The King of Cupola
Anya slept fretfully. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. Terrence showed up in the morning to get ready for work. Then they he and their mother went off to their jobs, leaving Anya all alone with nothing but her thoughts. All day.
It’s amazing how many thoughts one little brain can have without distractions. As her mind ruminated the recent events over and over and over again, she finally decided to believe in what she saw in the library. But it was most definitely still a secret, which was apparently something Taika missed out on.
Anya couldn’t believe Taika’s behavior last night! What was she thinking? There wasn’t time to talk to her about it this morning, but she made plans to bring it up the next time they saw each other.
Secrets were OK to believe in, but not talk about. Unless they were those special secrets that needed to be talked about. Like when one of the neighbor’s kids ran away and confided in his older sister where he was hiding. That secret had to be told. But this secret was one she planned to keep between her and Taika and no one else. OK, well, maybe Gevin, but that’s it. No one else!
By the time her family got home, Anya was feeling almost confident again. The house was perfect, and a meal was waiting. Terrence immediately began stuffing his face as soon as he walked in the door. “Fanks sis! Ah wewy uhprishate fis.”
Their mother took on a scornful look. “Terrence, don’t be a pig. Anya, this is so nice having you home like this. I wish we could afford for you to stay home all the time.” She took a bowl and blew on her spoon. “By the way, Terrence, how did your night in the woods go?”
Terrence shifted in his seat and kept his eyes down. “Not bad. Fergus found a narfel nest, and we dug it up.”
Anya and her mother both waited expectantly. After a while, Anya broke the silence. “Weeeelll, did you find anything?”
He shrugged and shifted uneasily again. “We found about ten quints and a sparkly necklace.”
Anya was shocked. “Wow! That’s almost a week’s pay! What are you going to do with it?”
He muttered something, but they couldn’t hear it.
She strained to listen. Their mother said, “What, honey? I couldn’t hear you.”
“We … it.”
“What? I still didn’t hear you.”
Terrence looked up and yelled, “We lost it, OK? We lost it.”
Their faces both went slack. Her mother asked, “How did you lose it?”
“A gr … t.”
Anya looked at her mother, who looked as confused as she was. Anya asked, “How did a gramwhat cause you to lose your money?”
He hesitated a moment and then said, “Bradley was carrying the money, and we were walking back to the tent sight. A gramwhat comes walking out from its bush, so Bradley decided to raid its bush too, you know, see if it had anything of value.”
Anya and their mother both waited for him to continue.
“Well, it holds its little arms out like this.” He held his hands out in a begging fashion and looked up at the ceiling with pleading eyes. “And Bradley knelt down, said something like, ‘Aw, poor thing. Here do you need this?’ and then gave him the money. By the time we knew what was going on, it was too late. It had already dived back into its hole. We dug until our arms got tired, but we never found the bottom of its burrow.”
Their mother said, “I had heard about the coercive powers of the gramwhats, but I had always been told it was a myth.”
Terrence went back to eating. “Yeah, well, tell that to Fergus. He got so mad at Bradley, he threatened to put his foot in—” Terrence was cut short from the look his mother was giving him. Ahem. “He … uh … Well he was mad … that is.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Terrence. I know how hard you all have been trying to make something out of your slaying. I’m proud of you for getting what you did though. Congratulations on your first hoard!” She patted his knee and looked at Anya meaningfully.
Anya stammered, “Oh, yeah, congratulations Terrence.”
He muttered, “Thanks,” and went back to eating.
Gramwhats have powers? Anya had never heard that story before. Was it another story lost to the secret past of Cupola? If so, then that means gramwhats are magical. And if they were able to use their magical powers, then that means— “Terrence, how far out did you go on your slayer mission?”
Terrence got up and began washing out his bowl, something he never does on his own. He shrugged, keeping his back to the two of them. “Not far. Just the normal amount we always go.”
If Terrence ventured far enough out, he could have escaped the Field. Maybe. And then the gramwhat’s powers wouldn’t have been stopped. And Anya was pretty sure he had ventured out further than he was telling.
The last day of Anya’s week off was finally here. After making her family breakfast, she cleaned up and got ready to go shopping for some desperately needed items. She still hadn’t been paid, of course, but she had heard clothing could take a while to make.
The first thing she did was go to the cobbler’s. She had never bought a pair of shoes before, and didn’t know what to expect. The cobbler’s shop was on the far side of the courtyard. When she opened the door, she heard a tinkling sound. Startled, she looked up to see a bell hanging from the ceiling so that whenever the door opened, it hit the bell and made it ring. She closed the door and opened it again and again, marveling at the ingenious simplicity of alerting a shopkeeper of a customer. During her astonishment, she forgot to pay attention to what was going on.
“Can I help you?” a middle aged man called from behind his counter.
She let go of the door and turned to face the man behind the counter. “Oh. Sorry. Yes. I’m here to buy a pair of shoes.”
