Authors: Brandon Dorman
Copyright © 2019 by Christopher Colfer
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Title: A tale of magic…/ Chris Colfer ; illustrated by Brandon Dorman.
Description: First edition. | New York ; Boston : Little, Brown and Company, 2019. | Prequel to The Land of Stories series. | Summary: Fourteen-year-old Brystal Evergreen risks everything by opposing her kingdom’s repression of women, but Madame Weatherberry, seeing her potential, invites her to a school where she hopes to change the world’s perception of magic.
Identifiers: LCCN 2019012140| ISBN 9780316523479 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780316523493 (ebook) | ISBN 9780316523523 (library edition ebook) | ISBN 9780316426336 (large-print hardcover)
Subjects: | CYAC: Sex role—Fiction. | Books and reading—Fiction. | Family life—Fiction. | Magic—Fiction. | Fairies—Fiction. | Fantasy.
Classification: LCC PZ7.C677474 Tal 2019 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
LC record available at /2019012140
The executions were rarely committed by law enforcement or kingdom officials. Most commonly, the punishments were carried out by mobs of angry citizens who took the law into their own hands. Although frowned upon, the brutal sport was completely tolerated by the kingdoms’ sovereigns. In truth, the leaders were delighted their people had something besides government to direct their anger toward. So the monarchs welcomed the distraction and even encouraged it during times of political unrest.
“He or she who chooses a path of magic has chosen a path of condemnation,” King Nobleton of the North proclaimed. Meanwhile,
negligent choices were causing the worst famine in his kingdom’s history.
“We must never show sympathy to people with such abominable priorities,” Queen Endustria of the East declared, and then immediately raised taxes to finance a summer palace.
“Magic is an insult to God and nature, and a danger to morality as we know it,” King Warworth of the West remarked. Luckily for him, the statement distracted his people from rumors about the eight illegitimate children he had fathered with eight different mistresses.
Once a witch or warlock was exposed, persecution was nearly impossible to escape. Many fled into the thick and dangerous forest known as the In-Between that grew between borders. Unfortunately, the In-Between was home to dwarfs, elves, goblins, trolls, ogres, and all the other species humankind had banished over the years. The witches and warlocks seeking asylum in the woods usually found a quick and violent demise at the hands of a barbaric creature.
The only mercy whatsoever for witch-and-warlock-kind (if it could even be considered
) was found in the Southern Kingdom.
As soon as King Champion XIV inherited the throne from his father, the late Champion XIII, his first royal decree was to abolish the death penalty for convicted practitioners of magic. Instead, the offenders were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor (and they were reminded every day how
they should be). The king didn’t amend the law purely out of the goodness of his heart, but as an attempt to make peace with a traumatic memory.
When Champion was a child, his own mother was beheaded for a “suspected interest” in magic. The charge came from Champion XIII himself, so no one thought to question the accusation or investigate the queen’s innocence, although Champion XIII’s motives were questioned on the day following his wife’s execution, when he married a much younger and prettier woman. Since the queen’s untimely end, Champion XIV had counted down the days until he could avenge his mother by destroying his father’s legacy. And as soon as the crown was placed on his head, Champion XIV devoted most of his reign to erasing Champion XIII from the Southern Kingdom’s history.
Now in old age, King Champion XIV spent the majority of his time doing the least he possibly could. His royal decrees had been reduced to grunts and eye rolls. Instead of royal visitations, the king lazily waved to crowds from the safety of a speeding carriage. And the closest thing he made to royal statements anymore were complaints about his castle’s halls being “too long” and the staircases “too steep.”
Champion made a hobby of avoiding people—especially his self-righteous family. He ate his meals alone, went to bed early, slept in late, and cherished his lengthy afternoon naps (and God have mercy on the poor soul that woke him before he was ready).
Although on one particular afternoon, the king was prematurely woken, not by a careless grandchild or clumsy chambermaid, but by a sudden change in the weather. Champion awoke with fright to heavy raindrops thudding against his chamber windows and powerful winds whistling down his chimney. It had been such a sunny and clear day when he went to bed, so the storm was quite a surprise for the groggy sovereign.
