A random chapter from my upcoming novel “The Thirteen Treasures: In the Court of the Crimson King”
It was a small and narrow room but two floor-to-ceiling windows on the far wall shed enough light, dim and grey though it was on this particular day, that Eluned could easily read the titles on the books that lined the built-in shelves on both sides.
As she had worried, most of the volumes were trash, if a book could be considered trash. Boring manuals, encyclopedias and almanacs seemed to make up most of what was available. But, here and there a work of fiction could be found. Eluned was beginning to feel frustrated and hopeless as title after title sent a shudder of dullness down her spine.
She was nearing the end of the second shelf when a narrow book, nearly hidden betwixt a thick and extremely boring tome entitled Coal: Sources, Mining and Safety by Dornick Purine and an almanac that was nearly twenty years old, caught her eye.
Thirteen Royal Treasures the spine read. And, being a princess, Eluned couldn’t help but pull the book from the shelf. The ancient red leather was cracked and the title, apparently Thirteen Royal Treasures of The Thirteen Kingdoms, had been imprinted in gold at some point but not much but the impression was left as the gold had mostly flaked away.
Eluned opened the book carefully, fearing the pages would be as fragile as the cover. As she walked toward the windows, seeking more light, the musty smell of old and yellowed paper drifted up to her nose. She inhaled of it deeply . . . there was something almost sacred about the smell of an old book; it was akin, in her mind, to the incense they used in church.
It wasn’t until she had reached the end of the room with her back to the window and book held above her head for maximum light, that she could see the faint remains of an imprint of the author’s name. She could barely make it out. She squinted her eyes and turned the book various ways to see if the light was better. It looked like, but she couldn’t swear to it, Pryderi Gruffyd.
‘Looking at the title page might be a good idea,’ she reminded herself. She carefully opened the delicate text and glanced eagerly at the title page. Yes. She had been right. Pryderi Gruffyd. Much better than Dornick Purine, she snickered. The name definitely sounded like someone who would know what they were talking about.
She turned the brittle page to the table of contents, which promised an introduction followed by thirteen short chapters (one for each treasure, she presumed). “White Hilt: The Sword of Rhydderch the Generous,” the title of the first chapter read. The second chapter was entitled, “The Hamper of Gwyddno Garanir.” She scanned the titles of the next few chapters.
“So very intriguing,” she murmured, heading back to the great room and its roaring fire.
“Find something?” Jabberwock opened one eye as Eluned joined him in front of the fireplace. He was curled in front of the fire, napping contentedly.
“I hope so,” she replied, pulling a chair closer to the fire so that she could prop her feet up on the raised hearth. After settling her self comfortably in the chair, she continued, “It’s called Thirteen Royal Treasures of The Thirteen Kingdoms.”
Jabberwock’s head rose in a flash, pointy ears alert and twitching. “What did you say?”
“I said Thirteen Royal Treasures of The Thirteen Kingdoms. Why?” she eyed him in wonder.
“Hmmm,” he said, musingly. “I haven’t thought of those in years . . .” but inwardly his mind was reeling. Omni was surely at work again. Once Eluned read that book, once she learned of the thirteen hallowed treasures, there was no doubt in his mind that they would become her grail. And, how well would her ring be described?
Eluned was staring at him. “What? What are the thirteen royal treasures?”
“Best you read the book,” he stated, simply, and pretended to return to his napping, resituating himself and curling up more tightly before the fire.
Eluned frowned, but opened the book to the introduction. It wasn’t her nature to read introductions; she wanted to skip right to the first chapter, diving in, head first. But, her new, more mature self (she had the grace to roll her eyes at that), felt she needed to take things more slowly, savor the moment, so to speak.
After several paragraphs, way more than necessary as far as she was concerned, Pryderi Gruffyd finally began to write about why he had written the book and what it was about – the thirteen treasures. According to Gruffyd, the thirteen treasures, sometimes with one or two added on, but essentially thirteen, had been collected by a certain wizard named Myrddin or Merlin, who had taken them under his protection. But thousands of years had passed since that time and the treasures never retrieved. Still hidden or scattered to the four winds, no one knew. What was rumored though, what the legend seemed to be, Gruffyd wrote, was that once collected together again, a righteous and good man might bring peace to the world.
