I could feel the icy tendrils of the sea rip into her viciously but I could not see it for the pitch blackness of the night. Aye, and the pitiful creaks and groans I heard from her tore my heart out. She had heroically brought me so far but there was still so far to go; for I could not rest until my thirst for the truth was slaked. My eyes stung from the spray as though a witches brew had been flung in my face. But I mustered on, oblivious of the pain, the doubt, the fear: was I not sane, did I begin a journey with no end, was I doomed to search until eternity for that which I knew to be the truth but could not find? My small vessel was not long for this world and I feared I would not last much beyond her. As she began to founder, sick from decay and torn apart by nature's fury, I squinted throught the pain and saw the shore- the shore of the Sea of Erie. There it was, finally, and there was the road that had been foretold to me so many eons ago- the road to my salvation, the Castle of Lord Axel, the one man who could save me from certain destruction. I heaved my weary bones out of my brave little ship, which had brought me so many leagues but was now destined to lie in the deep. My eyes misted for the torment of losing her but I knew I must trudge onward to see my lord. On and on I went through the gloom until the dawn beckoned. My stomach cried out for nourishment but I had none to offer, only that nourishment of knowledge that Lord Axel could provide at journey's end. The road was overgrown with hideous looking plants whose thorns were as sharp as the steely blade of Blackbeard himself. They ripped into my flesh unmercifully but those wounds would be my badge of honour- I would show my Lord Axel that I was a true disciple, worthy of his sage words. And then I saw it-the spectacular spires, the immense towers and the awesome drawbridge of the only castle it could possibly be- the castle of my lord, Axel of York. I ran down the path hurriedly, without regard to my safety. My feet were swollen, my head pounding, my clothes in rags. I had no thought, no feeling other than to hear the words of my hallowed Lord. I could see the workman on the scaffolding busily lime-washing the castle to protect it from the worst Old Man Winter would throw at it. I called up to them, "Please kind sirs, could you tell where your master is?" At first they ignored me and if the truth be said, I would have ignored myself too, for my clothing was indeed not better for anything save the rags the men used to clean up the mess they were making. But I persisted and finally one of them, a gruesome looking troll of a man with but a few yellowed teeth pointed at the manor house shouting, "now beggone knave, we have no time for the likes of thee!" He had pointed to the manor house just outside the castle near the two guard houses. It seemed like a castle to me, so huge and beautiful with a lovely garden surrounding it. I ran down the path thru the garden, filled with roses, lilacs and scores of other sweet smelling flowers for which I knew not their names. If not for the urgency of my mission, I could have stayed all day in that fervent place. I pounded on the door, my heart almost bursting with excitement and fear. I waited for what seemed like a fortnight before I heard it creaking and then it opened. "Please sir," I cried to the servant, his evil eyes staring daggers into my soul, "may I see m'lord?" He began to slam the door shut with disdain. I cried out again, "I beseech thee sir, tis urgent that I see my master..won't thee please let me in?" As I pleaded those final words, I heard a voice of calm and power, resoluteness and steely determination, kindness and warmth. "Trekker...I say Trekker, is that you?" I was giddy, jumping for joy, ignoring my wounds, my sorrow, my exhaustion. "Tis indeed, my Lord Axel!" I shouted happily. Lord Axel brought me to his library where we sat in front of the welcoming fireplace. And what a fireplace it was-at least the length of the largest banquet table I had ever seen and so hot and crackling that I felt as though the entire countryside could be warmed by it. The room itself seemed to have a collection of books to rival the great library of Alexandria. There were frescoes on the walls of famous battles in which my lord's ancestors played an important role, such as the Battle of Hastings and a glorious coat-of-arms that words alone could never describe. It was indeed a place fit for a lord and I was proud to serve him. "You have come to hear my tale?" Lord Axel asked as he sat down. "Yes, m'lord, "please, may I hear it?" I replied anxiously. His smile upon greeting me turned to a frown-I knew not why. Just then the servant brought in fresh clothes for me to don and an assortment of meats and cheeses to fill my famished stomach. "Eat," my lord commanded, " for thine journey may be such ye may not have another meal for quite a time." "And I shall tell you my tale." A shadow crossed Lord Axel's features as he began to speak. he stared off into the distance and drew what seemed like his last breath. "Mine is a tale of hurt and disappointment, mu dear Trekker." He slowly turned toward me and I felt such a rush of sympathy such as which I have never felt befroe. "Emperor Vot and I were the closest of siblings. We were inseparable and it did't matter who was heir to the throne. We were as one." Axel slumped back into his chair. "And then she came into my life. Would that I could reverse the tides of time and never experienced the ecsatasy that her passion brought me and the heartbreak that followed." My lord shook his head sadly. "I remember the very first time, the very first moment that I saw that ravishing creature. She was a goddess, a true Venus come to life. I shall never see one such as her again as long as I shall live. Lord Axel rose from his chair and with painful slowness walked to the window to stare out over his domain. "It was at the celebration of the summer solstice," he began, "She wore a stunning gown, revealing yet concealing as well. Red it was, aye, and such a shimmering figure that all heads turned in her direction." Lord Axel smiled through misty eyes. "An angel she was, Trekker, an angel in red. And I was so gallant that night," he went on, "we danced the night away, just the two of us. It was as though no one else existed. We looked into each other's eyes and saw only the moment," Lord Axel sighed, "being swept away by the moment." He looked exhausted as he turned and slumped back into his chair. Trembling, I searched his face and asked, "Her name, my Lord... what was her name?" "She was a countess," he replied, staring through the floor, "the Countess RedRose." Tears came to my eyes as I heard him utter my beloved sister's name. Was she alive? Was she here now? What had happened? I had so many questions! Dear God, I must know! But my lord raised his hand to silence me. "All in good time, dear Trekker. I have not yet finished my tale." "That night was one that dreams are made of, my friend," and he smiled, "It was a night of ecstasy beyond what you could ever imagine. She was a feisty one, she was and nothing was too much for her to handle. She exhausted even me, she did, and when we were spent, she wanted more." I began to feel unesasy. Listening to my sister's exploits was not to my liking. I needed to know where she was and when I could see her! Bu he rambled on, with yet another surprise. "And nine months later, a miracle was born, "he recalled wistfully, " our daughter, Lady Belvedere. What a most beautiful child she was. A goddess produced by a goddess." I was stunned. I knew not of another child. Which brought up another question: where was the Lady now? But I couold not interrupt Lord Axel. He continued, sometimes masterfully, sometimes incoherently about his life. "Do you know what Emperor Vot thinks of me now?" he asked me. "He doesn't," Lord Axel laughed bitterly. He raised himself and slowly walked to his huge shelves of books, opening one. I don't exist anymore. He banished me to this guilded cage. And do you know why?" he comtinued, not waiting for my answer. "Beacause of my love for Countess RedRose. He wanted her too, you see, but she refused him time after time. So he turned against me and here I stay." My lord breathed deeply and shook his head. He gently replaced the old, crumbling volume on the shelf. "But where is my sister, my daughter," I cried, "surely you must know." Lord Axel had regained his composure and once again seemed the tower of strength I had come to admire. "You have a long journey ahead of you," he said, "You must go to the Maple Leaf Palace for your answers." "My daughter and sister are there?" I asked. "Go," he commanded, "many more questions must be asked before your journey ends. I have done all that I can."