Post subject: Chapters 22-24
Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:21 pm
|Sierra Planet Citizen
Joined: Sat Jul 22, 2006 4:41 pm
|Here we go again...
Graham and Joringel spun around to see just what Graham had feared they would encounter: the witch. She was hunchbacked and shriveled, with frizzled gray hair and large bulging eyes, grinning sickeningly at the two men as she stood in the doorway.
Beside her was a tall, scrawny individual. Though he had the body of a young man, his thin blond hair was mostly gray, there were thick lines around his dark eyes and his cheeks were sunken.
"So," the witch said, rubbing her hands together. "You've managed to get into my castle. Congratulations. Many young men have tried to get in before, and all of them have failed…but I'm afraid the only award you two will get for your accomplishment is being changed into birds!"
She shrieked mirthfully, and Graham cautiously stepped a little closer to Joringel.
"You," the witch said, pointing a clawed finger at Joringel, "Will be a little brown sparrow. And you
," she said, turning to Graham, "Will be an old, shaggy jackdaw."
She grinned widely, exposing several sharp white teeth.
"The only enchantment I've used on men is the one where I immobilize them," she laughed. "I've never – SILENCE!"
Her last word had been shrieked out at the hundreds of caged birds, who immediately became quiet, except for a few that were bold enough to twitter nervously.
"I've never changed men
into birds before," the witch began again, "But I'm sure you two shouldn't be a problem."
With that she raised her arms and there was a low thundering sound. Graham's breath caught in his throat. There was a brief tingle in the air, but then there was nothing. The witch lowered her hands, glaring suspiciously at Graham and Joringel.
"Why didn't you change?" she snarled. "I've never failed with that spell before…at least not with maidens."
"Your powers will no longer work on me or my friend," Joringel said proudly, brandishing his flower in front of him like a dagger. "This flower will break all your enchantments, and anyone near it cannot be touched by your magic either!"
!" Graham hissed in alarm. The young man was certainly not as wise as he was brave. The witch eyed the flower furiously, then turned to the gaunt man beside her.
"Zachiel, take that accursed thing away from the intruder and throw it out of the window!"
Zachiel swiftly sprang towards Joringel, but with equal speed, Graham leapt at the scrawny man and pushed him aside. He tried to knock Zachiel down, but the man was strong despite his lean build. It was all Graham could do to restrain him, holding his arms to his sides and standing close enough to Zachiel so that he couldn't kick him. However, Graham knew that he couldn't keep the man from getting at Joringel for much longer.
"Hmph!" the witch huffed. "Your friend is rather strong for such an old man…but no matter. I'll take care of you myself!"
"Your spells can't harm me," Joringel said valiantly. "Have you forgotten that already?"
"No, I haven't," the witch replied. "But tell me this, young man: can that little posy protect you from my scratching your eyes out?"
There was a horrible scream from behind Graham, who glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the witch lunge towards Joringel with her hands held out, her fingers curled like claws. Joringel jumped back, but the witch leapt at him again, all the time keeping her distance from the flower. To his horror, Graham noticed that the witch was forcing Joringel across the room towards one of the tower windows, and he was too busy keeping his eye on the witch to notice. If Graham kept on clutching Zachiel, Joringel would fall to his death, leaving Graham with no way to defend himself against the witch. If he let Zachiel go in order to run to Joringel's aid, Zachiel would probably grab the flower from Joringel before Graham could help him.
Then an idea stuck him. He remembered what Joringel had said about the spell that the witch had cast on him, and what the witch had said a few minutes ago…it was a risky idea, but unless he tried it, he was either going to die or spend the rest of his life as a jackdaw.
In one swift movement, Graham wrapped his arms around Zachiel, squeezing him as hard as he could. Then he yelled out:
"Hey, witch! Over here!"
The witch whirled angrily in Graham's direction. She raised her hand and thrust it at him with the digits outspread. Instantly, Graham felt his limbs begin to stiffen, then his entire body began to grow rigid…and since his arms were locked around Zachiel's torso, Zachiel quickly became utterly unable to free himself.
Fortunately, Joringel had had the sense to take advantage of the brief diversion that Graham had provided him with. As soon as the witch had turned away from him, he prepared to strike her with the flower, the only option available to him. Unfortunately, the witch saw what he was doing a split second too soon, and vanished with a screech in a puff of black smoke. However, the moment she vanished, Graham saw a small gray owl appear in one of the windows.
"Joringel!" he hissed, grateful that the witch's spell hadn't hindered his ability to speak. "The window!"
Joringel spotted the owl perched in the window and dashed towards it. Apparently stunned by her impromptu transformation, the witch turned and awkwardly started to fly away, but by then Joringel had reached the window. He thrust out the flower and just managed to touch the tail feathers of the retreating owl. There was a flash of light from outside the window, then a ghastly cry as the witch, restored to her original form, fell to her death at the base of the tower.
Joringel remained motionless at the window for several moments, then, running a shaking hand through his hair, he turned to Graham, flustered and trembling, but triumphant.
"Looks like we won," he said quietly. "That witch won't be enchanting any more maidens and adding them to her collection."
He paused and stared up at the many cages above his head.
"Odd," he remarked. "I'd think all these birds would change back into maidens now that the witch is dead."
"Perhaps the spells are strong enough to last after the caster has died," Graham mused. "And, speaking of spells, Joringel…could you please break the one that's on me?"
Graham was still standing frozen with his rigid arms imprisoning the squirming Zachiel. Apologizing and turning pink again, Joringel walked over to the king and touched his shoulder with the red flower. Instantly, Graham was able to move again. He removed his arms from around Zachiel, who sprinted from the tower as fast as his bony legs would allow.
"Do you think we should go after him?" Joringel asked nervously.
"I think that poor fellow was only a servant of the witch, and nothing more," Graham said. "There's not much for him left to do now that his mistress is gone for good."
"I suppose not," Joringel agreed. "Now I'd better start trying to find Jorinda…"
He paused. Though the birds were still fairly quiet after the witch's command for them to be silent, they were slowly beginning to grow loud again. However, one bird's song was much louder than the others, calling out more boldly and plaintively than any of the other birds.
Joringel and Graham looked at each other, and each immediately knew what the other was thinking. They began searching the tower, and it wasn't long before they found the bird that was singing the loudest: a nightingale perched in a cage on a small marble pedestal. Joringel touched the cage with the flower, and the bird and the cage both vanished, leaving a fair-skinned, brown-haired maiden standing in front of the pedestal. The instant she saw Joringel, she cried out with joy and threw her arms around him as Joringel did the same with her. For a moment, the reunited couple did nothing but laugh and hold each other close, then Joringel turned to Graham.
"Graham, I want you to meet my love, Jorinda," he said. "Jorinda, this is Graham of Daventry. If it weren't for his help, I would never have found you."
"Why…thank you, Graham," said Jorinda delicately. "I don't know how you or Joringel found me, but I'm deeply grateful to you both."
She turned back to Joringel, but instead of smiling at him, she glared at him.
"Why didn't you tell
me that we were getting too close to the witch's home?" she demanded. "If you had, all this wouldn't have happened!"
"I had no idea that we were getting too close," Joringel stammered. "But don't worry – now that she's dead, this will never happen again."
"I certainly hope not," Jorinda said.
She paused and stared at the many birdcages that lined the room.
"What are you going to do about them?" she asked.
"We'll free them just as we freed you," Graham said.
"And how did you do that?" Jorinda asked.
"Like this," Joringel said, touching a cage containing a small blackbird with the red flower. Instantly, the bird and cage vanished, leaving a raven-haired woman in their place, who stared speechlessly at her liberators.
