Chapter 1

May 2nd, 989

 

IT WAS mercilessly hot the day they met, as it had been every day for months. I was surprised to hear that Billiam actually saw a puffy cloud float by. In these years of endless war and seasonless days, they had evolved into a sign of good luck. Like luck, they were fleeting, rare, and ultimately disappointing. The vegetation had been withered from the drought and continually burnt by attack. It seemed no one alerted the air to all the dryness beneath it, for the sticky humidity hung all about. Was the moisture of the earth simply waiting above it until the earth was once again a suitable place to reside? Or was it the corpses piling in the valley that required the company of thick, stinking air? Whatever the reason was, it had been like that.

The days of slimy sweat and dry throats had been many, and the travelers outside the city walls grew ever fewer. There was nothing different about the day Billiam exited the gates of city Drummond from the hundreds of days before nor the seven suffocating months to follow. What I found surprising was that he had never done anything without style that I could recall. In this vein, why did he start the future on such a bland and thoughtless afternoon?

I suppose I can forgive him, as there were extenuating circumstances and little to no variety in the weather. This was simply the first available day that he thought he knew what he was doing enough to venture out. Three days later, there actually was a short rain, and all the carts leaving got stuck in the muck and blood outside the gates. That would have made for a far more interesting exit if you ask me. Regardless, on this completely ordinary day, Billiam left the walls of Drummond and had a meeting that changed the entire world. If you are going to do something to affect so many others, urgency can be more important than an entertaining story.

The city of Drummond was the heart in the enveloping rib cages of the Casperland peninsula. The lungs would be the large forests surrounding the shores of the Casperland nation. The city of Casper lived at the peninsula’s tail, and obviously was intended to be the more successful of the brother cities, given the nation’s name and such. A few villages sat along the western shore. Nothing was stupid enough to get beaten across the rocks of the east. Three towns and a village or five hung around the middle valleys of Casperland, between the competing cities. With other lands becoming a much larger part of the nation’s economy, Drummond’s accessible location and secure, canyon port eventually brought about its growth into the capital it is known as today. This geography lesson is tedious but necessary to show there was something to Casperland outside of Drummond. It shows there was life and community and opportunity outside those gates in the past.

Access past Drummond grew increasingly exclusive and monitored following the devastating bombing of Casper by the fearsome nation of Knox, over a decade prior. All travel outside of the city had become completely marginalized into government transportation of goods to the two remaining villages and one fishing hamlet allowed to live on in Casperland.

Before things were made this stringent, merchants could make pilgrimages, and some lucky or stupid families could try to visit loved ones. By the time Billiam finally walked out, however, all exits and entrances of Drummond had to be governmentally approved and were still at the traveler’s own risk. In order for citizens to leave, they could try to get an expatrias permit, the processing of which never took less than six months, not that I’ve ever heard of any being approved. Taking one of the transport jobs could get you out of the city, but with no privacy as your guards and cohorts would monitor you the whole time.

The best way, and the way dear Billiam opted for, was through the Westend sewer. Cardinal Aldrious hadn’t bothered to have people investigate or monitor any of the sewer systems, as he would never demean himself to think of wading through excrement. Due to this pretense, the guards were not aware that the sewer tunnel had a dry path to an overflow, which emptied into a small lagoon. This runoff was a safe, short distance from the gates, with no wading through human waste necessary, and a relatively easy exit for those of us who knew about it.

It was nearly midday when the subterranean section of Billiam’s journey met its end. At last, he was able to remove the itchy burlap prison that had entrapped his visage the last hour. In order to make sure anyone else who might be taking a stroll through the sewers could not identify him, he had taken the guise of an anonymous peasant. The dirty shawl bent the shape of his bowler hat slightly, but nothing could distort the noble features and brilliant mustache underneath.

Billiam was a long wisp of a man, his lankiness making his strength deceptive. He was a well-trained swordsman and archer as well as an immaculate tailor. His thin face was brought to a perfect end with a strong goateed jaw. Unlike what I presume other heroes to think, he saw no value in saving the world if he couldn’t look good while doing it. After smoothing his tailcoat, straightening his skinny black tie, and sneaking a quick peer in the reflection of a puddle nearby, his adventure was able to continue.

