the lad.
“Marcus, I need you to go with the priestess. You must do whatever she commands you to do, remember, you do it for the people of Drazul.” King Zed finished and he began to step away.
“Don’t leave me father!” the lad cried after his father. “Don’t go, please!” he begged, tears sipping into his small eyes. If only he knew how determined his father was towards the pending sacrifice.
“I am right here, Marcus. I shall be waiting right here for you,” Zed soothes while stepping away. “This must happen, son, make your mother proud.”
His father’s words weakened him and little Marcus became determined to make his late mother proud wherever she was. It is to this cause that he summoned courage and followed Eartha into the dark cave.
The rest of what happened inside the dark cave remained a secret in Drazul and the lands beyond, until this day, four hundred years later.