Wednesday, 9 May 2012
The Big Wheel
It was not that long ago that Vivien had been aware of magic and that she had met her true love. It was an unusual business that I was told of when I answered somebody else's comment on magic with derision. I was in a cafe - I am often in cafes these days, writing one thing or another. My friend smiled but we were interrupted politely and apologetically by Vivien.
"I know that magic is often called science unknown, but I have experienced true magic myself," she answered.
I had been about to dismiss her experience as purely rational, but she did not let me continue. Instead, with great gentleness she put up her hand to indicate that I was to be silent and let her continue. She was a quiet, middle-aged woman, her hair blonde with traces of white that looked elegant. Her eyes were a startling blue and her manner was calm so that I was hushed easily not wishing to offend her.
"I was young and I had not met my true love. I was sent to a college to study law, which I gave up in favour of my love of textiles. I learned there how to make textiles. One day I went for a walk and promptly became lost. I wandered aimlessly getting more and more lost until I found myself with the town behind me and a dry, dusty landscape ahead of me. I felt an unaccountable urge to wander into the shimmering landscape. For a moment I fought against it until I realised that I was already moving into it. To my surprise I found a large castle in the deserted landscape. I was so surprised that I stopped and gazed at it. As I did so, the gates opened and I felt urged to enter the castle.
I was drawn inside without knowing why. I was not a curious person and I still am not curious particularly. Still I entered to find a large hallway with a beautiful marble floor and a large table at the centre. An old man met me and told me that I was to work for him weaving fine cloth. I told him that I was still studying and that I was not an expert but he dismissed my objections.
"You shall weave for me and become my wife," he told me.
At this I became furious for I had no intention of marrying him. I was young and he was very old and not all that beautiful either. I told him that I would not marry him and he produced a large cage from out of the air. Within the cage was a lion with a very mournful countenance.
"This lion was once a handsome young prince whom I chose to be my butler. He refused and now he remains as he is. You will work for me and when the full moon comes you shall become my wife," he said.
I bowed my head. I did not wish to become his wife, but I did not wish him to transform me either. Quietly I agreed to weave for him, but I did not agree to become his wife. I was led by an empty suit of clothes upstairs and into a large chamber with one window that looked upon the deserted landscape. In the chamber there was a loom, a chair, a bed and a table. As soon as I entered the room, the door shut behind me and was locked. I was a prisoner of this old man, but I had been brought up not to despair.
I set up the loom and as I did so I began to think of how I might escape. The solution came to me almost instantly and as soon as I could I began to weave. In the evening I settled on the edge of the bed to sift through my resources. I had my handbag with me and within it was a bar of chocolate and I thought to save it should I need it in desperation. I rummaged through my handbag to see what else I had. I had my hairbrush, my make up bag and a little money. I also had a spare pair of knickers and tights, for which I was grateful.
The door opened and the empty suit of clothes entered with a tray of food. The door shut firmly behind it so that I could not slip out behind it. Once the tray had been placed upon the table, the suit of clothes left the room. I ate and drank diluting the wine with my tears, for my weariness had made me deeply sad at my plight. Having eaten I went to bed and slept deeply and dreamlessly, waking before the sun had risen.
Once I was awake I dressed and went to the window. Outside the sky was still dark and opening the window I leaned out over the sill. The room was a long way from the ground, yet I felt more determined than ever to escape. If I could not leave through the door I would leave through the window. I went back to the loom and continued to weave a narrow long cloth.
A little later the suit of clothes brought me breakfast and having eaten and taken coffee I returned to the loom. As I wove, I wondered about the lion. What had the handsome young prince looked like, I asked myself?
Not knowing, I shrugged and went on with my weaving. As I did so, I sang all the sad songs I knew. While I wove, the old man did not visit me, but I slowly became less afraid even as my sorrow deepened. If he wished to marry me, he would not harm me at least. I suddenly was drawn from my own thoughts by the sound of scratching at the door. I left the loom and went and listened at the door. I took hold of the handle and pulled at it, but it would not open. I growled at the door and at my futility but the door would not move. I returned to the loom and sat down breathing heavily. Then suddenly the door opened and as I arose, the sad lion padded into the room. I gasped and retreated behind the loom, but the lion entered the room and sat in the centre of the floor. I tried to shoo the animal but he shut his eyes slowly and then lay down with his head upon his large paws. I dare not come from behind the loom but after a while it occurred to me that the lion had not tried to hunt me behind the loom. I came a little way out and spoke softly to the lion. In another part of the castle I heard a shriek and part of the castle fell with a thundering crash. The lion raised his head and seemed to smile.
Then to my shock he spoke to me.
"Do not be afraid mistress," he said, "I mean you no harm at all. Your speaking with kindly to me has broken a part of the spell that binds me in this shape. Every day the old man who cursed me leaves and goes about the world to cause misery and mischief leaving this castle. I have learned to open all the doors of the castle except the main doors that lead to freedom. If you are willing, I can help you to escape and you can perhaps help me."
