Oct 5
The survey of Baltimore

“This is a very dangerous gift indeed,” agrees the Earl.
    He rides on the back of a muscular dragon of one of the European strains as I fly peacefully in a seated position next to him. He just agreed with a statement made by the Steward who is to my left on a thin dragon, an Asian and Scandinavian mix, I believe. Hugo is on a racing dragon in front of us doing aerial stunts that would make anyone else vomit. The other boys weren’t up for the journey. They, along with all of my belongings, have been magicked to the castle in Manhattan so that we can go on a survey of the parcel of land I received at my birthday party. We’re flying over to Baltimore and then taking the next two days to travel North along the coast until we end at my castle, where I’ll have a day to get settled before heading for Captain’s summit. On the way I am expected to see to the needs of the various areas and meet with the local officers. 
    “What is so dangerous about it? Impractical, sure, confusing to be sure,” I argue.
    “The issue is not the gift in of itself. With Captain everything has its implication. The implication of this gift is he expects to own your principle responsibility to the Bathikry, whether because you get distracted with ruling an alien populace or not. His plan is to force you out as Steward of the Universe and leave you as King of Lower Hampton,” my father clarifies.
    “Is he that powerhungry?” I ask.
    “Well, no, and yes. He doesn’t really have to be in control. Like any of us he tries anyway, and I doubt he’ll attack you directly, maybe even rile up the Superiors to do most of the battling,” the Earl thinks aloud. 
    “This gift means war?” I wonder.
    “He would never dethrone you entirely. That would be a dishonor to Her, which would disgrace him and the Bathikry would cede to someone else. He’s giving you your penance before the war, alerting you to his intentions, a hugely honorable move if I may say so myself,” the Earl continues.
    “Could the Bathikry cede from my ownership to him without war?” I ask.
    “Yes, if you did something dishonorable, which is the more perplexing issue of the gift: black magic is incredibly dishonorable which is why he expelled the dark artisans from his employ in the first place. He must find you idiotic or he knows something we do not and is completely genuine,” the Steward responds.
    “What is black magic anyway? Captain claimed it was an older magic than even ours. Is that a true claim?” I ask.
    “I honestly know as much as you do. If he thinks it is older, then it must be. That doesn’t make it better; he calls it dark magic himself. This is a power he dares not tamper with anymore,” he responds.
    This is indeed complicated. Why would that joyous, cheerful man give me a bane to my rule on the eve of my coronation? Probably the same reason why he dresses up as the headless horseman from that one story. He’s got some kind of grudge. He thinks the honor of the Bathikry is twoheaded, one head kind and cheerful and the other head bloodthirsty and vicious. Yet how vicious can he really be? Even if we go to war, he cannot ever kill me or my men. I have every capacity to return and dethrone him if he takes it from me. It’s an endless game of chess, sometimes one group backs the other into a corner, but in this game of chess none of the pieces get taken off the board: not the rook, not the queen, not even the king.
    The Bathikry upholds the magic that is used to create dragons or ghosts or anything else we can imagine. It can be used to create gigantic machines of war that can be used to wage the grandest battles ever conceived, yet it cannot hurt a soul. For instance Geoffries can touch me even though a ghost, but if he tried to hurt me, his ability to force on the physical realm as a poltergeist would be interrupted. If I had not summoned that barrier at the dragon race at my birthday and let the flames of the dragons come onto me, my body would have received no injury. My honor on the other hand would have been injured. So magical powers wane when dishonored until you are rendered useless. 

Baltimore is a large town from what I can see as we make our final descent, but its walls are in poor condition and form an imperfect border around the province. Its reputation as a town of ill repute has reached my ears on several occasions. I’ve even heard tell that the plague has infected a large portion of the city, a rumor I hope to confirm shortly. Yes, it is sad, but at the same time it is cool to see such things intimately and in person, at least in my teenage mind. 
    I have always had a strong aversion to diseases. Even as a child I could feel them coming on and I could consciously swat them away and expel them from my presence, so I will be venturing to the very origin of this plague not the least begrudgingly. If it exists I will find its root and squash it, like any good monarch would. 
    “The plague used to infect most of the city, but now only the neighborhoods closest to the walls suffer as plague victims from the surrounding areas infiltrate the barriers, especially at night when the infection takes over the nervous system. But now their biggest issue is civil structuring. How to build a wall practically infected itself? This is such a lovely port that could easily be as known for its seafood as much for its plague and crime, but there you have it,” the Steward explains. 
    He leads us over towards the Eastern side where the inner walls of the city still look intact. There the mansions and houses are built right up to the sea, with a boardwalk and piers made of wellcrafted wood and white waterproofed paint extending into the ocean. We fly onto the dock and the others dismount before a castle with many billowing banners. I see the United State banner with thirteen vertical stripes of red and white except for a blue square at the top with a single white star inside. Another is a red and white cross in four quadrants, while another is yellow and black stripes reversed by another stripe crossing across the others diagonally from the top left to the bottom right. And then the banner of the Kingdom of North America, one white star in the middle of the kingdom’s iconic purple, waves proudly in the middle of them all.
