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Just as her hand touched the knob, the door was thrown open and there stood the Knight. At first, all Anabel saw was his outline filling the entire doorway because of the blinding sun behind her. His face suddenly appeared in the light and fear griped her spine as she forcibly willed her legs to move. But one look into his eyes told her she had nothing to fear. Those brown eyes which could be equally muddied or dark or fierce now were just soft and warm. The kindest eyes she ever saw. When he smiled, the warmth of his eyes lit up and she saw little flashes, like sparklers, dancing within them. He grabbed hold of her and held her tight. So tight she couldn’t breathe. But it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but this moment. They were together, they would stay together.
Before any words were spoken, Daphne bounded her way around the corner and into her mother. Anabel kneeled down and held her daughter tight. But the child wriggled free and wanted to know all about Anabel’s trip, and Henry, and what gifts did she bring. Anabel laughed and pulled out a pearl comb and a little sea pony straight from the Northern Islands for Daphne’s aquarium. You would have thought her cloak was a prosperity cloak for the many gifts that fell from beneath its folds. One gift, however, was a little more special than the rest. Anabel opened a pale blue box and removed a small tiara. She placed the True Valkyrie’s Diadem on her daughter’s head and promised to regale the little girl with all the wonderful sights, smells, people and animals of the Northern Islands.
The excitement of homecoming gave way to exhaustion and everyone was more than ready to retire for the night. Eventually they would have to talk things out, but for now Anabel was content enveloped in her warm, comfortable bed with the Knight lying beside her. But sleep remained elusive, and it wasn’t her bloodthirst that kept Anabel awake. Something needed to be taken care of before she could rest.
She carefully slipped out of bed so as not to disturb the Knight and made her way downstairs. Once her eyes got used to the dark, she could make out the outline of her cloak, still draped across the chair where she left it. Her fingers deftly felt around each fold until she grasped the glass jar. Then very quickly she crossed the foyer and opened the front door. Beside the door was a huge planter where she had stashed the Chamberlain’s cane. Anabel grabbed the cane and quietly climbed the stairs to her dressing room.
Finally able to breathe, Anabel lit a table lamp and walked over to the small grandfather’s clock in the corner. The clock had been one of Henry’s treasures and had a very unique feature…a false front. A tiny key hung from a hook in the back and Anabel inserted the key into an imperceptible keyhole, causing a door to swing open from the bottom half of the clock. She almost felt something akin to pity as she looked at the morphed Chamberlain, but the fire in her eyes belied any compassion. A wry smile crossed her face as Anabel placed the jar and cane inside the clock and shut and locked the door. Once the key was returned to its hiding place, Anabel turned off the light and silently made her way back to bed. Safely beside the Knight, all the tension released from her body and blessed sleep took over.
To Be Continued.....
Inventory words from December 2019 and February 2020 updates
Time is the enemy of all things young. Flesh, thoughts, pain, hate…..all seem to dull with the passage of time. Years passed since Anabel’s last thought of the Chamberlain. She reveled in the normalcy her life had become, if you consider the union of a vampire and werewolf normal. She ran into Arabella occasionally, but the witch was noticeably diminished in bravado and kept mostly to herself in Elvyn Forest. There was nothing and no one connecting Anabel to Lord Chamberlain, except the Iron Knight, and even his memory seemed to have dimmed. After all, the Chamberlain was not a nice guy and it seemed everyone chose not to question his sudden disappearance.
Anabel was sitting at her dressing table one day when, out of the corner of her eye, the grandfather clock came sharply into focus. How funny that she really hadn’t noticed it much until now. She tried to push away the memories and look forward rather than back, but her curiosity got the better of her. She unlocked the secret panel and felt in the opening for the glass specimen jar. When she became a butterfly catcher and first captured the butterfly-morphed Chamberlain, the jar pulsated with energy and magical power and the butterfly was full of life. But now the glow was gone and the butterfly appeared lifeless. Anabel held the jar up to the light and shook it, but….nothing. No glimmer of life, no whisper of breath. She returned the jar to its hiding place and tried to convince herself this was the best possible outcome for everyone. But try as she might, thoughts began creeping into her head that paralyzed her from doing anything else.
