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 All the good practitioners of old seemed to have been replaced by snake oil merchants.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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      The dinner had already started, the roasted chicken half devoured, and Fox turned redder when he saw Rukshan’s dismayed look. The Fae seemed much too rigid at times.

      It was a good and cheerful assembly, and Lahmom the traveller of the high plateaus, with her adorned cowboy hat always proudly put on her golden locks of hair, was telling them of the shamanic practices of the people of those far-away places she had seen in her voyages.
      It was all fascinating to hear, she had such a love for the people that she beamed though her sparkly eyes when she was telling them the tales of those shamans, and how they would drum in circles and be able to communicate with their group spirit…

      “We should do that sometimes” a surprisingly talkative Gorrash said, as he munched his way though a large ear of maize. He seemed almost drunk on the fermented goat milk that he had found pleasantly attracted to.

      “Oh, I’m sure we can find some old skin somewhere around my stuff” Margoritt said, amused at the idea of the challenge.
      Lahmom winked at Tak who was hiding behind his plate, but not missing any word of the lively exchanges.

      “In all your travels, have you been to any of those places?” Lahmom asked Yorath who seemed distracted.
      “I’m sorry, what?” he wasn’t paying too much attention “Has anybody seen Eleri?”


      “I had another vivid dream last night, Sunny. I dreamed of a man I met when i was selling my potions in the market place in town. He was chasing a little red fox and I gave him some potion … “

      “You dreamed of a fox? That’s a very good omen and fortuitously also reminds me of a joke.
      What do you call a fox with a carrot in each ear?
      Anything you want as he can’t hear you!”

      Glynis smiled reluctantly.

      “No, that’s what happened. I’ve not got to the dream part yet.”

      “My apologies,” said Sunny, nudging her ear gently from his perch on her shoulder. “Please continue.”

      “Anyway the man from the market came to me in my dream and thanked me. He said his wife was well now. He said to look for a gift in the heartwoods.”

      “Excellent dream!” said Sunny. “I adore gifts. I will keep my eyes open and hope we find it poste haste. How much further is it now, anyway?”

      “Another few days travel to the fringe of the heartwoods. According to the map, that’s where the first X is.”

      They continued in silence, glad of each other’s company on the journey.

      Glynis had been sad to leave the Bakers and more than a few tears were shed on parting They tried to get her to stay but it was without much conviction for Glynis had shown them the map and, though plain folk, they had sound instincts and knew when something had to be.

      “Any time you want, Girl,” said Mr Baker gruffly, “you’ll find a home here. You hear me? And make sure you keep in touch.”

      And Glynis nodded, unable to find the words to thank him for his kindness.

      And Mrs Baker had made her a new burka. She’d stayed up nights sewing to surprise Glynnis. It shimmered, sometimes green and sometimes blue depending on where the light fell and it felt like silk to the touch. Glynis thought it was the most pretty thing she had ever seen.

      “You’ve a lovely heart, Lass, and anyone who’s worth a penny will see that and not those scales on your face.”

      It was the first time either of the Bakers had mentioned her appearance and for a moment Glynis was rendered speechless.

      But not so, Sunny.

      “Knock, knock!” he cackled loudly. “Oh come on! It’s a good one!”
      “Who’s there?” said Glynis softly.
      “Dragon who?”
      “Dragon your feet again?”


      “Oh no!” Margoritt swore loudly, “not that cursed rain again!”.
      They were about to share what was left of the cake for dessert when the first booming strike of thunder resounded violently across the mountains.

      She cupped her hands in front of her mouth to rally the troops over the noisy rumble of the heavy dark clouds. “Inside! Everyone inside!” — when the rains started in spring, they could go on for days, drenching the countryside in curtains of water.

      The first drops falling, quickly extinguishing the candles, Rukshan raised his head to look at the darker skies covering completely the moon’s glow “This is no ordinary rain…”

      “You bet, it isn’t!” Margoritt said, looking more sombre than she ever was. “That magical umbrella won’t be enough this time, we are probably going to have to sit that one out inside. Help me bring the animals inside.”

