I awake suddenly, the ghost of Geoffries is at the lyre again. My manservants warn I will be awoken early every morning once I am declared King so that I may attend to my duties, but no matter how softly he plays, it is still annoying being jolted awake so. I glare at him as his ghastly figure walks into the room.

“Ma’lord. Clip’t that Pumpkin Head might’ve the shindig after all.”

I sit up and then slide off the bed onto the floor. I stretch as I turn my back to Geoffries so that he can dress me.

“You know I cannot understand you when you speak with an indecent tongue, Geoffries. Please speak proper English,” I reprimand him.

Although I must wear many layers of clothing as Prince, the fabric is extremely light, spun by magic rather than machine. When Geoffries passed away several months ago, it was practically a blessing from the Universe herself. As he begins to mount the various layers of clothing required for a boy of my station, I can feel a slight chill in the air. I can tell already that today is going to be one of those days that can’t decide between the seasons. A week ago it was decidedly Summer both in temperature and humidity and certainly a week from now it will be Autumn with crisp air and a soft breeze, but today it is neither. 

“Sir, what I meant to say was that I heard rumor that Captain of the Elites has sent an invitation to you, requiring your presence at the annual gala and feast next Thursday,” Geoffries’ ghost says with a broken tongue. 

So that explains it. Every year just when he is sure it is Fall, Captain, the King of the Elites, invites all the dignitaries of the local universe to a notorious summit and banquet. It is notorious because even the fiercest of rivals are invited to dine at the same table and participate in the games. You can cut the tension in the air with a knife it’s so palpable they say. I’ve never been, only dignitaries of age are invited.

“Geoffries? Why do they call him Pumpkin Head?” I ask.

He grunts as he tightens the strap of the first cloak. 

“He’s the ‘ead, sire. What I mean to say is he’s in charge of all the giants, essentially ‘ead of ‘em, you know; and  he, well, he always wears a giant gourd; and where other does ‘e put this giant gourd but on his ‘ead! It is merely a scare tactic ‘cause he’s quite the gentleman so I’ve ‘eard.” Geoffries replies.

This year I am invited because my coronation is on Sunday, as is customary. Gila my father has been in charge of the kingdom as steward ever since my aunt and uncle were killed by black magic, but now that I am turning fifteen tomorrow I will be crowned as supreme ruler of the Kingdom of North America and eligible to go to Captain’s great banquet. I can feel the force of Geoffries’ ghostly hands as he tightens the last few straps of my regal clothes.

“I doubt he minds it, the bloke. Their tapestry is a pumpkin as orange as a carrot, it is! And their suit is also a pumpkin, you know in their playing cards,” he laughs.

“Really Geoffries. At one hundred and three you know better; It is not your place to opinionize,”  I rebuke.

I spin around in my voluminous gown to face him.

“Now go on and announce me to the steward, I wish to speak with him amicably,” I order.

He flies out of the room through the wall as only a sprite can. Two of my servants open the main doors of my room to let in the morning light. I walk over onto the balcony to gaze at my view atop the white cliffs of Dover. 

“Morning, Highness,” they say as I walk past.

As always the breeze is stiff from the ocean, but like I suspected it has a bite to it. Although most of the leaves on the trees are still green, some have turned precociously so that a leaf here and a leaf there are bright orange, yellow or red while the rest of the tree is still green. They’ll change quickly now that the process has taken hold. She does have a way of making everything aright, the Universe. I shan’t forget that even when I am King. I grab a creme-filled pastry from the table and  eat it quickly. 

Then I hear laggard footsteps behind me. I turn my head to see the Earl of England, a cheery roundish man with a portly mustache, looking anxious to hear my formal thanks today as he has requested every day since we took up residence in his castle four months ago, but I will wait until my father arrives so that it isn’t as awkward. Although this is his country, you can say it is his privilege to have us here. We could reside in any of the Universe’s many beautiful locations if we asked by virtue of the Kingdom’s position as steward of the Bathikry. 

The Bathikry is the heart of the Universe and the source of all magic. When my best servant Geoffries began to grow ill with age about a year ago, I had his ghost ordered and so his soul was preserved by the royal sorcerers, and now he will be my servant so long as I like even though he is dead, and even though I wear many clothes to show my rank, they are incredibly light because of the magic placed upon them. Yet it is only by Her hand that any magic take effect and Her hand is manifest in the Bathikry. I honestly wish I knew more about it, but even the Bathikers, those charged with the caretake of the Bathikry know as much as I do. 

The Earl continues to stand as if waiting for my approval, but just on point my father walks on to the balcony and breathes in deeply. 

“What a fantastic day! It is so like you Earl to make every day more beautiful than the last. I would be excited for what you have in store for us tomorrow, but I can not get over today just yet,” the Steward gushes. 

My father always has the right words to say even if they aren’t necessary or perhaps even true, but he is a good man with pure intentions. If a lie, then a wholehearted one. The Earl’s countenance lights up.

“Oh Steward! You know as well as I do that it is first and foremost Her that is to be commended, and then if it must be anyone else, thank ever so meekly my trained wizards who simply try to normalize the weather as opposed to tamper Her will,” he bows.

“It is a lovely day, Earl, made even more spectacular by your castle! Even as the seasons change, your fortress seems to match every cycle,” I concur.

