Monday, February 10, 2014

The Golden Cape

Twenty years ago today I wrote my first book. Oh sure, there was the book they helped us make in Kindergarten (a cat climbing a tree to eat apples?), but this time was independent of any teacher or grownup saying, “Hey, you should do this.” This time I decided on my own that I could be an author. So I was. I stapled together some of the old green-and-white-striped computer paper we used for coloring and I wrote down the story of The Golden Cape, based on a dream I’d had. At a whopping 222 words, it was quite the fantasy epic. Below you’ll see a scanned picture of the cover. 

And the title page...

And here's the story itself (I'll transcribe without misspellings below, in case you can't read 7-year-old Grace's writing)...

"Once there lived two kings who were neighbors. One of the kings had a golden cape. His name was Leontes. The other king's name was David. David asked Leontes if he could borrow his golden cape."

"Leontes said yes. While David borrowed the cape it tore to bits. Time passed. A girl and a boy came to a store where an ogre sat in front. They asked him where they could get money. He sent them off to place where there was no money. But instead the bits of the golden cape were there."

"The girl sewed them together and all of a sudden they were walking through a forest. They were only three inches long but they did not notice. Then they walked into a hollow log and there was a queen, a fairy queen and her friends.  But there also lived at the other side of the forest an evil wizard. The queen gave them instructions to go to the wizard's castle and bring back the gold plate and they would get a reward. They did as she told them and brought the gold plate."

"Then in a flash of light they were back with the Golden Cape. They brought the cape home and sold it for a lot of money, and everyone lived happily ever after. The End."

Well, two decades later, and I’m still writing. Not as much as I’d like, or as often, but it’s kind of like breathing - you make the time for it, because without it you’d surely die. To celebrate this fact, that twenty years down the road I’m still doing this crazy thing, I decided to revisit that old story. This was a spur-of-the-moment decision, so much like my 7-year-old self, what you're getting here is a first draft. I'll put it below if you’re interested, a slightly fuller version of the tale, featuring rich fools, poor orphans, an ogre, a fairy queen, a powerful magician, and of course that eponymous golden cape.

Here’s to adventure, and to stories - and here’s a huge, whole-hearted thanks to all of you who’ve shared both these things with me along the way. So without further ado...

Part One: The Rich Men

In a time of kings and paupers there lived two rich men, who often squabbled over things of little importance. One man would throw a grand party, and his neighbor would follow suit with one even more lavish and grandiose. One of the pair would buy a huge statue for his front yard, and the other would in turn install a fountain so gaudy and enormous that people from all around would travel out just to behold the spectacle. But one day one of the men played host to a renowned and powerful sorcerer, and this magician repaid the kindness with a gift. Here was a thing of such glorious wonder that it could surely never be duplicated or eclipsed…
It was a cape, made entirely of gold spun to thread. It shimmered even in shadow. It flashed bright and blinding in the sun. To wear it was to resemble a fearsome and flawless being of heaven. It was truly a thing beyond compare.
So of course the man did as we might come to expect he would. He wrapped the cape around himself and paid a visit to his neighbor. Oh, the neighbor said all the proper and cordial things, but all the while he trembled with jealousy and rage. When the man at last swept out of his home with that golden cape trailing fire and starlight behind him, the neighbor sat alone for a long while and despaired, for he knew he had been well and truly beaten and the unfairness of it clenched his guts and throbbed in his temples and made him bite the inside of his cheek until it bled.
How could he ever surpass such a matchless marvel? What could he do to wipe that smug smile off his enemy’s face?
In the night he crept over to steal the golden cape. But he knew just looking at it that having it would never be enough. His neighbor would surely accuse him, might even insist upon a search. He would be found out. The golden cape would be discovered and returned. No, what he needed more than anything was for the golden cape to never even have existed, to put them on equal footing once more. So he grabbed the soft shimmering folds of the cloak up in his hands and pulled and ripped and tore until all that was left of the beautiful cape was tatters and scraps and shreds.
It felt good, this act of destruction. It felt powerful and right. But as soon as he had done it, he knew that he must never be found out. So he took the remains of the cape and traveled down into the city far below. Here in a random passage between two buildings he spied a garbage can. He lifted the lid and flung the golden rags into its depths. Then he ran away from the city, turning his back on this thing he had done, returning once more to the heights and to victory.

