HAROLD INTO CHAOS
All Small Tales
© 2016 Joseph Barone
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Table of Contents
I am Harold
My name is Harold and I’m an Imp. Not just any Imp, mind you. I’m the King of the Imps. My true name is Erubaca, but just like my appearance, I’ve decided to change my name to reflect a more human side. I have a brown beard and look like a man in his late 30’s.
I’m married to a beautiful woman named Hyacinth, a princess of the Sprites. I met her 99 years ago but the wedding was recent. When I met her, I was going through a time that I wanted to be fully human and give up my Imp-hood. I didn’t like those parts of myself that were mischievous and subversive.
Basically I was tired of being an Imp – of belonging to my nature. So I went to a witch, an old acquaintance named Vanna, who transformed me.
She removed my powers and my memories of being an Imp, then locked me into a human body. There was only one condition- if I were to do anything mischievous as a human, I would immediately turn back into an Imp.
I traveled to a human kingdom named Mansfield, where I was welcomed as a new citizen and where I became the baker of the great King Sabrian. Hyacinth was his adopted daughter. She was transformed into a human being as a child, and had no memories of ever having been a Sprite. We fell in love at first sight, although the king also objected at first sight.
My newly evil brother Erumite attacked Mansfield, seeking to plunder the human kingdom’s vast magical archives. He was searching for a locating spell, where he could find my glass ring. My ring is a binding talisman, like a crown for my kingdom. If he were able to get it, the Imp kingdom of Monello would have been his to rule. But the ring was safe with Vanna, who stored it in her enchanted cottage.
In order to save Mansfield, I tricked Erumite and his army into drinking a victory draft spiked with moonlock- an herb that induces a hundred year sleep- give or take a few months. Mansfield and Monello were safe. But because of my deception, I was no longer human. I regained my magic, memories, and former appearance - red, with gray eyes.
But Hyacinth still loved me. It was Vanna that revealed Hyacinth’s true nature to me afterwards. Sprites are basically female Imps, which was further proof that we were made for each other.
This brought me to my most recent dilemma. Erumite and the rogue Imps were going to awaken within one year and when they did, I would have to decide their fate. I would also deal with perhaps another takeover attempt. Or worse, an all-out war. We may have become a house divided.
I didn’t know what course to take, so I brought my issue up to the Council of Magic Royalty. I was away from the Council for about 75 years, while Hyacinth and I traveled the world for most of that time. I belonged to the Forest Chapter of the Council, which contained magic creatures that lived among the trees.
Monello was a hidden realm located in a great isolated forest in Europe. It was also the site for the current Council meeting. As the host of this particular meeting, I led the agenda, so I opened up with that. I tried to explain how this decision affected everyone at the table, since Erumite could become dangerous. We weren’t always enemies, but he’d proven himself to not be a friend, either. Who knew what he was capable of?
Elf King Braddock allowed me to finish my speech. Then he shot me down. “Erubaca-”
“Harold,” I corrected politely. I always prefer my human name, especially lately.
“Harold,” he continued. “The Council would like to help in this matter, but this is your own internal turmoil, unfortunately. The Council does not like to interfere in its members’ sovereign affairs. For one thing, if your brother succeeds in taking over Monello, it would be very awkward for us during future meetings to be able to look him in the eye if we condemned him now.
“I also don’t believe Erumite has any intention of attacking any other realm except yours. The rest of us would be safe from his wrath, so why bother?” Braddock was the Head of Council for the past two decades in a row. I was starting to think I should run against him in the next election.
"For another thing, we have a bigger, more pressing problem on our hands. Something that truly concerns us all. Even you, Eru- Harold." I sat down. I could see that it was pointless for me to push for my agenda.
Braddock, who was purple-skinned and wore dark blue clothing, gained control of the meeting. “You probably noticed that Taia and Giro are not here. It is because something has happened to them. They and their hidden kingdoms have disappeared, vanished into thin air.” Taia was Queen of the Wood Nymphs, and Giro was the High Steward of the Satyrs.
The other members who were present began to murmur amongst themselves. I was still steamed about being hushed and flatly refused. Aside from myself, Hyacinth and Braddock, there was the Queen Pixie, Lady Faerie, Lord Dwarf, and several others in attendance. Braddock also seemed genuinely afraid, which stunned me.
He was a very powerful Elf. He took a sip of grimmleberry wine to wet his whistle. I should have given him moonlock.
“If that wasn’t enough, the Water Chapter of the Council has reported that the Merfolk have all disappeared, as has their home of Triton. Triton was hidden by an enchantment, as all our realms are. But now, there is no trace of them. Zero, as if they were never here. There are others missing and the threat is growing. We must do something.”
“What can we do?” Paxi the Queen Pixie yelled vociferously.
“We must pool our resources and form an alliance. Whatever has happened to the others must not be allowed to happen to us!” Braddock slammed my table. I’d never seen him harm his own furniture before, but mine was perfectly fine to disrespect.
I had a thought about something that might help, but I didn’t yet want to make the suggestion to the group. I wanted to think about it first. So my wife blurted out exactly what I was thinking.
"Why don't we seek the counsel of Mansfield? They have a huge collection of information in their magic archives- they may have some way for us to protect ourselves from whatever is causing these regions to disappear." She looked at me with her deep emerald eyes, which smiled before her lips did.
