Zuriel Castleheart, the first prince of Balwar Kingdom and the future king. When he was young, he was a mischievous and rude boy that looked down on people of the lower class. It was to the point that even Alistair Castleheart, the king of Balwar Kingdom, worried for the future of his kingdom. He even considered making his first daughter, Xema, the next ruler, but Zuriel was against it and even challenged his father, so Alistair decided to do a test that he hoped would improve his son’s outlook of life. He sent his son into the maze of the garden to search for the Chestnut Tree, pluck a chestnut, and present it to him. The maze was huge and some even remained lost until they were found. He hoped that Zuriel would face some trial in the maze. He hoped that the spirits would guide his son to a better future.
Zuriel, who was sent into the maze, still remained lost since he entered and hadn’t had any luck in finding the Chestnut Tree. It was on the third day that he decided to just give up and return, but even that proved to be a challenge. On that same day, he had an unlikely encounter with two individuals: a soldier who didn’t seem to be part of Balwar Kingdom named Grian Balthazar and a red haired girl who was slightly shorter than him named Lady Nira. They were lost as well and Zuriel found himself traveling with these two still wondering of their origins.
“You seem distracted,” stated Yanira as she met eyes with Zuriel. Zuriel coughed saying, “I was just thinking about what the next path we take should be.” Yanira nodded and then pointed to the path on the right.
“That looks good,” stated Yanira and ran forward with a giggle saying, “This way.” Zuriel rolled his eyes following Yanira, but then paused when he saw Grian chuckling.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just find Lady Nira really adorable.”
Grian nodded and stated, “I am usually surrounded by men who don’t laugh from the heart. When I look at Lady Nira, I feel that I want to smile more.”
“…That makes no sense.”
Grian sighed saying, “I guess it doesn’t, but Lady Nira is indeed adorable.”
Zuriel glanced at Yanira as she waved toward them smiling. He had to admit that he found her smile adorable, but he would never admit it out loud.
They entered the right path, but the moment they did, the path behind them closed up making them flinch.
“What just happened?” muttered Grian. He placed his hand on the covered path only to get his hand whipped by a vine. Grian flinched in pain pulling his hand away.
“Grian, are you OK?” asked Yanira as she ran to his side with concern in her eyes. Grian nodded and then glared at the covered path.
“I would say that the fairies did this.”
Yanira nodded in agreement, but Zuriel blinked in confusion.
“Fairies…there are fairies around here?”
Yanira nodded and stated, “We were actually brought here by fairies to take a test.”
“A test to locate a tree that holds fruits of flames.”
Zuriel chuckled saying, “Funny, my father sent me in here to locate a tree too for a test.”
“The Chestnut Tree from a legend of Balwar Kingdom.”
Yanira smiled and stated, “I know where the tree is.”
“YOU DO?” stated Zuriel in disbelief. Yanira nodded adding, “If this maze is in Balwar Kingdom then I can locate the tree.”
“…Take me to it.”
Yanira had a troubled look as she stated, “But Grian and I need to locate the fruits of flames.”
“I don’t care about that. I need to find the Chestnut Tree, so I command you to take me to the Chestnut Tree right now!”
Yanira frowned and slapped Zuriel’s cheek making him fall still with wide eyes.
“That is no way to speak to someone.”
“…You struck me?”
“And I will do it again if you speak with that tone. As a future king, you must not speak to people like they are lower than you. You must speak to them with respect.”
“Respect? What about the servants? They are obviously lower than me.”
“Who cleans your quarters and makes you a meal when you are hungry?”
“That’s right. They do a lot for royalty like you and they do a good job. Those people deserve respect and not rude commands like yours.”
Zuriel couldn’t find any words to retort with. He felt that what Yanira said was right, but he felt too proud to admit that.
Grian suddenly approached the two saying, “Lady Nira, should we move on now?” Yanira nodded and then glanced back at Zuriel.
“I will help you find the Chestnut Tree only if you ask nicely.”
Zuriel frowned as he kept his silence. Yanira shrugged her shoulders and stated, “Let’s find the tree with the fruits of flames.” With those words, Yanira began to walk down the path of the maze.
Grian glanced at Zuriel, who remained still, and then continued to follow Yanira. Zuriel soon followed after wondering how he should convince Yanira to lead him to the Chestnut Tree without angering her.
Zuriel was absorbed in his thoughts, not noticing the vines linger behind him before they snatched him from behind and dangled him in the air. Zuriel screamed for help gaining the attention of Yanira and Grian.
“How did you get up there?” asked Yanira with her hands behind her back as she looked up at the dangling prince.
“These vines grabbed me. It must be the fairies. Why are they tormenting me?” complained Zuriel as he tried to reach the vine holding his back.
Yanira giggled and then glanced at Grian saying, “I’ll get him down, so wait down here.” Grian nodded, but the moment Yanira was about to grab the vine, Grian grabbed her left hand making her look back at him.
“I should get him, so you wait down here.”
Grian didn’t wait for Yanira to retort before pulling her back and grabbing the vine. He climbed the vine with little problem despite his tall figure and then grabbed the end of the vine that held Zuriel.
