The Curse of Arkanus
By Edmond Dantes
Chapter 3 - Friends and Acquaintances
Once or twice that week, Ryan went back to stare at the portrait in the throne room. During one of these times, a lady spoke to him.
"She was a beautiful queen, wasn't she?"
"She was." Ryan said. "I only hope Josephine grows up to be just as lovely."
"Are you a friend of Josephine's?"
Ryan now looked at the girl, a lovely sixteen-year-old with hazel eyes and dark blonde hair. She was wearing a plain but well-kept dress that favored modesty. About her was a good-natured look, not naive, but approachable.
"I am," Ryan answered. With a bow he introduced himself: "Prince Ryan of Bolkana, at your service."
"Millie Corben, at yours," she answered back. "If I'm honest, I suspected who you were the moment I saw you. Princess Josephine seems quite taken with you."
"Really?" Prince Ryan felt the embarrassment creeping up on him. Wishing to change the subject, he asked "So how do you
know the princess?"
"I'm her personal servant. I make sure she gets a bath, eats three square meals a day, gets to bed at the proper hour, and so on. Largely, I just sew her torn clothes."
"I haven't seen you before," Ryan pointed out.
"That's because I've been away. I received word that my mother was sick and took a leave to care for her. Josephine is a very independent child, so she got along fine without me. Except, of course, that she hasn't had time to sew her own clothes, what with the recent developments."
Millie giggled, and Ryan couldn't help thinking that her laugh was a little charming. His glance went back to the portrait and then to Millie as he thought to himself how the servant girl was more to his tastes.
"Speaking of Josephine though," Millie said, "I've got business in her quarters."
"Hold on, I'll come with you," Ryan offered.
Millie thanked him.
"My grandparents were farmers, you see," Millie was telling Ryan her life's story as they walked, "But neither my mother nor my father had a knack for it. Rather, if some people have 'green thumbs' then my parents had black thumbs, if you will."
"So they weren't good at it."
"Quite right. My father thought he could make it as a merchant and my mother thought she could make it as a seamstress, so they moved into town and opened up shop. It was hard going at first but they managed to make a business of it.
"One day, three years ago, Josephine had a dress that she absolutely adored. She tore it by accident and would not settle for a new one. My parents were contacted on the strength of their reputation, but as they were under a heavy workload they sent me instead. Josephine was glad for my services but she was even gladder for my company, and so worked out an agreement with her father and mine where I would stay on as her servant. I'm well compensated, of course."
"I bet you make more here than both your parents combined!"
"Well, not quite," Millie gave the question some serious thought, "Though they had to borrow money from me more than once."
"Serves them right."
Ryan and Millie turned to see who had spoken.
The newcomer was a redheaded teenager, thin and plain. Her features were angled. Her dress was a mesh of reds and whites that seemed like they were trying to attract attention. She stood leaned against the wall, her armed crossed and her demeanor arrogant.
Ryan glanced questioningly at Millie, whom replied "Ignore her."
"Oh yes!" The red-haired girl had overheard. "Ignore me! What need have you for little old Tabitha Cleary, who cooks and cleans and does all your dishes! That's right, peasant: Now that you're the personal plaything of that spoiled little princess, you can do whatever you want and walk over everyone!"
Ryan could take no more. He turned to Tabitha and said "Just what is
your problem, madame?"
"'Madame'? Ha!" Tabitha approached with an accusing point, though nobody could say what the accusation was pointed at, or at whom. "It wasn't long ago that I was a little rich girl myself! Think that girl's daddy was so great for selling women's underwear? My
daddy used to be a duke, and watch over the borders from Alkeron! But then some rabble-rouser got some silly idea in his head that my daddy was selling secrets to the enemy kingdoms. The family falls from grace, we lose everything we had, and then King Erelay pretends to feel bad
about ruining everything and 'compensates' me by giving me a job in his castle—as a servant! Hmph! Some 'compensation'!"
Ryan felt like being a little callous after hearing all that, and said "If attitudes like that run in the family, I can see how your father came to trouble. Good day!"
Ryan and Millie were about to walk away, when Tabitha grabbed Ryan's shirt collar and said "Oh, what do you know? You're still your
daddy's darling and the guy everyone looks for to bring everlasting piece! Everyone treats you like a hero for becoming that spoiled heathen's latest toy—"
Suddenly Tabitha had a fist in her gut. The fist did not belong to Ryan, nor did it belong to Millie.
The fist belonged to Josephine, who had come so fast that she seemed almost to come out of nowhere. Tabitha seemed to have had the wind knocked out of her, and Ryan wondered if Josephine was just that strong or perhaps Tabitha was just that weak.
Tabitha recovered after a few panting breaths.
Josephine pulled the older girl down by the ear and said "I don't mind most of the things you say, but nobody
calls my husband a plaything, you understand?"
