Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chapter the Fifteenth: On the Storming of Hedges and

The adventurers were stunned. They knew this was not ordinary garden, but still they were not prepared for this. Before them stood an immense Romanesque arch of smooth white stone flanked by, well, kinky wall sections. These were covered with ivy and suggested some ancestor of Antoni Gaudí designing in a distant past. Set in the walls were occasional niches wherein profusions of shiny leaves and yellow flowers grew. Below these were tiered basins over which water splashed gaily. Not far from the entrance the walls were swallowed by the high and thorny hedge, though here the flowers grew more thickly. The gate itself was an intricate lacework of wrought iron with the gilded figures of parasols in the center of each half. Also in gilt were the carven letters above the keystone, which read: “Les Jardins D’Isaphère.”

“I think it’s French,” Scramble commented.

“The Normans never tire of lording it over us,” added Fulsome, who was undoubtedly a thoroughly Saxon fetchit.

“It’s really very lovely,” Jonathan said in an awestruck voice.

“No doubt,” rejoined Scramble, “but magic things can be as deadly as they are beautiful.” He was remembering the recent vision of Miranda.

“I suppose we ought either to knock or try to enter unnoticed, but we shan’t accomplish anything standing here.” Fulsome could often be very practical when he wasn’t smelling flowers.

“Very well. The quest is mine, I shall attempt to enter,” Jonathan asserted, using his very grown-up voice supposed to impress others but mostly meant to reassure himself. His companions were struck by the dignity with which he spoke and Jonathan was reassured by their reaction.

He approached the gate and reached for the graceful, leaf-shaped handle on the elegant black iron-woven barrier. Everything seemed suddenly still. Even the wall fountains sounded quieter. Slowly he turned the handle and they all held their breath. It opened.

Jonathan gently spread the gate wide, constantly glancing in all directions for potential hazards. Nothing seemed amiss. All three pilgrims remembered to breath and sucked in a lungful of fresh air before taking a step. Then, as they all approached to enter, the neatly trimmed roses just inside the gate suddenly grew, extending their thorn-studded vines toward and across the path, frenetically intertwining and spouting blood-red blossoms everywhere. Within the space of four seconds the iron gate had been replaced by a wall of tangled roses twelve feet high and thirty feet wide. The way forward was effectively blocked.

“Perhaps,” Jonathan offered, mustering as much nonchalance as he could, “we had better try Alternate Plan B.”

“I suspect we were expected,” the fetchit added dryly.

“I don’t suppose we could package this and sell it to frustrated rose growers,” Scramble attempted feebly, trying to meet this latest setback with gallows humor. No one laughed, though Fulsome and Jonathan appreciated the chipmunk’s effort.

Alternate Plan B was scaling of the wall by means of a primitive siege ladder made from a tree. This took a fair amount of time and required the cooperation of a nearby beaver who had relatives on Gwaeron Stream that were acquainted with Fulsome, but the device was finally ready. Scramble, being the smallest and quickest, mounted the ladder as soon as it was in place. Upon reaching the top and looking over the wall, he noticed a runner spreading along the top of the white stonework. It was another of the Gardens’ fast-growing plants but of a most unusual variety. It seemed to have all the properties of concertina wire, spiraling with its barbs along the wall, strong as metal and sharp as razors, yet green and alive. Scramble quickly regretted testing the plant with his paw; the effect was a most unpleasant combination of the sudden slicing of flesh with a nasty sting thereafter. Plan B was not working well at all.

Plan C was a siege tower, but they soon realized they didn’t have the prerequisite tools.

Plan D, the ballista, was rejected on the same basis as Plan B.

Plan E, though it showed considerable flair, being none other than the effective employ of that Byzantine standby, Greek fire, was also discarded due to the shortage of saltpeter. It seems, according to the woodland grapevine, to have all been purchased by a seminary fifteen miles of north of our heroes.

“ I don’t understand, Banpa,” Gwyn interrupted.

“You’re not meant to understand that, my dear,” her grandfather replied.

“Well then what happens?” asked Stefan.

At last they resorted to Alternate Plan F, the mole. One must admire the perseverance demonstrated in all this, if not the forethought. Still and all, the roots of the plants that surrounded the Gardens were too thick and tough, so this approach also failed.


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