* Part One *

Like most stories that find their way out into the real world, this tale begins in a magical place, far away as distance is measured, but a place as near as your modem and your imagination...

She was a pretty purple flower living alongside the only path that passed through the Enchanted Forest, and she was happy, or at the very least, content. The forest dwellers all loved Angelique because she was very good at what she did. Now, you might wonder who I am to make such a bold statement. Well, I am Fredo, King Albert's Official Chronicler, and all my observations are bound by fact -- plain, straightforward, unvarnished fact. And it is fact that she is very good at her craft because during the last tournament held in the Forty-fourth Year of Our Grace, King Albert and known far and wide as the Tourney of Seven, Angie won the highest honor in all the Seven Kingdoms. So, I hope that you will not quibble over every minuscule detail and that you will allow me to get on with this chronicle.

Angie was a Brightener, First Class, and she was responsible for an entire quarter of the Enchanted Forest. Now, you might well ask how a flower, who was rooted in one spot, could maintain the brightness of an entire quarter of the Enchanted Forest. Well, for momentous occasions (such as a summoning by our Good King Albert) her entire plot of ground could be detached and relocated if need be, and, of course, like any Royal Appointee, she had helpers. She also had three very dear friends who did much to promote her well being. I shall list them in alphabetical order. The first was Sunbeam, who visited on sunny days. Second was stout-hearted, well-meaning Sylvester Squirrel, and finally there was Tigger, the lovable bouncing tiger.

Every morning Sylvester Squirrel would stop by on his way to the nut factory where he worked as the Royal Manager. On this particular sunny morning he chatted with Angelique and Sunbeam about nuts and the weather while he deftly used his forepaws to dig around Angelique's roots so she wouldn't have to work so hard when she needed to grow. When Sylvester was finished, he waved goodbye and scampered off down the path toward the nut factory. But before Sylvester had gone ten feet, Tigger arrived, fresh from his morning bath in the nearby stream.

He stood in the sunlight near the edge of the path, a magnificent specimen of feline furriery (he had nice fur), even while dripping wet. He waited a polite half-moment for the girls to notice him before he shook off his excess bath water onto Angelique, who was perched just far enough off the path to get a refreshing sprinkle drink.

High above, the oak trees twittered their leaves back-and-forth in the breeze at Tigger as his re-cycled bathwater fell onto their exposed roots. Tigger's bath, and his generous distribution of the leftover water, were the topics of conversation nearly every morning among the big oak trees that surrounded Angie. Water and sunlight, sunlight and water were their favorite subjects. Of course, the big trees twittered among themselves about nearly everything that went on in the Enchanted Forest -- well, you would twitter too if you stood in one place all the time -- but they always parted their branches so Sunbeam could visit.

"What a splendid, gorgeous day my friends!" exclaimed Tigger. He lifted his right forepaw to wave to Sylvester who waved back as he disappeared behind the hillcrest. Tigger gave his tail a final quivering shake and sent a water droplet plopping into the soft dirt beside Angelique.

"Oh thank you, Tigger," smiled Angie. "You are so thoughtful. I was really parched." She glowed positively purple beside Sunbeam.

"Sylvester said sporadic sprinkles should start Sunday," said Sunbeam, showing off her es-sense. "That means I'll be able to visit for three more days before those huffy, puffy clouds block me out. You would think those grumbling fuss-budgets would just KNOW we're friends and let me through. But NO!"

Angelique perked up her pretty purple petals and pointed them toward Sunbeam. "Relax, SB," she soothed. "If the clouds didn't give us a drink every once in a while, there would be no Enchanted Forest."

"Well, that's still no reason for them to be so huffy-puffy," protested Sunbeam. "Tigger, what do YOU have to say about those snob-nobby clouds?"

"I say that I'm gonna be late for work. I've got Webcounter and Guest Book guard duty today, and you know how fussy the boss is. Love to stay and chat girls, but I gotta run. See ya! Bye!"

And just as the nut factory whistle blew, announcing the beginning of another workday, Tigger bounded off in the opposite direction, loping away with bouncing strides down the path toward the Enchanted Forest Gate, leaving Angelique and Sunbeam alone.

"Well, HE sure took off fast," said Sunbeam. "Did you notice? He never says ANYTHING bad about anyone!"

Ka-thump! Ka-thump! The loose dirt trembled around Angelique. Her roots shook. Her purple petals jiggled. A sound like distant thunder exploded from the direction of the nut factory.

"What's that?" cried Angie. Her eyes tremulously scanned the path toward the nut factory.

