The Perilous Realm Online

Book One: The Endless Road

Chapter Four

Will followed numbly as the toymaker led them to his workshop. The old man’s words had stunned him. Despite what he’d told Pendrake, part of him really did want to see home again, to escape away this frightening place and return to what he knew, even if he couldn’t be happy there. And now it seemed he was trapped here, wherever herewas. Anger smoldered in him, though he didn’t know who he was angry at, or why.

To Will’s surprise the workshop was, compared to the other rooms he had seen in the house, a mess. Even worse, if possible, than his own room back home. Its walls were lined in an alternating pattern with windows and glass-fronted cabinets crammed with bottles, jars, shards of bone, pieces of coral and crystal, and other odd, unidentifiable artifacts. In addition to the numerous finished and unfinished toys Will saw about the room, there were fat, leatherbound books piled everywhere. One thick volume on top of a tall stack had a rusty-looking sword lying between its pages, apparently as a bookmark. A writing desk on one side of the room was almost completely hidden under great untidy drifts of paper and parchment. A huge workbench on the other side was likewise buried, but in woodshavings and tools. On the floor sat various objects that seemed to have been placed there for lack of anywhere else to put them, including a slab of marbled reddish stone, a shapeless old hat, and a large glass ball.

“Everything’s in its proper place,” Pendrake said when he noticed Will’s look of surprise. “A fact which my housekeeper cannot seem to grasp, since she is always trying to get in here to tidy up. One day she will succeed, and I will be utterly lost.”

The toymaker took off his coat and draped it over the back of a chair. Then he shut the nearest window and drew down the blind. Rowen did the same with the other windows, and now the room was lit only by the dim flames from the fireplace. Pendrake invited Will and Rowen to be seated by the fire.

“The raincabinet was already here when I moved into this house,” the old man as he settled into his own deep armchair. “I called it the watercloset at first, but nobody else found that amusing. Especially not my housekeeper. Ah, well. Tell me, Will, how old are you?”

“Fifteen.”

“And you had no intention of coming here, to Fable, did you?”

“No.”

“I see. Well, you should know there is a toll that every visitor to the city must pay.”

“I don’t have any money,” Will said anxiously.

Pendrake looked at him in surprise, then smiled.

“It’s not that kind of toll. What I meant was that in Fable, sooner or later, someone is sure to ask you to tell your story.”

Will nodded, but didn’t speak right away. He had a lot to tell, but he wasn’t thinking so much of the impossible things that had happened to him since coming here. Instead he remembered what had brought him here in the first place. He had stolen his father’s motorcycle, and he wasn’t looking forward to admitting that. But that wasn’t really the beginning, either. There was his father coming home drunk from the bar almost every night. The anger and hurtful words. And before that, the day the worst thing in the world had come true. How could he tell a story when it had seemed to him that day that his story had ended, and that from then on there was nothing left to tell or say.

He could not speak about all of that. Not yet. And so he began with the motorcycle, as if it had been his to ride, and how that led to his finding the tree, and all that had happened afterward. 

Pendrake sat quietly in his armchair by the fire as Will told his story. He did not ask questions, nor did he offer any explanations for the strange and terrifying things that had occurred. He simply listened while Will, stumbling over his words and often backtracking to add details that he had forgotten, slowly got the story out. Once or twice Rowen jumped in to give her version of the events she had witnessed. Pendrake neither asked her to keep quiet, nor commented on what she had to say. 

When Will was finished, the old man continued to sit for a time, his gaze distant and his hands pressed together in front of his lips, as if he were deep in thought over what he had heard. The silence was broken only by the snap of the fire, and the ticking of a clock, carved to resemble an owl, that hung on the wall above the desk.

Finally Pendrake stirred. He rose from his chair and stood near the fire.

“As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Will,” he said, “you have strayed far from home. Fortunately you met Rowen, and she brought you here. It could have been far worse.”

“Could it?” Will shot back. “I don’t belong here. I don’t even know where I am.”

“What about the hollows, Grandfather?” Rowen interrupted. “They’re probably still out there. It was a lucky thing that Moth found us.” 

Pendrake took a poker from its hook and prodded at the fire.

“Yes, thank goodness for the Nightwanderer,” he said, without looking at his granddaughter. “Since he and Morrigan make their home in the Wood, I asked them a long time ago to keep an eye on my granddaughter, so that I would have at least that comfort when she goes running off without telling anyone.”

Rowen frowned and glanced at Will, her face flushing bright red.

“But I have not forgotten the hollows, Rowen,” Pendrake added. “The Council met in emergency session when reports came in about strange ghostly creatures seen on our borders. Thanks to you we now know they are hollows, and this is of grave concern. They have never come so close to our quiet little land, nor have they banded together in this way, with purpose. We also have to assume that whoever set the mirrors in the tree has seen you, Will, and knows about you.”

With a shudder Will remembered the eyes in the mirror, the presence prowling in his thoughts. 

“Knows what about me?” he said. 

“That you’re here,” Pendrake said.