      In front of the small cottage, everyone else started to hurry inside, bringing back the plates, cups and leftovers, while Rukshan was preparing some wood for the fire to keep the moist away.

      “Has anybody seen Eleri?” Yorath’s look was concerned. “She seem to have disappeared somewhere as usual… But she hasn’t come back yet,… and I’m afraid she took a large bite of the trancing cake too. It’s not a good night to trance out.”

      Rukshan was torn between waiting a bit longer, or going to search for her, which would be risking lives during the dark stormy night. He was about to offer to go outside himself when Gorrash said briskly:
      “Let me go find her, this storm is nothing, and I’m used to the dark. You all should stay inside. If I don’t come back at the break of dawn, you can go out to look for us, but don’t worry too much about me, I’ll blend in.” He winked at Fox who smiled weakly. He didn’t like this type of cold rain. Its smell was damp and rotten.

      “Thank you Gorrash, that is very noble of you. Please, take care of yourself, and be back soon.” Rukshan said as he opened the door which was now jerking violently against the darkest night.


      As the storm was raging outside, Tak was hiding below the bed, with a small knitted patch of garment that Margoritt had given him, which he kept as a comforting soother.

      The darkness and gales of wind aroused feelings which he had rather not face. He curled below the bed, unaware of the other’s animated discussions, afraid to be terrified.

      You know this is how it starts… the voice was familiar, warm and gentle, grandfatherly. But he didn’t want to hear it. He had too much pain, and the voice was driving him away from the pain.
      Listen to me, just listen. You don’t need to answer, just open yourself a little. Let me help you with the pain, and the fear. You’ve had it inside for so long, too long.

      Go away! Tak was crying silently under the bed, mentally trying to resist the support of the voice who sounded like Master Gibbon.

      Alright, I will go for now. You just need to call if you need me. But you need to hear that.

      No! I don’t want! You can’t force me!

      Just remember that is how every cycle ends: death for your love, then death for all of you, before new painful, forgetful lives begin again for all of you. If you don’t break this cycle, it will end, and start again. You know it’s time for you to break that cycle of revenge, and manipulation. They have greatly suffered too for their mistakes. Let them see you as you are, and learn to forgive them.


      Fox woke up in the mud. He felt thirsty and confused, not knowing where he was or when it was, except that it was night time. He looked around him and despite the darkness he was seeing clearly. He was in a small glade, surrounded by tall trees. The grass had a strange greenish glow and seemed to float around like tentacles trying to seize whatever passed near.

      An emotion rose from his heart and jumped outside of him before he could feel it. It had a colour. it was blue and had the shape of a drop of jelly, darker in its center. Fox looked, fascinated, as it taunted the blades of grass. His heart jumped as a longer tentacle almost caught the drop, that’s when he knew he had to take it back. He couldn’t let it out into the world like that.

      Not with the others so close.

      Fox felt puzzled at the thought. What others was it referring to? He heard someone crying, it sounded like someone miserable. He felt something fall on his hands, droplets of water, and realised he was the one crying. He stood up and was surprised by the height. He found a little pond and looked at his reflection. The lonesome face of a troll was looking back at him.

      Am I dreaming?


      “Ah, here you are at last,” said Margoritt to the rain sodden Glynis. “Come in, my dear, come in. Yes, yes, of course your parrot can come too. What’s his name? Sunny? Welcome, welcome … a little late, but in time nonetheless. I’ve been expecting you.”


      Eleri was entranced by the myriad shades of purple in the pouring rain; already soaked to the skin she made no attempt to shelter. She wafted around with her face upturned and arms aloft, swaying and stumbling and sometimes staggering as the wind buffeted her in between the darkly glistening tree trunks.

      Never before had she seen so many shades of the colour purple!


      The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun.

      Margoritt showed Glynis to a small area, partitioned off from the main room; a narrow bed, a tiny window to the outside and and a simple wooden shelf.

      “You’ll be wanting some privacy,” she said. “And something dry to wear,” she added, handing Glynis a dress, plain in shape and made from a soft woven fabric, pearly spheres woven into a dark purple background.

