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The wind blew down the dusty lane, through the feet of the traveller and on up to the castle where the king stood on a high parapet, cloak wrapped tightly about his gaunt figure. Master of all he surveyed, he envied the lone figure on the road. Oh, to start again! To take the open road without encumbrance or goal. To put a firm foot forward and be blown by the endless hours of a fresh and free life, where the only duty was to live, love and learn.

The young man, trudging down the empty road, glanced up at the little figure atop the high tower and wondered if it might even be the great king himself. Hardly, it seemed, would a king want to be out in this weather, let alone wander without courtiers at hand to do his slightest bidding. How great and warm it must be, even for the lowest scullery maid, to live in such security.

The stairs down from the tower echoed the weight of responsibility and years, mocking the king's emptiness. Oh, for a close and carefree conversation in a distant bar room, where lusty maids and thoughtful philosophers mixed in a heady brew, where unending affairs of state were an unknown nightmare and one could rule fair dreams without demand.

As the youth turned his attention back to the grey road ahead, it seemed long and empty but for unknown twists and terrors to ensnare the inexperienced traveller. Who would have such a life? Who would exist on the brink of despair save a lonely and unwanted fellow whose only sin was to live an empty life?

As the king trudged heavily down the stairs, a germ of a foolish idea wound its way into his tired mind, growing and feeding on a stifled imagination. He could. No one would stop him. It was getting late. No one need know for a long time.

The youth came to a junction at the road and paused. One path wound up into the dark hills whilst another widened out towards the grand castle. A flicker of distant lightning silhouetted the imposing edifice in a magical glow and a brilliant idea was ignited. With a new smile and determined step, he turned and marched towards the castle.

Rummaging in an old chest the king pulled out some faded and nondescript hunting gear and held it up with a nod of satisfaction. Without further hesitation, he donned the clothes, slung the pheasant bag over his shoulder and slipped down the back stairs, humming quietly. In an empty kitchen he grabbed some food and utensils and snuck out around the porter's lodge.

The young man stopped only to brush himself down and smarten up his appearance. To find work in the castle he would need to look good and sound even better. As he strode confidently on he rehearsed his words with care.

On the steps of the servant's entrance, two shabby figures passed one another, each with a gleam in the eye and a spring in the step. They nodded and smiled but did not hesitate as they strode into the new future.




~by David Straker~

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