Monday 26 November 2012

Tales of the Dreamscape - Woman of his Dreams - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

    Jack Numbskull sat on the rock outside the black fortress, held his head in his hands and stared glumly at the blue sky. His mother had been right after all, he had no idea where even to begin - the king of the giants? four rings that are five? what did any of it mean? No, he would have to go home a failure. What would his father think of him if he could see him now?
    And just as he was sure he would never see Aurore’s smiling face again, he heard the magical sound of her singing rising over the hills.
    He bounded up and raced towards her, his heart thundering inside his chest as he beheld her beauteous form.
    “Jack,” she said, and offered up a small, shy smile.
    “Aurore, my love,” he replied, “I was beginning to think I would never see your beauty again, for your father’s challenges are too much for me.”
    “Oh Jack,” she answered, “do not fret - I will help you overcome all obstacles, for together surely nothing can stand against us.”
    He grasped her delicate hand in his, and gently kissed it.
    “You are as generous as you are radiant,” he said, and together they strode off towards Grayhome, the land of the giants.

    A short time later, as such things are measured, Jack Numbskull and the princess Aurore arrived at the great mountain called Grayhome, and stood before the towering iron gates, that seemed as high as the entire black fortress.
    “Now when they answer the door,” the princess said, “you must tell the servants that we are travelling minstrels, come to play for the delight of the great king of the giants.”
    Jack nodded, and banged on the door as loud as he could.
    “And whatever you do, don’t touch any of the giants’ treasure,” Aurore added, as the sound of enormous footfalls approached the door.
    Towering above them, a hideous face peered through a hatch in the door, straining to see the tiny figures below.
    “Hello?” the giant called in a voice like distant thunder.
    “Good sir,” Jack shouted, “we are travelling minstrels, come to play for the ear of the king.”
    “Eh?” called the giant, spotting them at last.
    Jack repeated himself, shouting until his voice began to grow hoarse. Eventually, the giant understood and opened the door, bidding them enter.
    They clambered over enormous cobblestones behind the ancient servant, as he led them to the great drinking hall of Redtooth, the king of the giants, a monstrous creature with warts over much of his pallid flesh, and a single hair protruding from his sore-ridden scalp. When he grinned, he revealed rows of tombstone teeth.
    “Your majesty,” announced the servant, “two musicians have come to play for you.”
    “Wonderful” roared Redtooth, unceremoniously scooping up Jack and the Princess and placing them on the table. “They can play after we eat.”
    And with that the king of the giants clapped his hands twice, half-deafening poor Jack, and a troop of liveried servants began to serve the meal. The food was like none Jack had ever imagined - enormous slabs of meat, dripping red juices; bowls of vegetables and potatoes, sticky and wet with sugary sauces; bread rolls the size of houses, black and crusty; rounds of cheese as tall as the two humans, stinking of old boots - Jack’s mouth began to water even as he started to feel sick.
    As the king and his followers devoured the feast, Jack saw an amazing sight - a golden bird in a cage of diamonds, pruning herself in a silver mirror, and singing a song almost as sweet as Aurore’s. What a fine gift this would make for the princess, he thought to himself. But how to get it? And how to take the king’s only hair? Both seemed impossible tasks.
    When the meal was over, Redtooth called for the bards to play. Aurore gave Jack a shove.
    “Of course, your majesty,” he said with a bow, wondering exactly what it was they were meant to be playing.
    But then Aurore began to sing, a haunting melody of pain and loneliness, sad and soft and slow. The music washed over the giants’ hall, filling their ears with its sombre cadences, and slowly, one by one, the giants closed their eyes and began to sleep. Finally, even King Redtooth himself folded his colossal arms on the table, rested his chin and dropped off. When he began to snore like a swarm of bees, Aurore stopped singing.
    “Now’s your chance, Jack - grab the hair.”
    Jack grabbed a cheese knife the size of a spear and, clambering up the giant king’s grotesque features, delicately sliced the hair from his head. He tied it round his waist like a belt and turned to make his exit.
    But the golden songbird was almost within reach. If he stood on his tip toes, and held out the cheese knife Jack was sure he could lift it from its hook, and give it to Aurore as a wedding gift. Gingerly, trying not to wake the sleeping king, he reached out.
    “Jack!” hissed the princess, “what are you doing?”
    He ignored her - he was nearly there.
    The knife touched the top of the diamond cage with the knife and carefully hooked the ring with the knife’s point. He almost had it.
    Then he lost his footing and slipped a foot down the giant’s forehead, knocking the cage as he did so. The golden bird began to squawk and shout as it fluttered around its precious cage.
    “Run, Jack!” shouted the princess, scampering for the edge of the table as the king of the giants began to stir from his sleep.
    Forgetting the bird in his hurry, Jack leapt from the king’s forehead onto the table, grabbed Aurore’s hand and ran. But they were too high up and could never survive the leap to the stone floor below.
    The golden bird’s cries were only getting louder, and first one giant stretched and yawned, blinking the sleep from her eyes, and then another. Redtooth himself began to rise, looking around confusedly for the source of the noise.
    “Take this,” said Aurore, grabbing an enormous baked apple and passing one to Jack. “Now jump.”
    He didn’t need to be told twice. Holding the apples beneath them, the two of them jumped from the table, and hurtled through the air. The apples absorbed most of the impact, exploding in a sticky goo of sugar and butter, but they had no time to clean themselves off.
    “My hair!” thundered the king, desperately feeling his now completely bald head “someone has taken my hair!”
    “The tiny musicians!” shouted another, “catch them!”
    Jack and Aurore were already running for the door, still open a fraction to let a cooling breeze into Grayhome, but could they reach it in time? The giants fell over each other as they pushed to be the one to catch the thieves and earn the praise of their king, knocking platter after platter of food to the floor, sending bones and meat crashing to the ground. Enormous hands closed around them but the butter made them slip through the giant’s fingers, as Jack and Aurore sprinted the last few metres to the doorway. A moment later they emerged into the night air, and hid amongst the undergrowth. Though the giants roared and blustered, they could not find them, and eventually, after many hours, the search was called off.