“Really?” The Princess blurted and Jabberwock snorted, quickly turning the sound into a prolonged snore so that the princess would think he was asleep.
Now deeply captivated, Eluned turned to the first chapter – White Hilt: The Sword of Rhydderch the Generous. Below that, it read, “Dyrnwyn: Gleddyf Rhydderch Hael.”
‘All right,’ she mused to herself, ‘that must be some ancient language. The only word I get out of that is ‘Rhydderch’ and that is obviously a name.’ She soon discovered that if the sword, White Hilt, was drawn by a wellborn and virtuous man, it would burst into flame from its hilt to its tip.
“That could come in handy in battle,” she murmured aloud. But, it appeared there wasn’t much to say and extremely little known about the treasures. Everything seemed to be mostly speculation on Gruffyd’s part.
The next treasure was “The Hamper of Gwyddno Garanir,” otherwise known as Mwys Gwyddno Garanir or The Hamper of Gwyddno Long-Shank. Why did that remind her of food more than someone who was long legged? Her stomach rumbled. Maybe that was why, she snickered to herself. She looked around. Not a soul but herself and Jabb. Because the day was so overcast, she couldn’t even tell what time it was.
She finally decided to wait awhile longer and settled down to discover more about this hamper. Great, her stomach grumbled again. Not only did “Long-shank” remind her of food but also the hamper turned out to be a picnic hamper that if one put only enough food for one man into the basket, food for one hundred men could be withdrawn from it.
She groaned, the Bandersnatch stirred and mumbled, “What is it?”
“I’m hungry and I have no idea how close it is to a regular eating time. My whole day is off keel because I slept so late,” she grumbled.
“No one forced you to sleep late.”
“I know it,” she snapped. “But it was so ugly outside there seemed no reason to get out of bed.”
“But, you’re right,” he said, stretching, “I do believe it is heading toward that time. I will go and round up Bonpo and Gwrhyr.”
“Wow, I am beginning to suspect he paid you to be a part of our little coterie.”
“You’re just jealous,” he groused as he pattered off, bottlebrush tail twitching irritably.
She smiled, indulgently, at his retreating backside, and returned to the book and the third treasure. Simple enough. The Horn of Bran or “Corn Bran Gogledd.” She didn’t know what ‘Gogledd’ meant, but the other two words were easy enough to figure out.
The Horn appeared to be a good match for the Hamper as it promised its possessor whatever drink he might wish for.
“That would have certainly come in handy during the past week,” she murmured, and jumped as a heavy chair scraped the floor next to her.
“What would have come in handy?” Gwrhyr asked, eyeing the book.
“The Horn of Bran,” she stated, waiting for the look that would say, ‘tell me more, tell me more.’ As always, he disappointed her.
“Ah, yes, the Horn of Bran,” he said, surveying the room, which was, not surprisingly, devoid of any servants. “That would come in very handy at the moment.”
Eluned’s mouth dropped open. She snapped it shut, quickly, before he could make some nasty comment about her catching flies, and sputtered, “By Omni, is there any thing you don’t know?”
“Well, if you must know, I’m not well versed in the propagation of tropical fruits.”
She wanted to wipe the annoying grin off his face. “But you excel at growing fruits in a temperate zone?” Eluned asked, sarcastically.
“If I do say so myself,” he returned, smugly.
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. That tactic obviously wasn’t working. Maybe if she ignored him he would go away. She opened the book to the next chapter. Nothing better than getting lost in treasure. The Chariot of Morgan the Wealthy. She read silently for a few minutes, Gwrhyr sitting peaceably by her side, apparently enjoying the warmth of the fire and the entertainment provided by the dancing flames.