Braddock agreed with Hyacinth. He nodded to me and then to her with a great big purple grin.
“Then it’s settled. We will seek out human magic in our defense. You and Harold will go to Mansfield and search their legendary archives for anything that might help us. The rest of us will consult the elders in our own realms for advice. We will meet again in one month, if of course we are all still around.”
Braddock paused. “And in that next meeting, we will vote on whether to become involved in the upcoming challenge to the Imp throne.” He and the rest of the magic royals got up quietly and walked out through different bronze doors, directly into their king or queendoms. They’d come in like the wind and gone out like a fart.
I didn't like these meetings, and this was the first one that had any real purpose. Most of the time, we spoke about nonsense. Braddock suggested what they call a quid pro quo- meaning that they would vote to help me only if I could help them. I turned to my beautiful wife and held her hands. "Hyacinth, honey?"
“Yes?” she asked me expectantly.
“Why did you suggest Mansfield’s assistance to the Council?” I kissed her to hide my irritation. She pulled away, not hiding hers. When you’re together for almost a century, you have lots of sweet moments, sprinkled with some sour or even bitter ones. But they always go well together, like a cherry tomato and arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette dressing.
“Why shouldn’t I have suggested Mansfield? This is a very real problem. There’s no better place in the world to uncover a solution. And you and I have seen the world – you know that I’m right. There’s no place like it.” She kissed my hand, adding sweetness to the salty sour mix.
There were many reasons I didn’t want to go. For one thing, no one that we’d known would be there. They’d all be dead. Hyacinth’s adopted father Sabrian, would be dead. Her adopted sister, Syla – dead. Vanna, Warlocke, Brutus, Radegast, and all the townspeople.
Dead, dead, dead. I was afraid that Hyacinth would want to go there and expect to find the same feelings that existed in her memories. But in reality, she would find sadness. She would find that the world she knew had deeply changed.
In a profound way, change is death. And death is change. Mutable quantities rendered immutable.
But I couldn’t argue. I knew that when she wanted something badly enough, she got it. That was how she got me, after all. So I agreed and we were instantly off together. There were no affairs to get in order, since my kingdom basically ran itself. We left immediately.
Imps and Sprites usually have limited magical powers, but the older you are, the more tricks you learn. When we left Monello and walked into the human realm, we found ourselves at a clearing. Mansfield was a difficult kingdom to find, especially if you were looking for it. So I used a location spell, a new one that I’d learned in my travels.
Imps and Sprites can transport themselves instantly to places whose locations they know. We used to know where Mansfield was, but that was a long time ago. It was also protected by many enchantments, which has a dampening effect on finding its location.
The spell involves a falcon’s feather and just a few little words. I let Hyacinth do the honors. She took the feather out of her satchel, which could fit a whole lot more than it would appear. She held it in the palm of her hand and said,
“Fly far and stay low, take us where we want to go; head now with great haste, Mansfield is our intended place.”
Instantly, the feather took off and flew on the back of the wind. We ran to keep up. Being magical creatures, we rarely tired and ran very quickly.
Within 6 hours, we reached the high gate of the main entrance of Mansfield, where the feather settled gently to the ground. From the outside, the place looked very much like I remembered. Its gates were restored and reinforced with tempered wood.
In my former (human) life, I had become close with the gatekeeper, Gatekeeper Al. He turned out to be Warlocke, Vanna’s husband. They had both been keeping an eye on things in secret.
The first time I came to these gates, arrows were pointed at me by at least six archers. Mansfielders at the time were very intimidated by outsiders because of the many attacks on them over the years. This time, there was only one archer. There was still an elderly gentleman gatekeeper and he called down from the front tower: “Ahoy there! Welcome to Mansfield, friends! State yer business!”
“We’re returning citizens, come to visit!” Hyacinth called up. “We have our papers with us for inspection!”
The old man looked us over from above and then waved off the archer. He gave a signal to someone somewhere, who then slowly opened the heavy doors. The old man greeted with smiles us as soon as they opened.
He must have been very spry to walk down all those stairs so quickly. He had heavy jowls and a toothy grin, but otherwise all his features were small and skinny. He wore a blue vest of light leather armor with a bow clipped to his belt and a quiver of arrows slung over his back.
He held a large notebook in his hands and a quill feather to write with. “Alright, then. My name is Gatekeeper Bob. It’s surely and truly a pleasure to meet some fellow Mansfielders. May I be seein’ yer papers?” Hyacinth happily obliged.
Bob’s toothy grin turned into a lippy frown. “These papers are a hundr’d years old!” He squinted and read the same few lines over and over. “Hyacinth…as in former Princess Hyacinth? And Harold…Baker? THE Harold Baker?” I bowed low and Hyacinth curtsied.
“You’re both legends here! Fergive me, but I must ask again. What business have you come for? Surely it must be more important than a simple visit? You should have sent a herald to arrive before ye so we could have prepared a grand welcome!”
We had wanted to speak to the king or queen to gain access to the secret archives so we could find out who’s been behind the disappearance of several magical kingdoms and to learn how to defeat that threat…but I didn’t tell him that.
“We would like to pay respects to the king or queen, Gatekeeper Bob. And we would like to visit Mansfield’s cemetery, where so many of our friends and family members must be buried.” Hyacinth looked down to the ground. My words seemed to hit her hard, like she’d forgotten that part.