He had only a quarter hour jaunt through the wastes left until he reached his destination—Drummond’s mass grave, bitterly referred to as Peace Valley. The rotting corpses—citizens and foreigners, criminals and the hopelessly ill, enemies to the crown both real and imagined—these were the cost of the “peace” granted us by the cardinal. The beastly creatures controlled by Cardinal Aldrious and his sect, the Mortanions, had to be sustained somehow. The sacrifice of one’s corpse served as a royal pardon.

Said creatures were wicked winged beasts known only as reapers. They were generally five feet long with double that for a wingspan; rotten lizards with bodies covered in sparkling, black scales and dusty feathers smothering their appendages. Their gaping mouths housed at least three rows of crimson teeth. It is unknown whether their teeth actually are red or are perpetually stained with human blood; however, it is unlikely anyone who finds out would live to tell us. Their handlers, low-ranking Mortanion brothers referred to as goons, were the only people who regularly patrolled the wastes. They were few but could summon reapers to attack when they saw a trespasser. The beasts would lunge at travelers on their own, but a simple umbrella with a painted red eye was enough to deter them. Thus the purpose of the goons was to summon an attack on said umbrellas.

Billiam’s parasol was made of a sheet of black silk with a piece of fine red ribbon stitched in around the top and clutched tightly in his left hand. As he approached the cliffs, the odor of sun-dried flesh from the valley finally reached his nose. Pulling his handkerchief out of his pocket, he began to scan the valley of corpses. It took only moments for him to spy his target.

A huge black and ratty umbrella poked out from the shade of the cliff on which he stood, just a few paces to the right. An eye was scrawled in what was likely blood, though it was an oxidized brown barely resembling the prior crimson. The pole jutted out from a large deteriorating baby carriage fitted with the hairy legs of a man on either side. The frame of a spritely, wild-looking woman could be seen crawling and rummaging through the bodies next to the carriage’s feet.

This creature was, without a doubt, the famous enchantress Chammerline DuBois the XII, who since her exile had adopted her childhood nickname, Shemmy. This eccentric master of a dying craft was the only hope for his kingdom, the only hope for his heart, and happened to be weighing two obese forearms in either hand.

He needed to implore her; she needed to know her importance. He feared her wildness but hoped reason could still be won, and thus he beckoned to her, “Hello to you, my lovely girl!”

“What you sayin’?” A raspy but high-pitched voice, heavily accented by the slang of the slums, rang up to him.

“I said, a hearty hello to you, my lovely girl!” Although he was shaken by the importance of this interaction, he knew he could still be the most charming man she’d ever meet. She could not resist nor detest him, could she?

“I assure you, mate, I ain’t lovely, and I haven’t a need for no hullos,” she yelled up with a dismissive wave, never turning her face to him.

Billiam sensed too much charm was used, dialed it back, and proceeded instead with his honest approach. “Oh don’t worry, miss, I could give a damn whether you are lovely or not; I was simply trying to be pleasant. I am a dandy and shan’t be getting excitement from you either way.”

Billiam could make out a beet-red blush that appeared all across her face in an instant, forcing her wild eyes to make contact with his at last. She hurriedly gasped out, “Shush yer mouf! That is not a fing you want goons hearin’, and I dun need the damn attention.” It was meant to sound angry and dismissive, but they both heard only excitement.

He began to realize the secret he used to gain her trust by showing vulnerability, was actually something she was quite keen on. The practice of homosexuality had become formally outlawed following the discovery of the Promise of Aegis and the kingdom’s conversion to the orthodox MortiAegis religion forty years ago. Although it was never an entirely accepted way of life, there were never laws against it prior. Dandy was a common term for homosexual men, and there were also female fans of their shows of affection. Cabarets of such acts could be sought out in certain neighborhoods before Drummond’s conversion. The current rouge upon Shemmy’s face provided Billiam with assurance he would definitely get through to her.

