Oct 6
The plague

I refuse to put on a breathing barrier as have the Steward and the Earl and they are sorely confused why I should not. I tried explaining to them that I don’t need one to avoid getting the plague, but they didn’t believe me. Finally the Steward concedes.
    “The royal apothecaries have a cure, an expensive one to be sure, but should King Jess need it . . . We should gladly use it to fulfill the royal curiosity, although unfounded,” he submits.
    “It isn’t just a curiosity. I tell you I cannot get a disease without letting it in,” I reply.
    “Either way, do as you please. But if ever there is another choice where there is no alternative, I will insist,” he warns. 
    “Unless I’m right, in which case insist is all you will do, and only as my father not as an advisor,” I return in as neutral a tone as I can muster.
    That was a little heavyhanded so I try to say it again.
    “Your caution as my father will always hold more value to me than your advise as the Steward. I’m sorry if it didn’t sound that way,” I apologize. 
    “You’re right. I was being your father while sounding like an insubordinate advisor. Just be careful, Jess. As you will soon see, the plague is not a trifling matter,” he replies.
    We entered Delaware by dragon just East of the Northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay, but landed shortly after we passed the border. The difference between the principalities is noticeable. Delaware is a sea of houses, perfectly spaced and quiet. I have the eeriest of feelings that I should be hearing more sounds, like children playing in the yards, mothers cooking inside or other sounds of domestic industry, but instead a resounding silence prevails the area. It was the silence that prompted the two to put on breathing barriers. Hugo still hasn’t yet cast his either.
    “I won’t cast one if you won’t, Your Highness. I am just as capable as you are at dispelling the plague,” he insists.
    I eye him thoughtfully.
    “We have different specialities in magic, do we not, you and I?” I ask.
    “Yes, one could say that,” Hugo agrees.
    “Then why is it so hard for you three intelligent people to realize that I may have this ability while the rest of the world does not? Is it so ridiculous? Yes, I can fly. But is that the only specialty anyone will believe I have?” I ask.
    “Still I insist to live my own life,” Hugo retorts.
    “You will be the one infected and we will have to use the precious cure just for you, mark my words,” I scold. 
    Even though I can feel my immunity as surely as I know I can fly, I am starting to doubt my own ability because of the way they have conspired together as one to dissuade me. Yet the only way I can know for sure is, like flying, to actually put it to the test. The infection rate is nearly universal, so if I pass through the midst of the disease and remain uninfected than my confidence will be restored and my ability assured. And I will have obedience from my consul, even if it takes a dramatic example such as this to ensure my authority.
    We walk along, our dragons following loosely behind us, playing like the best of friends. Each edifice is slightly different than the next: this one with a gothic colonnade as its facade, that one with a turret some twenty yards tall, or this one built in a Mission style with lighter stone, or that one in a rose colored stone built in an early Italian Renaissance style. Some bear a family crest so that anyone who passes by their abode can identify their interests and lineage while others must parade their family icon within their walls only for guests and close friends to see. Still I hear no sounds other than our own, the sounds of men and dragons walking elegantly down the street. 
    “We’ll make our way to Wilmington before we take a look inside. While it seems very clear that the plague has taken over these inhabitants, some might just be holed up in their houses trying to eke out an existence without being infected. During the day those who have turned are docile and quiet, but come nightfall, we’ll get a clear look at how dangerous they become,” the Steward explains.
    “Do we know where the disease came from?” I ask.
    When my father had nothing immediate to say about the matter, the Earl piped up.
    “I had heard rumors that the disease started somewhere in Africa, but I know how incredibly prejudiced that must sound. I honestly feel as though the poor Africans have been our scapegoat far too often and for far too long. I can’t honestly remember the last time we celebrated something new and extraordinary coming out of the sovereign nations of Africa, but I will say their nations are stable. They’ve been at it longer, you know. We gave up our right to be led and fed by the Universe while they continued under the arms of Her grace rather than fending for themselves. Capital, capital geniuses!” the Earl goes off.