Bob nodded solemnly. “Aye, a noble journey indeed, Lord Harold. I shall accompany you myself. I shall leave my understudy, Gatekeeper Bill, in charge of the gate until I return. And since yer already citizens, you have free reign within the kingdom’s walls. Everywhere, that is, except the castle. I will make an audience for you and the Kingsquire myself. And the Royal Forest is also off-limits.” Hyacinth and I looked at each other, puzzled.
“The Royal Forest was never off-limits before,” I informed Bob. “When we lived there, even the castle was accessible by the general public. Yes, the kingdom was wary of outsiders, but not of insiders. A citizen was considered part of the royal family. The most important part.”
“Well, a lot has changed in a hundr’d years, my friends. Come, let’s head to the cemetery first.” There were stables at the front gate, in case the cavalry needed to be mobilized because of an attack. He picked out a horse for Hyacinth and myself and he sat on a small pony. My horse was brown and hers was white. The pony was spotted black and gray.
On the slow road to the cemetery, Gatekeeper Bob told us about some things we might find different about the kingdom. He told us that when Syla became queen, she never married and never bore children. So she chose an heir to the throne from the kingdom orphanage. She raised the child as her own and when she eventually passed, the child became queen. From then on, it became law that the crown could not be inherited by blood.
Since Syla’s reign, each king or queen was chosen as a child, one who showed patience and exercised clear judgment. They would study arts, philosophy, military tactics and magic all their lives. Then on their 18th birthday, they would be crowned the ruler of Mansfield.
While the young “Kingsquire” or “Queensquire” was studying, the official in charge of the realm was the Royal Mayor. The mayor was so-called the steward of Mansfield, keeping the place together until the squire received the crown. The current Royal Mayor was Lana Delridge, whose family emigrated from the Black Forest. The current Kingsquire was named Lujian, who’d been chosen from the local orphanage.
As we arrived to the cemetery, we saw large iron gates with tall spikes at the top. Large bushes and trees blocked our view of the rest of the place from the entryway.
We could see a few stones, some marble structures and a large domed building in the distance. It must have been the “death hall” for the royal families. Seeing it in the distance made me cold, and must have done the same to Hyacinth because I saw her shiver on her horse.
“Wait,” she said, and we all stopped. “I can’t do this. Not now. Later.” She pulled the reins abruptly and made an about-face.
Gatekeeper Bob, who appeared to have seen his own fair share of loss during his long life, simply nodded in understanding. Without any further discussion, we all turned around to head towards the castle.
I could tell that she was hurt more than she expected to be. She’d lost people that had meant something to her. They were important. They were family. And after almost a hundred years, she just wasn’t ready to face their tombstones. I put my hand on her back and she stooped her head. We trotted away together in silence for a few minutes.
Bob cut through the quiet as we approached the castle. “Miss Delridge is usually out hunting around now, but sure ‘nuff I can take you ta see the king-in-training, Lord Lujian. He’s always in the Royal Study.” Bob perked up at the mention of the trainee’s name.
“I take it you’re fond of Kingsquire Lujian?”
“Oh yes, he’s a smart boy. To be king in four months, ya know. He’ll be a great leader. And Mansfield needs him.” Bob’s face was solemn in uttering that sentence.
I was excited to meet with someone from the royal family. This was the place that helped me find myself when I forgot who I was.
The castle was larger than it was a century ago. They’d added a few towers and covered every outer wall with limestone.
Bob hit his own head with his hand after some minutes of silence. “Oh, I forgot! You’re just in time, ye gonna love it! Today is the feast of the Frozen Fire. The ceremony is tonight. It happens every six months, once in Midspring and once in Midautumn. The Midautumn one is far prettier as it lasts a full week.”
There was one enormous circular tower that rose up from the center of the castle. It looked like a giant brick chimney that wasn’t there a hundred years ago.
At a small entranceway off to the side of the main gate, Gatekeeper Bob began to fill out some forms with the tower guard. The castle proper had a lot more security than the primary gate into the kingdom.
Archers lined the parapets and guards patrolled the grounds. The small entranceway was an express lane in. Bob, Hyacinth and I signed our names on a folio and we got our hands stamped. A stone-faced guard followed us into the main receiving chamber of the castle. Then he went to the Royal Study to call over the young Kingsquire.
The chamber was full of books, mainly philosophy- the works of Plato and Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, and many such others. I wish I had known those great humans in their time. I would have learned much from them.
Often, a (nearly) immortal life has a tough time either finding or maintaining a sense of purpose without a guide, a foundation. Hyacinth, thankfully and luckily has become mine.
We didn’t have to wait long for the Kingsquire to arrive, but Hyacinth and I hardly could tell that he was who we were looking for. The boy was in commoner’s clothing- he had no royal robes or crown.
But then again, neither did I.
We’d been sitting down on stone couches so Gatekeeper Bob took a moment in gathering himself up. “Master Lujian, how are you my boy?” I’d expected them to shake hands but instead they hugged.
“Bob, always a pleasure to see you. How have you been?”
“Good. Working past my retirement, thanks to Ms. Delridge,” he whispered and then winked.
Lujian wore a leather vest over a white linen tunic and brown linen pants. A king tends to wear silk or wool or some other finer substance. Then again, he wasn’t yet king.
