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I am a writer of novels, plays and film scripts. I live in Manchester England with my partner Andy and our teenage son Jack. Andy and I started my Newsletter Raw Meat and began publishing with Rawprintz in 1999 to showcase my work. Some of you may be confused by my continual references to Ziggy, that’s my wheelchair! Both Andy and I are writers. I’ve recently lost my sight – hence the continual reference to my being confused! Thanks for visiting.

My Comrades...


Catching The Light - Chapter Six


A thin, hazy mist began to descend as darkness fell, so that the brightness of the moon was veiled. Nevertheless the three characters pressed on their way without a moment’s hesitation, for they didn’t need their way to be too brightly illuminated, they had made this journey several times before. The darkness of the woodland seemed to be more intense than ever as King Oscar approached the first few scattered trees around the edge of the woods and noticed how silvery the light appeared as it filtered between the branches. Carefully he raised one of his great hands and parted the dark green leaves as they brushed against his face. He turned his head sharply away as one of the branches touched his sore ear.

“Ow…” he remarked mildly. “I keep forgetting… Now I must forget that I am a king again.” So saying, he reached up and removed his crown, hanging it on a branch as he had done so many times before. In between the trees, fleeting shapes materialised and then were gone, leaving colours trailing after them. King Oscar tried his best to capture one of the figures and hold it static, but it was no use, so he gave up and turned instead to the artist, Basil, as he hopped quietly along just behind him. “This way to the Secret Glade, I think.”

“Wait,” said Basil, laying a restraining hand upon the royal robe. The artist shifted the large canvas in his arms, so that he was able to point ahead. “What’s that?” The silvery light caused the bells on the ground to flash dangerously as Basil hopped towards the stick and picked it up. The bells upon it jingled furiously. “Lord Henry’s jingling stick.”

King Oscar stared in wonder as he took the stick from Basil.

“Which way was it pointing?” he asked.

Basil gestured vaguely to the left, away from the Secret Glade… towards an area of woodland where the trees grew even more densely packed together. Laying his hand upon Robbie’s shoulder, King Oscar began to stride into the darkness without hesitation. He glanced back at Basil and gave him an encouraging smile.

“Then let’s go” he said. “We may still be in time to help him.”

The three of them set off towards the trees, even though it seemed there was no way they could get through. The giant Oscar searched amongst the trunks, running his fingers lightly over the bark and branches until he found what he was looking for – a branch moved back with an audible creak, and several trees moved aside as if joined together on a panel. King Oscar drew in his breath, nodding towards the entrance.

“After you,” he said to Robbie.

As soon as they entered the small clearing, which was still surrounded by trees on all sides, they saw the brightly coloured diamonds of Lord Henry’s suit as he sat motionless on a fallen tree trunk, right on the edge of the clearing. His head was in his hands and his elbows were on his knees; he looked up very slowly as the others appeared, but gave no reaction other than a very slight smile.

“Lord Henry!” cried Basil, hopping towards him, but he stopped as he saw the reason for Lord Henry’s immobility. A large, heavy ball of lead was tied around the harlequin’s ankle and the chains glittered in the gloom. Lord Henry got to his feet very slowly, managing only a weak, small smile of recognition as his friends came towards him.

“Basil… your majesty… thank you for coming here. I’m most grateful…” His words sounded so strained and forced that it was difficult for King Oscar and the others to believe them. Lord Henry swung his head from side to side like a pendulum as the minutes ticked past. “I – I’m sorry not to be of better company to you, but…”

King Oscar approached the harlequin quickly, taking his hand in his own massive one.

“Lord Henry, what happened to you? Did the Darkmen do this?” There was really no need for Lord Henry to reply, though he did manage to nod silently and look away.

“But why?” demanded King Oscar, “How? What have you done wrong?”

Lord Henry gave a great sigh and shrugged once again, the many-coloured diamonds on his suit changing colour with emotion.

“Well, I’ve been to the Secret Glade, haven’t I? That’s not allowed. That imp with the black face has been telling tales, so…” Once again he gave a great sigh, only this time it was edged with a distinct bitterness. “What am I to do? I can do nothing.”

King Oscar squeezed Lord Henry’s hand gently before carefully releasing it and taking a step back. He stared at the sad figure for a long while without speaking, then eventually he said, in a low voice, “You must be patient, Lord Henry… just wait and things will change. Your friends – we’ll bring about this change…” King Oscar broke off as he caught sight of a couple of black and white figures moving just behind him.

“Look out!” hissed Robbie suddenly, “Darkmen!”

Ducking quickly behind the trees, they watched the single Darkman come into the clearing and approach a willow tree, which suddenly seemed to come into view on the edge of the clearing, it’s bright green leaves forming a curtain through which nothing could be seen.

The black and white, blank-faced figure glanced carefully around before parting the willow’s trailing branches and slipping inside. King Oscar clutched at Robbie’s shoulder, pushing him forward.

“Come on… let’s follow!” he whispered, and the two of them approached the willow.

“Be very careful… we don’t want to be seen,” murmured Oscar as he gently parted the leaves. He had to stare carefully for several moments before he could make out anything behind the willow’s curtain of leaves, for there was only a very strange sort of light that seemed to come from nowhere and only caught on the rippled surface of the pool. The pool was so still that it was difficult to tell at first where the water began and the sandy ground ended. The sinister figure of the Darkman approached the pool, still glancing watchfully round him. When he stood beside the pool, King Oscar could see his reflection as clearly as he could see that of the Darkman himself… In fact the reflection seemed to be even more sharply defined than the original Darkman, as he stared and stared at him. Very slowly, the waters began to move, until a second Darkman rose up, out of the water, stepping out beside the original one. The original Darkman turned away at once without interest, ignoring his new creation. The two Darkmen didn’t even exchange a single glance, moving separately in different directions.

“So that’s where they’ve been coming from,” breathed the giant, releasing the leaves. “They create themselves out of their own image. We should go away from here… come on.”

The green willow leaves fell back into place, only moving very slowly, to allow the two Darkmen to pass through the clearing, into the woodland, and back onto the island where they would infiltrate the many-coloured inhabitants with their dark monotone presence.

Only pausing to retrieve his canvas from where he’d left it propped against the tree trunk, Basil followed King Oscar and Robbie as they made their way towards the Secret Glade. It was strange; Gradually the trees around them began to thin a little, and coloured fairy lights began to appear as if guiding them towards the Crystal Boy. King Oscar’s excitement began to rise so that he felt quite breathless as he watched the fairy lights dancing before his eyes, making him feel quite giddy. He became more and more aware of the thudding sound of Basil’s one boot as the artist took a few hops away from them to a fallen tree trunk nearby, against which he placed his canvas.

“This spot will do nicely, I think,” Basil said with a slight smile, and he removed his painting satchel and began to take out his brushes. “The Crystal Boy will appear soon, won’t he?” King Oscar nodded, feeling that there was no need to answer such a question, for how could the Crystal Boy possibly not appear now? So he waited anxiously, bringing his massive hands together.

Soon enough, the dancing fairy lights began to glint upon the Crystal Boy, standing motionless, directly in front of King Oscar, in fact, so close that the King thought he must surely be in reach. The colours of the fairy lights caught on every facet of the Crystal Boy, flashing bright blue, scarlet, emerald green in turn. King Oscar felt one of his great hands creep towards the glass figure as if drawn by an invisible magnet, though he fully anticipated the scream even before it rang through the Secret Glade. It was the scream of the Scarlet Marquis. This time the scream was so terrible that King Oscar froze instantly, though he didn’t move his eyes away from the vision before him. He could feel the ground shaking as the Scarlet Marquis jumped furiously up and down, brandishing his stick, which he waved so close to Oscar that the king could feel the air move as it whizzed near his cheek. The silence all around the Secret Glade became suddenly so intense and complete that it seemed unbearable. King Oscar suddenly knew that something was about to happen. He was still touching the Crystal Boy, for King Oscar himself had no control over his own limbs any longer. He felt the hard surface of the Crystal Boy beneath his hand, just as he saw the coloured fairy lights reflected on each facet. The scream of the Scarlet Marquis formed itself into words.

