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.