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A Tale of Witchcraft...
By Chris Colfer
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A RIGHTEOUS RETURN
It began in the dead of night while the world was asleep. As soon as all the streetlamps faded and the lanterns dimmed throughout the Southern Kingdom, hundreds of men across the country—333 to be exact—suddenly emerged from their homes at precisely the same moment.
The peculiar activity hadn’t been planned or rehearsed. The men never discussed it with one another or even knew the identities of their fellow participants. They were from different villages, different families, and different backgrounds, but the men were secretly united by one malevolent cause. And tonight, after a long hiatus, that cause had finally called them into action.
Each man stepped into the night wearing a pristine silver robe that practically glowed in the moonlight. Matching silver masks with two slits were draped over their heads to shield everything but their eyes, and the face of a ferocious white wolf was proudly displayed across each of their chests. The ominous uniforms made the men seem more ghostlike than human, and in many ways, they were ghosts.
After all, it had been centuries since the Righteous Brotherhood’s last appearance.
The men left their homes and journeyed into the darkness, all heading for the same location. They traveled entirely on foot and walked so softly their footsteps didn’t make a single sound. When their towns and villages were far behind them, and they were certain they hadn’t been followed, the men lit torches to illuminate the road ahead. But they weren’t on the paved roads for very long. Their destination was far beyond any beaten path, and it wasn’t on any surviving maps.
The Brotherhood hiked over grassy hills, stomped through muddy fields, and splashed across shallow streams as they trekked through uncharted territory. They had never been to their destination or seen it with their own eyes, but the directions were so ingrained in them that every tree and boulder they passed felt as familiar as a memory.
Some men traveled greater distances than others, some moved faster or more slowly, but at two hours past midnight, the first of the 333 travelers started to arrive. And the site was exactly as they had expected.
At the southernmost point of the Southern Kingdom, at the base of a rocky mountain bordering the South Sea, were the ancient ruins of a long-forgotten fortress. From afar, the fortress looked like the carcass of an enormous creature that had washed ashore. It had jagged stone walls that were horribly cracked and chipped. Five crumbling towers stretched into the sky like the fingers of a skeletal hand, and sharp rocks hung over the drawbridge like teeth in a giant mouth.
The fortress hadn’t been occupied by a single soul in over six hundred years—even the seagulls avoided it as they hovered in the night breeze—but regardless of its eerie appearance, the fortress was sacred to the Righteous Brotherhood. It was the birthplace of their clan, a temple of their beliefs, and it had served as their headquarters during the days when they imposed their Righteous Philosophy upon the kingdom.
There had come a time when the Brotherhood was so effective at enforcing the Righteous Philosophy that such a base of operations was no longer needed. So the Brotherhood boarded up their beloved fortress, hung up their uniforms, and retreated from sight. Over time, their existence became merely a rumor, the rumor became a myth, and the myth was nearly forgotten. For centuries, generation after generation of the Brotherhood sat quietly on the sidelines and relished the profound ways their ancestors had shaped the Southern Kingdom—and, by extension, the rest of the world.
But the world was changing. And the Brotherhood’s time of silence was over.
Earlier that day, a series of silver flags with the images of white wolves were placed throughout the towns and villages in the Southern Kingdom. The flags were subtle and hardly noticed by most citizens, but to these 333 men, the flags conveyed an unmistakable message: It was time for the Righteous Brotherhood to return. And so, later that night, once their wives and children were asleep, the men quietly retrieved their uniforms from their hiding places, wrapped the silver robes around their bodies, draped the silver masks over their faces, and promptly left their homes for the fortress in the south.
The first arrivals took position on the drawbridge and guarded the entrance. As the other clansmen trickled in, they lined up one by one and recited an ancient passphrase before entering:
“Nothing can flee the three thirty-three.”
Once they were permitted inside, the Brotherhood gathered in a vast courtyard at the heart of the fortress. The men stood in complete silence as they waited for the rest of the clan to arrive. They watched one another with extreme curiosity—none of them had ever seen a fellow clansman before. The men wondered if they recognized any of the eyes peering through the masks surrounding them, but they didn’t dare ask. The first rule of the Righteous Brotherhood was to never disclose your identity, especially not to one another. As they saw it, the key to a successful secret society was keeping everyone a secret.
