Seven Twines and the Dragon Heartwoods

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      It felt as if all hell had broken loose this morning. Everyone seemed to look for their heads, and all in the wrong places.

      What he was really looking for, was his heart. Taking about other people, they used to say things like “his heart’s in the right place, you know”, as a form of apology, as if they knew what was the right place. Maybe they all were wrong, and nobody knew for sure.

      In the morning, the ginkgo trees in the lane leading to the fortified city had all started to turn to gold, glittering the path with golden flecks. Magic comes from the heart they all whispered in the cold wind telling tales of first snows. Autumn had arrived late this year, and the weather was playing all kinds of strange choreographies.

      He could do well with a bit of magic, but magic was tricky to harness these days. All the good practitioners of old seemed to have been replaced by snake oil merchants. But the trees still knew about magic.

      He had a theory, that some pockets of old magic remained, shrouded in nature, oblivious to the city-life encroachments, ever-alive and ripe for the picking. He had heard the term “area of enchantment”, and that was to him the perfect description. He knew some sweet spots, near derelict places, gently overgrown with foliage, sitting side by side with the humbums of the busy city life.
      He would ask the trees and vines there if they could help with the unusual wreckage of this morning.

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      As much as he would have liked to keep reading, Rukshan had to let go of the book. The pale sun of winter was already high, and although the Pasha didn’t really seem to worry about it, he had to go prepare for the visit of the Elders.

      Already pages started to vanish into thin air, one after the other, making the understanding of the patches left much harder to fathom. Notwithstanding, he’d found interesting tales, but nothing proving to be of immediate use to his current quandaries, nothing at least that he could intuit. Even the name of the author, a certain Bethell, wouldn’t register much.
      All in all, if his dimensional powers started to manifest (at last, after 153 years, one would start to lose hope), the result was a bit underwhelming.

      The Pasha, during his last visit, had hinted at some company of local Magi that would make his Overseeing less stressful. He’d felt so exhausted he had barely noticed. It wasn’t the Pasha’s habit to make subtle suggestions. What really possessed him would have been worth investigating.

      Anyway, before he left home in the morning, suddenly remembering the suggestion and its unusual disclosure, Rukshan had flippantly looked though the name cards crammed in the many boxes gathered in the duration of his long past duties.
      Without much look at it, he’d found and taken the bit of parchment with the sesame, and worked the incantation to speak to the Magi’s assistant.

      The meeting had gone well. The Magi knew their business. They would come back to audit the Clock in a few days.
      It was only later that he looked at the new card they gave him. The heraldry was rather plain, but then it struck him —he hadn’t registered at first, because they used a rather old dark magic word from a speech almost forgotten. “Gargolem – spell the words, we’ll make it move”.


      The North wind was cold on his cheeks. It was almost sunset, which didn’t help with the temperature. Fox was sweeping a street covered in autumn leaves. He couldn’t help but think it was useless. The wind was scattering away the leaves as soon as he had made a small heap. He already missed the quietness of his hut.

      Mr Mole must have misunderstood, he thought, he appointed me caretaker of the city streets.
      Fox took a whiff of city air. The cold bit his nose,but it was not enough to numb his sense of smell. The dragon breath was still there, even though the North wind had dispersed it a bit.
      I’m not sure it will be enough.

      He shivered, he never liked staying outside too long in his human form. Fox looked around. When he was sure nobody was in sight. As the sun disappeared behind the city walls, he allowed his true nature to the surface, just enough to enjoy the warmth of his red fur on his body. It was such a good feeling he almost didn’t stop in time. He touched his face, a moustache had grown on his upper lip, and his ears were a tad pointy. He passed his tongue onto his teeth; the length of his canines reminded him of chicken hunt in the nearby farms.
      Don’t let yourself get carried away by the memories, he reminded himself. He took a deep breath. The smells of the city were stronger now, and it was as if someone had lit a light.

      With his improved hearing, he caught up a strange noise coming from a nearby garden. It was like a faint pulse that was growing louder as the light diminished. A crack as soft as the whisper of stone. And the most unexpected words.

      “Bloody bird shit ! Why do they always pick my nose ?”

      Fox came closer to the small garden stonewall, as stealthily as he could, to see a gnome washing his face in a small basin. He suddenly caught sight of some wavering in the air, coming from a bush. The waves gradually took the shape of a strange animal, still rather translucent. Its fur behaving as if it was immersed into water, all wavy and floating.

      “Ah! You’re here Rainbow,” said the gnome.
      “Mrui,” answered the creature.
      “Let’s get some potion for you, then.”

      Fox looked the two of them walk silently toward the house. He could see the rays of light getting through the spaces of the wooden shutters. The gnome climbed on his friend’s back and took a bit of that translucent quality. He said something but it sounded like gargling. Fox almost expected to see his hair beginning to float in an invisible current. But it didn’t. And then they disappeared through the wall.

