More Than Just a Change of Clothes


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Chapter I

It All Began...

…In the outskirts of the populous realm of Aría, September 10 C.E. 57, a boy was born to the poor family of Noirwood. He was the third of their children. They named the little darling Mike. On the same day, on the glorious land of Cielø, a boy was also born to the royal family of Youngblood. They named the precious prince Ryan.

All the people celebrated the birth of their prince. They embraced each other even if they didn’t know one another. They kissed and they cried. The King and Queen finally have a male heir to the throne.

Look at the irony of the world. Ryan, Prince of the Kingdom of Cielø, was wanted. The people yearned for a prince. He was celebrated. Mike, on the other hand, wasn’t wanted. His very presence was trouble to the poor among their place. His father wasn’t at all pleased. Henry Noirwood arrived at his house with an ugly frown on his face. He even greeted his wife with a scowl. Baby Mike cried when the door banged, making his grumpy father a lot grumpier. “Will you shut it up?!” He growled. Emma looked down on her son, a crease forming in her forehead. But alas, she was used to this kind of life. “What is it?”

Emma ignored the crossness in her husband’s voice. “It’s a beautiful boy. I named him Mike. Michael Noirwood.” She even ignored that Henry cursed under his breath and ate every last food they had on the table. She shushed her baby and rocked him to sleep. Baby Mike did sleep. And a tear went down Emma’s eyes. She was happy, she had a son, but then she was sad that this beautiful boy would endure the kind of life she’d detested as a girl, a life as a pauper.

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Chapter II

Sixteen Years Later

Gaea is the world of endless sorcerers. For one hundred million years, its lands were divided by wars into six domains: Aría, the land where the wind starts, Fúocoh, the land where fire is the source of power, Acquâ, the land where things are all water-proof, Tierria, the land of fertile soil (and women), Cielø, the land where the highest of the people live, this is where the royal family lives, and finally, Infernø, the land where all things are freakishly and ominously death-like.

Aría is a wondrous country. Its inhabitants are skilled wind blowers. They worship wind gods and goddesses. They celebrate wind festivals and pretty much everything related to wind. These people survive with their own powers.

Buildings and houses are built three meters above the ground. They ride on flying cars, they float around the city, and no, they don’t have flying carpets. Actually, Aría is the only land that floats. It hovers over the other lands by five hundred feet. People from other lands would have to find a way to fly to go there. Pretty nice, huh?

But then, Aría has a part where wind foxes live. The local government prohibited people to go near their nests and instructed them to close their houses every third week of the month. Why? Because that’s when the foxes hunt for food. Nah, that isn’t really important.

The part where Mike Noirwood lived, hmm, he and his family lived in an old shanty floating house. A shanty house among many others. Their district was mocked by others and was called Insudiciaría, which means “dirty air”. The roof of their house was rickety, and it drips whenever it rains.

His parents have their own bed made of hay, straw and old rags, but Mike, his two older sisters, twins, Joan and Jane, and their grandmother have the entire floor for themselves.

Since childhood, he’d been gathering stacks of hay and straw which he assembles to be his bed and would often argue with his sisters when he ran out of them. Usually, he would curl in a ball in the corner, thinking he might get away from the cruelty of the world during the night.

His sisters were both seventeen years old. They cared deeply enough for their brother and would tend to him when he was little. Now that he’s sixteen, the two of them gave him more attention, especially when he arrives home, seemingly beaten up. Their mother, Emma, was able to study a little. She had learned how to speak in a correct manner and was able to teach her children a little. All in all, Emma Noirwood is a good-hearted person. His father and his grandmother were the opposite. They don’t care about him even a little. They drink and gamble whenever they have the chance. And when they do, all hell will break loose. They cuss and they fight. Mike was usually the victim.

Henry Noirwood was a magic-thief. He didn’t want to study magic. And he stole magic merely for the joy of it. He had a conclusion that stealing other’s wind magic for himself was easier than to learn them. He wanted to train his children to become thieves too but failed to do so, thanks very much. So instead, the Noirwood siblings became beggars. They float around Aría on their makeshift skateboard and bicycles or just merely fly and reach out their hands to those who might be kind enough to share even a cent.

