Hello dear readers!
I hope all of you have been well since we parted at the end of Part 2. For my new readers, I STRONGLY advise you read Part 1, Interlude, and Part 2...otherwise none of this will make sense. For my regulars, I *also* STRONGLY advise you read (or scan) the previous stories. Let's just say that everything comes full circle... Not only that, but I've *finally* made some long-desired updates to Part 2, so it's important you are caught up to speed.
So, under the assumption that you have just finished reading Part 1, Interlude, and Part 2...without further ado, I present the beginning of Part 3! Enjoy!
Fog obscures my vision like a thick veil. Hesitantly, I step forward, feeling my shoes click onto a glass floor. I kneel down to feel the extent of the base with a hand. In my general area, there doesn't appear to be drop-off point, not like there would be on a bridge. Peering past the thin surface, all I can make out are shifting shadows. Next I check my attire, seeing I'm clothed in my lilac tank and jeans. Didn't I wear this outfit once before? I contemplate knocking on the floor to get an idea of its depth when the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I sense someone…or something.
Rising, I see nothing but the swirling fog in front of me. Still, I know something's here. A shiver runs down my spine when I make out the faint outline of a looming figure. Several inches taller than me and clothed in a wispy cloak, the individual seems to melt into the mesmerizing mist. I take a cautious step back, surprised when the figure mirrors my action by taking a threatening step forward—
I awake with a jolt, my heart pounding in my head. Sitting up, I heave a ragged sigh. No mist, no glass floor, no creepy figure. I'm in my bed, in my room, in my house.
Switching the alarm off, I wait patiently for the tension to pass. Throwing the warm covers off my body, I swing my legs over the side. I plunge my toes into the plushy carpet below. What was that? I think, my heart thudding in my chest. It…was an intriguing dream, but my body's acting like it was a nightmare—and I never have nightmares! Well, although it may've been just a dream, please take care of it for me, Lord.
I stand up and stretch, feeling the filtering beams of sunlight warm my face. Following the lighted path, I cross my room to look behind the window's blinds. An emerald field greets me, its waves of greenery encircling a glistening pond. A painted horse of red and white grazes nearby, his tail swishing away flies. The golden orb peeking over the horizon bathes everything in its misty glow.
"May the morning bring word of Your unfailing love for I have put my trust in You," I recite, my voice the only sound in the room, "Show me the way I should go for to You I lift up my soul."
Making my bed, I glance at Cinderella's smiling face displayed over the pink comforter. "As you like to say, Cindy, 'time to start another day!'"
I trot into the empty kitchen, filching a banana and a peach from the nearby basket as I prepare my breakfast.
Today is Sunday, which means Sunday School at ten, followed by the service. Then I'll probably go out to lunch somewhere; no, on second thought, I'll just stay here. The neighbors have offered to take care of the animals, so I'll leave them to that. No college activities tonight because of that concert in the sanctuary. While bluegrass may not be my thing, it could be fun.
I pour milk over the cereal and sliced fruit, humming "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes." Taking the bowl to the breakfast table, I pray, "Thanks for this food, Lord. Thank You for providing it when I needed it. I pray it will give me the energy I need for today so that I may further glorify You. Oh, and please be with Mom and Dad. In Jesus' Name, Amen."
Even as I chow down, my mind drifts back to the dream. Sure, I've had dreams where I fight villains, dreams where there's so much action that I wake up mentally exhausted. But…this was different. While there was no action, there was tension. Who was that figure? Why did they mimic me? Hm. I should break this down. The fog could mean I'm not getting the whole picture. The glass floor could be separating me from what I need to obtain. No, if that were the case it would be more like an obstacle. I was standing on it. I'm venturing into the unknown? What does glass do? It protects us from the elements. It can reflect—like a mirror! What a sec! The figure mimicked me. Well, sort of. It moved when I moved. But, it was taller… My subconscious? My worries from the day before manifesting themselves as another baddie to fight?
I shake my head, puzzled.
But that's just the thing. I haven't been worried. It's summer time. No school, no classes! Is this dream foreshadowing something? Could You be trying to tell me something, God?
"Ack," I groan, "and sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar!"
Having finished my food, I clear the table and head back to the kitchen.
Time to get ready for church!
Turning onto my street, I steer my Honda Fit towards home. As I pass between the familiar rows of houses, a thought strikes me. "Rats," I remember, "I forgot to get the paper." After parking my vehicle in the car port, I walk back to the street. I pick up the bag containing the rolled-up papers, wiping dew that still clings to the plastic surface. Out of habit, I check the mailbox, going so far as to pull open the lid and peer inside.
