“What do you see?”
“I see seven thrones on top of the highest hill, in the shade of the great tree,” said the young King.
“Are they all thrones?” asked his First Minister. “Look more closely.”
“Ahhh … only two are thrones,” said the young King. “They’re more decorated than the others. But even the others are … I don’t know … more formal? It seems a strange word to use here, where nature is so predominant.”
He was silent for a moment, considering. The First Minister watched him, a half smile on his face. It is possible to be proud of your King in many ways, especially when your King is young.
“Then perhaps a King, his Queen and their advisors,” he said. “Look how they are set out – a line, but curved a little. The advisors … like arms spread out to embrace. And there … that strange little stool by the foot of the thrones.”
“Perhaps a place for a prince or princess to sit and learn the business of government,” suggested the First Minister.
The King frowned a little. Young or old, the First Minister reflected, kings do not care for the thought that they need to be training up their successors.
The thrones face inward,” the King said suddenly. “Towards the land. If they turned them around and looked out over the sea, what a jolly view they would have!”
“But inland is where the people would gather,” said the First Minister gently.
“That’s true,” said the King. “I wonder if it was for judgements or law giving. Perhaps it was for entertainment … to hear music, or to see plays. Or fire dancers. That would look splendid – although they’d have to be careful not to let that huge tree catch on fire!”
There had been fire dancers who came to the palace three years previously. The King had not forgotten.
But now his attention was still on the tree. “I wonder how old it is. Centuries, I’d think. You could have a whole town of houses in that tree – like the Dumbodins build, in the Creen Uplands. But none of their trees are as big as this! And all alone … I wonder if it was lonely.“
His voice dropped. He had no brothers, but even if he had, he would still have been set apart. And honest friends for a King, a young King, were not easily come by.
“I know these plants,” he said suddenly. “The mushrooms … and that one – there – with trailing fronds that glow. I have seen them in the palace gardens.”
The First Minister nodded. “Yes, you will find them in many gardens. And more … The island … the island can be found. Or rather an echo of that island. Somewhere to the west of here, beyond the Gulf of Rhionis.”
“So I can visit it?”
“Oh yes,” said the First Minister. “Though some say … it is an echo of this island. A loving – and much-loved – reflection.”
“The tree is there? And the thrones?”
“The tree is there. But the thrones … are not.”
“Perhaps,” said the young King thoughtfully, “the thrones have decayed. With time, you know.”
“Perhaps,” said the First Minister. “But legends tell of a court of fair folk, wise and learned, who would gather here in a pavilion of crystal, to tell tales and to hear tales told. And that people would dance here on a magical boat, anchored high in the trees.”
The young King gave an astonished laugh. “A boat? In the tree? How did they get it there?”
“Legends say that it was lifted there – and held aloft – by a kindly dragon.”
The young King laughed again. “Now that really could do some fire damage to the tree!”
Somewhere in the chambers, a clock chimed a musical note. All the palace clocks were musical and gentle reminders of the passing time, but the young King’s face fell.
“Already? But there’s so much more to see – and talk about! The dragon skull, resting on the edge of the island. Was that the dragon who held the boat, do you think?”
“No,” said the First Minister. “That was a young dragon, I believe, and full of strength. The dragon’s skull … that was a dragon who grew unimaginably old and rested, full of years.” Was there a wistful note in the First Minister’s voice?
The King’s gaze was still fixed on the painting.
“Your Council will be waiting,” said the First Minister.
“Yes,” said the King, a little glumly. Then he looked around the room, at the paintings that shone like jewels in this dark wood panelled room, where the light came gently through the mullioned windows.
“But we can come again tomorrow and see them?”
“Perhaps not tomorrow,” said the First Minister. “For your days are full, and very busy. But I promise you – we will come again and see more.”
“Good!” said the young King, and he moved to the door.
But the First Minister paused and looked around the room, at the fourteen bright paintings, each showing a different imagining of a different realm. And he sighed, very softly, for he knew – as the King did not – that when they came again, the realms would be there …. But utterly changed.
For that was the magic of the Fairelands.