The Moon King
Title: The Moon King
Fiction Type: Original fiction
Prompt: “Is this supposed to impress me?”
The training room resembled a gym, except for being filled with large cabinets of gleaming wood, colourful chests, and display racks of various weapons. After swords, shields, and spears, I stopped being able to name them.
Robert snatched up a sword. He tossed it between his hands while I crossed my arms and shook my head. To the sword he added a glowing green crystal.
“Those are explosive. They’ll knock you out for two hours.”
He added three more items: a sword, the crystal, a piggy bank, a jewellery chest and a watermelon whirled through the air. With a smirk, he, still juggling, tossed a kitten into the air.
The kittens crowded a corner of the room. With a yelp, I grabbed the kitten and hugged it to my chest. He chuckled at my scowl.
“Is this supposed to impress me?”
He caught everything in a fluid movement. Everything was replaced, and he bowed. The kitten darted to it’s sisters. I gave a slow clap.
Robert squeezed my shoulder. “It’s going to impress Lisa when she comes home.”
“What if she doesn’t come home?”
“Of course she will! We love each other!” Robert grinned. “She was going to teach me how to play the Saxophone, and I was going to take her to Australia. We were going to take photos of the echidna!”
I shook my head. “Robert...Lisa’s changed.”
“Nonsense. How much can a person change in a year?”
I winced. A lot. I know I have.
Robert selected a spear. He jabbed at a dummy, gently at first, gradually picking up speed and force. Towards the end, the thrusts became rough, hard. His face gleamed, and sweat stains pooled through his hoodie. His hair grew slick, and he whipped it from his eyes with one toss of his head.
The spear clattered to the ground. With a grunt, he punched the dummy. He stared soundlessly at the wall. I reached for him. Robert slumped against the wall. I darted to his side; he yanked me into a hug. The sob hitched in his chest.
“Robert, I love you. You’re my brother.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I’m going to take care of things. We’ll find a way to get her back.”
“We were supposed to get married.” He coughed. “She proposed to me. On one knee and everything. She didn’t want to go!”
“Maybe they’ll give her back. If we just ask.”
“You think so?”
“They’re bandits. But there must be something we can offer them.”
“But you said we were forbidden.”
I pursed my lips. “We can’t just abandon her. At first, I thought the council had their own plan. And then I thought the bandits would just release her. But now...I don’t think so.”
“They’ve abandoned her?” Robert’s eyes widened.
“Yes.” I pulled Robert to his feet, straining my arms. He towered over me, his dark face boyish and damp. I dabbed at his cheek with a napkin. His chuckle was watery.
“You still carry those around?”
“You still need them.” I grinned. “Come on.”
We went to my room, where we pawed through books, trinkets, and toys. We compared items, debating their costs or their worth to supernatural marauders. A jar of fire was talked over, but we concluded the bandits would likely be able to make something similar on their own.
I held up a gold necklace; studded with emeralds, it shimmered.
“What about this?”
Robert’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “That’s our mother’s.”
“I’m willing, if you are.”
“They shouldn’t have that! It’s an heirloom! It’s all we have left of-”
“And what will they leave of Lisa?” I threw the necklace on to the bed. “She’s my friend too! She was going to be my sister! They shouldn’t have her!”
Robert blushed. Even against his skin, it was visible. He stared at his feet, eyes moist. “I know.”
You don’t know. I told you not to worry. I said they were wild, but nothing else. Even if you look older, you’re still a boy. I didn’t tell you how cruel they are.
I took his hands. “Can you do this?”
He nodded. “Mom would want that.”
“We’ll leave at dawn. The Skeleton Crew always rides by then. Remember to bring the lantern.”
It was dusk when, yawning and thick eyed, we darted from the manor. The grass was spangled in dew, and a moon lingered, blurred at the edges, within the twilight sky. We dashed into the forest. Orange lights bobbed in the early gray. Reaching the centre of a leaf strewn path, Robert raised his lantern: he flashed it once, twice, three times. Fog pooled in, but the lights in the sky paused. There was a boom, and they veered towards us.
As the lights grew larger, they brought sounds which swelled as they came: there was the thunder of hooves, the clink of metal, the rattling of chains, a clattering and a chinking, and the roar of voices.
Black smoke shot out before them, flapping like a carpet to the ground. Blaring beneath the glare of orange jack-o-lanterns, the Skeleton Crew came to a halt. They were arrayed in what I could only describe as “biker” clothes or “pirate garb.” Many wore leather jackets, or studded boots; they carried belts, and had chains wrapped around their torn jeans. Others had frayed tunics, leather belts, pouches, and eye patches.
The leader slid from his skeleton horse. He patted it’s bony flank as he advanced. His crew parted. Even without skin, it was easy to see he grinned. He removed his captain’s hat and bowed. His jacket was a pirate’s coat, all brass buttons and pockets, except for being leather. It fluttered to his knees. He wore denim britches, and the telescope he held flickered to light: it doubled as a flashlight, blinding us as he pointed it in our faces.
