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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2017
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/
White Tower

Country of Frozen Time

Page of the Black Queen

Dmitrii Suslin

Translated from Russian

by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt and Dmitrii Suslin

©Jane H. Buckingham 2017
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/
Titles in the Series

Knight Caterino
Prince of the White Tower
Christian Thirteen
Page of the Black Queen

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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/
1

UNCLE LANCEL AND HIS TROUPE
(Instead of a Foreword)

The most cheerful people in the world are travelling performers. Their whole life is
a real adventure. They indeed see so many interesting things in their lifetime! Here even
I, a seasoned and experienced storyteller, cannot compete with them. I just sit behind a
desk and describe various fascinating stories. Sometimes I merely go outside for bread
and a walk in the park, where sparrows chirp and grandmothers stroll with their
grandsons and granddaughters. Even then, a long walk is occasionally necessary. The
merry southerly wind will fly in and definitely bring with it a new amazing story. You
hear it, your legs carry you home to the desk, and your hands are already trembling with
impatience and stretching out to the pen in order to put it down on paper as soon as
possible.
At times I even envy travelling performers. I envy their free and easy life, cheerful
nature, and eternal optimism. Yes, travelling performers are not only the liveliest but
also the most resilient people in the world. They always look to the future without fear
or yearning and are ready to meet tomorrow with their heads held high. They are
accustomed to everything. Today is lucky and full, and money pours like a river into
their wallets, but tomorrow, you see, not only will there be nothing to feed their children
and themselves, but the animals will also be unable to find food. It is necessary to
replace breakfast, lunch, and dinner with songs and dances. Such is the life of
performers. Today they are well fed and happy, while tomorrow they will be hungry but
still need to be merry; the audience would not want to behold your sour face and boring
performance, which means they will not even give a penny.
You must have a question: where do travelling performers come in? Why are we
talking about them? The fact is that this story begins precisely with them. That is why I
must tell about one such company of travelling performers.
This troupe is small. There are not even two dozen people in it. Heading it is the
old experienced acrobat and musician Lancel. He is already well advanced in years and
has a long white beard. The performers love and respect him because he never treats
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2

them badly and always pays without cheating. They affectionately call him Uncle Lancel.
The little kids, the performers’ children, call him Grandpa and are also very fond of him.
In general, all in Uncle Lancel’s troupe live as a united happy family. And everything
would be fine if... If they were to live in a normal country with good people and wise, just
rulers. However, unfortunately, Mortavia – the country in which they live and work –
cannot be considered as such. The inhabitants in it are not good and the rulers are not
just. On the contrary, they are treacherous and evil. They only think about how to
oppress the people more intensely and bully them more sharply.
The Black Queen Angusta rules Mortavia. She is an evil sorceress. Although the
Queen is a rare, one might say, dazzling beauty, she cannot tolerate good-looking people.
Therefore, all the eminent people in Mortavia have to be ugly. If you were to be at a feast
of the Black Queen when all the higher nobility of the kingdom were present, you would
wince with disgust: everyone there is so scary, disgusting, and even ugly. And these
nobles do not like travelling performers more than anything in the world. They fear
them for some reason and try all the time to accuse them of conspiracy, treason, and
even witchcraft. Most likely this is because the performers are almost all very nice and
attractive people. The elite are jealous of them. The performers have to travel from one
principality to another, from one city to another, and they do not stay anywhere for long.
They give one or two performances and are already driven away. It happens that there
are threats to beat them up.
This happened once. They took the risk of entering the city of Bienvillemort for the
first time. Why was it a risk? Because the ruler there was the most cruel and evil man in
Mortavia after the Black Queen – Marquis Kostiniak. He was known to host a
tournament every ten years, invite great warriors and heroes, and propose to them to
fight his slaves – terrible monsters. On the very day when Uncle Lancel’s troupe gave a
performance, some mean tattletale immediately informed the Marquis that Lancel
allegedly sang satirical songs about him, deriding him, his tournament, Queen Angusta,
and all Mortavian nobility in general. The Marquis did not even start to investigate
whether it was true but gave the order to hang Lancel in the town square and flog all the
other performers to death in the same place.
Having found this out, the poor performers hurried to leave the city of
Bienvillemort and rushed to escape. But it was impossible! Could an old heavy circus
wagon pulled by only two hungry mules really escape from the Marquis’ horse guards?
Of course not! The soldiers caught up with them just a few miles out of town and, before
escorting them back, decided to limber up and scratch their fists on old Lancel. This
would have been the end of the renowned troupe of travelling performers if not for a
lucky break.
A knight-errant from the Country of Frozen Time was passing through. It was the
very country where Queen Angusta had once lived and from which she fled for fear of
just punishment for her crimes against the Knight-Founders and the Fairy of Eternal
Youth. This knight-errant was Christian Thirteen. Why Thirteen, you ask? Probably
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3

because he is the thirteenth son of his parents, and also maybe because he was all of
thirteen years of age. Just a boy. However, despite his youth, he was very courageous,
experienced, and a famous warrior in his country. On seeing that the soldiers were
beating the old man and a girl, his niece who dared to stand up for him, Christian
attacked the soldiers and did not allow them to commit villainy.
He set the performers free and even gave them money. What a generous and noble
knight this was. Then Christian went to Marquis Kostiniak’s castle to take part in the
tournament. With him was also a squire – a boy even younger than the knight. He was
ten years old at the most. Together they set off on a wagon, which they had bought from
Lancel and the performers.
A few days later the Marquis’ castle collapsed because the mountain Tenivesis, at
the foot of which it stood, suddenly began to tremble like crazy. At the same time so
many of the Marquis’ distinguished guests perished, and he himself, they say, also died
in battle with Knight Christian. But these were only rumours. As some inhabitants of
Bienvillemort only assumed.
Now Uncle Lancel knew this for sure because near the Talvira Waterfall he
personally met Christian Thirteen, who told him how he had killed the Marquis in a
fierce battle when the Marquis had turned into a vulture. However, his valiant squire
had perished at the same time. He was searching for precisely him in the waters of the
waterfall. Lancel explained to the young knight that it was useless to hope for rescuing
the squire after he had fallen into the Talvira Waterfall and advised him to leave
Mortavia as soon as possible. It was unknown if Knight Christian listened to him or not,
but after this no one saw him in Mortavia again.
Everything would have ended and went on as usual, if subsequent events had not
change the destiny of both Mortavia and the Country of Frozen Time. I am about to tell
you of this in the pages of this book.

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4

Part One
THE GATES OF FATE

Chapter One
MELISSA FINDS ARIAN AND SAVES HIM FROM DEATH

After the performers fled into the woods and hid in the densest thicket, where even
the birds did not sing but only raptorial shrubs creaked and cracked their thorny
branches, they began to decide what to do next.
“We should run to the north as far away from here as possible,” said Plym the
ropewalker.
“Absolutely,” Lancel agreed with him. “It’s just that the Marquis’ people are also
certain that we’ll act this way. And probably have already sent a pursuit after us. It’s
unlikely Kostiniak has given up dealing with us. On the contrary, he probably wants it
even more. Noble gentlemen don’t like prey slipping through their hands.”
Here Melissa, Lancel’s sixteen-year-old niece, joined the conversation. “I think that
the Marquis has no time for us. His tournament is the day after tomorrow, and it
worries him most of all now.”
“Let’s hope so,” Uncle Lancel sighed. “But I still propose not to take risks but wait
for some time here in the woods, until everything calms down and they forget about us.
Then buy a new wagon and horses, and go not north but south.”
“South?” all the others exclaimed in one voice.
“Yes, south. What’s the problem?”

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“But there’s nothing in the south, only the sea and uninhabited mountains,” the old
woman Judolia said. Although she was incredibly old, there was unlikely anyone in the
whole country who played the mandolin better. “What are we going to do there?”
“The fishermen live on the beach,” said Lancel. “Why wouldn’t they listen to our
songs? Maybe they don’t have money, but they have a lot of fish. And it’s unlikely
anyone would think of looking for us in the south.”
The last argument was decisive. The performers remembered the Marquis’ guards
and immediately agreed.
They lived in the forest for two days. It was a very uneasy time. The poor
performers trembled at every sound, at every rustle. It seemed to all of them that they
saw the shining helmets of the Marquis’ guards among the trees and heard the sound of
their shields. Fortunately, nothing happened.
On the third day, they decided to make their way to the south. Their way led away
from Bienvillemort but passed not far from the Marquis’ castle, near which they found
themselves that same evening. Here they endured a great deal of fear. They were
shaking in their shoes at night when they went downstream of Talvira, a very turbulent
river. They decided not to cross the bridge, because they would then turn up right in
front of the gates of Kostiniak’s castle. The guards were prowling there at every step. The
performers travelled all night, but at dawn they looked back and saw the shaking of the
mountain Tenivesis and the collapse of the Marquis’ castle. They did not know what was
going on in the castle, but it ineffably gladdened them. There was even hope that the
Marquis himself had also perished.
The performers cheered up and walked quickly. By noon they were all exhausted
and stopped to rest. After all, the elderly and children were among them.
They rested for an hour and no one pursued them. Now everyone decided that the
Marquis had no time for them and they almost calmed down.
It remained to acquire a wagon and horses. This was probably the most difficult.
They began to figure out who to send to the nearest village, argued for a long time, and
finally decided that Judolia and Melissa should go, since hardly anyone would suspect
an old woman and a girl to be travelling performers. To do this, they dressed as simply
as possible and went to the nearest village, which, as the map showed, lay just a mile
from them.
When Melissa and Judolia entered the village, which was very big and populous,
they saw liveliness unusual for Mortavian settlements. People were gathering in groups
and discussing something animatedly. They received the strangers without suspicion
and Judolia began to ask about the latest news. Here she heard about the death of
Marquis Kostiniak and that of nearly a hundred noble Mortavians during the
earthquake. After that, they almost ran skipping to the owner of a tavern to bargain with
him for a wagon and horses.

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The innkeeper turned out to be a harmless young man and asked a very reasonable
price, and when Melissa gave him a kiss in happiness, he was so happy and blushed, and
he even gave them a donkey in addition to the wagon and horses.
“How lovely!” Melissa exclaimed, hugging the donkey’s neck. “I’ll call it Lop-eared.
Are you really not sorry to part with it?”
“A bit,” the innkeeper said, counting the change in gold, with which they had paid
for the purchase. “But no one would buy it from me.”
“Why is that?” Melissa was surprised.
“There isn’t another as stubborn as this donkey in the world! It’s the most stubborn
of all its kind.”
“Well, I think that it won’t be with me.”
“This I willingly believe!” The innkeeper laughed, rubbing his cheek, on which the
kiss that the girl had awarded him was still burning. “Such a beauty as you can persuade
anybody!”
Melissa laughed, then tethered Lop-eared to the wagon, helped Judolia climb into
it, and after taking the reins, sat down in it. Soon they were already outside the village
and riding in the direction of their camp.
The performers met them with great joy. Firstly, the new wagon was twice as big as
and better than their old one, and secondly, the news of the Marquis’ death put them in
a cheerful mood. They immediately reached for their musical instruments and the
remaining food and wine, and celebrated heartily.
Only Uncle Lancel did not make merry with everyone. “It’s only a rumour,” he
brushed them off in annoyance when asked about the reason for his melancholy.
“Nobody has seen the Marquis’ corpse.” And they gave up on him. Then Uncle Lancel set
off to investigate.
A few miles from where the performers were, the Talvira River fell into an abyss
and turned into the biggest waterfall in Mortavia. Lancel went towards the sound of the
waterfall. First, he saw a mist over it, and then the Talvira Waterfall.
When Uncle Lancel came very close to the water, he saw something like a person
being carried in the fast raging stream directly into the abyss. A blue shirt flickered and
immediately disappeared in the white foam of the waterfall. Lancel did not even manage
to make out what it was. However, it seemed to him that he saw a hand of the one
sinking rise up like a call for help.
The old man was upset that he had seen a man drowning and had done nothing to
save him. Even the thought that it would be impossible to do nevertheless did not
comfort him. Anyone who was sinking was doomed. He said so to Knight Christian,
whom he met a few hours later at the same place. The knight did not believe him and
went to the city for help.
Uncle Lancel sighed and trudged back to his troupe. They were already waiting for
him there. The performers were ready to set off. The horses were fed and harnessed, the
bear, Bolivar, was chained behind the wagon, and the kids, five urchins aged between
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five and seven years old, sat on the bales of baggage, and their shining little eyes were
already watching the road. It was time to go. Uncle Lancel told his friends about his
meeting with Knight Christian and the death of Marquis Kostiniak. The performers
sighed happily, then lamented the loss of the brave knight’s squire, and embarked on
their way.
They walked. Only the children and the old woman Judolia sat in the wagon.
Melissa rode on Lop-eared and her gaze was as proud as a queen’s. Uncle Lancel led his
group to the south, to the coast. Their way was through the place where the water of the
Talvira Waterfall dropped; therefore, a few hundred metres before reaching the
waterfall, Lancel turned the horses onto the barely visible road that led down to the
shore.
It was not easy descending along this road – it went down very steeply. It was
necessary to continually hold back the horses and the wagon, so they would not break
away downward. The waterfall rumbled nearby, and the horses were terribly afraid, they
had to be soothed. But Melissa’s Lop-eared feared nothing and boldly pounded the
rocky trail with its hooves. Although the innkeeper who had sold it said that it was the
most stubborn donkey in the world, it never once showed Melissa its stubbornness. It
obeyed her like its own mother.
The descent took several hours, even though the distance was quite short at first
glance. When they turned up in the valley below, all breathed a sigh of relief – they had
managed without any loss. The performers were skilled and agile people. Not a single
bag fell out of the wagon.
Evening was approaching, it was time to think about spending the night. But they
wanted least of all to stay the night near a waterfall. All their ears would ache
unbearably from its roar. Even Bolivar howled plaintively and waved its paws in front of
its muzzle, as if driving away pesky flies. Lancel and his companions washed almost
under the very waterfall and went on, hugging the shore of Talvira. When the waterfall
had been left far behind and the thick forest growing on both sides had absorbed all the
sounds, the friends started to make their beds. Within a few minutes, a tent was already
standing in a clearing that they had chosen for camp, and three boys and two girls were
hauling wood for the fire. The performers were so tired that they had enough strength
only for dinner. Soon they were already sleeping side by side, and the mighty snoring of
the troupe’s leader was heard over the camp. When dawn gilded the tops of the trees and
the birds began to sing their first song, the performers, early risers in general, were still
asleep.
Melissa also slept soundly and had a dream, in which she met a handsome prince
and he proposed to her. “Pity that handsome princes only happen in dreams,” thought
Melissa. “In life, they’re all so ugly that it’s even disgusting to approach them.” In her
short life, the girl had visited many noble courtyards and had seen many noble young
people, but she had never met even a single attractive grain. Some freaks! Why do all the
old tales say that all princes and princesses are nothing but handsome men and beauties?
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No, she will simply have to marry the ropewalker Plym. Although he is not rich, he is the
best young man there is. Tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome in addition, the best.
Girls and women, when they see him, immediately lose their heads. True, he does not
really look at Melissa and has gotten used to her; indeed, the girl has grown up before
his eyes. In any case, he is not going anywhere.
Here Melissa woke up and grimaced with annoyance because she saw Lop-eared’s
muzzle right in her face. “What are you doing here?” she asked. Lop-eared shook its
muzzle and squeaked something.
Melissa thought for a bit. “You ruined such a wonderful dream of mine, you little
pighead,” she stroked the donkey. “I dreamt of a real prince.”
Then she looked more attentively at Lop-eared. “Listen, maybe it was a prophetic
dream? Maybe I’ll really meet a prince?” Lop-eared shook its muzzle.
“Do you also think so?” Melissa was delighted and hugged the donkey with both
arms. Then another idea came to her head. The girl looked Lop-eared right in the eyes
and said quietly, “Or perhaps you’re that prince?” The donkey nodded happily and
puffed with satisfaction.
Melissa looked all around. Was anyone eavesdropping on her conversation?
Everyone was asleep. “You were bewitched in childhood,” she whispered softly into Lop-
eared’s ear. “An evil witch turned you into a donkey, and if no one falls in love with you,
then you’ll stay forever in this dirty grey skin. Isn’t that so?” Melissa felt so sorry for
Lop-eared that she almost burst into tears. “But don’t worry, my prince. I’ll free you. I
fell in love with you as soon as I saw you. It remains only to kiss you and you’ll turn back
into a prince? I hope you’ll be handsome.”
Having said that, Melissa did not think twice and immediately kissed Lop-eared
soundly. Then she closed her eyes tightly. She was very nervous before a meeting with a
handsome prince. Now he will take her by the hand, thank her for his salvation, kiss her,
and make a marriage proposal. Melissa’s heart was jumping in her chest like mad from
the anticipation of all this.
However, nothing like that happened. The prince for some reason did not hurry to
take her hands to kiss her on the lips. Perhaps he cannot believe in his salvation? So it is
necessary to hasten him. Melissa opened her eyes and almost burst into tears of
frustration. Lop-eared stood before her in its previous form and twitched its ears.
Obviously, it was not an enchanted prince.
Then Melissa heard someone behind her barely holding back laughter. She looked
around. Of course, it was Plym. The ropewalker’s gaze met Melissa’s, and he could no
longer hold back the mirth bubbling up and simply rolled with laughter. Melissa flared
up, then blushed, and began to run aimlessly. It just so happened that precisely the
ropewalker had overheard her conversation with the donkey and learned her secret, her
cherished dream. Now he would not let her take a step without mockery.
When Melissa had calmed down some and stopped running, she discovered that
she was in the woods among trees. Now she was scared because she knew from
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childhood that there was nothing worse in Mortavia than being in the woods alone. It
was certain death! She had already wanted with all her might to run back when she
suddenly realized that she was not scared in the least. Well, not a bit! Because the forest
in which she found herself was not at all like those forests which she had seen.
It was a very beautiful forest: tall slender trees with bright green leaves that glowed
in the sun. Everything around her was simply threaded with the sun, and flowers grew
on the ground like a bright carpet: lilies of the valley, violet, and cornflower. The birds
were singing so loudly and cheerfully, as if they did not know that they were living in
Mortavia – the country of death and grief. Melissa immediately forgot all her troubles
and began to gather flowers. Very soon, she was carrying a splendid bouquet of forest
flowers and had a royal wreath on her head. “Perhaps I’ll find a scarlet flower here, of
which an enchanted prince is the owner.” Melissa was an incorrigible dreamer.
She was dreaming in such a way that she forgot everything else, and when she
found herself on the riverbank, she was not surprised. On the contrary, she was pleased
because she was tired and felt like taking a bath in the cool water. The river was fast and
raging. However, Melissa found a small cove in one place where the water was clear and
calm, and the bank was not steep but sloping gently and was sandy. Melissa could not
even dream of a better beach.
She had already started to undress when she saw a horse. This, of course, was not
surprising. A horse was a horse. If it were an elephant, then, of course, Melissa would be
surprised and even greatly afraid for sure. But this horse was an amazing horse. Melissa
had never seen such a horse in her life. Even the horses harnessed to Queen Angusta’s
coach, which she had had the good fortune to see once in her life, were much less
graceful and noble. This horse was as if from a fairy tale. Snow-white, well-shaped and
lithe, tall and fast. Powerful muscles played under the delicate silky skin. Certainly only
a handsome prince would ride such a horse.
The horse looked boldly at Melissa as if wanting to say something to her. Its
intelligent eyes were as if calling the girl to itself. Melissa approached the animal timidly,
and when she was about three steps from it, the horse turned and jumped. But it
stopped after a few seconds and looked at Melissa again. Now the girl understood that
the horse was really calling her and asking her to follow it.
Melissa began to walk after the beautiful animal. Seeing that she was following, the
horse no longer stopped. Very soon, it led Melissa to a steep, steep bank, stopped at the
edge, and looked down. Then it looked at Melissa and neighed plaintively. The girl went
to it and also looked down. Then her heart froze with excitement and fear.
In the water, caught by some miracle on thick roots sticking out of the ground, a
boy in a torn blue shirt was hanging right on them. He was wet through, in slime and
algae. His eyes were closed, and it was not clear whether he was dead or perhaps had
just lost consciousness. Melissa immediately recognized him. It was the squire of Knight
Christian, who had saved Uncle Lancel and all of them from Marquis Kostiniak and his
men. Now this handsome boy, his squire, was in need of their help.
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The most terrible thing was that two monsters like giant lizards with huge jaws and
sharp teeth were climbing out of the water and trying to reach the boy. They would have
eaten him long ago if not for the very steep slope and slippery, wet clay. They climbed up
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and clicked their teeth with rage, and beat with their long spiked tails. Each time, they
slipped back into the water and began to fight each other fiercely, as if arguing about to
which the booty belonged. Melissa realized that if she did not pull the boy to safety now,
either these creatures would reach him or he would fall into their jaws himself. It was
impossible to avoid this.
Any other girl in her place would be scared, but not Melissa. Not in vain was she
from Uncle Lancel’s troupe. She was an acrobat, meaning that she would not lose her
presence of mind in difficult times but, on the contrary, would make up her mind to do
what was necessary. Now without thinking twice, she climbed down the steep bank,
having removed her belt and the horse’s bridle beforehand and made a safeguard with
them. It was good that a willow bush was growing next to this place. Although it was
necessary to go down much lower than the length of the improvised safeguard, she now
had to show all the agility of which she was capable.
When she was less than a metre from the boy, one of the two joined thick roots on
which he was lying suddenly cracked loudly and sank even lower towards the two
monsters. The monsters saw this and began to jump awkwardly on their short legs,
trying to reach their victim. Melissa gritted her teeth, pressed closely against the shore,
and slid down, her fingers clutching at every crack, for each projection. Earth poured
down from under her to the monsters. It seemed to Melissa that they, having seen her,
even smiled.
“Cursed creatures!” the girl shouted at them. “Get away from here!” Naturally, they
did not listen to her, though initially the loud human voice scared them. They recoiled
back, but quickly realized that nothing dangerous had come from this new creature,
returned to their original place, and began to continue their efforts.
The shore was not steep but sheer. Melissa was simply hanging over the water and
the terrible monsters were puttering about in it. However, only for this reason had the
boy still not become their lunch. Melissa finally turned up beside him and sat down on
the root, on which the boy was hanging. She touched him slightly with trembling hands
and hugged him. He was cold and not breathing, but when Melissa pressed an ear to his
chest, she shrieked happily because she heard a weak heartbeat.
The boy was still alive!
Melissa was overjoyed, as if the boy was her brother. But joy was quickly replaced
by anxiety. It was necessary to get out of there. It was not easy to do it alone, not to
mention that it would be such a burden in her hands. All attempts at reviving the boy
came to nothing. He showed no signs of life. If not for his beating heart, one might think
that he was dead. There was something hanging on his chest, but it was impossible to
make out what it was: the boy was clutching the item with his right hand in a death grip.
Melissa wanted to pry open his hand but failed.
Well, there was nothing to do. Melissa sighed, picked up the boy, and put him on
her shoulder. Fortunately, he turned out not to be very heavy and she was strong, like all
travelling circus performers. Not paying any attention to the discontented growl of the
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disappointed monsters, she climbed up. As soon as she left the root on which she had
just sat, it fell noisily into the water, scaring the monsters, which scattered in all
directions. Melissa thanked fate that she had not stayed long on such an unreliable root.
The ascent was incredibly difficult. Only boundless courage and determination
helped Melissa overcome the first few metres. She was at this much longer than when
she had descended. This was also not surprising. It was almost impossible to climb with
the unconscious boy on her shoulders. Melissa did not even realize how she reached her
belt nevertheless. Perhaps the horse, which did not take its eyes off her from the
moment she climbed down, helped her? Its attentive, kind, and anxious gaze seemingly
gave the girl strength, and once, when she almost slipped down, the horse neighed in
alarm and a frightened Melissa somehow managed to cling to a root, which she had not
noticed before. When she reached the rescue belt and tied the boy to it, the horse
immediately grabbed it with its teeth and began to pull with all its strength. It was very
opportune. Melissa had already lost her strength completely, and when she got to a flat
safe place, she simply fell back and could not recover for a long time. What would have
happened if she had climbed to bathe in the river, in which such creatures were found?
Melissa groaned and closed her eyes. The two of them were lying this way. She and the
boy she had saved.
Some time passed before Melissa could move again and do anything. First of all,
she began to bring the boy around. At first, she tried to take off his clothes. There was
not much on him – one top shirt, underwear, in tatters at that, and a boot on his left foot.
The right foot was bare. There was an ornate belt with silver buckle, which was attached
to a sheath with three daggers. The boy was not hurt. When the girl put him down, she
could not take her eyes off him for some time, he was so good-looking. Then Melissa
performed CPR on him for a long time, rubbing his back and chest, and bent and unbent
his cold arms and legs. Gradually she felt the blood running through his veins and his
body began to warm up. She laughed with joy and redoubled her efforts. Soon, the boy
opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Who are you?” Melissa asked him.
“Arian,” he whispered. And then he lost consciousness again. But now his life was
already out of danger.

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jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://www.dmsuslin.narod.ru/
13

Chapter Two
ARIAN TELLS THE PERFORMERS HIS STORY

“Arian,” Melissa repeated the boy’s name. “What a beautiful name! And he himself
is such an unusual boy. Dressed nobly and richly,” she looked with regret at what had
once been Arian’s clothing, “and so good-looking. Is he really simply a squire? No, he’s
probably a prince nonetheless. And that noble knight is none other than a king and his
older brother.”
Arian moaned and Melissa started to fuss. They had to return to her people. They
were probably running ragged, searching for the missing girl. They were certainly
worried indeed. Maybe she would even get it.
Melissa lifted Arian onto the horse’s back and went back. She always found her
bearings very well in unfamiliar places and was not afraid of getting lost. Half an hour
later, she was already at the camp. The performers met her with indignant cries, but
when they saw whom she brought with her, they immediately quieted down.
“This is Arian,” Melissa said. “The squire of Knight Christian. I found him at the
river. Terrible river monsters almost gobbled him up.” She told her friends what had
happened to her over the last two hours.
While she was talking, they brought Arian down from the horse and put him on
blankets in the wagon. Judolia, who had also mastered the art of healing, began to
inspect his wounds. The boy’s life was still under threat.
“Can we travel with him?” Lancel asked Judolia.
She shook her head. “The road will kill him.”
So, the performers had to remain in that place for almost a week. On that same day,
an event occurred that frightened them all greatly. It was close to evening, when the
children playing on a flower meadow not far away suddenly ran back, scared and
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14

trembling. They all pointed at the sky. “They are flying! They are flying!” they shouted.
Lancel and all the adults looked at the sky, and their hearts were filled with fear too.
Two mirandas were flying at a great height. They were women with wings like bats.
They lived in an ever-militant tribe deep in the mountains. Even Marquis Kostiniak
feared them and fought with them for a long time until he subdued them and even
forced some of them to serve him. People feared mirandas like fire. After all, the
Marquis’ black miranda could kill anyone anywhere.
“Take cover!” Lancel kept his head. “We must hide in the forest under the trees.”
Fear imparted strength and speed, and a minute later both the wagon and the tent
were already under the trees with the people under them. All of them were trembling
with fear.
“They’re just looking for our boy,” Judolia muttered.
“Even if the Marquis is dead, the Queen is alive,” Lancel agreed with her. “She’s
most likely searching for all those connected to the death of her favourite. If she can’t
catch the knight, then she will content herself perfectly with his squire. But I think,
friends, that we won’t deliver the brave lad to the royal hounds, even if it’ll cost us our
lives.” His words were met with approval.
“I’m ready to fight anyone who touches the squire of Knight Christian!” Plym the
ropewalker stated, even though he always tried to avoid even a street fight.
No one mocked him. There was no time for it. People were anxiously watching the
sky and waiting. The mirandas made wide circles and came down quite low a few times.
They flew off when it was already quite dark and nothing could be seen. The people
sighed with relief and returned to their original place. But they still trembled for a long
time and looked with fear at the black starry sky.
Arian knew nothing about this. He was lying delirious in the wagon, and Judolia
and Melissa were wiping the cold sweat off him. Arian’s life hung in the balance. Judolia
said that only a miracle had saved him. The most incredible was that all the boy’s bones
were intact. He only had terrible bruises and cuts from sharp stones.
“Where am I?” Arian uttered with difficulty when he regained consciousness.
Melissa was on duty beside him at exactly that moment. She was overjoyed. “You’re
with friends!” she twittered. “No one will hurt you here. Do you want to eat?” Arian
nodded.
Melissa was even more delighted. If he felt hunger, death must have retreated.
Judolia had ordered that if the boy woke up, she was only to give him fish broth in small
quantities. Melissa ran to the fire and filled a clay cup from the kettle. Then she returned
to Arian and began feeding him with a spoon, like a little child. He was in fact as
helpless as a baby. He had lost weight and could barely move.
The news that Arian had come to quickly spread among the performers. They were
sincerely pleased by this.

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15

“Now we can set off,” Judolia said, after watching Arian have had nine spoonful of
broth. “Now his life is out of danger.” The news cheered everyone all the more: their
supplies had come to an end; it was time to get to work.
Very soon, the performers got ready and their little procession set off. As expected
earlier, Uncle Lancel headed for the coast. After three days, they were already able to
wet their tired feet in warm seawater. The sea was blue and friendly. The children
instantly shed all their clothes and began to splash around in the shallow water.
“Be careful!” Lancel shouted to them and shook a threatening finger with a smile.
“Don’t go too far. There’re certainly sea monsters.” But the children did not listen to him.
Children of travelling performers feared nothing from childhood on.
Arian was lying in the wagon under the awning and looking at the sea. He had
never seen it. The boundless expanse of water boggled his imagination. He still could
not walk and suffered a great deal from it. And Melissa, who never left the boy for a
moment, did not even let him talk. “When you speak, you lose a lot of strength,” she said.
“So you’d better keep quiet. You’ll still have all the time to talk.”
But then she was chattering incessantly. When she found out that Arian was the
son of a true prince, she did not even believe it at first. “You can’t be! You’re too good-
looking for a prince,” she started to argue. “I’ve seen a lot of princes. After the dukes,
they’re the scariest.”
Arian smiled. “In the country where I live, all the people are good-looking,” he said.
“The higher the position, the nobler a person should look. Who will respect a governor if
he looks like a toad or a crocodile?”
“What a beautiful country,” Melissa said, enraptured. “But what’s a crocodile?”
“I don’t know,” Arian replied. “I’ve never seen them. There isn’t any in our
principality. I heard that they look like huge lizards, two or three metres long. They have
long tails and wide mouths. And teeth! There are many and sharper than a wolf’s.”
Melissa even opened her mouth in surprise. So, it means those creatures, which
had almost eaten them both before, were crocodiles?
“I saw your crocodiles!” She even caught Arian’s hands in her excitement, although
from the moment she found out that he was the son of a prince, she did not allow herself
to do so. “Indeed, they’re vile and disgusting!” And Melissa told Arian how she had
saved him from the crocodiles on the banks of the Talvira. “It’s a great miracle that you
survived after falling into the Talvira Waterfall!” She finished her story with these words.
“It’s not a miracle,” said Arian. “It’s my amulet. It wouldn’t let me die. But you’re
the most courageous girl in the world. I thank you. You saved my life. And the forest
gods guard you. If I manage to return to my country, I’ll ask my father to reward you
generously.”
Melissa was embarrassed. “What, your amulet is magical?” she asked to steer the
conversation in another direction.
“Of course! It’s a real dragon’s tooth,” Arian exclaimed heatedly.
“Did you kill the dragon, or did your father?”
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16

“No. I haven’t yet had the honour to meet and fight any dragon. It was killed by a
great warrior – Knight Caterino.”
Melissa was interested, and Arian told her about the girl-knight who flew to the
Country of Frozen Time to find her missing brother and accomplished a huge number of
heroic deeds. “I almost became her squire,” he finished. “But I was unlucky. Yet, I
became Knight Christian’s squire. And he’s also a great warrior.”
Remembering Chris, Arian became sad. He had already been told that Christian
tried to find him but later disappeared somewhere, and Arian did not know what to
think of him. “He probably thought I had perished and returned to the Country of
Frozen Time,” he sighed.
“Is it true that Knight Christian fought in the Marquis’ tournament and defeated all,
and later even killed Kostiniak himself?” Melissa asked the boy.
“It’s true,” Arian confirmed. “When we arrived at Kostiniak’s castle...”
“Wait, wait!” the girl interrupted him. “You’ve already talked too much today. Tell
us all about it tomorrow, and not just me. All performers love to hear about a great
tournament. Maybe we’ll even put together a play about it and play it in big cities.” Arian
agreed. He was really very tired. His eyes closed of their own accord and he fell asleep.
The next day Arian woke up with new vigour and was even able to stand up and
take a few steps. True, he rested for several hours after this and even slept a little, but
when he woke up, he did not feel pain in his body for the first time in days. Judolia’s art
of healing, her salves and infusions, as well as Melissa’s tender care had done their job.
Arian had recovered. Now it only remained for him to regain strength.
The performers continued their journey. They had already travelled many roads
along the coast. Lancel was right. People here lived in modest means but were much
kinder and more cordial than in the valley or the mountains. The fishermen, their wives,
and their children eagerly flocked to watch the performances and paid with fish and
bread. The performers needed nothing more. Good weather and well-fed bellies, what
could be better?
When Arian had fully recovered, the whole troupe gathered around him in the
evening and he began his story.
After Knight Christian and his squire had met the performers and saved them from
the violence of Marquis Kostiniak’s soldiers, they went to the Marquis’ castle to take part
in the famous tournament, which he organized there.
Knight Christian decided to take part in the tournament because he thought that it
was a real joust, in which upright and brave warriors tried to find out who was the most
worthy of bearing the title of knight. He indeed did not know that there was no place for
honour, bravery, or nobility in Mortavia. Knights simply did not exist in it, only soldiers
and mercenaries. The tournament was also not a joust but quite a different matter.
Marquis Henri de Kostiniak challenged those interested to fight with his slaves. Only his
slaves were real monsters, which were almost impossible to defeat. But Knight Christian
knew nothing about this and swore impulsively to the Marquis that he would fight, and
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17

even signed with his own blood. When he found out with whom and under what
conditions he would have to fight, it was already too late. His knight’s honour and
having taken an oath did not allow Christian to withdraw from the tournament.
A few more people aside from him also had to fight the Marquis’ slaves. The
blacksmith Brusila from the city of Bienvillemort came himself to the Marquis and
volunteered to fight, because the Marquis had ordered the townspeople to fight with his
monsters if no one was willing. In order to save his own fellows from a horrible fate,
Brusila sacrificed himself. Marquis had come up with the tournament aiming to destroy
all of the people in whom a shred of conscience and nobility remained.
The third participant of the tournament was Merengo, chief of the Marquis’ guards.
The Marquis ordered him to take part in the tournament only because he did not have
enough participants and did not want to disappoint the noble guests who would come to
watch the tournament.
The fourth participant turned out to be Count Barbizon. The Marquis intoxicated
him to such a state that the Count, in a fit of temper, volunteered to take part in the
tournament.
The fifth participant was the miranda Isabella.
Hearing about a miranda, the performers paled.
“You know what these mirandas are?” Arian asked them. They nodded
affirmatively in response. And Arian continued his story.
The miranda Isabella was not a servant of the Marquis. No, the Marquis had a
quite different miranda: the black, evil, and ruthless Isaura. But she was this way
because her soul, for some reason, belonged to the Marquis, and she was his slave and
carried out his wishes. Now then, the miranda Isabella was her sister. A white miranda.
She had come specifically to save her sister, but she fell into the Marquis’ trap and
turned up in his clutches. The Marquis forced her to fight, threatening that he would
otherwise kill Isaura. That was the sneaky way the Marquis assembled participants for
his criminal designs.
However, while Knight Christian was preparing for the fight and training in the
weapons hall of the Marquis’ castle, his squire Arian was on the alert, spying and
watching all the time, finding out if there was some way to save his knight. It was exactly
he who freed the miranda Isabella from the Marquis’ basement. The black miranda
interfered and almost killed him. But this did not scare the squire.
One night, he found out that one of the Marquis’ guests, Prince Lautar – the Black
Queen’s son, who had the ability to foresee the future and communicate with those
many miles away – predicted to the Marquis the defeat of his slaves in the tournament
and the Marquis’ own death. And he also found out that Marquis Kostiniak was not only
a Marquis but the former well-known sorcerer named Murderer. So, when on the first
day of the tournament four of the participants, except Count Barbizon, defeated the
monsters, Murderer decided to kill them without waiting for the end of the tournament
and sent assassins to them. By luck and vigilance, Knight Christian foiled that plan.
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18

On that same night, Arian snuck into Murderer’s basement and found the hiding
place in which he kept the receipts of the tournament participants. Since Arian had not
yet been knighted, he stole these receipts straightaway. Unfortunately, the Marquis’
servants immediately caught him and brought him to their master. The receipts, as it
turned out, were not discovered, much to his happiness, but Murderer was so angry that
he ordered them to throw Arian to the mercy of one of his creatures. It was the
invincible blind lizard. It was as huge as a mountain and as white as snow. That would
have been the end of Arian if Knight Christian and all the rest of the tournament
participants – Brusila, Merengo, and Isabella – had not come to his aid. They boldly
rushed to defend the boy, whom they had come to love, and defeated the blind lizard.
True, Merengo died heroically at the same time.
Then, having seen all this, Murderer set all his remaining monsters on the heroes.
There were many of them; indeed, during the tournament, the participants flatly refused
to kill but only defeated their opponents using courage, fortitude, keenness of wit, and
fighting skills. Now all the monsters turned against them. Even the magic dragon circle,
which Christian drew with his knightly sword, was unable to hold them back for long.
Then Arian remembered the stolen receipts. As soon as the brave heroes burned the
receipts, all the monsters immediately disappeared. Only Isaura, whose soul regained
freedom, remained.
There was no one else to defend Murderer. The former sorcerer got on his knees in
front of the tournament winners and asked for mercy. They made the mistake of sparing
his life, because as soon as they left the arena, he and the nobles set off in pursuit after
them.
Knight Christian and Arian hid on top of Tenivesis. The mirandas Isaura and
Isabella delivered them there. They flew for help and, just in case, left the boys two of
their wings. The wings came in very handy for them when the boys saw that the Marquis
and his men had found them and were catching up. Christian tied the squire to his belt
and flew down with the miranda wings. They would certainly have been saved, but
Kostiniak turned into a vulture and caught up with them right over the bridge across the
Talvira. A fierce battle broke out in the sky and, in order not to hinder his knight in
battle, Arian cut the belt with a dagger and fell into the river. He managed to cling to the
bridge, but when he almost got out of the water, Murderer unexpectedly attacked him
and, after striking his chest with an iron beak, threw him back into the water. Arian did
not remember what happened next. He lost consciousness and came to when he was
already among the performers of Uncle Lancel’s troupe.

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19

Chapter Three
ARIAN INTENDS ON RETURNING TO THE COUNTRY OF FROZEN TIME

A week had passed since the day Melissa found Arian. The performers had given a
performance in the last village on their way. There was nowhere further to go. The coast
dragged on endlessly, only the smooth beaches and plateaus had ended and the
mountain ridge had begun. There was no sense continuing that way. There was neither
road nor human settlement ahead. The fishing region had ended.
Uncle Lancel sighed and turned his horse to the north. “We’re going back!” he
announced.
The performers reacted differently to his words. Some sighed sadly, sorry to leave
the quiet place; some, on the contrary, were delighted. They were already tired of the
quiet life and the fish menu. They could not wait to hear once again the noise of urban
areas and feel the jingling of coins in their pocket.
However, Arian was glad most of all. It was an opportunity for him to get to the
place where he could return to the Country of Frozen Time. He was already quite strong
and could even ride Palma. His wounds had healed completely and stopped hurting.
Strength filled his arms and legs with each passing day. He was already running at top
speed and playing with the children of the performers, and running on the hot sea sand
is the best exercise for strengthening all muscles. The performers looked at the boy and
marvelled at his fantastically fast recovery.
Arian quickly became friends with all the members of the troupe and chatted
willingly with everyone. He had such simple manners that they could not even believe
that he was the son of a prince and were certain that the boy made all this up so as not to
be driven away. Although they certainly did not intend on doing so. Such a thing could
not even occur to them. Aside from Melissa, only Uncle Lancel believed in Arian’s noble
origins, because he knew that Mortavia had once been part of the Country of Frozen
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20

Time. He often chatted with Arian in the evenings and questioned the boy about his
homeland. Although the boy had not seen much, he told Lancel everything he knew
from books and stories. Lancel listened to him and sighed sadly. What the boy said
seemed to him a good fairy tale. The honest, open face of the narrator said that his
words were true. But who knows, maybe the boy invented everything and sincerely
believed in his lies?
“Is it true that performers in your country aren’t persecuted or driven from place to
place?” the old man wondered all the time.
“Of course not!” Arian assured him. “On the contrary, any dignitary is pleased
when travelling performers drop by his castle. It’s a festive occasion in his house and all
local residents gather in it. Wine flows like water, and merrymaking doesn’t subside for
several days. When performers leave, they are rewarded royally. That’s why performers
are not only respected members of society but also quite well-off citizens. In every one of
the cities there’s bound to be a good house, to which they return once a year to rest and
to count and put away the money earned. Yes, among them there are those who’ll be
richer than any baron or marquis.” Lancel winced and grimaced at the word “marquis.”
“Tell me, are you thinking of returning to your country?” Lancel once asked Arian.
“Certainly. I need to find my knight. Indeed, no one has released me from service.”
Lancel scratched his white bushy beard and sighed. “And how do you plan on
getting there?”
“It’s nothing! I return to the place where the two crooked trees form a gate, go
through them, and turn up in my country. Piece of cake!”
“Can we go with you?” asked Melissa, who was also there and listening to Arian’s
stories. Lancel looked at her and she realized that he was thinking the same thing.
Arian thought for a bit. “Why not?” He shrugged. “Who can forbid you?”
“But there are so many of us! There’s also our wagon, the children, and Bolivar.”
Arian began to remember. “The gate there is quite large to let all of you through.”
The whole troupe immediately became aware of this conversation. Everyone liked
the idea of leaving Mortavia.
“We must hurry!” Plym the ropewalker shouted. “We’ve already lost a lot of time.
What if the Queen has already recovered and has again placed guards at the exit?”
His assumption troubled everyone. Indeed, they had to hurry. Perhaps they still
had time? The performers’ actions always corresponded with their words. An hour later,
they were already travelling on the road leading to the north. Along the way, they
overtook a caravan with dried and smoked fish heading for Bienvillemort, they were
hurrying so.
Arian rode on Palma. He was already bored to death shaking in the wagon and
flatly refused to travel in it. He assured Melissa that he was quite healthy and that he
would be quite capable of it. The girl argued with him for a long time but failed to
persuade him.

