Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
The Promised Labyrinth
Rhys Hughes

The third of three stories
The Don Entrerrosca Trilogy
( Story 1: The Lute and the Lamp )
( Story 2: The Toes of the Sun )


Horses are for courses — and courses are the building blocks of dinners — and dinners, at least when hot, are always less in total than those various things which many people do often. Don Entrerrosca was in need of a steed. It had to be a fast one because he wanted to ride everywhere at once, though for the sake of plausibility he was willing to visit all the necessary points one at a time provided he did so in such quick succession that omnipresence could be conceded to him as a quality by neutral observers. Why must he be in all places simultaneously? It was because the loveliest woman in the world had escaped him, not that he was keeping her in any way or that she was really aware of who he was, but he had played the lute for her more than once and mooned after her over several horizons. Sentimental buffoon! She was everything to him, or rather all the good bits of everything, not toads or marsh gas, but softness and excitement and pure joy, and finding her again was almost a question of survival, for without her he had no reason to continue his existence.

There are alternative methods of transportation to the horse and a great number of them are more rapid, motorbikes and hydrofoils for instance, but Don Entrerrosca had grown up in the saddle — awkward when attending school as a boy, seated high over his friends, unable to hear the teacher above the snorting and stamping — and the beast would always be his first choice when travelling. He had owned many horses in his lifetime and coveted more, but sprightly as they were not one had ever approached the sort of velocity he was now looking for. He wanted a horse that could gallop faster than the speed of light. It seemed a tall order. He visited farms and made enquiries and was shrugged at by stableboys and his mission proved equally futile at racetracks and bullrings, where the seedy gamblers and arrogant picadors turned their backs on him in contempt. The gypsies at the fairs also failed to help him. Once he was offered an old nag with a bridle covered in flashing lightbulbs, another time he was shown the deflated carcass of a stallion and told that it had fasted until it became too light, but nobody took his request seriously. Even the museums, with their glass cases of prehistoric horse skeletons, regarded him as nothing more than a fool. And they were right, that is what he was.

But time was running out and he could not afford to be sensitive about his reputation, not that he truly had one, for as a musician he was obscure and as a lover he was still untested, but he took heart from the fact he was original, seeking something even he realised was an impossibility, and originality by definition is not run of the mill. Speaking of which, he passed through La Mancha with its windmills, a flat and dusty region, but more of that a little later. He was heading south because Córdoba was where his woman resided and it seemed a good place to choose as a first destination before he had the opportunity of going everywhere else. He had already lingered too long in Toledo, laughing as he wandered the steep little streets because he kept getting lost in what was essentially a conventional labyrinth and he suddenly realised that a conceptual labyrinth might be worse. Then he stumbled out of the city and over the Montes de Toledo where his skin crisped under the sun and he roamed in frustrated circles. Walking was not the best way of making progress in his quest. He needed a horse, a normal horse, to find a horse, an impossible horse, and he also needed a hat, a hat with a wide brim to protect his face. Don Entrerrosca cursed himself for his incompetence but his curses were lame and poorly delivered, and they proved too incompetent to make his incompetence vanish.

The woman in question, Eber Marcela Soler, had escaped him by employing a clever stratagem — she had accepted the marriage proposal of another man. Don Entrerrosca did not know this and still believed he had lost her because she remained exactly where she was while he went somewhere on business, probably to buy a lute, without returning. He was returning now. When he had his special horse he would return to every spot on the earth, including this one, this hot and uncomfortable road where he did not have her. Returning to all the points of his return, an idea he was unsure he understood! The problem with isolation is that it can encourage too much thinking and this is what presently ailed him, an excess of introspection, and only the large bag over his sore shoulder that swung against his side at every step, a mild but tenacious chastisement, slapped him out of a mad slide to the very bottom of his own mind, but it was a temporary measure and human contact was a better solution. This happened next in La Mancha but first we must mention that his bag was full of smiles, big smiles, little smiles, but all of the same mouth, the mouth of Señorita Soler, drawn on pieces of paper by a variety of artists, for reasons explained in another tale. Don Entrerrosca had collected them one at a time from where the wind had blown them and together they were the heaviest of uplifting weights.