“Car Morgan Mwynfawr,” she read, is one of the more fantastic of the treasures. It is said that once in the chariot, a man could wish to be a certain place and thus get there quickly. Eluned dared a glance at Gwrhyr. She wouldn’t mind possessing that chariot just about now. She wasn’t sure exactly where she’d wish to be but it sure wouldn’t be here, sitting next to this obnoxious man. And, it would definitely be someplace warm. The Favonian Islands were beckoning, and she felt a smile beginning. She sighed, audibly, picturing sand and palm trees, not that she had ever actually seen them in person. She felt the sun warm on her face, a cool drink in her hand and imagined a gorgeous man at her side, stroking the black curls away from her face as the breeze tossed them into her eyes.
“That must be quite some treasure,” Gwrhyr interrupted her thoughts. Instead of answering him (she didn’t want to ruin the moment; her imaginary lover was turning her face towards his), she handed him the book.
He scanned the title and first few paragraphs quickly. “So where are you?”
She kept her eyes closed. She didn’t want to see him, but murmured, “The Favonian Islands.”
“Well, I hope you’re sheltered,” he said, “because with that skin, you’d burn in a flash.”
“Thanks,” she said, disgustedly. “Do you not even have one molecule of romance in you?” And with that, she snatched the book from his hand, stood abruptly and went to find Jabberwock.
He watched her departure in dismay.
“I just don’t know if I can do it,” she told the Bandersnatch, who was still discussing travel details with Bonpo in the stable. “That man drives me insane. He is such a know-it-all. The smug, self-serving, son of . . .”
“Be careful,” Jabberwock interrupted, “the things that anger you about him just might be aspects of your self.”
“What?” she gasped, flabbergasted. She wanted some sympathy and here he was getting all psychoanalytical on her.
“I only meant that maybe you should reflect on the things about Gwrhyr that drive you crazy and come to terms with why that might be so. I wouldn’t be surprised if he feels the same way about you.”
“That I’m a smug, self-serving . . .”
“Hmpff,” she snorted, tossing her curls. But, as she turned away from Jabberwock, muttering “traitor” under her breath, her brain was already elsewhere. She walked slowly back toward the inn’s entrance. So this journey she was on, she mused, thinking back on her earlier conversation with Gwrhyr, was to be as much a journey inward as outward, it seemed. Of course, what did she expect? She’d known the Bandersnatch long enough to know that all her lessons with him over the years had had a spiritual, if not moral, emphasis. Even the very first time they had met, he had entertained her with a fairy tale about a princess who stood up for someone who was different and in doing so won a friend who later saved her life.
The door to the inn opened just as she was reaching for the handle, and she jumped back, startled.
“Sorry,” Gwrhyr apologized, “I was just coming to let you all know that they’re ready to serve us supper.”
“Bonpo and Jabb are still in the stable,” she said, gesturing over her shoulder, embarrassed to look at his face.
“Thanks,” he murmured, and stepped past her, heading in that direction.
She was glad to be away from him. Despite the fact she had been traveling with a giant for days, she kept forgetting how tall Gwrhyr was. She barely reached five feet, four inches, which made him nearly a foot taller than she and somehow she found that much more intimidating than Bonpo’s eight feet. But once you got past Bonpo’s size, he was as sweet as a kitten. Gwrhyr, on the other hand . . . once again she remembered the press of his lips against hers. And she was glad the dark entry hid her deeply flaming cheeks.
She took a deep breath, another, and then entered the great room. A table had been set for the four of them. (They set a place for Jabb? Of course, he had sat all day in the great room with various combinations of their party or alone; surely no one had missed his nearly constant yapping.) And it was clear they were the only occupants of the inn that night.
By the time the other three had arrived, she had already poured herself some wine from the pottery decanter on the table and was gratefully taking a long sip.
Gwrhyr took the seat across from her, whether to keep an eye on her or to ensure that he wasn’t sitting next to her, she couldn’t quite determine. He quickly filled his own goblet, raised it briefly, if slightly mockingly, toward the princess, and swallowed half the contents.
The princess hid her smile behind her own goblet, and picked up the book again, while she waited for the food to arrive.
The Halter of Clydno Eiddyn, she read, alternately known as “Cebyster Clydno Eiddyn,” Cebyster meaning halter, no doubt. She soon discovered that when the halter was attached to the foot of the bed (of its owner, presumably? Gruffyd was so damned nebulous.), that is, once attached to the right bed, Eluned guessed, the halter would be filled with whichever horse was wished for.
