Candle of the Soul
Sarah stepped off the carpet ship and looked around at the busy port. The noise, colour, and smell were almost overwhelming. But she was in
Heaven knows Sarah was not pure of spirit or mind, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her in her quest. You see, there was a flip side to the magic. If someone black of heart had possession of the gem, romance would cease to exist. In fact, all the great romances of history, Anthony and Cleopatra, Snow White and Prince Charming, Bonnie and
One could never again pick up a favourite novel and enjoy those warm fuzzies from reading about that moment when the two protagonists finally declared their love for one another. Knightley would not ride through the rain. Henry Tilney would marry a rich girl of his father’s choosing, and Elizabeth Bennet would never make the discovery that Darcy was the best of men. She would dutifully marry Mr Collins and then incur Lady Catherine’s displeasure by not putting shelves in the closets. Never again would they be invited to Rosings. She would never meet the dashing colonel, and Mr Darcy would convince himself that his admiration of someone from such a dysfunctional family as Elizabeth Bennet came from had been a freakish aberration and the sooner he married, the better. Sadly, his first wife, Anne de Bourgh, would die in childbirth (she has such a hard time escaping that fate) but his second wife, Caroline Bingley, would live, seemingly, forever, convincing him that marriage was a fate worse than death, and much more easily attainable.
No – the jewel had best be hers. With it in her hands the worst that could happen is that Darcy would become a were, but if the dragon he changed into was sexy enough, even Lizzy couldn’t resist it.
Sarah looked at the crowds that swarmed just beyond the gang plank. She had been told there would be a trustworthy guide awaiting her. His name was something like Hamadamaramalamadingdong, or maybe it was just plain old Dan – she couldn’t quite remember. She did know, however, that he would have enormous hoop earrings in both his ears.
A man in a white tunic and leggings came up to her and bowed low. “You are in need of a guide, Madame?”
He had a hoop of gold in his left ear and a crescent moon in his right. Hmmm – that wasn’t correct. Just then he tilted his head up and gazed into her eyes. She gasped. He had the most beautiful face she’d ever seen – golden brown skin, dark brows over deep blue eyes, and an aquiline nose leading to a supremely kissable mouth. Gold hoop, crescent moon – close enough!
When she managed to find her voice she hired him and directed him to her baggage – a shabby portmanteau of considerable size and weight. He threw it upon his shoulder as if it were filled with feathers. Sarah did a mental calculation of the contents, aside from the feather boa she’d brought for special occasions, everything was serviceable jungle gear – boots, pith helmets, machetes, a tea service – that sort of thing.
As they snaked their way through the throngs she failed to notice a small, nondescript brown monkey with a hoop of gold dangling from each ear. The monkey had a distinct scowl upon its face.
Sofie, Alicia, Cindy, Alyson, Rita, and Jen arrived at the docks two weeks later. They hadn’t been able to afford the carpet ship and instead had travelled by the rug boat. The rug boat ought not be confused with the love boat. There was no love on that boat, baby.
The crowds that met their boat were decidedly noisier and smellier than the ones that had greeted Sarah. And much less colourful.
“So this is
“To think I showered for this,” said Jen.
“I smell curry,” said Sofie and Cindy together as they set off into the crowd, following the aroma.
“We can’t become separated,” said Alyson. “Hurry up the rest of you.”
“Oh look – a cute little monkey,” said Rita. “Nice earrings.”
“Earrings!” said the other five, and they all stopped to look.
The monkey gesticulated wildly.
“I think it wants us to follow it,” said Alyson.
The monkey jumped up and down, then scampered off, looking back over its shoulder to make sure they were following. It passed the curry vendor, much to Sofie and Cindy’s regret, and ducked into an alley.
“It might be a trap,” said Alicia. “Careful.”
“I’ve got Dan’s bowie knife,” said Rita, pulling the deadly looking weapon from her reticule.
“Put that thing away!” shrieked Jen.
They entered the alley with some trepidation. The monkey had disappeared. In his place was a man with gold earrings and very little else on. If it weren’t for a basket he clutched before himself, nothing would have been left to the imagination.
