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the tale of the evil squirrel This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Once upon a time there was a very valiant knight that went by the name of Sir Sebastian. Although Sir Sebastian was well liked by his fellow knights, who would have been more than happy to spend an evening with him in the local tavern drinking a pitcher of mead, Sir Sebastian spent most of his free time with his best friend, William. Or, to be more exact, Prince William.

Right now, they were in the clearing behind the castle, sparring. Sir Sebastian was looking to end up the victor in this particular match. Unless, of course, you asked, Prince William. In which case, he had landed the most blows. He was taunting Sir Sebastian when something caught his eye. He barely managed to dodged the sharp edge of Sir Sebastian’s blade.

“Watch where you swing that thing, Seb,” he said distractedly, walking towards the tree that had caught his attention.

Leaves crunched under Sebastian’s feet as he followed William. “We're in the middle of sparring, Will,” he huffed. “What are you looking at?” He inclined his head and followed William gaze.

“That,” William replied, pointing at the apple that hung from one of the tree's highest branch. It was a bright red against the tree's glossy green leaves and perfectly round. Sebastian's mouth watered just looking at it. After several minutes of silence, William said, not taking his eyes of the apple, “Well?”

“Well, what?” Sebastian replied.

“Well, go and get it.”

“Are you insane? I'm not climbing up there, William!”

William mumbled something under his breathe, and then said, “But just look at it, Seb! It's perfect. You know you want it, Seb. Don't lie.”

Sebastian glared at him. “Yeah, I want it. But if I go and get it, you're just going to take it from me.”

William considered this. “Usually I would, but I swear that if you get it, we each get half.”

“Why don't you just go and get it yourself, Will?”

“'Cause I'm next in line for the crown. I can't go climbing ridiculously high trees. I could fall and die.”

“Oh, but it's okay if I fall and die.”

“Yes, exactly. I'm glad you see it my way.” William beamed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Now get to it.”

Sebastian sighed. “Give me a boost.”

And so, 15 minutes and three fourths of tree later found Sebastian standing on a relatively sturdy tree branch, one arm wrapped around the trunk of the tree and the other stretched out before him in an attempt to reach the apple.

“Come on, Seb,” William yelled from below. “You've almost got it!”

“Shut up, William!” Sebastian yelled back, and glanced at a squirrel perched near the apple, an acorn in his paws. “Princes, right?” He said. The squirrel blinked, and Sebastian nodded, before leaning forward as far as he could. His fingertips brushed the smooth skin of the apple. He didn’t notice the squirrel moving closer.

“Just a little bit more, Seb,” he said to himself. He closed his eyes and extended his arm as far as he could. His fingers curled around the apple. And then something sharp bit into the skin of his hand.

“Ow!” Sebastian exclaimed pulling his hand back. The squirrel stared at him menacingly.

“Seb? What happened?”

“A squirrel just bit me!”

Sebastian heard William's laughter. “It's not funny, William! He's staring at me like I just killed his unborn baby or something!” William laughed harder. Sebastian glared at the squirrel.

“Look, squirrel – ”

The squirrel hissed and threw the acorn at Sebastian.

“Hey! I haven't done anything to you!” The squirrel inched forward, poised to attack. It barred his teeth and made a move to jump on Sebastian, which caused the knight to lose his balance. He screamed as he fell from the tree. The thick foliage slowed his fall, and he managed to grab onto a branch before he hit the ground. He dangled from the branch for a second before letting go and landing on the ground with a stumble. William took one look at him and burst out into laughter again.

When he manage to get his amusement under control, he said, “Bested by a squirrel, eh?” He looked up at the tree, where the squirrel was still perched next to the apple, after getting another acorn. “I'll show how a real man gets an apple away from a squirrel.” He began to walk towards the tree when an acorn hit him right between the eyes. It was Sebastian's turn to laugh. William glared at him.

“Okay, that's it! I am putting a bounty on all squirrels in the kingdom!” He stormed out of the clearing, Sebastian following after him, laughing, but wiser about the true, evil nature of squirrels.

~*~

Over time, there were battles to fight, men to train, peace treaties to sign, parties to attend, and all thoughts of evil squirrels and perfect apples were forgotten. And so, life went on as usual for Sir Sebastian and Prince William.

Until the day the the king died.

~*~

“William?” Sebastian called, searching the clearing for any sign of his friend.

“Up here,” William replied, voice distant. Sebastian looked up and saw William sitting on a branch of tree.

“Are you insane? Get down from there!”

William shook his head and leaned back against the trunk of the tree. “The view's great from up here, Seb,” he said. “Come and see.”

Sebastian considered the chances of him successfully talking William down, coming to the conclusion that there wasn't any chance of that at happening at all. He glanced at the tree. It don't look that hard to climb. He grasped a branch and pulled himself up, and a few minutes later he was sitting next to William. He had to admit, the view was pretty great, the entire castle and the rolling green hills that surrounded it covered in a warm, orange glow from the setting sun.

“Told you.”

Sebastian nodded. “Yeah. People are looking for you, you know.”

