"Leon, you can't be serious."
"But I am. Don't you see? We have to do this, to make it all right between the kingdoms. You don't want to be the reason for the destruction of Escia, do you?" Leon stared deep into Hyprous's eyes, knowing a bit of regret inside that would cause him to change his decision.
"Will you not tell your uncle?"
Leon snorted. "Do you know my uncle? He would never allow it." Both of them knew this statement was true. King Tyorennous was too greedy and self-centered to allow any of his attenders leave for any reason.
Hyprous resorted to logical argument. "How do you think we'll ever get past the king?"
"How did you get past?"
"We didn't! We got caught! This time, we could both be exiled!" He was almost at his wit's end.
"Why don't we just do what you did, only this time, do it smarter?" Leon smirked, knowing he had already won.
"Well, then, do you know how much trouble this would cause?"
"Do you know how much trouble this would save?" Leon countered.
"Leon, that's not-" He began.
"Just think of the stories our descendants will tell. Your grandson would say, 'What a pity; Escia was such a beautiful kingdom,' and my great-grandson would say, 'if only your grandfather had gone to Sapphire Isle with my great-grandfather Leon.'" Leon put on pleading eyes and an innocent smile.
Hyprous laughed. "Wouldn't want to bring shame onto my prospective family. Alright, Leon. Go pack up. I'll meet you in the courtyard in an hour."
Leon nodded and smiled a "thank you," walking back to his room.
Hyprous retreated to his kitchens, mutturing, "Now to find a new head chef..."
Within a few moments, the corridors were empty.
Inside the Sanctuary, a dark-colored cat scuttled from the doorway and shifted into a young, dark-haired man. "How interesting," he purred, having heard every word.
Fifty minutes later, Leon waited patiently in the courtyards of the palace. He had brought his clothes, a blanket, all the bread from the pantry that could fit in his bag, and a map of the land. He was early, but he found Hyprous ready at the other end.
"Good, you're early. To the stables. We must get horses without being seen." Hyprous headed around the palace at a brisk walk, Leon running along behind him.
"Won't we take a boat?" Leon asked, slightly out of breath.
They turned the corner as Hyprous replied, "But how will we get horses on the island?" Leon thought of this as they arrived at the stables. He could see the horse trainer talking gently to a pregnant mare.
"Darn. Make sure he stays distracted while I go borrow us some horses." Hyprous took a quick look around and darted into the stables behind the other man.
"You mean steal?" Leon said out loud, but found no one there listening. He sighed and walked up to the horse trainer. He stood and watched for several minutes, unsure of whether the trainer noticed him.
"So... when's the baby due?" He asked awkwardly. The mare snorted and was laying down.
"Any day now," the trainer replied absentmindedly, his attention on the horse's convulsing stomach.
"Well.. good to know." Leon spotted the chef leading two war horses and waving frantically in the background. "Gotta go. Nice talking to you!"
He ran over to Hyprous, the horse trainer not even turning around.
"Leon, this is Shadowfax. Get used to each other, you'll be together for a long while." Hyprous handed him the reins of a gray-white horse with a darker mane. Leon saw that his horse was dark brown, almost black, with a white spot on its forehead shaped like a diamond.
"Who's that?" He asked, rather enviously.
"Oh, Licht? He's my own horse. He came with me on my first trip to Sapphire Isle, actually." Hyprous easily swung himself onto the saddle.
Leon watched and tried to mirror his actions. He gripped the reins, put a foot in the stirrup and tried to mount the big horse. Shadowfax instantly threw him off. Leon rose from the ground, dusting his knees and cursing. "Bloody beast! What, is he trying to kill me?" He eyed the horse's stamping suspiciously.
Hyprous laughed. "Calm down, boy. Both of you. Leon, he does not recognize you. Just try again. You'll get used to it."
Shadowfax snorted as Hyprous laid his hand on the horse's mane. It took two more tries before the horse would allow Leon to hoist himself on his back. And even then, the boy was still jostled around as if the horse was trying to rid his back of him.
"Leon, we're going west." Hyprous smoothly turned Licht around. Leon managed to clumsily copy the action.
"Why west? The docks are north. West is the direction I came from." He kept his balance on his precarious ride.
"Yes, I know, but I need to pick something up. We can evade the castle gates this way." Hyprous rode onwards back to the courtyard and over to a hedge, with Leon following.
"There's a little gate here I found last time. Chances are, your uncle will still remember it, but it's the only other way out. We can probably fit through one at a time.
Hyprous unmounted, and Leon followed his stead, reluctantly realizing that he would have to remount after this.
Suddenly, a voice came from behind them, making him jump.
"Going somewhere?" It sounded awfully like a hiss. Shadowfax whinnied and tried to bolt, but the gate was securely fastened.
Leon and Hyprous turned and stared in dread as a dark-colored, green-eyed cat dropped nimbly from up in a tree and changed into a man, grinning mischievously.
Hyprous took control of the situation immediately. "The king has sent us on a important mission, and has asked for no disturbance from kittens."
This made the man flinch, blinking angrily; dark, long lashes against pale skin. "Awfully secretive for someone on a king's mission, aren't you? No guards, no banners... it's almost like you don't want the king to know where you are."
"Perhaps I didn't mention it was a important private mission. Not that you would understand private, nosing into other's business and such. Typical kitten."
He flicked a stray hair from his cloak, dark, like his fur. "Might I go ask the king the sort of mission you are on? Certainly not such where you take Alagrian women into bed, I suppose. You have a reputation for those, don't you.. chef?"