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21

“Well, then I’ll ride next to you all the time,” she finally said. “If you fall off the
saddle, I’ll catch you, pigheaded boy.” Arian smiled. He had had time to become
attached to Melissa and loved her with all his heart.
“You take care of me like an older sister,” he remarked. “I have a feeling that I’ve
known you all my life. You’re very kind and pretty. I wish I had such a sister.” Melissa
blushed with pleasure and, to hide her embarrassment, pretended to adjust the saddle-
girth on her donkey.
Then she raised her head again and looked seriously at the boy. “It also seems to
me that I’ve known you for a long time,” she said. “But I really had a brother once.”
“You do? And where is he now? Why do you say ‘had’? Is he dead?”
“I don’t know. Probably. It was so long ago. My parents were still alive. It’s a very
strange story.” Melissa immediately became serious.
“Tell me.”
“Nothing to tell in particular. My parents had two children. My father was a
merchant and travelled with goods across the country. He was even rich. On one of his
trips, he met a gypsy, Cassandra. He fell in love with her and married her. I was born
first and my brother two years later. We lived with Mama in the city of Bimet and Father
travelled around the country. One day he took us along for the ride. Mama had a bad
dream and dissuaded him in every way. She had the gift of clairvoyance. But Father did
not believe in prophecies and did not listen to her. At first, it seemed that he was right
and Mama was wrong. Our caravan with goods was travelling safely to the East and,
laden with goods, was returning home. We were a few days away from our hometown.
Father stopped for the night at an old ruined castle. Mama again begged him not to do
so.
“‘Remember the legends about this castle!’ she said. ‘Evil spirits live here. Let’s go
further. Home is indeed so close!’
“But the horses and servants were tired and did not want to go further. Father
again did not listen to her. On that very night, a terrible misfortune happened. A black
twister flew into the tent where we were. It scattered us in different directions and
would not calm down for a long time. It was very scary. We children were crying and
screaming in fear. Finally, Mother was able to reach and hug me. The twister raged for a
few more seconds and flew out of the tent. Father lit a fire and found that my two-year-
old brother was not with us. The twister had carried him away. With a cry of despair and
pain, Father and Mother ran out of the tent and saw the twister disappear into the
ruined castle.
“Father grabbed his sword, took a dozen guards with him, and ran after it to bring
back his son. I was only four years old, but I remember everything very well. I was
clinging to Mother in fear and crying. Two hours passed, but Father did not return. We
looked in fear at the castle ruins and waited. No one believed any longer that he would
return. And it turned out to be so. There was a rumble and the castle walls that were still
standing suddenly collapsed and buried those in it. We all cried out in terror and grief.
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22

“Then a detachment of cavalry rushed out of the nearby forest and attacked our
caravan. They were robbers. Now there was no one to protect us. Father and his men
had been killed and the others could make no resistance. Even if they would or could!
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23

There were too many robbers and they were as ruthless as Marquis Kostiniak’s servants.
They killed indiscriminately and Mother was the first to fall under the attack of the
leader’s sabre. She managed to cover me with her wide skirt, so I survived. Those
scoundrels butchered all the others. And took away the horses, wagons, and goods. In
the morning, Uncle Lancel and his troupe passed by the place. The performers found me
lying unconscious and took me with them. They took me into the city of Bimet to
Father’s house, but it turned out that it had burned the same night my parents died.
“None of the neighbours and Father’s friends wanted to take in the orphaned girl.
Who needs the daughter of a gypsy? So I stayed in Lancel’s troupe and have lived here
for eleven and a half years.” With these words, Melissa ended her sad story.
“And you never found out what happened to your father?” Arian exclaimed. “And
you don’t know where he is now?”
“Alas!” Melissa sighed.
For a while, they rode in silence. Then a steep climb up a hill began and the
performers began to push the wagon to lighten the load for the horses. Melissa and
Arian joined them. The performers objected and said this matter was unworthy of a
prince’s son; but the boy retorted, “Who here sees a prince’s son? As long as I wear the
clothes of a travelling performer, I’m the same as you!”
He really was dressed in clothes that the performers gave him; indeed his own
would not do. The most skilful seamstress would not be able to fix them. Arian had on a
bright coloured shirt with very wide sleeves and high boots with long, narrow toes. In
fact, no one would recognize in this boy the son of Prince Arinako and the squire of
Knight Christian.
“Perhaps you’ll take part in the performance along with us?” Plym tried to tease
Arian.
“Why not?”
“What can you do?”
“I know how to throw knives at a target,” the boy replied artlessly, “and do it so
deftly that once on the market square I hit a wire from fifteen steps, at the time when a
ropewalker was walking on it. We had an argument just before that and he claimed that
I couldn’t even get a bull from two steps.” Everyone around laughed.
“If so,” Plym replied, laughing with the others, “then our troupe has acquired a
priceless treasure in you!” Travelling performers know how to appreciate a joke and are
never offended by them.
“But you still haven’t fully recovered!” Melissa tried to protest.
But Arian did not listen to her. “I’m as healthy as a horse. There’s nothing wrong
with me.”
The old woman Judolia supported him. “No harm if Arian helps us. After all, he has
to gain strength.”
Arian pushed the performers’ wagon alongside the jovial magician Melchior and
Bolivar’s handler, Simon Mockingbird, who, in addition to playing the different
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24

interesting tricks with the bear, could imitate any sounds, be that voices of birds and
beasts, the tapping of a hammer, and the clatter of horses’ hooves, and could even fake
any human voice.
“We wouldn’t have managed without you, boy with green hair!” Plym the
ropewalker laughed heartily when they, after a few hours, tired and exhausted, finally
moved onto a plain. Arian was not offended at all and only laughed.
“Indeed, why do you have green hair?” Melissa immediately began to pester the
boy with questions. “At first I thought you simply had your head in the river mud, but
now I see that it is still green! Maybe you aren’t the squire of Knight Christian but the
sea king’s son?” Arian did not even know what to say. Nobody ever bothered him about
this.
“You can never keep quiet,” Judolia immediately grumbled at Melissa. “Always
looking for a prince! Even got to the sea king!”
The children, constantly twirling underfoot, heard these words and began to tease
the girl. “Melissa is looking for a prince! Melissa is the bride of a prince!” they shouted.
“Shoo, small fry!” Melissa shouted at them. “Now I’ll take a stick. You’ll get it in the
neck!” The little ones were not frightened but ran ahead, shouting banters.
“Really, why do you have green hair?” Melissa addressed Arian again.
However, Uncle Lancel appeared and asked Arian to go with him for a serious
conversation. He ordered Melissa to ride ahead. “You look very nice on your donkey,” he
said. “Ride in front of the troupe. It’ll be good advertisement for us.”
When the offended and inflated Melissa went to catch the kids and they were alone,
the old man took a map of Mortavia out of his pocket, opened it, and handed it to Arian.
“It’s here you and your knight saved our lives,” he jabbed at one point. “Can you tell
where your gate is?”
“I think it’s here.” Arian had a good understanding of maps and immediately found
the necessary place.
Lancel looked at him in surprise. “It seems I believe you more and more, Arian.”
Hope started to glimmer in the old man’s voice. “Maybe we’ll indeed be able to get to
your country. Then the first person we’ll perform for will be your father. Moreover, we’ll
do it for free.”
“So help us, forest gods!” Arian agreed with him.
Uncle Lancel led his troupe along the shortest route, but they still travelled for a
week before reaching the borders of the domain of the Bienvillemort duchy. As soon as
they left the coast and got onto the plain, the surroundings changed as if by magic. It
again became gloomy and despondent. The ground had become grey and dreary. They
again had to go along the road, because it was impossible to go on it – just mud reaching
the middle of the wheel.

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25

Along the way, they again came across villages and settlements with sullen and
wary residents. The performers gave a performance in a small dirty town on the way.
They earned some money and instantly set off further before the rich citizens and the
mayor pressed all sorts of fraud charges on them. It was quieter and easier to play in the
villages, but then the money was many times less than in the smallest town.
They quickly got to hear about the latest events that occurred in Mortavia.
When the Queen found out about Marquis Kostiniak’s death, she flew into a rage
and gave the order to find anyone who was at the tournament so she could interrogate
them personally. The order went out after this, saying which dangerous criminals were
wanted: the knight Christian, the blacksmith Brusila, the mirandas Isabella and Isaura,
and the squire of the knight Christian. Descriptions of them were given. All but Arian
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26

were described in detail. The witnesses, apparently, did not remember the squire. They
did not even name him. Who paid him any attention? No one! This saved Arian. The
Queen’s spies scurrying around did not catch him because they had no description of
him. Indeed, it was enough only to point out that he had greenish hair, and...
Fortunately, however, this did not happen and Arian travelled safely with the
travelling performers, and no one paid him any attention. But people looked with a lot
of curiosity at his Palma. It was even necessary to cover it with a long blanket and
coloured ribbons so that the merits of this horse were not greatly noticeable. Only when
the performers went along a deserted area did Arian go riding to scout. He was watching
whether there were guards or robbers ahead. You never know what trouble the
travelling performers could face.
Luckily, they seemed to have been forgotten. All government servants were busy
searching for the mirandas and the knight Christian. Although everyone understood that
this was like searching for and catching the wind in a field, no one dared to disobey the
Queen’s order. Or rather, they pretended to be searching. It entered no one’s head that
one of those they were seeking was with the troupe of travelling performers. That was
the reason Uncle Lancel and his troupe reached the necessary place without interference
or obstacle.
However, trouble immediately started as soon as they entered the former domain
of Marquis Kostiniak. They met a detachment of armed horsemen at the first
intersection. Seeing the performers, the riders drove their horses to meet them and,
after pulling up, ordered them to stop. When the performers complied, the riders
dismounted and began to search both the wagon and the performers. No one dared to
oppose them. The soldiers had such evil faces that nobody had the desire to provoke
them once again. They did not even become indignant after the soldiers took away all
the money and things they fancied; this was the entry fee, you know.
Arian was simply fuming. Melissa had to hold his hand tightly so that he would not
attract attention. It was possible that one of the soldiers had been in the Marquis’ castle
during the tournament and had seen the young squire of Knight Christian.
Finally, the soldiers went home. The performers sighed with relief and travelled on.
One thought worried all of them – would they manage to get out of Mortavia, and was it
possible at all?

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27

Chapter Four
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

No matter how Arian, Uncle Lancel, and the others hurried, they arrived at the
necessary place only three days later. A few more times they met groups like the one that
had robbed them at the border. The performers endured all this riotous behaviour with
particularly amazing patience, without grumbling or objections, and they were let go.
“If our plan doesn’t succeed,” Lancel said after the next such meeting, “I swear by
all the saints, I’ll never come to this province.” The performers agreed with him.
Now troubles were left behind and in front of them was the very forest with the
hidden entrance. No matter how terrible it was for the people to enter, they all the same
directed their horses into the most overgrown thicket. It was shorter and safer to go
directly.
“Even if there are robbers in the woods,” Lancel looked around anxiously, “there’s
nothing more to take from us after all.”
“What if they need our souls?” Judolia grumbled. But nobody listened to her.
It was not easy to ride through the forest with a wagon. They had to make big
roundabouts to pass ravines, impenetrable thickets, and windbreaks. It never even
entered anyone’s head to abandon the wagon. In the first place, what would they travel
in if nothing worked out? Secondly, women and children were with them and they could
not walk through the woods. Aside from Judolia and Melissa, among the women were
two sisters – the dancers and acrobats Livia and Clivia, young and pretty girls, and the
juggler Aspidistra, an always cheerful and resilient fat lady. Although she was not
married, four out of the five children in the troupe were her offspring. Only the youngest
girl, Marishka, was the daughter of Clivia and her husband, Melchior. Now all these kids
were sitting in the wagon, which the adults had strictly forbidden them to leave, their
shining little eyes staring in fear at the walking, grasping shrubs, and trembling every
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28

time they heard the evil cries of birds and beasts from the thickets. The men were
walking, surrounding the wagon on all sides. They were armed with clubs and sticks.
Arian was riding on Palma and constantly exploring ahead. Unlike the performers,
he felt like a fish in water, even in this unfriendly forest. His keen eyesight and sensitive
ears served him loyally. Several times, he climbed with the agility of a squirrel to the
highest trees and spied out the road. The performers would certainly have been lost
without him. They watched in delight as he climbed the smoothest pine trunks using his
daggers, jumping like a monkey from branch to branch. It was incomprehensible how he
did not fall down. In addition, he was well versed in animal tracks and always gave a
warning if it was bear territory or there was a wolf pack ahead. Nevertheless, they
overcame only a short distance the first day.
When night fell and the people began to settle down for the night, they lit a big fire
first of all and posted sentries. The adults slept badly all the same. Even the bear Bolivar
hid like a little dog under the wagon. A piercing wind was blowing all night and trees
were creaking loudly from the cold. Night birds screamed, and it seemed to the people
that someone was walking around their camp all the time and watching them. Each
heard rustles and sighs from behind and felt curious eyes on him. The travellers waited
anxiously for the morning and hurried to set off.
By noon, the road became easier. The forest began to thin out and they came across
more and more meadows and glades on their way. But no one was going to rest on them.
The travellers tried not to talk on the road. They only discussed very important issues
and made decisions quickly. A wild boar rushed past them once, squealing and grunting.
The people froze in fear and the horses neighed piteously and beat their hooves. But
nothing happened. Again, there was silence and the travellers moved on.
When night came again, they stopped in a small clearing, therefore this overnight
stop did not go as uneasily as the previous one. But then it was very cold and it began to
rain in the morning, and everyone had to hide in the wagon. Even Bolivar crawled up to
the people and, snorting loudly, demanded a place. They allowed it, because it was as
warm as an oven and nicely warmed those who sat next to it. It was crowded and damp.
The fire went out and all flatly refused to stand guard.
At dawn, the rain had not stopped but was coming down in cold and heavy drops.
It was the very time to remember the warm and sunny seaside and fishing region. But it
seemed it was so long ago or even not at all. The rain fell all day and all the next night,
and the people, who were no longer able to make a fire now, were tired of cursing their
own fate and even began to grumble at Lancel and Arian. The owner of the troupe
shouted at them and ordered the cowardly to go home if the journey did not suit them.
But there was nowhere to go home to, so everyone remained in the troupe and
continued on their way. In the evening, they were already quite close to their final goal.
When Arian announced this, the performers cheered up. They stopped for the night at
the place where Christian had fought the miranda Isaura. It was less than an hour to the
desired gate, but they did not risk going further.
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29

Even Arian was not certain that they would not get lost. “If we could at least light
torches, I would find the way. As it is,” Arian shrugged, “I was here only once. I’ll find
my way with my eyes closed in the day.”
Nobody insisted on going further. Night was night. In an open field and in good
weather it is possible to go for days without stopping. Now everyone was very tired and
dreaming of rest. Uncle Lancel sighed bitterly; he simply could not wait to leave
Mortavia, but he gave the order to set up for the last, or so he hoped, night in the
country.
Unfortunately, his dreams did not come true. When dawn came and the fugitives
set off for the magic gate, they heard the clatter of horses’ hooves in less than a few
minutes. This sound frightened them more than all the sounds they had experienced in
the black forest. It foretold nothing good. And so it was. Several riders appeared from
behind the trees. Besides, these were not just simple soldiers but guards armed to the
teeth. There were four of them and they galloped directly to the wagon. Having reached
it, the riders surrounded the troupe. They were all young, strong, and aggressive.
“Who are you and what are you doing in the woods?” the oldest of them shouted.
Then he saw Palma and pointed at it. “From whom did you steal this horse?”
“We’re done for!” Melissa whispered. “It’s the Queen’s archers. They have the royal
symbols on their chest. They’ll kill us!”
Vultures flying in the sky were depicted on the riders’ shields and armour. Arian
understood that Melissa was referring to them. He did not think twice and jumped
straight from the wagon into the saddle. Palma was standing very close. Before the
riders recovered their wits and realized what had happened, he had already disappeared
in the depths of the forest. All four riders rushed in pursuit after him. Arian was also
relying on this. He was not afraid of being caught. The horses of the queen’s servants
were much worse than Palma. Besides, he wanted to lead the royal hounds away from
the performers. And he succeeded.
When they were far away from the performers, Arian stopped Palma and
whispered something in its ear. He himself quickly clambered up a rather short oak tree
with a canopy and hid among the branches. After a few seconds, the pursuers were
already there. The archers saw Palma, stopped, and dismounted.
“Where has the boy gone to?” asked one of them, the one who was in charge.
“Who knows?” another replied. “He flickered like an arrow. Probably hiding in the
woods.”
“We have to find him and hang him for stealing a horse.”
“Where will we find him here?”
“Well, search!” the one in charge ordered.
The archers reluctantly wandered through the woods and looked for Arian among
trees and bushes. The chief remained to guard the horses. He tied them to the tree on
which Arian was sitting and watched his subordinates. But none of them even guessed
to look up. They indeed did not know that Arian was climbing through the tree. The boy
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30

slipped down the trunk, hung on it like a spider, and when the top guy looked the other
way, quickly cut the reins of the horses and went back. Palma neighed and galloped
away. The other animals, as if receiving a command, followed it.
“Hold the horses!” The archers shouted and tried to grab the runaway horses, but it
was too late. They were left in the forest without horses.
Arian immediately jumped to a nearby tree and from it to the next, and then he was
unlucky. The bough which he caught hold of was weak, probably starting to rot, and
Arian almost fell down. He still managed to cling to a lower branch and scramble up, but
he was instantly discovered. The guards were so angry with him that if their bows had
not dashed away with the horses in an unknown direction, they would have shot Arian
on the spot. However, since it was impossible, they ordered him to get down and
threatened him with the most terrible punishments.
“If you get down, we’ll simply flog you, and then hang you,” the one in charge said.
“But if you don’t get down, we’ll get you, flog you, and then torture you for a week, and
when you’ve been beaten to a pulp, we’ll chop off your arms and legs, cut off your ears
and nose, and burn what’s left in a fire.”
Naturally, after such promises, Arian did not get down but began to think how to
get out of this situation. He did not particularly worry about the guards. He knew that
they would clear off in the evening after all. And it was not for them to fell or saw off the
tree. Nothing. Not even set it on fire. It was so damp after the rain, it would not burn
properly even with the help of Greek fire.1
He had three daggers and could quietly kill three archers, but one would run away
anyway. Arian saved that as the last option. Instead, he sat comfortably on the thick
branch and began to shower them with mockery. They simply lost control from this and
forgot about everything else.
“Well, we’ll get you!” they shouted and began to climb the tree. Arian just laughed:
they were doing this so awkwardly. When one of them clambered up the trunk
nevertheless, and, puffing and cursing, climbed awkwardly to him, Arian just jumped
over onto a nearby tree when the guy was ready to grab his arm.
“What, have you eaten?” Arian yelled, hung upside down from a branch, and
laughed loudly to the entire forest. In fact, it was not so much fun for him. But he did it
simply for courage, and it banished fear quite well.
Here an arrow sang in the air and pierced the chest of the archer who had
clambered up the tree. He fell down noisily. The rest of the guards grabbed their
weapons, but ragged and dirty people, armed with swords, spears, bows and arrows,
sticks and clubs, jumped out of the trees and immediately trampled and knocked them
to the ground. During this short skirmish another archer was killed – the one in charge.
The other two were bound hands and feet, and shaking with fear. By the looks and

1Greek fire, also known as sea fire, was an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire (5 th c – 1453)
in naval battles. The exact composition is unknown.
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31

shouts of these people, Arian realized that forest robbers were before, or rather
underneath, him.
A big man in a mask walked out of the crowd and sternly asked the bound captives,
“So who are you going to burn at the stake?” The guards could not even utter a word
from fear and only indicated upwards with their gaze.
The robber took off his mask, and Arian immediately dropped down on him from
above and ran to hug him. “Brusila!” he shouted in delight. “Is that you?”
“Squire Arian!” Brusila was delighted in turn. It was really him, the blacksmith
from Bienvillemort. “How did you turn up here? Didn’t you leave with your knight?”

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32

Chapter Five
SAD NEWS AND A DANGEROUS DECISION

Very soon, Arian and the performers were sitting in a dry and spacious cave and
warming themselves by the fire. They could not refuse the kind invitation of the robbers,
who turned out to be very nice and likeable people. Though they were dressed in any old
thing and had not bathed or shaved for a long time, they at least looked much more
attractive than those nobles that had nearly roasted Arian.
Arian told the blacksmith his story of how he fell into the Talvira Waterfall and how
the travelling performers saved him. “And how did you turn up among the robbers?” he
in turn asked Brusila.
“It’s a simple story,” the blacksmith sighed sadly. “Where else was I to go? It was
dangerous to remain in the city. I could be betrayed at any time; besides, I didn’t want to
endanger the people close to me, with whom I was hiding. When the townspeople
learned of the Marquis’ death, riots broke out in the city. Citizens who had suffered most
during his reign began to persecute the Marquis’ cruel servants. Street fights and even
battles started. Then the rebels found out that archers of the royal guards were hurrying
to Bienvillemort and some of them fled from the city. Some hid in villages, some in the
woods. I also took advantage of the general turmoil and ran into the woods here. Then I
met the robbers. Earlier One-armed John was in command of this gang, but he drowned
in the river two years ago. All this time the lads were leading a wretched existence and
greeted me like their own. They had heard about my business in the Marquis’ castle and
proposed that I become their leader. I’m not a proud person, besides, it’s very good that
they accepted me, so I agreed. Now my alias is Hammer. It was given to me when I
smashed the skull of a baron with my fist, even though he had on a steel helmet. Well,
you know, I never part with my hammer. A blacksmith in a gang of robbers remains a
blacksmith. Besides, there’s always work. Here in the cave I have a little corner, which I
converted into a forge.”
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“So you’re also Hammer?” Arian exclaimed. “And how is it I didn’t immediately
guess that it’s you! We heard about your gang when we left the fishing region. The
Queen promised to pay ten gold pieces for your capture. There are poles with this notice
at every junction.” The robbers laughed.
“Our Queen is a known miser!” Brusila wiped away tears of laughter.
“Yes, no mistake about that,” Arian agreed. “If she knew that the blacksmith
Brusila is hiding under the alias Hammer, she would increase the reward tenfold.”
“Then it’s better to be Hammer than Brusila!” the leader of the robbers sighed and
drained a large mug of barley beer. “I don’t understand, why is she looking for me?”
“She’s looking for all those involved in the death of Murderer.”
“Who?”
“Murderer. That’s Marquis Kostiniak. Yes, you indeed don’t know that the Marquis
was the famous sorcerer Murderer and Queen Angusta is his daughter and the heiress of
his sorcery.”
Arian told all those present the story of the Black Queen and her father. About how
they had lived in the Country of Frozen Time, then ran away from it and created
Mortavia. When Murderer had subdued all in this land who dared to resist him, he gave
his daughter his magical power and remained simply the Marquis. “He only had his
monsters left,” he finished the story. “But you defeated them, and Chris, my knight, I
call him Chris, fought with him in single combat. Only I didn’t see who won. Uncle
Lancel told me that it was my master. But where he went after that, I don’t know.”
“I believe our prisoners know about this,” Brusila smiled. “And it seems to me that
now is the time to interrogate them. Well, bring them here!”
The two archers of the royal guards were immediately brought unceremoniously to
the leader of the robbers. Hammer looked at them with menacing eyes, from which the
once valiant warriors trembled like leaves in the autumn wind and fell to their knees.
The robbers looked at them with disdain and said nothing.
“What were you doing in this forest?” Brusila began questioning.
“We were carrying out the Queen’s order,” one of the archers quickly replied.
Arian’s ears moved with curiosity, and the robber leader’s eyebrows went up in
astonishment.
“The Queen’s order?” the robber leader was surprised. “What did she order you to
do?”
“We were lying in wait,” the archer replied. “We were ordered to grab anyone who
appears near here. Such is the Queen’s order. After one of our spies reported that the
great criminal, the knight Christian, had left Mortavia...”
Arian jumped up from his seat. “So, Chris did leave here?” he exclaimed. “I knew it!
Thank the gods that he’s alive! Now I can leave your country with a clear conscience.”
“Of course,” Brusila agreed with him, “could such a nice young man as Knight
Christian really leave his squire? He was sure that you had perished. But tell me, how do
you plan on leaving Mortavia?”
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“The same way I got here. I’ll pass under the two crooked trees and turn up in my
native land. And my friends,” he nodded at the performers, “also plan on doing so.”
Brusila listened to all this and frowned. “Take them to the farthest cave,” he gave
the order about the two prisoners. When they had been led away, he looked sadly at
Arian and even stroked his head. “I have bad news for you, old fellow.”
Arian pricked up his ears. Both the performers and the robbers instantly started to
listen to their conversation.
“A few days ago, a squad of royal guards were roaming here. They were searching
for something and making a noise in the whole forest. We didn’t stick our noses out of
the cave for several days until they cleared off. But we were closely monitoring all their
activities. Now then, they were constantly talking about some crooked trees. We didn’t
even understand what it was about essentially, but they were searching for crooked trees.
In fact, almost all the trees in the forest are crooked, but they, by some signs known only
to them, found the two trees, dug them right out with the roots, and took them away. ”
“Where to?” Arian turned pale.
“To the Queen. In the palace.”
A deathly silence hung under the roof of the cave after these words. Arian barely
managed to keep himself from crying. All this time, he was only living in the hope of
returning, but now he was trapped. The exit from Mortavia had disappeared. The same
despair also seized the performers, and even some robbers who, having found out what
it was about, had also decided to leave the country. Now, all their hopes were dashed.
Uncle Lancel even groaned with grief. “Maybe they took the wrong trees?” he said
to Arian with pain in his voice. “Who knows, maybe they made a mistake?”
Arian’s heart beat with excitement. The old man’s words instilled a glimmer of
hope in him. “We should check this out now!”
He ran out of the cave and jumped into the saddle. Palma reared, its master’s
excitement having infected it, and they galloped. The place was not close, but Arian
drove the horse with all his might. Raindrops and the wind lashed his face, tree
branches swept low over his head, and he risked being left without eyes. However, all
this seemed unimportant now. The main thing was to make sure of the terrible
supposition. The boy was praying all the way that Brusila’s words would turn out to be a
mistake.
Alas, a heartbreaking disappointment befell him. His prayers were doomed not to
be answered. When he got to the place, through which he and Chris had once come to
Mortavia, instead of the two crooked trees that grew to form a kind of gate, before his
eyes appeared two deep dug-out pits a small distance from each other. There were no
trees. Arian stopped dead in his tracks between them and clung desperately to Palma’s
neck, as if searching for comfort from it. Tears streamed down his face. Good that it was
raining and there was no need to hide them.
Arian heard the clatter of hooves behind him. Brusila and Lancel had caught up
with him. Upon their arrival, they immediately realized what had happened. It was not
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35

so much the holes as Arian’s look that explained everything to them. Now the two brave
men showed all their generosity. Forgetting about themselves, they began to comfort
and soothe Arian. They said the forest was still full of crooked trees, he would return to
his own country again, and they with him. There was nothing else to do. Arian gathered
all his courage and agreed to return to the robbers’ cave. It was necessary to think
everything over and decide what to do next. It was pointless to simply grieve and cry. He
was accustomed to act. He said so to his friends and they warmly approved of his words.
Melissa met him near the cave. In the girl’s eyes were tears, and Arian realized that
she was crying because of him, because of his grief, and not because she did not manage
to get to a comfortable borough. When the boy dismounted, she ran to him and hugged
him like an older sister. Arian did not resist her feelings. On the contrary, he was very
grateful for the sympathy and was even more filled with the determination to find a way
out of this situation. He now knew the most important thing. He had friends and, if need
be, they would not leave him but would always help in difficult times.
That same night, after some robbers and performers had dropped off to sleep while
others set off in search of prey, a council took place near the fire in the cave. Arian,
Brusila, Lancel, and Melissa discussed what to do next.
“It’s all about these trees,” Uncle Lancel shook his head at the beginning of the
conversation. “Just pass between them and it’s possible to turn up in the Country of
Frozen Time.”
“Why then did the Queen need these trees?” Brusila and Melissa wondered in
unison.
“Very simple. This is the boundary. Earlier the Marquis’, that is Murderer’s,
monsters guarded this border, but now there’s no one guarding the border, and she
fears that someone like Knight Christian will still pass through into Mortavia. Knight
Christian crushed Marquis Kostiniak. Who knows, maybe the next outsider will crush
the Queen herself?” Lancel even became terrified by such a bold and rebellious thought.
“So she gave the order to dig out the trees and deliver them to her at the palace.”
“It would be simpler to just cut them down and burn them,” Arian shrugged.
“Perhaps these trees cannot be destroyed so simply?” Melissa suggested. “Maybe
they don’t burn in fire or sink in water?”
“That’s most likely how it is!” Lancel agreed.
“Where does your Queen live?” Arian asked. “Where’s her palace?”
“In Blackdrit, in Black City,” Brusila answered automatically and instantly looked
at Arian with suspicion. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I’ve no other choice but to go to the Queen’s palace and try to find the
magic trees to return home.”
“But it’s dangerous!” the others exclaimed. “They’ll catch and hang you.”
“Or burn you at the stake if they guess that you’re Knight Christian’s squire,”
Lancel added.

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36

“The best scenario is they’ll put you in prison till the end of your days and you’ll rot
there alive!” Brusila groaned.
“Or the Queen will turn you into a monster, and you’ll become her slave,” said
Melissa.
“What do you suggest?” Arian looked with a desperate glance at his friends.
“Conceal myself in this burrow like a mole my whole life?” No one knew how to answer
him.
“I will try no matter what!” Arian’s eyes flashed and he squeezed his fists decidedly.
“Better to die than spend a lifetime hiding and concealing myself. Sooner or later, the
Queen will still find me.”
Melissa sobbed. “You could live with us,” she muttered. “I’ll teach you how to
juggle and do tricks, and Uncle Lancel will teach you...”
“No, life with you won’t work for me,” Arian interrupted her. “Certainly, the life of a
travelling performer is interesting, but in your country it’s necessary to always keep your
mouth shut. I’m incapable of doing this. I’ve already struggled so to hold back all this
time. If I travel with you, sooner or later I’ll utter something such that they’ll hang all of
you and me in the square of some city.”
“You could join my gang,” Brusila tried to persuade Arian. “You fight well. You
know techniques.”
“It’s not for me.” Arian could not be persuaded. “I’m the son of Prince Arinako and
I don’t want a robber in our family because of me. It’ll dishonour it. Although I have
nothing against you and your people. Life forced you to become robbers, and then, every
child knows that Hammer doesn’t touch good and honest people but robs and kills only
scoundrels and the Queen’s henchmen. Still, I will do what I must. Besides, I’m sure my
knight needs me. I must try to get back. Will you show me the way to Blackdrit?”
“Look here, my little but daring friend,” Brusila stood up and put a hand on Arian’s
shoulder. “If you have so decided, then I’m not leaving you and will go with you.”
“I’ll go with you too, Arian!” Melissa exclaimed.
Groaning, Uncle Lancel also got up. “I think that my troupe hasn’t been to
Blackdrit for a long time,” he said. “Why don’t we go on tour there? Arian, you’ll be a
knife thrower and Melissa will be your assistant. And Mr. Hammer will be the strong
man in our troupe. We’ve always lacked a strong man who could lift three-pood2 weights
and smash them with a hammer. Besides, it’ll be a good conspiracy. Won’t it?”
So, by the campfire burning in the robbers’ cave, the friends decided not to leave
Arian but be with him in his dangerous undertaking.
They did not know that at that very moment in the town of Blackdrit, Queen
Angusta in her palace saw and heard the whole conversation. She needed the help of her
son, Lautar, for this. The prince possessed a wonderful property. He could show
anything: the past, the present, and even the future. He only had to be slightly

2 A pood is a Russian weight equal to about 36 lb. or 16 kg., so a three-pood weight is roughly 100 lb.
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37

enchanted to do this. It was even more valuable that he did not know nor see what he
showed or said. True, this always took a lot of the boy’s power and energy, which is the
reason he was a weak and sickly child. But this little troubled the Queen.
That afternoon, she had sensed with her magical flair that she should check what
was happening in the forest at the border and summoned Lautar to her. The Prince was
busy at the time in the weapons hall. After he returned from the tournament, in which
Knight Christian and the other heroes defeated the Marquis’ monsters, he was not
himself. He demanded that teachers of fencing, archery, and horse riding be brought to
him, and now the whole day he only busied himself with fighting with swords, spear and
club, riding, and shooting at targets from a bow. Earlier, he could not stand all this, only
sat and read all day in his room and in the library, and if he was not reading, then he lay
in bed and dreamed about something.
When they brought him to his mother, the Queen ordered everyone, even the
guards, to leave the room. Her order was executed with lightning speed. People knew
how severely the Queen would punish them for being slow. Once at a feast, a noble
Count hesitated and was late bringing a cup of wine to the Queen when she ordered him
to. The Queen, without thinking twice, turned him into a stone statue, which was still
standing in the dining room as an example to her subjects.
When Prince Lautar arrived, Angusta asked him to approach the throne, on which
she was sitting. After taking the Prince’s hands, she met his sad look.
“You wanted to see me, Mother?” Lautar asked.
“Yes, my child, I need you.”
The prince frowned and looked reproachfully at his mother. “Why do you call me
only when you need me but never just to talk with me?” he asked. Angusta smiled and
wanted to pat the boy on the head, but he suddenly pulled away from her.
“You’ve already become an adult, Lautar,” the Queen sighed. “You must
understand that we, people who have a crown on their head and the responsibility in
their heart for the state and people entrusted to them before heaven, have no right to be
concerned with personal affairs. Only the affairs of the kingdom have interested me all
this time. Especially now, when my most loyal assistant in state affairs is dead, I don’t
have a second of free time. I have to avenge his death. However, it’s not revenge but duty
that pushes me on. Duty to myself, Lautar. Those responsible for his death must be
punished. Otherwise, the foundations which support my kingdom will shake.”
“But the Marquis himself was guilty,” the Prince tried to object. “Nobody was going
to kill him. On the contrary, he, in a mad attempt to destroy the great heroes who had
overcome his monsters, came to his death.”
“It doesn’t matter!” The Queen squeezed her fists in rage. “They had no right to
raise a hand against him! And they will all pay for their disobedience!”
All this time, she was continuously looking into Lautar’ eyes while talking. Now a
light flashed in her eyes and Lautar began to cease sensing reality. He raised his hands
in front of him with palms up, and a flame flared up on them.
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38

“Show me the border!” the Queen ordered the boy. In the fire, as in a magic mirror,
she saw Arian just at the moment when he raced on horseback to the magic trees.
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39

“One more!” Angusta exclaimed on seeing him. “So, here you are, Arian, a prince’s
son, the boy with green hair. That means you didn’t drown but survived. Oh, what joy!
Then my dream will come true! How good that I managed to take the Gates of Fate! I
searched for two hundred years and couldn’t find them, and these boys helped me. Well,
the knight has fled. Fate has kept him from my hands. But one remains. As predicted,
the boy with green hair will fulfill my dream, do what he is destined to do.”
She continued watching and saw what happened in the cave. The last was given to
her with great difficulty. Lautar’s power had ended and his energy started to fade. The
Queen had to force him to reveal what she wanted, though the boy could easily die from
overexertion. She had not yet seen enough. When Angusta heard that Arian had decided
to come to her, she joyfully exclaimed, “Fly, fly here, brave chick! I’m waiting for you!
Trust me, the traps will be set. Oh, soon will come that great day when I...”
Lautar fell to the floor at her feet, and only then did the Queen fear for his life. “No,
you mustn’t die!” she wailed. “I still need you. I’ll still need you for a long time, till
victory. I won’t let you die!”
With these words, she took from her neck a precious pendant, inside of which was
a small bottle of black liquid. She opened it and poured a few drops on Lautar’s lips. The
liquid quickly passed into the Prince’s mouth, and after a few seconds, he opened his
eyes and looked at his mother. In his eyes were pain and fear.
“You became ill,” the Queen drew near the boy’s face and kissed his cold forehead.
“I’ll summon the doctor.” She called the servants and ordered them to carry Lautar to
his chambers and bring the physician.
When the doors were closed behind the Prince, she pondered over something for a
few seconds, after which she ordered in a loud voice, “Let Night Hunter come to me!”
Night Hunter appeared in a few seconds and knelt before the Queen. He was in a
black cloak and a wide hood covered his face. “What does Your Majesty wish for?” he
asked.
“I need a cunning spy.”
“I wait for orders.”
The Queen gave him a searching look. Night Hunter held her gaze. He always held
her gaze. Sometimes Angusta was even rather afraid of him. A great force came from
Hunter and it seemed that he could see through her. How she wanted to possess the soul
of this man! But it was impossible. The Queen sighed and said, “Were you at the
Marquis’ tournament?”
“Yes.”
“Did you see Knight Christian there?”
“Yes.”
“Did you see his squire?”
“Yes. His name is Arian. ”

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40

“Exactly. Now he is coming to my city with travelling performers. He wants to
penetrate into the palace and find the Gates of Fate. You have to help him. And you
must do it so that the boy suspects nothing. Now go.”
Night Hunter bowed to the Queen and left. Angusta followed him with her eyes and
muttered, “I probably wore Lautar down. Now I won’t be able to watch my enemies for
two weeks, maybe three.”

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41

Chapter Six
THE ROAD TO BLACKDRIT

Morning came, and the friends started to get ready for the road. They had to take
quite a bit of time for preparations.
The rain, pouring these last days, finally stopped. The sky cleared and became blue,
such that Mortavia residents had almost never seen. The sun shone brightly and the
grass, the trees, and all living things were stretching toward its warm rays. The world
around suddenly became beautiful. Even the carnivorous bush also seemed to have
forgotten about its hunt for the living and set off to the glades and borders to enjoy the
sunshine. Small green leaves began to appear near the thorns on its bare branches and
buds began to swell. The rest of the plants also behaved the same way. Beetles and bees
were flying in the sky and bumblebees were buzzing loudly, enjoying the lush flower
carpet, which covered the ground in an instant. For the first time in two or three
hundred years, a few birds in the woods suddenly started to sing timidly. They were
answered, and soon the whole forest was suddenly filled with birds twittering and
singing.
The people looked at all of this with surprise and rapture. Even Arian, who was also
tired of the grey, barren, and somewhat lifeless countryside of Mortavia, was glad of this
blooming.
“This is much more like life than what it was before,” he shared his thoughts with
Melissa.
“Now we’ll be just as good as in the fishing region!” The girl looked around with
delight. “Most likely this rain was magical. I’ve never seen such in my life!”
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42

“It’s a good omen,” Uncle Lancel nodded. “This morning has given me hope for the
success of our trip. Things that begin on such a wonderful day cannot end badly. My
mother used to say this to me.”
The people, like all living things, also felt happy. They put their faces under the sun
and rejoiced when they saw their pale skin being covered by a smooth golden tan, much
more durable than the one that they got from the sea, which literally disappeared a few
days after the travellers had left the coast. The performers pulled out their musical
instruments to celebrate and sang songs, which they previously would never have dared:
in Mortavia it was forbidden to sing just like that, without a serious reason. Even
performers were allowed to sing only for the sake of earnings. Now the friends sang
merry songs. Tunes followed one another, and the road seemed easy and enjoyable.
By noon, when the sun was already warming with all its might, the road on which
they were travelling, having left the forest, had dried and became hard and as even as a
tablecloth. The horses’ hooves started to pound resonantly and merrily and the wheels
creaked. The children squealed in delight, running around the wagon and raising the
dust with their bare feet.
“I never would have thought to travel on a road so nice!” Melissa laughed when her
Lop-eared almost bit a boy trying to grab its ears. “You already rode on it this morning.
Now it’s Marishka’s turn!” And she set the cute little girl down on the donkey. The little
girl was not afraid at all and held fast to the front of the pommel to keep from falling.
The boy who did not manage to ride on the donkey began to stick to Arian and ask
to ride with him. The boy’s name was Ogneshek. 3 He had hair so red that it really
seemed like a fire had been lit on his head. Now, when the sun was shining brightly, his
name fitted him as never before. Arian set Ogneshek on Palma and walked beside it.
Melissa caught up with him, and they talked.
“I think that the road to Blackdrit will take at least two weeks,” Melissa began to
ponder. “That’s the best case scenario. If we have no delays on the way, which is
unlikely.”
“Why?” Arian was surprised.
“Our supplies are running out. We’ll have to earn a living.”
Arian sighed. He could not wait to turn up sooner in Blackdrit, but he realized that
the girl was right.
“But I think that with fellows like you and Hammer, we won’t have problems with
earnings,” Melissa continued.
“Don’t call him Hammer,” Arian remarked. “Otherwise, they’ll seize him and all of
us. He’s the well-known robber.”
“What do I call him then?”
“Brusila.”
Melissa laughed. “You couldn’t come up with anything smarter?”