"I suppose I have a lot of work to do here before I take you home," Joringel muttered. "But when I'm done, at least all these poor women will be free…and they would all still be singing for that witch if she hadn't enchanted you."
Jorinda folded her arms and sneered at Joringel, but after a couple of seconds, she couldn't help laughing at her fiancée's humor.
"Well, you'd better get started," she grinned, pointing to a wooden ladder propped up against the wall. "I'll bring you down some of the cages that are hanging near the ceiling."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Graham asked.
"Oh no," Joringel said. "You've done more than your fair share of help for me and my love. If I were you, I'd head back home, unless you want to look around this gloomy place some more for whatever reason."
Graham suddenly remembered the second part of Death's task, which was to bring back a mirror belonging to the witch.
"In that case, I'll say good-bye to you now…" Graham began. However, his words were cut short as Joringel touched a cage containing mournfully trilling goldfinch and a girl with large blue eyes, rosy cheeks and golden hair appeared.
"Herbert?" she cried in a voice that seemed strangely familiar to Graham. She turned to look at Joringel.
not Herbert!" she said indignantly. "Where in the world is
?" Graham exclaimed, suddenly remembering where he had heard her voice before.
The woman glared coldly at him.
my name," she replied. "But where is my prince? We were walking together in the woods, and that's the last I remember! Herbert
"Um…it may be some time before we find this Herbert of yours," Joringel said. "In the meantime, I suggest you wait here. This castle is quite a distance from the nearest town."
Alicia sniffed angrily, strode across the room and sat down on one of the lower rungs of the ladder.
"Er," Jorinda said quietly, "You know
"It's a long story," Graham sighed. "I'll just bid you and Joringel farewell and let you free the rest of the women now. I must be on my way."
"Certainly," Jorinda said. "Good-bye, sir, and thank you again."
"Yes, good-bye, Graham," Joringel said.
Graham left the room at the top of the tower, the unexpected reappearance of that golden-haired woman almost as flabbergasting as the brief return of his fairy godmother. Princess Alicia was the girl that the witch in Serenia had changed into a willow, and when her fiancée Prince Herbert had done nothing to free her, Graham had done so himself, and Alicia had been no more grateful to Graham then than she was now. It seemed like that poor girl was developing a habit of getting separated from her beloved and becoming enchanted by wicked witches, and Graham couldn't help but wonder if she was somehow related to the former king of Monticore.
As Graham walked through the halls of the castle's upper floor, he shakily reflected on his encounter with the witch. That had to be the first time he had ever willingly asked
to be enchanted by a malevolent worker of magic, and hopefully, it would be the only time. He hadn't liked being frozen in place one little bit. It reminded him of an encounter he had had with a sorcerer in the Daventry countryside on his quest for the three treasures. The sorcerer had cast a spell on him that paralyzed his body from head to toe for nearly a half hour, and it was a miracle that Graham hadn't been noticed by any of the more vicious creatures roaming the land's woods during that time.
As that unpleasant memory replayed in Graham's mind, he kept trying to open the various doors leading off the hallway, but all of them seemed locked, and he didn't want to bother Joringel for his flower, since he and Jorinda were probably still busy freeing the imprisoned maidens from the tower.
Finally, Graham found a door that was not only unlocked, but also ajar. He peered through it to see a small, dimly lit room with a round polished table in the center. He entered the room and saw that the table was covered with dozens of small, precious items. There were jeweled combs, bracelets, rings, brooches, headdresses, necklaces, and many similar ornaments, glittering faintly in the light that came in from the room's single ivy-covered window.
They were all items one would expect to see being worn by a young, wealthy woman, and Graham suddenly suspected that these trinkets once belonged to the maidens in the tower. Perhaps the witch had taken the trinkets from the maidens before she enchanted them...but why would she do a thing like that? Did she sell the trinkets once she had accumulated enough or free the maidens from their avian form and allow them to wear their jewelry once in a while?
Unable to come up with an answer to these questions, Graham examined the table until he noticed one item different than the others: a large hand mirror with the frame and handle made out of ebony carved into ominous, distorted shapes. Graham slowly reached towards it, then quickly touched it, expecting just about anything to happen. When nothing did, he gently grasped the handle and held it up. Throwing caution to the wind for a moment, he glanced into its slightly warped face, but saw nothing except his own weathered features.
Confident that this was the mirror that Death had sent him to find, Graham left the room and found the stairs leading to the ground floor of the decrepit castle. In a few moments, he was standing outside, beneath the pleasant warmth of the midday sun. Having no idea when Death was going to bring him back to his domain, Graham sat down on the short grass growing around the witch's castle and began eating an apple from his knapsack. As he ate, he wondered what had happened during the time he had slept in Death's home. All he knew from Death was that the cat's life Edgar was living on hadn't expired yet; how Rosella and Valanice were faring, he had no clue.
Then, as if in answer to his thoughts, a small winged creature came diving towards him out of the sky. It was Scrimshaw. Graham called out his name and the tiny beast let out an acknowledging screech, and then landed on a mound of earth near Graham's left boot.
"Hello again," Graham said happily. "Fancy meeting you here. How are things in Daventry?"
Scrimshaw bowed his head and raised the foreleg that had a pouch tied to it. Graham nervously opened the pouch and unfolded the letter that he found inside. This letter was written not in Rosella's hand, but Valanice's:
My Dearest Husband:
Rosella and Edgar were overjoyed when his little griffin returned with your token last evening. Though I had no way of knowing where in the world you were when Scrimshaw delivered Rosella's letter, he was able to leave Daventry, find you and return in scarcely two days. I certainly underestimated the little beast's ability to act as a messenger. I am sending this letter out with him soon, in the hopes that he will be able to find you again with equal or greater swiftness.
I fear that our son-in-law's condition has not improved since Rosella wrote to you. Though he still appears young in spirit, in body he seems nearly as old as you. He spends more and more time abed, and he talks and eats less as well. He tries his best to make light of his unusual malady, but it is hard for us to laugh at his humor. He recently complained that it was unfair for him to be growing old, but not wise.
We have yet to inform Edgar's parents of their son's condition, but I fear they will find out about it regardless of whether we tell them or not. I'm afraid that poor Rosella is still blaming herself for what has befallen her husband, and she refuses to let me console her. This business with Manannan has been troubling me to no end. I consulted the Magic Mirror in the hopes that it would show me what will eventually become of him, but it has only shown me images of you traveling through an unnamed country. I can only hope that the future is too unclear for the mirror to make an accurate prediction at the moment.
I wish there were some way I could aid you in your quest, Graham. As difficult as keeping this kingdom in order has been without you, I would do twice as much work as I do at present if I knew that you would benefit from it.
However, I'm afraid all that I can do is to ask you to please be careful, keep your family and your kingdom in your heart, and return home as quickly as you can once you are successful.
Your Loving Wife,
Graham gripped the letter so tightly that it nearly tore. Thank goodness his wife and daughter were still well, but what a burden he had placed upon them by leaving them alone. Part of him was grateful to Scrimshaw for bringing these letters to him, but at the same time, part of him wished that the pygmy griffin wouldn't keep reminding him of what his family was going through in his absence.
Sighing, Graham forced himself to read through the letter again. The letter was written the day after Scrimshaw returned to Daventry, but there was no way of telling how long ago that was. Graham stared at Scrimshaw, wondering how many days the creature had searched for him while Graham was in Death's home. If only Scrimshaw could answer all the questions Graham had for him – though Graham was sure that there were many questions Valanice, Edgar and Rosella had for the griffin as well.
