Like a ghost unveiled in some dark corridor, white mist hung over the lake. A blue-back tinge coloured each droplet as it rustled northwards, beneath that swirling, visible breath that floats from a mouth on an early autumn morning. A sliver of moonlight slipped through the night air, surrounded in each direction by distant stars. These barely illuminated a tall, white watchtower, sitting on the shore like a strict chaperone.
Squeezing through a crack halfway up the watchtower, one would see the feet of a watchman creaking over each stone step, holding a dim yellow candle to guide his footpaths. Stumbling to his knees, he realizes he has reached the top step, and he clambers over to take his post. Squinting, he beholds the mists over the waters, and in the distance, the vague outlines of distant islands, with rows and rows of dark green forests. The forests cover the islands like moss at the base of some gigantic tree trunk.
He yawns and stretches his arms above his head, and then sits, ruffling his grey stubble with the back of his palms. The man is on duty for the king. He can hear the soft calls of birds, the trickling of water, waves lapping up on the rocks, and the wind whisking tree leaves as if trying to make them into a battery dessert. The fresh smell of pine wafts to his nose. As the hours pass, he blinks every now and then, his head tilting back in his seat. Once or twice, in some state between sleep and wakefulness, his head suddenly jerks upright at some small sound, and, out of habit, he calls his wife’s name and says, “I agree,” before remembering his surroundings again. Then, he begins to nod off once more.
A tingling nose sounds through the night, and he leaps up. His candle clatters to the grey stone floor. He bends down to pick it up again, and then casts his eyes at the water.
And then he sees it.
An ancient brown wooden ship, one of the tallest boats in the king’s fleet, drifts silently over the waters.
He hesitates. There’s something about its movements that troubles him, but he’s not sure what. As the boat glides closer, he studies it more intently.
The back of his neck begins to cool. The boat is moving so slowly, and in an awkward, involuntary sort of way, like a three-legged squirrel struggling to climb a tree.
Feeling a sudden shuddering sensation in his heart, he realizes why.
There’s no one on board.
Perhaps it was the wind that nudged the boat’s bells, as a cat rubs against its owner’s legs. But another realization soon follows.
If there’s no one on board, there’s no one to steer it.
A loud crash snaps the night out of its reverie, as if a shard of ice is cracked by a heavy fall, or the first footsteps pierce freshly fallen snow.
The ship has hit the rock.
A few hours later, in the forest behind the watchtower, a young boy walked in the darkness. His face was pointed down, and he kicked up piles of soil as he moved. Brushing low-lying leaves out of his way, he reached a clearing and shivered. His fingers shook in the cold and his teeth gnashed together.
All at once, someone hurtled through the darkness and knocked the boy on his back, and loud cries resounded. His assailant looked down.
Shorter than the boy, and dressed in a similar hooded robe, was a nine-year-old girl named Aqueeta. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry. But could you not be so loud? I’m trying to attack the palace.”
Despite the fact he had fallen down, her explanation piqued the boy’s curiosity even more than his desire for fawning sympathy.
“Attack the palace?” he said.
Dropping her hood, Aqueeta bit her lip. “Yes. But my parents don’t know I’m out.”
“Neither do mine,” said the prince. He paused. “But why attack?”
“Because they’ve got more than they need, and my family has little. It’s not fair.”
“The king has many soldiers.”
“I can run under their legs.”
“They have spears.”
“I have teeth.”
“So do they.”
“Mine are sharper.”
The prince made a sober pause. “Then I don’t see how you could fail,” he said.
She turned away from him.
“But it’s not that good,” he said.
She spun back to him. “What?”
“The palace. It’s not that good.”
“What part of it?”
“Everything. The fancy food, getting bossed around, all these historical things you’re not supposed to touch. They’d be so much fun to smash. But there’s nothing anyone would want.”
“Nothing?” said Aqueeta. “How do you know?”
“Because I’m the prince.”
She laughed. “You? You can’t be. Princes are taller.”
“I can almost reach the garden gate.”
“I know lots of dates things happened, and can pretend they still mean something.”
“I … I am handsome,” said the prince. He pounded his left hand with the fist of his right, as if this was evidence of his handsomeness.
Aqueeta shrugged. “Why are you here?”
“I don’t want to be a prince anymore. I’m running away because I want to be free to do whatever I want.”
“But out here, you don’t just get things,” said Aqueeta. “You have to work for them.”
“Princes don’t always get what they want either.”
“They get food and drink.”
“They’re all really uncomfortable. You have to wear tight collars! Then they do things with your hair, to ‘make it look nice,’ as they call it.” Abruptly, Prince Salus said, “Maybe I don’t want to be a prince or live out here. I want to be an adventurer. A man used to tell me all these stories about exciting heroes. I want to be one; exploring distant islands, and fighting off all kinds of dangers.”
“You just go places, and things happen to you.”
“Where adventures happen!”
The prince gazed into the distance. “I’m not sure. They’re places with gigantic grey mountains that wear the clouds like a necklace. Where—”
“Well, I’m not sure I want to take over the palace if it’s as bad as you say.”
“You’re not missing anything.”
“I want to be an adventurer too,” said Aqueeta.
“Girls don’t do that. They just get in trouble and have to get saved. I don’t want to do that part.”
“I WANT TO BE AN ADVENTURER!”
In spite of the previous temperance she had demanded of the prince, Aqueeta’s voice thundered through the clearing.
“Well … you have to promise I won’t have to save you from any bandits.”
The prince sighed. “Fine. Let’s go.”
The two children ran off into the night. The prince said, “I know where to start. I heard a boat crashed and lost all its crew. We’re going to find out what happened.”
Passing through the forest, they found the watchtower and the place the boat had crashed. The prince pointed to a wooden lifeboat on board. Unlike the rest of the boat, the lifeboat was fresh and new, and painted in a shade of bright red that was full of life. In a whisper, he said, “We’ll row away on that.”
“What if someone sees us?” said Aqueeta. Her eyes peered up at the watchtower. “Is anyone up there?”
She did not see anyone in the watchtower, but she had an uneasy feeling in her stomach. “I thought I saw someone before,” she said.
“Come on!” said the prince.
The two of them pushed the lifeboat off the deck of the empty boat and into the water, where the lifeboat made a loud splash.
The watchman’s voice sounded through the darkness. “Who’s there?”
The two children froze. The watchman had left his post, and he now he cast about his candle in the night.
“Who are you?” said the watchman. He was walking closer.
Through the darkness, the prince put on a booming voice. “I’m the ghost of your first wife,” he said.
The watchman gasped, his hands shook, and he receded a step. Then he recovered himself and said, “Wait! I’ve only had one wife! And she’s still livin’!”
“I’m the ghost of one of her relatives,” the voice corrected. “That one who used to come visit and talk about myself for a long time, laughing at my own unfunny jokes, and stealing the conversation from anyone else’s interests.”
The watchman paused.
In that moment, Aqueeta and the prince leapt off the deck and into the lifeboat. They began to paddle away.
It took the watchman a moment to realize what had happened, but by the time he did, the boat was a safe distance away, and a pink morning sunrise shimmered over the horizon. In fact, he was soon snoring.
“That was an adventure!” said the prince. “Now let’s find some more!”
By: Robert Crispin Revington