Yet, he didn’t forget his duties. After a moment or two of playing and enjoyment, he would roam around Aría to beg, with such little luck.

When his luck runs out, he would accidentally fly across one of the wind foxes and go home with a bitten leg or arm. This was the reason why he would sometimes carry a wooden sword with him. This was where he learned how to defend himself. When he came home without a single penny, his father would thrash him up. His grandmother would just watch, a bottle of beer in her hand, and a smile on her face.

When Henry was done, his grandmother would repeat the process and use sticks too. Sometimes he would be in the brink of death. He couldn’t stand. His ribs were broken and he suffered indeed. His mother and sisters would silently gather around him and tend to him, and give him scraps of food that they had saved.

These scenarios were common in Insudiciaría. It’s like the people there lived by it. Yet, Mike wasn’t at all disturbed. He enjoyed. He made friends and formed a group of his own. They played near the canal, with wooden sticks for swords and makeshift courts. They played as if they were part of the royal family. And little Mike was the pretend warrior and prince. He loved playing with his friends, especially during spring. For Arían people, spring is the best season of the year. This is when he would sneak up to the old mage’s place deep in the Arían forest. The old mage would then tell him stories of the ancient times, about dragons, gods and goddesses, and the many other powers one sorcerer can possess. The old man would also teach him fine golden language. Mike had learned a lot, and it leaved his teacher proud, and at the same time, amazed. His stories would then leave young Mike imagining to himself, daydreaming. And in his dreams, he is battling dragons and helping the gods. He was satisfied dreaming to himself. It was like his only escape route from the real world, his way from cruelty and pain to happiness and pleasure. And pretty much every time he lies on his makeshift bed, he would dream about them. The exhaustion, hunger and burning pain would soon disappear right after he closes his eyes and set free his imagination.

He would see himself as one of the royalties, being able to talk to the gods in perfect golden language, as a warrior fighting dragons, as a sorcerer casting spells that could forever change his life.

The old mage somehow noticed the change in his student one day. Mike was more energetic in learning more, always so eager in letting his master explain the texts written in his books, so engrossed in learning all kinds of magic skills and so absorbed in improving all his magic gates.

He went home one time so magically drained that he cannot stand for a whole day. His father, having learned that the boy wasn’t doing his duties, didn’t even hesitate to thrash him up again, leaving Mike’s whole body screaming with pain, leaving him no choice but to be the mendicant he really was and leaving him in tears for that painful truth.

Mike’s life went by that kind of routine. He was used it, yes. But the effect of his readings, studies with the old mage and his supposed-to-be stupid daydreaming moments had a very, very strong effect on him. He began acting as if he was a prince but so unconsciously. He didn’t know it himself, but others noticed the change in him. He can speak sentences in the perfect diction, pronunciation and intonation of the golden language that even the elders seemed to be so much amazed. His princely dreams and self-acting made him prince-like. Literally. His usual four or five friends multiplied. The older people who used to tease him and insult him now looked up at him in admiration. Some of the Insudiciarían residents came upon the old mage that taught him but all the old man could say was, “It is he who make himself the way he is, all I did was assist him. He wanted to learn so I taught him what I could teach. He is the one who expound my teachings.”

Mike became famous among the Insudiciaríans. He could resolve the issues that usually bug the people. He can tell a woman the solution to keep her husband from to betraying her. All of the Insudiciaríans saw his talent, the only one who didn’t was his own family. For them, especially his father and grandmother, he was still a nothing.

So he began having his own mock kind of like, a jurisdiction court, or something like that, in which he was the prince, his friends were his assistants. They have this vacant place they called their base in which people went to ask for his ingenious pieces of advice.

These actions then made him realize his dream, that is, to see a real prince. He wanted it so badly, and all he wants was to have a good look at him. So every time he was sent to beg around Aría, he would always find a way to meet the real prince. He upgraded his makeshift skateboard and succeeded, one day, to go down in the land of Fúocoh. But the Fúocians are hot beings. Literally. And being an Arían being, he was one of the cool people. The idea of going down to the land of fire was a bad idea after all.