      Fox dropped his broom, which bounced on the stonewall before falling on the floor. He waited, half expecting to hear a voice ask about all the noise. But the place remained quiet except for the wind. He jumped over the wall and waited behind a bush, his eyes on the wall where they had entered the house.

      What if they don’t come out? he thought. But he remained there, his gaze fixed. He let his fur grow more. He wanted to be comfortable in the cold night.


      So, her nocturnal thief had struck again!

      Glynis had left a freshly brewed batch of ‘Dream Recall’ potion on the window ledge to soak up the energy of the full moon overnight. And now one jar was missing.

      She didn’t mind; in fact it gave her a warm feeling of satisfaction whenever anyone wanted her potions. And she was not afraid because she sensed no harmful intent. But she was curious as to the identity of her visitor.

      Perhaps she should set a trap to unmask the thief?

      Later, maybe. Today, she was taking her potions to one of the outdoor markets in the city where people peddled all manner of handmade and home grown products. She was long overdue for a visit. She would put on her burka, tattered now but still functional, and trek through the forgotten paths of the enchanted forest, hidden to most, pulling her little cart of wares behind her.

      And when she comes close to the outskirts of the city, she will hunch her back and begin to walk slowly as though she is someone of very advanced years. She will set up her stall and a crowd will quickly gather, pushing and jostling to be first, for her potions are in high demand.

      It has not always been that way. At first, people were wary of her, the crooked old crone in her tattered robe. Only her bright blue eyes visible, eyes which dart quickly to the ground if one looks too hard. But it took just a few, lured closer to her table by curiosity or desperation—or perhaps it was pity for she must look a sorry sight. After that, it didn’t take long for word to spread.


      “Good morning Yorath! I had a most amazing dream last night,” said Eleri, while turning the mushrooms sizzling in the pan. “But I can’t recall a thing. Do you have a spell for dream recall?”

      “Of course I do! Put orange skin on your forehead and say carambar, that will do the trick,” he replied with a smile. If it works, he thought to himself, I can put it in my new spell book.

      “How handy that it’s orange season, I was just about to squeeze some for breakfast.” Eleri did as he suggested and placed the orange on her forehead. Immediately she had a vision of a fairy tale castle, silvery with many turrets. She was at a crossroads and a little bridge was in front of her leading to the castle. An old crone swathed in black skirts and shawl approached from the right, carrying a basket. The dream character pulled aside a red gingham cloth covering her basket and handed Eleri a large black book. Holding the book, she had an almost trippy sensation that the book was writhing or pulsing as if it’s stories would burst through the plain cover. And sure enough, as she held the book in her dream hands, while holding the cool orange to the middle of her forehead, she started to get flashes of recall.


      Preparing the pages for the arrival of the Elders had taken him the best of the last two days. The younglings were rather immature and in need of training in the complex rituals and protocols. Most had come from good families, so they did possess the principles well enough. However, they often carried about them an indistinct arrogance that would be sure to irritate the Elders. Rukshan himself wasn’t good at being humble, but over the years had learned to dull his colours, and focus on his own centre.

      He had hardly any time to think about the dreams, the book or the trees, although at times he could feel almost carried away, as though a swift and clear wind had swiped his head light, suddenly relieved from any burdening thought, almost ready to fly or disappear. Those moment rarely lasted, and quite frankly were a little unsettling.

      And there was still his repressed memories about what he had discovered hidden under the Clock’s hatch. He wanted to believe there was nothing to worry about that, that the silent ghosts were part of the original design, but his intuition was fiercely against it.
      In fact, his guts were telling him the same things as when he’d found out the pocket from his coat he’d just mended was originally wrongly attached inside the lining, (creating the rip at that exact spot, as if to catch his attention). Although he would usually have happily ignored it, this time he couldn’t let go, and felt almost forced to redo it, first unpick the seams he’d just sewn, then to finally detach the pocket from the inner lining and redo the mending —another indication that the living force that breathed through all wouldn’t let him eschew troubles this time.


      The grass was covered with frost. Fox growled, curled up in his clothes. He put his tail on his nose to protect it from the cold morning air. He sneezed. The city clock chimed the eighth hour. His fine ear alerted him that the sound was still a tad out of phase, but it seemed better than the day before. It took a moment to his brain to understand what that meant.

      Rats! I fell asleep, Fox yelped. He tried to stood up on his four legs, only to get tangled in his pants and shirt. He growled again, unnerved at the poking of the branches of the bush under which he had waited… slept.

      He froze, alerted by noises from the house. He turned his ears straight toward the building in an attempt to pick up any useful information. His heart was beating fast. With each breath steam was escaping from his mouth. Someone unlatched the door. They were going out.

