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A few minutes before midnight, the forest came alive. Glowing insects lit up the forest as stars sat on the belly of the sky. Fruit bats were tearing at every meal at sight. Since there was no human presence and no predators, there was no threat to their lives as they moved from one tree to another in search of fruits. The night belongs to the bats and the ruthless world of animals and they grabbed every opportunity that came their way with both hands. But one odd thing is about to astonish the inhabitants of the ruthless world of the animals and only time will tell how they will handle the situation.

At the stroke of midnight, the snail that Tom saw in the morning fell from the tree. As soon as it landed on the floor, it shook vehemently and transformed into a young man. The unfortunate soul was weak and had no strength left in him. He was the only son of King Illerius who had been ill and could no longer rule his kingdom from the sick bed. The young man, Alfonso, was his crown prince. Who bewitched the Crown Prince and what is he doing at the forest when he is supposed to be in the palace tending to his subjects? He was in his birthday suit. Sweat was pouring off him and he could barely walk. He had grown so fragile. He was a man of fine attributes. He was light skinned and he had no misfortune of running around with a protrude belly. The beards on his chest were few and they were of no significance in his hour of need. Yes, Alfonso is a lanky man, but he bears a burden that is taller than his pair of legs.

Shivering like a terrified lizard, Alfonso staggered to a mango tree nearby. He managed to pluck some ripe fruits. He sat under the tree and devoured them in a matter of minutes. As he chewed noisily, Alfonso was alert. His eyes dart back and forth to make sure that the coast was clear and no predator in sight. After he had regained strength, he rose to his feet and walked a short distance to the stream. Slowly he went into the water and washed himself clean under the watchful eyes of the evening clouds. Not long after, he came out of the water. Still wearing a sad Look, Alfonso, returned to a corner near the mango tree. He picked up his trousers and shirt. Though, he disliked the sight of them being covered in dust but there was nothing he could to bend the circumstance to his favor. He wore the clothes and faced the way to the town.

The forest was pitch darkness. But having lived here for some time, he had no problem locating the tracks. Alfonso went past trees, boughs, dry leaves and walked a very long distance before he got to the town. He sneaked into the town and went past some night guards unnoticed. The poor soul was bound for the palace to see his father whom he knew was not aware of his predicament.

Alfonso took a bend and walked briskly to an old sawmill. He went round the abandoned building and entered the house through the back door. He turned right into a room. Some planks already covered in dust were on the floor. He removed them and smiled at the beautiful sight that he beheld. Down there was an opening with a narrow step down an old tunnel overran with rodents. He pulled the slab to one side and went down the tunnel. The secret path was only known to him and his former servants who are now under the spell of his sister, Carolina. 

Under the shadow of the silent night, the crown prince moved carefully, looking back at interval as he faced the way to the palace. The rats roamed freely as Alfonso moved quickly past them. Then he reached a wooden rickety door. He paused and looked carefully about to make sure that no one was following. Happy that the coast was clear, he breathed deeply and opened the door and went inside. The unfortunate soul quietly shut the door. He adjusted his huge frame and turned to his left. Now he was walking very fast. He got to the bottom of the staircase and glanced up. The wooden plank that covered the way out of the hole was still the way it was the last time he came this way. He ran up the stairs and almost lost his footing when one of the concrete gave way. Alfonso hanged on. He squint his eyes and looked through a little opening on the plank. Two armed guards were on parade. They flashed their torch lights about as they moved away from his view.

Alfonso carefully pushed the plank that covered the exit of the hole and climbed out to the open. His eyes darted back and forth as he pulled the plank back to position. Someone flashed a torch at his direction. But the crown prince rolled into the beautiful flowers nearby before he was caught. Just as he tried to control his breath, the soldier who had flashed the light walked to the corner. The man had a strong square jaw and was as dark as the midnight. The soldier flashed his torch about as if he suspected that someone was lurking. Not sensing danger, he adjusted his trousers and walked to a shade where some military people were eating barbeque.

