THE WIZARD AND THE WAGER: PART II
The Princess then returned to the royal castle, a distance of some five miles, but for her it probably only seemed like a large yard, considering how quickly we traversed it. Along the way, I noted the large-scale versions of plants that existed in the lowlands many leagues to the west. The trees and bushes were many times larger than their counterparts in other lands.This was due to the special soil that the Titans brought with them in their exile, soil which due to its unique properties grew vegetation planted therein to fantastic sizes. Without it, the Sky-Giants would not have been able to grow enough food to survive; yet even with it, they were hard pressed to survive.
I quickly noted the Sky-Giants’ royal castle. It was colossal in size, making your Neuschwanstein Castle look like a garden shed in comparison, and its soaring towers were easily twice the height of your Empire State Building. The Princess swept by the back gate guards, whose mouths opened in astonishment when they saw the small boat and its even smaller passenger cradled in her hands. Then we made several turns down halls whose ceilings were well over a 100 feet in height, so that we at last made our way into the main throne room, a room which itself could’ve housed a Boeing Manufacturing hangar. Along its sides were great stone pillars, twenty-five feet in diameter. Towards the end of the hall, there was an immense wooden table at least thirty feet high and hundreds of feet long. At its very end, on a raised, great throne, sat an older Titan with a small crown upon his head: this was no doubt Vilahillariana’s father—the Sky-Giant King. Along the table sat various Sky-Giant men and women, the King’s most trusted advisors and noblemen, as well as their ladies.
“Hail, Father! I have wondrous news to report to thee!” cried the Princess. The Sky-Giant king looked at his daughter with a profound look of curiosity, curiosity that quickly turned to wild astonishment when he noted the small boat and even smaller person nestled in her hands.
“Vilahillariana!” he cried in turn, “what is this in thy hands—a human?! How didst thou come upon this creature?—how did it reach our faraway vale?” Indeed, the King had good reason to be astounded at his daughter’s guest, considering the near total inaccessibility of the Vale of the Titans to humans thanks to the Himalayan heights one would first need to traverse to reach it.
“Therein, Father, lies my tale! I was relaxing near the pond in the rear of thy courtyards, the boggy one with the hummocks, when one of the odious and poisonous swamp serpents that the gods did allow into our great vale surprised me. I could not move for fright. Then I looked up to see this strange human in an equally strange flying box, who ‘pon casting some mighty spell, slew the hideous beast forthwith! Forsooth, Father, I owe this human my very life!”
“Then indeed we owe this human our gratitude as well, though relations in times ancient past were warlike,” declared the King. “But pray tell, human, art thou some art of wizard that thou could so easily slay one of the venomous swamp serpents?”
“More than any mere wizard, thy Majesty,” I replied coolly, using my mystical mask amplifiers to make my voice loud enough to be heard by my interlocutors. “Verily, I am none other than one of the Cognescentii.”
Upon saying this, a hushed silence fell upon all in the throne room as the Titans looked at each other in careful apprehension. Finally, the King spoke again: “Thou are a wizard of the Cognescentii? My grandsires did speak of how such a wizard visited our Vale long, long ago. They spoke of the great wisdom and power of this mysterious and ancient order. Why dost one of this fabled order of wizards visit us now, and how should we call thee?”
“Men call me the Traveller, thy Majesty. I have come on a mission of peace,” and to check up on you, I might have added, but didn’t.
“Hmmm…It is said among my people that the Cognescentii are a learned and most powerful race, if race thou art. Forsooth, the wisdom of the Cognescentii surpasses that of the mere humans, does it not?”
“Indeed, it does, thy Majesty.”
“Is it also forsooth, Great Wizard, that the wisdom of the Cognescentii surpasses that of the Dwarves?”
“Aye,” I replied warily, a little uncomfortable where this was all going.
“And ‘tis it not also so, that the wisdom of thy people even surpasses that of the First Peoples?”
“Before the First Peoples ever came to be, the Cognescentii were,” I replied carefully.
“Then, Ancient One, ‘tis even so that the wisdom and power of the Cognescentii surpasses that of the gods themselves?” the King’s voice grumbled with latent excitement. However, I had had enough of this strange line of questioning and decided to stop things as they were. “Why are these questions of such import to thee, thy Majesty? ‘Tis not enow that a wizard of the Holy Cognescentii hath come before thee as a friend and in peace?”