Relaxed and now confident in his approach, he calmly replied, “You are quite right, but now you shouldn’t fear talking to me, as we are both criminals in the eyes of the crown. Neither of us are about to cry to the goons, are we, Shemmy?”

“Aye, so yer a fan, Mr. Dandy? I won’t bother arguin’ no innocence, then. Get to the point, eh?”

“I was hoping to employ you, if you are so inclined. Should we, perhaps, go somewhere a bit less vulnerable before we get to the particulars?” He smiled down at her and noticed the gleam of her grin back up at him beneath her knotted mess of hair.

“I s’pose yer right, Mr. Dandy.” She had finally decided on the plump appendage she clutched in her left hand and set it in her legged carriage, tossing the reject down, back to the grave. “Come along now, Gam,” she instructed while facing her carriage, before turning to Billiam and singing up with a wicked smile, “let’s go back to my place, dear.” She swayed her arm in an inviting motion, beckoning her visitor down.

“Oh wonderful, and you can call me Billiam. Also… must I really go down there? Is there not any other way around?” The smell of rotting flesh was enough to permanently scar his psyche. The idea of seeing it up close or, most awful of all, having to feel it gave him the need to be sick.

“No, Mr. Dandy Billiam. Come on down!” She yelled as if commanding a circus show, full of bravado. “You’ll see a rusted chain ’bout twelve paces to yer right. Climb that and you’ll get only ’bout halfway down, but there’s a great, big fatty to cushion yer fall.” She laughed as she swept her mop of hair out of her eyes. Her face was dirty and smudged with dried blood, but her eyes gleamed a sparkling sienna. Billiam was surprised to see she actually was lovely, although probably sadistic as well.

Swallowing hard, both stomach and pride, he nodded down to her and began his twelve-pace march, the last steps of his favorite suit. He grabbed the chain and shimmied down the cliff, one pointed loafer at a time. Said loafers met a comfortable stoop at the same time his hands were grasping an inch above the chain’s end. He spotted the purple-tinted soft landing Shemmy had mentioned. All he could think of was falling through its skin as if it were a rotten tomato. If that happened, every fiber in his clothing, every piece of hair on his head and body, were sure to be compromised. To the left of the fat corpse was a spot free of flesh or feces. It was a sharp-looking patch of rock and at least a five-foot jump but appeared quite clean. Billiam realized it was madness and pure egomania to choose broken bones over soiled suits, but his immaculate aesthetic was far too important for him to be able to humble it.

Kicking hard against the cliff, he let himself go, spinning as far to the left as possible. He could hear Shemmy’s cackling below him as he fell helplessly toward the jagged rocks. Unfortunately it was farther than he had thought. He had no choice but to prepare to roll, holding his hat and tucking in his head, landing shoulder first on a torso. His calves got their fall caught by the rocks, slicing one trouser leg from ankle to knee. Almost completely defeated, he used his last bit of strength to roll onto the ground off of the torso. He pulled his legs close to his chest and wiped dust off of his limbs until his eyes forced themselves shut.

A jostling motion was the first thing Billiam perceived as he began to rouse. The next sensation was the pittering sound of bare feet slapping against soft ground. His eyes refused to open, and his head throbbed. His back felt comforted, almost embraced, yet his legs were being blown about in a breeze. The musky odor of death that completely filled his nose when everything first went dark still lingered yet had become much fainter. He pried his right eye open slightly to see a wooded path moving around him before it fell back shut.

If my eyes will not obey, perhaps my mouth shall, he thought to himself. Gasping out a coarse breath, he muttered, “’Emmy…? I’m alive… yes?”

“’Course ya are, Dandy, no thanks to yourself. I told ya to land on the fatty, not swan dive for a jagged fuckin’ rock,” she replied, sounding irritated and to be a few paces ahead.

“I… it was too… too disgust… I couldn’t….” The words coming out of his mouth snapped him awake with the memory of the horror that befell him, or rather, that he fell on. “My shoulder! My trousers!” he screamed, while frantically brushing at his shoulder with one hand and grabbing at his leg with the other. The top of the hand going for the shoulder grazed against a cheap, tacky-feeling fabric before the hand moving toward the pants could feel the passing air around it.