      Fox panicked at the idea of being seen that way. Agitation was not the best ingredient to facilitate shapeshifting, it could result in unfortunate entanglements of body parts. He breathed deeply and realized he had chosen his hideout not to be seen. He was out of sight. His heart still beating fast, but not quite as fast as before. Fox resumed his watch.

      A woman under a tattered burka got out of the house. She was holding a basket covered by a red gingham cloth. From the tinkling sound, Fox concluded she was carrying small glass bottles among other things. He wondered if that could be the potions that gnome and his strange creature talked about last night. His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten in a day. The garden seemed a small and empty place to find food. He didn’t like shrews for breakfast. Furthermore, his previous targets certainly had time to get far away. There was no trace of them in the air or on the ground.

      Never mind. His curiosity picked, Fox decided to follow the woman. He considered his clothes on the ground for a moment. There was no way he could shapeshift all dressed up, and he didn’t want to get his butt frozen in that cold. Human form would have to wait. Still, he adjusted the color of his fur from fox orange to a darker tone before leaving the cover of his bush. He reminded himself to be careful, city people were not known to be fond of his kind except dead on their back.

      The woman was already outside the stonewall surrounding the garden. He caught her scent in the crisp morning air. The cold made him sneeze again. But he would not lose her and could follow from a distance. He went past a small statue before going out of the garden. It looked oddly familiar.


      When Glynis arrived at the edges of the forest, all those years ago, she really didn’t have a clear idea where she was headed. To be honest, she didn’t much care. She was exhausted and looking for a nice spot to rest, away from prying eyes.

      The shady canopy of the forest looked appealing and she only meant to stop for a short while. But it seemed the forest had other ideas as soft green moss-carpeted paths appeared before her and sunlight speckled glades beckoned to her through the trees.

      Just a little further, she would think. It’s so pretty here.

      And so Glynis just kept going, as she really had nowhere better to be, until she arrived at the deserted mansion. She liked to think she was here by invitation and the forest was her protector.

      She thought about this as she set off that morning. Remnants of a dream stayed with her and she had woken feeling heavy hearted and a little anxious about her journey. In her dream a very tall fence had been erected around the city and people with bad intent were prowling the perimeter so that the inhabitants of the city were no longer free to come and go.

      The forest will not let me pass if it is not safe to do so, she reminded herself.


      “You can see for miles and miles and miles and miles…” Eleri wondered briefly why it would never do to use the word kilometers in this case, despite that she rarely used the word miles these days. “Look at all those enormous birds, Yorath! Are they eagles or vultures?”

      The whitewashed walls were dazzlingly bright in the crisp rain washed air, and the distant blueberry mountains looked close enough to reach out and touch. The easterly wind whipped around the castle walls as they strolled around, playing the part of tourists for the day, decked out in woolly scarves and sunglasses, taking snapshots.

      It was disconcerting at times to see the crumbling stone walls where once had stood magnificent rooms, where they both recalled times long since past, times of intrigue and danger, and times of pastoral simplicity too. Many the lifetimes they had shared in this place over the centuries. Not for the first time, Eleri wondered why she felt a crumbling ruin was the natural state, the most beautiful state, for a man made structure. A point of interest in the wild landscape, softened with encroaching greenery, rather than the right angles and solid obstruction of a newly built edifice.

      Peering over the wall at the chasm below, Yorath exclaimed, “Look! Look at the goats sheltering in the crannies of the cliff wall!” Eleri smiled a trifle smugly. She felt an affinity with goats and their ability to traverse and utilize the places no one else could reach.


      Fox crept stealthily behind a pile of jars. The woman he had been following since he had woken up had acted strangely. As they were approaching the outdoor market of the Gwloerch’s district, she had gradually become stooped. If he hadn’t seen her leaving the house straight and lively under her veil, he could have believed she was as old as she played it now. This picked his curiosity even more. He wondered about her reasons to hide her true self to the world.

      People at the market seemed to know her, and she even had her spot ready for her when she arrived. She sat on one of two wooden chairs beside a small circular table. Fox observed how people interacted with her. They seemed to respect her and show some kind of deference. But he also could feel a hint of fear in the smell they gave off. No one talked to her though.

      The young crone didn’t need to drum up business. Her presence seemed to be enough. Not long after they arrived, a woman came and whispered something to the young crone. The veiled woman didn’t say a word, took a small pouch from her basket and gave it to the woman in exchange for coins. She was swiftly replaced by another, and another.

      Fox began to relax. His stomach growled. He suddenly became acutely aware he was in a market full of food. The most unnerving one was the chicken. Their cackles were as powerful to him as the song of the siren. He tried to contain himself. But the lack of excitement and the cold were too much.

