Let me tell you a story of a man filled with greed. He yearned to have power over those around him, and in the end it was almost his downfall. I once worked for him, and I had a first hand view of his works. He was ruthless in shaming the people around him, and he wasted no effort on his dreams to rule over those he lived near. My master’s name was Xteralkebob (t-er-el-ka-bob), the Silver-tongued Trickster.
My story begins in a land far away. I understand that there are several large land masses with ridiculous names (seriously, America?), but I didn’t, and don’t, live there. I lived on a large island that isn’t known by any of those land masses, one that I assume you live on. Despite being on a little more that a floating rock in the middle of the ocean,I liked our island. On that island I happily lived on the streets. My street was in a poor community, but we loved it there, and didn’t need to look outside our borders to the world around, thus rendering our country nameless and unexisting to the outside world. Our country was a haven, a paradise of people just, living. We lived in harmony with each other.
I now know that our island is somewhere in between two lands called “Australia” and “Antarctica” in a body of water called the “Southern Ocean”. I learned that on this thing called a map, but I don’t think you would have heard of one of those; they’re new.
Xteralkebob came from outside of our quaint, happy little town. He had been to every single one of the many “Americas” and all of those other “A” places-even that “E” one- and had then begun to travel to that “Antarctica” place before accidentally coming across us. He arrived on one of the few rainy days on our condiment-or is it continent? Anyway, he arrived in his long black cloak that kissed the ground as he walked across our wonderfully dusty roads. I remember I was sitting in a friendly neighbor’s house-having dinner, telling jokes, laughing, getting along like everyone on our island did- when he walked by our window. We don’t have glass; We don’t need it because the climax(climate?) of our little corner of the world is stuck right smack-dab between this long line called the Ecuador-no, equator- and that really cold condiment called “Antarctica”. That means that our slimate is perfect weather year round. The trees always have leaves- though they do change colors every now and then, but they always turn back to green- and it is never too hot or too cold. We can wear our light cloaks with pants and a light shirt and be totally fine.
But Xteralkebob wasn’t wearing that attire. His cloak was heavy and black, with a thick woolen (I think that comes from sleep- or are they sheep?) ring around his hood. Also, his beard. We don’t grow beards. Some of the lucky guys have mustaches, but nothing like Xteralkebob’s. Ours are bushy and prominent like our personalities. His was sleek, defined, carefully tracing his mouth to end in a strict, black, point protruding from his snow-white chin. His eyes were deep, thoughtful, and dark blue, stark against his pale complexion. He had a brooding look to him, and it fascinated me. I didn’t know him, and I knew everyone. I could identify every single person on our happy little island because we had always been there. No one was ever new there, and the idea was alien to us. Sure, we had children born-at least one per month- but those were kids. We all knew when we had a newcomer into the world.
No one knew that Xteralkebob had come, and no one knew why.
I was sitting in my “me-cave”, which is another word for my home, when I saw him again. The hooded man, walking along our dirt roads, and like everyone else that lived here, his cloak was covered with dust. But he wasn’t like us. I knew from the look on his face. Disgust. At first, I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. What could anyone ever be disgusted with in our lovely little town? Then it hit- he was disgusted with our town in the entirety. He didn’t like it. Rage filled me head to toenail. How dare he! I stood up, ready to confront this ungrateful newbie on his views of our haven. As I got closer, however, I realized something important. The hooded man was tall. He looked like a small tree. I had to crane my neck all the way up to look into his eyes. Still, I didn’t think to act on this until I finally spoke to him.
“You got a problem?”
“Excuse me?” he asked, and suddenly I felt like running away back to my me-cave. His tone dripped with malice, like, How dare you talk to me like that! Scat!
“Y-you got a problem?” My confrontation had somehow turned into a person asking if they could help. I cringed at my stammer, and my voice jumped an octave toward the end of my question.
“Well, yes, now that you’ve asked... “ His gaze turned thoughtful. “Have you ever noticed how ghastly your town is?”
“Gas tree?” I inquired, intrigued by his big words.
“No, ghastly,” he repeated, impatient.
“What does that mean?”
“Yes,” I could tell he was trying to get me to say it again, but I didn’t know for whose benefit, so I didn’t.
“Well, it means that I find your town, if you could call it that, to be dreadful, hideous, even.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you didn’t notice it!” his tone turned chastising, like I was the one that had messed up, not him.
“No, I didn’t,” I admitted, then continued on to fix it, “and I, for one, LOVE this town. It is my home. I don’t care who,” I was gaining confidence as I told him off, “you think you are, but that doesn’t mean that you get to come into my home and talk rash about it! Our town is beautiful! And if you don’t see it, then you might want to fix your nose!” I waited to see him wither under(or maybe it would be over, considering that I was shorter than him) my gaze, but nothing happened. He looked at me like an adorable child that had spilled my food all over his favorite rug.
“It’s trash,” he said, unconcerned by my outburst.
“You said, rash talk. It’s pronounced trash talk.”
“Why does it matter?”
“I thought you would like to know, in case you wanted to try again.”
“Do you guys have a school around here?”
“Of course!” I exclaimed proudly, “best one on the island!”
“Is it the only one on the island?” he asked with a all-knowing look. Gosh, he was good.
“Well, yes,” I conceded sullenly, “but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good!”
