The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks


  “A crystal,” Horris said, holding up a single finger. “A crystal that you look into as you would a mirror. And when you do, it shows you images of the past and of the future, images of yourself and those you love. The images are pleasant and welcome, and they take you away from your troubles for a time. The perfect diversion from your cares.” He rubbed his hands. “Here, let me show you.”

  He reached into his supplicant’s robes and pulled forth a crystal to hold up before them. It was about the width and length of an average thumb, five-sided, pointed at one end, flat at the other, and clear enough to see through.

  “Would you like to try it?” he asked Questor Thews, and held out the crystal for the wizard to take.

  “Wait a minute.” Abernathy was between them instantly. “This thing is magic, is it?”

  Horris nodded calmly. “It is.”

  “I thought you said you would give up conjuring unless asked. You swore to the High Lord that you would give it up, in fact. What happened to your vow, Horris? Where did this crystal come from if you did not conjure it up?”

  Horris Kew held up his hands in a placating manner. “I have not broken my vow, Abernathy. This”—he held forth the crystal a second time—“was shown to me in a dream. I was asleep in the deep woods … uh,” he hesitated, “north. I was asleep, having fasted and contemplated the misdealings and mistakes of my life all day after returning from my visit here, and I dreamed. In my dream I was shown this mind’s eye crystal. It was a vision of great power. It told me of the crystal and where it might be found. It told me to seek it out. When I woke, I was compelled to do so. I did and I found it as promised. Knowing that I have not as yet had my exile lifted, I felt compelled to bring it to you.” He paused, looking down at his feet. “I admit I hoped that it might in some small way influence you to take me back.”

  Abernathy was not impressed. He stood his ground, dog face fixed and dog eyes searching. There was a lie in here somewhere, he was sure of it. “You have never, in your entire life, employed a magic that did not end badly for anyone who came into contact with it. I cannot believe that this mind’s eye crystal will be any different.”

  “But I am not the same man!” Horris Kew protested with a dramatic gesture. “I have changed, Abernathy. I have repented my former life and resolved to follow a different path. This crystal is my first step down that path.” He drew himself up. “Tell you what. Why don’t you try it out first, instead of Questor Thews? That way if there is a problem, Questor can use his formidable magic to do with me as he will. Surely you agree he is more than a match for me in case this is some sort of trick. And anyway, why would I chance anything so foolish this close to the dungeons into which you have already indicated you would like to see me thrown?”

  He had a point. Abernathy hesitated. “I would not put anything past you, Horris,” he muttered.

  “Hooray for Horris, hooray for Horris!” the bird cawed suddenly, and clacked its beak.

  Abernathy glared at the bird. “What do you think, Questor Thews?” he asked, and glanced back at the other.

  The wizard’s mouth was a tight line. “There are guards all about. If this goes awry, Horris goes into the keep and stays there. I stand ready if there is magic to be combated.” He shook his head. “It’s up to you, Abernathy.”

  “You will not be sorry,” Horris offered, advancing the crystal another few inches toward the scribe. “I promise.”

  Abernathy sighed. “Very well. Anything to put this matter to bed. What do I do?”

  Horris was beaming. “Just take the crystal, hold it in your hand, look into it, and think happy thoughts.”

  Abernathy grimaced. “Good grief. All right, give it to me.”

  He reached out, took the crystal from the other’s hands, held it up before him, and stared into it. Nothing happened. Sure enough, Abernathy thought disdainfully. No surprise here. He was supposed to think happy thoughts, though, so he tried to picture something that would make him feel good and came up with an image of Horris and his bird in a dungeon cell. That made him feel better right away, he decided, and started to smile in spite of himself.

  In the next instant the crystal brightened and locked him into it, drawing his gaze into its multi-faceted depths, pulling him out of himself and down into its suddenly brilliant light. He gasped. What was he seeing? There was something there, something wondrous, something familiar …

  Abernathy saw it clearly then. There was a man in the light, striding out to greet the day from his home, waving hello to friends, calling out to passersby. The man was carrying books in his arms and was on his way to his day’s work. He wore glasses and was dressed in the ceremonial clothing of a Court Scribe.

