The night was too black; it brooded without stars. The Huntsman could sense the ominous veil of darkness that crept its way into the land; for the gentle creatures of the forest now hunted instead of hid. Without Queen Cassiopeia’s hopefulness, no one could keep the gloom and potent evil from tender hearts.
Huntsman wondered if he was the only one troubled by the coming darkness. He knew he must find the Queen quickly, so his search began at the place where the darkness was the most substantial—the Libra corral—where the horses fought each other like raging beasts. Huntsman quickly made his way to the Libra. A beautiful white stallion raced around the corral. Huntsman cautiously watched as the majestic stallion circled the corral. As the stallion slowed to a stop he bore his teeth at another, a silent horse in the dark. The horse had a beautiful ebony coat, as dark as the night sky. Any movement she would make would bring a glimmer of light to her coat, a flicker like small stars falling from the sky. Her wings were majestic when she spread them out to full length; but at the moment, she held them close to her sides; tense, but controlled, as someone calmed her. The man was tall and strong. He wore a gray tunic and shorts, and a sword on his back. Huntsman recognized him as Hercules, a great hero. They had met before, but he was unsure about whether Herc would remember him. Last he had heard Herc had left the land. Now that Herc was back, Huntsman was sure that Herc would help.
Huntsman watched as Herc caressed his beautiful steed gently and talked soothing words to her. Huntsman smiled, pleased to see that he could show compassion in the face of danger.
Huntsman silently walked up behind Herc. To his satisfaction, Herc stiffened and raised his hand over his shoulder to rest on the sword. He was pleased to see that Herc was still alert.
Herc jolted around to see who was there and let out a massive sigh of relief. “Hunter, it’s just you.”
Even as Huntsman felt honored to be recognized, with concern in his voice he spoke, “What’s happening?”
Herc nodded toward the angry herd. “An immense energy is coming from the corral, but I haven’t figured out what’s causing it.”
Huntsman quietly probed with all of his senses to broaden the search around the corral. He listened to the hooves of the stallion beating on the battered ground and felt a slight breeze brush at his golden bangs. With the breeze came a foreboding sensation that filled his heart. Herc placed a hand on Huntsman’s shoulder and drew his attention to the stallion. It slowly changed into a white serpent; then disappeared behind a tree. Huntsman ran after it with his crossbow cocked, but found nothing. Herc sprang onto the back of Pegasus and raced over as well.
“We’re not alone.” Huntsman muttered. Suddenly they felt a presence behind them. Herc leapt from the back of Pegasus and drew his sword.
“No, You are not alone.” Huntsman turned to see a dark figure made of every evil concept thought up by man. Around his neck rested the large snake, as white as the man was dark. “She’s here.”
“Who’s here?” Herc shot out. “Who are you?”
“I am Shadow King.” He motioned to the center of the corral, where Cassiopeia lay on a stone altar, which hadn’t been there before. “Cassiopeia is here. This corral is the balance of good and evil. It is the gateway from the realm of mortals to my rule, the realm of shadows. Cassiopeia’s realm is peaceful. But bringing Cassiopeia here has tipped the sense of balance. Soon the shadow realm will cover both realms, and I will rule it all. Balance will only be restored if you defeat me. But you can’t defeat me until you find me, and find my weakness.” Shadow King smirked as his serpent dropped to the ground. Huntsman watched as it transformed into a doorway, glowing brightly. “It’s a will-o’-the-wisp. It can turn into anything; right now, it’s the exit. All you’ve got to do is find it.” Walls sprang from the ground, blocking the exit. The Shadow King slowly began to fade away.
Huntsman stood up. He looked around and saw that they were in a corridor, and they stood near a break in the hall. He studied each corridor closely, but they looked identical. Huntsman started down one path, hoping that it was the right hall to take. He, Herc and Pegasus quickly followed the corridor, but it seemed they weren’t getting anywhere. He turned to Herc. “Can Pegasus fly over the wall and see what turns to take?”
“No, I don’t think so. There isn’t enough room in these corridors for her to spread her wings.” Huntsman saw Herc’s gaze shift down to Huntsman’s belt. He looked down to see what Herc was looking at, and realized that his buckle had begun to glow softly. “What’s happening?”
Huntsman’s belt continued to glow brighter. “My belt glows with the light of the stars. It hasn’t been glowing because the darkness hid the stars.” Huntsman looked around. “Polaris must be around.”
“Polaris is a small light that helps lost travelers find their way. She leads the travelers to Cassiopeia, who then helps them find their destination. Maybe she’ll know the way to Cassiopeia.”
A small ball of light descended from above them and began to float around Huntsman. “Come. I’ll show you the way.” She seemed to be telling him. Polaris began to drift down a hall, and Huntsman followed her, Herc and Pegasus close behind. He glanced down at his belt, which seemed to feed off of the light’s radiance. It seemed to be absorbing the light from the little star, and it was shining brightly now.