3 The name Ogneshek has the same root as the Russian word for fire – ogon’.
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43

Arian was embarrassed. He realized that he had blurted out something stupid.
They were searching much more actively for Brusila than for Hammer. “We must come
up with an alias for him. Brusila!”
Brusila, all the while walking behind everyone and still accompanied by five
robbers, to whom he was giving parting words, went to the children.
“We don’t know what to call you,” Arian complained and told him the problem.
The blacksmith laughed. “Call me by my childhood nickname,” he advised.
“What did they call you in childhood?”
“Different names. Some called me Bear Cub because I was a little clumsy and had
big feet. Some teased me with Pebble because nobody was more adept than I was at
throwing them. Mama called me Karavai,4 because I was a fat and chubby baby.”
“You’re now full of health!” Arian exclaimed. “Let’s also call you Karavai.”
“Can’t imagine a better alias for a strongman performer,” Melissa assented.
“Oh, you rascals!” Brusila laughed. “Well, if you want Karavai, it will be Karavai.
You can call me that, only don’t put me in the oven.”
They laughed, then Brusila returned to the robbers and continued the interrupted
conversation.
Melissa looked attentively at Arian.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Now we need to think of an act for you.”
“An act?”
“Yes. Uncle Lancel ordered us to prepare an act.”
Arian thought for a while. “And what act shall we do?”
“I’ve already figured out,” Melissa chattered. “You’ll throw knives at me.”
“At you?!” Arian was startled.
“Well, not exactly at me, of course. No, the knives will go in beside me, they should
almost touch my skin. The audience will scream in fear, but then it’ll be easier to part
with money later. I once saw such an act in my childhood. It showed a black man from
the Eastern Province. He threw knives at his daughter. The audience was delighted.
We’ll do a similar act.”
The boy looked at her in surprise. She had never seen him throw knives and was
already prepared to stand in front of him as a target. “Are you sure that the first knife
thrown by me won’t go straight into you?” he asked doubtfully.
Melissa looked at him and nodded. “I’m sure!”
“But I’m not,” Arian sighed. “Better I throw a dagger into a wooden target.”
“Ha-ha-ha! You think they’ll pay for that? No one will even look at you. Audiences
love not only to be entertained, but also to have their nerves tickled. Don’t doubt. Be

4Karavai is a big round bread loaf baked for weddings, funerals, housewarming celebrations, and
welcoming guests. It is usually intricately decorated.
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44

confident in yourself and don’t be afraid. I see in your eyes that you won’t let us down.
Now then, throw a knife at the daisy on the wagon.”
Almost on the second day after acquiring the wagon, the performers had painted it
with bright colours and drew all sorts of pictures on it. The daisy was small, almost the
size of a real flower. Arian pulled out a dagger. He now kept them under his clothes,
because the law forbade ordinary people of Mortavia from possessing arms, and almost
without taking aim, threw it at the target. The wagon was travelling a half-dozen steps in
front of Melissa and Arian, but the dagger stuck straight into the yellow eye of the daisy
and shook from the impact.
“Bravo!” Melissa clapped. The robbers walking behind them broke into applause.
“I told you that your road led you to us!” Chief Hammer shouted to Arian. “You will
become famous in all of Mortavia, and we will give you the nickname Dagger.”
“Thanks for nothing,” Arian replied, not offended. He knew that Brusila was joking.
“Nothing hard about it. But throwing a dagger at you...”
“Not at me but beside me!” Melissa started to shout.
“It doesn’t matter! What if it hits you? Then I’ll never forgive myself.”
“If I’m so dear to you,” Melissa looked at the boy with a look in which was read that,
yes, she really wanted to be dear to Arian, “then don’t miss. That black man also loved
his daughter, so he never missed. If I mean something to you, then you won’t miss!
That’s right! We’ll try at the first halt.”
Melissa was one of those girls who did not preach to the wind. When the little troop
called a halt in the evening before the night journey, she took Arian’s hand and led him
into the woods.
“Why in the woods?” Arian did not understand.
“We don’t need an extra audience for the time being. It’ll distract you and won’t let
you concentrate.”
“All the same, I can in no way understand how I’m going to throw a dagger with
you standing in front of me.”
“What kind of a prince’s son are you!” Arian’s cowardice completely outraged
Melissa. “Our princes shoot arrows at apples, which they place on the heads of servants.”
“If they tried to do the same in our country,” the boy snapped, “then their subjects
would quickly send them to the world beyond.”
Melissa did not squabble anymore. She found an old oak tree with a very thick
trunk and stood leaning her back against it. “Now you have to mark my silhouette with
knives,” she explained. “Let’s start at the armpits. Stand ten steps away and throw.” And
she spread her arms to the side.
Arian took aim and raised his hand for throwing, but for a long time did not make
up his mind to throw.
“Throw!” Melissa shouted at him. Nevertheless, she was a reckless girl. It is not for
nothing that when Marquis Kostiniak’s soldiers were beating Uncle Lancel mercilessly,
she was the only one who dared to stand up for him.
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45

Arian threw, and the dagger stuck in the bark of a trunk almost half a metre from
Melissa.
“It’ll do for a start,” the girl approved. “Again.”
Arian was as pale as chalk. He threw a second dagger, and it flew somewhere
behind the tree; they searched for it in the grass for a long time.
“What are you, cross-eyed?” Melissa grumbled.
“Perhaps it’s better you throw and I stand?” Arian proposed in an angry voice.
“If I knew how to do this, no doubt, my hand wouldn’t tremble.”
“I’ll teach. You’ll learn. Indeed, you’re so capable.”
“I don’t doubt it. Only this needs a lot of training, and we don’t have time. Come on,
throw, it’ll be dark soon.”
She stood up against the tree again, and the boy began to throw daggers at her. He
only managed to overcome fear on the fifth try, and planted the weapon right above
Melissa’s head. The girl was so happy that she ran to Arian, threw her arms around him,
and began to whirl him around and kiss him. The boy was greatly embarrassed and
broke away with difficulty from her embrace.
“What, are you offended?” Melissa was surprised. “I was just happy. Or can’t I kiss
you now?”
“You girls just have to kiss and cuddle,” Arian muttered. “I’m not a little kid.”
“Just think, how sweet!”
“Stand by the tree!”
And they again began to practise. Now things went better for the boy, and by the
end of the session, the daggers went in not far from Melissa at all.
They practised the next day and the day after, the whole way every day. Arian made
progress each time, and five days later, he was already able to throw daggers at Melissa
in front of everyone riding with him. He worked just like all the other performers. Each
rehearsed his own act several times a day, and even children learned what their age
allowed. Melissa asked Arian to teach her to ride and he gladly agreed. He was glad to
repay the girl for taking care of him. Thus, time flew by unnoticed, and a week had gone
even without Arian counting the days.
They left the domain of Bienvillemort and reached the domain of Duke Valperius.
Before crossing the border, Chief Hammer said goodbye to his gang of robbers, who had
been accompanying the performers all this time. Their journey went so peacefully in the
first week exactly for that reason. The robbers not only protected the little troop of
performers, but also always warned them if there was danger ahead or behind. They
would instantly turn off into the woods and wait when a squad of the Queen’s archers or
guards passed by. And there were many of them. The Queen’s people were just snooping
around the neighbourhood, tracking down malcontents or enemies of Her Majesty.
However, the forest had ended and the robbers did not risk going any further. Yes,
this was not necessary. The old Duke Valperius’ territory was famous for its peacefulness.
It was the best place in the whole of Mortavia, because there was nowhere like here,
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46

where people were not worried for their lives. Many aristocrats disliked, and some even
hated, the Duke for this, but at the same time they feared and had nothing to do with
him. The Duke dabbled in witchcraft, and the Queen herself respected him. They were
great friends. The robbers did not want to go into his territory, because the Duke, as no
one else, did not favour robbers and was always quick to demolish them.
“I’ll wait for you in Blackdrit,” Hammer whispered goodbye to the robbers. “It’s
unlikely I’ll manage without you there.”
“Don’t worry, Chief,” his loyal friends in the robber’s trade replied and soon
disappeared one after the other behind the trees.
“Bye!” the performers shouted after them and travelled on.
“I never thought that robbers were such nice and noble people,” the juggler
Aspidistra said sadly.
Plym slapped her on the shoulder and laughed, “It seems to me that our family will
soon have an addition. Isn’t that so, Aspidistra? What baby will you give birth to this
time? White or black?”
The fat lady was embarrassed and hit the ropewalker in the back. “In any case, he
won’t walk on a rope!” she shouted, and everyone laughed.
“Enough jokes,” Lancel grumbled. “There’s a big village in ten miles. Better get
ready for a show, lazybones!” He always spoke this way before a performance. Everyone
immediately understood that he had to work today and began to get ready.
After an hour, the first houses of a large village indeed appeared ahead on the hills.
The performers changed into their costumes and went to the village with music and
singing. They were met with great joy. Arian was surprised. This was the first time he
had seen such cheerful and friendly people in Mortavia. He began to fret because he had
to give his first performance before the public. He looked at Brusila and noticed that he,
too, was worried. This calmed the boy some. After all, he was not the only novice in their
common cause.
In the evening, he experienced special nervousness. His arms and legs were
trembling when he and Melissa walked out to the centre of the village square to show
the peasants their skills. He threw the daggers and knives not too brilliantly and far
worse than at rehearsals, therefore the applause for them was quite sparse.
However, Arian had expected the worst and was satisfied, although he was also
very embarrassed. But Melissa was not bothered at all. She was calm and confident. She
bowed gracefully to the spectators, presented them with charming smiles, and was so
beautiful in a bright red dress, in addition in the light of the torches illuminating the
performance, that the village lads could not tear their eyes from her. She paid them no
attention, calmly went around the rows of spectators, and collected money. They gave
her money without a word. No one could resist her charm. Even the last miser also
reached into his purse and took out a coin.

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47

The real success, though, fell to the lot of Brusila, or Karavai, as he was introduced
to the audience. He went into the centre of the circle, where three-pood dumbbells were
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48

already lying, and began to juggle them with ease. He smeared his body with oil so that
it shone. He had almost no clothes on, only a narrow loincloth, and everyone could see
that one still had to search for such a strong man as him in Mortavia.
Then Karavai, amid loud applause, began to bend and break horseshoes, copper
coins, and nails, and smashed a thick oak plank with his fist. He approached the wagon
and seized a wheel; the audience just gasped, and he lifted the wagon as if to turn it over,
but, of course, he did not do so but put the wagon back in place.
Finally, he picked up his trusty six-pood hammer and began to twirl it around him,
sometimes imitating the work of a blacksmith. On the square where they were, there
was an old round boulder overgrown with age-old moss. Karavai approached it and,
with a single blow of the hammer, smashed it into tiny pieces, thus concluding his act.
The applause did not stop for some time, nor did the jingling of coins that fell into
Melissa’s tambourine. The spectators could not quiet down for a long time. The
performers were pleased. It had been a long time they had seen such success, and the
ropewalker Plym was even a bit jealous of Karavai’s success, although he received no
less approval from the public when he walked and danced on a wire.
It was already dark when the performers put on a play in front of the peasants –
one of the old tales about a handsome prince who saved a princess from an evil sorcerer
who kidnapped her and wanted to marry her. Plym played the prince, Melissa – the
princess, and Uncle Lancel – the sorcerer. The rest of the performers played the other
characters, which were so numerous that each played several roles. Naturally, Arian and
Brusila did not take part in the play but watched with everyone.
The show ended late at night amid a thunder of applause and the sound of coins
rattling. The success was complete.

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49

Chapter Seven
DUKE VALPERIUS’ DANGEROUS PROPOSAL

The same thing happened the next day in another large village. The show was
received with enthusiasm, and the performers would not have to worry about their daily
bread now for a long time. But how could they not give a show or not work when they
were received everywhere with joy and hospitality?! The weather continued to pamper
Mortavian residents. Even the oldest of the old did not remember the sun shining for so
long, the sky so blue and clear, and the rainwater so clear and light, like crystal. The
weather affected the people’s mood. They did not know it. Even soldiers hid a smile
under their moustaches and only blinked when kids put sunbeams into their eyes.
Naturally, the performers and musicians were the most desired guests here, there, and
everywhere. So, even if Uncle Lancel’s troupe did not want to work, they still would not
succeed.
Arian also did not expect that he would so like performing in front of an audience.
The next day after his first performance, he already stopped being shy and behaved
much more confidently than before. Knives and daggers flew right on target, and he
earned loud applause. On the third day, when their troupe stopped in a small town, he
performed with such brilliance that even his friends clapped. The city boys simply did
not take their admiring eyes off him the whole time they were in town, and ran after him
in droves, asking him to hit this or that mark. And he did not refuse.
Finally, before leaving town, he took a chance and covered his eyes with a
handkerchief. It was so quiet that they could hear the pigeons puttering about on the
city hall. Arian threw three knives and hit right on target. True, he did not throw at
Melissa, this he did not dare, but at a wooded goblin; nevertheless, it was still a real

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triumph and Arian felt like a great performer. He was almost happy and sometimes even
forgot why he was travelling around Mortavia.
“I told you that there would be a use for you.” Melissa was happy as well. Arian just
smiled and shrugged.
They visited another city of the lively duchy and earned so much money there that
Uncle Lancel even said to Brusila, “So, you see, I’m deliberating going to the Country of
Frozen Time. What’s bad here?”
Brusila only frowned in reply. “Everything’s going a bit too smoothly,” he remarked.
“I’m used to that. It isn’t quite like Mortavia.”
“Look, you’re bringing trouble on us,” Lancel grumbled.
It was as if Brusila was gazing into water. As soon as they left the city, a
detachment of fifteen armed horsemen overtook and surrounded the troupe. On their
cloaks and shields was Duke Valperius’ insignia. The commander of the detachment
ordered the performers to stop. When they complied with the order, he commanded
them to turn off the road and follow him. His face was grim and menacing, therefore no
one started to argue with him, and our heroes dutifully followed to where they were
ordered. Valperius’ soldiers surrounded the performers on all sides and did not let them
out of their sight.
Ahead of them appeared first a tower, and then the castle itself. Flags with
Valperius’ emblem were fluttering at its gates. The castle gates opened, and another
similar squad came out and joined the first. Now the performers were in a triple ring of
soldiers.
“I don’t like all this,” Brusila muttered and looked uneasily at the soldiers. “Oh, not
at all.”
“Perhaps the Duke wants to see the show?” Uncle Lancel made a guess.
“The Duke was at the tournament, and I’m afraid that he recognizes us. The dyed
hair doesn’t help.” Brusila had himself in mind. As soon as he had joined the performers,
he immediately dyed his hair and changed his hair from blond to jet-black.
He was not mistaken. Once the performers were in the castle courtyard and the
gates closed behind them, Duke Valperius himself, surrounded by his subjects and
household, met them. He did not look at the performers. No, his gaze was directed at
Brusila and Arian.
With a grin, he shifted his gaze from one to the other, and then said, “Famous
heroes visit my abode? Well, welcome. I have something to talk about with you,
blacksmith Brusila, and especially you, Squire Arian.” Brusila and Arian kept quiet. They
did not know how to behave and what to say. Duke Valperius’ intentions were still
unknown to them.
“Please come with me,” with a gesture, the gracious host invited them into his
home. Brusila and Arian took a step forward, submitting to his will. The performers
stayed in their spot. Only Melissa followed Arian without hesitation.

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The Duke looked at her and tried to wave her off, “My people will look after the
performers. They can remain here, and in the evening show my family what they can do.”
Arian looked at Melissa, and then at the Duke. “She comes with me,” he demanded.
Strangely enough, the Duke immediately agreed. “Fine,” he shrugged, “since you’re
used to working together, so be it.” The Duke entered the castle after this. Our three
heroes followed him.
Duke Valperius’ castle was large and spacious, quite unlike Mortavian castles, and
they walked for a long time before they found themselves in a small but cozy room. A
laid-out round table was in the centre of the room.
“Please.” The Duke invited his guests to the table, and sat down only when all three
had accepted the invitation and sat around the table. “You must be tired from the road,
so eat, don’t be shy. And I assure you that the food isn’t poisoned. Don’t look at me like
that. I’m not going to do you any harm. I simply have a proposal for this young man,
nothing more. It’s in his power to accept or reject this proposal.” The friends reluctantly
began to eat.
The Duke lounged in an armchair and began to talk, “When they informed me that
travelling performers had appeared in my duchy and cities under my control, I wasn’t
surprised. Although it’s very rare, but what doesn’t happen in the world? However,
when rumours reached me that there’s a mighty strongman among them, who handles a
six-pood hammer like a toy, I pricked up my ears. I remembered something familiar,
and different conjectures began to form in my head. And they grew in certainty when I
found out that besides the strongman Karavai, there’s also a boy participating in the
show, one who throws knives with incredible accuracy. When I asked for a description of
the boy and heard that he has very strange hair, slightly greenish, which he carefully
hides under a cap, all my doubts disappeared. But, to make sure once and for all, I
attended your show last night and saw with my own eyes that before me were really the
famous blacksmith Brusila and Knight Christian’s squire, Arian. You see, I haven’t
forgotten your names. And you, boy, must remember that I even helped you once in a
difficult moment. Do you remember how I threw my sword when you so needed a
weapon?”
Arian nodded. He did not understand what the old Duke was driving at and still did
not know how to behave.
But then Brusila asked the old man point-blank, “Do you want to deliver us to the
Queen?”
“If this were my intention, I wouldn’t invite you to dinner. You would all simply be
tied up and dispatched right away to the royal prison in Blackdrit. It seems to me that
you yourself were making your way there. Isn’t that so?” No one answered him.
“I believe I have even guessed why!” The Duke chuckled. “The boy wants to return
to the Country of Frozen Time, and you all want to follow him. Did I guess right? You’re
running out of Mortavia?” Silence was his answer. Shaken by the Duke’s insight, Arian,
Brusila, and Melissa were silent.
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“A futile plan,” Valperius brushed it aside. “They’ll catch you at the entrance to the
city. Rely on it. Before the Marquis’ death, anyone and everyone could only enter
Blackdrit if they paid a fee. But it’s a different time now. No stranger is allowed into the
city. Blackdrit is like a besieged fortress. It’s guarded like the apple of one’s eye. And do
you know why?” The boy, the girl, and the blacksmith looked sadly at him, but again
said nothing.
“Because the Gates of Fate stand there, in the Queen’s park,” Duke Valperius
answered for them. “There’s no saying who wants to go through them. What if he
manages? The Queen cannot allow anyone to leave Mortavia without her knowledge.
Why did you suddenly decide that you’ll succeed, especially with such a wagon train?”
Again, silence was his answer. Now the friends were no longer touching the food; at
the table were elegant viands and nice refreshing drinks, which were not even at the
courts of the Queen and Marquis Kostiniak. The Duke was seemingly enjoying the
confusion of his interlocutors. He was calmly eating a pheasant leg and washing it down
with wine from a precious goblet.
“Why are you silent?” he asked them when the silence became simply distressing.
“What do you want us to say?” Arian asked him.
“Contradict my words,” Valperius shook his head. “Say that it isn’t true, and you
aren’t even going to Blackdrit.”
“As far as I know, in your country the words of the accused mean little, if the
powers that be find him guilty,” the boy remarked. “So I see no point in it.”
“You’re wise beyond your years, my boy.” The Duke wiped his mouth with a napkin
and cracked his fingers. “You have every chance of success in your undertaking. After all,
you already did the impossible once – defeated the Marquis’ monsters. By the way, it
brought me a lot of money. All my life at that tournament, I bet on the heroes and not
the monsters. And then you also defeated the Marquis himself. Indeed, it’s your fault he
went to the underworld, where they, by the way, had long waited for him. But, back to
business. I have a proposal. A business proposal. You want it, you take it; you don’t want
it, you go home.”
“I’m listening.”
“I have a nephew. He recently turned ten. So, he’s the same age as you, Arian.”
“What of it?”
“According to the laws of our country, sons of the most distinguished people have
to serve in the royal court, where they are educated in the spirit of devotion to the Queen.
My nephew is also my heir, since I myself am childless. So it’s time to send him to the
Queen, to the page corps. But what misfortune! The poor boy got sick. He is lying in bed
and can’t move a hand or foot. The Queen, though, is already waiting. After all, I
promised her. She likes boys. They’re always around her.”
Arian began to understand what the Duke was driving at. Brusila also understood
this. He shook his head indignantly, “Old fox, you want to send Arian to her to divert her
wrath from yourself for disobedience?”
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“But he’s indeed striving to be there with all his soul!” Valperius exclaimed in turn.
“It’s his only chance to run home.”
“And what about us?” Melissa broke in.
“You?” The Duke looked at her in surprise. “Where do you come in?” And instantly
he recollected. “You’ll find your own way to Blackdrit. Without the boy, no one would
suspect you of anything. And he indeed will wait for you there. You yourself will think of
something. But you, charming girl, I’ll send with Arian, if he wants. After all, my nephew
should have a servant. You’ll be with him, just because you love him; you’re even ready
to stand in front of his flying daggers.” Melissa blushed deeply. “The important thing is
not to catch the Queen’s eye. You’re indeed very pretty. And our Queen can’t stand
beauties. When my wife was alive, I never took her to the palace, because she wasn’t ugly
like all the other noble women.”
“It all looks very much like a trap,” Brusila remarked. “Why should we trust you?”
“Why wouldn’t you trust me without any reason?” the Duke started calmly and
with dignity. “Or do you have another choice?”
“And what will I have to do in return?” Arian asked.
“Now this is already a business conversation!” The Duke smiled contentedly.
“You’re much smarter than our renowned blacksmith, boy! What will you have to do?
Hardly anything. Follow the Queen and report everything to me. I’ll also be in the
palace.”
Arian jumped up. “You want to make me a filthy spy?”
“No. I just want to save your life. ”
“How?”
“The Queen has sentenced you to death, and only you and I can change her
decision.” Arian did not understand what the old fox had in mind. “I’m talking about
your friend, Prince Lautar. Indeed, it seems that you and he had become friends? I
observed you attentively then, during the tournament. Now, danger threatens him, and
only you and I will be able to save him. The Queen wants to destroy him, because he has
become too big, kind, and brave.”
“Why this sudden concern for Prince Lautar?” Brusila asked.
“You’re right, blacksmith. He doesn’t much interest me as a prince. But I can make
him king. I just have to do away with the Queen, and then I’ll get what I seek. Our king
will be too young to deal much with state matters. I’ll help him. This country needs
many changes! So, are our efforts compatible? You’ll help me, I’ll help you. You see how
honest I am before you.”
“I agree,” Arian decided. “Since we are talking about the life of my friend, I’ll play
this filthy role.”
The Duke, not hesitating, rubbed his hands with satisfaction. “Then, my boy, my
dear nephew, let’s go to my office, and you’ll learn about all your relatives, ancestors,
and parents. Her Majesty Angusta the First should suspect nothing.” Arian nodded to
his friends and followed the Duke.
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“I hate the nobility!” Brusila exclaimed behind him. “Everything they have is built
on fraud, conspiracy, and murder! The old sly fox wants to rule the country! Why would
that be? Somehow I can’t swallow his cock-and-bull story.”
“But we really have no other choice,” Melissa objected.
“The fact is that there isn’t,” the blacksmith sighed.
“I’m also going to the royal palace and will see Prince Lautar there!” The girl
jumped happily and twirled around the room. “Tell me, Karavai, did you see him?”
“I did!” Brusila grumbled and sank his teeth into a leg of the roast pig.
“What does he look like? Good-looking?”
“An ordinary boy,” the blacksmith muttered, not giving it much thought.

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56

Chapter Eight
THE QUEEN’S DARK BUSINESS

At the same time the conversation was going on between Duke Valperius, Arian,
and Brusila, the following was taking place at the royal palace in Blackdrit.
Prince Lautar recovered very quickly from his illness. He again got down to his new
hobbies with enthusiasm. He spent whole days in the weapons hall and trained in the
arts of war. He already attained great success, and his instructors were amazed when he
showed them his achievements.
“Soon I’ll be as great a warrior as Knight Christian!” he once exclaimed, and those
beside him trembled with fear because it was forbidden to utter that name under penalty
of death.
A day came when the Queen took a pause in public affairs and also came to look at
her son’s success. She sat in an expensive armchair trimmed with black velvet and
watched sullenly as Lautar fenced, shot from a bow, and steered a horse. When the boy
met her gaze, she smiled at him approvingly, and each time the courtiers and servants
burst out in loud applause. Nevertheless, Lautar was indifferent to their opinions. He
only looked at his mother. How happy he was that she had come to see him. Indeed, it
was almost not so earlier.
Wet with sweat, he appeared before his mother and asked, “Did you like how I
fought?”
“You were magnificent, my son,” Angusta replied with a smile on her lips. With a
nod of her head, she ordered everyone to leave her alone with her son. “But tell me, what

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happened? Where does your sudden enthusiasm for military craft come from? You’ve
never aspired to this; the killing of people always sickened you.”
Lautar thought for a bit. “It seems to me that it’s possible to not only kill but also
save oneself or someone else, like you, from death or other dangers. How will you do it if
your hands are weak and your spirit low?”
“And when did you realize this?” Angusta smiled indulgently.
“Recently,” the boy replied ingenuously. He was used to hiding nothing from his
mother. “At Marquis Kostiniak’s tournament. I saw how the famous heroes fought in it.
They killed no one and survived only thanks to knowing how to fight well and not
wanting to kill anyone.”
The Queen sighed, “That tournament again! Let’s not talk about it. I want to tell
you something, Lautar.”
“I’m listening very carefully, Mother.”
“Once you’ve taken a sword in your hands, it means you’ve become old enough and
it’s time you take on the responsibility of authority. I’m a weak woman, and it’s difficult
for me to govern my huge kingdom alone. Now that my faithful assistant Kostiniak has
perished, you must help me. Enough playing games, reading books, and dreaming. It’s
time to get down to business. Are you ready?”
Lautar was happy. Finally, he was really necessary to his mother. He could not even
utter the right words, only nodded in agreement.
“Then come with me.” The Queen stood up majestically and, straight as a sword
blade, walked through the palace. Lautar followed. They came across not a single living
soul when they walked down the dark and long corridors of the palace. Finally, the
Queen stopped in front of a low door bound with iron. The door was closed, but there
was no lock or keyhole on it. Lautar realized that it was closed with the help of witchcraft.
It turned out to be so. Angusta whispered something, moved her hands before the door,
and it opened noiselessly. Mother and son entered a hall with a low ceiling and round
walls. Lautar looked around with excitement. He understood that he was in the Queen’s
treasury. And it was not a simple treasure trove. Here were stored not gold and precious
stones – the Queen valued all that very little – but magical things, magic potions, and
books teaching the art of magic. The Queen took one of them from the shelf and handed
it to the prince.
“What is this?”
“This book will help you become a great warrior.” The Queen saw how the boy’s
eyes sparkled, then she smiled and added, “It’ll make you great and invincible. Read it
all the way through.”
Prince Lautar already wanted to run to his apartment, he so could not wait to start
reading, but Angusta stopped him with a grand gesture. “Wait, that’s not all,” she said.
“I haven’t given you the main thing.”

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She went to a small box, which was in plain view, and again opened it with the help
of magic. The prince watched his mother with curiosity. The Queen took a gold ring
from the box, approached the prince, and put the ring on his forefinger.
Lautar winced once the ring was on his finger. He looked long and intently at it and
then looked at the Queen. She noticed with satisfaction that the prince’s gaze had
changed. The merry, perky gleam had vanished from his eyes. Now Lautar’s gaze was
empty and seemed to pierce through the Queen. When the boy spoke, his voice was also
different. As if conversation came to him with difficulty.
“I’m glad that you want to share power with me,” he uttered in a voice with
imperious intonation. “It’s high time for this. But, better late than never. I’ll go to my
room.” And he left Angusta’s treasury.
The Queen followed him with her eyes, and when the prince had left, she smiled
happily. On the wall hung a picture covered with a black cloth. Angusta ran to the
picture and uncovered it. It was a portrait of Murderer.
“I’ve started it, Father,” the woman exclaimed, addressing the portrait. “After so
many years, I’ll again try to fulfil our cherished dream. And this time it’ll work out for
me. Everything favours this. The person who’ll open the border for me is on the way,
and Lautar will be my tool! He has taken up the sword. So, the time has come to start
planning. The Book of Conquest will infect him with the conceit and thirst of a
conqueror. Now he won’t be able to live in peace; he’ll dream only of wars, campaigns,
destroying cities, and tributary nations and countries. The Ring of Absolute Power will
fill him with the thirst for might. It’ll burn inside him and Lautar will conquer the world
for me! Later, if he doesn’t perish in battles and wars, I’ll find a way to get rid of him.
Now I need a great commander, great and invincible! And Lautar will be him. The Black
Prince!” She talked and laughed with joy. A fire burned in the Queen’s eyes.
When Angusta had calmed down and left the treasury, she returned to the throne
room and asked, “What is Prince Lautar doing?”
“Reading,” they answered her.
The Queen smiled and thought for a while. No one knew of what she was dreaming.
Courtiers, pageboys, and servants looked silently at her and were afraid to make even
the slightest sound. But all felt that great changes were soon coming into their lives. It
was hovering in the air.
Then the Queen herself confirmed this. “All nobles in the country must gather in
Blackdrit in a month, with weapons and warriors!” she ordered.
For precisely three days after this, the Queen did not come out of her bedroom and
did not allow anyone in. On the fourth day, the weather turned bad and Mortavia again
became as before: dull, dismal, and dangerous. Queen Angusta looked out the window,
which overlooked the park, and hummed contentedly. There, the sun was shining again,
butterflies were fluttering above the green grass, and pleasant-sounding birds were
singing in lush treetops.

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“Getting better little by little,” the Black Queen said to someone unknown and went
out to stroll in the park.
Beyond the boundaries of the palace, it was raining again, the air was stuffy and
damp, and the people again became angry, sullen, and taciturn. They remembered
where and under what laws they were living.
At noon, a pageboy, who had been following the Queen relentlessly, ran up to her
and reported that Sullen Antoine was asking for her.
“Where is he?” Angusta asked in such a stern voice that the page trembled like an
autumn leaf.
“He is waiting in the kitchen,” the page bent almost doubled.
“Tell him that there shouldn’t be anyone except him in the kitchen at my arrival.”
The page bowed even lower and ran to dispatch the order. Angusta followed him
without hurrying. When she entered the kitchen, none of the servants, cooks, and
kitchen hands was there anymore. Only an emaciated commoner with a huge bald spot
and a large fleshy nose was sitting on a low stool. It was Sullen Antoine, the Queen’s
personal hunter.
“Did you bring what I ordered?” Angusta immediately asked.
Antoine nodded in the affirmative. Then he put his hunting bag on the cutting table
and began to pull blue hare carcasses out of it. The Queen watched his actions greedily
and, when half a dozen blue hares were presented to her, smiled for the first time that
day.
“You’re a very good hunter, Antoine,” she praised him. “A month hasn’t gone by
and you’ve already fulfilled my order. Go. Let the royal treasurer give you ten gold
pieces.”
Ten gold pieces was a great reward. But Sullen Antoine displayed neither joy nor
sorrow, only nodded again and, without saying a word, bowed and left.
The Queen was alone. She took a kitchen knife and, with surprising agility and skill,
began to dress the animal carcasses. Having skinned them, she hung them over the fire
to dry, and began to roast a blue hare. It was already late in the evening when she came
out of the kitchen with a tray in her hands and set off to Lautar’s apartment.
The boy was sitting on a sofa by the fireplace and reading the book his mother had
given him. The Queen noted happily to herself that he had already reached the last page.
She was also delighted when she saw that the prince paid her arrival no attention and
did not even turn his head in her direction. Angusta walked up to her son and, with a
smile, sat down next to him on the sofa. She waited patiently for him to finish reading.
Lautar turned the last page and, with a gaze full of fire and thirst for action, looked
at his mother. “This is the best book I’ve ever read!” he exclaimed. The Queen noted to
herself that he forgot to greet her, something that had never happened before. “Why
didn’t you give it to me earlier?” In the boy’s voice appeared formidable and severe notes.
“And what smells so nice? What’s the delicious smell?”

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“I brought you something to eat, my child.” The Queen handed Lautar the dish.
“You’re hungry and need strength.”
“Oh, yes! I need strength,” the prince happily agreed; then he took the dish, and
began to eat eagerly. “Especially now. I feel so much strength in me, but I still need
more.”
“And why do you need strength?” his mother asked, smiling tenderly.
“I’ll be a great warrior. A warrior and a commander. Only whom can I conquer?
Our country is small, and there’s almost no place in it not under your control. What a
pity! With whom am I going to fight?”
“There are still wild unconquered tribes in the mountains.”
Lautar made a face. “Fight with savages? Is there really much honour in that?”
“Who knows, perhaps there are other lands, other countries beyond the
mountains?”
“Of course!” Lautar was happy. “In the East! It’s indeed still not under our
authority. Over there are large and wealthy cities. Why didn’t you subdue them?”
“I spared them for you.”
The prince grabbed the Queen’s hand and kissed it passionately. “Oh, how kind and
generous you are to me! I’ll conquer these cities, I’ll conquer the East and the wild
mountain tribes. All will be under my authority. Will you give me an army?”
“Of course, you need an army. But where will we get it?”
“Where? Our nobles?”
“The nobles?” Angusta grinned. “Cowardly animals. They’ll betray you in the first
battle. No, you need a different army. Loyal, invincible, and ruthless!”
“But where will I get it?”
“I’ll help you. There’s a way. But you must grow such an army yourself. Are you
ready?”
“Of course!”
“Then let’s go. Hey, men! Saddle horses for us!”
Before leaving the palace, they again visited the Queen’s treasury, and Angusta
took a heavy bag and hung it on her son’s shoulder. The bag was incredibly heavy.
Lautar looked into it and saw that it was full of little metal balls.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“You’ll find out about everything.”
They went out of the palace, straddled the horses, and galloped out of town. They
galloped for a long time. Just the two of them, without any guard. Only the moon,
shining through the clouds, accompanied them. The horses snorted and moved at full
speed. They were black and very hardy. They did not even pant after three hours of
furious galloping, and when the Queen gave a sign to stop, they were completely dry.
Prince Lautar looked around and saw that they were in a field. Only two hills stood
despondently nearby. The field was overgrown with tall grass. It was clear that nobody
ever worked it.
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“Where are we?” The prince turned to his mother.
The Black Queen looked around the field, greedily breathed in the damp night air,
and solemnly said with pride, “This is Battlefield!”
“Battlefield?” Lautar’s nostrils also flared.
“Two hundred years ago two armies fought here. They fought to the death, and few
left this place. Almost all the soldiers remained here. On that day, there was nowhere to
put your foot down without stepping on a body or a pool of blood. Death was queen here
and gathered a rich crop. I gave it a great gift then. Now the time has come to repay
debts. Do you know what’s in your bag?”
“What?” Lautar was suddenly scared, but did not dare to show his fear.
“Seeds. And you’ll sow them in this field. Here is the best land for this. Each metre
is saturated with ancient blood. For us there’s no better fertilizer than blood, and it
doesn’t matter if it was spilled a very long time ago. When the battle was over, I ordered
my servants to collect everything that killed people: arrows, spears, swords, and sabres,
– in short, everything that sowed death. My order was executed; a mountain of weapons
that killed lay in front of me. I appealed to Hellfire for help, and it melted down all this
iron, and the blacksmiths of Hell, the dead, and the demons cast for me seeds from it,
which you’re holding now. Take a handful and throw them on the ground. Come, what
are you waiting for?”
Lautar hesitated. He just could not bring himself to do it. The Queen looked angrily
at him and shouted, “Throw, throw! That’s an order! Or you’re not a great warrior, not a
great hero. Not a great ruler!”
Pain was reflected on the prince’s face. He was struggling with himself.
The Queen looked at her son with astonishment. “How strange,” she muttered.
“What’s keeping you? Why don’t the forces of evil overpower you completely? I’ve
indeed done everything. Why hasn’t the ring dealt with you fully? Oh, demons of Hell,
help me. Come, Lautar, do it! You’ll become a great hero and ruler. The nations and
countries will get on their knees in front of you. They will call you the Black Prince. Your
name will spread through centuries. You’ll be a great son of your mother, come on!”
Lautar could not stand it. Tears flowed from his eyes, but his hand plunged into the
bag by itself, took out a handful of small balls, and threw them on the ground. He could
not stop anymore. The boy got off the horse, went along the field with the bag on his
shoulder, and started sowing the terrible seeds. The bag was big and full, and he sowed
until the morning. When the bag was empty and the field ended, he fell exhausted onto
the grass and lay there for a long time.
When he got up and went back to his mother, he sat in the saddle, and the Queen
said to him, “Look over there.”
The prince looked at where she was pointing and saw black iron needles, barely
noticeable in the thick grass, sticking out of the ground. The metal did not reflect the
morning light; on the contrary, it seemed to be absorbing it. Lautar recognized
miniature spearheads in these needles.
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The seeds had sprouted!