    Hugo proudly reigns in his speeder and ties him off at a set of wooden hooks made for hitching horses, dragons or other beasts of burden. The others tie theirs as well at the posts, the Steward’s dragon gives the speeder a playful swipe at the legs which the lithe creature returns by trying to toss the heavy reptile with his snout.     
    When we enter through the double entrance doors heated words echo from deep within the castle and then are hushed as we close the doors behind us. The atrium is a large prism not only because its walls slant upwards and outwards, but because they are as smooth as a mirror. To add to that, there appear to be no doors, so any sound made echoes throughout the entire edifice. Though it was not clear where the origin of the confrontational voices is, unfortunately their secrecy has been spoiled. 
    Proceeded by the sound of his footsteps, the butler comes out from behind a staircase and bows before us. 
    “If Your Royal Highnesses would be so generous as to follow me, I shall take you to your hosts,” he says.
    What a wellmannered servant, I think. He leads us up the staircase which has wide steps but clearly lacks proper support without handrails. I imagine it would be a frightful fall after just a few steps up the thing. Not that I need worry, I can levitate. At the top of the stairs the servant shows us down a hall and tells us our hosts wait for us in the ambassadors cabin which can be found down the left hallway and then taking an immediate right. Each side of the hallway has a row of windows which gives us a view of the boardwalk, beach and sea North and South. I should have enjoyed the final descent into Baltimore more, should have noticed the sea mist on my face and the crisp bite of the sea air. 
    In the ambassadors hall, a room gilt in marble, turpentine and granite, we find a group of the local officers standing next to their seats and bowing in our direction. The Duke, I presume, stands at the head of the table and welcomes us. 
    “Your Majesties! King Jess! What an honor we have to host you in our city. I wish I could say it was because our town is an American paragon, but that would be a lie,” he says.
    He introduces himself as Duke Hernando and then he introduces all the other members of the city council, which I don’t even try to remember. He invites us to take a seat in the three gorgeous couches at the head of the table closest to our entrance. Everyone waits for me to sit before they take their seats. 
    “I believe the Steward is quite knowledgeable about our present situation here and may have informed you, but let me take this time to explain to you the complexity of our lamentable circumstances. We have been debating for days since the Steward announced Baltimore would be Your Highness’s first visit as newlypronounced King, and we wanted to put Your Majesty’s precious time to as much use as possible. You see we have found a longterm solution to the plague which was so long an issue in our dear city, but the crime which proceeded and perhaps even brought about the plague still remains. 
    “We have concluded that our greatest need at this time is the wall which surrounds the principality. Those who come in through the gates pass rigorous checks, but the wall is in such disrepair that even our high class citizens who travel regularly will ride through the holes in the walls to avoid unnecessary detention. Those fortunate enough to enter as you did with dragons rarely are the culprits. With the aide of our finest sorcerers,” the Duke looks at a thin man with piercing green eyes, “The wall can be rebuilt in a manner of days in such a way that carriers of the plague cannot enter, lacking the ability to cast spells let alone control their actions. On the other hand, those without the plague have the mental capacity to break down the walls and enter, and this they do nightly.
    “Crime within the city is something we would gladly take care of if the system were contained. Instead we find new threats appearing at our walls constantly. We need to battle against a known entity of a knowable quantity, something a successful wall would ensure. How do we resolve this issue, King Jess?” he asks.
    I pause to think. 
    “Would Your Majesty like a private consul?” dad asks.
    “If you have an opinion that you think I might disagree with, I don’t mind appearing inferior to your consul, Father,” I assure him, “My final judgment is correct not because it is superior to anyone else’s but because I have been ordained by the Universe Herself, that is all.”
    “That is correct, son,” he responds with a smile.
    He sits back in his seat as if he trusts me to decide a solution by myself. The Earl is making a concerted effort to concentrate, but looks intensely interested in my response. 
    “What is a wall but a barrier? If a magical one is unsuitable then create one with physical efforts. This will ensure that the plague victims will not enter and infect others, but those lucid enough to cast spells will find their magic has no effect against physical walls of real matter. On the other hand, they will resort to physically destroying the walls which will endanger them and those next to the walls. My second suggestion is to create a purely magical barrier of unknown dimension and position. Don’t give any indication there is a wall, only cast the spell. Much harder to break down an invisible barrier.
    “Though both of these ideas may work, I humbly suggest you do both. Put a magical barrier before a physical wall so that the one will give you plenty of time to recast the other and vice versa,” I conclude.
    The head sorcerer stands up, his eyes as powerful as before.
    “We have not enough magic to cast invisible barriers. We barely scrape by with conjuring stones to stack on top of one another,” he argues.
    “Then conjure the barrier in my name. I am in no desperate need of it for the moment and it is most certainly a noble cause. Her Greatness the Universe rewards those who use magic honorably, and so I am entrusting you to do precisely that: be honorable,” I respond and then chuckle, “I wouldn’t be surprised to find the next time I go to dip into my well of magic reserves to find it a little deeper and a little clearer than before.”