Foxglove, steward of Malachite Castle, paced the halls looking for the young maid, Enchantment. She saw the door to the great library was ajar. The red regent pushed the door open wide. "Enchantment, are you busy?"
"No, m'lady. I have just finished my lessons for today. I had hoped to take a walk in the garden if you have no chores for me."
"As a matter of fact, there is something I have for you to tend to. But do not worry; you will have your walk. And you will be exempt from your lessons for the next week."
"It will be a long walk to keep me occupied for a week."
"True, but I have a letter that must be delivered to the prince in Friendship Gardens, Clever Clover."
"You mean I get to leave the Isle? By myself? How exciting!"
"This is not an adventure. You are simply delivering a letter. Otherwise I would send Ironwood."
"I understand. But there is no reason I should not enjoy myself along the way."
"Just so long as you don't dawdle. In one week you will be expected to resume your studies."
* * *
The young mare packed for her trip, throwing bread, dried fruit, a bag of coins, a brush, and a small pouch embroidered with mystical symbols into her pack. She slung the pack over her shoulder and threw on a heavy traveling cloak. She had only been off the Isle briefly, and then only under the strict supervision of her teacher. Ironwood and one of his guards escorted Enchantment from the castle to the shore where they rowed her across to the mainland.
"We will return here in one week. If you return before then, light a fire so that we come to get you."
"Thank you, Ironwood. You are a most loyal servant."
Enchantment's trek across the Flatlands was mostly uneventful. She encountered few other travelers and those she did meet were too eager to leave the vastness of the Flatlands behind them to stop and talk for long. The young pony did briefly befriend a wild Sentret by giving it a dried apple and it followed her for most of a day. By noon on the third day of her journey she arrived in Friendship Gardens.
It was a strange place, to an Isle pony, anyway. The buildings were spread wide apart with much open space between, unlike on the Isle where the town was nestled between two ridges of rock and there was no space to spare. Enchantment approached the first pony she met, Ivy, to ask for directions.
"Excuse me, could you please direct me to the home of Prin... Clever Clover?"
"You must be one of Clever Clover's friends from the Flatlands."
"Yes, my name is Enchantment."
"I'm Ivy. Clever Clover lives west of town; take the main path and it will lead you right to his house, but he's probably not there right now. He'd be working at his lab."
"There is no need for me to disturb him at his work; I shall go ahead to his house. Would you please tell him that I am here if you meet him?"
Enchantment had a pleasant stroll to Clever Clover's house. It was late in the day when she arrived, and the sky was becoming overcast. The young pony sat on the porch and ate a light meal. Dark clouds covered the sky quickly. A cool wind blew. Though there was nothing out of the ordinary in the weather, Enchantment felt something was not right, some unnatural power at work. She left her meal and went out to the path to see if Clever Clover was near yet. There was no sign of him, but as dark as it had gotten, she could not see far. She went back to the porch, where she had left her pack and recovered the small embroidered pouch. Clutching the pouch tightly, she set off down the path to search for the prince.
* * *
On that dark and stormy night, Clever Clover walked home from work as usual. There was no rain, but dark clouds blotted out the stars and moon, and the gusting wind made it difficult to stand, let alone walk. Clever Clover lived far enough from town that there were no streetlights to brighten his way. He was navigating mostly by memory and touch. As long as he felt the smooth, hard packed earth of the path under his hooves he knew he was headed in the right direction, as the path did not fork before his home.
A flash of lightning briefly illuminated the landscape. Clever Clover saw a grove of trees a short way ahead. He was only about half way home, and he could feel that it was about to rain. He sped up his pace; maybe he could wait out the rain in what little shelter the trees would provide. Another bolt of lightning flashed, brighter than before. Not ten feet before the pony a cloaked figure stood in the middle of the path, framed by the trees of the grove. Another flash and the figure was gone.
"Allo! Who's there?" There was no reply. "Now I'm either imagining things or... heck, I can't think of any reason there would be anyone else out here on a night like tonight. I just need to get home and get some sleep."
