Excerpt from Between Two Kingdoms
The Upper KingdomMount Basilea pierced the highest clouds in the sky, rising up sharply from the center of a large island in the middle of a vast ocean. The edge of the island was ringed all around with low, rocky hills and cliffs, which made the lower valley regions of the island impossible to see and barely approachable by any seafaring travelers, had any dared venture that way. On one side of the mountain, the thick, dense forest that began somewhere in the clouds gave way about two-thirds of the way down to barren lands and the harsh, angular shards of an obsidian landscape. But on the other side of the mountain, fertile foothills with quilted croplands hinted at civilization somewhere behind the rocky ring. And above the lush forest, glittering like a rare jewel set upon a velvet pillow, shone the crystal towers and golden walls of the Palace of the Great King.
The palace marked the heart of this mountain kingdom -- the Upper Kingdom, which had no beginning, but always was. The Great King, whose name was ancient and unpronounceable, ruled the entire expanse of the Upper Kingdom -- every tree and animal, every stream and pathway. His son, the Good Prince, faithfully served his father with eternal devotion. The King and Prince had justly and lovingly ruled their subjects for as long as anyone could remember.
Tommy was one of the subjects. Seven years old, with wavy blond hair, pale skin, and blue-green eyes that sparkled when he spoke, Tommy could not remember ever living anywhere but in the Upper Kingdom. And he did not know anyone, apart from the King and Prince, who was either older or younger than he was. Everyone in the Upper Kingdom, boys and girls alike, remained the same age -- eternally seven.
Mary was another seven-year-old in the Upper Kingdom, but she had not lived there as long as Tommy. She wore pretty sundresses and frilly socks, and liked to keep her long, brown hair in pigtails. She also loved to explore the forest and build tree houses.
Every morning began the same way for Tommy and Mary. They awoke in their sleeping chambers within the Palace of the Great King and walked through a series of winding interior passageways leading to a huge outdoor patio. The children of the King gathered daily in the morning sunlight to eat breakfast together at tables on the patio. Tommy and Mary always met, just after sunrise, at the third table from the palace entrance. From there, they could see most of the King's grand gardens.
With the other children, they always shared the same breakfast: warm, chewy, chocolate-chip cookies and glasses of cold milk. Once breakfast was finished, everyone played hide-and-seek in the gardens of the palace and afterward took naps among the flowers and trees.
Many of the children never left the palace grounds, but Mary and Tommy always had other plans.
Most days, the two friends packed lunch in a big basket, collected their tools, and walked halfway down the mountain into the heart of the Great Forest. Tommy loved the Great Forest even more than the King's palace, because it was so big. As he and Mary walked the soft, moss-covered paths winding into the deepest parts, he dreamed of secret places in the forest he had yet to explore and listened as Mary told stories.
"So then, this traveler tried to climb the mountain, but every time he went higher and higher, he fell harder and harder, until his body was so weary he couldn't climb another step and he came back down, sad and angry all at once. And then he tried to cross the creek, but every time he waded in, the waters grew faster and faster until the current threatened to sweep him away altogether, so he turned back and fell on the bank, tired and sad and angry all at once. And then he tried to cut through the forest, but every time he stepped much past the first line of trees, the branches and brambles grew thicker and thicker until he couldn't push his way through, so he ran away from there into a field, where he laid himself down on the soft grass, defeated and tired and sad and angry all at once. And there, just like that, was where the Prince found him. And do you know what the Prince said?"
"No, what?" Tommy loved the way words fell so easily from Mary's mouth.
Mary laughed. "The Prince said, 'You've been looking so hard to find your own way, you forgot to look one place.' Then he said not a word, but his eyes drifted up. And there, perched in a tall tree not far from the place where the man had begun to climb the mountain, and to cross the creek, and to cut through the forest, was a stunningly beautiful, massive zizzelle -- one of the trained breed that the ancients used to ride. The man raised his arms and in a moment -- Oh! Tommy, look -- we've made it here already!"
Just ahead of them, in a small clearing deep in the middle regions of the Great Forest, was the tree house they had been building for the last several weeks. Every day, Tommy gathered tree limbs and cut wood with his small axe. Then he tied his rope around the stack as best as he could and dragged the bundle back to Mary, who carefully nailed the pieces into their places in the tree house. Already they had a ladder, a floor, and three walls. They worked like this until lunch, then after fueling up, they started the building again.