“What have you done now? I told you never to touch my Crystal Boy!”

The coldness of the crystal suddenly completely vanished so that King Oscar’s fingers were left dangling uselessly in the air. At the same time, the scream of the Scarlet Marquis became the sound of breaking glass, shattering with an easy, slow motion, like the tide turning. It seemed to be an almost endless moment that was stretched out to full extension as the Crystal Boy shattered. King Oscar felt the space beneath his fingers so intensely that he didn’t need to be able to see. He kept his eyes squeezed tightly shut, feeling the sharp sting of pain just below his wounded ear as the stick of the Scarlet Marquis made contact with his face. He could feel the Crystal Boy had gone, was no more, nothing. Through the tears of both fury and sadness, the fairy lights seemed to become entangled. King Oscar’s fingers felt a large piece of glass next to the Scarlet Marquis. He lunged forward, desperately, reaching for the glass. In truth, he didn’t really care what happened then. He only wanted something dramatic to come out, to signify this was the end.

“No, Oscar! Stop!” The words reached Oscar’s ears as if coming from a great distance, though he could feel the elf trying to pull the shard of crystal away from the Scarlet Marquis.

“Murder! The giant has committed murder!” The Scarlet Marquis said; his breathing becoming so short, so much so that his speech became almost inaudible. “Not only have you killed my Crystal Boy, but you’ve killed the artist as well. Cold blooded murder!” King Oscar stood paralysed as around him black and white figures seemed to materialise out of the shadows. They slowly formed a circle around Oscar. He realised that his hands were chained together, and the weight of all of the chain seemed to echo the complete hopelessness he felt. He could only stare at the crumpled figure of the artist where it lay beside his canvas, across the unfinished painting of the Crystal Boy. As Oscar turned his eyes slowly, the shard of glass protruding from the artist’s neck caught the light painfully, and Oscar felt the last remaining shred of hope fade within him.

“What do I do now, Robbie? What is left for me to do now?” he whispered, for his throat was so dry he was barely able to speak at all. “Not only have I killed Basil, but also a part of myself… the artist within myself. What is there left for me now?”

“Oscar, I –” began Robbie, as one of the Darkmen pushed him roughly aside.

“Don’t speak anymore to the prisoner, we are taking him away.” The Darkman said in a voice as flat and callous as his appearance. As the Darkmen surrounding King Oscar began to move slowly away, the giant was forced to move also, in order to keep his balance. Beside him, Robbie watched helplessly as the dancing fairy lights hovered around his head, occasionally falling upon one of the shattered shards of the Crystal Boy, lying upon the ground and catching the light.

As he stumbled through the trees, King Oscar was aware of the presence of Robbie the elf moving alongside him, just too far away to touch. A few moments later, Robbie was joined by Charles, his flaming beard and hair lighting up the dark trees to theatrical effect. King Oscar also glimpsed the still shaking figure of the scarlet marquis, his fury still there, simmering just below the surface. As King Oscar drew further away from the Secret Glade, into the woodland itself, he saw also his crown of sunflowers hanging morosely on a tree, looking rejected and forlorn. He thought for a moment that he saw a fleeting little shape of the black-faced imp, prominently displaying the sunflower Oscar had given to him on his chest… but then the imp was gone. Still, King Oscar was forced to move endlessly forward through the trees, as the trees began to thin out slowly and they began to make their way towards the Palace Beautiful. King Oscar felt his heart grow heavier and heavier as the palace came into view… He didn’t want to see it, now that everything had changed so drastically. He could still feel Robbie by his side, and the knowledge of his constant devotion was the only thing that kept the lonely giant on his feet. Looking at the row of sunflowers in the palace garden, illuminated by Charles’s orange flames as they drew near, King Oscar remembered sadly, how he and Queen Constance had chosen them carefully and planted them together. How much time and attention they had given to the Palace Beautiful! The king could feel tears begin to trickle down his face as he caught sight of the scarlet nursery tower now standing like a blank pillar or memorial, still with the drawbridge pulled up, and the nanny goat still bleating hollowly. He drew in his breath sharply as his tears touched the open wound on his face where the Scarlet Marquis had slashed it. It was all he deserved, now that everything had been taken from him.

The pale first light of dawn began to finger its way around the edges of the sky as Oscar lifted his face and felt the fresh sea breeze blowing against it; he realised that by this time they must be approaching the coast, though he hadn’t been exactly this way before. He knew they must be near the beach where he used to tell his stories to the children in the old days. As Oscar took in great lungfuls of the salt air, the Darkmen surrounding him came to an abrupt halt right on the edge of the long harbour wall, and he became aware of the sound of the waves’ monotonous pounding in his ears. He squinted all around him, searching for the boat he knew must arrive. His heart began to beat so fast, he thought it would surely burst. He looked quickly towards Robbie and met his eyes for the last time. He felt the chains around his wrists pull him with some magnetic force. The Darkboat approached silently and slowly, as if time had no meaning for it. It glided alongside the harbour, and the Darkmen moved towards it, taking the stumbling giant with them. Oscar was trying to keep his eyes on where he was going; trying to avoid tripping over and falling into the water. Such worries kept him from leaving his mind open, for the truth was too painful for him to bear. He could only stand there on the deck of the Darkboat as it drew slowly away, staring blankly back at the island he had so loved. As the boat became gradually smaller, the mists joined around it and engulfed it completely.

Many years have passed since the reign of King Oscar on the enchanted island, though the island itself still exists somewhere within the peat bog. Nobody knows for certain what became of any of the inhabitants, as nobody has ever managed to reach the island and return. Those courageous enough to attempt to catch one of the frog ferries have simply disappeared into the mists in much the same way that Oscar disappeared all those years ago. However, the magic of the island still remains, touching the surface of the water and just catching the light in the gentle rays of the sun.


“I am so glad you like that strange, many coloured book of mine: it contains much of me in it. Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry, what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be – in other ages...”

Oscar Wilde.

Lawler, Donald (Ed.), The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Norton Critical Edition, 1988 (New York: Norton,)


Catching The Light - Chapter Five


When he returned to the Palace Beautiful, King Oscar found it more difficult than ever to resume his normal kingly life and forget about what had happened in the Secret Glade. Even more this time, for he had the pain in his ear to remind him of the Scarlet Marquis’ anger and the frequent presence of Lord Henry at the court. Every time King Oscar caught the Harlequin’s eye, images of the black-faced imp came swerving back into his mind with a frightening persistence. The king sat sadly on his throne as Lord Henry danced merrily round before him, aware only of the tickling sensation of the bandage against his face and the continuous space that he needed to be filled by the Crystal Boy. The court seemed to be changed… there were more shadows around the edges of the room, perhaps more Darkmen than ever.

One afternoon, King Oscar was watching absently as Lord Henry performed a strange little dance that involved spinning very fast on the spot – so fast indeed, that the king was forced to look away in order to remain sitting up straight on his throne. He felt the light touch of Robbie’s hand upon his robe. Robbie was standing so close to him that it was hardly necessary to move his head towards the elf to be able to make out his words clearly.

