Augustus, the king’s royal adviser, hurried through the castle halls, a platter in his hand, a golden envelope on top of it. It wouldn’t do to get sidetracked today, even though some of the servants he passed called out to say hello. He kept up his almost frantic pace, for the king was assuredly waiting for his news. The oracle, located in the forgotten lands between this kingdom and the neighboring one, had given an omen weeks before, warning that a new prophecy was being created. Now, it was ready, and the oracle had been kind enough to ship the finished prophecy as a letter and deliver it in the talons of a majestic eagle.
Finally, Augustus reached the throne room, and inside the great King Griffin waited. Ordinarily, the king was off hosting parties and feasts with the other nobles of the land, but even he knew of the importance of a prophecy’s existence. The last one had come at a time far before his rule, and no one alive remembered what had become of it, if it had come to pass or not. No doubt, the king wanted to make sure nothing in his kingdom was amiss, that nothing could falter the paradise he claimed.
Augustus hoped, for his own sake, that the envelope contained good news. Prosperous lands, satisfied subjects, whatever it took to make the king happy. He approached the throne and laid the platter in front of King Griffin. The king wasted no time in picking it up and filing it open without ceremony. As he read, his face flashed with anger.
“What is this?” he barked. “This is the envelope sent by the oracle?”
“It is,” Augustus squeaked. Not very good news, then. “I saw the eagle land myself. No other hands have touched it but mine.”
The king leaned back in his throne, fuming. “I don’t accept it. Just look at this ridiculousness.” Augustus kept his spot, hesitant. But the king insisted. “Get over here, take a look at it.”
Augustus went to investigate the glossy golden paper that the prophecy was etched onto, squinting his eyes as if fearing looking directly upon it, as royal advisers likely shouldn’t be witness to such things. But curiosity got the better of him and he looked. The message, molded by the oracle’s careful hand, read:
[The burden of the realm’s existence rests on the shoulders of King Griffin. His actions will destroy the realm.]
The oracle certainly wasn’t pulling any punches with getting straight to the point.
“Ridiculousness,” the king repeated, and Augustus was obliged to agree. “This must be the work of…” The king paused before saying the name, because it was supposed to be taboo. He didn’t really care about that, but it was a formality. “The work of Andras. He must be behind it, trying to frame me.” The king pointed at Augustus, his mind already made up. “You will track down his lair and see if you can discover anything. There must be evidence, an original prophecy that was disposed of. Or…” The king got a thoughtful, yet irritated look on his face. “Perhaps our dear oracle is in cahoots with him.”
“You’re quick to assume that; the oracle has served us for years,” Augustus pointed out. “I don’t see why they’d work for the worst villain in the realm.” He wrung his hands. “Can’t you send soldiers?”
“My soldiers are off on other frontiers. Besides, this isn’t a battle or a confrontation. Simply sneak around, and then have a conversation with the oracle. Who better to go than my most trusted adviser?”
Only adviser, Augustus thought.“But,” he stammered, “no one’s ever come back from that lair alive!”
“Nonsense,” the king said, waving a hand. “An old wives’ tale. I’ve gone there myself a few times, and I’m still here, aren’t I? There’s some kind of magical protection keeping us from destroying anything, but evidently, security has been neglected. You’ll be fine,” he said harshly.
Augustus felt like no time had passed before he was pushed out into the field, having been given a moderate stash of supplies, and now only his mission was ahead of him. King Griffin had ordered for the castle gates to be closed, stranding Augustus on the other side, and yelled to him from the ramparts that he wasn’t to come back until he found out what was going on. So, Augustus sighed and went on his way.
In his cloth bag, he carried the prophecy. He supposed it meant something that the king had trusted him with it, and perhaps he could use it as a clue. He did wonder why no one else could come with him, though. After all, Andras’ lair wasn’t so far away; it was in an enchanted forest only a couple hours from the castle. Maybe the king had faith in him. Or maybe he was simply the most disposable person available.
After a few hours and a few breaks along the way, Augustus came to the entrance of the enchanted forest. Was it really enchanted, or was it only legend? Well, he had come this far. He held his breath as he took a tentative step through the trees. Sensing no curse or predator about to ensnare him, Augustus kept walking.
He was relieved to find that the villain’s lair wasn’t too deep within, and wasn’t very well hidden; it was a cave, modified to look like a habitable cottage. Maybe Andras had been banking on the “no one has gotten out alive” story to discourage visitors with ill intent. Augustus brushed some moss away from the makeshift wooden door and moved it aside with a creak.
