Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: From the Chronicles of Daventry, Part V (Part 5 in some editions) is the novelization of KQ5 from the King's Quest Companion. It is written from the perspective of Derek Karlavaegen (as told to him by Graham). It is divided into 9 parts including a prelude and eight chapters.
The novelization is actually designed as a walkthrough that can be followed to win the game. It follows the main path through the game (as designated by the game developers).
Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: From the Chronicles of Daventry, Part VEdit
A note to readers:Edit
The events of the past few moons have been horrifying and harrowing to all the good folks of Daventry. The abduction of the realm's royal family, all of its retainers, and the Castle Daventry itself was an evil of such magnitude and monstrosity that it transcends the commonplace wonders of our magical dimension. That our emotions still reel as if drugged, back and forth from ecstatic relief to numbed revulsion, is everyday testimony to the common psychic wound we all suffered. It is a laceration that will be a long time healing even with magical remedies, and which may never heal fully cleanly. That King Graham and his family suffered yet more is beyond the easy comprehension of this editor.
Derek Karlavaegen, a frequent, distinguished, and popular contributor to The Times of Daventry, is closer to the story of those events than most. A friend of Prince Alexander and a frequent house guest of the royal family, he has a unique perspective on the personal impact of the outrage upon them. Karlavaegen also resides in the former home of the renegade Manannan, and has sense soon after the sorcerer was turned into a cat by Prince Alexander. He feels fortunate, if not unduly lucky, that Mordack left him unscathed.
Derek Karlavaegen was invited by King Graham and his family to spend some time at the refurbished Castle Daventry with them, not long after their ordeals. They asked him to write and record, for all who might read, the quest of the King of Daventry. We print it here in its entirety, unedited, with Karlavaegen's personal observations included.
The universe is not fair. It never has been and never will be. Indeed, the entire multiverse is not fair. It wasn't made that way. It wasn't made to accommodate the folk and the creatures and mountains and seas that blemish the worlds and celestial orbs. It is much too large to be conscious of such less than trivial things. The silent universe concerns itself with greater things, and with the cosmic balances; the symmetry of forces that keep the stars and planets in their paths, the tides and the oceans in their places, and the magical pumps and reservoirs primed. And it concerns itself with the fine balance between the Light and the Dark, the eternal war between Good and Evil. The universe could care less about what happens to the players in the those battles.
This it is, it seems, that King Graham of Daventry and his family are forever charged (although some might say cursed) to play a grave and crucial and essential role in the very existence of our universe. For these forces, Good and Evil, are unlike the impersonal ones, which functions to keep the sky from falling, and creatures from floating off into the heavens. Good and Evil are only seen through the actions and compulsions of the human and other folk---Good the urge for life and harmony and renewal for all creatures. Evil the urge to chaos, destruction, dissolution, and self above all else. At some times Good predominates; at others, Evil.
These twin forces are not only part of the very fabric of the universe, they cannot exist unless the other does. Without Evil, there is no Good, and if there is Good, it must be balanced with the Dark force. This is, I suspect, the universe's way of preventing stagnation. Conflict causes change, and change keeps time and existence from coming to a dead stop. And change keeps existence interesting. Could the maker or makers of the universes bore easily, and do our life and death struggles amuse them? I would hope for better from them.
In any case, all the natural philosophers and scholars and metaphysicians I have consulted are unanimous in one fact: At this time in the existence of Daventry, the conflict between Good and Evil is represented by the dark wizard Manannan and all his family on the side of Evil, and King Graham and his family for Good. Neither side chose to be what they are nor understand why they were chosen. The final winner will determine the course of our world until the next crisis arrives, and the fight is renewed again with new players.
Graham, of course, disagrees with my theory. He chortles and says I think too much. But he does not laugh deeply as he dismisses my musings, and usually finds a way to quickly change the subject. Perhaps he doesn't want to dwell on the trials that have beset him and his loved ones. You really can't blame him. He may be a king, but he is mostly definitely a mortal man. And mortal men, even kings, cry.
As is his habit, King Graham began his day with a stroll through the foreset to Lake Maylie where a vigerous swim dissolved the last sticky threads of sleep from his brain, and the morning fuzz from his eyes. He says his dawn exertions keeps his body firm and his thoughts clear.
Graham is no longer the young knight who won the throne of Daventry . More than a score of years have passed since then, and those decades have been spent in rebuilding his ravished kingdom, only to see new troubles and disaster strike when all seemed finally well. Not all of the acts and decisions he has made over the years have been good ones, but he has always done what he felt best for Daventry, even to the sacrifice of his only daughter. Rosella has forgiven him for taking her to the dragon, but Graham says the memory of her tied to the stake, awaiting death with her eyes open and dry, still sometimes disturbs his dreams. That she was rescued and survived only eases the horror a little.
The responsibilities that are placed on a king's head along wiht his crown are many, and they have put a few deep lines in his face. Valanice, his queen, says they make him look dashing. He says they are "laugh lines" from his joy of living with her.
Graham is no longer the slim knight that scampered up a narrow beanstalk to the Land of the Clouds. The decades have filled him out, but with hard muscle, not soft flesh. His eyes are not quite what they used to be, and he would no longer care to attempt outrunning an ogre, but he is still in splendid physical condition. Although unshaven by preference, he looks like the monarch he is.
That morning he was wearing his usual attire, the short tunic, pants, and high boots of a Ranger. His head was topped with a long cap, rakishly adorned with one red feather. He calls it his adventurer's cap because it has accompanied him through the adventures that had won him Daventry's throne, and the hand of Valanice. He had a leather travelling bag on his back, something he always carried in case he discovered something interesting to bring home.
I will not recount much detail about how Mordack appeared on a hill overlooking Castle Daventry that day. As the king busied himself picking a few bright flowers as a gift fro Valanice and Rosella, the sorcerer invoked magics powerful enough to rip the castle out of its very foundations, shrink, and whirl it, and all within, up into the sky and away. Witnesses to the awful event say that when Mordack and Castle Daventry vanished in front of their unbelieving eyes, they did not go "Poof!"They thundered.
It was the sound that brought Graham hurrying back. For a moment, he thought he had taken a wrong fork in the path back to his home. His eyes saw the great gash in the ground, and his nose smelled the lingering odor of the explosive energies, but his mind did not register what he was perceiving at that instant. How could he, really? Those who saw it happen had trouble believing. Graham spent a while staring, jaw getting closer to the ground. He is an intelligent man and the evidence of his senses soon stirred his tongue.
"What is going on? Where's my castle?" Considering the circumstances, Graham may be excused talking aloud to himself.
It did bring a result. From above, an unusually deep and hollow voice surprised Graham, coming, it seemed, invisibly out of the air.
"Perhaps I can be of some help." A look around and up finally showed the king the owner of the mysterious voice.
His name, Cedric with no surname. He was short and stout, and clad just in a vest and monocle, that's all. For an owl, that is overdressed. And so it was that king Graham met he who was fated to be his companion during the coming hardships and adventueres, and it was an uncommon pairing indeed.
Cedric was, and still is, both familiar, servant and companion to the ancient and powerful high wizard Crispinophur. Crispinohphur is said to have been the leader in our first withdrawal from the Other World to Daventry. He now lives a quiet and anonymous life in the Sovereignty of Serenia. unnoticed and forgotten by most folk of our world. He tells me he prefers it that way, having had more excitement in his life than he wishes to remember. In his words, "Everybody needs a bit of peace and relaxation every millenium or so!" He prefers to be called Crispin, he says, because it is just too much bother for him to remember his entire name anymore.
Cedric explained to Graham what had happened to Castle Daventry, although he knew not why. He suggested that his master might be able to help; Crispin knew Mordack some what and had had dealings wit him in the past. The king, with no where else to turn, accepted Cedric's suggestion.
"How far is it to Crispin's?" he asked.
"Too far to walk," was the owl's reply. "Let's fly!"
With that, Cedric flapped his wings and fell off his perch in an oak tree.
"Oops, clumsy of me," he apologized, and fluttered awkwardly back to his branch. Graham winced in disbelief.
Cedric then conjured a small bag from somewhere and sprinkled a light powder down on Graham's head.
"Fairy dust to give you flight! Just flap your arms with all your might."
"I'm allergic to fairy dust," Graham objected. then he sneezed loudly. The force of the sneeze lifted him into the air and kept him aloft, and frantically flapping to stay upright. After a few moments, the king just began flapping harder, and followed Cedric higher into the sky. Between sneezes he hoped the dust's magic woudn't wear off before they got to Serenia.
It didn't, but it iddn't quite get him to Crispin's house either. Graham's improptu flying was a little short, and he ended his aerial journey neck-deep in a small pond with stands next to the cottage. The water washed the dust from Graham and brought relief from the sneezes. The splash brought the old man outside to see what was the matter.
If Crispin's beard were any longer, he would be unable to walk for fear of always tangling it around his ankles. He walks stooped, assisted by a staff, with short slow steps. His eyes, though, are clear, bright blue, almost iridescent. There is a keeness and sharpness behind them, in strange contrast to his constant forgetfullness. It is as if he is playing the role of old fool.
Crispin invited Graham inside and offered him peppermint tea for warmth and for something to wrap their hands and conversation around. He said he knew that Mordack was "A bad one, with an evil mind," but could give no clue as to why he might kidnap the king's castle and family. Crispin told Grahm that he would offer him what little helphe could provide.
That help came in three parts. The first was a foul tasting piece of smoked magical whitesnake. As Graham swallowed it (proud that he did not gag it back up), Crispin informed him that its power would allow him to understand, and speak with, animals, trees, and the entire natural world. The king suspected that would be quite useful.
The second piece of aid was a dul, dusty and nicked magical wand. Crispin said it was an old one of his, with little power left. However, it could be changed and might even take a liking to Graham. It wasn't much, but it was the only one he could give. The king suspected that it would not be very useful, but he took it to be polite.
The last thing he offered Graham was Cedric.
"Whoo, whoo, me?" Cedric hooted.
"Don't do me any favors!" Neither Graham nor Cedric approved of the idea.
"Now both of you get out of here before Mordack does something worse," Crispin commanded. he nearly shoved the two out of the house.
"Thank you, sir, for all your help," were the king's last words to the wizard. He was being polite. He didn't think Cedric would be useful at all.
Cedric sat silent on a branch, pecking lice from between his feathers, pausing often to retrieve the monocle, which would fall from his beak with each time he lowered his head. Graham leaned against an odd device that adorned Crispin's front yard, occasionally spinning one of its moving parts. This finally got the owl's attention.
"Be careful, king. That's a Universe Interpreter, and it keeps the stars aligned or something like that. It's not a plaything!"
Graham grumped, removing his hands, and tugged an ear.
"Don't call me 'King'. Graham is fine, and I hope you have better advice to give me than that."
"Now that you mention it, Graham, Serenia towne is not too far south of here. It's a palce to begin looking and, at the very least, it is a good place to obtain food and other provisions."
"That's not a bad idea. Lead on, oh brainy bird. And try coming up with some ideas for me to get a few coins to pay for those things."
South through the woods they began, ignoring the steep trail that began a short way from Crispin's doorstep, and which lead up into the Great Mountains. Cedric informed Graham that beyond the mountains lay the Northern Sea, and that was where Mordack kept his castle, or so it had been in the past. It was on a strange island in that ocean, and it appeared, as times, to float above the waves. they both realized that they must eventually venture that steep road up, but only after they gathered the necessary supplies to survive a trip through the icy heights. A viper was sunning itself warily in that trail also, alert to all signs of movement. Its presence made that hard eastward path even less desirable. As they looked on the snake, Graham heard a series of noises coming from within a stand of trees just west of him. It sounded like sobbing. That's what it was.
A young man, a noble by his dress, sat despondently on a log, head in hand and holding back tears. Cedric suggested that it would be a good idea to see what was the matter.
"He looks like he could use a little cheering up, I would say."
Graham walked over to the young man. His name was Prince Herbert of Greys, and his story was sad and simple. Herbert told Graham that he and his sweetheart had been strolling hand-in-hand through the woods, looking at little else but each other's eyes. As if from nowhere a particularly ugly witch appeared before them and demanded that Herbert become her love. Revolted at the thought, he rejected the old hag and embraced his blond princess more tightly to him. This did not please the hag at all. The next thing he knew, he was standing in the forest alone, the witch and his Alicia both gone. He had been searching for months since, and his desperation was almost too much for him to bear.
Graham and Cedric listened, but could offer no help other than to be alert for the princess as they ventured upon their own quest. This slight hope, though, was enough to swell life back into Herbert, and gave him new resolve to trudge onward.
"Fare thee well, stranger," he waved to them. "A man must do what a man must do, and I must be going on. Thank you for your small kindness, and may both our quests be successful!" He disappeared from sight, but the tune of his traveling song lingered a bit behind him.
From the spot where they first heard Herbert sobbing, it was but a short hike to Serenia towne. The largest collection of human folk for leagues around, it rested lazily at the base of the Great Mountains, dipping its water-wheeled toe into the fast, deep river which flowed rapidly by its walls. Its thatched roofs and smoking chimneys gave invitation to all to pass a little time, and a little coin, within its gates. It was an invitation that Graham accepted. Cedric chose to wait outside.
Few folks were about that day in the towne square, a child or two chasing hoops, a matron or two shopping, and an occasional dog barking at phantoms or doing its business on the cobblestones. By an alleyway, Graham noticed a man attempting to fix the broken wheel of his wagon. He was at the edge of bad temper, and was using his hammer to release frustration.
Graham is among the kindness and most helpful of people. It matters little to him if he is a king; if he spies some folk or creature in need of assistance, he feels it his duty to offer assistance.
"Is there anything I can do to help? the king asked the man.
"Nah, but thanks anyway," the fellow replied. "I've been trying to fix this for years, but never seem to get anywhere. It's alright, it gives me something to do."
"If you insist. Have a good day!"
This slight conversation had gone nowhere, but during it Graham's nostrils had detected the aroma of fish, and not a very fresh one. A quick glance into a barrel near to where he stood confirmed the smell.
"Yuk!" he murmured.
Let me pause for a moment to say something else about King Graham. He has a set of rules that he follows without exception whenever he goes adventuring.
