“They’ve stolen the Sleeping King! The King has disappeared!” called out the Captain of the Royal Guard, as bells clanged and the sound of scattered stamping boots filled the air. Panic consumed the castle grounds, shouts and alarm swirled and rang. At the door to the King’s Bedroom, the Captain had found the bodies there, both night guards slain, blood staining the flagstones, the sound of babies crying and lullabyes seeped from one of the dead men, as all his futures that might-have-come slowly drained with his spirit. The other man’s corpse oozed a distant chorus of bittersweet unwritten songs, rising to circle about the Captain’s head as he swatted and waved the disorienting, departing spirits away, trying to stay focused on the matter at hand.
Beyond the wide open doors, the royal bed lay empty, blankets tossed aside.
After sealing the front gates and securing all the entrances and exits (that he knew of), the Captain called the various Ministers to the Throne Room.
“Disaster has struck,” he growled, looking around at the assortment of Very Important Persons: the Minister of Grounds (looking very collected and alert), the Minister of Intelligence (managing a sinister glint through a half-awake haze), the Prime Minister himself (eyelids sagging, moustache drooping), and the rest of the overabundant band of administrators. “Someone has slain the King’s guards, and he himself no longer sleeps in the Royal Bed.”
“Good god man, what will we do? What if he wakes?” choked one of the crowd.
“Then he’ll damn us all, damn us all to oblivion of course,” retorted the Minister of Intelligence, “But of course he hasn’t woken yet. And we may yet retrieve our precious King before that happens. I assume our Captain has sent out a hunting party…?”
“Not only have I sent out a hunting party, but every tracker, dog, and messenger too.”
“Excellent!” barked the Prime Minister out of his quickly departing haze of sleep. “Then we have as good of a chance as any. Whyever would someone want to kidnap the poor chap anyhow?”
“If you’ll remember, Prime Minister, we have discussed this very scenario before,” said the Minister of Intelligence, “Regardless of the danger, someone else may feel they have better things to whisper in the King’s ear while he slumbers.”
The wind moaned around them, pulling at their ears, throwing up their coats, as the small dark group of figures crossed the short space between the castle wall and the hilly, broken landscape that stretched to the horizon. Hooded and cloaked, they trotted at a fair pace, flowing with the lay of the land, staying down, scanning the sky, ears perked for danger. One of the figures carried a large blanket-wrapped bundle against its chest. The sound of baying hounds, carried on the wind, caused more than one head in the band to whip back towards the castle.
“Onward, onward, you rogues! Let the hounds eat our wind-scoured tracks! Onward!” shouted the shortest of the kidnappers.