At five hours past midnight, all 333 members were finally present. A silver flag bearing the image of a white wolf was hoisted above the tallest tower to mark the Brotherhood’s official return. Once the flag was raised, the High Commander of the clan revealed himself by placing a crown of sharp metal spikes on his head. The men bowed to their superior as he climbed to the top of a stone platform, where all 332 pairs of eyes could see him.
“Welcome, brothers,” the High Commander said with open arms. “’Tis a glorious sight to see all of you gathered here tonight. Such a meeting has not been held in over six hundred years, and our forefathers would be triumphant to know the Brotherhood has survived the test of time. For generations, the principles and responsibilities of this Brotherhood have been passed down from father to eldest son in three hundred and thirty-three of the Southern Kingdom’s finest families. And on our fathers’ deathbeds, we each swore an oath to devote our entire existence—this lifetime, and whatever lies beyond it—to protecting and upholding our Righteous Philosophy.”
The High Commander gestured a hand to the Brotherhood, and they passionately recited the Righteous Philosophy in perfect unison:
“Mankind was meant to rule, and men to rule mankind.”
“Indeed,” the High Commander said. “Our philosophy is not just an opinion, it is the natural order. Mankind is the strongest and wisest species to ever grace this planet. We were meant to dominate, and our dominance is the key to survival itself. Without men like us, civilization would collapse and the world would return to the chaos of primitive times.
“For thousands of years, this Brotherhood has battled the dark and unnatural forces that threaten the natural order, and our ancestors have worked tirelessly to ensure mankind’s rightful supremacy. They destabilized the communities of trolls, goblins, elves, dwarfs, and ogres so that the talking creatures could never organize an attack against us. They deprived women of education and opportunity to prevent the weaker sex from rising to power. And most important of all, our ancestors were the first to wage war against the blasphemy of magic and send its wicked practitioners into oblivion.”
The clansmen raised their torches high above their heads and cheered for their ancestors’ heroic deeds.
“Six centuries ago, this Brotherhood accomplished its greatest feat yet,” the High Commander continued. “Our ancestors carried out a meticulous plan to put King Champion I on the throne of the Southern Kingdom. And then they surrounded the young king with an advisory council of High Justices, who were under the Brotherhood’s control. Soon the Righteous Philosophy became the foundation of the mightiest kingdom on earth. The talking creatures were ostracized and stripped of rights, women were legally banned from reading books, and magic became a criminal offense punishable by death. For six hundred magnificent years, mankind ruled without opposition. With the Righteous Philosophy safely secured, our Brotherhood slowly faded into the shadows and enjoyed a prolonged period of rest.
“But nothing lasts forever. The Brotherhood has been reassembled tonight because a new threat has emerged that was unimaginable until now. And we must eliminate it immediately.”
The High Commander snapped his fingers, and two clansmen hurried out of the courtyard. They returned a moment later carrying a large painting and set it on the stone platform beside their superior. The painting was a portrait of a beautiful young woman with bright blue eyes and light brown hair. She wore sparkling clothes, and white flowers adorned her long braid. Although she had a kind smile that could warm the coldest of hearts, something about the young woman made the Brotherhood uneasy.
“But it’s just a girl,” said a man in the back. “What’s so threatening about that?”
“That’s not just any girl,” said a man in the front. “It’s her—isn’t it? The one that people are calling the Fairy Godmother!”
“Make no mistake, my brothers, this young woman is dangerous,” the High Commander warned. “Underneath the flowers and the cheerful grin lies the greatest threat the Righteous Brotherhood has ever encountered. As we speak, this monster—this girl—is destroying everything our ancestors created!”
A nervous murmuring swept through the courtyard, prompting another man to step forward and address the anxious clan.
“I’ve learned a great deal about this Fairy Godmother,” he announced. “Her real name is Brystal Evergreen, and she’s a criminal from Chariot Hills! Last year she was arrested for female literacy and conjuring magic! She should have been executed for her crimes, but Brystal Evergreen was spared because of her father, Justice Evergreen. The Justice used his connections to lessen her punishment, and instead of death, she was sentenced to hard labor at the Bootstrap Correctional Facility for Troubled Young Women. But Brystal Evergreen was only there for a couple of weeks before she escaped! She fled to the southeast In-Between and joined a devilish coven of fairies! She’s lived there ever since, developing her sinful abilities with other heathens like her.”
