Keeping the Lamp Lit - Part XIX
t was not every day that the garrison of Metamor took a castle by storm, and the atmosphere in the Deaf Mule that night showed it. There was singing and drinking and dancing, and even the vanquished guards of Loriod's little fiefdom joined in, glad that their own long suffering seemed to be over. A handful among them were keeping Roscoe company in the dungeon below under suspicion of aiding and abetting the one everybody now openly referred to as the "Foul Lord", but the rank and file seemed to be celebrating their defeat as thoroughly as the bulk of the crowd celebrated their victory. Thomas had ordered fireworks, and a group of mages were busily decorating the heavens with dragons and flaming swords to the delight of all who looked on.
Except for one.
Thomas sat wearily in Phil's little room, looking out at the fiery spectacle unmoved. Phil sat close by in his little home, busily trying once again to burrow his way out of the gilded cage. The horse-king listened to the mindless scratching sounds, and a tear began to form under his right eye...
...only to be furtively wiped away as he heard dainty footsteps approaching. It was Kimberly, of course, caring for Phil while Rupert's leg mended itself. It was his duty, Thomas knew, to appear unmoved and unafraid in front of his subjects. So, he stiffened his back and adopted a more regal bearing as he watched the display commemorating his bloodless triumph while still choking back tears within.
For, according to the wisest mages and most learned scholars in the known world, with Loriod had died the last hope of saving Phil. Later tonight he would undertake the sad duty of writing Tenomides and informing him of the loss of his adopted son, but for now the pain just burned too brightly within him. The Prophecy was broken, and his best friend mindless.
"My Lord?" Kimberly asked hesitantly.
"Yes?" replied the Duke, trying to keep his voice from breaking in grief.
"Is it true what I heard today, that Phil is forever an animal now?"
The rumors were already flying, it seemed. Not that Phil's caretaker could be expected not to hear the truth. "Yes," Thomas replied flatly, and told her the whole story. "The magic has become part of his body, and the caster of the spell is dead. It is forevermore," he concluded.
Kimberly gasped in shock. "Oh, no!"
"We all feel that way, Kimberly. We all do. But there seems to be nothing to be done about it. The spell enhanced the animal within him, and once magnified his lapine tendencies overwhelmed his human personality. Perhaps if someday the Curse of Metamor can be reversed and the rabbit removed from Phil altogether he will recover. But the mages, as you know, hold little hope for that either, for any of us."
"That is... horrid."
"Horrid!" Thomas exclaimed, bitterness strong in his voice as the emotion finally broke through. "Horrid, you say! And you are right, of course. Phil's fate IS a horrid one. But what about the rest of us? What will happen when Nasoj triumphs, now that the Prophecy is broken? We were only a trio for such a short time! Surely Mad Felix had more in mind for Matthias and Phil and I than this! My people celebrate even as we speak, thinking a great victory is won! But without the Prophecy trio, all is lost. All is utterly lost!" And finally, crushed under the weight of a responsibility no one should have to bear, Duke Thomas began to weep.
Kimberly came to him then, of course, as any decent human would to another, and they hugged for a long, long time until Thomas returned to himself. Finally, he pulled away and nodded to the rat-woman. "Thank you, child," he said simply, turning back to the window and the false celebration of victory. Kimberly just stood quietly by her Sovereign in reply.
Eventually she spoke. "My Lord, what did you just say about my Charles and a Prophecy?"
"Hmm? You mean he has not yet told you?"
"No, My Lord."
"Well, then. I think that is his job. I will say no more."
A few more moments of silence passed. Then Kimberly spoke again. "My Lord, you say Phil was poisoned through his carrots?"
"Yes." Thomas's voice was once more flat and dead.
"Well... If I offer a suggestion, would you laugh?"
"Not at all, Lady Kimberly," Thomas replied. Then he sighed, and went on. "A suggestion is more than any other soul here can offer."
"Well... I used to work in the kitchens, you know. Until you needed a nurse for Father Hough."
"Carrots are often used in stews. Once I made a silly mistake and daydreamed while I was slicing carrots into a boiling pot. I put in four times the amount of carrots I should have." Kimberly looked uncomfortable, then saw she had Thomas's full and undivided attention. "I was SO upset! Right away I went and got the head cook, but he just laughed and added three more portions of meat, potatoes, spices, and then poured the whole thing over into a bigger pot and added more water. I was so afraid I had made a terrible mistake, but in the end we just had to cook less the next day."
