The Hall of the Hearts Desire (novel extract)

(This is an extract from The Raven and the Storyteller Book 2: Into the Deep Greenwood, which is available on Amazon on Kindle and also as a paperback)

 

‘’You fight well young Dylan but there was a moment when I could have grasped your sword hand. I didn’t take the opportunity but be more careful of that, be less enthusiastic, you moved in too close. A warrior must develop an internal stillness.’’ Moon said, ‘’ It’s long though since I saw that last trick you played. It can be very effective. Where did you learn it?’’

‘’From Emerald, Sir,’’ Dylan replied.

‘’I would be pleased to meet her,’’ Moon said. ‘’I begin to think we may have the same homeland. Emerald is not a name from that land but as Skillywidden said, some of us have several names. She seems very elusive.’’

‘’Ah yes,’’ said Dylan laughing, ‘’I never met anyone so hard to catch. But she will be home soon enough. All will meet here on May Eve.’’

Glancing at the old book Dylan had left on a log Moon went over and picked it up before sitting down on the grass and taking a drink from his flask. He wiped the lip and passed the flask to Dylan. Moon flipped through the worn pages of the book and then sat holding it. The leather was warm and smooth in his hand. He stroked it absentmindedly and felt again the soft footfall of an old memory, just out of sight.

‘’I see you like to read. You enjoy all the old tales?’’ Moon asked.

‘’Oh yes,’’ said Dylan, ‘’they are full of lessons and yet you don’t feel as if you are learning. The old stories enchant me. I have read almost all the books in the cottage.’’

Moon nodded.

“How did you come here?  You were born in these woods?’’ Moon asked, changing the subject.

‘’No Sir, but I was young when I came. I came here by chance, to escape. I never left. I don’t really know where I am from, though it can’t be very far. I do recall a few details but I most clearly recall my need to escape.’’

‘’Would you tell me this tale? I would be glad to hear it?’’ Moon asked.

‘’If it interests you I will tell it but with all I remember it’s not so very much to tell. I was a boy of about six and there were some festivities in the city. Much of the entertainment was so close to my home that I could sit on a step and watch without straying far from the house. I was trusted not to run off. My favourite performer was a man who did some magic tricks with mirrors and boxes. He also told wonderful tales as part of his act. Being small I was enchanted by all this.  I often saw him talk with my mother.

One morning he asked me to help with his trick and I stepped into the magic box. I cannot say what happened because I still don’t know. I seemed to fall into a sleep in there and when I was awake again I was not in the box but in the back of his cart and I wasn’t in the city of any other place I saw before. He said I fell asleep on the journey and the box must be only a dream. He had a power. I never questioned anything he said.

I begged to be taken back but he told me not to worry and he would take me back soon.  He said he had a use for a lad like me and that I should forget about home for now. He said I had been apprentice to him by my mother and that this was a wonderful chance for me. Later he received news that she had died and he showed me a letter, my family seal upon it.

Perhaps if I had not run away we would one day have gone back to that city but I did run away. I was so confused and unhappy at the news of my mother’s death.

I escaped one night and ran to the woods because I didn’t know which way else to run. I was afraid of the wood at night but I was lucky and I met Dewberry who made me laugh all the time. I have been here ever since and have no idea to this day of where that city was. I am happy here and have no great inclination to find it after so long. I think of my mother sometimes. I do remember her face. I missed her very much for a long time. But she is gone. I saw the letter. Now I stay here and learn to be a warrior so that I can protect the woods and anyone who is badly treated.’’

Moon wondered about this story. He had no idea how long the boy in the city had been missing and many boys went missing.

That night Moon spoke with Wilf. Wilf was very interested in the news but he too had no idea how old the lost boy might be by now.

 

15.

 

Moon and Dylan met again next day by the pool, where Skillywidden sat fishing. He seemed a very patient fisherman as they sat there long and he caught nothing. Wilf was watching the water closely. Dylan remarked on the lack of fish.

Skillywidden laughed.

‘It’s a long time I’d be here for sure,’’ he said ‘’if it were fish I was after for there are none in this pool that I know of at all. I’m fishing for dreams and I caught a dozen or more already lad. They are resting there in my net keeping fresh. One of ‘em may be yours tonight.’’

Dylan peered at the net just below the surface of the pool but to him it seemed entirely empty. Having known Skillywidden for a while he didn’t question further. He liked the idea of having a dream from Skilly’s catch and hoped he might have one that very night.

‘’Let me tell you a story,’’ Moon said, settling down with his back to an oak tree. ‘’It is a tale of the power of the word and the sword.’’