Never having been a coffee fan, Anabel decided a cup of tea made with sleeping maiden’s flower would have a calming effect. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Anabel’s mind was racing at full speed. Was the Chamberlain singularly evil, who only used his power to get whatever he wanted? Or was there a mixture of good and bad? Couldn’t the same be said for all humans, as well as wizards, vampires and wolves?
The bad blood between them began five years ago when the Chamberlain felt snubbed by the High Council of Vampire Clans, who began courting Anabel. Then he formed an alliance with Arabella, the one person in the whole world Anabel truly hated for her involvement with the Knight. All the ‘slings and arrows’ hurled throughout the years grew tiring. But the clincher was the Chamberlain posing as a vampire doctor to exploit Anabel’s vulnerability in order to lure her away from the Knight.
Anabel had reached the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Enough was enough and she reasoned the only way to live a peaceful existence was to rid the world of one of its most sinister occupants. But the years worked against her resolve and softened her stance on the Chamberlain’s predicament. Would she be able to have that completely happy life when the Chamberlain’s demise rested squarely on her; albeit a well-deserved demise? The Knight didn’t tell her everything that transpired between him and the Lord Chamberlain, but he did let on that the Chamberlain fancied himself in love with Anabel…a warped love to be sure, but love nonetheless. The initial euphoria of emasculating the Lord Chamberlain gave way to circumspect and doubt. She knew total happiness would continue to elude her if she simply allowed the Chamberlain to die. There would always be that dark corner in Anabel’s heart and she had grown tired of dark corners.
But Anabel also knew helping the Chamberlain was beyond her abilities. She had no idea what magic he used to transform into a butterfly, let alone what could transform him back. Arabella was the potion expert, but the witch was a strike first and ask questions later type of woman and Anabel thought it best not to invite that mess. Perhaps it was time for a return trip up north to visit Valkyrie and Krakatouk the Druid. The Druid would surely be disappointed in how Anabel dealt with the Chamberlain and she was loathe to face him, but what choice was there? Grudgingly accepting the inevitable, Anabel grabbed her bag and began packing.
Once again, leaving Daphne and the Knight was torturous. She kept her regrets about the Chamberlain to herself and only told the Knight she received a call from Henry urging her to visit. She hated lying to him, but the truth just wouldn’t make any sense right now.
Since Henry had no phone, Anabel arrived at Ice Rock with no fanfare nor welcoming party. Her visit would just have to be a surprise as she rummaged for her raven’s fate key ring to open the door. But she was the one surprised when she walked into the cottage. There was a note on the table from Henry saying he was away on a dig, the fireplace was ready to go and only needed one flick of the enchanted firestarter. There was also a meal waiting for her in the frosty chest. Anabel found out later this was Henry’s routine every time he went away on the off-chance she would visit.Anabel dropped her bag in the spare room and decided to take a walk around Ice Rock. Towards the back, hidden from view, was her secret childhood garden. Henry called it the “ancient garden” because it was ringed by beautiful tall trees that didn’t appear anywhere else in the world. Henry’s arsenal for entertaining his young daughter was a never-ending font of stories involving his archeological digs and discoveries. Anabel reveled in all of them but was especially intrigued by the lore surrounding a mask Henry found in his own backyard. While digging at the base of one of the majestic trees, Henry discovered the mask, what he called the ‘Titan’s Mask.’ Henry’s tale described the Titans as ancients whose land was lush with the gigantic red trees. The faceless mask, bereft of decoration or eye holes, belonged to an unknown Titan who wished to hide his face from the world. Of particular interest was the intricate crown sitting atop the mask purportedly carved by a craftsman using his master’s dagger as a sculpting tool. According to Henry, the Red Tree’s crown symbolized royalty and that meant the lofty trees had probably been a gift from one sovereign
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.