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To one side, lay a checkmate board, with battle bishop, checkmate king, chess piece, king pawn and knight of night waiting to be played. Laid out in one dresser drawer were his belts and buckles; fire belt, hero belt, fine buckle, raptorial buckle and buckle of full moon. On a high shelf, lined like soldiers, headgear from past eras stood at attention…charon’s helmet, last hero’s helmet, militiaman’s helmet and even an ancient executioner’s cap.
After dressing, he was resplendent in his knight armor and his beautiful, black velvet hooded cloak with a large impeccable society symbol medallion emblazoned with his family crest, an armorial lion, crossed blades and armored bear centered on a golden plaque and surrounded by a wreath of justice, all finished in golden leaf. It was attached at his shoulder by a chained eagle.
Tonight a very different call of adventure echoed in his head and it took all the courage and tenacity he could muster to wander out for the day. The burning sun was a blinding disc of sun amber, forcing him to shield his eyes. He walked past the broken well, around the fire fountain, past the old chamberlain statue and city clock in the square and headed towards the book-lover’s shop. He relished the unshakeable stronghold his image had on the masses. He dawdled among the ancient manuscripts then moved on. A broken carriage lay next to the road sign leading up to the theater.
The theater district was the place to see and be seen, and his sign of tactics was to do exactly that. He sauntered up to the theater cloakroom to check his cloak, acutely aware his presence placed a heavy load of envy on every other man. It was then he first saw her. She represented feminine purity, born with refined proportions and prophetic eyes, the color of fern, which seemed to see things beyond his grasp. She bore a slight resemblance to the fairy sculpture in the blooming pond beyond the tree of life. His own rapacious eye could not get it’s fill of her. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone.
He tried in vain to find her but, defeated, he retrieved his cloak from the cloak room and stomped out of the theater. The blast of darkness from the sphere of night obliterated the moon glow from the orb of moonlight which hung in the night sky. The soaring cold chilled his warm breath into an ice breath, making the world feel like a blizzard bowl, forcing him to pull his cloak tight. He couldn’t blink away the fog of the future, her quivering face was still looming right in front of him and the attentive stare of her eyes bored right into his parched soul. As he forged ahead, he heard the evening bells ringing from the belfry. He found himself following the dancing paper lanterns around the rock garden’s rock tree that had a deep gash in its bark in the shape of an ent’s mouth. In the tree face there was a large tree hole, maybe home to the elusive six-paws, and the root faces were gnarled and menacing.
As he rounded the corner with the broken mailbox, the tavern came into view. The rather ordinary wooden door of the tavern had a very large stranglehold knocker, replete with a roaring lion mounted on a bronze circle, which he ignored completely and just reached for the grasping handle.
With a glint of greed in his eyes, the Knight a beeline right for the gaming table, threw down a few golden coins and was dealt into the fatal deck. The playing cards being dealt didn’t seem to include the Queen of Hearts. The card of destiny did not show favorably for him this night and he was beaten with the ace of old leader. He moved to the next table, but the dancing dice held no promise either.
The innkeeper had just inserted a corkscrew in the first of many bottles of elvish wine ordered by the Knight when suddenly there was a piercing shriek and wild wail from outside the tavern. Everyone clamored to the door. A demon spite, likely born from the spawn of darkness, suffered an abrupt interrupted flight during his nightly foraging. The winged brute had a demon’s eye, dragon horn on the tip of its nose, a dragon’s tongue lolling about the mouth, fairy serpent-shaped ears and talons like cold fire clamps. Its wings of darkness created a mini dustbowl as it attacked a carriage, leaving a huge beast’s scratch on the roof. The driver, poor fellow, went to his eternal kingdom with that eye of darkness his last memory as he lost control and the carriage toppled over.
The Knight approached the carriage, reached for the handle, and those eyes swam up to him from the darkness inside. He was wrong, not the color of fern…much, much darker. Like the emerald tablet he found on his last far eastern trip and just as impenetrable. Her hair was the color of obsidian ink and, from the jostling in the carriage, had become loose and wild, resembling an obsidian whirlwind.
