My heart sank in fear and despair. Unconsciously, I lessened my grip on Alex and began to step away from the hole. His voice had now dimmed, he was exhausted and it was very conceivable at this point that he would sooner or later pass out from the mangling force of the ever constricting wall.
Sachi did not stop her feeble attempts to pull her son out from the gap, however, she suddenly became wary that I had tip-toed away. Disappointed by what appeared to be resignation on my part, her eyes began streaming with huge tears, and she cried and could hardly speak and yet stuttered in broken fragments.
“Mazzy… why are you not helping? Why?! This is all your fault! All… your… fault.”
What Sachi did not know was that I was scanning the entire wall, searching for recesses or grooves by which I could dig my fingers and toes in so that I may climb it and jump over to the other side. If I could keep Talbot distracted, it may buy us extra time for Sachi – assuming that her willpower was inexhaustible – to remain hooked in her efforts to wrench Alex out of the hole.
“Sachi, you stay here and keep trying. I think I might be able to climb over. Just don’t let go of him whatever happens!” As I lurched forward towards the wall I could see from the corner of my eye that my friend wore an apologetic expression, she had not clocked into my real intentions and, knowing that now was not the moment to clear the air of misunderstandings, I did not pay attention to her and kept on track with my plan.
It was just as I had laid my fingers into the first grooves on the wall, ready to hoist myself up, that the entire façade of the bricks began shaking and waves of fine dust blew out from its crevices. I was knocked off and fell, landing on my bottom and at eye-level to Alex. There was another rumble, a more stronger one, and now the very ground began to jerk. Alex was drifting in and out of consciousness, the odd finger or two moving ever so slightly. He no longer made any sound.
“What the heck is happening!?” I was out of breath. Dust was not only smothered all over my face, I think I had swallowed some of it. Spluttering it out in fitful coughs, I fast approached Alex and knelt down by his side and to my amazement I saw that the hole was changing. It was growing and growing and growing!
“Oh my God, Sachi! LOOK!” I grabbed Sachi’s arm and yanked her down so that she too was beside me. The shock of watching two large metallic hands prise through the sides of the wall was too fantastical to comprehend. A chink of light appeared on the other side, and as the tunnel widened out the both of us could make out the shining helmet of Sir Talbot. I do not know where the sun had suddenly come from, for it had been grim and dull and blustery since we had left the warm auspices of the teahouse, and yet now, with fierce magnitude of spirit, the sunshine sent a shaft of glowing light which lit up the metal man’s face.
The hole had expanded much more than how we had found it, in fact, it was no longer a bricked fissure but that of a doorway. He stepped into it and picked up Alex in his arms and came forward. Sachi and I took a step back, and neither of us had a clue what to say. We had never ever bargained for this astonishing turnaround of events.
Alex began to stir awake and Sir Talbot motioned towards Sachi.
“Oh Alex!” Sachi leapt forward and took her son in her arms. “Are you alright?!” She was breathless with joy to see her son be returned to her.
“Mum!” He said no more, only that he simply reached up and hugged his mother tight. “Talbot… he saved me!”
“I know… I know…” Sachi, still cradling her son with weeping eyes looked up at Sir Talbot, “Thank you, thank you very much!!”.
Sir Talbot did not say anything in return. He stood there in a silence as metallic as his suit.
I walked over to Alex and ruffled his hair and pinched his cheeks before stroking them, “Welcome back, Alex…” I drew out a long breath and he placed his hand over my hand.
I had not envisaged that I would ever have the need to thank a minion of the dark forces, but it was my wise heart that said to me that things were not as they were. Something had changed and it was my duty to acknowledge that. I turned to the metal man and stepped closer. I could feel Sachi and Alex behind me, tense and uncertain as to whether my approaching him was a sensible idea. I, on the hand, knew that it was right to risk it.
“Why did you help us?”
A long pause ensued. Everyone held their breath. Not even the whisperings of trees could be heard in that silence, wherein time itself must have dissolved into oblivion.
“I did not help you.”
I was perplexed by his answer.