Finally they came to the end of the hallway, which led to the room Cassiopeia was in. A large wall blocked their way. Huntsman examined the wall. “It’s ice.” Suddenly Huntsman felt the presence of the Shadow King.
“So, you’ve gotten this far with the help of Polaris. How did that little fairy get into my domain?” Shadow King sneered.
“You let her in. Polaris is a star that is made from Cassiopeia’s hope. Since you’ve brought Cassiopeia here, you let Polaris in.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ve made it this far, but you cannot go any further. You will not be able to pass the wall in front of you.” The Shadow King smiled, and added, “I hope you do make it past the wall, though. I would love to fight you myself. Prove yourself worthy of your name: Orion, the son of fire.” He disappeared again.
“We need to find something that we can burn.” Huntsman touched his sleeves; they weren’t much, but they might burn. He ripped his sleeves off, and put them into a bundle next to the ice. He took two pieces of flint from his belt and flicked them together several times to make a small fire. Then he looked up at Polaris. “Little star, can you fuel the fire with your gasses, to help melt the ice?” The small light bobbed once, and drifted down to the fire. Immediately the fire lit up. Huntsman turned to Herc. “We’ll get to the other side soon.”
Herc gazed at Huntsman’s belt, now shining brightly. “Your belt. That’s the legendary belt of the three stars, isn’t it?” Huntsman nodded cautiously. He could see darkness in Herc’s eyes. The darkness that had affected all the small forest creatures was now affecting Herc as well. Huntsman knew that Herc was stronger, but he also knew that he was quicker. Herc leapt at Huntsman, sword drawn, but Huntsman dodged the attack. Herc shook his head in dismay. “You won’t even fight back? This’ll be too easy.” Herc swung his sword at Huntsman, and Huntsman swiftly moved out of the way. Herc swung again, this time cutting Huntsman’s shoulder. Herc was about to attack again, but Pegasus jumped between them. Herc’s sword sliced into Pegasus’ wing, causing the horse to rear up and cry in pain. Herc dropped his sword to the ground. “I’m so sorry, Peg. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t thinking right.” He gently put his hand on the wound, which trickled blood. “I’m so sorry.”
Huntsman looked over at the wall that was melted away enough for them to pass. Huntsman climbed over what was left of the ice wall, and came face to face with Shadow King once again.
Behind Shadow King was a long hallway. “Get Cassiopeia.” Huntsman ordered Herc. “Follow that hallway until you get to the end. I’m sure you’ll find the exit there.” Herc was about to argue but Huntsman shook his head. “Go, get Cassiopeia out of here. You have to.” Herc hesitated for a moment, then ran over to Cassiopeia and gently picked her up. Then he pulled himself up on Pegasus, looked back at Huntsman, then raced down the hallway.
“You do know that you led your friends into a trap.” Shadow King derided. “The only way to leave my labyrinth is to defeat me.”
“A whole army of shadow warriors. You’ll never defeat me soon enough to save your friends.” Shadow King beamed evilly, sure that he had won. Huntsman looked around in alarm. Polaris quietly floated to his side.
“Your belt, Orion. Your belt of the three stars will bring an end to his reign.” Huntsman gently placed his hand on his belt buckle, now glowing brighter than the brightest star. The buckle was a decoration, and could easily be twisted off. Huntsman slowly popped the buckle off into his hand. He looked down at it, smiled, and shone the light at Shadow King.
“Shadows vanish in the light. Everyone knows that, Shadow King.” Shadow King gave a shrill cry as the light shot through him. The light flashed brightly, blinding Huntsman momentarily. When he gained his vision again, he saw that he and the others were back in the peaceful Libra corral.
After returning Queen Cassiopeia to the castle, Herc and Huntsman stood at the throne. “Hercules, I am grateful that you have returned. You have helped save the land once again. You are a true hero, and will forever be known in legend for what you have done. Huntsman,” Huntsman bowed his head slightly. “You also will be put into legends, but without you, we wouldn’t be alive. You have done so much. To reward you, I shall make you guardian of the land.”
“Your Highness, I am protector of my own home. I do not need to be made protector of the entire land. And I prefer not to be put into the legends.”
“If you don’t want to be honored as guardian of the land, and you don’t want to be legendary, then what do you want?” Cassiopeia questioned.
“Your Highness, I believe that a good name is more desirable than riches. To be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”
“All right. I’ll make your name great. Everyone will know the wonderful things that you have done.”
“No, your Highness. Being a good person is more desirable than having riches and fame. I don’t wish to be famous, I just want to be a good person, helping whomever I can.”
Queen Cassiopeia nodded in understanding. “Huntsman, you do know that if you continue to do great deeds, you will no doubt become well-known,” she accentuated.
“Yes, I do realize this. But I would like everyone to know me for the deeds that I have done, rather than my name alone.” The Queen nodded again in understanding and smiled at the Huntsman; he knew that, with her gladness, the stars would shine once again. Eager to gaze at the beautiful stardust sprinkled over the night sky, he bowed and turned to leave the throne room.