The veil of fog became thinner. Aron squinted his eyes as if to pull the figure closer toward him. “It's my mother,” the prince called out beside himself.
“What nonsense. All I see is a burlap bag,” was all the cat had to say not very kindly.
“If I tell you. I should be able to recognize my own mother. Admittedly, she looks wretched and miserable, but we don't know what happened to her. Seriously, Monti, what do you see?” the prince asked the cat.
“It's the queen all right,” the cat conceded.
“It makes me happy that you see what I see.”
“I must go to her,” the prince ordered the unicorn.
“That's too dangerous,” replied the unicorn.
“Probably another one of Kofur's nasty tricks,” warned Miss Monti. Each time she got excited, her fur began to gleam fox red and the fur around her neck stood on edge. “Just to be on the safe side, why don't you ask your angel,” Monti suggested.
“No time, by then we'll have passed her,” the prince urged on.
“It's your funeral,” said the unicorn.
“Not to worry,” the wind puffed himself up. “After all I'm still here too. When things get hairy, I'll lift you immediately high up into the clouds.”
But the prince was unaware of the wind. All Aron saw was his mother's eyes. They were indeed her eyes. Aron was just about to fling himself into her arms when an invisible hand held him back. Aron hesitated. The mysterious gesture had broken his determination. With the memory of the land of clones still fresh, he began to wonder whether this might be just another one of Kofur's deceits. Thus rendered helpless and doubtful whether he should trust his eyes, the prince asked with trembling voice: “Is it really you?”
But the mother didn't seem to have heard his question. “Give me a piece of bread,” she begged. Her profoundly sad look made Aron's doubts dissipate.
“Don't give her anything,” Monti pleaded with her master. “Don't be deceived by appearances. I'm sure the demon Kofur is behind this again.”
“You may be right,” agreed the prince, who felt confirmed in his considerations. He knew meanwhile that Kofur appeared in myriad forms and since the episode at the amphitheater there was no doubt that he was able to influence his thoughts and make him see things that didn't exist in reality. “My parents are in Ozelot's realm, not in the gray world between. That I know for sure,” pondered Aron.
“Let's go already,” cautioned the unicorn. “Another terror bird colony is approaching.”
The mother pleaded: “My dear son, give me a piece of bread.”
Hearing that, Prince Aron turned around once more and ran back. “For mercy's sake! I won't deny my alms to someone in need, no matter in what the shape she might appear,” the charitable prince said more to himself. And then he added mumbling: “To own something and not share (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) it, doesn't further happiness.”
He gave the beggar woman bread and threw himself at her chest. “Mama!” There was nothing in the world the sun prince wanted to believe more than that he had found his mother again. He had enough of distrusting all and everything. The prince wanted to be able to again put his trust in what he saw. And what he saw was his mother. Whom else should he trust if not her? His own mother would never in her life betray him.
But suddenly, the little prince began to feel faint. A sense of queasiness seized his stomach even though he had not been binging. “Am I hungry?” he wondered. Why should he feel different than all the other miserable creatures in the gray world between? All he had was this little piece of bread which he had been sharing with Monti and now also with his mother. Just then he became aware of the flapping wings of a gigantic bird sinking its claws into his shoulders. Dazed with pain, Aron thought he was in the power of a terror bird. But the unicorn and Miss Monti had to watch as the prince's poor mother turned into the demon Kofur. He began hacking with his two beaks at the sun amulets, hitting first the sun images and then Aron's arm. The pain robbed the prince of any reasonable thought. At the last minute, he remembered what his father had taught him on his ninth birthday about the use of the amulets. Desperately the prince attempted to clash the amulets on both wrists together. It was all he was able to do in this moment of terror. But Kofur twisted the injured arm back in order to open the clasp with his powerful claw. Faint with agonizing pain, Aron sank to the ground. He was no longer aware of the fiery tongues that were advancing against Kofur. The sun rays, which were lodged in his amulets met the danger by turning into firearms. Good fortune had not abandoned the prince. The power of the sun still protected him. Kofur's attack (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) had ended in failure. He had not been able to either steal the amulets or destroy them. Powerless in the face of the power of good, Kofur loosened his hold on Aron and disappeared into the sky.
