“Wait here,” Marlin dismounted the horse in an alleyway just outside the main plaza. The place was abnormally crowded- it seemed like the entire town was trying to squeeze into that small space.
Morteus jumped off the horse as well, and led her by her reins. They could barely move in the mass of people.
“I’ll go check it out,” Marlin told him. “You stay here with the horse, and stay undercover. Stay safe,” he implored. He looked around, tossing his sword to Morteus. “Use it if you have to.”
His hands trembling, Morteus nodded.
Marlin dodged under the outstretched arms of a tall man, turning back to look at Morteus once before disappearing into the crowd.
Marlin let himself be carried by the flow of the crowd and ended up in the middle of the large plaza, staring up at a makeshift wooden deck.
He gave a start when he saw soldiers filling into the square, then realized that there was some speech to be held here.
His heart filled with venom and hatred when King Periphral climbed up onto the podium. The entire crowd fell silent.
“Ahem,” King Periphral cleared his throat before speaking into the microphone. “Good afternoon everyone, and I thank all the people that have made changes in their schedules to listen to me drone on about politics.”
His statement drew a bout of nervous laughter from the audience. If the king made a joke, even a lame one at that, everyone had to laugh.
The king waited for everyone to quiet down. “Sadly to say, I am not here to commend everyone the success of our nation. On the contrary, actually, I have some bad news. Lately it has come to my concern that some rumors have been spreading about.”
The large crowd started murmuring softly amongst themselves. What kind of rumor would send a king rushing down here at full speed to quash it? Their minds flashed to Morteus, the prince that had escaped from the castle.
Marlin narrowed his eyes, his thoughts jumping to Morteus. It was a good idea not to let him come into the plaza.
Silence fell over the crowd as the king raised his hand. “I have come to reassure everyone that contrary to some speculations, this nation is not about to engage in warfare,” he paused as people shot confused glances at each other.
“When I became king, I swore upon the roots of my monarchy that I would dedicate my reign to peace. I hope that rumors spread by unreliable sources will not shake our people’s belief in that. I have heard that there are speculations about our nation engaging in war against Cardiza. This is untrue.”
The entire plaza burst into an uproar as everyone considered what he just said. Marlin sat there, catching snippets of conversation.
“Really? Attacks on Cardiza? How come I haven’t caught wind of this before now?”
“Warfare? Think of how this will affect our economy!”
“There’s no such rumor. Such a scandal would’ve spread like wildfire, and no one’s heard of it.”
King Periphral seemed to know that his words would have caused so much pandemonium. He coughed again. “Excuse me, but may we please settle?”
The plaza fell silent again as everyone turned his or her attention to the king.
“I repeat, the rumors are untrue. We remain good friends with our neighboring country, and our relationship with them is not about to change,” The king looked around, seemingly pleased at the less startled faces in the audience.
“Well, that’s all I have to say. Thank you and have a good day,” King Periphral stepped down the podium and disappeared into a crowd of soldiers.
The crowd seemed to disperse, little by little. Marlin got up and followed after the crowd. He felt like laughing- was that what King Periphral was worried about? Yes, it was obvious now. King Periphral was worried that Morteus would spread rumors of him attacking Cardiza, and went all out to quash the rumors before it could reach anybody’s ears.
His mood lightened, Marlin shoved through the crowd back to where he left Morteus.
The cobbled alley was lined with soldiers, and filled with people. Marlin cursed, peeling his eyes for a lanky boy and a tall horse.
They weren’t anywhere in sight.
“Morteus?” Marlin called out. “Morteus, where are you?”
A few heads in the crowd turned to stare at him edgily.
“Morteus?” He shouted louder, beside himself with anxiety.
His frantic yelling caught the attention of the soldiers. The soldiers looked at one another, then strode up to Marlin.
“I’m sorry, but were you calling out the name of the lost prince?” A tall, swarthy soldier spoke, cornering Marlin. “I think you’d better come with us back to the castle.”
Marlin spewed a string of profanities and spun around, his hand reaching for his sword.
He clutched thin air.
“Drat,” he closed his eyes as he realized his mistake.
His sword was with Morteus.