Authors: Bill Allen
“Well, he never said anything about Nathan not dying either,” Melvin pointed out, and even though Greg knew he was just stating the truth, he wanted to punch the boy now more than ever.
“Quick,” said Mordred. “Get him to the Room of Shadows . . . Our power is strongest there.”
The circle of magicians dropped their hands at once. So did Marvin, which meant he had to scoop Mordred off the ground before he could carry him toward the castle. Four magicians lifted Nathan and followed the others inside. Instead of wasting time using the gate, they filed in through the gaping hole in the castle wall, where Tehrer had met his more permanent demise.
King Peter and Queen Pauline followed at their heels, completely ignoring the damage to their home. Lucky, who was recovering quite well, helped Greg stand. Priscilla supported Kristin, and the four of them followed the others inside. Even Melvin managed to slip past before the king’s guards stepped up to block the crowd.
“Too much help can be as bad as not enough,” one guard announced.
Inside, the magicians proceeded to the anteroom where Greg had seen them on many occasions. Perpetually burning torches rested in sconces lining the walls, and shadows flickered and danced about the empty room. Aside from Tehrer’s foot taking up half the space, it was exactly as Greg remembered it.
The magicians laid Nathan out in the center of the remaining floor and formed their circle again. Seeing the worried look on Greg’s face, King Peter took up Greg’s hand in his own. Kristin moved in behind the two of them and slipped her arms around Greg’s waist, and Priscilla hugged them all as they waited in silence.
“What’s taking so long?” Melvin asked, and was nearly knocked flat by all the shushing.
Greg felt Rake brush against his shin. He tried to stoop to pick the shadowcat up, but couldn’t bend with such a gathering of people attached to him.
Rake didn’t stay long anyway. He scooted between the magicians’ feet and climbed onto Nathan, stretched out each of his four legs in turn, and made a big show of settling down on Nathan’s chest, turning several circles before he got it right. In a second he was purring, the only sound in the room, aside from the occasional falling stone.
The penetrating tone tempted an already tired Greg to pass out, but he fought to keep his eyes open. Finally, miraculously, Nathan stirred. Rake feigned a look of annoyance, hopped down from Nathan’s chest and, true to his kind, quickly disappeared into the shadows.
“He moved,” said Lucky. “I saw him.”
Greg stared at Nathan, disbelieving. Nathan’s head teetered first one way, then the other, and finally rolled toward Greg. His eyes dropped open, and a faint smile came to his lips.
“Looks like Simon ended his prophecy too soon.”
Greg held Rake
cradled in his arms. The shadowcat lay with its head lolling to one side, staring at the ground, where it clearly would have preferred to wait. Greg tried to appease the creature by scratching under its chin. Finally Rake relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy the attention. The shadowcat might have even started purring, but was probably smart enough to know Greg would fall asleep and drop him.
Nathan was resting in one of the castle chambers. Although he’d saved Greg’s life, he’d paid dearly for the effort. Greg tried talking to him earlier, but barely got a word out of him. Actually, he barely got three.
“Talk to Mordred,” Nathan had said, and as little as Greg liked that idea, he’d gone out in search of the magician and found him in King Peter’s study, reviewing the written words of the prophecy.
Kristin, who hadn’t left Greg’s side since he woke up on the lawn outside the castle, tagged along with him. Greg wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, though it did prove a bit embarrassing earlier, since Greg’s tunic had burned away during the lightning strike, and Queen Pauline had insisted on applying a soothing ointment to his bare chest. The mark of the Amulet of Ruuan was burned deep into his skin, a permanent brand that he was going to have a lot of trouble explaining to his parents.
Lucky was there in King Peter’s study too, and much as with Greg and Kristin, Priscilla stood by his side, afraid to leave him for even a moment. Lucky had foregone his familiar orange tunic and tights and was dressed in a robe of soft white fabric. The outline of the pentagram burned into his chest was barely visible through the light cloth. Priscilla was wearing, of all things, a dress, and Greg had to admit she looked very beautiful, though at the moment he had an idea she preferred Lucky be the one to notice.
Earlier, Norman Greatheart had tried to gather his two sons and head home, but Melvin had demanded they stay until Greg and Kristin were sent back. He stood beside them now in the king’s study, staring at Mordred along with the others.
Mordred looked up from the scroll laid out before him. “What do
want?” he said, his voice filled with slightly less disdain than usual.
“We were curious about what happened out there today,” Greg told him. “Nathan said I should talk to you.”
Mordred frowned. “Just when he and I were starting to get along.”
“How did you know how to save Greg?” Priscilla asked. “You always claimed you didn’t know Dark Magic.”
“I don’t,” said Mordred. “Oh, I remember a few things. There was a time when I was foolish, like Nathan. But that was long ago, and those memories do not come easily.”
“Then how did you cast that spell today?” said Lucky.
Mordred looked very uncomfortable with the question. He hesitated a long time before answering.
“When Nathan . . . touched me, the way he did, something odd happened between us. I have never felt anything like it, or even heard of such a thing occurring.”
“What was it?” asked Priscilla, and Lucky’s face reddened as she squeezed his hand, waiting for a reply.
“It was as if our souls bonded. Almost as if I had lived all of his life experiences. I knew the things he knew, felt the things he felt. I was him, and I can only imagine he was me.”
Greg shuddered. The thought of becoming Mordred for even a moment . . . He had no desire to know the type of thoughts that circulated through the magician’s mind.
“He loves you very much, you know,” Mordred said to Greg. Then to the others he added, “All of you.”
“You felt that?” Greg asked.
Mordred’s expression was completely unreadable. “Yes.”
“Did you feel it too?” Priscilla asked. “The love, I mean.”
Mordred looked away a moment and then regarded the princess with the same unreadable expression he’d used on Greg.
