The Door……. Chapter Eighteen

Thankfully, the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge is at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, so we didn’t have to sail into that busy body of water. And the Troll’s headquarters, where Peri and the magical Erebos were being held, was beneath the North-side of the gigantic bridge; so, luckily, we avoided the city, too. But, I feared, that would be the extent of our luck.

We intended to approach the bridge by trekking through the Golden Gate Visitor’s Park area, in as much of a disguise as we could manage. I knew that craft entering the bay would be watched, so we needed a safe and fairly unobtrusive place to drop anchor.

We chose a spot well past Kirby Cove, in a secluded inlet as near to the bridge as we dared. I decided to leave Romo and Paul on board, to guard the ship against inquisitive strangers. We planned to enter the Troll’s hideout under the cloak of darkness, but first we had to get to the bridge ……. and that wouldn’t be easy in such a touristy place.

But, I had an idea !

So, gathering weapons and all the things we thought we would need, we rowed the little boat to shore. After hiding the boat under some scrub and branches, I rummaged in my bag and produced a baby’s pram. I also pulled out some toddler’s clothes and told Grey Rabbit and Bomo to put them on. We placed all the weapons in the pram and then Grey Rabbit was persuaded to get into the pram and act the part of a baby.

“This is most undignified ! If the General Council of Earth Protectors should see me ….”

He held up his paws, in despair, as I slipped mittens on them and secured a beanie on his head. One ear kept popping out from the woolly hat and we all laughed. That would probably be the only laugh of the day. The Dormouse would travel in my pocket, while Bomo was dressed as a toddler, with a baseball cap on his head and a lollipop in one hand. With Betty on a lead and Colin, Trevor and the Knave in touristy clothes, we looked like any other family group, on a day out, sightseeing. Well, almost … enough to get by.

So, off we set, across the stoney beach and, eventually, into the Golden Gate Park.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge, as you all know. The roadway is suspended between two tall towers and held fast by numerous cables. These cables are, in turn, suspended from the towers and, at each end of the bridge, the cables are secured in huge concrete blocks. The Northern tower – the side we were heading towards – stands in water. But, luckily, that did not concern us. The Dormouse had told us that the Trolls entrance was in this concrete slab, beneath the road and huge steel cables, and we had no reason to doubt him.

We strolled across the park, as nonchalantly as we could manage, with Grey Rabbit complaining that the Knave’s sword was sticking in his back. Oh, and apparently, all Colin and Trevor’s weapons were uncomfortable, too ! But I just shoved a lollipop in his mouth and told him to grin and bear it – and, for once, he did !

It was getting darker now and all the tourists had departed. We had avoided being caught up in conversation with strangers, as they “Ohhhed” and “Ahhhed” over the view and we had taken numerous photos,and done all the normal tourist things. Now we hid in bushes until the Park Ranger had checked the area for stragglers. Then we scrambled over fences, negotiated rocks and scree, that bordered the park, followed the shoreline round towards the Bridge itself and sighed with relief.

Suddenly, a whiney noise, like plaintive whale-song, filled the air, making an eerie sound in the evening fog. The others were startled, expecting it to be a fore-runner to an attack. But I was able to reassure them by telling them it was only the wind, blowing through the slats of a new fence on the walkway that crossed the bridge. They all breathed easier and we walked on.

Finally, directly underneath the bridge, we stared at the structure. The cables were encased in concrete and we could see no entrance. It was just concrete and metal supporting the bridge. Impenetrable concrete; a vast, plain grey exterior with strong, steel, reebars inside. Surely this was no place for the entrance to the Trolls Kingdom ?

“Maybe we are on the wrong bank ?” I suggested, “Perhaps the entrance is across the Bay ?”

But the Dormouse would have none of this. he had always said he knew how to find the entrance and had brought us, after many trials, to this very spot. Tutting loudly and muttering dark words under his breath, he asked the Knave to lift him up to a metal plate which was screwed into the concrete, approximately six feet off the ground. It was only some sort of information plate, of no interest to anyone except the bridge maintenance crew, but the Knave obliged.

The Dormouse looked down at us, to make sure we were all watching him. Then, with a theatrical flourish, he felt in his hip pocket and produced a silver screw driver. To our astonishment, he began to unscrew the four screws that were holding the plaque to the wall.

Traffic thundered overhead and I allowed myself a wry smile as I thought of all the people, criss-crossing the bridge and never, for one moment, knowing that such a rag-bag of travellers was beneath them. The light of the city and the beams of car head-lights, reflected in the water, adding a surreal touch to the scene. And the whine of the wind in the handrails and wires, gave the final, scary touch. The Southern tower, across the bay, stood ominously, but almost disappearing in the gathering gloom. We held our breath.

The Dormouse removed the last screw and placed them in his pocket. Then he tugged at the metal plate, which he then passed to the Knave. I expected to see more grey concrete beneath the sign, but no ! There was a rectangular hole, about six inches by eight inches and, without a word, the Dormouse popped into the hole and disappeared.

Shocked, we all waited for him to reappear, but there was no sign of him. We waited, And waited. All eyes staring up at the dark hole. Where was he ?

“What are you all looking at ?” a small voice said. And there was the Dormouse, at our feet.

A part of the concrete had opened up; like some sort of reinforced sliding door, three feet high and three feet wide. Certainly big enough for us all to enter, although the poor Knave would have to bend double !

Grey Rabbit had discarded the baby clothes and dropped them, with utter disgust, into the pram, so we were all ready. Colin and Trevor gathered their weapons and the Knave retrieved his sword and diadem. I slung my sackcloth bag over my shoulders and Bomo held up two thumbs. It was time to enter the Kingdom of the Trolls.

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The Door …Chapter Seventeen

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The remainder of the journey up the Californian coast, accompanied by our three protectors, was thankfully uneventful. Well, uneventful as far as meeting more enemies was concerned. But we still had the ‘Paul’ problem. Sending him down to a bunk until the valerian wore off, was only a temporary measure. I talked it over with the rest of our group, but we could come to no satisfactory decision.