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Chapter Nine
THE QUEEN’S DARK BUSINESS
(Continuation)

The old Duke did not lie when he said that boys from noble families went to live in
the Black Queen’s palace after they turned ten years old. This was as expected. They
served her in a special page corps under the supervision of strict tutors and learned to
manage people by watching the Queen. After all, they would all also have their own
subjects, which had to be kept in obedience. Therefore, they themselves first learned to
obey. While the boys were called a page corps, there were not very many of them, if not
to say a few – five or six people between the ages of ten and thirteen.
Arian, according to Duke Valperius’ plan, had to go there and infiltrate the royal
retinue, spy on the Queen, and report to the Duke everything she did. In Arian’s opinion,
the role was not very noble, but it was his only chance to get to the Gates of Fate and
leave Mortavia; besides, he had not forgotten his promise to bring with him to the
Country of Frozen Time Uncle Lancel and his troupe, as well as Brusila’s gang of robbers.
Arian again set off on the road. Only this time he was not accompanied by the
merry performers – they had gone to Blackdrit on their own – but in Duke Valperius’
retinue. He liked this new group much less than his performer friends. The Duke’s
retinue consisted of nothing but armed men, all of which, except the Duke himself, were
on horseback and therefore moved swiftly, stopping only for the night. The Duke
hurried to Blackdrit and this suited the boy just fine. He was also impatient to be as
close as possible to the desired gates.
The opportunity to ride Palma and not have to hide it from anyone pleased Arian
even more. After all, he was now the nephew of the powerful Duke and did not have to

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fear that it would be taken away from him. He rode almost all the way, only once a day
the Duke called him into his carriage. Melissa, who went with the Duke, sat contentedly
on Palma, and Arian took her place to listen to the old aristocrat’s instructions. He told
him Mortavia’s history, which, by the way, was absolutely uninteresting, confusing, and
full of brutal wars and rebellions, intrigues of the nobility, and fights with Marquis
Kostiniak and the Black Queen. But most of all the old man bored Arian with stories of
his ancestors and relatives. The boy listened despondently to his chatter and tried to
remember long funny names, signs and emblems of noble families, and the tangled
genealogy of Mortavia’s aristocracy.
Later the old man tested him and swore a lot when Arian made mistakes and said
something wrong. The boy just smiled sheepishly. He had never liked things of this
nature at home in the Green Principality, and he had often shirked lessons, especially
when his father was away or hunting. But now he had nowhere to go; besides, he
understood that this was necessary to accomplish his mission. Nevertheless, when the
lessons ended, he sighed with relief, left the Duke’s coach with a joyful smile, and looked
mockingly at Melissa, who sat down in it. If the old man only tormented Arian for two or
three hours a day, the poor girl had to listen to his instructions all the way. In the end,
he bored her so much that she was ready to jump out of the carriage and escape
aimlessly or even insult the Duke by asking him to shut up. However, she did not do so
for Arian’s sake. When she occasionally suspected that the Duke purposely pestered her
so, indeed obviously wanting her to run away, then she simply stopped paying him any
attention and looked out the window of the carriage. She sighed with relief when night
came and the cavalcade stopped for the night. But here a trial awaited the girl and Arian.
The Duke’s soldiers pitched camp, in the centre of which a tent was set up right on the
grass, and the old man called the boy and the girl to him and forced them to portray
their roles of a young gentleman, a royal page, and his maid. Here Melissa had to learn
some more. She had never been in service to anyone and mastered the new skill with
difficulty. A servant of the Duke taught her how to behave so that no one would doubt
that she was Arian’s maid. Melissa had to properly serve the boy the dishes at the table,
set out outfits, and even dress and undress him for the night. The Duke watched them
and made comments. He was a very harsh critic and sighed bitterly when the girl mixed
up something or did something wrong.
“You’ll be flogged in the palace every day if you serve this way,” he said.
“Just let them try!” Melissa snapped. “I’d like to see the person who wants to do
that.”
The Duke only grabbed his head. “No, you’ll spoil everything for me, and we will all
end our life on the gallows or, at best, in the dungeon with rats and snakes!”
He let them go when it had already become quite dark and both students were
yawning and rubbing their eyes. “And don’t hold his hand!” he yelled after Melissa,
when the girl and the boy went to the coach where they spent the night, because there

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was not a second tent and it was too damp and cold to sleep on the grass. “He’s not your
little brother, he’s your master!”
“Yes, I keep forgetting that you’re a prince’s son, that is, ugh, the Duke’s nephew.
Though it’s all the same to me,” Melissa said to Arian, and they set off to bed, smiling.
So passed the first three days of the journey. And on the fourth day, or rather, night,
an event took place that surprised Arian very much and made him think.
He was sleeping badly. A gentle rain had begun the night before, and the raindrops
drumming on the roof of the coach did not let him sleep for a long time. Besides, the
road and the rush tired him quite a bit. The bruises on his back, which he had gotten in
the Talvira Waterfall, started to hurt. Mostly, Arian woke up at night and looked out the
carriage window at the sky. It was overcast and dark, without a single open tear through
which it would be possible to see the stars. The boy remembered the clear and pure sky
of his homeland, remembered the stunning sunrises and sunsets, and grew sad. How he
wanted to go home, to his native forest, to see and embrace his father, hop along his
favourite trees, swim in the creek, play catch with the boys and girls! Instead, he was
here in this awful gloomy country, carrying out the will of some mad old intriguer who
was aiming for power. Remembering that he was expected to spy on the Queen, whom
he had never set eyes on, Arian regretted for the first time that he had set off together
with Knight Christian to wander and look for adventure.
He was already prepared to cry softly over his unhappy fate when he suddenly
heard a soft jingle, as if a little bell was ringing. He listened. The ringing repeated again
and Arian realized that it came from Melissa. This detection gave Arian the shivers. But
he was not about to lie on the seat, which served as his bed, and tremble with fear. Arian
grabbed Melissa by the shoulder and began to shake her.
“What?” Melissa, half-asleep, could not understand for a long time what her young
friend wanted from her.
“Something’s ringing inside you,” Arian whispered in her ear. “What, did you
swallow a bell?”
He chuckled, but it was evident that he was not amused. Arian’s teeth were
chattering. When Arian’s words about a mysterious ringing reached Melissa, she winced
and changed countenance. Arian saw how she trembled and her lips curled with some
inner pain.
“What, are you bewitched?” he assumed.
“No, it’s not ringing in me,” Melissa replied. She was almost crying.
“What then?”
“It’s my amulet, here, look.” Melissa took out of her shirt a little glass ball hanging
from a slender silver chain on her chest. The little ball was glowing with a soft bluish
light, and a quiet tuneful jingle was really coming from it. Arian listened to it and he was
uneasy. It was as if an alarm sounded somewhere. The ball jingled for a few more
seconds and stopped. Arian and Melissa continued to look at it. Soon the glow also faded.
“Where did you get it?” Arian asked the girl.
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“It has always been with me. It’s my talisman. For luck. Like your dragon’s tooth.”
“My father hung the dragon’s tooth on my neck,” the boy whispered sadly.
Melissa shrugged and sobbed. “Parents often do this. Who else but them? My
mother certainly also hung this ball on my neck. Only it somehow doesn’t bring me
happiness. When it rings like this, I feel bad and sad, and for some reason immediately
remember that night when my brother disappeared and our parents perished. I hate
when it happens. Like a death knell. How many times have I wanted to throw it away,
but each time just can’t bring myself to, as if it implores me not to throw it. I feel this.”
In the dark, Arian not so much saw but felt that tears were flowing down the girl’s
face, and for the second time that night he wanted to cry. But he refrained and got very
angry at himself.
“Enough whimpering!” he stated.
“Are you talking to me?” Melissa asked, also ashamed of her tears. Indeed, she had
never cried in childhood, even when boys or evil adults hit her.
“No, I’m telling myself,” Arian grumbled. “Your ball really evokes depression.
Better throw it away. We already have a lot to do without balls. Let’s sleep. Soon we’ll
arrive at Blackdrit and we’ll unlikely have the occasion to rest there.”
Melissa agreed and they again lay down on the narrow seats of Duke Valperius’
coach. But the quiet and sad tinkling of the glass ball was in their ears for a long time.
Prince Lautar also did not sleep that night. A terrible headache tormented him. All
because the Queen wanted to make use of him that evening. But this time nothing
turned out for her. Lautar fell into a trance, but for some reason showed nothing. When
the prince came to, he felt as if his head was torn apart. He wanted to groan but did not,
because he understood from his mother’s face that she did not get what she wanted. She
did not say it, but Lautar somehow realized this himself and found the strength to hide
his pain. He did not want to upset her. He got to his feet with difficulty, reached his
bedroom, and locked the door behind him. No candle was lit, but coals were
smouldering in the fireplace. Lautar lit the candles and fell onto the bed. He wanted to
drink, but he could neither summon servants nor get up to pour water himself. If he
looked in a mirror, he would see the exhausted, pale as chalk, contorted with pain face of
an unhappy teenager, not an arrogant prince. But there was no mirror in his room. He
had never seen himself in a mirror and did not even know about the existence of mirrors.
The Black Queen had ordered all the mirrors to be broken when he was very young.
There was not a single mirror throughout the palace. No one except the Queen had the
right to look at his reflection. She had the only mirror. It was kept in a small golden
chest in her bedroom and was guarded by guards day and night. Only the royal pages
had the right to touch it during the Queen’s morning toilette, when they brought it to
her. It was their privilege – to hold the mirror in front of her, and the boys feared under
pain of death to drop and break it.
The pain gradually began to pass. Drops of cold sweat stopped flowing down his
face. Lautar lifted a hand and wiped his face. His gaze fell on the ring that the Queen had
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put on his finger. The ring shone lightly. Suddenly Lautar realized that the pain went
away quickly this time because this ring was on his finger. The pain receded and hitherto
unfamiliar thoughts appeared in his head. Here were dreams of a world kingdom, which
he would establish after he had conquered the world with the help of the dead army,
which was growing for him on the ancient Battlefield. Here was also irritation. Lautar
was even startled. He never thought of this before, but tonight he suddenly began to
grow irritated. This irritation was with him because of his mother. For some reason she
bothered him today. But why? For a long time Lautar could not understand why, but
suddenly it came to him: she bothered him because she was taking his place. Prince
Lautar realized that he hated his mother and wanted to get rid of her and to take her
place.
The poor boy did not realize that the Ring of Absolute Power had begun to eat into
his soul with the poison by the name of “thirst for dominion.” The ring flared up, as if it
was glad that Lautar had begun to obey it. It flared up and immediately went out. Its
dim and harsh light disappeared. Lautar’s dark dreams disappeared together with it and
he trembled with fear and self-contempt.
“How could I think such a thing!” he exclaimed. “Mother loves me so. She has done
so much for me, but I? What a scoundrel I am!”
Again, he immediately groaned in pain, which had returned. It had returned
unexpectedly and another pain was added, even sharper and stronger. The boy cried out
because he was unable to hold back any longer and fell to the floor, looking at the ring
with frightened eyes. It had caused him the new, terrible pain never experienced before.
In comparison, the previous pain was simply not worth a straw. The ring squeezed his
finger like a vice and burned it with red-hot metal. Tears flowed from the boy’s eyes and
he started to roll on the floor, trying to stop the pain.
“I won’t anymore!” he suddenly addressed the ring like a little kid, talking to it as if
it was alive. He very quickly realized that it was punishing him for remorse. For remorse
of his dark thoughts. “I won’t anymore, just don’t cause me such pain anymore! I beg
you!”
The pain immediately disappeared. The ring instantly cooled down. Lautar looked
at his finger. He was certain that terrible burns were on it, but there was not a single
scratch. The prince wanted to tear the cursed ring off his finger and throw it away. But,
it would not come off. It sat tight as a drum on his finger and looked, smiling, at Lautar.
Yes, yes! It was indeed looking, though it had neither eyes nor face. The unhappy prince
looked at it and was no longer crying. His tears had run dry; only an incredible anger at
everything in the world remained. The anger accumulated in his eyes, and they were
ablaze with its black glitter.
Queen Angusta watched her son from behind black velvet drapes. She followed his
every movement, every glance and word. When Lautar fell asleep, she hid behind a
secret door, through which she had come here, and set off to her treasury. She still had a
lot of things to deal with.
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No torch was burning in the palace hallways. Only lunar rays penetrated through
narrow windows. The guards stared silently in the darkness when Angusta, formidable
and majestic as death itself, walked past them. At that moment, more than anything else
in the world, they did not want to meet her gaze. Though the Queen was the most
beautiful woman in the country, her gaze would freeze the blood of those who met it. In
the middle of the night, one could easily die of a heart attack from the gaze. There were
such cases. Once a guard fell asleep at his post and caught the Queen’s eye. She woke
him up and forced him to look her in the eye until the poor man died. And everyone
considered that he still got off lightly.
Angusta walked into the treasury and rushed to Murderer’s portrait. “Lautar is
almost ready, my lord,” she said. “Something in him is very resistant. Resists very
strongly. But it no longer matters. The ring has gotten control of him. Now I need your
strength to deal with my greatest enemy.” Murderer looked silently at her from the
portrait.
Angusta began to practise witchcraft. She pulled from the darkest corner a basket
with a lid, opened it, and began to throw huge frogs and toads into it. They croaked
loudly when they dropped into the basket. “Eat, my little ones, eat, my little fishies,”
Angusta began to repeat. “How many days I’ve cherished you like the most loving
mother.”
Then she began to cast spells. Long, incomprehensible words, from which the air in
the treasury became icy and was in constant motion. She sang in a loud voice and small
black snakes began to slither out of the basket one by one. More and more were still
coming out, and now hundreds of them were crawling around her feet and hissing
menacingly. The witch waved a handkerchief in front of the creatures, and they rose and
sniffed it like a dog ordered to follow a track. She had stolen this handkerchief some
time ago from a man she feared and hated, but she had not had time to use it because he
had disappeared in exile. She waited for three hundred years, and now the time had
come for witchcraft. It was time to pay for her bygone defeat. The snakes sniffed the
handkerchief, crawled in front of her, and curled into balls in impatience.
“Now, my dears, crawl and find my enemy!” Angusta screamed. “Exterminate him!
Kill him! If you can’t kill, deprive him of power. Forward! ”
She pulled out from under a wide gown a fragment of a large mirror and set it
upright on the floor. “Here! Crawl here, and you’ll find the way!” The witch began to
poke a finger in the surface of the mirror. The snakes seemed to understand her and
slithered like an army to the glass.
A face with a white curly beard suddenly appeared in the mirror. It looked fearfully
at the snakes and seemingly tried to say something.
“Go away, mirror gnome!” Angusta shouted at him. “Don’t hinder us! Kill him!”
The snakes rushed to the mirror and began to crawl quickly one after another into it,
like diving into water. The mirror gnome looked fearfully at them and disappeared.
Angusta laughed triumphantly.
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Chapter Ten
AT THE PALACE

At the end of the fifth day, Arian saw the walls of Blackdrit coming into view ahead.
He had never seen such high fortress walls before. Although, in truth, he had seen very
little in his life. But Blackdrit boggled the imagination of everyone who saw it. It evoked
an impression too dark and disquieting. It reminded one more of a gigantic fortress than
a city. They city’s buildings were simply not visible, only walls of grey blocks and towers
built of black bricks. At the same time, it was the largest city in Mortavia. It occupied a
large area and almost forty thousand inhabitants lived in it. Another feature of the city
was that there was only one set of gates, to which was the only road for carts with
provisions and other goods and squadrons of royal archers.
Duke Valperius ordered his men to line up in a ceremonial march and waved his
hand, indicating that they should go to the gates. Arian felt the excitement and began to
look around anxiously. He met Melissa’s gaze. She was pale and frightened. Then the
long-awaited moment came. They entered the city gates. Nobody started to detain them.
Everyone knew Duke Valperius, and it occurred to none of the guards to even ask him
for an entry permit.
Arian sat proudly in the saddle and turned his head around, looking at the city. He
was dressed in the costume of a royal page, which he had put on before they showed up
at the city walls. The Duke ordered everyone including him to change into ceremonial
costumes. The boy had on a short velvet tunic of dark green colour with puffed sleeves,
beautifully embroidered with gold thread; under it was an even shorter shirt of a fine
silk-like fabric of gold colour and with a white lace collar. On his head was a beret of the
same cloth as the tunic and with a black rooster feather; on his shoulders was a light
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green cloak with a black plush lining. The Black Queen’s insignia – a black crown and a
snake sleeping under it forming rings coiled into an incomprehensible hieroglyph – was
stamped on the tunic, cloak, and beret. Arian also had on black patent leather boots.
Overall, he was quite a picturesque sight, which made Melissa sigh in envy and again
carry in herself something about princes and princesses.
She had also changed her famous red dress to the grey and pale attire of a maid and
immediately lost half of her charm. From a lively dark-haired girl-dancer who could
turn the head of any young man, she transformed into an ordinary and modest
maidservant in a grey dress with a white apron and a ridiculous white cap, which was
very good at hiding her face. The old Duke knew what he was doing when he forced her
to wear this outfit.
It was difficult to call the city in which they found themselves picturesque or
beautiful. High stone and brick houses similar to each other, windows closed with
shutters even during the day; incredibly narrow streets; muddy puddles and piles of
garbage, in which packs of ragged and insolent kids frolicked; gloomy townspeople
angry all the time with some swearing traders; clamorous women; and horrible smells in
addition to all this. All this together with the dampness and stuffiness made Blackdrit a
city worthy of its name.5
Duke Valperius’ retinue swiftly rushed through the quarters of the poor and needy,
who fled before them, throwing stones and curses after them. Almost the entire city was
so disrespectful. Only in front of the palace did the situation around change somewhat.
Residential houses were left behind. Administrative buildings started: town hall, several
churches in a variety of religions, some of which were completely unfamiliar to Arian,
the courthouse, the largest building in the city after the Queen’s palace, where work did
not stop day and night, and after that, the barracks for archers of the royal guards began.
These buildings surrounded the palace on all sides in a solid ring, with gates and
sentries at every step. Nevertheless, no one detained Duke Valperius here either; the
guards and officers even saluted him. Everyone looked with amazement at the attractive
boy in the costume of a royal page on a magnificent horse of rare beauty.
Here was the palace. Once it was possible, certainly, to call the palace an ordinary
castle with tall narrow windows cut in the walls. As expected, it was surrounded by a
rampart and a moat, and the only decoration of the castle was a small green park behind
the back wall. From the outside, it seemed small and destitute. A few stunted trees, low
bushes, and a stone pond not half filled with water. A mangy peacock, wandering like a
hen searching for worms in the dust, was insipid, like the grass on which it walked.
Arian felt his heart beat anxiously when he saw this park. The cavalcade rode right
past it, and the future page managed to see everything. When he saw on the park
meadow two crooked trees, black, devoid of all leaves, growing so that a peculiar arch

5Drit is an Icelandic term for bird excrement as well as a Norwegian slang term for something negative or
bad.
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formed under them, he even stopped Palma and could not tear his eyes from them for a
few seconds.
The Duke even had to hurry him. “You’ll have time to look at them yet,” he
grumbled. “We don’t have time now. In an hour, you should be presented to the Queen.
And she doesn’t like waiting.”
The cavalcade set off again and galloped to the palace gates. Here the guards no
longer stood on ceremony and forced them to both produce and show the necessary
papers, and to explain the purpose of their arrival at the palace. The guards were strict
and stiff, like statues. The Duke dutifully explained and showed them everything. He
also showed them Arian, forcing the boy to bow. The guards examined him suspiciously
but said nothing. However, it was obvious in their eyes that they found him suspicious.
He was not too suitable for the palace which he was about to enter.
When they found themselves beyond the gates after all, the Duke said to Arian, “Do
you see the red door there, in the back of the courtyard? It’s the stable. Go there and find
a stall for your horse, and leave it there. Now you’ll live in the palace, so settle down. Go,
and I’ll wait for you here.”
Arian grudgingly dismounted and led Palma to the red door. When they were very
close to it, Palma started to dig in its hooves. Arian pulled its reins tighter and
whispered, “Don’t be stubborn. I agree, I don’t like it here either. Not at all. But what’s
there to do?”
They entered the dark stable. The smell of horses hit them in the nose. Arian began
to look around, searching for the groom. It was hard to see anything in the dim light,
therefore the boy gave a start when a stocky figure suddenly appeared unexpectedly in
front of him and asked, “What are you doing here, little lord?”
It was the groom. When Arian could see him better, he became ill at ease. The
groom was hunchbacked and ugly. Very ugly. The boy needed to summon all his
strength in order not to show the groom how disagreeable this was to him.
“I have to put my horse in a stall. I’m a new page of the Queen.”
The hunchback looked up at him, he was also very small in stature, and replied
rudely, “Put it in, if you have to!”
Arian wanted no more to do with the hunchback and did not even try to order the
groom to do his job. He decided to put Palma in a stall himself. Besides, he did not want
to trust his horse to such an awful man. Palma also looked askance at the hunchback
with fear and stamped its hooves in agitation.
The stable was long, and Arian and Palma went quite far before the boy saw an
empty stall. He wanted to lead Palma to it, but the horse again began to be obstinate.
This time he did not manage to cope with it. The horse flatly refused to go into the stall
to which its master led it.
“Aren’t you ashamed, Palma?” he tried to persuade it. But the horse kept quiet and
only looked plaintively at Arian with its wise, sad eyes.

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“What, the horse doesn’t want to go?” The hunchback again appeared from
somewhere. He looked mockingly at Arian and smirked disgustingly. “Try using a whip.
It’ll come to its senses at once.”
Palma seemingly understood his words and neighed loudly, and then even tried to
rear. Arian could not control it and fell to the ground. The hunchback laughed loudly.
“What’s going on here?” A loud and clear voice was suddenly heard. “Are you
behaving like a hooligan again, Quamodo?”
Arian and the man named Quamodo turned around and saw a young man in a
hunting costume leading a horse coming in their direction. Arian immediately
recognized him and was at a loss. It was Prince Lautar.
“What are you doing here, page?” the prince asked Arian in a stern voice but also
recognized him. “Squire Arian? Is it you? Off with you!” The last words were meant for
the hunchbacked groom, who immediately vanished. “Odious character,” Lautar threw
at him from behind. “He’s the only person in the kingdom who can deal with Mother’s
horses. They are magical and, aside from her, only listen to him. Therefore, Quamodo is
very presumptuous. He knows that no one would dare touch him with a finger. How did
you get here? And why are you dressed as a page?”
Arian was embarrassed and blushed to the roots of his hair. “I need to go to the
Gates of Fate,” he confessed unexpectedly. “And I pretended to be Duke Valperius’
nephew. Only don’t give me away. I alone am to blame. The Duke also thinks that I’m
his nephew.”
Lautar grinned. “The old fox is scheming again. I recognize his style. Don’t worry, I
won’t tell anyone that I know you. Or else they’ll hang you right away. And I can’t allow
such a nice fellow as you to be killed. On the contrary, you’ll be my friend. There are
some scoundrels in the palace. Mother’s pages are worse. Absolutely do not be friends
with anyone. What are you doing in the stable?”
“I need to put Palma in. But it doesn’t want to.”
Lautar laughed. “Of course not! This is indeed the stall for the royal horses. Live
horses are even afraid to get within ten steps of them. Come, I’ll put your horse next to
mine. Yours is a beauty. Mine will be pleased.”
When they had put their horses in neighbouring stalls, Arian apologized and said
that he had to hurry. “I have to be presented to the Queen.”
“Of course, go,” the prince patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll find you myself in the
evening.” And they parted, pleased with each other.
“Where on earth have you been?” the Duke pounced on him. Arian kept quiet. He
did not say anything. “Faster, they’ve already started the reception in the throne room!”
The three of them – the Duke, Arian, and Melissa – hurried into the palace. A tall
footman with a pimply face met them and bowed almost to the ground.
“Take her,” the Duke nodded towards Melissa, “to Page Arian’s room. She’s his
maid. Let her start her duties and prepare all that’s necessary for her master.”

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They walked on, but Melissa stayed with the pimply footman. Arian looked around
and caught her confused look. The boy smiled encouragingly at her.
The reception hall was already full of people, and everyone was waiting for the
Queen’s appearance. When Duke Valperius and Arian entered, everyone turned toward
them and bowed. The Duke was a powerful nobleman, and everyone was afraid of him
and fawned on him. Arian saw a crowd of courtiers and immediately remembered his
stay in Marquis Kostiniak’s castle. Mortavian nobility again struck him with its ugliness
and hideousness. Almost half of those here were no better looking than the
hunchbacked Quamodo. Some were even more frightful. Arian immediately noticed
hundreds of malicious and hostile eyes examining him from top to bottom. He felt very
uncomfortable and wanted to run away or at least to hide. Arian felt that he was starting
to blush deeply. The Queen’s appearance came to his aid.
Trumpets sounded, drums rolled, and the Black Queen of Mortavia, Angusta the
First, accompanied by four pages, entered the hall. Her son and heir to the throne,
Prince Lautar, followed her also. He looked very good next to his beautiful mother,
especially against the background of all the others present here. He was no longer in the
hunting costume, in which Arian had met him, but in a floor-length luxurious gown tied
at the waist with a wide embroidered belt. A narrow and short sword in a precious
sheath hung on his left thigh. On his head was a crown almost the same as the Queen’s,
only smaller. Lautar proudly looked straight at the courtiers and his eyes occasionally
sparked terrible lightning. No one had ever seen him this way.
Before making a deep bow, as everyone here without exception, Arian looked at the
pages, his future companions, and immediately realized that he would not have friends
among them. These were the worthy sons of Mortavian nobility, so unpleasant and
disgusting. Tenure in the Queen’s service had already had an effect on them.
The Queen sat on an ebony throne and majestically ordered everyone to rise. “Your
greeting is accepted!” she announced in a magnanimous voice.
The nobility just blossomed from her words. The Queen was in a good mood today,
and everyone was happy as well. They began to approach the Queen one by one and pay
her compliments at length. However, the Queen listened to them inattentively and
stared at Arian and Duke Valperius. They both bowed to her, but did not say a word.
“Why don’t you introduce your nephew to me, Duke?” Angusta finally asked. “It’s
indeed your nephew, I assume?”
“Dare I without Your Majesty’s permission...” The Duke bowed almost to the floor,
as if he was not an old man. “Yes, this is my nephew, Arian, the son of my late brother.
He turned ten years old the other day, and now he is before you, Queen.”
With an imperceptible movement, Valperius pushed Arian, who understood that he
had to approach the Queen. Arian went up to Angusta and bowed. His bow, however,
did not turn out as low as his “uncle’s,” and the Queen raised her eyebrows in surprise;
nevertheless, she held her hand out for Arian to kiss. Arian rarely had to kiss the hands
of ladies, and one could even say that he did it only once, during a meeting with the
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Fairy of Eternal Youth. But Angusta was very beautiful, and he gladly did it again. And
he did it very nicely. The aristocrats simply stared with bulging eyes when he removed
his beret afterwards and bowed again, waving it in the air. Arian immediately caught the
malicious looks of the other pages, who, compared to him, looked like uncouth louts
even in the luxurious costume of a page.

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The Queen smiled. “So, Arian,” she uttered pensively. “Well, I think you will be
worthy of the title of duke and a perfect replacement for Valperius when the time comes.
Now stand behind me. Your service starts from this moment.”
Arian followed her orders and stood not far from Prince Lautar, who pretended not
to notice him. Duke Valperius immediately mingled with the crowd of courtiers and the
boy lost sight of him.
The reception was long and boring. Arian tired of listening to the flattering
speeches of the courtiers, who stretched into an endless procession to the Queen until
the evening. But he tried not to show that he was tired of this and curiously watched
everything happening. Without realizing it, he even leaned a little forward and did not
notice the Queen’s attentive eyes watching his every move.
Finally, it was over. The reception ended. But Arian knew that the day had not yet
come to an end for him. He and the other pages followed the Queen to her bedchamber
to attend to her evening toilette.
This was really a cheerless and long ceremony. Two of the pages held a mirror,
which they took out of a small chest, and the rest just stood and watched as the maids
helped the Queen remove her jewellery, change from day dress to evening dress, and so
on. Arian felt his legs falling asleep from such a long time of standing, as if he had not
dismounted from a horse for a few days. To stretch his legs, he made a discreet step to
the window and saw beyond it the royal park and the Gates of Fate. Arian shivered and
froze, unable to tear his eyes away from the crooked trees. Again, he did not notice how
attentively the Queen watched him.

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Chapter Eleven
IN HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE

“It’s fine for you,” Arian lamented enviously when Melissa helped him put on the
page costume (it turned out she was not very clever at this, but they managed by
common efforts) a few days later, “you run around the palace, but I have to stick around
or on duty, or in the classroom with this fool of a tutor.”
“Tomorrow the cook Dulcina and I are going to the city for produce,” Melissa
whispered softly in his ear.
“That will be nice.” Arian hid his daggers under the tunic. He never parted with
them. “Maybe Uncle Lancel and the others have already arrived?”
“We’ll look. A troupe of performers isn’t a needle in a haystack. They’re easy to find.
They’ll turn up. They’re always where there are a lot of people, which means at the
market.”
The room in which they both lived, was on the third floor of the palace, where lived
only servants and pages with their uncles. Only Arian alone had a maid. Because of this,
the rest of the pages even tried to make fun of him. Such as what kind of a kid he was
that they had assigned a nurse to him to feed him milk. Arian did not even talk to them.
He generally tried to stay away from them because they boys were very inquisitive, spied
on each other all the time, and ran to the tutor to complain at the slightest provocation.
True, they were somewhat afraid of Arian, and the reason for this was his hair. Once,
when they started to mock him and ask where he got his green hair from, he told them
that his mother was a mermaid. The pages believed it, instantly at that, and began to
avoid him. What can you expect from the son of a mermaid?
On this day the Queen was absent from the palace; she was in court, where a case
of a nobleman accused of plotting against her Majesty was being investigated, and she
had two pages with her. Arian was free from duty and therefore had to go to the tutor for
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lessons. Arian liked these lessons even less than being in the presence of the Queen.
There, though doing nothing in particular, he knew and carried out all of the Queen’s
orders and was constantly with her. Here was another matter. This was real training; the
lessons with Duke Valperius were nothing compared to this.
The pages’ tutor was a thin, wizened old man with trembling hands and the funny
name Tuliap Tudu. He always trembled and sputtered when talking. However, with
regard to etiquette, courtly wisdom, and knowledge of Latin and history, he was quite all
right. When he picked up the birch rod, a bundle of which was always in a basket in the
classroom, his hands stopped trembling immediately, and he flogged the boys long and
painfully. When Arian saw this, he became green like his hair, decided to be more
careful with this man, tried to behave properly, and began to exercise maximum
diligence in his studies. He had never been flogged in his life (it was considered a
disgrace to his kind) and he was very afraid of being flogged. He had been lucky so far
and had not made the acquaintance of Tuliap Tudu’s rods. On the contrary, the old man
began to treat him with pity after he found out that the Arian did not know a thing about
Greek or Latin.
“Where was your uncle looking?” he exclaimed when the boy told him about it.
Arian pretended to be greatly embarrassed. “I had a teacher in these subjects, an
old monk, but he was a big drinker and once drowned in the pond of Uncle’s castle.”
Tuliap Tudu sighed, was distressed, and decided to teach the young page the much-
needed science at all cost. So when Arian entered the room, where three boys were
already occupied, Tuliap Tudu gave him new words and expressions to learn, and Arian
worked on them until lunch, then delivered the learnt lesson to the tutor; he had an
excellent memory, and Tuliap Tudu, extremely pleased with the boy’s diligence,
dismissed him.
When Arian entered his room, he met Melissa. The girl’s eyes were wide open, and
in them were delight and fear at the same time.
“What happened?” Arian immediately began to fret.
Melissa had a secretive look, put a finger to her lips, and beckoned Arian to her.
“Do you know who was talking to me just now?” she whispered in a conspiratorial tone
as he approached.
“Who?”
“His Highness!”
“What, Prince Lautar?” Arian was startled. Since the day they met in the stable,
they had not seen each other again.
“Yes, Prince Lautar!” On uttering the last word, Melissa even blushed with pleasure.
“I couldn’t even believe it when he caught me at the exit from the kitchen and pulled me
after him into one of the palace halls. Imagine, a real prince talking to me! Oh, he’s so
good-looking, so handsome! I still don’t understand why I didn’t faint.”
“Yes, wait a minute with your chattering!” Arian interrupted her. “What did he say
to you?”
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“He was asking about you. No, first he asked me, ‘Are you the page Arian’s maid?’ I
replied, ‘Yes. I am.’ Then he looked around to see if anyone was listening, and ordered
me to tell you that you’re to go to the stables tonight. He wants to talk to you.”
Arian thought for a bit. “I have to be with the Queen tonight,” he said quietly.
“What do I do? How do I meet with Prince Lautar? He probably wants to tell me
something important.” Then it dawned on Arian. “Look, you go to the stables.”
“Me?” With the thought that she would see the prince again, great excitement
seized Melissa. “What shall I tell him?”
“Explain to him why I can’t come to the meeting.”
They so agreed. Then, after eating hastily, Arian ran to the Queen’s chambers. He
had to replace the page Gunpilen, a little obnoxious fat boy who was constantly chewing
something and always being punished by Tuliap Tudu for it. Another page, lanky Stinul,
also hurried out of his own room for his shift.
Having changed over in front of the doors of the royal bedroom, Arian and Stinul
began to wait for the Queen. She had just returned from hearing a case, to which she
had issued the death sentence, and changed her clothes before lunch.
The Queen appeared; the boys sprang to attention and stood erect like soldiers in
front of her. Angusta was in a good mood and patted them both on the cheek. She even
said to Arian, “What remarkable hair you have.”
Her lunch was long and tedious, as always. The Queen ate very little, but chewed
each piece thoroughly for a long time.
After lunch, she announced that she wanted to go for a stroll in the park. Arian
simply trembled when he heard. But an even greater test awaited him in the park.
Angusta walked alone, only accompanied by pages and three ferocious dogs, which
obeyed only her. They were just like the pages, did not move a step away from the Queen,
roamed around, sniffed attentively, and looked suspiciously at the boys, whom they did
not like and did not trust at all.
Arian was incredibly surprised when they went out into the park. This was his first
time here, and he was amazed by the climate. If the park looked cheerless, grey, and
quite ugly from the outside or even from the castle windows, once inside, Arian saw an
entirely different spectacle. The park shone with splendour. The air was clean and fresh,
the sun shone brightly, butterflies fluttered above the green lawns, a deer wandered
along the grass, rabbits ran, and peacocks and a secretary bird paced proudly. Precisely
trimmed shrubs created intricate mazes through which it was possible to wander for
hours, candle-like poplars turned high towards the sky, bushy oaks and elms created
cool shade, and blue firs danced in merry rings. Cheerful birdsongs permeated
everything around. The park itself was huge, and incredibly numerous magnificent
fountains and striking statues of marble, silver, and gold decorated it.
Sorcery, Arian decided. When they got to the centre clearing, he gasped on seeing
two familiar crooked birches standing in the shape of gates. He barely restrained himself
from immediately running to these gates and through them to return to his own world.
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The Black Queen seemingly passed especially (though, certainly especially, Arian
just had no idea about this for the time being) by the Gates of Fate and walked around
them for a long time. She did not take her eyes off Arian and Arian did not take his eyes
off the Gates. His legs simply urged him to run between the trees, and the boy restrained
himself with all his might, almost to tears, but did not move away from the Queen.
There were many reasons for his refusal to escape Mortavia. The main thing was that the
boy knew he must not leave this country alone. By doing so, he would betray all his
friends: Melissa, Uncle Lancel, the other performers, their children. He certainly could
not leave the blacksmith Brusila in Mortavia, because sooner or later, the Queen and her
ruthless court would get to him all the same. He also could not leave Palma, his faithful
horse, with which he was used to sharing all his joys and troubles. After all, it did not
leave him when he nearly drowned in the Talvira Waterfall, and thus saved his life. That
was the reason Arian looked at the Gates of Fate and did not budge. He had no idea that
Angusta’s dogs were watching his every move closely and by order of the Queen would
not even let him run to the Gates.
Later, after returning to the palace, he forced himself not to look back, and kept
thinking and thinking about how to arrange such a grand escape from Mortavia for
himself and all his friends.
A hand fell on his shoulder. Arian gave a start and instantly bowed his head
respectfully. It was the Queen.
“Indeed, you have very beautiful hair,” Angusta patted the page on the head,
something she had never done before.
“What will be Your Majesty’s desire?” Arian flushed. It was not known why, but he
was probably the only person in the whole of Mortavia, aside from Prince Lautar, who
felt no shyness in front of this woman.
“Nothing for now,” the Queen smiled enigmatically. “But I’ll need your services
very soon.”
Arian did not pay any attention to these words (he was a bit slow in understanding),
and was simply pleased when the mistress sent the pages away. She did it earlier than
usual. Again, this did not raise any suspicion in Arian. On the whole, he executed Duke
Valperius’ order quite poorly. He would possibly do it with much more zeal if the
initiative came directly from himself, but to fulfill the will of others, he could do with
difficulty and without effort.
Arian was delighted that he would now be able to meet with Prince Lautar and ran
to the stables. He hurried because he was afraid to be late, and did not even pay any
attention to Quamodo, grinning as usual. He searched for Melissa in the shadows with
his eyes and even thought at first that she was not there. But Melissa was already on the
spot and talking with Prince Lautar. Arian noticed that she was looking at Lautar not so
much with respect and fear, but with joy and curiosity. Nevertheless, she was a striking
girl. And Lautar in turn looked at her with interest. It was obvious that he liked her,

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precisely because she did not fear him and did not fawn upon him like all the others who
talked with the prince.

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When the boy saw them, Melissa was just telling Lautar that Arian would not be
able to come, and having seen the page, the prince looked at Melissa with bewilderment.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked sternly. To help the girl out of an awkward
situation, Arian hastened to explain to the prince the reason for his sudden appearance.
“Ah, so the Queen dismissed you!” Lautar calmed down. “This changes everything.
I really thought that you were deceiving me.”
Melissa mumbled defiantly, “Fat chance!”
“What a strange maid you have.” Lautar looked with surprise at Melissa. “So
cheeky and pretty.”
“Why did you want to see me?” Arian hastened to distract him.
“I have to talk to you about something. But not here. Here the dead horses can
eavesdrop on us. Do you know of a hiding place in the palace?”
Arian started to think.
“I do!” Melissa intervened. “I’ve climbed all over the entire third floor; there are
places where no one will see or hear us.”
“Us?” Lautar was surprised. “What do you have to do with it? I’m not going to talk
with you.”
“Then I won’t show you anything!” Melissa stuck her tongue out at the boys.
Arian thought that the prince would now be angry with Melissa and all this would
end very badly. But Lautar unexpectedly burst out laughing.
“She’s from a wandering troupe of performers and saved my life,” Arian admitted.
“She’s here to help me.”
“Help you?” Lautar was startled. “She got into the palace only to help you escape
Mortavia? Then she can be trusted.” He turned to Melissaand said, “Lead us, bold
maiden!”

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Chapter Twelve
MELISSA’S MIRROR

Melissa did not exaggerate when she assured them that she had come to know the
palace very well. She led the boys to a back entrance designated for servants, and none
of the courtiers, guards, or even the Queen’s spies saw them enter the palace and go up
to the third floor. The third floor was a maze of small rooms, storerooms, small pantries,
and attics. There were no fewer corridors and hallways than chambers throughout the
palace. After all, the main task of the servants was to show up fast and on time at the
necessary place.
Melissa led Prince Lautar and Arian to one of the little dark and dusty attics. It was
stuffy and reeked of pigeon droppings, and birds disturbed by their appearance rustled
in the dark corners. The prince looked around curiously. He had never been anywhere
except his chambers and the staterooms of the palace, and it was a real revelation for
him to see the garret.
“This is only an attic where nobody lives,” Melissa said.
“Nobody lives?” Lautar was surprised. “Can one really live here?”
“What an odd fish!” Melissa laughed. “Where do you think all your servants,
cleaners, dishwashers, laundresses, and scullions live? In the attic, of course. Only the
royal pages have decent rooms. As for me, there’s nothing better than a tent, a wagon, or
even just the open sky, when there isn’t snow or rain.”
“Tent, wagon, open sky,” Lautar muttered after her. “How great it must be! Indeed,
great commanders also live this way. Have you heard about Alexander the Great? He
didn’t get down from Bucephalus for weeks.”
“Bucephalus, was that his servant?” Melissa asked innocently. Arian laughed.

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But Lautar did not even smile. “No, Bucephalus was his horse,” he said seriously.
“And Alexander the Great was a king. He conquered the whole world. There was no one
better. Only he lived a long, long time ago there, in the Big World.”
The “Big World” is what Mortavian residents, as well as residents of the Country of
Frozen Time, called our world, the one in which we live, that is the world of normal time,
not frozen time.
“Everything’s clear,” Melissa said and gave the laughing Arian a flick on the nose.
“It’s your boys’ tales. I’m more for beautiful princes and princesses.” She looked coyly at
Lautar.
“I prefer stories about knights,” Arian said. “King Arthur and the Knights of the
Round Table, oh my! Or the Knight-Founders. And I even knew two personally. Knight
Caterino almost became my master, and Knight Christian was. True, not for long, but he
was satisfied with me. Upon my word!”
“You also want to be a knight?” Lautar asked Arian.
“Of course! It’s my dream!”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about!” Lautar exclaimed. “Your dream will come
true. Soon, very soon. I’ll need such brave fellows like you. I’ll knight you and enrol you
in my army.”
Arian was at a loss. To enrol in some army was not part of his plans. But the phrase
about being knighted immediately turned his head. “And I’ll now wear pants?” he
exclaimed.
“Of course. It’s time to grow up, Arian,” Prince Lautar said solemnly. “What’s a
knight without pants?”
“In my opinion, it’s too early for him to wear pants,” Melissa suddenly got in on
their conversation.
It was as if cold water had been poured over Arian. “Why?” he asked, offended.
“Our Queen Angusta the First will not allow it, that’s why!”
Here Melissa was fearfully silent, because things strange to them suddenly started
to happen with Lautar at the mention of this name. He was suddenly very pale and his
lips trembled with rage.
The boy clenched his fists and seemingly hissed with difficulty through his teeth,
“No one can stand against my will. Not even my mother. It doesn’t matter that she’s
Queen. It’s temporary. Soon will come the time when she’ll give the crown to me.”
Melissa and Arian looked at the prince with surprise. They had never seen him like
this and they became uncomfortable. Before them was not the same good-natured
young man as before. Before them was a future tyrant and despot, capable of anything if
someone would suddenly oppose his will.
This went on for a few seconds. Then Prince Lautar suddenly met Melissa’s
surprised gaze, instantly came to his senses, and became as before. The flush of shame
suddenly flooded his face.