    As the new day dawned, Jack began felt triumphant. Surely the most difficult of Noxus’ challenges had been accomplished - with the only hair of the king of the giants around his waist, the other tasks would easily be accomplished. Holding Aurore by the hand, the two of them began to head back to her father’s castle, while Jack whistled a tune, and considered his next move.
    A few hours later, despair had set in once more. The four golden rings that are five? What could that possibly be? He imagined all possible arrangements of four rings and could think of nothing.
    When the black fortress loomed high above the horizon Jack stopped the princess and confessed that he had no solutions to the second challenge.
    “I’m afraid, my love, that our quest is at an end, for I can imagine no ways in which four rings can be also five.”
    “Oh Jack Numbskull,” the princess scolded gently, “you only need to ask for my help.”
    Aurore took a small pair of scissors from her belt, and carefully cut a lock of her curled hair. As she coiled it into her hand, it formed a four-fold spiral of golden locks, and yet when she straightened it out and bound it around Jack’s arm, it became a single circle.
    “Four rings,” she said, “and now a fifth.”
    “My love,” he exclaimed, “your genius well-matches your beauty. Soon we shall meet all your father’s puzzles, and I shall be able to claim my prize.”
    Aurore nodded and smiled. “And yet there are two puzzles remaining - that which is beautiful and ugly, and that which is real yet unreal. What do you think they mean?”
    “To be honest, I haven’t a clue, but no doubt if we put our minds to it no obstacle will be too great.”
    And saying that, he sat on the grass, put his head on his hands, and thought, and thought, and thought, hoping that an answer would come to him before long.
    Soon however, Jack knew that he could not stay in the dreamscape any longer.
    “My love, I must wake,” he said, “but wait for me, and together we shall find the solution.”
    “I will be here,” whispered the princess, “and perhaps there too. And who knows? Maybe the answer will present itself.”
    Jack Numbskull closed his eyes, and woke.

    The air was foetid and rank. A rat scuttled into the semi-darkness as Jack fumbled for the sleepers he kept in his inner pocket, shivering as he did so.
    “Jack?” called a voice, familiar but totally out of place in the real world.
    “Aurore?” he mumbled back, getting his mouth and tongue back in sync after so long without use.
    “Yes,” she answered, “I think I’ve found your solution.”
    A figure limped into the half-light provided by a distant fluorescent strip-bulb, and in the pallid light, Jack beheld a hunched back and a crooked spine, a broken nose and missing teeth. Wispy strands of hair hung lankly in matted clumps, and a scar crossed an eye that had turned milky white.
    “Who... what...?”
    “Jack, it’s me,” the figure answered with a melodious voice, “your love, Aurore. I am the solution to my father’s riddle.”
    A tremor ran through Jack’s thin body that became a violent shaking. He found the pills and threw one down his throat as fast as he could. The unreal rose up to greet him.

    On the ramparts of the black fortress, the princess Aurore stood beside her father, Noxus’ powerful arm holding her in a loving embrace, as they watched Jack Numbskull flee the area as fast as his dream legs could carry him.
    “I’m sorry, my darling,” Noxus said softly, “I thought that he could have been the one.”
    “No,” Aurore said, shaking her head, “he was just like the others. He could never meet the fourth challenge.”
    “A love both real and unreal,” Noxus said and shook his head, “no, you’re probably right. But more will come, and in the end one will prove himself worthy.”
    “Perhaps father, perhaps.” And she cried a single milky white tear.

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