How to Fight a Fairy Part 1

STOP!

Don’t read this until you’ve read:

How to Kill a King

How to Avoid Assassination

How to Bond with Barbarians

Are you all caught up? Okay, you now have my permission to proceed.

(Not that you need my permission. I’m not your mom or anything. I just don’t want you to be confused.)


“Let’s play a little game,” Acacia said, a sinister smile curling on her lips.

She was in one of Kalathea’s old amphitheaters, looking out over the arena. For the first time in six hundred years, the place was packed with spectators, all looking at Acacia with eyes full of both horror and anticipation. Beside her, stood one of the kingdom’s most respected senators. In all his years of service, no one had witnessed such fear in his eyes. Jace stood just behind his sister, biting his lip to contain his giddiness.

Below, circling the area, snarling, and growling, was a pride of lions. The creatures were the victims of cruelty—scarred and bruised and emaciated. They fought among themselves, their desperation for nourishment turning them against each other.

“Look there,” said Acacia, placing one hand on the senator’s shoulder and pointing with the other to two iron gates that opened onto the arena. “Behind the first door are five villagers. I haven’t seen them myself. They might be elders or children, who knows! Behind the second is a lovely young lady, intelligent, beautiful, looking forward to a bright future. Oh yes, she’s also your daughter.”

Acacia’s grin broadened when she saw the color drain from the man’s face. “Tell me, Senator Clement, which gate should we open?”

“Neither,” was his barely audible reply.

“If you don’t choose we’ll open both,” Acacia sneered. “And you’ll have the blood of all six victims on your hands.”

Jace walked up behind the man and whispered: “Do you know what the best thing is about this, Senator? If you choose your daughter, the people will hate you for killing the villagers. But if you choose the villagers, we’ll tell everyone that you sacrificed your daughter to win their votes!” He smiled gleefully. “There’s no good outcome for you, I’m afraid. Maybe you’ll think twice before opposing us in the future?”

“Where is the Queen?” The Senator demanded. “I want to speak with her immediately.”

Acacia laughed. “Why does everyone keep asking that?”

“It really is an irrelevant question,” Jace added. “Why would you need a queen, when your gods have returned?”

This was only the most recent of the twin’s cruel games. They regularly gathered the people to witness such events. Each one involved a complex moral dilemma illustrated with the lives of random citizens.

If the people had been paying attention, they might have noticed that their new gods never killed anyone themselves. Certainly, they would threaten those who opposed them. Lightning would strike the ground immediately beside the person in question, sometimes the earth would shake, sometimes fire would surround the victim, but each time someone was actually executed, it was a human agent that carried out the order.

Not a soul among the Kalatheans knew that fairies couldn’t kill humans without killing themselves. Few mortals did. One of those mortals was in Kaltehafen, trying desperately to distract himself from the awful feeling that was nipping at his heart.


Alexander sat in the great hall, staring vacantly at his uneaten food.

“Are you thinking about your dream again?” Ilona whispered.

“Hmm?” Was Alexander’s only response.

“I thought so,” she replied. “Do you want to go talk about it?”

“I don’t know,” Alexander shrugged.

What was left to talk about? After he dreamed of his father, he asked everyone if they had any news of Kalathea. He asked Florian, the friars, the merchants he knew from his time as a candlemaker, but no one could tell him anything. How could he act on a feeling he couldn’t confirm? And even if he could confirm it, what was he supposed to do?

The last thing he heard about Kalathea, was what Eda told him the day she brought him to Kaltehafen.  Jace and Acacia were still with his sister their game unfinished, their next move unclear. Something awful was happening in Kalathea. He didn’t know how he knew, he just did.

But how was it his concern? The kingdom was no longer his responsibility. As for Fausta, this was all her doing. Anything that happened to her, was her own fault.

He hardly even missed Kalathea. Well, he missed a few things, like the turquoise blue of the ocean, the warmth of the summer breeze, the history, the art, the culture, the mild winters, and access to running water. He really, really, really missed running water.

Alexander kept hoping that Brother Joseph would come to see him. Surely, he would have some news and some advice to go along with it. He hadn’t seen the old monk since his wedding and had no idea how to contact him. In his experience, fairies contacted mortals. Never the other way around.

He rubbed his forehead. He had an awful headache. It was frustrating to have a feeling that he could neither get rid of, nor do anything about. Since he wasn’t sure who to be angry with for this dilemma, he chose God by default.

He grumbled a prayer in his mind.

If there’s something You want me to do, You might be a bit more straightforward. The least You could do is send someone to help me.

In that very moment, Eda crashed through the ceiling.

She landed in a crater in the middle of the floor. The entire hall stood looking dumbstruck at the smoking hole and its crumbled occupant.

Ilona leapt over the table and ran toward the crater. Alexander followed cautiously. By the time he reached the perimeter of the newly formed pit, Ilona was already kneeling beside Eda.

Eda looked like an Amazon warrior with her ancient armor and the sword clutched in her hand. She lay with her eyes closed, battered and bloody. Alexander had never seen her look so… mortal.

“Is she alive?” He mumbled. The idea of a fairy dying shook him to the core.

“I don’t know,” Ilona started. Then Eda’s eyes shot open and she leapt to her feet. She pointed her blade toward the opening in the roof and cried:

“WHY DON’T YOU COME AND FINISH ME! WHAT’S IT TO YOU IF WE CRUSH THESE PUNY MORTALS?”

When she received no reply, she let out a maniacal laugh that put villains everywhere to shame.

“AS A THOUGHT, COWARD!”

She looked around the room at the dumbstruck spectators and declared:

“I am Eda, the Fairy of War and I—”

“Wait a moment,” Alexander interrupted. “I thought you were the Fairy of Prudence.”

“Silence!” Eda snapped. “I will not be reduced to a mere personification! I am the fairy of many things!”

“How dare you speak to—!” Ilona began, but Eda cut her off.

“Alexander, is that you?” She asked, squinting.

“Yes?” Came Alexander’s confused response.

“Ah, good! I have something critically important to tell you about Kalathea!”

“What is it?” He pleaded.

But Eda’s eyes closed and she crumpled back down in the crater and lay still. Alexander had no idea what to do, so he had Eda carried to a bed and then sent for a physician. The physician’s prognosis wasn’t hopeful.

“She’s dead,” he declared.

“Are you sure?” Alexander asked, turning white with horror.

“Well she isn’t breathing and doesn’t have a heartbeat so, yes.”

“But she’s not human, maybe…”

“I am afraid humans are all I really know,” the doctor shrugged. “I suppose you could always leave her out in the sun a couple of days and see if she starts to decay.”

Alexander turned green.

“Leave who, where?” Came Eda’s voice. She was sitting upright on the bed as though completely refreshed and ready to leave.

“Oh look at that,” the doctor marveled. “I suppose you were right.”

“Oh Alexander, you didn’t send for a human physician did you?” Eda sighed. She started dabbing her forehead with her fingers and mumbling. “Oh please tell me he didn’t drill a hole in my head.”

“Don’t be absurd,” The doctor rebuked. “I’d only do that if your blood was stagnating.”  

“Of course, I sent for a doctor, you were… dead,” Alexander defended.

“What do you expect a doctor to do for a dead person?” Eda asked.

“That’s what I was wondering,” the doctor added.

Alexander opened his mouth to speak but was too confused to think of a reply. Ilona came to his rescue.

“So what can we do to help you? She asked.

“Nothing,” Eda answered. “Don’t do anything, please. I’ll heal myself.”

“Fine,” Ilona answered. “You’ll have all the time you need. Now are you going to tell me why you blew a hole in my roof?”

“Excuse me, Your Highness,” The doctor interjected. “But may I leave now? This is all completely beyond me.”

“Oh, of course,” Ilona answered. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“Ilona, perhaps we should come back later when Eda’s had a little more time to heal?” Alexander suggested.

“No!” Ilona protested. “No one smashes a hole in my roof without explaining themselves.”

“Come now, Ilona,” Alexander petitioned. “Have a little mercy, she was dead a moment ago.”

“She looks fine to me,” Ilona answered. Then turning to Eda said: “I expect you to answer all of my questions clearly and directly. No riddles. No games. No telling us we have to learn for ourselves.”

“I like you,” Eda smiled. “Of course I will explain everything, but first, there is something critical I must tell Alexander… what was it…” She rubbed her forehead thoughtfully.

“Was it about Kalathea?” Alexander asked hopefully.

“Yes!” Eda replied. “I was going to tell you… Do not to go back there under any circumstances!”

“I have the death sentence there,” Alexander reminded. “I wasn’t planning to go back.”

“Right,” Eda remembered. “But there was another reason…”

Alexander wondered what other reason he needed.

She furrowed her brow thinking. “I apologize. This was all so clear to me before I got ambushed…”

“Ambushed?” Alexander exclaimed.

“Yes,” Eda answered. “Just a moment…”

“Was it the twins?” He interjected.

Eda laughed “The twins? Really, Alexander?”

Alexander couldn’t see what was so amusing about his question.

“Oh that’s right!” Eda remembered. “We were going to help you take back your kingdom.”

“You were?” Alexander asked blanky.

“You might have told him that,” Ilona grumbled.

Eda rolled her eyes: “I thought it was obvious. Did you really think we’d make you live in Kaltehafen for the rest of your life?”

“Is there something wrong with Kaltehafen?” Ilona asked.

“In any case, none of this matters now,” Eda sighed. “We’ve gone to war, Alexander and…”

“With who?” Ilona interrupted.

“Just some rebels, it isn’t important,” Eda dismissed.

“Fairy rebels?” Alexander asked.

“No, gnome rebels,” Eda replied rolling her eyes. “Of course they are fairies! Who else would we go to war with?”

“That seems important to me,” Alexander commented. The idea of two groups of god-like beings throwing each other through buildings struck him as something humanity should know about.

“It’s no concern of yours, remember we can’t kill humans, even accidentally, without killing ourselves. Why do you think my enemy left me, after I fell through the roof?”  

“So you’re using us as a shield?” Ilona scolded.

“Absolutely!” Eda replied. “It’s not hurting you, is it? And Alexander owes me a favor anyway.” She looked at Alexander. “Since this war isn’t likely to end in your lifetime, and you can’t defeat the twins on your own, you won’t be able to reclaim your throne. I’m so sorry, Alexander. You are just going to have to live out your life quietly, beekeeping or painting or whatever it is you do.”

Alexander couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A fairy telling him to forget about Kalathea and move on with his life. It was exactly the validation he was hoping for. He felt a surge of joy, and then immediately felt guilty, remembering that he was only free because the fairies were at war.

“I suppose the twins have gone away to war also?” Alexander asked hopefully.

Eda laughed. “You think those two would pick a fight with an equal? They’re children! They’ll stay in Kalathea until they lose interest in Kalathea.”

“Oh,” Alexander replied. His heart sinking.

“That’s why you must never go back, Alexander,” Eda insisted. “No matter what you hear.”

“What would I hear?” Alexander asked.

“Rumors, news, happenings, anything. Ignore it.” Eda answered.

“You have some news, don’t you?” Ilona accused.

“It doesn’t matter,” Eda replied. “You can’t do anything about it, so why do you want the burden of knowing?”

“We can… pray,” Ilona replied.

Eda narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

“My sister is in Kalathea,” Alexander insisted. “If she is in some kind of danger don’t I have a right to know?”

“Human curiosity is the bane of my existence,” Eda sighed. “Fine.”

The first thing she told them, was that no one had seen Fausta in months. Then she told them of the twin’s sadistic games, and how they had set themselves up as gods over the people.

The news was like a knife in Alexander’s heart. His father’s words were true, the people were in danger. The news of his sister’s disappearance troubled him more than anything. He didn’t know why. He told himself over and over again that it was her own fault. It didn’t make him feel any better.


Alexander’s brush hovered over a blank panel. At the moment, he couldn’t remember who he was supposed to be painting on it. Maybe one of the apostles? God’s mother was always a safe bet.

He set his brush down. It was only a day since Eda’s unexpected arrival, and he couldn’t concentrate. Eda insisted he let the matter drop, but he couldn’t. He picked up his brush and tried again to focus.

“I have an idea!” Ilona proclaimed, bursting into Alexander’s workshop. He jumped, dropping his brush into a an open paint jar, speckling himself and everything around him.

Florian charged in after her. “Yes! We have an idea!” He repeated.

“About what?” Alexander asked, recovering his brush.

“About saving the Kalatheans!” Ilona exclaimed. “I’ve been thinking about it alot and it occured to me that if fairies are unable to kill humans themselves, then they are only as powerful as their human agents—”

“Take a breath, Ilona,” Alexander interrupted. “You’re turning blue.”

Ilona breathed deeply, and then continued speaking at her previous rate.

“So all we have to do is inform the people of this weakness, and then they won’t have to follow the twins anymore, and they will be free!”

“If by the human agents, you mean the entire Kalathean army, that is pretty powerful,” Alexander answered.

“Not as powerful as the Kaltic army!” Florian added gleefully.

“Exactly!” Ilona replied, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Which is why, my brothers are going to conquer Kalathea, give it back to you, and then you are going to inform the twins that the people will no longer serve them. Problem solved!”

Alexander looked at Ilona with one eyebrow raised and his mouth slightly open.

“First off,” Alexander began. “What makes you think the Kaltic army stands a chance against the Kalathean army?”

“Because,” Florian replied smuggly. “We crushed you in 368, and in 513, and in 782, and just ten years ago, Filbert and I sent your brother Justin home to his father in tears.”

“You fought my brother?” Alexander asked.

“Who didn’t?” Florian answered.

“Fair,” Alexander shrugged. “But even if the Kalts could conquer Kalathea, the only thing that could possibly make my people hate me more than they do already, is if I lead a barbarian horde against them. No, I think Eda is right.”

“Of course I am,” Eda answered, materializing right behind Alexander. He jumped, overturning a jar of green paint. This was the first time Eda had left her room since she crashed in. She didn’t look improved. She was battered and pail and judging by her expression, irritable. Alexander worried that she would drop over dead again. Even if she wasn’t actually dead, he didn’t want it to happen. It was alarming.

“You cannot fight them,” Eda insisted. “They’re your superiors in power and intelligence. They may not be able to kill you directly, but oppose them and they will have their vengeance.”

“There you have it,” Alexander answered, looking for a rag to wipe up the puddle of green.

“We cannot abandon your people, Alexander,” Ilona insisted. “If there is even a small chance that we could be successful, we have to take it!”

“Exactly!” Florian agreed. “We will storm Kalathea and free the people or die trying!”

“How noble of you,” Eda commented dryly. “Noble and stupid.”

“Is that any way to speak to a king?” Florian snapped.

“Not your prefered way, I’m sure,” Eda answered. “But I’ve said worse to greater kings.”

“Why you insolent little—” Florian started and continued with a string of threats and insults that only fed the amusement in Eda’s eyes.

As Alexander mopped up the puddle of green, he listened for Ilona to join the argument. This was usually what happened whenever Florian started ranting. Ilona would intervene, and the situation would escalate, and once they had a good fight, they would calm down and Alexander could lead them in a respectable discussion.

But Ilona didn’t say a word. Alexander stood, holding the sopping green rag in his hand and looked at her curiously.

She was lost in thought.

“…In all my thousand years, I’ve never heard that word used that way,” Eda was saying to Florian. “I admire your creativity.”

Before Florian could produce a fresh wave of insults, Ilona spoke.

“I have another idea,” she interjected suddenly, and the attention of all turned to her.