Remembering the request Rosella had made at the end of her letter, Graham decided to send something back with Scrimshaw to reassure his family that he had received their latest letter as well. He looked around the large clearing, wondering what he could put in Scrimshaw's pouch this time. All he had in his possession was his cloak, his knapsack, a supply of food, the Mortis
charm, the witch's mirror, the shoemaker's grips, Rosella and Valanice's letters and the spool of thread that the woodcutter's son had given him, and none of these things seemed appropriate to give Scrimshaw.
After a cursory glance at his surroundings revealed nothing, Graham got to his feet, told Scrimshaw to stay put, and started walking around the castle, hoping that he would find something. What he eventually found was a pure white feather partially hidden in the grass. Despite its small size, it caught his eye instantly. As Graham picked the feather up, he wondered whether it might have come from one of the birds in the tower. If that were the case, the maiden that the feather belonged to would certainly not miss it.
He hurried back to Scrimshaw and tucked the feather securely in the leather pouch.
"I don't suppose there's much point in telling you this," Graham said to Scrimshaw, "But if you can, please let them know that I am well, and that I should be coming home soon."
The pygmy griffin sat motionless for a minute, then shrugged its shoulders and nodded his head. To Graham, it looked almost as if he were trying to say, "I may not be able to, but I'll do my best." Then the creature turned and took off with a brisk flapping of his gray wings. Graham rose to his feet and watched Scrimshaw dwindle to a tiny speck in the sky before vanishing altogether.
The king didn't have to linger outside the witch's castle for much longer. Within minutes, the familiar mist had appeared around him, and he soon found himself in Death's home once again, with Death himself standing expectantly in front of him.
"According to this," Death said, holding out a squat, shriveled candle that looked as if it had been recently extinguished, "You were successful in your encounter with the witch."
"Yes, I was," Graham replied. "Is that her life?"
," Death said as the candle disappeared. "May I have the mirror that you appropriated from her home?"
Graham held out the ebony hand mirror. Death delicately took it from him and held it up before his gaunt face.
"What purpose did that mirror serve?" Graham asked. "I didn't see anything unusual about it."
"From what I gathered, this mirror alters the visage of whoever looks into it according to their own desires," Death said. "When the witch would look into it, she would see herself as a young, lovely maiden rather than a wrinkled old crone, wearing the jewelry of the young maidens she captured to make her image even more beautiful. She tried to make her existence less miserable by surrounding herself with beauty, but such activities eventually led to her downfall. She might have been pitied by others were she not so malicious."
He continued to stare silently into the mirror, occasionally tilting it one way or the other. After a moment, Graham spoke again:
"Please don't think me forward, Death…but what do you see yourself as?"
Death slowly looked up.
"I don't see myself as anything
," he said dully. "I have no desires. I merely exist to carry out my duties."
Death lowered the mirror and gently cradled it in his hands.
"Your next task shall be your last," he said to Graham.
"And if I succeed in it, you will help me?" Graham asked.
"You have my word," Death said with a bow of his head.
"What must I do now?"
"You must obtain a certain item from a sorcerer that dwells within your kingdom," Death said. "He lives on an island in the middle of a river, inside a small tower that from the outside resembles nothing more than a mere shack…"
Graham blinked in surprise.
"That sorcerer is the very man who helped me gain access to your realm, Death," he gasped.
"How fortunate," Death said, drumming his fingers on the back of the mirror. "If you are on friendly terms with him, then perhaps he might not be as reluctant to part with this item…which he does value dearly, I should tell you."
"What is this item?" Graham asked.
"It is a cage made out of glass," Death said. "Slightly larger than your head and unmistakable. You will know it when you see it, and I'm certain you will find a way to convince the sorcerer to give it to you. Bring that cage to me, and I will help you."
An unpleasant thought suddenly crossed Graham's mind.
"Death, to find a way to your realm I had to make a bargain with a dark wizard who has been changed into a cat. In exchange for telling me how to find your domain, I promised to find a way to restore him to his true form, even though I have learned that this is impossible. It was an irrational thing to do, but it was the only way I could get the information out of him…and recently, I was told that he had
to be changed back, but that monster will surely wreak havoc in the world should such a thing happen…"
Death thoughtfully stroked his chin.
"This does add more pieces to the puzzle," he remarked. "But I might be able to help you solve it just the same, King Graham. I just need some time to think about it first."
"Thank you, Death," Graham said gratefully.
"Certainly," Death said. "In the meantime, you will return to your kingdom and complete your last task: find the glass cage belonging to the sorcerer and bring it to me."
"I will," Graham said.
He prepared to be enveloped in the mist, but strangely, it didn't come. When he quietly asked why Death hadn't sent him to Daventry, Death shook his head, as if he had been lost in a daydream.
"My apologies," he mumbled. "I was just thinking how odd it is."
"How odd what is?" Graham inquired.
"A cat's life in the body of a man and a man's life in the body of a cat," Death said. "It all seems quite odd to me."
"I suppose it is," Graham shrugged.
"I'll send you on your way now," Death said. "But I'm afraid you should hurry: since you arrived here, another day has passed in your world."
When the mist cleared, Graham found himself standing near the banks of the Raging River, beneath a mid-afternoon sun. Barely a stone's throw away was the bridge leading to the sorcerer's island, and Graham quickly set out towards it. His eyes were so focused on the sorcerer's ramshackle hut that he almost forgot about the place's lone guardian…
"Halt! Who goes there?"
Graham slowly turned to face the talking reptilian statue sitting atop one of the stakes supporting the bridge.
"Graham of Daventry," the king said.
"And what is your business here?" the stone beast squawked.
"I'm here to see the sorcerer," Graham sighed. "Don't you remember me? I've been here twice already."
The beast squinted skeptically at him and mumbled to itself.
"Hmm…so you have," it growled. "But your last visit was more than thirteen days ago."
"That shouldn't make any difference," Graham objected.
"I suppose not," the beast muttered sullenly. "Very well, you may pass. However, I should warn you that my master wishes to be alone at the moment."
"Where is he?" Graham demanded.
"He's on the top floor, but there's no way you can reach him, so don't even try," the creature said. "Nonetheless, if you want to wait for my master inside, that's fine by me."
Glaring sourly at the insufferable stone beast, Graham crossed the rickety wooden bridge over the churning rapids and opened the hut's crooked door. Inside, the first floor of the disguised tower was just as crowded and chaotic as it had been before. The gold symbols inlaid on the floor glowed gently, and the many shiny objects in the room reflected the light, making them appear almost alive.
Graham looked around the room, but saw nothing that even roughly resembled a glass cage. However, when he climbed the stairs to the second floor, he saw what he was looking for almost immediately. It was in the large alcove, hanging above the two cushioned chairs by a thin strand of wire.
Death's description hadn't done the cage justice. It was an intricate web of glass spun into a tapered, twisting figure, and there were a variety of subtle hues and sparkling, metallic particles in the glass, making Graham imagine that it looked even more breathtaking in direct sunlight.
Even though the cage was within his reach, Graham hesitated. After all that the sorcerer had done for him, how could Graham betray his trust by stealing one of his possessions? What sort of gratitude was that? After all, if the sorcerer found out about the theft – and Graham was certain that he would – who could say what a man with his abilities would do to get back at Graham for such an act. Stealing from someone well versed in magic was risky, no matter how good-natured and helpful that someone was. Graham had to speak to the sorcerer and convince him to give up the cage…if only he could get to the sorcerer.
My Sierra fan art and fan fiction
The Quest Lives... (and the Injokes/References list could do with some contributions.)
Sierra Music Central - A great site for high-quality Sierra soundtracks!
"The two who are one will mostly emerge triumphant over the Good Who lazily turned Evil, and Chaos will reign no more."
