It was Marcus’s turn to host our annual meeting, to which – it is a strict rule with us – partners are not invited. So I went alone to our family dinner, granted that we are not “family”, in the ordinary sense of the word. We are co-researchers, part of a respected community of scientists, though our sub-group of will lifters is less known. Our job is to lift people’s spirits, using sheer will (never with any will bending, of course, that is strictly off bounds), to help them find their way; so many people err…
Actually, I did a bit of erring myself, trying to find the house. Marcus had given us general directions – it was by the sea, on the edge of the highest cliff, it had been made visible for the occasion (it is of course invisible most of the time, so as not to attract unwelcome visitors) and we would be able to see it from afar… Not only had I never been to Marcus’s place, I also had no idea what it actually looked like and it took me hours to find it. But when the house appeared at last, I recognized it at once, thanks to the inscription of our logo in red and gold on the front wall: a picture of a woman spreading her arms like wings in a W shape and lifting two beings standing near her, seemingly through the intensity of her gaze.
I went through a lovely garden, that changed appearance three times in two minutes, for Marcus had developed a technique to have all sorts of vegetables, mushrooms, fruit and flowers appear in turn, with the only restriction, he had explained, that the plants be in season.
When the door opened on its own, I was too tired out to really look around me, so my first impression was not visual, but olfactory: there was a delicious smell of lavender and ylang-ylang floating around. Soon I had recuperated enough to notice that the carpet was pale blue and that all the furniture was cream, including the big armchair Marcus was sitting in. He did not stand up; he gave me one of his warm smiles, nodded first towards the door and then towards another armchair near the fire-place, into which I gratefully collapsed. Lifting my eyes, I was confused: how could the night have fallen so quickly? I was staring at a dark and starry, starry sky.
Marcus winked at me: “Enchanted ceiling!”
This reminded me of something I had read somewhere, but couldn’t remember what, for the life of me… But soon stopped caring about it: on the small coffee table at my feet, there were now two cups, a steaming tea-pot and a jug full of milk. Spelt bread and goat cheese materialized next, followed with pancakes with honey. Marcus gestured for me to help myself and said:
“I wanted to talk to you before the others arrived. You need to ascertain whether the Prince has been a victim of a mind control technique.”
Mind control? I knew that it was a scientific method that had been developed in the old days – one of the most powerful and sinister techniques when applied successfully, because it could place the victim completely under the experimenter's control. Only a person with exceptional mental and physical strength might be capable of resisting it.
“Of course, the so-called Prince might not be a Prince at all,” he continued without leaving me the opportunity to elaborate, “he might be truly evil, or an agent on a mission find out the truth about the…”
He stopped abruptly and added, after a considerable length of time:
“You will know the problem when you come across the solution…”
I gave up, sank into my comfortable, soft and furry armchair, that felt just like a giant teddy-bear, and disappeared to the world. When I regained consciousness – minutes, hours later? – I saw that all the guests had arrived. A dozen people were sitting around a big oblong table that was now in the middle of the living-room, covered with plates and glasses and several dishes of extremely tempting food. I got up, went up to the table, saying hello to everybody, and took the seat that had been left empty.
I found myself between two women whom I had never met before. The one on my left was young and very handsome, with long blond hair and green eyes – a bright piercing gaze (I was reminded of the Prince. But then, I sighed, everything and everyone reminded me of the Prince!) As she offered me a drink, and introduced herself and her companion – Mary and Christabel – I understood that she must the one working on the mysterious issue Marcus had alluded to and that I knew nothing about as yet. I had expected someone old, like Marcus. I realized that I had mistakenly assumed that knowledge and wisdom came with age. She seemed to know exactly what was in my mind, which made it worse… The older woman was her assistant.
As very often happens with these large gatherings, where you usually find you can only talk with your two immediate neighbors, straining to hear each other in the general noise, my conversation throughout the meal came to pass with the two of them and I had the distinct feeling that that was exactly what Marcus had planned. Mary told me about their research, but I noticed she was very careful about not giving any specific details. She said that they had asserted that discovering what had happened in the distant past truly mattered – although it was generally considered irrelevant, on top of being strictly forbidden. They felt that whatever happened over three thousand years ago was linked with the recent incomprehensible health problems. She told me about their findings so far. It was incredible, unbelievable, but as her story was unfolding, I felt quite sure that here was the truth at last, or at least a glimpse beyond the lies we had been fed all our lives. Now I had some idea of what had happened then, and why it was happening again in some parts of the world. Christabel, who had been very quiet, mostly listening to the young scientist and happily munching on whatever appeared in her plate, suddenly said to me:
“You need to locate the Hidden Castle”.
‘But it’s impossible!’
‘No, it’s not impossible, I’m sure you can find it.’
‘But the Hidden Castle is…’
‘Well, yes, obviously, she said with a wistful smile, but we’ve found new elements… and you are an orphan.’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘Come on, you know you are much better than average at picking up waves …’
By the time the plates full of cupcakes and mince pies had disappeared in mid-air just when I tried to put my hand on them, and coffee and alcohol substitutes had appeared in their stead, they had managed to convince me not only that that it was absolutely vital to hit upon the Hidden Castle, but also that I had the exact specific – albeit unusual – skills that would enable me to do so! At the time I felt I did not have a choice, they were so persuasive!
So in the spring of 3020 – yes, I know, this sounds like a long time ago for you –, I agreed to start on what they called a quest, just like in the ancient tales… Since they had absolutely no idea what direction I should take, they said they would give me a horse, as a fellow traveler, with whom they were sure I would have perfect understanding from the start, for his intelligence was great… They both said that we should travel for a few days rather aimlessly, just covering new ground, traveling together, getting to know each other…
This dinner had been worth it, I decided. What, with the brouhaha, the forbidden issues, the secrets, the forever shifting alliances and the fact that I had been convinced to do something I definitely did not want to do – but that seemed destined to change my life and other people’s in the end – well, it felt just like family…