Clara had an uneasy feeling which, try as she might, she could not shake it off. She attempted to distract herself by making a sandwich for lunch, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. She went outside to look for Bob, eventually finding him chatting away to himself out in the orchard. It sounded like he was arguing with someone.
Bob jumped. “Didn’t see you there, Clara!” He laughed shakily. “What are you doing sneaking up on me like that? It’s not good for me old heart.”
“Grandpa, I need to go and find Nora. I’ve got a bad feeling, like she’s in some sort of trouble.”
“Go and find her? Do you know where she is then? Has she been in touch?”
“I need to go to the Village. Where the statue man lives.”
“Well you’re not going by yourself. Not with all these strange goings ons and the numerous bits of paper and maps and whatnot which keep turning up all over the place.”
“Grandpa, I can’t get hold of Nora. I keep getting her answer phone.” Clara flicked back through her texts. “Last time she messaged me was to ask if I knew anyone in the Village she could stay with. And I never got back with the details like I was supposed to … I got distracted by Van Gogh going missing and everything … ” She screwed up her face. “Also I couldn’t recall the man’s name.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” said Bob soothingly, reaching out to pat Clara’s hand. “She always were a bit unreliable that one, weren’t she?”
Clara looked like she was about to burst into tears. “Grandpa, I’m such an idiot! What if something bad has happened to her?
When Clara remembered who it was she knew in that little village, she realized she didn’t know how to contact him. She didn’t even know his name; he made gargoyles and stone heads and statues, that was all she knew, and all the strange rumours and stories surrounding some of those statues, quite a local legend in a way. But what was his name? He had a white donkey….
Clara assured Nora that her friend was expecting her, keeping her fingers crossed that she would be able to find out who it was, contact him and ask for his assistance, before Nora arrived there. It was a long shot, admittedly.
By nightfall, Clara had not made contact, and was forced to rely on a miracle; or even to wash her hands of the whole thing: it was Noras’s trip after all.
Dispersee sat on a fallen tree trunk, lost in thought. A long walk in the woods had seemed just the ticket……
Nora wasn’t surprised to encounter a fallen tree trunk no more than 22 seconds after the random thought wafted through her mind ~ if thought was was the word for it ~ about Dispersee sitting on a fallen tree trunk. Nora sat on the tree trunk ~ of course she had to sit on it; how could she not ~ simultaneously stretching her aching back and wondering who Dispersee might be. Was it a Roman name? Something to do with the garum on the shopping receipt?
Nora knew she wasn’t going to get to the little village before night fall. Her attempts to consult the map failed. It was like a black hole. No signal, no connection, just a blank screen. She looked up at the sky. The lowering dark clouds were turning orange and red as the sun went down behind the mountains, etching the tree skeletons in charcoal black in the middle distance.
In a sudden flash of wordless alarm, Nora realized she was going to be out alone in the woods at night and wild boars are nocturnal and a long challenging walk in broad daylight was one thing but alone at night in the woods with the wild boars was quite another, and in a very short time indeed had worked herself up into a state approaching panic, and then had another flash of alarm when she realized she felt she would swoon in any moment and fall off the fallen trunk. The pounding of her, by then racing, heartbeats was yet further cause for alarm, and as is often the case, the combination of factors was sufficiently noteworthy to initiate a thankfully innate ability to re establish a calm lucidity, and pragmatic attention to soothe the beating physical heart as a matter of priority.
It was at the blessed moment of restored equilibrium and curiosity (and the dissipation of the alarm and associated malfunctions) that the man appeared with the white donkey.
Nora moves silently along the path, placing her feet with care. It is more overgrown in the wood than she remembers, but then it is such a long time since she came this way. She can see in the distance something small and pale. A gentle gust of wind and It seems to stir, as if shivering, as if caught.
Nora feels strange, there is a strong sense of deja vu now that she has entered the forest.
She comes to a halt. The trees are still now, not a leaf stirs. She can hear nothing other than the sound of her own breathing. She can’t see the clearing yet either, but she remembers it’s further on, beyond the next winding of the path. She can see it in her mind’s eye though, a rough circle of random stones, with a greenish liquid light filtering through. The air smells of leaf mould and it is spongy underfoot. There’s a wooden bench, a grassy bank, and a circular area of emerald green moss. Finn thinks of it as place of enchantment, a fairy ring.
She reaches the tiny shivering thing and sees that it is a scrap of paper, impaled on a broken branch. She reaches out gently and touches it, then eases if off the branch, taking care not to rip it further. There is a message scribbled on the paper, incomplete. meet me, is all it says now
The crumpled up paper among the dead leaves beside the path catches her eye. No, not impaled on a branch but still, a bit of paper catches her eye as the mysterious ~ ephemeral, invisible ~ story teller continues softly telling her tale
Finn feels dreamy and floaty. She smiles to herself, thinking of the purpose of her mission, feeling as though it is a message to her from the past. She is overwhelmed for a moment with a sense of love and acceptance towards her younger self. Yes, she whispers softly to the younger Finn, I will meet you at the fairy ring. We will talk a bit. Maybe I can help
But wait, there is no meaningful message on the crumpled paper that Nora picks up and opens out. It’s nothing but a shopping receipt. Disappointed, she screws it back up and aims to toss it into the undergrowth, but she hesitates. Surely it can’t have no meaning at all, she thinks, not after the strange whispered story and the synchronicity of finding it just at that moment. She opens it back up again, and reads the list of items.
Olive oil, wine, wheat, garum…. wait, what? Garum? She looks at the date on the receipt ~ a common enough looking till roll receipt, the kind you find in any supermarket ~ but what is this date? 57BC? How can that be? Even if she had mistranslated BC ~ perhaps it means British Cooperative, or Better Compare or some such supermarket name ~ the year of 57 makes little sense anyway. And garum, how to explain that! Nora only knows of garum in relation to Romans, there is no garum on the shelves between the mayonaisse and the ketchup these days, after all.
Nora smooths the receipt and folds it neatly in half and puts it in her pocket. The shadows are long now and she still has some distance to walk before the halfway village. As she resumes her journey, she hears whispered in her ear: You unlocked the blue diamond mode. You’re on a quest now!
Smiling now, she accelerates her pace. The lowering sun is casting a golden light, and she feels fortified.
Clara couldn’t sleep. Alienor’s message asking if she knew anyone in the little village was playing on her mind. She knew she knew someone there, but couldn’t remember who it was. The more she tried to remember, the more frustrated she became. It wasn’t that her mind was blank: it was a tense conglomeration of out of focus wisps, if a wisp could be described as tense.
Clara glanced at the time ~ almost half past three. Grandpa would be up in a few hours. She climbed out of bed and padded over to her suitcase, half unpacked on the floor under the window, and extracted the book from the jumble of garments.
A stranger had handed her a book in the petrol station forecourt, a woman in a stylish black hat and a long coat. Wait! What is it? Clara called, but the woman was already inside the back seat of a long sleek car, soundlessly closing the door. Obliged to attend to her transaction, the car slipped away behind Clara’s back. Thank you, she whispered into the distance of the dark night in the direction the woman had gone. When she opened her car door, the interior light shone on the book and the word Albina caught her eye. She put the book on the passenger seat and started the car. Her thoughts returned to her journey, and she thought no more about it.
Returning to her bed and propping her pillows up behind her head, Clara started to read.
This Chrysoprase was a real gargoyle; he even did not need to be described. I just could not understand how he moved if he was made of stone, not to mention how he was able to speak. He was like the Stone Guest from the story Don Juan, though the Stone Guest was a giant statue, and Chrysoprase was only about a meter tall.
Chrysoprase said: But we want to pay you honor and Gerard is very hungry.
“Most important is wine, don’t forget wine!” – Gerard jumped up.
“I’ll call the kitchen” – here the creature named Chrysoprase gets from the depth of his pocket an Iphone and calls.
I was absolutely shocked. The Iphone! The latest model! It was not just the latest model, it was a model of the future, which was in the hands of this creature. I said that he was made of stone, no, now he was made of flesh and he was already dressed in wide striped trousers. What is going on? Is it a dream? Only in dreams such metamorphosis can happen.
He was made of stone, now he is made of flesh. He was in his natural form, that is, he was not dressed, and now he is wearing designer’s trousers. A phrase came to my mind: “Everything was in confusion in the Oblonsky house.”
Contrary to Clara’s expectations ~ reading in bed invariably sent her to sleep after a few paragraphs ~ she found she was wide awake and sitting bolt upright.
Of course! Now she remembered who lived in that little village!
