The Indigo King CHAPTER ONEThe Booke of Dayes
Hurrying along one of the tree-lined paths at Magdalen College in Oxford, John glanced up at the cloud-clotted sky and decided that he rather liked the English weather. Constant clouds made for soft light; soft light that cast no shadows. And John liked to avoid shadows as much as possible.
As he passed through the elaborate gate that marked the entrance to Addison’s Walk, he looked down at his watch, checking his progress, then looked again. The watch had stopped, and not for the first time. It had been a gift from his youngest child, his only daughter, and while her love in the gift was evident, the selection had been made from a child’s point of view and was therefore more aesthetic than practical. The case was burnished gold (although it was most certainly gold-colored tin), the face was painted with spring flowers, and on the back was the embossed image of a frog wearing a bonnet.
John had absentmindedly pulled it out of his pocket during one of the frequent gatherings of his friends at Magdalen, much to their amusement. Barfield in particular loved to approach him now at inopportune moments just to ask the time—and hopefully embarrass John in the process.
John sighed and tucked the watch back in his pocket, then pulled his collar tighter and hurried on. He was probably already late for the dinner he’d been invited to at the college, and although he had always been punctual (mostly), events of recent years had made him much more aware of the consequences tardiness can bring.
Five years earlier, after a sudden and unexpected journey to the Archipelago of Dreams, he’d found himself a half hour late for an evening with visiting friends that had been planned by his wife. Even had he not taken an oath of secrecy regarding the Archipelago, he would scarcely have been able to explain that he was late because he’d been saving Peter Pan’s granddaughter and thousands of other children from the Pied Piper, and had only just returned via a magic wardrobe in Sir James Barrie’s house, and so had still needed to drive home from London.
His wife, however, still made the occasional remark about his having been late for the party. So John had since resolved to be as punctual as possible in every circumstance. And tonight he was certain that Jack would not want to be on his own for long, even if the third member of their dinner meeting was their good and trusted friend, Hugo Dyson.
Hugo had become part of a loose association of like-minded fellows, centered around Jack and John, who gathered together to read, discuss, and debate literature, Romanticism, and the nature of the universe, among other things. The group had evolved from an informal club at Oxford that John had called the Coalbiters, which was mostly concerned with the history and mythology of the Northern lands. One of the members of the current gathering
referred to them jokingly as the “not-so-secret secret society,” but where John and Jack were concerned, the name was more ironic than funny. They frequently held other meetings attended only by themselves and their friend Charles, as often as he could justify the trip from London to Oxford, in which they discussed matters that their colleagues would find impossible to believe. For rather than discussing the meaning of metaphor in ancient texts of fable and fairy tale, what was discussed in this actually
secret secret society were the fables and fairy tales themselves … which were real
. And existed in another world just beyond reach of our own. A world called the Archipelago of Dreams.
John, Jack, and Charles had been recruited to be Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica
, the great atlas of the Archipelago. Accepting the job brought with it many other responsibilities, including the welfare of the Archipelago itself and the peoples within it. The history of the atlas and its Caretakers amounted to a secret history of the world, and sometimes each of them felt the full weight of that burden; for events in the Archipelago are often mirrored in the natural world, and what happens in one can affect the other.
In the fourteen years since they first became Caretakers, all three men had become distinguished as both scholars and writers in and around Oxford, as had been the tradition with other Caretakers across the ages. There were probably many other creative men and women in other parts of the world who might have had the aptitude for it, but the pattern had been set centuries earlier by Roger Bacon, who was himself an Oxford scholar and one of the great compilers of the Histories of the Archipelago.
The very nature of the Geographica
and the accompanying Histories meant that discussing them or the Archipelago with anyone in the natural world was verboten. At various points in history, certain Caretakers-in-training had disagreed with this doctrine and had been removed from their positions. Some, like Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, were nearly eaten by the dragons that guarded the Frontier, the barrier between the world and the Archipelago, before giving up the job. Others, like the adventurer Sir Richard Burton, were cast aside in a less dramatic fashion but had become more dangerous in the years that followed.