"I have gone adventuring too often in my life," he told me. "But when I do, I always heed the advice my father gave me when I was a boy. My daddy used to tell me, 'Boy, if I have learned anything in my life, I have learned this: When in doubt, or in trouble, pick up anything that is not nailed down, and if it is, check for loose nails or boards. Check carefully into, under, above, below and behind things. Read everything, you might learn something. Wear clean undergarments, brush after meals and always remember, nothing is as it appears'."
Graham had no doubt that the old fish looked as disgusting as it smelled, but hsi family was in trouble and the fish wasn't nailed to anything. he took it, glad there were so few about to notice his revulsion. With that done, he hurried back out the gate of Serenia before his scent had him kicked out.
"Smells yummy, Graham old boy. I didn't realize you had such gourmet sensibiities."
Cedric refused to let the king's find go unnoted. Graham repeated his father's maxims to the owl and invited him to leave if he disagreed. Cedric did his best to wrinkle his beak, then pointed his wing toward the west.
"There's much better food that way, king. After you!"
Indeed, there was. The road west first went past a baker. The cakes and other sweets must have just left the oven, because the smells of sugar and butter and cinnamon and spice in the air was almost enough to cover that of the fish.
With no coin in his pocket, though, Graham could not go inside, despite the urgings of his sweet tooth. Instead, he continued on the road away form the towne. The Swarthy Hog Inn beckoned next with the smells of roasting meats and the clatter of emptying cups. This too was passed with reluctance.
At home in Daventry, the king has a magic chest, which always stays filled with gold. he and his kindom have no financial concerns because of this, but that very situation made his lack of coin at theat moment more acute. he wasn't hungry yet that day, but he was beggining to know what being poor was. Graham wondered what he would do when it was time to eat; he has known little hunger in his life, and did not want to make its aquaintance again. SO, with those thoughts in his mind, and the smell of thoroughly putrid fish in his nose, Graham left the more populous parts of Serenia in search of treasure. Cedric followed at a safe distance.
The fish didn't stay with Graham for very long. Not far from the Inn, where hte trees of the forest were just beginning to thin into wide brushland, the king spotted a large black bear ripping his claws at a dead tree. Thousands of honey bees zipped furiously around the beast, attempting to save their honey from the belly of the bear.
We have noted before that a creature in need always touches the heart of King Graham. In this case, the bear apparently needed food, and the bees, salvation. Despite the wisdom of his father's advice, Graham had been having serious second thoughts about the dead fish. And, bears like fish amost as much as they like honey. So, with one true toss, Graham was able to come to the assistance of both bee and bruin. He hurled the decaying thing and hit hte bear sharply on its side. According to Graham, it squished more than anything, but it caught the beast's attention, reminding it that a dead fish in paw is worth more than an angry bee up the nose. The bear happily bounded off, licking the slime from its new meal.
"That should do a lot to clear the air betwen us," Cedric quipped. But before Graham could tell him that the remark stank, another voice filled the meadow with a soft buzz.
"I thank you, King Graham, for saving my nest." Startled, Graham glanced quickly to the hollow tree. One large bee flew out of a large hole in it and directly up to his face. It hovered there, wearing a crown and carrying a sceptre, making no attempt to attack him.
"I am Queen Beetrice, ruler of all the bees. I know of your quest, and am grateful for your aid. There is little I can do to help you, but pleasetake a honeycomb from our tree. It may be useful to you at some time. Also, I grant you protection from the stings of all my subjects. No more can I do. Go now with our best wishes. Until we meet again!" As one, Queen Beetrice and all the thousands of her subjects turned and buzzed quickly off.
"I'm not going near that hole," said Cedric. "You get the honey," And this is just what Graham did, although he was sure at least one of the insects would stick him while his hand was groping in the tree's hollow. He was wrong.
"That stick's not nailed down, your majesty," Cedric chided at Graham. He was pointing one wing to the ground at the base of the tree. "Aren't you going to obey your dear old dad and pick it up?"
Cedric was starting to annoy the king. Reaching down, Graham grabbed the stick, intending to heave it at the bothersome bird. He held his irritation in check though, and planned instead to pay the owl back in kind. Cedric saw the motion, however, and with a terrified "Squaawkkk!" winged quickly away and dead-smack into the tree trunk. Graham's laughter stung more than any bee, or the thump.
When Graham's son Alexander defeated the wizard Manannan, he was able to finance his scape from Llewdor by separating a band of bandits from part of their treasure. Graham knew this story well, and it gave him inspiration. He needed treasure in order to journey across the Great Mountains in pursuit of Mordack. Like most folk, he had heard the tales told of the thieves of the Endless Desert, a two-score band of cut-throats who preyed on caravans and travellers there. Here Graham was on the very edge of the Endless Desert, and he needed coin....
"You have got to be crazy," squaked Cedric. "You are going into the desert to search for bandits so you can rob them? You're going in without water? Without a map? You're going in without knowing where the oases are? Forget it, I'm staying here where there are worms and water. I'll send flowers to the funeral---if anyone ever finds your body. You cannot be serious."
Graham was quite serious, even though he agreed with Cedric's assessment of his chances. His wife and family were worth most any risk, and while he realized that he could wander through Serenia begging for coin and assistance, it would not be a seemly thing for a king to do. Besides, evening was not far away, and the desert would be cooler then. If all went right, he would have treasure by morning. Then it would be off and after Mordack. As a plan, it seemed reasonable to him.
"It seems insane to me!" Cedric insisted for the last time. His protests went unheeded, though. Graham scratched Cedric's head, and headed out into the desert. He intended to walk directly west from th bee's tree until he found an oasis, or decided to return in failure. He did not intend to wander aimlessly. If that plan didn't work he would try again from another spot.
Graham chose well. West, west, west, farther west he plunged, stumbling at last onto a few palm ttrees surrounding a pond of sweet water. Gratefully he drank his fill, wishing he had something with which to carry water with him as he hiked. As he rested, he thought he could see the outline of high hills or cliffs in the far north. He wasn't sure that he wasn't seeing a mirage, but decided to walk toward that horizon anyway. If he kept his bearings, he should be able to return to the oasis if he were mistaken.
The sameness of the desert sand, and the heat that refuses to go away, are enough to make a person mad. A lapse of attention, or a moment's confusion as to direction, both mean a hard death. But Graham had not seen a mirage, and he kept his wits. He soon met what proed to be cliffs, but they were too steep to climb. Taking note of where he was, he trudged his way farther west, always hugging the cliff base. About the time he felt he must return, or perish, he found a small spring. He also found the desert thieves for whom he had been searching.
At first he thought that thunder had come to the clear dry skies. The heat had slowed his mind some, so it took a few moments for it to register the sound as hoofbeats. It seemed to come from several horses. Graham immediately looked for cover, not knowing if the galloping was good news or bad,. He suspected the lattter. Some rocks near the spring looked as if they would hid him from sight, provided the riders did nto stop to drink. It was a chance he had no choice but to take. Peering from his shelter, he watched as the bandits, which as what they were, careen past and though an opening in the cliffs.
It had been there all along, of course. Graham had fixed his focus on the water, and then the bandits. In following their ride, he finally noticed that which he had not seen before. The cliffs were breached for a hundred yards or more, and on the other side of the opening was an enormous temple carved out of the living cliffs themselves. Great stone statues of winged horses and lions stood at the bottom of a wide stone stair, and the carven image of some unknown demon or deity stared down from the temple's portal. The bandits raced their mounts straight to the temple steps and then dismounted. Carrying a heavy bag in one hand, most likely loot, the leader of the small band waved a long staff which he held with the other. He shouted the words, "Open, Sesame!" and the great door to the temple dissolved into the air. The thief rushed inside, and moments later emerged with just the staff. At once, the door solidified again behind the man who then remounted his panting steed and sped back into the desert. The others followed, leaving Graham alone and unharmed.
"Open, Sesame! Huh? I think I've found what I've been looking for---where the thieves hide their treasure. And, the magic word! Alright Graham, let's get some gold and get out of here." It is Graham's abit to speak aloud to himself, a habit best indulged in private.
Graham left the shelter of the concealing rocks, and made his way to where the bandit had shouted the words of opening. They didn't work for the king. He tried them accompanied by a wide gesture. No luck. He tried the words both loud and soft. Same lack of results.
"I guess I need the staff," he told himself. "And that means I need to find their camp. So get moving, big ears. And don't forget to get a drink before you leave!" Graham made sure he drank at the spring.
The bandits had ridden both out of an dinto the southwest. It seemed most logical to Graham, therefore that southwest from the temple was where they kept their hideout. Thoroughly refreshed by the spring's cool water, he chose to explore westward for two hours, and then south. Another oasis was his reward, and the water there tasted better than the sweetest wine that Graham had ever known. Then it was south again as the sun sank mercifully below the horizon. For three more hours he stalked in that direction, untl he thought he heard the sound of drums and cymbals drifting from the west. With much care and little concealment except for the growing dark, Graham approached the sound of revelry. he was not to be disappointed. Graham shortly found himself on the priphery of a desert camp. From the look of the man collapsed drunk on the sand, the encampment was that of the desert thieves.
On the far side of the camp, loud voices and music came from one large tent. Through an opening in it, Graham could see the sleek, sweaty bodies of the swaying dancers. Their noise, he decided, would cover the sound of his movements.
By the campfire, he discovered a clay jug full of water. Staying as much in the shadows as he could, hoping to blend in with the bandits, he approached the fire and quickly drank his fill. As he did so, Graham decided to first investigate the small tent that was closest to the fire. Loud snores came from within it, fluttering hard the tent's fabric. He knew that he must be swift and silent or he would be discovered.
Before entering, Graham inhaled deeply and held his air lest the sound of his own breathing betray him. Swift and silent, he reminded himself. Swift and silent. Then he stepped through the opening.
The bandit was snoring, but his sleep was restless. Knowing that he might awaken at any moment, Graham surveyed the tent's interio, and discovered that he had chanced upon the tent of the staff's owner. He wasted no time marveling at his luck; silently Graham rushed to the back of the tent. Careful not to make a noise, or touch the lightly sleeping man, he snatched the staff firmly and retraced his path to the outdoors. Releasing the breath he had been holding, Graham dashed east into the desert darkness, listening for any sound or alarm or pursuit. There was none. Graham esacped through the desert night, forever eastward. In fleeing with the staff, he had lost his bearings in the dark. Confused and disoriented, he decided to push on in the same direction. After several hours, he at last turned north, certain he could smell water. He must have. The oasis he finally drank of blessed him with a night of liquid dreams.
The morning appears host and fast in the Endless Desert. Heat steals appetite, so with fresh water in his belly, Graham felt ready to take on the bandits again. Or, at least, their treasure house. He turned his eyes north, hoping to spy the cliffs, but saw only dune and sand.
"No matter," he told the cloudless heavens, "They are out there, and I'll never get to them by standing here."
Graham's trek north that morning took him past a sun-bleached and vulture-picked skeleton. From its size, he assumed the unfortunate person had been a man, although that had become a meaningless fact after years in the sun. Lying next to the bones were the tattered remains of a boot, all that remained of the dead man's possessions. Graham recalls that it was a boot for a left foot, but doesn't know why he remembers that trifle. Maybe he could envision himself in the same state, discovered by another wanderer, with no identity and just a single left boot to remind the universe that he had once een more than white, dry bones.
Graham took the boot with him as he continued onward to the northern cliffs. He moved more slowly, conserving strength, lost in thoughts of his own mortality, and the mystery of his family's fate. In time, he reached the cliffs and, looking around, realized that he was nearly at the temple. That knowledge gave him strength, and he hardly staggered at all as he walked the short way west to the life-restoring spring. The water still tasted good.
After a while, Graham was ready to conquer the temple. Equpped with the staff, and knowing the magic words, he was sure he could enter with little trouble. What concerned him, he says, was the speed with which the bandits entered the temple and left. It was as if they hurried lest they be trapped inside when the door returned to solid. Graham wasn't sure of his conclusion, and hoped to discover a lever or button or something in the interior to allow him to stay for some time. But he resolved to enter and leave as quickly as he had entered and departed the bandit tent, snatching what he could. He reasoned that he didn't need very much treasure to serve his needs, and the bandits might return unheard, and surprise him if he stayed too long.
Graham climbed to the temple's top step. Holding the staff aloft, he intoned, "Open, Sesame!" At once, something he hadn't expected happened, the staff shattered in his hand. But before Graham could react to that apparently disastrous twist of fate, the great stone door dissolved, inviting him inside. The king wasted no time in remorse or confusion, but hurried the few steps inside and looked quickly around. No button. No levers. No pulleys. Lots of jewels and golden chests and bulging leather bags. The ransom of a world, perhaps two, lay a dozen steps away. Nearly at his feet shone one, lone gold coin, and a golden bottle. Graham wasted no time on his decision, and scooped up the coin, grabbed the metal bottle, and sprinted outside. He felt the magical door turn solid behind him, and was sure it pinched off several stray hairs from the back of his h ead. Graham made the immediate decision that he didn't want to know for sure that he was correct.
"That was quick!"
Graham signed, releasing his tension, and wiped sweat from his brow. He was sure it wasn't all from the heat. After a few slow, deep breaths he tensed, thinking he heard horsemen approaching the temple again, perhaps in pursuit of him. Wasting not the time it took to examine the treasures, Graham sprinted eastward along the cliffs.
Despite his sudden flight, the king knew that safety lay in that direction. All he had to do was retrace his steps from the temple back to the oasis he had stopped at when he first ventured into the Endless Desert. Of course he had to avoid capture, but in theory it was a fine idea. Anyway, it worked, and he never heard nor saw any further signs of being chased. In fact, he tells me, there may very well never have been any bandits after him at all, just his overwrought nerves imagining persuit.
At the oasis, he drank deeply, and rapidly pushed east out of the sands to where he hoped Cedric was waiting. As annoying as the owl sometimes became, Graham welcomed the idea of seeing the talking bird. Perhaps Cedric would fall off a branch when he saw Graham; the king needed a laugh.
Cedric didn't tumble, but Graham was happy to see him anyway. And thus it was that King Graham conquered the Endless Desert of Serenia, eluded its bandits, and escaped with some of their treasure.
Although I have tried, I have never been able to meet and speak with Cedric. For that reason, I have no idea whether he was relieved to see King Graham lurch out of the Endless Desert that day. Graham claims that the bird was still sitting in the bee's tree, calmly munching on a grub and attempting to clean his monocle at the same time. He had to shout to get Cedric's attention.