Post subject: Chapters 25-26
Sat Dec 15, 2007 2:09 pm
|Sierra Planet Citizen
Joined: Sat Jul 22, 2006 4:41 pm
Graham climbed the tower's spiral staircase until he reached the trapdoor leading to the third floor. He rapped loudly on the door, and when he received no response, he tried calling out to the sorcerer. When this failed as well, he tried to figure out some way he could open the trapdoor, but there were no obvious means of doing so. Judging by the way the bars had dissolved into thin air the last two times Graham had called on the sorcerer, there was undoubtedly some magic involved. Perhaps there was a word or phrase that would make the bars vanish, or possibly there was some sort of charm that did the trick.
Graham was confident that there was a way to open the trapdoor, and there was only one individual he knew of that might tell him how…if he was persistent enough. He descended the steps to the first floor, left the tower, slowly walked back across the bridge and addressed the stone beast at the other side:
"Listen, creature, I must speak to your master now. It is imperative that you tell me how I can open the door to the third floor."
The impish statue shook its head quickly.
"No, no, no. My master is not accepting visitors at this time, no matter how desperately they want to see him. Come back in an hour or two, and he might speak with you then."
"I'm sorry, but I can't afford to wait that long," Graham protested. "A man's life depends on my speaking with your master."
"My apologies, but my master simply does not wish to see anyone at this time," the creature said stiffly. "And I must respect his wishes."
Frustrated and angry, Graham tried to think of a way to reason with the creature, but couldn't think of any. Then he noticed a large, rounded rock sitting near the edge of the cliff. He bent down, picked it up and eyed the creature carefully.
"What are you doing?" the stone beast demanded.
"I'm trying to figure out how hard I'd need to throw this in order to knock you off your perch and into the river," Graham replied.
The beast's eyes grew wide.
"You wouldn't dare!" it gasped.
"Keep refusing to help me and I will," Graham said coldly. "I doubt that this stone would hurt you since you're just a statue, but being at the bottom of the river for a few years might be an unpleasant experience for you."
"My master will hear of this," the creature yelled, starting to tremble fiercely. "He will surely curse you if you do such a thing!"
"Tell me how to open the trapdoor and I promise that I won't so much as insult you," Graham said. "Otherwise I'll knock you into the river, regardless of the consequences. I'll give you five seconds to decide. One…two…"
"All right, all right!" the creature wailed hysterically. "Quicksilver!"
"I beg your pardon?" Graham asked, still gripping the rock firmly in his right hand.
"Quicksilver!" the beast repeated. "Quicksilver is the key!"
It went into a low crouch and hid its face, shaking and whimpering softly. Graham almost regretted threatening it so much, but he was growing desperate. He had no idea how much more time Edgar had, and he wasn't going to spend several hours of it standing idly about, waiting for that sorcerer to speak with him.
Unable to get anything more out of the sorcerer's stone guardian, Graham tossed the rock aside, hurried back to the island and stepped inside the tower, wondering what the creature had meant by quicksilver being the key. "The key" had to mean the key to the trapdoor, but there were no locks on the door, and Graham didn't see how a key fashioned out of quicksilver was at all possible.
Graham slowly walked up to the second floor, idly observing the various magical implements that lined the bookshelves, hung on the walls or lay scattered on the floor. When he reached the second floor, he noticed the tables that sat beneath the room's twin windows. He approached one of them and found it covered with a variety of peculiar apparatus that he could only guess the use of, though they all seemed to be alchemical implements. There were also a number of items that had oddly familiar symbols on them. Among these items were a vial of water, an unlit candle, a corked tube containing something crumbly and yellow that resembled sulfur, a small pouch that turned out to have several lumps of gold in it, another pouch containing silver, and a carefully sealed glass vial containing a material that glistened like metal, yet resembled a liquid: quicksilver. Graham cautiously picked up the vial and watched the curious substance languidly shift inside it.
Now that he possessed quicksilver, what was he supposed to do with it? Graham tried climbing the stairs to the trapdoor and touching the metal bars with the vial. Nothing happened. Puzzled, he returned to the second floor and stared at the other items on the table he had gotten the quicksilver from. As his eyes slowly moved from one substance to the next, he suddenly remembered where he had seen those symbols before. Setting the vial of quicksilver back where he had found it, he hurried partway down the steps to the first level of the tower and stared at the golden patterns circling the stone floor. Sure enough, the six symbols inlaid in the floor matched the ones he had seen on the items on the table exactly.
The downward-pointing triangle was engraved on the vial of water:
The crescent moon was sewn onto the pouch that had contained silver:
The circle with the dot in its center was on the pouch with the gold inside it:
The upwards-pointing triangle was carved into the wax of the candle:
The cross topped by the triangle was burned onto the cork of the vial containing the crumbly yellow substance:
And the last symbol – the most complex one of the six – was on a tag attached to the bottle of quicksilver:
Graham started to realize what the stone creature must have meant. When he said "quicksilver is the key", he didn't mean the actual substance – he meant the symbol that represented it. After all, magic relied heavily upon the meaning of symbols and words.
Graham hurried down the steps and approached the symbol for quicksilver. Then he knelt down and touched it. Nothing happened to the softly pulsating symbol, and when Graham journeyed back up the stairs to the trapdoor, he found that it was still locked. Confused, he returned to the first floor and stared at the symbol. What was he supposed to do with it in order to open the door? Pour the quicksilver onto it? Touch it with something other than his hand?
A brilliant thought suddenly struck him. Since this was a sorcerer's home, shouldn't there be a magic wand somewhere? Perhaps touching the symbol with a wand was what it took to open the trapdoor. Graham glanced around the room until his eyes lit upon a large, wooden staff leaning against one of the bookcases, topped by a dark blue glass sphere encaged by loops of silver. If it wasn't
a magic staff, Graham wasn't sure what was.
He walked over to it and cautiously touched it. When nothing happened, he picked it up as gently as he could. Fortunately, the staff was much lighter than it appeared. He carried the staff over to the quicksilver symbol and carefully lowered the staff's head until the sphere touched the symbol.
Immediately, the symbol glowed brightly and the air's scent seemed to change for a moment. Replacing the staff just as carefully as he had removed it, Graham walked up the stairs, and smiled triumphantly to see that the trapdoor's metal bars were gone. Hoping that the sorcerer wouldn't be too angered at being disturbed, Graham pushed open the trapdoor and climbed the remaining stairs to the tower's topmost floor.
The sorcerer, still clad in his black, star-covered robe and hat, was standing with his back to Graham, staring at a familiar iron cage that rested on the floor. Lying inside the cage was Manannan the cat, looking just as weak as he had been when Graham left the sorcerer's home, yet not quite as lean and mangy. The sorcerer slowly turned as Graham approached him, his dark eyes staring calmly into Graham's.
"Ah, Graham," he said quietly. "So you've finally returned to Daventry. You've also managed to get past the spell protecting the trapdoor. I suppose you persuaded the guardian to tell you how to break it?"
"I did," Graham said.
"And was your journey a successful one?"
"It has been successful so far, but it is not yet complete," Graham replied. "I'm sorry to intrude, sorcerer, but my son-in-law is still in danger, and in order to save him, I must have something that you possess."
"Oh? And what is that?" the sorcerer asked.
"The glass cage hanging above the alcove on the second floor."
The sorcerer's eyes grew wide, and a small snarl pulled one side of his wrinkled lip up.
"The glass cage?" he hissed. "Why on earth do you want such a thing?"
"I must confess that I don't know," Graham said. "All I know is that I must have it."
"Out of the question!" the sorcerer stormed, looking angrier than Graham had ever seen him. "This cage is mine and mine alone, and no amount of money will convince me to give it up."