      The second person to give me something to wear, she mused.

      The fabric was amazing. It made Glynis think of stars at night and the way you could never see to the end of the sky. It felt both reassuring and terrifying all at the same time.

      There is magic in the hands that wove this, she thought, hesitant though to voice her thoughts to Margoritt, however kindly she seemed.

      “A master weaver has made this!” she said instead. “Was it you?”

      “No, not I … but you are right, it was made by a master … as you can no doubt see, it doesn’t fit me any longer. I’ve had it sitting there going to waste for many years and am glad to put it to use. It doesn’t cover your head like the other did, but really there is no need here.” Margoritt smiled. “Go, get changed. Come out when you are ready and I will have some tea and cake for you. Then you can meet the others properly.”

      “Is it okay? hissed Sunny in a loud whisper when they were alone, anxiously hopping from one foot to another.

      “Yes, i think so … I’ve been very careful,” Glynis reached in her pouch and gently pulled out an egg.

      “It’s amazing, isn’t it … almost golden… for sure it must be the gift the man from the market promised me in my dream … the way it just sat there on the path … lucky I did not stand on it.” She stroked the egg gently.

      “Sorry about all this, little one,” she said softly to the egg. “I wonder what creature you are inside this shell … and what safe place can we hide you till you are ready to come out of there?”

      “I can sit on it of course,” said Sunny. “It will be my honour and privilege to assist.”


      Rukshan had stayed awake for the most part of the night, slowly and repeatedly counting the seconds between the blazing strokes of lightning and the growling bouts of thunder.
      It is slowly moving away.

      The howling winds had stopped first, leaving the showers of rain fall in continuous streams against the dripping roof and wet walls.

      An hour later maybe, his ear had turned to the sound of the newly arrived at the cottage, thinking it would be maybe the dwarf and Eleri coming back, but it was a different voice, very quiet, somehow familiar… the potion-maker?

      He had warned Margoritt that a lady clad in head-to-toe shawls would likely come to them. Margoritt had understood that some magical weaving was at play. The old lady didn’t have siddhis or yogic powers, but she had a raw potential, very soundly rooted in her long practice of weaving, and learning the trades and tales of the weaving nomad folks. She had understood. Better, she’d known — from the moment I saw you and that little guy, she’d said, pointing at Tak curled under the bed.
      “He’s amazing,” she’d said “wise beyond his age. But his mental state is not very strong.”

      There was more than met the eye about Tak, Rukshan started to realize.
      For now, the cottage had fell quiet. Dawn was near, and there was a brimming sense of peace and new beginning that came with the short silence before the birds started again their joyous chatter.

      It must have been then that he collapsed on the table of exhaustion and started to dream.

      It was long before.

      The dragon is large and its presence awe-inspiring. They have just shared the shards, each has taken one of the seven. Even the girl, although she still hates to be among us.
      The stench of the ring of fire is still in their nostrils. The Gods have deserted, and left as soon as the Portal closed itself. It is a mess.

      “Good riddance.”

      He raises his head, looking at the dragon above him. She is quite splendid, her scales a shining pearl blue on slate black, reflecting the moonshine in eerie patterns, and her plastron quietly shiny, almost softly fiery. His newly imbued power let him know intimately many things, at once. It is dizzying.

      “You talk of the Gods, don’t you?” he says, already knowing the answer.
      “Of course, I am. Good riddance. They had failed us so many times, forgot their duties, driven me and my kind to slavery. Now I am free. Free of guilt, and free of sorrow. Free to be myself, as I was meant to be.”
      “It is a bit more complex th…”
      “No it isn’t. It couldn’t be more simple. If you had the strength to see it, you would understand.”
      “I know what you mean, but I am not sure I understand.”

      The dragon smiles enigmatically. She turns to the lonely weeping girl, who is there with the old woman. Except her grand-mother is no longer an old crone, she has changed her shape to that of a younger person. She is showing potentials to the girl, almost drunk on the power, but it doesn’t alleviate her pain.

