“Where good people cower in fear,
Whenever evil dares to come near,
My shield will protect the innocent.
I will prevail with sword, shield, and spear.
“I am here to be a beacon of Light
Piercing the darkness of night.
I am Jack of the Lantern,
And evil falls by my righteous might.”
Jack knelt in front of King Anthalius, and spoke those words. The king tapped his greatsword on each of Jack’s shoulders, and said, “Then rise, Sir Jack of the Lantern, and be welcomed into our company of knights, so that all may know you by your courage, honor, and good deeds.”
The knights cheered as Jack rose to his feet. The king clasped him on his shoulder, and then brought him into a hug of brotherly love. Several other knights did the same, and the hall was filled with laughter and good cheer. Food was brought in, and the knights sat down to enjoy a fine meal together.
Sir Titus raised his glass, and shouted over the noise. “To Sir Jack! Loyal subject to the crown, steadfast defender of truth and righteousness, and protector of the innocent! May we all learn and live by his example, and may he always be worthy of our admiration!”
The hall erupted in cheers again, and there was much good-spirited laughter when they all saw Jack blushing.
“Come now, Sir Jack,” said Sir Boris of the Bear. “This is no place for modesty or shame. We are all equals here. We are brothers in arms, and it is in this hall, amongst ourselves, where we may freely boast of our deeds and entertain each other with stories of valor and might!”
Another round of cheers went up, and then Sir Lionel spoke. “Yes, indeed! So tell us, Sir Jack of the Lantern…in this hall, we have seen many symbols of heraldry. We have seen shields decorated with eagles and gryphons, lions and tigers, dragons and bears, and even a hydra once upon a time. We have seen swords radiating holy light painted on shields, and angel wings preparing for flight. I don’t think any of us have ever seen so humble a symbol as a simple lantern, though. Tell us, Sir Jack, how did you earn such a symbol?”
After yet another chorus of cheers, Jack took a deep drink from his goblet, cleared his throat, and began to speak.
“Ha! Well, I’ve always been known as Jack of the Lantern. I was born in a small town, not much more than a village, really, but we had more money than most villages, on count of us sitting near some old ruins. Adventurers were always coming from all over to explore those ruins, and they always had plenty of coin to spend, so our little village grew prosperous by selling things they needed to go down there and find their treasures.
“My parents died when I was a young boy, not yet six years of age. I wasn’t about to let myself get shipped off to an orphanage, so I figured I should start earning money pretty quick. Like everyone else in town, I saw the never-ending stream of adventurers as my meal ticket.
“Now, as everyone here knows, heroes like to adventure with a sword in one hand, and a shield in the other. That doesn’t leave any room for holding a torch, so I started offering to carry a lantern for them while they were down there.
“Well, it turned out to be a pretty popular idea, and it wasn’t long before people would come into town and ask for ‘Jack of the Lantern’ by name. I got a reputation for being a brave and steady-handed lad, and that reputation meant I started getting hired by more and more experienced adventurers, and I started going on quests farther and farther away from my home.
“When I was about twelve summers old, I was with this group exploring a dungeon about three days’ ride from my home. When we exited the dungeon, I saw Alo the Warlord leading his horde of ruthless goblins down a set of hills, just at the horizon. I could tell they were heading straight towards my home village.
“It was starting to get dark. I had to light my way, but I couldn’t risk letting Alo or his goblins see my lantern in the dark. As luck would have it, there was a turnip patch right next to the dungeon’s exit. I cut a hoie in the top of a turnip, and scooped out all the gunk inside. I put my lantern in there, and sure enough, it glowed just enough for me to see, but not enough to be seen at any distance. I hung the turnip around my pony’s neck, and raced towards town.
“I raced all through the night, and when my pony got tired, I walked it until he could run again. One night, one day, and all through the next night, I kept my lantern burning in that turnip. We arrived just before dawn on the second day. As I raced into town, I heard Gryff, the old town guard, let out a shout of fright. Figuring that Alo must have caught up to me, I wheeled around, but there was no one else on the road. I got down off of my pony, and walked over to Gryff.
“Gryff! What’s all the shouting for? Did you see Alo the Warlord behind me?”
“Oh. Jack. You scared the life out of me! That lantern, bouncing on that pony’s neck, I thought it was some fire demon or ghost coming to get me! What’s it in? A turnip? Why on Erdael do you have a lantern in a turnip, my boy? Wait. What’s this about Alo the Warlord?”
“He’s hot on my tail, no more than three days’ out! We’ve got to warn everyone!”
“Well, we got everyone together, but we realized that with so large a group, we couldn’t hope to outrun the goblin horde. The way I had scared poor old Gryff had given me an idea, though. I explained it to the town people, and we set out to make it happen.
“We went out into the fields and gathered all the pumpkins and turnips we could find. We cut the tops off, and scooped out all the gunk inside. Then we carved all manner of scary faces into the sides, and put lanterns in them. Then we put them on scarecrows in the field, on broomsticks, in windows, and just about everywhere else we could think of. With just a few hours’ work, it looked like our town was being overrun by fire demons. To complete the effect, we hung our sheets out, so they looked like ghosts fluttering in the wind. We lit some small fires, and sat some cauldrons on them, which we filled with apples, cider, and spices. It smelled wonderful, but from a distance, it seemed like witches were about. Once we had the stage set, we all took up hiding places around town.
“Now, Alo the Warlord had a reputation for being superstitious, and thankfully, it turned out to be true. It was just past dusk when he appeared in the distance. We all started wailing and moaning from our hiding places, and some brave people started moving the pumpkins around, making it look like the demons were dancing in the dark.
“It must have fooled Alo, because he turned that horde right around, and he never came back. After we were sure he was gone, we all came out from hiding, and had a good laugh. The mayor congratulated me on putting together such a clever plan, and then he decreed that since that was such a good trick, we all deserved a treat.
“We had a great feast out in the town center. We danced, played games, and the children all ran around pretending to be ghosts and goblins. They would come up to one of us, and we would offer them a small piece of candy or a little toy to keep them from scaring us. It was so much fun that we started doing it every year.
“I was only twelve, as I have said, but everyone considered me to be an adult since it was my plan that had saved the town. I started having adventures of my own, and grew into the man you see before you now.
“But no matter how far I go, or how many good deeds I accomplish, I never forget my home town, and how we scared off a deadly warlord with humble lanterns and pumpkins.”
King Anthalius stood up. “Well said, Jack of the Lantern! Well said, and well done! The fiend Alo had long been a thorn in my kingdom. Truthfully, I had sent many of my knights, and even my armies after him, but we were never able to capture him or stop his horrendous raids on my people. I always wondered why he suddenly stopped, and never came back. Now, I know that I have you to thank! From this day forward, all towns and villages in my kingdom will celebrate this victory!”
And so it came to pass, one night of every year was celebrated as Alo’s End, or Alo’een. On this night, children went from door to door, threatening to trick people who didn’t give them a treat. Adults stirred apple cider in big cauldrons, and carved scary faces into turnips and pumpkins. Everyone came together and told ghost stories long into the night to scare away Alo and his horde of goblins.