"Please, sorcerer," Graham begged. "I know I've already asked a lot of you, but you must
give me this cage, otherwise Edgar is going to die and leave this kingdom heirless."
," the sorcerer huffed. "That cage is worth nothing to you, and there are many other items in my home that are of much greater value. Take any one of them, but not the cage."
Graham paused for a moment before replying:
"I do not want the cage for myself," he said coolly. "I was commanded to retrieve it and give it to someone else."
"Oh?" the sorcerer said scornfully. "Whom may I ask is that?"
"Death," Graham said simply.
The sorcerer's demeanor changed instantly. His eyes became wide, he bent over slightly and he began rubbing his hands together nervously.
"I…" he said quietly, running the tip of his tongue along his dry lips. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that you were running an errand for him
…did he truly tell you to bring him…my cage?"
"Yes," Graham replied. "And in return, he will help my son-in-law."
"I see," the sorcerer whispered. "In that case…you may have the cage. Just be careful with it, it's quite fragile, as you might have noticed. In fact…let me help you get it down."
He shuffled down the steps to the second floor, with Graham close behind him. The sorcerer reached up and grasped the suspended glass cage. Then he muttered a peculiar phrase and the wire connecting the cage to the ceiling vanished.
"Here you are," he said, handing the cage to Graham.
"Thank you very much," Graham said. "Death told me that you would be reluctant to give this up, but I'm very grateful that you did. If there's anything I can do to repay you…"
"Think nothing of it," the sorcerer muttered, trying to sound cheerful but failing. "By the way, that wizard-cat's leg has finally healed."
"Yes. I've also been talking to him a lot. It seems as if his life as a cat in an abandoned castle has changed him considerably. He has lost everything – his power, his influence, his only brother, his pride…I'm inclined to believe that he has grown too weak to even hate anymore. The nasty way he behaved towards you when you brought him here was only an attempt to drive you away so that he could suffer in peace."
"I don't believe that," Graham said. "His evil may have been diminished after his years of hardship, but I'm certain that it's still there."
"But didn't he tell you how to reach Death's realm?" the sorcerer asked.
"Yes, but I suspect that he helped me in the hopes that I'll find a way to change him back," Graham muttered.
"So you haven't found a way to accomplish that yet?"
"No…but I was told that I have
to, regardless of the consequences."
The sorcerer sighed and shook his head.
"I've been doing some reading on spells similar to the one your son cast on that wizard," he said, "And I haven't found any instructions on how to change such an enchanted individual back."
Graham sighed. Still, there was nothing that he could do about this predicament now except return the glass cage to Death and hope that he could somehow solve the problem of Manannan.
"I'd better be leaving now," Graham told the sorcerer, shaking his hand and heading for the spiral staircase. "Thank you again for the cage."
"Yes, yes, of course," the sorcerer said. "Good…good luck."
Something in the sorcerer's tone made Graham pause suspiciously. He turned to look at the sorcerer, but he was already heading back up the staircase to the top floor, and the king couldn't make out the expression on his face. Graham shrugged and continued making his way to the ground floor.
As Graham stepped out of the sorcerer's home, he was surprised to see a creature perched on one of the stakes of the island end of the bridge. However, it wasn't a creature carved out of stone like the one on the opposite bank – it was a living being slightly larger than a kitten, with the shaggy brown ears of a dog, the head, wings and forelegs of an eagle, and the hindquarters of a lion. It squawked excitedly when it spotted Graham, and eagerly flapped over to him, landing awkwardly on his shoulder and nuzzling the side of his head.
"Scrimshaw, how in the world are you able to find me so quickly?" Graham laughed, trying to pet the pygmy griffin and promptly getting his finger nipped by the creature's hooked beak.
"Just as friendly as usual, I see," Graham smirked. Then he remembered the purpose of Scrimshaw's visit and spoke to him in a more serious voice:
"Do you have a letter for me again?"
Scrimshaw bounced agitatedly and held out the leg that had the leather pouch tied to it. Tucking the glass cage under one arm, Graham opened the pouch and pulled out a small, unevenly folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, he found that it was in Rosella's handwriting, but written hurriedly, with numerous ink spots and smudges, making it difficult to make out:
Mother and I were considerably nervous when we didn't hear from you for the last few days. Much to our relief, Scrimshaw returned late this morning, and I am sending out this letter as soon as I finish it.
Father – Alexander is here! His genie was aware of our trouble, and Alexander requested to be sent to Daventry. Cassima couldn't come because Alexander says that she is confined to her bed. Apparently the news that the heir to his homeland's throne was gravely ill was enough to tear him from his own kingdom, if for just a short while.
Edgar's mother and father are also here. They were horrified to see Edgar looking like he does at first, but when we informed them that you were out seeking a way to restore his youth, they seemed to grow calmer.
As for Edgar – Oh, Father, I do hope you can help him soon! He cannot leave his bed anymore, has grown as wrinkled and thin as a shriveled husk and his hair has turned completely white. He hasn't eaten in days and hardly ever speaks now, but he still tries to smile whenever anyone enters the room.
I know writing such things won't do much good, but all the same, please, please, please hurry home as quickly as you can! We can scarcely endure waiting for you much longer.
Graham shakily tucked the letter away, feeling as if he were falling through the earth into the deepest caverns of the underworld. So much was happening at once that he could barely comprehend it all…Alexander returning to Daventry, the Lord and Lady of Etheria visiting, Edgar unable to walk any longer…these thoughts began chasing each other through his mind as he began to cross the bridge leading to the mainland, and he was so caught up in them that he barely noticed Scrimshaw flapping wildly around his head, screeching loudly and tugging at his clothing and his knapsack.
"Stop it," he finally growled angrily, waving his free arm in Scrimshaw's general direction. Still, Scrimshaw continued to screech and swat at Graham's head with his wings, finally lunging at him and biting into his ear. Graham yelped in pain and rounded furiously on Scrimshaw. As he was contemplating whether giving the griffin a good swat would make him leave him alone, he suddenly felt the bridge wobble beneath him and heard a strange ripping sound over the rushing of the river. He slowly turned to see the ropes securing the other end of the bridge to the stakes starting to break. One of the ropes had snapped already, and the others were fast on their way to breaking as well, as if they were being gnawed on by invisible rats. Even as he looked, another rope broke and the bridge lurched again.
Graham didn't need any more warnings from Scrimshaw. He dashed across the bridge as fast as his legs would carry him, and just as he was about to set foot on dry land, the two remaining ropes securing the bridge gave way. The far end of the bridge collapsed into the Raging River just as Graham leapt forward with all his might, landing safely in the dry grass. Unfortunately, as he leapt, he had let go of the glass cage, which had gone flying through the air before getting smashed to pieces on a large boulder.
Still trembling, Graham rose to his feet and stared in horror at the shattered cage. His only hope of saving Edgar was lying in fragments on the ground. Now what was he going to do?
Yep, another cliffhanger this week, just to keep things interesting for my small but gracious audience.
My Sierra fan art and fan fiction
The Quest Lives... (and the Injokes/References list could do with some contributions.)
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"The two who are one will mostly emerge triumphant over the Good Who lazily turned Evil, and Chaos will reign no more."
Post subject: Chapters 27-29
Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:25 pm
|Sierra Planet Citizen
Joined: Sat Jul 22, 2006 4:41 pm
Those of you who have been following the story closely (especially the people Graham encounters and items he receives from some of them) may have already guessed how Graham gets out of this latest conundrum. For the rest of you, read on...
After Scrimshaw recovered from the near disaster with the bridge, he fluttered happily over to Graham, but when he saw the broken cage, he cooed worriedly.