“What grade are you in?”
“What is a grade?”
“It’s proof that your school is awful,” he brushed past me to continue down the road. I fumed with rage, sure that one of the nice ladies in the houses surrounding me would come out to beat the smoke coming out of my ears.
“HEY!” I bellowed. The man stopped.
“What now?” he asked irritatedly, like I was some bothersome fly.
“How do you get the right to criticize my town, and my school?!”
“Why, that’s simple,” he laughed, “It will soon be my town!” And with that, he walked off again. This time, I didn’t stop him.
I love the rocks in our town. They’re big and golden and soak up the sun so very nicely! It had been a few weeks since my encounter with the new man, and I had decided to ignore him. He wasn’t worth the brainpower.
“Why hello, it’s you!”
“Why are you visiting me again? Never mind. I don’t care,” I snarled, “Now move. You are blocking the sunlight.”
“Too much sunlight is bad for you!”
“What?” I was growing tired of his facts, “and why on earth would that be?”
“It causes skin diseases.”
“Dizzies?” I asked.
“No, diseases. Do we have to do this every time we talk?”
“I didn’t ask to talk with you.”
“Hmm,” he mused, “ Well, at least what you lack in Common Sense and brainpower you make up for in attitude. I suppose I could help change that. Then I can have him-”
“Woah! Hang on, newbie. I don’t want you ‘fixing’ me. I like my brainpower,” and I certainly am not helping you!
“That’s what you think. However, I think you would enjoy having me as a teacher.”
“You don’t know what a teacher is?” he looked at me like he was second thinking his thoughts on helping me.
“Of course I know what a teacher is!” I snapped, “But why on earth would you be my teacher?”
“Because I will change your mind.”
“And how on earth are you going to do that?” I was doubtful that the man in a black cloak with a bad temper could convince his mother to work with him, let alone work for him.
“Let me tell you a story,” he began, his gaze thoughtful.
“Okay,” I interceded, “just because I don’t know what grade I’m in doesn’t mean that you get to treat me like a child!”
“Would you just listen?”
“Sure, fine.” I laid back and covered my eyes just to irk him. He sighed at my obvious attempt to respectfully pretend to listen, then walked over to sit next to me on the rock. I wriggled away from him to the edge of the rock and almost fell off.
“Ready? Okay. In a land far away…” He told me a story, of a man that lived alone, traveling the world in search of a land to call his own. “Nothing too big,” he told me quickly, “just enough to be in just a little power.”
“Right,” I answered uncaringly, “You wanna finish your story and let me return to my sun soaking?”
“Sure, but you have to actually listen.”
“Right. The man-” he began again
“This is you, right?” I jumped in quickly to annoy him.
“Hmmm… maybe not as dumb as I initially thought.”
“Hey!” I yelled
“Do you want me to continue?”
“If it will get you to leave me alone? Sure, go ahead.” I leaned back again.
“Thank you. Now then… Where was I?”
“The first sentence,” I grumbled.
“Right!” he answered cheerfully, “The man went to every continent he knew of, hoping to find the place where he belonged.”
“What, so are you, like, an orphan? Are you trying to find your family? ‘Cause it’s not here, I can promise you.”
“No, I am not an orphan!” he growled, “and if you would like to find out what it is that I am, I would suggest that you shush!”
“Thank you, Apprentice,” he thanked me smugly, and at that moment I wanted nothing more than to smack that self absorbed smile off of his smug, pale, snow white, toad-of-a fac-
My thoughts were interrupted by the continuation of his story.
“The man’s final destination was a land called Australia, and no, don’t ask about the name. I am not in the mood to be berated by your pointless questions, Apprentice.” Before I could yell at him for calling me that, he launched further into his tale, and I had no choice but to listen. “The man had given up any hope of finding a place for himself, so he decided to go one last place, as a sort of last resort; Antarctica. No, I don’t understand that name either, so don’t bother asking.” For a man that barely knew me, he sure knew the limits of my knowledge.
“And that’s how you found us,” I guessed.
“Indeed,” he agreed. I stared at him. He hadn’t agreed with me once in every single one of our conversations. If he noticed my shocked glance, he didn’t act upon it. “The man had set his course, when a heavy storm-”
“How can a storm be heavy?” I cut him off.
“I don’t know! It’s just an expression!”
“Anyways,” he fixed me with a stink-eye glare, “the storm blew the man off course, and when he regained consciousness, he was on a shore. He looked around, got up, dusted himself off, and realized that he was not in Antarctica. There was no snow or ice. No animals native to that land, nothing but, well, your island. It was nice, the perfect temperature. A cool wind, warm sun, lush grass, beautiful skies-”
“I’ve seen our land before, you know. I was born here,” I reminded him boredly. He glared at me. If looks could kill, I would have been dead a long time ago, mostly by his hand.
“Right. The man planned to sway the people, win their trust. Then, he would tell them and show them how much they needed a governmental system. He would then humbly volunteer himself.”
“Since when are you ever humble?” I inquired doubtfully.
“Xteralkebob is always humble,” he said with certainty.
“And Xteralkebob is speaking in the third person now? Is your name seriously Xteralkebob?”
“Of course it is!” he snapped, “do we need to get into your name, mister…?”
“I’d rather not say,” I answered quickly, “I, uh… Don’t like it.”
