“Are you sure this is the only way?” asked her companion.

“Bronwen seems to think so and Uriel is getting suspicious. Why else would he go through this farce of trying to marry me off to someone who can learn what we do at night,” replied Mariana.

“We know nothing of military tactics and have no magic. How will we take the kingdom from Father?”

“It still surprises me that you can call him that, Mariano, considering what he’s done to you and our brothers,” she said with bitterness.

“Be that as it may, we need help to accomplish this,” Mariano said. “It was daunting enough figuring out that we could only meet at night in the nether realms if we danced together. We’ve never tried leaving before.”

“Yes, but mother was convinced that we had to wait until we were all of age and together. Anora and Lenoro are now thirteen so we need only figure out how to defeat Uriel,” she said. Both of them knew full well that getting to the surface with their brothers would be for naught if Uriel could just banish them again. “I’ll think of something, but be ready soon.”

The soldier continued to listen to the pair hatch plans and then reject them as too far-fetched or requiring too much time. His training saw the flaws in each idea and began to improve upon them instinctively resolving the matters they couldn’t grasp. Soon he was intrigued by the idea of helping them, but they were leaving for the surface. With farewells and promises to return the following night, the princesses climbed the spiral staircase back to their room before dawn.

On the second night, much the same happened and the soldier spent most of his time admiring the sharp mind and tenacity of the eldest princess. He wanted to reveal himself, but didn’t want to startle her and her siblings. The following night at dinner he overheard a conversation between the king and his sorcerer.

“This soldier will fail as the others have, but I think I have a better idea. Perhaps I should try to figure out what the princesses are up to at night. If I do, I would gladly marry Mariana,” he said with great humility. The soldier could see the sorcerer wore humility as he wore his cloak of invisibility—as a tool. Finally he made up his mind.

That night, when the Princess Mariana brought the soldier his cup of wine before bed, he stopped her.

“Princess I know where you go at night, but your bigger concern should be if I fail. The king has agreed to let Uriel follow you after I’m banished and marry you when he reports your whereabouts. It’s time to execute your plan,” he said holding her hand. She was visibly startled by his revelation, but was dismayed that her time was up.

“Our plans aren’t ready. We don’t even know how to overcome Uriel’s magic,” she said.

“Leave that to me,” he replied and quickly donned his cloak.

To the others they said nothing until they reached the enchanted palace by the lake. The soldier explained what he would do and explained each of their roles in the coming ruse. When the princesses left at dawn, the soldier stayed behind with the princes.

The next night the princesses came down as always, but there was some hesitancy in the youngest. She knew they were being followed and couldn’t play the part of ignorant as well as her elder sisters. However, Uriel barely noticed her agitation as he walked at a discreet distance from the party. Marveling at the surroundings he didn’t feel anything amiss until he was toppled by the darkness.

The eldest prince and princess helped to drag him to the water’s edge. With the aid of the swans, Uriel was lifted then dropped in the center of the lake and the swans fluttered and squawked on the surface keeping him under. Soon the thrashing ceased and one swan plunged down into the depths and came up with the sorcerer in his beak. Lifeless, the soldier checked for signs of life and found none. Wasting no time, the princes, princesses, and the soldier hurried to the portal and up the stairs.

Being rid of the sorcerer gave the siblings courage to confront their father. The king was lost without his adviser and gave up his kingdom without a fight. Prince Mariano, now king showed his gratitude to the soldier by giving him titles, honors and a generous tract of land to govern, which he did with the help of Princess Mariana. At their wedding, the soldier was introduced to the princess’s confidante, Bronwen and they shared a secret smile.

“What is so funny?” asked Mariana.

“It’s a rather interesting story,” said Bronwen and the three continued to enjoy the celebration.

The End

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