I do a double-take. Sure enough, the thin, white messenger sits there patiently. Well, that's interesting. I take it out with my free hand, glancing at the front. "Miss Christine Heartilly" dances across the front in elegant script. No return address, I realize, on the back maybe? I turn the envelope over, spying a red seal pinning the flap down. In the center of the crimson wax is a capital J in cursive.
J? It can't be.
I dash back into the house, scaring my cat Luna. She ducks for cover underneath a table as I sprint by her. "Sorry, Luna-P," I call as I enter the kitchen. Flinging the papers on the counter, I switch the overhead lights on. Now holding the mysterious envelope with both hands, I examine it again. Staring at the seal, I wonder, what could he be sending me? With that seal it must be something important. I momentarily stiffen. Nothing bad has happened over there, has it?
One way to find out.
I tear open the envelope and pull out what contents it carries. A single white card bordered in lace is the reward for my efforts. Upon reading its message, I breathe a sigh of relief:
Miss Christine Heartilly, the black ink address,
You are cordially invited to attend
The Festival of Umbral
On behalf of Avalon and His Royal Majesty
This event will take place at Umbral, the capital of Athica
During the days—someone had crossed the next part out and had written—this Tuesday through Friday
Please RSVP at least two days in advance
Two days in advance? That's today. How am I going to…oh. I notice a message written in blue ink in the lower right corner:
I will come a visit you later today for your answer. I hope you can come!
P.S. Don't you love how they wrote my name?
That gixie. I grin, shaking my head in disbelief. Some things never change. And yet…a festival? It's an honor that Jareth wants me to come. What will it be like? What does Umbral celebrate?
"Well," I decide, "guess I'll find something to do until he comes."
Heading to my room, I change out of my church clothes, exchanging them for a black tank, jeans and converse. Clasping a black bracelet on my wrist, I finish the look with my cross necklace.
I glance at my desk, noticing my digital camera remains right where I left it. It's a beautiful day, and the campus is lovely this time of year. Taking pictures is a great way to kill time. Shoving the camera into the pocket of my jeans, I grab my keys and head out.
Treading the cemented path, I stroll through manicured lawns and past flowering bushes. As I snap a shot of a preoccupied squirrel, something white catches my attention. Raising my eyes from the screen, I shoot a look into the tree looming above me. Whatever it was has fled. Well, never mind that.
I continue, capturing a moment of three girls having a picnic on the jade grass. Even as their chatter reaches my ears, I notice a path branching off from the sidewalk. From the leaves and petals scattered over the plane, it seems to be less-traveled. I follow the winding trail, aware I'm descending deeper into what feels like a forgotten world. Away from the people and the buildings, I arrive at a wooden archway, recognizing it as the entrance to a garden and the campus's chapel. Closed off from the noise and busy activity, this sanctuary is ideal for the individual seeking solitude and craving communion with God.
Settling on a bench blanketed by scattered shade, I flip through the images I've taken: artistic angles of sloping buildings backdropped by sky, energetic animals going about their daily activities, and students cocooned in their private worlds of daydreams.
"No birds, though." I murmur aloud, as I stretch out on the wooden surface, "Too darn fast."
I shut the camera off and lay it beside me. Closing my eyes, I breathe in the sweet scent of roses and allow the cool breeze to kiss my face and tangle my brown hair. With the wonderful peace I feel, I'm not surprised when my heartbeat slows to a relaxed rhythm.
Time seems to stop as I lay there, wrapped in my own blissful solitude. The silence is music to my ears. So content with my present state, I ignore the footfalls descending the steps nearby.
If it weren't for that person, I could fall asleep right here…
"But then you'd miss all the fun," answers an amused voice.
I sit up quickly in surprise, causing my camera to clatter to the ground below. In a flash, the speaker stoops to retrieve the device, checking to make sure it isn't damaged. As he rises, I find myself eye-to-eye with David Bowie. I-it can't be—oh.
The Fae King himself stands before me. Dressed in a white tee, dark jeans, and brown shoes, I would have passed him off as any other guy. His blond hair, usually fluffed like a bird's feathers, is instead swept away from his face and tied back with cords of leather. His blue eyes gleaming with childlike excitement, my spiritual kin flashes me a smile.
"Jareth!" I exclaim, leaping up out of my seat to hug him, "It's wonderful to see you!"
"And I am glad to see you as well," he replies, returning the affectionate gesture.
"It's been a long time since we last talked." I remark, receiving the camera. "Oh, here, sit down."
He accepts the invitation, breathing in the flowered aroma. "Has it really been only a year?" He wonders aloud. "We'll have to take care of that."
I smile at his words before recalling a tiny detail. "Hey, was that you I caught a glimpse of earlier?"
"Possibly," Jareth replies innocently, allowing his grin to betray him.
"I knew it!"
"How have you been, Christine?" he inquires, beginning the custom pleasantries.
"Well, thank you. I finished junior year about a month ago. Even with the craziness of life, I managed to get all As—by God's goodness, of course."
