It was a cramped and small house; not to mention it being an ancient structure, filled with musty overcrowded rooms—but it was home.
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And a very fine home it was to Mr. Elijah Dempsey. Elijah, as he preferred, love the tidy but filled rooms he kept which were quite few. Most of the reason his house lacked a spacious feeling was from the wide variety of collections he either had packed away or else on display arrayed magnificently on his walls.
“You’ve got more than you know what to do with,” the folk of the town often warned Elijah. “It’s not going to come to any good end…especially with the burglars so I hear sneaking around…only loot where there’s most, mind you.”
Despite their lecturing Elijah Dempsey continued to acquire and keep all items he thought necessary for sentimental reasons. And his reputation for it grew bigger and worse all the while.
Out of all the rooms in his home Elijah loved most and spent the majority of his time in what was the smallest one, his study. And that was where his troubles began….
* * *
Elijah Dempsey, well renown for hardly ever showing himself, was once again at his study wishing he really weren’t known at all. He didn’t fancy town’s people prying into his own business and hoped they’d all soon realize the impolite inquisitiveness they had, sticking their noses unabashed into the lives of others.
Elijah spent most of his days in his study writing. Writing books of all sorts, fairy tales, great adventures, documentaries on significant family members, genealogies, books containing facts no child would enjoy reading, and many more. And very beautifully told they were, though he never so much as considered getting one published for fear of being known any more widely than he already was.
Elijah’s study was lit by an arrangement of wax candles for there were no windows in this part of the house. And in whole, there were not many, for the last thing Elijah wanted was for outsiders peeping at him through windows, let alone this particular room.
The flickering yellow light danced dully upon the large blank pages of a book propped slightly up on a desk facing Elijah. He smiled down at them, for blank as they were, they told much. A book full of empty pages, to Elijah, he saw as an opportunity to open new worlds to share.
No! He would not share them! Goodness knows the chatter that would surely be around town about him if they all knew Elijah Dempsey as an author. Most undoubtedly his tales would be kept to himself and that was settled.
Large dust motes floated across the room glinting in the light of the candles. Elijah picked up a large goose feather quill. Quills were merely one of the many collections Elijah had—this one, however, was his favorite.
He dipped the quill in a small bottle of ink, a held it up to the page, pausing. How to begin a book? He could look through his accumulated works of literature to see how they all started theirs…no. He would make something original, and never used before.
It was raining, a dark and ominous evening; and just as he had feared, Perrin was startled greatly by a knock at his door…
Just as Elijah was finishing the sentence, thoroughly satisfied with the name he had created for his character, he too received a knock at his door. Elijah jumped, no less startled than his story might have told, and bumped his knees on the bottom of the desk.
It shook, sending drops of ink onto his pages, and he muttered angrily. Who would be coming to his house? He could not remember the last time something like this had happened, and never wanted it to.
“Can’t keep to themselves, can they? Got to make sure they’ve got their noses in my…” Elijah muttered as he peeped out of his window.
It was the governor.
The governor! Oh my! Elijah was in no state to host anyone at the moment let alone the governor, and yet here he was, knocking at his doorstep. Elijah gulped hard and blinked once or twice, opening the door.
The governor exclaimed, flashing his famous smile, displaying rows of overly white teeth from beneath his bushy walrus mustache. The governor tried much too hard to make his short plump self look its best, insisting the white of his teeth match his dazzling vest. From this hung many golden chains connected to all sorts of trinkets he kept in his vest pockets. This was worn over a rich purple dress shirt; below it, a brown leather belt keeping in place the white pair of slacks he wore to match his vest to match his teeth.
“Ah, yes…Governor Hornbell, what a—a pleasant surprise…” Elijah sighed stepping aside for the governor.
