(This is the 14th part in a much larger tale, which begins here: PART ONE )
The morning birds sang Sigmund out of a very un-restful sleep. How many times would he wake to a new, strange setting? He was on land now; and this time his hands were not bound, which seemed to be the first indication of at least slightly more pleasant company than the last time. Around him were the rising trees of an ancient forest, carpeted at their feet by ferns and fauna. Was he alone?
The birds continued to call out, and the leaves of the trees and underbrush shook along with the wind, and then, a voice from behind.
He turned to the figure of a sole, strangely dressed man who was resting on a plain staff. His robes were dark, perhaps green or black, and quite well worn. (That’s not to say that he wore them well, but rather that they were well worn out.)
“I’ve been better before, so perhaps feeling better is possible, yes.” Sigmund was himself slightly confused, as a near drowning might do to a person.
“But you’re better than before, which was nearly dead!” The stranger chuckled half-heartedly. “The old man had an arrow in his side- he was worse than you.”
“Donovan’s alive?” Sigmund
“Oh, he’s alive as any man his age can be really. I suppose you’ve both learned not to tumble with the River Pirates- or at least invite them so readily onto your ship… sailing after dark!” He chuckled again.
“It was the foolish merchant that brought this upon us!”
“Foolish merchant!” this time the stranger’s chuckle burst into full, hearty laugher, “Falias! A foolish merchant!”
Sigmund’s face began to clearly show that he did not share the laughing man’s humor.
“May I see Donovan?” he interrupted, not entirely politely.
The stranger faded his laughter into a broad smile and indicated that the king should follow him.
“You can call me Felix, because I laugh!” he led the way through the trees and brush.
“Why must you always laugh?” Sigmund found it slightly difficult to keep up with the man, being so drained as it were from nearly drowning and fasting and such.
“Well perhaps because I’m happy, or perhaps because I’m a fool!” Felix began to chuckle again, which thoroughly dissuaded the king from pursuing further conversation.
It was some time before the guide stepped out into a clearing the size of a large sitting room. In the middle of the clearing were several tables burdened with all varieties of food and drink, which caused an uncomfortable gnawing inside the king’s belly.
Around the clearing’s circular rim were several small buildings that looked as if they had been grown right out from the very things of the forest itself instead of hacked about and strewn together like the architecture that Sigmund was used to.
It was, of course, a magical place, but he could not quite identify what made it so. And then, he heard a familiar voice:
“So young king, you have come out of this all quite fine.”
Sigmund felt no little bit of contempt at the sound of Falias’ speech- aside from being told that he was “quite fine”… what a pain that was to his self-pity.
“I am alive, Falias, and I see that you remain unharmed.”
“You’ll get over this all soon enough, my royal friend. Perhaps some food to help you recover your strength and a bit of your good-humor?”
Finding it difficult to respond impolitely for a thing that he strongly desired, Sigmund instead moved to the nearest table and began to take his fill without saying a word.
“Ha ha!” Felix took a seat on a large stool and watched the famished man at work. “He’ll soon be back to his usual, plump figure!”
Then, over the chopping of his teeth, Sigmund heard Donovan call out. He looked up from his culinary diversion to see Falias set the old man on a stool quite similar to Felix’s.
“How good it is to see you alive!” Sigmund ran to his friend, but then stopped at the stool unsure what was appropriate in this case- a grand hug, or a polite handshake? He shook the man’s hands and they both grinned.