“I helped me”.
I did not say anything, save that my eyes took a life of their own and gazed deeper into his faceless face.
“I know my crimes are….. unpardonable. I broke a sacred trust that was once placed upon me.” There was confessional discomfort in his manner and voice. This was hard but harder still that he chose to tell us of the unspoken torture of living a life that was a lie at its core.“ I left the circle of my brothers and I betrayed my greatest friend… Arthur…. And for what? To live forever?” He lowered his head down to his chest. “Life without freedom is worse than death…”
“Arcana gave you immortality but with a condition…. that you live your days as her slave…” I softly cut in so that he may know that I was listening to his words and that his sufferings were no longer a secret. They had been released into the air.
“Yes. Arthur’s soul will never forgive me. I know that. I am damned, a curse and a plague to myself. I became that very thing that I swore to defeat. And now… I am a lost cause and I cannot even end this misery of what I am”.
We were all silent and for what length of time, I cannot tell. I swallowed hard and came to him one step closer. He was crestfallen, a man desperate to atone for his sins, a man who wished to cease to be.
I stared at him hard and it was then that it dawned on me that the sunlight reflecting of his metal armour had sent a swirl of orange marble waves to ripple all across the grey walls, and if only there was a mirror I am certain we would have found ourselves beautifully splashed in the prism aura of his light. A new and brilliant realisation awoke in me and I was perfectly clear in my mind of what I had to undertake. Surprising everyone by my odd mannerisms, yet no one said anything as I walked over to my carpet bag, opened the fastening at the top and ducked my hand in, scrambling deep down into its filled but infinite cavern.
“Now, where are you?” I was talking aloud my thoughts. “Ah, there you are!” And out of the bag I pulled out a long black umbrella. A proud and upright gait in my walk, I marched over to Sir Talbot and cleared my throat with the commanding countenance by which King Arthur might have once expressed when addressing his gallant knights of the round table.
My friends were completely gobsmacked and the metal man in front of me dared not to move a muscle. I had spooked everyone so it seemed.
“Ahem, ahem. Did you not hear me? I said kneel.”
Very slowly he knelt down on one leg, the armour on his body stretching and all the while his head was cowered down to reveal the gap between his helmet and shoulder plate. I caught a glimpse of his human form dormant beneath the sheets of metal.
“You are right…. I deserve to be punished and humiliated”, he whispered.
I raised my umbrella above my head and like a mighty sword it was poised to slice through the blasphemous enemy. Behind me, Sachi and Alex squinted their eyes as they held onto one another other. What no one had guessed was that in my eyes this man was no longer the man that he had been for so many countless centuries.
Down plunged the umbrella but Sir Talbot did not flinch – and nor was there any reason to. I rested the end of my umbrella first on his left shoulder and then onto his right and I kept alternating like this as I made the announcement, a re-initation into the olden ways, “We – Alex, Sachi and I – hereby acknowledge the most excellent valour and bravery and selflessness as shown by you today, Sir Talbot, and pledge that as long as we shall live we will, with inviolable constancy, hold our heads high whenever your name is passed through our lips, for you are a noble man and… our most good friend!”
He did not say a word but the gentle drawing of a sigh told me that he had found peace at last.
“RISE, SIR TALBOT!” I smiled at him and his head rose up, and a shard of sunshine glinted off from the grated visor of his metal helmet. “You are no one’s servant, remember that my dear Sir. And if anyone should challenge that then let them squawk, but never ever forget who or what you are.”
“And what am I?” His eyes were not visible but his words saw my face clearly.
“You are a good man and there is much more good left for you to do in the world. We are only the beginning but let us not be your last. Promise me that”.
“I promise and thank you…. for releasing me.” He looked at me with his metal face but it was abound with affection, I could sense that, discerned only by my heart.
All of us caught in the emotions of the moment, I cleared my throat once again to signal that we needed to disband. “We better be heading out again, there is someone we must save”.