“I’d say her abilities are more than developed now,” the High Commander chimed in. “Recently, Brystal Evergreen bewitched King Champion XIV into amending the laws of the Southern Kingdom! The In-Between was divided into territories so the talking creatures and the fairies would have proper homes! Women were granted permission to read and seek higher education! But worst of all, Brystal Evergreen orchestrated the worldwide legalization of magic! Virtually overnight, every trace of the Righteous Philosophy was stripped from the Southern Kingdom’s constitution!
“But Brystal Evergreen’s reign of terror doesn’t end there, my brothers. She has since opened an atrocious school of magic in the Fairy Territory and invited all members of the magical community to move there and develop their own unnatural abilities. When she’s not teaching, Brystal Evergreen travels across the kingdoms with a crew of colorful degenerates known as the Fairy Council. They’ve captured the world’s attention and affection, claiming to ‘help’ and ‘heal’ those in need, but our Brotherhood will not be fooled. The magical community’s objective is the same today as it was six hundred years ago: to brainwash the world with sorcery and enslave the human race.”
The Brotherhood roared so loudly the ancient fortress shook.
“High Commander, I fear we’re too late,” said a man in the crowd. “Since the Fairy Council appeared, the public has grown fond of magic. I’ve overheard people discussing the surprising benefits the legalization has caused. Apparently, illnesses and diseases are on the decline, thanks to the new potions and elixirs that are sold in apothecaries. They say agriculture is thriving, thanks to the spells protecting crops from frost and insects. And people are even crediting our growing economy to the popularity of enchanted products. Every man wants a self-driving carriage, every woman wants a self-sweeping broom, and every child wants a self-swinging swing set.”
“Public opinion is starting to shift about the other amendments, too,” said another man in the crowd. “In fact, most of the Southern Kingdom actually likes the changes King Champion has made to the constitution. They say allowing women to read and pursue education has elevated discussions in our schools, causing students of all genders to think outside the box. They say splitting the In-Between into territories has made the talking creatures more civilized, and now travel and trade between kingdoms is much safer than before. All in all, the people believe the legalization of magic has sparked a new age of prosperity, and they wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.”
“Their prosperity is a facade!” the High Commander shouted. “A hydrangea may be beautiful, its scent may be pleasurable, but it is still poisonous when ingested! If we don’t restore the Righteous Philosophy, our world will begin to rot from the inside out! Too much diplomacy will make us weak, too much equality will kill initiative, and too much magic will make us lazy and incompetent. The magical community will dominate us, the natural order will crumble, and absolute pandemonium will ensue!”
“But how do we restore the Righteous Philosophy?” a clansman asked. “King Champion is under Brystal Evergreen’s influence—and we need the king to amend the law!”
“Not necessarily,” the High Commander scoffed. “We need a king, not the king.”
From the new creases in his mask, the Brotherhood could tell their superior was smiling.
“And now for the good news,” the High Commander said. “King Champion XIV is eighty-eight years old, and it won’t be long until a new king sits on the throne of the Southern Kingdom. And as fate would have it, the next king is very sympathetic to our cause. He respects the natural order, he believes in the Righteous Philosophy, and like us, he has not been fooled by the Fairy Council’s displays of compassion. The next king has agreed to abolish King Champion’s amendments on one condition: that we appoint him as the new leader of our Brotherhood and serve him as a Righteous King.”
The clansmen couldn’t contain their excitement. Until now, they could never have imagined a world in which the sovereign of the Righteous Brotherhood and the sovereign of the Southern Kingdom would be one and the same. If they proceeded wisely, such an outcome could solidify the Righteous Philosophy for generations to come.
“What about the magical community?” a clansman asked. “They’re more powerful and popular than ever before. Surely they’ll revolt against the new king or bewitch him just as easily as the old king.”
“Then we must terminate them before the next king takes the throne,” the High Commander said.
