01 – The Beginning of the End

The distant rumble of thunder, like the beating drums of a far-off army, rolls over the shimmering city. His gaze turns upward with a censoring look. “Hmph,” he snorts forcefully through his nose. It gives the distinct imitation of a mule about to refuse to comply with any task any person dares to require of it. He is reminded of a time when he was considered nothing more than a mule. His masters all believe themselves so clever. A smirk lingers across his face before he shifts the large sack. It is bulging at the seams with books, scrolls, and other randomly assorted baubles. Not the normal fare for a man of his stature. With a cautious look over his shoulder, he quickens his pace. As he approached the city’s gilded gates, he frowned a bit. The thunder bellows again in the distance, a promise of violence coming, and the clouds look as though an artist has daubed them with black watercolor for effect.

With a firm hand, he rests his fingers on the lock of the gate, the other clutching tightly to his sack. “Open says me,” he murmurs. It’s dangerous to use his magic for such a trivial thing, but he has no time to march the three-mile trek around the newly minted cage. The main gates of Silver City would be guarded and to be caught with this sack of things would be most unlucky. He needed to be careful. Pulling the gate closed behind him to verify it locks again, he takes one last look to the South with a heavy sigh. Then, hoisting the sack higher, he turns and migrates towards the buildings glittering in the late afternoon.

Ducking through the busy streets of Silver City, he has no time for the luxuries he usually affords himself. The stout, dashingly aged man is weaving and nudging his path through the crowd of sellers and scamps alike. Today is the first in a plethora of days that he has entered the city in his true form; unfortunate for those seeking him. The buildings, upon further inspection glow as if pixie dust grows on them. As if it had been captured and preserved for all to see for miles around. Everyone here plays their part and no one here seems to care about the man. A few cursory glances in surprise when he passes, hauling such an odd-looking assortment. Beads of sweat form on his temples, glistening against the ebony skin. Another snort emitted as he hoists the bag back up onto his shoulder. He is looking for someone intently. A glance to the left, then right, followed by over his shoulder to reassure himself there is no one following him.

“Blast it all, where are they? Think, man! Where would you go if you were their age?” Stopping, he sets the bag carefully on the ground and draws out a small handkerchief to dab at his temple. His thumb gently plays over the delicate fawn embroidered in the corner. His last evening with her made him feel euphoric and jubilant. He knew when he met her that his heart would melt for her and he gently paws over her handy work. He hopes beyond a wish that her sister knows nothing of the evening’s festivities.

By the storm brewing in the distance, he would bet all the Aesopi Nation she knows. He thrusts the cloth back into his pocket and retrieves his pocket watch, “I’m late,” he mutters. He seems to barely control his swing of temperament like the pendulum of the tower’s clock. Clamping closed the intricately built pocket watch, he tucks it back into his vest pocket.

“A ha,” he shouts to no one in particular. He grabs his sack up with a newfound strength, hurrying off to the North. The shops here fall more into pleasantries than necessities. Gowns, slippers, jewelry, and of course, wishes. Though anyone foolish enough to buy a wish deserves whatever predicament they find themselves in. “Wishes,” he grumbles. He stops dead in his tracks and takes a large whiff of the air. There is wheat, and honey, along with sweat and grime. There is no grime in Silver City, at least not for long. The court doesn’t allow it. Never in a million midnights did he believe princesses would be so much trouble. He would have Jakob and Wilhelm to thank for that, no doubt.

“Of course, how could I have been so stupid? They are always there. Foolish boys.” Another glance over his shoulder and he turns into a seedy mark between the shimmering buildings, leaving the whirling whisper of autumn leaves in his trail. Down a cobblestoned alley to a small wooden door with a broken and faded sign above it. The words long wiped from legibility, but everyone knows the place, The Hole in The Wall. 

