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Sally’s mum noticed that the digital clock on the oven was reading 17.59. She liked to hear the evening news on the radio while she prepared dinner, and she reached over to switch it on. She heard the six time pips and the announcer, with smooth tones, read the headlines:
“Several thousand people in the City of Oxford have temporarily lost consciousness. Emergency services have been overwhelmed by numerous traffic accidents and outbreaks of fire. Officials say they are mystified by the occurrence and are yet to find any credible explanation.”
She could not make head or tail of what she had just heard, but immediately felt a sense of dread, of the sort that only parents can feel when they fear for their child.
“Oh my gosh … something terrible has happened to Sally, I just know,” and she rushed to the phone to dial her daughter’s number:
“Hello Mum,” came the cheery reply.
“Oh Sally, you’re alive. Thank goodness.”
“Yes mum. I’m alive. In fact I’m just fine. A few people banged their heads when they fell asleep, but I’m glad to say I had a soft landing!”
Of course Sally could not begin to tell her mother what she had really experienced. For her the trip back through time with Basil had taken several days, but for most people in Oxford the sleeping sickness and the fog had lasted a minute or so at most. Many had woken up bemused and baffled, and quite a few with with bumps and bruises. Some had more serious injuries. The cause of the incident was unknown. Government officials were visiting a power plant near the Oxfordshire town of Didcot to see if any poisonous gasses could have leaked into the air. The head of the UFO Society had telephoned Channel 5 News to claim that a giant flying saucer had been sited flying over the city’s dreaming spires. But the truth would never been widely revealed, for who could have guessed that it was all a slick trick of time played by the famous witch Morgan Le Fay?
After the witch had been sucked through the window of the tower, Princess Talia had fallen into the arms of Basil. It was the way it was meant to be, and it was the fairytale ending, but Sally could not help feeling a little sharp pang of jealousy – after all, she had been at Basil’s side while he transformed himself from a lanky, head-in-the clouds Classics student, into a knight. Part of her thought she ought to prefer the brainy, funny, peace-loving Basil, but there was another part of her that could not help shuddering with a certain awe at the steadfast, sword-in-hand, fight to the death Sir Basil that she had just witnessed.
But then Basil, still tangled up in Talia’s arms, turned his head and said:
“Sally, I want to thank you for all that you’ve done over the last few days. It’s so great that you came back in time with me. I mean, you were the one doing the thinking. I would have just been lost on my own.”
Then Talia, released Basil from her embrace, and came over to Sally to hug her. And Sally began to feel a little less left out of things.
The trio made their way down the dark, winding stairs of Fletcher’s Tower, and out into the bright sunlight of the quad. The scene was almost normal with undergraduates and dons milling around and trying to figure out what had happened. What made it just a little bit surreal was the fact that two horses draped in colourful silks were nibbling the grass. These days horses are a rare sight inside Oxford colleges, and of course nobody except Basil, Talia, and Sally understood why there were there. It was a day of strange happenings.
Sally could not help noticing that quite a few eyes were directed towards the three friends as they made their way along the path. She began to wonder if people now knew the role they had played. It was only when a third year student, Cynthia Smythe, said to her, “Are you going to a ball?” that she realised that everyone was looking at the way they were dressed. She was still in a Medieval gown, and Basil was wearing metal armour and carrying a sword.
“Ay yes, I mean no, it’s a fancy dress party at Teddy Hall,” stuttered Sally.
And quite frankly, there are so many bizarre people wondering around Oxford at any time of day, that it wasn’t that strange to meet people in Medieval costume among the sandstone walls and ancient gargoyles.
They went up to Basil’s room to help the poor boy out of his suit of armour. A tall thin Classics student emerged out of his bulky shell. They set up the metal suit in the corner where it looked like an ancestral heirloom. Otherwise the room was pretty empty because, of course, Basil had packed his things and left college shortly before the momentous events. He had pledged to leave with Princess Talia. Basil wore a leather pouch around his neck which had been given to him while he was travelling through the past. He checked and found that it still contained his thin sliver of a bank card and his mobile phone. The phone unfortunately had taken a blow at some stage, and was dented and no longer working.
“Well,” said Basil, “this is goodbye Sally.”
“What do you mean? You can’t up and leave now.”
“I’m afraid we must,” said Talia. “There is no place for me in this college. The authorities sided with her … I mean, the witch. I cannot remain here.”
An hour later, Basil and Princess Talia were seated on the bus for Victoria Station in London.
Sally came on board to kiss both her friends goodbye. While they waited for the driver to get on board, she said:
“What do you think would have happened if she had succeeded – if Morgan Le Fay had destroyed all the university’s knowledge?”
“The knowledge would not have mattered that much,” said Basil, “most of it’s wrong anyway. Modern Science has surpassed it all. But what we would have lost is that sense of connection with the past … I mean, when you read about Rome or Ancient Athens, the people are as real as if they are alive today. You get that feeling that human life continues even if we don’t ourselves. The past is different, but it’s also the same. It’s all part of one big thing. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes,” said Sally, “I do because I’ve been there, in the past I mean.”
And Talia leaned her head against Basil’s shoulder and said, “If you leap through time and miss out all the bits in between, you feel totally disjointed. You need a record of the past to connect it all up. We humans need the past as well as the present and the future.”
Sally stepped down from the bus. From the pavement, she waved goodbye to her friends. She looked around the Oxford bus station. It was such a drab and dreary scene straight out of modern Britain. Nobody had really bothered to make it into anything special. It was no more than car park of diesel fumes. And yet it was the place where for so many, the Oxford fairytale began and ended.
Sally’s dress, given to her by Queen Guinevere, came in handy for the May Ball which took place, as is the custom in Oxford, in the month of June. She even had the pick of the college men to accompany her, in the form of Jonathan Miles, the English scholar, who was widely considered as totally cool, and she was the envy of many of the other college women who wondered what he saw in her.
But what made the night really special, was that Princess Talia and Basil came back for the ball. They were the most beautiful couple who danced the night away, obviously in love with each other. Although they were the same age, or younger than almost all the others there, because they had already left and moved onto a new life, they already seemed so much more mature and grown up. They were almost like film stars. Impossibly glamorous and beyond the reach of ordinary mortals, apart from Sally of course.
From then on, the many distractions of life at Oxford, including the parties, the romances, the student politics, the drama societies, the eight weeks, and the balls, no longer seemed quite so important as before to Sally. She had experienced so much, so intensely, that Oxford life all seemed rather trivial. She found that the less she cared about who invited her to what event, the more that everybody wanted to invite her out to every happening. She concentrated on her studies, and at the end of four years she took a first in Classics, or Greats as traditionalists like to call it.
And that was the twentieth and final part of Awaking Beauty. The story was written by Bertie and read by me Elizabeth Donnelly for Storynory.com.
Perhaps, like me, you feel just a little bit sad that the series has come to and end. If you have got this far with it, you probably feel that you know Sally, Talia, and Basil quite well. As they say, parting is always such sweet sorrow. Oh well, excuse me while I wipe a little tear from my eye. But never mind. I’ll be back soon with some more stories, including one that I’ve written myself. That will be a first and I’m feeling rather excited about it.