In fact, Burton had nearly cost them their victory in their second conflict with the Winter King—with his shadow, to be more precise—and had ended up escaping with one of the great Dragon-ships. He had not been seen since. But John suspected he was out there somewhere, watching and waiting.
Burton himself may have been the best argument for Caretaker secrecy. The knowledge of the Archipelago bore with it the potential for great destruction, but Burton was blind to the danger, believing that knowledge was neither good nor evil—only the uses to which it was put could be. It was the trait that made him a great explorer, and an unsuitable Caretaker.
Because of the oath of secrecy, there was no one on Earth with whom the three Caretakers could discuss the Archipelago, save for their mentor Bert, who was in actuality H. G. Wells, and on occasion, James Barrie. But Barrie, called Jamie by the others, was the rare exception to Burton’s example: He was a Caretaker who gave up the job willingly. And as such, John had realized early on that the occasional visit to reminisce was fine—but Jamie wanted
no part of anything of substance that dealt with the Archipelago.
What made keeping the secret difficult was that John, Jack, and Charles had found a level of comfortable intellectualism within their academic and writing careers. A pleasant camaraderie had developed among their peers at the colleges, and it became more and more tempting to share the secret knowledge that was theirs as Caretakers. John had even suspected that Jack may have already said something to his closest friend, his brother Warnie—but he could hardly fault him for that. Warnie could be trusted, and he had actually seen the girl Laura Glue, when she’d crashed into his and Jack’s garden, wings askew, five years earlier, asking about the Caretakers.
But privately, each of them had wondered if one of their friends at Oxford might not be inducted into their circle as an apprentice, or Caretaker-in-training of sorts. After all, that was how Bert and his predecessor, Jules Verne, had recruited their successors. In fact, Bert still maintained files of study on potential Caretakers, young and old, for his three protégés to observe from afar. Within the circle at Oxford, there were at least two among their friends who would qualify in matters of knowledge and creative thinking: Owen Barfield and Hugo Dyson. John expected that sometime in the future, he, Jack, and Charles would likely summon one (or both) colleagues for a long discussion of myth, and history, and languages, and then, after a hearty dinner and good drink, they would unveil the Imaginarium Geographica
with a flourish, and thus induct their fellow or fellows into the ranks of the Caretakers. Other candidates might be better qualified than the Oxford dons, but familiarity begat comfort, and comfort begat trust. And in a Caretaker, trust was one of the most important qualities of all.
But none of them had anticipated having such a meeting as a matter of necessity, under circumstances that might have mortal consequences for one of their friends. Among them, Jack especially was wary of this. He had lost friends in two worlds and was reluctant to put another at risk if he could help it.
He had requested that all three of them meet for dinner with Hugo Dyson on the upcoming Saturday rather than their usual Thursday gathering time, but as it turned out, Charles was doing research for a novel in the catacombs beneath Paris and could not be reached. He’d been expected back that very day, but as they had heard nothing from him, and he had not yet appeared back in London, John and Jack decided that the meeting was too important to delay, and they confirmed the appointment with Hugo for that evening. It was agreed that the best place for it was in Jack’s rooms at Magdalen. They met there often, and so no one observing them would find anything amiss; but the rooms also afforded a degree of privacy they could not get in the open dining halls or local taverns, should the discussion turn to matters best kept secret.
This was almost inevitable, John realized with a shudder of trepidation, given the nature of the matter he and Jack needed to broach with Hugo. Oddly enough, it was actually Charles who was responsible for setting the events in motion, or rather, a small package that had been addressed to him and that he’d subsequently forwarded to Jack at Magdalen. Charles worked at the Oxford University Press, which was based in London, and very few people knew of his connection to Jack at all—much less knew enough to address the parcel, “Mr. Charles Williams, Caretaker.” Charles sent it to Jack, with the instruction that he open it together with John—and Hugo Dyson.
