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Lost in memories, Anabel practically jumped out of her skin when a sudden loud crackle and whoosh of air came from overhead. Shading her eyes from the sun, Anabel looked skyward and saw an enormous flying shadow come to rest in an eagle’s aerie perched high atop one of the towering trees.
She stood up and looked one way, then the other. Not wanting to return to the empty cottage, Anabel continued down past the old corral (she used to call it her jousting field). At the far end stood the ghostly stables; barren of horses for years. Inside was a carriage with relics; Henry’s finds from around the grounds. Things like the intimidating bridle, rumored to turn mild-tempered horses into awe-inspiring beasts. The bridle not only had the bit and reins, but a neck band for fastening. It looked more like a plate helmet than a bridle. Together with the menacing spiked saddle, this equipment definitely required a horse with a personality to match, and the image that immediately popped into Anabel’s mind was that of the dark horseman riding his ghostly bone horse.
Leaving the past behind, Anabel made her way back to the cottage, hoping Henry had returned. Henry understood his daughter possessed his adventuresome spirit, but she was also headstrong. Maybe he could take the credit for that trait too. After all, wasn’t he a bit impulsive when he joined Count Leonid Vesnik in the search for the mystery chamber? And how many times did he foolheartedly cross the witch’s path? Yes, Anabel gets her penchant for recklessness from him also. Sighing, Henry opened the trunk at the foot of his bed and pulled out one of his prize finds…the quiver of light flight. Supposedly it never ran out of arrows when worn by a valorous venturesome spirit. This would come in handy for Anabel.
Henry and Anabel shared a meal, mostly in quiet. Henry knew pressing Anabel would only cause her to dig her heels in and Anabel’s mind was too jumbled to offer any coherent conversation. The smoldering fireplace only added to Anabel’s foreboding, so she kissed Henry on the head and wished him a good night. She was anxious to get ready for tomorrow and a reunion with a faithful friend.
Anabel tried to convince herself to sleep, but to no avail. After hours of tossing and turning she gave up and just stood idly at the window. The full moon wasn’t bright, but dulled by gauzy wisps wafting along the inky sky. Anabel shivered as if she were one with the moon’s grief, looking at the world through a melancholy gaze. Her senses were suddenly inundated with the sounds of the sea and the smell of salt air as she absently rubbed an embossed wave symbol on a nearby book.
Anabel knew the few fitful hours of sleep she got was all there was. So she got up, dressed and readied her gear while it was still dark in the hour before dawn. The sky had cleared and there was a peculiar cluster of night stars shaped like a power paw, the paw of the great Northern bear, a beast honored by the Northern people. That was a sure sign her friend from the North was near.
As Anabel and Henry made the trek around the mountains to the lake, the irony of the moment wasn’t lost on her. She walked this same path years ago seeking help to destroy the Chamberlain; now she needed help to save him. With the passage of time, the grandeur of the Northern ships faded from Anabel’s memory. As the lake came into view, the full impact of the regal ship overwhelmed her.
The Viking boat, the epitome of a light, high-speed drakkar, seemed to fill the watery landscape. It began its life as a simple shielded boat with the north shield emblazoned down each side. The ship figurehead was a dragon, fitting because the creature was the Northerners inspiration to win against even the toughest odds. One could almost see its flaming breath. The billowing sails, made from the strongest Viking canvas, captured the slightest of winds to thrust the ship through the calmest seas.
After perfunctory attempts at small talk gave way to an awkward silence, Anabel grabbed the patterned bag holding a few foodstuffs, the enchanted quiver from Henry and her very own eagle bow. Outfitted with a unicorn hair string, the bow guaranteed even the most unskilled warrior could hit any target. Not as effective as the skull crasher Valkyrie had learned to fight with as a child, but good enough.
