The Chapter 14: Influence of Politikus Mediosus
Peter woke up in bed.
“Ah, I was right,” he thought, “I’m in a hospital.”
Yet, he really wasn’t. He was in a firm, large and comfy bed, but there were no hospital walls or TV or trays or railings or anything else that you would find in a hospital. Instead there were trees and small animals running about on the forest floor, and what felt like sunlight on his face, and a soft, balmy breeze blowing over him. He was outside, and in a bed that seemed to get more snug and comfy every time he tried to move. He didn’t want to move much, because the comfort was luxurious.
In front of him and to his right was a large pane of glass in a frame, about the size of a man. Further to his right was a house on stilts. The stilts were apparently carved to look like chicken legs, but other than that, the house looked quite like a normal cabin in the woods. It was small, but still; it didn’t look out of place except for the four chicken leg stilts. To his left was more forest, and finally, if he squinted and tried hard enough, he could see the road.
Directly in front of him, over the foot of the bed, he could see the deep forest. The fog was ghostly yet beautiful; mysterious yet inviting. There was morning dew on every green plant, every multicolored flower, and even his bed clothes. He did not mind, however, because it seemed natural, like a long lost friend.
Peter finally got out of the bed, stood up and stretched. His arms ached and so did his back and legs. He never felt such pain before, and it startled him.
He could see better across the road south of him, and he saw another similar lake and it was very beautiful. It was, after all, the same lake from the other side. The water looked like silver. There were silver rivulets pouring into it from the mountains further west. One mountain rose so high and was so majestic and colorful--red, brown, purple and capped with white--that Peter almost felt he was again back in his own world. Yet if he was, it was a different time, perhaps a younger world. At least that was how it felt. However, as he looked intently at the peak of the nearest, or perhaps largest, mountain, he could almost see the top of the eternally large cavern that made up Innerworld. It was hazy and difficult to see that far, but he almost could make it out. The most annoying thing was, however, that his eyes were getting blurry and they started to burn a bit. They watered and he wiped them dry with his sleeve.
Interestingly enough, his clothes seem to fit better, or at least looser, than they did before.
“Maybe the process is reversing itself,” thought Peter.
He looked around again, hoping to see someone that could help him understand where he was and what had happened to him. Through the pane of glass near his bed he could see the grassy yard beyond, and another bed outside, and an old man looking intently at him.
The old man had a gray and white beard and was very thin. His hair was long and straggly, and his face drawn and troubled. The old man just stared at Peter and didn’t move.
Peter didn’t know what to do or what to say, so he just walked slowly toward the old man. Apparently the old man had felt or looked like he felt the same confusion and walked, at the same time it seemed, toward Peter.
When Peter got to the pane of glass he froze, and so did the old man. It wasn’t a pane of clear window-like glass at all, but a mirror. The bed on the other side was the bed that Peter had been sleeping in, and the old man in the mirror was Peter himself.
This was so startling, Peter fell down in the grass, and that hurt his back even more.
All he could think of to say was, “Help.” That word came out of his mouth so feeble that he felt really alone and helpless.
In a moment the door to the house opened and out stepped a very old woman. There was a wooden staircase or step ladder leading up to her door, and she slowly walked down it.
“I heard you call for help, my friend.”
Peter thought all this looked too familiar and he remembered old fairy tales of a house on chicken-like legs in a deep forest, where an old witch would wait to catch people. He stood up as fast as his old bones would let him and held out his hand in warning.
“Don’t come any closer, old witch. I know who and what you are.”
“Not me, good sir. I didn’t grow this house. I moved in three or four weeks ago, so you must have me mistaken for someone else. I wish to help you, for that is what I was told to do.”
Peter walked back to the bed and sat down to give his back some relief. He thought hard, looking back in his memory over the last few days. “Not all ugly things are evil, and not all beautiful things are good,” he was told by the Beautiful Woman Dressed All in White.
“Are you evil, or are you good?”
“I should be asking you that question, mister.”
“How did I get here?”
The old woman walked up closer.
“I found you on the road, and you were very tired, but I helped you up and you were able to make it this far. I’m sorry I don’t have a room for you, but the forest is kind, and the beds here are well grown. You slept well? Are you hungry?”
Peter was very hungry and wanted to eat, but he didn’t know what to think. Should he trust her or not?
“In my world,” he started, “we have a legend of an old woman living in a house like that,” and he pointed to the house on chicken leg stilts. “She is an evil witch.”
“I don’t know much, but I was exiled from Covenswold in South Folsborn because I studied such tales of other worlds. What I do know is this,” and she began to explain something that Peter hadn’t thought about. In other worlds, there are parallel experiences and phenomena. What happens in one, if it is close or linked to another, is mirrored in some way. It may be entirely different in nature, but may contain similar themes or ideas or names. He asked her for an example.
“Well, I don’t know what your world is like, but I am aware of who you are, for the Beautiful Woman All Dressed in White has asked me to help you, so I will do my best to explain and ease your worry.”