“Don’t like what?”
“You don’t get to know, yet.” Or ever really, I thought to myself.
“Hmmm,” Xteralkebob mused, looking me over thoughtfully, “you’re a very interesting specimen.”
“Gesundheit,” I said, thinking he had sneezed at the end of his phrase.
“No, Apprentice,” he sighed, “specimen. It means- you know, never mind.” He stood up to leave. “Oh, and Apprentice,” he called over his shoulder, “meet me back here tomorrow after you eat your lunch.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he didn’t turn around, but I could hear him smirking as he walked off.
I perched on the rock a day later, waiting for Xteralkebob to appear. I had planned to not go just to show him, but my curiosity led me on. I think that Xteralkebob knew that this would happen; that my curiosity at his mysterious phrasing would get the better of me. As I sat I pondered why he wanted me here.
“Greetings, Apprentice,” Xteralkebob stood before me, smirking like never before. I could tell he was pleased at me arriving here, I just didn’t know why.
“What, take me to your leader?” I inquired, thinking of the old movies I used to watch where the aliens would come in round ships to take over the earth.
“Haha! Sadly, no, as you have no leader,” Xteralkebob said, obviously happy about such.
“Ok, then what am I doing here?” I asked him.
“You shall find out. Follow me,” he commanded. I almost didn’t follow him just to spite him, but once again, curiosity got the better of me. I sighed and got up to follow him. I’m not tall, not in the slightest. I’m actually pretty short compared to those around me, and next to the towering tree known as Xteralkebob, for a fleeting moment I feared getting stepped on. He took long steps, equal to around two of mine. I struggled to keep up, and almost asked if he could slow down, but my pride got in the way.
“Where are we going?”
“My house,” Xteralkebob answered.
“Wait,” I said, stopping, “you have a house?”
“Of course I have a house,” he scoffed, “ where do you think I’ve lived all this time?”
“Well, I thought you had been under your bridge, ya’ grumpy old troll,” I joked, then sobered under Xteralkebob’s gaze, “but of course, since we have no bridges here…” I let that thought trail off, hoping that he would answer it for me. Thankfully, he did.
“I made a shack,” he declared proudly, and for a moment I thought that he expected applause.
“Hooray for you?” I said, but it came out as more of a question. “With what?”
“Stone, of course.”
“From where?” And how on earth did you resurrect a house in that short of time with stone? Xteralkebob seemed to read my thoughts.
“Oh, I didn’t actually build it,” he smiled.
“But you just said-” I began.
“I just refurbished it!” Xteralkebob cut me off. He said this like it was the most obvious thing ever. Oh yes, I thought, that was obvious. How could I be so stupid? Of course he just refurbished it, how silly of me. I glared those thoughts into Xteralkebob’s back so he would get the picture even though he wasn’t looking at me while I silently fumed. I was about ready to turn back, but his address of “We are here” made me stop.
“Ummm… It’s really, er,” I fumbled over my words, trying to best convey my thoughts. Xteralkebob had found a small stone hut at the edge of the island. The land itself was nice enough, but the hut was hideous. Moss-covered and falling to rubble, the dull gray-brown stone two-small-roomed hut sat in a sad heap in the middle of the shoreline, at a safe distance from the tide. A narrow dirt path trudged from the front door to the woods, the path that we had been walking on. Someone, probably Xteralkebob, had lined the path with small stones in an attempt to make it look better. They didn’t help.
That isn’t to say that it didn’t look nice. With Xteralkebob’s updates, the house did look better. Was it nearly as good as some in the city? Heck no. Wait a minute, my consciousness interjected, why is it that he gets to scoff at our town, yet his house is so wonderful? I had to agree with it. His house was far from cozy. It didn’t work. Purple cloth framed the windows as curtains, and a dull light gray rug gave the floor some class. A sad yellow mat was lying in the corner with a blue pillow and blanket folded neatly on top of it. A light hung from the ceiling, giving the room a golden hue.
“Well?” Xteralkebob looked at me expectantly, and I knew what he wanted to hear; Gosh, it’s WONDERFUL!! Or, I LOVE it!!!
What came out, on the other hand, was less optimistic. “Well, uh,” I stuttered, “it certainly is… er, interesting.” I looked up at Xteralkebob, waiting to see stormclouds gather behind his eyes, ready to unleash his fury. Yet, when I did look up, all I saw was a smile. I cocked an eyebrow at him, making him smile more.
“Oh yes, you’ll do wonderfully!” he cheered. Never before in my life have I ever feared those words more.
“Uh… what do you mean?”
“Do you think that my house is really ‘interesting’?” he quoted me, putting his fingers up in air quotations, “C’mon now. I know your thoughts. This was a test,” he explained, gesturing around him to the strange room, “I would never consider this to be good, Apprentice, and you understood. While I could tell that you didn’t agree, you didn’t outright slam it, but you didn’t lie about liking it either.”
“Well- that’s- er- not true! I like it! I do!” I blustered.
“Exactly my point!” Xteralkebob laughed, “You, Apprentice, are incapable of lying!”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I have a key point to fix in you!” Xteralkebob clapped his skeletal hands together in glee.
“Wait,” I held out my hand in front of me to stop him, “why would you need to fix it? Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Well of course it is!” he agreed, “At least, it usually is!”