Invoking the title of Caretaker meant that the parcel involved the Archipelago. And Charles’s request that Hugo be invited meant that whether their colleague was ready for it or not, it might be time to reveal the Geographica
When they were not adding notations—or more rarely, new maps—John kept the atlas in his private study, inside an iron box bound with locks of silver and stamped with the seal of the High King of the Archipelago, the Caretakers, and the mark of the extraordinary man who created it, who was called the Cartographer of Lost Places. In that box it was the most secure book in all the world, but now it was wrapped in oilcloth and tucked under John’s left arm as he walked through Magdalen College. Still safe, if not secure.
John shivered and hunched his shoulders as he approached the building where Jack’s rooms were, then took the steps with a single bound and opened the front door.
The rooms were spare but afforded a degree of elegance by the large quantity of rare and unusual books, which reflected a wealth of selection rather than accumulation. A number of volumes in varying sizes were neatly stacked in all the corners of the rooms and along the tops of the low shelves that were common in Oxford, which all the dons hated. Jack commented frequently that they’d probably been manufactured by dwarves, just to irritate the taller men who’d end up using them.
As John had feared, Hugo was already there, sitting on a big Chesterfield sofa in the center of the sitting room. He was being poured a second cup of Darjeeling tea by their host, who looked wryly at John as he came in.
“The frog in a bonnet set you back again, dear fellow?” said Jack.
“I’m afraid so,” John replied. “The dratted thing just won’t stay wound.”
“Hah!” chortled Hugo. “Time for a new watch, I’d say. Time. For a watch. Hah! Get it?”
Jack rolled his eyes, but John gave a polite chuckle and took a seat in a shabby but comfortable armchair opposite Hugo. The man was a scholar, but he wore the perpetual expression of someone who anticipates winning a carnival prize: anxious but cheerily hopeful. That, combined with his deep academic knowledge of English and his love of truth in all forms, made him a friend both John and Jack valued. Whether he was suited for the calling of Caretaker, however, was yet to be determined.
The three men finished their tea and then ate a sumptuous meal of roast beef, new potatoes, and a dark Irish bread, topped off with sweet biscuits and coffee. John noted that Jack then brought out the rum—much sooner than usual, and with a lesser hesitation than when Warnie was with them—and with the rum, the parcel that had been sent to Charles.
“Ah, yes,” said Hugo. “The great mystery that has brought us all together.” He leaned forward and examined the writing on the package. “Hmm. This wouldn’t be Charles Williams the writer, would it?”
Jack and John looked at each other in surprise. Few of their associates in Oxford knew of Charles, but then again, Charles did have his own reputation in London as an editor, essayist, and poet. His first novel, War in Heaven
, had come out only the year before, and it was not particularly well known.
“Yes, it is,” said John. “Have you read his work?”
“Not much of it, I’m afraid,” Hugo replied. “But I’ve had my own work declined by the press, so I might find I like his writing more if my good character prevails when I do read it.
“I’m familiar with his book,” continued Hugo, “because the central object in the story is the Holy Grail.”
“The cup of Christ, from the Last Supper,” said John.
“Either that, or the vessel used to catch his blood as he hung on the cross,” answered Hugo, “depending on which version of the story you believe is more credible as a historian.”
“Or as a Christian,” said John, “although the Grail lore certainly blurs the line between history and myth.”
“It’s very interesting that you feel that way,” Jack said, unwrapping the parcel and casting a sideways glance at John, “because the line between history and myth is about to be wiped away entirely.”
Inside the brown wrapper was a book, about three inches thick and nearly ten inches square. It was bound in ancient leather, and the pages were brown with age. The upper left-hand side of the first few pages had been torn, and the rest bore several deep gashes. Otherwise, the book was intact. The cover itself was filled with ancient writing, and in the center was a detailed impression of the sacred cup itself: the Holy Grail.
Hugo stood to better take in the sight. “Impressive! Is it authentic?”
Jack examined the book in silence for a few minutes, then nodded. “It is. Sixth century, as closely as I can estimate.”
Hugo gave him an admiring look. “I didn’t realize you were an expert in this sort of historical matter.”
“I have some knowledgeable associates,” said Jack. He turned to John. “Can you read it?”
John dusted off the cover with a napkin. “Absolutely. The forms are Anglo-Saxon, but the writing itself is Gothic.”