“But how?” the clansman asked.
“The same way our Brotherhood nearly obliterated the magical community six hundred years ago. And believe me, brothers, our ancestors were armed with much more than a philosophy.”
The High Commander climbed down from the stone platform and then hoisted the platform up like a gigantic hatch. To the Brotherhood’s surprise, what he exposed was a massive arsenal of cannons, swords, crossbows, spears, and chains. There were enough weapons to mobilize an army of a thousand men, but these weapons were unlike any the clansmen had ever seen. Instead of being made from iron or steel, all the blades, arrowheads, chains, and cannonballs were made from a red stone that glowed and flickered, as if fire were trapped inside. The crimson light flooded the colorless courtyard and mesmerized the clansmen.
“It’s time for the Righteous Brotherhood to come out of the shadows!” the High Commander declared. “We must honor the oath we made to our fathers and strike before our enemies have a chance to prepare. Together, with our new Righteous King, we will preserve the natural order, restore our Righteous Philosophy, and exterminate the magical community once and for all!”
The High Commander removed a loaded crossbow from the arsenal and fired three arrows at the portrait of Brystal Evergreen—one into her head and two into her heart.
“And just like any colony of pests, first we must kill its queen.”
Besides a successful logging industry—and a handful of royal scandals—the Western Kingdom was best known for the iconic Western Dam in the capital city of Fort Longsworth. The landmark was over a thousand feet tall and made from over five million stone blocks, and it protected Fort Longsworth from being flooded by the Great Western Lake.
The dam was two centuries old and had taken seventy years to build, and when the construction was finally finished in the summer of 452, a national holiday was created to celebrate the historic achievement.
Dam Day was beloved by all the citizens in the Western Kingdom and a highlight of their year. People were given the day off from work, children were given the day off from school, and they all gathered together to play games, eat food, and raise a glass to the dam towering over the capital city.
Unfortunately, this year’s Dam Day was expected to be a disappointment. After a series of unexpected earthquakes, the ground beneath the Western Dam had shifted and caused a large crack to spread across the structure. Water sprayed through the narrow opening and misted Fort Longsworth like a constant rain. The damage only worsened as time went on—the crack grew longer and wider, so water drenched the city more and more each day.
Immediate maintenance was required, but the kingdom’s frugal sovereign, King Warworth, was reluctant to give the orders. Besides being a costly and timely endeavor, the repair would be a dangerous task, and the entire city of Fort Longsworth would have to be evacuated in the process. The king spent many sleepless nights scratching his bald head and twirling his bushy mustache, trying to think of an alternative solution.
Luckily for him (and his very, very wet citizens), new resources were at his disposal, and using them would cost him only a little of his pride. At first, the king rejected the idea, but as he watched the endless mist turn Fort Longworth’s streets into small rivers, he realized he didn’t have a choice. So King Warworth requested his finest parchment and his finest quill and wrote a letter asking for the one thing he hated asking for the most—help:
Dear Fairy Godmother,
Last year, you earned the world’s gratitude after your courageous deeds in the Northern Kingdom. I, along with my subjects, can never thank you enough for sending the terrible Snow Queen into seclusion and saving the planet from the Great Blizzard of 651. Since then, you have continued to fascinate and inspire the world with profound acts of generosity. From building orphanages and shelters to feeding the hungry and healing the sick, you and the Fairy Council have touched our hearts with your compassion and charity.
Today, I write to you with hopes that you’ll consider sharing that compassion with the Western Kingdom. Recently, the Western Dam in Fort Longsworth suffered damages that must be addressed immediately. A traditional repair would take the better half of a decade and force thousands of citizens out of their homes. However, if you were willing to provide us with a magical remedy, my people would be spared from such grievances. If such a gesture is possible, the fairies would earn the Western Kingdom’s eternal appreciation and give us more reason to celebrate on our beloved Dam Day.
It is no secret that the Western Kingdom, like our neighboring nations, has had a complicated history with the magical community. We cannot erase the discrimination and injustices of the past, but with your kindness, we could mark a new beginning for Western relations with magic.
I pray you’ll forgive us and help us in our hour of need.