“Oscar, there’s something wrong here… can you see the Darkmen surrounding Lord Henry? Look. I don’t trust them,” Robbie hissed uneasily, “Can you not stop them; make them leave him alone?” Even as he spoke and King Oscar shook his head, the Darkmen around Lord Henry drew closer together so that his little dance was forced to come to a halt, though he continued to wave his jingling stick. The action became more and more frantic until it was like the final wave of a drowning man… as all around him the Darkmen closed in. Very slowly, the figures began to move towards the doors taking the franticly waving jingling stick along with them. King Oscar got to his feet.

“Wait! Stop there at once – what do you think you’re doing?” called out King Oscar in his most commanding voice. He raised his great hand as an additional gesture of authority. “Release that harlequin at once. Do you hear?”

The Darkmen around Lord Henry stared blankly back at King Oscar, continuing to move towards the door. As the King got to his feet, one of the Darkmen broke away from the group and spoke in a tiny voice that was nonetheless extremely clear.

“We are taking the harlequin away. We want to speak to him… There’s nothing you can do.” Even as the Darkman spoke, the great doors of the court swung open and the group of dark figures surrounding Lord Henry moved slowly but surely through them with a gradual motion – very much like the movement of the tide. King Oscar took a few great strides across the room, raising his massive hand so that he hit the great chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and broke one of the candles. All around him, the other courtiers stood back – they had never seen their king so angry before.

“Stop!” the king roared, but the Darkmen took no notice, disappearing through the doors and leaving them to swing closed after them.

King Oscar followed them through, calling out to his courtiers, “Come on! Let’s follow them.”

Some kind of dark magic must have been used by the Darkmen, because there was no sign of them anywhere in the entrance hall when King Oscar and Robbie made their way towards the palace doors, through which they could just see the group of Darkmen disappearing out into the now fading afternoon sunlight. They tried to go down the palace steps, but their way through the palace doors was barred by something invisible, some sort of barrier or gate. With all his strength King Oscar pushed against the invisible force, but it was no use.

“Oscar, look,” Robbie called, pulling on the king’s sleeve, franticly.

King Oscar tore his eyes away from the disappearing Darkmen and turned in the direction of Robbie’s pointing finger. On the palace steps there were more of them, all moving with the same inevitable, sinister motion that left no room for argument. It was several moments before King Oscar realised what they were carrying.

“How dare you touch my picture! Stop right there!” roared the king, feeling panic begin to rise within him as the Darkmen forced him back from the doors with their invisible barrier. The king could only stand there where he was and watch helplessly as the Darkmen carried his painting of the Crystal Boy outside. As they did so, he became aware of a familiar, thumping noise behind him, as Basil the artist came hurrying across the entrance hall, his one boot thumping with a familiar sound across the tiles. Basil was almost beside himself as he realised what was happening – he began to hop around furiously, franticly wringing his hands.

“My painting! Don’t let them capture the light!” He cried out desperately. “We’ve got to stop them!”

“But it’s no use, Basil,” said the king gently, as the artist tried to fight his way through the palace doors in the same way that Robbie and the King had done. “We can’t get through.”

The three figures stood framed in the massive doorway - the giant king, Robbie the elf, and the one-legged artist, Basil, who was by now almost in tears as he watched the Darkmen dragging his painting along the stony ground of the courtyard.

“My painting, my painting! King Oscar, don’t let them take my light from me!” sobbed Basil, as he tugged franticly at the royal sleeve; but the king could do nothing. The sounds of smashing wood came drifting to their ears with such an alarming persistence that they didn’t need to be able to see to know they were destroying the painting. King Oscar watched the Darkmen on the lawn raising the axe blade above their heads and slowly bringing it crashing down as the wood splintered and flew off in all directions. Behind them he could just make out the other group, surrounding Lord Henry. He could just see the tip of Lord Henry’s waving stick, as the group became smaller and smaller, fading along with the sunlight from the day. As the sound of splintering wood eventually ceased, King Oscar watched the Darkmen disperse, leaving the shattered painting behind, on the courtyard floor. The light still seemed to shine brightly, even though the painted image had been destroyed. Slowly, King Oscar reached out towards Basil and laid his massive hand very gently on his shoulder.

“Don’t be too sad, Basil… we’ll go back to the Secret Glade tonight.” He got to his knees beside Basil so that he was on the same level. “Your can catch the light one more time.”

For many hours the sound of splintering wood still came to them from across the gardens, along with the jingling of Lord Henry’s bells.

From the window of the nursery tower, the sea was just visible in the distance. Queen Constance was even able to make out the foamy crests of the waves as they broke upon the shore, and she thought of the days long ago when her husband used to tell stories to the children gathered on the beach… Those days seemed very remote now; almost forgotten completely. She hadn’t even set eyes on the king for quite some time now that she and the princes were isolated in this tower with the drawbridge pulled up so that nobody could get across the moat. With a heavy sigh, Queen Constance shifted her beautiful brown eyes onto the grassy area immediately surrounding the scarlet tower, on which the princes were playing half-heartedly, for they were almost too old to play children’s games now. Nonetheless, Prince Cyril tried his best to indulge his younger brother as much as possible, although it was difficult to find new places to hide in such a small area! As the boys played, their nanny goat continued to bleat on the other side of the moat, though they ignored her. It was all part of their past; all forgotten now, like their father, the king.

Turning away from the window, Queen Constance decided to go to the princes and tell them stories herself – perhaps she wouldn’t be able to tell them quite as well as the king used to… but still, she would try. Moving across the brightly coloured room, with its jungle paintings all over the walls, she stood still for a moment at the top of the winding staircase. The way the narrow stairs spiralled away into the darkness below seemed to fill her with such a sense of unease and foreboding for a moment that she was suddenly too frightened. No sound stirred the air around her; nothing moved. With a little toss of her head, Queen Constance began to descend the stairs, lightly. As she neared the bottom of the stairs, Queen Constance lost her footing and fell… She fell in such a way that her whole body somersaulted so that her spine was crushed against the staircase with a great cracking sound. She lay immobile at the foot of the spiral staircase for several moments, wondering what to do… she could call for the princes, but no sound would come when she opened her mouth; her throat was much too dry. She would simply have to lie there in a heap at the bottom of the staircase and wait… She did not mind doing that now, and she closed her eyes gently. Just then, the door of the tower was pushed open by Vyvyan, the Cloud Prince. The slim, fragile child stood silently beside the figure of the fallen queen, seeming to realise straight away what had happened… It was almost as if he had been aware of the whole thing. The white-faced prince got to his knees beside the queen and spoke to her very quietly.

“Mama… are you hurt?”

Queen Constance tried to move her head, but the pain it caused her was so bad that she gave up and tried instead to force her lips to go upwards into a smile – but the expression didn’t really work, so she simply blinked her beautiful doe eyes and whispered a few words.

“I think… I will be alright… maybe if I just stay here for a few minutes, just stay still…”

Prince Vyvyan took her hand and stroked it gently. Behind him Prince Cyril appeared, bringing with him the brightness of the sun which fell over the queen’s body with an easy sort of radiance. He touched his brother’s shoulder, as if sending his own lifeblood through the Cloud Prince into the queen.

“We will stay with you mama… don’t worry. We’ll stay.” The sun prince sat firmly, his words sounding so filled with confidence that the three figures seemed to be frozen forever in that static image that would never pass away. Even though the hours ticked by and the night began to creep into the nursery tower, nobody moved, not one of them.

The nanny goat continued to bleat, sadly. The sound she made was so hollow and distressing that Robbie the elf knelt down beside her and wrapped his arms around the white creature, trying desperately to soothe her to stop, but it was no use. The nanny goat pulled away, seeming to be almost determined to embrace her fate. King Oscar shook his head very slowly, removing his crown of sunflowers and examining it absently.

