Polychrome – Chapter 03
It does make sense, in a way, Polychrome thought to herself as she studied the man who had recognized her. The prophecies may be vague, but there is quite a bit in there about the lack of certainty of success, about the hero having to find himself.
She felt a slight chill that had nothing to do with her usual need for warmth, a chill running through her heart. And a lot about the possible paths of failure, starting with the first day we meet.
He wasn’t all that bad-looking, she supposed. A bit too heavy, hair unfortunately retreating – though not nearly so much as the poor Wizard’s, which had effectively given up the fight except at the perimeter of his head – but under that a square jaw, some solidity to the shoulders. The face looked nice – some small worry lines, but it looked like his face creased more often in smiles. Behind the rather thick glasses in bright silver frames, the eyes that occasionally glanced at her but were focused mostly on directing the course of this strange vehicle were a clear blue. But he was a rather great deal older than she had expected. Most people who found their way to Faerie were young; the few older ones had some connection to Faerie before they arrived – even the Wizard, though he had never guessed it; the Shaggy Man had his Love Magnet, and the other older people she knew of had been brought there in the company of, or due to the actions of, younger people.
But from what her father had said, it was utterly impossible that this man had any connection with Faerie. He couldn’t, or all their hopes would be for nothing.
Seeing that they were now moving (at a very impressive speed) steadily along some very wide roadway, she decided it should be safe to speak. “And now that we are safely away, sir, may I have your name?”
At her voice, she saw a paradox of expression; a smile, yet a tenseness, almost of fear; but she didn’t think he was afraid of her – no man she’d ever known was, unless she meant them to be. “My name is Erik Medon, Lady Polychrome.” He spoke formally, his gaze flicking to her face and then away. He’s making a very great effort, now that I think of it, to look nowhere else. Well, he’s trying to be a gentleman, even if it seems that this is rare here.
“Just Polychrome, if I may call you Erik,” she said with a small laugh. Yes, the laugh was right. Worries are not my province nor things to concern a Faerie.
“Please do… Polychrome.”
She heard the echo in his voice of the same disbelieving joy that had filled it when first he spoke her name. I like that. “Thank you for your timely arrival, Erik. I am not sure I liked the looks of all those people.” How to bring us to the right discussion… I need to understand him. But there is so little time here!
He chuckled and his smile looked more natural. “Mobs are not comfortable things to be around, and people don’t always react well to things they don’t understand,” he said, tacitly agreeing. “But, if you’ll pardon me for jumping straight to the point, you said you needed to speak with me. And you seemed to be expecting someone when I spoke, though – obviously – you weren’t expecting me.”
Well, that solves that problem. Polychrome nodded. “I was expecting you, actually… I just didn’t have any idea who you were.”
He frowned in thought for a moment, and then his brow cleared. “I see. You were following a prophecy.”
That startled her. “Well-thought, Erik! You have hit exactly upon it!”
Another surprise was the slight blush that touched his cheeks at the compliment. “Oh, that didn’t take much thinking. Seen the scenario enough in the books I’ve read. You came here with the knowledge that you needed to meet someone at a particular place… hmm… and obviously it had to be whoever it was that first recognized you, since as soon as I spoke your name you knew it had to be me.” The vehicle was crossing over a very high bridge now, and she looked down from a dizzying height at a great brown river below. Erik continued, “So… what is it you need to find me for? And of course the other question is, when am I going to wake up?”
“As to the second, you are very much awake right now. Is magic and faerie so much forgotten now that you think this could only be in a dream?”
“Forgotten? As far as people today are concerned, there never was such a thing. The few people who do believe in magic… well, they believe in something very different from anything even vaguely like the Faerie of Oz, and nowhere is there any real evidence it ever existed. To be honest… even the Oz books themselves are fading from most people’s memory. Most people who know the word associate it with a single movie that wasn’t even an accurate adaptation of the book.”
He turned them onto a ramp leading to another street. “And as far as the world I know is concerned, the Oz stories were just that, stories, no connection to any reality. With you here, of course, I now know that isn’t at all true. Baum, and possibly Neill, had to know something about the reality of Faerie. Assuming I’m not dreaming this whole thing, which is something that I am hoping is not true with a desperation you could not even begin to imagine.”
The intensity of the last words demanded a reassurance, and she laughed. “You are not dreaming, Erik Medon, and there will be no awakening to a world in which you have not met me in that strange black field of horseless carriages. Although,” she continued, more soberly, “you may well come to wish that you would awaken, for in the end this may be more nightmare than dream to you.”
“Having met you and learned that Faerie is real?” Now he laughed, loudly, a cheerful, free sound that seemed to lighten the air around her. “Polychrome, that would take something much darker than I can imagine.” He turned the wheel and brought the vehicle to a stop in a driveway next to a small white house. “And I can imagine quite a bit.” The last part sounded almost as though he was quoting something.