Ka-thump! Ka-thump! The thunder rumbled closer. The shaking increased with each new thump.

"Angie, don't you remember? Today is T-day, the day the mountain trolls begin repairing the path through the Enchanted Forest."

They watched in awe as two big, black, pointy ears rose above the nearby hilltop. Twelve more feet of ugly, coal-black troll followed the ears as the giant troll crested the hill. His long, hairy arms hung motionless at his sides, and his gnarled knuckles scraped the ground as he strode toward them.

Ka-thump! Ka-thump! The ground shook mightily with each troll footfall. Angie had to spread her roots to keep from falling.

In three large strides, the giant troll was upon them.

"Owww!" exclaimed the troll. He halted beside Angie and Sunbeam and rubbed his big, dark eyes with hairy knuckles. "Beauty hurt eyes!"

A swarm of black flies kept pace with the troll, circling his smooth, black head. Regularly, like fighter planes peeling off to attack, single flies would separate from the swarm and dive at the cut oozing black troll blood high up on his pointy right ear.

Flapping his ear like a batwing to keep the flies at bay, the troll covered his eyes with one huge hand and reached blindly with the other to pluck Angie from her pathside perch, but the big oak trees bent their stiff branches and pushed the troll backwards.

"Leave her alone!" shouted Sunbeam.

"Me boss!" exclaimed the troll, standing up straight. "She hazard. Too pretty. Must go!" He glared upward at the oaks who twittered back furiously. The flies continued their relentless assault on the troll's right ear.

"This is Angie's spot! She's NOT EVEN ON your road," shouted Sunbeam.

"Me fix!" snarled the troll as he grabbed the oak branches with his huge hands. His powerful arms heaved back-and-forth, then up-and-down. Sunbeam's leafy entrance disappeared along with Sunbeam. The troll released the branches, and the trees quickly pulled them back. Then he stepped off the path. The troll towered over Angie.

"Me fix," he repeated, planting a huge, bare troll foot on Angie's purple petals and mashing her into the dirt. "Now she ugly like me." He laughed, a deep, booming, shuddering sound, and strode off toward the Guest Entrance Gate.

The oak trees flailed in dismay, waving their branches back-and-forth, halting when Sunbeam reached Angie's side.

Fortunately, Sunbeam was certified, so she performed FPR (Flower Petal Resuscitation). Poor Angie! She was crumpled like a crushed paper cup, but at least she was alive.

After an exhausting stint at FPR, Sunbeam spoke. "I MUST send a grapevine message."

The eagerly listening green grapevines bent closer.

"Swiftly summon Sylvester Squirrel and Surgeon Sissy Swenson before Angie succumbs to shock," instructed Sunbeam, becoming excited and nearly scrambling her es-sense. "Tell Tigger too!"

Three green grapevines separated from the bunch and rapidly slithered away in three different directions, whispering softly as they slid. The oak trees twittered high above, their leaves rippling in expanding circles throughout the Enchanted Forest. On the ground Angie breathed shallowly, crushed in the soft dirt, one purple petal twisted grotesquely toward the sky.

* * *

The next morning, as a black fly buzzed his green ear and landed in his curly green beard, scuttling impudently along his green moustache and tickling his green upper lip, the Forest God Dio simultaneously opened his emerald green eyes and swatted himself in the nose with his big, green hand, but the fly managed to escape.

"Foul fly! Spawn of troll dung!" he swore, gingerly touching his nose with green thumb and forefinger.

Then with a mighty stretch and yawn high atop the Enchanted Forest's tallest silver oak tree, Dio sat up in his leafy bower and gently rubbed his green, bulbous nose. Now fully awake, he glanced over the edge of his tightly woven treetop platform at the forest floor far below. He dangled his oversized, green feet over the side, letting his green blood plump up his toes as he surveyed his forest kingdom.

Ever since Org, the Mountain God, had convinced Dio to use mountain trolls to make road repairs to repay an old debt, the Enchanted Forest had been plagued by the black flies that accompanied the trolls.

And on this particular morning, Dio was a peeved, bright green because his subjects would never alight near him without first obtaining his permission. These disrespectful, cantankerous troll-flies, however, not only lit, but they also bit, and Dio was not at all happy with the big lump he'd found on the tip of his already oversized nose when he awoke from yesterday's afternoon siesta.

Dio absentmindedly scratched the swelling nose bump while he silently weighed the merits of trolls.