“I understood Nathan’s motivation in living the life he has chosen. I know now why he pursued the Dark Arts against all my warnings. He sacrificed our friendship, lived his entire life alone for one purpose and one purpose only: to save this kingdom. I always believed that was why I’d chosen the path I took, but now . . . I’m not sure I could have protected us today.” Greg was surprised to see him smile. “I at least know I couldn’t have protected you.”
“Will he be okay?” Greg asked. “Nathan.”
“He will recover,” said Mordred, “but I’d be lying if I said he won’t be changed by the events of this day—as will we all. I can’t say if that change will be for the better or worse, but . . .” He paused and drifted into a moment of deep reflection. “Life will be different. Let’s leave it at that.”
“What are you doing now?” Kristin asked, nodding to indicate the scroll rolled out on the table.
“Just reviewing some old information from a new perspective. It can actually be quite helpful at times. Our best sources of new information are often those we thought we’d already exhausted.”
“And what have you learned?” Priscilla asked him.
Mordred leaned back in his chair. The smile that eased across his face reminded Greg of Nathan the day they met in the Molten Moor so long ago.
“Only that Simon Sez is one incredible man.”
Greg slipped his journal
into his pack and shifted Rake to the other arm so Melvin could shake his hand. The boy then tried to steal a kiss from Kristin, but she saw him coming and turned her head in the nick of time.
Marvin patted Greg on the back, a good-bye suitable for one hero to another, and then Norman tried to do the same, crackling several bones in his wrist and elbow. He turned to Melvin. “Let’s go, son.”
“But the magicians haven’t sent them home yet.”
Once again everyone had gathered in the Room of Shadows, with all of the king’s magicians lining the walls, their faces invisible beneath their hoods under the flickering light of the gloomy chamber. Nathan sat in the only chair in the room, still recovering from his ordeal but, according to Mordred, doing quite well under the circumstances. King Peter and Queen Pauline were there too, but Penelope was conspicuously absent, having offered a quick good-bye and scuttled off to paint her nails or something equally important.
The king couldn’t thank Greg enough for everything he’d done to save the kingdom. Over and over he apologized for trying to talk Greg out of coming.
“Don’t worry about it,” Greg said. If the truth were known, he found it hard to believe he hadn’t listened to the king’s advice to start with.
Queen Pauline kissed Greg’s forehead. “Return soon. Let us know how you’re faring.”
“Ah, sure,” said Greg. He was just glad he no longer had Ruuan’s ring. That was one temptation he planned never to succumb to again.
Priscilla hugged him as if she were never going to let him go, to which Kristin made the same noise Rake sometimes did just before coughing up a hairball. Finally Priscilla released Greg and hugged Kristin.
Lucky stepped up and smiled at Greg. His ragged stubble had been shaved clean. “Well, we did it again,” he said, holding out his hand for Greg to shake.
Greg smiled back at him. “I guess we did.”
The two boys hugged while the magicians began their chanting. Before long Greg felt a change in the air. The space in front of him split open to reveal a sea of planets, soaring past like bottles on an assembly line, waiting for Lucky to randomly point out the one in countless billions that would take Greg safely home.
Lucky glanced over at Greg and winked. “You know, you’re lucky I was there with you,” he said, just before pointing at an unassuming blue sphere that was attempting to sneak by unnoticed.
“Now!” Lucky shouted before Greg could respond.
As if someone had yanked a carpet out from under his feet, Greg felt the world shift. The hard stone floor of the castle gave way to soft dirt, and Greg realized he was now standing on the trail through the woods near his own home on Earth.
Kristin’s arms were latched around his waist. Greg nearly yanked free, but stopped when he felt the softness of her touch.
“That was incredible,” she shouted, as if Greg weren’t standing inches from her.
“You get used to it.”
She released him and glanced around the woods. The light was failing, as they had returned to the same moment they’d left this spot, and evening was setting in.
“It did happen, didn’t it? I mean, I didn’t just imagine all of that, did I?”
Rake peeked out from behind Greg’s neck and chattered at her.
“No, it really happened,” said Greg.
“Did I mention it was incredible?”
Greg smiled and took her hand in his own. They started walking toward Kristin’s house. Her parents were sure to be wondering where she was.
“You know what’s incredible?” Greg said. “Lucky. Did you hear what he said just before we popped out of there? I was
he was with me.”
“Well, you were.”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, if he hadn’t distracted the witch, you might never have defeated her.”
“But he didn’t—? It was the wyvern that—”
“And who knows what might have happened to you if he hadn’t been on that wyvern with you? The way the thing was twisting and rolling about. It’s a miracle you weren’t thrown off.”
“And then it was pretty lucky he fell on top of the amulet Nathan used to save you. Anything might have happened to it if it had just been lying about.”
Only then did Greg realize she was joking.
“You laugh,” he said, “but I’ll bet he’s going on right now about how lucky he was in that battle.”
It was growing cold, and Kristin wrapped Greg’s arm around her. “Well, now
I’m going to have to agree with.”
“What? The boy was
. He fell out of the sky and died. Kaput! Dead as a doornail.”
“Yeah, well, so were you.”
“Exactly. I don’t consider myself lucky.”
She nudged her head into his cheek and pulled his arm tighter around her. “Well, maybe you should.”
Greg felt the softness of her hair and the warmth of her body against his own. When she put it that way, he found he had a hard time disagreeing.
BILL ALLEN may be described as an unusual man who has accomplished an unusual many deeds. In fact, it has been said that if you total up all the things he claims to have done, he cannot possibly be less than seven hundred years old. No one knows if this is true. All we know for certain is that for many of those years he’s been living in Florida with his wife, Nancy, writing software by day and, well, mostly sleeping by night. Every now and again he writes stories, too.