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 All the good practitioners of old seemed to have been replaced by snake oil merchants.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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      Yorath was still trying to explain the nature of forests, the rekindled understanding of the woodland habitats, the memory storing capacity of the vegetation in a vast network of twining tendrils and roots and so on, when Lobbocks burst into the room. Leroway had been finding himself unable to detach the workings of his mind from the contraptions he could assemble himself to control the natural states, and welcomed the interruption. If only Yorath would get to the point, he’d thought impatiently, then I could prepare to devise a solution ~ thereby entirely missing the point, although he didn’t realize it.

      But here was Lobbocks, announcing a problem that required a solution, which was much more in line with Leroway’s thinking. As he listened to the tale of the stone statue now animated and angry, he immediately started to plan a device to capture, restrain and subdue it, to keep it from harming any of the citizenry.

      Eleri, however, revealing herself from her eavesdropping position behind the door, had other ideas.

      “I must speak to him!” she said. “I must know how he animated himself, without the aid of any of my ingredients.”

      “Not to mention his vengeful attitude,” added Yorath. “Imagine if this happens again, to other stone statues and creatures.”

      “Indeed we do, Yorath! I had considered the animation, purely from a physical capacity for movement standpoint, but I had not given much thought to the emotional condition in a reanimation process after a prolonged inanimate state. Oh hello, Leroway,” she added, noticing his look of surprise.

      “Should I get a posse together to follow him then,” interjected Lobbocks, as Leroway and Eleri exchanged banal pleasantries about how long it had been since they’d met, “Because I think he’s looking for your workshop in the valley.”

      Eleri ignored Leroway’s suggestion that she stay in the village while he conducted the mission to capture the statue, stating that she was leaving for home immediately, gratefully accepting Yorath’s announcement that he would accompany her. She went back up to attic to fetch her things, and stood at the window for a moment, looking up at the castle walls.

      Wouldn’t it be easier to just walk in the other direction, and not look back? The temptation hovered, almost as tangible as the scent of orange blossom in the air. What was it that was keeping her here all these years? She was a wanderer by nature, or at least she had been. Were those days really gone? While everyone around her had been lightening their loads, ridding themselves of unnecessary baggage, loosening their ties, she’d done the opposite.

      Sighing, she picked up her bag. She would return home.


      When Rukshan awoke, all was quiet.
      The little cottage felt completely empty, even with the presence of Emma.
      He propped himself up, feeling hungry for the first time in many days.
      The light outside was pale, everything seemed covered in a dense white fog.

      There was a little note on the table.
      “In case you decide to wake up while we are out, don’t be alarmed, I have taken Tak outside gather some wood —the kid was growing too restless inside, and even though my legs are not as strong as they used to, I will enjoy a little walk as well. Help yourself to the cheese. M~”

      The fire had died in the chimney, so he started to clean the cinders and prepare some small wood for a little warmth.

      The feeling of unrooted emptiness lingered around. Maybe it was just the fog. He would enjoy it a little longer while it lasted, before all thoughts of duties and things to do would catch up with him.


      The seven little spheres had each a different colour. Gorrash looked at them with envy in his heart. He’d rarely seen colours as his life was mostly at night, under the moonlight or under the yellow tint of candles and gas lamps. However, the spheres had their own light from inside. And Gorrash couldn’t touch them as Rainbow was very protective, and it made the stone dwarf restless. He had tried once to take one sphere and he got a warning slap on his hand. Rainbow looked soft and gentle, but a whip is always soft and supple before it struck.

      The whole week they had been on the hunt for all kind of potions from the shelves of the dragon woman. Glynis, she had called herself during one of her monologues in front of the mirror. Her sadness and frustration toward her appearance resonated more than once with his own condition. He had felt guilty about their little thefts, but he had soon realised that nothing would stop Rainbow.

      The randomness of the creature’s choice of potions appeared to be not so random. Gorrash tried several times to help, picking up potions for his friend, according to the colours he liked or to the shapes of the phials that intrigued him, but the creature refused many times the offering.

      The colours mattered to Rainbow, apparently. It would never take black, Gorrash discovered. Only colours from the rainbow spectrum, a voice said inside him. He had learned to recognised it as the voice of his creator’s memories infused into the core of his matter. One thing he wasn’t sure though was about the process of his birth. Has he been carved out from a stone ? Has he been assembled like clay ? That was not part of the memories trapped into his stone body.

      Gorrash then tried to bring the creature colours from the rainbow, always glowing, never dull or matte. But then he discovered it had to be in a certain order. Everyday was different. One day it was in the order of the colour spectrum from red to purple, as his master’s remembered. Another day it had to begin with green or indigo. But always following the order of the colour wheel. If a colour was missing, then they had to wait until Glynis would manufacture it.

      And then, one day… one night, as Gorrash woke up from his rigid sleep, the seven spheres were there, and Rainbow was watching over them. Like a bird over its eggs, said the voice. Except they didn’t really look like eggs. Eggs don’t glow with different colours. Eggs have a shell. Those were translucent, glowing of some very attractive inner light, and looked like water spheres. Does that mean it’s a she? wondered Gorrash who had always thought his friend was a male. He gnawed at his lower lip. Anyway, it seemed that the hunting days were over as Rainbow didn’t show any motivation to leave her strange progeny, and Gorrash had no way to go past the walls on his own.

