Nothing like a little sickness to throw off the schedule by one day, eh, readers? We were worried about postponing for a day at first, but then we figured in a hundred years, who’s gonna care, right? So, we’re feeling better today, and we’re all off to the races again.
So, we had our first big battle last week and Doctor Desnipes showed up to taunt us all with a few mysteries. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of some of that together, shall we?
KINGDOM FOUND part 4
The council table in Gold Legend was massive. The room it was in was massive. But it was still packed to every corner when we all gathered at Mountainlost’s command to discuss what had just happened. Fortunately, I was given a seat of honor right next to Amanda as her “chosen mate.” Looking around the huge chamber I saw nothing but anxious faces, the most heart-breaking one belonging to Amanda herself.
“Father,” she said finally, when the troops in the room were calm enough to talk over, “please tell me what the doctor meant. Please tell me it is just another of his tricks. You can’t have known all these years… all these years, what happened to my mother.”
Mountainlost stared at the table and then looked sadly into the eyes of his wife, Nestra, who I had just met for the first time moments before. Nestra nodded as a tear escaped her eye. “Yes, daughter, I know,” Mountainlost said. A gasp escaped Amanda’s lips and she stood in what seemed an almost involuntary motion. “Please, sit,” he continued, “and I will tell you all.” Amanda hesitated, looked at me for a moment, and finally sat again to hear what her adoptive father had to say. Neither of us could have guessed what he said next.
“Your mother arrived in Gold Legend a year before you did.”
“A year?” Amanda shouted. “How can that be? I plunged through the wall after her immediately! I should have been directly on her heels!”
“Daughter,” Mountainlost said, “you yourself have observed many times that the Wall of Worlds is outside of time. The time she spent here was meaningless to you at the wall.”
“That doesn’t make sense!” she replied. “If time means nothing at the wall, then why have years not passed every time I have gone back and forth?”
“Because you no longer spend any time at the wall itself,” Mountainlost replied. “The phrase I gave you to say has ushered you through the portal in the wall without leaving you outside of time and space. It was not merely to move between your world and ours, but to confine time, that I taught you the phrase. Nestra enchanted the words so that you never need be at the wall again.”
“But, when I returned to my world the first time, a year had not passed,” Amanda protested. “Nestra’s magic words could not have changed that, could they?”
“I wondered about that myself,” the king said ponderously, “and had Nestra think on it long. We believe that the Wall of Worlds is closest in time to your own world, so that time spent at the wall, while elongated here in Gold Legend, barely registers in your own world. It may be that the wall originated from your world and that is why it’s time so closely resembles your own.”
Amanda seemed overwhelmed for a moment and dropped her head into her hands. When she raised her head again, her eyes were fixed on Mountainlost. “Very well,” she said, “just tell me about my mother. How did she escape the trolls upon her arrival?” She turned and forced a smile at Bibble-kins. “Did you save her as well?” she asked lovingly.
“I wish I could say I had,” the cat returned with just as loving a smile,” but there were no trolls to greet her arrival.”
“No trolls?” Amanda asked. “How can that be? They have lived out in the field as long as I have known this place.”
“This was before you knew this place,” Mountainlost replied. Amanda summoned no verbal response, but the question on her face was enough for the king. The sadness in his eyes was so profound it almost made me cry. Then he spoke, and the story unfolded.
“When Mildred arrived here, we accepted her lovingly with open arms. She told us she had left her daughter by the wall, and I dispatched soldiers to find the wall she spoke of, as we had never heard of such a thing. Unable to locate it, my men returned after weeks of searching bearing the sad news. Mildred cried and cried over you, daughter. Please believe that. It will make the rest of the story easier to hear.”
Amanda let a single tear slip down her face and waited to hear more.
“It was perhaps two months after her arrival that the doctor came to my gate for the first time. I had never seen him before that day. He claimed to be a pilgrim on a quest of some sort. Something trivial. We gave him shelter for the evening and, at dinner, he began speaking with your mother. They got along extremely well.”
“No,” said Amanda. “That cannot be.”
“I’m afraid it is, daughter,” Nestra said, speaking for the first time. “The doctor was younger-looking then, and quite charming. She was quite enamored of him almost immediately.”
“No,” Amanda said once more, but with less conviction and she had nothing to follow it with.
“When Desnipes left the next morning,” Mountainlost picked up the story, “Mildred informed us that she was going with him. We tried to stop her. We told her she knew nothing of this stranger. We reminded her that she had a daughter missing somewhere, and told her we would renew the quest to find you. She said none of that mattered and she was going with the doctor. Nestra thought immediately that Mildred must be enchanted and sought to break whatever hold the doctor had over her, but it was useless. There was no magic spell. I’m sorry to say it, my dear daughter, but… Your mother had simply fallen in love with Desnipes.”