“Well, what a mess. How do we get Prince Aron on your back?” the cat asked the unicorn. “Look here, he is bleeding,” Monti noted.
“Let me take care of this,” howled the wind. Taking special care, he pushed the air spirits under Aron's back. They swelled to a whirl and lifted him onto the unicorn.
“That was perfect,” the cat said appreciatively. The unicorn turned its head around and blew some of its unicorn breath on the little prince's injuries. A layer of silvery moon dust spread over the wounds of shoulder and arm and healed them. Miss Monti clapped her paws in praise of the unicorn: “You're a great medical magician. You healed the prince.”
The wind yowled: “And I, didn't I do my part?”
“You, of course, too. You are both saviors of the prince.” With that, the wind was satisfied and pulled back. The unicorn took immediately off into the air to avoid a real encounter with a terror bird.
“What happened?” asked the prince as he was starting to come to.
“The sun amulets decided the battle in your favor. Kofur was surprised by the power of fire, so he preferred quitting the field. As he ascended into the sky, he yelled: ‘I may have lost this round, but the battle isn't over yet by far.' The unicorn and the wind healed you. What would we have done without those two,” the cat babbled on.
“Calling my angel,” Aron remembered.
“Only you alone can do that and you were unconscious. Besides, we had to get away as quickly as possible to avoid being detected by the terror birds.”
“Why didn't my angel help me? After all, he's always with me.” For the first time, the prince doubted his angel's love.
“Because you have to endure life's tests by yourself. And this was a test. I can protect you and give you advice, but one thing I cannot do and that is make your decisions. You alone make the choice. That's why you children of man are such rich creatures,” said the angel.
“What do you mean by rich?” Aron was again unwilling to be impressed by his angel.
“You are rich in experiences because you distance yourself more or less from the path of your life due to the choices you make. Every time you deviate from the path and take a detour, the Eternal teaches you a lesson to learn from your mistakes. And for this you need to undergo tests. They force you again and again to make choices so you will grow through them. Only thus will you be able to find the true path.”
The angel beamed down on Aron. When the prince heard his favorite word “growing,” he was immediately wide awake.
“I will grow after all,” the little prince rejoiced.
“But of course. You are already growing day by day.”
That sounded mysterious, for Aron didn't have the feeling that he had grown even the slightest bit. But he didn't want to bother his angel any further. The prince knew exactly that the angel would disappear when his questioning was getting too much. That's why he didn't press the matter any further but exercised patience, only to ask after a while: “And what was the test about?”
“Kofur wanted to test your compassion and chose the form of your mother for this purpose.”
“But any child would follow a mother's pleas and wouldn't let her starve. Kofur should know that I have a good heart.”
“That was exactly the crux of the matter,” the angel tried to explain to the prince. “Only a cold heart would have been useful in his design to defeat you and carry you off into the darkness.”
“What made him hope for a cold heart,” the prince asked the angel.
“Since the land of clones, which was a perfect deception, you had to assume that not everything you see is genuine. The demon was absolutely convinced that he had sown enough doubts into your heart that you would take your mother for a deception and that you wouldn't help her,” the angel explained the demon's treachery to the prince.
“Then it wasn't you who held me back when I looked into my mother's eyes?” the prince asked the angel.
“Of course not. It was Kofur. He had to keep you from dispensing alms; for doing good is a virtue. Only, he was concerned that you would deny her the bread. You shouldn't share the little that was left to you for that would be noble and caring but not heartless. For if your mother was as inauthentic as the land of clones, Kofur hoped to exploit your bad experiences, and you wouldn't help her. But since helping and sharing rank foremost in the High Order of Nubia, a cold heart would have been a gross violation of the laws. Kofur could have taken you prisoner because such a violation is punished with the realm of darkness.”