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“Don’t believe all my words,” he said quietly, trying to avoid the looks of Arian and
Melissa. “It wasn’t me talking. In actual fact, I don’t think like that.”
Suddenly he screamed, his face contorted in a grimace of pain, he raised his hand
above his head, and he fell on his back, unconscious. It is natural that Arian and Melissa
were scared to death. They did not understand anything of what had happened and were
numb for a few seconds.
Finally, Melissa asked in a voice trembling with emotion and fear, “Is he alive?”
Arian came to his senses and fell to his knees next to Lautar. He put his ear to
Lautar’s chest and listened.
“His heart doesn’t seem to be beating,” he whispered in horror. “I don’t hear it!”
“What do we do?” Melissa wept. She was at a complete loss and was slow in
understanding.
“Maybe he’s still alive? Do you have your mirror?”
“Yes, it’s always with me!”
Melissa actually had a mirror, which was small, oval, and in a silver frame on a long
handle. She had recently bought it from a jeweller. This happened in one of Duke
Valperius’ cities. Uncle Lancel gave all the performers their share of the earnings, and
they all ran to spend it. Performers are the sort of people that will never hide money in a
stocking; it is better to spend it right away and have fun. Melissa and Arian also ran to
go shopping. They did not even have time to buy a spice cake when a travelling jeweller
stuck to Melissa. He had almost nothing valuable, but various trinkets and countless
cheap jewellery. Melissa immediately forgot about everything and began to rummage in
the merchant’s riches. And she found a mirror. She looked into it and admired her
reflection for a long time, and then put it back with a sigh. She knew very well that she
did not have enough money for such an expensive thing.
“Why are you sighing like that, beautiful?” the merchant said to her. “You like the
mirror, so buy it!” And he specified such a price that Melissa only sighed.
She did not even have half of the amount that the travelling jeweller asked for. Now
she did not want to look at other goods; only the mirror was on her mind now.
Arian, of course, understood everything and handed all his money to the girl
without hesitation. “Is that enough?” he asked.
Melissa was pleased and began to count the money. Her face darkened again. “Not
enough,” she sobbed. “Still not enough.”
They tried to bargain with the jeweller, but he did not want to reduce the price for
anything. It was understandable. A mirror in Mortavia is a real luxury, available only to
the rich. The downcast friends would have gone back home like that, but Brusila passed
by, and, on finding out what the matter was, he took out the amount lacking without
hesitation. So, with the help of friends, Melissa got the mirror, from which she now
never parted.
“Why do you need it?” the girl asked, handing Arian her treasure, which she had to
hide carefully in Angusta’s palace.
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Arian did not answer. He took the mirror and held it to Lautar’s mouth. He held it
there for a while, then looked at it and exclaimed happily, “He’s alive! Look, his breath is
on the mirror. Since he’s breathing, that means he’s alive.”
Melissa began to look into the mirror and suddenly screamed in terror, “What’s
this? Look, Arian!”
The mirror shone with a white light; the rays fell onto Prince Lautar’s face, and he
opened his eyes, looked at Melissa and Arian for a few seconds, then sighed and again
lost consciousness.
The pigeons began to rush about the attic in fright. The mirror continued to shine.
Its white rays began to take shape, then these outlines turned into different colours and
our friends froze in terror because the Black Queen Angusta was standing in front of
them. She still had not seen Melissa and Arian, because she was looking out the window.
Taking advantage of this, Melissa and Arian rushed to hide in a dark corner. They did it
instinctively rather than rationally. Meanwhile, everything also changed around them.
The attic had disappeared and, in place of it, the Queen’s chambers, her bedroom, began
to appear and become clearer. She turned and walked several times around the room. It
was evident that she was very excited about something. The Queen went again to the
window, which was open, and peered into the distance, as if waiting for something. It
was a deep and gloomy night outside the window, the wind whistled, and the flash of
distant lightning gleamed on the horizon.
The boy and the girl, still not understanding anything, also looked out the window.
Then Arian felt Melissa’s hands grab and squeeze his shoulder painfully, and she was
trembling violently.
“Look, Arian, that’s it! It! The black whirlwind! The one that carried away my
brother! I recognize it!”
Indeed, a black whirlwind, like a giant flying column, was flying on the horizon
among the many flashes of white lightning. It was getting closer and closer with each
passing second and was about to fly into the window. Melissa screamed in fear and
Arian thought that now they would be discovered, and at that moment, the whirlwind
flew into the open window. The room was immediately filled with a terrible swirl, but,
oddly enough, Arian did not feel any air movement, no wind. The storm was rushing
around the room but not a single hair moved on the boy.
The Queen did not even look in their direction, as if they were not there. The
whirlwind, meanwhile, began to subside. Its rings began to spin more slowly, and it was
already possible to guess the outlines of who was inside the whirlwind. Arian even cried
out in surprise when he recognized him and immediately understood everything.
“We’re seeing the past,” he whispered into Melissa’s ear. The girl almost fainted
from horror. “Watch carefully, we’ll now learn a lot.”
The whirlwind stopped, and Murderer, in a wide black cloak and with a bundle in
his arms, appeared in person before the Queen. The bundle stirred and cheeped.

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“Father!” The Black Queen rushed to him. “I was so worried and I waited. Well, did
you succeed?”
“Of course!” Murderer laughed smugly. “I stole the child and killed his parents, so
that no one will ever know about this.” With these words, he unwrapped the bundle and
deposited a two-year-old child onto the floor, at the sight of which Melissa sank weakly
to the floor. Fortunately, she did not lose consciousness and saw everything that was
going on.
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“Now this is your son, your heir, your talisman.” Murderer awkwardly started to
stroke the head of the boy worn out from crying. He did not succeed in calming the boy
and disdainfully pushed him away. “His mother was a clairvoyant, and this child
possesses wonderful qualities, my dear daughter.”
“Yes, I know!” The Queen was simply beaming with happiness. “He can show
anything. You found out about his existence from your books?”
“Yes. To do this, just look him in the eye with the gaze of a cobra. Remember what I
taught you? Well, try.”
Angusta awkwardly picked up the child in her arms and looked into his eyes with a
cold hypnotic gaze. Gradually, the child stopped crying and folded his hands in front of
him like a scoop. A glowing lotus flower seemed to grow out of them.
“Show me where the miranda queen Aestiria is now,” Angusta ordered the child.
The flower in the child’s hands enlarged tenfold, shimmered with multicoloured
stars, and began to show a mountain gorge, where a detachment of mirandas was hiding.
“Now I know where to look for these rebels!” Murderer exclaimed. “This child is
really priceless!”
The image vanished, and the child lay in the Queen’s arms, motionless and silent.
“What’s wrong with him?” Angusta turned anxiously to Murderer.
“The child has fainted. It probably takes a lot of his strength. So, don’t get carried
away and don’t make excessive use of it. The boy could die. He’s but a human being.”
Murderer grinned. “Use his ability only in extreme cases. Announce to everyone that
he’s your son, Prince Lautar, which means the All-Seeing. And I’m leaving for
Lekhtvinser Gorge to crush this gang of bats. Oh, by the way, some trash is hanging
around his neck, probably an amulet. Don’t remove it. The boy isn’t worth anything
without it.” With these words, he stormed out of the room so fast that only a black cloud
remained at the spot where he had just been.
The Queen, with the child in her arms, called the servants and the courtiers, and
when they arrived, she pointed at the child and said to them, “This is my son, your
future sovereign. His name is Lautar. I only just gave birth to him and, as you see, he has
already grown a little. But now he needs good care. Find a doctor and servants for him.
And if he gets sick and dies, you’ll answer to me with your head.”
Everyone bowed meekly before the Black Queen, after which the vision
disappeared, and Arian, Melissa, and the still unconscious Lautar were back in the attic.
Melissa rushed to Lautar. She started to pull at him and hug him. “This is my
brother, my little brother!” she repeated with tears of joy and pity for Lautar. Arian
looked at her and did not say a word. He was also staggered by what he had seen.
“Why hasn’t he come to?” Melissa moaned. “There’s little air here. He can’t
breathe!” She started to unfasten the prince’s shirt collar and instantly shrieked when a
little glass ball, exactly the same as hers and on a similar chain, fell into her hand. “Look,
Arian, now I have no doubt. This is my little brother. I’ve found him. And it’s thanks to
you, Arian!”
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“It’s too soon to thank me,” Arian replied. “Lautar is still unconscious. Remember
that Murderer said he could die if he shows too much?”
The joy on Melissa’s face was replaced by anxiety. “What do we do? What a pity
that Judolia isn’t here!”
But Judolia was not needed. Lautar opened his eyes and finally looked at them
intelligently.
“Lautar!” Melissa exclaimed. “Where did you get the amulet?” She showed him his
glass ball.
“I’ve always had it, as far back as I can remember,” the boy muttered. “Why do you
ask?”
“Look, I have one exactly the same! We got these talismans from our mother,
Cassandra. You’re my brother, Lautar, not a prince. The Black Queen kidnapped you in
infancy and proclaimed you as her son. But she only needed you to show her the past
and the future. Now that you know everything, come with us, Lautar. To the Country of
Frozen Time.” Melissa chattered all this, not letting anyone say a word.
“You are my sister?” Lautar finally grasped what Melissa was saying.
“Of course!”
“Where are our parents? Mama and Papa?”
“They perished. Marquis Kostiniak killed them when he stole you. I’m your sister.
Of course, you don’t remember me, but see how alike we are!” And she handed him her
mirror.
Lautar looked at it with surprise. “What is this?”
“This is a mirror,” Melissa said. “What, you’ve never seen a mirror? Your reflection
is in it. This, you see, is you.”
Lautar stared at his reflection in amazement. “I’ve never in my life seen a mirror,”
he muttered.
“The Black Queen looks in hers every day,” Arian remarked mockingly.
The mirror in the prince’s hands flared up again and the boy saw in it pictures,
which showed everything that Melissa had told him. It showed how Murderer
kidnapped him, how his real parents died, how he came to the Black Queen, and how
she carried out her black deeds with his help. Lautar saw all this and his face was filled
with anger and pain. Not one of the three of them noticed how the Ring of Absolute
Power on his finger started to flicker dimly and ominously.
The mirror faded, then Lautar emerged again, dressed in white, with a golden
crown on his head, and on a white horse. Behind him were warriors, courtiers, and
crowds of people in the distance, cheering and glorifying Prince Lautar. The ring
flickered ominously again.
In his excitement, the prince grabbed his collar and began to unfasten it, because it
had become unbearably stuffy and hot in the attic. Again, no one noticed as he broke the
thin silver chain at the same time, and the little glass ball fell onto the floor with a
plaintive quiet ring. Nobody heard this, because at that moment, the pigeons made a
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noise again and began to struggle, trying to fly out the window, as if some predatory
beast wanted to catch them, so they were suddenly panicking.
Everything instantly changed in the mirror. Now Prince Lautar was no longer in
white and on a white horse, but all in black and on Angusta’s black horse. Behind him
were black knights holding long deadly spears atilt. They were launching an assault and
the Black Prince Lautar was leading them into battle.
Arian and Melissa, understanding nothing, looked first in the mirror, and then at
Lautar.
“This is my future!” the prince exclaimed enthusiastically in a terrible, decisive
voice. “And not at all what you ask me, sister. Forget about me and don’t tell anyone
what you know. Otherwise, you won’t live an hour. And I’ll keep quiet to save you. And
you, stupid page, take her and run to the Country of Frozen Time. I don’t need your sort.
I have my own army. And it’s waiting for me!” And he got up, eager to leave.
“Lautar!” Melissa tried to stop him. “What’s wrong with you? You were quite
different just now. What happened to you?”
Lautar roughly pushed her away. “Get out!” he shouted. “Don’t forget! You’re
nothing but a maid! I’m a prince! Maybe we’re tied by blood. But our futures aren’t.
They’re different. I live for great things! Goodbye, I don’t want to know you!” And he left
the attic with quick, decisive steps.
Melissa got on her knees and sobbed. Arian approached the girl and hugged her
with the tenderness of a younger brother. Melissa cried even harder. Arian began to
stroke her hair, as if she was a child.
“There must be some sorcery here,” he uttered thoughtfully. “This wasn’t the true
Lautar. It was another Lautar. I know the real one. And we must lift the spell from this
possessed one. Do you hear, Melissa?”
The girl nodded. Arian’s words calmed her. It was easier for her to think that her
brother was bewitched than to know that he was really wicked and cruel like the rest of
the aristocrats in Mortavia.
“Look, your ball!” Arian remarked in surprise. “Right at your feet.”
Melissa picked up the little ball. “This isn’t mine! Mine’s here, in its place.” She
pulled out her own. It was indeed on a chain. She suddenly guessed, “This is my
brother’s!”
Lautar’s ball lit up in her hand and rang plaintively.

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Chapter Thirteen
LAUTAR CHANGES HIS MIND

Prince Lautar, sullen and angry, walked through the palace hallways. His footsteps
echoed ominously. He set off to his chambers and was quite close to them when the
Queen’s voice hailed him. Hearing it, Lautar turned sharply. Anger and hatred flashed in
his eyes for a second, but he instantly suppressed them and smiled broadly.
“You called me, Mother?” the prince asked affectionately as always.
“Yes, my child,” the Queen approached her son. “Have you forgotten? We’re going
to Battlefield today. The horses are already waiting, but you were absent. I was in your
bedroom. You weren’t there.”
“I was looking for you in the park,” the prince lied, not batting an eye.
“But you’re still not ready. Why? Aren’t you feeling well?”
“Now I feel great. I’ll be at the stables in a minute.”
“Fine, I’ll wait for you there. We’ll continue the conversation on the way. There’s
something I want to tell you.” Lautar nodded and ran to change into field dress.
They indeed continued the conversation on the way, after they left the city. This
time they did not hurry the horses. They had time.
“Why did you hide from me that my enemy the squire Arian is hiding under the
guise of my page?” the Queen asked, unexpectedly. Lautar flinched and was silent for
several seconds. The Queen looked at him searchingly.
“I simply felt sorry for the boy,” the prince finally admitted. “I like him, but you
would give the order to execute him.”
“Execute him?” Angusta laughed. “Why did you determine that?”
“You never spare the lives of your enemies.”
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“If they aren’t necessary to me, then never,” the Queen agreed. “But I need this boy.”
“Need? You?”
“Me?” A smile appeared on the Queen’s lips. “Rather, you need him. Yes, exactly
you. Since you need him, why should I touch him?” Prince Lautar became thoughtful.
Meanwhile, twilight had already thickened in the night and it became as dark as a
tomb all around. There was not a single star in the sky, only dark low clouds drifting
almost to the ground. Queen Angusta’s horses were not afraid of the dark, because they
themselves were its offspring, and found the way unerringly. They rushed along quickly
and confidently, not fearing to break their legs on invisible holes or snags. They sensed
them and always jumped over.
“He’s too young to be my friend and colleague,” the prince continued the
conversation. “Unless I take him as a squire?”
“You’re naive!” the Queen laughed again. “No, you’ll need this boy for something
totally different. That’s what I want to tell you.”
Angusta approached the prince and started to whisper something to him. The boy
listened to her very carefully and his face gradually perked up, his eyes began to shine
brightly, and his nostrils flared, as if some impatience had gotten hold of him. He even
began to drive his horse faster, such excitement had suddenly come over him.
“Yes, you’re right!” he exclaimed when Angusta had finished whispering. “Why, I
never thought of that. I quarrelled with Arian today. Pity! I definitely have to make up.”
“I’ll help you,” the Black Queen nodded in agreement. “In order that he doesn’t
suspect anything, we’ll pretend that we’ve fallen out.”
Lautar looked enthusiastically at her. “How smart you are!” he exclaimed.
“It’s the science of power, son,” the Queen patted her son on the cheek.
While they were talking, their path had come to an end. The horses slowed and
changed from a spanking trot to a brisk pace.
“And here’s your army, Lautar!” On Battlefield, which the prince planted a few days
ago, the picture had changed completely. Grass and weeds had irreversibly disappeared;
soldiers had grown from the ground in place of them.
Lautar even gave a start when he saw Battlefield, it presented such a ghastly scene.
Before the prince were corpses, from which sepulchral cold and death emanated.
Knights and soldiers, archers and horsemen, all of them seemingly asleep, gathering
strength for future battle. It was an ideal army. An army which did not need food, rest,
or night quarters. It was capable of fighting until it had won and destroyed its master’s
enemies. And it was an army that would never betray or retreat. It was not afraid of
death, because it was death itself.
A thud came over the field. It was armour clattering when the wind blew, knocking
the soldiers against each other.
“Now they are ready!” Angusta went to the four horsemen standing on the very
spot where Prince Lautar had once begun to sow Battlefield. She greedily drew in a
lungful of fetid air coming from them. “We’ll bring them with us. Initially hide them in
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the dungeon. But they’ll be useful very soon. Approach, Lautar, and order them to follow
you. You’re their lord and commander.” Lautar complied. He rode up to the riders and
grimaced because the air of decay hit him in the nose.
“Follow me,” he said to them. The riders did not move.
“They are not listening to me!” Lautar looked fearfully back at the Queen.
She looked at him condescendingly and mockingly. “They won’t obey you while
you’re a scared little boy about to soil your pants.”

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Lautar flared up. He understood everything. His lips pursed into a thin line and his
eyes flashed with anger and determination. “I command you to follow me and fulfil all
my orders!” he shouted in a resonant, confident, and commanding voice. Even the
Queen flinched at these words. A shiver went down her spine. She looked attentively at
Lautar but said nothing.
The riders immediately began to move and bowed their heads humbly before
Lautar. “We obey, our lord!” A booming chorus of voices, seemingly from underground,
swept over Battlefield. The Black Queen and the prince, who had been abducted and
enchanted by her, rode back, no longer just two together but accompanied by a
detachment of black horsemen.
The army of dead remained on Battlefield. Its hour had not yet come, and it
continued to grow and gain strength before the harvest.

Arian and Melissa almost barely slept that night. Gloomy thoughts, grief, and
anxiety tortured both. Each tossed in his bed and dozed off only near morning. When
the palace woke up and the third floor started to bustle with life, they got up, not having
had enough sleep and worn out. Melissa had to rush to the market, having promised to
take the cook Dulcina there, and Arian had to go to Tuliap Tudu for classes. They
hurriedly got dressed and had breakfast. They did not want to eat but had to, because to
go hungry all day was also not a good idea. Melissa attended to Arian quite wretchedly,
not caring that they could be watched, and the Queen’s page also did not rebuke her
because he also forgot about caution. The events of the day before had affected them so
badly.
They met at lunch. Melissa looked even more downcast. Arian did not look any
better either. His had almost been strapped in class because he mixed up the Latin verbs
all the time. The rest of the pages were openly pleased and looked derisively in triumph
at Arian, who was green with fear. Tuliap Tudu had already gone to choose the rod, but
changed his mind and asked Arian if he was sick. The boy nodded happily. The
instructor was also pleased and put the rod back in place. To the great disappointment
of the pages.
“Did you go to the city?” Arian asked Melissa in a whisper. She nodded.
“Did you see our people?”
“Yes, they’re all in the city and waiting for our signal” Melissa waved despairingly.
“The whole troupe is in position, Hammer and all his robbers too.”
Arian gasped, “And the robbers?”
“Yes, they also decided to flee with us to your country and become honest people
there.”
“But this is great!”
“May be great. But who will let them into the palace, I wonder?” Melissa shrugged.

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Arian immediately became sad. Yes, there was no possibility of leading such a
crowd of people into the royal park. “Frankly, I was so counting on Lautar,” he sighed
sadly.
Melissa sobbed. Arian dug into his lunch with a spoon, ate a little, and went on
duty.
Everything was as usual. The Queen’s life was not noted for variety, and nothing
new happened for almost two hours. The pages followed the Queen as expected, carried
out small errands for her, and reported on who was requesting a reception.
However, Prince Lautar then came without permission and stated sullenly, “I want
to talk.” The Queen did not even look in his direction.
“I want to talk!” the prince repeated in a voice already louder and more assertive.
Arian looked at him in surprise. But Lautar did not even look at him. He only looked at
his mother.
She finally paid attention to her son and asked, “What do you want to talk to me
about?”
“I’m already grown up!” the prince declared angrily. “And I’m tired of being just a
prince. I also want to rule! Give me Valperius’ duchy. I’ll establish order in it.”
“There’s order at Duke Valperius’ without you, my boy,” the Queen said and shook
her head. “And you’re still too young to rule. Wait a few more years.”
“I’m not too young and I want to rule!” Lautar stamped his foot and really looked
like a little boy being unreasonable.
“Then wait until the Duke dies.”
“How long do I wait?”
The Queen smiled and said, “I think for a long time. The old man’s still strong. Isn’t
that so, Arian?” Arian nodded disconcertedly and looked guiltily at Lautar.
“Then give me an army!” Prince Lautar exclaimed deeply indignantly. “I’ll set off to
the East or the mountains.”
“Defeat awaits you there,” the Queen continued to reply in the same cold and
slightly contemptuous tone. “There are still many mirandas and other wild tribes in the
mountains, eager to get back at me. They’ll capture you and demand land from me in
exchange for your life. No, I won’t give you an army. If you want, take the boys and play
soldiers with them in the park. Adult games are not for you. And I don’t have any more
time to talk with you at all. I have to go to a court hearing. They are trying a robber
today. I should hand him a death sentence.”
She snapped her fingers and set off together with her pages to her quarters to
change. Arian followed the Queen and heard how the infuriated Lautar broke chairs and
hit statues behind them. “I’ve never seen him like this,” the Queen sighed falsely. “The
prince is at an awkward age.”
Then Arian accompanied the Queen to the courthouse. It was the first time he went
to the city, but he was not happy or amused at all. He could not get Lautar’s behaviour
out of his mind. Crowds of people and guards followed the Queen’s carriage. Arian and
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another boy were on horseback. Everyone looked at Palma with admiration and almost
with adulation. Such a beautiful horse had never been seen in Blackdrit.
At the courthouse, a gloomy three-storey stone structure, the Queen ordered the
pages to wait for her at the entrance. Arian dismounted and began to adjust the saddle
on Palma. Then he heard the sound of music. He turned around. Next to the court was
the market area, and Arian instantly saw Uncle Lancel’s wagon. A second later Arian
also saw Brusila and his fellows behind the chain of soldiers and royal archers. They
were standing in a crowd of onlookers and looking at Arian.
Brusila saw that Arian had noticed him and winked at the boy. The royal page
turned. He did not want to take a risk and betray himself with anything. When Arian
looked at Brusila again, he made a sign of approval to the boy. You know, you are doing
the right thing. Arian could not resist, and for the first time in all these days there was a
broad smile on his face. Only it was not up to his ears as usual.
On the way back to the palace, he rode thinking about how to guide his friends into
the park. The task seemed impossible. Although the performers and robbers were not
far from the palace, a wide gulf seemed to cut them off from him.
How surprised he was when, at the palace, the Queen released the pages and he,
having returned to his room on the third floor, saw Prince Lautar, who embraced
Melissa like a brother and said something warmly to her. Melissa rushed to Arian and
started talking about her brother changing his mind, that now he did not want to stay
another day in this palace under the same roof with the Black Queen, and that he had
decided to run away with them to the Country of Frozen Time. Arian’s head was
spinning from all this. He could not immediately understand what Melissa was saying to
him. But then, when Lautar started talking, Arian pricked up his ears. Something in the
prince’s voice seemed suspicious to him. The boy could not fully trust the sincerity of
Lautar’s words.
“I don’t just want to run away with you, I even want to help you do it.” Lautar, it
seemed, had noticed that Arian was behaving somewhat strangely and began to fret.
“Anyway, without me, you wouldn’t be able to get into the royal park for anything. Not
people but dogs guard it, and, aside from the Queen, they obey only me.”
This argument was certainly the most serious in Lautar’s entire speech, and Arian
finally believed him. He attributed all of the prince’s strangeness to him being simply
uncomfortable in front of them. That was the reason he was speaking in such a flat,
broken voice.
“We’ve agreed to set the escape for tomorrow night. The Queen and the guards
won’t be there. They’re all going to the night hunt of the glowing boar,” Melissa
chattered. “I’ll stay in the city tomorrow and find all our friends, and we’ll wait for you at
the market. You and the prince will find us there, and we’ll go to the park. How do you
like our plan?”
Arian was just at a loss. “The main thing is that it will work, and nothing will stop
us.”
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“Excellent,” Lautar said, pleased. “Then, we meet tomorrow night and leave the
palace. Be in this room, I’ll come for you.”
“They don’t take the pages on a hunt?” Arian was surprised.
“But you’ll be on duty tomorrow in the first half of the day,” Lautar replied.
“Yes, of course,” Arian agreed and was inwardly surprised at how the prince knew
that he would be on duty in the first half of the day tomorrow; indeed, the Queen had
only just told him.
“Tomorrow, then! Goodbye, Arian. Goodbye, sister! But I have to go, otherwise my
absence could worry someone and the Queen would hear about it,” the prince said in the
end and left the room.

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Chapter Fourteen
ANGUSTA’S TRAP

“Doesn’t all this seem strange to you?” Arian asked Melissa when the door had
closed behind Lautar.
But Melissa was all aglow with happiness, and when Arian tried to share his doubts
with her, she just pounced on him with reproach. “Aren’t you ashamed to say such a
thing about my brother?”
Arian lowered his head guiltily. “It’s indeed all very strange,” he sighed. “His words
differ so from what he said yesterday.”
“He understood that he was wrong and repented!” Melissa exclaimed. “Yesterday
the devil had simply possessed him.”
“Exactly, the devil!” Arian raised his index finger. “In my opinion, it’s still in him
today. After all, I know Lautar a little more than you do.”
“But he’s not your brother! Enough, Arian, stop being this way! Please!” Melissa’s
voice was so piteous that Arian was sorry for her.
After all, why, indeed, is he finding faults with the nice fellow? Of course, he is
sincere. Why would he deceive? If he did not want to go with them, he would not have
come to them. And that quarrel with his mother must have really stung a lot. Besides, he
knows that she is not his mother. So what holds him in Mortavia now? Nothing! If so, it
means that they will leave this cursed kingdom tomorrow. Is this not the most
important goal for him?
Arian shared these thoughts with Melissa and she fervently agreed with him. They
spent the rest of the night in dreams of the life they would have in the Country of Frozen
Time.

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The next day everything went according to plan. Arian went on duty and Melissa
went to the city. When Arian returned for lunch, there was no Melissa. She had
remained in the city. So, everything was going well for the time being. The boy prayed to
the forest gods that the Black Queen would not change her mind and call off the
arranged hunt. But everything went smoothly. The hunt was not cancelled, and the
courtiers taking part in it had been crowded in the palace courtyard and around the
stables since the morning and prepared intensively for such an important undertaking.
Prince Lautar was also supposed to go on the hunt with his mother, but he came
into her bedroom in the morning and, pleading a severe headache supposedly torturing
him all night, declared that he could not take part in the hunt. Angusta expressed her
discontent in regard to this and lectured her son for reading too much and that all his
ailments were from reading. Lautar listened silently to the Queen’s rebuke and left
without saying goodbye. For a second he managed to share a conspiratorial look with
Arian.
Finally, when the sun had already started to set, the royal hunt left the palace and
rode from Blackdrit with noise and music. People scattered long before the royal retinue
appeared on the city streets. The citizens knew perfectly well that they had better not be
in the hunters’ path. It was a bad omen for them, and they aimed at running over and
knocking down anyone who got underfoot.
Arian saw this spectacle, splendid in its own way, from the window of his room and
sighed with relief when the last hunters disappeared from sight. Only he and another
page were not taken on the hunt because they were on duty today. Soon the sounds fell
silent and an oppressive and uneasy silence again set in beyond the palace windows.
Arian gave a start when the door creaked and then slammed behind his back.
Someone had come into the room. He turned. It was Lautar. The prince was calm and
majestic. His appearance had a soothing effect on Arian. He seemed to have placed all
the responsibility for their undertaking on Lautar’s shoulders now. Now everything
depended on the prince.
Lautar was in field dress. A sword hung on his side. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Arian nodded. It was easy for him to get ready. He had everything with him. “Then let’s
go to the city.” Lautar pulled a wide-brimmed hat low on his head.
Saddled horses, Palma and the prince’s horse, were already waiting for them in the
courtyard. Quamodo stood near them and bowed obligingly. In his eyes was not the
usual grin but fear instead. Arian quickly found out the reason for the hunchback’s
behaviour.
“I told him that we are setting off for a city hunt,” the prince informed the boy.
A city hunt was referred to as the favourite entertainment of the nobility of the
Blackdrit court, when courtiers gathered in armed groups and went into the city in
search of passing pedestrians. If some were met, then there was no mercy for them.
They were hunted like wild animals and then killed. God forbid turning up in Blackdrit
at night. No one would open the door for you after midnight.
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The boys left the palace. The guards did not get in their way and did not even ask
questions. It was the same at the boundary of the palace. Not a single guard challenged
them. They all, as if on purpose, walked past the two noble boys traveling on
magnificent and fabulously expensive horses. Obviously, they wanted nothing to do with
a royal page and the other young nobleman. Arian wondered how they would be able to
come back accompanied by travelling performers and robbers with their occupation
written on their faces. He tried to ask Lautar this, but Lautar only shrugged irritably.
When all of three blocks were left to the market square, Lautar suddenly turned
into a narrow lane and directed the horses to a tavern.
“Where are we going?” Arian was surprised.
“It’s still too bright to go to your friends,” the prince explained. “We’ll wait here for
complete darkness. Besides, there are a few words I have to say to you.”
They entered the tavern and sat down at the farthest table. There were almost no
guests here, and those that were looked suspiciously at them but said nothing, only
hushed up cautiously and began to talk almost in a whisper.
The innkeeper immediately ran to the boys and bowed almost to the ground. “What
do the young gentlemen wish for?”
“Bring wine,” Lautar ordered in a voice accustomed to command.
The innkeeper instantly disappeared, then reappeared and placed in front of them
an abundance of wine bottles and two huge wooden tankards.
“I won’t drink wine,” Arian muttered cautiously. “Once I lost the service to a knight
because of it.”
“Nobody’s forcing you to drink,” Lautar reassured him. “Just pretend that you
drink and that’s all.” And he took a good mouthful. It seemed so from the outside, but
Lautar did not in fact drink a drop. “What a sultry night. Very stuffy. Normally on such
nights in Blackdrit fires blaze up in neighbourhoods of the poor and almost all the
guards go to put them out. Maybe there’ll also be a fire tonight? It’ll be most welcome
for us.”
As if in answer to these words, the distant and barely audible sound of a fire alarm
was heard from the street. Somewhere someone was striking a piece of metal. Arian
flinched. As any forest dweller, he feared fire more than anything in the world.
“So, you’ve firmly decided to run to the Country of Frozen Time?” Lautar suddenly
asked him.
Arian was at a momentary loss but then said firmly, “Yes.”
“Perhaps you’ll stay?”
“What for?” Arian clearly did not understand why Lautar appealed to him with
such a proposal.
“You could help me seize the throne of Mortavia,” Lautar said sincerely, again
pretending to drink wine. Arian even forgot that he should pretend to drink and his mug
stood untouched on the table.

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“Angusta has sat on the throne too long,” the prince continued. “It’s time for her to
pass it to me. I’m already old enough. What do you think?” Arian shrugged and said
nothing. “Yes, Mortavia’s throne should belong to me. Why don’t you want to help me?
Are you afraid?”
Arian blushed. He did not much like Lautar’s words. It was simply unpleasant to
hear them. All this reminded him too much of what Duke Valperius wanted from him.
“I’m not afraid, but I don’t want to be your comrade in your business. The Queen is
a queen, whatever she may be. Her power is sacred, and I can’t encroach on it. I just
want to leave your country and return home. There I have my own sovereign, the Fairy
of Eternal Youth, and my father, Prince Arinako. He wouldn’t approve of my action,” he
confusingly and not quite intelligibly tried to explain his refusal to Lautar.
“Pity,” the prince sighed. “But I don’t consider a royal person sacred. I hold her
culpable at least for stealing me and killing my parents.”
“Revenge is a bad adviser,” Arian said. “Leave your conscience clean and not
stained by murder. You have a sister. Come with us.”
Lautar sighed bitterly, “I have nothing else left. You’re the only person I trust. The
rest are cowards, traitors, and spies. But you refused. Well, that’s your right. Then let’s
act according to our plan.” He got up from the table and headed for the door, throwing
money to the trembling innkeeper on the way. Arian followed.
The street was already dark, and a crimson glow flickered on the clouds in the black
sky. Somewhere there really was a fire. But Lautar did not pay it any attention, mounted
his horse, and confidently set off to the market square. Not a single lamp was burning on
the streets and there were no passers-by. The prince was traveling quickly and openly,
as if he could see in the dark. Arian barely kept up with him. Their conversation had not
yet left his head. The boy did not much like it.
Someone hailed them by name. Arian gave a start and saw the performers’ wagon
and Melissa waving at them. He jumped from Palma, rushed to his friends, and found
himself in their embrace. They slapped his shoulders, and squeezed and pulled him.
Everyone was very happy to see him. Arian was also very happy. Everyone was here: the
performers, Uncle Lancel with the old woman Judolia, Brusila with the robbers, and all
the others.
Prince Lautar, not dismounting, looked at Arian’s friends perplexedly. He was not
used to such a display of feelings and it was all very unusual for him. When everyone
had calmed down and stopped squeezing Arian, they immediately stared at the prince.
Lautar saw curiosity, fear, and mistrust in their eyes. He was a stranger to them, rich
and so noble; only the Queen was more notable.
Lautar understood that a few more moments and these people would no longer be
able to trust him. “We have little time,” he said in a firm, commanding voice. “Follow
me.”
There was a tense silence. Everyone except Melissa looked at Arian. The boy
nodded approval; the people listened to him but not the prince, and began rolling the
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wagon onto the roadway. Arian noticed how Lautar’s lips trembled. Evidently, he did
not like that they did not obey him. The heart of the prince’s son trembled with anxiety.
Nobody said a word on the road. They travelled in complete silence. The horses’
hooves did not even clatter, because the performers had prudently wrapped them in rags.
The wagon wheels, carefully lubricated, did not creak.
The sky was crimson and brightly lit by the fires already raging in all parts of the
city. That was the reason not a single guard showed up in their path. All the archers of
the royal army were sent to put out fires and battle looting. Although, in actual fact, they
themselves were the main looters. Fire bells were booming. However, the streets along
which the fugitives were travelling were not burning, therefore no one got in their way.
The windows of the houses were dark and reflected the sky, crimson in the glare of the
fire. The barracks started.
“Tell your friends that if we come across any guards, we’ll fight. Let them get ready.”
Lautar did not simply say this, he had given Arian the order. And the royal page carried
it out without complaint.
Everyone became even more uneasy from these words. Not even uneasiness but
real fear came over the people. It seemed that some even began to doubt whether they
were doing the right thing going to the Gates of Fate. However, much to their happiness
and relief, again no one got in their way. The guards seemed to have become extinct that
night. Nobody was guarding the palace when they arrived. It was dark, gloomy, and
lonely.
Prince Lautar turned to a narrow stone bridge that led directly to the palace park.
The decisive moment had arrived. Arian felt his hands start to shake. He convulsively
grasped Palma’s bridle and saw that it was also agitated. He felt that soon they would be
home.
The cast-iron gates of simple casting were closed. A lock was hanging on them.
Lautar dismounted, walked up to the gates, and took out a key from his pocket. In the
darkness he could not get the key into the keyhole for a long time, but he managed it and
the gates swung open hospitably. The performers and robbers, who were standing in a
miserable, frightened bunch before them, hastily burst into the park. Lautar and Arian
closed the gates after themselves.
At night, the royal park looked even more gorgeous than during the day, and the
people were simply amazed by its fabulous beauty. It was all filled with lights. The
fountains were lit, lamps and lanterns were burning, and silver and gold statues
sparkled in their light. But there was no time to enjoy all this magnificence. The Gates of
Fate in the middle of the park glowed enticingly with a soft greenish light. They
beckoned and pulled like a magnet. Forgetting everything else, Arian jumped on Palma
and galloped toward them. All the others ran after him.
Arian was at the Gates when, in front of Palma, as if from beneath the ground, the
royal dogs rose up and growled fiercely and menacingly. The horse was frightened and

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reared. Arian stayed in the saddle with difficulty. Lautar rode to him and hissed at the
dogs. They whined pitifully and crawled to the side. The road was open.
Arian felt that his heart would now leap out of his chest, it was pounding so
strongly with excitement, and he uttered with difficulty, “Follow me, my friends. We’re
on target.”
He directed Palma under the crooked birches. The performers and robbers
followed him. Lautar and Melissa were last. She wanted to be with her brother.
All of them went one after the other through the Gates of Fate and found themselves in
another world, which was not like Mortavia at all.
The surprisingly fresh and clean air of the Country of Frozen Time met them. They
were in a field, and on the horizon far, far away was a strip of forest. Arian immediately
recognized his native Green Principality. Exhilaration filled his soul. He looked around
and froze at what he saw.
Prince Lautar stopped his horse right under the Gates and looked mockingly at him.
The horsemen of the Queen’s guards were already galloping out of Mortavia and quickly
and pitilessly surrounded the small detachment of fugitives. After the riders, foot
soldiers armed with chains fell on the people. The people, in surprise, did not even resist
but stood, submissive and shocked. Even the robbers did not fight for their freedom.
Nothing makes a person defenceless and helpless like a betrayal.
Arian also did not move. Although he only had to kick Palma’s sides with his heels
and it would carry him away, and no one would be able to catch him. The boy could not
do this. He could not leave his friends again. These people trusted him. The soldiers also
pulled him off the saddle, tied his hands behind his back, and put him before Prince
Lautar. Mortavian soldiers continued to pass through the Gates of Fate. Detachment
after detachment trespassed into the Country of Frozen Time. Looking at them, Arian
wanted to die because he knew that he had brought a terrible and ruthless enemy into
his homeland.
Then the Black Queen Angusta the First appeared, triumphant and happy, in a
black dress on a black steed breathing out cold and death. She did not hide her joy and
her nostrils flared with happiness. Prince Lautar looked dourly at her. But the Queen did
not pay him any attention and rode up to the bound page. Two warriors forced Arian to
get on his knees before her. One of them had on a black cloak with a hood that covered
his face, but the hood dropped down and the boy cried out, and the warrior laughed. It
was Duke Valperius – the Black Queen’s Night Hunter.
“Thank you, Arian, son of Prince Arinako,” Angusta addressed him. “My son Lautar
has long foretold that a boy with green hair will open for me the way to the Country of
Frozen Time. I’ve waited for you for so many years! And here you came and did what
should be done. This is your great service to me and I won’t forget it. When I conquer
this land, I’ll reward you generously. Now, so you won’t do anything stupid while my
army...”

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“My army!” Prince Lautar interrupted the Queen. “My army.”
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“Yes, true,” Angusta agreed, “while every single soldier of the Black Prince’s army
crosses over here, you’ll stay in the royal prison. We don’t need any more of your help.”
“What a pity, Arian, that you didn’t want to be with me,” Prince Lautar added and
sighed. “I thought out everything so well. But you refused. I had to arrange this entire
show for you and your friends. How did you like it? You’re indeed actors and experts in
this. All my conversations with you were just so you wouldn’t suspect anything. I pulled
the wool over your eyes. You shouldn’t have guessed under any circumstance that I
intend on invading the Country of Frozen Time. And I succeeded. You opened the way
for me and voluntarily gave up your country for conquest.”
“You won’t conquer the Country of Frozen Time,” Arian announced angrily. “It’s
beyond your capacity.”
Lautar flared up and shook with anger. “We’ll see about that!” Arian turned away.
He did not want to talk to the prince anymore.
“Why did you do it, brother?” Melissa, sobbing and choking with tears, struggled in
the hands of soldiers.
Prince Lautar did not even look in her direction. The Queen flinched and looked at
the other prisoners. Her gaze fell on Brusila. “Ah, it’s you, blacksmith,” she said with
satisfaction. “You’ve also been caught.” Brusila said nothing, only squeezed his fists
harder. “Now you won’t run away from me. The Black Prince’s soldiers will guard all of
you. And no one escapes them. Send every single one of them to the dungeon! We’ll
sacrifice them all when we start the war. War always requires human sacrifice. And it’ll
soon break out. Isn’t that right, Lautar?”
The Black Prince nodded assent. In his squinted eyes was the lust of conquests,
battles, and murders.

