THE BLASTED DESERT Chapter Twenty-six

11 Mar

26. THE FAIRY CASTLE

The island, when they got there, was beautiful and contrasted most favourably with everything Digory had ever known.

It was green where it should be green, the beaches were golden where they should be golden and Digory felt instantly at home there.

Yet there was just one obstacle to his joy.

Fanny had landed on the beach after a short bird-powered flight from a considerably bigger island, one that had an airport where they had landed after the longest flight he could imagine anyone taking. But he’d got used to it … just. He supposed he’d had to, or go insane

The feel of sand beneath his feet, warm and soft, made him rip his shoes off and bask in the glory of it. He had little experience of sand and had yet to learn that it can be truly annoying if it gets between the toes, and sticks there. But if that were to happen at all it would happen in the future.

Then they came to the aforementioned obstacle.

It was a turnstile with a large notice attached, advising any who wished to pass it to pay their taxes OR ELSE. It didn’t say or else what, but it did look serious as though the person who had erected it had privacy in mind, and privacy for one can mean danger for everyone else.

“The coins,” murmured Fanny, “the special coins you were given.”

It hadn’t been so long ago in real time but Digory remembered what the Father Superior at the Monastery had said and pulled a small bag out of his pocket. More by luck than judgement he hadn’t lost it despite the changes of clothing he’d had to make in the interim.

“Good boy,” approved Fanny, and Digory felt like telling her it was almost a lifetime since he’d been one of those. It wasn’t that he felt particularly old, he didn’t, but by the same token he didn’t feel particularly young either. Some of his joints ached and he couldn’t bend his legs like he once had.

He inserted the coins into the turnstile money-slot and pushed against it.

A mechanical voice made him jump. “Thank you,” it said, and “Welcome, but leave your gods here.”

The two of them passed through the turnstile and stood for a moment looking around them.

The path that they were on was green with springy grass, the sky above them was the sort of blue that pollution has yet to get to and the air smelled sweet, of the growing things about them, wild spring flowers, fragrant trees, things like that.

“It’s perfect,” sighed Digory.

“That’s what I’ve always thought,” whispered his mother. “Come on, we’ll walk from here on. It isn’t far.”

They hadn’t gone far when the verdant growth thinned out and sand, a very different kind from that on the beach, crunched beneath their feet and Digory replaced his shoes. It was harsh to his soles compared with the softness of the beach.

He trudged on.

“Look behind you,|” whispered Fanny after they had walked a few hundred yards on the crunching sand, and Digory turned round to look. The verdant path they’d walked along had already merged with the distance and all he could see in any detail was the grey sand beneath their feet.

“This is weird,” he said,

“It’s an optical illusion,” his Mother told him, “and it discourages anyone who’s managed to trespass this far.”

Digory nodded. It would have discouraged him had he been on his own, he decided, and he turned back to carry on walking across that monotonous sand.

“It always was a little weird, as you put it,” whispered Fanny, “but fear not. It doesn’t go on like this for ever. Look, and what do you see?”

She pointed, and Digory followed the direction her outstretched arm was indicating. Ahead of them, as if out of a mist or a dream, emerged a building. And he had never seen such a building before. If there ever was such a place as a fairytale castle, this was it, but on a cosily small scale, unthreatening and certainly not looking remotely military. It had spires and towers, crenelations and turrets, and yet at the same time it looked homely.

“He’s here,” whispered Fanny. “I brought him here to die.”

“Who,” asked Digory.

“Your father,” silly,” replied his mother, and she led the way to the castle door, over a drawbridge and through an arched doorway until she came to the door itself.

“I’m here, so open,” she said quietly, and the door swung open.

“Those are the words that are better than a key because keys can be lost,” she told Digory. “However, you can only forget words, and it’s best to make sure you don’t.”

“I’m here, so open,” whispered Digory.

She smiled at him. “And I’m in, so close, she said, and the door swung silently to behind them. To Digory it was magic. He’d never met anything voice-operated before and so it was indistinguishable from fairytale magic.

The vestibule they were in was small but tastefully modern in the minimalist style with very little to break its contours or collect dust. Digory looked around and thought how well it contrasted with the Monastery and its diry untidiness that had been his home for so many years.

“Now remember this,” whispered Fanny, “the message I left at the beginning, about seeking a desert and crossing it, and doing it soon?”

Digory nodded, too confused to trust himself to actual words.

“Well, you’ve just crossed the desert and now that you’re here you’ll find out why it had to be soon.”

He nodded again, his mother’s words as good as meaningless.

“This way, then” said Fanny, and she led the way through another door into a sumptuous yet human-sized lounge. Around the edge were sofas and soft seats and against one wall was a large television screen. But in the very centre, and like a king commanding his domain, sat a lonely figure in a high-backed chair.

“There’s no need to stand on ceremony here, Imageous,” it said in a voice that quivered with age and yet was instantly recognisable to one who had known it all his life.

“Father Superior…” gasped Digory/Imageous.

“The very same, my son, and welcome at last to my true home…” croaked the ancient figure with the merest suggestion of a transatlantic accent, and as he said those words his head sunk down onto his chest and his eyes closed, and a long and final sigh escaped his lips, followed by a dead silence.

THE END

© Peter Rogerson 19.02.17

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