The Magician King Page 28

But when Quentin actually showed Josh where it was on a map, way down at the southwestern tip of England, Josh redoubled his swearing—that shit’s practically next door! it’s in Europe—and went into a very technically sophisticated disquisition on lines of magnetic force and astral folding. It really was time Quentin got out of the habit of underestimating him.

Poppy said she wanted to come too.

“I’ve never been to Cornwall,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to meet a native speaker.”

“Of English?” Josh said. “Because you know, I can probably introduce you.”

“Of Cornish, jackass. It’s a Brythonic language. Meaning it’s indigenous to Britain, like Welsh and Breton. And Pictish. Before everything was polluted by the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. There’s tons of power in those old languages. Cornish died out a couple hundred years ago, but there’s a big revival happening now. Where are we going exactly?”

They were still sitting around the breakfast table, which over the course of the morning had become the lunch table. Espresso cups and wobbly towers of plates and silverware had been transferred to the floor to make room for a massive atlas Josh retrieved from the library, along with the Fillory books and a biography of Christopher Plover.

“It’s called Fowey,” Quentin said. “It’s on the south coast.”

“Hm,” Poppy said. She put a fingertip on the map. “We could come in through Penzance. It’s a couple of hours’ drive from there, tops.”

“Penzance?” Josh said. “Like as in the pirates of? Since when is that a real place?”

“See, okay, I want to say something about this,” Poppy said. She pushed the atlas away and sat back in her chair. “If I could have the floor for just a moment. Yes, Penzance is a real place. It’s a town. It’s in Cornwall. And it’s real, as in it exists on Earth. You’re all so obsessed with other worlds, you’re so convinced that this one is crap and everywhere else is great, but you’ve never bothered to figure out what’s going on here! I mean, forget Penzance, Tintagel is real!”

“Is that—didn’t King Arthur live there?” Quentin said weakly.

“King Arthur lived in Camelot. But he was conceived at Tintagel, supposedly. It’s a castle in Cornwall.”

“Fuck it,” Josh said. “Poppy’s right, let’s go there.”

It was amazing. Quentin had never met a magician like Poppy. How could someone so utterly literal-minded, so resolutely uninterested in anything beyond mundane reality, work magic?

“Yes, but you see,” he said, “the fact is, King Arthur probably wasn’t conceived at Tintagel. Because he probably didn’t exist. Or if he did exist he was probably some depressing Pictish warlord who was always killing people and breaking them on the wheel and raping their widows. He probably died of the plague at thirty-two. See, that’s my problem with this world, if you really want to know. I’m pretty sure that when you say that King Arthur was ‘real,’ you don’t mean King Arthur like in the books. You don’t actually mean the good King Arthur.

“Whereas, in Fillory—and feel free to find this hilarious, Poppy, but it’s true—there are actual real kings who aren’t bullshit. And I’m one of them. Plus there are unicorns and pegasi and elves and dwarves and all that.”

He could have added that some very bad things were real in Fillory that weren’t real here. But that wouldn’t have strengthened his argument.

“There are not elves,” Julia said.

“Whatever! That’s not the point! The point is, I could pretend I don’t have a choice, and just live here my whole life. I could even go live in Tintagel. But I do have a choice, and I only have one life, and if it’s all right with you I’m going to spend it in Fillory, in my castle, chilling with dwarves and sleeping on pegasus feathers.”

“Because it’s easier,” Poppy said. “And why not do the easiest possible thing? Because isn’t that always the best thing?”

“Yes, why not? Why not?”

Quentin had absolutely no idea why Poppy aggravated him so much, and so efficiently, with such great precision. And he didn’t know why he sounded so much like Benedict right now either.

“All right already,” Josh said. “Stop. You live here. You live in Fillory. Everybody’s happy.”

“Sure,” Poppy chirped.

God, Quentin thought. It’s like Janet all over again.

They assembled two hours later in the narrow street behind the palazzo. The building was too heavily warded to cast a portal inside it.

