dishboy

Reads: 194  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Set in the future under a monarchy during wartime where the working class wears armbands to identify where they work. Young Harold arrives from a small rural mining town to work at a prestigious hotel as a dishboy: part waiter, part bus boy and part servant for the clientele that dines and stays there. In the evening, they are sent back to their dorms where they go to bed by the light of the evening star which glides across the sky every night.
The most popular woman in the kingdom sought by three princes discovers clues to the evening star and that there is something that has been missing from the world for centuries that once held great power. She and a former princess (out of power since her father died) decide to find the answers with the help of Harold. The answer lies in a far away land, but to get there they will have to cross Glassland, a former desert made of sheer glass.

Submitted: February 11, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 11, 2017

A A A

A A A


 

Dishboy

by Chris Chabot

 

 

From an Ancient dishboy poem:

 

Dishboy, dishboy

Tell us who you are

Tell us how you came to be

And why you flew so far

 

He lit a little fidgiset

And leaned against the bar

He said, “I’ve worn this armband

Since before there was a star”

 

“I’ve worn it here, I’ve worn it there

I’ve worn it near and far

And if they send me off someday

I’ll wear it in the war”

 

“It is not mine to tell them how

Or where or when or why

It’s only mine to do their bid

Until I’m old and die”

 

“I wish it were another way

I’ve heard so long ago

Before the star, before the war

Of worlds we didn’t know”

 

“Someday I know the star will fall

It will, I know not when

But I will take my armband off

And maybe hear again”

 

IN THE BEGINNING: HAROLD’S ARRIVAL

 

Once upon a time in the land of Dane, there existed a remote hamlet that could not be found on any map, called Twistle. It was in a forgotten corner of the terrestrial globe. Home to an iron mine, it was a village with one way in and one way out. That was via train that was used to ship the silver-white metallic element to the main cities.

Few in Twistle ever got to ride the magnificent silver and red engine. Week after week, the train would arrive with its large puffing steam and chugging sound enchanting the children, but it came and went without a single child ever sitting in it or touching its gleaming engine or its shiny exterior. The adult inhabitants of Twistle had learned to pay no attention to it. It arrived empty and left with part of the town’s resources week in and week out and as far as older Twistlites were concerned, that was that.

It was into this tiny secluded settlement that a sickly young lad named Harold Doucemek was born. It was on a cold winter day where the sun always showed promise of breaking through the clouds to thaw out the barren, frozen land, but never quite did.

 

Harold’s mother was a seamstress at the Twistle garment factory: seat 14 of table 27 in row 36 of building seven. His father was a miner at the Twistle iron mine: level 43 in shaft number six of mine number nine. Together they earned just enough pluckets to keep food on the table. The modest roof over their heads was provided by the company.

Harold’s father had been working the night shift when Harold was born. He was told at the end of his shift that he was a father and given a handshake and six extra pluckets for milk. Harold’s mother went back to work in the factory three days later. Both the seamstress factory and the iron mine were run by the same company and had been for as long as anyone could remember.

Twistle had once had a promising future and so had Harold. He started working at the age of ten as a paper runner in the mill shop each evening, after the mine’s apprentice school. The company had been saving him a job as a driller in shaft number three near the bottom level.

But the ore in the mine was down deep below the surface and getting deeper with each pound pulled out. It became more and more expensive to extract, until one day it was announced that the mine was closing. A new territory conquered by Dane was filled with iron and would now be providing the country with the cold unrelenting metal.

The townspeople didn’t know it until someone spotted most of the mine equipment leaving in the middle of the night. The company left as quietly as old timers said they had arrived. The town was shocked, but Harold was relieved. Harold’s heart had never been in mining and Harold’s reputation in Twistle was rather suspect. From day one, he had never been one of the achievers in the village. Because of his weak eyes and poor coordination, he was considered a notch above the village idiot who had set himself on fire several times before being run out of town and forced to live under a bridge by the Lethe River.

Harold longed to erase the bumbling image of himself he had curried throughout his young life. At age six, he wore mismatched socks and too-short pants to apprentice school causing even the usually boisterous leather-works class to grow quiet with awe. He then threw up in Mrs. Kekke’s shoe shine class after stumbling backwards making the nickname “Fall-Down Spewie” stick for years. His terrible lack of balance also made him the worst lumber-smack player in the history of Twistle.

 

Lumber-smack was a game where two men jousted with massive logs over a water pit until the loser plunged into the cold water below and swam to shore. Harold knew that dejected swim all too well. He had never lasted more than five seconds before being smacked off his log. He was never going to be a lumber-smack great. He would never be admired for his prowess and agility. That had been reserved for Johnny Bazzer, the town’s star lumber-smacker. He was now playing for the Danton Cackieduckies, earning enough pluckets as lead mudcarfer to buy a wonderful cottage outside of town. It was a powerful responsibility being mudcarfer. You had to know exactly how to swing your piece of lumber and knock your man into the water properly to gain enough points. Within the confines of the 50 foot by 50 foot muck-thick river banks, he bowed to no man. He even had a chest full of little medals from lumber-smack.

One of his first knockdowns was over young Harold in junior high. Three wiffles, two lumbard spleeners and one massive timber smack later, young Harold was face down with his glasses underneath him. He went down so fast and deep into the water; it took a full minute for him to surface. When his limp unconscious body floated to the surface, his shirt was missing. It earned him well over a dozen cans of Phishman’s Ale bouncing off his head. In Twistle, if someone was not considered highly proficient in the sport of lumbersmack, it was customary among other young fellows of the same age to throw receptacles of ale at the person, hoping to hit the side of his crown and earn praise from his fellow consorts. Harold had learned at a young age to dodge the flying cans, unless he was distracted. He had even gotten industrial strength glasses so neither a well-aimed beer container or solid piece of lumber could break them anymore. After a lumber-smack game, they often floated like a cork bobbing to the water’s surface well before he did, letting lumber-smack rescuers know where to wade in to retrieve him... and revive him.

 

In Twistle, if one could not mine and one could not lumber-smack, one could not do much of anything. People in Twistle had long memories and because the town was so small, everyone knew everything about you, including things you would rather them forget.

 

Harold learned to live with that condition. He would sit by himself and dream about life elsewhere. He used to love to watch the trains leave Twistle wondering where they were going and what it must be like there. Now no trains came at all. The tracks out of town were forever quiet. Harold wondered about the capitol of Dane, the regal city of Grevere. He had read of the city in a book one day. The book was trying to dissuade people from ever wanting to move from towns like Twistle to Grevere, but instead it made Harold want to live there.

He read of the great beauty named Talitha Moore who lived on the island of Leboth a ways off Grevere, who often came into the city. She was said to be so beautiful that some people fainted when they saw her face. She had been blinded in an accident three years earlier. The Grevere Times followed her exploits and gallant behavior in the face of tragedy. When her sight returned, the entire city celebrated. One columnist spent 4,000 words trying to describe her beauty and was said to have failed even though people swooned just reading the lengthy incandescent tribute.

The King and Queen held a special ball in honor of her sight returning. Harold read about that ball and the beauty and wondered what she looked like or sounded like or if he would faint if he ever saw her. The mayor of Twistle claimed that his cousin’s friend had seen her once on a ferry from a distance and was so taken that he passed out, fell overboard and had to be fished out by several lumber-smack players.

Day after day, Harold dreamed of Grevere and what it must be like to be in a sea of people walking from building to building in anonymity. Oh, to live in Grevere where the teasing voices that had haunted him since childhood would be forever silenced by the distance and time. He even liked the name Grevere more than Twistle. Grevere sounded so elegant, like a fine wine, while Twistle sounded like something that jabbed you when you fell into a briar patch and then had to be extracted with tweezers. Twistle had been named after a young miner’s son who had fallen off his bicycle into the Lethe River and drowned the very day his father had discovered iron ore in the area. Harold thought the young lad the lucky one in the deal.

His father had a statue dedicated to his boy along the banks. The father was pointing down at the river where ore could be seen gleaming up at him, while his young son stood behind holding on to a bicycle. Harold knew he did not want to be staring at that statue every day on his way to level 43 in shaft number three of mine number nine. He wanted to leave, but he wasn’t sure how to go about doing that.

 

At night Harold would stare up at the night sky and wonder what he could do that would take him to Grevere. He then tried counting all the stars in the sky. He lost count in the hundreds. He imagined trying to count the inhabitants of Grevere and losing count. Harold would continue until the evening star appeared and slowly made its way overhead like it did every night at ten o’clock.

The evening star was the signal for all to retire for the night. It was only surpassed in brightness by the moon. Some of the old timers called it the smart star because it told people it was time to go to bed. Others called it the beauty star because they thought it quite beautiful, moving slowly across the night sky. It had been going across the sky as long as anyone could remember. One night while watching the star go overhead, another heavy Phishman’s Ale bounced off Harold’s head. Errant empty cans of Phishman’s Ale were one thing, but a full unused one was another thing altogether. This was the final straw, he thought. He had to get out of Twistle somehow. He wished upon the evening star as it continued overhead and disappeared over the horizon. It seemed to say, “Follow me.”

One day a flyer arrived saying that Grevere was seeking dishboys for employment at the area’s various hotels. Recent tragedies had created vacancies and a need for new recruits. They were seeking one dishboy from each village. Harold felt he could be a dishboy. It was a fairly easy job involving menial labor in places of service for wealthier clientele. Twistle had no wealthier clientele. Those who owned the companies in Twistle were happily settled elsewhere far, far away. Harold put his name in for consideration and word spread quickly. Harold’s father was not happy with the thought of Harold leaving. It was seen as a sign of shame, proof you had not done well in your own town. The prevailing view was that the very town that had raised you had failed to make you a proper citizen who was satisfied with life there. Several inhabitants suggested that perhaps a few more cans of ale off his mental attic would improve him.

 

“What possible reason could you have for leaving Twistle?” asked Harold’s father incredulously. “It was good enough for me, my father, his father and his father. Sure, you’ve had some problems, but you are known here. Everyone knows you. There no one knows you. No one will know you. You’ll be alone and without your fellow apprentices. They don’t even play lumber-smack there. How will you survive without a lumber-smack game? Plus, you’ll have to wear the armband telling everyone you’re a dishboy. You won’t like it. You’ll be labeled. You’ll be just a nameless dishboy!”

Due to security reasons, those in the working class sectors in Grevere had to wear an armband signifying what area they worked in: one for custodial engineer, one for maintenance, one for cleaning, and one for the service industry. It made it easier to identify who you were and where you worked, but it also made those who didn’t have to wear the armband look down with disdain upon you.

 

“I can’t understand why you want to do this,” his father said. “You could still find work here of some kind and keep your dignity. Do you know what a dishboy does?” A dishboy was someone who washed dishes, cleaned tables and waited on customers in restaurants after the main waiter had taken their order. They ran any errands needed by customers or offered any services from lighting their fidgisets to just being yelled at. The status of dishboy was somewhere between errand boy and prisoner of war. Once you were a dishboy, you were always a dishboy with no name. You were just called “Dishboy”, so as not to confuse the patrons who might have to distinguish between which menial laborer who was who. It did not matter. A dishboy was a dishboy was a dishboy, went an old phrase. One story, often circulated, was that a large group of dishboys had once been given a long break to relax and sit in a field. When the break ended, none of them would stand up. Security had to walk through the field picking up dishboys until they happened to pick up the leader. Only then did the rest of the dishboys stand up. The term “find the dishboy leader” had become a well-worn phrase which meant finding the key piece of anything that had collapsed. Whenever a group of boys from Twistle were sitting around doing nothing, someone would yell “find the dishboy leader” suggesting that the children should be doing some kind of work.

Within a week, Harold’s wish was answered. A letter arrived informing Harold to depart immediately for Grevere on the Tuesday morning train out of Shusher to begin work as a dishboy. With the mine dead, the train out of Shusher was well over an hour away. At first, it looked like Harold would be working as a dishboy in a fourth-rate hotel. Then the newspapers wrote of a large accident on the east side of Grevere the claimed many dishboys.  Days later a second letter arrived informing him he would be working at the hallowed Merlot and staying at the Merlot dishboy dormitories. Harold was delirious with excitement. All the hoots and hahs and ale cans that had regularly recoiled off his skull were like a happy send off now. He was leaving. He was getting out.

His mother packed a duffle bag and an old brown suitcase his father had rarely used along with three sandwiches for the Shusher train bound for Grevere, an eight hour trip. She also gave Harold several coins she had been saving for an emergency. It wasn’t much, just a few pluckets, but it could help him if need be. She had to work the day he was leaving, so his father borrowed one of the mine’s old worker cars to drive him to the train stop. Not a word was spoken as they drove to the depot. Since the nearest stop was now an hour away there was plenty of time for them both to say all the things that needed to be said, but silence was golden the entire way.

 

Harold wished there was some distraction to avoid the uncomfortable silence. As they pulled up to the depot, his father sighed and said, “It will be different.” Harold leapt out of the car, expecting to hear the whooshing of the Shusher at the depot, waiting to whisk him out of Twistle, but all was silent. All he could hear were cicadas, some dragonflies snapping along the woods edge and a handful of Whyhere birds in the trees calling out their singsong, “Why are you here? Why are you here?” Dozens of them did that on early spring mornings.

“We must be early”, Harold’s father said. But when they pulled up, the station manager informed them the train had left just ten minutes earlier and that there wouldn’t be another train for a full week. Informed that the next stop was two hours away, Harold’s father raced back to the car determined to catch that train. “We’ll catch it and beat it to the next stop. Don’t worry.”

They raced the rickety old mine car as fast as it could go. His father took each curve in the road at top rickety old car speed, nearly tipping the vehicle over several times. Finally, in the distance a trail of smoke could be seen. Rounding each bend, they knew they were getting closer until they saw the train, far away in the distance, looking like a little toy. Twenty minutes later, they over took the train. Harold sighed, relieved that they would beat the train to the next station. Harold’s father had other ideas. He waited until they were very far ahead of the train and slowed the car, driving off the road and over the hill towards the tracks.

“What are you doing?” yelled Harold.

“Quiet son, we’ll catch that train. It’s best you get a proper start towards Grevere.” His father parked the car on the tracks, took out the suitcase and duffle bag and stood in front of the car waving his hands. The train blew its whistle in the distance and blew again. The brakes were applied and the train began to slow. The engine came to a full stop a mere ten feet from the car. Harold’s father shook his son’s hand and handed him his luggage while the engineer and ticketmaster stepped off the train yelling and screaming.

“Get off the tracks! What is this?” the engineer yelled at them.

 

“My son has a ticket to ride this train,” Harold’s father stated, showing the ticketmaster Harold’s shiny new ticket. The ticketmaster grabbed the ticket and yelled at Harold to get on the train.

“Get in the back! The far back!” Harold dragged his luggage on the train, past passengers staring angrily at him.

“A dishboy!” One man snorted, “Stopping a train for a dishboy!” Harold kept his head down and made his way to the back. He felt an umbrella smack him on the back as he staggered back towards the caboose, where a sign said simply: “Dishboys”.

His father’s car pulled off the tracks and sped away, back down the road it had come. Harold looked out the window as the train started up. Familiar trees gave way to unfamiliar barren landscapes as the train continued south towards a balmier world. Here he was, he thought. Harold, now dishboy Harold, crossing miles of Dane to get to his magical city. He would meet new friends, have a new life, see new things and possibly never see Twistle or its inhabitants again. What could he possibly miss? The taunts and teasings? The sting of ale cans bouncing off his head? The sounds of grunting and cheering during lumber-smack games? He would miss nothing, he decided as he fell into a deep sleep.

A loud whistle jolted him awake as a voice yelled regally, “The city of Grevere! The city of Grevere! All dishboys off! All dishboys off now!” A long rod poked him. It was the ticketmaster. "Here, here son, you’re in Grevere now. You’re lucky you were late. You would have had to walk all the way to the end of the train.” Said the ticketmaster, pushing him out the door.

“I thought the caboose was the end of the train.” Harold puzzled.

 

As he uttered this, he looked out and saw a line of rickety old steerage cars connected to the caboose. The doors opened and out clambered hundreds of dishboys with duffle bags and suitcases. Harold’s jaw dropped in amazement. They all looked his age. They were from all over the land of Dane. He joined the massive crowd as security men wearing blue jackets, blue pants and blue armbands, guided people with truncheons, poking and prodding them as if they were cattle.

Blue armbands stood for security, police and traffic, grey for government sector, white for medical care, orange for education workers, yellow for drivers, brown for sanitation workers and green for dishboys. The worst armband to get was black which meant you had neither a job nor a place to dwell.

Harold looked up at all the tall stone buildings and was intoxicated by it all. There were colors everywhere. In Twistle there was mostly gray, charcoal and black, but here he could see yellow and blue and orange and red and purple. It was a forest of colors and to Harold it painted a wonderful adventure he was beginning. He was in the city he had dreamed about all his life!

He was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people rushing to and fro, all walking in Dane fellowship. He listened and tried to take in snippets of conversation he heard from other dishboys.

“Ten pluckets an hour. They can drop it to five pluckets an hour for all I care. You can’t play the lottery anywhere, but Grevere.” “I heard they may hold a million pluckett lottery and you can retire to Hooligan Island forever.” “Where are you working?” “The Hotel Grand” “I’m at the Academy.” “I’m at the Bell Tower, but with a few connections, I can get into the Merlot in a few years.”

“I’m at the Merlot!” Harold eagerly exclaimed. The dishboys stared at him blankly.

“And I’m the King’s uncle,” one dishboy blared as they all roared.

“I really am!” Harold eagerly replied, convinced they would all be good friends once they knew he was really working there.

“For every 500 dishboys in Grevere, one gets to work at the Merlot. I’m going to be there so you can’t be that one,” stated a large, chubby dishboy standing before him with folded arms.

“I am! I got accepted.” Harold said defensively.

 

“Well good for you. They only take people of good quality from good villages and you must have done well for yourself. Congratulations,” the chubby dishboy said. “And of course you’ll have Talitha Moore asking for you by name.”

“Hit him Bobby!” a dishboy yelled. “Hit him!”

With that the chubby dishboy shoved Harold, who fell backwards over another dishboy, who must have accidentally bent over to tie his shoe behind him. The dishboy behind him stood up and slapped the back of the one who had shoved him.

“The Merlot”, the chubby dishboy said in disgust. “He’s probably unemployed.”

The dishboys walked off, laughing as Harold got up, dusting himself off.

“Dishboy!” A blue-banded security man yelled as he lightly smacked Harold over the head with his truncheon, “On your way, dishboy! Hurry!”

All the dishboys were crowding into a large building that said “SERVICE SECTOR TRAINING”. Harold entered to find a giant room filled with seating for hundreds. There were only a few seats left. He quickly grabbed one. An instructor in a red jacket, red pants and red armband walked out and waited for quiet. He solemnly began:

 

“You are now in the city of Grevere: the cultural capital of our great country of Dane and home to Semailles Castle, the home of the royal family. As you know, to live in our city, you must display your service-sector identification at all times. Many, many years ago, during our great war with Charterton, much pain and suffering was brought to bear on us from people migrating in from territories who did not always support our cause. In order to avoid this, the identification armband was established to classify those working in the various sectors of Grevere. Your color is green. It is one of the 12 colors identified so that you may travel throughout the city, secure in the knowledge that you and only you have the power and ability to work in your chosen domain.”

“Those of you in this sector are now dishboys in the city of Grevere. With this armband, comes all the benefits and responsibilities due a dishboy. All those responsibilities will be explained in your booklet. When you exit from here, you will walk down the hallway until you get to the service depot. The dishboy service bus will take you to your living quarters. From there you will look on the large wall map for your destination and you will see the shuttle you are to catch. Remember to enter the establishment through the workers entrance in the back. You will be directed from there to your work station. Good luck and brave honor to King Paul.”

The dishboys were carefully given their green armbands as if they were never to be dropped on the floor. Each put his on and looked at it admiringly.

“I’m a dishboy!” one yelled as he slid his one. Harold slowly slipped his armband over his wrist and pulled it up until it was above his elbow, snugly fitting on his arm. That was it. He felt like he was now officially a dishboy and an official resident of Grevere. A bell rang and all the dishboys filed out of the building and into the street. Harold followed the pack until they came to a bus stop that said “Dishboys Only”. Several large buses were waiting and one by one the boys filed into the vehicles. Harold had hoped to see more of Grevere, but they went along back roads until they came to a sign that said “Dishboy Borgettos”. A large iron gate opened to let them in. They walked in line until they came to a series of four-story buildings.

Another sign said “Dishboy: look for your name on the wall.” Harold looked on the lists and couldn’t find his name until someone pointed out that it went by first name and then the town of origin. He found his: Harold from Twistle. It said his room number was 17-210. He made his way to building 17 and followed the stairs up and went along the hallway until he came to room 210. He turned the handle - it opened.

“No locks!” Another dishboy cried out from down the hallway. “No privacy!”

“You don’t need any privacy,” the security man in blue said. “No privacy for hooligans.”

“I’m not a hooligan,” the new dishboy answered.

“You will be,” the man in blue replied. “It is inevitable.”

 

Harold looked in at his new lodgings. They consisted of a one room flat that contained a small bed that could barely fit him, along with a table with one lamp containing a 20-watt yellow light bulb that made it hard to see everything in the room. There was an open door leading to a bathroom on the side with what appeared to be very old plumbing. He had one small window that looked out at a yard facing a brick wall.

Opening his closet, he found eight pair of red pants, eight red sports jackets and eight white dress shirts along with two pairs of black shoes. Beside that was a dresser filled with eight t-shirts, eight pair of underwear and eight pair of socks. In one drawer were two ties, one tie clip emblazoned with the words, “Merlot” and a pair of red cufflinks.

On the wall of his new flat was a handbill stating the dormitory rules, only slightly personalized: “No noise, no running, no personal items on your walls, no congregations larger than one, except in the downstairs lobby, no food in the rooms. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served in the cafeteria at the Merlot. Be at your bus stop at 6:30 am, and keep your room clean - inspections are monthly.”

Another smaller note said that “on your off day you may join other dishboys in the estate park” On the table was a black book that beckoned “Read”. Harold opened it and turned the pages. It looked like a children’s book with large pictures that had either red circles around the picture indicating good behavior or a red “X” over the picture denoting bad behavior.

Most rules concerned the work area - where you could smoke (out back in the alley) and where you were to stand when taking your two short breaks (the alley or in one of the numerous cubbyholes provided) and where to eat during lunch, which was taken from three to four in the afternoon while the restaurants were closed to prepare for dinner.

 

What surprised Harold was a chapter entitled “Off-Work Behavior.” The cartoons reminded him of the drawings given to children in Twistle with regards to strangers. One of the rules precluded approaching or talking to any non-dishboys at any establishment unless recognized and even at that point, to keep it brief and move on. Any embarrassments were subject to immediate reassignment and any serious breach of etiquette meant a loss of job and the green armband, meaning a loss of moving about the city. Above all, one was to avoid “indiscretion or embarrassment in the daily informational sheets.” Harold assumed that meant anything that was covered in the local newspaper.

The only exception to these rules was the Annual Royal Banquet Ball at the Merlot. The rules stressed that everyone was to be on their best behavior until after the King, Queen and their court had left the building. After that, any misbehavior was only punishable by getting kicked out of the banquet and a lecture the following day, but you could not be fired for getting out of hand once the King had left. For some reason this was stressed several times in the handbook.

He was halfway through the book, when a soothing voice came softly from the walls; “the evening star is going across the sky. Lights out dishboys: busy day tomorrow. Night-night.” The light in his little room began to dim. Harold opened the window and peered up. He could see the large star moving across the sky, but he could not see any other stars like he could back in Twistle: it was very bright outside. He watched the star disappear over a rooftop and then curled up on his bed and quickly fell into a deep sleep.

 

 

THE KING AND QUEEN

 

King Paul sat in a chair with a blanket over him, staring out one of the castle windows overlooking the city of Grevere. He looked out quietly, watching the darkness depart as the early morning twilight began to tease its arrival.

Queen Clarice slowly slid her hand across the bed, still half asleep. Her hand kept moving across the empty side of the bed. Slowly, the Queen’s head rose from her pillow and looked at the empty side and then over at the window. She climbed out of bed and walked over to the window.

“The sun might be coming out,” the king said wearily.

“Carl should have arrived this morning. It will be nice to have all three boys home,” she said, peering out over the city with him. “How are you feeling?”

“I keep dreaming I’m back in Vandar,” the King answered.

“Vandar? What’s in Vandar?” The Queen asked.

 

“King John sent me there to hold the area during the early campaign. General Corsa’s father had taken it from the Panatikos, who had held it for a century. It was one of their last strongholds. It was deserted. Each morning I woke up, it looked like this. I was up on this hill freezing and looking out over the sand, hoping the sun would break through that day. It never did. Why any country would want that area of land so frozen and cold is beyond me, but we held it. It was farther south than Glassland.”

“Glassland? That is supposed to be haunted. The land of trapped souls. No one ventures there.” The Queen interrupted.

“I didn’t venture any closer. I was there when a messenger arrived to say King John had been killed and I was to return. He kept saying how important the area was, but I never saw anything except hills of sand and sea. For the past few months, I keep dreaming I’m back there, just before sunrise, hoping the sun will break through. I look out and I fly over Glassland until I am over a sea with large cliffs overlooking the water.”

“They say you are aspects of everyone and everything in your dreams, so it must mean part of you feels like a stone cliff,” the Queen mused, putting on a large robe.

“I’m not sure. Nothing changed that would have triggered the dream. It’s the same castle, the same Grevere. I’m the same. Things have been stable for years.”

“I would believe that if you weren’t so sick,” the Queen answered as she looked out the window with him.

A knock on the door interrupted them.

“Enter,” the Queen announced.

The door opened and a royal secretary entered. “Good morning, Sire. Good morning, Madame. I have breakfast and the day’s schedule.”

The Queen nodded to him and four assistants brought in a large tray filled with silver tops covering breakfast dishes. As they did, the secretary opened a folder and began reading from it:

“General Corsa will be reporting on the campaign in Charterton. He has returned and will be attending dinner. He said he has news. Prince Carl has returned with him. The Curate will be meeting to discuss the Royal Dinner along with further discussion on deviation from proper norms by some dishboys. All new dishboys have arrived and are working. Some are from the far reaches of Dane and need some behavioral modification. Oh, and Gimilu is in trouble again.”

“What did he do this time?” The Queen asked without even looking up.

The royal secretary sighed as if he had been reporting this many times. “He ate two other dishboys’ loaves of bread, stole the menu-maker’s watch and wrote graffiti in the attendance book again.”

“Graffiti against me?” The King asked.

“No. He draws little faces smiling or frowning and then little squiggly marks that no one understands. He admits even he doesn’t understand what it means.”

“That is the essence of Gimlu. What else?”

“Prince Robert said to announce that will be at dinner. He felt it important that you know.”

 

“What about Prince Daniel?” The Queen asked.

“He will be attending,” answered the secretary and then after a pause added, “I think. He arrived back at the castle rather late, sire and seemed a bit... exhausted. Talitha Moore is coming to the mainland this evening and will also be attending dinner.”

“Do our sons know this?” The King inquired.

“I just received the news myself from the ship captain who is bringing her.”

“And how is Miss Moore doing?” The King asked.

“She has changed since her sight came back. She dismissed all her help and is said to be doing everything herself.”

“Everything?” The Queen interjected, “That is a very large manor she lives in. How can she survive?”

“She avoids the tea and spends her day working in the garden, cleaning the rooms and rooting around in the basements of all the houses. By herself. On her own. Without any help.”

“Thank you. That will be all,” the Queen said, dismissing the secretary.

“Luther Pratt will be here shortly to meet with you as he is in court today.” The secretary reminded him as he departed.

“Hopefully, Carl’s manners have improved since his last visit.” The King said.

“Well, battle does not make the manners in a man, but with beauty in attendance, perhaps he shall be a bit more formal. It will be interesting sitting at a table with four men’s hearts belonging to one.”

“We only have three sons,” the King replied.

“The fourth might as well be. General Corsa has had his eyes on Miss Moore as well.”

“He has never spoken a word about her,” the King said.

 

“No, but when you change your outfit just before a woman arrives and then change again, it signifies a definite interest.”

“And she is doing her own domestic chores as well. I guess when one goes through a tragedy and survives, it changes one’s outlook. She was always one who could hold her own. If she were a man she could have held her own in the campaigns. She was like that from day one.”

“I did the same thing in my youth.” The King said with a smile. “I fell in love with the one who stood out, a bit different from all the rest.”

“You married her”, the Queen proclaimed, “and for all the world to see. My sisters were quite upset. They had worked so hard to be first in line to be chosen. You ended up with the one who dared sass you back.”

“The Curate was none too happy, to say the least. They kept pressuring me to select one of their chosen. They held three council meetings to try and convince me in case I should become King.”

“I am relieved you stood firm. They are known for their persuasion.”

“I don’t think they expected King John to fall. I chose my heart instead of my path. Perhaps my sons will choose as wisely.”

“Hopefully, the Curate will choose wisely in deciding which one will become king.”

“We have some time, my wife, some time. I am still in good health and in no hurry to push for one son over the other.”

King Paul dressed and entered the meeting chamber where Luther Pratt of the Curate awaited him. Luther Pratt bolted up.

“Your majesty”

“Do sit,” King Paul said. “What is today’s agenda?”

“First there is the news of the growing problems in Vandar.”

“I am well aware of that, Mr. Pratt. I am sending my son Daniel and General Corsa to deal with the matter. Next.”

“We have had a number of problems of papers being passed around with certain ideas. Ideas that influence those in Grevere while upsetting enemies we have already pacified. One example was in Vandar where several locals overheard a ship using communication technology.”

“Ships are allowed to use such communication at sea. It is imperative for our ships and military leaders to be able to keep in touch and we limit that to military bases and battlefields.”

“Nonetheless this was at a public dock and it seems several of your officers were using it to communicate to friends and were making jokes and laughing, which upset the locals and some with Panatiko sympathies as well.”

“I will talk to my Generals and have them clamp down on it. Look, Mr. Pratt, when my father King Phillip took over this land, he agreed to concessions by local officials who had been under the Panatikos. Those that were not corrupt and had shown mercy were put in as an advisory council. They became what is our Curate today. We even kept some of their commands and kept some things out of the country that they wanted out. We agreed that unnatural sounds as you call them would not return and that frivolity would be frowned upon. Many years have now passed and there has been no sign of any Panatiko buildup. The few remaining are on the tip of Forja with perhaps a few elsewhere.”

“Your majesty, I am one of the Curate on your side. I believe in you. Others in the Curate are a bit closer to the other beliefs, which is why they prefer your son Robert when the crown is passed on. I believe Daniel is the proper one to lead Dane. I feel he will carry on what your grandfather and father believed in. That is if he can improve upon his life by eliminating some of his vices. But, as of now, if anything were to happen to you, Robert would be crowned, even over your wishes, and I do not want that to happen.”

“I understand, Luther. I will demand the military only use communications when at sea or in a military port or base and will have a stern talk with each of my sons. I thank you for bringing all of this to my attention,” King Paul said to him.

“Thank you, your Majesty. It is my greatest honor to work with you during your glorious reign.”

King Paul expected Luther Pratt to bow and leave, but he did not.

“Is there something else?” the King asked.

Luther Pratt hesitated. “I understand Talitha Moore is coming to the mainland to attend a dinner at the Merlot and will be attending the Royal Banquet despite the ending of her relationship to Prince Daniel.”

“Yes,” the King responded, awaiting a question.

“I know it has been ages, but is there any chance Princess Isabella will be attending the banquet as well?”

The King sighed, “I know you would like someone from King John’s reign to attend, as you have asked this before and the answer, as always, is, ‘I don’t know’. Few of King John’s men are left, and his daughter is his only tangible tie to that era. I do wish she would attend, but no one has heard from her. Only Talitha Moore keeps in touch with her. She remains on the island and visits only Talitha, although the Queen did entice her once into having lunch on the island some years ago. She said Princess Isabella spoke little and mostly stared out the window. If there is a change in her attendance, I shall let you know.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Luther Pratt said as he bowed and started to depart.

“Oh, and Mr. Pratt, I understand, you often have to give Prince Robert a reprimand now and then when he is in court.”

“Yes, sire. I am truly sorry for that, but sometimes he gets a bit intense and brutal.”

“Continue this stance with him,” King Paul said, interrupting him. “I do not want a son who feels he has to answer to no one. None of them is King yet. If Prince Robert gets out of hand or goes too far, you have my permission to correct him, no matter how much he protests. I grant you the upper hand when he is in court.”

Luther Pratt bowed and walked out of the room, trying not to smile.

 

 

 

 

 

MORNING - DAY ONE FOR HAROLD

 

“Up! Up!” Blared the metal box on the wall, “All dishboys report to the lobby in one half hour. All dishboys report to the lobby in one half hour.” Harold sat up with a jolt.

Harold nervously dressed for his first day of work. He put on a pair of red pants, a white long-sleeved shirt and his red jacket. He carefully slid his green armband up his arm to where it snugly fit. He hoped he look like a true dishboy. He opened his door and saw dozens of dishboys dressed just like he was silently filing down the hall. He joined them. Down the stairs they went to the lobby.

Several men in blue were directing them to various buses. Harold turned to the boy next to him.

“Are you working the Merlot?” The boy gave him a look of surprise and then disdain.

“I’m Harold,” Harold stated. He felt a sharp rap on the back of his head.

“Dishboy! No talking!” a gruff man in blue said. The young boy he had been talking to moved to another line to avoid being asked another question.

 

The buses took a series of side streets so that Harold could only see the backs of buildings with their large refuse bins. They were nearing the downtown part of the city when several construction barriers greeted them. The bus driver mumbled under his breath and made a few turns. Harold was busy looking out the back of the bus when he heard a series of gasps fill the bus. He turned to the front and looked out the window. The sight took his breath away. There before him was the famous Merlot: its massive red and gold paneling looming over him. He had never seen anything like it, but he knew right away that this was the place. Harold thought he was entering a magical kingdom.

The Merlot Hotel itself held hundreds upon hundreds of luxurious rooms for the wealthy who lived all along the coast. Since the Royal Court was in Grevere, all business with Dane started there. The Merlot had dozens of restaurants to choose from and the main restaurant could feed thousands in a single day. The Merlot bragged that it had a ratio of three workers for every patron there so that no need would go unanswered. By housing and feeding all the workers in separate compounds, this could be afforded. Since many of the guests were royalty from either Grevere or neighboring allied countries, it was imperative that these guests be as happy as possible. In this, the Merlot excelled above all others.

The bus stopped and all the dishboys filed out. Several men in blue were waiting for them yelling out names from lists: “Aaron from Pepperville. Andy from Rockland.” The yelling went on until Harold heard “Harold from Twistle.” He raised his hand and followed the man who nodded at him.

"I’m Harold," he said to the man.

"Here you are just a dishboy. Do not say your first name unless you are asked.” He followed him through several corridors and kitchens before coming to a large meeting room. Twenty other dishboys were standing or sitting on chairs waiting. Some were nervous, others were bored. A short man well into his fifties brusquely entered the room.

“This is Willie. You work under his command and direction,” the official stated and then walked away. Willie spotted Harold immediately and stopped in his tracks.

"What is your name?" Willie drilled him.

"Harold, dishboy Harold,” he stammered.

Willie seemed taken aback.

 

“Good lord... Are you related to... to... what was his real name?” Willie wondered.

“Everyone knew him as Farty!” Someone yelled. A few of the dishboys laughed.

Willie stepped back to address everyone.

"You are here working in this great institution only because of a dire tragedy that took the lives of one hundred dishboys. You are replacing some of the best ones we had here so there will be high expectations of you."

"You will now answer to the finest people in all of Dane and the world. Someday, if you work hard and are diligent, as the years go by, you will have the honor of being addressed by your first name as well as dishboy. Until then, you will read your rulebook over and over until you can memorize it and recite it in your sleep. You are part of a service industry. You do not create anything. You do not manufacture anything. You do not mine anything. You do not spin wool. You simply service other people. We service this famous establishment that so few get to work for. Let us begin by acquainting you with this temple to fine dining and its illustrious past."

And so the tour began with Willie blustering on about the magic and mystery of the Merlot, during which he several times told a number of the dishboys to keep quiet. When they had come to the kitchen, all the new dishboys stopped cold. It had to be the largest kitchen in the world, capable of keeping up with the many different restaurants the Merlot contained, holding hundreds upon hundreds of dishboys. It even had its own cafeteria for feeding them while keeping them separate from the real patrons of the establishment.

 

As the tour was ending, they walked towards a corner and Harold heard the sound of running water. There before him was a large water fountain. It reminded him of the little falls they swam in on the Lethe River, but he had never seen one inside a building before. It had gold-covered panels and numerous levels with gold leaves hanging out as water trickled off them into a shallow black pool with painted shiny gold and silver dots at the bottom. He leaned closer to look at it.

"Dare you to touch it,” one dishboy whispered. Harold looked at him. It was the same chubby dishboy who had pushed him backwards. It was dishboy Bobby.

"Ten pluckets if you do," Bobby whispered to him. “Come on; just run your hand through the water."

Harold reached out and touched the water. That was all he remembered. After a moment, he was being helped up by two dishboys and laughter was all around him.

"Dear Boy," Willie reprimanded him, "The water fountain is electric so dishboys like you won’t touch it. Rule 147c - no electrocuting yourself!” Willie moved on as Harold dusted himself off and tried to regain his wits that were still zapping around in his head.