As Dio scratched his nose, the fly returned and buzzed Dio's ear, angling for another nose shot. That did it! Debt or no debt, Org could take back his trolls....the sooner, the better.

Dio stood upright, towering green above his platform. Like the pesky fly, a feeling of unease nagged at the Forest God. Something was not right with his Enchanted Forest.

Dio quickly surveyed his domain. Three (of the four) corners sparkled brightly, smiling back at him. However, the fourth corner was dark -- not pitch-black, coal-sack, night-dark exactly, but there was no shine, no sparkle, not even the slimmest glimmer from Angelique's corner.

Dio crooked his green right forefinger, summoning Whishee, his personal zephyr, to carry his words to Angelique...

Whishee flew off, landing lightly on a fern beside Angelique.

"Fair Angelique. The morning awaits your smile. Did you perhaps oversleep?" she purred, releasing the Forest God's words with a swishing, swirling whisper. "Oh my goodness! WHAT happened to YOU?" Whishee gasped, unable to maintain her professional demeanor when she saw Angie's crumpled purple petal in a makeshift splint.

"Can't you see she's been grievously injured?" demanded Sunbeam. "Tell Master Dio that HIS trolls are responsible for THIS!"

"But....what? I..." hemmed Whishee.

"Just do it!" shouted Sunbeam.

Whishee quickly breezed back beside her green boss.

"Well, out with it, zephyr!" demanded Dio. "Why do you gaze at me with that blank, wispy expression? Speak up!"

"Angelique! The trolls..."


"The trolls hurt Angelique!" blurted Whishee, exhaling the words all at once with a loud whoosh.

Just then, the nose-lump that Dio had been scratching broke open with a sickening pop. Pus and sticky white fluid flowed freely from the festering green sore.

"By the gods..." he swore, tenderly touching his abundant proboscis as the white fluid turned to green goo and dribbled from his nose. "They shall PAY!" he shouted, raising his green fist toward the heavens.

A bolt of lightning crackled loudly, connecting the sky with Dio's extended fist. The buzzing fly that had been circling Dio's head quit buzzing and spiraled listlessly to the platform, landing dead at Dio's feet. The smell of ozone, sprinkled liberally with zap-fried fly, filled the thunder struck air as the clear skies swiftly clouded over.

"Pay!" shouted Dio, and as if on cue, the dark clouds above opened up with a deluge reminiscent of Noah and the Great Flood. "Pay!" he repeated, gingerly rubbing his fleshy nose with his other hand as water from the heavens cascaded around him, pummeling his platform and the Enchanted Forest. But as he stood there, fist raised to the heavens, not so much as a single water drop or splatter touched the green God of the Forest.

* * *

For three days and three nights the magic rain of Dio's wrath pelted the Enchanted Forest. On the fourth morning, as the skies turned from black to gray, a water-logged green grapevine slithered up the silver oak tree's trunk.

"Your Wrathfulness! Your Green Godship! Your Worshipful Holiness," hissed the bedraggled grapevine. "You must stop the rain. Your loyal subjects will drown!"

"The rain shall cease when it has completed its task. So be it!" commanded Dio, raising his green fist toward the darkened sky.

The rain immediately halted. The clouds parted, and the bright sun shone down, illuminating Dio and his Enchanted Forest. "The troll-flies shall be no more. Send word through the forest that I am to be informed if any cursed flies are found alive. Now, what news of my precious Angelique?"

Sunbeam, who had been waiting patiently for just the right moment, slid down a brightly colored rainbow, jumping off at the last possible moment to alight gently on Dio's broad shoulder. She bent close to Dio's ear. "The road trolls have left Angie crushed, and now YOUR rain has nearly drowned her. I MUST return to help my friend," she said.

"You may join your friend, but first you must tell me what happened. Why did the trolls harm Angelique?"

"THEIR leader said that she was beautiful and hurt his eyes, and that SHE was a road hazard, but Angie wasn't EVEN ON the road. You MUST punish the trolls!" exclaimed Sunbeam, flashing furiously.

"You may return to help Angelique, but remain until my agent arrives. Then tell him the entire tale."

"Who IS your agent THIS time?"

"I feel your pain for your injured friend, little one, but choose your words wisely. Do not forget to whom you speak lest your words cause YOU grief. My agent, as always, is Tamarik the Thracian -- he of the hot blood and smoky gray eyes. Speak freely to him. He shall be my eyes and ears to see that justice is done. Go now, little Sunbeam. Comfort Angelique."

Sunbeam didn't need a second invitation. Attaching herself to the nearest sunlit light shaft, she immediately shot skyward, disappearing in a silent flash.