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Part Two
LIGHT AGAINST DARKNESS

Chapter Fifteen
TROUBLE IS BREWING

It was a boring enough day. Sunny, clear, and warm, but boring. Yet unease was in
the Sovereign’s heart. Most likely, she had spoiled the mood, which had been so good
and merry in the morning. For some unknown reason, happiness had evaporated
quickly and unexpectedly. The Fairy of Eternal Youth did not even manage to finish
doing her hair (it was one of her most favourite pastimes, with the help of two beauties,
younger sisters of the Forest Elf King), when suddenly she became depressed and sad.
The Fairy was incredibly surprised. She had never experienced anything like it. She
looked in amazement at her reflection in the mirror and, for the first time in her life, did
not like it all of a sudden. The Fairy did not understand anything. She thought that the
mirror was to blame and ordered the servants to bring her another. But it did not help.
On the contrary, unease crept into her heart. Again, the Fairy was surprised. She had
also never experienced unease.
When the Sovereign’s mood was suddenly spoiled, the mood of all who surrounded
her also became miserable. How is it possible to enjoy life if Her Majesty is sad? The
White Tower was filled with dismay and began to resemble those years when the old
Sovereign was in it. Although only yesterday balls were booming, revelries were making
noise, and music was playing here on all the floors. Today everything changed suddenly,
as if by magic. The Fairy of Eternal Youth’s old servants did not remember her in such a
state.
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In the afternoon, a rumour spread that startled everyone deeply. It staggered and
frightened. The Sovereign had gone to bed. This news spread in a twinkling along the
White Tower, along all its halls, went down and penetrated first the lock, and then flew
to pass around the city. The Capital was filled with rumours and was also miserable.
Even children stopped running on the streets and sat at home and pestered their
parents with questions about whether the Sovereign would soon recover.
Toward evening, shortly before sunset, the Fairy got out of bed and, without getting
dressed, came to the throne hall in a dainty lace chemise. She was pale and beautiful.
The guards looked at her and forgot about everything else at that moment. The
Sovereign entered the hall and closed the tall doors behind her. She went to the window.
Once it was possible to see out of it the entire Country of Frozen Time to the smallest
detail. It was a magic window belonging to the old Sovereign. However, Christian
Thirteen broke it when he and Knight Caterino fled from the White Tower, abducting
Prince Eugene from it. There was also a similar window in a castle in the mountains
where the Fairy of Eternal Youth had lived earlier. The Fairy now regretted that she had
not brought it here or made a new one in the past year. Everyone had been too busy.
Now it would have come in handy. Nevertheless, even without the magic glass there was
still a lot of power left in the window aperture, and the Fairy only needed to utter a
couple of spells and strain her eyes to see what she wanted. True, the image was far
away and not very clear, but it was better than nothing at all.
The Sovereign directed her gaze to the southeast and did not like very much what
she saw there. She only saw a small dark cloud hanging over the easternmost border of
the Green Principality. The dark cloud was small, but here the Fairy, a few hundred
miles away, felt the kind of power from it. It was very bad power. Hostile. Evil. Waves of
cold, damp, and musty air seemed to touch the Sovereign’s face and her head started to
spin. She trembled all over and felt cold. The Sovereign looked around. Huge expensive
mirrors hung from floor to ceiling on the walls, and she saw in them a frightened and
pale girl who did not know what to do.
The Sovereign moaned and clapped her hands with her last strength. The ladies in
waiting barely had time to catch the Sovereign and not let her fall. Frightened and
tearful, they looked at each other and did not know what to do. Nothing like this had
ever happened during their life in court and they simply did not know how to behave in
such situations. They would have stood by and done nothing, if not for Alvansor the
Flawless. The head of the palace guards ran into the throne hall and, on seeing what was
happening, instantly gave the ladies in waiting the order to carry their mistress to her
bedroom.
Here the Sovereign came to and saw the worried looks of her subjects. She found
Alvansor among them and in a soft voice gave the order, “Alvansor, prepare the army,
summon the knights.” The head of the Sovereign’s personal guards and the armed forces
of the Country of Frozen Time saluted and went out. Right away, his ringing voice was
heard outside the door: he was already issuing orders.
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In the morning, the Sovereign called Alvansor to her. He entered and his heart
ached with pity for the Fairy of Eternal Youth. She looked so sick and tired, not at all like
her old self.
“Help me up, Alvansor, and take me to the throne hall.”
Alvansor wanted to say that it was not worthwhile for her to do this in such a state
but kept quiet and, without saying a word, carried out the order. His heart literally
ached in pain for the Sovereign.
The Fairy came to the throne room and was unsteady. She leaned against
Alvansor’s shoulder in order not to fall and again went to the window and did the same
thing as last night.
“Look, Alvansor,” she said to Flawless, showing him the dark cloud, which had
almost doubled overnight. “This is the enemy invading our land. Many, many hundreds
of years ago, we defeated it and it hid in the spaces of time. I did everything so that it
would not return, and locked the enemy tightly up with a spell. But, she obviously
managed to find a way out.”
“Sovereign, are you talking about Angusta?” Alvansor the Flawless knew the
history very well and immediately guessed what it was about.
“Yes, it’s her, the Black Queen of Mortavia. I recognize her. A terrible enemy is
before us and it’s unknown whether we can defeat it. In the time that she has spent in
exile, Angusta has done a lot of evil deeds and she becomes stronger and more powerful
with every crime. Such is the nature of evil and the creatures that serve it.”
“But who helped the Black Queen of Mortavia find a way out?” Alvansor was asking
himself rather than the Fairy.
The Sovereign smiled, “This is destiny. No one can resist her. The old Sovereign
was destined to die, and no matter what he did, fate caught up with him. It’s the same
with Angusta and us. Fate has willed that we would fight, and it will happen. Only here
she doesn’t agree to a duel. Terrible forces are behind her, and I don’t even know what
we are to do. And now there is also my illness. I fear that this is also her doing. Take the
army, Alvansor, and go there fast. Try to meet the enemy before it gets onto inhabited
land. I entrust the command of the army to you. The main thing is not to let them cross
the Great River. If this happens, the Country of Frozen Time can no longer be saved. It
will fall under the enemy’s rule and turn into a Mortavian appanage.”
The Fairy of Eternal Youth said the last words almost in a whisper. Strength left
her with every second. Finally, she sighed and closed her eyes. Alvansor caught her light,
almost weightless body, like that of an elf, and carried her into the bedroom...

Green Valley, the capital of Green Principality, was deserted and seemed desolate.
The residents had left it and gone west to Green Brook. The Grand Duke had so ordered.
He himself and all his men, except those who had to guard the women, the old, and the
children, had set off to the East.

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Three days ago a courier came tearing along from there on a foaming, exhausted
stallion and delivered to the prince a letter from his younger brother, Orlando. The letter
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said that in the South, a few miles from the principality and the border forest, armed
foot soldiers and horsemen had suddenly appeared from nowhere and three
detachments had already invaded the land of Arinako’s kin. Orlando met them in battle
and even defeated one squadron, but he did not have enough people for further battles
and the enemies were becoming more numerous and stronger every day.
Having read the letter, Prince Arinako mounted his horse and rode to Green Giant.
Green Giant stood on the Great Hill and was the tallest tree in the Green Principality. It
was a powerful, gigantic elm. The main tree gods lived in its branches and offerings
given by people were always lying by its roots. The prince dismounted, got on his knees
in front of Green Giant, placed on its roots his own offerings – a loaf of bread, a piece of
meat, and a bundle of arrows – and asked for permission to climb to its top. Green Giant
creaked and its lower branch bent to Arinako’s feet. It implied that it had given
permission. Prince Arinako bowed to the elm and began to climb along its powerful,
thick branches. Although the Prince was no longer young, he made his way to the top so
fast that not even every young man would be able to do.
Having reached the top, Arinako looked around and saw that far on the horizon
clouds were drifting from the east and obscuring the sky. The clouds were black and
drifting so low that they even brushed against the top of particularly tall trees of the
Great Forest. Prince Arinako was wise and understood right away that this was not
simply rain or a storm approaching. He immediately recognized that the darkness was
gaining strength. His face became serious and stern. When he got down, he ordered his
men to prepare for a battle march, and all residents of the Green Principality to go west.
Everything was done with a speed desirable for any most experienced army. The
prince’s detachment was already quite close now to the border town of Oakgrove, where
Orlando ruled as the deputy. Along the way, several groups of forest warriors joined
them, their commanders uniting under Arinako’s banner at his first call.
With the approach to Oakgrove, the weather started to change and become worse.
The sun was irretrievably lost and dark impervious clouds blocked the clear sky. The
bright and cheerful forest darkened and became murky and gloomy. It, like the people,
was uneasy about what was happening. It had never been like this, that the sky became
so dark all of a sudden. The soldiers looked at it and checked their weapons. They were
not expecting anything good. It was as if the Black Dragon come flying. But the Black
Dragon was no more. Knight Caterino had killed it, which meant they had to fight
something unknown. There was still no news from Orlando.
Prince Arinako was stern and silent. It was difficult to recognize him – he was so
gloomy. Indeed, it was impossible to say that he had been cheerful this past year. Ever
since his son had set off wandering with Knight Christian; a year and a half had gone by
and there was no news on either. The boys seemed to have disappeared. No one had
seen them, neither people, animals, nor birds. Anxiety for his son did not leave Prince
Arinako all this time, and now disaster had fallen on his country, which even the old
Sovereign had not dared attack in the last hundred and fifty years. A decade ago, the last
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wild tribes living in the eastern mountains were crushed and they no longer troubled the
boundaries of the Green Principality. Since then, no one ventured to trade forces with
the people of the forest. The new Sovereign of the Country of Frozen Time gladly
accepted the Principality’s alliance with her. From that moment, anyone attacking its
land was also attacking the Country of Frozen Time. Now there were enemies who dared,
and if so, it was necessary to take up the sword.
The scouts returned and reported that Oakgrove had been destroyed, and the trees,
on which its homes stood, had either been cut or burned down. Corpses were
everywhere, but for the most part, these were corpses of enemies rather than forest
warriors. Evidently, Orlando had managed to send the residents to a safe place and
ambushed the enemies in this place. He succeeded and many enemy soldiers fell at the
hands of the forest brothers, but help for the enemies seemingly arrived in time and
Orlando retreated.
The prince ordered his army to split into three parts and sent the men in a wide
girth to the East. All were ready for battle. The forest had to end soon, but there was
neither friend nor foe. It was dangerous to go beyond its boundaries. Arinako and his
men were used to fighting under cover of their native forests.
But then the scouts returned and reported, “Orlando is here.” And a troop of brave
men led by the prince’s brother appeared behind them.
Orlando saw the prince and ran to him with open arms. “You’re in time for our
pursuit. There are no more than three hundred of us left and we’re already leading them
in circles around the woods for a second day. However, they’re about to catch us, but we
don’t have enough strength to resist. There are too many of them. Almost one-and-a-
half thousand.”
“Who are they?” Arinako asked his brother.
“I don’t know,” Orlando replied. “They look like knights, but they behave like
robbers or wild mountain men. When and where they came from, we don’t know. Their
camp suddenly appeared in the morning a few miles from our border, and the scouts
couldn’t say how they came here. It’s just sorcery.”
“Are they soldiers?”
Orlando thought for a bit and then said, “No, they’re all cowards and completely
didn’t know how to fight. They ran at the first real danger. Not an army at all but some
flock of sheep.”
Prince Arinako frowned, “Are you saying that sheep are driving you through the
forest?”
“No.” Orlando became very concerned. “Everything’s much worse. There are
vampires among them.”
“Vampires?” The prince turned as white as a sheet.
“Yes, vampires. They’re invulnerable and almost invincible. All of our losses are
from them. There are only three dozens of them. Horsemen. We killed only half. It cost
us hundreds of our men. But others instantly appeared in their place. And from the
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prisoners’ conversations, those of flesh and blood, we found out that they have hundreds
of these dead men and soon there will be thousands more. They intend on conquering
all our land. In my opinion though, our principality isn’t particularly necessary to them
for the time being. They’re going to go to the Capital and are visiting us at present
simply for mischief.”
After this conversation, Prince Arinako ordered the soldiers to hide and not to give
away their presence to the enemy, while he and his brother went to see the enemy with
their own eyes. The brothers dismounted not far from the border and continued their
way along the trees. They saw a lot of enemies wandering below, but no one noticed
them. The brothers got to the trees on the edge and saw the enemy camp. It was a very
big camp. There were several thousand tents up to the horizon, flags fluttering above
them, soldiers walking between the tents, and the sound of their weapons was clearly
audible.
The brothers returned to their army and scouts took their place. Arinako
announced that if the enemy encroached on the territory of his principality, they would
fight. He also gave the order to send carrier pigeons to the Capital, with a letter he sent
to the Sovereign, a letter asking for her help.
However, three days later the scouts reported that there was not a single enemy
soldier in the forest, and the enemy army had pulled up stakes and headed north.
“So, now we must render assistance to the Fairy of Eternal Youth,” Prince Arinako
said to Orlando. “Give the order to sound a campaign. We’ll be on the enemy’s tail,
indeed their path has gone through our forest for several days. You look, something will
change.”

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Chapter Sixteen
BLACK KRULII

The Capital had sunk into complete despondency. The Sovereign’s illness not only
did not go away, but also, on the contrary, had gotten worse, and there were even evil
tongues who claimed that the Fairy would not last a month. Despair had a strong hold
on the minds of the people. It was difficult for them to acknowledge that a person who
was almost a god to them could die. It was like the end of the world.
To the rumours of the Sovereign’s illness were also added hearsays that came from
the southeast. First Prince Arinako’s pigeons came from there with letters, which said
that an unknown and dangerous enemy was coming to the Capital. Then Alvansor the
Flawless gathered the entire army, sent out couriers in all directions, and left the city,
leaving almost not a single soldier in it. Only the guards at the city walls and gates and
the White Tower remained.
The townspeople still remembered what kind of panic reigned in the city a couple
of years ago when the Black Dragon suddenly climbed out of the White Tower. The same
feelings again began to overcome them. Only now they did not know where to run to,
and therefore they stayed at home and pondered over what was happening.
The gloom was much deeper in the palace than in the city. The Sovereign’s life was
always much more significant for the courtiers than for mere mortals. That was the
reason panic was very real among them, but they panicked as quietly as courtiers alone
were able to. It was so quiet in the castle halls and the White Tower that one could hear
the tapestries swaying on the walls, but panic was in the courtiers’ eyes.
One day at lunch a sigh of relief swept through all the halls and emerging hope was
heard. On the heels of the sigh throughout the building spread the words, “Drool has
arrived, Drool Hoskings. He’s finally here.” Drool had indeed come from the Western
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Mountains, where he had gone to a few days ago. He had some business there on
Roseblan. Now he had returned. Just at the right time.

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Aside from the Fairy of Eternal Youth, Drool Hoskings was the only wizard who
lived at court. No one doubted that the Sovereign’s illness was of a magical nature.
Wizards do not have such sickness as mortals. That was the reason the doctors were
powerless, and now everyone relied only on Drool. He had lived at court for one-and-a-
half years and the Fairy had taught him a lot.
On finding out what was going on, Drool hurried to the Sovereign’s chambers. He
almost rolled into the Fairy’s bedroom. His face was anxious, but when he saw the
enchantress lying in bed, the anxiety gave way to real terror. But Drool said nothing to
anyone and ran to the library where the Fairy kept her magic books. He sat with them
for a few hours and left completely frustrated because he found nothing in them.
As the Fairy was lying unconscious, Drool began to question the noble ladies who
had been with her the last few days. He strove to find out everything the Sovereign had
done. Everything, to the last minute. Any little thing troubled him. The ladies-in-waiting
dutifully told him everything, and since they were female, and also courtiers besides,
then nothing in the Fairy’s behaviour escaped them, and Drool soon knew everything,
almost to the second. However, to his great disappointment and that of everyone else,
he was not a step closer to a clue.
The Fairy of Eternal Youth’s illness was incomprehensible to him. Drool almost
cried from feeling so powerless. He looked at every centimetre on the floor on which the
Sovereign resided, and again found nothing. Everything was as usual. There was nothing
resembling strange, outsider magic. And he had indeed learned very well to recognize
the presence of magic. All his skill, all his knowledge and experience were powerless
before the unknown witchcraft. And Drool had no doubt that it was witchcraft. He saw
this as soon as he looked at the Fairy of Eternal Youth. Nevertheless, he could not
understand the nature of this sorcery. Without this, he could not help the Fairy get well.
He gave way to despair because of this. He ran through the halls and searched for a
way out, as if he was lost. Everyone saw his condition and did not approach him, but for
the first time during his entire stay at the Sovereign’s court, Drool suddenly realized of
what great value he was for all these people, who a week ago did not perceive him
differently from a Sovereign’s toy. Now all their lives depended on him and, above all,
certainly the Fairy’s life. But he could not save her. This was when Drool really regretted
that he was not a grown-up but merely a kid, useless and powerless.
So passed the first day.
The next day, Drool went with fear into the Sovereign’s bedroom. He did not expect
to see her alive. Fortunately, his fears were not justified. The Fairy was alive. But her
condition was unchanged and had not improved. Nevertheless, Drool was happy about
it. The main thing was that she had not become worse. It meant that the Fairy’s body
was fighting with the disease and resisting it. So, Drool still had time. The little wizard
had determined that the enchantress would last a few more days. He also informed the
court doctors of this.

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Dr. Polydorus6 declared that the Sovereign’s bedroom was too chilly and draughty.
He proposed moving the patient to another room, one warmer and darker. The other
doctors did not begin to argue and Drool agreed with them. He gave the proper
instructions but continued his search. He was in the hunting hall when the
simultaneously frightened and happy lady-in-waiting Marie ran to him and said
Polydorus was summoning him urgently.
“What happened?” Drool asked, bursting into the Sovereign’s new bedroom.
“Her Majesty is feeling a little better,” Polydorus informed him in a whisper. “She
opened her eyes and looked at us. But she still cannot speak. She doesn’t have the
strength. But we do have hope.”
Drool looked at the Fairy and agreed with Polydorus that she had started looking
better. Joy sparkled in his eyes. Conjectures began to emerge in his head. “When did she
start to get better?” he asked the doctor.
“As soon as we brought her here,” Polydorus replied. “She even seemed to sigh with
relief.”
“As if some weight had dropped from her, doctor?” Drool was so excited that he
turned from pink to as red as a tomato.
“Yes, yes, exactly!”
Drool’s ears stirred in excitement. “Didn’t this happen just a little earlier, huh?”
“Meaning?”
“Didn’t the improvement begin at the moment you brought her out of her former
bedchamber?”
Polydorus began to scrub his bald head and long grey beard. “Yes, very likely it was
so. It happened right away, as soon as we carried her out the door. She opened her eyes
and groaned. We thought that she would say something, but after a few steps she again
became ill, and relief came only here.”
“So, it matters where our mistress is after all!” Drool exclaimed and ran to the old
bedroom. He began to study it anew. Again, he discovered nothing. The unhappy Sweet
Tooth simply burst into tears of despair. He had never cried in his life, but now he began
to cry. He was very sorry for the Fairy of Eternal Youth and the Country of Frozen Time;
he had come to love it during his wanderings.
His glance accidentally fell onto a mirror; there were a lot of them. Drool saw his
reflection and wept even more bitterly. “I’ve become quite grey,” he muttered. “So,
things are really bad with me. I’ll fail to save the Fairy. And I’ll turn green or blue and
transform into an ordinary troll, become wicked, jealous, and mean. How sadly
everything will end!”
He began to wipe the tears from his face and suddenly opened his mouth in
surprise. His hands were quite normal. Pink, without any shade of grey. In surprise,

6 Polydorus refers to several different people in Greek mythology.

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Drool even stopped crying. He examined his hands and ears carefully, bending them to
his eyes. He was as before. He looked in the mirror again. He saw in it a grey troll, not at
all the pink Sweet Tooth.
“Holy cow!” Drool said quietly. He walked right up to the mirror. A light cold
breeze blew on him softly. He began to stare into the eyes of his reflection. The Drool in
the mirror was still greyish as before. The real Drool breathed on the glass surface.
There was no condensation and the glass remained the same as it was. Drool breathed
on it again. The result was the same. He touched the glass – it was icy. He was even
burned by the cold. Then Drool cast a spell that summoned the mirror gnome. This was
a friend he had made a few months ago when he examined the nature of time, and, as is
known, no one is as well versed in time than mirror gnomes.
The spell snapped into action. His friend White Beard, one of the most famous
gnomes – Time Guardians – looked at him from the glass. Drool even cried out because
White Beard had changed so. He was usually a likeable and good-natured old man with
a thick white beard as wide as a shovel, who liked to philosophize and argue. But now
before Drool was a true warrior. With a round wooden shield wrought in iron, a helmet
with horns, and a battle axe. Yet this was a very weary warrior. It was obvious that he
had just fought someone. Sweat was flowing down his face and he was breathing heavily.
“I have no time to talk to you, Drool Hoskings,” White Beard said gravely. “But
your guess is correct. The black krulii had found their way into your home and want to
devour it. All your mirrors are sick. Don’t look at them. They won’t show you the truth
but will only kill you. We’re fighting them, but there are too many. Help us!” Having
quickly uttered these words, White Beard disappeared.
The icy cold again blew from the mirror onto Drool and he barely managed to jump
away from it. But he now knew the main thing and his soul rejoiced. He rushed like
lightning into the room where the Sovereign was lying and looked around. Only one very
small mirror was hanging here. Drool rushed to the Sovereign’s bed and tore the snow-
white sheets off it. Everyone who saw this gasped at such unprecedented audacity. But
Sweet Tooth ran up to the mirror, spat at it, and threw the sheet over it. Everyone
instantly heard a furious ringing. It came out from under the sheets. The teeth of
everyone who was there chattered from fear.
“Hang whitest sheets or other fabrics over all the mirrors that we have!” Drool was
already giving out orders. “Change the covers every ten hours and burn the used ones.
Don’t take it into your head to use them later. They’re a danger to life.”
Everyone ran and rushed about, carrying out his directions. Suddenly everyone
stopped and froze. The Fairy of Eternal Youth opened her eyes and got out of bed. She
smiled again and, although she was still pale, it was evident that there was nothing
threatening her life anymore.
The next day the Fairy of Eternal Youth was already able to stand up and even
walked around the bed. Her strength restored by the hour. She came alive and expressed

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a desire to visit the throne hall. Drool said that she would be able to do this only when
all the mirrors in the White Tower had been taken downstairs and melted down.
The Fairy already knew the cause of her illness, which had almost killed her. “Let
them go downstairs,” she agreed with Drool. “But there’s no need to melt them down yet.
It’ll be too disadvantageous. And secondly, they’re still useful to us.”
“Useful?” Drool gasped. “Mirrors bearing death are useful?” The Fairy just smiled
mysteriously.
The next day they entered the throne hall. Now there was not a single mirror here.
Earlier there were almost fifty of them and residing in this place almost killed the Fairy
of Eternal Youth. Now in their place were only pictures, quickly delivered here from
other floors.
“I need to know what’s happening in the southeast,” the enchantress said.
Drool already knew that a terrible enemy had appeared. He had read Prince
Arinako’s reports. Now they looked anxiously in that direction where dark clouds
covering more and more space hung in the sky. Alvansor’s Army was moving very fast.
But it was still far away from its meeting with the enemy. This was even comforting.
“Maybe we still have time to do something so that they won’t meet,” the Sovereign
said to Drool. “We have very little time.”
“Yes, it would be a tragedy if Alvansor fought with ten thousand soldiers of the
Black Prince,” Drool sighed. “It’s certain death for them. By the way, who’s this Black
Prince and where did he get the dead soldiers?”
“I don’t know yet. But it seems to me that the prince is only a toy in someone’s
capable hands. He operates too slowly and clumsily. Like a boy, not a seasoned warrior.
But behind him is a strong, prominent hand.”
“Angusta?”
“The same. The Black Queen of Mortavia.”
“And why is it she got out precisely now?” Drool became distressed.
The Fairy smiled. “Dear Drool,” she said gently, “it has fallen to our lot to fight with
her. There’s nothing to be done. Do you know where the strength of the dead soldiers
lies?”
“Where?”
“In darkness. It gives them strength. That’s why they fight under dark clouds.”
“Then it’s no trouble at all to disperse them, Fairy!” Drool rejoiced.
“A week ago, I would have done it in a few hours,” the Fairy shook her head. “But
the black krulii took away all my strength. They left only life.”
“What can we do?”
“You have to fly to Roseblan again. Only Voidrag the White Dragon can help us. I’ll
give you the key to his cave and the text of the spell that can wake him. Unfortunately,
you’ll need a whole week for this. But he left his cave not too long ago when he fought
with the Black Dragon. Now it’ll be very difficult to wake him.”

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“The Prince of the White Tower?” Drool suddenly asked. “Wasn’t Voidrag intended
for him?”
“That’ll have to wait. Apparently, you won’t be taking Voidrag to him all the same.”
“Then who?”
The Fairy again smiled mysteriously but said nothing. Drool understood that the
time for him to know had not yet come.
“I’m setting off then,” he said.
“Yes. That’s what you have to do. Now we each have our task and we all must do it.
Go, Drool.”
It was already evening when Drool sat down in Fairy’s carriage, a gift of the Elf
King, to which silver cranes instead of horses were harnessed, and flew to the West. To
where he recently sent Knight Caterino’s sword and handed it to Christian. When he
disappeared in the blue western sky, the Fairy of Eternal Youth also began to prepare for
a journey.

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Chapter Seventeen
IN THE DARKNESS OF WAR

The sky was almost black, and this blackness stretched to the horizon. It was
impossible to make out a single gleam in it. There was no rain, but the air was so damp
that the horses coughed and choked on the mountain passes. The people, overcoming
hardships, continued their swift march to the East. Such a long distance had never been
overcome in such a short period of time. Alvansor succeeded in this. He chose the most
direct route and did not pay attention to any obstacle. The army went on a quick march,
and the presence of the enemy suddenly started to be felt the day before. It was close.
The breath of its army reached Alvansor’s troops and enveloped them with its cold.
Nevertheless, Flawless succeeded in the main task. He managed to pass the Great River,
destroyed the bridges behind them, and reached the town of Merry Fishermen. Here he
allowed the army a two-day rest. The weeklong hike was over. In front was the enemy.
And it was still unclear what it was like.
Alvansor sent reconnaissance detachments forward. The Flying Cavalry raced off
ahead. In less than two days they appeared, just when the commander again announced
a hike. And they were not alone. Orlando with a small troop of soldiers was with them.
Prince Arinako had sent them. What the Grand Duke’s younger brother described
horrified the commanders. They had no idea with whom they had to deal. Alvansor
strictly forbade the officers from telling the soldiers about their future enemy, so as not
to plunge the army into a panic. He was already struggling so in maintaining high
morale in it. Especially since four days ago numerous refugees, who could explain
nothing but only confused the fainthearted, began to cross their path. There were a little
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more of them. They had fled from a sparsely populated region. They fled across the river
and called everyone to flee with them. No one listened. Residents of the town thought of
sitting tight behind thick, high walls. Soldiers did not have the right to even think about
flight.
When Alvansor and his army entered the town, they met serenity and complete
ignorance of what was happening. The merry fishermen were only interested in the
day’s catch. Only when the weather suddenly turned bad and fog covered the sky did
some citizens begin to look with alarm to the east. Clouds arrived from there. A chilling
cold also came from there. It evoked an unbearable anguish and frightened even the
brave. When the town garrison on Alvansor’s orders abandoned the city walls and set off
on a hike with the main army, the inhabitants of the town of Merry Fishermen fell into
turmoil and panic almost started in the town. However, someone suddenly then shouted
that a huge school of sterlets were swimming down the river, and the fishermen forgot
about everything in the world and began to prepare the tackles, nets, and boats. By the
evening, more than half of the male population of the town had already left it and went
to the river.
The army continued to move forward. Every day, the road became harder and
harder and the darkness thickened denser and denser.
Then the day came when they met the Black Prince’s vanguard at the north-eastern
border of the Green Principality. This meeting ended in a complete victory for the Flying
Cavalry detachment and Orlando’s foresters. They saw a troop of knights clad in armour
and entered into battle with them without hesitation. The enemy force was almost three
times larger, but it resisted for no more than half an hour and then the proud knights
embarked on a disgraceful flight. After them on the ground, in addition to the dead,
were still left lying cartouches, banners, and even an expensive weapon. Mortavian
nobles were not particularly sensitive in matters of honour.
The next day Alvansor’s army met the enemy army. For the time being, these were
not the Black Prince’s soldiers. These were only the Mortavian aristocrats. They did not
expect that they would have to fight at all. They did not anticipate meeting the real
enemy. They had set forth with the intention to plunder defenceless towns and villages
and take unarmed people into slavery. That was the reason no battle took place. Instead,
it was a disgraceful rout of all the troops commanded by Duke Valperius, and only
Queen Angusta’s personal guards somehow covered the retreating troops and
desperately fought off Alvansor’s soldiers. Nevertheless, the knights of the Order of the
Fairy crushed and demolished them.
Alvansor’s army went forward for a few more days and met not a single enemy
soldier. Only an uninhabited desert was in front. On the fourth day, Prince Arinako and
his army joined Alvansor.
“Perhaps the dead soldiers are simply the enemy’s fantasy?” Alvansor asked the
prince. “Maybe it’s just a trick to scare us?”

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The prince only sighed bitterly in response and showed his bandaged left hand. “A
ghoul inflicted this wound on me,” he said. “Ten days ago. And it still hasn’t healed. And
those who died at their hands experienced incredible suffering before death.”
“How are we going to fight them?” Alvansor exclaimed. “This is madness!”
“My men and I will fight,” the prince replied. “Yesterday the ghouls left their camp
to come to meet us. So in two or three days we’ll meet them face to face.”
This conversation took place in the General Headquarters tent. Alvansor came out
into the air afterwards. It was hard for him to breathe and he wanted to feel refreshed.
He met a chilly wind and breathing became even more difficult. The brave warrior
looked at the black sky. It did not give any hope of success. It was as if death had already
spread out its wings over his army. Alvansor really did not want to kill people. He knew
that a battle with ghouls was a lost cause. To overpower them was impossible. Every
dead soldier would kill more than a dozen soldiers before he could be killed. People only
fought with such soldiers in ancient times and won only when dragons were on their
side.
The next morning he announced the continuation of the campaign. The army
moved off ahead again. The mood of its soldiers was very different now than the day
before, after the victory over the aristocracy. Rumours about vampires had nevertheless
spread among them and there was little wish to fight them. Grumbling had started. The
soldiers and even the guards sullenly looked sideways at Alvansor when he passed by on
horseback. The commander caught their gazes and only frowned in silence.
Disturbing thoughts overcame Alvansor the Flawless himself. He went ahead and
looked at his army, and pondered how long it would hold out against the ghoul-soldiers.
He came to the conclusion of a very short time. Then he gathered the whole army, lined
it up as if for a parade, and made a speech in front of it. It was not easy for him to talk to
the soldiers. Like all soldiers, he was a man of few words, not wasting words in vain.
However, this time he had to be eloquent. He told the people the whole truth.
“I can no longer hide from you who our true enemy is and whom we will have to
fight tomorrow or the day after. You have the right to know.”
Such sincerity shocked the people. Alvansor saw that the mood among the soldiers
changed right in front of his eyes. But not at all in the direction the commander was
expecting. He thought that panic, grumbling, and hysterics would instantly begin.
Instead, determination began to take control of the soldiers. The people were appalled
to the depths of their soul that an enemy had come to their land and was using for its
conquest dead soldiers who had once died in an unknown battle. They perceived this as
a real blasphemy to them and their homeland.
“Now you know everything,” Alvansor finished. “And I, as your commander, will
not oppose those who decide to leave. Now I’ll give you this opportunity. Those who
know that they won’t be able to fight with such an enemy, let them leave today rather
than during battle, breaking the structure of our ranks and giving a bad example to
those who will still have the power to fight. There’s nothing worse than this example
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during battle. When a soldier sees someone save his life, he remembers about his own
skin and also begins to fuss over it, then he either runs or becomes a traitor and goes
over to the enemy. So, I dismiss you. I’m announcing a new assembly at this same place
here in an hour. Those who will follow me, I order you to form up here. Those who leave,
I will never order anything again.”
Having said this, Alvansor the Flawless went into the tent and lowered the door
flap. When he came outside exactly one hour later, the army was in front of him. The
commander looked over it and his heart trembled with joy in his chest. For the first time
in the last few days, he suddenly stopped thinking about defeat. Hope for victory
emerged in him because almost the entire army was standing in front of him. Only a few
who were able to admit their cowardice had quietly left its ranks. But such were few. All
the rest, soldiers, guards, all the knights of the Order of the Fairy down to the last
warrior, and all of Prince Arinako’s men were before him. In everyone’s eyes was
determination and the willingness to fight for their homeland.
If Alvansor the Flawless were a sentimental man, he might have shed a tear. But he
was not and therefore simply gave the order to move on. He was in a hurry to get to
Crane Field. It was a good place for battle. To the left was a deep ravine and a marsh
behind it, and to the right was an impassable stretch of fallen trees, on which only
warriors of the Green Principality could move freely because it was their territory. In
addition, there were a few rolling hills, and it was possible to adapt them successfully for
defence.
It was the last quick march to the East. Towards evening, the soldiers of the
Country of Frozen Time made a sharp turn to the south. Just before sunset, they, not
even stopping, and naturally not seeing because of the dark gloom, got to Crane Field
and took up positions through most of the night. They had little time left. The Flying
Cavalry had already seen the first detachments of the Black Knights of death. They
walked in complete darkness and did not slow down their pace. Even the hearts of the
bravest of them were beating in fear when they saw the night warriors. They had orders
to detain the enemy whatever it took, and they already wanted to join in a battle to the
death and die, to give the others time to prepare.
Here Orlando and Arinako, always in the vanguard and reconnaissance because no
one knew these places better than they did, proposed something risky. When hundreds
of dead soldiers reached the plain, after passing the hills, dozens of bright fires burst
into flames in front of them, blocking the road. The ghouls stopped. They were afraid of
fire because fire was the only thing they feared. They watched the flames silently and did
not move from their place.
Arinako, Orlando, and Langrel, the commander of the Flying Cavalry, had the
opportunity to observe them. There was nothing remarkable about the ghouls, however.
They were knights, clad in iron from head to toe. The metal was black and did not reflect
the light from the fires at all. Even their swords and spears were black. There were no

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outfits or jewellery. The knights were only in black iron. No other colour except black
was present in their appearance.

Then a rider appeared in their ranks. It was evident that he was not a ghoul. The
rider, though he was all in black, was clearly a real person. He appeared among the black
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soldiers and in a firm, sonorous voice gave the order to move on. He rode up to one of
the fires, stopped his horse, and again gave the order to move forward. The faces of the
people lying in ambush observing the enemy fell in surprise when they saw the rider. In
front of them was a very ordinary boy obviously not even fifteen. But the dead soldiers
obeyed him without question because their ranks wavered and they walked forward
right into the fire.
“That is probably their leader,” Orlando turned to his brother and Langrel, “the
Black Prince.”
“It would be nice to pull that boy off his horse and drag him to Alvansor.”
“Not a bad idea,” Langrel agreed. “I’ll call my lads.”
The Black Knights of death, meanwhile, overcame the barrier of fire. They walked
through the fires, and many of them flared up like torches and burned like sparklers.
However, more and new soldiers walked and trampled one fire after another. Now they
had cleared a corridor for themselves and walked along it. The Black Prince commanded
them. The soldiers obeyed him implicitly, even if he ordered them to die.
The enemy had overcome the fire barrier and came out to a safe place. Then
hundreds of burning arrows flew at them. These were the brave forest lads. Langrel’s
riders were already racing out of nowhere towards the Black Prince. A dozen steps
remained for them to reach him, but the Black Knights rose up like a wall in front of
them and dozens of long sharp spears bristled. The Flying Cavalry had no choice but to
retreat. It was obvious that they would not succeed in fighting their way to the prince.
Langrel, who led the detachment on this operation, met the boy’s mocking gaze and felt
uncomfortable. It was as if it was not a teenage boy but a cunning and shrewd general
who had fought for more than a decade looking at him. Langrel spat in annoyance in the
direction of the enemy. A horn sounded the retreat, and there was nothing stopping the
Black Knights anymore. However, the Black Prince, apparently wary of continuing
movement in the dark, and not knowing what ambush was still ahead, also ordered his
troops to retreat in turn.
That night, a meeting of the two armies did not take place. The next day also
passed without any incident. Reconnaissance troops found no one ahead.
Then, when it was yet another morning, the enemy hordes were standing right in
front of Alvansor’s army. Black warriors occupied all the space in front. More than ten
thousand Black Knights stood and held their spears at the ready. They were only waiting
for the order to move forward. Then a rider rode out in front of them. He was of medium
height and delicate physique. It seemed from afar that a woman in a man’s attire was
sitting on the black horse. But everyone knew that this was not so. On the horse was the
Black Prince Lautar.
Alvansor put on a helmet and gave the order to set on fire the protective
fortifications created on the eve. There was a downpour. Tons of water came down from
the sky. The people understood that the enemy had applied the force of water against
their fire. Now fire was no longer of help to them.
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Chapter Eighteen
CASSANDRA’S LITTLE BALLS

It was as quiet as a tomb in the dungeon. Only drops of water occasionally fell
resonantly from the damp walls. Here were a few cells, all of three narrow rooms. All of
them were filled with prisoners. In the first were Arian, Uncle Lancel, and Melissa. In
the second, Brusila and his comrades from the robber gang were chained to the wall. In
the third languished the performers, every single one of them. Even the bear Bolivar was
with them.
Dead soldiers provoking chilling horror guarded the prisoners. They were blind
and saw nothing, but had very sensitive hearing and smell. The black soldiers felt the
prisoners’ every movement, and if movement began somewhere, they immediately came
to the place, listened, and sniffed. It was impossible to run from them. They curbed any
attempt. Besides, these guardians of darkness never slept, and they went along the
dungeon with drawn swords. But at the same time, they made no attempt to hurt the
prisoners, because they had no such order. They were ordered only to guard the
prisoners, not to torture or kill. And they guarded. So, after a few days the prisoners
even got a little accustomed to their guards and stopped flinching at the sound of their
steps. Nevertheless, the friends’ mood did not improve. They were prisoners, and on any
given day they could go to the gallows. Time passed slowly and sadly.
Arian felt worst of all. His conscience tormented him. The wretched boy was simply
numb with grief, and his friends argued in vain that he was not guilty of anything, but
they could not convince him of this. The only consolation was that he was not alone in
the prison and his friends were still with him. “When they take you to execution, I’ll go
with you.” These were his first words, which he said the day after they found themselves

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in prison. Later he was silent again, but his friends understood perfectly well what he
was thinking.
Arian was in full despondency for two days. He ate nothing, talked to no one, and
answered no questions, only stared blankly and held his head with his hands like a sick
or crazy person. Even Melissa, who was not feeling any better than Arian after she saw
what her brother had done, could not shake it. Uncle Lancel tried to persuade the boy
with arguments of reason, then despaired, went to the corner, and was also discouraged.
However, on the third day Arian suddenly gave a start, looked around, saw Melissa
nearby on damp straw, and crept up to her. “Enough being idle!” He nudged her in the
side. Melissa looked at him and made a little sound. Arian once again marvelled at the
dedication of the girl who even now did not lose her presence of mind.
“Yes, you’re right,” he clenched his fists. “It’s I who acted like a wimp. Instead of
thinking how we get out of here, I sat and moped like yeast dough. What do we do,
Melissa? We need to get out of here and save us all, the Country of Frozen Time, and
your brother, because he also needs our help.”
Melissa looked at Arian and her eyes glistened with tears. “So you don’t believe that
my brother is a traitor?” she exclaimed.
“Of course not! It’s magic as clear as water. I’ve said that from the very beginning.
So what are we going to do?”
They pondered. A black soldier appeared on the other side of the bars and started
to look at them with the empty eye sockets of his helmet. It seemed he was listening.
Melissa and Arian instantly stopped talking. At first they felt uneasy, and then Melissa
cried aloud to the whole dungeons, “What, can you really get out of here? Don’t even
think about it!” The black soldier, who had already started to pull out his sword,
dropped it back. He shook his head ominously and went on. Melissa and Arian
continued talking in a whisper.
“These soldiers, perhaps even great warriors, are invincible, unassailable, and
whatever else, but they clearly don’t possess a great mind,” Melissa whispered. “They
were ordered to guard us, so they guard. The main thing is not to talk about escape; they
don’t react to anything else. I noticed this. Let’s not say ‘escape’ but ‘go on tour’. They
won’t understand anything.”
“Okay,” the boy agreed. “So, how do you think we can go on tour?”
Melissa shook her head. “That I don’t know yet. Perhaps your dragon’s tooth can
help us?” Arian pulled out his talisman and looked at it. The tooth gave no indication
that it could help them with anything. Arian sighed.
“Maybe your little ball will help us?” he asked. Melissa pulled out her little ball. It
also did not light up. The friends could not hold back a new breath of frustration.
Suddenly Melissa slapped her forehead. “I still have another little ball! Lautar lost
his. Perhaps it’ll help us?”
She pulled out of her dress a little bundle, in which she wrapped her mirror, then
pulled out of it the other little ball and put it beside the first one. It was good that she
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did not have time to put away her little ball, because when they both turned up next to
each other, they immediately lit up with a blue light and started jingling. Arian and
Melissa held their breath in excitement.
“Take them in your hands,” Arian advised her. Melissa listened to him and took a
ball in each hand. A luminous pink sphere so familiar to Arian instantly appeared
between her palms. It was glowing with a soft light, as if stars were twinkling inside it.
“It works!” Arian exclaimed quietly. “Wish for something! What do you want to
see?”
Melissa trembled all over and whispered, “I want to see my brother.”
Right away, they saw Prince Lautar in the circle of light. He was dressed all in black
and sitting on Angusta’s black horse, and groups of black soldiers were marching in
front of him. They passed in formation in front of him, and the prince looked at their
ranks with an admiring glance, in which were joy, pride, and something else, very bad.
His army, detachment after detachment, entered the Gates of Fate and disappeared
outside Mortavia.
“So, they’ve already begun the invasion,” Arian whispered. “It means we need to
hurry up with the tour.”
“Lautar!” Melissa uttered tearfully. “What are you doing?”
She shuddered at once. It seemed to her that Lautar heard her because he turned
his head toward her. Surprise flashed in his gaze. They did not see what happened next,
because in her excitement, Melissa dropped both little balls from her hands, they fell
with a clatter onto the stone floor, miraculously without breaking, and the vision
disappeared.
“He heard you!” Arian grabbed Melissa’s hands and squeezed them tightly. His face
was burning like fire. “You can communicate with him. We could say something to him.
But it’s very good that we didn’t have time, because Lautar isn’t on our side for the time
being. If he realized what’s going on, he would order them to take away your balls. We
need them. I’ve just had a plan.”
Melissa looked at Arian with surprise. “How did I do that?”
“I don’t know, two balls are probably much stronger than one. Besides, you put
your mirror on the floor, and it also increased your power. You can see not only what
you want but also where you want. That’s what we need.”
“But what use is it to us?”
“Now you’ll find out. Take the balls in your hands and show me the mirandas
Isabella and her sister Isaura. Quickly!”
Melissa understood nothing, but nonetheless, she obediently took Cassandra’s balls
in her hands. A light circle appeared again, only this time it was yellow. Melissa closed
her eyes and whispered something softly. Immediately the yellow circle began to darken,
and after a few seconds it was possible to distinguish the tops of high mountains, over
which three mirandas were flying. Arian joyfully slapped his leg with a palm; he
recognized the two miranda sisters Isaura and Isabella, but the third he was seeing for
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the first time. The mirandas made a circle over a canyon and descended onto a
completely bare rock. All of them were dressed in tunics and armed with long two-
handed swords. But they looked different. Isabella the white miranda was dressed in
white, and her wings were also white, or rather, not even white but silver. On Isaura, the
black miranda, were a black tunic, black boots, and black wings. Isabella was blond and
Isaura was jet-black. But the third miranda was very different from the sisters. Her hair
was red, her tunic green, and her wings were golden and shone in the rays of the setting
sun. She also looked older, and a gold crown adorned her head.
Arian could not resist and called out, “Isabella, Isaura!” He then almost fell onto
the floor in surprise, because both mirandas turned and looked at him.
“They can hear me!” Arian was so delighted he almost did not have enough air in
his chest, he was again speaking with difficulty. Melissa had already opened her eyes
and was looking at the mirandas with fear and astonishment.
“Do you hear me?” Arian asked. “It’s me, Arian, Knight Christian’s squire.”
“Arian?” the sisters exclaimed in unison. “Is that you?”
Then a new miracle happened. Both girls, if you can call mirandas girls, took a step
forward and came out of the light circle, which suddenly became ten times bigger, right
in the dungeon and turned up in front of the boy and the girl. Arian and Melissa, in turn,
saw themselves standing on top of a bare rock, and only mountains were around them to
the horizon. The boy ran to the sisters and wanted to hug them, and they obviously
wanted to do the same, but nothing turned out for them. The mirandas were transparent
and made of air.
“We can only talk to each other because we’re in different places,” said Arian, who
immediately understood what was happening. The mirandas were not surprised at all.
They were very thrilled as it was to see the boy alive and well.
“You really didn’t perish in Talvira Falls?” Isabella asked him.
“No, I didn’t. This girl saved me from death.” The mirandas looked at Melissa.
“We returned that day for you and found no one. We flew and searched for you for
three days, but it was useless. Only the two broken wings, which we had given you, lay
broken near the bridge across the Talvira. So what happened to you? Why are such
gloomy walls around you, like the walls of a prison?”
“We’re in fact in Queen Angusta’s prison. Tomorrow or the day after they’ll execute
us all.”
Then Arian described to the mirandas as briefly as possible everything that had
happened to him and his friends. The mirandas, both sisters and the third miranda,
perhaps even more beautiful than the sisters Isabella and Isaura, listened attentively.
They did not utter a single word during his story, but their eyes were filled with anger
and their hands convulsively clutched their swords. It was evident that they were
spoiling for a fight.
When Arian finished his story, the miranda sisters turned to the red-haired and
gold-winged miranda and bowed their heads in front of her.
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“Oh, Aestiria, great queen of our tribe,” Isabella appealed to her. “You heard
everything. What do you say? Will you let us go to Black City, to the snake nest, where
we must help our young friend?”
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The Queen was silent for a few seconds. At last, she raised her head, looked at
Arian and Melissa with an attentive and watchful gaze, and said, “The two of you won’t
cope. You’ll only die and not save our friends. I say our friends because enemies of the
Black Queen are our friends, whoever they may be. Besides, the boy saved the life of you
both. We must repay him and his friends, and if need be, die in combat. Queen Angusta
has created evil for too long in the land. We have to fight her. We’ll fly with the whole
tribe to Black City. Wait for us, children, and tell your companions not to despair. We’ll
be with you by sunrise. Our blades are not afraid of the dead. We’ll save you!” Having
said this, the queen pulled out her sword with a peal, and the sisters did the same.
The wings remained on the rock, and a second later, the light went out around
them and Arian and Melissa again found themselves in the cell underground. The dead
soldier stood on the other side of the bars as if nothing had happened. What had taken
place here apparently did not bother him at all; indeed, not a single word had been said
about escape, and the rest did not concern him.
“Great!” Arian rubbed his hands with pleasure. “What else can we see? Maybe we
follow Angusta?”
Melissa agreed, but the light in her hands had already become invisible; the little
balls had gone out, and they could not see anything, no matter how they tried. The balls
were silent and transparent. Just ordinary glass balls.
“Obviously they’re tired,” Arian surmised. “Well, hide them. We’ll get by on our
own.”