“Well, isn’t this a usual situation?”
“Of course not! Do you really think that I would let you into my house if I thought you were usual?”
“Well, I guess no-”
“When I told you my story, you weren’t affected by it, were you?” Xteralkebob pulled me outside and sat us down on two rocks adjacent to each other. He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at me as he asked his question, as if to intimidate the answer out of me.
“Uhh, no. I guess not. I didn’t care about you any more after you told me.”
“Exactly!” If there had been a table, I’m pretty sure that Xteralkebob would have smashed his hand against it. Instead, he used my leg. Ow. “You, Apprentice,” he continued, “are perfect!”
“Perfect for what? And why do you keep calling me Apprentice?”
“Well, for one thing you haven’t given me anything else to call you, have you?”
“True,” I amended, “but what am I perfect for? Redecorating your place?”
“Possibly later, but you, Apprentice, are the perfect candidate to be my apprentice!”
I sat for a while, forcing my brain to compute his words. “I’m sorry, I’m your what?!”
“My apprentice,” Xteralkebob answered calmly. My head spun.
“What do you do?”
“Why, I live!”
“No, really, what do you do for a living?” I clarified.
“Oh, a little bit of this and that. So, what do you say? Will you be my apprentice, Apprentice?”
“Need a little more convincing?” Xteralkebob inquired, “Here, let me help. Let me tell you a story…
Once there was an ancient kingdom. The people there lived under no rule, but were unhappy. They thought they were, but they didn’t realize it. Only when they saw the other countries around them, happily presided over by generous rulers. The people looked around their country, and began to see other issues. They began to try to overcome issues by hiding their own issues from those around them, and stopped trusting their neighbors. People would spread rumors about their best friends just to protect their reputations. Some sought to lead the others out of pride and envy of the countries around their little kingdom. Greed spread like a wildfire, everyone trying to be better than the person next to them. Thieves began to pop up, and then came retaliative murder in response. That kingdom, all alone at sea, tore itself apart brick by brick, all because they couldn’t find the right ruler.
“Don’t you see, Apprentice?”
“I’m not your apprentice yet,” I stopped him.
“Aside from that,” Xteralkebob waved my indecision off like a bothersome fly. “Look around you, Apprentice. Don’t you see how easily that could happen? What happens when your neighbors get bored, or curious at the world around them, and find things better than here? What happens if the next foreigner’s plans sway them into thinking that they need to fix their world? What will happen to everyone here if the story became true? What would you do?” He looked at me calmly, yet sternly. I felt like the kid in class that hadn’t studied for the test. What would I do?
“I don’t know,” I said, my voice raspy from emotion and lack of use.
“Apprentice,” Xteralkebob put his hand on my shoulder, “we can stop that from ever happening. You can stop this. You just have to trust me.”
“I… Okay,” I decided, “Let’s do this.”
“Hang on,” I said, halting in front of Xteralkebob, “you want me to do what?”
“Just make a distraction while I slip in there to grab some stuff.”
“‘Grab some stuff’? You’re stealing?! Isn’t this something that we don’t want to happen?”
“Apprentice,” I could hear Xteralkebob fighting to stay calm. I had been employed for a few mutts- er, months, and had quickly discovered how Xteralkebob planned to save us all. He told stories, great ones, ones that enabled him to twist the thoughts of those around him into what he wants. Sometimes it was okay, but other times, like today, it wasn’t. I had begun to connect the dots, but hadn’t let Xteralkebob know yet. I was fairly certain that this wasn’t the first time he had needed to “grab some stuff.” Xteralkebob looked at me exasperatedly. “To start all of our plans-”
“Unimportant. To start our plans, we need supplies.”
“Why not ask?” I asked, giving him a how could you be so stupid? look, which he ignored.
“It’s too unreliable, Apprentice. Please just listen!” Xteralkebob gave a pleading look before I conceded.
“Okay. What do you need me to do?”
“Well, how much do you care about this coin?” Xteralkebob held up a small gold coin.
I smiled. “Just you watch.” I walked out in front of the house behind a large fountain that people could drop coins into and make wishes with, then ceremoniously dropped my coin. “Oh NO!” I cried, “My coin! Oh my coin! That was my last one! I was going to make a wish! Now what am I going to do!?” I continued like this for a while, screaming and wailing and thrashing about on the ground to kick up some dirt to make my “search” last longer. A few people stopped to help, but my tantrum collected quite a crowd in the end. I noticed Xteralkebob slipping into the now unoccupied house.
“Here, kid, just use this one,” a kind man offered me. I wanted to say yes, thank you, but Xteralkebob wasn’t out yet.
“No!” I screamed, “I can’t! I need that coin!” I thudded my knees against the ground, trying to kick up more dust, when one of the older ladies near me cried, “I see it, young man! I found it!” She looked so delighted with herself that I wanted to let her find it again. I debated snatching it from her and then dropping it again, but that would draw suspicion, so I threw my arms up and made an even bigger scene. “Oh, THANK YOU!” I hollered, trying to keep the attention of the crowd around me. It almost worked, too. But the lady with the eyes of a hawk, the one that had “found” my coin, saw my new boss strolling out of the house, bags loaded with goods.
“Hey!” she yelled, “What are you doing with that?”
