Part 3: Deliverance
And Things Not What They Seem
Amandus and Zo’koll sat silent throughout the long morning, caught fast in their icy tower. Not even the thought of the warm stones and blowing trees of the Ever Living Lands cheered them. Amandus was quickly losing heart, seeing no way out of their prison. They had tried melting the walls, but they grew chilled too quickly and they decided they needed to conserve their body heat. They took Zo’koll’s earrings and chipped away at the ice, but both earrings were soon bent and broken. So they sat in gloomy despondency on the frozen floor.
Suddenly, a door clanged somewhere, and heavy feet sounded coming down the hall outside the heavy wooden door. Amandus and Zo’koll leaped to their feet and pressed against the wall in panic as a key turned in the lock and the door swung open heavily. A huge cloaked figure stood there, a whip in his hands. He cracked it once, and it flicked between them, leaving a ridge in the ice. The hobbit slipped on the floor and fell painfully, trying to avoid the lash, and so she didn’t see it curl around Zo’koll’s foot. She realized what was happening only when Zo’koll started yelling as she was dragged across the floor. The cloaked person drew her towards the door and wrapped the whip around her legs and arms; then he turned to Amandus, who drew up her legs and cowered against the wall; but he only spoke to her.
“The Brown Marshmallow People are sacred,” he hissed. “Remember today what you have seen.” The hobbit hid her eyes and the door slammed shut. She lay on the floor in a miserable heap, her thoughts taking refuge somewhere beyond where anyone could follow…
* * *
Sir Tisdale reined his horse across the frozen wasteland, picking his way carefully along the faint track between the stones. They had stumbled across it quite by accident, and it hugged the hillsides and made use of every bit of cover available. The Mountain of Lost Souls loomed far in the distance, where Tingenek, also called the Tower of Bare Ice, was set on its stormy peak. “The hobbit is imprisoned in that tower,” he said. “I know this in my heart, for it also beats with the love of the Ever Living Lands.”
Jack patted a covered bundle on the back of his saddle. “We have this,” he said. “With it, we can rescue hobbits from anything, be it cold or heat or snow or drought.”
“Yes,” Sir Tisdale agreed. “None dare stop us. Forward!” With that, he urged his horse forward along the trail…
* * *
…Amandus opened her eyes. There was no Sir Tisdale. She knew this truth, for she could never be Sir Tisdale. In her mind, he and she were one and the same, but he was only a fabrication of her imagination, dashing about the countryside with his faithful side-kick saving the world from evil. But even Jack seemed pale in comparison to the situation before her, and she had thought longer and harder over a name for him than any part of her Sir Tisdale imaginings. But no…it was useless. The floor was too hard, the walls were too cold, and the snow outside was too real.
Dusk fell quickly, as it does in the Northern lands when snow is on the ground. Shadows gradually crept across the floor, touching gently the huddled figure in the corner of the room, moving on in their own business and remembering her not. The moon shone over the white stillness, already well on its way to the zenith of its climb as the daylight faded, and its glow through the small window was like a lance in the darkening room. Amandus sat up slowly, marveling gloomily that so clear and pure a light would dare enter a dungeon of ice. It seemed to mock her, being so free with its beams. Despair was heavy on her heart, and she leaned her head against the wall. There was no life. Zo’koll was gone. The White Wizard held the land in a hard grip. She was in darkness.
A little breeze entered the room, a light zephyr of air, slightly out of place in a dungeon on the top of Tingenek, the Tower of Bare Ice. It played across the hobbit’s pale face and whisked over her boots. She opened her eyes and raised her head. It was different from the bone-chilling wind sweeping across the frozen plain below; cold, but clear and fresh, it brought color to her cheeks and wakefulness to her clouded mind, and she wondered. It left her, but she could hear it blowing in the window and around the room, and she listened. She heard it faintly examine the door and touch the walls and corners of her prison; she couldn’t understand how she could hear it and track it, but she could…almost as if she could see it. The sound was calming, and she felt strangely refreshed and cheered. It was then that she became aware that she wasn’t alone.
Very faintly visible in the corner opposite her was a figure resting on the floor. As she gazed at it, it became clearer, and she saw what appeared to be a girl sitting cross-legged, regarding her with not a little curiosity. As it took shape more clearly, she saw that it was dressed rather strangely for a country of the North, wearing nothing but a short sleeved white tunic belted at the waist, light green leggings, and knee-high leather boots. She was leaning on one elbow, chin in hand, playing absently with a strand of her long brown hair. On her belt was a dirk; the blade was black and bare. However, the most remarkable thing about her personage was that she had a tail. It wasn’t too long, only half past her knees, and it was similar to the thickly-furred tail of a Maine coon cat. Amandus blinked and glanced at the door, which was still securely shut. “Who are you?” she asked.