      Rainbow raised its eyebrows and looked at the dwarf who had come too close to the eggs for its taste. It gathered protectively the spheres which came as one in a big multicoloured moving spheroid. Gorrash could still see the individual light cores in it, they seemed to pulse like the growing desire in his heart. He swallowed. It tasted of dust.

      — I won’t take them, he said.

      His chest tightened as he saw suspicion in his friend’s eyes. Gorrash turned away feeling sadness and guilt. He needed to find some distraction from the attractive lights and the growing desire in his heart.


      The cave’s entrance was glowing in a golden light. The fresh snow had blanketed the entrance that the midday sun was bathing with warm rays through the fog.

      The cave was hanging perilously on the precarious slopes of the mountainous ranges, where only a few woolly goats could safely reach its heights without fear of breaking their necks. It was a safe haven for the Hermit.
      Below the cave, the vast expanse of the Forest was almost entirely white, except for its fringe, far from the mountains, where the cities had flowered, and except from its center, the darker Dragon Heartwood with its reds and greens that seemed almost black in contrast.

      She was known as the Hermit by most of the Faes living in the forest, a honorary title if not slightly belittling when they called her that. To others, she was often known by different colorful names. Sometimes when she was seen flying in her bird skin, accompanying the giant raptor birds from the plateaus with her long white hair flowing to the wind, surveying from above the life of the land, she would gain other names as well.
      Her shaman name was Kumihimo, or weaver of threads. In the cave, many threads were carefully hanged onto a long line, without particular noticeable pattern, either by colors and material. All were different. Her birds friends, big or smaller would often bring her threads from many great distances. She would hang them here, without particular care, or so it seemed to the naked eye.

      It had been a long time she had weaved any of them, or had the impulse to.
      But she had dreamt.
      She never dreamt. To dream for her was a matter of crucial importance.
      She had dreamt of seven threads.
      It was time she made a new braid.


      Yorath led the way down the forest path. Eleri followed, feeling no urge to rush, despite the sense of urgency. Rather, she felt a sense of urgency to linger, perhaps even to sit awhile on a rock beneath an old oak tree, to stop the pell mell rush of thoughts and suppositions and just sit, staring blankly, listening to the forest sounds and sniffing the mushroomy mulch beneath her feet.

      The compulsion to be alone increased. Unable to ignore it any longer, Eleri told Yorath that she would catch him up, she needed to go behind a bush for a moment, knowing quite well that there was no need for the excuse, but still, she didn’t feel like explaining. Talking, even thinking, had become tiring, exhausting even. She needed to sit, just sit.

      She watched his retreating back and breathed a sigh of relief when his form disappeared from view. Much as she loved her dear old friend, the absence of other humans was like a breath of air to the drowning. The rustlings of the living forest, the dappling shadows and busy missions of the insects was a different kind of busyness, far from still and never silent, not always slow or sedate, not even serene or pleasant always, but there was a restful coherence to the movements of the living forest.

      Leaning back into the tree trunk, her foot dislodged a rotten log from its resting place among the leaves ~ crisp and crunchy on the top, damp and decomposing beneath the surface ~ revealing the long slim ivory of bone contrasting sharply with the shades of brown.

      Bones. Eleri paused before leaning over to touch it gently at first, then gently smooth away the composting detritus covering it.

      Bones. She held it, feeling the hard dry texture peculiar to bones, loving the white colour which was more than white, a richer white than white, not bleached of colour, but full of the colours of white, and holding all of the colours of the story of it.

      The story of the bone, the bones. She knelt, carefully brushing the leaves aside. Bones never rested alone, she knew that. Close by she knew she would find more. She knew she would take them home with her, although she knew not why. Just that she always did. A smile flitted across her face as she recalled the horse bones she’d found once ~ an entire, perfect skeleton of a horse. What she wouldn’t have given to take the whole thing home with her, but it was impossible. Perfectly assembled, picked clean and sun bleached, resplendent in the morning sun, it was a thing of unimaginable beauty that morning, reclining on the hilltop. So she took as much of the spine as she could carry, and later wished she’d taken the skull instead. And never really wondered why she didn’t go back for more.

      But that was the thing with bones. You don’t go back. You take what you want, what you can carry, and leave the rest. But Eleri had to admit that she didn’t know why this was so.


      The ghosts had come back during the night.
      Even now they were lurking, trying all they could to obliterate him.
      It wasn’t like him though to feel as powerless. He’d woken up, drenched in a cold sweat.
      He had felt petrified, unable to move, vaguely realising that he was dreaming and yet, incapable of moving a muscle, or waking up from the nightmare.

      It was a clear sign he had to resume his quest, find the Hermit and sooner than later.

      “It’s alright.” Margoritt’s voice was steady and slightly amused. “You don’t owe me any explanation, you should just go. I can take care of this little one for you, you see, I’ve always wanted a child, but never had the chance to bring one in my busy life. Now is as good a time as any.
      When Mr Minn is coming back with the carriage, if you’re not back by then through these woods, you will find us in the city.”

      And with a warm hug and a small bag of provision, he was back on the paths of the forest towards the impregnable mountains.


      Kumihimo was rummaging through the content of a wooden chest at the back of the cave. According to the smell it had spent too much time in the dark and humid environment. She might have to do some spring cleaning one day. But the chest was now too heavy for her to carry. I need an apprentice for this, she thought not knowing if if was a wish or a regret.