Dylan settled to listen and Skillywidden went on with his fishing.

‘’In ancient days a knight, who had fought many great battles during his life and all in honour of great and just causes, was returning from war, hoping that the people of his homeland might remember him. One night, on his journey he stopped to rest beside a waterfall. He lit a fire and had not sat beside it long when an old woman appeared. She held a scroll. She sat down beside him and spoke,

‘’Lord Knight,’’ she said, ‘’I have waited here for your return so that I might deliver this scroll to you. It will tell you of your true quest. It is the quest of your own destiny. Follow it and you will be rewarded. Follow it not and your life will be wasted in endless struggles and all you do will come to no purpose. The choice is yours to make. Here is the map.’’

Handing him the map she continued, ‘’ This map that will lead you to your true hearts desire. Few people really know what this is. They imagine they want or need this or that but they are never replete, whatever they may gain. Only the deepest desire of the heart can satisfy. Many people live their whole life and never know or find it. I offer you this opportunity, take it or not as you will. ’’

With these words she vanished.

It was all so sudden and strange that the Knight might have thought it all a dream if it were not for the very real scroll he now held in his hand. The Knight felt he must follow this quest for if he did not he would think about it and wonder ever after. This choice seemed like no choice at all.

The warrior travelled far as he followed the map and he had many adventures on the way but one day he came to a dark castle on a mountain peak. The map showed this as his destination. The castle seemed abandoned. Uncertain what next to do he decided to shelter there for the night, in the roofed courtyard. It had begun to rain. He fell asleep in a sheltered corner and he had a strange dream. He dreamed of three statues and each statue had a chain attached to it that led off into the darkness. One chain was made of iron, one of jade and one of silver.

A voice, in his dream, said, ‘’we all must make choices.’’

He knew he must choose one of these chains to follow and, wondering what each chain signified, he chose the one made of silver.

He was awoken by a sound, the sound of a door creaking on its hinges. He stood and saw that the huge oak door on the other side of the courtyard had swung open. It opened into a gloomy passage way. Along the wall ran a fine silver chain that gleamed as if with its own light. He took hold of the chain and followed it into a deepening darkness. It became so dark that he could see nothing. He went along until he reached another door. The door was inlaid with an inscription in silver.

The inscription said, ‘’All is dream. All is story. Speak seeker.’’

The Knight, by instinct, knew what to say.

‘’All is dream. All is story,’’ he said.

The door swung open and the Knight entered a vast hall made of huge blocks of dark stone, both walls and floor, with a high vaulted roof open to the night sky. The hall was filled with fires. Each fire burned in its own grate and each grate was of a different shape and design. The Knight walked slowly around the hall looking at each grate. Some were decorated with fruit, some with weapons, some with flowers, some with faces, some with crowns but he was drawn to one grate and returned to it over and over again. It was larger than the others and made of cast iron. It looked both ancient and timeless. The fire in the grate burned strong and fierce.

The Knight walked all around the large grate examining the design which depicted a sequence of events as if from a long story. Many scenes in this story were familiar to him but other scenes came from parts of a story he did not know. He wondered if this story was in some way his own or showed where his own actions belonged in a far greater story.

As he stood there watching the fire he began to notice more story within the flames. The images were fleeting.

How much time had passed he did not know, when he became aware of a quiet movement behind him and turning he saw a woman dressed in a long white robe. She held a book in one hand and a sword in the other.

‘’Welcome,’’ she said, with a gentle smile. ‘’Welcome to the Hall of Fire. I see that your eye is drawn to the Fire of Imagination.’’

‘’It seems in part to depict my own story,’’ said the Knight.

‘’Yes, it does,’’ said the Lady, ‘’but it also shows how your actions have affected the world and, more than that, it shows your choices. The flames at the heart of this fire reveal your dreams and the things you have imagined and will imagine. I see you are drawn to them. You were seeking their stories, were you not?’’

The Knight didn’t really understand but he nodded.

The Lady bent down and placing the sword she held on the floor beside the fire she said,

‘’Follow me to the Hall of the Hearts Desire.’’

The Knight followed her and, turning a corner, they entered a great library. The Lady placed the book she held onto a table and opened it.

‘’This is the Book of Numbers,’’ she said, turning the pages until she arrived at one.

‘’This page is yours,’’ she said, pointing. ‘’Come and look.  Listed here are the numbers of all the people you have killed, in battles of good causes, and in this column here is the number of all the children never born, due to these people slain. This next number is the number of tales never to be told now. The final column shows the number of minds changed for the good by your honourable knightly actions. You see? It is zero.’’

The Knight felt disheartened and ashamed and he bowed his head in silent acknowledgement.