Hyprous, flustered, opened his mouth to reply, but Leon took over. "What do you want, cat-man?"
"And who is this boy? If my eyes don't deceive me, you've taken the king's nephew himself. Disappointing. Very." The man raised his hand as if to lick it, then lowered it, as if realizing he wasn't in cat form.
Hyprous scowled. "He asked you what you want. We are busy people, and no smooth-talking kitten will divert us from our task at hand."
"What I want, now... Funny you should ask. I desire many things, but what I can get from you... I must think a moment." The man promptly shifted into a cat, grooming himself and pondering. Shadowfax nickered and stamped on the ground.
"Hurry it up, now, cat. Or horsie here might just run you over." Leon struggled to maintain his horse.
The cat blinked and purred. "It seems I have my desire. I want your place as head chef."
Hyprous was stunned. "A chef's job is not simply just given away. First of all, we mustn't get little kitty hairs in our food-"
"Can you cook?" Leon interrupted.
The cat snorted. "Would I have asked if I couldn't?"
"Hyprous, who is head chef now?" Leon turned to the older man.
"Someone much more capable than a kitten."
Hyprous eyed the cat with scorn, who in turn, hissed, "I am not a kitten, I am a cat! Cats are dignified, kittens are blind and clumsy!"
"I see no difference."
Leon sighed and shook his head. "Break it up, you guys. Cat, you are assistant chef until we come back, if you promise not to alert the king or any of his men. Or women. Or whatever. Is that agreeable?" He looked from the cat to Hyprous and back.
The cat set down his paw and sighed. "I give you my word as a cat, to not alert the king or any of his servants, in my placement as assistant chef until the head chef returns. How about that?"
Leon nodded. "Good enough for me. Hyprous?" The chef agreed.
Hyprous unbolted the rusty gate, squeezed himself through sideways, leading his horse behind him. Leon did the same with Shadowfax, who only came at the promise of a carrot. Leon didn't think about where he would get a carrot as he mounted the horse, or tried to. At last, Hyprous got down and helped him up, before straddling his own horse and finally setting off, the cat watching all the while.
"Well, I gave them my word as a cat, but not my word as a man," he purred, whilst changing back into a human. "Time to talk to a guard, I reckon."
They rode for the better part of the day, before stopping at a small village for food and shelter at nightfall.
"How long until we get to this item of yours?" Leon asked, his back burned from the sun beating down on them all day.
"Not too long, just another day or so."
They had stopped to rest and, having eaten, were searching for a place to stay. The only motel in the village was full, as it consisted of three rooms only. The only option was the stables of the motel, or the ground. Seeing as the stables were full of horse manure, they chose the ground.
It was a restless night on the cold, hard earth. Both horses, tied to the same tree, whinnied and stomped and nipped at each other all night. Leon was turning around from dusk to dawn, always seeming to have a bump under his back. Only Hyprous managed a sound night of sleeping, his snoring breaking through the still silence of the darkness.
The next morning, Leon and his horse both were cranky and formidable, one always upsetting the other. Hyprous and Licht rode along silently, seeming like they were one creature.
Once, Leon was tossed off by Shadowfax, who in turn ran off neighing. Leon rose, grumbling.
Hyprous called, "I hope you get along better, or it's going to be a long journey," making no move to help.
Leon spent a good twenty minutes running after the horse, before Hyprous retrieved a promised carrot from his bag and threw it at Leon.
"Here, horsie. Good horsie." Shadowfax, having not eaten in a while, hesitated before heading over to munch on the carrot.
"Okay, horsie. Friends?" The horse chuckled and swung his head violently.
Leon laughed in agreement. "I know. Ridiculous, right?" But this time, Shadowfax allowed himself to be ridden.
Nearing sundown, they arrived at an area too small to be called a village. Leon at once wondered if they were lost, but Hyprous headed to a shabby house with a tiny cherry tree beside it. The roof was drooping, almost falling off. The window had no screen, the door nearly becoming detached from its hinges.
"What's this?" Leon wondered.
Hyprous replied curtly, "My house."
Leon was surprised. "You have a house?"
He was ignored as Hyprous dismounted, greeted by a flurry of thumps and barks as he neared the door. Hyprous pulled it open, and was leaped on by a large, black-and-white collie.
"Leon, this is my" Hyprous glanced down suspiciously, "dog, Ash." The collie continued licking Hyprous and barked a greeting at Shadowfax. Leon could tell that Hyprous was clearly surprised by this mound of barking doggyness.
"I have a friend who's been taking care of him all this while. He may be of use to us at the island. Now, I have supplies in the back." Hyprous left them alone together.
"Well, hello, boy. Aren't you cute?" Leon bent down to pet the dog, but was answered with a snarl.
He sighed as he straightened. "Animals don't typically like me." He raised an eyebrow at Shadowfax, who just shook his head, mane flipping from side to side.
At last Hyprous returned with a bundle in his arms.
"What's that?" Leon furrowed his brow.
"I got other stuff we might need. Hay, money, weapons.." Hyprous loaded all he could fit into his bag, some into Leons, and the rest tied onto Licht.
"You know," he said, staring pointedly at Ash, "This is the sort of time I wish you were a horse."
Ash barked singularly.
"Northwards, where the Encian docks are." Hyprous pointed a finger in front of them.
Leon let out a breath. "Finally."
They rode, with the dog running alongside them, past the sunset, towards the direction of Sapphire Isle.