A Confusing (and utterly quick) Trip to Edgar’s

The sixty pound trout Ismus was dragging along the unpaved footway scraped the eye of the fish clean off before she had even reached Edgar’s. Three hours of sprinting, jogging, then the inevitable sluggish walking had drained Ismus of any energy she had gained during her time with Lin.
Serabi’s moonless night sky feigned an attempt to mimic the soft, ivory glow that was produced in Rodem. Yet, instead, it flickered evil, like the wicked flames of an untamed hearth. This, alas, was her country.
Not one single ambler passed by at that late hour, though a rare exception of a rat or two was still part of the company. Filthy, oxidizing trash cans toppled over with moldy, waned apple cores and decomposing litter, the cold wind blowing the overflowed trash into the rocky roads. Slick puddles of muck and urine snaked down the gutters, the smell of it wafting into the air and reluctantly into Ismus’s nostrils. The aligned houses were cardboard tents with stakes to support them. Ismus could see the wind rattle the tents. One blew off into the distance.
Even though these poor people were close to the Queen’s castle, just on the doorstep of Ismus’s reluctant home, Aloes would never help them… maybe kill them for bothering her prowling-time, at most. Ismus would have done anything to help them; but that was unlikely, what with her family lineage of treating the poor.
But then, a thought rolled onto Ismus’s mind: where were all the people?
As a matter of fact, there was never a single ambler in sight at any time of day, week, month, or year. The streets were always empty and remote; maybe the trash had just been there for years and no one had bothered to pick it up. Where were all the people?
After walking along the poor, vacant community, a shabby shed quaked up ahead. Running, Ismus could see the small thing in the distance. As she ran farther, she was able to see the neon lights of Edgar’s shop light up the block:
Edgar’s Hut
Come inside! For the best of the best quality in the trading market!
Ismus knocked upon the glass-shattered door (which was pointless since there was a huge, horse-sized tear in the fabric of the hut) and waited for a split second before Edgar opened the creaky entrance.
A yellow lamp held a bright, gold light—he had told Ismus he had “once come from a place of pure wealth, of mountains of gold and silver in the world” and that somehow he had made his way here with all his electronic trinkets and neon lights—and a bamboo fan chugged overhead—though it only blew around the warm air.
Edgar gave Ismus one of his famous chicken bone smiles—the one where he had chicken pieces stuck in-between his teeth—and beckoned her in with a ginormous grin. His mustache was shaved, looking sophisticated in spite of the huge hot wing stain on his tattered, sleeveless shirt. He stained the white top further when he wiped his orange fingers clean against the collar.
The hut had an intoxicating bouquet of warm pine straw and thick compost (both sold in his store). He tossed the chicken bones he had finished eating into an iron trashcan and studied the princess, a frequent customer of his.
Edgar’s Hut held all odd necessities; animal heads laid on shelves; jars of substances and unmentionable chemicals were thrown into a wooden crate next to his signature collection of jams and jellies, honeys and apple butters, and caramels; bloomers and bras and animal skin-anything hung from solo shafts from the straw roof. Anything could be found: from pots and pans to rugs and sofas. Spoons, knives, forks, juicers, and other kitchen utensils suspended from loose shafts. And that was only to name a few things. But what Ismus needed was a bow: a finely handcrafted one.
There in the weapon section was an artistically crafted bow; it was milky white with smooth edges. It caught her off guard until she realized Edgar was talking to her.
“Ismus! The princess, of course!” Edgar chimed, “What’s this?” He asked, snatching the eyeless fish from Ismus’s sore hand. “Oh, my g— you got yourself a sixty pounder trout! None like that round here, though… and I should know… I used to fish with your fath—,” Edgar stopped, midsentence.
Is there anything I can remember?!
Changing the subject, Edgar interrogated, “You’ve been sneakin’ out of the border, haven’t ya? Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he scolded, waving his finger in Ismus’s face. “Shouldn’t be sneakin’ out like that, love! It’s dangerous! You’re extremely lucky I like trout… I mean, do business with trout.” He hobbled off to his counter to his desk and mumbled on.
Shut up and listen!
Ismus cleared her throat. Edgar looked up from his register, almost scared. “Yes, princess?”
“I need a bow.”
“I-I… I thought I gave you one. I remember it was exactly two months—”
“I need another one.”
Edgar looked down at Ismus. And even though Edgar was looking down and Ismus was looking up, it felt as if Ismus was standing on a mountain looking down on him: She was giving him the scary look with her eyes.
Edgar immediately showed her the bows, looking alarmed again.
No one mess with the Queen’s evil daughter. Ismus thought, ashamed. Can I at least have one friend in this country?
“Here we have a wood bow, completely crafted of mahogany wood. Not the best quality here, but certainly the cheapest. Would cost, roughly, an eye or leg of a drake. I kid, about three salmon… maybe four… I love salmon—I mean; next we have our top of the line quality, The Ule Bow, named after the oldest, fiercest warrior of Serabi. Two of this trout—” he stopped to shake the trout in his hand “—would do nicely—”
“Edgar!” Ismus stopped him. Usually she would have been joking, laughing with Edgar, but today she was weary and cantankerous. She had been up all night and woke up early to venture out into the other world. By this point she needed an attempt at a good night’s rest … and for Edgar to shut up.