The pixie dust is less sparkled here, and more of its true nature. It is older, and looks to have been from another time, before the glittering towers erected to the surrounding sky. With a crashing thud, he slams open the door and squints. His eyes adjusting to the candlelight and his nostrils flaring at the stale scent of honey ale again. The room is bustling. There are gnomes and fairies. People, ogres, Aesopi, animals, and even a few of the Wonderlanders. He would be proud of this moment, if he were not in such a hurry to be gone from here. 

He is late, after all.

For a flitter of fairy wings, people look up and size him at the door. A few angrily wave him off, and others continue to watch cautiously; a stranger in their midst is never a good omen. His stature is large, demanding almost. His hands can easily palm a dwarf’s head, and his eyes look like two dimming embers amongst an inky shadow. With a quick lick of his lips, he ignores their judgment and narrows in on a table supporting four young gentlemen, Wilhelm, Jakob, William, and Hans. Of all the Grimms, these four are the most prominent. They are beloved by the court, and princes in their own right. If it were not for their father’s doing, they likely would have wooed away half the princesses to some less than wholesome storytelling by now.

They are huddled over their pints and laughing at the misfortune of young Hans, who cannot hold his ale. He sways dangerously but is laughing with them. William grinning like the cat who caught the canary at his devious lesson in teaching Hans to not loosen his lips so much on the power of wishes.

“What’s all this,” the older man growls at them.

“We are just having a bit of fun,” Jakob chortles. To which, he gets a slow eyebrow raised response from the beast of a man.

“Hans has decreed that any Noddian who can out-drink him this eve shall be granted their most desired wish,” Wilhelm adds with great gusto. Wilhelm, not being very well known for keeping his mouth still either, is rewarded with a suddenly quiet pub. So quiet, that the field mouse in the corner can be heard scuttling quickly across the floor as she bolts into the tiny hole in the door. Much to his dismay, this did not warrant a good laugh, or an eye roll from the elder man. He demurely settles down and shrinks as the man hovering above them visibly seethes in response.

All four young men, grow silent and watch in awe as the elder man draws in a sharp breath. He didn’t need to make any motion at all. With a mere thought, he could erase all the memories of every soul in this pub, including his sons before him. However, making a point to show them he is doing it, he waves his hand in a slow circle above his head. A singular finger pointed to the ceiling. Slowly, and without any appearance of smoke, or glitter, or whatever else magical creatures are supposed to create, the crowd begins to resume their previous conversations. 

It starts with the few that stood up to approach. Momentarily dumbfounded, then seeing their own pints, and quickly moving to them. The laughter and music resumes. The arguments, the rattle of dice, and jangle of coins. It appears that not a soul had just heard that Grimm was about to award wishes. All of them lulling about in their otherwise mundane visit to the pub. William starts to say something but is silenced by a touch from Hans. The elder man leans onto the table, his clothes now sweat soaked and crumpled. The man’s shirt is singed, and his hands tremble. Hans is up and out of his seat.

“Father, what has happened?” He comes to the man’s side, trying to usher him into a seat. Only to be shoved off and growled at by his father. “Sit down, you fool. I am fine. I have no time. I’m late. Gather those things most precious to you that you can carry. No horses, no carts. By Merlin, do not use magic! Meet me at Midnight. The eastern gates to the Garden of Nimh. Tell no one. Bring no one. Do not be late.”

Before any of them are fast enough to ask a question, the elder man clicks his heels three times and vanishes from sight. In an instant, as if his disappearance summoned them, two Silver City patrolmen appear. Their dark gray uniforms were only accented by the silver metal of their buttons and buckles, waist length cloaks with blood red underlining, and sleek gray caps. They had to be lower-ranking men. The knights look positively radiant in their armor, on their stark white stallions when they venture from within the castle grounds.

The two soldiers pull hoods back, jerking people up from their “slumber” of drink. They are barking at the patrons in a most unbecoming manner. It is not like the Silver City patrolmen to manhandle citizens in this manner. Murmuring and griping under their breath, patrons whisper about the rumors of Merlin’s demise. How his daughters were ruining everything.

“Have you seen the storyteller,” is repeated with each new assault.

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