Dio crooked his gnarled right forefinger, and Whishee appeared beside him.

"Your presence is requested immediately," said Dio. "Wrap my words and carry them to Tamarik at Castle Smoke. Use the magic banner in the castle library to return here." Whishee swished up, down and around gathering Dio's words, then she vanished in a swirl of silver zephyr dust.

* * *

"What was that again?" asked Tamarik the Thracian, halting his ticking clock and finally glancing up from the chess board. Long, unkempt gray hair poked out from beneath his lucky, pointed wizard's cap, and his bifocals balanced precariously far past the bridge of his long, aquiline nose as Tamarik turned inquisitive, smoky-gray colored eyes toward Whishee who patiently awaited a reply.

Across the chess board, Tamarik's opponent, Baron de Beaufort, stared blackly at Whishee and Tamarik. The Baron angrily motioned for silence while he searched upward for support from the three tournament judges, who quite literally oversaw the chess match, seated as they were at the railing on the stone balcony above.

White-haired Alfonso, tournament director and King Albert's Official Ambassador, made a note on his scorecard, then looked downward and gestured, waving his fingers as if politely shooing flies, for Baron de Beaufort to continue.

"I protest this illegal interruption!" shouted the Baron, indignantly standing and nearly upsetting the large chess board as he glared upward at the judges. "The Thracian has twisted tournament rules again. My concentration has been broken. I cannot continue. By the rules, you MUST disqualify my opponent and award me the match!"

"My dear Baron," soothed stately Alfonso, his voice echoing down from the balcony and reverberating throughout the stone-walled study below. "Tamarik has won all five games thus far. A nearly insurmountable lead. I have allowed this match to continue hoping that you might see the light and withdraw. You are surely outclassed here."

"Did he or did he not break the Rule of Silence?" demanded de Beaufort.

"Tamarik! What say you?" asked Alfonso.

"I say award the Baron his victory," smiled Tamarik, returning his attention to Whishee and turning his back on the proceedings.

"What?" cried all three judges simultaneously as they stood en masse and stared over the balcony railing at the aborted chess match below.

"Award me my victory. You heard the man," declared de Beaufort, casting a thin-lipped, closed-mouth, all-skin grin upward toward the balcony.

"What?" asked Whishee, again losing her professional demeanor.

"Dear Whishee, you do not want to know," replied Tamarik with his back still toward the chess board and de Beaufort. "Declaring victory will hardly matter."

"Wha....wait!" shouted the Baron. "You surrender too easily!" He reached across the table for Tamarik's arm. "I demand to know why!"

Before the Baron could touch him, Tamarik turned, cool eyes staring over gold-rimmed glasses. The Baron's outstretched hand halted as if turned to stone.

"All right, then," said Tamarik. "We shall adjourn and continue later."

Staring incredulously at Tamarik, the Baron spoke, "Why would I request a recess when you have already conceded my victory?"

"Suit yourself, Baron," replied Tamarik cooly. "I thought you might wish to save yourself from ridicule. But if you doubt me, proclaim your victory here and now."

Baron de Beaufort whirled to face his seconds. Neither would meet his gaze. He stared upward toward the balcony, but Alfonso's hand had conveniently moved to cover his mouth and lower jaw. The other judges fidgeted for a moment before looking away. De Beaufort spun on his heels to face the small group of seated spectators. The gallery whispered among themselves. Some hid their mouths with their hands and cast furtive glances in his direction, but no one looked directly at him.

The Baron threw up his hands. "Is there no justice?"

"Ah, justice," echoed Tamarik. "You have invoked my sacred master. I agree that you deserve compensation. Since the Rule of Silence has been broken by an emergency, I shall allow you to contemplate your next move using the entire period we are adjourned. Surely you shall be able to regain your concentration during that time. How say you?"

"Apparently I have no choice," replied the Baron, still trying vainly to catch a judge's eye, but no learned umpire would invoke the infield fly rule, let alone declare an automatic out, and only Tamarik's tangential smile openly greeted the Baron's questing gaze. As the air settled heavily into the cracks and crannies, the room grew silent. Finally, Baron de Beaufort spoke. "Director Alfonso! I request an adjournment until such time as we may proceed uninterrupted."

Had the Baron's tone been measured in degrees Fahrenheit, the next Ice Age would have commenced immediately on the spot, and the flash-frozen fruit set decorously below the balcony on the fireplace mantle would have shattered into icy shards at the first tremulous touch.

