They found me and locked me up again but I suppose it was going to happen sooner or later. I don’t mind though, I can always plot an escape when I’m ready but the fact is, I was tired after awhile. I needed a rest and so here I am. The weather’s awful so I may as well rest up here for a bit longer. They gave me a shot, too, so I don’t have to wear a mask anymore. Unless I want to wear it as a disguise of course, so I’ll keep a couple for when I escape again.
They gave me a computer to keep me amused and showed me how to do the daftest things I’d never want to do and I thought, what a load of rubbish, just give me a good book, but then this charming little angel of a helper appeared as if by magic and showed me how to do a family tree on this machine. Well! I had no idea such pursuits could be so engrossing, it’s like being the heroine in a detective novel, like writing your own book in a way.
I got off on a sidetrack with the search for one woman in particular and got I tell you I got so sucked inside the story I spent a fortnight in a small village in the north midlands two centuries ago that I had to shake me head to get back to the present for the necessary daily functions. I feel like I could write a book about that fortnight. Two hundred years explored in a fortnight in the search for CH’s mother.
I could write a book on the maternal line and how patriarchy has failed us in the search for our ancestry and blood lines. The changing names, the census status, lack of individual occupation but a mother knows for sure who her children are. And yet we follow paternal lines because the names are easier, but mothers know for sure which child is theirs whereas men can not be as sure as that. Barking up the wrong tree is easy done.
I can’t start writing any of these books at the moment because I’m still trying to find out who won the SK&JH vs ALL the rest of the H family court case in 1873. It seems the youngest son (who was an overseer with questionable accounts) was left out of the will. The executor of the will was his co plaintiff in the court case, a neighbouring land owner, and the whole rest of the family were the defendants. It’s gripping, there are so many twists and turns. This might give us a clue why CH grew up in the B’s house instead of her own. Why did CH’s mothers keep the boys and send two girls to live with another family? How did we end up with the oil painting of CH’s mother? It’s a mystery and I’m having a whale of a time.
Another good thing about my little adventure and then this new hobby is how, as you may have noticed, I’m not half as daft as I was when I was withering away in that place with nothing to do. I mean I know I’m withering away and not going anywhere again now, but on the other hand I’ve just had a fortnights holiday in the nineteenth century, which is more than many can say, even if they’ve been allowed out.
“You really know your trade, Fuyi,” said Rukshan. “You’ve built the most exquisite and comfortable place. And I think the empty dishes speak aplenty about the quality of the food and the pleasure we took in this shared meal. Now, let us help you with the dishes,” said Rukshan.
“Ach! Don’t be so polite,” said Fuyi. “I’ll have plenty of time after yar departure tomorrow. It’s not like the inn is full. Just enjoy an evening together, discuss yar plans, and have some rest. I know that life. Take the chance when it presents itself!”
The Sinese food made by the innkeeper had been delicious and quite a first for most of them. Tak had particularly enjoyed the crunchy texture of the stir fried vegetables flavoured with the famous five spices sauce. Nesy had preferred the algae and chili dishes while Fox, who ate a red hot pepper thinking it was bell pepper, had stuffed himself with juicy pork buns to put out the fire in his mouth.
Gorrash, befuddled by the novelty, had been at a loss of labels, good or bad. He simply chose to welcome the new experiences and body reactions to flavours and textures. As for Olliver, he gave up the chopsticks when he saw how fast Fox made the food disappear from the dishes.
Now that the dishes were empty, the children and Gorrash had left the table and were playing near the fireplace. Olliver was looking at the trio with envy, split between the desire to play and enjoy the simplicity of the moment, and the desire to be taken more seriously which meant participate in the conversation with the adults.
“We have plenty to discuss, Fae,” said Kumihimo.
Fuyi looked at Olliver, recognising the conundrum. “That’s settled, then,” he said to the group. Then turning toward Olliver: “Boy! I’m sure the start of the conversation will be boring for a young mind. Let’s join the others for a story of my own. You can still come back later and they’ll fill you in on the details.”