Part Two: The Children

They had ogres guarding the doorways now to keep the riffraff out. Actual ogres—seven feet tall, with blocky heads and arms and legs like logs, and huge yellow teeth with a green like moss growing out between them. That’s not to say that all ogres are mean just because they look so ferocious, but this one was. He threw—literally threw—the children back out into the street, and sputtered and growled that if they ever came back he’d simply eat them next time instead.
The two children, an orphaned brother and sister, had been looking for a quiet corner to spend the night out of the cold. This was a bitter winter, and the town’s citizens had tired quickly of beggars, so the children received little any more in the way of coins or sympathy. Now it seemed even the inns and restaurants were keeping careful watch to turn them away. They were hungry and the night was harsh, and they had nowhere to go.
The girl picked herself up from the gutter and pulled her little brother to his feet.
“Come on,” she said, ushering the boy around the corner, out of sight from the doorway where the ogre stood glaring. It helped to block the wind a little, but the alleyway was damp and quite dark after the bright lights of the street. And everywhere, unavoidable, was this desperate cold.
They wandered farther back into the narrow passage, picking their way cautiously through bits of broken wood and glass, wary for signs of an animal or other person taking shelter here in the shadows. But all was silent and still other than the noise of the wind howling and the muffled sounds of the bustling street.
It was the boy who opened the trash bin. Sometimes they were lucky and found stale bread for supper, but not tonight. What he saw instead made his face transform with such awe that his sister immediately joined him.
“But what is it?” she asked, reaching down to touch the stuff, and indeed they had no clue, for though it felt like cloth—the softest, fluffiest cloth she’d ever held—it looked far too shining and glorious to be real.
“It’s treasure,” he said, clutching a scrap in his wind-chapped hand, looking at it as if he feared even blinking would make it disappear. His teeth chattered from the cold—or was it excitement?
“It’s better than treasure,” she said, an idea quickly forming. She burrowed in the pockets at the waist of her skirt until she found it—her mother’s old sewing kit. Her hands were clumsy with the chill, so it took some time for her to thread the needle, but once she did she made quick work of the rest. They gathered the scraps of the shining cloth and before long she’d sewn them all together into a makeshift blanket.
So the two orphans found shelter there that night in the dark of the alley, hidden away from prying eyes by the bulk of the trash can. With the golden cape draped over them, they began at once to feel warmer—and safe, strangely. Almost peaceful. They closed their eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Part Three: The Fairy Queen

When the children woke, they were in another world. 
It was easy to tell. Gone was the city they had always known—metal and brick and glass—and in its place was a forest. The trees loomed huge and high above them. The thick moss puffed up around their legs as they walked, almost to their knees. It was only when they came to what looked like an enormous wooden cave that the children realized what must have happened: the golden cloth and its magic had not only brought them here, but for some reason it had made them small. If the girl was not mistaken, that was a hollow log ahead, and a movement from the greenish gloom within led her to believe they would not be alone in this strange place for much longer. Before her brother could protest, she grabbed the golden cape from him and stuffed it beneath her own drab, threadbare coat.
“Not a word!” she hissed, and though he ignored her at first soon his stammering died away… not because of her, it turned out, but because of the creatures that had just appeared before them.
They towered over the children, partly because they were so tall, but mostly because they glided above the moss, borne aloft on wings that moved so fast they were nothing but a jewel-bright blur behind them. It took a moment for the children’s eyes to adjust to these bodies in motion, thin and lithe, with the curving softness of a flower nearly bloomed. Their skin bore the many colors of a garden—mottled green, lily white, blushing peony, loamy dark, warm honey—and their hair floated up in haloes around their heads, all the bright hues of feathers and gems. These could only be fairies, and when the boy said as much aloud, their ranks parted, and from behind them all emerged a fairy with hair the deep crimson of a rose. She seemed older than the others, and somehow far more beautiful.
“Very good,” she said. “You are right. These are my fairies, and I am their queen.”
The children had never had occasion to be in the presence of royalty. The girl wondered vaguely if they should bow. But their expressions of stunned awe seemed acknowledgment enough for the Fairy Queen, for she gave a laugh like a bell’s silver chime and flitted down closer to their level.
“It is not often we get visitors here. People are afraid, you see.”
“Afraid?” asked the boy. He could not take his eyes off her.
“Of the evil wizard,” the Fairy Queen said. “Surely you must know of him. He lives in a castle on the other side of the forest. He hordes his powerful objects there and will not share his wealth with any of the rest of us. They say his spies are everywhere.”
“He sounds terrible,” said the boy, still gazing up at the Fairy Queen with the same expression he had often worn when passing by the glittering, sugar-spun marvels on display in some bakery window.
But to the girl this wizard didn’t sound any different from all the people who’d denied them help that long, cold winter in the city. They were selfish, perhaps, and a little cruel. But that didn’t make them evil. And what did this Queen in all her lavish splendor need with even more riches? It didn’t make any sense. Absently the girl reached for the softness of the golden cape, still hidden safely in her jacket.
“You seem like brave souls,” the Queen was saying, her lips curving up in a dagger-sharp smile. “I am in need of just such brave adventurers as yourselves. I must find someone to travel to the wizard’s castle and bring me back one of the golden plates from his table. If you do this for me, I will reward you richly for your services.”
“A golden plate? But why—?” the girl started to ask, but her brother elbowed her sharply.
“We accept your quest,” he said, and his sister, knowing better than to argue, simply rolled her eyes. “Now. Which way is this castle?”