      He looked at the queue of customers waiting for the young crone’s remedies and advices. He could have a good meal and return before she had given all of treasures from her basket. He decided his watch had lasted long enough, he needed to get some exercise.

      Lead by his hunger, he sneaked out from behind the jars. It was easy to get unnoticed in a market full of people. But still he had to be careful. Which was not so easy as his stomach seemed to have overrun his attention.

      The chickens were easy to find. They were parked in a small pen. Fox counted eighteen hens, three cocks, plus their chicks. That would certainly be his chance. He would have to be quick and go against the wind, not to let the birds catch his scent. His hunger and the proximity of the fowl were making him lose all sense of precaution. All he could see were the white feathers of the hens, white was his favourite colour at that moment. All he could hear was gentle cackle intimating him to get closer. All he could smell was game.

      Fox was close enough. He waited just a bit longer, drooling at the anticipation of the meal. He made his mind on a particularly juicy chicken and prepared to jump. He never knew if he had been spotted before or after he plunged into the pen. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was he missed his prey.

      Nonetheless, his sudden incursion into the market set off a mayhem among humans and birds alike. People were shouting ‘FOX! FOX !’. Chickens were running in all directions, flapping their wings and trying to take off, forgetting they couldn’t, but it was enough to let them out of the pen. Feathers were flying around. All this agitation making Fox even more excited and reckless. He avoided being caught several times with the help of the birds flying in the way of the humans.

      Eventually, Fox managed to get a small orange one, his least favourite color. It was time to clear off. But wherever he turned, there were legs blocking his path. His prey struggling in his mouth wasn’t helping. He began to panic, the humans were closing in on him.

      Let the bird go and I’ll help you, said a voice in his head. Fox blinked, startled by the strange feeling. He froze a moment, which almost had him caught. He saw an escape route under a table and ran all he could.

      Let the bird go, said the voice again. This time it was compelling and Fox released his prey.

      Now come under my veil, said the voice. A face appeared, in his mind. She had scales and two little horns on her forehead. Fox knew where he had to go.


      Deftly Glynis reached inside the flowing sleeve of her burka and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid she had strapped to her wrist. She pulled off the top and quickly threw the contents over Fox.

      “There you go, little Fella,” she said. “Now no-one can see you.”

      “Where’d he go, dammit! I saw him come over this way,” shouted a podgy red-faced man, puffing heavily with the unaccustomed exertion. “I’ll teach that little varmint to try and eat my hens! What did you do with him, Witch!?”

      Glynis took one of the remaining jars from her table and held it out to the man.

      “Give your wife three drops every evening as she sleeps,” she said, trying her best to sound crackly and old. “She will get well after 3 days — you don’t need to sell your hens to pay that doctor any longer. He wasn’t doing her any good.”

      “Eh?” said the man in surprise, at the same time taking the jar. “True enough that is, but how did you know?”

      “I know many things,” she answered mysteriously. “Now, take your hens home, and I wish you and your good wife all the best.”

      “Well, this is remarkable. Thank you very much indeed,” said Fox when the podgy man had gone.

      “If you are hungry I have a hard boiled egg and some fruit in my bag. Help yourself.”

      “Ha ha!” laughed Fox. “People will think you are talking to the ground.” He was quite delighted with his new invisible status and considering the various possibilities it offered him.

      “Now don’t you go taking advantage of any more hens just because you are invisible. It will wear off in about an hour, I think. I haven’t actually tried it on anyone other than myself before … I’ve never thought it ethical to sell the invisibility potion in case someone gets up to no good with it. But I like to keep some handy, just in case. “

      Just then the Town Clock chimed.

      “I’d best be going now. I have to go before the warden comes to check my permit … I don’t have one but as long as I get away early it is usually okay,” said Glynis. “Now, if you have any problems with the invisibility spell come and see me. I live in the old mansion in the enchanted forest. Do you know your way there?

      “I think I can find it,” said Fox. “Thanks again for your assistance.”

      Glynis had intended to head directly towards the forest after she left the market, but on impulse took the longer route through the pretty and tree lined Gingko Lane, part of the ‘Old City’. She walked slowly, in part to continue her ruse of being a person of advanced years, and in part because she felt a reluctance to leave the city and return to the solitude of her home.

      She pondered the events of the morning as she walked.

      The vision … the sandy haired woman on her sick bed, like stick and bone she was, with the doctor of dark intent leaning over her… and then the podgy faced man standing in the hen house and grieving over his hens.

      It had been so vivid. And unexpected. So she had acted on it, her heart beating in trepidation though she had spoken with authority to the man.

      And it had worked!

      It was not the first time Glynis had such a vision. But never in such testing circumstances!

