Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Boy Carried the Lantern

The boy carried the lantern into the cellar, sloshing oil onto the steps as he walked down. He paused for a moment, anxious, at the bottom; then he drew from his right pocket a match, and lit the lantern.

Its light was dim and flickering, and gave everything a sickly sort of glow; but it was enough to see by. The boy walked to the cellar's far wall, worked for a moment, seemed to activate some kind of mechanism - for a section of wall swung aside, revealing a dark earth-walled tunnel beyond.

 The boy took a deep breath, and walked in.

 He walked for some time - proceeding ever straight in his course, taking none of the side-passage openings that would occasionally appear in the tunnel walls - until at length he arrived at a dead-end. The boy glanced down at the lantern for a moment, and then slowly turned, facing the way he came.

 Now it was a great cavern, with a pile of gold and silver and jewels heaped in the center carelessly, gleaming in the lantern-light. The boy seemed unsurprised.

 "You must want to kill me," he said to the lantern. "This is the third time you've led me here in the last month."

 The lantern sloshed.

 Then there arose a trembling in the earth; the boy stepped back, drawing a bow from his back and plucking an arrow from his quiver. The trembling intensified; and then a great wyrm burst from the center of the treasure-pile, sending a spray of goblets and gemstones in all directions.

 "Is this some kind of moral lesson?" the boy asked. "Seeking wealth will consume you? I thought you were an adventure-seeking lantern, not an English Lit lantern. Will this turn into a bildungsroman next?"

 The wyrm seemed offended. It reared back, and struck!

 Unfortunately it was vulnerable to flaming arrows applied to the back of the throat. So that really was the end of that.

 "Oh, thank you, brave adventurer!" a Princess said, emerging from the worm's gullet. "You've saved me from a grisly fate! How can I thank you?"

 "Eh, don't bother," the boy said grumpily. "Nothing in here is ever nice. You're probably just some succubus or harpy or something, and if I let you get near me, you'll try to kill and eat me. Just... go about your business, please."

 "But you saved me!" the Princess said. "Perhaps you aren't in the mood to be thanked with a... kiss, but - you must be here for some reason. I can help with whatever that is!"

 "I'm just here to rescue my dad," the boy said. "Because once I become a True Hero, I'll find him and save the day. But you're not my dad, so you can shove it."

 "Your dad? I might have heard of him," the Princess said. "Here, I have a map to the Great Prison of Sarkad, where he's probably being held. But it's small - you'd have to get close to read it, and you don't want to do that..."

 The boy thought, watching the Princess's face in the lantern's dancing light. "Drop it on the ground," he said, "and I'll come over and look at it. Then, if you really do just want to help me, everything will be fine. Okay?"

 The Princess shrugged a very refined shrug. "All right," she said, dropping the map face-side down onto the ground. She backed away. The boy stepped forward.

 Then, when he bent down to flip it over, she extended her claws and attacked!

 "If you're a moral-lesson teaching lantern, you're a really bad one!" the boy complained to the lantern.

 But it didn't even respond!