The Fugitive Prince (Bell Mountain) (8 page)

BOOK: The Fugitive Prince (Bell Mountain)
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“We promise,” Ellayne said. The boys nodded. Something was wrong, and not just a little bit wrong: Jack knew it.

 

Gurun lowered her voice and said, “The king is not here. He went to his bedchamber two nights ago, and in the morning he could not be found. No one knows where he has gone; but he took Cavall with him. No one has been able to find a trace of either of them.”

 

 

Chapter 10

Fnaa’s Story

 

Gurun spoke plainly. The girls of Fogo Island are taught to keep their feelings under control and not reveal them—which is not the same thing as not having any feelings. She would have liked to return to her family, but Obann had neither ships nor sailors, so it was impossible for her to go home. For better or for worse, Obann would have to be her home from now on.

 

Gurun loved Ryons and feared for his safety. The boy king could not have meant more to her if he were her own flesh and blood. But it wouldn’t do him or her any good to go tearing around the palace, wailing and weeping.

 

“So that is how things are,” she finished. “We do not even know whether the king is still alive.”

 

Ellayne was speechless. Fnaa sat as still as a statue. But Jack turned to him and said, “You have to tell your story now, Fnaa—the whole thing. If you can’t trust the three of us here in this room, then you can’t trust anyone in all Obann, and everything you’ve done will be for nothing. You can see that, can’t you?”

 

Fnaa took a long look at Queen Gurun. His shoulders slumped a little. At last he said, “All right. I’ll tell you everything.”

 

 

“My mother and I are slaves,” he said. “We belong to a man named Vallach Vair. He’s rich. He’s a merchant. He has a great big house on River Street.

 

“He has a lot of friends, and they’re all against the king. So they made a plan. But I don’t know the names of any of those friends of his. My mother might know.

 

“I look like the king. Just like him! Ask Ellayne what I looked like before she colored my hair red. But my master thinks I’m a fool, because my mother taught me how to act like one. So their plan was to get rid of King Ryons and put me in his place. After a time, when all the people saw their king was feeble-minded, they’d get tired of having a fool for a king, and then the Oligarchy would come back. I’m not sure what an oligarchy is, but I think it’d mean my master and his friends would take over the city and everything else. So my mother told me about Jack and Ellayne and sent me to find them, so we could tell the king and stop all this from happening.” He paused to look at Ellayne, and then at Jack. “I guess we’re too late.”

 

For some moments Gurun didn’t say anything—just sat still, thinking.

 

“You believe me, don’t you?” Fnaa cried.

 

“Oh, yes—yes, I do,” she said. “But I am just trying to imagine you with dark hair like the king’s.”

 

“The dye washes out in warm water,” Ellayne said.

 

Gurun stood up. “Wait here,” she said. She went out of the room for a minute and came right back.

 

“I do believe you,” she said. “I am thinking of what we might be able to do.”

 

“To find the king?” Jack asked.

 

“No. Not that. Something else.”

 

In a little while, someone knocked at the door, a maid with a big basin of water. Gurun took it and dismissed her. She set the basin on a table. “Wash your hair, Fnaa,” she said. “I want to see your natural color.”

 

He looked doubtful. “Go ahead,” said Ellayne.

 

“I might as well,” he said.

 

Fnaa bent over the basin and wet his head. He didn’t know quite how to manage, so Ellayne helped him. By and by the water turned red, and Fnaa’s hair went back to black. Gurun handed him a towel. He disappeared under it, drying. The last of the color came off on the towel.

 

Gurun’s mouth dropped open when she saw him as he really was.

 

“It’s true!” she said. “If I didn’t know otherwise, I would swear you were King Ryons.”

 

“That’s exactly what I thought, when I first saw him,” Ellayne said. “Me, too,” Jack added.

 

“But what’s the use,” Fnaa said, “if they’ve already got the king?”

 

“I don’t think they have,” said Gurun. “Whatever might have happened, no enemy could have gotten past his Ghols. They guard him with their lives. And he has Cavall to protect him.”

 

“But I don’t see what we can do!” Jack said.

 

“Oh, but maybe there is something,” said Gurun, “if our friend Fnaa is brave enough to do it.”

 

Fnaa shrugged. “Tell me what it is,” he said. “I can’t think of anything!”

 

“Then listen,” Gurun said. “Your master’s plan was for you to take King Ryons’ place. You spoiled that by running away. Now—how would it be if you did take the king’s place? Only for a little while, I hope: only until we have him here with us again, or find out for sure what has become of him.

 

“I will tell the chiefs that you are King Ryons and that I found you hiding in my closet in my room. That’s one place they haven’t searched! I shall tell them that you’ve had a fever and have lost your memory—but otherwise there is nothing wrong with you.

 

“We can pretend; and while we pretend, there are servants of the king who can quickly act against your master, taking him by surprise. They can bring your mother to the palace, here with us, so she can be protected.”

 

“But how can I pretend to be the king?” Fnaa cried. “I wouldn’t know how to act! Until Iran away to Ninneburky, I was hardly ever outside my master’s house.”

 

“That is why I’ll say you’ve lost your memory,” Gurun said. “I’ll help you. There will not be much you’ll have to say or do. Ryons is just a boy like you. His chieftains and his advisers have always acted in his name.”