“Uh…” Xteralkebob knew he had been caught. I could see it in his eyes.
“Someone get him!” A man from the crowd yelled. I saw this as a great moment to escape and watch my master finally learn to not steal. Part of me, however, worried at how this would play out. The other part really wanted to see it play out. I wanted to see how Xteralkebob got himself out of this one, so I sat on a stone wall nearby, watching my boss get mobbed.
“People, please!” he cried, “Let me explain myself! Settle down! Sir, unhand me! Thank you,” he said once the man had reluctantly turned around and stomped back into the crowd.
“What is in that bag?” the lady with the sharp eyes demanded.
“Why my dear, er, what is your name, dear lady?”
“Eloise,” she snapped.
“Well, my dear Eloise, I was simply on my way to-”
“What. Is. In. The. Bag?” Eloise stated, more firmly this time.
“I’ll get it.” A man with tree trunks for arms and a house for a chest came forward, snatched the sack right out of Xteralkebob’s hands, and dumped it out with a loud CHIIIIIIIIIING.
Hundreds of thousands of coins tumbled out of the bag, till the pile came up to Xteralkebob’s knees. He stared at the people around him, wide-eyed, and I could see the wheels turning in his head. A collective gasp rippled through the people as they watched the pile of gold grow. We didn’t know that this much gold existed in the world.
“What is this?” demanded the owner of the house Xteralkebob had just robbed “Is- is that my savings?”
“Why, uh, yes,” Xteralkebob said, his voice smooth as the ocean water, “It is, good sir. Would you like to explain why have all of this?”
“Actually, yes. I would,” the man said, hopping up next to Xteralkebob. My master’s eyebrows flew into his hood, making his eyes as wide as the saucers scattered along the street for the cats to eat.
“You would?” Xteralkebob squeaked, then, in a more confident tone, “Well of course you would! You would want to explain, especially because you know that there is no way out of this! Just try to get them on your side, we all know you are wrong!” Actually, we all knew that he was right. The man was kind. He was very giving and was no doubt saving all of this gold for the good of the people. I leaned back on my hands to see how Xteralkebob would get out of this one.
“Well,” the man began, “My name is Darryl. I have lived here my entire life, and my family has been saving up money for as long as we have been here.”
“Booooring,” Xteralkebob droned. Darryl glared at him. “People, Darryl here has been saving money so that he can overthrow us! He wants to be better than us!”
“No!” Darryl threw his hand in front of Xteralkebob in an effort to shut my master up. I laughed to myself. I should have brought some food to munch on. “I have been saving money to be prepared! Who remembers the Hurricane of Midnight?” Several hands went up in the crowd, mine included. Xteralkebob glared daggers at me from where he stood next to this good man. “For those of you that don’t know,” Darryl threw a pointed look at Xteralkebob for effect, “the Hurricane of Midnight happened several years ago, but effects of it are still present today. That storm destroyed everything. We had nothing to build ourselves back up with! I am saving this so that we do have something to build ourselves back up with!” Applause echoed through the alleyways of our town from his speech, and I found myself standing as well, though a rock thrown at my feet from a certain tall skeleton across the way with a pointed beard and deadly stare made me sit back down.
“Lies!” Xteralkebob shouted. The audience fell silent. “Good people, if there ever was a hurricane to happen here again, how on earth would all of this gold survive? That doesn’t make any sense! If everything was destroyed, why would a pile of gold stay rooted to the ground? No, he is lying to you. He is keeping this so that he has something to build himself up with. Mr. Darryl here is a trickster! In the midst of all of your blissful poverty, he has secretly been building up his stores to overthrow you!” A collective gasp rippled through the crowd as poor Darryl looked on in anguish. “I have been following his movements, and he is deceiving you. He has been hiring young people to spy on you! How do I know? Because I have recruited one and saved him from his lying grasp and plans of greed and power and wealth over everything around him, including you!”
Xteralkebob threw his hand out to gesture to the crowd. “You ask why I went into his house to take this gold?” Xteralkebob bellowed, “I took it to show you the truth! You have a snake in your midst, and I have just caught him for you!” Another round of applause, this one louder, shook the skies. Darryl looked dazed, like he didn’t realize what was going on. The man with tree trunks for limbs grabbed Darryl and dragged him off to our prison. I sat up. Our prison hadn’t been used for years, but Xteralkebob had just gotten one of the nicest guys on my street sentenced there with nothing but his silver tongue. Not only that, but we had never had an uprising like that. Everyone knew everyone like a sibling. No one ever had issues like this. Xteralkebob had gotten away with one of the only crimes ever on our island by moving the blame to a person that everyone knew was innocent.
He had called Darryl a trickster, but I believed that it was Xteralkebob that was the trickster. A silver tongued trickster, I thought to myself.
“Well, what do we do know? How will we find out if we have another snake in our midst?”
“That is a simple answer. If we can’t trust our neighbors to keep their money in their homes, we shall move all of our money to a house guarded under lock and key.” Xteralkebob thought for a moment. Well, he more of pretended to look thoughtful.
“But who would guard it?” one of the older men asked, his voice gritty and harsh. I winced, they were playing right into his hand.
