The Quest, Part I: Wizard and Knight

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7:30 AM, Saturday, April 15th, 2006

The Hospital

The year is 1970.  A small child, two years old, lies in a metal crib.  The room is dark, cold, and metallic.  He is alone.   He is strapped onto his back, to prevent him from climbing out or dislodging the IV drip attached to his tiny arm.  He is asleep, but as he sleeps he dreams.

It is like a scene from Rugrats.  I am a toddler in a suit of armor, atop a broken-down cartoon horse. I have been cast out of the kingdom, for crimes I know not.  The armor is cold, my horse is weary, and I am alone.  I am not scared, or angry, I am just numb.

Suddenly, up ahead, I see a figure dressed in white, next to a tree.  Mom? I wonder, and for a fleeting instant hope threatens to spring forth.  But no, she has fair skin.  A nurse? Hope disappears as if it had never been, but curiosity fills the vacuum. I ride up to the Lady.

She seems beautiful, but all mother figures are beautiful to a two-year-old.  She smiles, and it may be a cold smile, but all smiles are warm to a two-year-old.  She asks me my name, and I tell her. I am proud that I can say it clearly, at least to my ears.  She asks me where I am going, and I say I don’t know.  I am too young to dissemble and pretend unconcern, but I am too numb to inject my response with the proper note of despair.

She looks at me, considering.  Then tells me of a castle up the way, where lives a wizard who can use a knight like me.  I thank her — for I was brought up well — and follow her direction.  Not because I trust her, or have any hope in the destination.   But because there is literally nothing else to do.

Still in this numb state, I arrive at the castle.  It is large — well, bigger than a house, but not huge — and neither pretty nor ugly, welcoming nor intimidating.  It just is.  I ride up, across the open drawbridge, and into the courtyard, which may just be a large room (I can’t see a roof, but then again I’m very small).

I see an old man with a long white beard, He is dressed in a black robe with white symbols, and a tall pointed hat — like the sorcerer to whom Micky Mouse was apprenticed. He is puttering at a workbench with some glass containers filled with dangerous-looking chemicals.  He doesn’t notice my entrance, and I have no desire to disturb him. In fact, I have no desire at all.  I just sit there on my horse, watching without fear or curiosity, waiting because I have nothing else to do.

Finally he looks up, and stares directly at me.  He had shown no sign of awareness at my presence earlier, and now he shows no surprise at all. It is not so much that he expected me but that he knew I was there all along.  He looks into my face — the visor on my armored helm is up — and smiles.  It may be a grim smile, that doesn’t reach his eyes, but I don’t know enough about smiles to notice. I notice very little.  Except that I am alone.

He motions me to dismount, and come inside. I obey, for I have nothing else to do.  He leads me to a table, where I climb onto a bench.  The table is large, sturdy, but not fancy — like the castle itself, and everything in it.  Including the wizard, I suppose.  He asks me if I’m hungry, and I shrug.   He fetches a loaf of bread, and cuts me a slice, and gives me a glass of milk.  I say thank you, for I was brought up well, and eat it, for I have nothing else to do.  I feel no hunger.  I feel nothing at all.  I don’t even feel alone; though I am.

He watches me while I eat, saying nothing.  Finally, when I am done, and have thanked him again and neatly pushed my plate and glass aside, he asks me a question.  Would I like to live in the castle?

I ponder the question.  I had not considered that I need somewhere to live.  Before, I had lived with my family. I didn’t think of it as a castle, though it may have been. What mattered was who I lived with, not where.  But they were all gone.

I looked at the man.  He did not seem evil, or happy, or much of anything, except large and old. But, he was kind, and he took an interest in me.  And I had nothing else to do.

I nod, and he claps his hands with a kind of — not glee, but satisfaction.  He takes me on a tour of the castle.  It is very impressive.  Now that I’ve made a decision to stay here, I start thinking of it as home, and start to feel emotions again.  He shows me a huge library filled with all kinds of books. I find a longing in my heart to read, to be transported to realms of fantasy and different planes of intellectual existence.  He shows me the complicated pulleys that control the drawbridge, and I marvel at their strength, and determine to gain the skill to master it.  We enter his basement laboratory, where all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and electronics and chemicals are arrayed in a glorious chaos, and I am impressed.

The he takes me up to my very own room in my very own tower.  It is a nice room, at the very top.  It is a long way up, especially on short legs, but it doesn’t fatigue me. It is mine.  A place of my own.  Where I belong.  That nobody can take away from me.  It has a nice window, and no fire, but does not seem to be cold; perhaps the wizard has cast a spell to protect me from the frigid world outside.

He leaves me there — he has his own room in another tower.  I take off my armor, but carefully stack it in a corner, for I was raised well. I know I will need it when I leave the castle, but in here I can wear one of the robes I find in the closet.  I do not know whether they were always there, or whether he just conjured them up for me.  I do not ask; I do not even wonder. I just accept that here is where I belong. I have a place. I have a purpose.  I have a home.

It is not what I wanted, but it is all I want now.  All I need.  All I will ever let myself need.  It is enough; or so I believe.

Then I wake up.  And remember nothing. I go home from the hospital, and life resumes.  But my home has changed.  From now on, my spirit lives in the castle of wizardry.

There, at age two, I sow the seeds of the course of my entire life.  Of my own destruction.  And I am proud.

Continue with Part 2.

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