At the end of the tour was another list on a wall. Each dishboy was to look for his name and report to that sector within the hotel. Harold found his name. Next to it were the words “Section 4J”. He turned to the dishboy next to him. “Where is Section 4J?”

The dishboy scowled, “Didn’t you bring your map? It was in the handbook.”

“I didn’t see one,” Harold offered.

The dishboy pointed with disgust down a long corridor. Harold walked it until he came to a sign that said “Section Four”. He looked around at the crowds of dishboys frantically washing dishes, pots, pans and utensils coming in rapidly.

“Section 4J?” He asked someone. They pointed at a group of dishboys working with a sense of fury on their dishes. The work was extremely fast-paced. Someone handed Harold a dirty plate and told him to stick it in the water. He did and quickly howled in pain, dropping the dish. Laughter exploded all over the hall as one dishboy said to another, "Farty lives again!"

Willie entered the hall red-faced and grabbed Harold. "You, again! No gloves? Why do all the feeble ones come to this city? Are you not aware of what this job required? Did it not occur to you that since you are a dish boy, the job would entail some form of dish washing and that the water would be somewhat warmer than tepid - 175 degrees to be exact?" 

Willie snapped his fingers and a pair of tattered old yellow gloves arrived in seconds from a harried dishboy.

"This will have to do for now," he barked.

"Where do I get a new pair?" Harold asked.

"You were supposed to have arrived with a new pair. You will have to wait until you earn them now. Have you not worked in other establishments that required gloves?"

"No, sir, I hadn’t. I’m new to Grevere."

"Just what I need; a farmhand dishboy. The rest of you, please keep the clatter down to a dull roar."

The nearby dishboys jeered Harold. Willie turned on his heels and walked out yelling left and right at other dishboys.

As Willie left, another older dishboy sidled over to Harold.

"It’s okay; he hasn’t done that in a long time. We don’t often get a bunch of new workers all at once. It wasn’t you. It was the show. He loves the show and you gave him a chance to perform it. Once you get to know him, he’s friendly."

 

“Thanks,” Harold said. The dishboy speaking to him looked a few years older with jet black hair and a wide smile - definitely born in the city.

"Dishboy Lonnie. How ‘ya doing?" he said, shaking Harold’s hand.

"I could tell you’re new to the city. Where are you from?"

"Far away. You?" Harold replied, nervously looking for Willie to return.

"I’ve been at this job five years. I came here from Belling."

Belling was the big cattle town in the south, providing most of Dane’s beef.

"I’ve never been to Belling." Harold said, looking at him wide-eyed.

"Not many workers have been to more than one city."

"You grew up in Belling?"

"Yup. P.S. 178 Workers section. Graduated from apprentice school one day and the next I was driving a cab in East Belling from midnight to seven, whew. Five years of that and I headed this way."

Harold was getting nervous about Willie showing up and started washing dishes with Lonnie next to him, talking away.

As they washed dishes, another dishboy with a sneering smile walked by.

"I hate these hicks that march into the city taking our jobs and aren’t even smart enough to bring a pair of gloves," he said.

"He’s not taking your job, Thad,” Lonnie shot back.

 

"I’m surprised he doesn’t have a half dozen of those brochures luring him here in his back pocket."

He walked on as Lonnie shook his head and smiled.

"He’s the mouth. He’ll warm up to you once he gets to know you. He hates the new guys.”

Nearby was a much older man, who looked to be in his sixties. He was washing dishes at a slow pace. He seemed lost in thought looking into the water. Harold sized him up.

"That’s Cal," Lonnie said to Harold. "He’s been a dishboy here for over thirty years!"

"Damn right thirty years,” Thad bellowed, "And twenty of them in the rest room."

“Cal is our resident old man. You get a few bottles of ale in him and he starts talking about the old days and saying these funny odes to things.” Lonnie continued.

“Odes to things long dead that no one cares about,” Thad also continued, “you hang around him longer than 10 minutes and you want to drink yourself into a stupor to drown him out.”

“Thad, I wouldn’t exactly call you cheerful”, Lonnie replied.

“Yeah, but my statements bounce off you harmlessly, his stick in your craw and get your stomach upset until you want to forget the Phishman’s and take a gallon of the Shinola special.”

“What’s the Shinola special?” Harold asked.

“You’ll find out,” Thad smiled.

Before Lonnie could answer, Willie came by yelling. Harold quickly went to work, washing dishes with a fury.

 

"We’ll talk at lunch. You need to learn the ropes if you’re to survive here. Another week like today and you’ll be heading back home with your tail between your legs." Lonnie whispered.

For the rest of the morning, Harold groped along watching Lonnie and Thad work like seasoned pros, cleaning, scrubbing and drying dishes, cups and silverware as they flew by. This went on for hours until a bell rang. It sounded like the bell he had heard daily in apprentice school, ringing in an almost contemptuous tone. Quickly, the dishboys scrambled out faster than a fire evacuation, but in an incredibly orderly manner.

Harold entered the lunch room wondering if he hadn’t accidentally found a children’s cafeteria. Dishboys were running everywhere, semi food-fights were going on at some tables and dishboys asking other dishboys if they wanted their pudding or corn. He looked at the food and noticed it looked nothing like the food they served the patrons of the Merlot. This looked more like food that had been thrown away.

Lonnie walked over to him and pointed to a series of long salad bars along the wall.

“You grab a plate at one side and pick what you want.” Lonnie explained.

“It doesn’t look as appetizing as the food we serve the patrons.”

“Yes, but it’s free. It’s all canned food from overseas. The food they serve the patrons is fresh.” Lonnie explained.

He led Harold over to a table where several older dishboys were sitting, including Thad who was smoking a fidgiset and drinking a tin of coffee and Cal who was reading a newspaper. Thad picked up his own newspaper and read.

"Did you read this in the paper?" Thad exploded dropping his newspaper, The Daily Blinkard, on the floor. "A 22 year old food critic for The Grevere Times injured roller blading in Goth Park. Incredible! Everything I hate rolled up into one bundle. Someone younger than me, a food critic and a roller blader who is actually associated with The Grevere Times. Hah!"

"What do you care, Thad. All you eat is cafeteria grub. It’s not like you eat at the Merlot,” someone yelled.

The Grevere Times is pseudo-elitist trash for morons who wish to look good!” Thad bellowed to anyone within earshot.

 

Cal kept looking at his paper and said, “I read the Times, Thad. I read the Times and the Blinkard to give me both sides of a story."

“Quiet, old man!” Thad replied. “The Blinkard is real news.”

"You’re just afraid of getting two sides of a story. It might confuse you,” Cal retorted scooping the last of his fruit cup out." And the Grevere has real news.”

"Yeah and all that high brow reading has gotten you soooo far. It’s in such tiny print that you have to have your nose pressed against the paper just to read it. You must have to sit upright in the lavatory for hours just to get through the first two pages." Thad cackled.

Cal silently ate as Harold watched Thad with his fidgiset and coffee.

"What the hell are you looking at?" Thad growled.

"Just coffee and a fidgiset for lunch?" Harold asked.

"Are you my Mum now? Fidg and coffee - it’s my breakfast, my lunch, my dinner and my bedtime snack. I eat where I can."

Cal began a sentence, but was cut short by a lob of pudding aimed at someone else. It hit the tip of his nose and slopped upward with laughter exploding from a nearby table as Cal wiped it off.

“Who did that?” Cal asked.

“Gimilu,” Lonnie said looking over at another table.

"It figures. I say we get ‘em," Thad growled. "Wedgies all around until they bleed and cry Uncle."

"Not worth it,” Cal replied, cleaning his hands on his napkin. "We’ve had six food fights in six weeks, and we’re starting to get out of hand."

"They start it,” Thad said incredulously, “and it’s Gimilu! I know you don’t like him. Get him back.”

“I never understand what Gimilu says anyway.” Cal replied.

“He talks funny. No one understands when he tries to explain things,” Thad said.

“It’s called a speech impediment, guys. Years ago a pack of hooligans attacked him and tried to cut out his tongue. He fought them off until security caught them, but he was in the hospital for some time.” Lonnie explained.

“I heard the King visited him,” Thad said. “How does that happen? How does a dishboy get a visit from the King?”

“That was just a rumor,” Cal said as he packed up his lunch. “And I still won’t dignify that pudding throw. If I do, that just leads to trouble for us all.”

“If we were at the banquet, he would be wearing pudding from head to toe,” Thad warned, eagerly thrusting his fork into his plate.

“It’s not worth it,” Lonnie cut in. “Gimilu does a hundred stupid things every year and they never punish him.”

“I heard he stole some wallets once from the clientele and they did nothing.” Thad remembered, “He’s lucky he wasn’t sent to Foucault Island for five years.”

“Gimilu sticks to teasing Caladrino,” Cal argued.

“Caladrino, the simpleton,” Thad said, disdainfully, “Last month he convinced Caladrino that they got the wood for this place from Plywood trees.”

“He picks on Caladrino, but Caladrino hangs around him all the time, like he is waiting for more,” Lonnie said, shaking his head.

“One vicious circle,” Cal observed.

 

There was a sudden shushing as voices quieted and a series of beeps came from a speaker on the wall. A voice began reading numbers off. It would read one series of numbers after another and periodically cheers would erupt from one section of the cafeteria or another.

“What are those numbers?” Harold asked.

Lonnie looked at him; “they don’t have the lottery in Twistle? They call off a series of numbers and if five of them match your ticket, you win something, usually a ham or turkey, but once in awhile you win a vacation somewhere or a week’s pay. Each worker level gets a shot, including dishboys.”

The voice continued, "And the final numbers 17, 20, 30, 41 and 46.” A shout erupted as a dishboy fell on the ground screaming in glee and a dozen other dishboys shouted, “Depants him! Depants him!” They pounced on him, trying to pull his pants off.

“That’s another tradition about the lottery,” Lonnie told him.

"Another one wins at our place. We must have bought the contest,” Thad wryly noted.

"They didn’t say what the winnings were,” Cal pointed out, “it could just be a bottle of Phishman’s.”

"Probably not very much,” Lonnie replied, "One free night at any workers pub of your choice, all the ale you can drink and a free ride home."

"How do you enter it?" Harold asked.

"You don’t," Thad explained, "It’s taken out of your pay - 45 pluckets a week towards expenses which includes all lottery entries. You’ll get some on payday.”

 

“They used to offer you a choice,” Cal added, “you could have a higher pay level and get no tickets or a lower pay level and get ten tickets, but people kept taking the lower pay. Then they lowered the pay again, but added more tickets. It doesn’t matter because our room and board are covered.”

"Drink all you want,” Thad laughed sarcastically as the dishboys around the winner had already pulled his pants off and were struggling for his shirt, "He’ll be so hung over tomorrow, and he’ll regret he ever won that damn thing."

"Wait a minute, what would you do if you won?" Lonnie asked him.

Thad thought a minute and then smiled, "Go to my favorite pub and down pint after pint of Grevere Ale until everything went blank. Either that or just down a whole glass of the special and go down for the count for a week."

Cal and Lonnie roared.

"And he calls me high and mighty," Cal laughed, "Grevere Ale is for the high hats, what’s wrong with Phishman’s?"

"Phishman’s! I think they just bottle sewage for one thing. I’ll pay extra for the good stuff."

“An ode!” Lonnie yelled. “Please Cal, an ode to the perfect Ale!”

Thad laughed as Cal shook his head, “I can only give an ode when I am off work, relaxing and enjoying a fine ale. Perhaps later.”

“Wonderful!” Thad guffawed. “Something to look forward to! A lame ode with lots of mockery to follow!”

A powerful bell rang high up on the wall. It seemed to go on forever and drowned out all talking for quite a few seconds.

The dishboys quickly began emptying their plates into a large bin and filed into a long hallway back toward the kitchen.

 

Harold smiled, “At least someone has to do our dishes.”

“You dolt!” Thad replied, “Those dishes go on a moving belt and by the time we get back to our stations, they’ll be coming through for us to wash. We do our own dishes.”

Back they walked to their station. Lonnie and Thad worked with a fury, while Cal worked at his own pace. It was the pace of a man who had been there for decades and knew working faster or slower wouldn’t make a difference in his life.

As they neared dinner, a dishboy came bursting in, let out a shrill quick whistle and held up one finger. All at once dishboys bustled to corridors to peer out into the dining room.

"Oh, she’s here." Lonnie said delighted, "Hurry if you want to catch a seat."

He grabbed Harold and led him to a long corridor where they could peer out into the hall over a dozen other shoulders directly in front of him. As they headed toward the corridor, Cal sauntered away to another room for his own break.

"Anyone see her? Anyone. Is she there?" Voices chattered excitedly.

"Who is it?" Harold asked Lonnie.

"Talitha Moore," Lonnie said breathlessly.

"What? The Talitha Moore?" Harold asked in amazement. Harold could feel his heart pounding and his breathing increasing. He turned and grabbed onto a pillar and looked around to make sure no sharp objects were on the ground in case he should lose all his faculties and drop to the ground.

"Nah, it’s a stand-in we’re killing ourselves to see," Thad yelled at him, “where the hell is Cal?”

“He went to the restroom,” Lonnie replied, “He’ll be back.”

 

“Again? That 60 year old bladder of his. It must be the size of a raisin! His loss.” Thad said as shook his head.

“That’s ok. He says, she doesn’t compare to the old days and Princess Isabella,” Lonnie stated, craning his neck to see.

“That’s Cal. Nothing compares to the good old days. Everything is the good old days.”

“Shhhhhhhhhh,” several dishboys shushed.

Suddenly a voice could be heard, “Ahh, she’s not that good looking. She’s ugly.”

Harold turned and saw it was Bobby.

“Shut up!” Harold yelled at him.

Others even shushed those shushing and all went quiet. Each dishboy was eagerly peering down the red carpet. Harold felt as if everyone were waiting for a magic fairy to touch down and land on the carpet. He could feel his whole body getting tense and his heart beating faster. It was like a giant ball of energy arriving. He couldn’t see it yet, but he could hear it. Several handsome men entered in black tuxedos. The dishboys crowded in for a closer look.

“There she is!”A voice in the back shouted and the crowd surged. Harold was shoved up against the short wall so hard he could barely breathe. He realized he had better wiggle out or he would suffocate. He managed to crawl up on the ledge of the wall. All the dishboys were swooning.

Talitha Moore entered the dining room. Even though she was looking away, Harold’s first vision of her was like being slapped in the face. It actually stung to see her walk in the building and his neck instinctively snapped back.

 

Dressed in a stunning red dress that dulled the large bright chandelier above, Talitha entered on the arm of a much older man in a fashionable suit. He could only see the back of her head. She seemed to be craning her neck to look for someone who wasn’t there, even directing her gaze towards the kitchen a few times. As she moved closer to Harold, several dishboys pushed in front of him and he couldn’t see. He needed to see her face. He felt his temperature rise several degrees, like someone was aiming a heat gun at him that could have burned him if it stayed on him any longer.

Harold had to remember to breathe. He remembered sitting in apprentice class after first hearing about her and wondered about her beauty. He was so stuck in trying to imagine what she looked like that he had fallen out of his chair. The trip and desire to come here had been worth this now. A woman he had thought about for years was a mere 50 feet away. Never would he have seen that in Twistle. For what seemed like an eternity, she slowly began to turn her head towards him. He could see a little more of her neck and cheekbone now, but not her face. He knew that was moving towards him and when it did, he would see what paradise looked like. As her gaze moved from the kitchen, it was like a laser beam moving across the walls, obliterating everything in the way of its vision as several dishboys began to faint and fall like dominos. He was so intoxicated he felt he could float on up into the air above all the dishboys, above the large bin of water next to him. He barely felt the railing he was on, or the hand that was giving him a good shove from behind. It was Bobby who had snuck in from behind.

Splash! Into the large bin of water he went headfirst.

“Dishboy overboard!” someone yelled. It was Willie and even he was surprised at the result. Harold came up sopping wet, gasping for air. Willie saw the result and realized he couldn’t walk up to Harold without laughing so he simply yelled at everyone to go back to work as dishboys could be heard howling everywhere.

Harold clambered out of the bin, trying not to knock it over and looked back at where Miss Moore had disappeared. He prayed she hadn’t seen that.

 

“Well, you made quite an impression.” Lonnie said, helping him out of the bin.

“I never got to see her face.” Harold said, dismayed.

“Well, she saw your pratfall. She stopped and turned to look at the commotion. For a few short seconds, you had her undivided attention.”

That would have broken a lesser man, but Harold thought about it and was delighted. If he hadn’t seen her, at least she had noticed him.

“Don’t worry; she comes here once a month or so from the island. She’ll be back. You can fall again next time and entertain her,” Thad said.

"You’re going to have to get out of those clothes." Lonnie gasped.

“That was amazing!” Thad said, still laughing, “I thought Farty’s underwear bit was a classic, but that tops it by miles. Harold, you took a boring nothing happening day and turned it into a classic. Thank you. I’m beginning to like you.”

Harold headed to the changing room, but the only outfits left were a few sizes too short and he looked like a monkey when he returned to work, causing more guffaws.

The rest of the work shift was already busy with dishboys working fast. Harold was exhausted by the end of the day and felt even worse when he walked out of the kitchen with Lonnie, Cal and Thad and heard Lonnie say "Not a bad day!" and Cal follow with "Yeah, I thought today would be worse being Monday, but it wasn’t as bad as most Mondays."

Harold was ready to go home and crawl into bed.

"Bed?” Thad cried, "Bed? The evening has not yet started. To Shinola’s we shall go."

 

Lonnie turned to Harold; “you’ll like it, our one rest place.”

“A lovely establishment catering to the whims of mere dishboys”, Cal said waving his hands majestically.

As they took the bus to Shinola’s, they passed another bar that seemed to be made mostly of glass and was bathed in blue light. It looked like a giant elegant ice statue. A group of people were walking in and for a minute, Harold thought he saw a glimpse of Talitha in the crowd walking inside. His heart began beating again.

"Ooh, what about that place?" Harold asked.

Lonnie, Cal and Thad just stared at him.

"Glassland Bar. You know how fast we’d get kicked out of there?" asked Thad.

"Oh, we wouldn’t get kicked out." Lonnie argued.

"Oh we wouldn’t? Two minutes of silence and staring and the bartender would say we were making too much noise and it would be best we leave." Thad argued back.

"It’s not a dishboy bar,” Cal explained to him, "There are certain bars where dishboys are welcome and certain ones they are not, either by bouncers or by price."

Thad nudged him, "See what happens when you grow up in a small town? You never learn about these things.”

"It looks like a beautiful place." Harold said looking at the beautiful glass walls.

"That it is,” Cal said wistfully, "It used to be called the Bell in Hand Club and then it was upgraded to Maison’s and it became an exclusive club where no dishboys were allowed."

 

“How long ago was that? It’s been exclusive as long as I can remember,” Lonnie asked, incredulously.

“It was long ago and far away,” Cal answered almost to himself.

“We’re away from work; the subtle odes have already started,” quipped Thad sarcastically, “Wait until he’s had a few drinks.”

They pulled up to Shinola’s - a bar packed with dishboys wall-to-wall chattering and plenty of Phishman’s flowing. Thad led the way and growled and grimaced at each dishboy he passed, pushing and shoving his way into the bar with Cal, Lonnie and Harold behind him. They made their way to a table in the corner where they jammed to sit down.

Harold took in the place. He had never seen so many people in one establishment. Green armbands filled the place and the chatter was so loud you could barely hear. Each table was filled with merrymaking. At one table next to him dishboys were topping each other’s stories while at another some kind of serious game was in play involving little wooden sticks. He noticed no women in the bar and leaned over to Lonnie to ask.

"They’ll be here in awhile. The dishgirls work a little later and get here after we do. Thad’s girlfriend usually sits where you are." Lonnie told him.

"You’ll have to squeeze over once Pandora arrives." Thad eyed him as he ordered a beer.

There was much tinkling of glasses at one table and the bar began to get silent.

Lonnie leaned over to Harold, "It’s the dishboy call."

One man stood and led the others in the chant: "I’m a dishboy, you’re a dishboy, dishboys we are all! And when we get together we do our dishboy call! Work! Work! Work! Work! Paaaaaaaarrrrrrrteeeeeeeee!" The bar broke into cheers.

 

Harold looked around at all the dishboys cheering. Six Phishman’s later; Harold wasn’t feeling so well, especially when he had not even eaten anything since lunch, except for the popcorn in bowls around the tables. There was a commotion at the front door and all eyes turned to see who was coming in. Harold thought if it was a dishboy, it was a strange one - short white hair, white shirt, black pants and the same green armband. As dishboys crowded, it was apparent it was a girl about the same age. She smiled and shyly made her way to the table and kissed Thad and said “Li La Lu”. “Li La Lu” Thad spoke back. He looked around, concerned. “Where are the rest of the girls?”

“Sector Four had to work late. Big to-do party over at the Spector. Although it is so loud over there we can barely hear the buzzer when it is time to end work.” Pandora answered.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here. You get to meet the new boy. Harold.” Thad smirked.

Pandora shook Harold’s hand. “Delighted to meet you. Where are you from?”

“Up north.” Harold shyly answered.

“Way up north!” Lonnie said. “I looked it up on the map. There is no mention of your town Twistle, but the Lethe River is way up in the barren area. Does the sun even get up there?”

“Some days, but not very often.”

“You must love having warm weather,” Pandora asked him.

“I love having you here,” Thad interrupted, “Li La Lu” and they kissed again.

“I can’t stay out late. They want us all in early.” Pandora said.

Thad looked sad for a minute and then noticed Harold’s nodding head drooping toward the table, "I think it’s time for the Shinola special for Harold."

"Oh come on Thad," Lonnie protested. "We don’t want to carry him home."

“It is not home. We do not call the place we go to sleep after work, home.” Cal protested.

“What do you call it?” Thad asked

Cal thought a moment, “The place we go to sleep after work,” and they laughed.

 

"It’s Harold’s his first day on the job. Let’s see if he can handle it. The round is on me!" Thad roared, pounded his fist hard on the table three times and yelled "Hit Me!"

With that, a dishgirl brought four tiny glasses to the table filled with a clear liquid. Harold looked at it.

Thad explained to him, "Now, we all drink this like a shot. It’s called The Shinola Rollercoaster. It’s a kick! You scream the word “Wasabi”, take one drink and you roll and then coast to the floor.”

“Why do you yell >Wasabi’?”, Harold asked, suspiciously.

“That’s how you do it,” Thad replied.

“I think it’s supposed to give you courage,” Lonnie added.

“It’s an old language word in honor of a plant that people used to eat. The plant was destroyed in the war, but they honor it with this drink.” Cal mused as he hoisted his cup.

“Wait!” Thad screamed. “We never heard an ode! An ode!”

Cal waved them off, but the group was persistent. Cal relented. “Alright, this is dedicated to Thad, who when no one is looking, down’s a bottle of Fotgelt Wine.”

Lonnie and Thad roared. “Fotgelt Wine! That’s for alley drunks!”

“Well, it’s a small tribute to you and your pride in the face of life’s constant humiliations. It also harkens a lament to my old dingy place on Vine Street before I was employed at the Merlot and enjoyed its fine dining and housing establishments.”

Cal cleared his voice and the group quieted.

 

“Here I sit in an alley off Vine,

 

Nothing but rats and my bottle of wine

Ain’t got much

But at least it’s mine.”

 

The dishboys all sat quiet, waiting for more. Cal looked around the room.

“I told you it was short.” Cal finally said.

“Wow!” Thad replied, “a double bonus! Short AND terrible. Two in one!”

Cal, Lonnie and Thad yelled “Wasabi!” downed their drinks and each of their heads promptly dropped to the table as if they weighed a ton while their hands curled into fists and pounded the table for a good 15 seconds. When they looked up with beet red faces, they each had tears in their eyes and were breathing deeply.

Harold looked at them and then at his glass. The whole bar was eyeing him.

"Come on!" Thad yelled. "I paid a good five pluckets to see this. Down it."

"It’s okay,” Lonnie said wiping his eyes, "It’s like when you put a lot of hot mustard on a sandwich. It hurts, but it’s a feel good hurt.”

Harold shrugged and downed his drink. His brain screamed and his head dropped hard to the table. He could hear the bar explode in laughter and he was convinced his hair was on fire. Then he felt peace, the pain was gone like a bad tooth pushed in - intense pain smothered by pleasure. It was pure bliss as all noise and light faded away for a brief moment. He took a few deep breaths and lifted his head and opened his eyes waiting to see how many dishboys would be laughing at him. There were none.

 

 

THE PRINCES’ BREAKFAST

 

 

Princes Carl, Robert and Daniel were dining together for the first time in many years. Carl, the oldest, had been groomed for heir to the throne from the day he was born, however when he reached his seventh, the Curate, which appointed the heir, had a meeting with the family physician who informed them Carl would never be up to the task of running a country. He was instead, shipped off to military school and then sent to the wilderness to fight in war campaigns. The lifestyle had changed him. He had become a coarse man with rough social edges. He was quick to anger and said to be a slave to his passions.

Daniel, the next child, then became the expected heir. Witty, urbane, and athletic with looks that caught the eye of every young maiden that passed his way, he had excelled in his younger years, but since then his love of ale and aka tea had undermined him. He had briefly served in battle in his early twenties but a tragic twist had ended his military career. On his way to a battle with Charterton, he got into a fight with some Jarons, not knowing Dane had made a peace treaty with Jaron only weeks earlier. He killed many, but it did not matter. He returned to Grevere and was now a shell of himself, often suffering from hangovers every morning.

The royal physician said he was suffering from ennui and needed some activity so he was appointed to oversee the dishboy sector, but all he did was pine for Talitha Moore and drink the aka tea when she was absent. Talitha had once loved him, but as his spirit evaporated, so had her feeling for him.

 

Robert, the youngest son was the most problematic. At the age of ten he underwent a conversion of some sort and devoted his time to denying his feelings for anything. He was proud of that fact that he could withstand the need for food or water and held no feelings towards any family member or anyone in Grevere. If he spotted anything that drew his attention, he either avoided it or destroyed it. The family suspected an advisor who had helped raise him. The advisor was later caught with Panatiko materials. For the longest time, no one spoke. Carl sat wolfing down oatmeal straight from a pot, while Daniel wore sun glasses and sipped some juice and Robert sipped tea and held his saucer underneath his cup.

“I see, my brothers,” Robert started, “that life outside these walls has not added to your royal sensitivities. One would think decorum would still apply to breakfast.”

“I see life outside these walls has intensified your royal sensitivities,” Daniel countered.

Robert carefully attempted to lift the hot teapot off the stove. While reaching for some gloves, Carl simply grabbed the teapot directly off the stove and held it in the palm of his hand while pouring some for Robert who was both aghast and awed.

 

“You’re welcome,” Carl said.

“I assume we are all going to the royal banquet this week,” Robert said, broaching the subject. “And I assume the malevolent dishboys will be acting like their usual hooligan selves.”

“They only have to behave until the King leaves,” Daniel corrected him.

“Still, I wish they could be corrected.”

“I could correct them,” Carl interjected.

“I mean correct, not kill,” Robert replied.

“A year in the campaign would do them well. They would learn great skills.”

“Like eating oatmeal out of a pot while squatting?” Robert said sarcastically.

Carl worked hard to keep his temper in check, “not waiting on lazy people hand and foot. Not lighting people’s fidgisets or putting string beans in front of them. Forgive me, brothers; I did not have the luxury of going to your finishing school and being tutored in the care and feeding of dishboys. I was busy defending father’s crown even when it meant eating bugs or throwing dirt over me to avoid fire. I have lived my life in battle.”

“Yes, good job you did in Colonis. How many Tuka’s did you capture? None?” Robert taunted him.

“None escaped. None did harm to Dane ever again. That land will never rise up again. At least they were not Allies we had a treaty with,” Carl exclaimed.

Daniel responded, “There are no Tuka’s. There is no Tuka. Tuka is now just a land of graves. When we capture lands, we consider making the locals citizens. It is what has helped us become an empire.”

“A lazy empire,” Carl cut him off, “An empire becoming easier to conquer.”

“No, an empire without virtue,” Robert added. “An empire where there is less fear of authority and less fear means less respect.”

“That is terror, not respect. The people follow respect,” Daniel argued.

“The only thing you follow now is ale, light or pale, it does not matter,” Robert stated, “You have become undone by the seven deadly sins that keep one from fulfilling you’re purpose in life. Your life of wine, women – yes, I know about the women – and the star overhead that you look at through your little toy spy scope.”

“Father gave me that as a young man,” Daniel said, “I honor him by using it.”

“It is meant to be used for looking at enemy encampments and identifying ships and their cargo, not for leering at woman or the moon or the star that goes overhead. This is a prime example of what you are doing. You take a perfectly capable instrument for work and turn it into a distraction from work. It becomes something that keeps you from focusing on the task at hand. It makes you less of a perfect human. The best thing to happen to that would be to destroy it in front of you and throw it off a cliff. You need to go back to surveying land. You were good at that. Looking through that little spy glass and measuring how far apart trees are and how high the grass is. That was a perfect job for you.”

A rather short man took off his large blue two-cornered hat as he entered the room. His crisp uniform filled with medals and tassels outshined the three brothers, but he bowed before them.

“Begging your pardon, young princes,” General Corsa said, “I have just arrived from Charterton in time for the banquet this week.”

“Bravo on your capture of Charterton General,” Prince Robert said raising his glass of morning juice, “Your strategies are the talk of the royal circle. You have triumphed over armies far larger and with more fire power. I raise my glass to you sir.”

“And you have turned the conquered from those territories into loyal citizens and followers of Dane,” Prince Daniel added, “They are allies in trade and security and not an empty land of crosses.”

Prince Carl frowned and sulked at the sting. Prince Robert stared at Daniel and continued his speech, “Yes, you have shown what a man can do when he ignores distractions and uses tools given to him as instruments of power and not whimsical toys.”

“I know not who you are talking about dear brother,” Prince Daniel responded, “I would be more than willing to use those tools if given a chance.”

“That is what I am here for, Prince Daniel,” General Corsa said, “Your father has asked that you accompany me back. He feels it is important and I agree with him.”

“As your advisor?” Prince Robert asked.

“No, as my assistant,” General Corsa responded. Prince Carl and Prince Robert leaped up at that statement and cheered.

“Excellent!” Prince Robert proclaimed, “Excellent. You shall do well to learn from this remarkable military leader. I look forward to hearing about your numerous battles.”

“A word with you in private, Prince Daniel.” General Corsa said.


 

 

 

GENERAL CORSA AND PRINCE DANIEL TALK

 

General Corsa and Prince Daniel exited the dining room and walked briskly towards a private room. Prince Daniel was humiliated and angry.

“General, if anyone else said that. If we had not known each other since we were only five years of age!” Prince Daniel huffed.

“Prince Daniel, you will go as my assistant and return as my advisor. I need you there to see some things that have happened,” General Corsa said. “We came across a mountain that had remnants of objects that looked like our spy scopes, but much, much larger. Some were the size of this very castle, smashed and burnt, but still with the outline of some foundations. They were destroyed so long ago that even old-timers had no idea what they were.”

Prince Daniel sat and listened to him.

“We are finding remains of strange smashed objects that do not look like anything we have. The locals have told us of a place where full intact objects remain, but we have not found any. I want you to accompany me and see these,” General Corsa continued.

“General Corsa, five years ago I would have jumped at this chance, but, now,” Prince Daniel sighed.

“Now is only five years later. You are not an old man. You are by no means an old man. You are far older and wiser than you were as a young Captain. You will not make the same mistakes. Doing this could get you back on the saddle. This could get you out of that stupor you have been in since you were assigned to the royal court,” General Corsa protested, “Yes, you are near Miss Moore. Everyone wants to be near Miss Moore, but you are no longer of her interest. Perhaps with this campaign you will be. We found papers with the same objects she collects; the ones that look like a different language, a different alphabet system.”

Prince Daniel thought a minute, “I suppose being here has made me softer than I used to be. Why would you be so concerned? You are as smitten with her as I once was.”

“We were both interested in her when we were young at heart and full of spirit. I know I have never been one to make her sit at her window and look up at the moon. I came to accept that because of my lack of height, she would not look my way. It caused me many sleepless nights.”

“You think she would pass on you because of your height?” Prince Daniel asked.

“It was either that or my choice of socks,” General Corsa said as Prince Daniel began to chuckle.

“Do you know I once had wooden stilts built that looked like legs and I was going to walk over to her place just to impress her? Even my horse was laughing!” General Corsa bellowed as Daniel continued to laugh.

“As if she would believe you got taller overnight? We must have been very young.” Prince Daniel said.

“It was a year ago. Of course it was when we were twelve! How else could I have conjured up something so stupid! I never even made it to her residence. I stumbled off my own yard and one got stuck in the mud and chucked me into the brush.”

Both were laughing hard now as General Corsa slapped him on the back. Corsa then took a deep breath and became serious.

“Being here has made you less interested in what is going on everywhere else. This could renew that spark. You could return with things that renew her interest. She loved you once. Perhaps you could be the person she loved again.”

 

 

PRINCE ROBERT STORMS OUT

 

Prince Robert was walking rather quickly as his assistant Petos scrambled to keep up with him. Petos was trying to put a cape around him.

“Later! Wait until the court room. I don’t know why I waste my time with my brothers. Neither of them will be King. None of them is fit to be King: a drunkard and scalawag scoundrel who takes advantage of simple-headed women and wastes his education and the other a complete animal with the social skills of a wounded bull, sent off into the woods to hunt at the age of ten, military school at twelve. One is terror without virtue and the other is without any terror or virtue at all – useless! It is rather obvious who will be chosen upon my father’s death. They sit and stare at Talitha Moore like drooling jackals. They fawn so obsequiously.”

“But, sir, did you not say you once waited in the rain for hours to see her and she did not show?” Asked his assistant as he tried again to put the cape on.

“Petos, I was a lad of thirteen and if you bring that up again I shall have you horse-whipped. What is my case today?” Prince Robert asked as he continued down the long hallway.

“The dishboy and his wishful betrothed. They were caught together after hours in the woods.”

“More like the dishboy and his harlot. What about the case with Gimilu?”

“His case has been tabled and withdrawn,” the assistant said.

“Bjuko!” Robert screamed, “Again! Gimilu’s cases are always thrown out. He hits a royal official; thrown out.”

“He hit a royal official with a piece of bread. I think he was aiming at another dishboy.”

“He steals! He and his idiot friend Caladrino stole and yet they are free and alive!”

“He and Caladrino took crackers from the pantry when they missed dinner due to work.”

“He was forced to work to make up for scribbling on a wall! Why does the royal court constantly protect him?”

“His father saved Prince John in the war.”

“That was thirty years ago. That was the father, not the son and Prince John died anyway. It didn’t stop him from dying in the next battle. He should be put in chains or in a cell every other week! This will end the day I am in charge.”

Robert swiftly sped around a corner into a large courtroom and up to the judge. Luther Pratt of the Curate was sitting at a bench. On either side was a curtain.

“Honorable Prince Robert, welcome to the chambers.”

“Judge Pratt, I am ready. Bring them in!” Robert yelled.

A door on each side was opened and on each side a person could be heard being led into the room still behind the curtain and made to sit down. Robert’s assistant put his cape on him. Robert looked up at Luther who handed him a staff with a large jewel on top. Robert took it and slammed it on the ground hard and the curtains were opened.

Behind one curtain stood a very nervous dishboy in chains, shaking like a leaf. Behind the other, a young woman, who stifled a sob when she saw her dishboy in chains.

Luther began. “The case before you is like the others. The dishboy.”

“Name!” Robert bellowed.

“Dishboy Kenny and the young lady whose name is-”

“Her name is unimportant and irrelevant to the court, proceed.” Robert again interrupted.

“Very well. Dishboy Kenny and the young woman met at a pub late at night and began to talk and they met at the bar over a period of weeks and began to develop feelings for each other.” Luther continued.

“We are going to get married!” the woman cried out.

“Woman you do not know what marriage is. You do not know what love is. Marriage is only sanctioned by the Civil Ceremony Department and only after you both have shown to be upstanding citizens with no complaints against you and both of you have had complaints against you.”

“When we were very young! We were not even twelve!” dishboy Kenny said.

“It does not matter. The record is clear. You two should never have been able to see each other in non-work settings.”

“I love him! I love him! He is guilty of nothing.”

Clearly there is affection between these two as months went by before anything physical happened. Even a kiss. Both are in their mid-twenties, Luther said, defending them.

“The age does not matter. The woman is clearly affected by emotions. She followed like a child. She had no say in the matter. This is why we went to such great lengths to protect women in our land. They follow their heart off a cliff if they hear a soothing voice or feel a gentle touch. It is like a stranger telling them his dog is lost or that he has some candy. Her age may be 25, but she is woman; her emotions and mind are only ten! I argue before the court that this dishboy, this lecherous wolf be given the belt and sent to military camp far, far away and that she be sent to a klousture for troubled women near a desert outpost. Let a stern headmaster mature her properly. Let them never see each other and let them remain forever on opposite sides of the world.”

Luther sighed and took a breath, “the court will follow the sentence suggestions by Prince Robert.”

Both the dishboy and the young woman were led through their doors in tears. Luther watched them go and then turned to Robert.

“I am becoming rather disturbed by your lack of respect for the proper procedures of this courtroom. When a trial proceeds, you will let me explain the narrative and then present the options.” He began.

“You dare speak to the King’s son like that?” Robert demanded.