Billiam immediately leapt a few paces forward and onto his feet. “You put me in your corpse carriage?” he shouted, spinning around toward his abductor.

“You was out cold. I ain’t in the habit of waitin’ for nightfall in the middle of Peace Valley, and we got something to discuss I ’spose, so I could’nae leave ya. I hate to admit it, but I dun get sought out too often of late. I’m intrigued, so I got ya in Gam, I did. You did’nae fit well. ’Tis a babe’s pram after all.”

As mortified as he was, Billiam knew she had saved him. “Right, thank you, miss. I should be fine to walk from here. How long have we been traveling?”

“Erm… I’d say something around ten minutes or so. We got about two more ’til we at me shack.” She scratched her head, feigning innocence and smiling to Billiam as he marched backward ahead of her.

“What were you saying about nightfall? Was I out for even a full minute before you hoisted me atop your appendages? I am, of course, grateful for my rescue, but I think it may have been a bit hasty.” Billiam grit his teeth, thinking of how long it might be until he could rip off his suit and burn it. I do not agree with becoming so attached to trivial possessions such as clothing, but I will admit that no coat since has achieved that level of dashing on him.

“Oi, so yer a neatnik, ey? Ya dun like the dead? Explains yer stupid stunt. I ain’t the patient sort, so if ya want my help, ya better don’t pass out.” Irritated but thoroughly amused by this stranger, she sighed dramatically before pointing ahead of her. “Turn around, Dandy, home sweet home right there.”

He smiled as he swung his leg around, but the grin was fleeting. This home, as she called it, was barely standing. Sheets of rusted metal tied to each other with large vines struggled beneath a mud-covered thatch roof. Holes were crudely cut through the walls to produce mock windows. A wooden door, vaguely attached to the metal siding with rusty hinges, swung slightly in the wind. To the right of the door, a disembodied arm held up its hand, wielding a muck-covered paintbrush. It robotically slathered the slime against the side of the shack, staining the metal green before drying to an off-white.

Noticing where her companion’s gaze had landed, Shemmy chimed in, “I thought a sprucing up would’nae hurt, and I was’nae even expectin’ company!”

“I am disturbed but also quite impressed by your productivity, Miss DuBois. Painting your own house without being present, now that is something! Kudos!” He really was impressed. Having spent his formative years as a royal page, efficiency and clever solutions gave him a delight like nothing else.

“You mean it, I can tell!” She jumped with glee as she cheered, “See, neatnik, the dead can be neat too! Now scoot yerself in. I’d like to know wot someone as prim as yerself could possibly want wif the likes of me. Gam, you rest yerself out ’ere now.” As she said that to her carriage, she swayed her arm down, drawing a shape with her finger. Gam the pram knelt to the ground and ceased its animation. Gesturing out to the arm and drawing a symbol over to her left side, she called, “O’er there now, please.” Billiam watched in horror and splendor as the arm clawed with its fingers to drag itself and started painting the other side of her shack.

Once they entered the shanty, Billiam sat down on one of the cut-off trunks surrounding a large fallen log that seemed to be her dining table. “I know I have truly come to the right person! You are a master,” he exclaimed. Gazing around the small hovel he saw a bowl of water, kept frozen all on its own, with some slices of meat preserved atop it. On her makeshift bed, (a term I use loosely to refer to a heap of strange blankets and cushions) sat two more disembodied hands. These ones were cut off at the wrists and busy at work knitting something from a pile of twine. A mud-and-blood-covered squirrel ran through a wheel on a concrete slab counter at her behest, starting a rushing of water and powering a single hydroelectric lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. “Just fascinating!”

“Aye, yes, I’m an enchantress. That’s why you sought me. No need to marvel now. If you did’nae know it, you would’nae be here. What, pray tell, do you want, Billy?” He bristled at the nickname, which produced a snicker from Shemmy.

