menu Menu
Chapter 42
By Setcheti Posted in Story on 19 June 2022 2687 words
Chapter 43 Previous One Day in Surrey Chapter 29 Next
Previous Chapter Story Index Page Next Chapter

In the Land of Stories Old

Chapter 42

Several days later, the eight travelers watched from a rocky promontory as the Northern Rover began carefully making her way back through the narrow passage that threaded between pale chalk cliffs which made up the Gate. And once they were sure she had gotten through without incident, they shouldered their packs and started walking into the Broken Lands. Which truly didn’t look all that much different than anyplace else in the Fairy Isles, and certainly didn’t look broken, until they went to cross a land-bridge and Jack suddenly pointed down with a gasp.

Because there, far beneath the surface of the clear, cold water, was a Crack.

It was impossible not to trace the massive fissure in the sea floor with their eyes, seeing the way it pointed back towards the Gate it had likely been responsible for creating. It was equally impossible not to be horrified by this reminder that the Cataclysm had shattered the world—it was one thing to know in a general sense that the islands you’ve lived on all your life were once all part of the same gigantic landmass, but it was something else entirely to see with your own eyes even a small part of how it had actually happened. Their camp that night, three islands farther on and that same crack still visible beneath the water, was a quiet one.

But the next morning, without needing to discuss it, they followed the path of the crack to the south and east. They came across a second crack two days later, and by the time they’d found the third everyone had started to get used to seeing them. They were also starting to notice that it was getting cooler, not unpleasantly so, but the change was definitely becoming more noticeable. The islands they were making their way across ran the gamut from tiny rocky things with very little to distinguish them to narrow meadows or dense woods contained by jagged cliffs. Villages began to appear, some seeming to be barely more than campsites which had become permanent settlements over the years, others somewhat larger which had established themselves as tiny kingdoms in their own right. Most of these people were suspicious of travelers but not hostile. Having a familiar name and a legendary magic sword helped with that: Arthur now had a handful of rough declarations of alliance and hopeful petitions for trade tucked into his travel pouch from tiny communities who recognized the name of Avalon from legends that had been old long before the Cataclysm. Those same people also knew Merlin was a magician the minute he was introduced to them, for the same reason. And in one or two places someone even recognized the name of Metra and shivered in remembrance of dark, ancient tales.

One thing all of these people had in common, however, was a willingness to trade information for work—gold was of little use to them, but fair barter was worth a great deal. And so the Seven and Snow worked their way across the Broken Lands, and at every stop they gained information that might be valuable or might just be a curiosity, but as nobody was sure which was which at this point they just wrote it all down and pored over it nights around their own fire, looking for similarities and differences and hints that there might be something, anything which could help them put a stop to the shadow taint. Their first solid clue came when Jack repaired a king’s ancient crown, learning in the process that it had been found half-buried in the sand on a farther shore that most travelers did not come back from. “The water’s cold there,” the king’s only servant told him, watching while he secured loose stones and bent tendrils of old gold back into their places, mending their breaks that they might once again form a star and circle crossed with what looked like arrows, or perhaps spears. “Or so I’ve been told—I’ve never been out that far myself, of course. But there’s an account set down of the man who brought that crown to our little kingdom, generations ago, of how he said the water there was black and deep and cold as ice. He told of a narrow pass through steep cliffs as well, and a green valley where monstrous large creatures peered at him from behind the trees. There were ruins there, apparently, but not being a fighting man he didn’t dare brave the monsters to go investigate them.” And so Jack bartered a new stone to place in the old crown for a chance to see this account and copy it, a privilege the king of that small land was more than happy to grant.

Arthur and Snow, helping to clear a rockfall which had severely inconvenienced several settlements by cutting them off from the sea, heard that somewhere among gray granite cliffs could be found the ruins of a lost kingdom, a place where the tale of a man punished for his crimes by being turned into a ravening Beast was said to have come from.