“That’s the main problem with being a were,” he said with a grin. “No place to keep one’s clothes. Luckily my clan has stashes all over
“You’re pretty presentable right now,” said Cindy.
“Can you give us a minute before you cover up?” asked Sofie.
He winked and backed into a doorway.
“That was the monkey?” asked Jen.
“I’ll be gobsmacked!” said Alyson.
“Hornswaggled,” said Rita.
All Alicia could say was, “Nice earrings.” She was looking kind of dazed.
He returned in a moment, wearing a pale blue tunic. He still looked pretty impressive, especially for a monkey. “My name is Hamadamaramalamadingdong,” he said. “But you can call me Ham.”
“Do you have news of our friend Sarah?” asked Alyson.
“Since she was waylaid upon her arrival there has been no sign,” he said, shaking his head. “It is my fault. When I was supposed to meet her, I changed into my monkey form because I was being followed by the Evil One’s minions. She was met instead by a very good double of me. Not quite as handsome,” he said with modesty. “and they got the earrings wrong, but good enough to fool your friend.”
“It was the Evil One disguised as you?” asked Jen.
“He? Stoop so low as to come to a black hole such as
“Oh no!” cried Sofie. “Sarah told me only the day before she left that she had a cloak of invisibility.”
“A magical one?” asked Ham.
“Is there any other kind?” asked Alicia.
“Virtually, anything is possible,” said Ham with a smirk. “Knowing about the cloak will help. I am a magic sniffer, if I know the type of magic I am looking for I am sure to find it.”
“Even in this stinky place?” asked Jen.
“Ah,” said Ham, “magic has a smell like no other. Come, we must depart, I smell weres on our trail and they are not of our clan. Tiger, like the Evil One. And something else – dragon!”
“Dragon!” said Cindy, her eyes lighting up.
“We must beware all weres except the monkeys,” said Ham. “We of the monkey clan revere Candle of The Soul, and would like it returned to its rightful place, but all others want it for their own ends.”
“Tell us more about this jewel,” said Rita. “Sarah left
“No, all she said was that Lizzy and Darcy were in danger,” said Alyson.
“And every other pair of lovers from now to the dawn of romance,” said Ham. “I shall tell you while we travel. To my carpet!”
He led them down the alley into an open space with a fountain. Well it once had been a fountain, but now it was dry. He reached into the stone pool and pulled forth a big roll, grabbed one end, and shook it out. A carpet with wondrous designs woven into it lay throbbing a metre off the ground.
“Climb aboard,” Ham said.
When they were all comfortably situated, Ham whispered an order to the carpet and it took off, smoothly circling the fountain and then rising up out of the open space, barely skimming the rooftops to soar over the city and head in a northerly direction.
“Candle of The Soul is the largest fire opal ever discovered,” said Ham. “It has a shadowy flaw in the centre that flickers and burns like a candle’s flame. As you no doubt are aware, candles and romance are synonymous. They go hand in hand, like lovers. Candle of the Soul is one of a group of powerful gems that hold the magic of the universe – and it holds all the magic of love. Love is, of course, a many splendoured thing, but since the jewel was lost, the splendours of love have been diminishing. It has been noticed in some novels already. Did you know that originally, in Tess of the D’Ubervilles, Tess and Angel married and forgave each other all the transgressions they had committed before meeting. But now – Tess is doomed to suffer as Angel throws her aside, only to forgive her when it is too late.”
“But Jane Austen has not yet been affected?” asked Rita.
“We cannot even be sure of that. I have heard rumours that before Candle of The Soul disappeared, Mr Darcy did not slight Lizzy at the assembly.”
“And when Marianne tripped and rolled down the hill to sprain her ankle, it was not
“No!” said Cindy.
“I have also heard a rumour that if you were to pick up a copy of Persuasion today, and turn to that fateful trip to Lyme Regis, Captain Wentworth catches Louisa Musgrave.”
“I can see how that might change the outcome of the story,” said Alyson.
“We must find Sarah!” cried Sofie. “Only she can lead us to Candle of The Soul.”
Ham nodded his head in agreement.
“Can you smell her cloak of invisibility?” asked Rita.
