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Story 1

Lou Antonelli


Lou Antonelli is an amazingly prolific and talented Texas science fiction writer.

Lou got a late start in his fiction writing career; his first story was published when he was 46 years old in June, 2003. His first professional sale was A Rocket for the Republic, published in Asimov's Science Fiction in September 2005.

He is currently the managing editor of the Clarksville (Tx.) Times.

As of November 2014 he had 89 short stories published either in print or on-line. He is an Active Member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and Secretary of the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling (SASS).

His Texas-themed reprint collection Fantastic Texas was published in 2009 and another collection, Texas & Other Planets, was published by the Merry Blacksmith Press in 2010. Yard Dog Press in 2011 published his chapbook collection of four collaboration stories with Portland, Oregon-based author Ed Morris, Music for Four Hands. His latest collection is The Clock Struck None, published in 2014.

Lou is a frequent contributor to 4 Star Stories, a trend that shows no sign of abating.

"This story is a little different from my usual. I hope you like it."
-- Lou Antonelli

In The Grove of Curiosities we have a tale of a want-to-be Squire who, equipped only with his wits and sense of honor, embarks on a quest that may cost him his life.






By Lou Antonelli


There was a time between the grandeur of Rome and the knowledge of the Renaissance when kingdoms were ruled by faith--and sometimes holy magic.

It was in one of these kingdoms that the three First Men of the King gathered in the Great Hall to hear the petition of a poor youth.  "You have neither lineage nor family nor gold," said the King's Trusted Counsel.  "You should not even become an apprentice squire."

“You have ambition for one naught but a shepherd,” said The Elder.

"Yet there are ways that the enterprising may enter the service of the King," said the Wise Man.  "There is a certain trial that may be availed of, but it is difficult and deadly," the Wise Man said.

The young man sucked in his breath.  "Yes," said The Elder.  "To try that you are truly worthy.”

The three men looked down at the young man, who looked both worried and determined.

The young man paused and looked at them steadily. "And yet?"

The Elder leaned towards the Wise Man.  "The young man shakes but holds his ground.  He would make a good Knight, if he passes the trial."

The King's Trusted Counsel arose.  "We have previously discussed your petition amongst ourselves," he said.  "We feel that despite your low station in life you might be made of the true stuff that Knights are made of."

"There is a grove you should walk in," said The Elder.  "It is enchanted and within it are the tests you should meet to prove your worthiness.”

"There are four tests within, and you should pass all of them to reach your goal," said the Wise Man.  "And become a Knight in training.  But should you fail, you will die."

The King’s Wise Counsel looked at the young man.  "Do you accept?"

The young man thought hard and clenched his fists by his side. "Yes, I understand I must prove myself to become even a squire," he said. "Give me this trial, and with my own hands and by the grace of God I will prove myself worthy."

The Elder rose from his chair.  "Come with me then," he said.  "And I will take you to there.”


In all the years he had wandered the countryside as a youth, he never knew what lay behind these walls on the outskirts of the castle.  He had heard passing comments over the years from adults who said what lay inside was older than the kingdom and went back to the days of Rome and the dead gods.

No one knew what lay within, except that it was called The Grove of Curiosities.

As they walked up to the wall The Elder reached deep into his purse and pulled out a heavy and rusted key. He drew aside some shrubbery, exposing a heavy, wooden door.

In all the years he had passed this way the young man had no inkling there was a door there.

The elder took the key and turned it slowly and heavily in the lock. “You will have neither sword nor dagger,” he said. “For you are not a Knight.”

“I understand,” said the young man.  There was a loud "clack" and the door went ajar.

He gestured for the young man to step forward. “This is the entrance to the Garden of Curiosities you heard about," he said.  "Inside you will find the tests that will test thy fitness to enter into the service of the King and become a true Knight of the realm," he said.

The young man peered, but could not see inside.

"Today you will be true or false, said The Elder.  “If by sunset you do not come we will know that you have failed.  “We will bury you with the bones of your family.”

"I thank you," said the young man. "I will be true to my task."

"Now enter, then, and may God be with you."

The Elder bolted the door behind the young man. A profusion of well-attended blooms greeted him at the start of the path.  Across the flower garden the grove began.  The young man put his hand on his belt, tucked his hat in the small of his back, and started.

As he walked along he soon came upon a statue of a Knight holding a sword aloft upright hanging between the fingers of his outstretched arm. The young man saw that it was a real sword and not part of the statue. He looked around to see what else he should take notice of and saw at the foot of the statue what appeared to be the stone figure of a dead cat.

He looked back at the statue and was spellbound by the beauty of the sword. He peered and he noticed what seemed to be an inscription on the hilt. He raised himself up and lifted the sword up from between the fingers of the outstretched hand of the Knight’s statue.  He took the sword down and held it by its full length looking at the inscription. Before he had an opportunity to make it out, he heard a sound behind him.

He turned and saw the living image of the statue standing before him in plate and mail, as if alive and breathing. The warrior’s eyes flashed as he drew his sword.

The young man still held the sword in his hands.  The blood rushed to his head and his first thought was to raise the sword.

He thought again, and remembered he was not a Knight and not true to wield such a sword. Then he looked down at the figure of the dead cat at the foot of the statue.

"I should not have taken this," he thought. He half turned and -- still keeping an eye on the living knight – he hung the sword back on the hand of the statute.

The knight vanished with not even so much as a puff of dust.

The young man knew his first trial was passed.