"Oh, there you are, I was beginning to wonder if you were ever coming back. At least you no longer smell like old fish. What, pray tell, is that thing in your hand?"
Graham held up the golden bottle and showed it to the owl. "Treasure, Cedric. Treasure! With this we should be able to obtain all the provisions we need to cross the Great Mountains."
"It is, is it?" Cedric flew down beside Graham for a closer look. "It looks like a worthless hunk of brass to me."
Graham looked more closely at the bottle, licked it lightly with his tongue and discovered that, indeed, his golden dream was tarnished.
"There might be a genie inside, if that's any consolation, king. Want to open it?"
Graham thought about the idea for a few moments. Once, in Kolyma, he had obtained a brass lamp which, when rubbed, produced a genie that presented him with gifts. He rubbed the bottle lightly a few times, but nothing happened. Then he considered removing the lid.
"On second though," cautioned Cedric. "There might be a daemon or evil spirit inside. Let's take it back to Crispin, just to be safe."
Graham nodded a reluctant approval, then bit into the coin he had taken from the temple.
"Why not? Anyway, I know this coin is really gold. I'm sure it'll come in handy. Let's move on, I've got a family to find." With that, Graham dusted himself off and turned north. Crispin flew behind, narrowly avoiding the tree.
From ahead, graham could hear a low ruffing accompanied by the sounds of a creature scratching the earth. As he came into a small clearing, the king could see a large dog, frantically trying to paw its way into a huge anthill. The hill resembled, if nothing else, an earthen castle. In many ways it reminded Graham of Castle Daventry. He could also see millions of black ants fleeing form the destruction the dog was inflicting on their home. The analogy was too much for Graham to bear. He quickly reached into his traveling bag and retrieved the stick he had found by the bee's tree.
"Here, boy!" he shouted at the pooch, and deftly threw the stick in front of the dog. It looked up, saw the new toy, and darted to it. A sniff, a pair of licks, and a sudden grab with its jaws; the dog darted dashed off with its treasure.
As the dog disappeared into the brush, Graham walked nearer the anthill to survey the damage. It wasn't severe; apparently the king had arrived not long after the four-legged flea-bag. As he was examining the anthill, Graham was surprised by the appearance of an especially large ant who climbed to the very top of the structure. It seemed to be wearing purple robes, which was strange. It was even stranger when it began talking.
"Thank you, noble sir, for saving our home. I am King Antony, monarch of the ants. Who may you be?"
It must be the magic whitesnake. That's why I can understand him, murmured Graham to himself.
"I am King Graham of Daventry," he replied politely.
"Ah, King Graham. I have heard of your quest, and wish you good fortune Alas, there Is nothing I can do at this time to aid you. But, take our best wishes, and if there is anything we can do in the future, be assured that we will do all we are able. Adieu!" The ant king turned away sharply, and followed by his myriad followers, disappeared beneath the earth.
"You sure meet the most unusual folks," commented Cedric. He broke the momentary silence from his new perch on a bush overlooking the anthill.
"And speaking of folks, isn't that a gypsy wagon just ahead of us? Gypsies claim to be able to read the future, and see things that happen far away. Maybe they can help discover us what's to your family."
"Cedric," exclaimed Graham, "I knew you'd come in handy eventually. That's a good idea; let's go."
The gypsy camp could easily be seen from the anthill, and it was just a short stroll up an wide path to get to it. One wagon, with a large FORTUNE TELLER sign painted in clashing colors on its side, was all that was in the camp. A dark, strong man sat near it on a rocking chair, braiding a leather belt and warily watching for strangers. As Graham approached to the wagon, the man got up and challenged him.
"Eet vil cost you a gold coin to see the mystical Madame Mushka." The sullen man held out his hand expectantly.
"A gold coin?" hooted Cedric. "I thought gypsies wanted their palms crossed with silver?"
"Times are hard," was his curt reply.
Graham listened to the exchange and decided that if Madame Mushka could help unravel the mystery of his family's kidnapping, then it would be well worth the price of his lone piece of gold. He placed it in the gypsy's calloused palm, and the man stepped aside to allow Graham to enter the wagon. Cedric decided to sit in a tree.
I believe it must be true in all the universes that the interiors of all gypsy wagons are dark, stifling places reeking of too much cheap incense and unwashed feet. It is part of their ambiance. So too are the worn exotic rugs, and the overuse of striped and patterned fabrics.
Madame Mushka looked at if her palm had been crossed with gold often, and most of the profit had gone to food. Each of her fingers wore a ring, sometimes several, and most seemed a size or two too small. They probably had fit correctly in the past. Graham says that her features were difficult to make out behind all the smoke, but her eyes burned through the choking haze into his skull. By them alone he was sure that the gypsy was no fraud.
"Sit," she commanded. Graham obeyed.
"I can see what you are on a great and dangerous quest, with much danger to you and others....others that you love." Madame Mushka waved and crossed her pudgy hands several times above and around a clear globe sitting on the table in front of her.
"Ake wata. Atu wata. Eesta sa seseway! Look deep into my crystal bal.......King Graham. Yes, you are King Graham of Daventry. Your family has been taken from you. Far away they are. Look!" Ensnared by the enchantment of the crystal, Graham leaned closer and looked deeper. A sudden "Gasp!" escaped him.
Inside the globe was his home, shrunk and imprisoned in a glass retort and sitting on a laboratory shehlf. In front of Castle Daventry stood his family, imprisoned in the same small bottle. Next, a smoke filled the crystal ball and when it cleared he was looking at his son, Alexander. Alexander was clutched in the clawed hand of a sorcerer who could only be Mordack. He was holding Alexander just out of the diamond claws of a large black cat who was snarling and swiping at him. Ghostly voices filled Madame Musha's wagon.
"Look at the treat for you, Manannan, my brother. See how it wiggles and squirms." Mordack held the prince closer to the cat, teasing it and pulling Alexander away just before Manannan's claws might tear him apart.
"Look what you have done to my brother, princeling. Look. Only you can transform him back into his real form. Only you!" By now, Mordack was screaming.
The crystal clouded again, and Graham was looking closely at his son's face.
"You've made some kind of mistake, Mordack. I don't know anything about magic, I promise. I just turned Manannan into a cat by accident. Believe me! Alexander was obviously trying to deceive the wizard, trying to protect his mother and sister.
"I believe you not at all, worm. I will give you one final warning. Return Manannan to his proper form, and soon, or I shall start feeding the cat. Oh, yes, your lovely mother will be the first to become catfood, bit by painful bit. Think on that. Sleep on that. I'll be back for your decision."
The image changed again, back to that of the people and the castle in the bottle. Manannan was clawing at it, trying to bite through the glass. The cat's spit flowed thickly down the outside of the glass. Graham's family looked upon the mad Manannan. Holding hands, they faced their coming deaths with courage. And quite a bit of fear.
The crystal ball clouded for the last time, and when it cleared, no image dwelled within it. Graham could only stare at it. Stunned, angry and horrified, he knew he had just witnessed truth.
"Mordack is an evil one," the gypsy said softly. Your task is much more dangerous than I foresaw. Please take this; it is not much, but it will protect you from all but the most powerful magics."
Bringing her hand from beneath the table, Madame Mushka handed Graham an amulet containing a single softly-glowing stone. "put this on when you go outside. Good luck, King Graham of Daventry!"
Madame Mushka pulled a curtain between her and Graham, leaving him alone. For several long moments he sat. Then he slowly wiped one eye and left the wagon.
King Graham is not one to dwell too long on the pity of self or the unfairness of fate. By the time Cedric fluttered near him, his normal good humor had returned. Or so he says. I suspect that new lines of determination had impressed themselves on his jaw, and that there was a hardness behind the twinkle in his eye. He looked at Cedric and asked, "How were the bugs?"
"There are better ones near Crispin's house, and it's not far from here, to the east."
"Then, that's the way we're heading. Watch out you don't fly into anymore trees."
Graham placed the gypsy amulet around his neck, and looked at the stone's glow for a moment. Leaving the gypsy man and Madame Mushka's wagon behind the two went on their way.
The road to Crispin's skirted just north of a small pond. Thinking that he would like a drink, Graham bent and took a handful of water. He spat it out at once because of its saltiness.
"Yuk!" The royal family's favorite world of disgust spat out with the water. As he did so, he looked up and saw that a large weeping willow tree was partially shading the pond. From its branches, which overhung the water, Graham could see small drops of liquid falling, drip, drip, drip, drip....
Not only was the tree's shape like that of a sorrowing woman, its twists and bumps and hollows even had the image of a beautiful girl. In her hand was a harp, and Graham was sure magic was at work there.
"she seems to be playing a sad tune, Graham," said Cedric. "Maybe we should try to cheer her up."
"Cheer up a tree?" Graham was not amused by the owl's suggest, but it was something to do to take his mind off of his own troubles. he walked closer.
"Do you take requests? Do you know Greensleaves?" To Graham's immense surprise (although why, at this point his quest, he should have been surprised at anything is beyond me) the willow spoke.
"That was not funny, sir."
"Why, you can talk!"
"Why not? Once I was a human woman."
"One day my sweetheart and I were walking through the forest when we met an ugly old witch. She was smitten at once by the fairness of my prince's face, and she tried to steal him from me. He refused."
"I think I've heard this story before. Is your name Alicia?" Graham asked.
"Of course. Have you met my dear Herbert? Oh, you must have. Anyway, since she couldn't steal his heart, she put him to sleep and then stole mine. Then she turned me into a tree."
"She stole your heart?" "She turned it to gold and carried it away with her. Her last words were that if anyone were to return the heart to me, then I would be a human princess again. Until then, I must forever stand here and weep."
"A sad story, indeed," said Graham. "If we see Herbert again, we'll tell him where to find you. If we come across your heart, we shall return it. I can promise you not more."
The weeping willow, Alicia, fell silent except for the drip from branches. Graham motioned Cedric that they should continue on, and they moved eastward silently.
They had not gone far when they noticed a large sign next to the trail. It simply stated, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! Snaking past it to the north was a much narrower path that seemed to disappear into deep gloom.
"You don't want to go there," sputtered Cedric. "That's the Dark Forest, and it's so easy to get lost in it that no one ever enters it any more. Crispin is always grousing about an old hag who has her home in there. He says she's a particularly nasty witch with a taste for human stew and roast bird."
"A witch? Perhaps she's the one who stole the willow's heart. We did promise Alicia we'd return it if we found it." Graham's kind heart was tugging him northward.
"we? I don't recall making any such promise." Cedric was not happy about the direction the conversation was taking.
"Well, I did, Cedric, and I'm obligated to take a quick look around. Stay here if you wish. Besides, we still need to find something to pay for our provisions. Who knows what we might find in the Dark Forest?"
"Whoo, whoo! That's what I say. I'm staying here, king. Go if you'd like, but the Dark Forest scares me. I'll wait for you---but not as long as I did while you were in the desert." Huffily, Cedric began preening his feathers for lice as Graham walked into the deep woods.
The Dark Forest is called so not so much because little light enters (which it doesn't), but because of the dark mood that seems to drop on folks while they are there. Decay is everywhere, and all the trees and bushes and flowers and plants are twisted, wrong somehow. Toads and fungi find the place delightful.
A few moments of dam walking brought Graham to a fork in the path. The choice between east and west was of little matter to him, both ways were equally unappetizing and rapidly vanished into heavier forest. Graham chose east, and almost at once was swallowed by the undergrowth.
"This may have been a mistake," Graham mumbled to no mushroom in particular. After a few steps up the path, he attempted to retrace his steps, and discovered that he was lost. He could find no trace of the way back out, and all he could was trek on. Graham did; at times he was sure he was walking in circles, even though he was positive he was merely walking north. The rest of the time he walked in perplexity.
Eventually, the path widened a bit, and turned to wander west for some reason. Graham saw a grotesque tree, near where the trail turned, that was larger and more ominous than the others he been seeing. From a distance, it appeared to have a small door inset in its trunk, and a slimy critter-trail leading right to it. The tiny path was well-worn and edged with bones, some of them human. When Graham got up to the tree, his observation of a door was confirmed; in fact, the door even had a keyhole, and it was locked tight. After a few hard tugs, the king gave up, shrugged his shoulders, and continued on to see where the main trail was leading him. It led him to the witch's house, and the crone looking to cause trouble.
Let me pause for another brief aside. In his adventures, King Graham has encountered three witches of which I am aware. Dahlia, the mistress of the gingerbread house, he was able to avoid and sneak-up upon, pushing her into her own oven. Dame Hagatha, Manannan and Mordack's repulsive sister, he was able to avoid altogether---much to his relive---although he has since said that he regrets not pushing her into her own stewpot when he had the chance. In retrospect, it might be said that Graham had had the upper hand in his dealings with witches up until then.
This third one (Graham never learned her name) acted as if she had been waiting for Graham. perhaps she was defending her home. No sooner had he noticed the odd bridge crossing to the house, than the hag materialized in front of him and cast a spell in his direction. It hit Graham full upon his face, and his body tingled for a moment. As he glanced down, he could see Madam Mushka's amulet glow brighter and absorb the malevolent energy. Graham escaped unscathed. Of course, he still had a nasty witch to deal with.
Maybe I can buy her off with something, Graham improvised. Maybe she'll make the same error I did and mistake the brass bottle for gold. Maybe I should do something fast!.
"Good day, madame. I am lost. Would you, by any chance, know the way out of these woods?" Graham tried politeness first.
"These are my woods you are trespassing in, stranger. There is no way out. You are my prisoner, now. Would you care to join me for dinner?"
Graham's options had quickly become extremely limited. Taking the brass bottle he had carried from the desert, he casually sauntered to the hag and handed it to her.
"Perhaps this gift of mine might change your mind," he ventured.
The witch greedily snatched the bottle from Graham, and with a phlegmy cackle unhesitatingly opened it. It was (we hope) her ultimate mistake. Cedric had been correct about the possibility of a genie residing in the artifact. However, it wasn't a benign genie, and it wasn't granting any wishes. The instant the genie poped out, he glanced around with a hateful look in his eyes. He saw the witch with the tell-tale lid still in her hand, pointed to her with a long, taloned finger and boomed, "Ha! Free at last. Let's see how you like spending 500 years in a dark bottle!"
A great flash lit the sky, and when Graham could see again, the witch, the genie, and the bottle had all disappeared.
"I'm sure glad I didn't open it!"