So he went back up to his own land. On his way home, rain began to pour. He somehow managed to beg a little from the people who sat in waiting sheds and went home wet, fatigued and starving. Mike collapsed on his straw bed and heaved a sigh. His father eyed him sharply so he stood and gave him what he had earned. But the look on his father’s face told him that the money wasn’t enough and was beaten for it. And he would just lie in a ball in pain for the night and found the contentment he would get in his dreams, and wake up again to see the painful truth.

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Chapter III

Mike Meets Ryan and a Bunch of Others

Ryan woke up with a meal ready on his bedside table. He stood and stretched his arms. He got his phone from his drawer and saw the time: 8:00 a.m. He ate his breakfast with joy and took his bath in the shower. He had dressed himself nicely when the servants entered his room.

“Your Highness, you should’ve waited for us to bathe you and dress you.” One remarked.

“No need, I am not a child anymore for you to do that. Now, please leave.” Ryan said.

They all bowed. “Yes, Your Highness.”

Ryan checked at his schedule. At around ten in the morning, he would go out with his father, the king, for a stroll around Gaea, well, except Infernø. He went out and met with his father in the throne room. “Father, I have come.” He was always so excited about getting outside of their palace. Ever since he was ten, he had always wanted to become free, play outside in the mud with no one to forbid it. He followed his father down the stables and got the most gorgeous white winged horses there was and flew. There first stop was always the land of the wind, Aría. The prince had always a strange liking to that place. He said it was so fresh in there, and so free, like the wind itself. And seeing his son’s interest in that place made the king decide to build a spring palace for the royal family at Aría’s capital.

Meanwhile, Mike woke up hungry. After seeing that his whole family had gone to their duties, he flew away, glad that he was being left alone. He lazily flew away from Insudiciaría and into the capital, where nobles particularly lived, where the royal family’s Arían-based palace was located. But as he flew, the busy people of the capital would elbow him down and tell him that he was in their way. But that was all nothing to Mike. He decided to move a little faster and arrived at the city of Äethir, the farthest place he had ever gone away from home. Lost in his princely imaginings, he flew idly until he found himself gazing beyond the iron bars of the palace of the royal family. His heart thumping and he thought to himself. Will he be able to see the prince now? Was his dream finally coming true?

He hid himself behind the bushes when he saw two winged horses flying towards the gates. The guards threw the entrances open and Mike secretly went in with them. He looked as the king went down on his horse first and entered the palace. Then he gazed at the prince, a real, live prince. Before he knew it, and while the prince was also looking at him with fascination, one of the guards knocked him on his back and stepped on his empty stomach. Mike gasped for air, the pain from last night and the hunger was returning to him. And now even this gorilla’s heavy foot on him made him almost impossible to breathe. He struggled. “What do you think are you doing here, boy? Don’t you know that this is a royal palace, with no room for the likes of you?!” the guard jeered.

Having heard that, Mike’s eyes went sharp and raised his hand, ready for an attack his master had taught him just a few days ago. But the prince seized the guard himself and pointed his royal sword at him. The guard gasped, bowed over and over again and the prince let him leave.

He then looked at Mike concernedly and helped him stand. Despite his aching body, Mike bowed as a mark of respect. “Forgive me for the commotion I did, Your Highness. I really shouldn’t be here.”

Ryan was amazed. “You speak well for someone so shabby.”

Mike paused, and then talked again, tripping over his words at first and then grew acquainted after a while. “My mother teaches me sometimes, Highness. The old mage that lives in the forest, Old Mad Jack, also teaches some golden language, Sir.”

“You look starved.” Ryan mused. “Come, I’ll find you something to eat.”

“Please, no, Sir. I am not hungry.” Mike started but upon seeing the prince’s persistence, he finally gave in and followed the young highness.

Ryan led Mike to his private chambers and locked the door behind them. He smiled at the poor lad while he looked around, amazed by the abundance of things that the prince has. Then he went in front of him and asked. “What’s your name, lad?”

Mike bowed. “I am Mike Noirwood, Your Highness, Michael.”

“And you live, where?”

“Insudiciaría, in the outskirts of Aría, Your Highness.”

“Dirty air.” Ryan said. “Do you have family?”

“Yes, Your Highness, I have my mother, my twin sisters, Joan and Jane, and, my grandmother.”

“You have no father?” Ryan sat.