An awesome treasure, she mused, but did that mean any bed in particular? Or did it matter only who was sleeping in that bed? She wondered where these treasures now resided. She pictured the halter, leather cracked and dry, silver ornaments tarnished to an ebony black lying in some abandoned corner of a stable; tossed unknowingly atop moth eaten saddle blankets still reeking of ancient horse sweat, broken stirrups and other pieces of tack no longer needed by their owners.
Eluned suddenly felt an overwhelming need to run out to the stable and tear it apart, just in case the halter was here. She had half-risen in her chair before she decided she was being ridiculous. She sat back down, blushing, as three sets of eyes surveyed her, questioningly.
Gwrhyr held out his hand for the book, briefly scanned the page, nodded and handed it back to her.
“I’ve already searched here,” he stated, flatly.
Eluned’s eyes widened a bit, but she was already getting used to his ability to read her like a book. Instead, she raised her eyebrows.
“Once you know about the treasures,” Gwrhyr continued, “it’s hard not to keep an eye out for them everywhere you go.” He paused. “Well, for some, that is. I would hate to make that a generalization.”
“So, that’s the fifth treasure,” Jabberwock interjected, “only eight more to go.” Eluned turned the page.
“The knife of Llawfrodded the Horseman,” she read aloud and paused. No one objected, rather they watched her expectantly, almost as if it were a great treat to be read to about something that at least Jabberwock and Gwrhyr seemed already familiar with.
“Do you know the thirteen treasures, too?” she couldn’t help asking Bonpo.
He nodded, slowly, as if embarrassed. “All dzu-tch know.”
“Why am I not surprised?” The Princess shook her head, but she was no longer nonplussed by the fact that the entire party seemed to know about something legendary that somehow had escaped her extensive education.
“Cyllel Llawfrodded Farenog,” she read, wondering, not for the first time, if she was even beginning to pronounce these strange words correctly. “It says this knife can carve enough food to allow twenty-four men to eat at table.” She wondered, idly, if that also meant if the knife was used in camp, as she had recently eaten both around a campfire and in a tent; if not, then the owner was out of luck. She suspected, though, that it was just an archaic turn of phrase. “Interesting,” she murmured, before turning the page.
“The Cauldron of Dyrnwych the Giant,” she said, nailing Bonpo with a penetrating stare. His booming laugh nearly shook the table.
“Pair Dyrnwych Gawr,” Jabb said loudly enough to be heard over the giant’s laughter, “yes indeed, that would be delightful on both accounts. But, hopefully, we’ll happen upon that particular treasure. It would be nice to have an assured method of cooking with us.”
“You’re making the assumption we are all brave. What if one of us is a coward?”
“Speak for your self,” Gwrhyr teased.
“Well, I wasn’t exactly brave when attacked by the barrow wight,” she admitted.
“My dear,” Jabberwock said, gently, “I would say in the long run you handled it all quite well.”
“Yes,” Bonpo seconded. “You even out da nex’ day, at dawn.”
“I think Jabb woke me up at dawn, but yes, we did leave. I’m still not sure that qualifies as being brave, but I appreciate that you think so. Of course, at this stage of the journey it’s all a moot point because we don’t own Dyrnwych’s cauldron and we have nothing to boil in it to test whether or not it even will boil. Speaking of which, do all the treasures revolve around food? If the next one has to with cooking, drinking or eating, I might swoon from hunger.”
But, at that instant, the kitchen door swung open and the scullion appeared carrying a huge tray. The aroma wafting from it caused Eluned’s stomach to groan in anticipation. Cumin, curry, cinnamon and other spices emanated from the platters being set on the table. Flat breads, couscous, vegetables and meats swimming in tantalizing sauces . . . she found herself forcibly holding her palms in her lap until everything had been set on the table.
“Omni, bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to your service,” she said, quickly.