Even Eda couldn’t deny that Ilona’s idea had a chance of being successful. A very small one, she noted, before telling them again that they were mad for even trying.

Alexander believed it could work.

Ilona discussed her idea with him late into the evening. He listened mostly, weighing their chances of success in his mind. He told her he needed time to think, and when she went to bed, he lingered behind, wandering the castle corridors as he struggled with something he hadn’t said.

He didn’t want to do it.

If he proceeded with the plan, he risked losing everything. And even if they were successful, then he would have to be king again which was almost like losing everything.

But the suffering of the people weighed on his heart. He was the last heir of Kalathea, how could he abandon them? Then his mind wandered back to the night of Justin’s murder. He remembered how the people swarmed around him and beat him and tore at him and called for his head.

He remembered standing before the Senate, searching the crowd for one kind face and finding none. He remembered how Fausta avoided his every attempt to catch her eye. He never felt so loathed and so alone.

He didn’t care if Kalathea burned.

He started back toward his room. In the morning, he would tell Ilona he was going to take Eda’s advice, and forget the whole thing. He felt a knot in his stomach. She wouldn’t like it. He didn’t completely like it himself. He tried to ignore his dissatisfaction but the tugging on his heart grew stronger the closer he came to his room.

It was inescapable, relentless. He became angry.

What do you want me to do?  He thought. None of this is my concern!

He stormed into his room. He saw a lump of blankets that had once been Ilona. He didn’t worry about waking her. Nothing could wake her once she was asleep.

He took the knife off his belt and started looking for the little chest where he usually kept it. The chest was always in the same place, and Alexander would have spotted it in an instant if he hadn’t been tangled in his thoughts.

What kind of a fool would I have to be to risk my own happiness for the people who tried to kill me?

He found the chest, and tossed his knife in. The sound of it knocking against something pulled Alexander back to reality. He withdrew the second item.

It was Brother Joseph’s gift, the worn wooden crucifix. It was then he realized exactly what sort of fool would do something like that.

He clutched it in his hand, and sinking to the floor, buried his face in his knees. He stopped rationalizing with himself. He knew what he had to do. He’d always known.

In his heart, he accepted his mission. All at once the tugging ceased and at last he was at peace with himself. No less angry about what happened in his past, no less afraid of what was going to happen in the future, but now he had a clear path he was determined to follow no matter what.


In the weeks that followed, Alexander worked closely with Ilona and Florian to set their plan in motion. He couldn’t remember ever seeing the siblings so excited. Their every interaction was filled with lively chatter as if Christmas was coming and they weren’t all about to die.

Eda on the other hand, was not happy and made communicating this her life’s mission. She would appear at random during their preparations and try to talk them out of it, saying things like: “Why don’t you just fling yourselves off the outer wall? It would be a more efficient and less painful.”

She was recovering, as far as Alexander could see. He wasn’t sure if her visible wounds were real, or if she was just manifesting her injuries in a way that humans could comprehend. Fairies were a such a puzzle.

The more she recovered, the more short tempered and out of sorts she became. Alexander wondered if the war was weighing on her mind. He wished he could do something for her, but helping his own kind was challenge enough. He wouldn’t have any idea how to start with a fairy.

Late one afternoon, he returned to his room in search of a book. He was hoping to finish it before he marched off to certain death. If things went according to plan, that would be in about a month’s time. He found Ilona lying on the bed, sound asleep. He thought it odd that she was asleep so early, and fully clothed, and on top of the covers.

When he approached to check on her, he was alarmed to find her breathing faint and her heartbeat so soft and slow, he could barely find it at all. He tried desperately to wake her and was about to call for help, when someone spoke.

“She’s alright, Alexander. I’ve just put her in an enchanted sleep.”

He looked up to see Eda standing between himself and the door.

“I am about to do the same to you.”

“What? Why?” Alexander cried.

“Since you are intent on going to Kalathea with or without my help, I am going to put you to sleep until the war is over. Now I recommend you lie down, I don’t want you to collapse and hit your head on something.”

“But what about her brothers? If this war is going to last as long as you think, they’ll be dead when we wake. She’ll be heart broken.”

“So I’ll put them to sleep also,” Eda shrugged. “I’ll put this whole damn kingdom to sleep if it will make you happy, you’re not going back to Kalathea without me.”

She took a step forward and Alexander took a step back. He didn’t know why, once she decided to knock him out, it wouldn’t matter where in the room he was.

“Wait, please!” Alexander protested. “Isn’t this my choice to make?”

“Certainly,” Eda replied. “And knocking you out is my choice to make. It’s called free will, kid.”

“Did the High Council approve this?” Alexander questioned.

Eda laughed. “If I asked them to approve everything I did, I’d never get anything done.”

“Would they approve it, if they knew?”

Eda’s lips tightened.

“What, what about Alika and Brother Joseph, would they agree to this?”

“They aren’t here to offer their opinion,” Eda replied.

“So now you’re rebeling,” Alexander accused. “Just like Jace and Acacia and… whoever it is you’re fighting.”

“I don’t need a mortal lecturing me about the error of my ways,” Eda responded flatly. “It’s demeaning.”

“What makes me so important!” Alexander snapped. “Is my life worth more than all the Kalathean’s who will die while I am trapped here?”

Eda paused. Her eyes became glassy.

“No, Alexander. Your life isn’t worth more than theirs. It’s just… of all the people I’ve been assigned…” She blinked until her eyes cleared and sighed. “I like you, Alexander and I want you to live.”

Alexander softened. “Is your purpose to keep me alive or to help me do what’s right?”

Eda glared at him, but gave no answer. He noticed a tear on her cheek, before she turned her face away.

“To be completely honest,” Alexander continued. “I don’t want to do this either. I’m terrified. Terrified of dying and even more terrified of living as a king. Everything in me wants to abandon this mission. Please, Eda. I need someone to help me do what’s right.”

Eda wiped her eye with her wrist and grumbled: “I hate my job.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Alexander answered. “I hate mine too.”

The corner of Eda’s lip turned up very slightly.

“Go kiss your wife,” she ordered. When she saw Alexander’s confused expression, she added: “It will wake her up.”

“Oh…” Alexander answered. He wanted to question this, but didn’t think it was the appropriate time. Instead he shrugged and said: “Of course it will.”

He started back for Ilona.

“Oh, Alexander,” Eda said. “Don’t lose hope. No matter what happens, remember we will be coming for you as soon as we can.”

“Thank you,” he replied.

Alexander knelt down beside the bed, but as he leaned in to kiss Ilona, he paused and looked up at Eda with a horrified expression.

“How were you planning on waking me up?” He asked.

Eda snickered. “I like you, kid. But not that much. Same way I do any magic, by willing it.”

Alexander breathed a sigh of relief.


To be completed June 7th.

Two Part Finale!

So, I’ll be posting the finale of my Alexander series in two parts. I’ll publish part one tomorrow and part two on June 7th.

The reason for this is because:

Katy’s PR department: “Two part finales are in! All the cool kids are doing two part finales!”

The actual reason: Katy needs more time to finish the ending.

There you have it! See you tomorrow!

How to Bond with Barbarians

You know what doesn’t make sense? This story, unless you’ve read the others in the series:

How to Kill a King

How to Avoid Assassination

Other stories referenced but not critical to your understanding:

Rouvin the Philosopher

Now, where were we? Para Sympan, Middle Ages, Northwestern Europe, another totally legit, historically accurate, not made-up, kingdom called Kaltehafen. Ah yes, here we go:


“How’s the swamp?” Eda smirked.

It was spring. The air was finally warming and the forest was ablaze with colorful wildflowers. Despite this, Alexander had locked himself in his house and plugged every opening with old rags. If Eda hadn’t materialized in the middle of the room, she would never have gotten in.

The swamp was infested with bees.

“It’s… um… very pretty,” he answered forcing a smile. He picked up a piece of bark and scraped a stinger out of his arm. “Lots of flowers and um… lots of bees.”

“Found any gold yet?” She asked, her smirk broadening.

He shook his head.

She looked at the swelling sting on his arm. “It seems to me, it found you.” She glanced around the room. “You really should get some more candles, Your Majesty. It’s dark in here.”

“I wish you wouldn’t speak in riddles,” Alexander commented.

Eda looked offended. “Why do you always assume I am speaking in riddles?”

“Can I get you something?” Alexander sighed. He didn’t know whether or not fairies needed to eat like humans, but thought it polite to offer. “I don’t have much left, um… I have some bread, it’s a bit stale though.”

Eda took a seat on an old crate. (Alexander didn’t have any chairs.) “Stale bread isn’t so bad if you put a little honey on it.”

Alexander raised an eyebrow. Why would she think he had honey? Peasants didn’t have honey. It was rare and expensive. His mouth fell open.

“Why, Alexander,” Eda said. “You look as if you’ve just solved a riddle! It’s about time, that was excruciating.”

Alexander had no idea how to extract the honey from the bee hives, but Eda promised she would send someone to help him. The next day, a band of lost friars knocked on his door. They’d come to ask for directions, but when they saw bee hives they started jumping up and down and singing Te Deums.

The friars were destined for a nearby monastery, and when they arrived there, they told their fellows about the wonderful discovery in Alexander’s swamp. All through the summer, they came and went, first showing Alexander how to extract the honey, and then showing him how to make candles and soaps out of beeswax.

Alexander would load a cart with these items periodically and take them into the city to sell. The local merchants noticed that he was fair and straightforward and the friars loved him for his diligence. He was a new and exciting face. The townsfolk spoke of him frequently, commenting on his knowledge, generosity, and manners.

As Alika promised, his reputation flourished. He became known in the city as Alexander the Greek. He tried to correct this at first, but soon realized that most of the townsfolk were uneducated. He doubted any of them could find Kalathea on a map.

When the bees returned the second year, Alexander was prepared for them. His skills improved, he sold more, he gained more confidence. When he needed help, he went to visit the friars. He made a decent living for himself and decided to use some of his earnings to take up painting again.

When he was a prince, this was his favorite pastime. He spent the winter mixing colors by candlelight. His art was mostly the faces of the saints, but now and then he diverged, immortalizing the faces of other people. He started to paint his parents, but had to imagine how his mother looked, since she died when he was a baby. When he realized she probably looked like Fausta, he left that painting unfinished.

The third year came and went and Alexander realized that he was comfortable and content. He never imagined becoming a candlemaker, but it was certainly better than being a king. Still, he had a hole in his heart. He was respected by everyone but did not have any true friends. Not a soul knew who he really was and keeping that secret made him feel isolated.

On a cold afternoon during the fourth Autumn, Alexander pushed his cart along the road to the city. It was to be his last load that year. The sky was heavy with grey clouds and he prayed it wouldn’t snow until he returned home.

He suddenly heard hooves thundering behind him.

“STOP!” A woman cried.

Alexander dropped the cart and swung around in alarm. Two riders halted before him. The first was a woman of royal blood, adorned in colorful raiment and jewelry. A crown circled her head, atop her white veil. The second was a mountain of a warrior, likely the woman’s guard.

Alexander bowed respectfully.

“Are you Alexander the Greek?” She demanded.

“I am,” he answered.

“Excellent! Egbert grab him,” she ordered.

“Sorry, what—” Before Alexander could finish speaking, the warrior rode up behind him, grabbed him by the shoulder, lifted him onto his horse, and sent the animal charging forward.

“Who are you? What is the meaning of this?” Alexander demanded.

“I am Princess Ilona!” She cried galloping after him. “Sister of King Florian of North Kaltehafen and King Flibert of the South! I require your services!”

“I am a free citizen!” Alexander protested. “And I demand you stop immediately and explain yourself!”

Ilona laughed. “Citizen? How like a Greek!”

“I am a Kalathean!” Alexander retorted indignantly.

“Same thing!” She returned.

“No! Not remotely!” Alexander snapped. “I thought a lady of your status would know that! I forget you’re still a barbarian.”

She slowed her horse a bit so she was riding parallel to Egbert and looked at Alexander with a devilish grin.

“That’s exactly what a Greek would say!”

Alexander’s mouth dropped open for a moment, then his face went scarlet. “How dare you!” He started, but she charged on ahead. “You kidnap me! You insult me! You can’t—” He continued calling after her but she ignored him.

He finally ceased calling and started brooding silently. Getting kidnapped by a princess was the pinnacle of humiliation.

At last, they came to an open plain. Alexander could see a battle encampment in the distance. He prayed that it wasn’t their destination. God heard his prayer but ignored it.

Ilona rode straight into the midst of the soldiers and dismounted. Egbert halted just behind and dropped Alexander on the ground. He leapt to his feet, hoping to retain whatever dignity he had left.

A knight with a massive blue plume in his helmet, greeted Ilona with a low bow.

“Princess,” he said. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I need to speak with my brother, it’s urgent.”

“Of course,” the knight answered. “I will tell him you’re here.”

“Well?” Alexander demanded. His arms were crossed and he was scowling at the princess. “Are you going to explain yourself?”

“My stupid brothers are fighting again! I brought you here to so you could talk some sense into them!”  

Alexander stared at her blankly.

She sighed. “Last month, Filbert came to stay at Castle Erkscrim so we could all celebrate the harvest festival together. There we were, enjoying the feast like a peaceful, respectable family, when Filbert mentions that he’s been reading the philosopher Severinus and agrees with his theory that the entire universe is made up of triangles. Then Florian said that he’d been reading the philosopher Caius and that the universe is actually made up of nautilus spirals.

Alexander rolled his eyes. “That’s a massive oversimplification. Rouvin later clarified that the movable elements are made of nautilus spirals and the immovable elements are made up of triangles.”

“THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I TRIED TO TELL THEM!” Ilona exclaimed.

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“Wait, you’ve read Rouvin?” Alexander asked, his scowl shrinking slightly.

“Of course I’ve read Rouvin!” She snapped. “I’m not completely ignorant, you know!”

“So why wouldn’t they listen to you?”

“Because women are incapable of reason,” she replied.

“So they’ve read some Rouvin too,” Alexander mumbled thoughtfully. “But why me? Couldn’t you send any other man in to talk to them?”

“I’ve heard that you are knowledgeable on such matters. The friars speak very highly of you, you know.”

“If I talk to your brothers, will you let me go home?”

“Of course I will.”

“Alright,” Alexander grumbled. “I’ll talk to them, but I can’t promise it will change anything AND I expect full payment for anything in my cart I find damaged or missing on my return.”

She laughed. “My brothers may be idiots, but they are very dear to me. If you save them, I will give you anything your heart desires.”


Having pointless philosophical arguments was how aristocrats entertained themselves in the middle ages. This was true in our own universe and in Para Sympan. And like many who entertain themselves in this way, the kings knew a little about philosophy but thought they knew a lot.

Ilona finally convinced the two of them to sit down with Alexander in Florian’s camp. Alexander had to look back and forth between them a number of times to make sure his vision was correct. They were identical twins. He was grateful Florian had a beard or he would have lost track of which was which.

He stayed with them long into the night, gently asking them questions and directing their thoughts. Each time one brother became enraged it only took a few patient words from Alexander to calm him. When the dawn came, the brothers left the tent laughing together.

“You have enlightened me, Alexander!” Florian exclaimed, giving him a slap on the back that sent him stumbling forward. “The movable elements! It makes so much sense!”

Ilona rolled her eyes and muttered several unladylike words under her breath.

“To think, we almost killed each other!” Filbert laughed.

Florian slapped his hand on Filbert’s shoulder. “I’ve been trying to kill you since before I was born!” They both dissolved into laughter.

Ilona was not amused.

