12 December, 2017 by katelaity
The dark castle loomed before us in the gloom. It had crenelated walls and imposing towers and seemed to stay just as black when we approached closer. There was not a light anywhere to be seen, no cosy fire to draw the eye. At least it did not swell with angry troops of soldiers so that was something at least.
As we approached closer, it was possible to distinguish something more about its appearance but even that did not help.
‘Are those…thorns?’ I asked with some misgivings for this was hardly a welcoming site.
‘It seemed to be engulfed by them,’ Chambers said with a sort of too lively curiosity. For heaven’s sake he even got out his memorandum book to make some notes about it. Hardly fitting in such a crisis.
The thorns were black and tall and many thick as your arm. The vines—if they could be called that, for they were nigh on to being trees—twisted and wrapped around the stones as if they wanted to shield them from the light, any light. They offered a most inhospitable vista before us. I was quite ready to say we should rein in and try another route.
‘Are you not curious about these thorns?’ Tansy asked, as if once more he had anticipated my reluctance. ‘They are clearly not natural. I think there must be some kind of enchantment here.’
‘Enchantment?’ I snorted, though to be honest there was something very fairy tale like about them. It was easy to imagine some malevolent sprite casting a curse upon the fortress to guard it forever from human sight.
But I could hardly admit to that. It was the nineteenth century after all, not some hoary dark age. We were men of today (well, today Tansy was a man anyway). ‘I’m sure it’s just a feature of this benighted region that thorn bushes grow to titanic proportions.’
‘And you won’t at all expect a princess to be slumbering inside,’ Tansy said, his eyes dancing with the light of supressed humour.
‘For all you know it could be an angry giant who has vowed to kill the very next person who disturbs his solitude,’ I retorted, not to be outdone.
‘But it would provide a place to hide from the king’s men,’ the lady Judith urged us to consider. ‘Can you not hear the hooves of their steeds?’ Indeed the drumming had become incessant though the gloomy woods concealed their presence from us. Had the fairy host become even larger as they pursued us? It was a bit unnerving.
‘I suppose we ought to at least investigate.’ With that we rode on, picking our way more carefully through the thickets of thorns, endeavouring not to catch our clothing on the sharp points that seemed to gather around us as we passed through the bushes.
‘We should dismount,’ Tansy finally said as we ducked lower and lower to go through the gnarled arms. It had become so dark it was almost like night and the horses were restive, as if the slow pace and the careful movements hemmed them in too much.
We led our mounts through the maze of limbs and sharp dagger points until we came to the portcullis. Halloing into the gloom gave no response, so we three put our shoulders to the job and gradually got the entry open. I felt a twinge of discomfort as we let the great metal gate fall into place again. The absurd notion that we might be trapped there forever jumped into my mind, but I pushed it away at once. No point in being morose—at least not yet.
I looked to Tansy. He of course was examining our new surroundings minutely, so I did the same. As our eye grew accustomed to the murk, I was surprised to see that the interior was richly attired with many fine tapestries. I moved closer to one, as the image was somewhat hazy in the dark and was surprised to find that it showed a very familiar scene. ‘Is that not the garden we recently left?’
The others drew near. ‘Oh yes, certainly it is.’ The lady Judith nodded her head. ‘Look that’s the king asleep under the tree, there!’
I gasped. ‘And look at that!’ Everyone turned to see where I pointed.