      A young man was walking towards her. His face deep in concentrated contemplation, he did not look up.

      Fae, thought Glynis, though she was not sure how she knew.

      As he passed, Glynis reached out on impulse and touched his arm. He jumped, startled.

      “I think this is for you,” she said, handing him her last vial of potion. “Use it when you need it most.”

      The young man hesitated, unsure, but taking the vial.

      Glynis shook her head, wanting to deflect his questions. She turned quickly away.

      Relenting, she stopped and looked directly at him.

      “Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.”


      It had been many years since Eleri left the service of Lord and Lady Teacake to make a life of her own in the woods, but she continued to visit Lady Jolly from time to time, arranging her visits to coincide with the Lord Mayor’s trips abroad. It was not that Lord Leroway wouldn’t have made her welcome ~ rather the reverse ~ in fact he found it hard to keep his hands off her. Eleri had no reciprocating feelings for the old scoundrel, but a great deal of affinity and affection for the Lady Jolly, a kindred soul despite their seemingly different stations in the life of a small rural township.

      Lord Leroway Teacake had not been born a noble, nor had the Lady Jolly. Leroway had a dream one night that he had been made the Lord Mayor of Trustinghampton in the Wold, and in the dream he was asking his teenage neighbour, Jolly Farmcock, for advice on what to say to the villagers in his inauguration speech. It appeared that the pretty girl with the curious eyes was his partner in the dream, and the dream was so vivid and real that he set his sights upon her and courted her hand in marriage. Jolly was bowled over by his ardent attention, and charmed by his enthusiasm. Before long they were married and Leroway was ready to continue his dream mission.

      Leroway was tall and broad shouldered, and prematurely bald in an arrestingly handsome sort of way. Despite his size, he had a way with intricate mechanisms; he had the manual dexterity of a watchmaker, and a fascination for making new devices with parts from old broken contraptions. Had it not been for the dream, he would have happily spent his life tinkering in the workshop of his parents home.

      But the dream was a driving compulsion, and he and his new bride set off to find Trustinghampton in the Wold, as the feeling within him grew that the villagers were expecting him.

      “Where is it?” Jolly asked.

      “We will know when we find it!” replied Leroway. “Hold on to my coat tails!” he added a trifle theatrically. Jolly smiled up at him, loving his exuberance. And off they set, first deciding at the garden gate whether to turn right or left. And this is what they did at every intersection and fork in the road. They paused and waited for the pulling. Not once did they have a difference of opinion on which direction the drawing energy came from. It was clear.

      They arrived at the newly populated abandoned village just as the sun was setting behind the castle ramparts. Wisps of blue smoke curled from a few chimneys, and the aroma of hot spiced food hastened their steps. A small black and white terrier trotted towards them, yapping.

      “We have arrived!” Leroway announced to the little dog. “And we are quite hungry.”

      The dog turned and trotted up the winding cobbled street, lined with crumbling vacant houses, looking over his shoulder as if to say “follow me”. Leroway and Jolly followed him to the door of a cottage with candle light glowing in the window.

      The dog scratched on the cottage door and yapped. Creaking and scraping the tile floor, the door opened a crack, and a young woman pushed her ragged dreadlocks over her shoulder with a grimy hand, peering out.

      “Ah!” she said, her face breaking into a smile. “Who are you? Well never mind, I have a feeling you are expected. Come in, come in.”

      The door creaked alarmingly and juddered as it scraped the floor. Leroway scowled at the door hinges, suppressing an urge to take the door off the hinges right then and there to fix it.

      “My name is Alexandria,” the woman introduced herself when the travelers had squeezed through the opening. She kissed them on both cheeks and gestured them to sit beside the fireplace. “We haven’t been here long, so please excuse the disarray.”

      Noticing her guests eyes on the bubbling pot on the fire, she exclaimed, “Oh but first you must eat! It’s nothing fancy, but it is mushroom season and I must say I have never had such delicious mushrooms as the ones growing wild here. Let me take your coats ~ I say, what a gorgeous purple! ~ sit, do sit!” she said, pulling a couple of rickety chairs up to the table.

      “You are too kind,” replied Jolly gratefully. “It smells divine, and we are quite hungry.”

      “How many people live here?” asked Leroway.

      “Twenty two now, more are arriving every day,” replied Alexandria. “Eleri and I and Lobbocks were the first to come and we sent word to the others. You see,” she sighed, “It’s really been quite a challenge down in the valleys. Many chose to stay, but some of us, well, we felt an urge to move, to find a place untouched by the lowland dramas.”

      “I see,” said Leroway, although he didn’t really know what she meant by lowland dramas. He had spent his life in the hills.

      He tucked into his bowl of mushroom stew. There was plenty of time to find out. He was here to stay.