“No more philosophy,” she insisted. “I don’t like what it does to you two.”

Alexander bowed deeply to the kings. “If there is nothing more I can do for Your Majesties, I really must be getting back to my cart.”

“You can’t leave now!” Florian exclaimed. “You must come back to castle Erkscrim! My brother and I are going to throw a feast to celebrate the restoration of our friendship!”

“Oh no,” Ilona breathed, she grabbed Alexander by the arm. “My brother is right! You will be our guest of honor! We will seat you right between our two kings!”

“But—” Alexander began, sending an anxious glance toward the cloudy sky.

She slipped a coin purse into Alexander’s hand and hissed: “Don’t worry about the cart. The security of the Kingdom is at stake!


The feast triggered memories of the Kalathean palace. So many faces all talking at once, so many unwritten social rules to remember. Alexander didn’t like feasts—well, he liked the food just not the atmosphere. He was surrounded by people yet felt completely alone. The feast at Erkscrim was worse than the ones in Kalathea because he only knew the hosts, and them only a little.

He spent most of the evening listening to the conversation. Filbert and Florian loved quoting the philosophers and did so liberally. Their actual understanding of the philosophy was superficial. When they spoke, he felt embarrassed for them. Then there was Ilona. She wasn’t able to add much to their discussion because they kept talking over her and interrupting.

This irritated Alexander because he was sincerely interested in her opinion. He wasn’t sure who she had read or how much, but she seemed to have an understanding that her brothers lacked.

When the feast was drawing to a close, she stepped away. Alexander followed her, eager for an excuse to get out. He found her looking out into the bailey at the heavy snowfall. Her face was white with horror.

“Is everything alright?” Alexander asked.

“Look at that snow,” she said. “It’s been falling heavier and heavier. Do you know what that means?”

Alexander shook his head.

“It means Filbert can’t leave tomorrow! And if this winter is anything like the last, it’s only going to keep snowing, and we won’t be rid of him until spring!” She looked at Alexander with an exasperated expression. “If I have to be stuck in here with those two all winter, I am going to fling myself off the north tower!”

“It can’t be that bad,” Alexander answered, although he had enough experience with siblings to know that it could be. In fact, it could be a lot worse.

“My only consolation is that you are stuck here too! If you can’t keep those two civil, no one can!”

Alexander’s heart sank. His little house wasn’t much but it was his own private space. His paints were there too. He hoped Ilona was wrong about the snow, otherwise he’d be imprisoned with strangers for months.

He told himself that at least it wouldn’t be so damp, and the food would certainly be better, and Ilona made interesting conversation. Then something wonderful occurred to him.

“Princess,” he asked. “Do you have books here?”

Books were not something he could afford on a candlemaker’s salary. He had to go to the friary when he wanted to read.

“Of course we do,” she answered. “Follow me, I’ll show you the library.”

Alexander’s heart skipped. He could tolerate almost anything for the sake of books.


Being able to read again made Alexander so happy, he forgot that he was angry with the princess for kidnapping him. He sat beside her in the library late into the evening talking and pouring over books for hours. As the night wore on, their conversation became less and less intelligent and everything became amusing, and they found themselves laughing together at absolutely nothing.

The days came and went one after another and Alexander was the happiest he’d ever been. He wasn’t sure why, he had books back in Kalathea. What he didn’t have was a close friend. Ilona was intelligent, adventurous, and had a bold, slightly irreverent sense of humor. He spent every possible moment in her company.

She often spoke of her brothers which made Alexander aware of two things: First that she adored them and second, that she was always on the verge of strangling them. One evening, after a particularly long rant, she asked Alexander if he had any siblings.

“A brother,” Alexander answered. “But he died a few years ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ilona answered. “Did he die fighting?”

Alexander thought a moment. “No, I don’t think he ever saw it coming.”

“Don’t you have any family left?” She pressed.

“No,” he answered. “My father died a few years ago and my mother died before I was born.”

Ilona snorted in an attempt to conceal a laugh. It didn’t work. The laugh burst forth and she turned bright red as she tried to stop herself. “I’m so sorry, Alex!” She cried. “It’s not your parent’s deaths—”

Alexander realized what he said and smiled sheepishly. “After I was born,” he corrected.

“I know! I know! That’s what you meant!” She answered. “I shouldn’t have laughed, but you said it so seriously!”

“It’s alright,” Alexander smirked. “We both know you’re a heartless person.”

“You’re never going to let me forget this are you?”

He shook his head, his smile broadening triumphantly. This made her laugh all the more.

Once she’d recovered herself, the conversation moved to other things. Alexander felt a twinge of guilt at leaving Fausta out of his description. These days, he avoided thinking about her, as if ignoring her existence would erase her betrayal.

As time passed, Alexander started noticing other things about Ilona. He noticed the blue of her eyes. All the Kalts had blue eyes, but hers were the most blue and the most perfect and the most lovely. He guessed that she had golden hair like her brothers, but couldn’t tell because she was always wearing a wimple. He attributed this to her modesty (though the actual reason was because her ears were cold). Each feature complimented the others, never was a person so perfectly made.

She caught him gazing at her over the top of his books on more than one occasion. Each time he turned scarlet and return to his reading.

As time passed and the snow started to melt, Alexander felt a weight on his chest. The coming spring made him realize that he didn’t want to leave Ilona, and not wanting to leave Ilona made him realize that he loved her. Loving her, in turn, made him realize that he was a commoner. For the very first time, Alexander wished he was still a king.


For the last two weeks before the thaw, Alexander spent most of his time hiding in his room. Occasionally, he encountered Ilona in the halls, and then he kept their conversations brief. It tore him apart. It didn’t help that Ilona kept trying to find him. She noticed his aloofness, but no inquiry on her part could produce the reason.

One evening, as Alexander hid in his room with his nose buried in a book, he heard a familiar voice.

“You’re hurting her, My King.”

Alexander looked up to see Brother Joseph standing at the foot of his bed. He sighed. He was getting tired of the fairies appearing wherever and whenever they wanted without warning. He glared over the top of his book at the old man.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he grumbled, though he knew exactly what Joseph was talking about.  “And stop calling me: ‘My King’.”

“If you feel like distancing yourself is the right course of action, then do it. But tell her why first.”

Alexander turned red and hid his face deeper in his book. “I can’t. It would humiliate her.”

“Her?” Brother Joseph asked with a hint of a smile.

“But supposing she isn’t ashamed?” Alexander let the book fall into his lap and looked at Joseph wide-eyed. “Supposing she returns my affections? That would make our parting all the more painful.” He sighed. “Either way it will be painful.”

“With all due respect, My King,” Brother Joseph replied. “If you are unwilling to feel pain, you are incapable of love.”


Brother Joseph was right of course. He was always right.

Alexander sent the princess a note asking if they could meet in the garden. Waiting for her to arrive was worse than waiting for execution. He paced back and forth wringing his hands until he saw her approaching. She greeted him with a warm smile.

Alexander bowed to her. “Princess, thank you for meeting me here. I… um…”

He’d rehearsed it countless times in his head, but it wasn’t coming out anything like he imagined.

“I feel like I… I wanted to explain why I’ve been so cold.”

He realized that his hands were shaking. He kneaded them together in an attempt to calm his nerves.

Her pleasant smile broadened slightly.

“I don’t want you to think I don’t like you. On the contrary, I think you are lovely, very lovely, the loveliest person I’ve ever met.” He was turning red and starting to shrink. “I um…I think I… I know I…” Here it came, the death blow. “I love you.”

She was grinning ear to ear but Alexander didn’t seem to notice, he quickly added: “I don’t expect you to return my affections, I know I am not worthy of a princess.”

“Oooooooohhhhh,” she replied. “That’s what you’ve been worried about.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “For heaven’s sake, Alexander! You’re so dramatic.” She started walking back toward the keep and gestured for him to follow. She was chuckling. “I really wish you’d told me that earlier!”

Alexander was feeling lost. He imagined several possible reactions, some involved anger, some involved tears, and most involved scoffing. He was completely unprepared for whatever it was she was doing.

She threw open the door to the great hall and stormed in. The kings were sitting around a table with their knights and nobles. Everyone looked at the princess as she entered.

“My dear brothers!” She called. “There is a matter that is weighing heavy on my heart!”

“What is it, sister?” Florian replied.

“Alexander the Greek is leaving in the morning and we haven’t properly thanked him for the service he’s rendered to our family.”

Alexander finally caught up to Ilona and bowed to the kings.

“You’re right!” Filbert said. “He saved our lives!”

“Yes,” Added Florian. “Saved us from ourselves! That was no small feat.”

“I want you to swear before Alexander, before me, before God and,” Ilona gestured broadly across the room, “before all the good men assembled here, that you will give him anything he asks for.”

“We swear it,” agreed the kings.

“Really? Even if he asks for all the gold in Kaltehafen?”

“He shall have it!” Florian exclaimed and all the room cheered in agreement.

“What if he asks for the heads of all his enemies?”

“Then we shall hunt them down!” Filbert exclaimed and all the room cheered in agreement.

She looked at Alexander with a mischievous smile and cried. “What if he asks you for the hand of the princess in marriage?”

“He shall have—” Filbert started then stopped himself. “Wait a moment, you’re our baby sister, not some prize!”

Ilona looked at her brother horrified. “You just swore before your entire court that you would give him ANYTHING!”

“Yes, but, that was hyperbole!” Filbert continued. Florian was looking back and forth between Ilona and Alexander with a knowing smile. He swatted his brother on the back of his head.

“I, at least, am a man of honor!” He declared. “And even if he asked for what is most precious to me, I would gladly give it.”

The people cheered once again.

“But!” Filbert began.

“Brother,” Ilona answered Filbert. “I am ashamed of you. What kind of king doesn’t keep his promises? But, we are getting ahead of ourselves, why not let him speak for himself?”

“Yes, Alexander,” Florian agreed. “How can we reward you for your service?”

When the attention in the room went to Alexander, Florian whispered something into Filbert’s ear. Filbert glanced back and forth between Alexander and Ilona, a glimmer of realization entering his eyes.

Alexander had his hands folded in front of his lips thoughtfully. He was concealing a smile, his face was scarlet. Then for the first time in his life, he spoke boldly before the royal court:

“For the service I have rendered your family, I will accept nothing less than the hand of the princess. I cannot think of anything you could offer me that I would treasure more than that.”

Ilona was struggling to keep a straight face, and even Alexander couldn’t hide his amusement.

“So be it!” Florian cried. He looked at Ilona. “I am so sorry, sister. It’s for the good of the kingdom, you know.”

“I know my duty, brother,” she replied. “And if marrying this handsome, cordial, Greek, is what I have to do to uphold Kaltehafen’s honor, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make!”

She ran to Alexander’s side and then turned back toward her brothers. “You promise you won’t fight at our wedding feast?”

The two kings swore that they would be on their best behavior which made the court cheer all the more. Alexander and Ilona ran from the hall, hand in hand. As soon as they passed out of the hall, they dissolved into a fit of hysterical laughter.

“I suppose this means you love me too?” Alexander asked when he’d finally caught his breath.

She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. “What do you think?”


Alexander was in a giddy daze when he returned to his room that evening. When he closed the door behind him, he leaned back against it allowing the happiness to consume him.

“Congratulations, My King,” came Brother Joseph’s voice. “I’ve never seen you look happier! Actually, I’ve never seen you look happy at all. It suits you.”

“Thank you,” Alexander answered, too much in a daze to be annoyed with the old monk’s random appearance.

“How does it feel to be engaged to the kings?”

“What are you talking about?” Alexander asked, with an amused half smile.

“When you marry someone, you marry their family too, you know. Love them or hate them, Filbert and Florian are now part of your life.”

“They’re not so bad,” Alexander answered.

“Don’t you think Ilona should know what she’s getting?”

Alexander’s giddiness subsided. “I don’t have any family.”

“Telling yourself that over and over doesn’t make it true.”

Alexander was silent.  

“And what happens when a diplomat from the Kalathean court comes to visit Kaltehafen and recognizes you? How will that impact Ilona?”

Alexander wrung his hands thoughtfully.

Brother Joseph reached around him to open the door. Then he took Alexander by the shoulders, turned him around, and pushed him out.

“Now, I don’t want to see you back in here, until you’ve told your new family the whole truth.” Brother Joseph started to close the door, that stopped when he saw the terror in Alexander’s eyes. “I wouldn’t worry too much, My King. Things seem to work out well for you, when you’re straightforward with the princess.”


Again, Alexander was frustrated with the old monk, but he knew he was right. He wondered if this would change anything, or if Ilona would believe him. He found Ilona and begrudgingly told her everything. He told her of Fausta’s betrayal, his escape, and the fairies that helped him along the way. He left nothing out.

Ilona’s expression became angrier and angrier as he continued.

“I am so sorry, Ilona,” he said as he finished. “I should have told you this before. I understand if—”

“You mean to tell me,” she interrupted. “That your fairy godmother let you endure years of abuse from your siblings before she decided to help you?”

“I am sure she had a good reason,” Alexander explained. “Apparently they exist to teach people virtue, maybe—”

“Well, I’d like to teach her a thing or two about virtue!” Ilona snapped, pounding her fist into the palm of her hand. “I suppose we should tell my brothers about this.”

“Do you think they’ll be upset?” Alexander asked.

Ilona laughed. “On the contrary, they will be delighted that I’m marrying a king!”

“Former king,” Alexander corrected.


Filbert and Florian were enraged when they heard about the injustice Alexander suffered and offered to sack Kalathea for him. Alexander thanked them but refused. They did not understand this decision, but respected it.

His secret now revealed, Alexander felt a great weight lifted off his shoulders. A little later in the spring, he married Ilona. What followed was the happiest year of his life. He made painting his primary occupation and soon every church in Kaltehafen and all the surrounding kingdoms was decorated with his artwork. In his spare time, he was with Ilona in the library. He had all the privileges of royalty without any of the responsibilities. It was paradise.

Then one evening, he had a dream.

He saw his father standing at the foot of his bed.

“There you are, Alexander! I’ve been looking everywhere for you! What are you doing in Kaltehafen?” His father noticed Ilona asleep beside Alexander. “Wait a moment, did you marry a Kaltish girl?”

Alexander threw the blanket over her head.

“No,” he answered.

“Oh, well if you had, I would have complimented you on your diplomacy.”

“Why are you here, father?” Alexander asked. “I thought you were dead.”

“And I thought you were in Kalathea,” his father replied.

“The Kalathean’s didn’t want me,” Alexander answered. “So, I made a wonderful life for myself here.”

His father grimaced. “Really? In Kaltehafen?”

“Yes, father,” Alexander scowled.

“You need to go home, Alexander. Your people are in danger. Your sister is in danger.”

“What kind of danger?”

Alexander awoke before his father could specify.

He tried to dismiss the dream, but the more he ignored it, the more he felt a tugging on his heart, a persistent feeling that Kaltehafen was not where he was meant to be.


To be continued… (We’re almost done! I promise!)

How to Avoid Assassination

STOP! This story won’t make much sense unless you’ve read How to Kill a King. It might not make sense after that either. But then, do any of my stories make sense?

Other stories referenced, but not essential to your understanding:

Scott the CEO

Elves vs Elves

Now where was I? Para Sympan, Middle Ages, Southeastern Europe, the totally legit, historically accurate, not made-up kingdom of Kalathea… Ah yes, I was about to tell you Alexander’s story.