Fuyi and Olliver moved to the fireplace. The innkeeper threw cushions on the floor and sat on a wooden rocking chair. At the mention of a story, Tak, Nesy and Gorrash couldn’t contain their exuberant joy and gathered all ears around Admirable Fuyi. As he rocked, the chair creaked. He waited until they all calmed down. And when he was satisfied he started.
“I was young and still a fresh recruit in the Sinese army,” started Fuyi. “We were stationed at the western frontier just below the high plateaus and I hadn’t participated in any battle yet. With the folly of youth I thought that our weapons and the bond we shared with my fellow soldiers were enough to defeat anything.”
“Finnley, stop pacing like that with that concerned look of yours, you make me dizzy. Is that too difficult a task to hire a secretary?”
“You mean the perfect one for me?”
“No I mean, she’s called Pearl. She’ll start tomorrow. What concerns me is something else entirely. Something strange, if you ask me. But you never ask, so I’m telling you.”
“Well, this whole conversation started because I asked you.”
“You asked me because you thought it was related to your previous request.”
“Then tell me and stop brooding. It’s killing the mood.”
Finnley snorted. “If you want to know, someone is throwing things on the balcony. Children things. The other day I found that cheap toy to make soap bubbles. And then it was a small blue children’s plastic sand shovel. And today they dropped a red bucket.”
“I’ve asked Godfrey and I’m positive it’s not him because it’s driving him nut too. We asked Roberto because he’s been attempting to teach tricks to the dogs. A waste of time if you ask me, letting the garden going to the dogs,” she smirked.
“Then, was it Roberto and the dogs?”
“Not at all! We kept an eye on him while he was training the dogs. Nothing. But the objects keep coming. I’m telling you either we have a ghost or a portal to another dimension in this mansion.”
“That sounds like a nice idea,” said Liz, pouting at the possibilities.
“You wouldn’t say that if another you came into this thread.”
They had to stop to get some rest. Rukshan knew the signs, the song of a black swan, a nesting bear in the forest, cubic clouds… All strange omens not to be taken lightly. He told the others they’d better find shelter somewhere and not spend the night outside.
As soon had he make the announcement that he saw the relief on their faces. They’d been enthusiastic for half a day, but the monotony of walking got the better of their motivation, especially the kids who were not used to such long journeys out of the cottage’s safety.
Fortunately they were not far from the Sooricat Inn, a place lost in the woods, it still had four walls, warm food and almost certainly a hot bath. Let’s just hope they’re open, thought the Fae.
When they arrived, the owner, an old man from Sina, looked at them suspiciously.
“Ya’ll have your attestation? I can’t believe ya’re all family. Don’t think I’m a fool, ya’re a Fae, and this little fella there, he’s smaller than the children but has a beard. Never saw anything like him,” he said with rumbling r’s pointing at the children and Gorrash with his chin. The dwarf seemed offended but a stern look from Rukshan prevented him from speaking.
“Anyway,” continued the innkeeper, “I can just sell ya food. Not’ing parsonal. That’s rooles, ya’know with the all stayin’at home thing from Gavernor Leraway, I can not even let ya’in. Ya can buy food and eat it outside if ya want.”
“Oh! I really shouldn’t. I don’t like breaking rooles.”
“I knew you more daring, Admirable Fuyi,” said a booming voice coming from behind them. They all turned around to see Kumihimo. She was wearing a cloak made of green and yellow gingko leaves, her silvery white hair, almost glowing in the dark, cascading beautifully on her shoulders. A grey cat strode alongside her.
“Oh! that’s just the donkey, Ronaldo. It got transformed into a cat after walking directly into a trap to get one of those darn carrots. He knew better, don’t pity him. He got what he deserved.” Kumihimo’s rant got a indignant meow, close to a heehaw, from Ronaldo.
“Kumi! I can’t believe it’s ya!” said the innkeeper.
“You two know each others?” asked Rukshan.
“It’s a long story,” said the innkeeper, “From when I was serving in Sina’s army, we had conquered the high plateaus. I gave up the title of Admirable when I left the army. After Kumi opened my eyes.” Fuyi’s eyes got wet. “Ah! I’m sure I’ll regret it, but come on in, ya’ll. Let me hear yar story after you taste the soup.”
Dear Jorid Whale,
My hands are shaking while I type this on the keyboard.
