Stefan Haucke





      "It's started."

     Cal Lanshire heard the words, but he didn't know who had spoken them. The darkness in his bedroom was thick; it robbed him of his sight. Was there someone in his room with him? Cal lay still, afraid to move, and listened. No more words were spoken. His bedroom was silent. The only sound he heard was the soft clomping of a horse's or a centaur's hooves on the cobblestone courtyard outside.

     Maybe he'd dreamed the words. What had he been dreaming? Cal tried to remember. Faintly he recalled dreaming of a group of elves who were building a bridge over a river and of a large serpent that had been rapidly slithering toward his face. This didn't make any sense, but then dreams frequently didn't make sense.

     A flickering yellow light abruptly reached under the bedroom door and dully illuminated a small patch of the floor. A voice began whispering. Cal wanted to jerk his head under the blanket. He wanted to curl up under the covers, making himself as small as possible, but he couldn't move. He tried to call out for his father, but he was too afraid to make a sound.

     The whispering became slightly louder. There were two voices. Yes, he could definitely hear two voices, although the words weren't loud enough to be clear. The voices suddenly stopped. Then there came a muffled, shuffling sound of footsteps. The footsteps gradually grew softer, farther away, until they faded into silence. But there was still someone standing out there on the other side of the door. The flickering yellow light continued seeping into his room.

     His bedroom door suddenly let out the soft, familiar creek it always made when opened. Cal wanted to close his eyes---yes, he desperately more than anything wanted to close his eyes---but he couldn't close them. He saw the door open and a figure step, almost glide, into his room. The figure was holding a small candle; however, the flickering light from the candle wasn't bright enough to illuminate the figure's face. All Cal could see clearly was a black, gloved hand that was holding the candle and two buttons on the figure's dark jacket. The figure drifted toward his bed, and when it reached the side of the bed it stopped. The candle was brought close to Cal.

     "I see you're awake," a voice whispered.

     The figure leaned down, and the light from the candle was finally close enough to reveal who had entered Cal's room. It was his tutor, Mr. Alden.

     "Mr. Alden!" Cal called out. "What's happening?"

     "Shhhh. . ." Mr. Alden put a finger over his lips for a moment. "We have to be quiet."

     "What's happening?"

     "It's started."

     "What's started?"

     "The war."

     "Where's my father?"

     "Your father sent me here to get you," Mr. Alden whispered. "We have to leave. Immediately."


     "It's not safe here. Now get up and get dressed. Hurry."

     "I want my father."

     "He can't be here. He'll come to see you when he can."

     "I don't want to go."

     "You don't have a choice. We have to go."

     Mr. Alden spoke with such authority Cal knew there was no point arguing with him. He climbed out of bed and quickly got dressed.

    "Let's go," Mr. Alden said.

    The long corridor outside his bedroom was flooded with darkness. The torches that normally kept the corridor lit had been extinguished. Mr. Alden put a hand on Cal's shoulder and led him through the corridor, their only light coming from the candle's dim, flickering flame.

     At the end of the corridor, they reached a dark stairwell. Rapidly they moved down the stairs, they followed another dark corridor until they arrived at a large, thick wooden door. Mr. Alden removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door. Outside was the courtyard. Only two torches were burning, and they were widely separated, giving off just enough light to be able to barely see. This confused Cal. The courtyard was always brightly lit. He squinted and saw two long rows of horses. Each horse had an armored soldier on its back, and each soldier was holding a shield and a crossbow and was staring forward, expressionless. Nearby, two nervous-looking centaurs were busy loading supplies into a large wagon.

     "This way," Mr. Alden whispered. He led Cal to a covered carriage. Two strong horses were hitched to the carriage. "Quick," Mr. Alden said. "Get in."

     The carriage began moving as soon as Cal and Mr. Alden were inside. The faint firelight from the courtyard torches rapidly faded from view. The darkness was intense. Cal looked around, searching for some light, but found none. A thick cloud cover must have been keeping the stars and moon hidden. Cal closed his eyes. The darkness didn't seem so terrible when he had his eyes shut; he felt safer with his eyes closed.

     He must have fallen asleep. When he opened his eyes, he felt groggy, and his back felt stiff from being in the same position for too long. He turned his head and saw that the stars were out. Cal smiled. "The stars," he whispered.

     Mr. Alden leaned close to him. "Those aren't stars."

    Cal stared at the stars, and as the sleepy grogginess disappeared from his mind, he realized something was wrong. The stars were all near where the horizon should be, and they were the wrong color. Instead of being the pale, bluish-white color that stars were supposed to be, these stars were almost golden.

     "What are they?" Cal asked.

     "The enemy," Mr. Alden whispered. "They're close. You're looking at their campfires."

     Cal felt suddenly cold. He squeezed his eyes shut. He wanted the darkness back; the darkness would be so much better than seeing those campfires.

     He listened to the soft creaking of the moving carriage and the rhythmic thumping of the horses' hooves and wondered where he was being taken.