“I work for the courts that your father runs and I head up the Curate that helps determine the heir to this kingdom, not you. On the day he passes, if you become King then I will respect you and work for you. Until then you will follow procedure here no matter your lineage.” Luther continued, his voice rising.

Robert took it in and simply said “For now” and left the court.

 

 

HAROLD’S SECOND DAY AT THE MERLOT

 

It was morning. Harold was in his own bed looking up at the curtains. He glanced at his clock which read nine a.m. He was three hours late for work.

Harold quickly dressed and opened the door to leave for work, when someone slammed into him and pushed him back into his room. It was Pandora. She quickly slammed and locked the door.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot get caught here,” Pandora stated.

Harold was beside himself. “What are you doing here? We will be in so much trouble. Thad will be furious you are in my room!”

“Thad said to hide in your room if anything happened. He said you were trustworthy and no one would check your room. I will only be a minute.”

Pandora shushed him and listened.

“I think they are leaving. I envy dishboys here. Dishboys work in quiet places. Dishgirls work in factories and on farms and bars. Your place is so quiet. I spend all day in a loud building with buzzers and bells and our rooms are next door so we can hear the machines running all night long. It takes weeks to get used to the sounds so you can fall asleep.”

“Are you and Thad going to be betrothed?” Harold asked.

Pandora laughed, “I don’t think a dishboy and a dishgirl are very high on the list of approved relationships. Besides, it is more fun hiding from security. It heightens the relationship. They haven’t caught on yet and if they do at least a klousture will be quiet. I wouldn’t mind spending my day making bread and doing laundry and having a quiet night’s sleep. My own parents had to keep things quiet for years until their relationship was approved. I was seven by then.” She said laughing.

They could hear a large door slam shut.

“There’s my cue,” Pandora said, “Thank you for the wonderful interlude.” And she surprised him with a kiss on the cheek, “I hope you are lucky to find someone someday who says ‘Li La Lu’ to you every day for years. See you at the bar some night.”

She slipped out into the hallway, pushed open a side exit door and was gone.

Harold ran out and raced to catch the next bus. He hopped on and immediately the bus driver glared at him. "Late!" the driver shouted. How could he know? Of course, Harold thought, every dish boy had to report to work at six in the morning no matter where he worked.

He raced into work through a back door and snuck to his job, but Willie had spotted him.

"Dishboy!” Willie screamed racing through the kitchen toward him, "Diiiishboooyyyy!"

Harold turned to explain, but before he could a large wet towel thrown by Bobby came out of nowhere sopping him in the face and knocking him backwards into a pile of dishes which crashed and broke all over the floor. The accident sent dishboys into fits of laughter.

Harold tried to get up to go after Bobby, but several dishboys stopped him.

"Dammit, lad, avoid the liquor at night and you’ll be a bit dryer in the morning!" Willie exited to more laughter and applause, his moment in the dishboy limelight a complete success.

Harold took a clean towel and dried himself. As he did, Lonnie sauntered up to him.

"Where did you guys go?" Harold asked him.

"Where did we go? We brought you home! You were out like a light. Willie knew what happened. It’s happened to all the new guys. It used to happen to Farty regularly.”

“Did I miss anything?” Harold asked.

“Only Talitha Moore.” Thad said with a smile.

“What?” Harold blurted out.

 

“She came in for breakfast. That’s the second time in two days. Very rare. She must be visiting people here.” Lonnie mused. “They say she visits a couple of different people. Not just royalty.”

“I doubt that,” Thad replied. “A woman like that only sees royalty and then heads back to the safety of her island.”

“And I missed her. I still want to see her face,” Harold sadly mused.

“Well, she looked over to the exact same place where you fell into the bucket if that will make you feel better. Maybe she wanted a second show,” Thad said.

“Work or spend a day elsewhere!” Willie bellowed. They began frantically working.

Throughout the morning, Harold worked with a fury, keeping up with the other dishboys. Finally the bell rang and it was time for lunch. They filed into the cafeteria, grabbed their food and sat at a table.

There was a commotion and several dishboys began whispering amongst themselves. Thad was yelling and pushing several dishboys back who were laughing and trying to upend him.

Lonnie looked in open-mouthed awe, "Thad won the banquet lottery!” He and Cal laughed as Thad kept his balance and made his way over. He opened the envelope he had received and guffawed.

"We’ve got the best dishboy table in the house!" Thad yelled as he rejoined their table.

"The banquet lottery? Is that the annual ball they mentioned in the dishboy book?" Harold asked.

 

"The banquet! The banquet! You must know what that is!" Thad glared at him, "How small is that backwater town of yours?"

Lonnie explained to Harold, "Every year they hold a banquet in which all workers at the hotel are invited. The King and Queen and his family show up as well."

"You do know who the King and Queen are." Thad asked, making sure.

"Yes, I know that." Harold replied. "They have three sons.”

"Well, don’t stare at them." Cal warned, "Don’t even look their way for very long or you could get hauled out quickly."

Thad laughed, "And Cal knows what he’s talking about. His first year here, he looked at the old King’s daughter and was hauled out so fast, it made his hair whistle."

Cal sadly acknowledged, "Now she was beautiful. It was before King Paul. King John’s daughter Princess Isabella. Prettiest thing I had ever seen."

"Cal that must have been 100 years ago." Thad chuckled.

“It seems like yesterday,” Cal answered.

"I heard she was beautiful in person." Lonnie piped in.

Cal closed his eyes and tried to remember, ignoring the comments, "She had this beautiful hair that hung down like a waterfall and these deep blue eyes that could melt you from a mile away."

"Cal was a mile away and he melted so fast, they threw him out to cool him off." Thad roared at his own riposte.

 

Cal continued remembering, "I was seven tables away and I happened to look up as she walked in. Her eyes swept the room like searchlights. I could feel them before they even moved my way. Then she looked right at me and I was hit hard. My heart stopped. She was wearing a white dress with lacing that looked like freshly fallen snow. It looked like a thousand people had been working on it all year, laboring on every tiny detail. She had on these stunning white shoes that made you think she was floating above the ground and shiny gloves and she smiled in my direction. I was struck dumb with this silly smile on my face. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I couldn’t stop looking at her eyes. They made me feel better about the world. I could have stared at her all night, but next thing I knew I was tapped on the shoulder and five guards were escorting me out to the alley. I spent the rest of the banquet sitting in the alley smoking fidgisets."

"Did they escort you past her?" Thad quizzed him, "Did she see you leave?"

"I don’t know. I kept my head down. I was too embarrassed," Cal said.

"I think I spent my first three banquets out in the alley smoking a fidgiset before I learned not to get caught." Thad remembered.

"You were staring at the princess, as well?" Harold asked him wide-eyed.

"No. I was kicked out for hitting a security guy with a bread roll. Gimilu ducked and I winged the security guy in the head, which was funny because usually it was Gimilu who is in trouble for hitting people with bread and he was damned accurate with that arm of his."

"Well, we all eventually end up in the alley smoking a fidgiset waiting for the show to get over with so we can go home." Cal mused.

"Whatever happened to Princess Isabella?" Harold wondered.

Cal pulled out a fidgiset and lit up, "Well, after her father, King John, died in the war, she went into seclusion. I heard she went away, but I don’t know where. I’d recognize her from 100 yards away, even today. That is certain."

Thad pulled out a fidgiset and chuckled, "Cal, you talk about this every year. It sounds like your heart never stopped melting."

"If I could have frozen the memory of her from that night, I would have kept it on my wall. The day I drop over one of those sinks in there and die, I will be thinking of her and still smiling with the thought of her."

"Pshaw, you’ll die like the rest of us, rotting away in the dishboy rest home,” Thad lectured, "Princesses are princesses, not worth mooning about."

"It’s not about royalty. It’s about a perfect vision walking into a room and looking at you, into you, through you and you just feel this energy swell up inside you."

“Like you’ll end up actually talking to her,” Thad snorted.

“It has nothing to do with ending up with her; it is just a moment in time. It makes your day brighter. You spend the day thinking of her smile, her hair, her dress, and her shoes. Everything. It brings a smile to the day and raises your energy to work.”

Thad snickered, "I don’t think that was energy Cal."

Cal ignored him, "On my worst days, I think of that night. I’ll bet Willie does as well. He was there. I saw him smiling.”

“Willie was probably yelling at you.” Thad said.

“He was just the maitre’d back then. He was as smitten with her as I was. She actually talked to him.”

“She talked to a maitre’d?” Lonnie asked.

 

“She was that kind of woman. She would stop and talk to people and the armband didn’t matter. She stopped to talk to Willie for a few moments and everyone wondered what she said. He walked away smiling.”

Cal was lost in thought when a blue-suited security man walked in. He looked around until he spotted Harold, smiled at him and put a purple badge hanging from a string around his neck and walked away. Lonnie and Cal frowned, but Thad smiled. Harold looked it over for a second. It had numbers on it and the words “T-ReLo” on it in bold.

“Temporary Relocation,” Lonnie said, “The idiot that pushed you got one.”

“It means you spend tomorrow working elsewhere,” Thad added gleefully, “Maybe the dump or cleaning buildings.”

“For coming in late?” Harold asked.

“They get everyone at least once,” Cal informed him. “It’s never any fun. It’s just to make you appreciate the dishboy job I guess. Thad’s gotten a dozen of them.”

“You’ve gotten them before!” Thad responded, “Besides, he got one the first day! It took them a week to get me.”

“Do I leave now?” Harold wondered.

“No! You get on a different bus tomorrow,” Thad corrected him. “Show them your badge and they’ll put you elsewhere.”

“Thad, what does Li La Lu mean?” Harold asked him.

Thad stopped and looked at him. “They don’t say that in Twistle?” He asked incredulously.

“No. I’ve never heard of it.”

 

“Well, you say it when you care about someone, but not seriously. At least not legally recognized. It’s a safe term you are allowed to use until Civil Ceremony Department approves any permit you request,” Thad said trying to occupy himself with cleaning a particularly dirty dish.

“The last time a dishboy was granted that request was about 20 years ago.” Cal responded.

“You can’t use any other words so you just talk almost gibberish, but it means you care about them all the same.” Thad said cleaning the last smudge of his dish before moving on to the next. “Li La Lu.”

 

 

 

THE KING MEETS WITH HIS SONS

 

King Paul was eating dinner in his chambers when his three sons entered. Prince Carl pushed in first, followed by a quickly pacing Robert and then Daniel. They slowly took chairs while waiting for the King to finish.

He rang a bell and his assistants removed the last of his dinner and then looked at each of his three sons.

“I am delighted to see the three of you in one room. Prince Carl, you have done wonderful things in Tuka. Their mighty armies fell under your charge and I think you are ready to lead a large army. I want you to take over Charterton.”

Carl gasped in delight, “I am taking over Charterton?”

“Yes,” the King continued, “But that means you must be an administrator, not just a military leader. That means being judicious and even-tempered and turning the conquered into citizens.”

“The remaining Tukas respect me and dare not cross me.” Carl stated.

“No, they hate you. They fear you. Which means they will strike the minute they sense weakness. You become a great leader by earning respect, not just fear. Charterton was in ruins. Their leader was a tyrant and despot and General Corsa fixed that when he conquered them.”

“He had their leaders killed!” Carl responded.

“He had the bad ones killed in public after a trial to show the people how bad they were and that he was in charge. He showed them that he would not rule like previous tyrants had. He treated the rest of the royal family there like dignitaries, figured out which ones were competent and put them in administrative positions. He brought in food and had the hospitals and factories rebuilt so people could go back to work. He even went so far as to reinstate those that the tyrant had imprisoned. He was very popular when he left and he did not rule by fear. A number of Chartertons were invited to Grevere to become citizens here and work here as well. That is how we have become an empire. If you are to become a leader of this empire, then you must prove to me that you can be a great ruler. Prove it to me when you are in Charterton.”

“I will not let you down, Father.” Prince Carl meekly replied.

“Now, Prince Daniel. You had great promise when you were young and you were admired, but drink took over your life and you have fallen to waste. You still have a very agile mind and you are still fairly young so I will be placing you with General Corsa. He will be in command and you will watch and pay attention. You will watch how General Corsa makes the people follow with his administrative skills. I am sending you both to Vandar.”

“Vandar?” Prince Daniel asked.

“Yes, you will be in the southern portion where it is a bit warmer, not the northern portion where I suffered for years. There have been some problems with Panatikos there.”

“But the Panatikos are in the tip of Forja where they have been for some time.”

“Yes, but their ideas have taken hold in some segments of Vandar. Part of it may be because of a famine and corruption leaving little food for the poor and they are vulnerable. Some of the madman’s writings have been found there.”

“But there are no Panatikos there?” Daniel asked.

“No, not yet. But it takes only a few to start spreading their beliefs.”

“How can a madman influence people?” Prince Robert asked.

“He is a madman because we called him that. They called him their leader. He died long before the movement began and we found it was hard to defeat the ideas from someone long dead. We thought all the Panatikos were gone until they were found in Forja and there they stay. There are not many, but it is far away and would be too expensive to launch an attack there. They ruled the entire world for centuries like horrible tyrants. Your Grandfather, King Phillip, led a rebellion and pushed them out of Dane, but they destroyed everything in their wake. We have still not yet recovered from their destruction. They destroyed our archives. They destroyed our book collections. They destroyed other collections we barely know about. We don’t even know how they came to power. We only know they fell because even they fell prey to corruption. Your Grandfather was a respected military leader who turned on them.”

“Why did Grandfather even turn on them?” Robert asked.

“I’m not sure. He was in a campaign in Vandar putting down a rebellion and he returned a changed man. He gathered support from locals in Dane and helped drive them out and then worked with other groups to drive them completely out of power. He did it because he earned their respect. Which brings me to you, young Robert. I know you like to think you have more self-control than your brothers- which to a degree is true- but you are constantly looking for faults in others and your comments on virtue and being a proper man and hating what you consider distractions from a pure life are wearing thin.”

“I am only trying to follow a virtuous path,” Robert protested, “I see so many others doing nothing in that regard. They sit and play and use every distraction possible from remaining focused on hard work and making society a perfect place.”

“Sitting and playing is part of life. It is part of enjoying life. What you call distractions are things that make life a bit easier to deal with. If you start clamping down on Grevere over that we will soon have a rebellion on our hands. For many, life is already difficult and full of hard work so distractions and fun are what make their lives worthwhile. For you to interfere with that brings nothing but trouble. You cannot rule by making people miserable or having them cower in fear. That is not being a ruler. That is just being a very bad boss. You will end up being the person everyone eagerly waits to leave so they can relax and unwind.”

“He already is that person,” Daniel interrupted.

“Robert, you will find people work harder when they are given a bit of leeway. If you act like someone who has to constantly keep an eye on people and correct their faults, ruling them with a rod of iron, you will end up exhausted. You will end up convinced that people are always up to no good and you will be driven from power.”

“He has been like that since we were little; always correcting us and pointing out our faults.” Carl stated.

“That is why I keep Luther Pratt in power over you. I have purposely made sure that all the royal officials are your equal or above you in power. As King John’s brother, I had many people above me in power and I smartly learned to rely on them for advice and valued their opinions. It made me a better leader. I have seen none of you asking anyone for advice or listening to anyone. All three of you walk around spouting opinions and valuing no one’s input, but your own. I want all three of you to start listening and less ordering around and less talking. Carl, I want you to listen to and learn from your older, wiser Generals. Robert, I want you to listen to Luther Pratt of the Curate. Daniel, that is why I am sending you with General Corsa to Vandar.”

The door opened and two assistants entered followed by General Corsa.

“General Corsa. Come in.” King Paul said. The assistants left and General Corsa grabbed a chair and moved it in between the three princes.

“General Corsa, you have visited Vandar. Can you tell them what you told me about the place?”

“Certainly, my Lord,” General Corsa began, “Vandar has been conquered for decades, but a famine has spread unrest. Unfortunately some of our top officials there became more concerned with a life of luxury and were selling food and products to other smaller kingdoms and keeping the finances to themselves. The people were willing to listen to outside influences and somehow the writings of the Panatikos based on the Madman began to spread. Local officials began to pay them off instead of fighting them. We brought in our army and defeated them, but we know a few remain hidden.”

“Now unlike Prince Carl, you did not kill them all,” King Paul stated.

“No. We took some prisoners back with us to interrogate them,” General Corsa continued, “but also to find out what drove them. We were stunned at their attitude on life. Once they thought they could convert us to their beliefs they talked. The things that they hated struck as so odd. For instance, they hated people shaking hands or laughing or eating any food that tasted good. If they were eating and something tasted good, they spit it out. They said it was an offense against the universe and a distraction from daily life. They covered their ears if people laughed or clapped. They were not willing to kill over that, but they did not like it.”

“They were, however, willing to kill over anything they deemed beautiful and they found them in the most mundane things. We were having a cup of tea, which they considered a distraction and they were very angry over our cups and saucers which had designs on them of little leaves. Little leaves upset them. Of course they were furious over things like lumber-smack and said that hundreds of years ago there were many, many variations of what they called physical diversions and frolics, but they wiped them all out. That included the instruments they used, the places they used them and clothing they wore. They also destroyed any noise-making instruments which they said altered sound in any way and went after those with a vengeance. They said these instruments could control your thoughts and emotions.”

“Like some kind of weapon? Like a cannon or gun?” Robert chimed in.

“No, these were not instruments of war. These were entirely different. These they wiped clean from areas they conquered. We have found what they called instruction sheets, but they are just squiggles and lines to us. There is no actual writing on them. We have found pieces here and there, but that is it.”

“How did they come to power?” Daniel asked.

“They would conquer an area, destroy all the major buildings and publicly behead all the officials. They would then clean up the area by executing local criminals and ordering people to clean the streets, shops and huts. They allowed people who had been victimized by anyone to take their revenge. This was initially popular. They separated the men and women and moved the women into what they called a protected area to keep them clean – often a large cave or encampment far away and under armed guard. Only special Panatikos officials were allowed to visit. Despite this protected area, many of them still continued to have children. They would then build one very large fortress, taller than all surrounding areas and the locals were often cowed by it. This was to be used to imprison people and also house the new rulers. It inspired both awe and fear. To be sent to the tower meant you were either going to be promoted or given a medal or imprisoned or executed. It was either very good or very bad.”

“Did you find any evidence of what was before them?” Prince Carl asked.

“Not at first, everything from any previous ruler was completely destroyed, however as we dug deeper, we began to find things. At first we found what looked like a giant foot as big as this room and then part of a hand. Some of our soldiers were terrified and thought it was the remains of giant men, but they were made of marble as if cut away from a stone block. We found smaller pieces in Charterton, but nothing like this.”

“Did you kill the prisoners once you were done with them?” Carl asked.

“There was one who knew all the locations of Panatikos and we determined he was valuable, so we brought him back on a ship. He is housed up in the tower.” General Corsa explained.

“I had him brought back here, away from the Panatikos. Like studying a sick man to see what we can learn in case it ever arises here.” King Paul said.

“Why was I not told of this?” Prince Robert demanded, “Why were we not told? And where is this madman’s writings so we can recognize them if they do arise.”

“I have had them tucked away in my own library. Like General Corsa said, the prisoner does not talk. He says nothing at all. He just mumbles to himself. He seems to be dying. He now takes neither food nor water. We have to continually force-feed him. Do not worry about the prisoner; he has guards all around him. More importantly I want the three of you to start showing more leadership skills if you have any hope of becoming heir to this throne. Before I am gone I want to be able to point to at least one of you and say ‘This is the one’. As of now I can say that about none of you. You may now go. I have to prepare for my evening.”

The three princes and General Corsa walked out. Prince Robert eagerly looked for his assistant as he exited.

 

 

 

HAROLD’S NEW DESTINATION

 

The next morning, young Harold awoke with all the other dishboys. As they went about their morning business, he slowly dressed and looked at his new badge. Like the others, he showered, shaved, combed his hair, and dressed himself, putting on his armband and his new identification badge. As the other dishboys got on their bus, Harold was directed to another bus - a short yellow one. He watched as all the long buses left in one direction and his little bus in the other. There were only three other dishboys on the bus. Each was lost in his own thoughts, gazing out the window. One even covered his head and just looked down. Harold peered out the window, as back alleys turned into fields and the streets of Grevere were left behind. Harold wondered where they were going.

The bus pulled down a long dirt road until it reached an endless open field filled with large hills of dirt and trash. It adjoined a massive field with high mounds rising up two stories high. Harold realized he was being brought to a landfill holding the refuse of Grevere. He had seen such landfills outside of Twistle when he was a lad. The thought of Twistle brought a twinge to his stomach. He wondered what they were doing now and whether his father was working again and if anyone in Twistle was thinking of him.

“Dishboys! Front and center!” the bus driver barked. The four slowly stood up and walked to the front of the bus where each was handed a cap for their head and a shovel. The bus driver directed each dishboy to widely different areas of the dump and told them to cover whatever trash stuck out with whatever extra dirt there was around. There was to be no talking, but the dishboys were working so far apart there was no way to even yell to one another. He pointed to a large hill in the center and directed Harold there.

 

Harold took the shovel and walked a few hundred yards to the hill. He climbed to the top of the pile and began to dig. Slowly, he covered areas where trash was sticking out. Mostly the trash was burnt rubble amidst pieces of wood and bits of paper. Large stacks of newspaper were spotted here and there. A pile of dirt hit in the back. He turned around. Dishboy Bobby was laughing.

“You’re supposed to be on your own pile of trash,” Harold lectured him. Bobby just laughed and picked up another shovel full of dirt. He was ready to heave it at him, but Harold swung at him with the shovel, hitting his arms and sending the dirt flying.

Both dishboys began fighting on top of the pile of dirt. Bobby grabbed Harold and pushed him down the pile. Harold slid down and slammed against something wooden rising out of the hillside from the mayhem. As he fell down the hill, Harold grabbed on to anything he could. It was the wooden box, which he realized was a coffin. Harold tried to push it away, but it followed him down the hill and then rolled right over him.

Bobby looked in horror at the coffin and took off running. Harold and the coffin made their way to the bottom of the hill. He leaped back when he realized what it was and then something made him stop and investigate.

It was definitely old. He had seen these before in Twistle at funerals. They carried bodies. Harold nervously looked at the coffin and thought of calling the driver, but when he looked up, the driver was nowhere to be seen. The two other workers were barely spots in the distance working on their own piles. The top of the coffin was partly open from the fall. Harold peered in and then opened the lid, expecting to see a body, but it was just paper. He looked in and saw one of the pieces of paper as it fluttered to the ground. It looked very old, like it had been covered for some time. Instead of alphabet letters, it had strange bars going across and a series of letters that looked like o’s, p’s and d’s in varying positions. Harold looked it over. The writings appeared strange, but somehow familiar to him. Suddenly he remembered where he had seen this before; in Twistle. It had been in a metal box he had found as a child. He had brought it eagerly to some adults to show to them. To his surprise, he was yelled at and sent home. He started to poke around, but he saw the bus coming back. He grabbed a few more pages and shoved them in his pocket. He closed the coffin and pushed it into the pile of dirt and tried to cover it back up. He climbed back to the top of the pile and started shoveling.

 

It seemed like hours and was getting dark before the bus driver honked the horn. Harold joined the other dishboys on the bus and took the long trip back to the dishboy estates.

By the time Harold got home, everyone was asleep. He sat on his bed for a minute and wondered what he had missed. What jokes had Thad told? What stories had Cal told? What comebacks had Lonnie come up with? He missed that. He looked up at the sky to see if any stars were out, but the evening star had long since passed overhead. He could only see the sky brightened by powerful lights pointing up at it which blocked out any other stars. He leaned back and fell asleep.

The next morning, Harold awakened with the dishboys to go to his regular job. He was relieved to join them.

Harold eagerly helped with the dishes and enjoyed once again being among his fellow coworkers. It was at lunch time when he decided to show them the strange paper he had found at the dump.

“Look at this,” Harold said as he pulled it out of his pocket and showed it to Cal, Lonnie and Thad. The three of them looked it over.

“What in the name of Grevere is that?” Thad asked looking it over. Cal took it and ran his hands over it. “Whatever it is, it’s old. It might have fluttered over from another part of the world.”

“No, I saw pages like this when I was in Twistle. I got in trouble for showing people there. I thought it was some secret code the adults had.” They turned the paper over and over trying to figure out if it was right side up or upside down.

Willie came by and Lonnie quickly shoved the papers back into Harold’s pocket.

“We have to be careful about foreign stuff. You have no idea what that says. For all you know it could be another language about overthrowing the King or some such nonsense,” Lonnie warned.

Harold noticed other dishboys were looking at him strangely. Beginning to feel paranoid, he put his head down and washed his dishes a bit faster.

 

 

 

A WINNER IS ANNOUNCED...

 

Several days went by without anything much happening until one day when the dishboys were gathered at the lunch table as lottery numbers were announced. Harold half paid attention. They called out some numbers and a handful of dishboys were turned upside down as their numbes had been called. Everyone had their tickets out except for Harold.

Another number was called out and no one moved.

“Get your ticket out!” Yelled Thad.

Slowly Harold took out his ticket and looked at it. Thad leaned over and looked, “What were the numbers again?”

Cal recited them from memory, “34-39-59-77-84”

“He won!” Thad yelled out, “Harold won!”

Dozens of dishboys gathered around the table and tried to pull Harold’s pants off. Harold fought to keep them off, until Bobby showed up. He reached down and with a mighty pull, yanked his trousers off. Harold lay on the floor in his underwear. Willie came out, saw Harold on the floor and sighed, “Come with me.”

Harold put his pants back on and followed Willie to his office. “What did I win?” Harold asked him. Willie opened an envelope on his desk. He looked at Harold and shook his head. “I don’t believe this. One day it’s the punishment chore and today you hit the lotto. You win a 2-day vacation... on the island of Leboth.”

“What? That’s where Talitha Moore is!” Harold gasped in disbelief.

“Yes”, Willie answered, “Leboth, the home of Talitha Moore among others. Congratulations.”

Harold started to feel faint. Willie pushed a chair behind him as he fell backwards. Harold sat in the chair and started to breathe harder.

“Relax”, Willie said, “Talitha Moore is on the mainland for a week. You won’t run into her or anyone else while you are there. She lives in a more isolated part of the island, so you wouldn’t even see her if she were there. People who live on the island rarely see her. It’s a very large island.”

 

Harold started to breathe easier and calmed down a bit. “I thought all we won were things like beer and chicken.”

“Normally yes. A prize like this has only happened maybe four or five times since I have been here,” Willie said looking at the envelope again. “I won this one as well... over twenty five years ago.”

“I heard you saw Princess Isabella once?” Harold asked.

“Yes. Not on the island, but here at the Merlot. I talked to her. She asked how I was and what my job entailed and said thank you for getting her table so quickly, as if the daughter of a king would actually have to wait for a table.”

“It must have been unforgettable,” Harold said.

“Calvin had won a bottle filled with spirits that had caramel and hazelnut - Frangelico. I was given a cup of it and a fidgisetery to smoke. It’s like a fidgiset, but far larger and thicker and you don’t inhale, but it is wonderful. It was the first and last time I had those, but every time I smell one of the patrons’ fidgiseterys or hazelnut or chalka wood, I am brought back to that night. In those days true men walked the earth, not like today... not like today.”

“I’ve never heard of chalka wood.” Harold said.

“It’s a very soft wood, easy to cut up and carve. I used to collect it and carve things - pipes, buses, trees out of them. But the war moved to the land that had the wood and it was gone in a few years. I tried other woods, but they were too hard. The only pieces now are in the king’s palace. There was something about carving it that gave you a sense of peace and prosperity. Like you were a king yourself. It was beautiful wood. Do you have any idea what you are going to do on the island?”

“No”, Harold answered. “I’ve never been on an island. Stare back at the mainland I suppose.”

 

Willie chortled; “you will have a hard time seeing the mainland unless you climb a rather high mountain. Explore the place. Enjoy nature. You’ll be given a few pluckets to purchase some things: fruits, nuts, carvings from a tiny shack.”

“Perhaps I shall look for a drink with some caramel and hazelnut,” Harold said optimistically.

“You would need a bit more than pluckets for that,” Willie chuckled. He shook his hand and wished him luck.

 

 

THE TRIP TO THE ISLAND

 

Harold was hesitant. He held onto the railing a little longer as the boat beckoned.

“Come on! Get aboard!” a stern, unshaven man yelled to him. “I can’t wait forever.

The ship to the island was an old creaking, wooden boat puffing smoke and was named Ocean Princess III. Harold noticed the name and pointed at it.

“Three? What happened to the first two?” He nervously asked.

“Sank. But that was in storms long ago and much farther out at sea and with different captains. This one almost sank in the harbor once. It’s sea-worthy and has sailed into some of the roughest storms. A good 37 meters long and 9 meters wide with two diesel engines and can go 5,000 miles if needed at 14 knots and can pull 50 tons. If it will make you feel better it has a motorized work boat and two self-inflating life rafts. This ship used to have a crew of twelve when I started.”

“Did they drown?” Harold asked.

“No! They moved on to military vessels as needed. I am the only one running it now. It is almost good as new.”

“Good as new” were not the words that came to mind when Harold looked the ship over. It looked like something that hauled cattle or supplies.

“Does this actually carry people?” Harold asked.

“Not the wealthy and elite of Grevere,” Captain Saugus answered. “They travel in the King’s Carriage. When you add it up, you have a better service situation here. The King’s Carriage holds 2,500 people with a support staff of 1,750. This ship is carrying one guest with a support staff of one. That’s a full one to one ratio of service. Up until recently I had two, but I lost my first mate.”

“Not overboard, I hope,” Harold teased.

“The first mate upset some people and was sent elsewhere until the officials of Grevere decide to give me back my crew again,” Captain Saugus sadly replied.

The grizzled old captain took an old tin cup on a dusty, moldy shelf, slammed it against the wall upside down a few times, blew into it and poured something from an old black kettle sitting over a gas flame. From the way he was holding the pot, it looked like it might be oozing out into the tin cup instead of pouring.

“Here, that will put hair on your chest.” The Captain croaked as he handed it to him. “I usually add some gin to kill the taste, but I’m out at the moment. Captain Saugus at your service.”

 

As they made their way out past the breakers into open sea, the ship began to rock more violently. Harold held on tightly to the beams beside him.

“If you want to go below, feel free to go. If you want to stay grab that chair and take a seat.” the Captain said, keeping his eye on the horizon. “It’s nailed to the floor so it will be fine. This ship can take a lot. It’s been through a lot. There’s a bag on the floor in case you get sick.”

Harold tried to keep his fear under control.

“Never been on a ship before?” The Captain asked. Harold just nodded, afraid that more than just words would come out if he spoke.

“You’ll love the island. It’s very beautiful this time of year. Actually, we haven’t had a dishboy here in probably ten years.”

“Is Miss Moore on the mainland?” Harold asked nervously.

“Yes, she’s been there a week. She might return next week. Last summer she painted her entire house all by herself. She refused all the help the king sent. She doesn’t even take the king’s carriage to the island! She doesn’t like the staring that goes on. She’s been like that ever since she was very young. Quite impressive to see when she could simply be enjoying the aka tea and laying by the pool being waited on hand and foot.”

“Aka tea?” Harold mumbled.

 

“Loved and obsessed over by the islanders. They drink it, smoke it, and eat it. It keeps them thin and beautiful and sleepy. It’s supposed to make everything look light blue and pink. They pretty much lay by their pools taking it. Royalty provides it. Some days my ship is weighed down with boxes of it for the island. They’ve been enjoying it long before I was born.”

They talked of ships and seas and storms as Harold slowly got his stomach used to the pitching and weaving of the ship on the waves. Soon the island was in sight. Captain Saugus went past the docks and steered the ship along the shore until it joined a much larger river which was flowing faster.

“It is amazing!” Captain Saugus said, pointing at the river. “This used to be a little river. Then the King’s sons had this dredged so Talitha Moore could have her privacy. They admire her that much. All three sons pitched in to finance the job.”

“Am I staying near Miss Moore?” Harold asked incredulously.

“She’s not here. You’ll have a place all to yourself,” Saugus answered, steering the ship near the river bank.

The ship wound its way up along the river as the forest alongside grew thick and it was harder to see much beyond them. Captain Saugus pointed out two tall white trees hanging over the river. “Chalka trees! Very rare! The King usually harvests the remaining few. I love going up this river. It is like going back in time. A time when vegetation rioted on the earth and timber was king!”

As they went under the tree, a tree branch fell onto the boat with a thud and rocked the deck. The Captain walked over to push it into the river.

“Wait!” Harold yelled. “Can I have a piece? I know someone who could use that.”

 

“Suit yourself,” the Captain shrugged, and he pushed it toward Harold. Harold had been expecting something so heavy that he could barely lift it, but he could lift the entire piece.

“I’ll keep it on the ship for you,” Captain Saugus said, “secure it somewhere.”

As Harold struggled to find a place to secure the branch, the ship pulled up to a dock deep inside the woods.

“We’re here!” Captain Saugus bellowed. Harold stepped outside to look over the manor. It was a huge mansion surrounded by a lengthy lawn and well-manicured bushes.

“This is where dishboys get to stay?” Harold asked.

“Once every ten or twenty years,” Captain Saugus said, “it’s so rare, I can remember every dishboy that ever stayed here. They probably still work in Grevere.”

As the ship pulled to the dock, Captain Saugus swung open a gate and held out his hand to grandly present the mansion. “I present to you, for this night, Dishboy Manor, in the family for generations. Docked by me, my father, his father and his father.”

Harold nervously started to take one step onto land.

“Go ahead. It won’t bite.” Captain Saugus said.

Harold walked onto shore and then nearly fell onto the ground. It seemed like the land was moving!

Captain Saugus bellowed out a laugh. “You’ll get your land legs back soon enough.”

Harold made his way across the dock to land.

“Catch!” The Captain yelled as he flung a key to Harold. It landed at his feet.

“Not bad! I’ll see you in two days! Enjoy!” With that the ship departed, its smoke bellowing out of the stack.

 

Harold turned and walked up the long sidewalk past all the hedges. He slowly spent the afternoon walking around the numerous gardens all over the land. Each garden had different plants and trees in them as if from different parts of the Dane. He could tell that each was very tenderly cared for. He figured there must be an army that took care of the place, but he saw no sign of anyone. As the sun set lower, the trees cast shadows over the yard. The mansion itself was large and impressive to the point Harold was sure he should not be in there and if he was, then he should be cleaning and working inside, not staying there as a guest. All the curtains were closed so he could not see inside.

Harold got up the courage and walked up to the door. He knocked first and waited before putting the key into the lock. Slowly the large door opened and revealed the land within; a land where dishboys were not allowed. In front of him was a long winding staircase. As he wandered from room to room, he saw very little furniture. Just space: a lot of space. Everything was clean and immaculate. He made his way to the kitchen and found an envelope on a table. He opened it and read:

“Dishboy, this house is yours for two days. Your room is upstairs at the very end of the corridor. There is a bathroom adjoining the room. It is yours. Enjoy your stay.”

The sun was setting and Harold wanted a good rest before exploring the island so he went upstairs. Each step creaked as he made his way to the second floor. The floor creaked as he made his way across the corridor to his room. He opened the door to his room and cautiously looked in. The room was quite spare: a king-sized bed, a chair next to the bed with a dresser and a lamp. That was it. Harold opened the door to the bathroom. Laid out on the sink were some toiletries: toothpaste, a toothbrush, a comb, a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo.

 

He began brushing his teeth. As he did, he noticed another envelope by the window. He reached for it and opened it as he continued brushing and read:

“Dishboy, everything is prepared for you. Enjoy your stay. You are a guest in my house. -Miss Talitha Moore.”

Harold coughed the toothpaste up and nearly choked. He let out a gasp and reread the note. This was Talitha Moore’s manor! He was staying at Talitha Moore’s Manor! Panic began to set in. Did she know a dishboy was staying at her house? Of course she did, or she wouldn’t have written the note, he thought. Did she know he was the one who won the lottery to stay here? He, the same dishboy who never got to see her face because he fell into the pail of water. He, the same dishboy who overslept and missed her second appearance at the Merlot in as many days. His first thought was to go sleep in the yard or down by the river so she wouldn’t know he had stayed here and possibly tainted her room.

After his initial panic, he settled down and decided he would sleep in the room provided, but he would sleep in his clothes should anyone show up in the middle of the night. He could slip out the window and flee into the darkness and wait by the dock for the boat. He opened the curtain and saw the dock. Perfect - he could make his escape without being noticed. He realized he had been invited and the captain of the ship had personally taken him to the dock, but he still wanted a plan to keep the panic away. He worried over this for a while until sleep overtook him. Harold was soon fast asleep on the strange large bed.

 

Harold was deep in the middle of a dream. He was being lumber-smacked by Johnny Bazzer who kept hitting him left and right with the log, but Harold would not fall into the water. He fell left and right, but it was as if gravity fought him and pushed him back upright where he could face yet another attack by Johnny who was waiting with another pummeling. Then he was standing in front of the Twistle mine as several mine machines were idling nearby. His father and mother climbed onto one and waved goodbye. He realized he missed them terribly and wanted to tell them but Johnny Bazzer was waiting nearby with a powerful lumberspleen ready to splay him in two if he moved. He could only watch as the mine machines slowly moved off in the distance and his parents continued waving.