“But what ‘tis a friend and peace, wizard, if there art no deeds to give proof to these words? Mere hypocrisy? Wilt thou lead more great snow-wyrms to our mountain imprisonment for our hunters to slay and feed our hungry children? Wilt thou use thy great wisdom and prowess to blast asunder the great gates of the gods and free us? Else, what is thy ‘friendship’ and ‘peace’?”
Now my mission was achieved, for with that last utterance, the King had revealed to me the mood and the hearts of the Sky-Giants and its leaders: they still lusted for power—or at least freedom, both of which I was forbidden to grant them. Thus, I realized, I would need to do what I often had to do during my Trillenium mission on the Wyrld (and what I often did best)—obfuscate!
“Thou wouldst dare use the friendship of the Cognescentii to ask for a boon?” Why not—everyone else did. “To receive some boon from the Cognescentii, thou must first defeat me in a feat of strength!”
“A feat of strength, wizard?” the King asked warily. “Surely—thou dost jest?” And around him, on cue, the Titan lords and ladies broke out in thunderous laughter.
“Nay, thy Majesty, ‘tis no jest. For such are the Laws of the Cognescentii,” I lied. “Defeat me in a feat of strength, and the Cognescentii shall grant thy heart’s desire.”
“Thou wouldst even free us from this tiny vale—free us from the surveillance of the gods?”
“Aye, even this.”
“Then what are thy terms? What is this ‘feat of strength’?”
“Simply this, thy Majesty: whosoever of us can lift this table higher from the floor, with all of its food, cutlery, crockery, accoutrements, and perhaps thy daughter ‘pon it as well—with but one hand—doth win the contest. Doth thou accept these terms, thy Majesty?”
“I-I accept…but… if I do lose?”
“Thou dost doubt the strength of thy good right arm, thy Majesty?”
“Very well. If thou dost lose, then the Titans must never again ask this boon of the Cognescentii…and…and…yon jewel…that massive diamond in the great display case against the wall!”
“The Illyich-Illyich-Ralia?!! Thou wouldst have that if I doth lose?!”
The giants looked at one another in consternation, for this massive diamond, all 300,000plus carats of it, roughly the diameter of a fat beach or exercise ball, which the Sky-Giants lovingly called the Illyich-Illyich-Ralia, was their national treasure. The King, however, could not refuse this challenge—or this chance—for he risked losing face if he refused to accept such an easy challenge from a mere human-sized figure—Cognescentii or not.
“Very well, wizard. I accept these terms!”
“Then, thy Majesty, let us begin with thee making the first trial. And remember, the fair Vilahillariana must also sit ‘pon the table.”
The Titans immediately got up and moved away from the long banquet table, leaving their plates and goblets (well, a few left their goblets), all the serving dishes, their cutlery, and three massive candlestick holders the size of printing presses. Altogether, with all the oversized accoutrements on the table, along with the food and the weight of the table itself, there must have been thousands of tons. Then, the Princess came, cleared away a space, and sat down roughly in the middle of the table. The King glared at her with irritation: “Get thee farther down the table, girl—towards the far end!” Vilahillariana obeyed and moved to the far end of the table.
Then the King bent down where the table leg was somewhat narrower so that he could get his massive hand around it, hesitated a moment, and then let loose with a mighty grunt that would have put an entire elephant herd to shame—and made his attempt. The one corner that the King was holding rose by about a foot for barely a second and then slammed back to the floor with a mighty reverberation so powerful that I almost lost my footing, the cutlery on the table shaking and quaking in the process. The King screamed as if a Gargantuan had shoved a pine tree up his backside, but I think it was more of a plaintive scream, a scream of dissatisfaction with himself, than a scream of pain. Nonetheless, when he had finished, he turned his red-bearded (and equally red face) down towards me and coldly hissed, “’Tis thy turn now, wizard,” and then stepped away from the table.
Unbeknownst to the King, or anyone else in the room for that manner, while all eyes were on the mighty monarch as he made his attempt to lift the table, I had fished from one of my many extra-dimensional pockets a small object, a small white disc-shaped object very similar in appearance to one of your modern fire alarms. It was only slightly larger than the palm of my hand, and I did the best I could to obscure it from the sight of the Sky-Giants. This small object, however, was immensely more powerful than any mere fire alarm: this mystical object was none other than Actuon’s Awesome Activator of Anti-Gravity—a device so powerful that it could temporarily suspend the wave action of an object’s graviton particles, freeing said object from the pull of the planet’s own gravity field. I think you understand where I’m going with this.