‘’Now follow me’ said the Lady and she took him to an alcove at the side where a small boy sat reading a book of poetry.

‘’You know this boy?’’

‘’Yes it’s me’’ said the Knight, feeling sad. ‘’I loved to read above all things when I was a boy.’’

‘’What did you read?’’

When I was allowed to I read books of poems and stories. Ah, I remember those magical stories as if it were only yesterday.’’

‘’What was your favourite story?’’

‘’There was a book about a man who travelled the land planting trees and helping people he met. He was poor but was a very good man. I would have liked to do that and be like him but more than anything, when I was a child, I wished I had written that story or one like it. All I wanted to do as a child was make stories but my family had other ideas for my future.’’

The Lady smiled. ‘’Did you wonder where the jade and the iron chain might have lead you?’’

‘’Yes I did wonder,’’ said the Knight.

‘Those are stories you can create. It doesn’t matter at this moment where the chains went. Use your imagination and decide that for yourself, make the story, a story people will remember just as you remember the man who planted trees. You have the power to plant ideas in story. When all warriors are dead and gone the word lives on. Words have a power that outlives the sword. Some words outlive us all. Use them with care. Words and stories are magic. Go now and fulfil your true hearts desire. You are free to do so. It is your destiny. Use this gift well.’’

The Knight thanked the Lady and lay down his weapons and took off his armour and left the Hall of the Hearts Desire. Joy and hope filled his heart as he travelled on; beginning to imagine all the stories he could tell.’

Moon looked a Dylan.

There was silence.

Dylan looked thoughtful.

‘’I feel as if this story is almost my own,’’ Dylan said.

Moon smiled, ‘’It touched your heart perhaps. It is almost mine too.’’

Wilf cocked his head and gave Dylan a penetrating look. At that moment Skillywidden caught a fresh dream and gently placed it into his net with a chuckle.

‘’Does a unicorn mean anything to you? Or a silver hand on a door?’’ Moon asked.

‘’I remember a unicorn, yes,’’ Dylan replied, looking puzzled at the sudden change of subject. ‘’A unicorn statue stood at the door of my home. I used to play beside it on the doorstep. My mother told me that my family was blessed by a Unicorn centuries ago. I think there may have been a silver hand on the door but I am uncertain of this. The memory of the silver hand is as if only from a dream. I believe it is the hand of fate.’’

Wilf let out a loud squawk and flew in a circle, swooping and dipping. He came to rest on Moons shoulder.

‘’I will lead him home,’’ he said. ‘’Imagine his mothers joy when she sees him!’’

Moon nodded and smiled broadly. ‘’Yes, that is certainly easy to imagine Wilf. You can take much pleasure in such a journey.’’

Dylan stood up. ‘’Take me home?’’ he said.

‘’Sit down Dylan, be patient a moment.’’ Moon said. ‘’I have a further story to tell you.’’

And so it was that Moon sat beside Dynawd’s descendant and told him the Tale of the Winter of the Unicorn, the tale of Dylan’s own gift and destiny. He explained to Dylan that, by chance or fate, he had told this same tale in the City at the Winter Solstice and how a woman had come to him afterwards with tears in her eyes and had given him gold and of how sad and gentle she was. He told of Wilf’s part in the tale when he returned to the City and watched the woman and learned the source of her sorrow, that her son was lost to her. Dylan’s eyes filled with tears for the Unicorn but they were mixed with tears of joy at the thought of seeing his mother again and the realisation she was not dead.

After a moment of thought Dylan said, ‘’But I must wait. I can’t go without saying farewell to Emerald. She has been like a mother to me for many years.’’

Emerald sat under a tree at the edge of the woods looking out across the land, her bow at her side, as she so often did. The young hare played in the field nearby.

Emerald was always on guard, always watching for signs of potential threat to the woods or to the nearby stone circles. Over the years she had noticed subtle changes, changes that troubled her, making her wonder what more might come with time. She had been a warrior almost all of her very long life and much had already changed in the world.

‘’Wait for Mayday, lad,’’ said Skillywidden, with a grin. ‘’Emerald will return to the clearing soon enough. She would never miss the Gathering. There is more to be revealed here yet. Wait for the end of this story.’’

Skillywidden set his fishing net aside and brought out his loom and began to weave. The pattern was at first like water and then the water lead into paths that crossed and circled one over another and it was as if a flower bloomed at each point where a path crossed. The pattern became more and more complex until it dazzled the eye and no mind could grasp it all at once. All the while Skillywidden hummed to himself and it seemed to Moon that this wordless song held all things together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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