The Very Strange Adventures of a Travelling Knight: Part 3 A Flower of War
Phillip landed with a clatter of metal in a meadow. At least, that was what he took it for a first. All round him were long, gently swaying grasses and multi-headed orange flowers being tended to by hovering insects. Some way away was a single, spindly tree. For the first few minutes after his arrival, he was more concerned that after being flung upwards through the door at terrifying speed, he had somehow landed on his feet, perfectly upright and unharmed. Whatever this new world was in which he had found himself, it worked to very different rules to the one he had left behind. He was not entirely surprised to see, a few feet away from him, a wooden trapdoor with a door handle laying completely flat among the grass. It was, of course, closed.
Looking around himself, the Red Knight realized that though this was indeed a meadow, it wasn’t outside. In the distance in front of him and to either side was a pale blue wall which reached up to a cloudless, white sky that must be a ceiling.
If this was a room, he thought, it was the biggest he had ever seen. Twenty times at least the size of the banqueting hall at the Castle, which he had always taken a pride in as a sign of his family’s good fortune. Still, he had already seen a giantess today. Huge people must need huge rooms, after all.
He suddenly felt the need to feel the air on his face. Quite how there could be a wind in a room he didn’t know, but all the plants around him were moving. In fact, since his arrival, they seemed to be working themselves into a frenzy so there must be quite a gale blowing.
Fresh air, thought Phillip. Fresh air will help clear my head so I can start to properly think things thing through at last. And so he reached up and raised the visor of his red metal helmet. Even under the circumstances he was disappointed that there was no-one around to admire his handsome face, his straight nose and much commented on dimples. The world expanded from the narrow slit he had been observing it through, filling his vision with colour. The dancing orange flowers really were incredibly beautiful he thought.
And the air was still. Not the slightest breath of wind touched his bare skin. So why was everything in the room moving?
The voice that came into his head was high pitched and hissing, the words sounding as though they were formed by a mouth without a throat.
Phillip looked around himself, even though he knew the words were inside his head not his ears. There was no-one. Just him and the meadow and the spindly tree. Was he going mad? He remembered the tales of Mad Sebastian at the Castle. He was rumoured to have talked to frogs and the rain. Was the same madness taking him now?
The voice again.
‘I said, come here!’
Nothing. And then.
‘And I happen to approve of talking to frogs!’
So not only was he hearing voices, the voices knew what he thought! This really didn’t bode well.
The Red Knight found himself looking at the tree. It was moving as frantically as the flowers. In fact, the more Phillip studied it, the more he realized that it didn’t look much like a tree. The trunk split into several smaller arms which rose to spherical heads. It was more like a flower. A weird, furiously gesturing flower. Could it be..?
‘Yes of course it could be! That’s me. Now come here. Let’s get this over with’
Deciding that the voice sounded impatient and that a plant wouldn’t have much of an eye for faces, Phillip lowered his visor. Once more he saw the world through a slit but at least he felt safer.
The room was even bigger than he’d thought and it took him ten minutes to reach the plant. As get got closer he realized the plant was at least twice his height. The heads at the top of it were huge, spherical white blooms. As he approached, the blooms turned in his direction.
How many heads does a talking plant need? He wondered. Today really was a day for questions that he had never thought to ask before.
He came to a halt and looked up.
‘I’m here then’
‘Well obviously, I have roots you know’
‘Is that how you can see?’ asked Phillip, pleased with himself for having worked something out. ‘Through your roots?’
‘And how is it that I can hear you speak?’
He could have sworn he caught something like laughter.
‘Magic’ it told him.
Ah well, magic. That made sense. There were often magicians at the Castle, keen to show off and be consulted. Phillip had sometimes thought that he should employ a magician to be his special counsel but had never quite worked out how to ask one.
He suddenly realized that everything around him had stopped. Except for the swaying heads of the plant, the room was still. It was not a comfortable stillness. It was like waiting for a storm to break.
‘Who sent you?’
‘Ah. Only she would dare. I value my solitude’
Phillip moved his head to look round. Yes, there were no other plants like this one. Didn’t flowers of the same type usually grow close together?
‘You’re all alone here?’ he asked. He was surprised to find himself feeling sorry for his strange companion. In the castle, Phillip had always been surrounded by people and he was so used to being popular that he took company for granted.
‘I am now. This room is all me. The flowers are part of me. The insects are my passing thoughts’
A sigh that somehow rippled every blade of grass.
‘It wasn’t always so. Once I stood with the rest of my kind in huge, silent clusters, drawing the water and the air to us, singing of the pollen we would scatter to the winds’
The white blooms twitched.
‘You say the giantess sent you?’
‘Yes. She said there was someone I had to see before meeting a lion. I suppose she must have meant you’
‘Then she must have meant me to show you. Let you see the world I escaped from when I came to the Library. Why I prefer to be alone with my thoughts’
And suddenly Phillip was somewhere else. Somewhere terrible. The ground was burning, the sky thick with black smoke. Men in rags ran through the smoke, ugly metal helmets attached to their heads, firing noise and flame from long metal sticks.
Men fell soundlessly and others took their place only to fall themselves. And Phillip realised that these were not just men but women and the old and the sick. Above him the sky shrieked and turned white and then red.
The smoke cleared and a line of plants like the one he had spoken to was revealed on a ravaged hillside. They were spraying a green fluid at the men and women before them. As it touched their skin, the ragged figures tumbled to the floor.
The sky burst again, louder this time and Phillip screamed with it…
…and he was back in the room, panting and terrified, tears running down his face. The plant was thrashing wildly from side to side, as though trying to pull itself up by the roots and run away from the memory.
The voice came into his mind once more.
‘Weapons! They turned us into weapons to use in their war!’
The same fluid that Phillip had seen in his vision was spraying from openings that had opened in the plant’s stem. A globule of it hit his helmet and he heard that mettle sizzle.
The Red Knight turned and ran. He wanted to go home. Back to the safety of the castle and the surroundings and people that he knew. He didn’t want adventures anymore. And though he felt terribly sorry for the plant, he didn’t want to know any more about the terrible world it had escaped from.
‘But perhaps I should try to help?’ a part of his mind thought.
It was too late though. Because Phillip had run much further than he thought. And he had forgotten about the trapdoor.
Because he was falling. Away from the room and its solitary inhabitant. Tumbling towards the red and white cheque floor that was racing up to smash the life from him.
Phillip closed his eyes.
Damian Mark Whittle