The Faithless Ranger

Long ago, danger always came to the people in Great Park who were the most brave and to the places that were the most beautiful. Men and women were never what they seemed to be, for magic and mystery and wonder were always possible.

But that is not so different from the way things are today.

Not long after the boy, Hero, came to Great Park, he went exploring. He walked down across some craggy hills toward the Duck Pond, past Great Park Gardens and Mercie’s Vineyards, then around the shores of Lake Marmo. He skirted the edge of Deepest Forest to faraway Outpost Meadow. Sitting beside Singing Swamp, he opened the lunch of cheese and bread Caretaker’s wife had prepared for him. Finally, at midday, he sought the cool shadows of Wildflower Woods.

For the first time in his life, Hero felt content and protected. No Burners chased him. No flames threatened. He did not know who ruled this place, but it was certainly better than Enchanted City.

Suddenly, the sound of laughter surprised him. Following the sound, he discovered a girl sitting upon a stump, with flowers between her bare toes. She was braiding her long, blonde hair. She stopped, arched her arm, and a butterfly alighted on her finger.

She turned at the sound of his coming. At her look, Hero covered his face with his hand. For one moment he had forgotten his terrible scar.

“I woke up late,” she said, not surprised to see him. Blowing the butterfly aloft, she continued pulling one flower after another from between her toes, weaving them into the braid. “Welcome to the Kingdom,” she said with a smile.

“The Kingdom?” Hero echoed. Everyone knew there was no such thing. Then he stopped; of course, this girl must be pretending. He could play along. “Oh, I suppose your father is the King.”

“Oh, no,” she answered. “The King is my older brother, as he is a brother to all.”

Hero tried not to show his doubts. “Then you must be a princess,” he teased, looking at her much-washed pants and shirt.

“Yes.” The girl was tying her gym shoes. She stood straight finally, curtsied grandly, pulling out the sides of her jeans with her hands. “I am the Princess Amanda. Welcome, Hero.”

Hero choked back a laugh and was surprised she knew his new name. Before he could say anything else, however, the girl spat.

“Can you do that?” she asked.

Anyone can spit, thought Hero. He spat on the ground.

“Oh, but can you do this? Can you hit that toadstool over there?” The toadstool was fifteen feet away and small. Amanda spat again and hit it: bull’s-eye! Hero didn’t know anyone who could do that. He said so.

“It’s a gift,” said Amanda. “I have perfect aim.”

She spat again and hit a knob on a tree, quite directly. “I was just going to the practice field, but I thought I would pick some flowers for my hair. We are practicing for the Great Celebration. What is your gift, Hero?”

The boy thought, but nothing came to his mind. He was pleased when their conversation was interrupted by a cry that echoed through the woods. “How goes the world?”

And answer came back, “The world goes not well.”

To read the rest of this story and many more 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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