“I want that bow—the Ule Bow—but I have only one trout. Is there an exception?”
Edgar looked down at the dirt floor and let out a loud thinking sigh. “You do come to my store quite a lot, don’t ya?” He asked as he turned his back away from Ismus and assembled the jars of jams and slime. “Tell you what, since this is about your tenth time comin’ here, it’s free.”
He walked back behind the counter where the weapons were (probably to keep it safe so the violent children wouldn’t try to take the daggers and knives) and pulled up a mini ladder. He stepped onto each step thoughtlessly, even though it cracked and moaned for help, and lifted the Ule Bow off the wall with his free hand.
Ismus stood like a statue, opening and closing her mouth like the trout before she had fished it from the Creek of Hazalen. Edgar jumped off his little ladder, smacked the trout down onto his desk, came around from the counter, and handed Ismus the bow and slimy fish.
“There you are, my princess.” He smiled softly, his mangy black hair moving as he sighed with happiness. He planted a kiss on the crown of her head and laughed at her frozen attitude. “You run back to the castle now, my royalty. The Queen will smack a whip at you too, and I know it!”
Without another word, Ismus stepped out of the odd, warm and Winter-Festival-scented hut to be embraced by the cold, dark realm of evil.
“Night, love.” Edgar smiled, and he closed the door to his shack.
Confused, Ismus looked at the bow, alone again. The winds whipped her flaming red hair into her eyes. He did what with my father? Shaking the thought off, Ismus marveled at her bow before going back to the wretched castle.
An isolated queen, a crazy father, a demonic brother, and a quiet sister along with a couple hundred servants and soldiers summed up the life of Ismus in a few words. Ismus didn’t consider her own family “family”. Castle members did enough justice for their names, for Ismus knew that there wasn’t even a swallow of hope that her fellow members could become a true family. Sometimes her fantasies were to have real parents that loved her, or just a real family that was together and supported one another. Her life was like an unbalanced weight, her “family” always seeming to go way below even the lowest standards.
But what she so desperately craved was a state of being free.
After a couple of minutes walking in the foul-smelling, murky, poverty-stricken community, Ismus had found the castle: her castle. She studied it with a growing trepidation deep in the hollowness of her stomach. She pushed open the black gate, which opened with a horrid shriek of corroded iron.
The rocky walkway turned into a chipped marble sidewalk, red and silver granite throughout. The color was starting to fade, so it was looking more gray than silver in some parts. The castle itself was constructed of gray limestone and painted down with metallic silver. The paint was starting to peel off, and cracks were at the base of the castle. Everything looked washed-out and dirty.
In the back, rats lurked by the trash cans. She dropped the dead fish on the black, crispy grass, knowing that a hoard of ants would come soon and feast upon its juicy, meaty flesh.
There was nothing unique about this castle, except for the fact that it had plain towers and one large pinnacle at the top. There wasn’t a moat, or little streams, or rustic drawbridges, or beautiful, green scenery surrounding it, or unique openings and secret passageways (if there were she hadn’t found any), just a pool of liquid oil dripping from the shed. Nor was there a patio or pavilion or anything else quite exciting about it. It was just… foreboding.
The towers all peeked at the top, four lackluster mini mountains touching the even grayer sky. It was a small castle, but in comparison to everything else, it looked ginormous.
Ismus had lied a little to Linnasoeta: the castle garden was nothing more than some rotten mulch filled with rotten produce no one cared to pick. There were a lot of worms and weird insects in the bed of weeds. It was really more a cluster of weeds than an abundance of ample flower beds and vegetation. The lawn was shriveled and gray, and the wilting hollow trees hung naked and unadorned. Ismus had lied.
A lot.
The castle of Serabi was cold and lifeless. One could have found more cheer at a funeral. There was something wrong with this castle, and Ismus was ready to explore it, the spirit of adventure taking over her.
If she wanted to get in, of course.
Ismus approached the granite stairs with a deep, terrifying dread. What will they do? Ismus mouthed to herself. What will she do? Ismus suddenly tasted the iron bite of metal in her mouth. The frostiness of the post-midnight chill felt like ice blustering onto the skin and freezing its way through the inside.
One foot after another, Ismus was a step closer to the door: the evil, creaky, coffee-colored door with the bristly, black lock. Yes, that door.
The girl showed no grace as she approached the ugly, muck-colored thing. The wilting trees shook in the wind, first lightly, then flailing all around. The shriveled roses moaned in her presence as she rang on the doorbell. Half a second after Ismus touched it, a ferocious “BOOM!” gonged throughout the castle. Half a second after that, a servant opened the door, nose up.
“Who—? Princess Ismus!” Dandelide gawked. “When—what are you doing out of the castle?”
Ismus smoothed back her fiery hair and tucked her chin down to her neck, glaring her eyes. “I’m back, aren’t I?” She pushed back the over-dramatic servant and stepped into the castle. Then the familiar whiff of fear and dust bunnies greeted her nose. She was home. Sadly.
She stepped onto the green-carpeted steps that lead to her room, her stomach growing heavier with every step. And there were a lot of steps. Thirty-two tiny steps with the throw-up green carpet that felt like sandpaper, to be specific. Once she reached the thirty-second step and turned down the corridor, she bumped into a meaty figure.
Ismus froze like ice.
It’s him.

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