I approached the nearby leg of the table, my hands clasped together as if in concentration or prayer (but really to try to obscure the sight of the Activator from prying Titan eyes!). Holding my hand over the device to hide it, I placed it and my hand on the 2-foot diameter table leg. Immediately the Activator’s super-suction tool caused it to fasten itself to the wood. I kept my hand over the object. (By this time, all of the Titans had moved to my end of the table so as to observe me during the lift. Thus, it was important that I held my hand over Actuon’s device.) Just as I was about to activate the gadget’s anti-gravity field, however, the King made a loud roar. My back stiffened: had he caught sight of the activator?
“Vilahillariana!” he roared. “Come thee hither, girl! Sit on this end of the table!”
“But…but Father, t’would not be…” spluttered the Sky-Giant maiden.
“Do not banter words with me, girl! Do as I say! Place thy heifer bottom on this side of the table—now!” I could see the Princess’ massive legs as she got up from the far corner, came down to my end, and jumped up on my side of the table. Obviously, the King wasn’t taking any chances.
“Now, wizard, thou may lift the table!” the King thundered with a smirk (and the other Titans laughed on cue).
I, however, answered by activating Actuon’s device with my thumb. A quiet, almost inaudible whirring noise issued forth from the small machine, a noise only I could hear. Then the table began to slowly rise. I moved my hand along with the activator and the massive table, first one, then two, and finally three feet in the air, at which point the table stopped rising and hovered in place. I “held” it there for several seconds, listening to the “oohs” and “ahs” of my observers, and then Actuon’s device began to deactivate, and the table slowly began to fall to the floor until it came to a rest, not one drink or princess disturbed in the process.
A hush fell over the great hall. I surreptitiously palmed the activator and turned towards my audience. Moving the hand holding the activator to my rear, I made a broad and artful flourish with my other hand and a deep bow to attract the attention of my audience as I discretely pocketed Acuton’s device into an extra-dimensional back pocket (an old carnie trick—gets ‘em every time and this was no exception!). “Well, your majesty, I said with a note of sad resignation, “I suppose I should take my diamond—ah, what did you call it? The Illyich-Illyich-Ralia?—and get back home now. Would you kindly take it out of its display case for me?”
“Sorcery! Sorcery!” the King bellowed. “Thou wouldst have our diamond, trickster wizard? Then here!” And with that the King threw open the display glass, grabbed the massive diamond, turned, and threw it at me with all his might.
As the 1,000-pound diamond flew towards me, I jumped for cover. Luckily for me, his Majesty was a bad shot and the massive rock careened some ten feet to my right off the stone floor and bounced a few hundred feet before coming to a rest. Silence, meanwhile,
reigned in the throne room, as all looked upon their king as if upon a madman. Vilahillariana might have sobbed.
I picked myself up, walked calmly over to the great diamond, took out an extra-dimensional sack and put it over the great stone—it disappeared, of course (and the giants “oohed” and “ahed” a little more).
But the King wasn’t through with me yet: “Aye, trickster, I did promise thee the great Illyich-Illyich-Ralia if thou could best me in a feat of strength, but why dost thou rush about now to leave us? Why, thou canst remain with us to enjoy our hospitality—in my tower! Forever!
Guards, bring the little fox to the northwest tower!”
And at that command the points of three massive 80-foot halberds turned towards me, only feet away. They forced me to get back into my boat and made Vilahillariana carry me up to the tower, the three guards and their massive halberds behind her. The guards had the Princess place me and my small boat on a 30-foot high table in the small (for Sky-Giants) cell. There was a chair, a mat (an 80-foot long straw mat), a high barred window, and a high barred window in the door. That was all. The idea was that, stranded on a high table, I wouldn’t be able to create any mischief, I suppose. They were in for a surprise.
With a great clank the guards shut the door and retreated down the hall somewhat. Vilahillariana, however, placed her face at my door window, and whispered plaintively to me: “Oh, tiny wizard, forgive me for my father’s wrath. Had I known that he wouldst treat with thee
in such a base way, I would not have brought thee to our home to see him. Here is a strawberry which I leave for thee as thou could not even eat with us.” And with those words, the Princess placed a strawberry the size of a large pumpkin on the door’s windowsill between the bars.