“Gothic!” Hugo exclaimed. “No one’s used Gothic since …”
“Since the sixth century,” said John. “But it was one of my favorite languages to play with when I was younger.”
“That’s what makes him a genius,” Hugo said to Jack. “It’s all play to him.”
The two men refilled their glasses (this time adding a bit of hot water to the rum) and stood back to let John work through the translation. After a few minutes had passed, John turned to Jack and grinned.
“It bears closer study,” he said. “If I can refine the actual letter-forms, I might even be able to compare it to some of the Histories and narrow down who the author might be. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it is
one of the Histories.”
“The author?” Hugo exclaimed. “Surely you’re having a joke at my expense, my dear fellow. Narrowing down the century would be impressive enough, but I doubt the author signed his work. Not in those days.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Jack. “In a way, that’s why I asked you to come, Hugo.”
“It’s quite exceptional, really,” John exclaimed. “It purports to be a historical accounting of the lineage of the kings of England. And that history is intertwined with the mythology of the Holy Grail. Except …”
“What?” blurted Hugo.
“Except,” John finished, “it starts at least five centuries before the birth of Christ.”
“So, pure mythology rather than history,” said Jack.
“That’s debatable,” said Hugo, “but you yourself said this would wipe away the line between history and myth.”
“Indeed,” Jack said, turning to John. “Was Charles’s note correct? About the writing?”
John nodded. “The cover text is relevant, but it’s the first page that really has me baffled, the same as it did Charles.” He lifted the cover. “And for that page, there’s no need for me to translate.”
Instead of the Gothic writing on the cover, the words on the first page were written in a reddish brown ink in modern English. The page had been torn crosswise from left to right, but the message was largely intact:
He who seeks the means to
the islands of the Archipelago
will follow the true Grail and
Blood will be saved, by willing choice
that time be restored for the future’s sake.
And in God’s name, don’t close the door!
Hugo clapped them both on the shoulders. “I knew it! Well done, you old scalawags! An excellent joke! Oh, this will be a tale to dine out on! But tell me this: Who is the Cartographer?”
The Indigo King CHAPTER TWOThe Door in the Wood
“It isn’t a joke, Hugo,” said Jack. “You can’t tell anyone of this. That isn’t ink. And you should take a closer look at the handwriting.”
Hugo did so, and his astonished gasp confirmed what Jack had suspected and John had just realized: The writing was in Hugo’s own hand.
“Mmm,” said John, examining the writing for himself. “You’re right, Jack. This is
quite the mystery. I wonder if that’s actually Hugo’s blood?”
“Hard to say for certain,” said Jack. “It’s nearly fourteen centuries old, so there’s probably no way to tell.”
“My blood?” exclaimed Hugo. “Really now, this is carrying things on a bit past the edge, don’t you think?”
“Oh, don’t be so squeamish, Hugo,” said John. “It’s dried, after all.”
Jack sat on the sofa and leaned back, his hands behind his neck. “Let’s assume this is what it appears to be. Hugo and Charles have never met. So why would this have been sent to Charles?”
“And not only that,” John interjected, “but to him in his capacity as a Caretaker.”
“A Caretaker of what?” said Hugo. “And who is the Cartographer?”
“I think,” John said, reaching for the oilcloth-wrapped book he’d brought with him, “that it’s time we explained a few things to you, my baffled friend. Beginning with this.”
On top of the table, John unwrapped the Imaginarium Geographica
“We’re going to need more rum,” said Jack.
As Hugo sat in stunned silence, John and Jack took turns telling him a slightly abridged version of all the adventures they had experienced as Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica
. When they were finished, a completely discombobulated and still slightly skeptical Hugo Dyson squinted one eye and looked them over.
“This is all completely on the level, then?”
“As level as it’s possible to get,” said John. “And as you can see, the Geographica
itself is fairly compelling evidence.”
“Indeed,” said Hugo, rising to look at the atlas. “It is extraordinary, I’ll give you that. Extraordinary. And you say this Cartographer of Lost Places created all these maps?”
“Yes,” Jack said, nodding.
