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Meanwhile, engaged in a temper tantrum, Lord Chamberlain stomped around Dark Tower, slamming doors, tossing books and bringing the head of his cane perilously close to a row of hanging skulls. His hobgoblin helper hid in a cupboard and even the Chamberlain’s roaring bellowing didn’t cause him to move. His health would be better served by staying put. Lord Chamberlain knew Anabel had a strong will but was taken aback by the actual strength of that will. His sole job was to worm his way into her conscious and destroy her ability to fight; to render her incapable of independent thought and make her solely dependent on him. But he failed. Not only was she able to resist his mind binds, but she planned and executed a trip! A trip to see her father!
Lord Chamberlain should have anticipated Henry being a hard target; next to the Knight, he was closest to Anabel. But the idea Anabel would be strong enough to reach him never occurred to Lord Chamberlain. Moving through his vials with labels of birch bark, crossed bones and imp wing, his hand deftly stopped at one. He threw a handful of malt into a flagon of whiskey and downed the drink in one gulp. His broken heart reduced him to an imprisoned vampire. He had lived many lifetimes, but Anabel was the only woman who could go toe-to-toe with him. When Arabella first approached him about helping her get the Knight back, the Chamberlain couldn’t believe his ears. He opposed that union once before and didn’t Arabella learn anything? But the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense. Arabella could have the Knight…and Anabel would be free for him. After all, while Anabel was granted the power of the highest vampire, Lord Chamberlain was the most powerful member of the High Council of Vampire Clans. That power effectively made him a supreme sorcerer and he wasn’t afraid to use that power. These days the Iron Knight was a mere paper tiger of his ferocious wolfish side, but Anabel’s bloodthirsty nature smoldered at the surface. They were more alike than different, the Chamberlain and Anabel, but all his machinations to get her to see that had come to naught.
When he finally looked up, eyes like hard lava beads belied a misty radiance that gave birth to a single tear of regret.
Anabel’s carriage rounded the stone garden and Ice Rock shown against the blast of darkness. Anabel stuck her head out of the window to catch the soaring cold and icy sharp snowflakes that welcomed her home. Henry rushed out to greet his daughter and grabbed her in a troll-like hug. For one brief moment, Anabel felt like a care-free child again safe in the arms of her father.
Inside, the warmth of the fireplace enveloped her and Anabel caught the faint scent of burning northern thistle. Henry handed his daughter a heavy brass cup filled with a glowing mixture that Anabel greedily drank. Henry wondered what Anabel was doing here and why she was alone, but he knew better than to push his daughter.
As Anabel recounted her suspicions the cursed doctor was really the Lord Chamberlain, Henry’s mind flooded with his troll memories. Memories he’s saddled with forever thanks to the Chamberlain’s curse. Henry knew he looked away once too often from the Chamberlain’s nasty deeds; too afraid to get involved. The Chamberlain, who as a boy probably enjoyed pulling off the wings of butterflies, now rejoiced in tormenting and torturing people. He had tangled with Anabel before, but this time was different. This time Henry knew the Chamberlain’s reign of terror had to end. But that wouldn’t be easy. The Chamberlain was powerful and his magic had only increased through the years. No troll could help; nor elvyn or goblin folks. In all the world there was only one entity more dominant than the Chamberlain…the omnipotent Druid from the Northern Islands.
Henry went about readying Anabel for her trip up north. With no telephone, Henry grabbed a bird, affixed a message for Valkyrie to come at once. She knew the foreboding north better than anyone and could safely guide Anabel to the Druid’s island shore. Henry searched through his old iron chest for the enchanted compass rose, the skyspark. Once inserted into a pathfinder’s compass, the skyspark would point the way to the Druid. Ordinarily a pack ox would be used to carry supplies for such a long trip, but this one required water transport, so the ox was out of the question. Henry found the biggest leather bag he had and stuffed it full of exotic sweets, chocolate and elf potions for energy; golden chicken and odd eggs for protein and fish wing soup to keep warm. Once the bag was packed, Henry scouted out a couple of blankets, made from shed baby mammoth fur and an absolute necessity for warding off the north’s cold fury.