As de Beaufort strode from the study, his seconds scooped papers from the table and hurried after him. When the heavy wooden door slammed shut behind them, Tamarik winked at Alfonso who removed his hand from his mouth, revealing a broad ear-to-ear smirk. "You are fortunate Our Good King Albert finds you amusing," said Alfonso. "The Baron can be dangerous when he is angry. Have you ever considered allowing him to win just once?"

Tamarik shrugged his broad shoulders and raised one bushy eybrow. He gave Alfonso a mock salute before turning back to Whishee. "So, Master Dio needs me?" he asked. "I hope he's providing transportation this time. I am still repaying Alibar after borrowing his magic surf board for Dio's last errand. What now, Whishee?"

"Transportation is arranged," said Whishee. "The magic banner in the castle library has been activated, but we must hurry. Master Dio is angry. You KNOW what happens when he gets angry. He nearly drowned the entire Enchanted Forest when he destroyed the troll-flies simply because one bit his nose. And to top that, the mountain trolls have injured Angelique. I saw her myself. Dio needs YOU to quickly sort out this latest mess. Apparently godly jurisdictions also overlap. Please, we must return quickly."

"Angie's been hurt? Why didn't you say so sooner? Is she all right?" Tamarik tapped a loose floor tile twice with his right foot. "Brace yourself, Whishee. We're taking the shortcut."

The stone walls abruptly blurred. Whishee gasped and closed her eyes tight. When she opened them, the study had disappeared, and she floated beside Tamarik in the silent castle library. Red tapestries decorated the walls and hung from the lofty ceiling.

They were alone.

Across the stone floor at their feet a thick, furry, purple banner with strange white lettering blocked their forward progress. Beside them, to their left, a similarly textured red banner with black felt letters and symbols also lay flat on the floor.

"Careful, Whishee," warned Tamarik. "Don't touch either banner. We have a problem. I believe someone is intentionally hindering our progress. Perhaps this is why the Baron arrived a week early for his chess match." Tamarik produced a pouch and sprinkled a pinch of pink dust on the banners. "Hmmm. Apparently Master Dio isn't the only one activating magical banners. Both these banners are turned on. If we choose the wrong one, we probably won't get back in time. Did Dio tell you which banner to use?"

"No, but green is his favorite color," said Whishee.

"There is no....Oops, sorry Whishee. I forgot you're color blind. Wait a minute. I know another way." He turned abruptly toward a shadowy corner.

"Another way?" repeated Whishee, trepidation stealing into her voice.

"Yes, a circular corridor with doors leading to many different places and times. It's called a Webring. Now if I can just recall which door....Hurry! This way!" Tamarik guided Whishee to a shadowy trap door in the library floor.

When they arrived, Tamarik bent over and pulled the metal ring, and the musty wooden door swung open.

Beneath the open doorway, a faintly glowing, barely visible circular stairway disappeared into the stone depths, winding upon itself as it descended deeper beneath the stone floor.

"I hope you're not expecting ME to go down THERE!" cried Whishee. "You KNOW zephyrs all have claustrophobia. We fear closed-in places. Nosiree! I am NOT goin'!"

"What if I told you, that at the bottom of the stairway, there is a magic door leading to a big, airy, circular room with many more magic doors leading to wonderful, enchanted places?" coaxed Tamarik.

"You ain't gettin' DIS zephyr down no dark, smelly hole," protested Whishee, lapsing fully into her pre-Dio dialect. "Dis lady be steerin' clear of dem dark nooks and crannies. Ah knows too well what goes on in dem places."

"Well, I can't leave you here," said Tamarik. "I need you to deliver messages back-and-forth to Master Dio. You're going to have to close your eyes and trust me. I'll lead you through."

"De las man what ast me to trust him got me alone in one of dem crannies, an HE wuz up to no good. We zephyrs know ALL bout you hot-blooded Thracians. You ain gettin' me down no dark hole. An dats final!"

"Sorry Whishee," said Tamarik with a wan smile. "This is for your own good."

With a question on her lips, Whishee turned to face him. She barely noticed the pile of sparkling yellow powder that Tamarik held in his open hand before he quickly exhaled, blowing the dust into her face.

As she collapsed, Tamarik caught Whishee, cradling her in his strong arms. He carried her toward the dimly lit stairway. "Someone is trying to enchant us away from our destination," he explained, but Whishee never heard a word. She slept soundly with a big grin on her face as Tamarik the Thracian carried her gently down the glowing stone steps.

End of Part One

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