One Bright Star to Guide Them

BOOK: One Bright Star to Guide Them
5.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
One Bright Star to Guide Them
by John C. Wright
Published by Castalia House
Kouvola, Finland
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by Finnish copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental. An abbreviated version of this novella was previously published in the April-May 2009 issue of
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Copyright © 2014 by John C. Wright
All rights reserved
Editor: Vox Day
Cover Design: Cloud
Version 004


To Jack and John, who have gone on, and ever on.

1. Tommy

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

—I Corinth. 13.11


“I should be happy,” Thomas S. Robertson muttered to himself, fumbling for the latchkey to his Brighton flat. Perhaps he had had a pint too many at the local pub; perhaps he had too desperately tried to celebrate.

His key ring fell from an unsteady glove, bounced on the stair near his shoe, and spun away into the dried rosebushes the concierge had planted between the concrete strip of the sidewalk and the street.

Tommy sighed, and his breath was white with cold. Was it worth searching for his keys, in the dark, in the October fog, at this hour of night? Perhaps he should shout and wake the concierge. The concierge would be put out, but Tommy was soon to leave this comfortable old building anyway and move up to London, into a stark glass, boxlike high-rise in Knightsbridge. The company had arranged to move his things; the luxurious apartment was being provided as part of his promotion.

Many of the officers of the company, ambitious men younger than he was, had slapped him on the back or given him rueful smiles of envy at the party this evening.

It was that envy which had finally driven him out into the foggy night, to find the old stone-and-wood public house where Irish dockworkers swapped tall tales of mermaids and of little people, of selkie and of banshee and of stern, pale kings from the fairy world.

They were tales he knew and loved; he had more reason to believe them than most people, although it was easy to forget that now that he was grown.

Those tales were one more thing he would lose when he moved away to London.

He pulled off his gloves, bent down to feel through the thorns for his keys, and grunted as he touched the ground; bending was not so easy anymore, now that he was on the wrong side of forty and losing his hair. He was middle-aged, if he lived to be eighty. (But last year Bridesmith in Accounts had passed away at 62. Heart trouble. Middle-aged for him had only been 31.)

A thorn scratched his ungloved hand; he pulled it back. Now he sat in the dry leaves the wind had heaped by the roadside, drained and defeated, sucking mournfully on his pricked finger. It did not even seem worth the effort to shout and wake the concierge to let him in, for if he went in-of-doors, and slept, morning would come all the sooner.

What little light illuminated the darkness came from a wrought-iron lamppost not far away. The street was empty, and here and there a lonesome tree lifted its bare and crooked twigs to the cold sky. To one side was an old Anglican Church, built nine hundred years ago, with a statue of St. George standing atop a pillar in the midst of the churchyard gardens and overlooking the street, as if standing sentry over the road.

The other way along the street, new construction loomed. Squat black warehouses dominated the nearer ground; beyond them rose faceless glass monstrosities, including Tommy's office building. He always walked that way in the morning, turning his back on the church and leaving St. George behind him. But then, St. George was always there in the evening, when he turned about again to come home.

Tommy was in a solemn, but silly mood, like the seriousness of a child. He closed his eyes. “St. George,” he said in a soft voice, “help me find the key that I have lost. I want to open the door to my home.”

Without opening his eyes, he plunged his hand into the rosebush. Tommy's hand closed on something warm and furry, which yowled and wriggled and clawed him. When he yanked his hand back in alarm, he discovered an animal riding his arm on white-hot needles of pain.

With a startled yell, Thomas shook off the dark, yellow-eyed thing clinging to his arm. It was a black cat. The cat spun in the air and landed neatly on its feet in front of him.

On a slim woven chain around its neck, he saw the cat wore a silver key, intricately inscribed. The teeth of the key were large and square; the hilt was crowned with a circle inscribed about a cross, divided into equal fours.

The cat was as black as moonless midnight, with no spot of white in its fur. Its eyes were sardonic; they were yellow as gold, and the pupils were opened up wide.

A blinding joy swept over him. “Tybalt!” he cried, “it's you! You've come back! Oh, you've come back! It's been so long!”

He stood up, reaching out to hug the black cat. The cat twisted out of his grasp and the chain slipped off over the cat's sleek head; the key fell with a chime to the stone of the stairs, and lay there, shimmering with yellow fire in the light from the lamppost.

“Have you forgotten how to talk, Tybalt?" asked Tommy. “Are you under an enchantment?"

Suddenly, he felt foolish. Perhaps he was drunk. The cat could be any black cat.

Tommy stared down at the cat. “If you're really Tybalt, the Prince of Cats, the son of Carbonel, please say something,” he whispered. “Say anything. Please!”

The cat began to wash his paws fastidiously.

Tommy said, “It must be you! I know it's you! I remember you from when I was a schoolboy. There was the well behind the ruined wing of Professor Penkirk's mansion. Bombed during the war, and overgrown with moss, the black windows and spooky walls surrounded the well on three sides, and a broken angel was there. We knew it was a haunted well, we were sure of it. Penny and Richard and Sally and I, all of us were playing there when we found the key. It was the Well of the Nine Worlds, and the key opened the gateway…”

Tommy stooped and picked up the silver key. “I remember now,” he said. “I remember everything. Richard came back with the sword. Sally had the shard of the shattered magic glass. Penny, God rest her soul, brought back Myrrdin's book. I was the Key-bearer. I lost it years ago, I don't remember when, but here it is again. I know it. I know you. A little drunk I may be, but I am not mad.”