“It always is, m’boy, always is…now then I’m here to discuss some matters with you, Dempsey! Ever so glad I was able to find you here at home…”
Where else do you think I’ve been the past four years? Elijah thought to himself. No matter, he led the governor over to his least overcrowded room and made space on what furniture there was for them to sit. This was too much…the governor was inviting himself for a stay at his home! What was next, a request for tea or something outrageous of the sort?
“Well then, Elijah, I’ll just assume you were going to make us tea…of course, it’s not a problem I’ll just wait here—you know I’m a very patient man…” Governor Hornbell winked at Elijah, flashing another smile. Elijah sighed heavily, getting up and agreeing barely half-heartedly.
A few minutes later he was back in the presence of Governor Hornbell, both with a cup of tea in their hands.
“So as I mentioned, Dempsey, there are some matters I mean to speak to you about, and it’s not just me who agrees to them. The whole town believes we ought to have a word with you…”
“T-the town? The whole town?”
“Well, very much of it to say in the least…but anyway, we’re getting off the subject you see…I believe it is wholly my job to explain to you our feelings. We feel you ought to get up and out of your home, Elijah! Come, spend your time in my—ahem, our—wonderful community. Be apart of our events, for example, especially the major ones…it’s been three years in the row now that you’ve missed the annual Summer Celebration! Come now, do you honestly think that it’s healthy for you?”
Elijah wanted to object, saying he knew what was healthy for himself, but no matter—this was the governor. He let his eyes fall to the auburn drink, debating silently with his reflection. Elijah sighed once again and inquired in a strained voice.
“Well now…m-must it—must it be always?”
“Perhaps not. But do say you’ll join us for our next feast…it’s to celebrate the seventeenth birthday of my own two twins, Josiah and Brunhilda Hornbell! Really, you couldn’t miss it for anything; they’re to present a complete meal for the entire town, followed by wonderfully prepared speeches! They make me so proud…”
“Hmm…sounds lovely,” Elijah mused over his tea. “I suppose I could offer a slight chance of attendance, but only a slight chance!”
“Oh very good, Dempsey! I knew you could do it…excellent, it’ll be in two days! I’ll look forward to seeing you there as I’m sure my twins will as well.”
“Yes, I’m sure…” Elijah exhaled with self pity and stood. Setting his cup aside, he turned back to the governor and asked, “Is there anything else you needed now that you’re here? Or will you be on your way?” He looked to him hopefully.
“Oh well, now that you mention my being here…what about those books you write, eh, Dempsey? Been keepin’ up to the old authoring business?”
Elijah turned back around, clearly stunned. “Books…books?”
“Now how did you know about that?” Elijah blushed slightly, looking flustered.
“Oh, I know, Dempsey—I know.” Governor Hornbell chortled slightly, putting away his cup of tea. There was a short pause.
“Oh…well about that,” Elijah blushed further. “They are—I suppose you could say—books. But nothing professional of course! And nothing worth reading, if you want my opinion…”
“No, Elijah, I’ll stick to my own opinions, thank you very much; so, come on then, let’s see them!” He exclaimed, throwing his arms in the air, smiling wide.
Elijah turned away and headed off for his study, moaning audibly enough for only him to hear. Back in his favorite room, Elijah searched around franticly. “Can’t give him anything entertaining…yes, I’ll give him something he hates! Something such as…ah, of course, the biography of Firman Dempsey! Hornbell won’t like this a bit, especially with Firman being an accountant and all, what’s interesting about that? Yes, he’ll find it dull, and then leave me alone to my own books!” Elijah spoke furiously to himself, snatching a red, leather bound book on his shelf.
Bringing it back out to the governor, he caressed the binding, trying to put on a smile. “Here you are, governor…it’s nothing much, but it’s definitely the best I’ve got to show you!” He cleared his throat guiltily, handing it over.
Hornbell smiled hungrily and he received the book, leaning back in his chair, handling it like glass. He spread his hand across the red leather, pulling a satisfied face, and opened the cover. Revealing a pair of brittle reading glasses, the governor made a gruff sort of noise, and read the first page out loud:
“‘The Adventures of the Seven Knights: a tale of excitement, joy, grief, romance, defeat, and of victory…sounds fascinating!” Hornbell quickly flipped to the first chapter, his eyes growing intense as he began reading.
