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“A flag bearer is the one I want!” the beast snarled.

The court sorcerer considered this. “You’ll release me if I ask a flag bearer of the king?”

“I’ll break the flag bearer in two and sip blood from his rib cage as if it were a cup. Then I’ll wipe my bloody lips on the king’s flag as if it were a napkin.”

The beast’s shuffling silhouette blocked the cave’s exit. Beyond the cave mouth, far afield in the wilderness, the sorcerer’s falconry team cried his name as they searched for him.

The sorcerer sat down and leaned against the cold stone of the cave’s recess. “Why a flag bearer?”

“A flag bearer! Bring me such a one!”

“But why?”

“The king will finally know about me! He will pay for overlooking me!”

“Okay, I will request a flag bearer. Should I fail to obtain such a tribute to you I’ll return myself to this rank dwelling as your prisoner, though I’d ask you’d eat me whole and immediately so I’d not have to suffer these surroundings or die knowing my men might discover I’d taken my last breath here.”

The beast’s shuffling stopped.

“Let us agree, or open my throat,” continued the sorcerer. “I cannot stand this stench a moment longer. Is this the cave of Daletop? Can I look down over the king’s fields and Bower Castle? Can I feel the high breeze? There I’d be a captive the rest of my life if I could. Yet I wouldn’t be a captive because that cave doesn’t end in a gangrenous stump like this one. No, the caverns wind down for miles, right beneath the castle. I could simply travel those caverns and follow the secret waterways into the castle where I’d deliver your request in a matter of hours. Then I’d return to deliver your gift because I’d so greatly desire to gaze again from the cave mouth over the king’s turret-top banners setting the sky alight. Indeed, the king would deliver himself to you there along with all his people via the caverns, in times of threat from enemies. From that high ground you will be able to wipe the blood of the enemy upon the king’s largest flag again and again.”

The beast collapsed on his side. “Go!” he howled. “Go now!” He wept. 

The sorcerer rushed to him. With both hands he seized the sides of the beast’s head, and in a whisper said, “Tomorrow evening I’ll send a falcon to the mouth of this cave. Follow the falcon half the night. You’ll know when you reach the cave of Daletop. That is a home worthy of a beast of your nobility, not this rank sore on the earth.”

The beast wailed.

The sorcerer embraced the beast’s head for a moment, then stood and disappeared from the cave with a snap of his cloak.

James Moran is a professional astrologer who regularly publishes articles, fiction, and poetry.

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