"Don't worry, Scrimshaw," Graham muttered. "It wasn't your fault. If it weren't for you, I would be getting dashed to pieces on the rocks in the Raging River right now. I just wish this cage hadn't been dashed to bits instead."
He knelt down beside the shattered object, removed his knapsack, took off his cloak and started gathering the pieces of the cage and placing them on the cloak. Fortunately, the cage was in fewer than a dozen pieces, and the smallest one was almost as large as Graham's palm. Scrimshaw carried some of the fragments that were out of the king's reach over to him, and in no time, Graham had all the cage's pieces bundled up in his cloak.
Should he carry the pieces to Death and hope that the entity wouldn't be angry with him or try to find a way to repair the cage? The second option seemed like the better one, but at the same time it seemed like the more impossible of the two. This object wasn't a mere broken bottle that a glassblower could easily repair – he was certain that magic had been involved in its creation, and magic would be required to fix it properly.
He stared at the sharp-edged pieces, wondering who could possibly repair such a delicate, enchanted artifact. He couldn't return to the sorcerer for help, and had no desire to either. What happened to the bridge couldn't have been an accident. The sorcerer must have changed his mind about giving Graham the cage at the last minute, and for some reason, decided to kill him instead of merely going after him.
Why in the world had the man done such a thing? He had appeared to be such an amiable fellow at first. Perhaps Graham should have heeded his initial anxieties after all: there was much more to that sorcerer than met the eye.
Turning his attention back towards the broken cage, Graham continued pondering over whom in Daventry could possibly fix it. Then all at once, he knew exactly who could do it. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the spool of thread that the woodcutter's son had given him – the man who claimed that he was in possession of a needle that could sew anything together.
Recalling the young man's words, Graham dropped the spool to the ground. Instantly, the spool began to swiftly roll forward, leaving a trail of thick black thread behind it. Soon, it had disappeared between the trees. Graham shouldered his knapsack, rose to his feet and prepared to follow the route made by the thread to the tailor's home, but hesitated as he remembered Scrimshaw, who sat patiently on a nearby boulder.
"I'm afraid I don't have anything to give you this time, friend," the king said. "But with luck, my journey should be over very soon. If there is any way you can tell that to Valanice, Rosella and Edgar, I would be deeply grateful."
Graham imagined that he looked a little silly speaking so reverently to such a scruffy little creature, but the king felt that Scrimshaw deserved all the respect he could be given. An animal capable of finding a lone traveler in such a short time after being sent out and finding his way home again with equal speed couldn't be considered a mere pet.
Scrimshaw bowed his head and took off, soon disappearing over the brown, gold and orange tops of the trees. Graham waved to the pygmy griffin as he departed, then picked up his cloak and began to follow the meandering trail left by the spool of thread, pausing only to turn and glare coldly at the sorcerer's island, what was left of the bridge that led to it, and the stone creature perched on one of the two stakes that used to support the bridge.
"Hey, that wasn't my fault," the creature barked defensively. "I admit that you did make me pretty angry at you, but take my word for it, I did not do that."
The black thread led Graham west, through many open fields and small groves of trees. Soon, he could see a small cottage ahead of him, nestled in between two large oaks. The thread led directly to the cottage's front door, and there he found the spool lying near the door's threshold, still far from empty. When Graham knelt to pick the spool up, it spun wildly, and the numerous yards of thread trailing behind it were rewound, and within seconds, all the thread was entwined around the spool once more. Shaking his head in astonishment, Graham picked up the spool and knocked on the cottage's door. After a few moments, it opened and the tailor appeared in the doorway. His blue eyes grew wide as soon as he saw the king.
"Your Majesty!" he cried. "I'm so glad you decided to pay me a visit. I had no idea that you would be seeking me out so soon."
"And I'm glad that you invited me to see you," Graham said. "I've recently run into some trouble that I'm certain you can help me with."
The tailor beckoned Graham inside. From the looks of things, the tailor both lived and worked in the cottage. The room that Graham stepped into had garments in various stages of completion covering the walls and spread out on tables, their bright colors making the small room much cheerier than it might have looked otherwise. Bolts of cloth leaned against the walls, a large basket of sewing supplies sat on the largest table, and a large cupboard doubtlessly full of such supplies as well hung in the corner. A door in the right wall led to what seemed to be the tailor's private quarters.
The tailor pulled a stool up to the largest table, pushed aside as much of the clutter on it that he could and invited Graham to take a seat, which Graham gratefully did.
"Now, then," the tailor said, finding another stool and sitting down himself, "What is this trouble you spoke of?"
Graham gently placed the cloak with the pieces of the glass cage in it on the table and explained how he had convinced a sorcerer to give the cage to him, and how the sorcerer had tried to kill him shortly afterwards, but only succeeded in causing the destruction of the cage.
"Hmm," muttered the tailor, who had been eyeing the broken cage during most of Graham's story. "That's one reason why I try not to deal with sorcerers if I can help it. If someone possesses a few magic trinkets, he's fairly safe, but if his entire life revolves around magic, I don't want to so much as strike up a conversation with him."
"There are good sorcerers in this world," Graham said. "They just tend to be eclipsed by the malevolent ones most of the time."
"I suppose I can't argue with that," the tailor said. "So you want this cage repaired, Sire?"
"Yes, I do," Graham said. "If it's at all possible."
"I'm certain that it is," the tailor said. "Just a moment, Your Majesty."
He rose from his seat and walked over to the cupboard in the corner. He opened it and pulled out something, then returned to the table. Sitting down, he placed a small gold box on the table, and from it, he removed a tiny silver needle. He swiftly threaded the needle with a piece of fine white thread, pulled the cloak with the cage's pieces on it closer to him, then picked up two of the pieces and touched the ragged edge of one of the pieces with the tip of the needle.
To Graham's surprise, the needle sunk through the glass as if it were nothing more than soft bread. The tailor pushed the needle through the other piece and carefully pulled them together. He continued sewing the two pieces together with remarkable speed, and when he was finished, the pieces were joined together without a single crack showing between them. The only sign that they had been broken was a thin white line that ran along where they had separated.
"Everything I sew together with this thread always leaves a line like that where the tear originally was," the tailor explained, picking up two more of the cage's fragments and beginning to stitch them together. "No stitches, just a line. I don't know why."
Graham watched in amazement as the tailor quickly pieced together the cage, section by section. His young face become hardened with concentration, his needle flashed in the dim light and the white thread jumped and writhed wildly as he worked.
After barely a quarter of an hour, the tailor sewed the last remaining fissure in the cage shut. As soon as he did, the cage glowed gently and the colors within it shifted slightly. Smiling with satisfaction, the tailor tucked his precious needle into its box and returned it to the cupboard. Graham stared at the cage, then gently stroked it with his hand. He couldn't feel so much as a scratch on it, and save for the thin white lines that crisscrossed it, the cage looked just as intact as it had been when the sorcerer had given it to him.
"This is remarkable, tailor," Graham said. "A man with a gift such as yours shouldn't have to live in such a tiny house out in the woods."
"Many people have told me the same thing," the tailor said, returning to his seat at the table. "But I like living out here. It's where I grew up, and it's the place I feel most at home in. I do occasionally go into town, but it's simply too noisy and crowded there."
Graham nodded in agreement. In his boyhood days, he had often disliked the town for the same reasons as the tailor, and would frequently retreat to the surrounding countryside, looking for trees to climb or ponds to swim in – any place where he could be alone.
"I do make plenty of money as well," the tailor continued. "I've told a few of my customers about my special needle, and word about me got around quickly. I do get a few people coming to me asking me to repair their goat's broken leg or their shattered pitcher, but mostly I just make clothing, which I'm happy doing. A tailor is all that I wanted to be, after all."
