Xavier was running for his life. An arrow zipped past his head, filling his ear with the vengeful hiss of promised death. Spiny arms of cacti tore at his cloak as he sprinted for the river.
Xavier poured every ounce of his fear, frustration, and anger into strike after vicious strike, until all but the rhythm of battle was driven from his mind. Steel resounded against steel, boots beat a furious cadence against the floor, and the men grunted and cried with exertion, surprise, and distress.
The truth was, Xavier, Gustave, and Camel had not come to celebrate the coronation. They were using the party as cover to take, without permission, a tome from their host's famous library. It was ironic that two months ago, they had been chasing after a gang of thieves in Drehana. Tonight, they were the thieves.
The hand-drawn, coffee ring-stained map depicted a box canyon several miles away. A team of art thieves had made the canyon into their home. They had a painting that didn’t belong to them, and Xavier’s crew had ridden all the way to Drehana to relieve them of it.
That had been Xavier’s dream. And then the dream had become reality. And then life had happened. A hundred things beyond Xavier’s control had come and punched hole after hole in his dream. And Xavier’s idyllic vision of being lord of an estate began to crumble, as slowly but surely as the deteriorating mortar between the stones of the castle walls.