Short Story #2
“A Spell of Fire & A Scarecrow”
There he was again, just in the shadows. Snowe ran down the hall and hid against one of the doors that led outside. After a moment, he peeked out of the doorway and the shadowy man was gone. Ever since Snowe’s parents had taken him to the path that led to the Western Tower, he’d been seeing the shadowy man all over the castle. None of the guards could see him and the magic helpers teased Snowe that maybe he’s lonely without Astra and is making up a new friend. Snowe was sure if he was making up a new friend, he would be at least Snowe’s age. Nevertheless, Snowe had ignored him for what felt like longest time to Snowe. For a while even, he had stopped seeing the shadowy man altogether. He had forgotten about him. The past week however, he has seen the shadowy man everywhere and he felt he was being followed. Before, Snowe could avoid the shadowy man’s gaze, but time and time again lately, he had been making eye contact with the shadowy man. It wasn’t just Snowe’s imagination, he knew that. He also knew the shadow wasn’t going away.
The hall stayed empty aside from Snowe and a guard at the very end and Snowe gave out a sigh. As he turned to head outside to finish his snowman, he yelped and jumped backwards. The door was open, snow spilling in, and the shadowy man held it open for Snowe. Frightened, Snowe stayed frozen in his spot.
“Did you not want to go outside?” the shadowy man asked, his voice like a distant echo.
Snowe looked down the hall and the guard down the hall continued to stand, stock still, as though he hadn’t heard anything. Snowe looked back at the shadowy man and nodded. A grin full of sharp teeth appeared on the shadowy man’s face and a shudder ran down Snowe’s spine. As Snowe went through the doors, he could feel the shadowy man right behind him and he almost wished he would disappear again. He was frightening.
Out in the cold, Snowe shuffled through the snow (it went up to his ankles) and found the ball of snow he had hidden underneath the tree branches.
“Are you going to finish that snowman?” the shadowy man asked, making Snowe jump.
Snowe looked over his shoulder and sure enough, the shadow had followed him. He was watching Snowe curiously and unlike before, Snowe felt himself warming up to the shadow. Perhaps he didn’t want him to disappear if he kept talking. Talking made him less frightening, even if the laugh and smile were creepy. Snowe smiled and nodded.
“I’m just making the pieces,” he replied, his voice shaking, as he started to roll the ball of snow in front of him. He had already rolled the base and it sat next to the castle doors. This one was too small to be the head so he kept rolling it around to make it larger. “I was going to see if my father could put it together, though. It’s going to be too heavy for me to pick up.”
“I can do that, if you want,” the shadowy man suggested as he followed Snowe.
Snowe glanced over his shoulder and the shadowy man stopped. His whole body was engulfed in shadows and Snowe couldn’t make out any of the details aside from the shadow’s face. His eyes glowed brightly and whenever he smiled or spoke, his mouth glowed.
“Really?” Snowe asked.
The shadow nodded and smiled again. He held out what Snowe guessed must have been his hand. “Just touch my hand and I can lift things.”
That would make it much easier, Snowe thought to himself. His father was always out and about lately and by the time Snowe would wake in the morning, his father would be already gone. He would only return after Snowe fell asleep for the night. Richard promised to tell Snowe’s father that Snowe wanted to see him, but either Richard kept forgetting or his father didn’t care.
“Is something wrong?” the shadowy man asked, suddenly kneeling in front of Snowe. The prince fell backwards in shock and the shadowy man frowned. “I’m sorry, I’ll stop doing that.”
“I’m all right,” Snowe said as he stood back up and dusted the snow from his pants. He held out his hand for the shadow. “You can help me if you want.”
He smiled another sharp toothed filled smile and put his hand into Snowe’s. An electric jolt ran through Snowe’s arm for a moment, but as soon as the shadowy man stood, the jolt disappeared. The shadowy man bent over and started to push around the ball of snow and Snowe had to run to catch up to him. He moved very quickly and in minutes, the ball of snow was just the right size for the snowman’s head.
“Wow, how did you do that so fast?” Snowe asked as the shadowy man pushed the head toward the base of the snowman.
“Magic,” the shadow replied and when Snowe snorted, he laughed.
“Really? That’s it?” Snowe asked.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” the shadow said. “Shall I give your snowman a head now?”
Snowe nodded and grinned. Perhaps the shadowy man wasn’t that bad after all. After Astra had left, Snowe hadn’t been able to talk to anyone; everyone was either too busy, or, in the case of the Magic Helpers and guards, were too dense for Snowe to have a good conversation with. The people in town were nice to talk to, but for days lately, Snowe found it too cold to walk down the path.