      The day after their arrival, Alexandria took Leroway and Jolly on a tour of the abandoned village, inviting them to choose a dwelling for themselves. The other new arrivals had chosen places with the least structural damage, places with roofs remaining, regardless of the size or position, for reasons of immediate practicality. Leroway set his sights on the grandest house just outside the castle walls, perched above the other houses. There was very little roof left, but the thick stone walls were standing firm, and the gaping windows provided impressive views. Jolly was delighted with the spacious inner courtyard and crumbling fountain, picturing the flowering Solandra vines she would plant there once the restorations had been completed.

      Leroway had been making mental notes of salvagable materials as they toured the village, and had soon enlisted the help of Lobbocks and a few of the other young men to drag sheets of corrugated iron from crumbling pig pens and stables and other useable items up the winding streets to the house. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t long at all before Leroway had the new villagers organized into efficient teams, under his innovative direction.

      Trustinghampton started to take shape. More people arrived and joined in the reconstruction process. Shelter, firewood, and food were the priorities, but Leroway had ideas for the future and during the scavenging he started to collect potentially useful items in the barn adjoining his house.

      Jolly and Eleri became friends, and spent much of their days exploring the surrounding countryside in search of edible or medicinal ~ or indeed magical ~ plants. After their walks they conferred with the old woman, Cornelia, showing her the plants they’d gathered and comparing notes on their potential uses. The young women were well versed in plant lore, but the old one had the benefit of a lifetimes learning and experience.

      Cornelia had always lived just outside the village, and had watched the old inhabitants gradually die off or move to the lowlands. The last ones to leave had begged her to join them, but she had refused. She had been born next to the old stones and she would die next to them. Eleri and Jolly had asked her about those strange stones, and Cornelia had enigmatically replied that one day she would tell them the secrets of the stones. When the time was right.


      By the following spring, Trustinghampton had fifty seven inhabitants. Under the leadership of Leroway, all had comfortable homes and enough to eat. There were numerous workshops, a bakery and communal brick oven, vegetable gardens and a traveling scavenging team with a mule cart. It was Lobbocks who had suggested a distillery: what we need now is a pub, he’d said. Somewhere to party.

      And that is how Leroway became the Lord Mayor. When the first spirits and wines were ready, the villagers held a party. The scavengers had found, among other things including additional wines and spirits and party drug stashes, a vast collection of clothing of all kinds, and so they had a fancy dress party. For fun they had a competiton of the best costumes, and Leroway and Jolly won, with their royal robes and tiara crowns. Eleri won second prize for her fetching maids outfit.

      Lest anyone be confused as to the nature of the workings of the village, there was no hierarchy and no laws. It was a mutual cooperation under the obvious and natural leadership of Leroway. The villagers were fond of him and grateful for the part he played, and Jolly was popular with everyone. The First Party was such a success and everyone loved their costumes so much that they continued to wear them, and play the parts. Thus, Leroway and Jolly became Lord Mayor and Lady Teacake, and Eleri played the part of their maid, although nobody was dictating to anyone else as it was just a game.

      It was the maids outfit that led Leroway astray. Try as he might, for he was devoted to his wife, he couldn’t subdue the flames rising in his purple clad loins. Eleri deftly avoided him as best she could, for she too was devoted to her friend Jolly. Had she fancied Leroway at all, she might have considered approaching Jolly with a view to an amicable ménage à trois, but the fact was, she didn’t. She had eyes for the latest arrival, the mysterious Mr Minn.


      After the Elders were gone back to the Capitol City of the Seven Hills, Rukshan was left pondering for awhile about his duties.
      The visit had been pleasant enough, thanks to his deft organisation, and he had the skills to let just enough imponderables and improvising spots so that the whole thing didn’t look too artificially prepared.
      The Sultan was pleased, and Rukshan was aware that some behind the curtains politics were are play, where he, somehow also was involved, although he couldn’t yet see how. It seemed his capacity for solving or clarifying complex matters was in high demand. One of the Elders of senior attainment had talked to him briefly, in a very amenable tone which was best suited when asking favours. “How odd” he’d thought, as the discussing dynamics would usually be the other way around.
      Rukshan, I wanted to talk to you about your future” — was how he introduced the conversation. After a few minutes, the intent was clear that there were other places where they had planned to send him.

      The next few days had him struggle to appease his own feelings. As usual in the cities, people where dealing in abstractions, and abstractions had the inconvenient side-effect of stirring the sea of the mind in all sorts of directions, none of which related to what was happening in the present moment.