He continued along and deeper into the grove, and after some time he came upon another statue. It looked as if it had been taken from the wall of a heathen temple. A voluptuous figure of a pagan goddess rested up against a tall, rectangular slab.

It was obviously an idol of lust, and the young man could not take his eyes from the curves and smoothness of the figure. In a moment he realized two tawny arms covered with tinkling jewelry were entwining themselves about his neck.

A sweet voice whispered in his ear. "Come and lie with me," said the Goddess. "And you will know pleasures unknown to man since the gates of Eden closed behind Adam and Eve."

He turned around and backed off from her clutches, bumping into the base of the statue.

She advanced on him. "You can still complete your journey," she said. "You have yet time, so lie with me a while."

He looked at her and realized that once joined he would never leave her side.

Now not only did the blood rush to his head, but his body ached. He threw his hands up and stopped his ears. Then he realized he must stop the vision of her.

He looked away from her and towards the path, and then turning his body in that direction, closed his eyes and ran blindly away.

He stopped when he tripped over the root of a tree close by the path.  He got to his knees and looked back.  He saw neither the statue nor the pagan goddess.

"Now, that was surely a test," he said.

He rose to his feet and continued on. After a longer time he came to a low plinth and upon it sat a large marble chest.  He saw the metal lid had a simple latch and he opened it.

It was full of gold coins.

The chest was engraved with the figures of peacocks and eagles. He realized that they seemed to be singing to him, a sweet,0-pp-[=[ soft song.

"Come take a few and put them in your pocket, who would know and none can tell."

His gaze ran across the pile of gold.  There was more gold in the first layer atop the pile then he'd ever hope to see his lifetime. Surely he could take a few pieces and continue on his way.

His eyes narrowed, but then he thought.

"Surely this is the simplest test of all," he said to himself.

He reached in, took a handful of the gold coins and flung them down.

They landed on their sides and rolled off like cartwheels in different directions as they disappeared into the grove, falling into holes and under roots.  The young man laughed.  "This is a lesson anyone can understand," he said.  "Such is the fleeting of the riches of the world."

He continued down the path.  This time nothing came into view for what seemed like hours, and he had opportunity to think about what lessons he had learned.

The first he thought was the lesson of knowledge -- not to seek knowledge needlessly or foolishly. For indeed, curiosity had killed the cat.

The second was to remind himself not to be distracted by the pleasures of the flesh, no matter how alluring. The third was not to be distracted by the lust for wealth, the most common sin of all, for even the ignorant and impotent may yet be greedy.

He began to wonder now about what trial would await him at the end of the path.

The sun was almost set by the time the grove opened and there in a small clearing he saw the figures of his mother and father and younger sister –- who had all died of the plague some years ago –- gathered around a fire. He gasped and rushed forward.

As he did, he saw a Knight -- the same knight had confronted him at the first statue -- advancing towards them from the other direction.

Then he also saw a pagan goddess. She looked like the goddess of lust he had seen earlier, but this time she appeared as the Goddess of Death and had six arms, all brandishing swords.

He saw they meant to strike down his family.

He rushed forward and clasped his mother to see if she was real. "My son," she said. "Where have you been?"

She was as warm and solid as he remembered as a child. The Goddess of Death raised a sword.

He blocked the blow with his forearm and his hand flew off.  Another five swords came down and mortally wounded him. He fell to the ground and his blood rushed across dark, green grass.

"So this is death," he thought. "And yet I am content."


 When he awoke he saw he was in the castle and the three First Men of the King stood by his bed. He raised his head on his pillow.

"Am I not dead?"

"No, you were as dead, but you are yet alive now," said the King's Wise Counsel.

The young man looked at The Elder and the Wise Man. "You said should I fail my trial I would die."

"You did not fail," said The Elder. "You triumphed."

The Wise Man took the young man by his shoulders and helped him sit up.

“You easily passed the first three tests,” said The Elder. “In the first, you learned not to seek woe.  In the second, you learned that sometimes woe seeks you.  In the third, you learned that sometimes you must cast away woe.”

“But I failed my last test. I had neither sword nor patience, and foolishly tried to stop death from taking those who were already dead."

"Those whom you love are never truly dead so long as they live in your heart," said The Elder. "Although you know in your mind they are dead, they are alive to you in your heart, which proves your heart is good.”

"Although you know no book, you proved yourself wise and of sound mind by easily passing the first three trials," said the King's Wise Counsel. "With the last test, you proved your heart."

“You showed by trying to save them that you know that there are some things worth dying for," said The Elder, as he handed the young man a sword in its scabbard, “and some fights are gladly joined -- even when there is no hope of worldly reward.”

The Wise Man handed him a belt, and then the King's Wise Counsel stepped forward and gave him a clean tunic. "It is true," he said, "that you will not be a squire."

The young man looked at them in wonder.

"Then I should be a knight?" he asked.

All three men nodded.

The Elder reached into his purse and pulled out the key to the door of the Grove of Curiosities. "You have now become the gatekeeper," he said. "It is in your trust.  Now when we sit in council and judge the petition of one such as you, you will be the one to take them to the door."

He pressed the key into the young Knight’s hand. "For I was as young as you are when I passed the same test many years ago."

The young knight asked "Am I the first in that many years to walk in the Grove of Curiosities?"

"No, my son," said the King's Wise Counsel. "But you are the first in those many years to pass the test."

The knight and the three lords went forth together in the service of the King.

-The End-



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