“Amen!” They shouted in acclamation. Despite her hunger, Eluned scooped some of the food onto a plate for Jabberwock before serving herself.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Despite your brilliance,” she ribbed him, “there are some drawbacks to not having opposable thumbs.”
“Indubitably,” he laughed, and lowered his head, deftly skewering a piece of meat on his sharp canines.
“By Omni, I am too full,” The Princess declared a quarter of an hour later. “But it was sooo good. I couldn’t stop myself.”
“If you rike,” Bonpo said, preparing to push away from the table, “I go kitchen; find out how to make.”
“Oh Bonpo, would you? I would love to have this again. And we’ll be in Draconia for a little while?” She still wasn’t quite sure which way they were heading: northeast to Simoon, southeast to Annewven or straight south through Draconia to the Favonian Islands; her personal choice no matter what Gwrhyr thought of her skin.
“A few days,” Gwrhyr said, dashing all her hopes.
“Simoon or Annewven?” She asked, disappointedly, as Bonpo headed for the kitchen.
“Annewven,” Gwrhyr and Jabb answered simultaneously.
She dredged her memory for any knowledge she might have of the place, but she was so logy from the meal that all she could manage was the name of the country’s king, Arawn.
“Arawn,” she yawned, covering her mouth belatedly. “Is there a queen?” And, for some reason, as she said that, she shivered.
“Cold?” Gwrhyr asked, unbelievingly.
“A rabbit ran over my grave,” she responded before noticing he was already a thousand miles away.
Gwrhyr was thinking that the room seemed quite comfortable to him. ‘Or, maybe,’ his mind jumped, ‘the wine’s making me warm,’ he looked up at Jabberwock, guiltily, wondering if he’d had too much to drink. He caught the Bandersnatch staring at him, crystal eyes gleaming in such a way that Gwrhyr could read his thoughts. “Ok,” he directed his thoughts toward Jabberwock, “maybe the Princess is making me warm.”
Jabberwock chuckled and turned to answer Eluned, who had been watching the silent exchange with amusement.
“You two seemed to have bonded,” she said in a tone dripping with honey, but they both heard the sting beneath it.
“Sometimes you just feel a connection to people,” Jabberwock explained, lamely.
“No one has answered my question.”
“No,” Jabberwock continued, hurriedly, “Arawn is not married.”
“He’s relatively young though, isn’t he?” she asked.
“He can’t be twice your age,” Jabberwock said.
“Thirty-three, I believe,” Gwrhyr stated.
“That seems old to me,” Eluned grimaced, thinking, ‘he’s definitely out.’ “So why are we going there?”
Jabberwock, who had been relieved to perceive Eluned’s previous thought, stuttered, “Uh, because . . .”
“Oh, just tell her.”
“Fine,” he pouted. “Because that is where all thirteen treasures were once gathered.”
“Really?” And then her eyes narrowed, and she demanded, accusingly, “You didn’t plant this book in the library, did you?” She picked up the book lying next to her goblet.
“Surprisingly not,” Jabberwock admitted. “I wish I had thought of it, but I guess Omni has it all under Its control, as per usual.”
“You’re saying this is an Omnincident?” she asked, using the slang for an Omni-inspired coincidence.
“I’m saying that I did not put it there.”
“You?” It was more of an order than a question.
“No, your highness,” Gwrhyr simpered, sarcastically.
“I’m doing it again?”
She wasn’t sure if she was ever going to not be able to act like royalty, particularly when she was suspicious or angry or embarrassed or . . . she slumped down in her chair. “I’m sorry,” she said it so quietly that Gwrhyr leaned forward.
“I’m sorry,” she said it louder, cheeks flaming. And apparently Gwrhyr wasn’t going to let her forget she was a princess. To change the subject and distract herself, she opened the book to the next treasure. The Whetstone of Tudwal Tudglyd it proclaimed. She glanced up to see her companions watching her, expectantly. Gwrhyr poured some more wine into her goblet and then topped his own off with the remainder.
“Hogalen, etc.,” she said, grudgingly. Why couldn’t they let her finish the book in peace?
“At least it’s not about food,” Gwrhyr grinned.
