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Volume 14, Issue 3: Similitudes

The Great Lady

Douglas Wilson

The odd thing was that Andrew did not recall falling asleep in the second garden. After he had riddled his way in, he had spent a comfortable day there exploring and idly wondering where he was. He did not have any idea where he was, but he knew that he was not lost either.

At any rate, he woke up on his third morning in this strange land in a third garden. It was situated on the face of the cliff just like the other two. Andrew walked out to the gate, looked at the familiar range across the way, and then turned and looked back up. He could clearly make out two small plateaus in the cliff face where he had been the previous two days. He started to walk back through the gate, but suddenly stopped, turned around, and walked out to the edge, and looked down. He had suddenly wondered how many more gardens he was due to wake up in. Looking down, he could see at least two more, but some low-lying clouds obscured seeing anything else.
Andrew walked contentedly back into the third garden. He had refused the firedrake, and he had answered the riddles of the sphinx-like cherub. It seemed only natural that there would be someone or something here as well. Starting to feel pleased with himself (as I am sure you or I would do as well), he walked back through the garden gate looking slowly around him. As he walked up through the middle of the garden, off to the left and back by the cliff face, Andrew caught a flash of white.
He stopped and stared, and after a moment he saw another glimpse of white, at about the same place, moving much more slowly this time. Suddenly, he caught another burst of white off to the right. He walked slowly forward, and, as he did, he could feel a heavy weight settling on his chest. Years later, I found out he thought it was like breathing glory, and that it was too thick for him to breathe. I never pressed him further on it, though I was not at all clear what he was talking about.
As Andrew walked toward the back of the garden, he began to hear the thudding of hooves on the wet turf. Then he caught another glimpse of the large white animal, now galloping back from right to left. It must be running along the back of the garden, back and forth, back and forth. The other object appeared to be a gentle, slow-moving creature, and the two looked as though they were going to meet in the middle. Just at that moment, Andrew walked into a clearing between the trees, and he found that he could see all the way back to the granite cliffs. Standing at the end of the clearing was a tall, stately unicorn, tramping his feet, and quietly nuzzling at the hand of a very great lady.
She was dressed in white, a long robe that fell gracefully to the ground. She had a diadem across her forehead, and long blonde hair that fell back across her shoulders. Andrew could see at a glace that she was a very great princess, a woman of high nobility. He stopped right where he was, feeling numb.
The lady and the unicorn were facing each other, not moving, and after a moment Andrew wondered why he still felt that there was a sense of motion. Then, with a start he looked down at the lady's feet, and saw a small band of rabbits, moving happily in the grass. They stayed right with the lady; and though they did not seem to be afraid of the unicorn, they did not move around at his feet at all.
Andrew remained still, wondering what he should do. All his confidence from his encounters with the firedrake and the cherubim had now evaporated. As he looked at the lady, he grew increasingly terrified. He knew that she knew he was there, though she had not indicated it in any way. So he just stood there and stared at them.
The voices of the lady and unicorn could be heard, but Andrew could make out no distinct words. The weight on his chest grew heavier, but he could think of nothing to do. After many agonizing moments, the lady seemed to have settled an issue with the unicorn, and turned suddenly and fixed her eyes on Andrew. What she said astonished Andrew beyond measure. "Come, my lord Andrew."
Stupidly, Andrew turned and looked behind him. The way back to the gate was empty. Not only was no one there, there were no other Andrews there. She had said Andrew. She was speaking to him. He began to walk slowly toward the two regal figures and had never felt grubbier in his life. He was a twelve-year-old boy named Andrew, and that was all he knew. His hair was in his eyes, and he looked down at his hands, which were dirty, and at his shoes which were soaked with the dew. He was sure that his face was covered with grime. He had never been unhappier in his life.
He walked slowly up to them, and then awkwardly, stiffly, ventured a bow. He didn't know what else to do. When he stood up straight again, he found himself looking up into her gray eyes, which, for all their authority, were very kind.
He did not know why he said what he did, but at the time it seemed to be the most natural thing to say. "I am at your service, ma'am."
"My name is Lady Margaret. Do you know what you are offering to do?"
"No, I do not. But I do know that I must offer it."
"It is well," she said laughing. "And I know what I must do. I do not refuse your service. You have already completed two of the tasks, and I do salute you, small sir. There are four others. Are you still willing?"
Andrew knew that he was choosing when he said yes. But he also knew that in this mountain country he had no choices.

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