Prince Jarod tiptoed down the steps of the palace's kitchen cellar, closing the flat door above him as he went. He had to jostle the rusted door just so, in order for the latch to snap closed, so it wouldn't appear suspicious to any of the cooks. He was immersed in total darkness, but it didn't matter. Jarod could feel his way through the tunnel with ease, having done it for nearly eight years. He had first made this wonderful discovery when he was ten.
Soon enough, Jarod's fingertips came in contact with the cellar's end. Taking a moment to gain his bearings, he patted around the ancient wood until his arm found the doorknob, and then the rusty lock, which he removed easily. The door was old, and Jarod actually had to strain his muscles to open it. Somehow he had been desperate enough as a ten year old to still get through, even though his arms had been so much weaker.
The door shrieked open, sending blinding rays of light into Jarod's dark blue eyes. He walked outside, into an active marketplace by the castle gates. Not one suspicious eye was turned towards him; luck was on his side as usual. He dreaded the day when it wouldn't be.
Jarod, despite his noble birth, blended right into the market scene. He wore simple clothing that he had bought anonymously at the tailor's. Jarod had even sprinkled his face and arms with specks of mud before he had sauntered through the cellar door. Despite the dirt, the young prince preferred his common garments to his princely ones, they didn't carry any extra weight or pinch in awkward places. Also, royal robes were virtually useless in the Whetherwood.
Today, Jarod figured he would rest in the stables before running away to the mountains.
He didn't know what his plan was to do when he got there, but he knew that he had the survival skills to live in the forest a long time. If he didn't get killed by a monster, of course.
Jarod was not concerned about the state the kingdom of Dragur would be when he left. In fact, he figured that it would be better off with him gone. Jarod was the eldest of the two children in his family. He had one sister and one brother. His younger brother, Alan, was sixteen and a natural leader; Jarod sometimes felt that his sibling envied his right to the kingdom. Jarod loved his family, and it nearly broke him that he was unable to say goodbye to them, lest he reveal his secret.
So it was all for the best. Jarod hated being a regent anyway.
Jarod emerged from the market crowds, hefted his large leather sack over his shoulder, and hid his freckled face from any noble that happened to pass.
Jarod entered the stables, welcomed by the sweaty scent of the animals inside.
"Aye! How goes it, Jakun?" Jarod heard a husky voice coming from his left. He turned to the stable keeper, Benjamin, who he had become close to. Benjamin was the only person in the Land of the Five Realms that knew his identity, and could be trusted to keep it secret. Old Ben treated Jarod like one of the regular stable boys (although he never paid him), and had even given Jarod his alternate name: Jakun.
"Well." Jarod said, but the wise old man could see through his words.
Ben's cheerful expression fell.
"Yer leavin' today, aren't ye?" The man's hearty shout had lowered to a whisper.
"Yes, sir. I just wanted to say... goodbye to the place before I took Galana." Jarod's voice cracked slightly. He hadn't ever thought that he would regret leaving Dragur, but his undercover life as a commoner would actually be missed.
Jarod also realized that it was possible he would never see another human the rest of his life, if he never decided to return from the magical woods.
These thoughts were discouraging, but Jarod knew he had to do this. If he did not, and somehow he became king, he would regret it the rest of his life.
Jarod stepped over, and embraced his old guardian.
About thirty minutes later, Jarod had said his goodbyes to all the horses he had cared for, and grown to love. For some reason, not a single tear had escaped his eyes. He was sad, no doubt, but it was his time to go. Although... not right now. It was a sentimental thing: Jarod wanted to lounge in his favorite childhood hideout for an hour or two before he left.
Jarod, using the watering trough as a stool, reached up and caught hold of a rounded wooden bar with a small enough circumference for him to grasp. He then heaved himself up and swung over, so he straddled the oak. Jarod stood up, balanced himself, and leaped across the spaces in the rafters until he found himself on a large, unmoving beam closest to his grey and white specked horse, Galana. He leaned against the wall, sinking into the shadows of the corner. He scanned the stable, knowing its every shelf and crevice. He watched a sleek young foal, one that he had helped birth, gnawing hay side by side with it's mother.
It was a rather quiet day. No one was inside caring for the horses - Old Ben had long since left to fulfill an order of the king - and no other stable boys came. Jarod assumed that they had probably gone off as a group to one of the taverns.
But then someone did enter. It was that mysterious, dark-haired girl.
Jarod had first seen her come in when he was around thirteen. She never said a word to anyone, and she always came alone, garbed in a dark cloak that made it difficult to see her face. She owned none of the horses, but groomed and brought treats for them every time she came, which was about every other week. Who was she?
Since Jarod had only a few moments left in Dragur, he might as well find out.
"You really do love them, don't you?" Jarod said, and his skill at blending into the scenery was rewarded when the girl jumped with surprise.