Once Valkyrie arrived, Henry welcomed her with her favorite balmy hop drink served in a grim cup used for dark beverages. He then set about outlining his plan to get Anabel up north safely. Valkyrie nodded her understanding and enjoyed the warm malty brew, but the mood was somber. Valkyrie would get Anabel safely to the island shore the Druid called home, but no further. Everyone understood that if all did not go well, this could be a one-way trip for Anabel.
Under the bloodred moon just before dawn, the three travelers took the path around the mountains of Ice Rock to the lake in ice. There, hidden by glorious greens of the fir trees, was a Drakkar. A boat crafted by the Northern tribes, the Drakkar was uniquely able to withstand the cold and ice to reach its destination.
Once they crossed the lake, Valkyrie took her flaming gauntlet and let loose a fire arrow in the sky. Before Anabel could ask what that was all about, Krakatouk the Druid appeared near the shore. The imposing figure sported a hooded cape with ivy creepers poking out here and there. Among the ivy were blossom of life buds, known for their ability to bloom even after being picked. In his right hand, the Druid grasped his Necromancer’s staff and perched on his left shoulder was a falcon. But it was his gaze that shook Anabel just a little. In her reading nook at home where Anabel indulged in reading ancient scrolls, she remembered a fable about a powerful shaman with eyes like the old earthfire symbol. When she turned around to say goodbye to Valkyrie, the lake was empty and completely still.
A distance from the shore was a stand of trees, so thick Anabel couldn’t see beyond them. The Druid simply nodded in her direction, turned around and began walking. As Anabel fell in behind him, she noticed how the vines and tendrils seemed to part, allowing them to walk along a clear path. Just as the trek was becoming interminable, Anabel noticed a blue haze filtering through the boughs. Not haphazardly, but purposefully. Just as Anabel was ready to demand some answers, the blue haze gave way to a clearing. In the center stood the Druid hut, encircled by the blue light like the centuries old azure sign of magic. A dog stood in the doorway of the hut, his neck banded with a spirit trap perfect for capturing ghosts. This ghost dog was once a dead town guard and symbolized a true friend’s memory. Crossing the threshold, Anabel immediately noted the enormous fireplace with mounds of ash of primal flame, the heat of eternal fire that burns blue.
Meanwhile, the Iron Knight was, by turns, inconsolable and angry. A resurgence of Anabel’s blood thirst was nothing new; both of them accepted that part of her nature. But her dependence on this cursed doctor was baffling. She had been a strong woman with pretty definite ideas about people and issues. As a result of this quack cursed doctor, she had been reduced to an impassive, almost lethargic role. This so-called doctor monopolized all Anabel’s attention and demanded she accede to his every bidding.
At first the Knight was stricken that the love of his life vanished without explanation. The immediacy of the situation was assuaged when Henry said Anabel was safe with him and would stay a few days. That assurance allowed the Iron Knight to turn his full attention towards the smarmy doctor.
In his mirror of duality, the Lord Chamberlain caught a glimpse of himself. Turn to one side and he saw a fearful reflection; turn to the other and a painful reflection looked back. Neither image boded well for the Chamberlain’s future. Anabel was beyond his reach, the Iron Knight was suspicious and angry and the Chamberlain didn’t even want to think about Arabella’s reaction. He still remembers the humiliation of his own daughter turning him into a pudgy, purple bat and that sent shivers up and down his spine. Just then a thunderous blow at the door turned the Chamberlain even paler and sent his hobgoblin aide scurrying behind a bookcase. The Chamberlain reapplied his disguise and opened the door to welcome the Iron Knight into his Dark Tower…then everything went dark.