“I’m going to cut the vine, so prepare for impact,” warned Grian as he pulled a hidden dagger from the side of his leg.
“Wait a minute, I am not…”
The vine was immediately cut and Zuriel went rushing toward the ground screaming, but his scream intensified when the ground under him opened up a large hole that resembled quick sand. He screamed for help flailing his arms around trying to look for something to grab. He was just inches from the hole, before he felt the soft hands of Yanira grab his arm and pull him away from the pit. They both fell to the ground with a grunt and then watched the hole close back up without leaving any traces.
Grian landed on the ground before the two asking if they were all right.
They both nodded, but Zuriel immediately got up glaring at Grian and yelled, “Did you have to cut the vine when I was over a hole?”
“That hole appeared AFTER I cut you free, so don’t blame me.”
Zuriel clicked his tongue looking away from Grian, but the moment he saw the look of discontent in Yanira’s eyes as she looked at him, he turned back to Grian and mumbled, “Thanks for cutting me down.”
“What was that?”
“I…thank you for cutting me down, Grian.”
Grian nodded feeling satisfied that the prince at least thanked him for that.
Zuriel then looked back at Yanira and said, “And thank you as well, Lady Nira, for pulling me away from the hole in time.” Yanira smiled with a nod, but the moment she tried to stand, she felt a stinging pain in her leg.
Grian noticed the discomfort in Yanira’s face and asked, “Are you OK, Lady Nira?”
“I think I might have hurt myself,” answered Yanira, but then noticed the long scratch on her leg along with a sharp stone next to her with traces of blood on the edge; “I definitely injured myself. Do we have anything to wrap my leg with?”
Grian nodded and was about to tear a fabric from his pants, but to his surprise he heard something rip and the next thing he knew, he saw Zuriel approaching Yanira with a white fabric in his grasp. He was confused at first where the fabric came from until he noticed that Zuriel was missing a sleeve on his right arm.
Zuriel knelt next to Yanira, lifted her injured leg slightly, and began to wrap it with the torn fabric. As he did this, Yanira glanced at Grian and stated, “If you can, can you see if you can find another path we can take?” Grian nodded and ran ahead leaving Yanira with Zuriel.
Zuriel glanced at Yanira and asked, “Are you sure it was safe to send him on his own?”
“This is a straight path, so he just needs to find the fork in the road and then return.”
Zuriel sighed and tucked the fabric edge into the wrapping before nodding at his work.
“This should do it. How does it feel?”
“The pain has dwindled quite a bit, thank you, your majesty,” stated Yanira moving her wrapped leg slightly, but then noticed Zuriel staring at her with a complicated look.
“Is something wrong?”
“You saved me from the hole, but you got injured because of me, so I am sorry.”
Yanira smiled and patted Zuriel’s head saying, “There is no need for sorry. I don’t blame you and this cut is really nothing.”
“No buts. I am fine, so don’t feel bad, your majesty.”
Zuriel pressed his lips together as if pondering something. He suddenly stood up and then picked up Yanira in a princess style making her gasp.
“I can still walk.”
“No, I am carrying you whether you like it or not.”
“No buts. This is my choice, so just…no, please allow me to carry you. At least until we find the tree you are looking for.”
Yanira stared at Zuriel in silence, but then giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck whispering her thanks. Zuriel turned slightly red, before shaking it off and heading down the path in the direction he saw Grian run off to.
As they walked, Yanira took glances at Zuriel and found herself smiling. The way he held her reminded her of how Zuriel, the older brother she remembers, carried her when she was young. She had gotten a similar injury when she fell off a tree while playing; and Zuriel carried her princess style to the castle physician. Zuriel wrapped her leg the same way and she remembered that at the time, she wished to grow up just as kind as her brother.
Yanira wanted to reminisce more, but she heard the familiar voice of Grian calling for her and Zuriel.
“Lady Nira, Your Majesty Zuriel, I’ve found the tree!”
“Really?” asked Yanira with wide eyes as Grian reached them. Grian nodded and pointed down the path.
“I saw light emitting from the left path. That must be where the fruits of flames is located.”
Yanira nodded and was about to get down from Zuriel’s hold, but Zuriel held her tighter saying, “I’ll take you there, so no moving.” Yanira could only sigh and nod.
They picked up their pace, heading toward the fork in the road and indeed they did see that a flickering light emitted from the left path. All three entered and didn’t bother to look when the path behind them shut. They continued forward and soon slowed down to a stop when their eyes fell on a tree that had flames on its branches, but the branches showed no sign of ash. Zuriel placed Yanira down to her feet gently as their stares rested on the flame covered tree.
“This must be the tree,” stated Yanira and then spotted a fruit that resembled an apple with flames dancing around its surface.
“There it is,” cheered Yanira, but when she reached for the fruit, Grian and Zuriel grabbed her outstretched hand and stated, at almost the same time, “That’s dangerous.” Yanira blinked in confusion and then remembered the danger of fire showing a troubled look.
“How do I grab the fruit?” muttered Yanira as she stared at the raging flames, but felt her eyes widened when she saw Zuriel approaching the tree.
“What are you doing, your majesty?”
