Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Five

“It’s not your lamp,” says the Dwarf stubbornly.

The skeletal man chuckles coldly, quietly. He is dressed in elegant silks of red and black. A large, dark turban gives even more height to his imposing figure. And he carries a golden staff, the end of which is fashioned into the head of a hooded serpent.

His feet do not touch the ground. He stands atop a faded carpet of foreign design that floats a few feet in the air.

“Should’ve known,” thinks the Dwarf, and suddenly he remembers that large shadow in the sky. “A wizard.”

“It certainly isn’t your lamp,” says the skeletal man.

“We found it,” scowls the Dwarf, and he hides the brass lamp behind his back. He wishes that his polearm wasn’t lying uselessly on the ground, but what good are wishes?

“Yes, I’m sure you did,” sneers the wizard. “With a key, I suppose? A key carried by a parrot? I’m correct, aren’t I?” It is a statement, not a question, easily confirmed by the faces of the Wolf and the Dwarf.

“That parrot served me. I am the owner of the key.”

“You?” asks the Wolf. The skeletal man’s voice and smell make the hackles of his fur rise. “You’re the prince?”

That final word flusters the wizard somewhat. “What? No, I was the Vizier to-- what prince?” He subtly points the serpent’s head in the direction of the Wolf.

“We were told,” says the Dwarf slowly, “to help the prince.” He turns the lamp over and over in his hands, thinking how best to fling it into this wizard’s face.

Again the man glares in surprise. “That wasn’t the message,” he says shortly. “It was to help the princess. Help the princess. Stupid bird.” His eyes go distant for the briefest of moments.

“Never mind that,” he resumes, returning to the present. “Since she did not exit the palace with you, I can only assume she didn’t survive. So be it. But at least you recovered the lamp. That’s of more importance.”

“Hey,” says the Wolf. He backs up slightly to avoid the acidic stink of magic. “Why couldn’t you just get it yourself?”

The Vizier says nothing for a moment, but when he speaks again, his voice is sweeter. “The palace,” he says, and the ruby eyes of the serpent flash in the sunlight, “is better protected than one can imagine.”

The Wolf nods slowly, his eyes never leaving the rubies.

“My spells would not work in there,” continues the wizard, and he sways the serpent’s head over to the Dwarf and the Monkey, “so I was forced to call for brave, able-bodied men such as yourselves to find the lamp.”

The rubies shine even brighter, and the Dwarf finds himself nodding. It seems like a reasonable idea. And after all, this wizard seems trustworthy. “And he’s right,” the Dwarf admits to himself, “I am brave and able-bodied.”

“And,” adds the Vizier, “to help the princess, of course.”

The Dwarf vaguely remembers a girl, the dead girl in the palace. He had helped her, in a way, death being a blessed release after the unholiness of the undead. And there were other girls, too, weren’t there?

Snow White, for one, lying cold and alone in her glass coffin, hopefully ignored by whatever creatures, living and dead, might tread in those dark woods. And Cinderella, too, lonely and asleep with only a bonneted dog to protect her. He has to help them.

He blinks away the tears, and the rubies of the staff are just rubies. Slowly, his face flushes as he realizes a spell was almost forced upon him.

“No,” says the Dwarf, and he surprises himself.

“Oh, very well,” sighs the Vizier with theatrical exaggeration. “Then we’ll do this the hard way.”

He only has to think of the Word of Power, but before he can bring the magic into creation, the Monkey has leapt, screeching and scratching, from the Dwarf’s shoulder.

It lands on the wizard’s face and tears furiously with its tiny claws. The Vizier screams and grabs. The Monkey is still too weak to dodge away, and it’s flung savagely to the ground.

The Dwarf crouches and sweeps up his polearm, but already the wizard is floating away on his magic carpet, now a dozen feet in the air, now two dozen.

“What are you going to do, Dwarf?” he shouts, and an evil bolt of magic flies from the serpent’s eyes. The Dwarf leaps across the ground. The sand sizzles and blackens in the wicked light.

“You’re going to die, that’s what you’re going to do!” shouts the Vizier. He elegantly, almost lazily, flicks another flash of light.

The Dwarf sprints, but there is nowhere to run - the only protection comes from the collapsed buildings that have trapped the dead, and the marble palace is too far away. Too far, especially, for a short-legged Dwarf who is being pursued by a flying foe.

More bolts of death drop from the sky. The Dwarf considers throwing the lamp into a pile of rubble and undead, just to create a diversion, when the wizard screams.

He turns to see the Vizier fall from his flying carpet. He flails helplessly, pathetically, but the carpet remains suspended in mid-air. And quickly, too quickly, the wizard collapses onto a jutting piece of foundation. The sand surrounding him turns into a crimson mud.

“How?” says the Dwarf, and he looks around.

The Wolf, hunched over with his paws on his knees, winks weakly at the Dwarf. In between breaths, he gasps, “I huffed… and I puffed... and I knocked him outta the sky.”