“No,” said Ham. He sniffed deeply. “I no longer sense the Tiger weres or the dragon either. Something is clogging my sniffing powers. Some potent magic one of you is carrying.” He turned to Cindy. “It is you! Traitor!” And he lunged at her in an attempt to hurl her from the carpet.
Her purse burst open and a bag popped out, teetered on the edge of the carpet, and fell down, down, down into the depths of the Indian jungle.
“My boiled peanuts!” cried Cindy. “It was a present I brought from
“My apologies,” said Ham. “I am so glad it was not you that fell. My senses are fully restored and I can see that you are no traitor. But, boiled peanuts, you say? I had heard the
Sarah was not in the best of moods. For one thing she was tied up, and she didn’t like being tied up if nothing gratifying was to come of it. Nothing gratifying had come. Her companion, Whick-whatever-all-that-inside-nonsense-was-ham, no longer appeared as handsome as he had done when he had met her at the carpet ship dock. She ought to have trusted her instincts when she’d seen that crescent moon. She ought to have remembered that the crescent moon was a symbol used by the Tiger clan. But his eyes had been bewitching. And his mouth . . . now it was no longer kissable. There was too much petulance in its pout. And the deep blue eyes had lost their spell, especially after he had put away 3 kegs of liquor and they had taken on that frenzied, blood shot appearance.
To top it all off, it was rather claustrophobic under the cloak. Sure, it was a highly magical cloak and as roomy as a four person tent, but still, Sarah was finding the fumes from Whick-whatever-all-that-inside-nonsense-was-ham’s breath highly toxic. Still, she didn’t want to say anything to upset him because she rather feared he would take on his were form, which was no doubt that of a tiger. And she didn’t relish being at such close quarters with a man eating tiger that was undoubtedly hungry and far from sober.
Sarah cudgelled her brains to try to formulate a plan to get herself out of this mess. She hoped that the Bennetgirls had caught the quick distress signal she’d managed to send before she’d been bound and cloaked and whisked away by flying carpet to the tigers’ lair. The next day she was to be brought before the Evil One and she doubted she could withstand the torture he would inflict upon her – yet she could not give up her knowledge of the whereabouts of Candle of The Soul. She needed to escape, and she needed to do it soon.
She heard a whiffling of wind, a great tearing sound, and the searing smell of sulphur in the air.
“Step on it!” cried Ham to his carpet. “The tigers’ lair – that’s where they are!” He took a deep sniff of the night air. “The scent is suddenly stronger now. It is as if the magic in the cloak has been torn.” He sniffed again, a deep breath that left him almost passed out on the luxurious nap of his carpet.
“Smelling salts! Hartshorn!” cried Rita. “We must revive him.”
“What he needs is fresh air,” said Cindy. “Give him room.”
“Are you sure he doesn’t need mouth to mouth resuscitation?” asked Alicia. “I’m up for it.”
“You’re not the only willing volunteer,” said Sofie, “But Cindy is right.”
Both Jen and Alyson’s faces fell.
“Dragon wings!” gasped Ham, and he fell into a stupor.
“We’ve overworked him!” cried Jen.
“How do you drive this thing?” mused Alyson. “There must be some law of physics that I can apply.”
“Go faster!” yelled Alicia.
The carpet took off at double the speed.
“That works,” said Alyson.
“Does he mean there’s a dragon after us?” asked Cindy.
“I’m not sure what he means,” said Sofie. “But dragon or no dragon we’ve got to save Sarah and find that gem.”
“I kind of like the idea of a dragon,” said Cindy.
“Me too,” said Sofie wistfully. “Me too.”
“Can you two wipe the slobber off your faces and help with Ham?” said Alicia. “Jen’s busy trying to sniff the magic to ensure we stay on course, and me and Al are flying this thing.”
“Knew my acute sense of smell would come in handy some day,” said Jen proudly.
Cindy and Sofie were only too glad to help Ham. Cindy made his head comfortable on her lap and Sofie wiped his brow with her napkin, which she’d wetted liberally with lavender water.
“It’s made from my own home grown lavender,” she said in that way she likes to say things when she makes them from scratch and knows that no one else does.