The journey was long and rather quiet and it surprised Anabel when the ship passed by the Druid’s island. Her puzzled expression nudged Valkyrie out of her silence. As the earthy landscape gave way to ice and snow, Valkyrie explained the ship was heading to one of the northernmost islands. The Druid divined his magic was ill-suited under the circumstances and directed the appropriate assistance. The island ruler knew of Anabel and her mission and was waiting.
Before Anabel could even discern anything resembling land mass, a crewman rose to the bow of the ship and blew a curved horn to announce their arrival. The horn turned out to be a ceremonial horn, a trophy of the hero who defeated the three-horned dragon, and a symbol of the islands’ sovereignty.
The cold of this place was very different from Ice Rock. The atmosphere had an icy blue look and stretched as far as the eye could see. Anabel had trouble getting enough air to breathe and just as she was about to signal to rest, the island ruler’s castle came into view. The entrance sported a beautiful icicle grating, rather than the traditional iron doors, that gave way to a long ice hall. Every step produced eerie snapping, popping and creaking sounds which unnerved Anabel and caused her to constantly look over both shoulders. Anabel felt this place more apropos to a penguin researcher than a vampiress looking for help.
But Anabel was awed upon gaining entry to the throne room. The ruler was beautiful and she seemed to glow from within, like a spiritual, unearthly being. She literally lit up the room and seemed very friendly and welcoming.
From the ruler’s desk, an attendant brought forth an exquisite carved box. The island ruler explained that, despite the delicate appearance of the box, its reliable cover could withstand hundreds of hammer blows. Some sort of magic symbol on the lid resembled a trail of stars and the ruler said that, for believers, that star route symbol formed a path that led to a better life. Inside the box were ancient cards, whose art Anabel found eerie and unsettling and the writing was unfamiliar script. Cubes, or wooden bones, had equally unfamiliar symbols etched on each of their sides. Anabel wondered aloud if it was a fortune-telling set.
The Ruler smiled and said it was for telling fortunes, but only the most serious prophets in the world used it. As the Ruler laid out the cards, she asked Anabel to roll the bones. Whatever combination occurred, the Ruler gave Anabel a wry smile and asked if she knew the story of the Northern Pygmalion. The Northern Pygmalion sculpted a beautiful woman out of ice and named her Galatea. He fell in love with his Ice Galatea and pleaded with Frey, the protector of loving couples of the North, to bring her to life. When Pygmalion returned to his hut and kissed Galatea, her once icy lips were warm and responsive. “Do you miss your Iron Knight?” the Ruler asked.
Taken aback by the Ruler’s insight into any connection between the story and her love life, Anabel simply nodded her head. Silently, the same attendant slid a smooth parchment under the hands of the Ruler, who began feverishly drawing. Once complete, the Ruler handed Valkyrie the drawing and exited the room. The attendant, while escorting Valkyrie and Anabel to the door, explained how these “seeing” sessions consumed all the Ruler’s energy. As he closed the door behind them, Valkyrie and Anabel looked at each other, then down at the drawing. It wasn’t a drawing at all; but a map, a map to the ancient land of the Titans.
Anabel sighed heavily at yet another trek through unknown territory. Would her life ever be like a normal human’s without all the drama and intrigue? Rather than seeing what was actually in front of her, Anabel saw little vignettes from her life. She had her one true love, but holding on to him was wearisome at times. Why was she always fighting, for the Knight, for Daphne, for herself and her life? Why wasn’t it easier?
Suddenly, she felt a little tug at her arm and Valkyrie saying “we’ve arrived.” As her eyes refocused on the present, Anabel saw a land mass looming out of the sea. There was nothing else to do but gather her things and confront this new land head-on and hope the Island Ruler didn’t steer them wrong. Once ashore, Anabel and Valkyrie followed the beach up to a rough-hewn path. Valkyrie took the lead, closely following the map drawn by the Island Ruler. A timid stoat took off running and, as the path widened, Anabel noticed something familiar. The majestic red trees from her childhood garden! One was chiseled with a tribal seal, the origin of which was probably lost forever to time. How did they get from this unknown island to Ice Rock?