“So who is he, really?”
“I don’t think anyone really knows,” said John. “Bert might have his ideas. Samaranth as well. But I’ve never come across any mention of him in any of the Histories. What we know of him is all there is
“Perhaps he’s the one who sent it,” Hugo suggested. “After all, the note I, uh, wrote seems to be for his benefit.”
John shook his head. “It wouldn’t have come by post. He’d have sent Bert, or a dragon, or a postal owl or something.”
“A postal owl
?” said Jack.
“I was just giving a ‘for instance,’” said John. “I don’t think it was really delivered by an owl. Everyone knows swallows are more suited for that sort of thing, anyway.”
“That’s even worse,” said Jack. “At least a good-size owl would have a shot at lifting a heavy book. You’d need several
swallows to match that.”
“He has a point,” said Hugo.
“Whatever,” said John, irritated. “What I mean is that it was sent by someone in this world, not someone in the Archipelago.”
“But who here knows that we’re the Caretakers?” asked Jack. “And why not just contact us directly?”
“Maybe they couldn’t,” offered Hugo. “Perhaps whoever sent the book was prevented from bringing it themselves.”
“I think that the reason it was addressed to Charles is obvious,” said John. “His novel proves his interest in Grail lore, and as a Caretaker he has resources other scholars wouldn’t.”
“Fair enough,” said Jack. “But what initiated Hugo’s involvement in all this?” They both turned to their friend, who gulped and grinned sheepishly.
“I’m just trying to keep up, honestly,” said Hugo. “As I said, I was familiar with Charles’s work, but my interest was in what I hoped
the novel was, not what it is.
“I’m doing a lot of reading in Arthurian legends, and so of course I’m taking detours into Grail stories. I thought Charles’s book might be a nice diversion, but it was rather disappointing to discover it’s wholly contemporary. To him the Grail is an object, a
device, if you will, to allow him to tell a story of the supernatural. And that wasn’t what I was looking for at all.”
“I see,” said John. “We’ll have to speak further about the Arthur legends. I think we can help you there”—he winked at Jack—“particularly with the material about his descendants.”
“You can show me the actual Histories?” Hugo exclaimed.
“Better,” said Jack. “We can show you the actual descendants
“We’re the last one’s godfathers,” John explained.
“Good Lord,” said Hugo.
“What I want to know is the connection between the Grail and the Cartographer,” said Jack. “How are they linked, I wonder?”
“Arthur again,” said John. “Remember, the seal of the High King is what keeps the door locked in the Keep. There must be a connection there.”
Jack snapped his fingers. “Right. I’d forgotten. So what do we do?”
“Let’s do this,” said John, rising. “Tomorrow I’ll use the Compass Rose to summon one of the Dragonships from the Archipelago, and we’ll go ask the Cartographer himself. We can answer all these questions in a matter of days.”
“You said the, uh, fortress …,” began Hugo.
“The Keep,” said Jack.
“Yes, the Keep of, uh, Time, was almost destroyed. Will we be able to get to him?”
John and Jack looked at each other, thinking the same thing: They were glad, in this moment, that Charles was not in the room. Despite the fact that his actions had once saved their lives, he was nevertheless responsible for the Keep being set ablaze and would have been embarrassed to discuss the matter in front of Hugo.
“Yes,” said Jack. “It’s difficult, but still possible. The fire is long extinguished, but the tower itself continues to crumble. We’ve had to spend more and more time doing damage control with the various Time Storms that have formed as a result, but just going there to speak to him shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Hmm,” said John. “I wonder if a Time Storm might not be the genesis of this book. After all, there has to be some explanation for how Hugo’s writing got on it fourteen centuries ago.”
“I’ve never seen a Time Storm here, in our world,” said Jack. “Just in the Archipelago.”
“There have been crossovers,” John pointed out. “The Bermuda Triangle, for one. And of course, the whole business with the Red Dragon
?” asked Hugo.
“You’d know it better as the Argo
,” said Jack.
“Ah,” said Hugo. He got to his feet with a visible wobble. “I think I need some air. Anyone fancy a walk?”