“I know.” He sighed. “Tomorrow. I'll be the king tomorrow. But right now, I just want to forget.”

William had never said anything, but Sebastian could always see that he was terrified of becoming ruler, of being responsible of the welfare of an entire population of people. His father had brought prosperity to a kingdom that had lost all hope, and Sebastian knew that William doubted he could continue to keep the kingdom thriving. And having to take the crown right after the death of his father – having to put on a strong face for the people would kill him.

“It's okay to be scared, William. Your father just died and you're about to become king –”

“I'm fine, Sebastian.”

Sebastian opened his mouth to argue, and ended up sighing. “Well, when you're not, I'm here.”

“Thanks,” William said quietly, and then, “Doesn't this tree remind you of something?”

“Huh?”

“It's just familiar, is all.”

Sebastian tried to recall if they had ever been up here before, when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw a squirrel running up the trunk of the tree. He followed its movements as it climbed almost to the top of the tree. It stopped next to an apple. Bright red against the tree's glossy green leaves and perfectly round. Sebastian pointed at it.

“Hey, isn't that – ”

“The apple,” William said, hand moving to touch the spot between his eyes. The spot where the squirrel had hit him with an acorn. He turned to face Sebastian and grasped his shoulder.

“We have to get that apple, Seb,” he said.

“Okay, you are insane,” Sebastian replied. “We're not risking our lives for an apple.”

William shook his head and looked back at the apple. “I need to do this.” When he turned his gaze back on Sebastian, his eyes were serious. Sebastian found himself nodding.

“Yeah, okay,” he said, slightly dazed by the earnest tone in his friend's voice. He knew there was no stopping William now, and he wasn't going to let him do this alone. William got to his feet, Sebastian following a second later. William grabbed a branch that was by his shoulder and pulled himself up, not pausing for a second before finding another branch and climbing higher. Sebastian stared at him for a moment before shaking his head and chasing after him. William had disappeared into the foliage above him when Sebastian heard a yelp of pain. He hurried his pace, and soon enough, reached a branch next to the branch where William was standing, blood flowing from a bit on his hand.
In front of him stood a squirrel. Sebastian knew it was the same squirrel from last time.

“William, maybe we should just –”

“I'm not letting some stupid squirrel stop me!”

He stepped forward and the squirrel hissed. William took another step and the squirrel moved, his body blocking the apple. William growled, and Sebastian laid a hand on his arm. William shook it off.

“It's just an apple, William!”

William whipped his head around, looking Sebastian in the eye. “It's not just an apple!” He shouted angrily.

“What is it then?”

William stared at him, eyes wide, before sitting down on the branch. He shook his head. “How am I supposed to protect an entire kingdom when I can't even get an apple?”

“No!” Sebastian said forcefully. “This isn't a reflection on how you'll do as king, William. This is just an apple in a tree and a psycho squirrel.”

“I'm scared, Seb.”

Sebastian let out a deep breathe. “I know you are.” From this high, he could see the village that lay beyond the castle. There were people on the roads, and the marketplace was bustling with activity. “But they aren't.” William looked down at the village. “They have faith in you, William. They know, without a doubt, that you will not let them down. They know that you will just a great a king as your father was.”

“What if,” William began, voice breaking, “What if I let them down?”

“You won't let them down, William.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because you care about them. You would die to protect them,” Sebastian said seriously. When William didn't reply, Sebastian said, with as much conviction as he could muster, “You'll be a great king, William.”

William shook his head.

“It's the truth, William.”

“I can't live up to my father –”

The squirrel threw an acorn at him. William stared at it, outraged. “Ow!”

Sebastian laughed. “I think the the squirrel agrees with me. You think William's going to be an amazing king too, don't you?”

To their amazement, the squirrel nodded and scurried to the apple, looking back to make sure that William was still there. He grabbed the apple and ran back to William, placing it down in front of him. William just stared at it and the squirrel pushed it closer to him.

“I think he wants you to take it, William,” Sebastian said, amused.

William glared at him.

“Come on, Will. You said there was no way you could protect a kingdom when you couldn't even get one apple. He's giving you his apple, William,” he said and turned towards the squirrel. “You want William to know that you trust him to protect the kingdom, don't you?” The squirrel nodded again.

“Trust the squirrel, William.”

William stared at the squirrel for a moment before reaching for the apple. After he had it in his grip, the squirrel patted his hand. It gestured to the village, as if telling them to go. William stood there for a moment, before nodding at Sebastian. The climbed down in silence, the apple safe in William's pant pocket.

When their feet finally hit the ground, Sebastian turned to face William. “Are you ready now, William?” He asked.

William tightened his grip on the apple. “Yeah, I am.” He smirked at Sebastian. “And I am going to be the most kick ass king ever.” William turned on his heel and started to make his way out of the clearing, Sebastian following after him. “I mean, I was worthy of the apple and all,” he said.

And so, with his best friend at his side and the knowledge that a squirrel had faith in him, William lived to be the most kick ass king ever.



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