Elijah’s face fell in dismay. He had grabbed the wrong book! The one he had snatched was his own favorite, best masterpiece he had ever written…in the hands of the governor!
“Oh, you see, I must have misplaced my books, gotten mixed around and all that. Here, let me get you the correct one, this book I believe is not adequate for someone of—uh—such high standards as you to be reading…” Elijah fumbled for words.
“No, no, Dempsey this one will do. Already, I am intrigued by your vibrant descriptions and charming characters…no! I insist! Sit, Elijah, have another cup of tea, and explain to me your writing career as I continue reading.” Hornbell motioned towards Elijah’s former chair.
This was getting far too out of hand! At first the governor himself had to appear at Elijah’s home, invite himself in, indulge in his very own tea, and now read his books! And how long was he to stay? Elijah bit his lip nervously, slowly sitting down.
Minutes passed by in the appearance of hours, and Elijah grew no less concerned as Governor Hornbell read in silence. He portrayed himself slightly comical from the concentration he had while reading; Elijah couldn’t help but feel a little self-pleased seeing as how someone (especially the governor) could be so captivated by his own works.
However, he was relieved when Hornbell lowered the book looking fully content. The governor sighed deeply, blinking once or twice.
“Well, Dempsey…I must say it—why, it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before!”
“G-glad you enjoyed it…” Elijah muttered in reply.
“And I want you to know, ever since I had reached pages five through six, I had in mind to get this acknowledged …you would love that of course? Ah, of course, what author would not love to have his or her book published?”
It took a moment for Elijah to understand what the governor was speaking of, though when he did, it distressed him greatly. “No! I mean, no, of course not, this…this…writing,” he waved vaguely in the direction of his book, “is not—well—fit for the reading of the public!”
“Not—not fitting for the public to read? Preposterous! Why, this is better than all fictional books I have in my own library! It must be issued! What? Too much work? Dempsey, I’ll have you know I’ve got the finest scriveners in the province, it’s no work for them…and even if it is, if I say they’ll do it—they’ll do it.”
It was unbearable for Elijah Dempsey. Anything he brought up as an objection, Hornbell had a solution! Haunting thoughts of town folk getting to know him as a public author swarmed his mind, punctuated by delightful visions of seeing his own book in a shop!
Suddenly Elijah’s views on it went from refusing, to not being able to make up his mind. His very own works published! Hadn’t that been a dream of his ever since he was a boy? Elijah stared blankly into the face of the beaming Governor Hornbell. His poignant thoughts of popularity were outweighed by the joys of having his book recognized by the public.
“Ah…you see…having a book published is lovely,”
“Indeed it is, Dempsey, indeed it is; so it’s settled then, I’ll…”
“Wait! I…well I just want to make sure that—oh—yes,” he heaved a final sigh. “I suppose it’s what you would call ‘settled’…” Elijah bit his lip, not really able to believe what he was saying.
“Excellent! Oh, Elijah, you’re slowly bringing yourself together! You’ll be attending a feast, and now publishing a book! Knew my visit would be successful…” Hornbell went off talking to himself. Elijah stood somewhat involuntarily, staring around his room. Was this all a dream?
Hornbell stood up himself, holding the book, looking at it as a prize he had won. “Ha…my very own Elijah Dempsey, an author…” he muttered to himself. “Well I guess I’ll be going now, since I’ve got much more than my intentions accomplished…always a pleasure, Elijah.” The governor murmured, still staring at the book, and heading for the doorway.
It was not much later that Elijah Dempsey was abruptly the only one in his house once again. And the silence that followed was more suffocating than any solitude he had experienced before. The bright and talkative spirit had left his home, replaced by the calm sense of isolation.
