The Very Strange Adventures of a Travelling Knight: Part 4 – The Words of a Lion
And so Phillip plummeted downwards, spinning head over feet and back again and wondering if his armour would protect him from the fall. He knew that it would not. It surprised him that worse than the fear of approachinh death was the feeling of regret. He had set out this morning with such high hopes: Adventure, romance, glory. And now here he was, just a few hours later, about to meet to his end in an inexplicable world that was somehow contained in a tree. All on the say so of a goblin who had lost a book. It wasn’t fair. This wasn’t how his story was supposed to be.
It occurred to him that he had now been falling for a very, very long time. Surely he should have hit the ground by now? He should be laying in little pieces, not looking back over the misfortunes of the day.
He opened his eyes. Through the slit of his helmet – the line distorted at one end now by the strange liquid sprayed by the flower – he saw not the red and white floor, but one of the white columns that reached up to the dome of the ceiling he was falling from. The column was getting closer. He could make out the wooden doors that ran up and down it. One of them was opening.
I’m falling sideways, he thought. God help me, I’m falling sideways!
He was very close to the door now. It was wide open. Beyond, he could make out a long corridor, lined on both sides with wooden shelves.
Whatever force was propelling him carried the Red Knight through the door and slammed it shut behind him. Phillip landed on the floor, a heap of metal and, he suspected, suddenly forming bruises. Can I not go five minutes today he wondered, without falling through, off or onto something?
Strong hands took him under the arms and raised him gently and carefully to his feet. Phillip found himself looking up once more into the face of the blue giantess.
‘So’ she said, sounding amused. ‘Our hero returns from his first adventure. Did you manage to speak to the flower? Did it show you the world it came from?
Still winded from his abrubt landing, Phillip was unable to reply straight away. Instead he looked around at the new place where he now found himself. The corridor stretched far into the distance. He could see a tiny arched doorway at the end, leading who knew where. The shelves to either side of him were crammed full of books. Many of them seemed to be very old, the volumes pressed close together to stop them from falling apart. Beneath his feet, the floor was covered by a green rug, woven with a pattern of leaves and branches. Phillip’s father had a library – mostly to impress visitors – but it was a small affair, nothing like this.
‘Well, did you speak to the flower or not?’ prompted the giantess. She sounded impatient now. He had the feeling that she was not the sort of enormous woman to be trifled with.
‘Yes’ he told her. ‘It showed me where it came from’
‘It was horrible’
The giantess nodded.
‘The war. And that is not even the worse of the problems facing the world. There is much more that is even more terrible’
Her words shocked him. The old and the sick and the weak being forced to fight and die. What could be worse than that?
‘Where was that place?’ he asked. He hoped it was some land faraway, from which news would rarely be received.
She smiled kindly at him. It was a smile that made Phillip’s heart swell.
‘I’m sorry. I forget sometimes how much there is still for you to discover and understand. What you saw is the world. Not part of the world but all of it. But many, many years after your own’
‘How many years?’ he asked.
‘How old is you father?’
‘Forty-eight. No wait, forty-nine. He’s ancient’
‘Several hundred times your father’s age. And then a little more’
His mind struggled to grasp her meaning.
‘So what I’ve seen is something that’s not happened yet?’
She nodded. Phillip remembered the fortune tellers that came to court at festivals and on important birthdays. They always had predictions for the future that seemed sensible and comforting. But then, he thought, they’d never thought to warn him about any of this so they had turned out to be completely useless.
‘Come’ said the giantess. ‘There is still a great deal ahead of you’
She began to walk down the book lined corridor. Phillip did his best to keep up with her, despite the weight of his armour and her huge strides. If she had ever competed in the castle games, he thought, she would have won every contest hands down. He rather liked to imagine that.
‘So what is this place?’ he asked her.
‘The Library’ she told him and he knew from the way that she said it that the ‘L’ in the word was not only a capital but an ornately decorated, golden one.
‘Not just this corridor though’ he said. ‘The whole place. All of it. What is it?’
‘The Library’ she repeated. ‘All of it is the Library’
‘A library inside a tree?’
‘And outside of time’
‘How is…?’ he began and then stopped.
Because a man had appeared in the corridor and was walking quickly towards them. For a moment, the sheer ordinariness of the man was the most astonishing thing about him. He wasn’t a goblin or a giant or a talking flower. He was young man, about Phillip’s age, with long, rather unruly blonde hair that reminded him of his own – naturally more luxuriant – long flowing locks.
But as the figure drew nearer, Phillip began to notice the strangeness. His clothes were made of a well-woven but rather stiff black fabric. Two long, narrow tails hung from the back of his coat as though he were pretending to be some sort of animal. He wore a hat that looked like the top of black chimney, surrounded at the bottom by a broad brim. His white shirt was an explosion of frills on his chest.
The oddest thing of all was that he seemed to be made of glass. Phillip could see through the front of him into a hollow middle and he could just make out the shape of his back on the other side. And yet the surface was somehow finer even than glass. It was a bubble.
A man shaped bubble.
Phillip glanced up at the giantess. She didn’t seem surprised at all.
‘Hello’ she said to the approaching figure.
The man kept coming. His see-through face was creased into a frown. Something was worrying him. Phillip wondered if he was angry at them for coming here.
Suddenly the bubble-glass man spoke. His voice was rather high-pitched and sounded like that of an especially spoilt young lord.
‘Oh they still haven’t solved it’ he said. ‘All this time and they still don’t who killed me. They still don’t know if I’m dead or not. I wish I had some humbugs to take my mind of things’
And with that he was gone. Vanished.
Phillip came to a definite stop. If this place was haunted he wanted to know who by. The spirits of the dead were not to be taken lightly, even by someone as well set-out in life as he usually felt himself to be.
The giantess stopped too.
‘Don’t be frightened’ she told him.
Phillip felt insulted.
‘I wasn’t!’ he lied and then regretted it when he looked into her purple eyes and realised how completely he had failed to deceive her.
‘He was just an unfinished thought’ she said. ‘You often come across them in the in the Library. Most of them are harmless. Most of them’
‘I don’t understand’ he admitted. He was sure that these were world he had never used before and they did not come easily. The son of a castle did not admit that there were things he didn’t understand. As a rule, they weren’t required to understand things anyway and were supposed to treat those who did with contempt.
She seemed to read his thoughts.
‘Understanding will come. Just be patient’
They both started walking again. They were nearly at the end of the corridor. Phillip could see that that the archway ahead was covered by a heavy, red curtain. It was decorated in golden thread with pictures of cats playing with balls of string, drinking milk from saucers and sleeping on pillows.
‘When you meet the Lion’ the Giantess said ‘He will have much to tell you. Make sure you take in his words. They’re very important’
‘Very well…’ began Phillip and then an unpleasant idea struck him.
‘What if he tries to eat me?’
The Giantess laughed. The shelves around them seemed to creak at the sound.
‘He doesn’t eat out of tin cans. You’ll be safe. As long as you behave’
And so saying she reached down and shoved Phillip through the red curtain. At least, he thought, she didn’t throw me this time.
Beyond the curtain, he found himself in a world of comfort. Huge red cushions covered the floor. Red drapes hung from a high, arched wooden ceiling. There was music coming from somewhere; a gentle, relaxing melody of pipes and flutes. In the midst of it all stood the massive stone figure of a lion on a low pedestal. Whoever made the statue had done an incredible job. Every hair of the magnificent mane looked as though it were alive. The stone eyes, though without pupils, seemed to take in everything before them. The tail draped around the pedestal gave the impression that at any moment it would flick the air to swat a passing fly.
Philip regarded the stone lion and wondered why he – and how – he was expected to talk to a statue. Even if it were real, a lion couldn’t speak the language of people. Were they meant to stand and roar at each other?
Something on the base of the pedestal caught his attention. A series of symbols in a straight line. No, not symbols. Words. A sentence perhaps.
Phillip made his way through the deliciously soft looking cushion to the pedestal and looked closer. It was a sentence.
You can read, can’t you?
He took a step backwards in surprise and, absurdly, found himself looking around for whoever had put the words there. Then he looked back down and saw that they had changed.
I’ll take that as a yes.
Unsure what else to do, Phillip nodded and said ‘Yes, I can read’
The stonework seemed to soften and blur until it resembled one of the cook’s more revolting stews. Then new words formed and settled.
Good. I expect you’d like to know where you are.
‘That would be good too’
The words dissolved again. For a moment, the stonework was blank. Then a new sentence was created.
The Library exists outside of time and it is the home for all unfinished stories.
Phillip shook his head and was, for the second time that day, forced to admit that he didn’t understand.
The Library is where the endings for all the stories are never finished are kept until the world needs them.
Another line appeared beneath the first.
All the lost endings of all the unfinished stories of all time.
‘That must be quite a lot’
More than you could possibly count.
‘And why am I here? I mean, I know why, the Goblin said I had to find the book with his life story in. But I don’t see what that has to do with this place or the terrible things the flower showed me or…’
He broke off.
‘I am I just imagining all this?’ he said. ‘Is this all I dream? Was I drunk last night?’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to be rude’
I quite understand, this all must be very new to you
Phillip sighed. ‘I just want to go home’
Not yet. The sad world that the flower showed you has lost its ending. It needs to find one so that it can then begin again.
And then Phillip understood. And he felt very scared.
‘It’s in the Goblin’s book, isn’t it? And I have to find it’
And he remembered how many stories the lion had said were here. More than you could possibly count.
Not just a pretty face then. Yes.
‘I won’t. I can’t!’
He began to shout, the fear and anger of the last few hours finally erupting.
‘Why does it have to be me? Why can’t you find it? This isn’t my stupid library, you do it!’
I haven’t had dinner yet.
‘Is that supposed to scare me?’
Yes. The Giantess will take you where you need to go
His anger was spent as quickly as it had come. He just felt tired now. How he would have loved to take of his armour and lay down on the huge cushions. Go to sleep and dream this world away.
There are people who sometimes find their way into the Library. They can help you find the book.
For a long moment remained blank, as though the lion were carefully considering his answer.
The are five people you must see. Five people who came to the Library as the flower did. With their help, you will find the book.
Another moment of blank stone and then a final message.
If you’re lucky that is. Go now. Good luck.
The words faded. Phillip stood staring at the stone lion for several minutes but no more words appeared. From behind him, a tapping began which he suspected was the impatient sound of the Giantess’ foot.
With a sigh, Phillip turned and left the room. Very well, he thought, he would find this book and then demand to be sent home. Surely they would owe him that much then? Though he had a feeling, he might have a long journey ahead of him before he got anywhere near home.
Damian Mark Whittle