Part Four: The Wizard’s Castle

The wizard’s castle did not look like an evil lair. It was made of gray stone with high round towers and bright stained glass in many of its windows. It had a garden with a hedge maze off to one side, and no drawbridge or moat or high, spike-topped walls to keep out intruders. In short, it seemed pleasant. Almost welcoming, in fact.
They had no trouble sneaking inside.
And once inside, they had no trouble at all seeing why the Fairy Queen longed to share in the wizard’s riches. For this was less a castle and more a palace, its walls decked out in rich tapestries and bright oil paintings, its floors covered in silky rugs or set in glittering mosaics of priceless gemstones. There were golden columns reaching to the soaring heights of the ceilings. Golden curtains hanging on the windows. Golden chandeliers dangled above. Golden banisters led up the grand staircase. And sure enough, in the grand banquet hall, atop the long the wooden table, were several place settings all made of gold. The boy grabbed up the nearest plate in his hand with a sound of triumph. The girl thought she saw a flicker of movement from one of the windows high above them, but nothing came of it. It must have been a bird.
They fled back to the Fairy Queen, the boy certain now of winning the Queen’s favor.
But when he got down on one kneed before her and presented the plate (this was always the way a knight addressed his lady in the drawings in old books they’d seen), the Fairy Queen sniffed as if disappointed, and said, “Oh! Did I say just the plate? How silly of me. For I am in need, too, of a golden cup from the wizard’s table. I fear I cannot go on without it.”
Hearing this, the girl scowled. But the boy stood immediately, stricken by the Queen’s apparent anguish.
“But of course we will go back there and get it for you!” he said.
Of course? thought the girl. We? thought the girl. 
But she had been wanting to go back to the wizard’s castle ever since they’d left it, so she went with her foolish brother anyway.
This time when they entered the castle, all seemed as it had been before. If anything, they noticed even more riches, and even more wonders. But the boy was on a mission, and not to be stopped, so they continued on into the dining room. It was here that they discovered the table as it had been before, but all the golden place settings were gone.
The boy flew into a panic.
“Where could they have gone?”
His sister could have pointed out the obvious: that someone lived here, and that on noticing one of his plates had been stolen he might have wisely chosen to lock the rest away. But instead she simply pointed to a door near the corner of the room, cleverly concealed behind a tapestry of a peacock.
“Maybe they’re in the kitchen?”
And they were. There were shelves upon shelves of golden plates, forks, knives, spoons, and of course, golden cups. Her brother snatched one of these last up in his hands and did a little dance of delight. Despite the sounds he was making, the girl thought she heard a noise, a little rustle or a whisper from the corner near the door, but nothing came of it. It must have been a mouse. 
When the children returned to the hollow log with their treasure, the Fairy Queen did seem delighted. She held the golden cup before her for a long while, as if reading something in the gleam of its reflection. But when she spoke again, her voice dripped with that false sadness that the girl was really beginning to dislike.
“You have done well, my children. So very, very well. But there is one last thing the wizard has kept from us. It is perhaps most important of all. I need you to go to the highest tower of his castle and look in the wardrobe. It is there he keeps the most powerful of all his possessions. I must ask you to get it and bring it back to me.”
“What is it?” asked the girl, and this time her brother didn’t elbow her. “What is this powerful object we’re looking for?”
The Queen said the words like you might say the name of the person you love most in all the world…
“A golden cape.”

