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PROLOGUE

Our story begins on the annual Deltoran Festival. Every year, the people of Deltora gathered in the City of Del and celebrated the day when they became a free and united nation after Adin's victory over the evil Shadow Lord. It was the one time of year everyone looked forward to, but it was also a day the people of Deltora cursed the Royal family, who turned their backs on their people. Some people had even wondered if they would have been better off under the Shadow Lord's rule.

Jarred had only been to four of these festivals and he loved them. He loved the atmosphere and how all the different tribes respected each other. He also loved the fact that it was the one time of year people seemed to be happy and carefree with no worries. However, it was at this festival that something happened which had never happened before... the Palace gates opened... and it wasn't for the rubbish cart either. No, the gates opened and everyone watched as two strong, masked guards, dressed in grey, walked towards the celebration. When they arrived, they automatically went to the stage to make an announcement. Everyone went quiet to hear what they were going to say.

'People of Deltora,' began one of the guards in a cold voice. 'I bring wondrous news! Our beloved Queen Sharn has given birth to a beautiful baby boy! Now you will have another reason to celebrate this momentous day! To celebrate the birth of Prince Lief!'

With that said, both guards headed back up to the castle, without a backwards glance, and the Palace gates were sealed shut once more.

'Another reason to celebrate?' muttered one of the Dread Gnomes. The festival was the only time they left their mountain, these days. 'Bah! Why should we celebrate the birth of Endon's son? He'll turn out to be just like his father! A man with more power than he knows what to do with, who doesn't care about his people!'

'Maybe the young Prince won't turn out like Endon, though,' Jarred said thoughtfully, looking up at the palace. As much as he missed and cared for his best friend, he hoped Endon's son wouldn't be as blind and naive as Endon.

'Fat chance of that happening!' snapped one the Jalis. 'Look at all the Kings and Queens we've had so far! Every time a new one is born, we believe that they will be the one to lead us out of this Dark Age, but it has never happened! Nothing will change!'

'That's not true! One day Deltora will be at its glory again! One day we will have another King like Adin!' argued Anna, Jarred's beloved wife, while she rested her hand on her swollen tummy.

'I highly doubt it, girl, but I hope you are right,' muttered a poor Mere woman.

-PRINCE OF DELTORA-

Six years later, the people of Deltora gathered once more for their annual festival, ignoring the fact that it was the young Prince's sixth birthday. Why should they care if it was his birthday? All they knew about the Prince was his name, except a few Toran's who had seen pictures of the young Prince through Lief's grandmother, Zeean, who was Queen Sharn's mother. It was on this day that the Shadow Lord decided to attack Deltora and gain control once more.

'Daddy? What are they?' screamed Jarred's daughter, Jasmine, as he was dancing with her. Jasmine was born a few months after the Prince.

Jasmine wasn't the only one to notice the strange creatures in the sunset's red sky, though her scream alerted those who hadn't noticed and soon everyone was looking up at the sky.

'The Shadow Lord's Ak-Baba!' hissed a shocked Jarred. Many people turned and looked at him.

'A what?' asked Anna, holding Jasmine tightly to her.

'Ak-Baba. Great birds that eat dead flesh and live for a thousand years. Seven of them serve the Shadow Lord,' explained Jarred to Anna and the many other confused citizens of Deltora.

'And how, may I ask, do you know this, Jarred?' demanded the wife of Del's weaver.

'I learnt about it back when I lived in the palace,' admitted Jarred.

The people of Deltora gasped.

'You lived in the palace, Daddy?' repeated a wide-eyed Jasmine.

'Yes. I was Endon's best and only friend before the Chief Adviser, Prandine, framed me for trying to murder Endon,' replied Jarred.

'Not that your history isn't fascinating, but what would the Shadow Lord's Ak-Baba be doing here?' the leader of the Jalis questioned. 'With King Endon wearing the Belt of Deltora, they should not be here!'

'He's right!'

'Then why are they here?'

'Has the Belt lost its power?'

'No, the Belt hasn't lost its power,' Jarred said sadly. 'Endon doesn't wear the Belt. It has been that way for years, where the royals only wear the Belt when they first take the throne, then it is locked away with three guards guarding it day and night.'

