A/N: I probably shouldn't be starting a series but I enjoyed writing this too much to deny it. I hope you enjoy the beginning of a short series and will reward every message with chocolate biscuits and toffee apple cider, the fuel I used to write it in the first place.
High on a snowy mountain, a brave and kind hero had surveyed a glittering starscape and smiled at the lonely cry of a distant wolf. The snow had speckled his velvet cape and caressed his pale cheeks, the eternal spirit of nature greeting one of her own. Time had stopped. There had been no pain, no sorrow, no doubt. Just a hero, a mountain and a world bound together by nature's love.
And then the call of a maid startled him and caused the book to fall from his hands. The cover snapped shut and landed face down in the grass, narrowly missing the snowy head of a little lamb that was snoozing peacefully in the sunshine. The mountain ceased to exist but remained in his mind with solemn meaning that he had yet to understand.
"Little master, what are you doing out here? He'll be here soon. You don't want to miss him, do you?"
Jizabel shook his head, back to being himself, and pulled the book closer towards him.
"I'm going to say goodbye to Snark first," he called back, gentle voice quavering slightly with the unfamiliar habit of telling a lie. The maid waved a hand and laughed as much as her position allowed before heading back inside, leaving Jizabel alone with his friend and his book.
Soon he would rush inside and show his father everything he had learned, how good he had been since the last visit. But first he needed to say goodbye to the story he had been part of, the mountain and the hero he had become. And Snark too, of course.
The only thing that the young boy really enjoyed about studying to impress his father was being able to read the dusty books in the playroom. He had discovered them by accident. An old and ornate globe stood on top of a cabinet and he had wanted it to study the geography of the world. But the cabinet was tall and Jizabel had always been small. Asking for help never even crossed his mind; he spent most days alone now after all. Instead, he had gripped onto one side of the cabinet and tried to rock it back and forth in the hopes of dislodging the model earth sitting so high above.
It took until he was panting with the exertion and his fingers were red from the strain but eventually the globe toppled from its perch and landed safely in the thick Persian rug on the floor. Turning to inspect it, Jizabel realised why it had looked so high. The globe had been stood on a pile of books, each wrapped in dusty red leather, the spines laced with golden lettering. He had knelt on the rug and read the titles with growing joy. Alice in Wonderland. The Water Babies. Black Beauty. And more, more names he remembered from his very early years but had not been able to understand. He had gathered them up along with the globe and hidden them all under his bed.
The books felt precious, somehow. Not simple fact as his father wanted but mysterious stories that valued the things that weren't true. And he wanted to read them all. No, keeping them secret was the best idea. It had been easy for a smart boy like Jizabel to wrap each cover with scraps of cloth 'to protect them from the sun' when he was reading outside. He was seen to be studying hard while he was transported to worlds quite unlike his own, worlds where he could believe in magic and natural spirits and happy endings. Those worlds had loving mothers and fathers, too. And animals that could talk!
And so he had misbehaved. Every third day he would read a story instead of studying. He was almost finished with this one.
"I'll be back tomorrow, I promise," he whispered, one hand caressing the cover of the book as the other rubbed at Snark's ears. He stood up to leave, still holding on to the vision as much as he was able, when a flash of movement caught his attention from the corner of his eye.
There was something in the trees. Something small and dark. He turned around to face the edge of the forest, the sloping lawn towards the house now at his back. A wolf, maybe? Had one escaped the storybook to say goodbye?
A series of sharp thuds followed the thought and the boy jumped, taking a step back towards the lamb that stood sentry at his feet. Silver had flashed towards a nearby tree. Taking a deep breath, Jizabel walked closer with his hands curled into determined fists. He had to be brave, didn't he? A good, smart, brave boy that would grow into a hero. Nothing in the woods was going to frighten him.
The knives frightened him. There were four of them, climbing the trunk of the tree as if waiting for someone tiny to grab hold and climb up. Eyes widening, Jizabel ran forwards and tried to pull them from the wood, tears threatening as he thought about how much the tree would hurt. The knives were not embedded very deep, as if the metal had wanted to kiss the tree rather than tear it. But it would hurt, knives had to hurt and the boy was so busy pulling at the lowermost knife with his weak arms that he did not hear the shadow approach.
He turned so quickly that he tripped over, struggling back to his feet in a flurry of fallen leaves and dirt. There was a child watching him. A boy. He wasn't much taller than Jizabel but had darker hair, as black as the coal in the playroom fire. His clothes were just as dark, as was the dirt under his fingernails and the long lashes framing his eyes. Frightened as he was, Jizabel found himself fascinated by the boy's eyes. They were dark but warm somehow, as if behind all that coal there was a fire burning inside.
"You came," the boy repeated. "I knew you would come back here. I was waiting for you."
"Are you from the books?" Jizabel asked, backing up until he was standing against the knives. The boy was frightening, yes, but his voice was gentle as if he was the one in disbelief. "I said I'll come back tomorrow. I need to go and-"
"No. I'm not from the stories." The dark haired boy took a step forward. "But I'm from a long way away. I'm from back there. Do you know anything about Babylon?"
Jizabel considered before shaking his head. "I've heard it at church but I don't know what it means."
The boy's lips suddenly curved in a wide and joyful smile, one which brightened his entire expression and swept some of the coal from his eyes. They were a warm brown, Jizabel could see now. They felt nostalgic, as if he had seen them long ago. They had meant something, he thought. Something he wasn't supposed to forget.
"That's good," the other said. "Brilliant. Do you want to hear a story?"
Jizabel started nodding before he had thought his answer through and then shook his head, hands held up in front of him. "I can't stay here. My father wants to see me."
This was spoken with all the pride of a good little boy who had done as he was told, for the most part, and who was awaiting praise. Jizabel did not understand why the radiant smile vanished from the other's face, nor why he then spoke in the low tones of someone much older than themselves.
"You want to see him. I understand."
Jizabel didn't like the sound of his voice at all. Taking another deep breath and glancing back at Snark who was waiting on the lawn, he tried a smile himself.
"What sort of story is it?"
"A tragedy," the other said instantly. "But a beautiful one, really."
"Who is it about?"
"A good little boy who grows up to be a hero."
Jizabel blinked before his own smile became radiant. Maybe the boy was from the books. Maybe he just didn't realise it. It would be safest to not ask anything else about it, in case the stranger remembered the truth and the magic was broken. This made perfect sense to the mind of a child and so he stopped being afraid, seeing only the hero on the mountain.
"Can I hear it tomorrow?"
The dark haired boy made a small noise of surprise before his smile returned brighter than before.
"Okay. I'll be here, waiting."
Jizabel nodded eagerly and began to walk away before turning back and cupping his hands around his mouth.
"What can I call you?"
The boy considered, visibly hesitating as if on the verge of imparting a secret. At length he gave a soft laugh and said "Trump. You can call me Trump."
"My name's Jizabel. See you tomorrow!"
With a grin and a wave, Jizabel turned and began hurrying back to the house, grabbing his book on the way. He'd never made a friend before, out here in the countryside so far from other children. And a friend from a book who would tell him stories was something to be excited about.
The call followed him as he rushed across the grass and he decided that Trump, like the books, was another precious thing to be kept secret. Entering the house, he forced himself to think of nothing but the globe and geography. His father would be so proud of him for all his studies. Once he had gone back to the city, the stories could be allowed to exist again.
As the thoughts faded from his mind, the knives in the forest slowly sunk into the trunk of the tree and vanished from view. The shadow called Trump was no longer to be seen.