“Who put the mirrors there, Grandfather?” Rowen asked, her voice a strained whisper. “Why did he send the hollows after Will?”

“I have as many questions as you do, Rowen. It may be that Will was not the one they were sent to find. But this day has given me much to think about. Most people who manage to open this door find only an empty room, or at the most a puddle and a fleeting scent of rainclouds. You, Will Lightfoot, are the only visitor to this house who has ever seen the storm within.”

“What does that mean?” Will asked. 

Pendrake set the poker back into its stand beside the fireplace, then leaned a hand upon the mantel and seemed to be searching the fire as if among the leaping flames lay the answer to Will’s question.

“When you were young, Will,” he finally said, “did your mother or father tell you stories, or read them to you from a book?”

“My mother did,” Will said. “Sometimes she read from books, but mostly she just told them to me. She said they were really old stories her grandmother told her when she was little.” 

“What happened in those stories?”

Will thought for a moment.

“Most of them were about a boy, or a girl,” he said. “Somebody who left home and had adventures. And there was magic, and monsters. You know, impossible things…”

He paused. He wanted to say how much he had loved his mother’s stories, and the way she told them, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Did you ever wonder where your mother’s stories came from?” Pendrake asked. “I mean the really old ones. The stories everyone knows.”

“I never thought about it. Somebody who lived a long time ago made them up, I guess.”

Pendrake nodded.

“That’s what storytellers do,” he said. “Make stories up. But what they make them up out of has to come from somewhere.”

“You mean … from here. From the Bourne.”

“Ah, well, the Bourne is just one small tucked-away corner of someplace much larger. A place that has been given many names. Travellers from Elsewhere, like you, sometimes call it the Perilous Realm. I’ve always thought that was a fitting name. It can be a perilous place, after all.”

“So other people have come here, not just me?” Will asked. The thought gave him hope.

“Yes. Rowen’s father, for one, came from Elsewhere. In fact the ancestors of most of the people who live in the Bourne came to this land much like you did. They were on their way somewhere else, and ended up here.”

Will turned to Rowen.

“Your father,” he said. “He never found his way home?”

“He didn’t want to go back,” Rowen said. 

The point I’m trying to make,” Pendrake said, “is that what you think of as the made-up, impossible things that happen in old stories really did happen. They happened here. You could say, in fact, that this place you’ve come to is Story.”

“So none of it is real, then,” Will said. “It’s what I thought. I’m dreaming this, or I’m …”

“Or you’re what? Dreams are real, too, aren’t they? A dream happens to you, like anything else does.”

Will looked desperately around the room. If this was a story, he knew only that he didn’t want to be in it. 

Just then there was a knock at the door, and the housekeeper came in carrying a tray laden with tea things and biscuits.

“No one thinks to eat around here,” she muttered as she set the tray down on a small table.

“Very good, Edweth,” Pendrake said, rubbing his hands together. “I could use some refreshing myself.”

“True enough,” Edweth said as she went out.

Pendrake poured the tea and served it. He sat back in his chair, twirling a spoon in his cup, then taking a sip and giving a pleased sigh. Will stared into his own cup. Tea was not something he ever drank at home, or ever wanted to. Why were they sitting here having a tea party anyhow when those thingswere out there and might still be searching for him?

 “To answer your questions properly, Will,” Pendrake said, “I will have to tell a story myself. And goodness knows I’m not much of a storyteller, but I’ll do the best I can. Long ago, then, the Realm was an even more perilous place than it is now. A war was fought to defeat a great evil, and it was defeated, but at a terrible cost. The lands were scarred and barren, good folk lived in fear and want, and much wisdom perished. It was then that the Stewards first appeared. Where they came from, no one knows for certain, but for many untold years they traveled from one end of the Realm to the other, unnoticed by almost everyone, rooting out old snares and dark enchantments left behind from the conflict, healing and restoring what they could of what was beautiful and worthwhile. They were storytellers themselves, the Stewards, they loved nothing more than old tales and songs of brave deeds, and that is how they went about their work. You could say that what they shaped and seeded this world with, like patient gardeners preparing the soil, was storystuff.”

“Storystuff?” Will said. “What’s that?”

“You’ve seen some of it at work already,” Pendrake said. “The snug in the Wood is their doing. In quiet, out-of-the-way places the Stewards left things that someone might discover one day, someone in need. Secret refuges, enchanted stones, magic cloaks and boots…. The kinds of things that people in stories set out to find, or that they stumble across when all seems lost.”

“Grandfather doesn’t just make toys,” Rowen said. “He’s a loremaster. He learns everything he can about what the Stewards did, and studies it. In case the knowledge can be used for good some day.”

