The Two Princes – Part Five
And so as magical bells chimed on the hilltop high above, all tried to scramble upwards as fast as they were able but moving through dreamland was an awkward process, sometimes like treading through quicksand or walking against the wall of a high gale. Only Prince Happ, among the mortals, managed to keep up with the Fairy Queen who strode gracefully and quickly ahead; drawn upwards by the powerful loadstone of his love.
But then, infront of them, they saw an archway and beneath it a tall knight in an armoured suit of crimson and gold, the visor of his greathelm lowered across his face.
“Halt! Proceed no further; not unless you wish to end your life here”, barked the knight, “I am the Knight Invincible, keeper of the first gate. My armour is made of a metal forged by the dark smithies
of hell, impervious to iron and steel, fire and stone, cannonball or lightning; all forces, natural,
celestial or infernal . I guard this gate and none but the demon prince of dreams or his black elves
may pass this way”.
The heart of prince Happ sank upon the hearing of these words, “We must go forward!”, he pleaded with his companions, “And I am willing to risk death or damnation for the sake of my love”.
“And I would gladly go with you, even into a burning sea”, said Sir Halsome loyally, “But dead men cannot save your love, we must have strategy. Unless the knight is an empty braggart then his ar-mour cannot be pierced by any means”.
Prince Happ looked hopefully towards the Fairy Queen for help but the little girl shook her head,
“Willingly, I would use my magic to help you if I could but the armour of that knight is impervious
even to me”, she said, “Yet remember that a man’s mind is the sharpest blade of all. Use your
ingenuity and I know you will not fail ”.
And then, after a moment of reflection, the blind man stepped forward with a suggestion which he whispered into the princes ear and, nodding, the prince reached down and seized up a handful of the mud from ground below and, with his sword gripped tightly in his other hand, he roared and charged bravely towards the knight and, as he did so, he thrust his handful of mud into the visor of the invincible knight, pushing it deep into the eye slits of the visor so that the knight was completely blinded.
Unable now to see, the knight, though he could not be killed, could not take aim to strike his enemy and, while he waved his sword blindly about, he thought that he could hear Prince Happ and the others creeping around him and so, desperate to see, he lifted up his visor but, as he did so Sir Halsome raised up his bow and fired an arrow deep inside the knights left eye and then the knight, no longer invincible but mortally wounded, fell squirming upon his back and, thinking that he now looked more like a squirming armoured beetle than a knight, the fairy queen transformed him into
a stag beetle that quickly crawled away under a stone.
All then were joyful and laughed with relief except for poor Prince Happ who could only hear the ominous tolling of the Elfen bells, “My heart cannot rejoice until it does so in the company of my beloved Iness”, he said morosely.
“Two more such gates lie before us, I fear”, said the Fairy queen, looking farther ahead than their mortal eyes could see, “But now I have proof of your courage, skill and wisdom and I am more cer-tain than ever that this day shall see you and your true love reunited”.
But then, suddenly, a small boy came running towards them, tearful, screaming and trembling and, before any of them could respond, he threw his arms around the midriff of Sir Halsome and begged of him, “Save me! The she-monster is coming!”.
Sir Halsome then seized the boy, holding him at arms-length and looked into his eyes but there
was something unsettlingly familiar about the boy’s face that disturbed Sir Halsome, “I know you from somewhere. I have seen you before. A long time ago. Have I not?”.
The boy only shook his head as he looked up into the eyes of the knight, “No, I have never seen you but you must save me, please” he pleaded, “Or the She-monster shall get me”.
And then the boy hid himself behind Sir Halsome, quaking while, up ahead they all heard a peculiar, eery sound like the high pitched howl of the wind although they could neither feel nor see any evidence of wind and then the second gate appeared before them, an archway just as before but one carved from a black and ancient stone covered in moss and lichen, out of which a thick white curling mist crept, rolling forward at the pace of a pallbearer towards them and, appearing through the mist, a strange, shadowy, veiled woman appeared; a widow of sorts, dressed entirely in black
but with strange, long fingered, skeletal hands, “Come with me”, she said, cackling and reaching towards them, “I take children into the dark”.
“Well this old witch is no terror”, said Prince Happ, drawing his sword.
But, next to him, Sir Halsome suddenly sank to his knees, cowering beside the boy and shivering, “I remember now”, he said, “When I was a boy, I used to have terrible nightmares of an old woman, the Widow of Shadows. I should have known better than to follow you into this realm of dreams
where nightmares also lurk”.
“You are not a child anymore, Sir Knight”, said the Fairy Queen, “You are man; a warrior. Surely you are not still afraid of her”.
But Sir Halsome dared not even look up as the Widow of Shadows crept closer, floating across a carpet of mist, “You do not understand”, he said, “I feel as powerless as a dreamer does. In my dreams, I would try to run; run along long dark corridoors but my legs would become as if they were frozen to the floor; I wouldn’t be able to move whilst, behind me I would always hear the sound of the old witch creeping closer. Oh, if only I could wake now out of this place of horror”.
But then the Prince noticed that the child who was embracing Sir Halsome began to smile evilly, his face becoming pale and eyes dark and impish.
“Then slay the child”, said the prince, “Drawing a dagger from below his cloak and handing it to Sir Halsome, “The boy is not you. It’s part of this illusion. Part of the monster”.
But Sir Halsome could not see in the eyes of the demon child anything but himself and so Prince Happ stepped infront of the Widow, “If you’re my friend”, he said, “You will kill this fear of yours before it kills me”.
Sir Halsome looked up then and saw the ghostly widow grasp Prince Happ in her clawing hands.
And there was truly great friendship in the heart of Sir Halsome for, though he would not fight for himself, he would not allow the creature to destroy his greatest friend and so, hurling the clinging
Demon child from off of his back, Sir Halsome drove the dagger blade deep into its little black heart
and squirming and squealing inhumanly, the child died and, as it did, so the Widow of Shadows her-self faded away like a shadow before an opening curtain and the bright light of day.
Then Sir Halsome looked down at the dead thing upon the ground and saw its true form and, draw-ing the dagger from its heart, saw the blade smeared with a dark blue blood.
“You have fought your demons well”, said the Fairy Queen, “The ghosts of our past are among the hardest for us to kill”.
The mist was also dissipating now and all saw the gate, which had been the colour of obsidian, now turn to pale alabaster.
Then, passing through the second gate, all saw the third and final gate and, infront of it, was a
large pride of ferocious looking lions that seemed to be roaring and opening their mouths wide to show off their jaws full of sharp teeth.
“What do we do against those”, asked Sir Halsome, gazing round and counting at least ten of the wild, terrifying beasts.
But then the fool behind them started to yawn and Prince Happ noticed that the eyes of all of the lion pride were closed.
“Perhaps, they are not roaring or showing us their teeth”, surmised the prince, “Perhaps, they are merely snoring and yawning”.
“Well then”, sighed Sir Halsome, “All we have to do is avoid waking them up”.
But then Sir Halsomes sigh of relief developed into a wide yawn and, observing this, Prince Happ said, “I do not believe the lions are the keepers of this gate. They came here like us. No, I think that the guardian here is sleep”.
And then Prince Happ himself began to yawn and his armour suddenly felt far too heavy to bear.
“I think you are right”, said the Fairy Queen and then even she rubbed her eyes, that were growing heavy, and joined the yawning.
Then, before all knew it, they were like the snoring lions, lying upon the ground on their backs
In a deep sleep and they would have remained asleep forever had it not been for the fools great sack full of dreams.
Since the bouncing concertina and the flying fiddle had escaped, the fool had kept a tight grip upon the sack lest any more of his wild fantasies break free but, now the fool was loudly snoring, and there was no one to keep a black raincloud from rising up out of the sack and pouring rain down upon the fool and his companions and, feeling drops of cold rain upon their faces and hearing a sudden small clap of thunder, Prince Happ and the others all opened their eyes and, stretching and yawning,
remembered where they were and the importance of their quest.
“I’m thankful for your foolish sack”, said the Prince to the fool, “Often, what seems like a foolish idea, in the right circumstances may become a wise one”.
But then, unfortunately, a sudden gust of wind blew the black rain cloud towards where the sleeping lions lay and Prince Happ and his companions had to rush head long towards the gate, tripping over tails and clumsily treading on paws to get through it before the ferocious beasts could start waking up.