On the floor inside the hut, the Druid drew a Nordic pentagram inside a magic circle using a graphite spike. He placed an enchanted cauldron in the center and invited Anabel to join him. The shaman then began reading from an underworld manifest, a black parchment scroll sealed with the imprint of a skeleton ruler’s seal in royal wax. The Druid, deep in trance, recited the wisdom of the north from the scroll over and over. Hanging from his neck, Anabel recognized the pendant of island ruler which united three essences, rock symbol, sea symbol and sun symbol to keep its owner safe from harm.
From what Anabel could see, the hut was relatively sparse; a bed-type platform, couple of tree trunk seats and a table shaped like a Nordic triangle off to one side. On it was a bone vase with a bronze rim overflowing with the most beautiful blossoms Anabel had ever seen. The Druid would later say those special flowers came from magic pollen collected from plants that only bloom once every 10 years. After the completion of the ritual, the Druid offered Anabel a seat and a unique ice vessel filled with an amber-colored elixir. Besides the fireplace, there was only one other light source. A dragon lamp rose from the floor and featured a two-headed dragon with one large dragon face and a dragon-foot base. Alongside the lamp was a skeleton with its dead hand lying atop the dragon, as if petting it. Anabel wanted to ask the Druid about the skeleton, but she was asleep before she knew it. She slept until a blinding light penetrated her eyelids, scolding her to get up. The single window in the hut was a shining prism, a perfect example of magical geometry, causing the sun to radiate colors in every direction. She was relaxed and self-assured, traits that had been missing lately. A dutch oven simmered over the fire and Anabel suddenly realized she was starving. She lifted the lid by the most heavenly handle, an intricately carved handle of dinosaur bone, and inhaled deeply. The aroma was strange to her, but when offered a bowl she greedily accepted.
As the Druid gathered items, Anabel asked about the skeleton standing by the dragon lamp. When the Druid said that was a merchant’s skeleton, Anabel stopped mid-bite. He explained that all he needed came from the earth, but on rare occasions, a trip to the potion shop was in order. This particular merchant was less than accommodating so the Druid released him from his earthly fetters. Anabel looked from the Druid to the skeleton, not knowing if he was kidding or not.
Anabel was unsure how to proceed with the Druid. Almost immediately upon her arrival, her whole history with the Chamberlain came spewing out. Years of provocation and misery flushed from her memory including her latest suspicion. The cursed doctor was the most trusted and revered among the Vampire Clans and there was no greater treachery than for the Chamberlain to co-opt that trust. Undecided whether to broach the subject anew, Anabel suddenly became aware of those eyes on her. Apparently waiting for her to stand, the Druid issued Anabel an ice bow and a single ice arrow, as well as Ulrich’s decoy. That horn was an ideal item for hunting the 11-horned deer, the desired food for her real prey…the sacred wolf. He also presented her with the Konung’s helmet that, thanks to the enchanted skyfire symbol mounted in front, would allow her to ‘see’ through the blue haze. Successfully complete her mission and the means to dispose of the Lord Chamberlain would be hers.
Anabel was once again walking through the haze but, with the guidance of the helmet, she had no problem finding her way. Her first landmark was the monument to the fallen on which was carved a stone snake curled around an ancient sphere. Just beyond that was an old worn out Viking cart with a pearl sign still visibly etched in the wood. That symbol was connected to fire magic which proved the history of this place ran deep. An old camp fire nearby was littered with a hodgepodge of bones; remnants of a demons’ feast, no doubt. Just on the other side of a ravine Anabel glimpsed a wolf totem and knew the keeper ghost, the sacred wolf, already knew she was coming.
Before she could take a full breath, there it was. The massive wolf, an immensely beautiful and powerful warrior, stood perfectly still watching her. In one smooth motion of one who is well versed in hunting, Anabel drew the ice arrow into the bow and took aim. As she targeted the animal, a strange kindred feeling overcame her. Her beloved Iron Knight was a wolf and he came from a clan of wolves. His tribe had a strong sense of family and was furiously loyal. Anabel knew wolves rarely initiated a fight, but would stand their ground and fight to the death if necessary. Anabel blinked and imperceptibly lowered her bow and the wolf began howling, almost simultaneously. But while it sounded like howling on the outside, inside Anabel’s head was something else. A voice spoke of Anabel’s confidence and composure and how yearning for time alone can allow one to return to a difficult situation with greater perspective.