” Clap him in irons” suggested the Dormouse, sipping his rum, thoughtfully, ” We could keep him below until our mission is over !”

” I could take care of ‘im !” whispered Trevor, sliding a hand across his throat in a menacing manner.

” I’d help ” nodded Colin.

” No, no ” I interrupted, ” There will be none of that — and we certainly can’t keep him prisoner all that time, can we ?”

I held out my hands and appealed to the Knave and Grey Rabbit, who both shook their heads slowly and thoughtfully.

” You will know what to do, when the time comes,” said Rabbit

“We trust your judgement and your magic. Your Great Aunt always knew what to do ” added the Knave.

I tried to splutter an objection, but they would hear nothing more. Then came a banging from below. I knew it must be Paul, I only hoped everyone’s trust in my judgement was not misguided.

A red-faced Paul came stomping up on deck,

” I’m dreadfully sorry, folks, I must have dropped off. I do hope I haven’t inconvenienced you dear people. ”

He looked around, taking the glass of lemonade Romo offered, then blinked and sat on a barrel. I must admit, I was impressed with his attempt to appear nonchalant.

“I say”, he began, “We are underway, and–and –and those whales are following us ! What the devil is going on ?”

I carried my stool across the deck and sat beside him. Holding my locket in one hand and patting his shoulder with the other, I leaned closer to him and said,

“Oh Paul, you must still be drowsy from your nap. We picked you up on Catalina, don’t you remember ? We are on a top secret mission for MI6 and you are here to help us. Don’t worry about a thing. Your boat is safely tied up at the stern. We’re so glad you agreed to come along “

” Did I ? Oh of course. Silly me. A secret mission for MI6 ? By jove, the guys at the Golf Club will never believe it, eh, what ?” Now what do you want me to do ?”

” No, they wouldn’t. But you must never tell them, it would be treason ! Just go along with everything I ask you to do and you will be fine. You’ve done this before, I’m told; you will be such an asset” and, once more, I rubbed my locket and patted his shoulder.

Paul drank his lemonade and chatted animatedly with the rest of the group, looking as though the most natural thing in the world was a talking Rabbit and an alcoholic Dormouse with dreadlocks.

I breathed a sigh of relief and the Knave winked and ‘high-fived’. This magic was a strange thing, but I wa gaining more confidence in my abilities and beginning to realise exactly what I could do. I hoped it would stand us in good stead when we challenged the Trolls.

The ship had fairly flown across the waves and now we were approaching the body of water, known throughout the world as San Francisco Bay. Dusk was falling and I knew that, when it appeared in the night sky, the moon would be almost completely lilac. Now was the time we had to face not only our fate, but the fate of the whole world.

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The Door …… Chapter Sixteen

I haven’t posted a chapter for a couple of weeks because my arthritis and heart meds have been making me nauseous.  So, sorry fan ! (Well there must be one ?)   As you must have been eager to know what happens next; here we go ….

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

Before I could utter a word, he had tied his boat to our rope ladder and climbed up,

” Permission to come aboa…rd ?” His voice faltered when he saw Grey Rabbit, sitting on a box of  oranges, sipping tea alongside the Dormouse.  The dreadlocks and glass of rum must have been the final straw for poor Paul.  His face turned ashen beneath his deep tan and he almost fell backwards into the sea; saved only by the Knave’s lightning move and tight grasp.

Rather unceremoniously, Paul was pulled back on board and placed on a barrel.  We all looked at him and he stared back.  Confusion reigned on both sides.

Now what do we do ?” enquired Grey Rabbit and Paul’s eyes almost popped out of his head.

” B-b-b-b- by jove,” he managed to stammer, “That’s fabulous CGI,  is it a holograph or-or-or what ?”

Fear and uncertainty was making him stutter, but I could sense there was a wily curiosity, too.  It was beginning to dawn on him that, unlikely as it seemed, Rabbit, Dormouse and the twins were, somehow, REAL.  If he was allowed to go back to the mainland he was sure to tell all and sundry about his ‘discovery’.  There would be a search for us.  The media would be alive with rumours and conspiracies. The existence of EREBOS may even be revealed and that must never happen !  A snowball gains size and momentum the further down the hill it rolls; we must stop this right now.  There must be no hint of our mission anywhere.

” Did he just call me a holograph  ?” Rabbit uttered, contemptuously,  ” I’ll have you know that …”

I swiftly placed my right hand on his shoulder, picked up his abandoned teacup with my left and firmly escorted him to the galley steps.

“Don’t take any notice of him”, I smiled at Paul, “ Rabbit needs his nap, poor boy”   I continued , much more brightly than I actually felt ….. ” Can we offer you some tea ?  It’s nettle tea and really rather delicious  !”

Paul nodded, his bemused expression still set, firmly, on his face.  I turned my back to him and poured him a cup, sprinkled a little valerian on top  ( I always carried valerian in my pocket, it helped calm Rabbit when he had one of his ‘turns’), gave it a good stir and handed it to him.  The cup wobbled in the saucer, his hands trembling slightly as he sipped the delicious beverage.

“Mmmm, not bad at all”  He commented,  “ One never can get a decent cup of tea in the colonies, don’tcha know.  But this is outstanding !”

I could see he was struggling to stay calm.  We were obviously not threatening him, but he was still uncertain about us and not totally sure of what he had seen.  We all carried on as normal, preparing to make way, while chatting amiably to Paul and each other.  The Knave, surreptitiously, tied Paul’s boat to the stern of our ship and we weighed anchor and turned into the wind.  The palm trees spread and caught the stiff breeze and away we went.   With the three orcas keeping pace, we sailed away from Catalina and headed for San Francisco Bay.