King Warworth of the Western Kingdom
The king was exhausted after all the groveling. He carefully folded the letter, stamped it with his official seal, and gave it to his fastest messenger.
The following morning, the messenger arrived at the border of the Fairy Territory, but he couldn’t find a way inside. An enormous hedge grew along the perimeter and protected the territory like a leafy wall. The hedge was too tall to climb and too thick to crawl through, so the messenger searched the border and eventually found an entrance.
He was surprised to find a large group of other messengers lined up at the entrance, and judging by their elegant wardrobes, they were all delivering messages from prominent households. Even more surprising, the entrance was guarded by a terrifying knight who sat atop a massive three-headed horse. The knight was twice the size of a regular man, and antlers grew out of his helmet. Although the knight watched the messengers in complete silence, he didn’t have to say anything to make one thing perfectly clear—nothing was getting past him.
Two mail bins were on the ground in front of the knight, one labeled REQUESTS and the other PRAISE. One at a time, the fearful messengers approached the knight, placed their messages into the appropriate box, and then hurried away as fast as they could. King Warworth’s messenger waited for his turn and, with a trembling hand, dropped the king’s letter into the box marked REQUESTS, then he raced back to the Western Kingdom.
Just a few hours after his letter was delivered, King Warworth received a response. While the king was enjoying dinner in the Western Castle, a unicorn suddenly burst into the dining room with a golden envelope in its mouth. The magical steed was followed by two dozen guards who had failed to stop it from entering the castle. The guards chased the unicorn in circles around the dining room, and on their fifth lap around the table, the unicorn dropped the golden envelope in the king’s bowl of soup.
The unicorn left the dining room just as quickly as it had arrived. As the guards hurried after the beast, King Warworth dried the envelope with his napkin, opened it with his butter knife, and read the message inside:
Dear King Warworth,
I passed your request on to the Fairy Godmother, and she sends her deepest sympathies for your dam troubles. She, along with myself and the rest of the Fairy Council, has agreed to help you. We will arrive in Fort Longsworth at noon on Dam Day to fix the damage.
Please let us know of any changes, conflicts, or additional information prior to our visit. Thank you and have a magical day.
Director of Correspondence to the Fairy
PS—We apologize for meeting you on your national holiday. The Fairy Council is very busy with requests at the moment.
King Warworth was overjoyed by the good news and saw it as a personal victory. He decided to make the Fairy Council’s visit a momentous occasion and ordered his staff to spread word of their upcoming engagement. Soggy banners were flown and damp flags were raised across the moist capital. A row of risers was placed at the foot of the Western Dam, and a stage was built so the king could present the council with a token of his appreciation afterward.
Such arrangements hadn’t been made since King Warworth’s coronation—but public interest in the Fairy Council was gravely underestimated.
On the eve of Dam Day, hundreds of thousands of citizens from all corners of the kingdom traveled to Fort Longsworth. By dawn, the risers were overflowing, and crowds formed in every part of the city with a view of the dam. Families stood on the roofs of their homes, shopkeepers stood on the roofs of their shops, and monks straddled the spires of their churches for a glimpse of the festivities. The spewing dam soaked all the spectators throughout the city; they shivered in the morning air, but their hearts were kept warm by the promise of magic.
The Western Kingdom had never hosted such a tremendous celebration. It was being called “the event of the decade,” “a celebration of the century,” and “a Dam Day for the history books.”
But even with those expectations, no one could have predicted just how memorable the day would be.…
On the morning of Dam Day, Fort Longsworth was so busy it took King Warworth three hours to travel the short distance between the Western Castle and the Western Dam. His carriage squeezed through the crowded streets and arrived at the dam with only minutes to spare. Once the king was seated in a private section of the risers, an energetic presenter took to the stage and greeted the hundreds of thousands of people surrounding the landmark.
“Hellooooooo, Western Kingdom!” he called out. “It is my great honor to welcome you to what will surely be remembered as the best Dam Day of our lifetime!”
The presenter’s boisterous voice echoed through the congested city, and all the citizens cheered. Their enthusiastic roar was so strong it almost knocked the presenter off his feet.
- On Sale
- Sep 29, 2020
- Page Count
- 528 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers