The distant thunder grew louder, and the ground shook under my feet, wind from behind driving the clouds in our direction. “Looks like another Thunder-banger,” I spoke aloud, not caring if my two companions responded and pushed through the weeds surrounding the old castle. They followed me without speaking, as neither had much to say on the best of days. We reached the outer walls of the ruins just as the cold light rain began to fall.
We ducked inside a crevice between abutments and caught our breath as the winds shifted, pushing the hard rain deeper into the crannies surrounding the walls. Spotting a low round window nearby, we dashed for just as thunder clapped, shaking the ground under us. As I leaped through the window, lightning flashed over the horizon. We moved farther into the room to escape the winds and rain blowing into the old ruins.
Lew and Dan weren’t originally part of the deal. The original plan had been for me to slip in and out alone and find the artifact. The surrounding kingdoms were at war over control of the regions and valuable resources.
My king sent me on a covert mission, but when word leaked out about the prophecy, various factions sent mercenaries to follow me and steal the artifact from me if I had found it. That made bodyguards necessary.
The castle’s location was never precise, and I pulled the old map from my pouch, carefully unfolding the fragile paper to check the landmarks. I had to be in the right place—the castle of King Wilfred. Though now in ruins, it had the unusual spherical towers and odd-shaped outer walls described in the ancient texts. Locating the map in an abandoned library was pure luck, but that luck may have paid off.
While Lew and Dan watched for mercenaries, I carefully searched the walls of the storm-darkened room, looking for the secret opening. I was nearly back to where I started when I felt the edge of a doorway. Pressing along the seam, a portion of the wall opened, revealing a narrow passageway with stairs leading down into darkness. Telling my guards to keep an eye out, I took Lew’s torch and disappeared into the depths of the castle.
It took a while, wandering the labyrinth of passageways, but I found the object of my quest. A rumored jewel-encrusted gold bird statue that legend told gave ultimate power to the ruler who possessed it. I reached for my pouch. I had work to do.
When I returned, Lew and Dan looked wide-eyed at the statue I carried. Lew sputtered. “What is that?”
“This will give our King his power.”
As we slipped out of the castle, I tucked my pouch inside my shirt. It held the real jewels taken from the stature. I replace the real ones with colored glass, and the king would never know.
I should have answered Lew with the truth. “The stuff that dreams are made of.”