by Zi Jian
It appeared almost two years ago, the "Castle of Gardens," as the locals call it. One night, during a horrible quake and thunder storm, The Castle of Gardens stood in the middle of the Silver Wolf Forest. Some say it rose from the ground during the quake. Others claim it fell from the sky as a bolt of lightening. All assumed, at first, it was cursed.
The Castle of Gardens stood out above the tree line. What could be seen from the nearby city of Golden Fields was the bright red tile roof and the marble walls of the top floor. Those who dared venture near it claimed that it was surrounded by a natural stone wall with a silver gate, welded into an intricate pattern. From what could barely be seen through the gate was a row after row of raised gardens, going on for at least a quarter of a mile to the castle doors. The gardens grew all kinds of herbs.
The arrival of The Castle of Gardens also brought about Luis Hyde, the Castle's master. Luis was a young man, in his mid-twenties. He walked with a large staff in hand and always dressing formally. His usual outfit was a light green shirt under a black vest with gold buttons, with black pants to match. In winter, he sported a dark green cape lined in black silk.
Luis ventured into town now and then. He was often met with fear and hushed whispers from those who recognized him. Rumor spread he was a powerful wizard, actually centuries old and could torch villages with a mere thought. Thus Luis was often blamed for strange occurrences or general misfortune that struck the town. Luis did frequent bars, which was where some of these rumors started, but rarely stayed loyal to one for very long. Rarely ever for more than a drink or two would he stay, usually criticizing the quality of the ales as he left.
Luis was often accompanied by a teenager with silver wire frame glasses. His name was Vincent, people saw him to be Luis's servant, either taking his cape or running errands for him. Sometimes, if spotted from behind, his long hair and thin frame made others mistake him for a young woman. These instances always got on Vincent's nerves, but were the few times people would see Luis laughing in public.
It was nearing the second anniversary of the appearance of the Castle of Gardens. Golden Fields was preparing a festival to appease Luis, after someone overheard him talking about "the harvest." Fearful of their own crops, the farmers appealed to the Mayor, Robin Glen. Mayor Glen allowed for the festival, though some critics saw his quick response to "wizard fear" that Luis may hold some power of the city government.
"Amazing," Luis muttered to himself, looking over the city square. People were setting up shops, stands and stages. Banners were being hung from all streets into the square. "I talk about our second herb harvest and these people think I'm going to bring about a plague..."
"Should you?" Asked Vincent. He stood beside Luis, watching the preparation, motioning to a banner labeled with the words "Wizard Appreciation Day."
"Hm, depends on how I do in the pie eating contest," Luis's smirked. "Vincent, you're fifteen now, right?"
"Seventeen, sir," Vincent replied.
"Even better, I'm having a drink," Luis started to the nearest tavern, one by the name of The Dragon's Nest. He looked at the name and said, "Forget it."
"I hate fantasy creatures," Luis stepped back, looking around the square. Across the way was another pub named 'Pierre's,' it was brand new. The building had been empty until a week ago. Luis shook his head. "But I also hate walking." He settled for The Dragon's Nest. The bar was filled with patrons. Luckily, there was an open seat at the bar. Vincent stood by him, holding his staff.
"What will you have?" The bartender asked.
"Spiced ale, please."
"Sorry, nothing spiced."
"Then just your wheat ale."
"Yes, sir," the bartender immediately poured Luis a cup. Luis sipped it. "...You brew your own?"
"Yes, sir, is it to your liking?" The bartender bowed his head lightly.
"Not really," Luis shook his head. He downed the drink. He set the cup down and reached into his coat. From the pocket he flipped two silver coins into the cup.
"One cup, sir?" Vincent asked as Luis took his staff back.
"All I could stand," Luis shook his head. "I hope it's the harvest, not the brewer." He tapped his staff on the ground once.
Immediately, the patrons paled and gaped in horror, realizing who he was. The bartender bowed his head and quietly begged for forgiveness, offering Luis his money back. Luis chuckled to himself, walking to the door.
"It's not nice to play on people's superstitions," Vincent trailed off as the two walked to Pierre's.
"I disagree," Luis passed by a cart next to the stage, a magician looked to be setting up a practice session Luis couldn't resist. "So, festival's in five days, right?"
The magician had a black suit on with a top hat on his head. He held a "magic" wand in hand. In his left eye was a monocle. "Of course, I personally can't wait."
"Why's that?" Luis asked. This guy was from out of town. Vincent saw where this would be going.
"Don't you know? I am the Legendary Wizard, Merlinius!" The Magician threw his arms out, confetti sprayed from his sleeves. "
"Oh? Why haven't I heard of you, O Great Wizard?" Luis asked.