The girl moved for the first time and smiled. “Actually,” she said, “the question should be coming from my end, because you are the first person looking like you that has ever come to this tower.”
“Then are you a bad guy? What do you want?”
The girl leaned back against the wall and laughed for a good long time. When she finally sobered, she said, “I am the cat that walks by itself. I confide in no one, yet all are my friends and I welcome them. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow…don’t walk behind me, I may not lead… walk beside me and be my friend.” She stood to her feet and held out her hand, smiling. “Will you?”
Amandus still wasn’t sure. “You haven’t answered my questions. Who are you, and what do you want? Like what is your name?”
Again the girl with the tail laughed…she seemed rather fond of doing so. “I am a Pooka. I have no public name. As for what I want…” Here she smiled. “I want to observe and I want to learn new things. All the world is my playground, and all of life is an adventure. And some people are more fun to play with than others…which brings me back to my own question. Who are you?”
And so the hobbit told her everything. About why she and Zo’koll left the Ever Living Lands, about coming too far north and the blood tree, about being kidnapped and imprisoned by the White Wizard, and finally about the mysterious abduction of Zo’koll from the cell. When she mentioned the White Wizard, the Pooka’s eyes flashed green fire. “And after they took my friend, I didn’t know what to do. And then you came somehow. Do you have any ideas to get me safely out of here?”
The Pooka was pacing to and fro around the small room. She looked up. “Nope. None. I am a Pooka. I come and go as I please and none hinder me. Not even the White Wizard. I can’t say the same for anyone else.”
“Then perhaps you can talk to him and convince him to let me and my friend free.” Amandus spread out her hands. “I don’t even know why we have been captured, or what he wants from us. Could you at least influence him to tell us why?”
The girl gave a short mirthless laugh. “I have no influence over the Wizard. His goal is world dominion, and he is ever on the look-out for minions to do his dirty work. I am no minion of his…we understand each other and each have little or no influence over the other, and he seems as frozen as the land he rules. However…” A thinking expression crept over her face and she looked sideways at the hobbit. Then she turned upside down and sat cross-legged in midair, which made Amandus laughed. That was the whole point, of course. Then she shot over to the window and landed on the edge and looked down.
“K, so I just realized I lied. Not exactly, but sort of. I can get you out of here easily, but to do it safely is another matter, and I have no ideas for to do that. But I can get the first stage going.” She turned. “Are you ready? To go? Like right now?”
Amandus nodded. The girl leaped next up to the rafters and hung there briefly. “Alright,” she said. “Over you go.” With that, the Pooka disappeared, and a rope shot through the air and over the edge of the small window. Amandus blinked. It was very pale even against the blue whiteness of the ice and she almost couldn’t see it. One end was tied securely to the beam above her head, and the other end was out of view out the window. “Hurry,” said a voice. “You said right now, so go.”
“Oh; of course.” Amandus grasped the rope in her hands and climbed up to balance precariously in the window. The rocks were hundreds of feet below, and for a moment she shut her eyes, dizzy. “Go,” the voice prompted her again. “You will be quite safe.” So she held onto the rope firmly and slid her feet carefully over the edge of the window and found a toehold in the ice. She looked down to make sure of her footing and nearly screamed in fright – she couldn’t see her feet…or her legs…or any of herself, for that matter. Soft laughter sounded all around her, and the rope quivered in her hands. “You’ll notice,” said the Pooka, “that the rope is visible, while you are not. Pookas have the gift of either attitude as they choose, and also the gift to bestow it on other things or beings for a short time. Makes it easier that way sometimes.”
The climb down the tower was a harrowing experience, and although the moon had sunk behind the tower, leaving her side in shadow, it seemed to Amandus that hours passed before she finally reached the ground below and could hide behind a snow covered rock. The voice had coached her all along, but it had been painfully slow, and she collapsed at the bottom breathing hard. As she dropped the rope, she was immediately visible again and the rope was not. But she heard it slither down to the ground and land next to her, and then in a trice she was scooped up by a quickly-moving flat sort of object and whisked toward the trees. They entered under the snow-laden branches and careened around rocks and boulders straight towards a cliff. Amandus squealed and they went over the edge…or not quite. A deer trail tipped over the lip and around the rocks and they came to an abrupt stop before a tall slab of rock, spilling her off into the snow. A moment later the Pooka was leaning against the rock beside her, whisking her tail in a very satisfied manner. “What was that?!” the hobbit gasped.