      His family was for that matter very dismissive of his way of life, living as he had for many years in the city. Fays used to live in the forests flanking the mountains, deep inside the sacred groves, where they were in accordance with old rites and the natural time, the breath of life in the trees. They argued that men cities were an insane world of abstractions, that made you forget were you came from, and what sustained you.
      Ages ago, one of his ancestors, CJ Soliman had written after a visit of the first city (a mere hamlet at the time) “It is quite possible that the Forest is the real world, and that men live in a madhouse of abstractions. Life in the Forest has not yet withdrawn into the capsule of the head. It is still the whole body that lives. No wonder men feel dreamlike; the complete life of the Forest is something of which they merely dream. When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”

      He wouldn’t have disagreed actually. He’d found the pull of nature was strong, soft but steady and immovable. But as far as his life was going, he’d come to realise that cities were in need of a fine balancing act, otherwise, leaving them unchecked would probably hasten the pace at which they ate away acres of forests in their developments. Already, the sacred woods were threatened, and with them, his family and ancestors’ way of life.

      After that discussion with the Elder, he’d found the need to clear up and make space for the new. He’d spent a whole day throwing away stuff, amazed at how much even himself would gather of unnecessary things. In the new space, he’d let the birds songs enter through the window, despite the biting cold and the grey fog.
      A resolve was birthed in his mind and made clear at the time, as clear as the morning chirping in the thick air.
      He would soon go back to the mountains, in the Dragon Heartwood, visit his family and look for the old Hermit for counsel.


      Hasamelis stood immobile, his stony gaze seeing nothing but the relentless passing of time indicated before him on the contraption they called the Town Clock. How we would love to detach himself from his plinth and look away, and what a fate for the god of travel! It was too cruel, too wicked, too great an undeserved punishment to inflict on such a great, though long forgotten, traveler. Did any of them, those who sat beneath his feet on the park benches, eating their sandwiches and drinking from paper cups, even know who he was? No, they did not! Just another statue for the pigeons to soil, that’s all he was to them. Did anyone look up at his face and wonder? No, they did not! They took photos of themselves and each other, cutting him half out of the picture, as if he was nothing, just background scenery. Some particularly vile specimens of human nature had even pissed up his legs in the dark drunken nights, and stubbed their cigarettes out on his feet.

      His feeling of humiliation grew over the years into a raging desire for revenge. One day, one day! he would find the means to movement again, and by golly he would hunt down the creature that turned him to stone. One day he would find that woman who immobilized him and crated him like a shipment of spare parts and sent him away. One day he would find her. Oh yes, he would find that woman.


      The oiliphant had arrived. Rukshan had heard her powerful trumpeting that made the walls vibrate and resound deeply.
      He’d called the great Oiliphant Spirit a month ago, with an old ritual of the Forest, drawing a complex symbol on the sand that he would fill with special incense offering, and letting it consume in one long slow burn. He had to chose the place carefully, as the magic took days to operate, and any disruption of the ritual by a careless passerby would just void its delicately wrought magic.
      Sadly, oiliphants had left a long time ago and many believed they were creatures of lore, probably extinct. He knew from the Forest fays that it was not so. There were still sightings, from deep in the Forest, in the part where the river water fell pristine and pure from the mountainous ranges. What was true was that even for the fay people, such sightings were rarer than what used to be, in the distant past.
      It was a reckless move on his part, drawing one so close to the town walls, but he knew that even the most godless town dweller would simply be in awe of the magnificent giant creature. Besides, they were notoriously difficult to mount, their thick rubbery skin slippery and slick as the smoothest stone, as if polished by ages of winds and sky water.
      Thus the magic was required.
      Rukshan’s little bag was ready. He’d taken with him only a small batch of provisions, and his leather-bound book of unfinished chronicles, spanning centuries of memories and tales from his kin.

      Leaving his office, he took the pile of discarded paper and closed the door. The office looked almost like when he’d first arrived, maybe a little cleaner. He liked the idea of leaving little footprints.
      After throwing away the papers in front of the building with the trash, he looked up at the Clock Tower and its twelve mannequins. There was definitely something awry at play in the Tower, and the mere thought of it made him shiver. The forlorn spirits dwelling in the basements had something to do with the Old Gods, he could tell. There was fear, anger and feelings of being trapped. When you were a mender, you knew how to connect with the spirit in things, and it was the first step in mending anything. He could tell that what made him shiver was the unthinkable idea that some things may be beyond repair.

      Before leaving, he walked with pleasure in the still silent morning streets, towards the little house where the errand boy of the office lived with his mother. He had a little gift for him. Olliver was fond of the stories of old, and he would often question him to death about all manners of things. Rukshan had great fondness for the boy’s curiosity, and he knew the gift would be appreciated, even if it would probably make his mother fearful.
      The bolophore in his old deer skin wrapping was very old, and quite precious. At least, it used to be, when magic was more prevalent, and reliable. It was shaped as a coppery cloisonné pineapple, almost made to resemble a dragon’s egg, down to the scales, and the pulsating vibrancy. People used bolophores to travel great distances in the past, at the blink of a thought, each scale representing a particular location. However, with less training on one-pointed thoughts, city omnipresent disturbances, and fickleness of magic, the device fell out of use, although it still had well-sought decorative value.