The valerian had done it’s work.  Bomo and Romo carried the sleeping Paul below and gently laid him on a spare bunk.  We would be miles away from L.A. when he woke.  I felt guilty about the sleeping draught and really bad about the kidnapping.  But this mission was vital; the world depended on us, even though it didn’t know it.

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The Door …….. Chapter Fifteen

CHAPTER  FIFTEEN

 

I called to the gang below and they all came rushing up immediately, having already been woken by the lurching of the ship.  The twins had both fallen out of their bunks and were squabbling over who had the biggest bump on their heads.  Betty was barking, excitedly, thinking this was some new game and Grey Rabbit, resplendent in a navy-blue, velvet smoking jacket, demanded to know what was happening.

I just pointed at the water and yelled at everyone to hang on as another shark collided with the vessel and barrels rolled across the deck.  Colin and Trevor sprung into action, arming themselves with long, spear-like weapons   (goodness knows where they had found them ) and proceeded to jab at the huge creatures with the sharp spikes.

Although dawn was slowly appearing in the east, it was still dark on the ocean, but I could make out a group of four or five large sharks.  For some reason, my brain was trying hard to remember the collective noun for them.  A cold shiver of fear ran down my back as another shark crashed into the weakened hull.  Then I remembered —- SHIVER  !  —- It was a “Shiver of sharks” !  But somehow that little word did not seem to fully describe the menace, with which they were attacking us.

“The hull is almost breached on the port-side !” screamed the Knave.

I raced below and into my cabin. Trickles of water seeped through the wooden planks of the hull.  Romo and Bomo had followed me and they tried to push the wood back into place.  But their efforts were futile; more seawater poured in.  I grabbed my sackcloth bag and pulled out a length of tarpaulin, hammers and nails and the three of us went to work, patching up the holes as best we could.  Thankfully the breach was not below the water-line.

A battle-royal was taking place up on the deck and Colin suggested we try to make it to Catalina Island, which we had already passed.  However, it seemed to be the most sensible idea, so I turned the ship around and we sailed as fast as we could, with the sharks in pursuit. But, as fast as we sailed, our enemy were fast too.  Waves washed over the decks as, again and again, the sharks battered our ship, knocking us off course and turning the vessel, until we were sailing round in circles.  The twins and Grey Rabbit began to quiver with fear, imagining that soon they would be tasty morsels for the sharks to devour.

I tucked the Dormouse into my pocket just as another wave threatened to wash him overboard.  Colin and Trevor were desperately trying to deter the fish with their spears and shooting at them with their pistols.   The Knave was bravely swinging from a rope, which he had attached to the figurehead. Reaching down, almost to the waves, he was slashing at the sleek, shiny grey bodies. But still they came; closing in for the kill.

We were all preparing for the worst; the deck was awash; the badly damaged hull was leaking and we were taking on so much water that we would surely sink to a watery grave, or worse.  Catalina was only a mile away, but it may as well have been a hundred.  Where was my magic now  ?

Then, I remembered a TV programme — one of those nature documentaries.  Such a strange thing to recall, amid all this carnage, I know, but ……   I scrambled up the palm leaves, scraping my knees and arms.  The trunk was swaying in the wind and my hold was precarious, to say the least, but I held on and shouted out across the waters,

” Oyyyyiiii, oooyyyiii ! “

I have no idea what it meant, but I kept on calling out into the wind.  In just a few short minutes, huge Orcas crested the waves.  Killer whales  !   The only adversary these sharks had.  A huge pod of Orcas and their young, were travelling up the west coast of America,   they were on their way to the rich pickings of food in the cold Alaskan waters.  And I had remembered that they did this every year at this time. Much to my astonishment,  it appeared that I could communicate with these giants of the deep and they soon grouped together and faced the five sharks.  Orcas are very protective of their young and will not hesitated to attack sharks if they feel threatened.  I silently thanked Sir David Attenborough and climbed down the palm tree.

The sharks had turned their attention to the angry whales and, seeing the huge group they would have to fight, they slid silently away into the depths of the Pacific and that was the last we saw of them.  I waved to the whales, signalling my thanks and they blew acknowledgement to us and carried on their stately journey.  We surveyed the damage, once more.  This was getting to be a habit.

The whales were about a hundred yards away when one turned and swam back to us.  Then another and a third, while the rest of the pod carried on their way.  They stayed just off our bow and kept the same course as us.  We had an escort.  I wiped away a tear or two; these magnificent creatures had decided to protect us.  Now we needed to make a few repairs, Catalina was only a few minutes away.

Santa Catalina Island is a rocky island, barely thirty miles off the Californian coast.  On a clear day, it can be seen from the various Los Angeles beaches.  We had back-tracked to reach it, but it was our only hope of a safe place to moor and make repairs.  We had not wanted to be seen in such a popular tourist spot, so we had little choice of places to stop.  We avoided  such popular places as Avalon and Isthmus Cove, instead we moored just past Land’s End and the West End Light.  Hoping that no one would be around so early in the morning,  we dropped anchor while the three whales waited in the deeper water, slowly circling, patiently.

We set to work, checking every part of the hull; nailing planks back into place.  Romo and Bomo tarred all the areas they could reach from the rowboat and I applied as much magic as possible to restore the old vessel back to it’s former, battered olde worlde charm.

At first it appeared that we had been successful in being unobserved and, as all the work was practically finished we were partaking of some nettle tea and chunks of buttered bread, when I heard an unknown voice call,

“Ahoy there  !  You been doing some repairs  ?  Anyone aboard  ?”

And I peered over the handrail to see a  ‘civilian‘ in a small fishing boat.  He wore cream coloured shorts, and a peach coloured ,cotton shirt.  On his head was a fishing hat, with numerous and varied  fishing-flies all around the brim.

” Ah, hello my lovely,” he grinned, in a decidedly English accent, as he swiftly climbed the rope ladder,  “I’m Paul.  Any chance of a cuppa, I’m blooming well parched  ?  The fish aren’t biting, must be those whales over there, scaring them off !”