She couldn’t help but laugh. “True and for the opposite reason now.” As they no doubt knew its magic, she scanned through the text and discovered that if this particular whetstone was used by a brave man (always a brave man, she thought, sourly. Surely, a woman could use it, too.), to sharpen his sword, then if he drew blood with it, that person would die.
“Youch,” she interjected, “what if you accidentally nicked someone with it?”
“Good point,” Gwrhyr murmured. He hadn’t actually considered that before.
“Doesn’t that just sound like an ancient love story,” Eluned continued after a sip of wine, which was relaxing her tongue. “I mean, I can see it now, the brave knight finally rescues his damsel in distress and in the process of killing the dragon, the tip of the blade pierces the skin of her chest and . . .” She glanced up and saw Gwrhyr observing her, intently. She bit her lip and bent to the book again. It was clear from the glint in his eyes that he was remembering the kiss or at least fantasizing about the next one. “Oh what a surprise,” she continued, sardonically, trying to change the tone, “a coward won’t hurt his opponent at all.”
“Maybe that’s the key,” Gwrhyr ventured, “maybe it has to be your foe.”
“But what if they don’t know they’re not your foe?”
“I mean, what if you think it’s someone who likes you but they really hate you?”
“Or someone who hates you but in reality, is enamored of you?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, if it’s magic involved or Omni, for that matter, then I am sure the truth will be known,” Jabberwock intervened.
“It is only with the heart that one can see wisely,” Gwrhyr began.
“What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” Eluned finished.
“Exactly,” Jabberwock agreed. “Next treasure?”
“The Coat of Padarn Red-Coat,” Eluned read. “Now that’s redundant. I assume it’s the magic red coat he’s named for. Pais Padarn Beisrydd. All seems rather pointless to me. Who cares if it fits, well-born or not?”
“I have to admit,” Gwrhyr said, agreeably, “I always wondered about that one, myself.”
“Number Ten. The Crock and Dish of Rhyhgenydd the Cleric.”
“Gren A Desgyl Rhyhgenydd Ysgolhaig,” Jabberwock said, apparently fluently.
“Uh, yeah,” Eluned giggled. “Seems rather pointless, again, for a cleric to have both a crock and a dish, one; and two, that whatever might be wished for would appear in them. Uh, lead us not into temptation, right?”
“Really,” Gwrhyr guffawed, “he could become quite a glutton!” The scullion appeared to clear away the dishes and Gwrhyr ordered a flagon of mulled wine. Eluned wondered, briefly, if he were trying to intoxicate her but Jabb didn’t flinch so she let it go. She was actually beginning to enjoy this. Sad that they both had to have wine to lighten up, but “c’est la guerre,” as the saying went.
“The Mantle of Arthur is the eleventh treasure,” she read. “Llen Arthyr yng Nghernyw. I know I pronounced that wrong. But, this one is really worthwhile. The cloak has the ability to make the wearer invisible. That could come in really handy.”
“Oh yeah,” Gwrhyr seconded.
“Oh yeah?” Eluned insinuated.
“What?! I only meant that there are times one might benefit from being a ghost, so to speak. Politically speaking. Only a vulgar person would use such a cloak to spy on a woman. I would never . . . ”
“We believe you,” Jabberwock chuckled. “I believe the Princess is harassing you.”
“Guilty as charged,” she claimed, laughter tinkling like bells. The scullion arrived with the wine and filled their goblets with the steaming, fragrant liquid before setting down the pitcher he was pouring from.
“Just two more,” Gwrhyr said, standing up. Let’s go over to the fireplace to enjoy this.
“Yes, m’lord,” Eluned giggled, bowing.
“Very funny,” Gwrhyr shook his head, but he couldn’t help grinning.
Settled in front of the fireplace, Eluned once more found her spot in the book. “The Chessboard of Gwenddolau, son of Ceidio,” she began, taking a tentative sip of the wine. Perfect. Cinnamon, orange and cloves wafted in her face and she inhaled the scent, deeply. “Mmmm, I love the way this smells.”
She informed Jabberwock and Gwrhyr, though she knew they were well aware, that this particular chessboard was said to possess mystical powers and would continue to play by itself once set up. “That’s an odd one,” she commented, “but intriguing.”