At that moment, however, before I could say anything in response to the giant princess, one of the guards called to her: “Thy Highness, thy father doth send for thee.” The young Titan princess looked at me sadly and then went away. The guards resumed their positions outside the door. Seeing that they did not think it worthwhile to constantly stand and observe me (no doubt they considered me helpless), I pulled a couple items from my extra-dimensional sacks. One of these I left in the boat. The other item I withdrew was a 40-foot extendable ladder, which I lowered to the floor; I then carefully made my way down its rungs. After reaching the floor, I repositioned the ladder so that it stood underneath the single high window and began to climb. When I reached the window, I got up, stood between the thick 10-inch bars, and gazed upon the courtyard and the backyards. I must have been over a couple thousand feet in the air as this must have been the castle’s highest tower. Nonetheless, I thought this would actually aid my escape rather than hinder it.
Meanwhile, down in the throne room, the Princess was speaking with her father: “Vilahillariana, where didst thou first encounter the wizard?”
“Behind our yards, father, in the swampy area where the small pond doth lie.”
“And how didst the wily trickster arrive to our lands?”
“He flew in some strange box, milord. It issued forth puffs of air which—“
“Flew!!? He flew? Quickly!” the King bellowed, turning to his guards, “Get thee to the swamp. Find this airship in which the trickster did come! You others, get back to the tower! Warn the guards—nay, I shall come myself. ‘Tis not the tower we must keep him—but the dungeons!”
The King, followed by a bevy of guards and Princess Vilahillariana, pounded down the halls of the royal castle and up the multitude of spiral stone staircases to the highest tower of the castle, the northwest tower. As the King and his entourage exited the staircase to the tower’s highest cell, he immediately bellowed to the guards on duty: “Open that door—quickly! Before he escapes!”
“But thy Majesty,” the Titan guard on the left stammered, “the prisoner cannot escape—! ”
“Do all argue with their liege this day?!? Open it, I say!”
Being an otherwise loyal guardsman (if not somewhat obtuse), the guard began to fumble with the key to open the door. The King then shoved him aside to fly into the room. However, upon stumbling into the cell, he could find no sign of me, neither on the table, the chair, the straw mat, or on the floor. Then he noted the high ladder underneath the cell’s only window and rushed to see me as I entered into my airship. I had mystically summoned the airship via the remote controls in my gauntlet. As soon as I got into the ship, I threw myself at the controls.
The King lunged for the window, his arm outstretched as much as possible as he reached between the bars at me and my hovering airship. I, however, had already pushed the ship beyond his reach and was then preparing to accelerate. The King snatched one of his guard’s halberds with a snarl and tried to fit it between the bars—to no avail. Then he grabbed his own secret dagger, a dagger seven feet in length, mind you, and threw it at the airship with all his might. I was already accelerating away, but it was good that his Majesty was a bad shot: his dagger missed the airship by some ten feet. I turned once to face the high window, waved my hand in farewell to Vilahillariana, who was standing behind the snarling King and Titans gathered behind the window, and then accelerated away, leaving the Vale of the Titans for the lowlands—and relative safety.
Afterword: The Princess Vilahillariana found my portable Cogni-Boat on the table. In it, I had left a massive bouquet of forget-me-nots (Cogniscentii GMO-grown to a colossal size; like most GMO plants, they would never wilt!). The King declared me persona non grata, but other rumors spread out about me as well, especially from those giants who had witnessed my inexplicable feat of strength in the throne room, as well as my getaway in my airship later that day. To them, I became the “trickster god,” he who came to test the worthiness of the giants (and this time, found them wanting). With average life expectancies of approximately 450 years, many of these giants were still alive when I returned to their vale some 174 years later, as recounted HERE. The King, however, had passed away just the year prior to my return (what an interesting coincidence!). Vilahillariana, at this time, was just entering into her middle years, had married a nobleman from the other side of the valley, gave him two children, and lived the life of a typical Titan soccer mom (or, in this case, a jousting mom). My sources informed me that she kept the bouquet of flowers, my ladders, and Cogni-Boat as souvenirs of our short friendship until the day she died. I would have visited her during my return, but I was too busy running for my life.