SYNOPSIS.
Aleena, a teenage peasant girl, is lured into the mysterious and scary Gleaming Forest of Lost Souls where Good is at war with Evil. Queen Goodwende, ruler of the Good Spirits and the creatures of the countryside, are constantly battling against Archlord Pheande, master of the Evil Spirits.

His army, led by the Knights of Mayhem, is seeking to gain control of the local mortals and eventually those in the world beyond. Queen Goodwende, in order to save Aleena from his clutches, endows her with a power which changes her into a firefly whenever she is in danger.

Unfortunately Tayne, an evil lantern maker who uses fireflies to power his lanterns, catches her and decides to use her extra brightness to power a special golden lantern that he intends to sell to his king.

When Tayne’s cart is damaged, he visits the nearest smithy and meets the blacksmith and his two teenage sons. While he is there, he shows them the lantern and, although not realising that a girl is really the source of its light, the younger son, Kenelm, immediately falls under the spell of the lantern’s beauty. He begs his father to buy it for his birthday but Tayne refuses to sell it.

Later that night, a spellbound Kenelm leaves home to follow Tayne and plead with him to part with the lantern. When they meet, Tayne dupes Kenelm into going to the Land of Farbeyond, to work as his apprentice, by promising to give him the lantern when his apprenticeship is completed.

Arriving in Farbeyond, Kenelm finds that everyone is well fed and housed but no one appears to be happy. He learns that several years previously, the king’s only son was kidnapped whereupon the king decreed that no one would be allowed to be smile or be joyful in public until his son was found safe and well. He also passed over control of the country to his regent and became a recluse.

One evening, the lonely and unhappy Kenelm, seeking comfort in the beauty of the lantern, thinks that the firefly is dying. He releases it and immediately discovers that the firefly is really Aleena. Kenelm then realizes that it is not the beauty of the lantern but the beauty within the lantern that attracts him.

He decides to rescue her and return home but when he tells Tayne of his intentions, the lantern maker is enraged as he still plans to sell the lantern to the king. Tayne decides to stop Kenelm and arranges for him to be thrown into the evil regent’s dungeon. While he is there Kenelm rescues, and forms a close friendship with, an unusual animal friend, a squidgel.

Together they overpower their jailer and break out of their cell. Kenelm then discovers that the Queen Mother of Farbeyond and her courtiers who had disappeared at the time of the baby prince’s kidnapping, are fellow prisoners. Together they escape from the dungeons and later meet the King of Farbeyond. Kenelm is re-united with Aleena and, aided by the king’s loyal followers, Queen Goodwende and the creatures of the land, they battle against the Knights of Mayhem who try to invade the Land of Farbeyond.

************

Chapter One.

Once upon a Mythical Year, there was a green and fertile valley that lay sheltered between the steep granite peaks of two huge mountain ranges. Being small and unimportant, the valley had no name and consisted mainly of a large forest, scattered hamlets, small villages and just one town. Only a handful of outsiders knew that it even existed and, because of this, it had always remained free from conquest and the rule of kings or lords.

For as long as any of its people could remember, they had lived a quiet, trouble-free way of life as, even in the hardest of times, no one had ever starved to death or died of the cold. Over the years, they had slowly prospered, not so much in material wealth but more in love, happiness and the joy of living. Each community, be it in the smallest hamlet or even a town, shared the same common bonds of friendship and mutual respect.

For many years, the older and wiser villagers had stayed well away from the eerie and foreboding forest but others, either foolhardy or foolishly brave, had gone as close as they dared. Most had been sickened by the awful smell of rotting slime that was suddenly blown in their direction, or frightened by the screams that seemed to come from everywhere or perhaps from nowhere.

Others had reported seeing “something very weird and glowing” moving slowly between the gnarled and twisted trees. Some had even suggested that it was the light from the burning torches of missing souls as they searched for a way back to the Land of the Living. It was because of this remark that it was given the name of the Gleaming Forest of Lost Souls.