    “So as I understand it, we have no idea where it came from?” I ask again.
    “One thing is certain, this was no creation of man, but a judgment put upon us by Her Greatness,” my father concludes, “Otherwise we would know from what it is.”
    
It is nightfall when we finally reach Wilmington. It was a peaceful journey, punctuated only by the intermittent bursts of playfulness on the part of the dragons. Also the Earl would speak up every now and again and talk about the plague in general terms until his rambling took him to some other topic such as: clairvoyance, botany, girders, wigs, etc. I would stop listening after a few sentences into each of the topic changes. The Steward on the other hand looked ready for me to turn at any moment, which I ignored as I was eagerly waiting Hugo to turn as a testament to my immunity. 
    As we get closer to Wilmington the estates become more grandiose until they stop suddenly and switch to the mercantile district. Here some people are out and about, but always with an eye over their shoulder. Those who recognize us don’t even stop to introduce themselves, only tipping their hats or waving curtly before ducking into an alleyway or into one of the stores. The banner of the apothecary, a cross with a serpent wrapped around the beam, is the most apparent, but I recognize the banners of the sorcerers’, the magicians’, and the warriors’ guilds. 
    Before we know it the street is empty as the sun makes its final dip below the horizon and we enter the corporate district. Then a whole bustle of noises comes from the seaside: grunting, panting, and footsteps. I look East towards the sounds and see a cloud moving in our direction. 
    “Let’s get on the dragons, best avoid the stampede,” the Steward surmises. 
    He walks back and reigns in his handsome dragon, which ironically looks excited by the sounds. The Earl follows suit and climbs onto his burly steed and urges him to fly up. I stand resolute where I am and watch as dark figures come barreling down the alleyways. There are less of them than I imagined and they don’t look as though they have full control of their motions. As the figures approach almost to where I can see more details, I see Hugo standing next to me out of the corner of my eye. 
    “What are you doing, Hugo? You’re going to die!” I yell.
    He genuinely looks frightened after I yell at him, realizing that I don’t quite know what I am doing. I am in no position to help him should he be endangered. As he runs back for the racing dragon, I turn to see the grotesque figures are practically upon us. Their bodies are all disfigured: the skin looks like it is melting off, the bones look rearranged, and new limbs and heads have grown in peculiar places on the body. I would be scared except I can fly away if ever I feel in trouble of being injured. The sickly cloud that must be exuding from the pores of the plague victims has darkened the whole scene as if placing a filter over my eyes and I feel it trying to penetrate my being. Just as I had hoped, I feel it wrap around me without infiltrating the system. 
    The creatures, after coming onto the street, purposefully come my way so I pick myself up and head towards Hugo. When I turn to look at him, I see him convulsing on the ground next to the dragon. I fly on over to his side quickly. I begin to feel as though I have lost control of the situation when I realize Hugo is turning from the plume of cloud. Just then the Steward and the Earl appear on their dragons and the dragons spout out a gust of fire on the creatures. The Steward jumps off and looks genuinely surprised I am well. I turn instead to look at the effectiveness of the fire storm raining on the plague.
    “Cast a breathing barrier after all, huh?” he asks as he lifts the spasming Hugo. 
    I shake my head. The fire has an immediate effect on the figures as it spreads across the horde. I hear screams of pain and bodies falling to the ground to the crackle of a bold torch. Although I am glad for Hugo’s sake that the dragons’ fire works against the monsters, I can’t remove the strange feeling that it should have not. I help my father lash Hugo to his dragon and then tie the reigns to the Steward’s wyrm. After the two take off, the Earl’s dragon coughs and sputters as it ceases to breathe fire and takes off. I follow, watching closely as every figure gets up and slowly walks away in an even more crippled gait than before.
    “I am going to straightway teleport to your castle with Hugo, Jess. You and the Earl should probably continue onto Newark, where they await you for a twilight vigil. You should probably give an address as originally planned, don’t you think?” he asks.
