"Why," he finally managed to ask, "why did you send me then? What did you expect me to do?"
"Exactly what you did," she replied.
"What I did. . ." Atreyu repeated slowly. His forehead clouded over. "In that case," he said angrily, "it was all unnecessary. There was no need of sending me on the Great Quest. I've heard that your decisions are often mysterious. That may be. But after all I've been through I hate to think that you were just having a joke at my expense."
The Childlike Empress's eyes grew grave.
"I was not having a joke at your expense, Atreyu," she said. "I am well aware of what I owe you. All your sufferings were necessary. I sent you on the Great Quest -- not for the sake of the message you would bring me, but because that was the only way of calling our savior. He took part in everything you did, and he has come all that long way with you. You heard his cry of fear when you were talking with Ygramul beside the Deep Chasm, and you saw him when you stood facing the Magic Mirror Gate. You entered into his image and took it with you, and he followed you, because he saw himself through your eyes. And now, too, he can hear every word we are saying. He knows we are talking about him, he knows we have set our hope in him and are expecting him. Perhaps he even understands that all the hardship you, Atreyu, took upon yourself was for his sake and that all Fantastica is calling him."
Little by little the darkness cleared from Atreyu's face.
No one who reaches or has reached that pavilion can say how he got there. The last stretch of the way must come to him as a gift.
Suddenly Atreyu was in the doorway. He went in -- and found himself face to face with the Golden-eyed Commander of Wishes.
She was sitting, propped on many cushions, on a soft round couch at the center of the great round blossom. She was looking straight at him. She seemed infinitely frail and delicate. Atreyu could see how ill she was by the pallor of her face, which seemed almost transparent. Her almond-shaped eyes, the color of dark gold, were serene and untroubled. She smiled. Her small, slight body was wrapped in an ample silken gown which gleamed so white that the magnolia petals seemed dark beside it. She looked like an indescribably beautiful little girl of no more than ten, but her long, smoothly combed hair, which hung down over her shoulders, was as white as snow.
"You have returned from the Great Quest, Atreyu."
Atreyu hung his head.
"Yes," he managed to say.
After a short silence she went on: "Your lovely cloak has turned gray. Your hair is gray and your skin is like stone. But all that will be as it was, or better. You'll see."
Atreyu felt as if a band had tightened around his throat. All he could do was nod his head. Then he heard the sweet soft voice saying: "You have carried out your mission. . ."
Were these words meant as a question? Atreyu didn't know. He didn't dare look up to read the answer in her face. Slowly he reached for the golden amulet and removed the chain from his neck. Without raising his eyes, he held it out to the Childlike Empress. He tried to kneel as messengers did in the stories and songs he had heard at home, but his wounded leg refused to do his bidding. He fell at the Childlike Empress's feet, and there he lay with his face to the floor.
But the Ivory Tower at the center still shimmered pure, immaculately white.
Ordinarily flying messengers landed on one of the lower terraces. But Falkor reasoned that since neither he nor Atreyu had the strength to climb the long spiraling street leading to the top of the Tower, and since time was of the essence, the regulations and rules of etiquette could reasonably be ignored. He therefore decided on an emergency landing. Swooping down over the ivory buttresses, bridges, and balustrades, he located, just in time, the uppermost end of the spiraling High Street, which lay just outside the palace grounds. Plummeting to the roadway, he went into a skid, made several complete turns, and finally came to a stop tail-first.