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He had been found by a farmer that lived just outside the town. At that moment, he was being fed apples by the local children. They would giggle as he transformed into a giraffe to get an apple that had been thrown onto a thatched roof. A whistle rang out from the distance. Farmer Samuel, the man who had found and raised him, was the only one who ever whistled to the creature. Some believed it to be sorcery. Some called him a “Black Magic Creature.” Everyone else just called him the Shape-Shifter. The Shape-Shifter made a popping noise as he transformed into the horse and galloped towards its master. He willingly did anything anyone asked- especially if Samuel asked. The village was its family. That was, until Lord Richard of Carlom decided to push his horses to their absolute limit.
It was in the middle of the night. Lord Richard had been traveling for nigh on a week to get to the capital city in time for the king’s daughter’s wedding. One of the horses had tripped in its weariness, and broken its leg. Richard, and servant William, had stumbled upon Samuel’s farm, and he had willingly taken them in for the night.
“Excuse me, but you do have an outhouse or something, do you not?” Richard asked timidly.
“Aye- when you walk outside, take a left down the path, and you’ll find it.”
As Richard walked down the path to the outhouse, he noticed a beautiful young mare wandering the forest. He was reminded of his need for a horse, and thought to seek out one just like it the next day. While immersed in his own thoughts, Richard stumbled on a brown, furry creature with a black tail, and he landed on the ground, ankle undoubtedly twisted. He cursed and decided to continue to the outhouse. On limping out of the outhouse, he noticed a large dog sitting right in front of him, a squirrel with a black tail in its mouth.
“Huh,” he breathed, wondering when the dog had appeared.
The dog dropped the squirrel, panting, his tail wagging. Then, from the dog came a popping sound, and in front of him, stood the beautiful young mare he had seen before. Richard yelped, and took off running as fast as his twisted ankle would allow.
When Samuel saw Richard running towards him, he called out, “What have you seen? A ghost?”
“There is something by your outhouse! It transformed! It is black magic I tell you! Black magic!”
The farmer let out a deep chuckle. “So you’ve found him, eh? Well ,frankly, I’m not surprised. Don’t get visitors too often here.”
“You know of it?”
“Know of ‘im? I raised him, your Lordship- from a foal; that was at least what it was when I found him.”
The conversation was at a standstill. Lord Richard was no fool- something seemed to click in his mind, and he voiced his thoughts aloud.
“I’ll buy him from you.”
“Buy it? Why would you need something like him?”
“Oh, I could think of something,” Richard replied, a certain light in his eyes that was intriguing yet terrifying.
The Shape-Shifter had walked into Samuel's line of sight through the window. While Samuel watched his closest friend, Richard spoke.
“I’ll give you 500 gangots for it.”
The farmer couldn’t tear his eyes from the creature that had saved him from certain bankruptcy. But 500 gangots? “Okay,” he replied, closing his eyes, guilt already eating at his insides.
A smug smile spread across Richard’s lips. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Lord Richard and driver/servant William left early the next day. The Shape-Shifter had remained a mare, and it was simple enough to attach the harness to the horse’s body after Samuel had talked to the horse.
“It can understand you,” Samuel told Richard.
He looked questioningly at the farmer, but decided to believe him anyways.
They rode for the rest of the day, and the two arrived in Carlom, in the evening. After all the horses, but the Shape-Shifter were put in the stables, Richard began talking to him.
“Turn into a bird,” he commanded.
Taken aback by this sudden abrupt rudeness, the Shape-Shifter popped into a pig.
“A Bird! A bird you stupid animal!”
Trembling, he turned into a parrot.
“Good,” was Richard's malicious answer.
Taking the Shape-Shifter by its wings, he placed it on his arm, and walked into the ballroom of the castle, the newly married prince and princess receiving gifts at their table.
“Come one and come all! Come and see this creature that can change its appearance at will! This is no trick, comrades!”
Turning to the Shape-Shifter, Richard whispered, “Change into a horse.”
Gritting its teeth, the Shape-Shifter popped into a horse. Everyone marveled at the creature, and for the rest of the night he was subject to their ridiculous requests.
On returning to bed, the Shape-Shifter, in parrot form, was placed in a cage, to its surprise.
“So you can’t run away,” Richard said, a nasty smile on his lips.
Little known to Richard, his servant, William, had seen what the animal could do, and had no doubt in his mind what needed to be done. So, when Richard fell asleep, the servant slit his master’s throat and fled the country with his prize.