He motioned us back to the couch where he shook our hands, Hyacinth first and then me.
“Hello there, any friends of Bob are friends of mine. My name is Lujian, seventeen years old and next ruler of Mansfield upon my birthday. How can I help you folks?”
Bob crooked his neck, calling the boy over to tell a loud secret.
“These folks’re the Imp and the Sprite from our hometown fables. This is Harold and Hyacinth that ye see before you. THE Harold and Hyacinth. If’n ye don’t mind, they have a favor ta ask.”
I could tell Lujian had not been familiar with greeting other heads of state. He hadn’t ever received or even seen a king before in his life, I was sure of it. That meant that Mansfield had remained isolated over 100 years.
“ My- Harold and Hyacinth, it is an absolute honor to meet you both. Can I get you both...tea? Or something…?” He shook our hands again feverishly. Then he snapped his fingers at the guards minding the entrance.
“Go get some tea with lemon and honey. Get four, please. Thank you.”
Hyacinth looked at me in amusement. She instantly became fond of Lujian as well. He seemed very charming and very sincere. “Sincerity breeds wisdom and goodness”- that was an old Mansfielder saying she’d learned as a little girl being raised here.
Lujian appeared unsure how to start or keep up a conversation with us, so I broke the ice for him.
“So, Gatekeeper Bob says that you’ll make a great king. That you’re wise and a natural leader. I have every confidence he’s right. The kingdom could certainly use a wise leader.”
The Kingsquire blushed. “Well I don’t aim to be great, Sir. I just aim to be good. There are many great shoulders to stand on, like Sabrian’s—” he caught himself. He’d meant to compliment Hyacinth’s adoptive father but in doing so, he reminded her that Sabrian was no longer with us. He was changed, he was dead.
I altered the subject. “He also mentioned that you have some wonderful ideas about running the kingdom. Care to share?”
Lujian’s eyes lit up. He did care, quite deeply. “Well the first thing I would do is balance out the power structure. Right now the palace rules the people through either Royal Mayor or king or queen. Their power is balanced by the Order of Knights, what you probably remember as the Order of Nine. There are now eleven Captains of the Royal Guard and they form a council of great power.
“ I would establish a Council of the People- where elected officials can debate policies and can vote according to the will of our citizens. The mayor would be the highest ranked person in that council. That way we would have a true balance of power.”
I nodded. This place was going to be just fine if it kept producing leaders like Lujian. After some further discussion of politics, I turned the conversation back to what we came here for.
“You may be wondering why we’ve made the long journey back here. Part of the reason is to visit the place that gave us our humanity. But the most pressing reason is this: we humbly request access to the Royal Archives.”
His face paled. “If you don’t mind me asking, Sir—”
“Harold. Call me Harold.”
“Yes, Harold, Sir. Why would you need access to the archives? They are the most secure location in the realm. They have more restricted entry than even the Chamber of the Crown Jewels. That has a tour group coming in every Thursday…”
Hyacinth answered for me. “Because we’re in trouble, Lujian. We have two big problems that we’re facing right now. For one, Harold’s brother, Erumite, and his battalion of rebels are about to awaken at any moment. You have heard the stories- right now they are in the midst of a hundred year sleep that is about 99 years old. They can come back sooner or later, but they are definitely coming back.”
Lujian remained calm and rational, and seemed genuinely un-worried that my brother could do any harm either to me or to Manfield.
“We have upgraded our magical defenses here, Princess…Queen?”
“Hyacinth. Our kingdom is safe and from what I understand, so is Monello and Monella. A small group of rebels cannot significantly harm you.”
I replied, “That may be true, but my brother is among the most clever Imps out there. Intelligence makes up for lack of other resources. On top of that, we have recently learned that several magical kingdoms residing in the forest have completely disappeared from the face of the earth. No allies know where they have gone. Therefore we don’t know how to fight what may be lurking out there and doing these things.
“The same ‘disappearing act’ might happen to us. Or perhaps even to you, I fear. Too much is unknown, and I am personally uncomfortable not knowing.”
Hyacinth smiled warmly at the Kingsquire. “Only Mansfield has the magical knowledge to suggest what the disappearances might mean and how to defeat such a large threat. Your archives are the envy of magicians everywhere. Believe me, we wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think it were important.”
Lujian sat still and focused on the problem. He seemed to get calmer as we made the hypothetical scarier.
Finally he said, “If it can affect Mansfield, then I have an interest in stopping this as well.”
He squinted at the wall, deep in thought for a few more moments.
“Come, I will lead you both upstairs. Bob, please wait down here; we should all have dinner together once Mayor Delridge returns.”
Gatekeeper Bob shook his head softly. “I respeckfully decline, ye Kingsquire-ship. If it ain’t no trouble, I’d much rather eat dinner in my own tenement with my wife, thank ye. I’ll be watching the spectacle of the Frozen Fire from the comfort of my home. I mean no insult, ye see.”
Lujian smiled and nodded. It was odd that Bob didn’t like the Mayor. He seemed so cheerful otherwise. I wondered why.
Bob headed on out and Hyacinth and I followed the young soon-to-be king up the winding stairs. I remembered the chamber where the archives were kept. It was often crowded with guards at the front, but was also guarded by some of the most powerful enchantments known to humankind.
