Chapter 7: In Which the Escape May or May Not Happen

When the Knight finished the translation of the ancient runes, Madison thought hard about the curious riddle. She rolled ideas around in her brain, but nothing came.

“Try talking through the problem,” the Knight suggested when it looked like Madison was becoming frustrated.

“Okay,” Madison said resolutely. “‘Men look up at me, clouds look down at me.’ Something high up, I guess, like a mountain or a tower….”

“Or a bird?” the Sort-of Knight asked.

“Yes, a bird flies, but what does it have to do with soldiers? And soldiers don’t look back at towers, they look toward them, don’t they?”

The Knight nodded.

“Yes, of course. When soldiers attack, they always look toward the tower. These soldiers are running away. Can’t be a tower,” he concluded.

“So it can’t be a tower, what about a mountain?” Madison asked. “But what does ‘if you get too close, you’ll look inside me’ mean?”

“Sounds more like a trap,” the Knight suggested. “Like a big hole.”
“The trap sounds right,” Madison reasoned. “But the big hole sounds wrong. Ugh! It’s just too hard!” Madison cried out in frustration.

In this situation, you and I both know that the Knight, the only adult, should take charge and figure the riddle out himself. Adults are supposed to be the responsible ones in tight situations. But Madison had already figured out that her hero was far from helpful. She didn’t even think to look to him for help.

You should know right now that this kind of situation often happens in books: the adults are off doing adultish things, leaving children with the difficult task of saving the world. It seems unfair, but that’s just the way fiction is sometimes.

But our feeble hero did do something helpful in this particular situation. He was not able to solve the riddle for Madison, but he did something very important: He encouraged the Princess.

“You can do this, Your Highness,” the Sort-of Knight urged. “You are very smart, and very brave…far braver than I,” he added sadly. “I know you can solve this riddle—just go on to the next section.”

Madison Jayne took a deep breath and looked at the riddle again.

“Okay, we have something high that frightens soldiers and might be a trap….”

“Or a hole,” the Knight added helpfully.

“Or a hole,” Madison said doubtfully. “What’s the next section?”

The Knight read the next part of the riddle.

“‘I have scales, but no music, fire, but no match, gold for my bed, full of magic and dread.’”

“Okay, let’s start at the end. It is a scary thing, but we know that already because the soldiers are running away.”

“And it seems to be a magical creature,” the Knight added.

“Precisely, or a magical object that makes people afraid. But I think it is actually a creature. See here: ‘Gold for my bed,’ it says. What sleeps on a golden bed?”

“A king or queen?” the Knight asked.

“Don’t be silly,” the Princess answered. “Royals sleep on normal beds made of straw and feathers and linen. What sleeps on a bed of gold?”

Madison stopped talking for a minute and ran through all the clues in her mind. The sky had turned to dusk outside, and there was a fire burning somewhere in the early night. Soldiers were shouting orders and the witches outside the door were still teasing the frightened soldiers. Madison looked up at the hole in the stained glass window, to the place where her rescuer had burst through.

“I’ve got it!” Madison cried. “Do you see the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains in the window there?”

“Ugh, no.”

“That’s because you broke the picture. But before you broke it there was a picture of a magical mountain. And in the deepest caves of the Nocturnal Mountain live the dragons, in their lairs, sleeping….”

“…on beds of gold,” the Knight interrupted.

“Exactly,” Madison said proudly. “A dragon flies, so clouds look down on it and we look up. Soldiers will certainly run away in dread from a flying dragon, and if you get to close, guess what happens?”

“It eats me,” the Knight said with dread.

“So you’ll look inside the dragon, then, won’t you?” The Knight nodded, and Madison imagined his face turned white with fear, though the mask hid everything.

“But what are the music-less scales,” he asked.

“That’s the clever part, I think. It is the hard, emerald scales on a dragon’s back and tail. All reptiles have them. And dragons breath fire, so everything fits.”

“It all fits,” the Knight said proudly, slapping the Princess on the back. She smiled shyly, then looked at the floor.

“Okay, the riddle is solved, now what.”

The Knight read another line:

when the riddle is solved

spell the dial for freedom

They returned to their knees, and the Knight places his hands on the marble carving. He pushed hard, resisting an æon of age. Finally, the picture moved.

“It turns like a dial,” he said. “And there are ancient letters at the edge of the circle to point at.”

“I think the tip of the tower is what you point at the letters,” Madison said. “Let’s try it; spell out ‘dragon.’”

The Knight nodded solemnly, and one by one spelled out the letters, D R A G…. He did it meticulously—careful not to make a mistake—and Madison was impatient. Outside the magic attackers had stopped teasing the soldier, and in a flash of light through the cracks in the door, the soldier was turned into something unnatural. Madison did not know what it was, but it made a sound like a snake choking on a harmonica. With each breath, the poor soldier made a noise like, “Hisss-farnf, hisss-farnf, cough-tngts, hisss-farnf.”

“Hurry up,” Madison urged.

“This is a difficult task,” the Knight responded resolutely. “You must be patient, Your Highness.” Two more turns. “There, the ‘N’.”

At first nothing happened. Madison and her witless rescuer stood in silence, staring at the floor, as the attackers pounded on the chapel door. Then, just when Madison was ready to burst out crying herself, the stone back wall of the fireplace began to move. Slowly, it slid to the right, revealing a dark corridor behind it. Spiders scurried away at their exposure to the firelit chapel, and it seemed exactly the last place Madison wanted to explore.

In a single chop, an axe cut through the chapel door. Madison decided that the pitch-black, secret passageway was actually the second-last place she wanted to be—the chapel was dead last. Just as the attackers burst through the chapel doors, the Princess grabbed her book, and the Knight took his sword in one hand and grabbed a torch from the wall in the other. Then they threw themselves through the narrow opening into the dark unknown beyond.

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Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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