Oh cripes, a stranger could blow our cover, this wasn’t good.

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The Door ….. Chapter Fourteen

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

After a while, the sounds of slashing swords and dying bats abated.  The hard shell of my cloak suddenly went limp and flopped onto our heads.  The twins laughed, nervously and I slowly lifted the soft woolen folds and cautiously peered around.

The deck was awash with blood, which sizzled curiously in the hot sun.  Piles of dead bats lay, almost knee-deep in some areas and the dead eyes appeared to glare furiously at me.  I looked away, it was a gory sight and I felt a little nauseous.  But what of our three heroes  ?  With a sigh of relief, my gaze fell on them.  Colin and Trevor were striding through the corpses and kicking them into the ocean.  The Knave, covered in the deep red blood of the enemies, was carefully cleaning his sword, then reaching up to catch his diadem as it flew through the air, towards him.  They all looked triumphant, but utterly exhausted.

My little party emerged from the safety of the cloak and began to give the three warriors a hearty round of applause. The men bowed from the waist, to acknowledge our praise; Colin had his old straw hat on and he doffed it, royally.  We all laughed and high-fived each other in relief.

“We have much clearing up to do” said the Rabbit, surveying the bloody scene.  I was about to agree and join in the rejoicing when, lifting my head slightly, to cool my face in the breeze, I noticed the sails ………. Well, what was left of them  !

They were ripped to ribbons by the long, sharp claws of the vampire bats.  Not one square yard remained untouched.  The crosstrees were pulled from the palm trunk, and now hung like broken branches of a Christmas tree, festively festooned with long, thin strips of ruined sailcloth.  All the ropes were in shreds and no use for anything.  I wanted to cry.

The breeze was no strengthening to a brisk wind; we desperately needed sails.  So, I concentrated hard and tried, with all my strength, to conjure up new ones.  But nothing ! It was hopeless, we were stuck and at the mercy of tides and crosswinds.  Everyone else had noticed the lack of usable sails, but just assumed that my magic would fix it. So they busied themselves, sweeping heaps of furry bodies into the water and scrubbing the bloodstained deck.  What on earth could I do  ?  We needed to get underway and could not miss this wind.

By now, even the cross beams had given up and crashed down onto the deck, narrowly missing Grey Rabbit, who was NOT amused.  I stared at the palm tree mast.  It still stood, sturdily mocking me and then ... SWOOOOOSH …… Green shoots began to appear on the top half of the  trunk.  They swiftly grew into huge fronds that spread out from the palm.  We immediately began to move across the water, the palm tree leaves and fronds acting as sails  !  We were on our way again.

The little band of travellers stopped what they were doing and applauded; smiling at me and nudging each other in delight.  But I felt rather guilty; was the magic mine, or was this foreseen and was the reason I hadn’t been able to  conjure up a new mast and sails, when we were on the island ?  Who knew  ?  Either way, the ship was skimming over the ocean and that was really all that mattered.

I turned my attention to Colin and Trevor, who were both covered in crimson blood.  Typically, they had not complained, but had set to work on clearing the deck.  I anxiously examined their arms and upper torso, hoping that neither had been bitten by those vile vampire bats.  Thankfully, after a full inspection and a thorough dowsing in cold salt-water, it was concluded that none of the blood was theirs.  Both had scraped through with barely a bruise and smiled, happily, as I rubbed arnica and aloe vera on their battered arms.  The Knave had also washed the gore from his body and was similarly unscathed.  Perhaps our luck was turning.  But, truthfully, I doubted that we would be allowed to complete our journey without further interference.  I was sure that, by now, the Trolls would have knowledge of the bat’s failure to stop us.

With this in mind, I held a mini-conference, where it was decided that we should sail to our destination as swiftly as magically possible, with no further stops.  We had enough provisions to sustain us and, although the Dormouse bemoaned that his cache of rum was sorely depleted, there really was no need to stop anywhere and put ourselves in more danger.

So we pressed on.  The twins kept sending up a steady supply of nettle tea and vegetable soup and the Knave and I, with Colin and Trevor’s assistance, took turns at the wheel as we sailed into the dusk.

We had gone out into the deeper ocean, out of sight of the coast.  This way we could speed over the water as fast as my magic could manage, without drawing too much attention.   The night was clear and the sky was full of stars; a soft, slightly scented, wind was making the palm leaves billow like rows of tasseled sheets on some magical washing line.  I had finished my watch, but the night was too beautiful to turn in, so I sat on a sack of coconuts and turned my face to the wind; my long hair lifting gently off my shoulders as I sipped a mug of tea.  The Knave was at the wheel and we idly chatted, back and forth, as good friends do.  Betty lay at my feet and the others were all snoring in their bunks.  It was a perfectly idyllic, tropical night and we must have appeared, to all the world, to be just an ordinary couple in an antique sailing ship, on a sailing holiday in the Pacific.  Then a glow on the horizon gradually became larger and brighter.  At first I feared some renewed, unearthly attack but the Knave simply smiled,

” It’s just the glow of Los Angeles.  That huge conurbation lights up the darkness even when one is still miles away.”

Of course !  I had forgotten where we were, for a moment.  And at the speed we were travelling, the glow was growing larger and brighter until it filled the horizon.

“Los Angeles”, I whispered, ” Soon we will reach San Francisco and then what …?”

I looked at the Knave. His expression had changed from a smile to a frown,

“Well, then the battle will truly begin ….”

His words trailed off as the ship lurched sideways and I fell off the sack of coconuts and breathlessly grabbed the handrail.  Then another lurch, this time in the other direction and I fell backwards,

“Hang on, Rosie !”  called the Knave, as spray flew up and washed over the deck. 

The lilac-edged moon was so bright that I could see a white shape in the darkness of the Pacific.  I scrambled to the wheel, to help the Knave, losing my footing on the wet deck. As we clutched the wheel and tried to get the ship back on course, the sharks attacked.