Mike thought of that for a moment and hesitantly said, “I have a father, Your Highness, but—”

“I see that you hate your grandmother and your father, am I right?”

“Not really hate, Your Highness, but there are times when they are wicked to me. Actually, Your Highness, if it pleases you if I tell my tale.”

“Yes, please continue. I would want to hear what kind of life you have, Mike Noirwood. And please, do sit down.”

Mike hastily sat on one of the chairs and continued, “Honestly, Your Highness, ever since I became five, my father would send me around Aría to beg. And whenever I return with nothing in my hands or pockets, he’d punish me with chains and whips. My grandmother would do the same, Sir, and they won’t feed me too.”

A little spark of anger flashed in Ryan’s eyes. “They torture you?!”

Mike croaked a bitter chuckle. “They call that ‘fun’, Your Highness.”

“Fun?!” Ryan echoed. “Monsters!!!”

“It is alright, Sir. I’m used to this kind of life, besides, I have friends of my age, with whom I can play with and a master that teaches me magic, Sir.”

“What kind of games you play with other Aríans?”

“My friends and I play in the mud, Your Highness. And we race too, we swim in the river or run to know who’s the fastest. And we would go around Aría on our skateboards. Or sometimes we play swordfights and magic duels, but we’re not that good yet, Your Highness, and we use wooden sticks for swords. And my best friends are Percy Hunter, Grant Brickendon, and Freddie Lightarrow, Your Highness.”

Ryan’s eyes glittered. His phone rang and he quickly turned it off. “Do continue. I’d rather sacrifice the crown for the joys of a life such as yours.” He was speaking rather formal. And the formality is making my nose bleed!

“But, Your Highness, it’s not worth to sacrifice the crown for the life I have with my grandmother and father.”

Ryan made him stand on the side of his bed and asked, “What foods do you want to eat?”

“Sir, I eat whatever food I can get, or whatever the rich people give me, it depends, Sir.” Mike chuckled. Ryan went for the door.

Mike hid himself as Ryan told the servants waiting outside his room, “Bring me a large fine meal.” The servants quickly followed and Ryan faced Mike again.

“Let’s stop being so formal. Can’t you see? I’ve been always dressed in rich clothes. The servants always insist that they dress me up. Sometimes, even a prince gets tired of his life. I need more adventure, and freedom. It would be so cool if I try to live your life and wear ragged clothes.”

“And just once, I’d clothe myself in—” Mike paused in his dreams.

“In clothes such as these?” Ryan smiled, gesturing at his gold-lined clothes, with real sapphire buttons and all of those other rich stuff.

Mike quickly took his words back. “Forgive me, Your Highness, I forgot my place.”

“No, there’s nothing to forgive. Come on, let’s try it.”

For a moment, both of them switched clothes and looked at the mirror. “Whoa.” Mike’s voice was quiet.

“It’s impossible.” Ryan agreed. Their eyes, nose, all of it, even their voices, they were all the same. No one would know who the prince was and who the mere pauper was when they have the same clothes. “See, Mike? I told you our dreams can come true. You can be a prince.”

“You didn’t tell me that.” Mike chuckled.

“You’re prince until I return. I’ll go out and roam around Aría for a while. And then when I come back, I’ll make sure I’ll give you a reward.”

Mike wasn’t sure this was a good idea but he agreed nevertheless. Ryan went out the secret passageway he showed Mike earlier, and after a moment, Mike Noirwood became the new Prince of Cielø.

The Princess of Cielø had just arrived, riding her winged horse and was welcomed grandly by the servants, maids and butlers. She first greeted the King and Queen, her father and mother, in their stately throne room. She bowed to them, kissed them dearly in their cheeks and praised the old king and queen for their splendid attire. And she proceeded to her bedchamber. She was alone in her enormous room. She had just ordered all the maids and butlers to leave her after they had brought her some meal on the Queen’s orders and after her governess placed her diadem on her head. And then she thought to herself. She hadn’t seen her brother for days. Maybe she’d go and visit him? Even at twenty years old, Princess Marygolde (silent ‘e’) deeply cared for her brother. And she immediately stood and dashed towards her brother’s room.