Alfonso came out of the beautiful flowers. He dusted his clothes and moved into the shadows. When he reached the main building in the palace, some guards were on duty. Since he was familiar with the terrain, he had no trouble getting past them unnoticed. He ran to the backyard. The king’s room was at the first floor, above where he stood near the kitchen window. Alfonso glanced at the kitchen to see if anyone was around. There was no soul except a lantern that lit up the nicely decorated place. He climbed the wooden frame of the kitchen window and reached for the balcony at the first floor. He quietly opened the window and entered his father’s room. His father was pale and weak as he rushed to his bed side. “FATHER!”

The old man opened his eyes slowly and turned to him. “Is this my son? Hope I am not in a dreamland, Alfonso?”

“You are not in a dreamland, Father!” he bowed himself gently. He held his father’s hand and felt his neck with the back of his hand. The old man was cold and living had become a nightmare.  

“Your sister told me that you were killed by a wild pig few days ago when you went to the forest to hunt!”

The young man shook his head. “That’s not true. She is a liar! She tried to kill me!” Alfonso burst into tears. “My sister has destroyed me!”

The old man barely raised his head. “HOW? What do you mean?”

Alfonso paused and swallowed hard. “Father, I am under her spell like everyone in this palace. She vowed that I will never succeed you as the next king!”

The king’s jaw dropped. “CAROLINA? How can my daughter do that to you?” The king choked and beats his chest vehemently. “But she promised me that she will help you become a great king!” The king began to cough severely.

There was a glass of water on the table by the bed. Alfonso grabbed it and gave it to his father. As the old king drank from the cup, they heard foot steps approaching the room. The old man signaled his son to take cover in the wardrobe in the extreme. As soon as the poor soul entered the wardrobe, his sister, Carolina, in the company of her maids entered the room. She was mean and her eyes were darting back and forth as she walked majestically to her father’s side. “Are you okay? I heard you coughing!”

The old man smiled. “It’s just a little cough. Please get me some water.”

One of the maids hurried out of the room. Not long after, she returned with a large jug of water. They helped the king to sit on the bed and gave him the water to drink. After he had drunk to his fill, he returned the cup to the maid and turned to his daughter. “Carolina, I want to have a word with you.”

She smiled faintly and shifted her weight to one leg. “Okay, I’m listening!”

“In private!” The king frowned at the maids. “I want your puppets out of my sight!”

Carolina chuckled and signaled the girls to leave.

As soon as the girls were out of the room, the man cleared his throat. “Do me a favour, my daughter. Don’t bury my son in our sad little cemetery. Bury him in the tomb of our great kings who have gone before him. ALFONSO IS NOT A DOG!”

She flashed a menacing smile at her father. “That is the old tradition. If that is what you want, then he will get it.” She hissed. “Alfonso is your pet. That was why you gave him the kingdom at my own expense. Am I not your child? You are not fair to me father! What do you want me to do with a plot of land covered with grasses?” She became emotional and began to sob gently as tears rolled down her cheeks. Then she paused suddenly and wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I have taken my destiny in my hands. Alfonso is alive but I have destroyed him!”

“What have you done to yourself, Carolina? You are greedy. The plot of land that I gave you was an inheritance from my own father. Beneath that earth are precious stones and I expected you to make a fortune from them. What gift will a father give his children other than a life of plenty and wealth? But you have chosen the path of death and dishonour!”

“It’s your fault, father. If you had crowned me as your successor, I won’t have harmed my brother!” she fumed.

 “You are lost, Carolina! Our tradition does not permit a woman to sit on the throne. You cannot rule because I have a son. It is that simple! Your brother is the crown prince. He will succeed me as king!”

She hissed and spat on the floor. “This ugly tradition must stop! I am not fit for the throne because I am a woman? Uh? That was why you gave what belongs to me to your silly boy who could barely read or write. Alfonso doesn’t know his left from his right! That son of yours is deluded. I can’t watch him ruin this kingdom. Alfonso will fart on your face and put you to shame!”