The shadowy man grabbed the snowman’s head and picked it up off the ground with no effort. After he shaped it a bit to be more spherical, he placed it on top of the snowman’s base and smiled at it.
“Do you have anything for its face? It needs one, right?” he asked and looked down at Snowe.
“Oh! I forgot!” Snowe said and groaned to himself. Of course he’d forget the most essential part. As he turned to go back to the castle, he realized the shadowy man had disappeared.
The prince jumped and turned; Richard was walking up to him, his cloak wrapped tightly around himself. His glasses fogged up as he approached Snowe, and he groaned.
“Your glasses always fog up, don’t they?” Snowe joked.
“I should really find a way to enchant them,” Richard remarked as he took off the glasses and rubbed their lenses against his cloak. After a quick glance to make sure they were fog-free, he slipped them back on and looked at Snowe. “I see you finished your snowman!”
“He doesn’t have a face,” Snowe pointed out.
Richard looked at it a moment and then slipped his hands into his pockets. He had to search quite a few in his cloak before he pulled out two rather large buttons.
“Why do you have large buttons in your pockets?” Snowe asked.
“The buttons on my cloak have been snapping off lately,” Richard said. “I was going to have one of the Magic Helpers fix it, but I think your snowman needs eyes at least.” He handed them to Snowe and when he noticed that Snowe was too short to position the buttons correctly, he grabbed Snowe around the waist and picked the little prince up. “Why did you have to make the base so big, you’re barely tall enough for it!”
“Snowman can’t be short!” Snowe said as he pushed the buttons into the face. “They have the guard the castle!”
“Aren’t the guards supposed to do that?” Richard asked.
“Snowman can help!” Snowe replied as though it was the most obvious fact in the world.
After a laugh and readjusting one of the buttons that Snowe had put on lopsided, Richard looked down at Snowe again. “How did you manage to get the head on the base?”
“Magic!” Snowe said as he grinned up at the adviser.
Richard considered Snowe a moment but he matched the prince’s grin nonetheless. “We should get you inside now,” he suggested. “You haven’t had your lunch yet, have you?”
“I was waiting for you to get back!” Snowe said. “So you don’t have to eat lunch alone!”
“Thank you, Snowe.” Richard placed the prince back on the ground and took his hand. After Snowe patted the snowman, Richard led him inside.
Like usual, Snowe had his lunch with Richard, and even his dinner. His mother was away and his father hadn’t returned from the previous night. Richard promised Snowe that what his father was doing was important and Snowe felt a tad lonely the rest of the day until he returned to his room. The shadowy man had returned and stood in front of Snowe once more.
“You came back!” Snowe said as he closed the door behind him.
“Of course I did,” the shadow replied. “Did you think I wouldn’t come back?”
“You did randomly disappear.”
“I don’t think that man would like me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s a hunch.” The shadowy man said and smiled. He knelt in front of Snowe and patted his head. “I won’t leave you, I promise.”
That’s all Snowe needed to hear; he grinned widely and took the shadowy man’s hand and pulled him over to his bookcase to show him the books Richard had found for him.
Over the next few days, Snowe didn’t feel the pit of loneliness in his stomach as he had felt before since Astra had left the castle. The shadowy man showed Snowe lots of secrets in the castle that Snowe wondered if Richard even knew about. He helped Snowe make another snowman and even took Snowe to the roof of the castle so Snowe could see the entire town. It looked magnificent from so high up. Aside from a few odd games the shadow delighted in playing, Snowe enjoyed his company. He didn’t mind being left alone in the castle at all now. Though, the shadowy man never appeared when Snowe’s parents or Richard or Vera were around. Guards took no notice of the shadowy man even when he walked right by them. Magic Helpers always seemed to watch him in the halls, but they never did anything. Word never got to Vera or Richard about Snowe’s new friend.
Weeks after the shadowy man first spoke, as Snowe returned to his room after his dinner with Richard and Vera, he found the shadow at his desk, reading a book that he didn’t recognize.
“You were born in the summer, weren’t you?” the shadowy man asked as he glanced over his shoulder.
“Yep, though you really can’t tell with all this snow on the ground,” Snowe replied as he closed the door.
The shadowy man stood from his desk and handed the book over to Snowe. Its cover was a dark red, a shining flame emblazoned in the middle, and the edges of the pages looked as though they had been burnt. One of the pages even crackled from Snowe’s touch.
