9

Jeremy HaigNew Draft-1/22/09

Tales of Taggona

prologue to be written

Book 1- The Firmament

Chapter 1- The exciting Arrival

Taggona- the 3rd age, circa 247

The wind swept over the treetops like the crest of a wave, revealing a small red speck soaring over the yellowing leaves. Breeching the top of a rocky hill, the scarlet raven spotted its destination. Right along the golden-sanded shores stood Nuse, city of the sun. Nuse was not the capital of this island named Tagonna, but rather its sister. Nuse was inhabited by the King of West Tagonna, King James, while its sister the capital, named Robrah, was inhabited by the King of East Tagonna, King Heronia. Both Kings, close as brothers, had lost their wives to war.

Nuse was a shining celestial city. Its tall towers plunged upward into the sky, and sunlight shattered upon the surface of the water. The older part was the city was dominated by a huge castle, home to the royal family.

The scarlet raven fell into a fantastic dive, twisting between arches and towers before rising thirty, forty, fifty feet into the air. Nuse has two towers which dominated the rest. One was the Patrelaum, surrounded on all sides by heavy wooden shutters, which were at that moment being thrown open to admit the morning sunlight. Patrelaum was the jumping off point for Tagonna's principle method of transportation, second only to traveling by Gryphon. It enabled, by means of an herbal 'potion' of sorts for the drinker to temporarily transform into a bird. The bird to which each transformed was always unique, reflecting the qualities of the person.

The raven turned instead to the smaller of the twp towers, where a small opening allowed entrance for small to mid-sized birds. The raven dove through the hole and landed on a perch, almost expectantly. The room was old and dilapidated; the floor was spattered with bird droppings and bird feathers, all tons of different colors.

In the corner, a form was moving, shrouded in a dark green cloak. Rising from its seat, it moved swiftly toward the window with the perch. In its haste, the hood fell, revealing the form beneath. It was a young man of seventeen or eighteen, with a head of brown hair that hung in a ponytail at the top of his neck. His face was smooth, his eyes lively, deep and inviting and around his head, a single gold band wound with silver "ivy'. He was the prince and heir to the throne of Nuse and West Tagonna.

In the raven's mouth was a small roll of parchment tied with a purple ribbon. The Prince took the roll, and replaced it with a small round coin with a hollow middle. The messenger raven took off, leaving the prince to his letter. It was hastily written and read:

Dear Prince Joseph,

We are coming

Princess Sarah

Sarah, his particularly dear friend, was the only daughter of Robrah's, King Herona. Her sibling, Kevin was dear to Joseph as well, but obviously not of the same caliber.

It took only a moment for him to realize what this meant. His favorite girl in the world was coming to stay with him. His best mate and he could spend time together. His lips parted in a wide smile. He crumpled the note and shoved it in a pocket beneath his robes and ran for the door, down seven floors of stairs, and into the courtyard that led to the Great Hall.

The Great Hall of Nuse was a cavernous banquet hall with high windows and colorful Tagonnian banners. It was well lit by torches on brackets all along the walls and dozens of scattered candles. At the end of the Hall sat the throne of King James

King James had his head in one hand, speaking to a man who stood before him. From what Joseph could make out, they were speaking Klatfaele, the legendary language of the Tree Dwellers to the southwest.

"If we could only do it without the boy…." The man was whispering.

The King's eyes opened.

"Jacob" he murmured quietly in plain English.

Jacob, reading the King's gaze, turned. Upon spotting the Prince, his eyes widened and he lowered his eyes and finished over his shoulder.

"I'll speak with you later" and he strode from the room.

Joseph decided maybe it would be better if he pretended he had not heard the interchange and continued as though he had not.

"Father," he began, "they are coming"

Recognition dawned on his face as his son spoke, and then he began to smile.

"Sarah wrote me, not even five past to tell me," he continued. The King however was not listening, but stood from his throne and descended the three stairs that raised the throne from the floor of the Great Hall.

