The story of Sir Festus, his daughter Millicent and the Fey Spirit Edna.
|Ext: It is night time, silent except for the occasional loon. A row boat hugs the shoreline as the two aboard use stealth to avoid detection. The dip of the the oars, rising and falling send droplets dripping into the placid waters. Kindred rows at the bench and Pandora faces him from the stern. A campfire flickers behind them, on the far bank, an occasional flame leaps from dull coals .
PANDORA: "Is is safe to breath?
KINDRED: " I think so."
PANDORA: "Tell me the tale of the Dark Witch.
KINDRED: Takes a deep breath and begins. "Once upon a time there was a perverse king named Midas. If anyone dared ask why the King was so hateful, he was likely to answer, "because I woke up feeling wicked."
PANDORA: "That's no answer."
KINDRED: "Those were his words, not mine." He delighted in inflicting the pain and misery of his own blighted existence on others. His SON decided one day that maybe if the King had a wife, he'd change his ways and cease acting like such an ogre.
PANDORA: "Women can sometimes make a big difference."
KINDRED: "So he asked the tax collector, a man named Squeeze, to keep an eye out for a likely candidate. Squeeze, reported back that he'd found the perfect match while visiting an outpost called Poor Man's Keep." EXCELLENT! commended Prince Stephen, "Go and tell the King the good news." Sylvester used the day of the Annual Financial Report. When the time came for his audience, Sylvester approached and took a knee. "How goes the reckoning, Squeeze?" inquired the King. Sylvester swallowed hard for despite his best efforts, the annual Tax Collection had not gone well. They were still twenty percent below last year and that record set a dismal all time low.
PANDORA: "I see the timing. Temper the bad news with some good."
KINDRED: EXACTLY... "Knowing that being again the bearer of bad tidings did not bode well, Sylvester fidgeted beneath the jaundiced eye of his sovereign. Cat got your tongue?" he asked? "SIRE, as wealth is commonly measured, in terms of GOLD and SILVER, what I have to report to you will not be welcomed," he felt the weight of a great dread.
PANDORA: "As he should have."
"What other measure is there," you sniveling incompetent?"
The King's insult washed over a calloused heart. In his profession sensitivity to insult, died in the crib. "Something I've discovered in the furtherest corner of the realm..., " he replied, "a commodity that transcends all value."
"You stumbled upon a diamond mine," quipped the King sarcharastically.
"Not exactly, my Liege."
"So TWINKLE-TOES do you intend to dance around the truth or have out with it?
"Don't answer that, let me guess... You've failed once again to achieve the low standard I set for you...." That's the naked truth you're heme-hawing to avoid. Isn't it?"
"Your perceptiveness is truly astonishing, Sire. The the Annual Reckoning hasn't gone well."
"And why is that? Go ahead, you sorry rascal, spit it out! "
Squeeze wrung his hands. This audience was not starting well.
"Go on, ahead, you shameless buffoon, it's time to blame your ineptitude on someone or something else... Anything but take personal responsibility."
The rebuke stung... and for a moment Sylvester was tempted to place the "Personal Responsibility" where it belonged, on the King's shoulders. Wisely he dismissed the impulse.
"Our Taxpayers are abandoning us, Sire. Each year the rolls keep dwindling. In the dead of night those who once paid are packing their bags and crossing the boarder."
"Indeed? So why is it that we're not tracking them down and bringing the ingrates back in chains?"
"Because they flee to the fertile Kingdom, my Lord, and King Percival, your avowed enemy, welcomes them with open arms."
The King paused as a flood of implications came to mind. "I'm beginning to see where this evasion of yours is heading, but humor me..."
"Obviously he'll see any such an incursion as a provocation and everyone knows he's always looking for an excuse to invade."
".... and that's my downfall," the King lamented, "You say powerful and threatening neighbors.... but I say its the fools I have for administrators. All my bureaucrats are infected with a bag full of excuses, and a never-ending plethora of reasons why it isn't their fault.