Graham gazed silently at the tailor. How odd that so many years after saving the woodcutter and his wife from starvation, Graham would have his kindness repaid by that couple's son. Though the young tailor didn't know it, he was not only assisting Graham, but he was also helping to save the life of the future king. Graham reminded himself to reveal this truth to the tailor after the end of his mission, which hopefully wasn't too far away.
"Thank you," Graham said, picking up the cage and his cloak and rising to his feet. "You have aided me immensely. I don't know what I would have done without your help, tailor."
"Anything to pay you back for saving my parents," the tailor said with a nod. "By the way: my name is Jacob, Sire."
"Well, it's been a pleasure knowing you, Jacob," Graham said, extending a hand that the tailor nervously shook.
"Certainly," Jacob replied, trying his best to smile without appearing overly nervous. "Farewell, Your Highness."
As Graham left the tailor's house and put on his cloak, his cheerful mood began to turn gloomy again. How were Valanice and Rosella faring? How many more days, hours or minutes did Edgar have left, and how could Graham possibly honor his promise to Manannan? The king's fairy godmother had told him that nothing bad would happen once Manannan had become a wizard again, but Graham found this promise nearly impossible to believe.
As he trudged through the long shadows cast by the trees, a tall, robed figure suddenly materialized before him. Graham stopped abruptly, but grew calmer when he saw that it was Death. He nervously wondered whether this was a healthy way to react upon seeing such an entity.
"Hello, King Graham," said Death.
"Hello," Graham replied politely.
"I was going to bring you back to my domain, but I didn't want to risk keeping you there for too long," Death explained. "Besides, there are several people in this region that I must attend to – not counting the one you wish to help."
"I see," Graham said. "Here is the item you wanted me to retrieve."
He handed the peculiar glass cage to Death, who examined it in the same way he had examined the previous two objects Graham had brought him and shook his head slowly.
"Some mortals simply have no respect for the higher powers whatsoever," he sighed.
"Greater powers?" Graham repeated. "What do you mean?"
Death turned to Graham with his mouth set in a displeased curve.
"You deserve to know about this cage more than any other mortal," he said, drumming his sticklike fingers on the cage's bars. "As you may know, the sorcerer you took this cage from wandered about your kingdom's villages, posing as a traveling healer. He would invariably stop at houses where one of the occupants was near death, then heal that individual instantly."
"Yes, I know about that," Graham replied. "In fact, knowing about his activities helped lead me to him."
"I see," Death replied. "I'm afraid that this sorcerer is not the miracle-worker that those he has helped see him as, however. Those mortals he aided hadn't fallen prey to a malicious disease or curse, King Graham. It was he that made them supposedly ill."
"What?" Graham gasped in disbelief, his mind reeling.
"The sorcerer would single out one mortal and steal his life from his body," Death explained. "And keep that life imprisoned in this cage – which, unsurprisingly, he calls a lifecage."
He tapped on the glass of the cage with one finger.
"The mortal would remain in a state in between life and death. His life would be near him, but not part of him, and if an individual is separated from his life for too long, his soul soon departs and he is among the dead. This sorcerer would wait for a few days before calling on the 'ill' mortal's family with the lifecage with him, then reunite the mortal's life with his body, miraculously 'curing' the poor individual. Then he would take his pay and depart, waiting for an opportunity to strike again."
"That scoundrel!" Graham snarled. "And I thought he was merely robbing the townsfolk blind!"
"Apparently this fellow was much more malevolent some time ago," Death said, "But something made him change his ways. However, as you mortals say, a crooked tree cannot be made to grow straight again, so he soon began resorting to trickery to make a living, secretly causing mortals uncalled-for suffering, then emerging in the guise of a benevolent magician to wring a vast sum of money out of them in exchange for his aid."
"So did you send me after the lifecage merely to put an end to his tricks?" Graham asked in confusion.
"Yes," Death said coldly, "But that is only part of my reason for wanting this cage out of his hands: I do not like it when mortals so brazenly play with the lives of others in this way. This sorcerer has been taking and replacing mortal's lives like this for some time, and I was quite cross when I finally found out about it. Stealing a life while leaving the soul trapped in an empty body is cruel and unnatural, and these mortals who dabble with such deep magic should know better than to do such a thing."
Uncertain what to say in response, Graham simply nodded.
"As for why I sent you to get the lifecage rather than getting it myself," Death continued in a less menacing voice, "As I have told you before, I do not wish to interfere with the affairs of mortals, and I find the concept of popping into a mortal's home, snatching one of their possessions and popping back out again quite undignified."
"Yes," Graham agreed. "Such a thing seems quite below one such as you."
Death nodded silently.
"Now, King Graham, since you have completed all three of my tasks successfully, you have proven yourself worthy of my aid. Therefore, I will help restore your son-in-law's life. I wish you to be present with him when I arrive, so you may now return to your home. Do you still have the charm that you used to enter my realm with you?"
Graham felt in his pocket for the Mortis charm, and found it tucked safely in the bottom of his pocket.
"Then wear it when you wish me to come and help you, and I shall arrive with your son-in-law's life. Good-bye, mortal king."
With that, Death dissolved into a thin gray mist and vanished. Not wanting to waste another minute, Graham turned north and headed in the direction of Castle Daventry as quickly as he could.
In his hurry to get back to the castle, Graham forgot to hide his face with his hood before he entered the town. Most of the townspeople were busy with their day-to-day activities, so most of them didn't notice him, but he was certain that several people have glimpsed him clearly, and all sorts of rumors about what he could possibly be doing traveling through the town all alone would doubtlessly by flying about the taverns come nightfall. This didn't matter to Graham. All that concerned him at the moment was seeing his wife, daughter and son-in-law again.
Soon, he was clear of the town and had reached the towering castle. As he crossed one of the bridges spanning the castle's treacherous moat, the guards spotted him and yelled to the guards stationed inside the courtyard:
"Hear ye, hear ye! His Royal Majesty, King Graham, has returned! Raise the portcullis!"
After all these years as a king, Graham still hadn't grown accustomed to his presence being announced in such a way. Still, he refrained from gritting his teeth in annoyance and nodded to the guards as they bowed before him. When the heavy portcullis had been raised, Graham strode into the courtyard, where the many guards and servants present there also bowed to him. Finally, he reached the castle's heavy double doors, which the two guards standing before them opened for him.
"Good day, Your Majesty," said the first servant that Graham encountered as he entered the castle's main hall. "Was your journey successful?"
"It was," Graham replied. "Where are my wife and daughter?"
"Both the queen and the princess are in the chambers of the princess's husband," the servant replied solemnly.
Graham nodded his thanks and hurried down the main hall until he found one of the staircases that led to the second floor. Despite his growing weariness, he almost ran up the steps and didn't slow down until he had reached the door to Rosella and Edgar's room. There, he removed his knapsack and cloak, then put his ear to the door and listened. He could hear Rosella and Valanice's hushed voices from behind the door, and for a moment, he was almost afraid to knock. When he finally gathered enough courage to do so he rapped as delicately as he was able, as if the door were made of a thin sheet of glass. The voices fell silent for a moment, then Graham heard Rosella's voice:
"Father? Is that you?"
"Yes, it is," Graham replied quietly.
There was a sound of running footsteps and the door flew open to reveal Rosella, her golden hair looking slightly more unkempt than usual, and her azure eyes looking wide with concern.
"Oh, Father, thank goodness you've returned!" she cried, throwing her arms around Graham's neck. "Mama and I have missed you so much!"