"My congratulations on your accomplishments thus far. I remember how difficult one's studies can be."
"Thanks! My family's doing well. Mom and Dad are currently on a cruise to celebrate their anniversary, so I've got the entire place to myself for a week!"
Jareth chuckles at my enthusiasm. "No wild parties?" he teases lightly.
"You know me—I'm more of a one-on-one kinda gal. Unfortunately, everyone I've called either has a summer job or is out of town. Gee," I say with faint sarcasm, connecting the dots, "your popping up was perfect timing, wasn't it?" Receiving merely a smirk in response, I turn the tide of conversation towards him. "So what about you? How's everything at Avalon? How are Lionel and the others?"
"Avalon is progressing as it should," he answers, addressing my questions one at a time. "Most of the kingdom has been rebuilt. We've turned Lionel's castle into a safe haven should anything happen to mine. Currently, we're building a place of worship with a school nearby to teach those who want to learn more about the faith. Sir Didymus has been overseeing that project given that he has more experience."
I can't help but marvel at his words. Jareth has become so humble that he acknowledges he doesn't know everything. While he is Avalon's King, he understands the value of teamwork. From despising his subjects to allowing them to apply their expertise, Jareth sure has come a long way.
"Lionel and the aristocracy continue to live close to my castle, but they are now using their positions to honor and glorify God. I kid you not, they are following the roles of master and servant to the letter from God's Word. I admit, it's still strange to see them pouring over the Scripture, taking great care not to misinterpret its messages."
"God's really working in that place," I answer, "and that's truly amazing to hear. Oh, what about Hoggle and Ludo?"
At their names, Jareth looks off to the side, slightly ashamed. "To be honest, I don't know," he says. "I sometimes see Hoggle on the castle grounds, but the two of them are busy aiding Didymus with whatever he requires. I wish I could tell you more."
"No, that's all right," I apologize hastily. "Hey, have you ever had frozen yogurt before?" At his puzzled expression, I give a display mock horror. "Oh my gosh," I exclaim, "then you've been missing out! C'mon, let's go straight there!"
I stand beside Jareth, watching him stare at the silver machines lined up in front of us. Like a knight facing his deadliest foe, so does the Fae King glare at the unfamiliar structures.
I nudge him gently, "Need any help?"
"Yes," he confesses. "While I know what all of these labels mean, I don't know which would be most pleasing…"
"Well," I offer, "why don't you tell me what kind of foods you like, and I'll try to match them."
He stops short of handing me his container, reflecting, "You know, I don't believe anyone has asked me that before." He ponders for a moment before answering with finality, "Peaches."
"I could've guessed that. Anything else?"
He smiles. "More peaches."
"At once, Your Majesty," I reply, giving a quick curtsy, or at least one that can be done with jeans. I go to the appropriate levers, pressing out the flavors I think are closest. As I perform this duty, I become aware of Jareth watching my every move like a curious puppy. I sprinkle the toppings I think will complement the fruity taste (blueberries…bananas, maybe?) before handing the bowl back to him. "Wait until I get mine," I instruct him, "then we'll weigh them and see how much they cost. It'll be my treat!"
Jareth waits patiently while I crank out different vanilla flavors and choose different slices of fruit and berries. While I normally go straight for chocolate, Jareth's choice has encouraged me to branch out. Even as I pay for the treats, I become aware of the whispers filtering through the room, of the heads furtively turning to glance at us.
While the cashier takes my money, I say casually to Jareth, "They're talking about you, you know."
"Can you blame them?" he smirks.
Receiving my change, I roll my eyes. "C'mon, Mr. Movie Star, we're eating outside."
He lightly chuckles as he follows me out the door.
We settle on a table away from the foot traffic. The sun, at its zenith, is generous in showering its rays down upon us. In the heat, I find I am very glad to have something frozen to enjoy. As I fold my topping over into the sea of yogurt, I steal a glance at Jareth, who regards his cold delight with caution.
My spoon inches away from my mouth, I stare at him when it clicks. "Hold on a sec. You've never had human food before, have you?"
At his shy grin, I can't help but exclaim, "Oh, Fae King, you never cease to amaze me! Go on and try some!"
Gingerly, Jareth scoops up a spoonful of fluffy orange yogurt and puts it in his mouth.
"Well," I ask as he explores the foreign taste, "what's do you think?"
His eyes widen in surprise as he comes to a startling revelation. "This…" he tries another spoonful for confirmation, "this is absolutely delicious!" As he swallows a third portion, his face glows with childlike excitement. "Such flavor! Such texture! Avalon doesn't have anything like this!"
I watch, stunned as he finishes his cup within seconds. Noticing the feral gleam in his eye, I cringe when he looks up and spies my untouched yogurt.