    I nod my head. The Earl looks terribly stunned although he didn’t hesitate for a moment to help me and Hugo. 
    “We’ll make our way with more caution than previous,” I promise. 
    With that the Steward vanishes in the dim sky along with Hugo and their dragons. With that the Earl seems to come out of a funk and bursts out in a cheerful laugh.
    “I didn’t know adventure before tonight, King Jess! Your father will come around, I think, to agreeing with me that your intrepidity is paramount, once he gets over the fact that your Highness’s stubbornness endangered your best friend and consort, of course,” he declares, “You are immune to the plague! What notorious news this will be throughout the kingdom!”
    “You realize the plague isn’t an actual disease?” I wonder aloud.
     “What what?” he responds.
    “I think it is all magic. Why else would the dragon’s fire work? If it was a physical disease then that would not have worked. And as it is a magical creation, no one is killed nor even injured by the plague. They are merely changed and trapped by a curse . . . ” I continue.
    “You mean to say that no one dies from the plague? That is cheerful news, to be sure. But how can you be sure?” he asks.
    “Because not even the fire killed the creatures. Every single one got up all burnt to a crisp and walked away. While trapped by magic, neither can magic destroy what is truly inside: a human being,” I suggest.
    
It is quite late, but I adore the concept of having an almost intimate fireside with the new king, even if I just address them. Once the Earl and I are seen in the sky, an ectoplasmic escort appears and asks that we follow him down to the forum. The ghost is lit up like one of Menelaus’s viewing portals, piercing the darkness with a comforting green light. The city spreads out almost infinitely before my eyes, lit up here and there by spectral flares. Some parts of the city are dark and surrounded by large cobblestone walls. Those must be the areas quarantined because of the plague. Luckily they have been able to contain it. 
    The forum is nestled inside tall edifices with thousands of banners. The pleasurable sounds of an entire populace echoes from down below. They are brightly lit, a whole swarth of characters and citizens, anxious subjects to hear their king. We land on the terrace of a building with a clocktower where we are welcomed by a group of elderly persons, the local officers of the kingdom. 
    “Welcome, Your Majesties. King Jess especially, we are exceedingly honored to have you visit us. As you could see from above, many of our citizens have already gathered to hear you speak. And, if I can say so myself, their party there of local delicacies, games and activities has made even this old soul jealous,” admits the portly fellow with glasses in the middle of the group, “Allow me to introduce at least myself as it is late, Your Lordship. I am Baron Joseph. This way.”
    He leads us down a series of hallways to an opening in the outerwall of the clocktower. There the gigantic crowd shouts in appreciation. The Baron quiets them with his hands and then announces me. It is then that I realize I had not time to prepare an address suitable for the needs of the people of New Jersey. Perhaps the Steward would have offered me some kind of direction if he did not have to take Hugo back. He’ll probably blame me for that. 
    “I wish I could have had time to address a topic more relevant to your needs as the wonderful citizens of Newark and New Jersey, but I believe what I am about to tell you is as equally important to you as anyone else in the kingdom. It is about honor and the Bathikry,” I begin.
    “The Universe, through the Bathikry, permits us to use magic and create many wonderful things according to the dictates of our minds. While performing honorable tasks by ourselves we can increase our capacity to use magic in our lives, a more effective use of our power is by investing it in those we believe will use it honorably.
    “I use the word invest because you will not have access to it for a time when you loan it to another, but just like investing your money, your capacity to loan increases when the honor and magic returns to you with interest. It is this trust in others which can compound your magical reserves very quickly. Don’t just invest your riches in noble causes, invest your power as well and soon you will find your magical well is a little deeper and a little clearer,” I say.
    I feel as though it is a little short until the Baron announces my departure and the crowd erupts in praise. I prefer shorter discourses anyway. 
    “Fantastic, King Jess! This is one to tell the children,” the Earl approves.