“I am going to get that fruit for you.”
“But you will surely get hurt, so please…”
“I want to do it.”
Zuriel smiled at Yanira and stated, “I still need to find the chestnut tree to complete my test, but I want to help you first, so please allow me to do so.”
Yanira stared at Zuriel with wide eyes, but then her look softened saying, “OK, but promise me that you will try not to get hurt.” Zuriel nodded making his promise to Yanira and then stepped closer to the tree.
Grian leaned toward Yanira’s ear and asked, “Is it wise to let him take the fruit? I mean it was a test given to us, so shouldn’t we pluck it?” Yanira shook her head with a small smile.
“The paths we took would only lead to one destination and I am familiar with it.”
The moment Zuriel reached into the flames and grasped the fruit, the flames burst and revealed leaves in the color of cherry blossoms and white snow. The leaves seemed to dance around them as Zuriel and Grian looked around with eyes and Yanira smiled saying, “The path leads to the Chestnut tree.”
Zuriel seemed to be in shock as he stared at the fruit that should have been in his hand turn into a chestnut. Zuriel grasped the chestnut and glanced back at Yanira saying, “I don’t understand what happened. I had the fruit, but it…”
“It is OK, this tree was really the Chestnut tree and that Chestnut is for you.”
“But the fruit of flames…”
“I will still need to search for it, but I am glad you found what you were looking for,” stated Yanira with a bright smile, but her smile turned to confusion when Zuriel suddenly approached her and placed the Chestnut in the palm of her hand.
“This was supposed to be the fruit, so you should have it.”
“Please accept it!”
Zuriel seemed to be as red as a tomato as he tried to convince Yanira to take the chestnut. Yanira smiled and bowed her head to Zuriel saying her thanks. Zuriel smiled back, but to their surprise, the chestnut cracked open revealing a small fruit the size of a cherry, but still had the look of an apple.
“The fruit was inside the chestnut?” muttered Grian as he looked over Yanira’s shoulder. Yanira nodded, but then smiled saying, “Looks like this is the fruit.”
Yanira plucked the fruit from the shell and then handed the shell to Zuriel saying, “If you present this, you should pass your test.”
Zuriel stared at the shell, before taking it and placing it into his pocket and hen thanked Yanira with a kind smile. Yanira nodded and then glanced at the fruit as she came to a realization: the fairies were not only testing Grian and her, but also Zuriel. The fairies needed to see that Zuriel did care for people…that he was willing to help Grian and her: strangers to him, even when the task of reaching through flames appeared impossible. Grian did just that and it was not only for himself, but to help them.
Yanira felt warmth as she felt glad for Zuriel passing the test and now it was her turn to pass her own test. Yanira placed the fruit into her mouth and began to chew. It was like her mouth was on fire, but then began to cool down like a breeze entered her mouth. She gave out a sigh as the fruit went down her throat and then felt a warm light engulf her.
“Lady Nira!” exclaimed Grian as he reached toward her, but the same light engulfed him leaving Zuriel frozen in shock. Yanira closed her eyes slightly and then heard a small whisper in her ear say, “You pass. The power belongs to you. Make the Kingdom of Rheolis great for many generations to come…Priestess.”
The light began to intensify making Yanira close her eyes momentarily, but she opened her eyes when she heard Zuriel calling for her. She looked toward Zuriel and saw him reaching toward her. Yanira smiled and waved to him saying, “I hope to see you again, big brother.”
With those words, Yanira and Grian disappeared leaving no traces of them around Zuriel. Zuriel looked in every direction, but saw no sign of them. Zuriel frowned, pulled out the shell from his pocket, and then looked at the empty shell of the chestnut wondering if what he saw was all a dream. He shook his head and went down the path, finally understanding the way back to the castle.
In the present time, King Zuriel opened his eyes only to see the ceiling of his room. He groaned as he sat up and rubbed his head.
“I haven’t seen that dream in years,” muttered Zuriel and then got up from his bed, heading toward his wardrobe, until he heard a knock on his door.
The door opened revealing one of his soldiers, Pyralis Banhi, who bowed before Zuriel saying, “I have come to report that Azseldo Kingdom is making a move to set out to sea starting tomorrow.”
“Do you know their destination?”
Pyralis nodded saying, “They are heading in the direction toward the Kingdom Rheolis.”
Zuriel raised an eyebrow asking if the information was correct, taking into consideration that a trip to that kingdom would take 9 months, unless a very strong teleportation spell was used. Pyralis nodded.
“You are aware that the king of Azseldo Kingdom asked for a seize fire to make preparations to go to war with another kingdom across the sea. It would make sense for it to be Rheolis Kingdom.”
“That is true…the king of Rheolis must have offended him in some way to make him put our war on hold.”
Pyralis nodded and then asked, “With this seize fire, are we still going to make preparations with this war?”
Zuriel nodded saying, “This is only a seize fire. When that bastard returns from his war across the seas, our war will continue. We must use this time to get stronger.”
“Of course, your majesty…all for Princess Yanira.”
Zuriel smirked and then left his room with Pyralis making plans on how to make his army stronger to bring the kingdom of Azseldo down on their knees.