“Where did you find this?” Snowe asked.
The shadow shrugged. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Since you were born in the summer, you can do fire magic. Did you know that?”
Snowe nodded and smiled. “I do!” he said. “My mother won’t teach me anything though… she said when I’m older she will.”
“But she doesn’t cast fire magic,” the shadow pointed out. “How can she teach you?”
“I don’t know,” Snowe replied. He had never given that much thought; he knew his mother could manipulate water and he had figured if she could do just a little magic, she’d know how to do it all.
“I can teach you, if you want,” the shadowy man said, another grin on his face.
Snowe looked at the book and back up to the shadowy man. He rubbed his neck with his free hand as it ached under the scarf he was wearing. “It’s not going to be like the one game we played is it? I couldn’t breathe the last time,” he said.
The shadowy man laughed. “I said I was sorry. I didn’t think it’d work,” he said. “I promise you, I won’t hurt you this time. You know, if you’d just let me, I could even get rid of the bruise.”
“Your magic is kind of scary,” Snowe remarked.
“Fine then,” the shadow said and rolled his eyes. “Your magic won’t be scary, I promise. Let me teach you!”
Snowe looked back at the book. He had wanted to learn for a while now. Even though his mother promised to teach him when he was older, his father outright refused, saying fire magic only brings about problems. Whenever Richard or Vera sat down to help, his parents would take them away to do something urgent. Richard had even tried teaching Snowe in the middle of the night, but Snowe would always fall asleep.
“You’d really teach me?” Snowe asked.
“It’d be a waste if I didn’t!” The shadowy man took a seat on the floor, cross legged and patted the spot in front of him. “Come on, sit. I’ll teach you.”
Snowe sat cross legged in front of the shadow, but the shadow shook his head.
“Not facing me,” he said and he put his arms on Snowe’s shoulders. He turned the prince around and pulled Snowe down on his lap. “There, now let’s see your arms…”
“Do I need the book?” Snowe asked.
“Not right now,” the shadow replied. He took the book and placed it on the floor next to Snowe before wrapped his long fingers around Snowe’s wrists. “You can read that later to learn what else you can do.”
The shadowy man’s touch sent a jolt through Snowe again, but he didn’t mind it so much now. It was as though his body was just realizing that the shadowy man was there. A sudden reminder he was whole and not just a mere shadow as he appeared. The jolt would only remain for a few seconds and then the shadow would feel like every other person.
As the shadowy man manipulated Snowe’s arms, the prince felt something surging from within. He had felt it once before, he recalled, when he was younger. He couldn’t remember it well, but he recalled afterward a guard had been walking around with his eyebrows singed off. Maybe that was magic, Snowe thought to himself. It felt warm inside of him and seemed to bubble at his chest.
“Think of fire,” the shadow whispered.
Snowe closed his eyes and tried to imagine a candle flame. The warmth flickered like a candle flame, so it made the most sense. When he had a good mental image of the flame, the shadow moved Snowe’s hands again and pressed the palms together. The flame surged in Snowe’s mind and the warmth spread out from his chest and flew into his arms. Suddenly, flames sparked in Snowe’s hands and as he snapped his eyes open, he found it charged upwards, swirling as it went. It looked amazing and Snowe stared at it in awe.
“That was easy!” The shadowy man laughed. “You have a knack for this, my prince!”
The flame grew so large it started to lick against the ceiling.
“I knew you had a lot of magic in you,” the shadow man added as he wrapped his arms around Snowe and gave him a hug. “Your parents are just so afraid of a simple flame, they were deliberately stunting your magic growth!”
The prince jumped and suddenly fell backwards. He had been leaning against the shadowy man, but since the shadow had disappeared, Snowe was left to fall to the floor. The flames kept sparking in his hand and as he fell back, it started to scorch the wall behind him. His mother rushed into the room and took hold of Snowe’s hands and pulled them apart. The flame died out and Snowe frowned. He didn’t dwell on his disappoint for long for his mother pulled Snowe up and gripped his shoulders. Her green eyes were wide and her hands shook.
“Who was that man?” she asked, visibly afraid.
“You saw him?”
“Of course I did!” his mother cried. “What was he doing with you?”
“He was teaching me fire magic since you and father won’t,” Snowe said.
“Where did he come from?”
“He started to show up after you took me to the path that leads to the Western Tower,” Snowe said as he felt his mother’s grip tighten on his shoulders. “W-what’s wrong?”