“I thought maybe we could do it down there.” Josh peered doubtfully down the street. “There’s one of those tiny Venetian micro-alleys down there. Nobody ever uses it.”

Nobody else had a better suggestion. Quentin felt shifty—it was like they were looking for a place to shoot up, or have sex outside. Josh led them twenty yards down the street, which itself wasn’t much more than an alley, then cut left into a gap between buildings. There was barely room for two people to walk next to each other. At the end of the alley was a bright ribbon of water and sunlight: the Grand Canal. It was deserted, but Josh hadn’t been completely right about nobody ever using the alley, because somebody had definitely used it as a urinal not too long ago.

It reminded Quentin of when he used to catch a portal back to Brakebills at the end of summer. Usually they’d send him down some random local alley and put the portal at the end. The thought of it ignited a hot coal of nostalgia in his chest, for a time when he didn’t know better.

“Let me just see how much of this I remember . . .”

Josh pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket, on which he’d scribbled neat columns of coordinates and vectors. Poppy, who was taller than him, kibitzed over his shoulder.

“See, it’s not direct,” he said, “but there’s a junction you can use, it’s out in the English Channel somewhere.”

“Why don’t you go through Belfast?” Poppy said. “Everybody does. Then you double back south. It’s actually shorter in astral geometry.”

“Nah, nah.” Josh squinted at his writing. “This is way more elegant. You’ll see.”

“I’m just saying, if you miss the junction and we go in the water, it’s a long swim to Guernsey . . .”

Josh stuffed the paper in his back pocket and squared off into his spellcasting stance. He spoke the words quietly and clearly, without hurrying. With a lot more confidence than Quentin ever remembered him having, he made a series of symmetrical movements with his arms, shifting his fingers rapidly through different positions. Then he squared his shoulders, bent his knees, and hooked his fingers firmly underhand into the air, like he was preparing to haul open an especially heavy garage door.

Sparks flew. Poppy yipped in surprise and stepped back in a hurry. Josh straightened his back and heaved upward. Reality cracked, and the crack slowly widened revealing behind it something else—green grass and brighter, whiter sunlight. When the portal was halfway open Josh stopped and shook out his hands, which smoked. He outlined the top of the doorway with his fingers, then the sides—one side wasn’t quite straight, and he accidentally snipped off some of the alley wall. Then he got under it again and pulled and pushed it open the rest of the way.

Quentin kept glancing at the mouth of the alley while all this was going on. He heard voices, but nobody walked by. Josh stopped to check his work. Now in the middle of the bright Venetian afternoon there stood a rectangle of cooler, somehow higher-definition English noon. Josh bunched his sleeve in his fist and rubbed off a last smudge of Venice.

“All right?” he said. “Pretty good?” His pants were scored with pinhole burns from the sparks.

Everyone had to admit it looked pretty good.

They stepped through, one by one, gingerly—the bottom of the doorway wasn’t quite flush with the pavement, and you could shear off toes on the edge if you weren’t careful. But the connection was tight, with no sensation as you went through. It was a totally other level of workmanship, Quentin thought with satisfaction, from the crude portals they’d gone through between the safe houses.

They had skipped Penzance after all, as well as Belfast: Josh brought them out in a public park not far from the center of Fowey. This kind of precision over that much distance hadn’t been possible even a few years ago, but Google Street View was an absolute boon to the art and craft of creating long-distance portals. Josh went through last and scrubbed it out behind them.

Quentin didn’t think he’d ever seen anywhere as quintessentially English-looking as Fowey. Or maybe he meant Cornish-looking, he wasn’t sure what the difference was. Poppy would know. Either way it was a small town at the mouth of a river that was also called Fowey, and Beatrix Potter could have drawn it. The air was cool and fresh after the summer fug of Venice. The streets were narrow and winding and shinsplintingly steep. The sheer volume of floral window boxes overhead almost blocked out the sun.