"Adrianna," he said to the air, "Adrianna, I have a message for you."

The spirit of a woman materialized in front of him. She seemed to be made of wafts of smoke on a non-existent breeze.

"King James, Master Joseph," she said, bowing to each in turn. Her voice was very echo-like, or as though multiple people were talking at once. "How can I be of service?"

"Go and alert the Patrelaum that we will be having some unexpected visitors, and make haste!" his smile was comforting and his laugh, young and playful.

The spirit of Adrianna seemed to blow away in a non-existent breeze and vanished.

"Let's see," the king thought out loud, "what shall it be?..... Let's try this!"

He held his hands out in front of him and suddenly at his command, a huge wind blew through the whole Great Hall. Joseph was forced to shield his eyes from its torment. When it finally subsided, he opened his eyes and could not help but laugh aloud at the sight.

"Wonderful, father!" he laughed

"You think so?" the king smiled, chuckling as well.

The Great Hall had filled with dozens and dozens of round tables, all set with fine linen, china, silver, and draped in flowers. Garlands of roses, lilies and ribbons wound the columns and enchanted doves through the towering rafters in the ceiling. Banners of the Tagonnian coat of arms and hundreds of candles covered the hall and it was all covered in a gentle shower of red and white rose petals, which magically fanished just before hitting the floor.

Suddenly, the much anticipated sound of the Great Hall doors came, and the king and his Prince turned as sunlight poured in through the opening doors. Silhouetted against the emblazoned sun flew three mighty birds. As they soared into the festively decorated hall, Joseph saw what they were. Leading the threesome was a large eagle, followed to his left and right by a young peregrine falcon, and a beautiful blue bird that looked somewhat like a lark. Before their very eyes, the three transformed.

King James turned to the man that was moments before a mighty eagle. "Herona," he exclaimed, "Welcome to our home!"

"James," Herona sighed, laughing, "It's been far too long!"

The two kings embraced. Behind King Herona, the lark had transformed into a beautiful young lady with long, sparkly hazel-blonde hair, wearing a brilliant blue dress which matched both her eyes, and the shade of blue she had been only moments before.

"Sarah!" Joseph whispered under his breath.

Sarah ran towards him and they embraced as well.

"Oh, it's so good to see you again, Joseph," she whispered in his ear.

"You've no idea," Joseph replied, kissing her cheek.

"Sarah!" a voice called from the door. The distinct 'clip-clop' of high-heels told them a girl was running toward them.

"Amelia," Sarah cried back, embracing her as well. "I was telling your brother how wonderful it is to see you all again." They kissed each other's cheeks and drew away.

Joseph turned also to his best friend Kevin and clapped him on the shoulder.

"Go on, you four!" King James exclaimed with the manner of a father over a flock of small children. "And don't forget to be ready for our traditional welcoming ball."

"You certainly have not forgotten your hospitality," laughed King Herona as his fellow king led him out another door.

"See you 'round, Joseph," Sarah called over her shoulder.

"Wait," Joseph called back after her. He ran to catch up.

"Sarah," he asked, standing in front of her, "will you come to the ball with me?"

"Of course I will," she laughed and kissed his cheek. "See you later."

And with that, the girls disappeared. A moment later, Kevin was beside him again.

"Phew, got that over with," Joseph sighed, turning to his friend, "it's good to see you again, mate!" and talking fast, they left the hall.

Several hours later, as the sun shot red and blue and purple lights over the azure harbor, Joseph returned to the castle to prepare for the ball. He and Kevin had spent the past eventful afternoon soaring over the city and grounds on Joseph's gryphon. On his way back to his chamber, he heard and exasperated voice. He stopped and knocked on his sister's door.

"Who is it?" came the impatient reply.

"Oh, no one of extreme consequence, but could be the trouble?"

"Oh," she seemed disappointed, as she peered over his shoulder at the hall behind him. "It's just you." She turned back to the wardrobe where a wizened old woman stood pulling out dress after dress.