Sleeping in barren fields night after night, shivering in the winds which inexplicably grew stronger an hour before dawn, he was glad of the company of the stars, though sometimes their frosty radiance made him feel even more distant from other people, but generally he matched each twinkle with a wink. Now he had doubts about the wisdom of a hat, especially a wide brimmed one, because it would shut out the starlight as he lay among the rubble. There was always the option of taking it off at a time of his choosing, but it was too early to think about removing what he did not have. With names he had not yet learned, the constellations revolved slowly above his head. He rose and ate lonely oranges with bitter teeth. Then he speculated that renowned horses from history might be faster than living horses of the present age and that dancing around their tombs with weird spells in his mouth could summon them back from the dead, but difficulties with this approach soon presented themselves. Most of those horses — and he listed a few aloud, Bucephalus, Babieca, Marengo, Seabiscuit, Shergar, such exotic names! — probably did not have marked graves at all or were buried in other countries, meaning he would have to retrace his steps, which he refused to do. He also suspected that the fastest recorded gallop of any real horse was considerably slower than the speed of light. He abandoned this idea but in Consuegra, the nicest town in La Mancha, he came up with a superior one.

He staggered into the main square, lowered his bag and found himself in the middle of a book market. Spines creaked below the creaking of the windmills on the ridge above the town. He joined the browsers. Instead of dabbling with real horses, why not use one from literature? It must surely be faster! After all, a long fictional journey on horseback can — if extracted from the right volume — be contained in a few pages and those pages might be read in a matter of minutes. Considering his location, he decided to try first with Don Quixote. He bought the book, removed himself to a quiet corner and attempted to make Rocinante, the featured horse, trot out of the words, but he knew nothing right about magic or his willpower was not strong enough and he conceded defeat. There were other books with other fictional horses — Shadowfax, Morgenstern, Flatulent Hannah, Teague McGettigan's Cabhorse, Black Beauty — but they no longer seemed worth the effort or expense. Might as well ride a hobby horse! But he enjoyed himself among these people and spoke to the old men about simple matters and this was good for his soul and he felt refreshed. He did buy one more book, but only a star atlas and studied it to become familiar with the night sky, for a man should understand his own roof.

He passed out of town and the going remained hard and nothing pleasant happened to him until he reached the Sierra Morena. He was on the northern fringes of Andalucía! The Sierra Morena is an obscure range of mountains and forms a symbolic wall between tedious La Mancha and the wonderful south, a south where according to imagination — his main travel guide — the suns warms and heals but does not fry and where breezes waft rather than blow. This proved to be not quite the case, but it was too late for him to worry about it because in the centre of a crumbling castle he came across a circus with shadows made from tall tents, a boisterous affair which captivated his senses. To one side stood an old fashioned carousel and Don Entrerrosca paid for a ride. He sat straight in the carved saddle, not because he was a gentleman but because the vicious splinters in the rotting wood fixed him like that, and as he revolved he wondered if his quest had come to an end. Before he learned it had not, he cried, "Faster! Faster!" to the man who operated the machine. The man pulled levers and pretended to make adjustments to gears and valves but it is doubtful whether the painted horse increased its velocity by the smallest fraction.

Don Entrerrosca dismounted and rubbed his hands with glee. It seemed to him that a series of carousels mounted on top of each other might satisfy his need for faster than light transportation, provided there were enough levels, for the starting speed of the highest mechanism would already be the sum of those below. As they all rotated separately there would come a moment when they were perfectly synchronised and then the light barrier would be broken, Don Entrerrosca yelling with tachyonic glee as he held on with one arm around the horse's neck, his unbought hat waved aloft with the other. But how many carousels would be necessary? He questioned the operator who counted in trillions on his fingers and then shrugged. There were not enough carousels in the world to make the project feasible, not to mention the fact that the contraption would extend far out of the atmosphere. He refused to help Don Entrerrosca. The glooms of most people are untidy but our minstrel felt a neat despair as he walked away, chiding himself for his lack of realism. Of course such a towering carousel could not be constructed! What sort of music would it play? But he still required some sort of horse that could move faster than the speed of light, for even light takes a little time to move between places and he had to be everywhere instantly to be absolutely sure of finding his girl. He sighed again and this sigh was the breath of a mood that lasted another week and then he was in Córdoba.

The home of Eber Marcela Soler! He was back where he had left her and now he thought about it more closely he recalled that a lute had been the reason for his departure, a lute he heard about in a Jewish shop in Zamora, but it was already sold by the time he arrived. Such a costly diversion! But this was Córdoba, city of patios and waterwheels, and it was just a question of seeking out her house and hoping she might still be there as a beginning to his greater search. He walked the streets and felt confused. Was the strength of the sun fuddling his mind? Here were hat shops and he entered one and emerged with a wide brim sheltering his face but his confusion did not disappear and a terrible doubt began to grow inside him. Why did he fail to recognise a single building? What was this enormous mosque doing near the river? How had everything changed so thoroughly? Was it possible he was in the wrong Córdoba? The peculiar horror of knowing he was lost in a labyrinth gripped him, not just any old labyrinth but the conceptual one he had imagined six or seven paragraphs ago!

But in fact this type of labyrinth was accidental and faultless — like a desert, ocean or forest. It was accurate to say he had promised it to himself through ineptitude, a casual confusion of two cities with the same name. Señorita Soler dwelled in the Córdoba in Argentina, under the southern stars, not in the older mass of houses and ramparts in Spain. A simple mistake. All the same it was a grand idea for the ultimate in labyrinths — a renaming of every city, town and village in the world until they were the same. And then every place would be Córdoba and it would be impossible to ask directions from anywhere to elsewhere for there would be no clue in the answer. "Where does Señorita Soler live? In Córdoba! Which way is that? I see, first leave Córdoba and travel as far as Córdoba and then continue to Córdoba before..." No, quite useless to make the attempt! Don Entrerrosca felt defeated and he went to book a room in a cheap hotel and sob the night away with the balcony window open and the smell of orange trees coming in, and he did just that, but his tearful sleep was full of nightmares which galloped over his body, hooves slipping on the sweat which oozed from his pores, and when he jerked awake he wondered if he could harness one of these bad dreams and ride the mare part of it, but they were too fragmentary, like butchered centaurs, and already wisping to nothingness in his memory.

His patience was at an end. He needed his unobtainable horse now. Too much time had he squandered and the only way of redeeming the loss was by having nothing more to do with time — by being everywhere at once. Inspiration still did not come and he read his star atlas by starlight to dampen the agonising fire in his mind with cool learning. He squinted. What was this? He jumped out of bed and stepped onto the balcony and looked up. Then he checked his book. There was a horse in the sky! The constellation Pegasus. It did not look much like a horse, certainly not of the winged variety, consisting of a square of four bright stars with a dozen or so other stars sprinkled loosely on one side, but that was not the issue. It was a stellar horse! But what use was it really? As he looked from star to star he was struck by an extraordinary notion. Something in this very room was travelling faster than the speed of light. What was it? His focus — or to put it another way, his concentration. First he stared at the star called Markab, commonly known as the saddle of Pegasus, then he stared at Scheat, a star considered to represent the shoulder of that mythical steed. Nothing difficult in this action, nothing new or dramatic, yet the implications were astonishing.

Although both stars were located in the same constellation they were not close to each other in reality. The proximity of Markab to Scheat was an illusion, partly a result of the position of the observer, in this case Don Entrerrosca, and partly due to the limitations of the human eye when judging distance. The lateral separation of the two stars, approximately 12° of sky, might represent dozens or more of light years — he did not know enough about astronomy to make an estimate, but his star atlas also informed him that Scheat was seventy light years further from Earth than Markab. These enormous distances were covered by his attention, his regard, in less than one second. Thus his attention had broken the light barrier! He must find a way to exploit it, focussing his mind until he became pure attention and free to travel in almost zero time. He continued to stare at Pegasus but he did not smile, for though he had found his horse he did not control it. There was work to do. He watched the constellation move across the sky until it was obscured by a neighbouring building and his attention was snapped by the edge of its wall. He shook his head and ran out of his hotel into the street.

At the river he saw Pegasus again and he crossed the old bridge halfway to maintain a clear view of it, away from the cramped streets, trying not to blink as he fixed his gaze on the astral pattern, but aware that dawn would end his vigil and sabotage his plans. He had to find a way of keeping Pegasus within his sight until his attention became total, until there was nothing else in his mind, no distractions, nothing belonging to the Earth. How might this be arranged? He must rise above the city, above the clouds, above the bulk of the world. He had to climb. First he took a little knife from his pocket, a souvenir from Toledo, and pierced two holes in the brim of his hat, careful holes through which the light of the two chosen stars passed as thin rays, the sides of a fantastical ladder, then he tore the pages from his star atlas, cut them to the required length and rolled them into two cylinders, securing them with lute strings, for he always carried spares, and binding them to the soles of his feet. These would serve as rungs. Grasping the beam of Markab with one hand, that of Scheat with the other, he placed his right foot so that the rung fitted between the rays, then he lifted his left foot a little higher and did the same. One more step and he had left the ground.

