It didn’t take long before the little party arrived in a clearing of the forest. Here, the mist had grown so thick that it didn’t seem to make way for them at all, even if they waved their arms while walking through it.
However, the fauns easily led Bryan towards a small log cabin with a large glass window. Once they were inside, Evander tugged at a piece of rope dangling from the ceiling. A few seconds later, the cabin jerked upwards with a mighty groan and was lifted into the air like an elevator. Bryan was stunned. He pressed his face against the window like a curious child at a toy store, and stared at the scene unfolding outside. It made his jaw drop.
What he’d assumed was a strange mist enveloping the forest below was actually the tail end of a great waterfall plunging down a high cliff. It wasn’t the kind he had seen before, at least not in his world; while one would expect a waterfall at such a height to be powerful and noisy, this one was quiet as a mouse, except for the gentle dripping sound.
As the cabin rose higher and higher, the origin of the waterfall came into view—it was at the foot of a majestic castle built of cold grey stone. And in its highest turret were five buff men, who were pulling them skywards.
“Escorting the Queen’s esteemed guest,” announced Castor, when they reached the turret, displaying to the guards the brick with its special engraving, like some sort of VIP pass.
“Very well, you may proceed. Good day, Messrs,” one of the men said, bowing while guiding the passengers off the cabin and onto the stone floor.
Bryan was in a state of shock mixed with awe and utter disbelief. Am I still asleep? Is this all just a crazy dream? he thought while descending a long flight of stairs. He folded his arms tightly as a chilly draught blew across the cavernous hallway they were currently in. His hair stood on end. Then maybe this isn’t a dream. The place felt nothing short of a maze to him, as they stepped through one door, then another, into an identical hallway, crossing a small courtyard and through yet another door before the three were finally brought face-to-face with a pair of giant silver gates.
“The Throne Room, this is where we meet Queen Aurelia, sire,” whispered Evander.
“Wait, wait, wait—you can’t expect me to go in there dressed like this!” Bryan whispered back, gesturing at his clothing. “I literally tumbled out of bed thirty minutes ago!”
“This is the noblest attire anyone could hope to put on, sire,” Castor said seriously.
“The finest,” his brother agreed, sniffing.
Bryan was flabbergasted by their earnestness. He could have bet that his mouth was open for a good thirty seconds as he struggled to find words to say back .
Ah, if only he had the freedom to turn up like this to university everyday.
Zero effort? Check.
100% chance of being suspended? Double check.
As Bryan scratched his head, Evander was tapping away on each of the doors in a dance-like fashion. They swung open promptly. And at the end of a carpeted passage, seated very regally on a brilliant crystal throne, was the Queen of the kingdom.
“Enter, please,” she said in her kind, musical voice. They obeyed. “Sir Fireborn, I am so pleased to finally meet you. And dear Castor and Evander as well.”
Bryan replied with an awkward gesture that was something between a bow and a curtsy. A murmur of giggles swept across the room. His cheeks flushed pink. Hey, you can’t blame me! I could’ve never imagined meeting the Queen of England, leave alone the Queen of Randomania.
Queen Aurelia stood up, her silver crown glinting on her blond head. “Now, Sir Fireborn, I have requested your presence in order to help relieve my kingdom of the dark forces that enslave it. I—”
“Sorry, but I-I really must interrupt, er- Your Highness,” stuttered Bryan. “You see, I’m not that valiant knight you’re looking for. I landed here purely by accident and all I ask of you is to help me get back home.”
The Queen laughed, much to our hero’s surprise. “I expected you’d say that. After all, your birth name is not the same as your noble name. Chester?” she called to one of the footmen.
“What?” Bryan mouthed, looking from Evander to Castor to the monarch.
Chester handed Queen Aurelia a small scroll. She opened it, cleared her throat and read aloud: “‘Master Bryan Greene, born on the twenty-first of July, 2001 of the Gregorian calendar, is hereby given the noble name ‘Sir Fireborn’ by the sovereign of the kingdom of Randomania and shall be referred to using the same within the boundaries of this realm.’” She looked up at him with her light blue eyes. “I hope this clears some of your confusion.”
Oh no, the confusion’s only got worse. “Yes,” Bryan answered slowly, making it sound very much like a question instead.
“Great! Off to the solar upstairs, then.” She stood up, smoothing out her velvety gown. “We have very important matters to discuss.”