The wolf was suddenly gone and Anabel knew she lost her only chance to be rid of Lord Chamberlain. But the price had been too high and she was content with the choice she made.
Returning to the Druid hut, Anabel placed all the hunting items on the table and prepared herself for facing the Druid. But instead of disappointment or failure, he was smiling! Never had she seen such emotion on his face. He pressed his palm against her forehead and murmured, like invoking a blessing. He clasped a thunderboar’s tusk around her neck and said only the most skilled and fearless hunters were able to acquire this artifact. Like an Amazon, she was the bravest girl he ever met.
At dawn, Valkyrie was waiting at the shoreline with the Drakkar for their return trip to Ice Rock. As Anabel turned to say goodbye to the Druid, he pressed a string of cursed queen’s beads in her hands. Those dark jade beads, he said, would cause a horrible fate to befall whoever wore them. In an instant, the Druid was swallowed up by the blue haze.
As the boat moved away, Anabel swore she saw the haze take the form of the supreme sign, an emblem that represented all the Northern Tribes. As she fingered the beads of reparation, she smiled at the thought of returning whole to her family. The Iron Knight was always there for her, her lover, protector, confident and friend. And her darling little Daphne. Anabel couldn’t wait to hear Daphne’s latest composition on her bone harp strings.
TO BE CONTINUED
The story continues using all inventory words from the July 25, 2019 update....
Henry tried, to no avail, to get Anabel to stay a while longer. He knew he was just a stop in between pauses in her life, but he longed for more time with his daughter. Anabel never really needed him much. After her mother died, when Anabel was at her most vulnerable, Lord Chamberlain further punished Henry with the curse of the troll. No longer able to raise his daughter, Henry left her in the care of some kind people he knew and hoped somehow she would find her way back to him. Eventually, Anabel sought him out and, by turns, was intrigued and repelled by the hammer wielding monster. She even nicknamed his hammer Thor’s Nobility, after the ancient hero, and believed locked lightning inside the hammer made it all-powerful. But while Anabel’s distant memory was sketchy at best, Henry’s was intact. He loved his daughter with all his heart, always only wanted the best for her and would deny her nothing. While he knew they would probably never have the traditional father/daughter relationship, his heart ached for it nonetheless.
Anabel felt a tiny pang of guilt leaving her father so suddenly. Their relationship was a study in contrasts; at times too much while not being enough. It was a work in progress and Anabel knew she could count on her father for anything. She came to him for a shoulder to cry on but he provided so much more. He offered Anabel a way back to her life…and her love, her beloved Knight. As a small token of appreciation, Anabel left Henry a gift presented to her by the Druid…a chart tube containing the map of islands. This map contained information on what Henry knew as the Northern Islands. With its proximity to Ice Rock, that map could forge the way for Henry to have a very long and lucrative relationship with the Northern people. Anabel’s mouth arced into a tiny smile at the thought of Henry, the Ice Rock king meeting his Snow Queen somewhere there. The map also alluded to Southern Islands, thought to be ruled by a Fire Conjurer. Any relationship with them might take a little longer.
Anabel was forever grateful to her father, Valkyrie and, of course, the Druid, Ruler of the Islands. She relived the sadness of watching her newfound friend sail away, the Valkyrie flag getting smaller and smaller as distance swallowed it up. The flag’s insignia was a crown with spread wings that symbolized the freedom and power of all Valkyries, perhaps in honor of the Polar owl, the Northern Islands’ most common bird. Absently, Anabel rubbed at a spot on the inside of her right wrist that was home to a new tattoo. The Druid presented her with a protection sigil, the sharp-winged hawk whose steel wings represented the pinnacle of lightness and power and its hunter’s sight that never missed a thing. The Druid may or may not have known, but he actually reintroduced Anabel to her true soul.