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The Door Chapter Thirteen

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The Knave’s Tale

 

” It will be OK; the Knave will prevail” said Grey Rabbit

I wasn’t so sure. All this magic and weirdness was so confusing.  Grey Rabbit could see that I was unconvinced,

” I suppose this is as good a moment as any to tell you about the Knave” he added, probably in an attempt to distract me from the sounds of battle. And so, as we huddled together, beneath my cloak, he began.

” The Knave has a long and very distinguished lineage.   His father could trace his family back to Alexander The Great and his mother was a princess; a descendant of King Arthur. So, you see, there was already magic and a great tradition of bravery in his heritage. 

Alexander The Great once held the key to Erebos and , in time, it was passed down to the Knave’s parents, for safe-keeping.  They ruled in a magical land, far away.  The King and Queen of Hearts are not mythical, they were as real as you and I.  Even in those times, the Trolls were evil beings, intent on finding Erebos and the magical key that opened this powerful box.  They roamed  the Earth freely then and lived wherever they chose. 

The Knave was a peace-keeper, who only fought evil.  He stood for justice and all that was good and travelled to many kingdoms, to help the oppressed. Of course, he was mortal then. One year, he had been far away from his home, dispatching a dragon that was terrorising the land. On returning to his own lands, he found his parents slain and the kingdom in disarray.  The Trolls had invaded the peaceful land and found the key, which was in the form of a sapphire in the king’s crown.

The Knave followed the Trolls to the end of the Earth and finally caught up with them.  A huge battle ensued; the Knave recovered the key and sent it, once more,  to a secret place.  In return, Erebos granted the Knave immortality and gave him three gifts.  One was a sword, so mighty that it would be invincible in battle for whoever wielded it.  Also a diadem, to display his high-born station and also possess magic powers of it’s own. The last gift was a pack of cards, to amuse him on lonely journeys.  But, such is the power of Erebos, that these were magic cards that could be called on in times of danger…. a company of warriors, as you have seen. 

Finally, the Knave was given the task of choosing where the Trolls would be allowed to settle.  He could choose a dwelling place, but it had to be restricted to a place the Knave could see from his current position.  Well, they were gathered in a green field and surrounded by flat, open land, so there seemed to be nowhere suitable.   However, a wide river ran through this field and over the river was a wooden bridge.  So, the Knave requested that the Trolls should, forever, live underground beneath bridges. This enraged the Trolls, who loved the wide, open spaces and now, for all eternity, they were condemned to darkness and, to this day,  all Trolls live under bridges. 

The Trolls despise the Knave for this curse and he is their sworn enemy.  And so, now you see why the Knave is on this mission, with us.  His sword and diadem are formidable weapons.  We are lucky that he is on our side.”

I listened to the Rabbit’s calming voice and felt a little better.  There was a small chink in the armour of my cloak and I dared a peep through this small hole.  I saw the card-warriors, rushing around and forming card-houses, the card on the top was lashing out at the bats, who screeched in anger. Then I saw Colin and Trevor. sweeping through swathes of bats, their swords flashing.  Finally, I caught sight of the Knave.  He was completely covered in bats, but his sword was slicing through them like lightning and his diadem flew through the air like some deadly discus.  And, as far as my eyes could see, piles of vampire bats lay, dead, on the blood-soaked deck.

I think we were winning.

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The Door Chapter Twelve

 

CHAPTER TWELVE 

 

There was a fair wind and we made good time, sailing swiftly along, all sails billowing in the early morning sunlight.  We had five days before the Lilac Moon  and our spirits were high.  Breakfast had been eaten and cleared away and it was ‘all hands on deck’  ensuring nothing hampered our progress.  I reckoned my magic had saved us lots of time as we were off the coast of the Mexican State of Baja California.  This would have been impossible under normal circumstances, in a normal ship.  We were planning to dock at a place Colin and Trevor knew, just outside Tijuana.  Apparently it was  the type of village where no questions were asked.  But the Knave upset the apple-cart, so to speak, when he said that he had checked the stores and we could manage without a stop.  This sparked a bit of a discussion, each one arguing his corner.  The Dormouse was particularly in favour of stopping and voiced his opinion quite loudly, as he stood on an upturned bucket; trying his best to gain a few more inches in height.  Betty was joining in by digging at the bucket and threatening to topple the vociferous Dormouse.  I was at the wheel, but not particularly watching the waves, laughing at the humorous picture they presented as they made claims and counterclaims about various ports in the world.

The sound of a flock of seagulls squawking noisily over my head in a breath-taking  SWOOOSH suddenly grabbed my attention.  I was wearing my woolen cloak; it had been invaluable during the cooler nights, when I was on watch. However,  it was almost pulled off my shoulders with the powerful movement of air.  I silently uttered a few choice words as I rearranged my clothes, took the wheel again and steered us back on course.  That was when I saw it —- the thing the seagulls were fleeing from —

A huge black curtain of cloud was speeding over the waves from the direction of the coast.  It was at least 100 yards high and almost twice as wide and it was heading straight for our starboard side.

I screamed to the others and they stopped their squabbling immediately.  The black cloud drew ever nearer; it’s great mass appearing to writhe and twist within itself and yet still retain it’s shape.

“What the hell….” I began.  But the Knave had recognised the danger straight away and, calling Bomo and Romo to take the wheel, he  yelled,

“WEAPONS  !”

And pulled me below, telling me to get my bag.  I rushed to my cabin and opened my sackcloth bag.  There were swords and pistols and boxes of ammunition, this time I was not surprised.  I grabbed the bag and hauled it up on deck.  The cloud was only about 100 yards away now; the edges of it fluttering and fuzzy.

In a flash, the Knave appeared with an enormous sword that shone in the sun like a torch.  He wore his diadem, which I hadn’t seen since the first day we met.  It, too, appeared to shine.  I opened my bag and called to the others to arm themselves.  But then we saw, as the cloud moved closer, just exactly what  we would be fighting.   The cloud consisted of hundreds …. no THOUSANDS… of huge bats.  Colin and Trevor snatched swords and pistols and stood, ready to fight.