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Chapter Nineteen
ESCAPE

However, it was easy to say they would get by on their own. But how to do it? First
Arian and Melissa woke up Uncle Lancel, who had been sleeping near them all this time,
and told him everything.
The old man only shook his head. “You want to comfort me?” he muttered with
distrust. “Mirandas. Whoever heard of them helping people?”
However, Arian and Melissa were already talking loudly to the rest of the prisoners
about mirandas flying to their rescue. The reactions to their words were very diverse.
Some, like Lancel, did not believe them and waved them away, while others were fired
up with hope. The most zealous among the latter turned out to be Brusila.
He rattled the chains fixed to the wall and shouted, “Still a long time till dawn! The
day has just ended. Everything can still change. Maybe we should hurry up the
development ourselves? Huh, lads?”
The robbers only agreed with him uncertainly. “Maybe we should wait for these
mirandas?” someone among them tried to argue. “How do we fight these jailers? We
have neither weapon nor power. They’ll kill us in no time at all. Okay if there was one,
but there are five of them!” However, Brusila did not heed these arguments and began to
rattle the chains, intending on breaking them.
“What are you doing?” the same robber, who tried to dissuade his chief from
escaping, yelled. “Look, that ghoul is coming!”
“Well, we’ll see about that!” Brusila said with effort. One chain, the thickest,
snapped loudly with a crunch, flying from the wall. Brusila was not only a great strong
man but he was also an excellent blacksmith, and iron submitted to him easily.

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A black soldier, who had been dully listening to the robbers’ conversation a few
seconds before, understood that one of the prisoners had decided to run and pulled out
his sword. The blackness of his blade flashed in the darkness of the cell. He walked with
a quick, firm step up to the grating that separated him from the prisoners. He did not
even open it but threw it aside like a piece of fluff. The grating flew away from him and
miraculously killed no one. The robbers began to cling to the walls in fear.
Nevertheless, Brusila also wasted no time. The corpse was quick, but the
blacksmith made a few movements and all the rest of the chain fell off him. He struck
the head of the soldier running up with one of these chains, the thickest and the heaviest.
The soldier did not even have time to pick up his sword as his head flew off to the side, a
column of black smoke immediately poured out of the neck stump, and he fell like a sack
on the ground and twitched convulsively. The hero broke the body in half with the next
blow, and the dead one was moving no more. But the remaining jailers were already
rushing over. Brusila roared with rage and attacked them. A fight broke out.
The robbers, on seeing the death of one of the dead soldiers, cheered up and
trusted their leader. They also began to break their chains. This did not work for them
and they cried out in despair.
Brusila continued to fight. Here was a strange thing. The corpses for some reason
were afraid of him. They fought hesitantly, afraid to approach the blacksmith too closely,
and when he attacked them, they even stepped back from him, as if from fire. They
hindered each other. The narrow corridor of the dungeon did not allow them to deploy a
wide front and then two more soldiers shattered into pieces under the blows of Brusila’s
chains.
The rest of the prisoners watched this and could not believe their eyes, seeing how
easily the man overpowered the invincible and invulnerable corpses. Such power came
from Brusila at that moment that it even infected everyone. The performers and robbers
began to shake the grating and cheer their companion. How they wanted to help him
and also join the battle, and how they wanted him to win!
And Brusila won. The swords of the remaining soldiers broke when they tried to
break the blacksmith’s chain with powerful attacks. The soldiers, not understanding
anything, froze, and the blacksmith dealt with them without mercy.
“Whoo!” he exclaimed, taking a deep breath. “What a smell of mould from them!
It’s as if I were in a grave. Well, friends, we have to get out of this stinky cellar. We didn’t
wait for the mirandas. But I simply didn’t have enough patience. Such a big fellow to
wait for dames to rescue me, albeit with wings, and warriors, but dames all the same!
Not happening! Better we meet the enemy face to face together with them on equal
footing.”
They all agreed with him. After a few minutes, Brusila freed the prisoners from
their chains and shackles. The squad of brave men made their way to the dungeon exit.
They shouted for joy at the door because they found a pile of their things. The robbers
found weapons here. Brusila almost danced with joy when he saw his hammer. Now he
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felt more confident than with the chains. The performers found their costumes and
instruments. Arian even found his case with daggers and was utterly contented, hiding it
under his clothing.
Then Brusila knocked out the oak door with a blow of his hammer and they went
outside. A sigh of disappointment escaped everyone. They were standing at the foot of a
tower, which a few days ago, when they were brought here, was still part of the Queen’s
castle. Now, this tower was at the bottom of a gigantic and deep well, which was
impossible to get out of because its walls were as smooth as a mirror and as solid as
granite. There could not even be a discussion of climbing up them.
“It’s Angusta’s witchcraft!” Uncle Lancel wailed, almost in tears. “She lowered our
dungeon into an abyss. If we don’t get out of here, then we’ll fall further and further
down until we reach hell fire and burn in it!”
“Nonsense!” Plym said. “We’ll climb inside the tower, go upstairs, and get out along
a rope onto the castle wall.”
They began to search for a door in the tower in order to break into it, but no matter
how they looked, they could not find one. The tower had no door. Only walls made of
rough stones. Brusila hit it with his hammer in the hope of finding a hollow space. Then
it would be possible to push through into the tower, making an opening. But the sound
everywhere was muffled and did not give any hope. Despair began to seize the people.
They stood helplessly before the tower and looked up. The sky had already darkened;
night was approaching.
There was a rumbling. The ground shook under their feet, and the tower sank
another couple of elbow lengths. Everyone cried out in terror. Now they realized that the
tower had sunk when Brusila fought with the dead. There was also a very long rumble
then, they simply did not pay it any attention: they did not have time for it. It meant that
Queen Angusta did not entirely rely on her dead soldiers. She had one more spell in case
the prisoners dealt with their jailers.
Arian, who had been standing silently, staring at the tower, took a step forward.
“We must get up at all costs,” he said. “Since it’s all bricked up inside the tower, we have
to climb outside up the wall. I’ll try to do this. Please give me a rope, and when I reach
the top, I’ll drop it down. And you all climb up it to me.”
“Not a bad plan, but how will you climb the wall?” The tightrope walker Plym was
surprised. “You’re not a fly.”
“Here in one place the wall is badly cracked,” the boy explained. “And there are
many ledges on it. I’ll go up along these cracks and ledges. It’s not so hard. I’ve climbed
places more difficult than this wall.”
“All right.” Brusila patted Arian on the shoulder. “We don’t have a rope with hooks,
or we would’ve gotten up with them already long ago. In that case, try, perhaps
something will work for you.”
They immediately gave Arian a roll of thin but long and very strong rope, which the
tightrope walker Plym had. Arian hung it over his shoulder, pulled out his daggers, and
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climbed up, sticking them into the cracks up to the handles, holding onto them, and
stepping on them with one foot. There were three daggers. Arian held onto one of them
with his left hand, stood on the second with one foot, took the third in his right hand
and stuck it as high as possible above his head. After that, he hung from the dagger
which he held onto with his left hand, bent down, and pulled out the dagger supporting
his foot. In general, he did all this with incredible dexterity, and those who saw it could
not believe their eyes, because it all seemed impossible. But Arian, though very slowly,
climbed up. Sweat flowed like a stream from him; he stopped several times and rested
for a long time, studying the wall above him. He had to memorize every crack and every
ledge.
With bated breath and not daring to make a sound, the friends followed his every
move. It seemed to them that they were climbing with him, and the sweat flowed along
their faces as abundantly as Arian’s. Minute after minute passed. Tense waiting deprived
the people of strength; they were tired of standing with their heads up, but also did not
think of lowering them. Arian’s climb would decide their fate. Everyone understood this
very well, especially after a rumble was heard again and they all sank another elbow
length. Time would pass and it would be impossible even to get from the top of the
tower to the ground.
Almost an hour had gone by and still one third of the way was left for Arian to
climb. His hands were shaking from fatigue and he was straightening his legs with
difficulty. Fortunately, none of his daggers broke. That meant they had been forged by
the famous blacksmiths of the Green Principality!
It became quite dark. Arian could see in the dark like a cat and it helped him to
move forward. Besides, torches were lit at the bottom and their fire was a great help to
him. The boy got over a few stone blocks and the climb further became quite easy. There
were so many cracks and almost all of them were so deep and large that Arian overcame
the remaining distance in less than a minute and climbed out onto the platform. The boy
heard cheers. His friends below were happy. Then he attached one end of the rope to a
broken merlon with an arrow slit and threw the other end down.
A minute later Plym’s dishevelled head appeared. The tightrope walker beamed like
a polished basin. He jumped out onto the platform and hugged Arian. “It was the best
act I’ve ever seen in my entire life, my friend,” he said to Arian. “If we get out of this
mess, be sure to teach me how to climb up steep walls.”
Melissa turned up on the platform following Plym and also rushed to embrace her
friend. “I was so afraid for you,” she said, kissing Arian. “My heart almost jumped out.”
Brusila was the third to climb onto the platform. He did not say anything to Arian,
only winked at him, as if to say, “you know, I also did not doubt you,” and immediately
began to occupy himself with the ascent of the others.

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The group of former prisoners from Angusta’s dungeon began to climb the tower.
At first, the ascent was quick: the robbers and performers were accustomed to climbing
a rope. But when it came to the children, the fat lady Aspidistra and old Judolia, the
work came to a standstill. Their ascent took nearly an hour. The darkness hindered it a
lot. But then all the people were at the top and had already begun to decide what to do
next when a mournful roar reached them from below.
“Oh!” Melissa threw up her hands. “It’s our Bolivar. We’ve forgotten about him!”
The children immediately began to cry loudly. They were sorry to leave the bear. It
was such a good companion in all the games.
“If you don’t take Bolivar, then throw me down too!” Judolia said.
“Calm down, mother,” Brusila said. “We’re throwing nobody down.” He took two
robbers and the conjurer Melchior and they all went down. They tinkered a bit there,
then returned and picked up the ropes.
“Well, pull!” ordered the blacksmith. And they dragged the bear up. It was not easy,
but all the same, after several minutes of Herculean effort, they dragged it up.
“Never thought that our Bolivar is so heavy,” Simon Mockingbird panted, wiping
the sweat from his face.
“Well, where do we go?” Questions showered Brusila and Arian from all sides.
They stood on the observation deck of the tower and wondered how best to get to
the ground, which was a little more than fifteen metres away. Yes, now there was a new
problem in front of the daredevils. And the tightrope walker Plym took to solving it.
“Do you see that stone over there, like a tree stump?” he asked. “If a loop is thrown
onto it, I’ll walk along the rope to it and tie another rope to that collapsed column, and
with two ropes even our Bolivar will manage to get from here independently.”
It was a practical proposal. Across from the tower exactly level with the platform
the people were standing on, a piece of the fortress wall, which the tower pulled away
from when it crashed down, protruded from under the ground at an angle. The stone
which Plym was talking about stuck right out of the ground. There was no need to throw
the rope further.
Fortunately, a tightrope walker was among them. It sped things up. Even someone
as nimble as Arian would take a good quarter of an hour to crawl along the rope, but
Plym walked along it in less than a minute. He did it as if performing for the public,
smartly and gracefully, and even bowed deeply to the audience out of habit when he
finished his dangerous journey. But no one applauded him. Everyone simply shouted
with joy and thanked Plym. Then they threw more ropes to him and he tied them to the
columns, which were inside the wreckage of the fortress walls.
An hour later, they were safe. When they had transported the old woman Judolia
and the bear Bolivar, like bales of wheat, to a safe place, an underground rumble was
heard for the last time, and the tower that they had left disappeared in the darkness. The
ground had swallowed it. Only dust, like a grey pillar, soared into the air and filled it
with cinders and bitterness.
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“We left that rat hole just in time,” Brusila remarked.
“Where do we go now?” Simon Mockingbird asked him.
The blacksmith, in turn, looked at Arian. “Where are we going?” he asked Arian as
if he was the commander.
“I’m going to the Gates of Fate,” the boy replied. “I must prevent the Black Queen
from conquering my country. After all, it happened because of me.”
“And the rest?” the blacksmith asked.
“I’m with Arian!” Melissa answered. “I have to save Lautar. Angusta has put a spell
on him, which only I can remove because I’m his sister.”
“So!” Brusila tossed his hammer in his hands. “Then I think I can be of use to you.
And how about you guys?” he addressed the robbers.
“We’re with you, chief!” they replied in unison.
“Then we’re also with you!” the performers shouted. “No reason to stay here!”
“Then to the Gates of Fate!” Brusila gave the command. “We’ll make another
attempt to get out of Mortavia. But first we run into this accursed castle. The shortest
way to the royal park goes through it.”
They made their way to the castle, from which they had to hit the road quickly.
Brusila went ahead with his hammer in his hands, followed by the robbers, armed and
ready to fight any opponent. They feared nothing with such a leader. Behind them ran
the others. The children were in the arms of the adults. Arian and Melissa, holding
hands, ran behind everyone. But they met no one on the way. The castle was empty.
There was neither servant nor master in it. All living things seemed to have died out in it.
They got out of the castle without interference. Melissa showed the way because she
knew the castle much better than Arian.
Finally, they came to the end of their way. They went out into the royal park. Here
everything was still lovely as before. Only there was no one here, not even the dogs. The
Gates of Fate were standing the same. The performers’ wagon even stood alone not far
from them. The Queen obviously had not had time for it and had forgotten about the
wagon. But its owners were very delighted to see it safe and sound.
While all this was happening, the short summer night was coming to an end. The
sky began to brighten but everywhere around was still dark and the people did not let go
of the torches. Seeing the Gates of Fate, they did not lose their head rushing to them. No,
this time they carefully examined all around, and only when they discovered no one did
they then decide to enter them. But when they got right up to the Gates, they heard
suspicious noises from beyond them. These were footsteps they immediately recognized,
because for the few days they were held in the dungeon, they had had time to get used to
them and learn to identify them. These were footsteps of black soldiers. Only there were
many more of them now. A crisp and muffled step was heard from behind the gates. The
people did not have time to move away when a squad of these creatures came out to
meet them.

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Brusila roared with anger and raised his hammer over his head. He was ready to
fight, although there were not five enemies in front of him but ten times as many, and
now they were everywhere. The people did not have time to come to their senses and the
soldiers quickly spread out in a wide ring. There was nowhere to run, and the group of
brave people was again surrounded by a squad of black soldiers, commanded by none
other than Duke Valperius.
“Kill them all to a single person!” the Duke ordered. The soldiers began to form a
narrow circle, but suddenly stopped abruptly.
“Look!” Brusila shouted, even with loud laughter spilling over. “These goons are
afraid of our torches. That means that they’re afraid of fire. So light more of them!”
He did not have to ask twice. Another dozen torches blazed in the hands of his
comrades. They understood that only this was their salvation and did not dawdle. And
the black soldiers were really afraid of fire, therefore they stood in place in indecision,
and no matter how Duke Valperius shouted at them, they did not take a step.
The conjurer Melchior scared them even more. He jumped in front of the soldiers
and yelled, “Just walk up to us, and I, son of the dragon Toro, will torch you with flames.”
Having said this, he, in confirmation of his words, breathed a column of flame out of his
mouth, and the soldiers leaped back from him, as if he was really a dragon. They did not
know that this was a favourite and one of the most popular of Melchior’s tricks. Besides,
this time he did it like it was impossible.
The black soldiers no longer dared to attack people who not only held torches in
their hands, but also could breathe out fire like a dragon. They stood facing each other
this way for an hour. The people and the black soldiers. Neither of them dared to attack
first. The people were too tired, and the corpses feared the fire of their torches.
Nevertheless, the enemy had a good ally – time. It passed, and the torches started
to go out one after another. There was nothing to maintain their flames. They ran out of
rags, resin, and wax, and there were not even sticks to start new ones. The corpses
became bolder with every extinguished torch and even attempted to attack. A tireless
and fearless Brusila got in their way each time and brought his trusty and merciless
hammer down on their heads. The weird thing was that the black soldiers were afraid of
him, just like fire.
“Why is that?” Melissa asked Arian. The boy shrugged.
“Brusila is a blacksmith, the lord of fire and iron,” Uncle Lancel, standing next to
Melissa and hearing her question, sighed. “He has spent half of his life at the forge in
fire and smoke; he forged iron and brought it to a fiery state. Of course, he’s also
thoroughly saturated with fire. These ghouls fear him. But there are too many of them
even for him. Now our torches will go out, we’ll be left without fire, and they’ll cut us
down in an instant. Pity. And everything started so well. Such a wonderful day it was.”
“It’s still not over yet,” Arian muttered through clenched teeth.
And he was right. When three more torches extinguished and the corpses that had
gotten brave before now attacked from several sides, the people cried out in terror, and
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the bear Bolivar got up on its hind legs, ready to protect them from the enemy. Right in
front of the black soldiers, mirandas suddenly dropped like heavy stones onto the
ground and the corpses ran up against their iron ranks. And just in time. The last five
torches flared up, went out, and started to give off black smelly smoke, which could no
longer scare anybody.
A fierce battle began. There were twenty-three miranda warriors, but each was
worth ten people in battle. And the people were also not standing on the sideline.
Brusila and his comrades also rushed into battle, although they were very tired. The
blacksmith’s hammer knocked over black soldiers like sheaves into a threshing machine,
and the swords of the flying warriors also mowed them down right and left. The battle
was fierce and brutal, but ended very quickly. Half a dozen black soldiers remained and
they defended fiercely.
However, the sun came out over the horizon and its rays illuminated the royal park
with a pink light. They fell on everyone here. Only here the sun was a welcome for the
living, but the dead, as soon as the rays of the sun lit them up, began falling to the
ground one by one, writhing, and then melted away like pieces of fat that had fallen on a
hot griddle. Less than a minute later, not a trace of the black soldiers was left.

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Chapter Twenty
UNDER COVER OF THE NATIVE FOREST

It was a complete victory, but the victors were barely standing on their feet from
fatigue. The sleepless night made itself felt. However, there was no time to rest. Brusila
noticed a shadow flash beyond the trees and rushed to it. There was a piercing shriek,
and the blacksmith dragged out Valperius wriggling like an eel.
“Ah, caught him!” Brusila was pleased with his catch. “Well, now we’ll talk properly,
and if you try to be sly, I’ll shake the life out of you in an instant.”
The old man understood that he would not escape the blacksmith’s iron grip and
was still. He stopped squirming and even adopted a dignified expression.
“What are you doing here?” Brusila shook the Duke as needed. “Guarding the Gates
of Fate?”
“I’ll be honest with you,” the prisoner babbled. “But in exchange I demand a
guarantee for the safety of my life.”
“There’ll be no guarantee!” The blacksmith became utterly furious. “I didn’t believe
you from the very beginning. You lied when you said you wanted to overthrow the
Queen. Were you fulfilling her order?”
The old man shook his head sadly and nodded affirmatively. “I was following
orders. This time I was also following orders. The Queen gave me a squad of dead
soldiers and ordered me to take you all to the battle with the army of Alvansor the
Flawless, which will take place the day after, or rather, no, tomorrow already.”
Arian gasped. “When did you have time to meet Alvansor’s army?” he exclaimed.
“Indeed, it hasn’t been a week since we tried to run away from you.”

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“It’s been a week here,” Valperius muttered, “but there, in the Country of Frozen
Time, almost a month has passed, and our armies are already facing each other, and
your Fairy of Eternal Youth is already in the grave, according to our Queen.”
“Why did you need us?” Brusila continued the interrogation.
“You were to be sacrificed and burnt at the stake on the eve of the battle.”
“What infamy!” Arian could not hold back his indignation.
“Infamy characteristic of the Black Queen,” Queen Aestiria of the mirandas uttered
softly.
“Well, you old crook, do you really want to save your own skin?” Brusila asked
Valperius.
“Who would refuse to save his own life?” the Duke remarked philosophically. “I
have nothing left. I’ll save my life now, and later, when you get caught again, I’ll think
about how to save it from the Queen’s wrath. What do you need?”
“You lead us to the Country of Frozen Time and order the guards on the other side
guarding the Gates not to touch us. Indeed, the Gates are guarded, right?” Anger was
again heard in Brusila’s voice, and the Duke quickly agreed with him.
“Oh well, I yield to violence and reason,” Valperius sighed.
“Get ready to go, my friends!” Brusila yelled. Then he addressed Queen Aestiria
respectfully, “And we thank you, brave mirandas, for our rescue. If not for you, we
would have died. Thank you.” The blacksmith made a deep bow. So did the rest of the
people.
“You’re a very brave warrior, Brusila,” the queen of the mirandas replied. “Very
brave and very strong. But don’t hope to manage on your own beyond these Gates.
There are too few of you and it’s very dangerous there. My sisters and I didn’t fly
through so many flying arrows to abandon you in the middle of things. I know that you
go there to fight the Black Queen, and our tribe doesn’t have a more terrible enemy than
Queen Angusta. She, and earlier her father, the sorcerer Murderer, almost completely
destroyed our proud and free tribe. There were almost seven hundred of us a hundred
years ago, and now look, this is all that’s left. Tonight, when we were flying in the
Mortavian sky, which we had never seen so clear and cloudless as these last days, the
stars told us that the hour of retribution has come. Here’s my solution for you. We’re
coming with you and we’ll fight the Black Queen with you. We’ll win or we’ll die. Isn’t
that right, daughters of a great nation?”
All the mirandas standing in the clearing raised their swords and shouted, “Yes,
Queen! Victory or death!”
“Then, to the road?” Brusila exclaimed enthusiastically.
“To the road!” the queen confirmed.
They began to get ready. This took much less time than I would need to tell you
about the preparations. When everything was ready, the horses taken from Duke
Valperius’ carriage were harnessed to the wagon, and Plym cracked the whip to move
them, Melissa yelled, “Arian, look, your Palma!”
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The children, who were still awake although they had not slept all night, also
shouted, “Palma, Palma!”
Arian looked around and his soul began to sing for joy. His snow-white horse
gracefully jumped out from behind the trees. The boy ran to it. They met. He embraced
Palma and pressed his whole body to it. A heavy stone fell from his soul; indeed, he had
not forgotten about Palma and was ready to burst into tears at the thought of leaving it
here. Now a miracle had happened and the horse, which as a little foal was a gift from
his father when he was also quite young, had returned to him, although bad people had
parted them. It had probably run away from them. Arian even cried in happiness now
that it was with him again. Then he wiped his tears and jumped onto Palma’s back. The
horse neighed happily and reared. They always did this when they celebrated something
particularly heartily.
“Now we’ll return home, Palma!”
Finally, the moment that Arian had waited so long for came. He and all his many
companions entered the Gates of Fate. Brusila went ahead, leading Duke Valperius
beside him. The air darkened around the people, and when they came out of the Gates,
armed men rushed to them from all sides. Fortunately, these were not black soldiers.
“As you were!” the Duke ordered loudly. “All these people are with me.”
The soldiers themselves did not really want to fight, especially after the mirandas
flew in like giant bats from behind the people. The look of them was so formidable that
it would terrify anyone, and since Duke Valperius, the Queen’s right-hand man, would
not let them fight, then it was probably for the best. Our heroes entered the Country of
Frozen Time without any obstacles.
“Over there on the right is our camp,” the Duke said. “Further is Crane Field, and
Alvansor’s army is in it. The Queen gave the order to carry the Gates of Fate around in
the event that she had to go somewhere to hide.” Valperius grinned. “However, she’s
sure of victory. That’s why they aren’t guarded very carefully. The enemy knows nothing
about them.”
“Until this minute.” Brusila also grinned.
The Duke paid no attention to the blacksmith’s jibe but asked him spitefully, “Well,
where are you going now? To the Black Queen’s jaws?”
“It’s none of your business! Hey, Arian, now we’re your guests, so lead the way! But
before that, I still have to deal with someone.” Brusila made his way straight to the
soldiers who guarded the Gates of Fate. Queen Aestiria and the mirandas followed.
“Come on, all of you, return to Mortavia quickly and don’t you dare poke your nose out
of there.” His order was carried out so quickly that he even grunted with satisfaction.
“We’ll take these trees with us. They’re so stubby that they’ll fit in our wagon
without difficulty.” The blacksmith went to one crooked tree and easily pulled it out of
the ground, where it had been carelessly planted, and tossed it into the performers’
wagon. He did the same with the other tree. “Now, on our way!”

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Arian directed his friends without hesitation to the forest, which was visible in the
distance. He knew this area very well and promised to lead them right to Crane Field so
that they would not meet Angusta’s army.
He was riding and did not know whether to rejoice or grieve. He was home. Ahead
was his native forest and they would soon be in it. But Arian had not envisioned his
return this way. It was as if Arian was not back in the Country of Frozen Time but in
Mortavia again. The sky above them was black, even blacker than in the worst
Mortavian weather, the grass had withered without sunlight, and the air was stale and
heavy. And this was his homeland! The boy’s heart ached with pain for his country. But
he rode on and said nothing.
Here was the forest. It had also changed. It was dark and unfriendly; indeed, it was
once so beautiful and bright. The fugitives sighed with relief when they found
themselves under the tree canopy. It was a safe haven after all.
“I’ll take you this way so that no enemy will find us,” Arian promised his friends.
“Why be afraid when the mirandas are with us?” Melissa asked, looking admiringly
at the warriors flying above them. “They’ll warn us of dangers.”
All of them were almost falling from exhaustion. Hours of difficult and tedious
wandering were left behind. But it was too early to stop for rest. It was necessary to
hurry to Crane Field, where the two armies were to meet. The robbers and the
performers were not accustomed to such hard journeys. They walked all day. Even the
small children took turns sitting in the wagon and walking with the adults. The old
woman Judolia flatly refused to ride and stubbornly hobbled along with the others. They
could not overload the wagon. It was so very difficult for the horses to drag it through
the forest; indeed, the Gates of Fate were in it and the enemy could not get them. Here
in the Country of Frozen Time, it was as if they were in a trap.
Night came, and the mirandas descended one after another to the group. Unlike
bats, they could not orient themselves very well in the dark, even above the forest, where
the trees were almost as tall as the dark clouds. In addition, they had been in the air for
more than a day and were also languishing from fatigue. Brusila called a halt and
everyone tumbled down to sleep. They did not even post a guard. Fortunately, no one
disturbed them. Neither friend nor foe.
When Arian woke up, everyone was still asleep. He got up and saw that Melissa was
not sleeping but sitting by one of the rear wagon wheels and doing something. Arian was
curious. He approached the girl and saw that she was holding the Cassandra balls and
looking at her brother, Prince Lautar. Arian cautiously sat down next to Melissa and also
began to look.
Prince Lautar, wearing iron armour and a long black cloak, was standing beside a
black horse on top of a high hill and looking into the distance. He squinted ominously
and his whole face was filled with an evil force.
One of the officers approached him and asked, “When do we start, Your Highness?”

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The prince thought and said, “I’ll lead my soldiers on the attack myself. You wait
and undertake nothing until the rain stops. It’ll soon start. My mother will take care of it.
Where’s Valperius, has he returned?”
“No.”
“Curse it! We can’t start the battle without a sacrifice. Did you send for him?”
“Yes, Your Highness. But they still haven’t found him.”
“Go, I need to think, and don’t bother me for an hour.” And the prince was left
alone on the hill.
The vision in Melissa’s hands faded. Arian turned and saw Isabella and Isaura. He
understood from their eyes that they had seen the same thing he had.
Then it struck Arian. “What if we kidnap him?” he addressed the sisters. “Leave
their army without a commander. Better we swap. Of course! Simon Mockingbird and
Lautar are the same height, and if Simon puts on a helmet, then no one will recognize
him at all. He can at least hold them up for a couple of hours. And we’ll get to our people
there.”
Arian’s plan was bold but it made sense. When Brusila and Queen Aestiria learned
about it, they were delighted.
“I’ll send the most daring mirandas to kidnap the prince.” Isaura and Isabella came
forward and asked for this honour.
“Fly quickly. We have little time.” And the sisters flew off.
“Meanwhile, we will ask Simon what he thinks about it.”
Simon Mockingbird, when told the crux of the matter, was very excited and even
trembled. “I’m not trembling in fear,” he explained, “but in excitement. Of course, I
agree. This’ll be the best performance of my life. I’ve never played a prince.”
“Now you will.”
They began to prepare for the road. Everything was ready when the mirandas,
flying above the forest, descended and the people shouted, “They are coming! They are
coming! Isaura and Isabella are coming! And a person is with them. A young man.”
Everyone’s heart tightened in excitement. Especially Melissa and Simon
Mockingbird. The girl grasped Arian’s hand so tightly that he was hurting.
After a few seconds, Isaura and Isabella descended to them. And in Isaura’s hands
really was Prince Lautar. Bound, in a helmet put on backwards, he was casually thrown
to the ground.
“Careful!” Melissa could not restrain herself and ran to her brother.
Lautar swept a glance of hatred at the entire company and met the eyes of Duke
Valperius.
“Good morning, Your Highness,” the Duke bowed politely to him. “Yes, yes, fate
isn’t on our side today. The enemies were quicker.”
“Scoundrel! So you betrayed me?”
“Why betrayed?” the old man got upset. “I simply saved my life.”

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Lautar began to swear, but here the robbers rushed to him and very deftly stripped
off his armour, cloak, and helmet. At the same time, Prince Lautar’s hands and feet
remained bound as tied up by the mirandas. They also gagged him so he would not
swear. Simon Mockingbird put on Lautar’s clothing, his armour, and a helmet that
almost covered the entire face, and became indistinguishable from the prince. When he
spoke with his voice, as he could imitate anyone, the resemblance was perfect. On
Aestiria’s signal, two other mirandas caught him under his arms and soared into the sky.
“The main thing is to order them to stand still, and after that, ride to Alvansor!”
Brusila shouted the last parting words to Simon. “Hold them up as long as possible.”
Everything had gone well so far. They threw Lautar into the wagon next to Duke
Valperius, under the guard of three brawny robbers, and set off to Crane Field. They
rode and walked quickly. They could not lose a minute. The mirandas watched whether
there were enemies in front and very soon alerted them that there was very little
distance left to Crane Field.
Five hundred feet away, a detachment of forest warriors led by Prince Orlando rode
out to meet them. The warriors had already grabbed their bows and spears, but saw
Arian and froze in surprise. The boy also did not move for a few seconds, and then rode
up to his uncle and threw himself at him.
“Arian?” Orlando hugged his nephew tightly. “What are you doing here? How did
you turn up here? Who are these people with you? Your father and all our soldiers are
on Crane Field, and we’re going there too. The battle will begin soon. It should have
started long ago, but the ghouls for some reason haven’t attacked. They’re standing like
statues and their prince rides on horseback in front of them and orders them to stand at
attention. They probably want to scare us. They sent me to reconnaissance in case they
want to get around us through the forest.”
“No, none of the Black Queen’s people are here,” Arian replied.
“Then we’re going back, every man’s path leads there,” said Orlando. “Are you with
us?”
“Of course, all my friends too. This is Queen Aestiria of the mirandas.” Arian
introduced the miranda and the prince bowed low to her, and Arian continued to
acquaint him with his friends.
“You’re safe now,” the prince informed the performers and the former robbers. “If
we’re victorious, you’ll be welcome at the court of my brother Prince Arinako. Please
follow us. And you, Arian, tell me your adventures on the way. As you’ve probably
noticed, I’ve already sent men to the Grand Duke with the joyful news. He has missed
you very much all these months.”
“Months?” Arian was surprised. “How much time has passed?”
“Almost half a year.”

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148

Chapter Twenty-One
THE INGLORIOUS END OF THE BLACK TROOPS

The rain stopped. So much dirty and smelly water poured out on the ground that
only deep puddles were under foot now. Everything that had been prepared for the
death of the Black Knights was soaked through and through – tow suffused with tar, pits
with Greek fire, all the cunning fire traps that could help people deal with the ghouls.
Even the gunpowder for the few dozen guns that they had dragged from the Capital itself
was also wet, and the guns turned into a useless pile of iron, which could not even scare
sparrows now. Alvansor was biting his moustache in frustration.
However, then strange things began to happen. The Black Prince, who rode out in
front of his army, instead of leading his ruthless warriors into battle, suddenly ordered
them in a loud voice to stand still and not to move. Alvansor looked with surprise at the
young commander’s strange actions. He did not understand them.
The prince’s mother, the Black Queen Angusta the First, also looked bewildered at
the prince. She was by her own tent, set up on a hill, from which it was possible to
examine everything very well. Nevertheless, she did not interfere for the time being. She
trusted the person who had read the book, making him an invincible and the best
commander in the world. Obviously, it was an intricate manoeuvre.
Time passed agonizingly. The Black Prince’s army did not move. The commander
himself continued to ride and gave the same order all the time, “Stand still!” And the
black soldiers stood.
Their opponents also stood on the spot. The people, despite their courage and
determination, were in no hurry to cross swords with the dead men. Alvansor also did
not give the order to attack. He was also buying time. Since the enemy did not attack, it
meant that he wanted Alvansor to attack first. So, he had something for Alvansor to
meet. Probably a trap. If so, Alvansor would not rush.
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So passed an hour. Alvansor sent Orlando with a detachment to check the forest.
Were there enemies? Did they want to go around it?
Alvansor looked at the dead soldiers and their appearance even put a chill in his
burning heart. He did not want to lead his people against them at all. So, he wanted
some miracle. And the miracle happened. Not even one but several instantly.
It all started with a terribly excited aide-de-camp running up and reporting to
Alvansor, “Her Majesty the Sovereign of the Country of Frozen Time has arrived!”
Alvansor even gave a start in surprise. “The Fairy of Eternal Youth?”
“Yes, sir!”
“Where is she?”
“Heading here.”
As soon as he said this, the ranks of soldiers parted, and the Fairy of Eternal Youth
on a bay stallion accompanied by a group of the courtiers actually rode up to Alvansor.
The commander bowed to the Sovereign and felt overwhelmed with joy. All the soldiers
of his army felt the same. A great enchantress was in their ranks, and who could fight
dead soldiers if not an enchantress?
“Hello, Alvansor,” was the Fairy’s first phrase. “How are we doing?”
“Everything’s not so bad,” the commander replied. “The Black Prince hasn’t made
up his mind to attack us.”
The Fairy looked at the enemy army, at the orderly ranks of the Black Knights of
death, at the rider before them, and said, “But that isn’t the Black Prince.”
“How can that be?” Alvansor was surprised. “Then who is it?”
“I don’t know,” the Fairy shrugged. “But he is a simple man. Nothing emanates
from him. The Black Prince, as known to me, is Angusta’s son, so he is either also a
sorcerer or under a spell.”
“Then where’s the Black Prince?”
“I would like to know that too.”
A rider raced from the right wing to Alvansor and the Fairy. When he was quite
close, Alvansor recognized Orlando. The Grand Duke’s brother rode up to the
commander and the Sovereign and was so excited that he could not speak for a long
time.
Finally, he pulled himself together and announced, “We have the Black Prince
Lautar in our hands.”
“What are you saying?” the commander and the enchantress exclaimed in unison.
“Yes, our prince’s son captured him. We met him in the woods when we were on
reconnaissance.”
“Arian?” the Fairy’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Captured the Black Prince?”
“Well, not quite Arian. He wasn’t alone.” Orlando briefly described Arian, his
companions, and the detachment of mirandas headed by Queen Aestiria.
The Fairy wondered more and more. “Mirandas? They are here, too?”

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“Yes, and Queen Aestiria asks permission to join our army. The mirandas are our
allies.”
“And where are they all?”
“In the Grand Duke’s tent.”
“Let them come here,” the Fairy ordered. “Arian, some of those with him, and
Queen Aestiria. And of course Prince Lautar. Alvansor and I will wait for you in my tent.”
The Fairy’s tent was immediately pitched. Flags with her coat of arms were hoisted up.
There was movement on the hill, where Angusta’s tent was. The Black Queen had
finally lost patience. “Why is he tarrying? Why hasn’t he attacked?” she repeated.
Doubts began to seep into her soul, but she persistently drove them away for a very long
time. Finally, she guessed. “How could I forget? After all, he’s waiting for a victim! But I
indeed sent Valperius yesterday for Brusila and the others. Where is he?”
She gave the order to find out whether Duke Valperius had appeared. They
reported that he had not shown himself since yesterday morning. The Queen was
concerned. For the first time, she felt that something was going wrong. She had
completely forgotten about the old man. Her excitement on the eve of battle had been
too great. She could think of nothing else. Just yesterday, she had advised Lautar to start
the battle, but he did not listen to her, and she did not insist. An invincible commander
knows better. And now her son was waiting for victims from her, but there were none.
The Black Queen started to shake with anger and even felt guilty. She sent a detachment
of archers to the Gates of Fate to find Duke Valperius and hasten him.
An hour later, the envoys returned. They had such faces that the Queen was black
with wrath. She realized that her order had not been fulfilled.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The Gates of Fate have vanished,” the commander of the archers said in a
trembling voice. “They’re nowhere to be found. And there’s no detachment guarding
them. Someone dug out the trees. Only the pits remain there.”
Angusta felt rage and fear fill her. She was about to burn with a look the
impertinent commander of the archers, who dared to report such news to her, when her
eyes fell on the new tent which appeared in the enemy ranks. She trembled all over
because she recognized the coat of arms on the tent and the banners surrounding it.
These were all signs of her main enemy – the Fairy of Eternal Youth.
“So she’s here!” Angusta hissed in fury. “Then we can’t delay anymore!” She looked
at the commander of the archers, who seemed to have shrunk under her eyes and
prepared to die, and said, “Ride to Lautar and tell him to attack. Say that it’s my order. If
the boy refuses to follow the order, put a sword through him.”
The commander shook even more, but did not dare to dawdle for a second and
rode back to where the black soldiers and their commander were. He rode up to Lautar,
bowed to him, and gave him the Queen’s order.
Lautar boldly replied, “I myself know when to start!”