Lujian, as future Master of the castle, had access. I assumed that so did Lana Delridge. They were perhaps the only two who had the proper security clearance. Maybe the Head of the Order of Knights was the third, I thought.
Nowadays there were no soldiers manning the room. It was unnecessary, Lujian explained. Since Mansfield’s near-battle with my brother a century ago, they’d made the appropriate modifications to beef up all enchantments everywhere, including at the archives.
They beefed up their strength once more when their former archivist, named Stella, decided to steal a number of files and magical objects and sold them for a fortune. Now she was kept in the basement dungeon, alive only because she still had some magical knowledge that no one in Mansfield supposedly possessed any longer. She was considered very useful to Lana.
“That’s how the story goes, anyway,” Lujian said, leading us down the darkened hall. The darkness, he explained, was one type of defense. Unless you had clearance, or an abundance of magical power greater than the enchantment itself, you could grope around in the dark for months and still never find it.
“But it’s not true, what they say about Stella. She didn’t try to make money by stealing all that stuff. What she really wanted to do was bring the power back to the people. Make the study of magic free and widespread, so everyone could be on the same footing. But the citizens she was working with fooled her. They took the files and left her to get arrested. Their interest was money, not equality.”
Hyacinth and I were fascinated. “How do you know all this?” she asked him.
“Because she was my tutor when I was a kid. My first tutor from the time they chose me to be king at the orphanage.”
He rolled his palms over one another and made a ball of fire the same brightness as a torch. He said that from here until the archives, there would be a deafening silence, another piece of security that was added in.
We walked in both darkness and silence for a few minutes before turning a corner. From what I recalled, the archive wasn’t around any corners. But I assumed that they walled up the original entrance and added a new one in its place.
It seemed that I was right. As we got to the door-less entryway, Lujian stopped. He waved me in as if to show me respect and say, “You first, I insist.” I thought it odd that the archives didn’t have a door, but I soon realized they didn’t need one. Try as hard I might I could not go through the frame.
I kept on walking but found myself bouncing back to the outside. Lujian smiled and went in first. He began speaking to us but we couldn’t hear him. I tried to say, “What?” but my voice was eaten up by the darkness.
Hyacinth, being ever more present of mind, walked in and pulled me along with her. “He said, ‘Come on in, water’s fine,’” she joked. Within the archives, there was both light and sound. The ball of fire had gone away.
The archives were filled with papers, scrolls, leatherbound books of all sizes, and a few enchanted objects. There were shelves for most things, but without a proper archivist, a lot was left out in the open.
“Everything’s all over the place,” observed Hyacinth. Lujian nodded and shrugged.
“When I study, I put my materials back. This mess was left by either Ms. Delridge or Bocca.”
“Who’s Bocca?” Hyacinth and I asked at the same time as we continued to follow him through the piles and shelves.
“Bocca Saggio, my new tutor. Well, my tutor for several years now. He’s head of the Sage Council.” He looked around and whispered although no one else was here.
“He and Ms. Delridge are very close. She wants to elevate the Sage Council to the same level as the Order of Knights, with the same voting power.”
My wife was always more perceptive than I. “And you don’t seem to like that idea.”
“I don’t. It’s nothing personal against Bocca, or Ms. Delridge, mind you. But it makes things difficult. Sages should not cherish any entity other than wisdom, or any power other than the power to be heard. It’s dangerous when spiritual guides and philosophers get a chance to dictate rules onto the people. Especially when they have the full backing of the government. Bocca and Ms. Delridge would vote the same way together without any debate.”
As we walked further along we approached a corner. Around that corner there was a light flickering on the wall. The light danced; it must have been from a candle. It also cast a shadow, one that was gradually getting bigger.
“There’s someone else here!” I whispered loudly. Lujian nodded and mime-spelled B-O-C-C-A. He positioned us behind a large pile of stuff and made sure to let us know that we had to stay put. He walked over to the growing shadow and out of our field of vision.
“Lujian, my boy how are you? Doing some extra credit studying in here? You’ve always been a bright, dedicated pupil, but don’t you want to get ready for the feast of the Frozen Fire tonight? It’s starting to get late. I’m going downstairs right now to prepare myself.”
“Yes I’ll be down shortly. I just wanted to read up more about how to make better ice crystals than I did last year. It broke apart a little too early last time.”
Lujian’s shadow was only slightly shorter than Bocca’s, but Bocca ruffled the boy’s hair in the same manner that one might do to a child.
“Still doing the ‘frozen’ part of the ritual? Not the ‘fire’ part? Lana’s going to be disappointed, you know. At some point, you must feed the dragon. We all do.”
Lujian’s shadow nodded but stood tall. “Midautumn. I’ll do it then.”
Bocca’s shadow seemed pleased. “Good. I’ll see you later at the ceremony then. At the Sage’s Atrium.”
The shadow got bigger still until it was replaced with Bocca himself, turning the corner and walking towards the exit that we had all entered from. The archive apparently had only one way in and the same way out.
Bocca didn’t seem to be all that imposing. He had short white hair with a fat white mustache and he was wearing a traditional Mansfield-blue toga. He scuttled away like the many blue crabs I’d discovered on my journeys in the newly discovered Americas.
Once we gave the old man enough time to exit, Hyacinth and I sought out the Kingsquire, who had nodded us both over.
“This is the main study area,” he explained.