“Vampire bats !” shouted the Knave, ” Rosie, get everyone under your cloak !”

I hesitated; what good would that do ?  But his eyes told me that I’d better obey.  By now the bats had reached the ship and were swirling around, attacking at random.  Some were tearing at my hair and flying at my companions, others were clawing at our sails.

I huddled down with Grey Rabbit, the twins, the Dormouse and little Betty, who barked and barked, trying to act brave.  We clung together as  I pulled up the hood and then flung the cloak around us all.  My last sight was of the Knave, lashing out at the bats.  He was encircled by a golden glow, his sword like a lightening bolt slicing at the evil creatures.  And his diadem was emitting flashes of golden light.  Trevor and Colin, however, were on the for’castle , completely engulfed in a black mass of bats and I feared they were overwhelmed.

We crouched inside my cloak and, to my surprise it began to turn into a hard, impenetrable shell. I could hear vampire bats hurling themselves at the cape, in an effort to attack and kill us, but it was all in vain and, thankfully, we remained unhurt.  For now, at least.

But what of our brave warriors  ?  I could hear sounds of some great battle.  Metal against metal and the occasional explosion of a pistol. And we all shuddered at the sounds of unearthly screams as the evil enemies were put to the sword.  But could just three men hold fast against thousands of pairs of sharp teeth and sharp claws ?  I was worried and afraid. How I wished I could help.

Grey Rabbit sensed my concern and patted my arm with a paw,

“Fear  not, Rosie” he murmured, “ You must be protected at all cost.  But the Knave has his magic, too.  He is a warrior “

But, although I knew Grey Rabbit was trying to reassure me, as we all sat, shaking with fear, beneath my cloak, I was so afraid for our brave companions.  Was this the end for us, would we all die here ?  Was this the end of our mission to save Peri and prevent the Trolls from opening Erebos ?

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The Door Chapter Eleven

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

The astonishingly, inexplicable survival and subsequent rescue of Colin and Trevor, gave us all the boost we had been needing. We raced northwards, thus managing to avoid being caught in another tropical storm.  However, the ship was badly damaged and  would certainly benefit from a little  restoration in a safe harbour.  But, already the edges of the full moon were tinged with lilac and so I knew we had no time to spare for such luxuries.  Any repairs would have to be done ‘on the run’.

I clutched at my locket and thought, hard, about which parts of the ship needed the most repair.  Romo and Bomo were busy, tarring the planks of the hull.  They could only manage to reach a few, as they were balanced, precariously, on a plank secured with ropes.  The waves were threatening to sweep them both away at any minute so  I rubbed the locket between my fingers and concentrated.  Up came a shout and I leaned over the side; all the tarring had, magically, been finished.  The twins applauded my magical achievement and drew my attention to the prow, which had always looked particularly battered and ill-kept, even before the storm.  The whole ship was now fresh with tar and paint and the figurehead of a Grecian woman was restored to it’s original, pristine condition.  But the biggest surprise of all was the name of the ship.  I had not really thought about it, but now it was painted in bright, black and gold letters … HOPE … yes, it made perfect sense.

” I never knew the name of this ship”  I whispered; mainly to myself. But Grey Rabbit heard my words,

” Yes… it’s HOPE,  the ideal name for this vessel.  Throughout the years, hope has carried us through all the trials and tribulations of the World.  Wars, plagues, famine and pain.  Through all the tears, hope is constant.  If we lose hope, we have nothing.  And so, this ship must endure. “

I nodded, silently.  Yes, this ship must endure.  So, I set to work conjuring up more repairs to our vessel.   You may remember that our main-mast had been destroyed and now we had a bare, palm tree trunk in it’s place ?  Well, try as I might, I could not replace the palm with another, more conventional mast.  I gave myself a headache just attempting it.  Ah well, maybe it was a testament to the twins good judgement in choosing such a mast —–  or so I thought.

So, we made sure the cross-trees were securely attached to the palm-mast and everything was strong enough to hold our full complement of sails. It was imperative that we head North with all the speed the wind and my magic could muster.

As everyone rushed around, finishing up their chores and clearing the decks of any remaining debris, Grey Rabbit took me to one side.  He had a very grave expression and I wondered what new bombshell was about to hit us.

“Well, Rosie,” he said. “ You are doing very well, managing your magic to our advantage.  But soon you will be tested to the utmost.”

I began to splutter a reply, but up came the restraining paw.  He still had his superior gestures.

” By now the Trolls will know we are gaining ground and fast approaching their stronghold. They have evil agents everywhere and, no doubt, will presently be dispatching their allies.  They know we must be stopped.  We are dangerous to them and they are afraid of your magic and hate the Knave, so we will be faced with powerful and  evil resistance that could strike at any time.”

I wondered why they hated the Knave, but it was obvious Grey Rabbit had no more to say at this moment because he wandered off, muttering to himself.  I thought about his words.  He was correct, of course, there was no way the Trolls would allow us safe passage to San Francisco.  In my head I knew Grey Rabbit was spot-on.  We were only just beginning.

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The Door Chapter Ten

 

CHAPTER TEN

 

In no time at all, or so it seemed, it was dawn.

” I’m late, I’m late “ the Birds-of-Paradise appeared to say, to the harmonious accompaniment of the burring wings of Humming Birds.

The morning sun kissed our faces and Tomo and Romo made nettle tea.  So we sat on the sand, by the lagoon, sipping the aromatic beverage and, as the playing cards floated in and out on the tide, we thought of our lost companions. 

The tea was restorative and, as it always imbues our band of travellers with a feeling of positivity, I was pleased that the twins had the foresight to prepare a large pitcher of the delicious drink.  I sipped slowly and considered our plight.