"No, no,no," Amy cried, redirecting her attention to the woman, "the satin one, there, no there, yes that one. Hmmmmmm. Can I see that linen one again. What about that green one over there…?"

There was a sudden, timid grunt behind him. Joseph spun around, to find himself face to face with, Kevin? There Kevin stood, fumbiling with his fingers but with a face set.

"Yes," smiled Amy, who had abandoned her dress excavation.

"Will you, ah…., maybe, possibly come with me tonight, to the ball I mean?"

"Why sure!" she laughed, "I'd love to come!" Over her shoulder she whispered, "Satin then."

With that, the wizened old woman recommenced digging through the mountain of dresses on the floor.

Chapter 2- The Ball

As the time of the ball approached, Joseph spent several long moments watching the long serpentine line of people dotted with the glimmer of lanterns, as they worked their way up the path and into the Great Doors of the castle. The whole city seemed to be invited, all dressed in their finest appearal.

The Great Hall was indeed flooded with people. He had barely stepped into the hall when Sarah seized his arm.

"Ready?" she asked, eyes shining in the light eminating from the flickering candles.

He replied with a short sort of bow and they set off into the mayhem of the banquet. The only difference in how the room was decorated was the fact that a small platform had been added for an enchanted orchestra of player-less instruments. Joseph could not help but notice the people at this festivity as well. Some chatted animatedly with old friends and realitives, others sat quietly looking shy and uncomfortable, while still others sat in awed silence, gawking at the incredible hall.

At the end of the hall, King James' throne had been replaced by a High Table of Honor, set for ten. When Joseph and Sarah made their way to their seats, Kevin had just pushed in Amelia's chair and was sitting down himself. Joseph positioned himself between Kevin and Sarah so they could talk. At about the same time, the player-less orchestra was just finishing a slow Minuet and the Great Hall doors closed.

"Let's Begin!" King James smiled broadly

There was a collective gasp. Everyone looked at everybody else.

"How did he get there?" "Did you see him come in?"

The four teenagers just laughed. The King raised his hands and clapped his hands twice. Upon his command, the silver lids covering all the enormous dishes lifted themselves and soared to the coners where they stacked themselves neatly and them lay still.

"Dig in!"

"So, what's going on," he demanded of his friends on either side of him, "tell me everything."

"You tell him, Kevin," Sarah sighed, chewing carefully on a slice of honey-burbon glazed ham she had served herself, "I'm not sure I understand the whole thing anyway, although I much appreciate the chance of visiting you all!"

"Right," Kevin agreed, swiveling in his high-backed chair to face him. "Father," he muttered in a low voice, "is here to hold counsel with your father.."

"That much I gathered," glancing at his father and King Herona who were already deep in conversation.

"You see," Kevin interrupted, "smoke has been sighted over the enemies gates." He paused significantly.

Joseph saw that Sarah too was staring at him, as though trying to read something on his face. Joseph was beginning to feel stupid.

"Is that supposed to be bad? I mean, that place has always been dark. Reckon they had a bonfire, or something," though Joseph was sure he was wrong.

Dark Alley, as the Tagonnians named it was the home of the Darkest Wizard in a 1,000 years- Lord Killian.

"Is a bit of smoke enough to set the whole army in motion?" he continued.

This time Sarah spoke, "You don't get it, do you? Father said that sixty years ago, back when there were three equal kings- James, Herona, and Killian-, Killian seemed uncharacteristicly anxious to change the ruling in Tagonna."

"You mean put it all under one king instead of three?" Joseph had heard form his father this desire of Lord Killians

"Exactly," Kevin interjected, "both our fathers knew that Killian would seize control if it was offered him, and told him no."

"That was the last time smoke was seen over Dark alley," Sarah continued, "sixty years ago. And everyone took it like you are. 'It's just smoke' they all said. Then we found out only after that he was raising an army to dominate all life."

"By Luck," spat Kevin, "we defeated him, but I'm not sure it will be enough this time."

