The mages, waterlogged and looking very much like irate cats after a bath, began to rally together against the king. Cren could not see what they were doing but he could feel it. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and his back molars began to buzz. Just when it seemed that the buzzing was to spread to his brain, it suddenly ceased. There stood the old man who had laughed so manically as he watched them on the roof. Unlike his fellow mages he was dry as bone. He appeared to be the only one who had evaded the flood. He raised his liver-spotted hands and the mages were cowed. The odd feeling of electricity Cren had felt just a moment before was gone entirely.
"Halt, brothers! Are we no better than these children? Calm yourselves. I shall take care of this." The old mage bowed once again to the king. "It appears that the princeling from the Eastland has amazing potential, as I thought he would. I ask from you permission to school him."
"It is not my place to give you it, High Mage Calthis." Rannon inclined his head. "Might I suggest you ask the boy? He is rather head-strong though, I doubt you will be able to shake his resolve."
With much creaking of knees and an oof, the high mage went down on his knees so that he was level with the strange prince. He reached forward as if to hug the child but thought better of it halfway through and let his arms simply fall to his sides.
"You're a very special boy, Cren. Would you like to come with me? You'll learn all manner of fabulous things."
"No. Why would I want to go with a bunch of nasty old men to an even nastier mage school? I've got a kingdom waiting for me, thank you."
The old mage cracked a slight smile at that remark. "Oh, but my boy! You may have the power of a king, but I can teach you how to master the powers of the universe itself. Come with me."
"No is what I said, old man." Cren then turned his back on the man and stalked away. The contingent of mages had been stunned even further into silence. Never before had anyone, much less a child, talked that way to the high mage. The old man simply shrugged and smiled a mysterious smile. Stroking his peppered beard, he turned to Rannon.
"Now, show me the other children. I'll be damned if your line hasn't failed to spring a mage yet!"
The mages stayed for a week in the palace. After they tested all of palace children, royal and commoner alike, they moved on to the surrounding settlements. June had been disappointed when one of the mages tested her and found nothing but a minor skill with the element of fire. After the initial show Rannon put on the first day, things returned to normal. Cren and Esterfel were given their usual fare of vegetable centered cuisine, but were surprised to find that 22 more people had joined them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"Mages don't eat meat?" Cren whispered to Esterfel, suspicious of the new additions to their table.
"Guess so. Think it's a sign of magic?" Esterfel was in especially high spirits that day. The mages had tested him and found that he had the gift of magic. In what art the young prince would be most proficient in remained to be seen. Cren did not like that he was no longer the only royal child the mages wanted, but he consoled himself with the thought that he was by far more talented than Esterfel.
Cren quietly hoped that the mage would ask him once again to go with him. Get on his knees and prostrate his old bones at his small feet and beg him illustrious self to come and learn at their hovel of a school. Oh how he would make the man plead! But no, oh no, Cren would stomp his little royal foot and tell the old coot that he would go no such place with him. And the world would be the poorer for it or so the boy thought. But no, a week passed at the mages left with a gaggle of small children in tow. Cren didn't even say farewell to Esterfel. Not like he would miss the dithering nitwit. At first, that is. The morning after they were placed back on their normal training schedule Cren was paired with June's brother, Nidaki. Even at age 8 the boy was well on his way to being as large and brutish as his father. Cren had the bruises to show for it. Cren returned to his room, beaten and dejected, to find that it had been emptied of the few belongings that had belonged to him and only a maid remained.
"What's the meaning of this?" Cren demanded. The maid dropped a small curtsy.
"Your majesty's things have been moved to a different set of rooms. I shall take you to them." A set? That coddled Cren. He was quite happy to hear that so he followed the maid quietly. On through the palace the two went. They passed beyond the rooms settled by the royal family, through the areas dictated to the odd denizens of the court, and past rooms uninhabited for what appeared a century. They walked until they reached a heavy iron door. The maid pulled from her apron pockets a key just as heavy as the door. She turned it in the rusted lock and pulled the door open. They were met on the other side by a worn flight of steps that disappeared out of sight.
"Here, your majesty. Let me find a light." She disappeared down a dusty hallway to the right and Cren was left alone with an ominous door and dust. The small boy shivered and tried to shake the feeling that he was being watched, but it was rather difficult to manage. When it was almost past bearing, the maid reappeared, rusted candleholder and lit candle in tow. "Shall we go?"