The bridge fell away, the houses and the Mezquita dwindled in size, but soon he was exhausted, so he rested and caught his breath. Now he was doubtful about his ability to climb long enough to achieve his purpose, but he recalled the contents of his heavy bag and felt elated. Relaxing his grip on one of the beams he fumbled inside and drew out a smile and held it to his eyes. The smile of Eber Marcela Soler was guaranteed to put a spring in the step of any man and in this case the spring proved highly functional, for it enabled Don Entrerrosca to scale his starlight ladder with renewed vigour. Each time his energy slackened he pulled out a smile and allowed it to refresh him before the stratospheric winds snatched it from his fingers. As the bag grew lighter, the speed of his ascent increased so that he quickly reached a safe altitude above clouds and aeroplanes. Any object that passed across the stars and blocked their light could prove fatal to him. As Pegasus moved among the heavens and dipped toward the horizon, the angle of his ascent changed, the gradient became less steep, but the constellation would not set because he was high enough now to peer over the edge of the world.

The view was spectacular. He paused for a minute, one hand tight on the beam of a star, the other on the beaming smile of Señorita Soler, and he looked in every direction. First he gazed east, over Andalucía and Murcia, beyond the Balearics, beyond Sardinia and Italy and Greece, over Anatolia to the Orient, and he saw the cities open to him, blushing with the glow of illuminated houses and streets. Then he gazed south, to Morocco and the desert and the coasts fringed with dunes, tents and shipwrecks. Next he turned west and studied the greener land of Portugal, the lighthouse at Cabo de São Vicente, the most powerful in Europe, sweeping the broad Atlantic, and this sight gave him an idea related to his own, for as the bulb of a lighthouse rotates its beam describes a circle in the air, a series of concentric circles depending on the distance travelled by the beam, and there must come a point where this distance is sufficient for the circle to be drawn at a speed exceeding that of light, but of course this reasoning is based on a flaw because nothing substantial is travelling along the circumference of that circle, not a single photon is engaged on that orbital journey, and the circle itself is a collection of unrelated points, a shape existing only in the mind of the observer.

Don Entrerrosca shrugged without losing his balance. He looked north over Spain, France and Belgium into the Netherlands and suddenly his quest came to an end in every way, everything finished at once, his struggle no longer mattered. It was Eber Marcela Soler! A tiny figure in a white dress, a crown of flowers on her head, arm in arm with a Dutchman! While Don Entrerrosca blinked, a meteor flashed across the celestial dome, passing in front of the star Markab, changing the quality and colour of the ray slanting through the hole in his hat, but the ladder held and he resumed climbing, tears in his eyes but part of his heart already letting her go, for she had clearly married a man of her own choosing and that was nothing to argue against, not now, not from here. He would keep climbing until he won his horse or until he suffocated outside the atmosphere.

The closer he approached Pegasus, the wider the sides of his ladder would stretch as the two stars moved further apart and their illusory proximity was negated, and he would lose his grip and fall, but he must achieve one of his aims before then. He fell anyway. An object he had not anticipated, a lightless asteroid, drifted across his chosen stars and the ladder was gone. He was grateful to this dark lump of rock for ending his hope and pain without a fuss. He span spun? as he plummeted. He was no longer above Córdoba but over the sea. Yet he deserved an ending as fanciful as the rest of his career, for the sake of an odd consistency, and so he did not die. He plunged into the coolness and in the depths he met his special horse, though speed was not why it was important to his future, nor could it promise him happiness, merely give him another chance. If every animal had just one name, life itself would be a labyrinth. It was a seahorse but a gigantic one, big enough to ride, and it carried him to a place, call it a grotto, where mermaids played, some of them single and even tender.



Rhys Hughes is, by his own admission, a heterochromic logodaedalus much
concerned with ontological fripperies, the deep
pondering of which has turned his static nimbus into a corybantic fulgor. He may get better.

He is also the author of 350 short stories and many
, including
A NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY. For the past ten years he has been working on a long novel. It is nearly finished!

He enjoys travelling — when he can afford it — and in an ideal world would spend all his time visiting other countries. He also loves music, cooking and reasonably light physical exercise. His literary hero is Italo Calvino. His puppet hero is Bagpuss.
Nowhere Near Milkwood
A New Universal History of Infamy
Rhys Hughes can be contacted at
rhysaurus (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"The Promised Labyrinth" copyright © 2005 by Rhys Hughes.
This short story appears here with thanks to Rhys Hughes, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2005