Inside, the cottage looked like how he would expect any cottage within a forest to look like, if not much more unkempt. The darkness made it so that Augustus could barely make out the shapes of scattered furniture pieces. He ran his hand over a table; no dust came away on his fingers. In fact, as his eyes adjusted to the light, he could now see a plate laid out, recently eaten from. So, it hadn’t been too long since anyone had been here. Though, for some reason, Augustus couldn’t imagine that this was where the realm’s worst villain actually lived. Still, if there were any clues…
Augustus began to search through the shelter, overturning furniture and sifting through sparse cabinets of dishes in the “kitchen”. Finally, he reached another room he hadn’t previously explored, presumably a bedroom, though it looked no bigger than a broom cupboard, with a small bed squashed into it. On a shelf above the bed, an ornate box sat. Augustus took it in his hands. Andras’ symbol was painted onto it.
Augustus hesitated. Still, some kind of clue could be in here. Even if not, anything the villain was hiding was better off destroyed. He opened the box and, as if carried by a breeze, something golden fluttered out.
Holding back a gasp, Augustus picked it up. It was a gold paper, identical, from Augustus could see, to the prophecy slip he had received by eagle this morning. Slowly, Augustus turned it over. The message etched onto the paper’s front was:
[The shadow trailing over the realm belongs to the one whose name brings fear. His actions will destroy the realm.]
So, this was it. Proof of some kind. But what did it mean? If the villain had an alternate copy of the prophecy, one accusing him of the world’s destruction, then surely this was the original. But how could Andras have created a false copy, much less get it personally sent to the king, without the oracle knowing about it?
The oracle had to have known, Augustus decided. It only made sense if the oracle and Andras were working together. Just like King Griffin had suspected. But why would the oracle want to frame the king like this? Augustus whipped around at a noise behind him. Before he could react further, a cloth was forced over his head and his arms were pinned behind him. He was forced out of the room by whoever it was that had him, and even though he struggled, they managed to get him out of the cottage. He could tell by the change of the air from musty and stale to fresh and vibrant.
It was out here that Augustus suddenly found a surprising strength. He knocked into his captor, shoving them away and tearing the cloth off his head. He took on a defensive pose; though he had no clue how to defend himself, he hoped his captor thought otherwise.
His captor was not Andras, as he’d expected. It was a woman with long, dark hair, wearing a traveling cloak the color of peony blossoms. Augustus realized it must be the oracle, whom he had never seen in the flesh before, and was about to apologize before remembering what her presence meant.
“I suppose you’ll have to kill me for finding out,” he said warily. “What are you talking about?” She tossed some of her hair behind her shoulder, embarrassed. “Forgive me, I thought you were him. What were you doing in his hideout?”
“Investigating,” Augustus answered with an accusatory tone.
“So was I,” the oracle said. “I saw what you found.” She held out the prophecy paper, which Augustus had assumed to be the original. “This was not created by me.”
“How can I know you’re not lying?” Augustus asked. “You could be working with him.”
“I wouldn’t,” she said coldly. “Last week, an intruder broke into my cavern, and I know it was Andras, though he escaped before I could stop him. Perhaps he saw what I was creating and made this.”
Augustus was taken aback. “...It’s a fake?”
“Of course,” the oracle said. “I sent the true prophecy to your king’s castle this morning. I figured that Andras would decide to strike around then, so I came here.” She studied the false prophecy inquisitively, and Augustus read it again as well, trying to view it with a new meaning.
“Why would Andras create something accusing himself?”
The oracle sighed. “From what I understand of him, he wants to be the one true villain of the realm, and wants its destruction to be his destiny. He’s not eager to give up that crown to your king.”
It hit Augustus for the first time. He announced his realization out loud, slowly. “The prophecy received was the right one?”
“It is,” answered the oracle. She understood what this meant to him. “I’m afraid that through his actions of leadership of his kingdom, if he continues on his current path, King Griffin will one day bring the kingdom to an end, and our entire realm along with it.”
Augustus jumped in, desperate. “Please, my lady. I know that his surface may seem antagonistic to most, maybe even to you, but his aim is to lead his kingdom justly and in a way that will bring it to prosperity. His intention was never to harm. Though, harm might come to me if I return with this news.” Augustus shook his head grimly. “Isn’t there anything that can be done?”
She, surprisingly, smiled. “That’s the purpose of a prophecy: to warn, and demand acknowledgement. If listened to, and if the one in question resolves to change their ways for the better, then the future becomes clouded over again.” Her smile faded and she gave him a stern look. “If you convince your king to listen and be reasonable, I know of a way to help.”
Augustus nodded, relieved. “I’ll see to it. Hopefully, Andras doesn’t destroy the realm on his own before that happens.”
Kenna Duncan is an aspiring novelist currently living in Northern Virginia with her parents, sister, cat, and puppy. She has drafted two novels, but lately, writing contest submissions have captured her interest. Since elementary school, writing fiction has been her passion. In the future, she hopes to explore new and creative ideas that inspire her and others. Curious Curls is her first publication.