She leaned against the counter behind her, reached up, and grabbed a dusty mead bottle. Fiddling blindly again, she produced two crude vessels made of wood. While pouring the thick liquid in the glasses, she laid her gaze heavy upon him. He knew it was now or never, that he must plead his case.

He sat up, adjusted his tie, and cleared his throat a bit. He then took a big swig of the syrupy liquor, gulping it down before he could fear the dirt and grime he must’ve swallowed along with it. “How much do you know of the state of politics in the capital, Chammerline?”

Grimacing, she replied, “Fine, I won’t call ya Billy, and you won’t utter that bourgeois name at me again, fair?” Once her guest nodded, she continued, “I have been banished from the capital for witchery, I’d say, ’bout six years now. ’Twas a year after the king and queen got butchered, poor sods. They had themselves a young prince—little pretty thing named Micah, right? Well he succeeded them, with the assistance of the cardinal, who was to advise ’til ’is twentieth. That should be soon, aye?”

“You are better informed than I could’ve guessed; however, Prince Micah fell gravely ill over four years ago. They believe it was a slow-acting poison, leaving the boy comatose. Thus the cardinal has been exclusively ruling the nation. It’s lucky you were booted when you were, as exile is not something we witness anymore, only sacrifice.” Billiam blinked slowly, leaning back before opening his eyes to gauge his hostess’s reaction.

Her face had twisted to a frown under her matted, raven hair. Pieces completely tangled into braids and holding bones or feathers framed her face as she gulped at her mead. “I was, by blood, a noble lady, as they say, before my start in enchanting, so I knew the family. They mighta had a lot, but they had just as much misery. Their daughter, the slow one, we shared a tutor when we was young.”

Shemmy furrowed her brow, which was no longer covered in any hair. Her eyebrows had been burnt off, common with enchanters who have beckoned flames for otherworldly powers. In the place of her eyebrows, six small dots about half a centimeter apart were tattooed in black. This was an ancient practice of enchanters and shaman from the days before religious civilization, when the spiritual arts were accepted and celebrated. The fact that she knew of this and wore it was proof enough of her affluent upbringing and education. She allowed herself to become wild and dirty, which fit the crazed persona she created, but she was far more than that.

“Prince Micah’s twentieth birthday is on July seventeen, precisely two and a half months from today. The truth, however, is that he perished a year ago.” Billiam paused for a moment to choke down his feelings. Shemmy stared at him, bug-eyed and motionless as he continued, “Since the prince has died before his twentieth, the crown should’ve been passed to his dim half sister Margaret and her equally diminished husband, Damon, Earl of Chricton. The cardinal has kept him preserved in ice to hide this fact from Princess Margaret and the people. My group and I only know of his death because I have retained friends in the castle. Keeping up the guise that the prince is still alive though ill will allow the cardinal to stage Micah’s surrender of the crown to him. We cannot allow this to happen!” Overcome, Billiam grabbed Shemmy’s hands into his own; his tears fell, and he could not stop them.

“You need to revive the prince and thwart the evil cardinal? Ya wanna save the kingdom and all her people from continued damnation?” she asked in a singsong tone, without hesitation or emotion.

“Precisely! The prince must be resurrected so that change can finally flourish.”

“Lovely! You seem quite sure about this. ’Tis a shame it’s bleeding impossible. Humans cannae be brought back to life.” She shook her head and smiled, though sadly.

“No! It must be possible! I see all you have done here; I heard of the man you resurrected. I know you have done it! Please, Shemmy, I need him!”

“Aye, you care for him personally, then?” She was the one to reach for his hand this time, holding it softly. He barely looked up at her, his face distorted by tears as he nodded solemnly. “Then you would’nae want for him what became of that man. True, he was alive. Yes, he was breathing, his blood pumping, wif my commands all his parts able to move. That ain’t life though; he could’nae do nuffin’ on his own except breathe and bleed and shit. The spark o’ life ain’t sumfin’ we humans ’ave been able to recreate in centuries. Ya dun want your prince to simply be a breathing poop machine. Worse than death, dat is.” She gave his hand a firm squeeze, then let it go, feeling assured this topic could now be put to rest.