Alicia only rolled her eyes, then she gave the carpet new directions from the coordinates Jen had sniffed up.
Alyson tweaked the corners of the carpet directionally and attempted to calculate their aerodynamics. “Don’t anyone stand up – stay bent over nicely.”
Ham emitted a groan. “Dragon wings,” he whispered hoarsely. “Will we have to deal with the Chinese empire as well as the tiger clan? How, when there are only seven of us, and the six of you have such meagre magic?”
“Not to worry,” said Rita, patting her reticule. “I’ve got a knife and luckily I have learned, so I’m a true proficient.”
Dragon wings ripped through the cloak of invisibility. It lay in tatters off to the side as a great golden dragon swooped low over Sarah. Whickadamaramalamadingdongham lunged, changing shapes in mid-lunge without bothering to take his clothes off first. Orange and black fur took the place of his golden skin. His muscles rippled as they took on new form. Claws and fangs bared, he hurled through the air.
Sarah wasn’t sure whether it was she or the dragon he was aiming for, but she wasn’t about to hedge her bets. She reached her bound arms up towards the dragon with the silent prayer that he had come to save her, not to prey upon her. His talons hooked around the ropes on her wrists and lifted her up, up, up. The tiger’s claws met only the serviceable linen of Sarah’s safari dress. They rose higher and higher into the night, away from the harsh glare of the mountaintop torches and into the glow of the full moon.
Far below, Sarah thought she could glimpse the outlines of a flying carpet following them at top speed. Nothing, however, could outdistance a dragon. Finally, when she thought she would go into hypothermic shock from the chill of the wind caused by their great speed, the dragon slowed and circled down, lower and lower, causing Sarah’s head to spin with vertigo. He laid her gently on a soft, mossy slope and settled himself beside her. She just had time to see once again his glittering gold scales, suffused with a blue-green sheen, when the change came over him, and then a fully naked man stood before her. If she had thought Whickadamaramalamadingdongham beautiful, there were no words left in the English language to describe this man. And Sarah knew no other earthly language that would do him justice either.
Unhurriedly, the man began to dress himself from a neat pile of clothes, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. Then, once his neck cloth was meticulously tied, .he turned his attention to Sarah.
“Pardon me, but you must be uncomfortable, bound as you are.” And so saying he withdrew a penknife from his waistcoat pocket and soon had her out of her bonds.
Sarah rubbed her raw wrists and attempted to tidy her dress, but her skirts were hanging in ribbons, showing her petticoats. “I am such a mess,” she said.
“Not at all,” he responded politely. “That fashion suits you admirably.”
“I must thank you for saving me. The tigers – they would have tortured me and then . . . “
“And then?” he asked gently.
“And then I would have given all away.”
“My arrival was opportune, then.”
“I am glad.”
“Why did you come and save me? Do you want what they want?”
“I saved you because you were in peril. I could hear your pleas.”
“But I did not cry out, I only wished . . .” Sarah put her hand up to her mouth. “Oh! You can read my thoughts!”
“No – it was your distress that brought me.”
“Even through the cloak?”
“The cloak was nothing but a cloak.”
Sarah looked at him wonderingly. She had never met anyone quite like him. He seemed to have no greed, no subterfuge, no ulterior motives. There he stood before her, so amazingly perfect in every way, looks, grooming, manner. The very appearance of calm temper and civility, and yet he had just morphed from a dragon. And dragons had quite a reputation that belied this goodness, this moral integrity. Who was he? She asked him just that.
“I am the hero,” he said, and then he added ruefully. “Sadly I appear less and less in books. Little bits of me sometimes are exposed in the character of the leading man, but more often he has a dark side that gets most of the limelight.”
Sarah made a quick decision. “I need you to take me somewhere.”
“Can we walk, or should I change?”
“Change,” said Sarah, looking forward to the process.
And just as naturally as before, he fastidiously removed every article of his clothing, folding it neatly and placing it to one side. Then he stood, like Adam, unhindered by shame or vanity at his nakedness and beauty and shifted form in a golden glow that glimmered and rippled, seamlessly flowing from man to beast. The eyes that gazed at her from the dragon skull were just as gentle and full of caring as those of the man. He bent forward and she laid her hand upon his glittering shoulder. It was warm and smooth and inviting, Sarah climbed upon his back and put her arms around his neck. She whispered directions into his ear, and he was off, swooping up and over the dark landscape with only the moon and stars to guide him.
