Now that the princess is able to talk, the king is a changed man. His cloud of depression has lifted, and he is in a perpetual good mood. “Thanks to the skill of my royal wizard,” the king announces to the court during dinner, “my daughter, Princess Lalia, has been offered in marriage to the young Prince Igor of Fallendale.”
The court cheers and raises their goblets. I lift mine, too, even though Prince Igor is barely old enough to grow facial hair and seems more interested in archery than women. But whatever, I guess.
After I’ve eaten, the king’s page seeks me out to deliver a message. I am to retrieve a bottle of His Majesty’s favorite wine from the cellar, then meet him in his chambers. So I wander down a steep set of stairs into a dimly lit cellar, whose stone walls are lined by racks and racks of wine and spirits. For a minute, I wonder if there’s any way for me to smuggle a bottle or two back to my own time, and if the wine would age well over hundreds of years. Then I am distracted by movement across the cellar.
One of the maids is standing in a large wooden tub, stomping grapes in her bare feet. I know, I know. That’s how it was done in those days. But I shudder to imagine someone’s smelly feet dancing around in my glass of wine.
“Uh…greetings,” I say, suddenly unable to remember the proper way to greet people in this century. Salutations? Hola? Wassup?
The maid gasps. “I did not hear you coming,” she says, her voice thick with the accent of the land. She climbs out of the grape slush, her bare feet stained deep purple, and drops into a low curtsy. “Wizard, sir.”
“It’s okay. No need to bow to —” I freeze. At that moment, the air blurs as the maid shifts, transforming to a familiar face. “Melissa!”
“Al?” Her face breaks into a grin. “Oh thank heavens! I was starting to fear that I’d be stuck in this hellhole forever.” She throws her arms around me. “Please tell me you’ve found Richard, so we can get out of here.”
I groan. “Not yet. I’ve been trying to focus on him with every person I come into contact with, including the king himself. But no sign of Richard.”
She snorts. “Richard, the king? Ha! That’d be the day.”
We chat for a few more minutes – turns out that life for a royal maid is not as much fun as a wizard’s life. Lots of manual scouring and chamber pot emptying. By candlelight. In a dress. Then I grab the bottle of wine she thrusts toward me, and I scurry off to the king’s chambers.
I’m expecting the king to discuss royal business – perhaps tell me to move in at court, or offer me another job to do. But to my surprise, he orders me to sit down and play a game of dominos with him and Jacko the Jester. As far as I can tell, the real Shadowhood has never played a game of dominos in his life. And the last time I’ve played was somewhere back in grade school, with a cheap, Star Wars themed set I’d gotten for Christmas then shoved into the back of a closet. But these dominoes are fancy, and probably carved from a real elephant’s tusk. Poor elephant.
Jacko and the king are really serious about their dominoes, slamming them down against the wooden table and letting out whoops of glee when one of them gets ahead. I try to mimic them, but get beaten easily three times in a row. What a newb.
And then, it happens. Just as we are beginning a fresh round, Richard appears, this time, wearing the clothes of the jester. I am so taken aback, I burst into a fit of coughing.
“Oh great – here comes the plague,” Richard jokes, in typical jester fashion. Then his eyes meet mine, and a look of understanding dawns on his face. Al? He mouths. I give a slight nod, relieved. We don’t say anything to tip off the king, instead focusing on the game, until at last the candles have burned down to a stub, and the wine bottle is empty.
The second we’ve exited the chambers, Richard and I go in search of the maid. When I tell her that Richard is the jester, her face drains of blood. “You have got to be kidding me,” she says, dismayed.
Richard waggles his eyebrows at her. “Whasss happenin’ hot stuff?” he says, voice slurring. Then he grabs her toward him and practically shoves his tongue down her throat.
Melissa grunts in protest, then shoves him away. “Ugh!” She wipes her mouth, then gives Richard an earful.
“Look guys,” I say. “I don’t want to break up a lovers’ spat…” Melissa glares at me. “…but we’ve got a search to do.”
It takes us most of the night, traipsing up and down corridors and staircases. Richard and I have an especially tough time, since we are both still off balance from all the wine we’d drunk. But at last, we find the Holy Grail – the dusty old telephone booth-slash-time and space machine.
“Know what guys?” Richard throws an arm around both Melissa’s and my neck. “I don’t know about you, but I had a blast this time. Do you know how much fun it is to be a jester?”
I have to smile – both at how plastered he is, and also because I get what he means. It was kind of cool being able to do real life magic spells, even if half the time, they ended in disaster. And when I really stop and think about it, it was also pretty fun being a kid again, and playing guitar in a rock band, and getting to play detective in the world’s creepiest town. Even though I am looking forward to getting my feet back on familiar soil, and sleeping in my own bed again, I’m starting to see that this adventuring stuff can be kind of fun.
Except when it’s not.
But I’ll save that for another story.