Some of the woodcutters, who were employed by the villagers to control the spread of the forest, had not returned home at the end of the day, while others had reported peculiar things happening. As they were working, tools had gone missing or piles of freshly-cut wood had suddenly burst into flame. Others, however, had been pleasantly surprised when the air had suddenly become filled with the perfume of woodland flowers.

Then baskets laden with delicious berries, nuts or mushrooms had suddenly appeared at their feet. However, apart from the wary woodcutters, very few of those who had been there once ever returned for a second visit. Indeed, everybody now agreed that it was definitely a place to keep well away from.

**

Aleena, a bright and happy girl, lived with her parents at the start of the valley close to the village of Accordia. Their small, isolated cottage was very close to the forest: much too close for safety, so her parents thought, but they were far too poor to move and start afresh. Aleena had no brothers or sisters and, as she lived so close to the eerie forest, friends of her own age very rarely visited her. When she had an hour or so to spare and was lonely, she would cheer herself up by wandering around the fields.

Engrossed in her own little world of make-believe she would seek the friendship of the wild animals or talk to her ‘faithful sentries’, as she called the platoons of upright thistles that guarded the borders of the fields. At other times she would pause for a while to sit and watch the many humble spiders as they cast their gossamer nets among tall grasses: ‘Mother Nature’s fly fishermen’ she called them. In her little world she had many friends and she always enjoyed their company.

During most of the daylight hours, Aleena would spend the time with her father, a woodcutter, collecting unwanted twigs and branches for burning on their fire. Then, at the end of each day, Aleena would round-up her family’s animals and put them in the safety of their pens. However, one fateful day ended disastrously different and it was to change her life completely and forever. With the sun soon to hide behind the mountains, Aleena was busily rounding up the ducks, sheep and goats.

The mystic power of the moving sun was slowly transforming the brightness of the day into another dark night and a blanket of mist was bedding down the fields. It was a scene of blissful beauty, with the last rays of golden sunlight casting moving shadows across the landscape. Everything was perfect and everything was normal, except for one thing. Aleena had noticed a strange light; it was on the very edge of the forest that a brilliant white globe of light was slowly bouncing. She stopped and stared.

Up-and-down, up-and-down … her gaze was fixed on the globe and her head began to nod in time with it.
Up-and-down, up-and-down … she walked slowly towards the light.
Up-and-down, up-and-down … she was almost at the light.
Up-and-down, up-and-down … she was there!

Then, just as she tried to catch it, the globe enticingly bounced its way to the taller bushes that were just a little further inside the forest.
Up-and-down, up-and-down … unable to control her actions, she followed the bouncing globe as it moved a little further away again.
Now it was past the bushes and among the trees where it was gracefully gliding in-and-out and slowly swinging to-and-fro … in-and-out … to-and-fro.

She was under its spell and she had no choice but to follow. It was so strange. It was just as if an invisible person was carrying a lantern but, if it was, then it was a lantern far more powerful than she, or anyone else, had ever seen before! Curious, but more likely mesmerised, she had left what she was doing in the field to investigate and the closer that she moved to the light, the more her thoughts were concentrated on it.

Suddenly, without realising it, she was deep inside the scary Gleaming Forest of Lost Souls. She was deep within the very place where no sensible person would ever dare to venture and she was a vulnerable young girl on her own!

A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the bushes and sweetly whispered in her ear:  “A-lee-na. A-lee-na. A-lee-na.”

Relaxed by the reassuring sound of her name, or perhaps still hypnotized by the gentle swaying of the persuasive light, she followed along a path that had been trodden flat over the years by vicious predators. She wandered deeper and deeper into the realm of unknown dangers, unaware that the sun had long since set and the only source of light was now from the mysterious globe.

On and on she plodded, as each dangerous footstep became heavier and her young legs slowly lost their strength. Then, with a faint sigh of exhaustion, she slowly collapsed against the trunk of a stout tree, slid to the ground and fell into a deep sleep. The globe of light that had enticed Aleena into the forest stopped, floated back to where she lay and exploded into a cloud of thousands of sparkling fireflies.

