To see how we got here read Round and Round Part 36.
The bookseller found himself standing in a torrential thunderstorm. Thunderbolts and lightning were everywhere around him. Very, very frightening. He was soaked to the bone in seconds.
He had skipped the ring on again in a fit of despair. Or was it escape? Or was it discovery? He had rushed into his office after some minor crisis seemed to possess him to his soul and rise in importance to become the most important problem in the world. It was just an excuse. He’d let his mind fabricate the problem, subconsciously, so he would be pushed to this strait. He had sat at his desk, leaned, reached and lifted the ring off the pin that held it in the air. He had folded his arms on the tall vellum quarto that lay on his desk. A Midsummer’s Night Dream. There had been a soft flash of light that encompassed him. That was how he found himself once again in the Rackham-like land—Avalon.
Suddenly, there was a huge golden bumbershoot opened above him.
“Well! That was certainly precipitous!” a disembodied woman’s voice spoke. And then she laughed. He heard the bells that had rung on the lake at dawn on his 17th birthday when he was given the sunrise, as that was the greatest gift she could afford.
“What HO! Booksellers should not come out in the rain. They will become damp stained!”
It was the little man he had met on the last visit to Rackham-land. The bookseller was not tall. Neither was he short. But this fellow was just thigh high. The hair island on his crown had gotten soaked and was plastered down his forehead and around the orbit of his left eye. Rainwater dripped from its end.
“Only fools step out in thunderstorms!” the little man added grumbling sotto voce.
“It was dry where I was a moment ago.”
“Ahhh! HEY HO! The magic bookstore! How many books do you have!?”
“Enough,” the bookseller replied, wiping his dripping brow with his right hand.
“HA! You are NO bookseller!” The little man laughed mockingly. “No true bookseller ever has ‘enough.’ Prevaricator. AND braggart!”
“Leave him alone, Rumpelstiltskin, or I will tell him your real name.
Then you will be in his thrall.
Hair island and ALL!”
And the woman laughed like the bells of Rhymney, Merthyr and Rhondda.
The bookseller had heard those bells when serendipity took him to Hay on Wye in Wales. Hay on Wye—the world’s “city of books” founded by a bookseller who call himself “King” Richard. Though his parents and grandmother claimed Welsh ancestry, no family member he knew of had gone there until he went. When he went Pony Trekking and the small Welsh draft horse beneath him had leapt over rivulets flowing down the emerald green grassy hillsides, the young woman guide riding beside him had said:
“POP! Stony!” and the pony would make a little leap over the waters.
He had still been a teen at that magic time.
“Am I in Wales?” he asked the disembodied voice that seemed to be everywhere in the air. “I know those bells.”
“Yes standin’ out in a ragin’ down…”
“I am sorry, your Highness. But I was cozy as a unicorn’s nest a moment ago. My feet propped up before the hearth. A sweet pipe in me mouth. And a flagon of…”
“You have a duty here as border guard. We could not have him wandering about the forest. Thunder and lightning are not the only living things that accompany these dread storms, as you know very well.”
“And MISTER Book Man, there are no bells in Avalon. Yer hearin’ things. Mebbe it’s the thunder ringin’ in yer ears!”
The rain then abruptly subsided, as if someone had turned off a spigot.
The little man tilted the big umbrella and closed it.
“That was a sudden change,” the bookseller thought out loud.
“Done probably for yer benefit to be sure. Come along. We’ll get you to a fire and dry yer sorry self.”
“She can turn the rain off?”
“She rules this land from the heavens to the underworld. What do you think, MISTER Book!?”
It was dusk becoming night. Water was dripping from the trees in the forest all around them. Then the bookseller began seeing lights flicker on in the trees’ canopy. They were like fireflies but not…
“Fairies…” he whispered in awe.
“Don’t stare. Ye’ll make ’em blush!”
Indeed, the lights he was staring at began changing from cerulean blue to soft pink while all the other lights remained true blue.
