The strangest thing about the Castle in the Lake is watching it rise out of the lake, water streaming from its battlements.
Hyacinth and I were standing by the side of the lake. We had gotten there the same way I seemed to get anywhere when I was traveling with Mrs. Moth or Miss Gray or Hyacinth: we would walk through a door and suddenly we would be someplace other than where I had seen through that door. Once, I asked Miss Gray how it worked.
“Every threshold is every other threshold,” she said, which explained nothing.
Hyacinth had come up to my room and said, “Thea, you might want to bring a jacket.”
I had said, “You mean Miss Gray says it’s all right for me to go?”
“Yes,” she had said. “She did some research, and she’s almost certain it will not rupture time.”
“Almost certain?” I had said. But I had pulled on my jacket.
We had gone to the kitchen door, opened it, and walked through. To the lake shore.
It looked rather like one of those lakes in Switzerland, large and blue, surrounded by hills covered with pine trees and then mountains capped in snow. It looked like a picture on a postcard.
Hyacinth took out her phone. “I’m just going to let her know we’re here.” She dialed, and I could hear a series of chimes on the other end. “Vivian? We’re here. Can you let us in?”
That was when the castle rose from the lake. As it rose, water streaming and throwing off rainbows in every direction, a drawbridge extended itself to the shore. When the castle had risen fully, the drawbridge touched the shore directly in front of us, lying on the grass by our feet.
We walked across. Once, I looked down and saw a large serpent swimming in the lake beneath us. It looked like a dragon without wings.
Under the portcullis, a woman was waiting. She had long white hair in a braid down her back, and she was dressed in a smock covered with splotches of paint and faded jeans.
“Hyacinth!” she said. “I haven’t seen you in ages.” She took Hyacinth’s face in her hands and kissed her on both cheeks. Then she said, “Thea, it’s very nice to meet you. Come in, I’ll just finish up and then we’ll have some lunch.”
We followed her through the courtyard, into a doorway and up a flight of stairs. The castle was made of gray stone and looked as though it must have been standing for a thousand years. Unless we were a thousand years ago? You never knew, when you traveled with someone like Hyacinth.
At the top of the tower was a room filled with light, coming through large windows. In it were an easel, a table with paints scattered over it, brushes in jars. There were paintings leaning against the wall, most of them turned toward the wall but I saw one of the Castle in the Lake. I don’t know all that much about art, but I could tell it was good. I mean, it looked real without looking too real, you know?
The painting on the easel was of a man in a tree. Him, of course. Eyes closed, pale as death.
The Lady of the Lake picked up a brush she must have put down before letting us in. She added some touches of brownish black to the leaves, creating shadows. While we waited, I wandered around. Out the windows, I could see the hills and mountains, and below us the lake. I wondered what happened when the castle sank into it. Was the interior sealed by some sort of magic? I supposed it must be.
“All right, that does it for today,” said the Lady, putting her brush in a jar filled with some sort of clear fluid. “Let’s have some lunch. I think it’s time for Thea to meet Gwen.”
“Who’s Gwen?” I asked. But they were already going down the stairs ahead of me. One of the problems with people like Hyacinth and Miss Gray and the Lady of the Lake is that they only answer questions when they want to. I think it’s one of their most annoying traits.