Thomas looked baffled. "Kimberly, I am sure you are trying to help, but we cannot just add more Phil!"
"We don't HAVE to!" Matthias's love responded intently. "All we have to do is cast a NEW spell on him enhancing his humanity! We just need to make the non-rabbit part of him stronger!"
Shifting a bit in his doublet and hose, Charles Matthias stared out the window at the sea. The wharfs were filled with ships; beyond them the crashing surf foamed over the bricks to flow down drains that lined the docks. He'd arrived only yesterday, but under Tenomides's orders, he was immediately sent to the tailor and had an outfit crafted for him. Not that the rat minded at all - running around nude was not something he made a habit of - it was just that he'd never worn anything quite like this before.
At his request, the tailor had made it a green doublet, which was his favorite color. And the word from King Tenomides was that it was his. Apparently once they found out he was a friend of Phil's, everything turned around for him. He had servants attending to his every need. They supplied him with cheeses of more exotic varieties than he'd ever seen before in his life. And best of all, they gave him the tower apartments usually assigned for visiting royalty.
However, despite all of this preferential treatment, he still felt like a prisoner. He wanted ever so badly to return to Metamor Keep and his Lady, but Tenomides had so far refused to see him. So he stood at the window, gazing out upon the world from this lofty perch, marveling at the rolling waves and the clear skies that stretched in every direction. Through another window he could glimpse a portion of the Island of Whales, with sloping hill sand broad plains. Through yet another he could see the rest of the Capital city, with prosperous homes and small villages just outside the city walls.
Watching the various humans milling about in the streets reminded him that once Metamor had been like this. It used to be a city that was considered the shining star of the Midlands. The northern Tier of that great civilization. now it was an abomination to many, though they begrudgingly traded and kept up relations, if only because of the political necessity. Were Nasoj no threat, the Metamorian would long since have been abandoned by the rest oft he world.
Of course, with one small exception, Charles noted. Whales was the only real ally Metamor had. Sure, they traded with Sathmore and the Midlands, even sometimes with the Pyralian Kingdoms, but it never went further than that. With Phil being the Crown Prince and also Keeper, it solidified their alliance for at least a generation to come. Perhaps in time, that alliance might spread to other lands as well.
Charles however wanted to be back where animals walked on two legs, children could order wine from the bar, and women dressed in military uniform. Of course there were other problems waiting for him when he got back. Yet they paled into insignificance when compared against what he had accomplished and the lives it had saved. And he intended to reveal his innermost secrets to the woman that he loved. She deserved to know them.
Just as he was about to dwell on Lady Kimberly, a knocking was sounded at the door. He turned to face the ornate paneled doors and called out, "Come in!"
It was a messenger, with bandolier and customary Whales dress, standing before him, looking down at the rat with not even the slightest bit of distaste. After all a rabbit was to be their king, they had better get used to dealing with Metamorians. "His Majesty requests that you join him in his chambers presently, sir."
"Ah, excellent. Would you guide me?" Matthias walked quickly over to the young man with curly brown hair and dark almond-shaped eyes. The youth nodded, and quickly made his way down the hall. The honor guard that had been posted at his door followed after Matthias, making him feel a little bit uncomfortable. He didn't really need the guards, but was not about to refuse an offer from a King.
It was just a short brisk walk to the King's private chambers, and Charles found them remarkably unadorned. There were a few knick-knacks, but none of the usual trappings that royalty seemed to burden itself with. Their was but a single table in the center of the room, and another along one wall. Charts covered nearly an entire wall, all of them drawn meticulously by the cartographers of Whales.
And standing at the window, a small mazer in hand, was Tenomides. He was a tall man, with greying hair, and wrinkling skin. Yet at the same time, his frame remained powerful, and his whole aura radiated strength and durability. Yet their was a certain compassion in the way his eyes spackled and his smile came to his lips. Charles knew, the moment he saw him, that he truly liked this man, this King.
"Your Majesty, Charles Matthias, as you requested," The messenger called out.
Tenomides smiled warmly, and then walked towards the chairs about the central table. "Ah, thank you, Peracles. You are dismissed. Charles, do come in and have a seat."
As the guards stayed abreast the door, along with Tenomides's own guards, and the messenger left, Charles walked into the room, sure to give the King a deep bow. "Your Majesty."