Instead, energy returned to Billiam. “Of course I know that, but you were working without these—” Possessed with a sudden excitement, he dug into the inner lining of his coat to produce two sparkling, foot-long needles before exclaiming, “The ancient enchanting needles of the first peoples! We researched your experiment immensely to find whatever components were missing. These were two of them.” When he pointed them out toward her, she feverishly grabbed at them, but he yanked them away before she even got a single touch. “We went through a lot to get these. We found one fully preserved, and then a woman of my group traveled to the edges of Gamola to find the only man who was able to recreate its twin. So, you cannot have them unless you are using them to bring back Micah!” Feeling triumphant, he swung the needles back in his coat and awaited her response.

“I’m impressed, Mr. Dandy. You researched well. In the ancient days, they did’nae crudely draw their hexes wif their hands. A ’chanter would knit the energy around ’um directly into their target. But that’s not—”

“Not all?” he interjected. “Why of course it’s not. You need the blessing of a faerie pool: sacred water of the dreaded lands man can hardly find and never survive, right? I have a map, and I have faelocks in my organization as well, who have taught me the tricks of entry. I just need you.” The grin on his face was so large it threatened to outstretch and knock over the flimsy, metal walls.

Shemmy closed her eyes and pondered hard. “I guess, well, yeah, we prolly could do it, then? That does nae mean I’m agreeing, juss means it’s a possibility.”

“Really? That’s wonderful! So if you did agree, we’d have to travel to the faerie pool, bless the needles and—”

“No, silly man! The needles dun need blessing, the boy does. I dunno how keen I am on abducting a dead royal and trekking him into extremely hostile territory.” She scratched her head, not knowing whether to feel excited or frustrated.

“Hmm, I see, so the prince would have to come with us. Actually, I would feel much better knowing he’s with me.”

Shemmy suddenly became giddy and blurted out, “Awlright, then tell me the real story if you expect me to do this! Saving the world’s all well and good, but I can tell your passion ain’t there, least not entirely. He’s your lover, then, isn’t he?” She grabbed her knees up to her chest and smiled excitedly.

Billiam felt his face getting hot with embarrassment before letting out an irritated sigh. “Fine, well we weren’t really lovers, technically. Our relationship was much more than that, and also more innocent. I am in love with him; I have been as long as I can remember.” He waved his hand, as though this should be something she already knew. It was so clear to him and all those around him it had simply become a matter of fact. “Since the cardinal threw me out of the castle five years ago, and I have not been able to see him in so long, now possibly ever again, that love is practically boiling away at me. It’s a burning feeling of despair I will not be able to escape unless I try everything in my power to revive him. I must finally be with him, and I believe in my heart it will happen.”

He looked up at Shemmy to see she was practically drooling. Billiam just shrugged and continued his tale. “I grew up in Micah’s service and spent my entire young life at his side. My father, Ackerman Grimhart, was captain of the Order of Logos, the scholar knights who used to be right hand to the royal family. He had been a page and dear friend to the king, and thus it was decided when I was aged two I would become page to the infant prince. I was akin to a servant, but more so his attendant and furthermore companion. He was my best and only friend, and I his. The climate in the castle changed a lot as the war began raging. We were nine and eleven when Casper was finally bombed out. Micah and I were scarcely allowed to leave the castle, and at times not even his room. We were each other’s only comfort, and after his parents were assassinated, I vowed to become his strength.

“I knew at that time in what way I loved him, and to my surprise, he professed it to me first. Our young love never got acted upon physically besides the comforting hugs I gave him. I held him through the night the first weeks after his parents passed, but I was then banned from the prince’s bedchamber at night. The cardinal had deemed it improper at our ages. The very day he told me I was his true love was the day all knights, all those belonging to the Order of Logos, and myself, were banished from the castle. I was gripped hard on the shoulders by one of the MortiAegis monks and ripped from Micah, who had been embracing me. He was screaming and cursing, throwing a child’s tantrum. I wanted to do the same, but I still believed in my vow to be his strength. I yelled to him I would be back, it would all be okay, and that I loved him too. Another monk slammed his door, and that’s the last time I saw him directly. I do not want to have lied to him.”

