The basilisk turned his head in Tanith’s general direction. “Begin? Oh, yes, of course.”
“And you can put your papers on the table,” Tanith said.
“Table?” Virgil said, peering through his glasses. He leaned forward until his nose was practically touching the varnished surface. “Dear me, it is a table. I hadn’t noticed. And here are my papers. Yes, here they all are.”
The councilors glanced uncomfortably at each other, unsure of what to think. I just sat there, impatiently tapping my foot, waiting for this to be over and done with. Tanith gave me a sharp look and I instantly stopped tapping my foot.
“We don’t want them to think we’re anxious or anything,” she whispered to me.
“I just want this to be over and done with,” I whispered back.
“We have to wait until Virgil can see what he needs to see.”
“I say, is anyone there?” Virgil asked, blinking across the table at Lord Thane.
“Of course there’s someone here,” Lord Thane snapped. “I’m here.”
Euclid jumped, and Drago was there for him. Manny took charge of Euclid’s papers and began to shuffle them in with his own, neatly putting them into order. Bede simply sat there, patiently waiting for his turn to speak.
“Who is there?” Virgil asked. “If you would come forward so I could see you, that would be marvelous. Just like in a poem I once wrote. Forward here/So I may see/What can be so clear/What is to be.”
The basilisk chuckled and then cleared his throat. “Pardon me. I do get so carried away. Would you mind stating your name? I cannot see you, but I can envision you in my mind if I know your name.”
“Lord Thane,” the councilor snapped.
“Very good, very good. Lord Thane. A bit of a pompous one, always in a rush. Yes, I have it. Very well. What exactly do I do now, Tanith?”
“Please state our first request.”
“Oh, yes, of course. We request the chance to live in peace. We will not bother anyone and no one must bother us. I believe Manny is next?”
“Yes,” Manny said. He cleared his throat. “Secondly, we ask that you approach us in a civil manner rather than charge our home. In exchange, we will not venture into Bottlecreek for any reason whatsoever. Bede?”
“We appeal to you in favor of a name amendment. We repudiate the title ‘monsters’ and stipulate an alteration to said designation in order to be termed ‘misunderstood creatures.’”
The king and his councilors stared at each other.
“I’m sorry,” Lord Brett said nervously. “What did you just say?”
“I reiterate—” Bede began.
Drago prodded Bede in the back and the troll glanced up at him with a disproving look.
“He said that we want to be called ‘misunderstood creatures’ instead of ‘monsters.’” Drago translated, with Lord Paris staring at him and visibly swallowing as he snapped his gold flaked quill in half.
“Did not I articulate that?” Bede asked in confusion.
“Not in those exact words,” Manny said, still shuffling papers, while Drago grinned at Lord Paris, causing the youth to accidentally yank off a golden button.
“Would you stop that?” Euclid squealed at Manny.
“Next,” Tanith said, interrupting whatever argument the two would launch into.
“We request that our home be closed off to Bottlecreek and will only allow visitors if they have submitted a letter of intent to visit, and that visit must be declined or accepted by us before we allow the visit,” Drago said.
“Those are the terms we put before you,” I said. “What are yours?”
“We want you to leave,” Lord Colin said flatly.
“We won’t!” Manny cried out. “It’s our home. You can’t force us from our home.”
“We can and must!” the king cried back.
“Stop it!” Euclid shrieked. “Get me out of here! They’re out to get me, to get us! They’ll kill us!”
Euclid somehow managed to clamber over the dragon and went running from the room.
“Can I eat the table?” Drago asked civilly.
“No,” I replied. “We’re not done yet.”
“Ah, so like another poem of my own,” Virgil said with a sigh. “Away, away we must go/ Far from here we must roam/Return not to the home we knew/Gone to another/For peace and new hope.”
“Yes, leave!” Lord Thane said. “Go away. Leave Bottlecreek. You don’t belong here. We don’t want you here.”
“They’re not going to leave, Lord Thane,” I said crossly. “And if you don’t accept their terms, Princess Tanith will never return home.”
“That’s right,” Tanith spoke up. “I’ll stay in the Black Castle forever.”
“No and no,” the king said.
Lord Paris fiddled with the gold edging of his royal blue coat and twisted another golden button as he listened to the exchange. He avoided Drago’s direct gaze and focused instead on the table.
“Just hurry up,” Lord Paris said in a quivering voice. “That thing is scaring me!”
“Quiet, Paris,” Lord Colin snapped. “We don’t want to deal with you right now.”
“Dear me, oh, dear me,” Lord Brett muttered, smoothing his white hair with trembling fingers.
“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” I muttered to Tanith.
“No, it’s not,” she admitted. “At least we tried.”
“Wait. I have an idea.”
“What are you doing?” Tanith hissed as I stood.
I ignored her and waited for the room to quiet before I decided to speak.
“Your Majesty, Your Highness, misunderstood creatures, and councilors, we came with very simple requests,” I began. “This would go a lot faster if Lord Brett would recover his wits and be as sharp and fair as he was back in his day, if Lord Colin would lose his sour expression and stop being a jerk to everyone, if Lord Paris would either remove himself from this room or stop being scared half to death, if Lord Thane would stop being such an idiot, if Virgil would stop reciting poetry, if Drago would stop drooling over the table, if Bede would speak so we all could understand him, and if Manny would please stop shuffling those papers.”
The room was silent and I felt rather pleased with myself as they looked at each other in varying stages of embarrassment.
“Now. All we ask is that you leave the misunderstood creatures, not monsters, alone. In return, they will leave you alone. If anything, everything will return to what they were before Tanith ran away. That all suited everyone, right?”
“True, very true,” Lord Brett muttered.
“Quite precise,” Bede conceded.
“What do you say, Your Majesty?” I asked. “Everyone will be left in peace and your daughter will return home.”
The king pondered it. “It does sound fair.”
“It all depends on how much you want me to return,” Tanith said sweetly. “I, for one, wouldn’t mind staying with my new friends.”
“Well, I mind,” King Adam snapped. “Very well, get it written out. Paris, I like your writing best. Get to it.”
Lord Paris scrambled for some blank paper and a new quill. When he was ready, he jotted down some notes as the councilors and misunderstood creatures stated what they wanted. Then, working with Tanith and Lord Brett, he wrote out a treaty and passed it around to be read by everyone. Then it was signed by all of us.
“Excellent. Now may I eat the table?”
“No, Drago” Tanith said. “It’ll give you indigestion.”
“No it won’t. I’ve eaten this type of wood before.”
“But not with varnish on it.”
“Well, no, but it looks awfully tasty.”
“Maybe another time, okay?”
“Okay,” Drago said resignedly.
* * *
After that, I’d like to say everything went back to normal, but of course that would be a lie. Oh, they all left each other alone, but that didn’t keep Tanith from visiting. I accompanied her every so often, but not as much as I think she would have liked. King Adam was happy she was back and even offered to let me marry her. Of course, I couldn’t and absolutely wouldn’t. I knew Tanith didn’t want to be married and I didn’t want to have to deal with her more than I had to.
The people of Bottlecreek are still terrified of the Black Castle, so things outside of what happened between the misunderstood creatures and the councilors have remained the same. There’s still talk of vampires and dragons, giant serpents and living gargoyles, starving werewolves and giant man-eating cats. But no one other than the councilors, King Adam, Tanith, and I know for sure since nary a soul is brave enough to cross the bridge arching over a moat of steaming cold water.