Monday, August 24, 2009

The Cave Behind the Waterfall

This story is cowritten by me and my mom, Linda Handwerk. It's based on a bedtime story she told me when I was little.

I slept through my thirteenth birthday. For a week. I thought Jid was being abnormally nice, for a little brother, when he gave me a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice as a birthday morning treat. What I didn’t know was that it was laced with sandman root, which has the interesting property of putting anyone who drinks it to sleep for a fortnight.

My parents were livid, and issued a royal proclamation that sandman root was to be eliminated from the kingdom. Which worked, pretty much. The only place you can find it now is my childhood secret hideout.

My brother and I found the place when we were little and playing catch beneath the waterfall. We ran after the ball and discovered a hidden cave. It wasn’t as large as our palace, but it was larger than a cottage, and that was plenty large enough for us. The most amazing thing about the cave was that it was made entirely of multi-colored quartz crystals. It had a smoke hole near the top, and during the day I felt as if I was in a rainbow colored womb of light. Jid and I had lugged dozens of cushions and quilts in, I had a stash of my favorite books, and boxes of dried fruits and nuts. Even better, the other end of the cave opened into a passageway to a meadow that was accessible from nowhere else. It was full of beautiful wildflowers, including the huge yellow blooms of the sandman plant. A perfect setting for magic, then and now.

My brother doesn’t go there anymore. He thinks it’s childish, and prefers to spend his time in more adult pursuits. If only he knew the more adult pursuits I use the cave for now, with my boyfriend, Biame.

That’s where we were when the Plurgeans attacked. I should explain that our kingdom does not have much of a military. We never needed one. My parents co-rule a land that is rich in resources and has just the right amount of people. As far as kings and queens go they were generous and fair; they were loved.

The Plurgeans consigned them to the deepest, dankest, dungeon.

Jid was thrown into the river. This would have been a bad thing, had he not been a strong swimmer. As it was, he disappeared under the waterfall, and the Plurgeans assumed he was dead.

The first I knew of any of this was when Biame and I were interrupted by a squeal of disgust. I looked up to find Jid soaking wet at the entrance of the cave. “Get out here you pervert!” I shouted.

“Mali, you idiot, they’ve taken the kingdom!” Jid wailed.

I jumped up, then thought about it. This was my brother. The same brother who’d drugged me on my thirteenth birthday, told everyone that I was a foundling he discovered in the midden heap, and put pins in my crown on every formal occasion. Of course his story wouldn’t actually be true.

“Mali, if this was a joke, don’t you think he’d be threatening to tell your parents on us?” Biame said softly.

Jid heard, however. “I couldn’t tell our parents anything if I wanted to! They’re in the dungeon!”

I know my brother, and he was telling the truth. My heart stopped. I was ready to grab whatever I could find for a weapon and attack, but I wasn’t that stupid. We would only have one chance, and we couldn’t waste it on rashness.

We waited in fear for days, making plans and shooting them down. Finally, Biame said he would go out and gather information. He was the least recognizable of us, and after a few days without a change of clothes, he smelled like a peasant, albeit a hot one.

Biame’s face was grim when he returned. The situation was worse than we’d thought. Plurgeans had commandeered houses and farms, our people were in dungeons or enslaved, and the Plurgean leader was to be crowned king in two days. It seemed hopeless.

We continued to brainstorm. The Plurgeans were great warriors. Their only weakness was their fear of magic, but we didn’t have any so that was no help to us. There weren’t enough people in our entire kingdom to defeat the Plurgeans, even if they had been free. We had no powerful weapons, no close allies, no great magics. The thing we were best known for was our riverboats, and you can’t defeat an army with riverboats.

Suddenly, I started laughing. Jid glared at me. “Do you find something funny about all this? Or do you have some grand plan that can rescue us?”

“Actually, I do,” I smirked. “We’ll serve them thirteenth birthday cocktails at the coronation.”

“Yes!” Jid was enthusiastic. “You’re a genius, but I’ll deny it if anyone ever asks.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Biame.

We explained, and he stared incredulously at Jid. “I’m glad you’re not my brother.”

“Yet,” I murmured.

“But then what?” Biame reflected. “So what if they’re asleep, what can we do with them? There aren’t enough dungeons for all of them, even if we could drag them into place.”

“We’ll have to kill them,” Jid said, but he looked queasy at the prospect.

“Can we live with ourselves if we do?” Biame wondered. “I wish we could just wave a magic wand and have everything go back to the way it was.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “Why not?”

It took hours to brew enough sandman juice. We made it extra concentrated, so the Plurgeans would sleep for even longer than I had. The afternoon of the coronation, we disguised as servants, and managed to slip in among those in charge of the drinks. We added a little something extra to every keg of wine and ale. Then we crept back to the cave and waited.

The rest was, if not easy, at least straightforward. When we returned to the palace the next morning, every surface was covered in sleeping Plurgeans. We emptied the dungeons and slave pens, and told everyone our plan. My parents were proud of us. I decided it was a good moment to introduce them to Biame. Being parents, they didn’t know quite how devious Jid and I were, so they assumed Biame was the brilliant mastermind. I felt it wise to let them keep that notion, and started to make plans of how to bribe Jid.

With that many people, our scheme wasn’t impossible. We piled the sleeping Plurgeans onto the boats. It took almost two weeks to reach their land. We were worried that they would wake up, but our luck held.

We knew that if we shipped them back, they’d return; after all, our kingdom was easy game. But the Plurgeans are a superstitious people. It took another week, once we were back in Plurgea, to create the illusion. Not with magic, but by positioning the sleepers in little tableaus. We put them in their beds, positioned them around tables at feasts, and filled the marketplace. Of course, we didn’t let them off that easy. We filled the beds with the most unlikely of randomly put together couples, replaced the food and drink at the tables with worms and maggots and wineglasses filled with the contents of chamberpots, and replaced all the money in the marketplace with ashes.

We saved the best for their king, of course. We dressed him in his wife’s finest evening gown, and positioned him on his chamberpot. In the middle of the marketplace. The chamber pot, of course, was filled with pig’s blood and maggots.

They were still sleeping when we left. Of course, we never saw them again. I almost regret it. I really would have liked to have seen the king’s expression when he woke up.

There are rumors about the evil magicians that rule our kingdom. Biame and I aren’t magicians, and we’re not really evil. But at least our kingdom is safe.

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