'WHAT? They have the responsibility to protect us from the Shadow Lord by wearing a belt and they can't even get that right! I'm sorry, but royal or not, I couldn't care less if the Shadow Lord kills them!' someone declared angrily.

'You can't mean that about the young Prince! He's an innocent child!' exclaimed an elderly Toran.

'The kid, no, but his father I couldn't care less. I'm sorry, Blacksmith, I know you're friends with the King, but...'

'There is no need to apologise. I know that Endon has lost the peoples' respect,' said Jarred, turning to look sadly at the Palace, before frowning slightly. He had seen something glinting brightly in the last feeble rays of the sun.

'Jarred? Are you alright?' asked Anna.

'Endon's arrow is in the tree,' replied Jarred. 'The call has come.'

'The call?' repeated a citizen of Del as Jarred ran home to get a sword, leaving Anna to explain about the message Jarred had left for Endon if trouble ever emerged. By the time she had finished, Jarred ran passed them and up towards the Palace with a fearful Anna praying for her husband's safe return.

The citizens of Deltora did not return to celebrating. Instead, they just sat there waiting for Jarred to return and later that night, he did but he was not alone. With him, was a middle aged woman holding a toy Kin close to her chest, crying. Jarred was walking sadly next to her carrying what looked like a bunch of rags.

'Zeean!' exclaimed one of the Elders of Tora, getting up to comfort her. 'What's wrong? What happened?'

She just shook her head, tears pouring down her face. The Elder looked towards the silent Jarred.

'Endon and Queen Sharn are dead,' Jarred said bluntly. 'When I got into the palace I went looking for Endon, that's when I ran into Zeean. She was hurrying to Prince Lief's room. I went with her and when we arrived, we saw both Endon and Queen Sharn lying dead on the floor and the Prince was standing against a wall, holding a dagger out in front of him, while he had another sheltered at his hip. Prandine was standing above him with a blood stained sword in hand. Then, in one swift moment, when he saw us, he roughly bashed the Prince's head against the wall and threw him from the nearby window.' Jarred's voice sounded dead and miserable.

'So he could still be alive?' Jasmine asked innocently. She didn't know what her father was talking about. Her window wasn't high off the ground. 'I would survive if I was thrown from my window.'

'Jas, the Prince's window was near the top of the Palace and overlooks a cliff. He wouldn't be able to survive,' Jarred explained quietly.

'Then we are doomed. Without an Heir of Adin to wear the Belt, the Shadow Lord will - The Belt! What happened to the Belt?' asked a Plains man.

'It's here,' muttered Jarred, putting the rags on a nearby table, and opening them to reveal a shattered Belt of Deltora. 'Before Zeean and I escaped Prandine's wrath, I made a pit stop to get the Belt and this is what I found.'

'And the gems?' asked a Dread Gnome.

'Gone. My guess is that the Ak-Baba took them and hid them,' said Jarred.

'Why does it matter?' someone asked bitterly. 'Without an Heir, it is no use to us anyway. The Shadow Lord has won and has begun taking over Deltora again.'

'You may have given up, but us Jalis will never surrender without a fight!' growled a Jalis warrior.

With that said, all the present Jalis went off to prepare for war and to prepare the missing members of their tribe.

'More brawn than brains. That's what's wrong with that tribe,' someone said, watching them leave. 'They're going to get themselves killed, and for what? Deltora is lost!'

'No, it's not,' said Zeean, speaking for the first time. 'While the Chief Advisers encouraged the belief that only the direct line on Adin can wear the Belt, I believe it to be untrue, for it is far too dangerous for Deltora.'

'Where are you going with this?' asked Anna.

'Adin had several children, all who married Torans, which means, somewhere in Tora or maybe in some other Deltoran tribe; we will find a distant relation to - to Lief.'

'Then there is hope,' muttered Jarred, before he and the spokes people of each Tribe went back to the forge to discuss the finding of the next Heir. After all, if there was no Heir, why would the Shadow Lord destroy the Belt and hide the gems, unless he still feared it.


A/N: Okay, you are probably all saying, 'Surely Zeean has seen the state of the kingdom, why doesn't she say anything to Endon?' In this case, she does, but he doesn't believe and he continues to abide by the Rule. It's basically that same situation that Jarred was in.

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Written: 17 January 2012
Updated: 12 September 2012
Beta:
I-Angel92