Ch 17.1 Life in Prison — Ezra got up, ran a hundred laps around his room, did thirty pushups and then fifty situps. Afterwards, he stared out the window at the sundial hill, which had now crumbled. Ezra was sure he was going to die of boredom. After all, there was only so much time he could spend sleeping or reading or even inventing something. The long day stretched out before him. If only nights were longer, and days were shorter. If only his father…
Franklin brought in a tray containing toast, jam, scrambled eggs, an apple, and a jug of milk. He set it on the table along with three newspapers.
“Your breakfast, Sire. I don’t know why you need to read all three of the kingdom’s newspapers. Especially that Miss Pringle’s Nosey News. Disgusting drivel.”
It was so much fun to torment his bodyguard. Ezra opened the top newspaper to the advertisements. “Franklin, listen to this. Someone named Fritter needs a servant to clean, cook, and take care of the library. ‘Must be hardworking, cheerful and swift to obey.’ The last servant was fired for insubordination. Hmmm. I could do that.”
Franklin sniffed. “You? Hardly. It is beneath the station of a prince to clean and cook.”
Ezra groaned. “You’re so old fashioned. Haven’t you ever shoveled out the stables or curried the horses? No? Well, it’s great fun. The horses are wonderful.” He thought sadly of his pony, who now spent his days grazing in the pasture.
Ezra turned to the front page. “Why hasn’t someone done something about the toves? After all, they aren’t indestructible. Only the front half can chew through stone.”
“It’s the dragon’s job to get rid of the toves.”
“The dragon has been retired for ten years. We need to take care of this problem. What if the toves start chewing into the west wing of the castle? They might let in an assassin. Oh, horrors!”
Franklin didn’t laugh. Ezra sighed. It was really hard to have a bodyguard with no sense of humor.
Ch 17.2 A Visit From Eli —
Just then Eli opened the door and walked in.
Ezra grinned at him. “Eli! Have you come to spring me from jail?”
“Sorry, little bro, just visiting.” said Eli. “Franklin, did you hear? A tove was discovered in your bedroom. It’s eaten through the back of your closet, and it’s started chewing on your best uniform.”
Eli arched an eyebrow. “If I were you, I’d get down there right away.”
“I’m not supposed to leave Prince Ezra alone.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “There are four guards outside the door and another two patrolling below the window. I’m sure we can protect Ezra if any toves get in here.”
“Fine. I will return shortly. Don’t go anywhere.” Franklin ran out the door.
Eli and Ezra slapped hands. Then Eli sat down and helped himself to Ezra’s toast. “So, what are your big plans for the day?”
“Oh, you know, take over the world and all that.”
Eli spread a dollop of strawberry jam on the toast. “I know this is hard for you. But at least you don’t have to get married in two years to a girl you’ve never even met.”
Ezra made a face. “A fate worse than death.”
It was strange how things kept working out. Every time Eli was about to make a trip into Saltonia, something happened, and he ended up at home sick or injured. Or sometimes a landslide or freak blizzard or a terrible rainstorm stopped him.
Zelda had never traveled to Nelsonia to visit Eli either. She always said she was going to come and visit, but at the last minute, a messenger always arrived with the sad news that the princess was ill, or had been detained, or that her latest niece had just been born, and she had to be there for the name day celebration.
Eli looked so gloomy that Ezra punched his arm. “Cheer up. What excuse did she come up with this time? She had to wash her cat? Oh, boo hoo.”
Ezra pretended to wipe his tears away, and Eli chuckled.
Ezra threw the apple at Eli. “At least your betrothed wasn’t chopped into little bits by a madman with an ax. Not that I mind.”
“Really?” Eli gave him a look.
“Hey, I’m not glad that Princess Janine is dead. I’m just glad I don’t have to marry her. Instead, I’m going to either die by the hands of an assassin or fall into an enchanted sleep and be kissed awake and forced to marry a girl who thinks she’s in love with me. Yuk. I’ll take the assassin. That’s if I don’t die of boredom before that.”
“At least you have the tunnels,” said Eli.
“At least there’s that.”
They grinned at each other.
Ch. 17.3 An Unknown Enemy —
“So,” said Eli. “What have you learned?”
Just two nights ago, Ezra had found a forgotten room at the top of the castle, filled with trunks of old dresses, dusty rocking horses and dolls, and boxes of books. The room had a window that looked out over the kingdom to the north. It was a beautiful view, and some nights he dozed up there while the moon watched over him. He didn’t want to share that with Eli.
Ezra also visited the castle ghosts and caught up on the gossip from Butterfingers and his gnome friends, who helped him with his inventions. Through the newspaper articles and by using the secret code he had devised, Ezra kept up a steady stream of correspondence with the dwarfs, gnomes, and fey who were his trusted friends.
He leaned in, lowering his voice. Then he pointed to the Nosey News. “My contacts all tell me the same thing: something strange is going on in the kingdom. People are missing. Other people’s personalities suddenly change. Shipments of food and supplies disappear in the woods or on the mountain trails. The migration routes of the raths keep changing. More and more beasts keep coming over the mountains from Wonderland.”
“I have found the same,” Eli said. “And Father is too stubborn to see what it all means.”
Ezra nodded. “We have an unknown enemy.”