Long ago, danger always came to the people in Great Park who were the most brave and to the places that were the most beautiful. Men and women were never what they seemed to be, for magic and mystery and wonder were always possible. But that is not so different from the way things are today.
Not long after the boy, Hero, came to Great Park, he went exploring. He walked down across some craggy hills toward the Duck Pond, past Great Park Gardens and Mercie’s Vineyards, then around the shores of Lake Marmo. He skirted the edge of Deepest Forest to faraway Outpost Meadow. Sitting beside Singing Swamp, he opened the lunch of cheese and bread Caretaker’s wife had prepared for him. Finally, at midday, he sought the cool shadows of Wildflower Woods.
For the first time in his life, Hero felt content and protected. No Burners chased him. No flames threatened. He did not know who ruled this place, but it was certainly better than Enchanted City.
Suddenly, the sound of laughter surprised him. Following the sound, he discovered a girl sitting upon a stump, with flowers between her bare toes. She was braiding her long, blonde hair. She stopped, arched her arm, and a butterfly alighted on her finger.
She turned at the sound of his coming. At her look, Hero covered his face with his hand. For one moment he had forgotten his terrible scar.
“I woke up late,” she said, not surprised to see him. Blowing the butterfly aloft, she continued pulling one flower
after another from between her toes, weaving them into the braid. “Welcome to the Kingdom,” she said with a smile.
“The Kingdom?” Hero echoed. Everyone knew there was no such thing. Then he stopped; of course, the girl must be pretending. He could play along. “Oh, I suppose your father is the King.”
“Oh, no,” she answered. “The King is my older brother, as he is a brother to all.” [Click LISTEN to hear The Faithless Ranger]