The day had dawned clear, thus far; but ominous dark clouds in the west were fast approaching and the island had little in the way of shelter.  Palm trees, bent double by previous storms, were of little use should the tempest return.  We needed to leave this place, search for our friends and find a safe harbour.  But how  ?  Our ship was practically wrecked.   I concentrated hard, could I call on my magic  ?

Our situation was desperate, but even the most miserable of us could not fail to be amused when the Crab King ventured across the beach and, in a squeaky but eminently polite voice, offered to help us refloat the ship.  This would normally have been a hopeless task, but I had become accustomed  to accomplishing seemingly impossible things and called for the others to assist.

The vessel lay on it’s side in the surf. Waves foamed over the barnacled hull, washing mussels and cockles, sending them scurrying for cover under a large, brightly striped umbrella.  Young dolphins had appeared, with their chalk and slates and were now sketching the whole sorry spectacle, under the watchful eye of a walrus, who sat precariously on a rocky dais.  Any other time I would have thought all this was some drug-induced dream, but today it appeared perfectly normal.

The crabs marched, purposefully, down the shore-line, their claws  ‘click-clicking’  on the silver sand.  Tumbling into the turquoise waters, they scrambled under the immersed port-side and clambered, one on top of the other, to form a wedge shape.  Together they pushed as the Knave, Grey Rabbit, the twins and I, all pulled and pulled, but we needed more strength.

I shouted out to the playing cards, who were still drifting listlessly, back and forth on the tide.  One by one they floated to the shore and shook themselves.  Some of the soggier ones ran about until they were a little drier and stronger.  Then, working as a pack, they heaved and heaved and, just as we were almost collapsing with the effort, there was a huge ‘SLUUURRRPPP’ and the ship was righted !

Romo and Bomo ran off into the trees and triumphantly carried the only straight palm tree, proudly across the sand-bank.  We had our main  mast !

Working swiftly, eyeing the ever approaching clouds, we secured the mast, while Dormouse tightened the bolts with the handy torque-wrench he always carried in his hip-pocket. Fat rain-spots  began to fall and splatter onto the deck as we loaded Betty and our meagre rations.  Then we  hoisted the spinnaker; we must outrun this storm !

The Knave set to work, checking that the barrels were lashed and the sheets were secure in their cleats.  In my new capacity as Captain, I took the wheel and, with a final salute to the crabs, I turned the ship into the wind.  The sails filled and the ship sprung to life, scudding swiftly away from the island, as storm petrels flew high across the watery sun.

Now I was determined to search for our friends. If they, by some serendipitous chance, were still alive, they would never survive another storm.

We tacked back and forth,  across our former route, all eyes on the waves, praying that Trevor and Colin had, miraculously survived.  A school of dolphins appeared and Tomo held Grey Rabbit’s legs as he leaned over the handrail as far as he dared and asked if they had seen a rowboat and two men.  But the dolphins shook their heads and glided gracefully by.  Soon we had retraced our steps,  peered through binoculars,  prayed and done everything we could.  I was losing heart and trying to summon up some magic spell.  What was the use of being a bona-fide magician, if I couldn’t caste a spell to save our lost friends ?  My head hurt with the effort.

More clouds were gathering and I was concentrating so hard on a spell, that I didn’t see the Albatross, high in the sky.  Nor did I see the rope in his beak.  But I did see the rowboat, carrying two figures, being pulled across the water, towards us.  Unbelievably, it was Colin and Trevor !  The Albatross dropped the rope onto our deck and, with a couple of flicks of his giant wings, flew out across the swell of the ocean.

We all rushed to grab the rope; even little Dormouse and Betty helped.  Then we all tugged and pulled as hard as we could and our two dear friends were saved.  As they climbed wearily aboard, I wondered if my magic had helped.  I still didn’t have a clue how to use this, newly discovered, gift, but I like to think that, somehow, I had helped.

We all hugged our bedraggled companions and Romo took them below, to revive them with hot vegetable soup and steaming mugs of tea. Our company was complete again, now we must avoid the storm.  I expertly turned the ships wheel and held my breath as, at first, the sails flapped ominously at the sudden change in tack. And then —-WHOOOSH — the wind filled them and we flew across the ocean.  This time, north, towards our goal.

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The Door Chapter Nine

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CHAPTER NINE

 

And so began the trip down to Panama.  Although it was around 1000 miles by sailing ship, I knew this magic vessel would make short work of that.  I was worried about hurricanes, as I remembered watching weather reports on TV about how this part of the Caribbean was prone to bad weather.   Magic would cut no ice there.  But the weather set fair and the stiff, warm breeze had us swiftly skimming over the waves.  As we sailed, the crew regaled me with stories of earlier adventures and exciting trips; but they are for another time.

The Knave and I took turns at the wheel and between us, we read the winds sufficiently well to tack across the blue waters and we soon reached the stunningly beautiful coral island of San Andres.  Here we anchored in a bay.  The water was so clear, I could plainly see the pink coral and exotic fish on the sea bed.  Colin and Trevor took the rowboat to shore, to purchase boxes of coconuts,  mangoes and other  foodstuff.  We seemed to have an endless supply of fresh water on board which, I suspected, was due to Grey Rabbit’s magic.

How easily I was now accepting all these things.  Although I had doubts, it was amazing how every magic trick appeared to be normal.  In a few short days, I had become used to the motley crew of travellers and also an expert sailor.  It was as though I was born to it.

Once again, I would have loved to go ashore and see the sights.  The island was so captivating.  Scents of flowers and spices wafted out to the ship.  But time was tight and soon we were off again, fast approaching the Canal.

The plan was that Dormouse,  Grey Rabbit and the twins would stay below as we entered the Canal. The Knave had all the relevant documents and cash to pay for our passage.  I had changed into the coolest dress I could find.  A loose, cotton sundress, with a long, flowing skirt that kept my legs cool.  The Knave had long since dispensed with his jersey and now had a white T shirt with his heart logo printed on the front, denim shorts had replaced his long trousers.  Colin and Trevor were still sporting their lurid shirts and so we all resembled ordinary tourists.  Though  ‘ordinary’  was so far from the truth.

