Crown Prince Reymu of Magramland had never seen the sun. No one in the kingdom, in fact, had glimpsed a ray of sunlight since the day before the prince's birth, now over twelve years before.
Naturally, the people of Magramland--what few of them that remained--didn't think this was a coincidence. Most believed the prince was cursed, at the very least. Some were even convinced that he was some sort of demon and was intentionally causing the darkness. Whatever the case, Prince Reymu was not a popular figure outside the walls of the castle. Since the darkness had rolled over the kingdom in the form of thick, black clouds, thousands had died from plague or famine. Without the light of the sun, no plants would grow but for the ones kept in special mage-gardens, and there weren't enough of those to feed everyone.
Many, of course, tried to escape, but what would have been the safest exit--westward to the coast and then to sea--was blocked by a forest full of vengeful Mada elves, eager to taste the blood of the humans that had taken their homeland from them. To the north there lay a rugged, dangerous mountain range, and, it was rumored, a land full of evil sorcerers. To the east waited the deadly moors of the Barroughthen, riddled with deceptive paths and swamp-lights. To the south was another mountain range--this one, it was said, full of hungry goblins. While none of these borders were entirely impassible, many more refugees died crossing them than succeeded in escaping the darkness.
In the beginning, the people had been so angry and so frightened that there had been plots to assassinate the prince, but after a few years, interest had faded. Those still remaining in the city of Moribinu were few enough that they could rely upon the mage-raised food. They were no longer desperate, and while they were not happy, there was no overpowering need for a scapegoat now. The prince felt safe to come and go from the castle as he wished. And so it was that he was wandering through the streets of the mostly-abandoned city, a candlestick serving as his only guide, when he happened upon the strange old man in the alleyway.
The prince didn't even see him at first
"Prince Reymu," the old man said in a voice so hoarse it was a hiss.
Reymu had already walked past him when he spoke; at the sound of his unsettling voice, the young prince jumped and whirled around. "Who speaks?" he demanded. "What do you want?"
The old man chuckled. He had a thin, pale face that reminded Reymu of a sheep (the prince had never seen such an animal in person, of course, but there were some depicted in the castle tapestries), silver hair and beard, yellow eyes with horizontal slits for pupils, and a pair of curling horns that poked out from under the hood of his cloak.
"My name is of no concern to you, your highness," the sheep-man rasped, bending his twisted back in a slight bow. "I only wish to ask a favor."
"What makes you think I would grant you a favor?"
The stranger laughed again, his reedy voice causing the back of Reymu's neck to prickle. "Your people despise you, Prince Reymu. Wouldn't you like them to respect--perhaps even love--you?"
"You can make them love me?"
"No," the sheep-man replied. "Only you can do that. But if you do as I ask you, and succeed in it, your reputation will surely be bolstered."
Reymu scowled at him in the dim, flickering candlelight. "What is it you want me to do?"
The stranger reached into his pocket and produced a translucent yellow gem the size of a large pebble. This he held briefly near the flame of Reymu's candle, then pulled it away, holding it up in the darkness. It glowed for a few seconds before fading to its previous state. "This," said the old man, "is a starstone. It can capture, store, and recreate any light. Take it."
The prince accepted the gem in his outstretched hand. "What do you want me to do with it?"
"I want you to keep it on your person. Do not let it out of your sight."
"Now, in ten days time, an agent of mine from the north will arrive in Moribinu in the form of a redheaded rider on a black horse. You will speak to this agent the following phrase: 'In fallen gods and angels all.' You will then do as the rider instructs, but you must keep the starstone hidden until the proper time."
"And when will the proper time be?"
"You will know when it comes. It will be quite obvious."
The prince pocketed the starstone uncertainly.
"Do you agree to these terms?"
"I suppose so," Reymu replied.
"Good," said the old man, baring his crooked teeth in a smile. "I shall be seeing you later, Prince Reymu. Good luck."