Journey to Wizards' Keep began as "The Log." Sara began it after she finished reading "Lord of the Rings." She wrote a great deal of description about the land in which her fantasy would be set, but most of that detail had to be shortened or cut. Still, I thought our readers might enjoy seeing the very first, original chapter of our book. KC Cowan
By Sara Cole
Many years ago in a land long since forgotten, there lived people who were highly intelligent and sophisticated. They understood the principles of math and science better than they are understood now, yet they preferred a simpler life than this knowledge could give them.
Each man and woman did an honest day’s work and still had many leisure hours to spend with his or her family and friends. Social barriers were nearly non-existent. There were rulers, but they were just and kind. Occasionally a bad ruler would come to power, but the people could vote whether to keep a ruler or not, and at these times, a new king was chosen. Perhaps the only mistake this civilization ever made was to be too trusting. Unprecedented events were about to take place and their time of innocence was nearly at an end.
In a corner of this land was a country called “The Valley of William Etté.” William Etté was the son of a great king in a nearby country, but he unfortunately had an identical twin brother named Marion Etté. When their father died, there was a dispute as to which brother should rule. William grew tired of the argument and conceded to let his brother become king, if his brother would allow him to take whichever subjects would like to leave with him, to organize a new country. His brother agreed.
William Etté found a fertile valley, bordered on all sides by lush forests and mountains and decided this was where he and his subjects would put down roots. He was a king of good judgment and vision, and in the years to come the kingdom flourished.
In this country there lived a beautiful dark-haired maiden named Irene, the Princess of Cabbage. Cabbage was a small kingdom east of the Valley, but Irene was sent to live with a shoemaker and his family as a young girl. The shoemaker was a good friend of her father, the King, and when he died, her brother became ruler at the age of seventeen. He thought it best that a young girl have a steady family, so he sent her to the shoemaker in The Valley.
In this family was a girl her own age, known as Nan the Dancer. Although she was only ten, she had been studying dance since she was four and was already a favorite at the King’s court. Nan had flaming red, wavy hair and bright green eyes that seemed to be able to look into a person’s soul to see their innermost thoughts. She grew to be a great beauty and her hand had been asked for twenty times by her nineteenth birthday. Irene and Nan became the most faithful of friends and confided in one another exclusively. They procured many admiring glances whenever they went anywhere together and soon became the most sought-after maidens in the Valley of William Etté.
Nan’s skill as a dancer attracted the attention of a Duchess named Gene the Ewe. The Duchess had a troupe of dancers who were famous near and far, and when Nan was invited to join them, she accepted eagerly. The Duchess was known as the “Ewe,” because of her resemblance to a sheep. She was rather elderly and balding, and she insisted on wearing a white bouffant wig with copious curls, and with her fair skin and bright brown eyes, she looked rather sheep-like.
She was kind to Nan and made her a present of a gown of green velvet to match her eyes and a red under-skirt of red satin to match her hair. Nan lived in a large house with many other dancers. She learned much about the different dances of the time and excelled in all of them.
During this time, Irene stayed in the Valley of William Etté and spent her days practicing singing and creating tapestries. She also enjoyed going for long walks in the forest outside the wall of the city. Her brother sent word that she could return to Cabbage whenever she wished and take her rightful position as Princess, but she preferred to stay with the people she had grown to love in the Valley. Her only regret was her friend, Nan, was so far away and her visits were too infrequent. Two years prior Irene had taken some rooms of her own in a tower, since she was old enough to live alone. From there she could see the mountains in the distance on one side, and could see the forest on the other. Her tapestries were pictures of the view she had from her windows.
One day, late in spring, she was working on a tapestry of the forest when someone rang the bell outside her rooms. When she opened the door, Nan was standing there.
“Nan! You’ve come for a visit! Why didn’t you send word you were coming?” asked Irene.
“I didn’t know myself until today,” replied Nan. “I’m not just here on a visit, I’m home to stay. I’ve decided I’ve learned all I can at Gene’s court and I miss home, so there was nothing stopping me from leaving. I’ve been riding since daylight.”