The heat in the Canal was overwhelming, but the views were magnificent.  I had no idea how beautiful this area was.  I had always imagined a rather boring seaway, with tall hills on either side. But there were lakes and mountains and stunning tropical plants and trees everywhere I looked.  The only thing  ‘boring’  was the oppressive heat, which sapped my energy completely.  One of the Officials warned us of storms in the South Pacific.  Trevor muttered, ominously, about wrecks and drowning, but I was fading fast.  The heat made me feel sick, the breeze was too warm to cool me.

I wandered below and went to my cabin.  I thought I would look in my bag to see if I had packed any face-wipes.  I didn’t remember doing so, but you never know.  I put the bag on a chair and delved into it.  To my amazement, there was an electric fan !  Just the thing —- but how the heck did it get there ?  Then I remembered Grey Rabbit telling me that everything I needed would be inside this capacious holdall.  So, not only did my locket grant wishes, but, so it seemed, did the bag.  Then a thought ” STUPID WOMAN ” It’s an ELECTRIC fan and there was no electricity on board.  Huh !  Some magic !

I hauled the fan out and placed it on the nightstand, beside my bunk.  It sat there, looking accusingly at me.  I fiddled about with the blades, but nothing happened.  I pressed the ON button and it came on.  I jumped in surprise.  I switched it off and it stopped.  I tried it again and a cold  breeze blew the ends of my hair and cooled my face.  It was magic !Real magic !  Not ‘Dynamo’ with his ‘almost magic’ illusions; but real, live, no explanation magic.  An electric fan that worked with no electricity.  I BELIEVED NOW  !  Everything else could have been explained by some professor of some ‘ology’ ….But this ?  This was real. Now I believed.  I shrieked out in excitement and Grey Rabbit came running into my cabin.  He was flustered and, for once, did not wear his haughty expression. I babbled something incoherent and he gestured for me to sit down.

” It’s all magic”  I said, trembling, ” My bag and locket are both magical and you and all the others too.  All the things that have happened, did you do it ?  Was it all really real ?” 

He looked serious now,and he glanced sideways at me and replied

“It’s YOU Rosie.  You are the magic, the magic is in you.  It always has been.  You are making everything happen, we are just helping you.

“But how.. I mean… my locket, my bag of whatever I need.  How can that be me ?

I was bursting with curiosity and confusion.  I wasn’t a magician, how silly.

” The bag is there to hold whatever you conjure up and the locket is just to help focus your mind.  You have much to learn, as I’ve said before.  You still need to learn how to control your gift.  You were born with this but you have yet to realise your true power.  We are here to guide you and help you to take the key from the Trolls and save the world from a terrible destruction”

The Grey Rabbit’s words had left me bemused and bewildered.  I needed some air.  I returned to the deck, a million questions filling my head.  Once on deck I found that we were leaving the last lock and sailing the final few metres of the Canal.

For a second time, the Officials told us of hurricanes and wild weather.  This time I listened as they suggested we hug the coast and not venture too far.  But we were getting short of time and I knew we could go faster in deeper water.  The Knave had said we would be going uphill; now I knew that he meant my magic would have to work harder; things had taken on new meanings, I was no longer quite so clueless, I felt powerful.

And so, we sailed, a clear blue sunlit sky above us,  into the South Pacific.  I had a long-held wish to see this ocean and had planned to visit someday.  Now I was actually here and I held my breath at it’s turquoise magnificence.  The waters were fairly calm, but an offshore breeze was brisk and so we sailed swiftly on.  As we progressed, I listened to Trevor and Colin as they told more stories of adventures past.  It appears they were both quite the heroes and of that, I had no doubt. But dark clouds were gathering on the horizon, we must make haste, we still had far to go.

We were barely a day out when the storm hit us. The brisk wind, that had moaned in the rigging and sent the spinnaker soaring; pulling us over waves as though we were flying; turned into a raging hurricane that whipped the sea into a frenzy.  Gigantic waves crashed over the deck and threatened to swamp us at any moment.  The tempest tore at the rigging; sails and spars creaked ominously as we battled with the ropes in a vain attempt to lower the sails.  Barrels that had been lashed to the handrails, broke free and, as the vessel plummeted into a trough, they rolled ever closer to me and I feared I would be flattened beneath them.  Trevor and Colin, who were attempting to secure the rowboat, saw the impending danger. As one they leapt across the deck and stopped the barrels in their tracks.  Then an enormous wave swept them both over the side, still clinging to the rowboat’s rope.  The Knave struggled to the side, but they were nowhere to be seen and we could do nothing but pray they would be, somehow, saved from drowning.   A great sorrow filled my heart.  And now, the rest of us were in mortal danger.    The ship listed to port and I closed my eyes and tried to summon some magic, but nothing worked.

The twins saw the island first; silhouetted in the luminous lightening flashes and hope caught my throat.  Miraculously, the storm was blowing us towards the beach and sanctuary.  Fearing that a reef may lie between us and safety, the Knave watched the waves while  I clung to the wheel and listened to the creaks and rattles of the craft and we both  stared into the darkness at the fast approaching shore.

The vessel came to ground on a sandbank, a few yards from the shore, listing precariously in the shallow water.  I scooped up the Dormouse and shoved him into the pocket of my, now drenched, sundress.  Then, a pause as I checked that the twins had tucked Betty safely into her basket and that Grey Rabbit was  ok.  We swiftly gathered all we could carry and slid into the water.

As we waded through the foaming waves and onto the beach, our battered ship fell onto it’s side and the mainmast was wrenched in two.  Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the storm abated and we fell, exhausted onto the silver sands.  The pale moon rose in the sky and stars twinkled like diamonds studded in midnight blue velvet.  The Fisher King cast his net of dreams and we slept where we lay.

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