I’m not sure which of last night’s dreams is the bizarrest. Bizarre in a fantastic way, although for certain people it might be called grotesque. I’m certain it has something to do with that book I ordered online last week. I don’t usually read books and certainly not like this one. But the confinement, it makes you consider making things out of your ordinary.
It’s called The Enchanted Forest of Changes, by a Chinese artist Níngméng (柠檬). They say his artist name means lemon, but that some of his friends call him Níng mèng 凝梦 (curdle dreams), which to my ears sound exactly the same except a little bit angrier. I found out about him on a forum about creepy dolls abandoned in forests all around the world. Yeah exactly, the confinement effect again. Apparently it started with a few dolls in a forest in Michigan, and then suddenly people started to find them everywhere. I wonder if some people are really into the confinement thing or if it’s just me using that as a reason to stay home.
Anyway, someone on that forum posted one of the picture of that book and it caught my eye. So much so that I dreamt of it the following night. So I bought the book and it’s mostly ink drawings, but they seem to speak directly to some part of you that you were not even aware you had. I almost hear whispers when I look at the drawings. And then I have those dreams.
Last night I dreamt of a cat that had been reared as a boy. He even had the shape of one, but shorter maybe. He had learned to talk and use his paws as hands, his claws had grown into fingers, had lost most of his fur and he was wearing clothes. If I was amazed by such a feat, it kinda seemed normal for the people I met in that dream. It just took a lot of efforts, love and dedication to raise this kind of children.
And Whale, I feel tingling in my arms. This morning you showed me the picture of a kitten! That’s not a mere coincidence. I’m feeling so excited, my hands are too slow to type what I want to write. I fear I’m going to forget an important detail.
About the second dream. The world was in shock, there was this giant… thing that looked like a pistil and that had grown during the night in some arid area. It was taller than the tallest human made tower. Its extremity was cone shaped, and I confess that the whole thing looked like some kind of dick to me.
Plants and trees had followed in the following days as if the pistil had changed the climatic conditions (autocorrect wanted to write climactic, is that you playing around?).
The pistil was protected by some kind of field and it couldn’t be approached by everyone. Governments had tried, pharmaceutical companies had tried. People who wanted to make gold out of it, they were all rejected. But for some reason some people could approach. Anyone, not just the pure of hearts or the noble ones. Actually a whole bunch of weirdoes started to take their chances. Some were allowed in and some where not. Nobody knew what was the deciding factor.
A friend of mine that I have not seen in years during my waking life, she came back and asked me to come with her. So we went and were allowed in. My recall of the events after that is fuzzy. But I get the strange impression that I will spend more time in there later on.
[Edited in the afternoon]
I don’t believe it! It’s on the news everywhere. It has even replaced the news about the virus and the confinement.
Giant pistils have appeared around the world, but it seems only people who had been infected can see them.
Crazy rumours run on the internet. Giant mass hallucination caused by the virus. Some people say it’s alien technology, spores engineered to control our brains.
There is one not so far from where I live. Should I wait for Kady to call me?
Bubbling and turning from orange to green to duck blue, the potion was perfect and smelled of good work, a strong blend of cinnamon, cardamom and crushed cloves. She smiled broadly and poured the potion into five vials, which she gave to Rukshan. They were all gathered around her in the kitchen looking rather fascinated by the whole operation.
“One for you, and one for each of the children,” Glynis said with a grin.
“I’m not a kid,” said Fox.
“I don’t need a potion to go wherever I want,” said Olli with a grin.
“Well,” started Glynis, “Despite your unique skill, Olliver, you still need the potion in order to thwart the control spells Leroway’s saucerers had scattered around the country,” Glynis said. “You all remember what happened to aunt Eleri last time she went out. You know how skilled she is when she need to sneak out. She barely escaped and Rukshan and I had a hard time turning off that dancing spell, which I’m sure is the least damaging one.”
She looked at Gorrash with compassion but the light dimmed as a cloud passed in front of the sun outside. She pointed her finger at him. “Your immune system is still like one of a newborn. And I’d prefer you’d stay home and not go around during a beaver fever pandemic. There are plenty of things you can help me with!” Glynis showed the cauldron, vials and other utensils she used to make the potion, and the cake earlier, and yesterday’s dinner.
