Making another detour was far from what Sylvia intended when finally crossing into the East Desert and knowing her uncle’s home was only a day more travel. Certainly visiting the Kingdom of Fools was not in her original plans, though at V and Deigen’s relentless insistence, she obliged. Still not believing this fabled city to be real, she mostly gave in to see it for herself.
“If it’s a kingdom, shouldn’t we be able to see the castle by now?” She stared ahead at the never ending span of sand and hills before them. “My uncle lives in barely more than a glamorized hut and even that we’ll be able to a see in the distance when we get closer.”
“You complain an awful lot,” said Deigen, shaking his head. “But much like your cart that crazy mule dragged sideways halfway back to town, there was hardly anything recognizable of our kingdom’s walls after the attacks. The walls will not be immediately visible.”
“If she hadn’t run away, the zombies may have turned her into dinner.” Sylvia patted the neck of her mule, which she and Obmuj now rode atop of. “And those supposed attacks were over a century ago. One would think a wall or two could be rebuilt by now.”
“One would think,” agreed V, giving a small chuckle that made Sylvia want to throw another dress at him. As it was, what remained of the best ones were stuffed into the bag now strapped behind her back. She considered leaving them in the woods to keep from dealing with the additional weight and lack of space. Imagining her mother’s face when learning her prized handiwork had been left on a dirt road to be trodden on was enough reason to spare at least a few.
“Deigen?” V halted his horse, looking around them. “I don’t remember it being any further in than this. You don’t suppose we’ve passed it do you?”
The other vampire shook his head but stopped his stead as well. “We couldn’t have.” He mimicked V’s search, the men appearing to be trapped in a glass bowl and searching for a way out.
“Oh good, I take it we’re lost,” grumbled Seth as he joined up with the group. The zombie was apparently not a creature built for speed and he generally stayed a short distance from the rest of the group while traveling. Considering he smelled every bit like a zombie, no one had yet to complain about him lagging behind.
Bastiick slid off his horse and strutted in front of everyone. “We’re not lost, just out of practice.” He raked a hand along the ground, squinting his eyes while inspecting the surroundings. “The mountains in the distance are on the right and the sun’s still mostly in the east.” He nodded at the two landmarks and twirled around to face his right side to everyone else. “So at this hour, the kingdom should be right about-” he tossed the handful into the air and stepped back as the dirt and sand began to shimmer against something in their path, “-here.”
Sylvia rubbed her eyes to make sure what she was seeing was real. Where before appeared to be nothing but more of the desert landscape now stood mammoth walls and a castle larger than any she’d seen before. Though made of a stone, the entire structure glistened in the sun as though made of glass. She glanced over at Seth and found that zombies were capable of looking dumbfounded as well.
Deigen laughed and gave Bastiick a hearty slap on the shoulder. “Well done! Perhaps V and I are becoming old men after all. At least you remembered how to find it.”
“I don’t know if I should be happy or utterly shamed by that fact, Deigen,” said V as he began leading his horse towards the wooden doors now in front of them. “Your great grandson just showed he knows how to find his way home better than we do.”
“Grandson?” echoed Sylvia. “I thought he was your human servant or something?”
Deigen turned to her, raising a brow. “Human servant? We don’t do anything of the sort, the queen would likely have our heads. I suppose you’ve also come to believe campfire tales about us sleeping in coffins and the kingdom streets being filled with zombies?”
“Well,” Seth managed to do as close an approximation of a shrug as his stiff body would allow. “I for one was rather looking forward to not being the only rotting corpse walking about.”
“I’m afraid you will be disappointed then,” said V, still leading the way. “But Sylvia, you may be happily surprised. No need to fear about ghastly gore once we enter the queen’s domain. Though I hope you do like tea and cookies.”
“Tea and cookies?”
“Lemon cookies!” cheered Bastiick, quickening his pace forward as though there were a plate on the other side waiting for him. “With coconut frosting. And little shortbreads drizzled with chocolate!”
Deigen grinned at the puzzled looks on Sylvia and Seth’s faces. “The queen likes to bake.”