Monday, July 27, 2009

Truth and Lunacy

“Is there anything more you can tell me about the strange case you mentioned?”

“Oh, yes, I spent the afternoon with her. Quite mad, she’s to be shut up in Sarrow’s,” Tomathon replied.

“That’s hardly unusual, what’s so different about her?” I asked.

“It’s not so much that she’s very different from most…. It’s, well, she’s quite lucid. Delusional, but very coherent delusions. If it wasn’t completely impossible, I’d believe she was telling the truth.”

My heart nearly stopped for a moment, though I told myself that it was premature to fear—there were many things a person could have coherent yet impossible delusions on, there was no reason for me to jump to conclusions. I told myself this, yet I know my voice held something more than curiosity when I pressed, “Delusions of what?”

“She claims to be from another world, a quite odd one in which people sit in boxes that move about on their own power and many other such fantastical things.”

“It’s not possible she’s from some remote country in which magic is used for such trifles?” Though of course I knew better than that.

“She claims there’s no magic there- though even by her own account, that would be untrue- and it’s not merely a country she speaks of but a whole world. She claims to have flown from continent to continent, and that there have been men on their moon; she claims all manner of lunacy, I can’t say I listened to much of it.”

“I would speak with her.”

He looked at me curiously. “You? But you are the king’s own physician. And her case is really nothing so extraordinary, I merely mentioned it as a curiousity.”

“The king is in perfect health; he shan’t miss me, and I must insist on speaking with her.”

He shrugged. “It’s your call. Shall I have her brought here?”

“If you would be so kind.”

And so it was that a trembling teenage girl, in chains, was dragged into my office by two thugs- erm, guards- from Sarrow’s. “Has she been found to be dangerous,” I demanded sharply of one of the men.

“No, but it’s standard procedure to subdue all patients on such events as this,” he replied in a tone that suggested even I couldn’t possibly dream of breaking standard procedure.

“Do I look like I give a fig about standard procedure? Unchain her.”

He shrugged. “It’s your lookout if anything happens,” he told me as he undid the chains. “We’re just here to deliver her, we don’t stand guard for you.”

“Thank the gods,” I said. He shot me a nasty look, and slammed the door as the two men left.

“I am Dr. Panthea Rosestone, the king’s physician,” I told the girl. “Please, have a seat.”

She did, grudgingly. “So you think I’m crazy?” she asked warily.

“Not having heard your story, I’m in no place to judge.”

“But that’s why they brought me here, isn’t it?”

“They brought you here because I told them to. Now, what is your name?”

“Clary,” she told me grudgingly.

“Pleased to meet you, Clary. Now I’m sure this is getting quite tiring, but would you mind telling me your story?”

She told me much what I expected to hear. She was an ordinary person, currently in her second year of university, from a world that she considered ordinary but no one here did. She described it in great detail- countries, cities, inventions, historical figures. And then one day, she had been walking in the park, and had very nearly been hit by a bike- “That’s a, well a machine with two wheels and you press the pedals with your feet to turn the wheels and make it go.” And then, suddenly, there had been no bike, no park. It was not daytime, and there were two moons in the sky. She’d wandered around in confusion for a bit before coming to the attention of the authorities, who wanted to lock her away. “And you think I’m crazy,” she concluded.

“No. I believe you,” I told her. Perhaps I should have told her more, but there were truths I had concealed for near twenty years, and even now they did not come easily to the tongue.

I served her some tea and allowed her to wait in my office, suggesting that she could pass the time with my books, and I went out to find Tomathon.

He lived not far from the castle, and was at home. He invited me in, we sat down, and I began without preamble, “She’s not mad.”

He knew who I was speaking of, of course. “Surely you don’t believe she made the whole thing up? She seemed far too emotional for that.”

“I didn’t say that. She’s not mad, and she’s not lying. She’s speaking the literal truth.”

“But… That’s impossible,” he protested.

“Do you remember how you first met me, Tomathon?”

“Of course. You were brought to me by a man who had found you half unconscious in the snow. You didn’t have a memory in your head. You never did recover it, did you?”

I took a deep breath and told him, “I never did lose it.”

“But…” he was confused, naturally.

“I faked it quite well, of course. I was a psychiatrist in that world—that’s a kind of doctor who deals with diseases of the mind, like you do. When I figured out what had happened, I knew I’d never be believed. Amnesia was so much simpler.”

“In that world… Are you saying you’re from the same place as Clary?”

I nodded.

“And you’ve never tried to go back?”

“I’ve never wanted to. I wasn’t very happy there, and here… I’m the physician to the king, magic is real, I have friends…”

“So she really is from another world? If you were anyone else I’d think you’d gone mad. Gods, after finding you’ve been lying to me for twenty years I don’t know why I trust you. No, that’s unfair, you acted quite rationally. I wouldn’t have believed you then, of course, any more than I believed that girl yesterday, and I suppose since then there’s never been any reason to tell me. I prefer to think that than that you don’t trust me.”

“I do trust you. It’s just… By the time I knew I could tell you it didn’t matter anymore. That’s not my life now.”

He nodded. “So what should we do about my patient?”

“If you could arrange for her to be released into my custody?”

“I’ll start on the paperwork right away. And Panthea… I hope this doesn’t change anything between us. We’re still friends?”

I sighed with relief, for he was the one who might have wanted to end our friendship. “Always.”

When I returned to my office, Clary was deeply engrossed in a book. “You’ve been released into my custody,” I told her.

“So what, you’re going to try to cure me now?”

I shook my head. “I told you, I believe you—no, I know you’re telling the truth.” And I told her my story.

When I was done, she shook her head in disbelief. “So that’s why—well, I guess it explains a lot.

You’ve never tried to go back?”

“I never wanted to,” I told her.

“I guess I can see why,” she held up the book she’d been reading, a treatise on fire magic. “So this stuff really works here?”

“Oh yes.” I remembered the first time I’d seen a display of magic, and realized it was real.

“I guess I’ve wrecked my reputation here already, if I stay? I mean, I don’t have the faintest clue how to get home, and I don’t really think I want to, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in an asylum…”

I shook my head. “You’re unlikely to see anyone from Sarrow’s again, and besides for them, the only people who know are Tomathon and I, and I explained it to him.”

“So nobody thinks I’m crazy?”

“Nope. You’ve got a blank slate of a reputation.”

“Okay then, do you know how I’d go about learning magic?”

“Actually, I have a friend who’s a mage who happens to be looking for an apprentice. I’ll introduce you.”