“Well, that is a conundrum indeed,” Xteralkebob pretended to muse, “Well, we can’t trust our neighbors now, can we?” The audience shook their heads no. “So we would need someone that isn’t a neighbor at all. Someone that doesn’t know you people as well. Someone you know you can trust… Yes, this is quite a pickle.”
“Well, how about you?” Eloise asked, “I trust you, and you are new here.” I put my head in my hands. No, no, NO! Xteralkebob smiled.
“That is very kind of you, Eloise, but I couldn’t ask for that level of trust.” Xteralkebob was leading them on, letting them think that they were choosing what they wanted. Really, they weren’t. That was all Eloise needed to put her old foot down.
“Nope. We want you, er- what’s your name?”
Xteralkebob smiled. “Xteralkebob.”
“We want Xteralkebob!” Eloise cried, gesturing for the crowd to join her. Pretty soon the entire city was crying “Xteralkebob! Xteralkebob! Xteralkebob! Xteralkebob! Xteralkebob!”
“Well, if you insist… Let’s do it!” Xteralkebob pretended to look empowered, but I could see the evil still working beneath his mask of innocence.
Later that evening, he strolled into his hut, which we now shared, loaded up with gold from the new vault he had been hired to protect.
“So that’s how this all started?” Maggie inquired, giving a low whistle. I had finished my tale, trying to make my way into the resistance against Xteralkebob. It had been several years since that day, and Xteralkebob’s influence of evil had only spread. Xteralkebob had used that stash of gold left under his protection by the town to fund his corrupt work, blaming random citizens for it and having them punished mercilessly by the crowds. Eventually, I left, fully realizing how wrong it was when he convinced the crowd to torch a family’s house for a crime he and I knew full and well was his doing. I had heard of a group moving against Xteralkebob, who had now taken over everything, and I thought that this was my chance to make him pay for Darryl, for the Slocies-the family that had lost their home- and for every child and adult that had suffered under his hand. I told them this. So far I had met Ralph and Maggie, who were very good friends.
“And you want to go against your master?” Ralph asked, looking me in the eye very sternly. I knew that he didn’t trust me, but I really wished that he would. Ralph was very strong, and extremely loyal and protective of Maggie, who was very smart. She was also a very good judge of character.
“Yes. I want to help capture this… this,” I struggled for the right description, “this Silver-tongued trickster!” I finished confidently.
“Hey, I kinda like that,” Ralph said, grinning, “C’mon Maggie, let’s let him help.”
“I don’t know…” Maggie began, “it just seems too perfect. Too sincere, you know?”
“I have no idea what you just said,” I said somewhat sheepishly.
“You know what, Maggie?” Ralph said, “Let’s see what what’s-his-name-”
“Apprentice,” I offered.
“Right,” Ralph agreed, nodding in my direction, “let’s see what he has to say, and if he’s lying, I’ll bash his head in, okay?”
“Alright,” Maggie conceded, “Come on, then, boys.” She led the way through the woods where we had been talking and sat down in front of a tent with a few adults in there discussing strategies.
“So, when can we move in?” I asked, trying to not sound too eager.
“Whoa, slow down, man,” Ralph laughed, “We just got you here. We don’t even have a plan yet.”
“But speaking of plans,” Maggie jumped in, sitting down on a large rock jutting out from the ground, “We need to understand how to defeat your um…”
“Xteralkebob,” I said.
“Right, your um… terabob?” Maggie tried to say his name.
“Close enough,” I laughed. Ralph joined in.
“Seriously guys,” Maggie said after we had finished laughing, “we need to deduce how our company is going to accomplish this feat without losing any lives.”
“Not to be a little storm cloud,” I said, hands raised in a I surrender gesture, “but that won’t be likely. No one gets away without a few casualties.”
“Then how do we defeat him?”
“You have to overpower him.”
“How, intellectually?” Maggie inquired, looking deep in thought.
“No, he’s too smart. But he isn’t too tough. We could probably overpower him with brute strength, but we would need the entire resistance here to do it.”
“We can arrange that. When should we do it?”
“As soon as possible. Xteralkebob grows stronger everyday. We can’t afford to waste any time, especially since his armies grow larger every day.”
“Okay,” Ralph said, the muscles rippling on his thick arms as he hauled himself up, “I’ll discuss some strategies with the other men. We’ll attack by the end of the week. You two might want to get some sleep. Apprentice looks dead,” he chuckled. Maggie and I joined in.
“Apprentice! Apprentice! Wake up!” I awoke to Maggie standing over me, a smile spread across her face as she nudged me with her foot.
“I’ma wake, I’ma wake,” I mumbled hauling myself up with a sigh. I hadn’t slept that good in ages, not since I left Xteralkebob. All I could think of was what person would suffer next. I worried for them, and for me. What would happen if I failed?
“Ah good, he’s awake!” Ralph clapped me on the back.
“Hi,” I said, rubbing my eyes to get the sleep out of them. The forest was pretty in the morning. Light filtered through the lush canopy, and the dense green undergrowth was teeming with life. I watch a squirrel nibble on a nut, just barely visible under a bush. It startled at a stick snapping, then scampered up the tree nearest it.
“So, Apprentice,” Ralph began, “what would you recommend for this trip?”
“Umm… Travel light. Take only what you need. Do you guys already have a battle strategy planned out?”
“As a matter of a fact, I do,” Ralph beamed.
