The Rider of the Black Horse

For ten days, Prince Reymu kept the starstone in his pocket, taking it out only when he was certain that he was alone.  On occasion, he would study it by candlelight, seeing how brightly he could get it to shine and for how long.  It seemed, as was logical, that the gem mimicked the magnitude and duration of whatever light it had been exposed to.  It didn't, however, produce nearly as much heat as the source of the light it captured, which was fortunate, as it would have been rather painful to touch a stone the temperature of a candle flame.

        On the morning of the tenth day, the prince slipped out of the castle, unseen by the guards.  There were advantages to living in a world without light.  One could do as he wished without much fear of supervision.

        He didn't know where he was supposed to meet this red-haired rider, or how he was even supposed to determine the color of the rider's hair in the perpetual dimness, but eventually, he decided upon walking down the bluff to Moribinu's main square.  It was surrounded by torches, and thus had the best lighting of any outdoor part of the city.  Anyway, most roads led through there.  Reymu settled in behind a row of barrels containing recent shipments of grain from the mage-gardens, and began his wait.

        Only one horseman passed through the square in the morning, but his horse was not black, his hair did not seem to be red, and he rode from the south rather than the north.  The excitement that had grown in Reymu's chest at the sound of hoofbeats faded to frustration as the rider cantered by and vanished into the darkness.  Letting out an agonized sigh of impatience, the prince shifted his position behind the barrels so as to stretch out his cramping legs.

        Several more hours crawled by before the clip-clop of horse hooves on cobblestones could be heard once more, this time slow and even.  Reymu raised himself up cautiously to peek over the top of the row of barrels, waiting with bated breath.  He hoped beyond hope that this would be the rider he had been sent to meet, if only so he wouldn't have to wait any longer.  At the same time, though, he felt a terrible dread at the possibility that this was indeed the correct rider, for he had no idea what would happen to him next if this were the case.  Mostly, he wished that he had never agreed to this mysterious task.  Even if it did end up making him a hero--and for what?--it couldn't be worth the anxiety it was causing him now.

        And then, at long last, Reymu could see the horse and rider on the road, approaching the square from the north.  They were no more than an indistinct shape at first, as they drew into the torchlight, their forms and colors could be more clearly distinguished.  The prince felt a jolt upon realizing that the steed was as black as Magramland's endless night, and although the rider wore a hooded cloak in such a way that it hid his face and thus concealed the color of his hair, somehow Reymu already knew that it could only be the agent of whom the old sheep-man had spoken.

        "I deosinu ag angealu go lier," he shouted out as instructed, forgetting for the moment that he was hidden behind the row of barrels.

        The rider brought his horse to a stop, hesitated a moment in the saddle, and then dismounted.  He didn't speak a word, yet Reymu felt certain that he was being asked, nonverbally, to repeat himself, and so he did.

        "In fallen gods and angels all."

        The rider nodded his hooded head, still without making the slightest utterance, and beckoned for Reymu to come forth.  Reymu did as instructed, and the agent studied him for a spell before pointing to him and then to the horse.

        "You want me to get on the horse?"

        The rider nodded once more, mounted his steed, and looked back at Reymu, clearly waiting for him to climb up behind him.

        The prince stepped forward uncertainly, then stopped.  "Can't you speak aloud?"

        "Every stone is a spy," the agent replied in the faintest of whispers.  "Get on."

        He started to back away, unsure how wise it would be to follow this particular command, but then he remembered the words of the sheep-man and reconsidered.  He had to do as the agent told him.  Although he didn't know what the consequences of refusal would be, he doubted that they would be pleasant.  Swallowing hard, Prince Reymu clambered up onto the back of the black horse.  Scarcely had he managed to get astride of the creature when it leapt abruptly forward into a gallop, nearly unseating him in the process.  He had to grab the rider about the middle to keep from being left behind.

        And that was how Prince Reymu of Magramland left the city of Moribinu for the first time in his life.

The End

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