"Surely you jest! I am known in all kingdoms of the central continent. I can escape any lock, untie any knot, summon spirits from other realms, gaze into the future, and even command fire itself!"
"Bravo! Could you demonstrate?" Luis asked. "Perhaps your pyro-manipulation talents?"
"Oh, not until the show starts!" Merlinius shook his head.
"Please? For a lover of the magical arts?"
"I suppose I could show you my rainbow flame..." Merlinius reached into his pocket, pulling out a white handkerchief. He showed both sides, then his gloved hands and empty sleeves. He cupped one of his hands, placing the handkerchief on top of his hand and pushed it into his palm with one finger. He shook his hand a couple times and tossed the handkerchief into the air. It burst into flame, sparking different colors as the handkerchief slowly burned while falling to the ground. "Beautiful, no?"
Luis yawned. "Seen it."
Vincent nodded as well. "I've seen better, actually."
"How about this!?" Merlinius produced a white dove into his hand.
"...Meh," Luis shrugged. "Want to see a real trick?"
Hmph!" Merlinius gave Luis a glare. "What is it?"
Gently, Luis took Merlinius' dove. It perched on his index finger. "What's your favorite color?" Before Merlinius could speak, Luis added. "Just think of the color. Just imagine a candle, burning, the wax is that color."
Merlinius thought a moment, closed his eyes and said, "All right."
"Open your eyes," Luis said.
The Merlinius' astonishment, the dove's body had turned from white to a dark purple, the head of the dove was yellow and orange, like a flame.. "I-Impossible!"
Luis gently passed Merlinius' dove back to him. "No, impossible would be plaid." He started off with Vincent to the bar, saying, "You're just using some explosive powder from Beiguo, which only seems magical because not too many people around here know about it."
Once they neared the bar, Vincent spoke, "You seem to be in a better mood than usual. The last street magician you met, you almost lit him on fire with his own trick."
"Oh, just wait until that bird asks for a cracker..." Luis chuckled.
"Doves don't talk, only parrots..."
"Exactly," Luis let out a dark chuckle. He stepped into the bar, this time it was nearly empty. The bartender was more than happy to serve Luis. Vincent just sat next to Luis, holding his staff.
"Pint of malted ale," Luis said.
The bartender smiled, nodding. He poured a cup of malted ale for Luis. Luis sipped it. "Do you like it?"
"Just the right flavor, actually..." Luis nodded. "Do you brew your own?"
"My brother, actually, he's three towns over," the bartender replied. "The drinks are my recipe, though."
"Tell me, why is your bar so empty?"
"The Dragon's Nest across the way, mostly," the bartender explained. "I just opened up, and the owner of the Dragon's Nest has lowered his prices to drive me out of business. Once I'm gone, he'll raise them up again."
"Sneaky little bastard." Luis chuckled. "Especially considering his drinks are still overpriced. So, you're Pierre, right?"
"Yes," the bartender nodded. "I moved here from the capital."
Luis downed the drink, pushing it to Pierre, "One more, please."
Pierre filled up the cup for Luis. "And for you?"
"Tea, please," Vincent said.
Pierre went into the back of the bar. He came out just as Luis finished his drink with a tray holding a pot of tea, two cups, sugar, lemon and milk.
"Not bad," Luis commented. "I see tea houses around here that do less..." He pushed the cup to Pierre, who filled it.
"I like to please my customers," Pierre said.
Luis sipped a cup of plain, black tea. "Fair quality, better than most..."
Vincent made his cup of tea and sipped it. "Very good."
"Not if you overpower the taste with sugar, lemon and milk," Luis rolled his eyes. He downed his cup. He let out a belch into his hand. "I'll have something to eat."
"Today we have roast chicken as a special."
"I'll take it," Luis nodded.
Later, once Luis and Vincent were done eating and drinking, Luis stood up. "What's the bill?"
"Thirty-five silver crowns, sir," Pierre said.
"Do you know who I am?" Luis asked.
Pierre shook his head. "Forgive me, I'm bad with faces and names."
"I'll give you something worth three hundred and fifty gold crowns," Luis smirked. He tapped his staff on the ground three times. "See you later."
"S-Sir! Wait!" Pierre shouted, going out from behind the bar. He, and Vincent, were both knocked to the ground from the sudden and violent roar of thunder from outside. Luis just walked out the door. Vincent scrambled after him.
Before Pierre could reach the door, people were pouring into his bar. All of them, going on about something. "Excuse me, but, what happened outside?"