Tommy looked overhead until he found the North Star, shining brightly above the clouds and fogs. For a moment, he frowned as if searching his mind for something long forgotten, something precious and lost. Then he smiled. He pointed the key at the North Star, and turned it clockwise.
“Power of heaven, unchained by me, come into the silver key.”

Next he pointed the key at the cat.
“Unlock, unbind, release, set free; so says he who bears the key.”
He twisted it counterclockwise.

The black cat spoke to him in a voice as soft and clear as rippling water. “I am come to summon you to tourney, Tommy, to face a knight of ghosts and shadows. No weapon of Man can cut him and, once he is called, neither door nor gate can keep him out. Only one who knows his secret name can vanquish him. He is the champion of the Lord of Final Winter, whom once you knew as the Shadow King. He has been summoned to your world now, and all of England is at hazard.”

The black cat looked up at him with eyes as yellow and mysterious as moonlight. “The call is given. Listen: You can hear the trumpet of the Wild Huntsman. Will you come?”

“Now? Right now? In the middle of the night? Without packing a bag?”

“To fly upon the air, little Tommy, we needs must travel light. If you do not already carry all you need, nothing you can put into a bag will help you now. Can you not hear the chanting of the Wild Hunt?”

Tommy cocked his head. “I hear nothing but the cry of night-birds in the air,” he said.

“Those who refuse to understand cannot hear, even when the Call rings out as loud as church bells. Come away! The lords of Faerie summon you! The Enemy will conquer all if none will stand to oppose his might.”

“I can't just up and leave. I have a job; I have rent to pay. But, see here, you've picked a good time. In a week or so I'll be ready to move; the company might give me some days off, and then I can schedule in some time to go fight this knight of shadows, and…”

Tommy straightened, blinking. What was he saying? Schedule a time to fight the knight of shadows? “Tybalt,” he said slowly, “I'm not a child any more. It's been thirty years since we went to Vidblain, faced the Faceless Warlock, and broke the Black Mirror of the Winter King. It's been three
since we restored Prince Hal to his throne at Caer Pendewen. You can't just order me around like a schoolboy anymore. I'll help you, yes, certainly. But I can't just go shooting off into the blue. I have a life. I have responsibilities. If I just disappear in the middle of the night, I'll be sacked, and have no job, no place to stay, no future.”

The black cat turned and slipped off down the stairs. Then the cat was in the street, and beginning to slink away, a black shadow disappearing into the night.

For a moment, Tommy calmly watched him go. Then, in spite of himself, he was suddenly leaping down the stairs, crying, “Tybalt, wait! Don't leave me! I'll come! I'll come with you!”

Perhaps he was more than a little drunk. Perhaps he was mad. Regardless, Tommy ran joyfully down the street after the little black cat, his back to the high-rises, his face toward St. George.

It was midnight, and the church bell slowly and solemnly began to ring, filling the starlit world with its echoes.

2. Richard

“Tommy! How d'you, old man? Great to see you after all these years! I suppose it must be Thomas now. Ah…just great. I can spare you a few minutes before my next conference call. It's a busy world, you know. Quite busy. Sit down.”

It was dim in the room, for no lights were switched on. Richard Sommerville's office was large and square, carpeted in an acre of red, its walls hung with ugly modern paintings: rich frames filled with colored blobs and jagged scrawls, every picture without meaning or any skill of execution. It was November, and the days were short. Through the wide window behind Richard's desk, a sunset in hues of cerise and purple drew a line between the shadows of the earth and the shadow of the darkening sky. It was a mournful sight.

Bookshelves filled the walls to either side of the wide window, crowded with expensive books of the type one never reads, but fills the shelves with to impress one's guests. Through the window the snow on the road outside could be seen, very far below, churned grey and filthy by the automobile traffic.

Richard's face was large and square. Age had thinned his hair and left baggy rings around his narrowed eyes. He was handsome still, but his face wore a tight, cautious look. He greeted Tommy with hearty words, but he smiled only with his lips, never with his eyes.

“You've been out tramping in the country, haven't you, old man? I can tell by your gear. Not many people come into my office with knapsacks and hiking sticks, wearing stained anoraks. Or dripping snow on the carpet. No, not many at all. Not at all. But we always have time for old friends, don't we? Don't we? So. What can I do for you, Thomas?” Richard said, looking at his wristwatch.

Tommy's own face was wreathed in smiles, his face eager as a child on Christmas morning. “You'll never guess!” He upended his backpack, and dumped a small black cat onto Richard's desk, amidst the neat stacks of paper, the pen-set, the ticking desk clock, and the telephone. The cat batted a pair of documents off the blotter, and stepped disdainfully on some others.

BOOK: One Bright Star to Guide Them
5.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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