‘The Very Strange Adventures of a Travelling Knight: Part 10 – Endings’
For a long while, Phillip dreamed. He dreamed he was in rooms filled with paper, writing out words he’d never known in sentences that didn’t end. He dreamed he was by the sea, with a family of oddly dressed and frail people who never seemed to come to the point. He dreamed he walked beneath a church, opening graves and disturbing murderers. And all the time, he knew that he slept and that he had to travel through these places, one after the other, until he reached the waking world. Eventually, his sleeping mind remembered that he had wings and there was no need to walk. So Phillip took flight, up into a sea of darkness full of strangers, wise women and kings. And he woke up.
Brick walls rose above him. There were windows without glass and shelves full of books. But there was no ceiling over it all. Instead there was a rectangle of blue sky filled with huge branches that reached from somewhere beyond the walls, their tips just touching each other. Phillip slowly rose to his feet. His body felt different. Still made of stone but lighter and filled with a prickly life. He stretched out his wings behind him. They seemed smaller but he was sure they could carry him up to the canopy of branches above. Was that the way out?
‘Narana. My name is Narana’
Her voice. As full of warmth and wisdom and mischief as ever. He turned to find the blue Giantess standing beside him. She was smiling. There were stone Lions with her too, stretched out on the floor. Beneath them were thick, purple rugs, piled one on top of the other.
She seemed bigger, he realized. Much bigger. The Lions too seemed massive. What did that mean? Phillip looked down at his feet and gasped. The purple rug he stood on was barely two feet away. He had been shrunk. And then he remembered the terrible power seeping from the device in Gram’s golden body, the burning heat of it in his claws. It had withered him down to the size of a child.
Phillip looked up at Narana.
‘Help me’ he pleaded.
Narana’s face was sad.
‘I’m sorry’ she said. ‘It can’t be changed now. I hoped there was a way it could somehow be avoided, but there wasn’t. Not if you were going to do what you had to’
A chill settled into Phillip’s granite bones.
‘You knew’ he said quietly. ‘You knew what would happen to me from the moment I was thrown into the Library’
‘I knew because of who sent you’ she said. ‘The Goblin’
There was such a pleading for forgiveness in her purple eyes it almost moved him to pity for her rather than for himself. But there was something else in her eyes. A secret she wanted him to know without her having to say.
‘Do you remember the Goblin, Phillip? How he was when you met him?’
Of course he remembered the Goblin! That weird little creature made of stone, like something that should be sitting on the outside of a church to scare off bad spirits. The way it couldn’t all be seen at once, the wings and the claws and horns.
Wings and claws. Surely not.
Phillip reached up and touched his brow. The helmet and his head were one now. And from his forehead protruded two, short horns. And then he knew.
‘It was me’ he breathed. ‘I’m the Goblin. That’s what all this has made me into. That thing. A monster’
Narana dropped down on one knee beside him, her silver dress rustling.
‘Yes Phillip. Your long journey through the Library, all the changes that you went through. This is where they were always going to bring you to. I told you, didn’t it? The Library exists outside of time. You came in after you had already left’
There is no such thing in the world as stone tears, any more than the wind can laugh. And yet Phillip desperately wanted to cry. He remembered setting out from the Castle, full of dreams of adventure and glory, of adoring eyes on him and the tales that would be told about him. And now here he was. Trapped in a crazed labyrinth, his body a stunted, misshapen thing. How could the world be so cruel?
‘I’m tiny’ he said. ‘I thought I was going to be a hero but look at me! I’m so small’
From above them, a new voice spoke.
‘But your story is not’
The voice was both male and female, young and old at once. Phillip looked up and saw that far above them, the branches that filled the open square of sky were moving from side to side, creaking and sighing. The voice was coming from them, formed from their slow movement through the air.
‘Who are you?’ he asked. He looked at Narana. ‘Is it another Lion?’
She shook her head and the voice spoke again.
‘I am the Library’
He didn’t understand.
‘What do you mean?’ he demanded.
‘I am the Library’ repeated the voice. ‘I’ve existed since humanity’s first unfinished thought. I shall end with its last unfinished question’
‘Then you did this to me!’ snarled Phillip, stone lips curling and anger burning inside him now. ‘You brought me here and made me into this!’