“It’s no use, Robbie,” he said gently, “She realises that she’s not needed anymore. And so what more is left to be said? Where do we go now?” On the other side of the moat stood the silent shape of the scarlet nursery tower… a sad shape now, seeming to appear almost crimson, a deep blood red, as the night shadows surrounded and touched it. The doors of the tower were closed, the drawbridge still up. As King Oscar looked on, the distance between himself and the tower seemed limitless; far too great a distance for his giant strides to carry him. He spoke, his voice seeming to have become so hollow and vacant a space. “It has been so long since I’ve seen my boys and even the queen. I wonder if they remember me. I wish I could go to them now – for I feel they need me wherever they are.” Far away in the distance, King Oscar could just make out the outline of the sea and the cliffs – He was suddenly filled with such a great sense of sadness that he found it too heavy to bear… He turned away decisively. “We should go straight away to the Secret Glade… or else I fear it might be too late,” he said, turning to Basil as the artist came hopping across the lawn towards them, carrying a large piece of canvas and his painter’s satchel over his shoulder. “Are you ready, Basil?”

“Yes, of course I’m ready,” replied Basil in a trembling voice, for he was hardly able to contain his excitement as he hopped about manically in the bright moonlight. "Let’s go quickly… I want to catch the light once again.”

“And perhaps we might also be able to find Lord Henry in the woods,” put in Robbie, taking his heavy satchel from his neck, and transferring it to his own. “We might be able to help him too.”

“Yes…” King Oscar agreed thoughtfully, switching his gaze to the other side of the island, towards the woodland deep within it. The moon seemed to throw such a bright light on the trees that the secrets they held were only increased, becoming ever more secret by the moment. King Oscar clapped his mighty hands together with a resounding smack as he began to move away. “Come on then, let’s go!"

The final chapter - Chapter Six will be posted next weekend.


Catching The Light - Chapter Four


Afterwards, nobody could tell for certain when the first of the Darkmen appeared or where he came from. Only a few of these silent monochrome figures were to be glimpsed amongst the courtiers at the Palace Beautiful at first, where they contrasted sharply with the colour and life that surrounded them. Each Darkman was dressed in a black suit with a tiny neat grey tie, which looked as if it had been painted on the crisp white shirt below. The faces of these Darkmen were completely devoid of expression; the thin lines of their mouths seemed incapable of making any movement into either a smile or a cry of frustration or anger. Every Darkman spoke in a similar fashion, the words monotonous so that nobody listened to them, but perhaps this was the reason for the silence. Whatever, the Darkmen increased so quietly and gradually in number that the courtiers only came to notice the negative quality seeming to drain everything around them of vitality. This made them very conspicuous; at first it was possible for Lilly to droop her flower head and ignore the presence of a Darkman or for Charles to light up the white face of a Darkman with his flaming beard, but the number of them at the Palace Beautiful began to cause some discomfort and disturbance to everyone.

King Oscar’s attendance at court was becoming more and more sporadic, but even he noticed these Darkmen standing out in the court. Even though some of them now stood around in small clusters of two and three, they still didn’t speak to each other at all, but stood silently like sinister puppets, just watching the king; just watching. The king shifted uncomfortably on his throne, catching the elf Robbie’s eye and leaning towards him.

“I don’t trust the Darkmen at all… Where did they all appear from?” he whispered in Robbie’s pointed ear. “They make me feel so uneasy, they never seem to speak. Have you ever spoken to one?”

Robbie shook his head, glancing over at a couple of the silent, black-clad figures standing motionless in the brightly coloured surroundings.

“They hardly ever seem to speak… just a few words. I think they communicate between themselves by some other means. I don’t trust them either. In fact…” Robbie touched the King’s elbow. “I think we should go outside for a while… Let’s go for a walk around the grounds. The sun’s shining… let’s forget about these Darkmen.”

“Alright,” the King agreed, slowly getting to his feet and uncoiling his massive body like a cobra rising. “But let’s not go outside. Let’s go to the Princes’ bedroom. I want to see my picture… and I also want to begin writing the story I have in my head before I forget it.”

Several of the courtiers had to move aside quickly to allow the giant King to pass through them. Both Charles, with his flaming beard and the harlequin, Lord Henry, were squashed against the doorway as he passed through on his way towards the staircase, closely followed by Robbie in his green and brown garments. As they mounted the stairs together, the king continued to speak to Robbie in a low voice edged with a certain excitement.

“I feel I’ve been without words for far too long, Robbie. Now’s the time for me to begin my story; the story that’s been waiting for so long. I have all the ideas – the harlequin, the artist… and the Crystal Boy, of course. I’m just not sure about the ending, though I’m sure it’ll finish on a beautifully tragic note.”

“Ah.” Robbie waited beside the king as he unlocked the door to the princes’ bedroom and stepped inside. “And what do you think the story will be called?”

“Well…” King Oscar moved into the bright sunlight that streamed in through the large arched window and gazed out at the nursery tower, which seemed to be almost too bright to look at. “Names are everything, so the title is most important. I think I’ll call it The Picture of The Crystal Boy… or some such thing.” As he said this, an idea struck him, raising one finger. “How about Catching the Light? That seems to be suitably shining.”

“Yes, I like that,” said Robbie, waiting for King Oscar to go on. But the king remained silent, staring sadly out of the window at the nursery tower, in the windows of which no figures moved. The nanny-goat stood on the outer-edge of the moat that surrounded the tower, bleating helplessly for the princes. The sound of her bleats carried across to the king’s ears, seeming so forlorn and bleak even though his surroundings were so bright around him. He raised a hand slowly to his face, perhaps wiping away a tear. “I can’t remember the last time I saw my boys or Queen Constance, but it must be many months… perhaps now the boys are too big to need their nanny-goat, so now she’s been left outside and the drawbridge has been pulled up. Perhaps nobody can go across now, not even the king.” King Oscar turned away from the window, slowly, allowing his sigh to reverberate around the room with a great heaviness. His eyes fell upon the painting of the Crystal Boy and he moved instantly towards it, seeming to have been lit with an inner spark. He clasped his hands together. “What else is there for me now but to go back to the Secret Glade and capture that light? What else can I do now, Robbie? Nothing, except maybe to write, to write my story of Catching the Light. I might begin it now, so be a good chap Robbie and find me some paper and a pen and ink.” So saying. King Oscar seated himself at a small table and waited as Robbie did as he asked. After writing a few sentences, the King glanced up at Robbie, gesturing him to go away.

“That’ll be all Robbie… if you don’t mind leaving me for a few hours, and later on we’ll go to the Glade. Perhaps you could see if Charles wants to join us, maybe even Lord Henry or Basil, to help me capture the light.”

“I’ll go and ask them,” said Robbie, closing the door gently behind him as he left the king alone with his writing.

The evening shadows were just beginning to lengthen across the princes’ bedroom as Robbie firmly pushed open the door and stepped inside, closely followed by Charles with his flaming orange hair and beard. King Oscar looked up from his writing and began to get to his feet. Though he was hardly able to make out the figures clearly in the gloom, he could tell by the merry tinkling of bells that Lord Henry was amongst them.

“Good evening, Oscar… are you ready now? Basil is too busy finishing his painting to come with us, but Lord Henry’s here, and Charles of course,” said Robbie, as he lit the oil lamp and placed it on the table beside the king’s story.

“Thank you – but it’s all right, I’ve finished that chapter now, so let’s go.” King Oscar began to take giant strides across the room towards the door, adjusting his crown of sunflowers upon his head as he went. Charles led the way down the palace staircase and out into the bright moonlight which shone down between the clouds. King Oscar took such great strides that he kept having to pause to allow the others to catch up with him; he was hardly able to contain his excitement within him.

“Come on, Lord Henry… hurry up, I don’t want you to miss seeing the Crystal Boy! You’ve never seen him before, have you?” King Oscar asked the harlequin skipping along side the giant. Lord Henry shook his head in reply, making the bells on his cap jingle wildly.