The triplets, constructing a pulley system to help the inhabitants of two villages repair a very necessary bridge, learned that a very large kingdom had once been in the area, the ruins of which were often unearthed when someone was plowing a field or digging a well. The pretty blue tiles which adorned the walls of many of their houses had come from there, and someone was pleased to show them the old stone foundations of what had once been a sizable castle surrounded by what had probably been a good-sized and prosperous town…and the remnants of an old road leading off toward not-so-distant mountains, a road the villagers now used themselves to get down to a place where they could cross to the next island via one of the post-Cataclysm world’s ubiquitous land-bridges.

Merlin and Hans, brewing magic-infused remedies and making strengthening broths for villagers laid low by a sickness brought on by a longer-than-usual winter, were told tales of a kingdom cursed to be nameless, and of the desperate young king who had finally ventured out of it seeking to save his wife, appealing to the wild merfolk for help and knowing that if he failed he would never be able to find his home again. Remnants of the old road that king had taken, they said, could still be found here and there if you knew what to look for. One old man, grateful they had saved his grandchildren, went out of his way to show them a remnant of an old stone marker half-buried near a cut which had been deepened by the shifted bed of a stream.

And so they decided to follow the old road. The little villages and encampments were quickly left behind, which made sense as the closer they got to the gray cliffs the harder the terrain became—green meadows and verdant woods giving way to dense scrub, cracked rock, and not much fresh water. “I think we may be nearing the area where whatever caused the Cataclysm struck,” Merlin said that night as they sat around the fire and tried not to notice how terribly empty the lands around them felt. “And these just have to be the cliffs everyone talked about.”

“We did find another trace of the road,” Kio agreed. “I think it was once a part hewn around the side of a hill.”

“Why would someone do that?” Snow wanted to know. “Why not just go over the hill?”

Noki shrugged. “The hill may have been steep when it was done, or perhaps it was used as a landmark—‘When you come to Noki’s Hill, you will know you’ve reached our kingdom’.”

“A sign might not last,” Hans added, anticipating her next question. “Or it might be taken down or moved.”

“I wish it seemed strange to think that there have always been problems with raiders,” Jack mused. “But sadly, it does not.”

“There aren’t any out here now,” Arthur pointed out. “The last three villages said they’d never seen a one.”

“It does seem odd,” Pino agreed with Jack. “But it seems stranger than that, to me, that there are so few people here in the South. It is a harder land than those we live on farther to the North, of course, but a living can obviously be made from it. And those who do live here have found ways to work around the harsh winters.”

Noki nudged him. “I can already tell you that grapes will not grow well here.”

Pino laughed. “No, that they would not.” He made a face. “I begin to think we should just call our current island New Vinci and be done with it. It takes but a little magical adjustment to allow our vines to flourish as they should, the olive trees are doing well without help, and it is near to trade and to waters which are not already overfished.”

“The soil is also good for crops,” Kio agreed. “So our only problem would be getting Uncle Gepetto there without killing him. He is not that old,” he explained to Snow, who looked startled. “But the vow he made to our father proved to be a binding one. He can do nothing but work to save Vinci from the sea. We did not even tell him we were evacuating the people, because to agree with us that it needed to be done might have caused the vow to kill him.”

“I’ve had a thought about that,” Arthur said. “Once Pino is declared king, he should be able to release the vow.”

“I should,” Pino agreed. “But since our uncle is Regent, he is the only one who can release the crown to me…and the place where he will doubtless demand to do that is currently underwater.” He waved it away. “We are working on a way. I may be able to convince him to turn the ruling of our kingdom over to me without going there, and Elana says perhaps even illusions could be used if necessary. It would involve fooling him, either way, and he will not be happy with me afterward, but it would save his life.”

Merlin was nodding. “I’ll have to remember to ask if Elana wants help with that, when we get back,” he said. “Two of us working together could make an illusion which would be more believable.”

“And after that, when the people of Vinci have their doubts about our living situation?” Noki wanted to know.

Jack shrugged. “It is none of their business. And if it eventually gets heirs for Vinci, it is even less of their business.” His nose went up, just a bit. “They can either have their kingdom back with two happy princes and a happy king, or they can continue living abroad and mire themselves in their own displeasure.”