“Come along. I want to unload you before me fire to haim goes pffft!”
The little man did not walk. Rather, he skipped three times and then hopped twice. No, he slipped twice and hopped three times. No, he…
The bookseller followed and restrained the urge to start skipping until… he could hold back no longer and began skipping like a child.
The forest was illuminated by soft blue light. Fairy light.
Soon up ahead, there was a golden glow. Then he could see a clearing. In the center of the clearing was a dais that seemed to be made of soft golden air. Atop it was a throne not unlike the Coronation Seat but layered in solid gold. At the foot of the throne, a pair of legs rose. His gaze rose, and the legs continued longer and longer. They were clad in green tights. Woven into the fabric were hundreds of tendrils—vines climbing up and up and up. Then the bent knees and then the torso. Above her legs, she was clad in shimmering gold, which mirrored the gold of the grove and the throne and aura all about.
A soft subtle scent of jasmine seemed to flow from the dais and enchanted the bookseller’s senses even more.
The bookseller slowed and then stopped 23 cubits away. He stood looking dumbly at the beautiful queen.
“Has a goblin got yer tongue, MISTER Book? Greet her Highness and wish her a long life and peace and prosperity.”
“Well, I do. I… ummm… Hail, Queen Arganta. I am your humble servant.”
She laughed like the distant bells he had heard in the Connemara and the whole clearing brightened to brilliant gold.
“So formal, bookseller? We are old, old friends.”
“I’ve never known you as a Queen.”
She smiled warmly. “Call me Genta. Rumpelstiltskin, get him a robe and then you may go home and put your feet up.”
“As you wish, your Highness.”
The little man took a couple skips before his queen added, “Oh, Rumpie, do pick something fine and tasteful. No tricks such as jester’s weeds or pedantic togs.”
He turned and bowed and then hopped and skipped out of sight.
“Are you cold, bookseller? We must not let you catch a chill here.”
“A bit, your… Genta.”
She put her hands in front of her knees and rubbed them together briskly. The golden air beneath her throne deepened in color. Warmth engulfed the man as though he was on the sand on a calm sunny summer’s day.
“There, that is better. Is it not?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“What brings you back? Has it been a very long time? Or just a few days. Or is it hours?!” She laughed, and he felt the bells of Caerphilly, Neath, Brecon were softly tolling all around the glade.
“It has been but 3 days, your… Genta. I could think of nothing else but to return here to see you and some of the places you spoke about, and my books and… you. I have many questions for you.”
“Ah, he comes. Rumpie! I must not use his real name either. He would be transformed into a newt! Getting him back would be a difficult and tedious spell-breaking chant. Still, if he misbehaves too badly…”
“Your Highness, will this serve?”
The little man flourished a robe and then let it settle upon the grass—the grass which the bookseller now noted was golden. It was embroidered cloth. From its hem to its chest, it was the brownish gray of a tree trunks with intricate patterns like bark woven in.
Its chest and shoulders and arms were like the branches and leaves high in the forest canopy. It was dappled with silver and golden features that were at once tiny flowers and stars.
“Take it behind this throne and slip it on, bookseller. The fairies will avert their eyes and,” she paused pondering, “there are no creatures beside us for many leagues in every direction.”
He did as instructed and returned with his sad, damp booksellers’ garb in hand.
“Rumpelstiltskin, take those and dry them before your hearth. And no tricks. Do not slip any surprises into his pockets.”
“Yes, your Highness. No tricks.”
“And but one flagon tonight. I may call upon you. This man is unpredictable. He may wish to depart suddenly upon a whim or panic.”
“You are excused. Be gone!”
The little man turned and skipped and hopped away.
Arganta turned her gaze upon him and asked the bookseller, “Why have you returned?”
“I thought about your offers and realized I was being given a great gift. I could be shown sites no men have ever visited before…”
“…have ever visited before, except perhaps in dreams.”
“Ahhh, you wish to take the Tour.”
“And perhaps something else should it be permitted.”