Elijah seemed not to mind it as much if someone or other happened to show up…often would be far from comforting, but it was not be as bad as he would have guessed…and the governor wasn’t as stuck up as he imagined—“perhaps a bit intrusive, but nothing more.”
* * *
A few days had passed since the barging in, so to speak, of Governor Hornbell, and Elijah had not yet forgotten the promise he had made of attending the feast for the governors children.
“Huh…it wasn’t a promise,” He sometimes found himself attempting to talk himself out of it. But he would then think of what Hornbell had said…
I’ll look forward to seeing you there, as I’m sure my twins will as well…
That possibly could be true; and then to think of the disappointment it might give them had he not shown up. Elijah did not want to think about his absence forcing him on the bad side of the governor. So it was decided then.
Elijah would be going, and going to make a fool of himself no doubt.
Why, he had no idea what to say if the worst came to a conversation with a mere townsperson! But he would not think of such terrible comings and goings. For now, what gnawed at his mind was the difficult choice of what to wear. Perhaps if he had gone to other festivals he would have a vague idea as to what attire was appropriate.
Elijah searched through all his possible garments from leisure clothing to suits he figure were much too formal. But in the end, something did turn up as he had hoped; it was simple, a decent set of dress clothes worn over by a long olive green cloak. As Elijah stood by a small mirror trying to get a good overlook of him, he wondered why in the world he had put up such a fuss about what to wear. No one would care really, and with a cloak to hide in he would merely be a shadow in the crowds….
Elijah peeked out of one of his few windows. Storm’s coming… he thought to himself somewhat dolefully as he examined the heavy gray clouds overhead. It reminded him of his tale he had not yet had a chance to continue two days ago when the “interruption” had occurred. Elijah raised his eyebrows with a forlorn look. Ah, what he would give to stay at home just another day and carry on writing!
He walked silently to his study and reached up to a shelf on his wall and felt around for his pipe. Feeling the smooth rosewood of the pipe, he smiled and brought it down. This ought to keep him company! Better company than anyone at the celebration could at least… Elijah looked around his room for another item craning his neck to look past stacks of books, parchment, and scrolls.
“Aha!” Elijah remembered, stuffing his hand in a pocket on his maroon vest and pulled out a small leather sack. Lilypond weed. It came from the lakes on the mountains in the south, the finest weed Elijah knew of—and that was saying something. It would be at the Hornbell party that Elijah’s pipe would no doubt be called for.
Stepping out of his door, Elijah took a deep breath of anticipation. He always left his house to tend to his garden and what not, but this time it was different. He wouldn’t be weeding his flower beds, and he wouldn’t be fetching water from the stream. He would be traveling to Shilope.
Shilope was the town where Governor Hornbell would be holding the feast for his children. It honestly was not that far away, simply across a small stretch of grassy knolls, and one could easily the walls of the city; but to Elijah—this was quite a ways away for someone who had lived for so many years in one place.
He slowly placed his hood atop his rusty curly hair and looked about warily at the glooming sky.
“Bother this—what am I coming to these days?” Elijah sighed heavily, flinching as a spearing drop of icy rain fell upon his nose as he looked up, and rolled down his face. He began muttering about absurd changes, how it would all come together in a jumbled social mess and he’d be left with no more friends than he started out with. But perhaps that was all for the better; Elijah was somewhat more satisfied with the fact of how people saw him as a ‘hermit’.
He began pattering silently off along a small dirt road uphill. Stumbling once or twice upon rocks, Elijah grumbled angrily and pulled his cloak tighter about him. It had begun to rain now, merely a few drops here and there, though soon a decent drizzle had begun, and Elijah was in no spot to get out of it.
He had climbed a few grassy hills, managed a few slips, and soon found himself in sight of Shilope. Ah, there it was! The old town of Shilope still standing the same way he had remembered it. He had used to live there paying rent to an old man for lodgings in his small attic. It was most cramped and stuffy, but Elijah came to find that it took awkward living at times to spark an inspiration for stories….