As the pony spoke, the rain came down, cold and hard. Already quite drenched by the initial onslaught of the rain, Clever Clover decided there was no reason to waste any time in getting home, so he ran as quickly as his hooves could carry him through the wind, rain, and mud. The trees of the grove provided some protection from the rain, but not much, and it would only be a brief reprieve, as the grove was not large. He expected to be through it in only a minute or two.
The pony continued his rapid pace for as long as he could; then stopped to rest and leaned against a tree. But he had been running for close to fifteen minutes; the trees should be far behind him by now. The lightning flashed again, but its light barely reached the pony, the branches of the trees so tightly blocked the sky. He took advantage of the brief and limited illumination to try and get his bearings. "If I didn't know better, I'd say I was in the Dark Forest. But that's miles away."
His strength restored, the pony set out once more. He could tell by the wind and the rain that he was still surrounded by dense forest. The path continued, becoming increasingly muddied as the storm wore on. Despite the bracing cold rain, Clever Clover was becoming tired. He yawned wide. "If I don't get home soon I'm going to fall asleep right here on the path. But then, I should already be home. Maybe I've already fallen asleep. I'm probably back at the lab, sleeping in the artifact room. Well, if this is a dream, I'd better enjoy it."
He pressed onward, singing a song to himself. Shortly, the rain let up to a light drizzle. The wind seemed to have stopped also, but the trees and clouds still blocked all sources of light. Clever Clover stood still and listened. The only sound was the faint dropping of water from the branches of the trees, or at least it should have been. There was also a faint rustling and snapping of twigs.
* * *
By the time she reached the grove of trees she had passed on her way to Clever Clover's home, Enchantment could clearly sense a powerful magic at work– powerful and somewhat familiar. She held her pouch out in front of her.
"Mana of all creation, grant my wish; reveal the source of this dark magic to me."
Mystical energies swirled forth from the pouch forming a window in the air before the young pony. Through the portal she could see another pony, invisible to normal sight. He was green with orange mane and tail, and an orange jack-o-lantern on his rump. The strange pony wore a tall black hat and a black cloak. Though at first he seemed unaware that he was being watched, after several moments he turned and looked directly at Enchantment and smiled an evil, smug smile.
"Well, you are the clever little one, the new apprentice sorcerer of Malachite Castle no doubt." The magical veil that had hidden the mysterious pony dropped and Enchantment lowered her pouch, no longer needing to maintain her spell to see her advisory. "You have nothing to fear. I have no conflict with you, nor do I fear your apprentice magic. I am interested only in vengeance against the prince, the son of he who banished me from the Isle."
"You are Jack-O-Lantern, the court magician of Malachite Castle before my teacher!"
"Yes, and now you will bear witness to my final victory over those who wronged me!"
"It is you who wronged the rulers of the Isle! You used your power to try and usurp the throne. Banishment was merciful compared to what you deserved."
"Silence, child! I am allowing you to witness my vengeance only so you can take word of it back to Raven and Foxglove. But if you make a nuisance of yourself, I can always deliver the message in person; I have no real need of you."
Enchantment held her tongue. Jack-O-Lantern was right; her magic was no match against his. If she hoped to save the prince, she would have to outsmart the villain, find his weakness, and exploit it.
"Excuse me, Master Jack-O-Lantern, may I ask you a question?"
The sorcerer scowled at her. "Very well, but do not waste my time."
"Thank you. Why did you wait so long to seek revenge? Would it not have been better to target the father who banished you, or the son while the father was still alive?"
"This is not my first attempt. Before I left the Isle I preformed a dark ritual to plague the king and all his descendants. I summoned the demon-imp Bic and set him against my enemies. Now that the prince has defeated Bic, I must take matters into my own hands."
"You were Bic's master?"
"Foolish child. Bic knows no master. I simple took advantage of his nature. I knew he would cause nothing but torment for the king and his Isle, while I watched from a safe distance. I had only to suggest the game to him, to make him aware of the potential for entertainment upon the Isle."
"A dangerous gamble. What was to prevent Bic from turning his power against you?"
"I took certain precautions. Even an apprentice such as yourself should know how to deal with such spirits as Bic."