“Excellent idea,” agreed John.
After rewrapping the Grail book and the Geographica
(in the unlikely event that one of Jack’s students or the college “scout” responsible for tidying up the rooms should wander in and find them), John, Jack, and Hugo left the New Building and headed down the direction from which John had come earlier. Addison’s Walk was a favorite stroll of theirs; it made a circuit around Magdalen from one side of the college, leading to Dover Pier, and then around to the other side along the Cherwell. It was lined with trees and grassy meadows and offered beautiful views of Magdalen Tower and the Magdalen Bridge. It was an eminently peaceful path to walk
alone or with companions, and all three of them had followed it often.
The night was pleasant for mid-September, and it was perfect weather for contemplating the universe. The only thing that made the stroll disquieting was the occasional shadows cast by the lamps they passed. Jack tried not to look like he was avoiding them, and he hoped John wouldn’t notice.
Hugo walked ahead of the other two, hands clasped behind his back, deep in thought. Occasionally he would stop and begin to utter some half-formed thought, then reconsider and keep walking. Finally he fell back with the others.
“So,” Hugo asked, “according to your experiences, all myths are real, and they happened someplace within the Archipelago?”
“That’s an awfully general statement,” said Jack. “I think it’s more reasonable to say that much of what we have believed to be myth and legend in our world here was actually derived from real events in the Archipelago. We’ve been at this Caretaking business for a number of years now, and we’re still just getting our feet wet.”
“Indeed,” said John, who was rustling around in the brush for a walking stick. “Fact and fiction do not fall into the clear patterns they once did.”
“So taken as a whole, mythology, or some of it at least, might actually be real history?”
“We’re still trying to figure that out ourselves,” replied Jack, “although I must admit it’s quite a relief to be able to discuss a lot of this openly with you, Hugo. It’s sometimes been very difficult to restrain myself during conversations with Owen Barfield, for example.”
“I’d imagine,” said John.
Seeing Hugo’s puzzled look, Jack explained. “In recent years Barfield has made the argument that mythology, speech, and literature all have a common source, a common origin. In the dawn of prehistory, men did not make distinctions between the literal and the metaphorical. They were one and the same.”
“The word and the thing were identical,” said Hugo.
“Exactly,” said Jack. “That can be described best as the mythological meaning—somewhere between reality and metaphor. When we translate a word, we make distinctions based on context, but early speakers didn’t.
“Barfield used the Latin word ‘spiritus’ as an example,” Jack continued. “To early man, it meant something like ‘spirit-breathwind.’ When the wind blew, it was not ‘like’ the breath of a god. It was
the breath of a god. And when it referred to a speaker’s self, his own spirit, he meant it literally as the ‘breath of life.’
“What made this compelling was that I had already had several discussions along the same lines with John, Charles, and Ordo Maas in the Archipelago.”
“The shipbuilder you told me about?” asked Hugo.
“The same.” Jack nodded. “It began with the discussion of the similarities between himself, as Deucalion, and the Biblical Noah, and the fact that stories of the flood and great arks go back well before Gilgamesh.”
“But some are real, and others are myths based on the realities?” “There are different kinds of reality,” said Jack. “Barfield said mythological stories are metaphors in narrative form—but that makes them no less real.”
Hugo shook his head. “Language gives us the ability to make metaphors, but really, that’s all myths are, whether or not they
were created around real happenings. Pretty them up all you like, but myths are essentially lies, and therefore worthless.”
John and Jack stopped and looked directly at Hugo. “No,” John said emphatically. “They are not
At that moment there was a rush of wind through the trees that pushed past the three friends and swirled down the shallow hill beyond. It burst upon them so suddenly and forcefully from the still, warm night that it sent a cacophony of leaves raining down from the branches, and it was nearly a full minute before the patter subsided and the walk was quiet once more.
They held their breath, standing still on the path.
“What was that all about?” exclaimed Hugo.
“Quiet,” said Jack. “Something’s changed.”
And he was right. Something had
changed. There was another presence there with them, somewhere among the trees.