As he trod further on, it came to Elijah, a sudden sickened feeling, as one who had just indulged himself in bad ale. He suddenly felt compelled—compelled to put on a jovial face, a fake one at that. It was in the right to assume that most everyone at the celebration would be of good cheer and Elijah could just see it.
Townspeople chatting merrily with large mugs of beer raised high, girls dancing barefoot round in laughter with circlets of flowers upon their heads; and most assuredly there would be court jesters and other such fools flying in and out among them all with their acrobatic performances in outrageous suits of gaiety.
Should he remain the only one to be seated alone, while others happily partied? It would most likely draw more attention if he were the only one to have an absence of jollity about him—and he didn’t want that at all. And as Elijah had long ago resolved, it was better to blend in with the crowd and remain unnoticed no matter what the situation called for. He was rather skilled in playing a face of all emotions, and surely he’d have to exercise that talent once again even if it was rather odd.
Not long after, Elijah was nearing Shilope, gazing up in fascination at its high walls. He noted the many designs upon reaching the gate, and stood still looking them over before raising a timid fist to knock. Elijah rapped the wood a few times very shyly at first; and when there was not an answer he tried again, louder.
This time a head popped out from over the wall; it was a porter, a lanky man with a long gray beard. He looked around for a moment before spotting Elijah. The porter looked down at him for an awkward time before speaking.
“Hallo there, outsider!” His voice was course and raspy. “What be your business to enter Shilope? Though I might have a fine guess as to why you’ve come…” The elderly man began to let his mind wander off as he mumbled.
“W-well,” Elijah began, and then cleared his throat once or twice. “I’ve—I’ve come for the celebration of the Hornbell twins on their birthday.” Elijah found himself having to speak quite upwards to the porter above. The gatekeeper seemed to have lost his concentration once again, and peered down at Elijah.
“The governor’s twins ye say eh? And how old are they this time around?”
“Seventeen, good, as of a few days past. I don’t exactly know their date of birth, I must say it’s—it’s been quite a while since I last recalled many things of this place….”
The old man nodded and scratched his nose. “Alright, alright, you can come in then if it’s for something quite exceptional as a party and what not….” His face disappeared form the small window and moments later the gate opened inward with a horrid shriek and groan of rusty metal and old wood.
Elijah took a deep breath and entered in.
“What—er—path would I be taking?” Elijah asked embarrassed.
“To the party? Oh! Well now I’m not that sure, but you might try taking this road into the town square; from there take the rightmost way onto the bridge and into the courtyard—it’s where they host most of Shilope’s parties…” The old man waved down the road in an indistinct direction. Elijah nodded thankfully to him and walked off silently.
Trying hard to remember his hasty directions, Elijah came to a stop when he entered the town square. My, how long had it been since he had last seen this place? And honestly, it looked no less wonderful than when he had last been here.
It was rather simple for Elijah to follow the porter’s directions, and soon he was before an array set very much for the occasion of a birthday party. A myriad of tables were set up and decorated with white tablecloths; festive ornaments were spread at every table and some on the chairs that surrounded them. A stage was set up to one side of the dining area, a large wood platform laced in white sash. A great many instruments was atop the stage, ready to be played by a large group of musicians no doubt.
Elijah smiled warmly at the site that greeted him, though wondered where most everyone was. There weren’t many in the courtyard with him only a few servant girls making final adjustments to the display. He looked around curiously for a moment, before considering that he had found the wrong place. But no, why else would there be party festivities if not for a party? Perhaps he was early? Elijah’s questions were cut off quickly, as he heard someone call his name.
“Dempsey!” Elijah jumped in his spot, and spun around nervously. Who knew it was him? Oh but of course, it was simply the governor again.
“Dempsey, you made it!” Governor Hornbell appeared to have come out of nowhere and approached Elijah in a ridiculous waddle. He was dressed once again in absurd attire, overly ostentatious, not much to Elijah’s surprise.