And she was pretty much aware she’s wearing high heels and yet she’s running down the corridor with ease. And she looked as if she’s travelling at a speed of light. Ryan’s room was in the right, her and his rooms were ten rooms apart, and she’d always been wondering why. They’re siblings. Why can’t they be one room apart? She has always loved her brother, from the moment of his birth. If she’s ever asked if she feels a little hatred for him, she’d just smile and answer ‘no’.

Arriving at her destination, she knocked quietly and called out her brother’s name. “Ryan?” she knocked. “Ryan? It’s me, your sister.”

Inside, Mike tensed. “Oh no, the Princess Marygolde, oh, what should I do?!” He whispered to himself, pacing the room nervously. Then he pretended that he was looking at himself in the mirror and managed to utter a quiet, “Come on in.”

A tall, young lady peeked at the door, smiling at first, then seeing him there, she entered. Mike saw that she’s wearing high-heeled brown boots, a knee-length white skirt and a light yellow blouse with ruffles in its collars. Her auburn hair was neatly tied in a ponytail, and her twinkling brown eyes were so similar to that of Ryan’s. And come to think of it, his eyes too. Then his eyes caught sight of her little crown. It was made of diamonds and sapphires and rubies and emeralds. Okay, if his dad, his true dad, saw that, he’d steal it without a second thought.

“Why the quiet voice?” the princess’s voice brought him back to reality. She was already sitting on one of the couches on his right and was looking at him with concern. Jane and Joan never looked at him that way, no, their looks weren’t with concern, just pity. There’s a huge difference. “So, what’s the matter, Ryan?” she repeated patiently.

“I—I’m fine.” He stuttered.

The princess stood and he was surprised to find her so close to him in a matter of milliseconds. She touched his forehead with her left hand and her own forehead with her other one. “You don’t seem to be hot. And you don’t seem to be different.”

Different, huh? He chuckled.

Their ‘brother and sister bond’ was interrupted by three loud knocks on the door. “Ryan!!! Come on, dude, it’s me, Spencer, your best buddy.” Someone shouted.

Earl Woodrow? He thought. Even without telling him or letting him in, Spencer Woodrow, the tall, dark complexioned, bald but handsome eighteen-year-old Earl of Âelberø of the land of Tierria, busted himself inside with a grand pose.

“Since when did you become his best buddy, Earl of Âelberø?” Princess Marygolde retorted hotly.

Spencer’s poise backfired and quickly stumbled backward and bowed before them which made the two giggle. “Your Highnesses.”

He positioned himself nicely on a chair and was pretty much ready to start a conversation when the princess’s phone rang. “Yes?” she answered, calmly at first. “Oh, Commander, what?!” she screamed. She stood. Prince Mrrr…Ryan and Spencer looked at each other with surprised looks and turned to gaze at her. “No, I didn’t blow that up, it blew on its own. Okay so maybe I pointed a finger on it, but I didn’t cause it to explode. The fire hydrant?” she faltered, looked at her surprised ‘brother’ and the amazed earl and stormed outside the room. “I—I’ll fix that up. I’m coming.” And then, she was gone.

“She’s one wild princess, isn’t she?” Spencer laughed and paused for a moment. “So, Ryan, ol’ buddy, what are your plans for today?”

“Uh, I—” he started but Spencer stood and looked around. Mike used that time to think, and said, “Hey, Mr. Genius—”

Upon hearing the g-word, Spencer looked back, his eyes sharp. He charged the poor boy and grabbed him in his shirt. “What did you just call me? What have you done to the real Ryan!?” he screamed.

Nervous, and shaking to the bones, Mike blurted out, his words tumbling after the other, almost incomprehensible. “The real Prince Ryan said he wanted to switch clothes with me, he said he always wanted to be free and I wanted to experience a regal life, he said he’d return before night comes, My real name is Mike Noirwood! Please don’t turn me to them.” He pleaded.

Spencer stared at him with an expression that kind of says ‘you said what now?!’ and laughed out loud. “Okay, okay, calm down, Ryan, what are you talking about? Oh, oh! Is this one of your games???”

Mike guessed he didn’t get what he was saying and went along, with a shaky laugh. “Yeah.” Yeah, who would believe such a story?

But then again, outside his room, someone might actually believe it. And both Mike and Spencer just ignored that malicious laugh from the outdoors.

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