“That’s impossible!” Amanda yelped, “what about me? What about my real father back in my other world? She would not abandon us so easily! After a few months? I don’t believe it!”
Nestra shook her head sadly. “I tried and tried to find an enchantment to break, but there was none. No magic was working on her. I have no other explanation than love, horrible as it may be.”
“But he’s a doctor,” I said, almost without realizing it. Everyone looked at me and I realized I had spoken aloud. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” I continued cautiously, “but if he’s a doctor, might he have used something other than magic to charm her? A potion or something?”
“In all my days,” Nestra replied, “I have never heard of a love potion that worked.”
“Maybe it wasn’t a love potion,” I answered, thinking of the way Stella had thrown herself in front of Amanda’s blade to save Desnipes. “Maybe it was… Something else.”
“Something else?” Mountainlost said, rubbing his beard. ” What sort of potion could have… My word. What a fool I’ve been not to have thought of it myself. You may be right. It would explain what happened next.”
“There’s more?” Amanda cried. “Is it not bad enough that my mother has been living with your mortal enemy this whole time?”
Mountainlost looked up sharply. “Oh, Princess,” he said, practically whispering, “were that the case, we would have quested to save her long ago. No, daughter, she has not been living with him this whole time.”
I knew it. I didn’t want to know it, but I knew what he was going to say before he even said it. And I think Amanda did, too.
“She has not been living at all.”
All around the room, I could feel the unease everyone was feeling. Whether they had known all along or not, no one in that room wanted to have been there when Amanda heard that. Nestra burst into tears and Mountainlost seemed to have lost all color in his face. Even his armor seemed dull. Amanda just stared at him, waiting. Waiting to hear more truths that she would later wish she had never heard.
“It was perhaps another month, maybe more, before the creature appeared on the horizon,” Mountainlost finally continued. “The Man at Arms was first to see it. We were in the middle of a feast when he sounded the alarm. The thing was headed toward the castle and fast. We donned our armor and readied ourselves at the gate. It was a monstrous thing, much like the trolls you’ve known your whole time here. But it was bigger, and somehow dirtier. More ragged-looking. Incomplete, you might say.”
“Incomplete?” I said. Amanda hushed me and looked at the king for more.
“That’s the best way I can describe what I felt when I looked on the creature from the parapets,” he said. “I know now it must have been the first. The very first troll. Or at least the doctor’s first attempt at a troll. A failed attempt. The beast pounded on the gate when it arrived. Pounded and screamed and bellowed. Finally I ordered the gate thrown open to save it being dashed in by the force of the beast. With the gates thrown wide, the thing rushed in and looked around. When it saw me, it came straight for me, howling fiercely.”
Nestra interrupted, “we thought it meant to kill him, Amanda, you must believe us. We all did!”
“I ran it straight through with my blade,” Mountainlost continued with a flick of his wrist to keep Nestra quiet. “I killed it. My men cheered. Nestra blew me a kiss. I was proud for a moment. But only a moment. For it was only after the thing fell at my feet that I–” he swallowed hard– “that I recognized her.”
Heads all round the room were bowed. I think even the Man at Arms was crying as Mountainlost finished his tale.
“I knelt down and took her in my arms. I looked into that horrible face and saw who she had been before the doctor had changed her. To this day, I don’t know if she was your mother when she burst through those gates or if he had changed her so thoroughly that she really was there to harm us all. I’ll never know, and it tears me apart. But when she died in my arms, I saw a last light in her eyes that bonded me to do right by her if I could. That was the day that Doctor Desnipes became my sworn enemy. And I also swore that day that if I ever found Mildred’s daughter, I would protect that girl from what the doctor had done to her mother. Don’t you see? When you arrived, it was my sworn duty to protect you. The best way to do that was to take you in, make you my own daughter, and teach you to fight the doctor and his trolls. I never told you what happened to your mother because I was ashamed. Ashamed that I was unable to save her from him. Ashamed that, in the end, it was I who took her life.”
Amanda crossed her arms on the table and rested her head there. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or simply exhausted from the story she’d just heard.
“Daughter?” Mountainlost said. “Daughter, can you ever forgive me?”
After a protracted moment, Amanda raised her head. She looked at me. She looked at Nestra. Finally, she looked at Mountainlost. “I forgive you, father,” she said through a choking sob. “But I can’t stay here.”
“What?” said Mountainlost. “Where will you go?”
“I don’t care,” Amanda replied, and with that she began to chant, “my mother’s heart beats in me strong–“
“No, daughter!” Mountainlost cried as she continued, “the wall is breached! The worlds are merged! There is no barrier to cross!”
“–my mother’s heart lives in me long,” Amanda finished.
And then she was gone.
TO BE CONTINUED
Well, there’s another week of me thinking I knew what was gonna happen and being totally wrong about it. I love this “letting the story tell itself” thing. Can’t wait to see what it tells me next week!
See you in six,