I’ve done the shift through time, space, and most likely reality itself once before to get to Lucitopia, but it’s still really disorienting.
Being instantaneously placed somewhere and somewhen else is a complete who’s-your-daddy of all your senses. There’s a feeling of apprehension, like a giant butterfly in your stomach-- except not a good butterfly. A barfy one. Everything looks wavy around the edges, but it’s more than a visual change. There’s a temperature shift, too, and the smells in the air are completely different. Oh, and just a suggestion, if you’re walking stop.
Suddenly blinded by bright sunlight, I take a step and put my foot down on a loose rock. I think I recover for a second, only to realize that, no, I do not have my balance yet because I’m not standing on the flat bottom of a tent anymore, but on a slope. Then, while I’m waving my arms about and doing some kind of goofy hip thrust that probably looks a lot like the Pee-Wee Herman dance, I pitch head-long into a gurgling stream, scraping the palms of my hands on the gravel at the bottom and soaking myself with cold mountain melt water.
“Ho, there!” calls a young man’s voice.
And apparently, I’m about to get shot in the face with an arrow.
“Are you injured?” He sounds worried. About my well-being. That’s new.
I must have moved to a part of the book where Kindness hasn’t gotten the ax yet.
“No,” I say, switching to my fake British accent. My hair is plastered over my eyes. I inch out of the river on my hands and knees rather than attempt to stand up while still partially blinded.
“Stay where you are, milady. I will cross the river and assist you,” he says. I hear splashing and clanking coming toward me as I crawl. That clanking is probably armor. Hopefully, he’s a knight and not a bandit. Kindness is probably still around, but this is Lucitopia, after all. He could be a kind bandit.
“What horrible spell has abandoned you in such a state in the Forest of Woe? Was it cast by Asphodel—damn his name!”
Passionate fellow. And that British accent he’s got makes everything sound more poetic.
“Ah. No. And you don’t have to—” I say, but he’s already lifting me up and carrying me.
I’d protest, but he moves fast. Before I have much of chance to push myself away from his chainmail covered chest, he places me down on a convenient hillock of grass. I throw my bedraggled hair off my face. It takes a few tries to get enough hair out of my face to see because the stupid circlet around my head keeps getting in the way. And I’ve got a ton of smooth, wavy, auburn hair that’s so long I can sit on it. Another image perk, curtesy of Lucitopia. In the real world my head is covered in something that looks suspiciously like rusty brown yeti fur. It’s dull, frizzy, and won’t grow much past my shoulders.
He looks stunned. “Princess Pleasant?” he says. Then he moves back and, distressingly, goes down on one knee in front of me. “What are you doing out here in the wild? You should be safe in your tower!”
“No more towers,” I say, stopping him right there. “I’m out in the wild because—”
Why am I out here in the wild? What could my character, the only child of the true king, be doing running around the dreaded Forest of Woe? I have no idea. I take my pack off my shoulder and start going through it, like I’m making sure nothing important is damaged, to give myself a chance to think.
In the small part of the book I had time to read before I said the spell and got myself stuck in here, Princess Pleasant is hidden away because Asphodel the Ghastly (at this point in the story not the king yet, but just Asphodel the Evil Sorcerer) has been demanding her hand in marriage so he can be the next king, and her father won’t allow it, because no one wants an evil sorcerer in the family. Or as a future king.
That’s the story as it is written. Princess Pleasant doesn’t even have any dialogue in the book, as far as I know. There’s just an illustration of her. She’s really pretty, and she’s wearing a great dress and golden circlet on her head, and I just loved the illustration as soon as I saw it. She was like that Waterhouse painting of the Lady of Shallot, but less horsy-faced. She had great skin, great hair, a killer wardrobe, but that’s about all there is in the book about the character of Princess Pleasant. She isn’t even a full character, like Torvold is. She’s just an illustration.
I’m going to have to make up a damn good reason for me to be wandering around a monster-infested forest, or this knight is going to drag me back to some dumb tower, and I know how that ends for me. I want to get out of here, and the only direction Mother Maybe gave me was to make my story the one I’d want to read.
So, what would I want to read?
“I’m on an important quest…er…from my father…um…the king.” That didn’t sound wishy-washy at all. “I need your help, brave knight.”
He bows even lower, which shouldn’t be possible in chain mail, but he’s quite flexible, apparently.
“And I, Sir Torvold the Bold, will aid you in your quest, my princess,” he swears. He looks up at me.
Wow. He’s really good looking, but he’s not cute. He’s no baby face, even though I can tell he’s young—probably my age, maybe a year or two older. He’s got brown hair, brown eyes, and a cleft chin. It’s very hero-esque, that cleft. Not something I would personally choose if I had written this book, but it works. He’s got the whole sharp cheekbones and granite jaw thing going, and the cleft really pulls it all together. I bet he wasn’t one of those angelic looking little boys who people went goo-goo over, but you can tell he’s growing into himself. And several other people, from the size of him. He’s huge. Not in a freaky knuckle-dragging way, but tall and muscular and just, wow.
While I’m staring, something warm, soft and hairy blows hot air down my neck. I’m doing the Pee-Wee Herman again trying to get away from it and headed back into the river for another dunking, but Torvold catches me and swings me up in his arms. This guy is nimble.
“Fear not, my princess,” Sir Torvold says with a smile and a dimple. “That is my trusty steed, Thunder. Come, do your duty to her highness, Thunder.”