“I know. You will be needing this”. He searched into his belt and pulled out a small piece of paper with strange numbers printed on it. “Arcana has imprisoned the Muse in this cell, in the highest wing of the castle, and these magical inscriptions will provide you with safe passage”.
When I took the paper into my hand and read the number sequence I immediately gathered what they were. “I see, this is a password to open a door bolted down by an advanced security programme.”
Sir Talbot was a little befuddled by my modern assessment, but he did not wish to compromise my praising perception of him so he simply nodded in agreement.
“Thank you, Sir Talbot! Right, let’s go and save her!” I was buzzing inside, my determined sense of mission had grown exponentially in the last few minutes, and both Alex and Sachi cheered, hoisting their fists in the air!
“I cannot go with you”. Sir Talbot was sorry for not accompanying us, for only the children of the seen and unseen worlds, born with the Gift of Sight, were allowed to enter those upper echelons of the castle.
“You have done your part and played it well you have”. I smiled at him and he could tell in my assurance that I was not the least bit ruffled, nor my impressions of him mitigated, by his decision. He had made a sensible choice.
Alex was the first one to walk through the doorway in the crumbling façade of bricks but before he entered he spun round and with the most friendliest smile stretched out across his tiny little face he addressed Sir Talbot. “Thank you… Sir Talbot! Thank you for being nice and saving my life. You’re a really cool dude! I can’t wait to tell my friends about you! Thank you!”
Sir Talbot bowed his head down and then up again. Alex mimicked his motions before disappearing through the doorway.
Sachi was to follow, and she too stopped and turned to face Sir Talbot. “Thank you for saving my son.” Her voice shook a little but she was more than willing to contend with her emotions and continued, “King Arthur would have been proud of you today”. Sir Talbot bowed his head again and she did the same, although she was close to having her head bumped against the bricks because Alex could hear how sentimental she had become and shouted out from the other side, “Oh Mum, don’t start crying now, we need to go! Hurry up!” Sachi laughed her way through the doorway, her son frenetically tugging her sleeves from the other end!
And then there was only Sir Talbot and I.
“Listen…. I suggest you go out in the world with that metal gear off but make sure you wear some clothes!” I giggled uncontrollably but he did not seem to catch on to the joke and thus I returned to a more sincere tone of voice and topic. “Unfortunately the weather of the British Isles has not changed much since the medieval times, it is mostly very wet and damp, and with someone with a predisposition to metal attire, may I suggest that you accept this gift from me”. I handed him my umbrella.
He stared at it, unsure what to do.
“Please, have it. It will protect you from rusting should you wish not to wear the clothes of our times.” I suddenly felt quite beside myself, embarrassed that I may have offended his traditional ways.
After a momentary hesitation he reached out and took the umbrella. “Thank you”. I wish I could have seen his face then.
I nodded and backed away. Happy in the knowledge that Arcana had one less evil creation by her side, and that we had one more warrior of light to fight for our cause. Just as I was beginning to enter the doorway he asked me a question.
“Will I see you again?”
I paused for thought and searched my heart.
“Yes…. Yes you will. In another story…” And with those words I left him with my umbrella in his hand, and he stood at peace with speckles of sunshine reflecting off the bright, shiny coat of his armour.
When I stepped out onto the other side, Alex was leaning against a wooden fence with his hand acting as an awning over his eyes. Sachi was stood next to him, absolutely motionless and when she saw that I was here she gestured me to quickly join them.
I ran up to them .“What is it?”
What happened next? ♥♥♥
“Thank you… Sir Talbot! Thank you for being nice and saving my life. You’re a really cool dude! I can’t wait to tell my friends about you! Thank you!”
“… she was close to having her head bumped against the bricks because Alex could hear how sentimental she had become and shouted out from the other side, “Oh Mum, don’t start crying now, we need to go! Hurry up!”…”
“… When I stepped out onto the other side, Alex was leaning against a wooden fence with his hand acting as an awning over his eyes. Sachi was stood next to him, absolutely motionless and when she saw that I was there she gestured me to quickly join them...”
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | Corfe Castle Village | Wareham | Dorset | UK 2016