"The magistrates do what they can, my Lord, and in their vigilance, many of the slackers are appended, put to the test and go on to serve a long enlistment, in the Public Service."
"The deterrent does not appear to be working.... Still I wonder, why my subjects, are so willing to forsake everything, risk torture and venture off with only the shirts on their backs?"
Because under your rule what was once a nice place to live has become an absolute shit-hole.
"It makes no sense to me," Squeeze replied.
"So, since you've shared the bad news, now tell me more about this thing that "Transcends all Value?"
"I was hoping you'd allow me to elaborate."
"By all means continue," he said sarcastically.
"Just this week I visited Poor Knight Festus, a stalwart sentinel who commands a Keep on the edge of your kingdom. While there I was introduced to his daughter, Millicent, a young woman of great beauty... Words alone can do her no justice..., why just a glance at her robbed me of my breath. I immediately thought of how disconsolate you were with your wife's untimely passing and the lonely burden you must bear."
You know, since she hanged herself.
The evil king raised a wicked brow showing the jaundiced yellow around two lazy brown eyes. "Indeed it is Squeeze, a heavy burden indeed. Send for this girl that I may have a look at her."
So he did.
Sir Festus was master of Poor Man's Keep and vassal of the "Great" King Midas. The Keep was an isolated, far flung bastion, atop a ridge that extended deep into the lands known as the Fertile Kingdom. King Midus feared the ruler there and hence had the Keep raised to give him warning should his rich neighbor demonstrate any hostile intentions. Finding someone to take charged of this dreary outpost had been no easy task and in the end the King knighted a Man at Arms, Festus who agreed to serve as Captain. It was easy duty as there were few outsiders who wanted any part of King Midas. Strangers steered clear and occasional trespassers, who lost their bearings were detained by mounted patrols and sent to the Capitol. There they were interrogated, ransomed or drafted into public service. The Fortress where the court resided, was named Palace Magnifico which was a bit of a missnomer. It was hardly a Palace, and if it had ever known grandeur, those days were long past.
The local inhabitants were those who had no other choice but reside in the realm and tended to lead sparse and dismal lives. The dream of those who could manage it, was to get as far away as possible and many of the King's younger subjects snuck off to make a new life in the Fertile Kingdom. Those stuck with staying went to great lengths to steer clear of King Midas and only grudgingly acknowledged his authority by paying as little in taxes as possibly.
Poor Man's Keep was everything the name implied. It was an austere garrison. Surrounding it was an earthen foundation atop of which stood a barricade of felled trees. These were erected in a circular fashion, by public works "volunteers." In the center was a stone tower. Around the base were the stables, barracks, and common hall. The captain conducted his business inside the tower on the first floor. The second level was a store room and the third his private chambers.
In the third year of his command, Sir Festus was surprised one morning when his sergeant brought a young Fey woman into his presence. She had a newborn and sought employment as a housekeeper and cook. Fetus said he would give her a trial and was delighted with how well the arrangement turned out. The food in the dining hall improved immediately, the interior walls were cleaned of soot, his clothes were mended and washed, bed made and even curtains appeared in windows.
Her name was Edna and Festus extended a welcoming hand, inviting the the tiny woman with furtive eyes to stay with her daughter, as long as she wanted.
"Thank you Sir Festus" she replied, "but the child is not my daughter. I'm but her Godmother... I found her in a basket."
"What's her name?" asked the Knight.
"She has none. If you'd consider becoming her Godfather, I'll give you the honor."
Fetus looked into the basket at the infant. "I might be amenable to that, but this is a weighty matter, one we should discuss further before making any hasty decisions."
"What sort of discussion do you have in mind?"
Sir Festus had been eying Edna, and revealed his ulterior motive.
"Since you suggest becoming the child's "Parents" perhaps we should consummate our agreement with a token."
"A token My Dear, of the flesh." He gestured towards the bed. "It's time for us to get better acquainted."
"Yes my Lord. " She curtsied, walked over to the bed and undressed.
