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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
Inventory words from July 6, 2020 and September 17, 2020
Fall was in the air, Anabel’s favorite time of year. Any other time, she would be enjoying the early morning ice tear dewdrops meeting the first rays of the sun, becoming little dawn crystals twinkling on any surface they touched. After that, the season would quickly change and a frost pattern, resembling an intricate snow emblem oblivious to melting or fading, would begin forming on the windows. But the beauty of her favorite time of year eluded Anabel as yet another night of restful sleep eluded her.
All was quiet after her return trip from Henry and Valkyrie. Everyone seemed to think the power to free the Chamberlain lay within her, but Anabel wasn’t sure. Either of herself or her future should the Chamberlain return. At first, Arabella wasn’t a problem. She seemed to accept the Chamberlain disappeared after suffering a humiliating loss to the Knight. But Anabel wasn’t able to shake the feeling of impending doom that enveloped her ever since becoming the Chamberlain’s keeper.
While on a trip into town to visit the Knight’s favorite weapon maker, Torrum, Anabel was approaching the stargazer tower when its harmonious bell began tolling. Hesitating for a moment under the tower’s silent gargoyle canopy to enjoy the melodic bell, Anabel spotted Arabella leaving an herbalist’s shop. For an infinitesimal span of time, everything moved in slow motion and Anabel was sure she caught an imperceptible glance of recognition from Arabella. But there was no overt act of acknowledgment from the witch as Anabel watched her move out of sight.
Next to the weapon store was the old tavern, and Anabel was sorely in need of an adult beverage. Her nerves had been rattled by the sight of Arabella and she knew facing the Chamberlain’s wrath was inevitable. The elvan woman took her order as Anabel laid a few Elvish coins on the bar top. The tavern was a true melting pot of Midnight Castle residents; dwarves, elves, vampires, werewolves, goblins and even some humans. A whole gamut of tastes encompassed the tavern, from the huge fan dancer painting above the bar, to the table of treats in one corner that displayed an elegant crystal swan centerpiece to the opposite corner where a bear sculpture stood menacingly over the basilisk meat rotisserie. Thank goodness for a plentiful wine cellar. Anabel picked up her drink and moved to a darkened corner of the tavern, desperately hoping to sort out the mess in her head.
Arabella watched Anabel out of the corner of her eye for quite some time. When Anabel stopped, the witch thought for sure she had been seen. But Anabel wasn’t paying attention to her; rather seemed to be enjoying something. Arabella knew her father very well. While it was true he absolutely hated losing to the Knight, it was decidedly not true the Chamberlain would just slink away somewhere and hide. That wasn’t his style at all. He was most definitely a plunge right into the fray type of guy. So the idea that her father would simply disappear, licking his wounds, never sat well with Arabella.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary about Anabel until, for a split second, her mask of calm and assuredness dropped and revealed something else. She was edgy, cautious, and perhaps even afraid. Just then Anabel turned and their eyes met. Arabella saw all she needed to see. Positive of Anabel’s involvement in her father’s disappearance, the witch walked at a deliberate pace out of the sun and towards the darkness. As she embraced the town of shadows, she knew Anabel’s eyes were following her. A sinister moon sickle smile grew across Arabella’s face as she began fomenting a plan that could possibly destroy all of Midnight Castle
As the clock tower began tolling out the hour like an inspiring drum striking fear into the enemy, Anabel knew it was time to head home. Near the center of town stood a wishing well and Anabel felt in her purse for the many-sided coins she brought back from the Northern Islands. It was easy to discern the triangular coins even in the dark as she dropped a few into the well. She didn’t necessarily believe throwing coins into a hole would result in good luck, but why spit in the eye of fate?
Rounding the corner by the shadowbird’s tree to head towards home, Anabel passed a doghouse with a huge chimera bone hanging over the dog’s food bowl. Anabel rushed past it, loathe to make contact with the nefarious guard dog who could eat a bone deemed too tough for most dragons.
By the time Anabel reached the front door, the castle was quiet with only one small light illuminating the way. The hushed silence of sleep filled the air, but sleep was the last thing on her mind. Anabel rushed into the pantry to retrieve the specimen jar containing the butterfly-morphed Chamberlain, having long since moved it from the grandfather’s clock in her bedroom. The Knight could have accidentally come across it there and the pantry seemed a more prudent hiding place, since he never crossed its threshold.
She broke the salamander’s seal on the lid and peered into the jar. The once vibrant and magical aura of the butterfly was gone. Anabel remembered it appearing lifeless before, but had hoped the Chamberlain gave himself an “out” to his spell. But it was very apparent he didn’t and the poor butterfly wasn’t far from returning to the dust from whence it came.
Anabel couldn’t save the Chamberlain alone. With just the tiniest flicker of magic, it would have been possible. But this required a power much stronger than Anabel could muster. She obviously couldn’t ask Arabella for help, but there was another witch rumored to live beyond the forest edge, deep within the forest of shadows. Suddenly resolute in her decision, Anabel was keenly aware the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. Going one-on-one with the Chamberlain was familiar, but Arabella frightened her. She felt the urgency to hurry, grabbed the jar and raced out the door.
Arabella was busy with the machinations of potion making and imbibing evil spirits. So filled with the thirst for revenge against Anabel, the witch yet again completely disregarded the rules of the Witches’ Council. She was bound and determined to exact punishment not only on Anabel, but everything Anabel loved, including her family and her castle. Part of it was the long seething hostility born out of the Knight’s dispassionate feelings towards her when they were married. And the other part, although to a lesser degree, was retribution for the Chamberlain.
Over on the witch’s stove sat the burning book of heinousness. This banned tome was once in the possession of the Chamberlain, but Arabella took possession of it when she turned her father into a pudgy, purple bat. Centuries’ worth of evil was contained in this book, the magnitude of which wasn’t even known.