“It’s called a Sledd, dear hobbit,” was the reply. “They are quite the convenience when it comes to transportation over snow.”
Amandus lay on the ground and tried to slow her breathing. “Now where do we go?”
“Into the ground, of course,” the girl replied. “You can’t think that your escape wasn’t observed and catalogued, for it probably was…even if it wasn’t, we must act as though it was. Safer that way…fewer surprises in the end. We must get as far as we can before discovery, and there are fewer eyes below ground, depending on where you go. Come! This way!”
“No! Wait! I can’t leave my friend.” Amandus still sat on the ground. “I made it out, but Zo’koll is still in there somewhere.”
The Pooka laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you that most of the White Wizard’s palace is under this very mountain? There is nothing in the tower…I saw them take you and then poked around to see what else I could find. No, no she isn’t in the tower at all – she is under our very feet.”
Amandus rose to her feet and looked at her. “I’m not sure I trust you.”
“You are wise.”
They stood regarding each other for a moment. Looking at her, Amandus felt the bounce that had left her upon coming north begin to flow back into her veins. The Pooka tilted her head. “Shall we? Or not?”
The hobbit looked back through the trees at the icy tower, thinking long of her friend and of what she had to do. Boldness was returning to her, and she felt that she actually was Sir Tisdale…only her side-kick was a little odd and she wasn’t named Jack. Courage once again flowed though her heart, and she spun around on the snow and looked straight into the eyes of the girl with the tail. “Yes!”
The Pooka laughed again and whisked out of sight behind the rock. “Come then! We must get supplies and things, and I know Peoples who live down this way. Come!” Amandus followed her around the rock.
To be continued….
Part 2: In the Womb of Winter
All Colour Runs Together
Amandus sat warming her toes by the fire while Zo’koll read aloud from a book of fairy tales. Though it was cold without, it was warm within and the hobbit was content. The memory of her past shame was almost forgotten.
Suddenly, breaking the stillness like a bolt of lightening rends the sky on a clear night, a horde of masked figures in black broke through the doors and windows of the cabin and carried Amandus and Zo’koll into the bleak night before they even had a chance to scream. Their pale hands were as cold as ice and froze the young hobbit’s blood. Then all was darkness and she remembered no more.
* * *
When she awoke Amandus found herself in some sort of dungeon. It was dark and very, very cold. A single window let in a patch of cold, pale sunshine which did little to warm or cheer the room. Amandus crawled to the window, pulled herself up slowly and painfully, and looked out. Winter had come that night and the land lay covered in a shroud of snow. She leaned her hand against the wall for support and the warmth of her hand caused the wall to melt ever so slightly. Then the truth dawned upon her: she was imprisoned in a tower of ice.
“I know where we are,” she said.
Zo’koll, who sat huddled in the farthest corner of the room, stirred at the sound of Amandus’ voice. “Where?” she asked, in a frightened voice.
“This is the land of Michigan, a land of perpetual ice and snow. It is said that the snow only melts once every thousand years.” The hobbit fell silent. An evil laugh echoed through the room.
* * *
Sir Tisdale laughed. He had little reason to laugh; he had long been exiled from his home in the south, doomed to wander in the northern wild and help those he may. Yet still his heart was light and he laughed.
“Sire!” shouted his squire, Jack, who rode ahead. “Come see this!” He pointed to a clearing ahead where an abandoned cabin with broken windows stood.
The knight rode ahead and dismounted. “Der Nachtfalter’s work,” he said disgustedly, eyeing the two blood red leaves pinned in the shape of a moth to what was left of the door.
“I found this,” said Jack. He handed Sir Tisdale a small blue velvet cloak. “There are hobbit tracks around the cabin as well. A hobbit was here. A hobbit from the Ever Living Lands.”
Sir Tisdale looked very grave.
“The heart of a hobbit from the Ever Living Lands will beat and stop beating as any other heart,” said the knight. “But, if you eat it. . . .”
He stopped and swung himself into his saddle.
“Where are we going?” asked Jack.
“To rid the world of darkness and despair!”
To be continued. . .
I find I have been remiss in my duties…I have neglected to put up Dark Waltz! This ongoing story was started back before school ended. Part One was written by Der Nachtfalter of Requiem Aeternam, Part Two by myself and Part Three by The Pooka of Musings and Sensible Nonsense. Rather explains the characters, doesn’t it? I will be posting each part separately. Enjoy!