 

Apparently, Alexander was no longer the king. This didn’t upset him since he hadn’t wanted to be king in the first place. The thing that did upset him was finding his elder brother murdered, his sister telling the entire palace that he did it, the senate taking his crown and giving it to her, and the new queen sentencing him to death for said murder.

He paced back and forth across his tiny prison cell, rebuking himself for not being more vigilant.  His father tried to warn him that something like this might happen. In the weeks leading up to his death, the king would say things like:

“Be careful who you trust, son,” and “even those closest to you could turn on you, son,” and “Fausta is definitely going to try to murder you and take over the kingdom, son.”

Alexander paid little heed to this warning. He couldn’t imagine Fausta doing something like that and, without his father, who else could he turn to for advice?

Certainly not Justin. Justin was rarely home, and when he was, Alexander made a point to avoid him. He learned long ago, that encounters with Justin usually ended with a kick in the stomach or a bleeding lip.

Growing up, it was Fausta who defended him from Justin’s cruelty and it was Fausta who came up with clever and subtle ways to enact vengeance on their brother. When Alexander was very little, he’d trail after Fausta all day with wide eyes full of admiration. Even when they had grown, he still looked at her like that from time to time. She always knew what needed to be said, and could find a clever way out of any situation, no matter how difficult.

When his father named him heir, he begged him consider giving the honor to Fausta. His father refused.

“Why?” Alexander asked. “Is it because she’s a woman?”

“No,” his father replied. “It’s because she’s heartless.”  

“She’s never been anything but kind to me,” Alexander insisted.

“You’ve never been a threat to her,” his father replied.

Alexander hugged himself with his arms. The prison was cold and he’d been stripped of his long kingly tunica and dressed in a worn linen garment. It was sleeveless and only came to his knees.

It occurred to Alexander that he’d be seeing his father again in the morning. He’d probably have to spend the first few hours of eternity listening to a long lecture about how he should have been more vigilant.

Though he resented Fausta for her betrayal, he realized she couldn’t have done what she did, unless the people hated him too. When his sister accused him of Justin’s murder, they leapt to tear him apart. It was almost like they’d been waiting for an excuse to kill him. Somehow, he must have failed them miserably.

Alexander wanted nothing more than to honor his father by being the best king he could be. Unfortunately, there was more to being a good king than what he could learn from books. Kings always knew what to say. Alexander never knew what to say. Kings knew how to build relationships. Alexander was terrified of people. Kings were eloquent. Alexander’s every sentence was punctuated by “ums” and “uhs”. He could understand but not express his understanding. When he spoke, he made a fool of himself.

His father originally planned to send him off to a monastery when he came of age. He did not understand why his father changed his mind. Alexander longed for what could have been. A life of quiet contemplation and icon painting. What did it matter now? In the morning, he’d go to his father a failure, and that bothered him more than anything.

His head throbbed. There was a nasty gash just above his eyebrow. He assumed he got it when he was attacked by the murderous rabble, though the evening was such a blur, he couldn’t be sure. Instinctively, he tried to rub the cut, but winced when his fingers brushed it.

He lay down on the stone floor and curled himself into a tight ball. He struggled to keep his eyes open. Sleeping would only bring the dawn faster. Even if they were miserable, he wanted to experience the last few hours of his life. His weariness soon overcame him and neither pain, nor cold, nor a fretful mind could keep him from falling asleep.


He was startled awake by the sound of footsteps and the warm glow of lamplight. Assuming it was the guard coming to get him, he rose to his knees, folded his hands and prayed that God would forgive him for being a terrible king, and a terrible son, and a terrible person in general.

Alex,” came a harsh whisper.

“Fausta?” he replied, opening his eyes. Sure enough, it was his sister who stood before him with a lamp in one hand and the guard’s key ring in the other. She was glancing around nervously.

He felt a rage bubbling up inside him. There were so many things he wanted to say but he couldn’t find the words to express them. So instead, he turned his back to her and stood with his arms crossed glaring at the floor.

“Alex you need to come quickly,” Fausta ordered. “If you aren’t out of here by dawn, they’ll kill you.”

Alexander looked over his shoulder at her with one eyebrow raised. “Wasn’t that the idea?”

“Oh Alex,” she replied. “You didn’t think I was actually going to have you killed, did you?”

Alexander was too confused to think anything. All he could do in that moment was feel a strange combination of rage, anxiety, and suddenly, a tiny glimmer of hope.

“I’d never kill you, little brother,” Fausta assured. “Not if I could avoid it.”

Alexander had no idea how to reply. He just stared at her with an expression of disbelief and then obediently followed her to the city gate. There she gave him her necklace and instructed him to sell it in the next village.

“You should get enough to last you until you’re safely across the border,” she explained. “Find yourself a monastery somewhere. It’s what you’ve always wanted, isn’t it?”

“Good bye, sister,” was all he said in the moment. However, several hours later, as he followed the road away from the capital city, he formulated a better response in his mind.

I shouldn’t have doubted you, sister! How could I think you were going to kill me? All you did was have me framed for murder, beaten, overthrown, and publicly humiliated!

He sighed. Why did he always think of the right response in the wrong moment?

He thought of several more, each he liked better than the last. He kicked himself for not thinking of them sooner.

He walked adjacent to the road at a distance to avoid being seen by other travelers. He doubted anyone would recognize him in his current state, but didn’t want to take the chance. Somehow Fausta’s rescue infuriated him. If she had him killed, he could have assumed that she hated him pure and simple. Her rescue proved that she did care for him, just not as much as ruling Kalathea. She made it very clear that if he was caught before he crossed the border, she couldn’t do anything to protect him. He supposed mercy would ruin her image.

Maybe someday he’d return with an army of loyal followers, take back his kingdom, and see how she liked listening to an angry mob call for her head. He sighed. Who was he kidding? He wasn’t going to take back his kingdom. He was going to do exactly what his sister told him to do. Leave Kalathea and become a monk. It sickened him to think that he was giving her what she wanted, but what else was he supposed to do? No one wanted him to be king, not even him.

He felt his stomach grumble and stopped brooding for a moment so he could think about food. Luckily, he saw the silhouettes of buildings rising ahead of him against the brightening horizon. Where there was a village, there was something to eat. He approached cautiously, avoiding the road and instead slipped between the houses and shops that made up the town.

The warm and lovely smell of fresh baked bread caught his attention. He followed the scent through the winding streets until he came to a bakery. It looked like the baker was just preparing to open for the day. The folding door that covered the storefront was closed except for two panels.

The rest of the shops along the street were closed completely, and Alexander couldn’t see or hear anyone. He crept across the cobblestone street and cautiously peered through the opening in the door. The place was empty but it wouldn’t be for long. There was a fire in the oven, and sitting out on one of the countertops was a basket of freshly baked loaves.

It occurred to Alexander that he was about to steal from a villager. It gave him an awful feeling. Perhaps his situation was dire enough to justify stealing, even so, some poor slave would probably get blamed for it and take a beating on his account. He couldn’t live with that.

He thought of trading Fausta’s necklace somewhere, and coming back later to buy the bread, but that would mean being seen and potentially recognized. At last he decided to take a loaf, and leave the chain from the necklace in payment. So he removed and pocketed the pendant, crept into the shop, and withdrew the smallest of the loaves. As he went to leave the chain on the table, a firm hand snatched his wrist.

“The sun’s barely up and I’ve already caught a thief. This is going to be a long day.”

The speaker was a woman.  Everything about her was orderly. Her brown hair was neatly pinned up beneath a veil. Though the surrounding surfaces were dusted with flour, there wasn’t a speck on her clothing. Her presence was commanding and Alexander wished he would drop dead rather than continue to endure her formidable gaze.

Avoiding Assassination Featured

He tried to jerk his wrist out of her grip, but her hand remained unmoved. She was unusually strong for a woman. He jerked his wrist again. She was unusually strong for a human being. He got the impression she could snap his wrist with a flick of her own.

Since he could not retreat, he had no choice but defend himself.

“I am not a thief,” he blurted and immediately realized that, under the circumstances, it was the stupidest thing he’d ever said.

“Really?” the woman replied, a glimmer of amusement in her eye. “Just popped in to make sure everything was in order?”

He had no idea what to say. Every excuse that came to mind was ridiculous, so he settled on the truth. He looked at his feet, prayed silently for a moment, then said: “I came in to take the bread, but I am no thief. I was going to leave this in payment.” He nodded to the chain in his hand.

The woman released him, took the chain, and held it up for inspection.

“Do you have a name, kid?” she asked.

“Pri— Kin— just, um, Alexander,” he stuttered and immediately decided he surpassed the stupidity threshold he set a moment earlier.

“Well, Alexander,” the woman replied. “My name is Eda. I am no thief either, but that is exactly what I would be if I only gave you a bit of bread in exchange for this.”

She took a few coins from her pocket and placed them in his hand.

“Fair enough?” She asked.

Alexander remained petrified like a rabbit in the shadow of a hawk. For some reason, he was feeling distrustful lately, and couldn’t convince himself that she was actually letting him go.

“Alright, fine!” She grumbled and placed another coin in his hand. “But you strike a hard bargain, my friend!”

“Why…” he began, but he wasn’t sure what he was asking. Why was she letting him go? Why was she showing him kindness? Why did she believe him?

“You know, I’m not sure,” she replied as though reading his mind. “I suppose it’s because I’ve decided I like you, Alexander. And that’s a high compliment, because I don’t like many people. Now I’m sure you have somewhere to be, off you go!”

Alexander scurried away feeling slightly less discouraged but no less confused.


As Alexander left the village, he noticed a beggar woman sitting by the road. He took one of the coins he had in his pocket, placed it in her hand, and continued on his way.

After a few hours of walking, his steps became more difficult, and it took a conscious effort to keep his eyes open. It occurred to him that he’d hardly slept at all the night before.

When he could no longer force himself to press on, he found a clump of boulders and lay down behind it, hoping he would be concealed from view.

He woke to a kick in the ribs.

“On your feet, kid!”

The speaker was a Kalathean guardsman. He was one of two, who stood over Alexander with weapons drawn.

Alexander froze in an attempt to blend in with his surroundings.

“We can do this two ways, kid.” The first guardsman continued. “You can resist, in which case we’ll kill you, or you can surrender peacefully and we will take you back to the capital so they can kill you properly.”

Alexander stood slowly, choosing the latter option.

“You know if we drag him all the way back to the capital, we’re going to be stuck there until tomorrow,” the fellow guardsman complained.

“Ug, you’re right,” answered the first. “Do you think we’d get in trouble if we just killed him now and sent his head back?”

“Why would we? The outcome will be the same, won’t it?”

The first considered this.

“If anyone asks,” whispered the second. “He went into a rage and almost killed us.”

“It was us or him,” agreed the first.

Luckily, as the first guard raised his blade, he was struck with that unexplainable paralysis that comes over people who try to kill the hero of an incomplete story, and in that very same moment, someone spoke.

“That’s an innocent man you’re about to kill.”

The speaker was the beggar woman from the village gate. She looked different somehow. She was standing tall and confident, holding Alexander’s captors at bay with her gaze.

“Madam,” the first guard replied, with a respect that seemed uncanny for a guard to give a beggar. “This boy is a dangerous criminal.”

“You’re mistaken,” she asserted. “I know him quite well. He’s a friend of mine.”

“Not that well, he killed a man!”

The guard had lowered his weapon in a motion that seemed involuntary and stood unusually still.

“Really?” The woman answered. “How do you know it was him?”

“Well he matches the description,” the man explained. “Right down to the slash above his eye.”

“What slash?” The woman asked.

The guard stumbled forward as though he’d suddenly pulled himself free of snare. He grabbed a fistful of Alexander’s hair and brushed his bangs aside with the tip of his blade. He stared at Alexander’s forehead for an uncomfortably long moment before releasing him.

“I suppose he doesn’t,” was the guard’s dazed reply. He looked toward his fellow, who shrugged.

“Do me a favor?” The woman asked. “Next time you go to decapitate someone, please double check and make sure you have the right person.”

“Of course, madam,” the guard agreed. The two continued on their way in silence, occasionally glancing at each other and then back toward Alexander with baffled expressions.

Alexander slowly raised his hand to his forehead. Where he expected to feel the cruel wound, he touched healthy skin. Perhaps it was the shock of his inexplicable healing, or maybe it was the slow realization that he’d just escaped death for the second time that day, but he was suddenly feeling very light headed.

“Sit down! Sit down!” The woman urged. She ran to him and taking him by the arm, helped him sink down so he was sitting with his back against one of the boulders.

“Who are you?” He asked.

“My name is Alika,” she replied. “I’m your godmother.”

“My…” Alexander started, then his eyes started to close and he almost fell face forward into her arms.

She shoved him back against the rocks. “Keep your eyes open,” she ordered. “Swooning isn’t princely!”

“I’m not…” Alexander began and started to fall forward again.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Alika sighed shoving him back against the boulder. “What am I doing? Surely I can fix a little fatigue!”

Alexander’s head suddenly cleared and his energy returned and he leapt up and stumbled backward away from Alika with eyes wide as saucers.

“My godmother?” He exclaimed. He had so many questions. Where had she been all his life? Why was she a beggar now? What kind of a trick was this? Instead of asking any of them, he stood staring at her with his mouth hanging slightly open.

“We’ll explain everything soon enough, Your Majesty,” Alika replied. “For now, I want you to continue on your way until reach the monastery on Cedar Hill. You’ll be safe there.”

Alexander’s expression did not change.

“Don’t be afraid. We’re looking after you, understand?”

Alexander slowly shook his head.

“Excellent! See you soon!” Alika answered and disappeared.


It was dusk when Alexander arrived at the monastery. He was nearly asleep on his feet. He knocked on the door and asked the brother who answered if they had a place for a weary traveler.

The brother let him in and asked him to wait a moment in the courtyard. He leaned against one of the pillars that surrounded the tranquil place and might have fallen asleep right there, if he hadn’t heard a shuffling. He looked up to see a bent old monk crossing the courtyard with a crate full of books. He was thin and frail and Alexander marveled that he was able to lift the box at all.

Alexander forgot his weariness for a moment and approached the man.

“Let me take that for you,” he offered.

The old man smiled warmly. “Thank you, son!”

He tossed the box into his arms. Alexander almost stumbled over backward when he caught it. Did books really weigh so much or was the old monk hiding an anvil in there somewhere?

“This way! This way!” The old man beckoned as he trotted along ahead. Alexander boosted the crate higher in his arms and struggled after him. The monk held a door open and waited for Alexander to catch up.

As Alexander passed him into the room, the old man said: “To what do I owe this honor, My King?”

Alexander turned white and dropped the crate. Its contents scattered in all directions.

“Be careful, Your Majesty,” the monk rebuked. “These manuscripts are priceless.”

“Um… you’re mistaken,” Alexander answered as he scrambled to collect the books. “Not about the books, I mean about me.”

The monk chuckled. “Certainly not, I never forget a face.”

Alexander turned red. He had no idea who the old monk was. He frequently forgot faces and names, and when he did remember them, he’d put the wrong name to the wrong face and embarrassed himself.

“My name is Brother Joseph. I came with the abbot to visit your father a few years ago, though I am sure you don’t remember, we only met briefly.”

“Oh,” Alexander replied, glancing back across the courtyard to the main gate. “So… um… the abbot knows me too?”

“Certainly!” Joseph replied. “He’s a close friend of your father’s. He told us you were going to join us when you were old enough.”

“Ah… right…” Alexander answered crawling under a bench to retrieve a book. “But, um, father got sick, and asked me to wait a year.” He set the book back in the crate. “And then he named me heir, and then he…” Alexander was horrified when he felt a tear on his cheek. “…And then I became king.” He wiped his eye with his wrist and picked up the crate. “Where do you want this?”