"Heh," Tabitha managed a little more arrogance. "You're not married yet.
What is it, six years? In that time, he could easily have found somebody better—like that servant of yours!"
Ryan tried not to react, for he had been having exactly this thought. Josephine, however, smirked.
"Oh, I don't mind if she borrows him for awhile," Josephine said, turning away and going on down the hall, motioning for Ryan and Millie to follow. "In fact, I was thinking of sharing him with every girl in the castle! But I think I'll make an exception for you.
You'll understand, won't you?"
Josephine punctuated her last line with a laugh, and left Tabitha behind to clench her fist and fume in useless anger.
When they finally got to Josephine's quarters, Ryan said "Josephine, if I'm honest—"
"Come inside," she said. Ryan let Millie first and then entered himself.
The princess bedchamber was nice, but far more humble than Ryan had expected. The bed was big enough for a family and had fine sheets and quilts, but no trimmings, no overhang. There was a small table next to the bed, and one wall was lined with shelves, absolutely packed with books. Off to the other side Ryan saw the entrance to the room where the princess got her daily washings, and near that, the closet where her clothes were hung.
Josephine immediately went to her shelf. Without looking, she said "What were you about to say, Ryan?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. If I'm honest, your comment about 'sharing' me was far worse than anything that Tabitha Cumnuckle—"
"—That Tabitha Cleary said."
"I know," Josephine smirked. "That's why it worked!"
Ryan glanced at Millie. Millie had settled into a routine and was already sitting on a stool, sewing up torn clothes, too lost in what she was doing to speak. Ryan instead turned his attention to the books, and found that many of them had titles he couldn't understand.
"Are any of these in Bolaric?" Ryan asked. Bolaric was the common language of the area Bolkana and Arkanus inhabited.
"Mmmm, a few over here," Josephine said. "Most of the really interesting stuff is in Bekaic though."
"You read Bekaic?"
"Well..." Josephine sheepishly smiled, "I cheat."
"This ring here." Josephine picked a ring up off the stand and put it on. "A magician put all his knowledge of languages in it, so now anyone who wears it knows as much as that magician did. It just so happens he was fluent in Bekaic and Nargon, and knew little bits of Pisces, Egartine and Volsfolleni as well."
"Where did you get such a ring?"
"Didn't I tell you a sorceress lives in the east wing of the castle? It was part of her collection, and we bargained for it. The bargain was that I had to clean up her room for a week. When I was done she said she just wanted to see how badly I really wanted it."
"Hmm," Ryan tried to find a title he could understand. "So what are these books about?
"Giant beanstalks, orcs and ogres, daring adventures, lots of romance..."
"Ah, fairy tales." Ryan nodded understanding. He meant to make a new line of conversation, but a quick glance showed him that Josephine was now enraptured in a book and Millie was still caught up in her work, so Ryan excused himself and left.
The thought of books got Ryan wondering if the castle had a more general library, so he asked the first person he passed and got directions to the general area. From there, he was able to find it himself. The library, such as it was, was a square-shaped room with shelves lining the outer walls and two additional sets of shelves in the center, with chairs, tables and stools situated around somewhat chaotically. To Ryan's delight, all the books were in Bolaric.
There was a door off to the side, situated in a gap between two book shelves. Out of curiosity Ryan tried to open it and found it locked.
"That's for the unpleasant
Ryan looked at the speaker, a youngish boy, Ryan's junior by at least two years. He had a very round face and barely any hair—a true "baby face." He was dressed in a robe, but Ryan could still tell he was somewhat plump. He had a rather uncomfortable, shy look about him. In his left hand he held a book. Ryan guessed he was an assistant librarian.
"Greetings," Ryan said his name and shook hands with the boy, who introduced himself as Pegal Martin. "Unpleasant
books, did you say?"
"The kind Knights enjoy after a hard day's training?" Ryan guessed with a knowing smile.
"N-no sir, if I understand your jest. On second thought yes, there are some adulterous works in there. But I was talking about the... other
"What kind would that be?"
Pegal looked around as if afraid somebody would hear, whispered the answer in Ryan's ear.
Much to Pegal's dismay, Ryan blurted out "Demonology?" and began laughing. Anyone else who was in the library looked at him and Pegal (who was now trying to make himself scarce) and Ryan remembered he was in a library. He apologized, then spoke in a whispered voice to Pegal: "Seriously?"
"Well I'm in the mood for a good fairy tale, do you know who has the key?"
"I have a key, sir."
"Fine. Mind opening that door?"
"... I really don't think I should, sir."
"Please just call me Ryan."
"Ryan, sir, I really don't..."
"Oh come now, what could happen?"
Pegal thought about it a minute, hesitantly presented the key. Ryan took it and opened the door. He handed the key back to Pegal before entering the room.