A small bit of anticipation began stirring when suddenly Valkyrie stopped. Dragging her attention away from the trees, Anabel saw giant gates looming in the distance. They were no longer attached to their enormous hinges, but their weight kept them precariously in place. The map called these gates the Titan Town Gates through which would be the Square of Titans. Just as the map illustrated, an enormous square opened up with the path branching off to the left and right. They decided the remains of buildings lining each side were probably shops because a few still had their means of trade advertised; a bronze blacksmith sign on one and a wine token on another and a shaman’s cauldron on yet another. In the very center of the square stood a giant stone hand clutching a torch, perhaps a memorial to fallen warriors. And its enormous stone pointer finger sported a giant’s ring set with a black stone.
As the path once again narrowed into one, it led to a huge single building. Several winged statues, rotund gluttonous gargoyles, interspersed with stone eggs, sat on the roof remnants and caused Valkyrie to surmise this was once a palace or fortress. The Island Ruler’s map ended here, with no instructions on what to do next. A stele stood to one side and Anabel noticed the top was carved with the ouroboros, a sly snake, eating his own tail symbolizing the cycle of life and death. From her experience with Arabella and Lord Chamberlain, Anabel knew the symbol also had a connection to alchemy. When she touched the carved image, a mystic circle appeared at her feet. Usually the catalyst for summoning someone, Anabel stepped onto the circle, causing a cyclone of ice cold air. The Frost Mage was a virtual image, or mime, put there on behalf of the ancients to welcome visitors to Titan Town.
The Frost Mage touched a memory stone and a tutorial began of a once vibrant giant community. To honor their courageous dead, the square’s monument began life as a warrior fountain. Then one day, a meteorite flashed across the sky and plummeted to earth, hitting the center of titan town, destroying the fountain. The people rebuilt the memorial in the form of a Titan’s Hand clutching the Torch of Truth, whose fire of true knowledge highlighted truth and exposed lies and rumors. That was the rudimentary beginnings of a justice system. The jewel stand merchant crafted a giant’s ring and set the center with a piece of the meteorite, the stone from the stars, and presented it to their leader. Every leader from that point forward wore the meteorite ring to show their solidarity with the Gods who sent it.
During the passage of time, it was inevitable a young person would eventually ascend the throne. The boy was a giant but because of his age the ring was a tad too big. Young people feel invincible and his age would reveal itself at times when he would scamper about the grounds. After one such engagement in horseplay, the young leader noticed the meteorite ring was missing from his finger. Sick with guilt and remorse, knowing what that ring meant to his people, the leader began a desperate search for the ring. But it was no use; the ring was gone. And so was his honor. This was surely the day of the black sun, the day mages of the dark order believed would cause the ruination of their world. Too ashamed to show his face among his people, the young leader donned a faceless mask.
Then, as if by divine intervention, a young archeologist landed on the island. He came from far away and was anxious to know all about the land of the Titans. The giants welcomed the archeologist into their community, allowed him access to their historical books and scrolls and regaled him with their legends. They were fascinated by how he would dig down, sieve through the dirt and carefully and painstakingly brush away the bits and pieces. But his metal detector was the hit of the show. On one of his many excursions, the metal detector sounded and the archeologist obediently began digging. Much to his surprise, it wasn’t metal bits and pieces that he dug up but a ring! A ring with a meteorite chunk in the center! Of course, this was a giant’s ring so the archeologist needed help uncovering the entire thing.
