Chapter 9: In Which They Finally Escape, I Hope

Choices are always difficult to make; usually you will never know whether you have made the right choice. Even when things go really well, you often wonder what things might have been like if you chose differently.

Fortunately, this is a story, and I, the author, happen to know what would have happened if Madison Jayne and the Sort-of Knight had gone down other passageways. For example, if Madison and her hero had returned down the tunnel under the light purple arch—the way they had come—they would have been captured by two witches: the man with the high-pitched pained-finger-in-a-mousetrap voice, and the woman with the low, grumbly gravelly voice. The Princess would have been turned into a giant glutinous tree slug with a hankering for blueglass music, and the Knight would have been turned into an elephant-sized walking pepperoni and broccoli pizza. I know, it is quite a frightening reality—I would hate to be turned into something broccoli-like. Makes me shudder to even think of it.

Likewise, if you had chosen to follow the emerald green tunnel, Madison Jayne and the Knight would have traveled in the darkness for several minutes before falling into a pit of disembodied fingers. Being disembodied means the fingers are wandering lonely through the world without a body, so they were anxious to do all the things fingers like to do: poke, pry, pinch, pick and tickle. If you had chosen this tunnel, the Princess and the Sort-of Knight would have died a horrible tickling and poking death, and the story would end here.

Or, if you had chosen the dark red archway, they would have crawled through a wandering, serpentine passageway until they entered a large banquet hall filled with all the most delicious treats in the world. The richest ice creams and most delectable chocolates and juiciest strawberries would have caught Princess Madison’s eye, and she would take a seat near the table. The Knight would sit himself down to eating jelly beans of nearly every flavour imaginable.

They would eat and eat and eat, until Madison finally rolled off her chair and laid on the stone floor breathing heavily until she fell asleep. The Knight would eat his 14,521st jelly bean and collapse into a bed of gummi worms. While this sounds like the best of all possible choices, it turns out that the dessert table in the tunnel you did not choose would have been, if it really existed, enchanted. Their sleep would not be the innocent over-stuffed sleep of Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, but an eternal sleep, only to be interrupted when the sleeper was awakened by a single kiss.

Years later, long after the story was complete, Madison would be awakened by the kiss of a frog-man, and spend the rest of her life married to the frog-man, taking care of frog-children, and eating flies. The Knight, however, would be awakened by the kiss of a fair maiden and live happily ever after, which is all very nice for him.

You, however, did not choose any of those passageways, so none of those other choices ever really happened, which is good for our characters, the Princess Madison Jayne and her ridiculously unhelpful hero, the unnamed-Knight. In the real story, Madison considered each of the options before her, and finally chose the golden tunnel—for no reason except that she thought the colour was pretty, which was as good of a reason as any under the circumstances. The Knight congratulated her on her choice and together they scurried into the little tunnel leading away from the painted cavern.

They crouched through the golden tunnel, and soon found that it was actually getting bigger, rather than smaller. The walls were cut from rock, and were bumpy and jagged as Madison ran her hand along the side of the tunnel to keep her bearings.

“Look,” the Sort-of Knight said. “There’s a strange reflection ahead.”

“What is it?” Madison asked. Her companion shrugged in the dim light and they kept moving forward. Light danced off the ceiling and walls, and on the floor ahead. They walked another minute or two until Madison was shocked to find that her feet were cold and wet—it was water that was making the light strange in the tunnel.

“The tunnel is flooded!” she cried. “Is that bad or good?”

“It could mean we will run out of tunnel and drown in watery agony,” the Knight answered, always ready to point out the worst possibility.

Madison rolled her eyes and forged ahead. Their choice was made, for if they chose to return to the cavern they would be caught, and another tunnel might be worse than this one—which, in fact, we all know to be true.

Gradually, the water rose to Madison’s knees, and then to her waist. After ten minutes of walking, water was almost up to her neck and she was holding her book high above her head. Even the Knight was struggling through the water-filled tunnel, even though it was only to his waist. His black robes were heavy with water, and he was holding his sword high on his shoulder so that it did not get wet.

Madison felt the tunnel-darkness close in on her mind again. But she knew that there was something at the end of this tunnel: why else would people carve a tunnel if not to either enter or escape the castle. She decided to focus on escaping, rather than the bad feelings inside her. So she thought she’d talk to the Knight to distract herself from the dark and the fear. As she was about to talk about who might have carved this tunnel she realized that she still did not know the Knight’s name.

“What’s your name?”

“Oh dear,” the Knight responded, shocked. “I haven’t properly introduced myself. I am Sir Westley Cummerbund the Third, at your service.” The Knight bowed seriously.

Princess Madison did not mean to giggle. She seldom ever meant to giggle when she knew it was not appropriate. But it was often during the worst possible times that she found herself wanting to giggle, like during church or when her father, the King, was giving his long boring speeches. And this, the solemn introduction of her rescuer, was precisely the wrong time to giggle.

But she did giggle. It began in her stomach, and rumbled up through her shoulders, and then onto her face, and finally out her mouth as a laugh. It overwhelmed her like a flood of water in a little creek. She tried to stop laughing, but her shoulders shook and tears squeaked out of the corners of her eyes, and if she wasn’t holding a book high up in the air above the waterline, she would have held her tummy and laughed out loud.

“What?” Sir Cummerbund asked, looking offended. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Madison chortled. How do you explain to someone that their name is just plain silly. It’s like trying to point out to someone that there is chocolate on their face when it is really a third eyebrow: you just shouldn’t do it.

The Knight looked quite hurt through his mask, so Madison felt she had to explain.

“It’s just…it’s just that my father wears a cummerbund to parties, that’s all. It’s a piece of cloth that hides his tummy.” Madison looked seriously at Westley, but could not hold it in. She began to laugh again as her rescuer stood crestfallen in front of her.

“I know,” he said mournfully. “All the other heroes-in-training at the Knight-in-Shining-Armor School of Rescuing made fun of me because of my name. They all had very manly names like Peter and Liam and Robert and Bradley. How pathetic: Westley Cummerbund the Third! I might as well just give up on being a hero right now.”

“Now, now, don’t be silly,” Madison said, remembering her royal manners and composing herself. “A title is nothing compared to the man who holds it.” It was something she heard her father say once, and was proud to repeat such an adult-sounding phrase. “You are here saving me, aren’t you? Where are all those other heroes in training? The only one who came for me was you, isn’t that right?”

Sir Westley Cummerbund nodded, sniveling through tears and dejection.

“So let’s forget about names and finish our escape.”

The Knight nodded, and they began to trudge on through the water trench they were in. Occasionally Madison heard a sniffle from Sir Cummerbund, but he seemed to have perked up a little at her words. And their escape really was more pressing than whether or not his name was manly.

They pressed on, and just as the water was starting to splash on Madison’s face, and she was about to panic, the air seemed to change.

“I smell fresh air, Your Highness.”

“I do too, Sir Knight. And I think I see stars up ahead.” Madison was greatly relieved and quickened her pace toward the entryway.

It was true. They had come to the end of the tunnel, and it opened into a forest marsh, with the sky clear and starry above them. Madison half-hopped, half-swam to the bank of the marsh at the entrance to the tunnel and pulled herself up on its grassy bank.

The Sort-of Knight joined her, and they rested for a moment, breathing heavily while lying on their backs on a bed of sweet grass, looking up at the night sky. It seemed to Madison like forever since she last saw the stars—only 24 hours earlier—and in the tunnel she had wondered at points if she would ever see them again. But the air was clear of rain and dragons and fire and despair, and she was safe on the … well, where was she, exactly?

It occurred to Madison that maybe she wasn’t safe at all.

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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