The Tangle Box by Terry Brooks

  It was not a request. Horris Kew looked at Abernathy for help. Abernathy surmised what Kallendbor intended. He would not give the mind’s eye crystals to the other Lords for nothing; he would charge dearly. Probably he would tell them that these crystals, unlike those given for free to the working people, foretold the future. But Abernathy frankly didn’t care one way or the other. News would travel fast enough. Let Kallendbor deal with his neighbors as he chose.

  Abernathy shrugged. “Of course, my Lord,” he replied. “Whatever you wish.”

  Kallendbor stood up abruptly. “Your rooms are ready. Wash and rest until dinner. We will speak more of this then.” He turned from them, and it was apparent that he could barely restrain himself from peering once more at his crystal. “Oh, yes. Ask my servants if you require anything.”

  He went out the door as if catapulted, and was gone.

  Alone in his room, Abernathy bathed, dressed, drank another glass of the fine, cold ale, and settled back in his bed, stretched full-length across its covering. He took his crystal from where he kept it hidden, held it up to the light, and stared into it. He was practiced in its use by now, to the extent such practice was needed, and the light and images came at once. He watched himself appear in his old form, a young man with a bright, happy smile and an expectant look, rather handsome for his bookish appearance, rather appealing. He was playing with children and there was a woman watching, pretty and shy. Abernathy felt his breath catch in his throat. There had never been a woman in his life before, no wife, no lover, and yet here one was now. The future, perhaps? Was it possible he was seeing what would be?

  He closed his hand over the crystal abruptly and focused everything on the idea. The future. Anything was possible, wasn’t it? What would he give if it were so? He knew the answer without asking. He stared up at the ceiling, at the cracks in the old mortarwork, at the faded paint that had once clearly detailed a pageant of some sort. Like his past, time had faded the event. So much of what once was had been lost in the passing of the years and in the changes wrought. He would not wish to recapture much, he told himself. Just the essence of who he was. Just the whole of who he had been.

  He thought suddenly of Ben Holiday, who had been so anxious to leave his past behind. The King had few memories to sustain him, and the changes he had sought had been not of lifestyle but of life. It was not so with Abernathy, but there were parallels to be drawn. He wondered where Holiday was, what had become of him. There remained no trace of the King, no sign of him anywhere, though the search had been long and thorough and was continuing still. It was disturbing that he should vanish so utterly; it did not bode well for any of them if he was gone for good. Another King could bring changes that were not necessarily welcome. Another King would not possess Holiday’s strength of character and determination. For another King, the magic might not work.

  He drank the last of his ale, sitting on the edge of his bed, dejected. Nothing seemed right with Holiday gone. Everything seemed disrupted and out of joint. He wished that there were something he could do to change things.

  Bunion had gone out to scout the surrounding countryside, to see if there was anything to be learned of the missing King. Perhaps he would find something in his quest. Perhaps something good would come of this trek through the Greensward. Perhaps.

  Abernathy lay back upon his bed once more and held his crystal out to catch the light.

  Kallendbor did not appear for dinner. Neither did Bunion. Horris Kew and Abernathy ate dinner alone with Biggar looking on from the back of the conjurer’s chair like some foul omen of doom. Abernathy tried to ignore him, but it was difficult since the bird was sitting directly across the table, staring down malevolently from his perch. Abernathy couldn’t help himself. At one point, when Horris wasn’t looking, he bared his teeth at the bird.

  Biggar told Horris about it later, but Horris wasn’t interested. They were back in their room, sitting in near darkness with but a single candle burning on the bedside table. Horris was seated on the bed, and Biggar was hunched down on the deep window ledge.

  “He growled at me, I tell you!” the bird was insisting. “He practically snapped at me!”

  Horris was looking about the room nervously. The tic was working furiously at the corner of his eye. “Growled at you? I didn’t hear anything.”

  “Well, all right, maybe he didn’t actually growl.” Biggar was not up to hair-splitting. “But he showed all of his considerable teeth, and there was no mistaking his intent! Horris, pay attention, will you? Quit looking all over the place!”

  Horris Kew was indeed scanning the room end to end. He stopped long enough to stare at Biggar in a rather harried, suspicious manner. Tic, tic went the eye. The bird cocked his head. “Are you all right, Horris?”

  Horris nodded doubtfully. “I keep seeing something …” He gestured vaguely. “Out there.” He shrugged. “Sometimes in the shadows of trees and buildings, and sometimes at night in dark corners I think I see it. I feel like I’m being watched.” He took a deep breath. “I think it might be here.”

  “The Gorse?” Biggar sighed. “Don’t be ridiculous. How could it be here? It never leaves the cave. You’re imagining things.”

  Horris hugged his lanky frame as if cold. His plow-blade nose thrust forward. “I keep thinking about Holiday and the witch and the dragon and what it did to them. I keep worrying that you were right, that it might do the same to us.”

  “Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.” Biggar felt an immense satisfaction at the admission. “On the other hand, we’ve gone a bit far with this crystal business to be worried about that now.”

  Horris rose and walked about the room uneasily, checking into corners and behind furniture. Biggar cocked his white-crested head. A waste of time, he was thinking. If the Gorse doesn’t want to be seen, it won’t be. Not a creature like that.