      “What are you going to do about them?”

      The Dragon seems above the concerns for herself. In a sense, she is right. It was all his instigation. He bears responsibility.

      “I don’t know…” It is a strange thing to say, when you can know anything. He knows there are no good outcomes of this situation. Not with the power she now possesses.

      “You better find out quick…” and wake up,

      wake up, WAKE UP !


      The rain had poured again and again, across the night, with short fits of howling winds. There had been no sign of Eleri or Gorrash, and people in the cabin had waited for the first ray of light to venture outside to find them.
      The newcomer, the quiet potion maker, stayed in her small quarters and hadn’t really mingled, but Margoritt wasn’t concerned about it. She was actually quite protective of her, and had continued her own chatter all through the night, doing small chores or being busy at her small loom, stopping at times in the middle of painful walking. She would however not cease speaking to whomever was listening at the time, or to her goat, or at times just to the wind or herself.

      Rukshan had had several dreams during the night, and could tell he wasn’t the only one. Everyone had a tired look. Images came and went, but there was a sense of work to be done.

      There were a few things he had managed to gather during that time awake when meditative state brought some clarity to the confused images.
      First, they were all in this together.
      Then, they probably needed a plan to repair the old.
      As soon as they would find the two missing ones, he would share it with everyone.

      ‘Hng hng’ — Rukshan opened his eyes to find Olliver drawing on his sleeve. The boy wasn’t very eloquent, but his postures would speak volumes. He was pointing to something outside.

      Rukshan looked at the clearing just outside the cabin, at first not realising two things had happened. Then they both dawned on him: the first ray of light had come across the cloudy sky, and second, the clearing was empty of the vengeful God.

      “Grumpf” he swore in the old Elvish tongue “that rascal is surely going after EleriEleri who he now knew was the laughing crone of the story, rendered younger by the powers of her goddaughter, the tricked girl. Eleri, who having inherited of the transmutation powers, had turned the angry God who had been left behind into stone to protect all of them.
      If the God would find her before they could get her to extract her Shard, at best they would be condemned to another cycle of rebirth, or worse, he would try to kill all of them to extract the other Shards from the others, one by one, until the Gods old powers would be his…


      When the rain stopped, Eleri stood motionless, suspended in between the enveloping cocophony of pattering drops. Already the saturated foliage was steaming and a dense mist arose from the sodden ground. The effects of the cake were wearing off, and the sudden change from exhuberance in the lashing rain, to the whispering silence and eerie rising fog left her speechless, and still. A moment, hanging like a swaying rope bridge between one scene and another.

      And it was at that very moment, as is so often the case, that the mysterious Mr Minn appeared, dressed, it would seem, for a formal event. Raising his tall black hat he said with a smile, “Eleri! WE meet again!”

      She swooned, and fell into his arms. Later, in retrospect, Eleri had to admit it was an extraordinarily well timed whitey, due to the after effects of the cake, but was pleased with the theatrical symbolism and timing.

      Rolling his eyes, Micawber Minn called for Festus, his young assistant. “Carry her back to the party, and tell Margoritt I’m on my way. But first,” he said, “A necessary detour…”


      The memories of the strange vision had faded away. Only the feeling of awe was lingering in his heart.

      Fox was walking in the forest near Margoritt’s cottage. The smell of humid soil was everywhere. Despite it being mostly decomposing leaves and insects, Fox found it quite pleasant. It carried within it childhood memories of running outside after the rain whild Master Gibbon was trying to teach him cleanliness. It had been a game for many years to roll into the mud and play with the malleable forest ground to make shapes of foxes and other animals to make a public to Gibbon’s teachings.

      Fox had been walking around listening to the sucking sound made by his steps to help him focus back on reality. He was trying to catch sunlight patches with his bare feet, the sensations were cold and exquisite. The noise of the heavy rain had been replaced by the random dripping of the drops falling from the canopy as the trees were letting go of the excess of water they received.