I nodded. “Though I’m not sure what to look for, exactly. Or where to start. Especially given all these un-cataloged files strewn all over the place.” I started leafing through the nearest parchments, which seemed to have star maps drawn on them.
Lujian walked over to a cluttered wooden desk of papers, ink wells and quills. He reached over and picked up a fist-sized iron ball, something that looked like a heavy rusted paperweight.
“That’s what these are for. Searcher’s Orbs. They know what you need and where to find it, even if you don’t. Here, once I give it to you, your touch will help it understand what you need to know the most.”
I found it odd to leave my knowledge choices up to some kind of empty “search engine”, but since Lujian did, I decided to also trust the emotionless ball of metal.
Lujian began to hand it over to me when all of a sudden it escaped his hand and began floating around in the air, spinning faster and faster.
“What’s it doing?” Hyacinth asked.
It hovered for a moment and then lofted its way back to the desk where Bocca was sitting, when it stopped in mid-air. Then it fell like a hammer back onto the table, where it remained motionless.
The Kingsquire’s eyebrows shifted upwards.
“That’s strange,” he muttered under his breath.
“What?” I pried.
“This Searcher’s Orb thinks I need to know what Bocca was reviewing.”
He looked back down, eyebrows furrowing downward.
“Mansfield’s Laws of Royal Succession. It’s on a page that lists reasons that a King – or Queensquire might legally be stopped from reaching the throne.”
Hyacinth patted his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. It might not mean what it looks like.” She glanced over to me and we made the same face.
Lujian picked up the orb again.
“Yes it does. But it’s okay. If they want to keep me from the throne, I can always fight the law with the law. I thought this might be the case. Now it’s been confirmed.”
He handed me the smooth rusty sphere without hesitation.
“Let’s not forget what we’re here for.”
I took it solemnly and held onto it for a while. I wasn’t sure if I needed to focus or something; I was about to ask when off it flew towards the far end of the library. We chased it past bookshelves and around a pair of statues.
“Where’d it go?” I yelped.
“There! To the left!” Hyacinth responded, so we ran to the left. It zipped past a column of papers that it knocked over, leaving a puddle of files on the floor.
“Where is it now?”
“It’s stopped,” Lujian said calmly. Stoically. He’d learned a lot from his studies of Marcus Aurelius.
The spherical orb dropped like a stone onto a few loose pages.
I picked up those pages and read them to myself slowly. To me, at that point, they didn’t make any sense at all. I couldn’t help but let out a loud, drawn out, “Whaaat?”
“What is it?” my wife asked.
From behind us all, the answer came, “That’s something that belongs to the Royal Palace, not you. Put it down. Now.”
We turned around slowly to find who I assumed to be Lana Delridge standing before me. She wore a hunter’s outfit- brown jacket, boots, gloves and hood made from deer hide. There was a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over her left shoulder.
Her eyes were dark and her hair was blacker than onyx, but she had a fair complexion to contrast.
Lujian rushed in front of Hyacinth and myself and implored Lana, “Ms. Delridge, this is Harold and Hyacinth; they require our help. There’s an issue of grave importance—”
Lana waved her hand calmly. She too, was stoic and peaceful. At least on the outside.
“Relax. We will discuss all that later. For now we need to get ready for the ceremony. Bocca told me you were up here. He didn’t tell me that we had trespassers, however.”
When Hyacinth began to protest, Lana raised her voice. But only slightly.
“I said we will discuss it later. You will be our royal guests for the ritual of the Frozen Fire. Leave those pages here and come down with me.”
The Fire and the Feast
Dinner was awkward to say the least. We all sat around a very large oval table, dressed with extra fine cloth and silver platters. There was goat meat, pork, cheese and salads for everybody. We were the only guests of the royal house, which left over an absurd amount of dining space. The High Captain of the Order of Knights was noticeably absent.
Bocca the “sage” seemed uncomfortable in his own skin and he looked over to me and Hyacinth several times throughout the meal.
Lana ate in perfect quietude, never seeming uncomfortable in uneasy silences. Lujian too, at times looked about to speak but then thought the better of it. How best to break the ice? No pun intended.
So I decided to cut through the tension myself. I think that on some level, Hyacinth found the situation somewhat humorous because her eyes smiled, albeit without her lips to follow.
“ So- the Feast of the Frozen Fire...was that a thing when you lived here, Hyacinth? I don’t remember anything about it myself.”
She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. I didn’t realize that I’d caught her off-guard and she was in the middle of chewing into a large turkey leg.
Lana, having finished her soup, educated us on the ritual. She dabbed her lips with a napkin.
“It’s been a tradition of ours for the past 75 years. On that date, the king of the time – Brutus, who was named after your friend, had decided to open the practice of magic to everyone in the kingdom. He had published copies of ‘Mansfield’s Beginner’s Magic’, which has a lot of basic spells and potions listed. They’re not particularly powerful, but it’s something the people never had before.”
Bocca, finding his tongue once Lana did, continued, “Like ancient fire, this was the first time that the people received such power all at once. They could practice and get better, but most still find it exceedingly complicated to this day. I certainly do. You must already know this, Harold, how the study of magic can take decades. So, to commemorate such a momentous occasion, we mark it with a holiday.”
Lujian picked up where Bocca left off. “Midspring was the time when Brutus first distributed the spellbook and everyone received a copy. Six months from now, in Midautumn, we celebrate when the people first demonstrated their magical power together.”