      In that chest, she had her many tools of the thread. Some were made of bones and she had carved them herself under the direction of her spirit guides. Each one had a specific purpose, either to catch, to extract, to guide, or to dissipate, and many more usages that even she had forgotten after so many years spent in that place.

      She had accumulated so many things in that chest. Fortunately she liked miniature, and most of her creations were seldom bigger than her little finger. However that made it difficult to keep things in order and finding something was often a real challenge. So she sang lullabies to lure the object she was looking for out of their sanctuary.

      Victory! she exulted in the ancient tongue, which would translate also as ‘I have done all that is necessary to harvest the benefits of the next crop’. Kumihimo liked simple things and she liked when one word could signify a very complex meaning. Under an old donkey skin that she often used to camouflage herself when she was going down in the valley, she had found the loom she had been looking for.

      The loom was made from the right shoulder blade of a bear. It was one of the first objects she had carved when she arrived in the vicinity. It had a yellowish patina and felt very smooth in her hands. Its shape was octagonal and each side had seven notches under which were three rows of symbols, some of the ink was gone after so many years, but she could still feel the groove where she had carved them. She smiled at the fond memories and at the dear friend who allowed her to take his bone when he died of old age.
      In the centre of the loom was a heart with a circular hole in it. It was where the braid would emerge.

      Holding the precious object, Kumihimo could feel all the braids she had already made and all the potential braids that waited to come into existence. She felt warmth bloom in her heart at the task at hand.

      Each notch corresponded at the same time to a time of the year, to a direction on earth and in the sky, and some rather obscure references to many other phenomenon and concepts. The weaving depended on very complex rules that she had discovered from experience. Actually the meaning weaved itself into the braid through a subtle interaction between her and Spirit. That way she didn’t have to bother about what to do or what notch to use as it would all unfold during the weaving.

      She stood up and walked outside. The day was still young and she had a lot to do. The weaving ceremony was an act of spontaneity, but it required some preparation. She put the loom on a round rock to dry in the Sun and went to examine the hanging threads. She had to choose carefully.


      The door whines on rusty hinges as Glynis shuts it for the last time. She hesitates, thinking. It doesn’t seem right to lock the door but still she tucks the key away in the bottom of her bag. This small act gives her a sense of entitlement, the feeling she can return whenever she chooses.

      Funny things … keys, Glynis thinks, briefly remembering a pretty carved treasure box with a key-hole she had as a child. Nobody knew where the key was or if there ever was a key. She lets this small memory slip through, inconsequential as she knows it to be.

      This house has been her safe place for so many years. It has welcomed her in and cradled her when she could barely move with grief and loss. And though at times she has sensed the presence of phantoms and ghosts in its aging walls, not once have they given her trouble or even acknowledged her presence.

      This morning as she is leaving, the sadness threatens to overwhelm her. And though the day is already bright with sunshine and birdsong, sorrow has settled on her like a heavy mist, greying her spirit. In this sadness Glynis can allow herself no thoughts of past or future, there is just the present moment and in its sanctuary she must stay.

      A gust of wind sweeps through her hair before it slips away into the forest to rustle the leaves.

      Inviting her.


      “More bones?” asked Yorath, smiling, as Eleri caught up with him on the forest path.

      “I ask you, why is it,” she asked, leaning against a tree to catch her breath, “Why is it that we collect bones to make a complete one, but never go back to the same place for bones?”

      Yorath paused and turned, raising an eyebrow.

      “Never mind, don’t answer that, that’s not what I’m getting at ~ not now anyway ~ I just remembered something, Yorath.”

      He waited expectantly for her to continue, but she didn’t reply. He mouth had dropped open as she gazed vacantly into the middle distance, slightly cross eyed and wonder struck.

      “You were saying?” he prompted gently.

      Her attention returned and she grabbed his arm and pointed down towards the lowlands. “Look! Down there,” she said, giving his elbow a shake. “It was down there when I was a child and it was that one day in spring and I saw it. I know I did. They all said I read the story first and then imagined it, but it was the other way round.” Noticing her friends unspoken suggestion that she slow down and clarify, Eleri paused and took a few deep breaths.

      “I’d sort of half forgotten about it,” Eleri laughed. “But suddenly it all makes sense. There is a legend,” she explained, “that on one day of the year in spring all the things that were turned to stone to hide them came to life, just for the day. One of my earliest memories, we were out for a picnic in the hills on the other side of the valley and everyone had fallen asleep on rugs on the grass, and I wandered off. I was four years old, maybe five. You know when you see a rock that looks like a face, or a tree that looks like an animal or a person? Well on this one day of the year, according to the legend, they all come back to life ~ even the clouds that look like whales and birds. And it’s true, you see, Yorath. Because I’ve seen it.”

      “I’ve heard of it, and the tree that guards it all comes to life, did you see her?”

      “Yes. And she said something to me, but I don’t remember what the words were. I knew she said something, but I didn’t know what.”


      There was no way around it. As hard as he would have tried, he couldn’t reach the peaks of the mountain without crossing the part of the Enchanted Forest which the Fae called their own. There was no way for him to avoid paying the price, or to avoid facing the Court.
      Rukshan wished there was an easier way, but trying to avoid it would only delay the inevitable. Besides, he would need provisions to continue his journey —that is, if they’d let him.

