Chapter 10: Keys

Philemon led Cara to a great hall of marble. Giant mosaics decorated the two side walls; a grand staircase took up another and the great double doors Cara had seen when she first entered the castle grounds the fourth. Philemon skidded to a stop in front of these.

"Here we go," he said, putting a hand on the great latch. Cara held her breath as he threw the door open and strode-straight into the invisible electrical charge that once again threw him back onto the floor.

Philemon slapped his fists hard on the stone floor. "Why can't I get out?! I need to get out!"

Cara watched him, frowning. "I'm sorry," she said, but her voice was drowned out by his shouts.

"It should have worked! Why didn't it work?" He lowered his head onto his arms. "I guess I'm just not meant to escape," he said.

"I don't know," said Cara, coming up to him. "I mean, you broke part of the spell; you can see the truth from the windows and such, but maybe you need to do something else in order to actually escape."

"But what?" asked Philemon. "We did everything the verse said to, didn't we?"

"Not really," said Cara. "I mean, you can't exactly really fly on the rabbit's back, but I don't know what we were supposed to do, then."

"The rabbit," repeated the prince, thinking. "He's the key, somehow, but how?"

Cara shrugged, as much at a loss for an answer as he was.

"Wait," said Philemon, sitting up. "The key . . . the rabbit brought you your keys."

"Yes, so?" asked Cara. "How are my keys supposed to get you out of the castle?"

"I don't know," he said, standing, "but it's worth a try. Give them to me."

Cara fished around in her pocket and finally withdrew them, handing them to the prince. "None of them will fit in the door lock," she told him, "and the door's not locked, anyway."

Philemon didn't answer at first, for he was busy examining her keys. "Of what metal are these forged?" he asked.

Cara was taken aback. "I haven't the foggiest clue," she said. "Why?"

"I have never seen its like," the prince said. "It is very strange. Perhaps this will work."

"What do you mean by that?"

"There are legends that say foreign metals have the power to disrupt magic, especially magical fields, like the one that holds me here," the prince explained. "That was the theory behind Lord King Fenceles' rescue of his love. Remember him?"

Cara nodded. "Yes, but that metal was the metal of a star, not some cheap car keys!"

"I don't know what a 'car' is, but I have never seen this metal before." The prince told her.

"It's worth a try, I guess," said Cara, coming closer to watch him.

"Now how did that story go?" the prince said, more to himself than to her. "The king held the metal out before him," Philemon lifted the keys in one hand and held them out, "and walked into the energy field," he took a step forward, then two, "and it fell apart, too disrupted by the strange metal to hold together." Taking a deep breath, he took the final step that brought the keys into contact with the invisible line separating him from the outside world.

The space in the doorway shimmered and sparked with gold and orange flames. A shimmer in the air like a gauze curtain seemed to fall from the lintel to the ground. Carefully, the prince took another step forward, and he was outside.

"I'm free!" he cried. "I'm free!" He danced around on the steps, shouting excitedly.

Cara came to the doorway. "It worked!" she cried, laughing.

"It did!" agreed Philemon, grabbing her hands and whirling her around in a circle. "I'm free, I'm free, I'm free!"

Several minutes passed while Philemon dashed around the castle grounds, talking to the roses and the ivy and finally ending up in the meadow outside the walls.

"My people," he said suddenly, turning to Cara. "I should go look for the humans and animals, as well as the plants. I must know what has happened to them. Will you come with me?"

Cara bit her lip and glance across the river, towards the glade where her car, she hoped, waited for her. "No," she said. "I think I need to be getting back now."

"Back to all those terrible responsibilities?" asked Philemon with a mischievous grin. "Are you sure you don't wish to extend your vacation a little longer, even permanently? You would be welcome here."

"No," said Cara. "Thank you, but I think maybe those responsibilities maybe aren't quite the burden I thought them to be. Either way, they're mine, and no one else can do them for me."

Philemon nodded in understanding. "That's the way it goes," he told her. "But you really will be welcome here, if you ever return."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said with a wink. "This might be my new favorite vacation spot." She offered him her hand to shake.

Philemon laughed. He took the proffered hand and kissed it. "So long, then, Cara Nelson, and thank you," he said. "Until we meet again."

"Until then," she agreed and, still smiling, made her way back across the river to the real world and all that awaited her there.

A/N: And we're done! It's not the best, but hey. It's cute, methinks. Let me know what you think!