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“Then I’ll have to kill you, stubborn boy,” the shooter croaked and pulled out his
sword. But before he had time to raise his hand, several spears thrown by black soldiers
instantly pierced right through him and some of his companions. The black soldiers
guarded their commander vigilantly.
Simon Mockingbird sighed with relief. “Perhaps it’s time to mosey out of here,” he
whispered to himself. Without another word, he spurred his horse to the ranks of
Alvansor’s army. Most of all he was afraid that friends and not enemies would kill him.
But not a single arrow flew in his direction, and Simon galloped safely to the place he
needed to be.
Several people ran to him and helped him off the horse. They already knew here
that he was one of them. Simon watched as Arian, Brusila, Queen Aestiria, a girl of
incredibly beauty, and a tall, strong man with hair slightly grey and a black moustache
came towards him out of a beautiful tent, which had appeared quite recently. He saw
complete approval in their eyes. He took off his helmet, smiled tiredly, and took a deep
bow. His performance had ended.
Angusta realized that her plans were thwarted. She only now figured out that
Lautar was not Lautar. She only now thought to look attentively at her son. This was not
Lautar. Under the helmet was a different person. Angusta immediately recognized him.
Of course, this was one of the performers, whose fate had been sealed. Such rage seized
the Black Queen that she howled as loudly as a she-wolf. Even the horses in her entire
army beat their hooves and shook with fear.
“They tricked me!” Angusta yelled. “How stupid I was to trust this boy Lautar. They
stole him from me and I even know who did it. No wonder there seemed to me the smell
of mirandas this morning. Yes, of course, it’s them, the despicable tribe. Why didn’t I
wipe you all out! But it isn’t all over yet. No!”
For a start, she wanted to eliminate the pretender. She decided to turn him into
stone, but it was too late. He had already dashed off and become inaccessible to her.
Then the Queen began to spin in place like a top. It was impossible to see her. Everyone
surrounding her recoiled to the side, and at the place where she had been standing, a
black tornado shot up into the sky. It flew over the black soldiers, then touched down on
the spot where the Black Prince had recently been. The tornado slowed its circles and
then Prince Lautar again stood in front of the black soldiers.
“Soldiers, my valiant warriors!” he shouted. “Forward! The enemy is before you.
Destroy it!”
The soldiers dutifully lowered their spears and went on the attack. Drums rolled,
horses neighed, metal scraped. This was the horsemen unsheathing their swords.
The Black Prince’s dead army was moving closer and closer to the army of the Fairy
of Eternal Youth. The knights of its order also lowered their spears and struck their
horses on the sides. In a few moments, a terrible battle would erupt. Only death, which
had already spread its wings over Crane Field, knew how many people would perish in it.

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Alvansor was about to drop his arm and command his troops to meet the enemy,
but the Sovereign restrained him. “Wait,” she said. “It’s not time yet.”
The Fairy of Eternal Youth was staring westward. Her gaze had long been
searching for something, and now, it seemed, she sighed with relief. “Look over there.”
The Sovereign’s finger pointed to the sky.
Alvansor looked but saw nothing. The sky was still black and impenetrable. But
after a few seconds, Alvansor’s eyes began to distinguish a small white dot that was
growing and approaching quickly. Soon everyone was looking at this dot. They looked in
silence, unable to understand what it was – trouble or help. Suddenly, jubilant shouts
were heard over Crane Field. The people recognized Voidrag the White Dragon of the
Fairy of Eternal Youth. It was flying to their aid.
When only two hundred steps remained before the black soldiers would get to
Alvansor’s army, Voidrag descended to the ground in front of them and released three
powerful jets of fire from its jaws. The first rank of black soldiers ignited like dry straw.
Voidrag again soared into the air, began to fly over rows of the Black Prince’s invincible
army, and sprinkled it with fire. When its supply of fire had ended, it flew high into the
sky and began to fly wildly among the black clouds.
At first it flew erratically, then in circles. Such a loud rumble came from its wings
that it drowned out the shouts of Angusta, who, under the guise of Lautar, sent black
soldiers into battle, and of Alvansor’s army, which were cheering and encouraging the
White Dragon.
Voidrag was making wider and wider circles, and its speed became faster and faster.
Now it had already become impossible to distinguish it by sight. It tossed and turned
above the ground like a mad hurricane or a giant white tornado. A strong wind born
from the strokes of Voidrag’s huge wings got up. The dragon continued flying. No one
understood why it was doing it. After a while, everyone saw that the sky began to lighten.
The black in it began to dissipate and became less dense. Bluish patches even appeared
in a few places. Voidrag had dispersed the darkness.
“No! Don’t do this, you sneaky flying worm!” Angusta shouted. She had already lost
the guise of Lautar and was again the Black Queen. But the dragon naturally did not
listen to her and continued its work.
Then the first ray of sunshine, which broke through the blue celestial hole in the
blanket of darkness, fell to the ground. It illuminated the army of black soldiers, and
wherever it fell, the black soldiers hissed like butter in a frying pan and began to melt.
After the first ray, a second fell on them, a third, and then a shower of sunlight poured
on the dead army, which disappeared before the eyes.
On seeing this, the ranks of Mortavian nobility, waiting for an easy victory,
trembled. Now victory was not for them. The aristocrats forgot about their queen and
rushed to escape.

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“Drive them into the swamp!” Alvansor ordered the cavalry. “The place for them is
there, in the bog.” The riders of Arinako and Orlando and Langrel’s Flying Cavalry
dashed off with whoops and shouts to carry out the long-awaited order.
The sky had cleared and become blue. The darkness receded and also melted in the
air. The sun gained freedom and was shining again, and with such force that it was as if
it had been pining in captivity for a month and was now trying to catch up.
The real Prince Lautar stood by the Fairy of Eternal Youth’s tent, where they had
led him with his hands tied, watched the dissolving of his army, and cried in frustration
and anger. No one paid him any attention. Everything was not up to him, the hapless
commander, who wanted to conquer the world.
When the Fairy saw him, she said, “You’re bewitched, boy, and when this is over,
I’ll try to set you free from the power of the ring which you have on your finger. Wait a
little while we deal with Angusta.” But for the time being the prince was still not free,
and hatred and anger froze in his eyes.
Voidrag was tired. It slowed down its circles and began to descend, then carefully
got down onto the ground behind the army and folded its wings behind its back. It was
barely breathing, but it was contented. The soldiers turned to it and welcomed their
saviour with cheers. Then their shouts became even louder because they saw a pink ball
hop down from the dragon’s neck. The people had recognized Drool, whom they treated
with great affection, and welcomed him as well.
Drool ran, almost rolled to the Fairy. The warriors parted in front of him and Sweet
Tooth appeared before the Sovereign. “Barely managed!” he panted.
“Long live Drool and Voidrag!” the Fairy said solemnly.
“Hurray!” everyone yelled.

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Chapter Twenty-Two
THE END OF THE BLACK QUEEN

Queen Angusta looked around and saw that no one was around her. Her army had
forsaken her. Not a single person remained to protect his queen. She stood alone in the
middle of the field, before the army of the Country of Frozen Time, which she had
intended on grinding into dust and obliterating to the last soldier a few hours before.
Now this army was standing in front of her. Her army had been decimated or fled, and
the enemy’s army was safe and sound.
This was defeat. Even more devastating than what she had once suffered from the
army of the Founding Knights. Her plan for the conquest of a great country had
collapsed. Now it was necessary to think about herself. It was time to save her own life,
because the Fairy’s knights were already heading towards her, intending on surrounding
and spearing her.
“Fools.” The knights only laughed at Angusta. “Are you trying to compete with me,
iron dummies?!” With these words, she got on her knees and, in front of the
dumbfounded people hurrying to her, began to increase in size and change her
appearance. Soon in the centre of Crane Field was no longer a beautiful black-haired
woman but a huge gigantic raven with a golden crown on its head. It spread its wings, on
which steel feathers rattled, drove away with a huge beak the few knights who managed
to get close to it, and soared into the air. True, this was not easy for it, as if the ground of
the Country of Frozen Time insulted by it did not let it ascend. Still, it flew, swaying
arduously from side to side.
“She’s leaving!” the people standing at the tent of the Fairy of Eternal Youth
exclaimed. Arian even stamped his foot in indignation.
“I don’t think so,” the Fairy said and turned to Queen Aestiria of the mirandas.
“Isn’t that true, Your Majesty?”

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Aestiria drew her sword with a clatter. The fighting spirit flashed in her eyes. “No,
she won’t leave. Now it’s our turn to cross swords with her. We mirandas have waited
for this for a very long time.”
“Please try to detain and tire her. If possible, deprive the witch of her iron wings.
They are her most dangerous weapon. Please don’t take special risks. You alone can’t
manage her anyway. I have a surprise for the Black Queen. Just please give me time to
prepare it.”
Aestiria bowed proudly and walked to the detachment of her warriors. After a few
moments, the mirandas took off into the air and dashed off like colourful lightning in
pursuit of the enormous raven.
The knights of the Order of the Fairy formed a once V-formation and galloped after
them. Alvansor and his army also moved in pursuit, and together with them went the
Fairy with her company, Drool Hoskings riding a pony named Larissa, Brusila with the
robbers, almost all the performers, and of course, a happy Arian on Palma next to his
father, Prince Arinako, whose wound had healed as soon as sunlight touched it.
Everyone wanted to see how the story of the Black Queen would end. Even the convoy of
the Fairy of Eternal Youth followed on her order behind everyone. Something very
important, necessary for winning, was in it. But what it was, no one except the Fairy
knew for the time being.
Only tired Voidrag remained, lying in the distance and panting, spewing smoke and
jets of fire from its mouth. It had done its job. The performers’ wagon stood alone. Only
women and children were in it now. A gloomy Duke Valperius sat tied by its rear wheel.
No one guarded him. But he also did not think about escaping.
Melissa also remained. She did not care about how the battle would end. Her gaze
was fixed on the tent of the Fairy of Eternal Youth, near which Prince Lautar sat,
hunched like a very old man. Nobody guarded him either. He suffered even more
because not even guards were left with him, now that he no longer presented any danger.
The prince was offended and humiliated.
The girl timidly approached her brother and put her hand on his shoulder. Lautar
roughly pushed her away. Melissa was not offended. She bent down to Lautar and
hugged him tightly from behind. The prince twitched violently and trembled, as if he
wanted to escape from his sister’s embrace but somehow did not. He could not.
“All the same I love you,” Melissa told him. Lautar said nothing. His lips tightened
and turned into a thin strip. His face was burning.
“I won’t let you go, my little brother,” Melissa continued. “After all, I’ve waited for
you for a long time. You’re my only kin. And you also only have me. Don’t talk to me
rudely, Lautar. You aren’t like that. In fact, you’re good. Very good. You just pretend to
be bad. You’ve been bewitched, right?”
Lautar nodded with difficulty. Melissa was unspeakably happy. She even laughed,
though her eyes sparkled with tears. She carefully, as if afraid that Lautar would push

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her away again and run away somewhere, pulled out with one hand Cassandra’s little
glass ball from her bosom.
“Here, you lost this in the attic, remember, when we were talking? You were
probably very upset when you discovered the loss? I found it. Take it. No. I’ll put it on
your neck. And don’t resist me. I’m your older sister, and you have to listen to me.”
After saying all this, Melissa put the little ball on Lautar’s neck. As soon as this took
place, Lautar’s gaze immediately changed. It warmed up and became clear and pure. He
looked at Melissa in surprise. Then fear appeared in his eyes. He lifted his right hand
and looked at his finger, on which the Ring of Absolute Power glimmered with darkness.
Melissa did not notice the change in her brother and continued to twitter, “Do you
want me to give you my ball too? To me, nothing is too good for you. Indeed, they’re our
mother’s. Our mother, Cassandra, hung them on us so that they would keep us from
harm. And here we are together again. You and me. We’ll never part.” And Melissa put
the second little ball on her brother’s neck.
She then paid attention to Lautar’s hand and saw the ring at which he was looking.
“What’s that you have?” she asked cautiously. “What a nasty ring. Why is it shining? I
don’t like it. It’s very wicked. Where did you get it?”
“The Queen put it on me,” Lautar muttered.
“Angusta?” Melissa even turned pale with anger. “Take it off right now.” And the
girl, angered to the core, tore the ring off the boy’s finger and threw it in the grass.
Lautar was shocked at how easily she did it. Then he suddenly felt as if hundreds of
heavy iron chains restraining him had fallen off. Now he began to be himself. “Melissa!”
he exclaimed. “My dear sister! What an angel you are! You brought me back to life. I was
in a dream, but you woke me up. The one that was before, it wasn’t me. That Black
Prince was terrible, and I hate him and what he did. But it’s all Angusta. She tricked me.
She always lied to me and I didn’t understand why. But now I know. And you know. We
both know. We have to catch and disable her so that she will ruin no one else. She is a
terrible woman. She’s worse than her father, Murderer. Now I know all about them.
Let’s follow everyone. We must help them kill the witch. She’s dangerous!”
“I don’t think that we will make it,” Melissa said with a kind maternal smile. “But
don’t worry, they’ll get by without us there. Such heroes are there. Brusila, the mirandas,
Arian, and also many brave warriors of this country. Look how beautiful it is. Angusta
wanted to destroy it and make it as miserable and wretched as our Mortavia, but she
didn’t succeed. Now she’ll be punished for everything. She deserves punishment. They’ll
capture and vanquish her. She alone can’t cope with everybody, because she’s too
malevolent and she’s alone. There are many more good people. We’ll win. We’ll
definitely win!” Brother and sister embraced tightly. Their long, long separation had
ended.
Melissa turned out to be right. Queen Angusta could not fly away. The mirandas
soon caught up with her and a fierce battle broke out in the sky. As the Fairy of Eternal
Youth had said, it was difficult for the mirandas to cope with Angusta. The raven spun
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and rotated, and desperately fought back with its beak. It was not even easy to approach
it. Its iron wings were as dangerous as a thousand sharp swords. The long and sharp
feathers could pierce chain mail and even the armour of a heavily armed knight. The
flying warriors needed all their fighting skills to battle with Angusta. They were divided
into two groups. One group flew around the witch and showered her with arrows, and
the other group attacked her up close. Angusta and the mirandas were flying and
fighting so fast that it was impossible to understand what was happening and who was
prevailing.
For a long time no one could succeed. Angusta could not break through the
encirclement, and the mirandas could not cause her harm. Their sharp swords rang but
bounced off the bird, even without hurting her. Arrows tempered in the crystal
mountain water also could not penetrate the armour of iron feathers. But the mirandas
were able to achieve the most important thing. They detained Angusta and did not let
her leave. On the contrary, they even drove her back a little. The miranda Isaura even
managed to nimbly strike the gold crown off her. The crown rang piteously when it fell
to the ground and then rolled into a round shallow ravine, more like a pit. Its bottom
was overgrown with tall grass. It was lost in an instant among the grass, and only by the
glint and reflection of sunlight was it possible to see where it was.
Angusta croaked angrily and rushed into the ravine to pick up the crown. She
forgot about everything except that she had lost the most precious thing for her – the
crown, the symbol of her power. With powerful strokes of her wings, she furiously
dispersed the mirandas in all directions; at the same time she forgot caution and
received several wounds, but only cried out in pain and flew to the crown.
The mirandas were only waiting for this. When the raven descended to the bottom
of the ravine, they pounced on it together from above like vultures on prey and began to
slash it violently and ruthlessly with their swords. Angusta defended clumsily because
she was running around at the same time like a confused chicken and searching for the
crown. She finally found it, croaked in triumph, got it in her beak, and hurled it onto her
head. After that, she tried to take off, but no such luck.
Her wings, her main strength, were already lying on the ground. When the
mirandas hacked the raven, at first their swords just bounced off it harmlessly. Angusta
was covered with impenetrable armour on all sides, but then Aestiria and Isabella
accidentally got their swords in the raven’s body at the place from which the wings grew
and the blades entered deeply into the flesh. The rest of the mirandas saw this, instantly
began to hit there, and struck until they chopped the raven’s wings off completely.
Angusta leaped awkwardly but could not take off. Her eyes became bloody with
anger and she again began to fight with the mirandas using her deadly beak. The
warriors flew above her and showered her with arrows. The raven’s black blood had
already drenched almost the entire bottom of the ravine and dirtied all the grass. But the
raven did not surrender and continued to fight.

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The knights galloped to the battlefield and surrounded the ravine on all sides.
Angusta was fenced in. The knights began to throw spears at her and the bravest rushed
to attack her.
The Black Queen realized that under the guise of a raven it was more difficult for
her to battle with both knights on horseback and flying mirandas. Then she began to
change shape again. Now it was no longer possible for her to escape and she had to fight.
Smoke poured out from the raven, iron feathers rained down on the grass, and she
began to continue to increase in size. Now, she was no longer a giant bird waving its
beak, but a female giant, seven metres tall, armed with a round shield and a broad sword,
with a helmet and chain mail like the goddess of war, driving away both mirandas and
knights with a few strokes. She was beautiful and terrible in battle rage. She twirled her
sword and shield around furiously, and it had become almost impossible to approach
her. What was the point? What spear would take such a hulk?
Several bewildered mirandas and knights retreated, but continued to shower
Angusta with spears and arrows. Those and other things bounced off the Black Queen
and fell at her feet. She laughed loudly and triumphantly, raised both hands – with the
sword and the shield – above her head, and shouted, “Pathetic little people! You’ll never
deal with me! Now it’s my turn to test whether you have tough heads and see what
colour your blood is. Thunder and lightning, come to my aid!”
Lightning flashed from her palms and flew to the sky, narrowly missing the
mirandas (they managed to dodge), there was a deafening roar, and Angusta climbed
out of the ravine, intending on going on the attack. She would have made a lot of trouble
and claimed many lives if she had not slipped on her own blood spilled in the guise of a
raven, and she fell and rolled back to the bottom of the ravine.
Again, a barrage of arrows, spears, stones, and even cannonballs fell on her. The
giantess could not cope and fell under the weight of the shots. Everything possible
continued to be thrown at her. But Angusta again rose from the ground, issued a
deafening howl, from which horses reared and neighed, and the mirandas were carried
away by a powerful gust of wind for several dozen metres. Only Queen Aestiria could
stay in place.
Angusta again began to scramble up and dropped down on all fours, but she did
not stop. Spears flew at her from the edge up which she was climbing, but the witch did
not pay them any attention and continued to climb. However, she no longer had the
same strength. What would have taken her a few seconds under normal circumstances
took almost a minute this time. Then she got up menacingly over the edge of the ravine
and quickly cast aside ten knights with a wave of her sword.
However, Alvansor the Flawless rode on a bay horse up to her. He was in armour
and held a round shield. He showed Angusta this shield when she had already lifted a
leg to finally climb out of the ravine. Then everyone saw that it was not a shield at all but
a round mirror that Alvansor showed the giantess.

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Angusta saw her reflection and yelled in such a terrible voice it was as if lightning
had hit her, then rolled head over heels back to the bottom of the ravine. She lifted her
face distorted in pain and saw above her the Fairy of Eternal Youth, who arrived just at
that moment on a white stallion with a golden-brown mane, comparable in beauty only
to a unicorn, at the edge of the ravine and looked at her enemy. Angusta cringed at the
sight of the Fairy, her face contorted with rage, and she immediately changed from a
beauty to a plain girl. No one who saw this could compare her with the Fairy of Eternal
Youth.
The Sovereign waved her hand, and Alvansor’s soldiers immediately began on her
order to run from all sides up to the edge of the ravine and set up vertically right on the
cliff huge two- and three-metre panels covered with white cloth. When these panels
became so numerous that they, like a fence, almost completely separated the witch from
the people, the Fairy waved her hand again and those holding the panels dropped the
cloth. Under the cloth were mirrors. Lots of mirrors. The same mirrors that had hung a
month ago in the throne hall and other halls of the White Tower and on the Fairy’s order
had been brought here with a heavy convoy.
Angusta shrieked piercingly and started spinning like a dog trying to catch its tail.
Then she began to shrink and decrease in size. The seven-metre giantess shrunk before
the eyes. After a few minutes, she took on her former appearance and began to move in a
circle, lifting her face and looking in the mirrors. It was evident that the mirrors inflicted
unbearable suffering on Angusta. But she could not tear her eyes off them, she looked
and looked, rotating on her axis, as if hoping to find a mirror in which it would be easy
for her to see and which would not cause her such wild, excruciating pain.
Everyone who saw this stood, unable to utter a word. Even the Fairy of Eternal
Youth said nothing. People stood and also looked in the mirrors across from them. They
saw in them the real face of the Black Queen and witch Angusta. Mirrors could not lie
and showed the truth. After all, these were true mirrors, rather than distorted as was the
mirror in Angusta’s palace. The Black Queen’s true reflection was hideous. It was not at
all a young and dark-haired beauty reflected in the mirrors. No, it was a scary,
disgusting old woman in the mirrors, resembling least of all a person but more a toad, a
crocodile, a monkey, and a hairy spider simultaneously.
Gradually the dishevelled and unkempt, but still very beautiful, Angusta also began
to change and transform into the same self which was reflected in the mirrors. Very soon,
nothing was left of the former beauty, and a huge, elephant-sized, bulging monster sat
on the bottom of the ravine and glared at the people around it. Its red eyes blinked and a
long swollen tongue fell out of its mouth. Oddly enough, the crown was still on the
monster’s head. Only it was not gold but iron, all rusted and cracked. And on Angusta’s
belt, if it could be called a belt, hung a small piece of white cloth. Nobody even noticed it
and did not pay it any attention. Only the Fairy of Eternal Youth recognized her own
handkerchief, woven from yarn of the golden spider and given to her a very long time

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ago by Queen Amber Bee of the insects. She had lost this handkerchief so long ago that
she had forgotten about it, but now she saw it and remembered.
“Now I understand why Knight François did not want to marry this ugly creature
when he saw her,” Arian remarked and clung to his father. Prince Arinako hugged him
tightly and smiled.
“Don’t be afraid,” Brusila said, standing next to them. “You know, no one will force
you to marry her.” Arian shuddered with disgust.
“Seize her?” Alvansor the Flawless asked the Fairy of Eternal Youth with doubt in
his voice.
She shook her head in the negative. “Someone needs her more than us.”
Immediately after her words, the mirrors, which Alvansor’s soldiers were holding
with difficulty, shook in their hands and buzzed ominously and disturbingly, as if a forge
was working somewhere. Having heard that, Brusila shifted his hammer from one hand
to the other.
The surface of the mirrors darkened, the image in them disappeared, and black
light filled them. You say that there is no such thing as black light and I agree with you,
but the darkness in these mirrors was so bright that it even glowed. The buzz in them
increased, and then the sound changed and became like a rumble, which happens when
a huge herd of horses or elephants gallops across the land.
There was a loud crunch, as if an invisible giant cracked a jumbo walnut, and vile
creatures, like snakes and rats simultaneously, long, wriggling, and sniffing the ground,
suddenly began to escape from the mirrors, as if from a door, and jump into the ravine.
There were more and more of them, first dozens, and then hundreds of monsters a
metre-and-a-half long filled almost the whole ravine. They were swirling and sniffing
like dogs searching for a trail.
“What are those?” Arian yelled. He was frightened. He was really scared for the
first time and pressed tighter against his father, not thinking about what those around
might think of him.
“Those are black krulii,” Drool announced grimly. “They have finally found their
prey. Better turn away, Arian. It won’t be a pleasant sight now.”
Nevertheless, Arian was unable to tear his eyes away and saw how the black krulii
suddenly all froze at once, then there was a triumphant squeak mixed with a hiss, and
they all rushed to Angusta, daughter of the sorcerer Murderer and because of whom
Knight François had once lost his soul. The monster, which had only recently been the
Black Queen of Mortavia, screeched in terror and was instantly covered from head to toe
with black krulii.
They stuck to her on all sides and pierced her deeply with their sharp teeth and
stingers. Those who did not manage to grasp the prey bit those attached to Angusta.
Soon the huge tangle rolled along the bottom of the ravine and black blood splashed
from it like fountains. The krulii ate Angusta and each other. The tangle became smaller
and smaller. The ground underneath it started to split, then began to crack, and then the
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surface finally burst, split open, and formed a bottomless sinkhole. The tangle of
creatures collapsed into the sinkhole and flew into the abyss, the bottom of which was
not visible. Instead, a flame was blazing far away at the bottom. There was a loud splash
after many agonizing seconds, then a pop like a balloon bursting, and the tangle
vanished out of sight. The fire of the underground bowel had devoured it.
The ground seemed to sigh with relief and came together again. The sinkhole
disappeared. The shocked people stood and looked at the empty ravine in front of them.
“Now you see,” the Fairy of Eternal Youth addressed Drool, “and you wanted to
melt down these wonderful mirrors. No, we’ll return them to the White Tower and hang
them in their former places. They’re safe now. There’s no need for us to waste anything.”
The Sovereign, the Fairy of Eternal Youth, could be very thrifty and even stingy.
“And I can talk to White Beard again,” Drool sighed with relief.

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164

Chapter Twenty-Three
REWARD EACH ACCORDING TO MERIT

The tent of the Fairy of Eternal Youth was high and airy, like a real palace. Today
all the participants of the narrated events were gathered in it. The Sovereign had invited
them in order to listen to everyone, to determine their role in the great event and record
everything in the chronicle, for which the chronicler Castor had been summoned here.
He sat quietly, unnoticed and unheard by anyone, and squeaked with an eagle feather,
drawing lines on parchment. Everyone had to give the Sovereign a detailed account of
his actions, and it took all day.
The longest story was certainly Arian’s. The boy began with how he, as Knight
Christian’s squire, left the Country of Frozen Time and turned up in Mortavia. Then he
described Marquis Kostiniak’s tournament and how he and Knight Christian conducted
themselves. The blacksmith Brusila and the mirandas Isabella and Isaura confirmed the
truth of his words. After describing the tournament, Arian began to recount his
adventures and how he got to the Black Queen and even became her page. Duke
Valperius and Melissa were called as witness.
When Arian finished and wearily took a deep breath, Brusila began to report,
followed by Uncle Lancel, utterly embarrassed that he was speaking with such an
important individual as the Fairy of Eternal Youth and that she was respectfully
listening to him.
Then came Melissa and Lautar. Sister and brother. Melissa began the story. She
told those present the story of how her parents died and how her only younger brother
was kidnapped by a black tornado, which, as it turned out, was Murderer transformed.
Then she went right to the day when she found and rescued Arian from death, and the
latter part of her story was similar to that of Arian and Brusila.
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Prince Lautar stood last in front of the Sovereign. He looked at her with a pure and
clear gaze and hid nothing about his role in the grim events that almost proved fatal for
the inhabitants of the Country of Frozen Time.
“And who will be your witness, Prince?” the Fairy asked him at the end of the tale.
“I have no witness,” the prince replied frankly. “Only the Black Queen can attest to
the truth of my words. But she, as is well known to me, is no longer alive.” He lowered
his head.
“You really can’t prove this with anything?” the Fairy asked him sympathetically.
Lautar shrugged.
“Why not? Of course he can!” Melissa intervened, looking at her brother with love
and compassion. “He has Cassandra’s balls. They can show you everything.”
“Really?” The Sovereign was surprised. “Interesting.”
“Yes, yes,” Arian also supported Melissa. “He can show everything that was or is.”
“Will you show us what happened to you?” the Fairy asked Lautar. “It won’t cause
you strong emotional pain?”
“I’ll try” Lautar said.
He pulled out the little glass balls and focused on them. Very soon, all those
present got the opportunity to see everything that Angusta had done to the prince. How
she put a spell on him with the help of the magic book and the Ring of Absolute Power,
how she separated him from friends, did evil and cruel things, fed him the meat of a blue
hare, and all that was known very well to the reader but not to the participants of this
story. Lautar honestly showed everything up to the moment the mirandas abducted him
from the hill, on which he had been planning a future battle.
When the vision was over, everyone was silent for a very long time, shocked by
Angusta’s guile and cruelty and the bitter fate of Prince Lautar, who had unwillingly
served as a tool in her black schemes. Everyone was waiting for what the Fairy would say.
And she spoke.
“Where’s the ring that was on your finger?” she asked.
Lautar winced only from the memory of the ring. “Melissa took it off me. I don’t
know how she did it. I tried so many times. But it wouldn’t let me. I believe we then
tossed it away.”
“Tossed it away?” the Fairy of Eternal Youth was surprised. “What a shame. To toss
such a dangerous thing! What if someone finds it? It can still do a lot more harm.”
“I dare to report, Your Majesty, but I have the ring, and I’m ready to present it at
your feet this moment. I involuntarily overheard the conversation of these young people,
the prince and his sister, and saw this bold and beautiful girl throw the ring into the
grass. They forgot about it and left, but I found the ring and picked it up, although it was
not easy to do, as my hands were tied.”
Everyone turned around at these words, and a surprised whisper ran through the
tent. None other than Duke Valperius stepped forward and bowed. The only one of the
Mortavian prisoners who had the honour to be in the Sovereign’s tent.
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166

“I also knew it was a dangerous thing,” the Duke loyally looked the Fairy in the eye.
“I so wanted to slip it on, not simply to rescue it. But I overpowered myself. No, I said to
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myself, I won’t put it on for anything. As this ring once belonged to the Black Queen,
that means it isn’t simple but magical. Is it for me, a mere mortal, to be associated with
these magical gadgets? I put it on a string and hung it around my neck. Then I forgot
about it. So much has happened that my head is spinning. Is it really because of the ring
here? But as soon as talk started about it, I’m right there, and that’s it!” The wily old
man respectfully handed the Ring of Absolute Power to the Sovereign.
“You did well, Valperius,” the Fairy praised him. “With this deed you repay us all
that you owed. I hope that you’ll serve your new masters as faithfully and truly as you
served Angusta?”
“Of course, Your Majesty!” Valperius exclaimed, bounced to the Fairy and deftly, to
the envy of many courtiers, kissed her hand. “Indeed, you are our Sovereign now! Oh,
how long Mortavia has dreamt of this!”
“Don’t be hasty, Duke.” The Fairy smiled. “Mortavia isn’t part of the Country of
Frozen Time yet. It has to earn this. For the time being, let it be by itself. When its
residents have learned to live honestly and fairly, then you’re welcome to join us. But I
think that there won’t be a problem with this. After several years of prudent and just
government, Mortavia will cease to be Mortavia and become a benevolent and cheerful
kingdom, which we’ll take under our wing with pleasure.”
“Who will rule it wisely and justly?” Valperius wondered aloud to the Fairy.
“I’ll talk about that tomorrow,” the Fairy replied. “Everything will be known
tomorrow, because tomorrow is another day and, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for all
of you to rest.”
“What will happen tomorrow?” someone shouted.
“Tomorrow?” the Fairy smiled mysteriously. “Tomorrow everyone will get what he
deserves.”
The next morning, as soon as it became known that the Fairy was up and had eaten
breakfast, everyone again gathered in her tent. No one could wait to find out what the
Sovereign had decided.
The Fairy gave everyone a radiant and dazzling smile and announced, “Now I’ll tell
you my decision!”
There was a tense silence. Alvansor’s army was heard assembling for the return
journey. Soldiers were shouting, officers were giving orders, horses were neighing. But
here in the tent, no one dared to say a word.
The Sovereign gave everyone a kind look and started to loudly give a speech, “As
fate would have it, thanks to the heroic deeds of many and many present here, each
deserving a high reward for their deeds, terrible danger has passed over the Country of
Frozen Time. We were on the verge of destruction. The evil and powerful sorceress
Angusta, daughter of the sorcerer Murderer, almost took control of our land, our lives,
and our souls.
“Fortunately, the dreaded did not happen. Our country will exist as before and
thrive. Yesterday we won a great battle, and almost not a single soldier was lost at the
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same time. It’s a great achievement. The witch was vanquished and her soul rushed to
where it’s supposed to be. Hell. However, she left behind a country, which she formerly
ruled, breaking all laws of justice and humanity. Therefore, I want to announce that as
of today I’m lifting the spell from Mortavia and returning it to the land of the Country of
Frozen Time. But this country will not be part of our domain, rather it will be an
independent kingdom, which I entrust to Prince Lautar as the rightful heir of the former
ruler.”
On hearing this, Lautar stared in surprise at the Fairy of Eternal Youth. In his eyes
was a silent question.
“Yes, yes,” the Fairy nodded. “You will take responsibility for this land. But don’t
worry, you’ll have worthy assistants. The previous Mortavian nobility perished in the
swamps. You must rebuild a new nobility. It should be really worthy people, honest and
just, such as the blacksmith Brusila or the performers Lancel, Simon, and Plym.”
Those named by the Fairy protested. “How is it possible?” they said. “We are
simple people. How can we manage anyone?”
“It doesn’t matter, one who was able to manage a troupe of performers or a band of
daring robbers will do a fine job of running the provinces. Besides, you can learn from
Duke Valperius because his duchy in Mortavia can be called an exemplary model. I think
he’ll be a good assistant to Lautar.”
“That wicked old man?” Brusila exclaimed. “Why, he served the Black Queen!”
“And now he will serve Prince Lautar and atone for past sins with faithful service
and wise advice,” the Fairy of Eternal Youth calmly replied. “By handing over the Ring of
Absolute Power, he has proven that the fundamentals of good are dormant in him.” The
Duke almost sprawled with happiness in front of the Sovereign.
“Well, if so, then of course I’m not against it,” Brusila agreed. “In fact, he’s no old
man. I remember he even helped our Arian and threw him a sword at a difficult moment.
Maybe you’re right. I won’t argue.”
“Where will Mortavia be after the spell is lifted?” Prince Arinako asked.
“Between the Green Principality and the Southern Mountains,” the Fairy replied.
“It’s just a desert plain there.”
“But Mortavia is much bigger,” the Grand Duke was surprised.
“So, the mountains will now be much farther from you.”
“And we’ll no longer coexist with wild mountain tribes?”
“No, now you won’t. The mirandas will now live and keep order in the mountains.
Queen Aestiria’s tribe will also live there among dragons and giant eagles. Her Majesty
Queen Aestiria has accepted my proposal.”
Further conversation was rather grown-up and therefore boring and uninteresting.
Arian understood little of it. Then Drool approached him and beckoned him to follow
him.
“It’s becoming uninteresting now,” he whispered to the boy. “Now they’ll clarify
Mortavia’s status, then its new name, and then argue what type of relationship Prince
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169

Lautar will have towards our Sovereign. You see, he’s already yawning. Poor boy. A bird
caught in a golden cage, now it’s not meant to fly away. Melissa will be a princess now.
She never dreamed of this. Now they’ll search for a noble bridegroom for her. Do you
want to listen to all this?”
“No, I don’t,” Arian whispered. He instinctively felt that Drool had something
much more interesting for him.
“Then let’s run away from here.”
“Let’s.”
They went out of the tent into the fresh air.

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170

STILL TO COME
(Instead of a conclusion)

“Well, how’s your mood, Arian, son of Prince Arinako?” Drool asked. “What are
you thinking of doing?” Arian shrugged; he had difficulty saying anything.
“Greetings from Chris to you.”
“From Chris?” Arian brightened and was immediately excited. “Where is he? You
saw him? He’s alive? He’s okay?”
“So many questions,” Drool smiled. “I don’t know which to answer. But since
Christian sends you greetings, then he’s alive. The rest I don’t even know. I saw him a
month ago. He told me everything and set off on a new adventure.”
“A new adventure!” Arian gasped with envy. “Without me! How will he be without
a squire?”
Drool’s eyes glistened slyly. “He no longer needs a squire.”
“How so?” Arian marvelled. “Why do you say so? Did he tell you? Has he found
another squire? Ah, he probably thought that I had died and found himself another
squire.”
“No, not so. He just doesn’t need a squire. But now a friend...” Drool paused a little.
“He could use a faithful and loyal friend. Yes, a friend is simply necessary. Indeed, Chris
has planned a very dangerous deed. I’ll go after him, too. A great battle is waiting for us.”
“A great battle!” Arian simply choked. “Dear Drool, take me with you, please! I’m
even ready to be your servant! Just take me.”
“I can’t,” Drool sighed. “Where Christian Thirteen went, one has to go alone. He set
off first. Now I’ll follow him.”
“And me?” Arian was upset. “I’ll remain here?”
Drool looked at the boy attentively. “You want to follow Chris?”
“Of course!”
“It’ll indeed be a hot matter there. Much hotter than the scrape you got out of. The
Fairy said that the battle has been won. She said so to everyone. But I, and she too, know
that the main battle is to come, and not on our land, but where Chris went.”
“And what is this land?”
“The Big World.”
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171

“The Big World?”
“Yes. Clouds much blacker than those that disappeared today are gathering there
now.” Drool scratched his ear. “They were hanging over the Prince of the White Tower.
He won’t manage without our help. And Knight Caterino still has to bare his sword
again to protect him. So everything is still to come. If they don’t win, the Big World will
disappear. And if the Big World disappears, so too will our country. We cannot exist
without it. After all, the time there is what froze here. And it will disappear. Even frozen
time will cease to exist. Can you imagine, how serious it is?”
“Yes,” Arian replied. “I must be with Chris! He hasn’t yet freed me from my service.
I won’t be able to live here if I know that he’s there and needs me! Help me, Drool! I
know you can do it. Otherwise, why did you call me?”
Unexpectedly for Arian, prepared for a long and exhausting persuasion, Drool
agreed. “Have it your way. So, you’re ready?”
“Of course!”
“Then we mustn’t waste a single second. The Fairy said that today is the only day
that Voidrag can cross the Ocean of Timelessness.”
“Voidrag?” Arian was surprised. “What does Voidrag have to do with it?”
“Haven’t I told you yet? You’ll fly on Voidrag. Right now. Your father already
knows everything and has given his blessings. The Fairy also wishes you good luck. Let’s
go. The White Dragon is waiting.”
Drool grabbed Arian’s arm and they ran. Arian did not even have time to think
everything over as he stood before the dragon and Drool helped him into the saddle. The
boy was completely excited. He had never ridden on a dragon and had not even seen
them live up close.
Voidrag turned its head and looked at Arian with kind and wise eyes and suddenly,
the boy did not even believe his eyes, winked at him.
“Do you see this horn?” Drool began to explain to the boy how to control the
dragon. “Though he knows where he’s flying to. You yourself will learn later.”
“And you? You’re not flying with me?”
“No, I’m staying. Voidrag can only carry one passenger to the Big World. But don’t
worry. I’ll find my way there. And now it’s time. Good luck to you, Arian, son of Prince
Arinako. Yes, the forest gods will help you, but also don’t just count on them.”
“Goodbye, Drool!” Arian tightly gripped the controls for the dragon.
The air above him rustled and hummed; it was Voidrag spreading its wings. Arian
swayed and the ground underneath disappeared. The wind ruffled the boy’s hair, and
when he opened his eyes, which he had screwed up in surprise, he saw a cloud nearby
and the blue sky around him. Far away on the horizon, a strip of mountains showed blue.
The White Dragon took that direction and flew to it.
Arian could not resist, raised both hands, and shouted with delight, “Chris! I’m
flying to you!”

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172

Voidrag reached the mountains after a few minutes. The white snowcaps, deep
black gorges, and waterfalls of mountain rivers floated below at breakneck speed. Very
soon, the mountain region ended and they were over a sandy desert, and the grey waves
of the Ocean of Timelessness appeared on the horizon.
Voidrag roared and picked up speed. The wind enveloped Arian like a dense wave.
The boy clung to the saddle, the same in which Knight Caterino had sat when he fought
with the Black Dragon. A deafening whistle was in his ears, and they dove right into the
fog. The dragon powerfully cut through the air with its wings and swiftly flew forward;
nevertheless, their flight continued for so long that Arian did not know how much time
had passed. The fog around them was thick and impenetrable.
Finally, sunlight flickered ahead. Arian squinted from the pain in his eyes, and
when he opened them, he saw that he was not sitting on a dragon but somewhere in
another place. Under him was not a saddle but a peculiar leather chair, the likes of
which he had never seen. Arian looked around and saw that he was in a small room like
a sorcerer’s cave. Right in front of him was a bizarre grey box.
Suddenly the box started to grunt like a pig and flared up. An image of the White
Dragon’s head appeared.
“Hello, Arian,” the head said to the surprised boy. “You’re in the twenty-first
century of the Big World. I am your jetliner Voidrag, a machine of combat action, and
you’re my pilot. This is the on-board computer. It’s the sort of thing which will help us
communicate and talk. Here’s the board with the control devices. Take the steering-
wheel. I’ll show it to you. Yes, yes, this is the steering-wheel. And here’s...”
A plane, white and beautiful, was flying in the blue sky, piercing pink clouds.
People of the twenty-first century still had not learned how to make such planes. It was
an ultra-modern aircraft operating on unknown energy. A boy in a white shirt with short
sleeves and white shorts was sitting in the cockpit. His close-cropped hair was slightly
greenish in colour, and his eyes sparkled with delight. He tightly held onto the wheel
and repeated, “Still to come! We’ll fight again! I’ll soon be with you lads! Well done,
Voidrag! You’re a splendid fellow! Now let’s do a loop. How magnificent it all is!!!”

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