      It was not long before he found Gorrash. The dwarf was back in his statue state, he was face down, deep in the mud. Fox crouched down and gripped his friend where he could. He tried to release him from the ground but the mud was stronger, sucking, full of water.

      “You can leave him there and wait the soil to dry. You can’t fight with water”, said Margorrit. “And I think that when it’s dry, we’ll have a nice half-mold to make a copy of your friend.”

      Fox laughed. “You have so many strange ideas”, he told the old woman.

      “Well, it has been my strength and my weakness, I have two hands and a strong mind, and they have always functioned together. I only think properly when I use my hands. And my thoughts always lead me to make use of my hands.”

      Fox looked at Margoritt’s wrinkled hands, they were a bit deformed by arthritis but he could feel the experience they contained.

      “Breakfast’s ready”, she said. “I’ve made some honey cookies with what was left of the the flour. And Glynis has prepared some interesting juices. I like her, she has a gift with colours.”

      They left the dwarf to dry in the sun and walked back to the house where the others had already put everything on the table. Fox looked at everyone for a moment, maybe to take in that moment of grace and unlikely reunion of so many different people. He stopped at Rukshan who had a look of concern on his face. Then he started when Eleri talked right behind him. He hadn’t hear her come.

      “I think I lost him”, she said. “What’s for breakfast? I’m always starving after shrooms.”


      Glynnis felt a little overwhelmed; so many strange people after all the years of virtual solitude. She was happy to busy herself making juices in the kitchen.


      Micawber Minn had secreted the parcel from Plovdiv in a hollow tree trunk. The bags of dried fruits were a gift for Glynnis to include in her special juices. But where was the hollow tree?


      Eleri’s recovery lasted much longer than anyone expected. Nobody really believed the old wives tale that getting soaked in the rain caused flu, but this is what appeared to have happened. She’d been out of action for such a long time that she was considerably confused about what exactly had been going on prior to her collapse. Someone ~ who? she couldn’t remember their names ~ suggested she needed one of Glynnis’s special tonic juices to revive and restore her. Perhaps even one of her extra strong turmeric latte’s. Weakly, and with a wobbly smile, Eleri agreed. She didn’t have the strength to argue about the turmeric. Not only that, she couldn’t remember why she would want to argue about the turmeric anyway.

      It is what it is, she told herself. She didn’t know what that meant really, but was too tired to think about it.


      Margoritt’s left knee was painful that day. Last time it hurt so much was twenty years ago, during that notorious drought when a fire started and almost burnt the whole forest down. Only a powerful spell from the Fae people could stop it. But today they sky was clear, and the forest was enjoying a high degree of humidity from the last magic rain. Margoritt, who was not such a young lady anymore dismissed the pain as a sign of old age.
      You have to accept yourself as you are at some point, she sighed.

      The guests were still there, and everyone was participating to the life of the community. Eleri, who had been sick had been taken care of in turn by Fox and Glynnis, while Rukshan had reorganised the functioning of the farm. They now had a second cow and produced enough milk to make cakes and butter that they sold to the neighbouring Faes, and they had a small herd of Rainbow Lamas that produced the softest already colourful wool, among other things. Gorrash, awoken at night, had formed an alliance with the owls that helped them to keep the area clear of mice and rats and was also in charge of the weekly night fireworks.

      The strange colourful eggs had hatched recently giving birth to strange little creatures that were not yet sure of which shape to adopt. They sometimes looked like cuddly kittens, sometimes like cute puppies, or mischievous monkeys. They always took the form of a creature with a tail, except when they were frightened and turned into a puddle. It had been hard for Margoritt who mistook them for dog pee, but Fox had been very helpful with his keen sense of smell and washing away the poor creatures had been avoided. Nobody had any idea if they could survive once diluted in water.

      The day was going great, Margoritt sat on her rocking chair enjoying a fresh nettle lassi on the terrace while doing some embroidery work on Eleri’s blouse. Her working kit was on a small stool in front of her. Working with her hands helped her forget about her knee and also made her feel useful in this youthful community where everybody wanted to help her. She was rather proud of her last design representing a young girl and a god statue holding hands together. She didn’t think of herself as a matchmaker, but sometimes you just had to give a little push when fate didn’t want to do its job.