Part 1: The Dying Time
We are the lucky Ones
It was the dying time. The trees understood and celebrated the passing of time with brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges that shone luminously in the afternoon sun. For them the chill breeze whispered promises of rest, a detachment from the heat and activity of summer, the burrowing grub, and the worm. They rustled in unison, waving their limbs freely in the open air, the last stretch before the deep sleep. It was the dying time, and the trees glowed in anticipation.
“Do you think we’ve come too far north?” asked Amandus. “The sunlight is thin here and chills my blood.”
The small hobbit wrapped her blue velvet cloak tighter around her body, her fairy eyes darted nervously from tree trunk to tree trunk. Where she grew up everything lived in a dreary yellow-green stupor, crushed by heat and humidity, but everything always lived, and she had never known the dying time. In the distance a raven screamed.
Her companion put an arm around her, comforting her. “Have you so soon forgotten the shame that drove you here and me with you? Cousin, whatever we find here, whether ice or flame, dead or living, can be no worse than what we have left behind.”
Amandus leaned closer to her friend and nodded. “You are a true friend Zo’koll. Not the kind that stabs poor hobbit friends in their sleep at all. What you say is true. Dead or living, it can be no worse.”
Ice or flame, dead or living—these words held no meaning in the dying time which was all of these things mixed together heartless and terrible. A live nemesis can be killed; a dead one has no power. But what happens when the living and dead fuse together in the womb of winter?
* * *
They came to the blood tree. Year after year its blur of blood-red leaves festered deeper and darker than the red of any other tree. It towered ancient and primeval over the pathway easily older and taller than anything else in the forest. Under the thick leaves a shadow fell and a darkness that crowded in on the hearts of Amandus and Zo’koll. They fell silent without knowing why and in silent agreement simultaneously lengthened their strides. They passed the blood tree, shaken by the whispers which jumped from leaf to blood red leaf. They passed the blood tree and did not turn, and so they did not see the black hooded figure which stepped out of the shadows to watch them. The figure lingered near the path and leisurely plucked two leaves of deepest red before vanishing into the woods.
* * *
The hobbit and her friend soon forgot the shadow of the blood tree though it did not forget them. Slowly, their natural warmth and cheerfulness returned as the sun grew stronger. A stream gurgled nearby. Suddenly, Zo’koll laughed as if a spell had been lifted.
“Really, we are the lucky ones to have escaped with our dignity and lives. I mean—imagine the shame that would have followed you for the rest of your life! Being proposed to in that dark musty closet?! But here we have each other and freedom. And these woods and the cool air have their own charm. Aren’t the colors beautiful?”
Amandus shuddered. “Zo’koll! I was trying to forget! But it always comes back to me. When I close my eyes, I can feel his sweaty palms all over again, hear my great-aunt trying on coats in the back of the closet. I get nauseated from the smell of the gallon of cologne he must have been wearing! Can you believe it, he wanted to kiss me!”
Zo’koll’s foot was much too big to fit in her mouth, but at times she wished it would. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to remind you of it all. It must have been very horrid. I’m sure I would have died from the mortification if it had happened to me.”
“It’s ok, cousin,” said Amandus. “I’ll forget eventually, and so will everyone else. We’ll be able to go back then.”
“Yes, cousin. I feel that this is a place of forgetfulness and healing. We are going to have the time of our lives here!”
“Yes, and we’re almost there!” replied Amandus. “The real estate agent claimed there was a clearing there full of thick soft grass where we can run barefoot chasing sun rays until our hearts are ready to burst from happiness. That will heal anything.”
Shame, mortification, stress—all these things disappear in the dying time. From the time the first snow falls to the spring thaw, an enchantment falls over the North woods. White numbing forgetfulness. But who is the enchanter, the blizzard-bringer? Who wears the frost-iron crown? And what does he do with the survivors?
* * *
On a knoll overlooking a small log cabin the hooded figure watches. A dagger glints in the sunlight, the tip of its blade resting on the tip of the hooded being’s left index finger. The dagger spins, digging into the fingertip until blood drips, falling on two blood colored leaves. Although the afternoon air is mild, the blood freezes on impact with the leaves, and the hooded figure picks the leaves up. He places their tips together, carefully spreading out the bases, and drives the dagger through them, pinning them to a willow tree, the leaves forming a pattern like ragged bleeding moth wings.
Only a short distance from the cabin, Amandus and Zo’koll felt a sudden chill as if a great coldness had taken hold in their hearts. They shivered and held hands, stumbling together to the dark waiting cabin.
To be continued . . .