Aron's face turned pale: “What a logic,” he mumbled.
“The logic of evil,” replied the angel. “The power of evil knows no limits. It penetrates the thoughts before it destroys the soul.”
Then he spoke with urgent tone: “Never doubt me. I returned to the damaged eyes of the sun amulets their original power which they had lost in the attack. For here is how it works. The clashing together of the wrists revives the sun spirit. It gets so enraged about this that it filters the sun's rays through the eyes of the images of the sun, which, due to its anger, turn into flames. Thus it protects the owner of the amulets if he gets into trouble. Kofur apparently knew very well how to destroy the power of the amulets for he was aiming at the eyes. Thus the sun spirit lost the decisive energy it needed to turn the sun's rays into flaming fiery tongues. At that moment, I stepped in to strengthen the sun spirit's energy. The sun turned into fire to defend you against the demon. Always remember: I guard your way through my love.”
Then the light disappeared. The little prince lowered his head. “Instead of losing confidence in my angel, I'd better watch out for Kofur's traps. He's really dangerous,” concluded the prince.
Monti moaned: “I gave you the wrong advice. Through my fault, the evil one almost defeated you by a hair. Forgive me please. I would never deceive a friend. You must believe me.”
“I know.” The prince stroked Monti's chin until she began to purr. Then all was good again. However, Aron was left with an uneasy feeling. Life's events are sometimes so unpredictable, pondered the little ruler. Nothing is as it seems. One really can't believe all the eyes see and ears hear. That much he had learned on this journey. Thus it was not usual for a prince to wish for sufficient wisdom in order to distinguish truth from deceit.
After floating about for an indefinite amount of time, the unicorn became restless and looked frequently down at the earth. It searched for the entrance to Caligo land. When it finally spotted it, the unicorn's task was fulfilled. At the start of the journey, the prince had given the order “to the realm of darkness” and now they had arrived. Aron asked the unicorn to wait for his return. He would never have had the heart to expose a creature as pure as the unicorn to the eternal darkness. The little prince had to go the rest of the way alone, relying on his own devices.
With Monti in his arms, he jumped off the unicorn. At last firm ground under foot! The little prince felt relieved and pulled the energy sphere from his pocket. It was good that he always carried his gold dust with him. Never would he forget his parents. With time their memory would begin to fade, but not so with the energy sphere. Fascinated, he looked the sphere over. Aron put it against his ear and heard his parents' voices. He saw before him a big, black gate with an inscription. That's what his father must have meant. “The entrance, the only way to enter the realm of darkness.” The prince pointed at the gigantic, black gullet that threatened to devour everything. Somehow Monti didn't look very happy. “This is where we want to go? Then you'd better say good-bye to your favorite toy right now!” Monti's voice was filled with horror as if she was ready to give up so close to their destination. Rather than saying good-bye, the prince wanted to calm down. He wound up the toy clock and listened to the harp while the ballerina dance until her silver heart glittered. Then he pressed her against his ear. Again there was a mysterious throbbing.
“A living heart (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) under a wooden bodice. Who should understand this,” said the prince and shook his head. “It's good that you are with me, as familiar as the sun palace which I miss.”
The prince stroked the dancers hair and stored her again in the left pocket of his breeches. Then Monti took her energy sphere from her knapsack. The little sun shone beautifully, the light which Monti intended to carry into the darkness.
“Hide your gold dust,” Aron warned Miss Monti. “Who knows what lies ahead.”
The prince and the cat were aware of great dangers awaiting them. But they walked toward the gate with a brave heart without being able to say good-bye to the wind. He had disappeared without a trace.
“I wonder where the air spirits may be hanging out. But now is not the time to wait. Now is the time for action,” said the prince. He reached for the knife in his saddle bag and stashed it in his cloak. Now only his angel could still protect him.