King Graham's gift of understatement is legendary.
Graham contends that it is good policy never to let an evil witch's home go unsearched. "You never know what you might find in there, and the stench isn't too bad after a while." Some feel that what you might find in a witch's house might be worse that the witch herself. Of course, it is a monarch's right to make policy. Since Graham is not my monarch I feel free to state that it is not a policy with which I would agree. With that said, let me also report that Graham made the proper decision in entering the hag's house. If he hadn't, he would have lost everything.
Free of deadly distraction, Graham took a moment to look at the witch's misshapen house. It looked like it was made from a hollow rock through which more of the forest's eerie trees were growing, although it may have been the other way around. The house could only be approached via narrow bridge that had no hand rails, just huge rib bones as sides. In all directions, the dark forest smothered the place, giving Graham the impression that to enter there was to enter a grave.
But he did cross the bridge to the witch's home; the bridge spanning a seep crevasse. Graham could see no bottom to the chasm, just the hot, bright glow from the fires of Hades. In contrast, the inside of the place was cold and frigid, like the breath of the dead. Graham shivered, and not just from the cold.
It took the king but a short wile to search the old structure. In an old trunk he found a small spinning wheel with specks of gold dust in its joints. A hanging incense burner, which apparently used dried mugwump for fragrance, had a tiny brass key. Graham was sure it fit a locked door in a certain nearby tree. Finally, in the drawer of a small pedestal, he discovered a leather bag. Inside were three green emeralds. Treasure, indeed; any one would buy his assault on Mordack. He took them all, and with light steps headed off to test the key in the tree.
The key fit when Graham tried the lock, as he was sure it would. Inside lay a little golden heart on a red satin cushion. That the heart belong to Alicia, the willow, was certainty. As he picked up the heart, however, he realized that getting out of the Dark Forest was not such a sure thing.
Back the way he had come, of course would not work; he had already tried that and failed. That left onward, beyond the witch's home. He knew he could travel either west or south there, and chose the western route. This took him through even stranger forest, with soft flesh-eating plants and fungi that oozed phosphorescent liquids that most likely killed at the lightest touch. On all sides, Graham was sure he saw pairs of bright eyes watching him, following his every movement. He ignored them and continued on. And, on. And, on. Around and around in a large, confusing loop, the path soon brought I'm back to the tree where he had found the heart. Sure he had missed a small path, Graham tried again. Back he came once more. The third try took the king South from the witch's bridge, and that returned him to the tree even sooner. Desperately, Graham tried to push through the brush and bushes, but could get nowhere. Around and around he went, finding no exit at all from the Dark Forest. All the time he was watched by those bright eyes.
Exasperated, Graham finally realized that his only chance to escape the woods lay with the watchers. But no matter how still he waited, they would not make an appearance, nor a noise. Just quiet blinks.
At this bleak point, Graham was standing at a place just past the witch's house, where the path turned from west to south. There seemed to be more of the watcher's there than any place else on the trail, so it was there that he set his bait.
He picked the emeralds for his lure because of their bright sparkles. His plan was to drop one of the gems near him and catch whatever might come to claim it. It wasn't much of a plan, Graham admits, but it was all he could come up with at the time.
The first emerald hit the ground and rolled several feet away from Graham. So swiftly that the king was unable to reach the errant stone, one of the little folk bolted out of the bushes, snatched the emerald, and disappeared again. By its appearances, the king thought it might be a small elf.
"Drat!" Graham exclaimed. "Let's try another one."
The second emerald suffered the same fate as the first, stolen away by an elf almost as soon as it touched the ground. This time Graham had a clearer view of the culprit, so he knew he was dealing with elves. he also knew he had only one gem left, and if he couldn't catch an elf with that one, he'd have no idea what to do next. As he pondered just how to make his scheme work, he recalled that his mother often said that one could always catch more flies with honey than seawater. He never quite understood what that meant, but it served to remind him of the honeycomb he was carrying. Perhaps honey could catch elves as easily as it caught flies.
Graham took the honeycomb and strongly squeezed it. The nectar that had been stored inside by the bees slowly oozed to the ground, forming a small golden puddle. Graham stuck the remaining beeswax back into his pouch and very carefully placed his final emerald in the stick stuff. Quick as a blink, an elf darted out and became stuck in the goo. Graham picked the little one up and held him in front of his face.
"Let me go! Let me go!" the elf squealed. "Please don't hurt me!"
"Small sir," Graham spoke, "I'm looking for a way out of this infernal forest...."
"If you let me go, I'll show you the way out," the elf interrupted. "I give you my word."
"Your word is good enough for me," replied the king as he gently placed the elf back on the ground, away from the honey puddle. The small mannikin looked up at Graham briefly and seemed to make a decision. he whistled.
At once, what Graham had thought to be a large, vine-covered rock stood up and moved. The path continued on, past where the strange creature had been.
"Follow me," The elf gestured for Graham to follow, and dashed down the newly revealed road. "Hurry up and stop gawking at Rocky the Jinx," the elf shouted back at him. Graham wasted no more time, and hurried after.
The road quickly dipped below the ground into a tunnel that was obviously made for use by the little folk. Graham was forced to crawl through it on his hands and knees, and once or twice was forced to shimmy on his belly. He never got stuck, though, and soon emerged into a large, high cavern brightly lit by huge fires glowing from deep pits descending into the guts of the earth.
The elf who had led him was waiting when he finally arrived in the cave.
"Sir, we are not so ignoble as to take without giving something in return. In payment for the three emeralds, we give you these fine elven shoe. We trust they will serve you well. The small passage you see across from you leads out of the Dark Forest. We wish you well on your journeys. Adieu!" With a wave, the elf stepped out of sight into the shadows. Graham waved back, knelt down, and began his crawl to sunlight.
"It's about time you got back. Just look at yourself, all covered with dirth, and I'm sorry I'm downwind of you. You smell like you've been standing in fresh mugwump. Phew!" By the tone of his squawks, Cedric seemed delighted to see Graham again.
The tunnel had delivered on its promise of escape, and had brought Graham out to a secret opening by the forest's warning sign. Cedric's complaints were a joyful noise.
"I must admit you were right, feather-head," Graham conceded. "It was dangerous in there. I'm lucky to get out alive. But I found Alicia's heart, so let's go back and return it to her."
Graham and Cedric did just that, giving the golden heart to the tree when they arrived there. The small heart pulsed once and filled the grove with a white light. The glow condensed, rushing inward, and coalesced into the slight form of a pretty blond woman holding a harp. In the process, the willow tree vanished.
"I'm a princess again!" the girl shrieked. "I'm a girl; I'm a girl; I'm a girl!" Alicia slung the harp away from her in disgust. "I don't ever want to touch that thing a again in my life," she exclaimed. "All I want I some new clothes, and to see my Herbert."
"Did I her my name being mentioned? Alicia!"
"Herbert! Herbert! Oh, Herbert! Where have you been! Where did you just come from?" The answer was lost amidst their hugs and kisses, and hand in hand they disappeared into the bushes. Graham never did find out how the princess happened to show up at that moment.
"Isn't young love grand?" commenced Cedric. "They didn't even take the time to thank you."
Graham picked up the discarded harp, examined its workmanship, and strummed a few melancholy chords. By this point, the king had become confused and as moody as the music he was playing. He and Cedric had traipsed east and west and north around Serenia finding much and discovering little. What little they had learned of his family had come from Madame Mushka, and the king was fresh out of ideas. Over Cedric's objections, Graham started walking back to the gypsy camp in hopes that the might learn more from the fortune teller. True, he had no coin to cross her palm with, but perhaps she would take something in its stead.
Graham's disappointment was sharp then, and his mood darkened again when the two reached the cold gypsy campfire. The wagon with Madame Mushka was gone, and the clearing was deserted. Nothing remained of the former encampment other than the tracks of their wagons. As the king stared at the ground, desperate for inspiration, he noticed a glint among the high grass. A bit of rubbish, uncharacteristically left behind by the travelling folk, he assumed. When Graham went to pick it up, though, he found that what he thought to be trash was really a tambourine. Perhaps it had fallen out of a wagon as it bumped over a stone. Graham took it, if only because his father would approve.
Cedric hooted his annoyance. "Look, king; it's time to stop moping about and to do something constructive. Why don't we head back to Serenia towne and take our chances there. It's better than nothing."
"I suppose you're right," agreed Graham, without much enthusiasm. But let's go there by a way we haven't been. That way we may stumble on something interesting. Who knows, hoot owl, we just mightvget lucky!"
"Thank you for those words of encouragement, Cedric."
"Lead on, great monarch. Time flies when you're standing still!"
The roundabout route which Graham and Cedric chose to take to Serenia towne meandered south to King Antony's castle, and then veered eastwards. This led back into the more settled parts of the country, so it was not surprising that theysoon came upon a small house in the woods. It was built of fallen logs, most covered with moss, but looked to be watertight and cozy. ln front of the place, a young gnome played merrily with a toy, a finely carved marionette. On a nearby stump at a much older gnome smoking a pipe filled with some aromatic herb. The homey sight threatened to bring new tears to Graham's eyes, suggesting to him that if he were not successful in his quest, he might very well never know the joys of being a grandfather.
Graham moved closer to the old gnome. As he did so, he began to notice that the gnome's features looked somewhat familiar. His brain, usually quite clear in such matters, was unable to put a name on the face.
"Good day, sir gnome. My name is Graham. You seem familiar; have we met before?"
"Don't seem to recall, kid. Can't say I do."
"What is you name? Perhaps I'd recognize it."
"It's much too difficult to pronounce."
"That's strange. I'm sure we've met, but my brain seems clouded on the details. Whatever. I've been admiring your son's toy, it is quite beautiful."
"Should be. Made it myself. He's my grandson, not my son."
The gnome's replies were short and to the point.
"Well then, would it be possible for me to purchase the toy from you, or perhaps trade for it?" Both the gnome and Cedric, who was sitting on a branch listening to the exchange, looked surprised.
"Not very likely. What would an adventurer like you want with a marionette, anyway?"
"It's for my grandchildren."
Cedric hooted for attention. "You're not a grandfather, Graham. What are you talking about?"
"I want to be."
Graham paused a moment, then took the petite spinning wheel out of his pack and offered it to the gnome.
"Would you take this in trade?" Graham asked. The gnome took a quick step backwards.
"Where did you get that? It's mine."
"From an old hag in the Dark Forest. She has no need for it anymore." The gnome reached out quickly and snatched the spinning wheel out of Graham's hand."
"Give it here! So that's what happened to it. l bet that dumb crone never understood that this wheel can spin straw into gold. Thanks for returning it to me!"
"Sir, even though it is rightfully yours, would you consider giving me the marionette in return for it?" "Sure, kid. You're owed that. I can always make another one quick. Here. Have a good journey. Bye!" The old gnome gently took the toy from his grandson, handed it to Graham, and led the boy inside.
"You didn't like that old toy anyway. Wait till you see what this spinning wheel can do!" The door to the snug house closed tight behind them, leaving Graham and Cedric alone.
"A toy, king? You call this getting lucky?"
"It's better than getting killed."
You've got a good point there. The main road to towne is just a little south of here. Let's be off."
The path from the gnome's home took Graham and Cedric past the back of the Swarthy Hog Inn. The fine smells of cooked food still spiced the afternoon air, reminding Graham that he hadn't eaten yet that day. With no way to pay for a meal, it was a thought best forgotten.
Next to the inn stood a tall haystack, tempting travelers to rest a few moments in its cushioned comfort. Graham told Cedric that he was going to laze a bit in the hay before they continued on. Cedric agreed that it was a good idea, and found himself a comfortable perch on the inn's sign post. As he waited, he cleaned and polished his monocle.
The king leaned back against the hay with a contented sigh. He wished he could spend the moment, and a lot more like them, with Valanice. The thought of his wife resting beside him in the hay stiffened his resolve to not just rescue her and their children, but to thoroughly trounce both Mordack and Manannan. He leaned back deeper into the hay in his reverie. A sharp jab to his backside shattered the daydream.
"Ouch! What was that?" he wondered, scratching the slight prick. Kneeling down, he began searching the haystack for whatever stung him. He knew better than to expect to find anything.
"May we be of assistance, King Graham?" From behind him came a small familiar voice. King Antony and an army of his subjects began streaming into the hay pile. A few minutes later, the monarch of the ants reappeared. Looking up at the kneeling Graham, Antony held forth a golden needle which his followers had found in the haystack.
"We promised to help you if we could, King Graham. Please take this golden needle with you as a gift from us. Perhaps it will be of some use on your journey. I'm sure this is what you sat on. Adieu!" Leaving the needle for Graham, the long black line of insects disappeared into a hole in the ground. Graham put the needle in his pack and voiced a "Thank you!" to the ant king. He felt like he was talking to the dirt.
"Just what are you doing talking to the dirt?" Cedric asked, hovering in the air in front of Graham.
Graham look up, smiled at the bird, and said nothing. He began walking toward Serenia towne, knowing that his silence was paying back the owl for two days of jibes. He strolled and whistled while Cedric sputtered.
As the two were passing the bakehouse, still engaging in their friendly spat, Graham heard a loud shrieking from behind him. Turning quickly, lest he were being attacked, Graham saw merely a slim rat being pursued by a snarling, ragged-eared cat. Normally, such an encounter would receive little heed from Graham (or from anyone for that matter), but the king was not feeling particularly sympathetic toward felines just then, especially cats with live suppers in mind.
The first thing that came to hand was the old boot he had found in the desert. Taking quick aim, Graham threw the tattered leather at the cat. It smacked into the road right in front of the cat's face, bounced off of its nose, and rolled into the river. The cat veered off sharply at the sudden attack, and sprinted for safety.
"Git!" Graham shouted after it. "Go pick on something your own size. Git!" As the cat's dust settled, the intended victim snuffled up to the king's feet.
"Thank you for saving my life, kind sir. And that of my babies too, for they would have no one to feed them if that cat had fed on me. Perhaps I can repay you sometime." Talking bees, talking ants, talking trees, and now a talking rat. That whitesnake is powerful stuff, Graham thought as the mother rat disappeared down the road.
"Talking to the animals again, king?" Cedric inquired. "Was that what you were doing by the haystack?" Once again Graham just smiled and hummed a tune. He walked into Serenia towne happily leaving the owl's question unanswered.
