Once in a Blue Moon [The Books of Retslu III]
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by Joe Vadalma
Category: Dark Fantasy/Fantasy
Description: On Friday the thirteenth in the dead of winter, somewhere in Vamipirevania Pim, a beautiful woman, chains up her werewolf lover in anticipation of the full moon. When the orb rises blue and later turns to blood, her lover disappears. In addition, the castle of her vampire friend, Count Gorblud, is burned to the ground. She consults a gypsy fortune teller and is told to locate her long-lost sibling whom she will know by a dragon-shaped birthmark. She journeys to the Kingdom of Retslu to ask the sorcerer, Mordrake, to use his magical crystal, but becomes lost in his labyrinthine castle. So starts a tale that takes place in Retslu, a fantasy land in the tradition of Oz or Xanth, with humor, satire, love and adventure. Some of the many quirky characters include: Pim, the lovely gypsy girl in love with a beast; Mordrake, the sorcerer who wants King Skeemer to stop bugging him about the ultimate magical weapon; Doctor Nemesis, the evil scientist who turns the moon blue and forgets to change it back; the youthful King Black Pawn who worries that his mother will make him marry a haughty noblewoman; the sinister Gnorduc who wipes the mind of the king's father returned from exile; Hokum, an illusionist pretending to be a real sorcerer; Lord Noise and Clank, a bumbling dragon-fighter and his metal assistant; and many more. In addition, there is a castle whose labyrinth passages trap anyone who enters it, an enormous crystal ball that broadcasts the news of the future, a war fought with wooden soldiers, a magical painting that transports people to the lair of the ferocious red dragon, and other monsters, magic and mayhem.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [307 KB]
Reading time: 190-266 min.
CHAPTER 1. BLUE MOON
Friday, the thirteenth of January, was bitter cold in the rugged hill country of Vampirevania. Deep in the woods Pim, a woman known and admired far and wide for her beauty, trudged along a narrow path accompanied by her lover and companion, Terence Lalbert. Terry was not as handsome as Pim was beautiful. Nonetheless, with his dark beard, he was good looking in a rugged masculine way. His melancholy expression testified to a great tragedy in his life. As the couple pulled a hand-drawn sleigh of firewood down a narrow forest trail, each puff of frigid air shook small blizzards from snow-laden firs and spruce upon their heads and shoulders. In the icy air, every breath was needles in their lungs. Except for the crunch of snow beneath their feet and the sighing breeze, the forest was silent. They hurried. Soon the pale winter sun would disappear behind the mountains, making the thick forest a place of utter darkness and frigidity.
To Pim, her good looks were a mixed blessing. At times she was embarrassed by them. Whenever she entered a room, every head turned, and every man present let out an involuntary and spontaneous sigh. Her waist was slim, her hips full and her legs long. Her heavy cloak did not hide her prominent curves. In the waning light long strands of copper hair strayed from her hood and glistened scarlet.
Terry once said to her, "Everything about you is beautiful. Your most attractive feature, nonetheless, are your eyes, dark as midnight and deep as a desert well. When you're excited or angry, they flash like a danger signal. One look in them is all a man needs to set his heart on fire. If he gazes deep enough into them, he is forever lost, your slave for eternity."
After Terry rekindled the fire at their rustic cottage, they warmed themselves with cups of hot cocoa before the crackling flames. After a while he broke their silent contemplation of the fire. "Soon the moon will rise full. You know what that means, my love."
Pim sighed heavily. She dreaded these monthly episodes. "Yes my poor dearest. Are you ready?"
He kissed her cheek for a reply. They gathered warm quilts and again braved the frigid night air. She clutched his hand fiercely as they strolled along their narrow garden path to a dog house large enough to house the greatest of Great Danes. Near the entrance a strong chain and a heavy leather collar was attached to an iron spike driven into the ground. Pim kneeled in the snow and spread the blankets inside the enclosure. When she rose, she fastened the collar around Terry's neck. "I hope you'll be warm enough."
"I'll be fine. Don't forget that I'll have a fine fur coat."
They embraced tenderly, and Pim trudged back to their cabin. A single tear rolled down her cheek and froze into a glistening ice crystal which she did not bother to brush away. After she entered their living room, she extinguished all the candles but one and changed into a flimsy nighty before the roaring fireplace. With the aid of the candle, she crept to their cramped bedroom and crawled under a silken comforter. Although she was apprehensive about her lover out in the cold, she was exhausted from their hike and soon fell asleep.