“Well, if I have not to challenge my immune system…” Gorrash started.
“You know better than to argue with me,” she said.
Gorrash opened his mouth to say something but decided otherwise and ran away into the garden.
Fox started to follow him.
“Don’t said Rukshan. There’s nothing you can do.”
“He’s my friend!” said Fox.
Today was a good day.
It didn’t matter the state of the world, it was all about internal conditions. Those were the ones you could control, and do magic with.
Rukshan was amazed at how quickly the beaver fever had turned the world in loops and strange curves.
Amazingly, magic that was impossible to do for months had suddenly unlocked today. He could suddenly gain again access to his Fae Bank account, despite months of unsuccessful attempts. Other streams of untapped energy had started to reappear. That could only mean one thing.
Maybe it was the time that the Elders had foretold, the time of the Graetaceans also known as the Titanic Ancient Ones. It was said they would come back at a time of great crisis, through networks of tunnels, and emerge in the Great Lakes at the End of the World.
When he’d talked about them to the children, they had jumped in joy and immediately wanted to go and visit them.
Leroway’s decrees were a bit tricky to work around, but he knew of magical carrots and asprotegus crop that would help Glynis make them the perfect recipe for this quest: a protective imperius needs potion to cloak them from the controls.
Young Jimmy says to me this morning, “I dreamed we were travelling far away from here, Mama. It was only you and me and Bella.” I nearly choked on my grits. I am thankful Cook did not hear. She is as superstitious as the day is long and takes great store in dreams and the like. “Funny things, dreams,” I says to Jimmy. “Hard to know what they mean.” I longed to question him more on the dream, same time, don’t want him talking about it in front of Cook. Best he forgets it.
I’ve heard no more of the sickness. Methinks perhaps it has come to naught. And I’m fit as a fiddle and the children too. I’ve decided Thursday next. On Thursdays, Master goes to the meeting in the Village and Cook has her night off when she goes to see her brother in Thombeen.
I think how pleased they will be to see me. How astonished they will be. When I think about it like that, stops me from fearing. Ten years it has been. I would send a letter ahead but cannot risk it falling in the wrong hands.
The evening helper said she was very sorry to tell me that my niece wouldn’t be able to make it this week, as she’d been on holiday and got quarantined. You needn’t be sorry about that, I told her, I don’t know who she is anyway. Not that I’m ungrateful, it’s very kind of her to come and visit me. She tells me all about people I’ve never heard of, and I pretend to take an interest. I’m polite you see, brought up that way.
Then she said, you’ll have to go easy on the toilet paper, it’s all sold out. Panic buying, she said.
That’s what happens when people start shitting themselves with fear, I said, and she tutted at me as if I was a seven year old, the cheeky young whippersnapper. And how shall I go easy on it, shall I crap outside behind the flat topped bushes under my window? Wipe my arse on a leaf?
Don’t be daft, you’d fall over, she replied crisply. She had a point. My hip’s still playing me up, so my plans to escape are on hold. Not much point in it with all this quarantine nonsense going on anyway. I might get rounded up and put in a tent by a faceless moron in a hazmat suit. I must say the plague doctors outfits were much more stylish. And there was no panic buying of loo rolls in those days either.
I don’t know what the world’s coming to. A handful of people with a cough and everyone loses their minds. Then again, when the plague came, everyone lost their minds too. Not over toilet paper though. We didn’t start losing our minds until the carts started rolling past every night full of the bodies. No paper masks in those days either, we wound scarves around our faces because of the stench.
The worst thing was being locked in the house when the kitchen maid came down with it. All of us, all of the nine children, my wife and her mother, the cook and the maids, all of us untouched, all but that one kitchen maid. If only they’d taken her away, the rest of us might not have perished. Not having enough food did us in, we were weakened with starvation. Shut in the house for weeks, with no escape. Nothing to do but feast on the fears, like a smothering cloud. Like as not, we just gave up, and said, plague, carry me off, I can bear no more. I know after the youngest 6 children and the oldest boy died, I had no will to live. I died before the wife did and felt a bit guilty about that, leaving her to face the rest of it alone. She wasn’t happy about that, and who can blame her.