Part Five: The Golden Cape

This time it was the girl who took the lead, shoving her brother out of the hollow log and off into the woods before he could open his mouth and tell the fairies anything. In her haste to get her brother away from the Queen she accidentally led them into a briar patch. Upon emerging on the other side, stinging and very cross, her brother demanded, “What did you do that for!?”
“You were going to tell her,” said the girl. “About our cape.”
“We don’t know that it’s a cape,” said the boy.
But they knew. Golden cloth that can transport you to other worlds? It sounded like the sort of a thing a wizard would have. The kind of thing a Fairy Queen might want. Magical. Very powerful.
“Maybe he has lots of them,” the boy added. “He certainly had a lot of plates.”
So they trudged back to the wizard’s castle, and sneaked in just as before. It took a little more stealth getting up to the tower, for this time unlike all the others it seemed that the wizard was finally at home. And perhaps not alone. There were the sounds of footsteps from one of the rooms, and a lilting music, the crackle of flames in the hearth, the clink of a glass.
“We should leave,” said the girl.
“We have to try,” the boy insisted.
And so they made it, quietly, painfully slowly, up the winding stairs of the highest tower. They watched the bar of light below the closed door for a long while before daring to try to knob. It was unlocked. The room was empty, not only of people but also of things. The many sumptuous furnishings of the rooms below were noticably absent here. There was a bare wooden floor, rough stone walls, and damp wooden rafters overhead. The only object in the room was a plain wooden wardrobe. The boy started toward it. The girl felt a light puff of air on the back of her neck. But as with all those other times surely nothing would come of it. It must just be a draft…
It came again. Warm, like a breath.
It wasn’t a draft.

Part Six: The Wizard

“Wait!” she yelled, but her brother had already flung open the door of the wardrobe. As she cried out, the man standing behind her—for yes, it had been a man, and of course this must be the wizard—threw out a hand and muttered something and her brother stumbled into the dark of the wardrobe, the door slamming shut after him. She could hear him banging and prying at the door, yelling for help from inside.
She was stuck then. Her brother trapped in the wardrobe, this strange man standing between her and the only exit. Knowing this somehow made her feel calm. She looked at the wizard. He didn’t seem like a wizard. He wasn’t old. He had no beard. He looked like many other rich young men she’d seen in the city, the kind who walked past you like you were invisible, the kind you didn’t want to notice you anyway because if they did they’d wrinkle their nose as if you were something filthy and disgusting and tell you to be on your way before they called the police. He looked like just a sort of man to have a house full of golden, wonderful things, and not a soul to share them with.
“What are you doing in my house?” asked the wizard.
But of course he knew. Hadn’t he been that bird in the upper window? Hadn’t he been that mouse in the kitchen?
So she didn’t answer him. Instead she asked a question of her own.
“What does the Fairy Queen want with a golden plate?”
He paused, caught off guard.
“And why would a Fairy Queen need a golden cup?”
Inside the wardrobe, her brother was still banging and yelling.
The wizard took a step closer to her, but she was not afraid.
“And how in the world did we come to find this? Why did it bring us here?”
She pulled the golden cape out from beneath her jacket and shook it so it draped to its full length. Even with the jagged stitches, it was still a sight to behold. He took it from her, and gazed down at it admiringly, then up at her, not like she was something filthy and disgusting, but as if she were as beautiful as the Fairy Queen herself. In that moment he seemed younger, barely older than she was.
“You fixed it,” he said.
The girl blushed. “Of course I did.”
“You don’t understand. Not many people could do such a thing.”
“A needle. Thread. It’s fairly straightforward.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
From inside the wardrobe, the shouting had finally stopped. The wizard seemed to take this as his cue to answer her questions.
“The Fairy Queen has always been jealous of my power. And it’s true, I have a lot that would inspire such jealousy. Eat from one of my golden plates and you shall never again know hunger. Drink from one of my golden cups and you shall never again know thirst. But the golden cape is the most powerful of all my artifacts, and is never to be worn lightly. To bear this mantle you must be brave and kind of heart, or else nothing good will come of it.” His thumb ran over a line of stitches and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “To use any of these gifts unwisely could lead even the most well-intentioned to ruin. That is why I share them so sparingly. Perhaps a bit too sparingly of late, I will admit.”
To never know hunger. To never know thirst. It sounded wonderful. But then again, it sounded too good to be true. Maybe that was his point.
“I could use someone, some people to help me look after all of this, to help me know when to share it and how to use it wisely.”
He was gesturing to the empty room, but she knew what he meant. The castle. All that finery. All that power.
“Someone handy with a needle, perhaps?”
He draped the golden cape over her shoulders, and she felt something glowing inside her that had nothing to do with its shine.
“Um, hello?” came a muffled voice from inside the wardrobe. “Can someone let me out now?”

Part Seven: The End

So the orphans did not return to the Fairy Queen, nor did they go back to their own world. They stayed with the wizard in his castle and did just as he had suggested. They explored all the riches and magical objects he had at his disposal, and figured out ways he could use them in the world around him (and other worlds, such as their home world) to do good and avoid harm. They were two children and a wizard who was barely more than a child himself, so of course they made many mistakes along the way, and had many adventures because of it, but those are too long to tell about here. Just know that they were very exciting.
The point is: they were happy, and they went on being happy to the end of their days.

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