      The first signs of the enchanted signposts had appeared two days ago. He’d been walking through the silent and cold forest for close to ten days already. His progress was slow, as the days were short, and the nights were better spent recuperating.
      The early signs that he was approaching the Fae land wouldn’t have been noticeable by any other than those with some Fae blood in their veins. Some were as subtle as enchanted dewdrops on spiderwebs, other few were watcher crows, but most of the others were simply sapling trees, shaking at the slightest change of wind. All of them silent watchers of the Forest, spies for the Queen and her Court.

      From the first sign, he had three days. Three days to declare himself, or face the consequences. He would wait for the last one. There was something magical about the number three, and anything more hasty would only mean he was guilty of something.

      Like improper use of magic he thought, smiling at the memory of the oiliphant. The Queen was clutching at a dwindling empire, and magic sources gone scarce meant it had to be “properly” used.

      He never believed such nonsense, which is why he’d decided to live outside of their traditions. But for all his disagreement, he remained one of them, bound by the same natural laws, and the same particularities. Meant to reach extremely old ages while keeping an external appearance as youthful as will is strong in their mind, able to wield strong magic according to one’s dispositions, ever bound to tell the truth (and becoming thus exceptionally crafty at deception), and a visceral distaste for the Bane, iron in all its forms.
      Thus was his heritage, the one he shared with the family that was now waiting for his sign to be granted an audience in the Court.

      One more day, he thought…


      The garden was becoming too small for Gorrash. With time, the familiarity had settled down in his heart and he knew very well each and every stone or blade of grass there was to know. With familiarity, boredom was not very far. Gorrash threw a small pebble in the pond, he was becoming restless and his new and most probably short friendship with Rainbow had triggered a seed in his heart, the desire to know more about the world.

      Before he’d met the creature, Gorrash could remember the pain and sadness present in the heart of his maker. He had thought that was all he needed to know about the world, that mankind was not to be trusted. And he had avoided any contact with that dragon lady, lest she would hurt him. He knew that all came from his maker, although he had no real access to the actual memories, only to their effects.

      Gorrash threw another pebble into the pond, it made a splashing sound which dissolved into the silence. He imagined the sound was like the waves at the surface of the pond, going endlessly outward into the world. He imagined himself on top of those waves, carried away into the world. A shiver ran through his body, which felt more like an earthquake than anything else, stone bodies are not so flexible after all. He looked at the soft glowing light near the bush where Rainbow was hiding. The memory of joy and love he had experienced when they hunted together gave his current sadness a sharp edge, biting into his heart mercilessly. He thought there was nothing to be done, Rainbow would leave and he would be alone again.

      His hand reached in his pocket where he found the phial of black potion he had kept after Rainbow refused it. He shook it a few times. Each time he looked at it, Gorrash would see some strange twirls, curls and stars in the liquid that seemed made of light. He wondered what it was. What kind of liquid was so dark to the point of being luminous sometimes ? The twirls were fascinating, leading his attention to the curls ending in an explosion of little stars. Had the witch captured the night sky into that bottle?

      Following the changes into the liquid was strangely soothing his pain. Gorrash was feeling sleepy and it was a very enjoyable feeling. Feelings were quite new to him and he was quite fascinated by them and how they changed his experience of the world. The phial first seemed to pulse back and forth into his hand, then the movement got out and began to spread into his body which began to move back and forth, carried along with this sensual lullaby. Gorrash wondered if it would go further, beyond his body into the world. But as the thought was born, the feeling was gone and he was suddenly back into the night. A chill went down his spine. It was the first time. The joy triggered his sadness again.

      The dwarf looked at the dark phial. Maybe it could help ease his pain. He opened it, curious and afraid. What if it was poison? said a voice of memory. Gorrash dismissed it as the scent of Jasmine reached his nose. His maker was fond of Jasmine tea, and he was surprised at the fondness that rose in his heart. But still no images, it was merely voices and feelings. Sometimes it was frustrating to only have bits and never the whole picture, and full of exasperation, Gorrash gulped in the dark substance.

      He waited.

      Nothing was happening. He could still hear the cooing of Rainbow, infatuated with it eggs, he could hear the scratches of the shrews, the flight of the insects. That’s when Gorrash noticed something was different as he was beginning to hear the sharp cries of the bats above. He tried to move his arm to look at the phial, but his body was so heavy. He had never felt so heavy in his short conscious life, even as the light of the Sun hardened his body, it was not that heavy.

      The soil seemed to give way under his increasing weight, the surface tension unable to resist. He continued to sink into the ground, down the roots of the trees, through the tunnels of a brown moles quite surprised to see him there, surrounded by rocks and more soil, some little creatures’ bones, and down he went carried into hell by the weight of his pain.

      After some time, his butt met a flat white surface, cold as ice, making him jump back onto his feet. The weird heaviness that a moment before froze his body was gone. He looked around, he was in a huge cave and he was not alone. There was an old woman seated crosslegged on a donkey skin. Gorrash knew it was a donkey because it still had its head, and it was smiling. The old woman had hair the colour of the clouds before a storm in summer, It was full of knots and of lightning streaks twirling and curling around her head. Her attention was all on the threads she had in her hands. Gorrash counted six threads. But she was doing nothing with them. She was very still and the dwarf wondered if she was dead or asleep.

      What do you want? asked the donkey head in a loud bray.

      It startled the dwarf but it didn’t seem to bother the old lady who was still entranced and focused on her threads.

      Nothing, said Gorrash who couldn’t think of anything he would want.

      Nonsense, brayed the donkey, laughing so hard that the skin was shaking under the old lady. Everyone wants something. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want something.