Hyacinth sat starry-eyed, listening to their tale. I had always loved her wonder. It is something that she never lost, and always seemed to hold onto very closely.
“But why is it called the festival of ‘Frozen Fire’?”
As if to answer her question, a gong rang out loudly from the bell tower. Then another. Then a third. Then silence.
Lana, Bocca and Lujian solemnly bowed their heads and stood up. Without speaking, they walked over to an adjoining room, where we went along to follow.
This new room was one I’d never seen before. It must have been built within the last 99 years. It was a round room, with the stone walls curving to meet each other so that if seen from above, it would look like a circle.
In fact, looking up, the ceiling was open and roofless, and the edges formed an almost perfect circle. Aside from all of us, the chamber was empty and dark. We held hands with one another and walked around the center of the room. Bocca was chanting something in Latin or Greek. He mumbled too low for me to be able to tell.
We moved quicker and quicker until Lana stopped all of a sudden. I nearly went flying across the room. She closed her eyes. When she opened them, there were two beads of smoking fire in their place.
Lana began to do a dance that I could tell was drawing from the magical energies that floated in the air. She whipped up the air into a fury. It became hot at first. I saw wiggle lines of heat at the center of the chamber, pushed together by the intricate movements of her hands.
Before we knew it the air itself ignited into the largest single flame that I’d ever seen in my life.
“Now!” she screamed at Lujian, who had already begun to do a dance of his own. It looked very similar to her own dance, except that it was perhaps with opposite movements to hers. All throughout, Bocca chanted over everybody with arms raised.
In a moment the flame, taller than a cottage, became encased within the largest round block of ice that I’d ever seen. It hung in mid-air and didn’t flicker, didn’t bob up and down like a ball on water. It remained suspended in frozen beauty, a wonder to behold against the curved gray stones.
“The Frozen Fire will remain for one day as we will have another ceremony tomorrow to extinguish it. In Midautumn, the Fire lasts for one week before it’s put out, and the practitioners in the kingdom, if talented enough, keep frozen flames over their mantles during the winter, which can often be brutal here.”
We slowly, quietly walked back to the dining area. That was an interesting ceremony, I thought. Short and sweet but also with a fair amount of depth and sense of tradition.
“It’s time for some apple pie,” Lana said, and we all sat back at our places, which had been reset by the servants of the castle.
Lana seemed exhausted all of a sudden. Her eyes shut tightly and she leaned against the table.
“ Oh my-- are you alright?” Hyacinth asked her.
She picked her head back up and took a deep breath.
“Fine. Fine, thank you. Sometimes casting takes a lot out of me. Especially lately.” She shook her head. “I’m alright. Let’s eat.”
The servants walked in with the apple pie on trays. The kitchen had expanded its talent since I was baker. The pie smelled amazing.
After the pie was served, a knight in full armor (minus helmet), came in.
“Alie!” Lujian stood up to give the knight a fierce handshake. “We missed you tonight at dinner. Are you going to have some dessert?”
The knight that the Kingsquire called Alie had wavy black hair with a longish black beard, slightly longer than mine. He had sad brown eyes, slightly sadder than Lana’s, almond shaped, curving down at the edges naturally.
“Alie Sandira, High Captain of the Order of Eleven knights, meet Harold and Hyacinth Baker. They’re here to petition us for our help.” He turned to Lana.
“Can we talk about it now? The ritual is over. It’s important – please.”
Alie, still standing, put his hand on Lujian’s shoulder. The knight’s eyes looked solemn.
“I’m afraid that’s why I’m here now, young Kingsquire. I have to ask you to come with me.”
The boy looked thoroughly confused, as were we.
“You’re under arrest for trespassing. Please come along peacefully.”
“Trespassing?” Lujian screamed, forgetting himself and pulling away forcefully. “There’s nowhere in the kingdom that is off-limits to me!”
Lana took a sip of tea and put the cup back into its saucer.
“Not off-limit to you. But giving access to our archives to outsiders of the realm is a very serious crime against the state. I’m sorry, young man. You had an unlawful lapse in judgment.”
“Outsiders? We’re not outsiders!” Hyacinth yelled, matching Lujian’s volume. “I used to be a princess here a hundred years ago. And since I’m not dead, that means I’m still a princess of Mansfield. I have every authority to access the archives with my husband, a prince by marriage.”
“Not to mention,” I interjected, “the reason we requested access in the first place was to find a way to prevent a potential attack on Mansfield. Someone is making magical realms of the forest disappear from the face of the earth. The same seems to be true of water realms as well. It would only be a matter of time until the threat reached your doorstep.”
Lana looked disturbed by the news. She stood up, eyebrows furrowed. Then she softened a bit as she looked at the both of us.
“ Mansfield appreciates the concern and the warning. And you both, king and queen, prince and princess- whatever, are always welcome here. This is still your home. But rules have to be followed. Entry into the archives requires approval of the Sage or the Mayor.
“And since the time you both lived here, the rules have changed. By our current laws you are no longer still royalty nor even citizens any more. That right goes away after 25 years of living outside our borders. You will be granted citizenship again, of course, but you’ll have to fill out an application.”
Alie, the sad knight, took Lujian gently by the arm and escorted him away. The young man, on his part, remembered his sense of peaceful calm and went along without any further trouble.