“What would you like to see first?”
“What you wish me to see, Genta.”
She rose. And rose. And rose. He followed the rising until his neck ached. And then she began stepping down invisible steps on the dais, her height lessening as she came. When she reached the forest floor and crossed to him, she was only a bit taller than he! Her hair, golden and black, parted in the center, fell over her shoulders in front and behind. She held out her left arm and nodded at him to touch it. The sleeve reached to her wrist, and a bit of golden fabric was attached to a ring on her center finger. A simple gold ring but for a tiny red jewel set in it which glowed warmly, its own light burning inside. She bent and gathered her train in one arm. She raised the other from her side. The flowing golden cloth of her sleeve hung down to her waist. He reached and gently laid his right hand upon her forearm.
A little flash and a whoosh, and the bookseller found himself in a vast orchard. Tens of thousands of apple trees stretched in every direction. The sun was so large it filled half the sky, touching the horizon and heaven at once.
He noticed the trees were laden with fruit.
“The Golden Apples of the Sun…” he whispered in awe. “Have others been here?”
“Perhaps, I cannot tell.”
“Cannot or will not.”
Then she said, “Let us go and sit beneath a tree.” She looked about. “There, atop that hill.”
They walked in silence up the hill. At its crest she stopped.
“You may pick one apple. I advise you not to take a low one, nor one too high.”
The bookseller stepped to the tree and reached to one just above his head. Its skin reflected the sun. He grasped it and gently tugged. It came off easily, and he heard the tree give off a soft moan.
“Now, let us sit upon the slope and gaze upon the endless orchard, and you may ask the questions I hear that are trying to be asked. What would you have me tell you?”
“What are these fruits?”
“Inspiration. Each day they are distilled and spread over the earth. When I say endless—I mean very, very large. But I wish there was more that could be given out.”
The bookseller considered the golden apple in his hand.
“You may take a bite. I recommend a small one.”
He tentatively put his mouth on the fruit and gently set his teeth to it. He took a nibble no larger than the tip of his thumb.
Ideas flooded into his mind. Stories, novels, epics…
“PEN! PAPER! PLEASE!”
She laughed, and he heard the bells of Blaina, Cardiff and Wye chime gleefully.
“You cannot write in Avalon. It would not be fair. You will carry some of this essence with you when you return.”
“Should I eat more?”
“Of course! Finish your fruit until you are sated. We can watch the sun leave and the moon replace him.”
As she said this, the disc of the sun began rotating toward the west. Then the moon began rising from the eastern horizon. All the golden apples flew upward from the trees and chased after the sun.
In moments, the orchard was cast in the gray and white of a moonlit night. Silver apples began appearing on the branches.
The two chatted while the spectacle commenced and continued.
“I wish I could record all the thoughts I’m having.”
“You could not write swiftly enough.”
Time and words passed. The bookseller yawned.
“Pluck a silver apple, bookseller, and take a bite.”
He did as instructed, and a great weariness flowed into him. He sunk gently to the ground and sat staring silently at the muse.
“Dreamland, bookseller. Lay down and rest. All is safe here. I will return when the dawn begins.”
The bookseller slumped down and rested his head upon his arms.
Arganta removed her outer cloak and spread it gently over.
She turned, took one step into the air, then another, another and another and… until she disappeared into the heavens.
Bells Of RhymneyIdris Davies, 1938
Oh what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Is there hope for the future?
Cry the brown bells of Merthyr.
Who made the mine owner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda.
And who robbed the miner?
Cry the grim bells of Blaina.
They will plunder will-nilly,
Cry the bells of Caerphilly.
They have fangs, they have teeth,
Shout the loud bells of Neath.
Even God is uneasy,
Say the moist bells of Swansea.
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney.
Throw the vandals in court,
Say the bells of Newport.
All will be well if, if, if,
Cry the green bells of Cardiff.
Why so worried, sisters why?
Sang the silver bells of Wye.
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney?