Lizard's Leap: Twenty Four: Password
They stared at the array of colour and nonsense before them.
Emma loved maths and was interested in the shape of the courtyard; she couldn’t make any sort of logical order out of it. The yard was in the shape of a huge square, though maybe it was a circle, as it had no corners. It was a circle. But on the other hand it did have four sides, so it couldn’t be a circle. It was a square, because four rows of castle buildings made up the four edges. But as her eyes travelled upwards, Emma noticed that the walls had a sort of inward curling shape that smoothed out all the angles. Perhaps it was a circle, after all.
‘Is this courtyard a square or a circle?’ she asked the others who were still staring round in disbelief.
A woman dressed in a green tunic and tights ran past them very fast. She had a quiver full of arrows on her back. ‘Neither,’ she answered, obviously having heard Emma’s question. ‘It’s a Squircle. If you see Floss would you tell her that her horrible dragon has been in my bed again?’
‘Er—yes, of course,’ Emma replied as the lady disappeared through a door in the far wall of the castle. ‘But who’s Floss? she shouted after the woman. It was too late, the lady had gone.
Vicki and Kerry were staring—and Mark was giggling—at a colourful fire-eater to the left of them who’d blown a cloud of flame out of his mouth and had set fire to his hands. He jumped up and down making ‘Oooh, oooh, oooh,’ noises. Then he bent over and put his hands between his knees to quash the flames. It didn’t do any good and set his trousers on fire as well.
Running across the courtyard, he jumped into a trough set against the wall and let out a huge sigh of relief as spirals of smoke rose around him. As he landed in the water, a hiss came from the trough as the flames were extinguished. Mark thought the poor man’s misfortune was hilarious and laughed until tears sprang from his eyes.
‘Are you all right? Vicki asked in a concerned voice as she ran over to the man sitting waist deep in water.
‘Aye, lass, aye, it was a good day today. Yesterday it was my face.’
He looked up, and Vicki tried not to laugh as she saw the man only had one bushy eyebrow and half a moustache. This set Mark off on a new fit of laughter. The man looked across at Mark, astonished; he frowned and then he laughed, too.
The sound of the two of them howling rang across the courtyard and echoed back. It was some time before they managed to stop. The man held out a dripping, but unharmed hand, to Mark, who helped pull him out of the trough.
‘Thanks, lad. I’m Galileo the fire eater, and you are?’
‘Mark Forest, the—um—time traveller. The others glared at him and Emma dug him hard in the ribs for telling Galileo how they’d got there. Mark was unperturbed. ‘This is my sister, Vicki,’ he said. ‘And these are my two cousins, Kerry and Emma.
It’s very nice to meet you. I hope you don’t set fire to yourself again.’ Vicki Said.
The man assured them that he would do his best not to and set off in search of something called strong mead. Mark thought that this was a person but Kerry explained that it was an alcoholic drink. Kerry knew odd stuff.
When they were alone they told Mark off for running away at the mouth, but the man hadn’t batted an eyelid when Mark said that they were time travellers. This was a crazy place and it seemed as though crazy happenings were the norm.
A lady in a long black skirt and red jacket, with a three cornered hat on her head, had walked into the centre of the Squircle. She honked a black bicycle horn three times, and shouted ‘Oyez,’ a lot more than three times. People gathered round her. ‘Oyez. Oyez. Oyez.’ she shouted, very loudly. Mark was impressed and gazed at her in awe.
‘Get on with it, Marcella,’ drawled an impatient man near the front. ‘What’s happening?’
‘Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. Good King Luke has decreed that Kaleidoscope Castle is in trouble with the King’s officers. He has not paid his taxes to himself for years. If the castle fortune isn’t recovered soon, the castle will fall into disrepair and everybody will perish and die.’
The crowd groaned loudly. ‘Gerroff,’ said the rude man at the front of the crowd. ‘It’s the same old message every single week. Can’t we have some new news? Its ages since we had anyone hung, drawn and quartered. And when was the last case of dysentery? We haven’t had a single Holy War since we got the new court seamstress, and swine fever is down by a third since chef got her recipe for pork medallions.
Every week it’s just the same old message. Nobody will ever solve the last puzzle, and the King’s fortune will remain locked away forever. Get off your soapbox, woman, and make me some food.’ After his tirade, the man threw a rotten tomato, which hit the town crier in the face.
‘I’ll get you, Jamar,’ she said. ‘You just wait till I get you home tonight; I’ll be serving you bread and dripping for a week. And don’t think Chef will feed you. Since she caught you stealing her gooseberries last week she’s had a cleaver sharpened with your name engraved on it.’
The crowd roared with laughter and the little man hung his head and shuffled off. Everybody seemed to be moving through the large double doors in the wall opposite the drawbridge.
They were standing by the well in the centre of the Squircle, trying to decide if they should follow, when from another door, a tall lady appeared. They gaped in astonishment as they saw her dragging two huge, green, scaly dragons behind her.
The smaller of the two dragons seemed to think that he had walked far enough and eased his big bottom down onto the floor. The lady pulled and pulled on his lead, but he would not be led.
‘Kevin, this isn’t funny. Stand up right this second or I’ll dose you with kerosene and next time you breathe out you’ll go up in a huff of smoke.’
At the mention of the word huff, the other dragon put his snout firmly into the lady’s tummy and pushed lovingly. The woman was lifted clean off her feet and dangled in mid-air for a couple of seconds on the dragon’s nose.
‘Oh, Huff,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t talking about you, boy.’
They walked over to the woman while keeping a healthy distance from the extraordinary looking dragons. ‘Excuse me, please, are you Floss?’ Vicki asked.
‘Yes girlie, I am. I don’t suppose you four could get behind Kevin and give him a good shove, please? He can be so stubborn. I’m taking them for a b-a-t-h.’ Floss spelled out the word and Kevin trembled. ‘What was it you wanted, anyway?’
‘We saw a lady dressed in green, and she said to tell you that your horr—er, that one of your dragons had been in her bed. I don’t think she was very pleased.’
Kevin, the smaller of the two green dragons, grinned sheepishly as only a young dragon can; he rolled his eyes trying his best to look innocent. He would even have gone so far as to whistle, nonchalantly, but when he tried that he singed the hair on Huff’s stomach.
‘Oh, Kev,’ Floss said. ‘Have you been in Ratchet’s bed again? She’s going to be in the foulest temper when she comes back. You’d better get your bath and then find somewhere to hide, and I don’t mean in her bed again because she’s going to come looking for you.’
Floss moved off across the courtyard with the two dragons in tow. Thankfully, Kevin saw the error of his ways and decided to move away willingly so the need to push from behind wasn’t necessary.
The main door to the castle was still open. ‘I wonder if we can go in.’ Mark said. ‘There’s nobody here to set us a puzzle.’
They walked to the door and just as they were about to go through, a large grid fell down in front of them. A little man stepped out from behind a huge potted yucca plant that looked almost as out of place there as he did.
‘What’s the password?’ said the little gnome-like man. He spoke in a high-pitched, wizened voice and looked peculiar. He wore a suit of green and red silk and a funny little hat in the same material with three bells on it. His face was thin and pointy and he had two big red circles painted on his cheeks.
‘I said, what’s the password?’ he jumped from one foot to the other, impatiently.
‘Er—I don’t know, sir,’ Kerry said. ‘What is the password?’
The funny little man was flummoxed. ‘Well, it’s…well, it’s…well, I don’t know what it is. I’m just supposed to set you a puzzle. I say, I say, I say,’ he continued. ‘What do you call a man who runs backwards with his tail between his legs?’
‘I’d call him very unusual,’ Emma replied. ‘Where we come from men don’t usually have tails.’
The man walked over to Emma on his bandy legs and gazed up. His piggy eyes were black and watery. He looked her up and down and seemed unimpressed with what he saw. ‘Hmm, a fellow jester, eh? Where’s your suit? You don’t honestly think you look funny like that do you?’
‘Not nearly as funny as you do,’ Emma said, sarcastically.
The jester smiled happily at what he thought was a compliment. He stood on his tiptoes and shook his head three times in Emma’s face. His hat bells tinkled. ‘See? This is what a jester is supposed to look like. Where are your bells?’
‘Do you know, I was just asking my three friends here the same thing. Where are my bells? I said. One minute there they were sitting on my head like Big Ben in triplicate, and then poof, they’d vanished. I think we should be setting you the task of finding my missing bells.’
The little man looked terrified by this suggestion. ‘Oh, miss, I’m only poor old Canticlee the jester. I can’t be going off solving puzzles. My brain isn’t made that way. Knock, knock?’
‘Who’s there?’ they said.
‘Pass word to old Canticlee that you want to come in, and he’ll let you.’
‘Can we come in, please, dear Canticlee?’ Vicki asked.
‘Of course you can. Don’t know why you didn’t just ask me in the first place. I’ll be sure to bring your bells, miss, if I find them.’
‘Thank you,’ Emma said as they passed through the lifted grid. ‘And I’ll think of some of my best jokes for you. By the way, what do you call a jester without bells?’
‘I don’t know?’ Canticlee replied. ‘What do you call a jester without bells?’
‘A blessing.’ she shouted, running through the door.
Their last view of Canticlee was of him mouthing the words a blessing several times and then frowning as he stood scratching his head and looking puzzled.