Once they had gone, Lana sat back down and picked up her fork again. There was still more pie left on the plate.
“How can you do what you just did? He’ll be king in four months! He has the right to give access to whomever he wants, however he sees fit!” Hyacinth fumed. She had a special place in her heart for the boy, but also for the crown and those wearing it.
Lana chewed her food before deciding on whether to respond.
“Not yet, he doesn’t,” said Bocca, whom I’d almost forgotten was still here. “One of the reasons that the crown no longer runs in families is because the person wearing it must demonstrate that they are worthy of it. Following the rule of law is very important.
“To be quite honest,” he continued, having already finished his pie and a second serving, “this transgression and this alone would be enough to disqualify him from kingship. Whether it does or not depends on the trial.”
“What? How?” demanded Hyacinth. She was the passionate one between us two. I agreed with her fully, but as a thousands-year long habit, I was used to sitting back and watching things unfold, seeing what happens first before making a move myself.
“I know you like the boy,” he said. Then he looked at Lana. “We all do, trust me. But we have to think what’s best for the kingdom.”
“And what’s best? You as king, or more likely, you as queen?
Bocca opened his mouth and then closed it.
“No,” Lana said. “Not necessarily, Hyacinth. That is up to the Sage Council, the Order of Knights…and myself. A trial will be held within a week. He could be judged innocent and everything would be fine. We’ll have to see. You’re welcome to be part of the trial and give testimony, if you wish.
“You’re also invited to come back tomorrow for the remainder of the ritual. It goes from nine tonight until nine tomorrow. We’ll discuss the issue of the strange disappearances then. We will have to work together to make sure our realms remain safe. And Harold?”
“Yes?” I inclined my head towards her. I’d been off to the side, thinking, wondering, trying to plan.
“It isn’t lost on me that your brother is due to wake up very soon. We will help you manage that situation as well. You’re Mansfielders after all.”
“I thought you said we lost our citizenship,” I huffed. Obviously that was just an excuse.
“You can have it back tomorrow. Gatekeeper Bob will see to it.”
Bocca got up and began to leave.
“The rule of law is very important here, Harold. Hyacinth. Nowadays we follow it to the letter. If it fails us, we rewrite it to make it better, but we still make sure it doesn’t bend. It can seem complicated but it’s not. The world has changed in one hundred years.” He looked as if he’d say something else but ran out of words. He walked out, his flowing robes gliding behind him.
Lana got up as well and wished us a good night. Truth be told, we hadn’t expected to stay the night, but she offered us the guest tower within the castle. It was a good way for us to stay close.
She then looked over to a window ledge and we all spotted a giant blue owl perched there. She began to run to get a broom and swat at it, but it flapped its wings, getting the message to leave.
“Shoo! Go on, get out! That thing’s been eavesdropping since I could remember. I—ahh!”
“What’s the matter? Lana!” Hyacinth screamed. Delridge had doubled over, holding onto a serving cart in order to brace herself. She got back up quickly, before my wife could help her up.
“I’m fine, Hyacinth, I’m fine,” she said weakly. “Thank you.”
Her eyes looked tired and red. And…her skin…
Hyacinth and I looked back at each other while Lana covered her face and scuttled away back to her room.
The skin on her face seemed to have gotten soft and somewhat gooey. It looked like sweat with a shiny sheen to it. There were pearly beads all along her bare arms. It looked odd and the way she rushed out made me think she was self conscious about it.
“Maybe she has some kind of skin condition,” I ventured to guess. Then I turned to my princess. “Let’s head to bed?”
Hyacinth agreed that maybe we should get some rest, although I could tell that she wanted to talk about things. There was certainly no shortage of things to discuss.
And I also thought – why avoid romance when opportunity knocks for it?
“Let’s go to the northern hill, like we used to do when we were human,” I suggested. All of a sudden I was brought back to the time we met, to the time we first kissed. All the old memories were coming back in a powerful way.
I took her hand and she took mine. In order to get to the north hill, we needed to walk past the giant flame-shaped block of frozen fire hovering in mid-air in the Sage Atrium. There was an exit through the far end of the corridor that snaked past it.
Looking into the chamber as we walked past gave me chills. Not because of the temperature – that was pretty normal. I felt uneasy at the sheer size of the thing. It was beautiful and it was also scary. It was a demonstration of immense power, power which I didn’t have. Nor in fact did anyone else in Mansfield that I knew of.
I could tell that Hyacinth felt the same way I did, since she gave a small shiver after a quick look in.
There was one guard standing at the exit, leaning on a spear. He must not have been used to handling the night shift.
We attempted to walk right past him, which woke him up immediately.
“Alt right ther! Where you think yer going?”
“We have free reign all throughout the kingdom, per the Mayor. So we’ll go where we please.” Hyacinth was very defiant at this point. She’d never been stopped in this castle before, and I could tell she was beginning to get sick of it.
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Harold was the King of the Imps. He had long admired humanity and sought to live among them. One hundred years ago, he gave up his Imphood to become human. However when his new home was attacked by magic, he was forced to return to his former nature and aid the kingdom of Mansfield. Now a century later he faces a new peril - someone mysterious, unknown and immensely powerful is causing all the magical kingdoms on earth to disappear, one by one. As the hammer approaches, will it fall on Harold as well?