Hours later the moon shining through her window woke her. Strangely, it was deep blue, almost the hue of Terry's eyes. Outdoors, a wolf bayed, long and plaintive, as though it lamented the world's sorrows, a chain rattled, and the moon changed to blood red. Something is terribly wrong, Pim thought. She bounded from her bed, threw on her fur-lined cloak and boots and rushed out the door. When she reached the doghouse, the chain lay on the ground with the collar broken. Terry was nowhere in sight.
"No," she cried and gazed around. Wolf prints led to the woods. She buried her head in her hands and sobbed. It was no use going after him now. She would be placing her own life in jeopardy. You see, Terence Lalbert, Terry, was a werewolf.
Sadly she trudged to the cabin, sat bundled in blankets before the fire and watched sparks dance around the logs like tiny demons. After a long while she nodded off.
When the early morning light drove away the shadows, Pim knew that she was still alone; Terry had not returned. Quickly she dressed in her warmest garments and wandered through the woods calling his name. She tried to find his tracks but fresh snow had obliterated the prints she had seen the night before. She returned to the hut around noon. The fire had burned to embers, and she restocked it with the fresh wood they had gathered the day before. After a meager lunch, she returned to the forest to call out her lover's name for hours. The next day she did the same. And again the following day. Finally she decided to seek help.
Vampirevania was ruled by Count Gorblud, a vampire. Although he was one of the undead, he was kindly in his fashion, satisfying his blood lust only on condemned criminals. It was to this warmhearted bloodsucker that Pim intended to go for advice. Years ago she and he had rescued a foreigner by the name of Dorian from being tortured by Duke Savage the Barbarian. They had been friends ever since.
She set off on a horse-drawn sleigh for Gorblud's castle in the mountains. Although the distance was not far, at that time of the year it took her two arduous days to cover the dangerous route. The first day a blinding blizzard forced her to seek shelter in a farmer's barn for most of the afternoon and all night. The next day the rutted roads were at times blocked with drifts that made her make wide detours. At times the wind blew the snow so hard that it created whiteouts during which she had to use extreme caution not to end up in a ditch or go over a cliff. After sunset , since this was Vampirevania, there was danger from werewolves, werebears and vampires.
When she finally reached Gorblud's estate, she plodded wearily up a narrow path to the vampire's bleak home. She passed through the gate in the outer wall only to find to her dismay that the castle was in ruins, consumed to the foundation by a conflagration. Wisps of smoke rose from smoldering timbers. Broken blocks of stone and snow soaked ash were all that remained of Gorblud's proud palace. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she wandered about the ruin in the vain hope of finding a clue as to what had happened to her friend. She discovered nothing.
Crestfallen, she drove to the village of Frankenheim at the foot of the mountain. During supper she sat in the darkest corner of the inn with the cowl of her cloak shielding her face. As she picked at her meager meal of stir-fried vegetables over rice with minuscule bits of chicken in it, she eavesdropped on the conversations around her. Thus, she overheard a group of drunken local men brag how they had attacked the castle and burned it down.
"Yah Fritz, dot garlic-hating vampire vill never again burden us vith his cruel laws. Imagine outlawing the importation of garlic. Efryting mine wife cook tasted like burnt meat. It vas awful."
"He vas a bloodsucker no doubt, dot count. No voman vas safe from him. Gute riddance to bad rubbish. Did anyone efer find Gorblud's body und pound a stake through his black heart?"
"Nein. He flew away as a bat vile ve vas pounding on ze door. Someday ve cotch him. Den ve make him true dead and not chust undead."
For some reason the men thought the last statement was hilarious because they all broke out in uncontrolled laughter. Tears again flowed from Pim's eyes. Poor Count Gorblud, she thought and prayed that he had escaped unharmed.
She retired to her lonely room in despair. Who to turn to now?
A blue moon that turns blood red, a werewolf lover who disappears, a vampire count's castle burned to the ground. What could have caused such inexplicable events? If Pim had a crystal ball, such as the fifty-inch monster owned by King Skeemer's Royal Sorcerer Mordrake, perhaps she could discover the answers to these enigmatic happenings. Therefore, let us go back in time to a week before Terry's disappearance and far across the sea from Vampirevania to Mordrake's study in the Kingdom of Neerg.