In the middle of the cloud, the motherly face of Queen Goodwende, matriarch of the Good Spirits of the Forest, appeared and, fearing for the safety of the poor, defenceless girl, she cast a magical spell. Within a twinkle, Aleena was also transformed into a firefly; not an ordinary firefly but one many thousands of times brighter than anyone could possibly imagine. The other fireflies quickly swarmed around her and together they flew high above the trees seeking refuge in the safe embrace of the starry night.

**

On the edge of Accordia, near the narrow wooden bridge that spanned the sleepy River Karme, dwelt Kalamar, the blacksmith, and his two sons, Boldar and Kenelm. Boldar, the elder son, was a muscular, happy-go-lucky youth built in his father’s image. A carefree smile permanently beamed from his rustic face and, while each day many lilting melodies lingered briefly on his lips, just as many local maidens danced briefly in his heart.

However, his brother was completely different. Kenelm had never met the girl of his dreams and his unassuming ways belied the intense passions and deep thinking that would soon be at his command. For the moment he was content with his carefree life and he was happy to follow any path that Fate led him along. Clad in supple leathers, his tall, lean figure was topped with long, flaxen hair and a soft smile. As he approached his eighteenth birthday, his gentle manner gave no clue to the strength of mind and body that he would soon be forced to develop.

With the early morning sun busy drying out the overnight dew, Kalamar sweated at his forge until a stranger arrived on a wobbling old horse-drawn cart. He stopped working and looked up.
“Good day to you blacksmith,” the scruffy stranger called out. “A wheel and an axle on my cart have been damaged in my travels along your potholed roads. Can you repair them for me?”

Kalamar inspected the cart and agreed to mend it.
“You’re not from these parts,” he ventured. “May I enquire who you are … and why you are here? What is your business?”

“My name is Tayne,” the stranger replied, “and I’m a lantern maker. A good one, probably the best. Nay, certainly the best! I come from a very large and wealthy country that is a long way from here. It’s called the Land of Farbeyond; have you heard of it … or me and my lanterns?”

Kalamar admitted that he had not.
“King Steefen rules there,” said the lantern maker and then laughingly added, “or at least he thinks he does.”

Kalamar made no comment but just politely nodded and began to work on the damaged cart. It was a hot morning and a blacksmith’s job was hot work. Kalamar needed a cool, refreshing drink more than he needed to spend time on idle chatter with a stranger who looked and smelled as if he had not washed for days. For the rest of that day, Kalamar forged and fitted until the cart was almost as good as new and he could relax.

The stranger went over to the cart and inspected the blacksmith’s work.
“Good! In fact it’s very good,” he said, “it should last me far longer than I’ll ever need.”
Kalamar allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction.

“I regularly visit your forest to catch fireflies,” the lantern maker continued, eager to prolong the conversation and perhaps make a sale to reduce his costs. “It’s the only place where there are the magical fireflies that I use. They are very special fireflies and I catch them for my very special lanterns.

“Let me show you one. You will be amazed, as you won’t have seen the likes of these before. They’re the lighting miracle of the future but you could own one now, if you can afford it. They are not cheap but perhaps I can offer you one in exchange for your labours.”

He produced a large lantern from the cart.
“Look at this for fine craftsmanship,” he bragged, “not only will the light from one this size fill a whole room but it will also last you a lifetime. It costs nothing to run and it will always stay clean: that’s not like your dirty oil lamps, eh!
“These beauties don’t have to be filled with smelly oil or fat and they don’t even have a wick to trim.”

Kalamar took the lantern and studied it closely.
“How do you light it?” he asked.
“You don’t have to light it,” replied the lantern maker smugly. “It lights itself when the daylight fades or when the place that it’s in is dark. It glows because it has my magic fireflies in it.”

Always the hopeful peddler, he carried on to explain how, as the darkness of night closed in, the fireflies in his lanterns gave out a clear, bright light but no smoke and no smell. The blacksmith listened, a little wary but certainly very interested. He had never before seen, or even heard of, such incredible lanterns and asked if he could show it to his sons and perhaps try it out in his home.