Unmoving, the three men looked about, but nothing seemed amiss. The streams burbled, the trees stood, somber, and the night was as quiet as it had been moments before. And then …
“Here,” John said, pointing off to the right. “It came from this small clearing.”
Cautiously the three scholars stepped away from the path and walked down the gentle slope, threading their way among the beeches and poplars to a small meadow that overlooked one of the streams. In the meadow, standing resolutely in the grass as if it belonged there, was a door. Not a building, just a door. It was plain, made of oak, and set into an arch of crumbling stones. A few feet away lay one of the stones—presumably the one they had heard tumble down from the frame.
All three of them noticed something else that was obviously meant for them to see: Painted across the face of the door in the same reddish brown color as the writing on the book was the image of the Grail.
Hugo turned slightly green. “If that’s more blood, I think I might lose my dinner.”
Jack let out a low whistle. He recognized the door right away. It was unmistakably one of the doors from the Keep of Time.
“But how can it possibly be here?” John said, answering Jack’s unspoken question. “And what’s the meaning of the Grail?”
“It’s not a coincidence,” said Jack. “It’s here because we are. I sense a trap.”
“That’s a bit cloak-and-dagger,” said Hugo, who was recovering from his initial surprise. “It’s just a door, isn’t it?”
“A door into some other time,” stated Jack, who was examining the door, albeit from a safe distance, “and from a place far from here.”
“Remember what the Cartographer told us,” John said. “The doorways were focal points, not actually the pathways themselves.”
“You say that like you know what it means,” said Jack, “when really, we have no clue how the Keep or the doorways worked.”
“I think you’re both getting all hot and bothered over a piffle,” said Hugo. “Besides, look.” He pointed with the toe of his shoe. “It’s already open.”
Hugo was right. The door was sitting slightly askew within the arch. Not open enough to really see through to the other side, but enough to realize it could be pulled open farther—and so Hugo reached out, and did.
“Hold on!” Jack yelled as he and John both grabbed at Hugo. “You don’t know what’s on the other side!”
“What can it hurt to open the door?” Hugo reasoned.
“You’ve obviously never been to Loch Ness,” said John.
“What does that mean?”
“Never mind,” said Jack. “Hugo may be right. Look.”
The door had swung open to reveal … nothing.
It was just meadow on the other side.
“See?” said Hugo with a chuckle. “It’s just a set dressing, perhaps meant to scare us. Or maybe you’re taking a practical joke to unprecedented heights. Either way, I think it’s harmless.”
And then, as if to prove his point, Hugo walked through the doorway, and half a dozen paces on the other side. Then he turned and spread his hands, smiling. “Gentlemen?”
John and Jack both relaxed visibly.
“I was really quite concerned for a moment,” said Jack, as he crouched to sit down in the grass. “I—“He suddenly stopped talking, and his brow furrowed.
“What?” said John.
Jack didn’t answer but started moving his head side to side, looking at Hugo. Then his eyes widened and he jumped to his feet.
“Hugo!” he exclaimed. “Come back through the doorway, quickly! Hurry, man!”
Hugo chuckled again. “Jack, you sound like a mother hen. How much rum did you have, anyroad?”
John was looking around, anxious and worried. His Caretaker instincts had gone hyperactive—of them both, Jack wasn’t the one to panic easily—and he realized something was wrong.
Jack grabbed him and pulled him two feet to the left of the doorway. As John watched, Hugo vanished.
“Shades!” John hissed. “Hugo! Are you there?” He stepped back. Hugo reappeared.
“Have you both gone round the bend?” asked Hugo. “I’m right here.”
He was—but only if they were looking straight through the open doorway. If they moved to either side, and looked around the arch, he disappeared.
“Hugo,” said John, “we’ll explain in a moment, but for now just walk slowly toward me and through the door.”
But Hugo was having nothing of it. “This has gone far enough, I think. It’s been a grand joke you two have arranged, but I think it’s time to go.”
He walked forward and then, whether by happenstance or in defiance of his friends’ urgent pleading, he stepped over a fallen stone, and then around the frame rather than through it. And just like that, in a trice …
… Hugo Dyson was gone