The old monk motioned through the door. “Just put them anywhere,” he said.

The door opened onto a little dining room. Alexander dropped the crate on the table and turned toward the door. “Well, brother, if that’s all, I think I’d better get back to…um… running the kingdom.”

“I am not going to hand you over, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Joseph answered.

Alexander paused. News traveled fast.

“How do I know that?” Alexander asked, his cheeks flushing red.

“You don’t,” Joseph answered. “If you’d rather not take the chance, the gate is right over there.” He motioned to the other side of the courtyard.

Alexander was too confused and exhausted to know what to do. He sank down in one of the chairs and buried his head in his hands.

“Why wouldn’t you turn me over? You’ve nothing to gain by protecting me.”

“Because you didn’t kill Justin,” Joseph answered.

“No, I didn’t. But all the other awful things you’ve heard about me are true. I was a terrible king.”

“You readopted the religion of our ancestors and started sacrificing peasants to Dythis?”

“Um, no?”

“You entertained your dinner guests by drowning kittens?”

“Um, what have you heard about me?”

“Lots of things, but since none of them seem to be true, tell me yourself what you did that was so terrible?”

“I was incompetent,” Alexander continued. “When the senate proposed a law, I was paralyzed with indecision. How could I possibly sign something when I didn’t understand its effects? The senate hated me, the people hated me, and rightly so. I failed them.”

“You read everything you signed?” Joseph marveled.

“I haven’t signed anything,” Alexander answered. “I am still working through the first one. It’s twelve hundred pages long.”

“You’re an awful politician,” Joseph smiled. “But I think one day you’ll make an excellent king.”

Alexander lay his head down on the table and closed his eyes.

“Would it be alright if I slept a bit while we are waiting for the guards to come collect me?”  

Joseph chuckled. “Let me go see if they’ve found a bed for you.”


Alexander left early the next morning. He wanted to bid Brother Joseph goodbye, but couldn’t find him anywhere. None of his fellow monks seemed to know where he was, so Alexander left a message with them and departed.

He’d hardly started on his way, when he saw the old man standing in the shade of a cedar. He was accompanied by two others. The first was the woman from the bakery. She was holding a scale. He saw a pile of gold coins on one side, but couldn’t see what was on the other. Whatever it was, must have been very heavy because that side was hanging lower.

The second person, he didn’t recognize… or maybe he did. He stared at her for several long moments before realizing that she was the beggar woman who’d saved him from the Kalathean guards.

She was completely transformed, her old rags replaced with a long white tunica. She was crowned with a golden diadem and clutching a sword in her left hand. Her weary, weather-worn face was now bright and beautiful. She reminded Alexander of one of the ancient goddesses.Alika Lady Justice

The intimidation he felt in her presence the day before was nothing compared to what he felt now.

“Eda, may I please have my scale back?” She was saying.

“No, Alika,” Eda replied scrutinizing the coins. “I’m not finished with it.”

“He’ll be here any moment,” Alika protested.

“You know if you keep this up, the council will expect you to be the justice fairy forever,” Eda warned.

“I like being the justice fairy.”

“I think you’re going to frighten him,” Joseph cautioned.

“Oh I don’t think so,” Alika replied. “Mortals love the theatrics! Look, there he is now!”

She pointed in Alexander’s direction. He turned and tore back toward the monastery.

“Your Majesty! Please wait!” Alika called.

Alexander suddenly found himself frozen mid-stride. He couldn’t move forward, but when he heard her approaching from behind, he found he could turn back toward her.

His face was white and he was trembling from head to foot. He gripped one hand in the other in a futile attempt to stop the shaking, looked Alika in the eye, and said:

“I’ll—I’ll have you know. That I am a Christian, so if it’s worship you want, you’ll have to um… go elsewhere. I am of no use to you so you might as well um,  just let me go, please.”

“He’s adorable,” Eda remarked. “Can we keep him?”

Alika shot her a glare. “We’re not gods, Your Majesty,” she corrected. “We’re fairies.”

Alexander glanced at each of them. “Fairies?”

“Yes, I am Alika the Fairy of Justice.”

“I am Eda, and I like to keep my options open.”

Alika elbowed her in the ribs.

“Fine,” Eda growled. “I am the fairy of…” She twirled her hand in the air, as she tried to decide. “How about prudence?”

“You already know me,” Joseph smiled. “I am the fairy of love.”

Alexander stared at him blankly. He looked exactly the same as he had the evening before: a bent old man, with callused hands, a gentle smile, and a glimmer in his eye.

“You’re the fairy of love?”

Joseph nodded.

Alexander regarded him.

“What were you expecting Aphrodite?” Eda smirked.

“I am so confused,” Alexander complained, then looked back to Alika. “Didn’t you say you were my godmother?”

“Yes, fairies can also be godparents you know,” Alika affirmed. “And that reminds me.”

She sheathed her sword and a wooden box appeared in her hands. She gave it to Alexander. Inside was a candle and a tiny white gown.

“That’s been in my sock drawer for the last sixteen years, it’s time you had it back.”

“Thank you?” Alexander replied.

“And we have a few more gifts for you,” Eda said, holding out the scale so he could see what was outweighing the gold. It was a chain and a single coin.

“Do you recognize them?” Eda asked. “The gold opposite is all the money Fausta offered to the poor in Justin’s name.”

Alexander regarded the items with his brow furrowed.

Br. Joseph Smiling“What does that tell you?” Joseph asked.

“That the chain must be incredibly dense,” Alexander answered, poking it curiously.

“Yes,” Eda sighed.  “Just like a certain king I know.”

“What king?” Alexander asked.

“Why did you give me that chain?” Eda continued, changing the subject.

“I didn’t want to steal, I mean, not when I had something I could give in return,”

“Is that all?”

Alexander shrugged. “I thought someone else might get blamed for taking it.”

“You considered how your actions would affect other people,” Eda asserted. ”And because of that, I am going to give you a swamp.”

“…A swamp?” Alexander asked.

“Yes,” a scroll appeared in Eda’s hand. She gave it to Alexander. “There’s the deed.”

“Thank you,” Alexander replied. In that moment, he decided there wasn’t any point in questioning anything anymore.

“And because you considered my misfortune before your own,” Alika added. “I am going to give you what was taken from you—a good name. From this day forward, you will be known for your wisdom and kindness, not here in Kalathea mind you, but in your new home in Kaltehafen.”

“Kaltehafen?” Alexander mumbled. “Wait a moment, that’s a barbarian kingdom, isn’t it?”

“Don’t worry, Your Majesty. We won’t make you walk there,” Alika smiled.

And just like that, Alexander found himself someplace entirely different. The air was crisp and cold and the sky was blanketed with grey clouds. He was standing in a clearing amidst a forest of towering evergreens. The grass was muddy, and here and there across the clearing and among the trees, he could see frozen pools.

He was grateful to see that his attire had changed to combat frigid weather. Alexander is coldHe had a hat, a warm cloak, a longer tunic and hose. He looked down at himself and realized to his horror that he was dressed like a barbarian. He sighed, at least he was warm. The three fairies remained exactly as they were. How Alika wasn’t freezing to death without sleeves was a mystery to him.

“Welcome home!” Eda smiled gesturing toward a ramshackle house on the edge of the wood. “Inside you’ll find everything you need to get you through the winter. Cozy isn’t it? And it’s only half a day’s walk from the capital city.”

“I am grateful for your help,” Alexander answered, glancing anxiously around the frozen wood.  “But um, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go quite this far from home.”

“This is the safest place for you,” Alika explained.

“Besides, in the spring, you’ll find there’s gold in this swamp,” Eda smiled. She was looking exceptionally pleased with herself.

Suddenly, a third woman appeared beside Alika.

“Ah, there you are, Alika! I have an urgent message for you from the Fairy High Council,” the newcomer stated.

“I am speaking with a mortal right now, can it wait?”

“Afraid not, the King of the High Elves is threatening to commit genocide again and the Council wants you to talk him out of it.”

“Really? Again?” Alika exclaimed. “He’s just being dramatic you know. He’s not actually going to do it.”

“I’m just the messenger,” the newcomer shrugged. “You’re going to have to take it up with the Council.”

Alika rolled her eyes and grumbled something under her breath. “I am so sorry, Your Majesty. I have to go. Everything is going to be alright, trust me.” She looked to Joseph and said: “Aphrodite, don’t forget to warn him about the twins.” She disappeared.

“Twins?” Alexander asked.

“I’ll explain in a moment,” Joseph said. “But first, I haven’t given you my gift yet! Because you forgot your own weariness to help me, I am going to give you something that will help you love, when love seems impossible.”

Joseph withdrew a worn wooden crucifix from his pocket and placed it in Alexander’s hand.

“Now let’s go inside, we have a lot to talk about.”

There was a fire burning in the little house and the three sat on the floor around it. There, Brother Joseph and Eda did something fairies almost never do. They explained everything.

They told Alexander about how each fairy is tasked with bringing the good out of others and how Jace and Acacia abandoned that mission. They told him of their escape and how the plot to overthrow him was simply another one of their sadistic games.

Alexander listened to the entire story white-faced.

“Can’t you recapture them?” Alexander questioned.  

“When I realized they escaped, I informed the Fairy High Council immediately,” Joseph answered. “They told me they received my concern and would handle the situation promptly.”

“So we probably won’t hear from them for a hundred and fifty years,” Eda grumbled.

Alexander wondered if she was exaggerating. She didn’t seem like she was exaggerating.

“Unfortunately, they aren’t the only rogue fairies on the loose,” Joseph continued. “The council has its hands full.”

Alexander went even paler. “How many—I mean, um, what makes them rebel?”

“Imagine spending your each and every day offering people the opportunity to act selflessly knowing that they won’t,” Eda explained.

“How do you know they won’t?” Alexander asked.

“When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you can tell,” Eda answered. “Take Alika’s elf king for example. He’s always been a stubborn, conceited, sanctimonious–”

Eda,” Joseph warned.

Eda gave an irritated little sigh. “A thousand years from now he’ll be exactly the same. Alika knows it and yet when the Council says ‘make him see reason’ she dutifully follows orders every single time.”

“How discouraging,” Alexander mumbled.

“You have no idea,” Eda agreed. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t come close to giving up.”

“So why don’t you?” Brother Joseph smiled.

“Because for every hundred selfish souls, there is one person who sincerely longs to do the right thing, and just needs a little help figuring out what that right thing is. Those are the people who make it all worthwhile.”

“Well,” Alexander said. “I hope they assign you someone like that soon.”

A smile flickered across her lips. “I am hopeful, Alexander. I really am.”

They did not explain why they put Alexander in a swamp in Kaltehafen. When he inquired about it, they suddenly became much more fairy like and told him he would have to find out for himself.

To be continued…

 

Ebook Update!

Hi Folks!

I am slowly making all my short stories available for the e-reader of your choice!  I’ve just added Elves vs. Elves and am making it available during a couple of upcoming book funnel promotions!

Here are the links to the promotions. While you are there, be sure browse the other titles in the promotion to see if anything perks your interest:

March Madness Giveaway (Starts March 1st)

Spring Reads Bounty (Starts March 4th)

And if you still want to download Love is in the Air, you can get it during the March 2019 Urban Fantasy Book Fair (Starts March 1st)

Happy reading everyone!

Short available for e-reader!

Hi folks!

I’ve just joined BookFunnel so I can make my short stories available for the e-reader of your choice! In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am running a promotion for romantic comedy! It includes Love is in the Air, as well as submissions from other authors (short stories and full novels): https://books.bookfunnel.com/comedyromance/h83i0lwxxk

Right now, I am only offering my most recent short for e-reader, but I am hoping to add the rest soon!

FYI: I’ve asked the authors to submit clean and funny options in the promo, but adherence to those guidelines is on the honor system and I haven’t read everything submitted.

Katysfables.com is not responsible for any trauma resulting from the contents of third party fictions. Risk associated with reading any of the above works is solely the responsibility of the reader. <– Law Fairy insisted I add this disclaimer.

 

Love is in the Air

Of all the alternate universes in existence, Para Sympan is the most like our own. There are only a few minor differences. For example, like our world, Para Sympan has a Washington State and a Seattle and a Sea-Tac Airport. The only minor difference is the dragons living in the Cascades.

The mountains are home to thirty-six species of dragon which means trouble for travelers flying out of Sea-Tac from March through May.

You see, this is mating season for dragons and the lovesick young males often confuse aircraft for females to be wooed or rivals to fight. Either way, it poses a danger to departing and returning flights.

Fighter jets circle the airport every spring to protect passenger planes. Most dragons won’t fly above ten thousand feet, so defense is only required during takeoff and landing. Dragons are a protected species. While it is illegal to shoot them down, it is acceptable to scare them off with a warning shot. Usually this is sufficient. Usually.  

Several years ago, there was one dragon who was not so easily dissuaded. His name was Herbert and he has become a local legend.

He flew down from the mountains one spring, passed over the airport, and spotted the emerald green of an Intermittent Airlines 737. From the moment he saw her, he was completely and totally in love. They had so much in common. They were both green, they both had a lingering kerosene scent, and they both emitted smoke. He watched her as she left the gate and taxied to the runway.

She gave a magnificent roar as she leapt into the air. He flew after her, mistaking the hum of her engines for the purrs of a broody female. No amount of warning shots could keep him from pursuing. He followed higher and higher calling out to her in dragonish:

“Come back, my beautiful! Let us go into the mountains and make eggs together! I will bring you dead cows! As many dead cows as you would like!”

love is in the air teaser

As she ascended higher above the clouds, his pleas became more earnest.

“Where are you going, my beloved? How is it you fly so high? Come back to me! I will bring you more dead cows than anyone ever has! We shall have a beautiful nest with green and yellow chicks. Their little mouths shall be crimson with the blood of cows! Come back to me, beloved!”

He followed her higher and higher until the air became too thin for him to ascend farther. Even then, he followed her from below for miles calling to her until she disappeared from site. Then he returned to the airport, flopped down at her gate, stuck his nose in the ramp and made mournful sounds.

The ground crew shouted and threw things, but nothing could drive him away from that sacred place. Airline staff scrambled to reassign gates. The airport called animal control but animal control was not equipped to handle this kind of situation. A specialist was called in from Point Defiance Zoo.

Her name was Dr. Diana Diaz and she was a herpetologist who specialized in dragons.

dr.-diaz.jpg
Most people like puppies and kittens and furry critters. Dr. Diaz liked feeding furry critters to her reptiles. She had a warm heart for the cold blooded.

 Most people like puppies and kittens and furry critters. Dr. Diaz liked feeding furry critters to her reptiles. She had a warm heart for the cold blooded.

She prepared a sedative while the animal control team located a crane and the largest tractor trailer they could find. Diaz had a tranquilizer gun designed specifically for dragons. It looked like a rocket launcher but fired a giant syringe.

They sedated the great beast and loaded him onto the truck. (They had to add a second trailer as one wasn’t large enough, even with Herbert curled up.) Dr. Diaz took his measurements and injected a tracking device under his scales.

“He looks like a Herbert, don’t you think?” She commented to one of her assistants and that is how he got his name.

The dragon awoke the next morning alone in his natural habitat. Under such circumstances, most young male dragons would have moved on to pursue other females, or perhaps eat some elk, or pick a fight with a rival. Herbert, however, was no ordinary dragon. Immediately he took off toward the airport so he could continue mourning his lost love.