He smiles until his eyes are hidden by his jowls and chuckles jovially. Father politely cues him to leave.

“Pleased, pleased as can be . . . Best be off, very busy, but don’t forget Victor has the pig on the roast for dinner tonight. Wouldn’t want to miss that,” he says.

As he leaves the Steward grabs my hand and kisses it and then helps himself to the small donuts sprinkled with powdered sugar.

“You know he would let us stay regardless. He is the kind of man who appreciates greatly our patronage, and yours over mine. Although you are not King for three days yet, he honors you as if you already are,” he says, “This is a big step, Jess, even though there will be no intrigue. You know I plan on abdicating the throne willingly, but do you know why?”

“Why?” I ask curiously.

“For one, even though you will be crowned with the control over the kingdom, I am not being demoted. As Steward I still hold considerable power, such as accompanying you to Captain of the Elites’ autumnal summit, a power I believe you will be glad to see that I retain. Secondly I have every reason to believe you trust me to do your will although my ordination in the first place must confuse you,” then somber, “Jess. When you are endowed with the power to inquire after my ordination, I ask that you do not. I will never stop you from doing so of course, but know that I will be terribly embarrassed if you do.”

I find the boys watching the Battle of Antury again in the cellar near the ale and cider. Menelaus is beside them, hard at work chanting the spell to open a viewing portal into the past. Menelaus is a gifted clairvoyant for his age and has been essential in our military education, not that we have to be forced in our studies. We practically beg him to show us this battle and that battle from history, whichever fits our fancy at the time. He is named after the great king of the famed Trojan War after all, which war is honestly quite dull compared to Homer’s fictionalized recount. 

This week’s favorite is the Battle of Antury, a battle which started when the Elite and Superior avant garde stumbled upon one of our furthest outposts on the planet Antury a year or two before any of us were born. In the scuffle real weapons, tools of war they used to call guns, bombs and ships, were used by the alien forces whilst we used magic. By now Menelaus knows every part of the battle we prefer to see, for instance the first encounter at the academy is quite interesting because  it is a castle in orbit around Antury. When the gravity spell is lifted on the castle, not only does it begin to fall apart in space but the kids at the academy show how magic is superior to the alien weapons in space. It was this battle that set the precedent that kids like us could not only fight wars, but that I could be crowned king at fifteen years old. 

“Listen, I was wondering who could enlighten me on Pumpkin Head? Does that name sound familiar to you Geoff?” I interject.

Geoff, the tallest one of the bunch, not just in height as he has a thin frame and a long forehead, scratches his elbow, closes his eyes and then calls up a sickly green glow in between his hands. The glow fills the whole cellar and creates ripples of light on the cobblestone walls. Geoff is a seer. When I want to know something current or recent I can count on him to call it up for my review. In that way he is a necessary resource of information and we use him frequently for fulfilling our mental pursuits.

“He was in the Battle of Antury,” Geoff cracks a smile.

Menelaus scans the battle looking for him.

“No one with a pumpkin for a head,” he concedes.

“No, he wouldn’t have one yet,” Geoff responds.

A portrait of a fair, blue-eyed man appears before the green hue. The man breaks out in a hearty laugh. I like him already, I think.

“Found him!” Menelaus exclaims.

We watch as he shakes with the bolt and action of his gun, shooting into the mass of students shooting balls of purple, yellow and red. He tosses a bomb, his blue eyes so serious. It is still pleasant to stare into them. I whistle in admiration along with the boys.

“Although just a captain in their army, he readily accepted the use of magic and was named the Head of the Elites and now is one of the most powerful monarchs of the Universe,” Geoff spouts out, “He decided to wear a pumpkin on his head and ride a horse after reading about a headless horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an ancient story about magic in Pennsylvania. He hosts the autumnal summit on his home planet Origin every year. He likes radish covered dishes, especially on meats . . . ”​

I sit down for dinner at one end of table across from the Steward. The Earl sits on my left in the middle of the long table across from a roaring fire with a sizzling pig on a spit. The boys are invited at the master’s table tonight because the meal is so large, and because the harvest season is upon us. Once the harvest season is on, every night is a feast.

Victor appears in thin air from the shadows of the room and begins to dice the pig right off the spit onto large platters for each of us. He too is a ghost, but unlike Goeffries Victor died while he was still young from heart failure. His face is stern, but his portly belly says otherwise: he likes to please people with delectable vittles. 

“I can’t believe the resources they are producing on Antury these days! If you didn’t know this hog was ported from there because prices are becoming trifle expensive here earthside,” the Earl laughs.

When the platter lands before me and I can see the fat oozing from the bounteous chunk of pork on my plate, I am famished all of a sudden. The sweet aroma lets me know that the meat I am about to eat is soft and tender, I could eat it without cutting out bites. While the aroma is sweet, as soon as the meat crosses the threshold between the air before my nose and the inside of my mouth, a cascade of salt and savor floods my taste buds. 

The table is silent except for the sounds of consuming flesh and slurping juices. Certainly this is no table for women. Just as I reach out for a drink to quench my thirst, my hand is filled with a chalice of apple juice spritzed with cranberries. The tart bite of the juice is a perfect counter to the buttery, almost creamy, meat. 

While I chew on a sultry sweet potato pie with merengue, our dessert, I contemplate what my friends and family have planned for my birthday tomorrow.