Damn these municipal restrictions! Frustrated, Nora looked again at the photo of the inscriptions on the mysterious pear shaped box that Clara had found. She picked up a pen and copied the symbols onto a piece of paper. Glancing back over the message her friend had sent, her face softened at Clara’s pet name for her, Alienor. Clara had started called her that years ago, when she found out about the ouija board incident and the aliens Nora had been talking to. Was it really an alien, or….? Clara had asked, and Nora had laughed and said Of course it was an alien or! and the name had stuck.
Nora’s mood had changed with the reminiscence, and she had an idea. She was working from home, but all that really meant was that she had to have internet access. Nobody would have to know which home she was working from, if she could just make it past the town barriers. But she didn’t have to go by road: the barriers were only on the roads. There was nothing stopping her walking cross country.
Putting aside the paper with the symbols on, she perused a map. She had to cross three town boundaries, and by road it was quite a distance. But as the crow flies, not that far. And if she took the old smugglers track, it was surprisingly direct. Nora calculated the distance: forty nine kilometers. Frowning, she wondered if she could walk that distance in a single day and thought it unlikely. Three days more like, but maybe she could do it in two, at a push. That would mean one overnight stay somewhere. What a pity it was so cold! It would mean carrying a warm sleeping bag, and she hated carrying things.
Nora looked at the map again, and found the halfway point: it was a tiny hamlet. A perfect place to spend the night. If only she knew someone who lived there, somebody who wouldn’t object to her breaking the restrictions.
Nora yawned. It was late. She would finalize the plan tomorrow, but first she sent a message to Clara, asking her if she knew anyone in the little village.
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.
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.
His trip had changed him, Rukshan realized. He doubted it at first, don’t all journeys change the traveller?
This one had been peculiar, his life had never felt more on the line. Now, even the feeling of this place he now called a home was contrasting.
He wasn’t despondent, but he wasn’t sure where to focus his energy now. The World outside didn’t lack causes to fight for; that much was a given. The Great Fires in the South had taken a toll on the Austral Dry Lands and started to menace the Great Forest borders. The Heartswood would be safe for now, but with the villagers’ rampant deforestation, what would be next? He was glad to hear that Eleri & Hasamelis were not short of ideas and clever contraptions to tackle the matter.
Yet, his cause was not this one, though it did stir his heart with sadness and longing.
Tak and Nesy had come back from school. He was glad to see them so full of life and well-adjusted. Nesy was coming into her powers, even if they stemmed from a dark place, she’d found ways to use them gracefully, listening to nature. For one, Eleri had seen early the appeal of using Nesingwarys’ fear-inducing power to shroud the place and repel Leroway and his thugs. Nesy didn’t like too much to use her powers that way. It would also affect the birds and it made Glynis sad that the place was so silent at times.
For now, both were pleased to join the team and the little Snoots towards the effort at rebuilding Gorrash.
All were focused on finding a way to get enough pink clay. They’d started to realize that there was not enough stock left around, and the main supply source was from the now scorched & sooty Austral lands.
This was a good cause for now.
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.”
There were strong wind currents when they passed above land, drafts of warm air competing with each other, and it took some skill to land the Jiborium Air Express without any damage.
“It’s incredible the distance we can travel without refueling,” he mused aloud. As if Australia’s coasts weren’t huge enough, their travel inland seemed to have stretched for days. Sanso had been seasick most of the time, and at first Arona thought his retching was just emotion sickness, but it was only motion after all.
“The secret is in the lard, boy. It burns longer.” Sanso said, before reaching for a bucket.
He resumed. “Arona could have taken a Zeppelin you know, the Emporium always used to have few spares, they’re so much more comfortable, and still quite affordable.”
“Guess your comfort wasn’t the priority, nor were you expected, were you?” Mandrake was in a somber mood, well, somberer than usual.
“Mmh, someone’s sprightly today! Guess it doesn’t have anything to do with Ugo the gecko, does it?”
The bickering continued a while longer after all the landing was done, and the balloon was folded back in a neat package.
“Before we venture further in Mutitjulu land, we’ll need to seek permission from the local shaman.” Arona said.
Noticing the boy, she asked “Aren’t your parents going to be concerned, you seem a little far from home!”
“We can still send them a postcard?” he answered tentatively. “It’ll be like a quest, a rite of passage for me. After that, I’ll be a man in my village!”
“Well, when you have had enough, let me know. I think most bodies of water are connected to the Doline, I can just send a magical trace with the last pearls to guide you home.”