“No… this will be my first visit to the Secret Glade,” he replied enthusiastically. “Have we much further to go?”

“No – here’s the woodland,” King Oscar said, clasping his hands together as his excitement bubbled furiously, threatening to overflow at any minute. The tiny blue elf came and latched himself onto Robbie as he had done before, and as they proceeded deeper into the woodland, the light from Charles’s orange beard became their only guide as the moon was obscured by branches. As they drew near the Secret Glade, King Oscar pointed out to Lord Henry the many bright fairy lights which hovered all around their heads, glinting with their magical quality that seemed more magical than ever when accompanied by the constant jingling of Lord Henry’s bells. As before, King Oscar remembered to remove his crown of sunflowers and hang it on a branch before entering any further into the Secret Glade itself. Lord Henry was joined by a tiny black-faced imp with a wicked grin, who chatted non stop, greedily consuming the harlequin’s attention. King Oscar watched the two of them for a while, not quite trusting the black faced imp, though not sure why. The king tried to join in with their conversation but it didn’t seem to lead to anywhere, so he gave the black-faced imp one of the sunflowers from his crown and a brief kiss on his black face before turning away. He could see Robbie sitting with the blue elf, on a fallen tree across the other side of the Glade; he moved restlessly from one foot to the other as he waited for the Crystal Boy to appear. Soon enough he did – each sparkling facet of crystal catching the fairies’ lights so that the boy now had a pink face, now a gold one, now a green one. Once again the boy’s crystal outline became clearer and more distinctive, so that the narcissi flower within his body became visible only after several minutes of intense staring by King Oscar. The air around them seemed to tremble with anticipation; even Lord Henry’s bells seemed to quieten in respect. King Oscar found himself reaching out towards the Crystal Boy without being able to control his limbs. Just as his fingers made contact with the glass body, a scream of anger ripped through the glade as the Scarlet Marquis rushed out, waving his cane above his head and hopping furiously from foot to foot. King Oscar stared at the squat, ape-like figure blankly, taken aback by his fury but not frightened by it; the Scarlet Marquis seemed to be even more outraged than ever as his screams filled the Glade.

“How dare you! I’ve warned you before to keep your hands off my Crystal Boy!” His cries seemed to become louder to Oscar as the Scarlet Marquis jumped up near the giant’s face, lashing out with his cane and striking the giant on the ear. Oscar cried out with pain, feeling the blood beginning to run down his face. Both Robbie and Lord Henry ran to his side, driving the Scarlet Marquis away.

“Are you hurt, Oscar?” called Robbie over his shoulder, as the giant figure sat down heavily on a tree stump.

“Just a little,” Oscar replied absently, his eyes still fixed on the dissolving figure of the Crystal Boy. “My ear is bleeding, but I think I’ll live another day. Did you see the Crystal Boy, Lord Henry?” King Oscar gestured towards the vaguely illuminated image as the harlequin came and stood beside him, the sound of his bells beginning to wander back as reality seemed to re-establish itself.

“Yes, I saw him, Oscar,” replied the harlequin as he approached the king, taking a small roll of bandages from inside one of the diamond shaped pockets of his suit. The black faced imp still hovered like a shadow. “What a wonderful place the Secret Glade is! But you should let me look at your wound, your majesty, it may get infected unless I bandage it!”

“Oh, all right!” King Oscar leaned down so that Lord Henry could wrap the bandage around his head, covering up the bleeding ear. “It will be fine, you shouldn’t worry. Is the Crystal Boy gone completely now? I wish we could make him stay forever!” The king’s giant sigh seemed to shake every branch all around the Glade, as Charles appeared beside him.

“We should go back to the Palace Beautiful now, Oscar… it’s almost daylight. Here’s your crown.” He handed the king his circle of sunflowers, taking care that they didn’t catch fire on his beard. As Oscar slowly got to his feet and began to move further into the trees, he stopped suddenly as his attention was caught by two dark figures standing silently nearby, deep in conversation with the black-faced imp.

“Look!” King Oscar hissed to Robbie as the elf came to his side. “What are Darkmen doing in the Secret Glade?”

“I’ve no idea… should we follow them and find out?” whispered Robbie, tugging at the sleeve of King Oscar’s robe.

But the king was distracted by Charles’s shout of “Follow me this way!” When he glanced back at the Darkmen, they’d disappeared. In fact King Oscar thought he might almost have imagined them, as indeed he might have imagined the image of the Crystal Boy… but he still felt the sharp pain in his ear to remind him of the reality of the Secret Glade.


Catching The Light - Chapter Three


Back at the Palace Beautiful, King Oscar tried his best to resume his normal king’s life with his queen and his courtiers, but he found it very difficult to do so. Every time his giant’s eye fell upon either Robbie or Charles, he was reminded of the Secret Glade and that incredible vision of light that he could never recapture. Though he returned to the Secret Glade the next week with Robbie, it happened just the way Robbie had told him it would. Exactly the same confrontation with the Scarlet Marquis was played out once again, and Oscar could only sit and watch the Crystal Boy turning slowly, basking like a lizard in his own perfection. Oscar could only look… never touch. And the image would gradually fade away, until it was completely dissolved in the reflection of the fairies coloured lights as they danced off each and every facet. Oscar would always sit entranced for hours afterwards, unable to move a single muscle. Eventually he would be joined by Robbie, or sometimes he would go back to the Palace Beautiful alone. As time went on Oscar began to return to the Secret Glade by himself, and went there more often than he stayed at the palace.

Meanwhile Queen Constance spent most of her time in the nursery tower with the babies. She watched the artists moving around her as she played with the princes, decorating the large round walls of the nursery tower with jungle pictures of trees entwined with brightly coloured flowers, animals and birds. A covering for the floor was made of woven rushes and coloured strands of the tendrils hanging from forest trees found deep within one of the distant forests, right on the edge of the enchanted island, far away from the palace itself. King Oscar would occasionally join the queen, though his appearances became gradually more infrequent. Soon Queen Constance had a room of her own made below the princes’ nursery, so she rarely returned to the palace.

One day, Queen Constance went down to the beach with the princes’ nanny-goat, who came in useful for pulling the two princes along in their little cart. Queen Constance herself walked some way behind the nanny-goat, feeling a little sad. Despite being so proud and contented with her life, King Oscar’s dissatisfaction made her uneasy. When they reached the shore, she saw a group of children sitting miserably on the beach. She suspected she knew who they were waiting for. A couple of the smaller children were crying, so she asked them what was wrong.

“We’re waiting for the king to come and tell us his magical stories! We need his enchantment so much… Where is he?” they sobbed, as they held on to each other’s hands.

“Queen Constance, please tell us where King Oscar is! Make him come back to us!”

The queen could hardly shake her head. She turned away and watched the nanny-goat moving across the sand dunes, the wheels of the cart squeaking gently behind her.

One day the following week, a travelling artist arrived at the Palace Beautiful from a distant part of the island and asked to be presented to the king. He said he had brought a gift – a picture, naturally. King Oscar was making one of his rare appearances in court that day and so he was there to welcome the artist. He stood up from his throne and came down the few steps to shake the artist’s hand warmly. He had slight trouble finding the artist’s hand, for he did not seem to be a complete figure at all. In fact, only half a body with only one leg and one arm. Despite being such a slight figure, the artist was a very strong and tall man, so that King Oscar felt an instant kinship with him. He was also very softly spoken, so that King Oscar had to lean forward and strain his ears to catch his words when he spoke.

“I’ve travelled many miles to the Palace Beautiful with this particular picture for you, King Oscar,” the thin artist told him, hopping forward to show his painting to the giant king. It was a very large and heavy painting, in an ornate gold frame, and King Oscar stared at it for several moments before he could make out what exactly it was. It seemed to be simply a dark background with a few coloured spots on it. Then he moved his head very slightly, and he recognised the image. He clutched at the ornate frame with his massive hands and stared, entranced.

