As I exit the bar, I see a long line of people herding themselves deeper into the city. With an eager spring in my step, I follow them down the cobblestone pathway. I see a small chapel on the other end of the walk where the line seems to stop and form into a crowd.
As I enter a large cobbled clearing, I’m amazed to find a much more magnificent sight to the left. An enormous cathedral, rising hundreds of feet into the sky, stands before us. Everyone is looking toward the top of one of the two towers which reach out from this glorious building. I push through toward the front of the crowd, no longer concerned whether Griff is following.
How is it that this old-style, almost medieval, city has existed within Central Park for so long and I’ve never heard of it?
I finally make my way to the front of the audience to find Griff already standing there. I push my way to his side. We are all formed into a semi-circle surrounding this beautiful piece of Gothic architecture, and there is an almost impossible silence in the air, like everyone in attendance is afraid to speak.
“Figure out what’s going on yet?” Griff says before scooping another bite into his mouth.
“You’re still eating that stuff?” I ask. A woman next to me elbows me in the ribs and shushes me. “What?”
“Shush!” she repeats.
“Alright already,” I reply in exasperation. “Shush,” I pass on to Griff. He nods understanding and continues to devour the disgusting slush.
“People of Avalon!” a voice booms over the crowd before a bright light explodes from the top of the right tower. Another bright light flashes directly in front of the doors of the building and a man with a long white beard, wearing a flowing purple robe, appears only ten feet in front of us in a puff of smoke. The crowd gasps in what I’m guessing is both fear and amazement. Griff gives a half-hearted applause while attempting to hold his bowl between his shoulder and chin.
“Nice trick,” he whispers in my ear. “It’s great to see someone who’s not afraid to put rule 30 to good use.”
“Good morrow!” the purple-robed man in front of us speaks. On his head sits a conical purple hat, covered in images of crescent moons and stars. I’m beginning to wonder if this guy based his costume off a cereal box. “For those of you who have come out to enjoy this day of fair weather, you are welcome. I am pleased to have brought you such kindness of the air due to my good countenance of the day.”
The crowd hesitantly cheers at this comment.
“Yes, release your gratefulness through noise!” he commands.
The crowd erupts in applause and cheers. The oddly dressed man raises his hands to the sky and two explosions erupt from his fists, followed by two miniature balls of flame in the sky directly above him.
“Definitely don’t see anyone willing to put roman candles down their shirt sleeves anymore,” Griff comments. “I give this fair five stars just because of that guy.”
The man lowers his arms quickly. His face turns sour and he scowls at the crowd. They instantly silence. “However, this day’s graces do not come without a price. I need not remind you of the constant danger we face from both the north and the south. I need not tell you of the importance of extreme diligence against the Nord and the Scot.”
“This is taking a dark turn,” Griff adds.
“The time has come to offer up to your lord a present, a recompense for my long suffering work to keep our fair city safe. Is your town’s spokesman at the ready?”
“Yes, my lord,” a man says, stepping forward. “I am ‘ere.”
“Well then, peasant. What have you to offer me?”
The man looks behind him with tears in his eyes. He is visibly shaking as he gestures for someone to join him in front of this tall, imposing, caricature of a wizard. A young girl, not much older than me, if at all, reaches out from the crowd and grabs the man’s hand. Her eyes never look up from the ground. She steps before the bearded one and does a tentative curtsy.
“My daughter, my lord,” the peasant man announces. “She’s a hard worker and a true beauty.”
“This I can see,” the wizard replies. “Please turn around, my dear,” he says with a dirty grin on his face.
The girl complies, while continuing her staring contest with the ground. During her twirl, I catch a glimpse of her face and find it devoid of emotion. My heart aches at the sight of it.
“She shall do,” the wizard claps his hands and a puff of smoke appears around her. When the cloud dissipates, she is gone. The peasant man looks like he might faint, but somehow manages to stand firm. He bites his lower lip and his eyes quiver. “And the tithing?” the wizard asks.
“Oh,” the peasant stammers. He turns again toward the crowd behind him and gestures. A small sack is brought forward and handed to the peasant, who passes it along to the wizard.
The wizard opens the bag with a look of distaste in his eyes and he peers within. “What is this?” he spits.
“Sorry, sir, it’s all we have.”
“All you have? Did I not smell the machinations of fresh food just this day?”
“Of course, sir, but, you see, the food is from within the city walls, and since we have been closed off from—“
“Enough excuses!” the wizard screams. “You have disappointed me, mortal.” Another puff of smoke. When it clears, the wizard is no longer visible, and the peasant man is a crumpled heap on the steps of the cathedral.
Go to Chapter Nine