“Of course you can,” came the reply, “but give me that one back and I will allow you to show them my really special one … the pride of my collection. It is truly the queen of all lanterns and is the finest that anyone has ever made!”

The lantern maker delved inside the back of his cart and proudly lifted out a delicately patterned, multi-jewelled lantern that was less than half the size of the previous one.
“Look at this! Am I not right? This is truly perfection,” he boasted, and the smile on his face was almost as bright as the shining golden body of the lantern.

“I finished it nearly two years ago and ever since then I’ve been waiting to capture a very special firefly to illuminate it. I needed one with enough power to show off the true beauty of my craftsmanship and last night, in your forest, I caught that firefly. I now have the finest and brightest lantern ever made. It is a lantern fit for the private rooms of a king’s palace!”
He paused and then added: “Please be careful with it.”

Kalamar looked at the lantern maker and gave a wry smile, as he had met many craftsmen and pedlars who boasted about their wares even though they were not very good. The lantern maker was annoyed by Kalamar’s reaction.

“You doubt me, sir?” he queried. “Then take it into your home and try it out. Close the shutters and marvel at how it not only lights up the room, but how its unique light shines through the coloured jewels on the top, to produce a scene that is truly magical beyond belief.
“It’s a modern wonder that you will not have seen before and certainly one that you will never see again. It will soon remove all of the doubts that you appear to have!”

Kalamar called for his sons to join him as he carefully carried the lantern into his house. He held the lantern above his head and, as Boldar and Kenelm closed the shutters and the room darkened, a magnificent dazzling display of light seemed to burst from the lantern. As if from a miniature lighthouse, brilliant shafts of white light from the windows in its sides filled the room, while on the ceiling of the drab, masculine dwelling there was a truly wondrous sight to behold. Blue, red, green and yellow butterflies appeared to be gracefully floating in a twilight sky. The blacksmith and his sons were dumbfounded and the room remained quiet until Kenelm finally broke the silence.

“Father, please buy me this lantern for my birthday,” he pleaded. “I have never wanted anything in my life as much as I want this beautiful object. I will look after it and cherish it for ever!”

Kalamar looked at Kenelm in amazement as he was unable to understand why, or how much, his son was enthralled by the hypnotic charm of the lamp. To him, beauty was a well-forged tool such as a strong ploughshare or a keen axe, while such delicate items as a jewelled lantern he considered to be only of interest to the womenfolk.

“Kenelm,” he replied, “I would do anything within my power to please you on your birthday, but are you really sure that you want this particular lantern? It’s so small and it seems very flimsy. I could buy you a large, strong one: one that won’t get bent or broken when it’s knocked over or dropped.”

Even as he spoke he could see that Kenelm’s heart was set on this lantern and only this lantern, so, without waiting for a reply, he quickly added: “All right then! I will see what I can do but I’m not sure that this one is for sale to us, or even that the price is one that I can afford.”

Kalamar went outside to rejoin his visitor and barter with him for the lantern.
“Well what do you think of my fine lantern?” Tayne asked as Kalamar approached. “Is it not the most magnificent object of desire and beauty that you have ever seen?”

“Yes, I agree, it is nice,” replied Kalamar. “It is a lantern for those who can appreciate delicate things. To them it would be a very fine lantern indeed but it is far too small and delicate for the likes of me. However, as my younger son would like to have it as a birthday present, I’ll accept it as payment for the work that I’ve done on your cart.”

Tayne made no comment. So Kalamar added: “And you can share our evening meal … and I will even let you sleep in the barn tonight.”

Tayne still said nothing and appeared uninterested.

Kalamar made his final offer: “And you can take breakfast with us tomorrow. Is that not now a very fair offer?”
“Indeed it is not!” snapped the lantern maker in temper. He was annoyed that anyone should think that his lantern was worth so little.

“This lantern was made by me to be owned by royalty: at least a prince but more probably a king. It is destined to hang in the private chambers of some great castle, not a peasant’s hovel! Now please return it and let me pay you for the repairs to my cart. Hurry now! I want to be on my way before the sun is too low in the sky.”

Copyright © Michael A Chapman
The Author asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work