Chapter 19: In Which Westley Falls Down

Once upon a time there was a great philosopher named Lao-Tsu. A philosopher is a person who gets paid to think up cool phrases to put on t-shirts, and this Lao-Tsu guy once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Actually, he said 千里之行,始于足, but since neither of us speak Chinese, I prefer the English, which means that every great journey begins with a single step.

Lao-Tsu, though, had never met Sir Westley Cummerbund, III.

Westley’s journey out of the woods toward the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains did not begin with a single step. It began with his robe getting caught on some thorn bushes. As he yanked his robe free from the thorns, he tripped on a rock and tumbled head over heels down the long grassy hill into the valley below.

Now, any intelligent reader will point out that all people have their heads over their heels in everyday life—unless, of course, they are actually standing on their heads, which is kind of difficult to do for most people, particularly if they are wearing robes. Madison had often wondered why adults said such a silly thing as “head over heels.” In her short life, Madison had mostly seen people fall by flopping down on the ground or sliding on the grass.

But when she saw Westley fall, his flowing robe flapping around him like ravens wings, his body doubled over as it rolled so that his boots flipped forward so far that his heels were really above his head, she realized that “head over heels” was a good description of someone falling.

She also realized that it was quite painful.

Far below her, Westley, her hero and protector, lay unmoving on the ravine floor.

“Westley!” Madison cried, and ran down the hill, trying not to fall down herself. A couple of times she had to stop running to change angle so she didn’t tumble—either head over heels, or just the normal, embarrassing flopping-sliding grass fall.

“Are you okay Westley?” Madison asked when she reached her fallen friend. She shook him, but he did not wake up. He only groaned and continued to sleep.

Madison stared at him. He was such a ridiculous person: telling a knock-knock joke for a life-or-death riddle, trading his money to buy magic beans, and fainting at the sight of blood. Along the journey Madison had sometimes wondered if he had been any help at all, but now as he lay at the bottom of a great valley, at the base of the Imaginary Nocturnal Mountains, with her family gone and the castle in the hands of the magical creatures, she felt she needed Westley. She felt like she couldn’t go on without him.

Madison sat down and began to cry. This was the saddest and most frightened she had ever been in her entire life.

Have you ever noticed that in life it is hard to know sometimes whether something is good or bad? I once leaned down to pick up a quarter only to discover that it transported me for a three-years through a magical gateway to a despicable land where mad-eyed bunny rabbits ruled the world and we ate only carrots and blueberry muffins. The muffins weren’t bad, but ever since I haven’t been able to look at a bunny rabbit without shuddering. I thought the quarter would be a good thing—everybody loves money—but it was a horrible, awful, evil-blueberry-muffin thing.

Another time, I accidentally slipped on some pig-snout and goose-liver soup that a one-eyed thief had spilled on the floor. I sat on the floor, soaked in the juices from dead farm animals, feeling sorry for myself. But what I didn’t realize is that just as I fell, one of my enemies shot a poisonous dart at me. The dart went over my head and lodged in the wall above the soup pot. It was not a deadly dart—my enemy did not hate me too much. But the poison in the dart would have made me sneeze every time I saw the colour red. I love red, so that would have been a terrible, horrifying curse, and slipping in the disgusting soup saved me.

It is very difficult to know, sometimes, whether something bad that happens is really bad, and whether something good that happens is really good.

Something very similar happened to Westley and Madison, though they did not know it. Just as they emerged from the wood, a dragon was circling overhead looking for a nice supper. While dragons don’t prefer eating humans—humans are quite tasty, but very high in fat—this dragon had been storming the castle all night and was quite hungry. Eating humans was like having chips instead of carrot sticks—a nice treat, but you can’t do it every day.

Just as the dragon was about to dive and snatch a nice Madison-and-Westley snack, the two travelers disappeared into the valley—first Westley, and then Madison. The dragon was puzzled, and circled overhead for a few minutes, casting a long early evening shadow across the grassy landscape.

Even though the travelers were quite fortunate that Westley tumbled so quickly into the valley, Madison didn’t feel fortunate. She felt desperate and sad and lonely. What was she going to do? She could not leave Westley, but did not have the courage to stay the night in the open. She did not see the dragon flying overhead, but she saw the strange, long shadows, and decided she had to do something.

She opened her bag and took out the little water she had, popped the cork on the bottle, and splashed it on Westley’s face. He snapped up in surprise, looked around like he was lost, groaned and lay back down, closing his eyes.

“Westley!” Madison cried.

“What? What? What’s going on?” he tried sitting up but fell down again. Madison helped him up, straightening out his cloak, which had become quite wrinkled, torn and tattered.

“You fell down the hill.”

“Is that right?” Westley said, looking at her with a strange look. “Must have been getting a more strategic position, then eh?”

Madison rolled her eyes, but smiled at her silly rescuer, happy he was alive.

“Can you walk?” she asked. “Night is coming and we should find a place to rest.”

“Help me up, then,” he said. Slowly, he got to his feet by leaning on Madison’s head. He was quite heavy to her, and as he hoisted himself up, he squished her face with his elbow and twice stepped on her toes. She winced in pain, but didn’t complain.

“Well,”  he said when he had brushed some of the grass and leaves off his cloak. “Night is coming and I think we should stop wasting our time here in the open and head for cover, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I quite agree,” Madison answered. For the forty-second time in twenty-four hours, Madison rolled her eyes at him.

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Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

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