"Smoke hasn't been seen there for sixty years," concluded Sarah, "they've got to make a plan."

Joseph stared at the Kings, as though hoping to hear their plan. King James was doing most of the talking, while Herona nodded slowly, looking grim. Was it his imagination, or were the Kings flashing looks in his direction more often than was normal.

"Oy!" Kevin elbowed him in the ribs, "eat, before it's gone!"

He meant it, because twenty minutes later, when Joseph was finishing his Chicken Picata and mashed Potatoes, King James stood.

"Hold your plates if you're not finished!" his voice boomed, a twinkle in his eye. "Clear Up!" he called.

The plates began stacking themselves and whisked of to the kitchen in tall piles. Once it seemed everyone was finished and the empty food platters and goblets were finally exiting as well, the king stood again.

"As many of you know, it is tradition in Tagonna that the host king begins the first dance. You see, my wife was murdered by Lord Killian himself. I believe it would disgrace her memory if I, so soon after the event, simply danced with another. Therefore, with all pride and pleasure and joy, I hereby bequeath today's first dance to my son, Prince Joseph and his partner Sarah, daughter of our very own King Herona."

They both rose. Sarah was beautiful, garbed in an elegant red silk dress trimed with pink and her brown hair twisted and held in place with a sparkling piece of jewelry while the rest cascaded about her left shoulder. Joseph raised a fist and she placed her hand on top of it and smiled, her lips parting to reveal brilliant white teeth. Together, they descended the last few steps onto the dance floor.

There was a sizable applause as the duet made their way to the center.

"If you will excuse me a moment," Joseph whispered upon their arrival. He strode to the orchestra podium where a old short wizard with a shock of white hair sat, wand clutched as a conductor's baton. Joseph whispered something in his ear, smiled, and returned to the floor.

"What was that about?" Sarah began timidly.

"Oh," he shrugged, "No matter. Just listen and follow."

There was a moment of complete silence, where Joseph's hand found Sarah's waist and her hand, his shoulder. The orchestra struck the opening chord and the vivacious tango began. The soloists exhaled, finding the soul of the music, and then….. began. It was a magnificent- a work of art. The 'cat and mouse' tango came to life in the dancer's young spirit, vigorous passion and wreckless abandon. In truth, the crowd was so lost in the moment, they forgot to join in. The dance continued for what seemed like no time at all to the crowd, but an eternity to the performers. Nevertheless, the crowd was more than satisfied. When the orchestra hit the dramatic final note, the applause was tumaltous. Joseph and Sarah, who had surprised even themselves, couldn't help but smile as they bowed a third time, and then a fourth. Eventually the crowd quieted and the two swept off the dance floor laughing at their own shock and smiling in pleasant embarrassment.

"Fancy a drink?" Joseph inquired, already laughing at himself, as he snapped his fingers. Two tall glasses of Rasberry Champagne materialized at exactly the right height for them to hold them.

She punched his shoulder playfully.

"You're funny. But, you know what?" she said sipping the champagne thoughtfully. "I don't get it. I mean, you were really good back there!" she giggled.

"You know," Joseph snapped again. "To some, it just comes naturally!"

A red rose appeared in his hand, and he slipped it in her hair. They both burst out laughing, unable to maintain composure.

"Joseph," called King James from the doorway. "Wonder if I might have a word?"

"Why sure. Yes, yes of course," he answered, "Wait here for me, Sarah"

"Sure," she smiled.

The king led Joseph out of the Great Hall, as the music of a slow waltz faded, and then vanished. He led Joseph to a deserted corridor along an inner courtyard, where King Herona sat waiting. At their approach, he stood. To Joseph's great surprise and discomfort, it was not his father who began the talking, but stared at the ground.

"You have heard by the looks of it at dinner," King Herona began, "our," he chose the following word very carefully, "dilemma."

"Yes, I can't lie."

