The following is not a stand-alone story OR a U & I chapter. This is a spinoff story from my webcomic, Something Stupid This Way Comes, and is set between the chapters Cut Off and The Trial of Nathan Todd. It is set roughly a week after the events in Cut Off.
The Magical Kingdom forest was green and cheerful, crowned by a cloudless blue sky. The mountain stood afar off, perched on the hills, towering above the capital with a silent grace. From the woods came the chatter of countless animals and birds, filling the air with their sweet calls. Sunlight filtered down through the trees, casting dappled patterns on the forest floors.
Harret’s little blue spaceship landed outside the Wildsom home, belly-flopping gracelessly into the terrain. There was a hiss of steam as the hatch swung open. Harret hopped out.
“We’re BAAAACK!” he yelled.
Frg came staggering out of the spaceship, laden in alien luggage. His entire upper half was hidden behind multicolored boxes. He teetered back and forth haphazardly.
The door to the Wildsom home opened, and Glirl stepped out. She was wearing her white uniform, the same shared by all the Glorpulons who had been under her late father’s command.
“Hi!” Glirl chirped, pattering up to them. Nessah appeared in the doorway, waving.
“We brought you your stuff!” Harret threw a paw towards Frg, just in time for Frg to go down with an explosion of boxes. Luggage rained around him.
“Oh… thank you,” Glirl said. She knelt in front of Frg, picking up a stray shirt that had gotten free. “<How is it going on Glorp?>”
“Some dude spotted us while we were going through your room,” Frg said. “Called us <traitors>.”
“<Traitors?!>” Glirl exclaimed.
“Maybe because of this,” Frg turned.
Frg’s rat-tail was gone, snipped cleanly from his head. All that remained was a clean boy’s haircut.
Glirl doubled back, gasping. Harret looked between her and Frg.
“<You cut your hair?!>” Glirl cried. “<Why? Did it hurt? Are you okay?>”
“Our hair’s not the same as yours,” Harret supplied. “Ours is dead, it doesn’t hurt to cut it. Unless you like, snip an ear off accidentally, I guess.”
Frg pulled himself to his feet. Glirl circled him, staring at his short hair.
“Well, see, after Glist got arrested, I started thinking,” Frg explained, spreading his hands. “I liked having long hair, but… maybe I liked it for the wrong reasons. I got caught up in the idea that long hair makes you better than other people. And that was wrong. So… I ditched the hair again.”
“Huh…” Glirl said, pondering. Finally, she wrapped her arms about Frg. “<It looks very nice.>”
Dinner arrived. Snow had to chase Frg and Harret off the property to get them to leave.
Glirl stepped into the dining room and was immediately hit by a wave of noise. Snow was on her feet, putting out fires figuratively and literally. Nessah came bustling out of the kitchen, wearing an apron and oven mitts. He placed a huge pot of soup in the middle of the table. The twins, Darian and Christopher, were running in circles around the table and giggling like maniacs. Ethan, the youngest, was crying loudly. Russell was punching Shak in the arm. Joan was making swans out of everyone’s napkins.
“Hello Glirl,” Nessah said. “Care for rabbit stew?”
“I’m tired of rabbit stew!” Russell complained. “We have it all the time.”
“I’m sure we could eat you instead,” Shak said quietly.
“What?!” Russell exclaimed. “You gonna eat me?!”
“Cook you over a spit and season you with pepper!” Shak said, grinning.
Nessah sat at the head of the table. The older children fell around him, by age. Shak was on his father’s right hand, and Russell on the left. Snow took the opposite end of the table, Ethan and the twins closest to her. Joan settled in comfortably in the middle.
Glirl finally sat down across from Joan. She glanced around. Despite everyone having food in front of them, none of them were touching it.
“Joan,” Nessah said, “Would you bless the food?”
“Okay, athair!” Joan chirped. Everyone bent their heads and folded their hands, even Ethan, though he wiggled. Glirl hesitantly copied them.
“Dear God,” Joan said, “Thank you for the soup, and my family, and that alien girl. I don’t remember her name, sorry! Thank you for my dolls and weapons. Please make the food fill our bellies and make us into good Kingdomish. Amen!”
Instantly, the noise returned as everyone plunged into their bowls. They ate ravenously. Glirl folded in on herself, looking around with wide eyes. Finally, she picked up her spoon and tried it.
“This is very good!” Glirl said.
“Why thank you,” Nessah beamed. “We were out of some ingredients, so I had to substitute, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.”
“Help me with my speaking,” Glirl gestured to the food. “The slurping out of the bowls. Is that always called ‘rabbit stew’?”