Erik came around to open the door and hand her out – though in a way that showed he was utterly unused to this sort of formality or courtesy. “Thank you, Erik. So this is your home?”
He nodded, looking slightly worried. “Um, realize that I live here alone, so, well, I don’t keep things very neat most of the time. Okay, just about any of the time.”
This was something of an understatement, she found, as the door opened and he turned on what appeared to be electric lights. The rooms were cluttered, mostly with books and papers piled here and there. It wasn’t, as she’d momentarily feared, a place of unhealthy litter, and as she wandered, dancing idly, through the various rooms, she suddenly recognized it as the same kind of disorganized, omnipresent clutter she’d seen in the Wizard’s private rooms on occasion, or those of other men of education and no family; the sign of a thoughtful man, though not a very organized one. Maybe the mess… isn’t a bad sign, she thought. He reads a great deal; he thinks and writes, I can see. His mind is quick. Maybe…
He blocked her entry to one room. “Definitely not.”
She giggled. “Ah, your own room. Fear not, I will not invade such a secret lair.” She danced back to what was clearly the sitting or living room; he stepped ahead of her and removed several stacks of books from a large overstuffed chair.
“Now that we’re here, Polychrome…” he said slowly, watching her sit (and still clearly keeping his eyes locked on her face, though she suspected that he had not managed such a trick while following her), “what brings you here?”
“Well…” To her surprise, for a moment Polychrome found herself speechless. How in the world do I begin?
Surprisingly, he seemed to understand. “Let me see if I can help a little,” he said. “You know I’ve read the Oz books – how else could I have known who you were? – but realize, I’m not so naïve as to believe that every detail in those books is accurate. My guess is that Baum toned some things way down – because they were children’s’ books – and a lot of other things got tweaked either for the sake of a story, or to fit his own beliefs. So don’t worry about shocking me with facts that don’t fit those books.” He stepped towards the kitchen. “I know you don’t eat much at all, but I need to grab me something.”
I just don’t know how to start. She looked at the faint shadows moving as he rummaged through the… refrigerator?… that seemed to store a lot of food. Especially when I have to eventually get to the part where I tell him…
But that wasn’t something to dwell on. When she got to that part she’d just have to go straight through and say it before she lost her nerve. Which wasn’t at all usual with her, but then, this whole thing was… very unusual.
As he came back in, eating a rather thick sandwich of some sort, she decided abruptly that it was best to go straight to the heart of things. “Oz has been destroyed.”
With a comical widening of the eyes, Erik gasped. This was unfortunate as he also had a large bite of sandwich in his mouth at the time. He gagged, tried to speak, and in a panic Polychrome ran over, pounding him on the back. Oh, by the Seven Hues, what could I tell father? “I’m sorry, I accidentally made our hero choke himself to death”??
Suddenly the food dislodged, he swallowed and took a deep breath that had a strange whistling undertone. “‘Sokay, okay,” he said, waving her back. From his pocket he took a yellow, shiny object shaped something like the letter “L” and stuck one end in his mouth, pressing with the other; there was a quick hiss and he inhaled, then held his breath for a few seconds. “Sorry,” he said finally, “that kind of thing sometimes triggers an attack. Asthma,” he said, as she shot him a questioning gaze. “My lungs don’t always like to do their job and will choke up on me.” He shook his head, then sat down in a nearby, smaller chair. “What exactly do you mean, Oz is destroyed?”
“The land itself is still there.” She tried to find the right words. “But it is no longer the Oz you have read of – even allowing for what those books did not tell you.”
He had an odd smile for a moment as she spoke, then his expression grew more serious. “Was this a… natural change, for want of a better word?”
To her own surprise, she found herself hesitating. She knew that it hadn’t been natural in any sense of the word… yet he clearly had a very good reason for asking… and a part of her felt that there might be something important behind that question, something her father might have understood better than she. But she shook her head. “No. Conquest. And you need to realize that Oz… is the center of Faerie. Those who hold it are more powerful than the rest, and the condition of Oz can affect the rest of us. And perhaps rebound upon your own people.”
The blue eyes narrowed as he nodded his head, and for a moment she saw a strategist, leaning over a map. “Or, perhaps, what is done here rebounds upon your own.”
That… is not far from something Father said. “There are… connections between our worlds, according to my Father. So… you may be right.”
“Okay, Polychrome.” He spoke with a new tone, someone listening to a problem and looking for understanding. “Start from the beginning. Tell me how it happened, who was responsible, and then how I come into all this.”
Maybe… maybe he can help. She drew a deep breath. “It began when there were… thefts…”