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It grew unbearably hot; each bead of sweat fell like a lava drop. Night was shivering cold and he had a winter dream where a winter idol, an ice monster with an ice beak, was pecking at him until his frozen body burst into a million pinpoints of light, like a star ribbon.
His sleepless captivity was torture and he was sure some faceless observer lurked about in the darkness. The guard neared the cage; he had one big eye and one dwarf eye and carried a berserk’s ax and a sinister staff topped with a predator head. Ancient thread of lore spoke of a twilight guide, a nocturnal blood seeker, a warlock. Was he about to become a symbol of sacrifice for some warlock’s ritual?
He saw a stranger’s badge, an executioner’s badge, unmistakable in its symbol of doom. He heard the loud blast of a minotaur’s horn (bereft of the actual minotaur) and saw the mighty fang and pack teeth of the twilight sabre-toothed tiger, the rage of the forest. Perhaps this would be a quick death. Silently, he pulled his leader’s blade from behind his boar skin cape, and with a bear’s fury, knowing it was his last hope, grabbed the living chest of the night mare before him. This bloodthirsty idol was the recipient of all his rage essence, a prism of retribution through which he vented every injustice from the time he first met Magus. The last strike was his fibula of rage stomping on the seal of ancient evil on the dwarf’s head. With that drop of force representing the Knight’s final stamp of justice, he released the guard. No longer bound for the sacrificial stone, he had just given himself a warlock pass and he would take this bloody secret to his grave. Almost instantly, the volume of fury assuaged.
After the Knight's cold fury had been spent, he saw a movement of life within the egg. Cautiously, he used his knife to cut the bindings and watched in awe as the most beautiful bird was born. It was huge, and its feathers swirled like a golden storm around the cage. As the bird grew, its size became too much for the confines of the cage, and it broke free. The mythical phoenix, an idol of rebirth, was standing before him. The bird was waiting for him. He carefully climbed each carved scale of the leg and then nimbly traversed the shaft of each feather until he was finally on top. Then the phoenix flight began.
They soared on a wind of freedom through the forest and out to a mountain root chain, resembling the magnificent idol for rock master, the thunderbird. At the center of the mountain heart, the phoenix, belying its size, gently perched on the sacred branch of the mighty oak storm tree. The Knight slid down and took in his surroundings. He stumbled upon a stone sarcophagus, its broken scarab seal tossed to one side. On the edge of a fire altar there appeared to be a tomb of some sort badly in need of repair with a jumble of tomb bricks clustered nearby. Further on was a statue of an apocalypse rider on an infernal horse. Holly berries made a home in a huge statue crack, giving it the illusion of a long, bloody gash. His attention was so fixated on a great iron gate with three dragons adorning the top of a giant metro gates wheel that he didn’t see the gate guard.
Not nearly as menacing as what he faced in the forest, the guard escorted him through the gate and stopped outside the warden’s hut. The guard slightly resembled the inventor Mechanogle. Inside was the warden’s office, a guard swinging a prison baton, an empty prison cell, and an interrogation room. There was a statue of a bear with armor next to the cell.
A blast from an aurochs’ horn brought the guards to attention. One opened the door and an ageless warrior strutted in replete with a light of asgard helmet and lily shield with a winged amulet. There was no visible weapon. He introduced himself as the leader of the gnomes and was thankful for the return of their icon, the phoenix. Suddenly, the Knight thought of the griffin amulet the priest had given him and without knowing why, showed it to the gnome warrior leader. Everyone began excitedly talking and the leader gestured for the Knight to follow him.
Outside they rounded the corner by a gnome road sign, in language he didn’t understand, and entered a warm, homey gnome kitchen, obviously the heart of the gnome’s soul. There was so much activity going on and he finally allowed himself to relax. The warmth of the kitchen felt good and the food, although not at all what he was used to, was filling. There were light sprouts, fish wing stew with mushrooms (what he called the fungus among us) and drink from a barrel with an oak sign emblazoned on it. There was not a drop of thirst left when he was done. There was no reply to his question about the mandrake root. No insomnia horn sounded in his head this night, sleep came easily.
The gnome leader woke the Knight the next day and began a recitation from Tablets of Wisdom, which were akin to a holy book. Once the readings were over, the gnome led the Knight to a door with a gnome emblem on it. Even though the room was only lit by a small expedition lamp, the gnome walked straight to a secret slab faced with stone chaps in raised relief. The slab gave way to reveal a gnome safe. The avid core lock of the safe had a steel jaw and the gnome leader pulled a steel canine key from his pocket and opened the safe. Then the gnome leader held up the most precious thing in the world to the Knight, the mandrake root.
The gnome leader then took the Knight on a tour. They came upon a reconstruction site where a destruction sign hung alongside a tower of winds sign. Further on was a power mill. As they walked inside a door with a large power symbol he was encouraged to wear protection glasses. The head gnome, also wearing ocular protection, was leaning over an alchemic converter with a huge alchemic seal; again, in a language he didn’t understand. A reconciliation rod ran straight up through the roof and the entire room hummed with inner energy, like a steel hive. The heart of this mystery chamber would forever perplex the Knight.
The head gnome walked over to a trade machine with a spinning pyramid of numbers symbol and returned with a bronze sphere. The sphere was placed in the machine; a mysterious cube, called a cube of fortune, invisibly held in place by clamps of wisdom, began pulsating. Even though there was no watch sign or time keeper, time flow appeared to slow. The leader explained that an alchemic infusion had begun where the bronze sphere was turned into liquid gold, known as the elixir of immortality, and when drunk from a precious cup, promised everlasting life. All of this was based on sound theory provided by the artifact of infinity the gnomes had found.