At the little office of tourism in the center of town they learned that the various Foweys were all pronounced “Foy,” and that even aside from Christopher Plover the town was something of a hotbed of fictional settings. Manderley from Rebecca was supposed to be nearby, as was Toad Hall from The Wind in the Willows. Plover’s house was a few miles out of town. The National Trust owned it now; it was enormous, and some days it was open to tourists. The Chatwins’ house was privately owned, and not on any tourist maps, but it couldn’t be far away. According to legend, and all the biographies, it abutted Plover’s property directly.

They sat on a bench in the thin English sunlight, like clarified butter, while Poppy went off to rent a car—she was the only one of them who carried the full complement of valid IDs and credit cards. (When Julia pointed out that she could have stolen one just as easily, Poppy looked at her with wordless horror.) She returned in a peppy silver Jag—who would have thought you could even get one out here in Smurftown? she said. They knocked back a pub lunch and set out.

It was Quentin’s first time in England, and he was amazed. Once they got up the coastal slope and out of town, out into the lumpy, uneven pastures dotted with sheep and stitched together with dense dark hedges, it looked more like Fillory than he’d thought anywhere on Earth could. Even more than Venice. Why hadn’t anybody told him? Except of course they had, and he hadn’t believed them. Poppy, in the driver’s seat, grinned at him via the rearview mirror as if to say, see?

Maybe she was right, he hadn’t given this world enough credit. Zipping along the narrow highways and shady lanes of rural Cornwall, the four of them could have been regular people, civilians, and would they have been any less happy? Even without magic they had the grass and that blessed country solitude and the sun flickering past between the branches and the solace of an expensive car that somebody else was paying for. What kind of an asshole wouldn’t be satisfied with that? For the first time in his life Quentin seriously considered the idea that he could be happy without Fillory—not just resigned, but happy.

They were certainly as close to Fillory as you could get on Earth. They were closing in on the Chatwins’ house. Even the place names sounded Fillorian: Tywardreath, Castle Dore, Lostwithiel. It was as if the green landscape of Fillory was hidden right behind this one, and this was a thin place, where the other world showed through.

Cornwall was certainly having a good effect on Julia. She was almost lively. She was the only one of them with the gift of not getting carsick while she read, so as they drove she paged through the Fillory books, applying stickies to certain passages, reading others out loud. She was compiling a list of all the different ways the children had gotten through: a practical traveler’s guide to leaving this world behind.

“In The World in the Walls Martin gets in through the grandfather clock, and so does Fiona. In the second one Rupert gets in from his school, so that does not help us, and I believe Helen does too, but I cannot find it. In The Flying Forest they get in by climbing a tree. That might be our best bet.”

“We wouldn’t have to break into the house,” Quentin said. “And we could all fit.”

“Exactly. And in The Secret Sea they ride a magic bicycle, so let us keep an eye out for that. Maybe there is a garage or a shed with old things in it.”

“You realize the fans have probably picked this place clean like years ago,” Josh said. “We can’t be the first people to think of this.”

“Then in The Wandering Dune Helen and Jane are painting in a meadow somewhere nearby. Which seems like a long shot, but if we have to we can go back to Fowey for art supplies. And that is it.”

“It’s not quite it.” Sorry, but nobody one-upped Quentin on Fillory trivia, not even Julia. “Martin gets back in in The Flying Forest, at the end, though Plover doesn’t say how he did it. And there’s a book you’re missing, The Magicians, which is Jane’s book about how she went back to Fillory to find Martin. She used the magic buttons to get in, which she found in the well, where Helen threw a whole box of them. Jane only used one to get back, so there may be more lying around.”

Julia turned around in her seat.

“How do you know that?”

“I met her. Jane Chatwin. It was in Fillory. I was getting better from my injuries after we fought Martin. After Alice died.”

There was silence in the car, broken by the ticking of the turn signal as Poppy took a fork in the road. Julia studied him with those empty, unreadable eyes.

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