“That is kind and generous, Milady. Thank you.”
“So what is our quest?” Sanso seemed to creep out of the shadows where he was lurking.
“Well, that won’t surely get us run in circles now.” Mandrake sniggered. He turned to Arona who was already ready to trek in the rocks and sand. “What about you? Has your quest anything to do with that key you got?”JibParticipant
Fox popped back into existence, blind, after what felt like a very long black out. He heard a thud on the ground as he let go of the ice flute. A strong smell of decay and cold ash rendered him dizzy. He fell on his knees, threw up and cursed when the pain caused by a little stone reached his brain. It hurt.
He rolled on the side and banged his head on a tree trunk. He cursed, grabbing his head in an attempt to contain the pain that threatened to make him faint.
Where is the hellishcopter? he thought, confused as his hands touched the sandy ground. He tried to control a wave of panic.
He remained prostrated. He would have been glad to hear any noise other than his heartbeat and his quick breath.
After some time his sight came back. He would have preferred it did not. Everything was grey. The forest had burnt, and so had the cottage.
He looked around what remained of the kitchen. His heart sank when he saw what looked like a burnt body trying to escape. He went back out and found Gorrash, broken into pieces scattered near the pergola. The stones were covered in a thin layer of grey ash. Fox cried and sobbed. He couldn’t believe what had happened.
Where was everyone? Wasn’t he supposed to have the power of miracles? His heart ached.
She came and met him with a sad smile.
“You were not there,” she said more as a constatation than an accusation. Still Fox felt the guilt weigh on his shoulders. He wasn’t there for his friends. The people he had grown to love. The people he called family in his heart.
“You were not there. The monster came right after the others came through the portal. I wasn’t prepared. They counted on you and the flute. But it was too quick. It escaped and went to the village where it merged with Leroway. Eleri tried to cast her stone spell but it bounced back and she met the same end as Gorrash.”
Fox looked at the scattered stones on the ground.
“Once it controlled Leroway, it went into a frenzy and burnt everything. Everything. Only ashes remain.”
Fox remained silent, unable to speak. It was his fault.
“You have to go back,” said Glynis’s shadow. “They count on you.”
The breeze blew. The ghost flickered, a surprised expression on her face.
“Under the ashes in the kitchen, the last potion,” she said quickly. “It can turn back time. Bring the sh…” A cold breeze blew her off before she could finish.
Moving to the city apartment had not been a bad move. It was little things like this ~ being a five minute walk from a cafe terrace…. a selection of cafe terraces, she reminded herself…after all, her old home in the country village had been a thirty second walk from a bar terrace, and she had never used it. But the idea of being able to meet friends easily seemed to be one of the appealing things about urban life, despite being vociferously against the ghastliness of concrete and traffic landscapes for most of her life. Lucinda wasn’t sure what had changed or when it had happened, or even why, but over the years she had socialized increasingly less, to the point where an occasional lunch date seemed like a jarring interruption to her routine, where a trip to a shopping centre became a dreaded ordeal, or god forbid a journey to the nearest airport, on the most horrifying things of all, a motorway. And yet, she’d been quite the social butterfly in her youth, and a part of her still felt that that was who she was, really. And yet the truth was she hadn’t been very sociable at all for years.
The decision to move to an apartment in the city happened suddenly, almost by accident. Or had it? In retrospect, Lucinda could see the signs and the little nudges, one thing after another going wrong as they usually do before a beneficial change ~ would that we could appreciate that at the time, she often thought! At the time she’d wanted nothing more than for nothing at all to change, to be left in peace to appreciate ~ and yes, she promised herself she would remember to appreciate everything more often! ~ if only, if only, nothing changed or went wrong and she could stay just as she was. But as time lurched on, dealing with one thing and then the next, and the next ~ she started to wonder. And then like dominoes falling, it all happened, and here she was. And it wasn’t bad at all.
It was still raining clumps of wet sand when Rukshan, Olliver, Fox and Twee arrived at the oasis.
The light had dimmed and there was a feeling of hope mixed with dread in the vicinity. Only a mud brick wall no higher than a man’s waist was surrounding the village; and despite the infelicitous weather, standing here were a pair of sentinels so covered in sand clumps that they almost looked like a pair of stone wyverns guarding the entrance.
