The great (or possibly worst) thing about time is that it’s always ticking for everyone. Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. Thus, as Hayden and Jo were being stuffed into a crypt, and Neola, Charlie and Emma were heading towards the bathroom, in the library on the second floor of the castle, young Prince Rhodri was having a history lesson with his very old tutor.
Rhodri’s tutor was a wrinkled and weather-beaten man with large pale blue eyes who went by the name “Sir”. The man’s real name was too long for anyone to remember so everyone just called him “Sir”. His hair was white and seemed to be attached to his head by a baby using glue for the first time. His eyes were closed but his tongue was tripping over itself to narrate as much information as possible. He seemed thoroughly fascinated by what he was saying and kept droning on and on and on and on.
A textbook lay in front of Sir on the table though it seemed as though he didn’t actually need a textbook. Rhodri was bored to death. He fiddled around with his pen then settled to doodle on the history textbook. He found himself drawing a horrible sketch of his father and before he could tear up again, he scribbled angrily over it.
He tried to listen to what Sir was saying but all of the information given went through one ear and out the other almost immediately. He couldn’t comprehend what Sir was saying. It was as if Sir was speaking a different language.
He looked around for something to distract him and caught the gaze of a maid. She was looking at Rhodri sympathetically and gave him an I-feel-sorry-for-you-but-I-can’t-do-anything kind of smile. Rhodri bit his lip and did his best to look as desolate as possible which wasn’t that hard given the circumstances. He basked in the maid’s sympathy for him. Eventually, that got boring and Rhodri looked at Sir then at the chandelier hanging from the ceiling in exasperation. He desperately wished for someone to shut Sir up.
There was a loud creaking. Then silence. Even Sir had been roused from his historical trance and was looking at the ceiling with a confused face.
There was another creak. And another.
And then the whole chandelier fell down, cutting through the air as easily as a knife cuts through butter. Rhodri shrieked and just had enough time to jump back even though he wasn’t even directly below the chandelier. Sir, however, wasn’t as able and ample as the young prince.
Rhodri watched in horror as the chandelier impaled the old man. The maid screamed and several guards came running in. Blood was quickly pooling over the table and Rhodri gingerly moved the textbook aside before it got soaked.
Rhodri’s first thought was gladness at not being killed. As soon as he thought it, he realised what a horrible thought it was to think. Rhodri felt an urgent need to throw up and looked up at the ceiling only to catch sight of a shadow moving fluently among the wooden beams of the tall ceiling. One of the guards followed his gaze but by then, the shadow was gone. Two maids each grabbed one of his hands and escorted him out of the library. Celicia was walking towards them in her usual calm and graceful manner. When he caught sight of her, the tears he had kept bottled up slipped down his pale cheeks and he cried away a stream of frustration and sorrow for his father’s death, his sudden ascension to the throne and of course, his tutor, Sir.
Celicia lifted and carried him to his bedchambers. Once she plopped him down on his bed, Rhodri threw up all over Celicia’s dress. She looked like she was going to yell at him but seemed to change her mind at the last-minute.
“It’s okay, Rhodri,” she said, gathering him up in her arms and kissing his flame-coloured hair. “It’s alright, it’s alright.”
“I-I’m sorry, Celicia,” sobbed Rhodri into his half-sister’s chest. Celicia pushed him off gently after a few minutes and walked out of Rhodri’s bedchamber in her typical composed fashion.
Back at the Defenders’ headquarters, a woman came running through the entrance yelling, “The Prince is not safe!” Her eyes were wild and her dark hair looked like a bird’s nest. She caught the attention of all the other Defenders as well as Neola, Charlie and Emma who had just returned from the bathroom. Everyone rushed towards the woman, surrounding her to hear her words. “The Prince is not safe,” she repeated and explained something about a chandelier falling and killing a tutor. “The Prince is not safe,” she said for the third time.
As soon as she fell silent, small group discussions immediately bloomed and the small hollow in the hill erupted with noise. Neola yelled above it all to get everyone to focus on her once again. “I’ll go to the castle to check on the Prince. For all we know, this could be a false alarm.” She turned to the woman who had made the sudden announcement and added, “No offence.”
“None taken,” the woman replied although she looked extremely worried.
“How about those two Outsiders?” yelled Jebel. Then there was pin-drop silence as the other Defenders noticed Emma and Charlie with Neola.
“Why, they’ll come with me, of course,” retorted Neola, holding her head up high.
All of a sudden, there was a flurry of questions hurled at Neola.
“Neola, how did they get here?”
“You’re not supposed to bring anyone except a Defender here!”
“Even the king didn’t know where our headquarters were!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll check on the castle,” said Neola quickly and pushed Emma and Charlie back towards the entrance which, now, should be more properly addressed as the exit.
“Neola, what about my brother?” asked Emma. She was beginning to think that they were never going to actually look for Hayden.
Neola stopped and gripped Emma’s shoulders looking her straight in the eye. “We’ll find your brother, I promise, but I’ll be able to help you faster if you help me with this.”
“What do you want us to do?”
“I’m dropping you both at the castle,” said Neola. “I want you to keep your eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary.”
“You mean besides all of this?” asked Charlie.
Neola grinned. “Yes.”
“You want us to be spies?”
“Yes, Charlie, in a way.”
“I’ll do it,” said Emma.
“Me too,” added Charlie.
“But in return, you have to help me find my brother.”