“I’ve risen,” Champion announced.
The king waited for the nearest servant to scurry in and help him down from his tall bed, but his call was unanswered.
Champion aggressively cleared his throat. “I said
,” he called again, but strangely, there was still no response.
The king’s joints cracked as he begrudgingly climbed out of bed, and he mumbled a series of curse words as he hobbled across the stone floor to retrieve his robe and slippers. Once he was dressed, Champion burst through his chamber doors, intending to scold the first servant he laid eyes on.
“Why is no one responding? What could possibly be more important than—”
Champion fell silent and looked around in disbelief. The drawing room outside his chambers was usually bustling with maids and butlers, but now it was completely empty. Even the soldiers who guarded the doors day and night had abandoned their posts.
The king peered into the hallway beyond the drawing room, but it was just as empty. Not only was it vacant of servants and soldiers, but all the
had disappeared, too. Every candle in the chandeliers and all the torches on the walls had been extinguished.
“Hello?” Champion called down the hall. “Is anyone there?” But all he heard was his own voice echoing back to him.
The king cautiously moved through the castle searching for another living soul, but he only found more and more darkness at every turn. It was incredibly unsettling—he had lived in the castle since he was a small boy and had never seen it so lifeless. Champion looked through every window he passed, but the rain and fog blocked his view of anything outside.
Eventually the king rounded the corner of a long hallway and spotted flickering lights coming from his private study. The door was wide open and someone was enjoying a fire inside. It would have been a very inviting sight if the circumstances weren’t so eerie. With each step he took, the king’s heart beat faster and faster, and he anxiously peered into the doorway to see who or what was waiting inside.
“Oh, look! The king is awake!”
“Now, now, girls. We must be respectful to His Majesty.”
The king found two young girls and a beautiful woman sitting on the sofa in his study. Upon his entrance, they quickly rose from their seats and bowed in his direction.
“Your Majesty, what a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” the woman said.
She wore an elegant purple gown that matched her large bright eyes, and curiously, only one glove, which covered her left arm. Her dark hair was tucked beneath an elaborate fascinator with flowers, feathers, and a short veil that fell over her face. The girls couldn’t have been older than ten, and wore plain white robes and cloth headwraps.
“Who the heck are you?” Champion asked.
“Oh, forgive me,” the woman said. “I’m Madame Weatherberry and these are my apprentices, Miss Tangerina Turkin and Miss Skylene Lavenders. I hope you don’t mind that we made ourselves at home in your study. We’ve traveled an awfully long way to be here and couldn’t resist a nice fire while we waited.”
Madame Weatherberry seemed to be a very warm and charismatic woman. She was the last person the king had expected to find in the abandoned castle, which in many ways made the woman
the situation even stranger. Madame Weatherberry extended her right arm to shake Champion’s hand, but he didn’t accept the friendly gesture. Instead, the monarch looked his unexpected guests up and down and took a full step backward.
The girls giggled and eyed the paranoid king, as if they were looking into his soul and found it laughable.
“This is a private room in a royal residence!” Champion reprimanded them. “How dare you enter without permission! I could have you whipped for this!”
“Please pardon our intrusion,” Madame Weatherberry said. “It’s rather out of character for us to barge into someone’s home unannounced, but I’m afraid I had no choice. You see, I’ve been writing to your secretary, Mr. Fellows, for quite some time. I was hoping to schedule an audience with you, but unfortunately, Mr. Fellows never responded to any of my letters—he’s a rather inefficient man, if you don’t mind me saying it. Perhaps it’s time to replace him? Anyway, there’s a very timely matter I’m eager to discuss with you, so here we are.”
“How did this woman get inside?” the king shouted into the empty castle. “Where in God’s name is everyone?!”
“I’m afraid all your subjects are indisposed at the moment,” Madame Weatherberry informed him.
“What do you mean
?” Champion barked.