“But this is my Crystal Boy! How can this be?” He tore his eyes away from the picture and gazed in wonder at the artist’s half-face. “How did you manage to catch the light?”

“Ah…” The artist gazed sadly at his painting with his one eye; his half mouth twisted into a strange sort of smile. “I had to wait for many years… I had to go back many times to the Secret Glade before I was able to capture his image. I thought it was dangerous to do so… I was playing with fire, I knew that. But still, I wanted to catch the light forever and put it permanently in my heart where it could never pass away.” The artist sighed deeply and wiped away a single tear that trickled from his single eye. “This is a dangerous game we’re both playing, you and I, your highness, but that crystal boy had to be caught… he leads all the time, and you follow… just as I myself followed. In the end, you may catch the light, King Oscar.”

King Oscar frowned as he continued to gaze at the painting.

“I’m going to hang this painting in a special room upstairs, where nobody else can see it. I want to keep the Crystal Boy all to myself.” He looked at the artist who was beginning to hop away, back across the court. “Thank you for your gift… it will look wonderful in the Palace Beautiful. I have much need for beauty in my life at the moment. Things around me seem to be growing gradually darker, if you see what I mean, Mr… what is your name?”

The thin half-artist paused as King Oscar met his eye once again. They seemed to be almost joined… part of the same giant body.

“My name is Basil,” replied the artist, in a tiny voice, his thin words almost swallowed up by the vastness of the Palace Beautiful. King Oscar watched him hop away out of the throne room. The giant king felt every movement of the artist’s thin body as if it was his own, somewhere within himself.

Not long after this, another traveller arrived at the Place Beautiful – a brightly coloured Harlequin who bowed low before King Oscar’s throne, the bells on his cap jingling with a merry musical sound. When he spoke he seemed to be singing, his voice rising and falling, so that his words seemed jumbled crazily.

“May I introduce myself, King Oscar? My name is Lord Henry… I travelled many miles across the island to come here and make you laugh, make you sing, entertain you… whatever you like.” Lord Henry straightened himself up, shaking bells on the wooden stick he held, to accompany his words. Although his body was almost completely covered by psychedelic diamond shapes, a black mask covered his eyes, and there seemed to be no flesh beneath – or at least invisible to King Oscar and the rest of the courtiers. But still, he was quite able to make them laugh and sing along with him, clapping their hands and even dancing. King Oscar himself watched the harlequin spin round and round in delight – These days, he was much in need of merriment to distract him from his troubles. “What would you like me to do for you, King Oscar? Would you like to hear some stories, perhaps? I have many to tell.”

The giant king leaned back in his throne with a sigh, watching Lord Henry dancing around before him, with his kind eyes full of wonder as well as sadness. Beside him, the elf Robbie stood close, almost touching the king’s massive shoulder.

“Yes, I should like that very much,” said King Oscar, trying his best to smile. “I myself used to tell stories to the children… but those days are over, or so it seems. I have no stories left to tell now… so you must take my place.”

Lord Henry’s laughter died away slowly, and the bells on his stick stopped jingling as his invisible hand became still. Even the crazy colours on his diamond suit seemed to become static, not quite so alive as they had been.

“But where have your stories gone? Where can they be?” demanded Lord Henry in his sing-song voice. “They must be somewhere… must be hiding somewhere at the back of your mind, King Oscar. They can’t have disappeared… Once a story teller, always a story teller.”

King Oscar gave a little laugh, even though the sound seemed forced and hollow. As he tried to look into Lord Henry’s vast, invisible eyes he felt a strange kinship with the harlequin, as he had done with Basil, the artist.

“Those are kind, encouraging words, but the enchantment has left me… The magic has died, I feel.” King Oscar sighed once again, removing his crown of sunflowers and turning it round carefully in his giant hands. “So please, entertain me with your stories… make me forget about the magic I have lost. Distract me… make me laugh once again. Please, you are welcome here… I feel as if I know you very well, even though we’ve only just met. Does this make any sense to you, Lord Henry?”

The bells on Lord Henry’s cap and stick tinkled haphazardly together.

“I think I’ll simply give you an idea… simply the characters, and I’ll leave you to make the story. You have all the characters here in your court before your eyes, King Oscar… you have the story in your head already. Did you know that?”

The king got slowly to his feet, bending his head to avoid hitting it on the ceiling.

“I think I know what you mean, Lord Henry… but please tell me how the story ends. Does it end sadly, with the death of Dorian, the hero?”

Lord Henry’s laughter dissolved away into a very faint trail of silvery sounds.

“You must finish Dorian’s tale yourself, your highness. You know who Dorian is… I believe you’ve seen him many times in the Secret Glade.” Lord Henry pointed his tinkling bells towards Basil’s painting, which was propped up beside King Oscar’s throne. “You’ve seen the Crystal Boy for yourself… That’s the story anyway; the light that you’re so desperate to catch. So you must finish the story yourself… I have no way of knowing if you will catch the light, or not.”

There was an uncomfortable silence, which Lord Henry tried to fill with his music. The creatures of the court clapped their hands and tried to join in as best they could, but they knew their king was sad… so very sad.

Carefully picking up the painting, King Oscar got to his feet abruptly, obviously on the verge of making a decision. His giant figure blocked out the light coming through the window, before he moved away through the courtiers, towards the entrance doors. Robbie followed close by his side, as did Basil the artist, hopping across the tiled floor on his one leg.

“Come with me, Robbie… I know where to hang this painting.” The giant king’s voice was echoing all around the court so that the tinkling of Lord Henry’s bells and the strumming of his guitar became squashed beneath the weight of the sound. Oscar paused in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder at the artist and the harlequin. “Will you come with me please, Basil? And you, Lord Henry… we must all be together on this occasion.”

As he left the court and began to climb the massive staircase, King Oscar knew that Lord Henry was close behind him, by the jingling of his bells, and he knew also that Basil was accompanying him as he reached the top of the stairs, because he could hear his single boot thudding in a monotonous drum beat. He could feel Robbie close beside him all the time. His tiny elfin face was serious and composed, yet ready for action.

This is the room we’ll hang the picture in, I think. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here,” said King Oscar as he opened the door. “I hope that the room’s still intact!”

In the centre of the room, stood the princes’ empty cribs. Beneath the window was the little chair on which Queen Constance used to sit and watch them as they slept. King Oscar only glanced briefly at these sad remnants of his past life, before turning his attention back to the painting. Something in the picture seemed to glint and catch the light momentarily as he turned the painting, trying to find the best place on the wall to hang it.

“This painting should hang in a secret place… for I knew as you spoke, Lord Henry, that the story was a secret one… it’s my own story, about myself. The giant king has become split into three different characters, all of whom appear in this story. Basil the artist is there… do you recognise yourself, Basil? You are how I see myself… as an artist, a creator of beautiful things… a story teller.” Very carefully King Oscar raised the painting in his massive hands and hung it on the wall. Taking a giant stride back, he gazed at the picture, a faint smile touching the curve of his lips. Lord Henry’s bells tinkled very gently as he moved his invisible hand to scratch his invisible face. King Oscar glanced at him, gesturing towards the painting. “And you are also in this story… the wit. You make people laugh, forget their troubles. You are how the world sees me. The final part of me is… there he is, catching the light; the Crystal Boy, Dorian. He is how I will be remembered… how I shall become in other people’s memories.”