Harold sat upright in the night. Those were no mine machines! Something was outside! He opened the curtain and looked. The same ship that had taken him was at the dock and now departing. He wondered what Captain Saugus wanted and if he was looking for Harold - perhaps to retrieve him from the island. He heard the sound of a lock and the front door opening. Harold’s heart nearly leaped out of his body. He heard the door shut and then quiet.

Harold’s heart began to pound. Someone was in the house. Security. Surely, there had been some mess up and Harold was not supposed to be here. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, he heard someone coming up the stairs. The sound of high heels, making their way to the second floor where Harold was laying in bed, drenched in fear and trembling. It slowly began to dawn on him, that it may not be security, but it could not be Talitha Moore, not at this late hour. That was impossible.

 

The heels made their way along the creaky floor to Harold’s door and stopped. Harold wanted to leap up, open the window and clamber to safety, but his body was frozen. He couldn’t move. He could barely breathe. His own heart was pounding so hard, he could barely hear the lock turn and the door slowly open.

Harold sat up in the darkness and listened. He heard nothing. He said nothing. His heart was pounding wildly and he thought it would be the end of him. He wondered if the figure was coming at him with a weapon or about to demand what he was doing here. He held his breath and listened.

Click! The lamp turned on and there was a sight far too intense to behold. Talitha Moore was sitting in the chair staring at him - just inches away. It was like some larger than life stunning flower had come to life with all its petals different colors and was now staring at him. He feared that if he looked directly into her eyes, he would forget to breathe. He would become a motionless figure with a blissful eternal smile carved into his face that generations would stare at try to understand.

He tried not to, but his eyes locked onto hers. He could hear his heartbeat turn into a giant drum, rapidly pounding and echoing through his body. His mind was having a difficult time comprehending what his eyes were looking at. He was staring directly into the face of what seemed to be almost pure light. It seemed so much more defined and magnified than any face he had ever seen.

He had seen the faces of many women who ate at the Merlot and none of them compared to Talitha Moore. He didn’t even know where to begin to focus. Her lips? Her nose? Her cheeks? Her eyebrows? Her eyes? All of her seemed otherworldly, especially the eyes which seemed to grow tenfold before him.

They were beyond beautiful and had transformed her into a being that held the power to create or destroy him in seconds. It was all far too much for a dishboy to take in. Harold let out a gasp and fell back onto the bed, out cold. He felt as if he were sleeping on a cloud high above Grevere, wrapped in warm air and surrounded by thousands of blinking stars.

Eventually the light came back into his eyes. A paper bag was over his mouth and he heard, “Breathe. Focus on the bag. Just breathe.” He took a few large breaths until he felt the dizziness start to fade. It was then he opened his eyes. There she was: Talitha Moore in the flesh, looking directly at him.

He felt his heart start to beat faster again. Talitha turned her face to avoid looking at him. He tried not to, but his breathing began to make the bag go in and out quite rapidly.

“Take one breath at a time. Relax and stay calm.” Talitha continued as she held the bag to his face and kept looking away. Harold’s breathing began to return to normal.

“Now, I’m going to turn my face back towards you. Keep taking deep breaths, one at a time. Okay?” She asked. Harold nodded.

“I can’t hear you if you’re nodding. Just make a noise for okay.” She said, still looking away. Harold barely uttered a nervous high-pitched squeak.

 

Slowly, Talitha began to turn her head. Harold watched, mesmerized as her profile came into view. First, her nose - that nose that had launched generals into battle and caused grown men to lose all control of speech and thought. The nose itself was enough to start poor Harold’s heart beating erratically again. Then the lips. Harold had never seen lips like that. Lips matched so perfectly, like two flowers side by side - intoxicating. Talitha kept her eyes averted as she slowly turned her face toward Harold. Every time he started to breathe faster, she would stop and gently tell him to take another breath.

Finally, she was facing him directly and her eyes slowly made their way to his face. She stared right into his eyes. Harold swore he could feel her hands cupping his face. She was still holding the bag to his face, but it felt like his face was being held by the gentlest hands in the world. He was half expecting giant wings to unfold from behind her and envelope him. It was then she broke into a large smile for him and he almost had to squint from the brightness.

“It’s okay. It happens Harold.”

Harold was stunned. How did she know his name? She didn’t call him “dishboy”, but rather his name. Then he realized she had written the note to him so of course she knew his name. It had been some time since he had heard anyone call him by his name and now it was being uttered by the most celestial voice he could imagine.

“I remember you at the Merlot. You fell into a pail of water.” She said softly to him. Harold blushed both at his name and over the memory of falling into water. Every syllable coming out of her mouth seemed like a pile of feathers floating around him, brushing his face. He was sure it was snowing.

Talitha kept staring at him, like she wanted to ask something. She reached out and touched him. Her hand came to rest upon his. He wanted it to stay there forever. He would sit in this bed without moving as long as her hand touched his.

“Harold, you found a piece of paper while you were out at a landfill,” she asked, moving closer. Harold could hardly breathe. If she moved any closer he felt he would expire on the spot.

Harold took a deep breath and steadied himself. He slowly remembered finding the papers, but couldn’t figure out how she knew about them or why she was interested in them.

“Yes, it came from a coffin. The coffin was filled with papers.”

“Was there anything else in the coffin?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I quickly pushed it back under the garbage.”

“You’ve found them before,” she said even softer this time as she touched his leg. He was sure his leg had just burst into flames and he was going to be consumed by the heat.

“Were the papers in your hometown also in a box?” she asked.

“Yes, a small metal one.” Harold answered.

 

Talitha took her hand off his leg and reached into a nearby drawer. She pulled out a map of the land of Dane and put it in front of Harold. “Could you show me where you found them?”

“I don’t know where the landfill is. They sent me there when I overslept. My town is called Twistle. It is not on that map. It is thirty hours north by train, except the train doesn’t go there anymore.”

Talitha held the map up in front of him. She put her finger where Grevere was and to his shock, her finger started moving north, slowly heading up the terrain and over mountains and fields as it kept going. He couldn’t believe Talitha Moore would know where his home town was and yet her finger was heading there. She moved north until she came to exactly where his town would have been and stopped. His jaw dropped. She pulled out a pen and made an X there. Harold noticed that the map had several X’s on it scattered about the land.

Talitha reached back into the drawer and pulled out a stack of paper. She handed them to Harold. He looked them over. They were a match for the papers he had found possessing funny squiggles, letters and bars.

“It’s the same thing,” he said, “some kind of code?”

“It’s a mystery,” Talitha said, moving closer, “I’d like you to go back to the landfill.”

“I’d rather not. It was rather horrid. Besides, I have no idea where they will send me next. You could go and just get it.”

“No, I have no idea what hill you were working on. I can arrange for you to go back there. Pull whatever you find and drag it to edge of the field by the trees. I can reward you.”

“You can?” Harold asked, desperate to know the reward.

“I travel a lot and sometimes I need assistance for my trips. I can easily arrange a dishboy or two to accompany me as help. The Merlot loves me.”

“Why do you want to know about a bunch of squiggly lines?”

“I’m curious. It runs in my family. I only have a few pages, but I’m told we once had a large stack. I want to get more. Can you help me?”

“Okay,” Harold answered.

“Please tell no one you saw me. It’s not for my sake, it’s for yours. There can be some jealousy among the royals should they know I was talking to a dishboy. You don’t need those kinds of problems,” Talitha told him as she put the papers back in the drawer.

“They say all three Princes are in love with you. Each one wants to marry you,” Harold said, slowly gaining some courage.

“There are a lot more than three. For now I like it here, on this island. It keeps me away from all the intrigue and problems surrounding the castle. Each one loves me, but each one wants to be King as well and there can only be one so I would rather stay here for now.”

Harold was still in shock and unable to say much more.

“You need to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning. I’ll have breakfast made for you.” Talitha leaned over and gently pushed him back down on the bed to sleep. She pulled the blankets back over him. “Lights out, dishboy: busy day tomorrow. Night-night.”

She turned out the light and left. Harold lay there in the darkness trying to comprehend what had happened. It took some time for him to fall asleep.

MORNING – HAROLD AWAKENS

 

Harold was still asleep as the sun shone through the window into the room and on the floor. He heard footsteps coming up the stairs again and the sound of glasses and plates tinkling on a plate and the door began to open. It must be the help he thought. They might be annoyed they had to wait on a dishboy.

To his shock, it was Talitha holding a tray of breakfast food. She struggled as she carried the tray to the table near his bed and put it down.

“Where is your help?” Harold asked.

“I don’t have any. I sent them all away. They come back from time to time under orders of the crown, but I try to do as much for myself as I can. I do not want to become as helpless as they want me to be. I avoid being helped and I avoid their tea. That tea makes one sleepy. If I had it I certainly wouldn’t have gotten up early and made breakfast for us. I hope you like it. You’d better like it, I made it. Eggs, toast, bacon, some fruit and coffee. The coffee is pretty strong.

Talitha sat on the bed and pushed him over a bit as she poured some of the coffee and handed it to him. He took a sip and gasped.

“This tastes like Captain Saugus’s coffee!”

“It is. He says it’s supposed to put hair on your chest, but so far I’ve been lucky.”

Talitha handed him his plate and took hers and started dipping her toast into her eggs. She nudged him as she ate.

“Come on. I’m not eating alone. I don’t want you leaving here afraid of me. Ask me something. Go ahead,” she said continuing to eat her breakfast.

“How long have you lived here?” Was all he could spit out.

“All my life. I lived here. My mother lived here. Her mother lived here. We go back generations. My grandmother said this island was inhabited by people with special gifts, but they were chased away generations ago. She said we were among a handful of survivors, but I’ve never found I had any special gifts.” Talitha explained as she put down her plate.

“You definitely have the gift of beauty.” Harold said.

“Well, that is not mine. It was my mother’s and her mother’s. That’s like having large feet or small hands and the like. Besides, every male royal I meet has either romantic designs or more nefarious purposes towards me so I have to be careful. I don’t have to be careful around you because you’re a dishboy. As she said that, she moved closer to Harold, making him uncomfortable.

“Let’s talk more about those squiggly lines you found.”

“I have no idea what they are,” Harold explained, “They were similar to some papers some miners found down in a portion of the mine. They were in a chest that was underground. They hit some kind of cavern and there it was. They opened it thinking it was going to be gold and jewels, but it was just paper. An old man said they were trouble so they put it back in the cavern and sealed that up.”

“That was what my grandmother said as well. The papers caused a lot of problems centuries ago. I’ve been trying to piece it together. General Corsa said as they capture new lands, they are finding new things and the army is puzzled over what to do with what they are finding.

“All you’ll find at the dump is more pieces of that paper.”

“I want you to dig through it and find anything else. A notebook of any kind.”

“I could get in trouble,” Harold worried.

“At that point I’ll tell them I want it. I want to give you some things to bring back. You are to give them to Willie.” Talitha said as she opened another drawer.

“You know who Willie is?”

“Of course I know who Willie is, but you are to tell him only that someone at the house gave you this.”

“Have you ever talked to him?”

She smiled and she pulled out a bottle. “This is Frangelica for him. These are fidgiseterys. Did you cut down any Chalka wood?”

“A piece fell on the boat. Captain Saugus is saving it for me.”

“Good, bring those to him. You don’t head back until this afternoon so finish breakfast, get dressed and I’ll show you around.”

“I am dressed,” Harold said as he pulled back the covers to show he was still fully dressed, “I didn’t know if I was going to get kicked out by the help once they saw a dishboy here.”

Talitha chuckled, “You’re not a dishboy here. You are a guest.”

Talitha grabbed his hand and led him downstairs. They went out into a large garden and walked around.

“Come on. Ask me something.” Talitha pleaded.

“I heard you went blind. That was news in my hometown.” Harold offered.

“True. I did. They don’t know why. But in the years I couldn’t see, I heard things. I heard people talking around me. I listened to noises. To nature. I appreciated the rain and the way it fell on rooftops and windows or in pails of water or jars. I could tell the size of the jar and how full it was by the sound of the water dropping in. I heard bees working on flowers, birds in the morning. Which ones had found mates and which ones were still searching and which ones had given up.”

At one point Talitha pointed to a rooftop spotted in the woods and said “Do you know who lives there?”

“No,” Harold said.

Talitha paused for dramatic affect and said, “Princess Isabella.”

“The recluse?” Harold gasped. “She hasn’t been seen in years!”

“Yes, she has. I see her all the time. Shall we go visit?” Talitha asked.

“No! We shouldn’t bother her! She’s a princess! She hasn’t time for…”

“Talking to a dishboy? I don’t think she has many meetings scheduled for today.”

Harold fell behind as Talitha confidently walked towards the mansion in the woods. She stopped and went back and grabbed Harold and took him by the arm towards the mansion.

“Does she have guards?” Harold stammered.

“No.”

“Security?”

“No.”

“Dogs?”

“She has a moat if that will make you feel more uncomfortable. But there is nothing in it.”

They walked through the woods until they came to a huge mansion in the woods with a large drawbridge across an empty moat. Talitha marched up, pulled the large door knocker out and banged it against the door. Harold felt ill as he heard footsteps tromping towards the door and it slowly opened with a creaking sound.

As it opened it, there stood a woman as beautiful as Talitha. It was like an older version of Talitha. It was like an older sister standing next to her. She hugged Talitha and then looked at Harold, puzzled.

“This is the one I was telling you about,” Talitha said, “He found the paper and knows where there is more of it.”

Isabella smiled and made a surprised “O” with her mouth and welcomed Harold in.

She pointed to a table and beckoned them to sit while she disappeared.

“You will be amazed by her. She has some very impressive abilities. She is a wordsmith.”

“A what?”

“A wordsmith: someone who knows what words to put together in a sentence to impress and befriend people. She was known for that when she was at the castle and King John was alive. It was said he taught it to her. She could charm friend or foe alike and she could almost peer into their eyes and know them.”

Isabella came back with a tray of tea and cups and put them at the table. She sat down and reached over and held Harold’s hand. Harold hesitated.

“I just want to know who is in my house.” Isabella said softly as she leaned in and looked directly into Harold’s eyes.

“Not too close or he faints.” Talitha teased.

“I’ll use your paper bag if he does that.” Isabella said as she peered into Harold’s eyes. Harold started to say something, but she quieted him with, “Shhhhhhhhhh” and stroked his hand as she looked at him and then his hand.

Isabella softly spoke. “You are not from Grevere. You are from much farther north. It is a long train ride away. Mining, but you are not a miner. You are a dreamer, but you do not know what to dream about. You look up at stars and the moon. Because you search for adventure, adventure will find you. Do want an adventure?”

“Okay,” Harold answered, hesitantly. He was not sure what they wanted.

“You found a coffin in a hillside. You need to go back there and open it and go through it.”

“I don’t think they would send me back there. Would they?”

“They will. For a few days until you find that coffin. I don’t care about the papers with funny signs. I want anything else in there. I am hoping there is a metal box underneath it all and I want what is in the metal box. Anything you find, you will give to Captain Tom at the Merlot.”

“Is there anything illegal in the box? I hope it’s not explosives or anything like that,” Harold worried.

“No, it is a notebook. A small notebook. It is very, very old. I only know it was in a metal box stowed inside a coffin.”

Harold thought about it and looked at both of them. Here were two of the most famous people in Grevere talking to him. “I hope doing this helps someone out. I hope this isn’t just some notebook you lost when you were young.”

“The notebook is two centuries old. I was told about it long ago and didn’t think it existed until you found the coffin,” Isabella said, “Now when you go back you will not mention my name. You will simply say you saw Talitha and took off running. She didn’t see you or talk to you.”

 

DISH BOY RETURNS

 

Harold was driven alone again from the dock to the Merlot. When the bus stopped, Harold staggered out with a bulky box. He walked along the back street until he came to the Merlot.

Quickly Willie spotted him.

“You’re late!” Willie asked. “I heard that Talitha Moore returned while you were there?”

“Yes, I snuck out a window and took off running. I don’t think she saw me. This is for you. It fell on the boat as we were going up the river. The Captain put it in a box for me.”

Willie backed away as Harold carried the package into his office. “It’s not alive, is it?”

“It was.” Harold said opening the box.

Willie carefully opened the box, looked inside and let out a gasp. “A fortune!” He pulled the branch out and ran his fingers along it like a magic talisman offering sanctuary in another world.

“There’s more,” Harold said as he reached into the box and pulled out two carefully wrapped fidgiseterys and the bottle of Frangelica. The people running the island gave these to me.”

“They gave these to you?” Willie asked.

Harold handed Willie a note, “This was attached to it.”

Willie looked at it. It said, “Dishboy, for your boss.”

They must do that automatically. They would have no idea who I am.” Willie said wistfully.

Harold wanted badly to say yes, Talitha and Isabella both knew of him, but said nothing.

Willie put them on his desk. “Lunch is just starting. Go join your boys. You’ve got some new people.”

“New workers?” Harold asked.

“We conquered some new territories. They were excited that Dane had conquered them. They were immediately made citizens and some were transferred to established areas within the kingdom to help them adapt.

Willie handed Harold a dish towel. As he left, Willie called out. “Thank you.” Harold nodded, turned and left.

Harold rushed to the cafeteria and found his friends. They were gathered around a new worker; a young lad with a grinning smile and a little green hat that looked a little bit like a pine tree on his head. His smile was so big; Harold thought he had hit the dishboy lotto. He was talking, but with a strange accent.

“Yea, yea, yea” he kept saying.

“Harold!” Thad yelled to him, “Get over here! You have to meet this guy! This is Lars! He’s from Piete Whin! It’s some weird land we captured and he’s working here now!”

“Yea, yea. I Piete Whin! Piete Whin!” Lars said, laughing away.

“What is Piete Whin?” Thad asked Harold, “You’re from out in the boonies like he is!”

“I have no idea. I’m in the same country. Peite Whin?”

“Yea!” Lars said, “I dishboy! I dishboy! Ha, Ha!” Lars just said, grinning.

“Tell him about the hat!” Thad said.

“Oh, yea! It’s Oxnas! Oxnas!” Lars exclaimed as he opened a paper bag and handed out little box wrapped in red and green. “Oxnas, here!” He handed everyone a little box. Each one opened it. Harold opened his and saw it was a medal. He immediately recognized it while the others looked at theirs in confusion.

“Lumber-smack medals!” Harold said sadly. Each one was a different shape: wiffles, lumbard spleener, timber smack and mud carfer medals.

“Yea! Yea! Lumber-smack! You lumber-smack?” Lars asked.

“I was terrible at it. I hated it!” Harold said.

“Me too! Terrible!” Lars said, still laughing. He then did an imitation of being hit in the head over and over and falling face forward, “Into water! Nearly drown!”

“How did you get these if you were so terrible?” Lonnie asked.

“Award store blow up in war! I find and keep! Now you all good at lumber-smack.”

“These are memories I’d rather forget,” Harold said.

“Me, too!” Lars said, “Do you know Ivan Olsen?”

“No.”

“Lumber-smack! Do you know Mikhail Olsen? Zach Olsen? All lumber-smack from my country. Now they are here! Here! Tow truck drivers! Ha ha! Oxnas everyone! Oxnas!”

“I take it Oxnas is some kind of celebration in your country?” Cal asked.

“Yea! Yea! Tree on head! Tree in house! Eat candies and cake, give boxes away, everyone laugh and be happy. Oxnas!”

“Wait!” Thad said, “Do that thing with your fingers. Listen to his fingers!”

He wiggled his fingers for Lars, who smiled and put his fingers to the table. He began to move them up and down along the table, making rut-a-rump-pump noises until they became rhythmic poundings moving up and down, faster and slower and keeping time. He kept going until his fingers went quickly from one side of the table to the other, ending in three quick pounds of his fist on the table signaling the end. Dishboys around him clapped.

Harold was looking Lars over when a security man walked up to him and put the purple badge hanging from a string around his neck and walked away.

“What did you do?” Thad asked.

“I have no idea,” Harold replied.

Lars looked at the purple badge and raised his finger as if to order, “I vant one!”

“No!” they cried out, pushing his finger down so no one would see him.

 

 

HAROLD IS SENT TO A NEW JOB

 

Slowly the bus lumbered down the long dirt road to the dump. The bus was half full of dish boys, all looking down or out the window. No one was talking or looking at anyone. He thought it was going to stop at the dump, but it kept going. It went past the dump to a large marsh and then a giant field where large flower bulbs grew. He looked out and slowly realized the field was filled with people standing over the bulbs tending to them. The bulbs were so tall they were chest high. In front of the field was a sign written in a language they could not understand. It wasn’t even an alphabet so much as scribbles here and there, but it was not like the squiggly figures he had been collecting. At the bottom of the sign was some kind of company logo in the shape of a red hourglass that was sideways.

The bus came to a stop and the driver hopped up. “Dishboys out!” He yelled. As they marched past him and out the door, a man in a blue uniform and blue armband was waiting with a clipboard. He called out first names only and crossed them off. He led them over to the beginning of the field where another man in blue was holding a wheelbarrow full of crescent shaped knives, bags and clothes like the ones used to dry dishes. The man in charge grabbed one of the huge stems and bent it over until the bulb was in his face.

“Pay careful attention! This is a new crop Dane is trying. It is a rare additive from one of the conquered lands. As you approach the bulbs, you will see several slits along the bulb. You will be handed a special knife and a bag. You are to scrape the substance that is coming out of the bulb and put it into the bag. Be careful that you do not get the substance on you as it is sticky and can cause problems.”

“I thought we were working the dump!” one dishboy yelled.

“Silence!” the man in blue yelled. “You have to be very careful here. Since you are beginning, if you start to feel dizzy you can walk over to the dump and sit down a spell. If you get any of the sap on your hands, wipe it off with your cloth.

Knives, clothes and bags were handed out to the dishboys.

“We’re only here for a day, right?” one dishboy yelled out.

“Silence! You are here all week! Each of you is assigned a sector. You will be led by a worker to your area and you are to begin scraping. Let the trainers do the cutting. Do not interrupt them.

“Can we talk to them?” Harold asked.

“You can try,” the man in charge said, but they won’t understand you. They are from conquered lands and have been doing this their whole life. They are busy and do not like to be bothered.”

A young woman wearing a red scarf that covered her face up to her eyes walked over to him and led him into the field. He could not see her face, but her eyes were an intense green as if she could set fire to him at will. Harold tried to ask her a question, but she only shook her head and responded in a language he did not understand. The man in command laughed.

“I told you. She doesn’t speak your language at all. She will show you what to do.”

She led him deep into the field to where they were surrounded by tall plants with what looked like green light bulbs on top. She bent one over, pointed to some small slits, took the crescent-shaped knife and began scraping the black sticky tar coming out, putting it into the bag. She did one more and then handed the knife to Harold. He slowly began to scrape one while she nodded. When a little bit of the sticky substance fell onto his hand, she quickly wiped it away with a cloth, taking care not to touch it. As he did this he realized he could hear some kind of buzzing electrical sound, but he couldn’t place it. Like a giant fly somewhere out in the field.

While he scraped the black tar-like substance into a bag, she took out a knife with three blades on it and began to slit the bulbs on the other side where there were no marks. White goo came out of the bulb and she just left it there, while she moved to the next one. She was far quicker than he was and despite his best efforts, he kept cutting himself. As he cut, the tar got into the cuts and he began to feel woozy. He found himself lying on the ground face down. The girl was pushing him and helped him up. She said something in her language and pointed out towards the marsh. He made his way out and sat down on a rock pile at the edge of the dump with his head in his hands.

They made their way through the fields for what seemed like forever until a bus horn rang. She stopped him and pointed him towards the sound of the bus. He took a few steps and turned around, but she was gone, disappearing into the field of bulbs.

The ride home was foggy as he struggled to stay awake. He made his way to his room and quickly fell asleep. That night he had the strangest dream. He was walking through the same field when he came upon a bright wall. It was only the length and height of the bus he had been on, but it was almost blinding and was making the same buzzing sound he heard in the field.

He moved forward to touch it, but awoke just as his fingers were inches away. He had a throbbing headache as an alarm went off through a speaker. It was time for him to return to work.

The bus took his group to the fields. He was again working with the same young woman with the red scarf around her face. This time he was careful as he scraped the black tar into the bag.

“What is this for?” he asked as she continued to slit the bulbs with her knife. She answered in her own language and he had no idea until she turned and said “Fidgisets.”

As they worked, the buzzing noise was getting louder until they came to a wire fence as tall as the buses that must have been electric. Harold reached out and quickly touched it, but felt nothing. He touched it again and felt nothing. He gripped it and was turning to tell the young woman it was off when he felt a shovel against the back of his shoulders and head and down he went. When he came to, the young woman was standing over him. It wasn’t a shovel; the fence was electric and pulsing. He had been hit with a burst of voltage. The woman looked relieved when he came to and uttered, “Don’t do that again!”

Harold looked up at her stunned that he understood her. She spoke in a thick accent, “You are ill. Go sit on the dump pile. The third one.”

Harold still looked at her, amazed that he understood her. She dropped her scarf revealing a stunning face that was full of fire. With her green eyes burning at him, she yelled “Go!” She reached into the field and pulled out a shovel and handed it to him.

“Dig!” she said “Do not be seen!”

Harold managed to stand up, his back and shoulders still aching from the electric blast he had been given by the fence. He walked from the field to the dump, counting the hills as he walked. As he walked around a giant mound of dirt, there was a dishboy on the ground throwing up. He went over to help. It was Bobby.

“Get away from me,” Bobby snapped and then he grimaced and held his stomach, “Don’t eat the bulbs. Don’t eat them.” He continued retching in the ground and Harold walked past him towards another pile of dirt.

At the third pile of dirt, he stopped and walked halfway up it, having no idea what to look for. And then he spotted it. It was a portion of the coffin he had seen before. He looked around and quickly shoveled, uncovering it. He popped the lid with the shovel and opened it. It was full of papers. He ruffled through them until he felt a clank. He continued digging into the coffin and found a small metal box. It was only as thick as his thumb and the size of a hand purse. He returned to the young woman in the field and showed it to her. She pulled out a little tool and popped the lock. Inside was a notebook, a little bigger than two hands. She pulled the notebook out and tossed the box into the field. She took the notebook and stuffed it down Harold’s pants.

“You are sick. You have too much tar on you. Sit until it is time to go. Give her the book. You will not be sent back here,” She said, looking at him.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Harold asked.

“I am Gulu, Gimilu’s sister. Go, may you have only luck. I will tell them you are sick.”

Gulu disappeared into the field. Harold sat and waited until the bus horn beeped loudly. He took the long bus ride back quietly thinking about the field and the book he was hiding. That night he fell asleep with thoughts of Gulu, looking at him and flapping her arms like a bird. “Fly!” she kept saying, “Fly!”

 

 

HAROLD’S NEXT MORNING

 

“Up! Up!” the speaker rattled out. Harold awoke, put on his dishboy uniform and hopped on the bus. He arrived at the Merlot and looked for his friends.

When he arrived, they were sitting at their station waiting to start. They seemed eager to talk to him.

“Did you hear?” Thad asked, “The star was early! They made us go to bed early!”

“It was only five minutes early. No big deal.” Lonnie said as he got his uniform smoothed out before heading to their work station.

“No big deal? It’s never done that before. Cal, you’ve been here fifty million years. Has it ever done that before?”

Cal thought a second and shook his head, “No, but it started coming earlier a few days ago, you kozoheads didn’t notice it before. It was a minute early a few days ago and then two minutes the day after that.”

“So tomorrow it will be six minutes?” Lonnie asked.

“No, but think about it. The moon is really the only thing we see moving across the sky at night and that is really slow.” Thad said

“There are other stars out there, the city lights are too bright and drown the rest out. Once you get away from it, there are tons of stars,” Harold stated.

“I used to see them when I was young,” Cal mused, “They turned on giant spotlights outside of the city and aimed them upwards so you hardly see anything except the moon and maybe a star or two. The Beauty Star is the only one we see actually moving across the sky.”

“That’s what sends us to bed!” Thad exclaimed.

“They’ll correct it.” Lonnie said.

“How? They can’t get up to a moving star!” Thad said, “Pretty soon we’ll be going to bed as soon as we get off work!”

“No” Lonnie argued, “They’ll ignore the star and send us to bed at ten like they always do.”

“Harold? Dishboy Harold?” a voice called out.

Harold turned and saw it was a security man.

“You’re wanted for a moment. Follow me.”

He pointed towards a room. Harold turned, opened the door and walked in. The room was empty so he closed the door and sat down in a chair.

He nervously wondered what kind of trouble he was in and waited. A side door opened. In walked Talitha Moore.

“Hi Harold” Talitha said. Harold sat up straight in shock.

“Just a quick question, where is the notebook?” Talitha asked.

“Hidden in my room.” Harold answered.

“Did you look at it?” Talitha continued.

“I opened it. It is kind of hard to read. I think it was written by a relative of yours. She had a last name of Moore-Taylor.”

Talitha thought about it for a moment.

“There were Taylor’s on my mother’s side of the family. The Royal Banquet is in one week. Bring it to the banquet. Wear a flower on your jacket.” Talitha said, moving closer to him.

“We aren’t allowed to wear flowers,” Harold protested.

“You’ll be allowed. I will walk up to you and ask you about it. In the mingling of the crowd you will hand me the notebook.”

“I don’t think you will get in trouble for an old notebook.” Harold said.

“I was never here. Do not tell your friends and do not tell Prince Robert if he asks.” Talitha said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

“Prince Robert! Why would he want to talk to me? I am never in trouble.” Harold worried.

“You never know with him. If he asks just deny. If he ever says he saw us talking or heard we did, simply say I demanded to know your name and you were too scared to tell me and just walked away.”

“Ok” Harold said, confused.

“I’ll see you in a week.” Talitha said, ruffling his hair.

Harold got up and headed towards the door.

“Harold!” Talitha called out as he started to open the door. “Wear a flower. A pretty one. Pick one from outside where you stay at night. I’ll look for it. Walk out the door very fast.”

Harold opened the door and walked out, almost bumping into another dishboy. He started to walk quickly down the hall when he heard a distinct laugh. It was Lars.

“Ha ha ha! I saw. I saw you talking to voo-man!” Lars kept saying.

Harold tried to shush him and quickly walked down the hallway as Lars kept laughing.

Harold headed back to where his co-workers were. Thad, Lonnie and Cal were still murmuring.

“I count about a dozen missing. Joey, Vartan, Vitoly, Wayne and a few others.” Thad was saying as he looked out over the room.

“How are they notifying them?” Lonnie was asking

“What did I miss?” Harold asked.

“They are sending dishboys into battle” Cal mused, “Off to war. They send us wherever to do whatever and we just do it. I suppose we’ll still wear the armbands in battle as well.”

“They just go missing. I thought they were sent to a punishment job somewhere but it’s been over a week so they must have been sent on a troop ship somewhere.” Thad said.

Harold tried to join in the conversation, but he was too nervous over what had happened and just kept looking around to see if anyone was looking at him.

THE ROYAL BANQUET

 

It was the Annual Royal Banquet Ball at the Merlot. Started by King John when he was young, it was a night when dishboys at the Merlot did not have to work and instead got to feast. The royal family was not fond of it, but King John had loved it and when he died, it became a kind of tribute to him. It was considered the dishboys’ night off. For the evening, the Merlot was staffed by dishboys from other hotels and a handful of the royal staff of 500 workers at Semailles Castle to make sure the evening went smoothly for the King and Queen.

It was also considered an important night for possible promotions. If some of the dishboys from the lesser hotels had performed exceptionally, they could be next in line for any Merlot positions that opened. If any dishboys at the banquet behaved themselves and impressed any royal members they could be considered for a position at Semailles Castle.

Harold, Thad, Lonnie and Cal were cleaning dishes in the back when the first dishboys from other hotels began arriving to take over their duties for the night.

“Not a one over twenty-five,” Thad snorted. All young, dumb and naïve. Each one of them is convinced they’ll be here next month taking one of our jobs. Hah!

“They never pick the older ones,” Cal said, “The older ones know better.”
“They’re all in the bathroom,” Thad laughed, “They come out and ask, ‘where is everyone?’”

 The group worked until it was time to go home. They took the bus back to their rooms, quickly changed and returned to the Merlot. This was the first time Harold was going to the Merlot at night and he was excited. He had to get home, change and return by 6 pm for the banquet. Royalty would show up at 7 and the King and Queen an hour later.

Harold ran back to his room. His worries about what he would wear were answered when he found a neatly pressed outfit hanging from a wall; black suit, pants, bow tie and black shoes below it. He put them on and then opened a drawer and looked at the journal he was to give to Talitha. He tried various places and then found it fit perfectly inside a large interior pocket. He slid it in.

As he walked down the hall and down a flight of steps out into the courtyard, he stopped and looked at a large bush. It was blooming tiny red flowers. He grabbed one, stuck it in his top pocket and continued on to the bus that would carry the dishboys back.

As they clambered onto the bus, Thad looked at him and his flower.

“What the gobsmack are you wearing?” Thad asked.

“A flower,” Harold replied.

“I know what it is. What is it doing on your jacket? Red flowers are a symbol of marriage. Wearing it means you are married to someone and the marriage has been approved.”

“I was asked to wear it.” Harold replied meekly.

“Red flowers are also a symbol of the Merlot,” Lonnie stated, “Just tell them you felt incomplete without your red jack and pants on and had to wear something red to show you still worked at the Merlot. And by the way, that is going to fall out of your jacket in a heartbeat. Get one of the working dishboys at the hotel to get you a pin when you arrive and pin it to your jacket.”

When they returned, Harold looked around at all the dishboys working. It was strange – he didn’t recognize a single face – all the new young dishboys were working eagerly in hopes they would land a job at the Merlot.

“Come on, we have a table already,” Thad said as the group walked into the ballroom. They walked through the banquet room as the tables were filling up. Harold noticed that the lights were dimmer than usual creating a very different atmosphere from when he and the other dishboys were working. At each table were gifts. As they sat down, Thad ripped into his.

“I think we’re supposed to wait on those,” Cal warned.

“I don’t care. I want mine now.” Thad responded as he continued ripping open the gift. It was a package of fidgisets in a new black box. Thad looked them over and then sniffed. He looked at each gift, “I think we all got these.”

“They make me cough,” Harold frowned as he looked down at his little package.

“Good. Then I’ll take yours.” Thad said as he grabbed Harold’s.

“Take mine, too,” Lonnie said as he looked at his package.

Thad eagerly grabbed each one. As he ripped open each one, Harold noticed the new emblem on each one. There was the small sideways hourglass on each package. “Can’t wait to try these,” Thad muttered as he sniffed each package.

Lonnie tapped Harold and pointed at a table far away. “Talitha is sitting over there. Her back is to us. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of her from the front.”

A bell rang signaling that everyone was to take their seat. Harold, Lonnie, Thad and Cal sat down and soon Lars and Willie joined them. At a second bell, everyone stood and soon the royal family members entered with their guards. General Corsa entered just ahead of the three young princes. Carl grabbed the table and quickly sat, while Daniel sauntered around and took a seat next to Talitha Moore. Prince Robert slowly entered, looked over the table and took a seat on the other side of Talitha.

A third bell rang as the King and Queen entered. “I can’t help but think there should be something more as they enter,” Harold wondered.

“Sshhhhh,” Cal quieted him, “We stand. That’s it.”

“No, but some more bells or cheering or something. They’re royalty.” Harold whispered.

At that moment, Talitha turned her head and looked directly at Harold. Harold gulped.

“I think she heard you,” Lonnie whispered.

“You are in a lot of trouble, dishboy,” Thad giggled. “Once again; you got Talitha Moore to notice you.”

As the group feasted, the three princes argued at their table.

“I swear if they riot after Father leaves, I shall flog the lot of them in broad daylight in front of a jeering crowd.” Robert sneered as he looked at all the dishboys, “This entire banquet is a sham. We should only be doing this for visiting dignitaries or for ourselves, not for dishboys. It disgusts me.”

“If they ever saw war, they would be more seasoned and far more effective servers. I find the men who follow me never make mistakes or sway from my direction. They are loyal to a fault.” Carl said, ripping into his meat and gulping it in great chomps.

“Listening to you two is the reason I drink. I prefer a pint of Beeka over listening to a boor and a buffoon.”

“Go ahead, have a few drinks, brother,” Robert smiled, “Let Father see you drunk again and maybe he’ll stick you with General Corsa for three years instead of one. Here, let me order two pints for you.” And he raised two fingers up to attract a dishboy’s attention. Maybe you would prefer a night of neverending Phishman’s and some Shinola to fill you up. I can tell Gimilu is going to start something at any minute and I cannot touch him. His doltish companion Caladrino is with him. Him I can do something to if he starts something along with the group over there.”

“Caladrino brings our mother flowers on her birthday and made roasted walnuts for our father on his, neither of which you do.” Daniel sighed, shaking his head.

“I bring meat on their birthdays,” Carl bellowed, “something neither of you do!”

“We are fully aware of your cacador-like ways when you bring Mommy and Daddy a mule deer you caught with your army of lookouts.” Robert sneered at him, “I half suspect you just go to the petting zoo and shoot one.”

“The last one I shot was from high up on a mountain, from nearly half a mile away. I dropped him with a single shot between the eyes, fought off a pack of wolves, field dressed him there and carried him over my shoulder back over two miles to a wagon and brought it back home for our parents!”

Daniel was about to argue, when a dishboy brought a large cantor of Beeka. Daniel looked at it, wondering if he should drink or not when Robert grabbed a tall glass, filled it and gently slid it to him, eagerly inviting him to imbibe. He looked over at Talitha, who gave him a stare suggesting he not take a sip. He pushed it back towards the center of the table.

