Van pointed to the sky and yelled, "is that what I think it is?!" Then turned to run as far from this adventure as his legs would take him while the others were distracted. He stopped just after rounding his first corner, crestfallen upon seeing the sensitive old dagger-wielding mad man staggering around up the street, rubbing the back of his head, and looking for his honor's satisfaction.
"Ah...I could have sworn I'd spotted the most strikingly blue jay I'd ever seen, but I must have imagined it!" said Van, strolling amiably back toward Morley and his companions, who wore suspicious expressions. "So then, you were saying something about a ride?" Horace grabbed a mailed fistful of shirt, jacket, and some of Van's chest hair, and hauled him up onto his horse.
"Away!" cried Horace! "Hep hep!" yelled his posse in unison.
Horace lead Morley and his horsemen through the streets of the city at a breakneck pace. More than a few merchants carrying stacks of linens or pottery tossed their wares high in the air in surprise at the group, dashing out of the street just in time to avoid a trampling.
At last they arrived outside the extraordinary Magnolia Castle, whose walls were covered with flowering ivy. Portly, purple-clad livery personnel took their horses, and the adventurers were ushered within by a small, round man with a bulbous nose and bushy mustache. "You haven't much time!" exclaimed the little man in a testy fashion.
After a very quick scrubbing in a bath by castle servants, Van was doused with powders and spritzed with fragrant mists, rubbed with soothing salves, and inundated with splashes from bottles of flowery liquids. He was dressed up in some ill-fitting blue silks, and nearly strangled with a puffy white ascot. Van barely managed to rescue his dagger from being discarded with his old clothes. The servants then shoved Van to just outside the Throne Room, to stand next to the Morley, who checked his pocket watch.
"No more mysteries, Morley! Just what is everyone in such a hurry for?"
"A rival suitor is on his way to seek the hand of the Princess!" whispered Morley, sounding desperate. "He's a handsome bugger too, if the rumors are true, and he'll be here any minute."
"Rival suitor?" whispered Van. "Rival to who?"
Morley's attitude shifted in an instant. He grasped Van around the shoulder, smiled easily, and asked in a conversational tone, "What are your thoughts on the virtues of arranged marriage, my boy? I for one, think it a most noble endeavor!" The doors to the throne room cracked open, letting in the sound of many voices. The bulbous-nosed man appeared and loudly announced, "The Princess Magnolia will see you now!"