“I would guess that the opponents choose silver or gold ahead of play to determine the outcome of something,” Gwrhyr proposed.
“Likely. Very likely. I can see no other practical use.” She had tried to say it seriously and profoundly but Eluned worried that she might have slurred a word or two. Thank God there was only one more treasure. It was probably time for her to be settling down for the night.
She could almost feel a palpable tension in the air as she named the final treasure. “Eluned’s ring and stone.” She stopped. Her heart had speeded up considerably. Gwrhyr and Jabberwock seemed to be studying her intently but she couldn’t fathom the expressions on their faces.
“That’s my name,” was all she could manage, but she was staring at the ornately carved band around her right ring finger.
“And?” Gwrhyr finally growled, impatiently.
“When it is placed on one’s finger, with the stone inside the hand and closed upon the stone, the wearer is invisible.” They could barely hear her above the crackling of the flames. She groped for the leather pouch about her neck. Was the stone a milky white moonstone, she wondered? If she pulled it out of the bag and clutched it in her hand, would she disappear? Was it even possible?
“What?” Gwrhyr asked.
“Do you want to try?” Jabberwock asked. “You’re safe with us.”
“Safe. This isn’t a question of safe. You’ve known all along haven’t you?” she accused the Bandersnatch. “You knew the moment my father pressed the box into my hand, perhaps even before.” Jabberwock shifted uncomfortably under the intensity of her gaze.
“I didn’t think the time was appropriate to discuss it.”
Eluned tried to think back to the moment she had unwrapped the package, discovered the ring and stone inside. It is true that her head had been reeling, and that typically, she had been weeping and antagonistic. Her father had mentioned Omni. Jabberwock, she remembered, had admitted he knew something. But following her little temper tantrum they had begun to walk again, and then she had been lost in Jabb’s story of her great-grandmother. So, the question was: Did she want to try it with Jabberwock or did she prefer to be alone? She stared into the depths of her mulled wine, hoping for an answer. She looked up to find three sets of eyes watching her.
“All right,” she sighed, “I’ll try it here.” There wasn’t a mirror in her room, anyway. She took a swig from her wine and pushed back her chair. She didn’t have to stand up but it seemed more dramatic. She opened the pouch around her neck and shook out the moonstone into the palm of her right hand. Taking a deep breath, she closed her fingers around the stone.
As far as she was concerned everything seemed the same. “Well?” she asked.
“It works,” Jabberwock responded.
Eluned suddenly had the evil impulse to do something to Gwrhyr, like pull his chair out from beneath him, but she was sure he weighed too much and he seemed, thanks to the wine, pretty firmly seated. She could twist his beard or pull his hair but that seemed too childish. She really wanted to get him back for that kiss, but it was going to take more planning. She unclenched her hand, slowly reappearing to those in front of her.
“Wow,” Bonpo managed.
“Truly impressive,” Gwrhyr said, clapping, but it some how managed to sound mocking when he did it. She’d be angry but at the moment she just felt tired.
“I’m tired,” she groused, slumping into her chair. Her eyes seemed to have a hard time focusing on the goblet in front of her. She concentrated and managed to pick it up, she hoped, in a smooth sort of way.
“Perhaps it’s time for bed,” Jabberwock suggested. He had an uncanny feeling that Gwrhyr would be more than happy to help her finish the pitcher of mulled wine. And he hoped to start out at least relatively early in the morning . . .
“Hmmm?” the Princess looked up. Her eyelids were beginning to droop.
“Yes, definitely time for bed,” the Bandersnatch stated, firmly. “Early start tomorrow. Bonpo, can you escort the princess to her room?”
As Eluned stood, and swayed, Bonpo firmly gripped her shoulder and guided her in the direction of the stairs.
Gwrhyr grunted, “Goodnight Princess,” as he poured himself another glass of wine and silently cursed Jabberwock. Another goblet-full and Eluned might have willingly sought his kisses, he thought, glowering at their retreating backs. He pushed back his chair and reluctantly headed toward his room.