Vampire or not, she possessed a good, hardy soul full of strength and courage incomparable in her world. Almost all her life she adroitly managed her blood thirst…partly from a longing to fit in and partly from fear. She loved a werewolf, who through sheer will alone, kept his ferocious side tamed. Together they produced the most wonderful child who had inherited all the strength, compassion and wisdom each parent possessed. Now all Anabel was thinking about was getting back to them.
She was glad for the Chief’s cloak gifted to her by the Druid, Krakatouk and pulled it tightly around her. The magic cloak, pinned with a Valkyrie symbol brooch made from Viking’s fibula, was warm in winter and cool in summer, making it perfect for the trip between Ice Rock and Midnight Castle. A wagon wheel, forged of celestial metal of unsurpassed durability, picked up a stone along the way and every rotation produced a metallic clanging. Suddenly, Anabel’s back straightened, her eyes hardened and narrowed and her blood thirst surged though her body. She gave instructions to her driver and sat back as he pulled the ice horse off the main road towards a hidden byway. Focused for the first time in a long time, Anabel was acutely aware of the decision she just made. Instead of recoiling from her vampire nature, she embraced those feelings and her abilities and absently reached up to welcome the emergence of her killer’s fang. After all, she alone faced the Challenge of the Midnight Hour for which she was granted the power of the highest vampire. Not the Lord Chamberlain. He failed in his bid to become the most powerful member of the Council and felt the High Council of Vampire Clans plotted against him. His jealousy of Anabel forced the Chamberlain into a role he disdained…pandering to the High Council, who he considered an assembly of fools and old men.
The Lord Chamberlain rarely feared anything or anyone. But the look on the Iron Knight’s face made him gasp and recoil from the door. For a moment in time, both stood staring at each other. The Lord Chamberlain’s voice, once strong and authoritative, failed him. The Knight hadn’t planned what he was going to do or say, but once this close to the “esteemed vampire doctor” a familiar feral feeling began to stir. There was something oddly familiar about this person, something that caused the Knight’s ferocious side to come barreling to the surface. Beyond the ability to reason, the Iron Knight grabbed hold of the creature and hurled him across the room. The Knight could see the doctor’s mouth moving, but the growling inside his head blocked out all sound. He picked the doctor up with one hand and hurled him against the nearest wall. Just then he noticed the doctor’s face seemed to be coming apart. Bit by bit the broken disguise fell away revealing the man’s true identity. The Lord Chamberlain!
Very, very slowly sanity returned to the Iron Knight and he understood. At first, he thought the Lord Chamberlain disguised himself as a vampire doctor to harm Anabel. But staring at the miserable mass on the floor in front of him, the Knight knew the truth. This was all for love…unrequited love. The Chamberlain wanted Anabel and would do anything, absolutely anything, to have her. While the Chamberlain was well versed in magic and spells, the Iron Knight was all brawn. And he was determined whatever love the Chamberlain felt for Anabel would remain unrequited.
The Lord Chamberlain saw the truth dawning in the Iron Knight’s eyes and took that moment of hesitation to rise up and grab a small bottle from the shelf. He downed it in one gulp and turned to the Knight. “You may have won this round, but life is a game of chess. Strategy, timing and luck. We will all meet again.” And then he was just gone.
As Anabel emerged from the carriage, the Dark Tower loomed large and formidable. With her vampire senses heightened like never before, the ultrasonic echo of an enemy came through loud and clear. Something familiar was here. The Dark Tower was the perfect choice for the Chamberlain; fairly close to Anabel and town for supplies, yet isolated enough to deter visitors. She didn’t exactly have a plan in mind, but vowed to use every last bit of her vampire power to expose his deceitfulness and, if necessary, destroy him. And if Arabella were also somehow involved, well, she’d take care of that witch too.