Despite the fact that Graham had no coin in his possession when he entered the towne that day, by the time he left it he was almost ready to take on the Great Mountains. Only a few shops were still open, and the streets had not many people about them. The broken wagon from the day before remained in the same place blocking an alley, but its owner was nowhere to be seen. Near the broken wheel, not far from the fish barrel in fact, a small silver coin lay lost among the cobblestones. Graham watched it for a bit. It didn't move (which was to be expected), and no one came to claim it (which wasn't).
"One problem solved," muttered Graham as he took the coin. "It's not much, but it should buy us something."
The king looked up and down the streets for some time deciding where to go first. He picked the tailor shop where, between the fabric bolts, silken shirts, and paeans to the quality of the shop's goods, Graham found a warm fur-lined cloak. Such a garment would be a necessity in the high mountains. It fit Graham perfectly, but cost much more than one silver coin.
Taking a cue from his meeting with the gnome, Graham suggested that the tailor might be interested in trading the cloak for the golden needle that had stuck him. The needle had the same effect on the tailor as the spinning wheel had on the old gnome. It belonged to him, the tailor told Graham, but he had lost it, or had it stolen. In either case, the needle had disappeared in the vicinity of the inn.
Graham had no choice but to return the golden needle to the tailor. However, the man was so grateful to the king that he gave Graham the cloak he had been seeking. When the king left the shop, both men were satisfied with the outcome. The next stop was Serenia's shoe shop. There, the king found that the old couple who ran the establishment had nothing at all to sell.
Graham had hoped to trade the elven boots, which were much too small for him, for something that might be more useful. Finding nothing, he Listened to the poor proprietors' tale of woe, and how they were penniless with nothing to eat.
King Graham's heart is such that he will always attempt to aid those in need, even at his own expense.
"I don't know if these would help, but perhaps you could sell these fine elven shoes for some profit. Take them." The shoemaker and his wife were stunned. "We cannot," they cried. "These boots are so valuable that we can sell them for enough to dose this shop and live in comfort for the rest of our lives."
"They are yours," insisted Graham. "I have offered them to you, and they are of no use to me. And, I have no time to spare to try and sell them." He handed the boots to the man, who took and caressed them.
"Look at the workmanship! Look, the buckles are solid gold. Mama, we're rich!" The couple embraced in their happiness. As Graham made to leave, however, the shoemaker handed the king his cobbler's hammer.
"Perhaps this will be of some use to you in your journey, noble sir. Take it with you. Today we stop making shoes, and I'll need it no longer." Graham followed them out the door, hammer in hand.
The only other shop open that day was Serenia's toyshop. While an unlikely place for the king to enter, he had noticed a snow sled hanging on one wall. Such a sled could be very valuable in the mountain snow and ice.
This transaction became both the easiest and the hardest for Graham. The sled, of course, cost more coin that the king had. Graham didn't want to part with the marionette, but it was all he had to offer in payment for the sled. Anyway, he said to himself, if I don't rescue my family, I'll never have grandchildren. The price is steep, but necessary. That decided, the deal was made, although the toymaker kept insisting that he was getting the better of Graham.
And with that third transaction, King Graham left Serenia towne and went looking for food.
Cedric was waiting for Graham as he left the towne, and listened with little approval to the king's telling of what he had acquired.
"Those things may be well and good for you, king, but I have no use for a cloak, nor a sled, no hands to hold a hammer, and no need for a silver coin to buy my supper. Tree grubs and small rodents are perfectly fine, and free, thank you. But for you, king, that coin will buy what is considered the best pie in all of Serenia. You will need food on this trip, you know."
"I know. And my stomach knows even better," Graham agreed. "Wait here; this shouldn't take long."
The reason it didn't take long was twofold: Graham's silver coin was just enough to buy one pie; it was custard (his favorite, although when it came to pie, all kinds can be considered Graham's favorite), and it was the only kind of pie they had left to sell at that time of day. Secondly, Graham knew if he stayed very long in the bakeshop, he would be tempted to just start eating. He was hungry, true, and custard pie does not travel well, but he wanted the pie for eating in the mountains, preferably as a dessert. If he didn't leave the bakeshop quickly, he would have neither coin nor pie. He would have a very satisfied sweet tooth, however. Graham did not linger at all.
Despite his preference for pies, Graham knew that more substantial food would be needed to sustain him in the mountains. Having had great success with bartering that day, he wandered down the road to the Swarthy Hog to attempt trading for some meats and vegetables to carry with him. The tailor had mentioned to the king that the owner and clientele of the place were much less savoury than their food, but Graham had no qualms about entering the place. After all, it was a public alehouse.
There are alehouses, and there are alehouses. Graham recalls the Swarthy Hog as having an unremarkable decor, and remarkably nasty patrons. He entered the inn, and at once begun inquiring about provisions. That's when he lost consciousness, whacked on the head by some heavy weapon. If he had not been wearing his adventurer's hat, he is sure he might have died from the blow.
When Graham awoke, he was in the cellar of the inn, bound tightly to a chair, and no matter how he struggled, he was unable to free himself. This was his situation for several minutes when he received aid from a quite unexpected source. The scrabbling of sharp claws on the stone floor alerted the king that he was sharing his makeshift prison wi.th some sort of rodent. He was; only it was no common vermin, but the slim rat whom he had saved earlier that day. Graham didn't know this at once, of course; all he knew was that the rat was climbing over him. Then it started chewing through the ropes. When his bonds fell to the floor, Graham looked at his small savior and recognized her at once.
"Sir, I am glad to have been able to help you. Thank you once again for saving my life, and that of my babies. The blackguards who frequent this inn are a bad lot. It is best that you be away from here. Good luck on your journey. And don't forget to take the rope with you. It might come in handy." With that, the rat disappeared into a tiny hole in the cellar wall.
The rat's advice concerning the rope made sense, so Graham picked it up off the floor. A close inspection showed that a goodly length still remained intact despite the rodent's gnawing. A search of the cellar, however, turned up nothing that might be useful in the trek ahead. It also showed that the lone exit from the place was a locked door.
When the ruffians had tossed Graham in the inn's cellar, they had deposited his travelling bag along with him. It is most likely that they had no fear of Graham escaping his bonds, and they intended to return soon to finish their dirty business. This mistake turned out to be their undoing. Graham took the small hammer which the shoemaker had given him, and as quietly as he could, used it to break through the door's latch. Immediately, he pushed through to another room, which turned out to be the inn's small kitchen.
Through the doorway on his right, Graham could hear drunken noises coming from the inn's public room. To his left, the second door led to outside, and escape. Against the far wall was a tall pantry, which the king searched before leaving. To his delight, it held a large joint of mutton, still warm and waiting to be sold.
Scant payment for my most courteous treatment, Graham mused silently, but it will do. Silently removing his supper from its shelf, Graham slipped through the door leading out. Loitering not at all, lest the hooligans note his escape, he silently motioned Cedric, who was sunning himself on a tree branch, to follow. They didn't stop until they arrived at the foot of the trail that led into the Great Mountains. There they rested, sure that they had not been followed.
And thus it was that King Graham and Cedric prepared to leave Serenia, and begin the most perilous parts of their adventure together.
The road to Mordack would snake itself into and through the Great Mountains and beyond. At the far end, the great cobra dragons were waiting to blast any who made it as far as the wizard's island. Those stone snakes were unknown to Graham as he and Cedric began moving up out of Serenia. He was, however, most acutely aware of the live serpent that blocked his steps at the start of the road up. The venom dripping from its fangs, and the alert way with which it held its head aloft, informed the king that this was a creature to be avoided. The trouble was, it had coiled itself in a part of the path bordered by high rock formations. Getting around them, and the snake, looked difficult.
"Owls hunt snakes, isn't that true Cedric?" Graham asked of his companion. "Why don't you just fly over there and scare it away."
"Hoo, hoo, me?" protested the bird. "I don't care for snake. You take care of it. Don't you have a flute you can play to charm it?" Graham shook his head in disgust.
"No flute, Cedric. But I do have this harp." Graham began playing for the snake, hoping its music, like that of a flute, might charm the creature. Graham, as always, played beautifully. The snake was not charmed. Graham next tried shaking the gypsy tambourine we was also carrying. Walking closer to the serpent, he began making a loud rattle, shaking and banging it like a mad dancer. Whether it was the king's gyrations, or the noise, it didn't matter. The snake fled, leaving a clear, steep path beyond.
"Thanks for all your help," Graham told Cedric without rancor. "Maybe I can return the favor and rescue you some day."
For hours, the two climbed upwards, and the landscape changed from warm, green, fertile forest to snow and ice-covered rocks. Graham's footing became more treacherous by the minute, and the air turned more and more frigid. The cold and exertion both exploded as hunger in his belly, and sent uncontrollable shivers through his body. "I think it's time to stop for a bit," Graham breathed through chattering teeth, "get that heavy cloak on me, and some of the mutton into me." He did just that. The long, fur-lined cloak cut the chill wind, and began to bring warmth to his cold arms. The high collar gave welcome relief to the back of his neck. The meat reminded him that he had not eaten in almost two days. The king, though, ate but half of the joint, saving the rest for another meal. Cedric didn't eat any of the proffered food, but sat on a snowy rock wiping frost from his monocle and shivering slightly. Refreshed, they resumed their journey upward, stopping only when they came to a place where the path had been washed away by a waterfall. There seemed no way past the frozen obstacle. "Any ideas?" Graham prompted Cedric. "There's the limb of an old tree up above us," the owl replied. "It's easy for me to reach, but you'd need to catch your rope to it and climb." Graham looked to where Cedric was pointing. The idea seemed a good one, and he was sure he had enough rope to reach the limb. He was not sure, though, if the dead branch would support his weight. It would be a long, cold, fatal fall for the king if that happened. As he was surveying his chances, Graham spotted a long rock jutting out of the cliff a little distance away from the tree. "That rock looks stronger, Cedric. I think I'll try going up that way. Wish me good fortune." Taking the rope from his bag, Graham made a loop and tried tossing it around his target. After a number of tries, the loop caught. Graham pulled it tight, tugged twice, and began pulling himself up hand over hand. Cedric flapped up ahead of him.
The successful climb brought them to a higher icy path. This one, also, had been washed out by the waterfall, but the break in the trail was not as great as it was on the one below. Nonetheless, it was still too wide for Graham to jump. The frozen cascade, however, flowed around a number of small rocky outcroppings, which looked much like stepping stones across the chasm. Beyond those steps, a fallen log made a bridge across the rest of the way. To venture farther on his quest, he had to go across. "What do you think," Graham asked the bird. "Will they support my weight?" "They'd hold me, but I'm an owl," replied Cedric. "Even then, I'd fly across anyway. The three on top look the most stable, try those. After that, maybe the one nearest the log, and then over. Try not to slip. If you fall, I'll have no one to talk to all the way back to Crispin's." The king shrugged, and carefully began following Cedric's proposed route. Since before he became king, Graham had been renown for his speed and agility. As it does all folk, the ensuing years have robbed him of some of both, but it has left him enough to make it across the frozen slide that day. Graham tells me that he slipped twice, nearly losing both his footing and balance. By the time he alighted on the small ledge to which the rocks led, the narrow log spanning the remaining gap looked wide and secure enough to pass a blinded army of drunken pachyderms. I suspect Graham exaggerates a bit, but he did traverse that snow-covered bridge without incident. Cedric beat his wings together at the conclusion of that crossing, although Graham never found out if it was for applause, or for warmth. The reason for this ignorance is simple. After alighting from the slippery log, Graham and Cedric kept moving. Before the king had any opportunity to speak with his companion, the mountain stillness was violated by the sound of the owl's screams. As if from nowhere, as silent as a midnight snow, a pack of dire wolves rushed the two, knocking Graham to the ground, and snatching Cedric from the air. The wolfpack never stopped in their coursing attack, continuing headlong down an icy slope and into the distance. Graham picked himself up and followed as quickly as he could, alternating racing and sliding, as he gave pursuit. He soon had to stop short, as the large paw prints he was tracking disappeared across a narrow, shallow ice bridge. The king knew, just by looking, that the slight span would not hold his weight long enough for him to survive crossing. But it took just a few moments of looking back and forth between where he was, where he had been, and where he wanted to go, for the king to realize that the chase was not over. Graham retraced his steps, and scrambled back up the slope to where they had been ambushed. The toymaker's sled had been abandoned there in the confusion, and it was just what the king was looking for. Running as fast as he could in the hard snow, Graham pointed the sled's nose downhill, jumped on board, and with a strong push propelled himself down the slope, directly at the fragile bridge.
"Cedric, I'm coming!" he screamed, hoping that the bird might hear his shout and take heart from it. Faster, yet faster the little sled sped. By the time Graham reached the chasm, he was hurtling at such a speed that the sled lifted out of the snow and flew across to the other side. The snow on the other side cushioned Graham's hard meeting with the ground, but it wasn't enough to save the sled. That was smashed into a dozen fragments. Dazed only slightly by the impact, Graham hurried on in the direction he had last seen the wolves. In fewer than a dozen strong strides, the king dashed around a sharp bend in the path to be confronted by the sight of a mighty palace in the distance. Clad in snow and ice, the structure stood on the highest pinnacle in the mountains. The trail he had been following led directly to it, and that was where he must go to rescue Cedric. Graham stopped a moment to collect both his thoughts and his wind. As he did both, he noticed an eagle perched on a rock at the edge of the trail. Thin and shivering, the bird appeared to be very starving. "I am very hungry, traveler, and have not the strength to fly any longer. Can you spare food for me?" No longer surprised at his conversations with animals, Graham, as is his gentle nature, hesitated not at all. Taking the remainder of the mutton from his bag, he placed it in the poor bird's claws, and watched as it consumed its meal. "Thank you, traveler," it said after finishing. "Your kindness and compassion are great, and you have saved my life. May you have a safe journey." Reaching out with its great wings, the eagle soared into the distance. The king, now more rested and composed, started towards the ice palace. He had not gone far before the wolves arrived. They snarled and growled and bared their fangs at him as they raced out of a tunnel that led into the mountain. The saliva from their jaws steamed in the cold air, as they took hold of Graham's cloak and began pulling him back the way they had come. The hatred in their red eyes made it look as if the wolves would rather have had their jaws pulling at the king's throat. Graham ceased struggling, and let himself be led inside.