“There . . . there!” cried Cindy.
“Dragon!” croaked Sofie.
“With Sarah!” added Rita.
“We see it!” cried the other three together, altering their course.
“Gold!” whispered Ham, almost recovered. “I have never seen . . . not Chinese.”
“We’re no match for a dragon,” wailed Alyson as she tried to get the carpet to gain speed. “With that wingspan he can outdistance us with little effort.”
“We’ll just have to try our best,” said Alicia.
“I’ve got to get the smell of tiger out of my head,” said Jen, “if I’m to be of any use. Anyone got any coffee beans?”
“Don’t worry,” said Ham. “I can take over now. I am sufficiently recovered.”
“Are you sure?” asked Rita.
“The dragon smells of gold,” said Ham, shaking his head to jingle his earrings. “One of my favourite smells – it will be a pleasure.”
Rita was glad to see that he was back to his old saucy self.
They altered their course yet again and sped off into the night. Though they could no longer see Sarah and the dragon, Ham could smell them, and that counted for a lot.
After quite some time the carpet came to hover over a clearing on a mountainside.
“They landed here for a while, but have since continued on,” announced Ham. “They have only just left.”
“And Sarah is still all right?” asked Rita.
“I smell no fear, no pain, no animosity,” said Ham. “All is so harmonious it is almost as frightening.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Alicia.
“Your friend has been taken by a dragon and there is no dread, no alarm? There must be some powerful magic at work here.”
Alyson shivered. And it had nothing to do with the cold. They flew on into the night, the full moon leading them over mountaintop and through valley.
“There!” cried Ham. “Can you see it? That glow in the trees?”
The carpet slowed and drifted down to the treetops, manoeuvred between branches and around trunks, and settled on the forest floor.
“It’s coming from that cave,” whispered Ham. “Are you ready?”
Stealthily they crept forward. Rita slipped Dan’s bowie knife out of her reticule and held it at the ready. She felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins armed with Sting, and it lifted her spirits. If only she were good at riddles too, then she would have felt super confident.
The dragon stood bowed in the cave, his golden scales reflecting off the crystal that covered the walls. He towered over Sarah who knelt on the ground before him, as if in supplication, her skirts in ragged tatters around her. In his claws he held an opal unequalled in size and beauty. It was perfect except for a flaw in its heart. A flaw shaped like a candle’s flame. A flaw that flickered and glowed with life, burning brighter even as the dragon held it.
“Candle of The Soul!” the Bennetgirls whispered in awe.
“And the dragon has it!” cried Ham. “And he is about to kill your friend!”
He pulled off his clothes, threw them into a tree, and then jumped forward, changing from a golden brown Adonis to a wiry monkey before their very eyes.
‘Such a shame,’ thought Cindy. And then she had no thought for anything else but to save Sarah from the dragon and get the jewel back.
All the other Bennetgirls had the same thought. The thought of entering the fray, that is, though possibly they had that other thought too. One can hardly blame them. Even Sofie, the self affirmed pacifist, was kicking the dragon in the shins, for all the good it did. Cindy was pummelling its thigh with her fists. Jan was taking swings at its ribcage with her purse. Alicia had picked up some chunks of crystal from the floor and was throwing them at it. Alyson had used her headscarf to devise a catapult. Ham was doing cartwheels and spinning in the air and sending blasts of magic that simply bounced off the dragon’s scales.
Rita was chanting to herself, “Find the soft spot. Find the soft spot.” And then she lunged for the armpit, sting held high.
Sarah screamed. “Stop!” and did a running tackle on Rita. She hadn’t attended all Robert’s football games for nothing.
Sting clattered to the cave floor harmlessly. Everybody threw themselves on the ground, scrabbling for it. Obviously Sarah was under some sort of spell. Killing the beast was probably the only way to free her.
