Third Era, Year 1357, Sixth day of Aglareb

As shouts echoed through the corridors, the caretakers of the castle shuddered and shook their heads. Though he had a lovable public persona, the prince degenerated into a selfish, self-centered tantrum-thrower as soon as he entered the doors of his home. The current target of his ire, the kingdom's Chief Seer, Umbasye, had just departed after delivering an admonition from the School of Adepts.

"Why can't you get rid of him? He's a spiteful, vindictive old greybeard who hates m- us, and our house. What did I do to deserve his bile? I don't have to put up with this! I refuse to hear another word from his slanderous mouth!" The queen bit her lip, sending a questioning glace to the king. "I think you're right, son!" boomed the king. "That dissident old man has no right to question our ability to raise a good future king. I'm going to ask for an apology and retraction."

Three days later, a long train of wagons left the city, carrying away the last barriers to the prince's advancement.

………….

Third Era, Year 1365, Twenty-ninth day of Galadh

The crossing of the channel proved uncomplicated and swift. As the Willowen eased into the harbor, the princess and her maid joined Ser Fulun on deck. Eiliana caught her breath.

The harbor town had been destroyed! Picking their way through the streets, Eiliana took note of the evidences of an attack. Scorched buildings stood around, forlorn in their varying states of destruction. The marketplace echoed silence, as overturned carts and produce littered the blackened cobblestones. The unnatural hush and eerie stillness confirmed the desertion of the town.

Something was very wrong.

Eiliana was ready for some answers. "What is going on here? Do you have problems with raiders? Can you not even keep your borders safe? What kind of king lets things like…this…happen to his subjects?"

…………..

Third Era, Year 1364, Sixth Day of Aglareb

Scowling down at the unconcerned face of the woman he planned to marry, the king wondered: Who does she think she is?

He had bestowed the inestimable favor upon her of choosing her as his bride, in spite of the fact that her family was associated with the known traitor, former Chief Seer Umbasye. And she had refused him! He decided to give her one last chance to atone for her… mistake.

Clearing his throat, he began, "I have called you here to ascertain the truth of this reply I received from you. I wrote to you offering my hand in marriage, and—"

A high, clear laugh interrupted him. "Offering? Nay, tell it as it is: commanding, and expecting me to accept such a handsome boon."

He frowned. "Do you insinuate that your lord and king is not worthy of you?"

"Insinuate?" she replied, gravely. "No, I state it as fact. There is no woman living who would accept such an offer freely and gladly."

"How dare you?" he growled, losing his mask of dignity. "You will accept it, and gladly, or risk your entire family's life and freedom."

Strangely, a look of pity came over her face, and she responded, "No, it is you who risk freedom." She turned and walked out of the chamber, no man hindering her, as the king stared at her, dumbfounded. Before the great doors had finished shutting behind her, he roused himself and shouted, "Guards! Bring her back!"

"No," said a low, sad voice. "It's too late." A man stepped out from behind a pillar and strode over to the foot of the dais.

"You," the king snarled, rising to his feet. "What are you doing here?"

The man regarded him sadly. "I have come to carry out the judgment of I~Heru."

The king seemed to shrink back, but quickly regained his composure. "You have no authority over me," he spoke haughtily. "I—"

"Yes, we do." The man stated, and the words tolled the death knells of the king's confidence. "Hear the words of the seers: Having shown yourself unworthy to rule the kingdom, it is stripped away from you. Your people are given over to another. Having shown yourself not a man, but a greedy, possessive beast, you are doomed to walk the land in the form of your true nature. All who see you will flee, and you will live to the end of your days as a dragon."

Throughout the oration, the king's face had changed, from anger, to shock, to stubbornness. But at the word dragon, his face began to shift, stretching and flattening, slowly turning into the face of a monster. All the jeweled courtiers fled, and the king moaned with rage and self-pity.

But not all the inhabitants of the court had taken flight. One man, the king's valet, drew the man back from the king's thrashing metamorphosis. "My lord," he said, addressing the man. "Is there no way to be forgiven?"

Startled, the man turned to him. "I had not thought there would be any left who cared for him. Why do you ask?"

"Well, sir," replied the valet, Fulun, "I love this country, and she doesn't deserve to be lost because of one man. What can be done to break this curse?"

The man's face broke into a smile. "Let us go together, to ask the council. My name is Tomas."

And the two men walked off together, leaving the king in his wrath and misery.