I was much surprised as you may imagine, but agreed to help the lion if I could, but I did not see what I might do. It occurred to me that the lion might be a servant of the old man in disguise, so I did not disclose my own plan to escape from the castle. Still the lion seemed to guess at it and told me that the old man required me to weave a cloak for him which he would imbue with magical powers over the affairs of men and the business of nature. He intended to gain all that he might have through these powers. He had seen me some time ago and decided that I should be his wife. The lion told me that I must promise to grant his wish in the future. It would not compromise me at all.
I agreed and with a sigh, the lion arose and left the room. I returned to my weaving considering all that the lion had told me. By the evening I had woven a long strip of cloth and hoped that it would reach the ground. I unfastened one end of the fabric and struggled to move the loom. But the loom was large and heavy and I could not move it at all. I cut the fabric from the loom and reset up the loom to weave new cloth.
I ate the supper brought for me and as soon as the tray had been collected I returned to the loom and wove through the night. Towards the morning I threw myself upon the bed and snoozed until I heard the door to the chamber open and my breakfast was set upon the table. I drank three large cups of coffee and ate as much as I could stomach before returning to the loom. I wove quickly until the door opened and once more the lion entered. He lay down beside me and again placed his large head upon his large paws. Cautiously, I caressed his shaggy mane and he sighed heavily.
All that day I wove until the lion left me and a little after that my supper was brought. Through much of the night I wove until I had a good long length of fabric. I bound the first piece of cloth to the second and bound both pieces to the loom. Now I gathered my handbag up and fixed it to me using my belt. I was about to fling the long cloth out of the window when the door to my room opened and in the starlight I saw the lion. Silently he padded in and whispered a word. The door shut behind him noiselessly and he passed me and sighed at the window. It opened and he turned to gaze upon me.
"Quickly mistress, the old man is drunk on his wine and sleeps deeply. I will leap after you are at the ground," he said quietly.
I threw the loose end of the fabric out of the window and climbed down it to the ground. For a moment I stood still, breathing in the cold night air. The lion peered from the sill above me. I pulled the fabric outwards and leaned backwards to anchor myself holding the fabric wide.
"Come slide down the centre of the fabric," I whispered to him.
He leaped onto the fabric and wriggled down until he was close enough to leap from the fabric to the ground. Then he bid me get upon his back and together we fled from the castle. Too soon it seemed our escape was discovered, for I heard a loud rumbling in the distance behind us. When I turned to look I saw a large metal wheel pursuing us. It glowed orange with the rage of the old man.
"Have you a mirror, mistress?" the lion asked.
When I told him I had he bid me throw it over my shoulder. I did so and a vast ocean suddenly appeared in the deserted landscape. This gave us time to get further away. The large wheel stopped turned into the old man who shook his fist at us and jumped up and down in fury. Then he turned into the wheel and rolled around the ocean.
The lion ran and headed towards a large city, but soon enough the large wheel was behind us again. I took out of my handbag my hairbrush and threw it over my shoulder at the lion's request. A great forest sprang up behind us and we heard through the trees a loud crash followed by what my aunt Rose calls, 'very unladylike language'.
Again we continued towards the city at the edge of the desert. I leaned over the mane of the lion and kissed him. In the distance I heard a loud shriek and the lion dashed away with renewed strength. Still, after a while the wheel was behind us again. I told the lion that I had only a pair of tights, my smalls and one bar of chocolate to throw over my shoulder.
"Then throw them mistress," the lion answered breathlessly.
I obeyed him for I saw no alternative. Where the tights landed a long ravine appeared. Where my knickers and the bar of chocolate landed neither did not change at all. Still the lion sped on, and I began to weep for I was sure that he should soon tire and we should both be once more enslaved or even killed. But the wheel was going too fast and went over the edge of the ravine and crashed upon its side. As it did it changed back into the old man who staggered forward. When his foot landed upon my knickers they folded up like a great silken flower about him. He shouted and thrust his hand out between the silken folds until his hand found the bar of chocolate. He grasped it and drew it back to him. The lion stopped, gasping and I dismounted, holding the dear creature in my arms, weeping with terror. As my tears fell upon him his fur darkened and I knew that I loved him.
From the knickers came another shriek and suddenly a large pillar of smoke issued up towards the sky and the ravine split swallowing the knickers in the dusty earth.
"If you have still your scissors mistress, I beg you remember your promise and thrust the blades into my heart. I cannot beg you enough," the lion said softly.
At first I refused but he reminded me of my promise and wept at the thought that I would not keep it. With horror I obeyed him and to my astonishment the lion vanished and the handsome young prince appeared with my scissors turned to silver buttons upon his coat. I hugged and kissed him with relief and we walked together into the city where we were wed. Some years later I returned here to finish my studies. But not once have I ever forgotten that the world is full of magic - and indeed science."
She got up and whispered a word then she pointed at our table. A cake had appeared and our coffee cups were refilled. Realising who she was, I apologised and we thanked her. She smiled her sweet smile and Queen Vivien left us.