The thin man of average height and cut short graying brown hair stepped out from behind his counter. His washed, cream-colored shirt went well with his dark brown trousers and small suspenders. It gave him a tidy and respectable appearance. “Ah! Well come on then, let’s get you started.” He motioned her to a nearby chair. “Do you want stock or custom lasts?”
He leaned back and viewed her through his chained reading glasses, taking in her appearance for the first time. “Ah. Well, since you’re so young, we’ll just go with the stocks then, shall we?”
Anya still had no idea what he was talking about, but she nodded from her chair and answered, “Yes, sir,” to be polite.
He got up and went back to his counter. Anya craned her neck to scan the inside of the shop. This was the first time she had ever been in an actual store. Everything her family owned had been passed down from someone else or bought from a street vendor. It was wonderful to see so many different things, but scary too. The only light came from the thick glass circles that made up the windows. When Anya looked through them, she could barely tell it was daylight, let alone what the colored shadows were that wiggled in them as people passed by outside.
Anya jerked her head forward when the cobbler reached over his counter and got a measuring tape. He came back and sat directly in front of her, staring at her expectantly. Having no clue as to what to do, she just stared back at him.
He patiently instructed her. “You’ll have to take your shoes off, miss.”
She formed an “O” with her mouth and reached down to remove her shoes, immediately regretting not having washed her feet in quite some time.
“Hmmm… Put them up here then.” His well worn and muscular hand patted a small ramp in front of her. Anya wondered if liver spots were something everyone got as they aged, or if there was some way to prevent them.
Deciding that was probably too delicate a question to ask, she propped both feet onto the ramp, hoping she was doing it correctly. Her knees jutted into her chest. He smiled kindly and grasped one ankle, removing that foot from his measuring stool. Using his tape, he measured the length of her foot, the width of her foot at her toes, the width at her heel, and several other places. Anya had never been touched by a stranger before, and certainly not her feet! She twisted her hands and rubbed them nervously on her britches.
“Other one now, miss.” He repeated his measurements on the other foot. This time Anya giggled and jumped, jerking her leg back. She blushed violently and apologized. The shopkeeper chuckled slightly, finished the measurements, and then got up.
“A-ha!” he said as he walked back to his counter and wrote on a piece of paper. “Left is one-quarter smaller than the right. The toes are a bit longer on that side, but the heel is shorter.” He went to the back and muttered to himself before announcing, “Here we are! Size six slim.”
Anya cocked one eyebrow as he held up a pair of wooden shoes. “Um… Sir? I want leather shoes, not wooden please.”
He chuckled more loudly this time. “These are the lasts, not the shoes. Here, I’ll show you.” He brought them down to the ramp. “Lasts are made to represent your feet while I make the shoes.” He held one up to her right foot, scrutinizing how well they matched. Satisfied, he dropped that foot and matched the left pair. “You don’t want to come in and sit here all day while I sew leather to your feet, now do you?” he said with shining eyes and a smile.
Anya shook her head, eyes wide in alarm from the thought of staples and needles being gouged into her feet.
“Now, I do believe we have a match! They’ll be ready in a week or so. Best check back every so often to see if they’re done.”
Baffled by it all, she put her original shoes back on and headed for the door.
“Oh, Miss!” She stopped and turned. “What position do you work, so I can make the shoes better suited for your job?”
“I’m the new Elf.”
He waved her on, and she left.
After gathering her thoughts, she strolled over to the seamstresses she had passed by on Selection Day. They were the ones who made all the uniforms for the castle workers. Their door was open, as were the windows, so she walked inside. She was no counter or chairs, but a young lady with her arms full of various items greeted her with a smile.
“I need an ‘Elf’ uniform please.” Anya smiled back.
Before the young lady could answer, a muscular woman with dry, cracked hands and fingers covered in all sorts of devices walked by and heard her request. She yelled towards the back, “Oy! Donna! Take care of this here Elf!”
Another young girl appeared almost immediately and nodded to the older woman. Never looking up, the girl named Donna took Anya to a private area in the back and started taking Anya’s clothes off. “Hey! What are you doing?” Anya screamed while pulling away from the girl and clutching her clothes to herself.
Still looking at the floor, Donna spoke. “You must take your clothes off if I am to measure you for a uniform, ma’am.” It was rather disturbing to Anya to have someone so shy and timid trying to unclothe her. Not that an unshy person would make her want to strip down either.
“That’s OK. I can do it.” Confused and uncomfortable, Anya removed her clothes. She kept on her undergarments and laid her outer clothes on a nearby stool. Donna finally pulled her gaze from the floor and measured Anya all over. She then left the changing area without another word.
Anya waited for what felt like hour. Maybe more, maybe less. Who knew? After she figured everyone must have forgotten about her, she shouted, “Uh. Does this mean I can get dressed now? Hello?” No one answered. Not knowing what else to do, she got dressed and walked back out into the main working area. She found the older woman that first waited on her and asked, “Excuse me, ma’am?”
“Um … Am I done?”
“Did she get all your measurements?”
“I guess so. She measured me, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yup. You’re done. Just check back with us every few days till it’s finished.”