Falling silent, King Oscar turned very slowly away from the painting, and a great weight seemed to settle on the giant’s shoulders and he seemed to stagger slightly across the room. He gripped on to the window sill as he gazed out into the sunlight, which was now growing fainter as the afternoon wore on. Behind him the soft tinkling of Lord Henry’s bells filtered through the lengthening shadows and King Oscar could also still hear the creaking of Basil’s one leg as he shifted his weight upon it. Close by his side moved Robbie quietly, sitting down in the little child’s chair beside the window. King Oscar caught his eye.

“And so… what is there left for me to do now? I have this story in my head, but I cannot write it yet, can I, Robbie? You understand, don’t you?” he asked the elf abruptly, reaching up to remove his crown of sunflowers.

Robbie gazed back thoughtfully.

“But I thought you were the greatest teller of stories, King Oscar? Why can you not finish this one?”

King Oscar continued to gaze out at the tall nursery tower jut across the courtyard outside, watching the scarlet of it becoming crimson as the sky around grew darker. The giant flinched with pain as he caught sight of the Queen Constance’s figure as she came out with the nanny goat, pulling the two princes in the cart. King Oscar stared at the figures without moving, watching them cross over the wooden drawbridge, his fingers now gripping on to the edge of the window sill. He shook his head, feeling sure he would never see them again.

“There’s something I have to do first… before I can write the story of my life. I have to do something,” he said sadly, feeling as though a weight was pulling him down further. “I have to go back to the Secret Glade and catch that light forever.”


Catching The Light - Chapter Two


Early one morning, just before dawn broke over the Palace Beautiful and the islanders began to stir; a green elf came out from the woodland, bringing in his arms a small baby for the king and queen. The elf carefully laid his tiny bundle inside the golden crib that the queen had prepared for the child’s arrival – both she and the giant king were very excited. The new baby had a round face that seemed to smile all the time. His entire body seemed to give off a warm glow, so that it was a real pleasure to stand near him. King Oscar lifted him gently from his crib, marvelling at the magic of it all.

“This baby shall be called Cyril… the Sunshine Boy,” he said, giving a long sigh of contentment and pride, raising his eyes to meet Queen Constance’s beautiful dark brown ones. He smiled, holding out his hand towards her. “Now I truly do have everything I want. Nothing can alter this perfection; I am quite sure of it.”

Queen Constance simply smiled sadly. Without taking any notice, the king glanced all around Prince Cyril’s bedroom.

“This room is much too small for our prince… a new Tower shall be built; the Nursery Tower… it should be filled with bright colours and toys; a rocking horse, naturally, toy soldiers and a castle. It can go just over there…” he pointed just out of the window. “And it’ll be surrounded by a moat, so that nobody can disturb or harm my children, for I do not doubt the elves will bring us more. But now…” he went on, laying the baby back inside his crib and gathering his magicians robe around him. He straightened himself as much as the small room would allow him to do. “I must go down to the beach to tell the children their stories. They’re waiting there for me. Now that my life is full, the stories spill from me like water. Indeed I’m overflowing with words.”

The Queen still said nothing as the King left the room, his massive shoulders bending down so that his crown didn’t become dislodged by the doorway.

At once work was begun on the building of the Nursery Tower, which was to be painted with scarlet and gold. King Oscar supervised all the work himself, giving orders to the artists and designers. Among them, James strutted all around the tower with his peacock tail displayed and paintbrush held aloft while the wooden William busily carved an ornate doorframe for the tower, and then began work on a drawbridge, which would be necessary to cross the moat. Soon the moat itself was dug and filled with water, and gold and scarlet fish as well. King Oscar helped with the painting of the tower, inside and out, when he was not telling stories to the children beside the sea and also writing them down in books. He also spent much time playing games with baby Cyril, making puppets and other toys, and a new crib for the forthcoming arrival of the new baby. During these few years, King Oscar was very happy and content and so was Queen Constance. Sure enough, another green elf came to the queen one night, and handed her another tiny baby, before slinking away back into the forest. The queen took the baby without a word, trying to feel happy – but her heart was heavy. This baby was quite different from the first, he had a thin pointed face, and his skin glowed only dully, like the luminous glow of the moon. When King Oscar saw this baby, he looked at it only briefly before returning it to its crib.

“Well… this baby shall be called Prince Vyvyan, the Cloud Boy,” said the King, trying to put an arm around the queen’s shoulders. “We should love him equally… even though I feel that things are changing.” He sighed, removing his crown of sunflowers and throwing it down on a chair. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I feel so restless, surrounded by all this beauty and privilege. I want something more than all this, Constance… something more.”

The Queen made no reply, only turned away, gazing sadly out of the window at the work going on below. Her fingers clutched at the edge of the window sill as the artists moved busily around the nursery tower, shouting instructions to one another. Their activity seemed to encourage Queen Constance. She took King Oscar’s hand gently in her own and squeezed it.

“It looks like the nursery tower should be ready soon for our babies… shall we take them over to their new room now? You should stop thinking these thoughts – the princes both need your magic stories, and the other children do as well.” She brushed his face lightly with her finger tips. “So… please, Oscar, think of the Children.”

Oscar readjusted his magician’s robes so they hung properly from his massive shoulders.

“You’re right, of course… I shall go down to the beach at once.” So saying, he left the room and went down the staircase, with the intention of going to the sea and perhaps stopping at the nursery tower to check on the decoration. But as soon as he stepped outside into the sunlight, he was met by his friend Robbie the elf.

“Ah, Robbie… I was going to see how the prince’s room was coming on. We’re almost ready to bring the princes over.”

“The walls are just about covered in colour now – a jungle mural has been painted. The most fantastic mural you can imagine! The princes will be very happy there.” He stopped, glancing at the friendly giant quickly. Being an elf, Robbie had a special magical communication with Oscar, especially as they had been friends for quite some time. Carefully, Robbie rubbed one of his pointed ears as he cleared his throat. “But what’s wrong, your majesty? What’s darkening your thoughts?”

“Oh, I don’t know Robbie… I can’t explain. I have everything, I should be happy… but I’m not. I don’t know why. “ King Oscar sighed once again, turning away from Ross so that the elf couldn’t see the tear glistening like a rain drop in the king’s eye, as the rays of afternoon sunlight slanted through the great palace doors. Robbie clutched at King Oscar’s sleeve, lowering his voice. “You should come down with me to the Secret Glade. I’ll meet you there when it gets dark.”

King Oscar looked at the elf curiously.

“All right… what happens at the Secret Glade? I’ve never heard of such a place before,” he said.

Robbie simply smiled, before slipping away, back into the courtroom of the palace. King Oscar stared after him, still seeing his tiny figure, long after it had vacated the spot.

It had only just begun to get dark that evening when King Oscar was joined by Robbie and another of the courtiers, Charles. As the three of them descended the palace steps outside, only a few stars were visible, because the sky was so cloudy and Charles’s flaming hair and beard came in very useful to light up the way. Robbie took hold of King Oscar’s sleeve and whispered, standing on tiptoe to reach the giant’s ear.

“Don’t worry, Charles knows all about the Secret Glade, I’ve already been there with him quite a few times.”

King Oscar nodded assuredly.

Outside the palace gates, they turned away from the usual route that would lead them down to the beach, and instead headed inland, towards the large area of woodland. King Oscar found himself slightly nervous for he had never entered the woodland before, but he knew that elves and other strange creatures came from within the trees.

As they finally drew near, the trees around them grew thicker and the branches met overhead, blocking out the stars so that Charles’s flaming locks were even more vital. He led the way through the trees; Robbie and King Oscar following, getting caught in the branches.

“Is it much further?” King Oscar called out to Charles, trying to avoid the branches scratching his face. Charles made no reply, but Robbie called back.

“We’re nearly there! I can see the Glade!”