The room within was only slightly bigger than a closet. There was only enough room for two shelves and a stool. While the library was lit with sunlight, this expansion library had to rely on illuminator stones. Ryan just happened to have one on his person. He unpocketed it, rubbed it and lay it on the free space of a lower shelf, and its glow was enough to illuminate the entire chamber.
Ryan scanned the dusty, uncared-for volumes, again relieved to find that they were all in a language he knew.
"M-m-m-might I suggest this one?" Pegal said, pointing to a book titled The Legend of Gromzemmel, Greatest Demon of the Eighth Circuit.
No author was listed.
"The 'Eighth Circuit'?" Ryan questioned.
"Y-yessir. A c-c-circuit—"
stutter a lot."
"I c-can't help it when I'm n-nervous, Sir Ryan. And nothing m-makes me more n-nervous than d-d-demons."
Ryan shrugged. "So anyway, you were telling me what a 'circuit' is."
"Y-yessir. A c-c-c-circuit—"
"Can you do it without
Pegal closed his mouth, gulped, and then spoke. His speech was slow, but Ryan found this preferable to the endless stuttering.
"A circuit is... well you can think of it as the demonic version of an era. Demonologers believe that demons designated 'circuits' based on some major shifts among their societies... however demon societies worked. The Eighth one is the one of most interest to humans though—that was the only one in which they had any business with humans."
"Oh? And when was this?"
"About two hundred years ago."
"And where are the demons now?"
"They just... vanished. Nobody knows why."
"I have a theory." Ryan couldn't help sounding a little smug.
"My theory is that they didn't
Pegal looked over his shoulders as if he expected a demon to come out of nowhere and grab him that very minute. "T-that's an unpleasant theory, R-Ryan..."
"You've only heard the first part. Once you hear the rest of it you'll never be afraid of demons again."
Pegal was astonished at such a bold promise, and payed eager attention.
Ryan cleared his throat and said "Demons didn't disappear because they never existed to begin with!
Pegal cocked an eyebrow. "You don't believe in demons, sir?"
Ryan sat down and looked at Pegal the same way a mentor looks at his student. "Let me tell you something: When I was ten I went to the caves to see goblins. Goblins live in caves, right? Well, I never found any. Then I went to the lush forests to see unicorns. I learned a lot about outdoor survival and how to find the most comfortable tree branch, but I never saw any unicorns. Then, when I was twelve I heard rumors of a basilisk that was attacking the village of Drasmen, which is northeast of my father's castle. When I got there I found no such creature and the townsfolk told me that such an attack never took place."
Ryan expected Pegal to say something, but Pegal was sitting, caught up in Ryan's story. Ryan continued.
"Two years ago is when I recieved my full education. At that time, my mother had gone to her home kingdom to visit her relatives, but before reaching her destination her carriage was attacked and she was taken captive. I personally journeyed to my mother's former home with a company of loyal soldiers to find out what happened to her. It turned out that some bandits, thinking she was some lesser noble, had abducted, raped and killed her. Me and my men found their lair in a mountainside cave, and slaughtered them to a man.
"While I was at it, I called the bandits all sorts of names, including 'demons!' and 'monsters!' It just so happened that a travelling merchant had been passing nearby and heard my cries. That, aided by a local superstition surrounding those mountains, convinced the folk of that kingdom that my mother had been killed by demons. I and my men had been there, we knew the truth, but the story persisted and even spread somewhat into my home kingdom of Bolkana.
"Now let's take this 'Gromzemmel of the Eighth Circuit.' How could they possibly
know there were eight of them if the eighth is the only one they've heard about? More likely, its just some word one of these writers made up, and this 'Gromzemmel' was just an ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things, and got remembered as a mystical creature for that reason. That is, if he even existed."
Pegal sighed. Ryan sensed he was about to be contracted, and prepared himself for it.
"I-I-I'm sorry to b-b-be the one to tell you this, sir, but you're wr-wr-wrong. Read that b-b-book and y-y-you'll understand." Pegal looked around again, and said "I've g-got to go. Duty calls."
"All right then, but you just think about what I said!"
Pegal nodded and left to attend his duties, leaving Ryan to glance over the Gromzemmel volume. He carried it under his arm, telling himself that it ought to at least be worth a laugh.
To be honest, when I was formatting this chapter for the Forums I couldn't help but see flaws everywhere. Tabitha is kind of poorly introduced, and the comment Josephine makes to her doesn't really have the kind of sting it should.
Mostly though, I didn't like how Ryan suddenly becomes a conceited asshole, I don't feel like the whole "dead mother" thing is going to be relevant at all, and while the demonology talk sets up future developments I am
considering ways to shorten it. I have plans for Pegal though—see next post.
The next post is going to be a summary of the unwritten parts of the story.