“Are you sure you won’t want to go back? If you’d stayed there you could have become a famous dancer and traveled anywhere you pleased, I’m sure of it,” said Irene.
“I might have,” said Nan. “But I can travel whenever I want to now, and it’s more important to me to be with the family and friends I love. The King said I have an open invitation to dance at his court and just think of how impressed he’ll be now that I’ve learned so much more about dancing."
“You must be tired after your ride. Sit down and I’ll fix you some supper.”
“Oh, no,” said Nan. “I’m really quite full of energy. Why don’t we go for a walk together in the forest like we used to? We can have a long talk and take supper with us.”
“Well, if you’re sure you’re not tired, I’d like nothing better,” said Irene. “Oh, it’s so good to have you home! I’ve missed you greatly."
“I have missed you, too!” replied Nan
“If you don’t have anything else planned, you can move in here with me. There’s plenty of room, and the view is beautiful. It would be like it used to be when I lived with your family.”
“I was hoping you would have me!” laughed Nan. “I already am having my things sent here from the court of Gene the Ewe. They should arrive tomorrow.”
Irene packed a meal of bread, cheese and fruit and the two young women set out on foot for the forest. Many young, eligible men noted their passing as they walked with the basket of food between them, each with a hand on the handle. It was a perfect day for an outing. The air was mild and warm, and the sky, deep blue.
They walked to the top of the hill, which was in the center of a clearing, deep in the forest. On the hill was a solitary apple tree, filled with pink blossoms. The tree was inhabited by a pair of small canary-like birds, which warbled sweetly while Irene and Nan sat eating and talking. They reminisced about their youth and told one another stories about the things they had been doing for the last few years when they were apart. They also made plans for things they would like to do together in the future.
They were so busy talking that they quite forgot the time and didn’t realize it was twilight until the birds interrupted their conversation. The birds became very excited and sang loudly, hopping from branch to branch, flying a short distance away and then coming back to the tree. Their twittering and chirping became louder still and finally they took to the air together, circled the tree once and flew away, due east. Once they left, the forest seemed strangely quiet. There was no wind, and no other birds or animals of any kind could be heard. Nan and Irene both noticed this but didn’t say anything.
“We’d better go back to the castle. It’s getting dark,” said Irene
“Yes, I hadn’t noticed how late it was,” replied Nan.
They half ran, half walked back to the castle, anxious to get out of the silent forest. They barely spoke and they made their way along the paths leading to the front gate. As they looked up through the trees to the west, they thought they could see smoke approaching, but since it was nearly dark, it was hard to tell if it was smoke or grey clouds.
When they emerged from the forest, they saw that the castle was ready to do battle. The flags of the armies had been raised from the twin towers on either side of the gate and the drawbridge had been closed. Nan and Irene were able to see now that the smoke they had noticed earlier was coming from thousands of torches being carried by a massive army that stretched as far as they could see to the west. They ran to the drawbridge and stood in front of it.
“Please, let us in!” they screamed. “It is Nan the Dancer and Irene, the Princess of Cabbage!”
No one heard them; the armies were just inside the gate, listening to the general shout orders for the battle, which was soon to take place. Nan and Irene grabbed stones and sticks – anything they could get their hands on, and threw them at the drawbridge, hoping to make enough noise to attract someone’s attention. They looked toward the west and their efforts became even more frantic. The huge army was approaching quickly, some on horseback, some on foot. They would reach the castle within minutes.
At last, someone saw them from the watchtower. “Please, lower the drawbridge! It is Nan and Irene,” the girls shouted. The lieutenant who spotted them was a young, tall, blond man only a few years older than they. He had grown up in a house across the road from them.
“We can’t let the drawbridge down. It is secured,” he shouted back, looking at them piteously.
“Can you throw us a rope? We can scale the tower!” Nan said.
“You might not make it, and even if you did, you’d probably die within the walls. We’re no match for this army. They’re too large. Run! Go to your brother in Cabbage, Irene. It’s your only chance. Warn your brother! Tell him about the army!”
“But who are they?” asked Irene. “Where are they from?”
“We don’t know,” replied the lieutenant. “They sent a message by carrier pigeon; all it said was: ‘Be ready to fight an army larger than any you have ever seen, this evening at dusk.’ Don’t waste time. Go now! Stick to the back roads!”