"No need of that," Tenomides assured him jovially. "Have a seat. Shall I get you something to drink?"
"No thank you, I've had plenty already." Charles slipped into a high chair, placing his arms against the table. His tail curled about his legs which he tucked beneath him. It was a bit uncomfortable sitting this way while wearing a hose, but he endured. "Your hospitality is without measure."
Tenomides slipped into a chair on the corner of the table, only a few feet from Charles, and smiled broadly again. "I am honored to have such a worthy guest to show my favors upon."
"I see you run a good kingdom here. The people have been very friendly and helpful during my stay so far."
"I'm glad to hear that. It is not everyday that we have a guest form Metamor staying with us." Tenomides then leaned in a little closer, hands still firmly about his mug. "It may embarrass you to know, but among my personal staff, you are considered to be a noble yourself."
Matthias blinked. "How did I manage that?"
"Phil's correspondence with me has spoken highly of you, among others. Phil's opinion carries a lot of weight here. Speaking of him, how is my adopted son?"
"He was doing well the last time I saw him. That was nearly a month ago though." Charles then tapped his finger claws on the table for a moment and finally asked what he really wanted to know. "So, when I am going back?"
Tenomides took a quick drink of his cider and then replied, "Tomorrow morning Heraclitus will fly you back."
"The dragon who found you. He never told you his name?"
"Well, tomorrow you shall return to the Keep. But tonight I was hoping that I could spend some time with one of Metamor's greatest storytellers. Surely you can regale with me stories of the Keepers and of their struggles. Maybe even some of your own adventures. How you came by that amulet might be a good place to start." Tenomides pointed to the jewel dangling from the rat's neck.
Since he was going to be here the rest of the night anyway, and since he was an ally, Charles knew it would be all right. Getting into his storyteller mode, he found the most unobvious place where a tale could begin. "Well, it all started in a dungeon..."
Every mage at Metamor wanted to be the one to cast the spell, of course. But only one actually could. And Rupert, acting as Phil's guardian from his sickbed, had unhesitatingly chosen Wessex. Those who knew the Prince best knew he would approve of that decision. There might be more experienced mages available, or even more powerful ones. But Wessex was Phil's friend, and everyone knew that Phil placed a great deal of faith in simple friendship.
Thus it was that Phil's closest friends gathered in the back of Phil's chamber that evening, all except Rupert who was still bed-bound until his bones knit enough for crutches. And all looked with expectancy and hope at Wessex, who stood before them.
"Friends," he said, "My Lord. As you know, I am going to be trying new magic here, an approach that has never been attempted before. I can make no promises, and it may even prove dangerous. Once I begin, I will need total silence."
As one, the spectators nodded.
"This work will be done in two stages. First, I am going to hypnotize Phil. This is necessary in this kind of magic or great harm can result. Then, I am going to put a spell on him that will emphasize and strengthen the human in him. Once I have begun this, I will continue to 'push' the human side as long and as hard as I can. I expect him to change form, physically. I may even be able to return to a fully human state, or near to it. If this proves possible, it may be that we have found not only the answer to Phil's problems, but a cure to the Curse for us all."
This pronouncement was met with a shocked silence, then a mutter arose. Clearly, no one but Wessex had thought of this angle. What if instead of trying to reverse the Curse they simply overpowered it? It was a new concept, indeed!
Wessex looked to the Duke, who solemnly nodded. And the mage began his procedure.
First, as he had stated, he hypnotized Phil with a jeweled pendant and a monotonous incantation. Then, after prodding the rabbit a couple times to ensure that he was truly unresponsive, Wes began his real work.
Gradually he absolutely covered the tabletop Phil sat on with intricate lines and runes, all the while mumbling spells to himself. Frequently he consulted a grimoire in the language of Nasoj, and from time to time even climbed up a ladder he had brought to look upon his arrangement from above. It was hard and heavy work for one so slightly built and with such a short reach, but Wessex never broke his concentration. Finally, the last mark was in place, and the last preparatory incantation complete. With a sigh of relief, the boy wiped the sweat from his brow, and poured himself a little water from an earthen pitcher to quench his thirst. Then he moved the ladder away from his table, and looked once again at his liege. Thomas nodded again, and Wessex removed a tiny jar of red earth from inside his robe. With exquisite care he traced the stick figure of a man on the white fur of Phil's forehead, and began a rapid incantation far more complex and intense than any that had gone before, one that sounded all the more odd for coming from a boy's throat.