A young woman came rushing over to their table and kneeled before Talitha, “Talitha Moore! Novello Pardo with The Grevere Times; a quick interview before dinner begins. Please!”

“Very well,” Talitha replied, “I am glad to be back in Grevere after long months recuperating from my accident where I…”

“No! No! Wait!” Novello shrieked as she pulled out some papers and handed a sheet to Talitha, “This is a scripted interview. We do scripted interviews.”

Talitha looked at her paper as Novello began the interview again.

“How are you feeling?” Novello recited from the script.

“Good,” Talitha said, reading her script aloud.

“Can you see?”

“Yes,” Talitha answered looking at the script in disbelief.

“Are you looking forward to the appetizing salad and the fish?”

“We’re having fish?”

“Just say ‘Yes please,” Novello pleaded.

“Yes.”

“The royal chef has prepared a wonderful dessert; do you look forward to it?”

“I suppose.”

“Are you looking forward to having servants again on your island?”

“I have no servants. I do my own housework and gardening. I rather enjoy that.”

Novello winced and forced a smile while continuing.

“But still, that kind of work is for the help, not someone like you.”

“I believe strongly that if you disconnect yourself from people who work hard for a living and their survival depends on it, you cut yourself off from most of mankind. How can one be a proper person if one only spends time with people who are surrounded by help?”

“Stop! Please!” Novello pleaded again, “What are you wearing?”

“Clothes. I decided to wear clothes.” Talitha replied, causing Daniel to snicker.

“I’ll take that to mean a Garzava deliciously red sequined Valois dress with Lord Yearling Silver Sparkled High Platform Sandal” she read on and then looked Talitha over, “…except you’re not wearing them.”

“It never made it to the island. Princess Isabella made me this dress.”

“Wait,” Novello responded, in shock, “Princess Isabella is on the island with you? King John’s daughter?”

“Yes. She lives next door. We talk often. She’s helping me find out what these papers are with strange writing that keep popping up.”

“There have been rumors about that. That you are obsessed with collecting strange pieces of paper with indecipherable squiggly lines. Did blindness cause madness at all?” Novello pressed in.

“No, it’s just that I am finding out there is far more to life than what I thought. Blindness opened my eyes in a sense. I began to feel there are many things missing in our lives and I am beginning to believe they once were part of our lives and should be again.”

“We should all have papers with funny squiggly lines? For what? Paper looks like that to me any way if I have too much aka tea.”

“I no longer drink the aka tea. I stick to water,” Talitha explained, “I think it dulls the senses and makes one just languish in a chair thinking about nothing. I don’t like that.”

Novello thought a minute and then replied. “No that is not part of the script. I can’t.” And with that, Novello departed.

Back at Harold’s table, the group was being served and Harold realized he had never actually seen the plates like this full of such delicious-looking food. He was always at the back end what was left off of the plates. This was nothing like the food dishboys ate.

First off was the introductory dish, a salad. Unlike the lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes in the salads he always ate, this one had several different types of lettuce with different colored leafs. There were tomatoes as well, but in different shapes and colors. There were some chunks of what looked like soft green cheese and it tasted quite good! There seemed to be some fruits and to his surprise, walnuts that were sugary. It was covered with a dressing he had never tasted before – clear and sour and bitter, but were quite good when matched with the salad. He had never had fruits like this with such a powerful, wonderful flavor. Even the lettuce had a taste to it that the lettuce they had in the cafeteria lacked. It was excellent and as he finished he looked up at the others at his table. To his embarrassment, no one else had even started.

“Way to go, Harold. Why don’t we just grab all the entrees at once so you can wolf them down,” Thad laughed.

“Err, Harold, no one is going to take it away from you. You are given time to eat at the banquet.” Lonnie whispered to him.

The next dish was the main course, a large plate with a portion of fish, covered in various fruits in a kind of syrup. He recognized pineapple as he had washed plates off with such pieces on it. Next to it was a green vegetable that looked like long green beans but was thicker and had little sprouts at the top, as if it was a small tree that had been cut before it could grow. He thought it would be hard to cut, but it was tender. It also was quite good. He ate a bit slower this time, timing his bites and chewing at the same speed of others so he would not finish first.

Finally, there was dessert. It arrived in a bowl and had a few scoops of different colored ice creams, some kind of lemon-tasting cake, some berries around it and swirls of a kind of syrup squirted around the dessert. This was not just for eating, he thought; it was just as much fun to look at. He kept staring at it until Cal leaned over to him, “You’re supposed to eat it.”

“I could look at it forever,” Harold proclaimed, “This is amazing! This is nothing like we get to eat during out lunch breaks!”

“This we get to eat,” Thad sighed, “The other stuff we have to eat. That’s the difference.”

“Once dinner is done, do we go home?” Harold asked. The entire table burst into laughter. Even Willie laughed.

“Harold, there is a sport and then conversation,” Willie explained, “We gather and talk to each other while standing about and then after the King and Queen leave, we talk some more and then we go home. The evening is quite young.”

A glass appeared. It was like a little vase and had little cuts along the glass so that it looked like snowflakes around it. He was looking intently at the glass, when a dishboy appeared, “May I fill your glass, sir?” Harold was too taken aback to answer. No one had ever called him “sir”.  No one had ever asked if they could do something for him.”

“He’ll have one,” Thad answered for him.

The dishboy filled the glass two-thirds full with what looked like rusty water, except that it fell a bit slower.

“Fine Brandy,” Calvin said to him, “The King’s favorite.”

Harold took a sip. It burned a little, but felt warm and it seemed to build a fire in his stomach, not an uncomfortable one, but one that made him aware that his stomach was there.

“A poem!” Thad cried out, “Calvin! A poem!”

“What kind do you want,” Cal asked him, “One about the human condition? One about our dinner? One about love?”

“Love!” Thad cried out, “Tell us a poem about love!”

Cal thought a second, then pushed his chair back. All movement at the table stopped. Even Willie was waiting. Slowly Cal began:

 

I saw a brilliant falling star

And ran to try and catch it

But the star was up too high

My speed could never match it

 

I saw it leave its trail of gold

And figured I could find it

But the gold was far too bright

I could have never mined it

 

And so I figured, no more stars

No more for this old pup

But as I walked on with my head down

I found my eyes peered up

 

Another flashed across the sky

My heart just leapt for joy

And I went chasing over hills

Just like a little boy

 

“Oookay, not bad, not bad.” Thad replied, what about one about this evening. Don’t tell me you have already written one about this event already.”

“Certainly. I have one about this evening. It’s about my story telling. It’s about my anecdotes. It’s about my life. It’s about my memories of Grevere from long ago and Willie’s too.” Cal ventured on.

“Just recite it!” Thad yelled.

“Go ahead,” Willie said, “I want to hear this.”

Cal stood and began to recite,

 

As we gathered at the banquet day

To hear the gent from town

Who spoke to us of such strange tales

That always kept him down

 

He told us of the silver hair

That once was dashing blond

A twinkling smile and jolly laugh

So long ago were conned

 

We heard about the fearless feats

Of dealing with dishboys

From silver spoons to metal plates

Washing with such joys

 

He spoke about the life and times

Of things so long ago

When wars and Kings were reigning greats

And lights fulfilled the show

 

He spoke of times when all was dark

And people held in cower

Of times when all Grevere was dark

In the three years without power

 

He spoke of times when beauties reigned

Inside the royal shell

With a daughter oh so beautiful

Whose name was Isabel

 

Her name in lights the family held

Such feats today must pale

And we were all still working here

Enjoying Fishman’s Ale

 

And when the day was over

And all the drinking done

We raised our glass and gave a toast

To Cal, the dishman’s son

 

Several tables applauded around Cal, who did not realize others were listening and he sat down embarrassed. Even Willie was moved.

“Isabella,” Willie said to himself, “There was royalty.”

“You will be remembered forever, Calvin,” Thad said as he patted Cal on the back, “Forever you will reign in this hall as a poet-dishboy.”

“What about the one you were going to do about the human condition?” Harold asked.

“The human condition,” Calvin pondered, “The human condition. Well, it’s a poem about life in Grevere, but I would need a good fidgisetery and some more brandy.”

Willie quickly waved two fingers for a dishboy and then pulled two fidgiseteries out of his pocket and handed one to Calvin.

“My goodness! I may die tonight!” Cal stammered.

“Recite!” Willie demanded.

“Wait, let me finish this,” Cal said taking the fidgisetery and leaning forward for a light.

He was still smoking, when a bell rang several times and a large curtain opened. In front were two men sitting on a long pole over a padded area. Each had a helmet and was holding a log.

Harold nearly fell over, it was lumber-smack! Lars began laughing and clapping excitedly. “Yes! Ha ha! Ha ha! It is Mike and Ivan! It is Mike and Ivan! No, wait. It is Ivan, but who is that?”

Harold looked closer and was stunned. It was Johnny Bazzer! Twistle’s star player! He was in Grevere playing lumber-smack at the Royal Banquet. He couldn’t believe it! The other player was far bigger and both had padding. Both players were staring at each other intently. At the sound of a whistle, they began to match each other block for block with their logs. This was a good player Johnny was playing against. Each was blocking perfectly, wiffles, lumbard spleeners, mud carfer and even a good lumber-smack.

“Who is man on other side? He is very good!” Lars said, “Ivan smack me into lake in seconds!”

Johnny got in a few wiffles and during one he switched to a lumbard spleener and lumber-smack and the other player was flat on the ground. Dishboys cheered and royalty clapped.

The curtain closed and then opened again and two new players were on the pole facing each other.

“That guy was from my home town!” Harold gasped, “I’ve got to talk to him! I want to know how everyone is!”

“Once the entertainment is over and some of the royal family leave their tables, we can mill around and talk to people,” Thad told him, “but you want to talk to royalty. They are the ones who can get you a job at Semailles Castle and the court. There your job is a bit easier and more focused, polishing specific tables over and over, measuring the distances between the royal chairs and the table, deciding which drinks go where and your dwellings are far more upscale as you need to be near the royal family. It is almost as good as hitting the dishboy lottery.”

“I thought you, Cal and Lonnie would be there by now,” Harold said, looking the trio over, “You three work very hard.”

Thad laughed, “They like them young and innocent at the court, not jaded and looking at everyone like they are stupid. You still have the eager-to-please look about you. The Queen would adore you.”

“Look, Talitha is the first one getting up.” Lonnie said as Talitha stood and pushed her chair back. She turned toward the group’s table.

“She’s probably going to yell at Harold for talking,” Thad said, but he then grew nervous as she continued towards their table, “Oh, she really is coming over here. Uh, oh. What did we do?”

As Talitha approached, Bobby got in Harold’s face, “You son of a camel-ass. You got me kicked out!”

“How?” Harold asked.

I set up a bucket of water on top of a door you were walking through and you decided to stop and talk to someone and Willie walked through instead. Now I have to leave the banquet.”

“That’s your own fault. I did not set the bucket up. You did,” Harold laughed.

Bobby spotted Talitha walking over, “Oh, hello, ugly girl. Fancy a kesserlip later?”

“Show some respect.” Harold said, shoving Bobby.

Bobby went to take a swing at Harold, but Thad and Lonnie grabbed him. Security raced over and escorted him out.

Talitha looked at everyone and then at Harold. She went over and stood in front of him. “That was quite brave. Why do you have a flower on your jacket?” She asked.

“Because you-,” Harold replied before quickly cutting himself off when Talitha gave him look to say nothing further.

“Because someone suggested a flower. I thought everyone was wearing them.”

“He wore it to remind himself that he works at the Merlot. Red flower, Merlot, right Harold?” Lonnie nudged Harold.

“Yes. It is a live flower I picked from our courtyard.”

Talitha leaned forward to smell it. “Mmmm, a red star cluster. Tiny and yet a wonderful sweet smell to attract birds and butterflies. One of my favorites.”

She leaned forward again to inhale the flower and put her hands on his chest. Slowly, her hand slid into his jacket. He expected her to reach for the notebook, but instead she ran her hands over his chest and then reached into his jacket and grabbed the journal. She gently kissed him on the neck and whispered in his ear, “I’m sorry if I have awakened your other senses.” With that she smiled at him. She pulled two large fidgiseteries out of her purse and turned towards Willie and Cal. She slid one into Cal’s jacket pocket and one into Willie’s.

“Enjoy, gentlemen!” And with that she walked away.

“I’m sconced,” Thad exhaled, “I’m completely sconced. Now I truly do need a fidgiset.”

From the princes’ table Robert watched and jolted with shock, “Wha – she kissed a dishboy! She just kissed the neck of a dishboy and whispered in his ear! Daniel! You should run a sword through him!”

“Oh, please. We are not going together. She has kissed people on the cheek as a means of affection many times.” Daniel responded.

“She kissed me on the cheek once,” Carl said as they looked at him, “We were but fifteen years of age, but she did nonetheless. She never did kiss you Robert, did she?”

“She only had eyes for the drunken one,” Robert sighed.

“She sat with you once,” Daniel reminded him, “You corrected her on her choice of shoes and dress and hair and the way she talked. She walked away.”

Carl burst out laughing, “My brother, destined to never have a woman in his life.”

“Because I watched what they did to you.” Robert recalled, “One talked you into eating a mud pie, another slapped you and yet another pushed you into a pond.”

“The slap you probably deserved,” Daniel responded. Carl shrugged like he was right.

“And one, perhaps two drove you to drink,” Robert continued, “I see no one here with one at the table. My brothers, you continually lose focus of the day when one of us shall rule. I for one have no plans to fall into the trap of the seven deadly sins.”

“Here we go again,” Carl moaned, “We are bad. We live a wasted life despite my conquering village after village and kingdom after kingdom.”

“While your military skills are good, though no match for General Corsa, you have grown fat and soft. Look at you, large belly – gluttony, lust and anger and covetousness. You eat when you want, what you want, you grab a maiden you like by her hair and take her. You take offense at anything and are quick to fight. Your anger surfaces whenever it feels like, if a bird crosses your path unexpectedly or the sun goes behind a cloud you get angry.”

“That was when I was young. I have improved,” Carl said, defending himself.

“And you, dear Daniel, sloth is your sin along with gluttony when it comes to drink. You had such promise and yet you do nothing. You are supposed to be the one who inherits the kingdom and yet you drink it away. If General Corsa’s trip cannot fix you, you are doomed.”

“Now all you have to do is fix your own deadly sins, pride being the main one. You have denied yourself everything and you let everyone know that you have. Every self-achievement you have bragged about. Every self-denial is floated about like a trial balloon you want everyone to see.”

“That is only because I believe others should follow and not be distracted from so many things that take away focus and diminish strength. And out of the seven I only suffer one.”

“Two!” both brothers called out.

“Envy, you envy everyone. You envied my relationship with Talitha. You envy Carl’s medals and victories. You envy Father’s respect and Mother’s following among common people. You envy General Corsa’s victories when it was he who turned around our battle on Charterton and keeps the Panatikos isolated on an island an ocean away.

Robert ignored them and kept his eye on Talitha before he spoke. “I am going to briefly make my way around the room before departing from this venture. I shall bid you both good evening and see you at breakfast in the morrow.”

Robert stood up from the table and began to walk around, wishing well to guests at tables everywhere. Daniel and Carl stood and followed suit as the King and Queen watched.

Robert made his way quickly over to Harold’s table and looked at them all. “And a fine evening it is, fellow Danes. I hope you are all well and enjoying the meal.”

“Yes, we are, very much so. Thank you, my lord,” Thad replied.

“I recognize most of you from previous banquets, but for you. What is your name?” Robert asked.

“Harold, dishboy Harold from Twistle.”

“I see Miss Moore made her way over to this table to talk to you. Why?” Robert asked, leaning in.

“She asked why he brought a flower to the banquet,” Lonnie jumped in, “He said if he wasn’t wearing the red suit, he was wearing a red flower instead as an ode to the Merlot even though he wasn’t working here tonight.”

“I think young Harold can answer for himself. Tell me, are you the dishboy who won the trip to Leboth Island where Miss Moore lives?”

“Yes,” Harold barely replied, “I was the one.”

“Did you see Miss Moore while you were there?”

“No, well, yes. She arrived early and startled me at the main mansion there. I was so afraid I leaped out a window and ran for the boat. I didn’t think she saw my face, but tonight she was letting me know she did.” Harold seemed to be confessing.

“And did that include a kiss on the cheek?” Robert demanded to know.

“That I think was for shock value,” Willie interjected, “You should have seen the look on his face. I think he nearly died on the spot.”

“Indeed, I did. I did.”

He patted Harold on the back and moved on.

“Good morrow, good prince! Sweet tidings of joy to you!” Thad called out.

Cal and Lonnie looked at each other and then at Thad, “Korich neffer!”

“No! Not at all!” Thad protested, “Is it not a duty to respond in kind when a prince visits your table? I was simply returning greetings!”

“No, it’s not at all,” Cal told him, “Normally you sit and sulk. Did you want a job at the royal court polishing tables?”

“After all these years, it seems like a nice position to hold,” Thad replied.

The Queen turned to the King, “You don’t look so well. Shall we go?”

“Perhaps it is this food or the drink. It was a grand evening. We shall retire.” The King replied.

The King signaled his footmen and they gathered around. Everyone stood as the King and Queen slowly made their way out of the ballroom. Prince Carl and Daniel followed.

None of the dishboys noticed as the King stumbled and started to collapse. The Queen held on to him as Daniel came up from behind and kept him from dropping to the ground. Carl was staring at the proceedings and did not notice until he almost bumped into the King. He grabbed the King as well and they helped him out of the banquet room.

“That’s it,” Thad smiled, “I can get Gimilu back.”

“Give it a rest,” Cal warned, “We don’t need the night to immediately degenerate into a food fight as soon as they leave.”

“Thad, we usually give it at least an hour. Go smoke a fidgiset.” Lonnie stated.

Thad sighed, grabbed a pack of fidgsets and headed for a door, keeping an eye out for Gimilu.

“Where did the lumber-smack people go? Are they coming out?” Harold asked.

“Probably not.” Lonnie answered “They’re in the back changing. They go home. The banquet is for dishboys of the Merlot. Go back and see if you can catch him. He probably has a train to catch back to his hometown. I’m surprised they brought him all the way from Twistle. That is a long ways away.”

Harold ran back behind the curtain and into the changing room. Several people were just finishing dressing and departing. There was no sign of Johnny Bazzer.

“Looking for someone?” a security man asked.

“One of the lumber-smacks.” Harold answered him, “He was from my hometown. I just wanted to say hello before he headed off.”

“The rest are just getting on the bus to the train depot. You’d better hurry,” the security man said before moving on.

Harold went around the back where a bus was waiting. A number of young men were lined up holding duffle bags waiting to get on the bus.

“Johnny! Johnny Bazzer!” Harold called out.

He called a few times and gave up. He was turning and heading back to the banquet when he heard a pounding on the bus window. It was Johnny Bazzer.

Johnny raced through the aisle of the bus and pushed his way past people getting in and ran to Harold, practically hugging him.

“It’s Fall-Down-Spewie! Harold! Harold Doucemek as I live and breathe!” Johnny yelled. Harold had not heard his last name said in ages. Johnny turned to the line and yelled “I used to beat this boy in lumber-smack on a daily basis from age four onward! I am completely sconced! I am sconced! I cannot believe I have run into someone from Twistle! Amazing! Simply amazing!”

He hugged Harold again and then looked sad, “Did you get back to our village before… well.”

“What happened to Twistle?” Harold asked.

“When the mine closed, they decided to make the place a generator station powered by water and the Lethe River runs through as you remember. They built a massive dam several miles down and the entire place was covered in 300 feet of water. It is a huge lake that supplies power to the entire area and also it is fresh water so no one can touch it or swim or fish in it.”

“Did they hire anyone in town to run it?”

“No. They moved everyone away where other factories needed workers. One third of the town was moved to Danton about two hours away, I think your parents were sent there. Another third was sent to Blankton closer to the city and a third were sent to Troutfield farther south. Everyone works in brutal factories. It is very physical work and breaks you down. I have been lucky and can still play lumber-smack so they send me around Dane. Believe me; fighting on a log for a few minutes is far easier than ten hours of brutal work in a factory. All of Twistle is fenced off and at the bottom of a lake – no one can get within miles of it.”

“Everything is covered?” Harold asked.

“Everywhere we played. Everywhere we went. Everywhere we worked and fought and hunted. The village square, the school, the factories, the mine, the train tracks, the statue for the town, our houses.” Johnny got emotional and stopped talking.

They gave everyone a week to move and then sent me on a lumber-smack tour of Dane. I have not seen a single person from Twistle since I left. I thought I never would until I heard you yelling my name. My name! I have not heard my name in ages! They gave us a new name when we left for playing league lumber-smack. Now I am only called The Conjurer.” And he laughed.

The bus horn honked, startling Johnny. “I’m still not used to buses or cities or the road, but I make a living. Still, I miss those days dearly. I had no idea they would end. I thought we would all be working in the mine and playing lumber-smack until we were too old to walk. Oh, it is so good to see you.”

The bus horn honked again. Johnny hugged him one last time, hopped up on the bus step and turned to him. “You take care of yourself, Harold. I’ll look you up if I ever get to Grevere again. I’ll look you up. You take care!”

Johnny turned and hopped to the aisle and walked to the end of it and looked out the back window. As the bus departed, Johnny waved to him. It started to drizzle. Harold looked up at the rain slowly increasing and sadly walked back towards the banquet hall.

As he did, he passed Thad, who grabbed him.

“These new fidgisets are amazing! They have a kind of menthol taste that really kicks. I feel like I could go in there and clean a thousand dishes without stopping! This is really incredible! I love these. Are my other packs on the table?” Thad asked him.

“I think so. When I left they were there.”

“Good, grab any other packs you see on the tables for me. I want a case of these!” Thad exclaimed and let out a whoop and raised his fist, “It’s raining and I don’t care!”

Harold ran to the door as the rain started. He passed Cal and Willie who were each enjoying their fidgiseteries and continued into the ballroom.

As he entered the ballroom, he spotted Talitha off by a window near some curtains looking out the window.

He stopped and looked at her. She was standing in an area where no one else could see her. She wanted to be alone. He wondered whether to go talk to her.

Before he could decide, to his horror, he saw Bobby running over to her. Bobby grabbed her. He had obviously had far too much wine.

“Now where were we, ugly girl,” He snarled at her.

Quick as a wink he was tackled by Harold. Both were struggling and fighting as Talitha watched and began to move closer to them. Both stood up and Bobby was a bit quicker and got a slug in across Harold’s face knocking his glasses off and sending him flying to the floor.

Bobby had barely recovered when he saw Talitha walking up to him. A quickly-timed kick forced him to drop to the ground moaning and holding his crotch. Two security men raced over and grabbed Bobby and dragged him away.

Talitha walked over to Harold’s glasses and picked them up as Harold was standing up. She put them on Harold, looking closely at his face.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Are you?” he asked back.

“I was always okay. I can defend myself. I don’t think you’ll have a black eye. He mostly hit your cheek.” She brushed him off and then led him over to the window.

“Have you ever seen the rain fall from the foyer?” Talitha asked him. “It is a wonderful sight.”

“Prince Robert interrogated me about you.” Harold told her. “He seemed quite agitated.”

“Really? Whatever could he be worried about?”

She led him by the hand down the hallway to a window by the large curtain. They looked out the window at the rain.

“I think Prince Robert likes you. He may even have stronger feelings for you and resent anyone feeling anything else towards you,” Harold warned her.

“I can handle Prince Robert. I was going with Prince Daniel for some time, but his thirst for drink got the better of him. Prince Robert has always been distant, but respectful. Now Prince Carl; that was another matter. You have not lived life until you have been fending off a drunken ravenous Prince Carl. Oh, my.”

“What? How?” Harold asked.

“Twice; when we were teenagers I managed to talk him out of it by holding his hands and convinced him it was wrong and that he would be stained as much as I was. I even invoked our Queen and that stopped him. In our twenties he was a bit drunker and by then I had been taught the mastery of self-defense by the King’s helmsman and I used the same technique I just did on that one. I am not afraid of any of the princes.”

They watched the rain fall until Talitha moved closer and turned to him. “I was once in an elevator with Prince Daniel. He had far too much wine and another man stepped into the elevator and began to berate me and call me names. I ignored him, but so did Daniel. He just stood there laughing. You didn’t stand there just now. You did something. I also want to thank you for getting me the notebook. That was very brave of you.”

It was nothing. I wasn’t feeling well anyway and I went and sat by the dirt pile and figured I might as well dig for it.

“You are far too modest. The princes would be falling all over themselves to brag about what they did for me. I heard from Gulu about your bravery. I am impressed. You even touched an electric fence to see if it was working?”

“Well, I thought it was off,” said Harold, “I found out otherwise.”

“Well, I for one am very grateful and look forward to reading what you gave me. I am very, very grateful.”

She moved closer and looked directly into his face, “Do my eyes still cause such deep breathing?”

He nodded, “Good” she replied and she leaned in until her lips gently touched his. She slowly put her arms around him and kissed him deeply.

“I have to tell you something,” Talitha said as she looked into his eyes.

She leaned closer and slowly uttered three words, “Li, La, Lu.”

She kissed him again and this time she did not stop.

Over at the window, Willie and Cal watched the rain.

“Calvin, what about your poem?” Willie asked.

“I read my poem,” Cal answered.

“No, your poem you wrote about the human condition and life in Grevere. You said you wrote one.”

“Oh, that. I wrote that some 20 years ago. I was standing out here looking over the lights of Grevere after a banquet. King John was gone and Princess Isabella as well. She was the last one to come to each table and greet people and remember their name. I used to be able to see the city lights from here before they built the Bel-Age and the Konteka Hotels. It hit me in seconds and I wrote it down on a royal napkin.” Cal mused as he looked out over what few lights could be seen.

“Do you still have it somewhere?” Willie asked.

“I remember it by heart.” Cal said and he recited his poem:

This city was meant to be for stars only

the glitter, the glamour

 

I saw them, traveling with the bright light

every night at ten, marching off into the vast bowl of bleach

 

It was funny

 

There I sat in my rags in my alley with my life

and they walked by in another dimension

totally oblivious to me, yet they seemed happy...

 

Willie thought about it and shrugged, “I have no idea what it means, but it sounds good.”

“Me neither,” Cal nodded, “It felt so much like it wasn’t coming from me so much as through me and I was just writing it down. It was strange. It was the only time that has happened to me.”

Cal and Willie stepped back inside to avoid the rain. They looked out the window and watched it fall, streaking on the glass.

“I’m going to go see how the substitute dishboys are doing. I’m hoping they are nowhere near as good as you boys are.” Willie said and headed down a hallway.

Calvin continued watching the rain. He was so engrossed that he was not aware of someone slowly moving up behind him.

“I love watching it rain,” Isabella said.

Calvin turned and looked at her, his jaw dropped. She continued, “Do you remember the old metal awning in the back of the hotel when the rain fell? It sounded like a thousand little hammers working away? I would listen and imagine that the rain was building something wonderful.”

“Yes, I remember. They tore it down years ago,” Cal replied, still looking at her.

“I remember one day it was raining and it fell on all these different objects in the back lot. There were jars with water in them and a cow bell and an upside down wheelbarrow and an old wooden barrel and each one was making this different sound as the rain fell. Each sound was different and it was like they were all working together to make sounds in unison. I tried going home and recreating it, but I couldn’t. When it rains it is like it is washing your day away. If anything went wrong that day, it will be okay. The rain will wash it away.”

“Princess Isabella…” Cal stammered.

“Please, Isabella. Calvin how are you? It’s been a long time.”

“You know me?” Cal asked.

“Cal, you were reciting poems in bars and in the back daily. I used to listen to a few of them. While you were working, I was walking around, watching and listening. Although some of them were more like bawdy sailor ditties,” she said, laughing.

“I have not seen you here in many years.”

“Twenty years since my father died. I could not bear to attend anymore. I went to the one after he passed and everyone was crying. It was too sad.”

“Where have you been?”

“On the island. On Leboth with Talitha. She is not sad. She is always happy.”

“Is she royalty?” Cal asked.

Isabella laughed, “She is beyond royalty. She is descended from people who could inspire people. They were moved to the island for protection centuries ago and remained hidden until King Edward went there to tell them they were no longer in danger, but they remained on the island. I used to visit there as a child. It was my second home thanks to my mother. She wanted me to stay there after King John died so I did.”

“It must have been lonely for her growing up there.” Cal wondered aloud.

“She had two sisters, but they passed on from illness. She blamed it on the aka tea and refused to touch it. Her mother was one of nine sisters that lived on the island. Evidently nine ran in the family regularly. Her mother told her that in ancient times each sister had a specific influence, but what it was is unknown. As she talked she looked at his hands. She looked closer and grew concerned. She reached for his hands to look at them and he balked for a second, surprised.

“It’s okay. I know hands. I know them very well. I just want to look at them.”

She carefully looked Cal’s hands over and slowly ran her hands over his palms and then his fingers. She looked at them with sadness and then smiled at him as if reassuring him.

“It’s getting late, you’ll have to go home soon,” Isabella whispered to him.

“I have no home,” Cal replied, “I have a room I go to.”

“What is the last place you called home?” Isabella asked.

Cal thought a moment. “When I lived at home with my parents I suppose. I was a young lad of maybe 16 or so and one morning they called me into the living room and told me I had a job in Grevere. There were no jobs in my hometown. They took me to an old service station up on a hill by a main road that had long been closed and put a backpack on me and told me a bus would be coming for me. The bus came that night. I sat there all day waiting. As I waited, I looked at the town and all its closed buildings and wondered if I would ever see it again. The funny thing is when I dream, I am never home. Instead I am at that old bus station, waiting.”

“Calvin, I want you to sit and look at the rain. Just enjoy the sound, the smell and the feel of it. It is so soothing.”

She pushed a chair that was nearby over to him and he sat down and watched the rain. As he did, she stood behind him and massaged his shoulders and ran her fingers through his scalp. He closed his eyes. She looked at his hands again and tears almost came to her eyes as if she knew something he didn’t. She continued to massage his neck and shoulders and scalp, slowly letting her fingers run through his hair as he closed his eyes in a complete trance.

Finally she whispered in his ear, “I must go find Talitha. You take care of yourself, Calvin. Travel well.”

Calvin sighed and sat in the chair, looking out at the rain.

Isabella went off to look for Talitha. She found her in a foyer behind large curtains kissing Harold. That did not disturb her. What did was who else was watching her. Behind another curtain watching was Prince Robert. He had a look of incredible anger on his face. Spotting Isabella, he turned and stormed off.

Isabella quickly rushed over to Talitha, “Prince Robert saw you!”

Talitha smiled, “I’m sure Prince Daniel has told him we are no more.”

“Prince Robert did not have a look of dismay,” Isabella warned her, “He had a look of anger and envy. I do not think this will go over well.”

“I have the journal. We shall read it on the ride back.” Talitha gleefully told her, “Young Harold was very brave and found it.”

“I feel the storm will hit the ocean. It shall be a bumpy ride back.” Isabella said.

“I fear nothing with Captain Saugus at the wheel.” Talitha assured her.

Prince Robert continued walking quickly out of the banquet room, down the hall, out into the courtyard in the pouring rain. He continued stalking angrily past the cannons, the towers and across the ward and towards the chamber rooms. He pulled out a key and unlocked one room and walked in. A large light shone against him as he stared up and started to tear up.

“My own father cannot trust me. My brothers are nowhere near my level of intelligence or self-control and yet they are favored for the throne over me. I will rule this kingdom and empire someday. This I vow and then will put you in power. You will be my guiding light, my anchor. When I am wounded, you will heal me. I know you will deliver me from my enemies. You will not care what their position is, only that they mean me harm and that you will end. Though I walk through the darkest valleys, I will have no fear. Your rod and staff will comfort me. You will be my table in the presence of my enemies. Virtue shall follow me forever and I will convert this world to virtue and self-control and focus and you shall be my guide. This I promise.”

Prince Robert leaned over and kissed what he had been talking to: a long cold steel blade with a razor sharp thin edge. Then he kissed the 15 foot tall wooden upright frame – the ancient machine loomed over him as he looked up at it. He pulled hard on a rope and the large heavy sloping metal blade slowly moved upward until he let the rope go and it raced back down, slamming into the bottom with a large “shuck” sound like a sword slamming into wood.

“Sire!” a voice yelled. It was his assistant Petos, who had walked in.

“What are you doing in this room?” Robert demanded.

“I have been here before looking for you. Why is this up here? It has been down in the dungeon for centuries.”

“It was once out in the courtyard in front of the castle.” Robert said, “It helped restore virtue when there was none and will restore virtue again someday.”

“You would use this?” Petos asked trying to hide his shock.

“Properly used, it keeps a population in check.”

“The population is in check!” Petos protested. “They all submit to King Paul! They do not threaten the crown at all.”

“But they may not submit to me. I know I am not highly thought of, especially by the royal court. It is not to be used so much on the regular citizenry as it is on the royals who will rise up against me when I am crowned. And it will be used on those who flaunt their vices or their supposed strengths everywhere; kissing whomever they like, drinking whatever they want.”

“If you brought any harm upon Miss Moore, you would indeed have an uprising.” Petos warned him.

“Not if done properly. Bring charges against her. Put her on trial. I would interrogate, but would have to be above it when I am King. To put in charge of her trial all those who have desired her and never even gotten close; to reveal her cavorting with dishboys would stain her. She would be rubbing her beauty in their faces and pay the ultimate price. The public would watch and submit to me when they realized I can take what they value if they do not behave.”

“But surely, your fond memories of Talitha should not be poisoned.”

“Memories?” Robert spat out in disgust, “I have no fond memories of anything. I spend my life batting memories away like horrid flies. They are to be squashed and fed to spiders.”

He grabbed Petos sternly, “I want you to get me the writings of that madman that are said to be circulating and I want to meet the prisoner in the tower. I want this done. Now be off with you!”

Petos took off running down the hallway as Robert looked up at the execution device, turned off the lights and closed the door.

Petos continued to run out of the courtyard and across to the banquet room where he found Talitha and Isabella.

“Miss Moore! I must talk to you!” Petos said breathlessly.

 

Cal was still sitting by the window looking out, relaxed and exhausted at the same time when Harold walked over to him. They looked out at the rain together.

“I feel very good tonight,” Harold said.

“Me, too,” Calvin replied, “I haven’t felt this good in years.”

They watched as Thad came in, soaking wet from the rain.

“I’m glad I left my fidgisets on the table; the pack I have is soaked,” He sighed. Cal looked over and him, but did not speak.

“You look like you’ve just walked the entire castle!”

“Gimilu is looking for you,” Lonnie said to Thad, rushing over.

“That’s ok. I’m happy right now. I’m in a very happy state,” Thad said, “Nothing could-”

With that a large piece of sliced ham stuck to the side of his face and a loud laugh bellowed through the banquet room.

“Got you back!” yelled Gimilu, as he struggled to speak, “That’s for last year and the year before that and the year before that.”

Thad just looked at Gimilu and smiled, “Nothing gets to me today. Nothing.”

Gimilu looked at him strangely, “Smoking?”

Thad nodded.

“Everyone who smokes tonight is like that. Not throwing food. Not caring. I like to throw food.”

“Throw food,” said his friend Caladrino who stood beside him smiling.

A cup bounced off Caladrino’s head and he looked stunned.

Gimilu turned and raced after the dishboy who had thrown it. Caladrino obediently followed.

“We’d better get out of here before it gets real bad.” Cal said, “I don’t want to be in court tomorrow over this. It’s been too nice of an evening.”

Thad, Cal, Lonnie and Harold headed out of the banquet room as it began to descend into complete chaos with food flying everywhere. Security men began blowing whistles and chasing dishboys who were racing around tables and chairs to avoid them. Thad was smiling and laughing.

“Lights out, dishboys: busy day tomorrow. Night-night,” Thad said to himself.

“Wow, he had a lot of Phishman’s,” Harold stated.

“They only let us have one glass of drink,” Lonnie corrected him, “Anymore and the place would descend into…” He looked around and realized he didn’t have to finish.

They headed for the line of buses waiting to take them back to their rooms.

 

 

 

 

TALITHA AND ISABELLA DEPART

 

Talitha and Isabella were walking down the courtyard in the rain. Neither was running.

As they turned the corner, they nearly bumped into Luther Pratt, who looked at both of them and stopped.

“Princess Isabella,” Luther Pratt gasped, “You decided to attend the banquet?”

“Yes, Mr. Pratt. I decided twenty years was long enough. I hope you are well.”

“As well as can be expected. I wish I had known you were coming.”

“It was a last second decision, but now that I ran into you I am very glad I came.”

“Are you going to be staying for a few days?” Luther asked.

“I have to go back to the island, but now that I have been here, I do plan to visit more often. I do hope you will be around. We can reminisce about old times and catch up on new ones. How does that sound?” Isabella asked, smiling and moving closer to Luther.

Luther was entranced by her eyes, but then realized Talitha was watching and backed away, trying to be more formal.

“I would very much like that Princess,” Luther said, “I would very much like that.”

“Then it is a deal. We shall talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax and I know you will want to talk of kings.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Until I return,” Princess Isabella said and she leaned forward and hugged Luther Pratt, surprising him.

Talitha and Isabella continued on down the courtyard as Luther Pratt simply stood staring at them as the rain poured over him and left him wet, but still entranced.

“You still have the ability to entrance people I see, Luther Pratt no less, although it may be the affection he had for your father more than anything,” Talitha said as they continued on.

