Sunday, July 20, 2008

22: Destination reached

Sheriff Bob snored uproariously in bed. His wife, a plump, hardy looking woman, slept beside him with her hands over her ears, a position she had long ago learned to maintain. The sun rose in the sky, and outside the neighbors' servants were venturing out on their midday errands. A frantic rooster crowed, realizing that he was five hours late. It was ten o'clock. Sheriff Bob snored on. He was supposed to be conducting an official investigation of the princess's disappearance, but little matter. He had overexerted himself by assuming a position of leadership at the counsel and deserved rest. Besides, no one expected the counsel to do anything anyway. It had been several days since Edith's disappearance, but Sheriff Bob continued sleeping.

In the bottom of a small depression grew the only tree in the Desert of Dreams, and Edith lay unconscious at its base. The wide-spreading branches of the massive oak protected her from the scorching rays of the desert sun. She slept there on the ground, completely exhausted. The sand, moist from the nearby stream, cooled her sunburned cheek. Had she been awake she would have noticed something unusual about the stream and the tree. Trickling over the ledge, the stream picked up speed as it flowed over a smooth slab of slime covered rock toward the tree. In the old oak itself a wide gap opened between the gnarled roots, exposing the entrance to an underground tunnel. Through this passage the water flowed, splashes echoing from within the subterranean chasm. As these soothing sounds calmed Edith in her sleep, Marius entered her dreams, to urge her on to one last effort.

Edith was torn from the realm of deepest sleep and entered into the domain of dreams. The distant sounds of a waterfall swirled around her, coming from first one direction, then another. Looking down at her feet, Edith realized she was standing on the edge of a stream, and kneeled down to drink. She was delighted to find that the water was cold and refreshing, sweet with no hint of bitterness. But no matter how much she drank, her thirst could not be quenched. After a while she sat down in disgust and once again tried to find her way back to that deep restful unconsciousness. Then Marius appeared.
"Edith, you are nearly there! Follow me just a few steps further!"
She ignored him, turning to face the opposite direction.
"Just push yourself a little further, Edith," Marius persisted. "You must go on!"
She covered her ears with her hands but found she could still hear him.
"Crawl over and put yourself in the stream. That is all you must do! That is it, Princess, and this part of your journey is over!"
A tear trickled from her eye, and she huddled up, hugging he knees to herself.
"You must do what I tell you now, or I am afraid something very bad will happen!" urged Marius, but Edith didn't care. She didn't care what happened. She wanted to rest undisturbed. Drawing nearer, Marius gently moved the hair out of her face and looked into her eyes. "Go now."
"No! Edith shouted. "No!" Glass shattered. Something struck Marius forcibly in the back. An arrowhead protruded from his chest. Edith stared, horror stricken, into is pained eyes-- but they were Methuselah's eyes!
"Go!" he commanded, and Edith staggered back, stumbling toward the stream. Unsure of whether she was awake or asleep, she fell on all fours and crawled out into the water. Rushing past her, the stream became a river, and it took hold of her, dragging her toward a great mouth in the tree. Then everything was dark and she was falling in blackness, falling again through a confusing swirl of indistinguishable shapes.
"You have great strength, Princess," came Methuselah's loving voice. Then she knew no more.