On this particular evening Mordrake entered his den, threw off his cloak and plumped down into his favorite levitating chair to watch the news of tomorrow. It had been a hard day. As usual, the reigning monarch, King Skeemer, had nagged him to devise a magical means of conquering their southern neighbor, the Land of Retslu. To make the conjurer's mood bleaker, several spells had gone awry when the demon he had summoned played a dirty trick on him.
In recent years, most of Mordrake's plans and schemes had been thwarted. It was as though fate, or perhaps a demon he had cheated, had it in for him. He wondered whether he should get out of the evil sorcerer game altogether. He sighed. But what else could he do? It was all he knew. Now he was only a senile king's enchanter, he who once had ambitions to become emperor of the entire Nosduh Valley. Ah, such is the fickle finger of fate, he lamented.
King Skeemer was no joy to work for either. He expected Mordrake to be at his beck and call at any time of the day or night, to cure a boil or place a curse on someone for an imagined wrong. Skeemer had this obsession about conquering his southern neighbor, the Land of Retslu, and was continually after Mordrake to conjure the ultimate magical weapon.
Hence, at the end of each day with the tyrant, Mordrake was happy to retire to his own castle and forget Skeemer's demands. It was most relaxing to sit before his magical globe and wile away the hours viewing what was going to be.
On this particular evening he picked up the crystal's magical remote tuning wand and mumbled an incantation. The enormous globe's misty interior swirled and bubbled with swatches of color and globs of ectoplasm. Incomplete objects and half-formed images appeared and disappeared again. After several moments, the phantasmagoria resolved into a clear, three-dimensional scene. A well-dressed demon, who was handsome in a Mephistophelean way, sat at a desk. Two small horns protruded from his slicked down hair Behind him was a red background decorated with astrological and alchemic symbols.
"Good evening. Welcome to DMM, the Demonic Magical Network. I'm Next Day with the events of the coming week. Our lead story concerns the happenings of next Friday in Vampirevania. Count Gorblud, ruler of that dreary land, will be driven from his castle by revolting townspeople. At the scene will be our Vampirevanian correspondent, Orluv the Gypsy."
The view expanded the scene within the anchor demon's own crystal until it filled Mordrake's ball. A ragged formation of angry men wearing leather shorts, brightly-colored vests and feathered hats carried torches and wooden crosses up a narrow road toward a dark castle. A blue glow from a strangely hued moon gave the proceedings an eerie, ghastly appearance. As the mob stormed through the gate, knocking it off its hinges, they shouted oaths and waved clenched fists and fiery brands.
In the foreground, the correspondent, a man dressed in a manner similar to the attackers except that he wore a bandanna on his head instead of a feathered hat, spoke with a heavy accent. "Dis iss Gypsy Orluf in Wampirewania. Der peasants from Frankenheim Willage are heading up der path to der wampire's castle. Dey seem werry angry. A few minutes ago I ask der leader wot was der cause off dis trouble. He said, in his own vords, 'Dot lousy bloodsucker's been bleeding us dry for centuries.'"
Mordrake smiled in an evil manner. "I hope they drive a stake through Gorblud's heart. For a vampire he was always on the side of good--against me, anyway."
The scene faded and was replaced by Next Day flipping through papers. He grinned at his audience. "Those peasants are going around in circles. Is that anyway to start a revolution? But, seriously folks, the morning before the outbreak, I will interview the famous vampire. Here is my interview with a vampire."
Mordrake's crystal showed a gloomy, bleak room with stone walls upon which hung a full-length oil painting of a vampire feeding on a half-naked female victim. Beneath it were two sheet-draped overstuffed chairs with a dust-covered coffee table between them. Enormous cobwebs were suspended from the ceiling and a rat peeked from underneath the furniture. Next Day lounged in one chair and a gaunt, pale individual with carmine lips and a long cape relaxed in the other.
Next Day looked straight out at Mordrake. "I'm here in the middle of next week at the home of Count Gorblud. He has kindly consented to grant me one of his rare interviews. The count has recently generated some controversy when he passed a law banning garlic. Although Count Gorblud is never seen during the daylight hours, he loves the night life. This brings me to my first question. But, first allow me to greet my host." He turned towards the vampire. "Good evening, Count."
"Goo-ood even-ning," Gorblud responded in a somber voice. "Wel-come to my home. Please forgive the dust. I have trouble keeping good help. As a result the castle hasn't been cleaned in years. I've been thinking of renting zombies as servants."
"No problem. But let me get to my first question, Count. Rumor has it that you're quite a party animal, carousing all night and sleeping while the sun shines. Do your neighbors complain about the loud gothic rock, howling of wolves or the fact that women stay the night to come out at dawn looking haggard and pale?"