"I can't tell you how much I've missed you," Graham said, firmly returning his daughter's embrace. Presently, Valanice came walking towards him, and Rosella stepped back to let her welcome Graham home as well. She firmly hugged him, the familiar smell of her perfume caressing Graham's nose.
"Did you truly receive our letters?" the queen asked.
"I received three of them," Graham replied.
"That's all that we sent," Valanice smiled, tears filling her eyes.
"And you received the two things I sent back with Scrimshaw?"
Valanice pulled a dry fern sprig and a pure white feather from the folds of her dress.
"I still can't believe that that little creature was able to find you and return home so easily," she said.
"Neither can I," Graham agreed.
For a moment, no one said anything, and it was Graham who finally broke the silence with the question he dreaded asking, though he knew that he had to ask it:
"So, how is Edgar?"
Rosella stared at the floor, and Valanice slowly drew away from him, sighing deeply. Without a word, she led him into the room and pointed towards a small bed standing against one of the walls. On this bed, covered by a blanket, lay a thin, frail man with pure white hair. Hundreds of wrinkles crisscrossed his gaunt face, and Graham could scarcely believe that this was the same man that his daughter had married.
Edgar was sleeping on his back and breathing shallowly. On his chest was Scrimshaw, also asleep and curled up like a cat. One of Edgar's shriveled, sinewy hands rested gently on the creature's back. A golden square of light from a nearby window fell across the prince's body.
"The physician advised moving him to another room, but Rosella didn't want to be separated from him," Valanice whispered sadly. "Eventually we compromised and brought this bed in here for him."
"Where are his parents?" Graham asked.
"I'm not certain," Valanice said. "They're probably still in the chambers that we furnished for them."
"What about Alexander?"
"I think he is somewhere on the grounds, I just don't know where."
Graham nodded. He slowly approached the young man who looked decades older than him and gently spoke his name. When Edgar didn't awaken, Graham spoke to him again in a louder voice. When he tried addressing him a third time, Edgar stirred slightly, furrowed his brow, then slowly opened his dark brown eyes.
"Your…Majesty?" he said slowly in a voice much deeper than Graham remembered him having.
"Yes, Edgar," Graham replied. "I've returned."
"Any…luck?" Edgar asked wearily.
"I believe so."
Edgar managed a small smile.
"How do you feel?" Graham asked.
"Very…very tired," Edgar said.
"Well, don't worry," Graham said. "You won't be tired for much longer. I've found a way to get your original life back."
Edgar's smile widened.
"I…knew you…would. How are…how are you going to get it?"
"It's somewhat difficult to explain," Graham said, "But I've – "
He was interrupted by a pounding of footsteps and a man's voice at the door. He looked up to see a young man with black hair and blue eyes standing on the threshold to Rosella's room, breathing heavily. It was Alexander.
"The guards told me you were here," he panted, staring into his father's eyes. "How is Edgar?"
"He hasn't changed since you last spoke with him," Valanice said. "But Graham was just telling us how he plans to help him."
Alexander calmed slightly at this, walked over to his father and warmly greeted him. It had been some time since the two kings had last met.
"I'm sorry if I interrupted you," Alexander said. "Continue whatever it was you were saying before I arrived."
Graham nodded and turned back to Edgar.
"I have found and made a deal with the being that watches over the lives of all mortals," the king explained. "To many, he is known as Father Death, or merely Death."
Valanice gasped, and Rosella and Alexander looked worriedly at their father.
"I was afraid of him too at first," Graham said, "But he isn't nearly as dark and ultimate as many see him. After carrying out several tasks for him, he has agreed to help me. Edgar's life is still intact, but it is in Death's possession. When I say the word, he will come here and replace the cat's life with Edgar's life."
"So he can be helped after all," Rosella cried. "But Father…you've been visiting Death?"
"I'm afraid I have," Graham replied. "As odd as it sounds, he is the only one that can save Edgar. Are all of you ready for me to summon him?"
Rosella and her mother exchanged nervous glances, then nodded. Alexander inclined his head as well, and when Graham turned to Edgar, the prince sighed heavily and said:
"Yes. I'm…I'm more than ready…to stop…being old."
Graham pulled the Mortis charm out of his pocket and placed it around his neck.
For a moment, nothing happened, then Rosella jumped and pointed to something behind Graham, who turned to see a small plume of mist forming roughly three feet off the floor. The mist became larger, darker and thicker until it resolved itself into the familiar bony, robed figure of Death.
Valanice took a nervous step backwards. Rosella and Alexander stiffened, but couldn't tear their eyes away from the strange being. Graham turned to see Edgar's reaction, and was surprised to see the prince staring at Death, looking not fearful, but quizzical.
"That's…Death?" he asked.
"That is the name that most know me by," Death said in his usual monotonous voice. "I assume you are the one called Edgar?"
"Yes. Yes, I am," Edgar replied. Scrimshaw woke up, noticed the robed figure in the center of the room and glared at it, as if he saw Death as an intruder and would attack him if he didn't leave the room.
"Good," Death replied. "I will tend to you in a moment, but first, there is something I need to tell King Graham."
He turned to Graham, who suddenly noticed that Death was carrying under his arm. It was almost two feet across, roughly square-shaped and covered by a gray cloth.
"While you were journeying here," Death said, "I made a brief visit to the home of the sorcerer. I wanted to talk with him about the mischief he was causing with his lifecage, and I was also a little irritated with him for attempting to kill you, especially after you told him that I sent you to take the lifecage from him."
"How did you know that I mentioned your name to him?" Graham asked.
"He blurted out a lot of things as I was trying to have a civil conversation with him," Death said. "The poor wretch simply wouldn't stop blithering madly or screaming at me to return to the dark pit that had spawned me, or some rubbish like that."
Death leaned closer to Graham and lowered his voice.
"Incidentally, as the sorcerer was raving at me, he revealed something that even I didn't know about him: your first meeting with him in his home was not the first time that the two of you have encountered each other."
"What do you mean?"
"As I told you during our last meeting, many years ago, he caused much more trouble than he did up until recently," Death explained. "During my talk with him, I learned that he would roam the countryside, looking for opportunities to cast spells on unsuspecting passersby…and one of his favorite spells was one that would temporarily paralyze a mortal from head to foot, leaving him at the mercy of the wild creatures that populated the land."
Graham stood motionless, as if the very mention of the spell had affected him. That sorcerer was the same sorcerer that he had encountered on his mission to find Daventry's three lost treasures. He had the same white beard, the same dark eyes, and even his garments were similar to the ones he had worn when he had found Graham wandering through Daventry's woods and frozen him.
"Apparently, after he found out that the young knight he had placed under this spell had become the ruler of Daventry, he went into hiding, fearing that that man would find him and banish him…or worse. He tried using only benevolent magic for a time, but soon, he began to use black magic again. He helped you only to avoid being found out by you and facing your wrath, but after you took the lifecage from him, he couldn't keep his true nature to himself any longer. However, just like all mortals, sorcerers fear death as well, and after the talk I had with him, I am confident that he will not cause you or your kingdom any more trouble."
"Well, thank you, Death," Graham said. "Though you didn't need to do that on my account."
"It was a little impulsive of me," Death admitted, "But I also had to visit the sorcerer's home to retrieve this..."
With these words, he set the shrouded object under his arm down on the floor and pulled the cloth from it, which vanished as soon as he did, revealing a small iron cage containing a languid, scrawny black cat.
Just one more batch of chapters to go before we reach the end! Stay tuned.
My Sierra fan art and fan fiction
The Quest Lives... (and the Injokes/References list could do with some contributions.)
Sierra Music Central - A great site for high-quality Sierra soundtracks!
"The two who are one will mostly emerge triumphant over the Good Who lazily turned Evil, and Chaos will reign no more."