"Here," I resign, pushing it across the table towards the thrilled Fae King, "I forfeit." Watching him devour my treat mercilessly, I can't help thinking, What have I done?
Eight more cups and one penniless mortal later, the monster is finally satisfied.
Leaning back in his chair, Jareth releases a content sigh.
I merely shake my head in disbelief. "Ten cups," I remark. "That is insane. Do you have any idea how much yogurt you consumed? I'm surprised they didn't run out of stock!"
"That is magic folk for you," he counters with a chuckle as he rises to dispose of the empty cups.
His laugh infectious, I can't help but giggle at the absurdity of the situation. Spending time with Jareth like this, I realize, is good. I haven't laughed like this in a long time. Thank You, Father, for the friend you have given me.
When he returns, I can tell my spiritual kin is ready to talk business.
"I assume you received my invitation?" he inquires.
"Yes," I confirm, "and I am honored that you want me to come. Since I apparently have no plans, I would love to join you, but I do have a few questions."
"I imagined as much."
"Then to start, what is the Festival of Umbral? What's celebrated?"
"Well," he begins, "I won't bore you with the long and drawn-out history, but back before my Father was ruling hundreds of years ago, the many kingdoms were at war with each other. There was constant bloodshed, alliances frequently broken by betrayal, the never-ending clash for power. This gruesome cycle continued for centuries. Then, by a miracle, there was a young king. Wise beyond his years, he was able to see what the others could not: eventually the entire world would be destroyed and there would be no one left to rule.
"The kings realized their foolishness and became aware of the blood staining their hands. They acknowledged the young king's sagacity, and so began to establish a fragile peace. One ruler, however, did not like the notion of harmony. Oren was his name. The night the various treaties were to be signed, Oren had the young king brutally murdered. He had been hoping to incite chaos once more, to bring back the Age of Transgression as it was later called, but his plan backfired. The rulers, outraged by Oren's actions, banded together and defeated him.
"Even though Oren had been crushed under their might, the rulers knew their retribution would not bring the young king back. To honor him and preserve his memory, they took Oren's land and created a kingdom named Athica. The capital, Umbral, was named after the young king. Now, there is no one ruler of Athica. In attempt to maintain Umbral's vision for unity, there exists a council comprised of representatives from each realm. Usually they are past rulers who have stepped down for their heirs or are instead special individuals endorsed by the present king as having the kingdom's best interests at heart. So, for example, even though I currently rule Avalon, I still have to report to the council of Umbral ever so often. If they send word to me, by law, I am expected to obey it."
"So that was short version, huh?" I tease lightly. "Well, thank you for explaining things to me. So the Festival of Umbral is a celebration commemorating the young ruler and the unification of the kingdoms?"
"So, what goes on during the festival?"
"Well, since Umbral is considered the cultural crossroads between the various realms, it's a wonderful opportunity to come together and exchange new ideas. The subjects who live in Athica, as a result, are a mesh of all of the different kingdoms. During the festival, merchants come from all over, competitions are held, entertainment is provided… It's really quite extraordinary. Since you annually go to renaissance festivals, I thought you might enjoy going to a real one. Lionel will be attending it this year, and I thought it would be a great way for the three of us to bond. Would you like to join us?"
"I would love to!" I exclaim without hesitation.
"Wonderful," he says, clearly pleased. "I'll come see you around this time tomorrow."
"I look forward to it," I reply, beaming.
With that answer, Jareth vanishes.
For a moment, I just sit there, allowing the reality of the agreement to sink in. "Oh…my gosh. Woo-HOO!"
After Jareth had left, I spent the rest of the day leaping and screaming with excitement. When I got home, I blasted the house with Magic Dance. Frankly, I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call to ask if there was anything wrong. Luna, aware something had happened, watched in fear as I danced around like a five year old on a sugar rush. I flew through my daily chores, giddy with anticipation. I regret I found myself impatient when attending the bluegrass concert. While others were enraptured by the God-breathed words, my mind was in a different world entirely. During intermission, I retreated to an empty room, ashamed of my negligence. In the quiet, I begged God to forgive me and to set my mind back on Him for the rest of the evening. Faithful as always, He removed all distractions so that I could sincerely worship Him. I returned home feeling refreshed, content in a way that was healthy for my demeanor. The excitement returned at night, however, and infiltrated my dreams as swirls of frozen yogurt and showers of glitter.
So, what do you think? As you can tell, this chapter is pretty long. Therefore, I will be posting new chapters every one and half to two weeks (unless otherwise noted). We will be covering a lot of information each time, so I want to give you enough time to read through the chapters carefully. Should you have any questions (or find any discrepancies), just lemme know! :)
Also, it is important that you should know Jareth is now the FAE King. After all, he no longer rules over goblins, does he?