Wendell and the Dragon's Heart

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Chapter 48

Garim, the master storyteller, returned to the castle that afternoon and was given lodging by the king. Wendell heard the two of them talking now, in jovial voices, but for some reason he didn’t want to be seen.

After looking again and again, he found Karen, sitting in a common room by an empty fireplace. She looked up at him with a semblance of politeness as he entered, her mouth drawn into a line.

Wendell went over and stood by the chair.

“Karen... I...”

She listened, never stirring.

“I love you!!” he said, quietly. “I always did, ever since the painting was...”

“Don’t start that again,” Karen said brusquely, her voice wincing. “You don’t love anyone.”

Now she stared back at him fearlessly, as if saying “What do you want?”

He could think of nothing more to say.

Later on that evening, the king threw an enormous banquet, in the great hall where there had been one before. A huge fire burned in the enormous fireplace, and servants went about setting the table with great roasted carcasses and spiced wines and apples, until everything was ready.

Wendell sat in the chair of honor once more, by the king’s right hand, and Karen sat at the chair that was empty before, looking down sullenly, never saying anything.

“Is Karen always like this?” Wendell whispered to the king, who was in a jovial mood.

“More or less,” he said, sounding truthful.

“She’s usually rather quiet. But eat, eat!!” he said, piling a leg of suckling ham on Wendell’s plate.

Despite having gone many days without food, Wendell picked at the rich meat. At last, the king stood at his chair, and everyone else followed.

“I would like to welcome again, the master storyteller Garim!”

Everyone gave a hearty cheer and applause, and the old man went over slowly to the chair by the fire and sat down. Then he put back his hood, and looked over at Wendell and nodded in greeting, before looking away at the many faces watching him.

Then he rose from the chair, and threw out his arms dramatically, gesturing.

“I mean now to tell you a story, a story which no one has yet heard, but some have lived.”

There was a ripple of murmurs from the crowd.

“It is a story that is true in every word, although some may disbelieve even yet. A story that has not yet ended, but yet seems to have an end. I give you: the legend of Wendell!!”

There was a roar of applause and laughter from the table, some indicating that the spiced wine had not been withheld in any measure.

“Behold!! There was once an orphan, who lived on the streets of the royal city. And it came to be that on the eve of his fifteenth birthday, on the moon’s tide of Erasth, he received a common dagger for a gift.”

“And it so happened that this boy had a friend who was a royal painter, through some dark mixture of fate hidden beyond the eyes of men. And it came to be that he saw a painting, of a girl who smiled so wonderfully, that the sight pierced him through, and he could think of nothing else night and day.”

Here Garim stabbed himself with an invisible dagger, and fell on his knees. Karen turned to look at the storyteller, and then shook her hair so that it hung over her face as she looked down.

“And so it came to be, that this girl was a royal princess, and so he despaired of happiness. But one day she was found missing. When the boy heard of it, like a foolish madman he took the shoddy dagger that was his one possession, and demanded entrance to the king from the royal guards, braving perhaps even death or the dungeon.”

Here the old man waved about an invisible dagger at hundreds of guards, as if he was insane. The table roared with laughter, and someone patted Wendell heartily on the back.

“And through speaking words of ancient wisdom which have scarce been heard for hundreds of years, he persuaded the king of his mad mission, who sent him with all speed.”

“But I forget!!” he said, smacking his forehead. “The girl was said to be lost in a great labyrinth, which all men feared more than death itself. But did this boy wisely consider that, or was he merely heartbroken that he could not find the entrance to this treacherous place?”

“But find it he did. On going through the woods, he saw growing a patch of red flowers, which reminded him of her beautiful hair.”

Here Garim tossed his head as if he had long, streaming locks, to the audience’s delight.

“And then he saw a bright forest place, which reminded him of her glowing smile.”

Here he beamed at everyone, batting his eyes coyly.

“And then, at last, he heard a brook which sounded like her quiet, beautiful voice, even though he had never yet heard it.”

And he imitated quite well the murmuring, rushing sounds of water. Karen muttered something poisonous behind her hair.

“Once through, I cannot relate every danger he faced, every obstacle that ensnared the way, for they are far too numerous. The dead returned for vengeance on the living, and his faith and perseverance were put untimely to the test. In riddles was he challenged like no king, and I need not even speak of the black dragons and monstrous creatures which hunted his waking... and sleeping hours.”

“But wait!! I forget again!!” he said now, slapping himself on the forehead comically and turning about like a numbskull. “It seems that along the way, he suspected help from a far-off ally, he knew not who. Despite his entreaties, they gave him no sign of prescence, yet through words of yore he knew that they were there.”

“And so it came to be that he found the courage to enter that most dreadful of places, the castle... of Aztbane!”

Here some members of the king’s court, who had been laughing before, now murmured with disbelief and awe.

“No, my friends, this is no lie. Through the halls of that treacherous place the boy stalked, carrying nothing but his beaten dagger and a bag of stolen jewels. But do you think that he was afraid? Do you think that he huddled in a corner indeed?”

Now Garim made a show of cowering in the chair, his arms drawn up before him like a whipped puppy.

No!! Laughing he went amongst the ghouls, bopping them with diamonds and jewels, sneaking keys from beneath their knees, passing through without a sneeze!!”

The storyteller acted out the words to great effect, and once more laughter filled the halls.

“And so it came that he found the girl, lost and afraid, who had despaired of ever finding her way out.”

Here Garim wandered pitifully through a horrid place, until every corner was filled with silence. Karen hung her head behind her hair, though Wendell could not tell what she was thinking.

“And no sooner had he found her, then she was taken again by ogres. But the dear lad followed behind, never knowing it was her, for she had told him a false name.”

Now he skulked behind an invisible corner and peered out.

“And when at last he had found her, did he needs face a goblin indeed? An ogre? A foul being? No, I tell you, he found himself face to face with Pale Candle and Hollow Wind, monstrous beings from before the dawn of man, fallen from great heights and ancient in power. Ignorance may suffice for his bravery here.”

Garim here drew himself up as if he was a hundred feet tall, and glowered fiercely until Wendell himself wanted to look away.

“Did the fool boy then back off? Did he then admit a mistake? No, for upon seeing the girl asleep there, he threw himself at the immortals, bearing his wretched weapon as if it were lightning.”

“With steel against ancient words and strength, the boy dashed them to the ground, and carried away the one his heart knew nothing of.”

Garim stumbled silently, carrying something heavy.

“Upon her waking, there was no time but for flight, and so they made their way down to the dungeons of that evil place, and to the lair where was kept an astounding creature... the Wyvern!! Thereupon he loosed the monster from its bonds, and holding on to the chain, both of them were pulled out from the walls of the castle and flown across the hidden labyrinth to the very entrance he had come in through at first.”

“Cleansed with wind and water, the girl’s face shone for all to see now, and he recognized her at last. And so it was that they made their way back to the castle, and were sworn to be reunited forever.”

Everyone began clapping and cheering now, pleasantly, but Garim raised a hand, and the noise died down.

“But what can I say of the one who aided the boy? The one he called upon in his darkest moments, and who led him through ways unknown? What can be said of them?”

After a few terse moments, Garim sat in his chair, and it became apparent that the story was ended. Now everyone clapped again, but more sparsely this time.

For the rest of the feast, Wendell sat in silence.

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