Shemmy’s eyes watered, and her face glowed brightly. “So sad!” she gasped. “The love of two boys ripped away before it could even begin! Oh no, no, no! I must bring back your prince to you!” She shot up to her feet, ran to Billiam, and swung her arms around his neck from behind. She hung off him like a strange, love-crazed monkey.

“Wait… you didn’t care to do it if it meant a chance to stop the reign of terror by the cardinal and this endless war, but you will gladly for a chance that I can realize my love with Micah? Had I known you were so crazy for the love between men, I would have rethought my entire approach. I could’ve worn something skimpy and poofish, or even brought a friend.” He smirked as Shemmy’s arms went limp and she flopped down to the ground.

“Dear Spirit, I am glad you did’nae. If you had, I prolly would agree juss so you could have yer love. However, I won’t do it for free. Dat would be stupid.”

“Of course, we will pay you handsomely, and the prince is sure to grant you pardon on your exile.”

“Money? Pfft. What need I have for dat? I dunno what payment I would want though….” She scratched at her matted hair, while still lying on the ground where she fell. Grinning wickedly, she looked up to him and asked, “It’s prolly treason to ask to watch you pumping the prince’s backside, eh?”

Billiam’s only possible response to her vulgarity was to immediately drop his face in his palms. “Should you be successful, I can’t imagine the prince objecting to you witnessing a single kiss between us.” Billiam was tired of being subjected to that embarrassing blush once again, as his cheeks warmed up at the thought of said kiss. “To subject him to anything else for your amusement is a depravity I will not allow!” Seriousness erased all bashfulness from his face as he yearned to protect Micah, although he was neither there nor alive.

“Yes, yes, yer right, prudency and all that load. I will settle for a kiss, then. However, I must ask for something else. Wifout me, it’s hopeless, right?”

Billiam nodded and outstretched his hand to pull her off the ground where she had remained splayed. She propped up partially and climbed back onto her stump.

“Think, think, think…. Wot do I want? Hmm….” She closed her eyes for half a minute before opening them wide, finally inspired. “I’ve got it! I want a loft wif a lab attached in ol’ Drummond and a lifetime supply of Leonard Lemonington’s sweet, cinnamon cream puffs! Also I require a kitten dat’s colorpoint, hopefully chunky, and definitely cross-eyed. All dat’s nonnegotiable.”

Billiam smiled and shook his new ally’s hand. “My Order’s budget can definitely afford the cost of rent on a grand loft and accommodate any of your cream puff and pastry needs. Luckiest of all, my darling seal-point cat named Buttercup is positively fat with kittens at the moment. The presumed father runs into light posts on the daily, his cross-eyedness has blinded him so.”

“Oh perfect! Oh so exciting! Making history, saving the kingdom, getting sweets and a kitty cat! Today is blessed by the earth spirits, no doubt it is.” She smiled and wriggled like a giddy child. Billiam could hardly believe it had worked, that she really would do this. Her brashness melted away before his eyes, and he saw the kind, exuberant lass she truly was. “Now let’s get you that Micah’s virginity!”

She jumped and cackled, dancing around her hovel while scooping up various objects in her arms. Billiam, mortified once more, was now free of so much excitement that he could start to fear introducing her to his people. She was a blasted madwoman and a shameless pervert; delightful, yes, but she was deranged.

“I must ask that you not speak about sexual acts involving our prince around any of the people I will be introducing you to. It will most likely shock them, as it’s not something they think about daily like I do.” He grinned devilishly as he said the last part. He would have never openly uttered that in front of anyone, especially someone he just met. He feared she could be rubbing off on him already.

“Also, you shouldn’t bring too much. We have plenty of necessities for you at our lodge. I will help carry anything you might truly require, of course.” With that, their journey as a team truly began. A rather dull battle cry from Billiam, but it would suffice in getting them on their way back to Drummond by nightfall. Chammerline would thus be inducted into what was once the mighty Order of Logos, whether myself and the current members could tolerate her or not.