His mother’s eyes welled up with tears and she pulled her son into a hug. “Never ever speak to him again, do you understand me, Snowe?” she said.
“Who is he?” Snowe asked as he tried to pull himself out of his mother’s grip. She was starting to scare him; she had never looked so worried before. Like Snowe’s father, nothing seemed to phase her.
“Sweetheart, I will teach you magic tomorrow, just please, don’t talk to him ever again,” Snowe’s mother said as she pulled back from her son. She cupped his face in her hands. “Please.”
“I promise,” Snowe said and nodded quickly.
“I want you to go to sleep now, all right?”
“But I’m not tired!”
And suddenly, Snowe felt himself fall backwards. Perhaps he was tired. His mother caught him before he hit the floor and she helped get him into his bed. She didn’t bother helping him get into his nightclothes and before Snowe knew it, he fell into a deep slumber.
. . .
Lina covered her son in a thick blanket and kissed him on the forehead before she stood. She took a deep breath and returned to the hallway.
“Edgar!” Lina shouted, her voice so loud and shrill it scared the guard just down the hall.
“Your Majesty?” the guard said as he rushed up to her.
“Go back to where you were,” Lina snapped.
As the guard considered her a moment, and he looked dazed for a moment. Lina heard footsteps rush up the stairs and she left the guard stunned in his spot. Her husband rushed up the stairway and when he saw her, he leaned against the side of the stairwell and sighed heavily.
“Don’t do that to me!” Edgar said. “I thought you were in trouble!”
“He was talking to him, Edgar!”
Edgar raised an eyebrow and slowly walked toward his wife. “What?”
“That demon! He was touching Snowe!” Lina cried. “That spell failed!”
“No it didn’t, that king is still asleep at the tower. I checked,” Edgar stressed. He put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and rubbed them. “Calm down, Lina.”
“Then why was that demon touching Snowe? He just taught him how to cast a fire!” Lina shouted.
Edgar paled. “H-He what?”
“He can get out of Snowe’s dreams and touch him and teach him things!” Lina explained. “We can’t leave him to do that!”
Edgar pulled Lina into a hug and let out a deep breath. “We’ll be gone soon. We won’t have to worry.”
Lina pushed herself off Edgar and glared at him. “I’m not leaving Snowe to suffer like that!”
“What do you expect me to do?” Edgar snapped as he started to roll up his sleeve. His arms were covered in bandages and he unraveled it and showed Lina his arm; patches of his skin practically falling off as the blood came to the surface and threatened to run down his arm. “I don’t need to speed this up anymore! I’ve messed around with that demon long enough. Anymore and I’m liable to just crumble right here!”
“We can’t just leave him! What if he hurts Snowe?” Lina asked.
“Look, we have what we wanted, we don’t need to worry about that anymore.”
“He’s my son!”
“Lina, please!” Edgar redid the bandage and rolled his sleeve back down. “Pretty soon—”
“Stop saying ‘soon’. You know as well as I do we’re still here for a few more years,” Lina hissed. She ran a hand through her hair and glanced over her shoulder. Snowe’s door was closed and she was confident he was still knocked out. “I have an idea.”
Edgar stepped forward and grabbed Lina’s arm. “No, don’t you dare. We don’t need you to decay any faster,” he said.
Lina pulled her arm away from Edgar. “I don’t need your approval,” she replied.
Before Edgar could say or do anything else, Lina stepped out of his reach and nodded forward. Richard was behind her husband and Edgar turned and held his breath.
“I-Is something wrong?” Richard asked.
“No it’s not, Richard,” Edgar said after a moment. “We just—”
Lina took her chance and went back to her son’s room before Edgar could follow her. She closed the door behind her, hoping Richard kept Edgar’s attention for a while, and took a deep breath. She’d never entered her son’s dream before, but Edgar had. When they took the Original King’s paradise, they had gleaned a few of his powers from him. Entering dreams had been the one Edgar used the most. He made it look so easy and Lina was sure she could do it as well. As she approached her son’s bed, she made a mental note to herself; she had to convince Edgar to explain a few more things to Richard. She and Edgar had planned to be off the kingdom by now, but circumstances kept arising and she was starting to realize that the more they kept Richard in the dark, the more Snowe would suffer. If at all possible, she wanted to keep that to a minimum.
As she sat in Snowe’s bed, she took another deep breath and pressed her forehead against her son’s. She recalled the words her husband would mutter before he’d fall asleep. She repeated them to herself a few times before she felt her eyelids become heavy. Seconds after, she felt herself falling through Snowe’s bed and she opened her eyes wide.