When Edith awoke everything was completely dark, but as her eyes focused she began to make out her surroundings. She was lying on a bed of something soft, within a small alcove of a vast cave. Turning onto her side, she gazed out at the majestic sight before her. Rising from the surface an expansive phosphorescent lake, oddly shaped columns and walls of rock wound and twisted in a vast maze of dark brilliance. Enormous crystals shone with a dull luminance in the light of the glowing lake, and the rythmless music of dripping water melded with the far off resonance of a waterfall. Edith marveled at this natural wonder, awestruck, yet fearful. Where was she? She started in fright when a hand came down on her shoulder.
"There, there, dearheart, there's no reason to fret yourself. I was just coming to see if you were awake, and here you are, sitting up in bed! Judging by the condition I found you in, I though it would be a whole day or two before you came around. It's a long fall to the lake, you know, and then of course I had to fetch you out of the water, and that took a bit. I tell you, I'm not the swimmer I used to be! Oh, but what am I doing! You'll need your nourishment of course. Just stay there, and I'll be right back." With that, the old woman hurried off along a pathway of rock that jutted out into the lake. Then she disappeared around a corner. Lying back down, Edith relaxed and closed her eyes. She was about to go to sleep again when her hand brushed up against something on her side-- something cold that made her skin crawl. It was the dagger. She immediately remembered everything that had happened, and realized that she had finally reached her destination. The woman: she was Sara, Woman of the Hidden Stream, and-- where was the book? Edith looked around, but saw it nowhere. As Sara entered once again, Edith began to ask about it, but stopped when she saw the bowl of stew Sara offered her. Edith ate, for the first since she left the city.
When Edith had finished two bowls of stew and had started on her third, Sara began asking her questions.
"Now, dear, don't eat too quickly or you'll find yourself more full than you'd wish. Tell me, how did you come to this place? A girl like you should never travel alone in the desert."
Setting down the bowl, Edith began to think back over the past several days, feeling very weak once again as the memories flooded in. Then she told Sara everything, sometimes clinging to the woman's hand, sometimes weeping as Sara wept with her. When the tale was told, Edith snuggled in the woman's arms, still shaking in the tender, motherly embrace.
"Come now," cooed Sara, "everything is alright."
"I know," Edith managed, "I know...and thank you...thank you for--" She broke down weeping. "What is it, child?" Sara hugged Edith even closer.
"I...I...never had a mother--I mean I never knew her. Father said she was captured by evil men and taken away and...and killed--and I always wondered...I just wished that I could have someone to hold me when I was frightened--and you...thank you...for..." Edith trailed off once again, as the sobs shook her body, "You've let me feel what it's like to have a mother." It was some time before Edith looked up, but when she did, she found Sara's gaze distant and her face hard.
"Oh, that king..." Sara muttered. The expression of anger on her face surprised Edith. "But he couldn't tell her the truth, poor girl. Ohhhh, someday justice will be done."
"What is it, Sara?"
"Oh, pay no heed to me, deary."
"Sara, please, what were you saying?"
"Nothing child; I'll explain later. You're much to weak right now to hear it, anyway. Come, let's get you back in bed and get some more rest."
"Sara, I don't know what you were saying, but it had something to do with me. I just feel that...I'm sorry. I suppose if you believe it would be better for me to wait, then I will. Please forgive me." Edith looked up into Sara's face, but found her friend staring off into space.
"Yes, it is so," Sara said, as if to someone else, "I shall tell her." She then looked back at Edith. "Child, I have a long story to tell you."

"Ahhh, there's nothing better than a big shade tree in the middle of the desert!" exclaimed Felipe, as he gazed up at the massive oak, "Come to think of it, what is a big shade tree doing in the middle of the desert? I hope my love was cooled in it's shade as she lay here-- for her footprints indicate that she did indeed reach this very place. Oh look! I found a book! How exciting! I wonder what it is." He reached down and picked up the heavy tome. "Hmmmm," he mused upon opening to the first page, "it appears to be a compilation of three volumes. Laws. Boring. Prophesies. Boring. Spells. Now here is something exciting!" He began to look through the book, his two men at arms peering over his shoulders. "Oh, now isn't this something! A spell for turning red roses blue! Do either of you have any roses?" he asked. The men shook their heads. "Well what about this, a spell for taming alligators! I wonder if there are any around here." He began to circle the tree in search of the reptiles when one of his men made a suggestion. "Um, my liege, do you think there could be a spell in the book to help find the princess?" one of the men asked. "What?" inquired Felipe. "A spell, to help you find the princess," suggested the man. Felipe stared in dazed wonder as he considered this possibility, then began madly flipping through pages. "Of course there's a spell that can help us find the princess!" he announced without looking up, "it's just a matter of finding it!" After several minutes of intense page flipping, numerous paper cuts, a few tears, one or two bruises, and some very close calls with hopelessness and desperation, a promising looking spell was found.
"'The Divining Rod'," read Felipe, "'a magical tool used for locating hidden treasure and missing valuables. Simply take a short stick, hold it out in front of you, turn two and a half times around, and say 'take me to what I must find.' Then allow the stick to guide you to your goal.'" he finished reading, "That sounds easy enough!"
Of course, a stick had to be broken off from the tree, and this process resulted in even more wounds, and some even closer calls with hopelessness and desperation. But when the stick had been acquired and Felipe had recited the necessary words, the magic began to work. Lurching nearly out of Felipe's grasp, the stick swooped forward, pulling him behind it. Sand filled the air as Felipe was dragged crazily along the ground, bumping over rocks, tearing through shrubbery, and losing various pieces of armour in the process.
"It works!" he shouted, "It works, it works, it works! And it's taking me to--" There was a resounding hollow thud as Felipe slammed face first into the tree trunk.