Instantly the tiny drawing glowed red, but Wessex was prepared for that. From a box left standing open he drew some dust, and scattered it over the drawing until the glow subsided. Then the chant became more rhythmic, more powerful as the boy matched his strength against that of the Curse. Louder and louder Wes became, and more shrill.
And Phil began to Change.
It was a miracle the Keepers had long dreamed of, coming true before their very eyes. The Prince began to grow, and subtly change in shape. Thumbs appeared where they had long been absent, and his tail became even shorter. Subtle proportions changed, and Phil's ears shrank away to almost nothing. But Wessex was clearly struggling, clearly fighting to keep the Change going. Still, he seemed calm and confident....
...until the Crown Prince of the Island of Whales burst into flames, and began screaming and writhing in agony! Wes was so shocked that he actually missed a beat in his chant, and he looked ready to panic until Thomas shouted out.
"Wessex!" he cried, "Phil was on fire when the curse came upon him. We all forgot about it! You must change him back!"
The boy-mage nodded eagerly, understanding now what was happening. And as he eased off his chant the flames vanished, leaving only the scent of burned flesh hanging heavily in the air.
And Phil, unchanged, still entranced upon the table.
As he uttered his last syllable, Wessex slammed his small fist down. "Damnation! We were so close! So very close! But I have failed, utterly!"
"But you have done much!" Thomas insisted. "We just forgot about the fire, is all. No harm done- Phil will not remember a thing. Next time, we can be ready to extinguish it, have healers right to hand..."
"No, My Lord," Wes replied, clearly on the edge of tears. "You do not understand. It was not the flames- they were just a distraction. As hard as I 'pushed', the Curse 'pushed' back. Certainly, I could enchant Phil or anyone else for that matter back into a more human form while they lie spread upon a table hypnotized, and I exert myself to the utmost. But as soon as I rest, they will return to their Cursed form! And this means there still is no hope for my.... my..." And with that, the powerful wizard began to bawl like a child.
Kimberly rushed to the wizard's side, and hugged him tightly while he cried. And the Duke just stood silent, head hanging. People began glumly to leave by ones and twos, as from a funeral, until only Thomas, Kimberly, and Wessex remained. Presently, the boy-in-body's tears passed, and he got back to business.
"I had better get Phil out of that trance. He will be stiff and sore from sitting so still for so long as it is. The sooner I release him the better. And with that, Wessex uttered a single syllable and snapped his fingers.
Phil collapsed to the tabletop like a puppet with all its strings cut.
"Oh, no!" Wessex exclaimed, rushing to the table. "He's not supposed to do THAT!"
Immediately Wes pulled back an eyelid, only to find out Phil's pupils were rolled back in his head. And then the rabbit began twitching uncontrollably, bouncing about like a wind-up toy with a broken mainspring. "Quick!" the mage cried. "Hold him down while I prepare another spell!" And both Thomas and Kimberly dashed forward, and pinned him to the table as best they could though one powerful hindleg still threatened injury to anyone that came near. Wessex began a quick chant and gathered his power...
...but it was never used. Phil went limp again for a moment, then blinked twice. His eyes tracked intelligently, then, and focused clearly on Thomas's face inches from his own.
A fire was lit in the big blue eyes that had not been seen for a very long time.
Finally, Phil spoke.
"Go ahead. Kiss me, you fool!" he said.
Thomas groaned in mock pain and released his friend. No question about it, Phil was back....
It was already late afternoon when Matthais was finally able to see the Keep's highest towers from beyond the mountains. It was such a precious sight. Heraclitus was small enough to land on one of the watchtowers in the castle itself. Charles had expressly told the dragon where to set down, he was not going to run all the way through town. He had to get to Phil's apartments first, to deliver this amulet. After having it for over a week, he was sick of it. Let the Keep's mages deal with it.
Of course, as they neared the Keep, the great blue dragon Cerulean came aloft to inspect the intruder. Charles loved the look in Cerluean's purple eyes when he came close enough to recognize the rat hanging from the back of the invader.
"Matthias?" Cerulean called out against the wind.
"It is me, Cerulean, let us land. Heraclitus will leave as soon as I'm safely delivered," Charles shouted, his words almost drowned into silence from the blowing air.
"I will not trouble you long," Heraclitus affirmed.