But, as he prepared to land, something caught his attention. It was another Intermittent Airlines 737. Herbert’s heart leapt. She’d returned for him! He looped in the air with excitement. He had to do something special for her.

The aircraft left the gate and taxied toward the runway. It was just about to take off when something fell from the sky and crashed directly in its path. It was the carcass of a fifteen hundred pound angus heifer.

The passengers heard some muffled profanity over the intercom. A few moments later, they heard the captain’s voice calmly explaining that there would be a brief delay and asking for their patience.

Herbert landed beside the carcass looking very pleased with himself.

“Look what I got for you, my beloved!” he purred.

Dr. Diaz and her team were called in once again to remove the animal, but that did not stop him from returning the next day, or the following day, or the day after that. Each day, he would pursue the first Intermittent Airlines 737 he saw, thinking that she was his beloved. What the poor, confused, lovesick creature thought was one female, was actually multiple aircraft.

He’d drop cattle, elk, and other prey around the airfield in an attempt to impress her. Additionally, he’d find shiny things like flagpoles, satellite dishes, and cars and bring them to her as gifts.

The Federal Aviation Administration was concerned about the safety hazard Herbert posed and the local farmers were furious on account of their lost livestock.

A paper quoted one farmer as saying:

“Regulations be damned. If that thing comes for my cattle. I’mma gonna shoot ‘im.”

Luckily for Herbert, no civilian possessed the necessary fire power to take him down.

In all her years of research, Dr. Diaz never encountered a dragon more persistent. She fully expected Herbert to lose interest in the planes after the first relocation. She tried to think of ways to discourage Herbert from approaching the airport.

First she recommended the crew install mirrors on top of every ramp so Herbert would be blinded as he tried to land. Herbert responded by landing at a distance and trotting in to meet his beloved on foot. Hopping the fences that surrounded the airfield was no trouble.

Next, Dr. Diaz tried noise deterrents. They played a sound at a pitch outside the human hearing range that was extremely irritating to dragons. This only made Herbert more determined to reach his beloved so he could rescue her from the awful racket. He charged across the airfield with his ears lying flat against his head, calling in dragonish:

“Don’t worry, my love! I will get you away from this awful noise! Come quickly! Let us go into the mountains were this terrible thing is not! We will eat cattle, and make eggs, and be happy!”

He trotted toward the first plane he saw that resembled his imaginary lover and grabbed her by the tail. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Herbert was once again tranquilized and relocated. The crew removed the noise deterrents and towed the plane to the hanger for repairs.

But Herbert returned that evening, set on finding and rescuing his mate. Since dragon’s are diurnal, the airport was completely unprepared for his visit. He trotted around the airport making distressed whimpers.

Then, he spotted her through the window of a hanger. It wasn’t difficult for him to break in. His hard scales made smashing through the window completely painless.

“My beloved!” He cried. “How wonderful that you have found a cave for us! And those sounds are gone so we can build a nest here!”

As the security guards frantically called for help, Herbert went to and from the hanger, carrying trees and tarps and other suitable nesting materials.

When the animal control team arrived in the morning, the hanger was in shambles and Herbert was curled up next to his beloved, sound asleep.

The airport called the Department of Fish and Wildlife to get permission to euthanize Herbert. (And by euthanize they meant shoot him down. Fire breathing dragons explode into a giant fireball when shot with an anti-aircraft missile. It’s a glorious site.)

Dr. Diaz begged and pleaded for time to think of an alternative solution. She was given forty-eight hours. She searched through all her research but couldn’t think of anything. Then she flipped through every book on dragon behavior that she owned, and still no solution came to mind. Then she spun around and around in her wheely desk chair until she was dizzy. That’s when it hit her—the corner of the desk. Then, as she was rubbing the bruise on her hip, she had an idea.

She called every zoo and wildlife rehabilitation center within two hundred miles until she found what she was looking for. Vancouver Zoo was home to a young female dragon by the name of Reya. She had been recovering from a broken wing and was ready to return to the wild.

The female was sedated and transported to the airport where Dr. Diaz had her painted with the Intermittent Airlines colors. (She was already green, but the shade was not in compliance with Intermittent Airlines brand standards.)

Diaz then had her team rub Reya with jet fuel so that she’d smell just like one of the planes. She assured her assistants that the entire process was completely harmless to fire breathing dragons. She advised them, however, to wear gloves and masks.

When the task was complete, the team fell back, leaving the animal to wake alone. The entire process was finished mid-morning which was when Herbert usually made his appearance. Dr. Diaz watched through binoculars from the air traffic control tower, her heart pounding in anticipation.

Herbert cruised toward the airport scanning the ground for his mate. Then, he spotted her, or at least something that looked like her.

He landed a short distance away and approached cautiously. Reya looked back over her shoulder at him, with a slightly bored expression.

“Why beloved, you look so beautiful today!” Herbert exclaimed. “I mean, you always look beautiful,  but you… I don’t know, you seem somehow more alive. Did you have a good sleep?”

“Who are you?” Reya asked.

Herbert’s heart leapt. He’d never heard her speak. Before she’d purr and hum and sometimes roar, but she never spoke.

Of course, the humans observing couldn’t understand what was said. They only heard growls and grunts and throaty vocalizations. Nonetheless, Dr. Diaz recognized that communication was taking place. She tried not to get her hopes up too quickly.

“You know who I am,” Herbert replied. “I am your mate. I built a nest for you, remember?” His ears drooped. “But the people took it away before we could make eggs.”

“Aren’t you presumptuous!” The female scoffed. She lay her head on her forefeet and pretended to be asleep.Herbert brings a cow

Herbert flew away and, several minutes later, a three thousand pound bull came crashing into the concrete behind her. He landed beside it and pranced back and forth looking pleased with himself.

Reya was unimpressed.

“You aren’t the first male to bring me a dead cow, you know.”

Herbert took off again and returned a few moments later with an elk carcass.

The female yawned.

The ritual continued. Herbert brought her all kinds of things until the gate area was littered with dead animals.

“Any male could bring me these things,” Reya observed.

Herbert left her one last time, and did not return for almost an hour. Dr. Diaz waited impatiently—typing a few notes, then pacing around the tower, then trying to type some more. It was agonizing.

Then, at last she spotted him approaching from the ground. He trotted proudly across the airfield clutching a Tesla in his teeth. It was the shiniest thing Reya had ever seen—blue and shimmery and beautiful. She could no longer be coy with him. She was completely and totally overcome with love.

I won’t describe what happened next, only that it made some of the spectators blush, some snicker, and Dr. Diaz cry tears of joy. The two dragons flew away together and left the airport in peace.

Dragons mate for life and hatch six to twelve chicks every spring. If you are ever flying south from SeaTac on a clear day, look out the window and see if you notice a speck of green sparkling against the snowy peak of Mount Rainier. It is likely Herbert and Reya teaching their little ones to fly.

 

How to Kill a King

Fairies have one job.

They help other people practice virtue. You’ve probably heard stories about fairies taking the form of vagrants, going to castles for aid, and blessing or cursing the occupants depending on their response. This is a typical strategy, though they have dozens more.

While most fairies are content with this vocation, some deeply resent it. Two in particular come to mind: a mischievous pair of twins by the names of Jace and Acacia. When they were young, they begrudgingly accepted their job. However, after about a hundred years, they deemed humans predictable and frustrating, never learning anything despite their best efforts.

At last, they started questioning why beings as powerful as themselves should spend their lives in the service of such stupid creatures. They started amusing themselves by manipulating humans. It was much easier to get humans to practice vice than virtue, so they entertained themselves endlessly by tricking people into ruining each other. Jace and Acacia got the same pleasure from toying with the lives of humans as children do from crushing fireflies to watch their flattened innards glow.

Now fortunately, there is a magical rule that prevents fairies from directly killing humans. Any fairy that kills a human dies instantly. (I’ve never seen it happen, but I like to think they explode into dust.) So it is highly unlikely that you will ever be shanked by a fairy (even in Para Sympan). There is one small caveat: a fairy can kill a human, if the human attacks first.

This rule was not much of a hindrance to Jace and Acacia because they were exceptionally good at getting humans to kill each other. Their intelligence was far superior, they had magic beyond measure, and a complete disregard for the lives of others.

After causing three wars, the fairy counsel sentenced them to two millennia in prison. The only way to contain a fairy, is to seal it in a magic bottle. These are the same magic bottles used to contain genies. (You can actually use them to contain anything; they are very handy that way.)

So they were imprisoned, and their bottles hidden away in a desert cave. The fairy counsel filled the cavern with snakes and scorpions and left feeling confident that the bottles would remain undisturbed by curious mortals.


fausta

Princess Fausta was a curious mortal who happened to be in desperate need of a genie. She was having some family problems. They were the type of family problems she figured only magic could resolve. While finding a genie was no easy task, Fausta was relentless in her search and persisted for many months seeking clues and following rumors.

You can imagine her delight when at last she found the two bottles nestled in that dreadful desert pit. Could she really be lucky enough to find two genies?

She took the first bottle, pulled a corkscrew from her pocket, and removed the seal. It flew off with a loud POP and a blinding flash. Smoke filled the cavern and there stood Acacia blinking and fanning the air with her hand.

She was a beautiful, imposing, figure—the type of person it was hard to look directly in the eye.

“Has it been two thousand years already?” Acacia asked groggily. Then she noticed the princess. “Who are you?”

“I am Princess Fausta of Kalathea,” She replied, pulling the cork from the second bottle. It came loose immediately without a pop but smoke still filled the room. When it cleared, Jace was standing beside his sister.

“Jace,” Acacia smiled. “How long were we imprisoned?” The grogginess had left Acacia almost instantly and she looked fresh and bright, the way irritating morning people do the moment they roll out of bed.

Jace, however, still needed a moment to recover himself. “I don’t know, maybe a thousand years?” He looked around the cave taking everything in. “Not that I’m complaining, but why’d they let us out?”

They didn’t,” Acacia answered cheerily. “This sweet lady saved us. Isn’t that nice, Jace?”

“Oh,” Jace replied, looking at the princess. “Yes, how very kind of her.”

“Perhaps we should do something to thank her for setting us free?” Acacia suggested.

A smirk flickered across Jace’s face. “Absolutely!”

Acacia addressed the princess: “Tell me, what reward can we give you? What would make the fleeting decades of your life more pleasant?”

“I was hoping for three wishes,” the princess answered.

“Three?” Laughed Jace. “She’s a bold one isn’t she? She only rescued us once.”

“Now Jace,” his sister reasoned. “There are two of us, so that’s two wishes at least.”

Fausta knelt before them.  “I do not wish to try your patience,” she answered. “A single wish is all I require.”

“Then why did you ask for three?” Jace grumbled.

“Well, just because, I thought three was standard for genies.”

“GENIES!” Jace cried. “You think we—”

But Acacia held up her hand to silence him.

“Only in legends, my dear,” she answered. “We can give you as many, or as few as we deem appropriate. Tell us what it is you desire.”

Jace glared at his sister and mouthed: I hate genies!

She mouthed back: I know. Shut up.

Fausta’s face was bent toward the ground in reverence, so she did not notice the exchange.

“My father, King Basil the Fourteenth, recently expired.”

“Just like old cheese,” Jace mumbled. Acacia shot him a glare.

“I have two brothers. An elder brother by the name of Justin—a warrior in the prime of life. My younger brother’s name is Alexander, a boy of sixteen. It was always assumed that Justin would inherit the throne, but upon my father’s deathbed, he named Alexander heir.”

Acacia gasped in horror. “But why?”

“I don’t know!” Fausta complained. “It was something about my older brother and I being evil. I couldn’t really understand what father was saying because he was dying at the time.”

Jace picked up his bottle and tapped the opening into his palm. A long stick slid out, far longer than the length of the actual bottle. The end of it was burned into charcoal. Jace took it and started writing notes on the cave wall.

“So what is your wish?” Jace asked.

“My elder brother, Justin, sent me to find you on his behalf,” Fausta explained. “His wish is that you restore his birthright and make him king.”

“Why didn’t he come to find us himself?” Acacia asked.

“He’s away fighting in another land,” Fausta explained.

“You must love your brother dearly to embark on such a treacherous quest on his behalf,” Acacia observed.

The princess hesitated. “Of course I do. He’s just like a brother to me.”

“I see,” Acacia replied. “It’s just… your success in finding and freeing us tells me that you are brave, capable, and intelligent. Why if I lived in Kalathea, I’d want you on the throne.”

“I was thinking the same,” Jace said. “Tell me princess, how did your father die?”

“He was ill.”

“And how long was he ill?”

“He’s been ill for years,” Fausta answered. “But several weeks ago, his condition deteriorated so that he couldn’t even rise from his bed.”

“And while your elder brother was away fighting and your father was bedridden, who was leading your people?”

Fausta bit her lip. “I was.”

“Then why not continue?” Acacia urged.

“A woman on the throne?”  Fausta mumbled. “I don’t know…”

Jace and Acacia both laughed. Acacia looked to Jace and said: “Here she has our unlimited power at her disposal, yet she binds herself by the rules of men!”

“Alright,” Fausta interjected. “If you can make me queen, then that is my wish! I wish to be heir to my father’s throne in both action and title so that I may be given due honor for the service I’ve rendered my people!”  

Jace and Acacia shared a smile. The dark cave suddenly became bright as day though Fausta could not find the source of the light.

“That’s better,” Acacia observed. “Blow out your lamp, my dear. Save the oil. Let’s begin planning.”

“Planning?” Fausta asked. “Can’t you just… snap your fingers or something?”

“Perhaps that’s how it works in stories,” Jace answered. “But in the real world magic is much more… complicated. We will need your complete cooperation.”

“That’s right,” Acacia added. “You’ll need to answer our every question honestly if this is to work.”

“Don’t lie to us,” Jace warned. “If you lie to us, we’ll know. We know everything!”

“But if you know everything, then why do you need to ask—”

“First,” Acacia interjected. “What does your husband think of all this?”

“I don’t have a husband.”

Jace scrutinized her. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-six, what does that have to—”

“A princess? Twenty-six and unmarried?” He questioned. “How unusual.”

“I’ve been married,” Fausta answered. “Three times.”

“Three times!” The fairies exclaimed in unison.

Fausta nodded then sighed deeply. “They all died.”

“I am so sorry,” Acacia replied softly. “How?”

“I blame myself really,” Fausta recalled. “The first was carrying me off  after our wedding celebration, when he tripped and landed on my knife. The second died during our wedding feast when I accidentally spilled hemlock juice in his drink, and the third died of a heart attack after our vows. I don’t blame myself for that one, he was a very old man. It was just luck, I suppose.”

She stared wistfully into the distance, then added: “Bad luck. Very, bad, luck!”

She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed her nose. “With three husbands dead, my father couldn’t find me another suitor. So here I am, doomed to pave my fate as I see fit.”

“How unfortunate for you,” Jace sighed. “Three dead husbands, a dead father, two dead brothers…”

“My brothers aren’t dead,” Fausta corrected.

“But they will be!” Jace answered cheerily. “When you kill them!”

“Who said anything about killing my brothers?” Fausta asked.

“It’s all part of the magic,” Acacia explained. “Do you want this kingdom or not?”

“More than anything,” Fausta insisted.

“Then you have to do what we tell you, my dear.”

Acacia took the charcoal from Jace and found a flat spot on the cave wall. First she drew Alexander. She had no idea what Alexander looked like, so she just imagined Fausta as a sixteen year old boy.

“It’s his perfect likeness,” the princess marveled.