"And you understand that is was six-,"

Joseph interrupted, "sixty years ago smoke was last seen, yes, I understand everything." He was starting to feel greatly annoyed. "Must we discuss this now?" he thought to himself. He very much wanted to be back in the Great Hall with Sarah, not out here in a deserted courtyard on a cold evening discussing ancient history.

"Then you will understand why we think it best if we sent a spy into Dark Alley to determine the enemy's movements."

"Naturally," Jospeh grumbled. "I would imagine that……why are you telling me this?" he demanded, already dreading the answer.

No one spoke.

"When must I leave?"

Chapter 3- Departure

Joseph had no recollection of how he had returned to the Great Hall ten minutes later, or how he explained his tale to Sarah. To his utter disbelief, she reacted far better than he anticipated. In fact, she seemed not to react at all. She forced a smile, grabbed his hand, and pulled him out the door down the corridor and out into the moonlit garden

"I knew this would happen," she whispered. "I mean, I knew they'd choose you. I just hoped.." She sat down on a moss coated bench and slipped off her shoes.

"I hoped it wouldn't be true,' she looked, her eyes shining, but not a tear fell.

"I'll be back.."

"But will you?" she cut him off. "What makes you so sure?"

"You."

Sarah said nothing, then laughed a true laugh.

"I love you, Joseph." Her eyes were very close now, her breath warm on his cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed.

"Oh look!" Kevin and Amy had just rounded the corner. He began laughing ridiculously, his eyes strangely unfocused, both clutching empty champagne glasses.

"Look……look, it's……..it's," but he couldn't finish his sentence, and he collapsed into a fit pf laughter, bending over and clutching his stomach. At his side, Amy was giggling uncontrollably into his shoulder. Kevin made a few more attempts to speak, all in vain, and instead stumbled a few times, Amy leaning on him and clutching the front of his shirt to stay upright.

Sarah rose in a flash and descended on her brother. Her hand hit his face hard.

"Honestly," a look of disgust on her face. "Pull yourself together- Prince."

More giggles and a sarcastic, "Yes mum!" The two stumbled away. As they vanished into the gathering fog, their voices could be heard raised in song, echoing into the night.

When Joseph finally returned to the castle that night, the Great Hall was dark and empty. It only made Joseph feel worse. He slumpted down on the ground up against a column in the enormous hall and though about how he'd soon be saying goodbye. He was starting to wish Sarah and her family had not come after all. It only made parting all the more painful. He still had tomorrow, then he must leave.

The early sun shimmered through the sheer curtains of Joseph's chamber and danced across his face. His eyes flickered open and he stood up from his canopy. After throwing his robe over his shoulder, he stepped out through the curtains and onto the balcony. The wind ruffled his hair as his eyes passed over all of his father's city. Oh, how beautiful the city of Nusé was. If only he could stay to enjoy it. The annual festivals were nearing. Soon the leaves were to change and the harvest would fill all the villagers with excitement. Oh, if only.

He stepped away from the balcony and reentered his chamber. He dressed, and strode to his closet where he collected several small necessities and a traveling bag. He had just finished filling it when there was a timid knock at the door.

"Enter"

Sarah quickly slipped in and closed to door behind her. She held a letter clutched in her hand.

"I had to see you, and give you this."

She kept looking over her shoulder at the door.

"What?" he began.

"Just read!" she snapped.

He ripped the kings seal to find the ink still glimmering slightly on the yellow parchment.

Dear Joseph,

Please come promptly to my office. I have a friend you must meet.

"That's it?"

"I don't know! I'm just the messenger!" she exclaimed. "You'd better hurry. Your father seemed anxious."

Joseph gathered the rest of his things, and threw his green traveling cloak over his sholder, and was just ready to leave, when he realized that he may never in his life see his beloved Sarah again.

He turned, neither wanting to except the thought: never wanting to say good-bye.

"I guess this is good-bye," he mumbled looking anywhere but her eyes.

She let out a partially stifled sob, ran to him and for the first time, their lips met. Joseph's heart felt as though it was flying. When they stepped apart, Joseph let gave her a small smile, turned, and left his chamber.