“Oh, it’s nothing to be concerned about—
just a little enchantment to secure our safety
. I promise, all your servants and soldiers will return once we’ve had time to talk. I find diplomacy is so much easier when there are no distractions, don’t you?”
Madame Weatherberry spoke in a calm manner, but one word made Champion’s eyes grow wide and his blood pressure soar.
The king gasped. “You’re… you’re…
you’re a WITCH
Champion pointed his finger at Madame Weatherberry in such a panic he pulled every muscle in his right shoulder. The king groaned as he clutched his arm, and his guests snickered at his dramatic display.
“No, Your Majesty, I am not a
,” she said.
“Don’t you lie to me, woman!” the king shouted. “Only witches make enchantments!”
“No, Your Majesty, that is not true.”
“You’re a witch and you’ve cursed this castle with magic! You’ll pay for this!”
“I see listening isn’t your strong suit,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Perhaps if I repeated myself three times my message would sink in? I find that’s a helpful tool with slow learners. Here we go—
I am not a witch. I am not a witch. I am not a
“IF YOU’RE NOT A WITCH, THEN WHAT ARE YOU?”
It didn’t matter how loud the king yelled or how agitated he became; Madame Weatherberry’s polite demeanor never faded.
“Actually, Your Majesty, that’s among the topics I would like to discuss with you this evening,” she said. “Now, we don’t wish to take any more of your time than necessary. Won’t you please have a seat so we can begin?”
As if pulled by an invisible hand, the chair behind the king’s desk moved on its own, and Madame Weatherberry gestured for him to sit. Champion wasn’t certain he had a choice in the matter, so he took a seat and nervously glanced back and forth at the visitors. The girls sat on the sofa and folded their hands neatly in their laps. Madame Weatherberry sat between her apprentices and flipped her veil upward so she could look the sovereign directly in the eye.
“First, I wanted to thank you, Your Majesty,” Madame Weatherberry began. “You’re the only ruler in history to show the magical community any mercy—granted, some might say life imprisonment with hard labor is worse than death—but it’s still a step in the right direction. And I’m confident we can turn these steps into strides if we just—Your Majesty, is something wrong? I don’t seem to have your full attention.”
Bizarre buzzing and swishing noises had captured the king’s curiosity as she spoke. He looked around the study but couldn’t find the source of the odd noises.
“Sorry, I thought I heard something,” the king said. “You were saying?”
“I was professing my gratitude for the mercy you’ve shown the magical community.”
The king grunted with disgust. “Well, you’re mistaken if you think I have any empathy for the
,” he scoffed. “On the contrary, I believe magic is just as foul and unnatural as all the other sovereigns do. My concern is with the people who use magic to take advantage of the law.”
“And that’s commendable, sir,” Madame Weatherberry said. “Your devotion to justice is what separates you from all the other monarchs. Now, I’d like to enlighten your perspective on magic, so you may continue making this kingdom a fairer and safer place for
your people. After all, justice cannot exist for one if it doesn’t exist for everyone.”
Their conversation had just begun and the king was already starting to resent it. “What do you mean
my perspective?” he sneered.
“Your Majesty, the way magic is criminalized and stigmatized is the greatest injustice of our time. But with the proper modifications and amendments—
and some strategic publicity
—we can change all that. Together, we can create a society that encourages all walks of life and raises them to their greatest potential and—Your Majesty, are you listening? I seem to have lost you again.”
Once more, the king was distracted by the mysterious buzzing and swishing sounds. His eyes searched the study more frantically than before and he only heard every other word Madame Weatherberry said.
“I must have misunderstood you,” he said. “For a moment, it sounded as if you were suggesting the
legalization of magic
“Oh, there was no misunderstanding,” Madame Weatherberry said with a laugh. “The legalization of magic is
what I’m suggesting.”
Champion suddenly sat up in his seat and clenched the armrests of his chair. Madame Weatherberry had his undivided attention now. She couldn’t possibly be implying something so ludicrous.