One night after they had made their way back to the palace and had their dinner, Tommy and Mary took their bowls of mint chocolate-chip ice cream and sat down on the grassy hill in front of the palace. Mary, chattering as she ate, didn't notice right away that Tommy wasn't eating his dessert. ". . . I think the blue birds must eat more than the brown ones because they always have worms in their mouths and the brown ones only walk around looking for worms -- Tommy? What's the matter? Your ice cream is melting."
"The matter? Nothing's the matter. It's just that, I mean, I won't be able to meet you for breakfast tomorrow."
"I'm going away, Mary. We won't be able to eat together or play with each other -- just for a little while -- but I will be back, and then we'll walk and talk . . . and finish the tree house together."
"Why? Why are you leaving?" Mary started lining up the chips in her ice cream. "I've heard some of the others tell stories about people who went away . . . and never came back. Where will you go?"
Tommy pulled up some blades of grass. "To the Lower Kingdom, in the valley beyond the Great Forest."
"The valley? You're going there? But everyone says that we aren't ever supposed to leave the mountain." Mary's normally calm, low voice sounded tight and high. "They say that if you go to the valley beyond the Great Forest, you'll fall under the spell of the Dark Prince -- you'll get old and sad and you could even . . . you could . . . die."
"It's only kind of true. The Dark Prince is real, I know, though I've never seen him." Tommy shuddered a little. "And people in the valley do get older and they do get really sad sometimes. And you're right. They can die. But it's different for us kids down there. We only go down when the Prince leads us. It's weird. They can't see him the same way we do, but some of them can feel that he is there. They can see us though."
"So you've been there before?"
"Once. A long time ago."
"Did they try to hurt you? The old people?"
"No, they mostly just ignored me, but even if they did do something to hurt me, the Prince says getting hurt isn't the worst thing that can happen to a person."
"So you might die!"
"No, I'm not going to die. I'll always be seven years old, just like you." Tommy looked back at the light shining through the palace windows. "The Prince says that sometimes people get hurt so bad that they have to come back here to the palace, but they can get better -- maybe even better than they were before."
"Will I ever have to go down there?"
Tommy swirled his melting ice cream around in his bowl. "Maybe you will," he said. "Maybe someday you will go down to the valley. The King himself might call you into his throne room and tell you it's your time. And you'll know he's right -- even if it's scary. But once you go -- once you go just once -- you will want to go back again."
"You want to go on this trip?"
"I need to go back," said Tommy. "I have to finish something."
"What does that mean?"
"I met someone on my first trip -- Bobby. The Prince says that Bobby needs me right now."
"So why can't the Prince help him?"
"I don't think it works that way." Tommy watched a fly getting stuck in his pool of ice cream. "I mean, he can help him. He is helping him . . ."
"Is Bobby very old?" asked Mary, twirling one pigtail and brushing it against her closed eyes.
"I guess you could say that. He's as old as most everyone else down there. At least he looks like he is old, but if he comes up here, maybe he will be seven again."
Mary smiled. "Then he's almost the same age as us?"
"I hope he will be." Tommy set his bowl down and looked straight at Mary. "Will you do me one favor, Mary? Will you visit the King while I'm gone?"
"Sure, but why?"
"Just talk to him. Ask him to help if we get stuck down there."
"The King can do that?"
"I think he can do anything, Mary."
"I hope that you and Bobby will hurry home so we can finish our tree house. I will miss you." Mary left the last bite of her ice cream melting in her bowl.
"I'll miss you too," Tommy said. He stood up and pulled Mary up beside him. "But we are already friends. If I don't leave you for a little while, we might never get to be friends with Bobby. Besides, I think he will want to help us finish the tree house."
Mary's eyes glittered. "I'll see you when you get back, then. Maybe you'll have a story for me, this time."
"Yeah, maybe. Whatever happens, I'll find you -- as soon as I get back." Tommy gave Mary's hand a quick squeeze and walked away toward his bedroom. He had so many questions himself, more than he wanted Mary to know. But the main one that kept swirling around in his head was the one that worried him the most.
Why had the Prince chosen him?
The above is an excerpt from the book Between Two Kingdoms by Joe Boyd. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2010 Joe Boyd, author of Between Two Kingdoms