      Gorrash thought about what he could want, what he had been wanting that night. He remembered his desire to get out of the garden.

      And there you are, brayed the donkey head, that’s a start. What do you want then?

      Getting out of the garden?

      Noooo! That’s a consequence of a deeper desire, but that’s not what you want.

      I have never thought about desires before, said Gorrash. It’s pretty new to me. I just came to life a few weeks ago during a full moon.

      The donkey head tilted slightly on its right. No excuses, it spat, If you’re awake, then you have a desire in your heart that wants to be fulfilled. What do you want? Take your time, but not too long. The universe is always on the move and you may miss the train, or the bus, or the caravan…

      As the donkey went on making a list of means of transportation, Gorrash looked hesitantly at the old lady. She was still focused on her six threads she had not moved since he had arrived there.

      Who is she? he asked to the donkey.

      _She’s known by many names and has many titles. She’s Kumihimo Weaver of Braids, Ahina Maker of Songs, Gadong Brewer of Stews…

      Ok! said Gorrash, not wanting the donkey go on again into his list enumeration pattern. What is she doing?

      She’s waiting.

      And, what is she waiting for?

      She’s waiting for the seventh thread, brayed the donkey head. I’m also waiting for the thread, it whined loudly. She won’t leave my back until she’s finished her braid. The head started to cry, making the dwarf feel uncomfortable. Suddenly it stopped and asked And, who are you?

      The question resonated in the cave and in his ears, taking Gorrash by surprise. He had no answer to that question. He had just woken up a few weeks ago in that garden near the forest, with random memories of a maker he had not known, and he had no clue what he desired most. Maybe if he could access more memories and know more about his maker that would help him know what he wanted.

      Good! brayed the donkey, We are making some progress here. Now if you’d be so kind as to give her a nose hair, she could have her last thread and she could tell you where to find your maker.

      Hope rose in Gorrash’s heart. Really?

      Certainly, brayed the head with a hint of impatience.

      But wouldn’t a nose hair be too short for her braid? asked the dwarf. All the other threads seemed quite long to him.

      Don’t waste my time with such triviality. Pull it out!

      Gorrash doubted it would work but he grabbed a nose hair between his thumb and index and began to pull. He was surprised as he didn’t feel the pain he expected but instead the hair kept being pulled out. He felt annoyed and maybe ashamed that it was quite long and he had not been aware of it. He took out maybe several meters long before a sudden pain signalled the end of the operation. Ouch!

      hee haw, laughed the donkey head.

      The pain brought out the memory of a man, white hair, the face all wrinkled, a long nose and a thin mouth. He was wearing a blouse tightened at his waist by a tool belt. He was looking at a block of stone wondering what to make out of it, and a few tears were rolling down his cheeks. Gorrash knew very well that sadness, it was the sadness inside of him. Many statues surrounded the man in what looked like a small atelier. There were animals, gods, heads, hands, and objects. The vision shifted to outside the house, and he saw trees and bushes different than the ones he was used to in the garden where he woke up. Gorrash felt a strange feeling in his heart. A deep longing for home.

      Now you have what you came here for. Give the old lady her thread, urged the donkey. She’s like those old machines, you have to put a coin to get your coffee.

      Gorrash had no idea what the donkey was talking about. He was still under the spell of the vision. As soon as he handed the hair to the woman, she began to move. She took the hair and combined it to the other threads, she was moving the threads too swiftly for his eyes to follow, braiding them in odd patterns that he felt attracted to.

      Time for you to go, said the donkey.

      I’d like to stay a bit longer. What she’s doing is fascinating.

      Oh! I’m sure, brayed the donkey, But you have seen enough of it already. And someone is waiting for you.

      The dwarf felt lighter. And he struggled as he began levitating. What!? His body accelerated up through the earth, through the layers of bones and rocks, through the hard soil and the softer soil of years past. He saw the brown mole again and the familiar roots of the trees of the garden in the enchanted forest.

      Gorrash took a deep breath as he reintegrated his stone body. He wobbled, trying to catch his ground. He felt like throwing up after such an accelerated trip. His knees touched the ground and he heard a noise of broken glass as he dropped the phial.

      “Are you alright?” asked a man’s voice. Gorrash forced his head up as a second wave of nausea attempted to get out. A man in a dark orange coat was looking down at him with genuine worry on his face.

      “I’m good,” said the dwarf. “But who are you?”

      “My name is Fox. What’s yours?”


      “You’ve been careless. The ghosts have been following you.”

      The Queen had not moved nor spoken. It was her emissary who was talking in her stead, as customary.
      In the morning, at the break of dawn, Rukshan had summoned the Court, by calling in an owl with the old speech of their tongue.
      It was not long before he was found and guided to a careful ritual of purification before he was allowed in front of their sovereign.

      The idea struck him like lightening. Following me? Was that what happened?

      “You look surprised. Another sign of carelessness. Now, they are wandering around our walls of magic fire, they are following you. As a result of our actions, we are exhausting our stores of magic to put defenses in place, putting our civilisation in peril. What have you to say for your defense?”
      “Throw me in iron jail” a shudder ran through the small crowd “kill me if you think I deserve it.” Rukshan paused for dramatic effect “But it won’t solve your predicament, will it?”

      He felt a rush of defiance coursing through his veins. They couldn’t hold him against his will, there wasn’t any ban on improper use of magic, nor any punition for that, and if they wanted to get rid of the ghosts, they’d better let him go.