Acacia then drew Justin beside the young king, imagining how the princess would look as a man in the prime of life. She stepped back for a moment scrutinizing her work, then tapped the charcoal on his face to add stubble.

“How do you draw so well?” Fausta asked.

“Magic of course,” Acacia explained. Though in truth, it was from a thousand years of practicing on the inside of her bottle. “The plan is simple. First we must plant rumors among the Kalatheans to build hatred and distrust toward the young king Alexander. At the same time, we must spread word of Justin’s charity and kindness.”

“That is going to be difficult,” Fausta replied. “Justin is a violent drunk. When I said he was off fighting a war, what I meant was he’s off pillaging surrounding kingdoms.”

Jace rolled his eyes. “Then why did you wish for us to restore his birthright?”

“Because he’s never home and without him I am queen in all ways except title.”

“Understandable,” Jace nodded. “Sister, please continue.”

“Not to worry, brother,” Acacia smiled. “The next part is easy. When Justin returns from the war, the princess will stab him in the back.”

“Figuratively?” Fausta questioned.

“And literally!” Acacia clarified.

Fausta gave a little shrug and a nod. “Alright, then what?”

“Then find Alexander and cry: ‘brother, brother, something terrible has happened!’ When he says: ‘what is it, my dear sister?’. You say: ‘I’ll show you!’ Then you take him to Justin’s corpse and while he is still gaping in horror you—”

“STAB HIM IN THE BACK!” Jace interjected. He was too excited to contain himself.

Acacia sent Jace an annoyed glare. “Then throw yourself over Justin’s body, weeping and wailing and calling for the guards! When they enter, tell them you saw Alexander murder Justin and you were filled with a holy vengeance and killed him.”

Fausta furrowed her brow, thinking through the whole thing carefully.

“In this way, you will rule the hearts of the people.” Acacia concluded. “They will uphold you as a beloved hero for avenging their dear prince and when you lay claim to the throne, they will support you.”

Fausta was quiet for a long moment.

“Is something troubling you, princess?” Acacia asked.

“Do we really need to kill Alex?” She asked. “Why not just banish him, or throw him into prison or something?”

Jace and Acacia both regarded her for a moment, then exchanged a look.

“Is there some reason you wish to keep him alive?” Acacia asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” the princess shrugged. “He’s a child! He’s not like Justin. He’s not cruel or greedy…”

“So what is he?” Jace inquired.

“He’s, well, he’s sixteen,” Fausta continued. “Mostly he just reads and eats. Sometimes he

alexander.jpg
Alexander reads On Kingdom Management by Rouvin the Philosopher. Incidentally, Rouvin was never a ruler, so this work is purely theoretical. 

 mumbles. He’s been so lost since he was crowned. He wanders the palace with the anxious stare of a newborn calf. He’s been coming to me for advice constantly.”

Fausta rubbed her forehead.

Acacia looked at the princess with soft eyes full of compassion. “You really are the only person keeping the kingdom together, aren’t you?”

The princess responded with a deep sigh. “If only you knew.”

“Your people need you, princess,” Jace observed. “Where would Kalathea be without you?”

“A wasteland of poverty and sickness,” Acacia finished. “You know something? I think you will be remembered as one of history’s most powerful women. Little girls for generations to come will admire you. Because of your reign, the world will come to realize that women can do anything men can. You have no idea how important it is that your wish come true.”

“But Alex hardly deserves to die,” the princess remarked.  

“Your hesitation is understandable,” Acacia said. “But if you imprison Alexander the people will perceive you as soft.”

“And you cannot appear soft to anyone,” Jace asserted. “Your enemies will see your sex alone as a sign of weakness. ‘Kalathea has a woman on the throne,’ they will say. ‘She’s gentle,’ they will say. ‘Let’s sack Kalathea,’ they will say. You must prove that you are as ruthless as any man and avenging Justin is an excellent way to start.”

“I’ve never killed anyone who didn’t derserv—” Fausta started. “I mean, I am willing to be strong, but to kill Alexander would make me a tyrant. He’s not like other men. He’s very gentle. While Justin is off splitting skulls, Alexander is home asking how this edict or that law will affect the common folk. It’s very sweet but entirely impractical.”

“His gentleness is a product of naivety,” Acacia answered. “In time he’ll be like every other man: self-absorbed and cruel.”

“All men?” Jace objected, shooting his sister a look.

Acacia glared at him. “Especially you.”

“It’s true,” Jace admitted with a smirk.

“What will it be, princess?” Acacia asked. “Will you save your country?”

Fausta was silent.

“You admire Alexander’s concern for the people,” Jace added. “But you don’t seem concerned for them yourself. How will they fair under the reign of an unfit king?”

“Alright,” Fausta agreed, though her tone seemed uncertain. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Excellent!” Acacia replied. “I have a simple formula that will serve us well.” She started writing on the wall.

“Formula?” Fausta puzzled.

“Yes, my dear, there’s a science to tainting a person’s reputation. Now tell me, where do people talk?”

“I don’t understand,” The princess answered. “People talk everywhere.”

“Of course,” answered Acacia. “But people talk more some places than others. For example, do you have a marketplace? Pubs? Churches?”

“Oh!” Jace was giddy with excitement. “Gossip flourishes in church congregations!”

“I really don’t under—” Fausta began.

“Hush!” Acacia interjected. “Just listen, my dear! You will begin in your home. I am sure Alexander is the topic of much conversation at the palace. Jace and I will begin with the common folk. Start a conversation with anyone you can, and begin by mentioning one of Alexander’s good qualities.”

“Good qualities?” Fausta questioned. “Aren’t we trying to destroy him?”

“Yes,” Acacia replied. “But you don’t want people thinking you’re a gossip!”

“Wait, but… aren’t we?” Fausta asked.

Acacia continued ignoring Fausta’s question. “It also makes them more likely to believe you when you say less than complimentary things. That brings me to my first equation.”

She started writing on the wall with her charcoal, then stepped back to reveal the following:

(Good quality) + “But, I’m concerned” + (Legitimate concern) = doubt.

“For example,” Acacia explained. “You could say: ‘Our king seems like a kind person, doesn’t he? But I’m concerned because he’s so young! Do you really think he’ll be a capable ruler?’”

“I don’t see how that helps us,” the princess commented. “There is nothing false in that and it seems like something that should be discussed.”

Acacia smiled. “It’s not the sentence itself that’s damaging, but rather who discusses it and how they discuss it. You see, if the young king’s advisors discussed this concern, they would be able to provide him help and guidance that would make him a stronger king. We don’t want him to be a stronger king, we want him to be a dead king. So we need to be sure that the people who discuss these concerns are the people who can’t do anything to address them. Then we can move on to the next portion of the plan.”

She wrote a second equation below the first:

 Doubt + potential consequences of legitimate concern  x  the human imagination = fear.

“There are many potential consequences of the king’s inexperience, why don’t you name a few?”

“I’ve got one!” Jace interjected. “He may not fully understand the grave responsibilities he has to his people! He might neglect his duties and use his wealth and position for his own amusement.”

“Yes!” Acacia answered. “And once that fear is planted, we draw attention to everything young Alexander does that isn’t directly related to his kingly duties. What else? Surely our princess has some ideas?”

Fausta thought. “Well, I suppose our enemies could see his age as a sign of weakness and launch an attack.”

“Marvelous!” Acacia said. “Speak of these potential consequences to anyone and everyone, and if you have any evidence at all that they might come to be, draw attention to it, exaggerate it! Then we can begin the final part of the plan.”

Acacia began writing again and as she wrote she explained:

“Anger is a natural reaction to perceived injustice. Once the people are afraid, they will be watching for injustices in everything Alexander does. You should watch the young king too. Every time he misspeaks, make it known to as many as possible. Read meaning into everything he says and does and spread your conclusions to every waiting ear.”

She stepped away from the wall, now it read:

Fear + the perception of injustice = hatred

Once the people are sufficiently angry, you can say anything about the king, true or false, and people will believe you without question. Only when the people hate him can you kill him. You see, he’ll already be dead in their hearts. Killing him will be a formality.”

The princess was looking at the stone floor, lost in thought.

“How long will all this take?” She asked.

“Has the internet been invented yet?” asked Jace.

“I take it from the princess’s perplexed expression that the answer is no.” Acacia cracked her knuckles. “We’ll just have to go about this the usual way. When is Justin coming back?”

“When war season ends,” Fausta answered.

“That will be plenty of time,” Acacia replied.

They went on to discuss ways of building up Justin’s reputation. According to Acacia, it could be done by crediting him with acts of charity, distributing goods to the people in his name, and dismissing any of the servants who actually knew him personally.

Fausta suggested that it might be easier to paint Alexander as the beloved victim and Justin as the cruel killer, but Acacia was intent keeping the original plan.



In the weeks leading up to Alexander’s fall, the princess spent more time in the company of the fairies who manipulated her desire for power and her resentment toward Justin. As the time to execute their plan approached, Fausta did not have second thoughts about killing him.

It was Alexander she had second thoughts about killing. Second thoughts and third thoughts and finally when the moment came and Alexander stood with his back to her, gaping at the site of Justin’s corpse, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Acacia had concealed herself from human view by magic and stood in the room watching the princess to see if she would follow through. When she saw her hesitation, she immediately revealed herself and started screaming for the palace guards.

They poured in to see Acacia, Fausta, and Alexander standing by the body of the prince. Acacia’s expression was anguished, tears streamed down her cheeks. Fausta was white-faced and trembling head to foot. Alexander had been frozen since the moment he noticed his lifeless elder brother.

After the guard, came everyone else who was within the sound of Acacia’s cries: servants, nobles, and palace guests. Most looked in sorrow upon their beloved prince. Some (the few remaining who knew him in life) thanked God silently and excused themselves.

Jace entered with the crowd and was the first of them to speak.

“What happened, princess?” He asked. “Who is responsible for this heinous crime?”

Fausta had a choice to make.

The people hated their king so much, that a word from her would condemn him. No one would question her. However, when she looked on the confusion in her little brother’s face, she found herself unable to speak. Her lust for power battled with her affection for him.

As a princess, Fausta was used to getting her way (except in a few small things like marriage and career choice). Most of the time, if she wanted something, she got it. At the moment she wanted to take over the kingdom without killing her little brother.

She had an idea.

“When I heard that the prince had returned, I came down to greet him,” she recalled. “But when I entered… I saw…” She looked at Alexander with a betrayed expression. Alexander looked back, eagerly awaiting her testimony.

“I saw the king driving a knife into his back.”

There are so many holes in this story that you could use it as a colander, but the people didn’t care. They’d been waiting for an excuse to kill Alexander for so long they swallowed it without question.

Alexander would have been torn apart right then and there, had the guard not intervened. As they held the rabble back, they looked to Fausta for instructions. She ordered them to arrest Alexander which they did immediately. Any loyalty they had to the young king was dissolved by the toxic murmurs of the people long ago.

It was clear to every person present that true power resided with the princess. The Kalathean counsel was quick to confirm that no law existed prohibiting a woman from ruling. They went on to attribute the late king’s choice of heir to madness brought about by his illness. So it was, that Fausta was named queen within a few hours of Justin’s death.

Her first act as queen was to sentence Alexander to death. Though her enthusiastic subjects wanted to carry out the sentence immediately, she insisted it be done at dawn.

“Dawn is standard for executions. What kind of a queen would I be if I violated Kalathean traditions on a whim?”

The next morning, when the guards came to fetch Alexander, they found his cell empty. The city and all surrounding villages were searched to no avail. When the guards brought the queen the news of the futile hunt, she ordered the matter dropped.


With her wish granted, she decided to inform her genie companions that their debt had been fulfilled and they were free to go. She’d been eager to get rid of them because the more time she spent in their company, the more they frightened her. Without a coup to plan, she couldn’t distract herself from the unpleasant feeling she got when she was around them.

She met with them in a secluded corner of the garden where she was confident they wouldn’t be overheard. She thanked them for their assistance and tried to dismiss them.

“Go free?” Acacia asked. “You don’t understand, my queen. Us genies are only happy when we are living in the service of a mortal.”

Jace snorted and brought his fist to his mouth in an attempt to conceal the involuntary curl of his lips.

“Why without a master we wander without purpose,” Acacia continued. “It’s a torturous  existence.”

“But I do not need anything from you,” Fausta replied. “You’ll find no purpose in serving me.”

“A satisfied human?” Jace questioned. “How unusual.”

“I think she’s trying to get rid of us, Jace,” Acacia asserted

Fausta’s eyes widened in horror and she knelt before them.

“Do not be offended!” She begged. “I only want to make it clear that you are no longer indebted to me. With your magic you could do anything, go anywhere! Why would you want to stay in Kalathea?”

“It’s alright, my queen,” Acacia sighed. “I am sure we can find another master to serve. Jace, can you think of anyone who might need our services?”

“Hmm…” Jace thought. “We should find someone hopeless, friendless, someone with problems so great only magic can resolve them.”

“I just thought of someone!” Acacia exclaimed. “How about Alexander?”

Fausta felt a knot in her stomach. “Then again,” she answered slowly. “Running a kingdom is no easy task, I am sure I can find something for you to do.”

The twins shared a smile.


Author’s Note: You were hoping I’d drop all three of them in a wood chipper, weren’t you? Not to worry, we’ll return to Kalathea again. Maybe we’ll pay young Alexander a visit next time. I feel like he could use some company.

Elves vs Elves: A Christmas Miracle

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Sertraline, King of the high elves declared war on Santa’s workshop. The conflict was inevitable. You see, in the latter half of the twentieth century, advances in communications technology helped bring people from across the world closer together.

Humans, for example, interacted with both the high elves and Santa’s elves online. Though they bore the same name, the two races were very different.

The high elves were almost identical to humans except immortal, pretentious, and better looking. Santa’s elves were jolly little folk, not even half as tall as the average human. As far as Sertraline was concerned, the only thing the two races had in common was their pointed ears.

Elf on computer

Now, humans confused them constantly. They were always asking the high elves for cookie baking tips and handing them letters to Santa. Sertraline started dreading the Christmas season because it meant continuous misidentification. His people would spend hours writing blog posts and answering forum questions explaining the difference, but it never seemed to do any good.  The humiliation continued.

At last, Sertraline decided he had to take action. So he arranged for a conference call with the queen of the Christmas elves. Sertraline was an elf of habit, so he joined the conference call using the same magical seeing stone he’d been using for the last three thousand years. The elf queen used Webex. She was a cheery little person with rosey cheeks and a long blonde braid hanging down from beneath her pointed, red hat. Her name was Cranberry Cedarpine the Amiable, but she insisted her everyone call her Cedar. She didn’t care for formalities.

When Sertraline explained the issue, she said: “It’s very considerate of you to want to resolve the confusion, but we don’t mind sharing our name.”

Sertraline explained in a long, elegant, and round-about way, that he did.

Cedar asked if Sertraline had considered changing the name of his people, to which Sertraline became indignant. The call ended with the elf king in a sour mood and nothing resolved.

He returned alone to his council chamber and paced back and forth, his brow deeply furrowed as he pondered the situation. Since Cedar was unable to see reason, it seemed the only thing he could do was declare war.

The king loathed the idea of the death and destruction that would result from such a choice, but the alternative was to be forever confused with the most annoying race of people on the planet. Because of them, the radio played the same five songs on a loop every day from November 1st through December 25th year after year. These cheery tunes bore through the skull and gnawed away at the mind. Sertraline had every radio in the palace destroyed years ago. Even so, he only had to hear one line from the window of a passing car and the whole tune would loop repeatedly in his head until he called out to Heaven, begging God for the sweet release of death.

