Back to the Enchanted City

Once upon a time there was a lad, with boyhood behind him and manhood close, who heard the call of the King to follow him into Enchanted City and do the work of the Kingdom. . . .

Hero was afraid.

He watched the Ranger hold a burning torch to the ring of stones that circled the place of the Great Celebration. The Sacred Flames ignited with a w-o-o-O-O-O-SH, lifted the hems of the blue robes of the protectors of Great Park, who stood as sentries around Inmost Circle. The silver insignia of the Rangers caught the light and flashed in the outer circle around the rim of fire.

Tonight he would leave these friends, leave Mercie and Caretaker, leave these woods, these dear fields, leave everything in the world he had come to love. Well, almost everything, he reminded himself: What he loved most in the world was the King and to be a King’s man and to do the King’s work.

And the voice of that King, the most beautiful of men, had spoken inwardly only this morning: It is time. It is time to begin the restoration of the Kingdom. I need a King’s man with a hero’s heart. Will you come?

Far off, Ranger horns sounded from the watchtowers that guarded Deepest Forest. Croi-croi! Come-come! Croi-croi! Come to the Inmost Circle! Come to the solemn assembly!

Hero watched as the people he loved made entrance, passed through the Sacred Flames and became real. He watched Amanda step into the fire a ragtag tomboy and step out a beautiful, graceful princess. He watched the unhappy woman who had been the orphan keeper’s assistant become someone with a mother’s smile for all children, who ran to hug her. He saw Caretaker become Ranger Commander.

How can I ever go? thought Hero. How can I leave all this? But he had heard the voice of his King: Come, Hero. It is time. And he knew he must go.

So this solemn assembly had been hurriedly gathered for the Rite of Adoption, for no lad could go back into Enchanted City an orphan. Orphans belonged to the evil Enchanter. Hero must be someone’s son; he must have proof of parentage to protect him.

Dread filled his soul. He thought of the darkness of Enchanted City, where the citizens worked by night and slept by day. He remembered Burning Place where the dead were burned: all who had died of weariness, of hunger, of heartsickness.

In his memory, he saw the fire burning the pyre that held his mother’s body. (She had always said, “There is a king. A real King!”) Death drums began to beat in his mind: oo-mb-pha . . . oo-mb-pha . . . oo-mb-pha-din. Visions of Burners with hot brands and smoldering pokers flashed. He heard the blows of the Breakers. The song of the Naysayers, nay-nay-nay, nay-nay-nay, nay-nay-nay, clutched his heart with icy fingers.

He remembered Branding—himself a screaming five year old—and how the hot iron had seared his cheek. For the first time in many months, Hero touched the scar. Here, in this place among these people, he was Hero, loved by many. In that terrible place, he was nothing but scum. The people of Enchanted City would point and jeer in the old way—Scarboy! Scarboy!

S-C-A-R-B-O-Y!!

Suddenly, Hero heard a scream rise out of Enchanted City and fall with a paralyzing moan in his own soul. He raised up his head, startled. It was more than memory. Hero knew it was the voice of the evil Enchanter from the dark midst of the Dagoda, with his fiery head thrown back, with fire priests dancing and their ceremonial bells jangling: jchang-jchang-jchang.

S-C-A-R-B-O-Y!!

To read the rest of this story and many more gripping stories like it, go here and back our Kickstarter campaign to revise, re-illustrate, and re-publish the Kingdom Tales Trilogy. If you want to order the classic, original editions, go here.

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