My Darling Jocasta
How I miss you! It must be more than thirty years since we spent more than a couple of days apart. I woke up this morning longing to see you again, though its less than a week since we said our farewells. The flight was relatively uneventful; a little bumpy and I confess I had to seek solace from a teeny glass of whisky. I do hope you'll forgive me.
I hope you'll find it in your heart to forgive me something else too. The tale that I was flying to Kashmir was a little - in these days I hardly dare say white - a little lie. I flew to Murdac. I know that both the fact that I have deceived you and that I have returned to the land of my birth will strike horror in your veins, but I beg you to understand that I had to come back. I just have to find out the truth about Murdac before its too late.
Duessa met me at the airport. I still don't know how she got there, although, for a fragile woman of indeterminate years, probably more than ninety, she is amazingly agile. I hired a car and together we drove to her cottage on the edge of the forest of Murdac for my first visit since childhood.
It was exactly as I remembered it: dark, mysterious, broody, even more isolated now that I'm old enough to appreciate it. We passed a few people on the road, drab, grey people who turned their eyes away yet still, from inside, watched us.
Duessa, on the other hand, always uses her eyes to look one straight in the eye. My father, rest his soul, used to say she could read the runes at the back of one's brain on the blackest of nights, that she knew secrets that nobody else in then village did - like what it meant if you saw a rabbit hicupping the night of the full moon. My mother told me that the reason he only lived to be 101 (when his father had reached 112) as because he had tripped over Duessa's cat when drunk. "She's a woman to be wary of," she had told me, "especially if you want to come home without growing an extra ear on the way. She can turn milk sour just by scratching the end of her nose."
This woman whom I'd grown up to think of as a witch lit the log fire while I perched on the edge of her rank, rickety bed. Flakes of snow began to scour the window, like ice-cold eyes come to see who had dared step foot in Duessa's cottage. It was full of strange and interesting objects: glass apparatus billowing noxious vapours; a stuffed platypus; icosohedral prisms; many other curios. A cockroach would have scurried between my toes had I not been warming them above the now blazing fire.
Duessa was muttering incoherently to herself, busily looking for something. The only sign of her immense age, I observed, was this tendency to talk to one as if she was talking to herself: "This one looks brighter than the last," is what I thought I heard her mumble. "It is time that the quest were done. The wizard needs help. But as for the manticore..."
These were the fragments that I heard, my darling Jocasta, as the old woman returned with a teapot. I'm telling you this exactly as it happened, like a story, for even though this is only the beginning, and even though it is happening to me, I don't really want to believe it.
"So you think I'm a witch?" she said. It wasn't a question, just something she said to the fire, to the teapot, perhaps to me. Just as I was wondering what to say in reply, and whether or not it was safe to accept what I thought was her gestured offer of a cuppa, she flooded the hearth with the contents of the pot and gazed at them raptly.
"If you want to find out the secrets of Murdac -" she began, gazing at the tea leaves swarming in the hearth, giving them a loose-toothed smile, as if she'd said something and seen something that pleased her after all these years. She began to utter instructions, which I repeat here in case anything should happen to me. If it should, I want you to ask Jonathan to continue the quest. He's a good lad, despite the clothes he wears, with an adventurous soul and a warm, brave heart. I hope he's enjoying England.
"You go down a certain path at midnight on Halloween," she said. "You go down it until you come to a clearing. You draw a pentacle, and stand within it. You shout PANGORY PANTHRODULAM -" She repeated these words thrice, as if they had some powerful significance. I repeated them to her, struggling to get the same intonation, images coming to my mind that getting it wrong might mean death by rotting in some gloomy dungeon for ten thousand aeons, tormented by creatures from the lower planes. "It be fearful," she went on, her rasping, ancient voice just barely audible above the cackling fire. "Ye certainly tremble. The trees move around you. You see a path that stretches for miles. You take it, and the trees link arms behind you. There be hours of tireless trudging until you come across a beautifully laid-out garden and a small stone hut."
For some reason, mention of that hut made me sit up straight, cold sweat drenching my brow. Duessa continued to ignore me, dipping a skeletal finger into the tea leaves. She shoved some of the content into the corner of her dribbling mouth.
"Ogres," Duessa added, her voice fading, drifting up the chimney like a spirit leaving a dying man. "And the cannibals," she mumbled. "And the Old Man of the Sea..." I hoped that she was just falling asleep, for there was one last thing I wanted her to do.
She was. With that Duessa began to snore, her near-transparent, bony skull resting on her flat, heaving chest.
She's been asleep for over an hour, my darling Jocasta, while I've been composing this letter to you. I'm leaving now to explore Murdac in the way she described. I shall leave a note beside Duessa, asking her to post this letter to you. I hope you'll find it in your heart to forgive me for misleading you about my destination.
Give my love to Jonathan. And don't worry. We'll be together again soon. My fondest Love and Deep Affection.
Your Ever-Loving Husband,
Keyword MURDAC Hints Hint ALTERNATIVE How do I get out of the alternate universe? 21 UNIVERSE ASTROLOGER'S What can I do in the Astrologer's Sanctum? 25 SANCTUM Why does a voice sneer at me in the Astrologer's 51 Sanctum? BLACK HOLE How do I get out of the black hole area? 18 What happens to objects I drop in the black hole? 19 How do I recover objects dropped in the black hole 20 area? CANNIBALS How do I avoid being eaten by the cannibals? 37 CENTAUR How do I get past the centaur? 26 CHIMERA What can I do in the room with the chimera? 31 DARK How do I see in the dark? 50 DAUGHTER How do I befriend the Wizard's daughter? 40 DAUGHTER How do I rescue the Wizard's daughter? 42 FINAL REGION How do I get out of the final region? 49 FOOTPRINTS Who made the footprints on the beach? 17 GEYSER How do I avoid being scalded? 34 GNOEVAL What does GNOEVAL mean? 32 GRAVE What use is the grave? 4 GRAVE What use is the message on the tombstone? 5 HAUNTED How do I navigate safely through the haunted 44 HOUSE house? HOUSE How do I get into the hut? 8 HUT How do I get into the hut? 8 ISLAND How do I get to the island? 36 ISLAND How do I return from the island? 39 KEEP How do I get out of the keep safely? 47 How do I get objects out of the keep? 48 LAKE What use is the lake? 7 LAMP How do I turn on the lamp? 10 How do I turn off the lamp? 10 How do I see in the dark? 50 LION How do I calm the lion? 33 MANTICORE What is a manticore? 28 How do I avoid the effects of the manticore's 29 poison? MONKEY Is there any other way out of the monkey puzzle 30 room? MONSTER How do I re-animate the monster? 12 How do I stop the monster from dying? 13 How do I stop the monster from killing me? 14 What use is the monster? 15 OGRES How do I get past the ogres' wall? 1 How do I get back from beyond the ogres' wall? 2 How do I stop ogres from attacking me? 9 OLD MAN OF How can I avoid being strangled? 35 THE SEA OOZELUMNY What does OOZELUMNY mean? 22 What does OOZELUMNY DO? 23 PIGEON How do I get hold of the pigeon? 24 PLATFORM How do I move along the platform? 45 How do I get off the platform? 46 POLTERGEIST How do I avoid being killed by the poltergeist? 43 POOL What can I do at the pool? 27 SANDPIT What use is the sandpit? 6 SCORPIONS How do I avoid being stung by scorpions? 38 SCROLL How do I read the scroll safely? 52 SHAWM What is a shawm? 3 TIDAL WAVE Why do I get killed by a tidal wave? 54 TOAD How do I pick up the toad without harming it? 16 TOMBSTONE What use is the message on the tombstone? 5 TREASURE Where should I keep my treasure? 56 TREMOR Why is there an earch tremor? 53 TROLL How do I get past the troll twice? 41 WALL How do I get past the ogres' wall? 1 How do I get back from beyond the ogres' wall? 2 WIRES How do I cross the wires safely? 11