“Stew or soup,” Nessah said. “Rabbit is what went into the soup.”
“Oh. What’s a rabbit?”
There was a pause across the table. Shak and Russell exchanged a glance. Nessah looked to his wife for help. Snow signaled that this wasn’t her problem.
“You don’t know what a rabbit is?!” Darian exclaimed. Snow scolded him, but he kept going. “Big ears, hops around, eats carrots?”
“With horns?” Glirl asked.
“Horns…?” Snow ventured. “Rabbits don’t have horns.”
“Frg got me a… a gift,” Glirl said. “It has big ears and hops around. But it has horns. He called it ‘jackalope’.”
“Rabbits and jackalopes are completely different,” Shak said authoritatively. “We’re definitely not eating anything you would keep as a pet.”
After supper, everyone washed up and gathered in the family room. The family was quieter now, mellowed by the food. Nessah dragged a chair in from the dining room, putting it by the unlit fire. Snow sat on the couch, Ethan and Joan snuggling up to her. Glirl sat in the arm-chair, which was perpendicular to the couch. Russell leaned on the back of the couch, and Shak sat on the arm-rest. The twins rolled across the floor, wrestling.
Nessah produced a guitar. He strummed it once, then tuned it, then strummed it again. Glirl’s ear-stalks raised with interest.
“I had a dream last night,” Nessah said.
Shak rolled his eyes. “Joe Hill.”
“How dare!” Nessah pointed at him. “Let me lead up to it!”
“What’d you dream about?” Snow supplied.
“Thank you,” Nessah said. He fingered the guitar. “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me. Says I, but Joe, you’re ten years dead! I never died, said he… I never died, said he!”
He went to town on the guitar. The children clapped their hands rapidly, in time.
“The copper bosses killed ya Joe, they shot you Joe, says I. Takes more than bows to kill a man, says Joe, I didn’t die!” Nessah sang, strumming madly. “In the Second Kingdom, Joe, says I, him standing by my bed, they framed you on a murder charge! Says Joe, but I ain’t dead.”
They went through the whole song, the children supplying the chorus. Glirl sat with interest, not understanding parts of it, but enjoying it.
The family went through nearly ten songs. The sun sank below the hills, and the capital began to be cast into darkness.
“Alright,” Snow said finally, “One more, and then it’s nearly bedtime for you young folks.”
“Awww!” Christopher whined.
“My love,” Nessah said, extending his hand to his wife. “Why don’t you sing us something?”
“Yes!” one of the children shouted. The others joined in, chanting, “Sing! Sing! Sing!”
“Pick a long one,” said one whose bedtime was near.
“Okay, okay,” Snow said, smiling. She wrapped her arms around her children, pulling them into her bosom. She looked at Nessah.
“So fare thee well, my own true love…” Snow sang. “I’ll think of you night and day.”
Nessah smiled. He strummed the guitar gently, producing quiet, thoughtful notes. He swayed slowly back and forth, his foot tapping on the floor in time.
“Farewell to the capital,” Snow sang, “Goodbye to you, Kingdomish. No time to look back, facing the wind, fighting the waves.
“May heaven protect us all, from cold, hunger and angry squalls. Pray I won't be lost! Wind in the sails, carry me safe…
So fare thee well, my own true love
I'll think of you night and day.
A place in my mind you will surely find
Although I am so far away
And when I'm alone, far away from home
I'll think of the good times once more.
Until I can make it back someday here
To the Kingdomish shore.”
As Glirl listened to the song, her thoughts drifted away. She found herself back on her home planet, standing in the deserts of Glorpula. The rock formations rose up on all sides of her like giants, silent but reassuring. The stars twinkled in the inky sky above.
She saw her father, and ran to him. He caught her by the hands and twirled her about. She threw her arms around his neck and held him tightly.
Her attention snapped back into focus as the song ended. Nessah strummed his guitar a final time and then lowered it onto the floor.
“Alright,” he said, gesturing to the herd. “To bed with ye.”
“Awww!” chorused the little ones. Shak and Russell fist-bumped.
Snow set about the bedtime routines. As Nessah went to put his guitar away, he spied Glirl. Her hands were on her knees, and she was blinking in confusion, as though she’d just been woken from a dream.
She looked up. Their eyes met for a moment. Within her dark eyes was a deep sadness. She clasped her hands tightly, shifting her gaze to the floor. Nessah regarded her with pity.
Nessah shot a look at his oldest boys. They escorted themselves out quietly, leaving Nessah and Glirl alone in the room.