Princess Isabella simply smiled to herself and walked beside Talitha.

“I never mind the rain,” Talitha said.

‘Neither do I, but what do we do about Petos’ warning?” Isabella asked.

“I cannot imagine Robert being king ever. He would have to kill both Daniel and Carl to achieve that and the king is still in good health.” Talitha replied.

“He would certainly be willing to,” Isabella argued.

“But he could not. Both brothers are far stronger and have been in battle. He is smaller than them and has spent his life at the court doing administrative work.” Talitha said.

“Which gives him an advantage should the King pass away. Carl and Daniel will be elsewhere in battle and Robert will be here, which means by the time they return home he will have worked to grasp all the power and probably have executed a few people who get in his way.”

“And Daniel and Carl will return with large armies and take it away. You forget who else would be against him. General Corsa, who has always had a great fondness for me as well,” Talitha reminded her.

As lightning and thunder hit, neither reacted to it. They walked until they reached the large boat dock where Captain Saugus and his ship were waiting.

“Of course you two would saunter in here like it’s a fine spring morning with birds chirping and the sun shining and dew drops on the flowers,” Captain Saugus said finishing his coffee.

“I don’t see you leaping about in a state of panic,” Talitha answered him.

“I’m glad you two got here early. The storm is supposed to be worse out at sea and it may be a long haul to the island.”

“That is fine with us. We have some reading to do,” Talitha said, pulling the journal out of her jacket.

She and Isabella headed below deck and into a room. Talitha pulled out the journal and began to read to herself.

“Hey!” Isabella said, “Trying reading it aloud. I want to hear it.”

“You can read it after me.”

“I didn’t say I wanted to read it. I want to hear it. Use your voice. Project.”

Talitha sighed and began to read the journal to Isabella.

 

 

 

THE JOURNAL:

 

Scientist Zita Moore-Taylor Journal

 

Night - I have begun recording this story a half dozen times – each version destroyed or lost. Each of us at this hilltop is trying to figure out how to tell this story to future generations. All the electronic equipment we wrote and stored it on has been destroyed. We figure at most we have two or perhaps three days left, but this mission is far too important to abandon it. We must save what little we have left. I can see the smoke from the fires of the Panatikos. I cannot believe after all the destruction there are so many left. This hilltop is steep and very high up, but they will keep coming and climbing until they get up here. Hopefully all will be done before they get here.

Where do I start? There are so many versions of what happened and what triggered all this. I have lived long enough to remember the quiet years when the world seemed peaceful. Maybe we just didn’t notice. We had all the technology and still the world fell apart. Those who were on the bottom of life embraced what everyone else thought was this strange culture of rejecting life and all the wonderful things about it. They began enforcing seemingly arcane rules in distant lands. We knew this was happening, but as it did not affect us directly, we did nothing. Anything we found wonderful, they found as a distraction from the Creator and therefore wicked. They banned writing, reading, even laughing. They destroyed any instruments or objects that created or recorded sounds. Sounds that brought joy to people’s lives. They destroyed anything that attempted to awaken imagination or appreciation. They felt life was not to be appreciated, it was to be endured and the worse life was, the better things would be afterwards.

We knew as things changed, so many people did not get to participate in the riches the few of us enjoyed. We kept hoping some kind of system would develop where those farther down society would get to reap benefits, but it never happened and as people gave up, they fell victim to this new culture which either kidnapped them or killed them.

What were the triggers? Was it the mad poet who wrote about creativity and then destroyed all his art and devoted his life to the Panatikos? I still find it bizarre that the Panatikos left the poets alone. I don’t know if it was because they did not recognize poetry as art or ignored it because the mad man who started it all was a poet. Someone could be reciting poetry in a public area with Panatikos around and they would just ignore him or her. Was it the accident that left 29 of our most famous creative people dead when an airliner disappeared and was later found in a mountain? It caused a major depression and for weeks stories ran about the lives of those 29 and how wonderful and kind they were and how empty our world was without them. It was said that economic production dropped by over a quarter as our empire began to teeter and it was at that time the Panatikos struck.

They started by conquering lands and building an empire far away from our own borders. It did not involve us. We did not care. We watched and did nothing. We did not know they would use that as a launching pad for the rest of the world. When they attacked here they started with places where people laughed, danced and listened to wonderful sounds. We awoke each morning to fresh attacks and some used it as a warning for young people to abstain from the same things the Panatikos wanted wiped out. Many on our side felt that by becoming more like the Panatikos and becoming more ruthless we could defeat them. All it did was encourage them.

Then came the night of Todjugend in which the Panatikos targeted a number of places where young people were gathering at festivals to celebrate the arrival of summer. They slipped into the gatherings in the middle of the night while those attending were sleeping. We awoke to the news of morning reports from all over our land of young people found dead lying around lakes, beaches, deserts and remote camps. As the papers said, it was like every horror cinemagraph story put together. It was a very coordinated and well-planned attack and it caused a major change in society. Fear and hate began to sweep the land and soon atrocities were being done everywhere against real and imagined enemies no matter how minute or personal. We decided to devote all our energy to destroying this monster that had arisen and attacked us.

One problem that plagued us was that they seemed to have no homeland. They popped up here and there and would disappear again. Each area where we suspected they hid, those in control denied it and said they had things under control.

We thought it would be an easy route and our weapons took them out by the thousands and tens of thousands. For every Panatiko we destroyed, two more took their place. Their leader gave a speech that was somehow transmitted everywhere on every device. He attracted the young by promising they would be able to get revenge on everyone who had wronged them from the boy or girl who ignored them to the teacher who belittled them and people who did not recognize their talents. He asked sympathizers to wear white t-shirts (which were already in fashion) and soon white t-shirts were everywhere. That was then the Panatikos attacked. There were many in our society who did not like the Panatikos but did not like the world as it was and figured the best way to change it was to give them chaos so they could invade. Many leaders argued they were a balance against other extremists and criminals and did not want to entirely eliminate them. Those leaders said they could control the Panatikos and keep them under some kind of restraint, but that proved false.

What horrified so many of us was the Panatikos animosity towards any object of beauty or anything that created beauty including sounds. Entire buildings housing these instruments of sound were blown up and the people inside were killed. When the major cities representing the major belief systems were destroyed, we began to quickly collect the remaining instruments to hide them somewhere safe. We are in the process of collecting the last instruments.

We now remain on this hilltop with a special group who came to donate their instruments. They are the last remaining group of people that can use these instruments properly. We will be launching our final rocket into space tomorrow afternoon and the captains of that flight said they will try to land on the other side of the Mansa desert where the Panatikos dare not go. After that we have a tunnel we can escape through and buses will be waiting to take us down the remaining highway that we still hold. Our destination is King’s Mountain, where we are told a stronghold remains. If they overrun that, we will leap from the cliffs into the sea and choose drowning over death from the Panatikos.

The Panatikos are watching, but they won’t attack until we launch the rocket. Twice they attacked launch pads only to have the rocket blast off and destroy them in the launch exhaust. Everyone has to go underground when the rocket launches because of the exhaust that would wipe everyone out.

As they assembled the rocket and wheeled it to the launch pad, the leader of the Panatikos called it “hell on wheels” and said it must be stopped by any means. They charged, but we set off sirens making it sound like the rocket was going to launch and they backed off. To mock them, we blared what they call the hated distraction from the creator, or as one of the scientists call it, a combination of tempo, meter, pitch, rhythm and style that drives them crazy. As an extra insult, we blared a song about something being hell on wheels. It is amusing to imagine an English knight and his three lads from 200 years ago would still be relevant. They later blared another song by the knight and the ensemble of people began to move around to the sound, synchronizing their movements to the different beats and parts.

We realize the gravity of the situation but we are trying to maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing. In fact maintaining a sense of humor is so condemned by the Panatikos that we feel we are stronger by laughing in the face of impending danger.

As I prepare for sleep I look out from the cliffs and can see the campfires of the Panatikos and am still stunned they have conquered so much of the world. So many things we took for granted are gone. We now know the Panatikos will run this world for a time, but eventually they will be replaced, perhaps by their own descendants who will yearn for something more than just keeping your head down, hating anything that distracts from misery. In time, we hope they find a few of the secret places we have set up to show all the wonderful things people can do with imagination and creativity using just objects around them. The Panatikos will find many of these places and destroy them, but by planting as many as possible in different places we can hope these things of beauty will be found and returned to the world.

 

Morning – shock. We awoke to find the remaining roads to our safety area had been crossed and were burning. Our only chance now is through the tunnels underneath. We will lock the chambers once we have launched the rocket and set off the explosives on top and then make our escape. Maybe in the chaos, many of us will make it to safety. On the other side of what is now radioactive sand and glass, there is said to be a safe area where the Panatikos will not go. They consider it an unholy place and to go there is forbidden. It is near an ocean on the beach on the side of steep cliffs. If we can make it, we can survive until all this ends.

Everything is loaded into the rocket except for the instruments owned by the ensemble. They wanted to do a sunrise serenade before parting with them forever. All was quiet as the ensemble stood and played their instruments. After warming up, the conductor took his baton and waved it. He slowly began to wave it and they began. I began to choke up as I recognized the piece by Beethoven. A piano concerto of his that I had to learn when I was young. It brought back such memories that I kept trying to bat away.

First the piano started and then the rest of the ensemble joined in, one section at a time. It was like watching a star glide across the sky and split in two and then three pieces until it looks like fireworks. We were in awe and scouts said even some of the Panatikos came out of their tents to look up at the hillside. The various pieces went up and down, pushing and pulling our emotions, some laughing in pain, others crying. A composer born 400 years earlier was still affecting us inside and out.

When it was done the ensemble carefully put their instruments into a large bin as the piano was lifted by a net up into the rocket’s open doors. The bin was quickly hauled up and placed into the cargo hold as well. The ensemble was to then exit through the large steel doors to safety as the countdown began with just five minutes to launch. Instead, the ensemble stayed put and the conductor spoke into his microphone.

“To the launch team: we have decided as a group, we do not want to continue to exist in this world without the instruments we have lived with and worked with our entire lives. We are going to remain at the foot of the rocket when it launches. We realize what that means. I would like you to play over the system the piece I have given to you. Ensemble, I want you to close your eyes as this piece plays and think of everything beautiful we once had. Think of concerts you loved, plays you enjoyed, every kind of music, every kind of dance, every laugh you had, every work you saw that inspired you. Keep your eyes closed as the launch drowns out the music. Wherever we end up, let us hope it is a place filled with beauty and love that cannot be destroyed in any way because it will be beyond attainment to any of those who hate it.”

We all looked at each other in the control bunker as our launch commander pressed the button and the music played. It was a piece by Tchaikovsky; his number fourteen, the Pas de Deux from his Nutcracker Suite. It started with the lovely harp and was followed by the strings. One of the pilots called in and asked if we were still going to launch. The launch commander paused and said yes. At this point an assistant grabbed the microphone and began to plead with the ensemble to come inside. We could get them to safety. He kept pleading. They ignored him and kept their heads down as steam began to slowly seep out of the massive engines just above them. The music kept building dramatically as we all began to plead with them. They ignored it and at the most dramatic part of the music, the launch began and the ensemble disappeared in the smoke. It was as if the conductor had planned it, the majesty of the massive rocket taking off was eclipsed by the knowledge of what the exhaust had just done.

We had just witnessed the end of the last symphony on earth. They were gone. Music was gone. Beauty was gone. The piece continued to play and trickle out as the rocket disappeared into the sky, gone with the hope that it would get the instruments to the other side and they would be safe until the Panatikos were all gone. We tried not to weep, but we were all weeping uncontrollably.

Our crying was broken by the sound of alarms. The Panatikos were on the march. We looked at our monitors and could see them galloping toward the hill. They were a good 20 minutes from the hill and it would take them at least an hour to climb it. We locked all doors and headed for the stairs and then the tunnels. As we got to the bottom, we waited and soon we heard the explosives go off. The Panatikos were climbing the hill and our traps were going off. We knew we would get many of them climbing, but most would wait until all was clear and then climb. Meanwhile we would make our escape.

I am going to stop here and store this journal inside a metal container before we try to flee. I don’t know how many of us will make it past if any, but I want this to remain. I am going to drop it down an air vent, where none of them will find it. I will start another journal if I make it to safety. If anyone finds this, you will probably know my fate and what happened to us and more important the Panatikos and if beauty every returned. I hope that darkness fades someday and light returns.

A story has been told that one day some of the Panatikos were looking out at the ocean and saw the full moon shining over it. It was so beautiful they stopped where they were. Angrily their leader ordered them all executed. The next day he demanded all the weapons they had to be fired at the moon as it went overhead and, indeed, they fired with all their guns and canons. The sky filled with smoke, but in the end it drifted away and the moon remained. It showed how extreme they were, but also how futile their efforts would be. In the end beauty shall return and remain while they shall be a forgotten group of moss on the side of a wall that shrivels up in the absence of sunlight. I truly believe it is inevitable that they shall fail and we shall succeed. In the beginning there was light and in the end there will be again.

 

Dr. Zita Moore-Taylor, launch control engineer, pad 56, Cape Grissom Hill.

 

 

THE DECISION TO ACT

 

At the end of the journal was a note. Talitha unfolded it and read, “This was found on the body of a Panatiko during a battle. I am putting this in a coffin and burying it in sheet music since the Panatikos do not care about papers they do not understand. To them it is scribbling. We have won this battle, but the war is far from over. We have decided to lure them into the Mansa desert and drop weapons that harness the powers of the sun upon them. The Laintact Ocean is on the other side of the Mansa desert; there you will find the King’s Mountain.”

Isabella was left stunned after all the reading. “How do we get to King’s Mountain?”

“How do we cross a desert?”

Both called out to Captain Saugus. He came running down and saw them. “I don’t like the looks on your faces,” he scowled.

“Where is the Mansa desert?” Talitha asked, handing the note to Captain Saugus. Saugus looked at it and quickly read it and thought a second.

“Hold on. We’ve just entered the river. Let me anchor.” He disappeared and they could hear him up on deck. There was a loud clanking of metal and a clunk and then he stomped down to his quarters and began opening and shutting drawers, cussing to himself.

He returned with a rolled up map.

“This is the full map of Dane. Everyone is always shown only the populated portions of Dane and not the full empire. This includes the kingdoms and empires we are at war with.

He unfolded the map and spread it out over a large table. Talitha and Isabella had to grab hold of each corner of the map to keep it from rolling back up.

“This has not been opened in some time. Now we are here,” he said pointing to a southern portion of the land. “

The desert you are talking about is farther north, but it is not a desert. That is now Glassland. It starts out a desert and then a bit ways in it turns to sheer glass. No one goes farther in. People who went in long ago were said to have died from poison in the air. It is said the glass has a million trapped souls in it for eternity and gets angry with anyone who tries to cross it. Now I consider that an old fish tale, but I wouldn’t cross it nonetheless. King’s Mountain is on the other side along the ocean, but it is far too dangerous to get in close to that area. I have sailed passed it some miles out, but getting in close, the waves would smash you to pieces against the rocks.”

“So we would have to cross Glassland?” Isabella asked.

“One doesn’t just cross Glassland. It goes on for miles. It would be like climbing the highest mountain.” Captain Saugus snorted as he looked over the map.

“So we would need supplies,” Talitha answered.

“You two are crazy!” Captain Saugus stated as he shook his head.

Captain Saugus went back to the wheelhouse and pulled up anchor. He began moving through the river slowly until he came to Talitha’s dock. What he saw shocked him.

At the dock were two speed boats with security marks on them. He ran back downstairs.

“You two need to hide. Now!”

Talitha and Isabella ran to a closet.

“No!” Captain Saugus lifted the bed and underneath it was an area large enough for two people to lie down. Talitha and Isabella crawled in he lowered the bed back down. He pulled out their steamer trunks, put them on top of the bed and ran back up to the wheelhouse.

He pulled up to the dock as several security men were waiting for him.

“Permission to board Captain!” yelled their leader.

“Who is coming aboard?” Captain Saugus asked.

“Sergeant Chambers, sire, on behalf of the king.”

“On behalf of the king. I highly doubt that, but go ahead.”

The sergeant and two others leaped on board and looked over the ship, opening closets and looking in rooms.

“If you are looking for my two passengers, they are fine. They asked to be dropped off at Princess Isabella’s place and I was to bring their luggage to the house.”

“Prince Robert has issued an arrest for Miss Moore. The Grevere Times printed a report that Miss Moore was collecting sheets of paper from several landfills and not sending her findings to the court. Also she was seen cavorting with a dishboy and the Prince needs to talk to her.”

“Where is the king? I work for him, not the prince.”

“The king has collapsed and fallen ill. The prince is acting in his command.”

“I am to pick up the two passengers later tonight. I can take them to Semailles Castle if you wish.” Captain Saugus replied.

“You won’t try to warn them?” Sergeant Chambers asked.

“I work for the king, not them. They are a pain to take anywhere. I shall gladly take them to Grevere if needed.” Captain Saugus said loudly so anyone else on the boat could hear.

“We will look for her at Princess Isabella’s residence. Leave Princess Isabella alone. She has done no wrong. It is Miss Moore that is wanted.”

“On the Prince’s honor I will deliver her if you do not find her. Princess Isabella’s dock is about a mile up the river.”

With that the security men departed the ship, hopped on their boat and sped up the river, disappearing around the bend.

Captain Saugus raced down, pushed the trunks off the bed and lifted it, freeing the two women.

“Now we have to go to Glassland,” Talitha said.

“And thank you for such a fine job convincing the king’s security that you consider us a mere annoyance.” Princess Isabella said, punching Captain Saugus in the shoulder.

Captain Saugus raced back up to the wheelhouse and pushed the lever and the engines roared to life. Isabella and Talitha snuck up to the wheelhouse wearing huge raincoats. Captain Saugus looked over and shook his head, “Yeah, you two look like the kind of crew I would get. We’re going to have to go north which is going to bring us into the worst of the storm, but I figure none of the security boats will be there.”

“Rough waters?” Isabella asked.

“You’ll certainly get wet.” He said as he grabbed two life vests and put them on each one. Isabella looked down at hers and then grabbed a third one and tried to put it on him.

“Time comes, I’ll put mine on. Don’t worry. I don’t go down with a tug. Get some rest. You’ll need it before we reach land.”

“I’m not afraid of getting wet” Talitha stated, “Captain Saugus has dragged me through many a storm to get me back to the island. He knows this ship. Wake us when we near the island.”

“I won’t have to wake you. The storm will do that for me.”

Captain Saugus ran back up to the cabin and fired up the engines as the boat left the dock and headed back down the river.

Isabella lay down on the bed and fell asleep. Talitha turned on a light and looked at the map until she too drifted off.

 

The two women were awakened by the ship slamming down hard as a wave hit the tug. Isabella looked up nervously, but Talitha just smiled, “We must be nearing land.”

Both got up and walked up to the cabin, holding on to rails as the ship rocked back and forth. Captain Saugus was busy working the wheel and peering out into the waves.

“I was able to skirt most of the storm, but we’re going to have to land a little farther south which means a longer walk for you two. What do you expect to find?”

“Instruments that control sound,” Talitha answered.

“And drowning or dying in the desert is worth it? What do you do even if you find any?”  “Bring them back to Grevere,” Isabella answered.

“What about Glassland? What about crossing the desert? What about getting back home?” Captain Saugus asked, “And even if you get back you risk imprisonment.”

“If we go back now we definitely get imprisonment. We’ll figure it out as we go along. Whatever happens, happens.”

Isabella let out a scream as she spotted a massive wave heading towards the boat. It smashed into back of the boat. The engines died.

The boat began to drift sideways in the massive waves. Captain Saugus ran over and undid the boat in the back.

“I can’t get any closer to land than this.” He said, “You wanted the Mansa desert, you got it. Follow the compass on the boat, keep going northwest and you’ll hit land. As soon as you are free, hit the engines full throttle.”

He helped them into the boat.

“Hang on!” he yelled.

He started the boat and pushed them free. As he did, another massive wave smashed across the tug and carried the motor boat and screaming women alongside and then out past him.

Captain Saugus held on to keep from being swept off the ship himself. He steadied himself, looked out into the boiling sea and saw nothing. He tried desperately to spot any sign of Talitha and Isabella. When he turned back, he saw a sight that struck fear even in him. A massive wave unlike anything he had ever seen was sweeping toward his boat, which suddenly seemed tiny in the huge angry storm. Captain Saugus raced into the wheelhouse and griped the wheel as tightly as he could. His ship began to rise as the wave lifted it up higher and higher.

 

 

 

 

PRINCE ROBERT READS THE MADMAN’S WRITINGS

 

Prince Robert was sitting in his chambers when Petos entered. He was holding an envelope.

“What did you find?” Robert demanded.

“I had to take a lot of risks to get this!” Petos replied. “It is collection from the journal of the madman’s writings and they truly are mad! He leaped off a bridge and someone collected these afterwards. He is truly mad!”

“I’ll be the judge of that. If this is truly dangerous then I want to recognize his writing when we clamp down on those dispersing it.” Robert answered.

Petos opened the envelope, turned it upside down. A small book fell out and into Robert’s hand. The book almost fit in his hand. It was not very tall or wide, but it was very thick.

“The prisoner is in the tall tower. I have talked to the guards around him and they understand you wish to interrogate him. Before morning I will return to lead you up to the tower to see him. No one else is to know he is there.”

Petos left as Robert sat down and began to thumb through the madman’s journals, stopping at paragraphs to read.

Once upon a time, we were all in paradise, in our own Eden. Our creator left us there happy, protected, and unable to hurt or feel pain. Then one day the snake crept in and in the dark of night gave us private parts and creativity and emotions. In the morning the creator discovered what had happened and cried out in anguish, but the snake was gone. So he had to kick us out in the world he had created. He had no choice. Someday, if we work hard and avoid all the temptations and joy life has to offer, we can get back to the time where we were simple-minded children with no thoughts, no emotions and no private parts. Back to the simple pieces of life we need to be. Perhaps we need to copy the plants and lay motionless collecting water and sun when it comes.

Knowledge only makes us sad. How can one be happy knowing what is going on in the world? Technology has made the world only smaller and all the horrors and pain felt by half the world is now felt by the whole world. There is no more happiness or joy thanks to all this. Only when most technology is gone can we regain that happiness. Happiness through ignorance and bliss is the way. I regret ever picking up a book. I regret ever learning to read. Animals in the jungle are happier. We must bring the world back to what it once was. Trains and buses and horses like it once existed long before any world wars. Man must forget he ever flew or could talk to anyone miles away or could see images made or painted or listen to any sounds. Only then can he be truly happy. We must take over the world and stamp all that out.

Creativity is a blinding wall of white energy, blazing away. Those who can only stand and look at it sit with envy looking at those who can touch it. Those who can touch it and stick to it envy those who can only touch it for they know full well the intense pain touching it can bring and the downfall it brings to those who touch it too often. We must destroy that wall and we can only do that by destroying everything in brought forth.

Kill all distractions from God! Kill all joys in life! Kill all good food! Kill beauty! Kill wisdom! Kill memory! Kill sex except for causing birth! Kill creativity! Kill happiness! Kill answers! Turn us back into simple plankton, fed and content. Make us one-celled animals again.

At the end of the book was an article revealing how the madman climbed a bridge and leapt off after an intense night of creativity. Police were moving in when he jumped. His body was never found. At the end of the book was a poem the madman had written before he leaped and before he went on an incredibly destructive spree (but it did not detail what he had done).

It taunts and eludes me

And laughs at my grab

It bows and it curtsies

And gives me a jab

It dares me to reach

And yet beckons with each

Supple fingers that pick at my scab

 

I hate and want it

And love it and need it

It picks only those

That are hooked

Others stand by

And simply let fly

As those of us chosen get hooked

 

It told me it loved me

It said that she did

And then laughed

When I took off my lid

She stuck me with drugs

Mindless vices and slugs

And made me OD so high

 

She took all my faces

And all of my youth

And ripped out my tongue on the fly

And now that she’s gone

I crawl off my lawn

And into the street where I die

Robert had been reading deep into the night, entranced by the writing when Petos returned.

“Follow me,” he said.

Robert put the book away and followed Petos almost obediently as they walked silently down the hallway and out into the courtyard.

They walked to the end of the courtyard. At the end stood a very large round tower that rose over 100 feet.

“This cannot be it!” Robert sneered. I climbed this many times as a child. I looked out over the city from the top.”

Petos just looked at him and took out a ring of keys. He took hold of one key, popped it into the lock and it opened. They took an entry with long stone circular stairway leading up. Robert started to walk up, when Petos stopped him. He walked over to a wooden wall behind the stairs and pushed a small piece of wood, revealing a lock. He stuck a key in and the wooden wall opened. It was obvious from Robert’s face that he did not know about this entry.

In here a long stone circular stairway led down. It was quite a climb and Robert was breathing laboriously when they made it to the bottom. They walked along a long tunnel with very poor lighting until they came to a wooden door. Petos used another key to open that door which revealed a hallway to a single cell containing a wooden bed, a chair and a wooden bucket that held water. There was a hole in the stone in the corner for a bathroom. Behind the cell, a prisoner was sitting in the chair facing the wall with his back to them. Just outside the cell was another wooden chair.

“They had a mattress and pillow, but the prisoner refused to use them.” Petos said in a low voice, “He will only eat very old moldy rice or cheese and water straight from the river along with bread that has been thrown out. He has not seen the sun or moon in three months and he does not care to.”

Robert walked up to the cell and looked in.

“The guards say he speaks very little. They have departed for a spell so you can talk to the prisoner.” Petos told him.

“Leave us alone,” Robert said.

Petos turned and walked out closing the door behind him.

“I am Prince Robert, son of King Paul.” He began, “Of all the princes, I am the one who is most able to control his impulses and refuse to bow to the temptations and vices the world has to offer. I alone have maintained virtue and I despise those who cannot maintain their own virtue. I have read the book by the madman and found it quite interesting. I want to hear more.”

Slowly the prisoner stood up, turned the chair around to face Robert and sat down again, looking straight at him.

“What you call a madman, we call one of the prophets. I hope you have read his teachings closely.” The prisoner answered. His voice had an overwhelming command without being at all loud. This was someone who did not need to yell or scream to portray power.

“I read the little book that is being handed out. What is your name?” Prince Robert asked.

“My given name was Castitate from La Palma, but my name is unimportant. The book you read contains just pieces of his teachings. His writings filled books. He is only one of several prophets who filled books. Those books ruled the world for a century and will again someday. It is only because our leaders became weak and corrupt that we allowed people like your grandfather to rebel.”

“My grandfather is a hero,” Prince Robert responded.

“For now,” the prisoner replied, “You will find that history changes over time as those in power give their version. Our version will return. You have read the writings, but you have not lived the life to attain this self-control you talk about. Perhaps you avoid the vices of your brothers, but you sleep in a comfortable bed not on stone or wood. You eat the finest foods, not food that is solely for keeping your body alive. And you eat and drink when you can, not just when your body needs it to keep from falling down. You wear nice comfortable clothes, you enjoy the sun and moon and talking to people. You have servants to help you. Take that away and you will begin to understand self-control.”

“I want to understand your teachings. What are the main principals?” Robert asked eagerly.

The prisoner took a breath, reached into the bucket of water, pulled up a ladle and took a drink. He dropped the ladle back into the bucket and began:

“The creator of this world does not like man. The creator of this world does not like distractions. He did not make them. The evil one did to try and lead us to a life of decadence or waste. When you lose your self-control and sin by taking part in distractions from him, by laughing or causing laughter or by drinking or eating things that bring pleasure or by making or observing anything that causes any emotion but anger and hatred to rise up, you are angering the creator and even worse if someone in the land is doing that and you are not trying to stop it or end their life, that makes the creator even angrier.”

“I do that,” Robert protested, “but even that is not good enough?”

“No. You are also responsible for everything around you as well. The creator judges you not only by how you rule yourself but by how you rule your world. If you are maintaining your self-control you so proudly speak of, but others in your land are not, that serves no purpose and gives you no credit with the creator. You have still failed in his eyes and do not deserve life. It does not matter if that person is miles away, if he is distracted by laughter or pleasure, or the worst most evil thing in the world, beauty, then you are just as doomed as that person is and the creator will take pleasure in torturing you with unbearable instruments when you have passed on. If you become ruler of this place, if you spread sheer terror and fear throughout the land so that every person has to think carefully about their actions and thoughts and joy has left the land, then and only then will the creator be proud of you and praise you in the highest name.”

Robert took the chair next to him and sat down in it, facing the prisoner. The prisoner moved closer.

Time passed as the prisoner continued to talk. Petos soon opened the door and entered.

“Sire, we must go. The guards must return and the King will soon be awakening.” Petos said to him.

The prisoner stood and turned his chair back to the wall and sat down, facing away again. Robert stood up and followed Petos out the door.

“Is he as dangerous as they say?” Petos asked.

“I do not know,” Robert answered.

 

 

THE MORNING AFTER BANQUET

 

Cal, Lonnie, Thad and Harold were sitting in the cafeteria waiting for the work day to begin. Each was recovering from the banquet the night before. Thad looked a little more hung over than the others.

“I don’t know about the new fidgisets,” Thad lamented, “Those menthols pack a wallop.”

“Someone came and collected all of them,” Cal told him.

“All in all that was a pretty good banquet,” Lonnie said, throwing a towel over his arm and getting ready for the day.

“That was amazing! I hope all banquets are like that!” Harold chimed in.

“That was better than my first banquet,” Cal reminisced, “When Willie and I shared a rare cup of Frangelica or my second banquet when King John broke protocol and shook my hand, much to the amusement of his daughter. I felt young again.”

“Cal, I bet you have an anecdote for every banquet you’ve ever been to. You probably have a mildly amusing anecdote for every week you have been here.” Thad said, laughing.

Cal sighed, “You wait. You’ll get old like me and end up telling stories about life when you were young and then someday I’ll be just a story of yours and then you will be one of someone else. It’s the cycle of life, to be someone’s story until they are gone and then it’s their turn.”

Thad was about to answer when the bell rang, signaling for the shift to begin.

They had been working nonstop for several hours. Lonnie was working steadily, Harold was still struggling to keep up, Thad complaining about the nonstop dishes and their work being sped up on purpose by somebody higher up. Cal was standing over a sink washing dishes, but had a faraway look in his eyes. Harold looked at him quizzically a few times, but Cal didn’t notice anyone. He just kept washing.

Cal had his back to them and was feeling in the dish water for any silverware that might have been missed. Thad cracked a joke and Harold thought Cal guffawed as he leaned face forward towards the sink water and then kept going as his face hit the water and plunged into it. Thad laughed at first, but realizing the water was still extremely hot, he ran over and grabbed Cal. When there was no response, he pulled him out and Cal fell to the ground. Lonnie and Thad tried to get Cal to wake up, but he just lay on the ground, not moving.

Willie saw what was happening and raced over to help. Several security began pushing people away and ordering them to get back to work. They picked up Cal and carted him away. Shaken, Harold, Thad and Lonnie continued to work.

“He just fainted. Not to worry,” said Willie, but he wore a look of worry on his face.

Another security man came running over to Harold, “You are wanted in room 135. Go! Now!”

“You’re in trouble,” Thad said.

Harold just smiled; he was sure it was Talitha wanting to talk to him again. He peeled off his gloves and quickly walked out of the dish area and down the hallway until he came to room 135.

He pushed open the door and entered. The room was empty except for a chair next to another door and a sign on the wall that said “SIT.” He sat and waited. A buzzer rang and he heard the door click loudly and open a bit. He pushed the door open and walked into an area surrounded by a thick curtain. It also had a wooden chair so he sat.

He sat in silence and then the curtain whisked open. He was sitting in Prince Robert’s court room with Prince Robert and Judge Luther Pratt looking at him. Before he could react, another curtain whisked open on the other side of the Judge, revealing a seated Lars.

Lars was sniffling and had a bloody nose that was bubbling. He was holding his crumpled hat.

Luther began. “The case before you is like the others. The dishboy.”

“Name!” Robert bellowed with great anger.

“Dishboy Harold and the young lady, whose name is unimportant and irrelevant to the court, proceed as you always say.” The Judge continued.

“In this case it is VERY relative. Talitha Moore!” Prince Robert bellowed.

Judge Luther continued, “Dishboy Harold and the young woman were spotted behind a curtain engaged in gesla.”

“She was just kissing me,” Harold protested.

“I saw them personally,” Prince Robert explained, “but there is more. Dishboy Lars, go ahead with your story. Tell us what you saw.”

Lars sat in his chair, still sniffling. “I am Lars from Piete Whin.”

“We don’t care,” Robert said, leaning in, “What did you see?”

“Why you crush my Oxnas hat and take my gifts?” Lars cried, ignoring him.

“Tell them what you saw! You saw them in a room having gesla!”

“We were just talking in that room.” Harold explained, “She didn’t even kiss me. She never kissed me until the banquet and that was only briefly.”

“Why you so mad?” Lars asked Robert.

“A dishboy cavorting with a woman who is dating one of the Princes and engaging in gesla without the sanctioning of the Civil Ceremony Department is punishable. I insist this dishboy be given the belt and sent to military camp, far away.” Robert sneered.

“She has not been dating Prince Daniel for some time and you do not insist anything in this court. Shall we send the woman to a klousture for troubled women as well?” Judge Luther asked.

Robert looked up at the Judge, “We are talking about Talitha Moore! It is obvious the young dishboy had affections towards her and acted upon them, probably without her consent! Look at his face. He is completely smitten with her.”

Lars looked up at Robert and stared at him, “You are smitten with her!”

“How dare you say anything in this courtroom unless I tell you!” Robert exclaimed contemptuously.

“You had same look. You! You smitten!” retorted Lars.

“I want them both sent to military camp.” Robert demanded, “I want them and their cohorts, the other three dishboys sent with them! A year in service will do them well.”

“You cannot send Lars. Lars is a witness for you, not on trial here. Lars is to return to his position at the Merlot,” said Judge Luther, interrupting Prince Robert. Turning to Lars he explained, “Nevertheless, I must warn you to speak only when asked a question.”

“Fine. Then I want dishboy Harold and the other three sent.”

Judge Luther looked over the paperwork, “That would be dishboy Thad, dishboy Lonnie and dishboy Calvin.”

“Yes! All of them sent to camp for training. Let them learn the ways of the military.” Robert said, “I will ask for all three to be brought to me for termination from the Merlot.”

A young aide entered the courtroom and handed Judge Luther a note. He quickly read it. “It seems only two will be brought to you. One has passed away this morning.”

“What?” Harold gasped, “Calvin?”

Harold covered his mouth and sat down in shock as Judge Luther and Prince Robert continued.

Robert turned to Harold and Lars and uttered contemptuously, “You are both dismissed. Get out of my sight!”

Both got up and walked through the door as it buzzed, letting them out of the court. The curtains closed, covering the chairs.

Robert took a few deep breaths and said, “Bring the next two in.”

The curtains opened and sitting in each chair were two scared dishboys: Gimilu and Caladrino. Judge Luther was stunned to see them in the court room.

“These two were not in the calendar,” the Judge declared.

“I am sick and tired of these two avoiding responsibility. They were in the midst of this chaos and wreckage in the banquet room and I want them punished. Gimilu! Why did you start this fight in the banquet room?”

Gimilu nervously laughed, “Uh, uhhhh, ummmmm, well, ahhhhhh, ummmmm” was all he could say.

“Now you are nervous? Now after causing all this wreckage? Perhaps a whipping in front of a crowd? A month in the stockade? And you Caladrino? Why did you decide to join in?”

Caladrino just bit his fingertips over and over and flapped his hands and started to weep. Judge Luther looked over and the court reporter was beginning to cry.

“This court is ended,” Judge Luther stated.

“How dare you? You answer to my father and to me!” Prince Robert yelled.

“Send the two on their way,” Judge Luther said as the doors opened and both dishboys fled in terror.

“Have you at long last lost any sense of decency? Have you forgotten any honor we hold in this court? You have done nothing, but terrorize children and make them cry. Gimilu and Caladrino have had troubles all their lives. They grew up as orphans because of their fathers’ brave service to the crown. Gimilu’s father saved King John and Caladrino’s father fought bravely in battle before he died. He saved the lives of many men. You dishonor their memory, by breaking a promise King John made to both of them. A promise to protect their offspring. I am alerting your mother and father of this breach of decency.”

They were arguing when Petos rushed into the chamber.

“Sir! You must get to the King’s chambers at once! The Queen is waiting!”

Robert looked over at Petos and tried to keep a smile from creeping across his lips.

“I am needed for more important business,” Robert sneered.

“You may depart!” commanded Judge Luther.

Prince Robert walked quickly through the courtyard and he was already barking commands at Petos with Petos saying “Yes, my Lord” to everything he said.

“Have my royal colors brought to me. I want the large blue throne with the purple seating and the green jewels. I want my scepter to be more like King Phillip’s since he was the true hero of our empire. You will address me as ‘Your Majesty’ from now on. I will never be met or found in my bedchambers. Unlike others, I will be at the court before the sun rises. I shall be diligent and ready to address any issue that we must deal with. General Corsa and Prince Daniel will meet with me. I may redirect them to another area of the war where their service is more needed. And get me some tea after all this. I will need it.”

They arrived to find the Queen holding a handkerchief to her face. Prince Daniel and Prince Carl were seated in chairs in front.

“He is in his chamber in bed. Go in.” the Queen said, still crying.