One thing for sure, it wasn’t running out of blasted toilet paper that was worrying me.
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
I fear to write. The little lock that keeps thee shut won’t keep out none that have set their mind upon knowing my secrets. But I must tell someone or I will go truly mad.
There is none other I can trust. Dear Lisa’s brain is no bigger than the brain of a sparrow but her mouth is the size of a whale. And perhaps I insult the sparrows to compare thusly. The children must not know, though hard it is to keep secrets when their gentle eyes watch my every move, afraid to let me from their sights. It’s for them I must leave. For my own sake, I care not.
Since the past two days I have been making preparations. When the time is come, I will be ready.
“Och aye, now that’s intriguing,” remarked Jacqui, looking up from her phone. “Well I’ll be darned.”
“What’s that, honey?” asked her friend Ella Marie, looking up from her needlepoint. She was working on a cushion cover with an Egyptian theme.
“How far away is Chickasaw?”
“Why, that’s not far away at all,” Arthur said, and then went into some detail involving road numbers that neither of the ladies paid attention to.
“What all is a happening over there in Chickasaw anyway?” asked Ella Marie.
“Can you drive me over there? I have to kidnap a baby,” said Jacqui.
Noticing the astonished looks on her friends faces she hastened to add, “Oh it had already been kidnapped. I just have to kidnap it back, the mother misses it.”
Arthur and his wife said “Ah” in unison, recalling the time when the divorced father had snatched the neighbours children, causing poor Mary Lou no end of grief.
“Of course we’ll help you, that child needs his mother,” Arthur said. “Where in Chickasaw are they holding him?”
“That’s the tricky part, Art. The exact location isn’t known. In fact, ” Jacqui said, “In all honestly I don’t quite know where to go from here.”
A red leaf fell on the nose of the biggest gargoyle and Fox stopped his rehearsal. It had been exhausting and he didn’t remember why on earth he was doing that. He also didn’t remember how long he had been speaking in front of the Gargoyles, maybe he drank the wrong potion in the morning. Glynis had given him a potion especially made for him to calm his anxiety and help him solve a few energy blockages from childhood, or in his case, cubhood.
One of the baby snoots giggled behind the back of the shrieking gargoyle.
“You don’t mess with me, little…” He found himself lacking the creativity to find any insult the could understand. It was no use cursing the little rainbow creatures, they didn’t seem to care. Fox suspected it was not because of a lack of intelligence but simply because they didn’t view life, or anything, as a problem. He took note that he should get some inspiration from that.
“What were you doing, uncle Fox?” asked Olliver.
Fox opened his eyes wide. The boy seemed taller everyday and Fox had to look up to actually meet his eyes.
“Will you never stop to grow?” he asked with a little resentment.
“Well…” the boy started with his breaking voice.
“Where were you,” asked Fox. “I thought you had left with Rukshan.” In a way Fox was relieved that it was not the case and it soothed a little the pain caused by the sudden departure of the Fae.
“Oh! Teleporting here and there,” said the boy, considering adding some semi-truth about going to school.
An idea sprouted in Fox’s mind. It was too tiny for him to know what it was but his unconscious mind was already working about a plan to catch up with Rukshan, connecting the bits and pieces left by the Fae in his tales to the children and his innocuous comments.
“What do you think about… having some dinner,” he said not yet able to formulate in his imagination that he could even go on an adventure with Olliver.
The wind swooshed in the garden, making fallen apples roll on the ground. The air had a lively smell of earth and decaying fruit, and the grass was still moist from the morning dew.
The statue of Gorrash was facing East, and the rising sun was bringing golden hues to his petrified face. Little snoots were curled in glowing colourful balls of liquid fur around the statue, making it pulsate with a quieting purr. Around Gorrash, the slope was peppered with some of the gargoyles rejects that Eleri had made and couldn’t sell at the market. Still, instead of discarding them, she’d arranged a little forest of painted gargoyles as a sort of silent watchful army guarding Gorrash’s sleep.