“Child…” Nessah strayed up to Glirl. He put his hand on her shoulder. She looked up. “If you need someone to be your father, let me know.”
He slung the guitar strap over his shoulder and walked off. She peered after him, and then cracked a small, gentle smile.
“So…” Glirl said, getting up. She wandered after Shak and Russell. “To sleep, now?”
She immediately found them. They were on the other side of the wall, listening in. Upon seeing her, they both jumped.
“What?” Shak asked, wide-eyed.
“Snow said it was time for bed,” Glirl said.
“Hah!” Russell grinned. “Not for us.” He looped his arm around Glirl’s shoulder. “You see, friend, we are members of the elite big kids.”
“We don’t have a bedtime,” Russell said proudly. “As long as we’re in our room by ten, our parents don’t care if we’re still up.”
“Oh!” Glirl said. “So what do you do to spend the time?”
“He draws,” Shak said, gesturing to his brother. “And I’m carving myself a new staff. You should come see.”
Shak and Russell shared a room in the spacious attic. There were no windows, so their light came from a few lit lanterns that were hung from the rafters. The ceiling sloped sharply down on both sides, in the shape of the roof. The room seemed to be divided evenly in half, each half with its own bed, footlocker, and dresser. Russell’s side of the room had art supplies, papers, and an easel. Shak’s had woodcarving supplies and wooden things he’d carved over the years.
The attic was a mess. Not because of dust or storage, but because of the explosion of boy’s clothes, which were strewn all over the floor, beds, and foot-lockers. Among the clothes were all manner of weaponry, ranging from swords, to axes, to bows, with everything in-between.
“Wow,” Glirl said.
“It’s not that bad up here,” Shak said. “It’s great in the winter because the heat rises up. Sucks in the summer though.”
Russell shut the door behind them. Glirl wandered in. She paused, eyeing a large halberd.
“Why do you have so many weapons?” Glirl asked.
“Everyone in this family owns at least one sword,” Shak said. “Except Ethan. He’ll get his when he turns five.”
“A wooden one,” Russell said. “He won’t get a real sword until fourteen. Hey, wanna see something cool?”
Shak paused, halfway across the room, holding an unfinished staff in his hands. “You don’t mean it, do you?”
Glirl looked between them with confusion. Russell eyed her.
“Can you keep a secret?” Russell asked. Glirl nodded nervously. Shak facepalmed.
Russell went up to the biggest clothing mound in the room. He threw the clothes away dramatically, revealing what it was hiding.
Under all the clothes was a small television, thick as an encyclopedia set. It had a tiny, green tinted screen, and a few buttons and dials. It was hooked to an equally small generator, wedged in the corner.
“What…?” Glirl asked.
“Frg and Harret smuggled this to us a little while ago,” Shak said. “Nobody else knows we have it.”
“And you can’t tell anyone, especially dad,” Russell said urgently. “He hates Earthian technology. I’m paraphrasing here, but he’s a thousand percent sure technology will bring DOOM on the Kingdomish.”
“Okay…” Glirl clasped her hands in front of her. “I won’t tell.”
Shak picked up one of the swords. He pried open a secret compartment on the hilt, and pulled out a remote.
“Do you want to watch something funny?” Shak asked casually. “Or… something violent?”
“Um…” Glirl said.
Russell suddenly sat forward. “Someone’s coming upstairs!”
He threw the clothes back over the television. Shak slid the remote up his sleeve. Russell grabbed a sketchbook and flipped it open to a random page. Shak picked up a dagger and cleaning cloth.
The door opened. They both looked up casually as Nessah peered in. Glirl stood in the middle of the floor, staring at Nessah blankly.
“Shak,” Nessah said, “Remember, we’re going hunting tomorrow morning, so don’t stay up too late.”
“Okay. Could you get me up like ten minutes before you want to leave?”
“Sure.” Nessah spotted Glirl, then frowned a little. “Also, I’m not comfortable with you having a girl in here.”
“Aw, what?” Russell whined. “Why?” Shak pulled a weird face.
“Because I am your father and you will obey me. Why don’t you come downstairs, Glirl?” Nessah took on a softer tone. “E… ah… the town lunatic will be by soon. You might enjoy her company?”
Glirl followed Nessah back downstairs. Nessah left the door open, much to his sons’ chagrin. Shak got up and closed it.
“‘The town lunatic’?!” Shak exclaimed, snorting loudly. “She’d kill him if she heard him say that! She’d kill him in the face!” He turned to his brother. “So… what’re your thoughts on all this?”
Russell flopped into his bed. “I’m glad I’m not ‘the weird one’ anymore.”
