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I – The Camp
This story starts on a Tuesday. At least the way it’s told it began on a Tuesday. Alan used to tell it to his kids when they were little, having read it in a book by Isaiah Buxley. Isaiah Buxley found it on an obscure shelf in a library one day, in a book with a plain brown cover. But the adventures of Isaiah Buxley are a subject for another time. You can tell because Isaiah’s story started on a Friday and as I have already told you, this story starts on a Tuesday.
It takes place in a time when there were still kings and queens, princesses, and castles. It was so long ago that everyone who was in the story has been gone for some time, so we can’t ask them which parts of the story are true and which parts have, shall we say, colorful facts. No doubt that some of the rules of nature remained the same as they are today. Children still had parents and each person who was born into the world would eventually die. Other rules were more or less fuzzy than these.
On this particular Tuesday the wizard Alamus had been traveling all day along a dirt road. When the sun grew lower in the west he began to look around for a place to camp for the night. At the edge of a nearby wood he noticed another group of travelers setting up for the evening. As he drew closer the smell of a freshly lit campfire wafted through his nostrels. To the side of the fire pit was a man wearing a red hat mounting a newly killed wild boar on a spit.
Alamus looked around the site and saw several others putting up a white tent with red trim. On the door of the tent was a red dragon and golden sword, the emblem of the house of Odenwald. The white tent was symbolic of the king’s youngest daughter, Jan. Jan wasn’t her full name. You see each of the king and queen’s children were named after the months in which they were born. Princess Jan was born in January. Princess June was born in June. Prince Octavio, was born in October. It is quite a stroke of luck that none of his five children were ever born in the same month. Princess Jan was the youngest of King Hans van Odenwald’s five children.
A young man in his late teens or early twenties greeted Alamus as he moved closer into the camp. The two strangers introduced themselves. Alamus as a traveling wizard, and the young man as Dashtek which literally means small desert. Dashtek welcomed Alamus into the camp. It is always a good idea to welcome a traveling wizard into your camp, especially if it’s the time of year when rainclouds visit. No one likes getting rained on while they are sleeping. Most of us will put up a tent to keep the rain off, but traveling wizards have a different way of staying dry. Usually they will put a spell over wherever they sleep so that it does not rain while they are resting. The exact words of the spell are something similar to a pinching a garden hose. The cloud will rain, pinch itself over the wizard, and unpinch itself after it passes. This means that when the cloud starts raining again it’s got to dump the rain it held in while it was pinched. So you can see it is much better to have a traveling wizard place a spell in your camp instead of next to it.
Dashtek began to introduce Alamus to the rest of the party. The hunter Kilewal (which means villager) was the man placing the boar on a spit. Alamus lifted his hand with a friendly wave. In response the good hunter only grunted and went back to work. If you were there you might have assumed Kilewal’s reply was rude and because of some personal animosity towards Alamus. This was far from the truth. Kilewal was rude this way to everyone. He even grunted at his mother. Dashtek didn’t know is that Alamus and Kilewal had met before, but that is another story.
The Lady Arable was the princess’ escort for the journey, and noticed the wizard as she was moving in and out of the tent. She paused to offer a quick and polite curtsy to the visiting wizard before turning to enter the tent again. This was not rude in the least sense. If a lady is busy then she is busy for a reason and usually need not explain herself. Had she bothered to slow down she might have noticed that she too had met Alamus before. It’s a bit redundant to say but traveling wizards are known for traveling, and in traveling they meet lots of different people so it’s not too odd that the wizard find someone he had met before.
The guide for the party was a man named Poplazi, and despite the fact that both of them had traveled Alamus had never met him before. He was chosen as the guide for two reasons. The first was that he was once introduced to the King Odenwald as a distant relative of Marco Polo the greatest traveler in the world! The king believed that the relative of such a great traveler also be one of the best travelers in the world. The truth was that he was Marco Polo’s barber’s cousin. Barber and brother are two words that do sound similar, but have quite different meanings and it wasn’t the king who misheard, or Poplazi who misspoke when he was introduced. It was the announcer who misunderstood and did not take the time to verify exactly who Poplazi was. Even today it remains pretty standard that people who are loud are not always correct.
The second reason he was chosen was that he had traveled further than anyone else and therefore the king surmised that Poplazi must know more about traveling than anyone else in his kingdom. King Hans van Odenwald was a good king, but it seems for this story the few choices that affect this tale make him sound a bit silly. One of the important parts of being a parent is knowing when it’s OK to be silly. Oh, and rest assured, King Hans had a lifetime of making thousands of good decisions, but those are another story altogether.