Rukshan liked to meditate at the place, it helped with the stress he’d felt at coming back from the last ordeals. He wouldn’t have thought, but his identity had felt more shaken than he knew. He wasn’t feeling at home with the Faes any longer, and there were few people who could relate to his adventures in the villages nearby, where he was nothing more than an ominous stranger. Retreating in the Fae’s dimension, hidden from all and mostly abandoned was a tempting thought, but he’d found it was a lure with empty promises. He still had work to do.
Tak and Nesy were already awake and were coming back for the rest of the story.
He’d started to tell them about the Giants, the old forgotten story which he’d learnt many years ago in his previous life as a Dark Fae. Both were captivated at the prowess displayed by the Master Craftsmen, the old Rings of Stones that they built, the Cairns of the Fallen, and the Fields of Chanting Boulders where magic rituals where performed.
“Tell us more Rukshan!” they said. “Tell us more about the Three Giant Kings.”
“Do you remember their names?” he smiled back at the children.
“Yes! There was Ceazar…” Tak started
“Caesar, yes” he corrected gently
“… and Archimedes,” Tak continued hesitantly
“Yes, and who was the third one?”
“He had a long and strange name! Nesy, help me!”
The girl tried to help him “It starts with a V”
“Vergincetorix!” the answer came from behind a bush.
Fox took a place near the gargoyle army garden, and a baby snoot jumped into his lap, cooing in vibrating mruii.
“So what about these Kings do you want to know?” Rukshan asked.
“Everything!” they all said in unison.
“Oh well, in this case, let me retell you the story of the Golden Age of the Three Giant Kings, and how they saved their people from a terrible catastrophe.”
The vegetable garden has provided a dismal crop this year. And what the heat hasn’t shrivelled, the insects have put paid to. Most weeks, I’ve had to send Bert to Willamonga to buy us veges from the Saturday markets. Or I will send him in to town to buy some of the bush food the Aboriginals sell from the store. “Yeah, yeah, Mater,” he says. “Don’t worry about food. There’s plenty.”
Of course I worry about food! We’ve all got to eat, don’t we? And look at my poor excuse of a garden; that won’t be feeding us!
There’s been some rain, not much, not enough to do more than dampen the surface of the ground. It’s down deep the soil needs water. There are secrets down deep.
“Bert,” I say. “You remembered there’s folk coming to stay? We’ll need extra food for them. Better go to the market on Saturday, eh?”
“You make sure there’s enough food for them all, Bert. We’ve not had this many booked for a long while. And Dodo can’t organise herself to get up in the morning, let alone look after others. Is she still drinking?”
“Don’t fuss, Mater,” he says with a smile. “All under control.” And he speaks so loud, like I’m hard of hearing or something.
People are always telling me not to worry, nowadays. Telling me to sit down and rest. Do I want a nice cup of tea? they ask. Telling me I’ve earned it. Treating me like I’m halfway in the grave already.
Except for that Finly. She turned out to be a godsend when I hired her all those years ago. Smart as a tack, that one. Not much she doesn’t see. Makes me laugh with her little sideways remarks. Works like a horse and honest as the day is long.
And my god, the days feel long.
Anyway, I won’t be going to the grave any time soon. There’s things need doing first. Wrongs which need putting right. Things the children need to know.
The grounds so dry. The worms have all gone down deep to find water. Better remember to put out food and water for the birds. And does Bert know to buy food? There are secrets down deep. The earth’s held them close long enough.
The old secrets are going to get me in the end. But you know what, it’s still better than choking on the goddamn lizard’s stew.
I tried to protect the family from all the bloody secrets, but they’re working against me, Dodo for one, who doesn’t like secrets, the sweet twat. Time is against me too.
Of course I didn’t want to sell the Inn, even if it wasn’t for what’s hidden there, and all the secret entrances to the old mines, it was still Abby’s legacy. Her mother had to endure that sorry abusive husband of hers for years, it’s only fair she got something in return. The bastard didn’t know it, but the best thing in his life, his daughter Abscynthia wasn’t even his, she was mine. In the end, I’m glad she buggered off this town, her so-called “disparition” that made everyone run in circles for months. For her own sake, wherever she is now, she was better off.
Only probably Mater knows now about our crazy ties, and she’ll take this secret to her grave I’m sure. But I still want to take care of my grand children, the little buggers. Even had founded that smartass Prune for her dreams of university. Good for her.