The three princes entered. King Paul was lying in bed, propped up on his pillow with eyes closed. Prince Robert took a deep breath as all three looked at him silently.

“I have some very bad news,” King Paul said as he opened his eyes.

“You’re alive!” Robert blurted out. The king looked at him curiously.

“I am relieved, your majesty.” He quickly corrected himself.

“I am very much alive. Others are not so well. You three will all need to be sitting for this. There has been a tragedy. Last night a massive wave hit the Ocean Princess and it sank. Captain Saugus was found floating out in the shipping lanes by a passing freighter and picked up. He is alive, but Talitha Moore and Princess Isabella are missing and presumed lost at sea.”

Prince Daniel slumped forward in shock. Prince Carl leaned forward and emitted loud sobs uncontrollably. Prince Robert tried to keep steady and held on to his chair.

“Is this for certain?” Prince Robert asked.

“Yes. They were returning to the mainland when their engine went out and they drifted in the storm for some time. A massive wave hit the boat and all were swept overboard. Captain Saugus tried to look for them, but he said he never saw them. He is inconsolable and is under watch. That is all. You may all leave.”

Prince Carl walked out, devastated over the news. Prince Daniel followed in a daze and sat with the Queen at a table. He looked over to see General Corsa who was sadly looking out a window. He walked over to General Corsa, “Let us walk.”

He and General Corsa walked outside as Prince Daniel lamented. “Now none of us shall ever know her again. Maybe none of us deserved her. I have no desire to remain here at the court. Beauty is gone forever from this place.”

“Prince Daniel, maybe we can honor her memory. There are things we will find in Vandar that we will bring back and put on display in her name. They are things I know she would have loved.”

“Let us depart tonight. I am ready to leave this place. I shall be packed and ready.”

“I shall be ready as well.” General Corsa replied.

Prince Robert stumbled out of the room, still in shock.

The Queen walked out, spotted Prince Daniel and grabbed him.

“Honor her memory! Honor her memory,” she cried, “She was like a daughter to me. I had so hoped she would marry you and improve your character.”

“I am full of as much regret as you, mother, “Prince Daniel replied, “I will honor her memory.”

“She loved life. She loved living. She was always so curious and wanting to understand things and find out about things that happened before her life. She used to ask me about life as a child or as a teen long before she was born. That is something so few care about. Honor that. Honor what she loved.”

“I will. I promise. After today I am off the drinks and tea forever.” Prince Daniel assured her.

“Find the light she was searching for, please. It will keep her spirit alive.”

Prince Robert continued down the hallway until he found Petos. “Petos! It is terrible! Miss Moore drowned. I am shocked.”

“You?” Petos asked incredulously, “You were ready to execute her and you wanted her arrested on the island.”

“Yes, but I still imagined us together ruling. Once I was King I strongly felt she would see me as I am and believe and become my supporter and partner.” Robert grimaced, “I cannot believe she is gone!”

“No one can,” Petos replied.

 

Luther Pratt was in his chamber when an aide came in with the news. He collapsed at his desk and had to hold on to the chair to keep from falling to the ground. He sat for a moment and then decided he could not stay in his room and walked out into the courtyard. All around him people were reacting to the news. Some were in shock, talking as quickly as they could about Talitha and Isabealla. Others cried openly and embraced each other.

Luther simply looked up at the sky and clouds and was overwhelmed with sadness.

“I do not want to see the Beauty star tonight. The world does not deserve it. Not tonight. I hope they are with King Philip today and talking about those years.”

As word began to spread, citizens around him began to wail and shout in despair. Luther kept looking upward, “Grevere today weeps for you. Oh, Isabella…” He tried to say more, but began to crack and slowly walked back to his chamber.

 

Back at the Merlot, Harold was just returning to work. None of the dishboys was working.  They all stared into space in shock. Bobby stood in a corner hitting himself and screaming, “I blame myself! I blame myself!” Harold raced in and ran to Willie’s office. He looked in, but Willie was not there.

Willie was in another room with the body of Calvin which was lying on a cot; his face burned and blistering from the scalding water. A doctor was filling out a death certificate and attaching it to Calvin’s sock.

“He shall be taken to the ossuary and then buried out in Potter’s Field with the others.” The doctor told Willie, “The Merlot will have a stone placed in the ground on top with his full name and birth and death dates. What was his full name?”

“I only knew him as Calvin from Grevere.” Willie replied.

“How long did you know him?” The doctor asked.

“Thirty years. He recited a lot of sayings and little poems he had in his head. But I did not know his full name.”

“I imagine Royal Records will have his information. At least you knew about him. Most of the supervisors I talk to have no idea who the dead are. They only know them as dishboy and nothing more.” The doctor said as he departed the room.

Willie stood looking over the now deceased dishboy. He reached over and slowly pulled Cal’s armband off.

“Good night, sweet prince, rest well,” he muttered as he gently placed Cal’s armband beside his lifeless body.

 

 

THE PATH TO GLASSLAND

 

The sun was just rising as Isabella and Talitha dragged the motorized boat from the Ocean Princess up on the beach. They pulled it until they came to a massive hill and stopped.

“Should we cover it with anything?” Talitha asked.

“I doubt anyone is here.” Isabella answered.

Isabella lifted the seat they were on and pulled a backpack out and started to open it, “What did he put inside these?”

“He said they were in case he got shipwrecked on an island, which means probably whisky and rum and strong coffee.”

Isabella pulled out some t-shirts, underwear, socks, a large can of sterno, weather-proof matches, flashlight, pocket knife, first aid kit and a survival blanket.

Talitha pulled another backpack out. “This one is heavy,” she said as she opened it. In it were two large bottles of water and a wrapped pack that said ‘survival energy bars’. She frowned as she reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and started to put it back in the boat.

“We can use that,” Isabella said, “It’s good for cuts, fevers, or bribing anyone we meet.”

“And we can drink it if we think we are done for,” Talitha said as she put it back in the backpack and zipped it up. She reached into the boat and pulled out a hatchet, two canteens and a briefcase which opened to reveal a short-looking pistol with a belt and pack of strange orange cylinders.

“For shooting someone?” she asked.

Isabella grabbed one of the canteens, “I think it’s a flare gun.”

“As if anyone will see us. This is even more useless,” Talitha said as she pulled out an orange can that said “Smoke Signal.”

Isabella grabbed it and shoved it into her backpack.

Talitha laughed as she reached into the boat and pulled out two large brimmed hats and put one on Isabella. “We should have worn these to banquet night.”

They each put a backpack on one shoulder and a canteen on the other. Talitha strapped the hatchet onto her side while Isabella grabbed the flare gun and strapped it to her side and wore the belt of flares.

They made their way up to the top of the first giant hill and looked down a long valley that stopped them in their tracks. There were row upon row of endless blue crosses that extended as far as the eye could see, surrounded by nothing but dirt and rocks. In the middle were the remains of a road that disappeared into the horizon.

They both walked in silence, looking at the crosses that had no writing on them at all. They continued down the road as the clouds covered most of the sky.

“We’re in luck, no sun beating down on us today.” Isabella said.

It was evening when they decided to stop. The sun had disappeared and it was getting dark when they spotted a wooden caravan on large wooden wheels stopped in a field with two horses in front. They looked at each other and approached the caravan.

“Hello!” Talitha cried out. There was no answer.

Talitha and Isabella walked up to the caravan carefully.

“Stop right there,” a voice called out. “What are those weapons on your side?”

“A flare gun for when we are truly lost and a hatchet for wood, if we find any,” Talitha answered.

“Where are you going?” the voice asked.

“We need to get across Glassland,” Isabella called out.

“Keep following the road, keep moving. I wish not to be bothered,” the voice replied.

“We have whiskey,” Isabella cried out, “One bottle, we do not drink alone.”

Talitha looked at Isabella like she was crazy to even mention that.

Slowly the door on the wagon opened and an older man looked out, “If you two are alone, you must have been banished from somewhere and it cannot be good.”

“I am Talitha Moore from the Island of Leboth near Grevere and this is Princess Isabella, daughter of John.”

The man looked at them, astonished. They could tell he recognized their names.

“Where is the whiskey?” he asked.

Talitha pulled the bottle from her backpack and brought it to him.

He opened it and took a smell.

“How goes the King?” he asked.

“Not in good health, but still he reigns, thank the stars. His son Robert is the reason we are not there at the moment, as we would be arrested. What is your name?”

“I am called Horatio. For what would you be arrested?” He asked.

“Kissing a dishboy and keeping scribbled papers. Now we are here searching for some answers. May we stay the night?” Talitha answered.

Horatio motioned that they were fine and pointed to the ground beside the caravan.

Talitha pulled out the sterno and matches, but Horatio shook his head. “Save that for Glassland.”

He hopped out the caravan and pulled on a board in the back. Several cut up fire logs fell to the ground. He dragged them over near them and put them in a pile, stuffed some kindling beneath them and started a fire. Talitha pulled out some of the packaged food bars, but Horatio again shook his head. He went into the caravan and brought out plates of chicken.

They ate by the fire. Horatio finished and looked at them, “What in the star’s name brings you to this part of the world?”

“Answers. We found a journal by a woman long ago. She said there were some things we needed to see on the other side of the desert by the ocean, but we need to go through Glassland.”

“Glassland is only part of this area. There is still desert and there is a land of nothing but dead trees and there are large hills. It is a long way there and you don’t have enough belongings.”

“We have no choice.” Talitha said.

“There must be a way we can get across,” Isabella said.

“Not straight across. Follow the road for one day and you will come to a large hill towards nightfall. Near the hill you find the ruins of a large building. Keep walking to the hill. You will find a large rock formation like a hat on a man. Check the crevices near there for a stone path along the rocks. It is overgrown, but will lead you to what is called a klousture. There some inhabitants live who do not speak, but will share food and drink with you. Rest a day with them.”

“From there follow the dirt path another days walk until you see corn, the path continues through the corn. You can eat some of it there. You might see people there, but they hide – memories of the Panatikos keep them jumpy.”

“After that, it is another day’s walk in sand and then Glassland. Glassland can take up to several days to cross. You will hit sand again for a day and then hills and then the ocean. All in all you are talking about two weeks time. If you arrive at each spot in time you will make it. There is only one problem. Between the hills and the ocean lies a Panatiko camp. No one has heard from it since I was a very young lad, but one never knows. They may have abandoned it when the Plagues went through, but some may remain.”

“The Plague is still around? I thought that ended long ago,” Isabella said.

“The Plagues played a great part in the destruction of the Panatikos. In their effort to conquer and destroy other lands, they went into one deep jungle and succumbed to a horrible disease that killed almost instantly. It wiped out most of their army and those few that got in their boats and fled homeward spread it throughout their own camps. By the time King John was rising up, most of them had been taken by the plague. For some reason the plague did not affect us like it did them. Many of us got sick, but we did not drop to the ground and die like they did. The last of the Panatikos here fled to that camp. When the boats left for the Tip of Forja, those who were left behind were in that camp.”

“If there are many we are in trouble. All we have is a flare gun and hatchet.” Talitha stated.

“If you are caught, tell them you were travelling with a Cigano. They will be afraid and stay away. One day a group of Cigano’s travelling near an army of Panatikos were killed. Within days the entire Panatiko army was wiped out by the plague. After that the Ciganos were considered bad luck and to kill one would bring punishment from above.”

“They may kill us before we get a chance to tell them that,” Isabella muttered.

Horatio laughed and stood up, “Let me help with that.”

He climbed into his caravan and they could hear him rummaging around for a few minutes before he came out with a suitcase.

“We can’t carry that across Glassland!” Isabella stated.

“The suitcase is mine. It is what is in it that is important.”

He popped open the suitcase and pulled out two very flashy red dresses, two headscarves and some jewelry. If you see a group of them, put the dresses on and the head scarves and some of this jewelry on and they will believe.”

He pulled out a large cloth and wrapped it around the outfits and tied it to a long stick. “See? Now you just carry it over you back. I have some other things to show you as well.”

He reached into the suitcase and pulled out what looked like a long stick with a line attached. He handed it to Talitha and she and Isabella examined it.

“It looks like a tiny fishing pole made with hair,” Isabella said, laughing.

“Two-hundred strands of horse hair, the wood is pernambuco wood, found only in the south islands. The ends are ivory shells from the Cajilla Sea which is on the other side of the world. It must have been very important, but I do not know why.”

He pulled out a second piece, which was a long white stick and waved it about, “this is also a very rare wood as no one can find anything like it anywhere. These two items must have had great importance. Perhaps they held magic. If so I have never found any of it. I waved them all over and nothing happened. When they were given to me, I was told to keep them hidden in the bottom of my caravan in case Panatiko’s attacked. For many years I did that until I felt it was safe to keep them in the suitcase. As you are heading to the ocean, you should have them.”

“You know what we are looking for?” Isabella asked.

“I have heard of a place. If you get to King’s Mountain, climb the tall cliffs, you will find a single stairway. It will be difficult to climb, but once you get near the top, there is a door inside a cavern. I have never seen it, but I have heard of it.”

He looked at them a moment, “Perhaps you can be trusted. If you are indeed going to King’s Mountain, you will need something.”

He went over to the Caravan, opened the door and pulled one of the boards. In it were some metal objects. He brought them over. He opened his hand and in it were a ring and a key. He handed over the key.

“You will need this if you find a door.” Talitha took the key. Isabella looked at the ring and smiled.

“You carry the ring my father handed to those who served with him. Everyone else has passed on from his brigade. I know that ring well. You should be at the Royal Court, not out here.”

When your father passed, his brother became King and I fell out of favor. I tended to get in trouble a lot, but my luck and persistence in battles kept in good stead with those in power. I must have worn out my welcome after he was gone. Is everyone I knew gone?”

Isabella reached out and held his hand and looked at it. She then looked closely at him before speaking, “Your son Gimilu is alive as is your daughter Gulu and Caladrino.”

Horatio took a few deep breaths and started to sniffle before he was able to speak, “Gimilu. He is well?”

“When he isn’t throwing bread sticks at other dishboys, yes, he is well,” Talitha answered, “I see Gulu once in awhile. She is happy. Caladrino stays near Gimilu. King Paul has kept my father’s promise of making sure they are well. They live and thrive.”

Horatio started to sniffle again. “Excuse me. I will be back in a minute.” And he went into the Caravan and closed the door.

Isabella looked at Talitha, “Now cracks a noble heart.”

With the arrival of the sun, came the time to depart. Horatio watched them prepare to leave. As they began to walk, they turned and looked back at him.

“I have not been to Grevere in many years.” Horatio shouted to them, “Perhaps it is time to return to Dane.”

“I hope to see you there someday,” Isabella called back.

“Get back safely. Send my children my love. Tell them I am well,” Horatio called out.

They turned and began following the remains of what once had been a road before time and nature began to reclaim it.

“Hopefully no one in Grevere is looking for us.” Talitha said.

“They are probably holding a memorial for us as we speak.”

Talitha laughed, “I can just imagine. Carl is probably smashing something. Daniel is getting drunk. Robert has banned all laughter forever and is jailing anyone who tells an amusing anecdote of any kind.”

“Robert never understood any kind of funny story at all,” Isabella said, “even as a child. Everyone would laugh and he would get angry and say, ‘But that is not a true story! Pigs cannot fly! What is the point of a story if it is not true!’ He would get so angry and storm to his room.”

“Daniel could laugh, but it took a good long story to get him to laugh,” Talitha replied, “He would let out this snort and chuckle, but never laugh hard. I don’t ever recall him laughing hard. Carl on the other hand laughed hard at everything.”

“As a child you could play peek-a-boo with him and he would laugh,” Isabella recalled.

“That still makes him laugh,” Talitha stated, “That and any noises the body makes has him roaring. I imagine though he is crying now. They are probably all saying we are resting in peace with King Phillip.”

 

TALITHA AND ISABELLA REACH THE KLOUSTURE

Talitha and Isabella continued along the crumbled old road.

“So how does one get into obsessing over squiggly writing on old pieces of paper? You started this whole mess with that?” Isabella teased her.

‘My grandmother told me of people who imitated the sounds of birds in the morning. She said her grandmother told her about people who used instruments to make sounds more powerful than the birds, but they had all been destroyed. I asked how they did it and she pulled out a sheet of paper with the squiggles all over it and told me it was a code that taught them how to do it. Years later I found a trunk in an old abandoned barn on the island with more papers like that and a note saying there were more important things I would find if I kept looking and mentioned a coffin in a dump that held a journal that would help me decipher the writings. I didn’t know where to find a coffin in a dump. I kept my eyes and then my ears open when my eyes failed me. Then dishboy Harold went there and dug it out.”

“So a naïve dishboy did what hardened city dishboys would not,” Isabella observed.

“He was braver than the others,” Talitha replied.

“Sometimes I think it is not bravery so much as a complete unawareness of danger. Either that or total infatuation,” Isabella said.

As they got closer to the hill they could see the foundations of a large stone building. They walked along the hill and looked into crevices.

“I think I found a path,” Talitha cried out. They followed the stone-stepped path up the steep side of the hill. At the top of the hill was a large stone wall. They followed it until they discovered a rusted steel door with a lock. Talitha kicked on the door and then took a stick and hit the door a few times. Isabella looked at the door and then the lock, pulled out the key and stuck it in. It fit. She turned it and the lock opened. They pushed open the steel door and entered.

Inside was what looked like a castle, but a shorter one without any tall towers. Unlike Semailles Castle it had strange dark designs and figures they had not seen before. They looked around for any signs of life.

They saw no one at first, but then a figure in a brown tunic with a hood over his head and wearing sandals ran from behind one large stone column to another. Then a second one darted past.

“Hello!” Isabella called out, “We are travelling to Glassland and we would like some food and water. Please!”

Someone in a black tunic with a hood over its head walked out to them. The figure uncovered its hood and looked at them. It was an older gentleman who looked like he had weathered hard times. He may have been younger than his face looked.

“We are from Grevere,” Talitha said to him, “We have to get across Glassland and to the ocean. We are on a mission. We need a place to stay for a day as we have heard crossing Glassland is grueling. May we rest a bit?”

Isabella started to speak, but the older man put his finger across his lips for quiet and motioned for them to follow. They walked into the building and through a long hallway past people quietly working and sitting in chairs looking out windows. He led them to a door, opened it and invited them in. Inside was a desk with a chair behind it and two chairs in front. He closed the door and motioned for them to sit down.

“We can talk in here.” The gentleman said. “This is the conference room where I bring the brothers if I need to discuss something with them. It is the only place where talking is allowed, but it must be very quiet. I am Brother Maynard.”

“I am Talitha and this is Princess Isabella; daughter of King John.”

Brother Maynard reacted in shock, “Daughter of King John? Your father was a brave man and a hero. We here mourned when he died. I hope you are still treated well.”

“What is this place?” Talitha asked.

“This is a klousture where we meditate and work. It has been here for over two-thousand years,” Brother Maynard answered.

“You were here before Glassland?” Isabella asked.

“We were here through wars and plague and the Panatikos. The Panatikos destroyed our sacred place, but left the rest of it intact only because one of the sons of a Panatiko leader was here. They agreed to leave us alone if we kept our doors shut and agreed to only make bread and food for ourselves.”

“And you just meditate and make break and food?” Isabella asked.

Brother Maynard took a deep breath, “Long ago we did something else. Once upon a time we expressed thanks and put in requests on behalf of the world in a dialog with what we believed was the one who created this world and created us. Unfortunately, when leaders of empires dropped weapons of the sun upon each other, we were told that dialog was ended and the one who created everything was no longer interested in us.”

“How did you find out?” Isabella pressed him.

“According to the documents we have, those working here no longer felt any elation when expressing thanks or praise. Only silence. They could feel it in their hearts. We had a brother, Brother Joseph, a tailor in our klousture who had dreams that explained things. He also could interpret other peoples’ dreams. He woke up screaming in the middle of the night and announced that the bridge connecting us had been cut. We were still dealing with this news when the Panatikos attacked and spared us only if we made bread and food and we agreed and we have been doing that since for over a century.”

“How does this place keep going without new people?” Talitha asked.

“People who have been punished are sent here. Dishboys who got into trouble in Grevere are sent here through the Ciganos who bring them here. If they are girls they are sent to a klousture in another land. There was one for women here but the Panatikos attacked it and made them wives for their leader.”

“So there are still Panatikos around the area?” Isabella asked.

“The Ciganos who delivered the last child to us some years ago said there was an encampment out near the ocean on the other side of Glassland, but it was empty. If you cross Glassland, you may run into some. They said the plague took many, but some may be left. I would reconsider this mission of yours.”

“We have our minds set; we must find what is on the other side.” Talitha replied.

“You may stay the night and tomorrow because a rain storm is coming. I would recommend the following morning you depart. We are preparing for bed time now. We rise early. You will stay in our guest room which is next to this office. You will find the food is meager, as we support ourselves only through our own farming and preparation. But you will be glad you are here when the rains come. In the morning I can give you a tour of the place.

Both women nodded. He led them to a room where there was a large bed and a lantern. They put their backpacks down. He motioned for them to lock the door at night and bid them goodnight.

“I do not want to run into any Panatikos,” Talitha said.

“If any are left after the plague, they are old and weak. We have your flare gun and hatchet,” Isabella stated.

 

In the morning the two were awakened before sunrise by the sounds of the men shuffling past their room.

Talitha lay there listening until Isabella moved and awoke. There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Talitha said.

The door did not open so Talitha got up and opened it. Brother Maynard was standing there.

“There is breakfast in the main building,” he whispered and moved on.

“I had the strangest dream,” Isabella told him, “I was in a room where people were talking and there were sounds, but I couldn’t hear them until I picked up some wires and stuck them together and then I could hear them,” she said, shaking her head.

“At least your dreams are normal. In mine the little squiggly lines on those papers move about in front of me and march along the paper as I am trying to look close to see what they are.”

Isabella chuckled and both got up and went out to watch what was going on. The brothers had a meal of tea, some kind of soup broth and bread and butter. All of them kept their eyes on Talitha and Isabella while they ate.

Brother Maynard entered as one of the brothers stood and looked at him, “Brother, why did you invite two women in here and why did you put them in the room no one is allowed to stay in? You put them in Brother Joseph’s room.”

He was quickly shushed by the other men. Brother Maynard pointed to Isabella.

“She is the daughter of King John who once saved this klousture from renegades attacking it after the Panatikos had been defeated. Her father is the reason this klousture still exists. They are our guests, treat them accordingly.

The brothers finished eating, washed and dried their own dishes and walked outside as the sun began to rise. There was no speaking but the air was filled with the sounds of birds chirping away. After that they began their chores: some were gardening, some were making bread, others were doing laundry, painting walls or cleaning various parts of the klousture. Another group was making pottery. After some time they began to gather in the yard again and look up at the sky and then close their eyes.

They returned to the building and had lunch: soup broth, tea and bread and butter. After lunch some were working and cleaning, but many had disappeared. Isabella found the leader and motioned counting and then pointed at the men and shrugged to suggest she didn’t know where everyone went.

The leader thought a moment and then beckoned them. He led them down a corridor to a room. In the room was a cabinet of old dusty dishes and cups. He pushed the cabinet open and they realized the cabinet was a hidden door with the cups and dishes sealed to the wood so as not to move.

With the door opened, they walked down some dark stairs to large furnaces that were churning. Beside the furnaces was a dimly lit room filled with tables situated at an angle. At each table sat one man looking at an open book and recreating what he saw in a blank book. Isabella and Talitha looked closely at the books. They were in vibrant bright colors with large lettering. Some had recreations of people. The women had never seen that and looked closer. They were actual little people with recognizable faces and gestures and clothing.

Brother Maynard watched their reaction and then went over, opened a large door and turned on a light. Behind the door was a room filled with row upon row of books lined up so that there was enough room to walk each aisle and look at them. He motioned for the two to walk through and look at some. Talitha picked up a book and opened one. To her shock there were the strange scribbles she had been collecting.

“I have been collecting these!” she gasped. Others quickly shushed her. The leader walked over and looked at them.

A crack of thunder broke the sky and the men all stopped their work and quickly filed out. The leader motioned for them to follow.

They all went up to the second floor of the building and ascended a set of stairs to the roof. Part of the roof was covered and they all lined up and looked out at the open part. Three men were standing over a table filled with crystal glasses. Around them were all sorts of contraptions that did not look like they were for any kind of work – parts of wood in various sizes and shapes with holes in them, old tubs with some upside down, various sized jars and jugs, each having little pieces of metal sticking out like little leaves. The rain began to fall and it hit the metal, making sharp rapid sounds. As the drops increased they made more sounds. There were varying in pitch, depending on the size and shape of the items the rain struck.

Talitha and Isabella stood with several of the men as they watched the drops fall and the noises increase. As the rain fell harder, the men began hitting some of the jars and boards with little sticks. It created sounds of all different kinds, but it began to blend together to become one form. The women looked on in wonder as it continued. It was like watching all the birds and clouds come together as one.

The rain came to a stop and the sun broke through some of the clouds. A bright colored rainbow formed over the hill near them as the sounds came to a dripping stop.

“I feel like the world is in my head,” Isabella whispered. Talitha just nodded.
 

 

 

THE DISHBOYS ARE SUMMONED TO PRINCE DANIEL

 

Lonnie, Thad and Harold were walking up the steps towards the castle entrance. They slowed at the giant entrance that was open and nervously continued into the castle and down the long hallway.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” Thad growled, “I didn’t kiss Talitha Moore.”

“If Talitha Moore had taken you behind a curtain to kiss you, would you have said no?” Harold asked.

“No, but then I’d be the one smiling, not you. Prince Daniel was her boyfriend so I cannot imagine what he will do to you,” Thad said.

Harold gulped as they walked up to a main guard at the front.

“Hi, we’re the three dishboys to be executed today by Prince Daniel,” Thad said.

“Stop it! We are not going to be executed! We are simply reporting to him,” Lonnie argued.

“Please have our heads mailed to our mothers,” Thad continued, “And Harold’s entrails can be sent to any living family members after the lions have finished.”

“There are no lions,” Lonnie assured Harold.

The guard shook his head and motioned for them to follow him as he led them through a long corridor.

“We are not paying for any nails they drill into us or any wood we are tied to,” Thad added.

“Will you stop?” Lonnie requested.

“No, please keep going,” the guard replied, “It will give me some ideas to present to Prince Daniel.”

“Please disregard what he said,” Harold requested.

“Guys, it doesn’t matter. We are dead! Dead, dead, dead. Either here or on some forsaken battlefield where we are thrown in without any training or equipment. We are dead.” Thad kept going.

The guard shook his head and pounded on a chamber door. The door opened.

Prince Daniel and General Corsa were standing in a large room in full uniform. Harold gasped.

“You are the three dishboys presented to me for my disposal,” Prince Daniel said to them.

“We are here as asked for sire,” Harold offered.

“It doesn’t matter. We are dead. Dead, dead, dead. Do with us as you may.” Thad exclaimed.

“You can start by being quiet,” Daniel ordered, “Which of you is Harold?”

Lonnie and Thad quickly pointed at Harold.

“You are the one who was with Talitha Moore the night before she disappeared,” Daniel said looking him over.

“Yes, I was sir,” Harold replied, shaking with fear.

“Were you in a relationship with her?” Prince Daniel asked.

“Not really,” Harold answered.

“Dishboy Harold, I am not Prince Robert. I am not going to punish you and as your friend says, you are not dead, dead, dead.”

“She did kiss me behind the curtain, but I was not going with her. I think that was more of a thank you kiss.” Harold explained.

“She was kissing you passionately behind a curtain? What did you do, cure her of a blindness?” Prince Daniel asked.

Thad snickered as Harold stammered for an answer, “I found some things for her, but I was not in a relationship with her. I was not worthy of that. I considered myself lucky to actually be standing near her.”

“I think we all felt that way, Harold. Before she passed on, she had requested that you join Captain Saugus in packing up her belongings on Leboth Island. You will now be working for him. A boat will take you there in the morning.”

He turned and faced Thad and Lonnie, “Now as for you two. I have heard in the past you were in trouble for fighting with Gimilu and for refusing to report Harold.”

“True on both accounts for me, sir,” Thad replied.

“True for one account for me, sir,” Lonnie added.

“Well, we have a problem there. Gimilu and Caladrino will be among my personal aides as we go to Vandar. You two will have to get along with them.”

“We are going to Vandar?” Lonnie asked.

“I knew it, dead.” Thad answered.

“You two are going as part of my group of assistants. You will not be in battle unless my camp is overrun. Talitha Moore had requested you two be moved to my assistants and not into battle as Prince Robert wanted. I am more inclined to honor her request than his. You two are now in my employ as assistants. That means your armbands come off. All three of you.”

Slowly, Lonnie, Thad and Harold looked down at their armbands and took them off. All three looked at their arms.

“I thought those only came off when we were dead,” Thad mused.

“If you keep up with those sniping comments, that can be arranged,” Prince Daniel said, “Can you two get along with Gimilu?”

“I have always gotten along with Gimilu and Caladrino. I will be fine,” Lonnie replied.

“Gimilu will be my compatriot,” Thad answered, “My cohort, my alter ego, my bosom buddy, my soul mate.”

“I’m not asking for intimate relations,” Prince Daniel sighed, “I am simply asking that you two to get along.”

Even Lonnie sighed and shook his head.

“Go back, get your belongings and pack them up. Just leave your uniforms and Merlot clothes there. We are headed to Vandar. There is an important iron mine that their next door neighbor Colonis has captured. We had sent some of refugees from there to Grevere and the King wants the town back. It is called Piete Whin.”

“Lars village!” Thad exclaimed.

“And thanks to my brother, the Tukas were not happy about their treatment and rebuilt their army just enough to reclaim some land back from us. There may be nothing left when we get there.

 

 

TALITHA AND ISABELLA REACH THE CORNFIELD

 

Talitha and Isabella had been walking a full day when they spotted corn fields. They kept walking until they found a path. They turned off the road and started down it. The trail wound into the corn field and turned and twisted as they followed it.

“This is going to take us forever to get to the hill! This isn’t even straight!” Talitha said.

They followed it until the sun was setting.

“I am hungry,” Talitha said. Isabella grabbed a stalk of corn, broke it off, stripped the husk and began to eat it.

“This is very good!” She said, “It is sweet, not like the corn we get at the court.”

Talitha grabbed a stalk, peeled it and bit into it. They both ate their fill and then sat down. The crickets and frogs began to croak as darkness fell.

Talitha pulled out the sterno can, lit it and put it between them. They looked at it.

“I once asked my father if I could join the workers cutting crops in the fields.” Isabella said, “He said yes and sent two servants with me to help. We stayed there a week and at night they would build a fire and sit around telling stories. One was that people had been sitting around fires for eons telling stories.”

“So many points of light.” Talitha said, “I love looking at them on the island. In Grevere, they are hard to see with all the city lights.”

“We have always called it the Beauty Star. A thing of beauty. All this we get to see because you were kissing a dishboy and collecting sheets of paper.”

“You were massaging a dishboy,” Talitha replied, “I heard about that.”

“That was Calvin. I could tell he was not long for this life. I wanted to make his day a good one.”

As they talked, the moon started to peek above the cornstalks.

“I wonder if they can see the moon in Grevere at the same time we can,” Talitha asked.

“Probably,” Isabella answered, “It is so far away. Like the stars: so far away. In Grevere, you can only see a handful of stars and the moon and the Evening Star when it goes over. Looking at them makes you feel small. Like a little person looking up at all those points of light.”

They fell asleep near each other. In the morning, there was a low fog over the cornfield and the sun was still below the horizon. Isabella woke first. All was quiet. She stretched, stood up and looked around.

To her shock, they were surrounded by people silently watching them. Some were armed with guns and spears.

“We mean no harm. We are just travelling through,” Isabella said.

Talitha woke up and looked at her to see why she was speaking. She stood up and joined Isabella.

One of the men, a leader, walked over and opened their backpacks. He rummaged around until he found the bow and long white stick. He looked at them.

“Please be careful! Those are important!” Talitha said.

Isabella reached into her pocket, pulled out the key and held it up. “We have been entrusted with this. We are to take it to King’s Mountain on the other side of Glassland. We are headed that way.”

Their leader looked at the key and motioned for others to put their weapons down.

“Panatikos?” He asked.

“No, Grevere.” Talitha answered, “Friends of Ciganos. Friends of Horatio. We are seeking to find the ocean on the other side of Glassland.” Talitha said.

“Bad place. Panatikos.” The leader called out.

“We have heard they all died out and no one is there.” Talitha said.

The leader shook his head. He motioned them to follow as they walked through the corn fields until they came to the remains of two large fallen trees. He crawled behind the trees and pushed open a steel door set against a hillside. He motioned for them to follow.

They hesitated.

“This is home,” he replied.

They followed. It was dark until he clicked on the lights. A long set of stairs went down. They followed until they came to some rooms. It looked like a long abandoned underground bunker of some kind. He showed them the various rooms and they kept going down the stairs. They came to one room that was full of long-dead old electronic equipment. Numerous desks were filled with empty dark screens and rusty dials that no longer moved.

“There were once powerful trees in here. Each tunnel had one. One day they all breathed fire and flew off. They turned the cities to nothing and the sand to glass. They are now our homes and the Panatikos stay away.

He kept going until they came to a large steel door. He pushed it open and they were deep inside a large round chamber that went up. A large group of people were already inside and they were looking up. It had a cone of a ceiling far above them. He walked over to a large metal wheel on the wall and began turning it. As he did, the cone at the top slowly opened. The sun was rising and sunlight was slowly coming in. The group closed their eyes and looked downward. Talitha and Isabella looked at each other and did the same.

Slowly the group began to utter a low moan in unison. The sound began to rise higher and higher. As one group uttered at one low octave, another group uttered a higher sound and both matched each other. Isabella and Talitha opened their eyes and looked up at the ceiling in shock. Sunlight was leaking in as the moaning continued. The group was muttering something in another language, but it didn’t matter. Both women closed their eyes again. The voices made them feel like they were floating. It felt like dozens of soft ropes were raising them up higher and higher. The voices were literally pushing tears out of their eyes and they couldn’t stop. Isabella began to sob and Talitha followed shortly after. As the voices peaked, the sun shone through the ceiling, bathing them in light and they had to close their eyes again. The moaning went softer and higher and then lower and then burst forth in loudness overwhelming them.

The group finished. Talitha and Isabella were able to breathe again and they did inhaling and exhaling like they had just run along the beach.

“It keeps the angry souls quiet,” the leader said.

“If these people can do this with just their voices,” Isabella gasped, “and the jugs and tubs and wooden boards in the rain can make all those noises, what can those instruments do that were meant to control sound?”

“We must get to King’s Mountain and find out.” Talitha answered.

“Glassland – angry souls trapped there – do not cross.” The leader said.

“We must,” Talitha replied.

The leader shrugged and sadly nodded at them, “Follow the steep path at the cliffs up the hill to a large boulder and you will find the same door. Same key. Same person made them. I wish you luck.”

HAROLD GOES BACK TO LEBOTH ISLAND

 

The sun was rising up over the trees as a large speedboat dropped Harold off at Talitha’s old dock. Captain Saugus was waiting. Captain Saugus recognized that it was the same speedboat that had been looking for Talitha earlier. Harold hopped off onto the dock. Captain Saugus shook his hand and waved to the speedboat as it sped off.

“I’m very sorry to be coming here under such horrible circumstances,” Harold said.

Captain Saugus said nothing and led him up the walkway to the house.

“I’ll be back in a few,” Captain Saugus told him as he opened her door, “Look around.”

Harold walked into the house. He was overwhelmed with a feeling that he should not be there, but this time it was a feeling of mourning. Everything was still immaculate. He walked up the creaking stairs to the same room he had stayed in. He peered in, the bed was made and all was like he had left it. He turned on the same light Talitha Moore had turned on when he first saw her face. He walked into the bathroom. To his surprise there was an envelope on the sink leaning against the mirror like there had been the last time. He wondered if it was for the next dishboy who won a contest to this place. He looked the envelope over and opened it and looked at the note.

“Harold. If you ever get back here, I just want you to know: Li La Lu”

Harold folded up the note and began to tear up.

He sat on the bed holding the note when Captain Saugus pounded up the stairs. It was completely unlike the first night when he had heard Talitha delicately walking up in her heels.

“I still can’t believe she is gone. This is going to be a very difficult day.” Harold stated, “Let us get started on packing up the place.”

“Well, we have something to do first,” Captain Saugus said, “We have to go upriver a bit.”

“On what?” Harold asked.

Captain Saugus pointed below the dock where a large raft was waiting. It was set upon a giant rack of logs and was large enough to hold several people with a long stick coming out of the water on one end. In the middle was a tall pole with a closed sail on it.

“We’re heading upstream so we’ll be paddling, but we might have some wind.” He and Harold got on board and Captain Saugus untied the boat. He handed Harold an oar and they began paddling.

“When I was a young lad, there used to be rafts up and down this river. You could swim out and catch a ride on a raft for a quarter. Sometimes they had sandwiches and drinks. You could just float all day and explore.” Captain Saugus reminisced wistfully.

“How long ago was that?” Harold asked incredulously.

“This was long before there was oxygen on the planet,” Captain Saugus said sarcastically, “As a kid when you got in trouble back then you didn’t get put in a prison or sent into the army, you were forced to whitewash fences along the river. And believe me; I whitewashed just about every fence along this river. I first met Talitha along this river.”

Harold grew sad at the mention of her name while Captain Saugus suppressed a laugh.