Three other servants accompanied the party. These were the Lady Arable’s nephews. Their mother desperately needed a break from the trio who were quick to perform their tasks and just as quick to abandon them for some random and often dangerous game. Having just completed setting up the tent the three of them had decided to play “duck the arrow.” Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before. Until they had finished the tent they hadn’t heard of it either. The game worked something like this. There were three positions: a Shooter, a Ducker, and a Caller. The Ducker would stand in front of a nearby tree while the Shooter would notch an arrow on his bow and point it at the Ducker. The third brother acted as the Caller standing on the side and saying “ready, set, GO!” At the word GO the arrow flew toward the Ducker in front of the tree who would have to drop to the ground as fast as he could to avoid getting skewered. The adrenaline rush from almost dying was exhilarating and the boys would laugh as they met in the middle to share their version of the iteration and trade places. The Shooter would become the Ducker. The Ducker would become the Caller. The Caller would become the Shooter.
Alamus watched as the boys were each taking their second turn in the game. The youngest was now the Shooter and the oldest the Ducker. The youngest was a terrific shot when everything was quiet, but a noise from the tent distracted him. He let the arrow go before the Caller had finished saying “ready.” The arrow hit a rock in front of his brother and skipped at a deathly speed toward his oldest sibling’s chest. Quickly Alamus pulled out his wand. A flash emerged and the sound of crackling thunder rang through the air. The arrow turned into a flower that hit the boy’s sternum with such gentle speed that he caught it before it hit the ground.
At the sound of the crackling the entire camp turned its attention toward the area where the boys were playing.
Sir James scrambled to his feet at the sound and with sword in hand had fumbled a few paces in random directions because his eyes were still foggy from his nap. He changed course before hitting a tree and his eyes cleared completely just inches before running into Alamus. The knight stopped when he noticed a wizard in front of him. He took a step back to establish a fighting distance between him and Alamus then pointed his sword at the bearded sorcerer in front of him. Alamus didn’t move. He perceived Sir James’ actions were designed to help the old knight save face.
“SIR!” He challenged Alamus. “What business have you in our camp? Are you a friend or foe?”
“Good knight, the crest on the tent is the mark of King Hans van Odenwald to whom and his house I have always been a friend for I was there when Arthur made him a king.”
Sir James immediately sheathed his sword and offered out a hand of friendship.
Sir James Leavelle was known to have fought with Arthur at the battle of Mabonigon. It wasn’t a great claim to fame. Nearly every knight at the time fought in the battle making it a rather normal thing. It was one of those things where if you weren’t there it was because you weren’t born yet. It was the only story Sir James ever told. Really it was the only story he told. You could imagine that the first year it was the story everyone told. After five years people began to expect knights to have done at least one more deed worth talking about. Not so for Sir James. After ten years the story of the battle of Mabonigon should have been just one among any number of stories knights could tell. Not so for Sir James.
It had been well over ten years since the famous battle. Sadly Sir James had done so little since that time he had no other stories to tell. You see in order to have a story people will want to listen to you must actually do something worth talking about.
A number of years ago he realized people were tired of hearing him tell about the battle of Mabonigon and so in the company of others he would just keep quiet. Keeping quiet got pretty boring and eventually he got in the habit of sleeping through just about anything. Anything that is, but the crack of thunder which had emerged from Alamus’ wand.
The Lady Arable also emerged from the tent assessed the situation and rendered a disappointed glance at her nephews and their dangerous game. Shortly after the Lady appeared came the initial cause of the near deathly distraction, Princess Jan, who exited with a great protest.
“This tent isn’t going to keep me any safer if we’re being attacked! I have just as much a right to see what’s going on as you do!”
Once she too realized it was just the boys she shifted her complaint from the perceived impending attack to her thoughts about “those boys!” I wont write them here because you wont want to read what happens next. Just rest assured that her words were the opposite of kind.
Yes, those boys. Having grown up so the only girl in their life was their mom had made their behavior around the opposite gender awkward at best. To a princess with over active sensitivities to being offended, their unintentional mistakes were regarded by the princess as violating her honor. At each of these occasions the princess was so free with her speech that one might have wondered if she ever left any of her thoughts unexpressed or expressed without a complaining tone.
The princess kept complaining to Lady Arable shifting subjects from the boys to her dislike about the plain dress she had to start wearing for tomorrow’s journey.
In the meantime Sir James escorted Alamus back towards the fire. Totally missing Dashtek’s earlier introductions, Sir James began to tell them all about how they were on an important mission to escort princess Jan to a nearby kingdom for some, shall we say, additional schooling. Sir James explained that her math and reading were both quite excellent, but that her manners were terribly deficient. Once again he was retelling facts that everyone already knew, but just like his story about the battle of Mabonigon this was what he did best.
“So that is what brings us on this journey. Kilewal here is our hunter.”
Kilewal looked up and grunted.
“Poplazi is our guide, and that young man you were standing next to earlier is my squire.”