“Oh! OK. Thank you.” Still not too sure what just happened, Anya slowly turned and walked away, back into the courtyard.
She decided to finish up her last day of freedom by wandering over to the stables to hang with Gevin. When she got close, she saw guards standing outside. She froze where she stood. Guards were something she wasn’t used to. They were the personal knights of the Royal family. Their faces were always so mean looking, and they never talked to anyone. They made her nervous. Cautiously, she snuck the long way around to the stables and stayed in the corners until she could tell what was going on.
“Of course, your Kingship. Your horse is dressed and ready for your pleasure. Would you like an escort today, Sire?”
That was Gevin’s voice! Was he talking to the King? Anya crawled through a fence into an empty stable and peeked over the doorway.
It was the King! No one ever saw the King outside of the castle. Other than a few special occasions, most people never saw him at all!
And for good reason from the looks of him. He was short enough to walk under a tall horse without stooping. His solid grey hair curled under where it met his shoulders.
“Here, Sire. Let me help you.” Gevin smiled and bowed graciously as he got on all fours, allowing the King to use him as a stepstool onto a horse so small, Anya doubted whether it could look her in the eye. One of his soldiers caught the King before he fell off the other side and set him upright in the saddle.
“Allow me, Sire.” Gevin and the soldier helped the King place his feet in the stirrups.
A high squeaky voice said, “Thank you, kind lad. Are you ready, soldiers?”
Anya crammed her fist in her mouth to stop her giggles from being heard. The soldiers mounted their tall stallions with skill and followed alongside the King as he left the stables. It was like watching three Dobermans escorting a gerbil. Once the stables were clear, Anya’s belly laugh spilled out, echoing loudly throughout the building. Gevin walked over to her, folded his arms, and stared down at her. “May I help you?”
“That’s the King?”
Gevin opened the stable door and helped Anya up. “Yeah. That’s the King. But I suggest you quieten down before someone hears you. You know, like the dead or something.”
Anya stood up and wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t laugh at him, but he’s the King! Aren’t kings supposed to be”—She curved her arms out like a gorilla—“you know, big and strong?”
“It doesn’t really matter with him. He’s not the ruling monarch. The Queen is. The first born, whether male or female, becomes the next monarch of Cupola. You know that. Their spouse only rules if the other dies, and that’s only until the first born is ready to take the throne, but you should know that too.
“The King’s got a free ride. He comes in here all the time to take his little horse out for a jaunt. He’s extremely nice, especially for a King.”
“Does the Queen ever come in here?”
“Only once that I’ve seen. She’s … not so nice.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it was only the one time, but they were in here together. She bullied him around a lot, telling him what to do all the time. And when he was getting on his horse and stuff, she was rolling her eyes and sighing a lot.”
Anya nodded. “Yeah. That sounds pretty mean. What were they doing?”
“I dunno exactly, but I overheard her talking to one of her soldiers about a threat.” Gevin lowered his voice and got closer. Anya’s eyes widened as she excitedly leaned in to listen. “She said something about making sure the soldiers were next to her at all times and to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.”
“She didn’t say, but rumor has it she’s constantly on guard, that she thinks there’s someone out there trying to kill her all the time. And”—He paused for effect—“that she believes in magic.”
Anya felt somewhat flush now and backed away. “Magic?”
Gevin chuckled and spoke normally. “Yeah. Like there’s some evil witch out there about to attack her at any moment.”
“Um, Gevin?” This was it. The moment of truth. She believed in magic. Gevin was her friend. She trusted him. She could do this.
Maybe. “Uh … What if I told you that … um … that I believed in magic?”
He looked at her skeptically and said, “What? Ah, com’ on. You? Naaaahhh.” He shook his head and started sweeping the floor.
“Well…” She started to tell him about the incident in the library, halting every few words. But as she got to talking, the more words flew out on their own.
When she had finally finished, he turned to her and said, “So, this book tells you a flabbertail, and you believe it like its real or something?”
“It wasn’t just any book, Gev. I think it is real.”
He went back to sweeping. “It was probably some guy’s old storybook. You know, stuff he wrote down to tell his kids later or something.”
“Gev, you don’t have to believe in it too. I simply want to know that you’re OK with me believing it. I mean, I wanted you to, I thought it would be kinda nice…” She did think it would be kind of nice to share her secret with Gevin. Taika’s cool and all, but Gevin. Gevin was fun. He didn’t talk over her head and get all logical like Taika did.
“Yeah, well … hey look. The King‘ll be back any minute now. I better get this cleaned up before then.”
She smiled sadly. “Yeah, OK.” Then she turned to walk away. “See ya, Gev.”
“See ya!” He called after her a few seconds later. “Good luck at work tomorrow!”
As she walked the well trodden path back to the castle grounds, she felt more and more foolish with every step. She should have known better than to say anything to him. It’s just that she wanted to share her secret with someone, and she didn’t have any other friends. Feeling sorry for herself, she opened her door, belly flopped on her bed, and waited for this dismal day to end.