One fine morning the arrival of young knights had an entire marketplace spellbound by their friendly yet mystical presence. Among the Calvary were two brothers who were christened to watch over what was known as a peaceful city. Their names were Sir Linus, and his little brother — Marco. Sir Linus was a striking man with raven black tresses which framed his heart-shaped face with an expression that was eternally cross and spiritless. Marco, on the other hand, was blinded by his rose-gold beauty with flowing curls the color of rosewood and a complexion as smooth as fresh-water pearls. For if the sun could be a boy, he would be Marco, and if the moon were to be a man, he would be Sir Linus.
“Marco, if I may have a word with you in the parlor?” Sir Linus softly announced after a hearty supper in their fortress which overlooked both the modest prairie and the rooftops of the city.
“Certainly!” Marco felt incredibly honored to accompany his distant brother — he followed Sir Linus through the winding hallways to reach the candlelit parlor that opened out to an abundance of cork and olive trees planted around the stronghold. Even under the moonlight, the valley was rich with colors just like the folds of different tapestry in the marketplace. Sir Linus propped his hand against a pillar dividing the arches, taken aback by the view as Marco stood beside him. “There is a wraith after my soul, the whereabouts of a princess who used to rule over this hopeless city. The word is, she left after her mother’s passing; the girl had lost faith in everything, and she became unhinged.” Sir Linus mentioned over to Marco. “If you speak of her name, a mysterious wind comes around, and blows out any candles in its path to taunt the ones who summon her.”
Sir Linus indicated a delicate breeze that danced throughout the parlor, the air even combed through his smoky black tresses. “Over my lifeless body will I be a failure of any sort — should she take my life, I will bring this entire valley down with me!” He raised his voice as if he were addressing the obscure atmosphere. The current came to a sudden stop as Marco and Sir Linus stood still as stones in the complete darkness.
“Brother, you cannot be serious?” Marco twirled his hands between his wool scarf he kept tied around his neck. “Perhaps you must remember when Lord Adrian and Sir Florence had brush-ins with their own witches and wizards? They have since written to us of their stories; they were mindless to their successes and deserving of their shortcomings.” Instead of empathizing with Marco, Sir Linus just stood there with such clemency in his starless eyes.
Deep into the night, there was no such faith in sleep for Marco; he wandered aimlessly around the castle into the early hours of the morning. For Marco, he was convinced that some wise stray cat meandered into their stronghold and now it was stranded inside. He caught glimpses of a black and white striped tail sail across the patches of moonlight beneath the windows of the castle. Marco feverishly collapsed over the tiles of the kitchen floor with his dagger across his chest — he wasn’t too trusting after Sir Linus told him of supernatural entities. A sudden noise startled Marco awake to the sound of tiny paws scampering around the lofty clay oven.
“What a little nuisance!” Marco let out a joyful laugh after he discovered a tiny white kitten saunter along the polished tiles of the kitchen. “Is this your royal court, Little One? Do you honestly think such a tiny thing like yourself has the power to wander into any castle and rule the land as you wish?” He joked with the stray kitten who was the color of sun-bleached seashells with charcoal black bands around her willowy tail. The feline inherited an unusually long face with concave eyes, almost with a human’s stare.
Marco propped his elbow over his bent knee to get a better glimpse at the cat. “You’re not like the rest of them, aren’t you, Little One? Perhaps, you left your litter to find a better life? I completely understand you for your decisions, I truly do.” He drew an effortless sigh. “There are times where I even wonder if there are greater places out there for me where I can serve my own purpose?”
The cat carefully listened to Marco; she watched him return his dagger to the sheath sewn to his cotton trousers. “Now, how about a bowl of fresh milk for your long travels—“ As Marco rose from the floor, the cat lunged at him with all her strength. All the while, Marco felt as if his whole spirit was being wrung out of his body, or a sudden shift occur in his world.
The knight stumbled over all kinds of clay pots and brought down a ceramic sun over the chimney chase by its sunken smile. The sun was suspended with a bouquet of dried flowers and fresh bundles of wheat given as gifts. When Marco came to, he lifted his hands to feel the grooves of the sun’s rays wrap along his chin all the way up to his forehead. His fingers twirled his hair which now felt like wizened straw and withered up cornflowers; a couple crumbled up and fell apart along his stone cheeks. The most terrifying thing among anything was that he could not get his jaw to open, that alone, his teeth to separate so he could not speak.
“Funny how a cat keeps everything at peace — that is — until a dog comes into the picture.” The kitten transformed into a girl dressed in layers of Lapis Lazuli jewelry and a long woven cape with a pointed hood. Marco desperately tried to explain to the witch that he was not Sir Linus, but his innocent brother. He joined his hands together and fell to his knees, though his mouth was completely sealed shut.
“So long,” the girl snickered to herself. “Dare I must call you — a Nuisance?” She teased Marco before she knelt on the floor while her eyes grew bigger, her nose grew narrower, and her ears grew pointier. The witch, in her tiny kitten illusion, leapt out the open window above the clay oven. Marco rose from the floor and flinched at a fragment of sparkling light breaking through. It was already morning, and the sunlight was casting through the summits surrounding the mellow yet creaky husk of a castle.