After a labyrinthine course through the lower tunnels and corridors of the palace, Graham was finally brought in front of the Ice Queen. Icebella is her name, and her realms stretch across the highest peaks of the highest mountains, and encompass all of the world's polar regions. So private a monarch is she, that the tales told of her have, until now, been considered fables and fancifications. Graham had heard of lcebella and her army of wolves, but had not given the stories about her much credence.
The queen's audience chamber was vast and cold, with her throne carved from a single block of clear, blue ice. It sits high above the room's floor, and is reached only by climbing a steep set of thirty steps, they too carved out of the same blue ice. Long, sharp rays of rock grow from the apex of this staircase, framing the queen in a granite star. Next to the stairs was a granite and ice cage, with Cedric imprisoned inside. "Cedric, you're alive," exclaimed Graham. "Kneel!" interrupted the imperious queen. Graham did. "You are invaders, and have entered my realms without permission. You must die. Take them away, my wolves, and kill them!" Growling deeply, the great gray beasts moved toward the king. "Graham, do something quickly!" screeched the now vocal bird. "Remember your family!" The king says it took no prodding from Cedric to move him to action. He had no weapons, and knew words would do no good with eitherthe wolves or the queen. He says that he hoped to distract or placate the beasts when he began playing his harp. I, for one, find the action quite illogical-especially given the circumstancebut the king maintains that it was the only idea he could come up with at the time. "Music has much magic," he said. "Anyway, if it didn't work, I was going to use the instrument as a club." No sooner had the first surprising notes left the strings, than Icebella called off her wolves. "Your music softens my heart, somewhat," she announced. "Therefore I will give you and your cowardly bird a chance at life. There is a yeti who lives nearby in a crystal cave that belongs to me. Defeat the beast, and you will be allowed to leave these lands alive. If you fail, the owl will follow you in death. Sir Greywolf will lead you to the cave. Do you accept?" "Your wish is my command," was Graham's foregone reply.
At the time of year that these events occurred, there is not much darkness at night in the northern reaches of our world. Thus, while the moon was full, and high in the sky, there was much light for Graham to see by as Sir Greywolf led him over the narrow mountain paths that took him to near the yeti's cave. "I will wait for you here," he warned. "If you try to escape without vanquishing the yeti, I will kill you. If you succeed, 1 will return you to my mistress. And if you don't start going to the cave now, I'll rip your throat out!" "Since you put it that way ... ," Graham replied, and set his steps toward the large opening he could see in the near distance. Graham still had no idea as to how one went about defeating a yeti. His son Alexander had met one once, but had been able to avoid it through the use of magic. Graham had neither magic nor ideas. As a result, he decided to stop and think further on the matter, and perhaps munch on a bit of pie to help stimulate his thinking. I might as well meet the beast on a contented stomach, he reasoned.
Now the yeti is a huge and fearsome creature, human-shaped (but several times larger), covered with coarse and pungent fur, and overly equipped with Long claws and fangs. It is said that their intellectual capacity is nil, but no one I have ever heard of has ever survived initiating a conversation with a yeti. Graham saw no sight of the beast as he neared its cave, so he picked his stopping place close to the entrance so that he could keep watch while he ate. On the trail behind him waited the wolf, and ahead, the path twisted behind a Large boulder. A vast precipice plunged down beside the trail to his right, and the cave was to his left. The custard pie, of course, had not traveled well. It still had its oval shape, but it was greatly dented and smeared. Even to Graham, whose sweet tooth never saw a pie it didn't like, found it unappetizing. It was at this moment, as the king was staring disappointedly at the custard pie, that the snow monster arrived on the scene. It had the courtesy, at least, to announce its arrival with a killer roar, and that is what saved the king's life. What would you do, dear reader, if confronted that quickly by such a monster whilst stupidly looking at a pie, instead of looking out for danger? What Graham did was totally reflexive; startled, he jumped at the roar and flung what was in his hand in the direction of the attack. The king's aim is good, it always has been. The custard pie splatted squarely in the yeti's face. The creature, literally, never knew what hit it, and with vision totally obscured by the gooey filling, it stepped off the cliff's edge. The beast may be falling still. So quickly had it all happened, that it took the king a few moments to realize that he had beaten the monster. "Did I really do that?" he asked the heavens. Shaking his head in befuddlement, he entered the yeti's lair to make sure there was no other beast about. The interior of the yeti's cave was a multi-colored crystal fairyland, with nothing else inside but the flashing sparkles of reflected light. One particularly brilliant crystal near the cave's center caught Graham's eye, and he Liked it so much that he decided to carry it with him. The little cobbler's hammer made easy work of breaking it loose. The king then turned his steps back outside, and down the trail to the waiting wolf. Together, they returned to the Ice Queen.
Queen Icebella's demeanor was much warmer toward Graham and Cedric after the king informed her of the death of the yeti. Indeed, she revealed to Graham that she knew who he was, and wished him good fortune in his quest. She too had little love for Mordack. With a slight motion of her hand, Cedric's bars disappeared, and the owl and the king were finally reunited. After another, broader gesture, Sir Greywolf led the two out of the palace, and through the snow to a spot where a trail out of the mountains began. He silently stood watching as Graham began his long trek down to the distant sea. A silent Cedric flew along a little ahead, watchful for danger.
As it happened, Cedric's vigilance wasn't enough. The path did not go smoothly down; at times it rose up steeply before it resumed its course to the lower altitudes. It was at the top of one such climb that the owl's frantic screech of, "Graham, danger!" came too late to help the king. Cedric's words were still in his beak when the loud thumping of enormous wings, and the impact of beaten air cast Graham to the ground. A set of strong, yellow talons grabbed hold of him, and in moments Graham was soaring high in the cloudless sky, staring into the beaks and eyes of a giant Roe. The suddenness of the attack stunned Graham; one second, he was on his feet, and the next he was dangling so far above the peaks that they seemed no larger than toys. As the king glanced down at the cliffs far below, and his captor's two heads inches above, Graham realized that he was caught between a Roe, and a very hard place. The thought did not amuse him, and he prayed that the Roe would not drop him. It didn't. ln fact, the two-headed monster bird placed Graham most gently down, and then flew off. "Down" was the Roe's nest, and it had been built on the tip of a tall rock spire which soared up to the very clouds. However, that there was no way down other than to fall, was a fact of little immediate concern to the king. The more urgent problem was that Graham was sharing the nest with a giant egg, the shell of which was beginning to crack from the inside. There was no place to run, no place to hide, and a baby Roe-a hungry baby Roe-was about to join the king in the aerie. Graham knew that if he could fly, he could escape; but, of course, he could do neither. Therefore, all he could do was attempt to bury himself beneath the twigs and branches that made up the large nest, and hope the baby, or its mother, wouldn't notice him. He had little hope that it would work. As Graham tried to conceal himself, a bright glint in the nest caught his attention. He grabbed for it as if reaching for life itself. As his hand closed on the object, and then opened, he had but a moment to notice that it was a delicate golden locket that he had obtained. How it had come to be there was of no import to Graham, birds often pick up bright bits to add to their nests. Graham was more concerned with the shrieking that was approaching the nest, and his quick glance showed that is was coming from a speeding eagle. Thus, again, King Graham's kindness to a creature in need repaid him beyond measure, for it was the same bird whom he had fed on the icy trail coming to his
rescue. Its arrival could not have been more timely; the Roe had finally broken its heads out of the egg and was hungrily pecking at the king. The brave eagle swooped low, and for the second time within moments, Graham was airborne in the clutches of a bird. So close had he come to being bird food, that his cape remained in the baby Roe's beaks. "I was hoping to repay you, traveler," the bird screeched above the wind. "When I saw you taken by the Roe, I knew I must fly fast to your aid. May the rest of your journey be safer than what you just endured. Farewell!" As it spoke, the eagle carried Graham lower and lower toward a sandy beach far below and in the distance. Its farewell was uttered as it dropped the king the final few inches to the ground. Upward it winged, catching an upwind and soaring inland, dipping a wing once in salute. Graham waved his own farewell in reply. "You most surely have interesting ways of getting around!" From atop some small rocks, Cedric's husky voice greeted Graham. "What happened? I was afraid the Roe had killed you." Graham explained what had happened to the incredulous owl. "If I meet any more birds on this quest," he finished, "I think I may grow feathers of my own!" Cedric hooted in laughter. Graham found that the beach they were on was not very extensive. A short way to the north, a waterfall tumbled down cliffs to the sea. A small boat was beached near it. Those same cliffs extended south past Graham, and prevented him from climbing back into the mountains. As his eyes followed the cliffs south, the king saw a small hut with a thin stream of smoke wafting out of its chimney. "We've reached the ocean, Cedric," Graham exclaimed (somewhat needlessly). "If you are correct, then Mordack's island lies across these waves to the east. Let's see if the person in yonder hut knows anything about the island. Perhaps we'll be able to borrow a boat." Setting his steps down the beach, the king started for the hut, stopping only briefly to pick up a rusty iron bar he found laying in the sand. "Whoo? Hoot?" queried Cedric. "Daddy's advice," answered Graham.
The hut had been built in the shape of the bow of a ship, and a ship's bell hung next to its door. After clanging the bell loudly many times, the door was finally opened by an old man, an ancient mariner so deaf that his entire vocabulary seemed to comprise of, "What'd you say?" and "Speak louder, I can't hear you!" There was obviously no help to be obtained from him, so Graham and Cedric left. They trudged back up the sand to examine the boat Graham had noticed. Close examination of the small craft showed why it had been abandoned. The small sail, though serviceable, was quite tattered and would not survive a hard wind. The boat's hull was in need of much scraping and several coats of paint. Graham even found a small hole in the boat's bottom. However, both Graham and Cedric could see the faint outlines of small islands to the north and east, and any one of them might be Mordack's. After travelling so far, Graham was not about to be stopped with his goal within sight.
The king had been carrying with him the wax from which he had squeezed honey in the Dark Forest. It had occurred to Graham that he could use the substance to firmly plug the hole in the boat. True, the patch would not last long, but it should be enough to sail to the islands and back. Rocking the craft so as to get access to the hole, Graham pushed the wax into place and made a tight seal. "That should do for a while," he told Cedric. "If it doesn't, you can always fly back to be sure." "Aye, aye, captain," saluted Cedric. "When did you ever learn to sail?" "Whoo, whoo, me?" the king replied. With a great heave, he pushed the boat into the ocean and hopped aboard. Cedric followed after.
King Graham decided that his best course across the ocean was one which could bring them back easily, as opposed to one that might get them lost. Therefore he first maneuvered just a bit south and dead center of the strip of beach. He then pointed his craft east, and leaned back to enjoy the ride. "Leave due east, return due west," Graham told Cedric. "Even a bird like you would have a tough time getting lost this way." And so they sailed for several hours, staying away from the occasional shoals and rocks they spotted. Graham planned to explore the first island they came to, and if Morda ck wasn't there, go on to another. Eventually, they were sure to stumble on the wizard's island. Things did not quite work out that way. The first island they came to looked tall and green and lush in the distance. A small sheltered beach gave the impression that it would provide a safe harbor. "Land, hoo, hoo!" shouted Cedric, and Graham sailed for shore. Just as the boat grounded itself, horrible screaming cries pierced out of the sky. "Not again!" despaired the king. Diving out of the sun came three hideous winged forms, part woman, part flying daemon. The harpies screamed right down on Graham and Cedric, snatching them out of the boat and into the sky. Then they separated, bearing the king and Cedric in different directions. Graham fought to escape the pair that were bearing him, but their clutches were too strong to escape. The harpies finally dropped the king with a hard thud in the center of a high clearing near the island's top. When Graham recovered, Cedric was nowhere to be found, and he was surrounded by a score of the monsters. They were fighting over their dinner, and that meal was going to be the King of Daventry. It is said that to compare the voices of harpies to chalk scratching slate, is unfair to the chalk. Graham concurs. He told me that their shrieking contracted the muscles of his back, and shivered his spine. It was so bad, that he began playing his harp, the same as he had done for Queen lcebella and her wolves, if only to cover up their voices.
"They are named 'Harpies', after all," he told me. At once, the hideous hags stopped fighting over Graham, and began fighting over Graham's harp. One particularly large harpy suddenly flashed down and snatched the instrument from his hands, and then flew away. This so outraged the others that they began screaming as one, and began to give chase to the one with the harp. All disappeared, flying into the north, screaming to scare the dead as they went.
As soon as Graham's knees stopped shaking, and his ears ceased being outraged, he began searching to discover what had happened to his companion. As he picked himself off of the ground, he jabbed his palm on something sharp. When he looked to see what it was, he discovered an old fishhook. It was rusty, but its bite had not gone deep, nor drawn blood. He put it in a pocket, and started walking downhill on a broad path. He at last found Cedric. The owl lay crumpled in the sand by the path, barely breathing. When Graham tried to speak with him, all Cedric could do was moan weakly. Without aid soon, the bird would quickly die. Graham picked Cedric up, praying that his effort would do no further damage to his friend, and hurried the rest of the way to the beach. The boat was still safely there, the waves lapping at it gently. A large seashell stuck out of the sand by its side. "A conch shell!" The discovery brightened the king much. Oft times folk used such shells to help the partially deaf hear. Graham could take Cedric back to the mainland, and perhaps the old man might be able to help Cedric. It was the owl's only chance. Graham took the conch, put Cedric into the boat, pushed off, and sailed back the way he had come. His scheme of taking the straight and direct route had borne its fruit, and the boat sailed directly up to the beach in front of the old man's hut. Graham rang the bell again, and eventually the ancient mariner responded. "Eh? I can'ts hears ya. Speak up, sonny!" Graham handed the shell to the man, who looked at it and smiled. Holding it to his ear, he waited for Graham to speak again. "Can you help us? My friend Cedric, an owl, has been seriously wounded by some harpies. He needs healing." "Harpies? Why didn't you say so sooner? Come on in; I'll help anyone who's been hurt by those foul beasts." Inside, Graham laid Cedric on the mariner's bed. The old man boiled some water and placed some poultices on the injured bird. Next he fed him some herb tea.