“As a matter of a fact, we do,” Maggie corrected, nudging Ralph playfully, “We did the actual communicating, you just sat there and went mhmm while you stuffed your face with cookies.”
“That’s being helpful!” Ralph protested, “I was saving you all from yourselves!”
“Uh huh,” Maggie giggled, “keep telling yourself that. C’mon, Apprentice. We have work to do.” Ralph cursed under his breath in another language, which made Maggie turn and laugh.
“Ralph, I know thirteen different languages, including Welsh, Spanish, and Dutch.”
“What’s that?” I asked Ralph, making him laugh.
“Apprentice, I have no idea. That’s just Maggie for you! Hey!” he called, “Why on earth would you need to know Welsh?” Maggie sighed and waved a hand behind her like Your question isn’t worth the effort. Ralph and I laughed as we followed Maggie to collect supplies.
We worked all through the day, gathering supplies from good samaritans around the forest looking to end Xteralkebob’s reign. More citizens joined us, until we had an army of our own. We slept whenever we could, and slowly moved our makeshift camp from the middle of the woods to the new palace Xteralkebob had had built.
We traveled in intervals, each one lasting most of the day and sometimes most of the night. The woods were large. On our final stretch, we crossed the one river in our land. We had some ponds, and even a lagoon, but the woods held the only river on our condiment (sorry, continent). The river was called the Rage, and it lived up to its title. The Rage was, well, a raging river. It was fast and had rocks that would break a man’s bones if one collided with them. The only way across The Rage was to go across a wide log with a flattened top to make a bridge. The issue was that The Rage’s tide was in. The bridge was wet and slippery, so everyone had to go with a buddy. I went with Ralph, and we waited at the back of the line to make sure that everyone made it with Maggie, who went first with her partner.
Once we’d gotten everyone across the wet bridge, Ralph stepped on with me behind him. We made it three steps before the bridge shifted suddenly. Ralph slipped.
“RALPH!” I grabbed on to his hand in an attempt to steady him, but his momentum dragged us both down. We slid off the bridge, but I grabbed onto a branch protruding from the bottom of the log. On our way down, Ralph’s head collided with the side of the log with a strangely hollow thunk. His unconscious body hung limp as I struggled to maintain my hold of him. I held us there for a while, watching the others frantically run around trying to formulate a plan to save us, before my grip slipped, and we tumbled into the water.
“Ralph! Apprentice!” Maggie’s cry was the last thing I heard before we hit the water. The wind was knocked out of me, and I fought to maintain my hold on Ralph.
I grabbed onto a rock as we surged past it, hauling Ralph onto it so I could climb on. Right as I reached up to gain safety, a large piece of driftwood slammed into my stomach, dragging me from the rock. I managed to evade most of the rocks, but slammed my head into the last after the current dragged me under. I managed to catch a glimpse of the others dragging Ralph to the shore before I rammed into the last rock, stars dancing around my head.
“Apprentice!” I heard Maggie scream, “Apprentice! Over here!” She was on the opposite shore, waving her hands like a maniac. I forced myself off of the rock and to the shore. Sure hands gripped my wrist, pulling me back to safety. I was shivering like crazy, and my head felt like it was going to explode. I was sure that someone else would have to carry my arms for me, as they felt close to falling off.
“Apprentice! Dude! Are you okay!” It was Ralph, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me, hard.
Obviously, he had regained consciousness. Someone wrapped us in blankets, and we sat and rested for a while. Maggie had some of the bakers in the group make us some soup, which Ralph and I guzzled gratefully, uncaringly burning our mouths.
After a while we set off again, Ralph and I having finally warmed up with the help of a blazing fire. We made it over the final hill to the end of the woods, and saw the palace at last.
It was quite the spectacle, much more stylish and comfortable than the sad stone hut he had used to test me all those years ago. As we reached the top of a hill at the end of the forest one night, I finally saw it. The palace was close.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m going to go in. Make sure to cover me. Everyone ready?” Maggie and Ralph joined me by my side, they had become my closest friends. I felt like I had known them forever. We had the rebels armed as best we could to give us the best chance. Maggie held a crossbow menacingly, while Ralph preferred to just use his fists. I didn’t hold anything. I wouldn’t need it. Despite my confidence, I still hesitated. I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“We got you, Apprentice,” Ralph said. Maggie nodded her agreement.
Tall towers protruded from the ground at every corner. It was made of powerful gray stone with windows placed symmetrically towards the top of the palace. Gold was like ants in the fact that it was everywhere. Every door, every window, even on the walkways between the four spires on top had something gold on them. It was a fortress, thus no guards were necessary. The steps leading to the humongous gate to the inside gleamed gold with silver designs melted in them. It looked too expensive to touch, let alone walk on, so, just to spite Xteralkebob, I stomped across them, making sure to leave some mud on their vivid surfaces. A guard gave me a dirty look, then his eyes shot up as it dawned on him who I was.
“Ap-p-apprentice!” he stammered.
“Hello,” I said brightly, then walked right in front of him and socked him in the jaw. He fell to the floor with a satisfying thump.
“Nice man,” Ralph said, “Respect.” He held out his fist and I hit it with mine. Then we turned and headed to the king’s quarters.