"All right. I shall tell the others you are coming."
"No! Let me do it."
"As you wish." Cerulean then turned upon his wings and descended back towards the castle grounds, while Heraclitus headed for a moderately sized tower. The guard standing a top it held her ground, until she saw Matthias drop from the blue dragon's wing, and wave. Heraclitus then took to the air once again to make the long trip back to Whales.
"Welcome home, Matthias," She said, a bit awed.
"Nice to see you again, Edwina." Charles inclined his head to her. "But I must be going to see Phil."
"Oh." Edwina's face fell at that, and it puzzled him.
"Is something wrong?"
"You'll see." She bit her lip, turning back to face the skies. Charles sucked in his breath, holding the amulet firmly in his paw, the doublet and hose tight against his chest and legs. Scampering down the long flights of steps back into the castle proper, he quickly made his way, passed startled servants and glum mages to Phil's quarters.
As he passed through the threshold, he could see everybody that he'd ever wanted to talk to all standing there waiting for him. Duke Thomas was lying over top Phil, his face brighter than he'd ever seen it. Wessex was sitting on the ground, sweat drenching his childish features. But most important to him, was the other figure, who turned at the sound of his toe claws upon the floor.
"Charles!" Lady Kimberly shouted upon seeing him. She nearly jumped into his embrace as he stood there, arms open and heart full of joy. She held onto him, burying her head into his new clothes, and hugging him for all the strength she could manage. "I've missed you so!"
"And I you. I am so happy to see you, my Lady, I cannot describe it." Charles watched as the eyes of all the others turned upon him. Both Duke Thomas and Phil seemed utterly stunned to see him back. Wessex was chuckling lightly.
"Charles?" Phil and Thomas asked simultaneously.
"Hello you two. I have the amulet." He pulled it from his neck, and tossed it to Wessex, who cradled it gently. "And I have good news. We confounded all of the western army of Nasoj. May confusion reign upon them forever!"
"Hear, hear!" Thomas agreed, even as he let Phil up to his feet.
"When did you get back in port? You must have had very good winds," Phil asked. "They told me that it's only been a few weeks since you left." Phil then seemed to notice his particular outfit. "And why are you dressed like a nobleman from Whales?"
"The ship was destroyed as we were fleeing Arabarb, but don't worry, Ptomamus and most of the others made it safely back. I've spent the last few days in Whales recuperating. I got a dragon flight to and from there. I'll tell you all about it later." Charles then, arm in arm with Lady Kimberly, noticed the rather disheveled nature of his companions. "You all look rather exhausted. What's gone on in my absence?"
"Loriod nearly destroyed Phil's mind, and we were forced to take his castle. In the battle, he was killed. He also kept your friend, Father Hough captive for some very unpleasant things. He's still recovering." Thomas's voice was quite steady as he reported those things. Charles listened aghast, but with a feeling of renewed hope. Loriod was dead. His blackmailer was dead, and many good institutions could continue to shine brightly in the darkness.
"Is he?" Charles asked.
Thomas nodded. "He's a child now."
Charles sucked in his breath quickly, glad to hear that Hough would not suffer the humiliation of becoming a woman and having to give up the cloth. He then considered Thomas a moment, and knew that he had one thing he had to do before anything else. "My liege, I ask your forgiveness for what I nearly did to you almost a month ago. Can you forgive a foolish rat his terrible temper? I will pledge to you my unfailing loyalty."
Thomas stared at him a moment, the great stallion's eyes piercing him to the quick. The silent moments continued on for what seemed an eternity before Thomas nodded his head emphatically. "Of course I forgive you. We are a trio after all! We are the prophecy. We need each other. I will be proud to have you at my side when the final battle comes upon us."
Charles nodded his head, hugging close to Kimberly. He stared down at Phil, who was very excited. "Thank you Phil, for showing me what I needed."
"Thank you Charles, for doing what was needed, and for being my friend." Phil inclined his head respectfully, and Charles returned the gesture automatically.
Matthias then looked Kimberly in the eye. He could so easily become lost in there. It was deep black, but there was a life inside it that gave him hope for a brighter future. He licked her nose playfully, and then wiggled his whiskers. "And I have a few things to tell you."
"Whenever you are ready, my Charles." She said, smiling brightly, her face the most beautiful thing he could have ever seen. There could be no doubt, this was indeed a bright lamp, and nothing would ever snuff them out.
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