A young boy walked along the beach, stopping every so often to pick up a shell. His eyes were the color of sea glass, his hair the white gold of the sand beneath his bare feet. He held his shoes in his left hand. At his side trotted a large white german shepherd. The sky was overcast, the wind whipping the waves into white caps. A storm was coming in.

"Come Murron," said the boy when the dog paused to sniff at a heap of driftwood. The dog lifted his head and trotted off to catch up with his young master. The pair walked on in companionable silence for a little ways longer before turning up the beach. The climb was steep but neither the boy nor the dog had any trouble. The dog reached the top and paused to wait for the boy. They stood side by side at the edge of the small precipice, the sound of the waves crashing against the beach behind them, looking out at a seemingly endless field of high grass, waving in the wind. Two hundred yards away stood a castle made of white stone and in the distance a dozen smaller houses, their shapes indistinct against the whiteness of the sky.

The boy raced towards the castle the white dog at his heels. At the door stood a pair of guards dressed in armor with a slight greenish tinge. They allowed him to pass into the hall. Light poured in from the blue and green stained-glass windows painting the white marble floors with legendary creatures of the sea. Twin staircases rose to the second floor and a set of double doors lead to the kitchens. In the middle of the room a young woman in a plain dress knelt scrubbing the floor. Her copper hair was pulled up in a bun at the top of her head. She looked up as he entered.

"Prince Dillon, where have you been? Your mother's worried sick about you."

Dillon shrugged guiltily. True, he had been down at the beach for longer than usual but that was no reason for his mother to get upset. She was becoming more and more fretful as of late.

"Well," said the maid getting to her feet hands on her hips, "you'd best escort your dog out of here, he is getting muddy paw-prints all over the floor."

"Yes Alinia," said Dillon ducking his head so that she wouldn't see his smile. "Come on Murron," he called to the dog, going back outside. Together, boy and dog walked around the edge of the palace and went in again through the kitchens. The chefs took no notice of them; they were used to the boy poking around.

Dillon took a side passage into the washing room and told Murron to stay while he pumped water on to his paws. That finished, Dillon sat down on an upturned washtub and put his socks and shoes back on before going back out into the corridor.

Striding down it was a tall barrel-chested man dressed in green and black, Dillon's uncle, the King. He had dark hair and cold colorless eyes that made Dillon want to walk back into the laundry room and lock the door. But it was too late for that; Lord Valin had already seen him. Dillon shut the door to the laundry room with his foot, wondering if he was in trouble. Murron began to growl. Dillon hurriedly shushed him as his uncle grew closer. The king stopped before him, looking down his nose at the boy and his dog without lowering his chin.

"Hello nephew, I'm glad you finally got that dog of yours under control."

Murron snarled. Dillon pretended not to notice. "Hello uncle," he said, wearily eying the large man. "Have you gone to see my mother today?" By "see", Dillon meant "harry" "badger" and "harass".

The king glared down at Dillon. "Yes," he said, "as a matter of fact I have. Her… condition is particularly worse today. I would advise you not to go visit her." And at his he stared pointedly at Dillon; his greedily gleaming eyes gave away all pretence of sorrow. And, drawing his cloak around him, the King swept down the passageway.

- - -

As much as Dillon detested his uncle he knew that he could not afford to disobey an order. And so Dillon paced the corridors restlessly as rain hammered the stained-glass windows, Murron trotting faithfully beside him. A thought struck him as he walked the fourth floor corridor for what seemed the thousandth time. Why not go up to the attic? He could not remember ever going up there, and no one had ever told him not to. In his own castle, a prince is never told he cannot go somewhere, aside from the case of his mother's chambers.

And so, striding purposefully now, Dillon took the tallest elegant marble stair to the top floor. The corridor in which he now stood was far less grand than the ones on the floors below. Royalty, and their guests, rarely came up here. Why would they? This was the entrance to the guards' chambers. On either end of hall were two doors, behind one of which a spiral staircases led to the towers. Dillon went forward along the hallway noticing how threadbare the carpet was here. He pushed the tower's door open. It creaked on its hinges as it swung wide and Dillon stepped inside, Murron padding after. Boy and dog made their way up the spiral staircase, up to the first landing. There, Dillon glanced upward. The stone staircase led up into the shadows. Every few stairs there was a tiny window, but these provided little light.

Dillon pulled open the heavy oak door leading to the parapets. The wind blasted him in the face. Through the heavy sheets of rain Dillon could just make out the hulking shape of a massive catapult. Quietly, Dillon swung the heavy door shut and headed up the stone staircase.