 

Ellayne spoke up. “Fnaa, you’ve got to do it. We’ll be here to help you. After all, if you could trick your master and his whole family into thinking you were a simpleton, when you weren’t, it shouldn’t be any harder to make people think you’re the king. You fooled your master for years! But this would only be for a little while.”

 

“Can you really bring my mother here?” Fnaa asked.

 

“I promise you it shall be done—and very soon, too,” Gurun said.

 

Fnaa let out a long sigh. “Funny, isn’t it?” he said. “Iran away so they couldn’t put me in the king’s place—and now I’m going to be put there anyway! But all right. I’ll do it. It’s not like I can just go back home again, is it?”

 

“No,” said Gurun, mostly to herself. “Neither can I.”

 

 

Chapter 11

How Wytt Inquired for the King

 

Wytt understood everything that Jack and Ellayne said to him; but he also understood most of what other big people said to them.

 

He knew Ryons. There was no “Ryons” in his mind—the Omah don’t grasp the human idea of personal names—but rather an image of Ryons and a realization that Ryons was a friend. Curled up in Ellayne’s pack, listening to Gurun and the children, he learned that Ryons had gone away, no one knew where, and he perceived that this was very upsetting to everyone concerned. Wytt also knew the king’s dog, Cavall, and understood that Cavall had gone away, too.

 

If the Omah’s mind were more like a human’s, he might have wondered why big people had so little feel for their surroundings. Being so high off the ground, they didn’t see things that Wytt saw easily. They didn’t seem to hear very well at all. The constant stream of interweaving scents and odors that fed Wytt a feast of information had nothing to say to Jack or Ellayne. They were, in their way, more helpless than the pinkest little newborn Omah suckling at his mother’s breast. They needed a great deal of looking after.

 

While Ellayne slept that night—Gurun had provided the children each with a nice bedchamber in the palace—Wytt hopped onto the windowsill and climbed down the stone walls as easily and silently as a lizard. Once on the grass, he began to follow wherever his assortment of keen senses led him.

 

He wished to find out about Ryons and the dog, because the humans couldn’t do it. He was in an inner courtyard faced by stables, kennels, cages for hawks, and coops for chickens: a place where an inquisitive Omah could learn much.

 

He went first to the stables, then to the kennels. Animals cannot talk; neither could Wytt—at least, not as we know talking. But God has given to animals and Omah senses and perceptions of which human beings know nothing. So when one of the hounds caught Wytt’s scent, and got up and growled, Wytt chirped at him and the dog stopped growling. Wytt crept close to the cage so that he and the dog could sniff each other. That’s what it would have looked like to a human, but there was much more to it than just sniffing.

 

Wytt came away from the encounter with the knowledge—or rather, with the picture in his mind—that Cavall had gone away with a man who’d let him out of his kennel. This was not just any man, not one of the men of the palace. This was a Man who shone in the dark and had a sweet and soothing scent that the dogs liked. It gave the hound pleasure to recall it.

 

The dogs had neither seen nor smelled Ryons that night, so he must not have visited the courtyard. Wytt understood that Ryons slept in a particular room, just as Jack and Ellayne were doing. The dogs knew nothing about that, so he went on to the mews where the hawks were sleeping. Ordinarily no Omah would dare approach a hawk. Along with snakes, badgers, and wildcats, hawks preyed on the little people. But these hawks were safely confined in stout mesh cages, so Wytt didn’t hesitate to rattle one of the cages with a stick.

 

The two hawks in the cage woke with harsh protests, beating their wings at Wytt and wishing they could sink their beaks and talons into him. But they were tame hawks, captive-bred, who had never fed on Omah, and eventually Wytt was able to calm them and communicate with them.

 

The hawks, too, had seen the softly shining Man come for Cavall. He didn’t disturb them or alarm them, but they saw him—and they would have liked to have seen more. More to Wytt’s purpose, they knew the window in which King Ryons’ face most often appeared; and the Man, that night, had appeared in that window, too. All the birds had been awake that night and seen the Man’s light seeping through the crack between the curtains. They had hoped he would come back down and visit them, but he didn’t.

 

Wytt climbed up the palace wall, the rough stone offering him an easy climb. There was no light in Ryons’ room tonight, but Omahs see much better at night than humans, and even before he reached the window ledge, he smelled Ryons’ scent, which he knew as well as he knew the boy’s face.

 

Parting the curtains, he hopped into the royal bedchamber. Ryons’ scent was all over the room, along with odors left by servants and bodyguards; but the strange shining man had left no scent at all. There was no trace of him that even an Omah might detect.

 

Wytt sniffed the floor and baseboards for rats, but there weren’t any. Rats might have told him something, if they didn’t attack him at first sight. He went to the door and heard people in the hall outside.

 

Had an enemy come into that room, had there been a struggle there, had Ryons been provoked to intense fear, Wytt would have known it. Those things left traces in the air, on the floor, in the bedclothes, traces undetectable by human beings but plain to animals and Omah. Their absence told Wytt that Ryons had left the room peaceably and unafraid.

 

With a satisfied chirp, he climbed up the curtain and back outside. No one saw him scramble down the wall. A dog barked—just a friendly greeting—as he scurried across the yard and then back up another wall. In another minute he was back in Ellayne’s bedroom and snuggling up against her.

 

BOOK: The Fugitive Prince (Bell Mountain)
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