“We can’t leave! My family!” cried Nan.
“We must!” yelled Irene as she grabbed Nan’s arm. “Look!”
The army was within half a mile of the city, close enough to see the generals and their separate battalions, and see the banners they carried. Nan and Irene ran back to the forest without looking back. They made their way around the south wall of the castle and up into the hills. Nan discarded the basket even though it had food in it they might need later. She threw it into the moat on the east side of the castle before they began scaling the craggy hills, which led to the mountains. Behind them they heard the eerie war chants of the massive army as it charged the castle. Screams of agony rose as the archers made their mark on both sides.
They ran on, tearing their dresses on broken limbs, scratching their hands and faces on undergrowth in their path. It seemed as if they had been running for days when they reached the top of the hill some miles from the castle.
“I can’t run anymore,” gasped Nan.
“Nor can I,” Irene whispered back.
From the top of the hill, the castle was in full view. It was hard to see anything in the dark, but they could hear a low thudding noise and could barely see a huge log being hoisted at the drawbridge by a hundred man. They had it on wheels, and were pushing against the gate again and again, trying to break it down. Four tall ladders had been pushed against the walls of the castle and the huge army was scaling them.
The Valley of William Etté’s army was doing its best to fend off the seemingly endless number of soldiers, but it was obvious it was a useless attempt. Some soldiers scaling the tower at the southwest corner finally gained entrance to the castle. The young men of the army reserve, some, Nan’s brothers, sprang forward to fend off the intruders but the soldiers they were fighting were experienced warriors and after a few minutes they had destroyed the army reserve.
The enormous battering log finally sent the drawbridge crashing in, and the huge army poured inside the gates. Irene and Nan looked away as they heard the clang of steel against steel and the screams of men as they died. The sky lit up as the army set fire to homes, and all seems havoc. The screams! Would they never end? After three hours had passed, Nan and Irene, who were huddled together in a group of fir trees, heard no more screams. They only heard an occasional whoop from a member of the victorious army.
Together, Nan and Irene went back to the top of the hill and looked down. The castle was charred and black in places, fires still burned in many buildings and there were bodies from both armies covering the streets. The only ones still standing seemed to be the cruel warriors, who were busy drinking wine from the castle’s store and picking the pockets of the dead, even of their own soldiers who had perished. The castle’s army had barely dented the huge number of soldiers they fought, although they had killed hundreds.
Nan and Irene stood in silence watching the scene below, too angry to cry. The home they had loved so much was gone forever.
“We must warn my brother,” said Irene, and the two started walking east, over the mountains towards Cabbage. It was midnight, but Nan and Irene knew they had to hurry, lest Cabbage be the army’s next victim.
They chose to follow a path too narrow and steep for the army to use. Shortly after they had started out, they came to a stream where they stopped to drink and attend to their scratched hands and faces. They tore pieces off their dresses and soaked it in the stream, since they had no way to transport water. As they sat next to the stream, they heard rustling in some nearby bushes. Thinking they might have been spotted and pursued by the soldiers from the huge army, they went for cover behind a dead log and found a fallen fir branch to cover themselves.
The rustling continued for a few minutes and finally they heard someone burst through the bushes. They could hear him, or was it two, walking towards the stream. Whoever it was sounded huge because one could hear every step he took as his feet landed heavily on the ground. The footsteps stopped and the two women heard noisy slurping as he drank from the stream. Nan peered slowly over the log and let out a yelp of surprise.
“It’s alright, it’s only a horse!” said Nan. Irene stood up, and there, only ten feet from them was a white stallion, wearing a coat of arms of the Valley’s finest regiment.
“Whoa, boy, whoa,” said Nan, as she slowly walked towards him. “We won’t hurt you.” She tentatively took the reins and the horse reared up with his eyes rolling. He whinnied with fear, but Nan held tight to the reins and began stroking him. The horse gradually settled down and meanwhile, Irene found some tender grass for him to eat.
“He must have run away during the fighting,” said Irene as she fed him.
“He looks as scared as we are,” said Nan.