      Rukshan left the package where he was sure the boy would find it, with a little concealment enchantement to protect it from envious eyes. To less than pure of heart, it would merely appear as a broken worthless conch.

      With one last look at the tower, he set up for the south road, leading to the rivers’ upstream, high up in the mountains. Each could feel the oiliphant waiting for him at the place of the burnt symbol, her soft, regular pounding on the ground slowly awakening the life around it. She wouldn’t wait for long, he had to hurry. His tales of the Old Gods and how they disappeared would have to wait.


      The oiliphant recognised him with her deep thoughtful motherly eyes, and extended her trunk as a greeting. He accepted the gentle pat on his head, feeling as though a blanket of inextinguishable love had spread over, pouring over and inundating the land with unspoken blessings of grace.
      With her trunk gently wrapped under his arms, she lifted him as if he were weightless, landing him on the soft spot behind her neck’s wrinkles, where he could sit and not fall.

      She then proceeded to move slowly to the forest, not after having trumpeted a clear call in the heavy air surrounding the city, as though she was trying to spread purity to clear the misgivings in suspension over the town.

      The walk was pleasant, and had a slow meditative quality. Every moment was connected to everything, everywhere. Each footstep was deliberate, a perfect action in perfect resonance.

      Rukshan didn’t know how much time had elapsed when the border of the enchanted forest appeared. He realized they were coming close when the oiliphant’s serenity and soft lull of the walk felt slightly disturbed.
      He blinked to look in the distance. The mist of the air had not completely cleared at this early hour, but he could make out the source of the disturbance. He suddenly felt a rage flare up, a rage he didn’t know he had in him. How did they dare! They had fenced the Forest, and put a toll booth!


      A small crowd gathered, anxious to enter the forest.

      “Good Grief! A toll booth,” said someone. “Will you look at that? Bloody Council!”

      “Forget about that!” said someone else. “Is that an Oiliphant?? Haven’t seen one of those for years.”


      The mechanical human powered toll booth had been one of Leroway’s brain waves, in his opinion, anyway. In order to protect the rare mushrooms and other endangered species in the forest, he had set his teams of farmbot mechanical outdoor workers to the task of building a fence around it. As they worked day and night, non stop regardless of weather, the task had been completed in a very short time, much to the surprise of anyone who was in the habit of using the paths through it. During the fortnight’s deluge of rain, not many had ventured out of their dwellings, and it was during this time that the fence was completed.

      In order to pass through the toll booths dotted around the perimeter of the forest, a foot traveler was obliged to step onto a treadmill for approximately ten minutes, and the power gained was used to operate the pumps which cleared the low lying areas of flood water, and provide lamp light along the paths for those wishing to travel or simply stroll through the woods at night.

      Leroway, in his enthusiasm and appreciation for the benefits of the recent construction, was not expecting the backlash from the people who misunderstood his intentions, and raged against the restriction and forced labour.

      “I don’t think they like it, Jolly,” Eleri said, who had decided to visit her friend when she learned that Leroway had gone down to the toll booth protest to attempt to deal with the angry mob. “It reminds them of the old days. People don’t like fences anymore.”

      “But he’s never done anything bad for the people, Eleri, everyone knows his intentions are good.”

      “The people here in Trustinghamton know that, dear, but the ones from elsewhere don’t. Perhaps he should confine his inventions to the village? They are seeing it as an infringement on their liberties from an outside force. I know, I know, such old fashioned ideas, but they do linger, especially when people are confronted with a surprise.”

      “Well, you are probably right, but what can we do? He does what he wants!”

      “Yes, he does,” replied Eleri drily, recalling her last encounter with Leroway behind the old mill.


      He had gently coaxed the oiliphant who was reluctant to go past the fences, towards the haunted bamboo forest, a bit further along the way. He’d thought that the Forest had many secret entrances, and would surely provide a way in when the time would be right. All he had to do was to keep his direction steady, and not mind a little detour. There might be a reason for all that —already he could see people coming out of their dwellings eyes full of curiosity to have a closer look at the both of them. Most would only observe in wonder, but some dared follow them for a little while. He started to wave, but nobody paid him any mind, they were clearly here for the creature. So he’d decided to retreat in silent observation.

      With the excitement of leaving and riding the oiliphant to the Forest, Rukshan had almost forgotten about the phial in his pocket. He wasn’t sure yet what it was for, but it felt auspicious and welcome. A little nudge that would help him once in the thick of the woods.

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