“What do you want, wee children?” His voice was gravelly. Given that I could see his spine and nothing else, I wasn’t sure how he talked.
“I want Lisa.” Robert stepped forward. “We’re willing to trade for her.”
The Skeleton Crew laughed. The captain’s was the loudest. “Really? And what will you trade for her? The girl?”
Robert stood in front of me, blocking me from view. “Like hell.”
I shouldered past my brother. I held out the necklace. It winked in the dim light. “We’re willing to trade this.”
The Skeleton Crew lapsed into silence. Skull sockets widening, the captain drifted closer.
“Yes.” I snatched it back. Whatever that means. I pocketed it. “Where’s Lisa?”
The captain snapped his fingers.
What resembled a bundle of rags was brought forward. Two mud blackened feet stood out from the bottom of the rags. Then I saw the dark hair, filled with twigs and tangles and, beneath it, a pale and emaciated face.
Lisa was shoved to Robert’s feet. The blanket slid away. She was nearly as thin as the members of the crew: the bones threatened to tear through her skin, ripping even through the bruises which massed along her back. Lisa coughed. Robert took her arms, but she slapped him away. On her side, she whimpered. Her ratty hair fell across her face.
“The necklace.” The captain held out a hand. “You have our word that we will not come this way again. Lisa Harding is yours.”
I handed him the necklace. He kissed it, and chuckled.
“Lisa?” Robert tucked her hair back.
“You were going to kill her. Make her like you.”
“What’s a crew without a woman in it?” He reached for my cheek, but I leapt back. “It’s obvious you don’t know what this necklace does.”
His laughter made my skin ice over. “It grants immortality.”
“But you’re already immortal.”
“No, not truly. It brings with it life. There’s a reason we’re feared.” He pulled the necklace over his neck. “I will be as I was, before the curse.”
There was a bang, and Robert and I were thrown back. The Skeleton Crew crumpled to the ground. Robert pulled Lisa to him. I hugged myself, inching back along my butt.
The captain twisted in place; he laughed, and his form glowed. Veins snaked up his arms, his neck, and his face. Muscle rippled into being. Organs bloomed, only to be swallowed by red flesh. The red portions solidified, before something pink and smooth glided over them. Black hair sprouted from the top of his head like grass. The torso widened, rippling with muscle. The cheeks, at first gaunt, filled out. The jaw widened, and the eyes rolled into place. The nose grew out with a snap. With twin cracks, the ears appeared.
The captain stumbled backwards one step. He closed his eyes and ran his slender hands over a pretty face. He smiled; he took a deep breath.
I held mine.
The captain exhaled. “How good it feels...to breathe again.”
The Skeleton Crew was no longer anything but a collection of bones and pieces of clothes. The captain gazed at the mess, and shrugged.
“They were good company, but I don’t need the dead any longer.”
“I must thank you. If you want my recommendation, you’ll leave the manor. The penalty for restoring the Moon King to life is treason.”
“The Moon King! But the Moon King died centuries ago. He was sentenced for slaughtering thousands, and cursed-”
“That’s right.” The young man nodded. “I was cursed. To walk this earth, but never to live. This was the only cure available to me. It was your ancestor, Moira, who fashioned this trinket and cursed me. My existence has been bound to it all these years.”
“But they would have told us!” My heart sank. “They trust us!”
“What a sting, to be lied to.” The Moon King shrugged. There were slight points to his ears. “But that’s behind us. You have my word that Lisa won’t be harmed. Of course, I can’t extend the same promise to you or your brother. We will meet again, Diane Morrison. And when we do, well...just enjoy your life while you have it, hm?”
In a blast of black smoke, he vanished. I jogged to the spot. There were bones, and silence.
I turned to Robert. “He was right, wasn’t he? We’ll have to leave.”
“Lisa isn’t fit for the road.” Robert helped Lisa to her feet. She pitched forward, but Robert caught her. He cradled her in his arms. Eyes closed, she moaned.
“We’ll leave her in the infirmary. Then we’ll go.”
“I’m not leaving her! She needs me!”
I trekked towards the manor. Robert ran after me. It was early morning by the time we entered the infirmary. Lisa was placed on a bed. Robert examined her wounds. He drew in a breath when he saw the cuts which lacerated her. Lisa was daubed with ointments and water, and papered in bandages. When her wounds had been dressed, she was given water; she drank with a cough. Robert held her.
I nodded. “You’re right. She needs you.”
“Thank you.” The tension drained from his shoulders. He ran a cloth over her face.
“You can stay.” I shouldered my bag. “Tell Mistress Kate what happened if she asks. I’m heading upstairs.”
“Okay.” His eyes remained on Lisa. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Upstairs, I packed.
I ran out the door as the sky brightened and the rooster crowed. Clouds massed above, making the sky as pale as snow drifts. With nothing but the clothes I wore, and my bag, I tore into the woods. I was going to find the Moon King and snatch the amulet back—or die trying. Until then, there was no home for me.