      Micawber Minn arrived, his face as long as the Lamazon river. He had the latest newspaper with him and put it on Margoritt’s lap. Surprise and a sudden sharp and burning pain in her knee made her left leg jerk forward, strewing all her needles onto the floor. Margoritt, upset, looked at the puddle of lassi sluggishly starting to covering them up.
      “What…” she began.
      “Read the damn paper,” said Minn.

      She did. The front page mentioned the reelection of Leroway as Lord Mayor, despite his poor results in developing the region.
      “Well, that’s not surprising,” Margoritt said with a shrug, starting to feel angry at Minn for frightening her.
      “Read further,” said Minn suddenly looking cynical.
      Margoritt continued and gasped. Her face turned blank.
      “That’s not possible. We need to tell the other,” she said. “We can not let Leroway build his road through the forest.”


      It had taken Rukshan close to a year to clear the fog.

      He had to admit, he’d dreaded more than was necessary. Faes where a bit thick headed and stubborn when it came to honoring vows and sacred words. There had been lessons to unravel for a lifetime in that year span they’d spent on the holy grounds.
      Even the angry God had come around, and he wasn’t the threat Rukshan had thought he would be. Only another lonely soul, longing for companionship.

      Yesterday, Rukshan had finished the book of Kumihimo. Propitiatory work, but he was beginning to see the benefits. He had finished collecting all the pages of the vanishing book, by burying himself in work for the commune, and on the few moments of silence left to himself, reaching towards the source of knowledge and gathering the elements once thought forever lost. Clearing of his Mind Palace.

      Now he had to let it go. The Book was complete, and needed to be offered on the pyre.
      Only then the Shards would be rightfully returned, rejoined and ready to spell the next evolution of their journey.

      The pyre was neatly prepared. Gathering of fragrant herbs of the woods was a specialty of the Potion maker, the gorgeous assemblage of the beams had created a sriyantra-like pattern that seemed like it could easily open a portal to the Gods’ realm.

      All of them had gathered around at the full moon. Gorrash had just awoken, and the feast was joyous and full of sparkling expectations.

      Each of them took a thread to light the flames, and once the Book was put on the pyre with great reverence, all of them, one by one lighted one of the corners.

      They all felt a great weight lifting from their chest, the weight of the sins of their past lives vanishing in the light, and a great joy pouring in from the dancing flames at the centre.

      All was well and fresh on this night, and there was great content, and anticipation for what tomorrow would bring.


      Somewhere on the roadworks…

      The holes and cracks had awoken ancient creatures from the fabled hollow worlds of myths…


      It was no shadow day. The sun was right above head, shining its blinding light right through you. Everybody at the cottage was feeling the heat and trying as much as they could to cool themselves down.
      Only Hasamelis didn’t seem to mind. Being a God even a fallen One had its perks. Eleri was glaring at him annoyed while she was profusely sweating. There was always a tense flirtatious hatred, or rather a murderous love between those two, and it kept pulling them together, in a paradoxical way.
      Everyone were glad for the herb cooler that Glynis would decant for them.

      Rukshan was looking longingly at the horizon, maybe (he wouldn’t admit) thinking about the Queen, or for some better place to be…
      But since their fire ceremonial, he could feel releasing the Shards through the burning of the book had awoken something, and danger from an unknown place seemed to be lurking beyond the mountains.

      The Doors to the God Realm had opened again, and he wasn’t all sure it was a good thing.


      “Oh, don’t be such a worry-wort, Rukshan,” said Glynis sharply and with an almost imperceptible roll of her eyes. “It’s just the heat. It makes things seem … you know …. “ Her voice trailed off and she shrugged, following Rukshan’s gaze.

      The truth was, though she were unwilling to admit it, she also felt a slight anxiety. But without knowing the origin of the unease, Glynis felt helpless to confront whatever evil was lurking.

      “I’ll go and make some more herb cooler,” she said quietly.

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