How to walk in a city like a promise

            You enter the city through an archway that seems too low, one that is designed for people shorter than you. It, like all of the buildings of this city, is a piece of honey-coloured stone that has been coaxed into flowing crescentwards or vertical, before the wizards stopped telling it that it was water and reminded it that it was stone again. As you duck through the arch, you can feel the shiver in the air: here, in this city, anything is possible.

            And because anything is possible you know exactly what happens next. You walk up the street; you see it fork in front of you, one fork leading upwards to the gleaming cluster of buildings at the top of the hill, the other widdershins down a smaller path.

            You take a deep breath, and you                        
                                                                choose both forks.

            The you that takes the higher street is quickly out of breath, for the way is unforgiving. There are houses on either side of you with laundry fluttering and occasionally you see some of the inhabitants, their faces lighting up with curiosity as they see you in turn. Soon you are surrounded by a scampering bevy of youngsters, astonished by your height, your hairiness, your strange way of moving. At the same time, you are walking the lower route. This way sticks close to the city walls, which cast a shadow over everything. Here the air is colder, and the folk less curious: in fact, some of them seem downright hostile. One jeers at you as you walk by, another eyes your shoes. These shoes aren’t anything special and they’re covered in dust from the long journey that it’s taken you to get here. You wonder what you’ll do if the fairy folk try and take them. You wonder if you’d be able to do anything, against folk such as these, who can make stone flow and people branch like trees.

            There is another fork on each road. You bifurcate again. You’re now walking four roads, each of your selves linked and aware, each their own yet part of the others. You walk upwards, you walk to the side, you walk along the wall; one of you even finds a way that twists downwards, though to where, you have no idea. Is there more of the city underneath the ground?

            The sights that you see are numerous and overwhelming. There is a garden floating seven feet off the ground, tended to by a wizened little fairy woman. There is a fairy child sobbing tears of pure crystal. There is a huge dragonfly and the dragonfly’s house, an elaborate structure woven out of willowcanes, set over a pool of silver water. There is a wizard’s house, you know that it’s a wizard’s because you can only see it when you look at it sidelong. There is a scrap of a song, given life and playing in the dirt with a bunch of little ones. It chirps and whistles, bouncing up and down. It reminds you of a playful dog.

            You walk on cobbles, you walk on paving, you walk on dirt. You walk in shadows and in light. You split, and split again, and again. You are so many people now that it is hard to keep them all straight, hard to know where you are or where you’re going. But that’s the point of this place, isn’t it? You keep on going. You’ll get there if you just keeping moving forwards.

            One of you, the one that has taken a left at every single branching, is nearly at the gleaming buildings of the top of the city. They are made from the same honey-coloured stone but they are gilded, with the gold twined in fanciful shapes across their facades: ivy, a screaming face, the rain.

            Another of you has made it to the catacombs. You have followed the steps downwards and now you are inside the earth, and the tunnels are lined with bones. The earth is red, as if there is blood in the soil.

            Somewhere in this city is your heart’s desire. You don’t know what it is, but this is the fairy city of dreams, and that is its promise. Don’t stray from the paths; keep walking until you can walk no further; and when you stop, you’ll have found what you are truly looking for.

            You walk, and branch, and walk, and you keep on walking. The city goes on forever. But you will see it all.

            All of your many selves will walk, until you find what you are looking for, or perish in the attempt.

Fiona Mossman