  No!

  The man was Abernathy as he used to be. Abernathy as a human being. Abernathy before he had been turned into a dog. Himself, once more.

  Sudden joy surged through the dog as he watched, a happiness he had not felt for years. He was himself again in the crystal’s image! He was restored! It was his greatest wish in life, to become the man he had been—a wish he had not dared even contemplate upon discovering that Questor Thews, having turned him into a dog, could not turn him back into a man. Countless attempts to remedy the situation had failed, and Abernathy had given up all hope. But now, here, in this crystal’s image, was a chance to feel again what it was like to be a man! He could sense the other’s body—as if it were his own. He could experience anew what it was to be human.

  The emotions the magic generated were too powerful to bear all at once. He closed his hand quickly about the crystal and snatched the vision away. He could barely breathe. “How did you do that?” he whispered in disbelief.

  “I did nothing,” Horris Kew responded promptly. “And we could not see what you saw. Only the holder of the crystal sees the vision. It is his own, personal revelation, private and inviolate. Do you understand now the uses for such a magic?”

  Abernathy nodded, thinking of how wonderful it would be to call up that image of himself anytime he wanted to remember what his life had once been like. “Yes, I do,” he replied softly.

  Now it was Questor who pushed forward. “This thing works?” he asked, turning his old friend about, seeing the look in his eyes. “Well, indeed, I guess it does. Are you all right?”

  Abernathy nodded, unable to speak, thinking again of what the image had shown him, of himself restored to who and what he had been. He was fighting hard to stay calm, to keep what he was feeling inside.

  Neither saw the brief glance exchanged by Horris Kew and Biggar. Well, well, the glance said.

  “You can appreciate the enormous potential for this magic,” Horris said quickly, “Escape from the drudgery and stress of everyday life is only a moment away if you possess a mind’s eye crystal. No group participation required, no equipment needed, no time necessary. Use the crystal on a break from your work and return refreshed!” He smiled benevolently. “Don’t you feel happy and rested, Abernathy?” he pressed.

  Abernathy swallowed. “Yes,” he agreed. “I do.”

  “There you are, then!” Horris beamed. “Abernathy, this crystal is yours. I want you to have it. A gift, for giving me a chance to fulfill my hopes.”

  “Thank you, Horris,” Abernathy replied, genuinely pleased, already envisioning his next look into the light. All suspicions of the conjurer’s motives were forgotten. “Thank you very much.”

  “You see,” Horris continued, anticipating Questor Thews, who was about to offer a further objection, “I have a few more of these to give out. Quite a few more, in fact.”

  He turned to one of the iron-bound trunks, released the catch, and threw open the lid. The trunk was filled to the brim with mind’s eye crystals.

  “Thousands of them,” he offered, making a sweeping gesture. “The vision showed me one, but when I followed the pathway to where it was hidden, I discovered all these. Two trunkfuls, Questor. I have brought them both. I want you to have them. A little penance, perhaps, for my past misd
eeds. I cannot comprehend why I was chosen to find them, but I am grateful that I was and I have decided to accept responsibility for their proper use. So I entrust them now to you. My gift to Landover. Pass them out to her people and let them enjoy the images they find therein. A little happiness to dull the edges of their more stressful moments.”

  Questor Thews and Abernathy stared at the trunkful of crystals, openmouthed. “Perhaps with the crystals to occupy people’s time there will be less violence,” Horris Kew went on thoughtfully, looking off somewhere into the room’s rafters as if seeking a higher truth. “Perhaps there will be fewer wars and killings over meaningless things when there are so many more pleasant and harmless ways to gain diversion. Perhaps there will be less time spent fomenting rumors that lead to mischief.” He gave the wizard and the dog a surreptitious glance. As he said that, he did not miss the look that passed between them. “Fewer loose tongues wagging on about whether Landover’s matters are being handled as they should and whether her leaders are leading as they ought to.”

  “Hmmm.” Questor rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Yes, perhaps. This really works?” he asked again, looking Abernathy directly in the eye, taking hold of the hand that held the crystal.

  Abernathy moved the crystal away, tightening his grip on it.

  “Of course, I have one for you, too, Questor,” Horris Kew advised quickly. He reached back and closed the lid to the trunk. “These are all yours now.” He yawned widely. “Well, enough talk. You should both be in bed, resting for tomorrow’s challenges. I have tired you out with all this, I am sure. If you could spare a pallet, I would be most grateful. In the morning I will be off again, waiting to hear …”

  He stopped. “Unless,” he went on, as if he had just thought of it, “unless you would consider letting me help in some small way with the distribution of the crystals?”

  He smiled at them hopefully and waited for an answer.

  Greenwich

  For two days Willow traveled due west through the lake country with Edgewood Dirk, heading for the fairy mists and the invisible path that would take them out of Landover and into Ben’s world. Dirk led the way, mostly without seeming to do so, content to keep pace or even follow, moving to the fore only when her path varied from the one he had chosen. He proceeded in leisurely fashion, dictating the pace by his refusal to be hurried, behaving as if time were inconsequential and their journey no more than a stroll through the park on a sunny afternoon.

  Willow had encountered Edgewood Dirk only once before, and almost everything she knew about him she had learned from Ben. Dirk had been Ben’s constant companion during the search for the black unicorn after Meeks, older brother of Questor Thews and the former Court Wizard of Landover, had tricked Ben into believing he had lost the medallion that gave him the power and authority to be King. Bereft of his identity, spurned by his friends as an impostor, and replaced on the throne by Meeks, Ben had been turned out into the wilderness and left to die. But the fairies, for reasons known only to them, had sent Edgewood Dirk to help him discover the truth about what had been done. Dirk had accompanied him in his wanderings, offering enigmatic cat advice and a sort of vaguely defined direction for the once-King to follow. Ben was tracking Willow, who in turn was tracking the black unicorn, and matters had climaxed in a violent confrontation between Dirk and Meeks that had proved the catalyst to Ben’s recovery.

  That had been almost two years ago. No one had seen or heard from Edgewood Dirk since. But now, here he was suddenly, and again he had been sent by the fairies, and again no one but the fairies really knew why.

  Edgewood Dirk was a fairy being himself, though one of the more independent ones, as much cat as anything, and therefore likely to do exactly as he pleased despite anyone else’s wishes, which made it very hard to determine his purpose in events. He had proved that beyond anyone’s doubt during his time with Ben. Dirk was a prism cat, a creature possessed of a very rare sort of magic. He could transform himself from flesh and blood to a crystalline as hard as iron that allowed him to capture light and transform it into a deadly fire. Dirk used this power sparingly, but with great confidence. However distant and aloof Dirk appeared, however removed from what was happening around him, he was no one to fool around with.

  So Willow accompanied him with some sense of assurance that if trouble threatened, Dirk was probably its equal. She would have preferred to have Ben with her, but that option had already been eliminated by the Earth Mother. Sometimes you took what you could get. Willow was experiencing enough uncertainty about her quest that she was grateful for any sort of company.

  Dirk, of course, seemed indifferent to the entire matter.

  “Were you sent because of Ben?” she asked him their first night out. They sat together before a small fire that Dirk had insisted be built to ward off some imaginary chill. She had arranged the deadwood, and he had set it afire. The beginnings of a working partnership, she had thought.

  Dirk was licking one paw diligently. “I wasn’t sent. I am never sent. I go where I choose.”

  “Excuse me,” she apologized. “Why did you choose to come, then?”

  Lick, lick, lick. “I can’t remember, really. It seemed like a good idea, I guess.” Lick, lick.

  “Can you tell me where we are going?”

  “West,” the cat said. Lick, lick.