“Sسلام Salum’ friends. We are simple merchants, passing through, please allow us some shelter for the night” explained Rukshan using what he could remember of his rusty Nomads’ old tongue.
After a long silent glance at his strange companions, they shrugged and nodded him that he could go through.
Rukshan signaled to the others to follow him. The central paved road was leading the the market place, which would constitute, with the masjid, the centre of the city, and the most likely place to find answers on their quest.
Everyone seemed to have retreated to their places, in caves or the homes built on top of the caves from excavated materials. It was rather quiet except from the occasional thump noise made by the rain.
They were about to enter an alley when they heard someone loudly call them.
“Stop right here, Plastic Ban Police! – show us your bags and IDs.”
“Did you know that the beyond of the deserts was the birth place of the Master’s tribes — the guy who gave life to Gorrash” Fox said to Olliver in a conspiratorial voice. “I kind of miss him… though he’s too heavy to carry around by day, this chump.” He mused while wagging his tail smelling around for crunchy scorpions.
“Funny you would say that” said Rukshan, who was ahead of their group, between long strides on top of the sand dunes. “I had dreams about this place, and I get the feeling there is some connection to old Fay legends about these tribes. The Sand tribes had old ties to Fays of the Woods, some said they were even more advanced in the Arts — alchemy mostly. But most of the knowledge has been lost. Only legends remain — that they could crystallise diamonds imbued with life… this sort of things. Some versions of the legends spoke of darker truths, that the diamonds were made to capture elementals, to give them power…”
He stopped in his tracks. Looking at the horizon, the oasis village they were walking towards started to reveal itself. A beautiful patch of green against the variations of sand colours.
“If we keep on, we’ll arrive before sunset. Come on!”
When they reached outside the next morning, the sky was blue, and the light already intense.
Birds were hovering silently above in regular patterns.
He handed to Olliver a tan cape to put over his red shirt.
“Better be careful with the sun too.”
The baby snoot was quick to jump on Olli’s shoulder, and at its touch, the cape seemed to glimmer invisible.
“Ah,… that can work too.” Rukshan was still intrigued by the creatures’ capacity. They didn’t seem born of magic, but of inter-dimensional energy blending.
“We shouldn’t be far from a village, I’ve seen some oasis from the top of the ridge earlier, we’ll follow that route, and hopefully will find out some more about these mysteries.”
Thankfully, there had been a little left of the potion that Tak had so voraciously eaten.
Rukshan had almost aborted the trip to the desert to take care of the little shapeshifting gibbon urchin, whose new shade of green looked serious enough.
As quiet as she used to be, Glynis had shown a lot of cool and dexterity in handling the suspicious food poisoning case. She was gentle with the little boy, and didn’t show much concern about his going through her stuff.
In the end, she said she would be able to manage curing him, but that it would take probably a moon’s time.
Seeing Rukshan’s longer than usual face about the delay, she was the one to push him to go to the desert mysterious blue beams.
“Go with Olliver, he will teleport you both, and you can be back faster. Once you’ll be clear of what it is, we can plan something. It seems rather obvious nobody’s really ready to leave.” She glanced wryly at Eleri who was munching noisily on her goat milk’s oats.
Rukshan smiled. She’d almost sounded as though she was the boss. In any case, Glynis was right. Despite the cottage becoming overcrowded, and the threat of nearby building work encroachments into the forest paradise, all the unexpected friends seemed not in a rush for a change of scenery. Fox, Gorrash, Eleri and Hasam’, Margorrit and Tak, and the occasional resupply visits from the village…
“I think you’re right.” He picked up his bag and nodded at Olli. “Let us go and investigate this desert beam. Are you ready?”
And in a flash of the golden egg device, gone they were.
A rivulet of sweat ran down the middle of Eleri’s back, taking her attention for a moment from the sting in her eye where a bead of perspiration had trickled from her steaming brow. Despite telling herself that there was no need to hurry, that there was plenty of time to get back to the cottage to join the expedition, that even if she was late and they had started without her, that she could easily catch them up, even so, she hurried along the path. There was no sign of cooling rain this day, and the sun beat down mercilessly.
The visit with Jolly had been surprising, and had it not been for the expedition and the others waiting for her, Eleri would have stayed longer with her old friend. The village had become divided, with some of the inhabitants supporting Leroway’s invasive construction schemes, and the others disliking them greatly. And Jolly had sided with the ones opposing her husband. Old Leroway was too determined, and had too much support, to stop him cutting a swathe through the forest. And that wasn’t even the worst of his plans.