“Leave the dragon alone!” Sarah bellowed. She didn’t sound like she was under any kind of spell. She sounded like good old Sarah on a rampage after insane, marauding guerrilla squirrels. “Stop now – don’t anybody move! Listen to me.”
It was clearly She Who Must Be Obeyed. They all stopped. They all looked at Sarah expectantly.
“I gave Candle of The Soul to the dragon – he didn’t steal it from me. He didn’t put me under any sort of spell or coerce me in any way. It’s just not in his nature.”
“But . . . but . . . he’s a dragon,” said Ham.
‘You could’ve fooled me,’ thought Cindy, smirking.
Sarah stared at Ham. Yeah, he was a monkey, but he still looked kinda cute, and he had great taste in jewellery. “Are you the guy that was supposed to be my guide? They should’ve told me you’d be a monkey.”
Ham was proud of his monkey origins, but he felt that his reputation was on the line. He changed rapidly.
Sarah whistled. “I can see how I was misled, now. But I have to say you are better looking than that other Dingdong.”
“I prefer to be called Ham,” he said icily. “I’m the emissary of the king of the monkeys and I demand to know why you have relinquished Candle of The Soul to that . . . dragon! We trusted you!”
“And you have not mislaid your trust,” said Sarah. “You know as well as I that Candle of The Soul must be in the possession of someone pure of spirit and mind, and I don’t believe there is anyone who matches that description than our hero.”
“The dragon is our hero?” asked all the Bennetgirls.
“The most perfect man in existence,” said Sarah. “I cannot imagine anyone in the history of literature more deserving of the appellation the best of men. There’s no way Darcy can measure up to him. Hero not only has all the goodness, he has the appearance of it too.”
“He does?” asked Ham sceptically. “But he’s a . . .”
“Dragon,” finished Cindy. “Yeah, yeah. We know. What is it you have against dragons anyway?”
“Haven’t you read anything?” Ham stared at her belligerently. He still looked amazing – I mean, he was naked and all, and he did stare with extremely good natured belligerence.
“I think it’s time for you to change, Hero,” Sarah said to the dragon. “That’ll convince the harshest sceptics.”
The dragon complied. It was a sight worth seeing, especially in a crystal cave. He stood before them in his human form, still holding the jewel. In fact it was advantageously placed.
“I must apologise,” he said. “My attire is elsewhere,”
“Mine too,” grinned Ham. “I never thought I’d say this about anyone, but you’re even better looking than me.”
“Real beauty is in the soul,” said Hero.
“Dang, he’s too good to be true,” said Alicia.
“That’s why I get so little action in novels these days, but now,” Hero gazed at the opal, “now we may see a shift for the better.”
“Does this mean that Darcy won’t diss Lizzy in the beginning of P&P?” asked Jen. “Because I don’t care what all the fanfic says, the real story would suck if that didn’t happen.”
“We’ll keep it just the way you like it,” he promised.
Rita, Sofie and Alyson were too busy basking in Hero’s beauty to say too much, but Sarah had one last important question to ask.
“You won’t do away with all the Whickhams and Henry Crawfords will you?” she asked. “I like a character that needs to be whipped into shape, if you know what I mean.”
Hero smiled softly. “My present to you, Sarah. I cannot be more grateful for what you have given me.”
They all looked at Candle of The Soul one last time, then said their regretful goodbyes to Hero and made their way out of the cave and through the trees to the flying carpet. As they set off all the girls were still obsessing over Hero.
“You should have seen him in his regency gear,” said Sarah.
They all giggled. Heck, he looked awesome no matter how you sliced it.
Alyson sat up suddenly, almost upsetting the overloaded flying carpet, and said, “Do you know what I just realised? It’s way past so that means it’s November 18th today.”
“Happy birthday Sarah!” they all cried, and gave her a huge group hug. Ham made sure he was in on the group hug too – he never missed an opportunity.
“What a great birthday present,” said Sarah. “Putting the romance back in literature. That was a beautiful opal, wasn’t it? I hear there is a sapphire in
“Will there be dragons?” asked Sofie.
“There will be one,” said Sarah.
“Then what are we waiting for,” asked the Bennetgirls in unison. “Ham, take us to
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAH!!!!