He kicked aside his boots and took his pants off. "My mother's name was Millicent. That would seem a good choice for the girl." He faced about.
Edna reclined on the mattress and opened herself. "Millicent's a lovely name." The following Spring she bore him a daughter, Cynthia.
And so it was that the orphan, Millicent, was raised by knight Festus and his drudge, Edna. Soon the talk was forgotten, and Millicent grew into a beautiful young woman.
She loved the Keep, the kitchen smells, the bustle of daily activity. To others it was a sentence, but to her it was a place filled with wonder and delight. She knew everybody by name and despite the enforced servitude, it was not as dismal a place as it might have been. Sir Festus, knew the ways of men and while he maintained a strict discipline and order, he saw too that the needs of the garrison were met. He had a sense for the importance of a man's dignity, the their need for fellowship. The common kitchen and dining hall served as a tavern at night, and a small brewery insured that everyone retired with in good spirits before returning to a clean barracks and warm bed.
Millicent had the run of the place growing up and everyone benefited by her ubiquitous presence. She brought a little joy to an otherwise repressive and gloomy existence. One of those incarcerated was a defrocked priest. Friar Cook took an interest and saw she learned her letters. Since her father and mother were illiterate this knowledge and skill oft' came in handy and Millicent was frequently asked to read and write missives of various sorts in communicating with the outside world.
Edna provided a much different type of education. She was a Fey Elf. For those who are unfamiliar with Fey Elves, allow me to elaborate. As the days of the Elves were drawing to an end the burden of those remaining weighed heavily upon their shoulders. Life had taken many forms on Earth but all living things shared one characteristic in common. This was that the vessel containing their life force was crafted from the elements. Into this vessel flowed the power of the sun, which was extruded through a filament in a manner allowing a spirit to energize, manifest itself and become the caretaker of the vessel. The cold dark Elements did not welcome being used in this manner, seeing it as a role they were never meant to play. So dissatisfied did they become that they resolved to work tirelessly to return life to the dust from whence it came. In the end this evil purpose always succeeded by not before a new generation took hold. So, for all life there was this continuing struggle to survive in the face of an unrelenting and unmitigated evil. The burden that weighed heavily on the Elves was a fear that intelligent life would cease one day before a new generation was set in place.
With the coming of Man, the Elves saw an opportunity to hand off husbandry to a new caretaker. The Fey Elves remained behind to insure the transition was successful. Their mission was to insure that Good kept Evil at bay and prevented the extinction of mankind. This was no easy task.
The Elves had technologies that could express themselves in ways not transparent to the eye. To the men who first saw the inexplicable effects the operative word was "Magic." Edna taught Millicent about many things and Magic was one of them. This technology was put in motion by "Sound Resonance" and expressed itself in a visual output. Hence certain Key Words and gestures could bring it into play. It was not necessary for a practitioner to understand the underlying process, only the words and gestures were required to set it into motion. The conduit from whence the magic flowed emanated from those who possessed the "Gift" and were trained in its use. Millicent was, without realizing it, a Dark Witch and the power of her gift could only be described as considerable. It derived from a commingling, many generations earlier, when elves commonly joined with humans and bore offspring. So, as a virgin, Millicent's potential was inactive and she had to be trained in its use.
As soon as Millicent could walk, her Fairy God Mother took her on "Adventures" which were long walks in the country side. The purpose of these walks was ostensibly to learn about Nature. Here she received a general education on the spirituality life, and also the Pharmacology offered by the flora and fauna. Part of this was about animals and other living things and another, about the medicinal properties offered by certain plants. There was no magic here, only how to take advantage of the many and diverse opportunities that nature provided. To be so instructed by an Elven master was an opportunity few humans ever received. Thus, Millicent learned all about plants and herbs, where they might be found and how they might be used as ointments and liniments to ease the suffering of men. When they would return to the Keep Edna showed her daughter, how to process the harvest and turn it into useful medicines. The young girl had abundant opportunities to practice this knowledge in treating maladies, dressing wounds, and serving the medical needs of her community.