  “Will you sit down and relax?” he said irritably. Horris was making him nervous.

  Horris moved back to the bed and seated himself once more. “Do you know what the Gorse said when I asked what would become of Holiday and the others in the Tangle Box?”

  Biggar couldn’t remember and didn’t care. But he said, “What, Horris, tell me.”

  “It said they would become entangled in the fairy mists. It said that the spell of forgetfulness would start them down a road that had no end. They would not know who they were. They would not remember from where they had come. They would be sealed away in the mists, and the mists would play with them and eventually drive them mad.” Horris shuddered. “The Gorse said it would take a very long time to happen.”

  “None of this is our concern,” Biggar sniffed. “We have enough to worry about as it is.”

  “I know, I know.” Horris fidgeted and looked off into the shadows as if he had heard something. “I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

  Biggar was disgusted. “Well, you better find a way to stop thinking about it. We have a lot to lose if this crystal-giving program doesn’t work out the way the Gorse expects. On the other hand, we have a lot to gain if it does. For the Gorse, Landover is a stepping-stone to other things, but for us it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If we stick to business, we can do a lot better than we did with Skat Mandu.”

  “I know, I know.”

  “Stop saying that—I hate it when you’re condescending!”

  Horris came to his feet, shaking with anger. “Shut up, Biggar! I’ll be condescending if I choose!” He wrung his hands and swept the room with his eyes. “I know what to do, and I’ll do it! I’ve been doing it right along, haven’t I? But I don’t like being watched! I don’t like the idea of someone being there when I can’t see them!”

  Biggar spit. “Horris, for the last time, the Gorse isn’t here!”

  Horris clenched his fists in frustration. “But what if it is?”

  “Yes, what if I am,” the Gorse said from the shadowy depths of the clothes cabinet, and Horris fainted dead away.

; When it was done with them, when it had frightened them both so thoroughly that it was satisfied they would do exactly as it wanted them to and not step one inch outside the lines it had directed them to follow, the Gorse went down the outside wall of the castle like a spider. Once on the ground, it changed to a man and went out through the gates to the town beyond. It was getting easier to move about, its magic growing stronger the longer it was free of the fairy mists and the Tangle Box. It was now able to assume different forms. It could be anything or anyone it wished.

  It smiled inside to think of the possibilities.

  Horris and the bird were idiots, but useful idiots, and the Gorse intended to keep them just long enough to complete its plan for Landover’s destruction. After that, it would dispense with them.

  They had not expected it to come with them on their journey. They could not fathom how it had managed to do so. Well, a few more surprises awaited them on this trip. It was best to keep them just a little off balance, a little uncertain. They could say what they wished about it as long as they worried when they did. A little fear was a useful thing.

  Once outside the castle and the town, the Gorse shape-changed once more and moved off toward a darkened stretch of woods in the countryside beyond, becoming barely more than a shadow skimming over the land. Worried for Holiday, the witch, and the dragon, were they? Well, they should worry. It could happen to them just as easily. It could be as terrible as they imagined. Surely his three captives in the Tangle Box must be wishing they could escape their nightmare existence just about now. They must wonder what it would take. Too bad they would never know.

  It reached the woods and gathered its magic to summon up the demons of Abaddon. Time for another conference. Their entry into Landover was not far off. The Gorse wanted them ready and waiting. Lines of fire speared downward from its hands into the earth.

  The answering rumble of discontent came almost immediately.


  The Knight, the Lady, and the Gargoyle followed the river downstream through the Labyrinth for the remainder of that day and all the next. It broadened at times so that the far bank disappeared entirely in the mist, and the flat, gray surface stretched away like smooth stone. No fish jumped from its depths; no birds flew over its surface. Bends and twists came and went, but the river flowed on unchanged and unending.

  They encountered no other people, River Gypsies or otherwise. They saw no animals, and the small movements that caught their attention came from the deep shadows of the forest and were gone in the blink of an eye.

  The Knight searched often for the Haze, but there was no sign of it. He thought long and hard on its origins, compelled to do so by his certainty that it was somehow tied to them. There was, as the Gargoyle had said, a hunger in the way it came after them. It tracked them for a reason, and the reason was somehow connected to why they were trapped in the Labyrinth. He could not see or hear the Haze, but he could sense its presence. It was always there, just out of sight, waiting.

  But what was it waiting for?

  On the evening following her rescue from the Gypsies, the Lady asked the Knight why he had come after her. They were seated in the gloom as the last of the day’s faint light filtered away into darkness, staring out at the mist as it crawled out of the trees toward the river. They were alone; the Gargoyle had gone off by himself, as he frequently did at night.

  “You could have left me and gone on,” she observed, her voice cool and questioning. “I thought you had done so.”

  “I would not have done that,” he replied, not looking at her.

  “Why? Why bother with me? Am I really so important to your master that you would risk your life for me? Am I such a rare treasure that you would die before losing me?”

  He stared off into the dark without answering.

  She brushed at her long black hair. “I am your possession, and you would not let anyone take your possessions from you. That is why you came for me, isn’t it?”