The Knight sipped the golden liquid and felt the breath of life return to his soul and the endless knot of despair leave his body. He knew now he would make it back to Anabel. And he took this sign of rebirth as a sign of penance already served. He would present Arabella with the mandrake root to add to her pantry of ingredients, but the Knight no longer needed her help.
Night fell and the gnome removed a snake wicker from an old forest lantern, lit a torch and led the way with the new source torch. Beside a mystic fountain, a handwrought cart lay outside a stall with a griffin symbol overhead, centered in a horseshoe of mighty winds and held up by a horseman’s seal. Was this a griffin stall, the winged guard of the fabled gnomes? The leader began telling a story of a secret oppresser and how the light of lore tome had fated his people to become the protector of the oppressed. They were the face of law, ordained with a warrior power but a fist of justice and they were united in their steadfast watch over the oppressed.
Heading back to the throne room, the Knight pondered the gnomes’ bison persistence and steel spirit to keep the weave of life ever steady on the wings of sainthood and away from the wreath of fear. Indeed, a massive task for any peacemaker. A totem of harmony, topped with an awake defender and looking more like a pedestal of wit by the whimsical nature of its carvings, led the way to the throne base. There was an ancient mask, which concealed a rusty safe and a horn of ancestry with its sharpened horn hung over the throne chair.
The gnome leader confided to the Knight the cruel reality of the real power inherited by the artifact of infinity. The knowledge bringer was, at times, a cumbersome cursed badge with its proclivity for soul harvest. To act as soul selector and life measurer was a real power struggle and didn’t come without some pang of conscience. It definitely demanded a nature force of restraint. Ignited by his very own crystal of birth, the room had suddenly become bathed by a spawn of light. The Knight knew his act of accepting the mandrake root gift and drinking the elixir carried the explicit vow to be a steel defender of the oppressed everywhere, to carry the stone of obedience seared with the seal of obedience and to use his hero’s strike against the poisonous grip of tyranny.
Farewells were said at the post of the portal guard and he mounted the griffin. Around the griffin’s neck was a misty placer harness and the Knight inserted the griffin amulet into the stone of wild nature at its center. As the sound of the griffin’s horn slowly faded away, the stars lined up as the Knight’s night guide back to home and Anabel.
Anabel and the Iron Knight declared their love under an arbor by the sea; the turquoise light sea colored by the sun’s solar seal would soon be replaced by the deep light of the rising moon and star light. A triumphant wreath centered over a banner of loyalty was mounted above the arbor. A fire, the symbol of holy fire, was stoked occasionally by a watcher. Anabel was resplendent with eyes glistening from stardust crystal crushed into star powder. On her head was a royal gold crown inlaid with a royal stone and encircled with a regal wreath. She carried a scepter of virtue wrapped in vines of golden flower, golden lily and life flower. The Knight wore a majestic hat, a medallion of happiness with his veteran’s stripe pinned to his cloak and the sabre of the avenger at his side. His campaign insignia included a pioneer’s medal affixed to a frontier emblem all mounted on an iron bark amulet. On his finger, his father’s nocturnal ring.
Anabel and the Knight’s left hands were intertwined with a jade vine, the thread of fate, which symbolized the eternal growth of their love. The Knight, Prince Malcontent Silvermane (werewolf and son of King Oeland of the Werewolf Clan) presented his bride, Anabel (vampire and daughter of Henry the Archeologist) the largest, most perfect diamond, ever mined. Unlike their ancestor idol worshippers, they now understood the foundation of the universe, the creation of the world. They believed in samsara, forever part of the cycle of death and rebirth, eternal life. And their union represented a unified law of the land; a world pillar had been engraved with a stone of peace for the occasion. They shared a cup of glory and all their guests toasted with a cup of sincere wishes. By the seal of dawn in the crystal of air made pure by a morning’s rain, they followed the unicorn banner up the unicorn path to begin their enchanted life together, the seed of life having already been planted.
Years have passed, and Anabel is getting ready for an anniversary celebration with the Knight, the love of her life. On one corner of Anabel’s dressing table is a frame, a cool frame, embossed with a magic world map and a picture of her hero, the Knight. After the whole witch debacle, Anabel doubted this day would ever dawn. But that was a forbidden love, a fatal attraction actually, that thankfully ended when the witch was tricked into using a toxic comb ironically dipped in her very own honesty spell, a bad luck spell for the witch. Foiled by the use of her own magic against her, the witch’s last message, her parting farewell letter put an end to her poisonous grip on the Knight. That also ended Anabel’s fear of “accidentally” eating a poisoned apple. Thank goodness there was no widow consolation or pipe of grief before she was even a bride!
In the ensuing years, a princess was born; Daphne, diaphanous in features and skin, but with large, soulful eyes. Born with a silver rattle in her hand and a ruler’s power in her pedigree, her birth was the spawn of light for both Anabel and the Knight.
As time and finances would allow, Anabel attempted to make the castle and its grounds a little homier. There were several formal gardens on the grounds of the castle, the most notable containing a Poseidon fountain. Past owners, serious believers in all things mythical, added an eternal flame to the fountain; that light from below was fabled to be the power source that warded off Poseidon’s punishment.