"That should fix 'em," the man said finally. "Make him good as new; maybe better." On the bed, Cedric was already showing encouraging signs of vigor and alertness. "Sir, my name is Graham, and the wizard Mordack has kidnapped my family. Cedric and I were trying to reach his island when we were attacked. Do you know where it is, and can you help us?" "Well, sonny, I wouldn't want ta' deal with that mad Mordack myself, but I can't stand in your way from trying to help your loved ones. Tell ya' what I'll do-yer friend there should be ready to travel in a few minutes. In the meantime, I'll whistle up a friend of mine. She'll be able to take you to Mordack's island, but no further. Whatta' say?" "Is, thank you, enough?" "That'll be fine, sonny. That'll be just fine."
The old man's friend was a mermaid named Pearl. Mermaids are not the most talkative of folk, and this one was even less so. She quietly listened as the man asked her to show Graham and Cedric the way to Mordack's. She nodded her assent, and waved for Graham and Cedric to get into the boat and follow her lead. In the brief time that it took Pearl to arrive, Cedric's strength and good humor had returned. Graham held the bird, gently scratching its head, while the old man had asked the mermaid for her help.
"Thank you, sir. I don't know how Cedric and I can ever repay you." The king and Cedric got into the boat and waved farewell to the ancient mariner.
"May your quest be successful, King Graham. May you and your family survive this adventure safely. If you do, that'll be reward enough for me. Fare ye well!"
Graham pushed the small boat into the waves for the last time, and sailed off following the mermaid. His eyes glued themselves to the far horizon, searching for Mordack and hoping he was not too late to save Valanice, Alexander, and Rosella.
Mordack's island loomed like a dark storm cloud on the edge of existence. No natural storm, though, this was thoroughly black and evil. The island appeared as if it had been melted into creation, with black and purple and inorganic green drippings giving the landscape a soft and repulsive appearance. Mordack's island may actually have been floating above the waves; most surely the bulk of it hung suspended above the ocean. Graham thinks that the chances are good that those parts that did seem to touch the water were illusion. The only exception was one tiny, rocky beach that was guarded by a pair of ominous stone pillars, and sea creatures of the more repulsive (and dangerous) kind.
Pearl waved good-bye to Graham and Cedric while the island was still a fair distance away. Her face had turned gray, and her eyes had filled with fright. It was quite apparent to Graham that she had used all of her courage in order to take them as close as she did. He begrudged her nothing as she sped away, and prayed that she had not brought them too far before she fled. The sea guardians did not get to Graham and Cedric's craft; the rocks and surf did. Twenty feet or so from shore, the boat was capsized and crushed. Graham, Cedric, and the pieces washed up on the small beach. All lay still for several minutes until Graham was able to stagger to his feet and cough the seawater from his lungs. As he did, he heard Cedric call for help, and was able to pull him from beneath the wreckage of their former craft. They were now on Mordack's island, and had no way off. If they failed, they wouldn't need one. Graham took stock in their surroundings. A crude set of rock stairs had been carved out of the island's weird stone, and dared the two to follow them up. "Graham, I don't like this place at all," whispered Cedric. "Neither do I, Cedric, but my family's here. I must go on." Graham looked around some more. Stuck between two rocks was a dead fish. In many ways, Graham's adventure had started with the smelly fish he had found in Serenia, and it had proven useful. This was much fresher. Graham took it anyway-both as omen, and for good luck. "Not another dead fish?" Cedric complained. "Just keep looking out for Roes," was the king's rejoinder. They faced the stairs, and Graham began climbing. Cedric followed at a safe distance.
The Cobra Dragons were waiting for them at the top of the stairs. Massive carven stone statues they were, with great gems for eyes. As Graham and Cedric approached them, the eyes began to glow with an incandescent light that seemed to follow the king's every step. They flanked both sides of the narrow path that passed between them, and led to a lightJess, lifeless castle beyond. The castle had the same burned, melted look as the island itself. Graham knew that they must pass the stone guardians in order to reach Mordack's castle. Cedric had no ideas as to what approach to take, except to point out a series of scorched gashes in the ground at the point where the Cobra Dragons looked at the path. "There is danger here, Graham," the owl observed. "I don't like the look of those statues." The king could not agree with Cedric more, and inched closer to the watchers to get a better look. The eyes grew yet hotter and brighter, and they gave the king an idea.
As a student at the Royal University, Graham had often experimented with crystals. He had learned of crystal's curious property of not just breaking up and defracting light, but the less-known one of redirecting rays. "Making light bend and turn cartwheels back on itself," is the way one of his learned teachers had described the natural phenomenon. Graham remembered his lessons well, and had a crystal with which to duplicate those old experiments.
"If I'm wrong," he told Cedric, "remind me not to try this again." Holding the crystal that he had taken from the yeti's cave high above his head, he walked still closer to the statues. The eyes now pulsed with even greater light and energy, and together, with dual flashes, both guardians shot bolts of flaming lightning at the king. They struck the crystal at the same time, as if attracted to it. The crystal seemed to absorb the deadly energies, glowed momentarily with an energy of its own, and shot the rays back at the statues. The cobras' eyes exploded and died. The crystal shattered, destroyed also by the act. The smoke thinned, and Graham and Cedric were free to approach Mordack's castle.
The path to Mordack's soon turned from dirt to solid stone blocks. Those blocks then changed to air, abruptly ending at a chasm, which protected the great, carved main door from intruders. A small stone stairway, though, led down away from the walkway, and meandered into the distance around the lower side of the keep. Since it was the only way forward, Graham took it. The second stone path took Graham around the side of the very base of the keep. It ended on a great stone platform which also dropped off into a deep crevasse. Beyond this point, there was no going forward. In the platform, though, was embedded an iron grate. Graham knelt and attempted to peer down into its depths, but could see nothing but darkness. He tried lifting it, pulling and tugging with all of his strength, but it was rusted tight. The king was unable to budge it. "Time to go back," announced Cedric. "There's nothing left to do here." "I'll think of something," responded the king. He took the iron bar from out of his travelling bag and began using it for leverage as he began to pry at the grate. "I'm sure I can get into the castle through here," he said. Finally, his efforts were rewarded, and the heavy iron bars began to move a little, and then lift. Once the rust had been broken, the king was able to lift the grate enough to use his iron bar as a prop. The way into Mordack's castle was open. "I'm going in," announced Graham. "Are you coming?" "Owls are outdoor birds," Cedric replied. "We don't like it indoors. Anyway, I think it's too dangerous. I'm staying out here-to keep watch." "That's a good idea, Cedric. But I'm going down anyway. Wish me luck."
"May good fortune go with you, King Graham. You're going to need it." The king climbed down through the narrow opening and into the bowels of the wizard's castle.
There was some light, to the king's relief. It came mostly from a grayish glow given off by the walls, but some faint illumination did seem to slant down from above through slight cracks in the ceiling. The place looked like a dungeon, and it had passages twisting and turning in every direction. This might as well be a maze, Graham mused. A person can very easily get lost in here. Looking up, he could see the opening through which he had entered the castle. It was too high to jump and reach, but it would provide a bearing if he became lost. "Pick a direction; any direction," he commanded himself. He chose southbehind him-and began exploring. Graham says that he wandered that maze for hours before he discovered the door out. Most every way he went looked the same as the one before. A dozen times, if once, he returned to where he had started, and in none of those instances was the return intentional. Graham started feeling that he was alone in the universe down there, with the hollow sound of his footsteps the only music in creation. Eventually, however, he thought he could make out another sound. It did not appear to be the drip of water on stone, or even that of another's breathing. Instead it sounded like the deep steady rumble of a rock chanting, "Dink. Dink. Oink." In a far corner of that maze, Graham finally encountered the source of that sound. It was not a rock, but a very large creature, the likes of which the king had never seen, heard of, nor read about before. Slightly taller, but broader and more massive than a human, it seemed made up from the parts of a number of beasts, especially those with massive limbs and large teeth. The most bizarre thing about Oink (which is what the king later learned it was called-because of the sound it always makes) was the fact that his hair, or mane, was tied into a topknot on his head, and held in place with a pin. So comical was its appearance that Graham forgot for the moment that the creature was most likely deadly. Combined with its incessant patter of "Oink. Dink. Dink," it was enough to make the king begin to giggle. Graham says that it was the rhythm of Dink's chanting that moved him to begin playing the tambourine. He says that the beast's cadence was like the beat of a gypsy dance. But, Oink did not respond when Graham banged and shook. His eyes lit, but he just hulked there doing nothing. "Here, you try," said Graham. When he handed the instrument to Oink, the beast jumped alive with pleasure. Imitating what the king had done, Dink banged and smashed a cacophonous rhythm, punctuated by happy leaps and clumsy attempts at dance. Graham says he was lucky he was not stomped in joy.
Still shaking and booming, Oink moved away from where Graham had found him and began dancing away down a corridor and out of sight. All that was left of his presence was a lone hairpin which had fallen as a result of the revelry. Graham picked it up for reasons which have been discussed earlier.
Other than the meeting with Oink, Graham encountered no others as he wandered Mordack's maze, and at last turned one final comer and found a door in (he thinks) the northern wall. As you might guess, the door was locked. "After all I have been through, no mere door is going to keep me from my family!" Graham announced to the dungeon. He began pushing and pulling and tugging, but to no effect. The door was too thick for him to make any impression on with his shoulder. Finally, he examined the lock again. It was not large, and the key that would open it would have to be small. With no other alternative, Graham took out Dink's hairpin and began to fiddle and pry at the mechanism. To the king's astonishment, his attempt at picking the lock worked. The small "Click!" was one of the most satisfying sounds he had ever heard in his life. So smoothly did the attempt go, that Graham suspects that the pin may very well have been the lock's key. With a gentle push, the door opened. Graham went through the open door and emerged in the castle's pantry. A wide set of steps led up from the dungeon into the storage room. Roughhewn wood shelves lined two walls, but the king could see nothing on any of them which might help him. The pantry contained one large, dosed cupboard. The only item inside of it that was portable was a sack of dried peas. He took it. Why not, Graham thought, at this point, anything could come in handy. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to push Morda ck into a pot of pea soup. As the king was thinking, he heard a series of scraping noises from the next room, which he suspected was the castle's kitchen. Graham carefully peeked a look through the archway into the kitchen, staying as tight to the shadows as he could to avoid detection. The kitchen was filthy and in disarray, and it had one large iron pot boiling over the cooking fire. It seemed that witch's stew was on the menu that night. The room appeared at first to be empty, but a second look revealed a young dark-haired girl with bleeding knees in one comer scrubbing the floor. Although she was filthy, and her clothes rags, she projected an aura of dignity and nobility. Graham was sure that she was no ordinary scullery maid, and was most likely a slave or prisoner to Mordack. Rather than try to slip past her unnoticed, Graham walked boldly out of the shadows to catch her attention. He risked raising an alarum from the girl, but suspected she might hate her master enough to help him. As Graham approached, she looked up, stifled a scream, and shrank back from the king in fear. "Leave me alone!" she cried.
"Please, be quiet. I won't hurt you." "You're one of Mordack's evil men. Stay away." The girl was terrified of Graham, and with constant, quick, fearful glances up at him, went back to her work. Graham could see that he must take another approach to overcome her fear. The king had never inspected the small gold locket he had grabbed in the Roe's nest; events had carried him along too quickly for that. Nonetheless, he removed it from his bag and glanced at it briefly to make sure that it was gold. Gold it was, crafted in the shape of a small heart closed shut by a tiny clasp. It was attached to a dainty golden chain. Perhaps a gift will calm her, he thought. "Here, take this. I won't hurt you. Please. I'm just trying to rescue my family." Reaching out to the scared girl, Graham offered her the locket, trying to convince herof his good intentions. As she saw it, her eyes widened with surprise and delight. "Why, this is mine. Where did you get it? I thought I had lost it when Mordack kidnapped me." She opened the locket and showed Graham the two portraits that it contained. "These are the likenesses of my parents, the rulers of the Green Isles. My name is Princess Cassima, and Mordack kidnapped me when I refused his offer of marriage. He transported me here and set me to work scrubbing floors and cleaning chamber pots until I accept his hand. It is something I will never do, so much do I hate him!" Graham told Cassima the tale of his family, and the girl said that the bottle containing them, and Castle Daventry, was in Mordack's laboratory on the second floor of Mordack's home. She told the king that she would help him any way she could, and he promised to free her if he defeated Mordack. Cassima also warned Graham to beware of Mordack's monstrous blue henchman; a creature who always prowled the halls of the castle, never sleeping. "And most especially, King Graham, do not let the cat see you-not even a glance. For the cat is Mordack's brother Manannan, and I fear that you will be doomed to horrible death if he catches any sight of you." Cassima pointed to the wide stone passageway that led beyond the kitchen. "Mordack's living quarters begin through there. May good fortune go with you, kind sir." "My family and I shall return for you, princess," the king promised. "I must go now. Farewell!"
The corridor beyond was quite different from the utilitarian decor of the kitchen and pantry. Decorated with massive statues of daemonic beings, and stone gargoyles whose faces turned to follow him as he walked, it also contained a huge and bizarrely carved pipe organ. So hideous was it that Graham is sure that it played music only for the denizens of the deepest hells. He was careful not to even brush it as he passed through, touching his boots to the stone floor as noiselessly as he could.
The corridor brought Graham to the castle's long dining hall, although the king winced at the thought of just who, or what, Mordack might invite to entertain in it. From behind, the king heard the sound of Mordack's henchman approaching. He quickly dashed through the hall, and emerged in the castle's main entry. Immense statues of winged women loomed above him here; the images of either beautiful vampyres or succubi, he was sure. A set of stairs led up beyond this point, through a stone arch loomed over by a feathered snake-daemon. Mordack's sense of fine art was beginning to overwhelm Graham with horror, but he knew he had discovered the way up to Mordack's laboratory, and his family. Graham's slight pause to cringe at Mordack's statues was his undoing. From out of the dining hall burst a beast which was both part ram and part praying mantis. Its red eyes locked on the king, and in a quick bound had the king in its tight grip. Graham could not pull free, as much as he fought. Then, a magical door appeared in the air next to both of them. Inexorably, Mordack's guard moved to that aperture, carrying Graham despite all the king's struggles. It stepped through. King Graham picked himself out of a foul puddle in the dirty cell where Mordack's henchman had cast him. Soiled straw scantly littered the floor, and the bone remains of former victims hung from the damp walls, still bound in their chains. Vermin scampered all about, as if anticipating new food. Once the magic entry had disappeared, there were no doors at all. Graham was trapped, and doomed. The sight of a rat vanishing through a tiny hole in a wall reminded the king of the one who had rescued him from imprisonment in Serenia. He was sure there was no chance of that happening to him again, but he nevertheless stretched out on the floor to peer after where the rodent had gone. Like the rest of Mordack's dungeon, the stones themselves gave off a slight illumination, and because of this light, the king was able to look within the rat's hole. The creature was not to be seen, but its cheese supper was. The sight made Graham hungry, but his reach was just the slightest bit too short to reach the morsel. I bet I can spear it with something like a fishhook, the king reasoned. And that is something which I happen to have! Taking the large hook from his pocket, Graham tried again, and got his prize. "Yuk! It's moldy," he exclaimed once he saw what he had taken. Graham would have thrown the cheese away on the spot, except for what happened at that moment. The squealing of a huge stone block moving on poorly oiled rollers drew his attention to the far wall. There, a portion of the prison wall was moving inward creating a passage leading out. Through it came Cassim. "Cassima! Where did you come from. How did you get here?"