“Yeah… hard to one-up a purple alien, I guess.” Shak pulled the remote out again. Russell uncovered the television.
The morning came.
The Wildsom home was relatively quiet all morning. Nessah and Shak went out hunting in the wee hours of the day, returning home with a gigantic deer. Snow opened her clinic at eight o’ clock sharp. Nessah began to school the children at nine, teaching them their letters and numbers. Glirl joined in for the letters, to improve her English. Ten o’ clock was combat practice.
Glirl sat on the front steps, watching the Wildsom children beat each other with wooden swords. Joan seemed to be the main aggressor, and would attack anyone who got too close to her. The twins were flailing about, brand new to the art, and hit each other by sheer chance.
Nessah, Shak, and Russell were using real swords. All three wore protective gear. Nessah held a small, narrow blade. Shak had a claymore. Russell had a standard short sword.
“All right,” Nessah told them, “Quiz time. A huge ogre is coming in for a close-quarters attack. He has a mace. What do you do?”
“Fry him with my mage powers,” Shak said.
“He’s too close! There’s no time!”
“Block the mace,” Russell said, “Tangle it in my blade, then kick him!”
“Good!” Nessah lowered his visor. “Let’s practice.”
Nessah lunged at his sons, swinging his blade at Shak’s ankles. Shak jumped over it. Russell blocked it, his sword meeting Nessah’s with a clang.
Nessah twisted Russell’s blade out of his hands, knocking it onto the ground. Russell leapt back with a squeal. Nessah chased after him.
Shak jumped onto Nessah’s back. Nessah staggered forwards under his weight, dropping his sword.
“Let’s see,” Shak said, extending his index finger. A tiny flame appeared at the tip. “What kind of haircut would you like?”
Nessah reached behind him, gripped his son’s shirt, and flipped him head over heels. Shak bounced away with a yell.
“Decent one-liner,” Nessah said, brushing himself off. “Bad execution. You could’ve destroyed me, but instead you used those precious seconds to get snarky, and I gained the upper hand!”
“Wow Nessah, you’re such a great warrior, you took out two whole kids.”
Nessah whirled. Into the front yard came Rayon and Sara Hunter, arm-in-arm. Rayon had the faintest dark circles under his eyes, but held himself with his usual confidence. Sara was shaking her head at her husband’s quip.
“Well, well, well,” Nessah put his visor up. “Milady Sara, might we borrow your husband so I can properly teach my offspring how to destroy a man?”
“No,” Sara replied. “He’s here to visit Snow’s clinic. A follow-up appointment to make sure he’s properly recovered from Dorian’s poison. As for myself, I am here for tea.”
“Very well,” Nessah turned to his sons. Rayon and Sara went around the back of the house, where the entrance to Snow’s clinic was.
“Here is the next lesson, boys.” Nessah said, “When a lady tells you no, you respect her wishes. Especially in the case of powerful sorceresses.”
Glirl wandered into Snow’s clinic out of sheer curiosity. The clinic was a small structure built onto the side of the Wildsoms’ already large house. The interior was a soft yellow. Glirl wandered past the lobby, and down a hallway. Examination rooms were on all sides of her, separated by curtains. Glirl followed the sound of Snow’s voice to one of the rooms. It was easy- the place was almost deserted.
“This looks quite good,” Snow said. Glirl peeked into a room. Rayon sat on an examination table, shirtless, as Snow unwrapped the bandages around his torso. His wife stood by them nonchalantly. Snow was in a white lab coat, with a stethoscope around her neck.
“It looks awful,” Rayon said.
“That’s the scabbing. The gashes are healing wonderfully. Now, let me check your blood content for the poison.”
“Oh… right.” Rayon grimaced. “Sure.”
“Make a fist.”
Rayon did so. Snow wrapped a band tightly around his upper arm. She swabbed a spot on his arm, disinfecting it, and then primed a needle.
Rayon looked away, and when he did, he spotted Glirl. He smiled. “Hey!” he winced, then smiled again. “Wanna come in? And distract me?”
Glirl pattered in. Sara waved kindly to her. Snow didn’t look up.
“So you’re staying with the Wildsoms now?” Rayon asked. “How’s that going for you?”
“Good,” Glirl said, “They are very kind.”
Snow pulled the needle out, capped her sample, cleaned the spot of injection, and slapped a bandage on it.
“Done,” she said. Rayon exhaled. “That’s all, you’re free to go.”
“Sweet,” Rayon grabbed his shirt, throwing it on.
“Tea time?” Sara asked Snow. Snow grinned.
“You know it,” Snow said, “Let me change.”