“You are right, the kings of Vinci have never sought public approval before they marry,” Kio agreed. “And in Vinci a wedding is a wedding is a wedding, no matter who is getting married.”

“I will be sure to brew up a barrel full of hangover cure to serve with the cake, then,” Hans said dryly. “And perhaps Merlin can take precautions to prevent the materials from your workshop turning into precocious woodland creatures who cavort in the halls the next morning.”

“It is not our fault that we are passionate men,” Pino said, doing a creditable impression of Jack’s nose-in-the-air expression. Jack promptly threw a stick at him. “Someone is cranky.”

Jack shrugged again, not denying it. “This place, it does not feel…right.”

“As in how?” Merlin wanted to know. “I don’t sense any taint here…”

Jack shook his head. “It is like…like everything should be a different way than it is. Like part of the land remembers how it should be.”

Merlin considered that. “The lands out here were much more affected by the Cataclysm,” he said slowly. “Somewhere out here is where it supposedly started, we’re getting closer every day. Maybe that’s it, what you’re feeling. You’re feeling the echoes of what was.”

Hans cocked his head. “But why only him, why not the rest of us?”

“Maybe his family was from here, before?” Snow suggested. “Do you know how your people got to Fantastique, Jack?”

He shook his head. “So far as I know, my ancestors were already there, or at least nearby, when the islands were formed by the Cataclysm. It was one of my father’s ancestors who named our island Fantastique—in the old tongue it meant extraordinary, stunning.” He smiled. “It is also entirely possible they called it that because they thought it was fantastic to have found an island appropriate for building a new kingdom on, of course.”

“We’ll have to check the old journals at the castle,” Merlin said. “Since Snow’s family has pretty much always been there, maybe someone kept a record of who was coming and going back then. It would be interesting to find out where our ancestors originally came from.”

“Ours came from a land called Italia,” Kio said, and frowned. “Although at least part of that land apparently also was sinking, so perhaps that is just our people’s legacy.”

“Bite your tongue,” Noki groaned, punching his arm. “As interesting as it was from an engineering standpoint, I do not ever again want to live on a sinking island.”

“A problem our current New Vinci will never have,” Pino assured him. “As she is too high in the center for the sea to swallow unless it swallowed everyone else first. So I think that is what we will do, when we go back—formally claim the kingdom and get to work.”

Hans smiled. “I will start figuring out how to brew the hangover cure in large quantities, then. Your wedding to Princess Elana will be quite the party.”

“If she is willing to marry us,” Kio cautioned. “We have not yet asked her, so let us not get ahead of ourselves. Fun and games are one thing…”

Snow rolled her eyes. “You can’t tell me you don’t love her,” she said. “And she’s just overwhelmed by the amount of affection the three of you are constantly showering her with—it’s not something she ever expected from a relationship. And I think she’s afraid you’ll eventually get bored with her.”

That made Pino snort. “As if that would happen. Well, we shall see when we go back. If she would agree to be the Queen Consort for New Vinci, that would make us very happy.”

“Just tell me what sort of jewels you want, and I will find them for you,” Jack said. “Sapphire and mother of pearl, perhaps? Or topaz, set in silver? Blue is a good color for her.”

“Azzurro e argento are also the formal colors of Vinci, as you well know,” Pino observed, raising an eyebrow. “Have you already been designing a crown for our girlfriend?”

Jack shrugged. “I knew you would be wanting one for her eventually. And you already knew Hans was designing your wedding cake the same way.”

“Ah, but Hans is going to move in with us, marry a princess disguised as a kitchen maid, and have twelve children,” Noki reminded him. “How does one advertise for princesses pretending to be kitchen maids, anyway? We do not want talentless gold-diggers applying.”

Hans snorted. “I will just go out hunting truffles, one will find me,” he said, and pretended offense when every one of his friends had a reaction to that. “It was one time! And she liked me!”

He still laughed along with everyone else, though.


Previous Chapter Story Index Page Next Chapter

fanfiction In the Land of Stories Old

Previous Next

Have something to add?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: