In the Waterfall…

You always get wet going through Waterfall Gate, even if you stick close to the rockface (which is wet anyway) and edge around behind the falls. But nobody much cares because it’s so hot here. When the knights ride out they run their horses right through the falls. It’s a sight, I can tell you, when the armoured horses come rearing through the spray with their red nostrils flaring, and the knights on their backs sitting bolt upright under the force of the water.

Beyond the falls is the cave-court, big as a cathedral, cool and dark, except when there’s a tourney or a feast and they string paper lanterns between the stalactites.

In the waterfall, there was a cave.

And all around the cave-court, the castle walls rise up, towers carved from the rock, a jumble of little windows full of candlelight.

In the cave, there was a castle.

Go in past the Great Hall and down the cellar stairs, and just as the sound of the falls dies away behind you, you’ll hear the sound of water under your feet. Down in the castle cellars, the River Secret bubbles up from the ground to meet the River Bold.

In the castle, there was a river.

Here among the echoes and the cobwebbed barrels of wine, the rush of water and the ripples of light, be brave enough to follow the river to its source. Don’t worry, the tunnel isn’t long. Hold on to the rusty chains as you climb the slippery stone steps. Sniff the palms of your hands and they’ll smell of iron. Turn the corner, step out into the cavern full of candlelights bobbing on the water. You’re on the shores of Lake Secret.

In the river, there was a lake.

This is where we come in the heat of summer, to splash in water as cold as the bones of the earth. And this is where we come to build and play with boats. There are always half-built boats around the shores of the lake, some just big enough to hold a doll or a single candle, others as big as houses. And on the lake there are always dozens of them, riding up and down on the tides that well up from the earth. Some of these boats have been worn out and mended and added to for generations, and never once seen the sun. Lake Secret is their sea.

The biggest and best one is the Children’s Boat. Nobody knows how old it is. Perhaps not a stick of the original boat remains. It’s a ramshackle jungle of decks and masts, tattered pennants and patchwork sails. There’s no wind, of course, under the ground, so only the Children’s Boat has sails as well as oars. The glass in the portholes is all different colours, and when the lamps are lit it shines on the water like treasure. Children scrambling in the rigging make impish shadows against the coloured light.

In the lake, there was a boat.

Inside is even better. The Children’s Boat is a houseboat, with rooms just our size, and years and years of our paintings running riot all over the walls and ceilings. There’s a toy armoury for playing knights, and a kitchen for making sticky marchpane animals and mixing things and squashing things and piling things up till you can’t get your mouth around them. Instead of a dining room there’s a picnic room with coloured rugs on the floor. Instead of beds there’s a room full of hammocks and blankets and cushions.

In the boat, there was a house.

You can pile up the cushions and blankets to make a fort, or a nest, a place you can crawl into and curl up and hide and nobody can see you.

In the house, there was a nest.

In the nest, there was a child.

In a nest in a house
in a boat in a lake
in a river in a castle
in a cave in a waterfall.

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