“Marco, where in the world are you?” The voice of Sir Linus echoed throughout the open atrium, Sir Linus ambled down the spiral stairs leading into the kitchen. Marco was just quick enough to duck inside the hearth where he held copper pots and pans from rattling above his head. “Marco? You were supposed to let that cursed merchant through the front gates well before sunrise. We are expecting our new hunting dogs today!” Sir Linus announced at a near roar as he hurried by the hearth.
Marco curled himself into a ball to further hide behind the caldron, but the proximity of Sir Linus almost startled him. Marco carefully reached for a platter beneath his feet to study his strange reflection. He discovered what appeared to be a mask made of stone cover his face with painted stars and moons around his eyes. This was the culprit holding Marco’s entire jaw together, sealing his mouth shut. Nevertheless, he reminded himself of a mime — just like the ones in the main square Sir Linus usually banishes to the countryside.
“At ease, Madam!” Sir Linus dodged around the butcher block to make way for their housekeeper who was fixing the straps of her apron over the sleeves of her prairie dress. The housekeeper made her best attempt not to laugh at Sir Linus’ silly morning appearance; including a dusty nightshirt with his tresses tied up in a loose ponytail that did not serve his untamed case of bedhead.
“Takes a cursed man to know a cursed man,” The housekeeper pointed out to Sir Linus while she set a straw basket down beside her. “Not to mention, I hope you don’t mind that I let in this so called cursed merchant you were speaking of so boorishly?” The housekeeper motioned her hand to allow the elderly merchant to enter through the kitchen.
Marco willowed out of the hearth just enough to watch the old man covered in ungodly rags and scarves parade by. The merchant only relying on his untrusted cane leading the way forward. Marco’s eyes landed on the man and they widened to the sight of the new visitor; the merchant was nothing more outlandish than the last one to creep through the castle walls. For Marco, he could feel tiny fractures form along his eyelids, he recoiled back into the hearth before he could be seen.
Sir Linus scowled at the merchant for how much time he was taking to travel across the cold kitchen. The merchant was followed by a litter of playful canines nipping at his velvet slippers; they glanced up at him with their beady eyes and open mouths showcasing their incredibly sharp teeth. “Sire,” The merchant took Sir Linus’ hands and inspected his palms dutifully while the dogs circled around them. “Hmm? He appears to have a sensitive side that he hides behind all of his precious armor — he is an inner child who wishes to raise pet rabbits!” The merchant jokingly whispered over to the unimpressed housekeeper.
“Pardon me?” Sir Linus raised his voice, he tensed his shoulders before he glanced down at all of the merchant’s hounds. “You call these hunting dogs? They’re better off as homely companions than anything with dignity and meaning. How do you expect them to carry the necks of foxes in snouts like theirs?”
“You mean, ‘homey’, don’t you?” The merchant anxiously laughed.
“No,” Sir Linus flared his nostrils. “I am certain that I mean ‘homely’ — why did you even bother coming all this way to deliver living piles of branches and twigs?” Sir Linus maneuvered around the seemingly endless ocean of pointy-eared mutts. Shimmering coats of copper browns to cornflower blues, which made Sir Linus scratch his head since he has never seen dogs with such strong colors before. One of the most colorful of the mutts delved past Sir Linus and right into the heart of the dark hearth.
The canine caught ahold of Marco’s arm and hauled him out from the plumes of ash and cinders enveloping everything around them. “What in the Spires is that monstrosity? Is that thing even still alive?” Sir Linus cuffed his hand over his nose. Marco hung upside down with his arms over his head while he stared up at the ceiling, being as still as he could.
“Why, that’s where my scarecrow has been all this time! He must’ve been swept away by last night’s drafts! He is always off to somewhere else, never takes his eyes off the mountain tops, I can speak of that much.” The merchant gathered Marco’s body in his arms and lifted him from the hearth. This was all too bizarre for an elderly man who used an ancient cane to get around.
“Now there, Sorcerer Simmons, you are not going to tread all the way back to your home carrying that doll alone! Come along now!” The housekeeper caught ahold of the merchant’s arm. She lead him through the pack of dogs with Marco balancing over his shoulders. “Linus, be a dear, and heat up your almond soup over the stove? Certainly, you make yourself worth while when you look after a city like ours.” The housekeeper mentioned over to Sir Linus to cause a distraction.
“Isn’t anyone going to do anything about these outrageous mutts?” Sir Linus insisted as he lifted his ankles away from their snapping jaws — one of them managed to nip at his bare heel.
Marco tried to handle the inverted world around him; he carefully glanced back at Sir Linus through the kitchen door with all of the hunting dogs. They all resembled hanging formations in a cave while Sir Linus was the most prominent — a king of his own underworld full of wonderful mistakes.
The merchant, up close, had a doughy face and his unstable arms felt like they were made of hollow wood. Almost like an actor in a costume, Marco decide to lift his head to check if the housekeeper was still following behind them. “Stay still,” The merchant’s voice was now as clear as Marco’s or Sir Linus’ — he sounded like a young man himself.