Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Hunter Prince: The King's Menagerie

The King's Menagerie occupied a sprawling courtyard on the west side of the castle. Caijar had visited the public exhibits many time when he was younger; as a boy, he'd enjoyed looked at the plants and animals, many of them from distant lands. His favorites were the fluff-bears, whose fur was so thick that it served as a kind of armor. They were large and fairly sociable animals, and lived in family groups. Some of the tribes of small near-men in the western hills of Dartland were said to have trained them for riding. Caijar had always wanted to ride one, but his parents had forbidden it. Now he was almost too big to try it.

The King's menagerie was much more than just the animals in their little courts, though. The larger building on the far end, where the keeper had his office, was a veritable library of plants and animals. Some were common and some were rare; some were local and others were exotic; some were natural, while many were conjured. They were kept in golden containing-crystals which protected them from the passage of time and held them ready for any need that might arise.

It was only in the last year that Caijar had realized just how important the King's Menagerie was to the kingdom's military. A conjuror on the battlefield could summon three or four fighting-beasts, at most. A conjuror whose beasts were were already held in keeping-crystals could command dozens, even hundreds. And that, as his mother had noted, left aside the importance of the seed crops that were also stored here in case of famine, plague, or some other disaster.

Saisha had been absolutely right. The wizard said the grabby-monster couldn't have been conjured. Caijar supposed that it could have been smuggled into the castle unnoticed, but that seemed very difficult, if not impossible. No, the only place for someone living in the castle to obtain one of the beasts was here, in the King's Menagerie.

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