As Anabel climbed to the Tower top, the eerie quiet was shattered by some sort of scuffle coming from inside. The Tower’s door was ajar and as Anabel peered through the opening, she saw a hobgoblin in a desperate struggle to free himself from a collar of shame encircling his neck. Another one of the Chamberlain’s varied torture devices, no doubt. The place was a mess with broken furniture and glass shards everywhere and a huge stain of what looked like red paint covering part of the floor. The goblin stopped in his tracks when he saw Anabel and silently watched as she moved about. Anabel bent down and picked up the Chamberlain’s cane, cut from an old century fir pole. He never went anywhere without it. Sensing movement out of the corner of her eye, Anabel spied a dreamcatcher, beneath which swayed a fire griffin’s deadly paw and dragon skeleton parts. There didn’t appear to be any source for the movement; there was no breeze. As she moved closer, Anabel discovered a rather large midnight butterfly caught in the strands of the dreamcatcher. Its futile attempts to free itself only caused the strings to tighten even more. Anabel picked up the butterfly and recognized the hard lava eyes of the Chamberlain! It appears the mighty Lord Chamberlain outsmarted himself this time and, as Anabel held the wriggling insect, she felt empowered by her new sense of self. She carefully unwound the binding strings and found a new home for the powerless wizard. An empty specimen jar was perfect. She placed the cane and jar within her cloak, remembering her prediction of the fly caught in the spider’s web.
Suddenly, her vampire senses caught the unmistakable scent of a werewolf. The Iron Knight had been here! He must have figured out the truth and took matters into his own hands. He did still love her! Anabel was almost giddy. She knew the Knight was okay because the scent was so strong. She needed to get to him, quickly!
The carriage ride seemed interminable and by the time it reached the outskirts of the Castle, Anabel’s nerves were frayed. She felt breathless, as though she ran the whole way. The dog days of summer were upon the land and she could smell the sweetness of the morning dew mixed with the perfume of the plumeria flowers. Nothing like the winter flowers from the North. These smells were intoxicating to her senses and filled her with a yearning that had been dormant far too long. She hoped the Knight hadn’t grown tired of her moodiness and her ridiculous attachment to that scrawny excuse for a masquerading doctor. In her desperation to deny her blood thirst, she allowed the Chamberlain a gateway into her mind. He tormented and provoked her by constantly insinuating Arabella into every conversation in a blatant effort to bring the Knight’s loyalty into question.
The carriage came to a sudden stop, jolting Anabel back to the present. Disheveled and bruised, Anabel started to vent her anger on the driver but he was excitedly trying to explain the ice horse was rapidly turning into a fire horse. The warm temps of the lower lands was wreaking havoc on the poor horse’s constitution and if he didn’t get back to Ice Rock right away, there’d be nothing left but ashes. Anabel checked on the glass jar housing the Chamberlain, grabbed her bag and swung open the door. As the door closed, Anabel noticed a Guards’ emblem indicating this carriage was linked to Vikings. Riding in style or not, she vowed to have a word or two with Henry about being unceremoniously dumped by the side of the road.
She rounded a small food stall at the end of the small town and made her way up the lone path to the Castle. It was such a beautiful path in summer, lined with every imaginable color of flower. And the large tree canopy provided a welcome relief from the warm sun. She came upon a runic tree branch bearing a lone rune tree leaf. The runic tree, the legendary tree of heroes, was revered by everyone. A tiny nest containing a solitary raven egg was an apparent victim of the fallen tree branch. Gingerly, Anabel picked up the nest and, with the help of the Chamberlain’s cane, placed it on the highest tree branch she could reach, hoping the egg’s mother would find it.
As she reached out to unlatch the iron gate, Anabel caught sight of the small band of gold encircling her finger. When the Knight placed this infinity ring on her finger, he promised his love was endless, having no beginning and no end. That was five years ago. Her heart began beating like a hummingbird’s wings and her hands shook. But Anabel did what she had always done, faced things head on. She forgot that for a while, but now she was back.