Chapter sixteen of our Waking Beauty series takes us far away from our usual setting, as Basil and Sally awake in Talia's homeland. A Miller takes them to a medieval tournament where he says they can meet the Wizard Merlin.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Elizabeth.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
Illustrated by Chiara Civati.
Sally knew that she was asleep, but her dream was so real that she could almost touch it. Her head was filled with the mellow voices of monks chanting psalms. She was walking up the aisle of a stone chapel lit by candles, and she was holding the trail of a long, beautifully embroidered dress. An ermine shawl covered the shoulders of the bride who was proceeding in front of her, for this was an evening wedding and it was chilly inside the chapel. She knew that the elegant figure and the long auburn hair belonged to none other than Princess Talia. She was not quite so certain about the identity of the groom, who was waiting at the altar with his back to her, because he was dressed in an elaborate cloak. For a moment she thought he might be the Law don, Count Anthony, because he was the only man she knew who had such fancy taste in clothes. But then, as she glanced to the side she saw that the entire congregation was dressed rather elaborately and eccentrically. Furs, silks, cloaks, heavy embroidery, and chunky jewellery were all on display. At first everyone seemed to be watching attentively but the next time she looked, they had all nodded off to sleep.
“No, wake up, wake up!” she called out. But the Chaplain who was waiting at the altar with a bible in his hands fell to his knees as if in prayer before keeling over into a coma. “Wake up, wake up!” called Sally. And eventually, she did.
“Oh, where am I?” she thought as the spell of the dream hung around her for a few moments before slipping off into the ether. She rubbed the crumb of sleep out of the corner of her eye and gazed around. Water was lapping against the side of the boat. Basil snored on the other couch. She shivered because it was cold, and set her feet on the floor. The fairy godmother was no longer sitting in the front cabin. Apparently she had gone.
“That’s a pity,” thought Sally, “because you never know when a little bit of magic might come in handy." Then she recalled Edwina’s instructions: “Be sure to ask for the Wizard Merlin.”
“But ask whom?” she thought. For all she could see through the porthole of the boat was a thick fog. She went up on deck and sat in the prow of the boat for fifteen minutes or so to get some of the fresh damp air into her lungs. The boat drifted on through the whiteness. The odd swan floated by, and every now and then Sally had to duck to avoid a low hanging branch, but there were few clues as to what might or might not be waiting for them downstream.
She went back down into the cabin. “Come on sleepy head, wake up,” she said to Basil, giving him a bit of a push on the shoulder. For a moment she was afraid that he would not wake up. But he did.
“Who’s that?” he said. “Oh, er Sally. What’s going on?”
“I'm not sure,” said Sally. “But I think we might be sailing through time.”
“That’s weird,” said Basil. “But everything else is weird too, so you might well be right.”
They went up on deck and were pleased to see that a hard cold sun was visible through the mist. Quite soon a stone bridge came into view and as they passed through it, they saw that quite literally, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Bright, dazzling light that sparkled and danced on the water. They heard the voices of children playing, and as they came out into the bright world, they saw half a dozen or so of them by the river bank. The younger ones were dressed in smocks, and the older ones wore breeches or shapeless dresses.
Basil stood up and threw the rope onto the river bank. “Here! Catch this and haul us in will you?” he said. An older boy grabbed it and started to pull back. Some infants came running over to help him, but one of these slipped on the edge of the bank and fell into the water. He went straight down like a stone, and only his straw hat was left on the surface. Basil jumped into the water, which went up to his chest, and dived down to fish the struggling child off the bottom. The boy was spluttering and sobbing but otherwise unharmed as Basil deposited him on the bank. Basil, of course, was dripping wet and had duckweed in his hair.
“Well that woke you up,” laughed Sally as she jumped onto the bank.
The other children found the episode all very exciting and amusing, but it wasn’t exactly easy to understand their speech. It was full of long vowels and strange guttural consonants.
“I think they said that you’re damp enough,” said Sally. “And poor Basil you are soaked through. I don’t think we’re going to find you a change of clothes unless you fancy yourself in a smock.”
“Yes, what language are they speaking?” asked Basil.
“English,” replied Sally. “It’s just a bit out of date that’s all.”
“Out of date! It sounds like Chaucer.”
“I think that’s not far off,” agreed Sally.
A girl picked up the child who had fallen into the water and comforted him.
“Go thither, and put on array that is dry,” she said to a somewhat puzzled Basil.
“I think she means you can get changed,” said Sally. And the girl was pointing towards a crude but functioning windmill that stood on a small hill above the river.
The children ran and skipped ahead, and quickly spread the news to the family and workers back at the mill. There was a small group of people including a rather emotional mother waiting to greet Sally and Basil. Some just stood and stared at them, because obviously, they were rather oddly dressed for the times. Basil was soggy and bedraggled. Sally was wearing a light blue t-shirt bearing the slogan:
'Can you feel my awesomeness?'
