I've been meeting again with the Emperor of Enchantment in a certain quarter of the imaginal realm, somewhere beyond the swamp of half-forgotten dreams but a far journey from the scholar-city of Anamnesis. He shows himself without ostentation, in a smoke colored burnoose like a man of the desert, sometimes riding a mighty smoke-colored horse.
I first met him in a busy open air market alive with flashing colors and the rich aromas of cardomam, coffee and jasmine. I was drawn at first, naturally, to the alley of the old book dealers. The billowing white canopies above their stalls recalled my boyhood sessions reading under the sheets with a flashlight after my mother had issued firm instructions to go to sleep. I thought I might find a rare volume that has long eluded me, a chronicle from an eastern kingdom, known to Marco Polo, that is said to contain the true story of the Magi. That book eluded me, but I was delighted to rediscover a companion of my youth, a tale in which the hero can only get to the object of his desire by enchanting the guardians of a magic apple orchard by making up stories.
I walked on, down the alley of the bird-sellers. The best of them had no need for cages. They displayed their birds on golden flowering bushes from which the birds had no desire to fly away until the right person appeared.
I came to a humble section of the market. The stalls seemed to be devoted to items rescued from attics and garages, broken toys and disheveled dolls. Nonetheless, I was drawn to a stand where the dealer had spread his wares on a rug on the ground. There was something familiar about a knight in armor whose horse was missing one leg. He was the old kind of lead soldier you don't find anymore, now they make toy soldiers out or pewter and plastic. A scene hovered before me like a mirage floating out of a heat haze, of a set of these knights, mounted and foot, on a tray table over a hospital bed, where a sick boy was too weak to avoid spilling them, one by one, to break on the floor.
I squatted down to inspect the lead knight more closely. Then he appeared, cloaked to the eyes in his smoke-colored garment. His eyes glowed black as coals. His presence was eerie and unsettling, but fascinating. He indicated that I should inspect all the contents of the stall very carefully. I could take any item I chose, but I should choose wisely because each item opened a different door. I studied a little pair of opera glasses wrapped in mother-of-pearl, a hand-me-down from my great-aunt the opera singer. I remembered using these glasses at a matinee when I was possibly ten years old, to get a better look at the pretty girl leading the Mickey Mouse Club songs. There were many things. A teddy bear, a strange ring, a cardboard periscope, a miniature chess set, a spaceman's gun.
I picked up the knight whose horse had a broken leg. Instantly I heard the stirring and snorting and stamping of great horses. Beyond the market, beyond a high wall I had not noticed until now, was some kind of stables. There was no gate in the wall, but as I hurried towards it, with my boyhood toy in my hand, the wall opened and a great horse with a star on its forehead trotted out to meet me.
This was the start of my adventures in the Empire of Enchantment. There is something you should know about it right now. It is easier to get in than to get out. That is why some parts of you - a Lost Girl or a Lost Boy or a Lost Traveler among the Mountains of the Moon - may be living there, gone from you for longer than you remembered until now.
[to be continued]