Several months later, William sat in a room, royalty from different countries sitting across from him. King James, from Carlom, King Jaqeaux from the southern country of Abentna, whom everyone knew had a very questionable past. King Phineas of Zabet had arrived that morning, and King Welester, from Esel was there.
“I’ve brought you 5,000 gangots worth of gold,” King James announced.
Everyone in the room let out a soft gasp. It was the most gold that had been offered for such an animal.
“Your country does not have nearly zat amount!” King Jaqeaux yelled from across the table in his thick accent.
At his outburst, all of the kings began to argue, and it took several minutes for the guards standing around their kings to calm each other and their masters.
When the bickering had subsided, William used his most soothing voice to say, “Let us all eat dinner. We will continue our discussion tomorrow.”
“And what will become of the gold we have brought?” King Welester asked, always the suspicious one.
“Oh, leave it. My guards will watch over it,” William assured as he ushered everyone out of the door.
The next day, King James had been found dead in his bed, poisoned. While all of the kings were sitting at the table, there was a grave silence in the room. Glares moved from person to person, no one sure of who had done it.
King Welester suddenly sat up, and everyone’s eyes moved to him. “King Jaqeaux, I want you hanged for the murder of King James Hayward.”
“How could you haf come up wiz such an accusation? I vould not kill somevone my country ‘as made peace wiz!” Jaqeaux yelled.
“Your previous actions speak otherwise. Other political candidates have conveniently disappeared right before elections. How do you explain that?”
“Zat is completely preposterous!” Spit was flying out of the Abentnian King’s mouth.
At those words a violent arguing broke out. King Jaqeaux had hit King Welester, and King Phineas was attempting to break them apart.
“My dear kings!” At William’s words, the kings all stood still. There was something eerily hypnotic about his voice. “Bicker no longer. We need a break, and we shall redo our bets after a meal I have prepared myself for our lunch.” William sighed internally. No one had wondered where King James offer of gold had gone.
“You know, I can never find any good fish! How did you come across this lot? It’s very good, very good!” King Phineas was saying.
“This kind of fish is very special- I doubt you’ve heard of it. I know a fish merchant who knows the best fish, how to prepare it- he even knows which kinds could kill you,” William replied.
“Really? You must tell me where to find him.”
“I would be delighted! But right now, I would like to get back to business. Would everyone come sit down? Now, would you all place your gold before you.”
The kings did as asked, and William smirked. “Perfect.”
At his word, fifteen men in armor and chain mail ran into the room behind William, incapacitating the three or four guards each king had brought with them. “Now pass me your gold, or you will be killed, and trust me, I have no wish to take life, especially not royal life."
No one had ever gotten past king's guards before. It was unheard of. The kings, in shock, passed their gold to William. They all stood there in the awkward silence, when all of a sudden Phineas collapsed to the floor. "My legs! I can't feel them! Help me!"
The two remaining kings all turned to Phineas, and while they were distracted, William took the Shape-Shifter, and him and his men left the room. As they ran down the corridor, he heard King Jaqeaux and King Welester fall to the ground, unable to move. William let out a satisfied smile, and no one stopped them on their way out of the castle.
These men were the best. They didn’t question what had happened, and that was how William liked it. But one young soldier came up to William, who was the only one riding a horse, and asked, “When are we to be paid?”
William turned to the young man, and the look on his face made the soldier regret ever opening his mouth. “After our celebration dinner you will be given your gold.”
The soldier sighed in relief and went to tell the other soldiers the news.
When they had walked far enough away from the castle, they relaxed and set up camp. All the men sat around a campfire, singing songs, watching the Shape-Shifter change animals, eating the leftover fish from the lunch that William had prepared, and drinking Whiskey that they had stolen from the castle. While performing a drunken dance for the other soldiers, one of them collapsed. It was working. The fish merchant William knew had informed him of the deadly effects of eating Blowfish. They would be dead anywhere from four to six hours. King James being murdered by King Jaqeaux had been but a coincidence on William's side- a very good coincidence.
When the last of them had been gripped by the paralysis, William took the golld, and turned to get upon the Shape-Shifter's horse form. He found that one of the men had tied the horse to a tree instead of holding it like William had specifically instructed so it could not change into a smaller animal and get away. The rope was intact, but nothing was tied to it. William let out a crazed scream, scaring several birds from their perches. One bird stayed to watch the mad man scream. It was a parrot. It let out a swift laugh, not unlike that of a human’s, and started its flight to freedom.