"Take a look!" A man shouted. "You just had Luis Hyde in your bar! I think he liked it!"
Pierre was confused by this...Luis Hyde? That named was familiar. He stepped outside, suddenly he could match the name to a rumor he had heard…
In the sky over the town square, the clouds read in beautiful handwriting: DRINK AT PIERRE'S.
Luis and Vincent were already heading out of the city.
"Alcohol makes you very charitable," Vincent commented.
"Actually, I just hate The Dragon's Nest that much," Luis replied. He stopped, looking up at his work, smiling to himself. He turned back and continued walking. "Should we see the doctor?"
"Just to see if she needs anything," Vincent nodded. "It's cold and flu season, she'll be running low on everything."
"All right, it's just up ahead..." Luis nodded. The street led out of the city and down a road through the farmlands. Harvest time was nearing, and the wheat looked almost sickly in some areas. Other crops weren't as bad, but could be better. Luis had a feeling he would be blamed for it, even though it was due to light drought and an insect problem.
A little past the city, about a mile from the entrance to the woods, was a small clinic. It had a line of people around it.
"Do we have to?" Luis sighed, looking to Vincent.
"You know how she gets." Vincent shook his head.
"Yeah, yeah..." Luis muttered. He stepped inside of the clinic. A young woman in a white dress was rushing around, she had tightly braided blond hair down her back. Her name was Lisa, she was the owner and only doctor in the clinic, as well as best doctor in the city. She was passing around medicinal herbs.
"Lisa," Luis waved, whistling.
"Luis!" Lisa quickly approached. She stopped. "...Tongue."
"Stick out your tongue." Lisa said.
Luis rolled his eyes. "Aah..." He stuck out his tongue.
"Just as I thought, you've been drinking again," Lisa said.
Luis responded with an annoyed raspberry.
Vincent spoke, "We're here to see if you need--"
"Tongue." Lisa looked to Vincent, he stuck out his tongue. She examined him, then pulled out a hollow metal tube, about two inches long. She put one end to his chest, her ear on the other. "Cough."
"You sound like you're coming down with something," Lisa put away the tube and held Vincent's head by both cheeks. She put his head back. "Nose looks a little stuffed... Yep, you're getting a cold."
"I felt fine this morning..." Vincent trailed off, Lisa felt his forehead.
"I'll give him some tisane when we get back," Luis said. "We need to know--"
"Two cups of a blend of hibiscus and orange peel for a week," Lisa interrupted. "Also, go right to bed when you get back."
"He has to feed--"
"You do it," Lisa looked to Luis.
"Ah, great..." Luis muttered.
Vincent spoke, "I'm fine, I can still--"
"The orders of a doctor go beyond my orders...Somehow, in the grand scheme of things."Luis shot a light glare at Lisa, who laughed it off. "Anyway, we're here to see if you need anything."
"Oh, actually, I do need some things... I'm glad you stopped by, I'll write up a list so you can have it ready tonight." Lisa smiled.
"Great," Luis looked to Vincent. "You can run it by tomorrow--"
"No, Vincent's taking tomorrow off," Lisa shook her head. "You'll have to do all the prep work for this order, too, Luis. I can't have someone with a cold handling my medications."
"...If it counts, I'm getting sick of this already," Luis muttered. "Just write up a list, I'll have it ready tonight."
Vincent suddenly sneezed. Lisa passed him a handkerchief.
Lisa pulled a list from her pocket and passed it to Luis.
"You're a fast writer, I didn't even see you get a pen," Luis muttered.
"I had a feeling you'd stop by after I saw the clouds," Lisa smiled. "Thanks, Luis."
"Doctor..." A man moaned, poking his head into the clinic. "Forgive me, but--" He sneezed.
"Oh, dear," Lisa sighed. "Sorry, Luis, but I have a busy day today."
"Not to worry," Luis said as he looked over the list, "I have most of this already, but I am running low on the dried fruit you want."
"I'll take whatever you can offer."
"Well, I guess I can spare some cider as a replacement, but that'll be extra."
"Put it on my tab," Lisa replied, smiling.
Vincent suddenly coughed.
"Let's go, I can't have you die on me, at least not until I find some other poor soul to replace you," Luis looked to Vincent.
"Sorry, sir," Vincent said. "But, my throat suddenly feels a bit sore..."
"Yeah, it's a case of a psychosomatic head cold with a related infection of the hypochondrial gland..." Luis muttered, starting to the door. "See you, Lisa."
"Bye, Luis! Make sure Vincent gets plenty of sleep."
"No promises," Luis replied.