Sir Torvold places me back on my feet for the second time while I hold out my hand for the horse to sniff. I don’t have a lot of experience with horses, but they can’t be too different from dogs, can they? He nudges my hand and I pet him between the eyes.
Thunder is one of those horses with the furry hooves that I’ve only ever seen pulling giant sleighs in beer commercials during football games, except he’s all white. His face is bigger than my torso. He nods his head, tossing his long, silky mane and paws the ground with a hoof. Almost like he’s bowing, strangely enough.
“A-hem,” a small voice says from somewhere in the back. Since horse’s asses can’t speak, not even here in Lucitopia, I assume there’s someone else with us.
“Ah! And that’s my trusty squire, Jackanet the Tidy,” Torvold says heartily.
Jackanet comes out from behind Thunder twisting his cap in his hands. He gives me a very shaky bow and then stands again, still twisting his cap in filthy hands. His hose is wrinkled and slipping down on his scrawny legs, giving him baggy ankles. There are several gravy stains on his jerkin and his cape is covered in horse hair.
Jackanet the Tidy does not live up to the hype. I would accuse Sir Torvold of sarcasm, but I don’t think he knows what that is.
“Pleased to meet you?” Jackanet says uncertainly, probably because I’m still staring at him, trying to figure out if they’re both just messing with me or not. “Would you like me to help you…you know…tidy up?” he asks me.
“Oh, no,” I say too loudly. I’m a hot mess right now, but he’d definitely make it worse. And probably give me pink eye. “Modesty forbids it,” I say, playing the girl card.
He visibly relaxes and pets the horse’s flank, leaving dirty streaks behind. Poor horse.
“Well, I should go and find the…you know…” Jackanet says, sidling away from us with Thunder.
“Sorry, the what?” Sir Torvold says.
“The er-tues that we’re er-tecting,” he grumbles incoherently, glaring at Torvold.
Torvold scrunches up his face. “Have you got something in your throat, Jackanet?”
The squire gives his master a blank look followed by an eye roll, and then he simply walks away from us, taking the horse with him.
“And now, my princess, tell me your quest so I might aid you in it,” Sir Torvold says, not missing a beat in his up-beatness.
My quest. My quest? My quest, quest, questidty quest-quest. Not many q words are there? Crap. I don’t have a quest. I must deflect.
“How remiss of me, what is your quest, brave knight?”
“I have been given the sacred task of protecting Virtue itself. I must find and protect every White Witch still alive,” he replies gravely.
Now that’s a quest. But I wouldn’t go around announcing that if I were him. This is Lucitopia. Nobody tells anyone what they want unless they want that other person to try to take it away from them. Or make them pay double for it.
But that’s my Lucitopia, the one with no Virtue. I look at Torvold and know that he is from another place entirely, even if it does have the exact same name. And then I mentally translate what his squire was mumbling about.
“Oh! Is that’s what Squire Jackanet left to seek? Have you lost your Virtues?” I ask. Torvold blushes deeply and I backpedal. “Obviously, good sir, you are virtuous to the core, I only meant—”
“Yes, yes,” he says nodding a little too vigorously. “They are not my virtue—I’ve still got that—though I hope I have their Virtues in me as well.” He seems to realize that this is getting worse by the second. “I am the guardian of two White Witches. There. That’s what I’ll call them from now on. White Witches.”
“Much easier,” I agree. I’m nervous. I don’t know why. He basically just told me he was a big, hot virgin.
“But enough about my quest. Tell me yours, my princess.”
He’s on a quest to find and protect all that is good in the world. I don’t have anything that comes close to that. I’m going to have to vamp until I come up with something.
“My quest is so unexpected…and secret…and…and…clandestine that my father could trust none with it but me,” I say, waving one arm and clutching my bosom with the other.
I’ll give him a little of the old razzle dazzle until I can come up with a really good quest. No—a great quest. One that would definitely make tons of guys desperate to keep reading until they fall in love with me. Or girls. Still not picky, because that’s how these stories go, right? I’m convinced through the whole thing that I’m supposed to kiss a guy, but it turns out it’s a girl in the end. Well, I’m not getting hung up on that, I can tell you. I’d totally kiss a girl. Just saying, if any girls are reading this and want to give it a go, I am so game.
Still nothing, huh?
“Forgive me, Princess, but you seem distracted,” Torvold interjects politely.
“Just contemplating the onerous task I have been given, kind sir,” I reply. Onerous? I’ve got to stop using adjectives or I’m going to paint myself into a corner. Now I’ve got to come up with an onerous quest. Great.
His big brown eyes round with empathy. Holy gawd. They actually glimmer. A saintly beam of light has fallen through the trees, hit his face at just the right angle, and made his eyes freaking glimmer. These romance books. They’ll be the death of me.
“Share your burden with me. I will help you shoulder it,” he says in his deep, soft voice.
Wow. I just stare at him like a boob.
“How is your father?” he asks when I don’t answer.
“Not well,” I reply, thinking of my own father and too stunned by Sir Sexy to put my cosplay filter on.
But I get lucky. Sir Torvold is nodding sadly. “I’d heard. He’s been very ill for quite some time now.”
“We all hope for his recovery,” I say politely.
He looks uncertain, like he is about to say something, and then he changes his mind. He smiles winningly. “And now, princess,” he says, “what brings you here to the Forest of Woe?”
“Monster,” I say, pointing.
Because there is a giant lion-lizard-eagle monster coming up behind him.