“I’m so glad you decided to come, it was such a kind thing of you to do—why, in fact just the other day I told my children, Josiah and Brunhilda, I says, ‘Elijah Dempsey is going to pay his respects to you two on your birthday!’; and they says back to me ‘Oh jolly good, we haven’t seen that old chap in longer than what’s good for us all!”
“Did they now?” Elijah asked sheepishly.
“Aye, that they did! Longer than what’s good for us all! You hear that, Dempsey! You’re a special one in Shilope, and we’re all glad you came, all glad…” He trailed off, staring proudly around at the party decorations.
Elijah looked at his feet in a faraway manner, thinking this over to himself. Honestly now, did those in Shilope really pay half so much attention to him as the governor said?
“B-but now,” Elijah stuttered. “Where is everyone? Or have I merely lost my sense of direction and come to the wrong place?”
“Oh no, you’re in the correct place alright—we simply won’t be starting for a bit. Please, by all means though, seat yourself, and I shall have drinks brought out for us! What do you say to that, eh Dempsey?” He smiled a very white smile and put a hand on Elijah’s shoulders.
“Well, I suppose I might be able to do that….” Elijah returned the smile self-consciously, and walked over to one of the tables. Sitting down rigidly, he felt somewhat strange dining here in Shilope once again. The governor took a seat himself across from Elijah and clapped his hands together once or twice, hailing a maid.
“Yes, sir, what is it you need, I’ll fetch it right away!” She said eagerly.
“Yes, we need drinks for me and our good guest, Mr. Dempsey here.” The maid cast a quick, surprised look in Elijah’s direction.
“Would you like the usual sir?”
“Yes, that’ll do…and—er—Dempsey what is you’ll have then? Perhaps a cobbler’s delight or the muddy king? Ah, the muddy king, I remember that used to be your favorite! Right then, Greta, a muddy king for Elijah, and the usual for myself. You may go now…” he waved her off.
“So now, Elijah, about that book of yours,” began governor Hornbell.
“Oh yes! Do tell me you’ve still got it…it was rather a—um—favorite of mine.” Elijah chuckled worriedly, hoping to goodness that no harm had befallen those precious pages. The governor laughed heartily and leaned in.
“Of course I’ve still got it! Got it under lock and key in my office, in fact. Yes, the original copy of Elijah Dempsey’s Adventures of the Seven Knights right in my office! Why, everyone in town is jealous of my having it, while they’ve still got to wait for the release of the other printed copies on the way.”
“Other printed copies!?” Elijah said terrified.
“Yes, remarkable isn’t it…already there’s an enormous pre-ordered list which presents somewhat of a problem for distributing situations. But nonetheless it will be grand, I can tell you that!”
Elijah was more than astonished to hear that his very own book was on the verge of being publicized, and already there were those waiting to read it! Realizing he was now much more known than he had ever wanted to be, Elijah bit his lip nervously. But to think he was now an ‘official’ author! Just what he had always dreamt of becoming….
It was not long before their drinks were brought out, and a muddy king was given to Elijah. He smiled at the brass goblet before him. Having nearly forgotten what his favorite beverage from Shilope had tasted like, the profuse smell of rich chocolate refreshed his memory quite well. It was a thick and foamy chocolate drink, topped with a cream made of vanilla beans.
Some time later, guests began to pour into the courtyard, guests of all kinds. They came from the simple homes of peasants, the children riding on shoulders of farmers, all the way to the obvious and flamboyantly-dressed aristocracy in Shilope, entering with their noses tilted upwards. No matter, man or woman, child or the elderly, dignified or lowly, each one seem to cast a glance at Elijah as they passed by, often with a seemingly mischievous smile when they saw him.
Elijah tried in vain to return the smile in a casual manner as if it were no big deal to have missed Shilope’s festivities in the last four years. It would truly be an interesting evening, this one….
-N. D. Gage