But it wasn’t just Leroway. There had been other changes, subtle changes hard to define, but that increasingly fostered profound feelings of restlessness. The energy of the place was different, and for some the lack of resonance was becoming too unsettling to bear. Some of them started to talk about leaving, finding somewhere new. And much to everyone’s surprise, Jolly was one of them. She was leaving Leroway.
Jolly’s people had not yet organized the exodus, had no clear plans. Eleri promised to send word when ~ if ~ she reached a suitable destination. There was no way to know what they would find beyond the mountains. But they knew they must look.
With a spring in her step that she had all but forgotten she possessed, Eleri set off on her trip to speak to her old friend Jolly about her husband Leroway’s latest plan that was causing some considerable controversy among the locals. Eleri planned to make the visit a short one, and to hasten back to Margoritt’s cottage in time for the departure of the expedition ~ because she surely wanted to be a part of that. But first, she had to see Jolly, and not just about Leroway. There was a sense of a stirring, or a quickening ~ it was hard to name precisely but there was a feeling of impending movement, that was wider than the expedition plans. Was Jolly feeling it, would she be considering it too? And if not, Eleri would bid her farewell, and make arrangements with her to send a caretaker down to her cottage. And what, she wondered, would happen about care taking the cottage if Jolly’s villagers were on the move again? Eleri frowned. How much did it matter? Perhaps a stranger would find it and choose to stay there, and make of it what they wished. But what about all her statues and ingredients? Eleri felt her steps falter on the old rocky road as her mind became crowded with all manner of things relating to the cottage, and her work.
You don’t have to plan every little thing! she reminded herself sternly. None of that has to be decided now anyway! It’s wonderful day to be out walking, hark: the rustling in the undergrowth, and the distant moo and clang of a cow bell.
The dreadful flu she’d had after the drenching had left her weakly despondent and not her usual self at all. But she’d heard the others talking while she’d been moping about and it was as if a little light had come on inside her.
She still had trouble remembering all their names: ever since the flu, she had a sort of memory weakness and a peculiar inability to recall timelines correctly. Mr Minn (ah, she noted that she had not forgotten his name!) said not to worry, it was a well known side effect of that particular virus, and that as all time was simultaneous anyway, and all beings were essentially one, it hardly mattered. But Mr Minn, Eleri had replied, It makes it a devil of a job to write a story, to which he enigmatically replied, Not necessarily!
Someone had asked, Who do we want to come on the expedition, or perhaps they said Who wants to come on the expedition, but Eleri had heard it as Who wants to be a person who wants to go on an expedition, or perhaps, what kind of person do the others want as an expedition companion. But whatever it was, it made Eleri stop and realize that she wasn’t even enjoying the morose despondent helpless feeling glump that she has turned into of late, and that it was only a feeling after all and if she couldn’t change that herself, then who the devil else was going to do it for her, and so she did, bit by bit. It might feel a bit fake at first, someone had said. And it did, somewhat, but it really wasn’t long before it felt quite natural, as it used to be. It was astonishing how quickly it worked, once she had put her mind to it. Less than a week of a determined intention to appreciate the simple things of the day. Such a simple recipe. One can only wonder in amazement at such a simple thing being forgotten so easily. But perhaps that was a side effect of some virus, caught long ago.
Enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her face, interspersed with moments of cool thanks to passing clouds, Eleri noticed the wildflowers along the way, abundant thanks to all the rain and all flowering at once it seemed, instead of the more usual sequence and succession. Briefly she wondered is this was a side effect of the virus, and another manifestation of the continuity and timeline issues. Even the wildflowers had all come at once this year. She had not noticed all those yellow ones flowering at the same time as all those pink ones in previous years, but a splendid riot they were and a feast for the eyes.
The puffy clouds drifting past across the sun were joining invisible hands together and forming a crowd, and it began to look like rain again. Eleri felt a little frown start to form and quickly changed it to a beaming smile, remembering the handy weightless impermeability shield that someone (who? Glynnis?) had given her for the trip. She would not catch another dose of the drenching memory flu again, not with the handy shield.
The raindrops started spattering the path in front of her, spotting the dusty ground, and Eleri activated the device, and became quite entranced with the effects of the droplets hitting the shield and dispersing.
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