“Sad again I see. Well, she was something, I tell you. I’m sailing my ship upriver, mind you and she is standing on the dock waving, prettiest thing I ever did see. Next thing I know she dives in and starts swimming to my boat. I’m standing there completely knackered in shock as she starts swimming toward the boat. I slow down and she crawls up onboard without any help from me and says she is bored and wants to spend the day on my boat. She has been held in high esteem ever since. I understand all of Grevere is in mourning.”

As they slowly tuned the river corner, Captain Saugus steered the raft up a smaller tributary and into dense trees.

“Where are we going? This is upriver? This doesn’t look too deep.” Harold said.

“It’s fifteen feet in the middle,” Captain Saugus said, “We’re just going around this bend.”

“How do you know it is only fifteen feet in the middle?” Harold continued.

“Because that’s what I need to get up here.”

“For your raft?”

As he said that they turned around another bend in the smaller river and there to Harold’s shock was the Ocean Princess tied to a dock.

Harold’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. It was the ship! The same ship! It was Captain Saugus’ ship!

“It sunk!” Harold yelled.

“No. I said it sunk.”

“You said it sunk! I believed you! Everyone believed you!”

Captain Saugus looked him in the face and smiled, “Did you know I am the King of Dane! I am also the King of Vander too! And Charterton! Did you believe that, too? If it will make you feel better, I changed the name from three to a four.”

Sure enough the name at the front of the ship said “Ocean Princess IIII”

“Shouldn’t that be an ‘I’ and a ‘V’?” Harold asked.

“No one will care out here. I can put anything I want on it. Even squiggly symbols.”

“Wait, so if your ship didn’t sink…” Harold became exhilarated as he continued, “Then she and Isabella did not end up in the water.”

“Well, that part did happen. But they got on my little speedboat and headed toward the shore. I assume they made it and are somewhere in the Mensa desert or crossing Glassland.”

“You let them do that?” Harold asked.

“You don’t get in the way of two women like that. They were determined to see what is on the other side. If luck is with them, they should make it in a few days.”

“Then we must get there.” Harold stated.

“It is very rough sailing.” Captain Saugus warned, “You are not exactly an expert at sea life.”

“Then I shall carry a sick bag if I must. I will go with you.”

“There could be Panatikos there.” Captain Saugus warned.

Harold thought a minute, “I will do what I can against them to save her. If I am to die doing that then so be it. How many Panatikos?”

“We don’t know. We will be passing near a military port and there should be ships at sea. We will stop one and let them know we know our plans and why and hopefully that will bring help. They are allowed what is called communication gear.”

“Communication what?” Harold asked.

“It is a way for the ships to communicate with each other. Dane allows it on their ships and military installations. I was on one of the ships once and heard it. It was amazing. You hear voices and know they are hundreds of miles away getting instructions. It is one of the reasons we are such an empire.”

As they pulled up to the ship, it started, which made Harold jump. He looked at the now laughing Captain, who pointed at the boat and someone looking out from the pilothouse.

It was Gimilu’s sister Gulu.

“I got my first mate back,” Captain Saugus said.

Gulu raced down to the deck and helped them in. She grabbed Captain Saugus and kissed him deeply and hugged him.

“Li La Lu” she said to him.

“You are going with her?” Harold asked.

“No, that’s just boating regulations. You kiss the Captain. Of course I am going with her. Have been for years. I missed her terribly when she was sent to work in the fields. She was sent for the penalty of kissing a ship captain.”

She stopped at the stairs and let him go up to the pilothouse before her.

“Oh, there you go. Age before beauty,” he said laughing.

“Gulu packed up some belongings of Talitha and Isabella’s for them. Gulu, young Harold is probably going to get a little seasick from the rough seas out there.”

Gulu led Harold into the cabin and had him sit down. She pulled out a bottle that said “Ginger root bicarbonate” and a box of crackers and put them before him.

“You did not smoke the new fidgisets, did you?” Gulu asked.

Harold shook his head.

“Good. Field burnt. All fields burned down.” She told him.

“They all burned? How?”

She smiled guiltily and turned her head sideways as if to deny anything.

“All aboard! Next stop Laintact Ocean!” Captain Saugus yelled.

The engines roared to life as the ship began to move.

 

 

 

PRINCE DANIEL AND THE FIND

Vandar: A series of large white tents were up on a hill overlooking a large encampment. Prince Daniel was sitting in his tent with his aides. Prince Daniel was showing Gimilu, Caladrino, Lonnie and Thad where to put things in the tent when an officer entered the tent. Prince Daniel looked up.

“Where is Captain Stirling?” Prince Daniel asked.

“Ummm, he is in no condition to meet today, sir,” The officer reported, “He is… under the weather.”

“That man drinks enough Stinkabus Rum to split the head of a Dane.” Prince Daniel reported.

“That is why he is still Captain after fifty years in the army. Never promoted, but never dismissed.” The officer replied.

“He is good in battle. It is when battle is over that he is trouble. He fought with my Grandfather as a private.”

“If we could keep all rum away from him, he would be fine,” the officer wondered.

“My father said that once he was put in charge of a battalion and they crossed a sugar cane field. He won the battle, but came the morning the sugar cane was all cut down and several giant vats of molasses were missing and the men were all singing. I believe they even had time to visit a brothel.”

“What is a brothel?” Thad asked.

“A house of ill repute?” Prince Daniel answered

“What is a house of ill repute?”

“A den of iniquity.”

“What is a den of iniquity?”

“You obviously have never, ever been a soldier. Tell Captain Stirling to gather his wits and come to my tent anyway.”

“You show far more balance and awareness than any others. Why are you not a general?” Thad asked.

“Thad, show some respect for our prince. At least show some respect for someone who can hold our life in his hands.” Lonnie strongly suggested.

“I have learned good judgment from previous bad judgment.” Prince Daniel replied. “When I was young, I was in a battle and headed up a small army. We won the battle, but locals raced in and slaughtered some of the enemy before we could take them prisoner. I also did not know that Dane had made a peace treaty with this group and they were on their way to help us. We won, but at great cost. Since then I have been cautious on the use of power.”

General Corsa entered the tent. “Prince Daniel, there is something you need to see.”

“General Corsa, I want my tent moved down to the field among the men. I have just arrived and if I am to inspire respect among them, I must not be here far away from the men. Like my father and his father, I realize I must earn their respect and not just demand it.”

General Corsa thought a moment, “Very well, if you do that I shall as well. But you need to see something.” Corsa motioned for two soldiers to enter and they did, carrying a little black coffin.

“Get that out of my tent. I have no desire to see what is inside, General Corsa,” Prince Daniel said, “I have seen bodies after a battle.”

“It is not a body. The men were digging graves at a battle when they uncovered this and noticed it was too light to contain a body.”

Several men stood around it. One carefully opened it to reveal a shiny maple brown hourglass shaped wooden instrument that looked like a part of a fancy chair. It had a hole in the middle of the hourglass.

“It is of a very fine wood and kept in extremely good condition, but there is nothing inside the hole.” The officer said.

The men in the tent stood looking at it as Captain Stirling staggered in holding his head. He looked at the instrument and took a deep breath and turned away.

“Captain Stirling, do you know what this is?” Prince Daniel asked.

Captain Stirling made his way to a chair and sat down before he began, “Long ago, when I was but a private serving under King Phillip, we were taking a path through some woods to avoid a Panatiko army. We were not yet large in numbers. While seeking water, we came across a cabin and inside it was a man with three daughters. As we drank from his well, he brought out his daughters. Two of them had objects like these, but they had strings across them from one end to the other. The third had a larger one the size of a very tall chair. It was resting on the ground and she held it upright. They began to run large sticks of horsehair across them back and forth and it made a sound that was unlike anything I had ever heard before or since. Each one produced a slightly different sound, but they worked in unison to affect our emotions. Even the morning birds could not match it. As they played, one by one our soldiers began to weep and some dropped to the ground. They did this only for a few minutes and we had to move on. When we came back through that way the cabin was burned to the ground and the four were not in sight. Later we captured a group of Panatikos and they said the same sounds had caused only anger in them and they killed them all. King Phillip kept asking about them, but we never found them or anything like it ever again.”

“They just sat and played them? They knew how to do that?” Prince Daniel asked.

“No, each had a stand in front and on it were pieces of paper with squiggly lines on them. They were able to read what was only gibberish to us. Their father stood in front of them waving a little white stick around. For those few minutes every man standing there forgot he was a soldier and forgot there was a war on. It remains in my mind fifty years later and I only hope that when I die I get to hear that sound again.”

“The paper with squiggly lines was what Harold gave to Talitha.” Lonnie said.

“May I go, sir?” Captain Stirling asked as he sadly looked down at the coffin.

“Permission granted,” Prince Daniel said and the officer and Stirling left.

Prince Daniel gently picked the wooden instrument up and looked at it, “I can’t even imagine how old this is.”

He gently put it back in its coffin, “We will bring this with us back to Grevere. Keep it safe.”

“That I will. Right now I need you to see something else. It is just over the hill.” General Corsa said, “Can you come with me?”

Prince Daniel nodded and pointed at his four new assistants, “I want this tent moved down to the battlefield while I am gone.”

He followed General Corsa to a large jeep where a driver was waiting. They climbed in and the jeep took off down a path.

As they drove along the path, they noticed only tree trunks and holes.

“All this was once forest, but it was cleared out during the war. Anything taller than a foot was potential cover so it was destroyed.” General Corsa explained to Daniel.

They came to sand. The jeep made its way carefully up onto the sand and drove until it arrived at a large mound. They pulled to a stop, got out and looked around.

They walked up the mound until they were on top. Prince Daniel looked out over the vast expanse of sand, then looked down. Below was a massive crater. It looked wide enough to fit an entire army. A platoon of men were digging in one area of the crater around a large entrance.

“One of our biggest bombs went way off course and hit here. When we went to look, we found an entrance,” General Corsa continued as he had some men move a large wall of stone. “When we went to look at this place, we found dozens of dead Panatikos inside so we assumed it was a bunker they were building.”

“The bomb killed them?” Prince Daniel asked.

“No. They had been digging here well before we attacked. It caved in on them like a trap. Our soldiers were able to go in through the crater and find what they were looking for. This place is far older than either of our armies. We don’t know how old it is. It was booby-trapped ages ago, but we think we deactivated all of them.”

“We think?” Prince Daniel asked them.

“We are very sure. My men have been in and out of this and I have been inside twice.”

They made their way down the side of the crater to the bottom. They walked over to the entrance. Prince Daniel peered in.

“It is all stone from here in. It was made with bricks the size of our Jeep.”

Prince Daniel looked back up at the Jeep.

“They buried this all underground?”

“One of our experts thinks this was once above ground. We kept finding remains of buildings like these, but the Panatikos had destroyed them all. You have to see what is inside.”

General Corsa clicked on a flashlight and handed him one. Prince Daniel was cautious, but followed General Corsa as they made their way down a long tunnel. Prince Daniel felt the walls along the tunnel. They were solid stone.

They continued along the tunnel until they reached the bottom. There the tunnel ceiling extended to a great height. Prince Daniel stopped and looked up.

“It’s only a little bit further,” General Corsa said.

They walked through the tunnel until it opened up into a much larger room. In the middle was a large empty stone tub.

“This is where their King was buried.” General Corsa explained, “Look up at the walls and the ceiling.”

“This must have once held treasures,” Prince Daniel uttered, “Someone raided it before we got here.”

“Long before we got here. This has been closed off for centuries.”

They shined all their lights on the walls. There were figures of people and animals. There were people with headdresses and tall crowns.

“Kings long before our Kings,” Prince Daniel said.

“They seem to tell a story about their lives. But here is the thing. This seems to be only part of it. There are other closed doors and sealed off tunnels. We will need to return someday and explore this. They may hold other incredible sights. It looks like the Panatikos were desperate to get down here and destroy all this. A year ago we found another tunnel like this but it was one the Panatikos had gotten in to and they had destroyed the walls and ceiling with axes and hammers and there was only stone. It was nothing like this, but it must have once been like this.”

“All I can think of is how much Talitha would have loved to see this,” Prince Daniel sighed,“The best thing we could do to hurt the Panatikos would be to let all of Dane know about this. I know my father and his father were very wary about revealing distractions that might upset the Panatikos, but this would be a way to honor Talitha and Isabella.”

“How much more is there?” Prince Daniel asked.

General Corsa motioned for him to follow him through another tunnel. He followed along until they came to an extremely large chamber. He turned on a very powerful flashlight and shined it upwards. On a wall were four giant statues of rulers sitting on thrones.

“These are the size of buildings!” Prince Daniel exclaimed.

“Behind them are sealed doors that lead somewhere. All these rulers tried to leave a legacy of some kind.”

“All these Kings. I wonder how many were good. How many were bad? And after thousands of years what is the difference? Were they great men or did they just have great advisors?”

“Both probably, “General Corsa answered, “The fact that you consider their greatness coming from having wise advisors indicates your temperament. Your father listens to advisors. Your brothers not so much.”

As their flashlights started to get dim they made their way back out to the crater. They crawled back up to the land and looked out over the desert.

“We better make sure we come back the way we left. I don’t want to wander this desert too much. It looks too easy to get lost.”

“Sand as far as you can see,” General Corsa explained, “If you kept going across the desert for five days, it is said you would hit Glassland.”

“Glassland,” Prince Robert said, deep in thought, “My father used to say only Ciganos and madmen cross Glassland.”

 

 

 

GLASSLAND

Talitha and Isabella were making their way across the desert. Talitha looked up at the cloudy sky.

“I am relieved it is cloudy or we would probably have drunk all the water.” she said.

“If the sun were beating down, we would probably be found dead,” Isabella replied.

“No one would find us. We would be here forever.”

“Our bodies would be here forever. We would be dead. We wouldn’t be here.”

“Where do you think we go after death?” Talitha asked.

“Who knows where we go after we are gone. My father said never tell anyone you believe in things that happen after you are dead because they start making up all sorts of rules about it. He said great wars were started over what happened to people after they were gone. There were wars over what words were used. He said they had the same definitions, there were just different words: words for a creator and words for a place where the dead went. The Panatikos were the worst because not only did you have to use their words, you had to pronounce it correctly as well or face execution.”

“I know,” Talitha said, looking up, “but when I look up at night on the island and see all the stars and the way the morning sun rises above the hill or sets along the sea or when all the flowers are in bloom I get this feeling like there is more than what I can see. Like what I am seeing is only shadows, and what is actually real is hidden and can only be felt.”

“I know. I feel it when the leaves change color or when it first snows. The snow covers all in stillness and it feels like my heart and body are cleansed from the previous year. I agree that there is more than just what we see here. The problem is everyone has a different view on it and then they get into arguments. My father said once that if people start having a powerful belief, other people come along to add rules and regulations and start charging money. During his reign he was amazed at the people who came to him with different beliefs they wanted the people to have and it always ended with them having control in some way and making a financial gain. He said even the Panatikos’ beliefs in the end were about power and control.”

“Your father was a smart man,” Talitha replied, “All of Dane knew it.”

“My father was wise enough to listen to his men. He always told me that was what made him great. Whenever they captured a new land, he would have the wisest men brought to him and make them offers to stay and live a life of comfort as his advisors. And he did not just take military or political leaders. Sometimes he would take a man with no great social standing that others said was wise. He once had his soldiers grab a man off a mountain top living alone and another in a klousture. They did not want to go, but he said he would listen to them and treat them like royalty and he said they became two of his most trusted advisors even though he argued with them a lot and did not always agree with them.”

They noticed there were shards of glass in the sand that began to get bigger and more of them appeared as they continued walking. Soon they were walking mostly on broken glass. They came to a large hillside of sand and glass and climbed over it.

They stood on the hill and looked to the horizon. One would have thought they were standing in front of a giant sea, but it was solid. There were no waves lapping, for it was all glass as far as the eye could see.

“If I didn’t know better, I would rush to that and leap in thinking it was a huge lake,” Talitha said.

They walked up to the glass and tapped it with their feet. Isabella carefully stepped on it and Talitha followed. They carefully walked along the glass. Then Isabella jumped up and down on it.

“I don’t think it is going to break. We don’t have to walk on it like we are wearing high heels. And I don’t see any trapped souls in it.” Isabella said.

“I wonder how far down the glass goes?” Talitha pondered.

“If this was done with powers from the sun then it probably goes down very far. It could be miles for all we know. It seems safe to travel on.”

They continued carefully walking on the glass until night fell. As darkness fell, a full moon rose up over the land.

“The moon seems huge tonight,” Talitha observed.

“That’s because we get to see it just as it is rising instead of over hills or trees or buildings. But it does seem large and quite bright. One could almost read by it.”

They stopped and laid out their blankets for the night.

“I guess we don’t need the sterno can tonight, but this feels like trying to sleep on a sheet of steel. This is not the most comfortable way to sleep.” Talitha pouted.

“It’s not like we have to get up early.” Isabella replied.

They sat and looked up at the sky.

“The moon seems to be blocking much of the stars tonight,” Talitha said.

“It is like trying to sleep with the light on,” Isabella said, “But look, you can see the clouds moving across the sky it is so bright. They look like objects.”

Talitha sat back up and looked upward at the sky. They watched some clouds move across near the moon. “That one looks like a pancake.”

“Please,” Isabella sighed, “A little more thinking about this than simple food items. Look, there is one that looks like a man reading a book. That one looks like a lion.”

“Okay, I see another pancake, but a smaller one. That one looks like a fried egg,” Talitha said, teasing her.

“It’s like clouds tell stories of some kind,” Isabella said. I used to take all three princes when they were little and have them lie on the grass and look up at the clouds and tell me what they saw. Carl would see food. Daniel would see animals and Robert would get up and say this was stupid and go back in the house.”

“There is a shock. I imagine that by now he has jailed half of Grevere for even smiling.”

Isabella started laughing, “Luther Pratt once said my Father told a story of a break in a battle with the Panatikos where large clouds were going by. Soldiers were waiting and started to look at the clouds and pick out figures they saw in them. My father wondered aloud if the Panatikos saw the same thing. No sooner had he said that than the Panatikos opened fire with their cannons and guns at the clouds. It was assumed they had. They wasted all their ammunition on the clouds and then one of the large clouds descended upon the Panatikos and they fled in panic, screaming all the way. Our soldiers couldn’t stop laughing because the clouds had won the battle for them.”

They both laughed and then Talitha grew wistful.

I wonder if Luther Pratt is sad. I think he felt you were the last tie to King Phillip so I imagine to him it feels like a door closing.”

Isabella thought a moment before speaking.

“Mr. Pratt and I were more than acquaintances on the court when I was young.”

Talitha looked over at her in shock, “He was betrothed!”

“Yes, and as you will recall she yelled at him a lot. I can’t imagine what she would have done if she found out. He was as much a mentor as my father was when I was a young woman. I fell for him and he did not resist. He was a very trusted advisor to my father so we kept it very quiet and when my father died, it ended abruptly. But I was very fond of him. I loved listening to his advice as he was very calm and even-handed about his answers. He did not push one agenda or another, but instead gave my father various choices and probable outcomes with each choice.”

“If your father had found out, there would have been just one outcome.”

“Yes, he once told my father there were two basic philosophies at play in every society and keeping the two balanced was the key. The first held by men was “Leave me alone. Let me do what I do in my household without interference. Do not look over my shoulder and judge or interfere.’ The second one was ‘Stop my neighbor from doing those things that annoy me. Go down there and look over his shoulder and interfere with him so he won’t bother me anymore when I spy on him from over my fence.’” He said recognizing those two things and balancing the conflict they cause is the key to keeping peace in the kingdom. My father told that story many times over dinner until my mother told him to shut up.”

“Did they ever catch on?” Talitha asked.

“No, thank the star. They just thought he was keeping an eye on me. It only became a physical relationship when I became an adult. After my father died, being around Luther was too sad and too dangerous for him. Nothing would have happened to me, but he would have been at the least pushed out of power and either sent to jail or sent out of the kingdom and his advice was too valuable to King Paul. So I left. He wrote me a letter telling me how much he missed me, but it was so dangerous he signed it ‘Abelaird’ and it said ‘to Heloise’ so no one would catch on. I did not reply. Even when his wife passed away, I dared not contact him, although I wanted to.”

“That explains why some nights he would sit outside, staring up at the evening star as it went over.” Talitha said.

“We used to watch it together. It was a sign that our evening was over and it was time for me to go home. I imagine he missed me terribly, but there was nothing I could do.”

They both looked up until the evening star slowly moved across the sky.

“Ah, there is our signal,” Isabella noted, “Just like in Grevere and Leboth Island. Night, night.”

Both women struggled and moved around, trying to find a comfortable position. After a bit, they fell asleep.

 

Talitha struggled through dreams. In her dreams they were back in the underground tunnel listening to the sounds the people made there and then listening to the rain falling on the different boards and in jars. She had strange dreams of the sun coming down and landing on the desert and turning it to glass with armies disappearing into the sun. She saw a large man in the sky slam a large door shut and lock it. As he did it she saw the remaining people fall to the ground. Finally she was lying on a slab of metal with people underneath angrily growling. She looked underneath the slab and saw a large pool of water with angry faces and eyes staring up at her, making growling sounds.

She awoke to find the moon glaring down at her almost like the sun. It lit up the entire land. She could hear a strange sound like a soft howl that moved up and down. She sat up to find Isabella also sitting straight up, looking out at the horizon making the sound.

“What are you doing?” Talitha asked.

“I’m trying to keep all the angry souls away. They were growling at me from a pond below and I kept trying to keep them at bay like the people in the tunnel.”

“I had that same dream. It was bizarre.”

Isabella continued to make the sounds up and down.

“You know you can either watch or join in. Perhaps two voices can do better than one. We can’t match the voices that were underground, but we can try.”

Talitha listened to Isabella make the noises and worked to join in. Slowly she began to catch up and made the noises except they were a little bit higher. Soon their voices began to match each other, but at different sound levels with one higher than the others.

They were interrupted by a massive cracking sound that came from far off in the distance. It was followed by more cracks and echoing noises, like vibrations bouncing back and forth across the desert. Isabella and Talitha moved toward each other in fear. Around them the glass was still solid, but it sounded like it was breaking up farther away.

“The last time I heard this was in a pond,” Isabella said, “I was walking across it in the dead of winter and the ice began breaking all around me.”

“A beautiful noise to hear?” Talitha asked.

“Up until I fell through. Luckily the pond was only up to my chest and so I waded through the ice to shore and continued home.”

“You were lucky,” Talitha replied.

“I didn’t feel lucky. I was freezing and muttered bad oaths all the way home.”

They began to make the noises again and more cracking followed scattering across the land. A large section of the glass around them made the cracking sound. Talitha looked down to see that the surface was not broken, but cracks were appearing all over. One crack raced right past them. They stopped their noises.

“It might be a good idea to wait until we are sitting next to Glassland instead of on it.” Talitha observed, “If any cracks actually open it might be difficult to cross.”

“That and we might fall through and that would not be good either,” Isabella added, “The angry souls seem to have stopped staring for now.”

They both lay back down and tried to get some sleep.

Well before dawn Glassland began to light up as the sun began to rise. Talitha and Isabella rose, gathered their belongings and began to walk. They had only walked a short while when they came across the first cracks they had heard. Many ran on for great lengths. They kept walking and by nightfall they reached the end of sheer glass. It began to change to shards again and then finally, sand.

When they had made sand, they stopped as the moon rose over the land. They sat and faced Glassland and looked out over it. Isabella began to make the sounds again and Talitha followed. They made the noises facing Glassland as the moon rose.

The sounds of glass cracking continued and this time it was accompanied by the sound of breaking as if large expensive vases were falling from a distance on to a stone floor. Both women gasped as pieces of Glassland began exploding upward and they could see great shards of glass flying up into the air.

“I do hope we are not freeing something that is going to attack us,” Talitha said.

“I would think it is the moon doing something and not our tiny voices.”

“Maybe tiny voices together can accomplish great things.”

“Perhaps we are freeing the souls they talk about. Maybe they are going somewhere. Or again it could just be the moon. Maybe it happens on a regular basis, but no one is around to see it.” Isabella sighed.

“I don’t mind taking credit,” Talitha laughed, “Even if it is just the moon.”

 

They slept only a little as the cracking and explosions continued until morning when the moon was close to setting and the sun was close to rising.

They both got up and put their backpacks on and continued walking across sand until they saw prairie.

 

 

 

TALITHA AND ISABELLA REACH THE OCEAN

 

“They stopped and looked over a valley. It was filled with crosses, but this time black ones.

“Two burial grounds; same war,” Talitha wondered.

“Same ending for most. One war after another. I’m sure wars will continue even after Glassland becomes sand again and that may take thousands of years.”

They came across a large encampment filled with huts, but they looked ruined and long abandoned.

“Panatiko’s camp?” Talitha asked.

They cautiously approached and walked around, peering in huts. Each was empty.

“Plague or they fled,” Talitha called out.

Talitha looked at one large hut and peered in. Inside there were bones lying on the ground. She could tell they once had been a person.

“Some kind of famine or they were too weak to get food.” Talitha called out to Isabella.

Isabella walked up to the top of a hill and looked out.

“Talitha!” she screamed.

Talitha ran up the hill to her. They both looked out.

Over the hill was another valley that ended at a cliff. Farther out was ocean. Along the cliff was a tall rocky mountain that rose above the cliff.

They had made it. They hugged and Isabella was so happy, she took the flare gun and fired it into the air as it sent the flare high into the sky and exploded.

The two ran down the hillside towards the cliffs. They stopped and looked out over the ocean and the waves smashing up against the steep rocky walls.

They made their way to the cliff and walked along carefully looking for a crevice. One crevice had a steep path. They clambered up it as it slowly became stairs. The stairs went on forever until they neared the top.

Isabella continued to the top, loaded the flare gun again, aimed at the sky and fired. It made another bright burst in the sky.

Near the top was a giant boulder covering a cave entrance. They clambered in and walked along until they found another giant iron door like the one the klousture had. This door was not locked. It was all dented like it had been attacked and smashed. Alarmed, they pushed opened the door to find a large empty cavern.

They entered the dark cave. Talitha pulled out her matches and lit one. They peered around. There was nothing. It was completely empty.

“This is rather disappointing.” Isabella said.

“Panatikos must have come here long ago and destroyed everything.” Talitha replied.

They kept looking around until Talitha found something in the rock. She reached over and wiped her hands along it. It was a dusty metal plaque in the wall. She looked closely at what it said.

 

If you can read this, you are not Panatiko. Remove the large boulders on the other side and you will find a lever hidden in the rocks. Pull it down.”

 

Talitha and Isabella began pulling boulders until they found a lever. Talitha pulled it. A large wall of rock disintegrated as a large steel door slide open revealing an opening.

Talitha lit another match and the two walked in. She saw a switch on the wall and flipped it up. One by one, lights in the ceiling turned on. Every object was covered in black tarp. Isabella pulled a tarp off of one to reveal a dark brown table shaped a bit like a dining room table. The top was shiny enough to serve dinner on, but it had only three wooden legs and a strange piece in the middle at the front that hung down and had pedals on it.

On a wall was a panel that looked like a window. Below it was an open panel with wires sticking out. Talitha walked up to it, looked it over and pressed a button near it. To her shock a woman appeared in the window. Talitha leaped back. The woman appeared to be talking, but was silent. Her lips were moving, but she made no noise.

The window then showed a group of people in fine suits sitting holding various instruments, but completely frozen as if waiting for something. Some were holding metal pipes of varying sizes to their faces. Others were holding what looked like the brown seat of a chair with a long handle and strings along it while some behind them were holding far larger versions that looked like funny chairs. They were all holding little fishing poles like the one Horatio had given them.

The people in the window got smaller and Talitha and Isabella could see more and more people in the picture holding other instruments until they spotted an old white haired man standing in front of them on a platform holding a long white stick: the same stick they had been given.

The old man began to wave the stick with a fury and all the people were making violent jerking motions. Those holding the brown chair seats had their fishing poles racing back and forth across the strings. Others were blowing hard into various metal instruments. On the side was the same shiny table, but its top was up at a 45 degree angle with a stick keeping it up. They could see long metal strings inside and the person at the front was pounding on some white and black keys. The window then showed what they were looking at: it was pages and pages of the funny scribbling Talitha collected. She gasped at the sight.

Isabella went over to the table and lifted a wooden covering in front revealing the same white and black keys. She pounded on some and was stunned at the noise it made.

The window continued to play the scene with people moving furiously and the man with the stick still waving. Isabella looked at the shiny table and the window. She walked over to the window and began playing with the wires below it. She connected two wires together. As she did Isabella’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened.

Boom! Isabella dropped to the ground from electrical shock. There was a loud explosion of sound. Isabella slowly recovered as Talitha ran over to help her up.

The window came alive with sound. The people were now playing instruments that made sound and it completely took over the room with the same high and lows and loud and soft like the voices in the chamber but with many more sounds. Periodically the window would show a group of people playing the same instruments and they could hear just those sounds. When they showed the man at the shiny table, he began playing and the sound made them weep.

The group played with more fury as the sound built and built and built and then stopped. They all stood and bowed while people could be heard clapping and whistling.

The window cut to the woman again. She spoke.

 “I am Doctor Zita Moore-Taylor. I work at launch control and have been surviving here for one month. We have hidden some instruments here as well as around the world to keep them from harm. I will now be heading to Cape Grissom with this entire group where they will be putting their last instruments into the last rocket that we will launch to the space station where the instruments will be kept safe. We have stored as much art and music as we could in the station. It now holds all our most cherished pieces from history, safe from the Panatikos who want it all destroyed. Although we have made copies of everything and hidden them, we can only hope all that we are storing up there is for a purpose and that someday it will arrive back on the planet. We have set up an orbit so that it goes overhead every night around bedtime so that people will remember. We hope someday that the sounds and sights that are being banished will someday return and the world will finally see and hear again. Until then, people shall look up at the star for hope and inspiration. To quote Shakespeare, it ‘shall make the face of heaven so fine, that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.’”

The window went silent.

“Hence the name Beauty Star,” Isabella observed, “All that beauty and sound stored so long up there in a place we can never get to. All the star can do now is remind us to try and recreate what was up there. That is so sad.”

“At least the Panatikos can never get to it. It must have angered them so to see it go over every night. Almost taunting them that one day it would return.”

Talitha walked over to the shiny table and began pushing several keys down in various places on the board. It plunked and planked and sounded nothing like what they heard, but she kept going and stopped and pushed one key at a time in various places and then stopped.

“How do we even bring any of this back?” Talitha asked.

“We go and tell all of Grevere about it and get General Corsa to bring an expedition here.” Isabella answered.

They sat wondering what to do when they heard a loud blast from some kind of loud horn – it was a single note and blew for some time and was rather ominous. It was coming from down below the cliff.

“Soldiers?” Talitha asked.

“Whoever they are, they shouldn’t find this place. They’ll come up here looking for us and if they are bad they will destroy this place. Take the backpacks. We will say that we were lost and wandering the cliffs for food.”

The horn blew again. This was not a friendly sounding horn. It sounded more like a warning.

They raced out of the cavern, locked the door behind them and made their way down the stairs along the cliffs where they saw a man on a horse. He was wearing a black leather and metal outfit and carried a shield and sword and was watching them.

He yelled something in a language they did not understand.

“What is he speaking?” Talitha asked.

“By the symbols on his shield, I do believe that is a Panatiko Warrior.”

They looked down at him. Isabella surveyed the scene.

“If we run along the side, there is a crevice we can crawl down. It looks like it would only be a 50 foot drop to the water.”

Isabella looked again, “Maybe 80 feet, or 100. I’m not sure. But the water looks deep enough if we fall right. He will not follow.”

“We have to get past him to do that,” Talitha replied.

“Stay near me and keep your backpack open,” Isabella remarked as they made their way down the cliffs towards him. The horseman eagerly waved his sword around and muttered something.

When they got to the bottom of the hill, he raised his sword and raced towards them, lowering his shield. When he was only ten feet away, Isabella reached into Talitha’s backpack and pulled out the flare gun.

She fired it as he swept in on them. Taken by surprise, the flare blew him off his horse. He started to get up, but she slammed another flare into the gun and fired at him. It left him with a huge hole in his leather as he fell down and tried to put the fire out on his thick jacket.

They took off running when they heard another loud horn, this time from up on a hilltop. The number of men on horseback grew from a small group to a large army. They looked down on the two women.

“Put your backpack down. We have only one chance. The water.” Isabella said.

“We will drown!” Talitha yelled at her.

“What are our chances? Killed by these soldiers? After they do whatever else they want to us?”

Both of the women put their backpacks down. Isabella pulled out two more flares and fired them into the sky. She pulled out the smoke signal can and shoved it into her pocket. She shot a third over the heads of the horsemen as they began their charge down the hill with their swords held high.

The army of horsemen swept down the hillside as they ran towards the crevice Isabella had spotted.

It was apparent the men were going to catch the two women before they made the crevice as they cheered and whooped and moved towards the duo.

A huge explosion appeared where they were and they disappeared in massive smoke.

Another massive explosion hit a large part of the army as the rest scattered. Another explosion went off on the cliffs.

As they ran, the few remaining horsemen were gaining on them with their swords high.

“Bend your knees when we jump. Relax so you won’t break anything. Then look for each other in the waves.”

They kept running until the horsemen were almost upon them. They turned and leaped off the cliff as one started to swing his sword upon them.

They screamed as they fell and both landed amidst a large wave. It swept over them. Isabella popped up first and then Talitha. They held on to each other having no idea which way to go.

Another huge explosion hit the cliffs. It was followed by several more.

They kept working to stay afloat. Isabella pulled out the smoke signal can and opened it. It surrounded them with thick orange smoke.

“You are going to choke us to death,” Talitha screamed.

Isabella dropped the can and they both tried to swim away from it. As they did a little boat whizzed past them. It turned, slowed down near them. It was Captain Saugus and Harold.

“Get in!” Captain Saugus yelled as he and Harold struggled to get them into the boat.

He pulled out a flare gun and fired a shot that exploded in different colors. They spun the boat around and raced out to sea as more explosions hit the top of the cliffs farther up on the hills.

“Sorry for cutting it a bit close,” Captain Saugus apologized.

Talitha looked at Harold, “I am very glad to see you. My hero. A dishboy as my hero.”

“I had help,” Harold explained.

As they got out towards open sea and the waves calmed down, Harold pointed and in the distance was a large battleship.

“This week’s paper shall say “Dishboy rescues Talitha Moore,” Talitha said.

“Dishboy and Sea Captain rescue Talitha Moore and Princess Isabella,” Isabella added.

“Thank you. I actually get credit.” Captain Saugus bellowed.

“Everyone will want to hear from you. The land has been celebrating ever since word got out that you were alive,” Captain Saugus told them.

“We have stories to tell,” Isabella stated, “of heroes and villains and secrets unveiled and sightings explained.”

“And heroes who came for us so that we could return,” Talitha said as she reached over and kissed Harold.

“Li La Lu,” Harold said.

Talitha shook her head, “I love you!” She yelled.

Isabella gasped. Talitha just nodded and continued kissing him.

 

As the Ocean Princess pulled into the bay and neared the dock, they could see a thousand little lights everywhere.

“It looks like a lot of citizens of Grevere are eager to see you.” Captain Saugus said, “News that you are alive interrupted your memorial service. I don’t think you have to worry about being arrested. And you Isabella can go back to peace and quiet on Leboth Island.”

“I think for now my life is going to be in Grevere. There is work to be done.” Isabella corrected him.

As they arrived at the dock in Grevere that night, fireworks went off, filling the sky. A large crowd broke into cheers.

As Talitha stepped off the boat, Novello Pardo was first to greet her.

“Miss Moore, all of Grevere is celebrating that you and Princess Isabella are alive. How do you feel? What do you have to say?”

“I am in love with a dishboy,” she answered.

“And such a lovely dress – what???” Novello screamed and dropped her paper and pen to her side.

Harold, Isabella and Talitha walked out to the crowd and waved.

Luther Pratt was standing in the crowd watching with tears in his eyes. Isabella saw him and made her way over to him.

“Princess Isabella,” Luther said, trying not to choke up, “I cannot tell you how happy I was when news spread that you were alive. I have missed you so terribly. I am so glad”

Isabella cut him off and kissed him. He looked at her speechless, and she kissed him again and hugged him closely.

“It is time we caught up on things. I shall set aside time. I shall set aside all the time in the world,” she whispered to him and kissed him again.

“The evening star is early tonight!” Captain Saugus said as he looked up in the sky.

“Very early,” Isabella added, looking up as well.

They all watched the evening star. It was moving across the sky, but then became brighter and brighter and left a long trail behind it. It moved from one, to two and then three and then five pieces as smaller pieces broke away and became points of light on their own for a few seconds.

People around oohed and awed as they watched it. Isabella and Talitha realized what was breaking up. It was the evening star. It was the station that held the world’s remaining beauty and it was breaking up into a ball of fire with everything in it.

Isabella and Talitha began to cry. They thought of the description Dr. Moore had written of the piece the last orchestra in the world had played: First the piano started and then the rest of the ensemble joined in, one section at a time. It was like watching a star glide across the sky and split in two and then three pieces until it looks like fireworks.

Isabella hugged Talitha and said in her ear, “The world will know. This I promise. The world will know.”

They looked up at the falling star breaking into more pieces before making a loud booming sound and thought of the piece described in the journal and they both wondered what it sounded like. What it sounded like. What it sounded like.


© Copyright 2019 Chabot1977. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Miscellaneous