“There is so much that has been lost or forgotten,” Pendrake added with a nod. “So much still to be discovered about what the Stewards accomplished. But we know they carried out all of this patient work in order to help new stories come into the world. Stories of courage, luck, and wonder that would kindle hope in people’s hearts and bring light to a darkened world. The Power that had wreaked so much destruction on the Realm had wanted there to be only one Story, his own, a nightmare story of unending cruelty and darkness, and he very nearly succeeded. The Stewards wished to ensure that no single story could ever again be told as if it was the only one. The stories they began unfolded, and flourished, as the Stewards had planned. In time they mingled with with one another, and grew and changed, endlessly bringing new stories into this world. And over the long years since, travellers have found their way here from Elsewhere, as you did, Will. Some were swept up in a story, and played a part in it. Then they went home again and told tales of what they had found here. Those tales were passed down, and retold through the ages, until people forgot they were true and called them fairy tales, made-up stories about things that never happened.” 

“So … which story are you in?” Will asked, looking at both Pendrake and Rowen.

“Ah, well, that’s the thing about the Bourne,” Pendrake said. “I said this was an out-of-the-way corner of the Realm, and that’s true, in a very special way. Here in Fable we don’t take part in stories so much as gather them, and remember them. The Stewards, I believe, felt the need for some place in this vast Realm that was outside of all the stories. A haven that folk caught up in a dangerous adventure might stumble across on their travels. A place they could rest for a while from the perils and hardship of their road, and tell their tale. As you have, Will. I suppose could say that, in a way, the Bourne is a very large snug. It has always been strangely hard to find, unless you’re someone in danger, or in need.”

“Those hollows found it,” Will said.

“They found the Wood,” Pendrake said. “Which is not quite part of the Bourne, in fact. It’s more like a living maze that keeps wicked things out, turning their steps away so that they find themselves back out there, without finding us in here. And Moth, we can be thankful, keeps watch over the Wood as well.”

“Are the mirror shards one of those old snares left from the war, Grandfather?” Rowen asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Pendrake said. “I know the tree where Will found them. It’s a very old tree, and it has never been decorated in that fashion before, to my knowledge. And Moth would have let me know if he had seen the shards before last night. No, this was something new, set there not long ago to trap the unwary.”

“Set by who?” Will asked.

“Those hollows have a master now,” Pendrake said. “But I suspect that their master, whoever he is, has a master of his own.”

At that moment an urgent tapping began at one of the windows. Will jumped. Pendrake strode to the window and pulled up the blind. A tiny ball of bright blueish light bobbed in the dark outside, flicking its fiery form at the pane. Pendrake turned the latch and swung the window open. The ball of light darted inside and hovered in the air. 

“Ah, Sputter,” the old man said. “What do you have for me?”

The ball of light sped to the toymaker’s desk, where it danced over the surface of a blank sheet of yellowish paper. As Will watched, lines of flowing script began to appear on the paper. 

“What is that thing?” Will whispered to Rowen.

“It’s called a wisp,” she whispered back. “They carry messages.”

When it reached the end of the page, the wisp rose sharply and then dropped with a hiss into a bottle of ink beside the paper.

Pendrake came from the fire he had just restored to a blaze and quickly scanned the message.

“From the Marshal of the Errantry,” he said, looking up from the paper. “He’s heard about your arrival, Will, and asks me to report to him.”

Pendrake dipped a black-feathered quill pen in the inkbottle into which the wisp had disappeared. He scratched a few lines on another sheet of paper, and then to Will’s surprise, crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the fire. Almost instantly there was a crackle and a flash of light, and the messenger wisp, or one just like it, came zinging out of the flames. It buzzed around the room twice trailing sparks, bumped into a closed window, then into another. Finally it found the open window and shot out into the air, its hum swiftly fading.

“You must use up a lot of paper that way,” Will said.

“It’s salamander parchment,” Rowen said. “When the fire burns out, it’ll still be there, to be used again.”

“That wisp seemed a little … confused.”

“Sputter’s fine. An Enigmatist tried to take him apart once, to find out what wisps are made of. Grandfather patched him up as well as he could.”

“An Enigmatist…?”

“There is more to tell you, Will,” Pendrake sighed, taking off his spectacles and rubbing his eyes. He got up from the desk and took his coat from the back of the chair. “So much more. But enough for now. Get some rest, and do not fear. You’re safer in Fable than anywhere I know.”

Rowen escorted Will to his room. He was exhausted, but too shaken by what he had heard to feel sleepy. And he had the nagging feeling that Pendrake had kept things from him. While he was speaking of the hollows and the mirror shards, he’d glanced at Rowen with a troubled look. The same look Will had seen in his father’s face before he told Will how sick his mother really was. He wanted to trust the old man, but he couldn’t. In a place like this, he wasn’t sure if he could trust anyone. This Marshal of the Errantry would probably order him out of the city, once he heard what Pendrake had to say about how the hollows were after him. They would want to be rid of him before he brought something worse down on their heads. And then he would be back out there, alone.  

“I’ll see you soon,” Rowen said, turning to go.

“Wait. Do you know how to use a sword?”

“I’ve had some lessons,” Rowen said. “Why?”

“How long does it take to learn?”

Rowen gave him a puzzled look, and then understanding came into her eyes.

“They won’t send you off on your own,” she said firmly. “And if they did, I’d go with you.”

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