By Karl Bickerstaff
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gentleman who finds not pleasure in a good book must be intolerably stupid.
You may be thinking that that’s not quite how the line goes. And you would be right. But when did I say I was quoting anything? You really shouldn’t assume someone’s intentions, not unless you know them very well, well enough that you can practically read their mind. Assuming intentions is a dangerous business, especially the intentions of people—or others who may not be people—from other world and other times. People such as the one we find sailing around a whirlpool, in the same world as the previous chapter but halfway around it from the cliff, about a thousand years ago.
As I’ve already said, this is a story about doors. But not all doors look like doors. Some of them look like caves. Or fires. Or whirlpools.
This person sailing around the whirlpool was not, in fact, Willow Rose. Given that Willow was probably climbing a cliff halfway around the world at this particular time, and that this person did not have red curly hair, and that this person was, in fact, a him, and not a her, it would be disturbing if it were Willow. But fortunately, it is not. This person was Caradoc Reese, and he was not of royal elvish origin. In fact, he was not of elvish origin at all. Caradoc was a human. You may find this boring, but it is the truth, and besides, humans who are in other worlds a thousand years ago may not necessarily be just like the humans you are familiar with. And given that I just wrote about Willow Rose, who was of royal elvish origins, in the previous chapter, it is not too incredible to assume that their stories might be intertwined—though, of course, you should never assume anyone’s intentions.
Caradoc did not particularly like whirlpools, or sailing, and certainly not any combination of the two. But he had reasons to be sailing around a whirlpool—reasons that may or may not include expeditionary trips, pirates, lifeboats, and/or his complete lack of knowledge on sailing, navigation, etc. In fact, all of the above are reasons that are included, but that’s not of great relevance to the immediate happenings. Actually, it is, but we’re going to ignore it anyway.
Caradoc was attempting to row away from the whirlpool, but to no avail. The whirlpool—or door, whichever it may be—was a rather determined one, and it was not long before Caradoc and his boat went tumbling down the whirlpool. Caradoc head banged on the mast, dazing him badly. There was a sudden flash of light, and everything went dark.
Caradoc awoke to find himself lying face down in a shallow puddle. He coughed a couple of times and pushed himself to a sitting position. He was on a muddy hillside, sparsely covered with grass and the occasional bush. The boat was nowhere to be seen. He coughed again and stood up, peering through the thick mist. All he could make out were the dim shapes of rocks and bushes, and a low sound, so low he was not sure whether it was in his ears or his head. It seemed to be a growling sound, almost as if the mist was resentful of his presence.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the wet sound of boots through mud came squelching toward him. He slowly backed up, trying to make out the direction of the sound. Suddenly, a grey figure loomed up, walking steadily toward him. There was no point in running—given the mist, it was likely he would have tripped over a stump if he had tried—so Caradoc simply stood there.
As the figure drew closer, he could make out that it was a man, tall and sturdy, with a golden beard and a blue cape. He had a long sword hanging from his embroidered belt.
When a few paces away, the man stopped. His keen blue eyes swept up and down the bedraggled figure of our hero several times, and he seemed to be holding back a smile.
“Umm… hello?” ventured Caradoc.
“Salutations,” returned the man, extending a large hand. “Who might you be?”
“I’m Caradoc. Caradoc Reese.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Caradoc. I’m Aelfhere.” He had a very firm, energetic handshake that seemed to match the rest of his personality. “How did you get here?”
Caradoc hesitated. “Well, um… you see, I don’t really know. I was… in a boat, and I went down a whirlpool, and… I’m here, I suppose?”
“So it seems,” replied Aelfhere. “Strange, though….” He trailed off, stroking his beard and staring into the mist. “This isn’t what you’d call a normal place for a door…”
“Excuse me, a door?”
“Hmm? Oh, nevermind that. The fact is, you really shouldn’t be here. This is an enchanted land. Forbidden to most people.”
Caradoc gulped uneasily. “I didn’t exactly ask to come here–”
“No, it’s hardly your fault. You’ll have to head back soon, though not before a spot of tea.”
“Yes, tea.” Aelfhere reached out and picked up a teapot off the table. Caradoc had not noticed when it had happened, but he found himself sitting in an overstuffed blue armchair by a brick fireplace with a cup in his hand.
“I, umm… yes, I guess so. How did we–”
“You’re a strange boy, Caradoc.” Aelfhere eyed him sharply, though not angrily. “Whether you like it or not, you’re part of a larger story now. Might even be famous, someday.”
“I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be home.”
“Indeed. And that’s the curious part, isn’t it? Doors don’t normally choose the timid.”
“Doors? What doors?”
Aelfhere leaned back in his chair. “Nevermind that now. You’ll learn what you need when you need it. But it’s about time you started back home. I can set you on your way.”
He stood. “Don’t forget, Caradoc Reese. You’re in something bigger now, something you don’t understand. Learn hard. Look out. And always be ready.”
He waved a hand, and suddenly Caradoc felt himself spinning away into a black void. Aelfhere’s words echoed in his mind.
A sudden wind rushed into Caradoc’s face. He had only a moment or two to realize he was falling before he landed in the water. Gasping and spluttering, he surfaced. About twenty feet away, a sandy beach rose out of the ocean. Behind it, the towers and walls of his home city.
As he walked up the beach, Caradoc looked back over the ocean. He could almost hear Aelfhere’s voice. Learn hard. Look out. And always be ready.