      “Let him go.” The breaking of protocol made everyone fuss around, until the Queen silenced everyone with a regal wave of hand. “Let him go.” She turned her gaze to meet his. “You think you are better than us, by renouncing the old ways, trying to define your own, but you are not above natural laws. They will follow you until you find how to appease them. I do hope, for the sake of all, that you will find a way. Humans may think they have tamed the wild, but the wild is rising and cannot be contained. The forest will see to it, and you better hurry. We will give you what you need for your journey, and three days to prepare.”


      It had been three days. Fox wasn’t sure of what to do next. The witch was gone, the manor was empty, and she wasn’t coming back. For a moment he felt like the small fox he was before his master found him, feeling abandoned by his mother. She had been killed after hiding him from the hunters. But he didn’t know it at the time. Fox sighed. How was he supposed to find the lost piece of soul now? It was easier when he was in his animal form, he wouldn’t think so much about what to do next, he would just be doing, anything that fit the moment. But his master had warned him not to revert back to his animal form, that he was not yet free. Fox wasn’t sure if it was true, but he trusted his master, and despite the strong desire to turn back, each moment he was making the decision to keep his human form.

      There was another who was not yet free, Fox thought. He looked at the cold stone face of his new friend. They had talked every night since his arrival and as usual they hadn’t seen the daylight coming. This time, Gorrash had been frozen laughing, and Fox thought it was the liveliest statue he had ever seen. They had gotten along quite easily, especially after Fox had given the dwarf some medicine to help with the nausea after his incursion underground. Afterward, Gorrash had been an endless source of questions about the world. Fox thought the dwarf was an interesting character. He looked old with his long beard and the wrinkles around his eyes, but he had not been around very long. Grey during the day, he was very colourful once the daylight had gone; he wore red hat and pants, green jacket, and brown crakows and belt. His voice had the sound of a grinding stone, with a hint of melancholy as he talked about his maker. But for the moment, despite his expressive outburst, he was cast in silence.

      Fox shook himself and decided it was time to make some plans about where to go next. He would try to catch up with the witch, he might be able to find her before she went to far away from the forest. The woman looked old and she couldn’t have gone far, especially as she seemed to avoid human contact, she wouldn’t have found a carriage. Fox remembered his master warning him about hope, that it was one of the cause of suffering in the world. Nonetheless, roaming randomly into the enchanted forest could take him years to find the lost piece of soul. Hope or no hope, he had spent enough time waiting in his life. He had a quest now.

      Fox wouldn’t have admitted aloud, but his new friendship brought in some complication. Fox had tried to lift him, but despite its rather small size the statue was quite heavy. He would have to find something to carry it during the day as they couldn’t just walk at night time.
      Fox looked at the garden for a moment, the frozen pond, the yellow grass, some old abandoned furniture. Then he looked at the closed door of the house, and wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. There might be something useful inside. And if the witch was gone, she wouldn’t mind, would she?

      Fox used a pair of pins to open the door. The smell of herbs, spices and a few other things he didn’t want to know about, brushed past his nose as he entered the dark house.


      For the last day, he’d gone to the shrines, pay his respects to his ancestors.
      They had long joined with the trees, for most, still living in their roots, and while the trees that they prayed to were young in comparison to the ones in the Heartwood, they were all connected.
      Here, it was harder to ignore their messages. Their voices had the gravity of silence, bearing the weight of ageless wisdom. Among them, Rukshan felt at home.

      The cold was sharper than the day before, and the east wind brought with it smells of industry and worry, and that of the dragon’s bad tooth. He felt there was a past were such things disturbed him; for now, he was at peace.

      Back to the campement, he retreated in his small lodge with the thin paper walls, and the warm mountain salt crystal lights.
      There, in front of him, was the little he possessed, and the provisions needed for the climb to the mountain.
      He’d found a page from the vanishing book reappear from time to time in his bag. Everytime it carried different words, and would vanish again. Its magic didn’t come from the trees, but their messages intertwined. The page carried bits and pieces of news about the Sage Sorceress, who had started to move on her healing path, the Teafing Tinkeress who was hunted by a swift menace of godlike powers, and also a Gifted Gnome, on his way to become his own maker under the protection of a Renard Renunciate looking for lost souls.
      He couldn’t figure out the stories yet, but he was glad for the piece of paper. He was helpless at distant viewing in general, so it did save him additional worry about sorting through his impressions and getting them right. Like after the Court audience, when he couldn’t feel Margoritt’s presence, and worried she and Tak were in trouble. The resident Seer at the campement had peered through his glubolin and confirmed that they were both fine. He did also confirm that she’d fainted, and was recovering. Rukshan had wanted to go back, abandon the trip to the Hermit, but reasoned that Margoritt was fine for now, and that she was a proud woman. He would have to trust she and Tak would be alright.

      “Magic comes from the heart. You will know when to use it.” the words said in passing were etched in his memory, and the potion was still here. Its color seemed to reflect his mood at times. After the morning praying, it was almost glowing gold. Now, it was a pale purple. He had felt no pull to use it. At first, there was strong resistance about it, but now, there was a mildly curious acceptance of the gift. Like the vanishing paper, whether it appeared or disappeared was of no consequence for now.

      The paper wall shivered. His meditative state was easily distracted by the sounds around, even after nightfall when everything went quiet.