There was however a deeper purpose for these excursions. This was to give Edna an opportunity to train Millicent in the use of magic. For this the young girl made vicarious use of the Fey Elf's powers as a substitute for those which still laid dormant inside. This included the use of spells which made things illusionary and transformative, as well has enhancements that made the ordinary appear in ways otherwise unimaginable. Even though the young girl was quite adept and possessed a remarkable talent, learning these skills was no easy task and required hours of hard practice. By the time Millicent reached the age of eighteen she was an able practitioner. One day, shortly after menses, the time came for a conversation that all Mothers and daughters should have. They were ambling alone next to a meandering brook, beneath the branches of a stand of ancient oaks, when the subject presented itself.
"You have long since reached an age for childbearing."
"Please Mother, I thought we'd discussed this already."
"There's an aspect you're less familiar with."
"And what might that be?"
"As I've oft' instructed you in Magic, has it ever occurred why the power we use is my aura and not yours?"
"How could I fail but notice?"
"Have you also noticed that you are not exactly ordinary?".
"There aren't many girls here to compare with... just you, me and Cindy."
"Then you'll have to take my word for it, you're not ordinary, EXTRAORDINARY is a better word.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because you're a Dark Witch?
"And when will this aura open for me to use as it does for you."
"When you cease to be a virgin. "
"That sounds simple enough."
"It is not so much the power but the way you use it that's important."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"See you do."
"Are you a Dark witch too, Mother?"
I'm not your earthly MOTHER, nor a DARK WITCH for that matter. I'm a Fey Elf."
"And what exactly is a Dark Witch?"
"A throw-back my dear, more Elf than human but Elven to the core and full of the elemental darkness your forebears found so disconcerting."
"Then who are my real parents?"
"Your mother Tanya, was a gentle spirit of human origin. Her mother Stella, was born out of wedlock. She had a visage pleasing to the eyes of men."
"I'm surprised you're opening up... I've been waiting forever to hear about it."
"I don't know much, picked it up mostly in bits and scraps."
"Don't stop now!"
"Your grandma danced with a wood elf and got pregnant. That's where your mother, Stella came in."
"And my father?"
"His name that fouls my tongue... King Midas, a younger version of the one we know today."
"king Midas is my father?"
"Sorry to be the bearer of sad tidings."
"Am I evil like him or gentle like my mother?"
"You're nothing like either. We all harbor evil to some extent or the other, however, we're endowed with the means to rule it, through our will and the choices we make."
"Hmmmm, I think you're right. I do oft' experience dark thoughts, but I brush them aside since there is so much joy and hope in the world around me."
"See that you master those dark thoughts of yours and never surrender your powers to the dominion of evil."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because you've received an evil summons."
"It awaits me at the Keep?"
"A messenger of the King has just now delivered it."
"We must hasten back. I'd like to hear more."
"Not so fast. Have you given thought to what this implies?"
"I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities, what do you suggest?"
"Flee to the Fertile Kingdom, while there's yet time."
"And leave you and Sir Festus?" Forget that.
"I was afraid you'd say that."
"Does the king know I'm his daughter?"
"NO, at least not yet. Though, I doubt it makes much difference."
"You think I might be mistreated, or worse?"
"I'm convinced of it."
"Douse my heart with cold water. Dash my hopes and dreams."
"I hate being the bearer of sad tidings."
"How about a loving husband, a good man to rule fairly."
"Unfortunately there's a wide gulf between your expectations and the reality that awaits you."
"King Midas is old and ugly, with a perversity worse than anything you've ever imagined."
"I'm capable of imagining a lot. Why such foreboding and gloom?"
"Because you're a Dark Witch, my dear, and dark is the world you were born to rule."
"Is there no dawn to chase away the night?"
"Don't despair, Life has its rewards, and if you're determined to go through with this.
"And what might those be?"
"To ever appreciate the love of a good man you must first suffer a bad one."