As the trees had begun to grow thicker, they stopped abruptly, so that a large area ahead was completely clear – small figures flitted across the glade; strange coloured figures that disappeared back into the dark trees. King Oscar stared in wonder as a tiny red imp approached them, rubbing his hands together and laughing manically all the time, so that King Oscar wasn’t entirely sure whether to trust him or not.

“Greetings, Robbie,” laughed the imp, glancing upwards. “But who’s your friend?”

“This is King Oscar,” Robbie replied, pulling on the giant’s sleeve so that his massive form was completely visible to the imp.

The red imp pointed up at the giant’s head, still laughing.

“You’ll have to take off your crown, I’m afraid. There’s no place for royalty in the Secret Glade.”

With shaking hands, Oscar reached up and removed his crown of sunflowers. He hung it on the branch of a nearby tree, and turned back to the imp and the elf quickly. Ahead of him he could catch little glimpses of coloured light which he thought might be fairies. His excitement was growing within him.

“I want to see inside the Secret Glade… so lead the way, please,” he told the imp. “I don’t mind leaving my crown behind for once.”

Oscar, Charles and Robbie drew together instinctively as they followed the red imp across the glade, which seemed to become even darker and more mysterious, even though there were no trees in the Glade, and no rocks on the ground; nothing in fact, only space, a vacant black space which seemed to be filled with coloured lights and slim green shapes – several friendly elves came and clung on to their arms. One small purple one came and attached himself to Charles, ignoring the flames from his beard which licked the elf’s purple face. All the time the coloured lights of the fairies flickered in and out of existence and the red imp seemed to be changed into a yellow one, or perhaps another imp had taken his place. King Oscar moved through the shadows of the trees, enchanted.

“I’ve never been in such a place as this… What’s inside the Secret Glade, Robbie?” asked Oscar breathlessly.

Robbie didn’t answer at first – his attention was distracted by a tiny blue elf tugging desperately at his arm, demanding his attention.

“You must find out for yourself, Oscar,” Robbie called out to the king over the blue elf’s head. “I can’t say what’s inside the Secret Glade – only you can find out for yourself.”

Feeling tiny hands tugging at his sleeve, Oscar turned round to see a very slight opaque figure that might have been an elf, or something more ephemeral, more fleeting, for the next moment it was gone. But still Oscar lumbered after it, feeling sure he had to. This was it, this was the Secret Glade… As he moved forward through the darkness, bright lights continued to flit about above his head, and as he stared intently into the blackness immediately before him, he thought he caught sight of a piece of glass, turning slowly, catching the light. Oscar’s throat was as dry as sand paper; he was sweating and he rubbed his moist palms together franticly. Just ahead of him, the glass figure of a boy seemed to be there, though only when it caught the light from the fairies flying overhead, then different facets of the Crystal Boy exploded into light, and mingled with a strange shimmering golden haze around the boy’s head. As the Crystal Boy moved very slowly, he seemed to be absolutely aware of his own beauty; his own fascination… Oscar stared so hard he thought his eyes must surely come loose from his face. In the fairies’ light he could just make out something within the body of the Crystal Boy, but he couldn’t see what it was… He took a few careful steps towards him, holding his hand outstretched. Although his eyes began to ache with the strain of looking, he recognised the shape inside as a flower; a perfect white narcissus. The flower’s head seemed to droop with the weight of its own perfection… And the crystal surrounding the flower glinted all the colours of the rainbow, each lasting for only few seconds before changing, sparkling, fleeting. The Crystal Boy stood still where he was as Oscar moved towards him. Oscar ran his tongue over his dry lips, hardly recognising his own voice as it was forced out from deep within his chest.

This is the secret of the glade! I must touch the Crystal Boy… I must hold him; capture this light!”

A hideous screech rang out through the glade, which could have belonged to an animal or bird or some other magical creature…The sound froze Oscar just as his fingers touched the hard crystal. The fairies lights continued to catch different facets of the boy, and Oscar wondered if the Crystal Boy had ever really existed, or if he had simply consisted of light. Oscar looked around him desperately, searching for the owner of the screech. He half expected to see feathers, but he saw instead, scarlet… and he heard the thumping sound of a creature jumping. As Oscar stared helplessly at the ape, he felt his hairy arms whiz past his body – There was no doubt in his head that the Scarlet Marquis fully intended to strike him and stop him in his tracks. Oscar drew back, not a little alarmed by his ferocity.

“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare touch my Crystal Boy!” Once again came the grating, squawking scream that echoed round and round the Secret Glade, bouncing against each tree trunk, so the sound became increased in intensity as it was enclosed within the glade itself. The heavy scarlet ape jumped up and down, swinging his long arms all around. “You should keep away – who do you think you are? You have no right to touch my Crystal Boy. Just keep away!”

Oscar simply stared in confusion, shaking his head at the scarlet monkey.

“I don’t think you should talk to me like that… Don’t you know who I am? I’m King Oscar!” the giant said, rubbing where the Marquis had struck him. The scarlet ape simply laughed.

“You’re not a king – you’re just a common, clumsy giant! Stay away from my Crystal Boy! You may look, but don’t you dare touch.”

Oscar covered his ears with his great hands, turning away from the monkey so his vision could be filled once again with the beautiful, striking image of the Crystal Boy. Every face ignited a different shade beneath the fairies’ changing lights. Within the crystal figure the narcissus bent and adored its own beauty, echoing round and round its drooping head. Just as the flower was full of life, the Crystal Boy himself lived and Oscar knew that he must touch the Crystal Boy; he must hold him.

Even though the fairies’ lights seemed to have grown faint, Oscar could feel the intensity of his own desire welling up inside him.

“I must capture the Crystal Boy, I must catch the light,” he said to himself, as the dancing lights dissolved away into the shadows of the trees.

Hearing a scuffling noise beside him, Oscar turned to see Robbie and the blue elf clinging to his arm. From the dazed expression on Robbie’s face, Oscar could tell that he too had seen the Crystal Boy, and witnessed Oscar’s confrontation with the Scarlet Marquis. The knowledge that they had both shared the experience of catching the light for a moment drew them both together even closer. After a while, Robbie cleared his throat very quietly and spoke in a low voice.

“Oscar, we should go back now to the palace. Look, the sky is beginning to become pink around the edges… and I see Charles approaching on the back of a unicorn. Do you remember where you left your crown?” He added as Oscar began to move slowly towards him.

“Yes, I think I remember.” With a great sigh, Oscar shook his head, still trying to clear it of the crystal image, but the image remained fixed at the back of his mind, refusing to die away. Moving through the trees with giant strides, Oscar found his crown of sunflowers eventually, and placed it back on his head, but it didn’t seem to belong there at all anymore. He felt as though he was playing a part on stage, not a real giant any longer. He was filled with an intense desire to go back home.

“Well then Robbie, we’ll go back to the Palace Beautiful, but please…” He stooped so that he could whisper in Robbie’s pointed ear as the elf drew alongside him. “We must return to the Secret Glade soon… I can’t possibly just go back and forget all about that Crystal Boy. So when can we come back?”

Robbie looked up at King Oscar, shaking his head and smiling sadly.

“You know that I’ll come back with you whenever you want, but you also know exactly the same thing will happen all over again… The scarlet marquis won’t let you touch the light of his boy, I’m sorry, that’s the way it is – he won’t let you recapture the light.”

As the trees on either side of the two companions began to grow thinner, the faint pink dawn became more visible through the branches overhead, so that the flaming beard and hair of Charles was not so necessary as it had been. King Oscar shouldered his way roughly through the trees, breaking off several of the huge branches in his frustration.

“But I must try at least. I must come back to the glade again, Robbie!” The king shouted and he heard the echoes of his voice bouncing off the tree trunks around him. Ahead of them the final small green wood elf disappeared back into the wood, perhaps returning to the Secret Glade.