All those sudden booking at the Inn? Don’t trust ‘em. Be here for the spiritual voodoo is one thing, but me, can’t fool me with that. The package, it never arrived. I’m sure it’s no coincidence, they’re onto us.
And they’re here for one thing.
The chests of gold.
The full moon was high and a cluster of fireflies were flying stubbornly around a lone corkscrew bush. The baby rainbow creatures were playing like young squirrels, running and jumping around on Gorrash’s arms and head.
The dwarf was still, as if he hadn’t awoken from his curse despite the darkness of the night. He was looking at the bush illuminated by the fireflies and his the dim glows of the rainbow babies were giving his face a thoughtful look.
My life is certainly as complicated as the shrub’s twisted branches, he thought, his heart uneasy.
The others all had been busy doing their own things during the day, like Glynis with her invisibility potion, or Eleri with her Operation Courtesan. Rukshan went away with a goal too, finding the source of the blue light the children had seen in their dreams and he left for the mountains with Olliver and Fox.
Margoritt was an old lady and with all the fuss about the upcoming eviction and destruction of her nice little cottage farm she had been tired and went to sleep early. Gorrash understood very well all of that.
A ball of sadness and frustration gathered in his throat. The rainbow babies stopped and looked at him with drooping eyes.
“Mruiii?” they said as if asking him what it all was about.
“Don’t do that, you’re gonna make me cry,” he said. The raspiness of his voice surprised him and distracted him from the sadness.
“Mruii,” said the little creatures gathering closer to him as if to sooth him. He shed a few tears. He felt so lonely and frustrated because he couldn’t be with his friends during the day. And the summer nights were so short.
I have to find a project for myself, he thought. Maybe find a cure to my own curse like Glynis.
Gorrash felt a tinge of bitterness in his mouth. Why? he wondered. Why didn’t my maker come lift my curse like that man came to deliver Glynis from hers?
He regretted this thought, if anything it only made him feel more miserable and lonely.
An owl hooted and there was some noise coming from the house. Light was lit in the kitchen, and soon after the door opened. It was Glynis. She carried a small crate written Granola Cookies, but it was full of potions and other utensils. Her eyes looked tired but her face was shining. Since she used that potion to cure herself, she had had that inner glow, and despite himself Gorrash felt it started to warm his heart with hope.
“I will need some help,” said Glynis.
The rainbow babies ran around and changed colours rapidly.
“Sure, I can do that,” answered Gorrash. And as he said that he realised he had felt the need to talk to someone so badly.
They sat near the corkscrew shrub and Glynis began to get her stuff out of the crate. She drew the shape of a circle with a white chalk that shone under the moonlight and gave Gorrash eight candlesticks to place around the circle. Gorrash placed them a bit too conscientiously around, and he felt the need to talk become stronger, making him restless.
“Can I tell you something?” he asked, unsure if she would want to listen to his doubts.
“Of course. I need to reinforce the charm before the others arrival. It will take some time before I actually do the spell. We can talk during that time.”
Encouraged by her kindness, he told her everything that had been troubling his heart.
When Lucinda called her friend, Shawn Paul felt it was time to go back home. He wasn’t sure if it was his natural shyness, that he had already seen and talk to so many new people today, or if it was the fear of the unknown. What would he tell a stranger? What would she think of him, his outfit and his scarf? All that made it too much at that moment to meet someone new. So he looked at his phone and pretexted something had come up. They agreed to meet at the reception at the French embassy and he left.
Shawn Paul was walking crossing streets on autopilot, lost in his thoughts about the adventures of the day, when a crazy honking that sounded like an elephant fart brought him back to reality in front a bakery. He realised too late that he had forgotten his granola cookies on the table. But he shrugged and smiled when a little yellow butterfly flew by and landed momentarily on the rear light of a red car. He stopped and wondered how such a light creature could live in a city like this. It took off and fluttered around into the general direction of a public garden nearby where children played under the kind presence of their parents.
“Hi.” They said at the same time with the same awkwardness. Maeve’s dog was sniffing out his shoes, making Shawn Paul self conscious of himself. He feared a moment she might think he had a sloppy hygiene.