“Do you think he’s calm enough to let us ride him?”
“We’ll find out.” And with that, Nan mounted him and Irene quickly climbed on back behind her.
By daybreak, Nan and Irene had almost reached the kingdom of Cabbage. The mountains were behind them and her brother’s province was only a few miles away at the river’s edge. As they neared the village, they could see the familiar houses and the landscape come into view and Irene realized just how much she had missed Cabbage in the past years. It would be interesting to see how well her brother had ruled as King. They raced toward the safety of the village at a gallop, although the horse was very tired. He would be fed, watered and rested as soon as they reached the palace.
Nan pulled back on the reins, to stop the horse. There was something wrong.
“Why did you stop, is there problem with the horse?” asked Irene.
“No,” replied Nan. “I hope I’m wrong, but…look at the house on the right, and the one just behind it. Some of the others, too.”
“No, not Cabbage, too!” exclaimed Irene. “They must have come here before they went to the valley. My brother!”
Nan kicked the horse gently and they started forward slowly. It looked as though the village was deserted. The streets were strewn with bodies of men, women and children. None of them even had weapons. It appeared that they had been attacked with no forewarning. Noting Irene’s reaction, Nan said, “Let’s leave their place. There’s nothing we can do.”
“No, there is a chance my brother is still alive. Let’s go to the palace and look.”
“But I don’t think…”
“Please, let’s just look.”
Nan kicked the horse and they galloped through the streets towards the palace. The two women tried not to look at the bodies lining the streets, but became increasingly sickened at the thought of so many innocent people being murdered.
When they reached the palace, there was a brown Cabbagian horse tethered to the post of the front gate. It was the first live thing they had seen since entering the village. Its coat was rough and uncurried and every blade of grass within circumference of its tether was gone.
“Maybe it is my brother’s horse. In fact, I’m sure it is; he always rode Cabbagians,” said Irene. “He’s probably inside the palace right now.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” said Nan. “It looks as though he’s been abandoned. It’s obvious he hasn’t been cared for in days.
“Maybe my brother is hurt and hasn’t been able to take care of him.” Irene jumped off the horse and ran through the gate and over the green lawn toward the modest forty-room palace.
“Irene, wait!” Nan took the stallion through the gate and trotted him over the curved road, which led to the front entrance. The two reached the front door at the same time and Irene paused as Nan tied the animal to a tree. The house was deathly silent as Irene ran from room to room of the palace she knew as a child. She found no one on the main floor and ascended the stairway to her brother’s bedchamber, with Nan close behind. There was no one in the room, but the bed looked as if it has been slept in and the king’s crown was on the floor.
Irene turned to Nan and said, “He’s here; I know it. I just remembered there is a secret panel behind the bed with a small room behind it. My father showed it to me once when I was small. He told me that if I were ever in any danger, to hide there and I would be safe. My brother is probably there now. All I have to do it push a lever under the bed and the panel between the bedposts will slide open.” Irene stooped down and reached under the bed and pressed the lever. “Help me,” she said, “it’s stuck.”
Nan crouched on the floor beside Irene and tried the lever, but it was too stiff. She grabbed a log from the fireplace and the two women pressed the log with their feet until the lever slowly moved forward. It clicked into position and the panel slid freely and from behind it came a huge bear of a man. Before Nan and Irene could speak he had grabbed them both by the arm.
“Surprised my darlins’? I bet it weren’t me ye was lookin’ fer,” he bellowed in a gruff voice. “Well, whoever it was ye wanted, I’m sure you’ll agree I’m a much better prize, eh?”
Nan struggled to get away and bit the beast’s wrist, but he only held her tighter.
“Did ye think ye’d be leavin’ now? He laughed. “Naw, I’ll be pleased if ye would consent te’ stay a while. The general might look on me more kindly if I was te’ bring him two prisoners, especially ones as pretty as these be. Yeah, a grave mistake I made when I deserted the army, but I might be forgiven if ye two kind ladyes wouldst help me out a bit. The general’s really a nice man once ye git to know ‘im, as I know ye will!”
Nan and Irene looked at each other in horror – what would happen to them now?