She had begun to fall through an ocean of stars. It all moved so slowly and she could see shooting stars in the distance. As her descent continued, snow started to fall. Little flakes danced all around her, but they were warm when they touched her skin. It was peaceful and she almost regretted that she had allowed Edgar to enter Snowe’s dreams without her. He was keeping this a secret from her, she knew it. He hadn’t been that way when they first met; she wished he would go back to the man she had met years ago.
In minutes, she landed on the floor softly and as she lifted herself up, she found Snowe sleeping at her feet. She bent down and gave him a kiss on his forehead before she straightened up again. He was safe in here and that meant it wasn’t as bad as she had feared.
“Where are you?” Lina called out as she glanced around. All around her was darkness, stars twinkling in the distance. Snow wouldn’t accumulate around her and simply melted into the dark void underneath her feet.
“He is mine.”
Lina jumped and looked back at her son. His body was gone. She looked forward once again and found the demon in front of her, a sleeping Snowe tight in his arms.
“Why did you wait a year to make your move?” Lina asked.
“He ignored me for a year. Couldn’t do much as a result,” the demon replied. “Get out of here. He is mine now.”
“No he is not,” Lina replied as she took a step forward. She paused as the demon held her son closer. Dark bruises were all over her son’s neck and she took in a sharp breath. That was why he was wearing that scarf, she thought to herself. She took a deep breath to contain her anger and glared at the demon. “I never gave him over to you. You are sealed within him, there is a difference.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?” the demon shouted. “You tricked him into believing you, but I’m not stupid. He ignored me, you know? I told him you were just going to use him! Now your son is mine and I won’t let him go.”
“Yes you will.”
The queen closed her eyes and suddenly the demon screamed. She held out her arms and as she opened her eyes, she found her son peacefully floating toward her and the demon had a stake driven through his body. He began to try and pull himself off the stake, but every movement he made only made it worse. Blood slid down the stake and Lina took hold of her son and cradled him in her arms.
“What the hell did you do to me?!” the demon shrieked.
“You can’t move,” Lina said and placed her son on the floor. She straightened back up and dusted off her dress. The demon kept screaming, but she just smiled at him and walked up to him. He attempted to strike her, but she took hold of his wrist and held it up. Another stake shot through the sky and shot into his arm. Another shrill scream escaped from the demon and Lina held back a laugh.
“You can’t keep me here!” the demon said through gritted teeth. “I will get out!”
“Not as long as I am around you won’t,” Lina replied. “You are nothing but a scarecrow. Sent to scare everyone away. I am not going to run. You can’t hurt me,” she said.
“I can!” the demon shrieked. “I can burn everything to the ground! I will reach out and kill everyone you know and love! Mark my words!”
Lina laughed and shook her head. “You don’t scare me,” she said as she reached up and patted the demon’s cheek. “Reach out all you want, you can’t touch me anymore than you can touch your king.”
The demon screamed but Lina turned her back to him and walked back to her son. Snowe still slept soundly in his dream and she scooped him up. Fire started to blaze all around her in the dream, but she knew it couldn’t hurt her. The demon was trapped. Lina traced her fingers across Snowe’s bruised neck and hummed. Light danced out of her fingers and the bruise shined. Soon it began to disappear and Lina kept humming. The fires all around her reached into the sky and scorched the stars and the snow, but it couldn’t touch her son, just as long as she lived and remembered. She would make sure of it. He would be safe and so would she.
As she stepped forward, she felt her foot fall through the floor and she held onto her son tightly. Her descent into the dream meant she was waking and she closed her eyes.
Pain exploded from her stomach as she woke and she lurched forward, breathing heavy.
“Lina!” Edgar was at her side and he helped her sit up.
“See, wasn’t that hard,” Lina said through the pain. She paused as she saw Richard at her husband’s side and she gave him a weak smile. She felt blood pool against her stomach; she knew the skin was decaying there and she placed a hand on Edgar’s cheek. “We need to tell Richard,” she whispered.
“T-tell me what?” Richard asked.
Edgar watched Lina for a moment and looked down at her stomach. Her dress had stained through by now and Lina took a few deep breaths to try to calm herself. This had been happening to Edgar for months now, she could endure it just like he could.
“Edgar, what is going on? What haven’t you told me?” Richard asked, more alarmed than before.
“Richard, give us a moment,” Edgar whispered.
Lina looked back at Snowe and smiled at him. Like always, he slept soundly. Not a care in the world. She only wished she could be that blissful.