Snow left, and Sara wandered after, chatting. Rayon hopped off the examination table.
“You’re probably feeling like a fish out of water,” Rayon told Glirl, as they walked out of the examination room. “But it’s not you! The Kingdomish are crazy.”
“I’m sorry?” Glirl asked.
“All the Kingdomish you meet are going to be proud,” Rayon said, “Proud of their roots, their songs, their combat… you’ll never meet a Kingdomish man who is ashamed of his people. Why would he be, they’re great! But there’s some things you need to know about the Kingdomish that they won’t tell you.”
Glirl stared at him blankly. “How… do you know?”
“I’m the only man in the world who’s proud NOT to be Kingdomish. I’m Heroicitian, through and through. And! I can out-fight and out-dance them, and they hate that.”
They emerged outside the clinic. Afar off, they could see Nessah and his sons flinging spears at each other.
“So, here’s what you need to know if you’re gonna survive in the capital,” Rayon said. “The first thing is, every couple months, they get attacked.”
“Attacked? By what?”
“It doesn’t really matter what. Ogres, barbarians, sky pirates, aliens, Christmas trees gone wrong… at this point, it could be anything. They usually hit the village, so if you lay low and don’t act aggressive they’ll probably just leave you alone.”
“Second, the music. The Kingdomish love music almost as much as they love tearing apart their enemies. You’re going to want to learn how to dance.” Rayon clicked his heels together, sashaying around a little. “And the words to the chorus of Mo Ghile Mear.”
“Mo Ghile Mear? Is that also English?”
“Nope! Gaelic. Or Irish? I always get the two mixed up. Don’t worry about it.” He tapped his chin, thinking. “Am I missing anything? Well, you’re already friends with Frg and Harret, so I guess you’re familiar with their rampant insanity. That’s the part of the capital that takes the longest to get used to.”
“Hey Rayon!” Nessah yelled. “Catch!”
Rayon snatched a spear out of the air. Glirl jumped back with a squeak. Rayon twirled it in his hand.
“Oh darn,” Nessah said. “He actually caught it.”
“And there’s a whole slew of stuff you don’t have to remember,” Rayon told Glirl, “Because you’re a sweet, kind, gentle girl. Emphasis on girl.”
Rayon threw the spear back. Nessah shouted.
“…If you take anything away from this, this, uh, ‘The Kingdomish According to Rayon’ speech I’m giving you,” Rayon spread his hands, “Know that the Kingdomish love their children very much. It is their most redeeming quality, and why I was so quick to ally my kingdom with them back in the day. The Kingdomish love kids more than anything else in the world.
“Listen to how Nessah speaks to you,” Rayon continued. “If he calls you ‘child’, ‘mo ghile mear’, or some variation on the two, know you are safe. Above all else, the capital is a haven for children, especially those who are lost and hurting. So…” he smiled. “By all means, make yourself at home.”
Silence fell. Rayon put his hands on his hips, gazing up into the sky. Glirl clasped her arm with the opposite, rocking back and forth on her heels. A gentle summer breeze swept down through the trees and caressed their cheeks, tossing their hair and clothing gently.
“’Course,” Rayon said, bringing her attention back to him. “If you ever get tired of the violent insanity and bagpipes you can come to Heroicits. Heck, you can come to Heroicits anytime, for any reason.”
“Okay, I will remember that,” Glirl smiled. “Thank you.”
Combat practice was winding down. Nessah removed his helmet, and swept his hand across his sweat-streaked forehead. Shak had his hands on his knees, panting. Russell was flat on the ground. The other children had already gone inside for lunch.
Glirl ventured up, carrying a tray of sandwiches and three tall glasses of water. She offered it to Nessah.
“Ah, sustenance,” Nessah grabbed one of the waters. He drank half of it, and poured the rest on his head.
“Fluffy Daddy Bear-“ Glirl began.
Nessah raised an eyebrow, grinning. “How did you learn that nickname?”
“Oh. I mean, Nessah…”
He chuckled. “Yes, that is me.”
“Could you teach me how to fight?”
“Haha!” Nessah beamed. He clapped her on the shoulder. “Mo ghile mear, it would be my absolute pleasure. But I must ask… you saw combat practice just now,” he gestured to his prostrate sons. “Why do you want to join?”
“Rayon told me,” she said, “that I have strong people behind me, in the capital, and in Heroicits. That is very nice and I love you all, very much. But I would also like to be strong enough to stand on my own.”
Nessah swept up a short sword, exchanging it for the tray of food Glirl was holding. She gripped the hilt tightly in her hands.
“You are already strong,” he said.