“Well, when I was lined up against Geno on the power play, do you know what he said?”
“I’m guessing it was about your hair?”
“Smitty, he said, ‘Oh, Nealer, out west too dry, your hair look terrible,’ so I said-”
“James, if you say another word about your hair, so help me, I won’t tell you this story.”
“Okay, okay, I’m shutting up, please tell me before I say something dumb.”
“Alright, fine. Tonight, I’m going to tell you the story of Vadim and the Magic Puck…”
Long ago, in one of the richest and most expansive kingdoms in America, lived a hockey player named Vadim. But he was poor, and living in the desert meant few opportunities for him to skate, so he was, by and large, considered a layabout, and a disappointment to his family.
As he had very little money, and very little prospect of making much more, however, he was considered absolutely perfect by one man. This was a magician of New York, and he was known to all as “the Commissioner.”
So it was that the Commissioner approached Vadim with a proposition, pretending to be the man’s old and long-lost uncle. “There is a cave, outside the city, and one small thing in it that I desire. But I’m too old for climbing around like that, which is why I need you. As a reward, of course, you can take anything else you like, after you bring it to me.”
“And the thing you need is…?”
“Just an old puck. It belonged to my grandfather, so it’s something of a keepsake,” the Commissioner replied.
When they arrived at the cave, it appeared to be not a cave but a normal hillside. But the Commissioner walked Vadim through an intricate pattern of knocks, and the hill split open with a groan and a screech, revealing a set of rough stone stairs leading down into the dark. Vadim was about to take them when the Commissioner stopped him.
“Take this,” he said, handing Vadim a hockey stick. “It will protect you from coming to harm.”
Vadim did not like the idea that there might be things in the cave that could harm him, but he believed in the protection of the stick the Commissioner had given him. So he thanked the Commissioner, and went down into the cave without further discussion.
The cave was full of many beautiful things, and fine hockey gear, and Vadim lost himself momentarily finding the best of everything with which to dress himself to play in. But when he had tied a pair of skates around his neck and filled them with all the precious gems they would hold, he remembered the reason he was in the cavern, and took himself to the plinth that held the puck the Commissioner desired.
But when he mounted the stairs again, he hit a snag.
“Throw the puck up to me, and I’ll help you up,” the Commissioner called.
“It’s in my pocket, no need to worry it’ll get in the way,” Vadim shouted back, but the Commissioner insisted. When Vadim continued to refuse, the Commissioner grew angry, and, stepping back, called out the magic words that would close the cave.
“Quebec City,” he cried, and, with a rumble, Vadim was trapped in the dark.
Now, in his anger, the Commissioner had forgotten all about the magic stick he had given Vadim. Vadim, too, forgot about it. He lost his grip on it, and it slipped through his fingers…
“What dost thou ask? For I am Picks, the genie of the stick, and your wish is my command.”
Vadim was not stunned into silence, for in his despair he had not hoped to escape death, and therefore any means of delivery could not frighten him. He said, immediately, “Then take me home at once,” and it was done.
After breaking his lengthy fast, Vadim began to study the puck, to see if he could find out why the Commissioner had wanted it. After all, if he had lied to Vadim about being his uncle, what else might he have lied about? But the puck was very dusty, and it was difficult to see if there were any markings on it, so Vadim tried to rub off the dust…
“What dost thou ask? For I am Flower, the genie of the puck, and your wish is my command.”
This was much more alarming than the first time, for Flower was taller than Picks, and Vadim in a much more normal frame of mind, but it took only a short time for him to recover. “I’d like some more rink time,” he said, and in a flash he was in the rink.
Now, this would have gone unnoticed but for the fact that it was already occupied by the prince and some of his servants. Though they did not see the suddenness of his arrival, they could not help but notice the addition of a stranger to their party.
“Who are you?” Prince Reid asked.
Vadim thought fast, and since he was attired in the gold-embroidered gear from the cave of treasures, he felt reasonably safe with a tiny lie. “Prince Vadim, of Vologda,” he responded, and bowed a bow as elabourate as he could invent on short notice.
