Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chapter Thirty-Nine

"Are you sure my father went this way?" asks Pinocchio.

"Yes, yes, of course," lies the Lion. "I can smell him. But keep your voice down. We must be careful."

The great scarred head of the Lion looks up and down the deserted streets and cautiously sniffs the air. The creatures are nearby, lurking in their dwellings, but that’s what he's come to expect in this city of the dead. Already, a cluster are slowly following them.

However, the unmistakable scent of magic burns in the Lion's nostrils – a sure sign they are nearing another Doorway.

"This way." He quickens his silent pace, ignoring the pain from the hard, unyielding streets.

"It's just that..." begins Pinocchio, and the Lion tries to shush him with a slight growl. It goes ignored. "We keep passing all these Doors," the boy finishes in a louder voice. "How do you know he didn't go through any of them?"

The Lion forces himself to count to ten, and then answers calmly. "As I told you, I can smell him. And I assure you, he passed these Doorways, probably in a vain attempt to find you."

After looking behind them, he continues: "This would all be much simpler if you could read the messages he left for you." Indeed, it was fortunate to discover words painted on several Doorways and walls throughout the city, and so easily believable that the child's father had written them. "But since you decided to be a disobedient child and not go to school, it will be all that much harder for us."

The little puppet looks shamefully away. He knows it's all his fault.

The Lion waits silently - so that the guilt can fester for a moment - before giving a word of encouragement. "But do not worry, my friend. I'm sure we'll find him... sooner or later."

"Do you promise?" asks Pinocchio.

"Of course," lies the Lion. But it isn't the boy's father that he is looking for.

He detects more smells - perfumed aromas, the likes of which he'd never encountered in the Wildlands - but they cannot mask the magic of a nearby Doorway, or the decay of the dead.

"We've arrived," says the Lion.

"Ooh," says Pinocchio. "It's a garden."

Walled on four sides, a metal gate protecting it from the dead, the little plot of land might prove a secure place to stay were it not for the powerful competing smells. The little puppet eases through the iron bars and wades through the wild-growing flowers. He bends to pick one, but is interrupted by a hiss from the Lion.

"Find the Door!" He doesn't like standing in the open like this, and after determining the garden to be isolated, he leaps over the brick wall and strides after Pinocchio.

The boy looks thoughtfully at an elegant wooden door, seemingly leading to nowhere. Around its edge is carved a pattern of roses, and words, the mysterious words of men, are chiseled into its center.

“What does it say?" asks the Lion immediately, though he knows the answer.

Averting his eyes, Pinocchio says, “I don't know. I can’t read it.” Quickly, he adds, ”It might be in another language.” His nose twitches slightly.

The Lion stops the growl in his throat. “Well, we can’t leave here for the time being. There are too many of them outside."

“I know. I’m sorry.”

"You were walking too loudly."

"I know. I tried, but... it's hard."

The Lion sighs heavily, so that Pinocchio will understand what a burden he is.

"I could tell you a story in the meantime," the puppet offers.

“Perhaps later. Can you at least tell me what letters those are? Not that I expect anything to come of it, but we can’t keep searching until those things depart.”

Pinocchio squints at the letters in the door in the hopes they'll become legible. He recognizes some of them - he learned the alphabet from his father - but he had never practiced much.

“B?” He finally ventures.

A slight tremor goes through the Lion’s mane. “And the next?”

“That’s an E.” Of this, Pinocchio is certain... somewhat. There’s an E in his father's name.

“After that?”

“There's two of the same letter... It’s either an I or an L.”

“L?” says the Lion. He pronounces the word carefully. “Elle? Elle?”

“Yes,” agrees Pinocchio. This seems to be the answer that will make the Lion happy. “Yes, I think so.” His nose twitches again.

The Lion's yellow fangs peek through. He is smiling.

“Pinocchio, my dear friend, I think this is it. I believe your father went through here.”

And together, they walk through the doorway marked Belle et la BĂȘte.