‘I saw a way in which your story might have a new ending, yes. And in that ending, the possibility of a new beginning. Many new beginnings’
‘It’s true’ said Narana, leaning in closer to Phillip. ‘We knew you had the ability to do some good, to withstand these changes and make something of them’
‘And who are you Narana?’ he asked, buy still angry at her now. He had come to think of her as a friend but all he could feel in that moment was betrayal.
‘That first unfinished thought’ said Narana wistfully. ‘It was mine. The Library and I have existed together ever since then. Seeing what could be but isn’t. Bringing those who are needed here, when lost ideas must be given back to the world’
Phillip laughed in disgust. Even to his ears, the sound was horrible. ‘But I never found the book. How could I, if I sent me here to find it? All those terrible things I saw, the stories I heard, none of this changes any of them. You’ve ruined my life for nothing!’
A deep, sighing creak ran through the branches.
‘Tell me Phillip’ said the Library. ‘Tell me all of your story, as you saw it. Then we shall see what can be done’
He wanted to say no. He wanted to leave them both, the Library and the Giantess, to seek out some dark corner and hide there for the rest of his days. But all he had seen and done was bursting within him now. This strange and cruel and wonderful journey that had lead him finally to this. And so Phillip took flight – his wings were still strong even if they had shrunk – and landed on one of the branches. And he began to tell his story. From his first meeting with the Goblin – with himself – to finding himself in the Library, from the Giantess throwing him into the air and up in to the room where the Flower lived to his meeting with giant insects and snake women, stone lions and shadow soldiers, metal monsters and living toys. As he told his story, the thick foliage around him rustled with what sounded like the sweetest, most soothing song he had ever heard. He told of his own voyage, from a young hero in red armour to an airborne stone goblin that would surely only frighten any damsel in distress. And as his mind began to slip slowly into another deep sleep, he talked of the joy of flying, of the air rushing past his ears as his ascended and the ground stretched out far beneath him and how perhaps it had all been worth it for that…
This time he did not dream. There was simply nothingness for a while and then sound.
‘Do you have the book?’ the voice of the Library was asking.
Phillip found himself laying wrapped in one of the purple rugs. He was curled up beneath the outstretched paws of one of the stone lions. He rose carefully to his feet. The room was the same but there were new visitors.
A few feet away, a tall old man with long flowing white hair stood looking up into the great branches. He was wearing a simple brown hessian robe, like a monk’s. Beside him stood a man made of gold. It took Phillip a moment to realise that that golden man was Gram, his arms and legs restored to him.
The old man held out a small, green book. His wrinkled face looked doubtful.
‘Yes, but it’s such a small book. Will it really do all you say?’
Phillip recognised his voice but he couldn’t say where from. It was high and wavering and yet he had a sense that it could also be booming and terrifying
‘It’s a story of change’ came the voice of the Library. ‘Of the possibility of things ending and new things beginning. That’s all that’s needed Bodnar’
Phillip remembered then the frail figure he had seen crawl from the wreckage of Bodnar’s metal form. The man that had been sitting inside it all along. He had never imagined he would be so old.
‘But why would they listen to me?’ he asked.
‘Because you too have been changed. You repaired what you made’
Phillip saw Bodnar turn to Gram and a gentle smile appeared on his weathered face.
‘I did, yes. I had forgotten, you see. In all the anger, I had forgotten that it’s better to make than it is to destroy. Seeing Gram reminded me of that.
If a golden face could blush, Gram’s did.
‘Well really’ he said. ‘I’m not that special, you know’
With a heavy rumble, one of the bookcases in the stone wall swung outwards to reveal a long, narrow corridor. There were books on either side and, at the end, a square of daylight.
‘Help the rest of your kind remember, Bodnar’ said the Library. ‘Remind them of change and creation. End what is happening. Help make a new beginning. Show them the book’
‘And if they don’t want to read it?’
‘Then read it to them. Or ask Gram too. You have given him a very sweet voice’
Without another word, Bodnar and Gram turned and walked towards the door. As Gram passed Phillip, he looked down at him and seemed to wink. Then he began to sing, a wonderful, hopeful wordless melody. The sound followed the two figures down the corridor and towards the light.
Phillip turned to the woman he knew would be standing behind him. He flew up until he was hovering close to Narana’s face.
‘That book is my story, isn’t?’ he said. ‘Everything that happened to me here. My…’ What was the word the Goblin had used? Ah yes, that was it. ‘Autobiography’
She smiled and nodded.
‘Oh yes’ she said. ‘A story that will help others to see that change is possible’
‘And is it over now?’ he asked. ‘Is this the finish of my story?’
Phillip knew he couldn’t die. He was made of stone, how could he possibly die? He might weather away over time but it would take centuries. All the same, what was he to do now? Perhaps he could find some church that needed a grotesque and sit on its roof until the world finally ended.
‘No Phillip, you still have many more chapters to come. But not for a while. And first there is something you have to do’
‘Do you forgive me Phillip?’
He thought for a moment. Thought of the life he might have had. Thought of how he was now flying on timeless stone wings. Thought of the world outside, in some other time that might be changed for the better because of all that he had been through.
‘Yes Narana. I forgive you’
He flew closer to her face and kissed her cheek. It was a very odd friendship they had, thought Phillip. A goblin and a Giantess. But then the world was full of strange things.
A few days later, Phillip sat waiting in the branches of a tree. It was nice to be outside of the Library again he thought, if only for a short while. One day he might have to try and find a home somewhere in the world. Though for now, the Library still had a lot to teach him.
He heard the clank of metal and the clatter of hooves. A great horse appeared through the trees. The man sitting on its back was encased from head to toe within shining red armour.
‘Good morning sir’ said Phillip. He might as well be polite he thought.
‘Yes’ said the Knight. ‘It would be if it wasn’t already afternoon’
God, thought Phillip, I was so annoying back then. He was unable to conceal a smile as he as he said ‘Quite. Would you do me a favour young man?’
‘How do you know I’m young? I’m wearing armour’
Well, thought Phillip. At least I wasn’t completely stupid.
‘What a perceptive question!’ he said, thinking quickly. ‘Why yes indeed you are. But you have the voice of a young man’
Phillip jumped from the branch. The grass felt pleasantly soft beneath his stone feet. He must ask Narana to show him the horticulture section of the Library one day. He turned and pointed to an opening in the tree trunk. The way into the Library. Well, one of the ways.
‘I dropped my book in there’ he said ‘In the tree’
‘Yes. Little green one. Picture of me on the front. Autobiography in fact. Should be fascinating reading for all’
He’d made up the detail about the picture on the spot. Though it wouldn’t have been a bad idea he thought.
‘Ummm…’ came his younger voice.
‘Honestly, get the book for me and I can promise you all sorts of adventures away from this nasty world’
Definitely not lying there, he thought.
The Red Knight looked down at Phillip and down at the tree and laughed, a sneering laugh held almost entirely within his nose.
‘Well how am I ever supposed to do that?
This, he thought, was going to be far more fun than it had any possible right to be.
‘Oh it’s easy. Let me show you’
And then, he reached up, pulled his younger self from his horse and threw him head first into the opening. Into the tree. Into the Library within the tree.
As he watched himself disappear into the yawing black hole, he remembered to call after him ‘Oh and my book might just save the world. So keep an eye out for it’
Then Phillip turned to look at the horse who was standing quite calmly chewing at some grass, as though nothing had happened.
‘Don’t worry Carl’ said Phillip. ‘The Lions said I can keep a stable’
In the end – not the very end but one of the ends – Phillip went back to the room where the Flower was. He told it that the world it had come from might have been made better after all, even if there was no way yet to be entirely sure. The room seemed to become calmer then and he decided that it might be a nice place to stay for a while. He stayed with the Flower for many years, watching it re-bloom and cast its seeds to the air which finally gave rise to new young. He felt the grass grow beneath his stone body and the young flowers spring up around him and was, for now, content to rest. The butterflies and dragonflies that had appeared whispered stories to him of new visitors to the Library but he knew these weren’t stories that involved him. Narana visited him every now and then and they would share all that the other had learnt.
Sometimes it seemed to Phillip as if the walls of the room were fading, as if he saw new horizons and different possibilities forming in the distance. He wasn’t afraid of them. When the time was right, he would go out into the world and see what new stories it had to tell him and what fresh adventures awaited him. For now though, this ending suited him well enough.
Damian Mark Whittle