“You are not his judge. Let the poor boy be.” He sighed and continued, “We have a tradition. My son becomes king once I feel I no longer have the strength to lead the people. And Alfonso has my blessings. Like every human being, I don’t expect him to be perfect. He will certainly make mistakes and when he does, he has the council of elders to help him. No king walks alone, Carolina. That is the law! You can do whatever you like, but you will never have my blessing. You threading on a dangerous path and I advise you refrain from it!”

Carolina fell on her knees and tears flooded her face. “Father, you are hurting me! What have I done to deserve all this? I am sure if my mother were to be alive, she would not have allowed you to treat me like this. You are denying me of my right as your first child. THIS KINGDOM IS MINE! THE THRONE IS MINE!”

“SHUT UP, YOU WITCH!” the old king thundered.

She paused and rose to her feet. Then she wiped her tears with the back of her hand and clenched her fist. She yelled at her father, “You son is now a snail! I have taken over the kingdom and there is nothing you can do!” She laughed out loud, bending her body and covering her mouth with her hands that were as hard as the back of a turtle.

The old man choked and began to cough vehemently again. Carolina paused and glanced at her father who had fallen on the bed. She smiled faintly and brought out a dagger from her skirt. As she moved closer to stab the old king to death, Alfonso jumped out of the wardrobe and fell on her. They had a fair struggle and shared blows from one end of the room to another before he finally dispossessed her of the knife. She received a blow to the neck and lost her balance. As Alfonso ran to the bed side to attend to his father, Carolina shouted, “GUARDS!”

Alfonso only managed to give his father a glass of water when one of the soldiers burst into the room. Before the man could draw his sword, the crown prince pounced and sank a blow into his chest. The soldier lay on the floor struggling for life. As the other soldiers approached the room, Alfonso moved to his sister who had almost died of fear. “Evil will lead you nowhere!” He threw the knife on her body. He jumped out of the window and reached the balcony. As the other soldiers entered the room, the crown prince jumped down from the balcony and landed on the floor near the kitchen window. He rose to his feet and glanced up. One of the soldiers who had reached the balcony peered down. Their eyes met as Alfonso dusted his clothes and took to his heel.

“Alfonso tried to kill the king!” Carolina told one of the soldiers who pulled her to her feet.

Some soldiers rushed to the balcony and they saw Alfonso moved into the shadows. Some of the armed men jumped down from the balcony and gave chase and the others went back through the room. As soon as the men were gone and the fellow whom Alfonso had hit on the chest had been taken away for treatment, she moved to her father’s side. She looked at him coldly. “Your son will pay for this!” She wiped the blood stain off her mouth and walked away.

Alfonso ran very fast across the street and reached the hole in a good time. He pulled the plank and went down and secured it. He moved quickly in the dark, looking back at interval as he went. By the time he reached the other end, information had reached the guards that an intruder was in the palace. They took their positions, flashing torch lights about in search of the poor soul.

Alfonso had no trouble finding his way back into the forest as the soldiers retired from the chase. The night was very cold and there were few stars in the sky. The crown prince arrived at his forest home and was fagged out. He sat under a tree shade and gazed at the wandering clouds. It was not the best of times for the unfortunate soul, and Alfonso was very worried about his father.

Not long after, the young man knew it was time to put the day behind him. He leaned on the tree and rested on the soothing weight of the midnight breeze.

Just before it was day break, Alfonso began to shiver like a terrified lizard. Then he fell on the floor. He stretched and rolled from one end of the bush to another and transformed into a snail again. The creature crawled slowly on dry leaves on the floor and made for a shade. By the time it was day break, the snail had found comfort on one of the trees. Carolina’s spell is a powerful magic. Only time will tell if the prince will eventually be free.

Written by Omoruyi Uwuigiaren.

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