Enchantment smiled. "Yes, the same way I deal with a sorcerer of greater power, Jack-O-Lantern."
Jack-O-Lantern's eyes went wide. "You little brat! How dare you!"
"Mana of all creation..."
"No! You cannot!" Jack-O-Lantern summoned his magical staff and began to weave a spell.
"Bind Jack-O-Lantern's spirit..."
"Dark powers of the night..."
"Cut him off from your light!" Luminous energies issued forth from Enchantment's pouch.
"Shield me from her spell!" A wall of darkness surrounded Jack-O-Lantern.
The light of Enchantment's spell struck the wall of darkness, cutting deeply toward Jack-O-Lantern. The dark sorcerer strained against the light, but the radiant spell drove itself forward. Tendrils of light wrapped around him and soaked into him. Jack-O-Lantern shrieked in pain and then was silent. The wall of darkness which had surrounded him disappeared. The vengeful sorcerer fled into the darkness, whimpering in pain.
* * *
The sound of twigs and leaves was coming closer. Clever Clover peered into the darkness, trying to distinguish the source of the sound. Suddenly a green and orange pony dressed in black come barreling out of the woods, almost running into the prince. Before Clever Clover could even try to question the mysterious pony, he had vanished into the dark woods across the path. The purple pony looked around. He was standing just beyond the trees, finally clear of the woods, even though he couldn't see the end of them just a moment before. Looking back along the trail, he saw only the small wood he had remembered. He would have taken more time to contemplate the problem then and there had it not been for the driving rain.
Clever Clover pressed on through the rain and shortly found himself standing before his home. On his porch stood a familiar pony. "Enchantment, what are you doing here?"
"Greetings, my prince." The young pony bowed. "I have been sent to deliver a message, and fortunately, for had I not arrived when I did, you may never have gotten home tonight."
"Perhaps we should go inside and discuss it out of the rain."
* * *
The two ponies resumed their conversation after Clever Clover had lit a fire and had a bite to eat.
"So if I hadn't shown up when I did, you might have walked right into the underworld."
"Uh-huh. So you were able to defeat a master sorcerer because you knew his name?"
"A spell caster can channel more energy into a spell if they have something of the target, even their spoken name, as a focus, though the written name is more potent. Writing is powerful magic. But even the spoken name can turn the tides of a magical contest, especially when the target cannot counter with the caster's name."
"And that is why Bic didn't bother Jack-O-Lantern, but instead went after my father?"
"Yes, Jack-O-Lantern knew Bic's name but Bic didn't know his."
"Not if you have studied the ways of magic."
"Well, thanks for taking care of ol' Jack for me."
"You are welcome, my prince; but the danger is not passed. Despite my trick, Jack-O-Lantern is quite powerful and will eventually break the geis I cast upon him. Once I return to the Isle I will consult with my teacher. He should be able to effect a more permanent solution."
"Your teacher? Who's that, Rave'?"
"No, Raven is not a wizard. My teacher is the court wizard, once Jack-O-Lantern's apprentice, whose title is Magus. If he has a name, none at the castle know it. If he has kept it from his former master, there is no way the villain can match his magic."
"That's good to hear. By the way, didn't you say something about a message?"
"Oh, I almost forgot in all the excitement. I bring a letter from Foxglove." Enchantment produced the rolled parchment from her pack and presented it to the prince. Clever Clover broke the wax seal bearing the royal crest of the Isle and unrolled the scroll.
Good prince, thanks to your courage we are free of the imp's curse. The time has come
to crown a new king, but before a prince can be crowned king, he must have a queen. To
that end you are cordially invited to the wedding of Prince Oak and Princess Gooseberry
at Malachite Castle on Christmas Eve of this year. As your father was the previous king,
it will be your duty to present Oak with his crown. And as Gooseberry's cousin it will be
your privilege to give her away at the wedding. We all look forward to your return to the Isle.
Until then, farewell, Prince Clever Clover.
Foxglove, steward of Malachite Castle
"Uh, does this mean I'll have to wear that sparkly hair spray again?"
"Of course. Next to the royal couple you will be the most important pony at the ceremonies."