He helped Anabel and her ageless guardian from the tattered carriage. The guardian’s chest seemed to be heaving rapidly, so he ordered someone to bring a bottle from the tavern. He was still holding Anabel’s small, soft hand in his strong hands long after the need but his taut mind binds refused to let in any word of the living. Not a drop of time elapsed while he held her hand. Finally getting hold of his senses, he introduced himself and managed to bring the full force essence of his stature to bear. “Anabel”, her name was like the ringing of a soft melody temple flute. He assured the guardian he had only good intentions and his subdued mind was pacified under her kind eye of wisdom. He asked and was granted permission to call the following day.
The Knight, sporting the spirit of victory of a tireless racer reentered the tavern. A drunken skeleton of a man was leaning heavily against the brewing machine, which was embossed with a heavy seal of hops seal. The Knight ordered drinks all around then filled his heavy brass cup with velvet ale to the brim several times. With his impending drunkenness, the cup became too heavy so he traded it for an oak mug. The innkeeper’s monkey bandied about stealing any gold coins left unattended. But no amount of drink or merriment could assuage those eyes from haunting his every thought. After she disappeared out of sight, he found a flower from her hair on the ground. He gingerly fingered it now, enjoying the scent of roses and amber tear. He reached into his cape, brought out his pocket luck box made from obsidian splintered from a huge specimen and placed the flower there for safekeeping. He couldn’t believe his almighty luck and surely finding her was a symbol of requital for all he had been through. He felt a wind of change coming his way.
Anabel’s once heavy heart of time past gave way to the light-bringing sign that was the Knight. She had been a flower of suffering, crushed by the burden of obedience. Now, suddenly, the star of romance shown in the night sky and her dark, dreary world suddenly became a mosaic of life drenched in colors from a rainbow stone. Metaphorically, no longer was she a wailer in black wearing a widow’s shroud; but rather like Alice in Wonderland chasing the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole. No longer would there be any mourning of the soul or melody of despair; she was happy for the first time in her life.
Suddenly, The Knight couldn’t remember the last time he ate, so he wandered over to the bar counter with its own shining split filled with scrumptious unique dishes. He gorged himself on simple food, special food, unique food and rare food. The tavern even dabbled in some exclusive food, like spotted-winged parrot egg soufflé and grim eagle owl egg quiche. Once his thirst and hunger had been quenched, he went outside for a few puffs on his smoking device. He shook ash particles from his cloak and noticed wizard Transformer Magus had set up a tent nearby. Dressed for the part in necromancer’s clothes and holding a magic caster, Magus lured patrons with the promise of a word of the dead using his all-seeing eye. The Knight threw down a few imperial thalers and the wizard looked deeply into his wizard’s ball. He looked up at the Knight with a severe stare and claimed the Knight had fell victim to an ancient bloody hex. Magus said the Knight was suffering from the plague button curse and only an incarnation sign from a heaven descendant could break the curse. He would not find happiness or true everlasting love until then. The Knight’s blood volume boiled at this folly and with the brute force of a hell hound, he grabbed Magus and shook him until coins fell as if from a cash register.
The next morning the Knight felt what could only be described as green sickness. There had appeared a black mark on his hand. Was it the mark of trouble or the mark of a victim? Could it have been a poisonous bite from the food he ate? Had he ingested a dead mushroom or did someone introduce some poisonous vapor in his drink, resulting in a near deadly gulp? Had he been the victim of some harmful poison? Or was it truly the curse of which Magus spoke? Could it all be just a web of lies? He had a pounding headache and felt like he was losing all mental firmness. Quickly, he gulped a precious cup of healing potion and began to ponder what he would do next.