  “You do not belong to me,” he said.

  “Your master’s possession, then. A chattel you dare not lose for fear of offending him. Is that it?”

  He looked at her and found derision and bitterness in her eyes. “Tell me something, my Lady. What do you remember of your life before waking in the Labyrinth?”

  Her lips tightened. “Why should I tell you?”

  He held her gaze, not looking away this time when the anger sparked and burned at him. “I remember almost nothing of my own life. I know I was a Knight in service to a King. I know I have fought hundreds of battles on his behalf and won them all. I know we are tied together somehow, you and I and, I think, the Gargoyle as well. Something happened to me to bring me to this place and time, but I cannot recall what it was. It is as if my whole life has been stolen away.”

  He paused. “I am tired of not answering your questions because I have no answers to give. I do not know the name of the master I serve. I do not even know my own name. I do not know where I came from or where I was going to. I came for you not out of loyalty to a master I do not remember or to fulfill an obligation that I cannot recall, but because you are all I have left to hold onto of my life before coming here. If I lose you, if I give you up, nothing would remain.”

  She stared at him, and the anger and bitterness dimmed. In their place there showed understanding and a hint of fear. “I cannot remember anything either,” she said softly, speaking the words as if it caused her pain to do so. “I was important and strong, and I knew what I was about. I had magic once.”

  Her voice caught in her throat, and he thought she might cry. She did not. She regained control of herself and continued. “I think that magic sent me here. I think you are right, that we were together before and sent here for the same reason. But I think, too, that it was your fault that it happened, not mine.”

  He nodded. “That may be.”

  “I blame you for this.”

  He nodded again. “I am not offended.”

  “But I am glad that you are here and that you came for me, too.”

  He was too astonished to reply.

  On the second night, when the Gargoyle had disappeared into the growing darkness and they were hunkered down by the riverbank, she spoke to him again. She was wrapped in her cloak as if cold, although the air was warm and humid, and there was no wind.

  “Do you think we shall escape this place?” she asked in a very small voice.

  “We shall escape,” he replied, for he still believed they would.

  “The forest and this river go on and do not show any sign of ending. They show no change. The mists still wrap us about and close us away. There are no people or animals. There are no birds.” She shook her head slowly. “There is magic everywhere; it controls everything in the Labyrinth. You may not be able to feel it, but I do. It is a place of magic, and without magic to aid us we shall not escape.”

  “There will be a town or a pass through mountains or—”

  “No,” she interrupted, her slim white hand coming up quickly to stop him. “No. There will be nothing but the river and the forest and the mists forever. Nothing.”

  He woke early the following morning, having spent an uneasy, mostly sleepless night. The Lady’s words haunted him, a grim prophecy he could not forget. She was sleeping still, curled into her cloak in the tall grass, her face serene and smooth, no trace of anger or despair, no hint of bitterness or fear. She was very beautiful lying there, all pale skin and dark hair, flawless and perfect, the coldness that sometimes marked her when she was awake replaced in sleep by softness.

  He looked down at her, and he wondered what they had been to each other before coming into the Labyrinth.

  After a moment, he rose and went down to the river’s edge. He splashed water on his face and wiped himself dry. When he rose, the Gargoyle was standing next to him. The beast had cast off his cloak. Dew glistened on the bare patches of his bristly hide, like water on a reptile newly risen from the river’s depths. His wings h
ung ribbed and listless against his hunched back. His face, so ugly and misshapen, seemed contemplative as he looked out over the river. He did not speak at first, but simply stood there.

  “Where do you go at night?” the Knight asked him.

  The Gargoyle smiled, showing his yellow teeth. “Into the woods where the shadows are thickest. I sleep better there than in the open.” He looked at the Knight. “Did you think I was off hunting down and eating small creatures too slow and soft to escape me? Or that I was performing some diabolical blood rite?”

  The Knight shook his head. “I did not think anything. I simply wondered.”

  The Gargoyle sighed. “The truth is, I am a creature of habit. We spoke of what we remembered—or did not remember? I remember my habits best. I am ugly and despised by most; it is a fact of my life. Since I am loathsome to others, I take comfort in keeping to myself. I search out the places others would not go. I conceal myself in darkness and shadows and the privacy of my own company. It works best for me when I do.”

  He looked away again. “I did eat other creatures once. I ate whatever I chose and traveled wherever I wished. I could fly. I soared the skies unfettered, and there was nothing that could hold me.” The yellow eyes shifted back. “But something changed that, and I think it is tied somehow to you.”

  The Knight blinked. “To me? But I do not even remember you.”

  “Odd, isn’t it? I heard what the Lady said to you, about how she believes the Labyrinth is magic. I was listening from the trees. I think she is right. I think we were somehow transported by magic, and that magic keeps us prisoners. Do you feel it as well?”

  The Knight shook his head. “I don’t know.”

  “The Labyrinth does not feel like any real place,” the Gargoyle said. “It lacks the small things that would make it so. It feels artificial, as if it were created by dreams, where everything happens a short step out of time from how we know things to be. Did you not sense it to be so with that town and after the Gypsies? Magic would do that, and I think it has done so here.”

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