  “Yes, but …”

  Dirk stopped preening and gave her his cat look, the one that suggested sly amusement, deep understanding, grave concern, and total amazement all at the same time. “Just one moment, please. You are losing me. Don’t you know where we’re going?”

  She shook her head in confusion. “No, not really.”

  He stared at her thoughtfully. “Oh, dear,” he said. “Oh, well. I guess we will just have to find our way as best we can.” And he went back to licking himself.

  A little while later she grew brave enough to ask him again, taking a slightly different approach.

  “We should reach the fairy mists by the day after tomorrow,” she advised cautiously. “Once there, what do we do?”

  Dirk had finished his bath by now and was seated on a patch of grass close by the fire, paws tucked under himself, eyes closed.

  The eyes opened to slits. “We pass through the mists into Holiday’s world.” The eyes closed.

  “How do we do that?”

  The eyes came open again, a bit wider. “What kind of question is that? I must say I will never understand humans.”

  “I am a sylph.”

  “Or sylphs.”

  Willow’s lips tightened. “It is just that I am concerned for my baby. I am required to do these things to protect its birthing, but I do not know how I am to do them.”

  Dirk regarded her with genuine interest. “Cats learn early on that very little is accomplished by worrying. Cats also know that things have a way of working out, even when the means are kept hidden from us. Best to deal with things as they arise, and let the future take care of itself.”

  “That seems very shortsighted,” she ventured.

  Dirk might have shrugged; it was hard to tell. “I am a cat,” he offered, as if that explained everything.

  She didn’t talk to him about the matter again that night or all the next day, and so by nightfall when they had crossed out of the lake country and passed up into the foothills that bordered the fairy mists, she was surprised when he brought it up again of his own accord.

  “Tomorrow morning, I will take you through the mists,” he advised as she worked on building the requisite evening fire. She had spread her cloak on the ground close by, and Dirk had taken a comfortable seat on it.

  She looked over at him. “You can do that?” she asked.

  “Of course I can do that,” he replied, sounding a bit put-upon. “I live there, remember? I know all the paths and passageways.”

  “I suppose I just wasn’t sure what you could or couldn’t do.” She rocked back on her heels. “I didn’t know if fairy creatures could pass out of th
e mists anywhere or into any land. I thought it might be limited somehow.”

  Dirk yawned. “You thought wrong. Cats can go anywhere. Nothing new in that.”

  “Do you know where we will come out?” she pressed.

  He thought it over a moment. “A city, I think. Does it matter?”

  She felt her exasperation with him getting away from her. “Yes, it does. I am going back to a world in which I once almost died. I am doing so against my will and for the sake of my child. I want to go there, do what I was sent to do, and leave again immediately. What are the chances of that happening?”

  Dirk rose, stretched, and sat. “I haven’t the faintest idea.” He regarded her solemnly. “It all depends on you, I suppose.”

  “Yes, but I don’t know where we are going,” she insisted. “I know I am supposed to gather soil from Ben’s world, but I don’t know where that soil is supposed to be found. It is a rather big world to be looking through, you know.”

  “Well, I don’t know,” the cat said. “I have never been there. But everywhere is pretty much the same to a cat. I am quite certain we will find what we need without having to look too hard. I have a gift for uncovering secrets.”

  She went back to building the fire, finished the job, stepped back, and looked over at him. “How many secrets do you know, Dirk?” she asked quietly. “Do you know secrets about me?”

  The cat blinked. “Of course.”

  “And about Ben?”

  “Holiday? Yes, a few.”

  “Can you tell them to me?”

  “If I choose.” Dirk began washing himself. “But cats are secretive by nature and tell little of what they know. It is because no one listens to us, mostly. I spoke of that often to Holiday when I traveled with him last. He was like everyone else. I would tell him things, but he wouldn’t listen. I warned him that he was making a mistake, that cats know many things, but no one ever seems to pay attention. It was a mistake he should avoid, I cautioned.”

 
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