Having listened to many stories from the townsfolk, the archeologist knew exactly what he found. Without hesitating, he had the ring loaded into a cart, and the archeologist raced to the throne room. He didn’t slow down when the larger, bulkier guards tried to intimidate him into stopping, but plowed straight ahead. The guards jumped at the last second to avoid being flattened as the archeologist barreled through the door. Upon catching the king at this unguarded moment, the archeologist couldn’t help but pity the desolate young man. Before any words of reproach were spoken, the archeologist produced the meteorite ring. The king threw off the mask to get a good look at the enchanted ring, put it on his finger and howled ecstatically. Tears flowed and he embraced the archeologist so forcefully the man felt his eyes bulging out of his head. As a gesture of good-will, the king bestowed the archeologist a dozen red tree saplings and said his name would forever live in Titan Town history. The young leader literally skipped out, while the archeologist picked up the faceless mask and his red saplings and made plans for his return home.
As the Titan story ended, the Frost Mage became noticeably transparent. But there was one final surprising disclosure. The heir of the Titans’ revered archeologist possessed jade beads, a gift from Krakatouk the Druid. While the Druid correctly characterized the beads as cursed, the heir possessed the power of yin and yang. Her interaction could influence the destinies of all creatures and things, thereby transforming the cursed beads into a bracelet of revelation.
The power to save the Chamberlain had always been with her. Anabel suddenly became frantic to return home and begged Valkyrie to hurry. They sprinted back to the ship and worked in unison to get it underway. Heading back to the Northern Islands the air turned considerably colder. Anabel reached for her golden fleece coat, a shining fur that was very warm and pulled it tight around her. She wanted to go directly home, but the ship needed to stop at the Northern Islands before continuing on to Ice Rock.
Anabel and Valkyrie disembarked as soon as the ship docked at the Northern Islands. Valkyrie needed to rush off to bring the Island Ruler up-to-date, but Anabel didn’t want to venture that far. She wanted to be near when the ship was ready to continue its voyage. Anabel thanked her friend, asked her to extend thanks to the Island Ruler, and went off in search of something to eat. Not too far from the docked ship was a small, nondescript shop with an emblem on the door that resembled a beer token carved inside a dog’s barrel. She could hear the refined strings of a violinist as if being led by a melancholy conductor. Inside, the atmosphere was warm and hazy and the soft singer’s voice very soothing. Anabel sat at a small table lit by a spiral candle and Maid Joan served the Northerner’s favorite foamy drink. After relaxing to one more song, Anabel reached into her lucky purse and placed a lucky coin on the table.
A few steps from the inn a shop carried local artists’ wares. A poisonous eye charm and sleeping dragon statue seemed incidental. The real artistry was in a painting that caught Anabel’s eye. It seemed to depict the yin and yang of life, dark/bright, intuitive/logical, good/evil. The image appeared to have two separate sides and yet the sides were complimentary and interrelated to one another. The shop keeper said the painter used a celestial artist’s brush (that transcended time and space) and paints of cosmic matter, which gave the painting its ethereal quality. Anabel purchased the artwork, together with a star necklace and matching star bracelet, both inlaid with meteorite pieces. The shiny pendants would forever remind her of the trip to Titan Town and the young king’s story.
A joyous sun beat down on the land of Midnight Castle as Anabel arrived. She stopped at the florist and bought an elegant pot shaped like an emerald nut. The shop had a sea horse door ringer that tinkled and the little raven outside began singing with its bell-like notes. Joyful Anabel smiled as she spied a window with roses and the poor umbrella lady on the corner who didn’t stand a chance of making a sale today. She felt as if a good fairy was riding on her shoulder.
As the path became more earthen, a hedgehog, thrifty with his freshly caught hull of insects and worms, quickly hid. She picked wild flowers and golden apples from the trees and caught sight of a pack paw belonging to an alpha wolf. And as Anabel made her way home, she thought of the Knight and how their story truly was that of a swan’s fate. Swans mated for life and there was a dyad adage about the pairing of two sensitive beings, making them one. The power of that dyad was as strong as life itself, and the individuals therein shared a connection spanning space and time.
As she hurried off to her very own Tower of Dreams, Anabel knew she could bring back the Chamberlain and make everything right with the world. But only time would tell.
*******to be continued