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Volume 14, Issue 6: Similitudes

The Fifth Garden

Douglas Wilson

This installment belongs before that found in the Christmas issue, Volume 14.5.
"From now on you walk," the tall man said. "You have done well, and the next garden awaits."

"Should I go now?" Andrew asked.
The man nodded slowly. Andrew, suddenly curious, said, "May I ask your name before I go?"
The man laughed and said, "You will not see me again, although you will use my strength often enough. You will not need to know my name in your adventures, but if you are curious, you may call me Brow. You will think about me often late in the day. Fare well, little one."
With that Andrew turned and walked over the edge of the slope. The mountainside was just as it had been a few days before, but Andrew had learned a few tricks and was able to make his way down a little more readily.
As he approached the fifth garden, looking down on it from above, he noticed first that it was mostly gray and not green. There were occasional snatches of green, but it did not appear to have the look of a garden at all. He began staring and even stumbled a few times through not paying attention to his feet.
As he got closer, he realized that the bits of green were trees poking up out of courtyards. The rest of the "garden" was covered with a gray slate roof, interrupted here and there with chimneys. As he came down to the level of the garden, he began to work his way to the right, knowing that he would have to go around to the front gate. As he did so, he saw that the walls of the garden were actually walls to an enormous building. There was a lawn in front of the building, just as there had been in front of the other gardens, but instead of a gate, Andrew found a large imposing door. In the middle of the door was a bronze knocker, with a head like a griffin. Underneath was an inscription which Andrew read slowly to himself. It was the first time he had read anything in this strange mountainous world. Some time later he tried to remember whether the inscription was in English or whether he had somehow been given the ability to read another language without having studied it. The odd thing was that he could not remember.
But either way, the inscription read,
The wise who come will never thirst.
The fools who come will hungry die.
Andrew took a deep breath, reached up his hand, lifted the knocker, and let it drop. A very deep doooommm immediately filled the building, and Andrew stepped back a few paces, somewhat frightened. He waited, and counted, and waited some more. He did not want to knock again.
After many minutes, the door suddenly lurched, and then creaked open a small space. A small wrinkled face peered out, and Andrew nearly laughed out loud. But he caught himself in time and remained suitably solemn. "May I help you?" the small face asked.
"I believe I have been sent here," Andrew said. "My name is Andrew." And that was almost the only thing he knew—that, and the fact that he was being tested. This fifth level was certainly a test. Andrew wondered idly what the sixth and seventh tests were.
The door swung back, completely open, and the small figure stepped back. Andrew could see that he was a doorman and very old. Andrew stepped across the threshold, and he could tell at once, by both sight and smell, that the building was a vast library.
"May I see your master?" Andrew asked. The man nodded silently and padded slowly off. Andrew followed a few feet behind him. They walked down a long serpentine hallway that apparently ran from the front door to the back of the library. Every thirty feet or so, they passed wide doorways that opened into large rooms filled with books. The hallway itself was lined with books.
After they had walked for some minutes, they came to a large set of closed doors. The doorman quietly rapped on the door, but without waiting for a response, he pulled them open. A big room opened up before them. On the floor was a burgundy tapestry. Shelves and books enclosed this room, just as with the others Andrew had seen. In the middle was a large oaken table covered with books and papers. A man in a white robe was sitting there, just like a woodcut that Andrew had once seen in a book belonging to his uncle. Who was his uncle? Andrew couldn't remember. There was even a skull sitting on the corner of the table. Why did they do that?
The man rose and walked silently toward Andrew. "My name is Cassiodorus, and yours is Andrew. I know why you have come. But first tell me where you have come."
Andrew stood quietly and reviewed what had happened to him since his arrival. He had spoken with an ancient dragon, riddled with the cherubim, spoken with the loveliest of all ladies, and repaired a gate. Now he had come to an immense library ruled over by a great scholar. What did all this have in common?
"I have come," he finally said, "to the fifth garden. Your plants no longer grow, but they are no less luxuriant."
Cassiodorus bowed his head briefly and then stepped aside to walk Andrew to a chair. Turning to the servant, the master said, "You may bring us bread and wine and cheese."

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