"I have no neighbors closer than several leagues except for the tiny village at the foot of the mountain. As for my nightly activity or the hours I keep, I don't think that is anyone's business--unless I break the law."
"But, as the absolute ruler of Vampirevania, don't you make the laws?"
Gorblud stared at the demon with an arched, haughty eyebrow. "True. Yet, once I decree them, I must also obey them. In Vampirevania the police are an independent body not under my control."
"Is there any truth to the accusation that you sucked blood from a female assistant?"
"That all depends upon how you define suck blood."
"Tell me Count, isn't it a fact that some years ago, you were ousted from your homeland?"
Gorblud sighed. "Yes, it's true. It was a sad time for me. They made me an outcast. Nevertheless, when I returned a few years later, I was given back my rightful inheritance. After all, throughout the centuries, I have been a beneficent and just ruler. It's simply that every once in a while these outbreaks by discontents do occur."
"Oh, once in blue moon. That's when the peasants are the most revolting."
"Count, how did you become a vampire in the first place?"
"It's a long story. I was always a little different. One time as a youth I found myself surrounded by wolves. I killed the entire pack with a knife and my bare hands. Alas, no one would believe my story. My father sent me to a harsh military school. He said it was to cure me of story telling. While I was at the academy the other boys taunted me into going into a deserted tower that was supposed to be haunted. There I encountered an ancient vampire who turned me into a creature of the night. Afterwards, I traveled extensively, only returning home when my father died to take my rightful place as Count of Vampirevania."
"And what are your future plans?"
"Well, without false modesty, I must say that I have a decent singing voice, and I enjoy appearing on the stage. (In my red meat days, I acted in the famous Vampire Theater in Paris.) Someday I plan to start a gothic rock band. I've even thought of a name for the group--Count Gorblud and the Vampirevanians."
"Well, good luck on your musical career, Count. And thank you for the interview."
The scene faded. The crystal once again showed Next Day in his hellish studio. "We now have two items from Retslu. The beast-things will start a new offensive under a mysterious new leader known only as The Wolf Man.
"The second item concerns the strange disappearance of three of King Black Pawn's ministers. Here is Demon Rum reporting from the scene."
Next Day was replaced by a red-eyed demon that was staggering around near a large hole. The demon slurred his words as he spoke. "This wilsh be the shite of Duke Wishdom's labor ... lavatory ... I mean, lab after it dishappears. As you cansh see, nothing will be left 'cept the foundashun."
The scene changed to a split screen format with both Next Day and Demon Rum visible. Next Day asked, "Tell me Rum, will it be occupied when it disappears?"
"That will not be known. But three persons ... hic ... wilsh be reported mishing--Duke Wishdom, Bishop Faith and Hokum, the court wizard."
Mordrake leaned forward with interest. "So, Duke Wisdom and his laboratory will vanish. I wonder when that will happen."
In the next scene displayed on the globe, a circus parade passed through the streets of King's Town, the capital of Retslu. This was followed by a commercial for evil enchantments. Mordrake got up, stretched and went to his bar. He poured a glass of green wine and filled a bowl of crackers in the shape of his enemies. When he returned, the astrological report was on. The astrologer stood before a map of the heavens and pointed at various constellations and planets. "And on Friday of next week there will be a blue moon. Now for my forecast ..." He made several predictions which were listed over a picture of the blue moon rise.
Next Day and the astrologer bantered back and forth for a few moments, cracking jokes such as "making sad news while the blue moon shines."
Afterwards a demon in a loud checkered jacket took a seat besides Next Day and reported the sports scores that will be. "Beast-things - 90, Retslu Army - 5," he announced over highlights of a battle between knights and creatures with the bodies of men and the heads of animals.
After the sports report, Next Day said, "Now for our final item. A. Certain Doctor Nemesis will invent life-size, mechanical wind-up wooden soldiers. Hats off to you, A. Certain; we love a parade.
"Well folks, that's all the news for next week. Tune in tomorrow night when we'll have a wrap-up of the year to come. Good future viewing. This is your reporter, Next Day, signing off."
The crystal went blank.
"That last bit could stand some looking into," muttered Mordrake. "Perhaps wooden soldiers are exactly what Skeemer needs to conquer Retslu. They couldn't be any more block headed than the ones in his current army, and they would be invulnerable to swords, arrows and muskets. I think I'll pay a call on this Doctor Nemesis."