"Bye, Lisa," Vincent nodded his head, passing back the handkerchief. Lisa just motioned for him to keep it. He left with Luis.
Once Vincent caught up with Luis, Luis stopped.
Luis suddenly felt Vincent's forehead with his hand. "...Hm, a little warm... Damn, let's go... I'll make you some tea."
"Sir, I can make my own tea, you don't have to--"
"Last thing I need is my tea getting infected with ideas put into your head by Lisa," Luis replied, chuckling darkly.
Vincent could but get a light chill down his spine from Luis's tone. Shortly after that, he sneezed.
Not too far into the forest was the main gate to the castle. Luis opened the gate, immediately a man in a uniform rushed to him. "At ease, soldier." Luis said with a grin.
"My Lord, I'm glad to report no suspicious activity around the castle today!" A long white bearded man saluted. He was Qiang Hao, Luis's personal bodyguard, the head of the Castle Guard as well as its sole recruit. Luis often gave joke orders, Qiang always joined in. Reports such as this were occasional, only if Qiang was in a joking mood.
"None?" Luis asked. "No bears? Snooping peasants? Children playing hide and seek or on a foolish dare to sneak over our walls?" With a pause, Luis added, "What of Dragons?" As he chatted with Qiang, Vincent was closing the gate and locking it.
"None, sir!" Qiang shook his head.
"You're doing a good job, then!" Luis nodded. "Keep up the good work!"
"Thank you, sir! Permission to take a break to make some tea for the night watch, sir!"
"Permission granted! Give those leaves hell, soldier! Boil them alive!" Luis barked.
"Thank you!" Qiang went off to a small stone house to the left of the gate. It was the guards' quarters and "dungeon." It was a dungeon in the sense that it could only be locked from the outside, in the (unlikely) event Qiang arrested someone. It happened once, though, much to even Qiang's surprise.
Luis and Vincent walked to the main doors of the castle. Luis couldn't help but admire what gave it the name "The Castle of Gardens" among locals. From the main gate was a smooth stone path to the castle's main doors, lining the path were raised gardens of all kinds of herbs, with orchards behind the castle. At the halfway point was a fountain, a bronze turtle with water flowing over its shell. A compass lined the bottom of the fountain pool. The castle itself was actually quite small, more like a mansion. To the left of the main entrance was a path to the back of the castle. Across from the left side of the castle, next to the wall, were the (always empty) stables. To the right was a row of evergreen trees, growing outside of the windows into the kitchen.
As Vincent went to unlock one of the main doors, Luis shouted, "Don't touch that knob!"
"Wh-What?!" Vincent dropped his key, he scrambled to pick it up. "Why?"
"You'll get it infected! Last thing I need is the entire guard force catching a cold if they reported inside! For heaven's sake, they've never taken a single sick day in five years, I won't let them start now!"
Vincent laughed, checking the lock after picking up his key. "That doesn't mean he doesn't get sick, he just works while sick."
"Lovely hacking cough he had last winter, I could hear it from my bedroom," Luis said. "Very reassuring, actually, I only got worried when he was silent. Who knew what could have happened to him?" He passed his key to Luis, who leapt back in terror of the "infected" item. Vincent pocketed the key as Luis unlocked it with his own..
"You first," Luis opened the door for Vincent, ushering him into the main hall. The walls were covered with dusty paintings (mostly of reptiles, Luis preferred them among most animals). The staircase up to the bedrooms had also seen better days, it looked as if it had been through a dozen quakes (as did other things throughout the castle). Behind each side of the staircase was a door. The one to the right had dozens of "KEEP OUT" signs hung around it, the one of the left was simply dusty. The former led into Luis's laboratory, while the latter led into the library. Upstairs were all bed rooms, six in total (the largest belonging to Luis). On the bottom floor, opposite the kitchen, was a lavatory and baths.
Luis lead Vincent into the kitchen, he started a pot of water and went to a cupboard full of various clay jars. He pulled out five of them.
Vincent sat at a table. He really was starting to suddenly feel sick. Not at death's door, but at least a head cold. He looked around the kitchen, sighing and thinking to himself. "Sir Luis is going to be a bad mood tomorrow if he has to lug the herbs around, all these years of working for him have taught me that much. I hope this just a temporary cold, really... I'll probably end up at the clinic again tomorrow, anyway, or Lisa might..."
"Here," Luis gave Vincent a tray with a pot of tea and a cup. He sat down across from Vincent, sipping a glass of wine.