      “Quiet suits you well.” The visitor was near him, wearing thin wool despite the cold.
      “My Queen?” he was surprised.
      “You still don’t remember who you are, do you?” the Queen leaned forward. He felt a strange attraction, and their lips touched. The kiss was warm and filled him with longing. They fell into each other’s arms.


      A bird brought it early in the morning. It had a camphor’s bark brown colour, made of coarse wool with a double overhand knot at one end neatly arranged in beautiful symmetry.
      Kumihimo took it and contemplated for a while, to see where she would put it in her collection. It could be the seventh thread she was waiting for.
      When she took it from the stone where it was coiled, she found some traces of fresh wet purple clay on it, and it smelt strongly of artic fox den and of dragon breath. A very unusual combination indeed. Definitely some rare ingredients that could braid well with the six others…
      She had some preparation to do.


      His sleep had been deep. When he emerged, he felt as if ages had passed in his dreams. The Queen had left, only the evanescent scent of her in the sheets made him certain that no longer than a night had passed.

      He could barely remember the dreams, already swirling in the chilly air like wisps of incense smoke, drawing ever-changing figures that a single careless breath would destroy forever. The tip of his remembrance was still incandescent, but it was formless, irreconcilable with the volutes of images dancing in his mind.

      There were many lives he had lived in that night of feverish dreams, and he had the strange feeling that these were sent by the Hermit. With the overflow of lives lived, only lingered a sense of calm and fulfillment. A sense of a change of destination.

      He had not remembered who the Queen knew he was, not entirely, but glimpses remained, obscured by an old curse. She couldn’t tell him, he had to remember by himself, and all his accumulated knowledge was worthless to divine the precious hidden gem of self-knowledge.

      At least, her gift was that of perspective. He had erred aimless in the forests, and meeting the Hermit was an excuse to extract him from the rites and rut of his old life. The ghosts in his wake wouldn’t lay to rest without his reclaiming his power.

      It was time to drink the potion that had been offered —which had a fiery copper colour now, and see which direction it would point to.


      Absentmindedly, Eleri put the bones in her pocket and continued to gaze down upon the valley, lost in thoughts of the past. What had that tree said to her, that day it came to life?

      Yorath sat quietly, watching her. He noticed the mushrooms growing on the exposed roots beside him, wondering if he had unwittingly crushed any when he sat down next to the tree.

      “Mushrooms,” he said quietly to himself.

      Eleri didn’t answer, wasn’t even aware that he has said it, but now she was remembering the days of the floods in the lowlands. The wet, dismal months and years when everything was damp, if not saturated or submerged, when mold grew on every surface. Bright green mossy mold, and slimy dank black mold, and fungus everywhere. Nothing would grow like it used to grow and the odour of rot permeated everything. The fruit trees crumbled in a sickly sweet stench into the mud, and the people named it keeg, and started wearing keegkerchiefs wrapped around their faces to keep the stink out of their nostrils.

      “Goodbye, farewell,” the tree had said to her. “We are moving north, migrating. But fear not, little one, there are mushrooms migrating here to replace us.”

      At the time Eleri had thought it was a ridiculous idea, imagining trees packing their trunks and pulling their roots out of the ground, and stomping off into the sunset. A few years later, she understood what the tree had meant.

      Before the last of the fruit trees crumbled into the swamps, the people has resorted to eating the snails and the mushrooms, unwillingly at first, missing the bright colours and refreshing juices, but as time went on, they found more and more varieties of fungi springing up overnight. There came more and more bright colours, and more interesting flavours. It wasn’t long before they noticed the healing and restorative properties of the new varieties, not to mention the recreational effects of some of the more elusive ones. There was no need for any organized farming of the fungi, because they simply sprang up overnight: the days menu would be whatever had appeared that morning.

      And so it was considered a gift from the gods in times of trouble, and the people were grateful. Their faith was restored in the earth’s capacity for magic and abundance, and they were inspired and rejuvenated. Eleri vowed never to forget the earth’s magic providence, in the form of mushrooms


      “Dammit,” said Yorath, “your lyrical way of talking about those old decrepit things reminded me that I’ve promised a fresh load of provisions to the old woman in the forest, what’s her name already.”
      Margoritt Loursenoir?” ventured Eleri, who usually was the one who couldn’t remember names too common. It did help that she was an avid reader, and that Loursenoir happened to be an author that she’d liked.
      “Yes, her. You could come with me you know. There’s surely plenty to pique your interest on the trip to the forest, surely a few discarded things you’d like to grab for a later tinkering.”
      “You know how I hate snow and the cold…” she mused for a while. “But at least some dry air will be welcome…”


      The night was almost there, the dwarf would come out of his heavy daysleep any minute now. Fox had been collecting mushrooms along with twigs and branches to make some fire. He hoped the constant drizzle of these last few days had not rendered them too wet.

      The differences of his needs and cravings depending on his being a fox or a human had always amazed him. When he was a fox, he feared fire and would avoid it at all cost. When he was a human, he couldn’t spend a night out in the cold without a fire. His body was simply not good at keeping warmth inside when he had no fur. Today was no exception and Fox was certain the dwarf would also appreciate it to get rid of the cold of the stone.

      After piling up the wood for the fire, Fox smelled his harvest of fresh mushrooms. He imagined them accompanying a good rabbit stew and felt saliva water his mouth. His diet as an animal was mostly meat, whereas as a human he was oddly attracted to vegetables, and even enjoyed the taste of mushrooms. He might not enjoy them so much had he not met a girl once, so long ago when he was a still a cub learning to transform into a human. He remembered the girl had said she was called Eleri, which he had found amusing because in French “Elle rit” means “she’s laughing”.