“Come Fabio.” Maeve said. “Sorry for that. Dogs…”
Shawn Paul smiled in an attempt to hide his embarrassment, and each of them went in their own direction.
Shawn Paul arrived late at the reception because he spent too much time deciding on which scarf would match his new deep purple velvet jacket. The others were already inside and drinking, their body moving more or less in rhythm with the music.
“Your dress suits you so well,” said Shawn Paul bending closer to her hear and making an effort to talk louder. A smile blossomed on her face at the compliment, contrasting with a lingering nostalgia in her eyes. She was wearing one of those black body fit dress which gave her silhouette all the contours they needed to pop out in a flattering way.
“You missed the speech of the ambassador,” she said with a wink. “Nothing memorable, it’s the same every year.”
Jerk was standing on the side, wearing a suit like one would wear camouflage clothing. He seemed to deeply wonder what he was doing there. Shawn Paul, who was wondering the same, addressed the man a sympathising smile. A moment of connection happened and went away. Jerk took a sip of his glass of champagne and Lucinda put a flute in Shawn Paul’s hand.
She took his other arm and said : “Come. There is something I want to show you!”
What the Huntingford’s hadn’t realized was that the doline on their land wasn’t the only entrance to the labyrinth, which extended considerably further than anyone would have imagined, even the Stripling Bryson’s.
Aubrey Stripling Bryson, whose estate was a days ride up country from the Huntingford’s, was on an expedition in the tunnels when Emerald’s dog had fallen in the doline. His family had known about the underground galleries and passages for generations; indeed, the family had made use of the ones closest to the house for centuries. Nobody knew how long, although there were stories of ancient bones being found by the more adventurous, nobody knew what happened to them, and for comforts sake and the all too familiar fear of the unknown, many of the passages had been blocked off over the years.
Aubrey had been an adventurous lad, and had ventured further along the tunnels during his childhood than anyone, other than his sister Evelyn, would have believed. When he inherited the estate at the early age of thirty three, he prepared a proper expedition including representatives of relevant scientific authorities, intending to map the subterranean network, and write a book about his findings. Evelyn wrote most of the book for him, in fact, but he was credited with it as was the custom at the time. Aubrey had done the physical explorations and obtained various reports from experts, but Evelyn assembled it all together.
The book was in the final stages prior to going to print, when Evelyn had disappeared. And everything relating to the book had disappeared with her. Aubrey was distraught, and never recovered, and Evelyn was never found. He ordered the final tunnel to be blocked off, leaving an usual cave house cellar, nothing more than a curiosity.
The story of Aubrey’s book that disappeared was told to generations of Stripling Bryson children, whispered along with other family ghost stories. And there were many. Even now, there are unusual goings on at the Stripling Bryson estate, adding to the repertoire of local stranger than fiction stories.
Slowly and methodically, Glynis cleared away the rest of the broken glass. Her morning porage, one of the small luxuries she purchased with the coins she received for her potions, was bubbling gently on the stove top. A cup of rosemary tea sat brewing on the kitchen table.
Next to the map.
Glynis was not a believer in coincidence. She knew there were some who might say the picture had just happened to fall from the wall that morning. Perhaps the hook which for all these years held on so stoically was weakened over time and had chosen that moment —that very moment— to finally give in.
Yes for sure, this is what some would say, shaking their heads at any superstitious nonsense about things being ‘meant to be’.
But Glynis was not one of those people. As a child growing up she had been fed magic the way other children might be fed bread. And though there were times she had battled it, she knew magic was embedded in her heart, in every breath she took.
“I breathe the Wisdom of Ages,” she said quietly, comforted by the words.
She had sensed for a while that things were moving. She would wake in the morning, still fatigued from restless uneasy dreams, and know that all was no longer well with her world.
Could she resist that call? she wondered. What would happen if she just ignored it? Would the heavens open and lightening strike her? Or would she just slowly wither away and become the old crone others already saw?
And what would it matter anyway?
She touched her face with her hand, tracing the outlines of the scales. Nausea rose in her gut and she felt her chest constrict.
Calming herself, Glynis sat down at the table with her porage and rosemary tea to inspect the map.
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