Once he regained stability, he took his bag from the baggage line hanging overhead, filled it with more healing potion and set out to visit Arabella, the witch. He needed to fight the curse that was physically depleting him and to make Anabel, the only woman who had ever stirred him, his own. Arabella lived in the middle of the Elvyn Forest. As he walked, he heard the forest sounds, was aware of forest eyes following his every move and felt the forest breath all around him. He was totally enveloped by the forest spirit. Any moment, he expected to see a forest fairy leap out at him. After walking for half the day, he came across an old forgotten relic. He walked past the column of the fallen and stopped at the ancient throne that had been etched with the founder’s face and the founder’s monogram. The founder had been a member of the galloon of forgotten legion and was revered for the example of bravery he displayed. This seemed like a good time to consult the Elvyn Forest map he had tucked into his traveler’s diary before beginning this trek.
Suddenly, the fabled World Tree loomed in the distance and, as he got nearer, Arabella’s hut came into view. He noticed a bastet sign over the door, the ancient protector deity in the form of a cat, and thought how appropriate for a witch. From an old olive branch hung wind chimes made up of a monster’s skull with a monstrous claw, sphinx’s paw, demon’s horn, dragon’s fang and vulture’s claw dangling beneath. Breeze from a fair wind make the chimes appear to perform a wind dance.
Before the Knight could even knock, Arabella threw open the door. She had a serpent look about her, much like the mythical Gorgon, with her eyes emitting a wild flame of searing light. She wore a wild necklace made from small skulls, raven stone earrings and serpent charmer seal pinned in her hair. When she reached out to him, it was as if a skeletal grasper, an ancient druid’s hand, had grabbed hold. She knew why he was there; Magus’ curse and his sickening love for Anabel. Was he fool enough to hope Arabella would show some sign of mercy toward him?
But the Knight was delightful entertainment, so Arabella studiously went about gathering ingredients for the healing pain that seemed unstoppable. This gave the Knight a chance to look around the hut. In the center was a huge, black cauldron surrounded by a fire circle. A vampire sign, hanging above the boiling cauldron, made the Knight to pause. He was sure Arabella didn’t see the sphere of fire as a purifying sign for vampires, but a means to an end to eradicate them. Next to the cauldron sat an executioner’s personal chair. Great, whoever would have thought humor would be the witch’s imperishable attribute?
In one corner stood a vulture statuette and in the other corner a claw statuette. No doubt the poor vulture was rendered an ominous trophy when it lost its claws to the wind chimes and the sculpture. Along one wall was a bookcase overflowing with potions, poisons and acids, a jar with eyes and containers with six-fingered claws. Stacked books, rightful occupants of the bookcase, were piled everywhere having been displaced for the witch’s pantry. On one hook hung a cursed amulet with a demon’s seal and on another hook was a dragon medallion etched with the dragon of eternity.
By the window a rather unusual dream catcher; its strings formed a finite pentagram and a fox’s brush (tail) hung from the bottom.
He watched as she began the secret ritual of gathering ingredients for her recipe; bark of Iggdrasil, black widow spider venom, eye of manticore, gold of death, dragon’s blood, manticore scale and witch’s wing. Was there really such a thing as a witch’s wing? She seemed to be searching for something else. Arabella consulted an ancient folio, but the only words visible to the Knight were “conjurer’s bond” along the book’s binding. She took her thief’s perish (key) from her pocket and opened a door cache he hadn’t even noticed. She rummaged around but came up empty-handed.
“I seem to be missing mandrake root”, said Arabella. “You must journey to the far reaches of our world…past the diamond maze mines, past the frozen treasure in the mountains known as the teeth of the north, over the sea water, rumored to be the domain of an Acolyte of the Abyss. If you make it to the golem’s heartland, you will find the mandrake root. You will know the plant from its gnarled root-like appearance.” She returned to the cauldron, dropped in some mysterious crystal, wax man, fog needle and fog powder. A wave of her wand and some incantations turned the brew into a fiery bowl. Once finished, she withdrew a thunderstorm talisman. It would protect him as a nature blessing and act as a weather forecaster on the high seas.
She said there were dual fates in front of him….an unknown future saddled with a crippling curse or freedom and life everlasting with Anabel. The choice appeared easy, but it would take an enormous amount of courage to win his freedom and Anabel. Did he have enough?