“Is she here?”
“No, I haven’t seen her for four days. You asked for an example. Here is one.”
She told of the Unknown Worlds Cluster, a group of alternate dimensions that often crossed one another in a sort of metaphysical dance. In one of the clusters, there were domesticated animals called stinkrats. The stinkrats would do tricks, play with the children, and even communicate on a rudimentary level with the human-like inhabitants. In another part of the cluster, the stinkrats kept humans as pets, but the idea was the same.
“And the smell is as bad in one dimension as in another. Perhaps what is evil in your world, may be good in ours, or at least, neutral? Or the same, I don’t really know.”
“She did make me the best pancakes I have ever eaten.” Peter was referring to the Beautiful Woman all Dressed in White.
“Ah! A dish from your world?”
“Yes, exactly the same.”
“She should know; she was originally from your world. So was that evil wizard of a tyrant, Politikus Mediosus.”
“I’ve been growing old, very old since I’ve been here, only four days, and she looks timeless.”
“She is not what you are anymore, and Politikus has had some dealings with the Evil One, which gave him power over age. This is his great advantage; although he is dim in thought, he is at least street wise, and can persuade others easily enough through many years of practicing deceit, and not growing old.
The house lifted a chicken leg and with it rubbed its door under the door latch.
“Did that house just scratch its nose?”
“Oh, probably. It has a cold. It’s terrible when I’m in it. Everything breaks and I have to go back into Glivvensshire and buy everything all over again. Waste of money, this house.”
Peter’s head was getting dizzy and he needed something to eat. He looked around for his knapsack. It wasn’t there.
“Where are my things?”
The old woman laughed a hacking laugh and apologized for putting it in the house. She hobbled back to the house and went in. Peter just sat there, wanting very much to go to sleep.
In a moment or two she returned with his sack and handed it to him. He thanked her and looked around in it for some food. He took out what was possibly a bean loaf and started eating. It wasn’t too remarkable, but it did the trick. The old woman looked on with serious hunger in her eyes. It wasn’t a scary look, but one that made Peter feel pity.
“Why, madam! You’re starving,” he said.
“It is true, I haven’t eaten in days. After I was exiled, I found this place. I don’t even know if the owner will return and if he or she does, what will be done to me.”
“You need this more than me,” and he gave her the largest portion of his food. He also dug around in his pack and found that Ray and Ray had left him with a purse. He took it out, and in it was a substantial amount of gold coins.
“I don’t know how much these are worth, but you can have them. You can have them all.”
She looked genuinely surprised. “How? How can you do this?”
Peter thought for a moment and made up his mind that he was to forge on ahead with his quest, imaginary or not.
“I don’t need money or food where I’m going. I will more than likely die of old age before I get there, and that is not far off if I’m aging as fast as I think. The only thing is, I wish I could do what I have to do. I’m a failure, I think.” He started to cry a bit.
She sat down next to him and put her arms around his shoulder. She smelled sweet, like flowers and springtime.
“What exactly is it you have to do to face Politikus?”
“What all did she tell you?” asked Peter, who was drying his eyes on his loosely fitting sleeve.
“Only that you’re the one, the prophesied one who will come and deliver us from this tyrant.”
“What has he done that is so awful?”
“He has corrupted the minds of the people. Those of us who still think for ourselves are exiled or killed. He wishes to do the same in your world, and others if he can. He is drunk or mad with power. He loves lies. Somehow, if he can deceive others, he gets stronger. More powerful.”
Peter decided to trust her, and after apologizing for being rude and not introducing himself, they exchanged names and other pleasantries.
“I’m Peter,” he said.
“And my name is Iggy. Although I don’t think I look like it.”
Peter wasn’t sure what she meant, or what to say next, but Iggy ate the food Peter gave her and she felt better.
“You are very generous, Peter. For in pouring out your purse, you have poured out your heart, and trusted one that you felt might be a danger. You will go far, and you will accomplish this task that has been given you, here and in your own home.”
“Thank you for your encouragement, Iggy, but I have no strength left.”
“That is the last of it, I guess,” said Iggy, “but you are so close. Glivvensshire is very close to Covenswold. You are almost there. There is a young wizard who lives there, and he may know of these magic vessels. Be very careful what you tell him, however; I don’t know that much about him. It may be best to avoid him. Follow your own instincts in this matter. Listen to the wisdom of She who is in White, because she is innocent. These people in Covenswold are or have been easily swayed to teachings I find disquieting. Something may sound like the truth, or very close to it, but is a dangerous lie. Unfortunately, most of those people think they are believing the truth. They are powerless against Mediosus’s guile.”
Peter thanked her and kissed her on her cheek. She blushed just a tiny bit. He got up and asked which way to Covenswold and she directed him.
“If I’m to find these three vessels, I’ll have to ask someone.”
“Better to avoid anyone who has authority or respect in that hated city. Remember, it may sound like truth, but it is a lie.”
Peter nodded, and started what looked like a long and weary walk into an unknown and dark danger.