With Edith huddled close, Sara began her story.
"Long, long ago I lived with my husband in a great city by the sea. My husband was the man you knew as Methuselah, but his name was Farran then. Now the king of this city was as evil as men can be, and he tormented the people by all means of dark arts. He was, in fact, so powerful that he was created a spell over himself that rendered him invincible. With this spell his flesh could not be pierced by any weapon--or so he believed.
It so happened that Farran and myself were the last two people of the line of the good Kings of Old, and seemingly by coincidence we found each other and loved each other. But I believe that there was some deeper magic guiding us and guarding us, for from the day we married, neither of us aged a day older. Thus, we continued to live in the city, and while many around us died, we lived on.
Now the king of the city grew more and more evil every day, and finally his deeds became so terrible that Farran knew he must be brought down. So Farran consulted the great books that had been passed down to us by our ancestors, and he also searched among the mysterious items we had inherited as well. This was when he came across a dagger could shatter the evil king's spell. Upon finding this he planned to assassinate the king that very night, but I reminded him of the code of honor that the good Kings of Old, and all their knights lived by. This code, among other things, forbade any form of unfair killing. Farran, though, saw himself as justified since he believed his quest was for good and would be otherwise impossible. So he carried it out.
Had my husband confronted the evil king in a fair fight, things might have turned out differently, but at the very moment the dagger pierced the king's heart, the entire city met its death. Dukes, knights, commoners, slaves--all fell save for Farran and myself. The very buildings of the city crumbled and collapsed. Now, I must say that the people were not exactly dead, but they became forever enslaved within a spirit form.
With the city thus destroyed, Farran fled with me to the southern town of Nuverandim. There we lived, both of us ever young, for one hundred and forty years, watching as the town grew into a mighty city. During all this time, my Farran was advisor to each successive king, for they knew he was of a wise and magical lineage. Now when your father, King Horatio, came into power he had no respect for Farran and removed him from his position as advisor, sending him to live with the peasants. As for me, though, the king beheld that I was young and beautiful, and with an evil desire, stole me from my true husband and took me as his wife. Upon being separated, though, Farran and I aged at a fast pace, and after a year and a half I had become an old woman. King Horatio, being angered by this, cast me from the kingdom, but not before I bore him a child. This child was a daughter, and he named Edith."
Edith could not say anything, or even think. She just looked up at Sara, unable to make herself believe that this woman was her mother. Sara looked calmly back.
"You need not say anything, child. I shall leave you here to yourself for a while." She got up to leave but was immediately interrupted by a loud, but distant sounding yell.
"I'm coming to save you, Edith!!!! The stick says you're down here, so here I--Wooohhhaaaaaaaaaaahhh!!!" There was a loud splash. Edith looked around in bewilderment.
"Well, it looks like I have another visitor," said Sara, "Stay here child, and I'll go heat some more soup." As the kindly old woman walked off, a stick that was floating in the water leapt up and landed at Edith's feet.


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