"Through the maze of course, King Graham. I have spent much time down here with Dink, my only friend. I discovered this secret way into the cell, and when l heard Mordack's henchman capture you, I rushed down here to let you out. Hurry, follow me." Crawling out behind Cassima, Graham found himself once again in Mordack's maze. The girl sped ahead of him so quickly that the king was sore put to keep her in sight. By the time he reached the kitchen, she was already back at work as if she had never left. "Good luck, again, King Graham," she uttered. "Please try and stay away from that blue meanie because I'm sure I'll be noticed if I try to rescue you again." Graham knew that her words were wise, and realized that he had to deal with the guard in some way to avoid being captured a second time. He moved back into the castle's corridors with more vigilance, and headed for the stairs going up. Graham met the guard almost at once. It was just entering the hallway with the hideous organ as the king arrived. Again the henchman's hooves dashed over the stone floor. This time, Graham's planning executed perfectly. The king had taken the bag of peas and was holding it at the ready. As soon as the creature started racing at him, Graham tossed the dried pellets on the floor in front of it. With its footing turning to rolling peas, the guard lost all traction and crashed its head to the stones with a hard thump. It lay there unconscious, but Graham knew that would not be the situation for very long. He dashed off, hoping to make it up the stairs before the creature woke up. Manannan was waiting for him in the dining hall. Princess Cassima, if you recall, had warned the king about the cat. Here he was now, the same evil one who had kidnapped his son, and was now threatening to eat his family. Here he was, looking at Graham with hateful blue eyes. If Graham could not silence the cat in some way, his mission was doomed. "So you want to eat my family, Manannan," Graham whispered. The king took the fish he had found on the beach and tossed it across the room. Manannan might be a wizard in feline form, but he was still a cat. Unable to resist fish, the cat rushed to it and began sniffing. At once, Graham ran over to it and, taking the bag that instants before had held peas, scooped Manannan up into it. The wizard yowled and thrashed within, but the burlap muffled its cries, and Graham was able to tie the bag securely closed. He tossed it into a corner knowing that Manannan would be no further bother for quite a long while.
Let me digress briefly. King Graham, in bagging Manannan and leaving him in Mordack's dining room, intended to return later and secure his captive. As events turned out, he and his family returned to Daventry before that could be accomplished. What became of Manannan? Did he perish there, unable to claw out of his burlap prison? Or is he at large again, freely plotting new and more terrible revenge on the royal family of Daventry? As I write this long narrative, we do not know. We hope the cat came to a final end on the castle floor, but until I or some other travels there to determine the final truth, we shall remain in ignorance. We pray that our ignorance does not return to bite us.
The way to Mordack was now clear. Graham rapidly moved through the dining hall to the stairway, and most quietly and carefully ascended. No one was about at the top, and no noise came from either of the doors which Graham could see. He found that he was on a small landing, loomed over by a huge clawed skull carved of stone. The king chose the far doorway, paused to peer around its edge before entering. No one was within. Graham found himself in Mordack's bedroom. More of Mordack's obscene statues cluttered the room, all of them staring at the sorcerer's bed with lecherous leers. The king's stomach briefly turned, unwilling to imagine the acts which might take place near where he stood. At the far end of the room, a smaller portal led beyond to Mordack's library. Graham went to it, and on a large table, discovered an open book of magic. At the top of each page was inscribed the legend, THE OBJURGATION OF SOULS. The pages were so smooth that they may have been made of the smoothest, thinnest ivory. Few words were inscribed there; mostly there were ornate drawings with the names of what could only be spells next to them. The remainder of the text was in symbols that Graham could not decipher. The king says that he felt what he describes as a ripple vibrate through him as he gazed on those pictures. It was as if an energy entered and passed through him, and the drawings branded themselves into his brain. At the time, Graham attributed the feeling to fright. There was good reason for Graham to be frightened at the moment. No sooner had he taken his eyes from the grimoire, than he heard a POOF! explode in the bedroom. Sure he had been discovered, Graham looked back and saw that Mordack had materialized in the other room. However, the wizard seemed not to have noticed the king, and lay down in his obscene bed. In moments, he had commenced to snore softly. I guess I must pass close past the very jaws of the wizard now, Graham thought grimly to himself. He's between me and my family-so be it! With silent steps, Graham tiptoed into the bedroom again, through a door framed by the tusks and skull of some ancient monstrosity. Graham took a moment to look on his unchosen enemy. He affected a small black mustache, and a beard shaped like a spade. His hair came to a point from beneath his skullcap into a widow's peak. His complexion, while not exactly black, was of a duskiness much like feet left unwashed too long. Mordack was dressed in a long cloak with a tall collar. Next to his limp hand, on a small bed table, lay his Wand of Magic. Without the wand, he is powerless, thought Graham incorrectly. This made up the king's mind. On the way out of the room, he snatched it from its place near Mordack's unknowing grasp. The king moved out of the room and into the hallway with Mordack's wand in his possession.
The second doorway led into the wizard's laboratory, a large room of two levels filled to bursting with the apparatus of magic. An iron spiral staircase wound its way up to a balcony, where more arcane equipment awaited its master. As Graham scanned the room, his eyes found a familiar glass beaker sitting on a long table. The king could not restrain himself and rushed headlong to it. He had finally found his family and Castle Daventry! Graham says his tears flowed most freely when he at last saw Valanice and his children imprisoned there in Mordack's laboratory. They looked up and saw him, then waved and hugged and cried themselves. No sound, however, escaped from the bottle. The king reached to take the beaker and race away before Mordack returned to his workplace, but he could not move it at all. Graham's heart which had been soaring in joy, crashed to his feet in hopeless frustration. All the king could do was to search Mordack's laboratory in hope of finding some way to either free his family or escape with them. The lower level proved fruitless, so Graham sprinted up the stairs to the balcony. This place too offered the king little inspiration, except for one large contraption-a machine-which was burping away at the far end. Graham rushed to the thing in order to inspect it more closely. The machine had the smell of technology about it; metal gears, and levers, and cogs, and spokes waited to be set in motion. It was an unclean thing, bearing two narrow platters, one on either side, and metal rods which ran between them. At its center, near the bottom, was a pool of burbling liquid, simmering expectantly. Graham had no idea what the metallic monster's purpose might be. The platters, however, suggested to Graham that they might hold something. Two somethings, actually, with dimensions like those of a stick, or a wand. "Magic wands!" Graham exclaimed loudly. "The platters are the perfect size for holding magic wands."
Maybe it was the fact that he still had Mordack's brightly glowing Wand of Magic in his hand which gave him the inspiration. Whatever its source, the king knew that he possessed two of the items, and the other was dead and powerless. Could it be that this is how Mordack charges and recharges the power of his wand? If so, I can steal its power and put it in Crispin's wand. With it, perhaps I can restore my family to normal size and escape this evil place.
I think that the king did not think that thought in such detail. He had not the time. Graham placed Crispin's wand on one side of the contraption, and then put Mordack's on the other. He waited, but nothing happened.
"Drat!" he spurted. "How do I make this thing work?"
When Cassima had rescued Graham from the dungeon cell, he had absently put the piece of old cheese into his pocket, along with the fishhook. Now he recalled it, his memory jolted by the aroma of the machine's liquid heart. "Maybe odorous old cheese is what powers it?" he mumbled. "It most certainly smells that way, and stranger things have happened in this adventure of mine." Graham placed the moldy morsel into the bubbling brew and stepped back. Nothing happened again. "Drat!" "I was hoping I was right." He was. Mordack's machine finally started to do something. Evidently it took some tin1e to begin working (a sure sign that technology was at work), but the thing slowly started to glow, and unknown powers began building, then running over and through the myriad parts. The powers then concentrated themselves on Crispin's wand, which glowed with new power. Brighter and brighter it shone, and at the same time Mordack's wand dulled. The entire process was accompanied with crackles and hisses and sharp booming crashes. When it all finished, in sudden silence, Mordack's wand had blackened, and a tiny wisp of pale smoke drifted away from it. Graham paid it little heed, but went and retrieved the wand Crispin had given him. It was vibrating with fresh power. Graham was granted no time to admire the thing. From the main floor of the laboratory below he heard the unmistakable sound of a wizard's magical arrival. It was Mordack. "What has happened here?" he intoned malevolently. Looking up, he saw Graham standing beside the strange machine. "So, it's you, King Graham. Consider yourself dead!" Mordack made a wide, sweeping, melodramatic gesture in the direction of the balcony. llis wand, no longer smoking, flew off from the machine and down into the wizard's hand. He never looked at it, but used it to cast a spell in Graham's direction. The king saw his ending coming. Nobody, however, saw Cedric coming. Cedric, you might ask, Cedric? Yes, indeed. Because Mordack's wand had been drained to near powerlessness in the machine, the spell it cast at Graham did not act instantaneously. Rather, it flew at the king. Cedric, who had been keeping watch on the outside of the castle, took this moment to arrive in Mordack's laboratory. "Graham, good news. Crispin's coming to .... " Before his words were finished, the owl dropped to the ground lifelessly. Unaware of what was happening, he had flown between the king and the wizard's spell. "Curses!" screamed Mordack. "You have nearly destroyed my wand. You shaU pay for this-now!" With or without a wand of magic, Mordack was among the most powerful of sorcerers. With another magical gesture, he immediately transformed himself into a perverted mockery of a giant, flying scorpion; although no being like it had ever existed in our world before that moment. Mordack rose into the air and flew at Graham.
The king, seeing the transformation happen to his opponent, immediately recalled the pictures he had seen in The Objurgation of Souls. He somehow knew with certainty that they were spells of transformation. He recalled the tiger, and wished he could become one himself so as to battle Mordack. Thus it was, and thus it became-unknowingly, the king had memorized spells from an ancient and obscure school of magic that uses the picturing of images to cast its spells. When he wished clearly to become a tiger, he did. It was not what Mordack expected. The wizard stopped his attack in mid-flight so as to avoid Graham's tiger claws, and then fled away when the king leaped at him. And so it went, the magical battle; back and forth between the great wizard who wielded an almost useless wand, and the great king who defended himself with a powerful one. Next, Mordack became a dragon, a great firedrake. As that, he breathed death flames at the king. Graham wished himself into the small, quick, and darting form of a brush bunny, and eluded them all. A cobra will easily slay a rabbit, and Mordack tried this next. Graham became a mongoose and brought the fear of physical death to the magician's hooded eyes. "You cannot slay me, puny vermin," Mordack hissed. "I shall burn my revenge into your flesh!" Mordack's roar filled the room as he transformed himself for the last time. He had become a fiery ring, and surrounded Graham completely. The wizard closed the circle on the king, and prepared for his kill. Valanice, Rosella, and Alexander all witnessed the titanic struggle between Graham and Mordack that day. All three knew that the king had no chance against the sorcerer, and waited in horror for Graham to be annihilated. They could do nothlng to help, and realized that their end would come soon after the king's. That Graham had lasted so long against Mordack gave them a little hope, but the end, they were sure, was inevitable. From Graham's point of view, Mordack's appearance as fire was a big mistake on the part of the wizard. There was one more spell which he had seen in the magic book, and Graham pictured it with glee. It did its work in two stages: first, Graham was returned to his own form; second, he brought rain down on his head, and down upon the flames that were Mordack. In a sooty puddle, the great and evil wizard Mordack was destroyed. King Graham and Daventry were avenged. Graham spent no time strutting over his victory. He went at once to the bottle where his loved ones were. He knew no spell to restore them, but pictured them clearly in his mind as standing next to him, again wearing their full forms. The magic didn't work. In despair, Graham threw Crispin's wand to the floor and wept. The patter of bare feet brought Graham out of his remorse for the moment. It was Cassima. She had watched the final battle from the shadows, and had come to see if Mordack were really dead. Graham assured her that he was, but was weeping because he had no way to help his family.
It is sometimes said that when all is darkness, the faintest light will shine the brightest. It was then, when all Graham could see was despair and failure, that Crispin appeared. While the king and Cedric had battled their way to Mordack's, Crispin had learned what had happened to Graham's family. He had then embarked to set things right, and battle the evil Mordack himself. He was too late for that task, but not too late for King Graham and his family.
With one easy magical gesture, the king and his family were together once more, all hugging and kissing and embracing and crying and rejoicing. When they finally calmed, Graham introduced all to Cassima, who had saved his life in the dungeon. They thanked her with new hugs and kisses. Alexander was especially grateful for the pretty maiden's aid in setting them free. To the surprise of all, he begged leave to visit her on the Green Isles. She blushed, then accepted. Hugging Valanice closer, Graham had new visions of grandchildren.
With another wave, Crispin magically sent Cassima on her way home.
With another wave, Castle Daventry disappeared, sent back to its appointed place in Daventry.
With another wave, poor forgotten Cedric was returned to health. He had not died; the spell cast at Graham had turned him to stone. A new tear came to the king's eye, so happy was he to see the owl who had become his friend.
With a last wave, Graham, Valanice, Alexander, and Rosella found themselves on a hill in Daventry. Below, they could see the castle and hear the cheers of their people welcoming their return. Arm in arm, they went home.
Behind the scenesEdit
This novel is interesting in that it strongly intruded the concept of the Family of Evil, but also directly mentions that Hagatha is the sister of Manannan and Mordack, a detail also mentioned in the An Encyclopedia of Daventry, and in King's Questions. The Family of Evil is also discussed in the article The Quest for King's Quest VI in InterAction magazine, Fall 1992.