On Thursday August 6, 2009, an historic event occurred: I passed my driving test. After many, many practice driving trips, three previous failed attempts at taking the test and several quite eloquent speeches on the superiority of the horse and buggy to the Infernal–I beg your pardon, Internal Combustion Engine, I finally am a licensed driver. I have a lovely driver’s license complete with a bad picture of me looking very happy and a red strip on the top instead of the blue one indicating a learner’s permit. It’s pretty snazzy.
Not only can I now drive myself to work, I can also fondly reminisce about the Days of Yore when I first learned to drive. For my first driving lesson ever, I was expected to drive my Dad’s work van. The inside of this van was held together by duct tape, and the outside was painted powder blue with bright orange and deep blue stripes. It was so ugly that it was almost cute. We affectionately named it “The Mystery Machine.”
I’m not sure exactly why my dad got me to drive his car, since even with the seat moved as far forward as it could go I could only just barely reach the gas and brake pedals and because it had a nasty habit of randomly cutting off, say, in the middle of an intersection. It cut off on me while I was in the middle of a turn, nearly giving me a heart attack. Thankfully, there’s not much traffic to speak of in Early Branch. But it was the last time I drove Dad’s van.
All subsequent driving lessons took place with my mom in her van. It wasn’t much better than the Mystery Machine: it was a big white conversion van known as both The Great White Whale and Moby Dick. (Needless to mention, I am *very* grateful for Scarlett, the little red Subaru that I’m currently driving.)
Then there’s the first (and last) time I drove a stick shift. I was in Brevard visiting my grandparents the summer I first got my permit when someone told my cousin Johnny he needed to move his car. Johnny looked over at me and said, “Hey Nel, want to move my car?” I didn’t. But Johnny wouldn’t take no for answer.
Moving the car turned into driving the car all over Brevard. This was somewhat problematic for a variety of reasons:
- I didn’t have my permit with me.
- Even if I had had my permit, permits are not valid out of state.
- Even if I had had my permit with me and I were driving in state, my cousin Johnny was not yet 21.
- Even if I had had my permit and I were driving in state and Johnny had been 21, I had never driven a stick shift before and I was in the mountains.
This remains the Most Illegal Thing I have Ever Done, though it wasn’t until afterwards that the full illegality of it hit me. Johnny and I both survived the experience, but I am not so sure about his clutch.
I remember when I was four years old asking my mother why my cousin Emily spoke English. My mom was confused, so I explained to her that since Emily was from another country–North Carolina–she should speak another language. That was the day that I learned that North Carolina was not a separate country. And that being from another country doesn’t necessarily mean that you speak another language. You learn something new every day.
You see, when I was four the world was a fairly small place. It consisted chiefly of North and South Carolina. South Carolina was where I lived and all the principal inhabitants lived in Charleston or the surrounding islands, as I did. North Carolina was just about as far north as you could go–why else was it called North Carolina? We would visit this howling northern wilderness in the summertime to see my grandparents.
There was some notion of lands existing farther north than North Carolina, but my conception of them was vague. I did know that somewhere just north of North Carolina was Wisconsin where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in her cabin in the Big Woods. If you went much farther north, you’d hit the North Pole.
South of South Carolina was Georgia, and further south of that was Florida and the magical land of Disney World. And then there was England, which in my mind was exactly like South Carolina with the exception of the accents and the snow in the wintertime. There were also castles and fairies there.
As for the rest of the map, well, there there were dragons.
* Hic sunt dracones means “here be dragons” in Latin. The phrase designates unknown areas on a map. Read the Wikepedia article.
Sir Francis Drake’s map of the world courtesy of www.history-map.com
If you compare the human brain to a calculator, when it comes to sports my brain is a slide ruler competing with graphing calculators. No, wait. Make that an abacus. Or perhaps just paper and a pencil.
To be quite honest, I am totally incompetent at sports of any kind. Whatever part of the brain enables an individual to understand and play a sport is completely missing in mine.
There are only two occasions where I will agree to play any organized sport, family beach week and Thanksgiving. At these times all of the cousins are together and, chances are, one of them will say, “Hey, who wants to play football?” And for some reason, I always say yes.
On Thanksgiving there is more likelihood of other clueless females playing, so my incompetence is less evident. But last week during Beach Week 2009 all of the other girl cousins refused to play. It was my moment to shine.
After an entire game of running back and forth looking somewhat confused and not knowing the score, I finally caught the ball. I caught the ball. The ball had been thrown to me, and I had caught it. No fumble. No interception. I stood there amazed. My teammates yelled out to me to run, but before I could figure out which to direction to run the other team decided to stop being gentlemanly.
So we lost. But I caught the ball!