      “How do you know French?” she had asked.
      “Oh! My master Gibbon teaches me French, he says it would give me another way of thinking the world.”
      “Your master must be fond of Romance stories,” she giggled.

      Fox didn’t really understood what she meant by that, and he thought it was not so important because what she had in her bag smelt so funny.

      “What’s that?” he asked.
      “You want some?” She handed a bunch of butterstache fungi to the handsome redhead boy. “I realise I don’t know your name.”

      “I’m Fox,” he said his eyes fixed on the strange looking things in her hands. He sniffed and wrinkled his nose. “Is it safe?”

      He remembered the look of incredulity in her eyes, her beautiful eyes. She was the first girl he had seen. He didn’t know much about humans except what Master Gibbon had told him in French, which didn’t really make sense at that time.

      “It’s totally safe, you might only have some funny experiences if you take the wrong ones in the forest,” Eleri laughed and Fox remembered the meaning of her name in French. He thought the name suited her well. He accepted her gift, for her eyes, and for her sincere laugh.

      Since that time, eating mushrooms was always coloured with joy and a sense of daring. The last rays of the Sun faded away.

      “It smells like mushrooms, and butterstache if I’m not mistaken,” said the raspy voice of the dwarf.


      That night Glynnis had a strange dream. She knew that it was no ordinary dream and in the morning diligently recorded it in her dream journal.

      I was walking on a windy path through the forest. A young woman with bizarre hair and a cackling laugh appeared before me, blocking my path.
      “Tell me your name!” I commanded.
      “My name is Eleri, and I have a parrot to accompany you on your journey.”
      “A parrot! What would I do with a parrot?”
      “This is no ordinary parrot. This parrot can tell jokes,” responded the woman.
      “A funny parrot! Well why didn’t you tell me that in the first place. Give me the parrot and I will be on my way.”
      “Hold your horses. It’s not such an easy thing as that,” said the woman. “It never is you know. First you must tell me what is going on.”
      I sighed and handed her a manuscript. “Read this a dozen times and all will be made clear.”
      A look of petulant fury distorted the young woman’s face.
      “ Tell me what is going on, you rude tart!“ she said crossly.
      Here is what I told her:

      Glynnis is a young woman living in the enchanted forest in an abandoned mansion. She practices magic and has a great affinity for nature. She also has the face of dragon after she annoyed a powerful sorcerer. She is being troubled by dreams which seem to be calling her on a mission—the purpose of which she is unsure. Glynnis sells her potions at a stall in the city. One day she finds a map hidden behind a painting and knows that she needs to follow the path shown on the map.
      Rushkan is fae. He works as the city ‘chief overseer’ looking after the clock tower. He isn’t that keen on his job. Rushkan has a half-formed vision to assemble a team but for what purpose he is not sure. He has also discovered something worrying, dark even, about the clock tower.
      One day, Rushkan uses his magic to call for an Oliphant. He packs a small bag of belongs and departs on a journey. Before departing, he leaves a gift for Olliver, the office errand boy.
      Rushkan is a little irritated to find that the forest has been fenced off and a toll-booth erected—who wouldn’t be annoyed by this needless bureaucracy? Anyway, after farewelling the helpful Oliphant he continues his journey on foot.
      He hears a cry for help and comes across a dying Gibbon. The Gibbon entrusts her infant to his care. He takes the baby—named Tak—to an old woman who lives in a lodge close to the Dragon Heartwood: Margoritt Loursenoir, a writer. It seems Tak is a shape-shifter and can also take the form of a child. Perhaps that is his true form. Rushkan stays with Margoritt for a while to recoup but it isn’t very long before he feels compelled to continue his journey to find the hermit, Kumihimo,in the forest. Kumihimo seems to be weaving seven braids.
      To get to the hermit Rushkan has to cross Fae land. He isn’t overjoyed about this because he has left the ‘old ways’ of his people. Rushkan has to declare his presence to the Fae people—it’s a rule. The Queen is a bit annoyed because her empire is not as powerful as it once was and she has had to use precious resources to protect Rushkan on his journey. Anyway, she doesn’t stay uppity for long and ends up in bed with him.
      Gorash is a dwarf statue who abides in the grounds of the deserted mansion in the enchanted forest. At night he comes to life. He has a friend called Rainbow. Gorash assists Rainbow in stealing Glynis’s magic potions and they make seven colourful eggs which Rainbow is infatuated with.
      Mr Fox lives in a hut outside the city walls. At sunset he can shapeshift into a fox. He prefers being in animal form. Fox is quite a character. Not much gets past him.
      Fox’s master is a Gibbon who taught him how to shapeshift. After going on a journey into the forest to find Gibbon, Fox is told that it is time to learn the wisdom of the Heart. Gibbon gives Fox an assignment: “You’ll find a lost soul in the enchanted forest. Bring it back to its rightful owner. Then you shall find your master.”
      Fox goes back to the mansion in the deserted forest just as Glynnis is leaving on her journey. He befriends Gorash who has become increasingly lonely since Rainbow now has the eggs.

      “That’s brilliant,” said the woman called Eleri. “You should probably get lots of points for doing that.” She gave one more loud cackle and shouted: “I am off to pick some mushrooms. You will find the parrot when you wake up from this crazy dream!”

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