"Thank you, sir," Vincent began making his tea. Luis, as usual if he ever made tea, didn't bother getting sugar or milk (unless the former was actually salt and Luis was feeling particularly malicious). Vincent poured himself a cup. It had a bright red liquor, letting off a very tart aroma. He sipped it. "What's in it?"
"What Lisa recommended and my own personal remedies," Luis sat back. "Drink up and go to bed, I'll take care of the herbs."
"I really think it's all in my head..." Vincent trailed off.
"I know it's all in your head, the problem is, since we met, you've been a hypochondriac. Remember when Lisa joked about a plague breaking out a few years back?"
Vincent nodded. "The fact you turned me green didn't help."
"On the contrary, that was the most fun I ever had in a plague infested village," Luis toasted his wine with a grin.
Vincent poured his second cup. He started feeling a bit weird as he sipped his cup. Now that he thought about it, the taste was a bit off. Realizing the subject of their conversation, Vincent reached for a discarded spoon and checked his reflection.
"Relax, I'm not turning you any weird colors this time." Luis sipped his wine.
Vincent nodded, "Sorry." He placed the spoon aside, accidentally dropping it off the table. "Oh! Sorry--"
"Leave it," Luis said as Vincent started to get up. "Enjoy your tea."
This was starting to worry Vincent. "...Enjoy my tea...?"
"Yes, you and I drink enough of it, I assumed you liked it," Luis replied.
"Would you...care for some?" Vincent asked.
Luis laughed. He downed his wine and poured a bit of tea into his wine glass. He sipped it. "Happy? I didn't poison you."
"Sorry... I just...Well..." Vincent shook his head. "Sorry." He realized he was repeating the word 'sorry' a lot.
"For what?" Luis smirked, sipping the glass of tea.
When Vincent finished the pot, he stood up and took the tray with the pot and cup to wash them. As he did, he almost tripped. Luis managed to catch the pot, but the cup was lost.
"Sir, I'm...I'm sorry! I don't...I don't know what happened!" Vincent knelt to pick up the pieces. He was stopped by Luis's staff.
"Don't worry about it..." Luis chuckled. "A cup is a cup, I can buy more."
"Just head upstairs." Luis grinned.
Vincent nodded. He started to the door and fell over his own feet, he hit the ground with a thud. "What...What's wrong with me?"
"Must be your cold," Luis helped him up. Vincent tripped again on the stairs.
"Please, tell Lisa... I'm worried this is more than just a cold..." Vincent said, giving Luis a concerned look. He looked terrified that he was dying. He managed to get up the stairs, more or less crawling up. He carefully made it to his room, falling into the walls at every other step.
"Don't worry, it's just a cold!" Luis shouted. He then reached into his pocket, pulling out a leather coated flask. "And a bit of my favorite cold medication." He chuckled to himself, taking a sip and putting it back in his pocket. "You're such a lightweight..."
By late evening, Luis finished collecting all of the herbs on Lisa's list. He had them lined up in large clay jars by the staircase in the main hall.
As Luis put away the last jar of herbs, the doors opened. Lisa came in. "About time," Luis said.
"How's my patient?" Lisa asked.
"Probably sleeping," Luis shrugged. "I made him some tea, and he fell asleep..."
"You got him drunk again, didn't you?"
"I regret nothing!" Luis crossed his arms. "And what a way to thank the man who's going to take all of this to your office tomorrow."
"My apologies," Lisa smirked. "I'm just glad to have a direct supplier."
"My gardens are your gardens," Luis said. He went to the kitchen, saying, "Care for a drink?"
"I have one last keg I've been dying to open up," Luis grinned.
"You shouldn't, you have an early morning tomorrow..." Lisa trailed off.
Luis paused. "...Early?"
"Well, I need those herbs tomorrow morning, and I don't think you have any spells that will just zap them there, do you?" Lisa asked.
"Just the one the public shouldn't see too often," Luis replied. "Fine, no more alcohol tonight. I'll just have dinner and go to sleep. Care to join?"
"I had dinner in town, I'm just going to check on Vincent and go to bed." Lisa replied.
"All right, see you in town tomorrow," Luis watched as Lisa went upstairs to Vincent's room. Her room was right next to Vincent's, Luis's was at the end of the hall. The room next to hers was held by Luis's gardener, who was out of town at the time.
With a yawn, Luis went to make his dinner, saying, "Given how hard it is for me to get to town, I might want to use my faithful steed..." He muttered.
Ah… What can I say? This just something I wrote for fun last October. The entire story is complete and, from chapter three onward, I plan to post one chapter a week.
I want to say now, I really don't like using the word "wizard," but it ended up being used more than I wanted to.
Hope you enjoy the story.