He told himself he’d be doing society a favor by wiping the jolly, little folk off the face of the Earth. Still, he was conflicted, and debated with himself throughout the night. When morning came, he had an idea. He called Cedar again.

The king’s tone was grave. “Despite my attempt to resolve our differences peacefully, we’ve made no progress. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, that I declare war on your people.”

Cedar sipped her hot chocolate, her cheery disposition unaffected by the king’s declaration.

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 9.16.36 PM

“‘Kay,” was her only response.

“However, to minimize the destruction brought about by our conflict, I propose we select champions from among our warriors and have them engage in combat. If my champions are victorious, your people will have to change their name. If your people are victorious, we’ll change ours.”

“If my people are victorious,” Cedar said. “We’ll continue to share the name.”

Sertraline rolled his eyes. “Alright, we’ll share the name. There will be three contests—”

“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” Cedar interjected.

“I was thinking something more lethal,” Sertraline replied.

“That’s not very nice,” Cedar observed. She pulled a book out of her pocket and scratched a note.

“You brought this upon yourselves,” Sertraline stated. “If you do not accept, we will be forced to invade the North Pole.”

“Poetry, baking, and craftsmanship,” the queen repeated. “Take it or leave it.”

She ended the call.

Sertraline sent for his generals and ordered them to prepare their troops for battle. While the army was assembling, the king sat in his council chamber scowling as he meditated upon the gravity of the situation.

“Accept her terms,” a voice demanded.

Sertraline would have jumped, but he was too dignified for such expressions of alarm. He slowly turned to see the speaker, his golden locks fluttering around his shoulders. He sighed when he recognized her.

It was Alika, the justice fairy—an imposing, immovable, force of a woman. She had a habit of showing up at inconvenient moments and telling him not to carry out his plans. She’d been doing this for as long as he was king (which was a very, very, long time).

“This is not your war,” he replied gravely. It was his way of telling her to leave.

“It is the war of every person who will suffer the devastation of your conflict, elvish or no,” she stated. “Make an enemy of the Christmas elves and you make an enemy of Santa Claus.”

“Santa Claus is no threat to me,” Sertraline grumbled.

Alika’s expression became dark. “You have no idea what Santa Claus is capable of. If you proceed, only one race of elves will remain on Earth, and it won’t be yours.”

“What kind of a king would I be, if I allowed my people to endure such humiliation?” He cried. “What would you have me do?”

“I already told you what to do,” the fairy responded. “Accept her terms. Besides, do you really think the Christmas elves could defeat you in any of the contests she suggested?”

The king thought. The greatest poems in history were written by his people (usually off the top of their heads). Their craftsmanship was also unmatched. Everything they made was beautiful, functional, and insusceptible to decay. Sertraline had been using the same sword for the last two thousand years and he never needed to have it sharpened. He’d never thought of their culinary skills specifically in relation to those of other peoples, but this was likely because he refused to eat anything that wasn’t made by elvish hands.

“Those little people have no appreciation for true artwork,” Sertraline scoffed. “They will declare themselves winners in every category though our work is objectively superior.”

“What if I were to select three unbiased judges from among non-elvish races and let them select the winners?”

Sertraline thought.

“I’ll consider the matter,” he answered.

He waited twelve hours, then told Alika he would accept Cedar’s terms.


A short while later, Sertraline found himself, his family, his nobles, and the champions they’d selected, on the royal jet headed for the north pole. Elvish aircraft ran on a clean, renewable energy source they’d developed for their own use but wouldn’t share with humans because they were angry with humans for causing climate change.

When they arrived, they were greeted with cheers, red and green confetti, and cups of hot chocolate. Queen Cedar did not have a castle of her own, but instead, shared one with Santa Claus, the reindeer, and her thousands of subjects. Santa Claus was not present when Sertraline arrived. One of the little elves explained that he was speaking at a conference for holiday legends.

Sertraline and his entourage were escorted to the great hall. The king wasn’t sure where to focus his attention when he entered. He thought the walls were grey stone like those of most castles, but he couldn’t be sure because they were completely covered in greenery, tinsel, paper chains, and crystal snowflakes. A layer of Christmas trees bordered the entire room. It looked as though they had cut down a forest for the sole purpose of moving it indoors. Sertraline grumbled at their lack of respect for the environment.

“Don’t worry,” said a Christmas elf as though reading his mind. “They’re made of plastic!”

Sertraline sighed deeply. They’d end up in the ocean eventually. He was sure of it.

The Christmas elves all gathered on one side of the hall, bouncing up and down with excitement. The high elves gathered on the other side in silent anticipation. At last, Cedar herself came out to meet the king, trailed by a small entourage of little elves. She was even more adorable in person. Sertraline had to resist the urge to kick her across the room.

“You have beautiful hair!” She noticed. “It’s so soft and shiny, like in a shampoo commercial!” Her fellows all agreed—all the elves, both short and tall, agreed. Even by elvish standards, Sertraline had amazing hair. That’s why they made him king.

After exchanging greetings, Sertraline and Cedar parted and went to their places on either side of the hall.

Alika entered. The Christmas elves cheered all the louder at her arrival. She smiled slightly, then held up her hand to silence them so she could introduce the judges she’d selected.

The first was a kindly looking human elder. She fussed over the little elves that escorted her in and offered them mints from her purse.

Alika announced her as Miss Maggie of Milwaukee.

The next judge was a mermaid. She cruised through the door on a motor scooter. She was all bundled in a thick coat and snow pants (or snow pant, it only had one leg for obvious reasons.)

Alika announced her as Tivela of Atlantis.

The last judge was a fairy who clearly wasn’t phased by the cold weather. She was wearing a knee length pencil skirt and heels. She entered Santa’s hall with her eyes fixed on her phone. This was, of course, Eda the business fairy. Her previous engagement had been canceled, so she agreed to come judge the contest.

“Where you living these days, Eda?” Alika asked.

“San Jose,” Eda replied.

“Right,” Alika noted. “Our third judge is Eda of San Jose!”

The judges were seated and the first contest began. The contestants had ten minutes to write a poem of any kind.

The Christmas elves had a team of three champions, who all huddled together with pens, scratch pads, and markers.

The high elves only presented a single champion. His name was Acetaminophen. He was currently Sertraline’s favorite poet. He walked onto the floor and stood before the judges for the full ten minutes as though already prepared.

When the alarm signaled the end preparation time, the Christmas elves allowed Sertraline’s champion to go first. He spoke from the top of his head:

An elf-maid fair, afar did roam,

Without a care, for hearth and home.

Lured away by love deceiving,

Swift to obey a face so pleasing.

The headstrong child left unknowing,

Of heart defiled, love unflowing. 

For rejection came no better tutor,

Than affections of her human suitor.

The poem continued to recount the story of the unfortunate elven lady and the troubles that came about because of her human lover. After thirty-six verses, he left her for a mermaid and she died of grief.

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Elvish Deaths Twentieth Century

It was the most depressing poem ever recited under Santa’s roof. It made Sertraline feel miserable. He loved every word of it.

When at last Acetaminophen finished, the high elves clapped politely and the Christmas elves jumped up and down, yelling and cheering happily as though they’d forgotten he wasn’t a part of their team.

Miss Maggie was scowling as she viciously scrawled her thoughts in her notepad. Eda elbowed Tivela who was starting to doze off.

One of the three Christmas elves, introduced as Myrrhy, came forward holding a crumpled piece of looseleaf.

“Our poem is made of a series of limericks!” He explained, jittering with excitement.

Sertraline rolled his eyes. Limericks were a scourge on the art.

Myrrhy tore the paper into three pieces and handed one to each of his teammates. Then they lined up behind him. He cleared his throat and read from his paper:

There once was a fellow named Petey,

Who was nothing but wicked and greedy.

For his covetous soul,

He earned nothing but coal,

And spent the year hopeless and needy.

He high-fived both his teammates, then stepped aside to let the next elf speak:

There once was a boy named Dwayne,

He was conceited and vain,

Consumed by his pride,

‘twas alone that he died,

So stubborn he’d live so again.

The second high-fived his teammates, then stepped aside allowing the last elf to speak:

There once was a boy named Phil,

Who served others with goodness and skill,

Giving all that he had, to make others glad,

Was an excellent use of freewill.

Miss Maggie smiled as the last elf tucked the paper back into his pocket.

“That was very nice,” she said.

Alika gave the judges a moment to collect their thoughts and then called upon them one by one.

Miss Maggie explained that she was voting for the Christmas elves because Acetaminophen’s poem perpetuated an offensive stereotype. Tivela also voted for Myrrhy’s team because she’d slept through most of the first poem. Eda was torn, but in the end, settled upon the Christmas elves because: “They kept their target audience in mind.”

So the Christmas elves were declared winner of the first contest. They exploded with excitement, bouncing and hugging each other, and crying tears of joy.

Sertraline scowled. Fairies, humans, and mermaids seemed to lack appreciation for true art. But two contests remained and he felt certain the high elves would be victorious in the end.

The baking contest began. The teams were to mix their ingredients in the hall and proceed to the kitchen when they were ready to use the oven (with Alika escorting to ensure no one was cheating).

The high elves supplied a single champion for this contest also, and the Christmas elves a team of four. The Christmas elves never seemed to do anything alone. Sertraline was sure they had a hive mind.

Each side worked similarly in their respective areas. The only difference in method was that the Christmas elves used an electric mixer and the high elf used a spoon carved from the wood of an ancient elm.

When the contest was over, the Christmas elves presented the judges with a wide variety of cookies—sugar cookies for Miss Maggie, biscotti for Eda, and salmon cookies for Tivela. (These looked and tasted like salmon.)

The opposing champion presented organic, gluten free, GMO free, sugar free, flattened white octagons. The judges tried the Christmas cookies first since they looked more appetizing but were pleasantly surprised when they tried the octagons. These were light, fluffy, and subtly sweet.

Miss Maggie surprised the crowd by voting for Sertraline’s champion because she appreciated the health benefits his cookies offered. Eda also voted for the high elves because the demand for healthier alternatives to traditional desserts was growing and she thought their cookies would appeal more to modern populations. Tivela voted for the Christmas cookies. She liked the fishy taste.

Sertraline smirked. The little elves cheered just as they had before and Sertraline’s smile turned into a scowl. He wished that, just once, they’d remember this was war.

The last contest was craftsmanship. The two teams had one hour to make something of their choosing. Sertraline’s team was made up of three of his finest silversmiths. They were opposed by five Christmas elves.

The teams provided their own supplies. The high elves brought molten silver in a crockpot along with all their smithing tools.  (It was a magic crockpot able to maintain a temperature of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The little elves had a bin full of wires, plastic, and other odds and ends. They also had a whiteboard and millions of sticky notes.

The high elves set to work at once. They were making something they’d made a thousand times before, so they were able to skip the planning phase and get right to work.

The little elves spent the first fifteen minutes talking among themselves, writing on stickies, and adding them to the whiteboard in neat little rows. Then they broke off and worked individually.

Three were typing away on laptops, one was assembling something from the materials in the bin, and the fifth was moving sticky notes around and calling for standup meetings every so often.

When at last the timer announced the end of the contest, it was the Christmas elves who were prepared to present first.

They gleefully handed Tivela a shiny touch screen tablet, explaining that it was completely water resistant, and could withstand pressure up to ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea.

Tivela was delighted. Most technology companies didn’t take mermaids into account. (At that very moment, her latest cell phone was sitting in a bowl of rice). Her amazement only increased when they turned on the tablet to see that the elves had programmed an online portal for submitting Christmas requests. Popular items were suggested and could be ordered with the click of a button.

The portal also had recommendations for donating to charity in the spirit of the season. They were all environmental charities focused on cleaning up the oceans and protecting endangered wildlife.

It was sleek, intuitive, and no attempt on Eda’s part could produce a bug. The Christmas elves explained that they tested it thoroughly. Eda was especially impressed with their planning, execution, and attention to detail.

The portal was even in compliance with accessibility laws, so Miss Maggie could see everything on the screen.

The high elves presented a pendant. It was designed to capture the beam of a full moon, so it could be used again during travel on moonless nights. It was one of their most popular items before the late 1800s when the flashlight was invented. Sertraline still used one.

“Oh!” Miss Maggie said. “This looks just like the one I got in Heathrow airport. That was a keychain though.”

Tivela thought it would be an excellent tool for night fishing, but Eda was less than impressed. She thought the cost of production was too high and doubted anyone would buy one when they could get a flashlight for less than a dollar.

The high elves countered saying that artificial light was useless for keeping goblins away.

“My husband is a goblin!” Miss Maggie gasped indignantly.

“My ex is a goblin,” Tivela noted. “How much do you want for this?”

Since this contest would determine the winner of the entire event, Alika called for a quick recess so the judges could deliberate.

Sertraline wasn’t worried. His people were clearly superior. They only lost the poetry contest because Acetaminophen offended one of the judges. (Humans were so sensitive.) He assured himself that if they defeated the Christmas elves in a baking contest, they could defeat them in ANY contest.

It was an agonizing fifteen minutes.

At last everyone was called back to their seats.

The vote was unanimous. The Christmas elves were declared the winners of the entire event.  

Sertraline was in shock.

The contest was over, the little elves victorious. They threw a feast for their guests without a single sugar-free item available.

The elf king wandered the perimeter of the room in silence, staring vacantly as he nibbled the corner of a sugar cookie. It was sweet, too sweet, like Cedar’s personality. He hated it.

He took another bite then patted his hips to make sure they weren’t expanding.

Around the hall the high elves were talking with their small companions. There wasn’t a grim face among them. They were all sitting together making Christmas ornaments, gifts, and paper chains.

As Sertraline patrolled the room, he even saw the rival teams sitting together talking and laughing, their enmity forgotten. Acetaminophen was sitting with Myrrhy writing poems for the insides of Christmas cards. Sertraline’s craftsmen were listening to their Christmas counterparts explaining Agile Methodology, and the baking rivals were talking about how they could combine the flavor of Christmas cookies with the health benefits of elven bread.

“Perhaps you have more in common than you think?” Came Alika’s voice.

Sertraline ignored this and instead grumbled: “What did they do before the birth of Christ?”

“Don’t bring that up,” Alika said. “It’s the one thing that makes them upset.”

Sertraline thought of the humiliation his people would continue to face as a result of the outcome. He considered organizing an invasion, but when he observed the happy conversations taking place around him, he doubted his people would support it.  

“How can I allow my people to continue enduring such disgrace?”

Alika glanced around the room. “I’m beginning to think the issue isn’t as important to them as it used to be.”

The elf king glared. “Who are you to tell me what is and isn’t important to my people?”

Alika raised an eyebrow and asked with a hint of a smile: “To your people or just to you?”

Sertraline went red in the face, then breathed deeply so his color returned to normal. He excused himself and left Alika, grumbling under his breath.


Some of Sertraline’s people enjoyed their visit so much, they chose to stay in the North Pole and work for Santa Claus.

And when the children of Para Sympan opened their gifts that year, some were made by the hands of Christmas elves and some were made by the hands of high elves (though I suppose technically, they were Christmas elves now too).

The new alliance increased the confusion of non-elvish people, but for the most part, the high elves no longer cared. They were proud to be associated with a people so kind and talented as their shorter brethren.

Except for old Sertraline. He returned to his palace as sour as he’d ever been and sat in his council chamber munching sugar cookies until the dreaded month of December was over.