Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write in the MYSTERY genre (04/05/07)
TITLE: The Lost Ruby
By Philip Barnes
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It was the King who noticed the empty fitting where a precious ruby once rested. I was beckoned to find it. The royal ball was three days away and the King refused to wear his crown unless the purloined ruby was found. I was to spare no expense. I was to waste no time. I was to remain covert.
None of the pawnbrokers or jewel merchants possessed anything comparable to the King’s ruby. The buzz in the sociable circles surrounded the royal ball, however there was no mention of the ruby. Even the underbelly of the city showed little change from the weeks before the ruby disappeared. I had called in many favors and donned numerous costumes to acquire this information. The ruby had simply disappeared.
The castle grounds were searched assiduously. The gardens, the kitchen, the conservatory, and every room were scrutinized. Even the grandson of the King relinquished his bag of marbles for a thorough inspection.
I reported to the King my findings. He was not satisfied. I had not searched every home, gone to every business, turned out ever purse and pocket. Complete secrecy was no longer possible. Shopkeepers and farmers, women and children began wondering why the entire force of the kingdom was so vigilant. Soldiers visited ever house. They went down every back alley charged to inspect any hole large enough for a copper. Everything out of the ordinary was to be reported. Hundreds of reports came in, but none involved the missing jewel.
I did not sleep the night before the ball. I poured over the Kings itinerary for the past week: visits to parliament, dinners with emissaries, and cavalcades through the streets. The investigation cost millions of dollars. The thousands of soldiers and officers called in for the search used over 75,000 man-hours. The urgency of the King was so great that I, myself, had only slept three hours since the beginning of the ordeal.
Forty-one hours without sleep weighed on me as I sat down on a park bench. The ground was clean and manicured, though muddy paths could still be seen crossing ever way. The paths were created by the throngs of people who gathered just days ago for the King’s address. He had been here. So had the ruby. Birds were still digging worms out of the mud to feed their hatchlings.
I closed my eyes for a moment. The chirping of the birds sounded like hundreds of partygoers. It would be today’s only party. In a few hours the King would cancel the ball.
I do not know how long it was that I slept. I only know that I was awaken by a bird landing on the bench next to me. The bluebird was picking red berries off of the bush behind me. I was groggy when I looked at my watch. Only thirty minutes until the ball. I had looked everywhere. I looked in ever house, ever street, every garbage pile, and on every person. The ruby was gone.
So too was the bluebird. He flew up into the branches of the tree, disappearing from sight. I stared up into that tree, wishing I too could fly away into some home in the trees and disappear. Then I realized I had not checked every home. Sure I had seen every man and woman’s home in the kingdom, but I had not checked every home. I jumped from my bench and ran to the tree. The lowest branch was sturdy and I heaved myself up on top. The branches got smaller as I moved farther up the tree, but I could now hear the chirping of little birds. On the edge of a limb, no larger around than a few centimeters, I found a nest of bluebirds. When I reached in the mother pecked at me. I gently moved the chick, and there among the twigs and feathers sat the ruby.
What man of you, having a hundred… if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine… and go after the one. Luke 15:4
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