On hearing the interloper was of royalty, the prince’s retinue relaxed, and the two of them spent the afternoon in glorious play.
Of course, when Prince Reid went home, he mentioned the visitor to his father, King Jonathan. The king was very interested, for the prince had not taken well to any of his suitors, and if this Prince Vadim was free, he saw no reason to oppose the match. But though he searched all the best hotels in the area, a Prince Vadim was not in residence at any of them.
When the prince visited the rink the following day, however, Vadim was there again. At the end of the day, the prince caught his hand on the way out.
“Where can I find you again?” he asked.
Vadim smiled. “I’m building my own rink across from your father’s palace. It’ll be done in the morning.”
When Prince Reid reported this conversation to his father, however, the king only sighed.
“It’s clearly a con, Reid,” he said. “There’s nothing in the field across from the palace, and no way to build anything so large as a rink overnight.”
But in the morning, a rink there was, gold leaf embellishments gleaming in the morning sunlight, and Prince Reid ran to it as soon as he ever saw it. There he saw Vadim, and the two embraced. When they parted, the king was standing before them, one eyebrow raised.
Vadim bowed. “Your most gracious and glorious majesty.”
“You must be the Prince Vadim who has so enraptured my son.”
“Indeed, your majesty? I must confess that the feeling is mutual.”
Prince Reid blushed, and said nothing, but took Vadim’s hand.
The wedding was celebrated that day, and the two of them spent a great deal of time in the beautiful rink, with the old puck kept in a place of honour in one of the high turrets. One morning, however, when Vadim was out on a walk, a man came by trading new pucks for old.
Prince Reid was amused by this, and wished to see if the man would really follow through on his odd idea, so he went and fetched down the old puck from the turret, and the man did indeed trade him for a new one.
As soon as the prince was back inside the palatial rink, the Commissioner rubbed the puck, and commanded the genie to transport it and all its contents to his distant home of New York. Silently, it disappeared, and he followed swiftly after.
When Vadim returned, he was horrified to find the rink and his husband gone, and nearly fell into despair. Fortunately, though, he had taken the magic stick on his walk, and as he fell to his knees, it slid through his hands.
“What dost thou ask?” Picks demanded.
“Bring back my rink, and all its contents, please.”
“That I cannot do, for Flower is more powerful than I. All I can do is transport thee there, that you may look upon it once more.”
“Then please do that,” Vadim entreated, and Picks did.
When Prince Reid saw Vadim appear, he called quietly out the window to him, and the two wept at their reuniting.
“He wants me to have dinner with him, and then skate for him. I keep putting him off, but Vadim, I don’t know what to do!”
“I have an idea,” Vadim said, and the two of them planned well what actions Prince Reid would carry out.
When the Commissioner returned, the prince was the soul of solicitousness, inviting him to eat, apologizing for his previous aloofness. The Commissioner was easily deceived by this, and partook merrily of the feast, at last quaffing great quantities of wine. Then he fell back, stone dead, for the wine had been poisoned at the hands of the happy couple.
Vadim entered, then, and took the magic puck from the Commissioner’s pocket, asking that Flower return the rink to its rightful place. Immediately upon their arrival, the king barged in, eager to see that his son was fine, and the two embraced heartily.
“Father, none of this was Vadim’s fault. I cannot give you all the details, but rest assured that the blame lies with me, and do not punish him for my abrupt disappearance.”
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” the king said.
And there was much rejoicing in the kingdom of Vegas, and all lived well and happily for many years thereafter.
“That’s it? I expected more swordfights, and action, and a hot swashbuckling guy with a ginger beard and great hair-”
“James, what did I tell you?”
“Okay, sorry. I loved the story, Smitty, really. Even if you didn’t put my hair in it.”
“James, if you never say anything about your hair again it’ll be too soon. I can’t stand it.”
“Really? That’s not what you said about it last night. ‘Oh, Nealer, how do you get it so soft? I just want to stroke-’”
“...If you shut up about it now, maybe you can make me say it again.”
“Now that sounds like a good story.”