She tried to explain that they were from a far away place but nobody could understand a word that she was saying. A child took Basil inside and gave him some dry clothes to change into. He emerged from the mill wearing a loose tunic and some baggy trousers and Sally exclaimed: “Oh Basil! If Talia was here, she would say that you’re dressed like a yokel!” And then she put her hand over her mouth hoping that nobody had understood the word 'yokel' because it didn’t sound very polite.
Eventually the Miller came out to see what all the fuss was about. He was more smartly dressed than the others and looked like a stocky man of some substance. He heartily slapped Basil on the back to thank him for saving the child. Basil looked rather dazed and confused, but Sally remembered that they had come to this place on an urgent mission. She thought there was a chance that the Miller might understand them.
“Look,” she said. “Can you tell us where to find Merlin? You know the famous Wizard Merlin?”
And the Miller replied: “Let us ride. I shall show thee Merlin.”
Which was clear enough. There was an hour of mostly waiting around, but at the end of it, Basil was sitting astride a wooden saddle on top of a mule, and Sally was seated sideways on a donkey. The Miller rode a dapple horse and with a certain amount of kicking and coaxing, they started to make their way down the road. It wasn’t exactly the most luxurious way to travel. Their behinds bore the brunt of every bump along the road. On the way, the Miller spoke at length, pointing out fields and the occasional village or church. The further they went along the way, the more people they met. Various horses, carts, and people on foot were heading in the same direction. As far as Sally could make out, from what the Miller was saying, they were all aiming for the town where there was to be some sort of tournament.
And sure enough, after a couple of hours plodding down the road, they came in sight of a great noisy crowd that was gathered outside the walls of a town. It was definitely some sort of fair. Flags were fluttering and hawkers were selling pies and ale. And then Sally said: “Basil, do you see him?” And Basil turned his head to where Sally was looking and saw a knight in full armour riding a white charger through the crowd. People were hurriedly getting out of his way, and away from his servant who was riding by his side with a whip in his hand. A huge sword was slung over the knight’s saddle. He did not look like somebody you would want to annoy, unless you were tired of this life.
The Miller found the medieval equivalent of a car park, and paid a man to look after their horse, donkey, and mule. And then they made their way on foot around the crowd towards an enclosure where seats and a stand for the nobility where laid out. The area was fenced off, and a guard barred the way in. The Miller was clearly trying to smooth talk him saying that they were honoured guests from abroad, come to meet the Wizard Merlin, but the guard was having none of it. He was staring at Sally and her t-shirt and jeans in a way that clearly meant:
“Who’s that weirdo?”
And Sally said: “Don’t look at me like that. It's rude.” Basil was still clearly somewhat confused and overwhelmed. He was unusually quiet and listless. He looked like he wasn’t quite sure if he was awake or dreaming.
Then Sally had an idea. She pulled out the amulet that Talia had given her and which she wore under the neck of her t-shirt. It was some sort of precious stone set in an elaborate golden cross. As she showed it to the guard, the stone’s colour changed from green to red. The guard clearly recognised it as some sort of sign, because he immediately bowed and let them pass. The Miller led the way to a tent that was also guarded, and where also the amulet was the key to the entrance.
Inside, men and women were seated on cushions and servants were bringing them drink and food. A minstrel band was piping and strumming a merry tune. This was clearly the place to be and none of them, not even the Miller, were dressed for the occasion. Some of the servants gave them odd looks, but most other people were far too busy enjoying themselves to notice them. But then a man, a great hulking man, with a red beard and a gold embroidered tunic came rolling towards them and called out: “Sooth. It is the very likeness of Eric in his youth!” which both Sally and Basil understood, but found very puzzling. Basil found himself being hugged in a very powerful and somewhat suffocating embrace, and receiving bristly kisses on both cheeks. The knight hauled Basil over to a table that was laid out with food and drink, and where a group of young and beautiful women were seated in long flowing dresses. Sally was left behind, and she felt, well, quite left out really.
“Hey, what about me?” she exclaimed.
And Basil was trying to say to the man: “My name’s Basil, and this is my friend Sally. We’ve come a long way.” But by now he was surrounded by other men who wanted to hug him or at least shake him by the hand. One was saying that he was a 'skinny sapling' and others that he was 'so very like Sir Eric'. Next, women were curtsying and offering their hands to be kissed.
“Um, if anyone is listening, we’ve come to see the Wizard Merlin,” said Sally. And she held up Talia’s amulet hoping that somebody would take notice.
“I am Merlin,” said a voice behind her.
And she turned round and saw an extremely calm and almost expressionless face. He was well groomed, even by modern standards, and wore a very modest black tunic. Although he had silver hair, his face’s skin was almost without wrinkles. He definitely had a very different aura from everyone else in the room.
“And if that young man is Sir Basil,” said Merlin in perfectly modern and understandable English, “then you must be Sally.”