Belle woke early, well before dawn. She arose and washed and dressed. Careful to bring the cloak given her by the Queen with her and wear the amulet from the angel, she went downstairs to the outer court room. There she was greeted by the courtiers of the Queen who surrounded her and wished her well effusively. Kadeen was outside in the back of the castle grounds with Shafiq at the stables. "Young Prince," said the chief aide of the Queen and prophet of the land, "I warn you most strictly, beware of the daughter of Asmodeus, I feel her presence in this. Were she to come to battle with the Daughters of Astarte, the Warriors of Lady Ishtar, she would have no chance. But singularly against Belle, the Princess would be in horrible peril. The maiden of the black pit is formidable. However, Belle has the cloak and amulet and the angel watches over her. You are the one who is in peril for the cruel maiden's wiles are set against men. She was set to her task years before. She was sent by command of the evil Lilitu in future sense, to go unknown at the exact time of her coming forth from hell, for Belle's destruction. She will know that she has to deal with you first. Know that she is a shape shifter. You may have to tell her apart from Belle. Belle, it is true, has the amulet and cloak, but more than these, Belle's sight is clear and pure. The maiden of the black pit has the gleam in her eye of the demon heart. By that red foul light you will know it is her. Go with carefulness, Prince Shafiq. Protect the Princess always."
Kadeen and Shafiq led the horses, which they had saddled, to the front of the castle. Going to the Princess, Shafiq bowed and said, "Good morning Princess Belle, are you rested and well for the journey?" Belle looked warmly at him and spoke gently, "goodly Shafiq, I thank you for asking and am quite ready and anxious to begin. How are you, my liege, this morning?" "Well and ready for us to begin, Princess," Shafiq replied offering his hand to help her up to Maysa's saddle. They sat the horses which stood facing the castle. The Queen emerged with her retinue and stood in front of the Prince and Princess. "I give you my blessing," she said raising her hand and asking for God's blessing and protection upon them in their journey, "... and my fondest wish that I see you both back here again together," looking especially at Belle when she said this, "and that you remember not to trust to suspicion but to your quest and in each other. Maysa' has asked of me a special request, that I give Numair the gift of human speech. I do so now." As she said this, Numair stirred and suddenly he spoke, "good Queen I thank you and am deeply in your debt for this. I thank you Maysa' for your asking." The Queen replied, "use it well good steed and both of you, Numair and Maysa', bear this cargo of yours safely. Maysa', continue my counsel to Belle as you journey." At that, they bid farewell and departed to seek the Daughters of Astarte.
As the horses walked the road before them, Numair spoke to Shafiq, "My Prince, it is good to be able to speak to you in human speech. You and I have lived far off for my whole life and part of yours. This homecoming has been good for you I trust? I certainly could not have asked for more. It is good to be able to speak to you in human speech." Shafiq, leaning forward and patting the horse's flank said, "I am glad for you Numair, and yes the homecoming was very good for me. My mother the Queen and I spoke of many things."
As the horses walked, Maysa' spoke to Belle, "Heed me Princess, the Queen has charged me last night, speaking to me privately about what she has seen in a dream concerning you. You will be tested. If you give in to suspicion and unfounded jealousy it is Shafiq who will suffer. The quest could even be lost. If we encounter the maiden of the black pit, you must remember that she is a shape shifter. She is deadly to men because of her wiles. She has never told the truth and it is certain that she never will. It is her very nature to lie. If Shafiq is cut by her he will be lost, for the Queeen has discerned that Aêšmi, for that is the maid of the black pit's name, is now a full succubus and feeds off blood to the death of her victims. If Shafiq needs your trust and assistance in his defeating the demon daughter of Asmodeus, you must do so with complete trust and without hesitation. Do you understand?" Belle did not hesitate at all but replied immediately, "When I first met Shafiq, I knew he was who I waited for my life. But we have not spoken of this. If any need arises, I will aid and support him without mistrust at all. I shall not hesitate, Maysa'. Thank you for relaying the Queen's counsel." Maysa' continued to walk as Numair caught up with her. Together in company they walked. The four went on their journey. The sun was smiling down on the four.
-to be continued-
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