THUD! We let Ralph kick the door open for dramatic effect, the entire army of rebels following him, Maggie, and me. Xteralkebob sat in an overly-excessive throne, with jewels and gold in abundance. In case that didn’t impress people, Xteralkebob himself was dressed in a gold threaded robe with a crown made entirely out of jewels. To top it all off, there were piles of gold and jewels at his feet, covering half of the room.
“Hello, Xteralkebob,” I said, crossing the room in large strides. I tried to get close enough to punch him like I did the guard downstairs, but one of the only guards in the building intercepted me, pinning me down hard.
“Hey!” Ralph yelled running toward me.
“Let him go!” Maggie cried. The rest of the rebels advanced quickly. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started laughing, hard. The guard on top of me stood up, then stooped to help me up as well. Xteralkebob was laughing, too. The rebels were looking at me like I had lost my mind.
“Ummm… Dude? Are you okay?” Ralph stepped towards me, but Maggie grabbed his shirt.
“Wait, Ralph,” she said, her gaze wary, “Something isn’t right here.”
“Indeed it isn’t!” Xteralkebob exclaimed, coming up from his throne to stand next to me, “Well, at least it isn’t for you!” Xteralkebob looked down at me, “Would you like to do the honors?”
“Of course, Master,” I replied, happy to be with him again, “Guards.” At my call, hundreds of guards in thick armor erupted from doors. They outnumbered the rebels ten to one, wrestling each one to the ground.
“Well, done, Apprentice,” Xteralkebob said, patting me on the shoulder. I smiled.
“Apprentice! What are you doing!” Ralph cried as they pushed him and Maggie to the ground.
“Why, I’m following my king!” I cried, “Did you really think that I wouldn’t? That I would join your hopeless band of misfits in an attempt to ‘stop him’?”
“Indeed,” Xteralkebob said, kneeling in front of them to look them in the eye. Ralph spit in Xteralkebob’s eye, making Xteralkebob draw back. “Well, small peasants, I think that Celwyddog did quite nicely. Oh, Maggie, whatever is the matter?”
“What did you call Apprentice?” she asked, her voice quivering.
“Oh, you mean you didn’t know his name?” Xteralkebob taunted our captives, “Why, his real name is Celwyddog. It’s welsh for-”
“Liar,” Maggie breathed.
“That’s right! You are liars!” Ralph yelled, misunderstanding Maggie.
“No, Ralph,” Maggie said, looking over at him, “Apprentice’s real name is Celwyddog. It means liar in Welsh.” She glared at me,” We’ve been played.”
“How dare you!” roared Ralph, “We trusted you!”
“Yes. Yes you did,” I said, letting my voice turn cold like I had wanted it to forever. “You were so desperate for a way to defeat Xteralkebob that you failed to see the holes in my story. Now, let me tell you a new one.
A small cat met a large panther, cunning and secretive. The mice of the village didn’t like the Great Panther and sought to overthrow it. The small cat was worried. He enjoyed the panther’s tricks and didn’t want him gone. So the small cat set out with a story, only half true. The small cat put on a mask for the mice. He made himself into the victim, and wormed his way into the leagues of the mice. The mice trusted him, so much that they befriended the character with the mask. The small cat put on a show of “heroically” saving one of the mice, making the other mice want to follow him even more. The cat tricked the mice into following him to his master’s lair, where the Great Panther and the small cat devoured the mice.
“Sound like anyone we know?” I asked Maggie. She glared up at me.
“You got all of us here,” she breathed, “How? How did you get past us? How did you get past me?”
“I played off of your strengths and weaknesses. You never thought for an instant that I wasn’t on your side. You believed that I had ‘left my master to find you!’ If I hadn’t worked for him in years, as I said, why would I just now be finding you to help? Why wouldn’t I have formed my own rebellion? I’ve worked with Xteralkebob for years, surely I would be a little tougher. Why would I have stayed if I knew what was going on? It didn’t make any sense, and I think that in the corner of that brilliant mind of yours,” I tapped the top of Maggie’s red hair, “You couldn’t see past the mask I wore because I tailored it to you and Ralph. I made you trust me. You made it too easy. Why on earth would you ask my opinion? I told you to bring everyone in your rebellion in the hopes that you wouldn’t think twice, and you complied. I now have all of your men. You failed quite spectacularly.” I watched as tears poured down Maggie’s face as she came to terms with what she had done, what I had made her do without her realizing it.
“Did we?” Ralph asked, “Wait until I break out of these ropes and then I’ll-”
“Apprentice,” Maggie cut off his threat with a whisper, “Why did you save Ralph, then? You didn’t plan on that, did you?”
“Actually, I did,” I said, watching the anguished look on Maggie’s face spread to Ralph’s face, “What a coincidence that the bridge just so happened to fail when I was on it. No, I moved a small rock supporting the bridge, then held on tight.” I grinned, proud of my ingenious plan. Xteralkebob clapped me on the back proudly.
“It was all a lie, then. All of it,” Ralph hung his head.
“Take them to the dungeon,” I said, ignoring them and their sadness.
“All of them, sir?” the commander asked.
“All of them.” I turned my back on their empty threats, on their rebellion, on them and the friendship they thought they had, and faced my master Xteralkebob with a grin. “Who shall we trick next?” Xteralkebob smirked.
“The world, Celwyddog. The world.”