Starlight

0

A comet streaked through the night sky so brightly that Adea awoke with a start. She looked about but could see only the tall trunks of black pines beneath a blanket of silvery stars.

“Where are we?” she asked the young man sitting next to her.

Jadon had been watching her sleep for over an hour by then.

“I used the hammer, Adea,” he explained.

“The hammer? But why? What happened?” Adea grew more alarmed by each heartbeat.

“They were coming for us. The har-goblins. I could smell them already and I had to get us out of there. I used the hammer and pulled you through the door.”

“Did any of them get through?” Adea asked.

“No. I don’t think so. I’ve been listening for them for the last hour or so.”

“So we’re in Soltre.”

The hammer was Lagvind, a mighty gift from the people of Soltre. One solid strike, anywhere in the all the Realms of Possible, would open a window back to Soltre, but only for a moment.

Adea looked down to see her feet wrapped in Jadon’s scarf. Then she remembered what had taken place what seemed like moments before she woke up among the towering trees.

She and Jadon had been resting in a small wood-paneled room at the back of the only inn in the village of Nor. It was already late at night.

“You know the har-goblins might come out in a place like this,” he had said, half smiling. He was gazing through the foggy glass windows at the moon.

“You don’t really believe in har-goblins, do you?” Adea had teased. “Those are stories for wee children.”

“Heard them of late, have you?”

“I am sixteen!” she protested. “And I don’t believe in them. It’s silly. Monsters that eat your toes while you sleep!”

Yet she had not protested when Jadon pulled off his scarf and carefully wound it around her feet. The gentle and tender way he had caressed them while wrapping her small feet reminded her of why she admired him so much.

“Now listen. If the har-goblins come, they must obey the Law of Toe. Only bare toes, exposed to the air, may be eaten. They will not violate it, lest they come under the wrath of the Har-Kong.”

“What Law? I think you’re making this up,” she said.

“I have it by authority of Farfar Landon,” he stated resolutely.

“I think you just wanted to touch my feet.”

“Silly girl. You don’t want your toes nipped off one by one, do you?”

“Have you ever seen anyone walking around the village with missing toes?” she countered.

“They all have shoes on, so you wouldn’t know, would you? Now go to sleep. I will stand watch and guard your toes, just in case.”

“In case what? You just wrapped my feet.”

“Just in case,” he said more sternly. “In case it’s not enough.” He looked slightly worried.

***

            Now in the darkness of the forest of Soltre, Jadon still looked a bit unsettled.

“I don’t think any of them got through. But they are real, Starlight. I admit, I didn’t believe the tales were true, but then the smell came. I heard the claws of their feet dragging along the floor in the hallway.”

She loved when he called her Starlight.

“But my feet were wrapped,” Adea said.

“I don’t trust the Law of Toe. I don’t really know what was coming down the hallway, but I wasn’t going to wait and find out. Ever since we left Soltre, all sorts of things we only half-believed before have been coming true. I had to get us out of that house, out of that village.”

“So you brought us back to Soltre? That’s like going backwards. You know what Bidron told us. We don’t have a lot of time.”

Jadon looked down pensively. He let out a long sigh. Adea’s eyes were getting used to the low light of the night sky and she could see he was holding something back.

“There’s something else,” she ventured. “Another reason you brought me here.”

“I just wanted to be with you, Starlight. Bidron said there were no night animals in all of Soltre. It’s just you and me right now.”

“Unless the har-goblins made it through the window,” she reminded him.

“Do you trust me, Adea?”

“I trust you completely, Jadon. With my life.”

“There are other ways to conjure magic, but the secret to all magic is that you must believe. Belief is everything.”

“I believe you.”

“Believe in my words,” Jadon whispered as he took her hand in his.

He raised it to his lips and kissed the top of her hand. Then he turned it over and kissed each fingertip once. Adea smiled.

“You going to start saying any words?”

“Shhh,” he warned.

He took her other hand and repeated the display of affection, almost as if part of a ritual.

“Now, believe this. I am a son of the Elgam. By kissing your hands and fingers in this way, you are protected from harmful magic until the sun rises.”

“You could just do that all the time if you’re trying to protect me,” she offered.

“It doesn’t work that way. I can only do that once every new moon.”

She looked up. The moon was full. Jadon saw her glance and followed her line of reasoning.

“In Soltre the moon is full. In our world, the moon is new. I saw that through the window as you were sleeping.”

“It’s like you planned this,” said Adea.

“Not exactly. But you are safe no matter what right now. Do you believe me?”

“I feel safe with you,” Adea breathed. “I believe you.”

“Then sleep, Starlight.”

He set himself against the nearest tree and pulled her softly toward himself. She nestled into him as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Sleep, Starlight. Tomorrow we will look for Bidron and seek guidance.”

“I love you, Jadon,” she mumbled as she slipped quickly into a deep slumber.

“I love you, too, Adea,” he whispered, as he realized she had already fallen asleep. “More than I should.”

 

 

Benevolence

0

Ah, benevolence! It warms one’s heart enough to see it flitting about like one of the blue fairies, blessing the poorer souls that surround us. When it landed on me, however, my heart sang with rapturous humility.

It began late this past winter in the Great Hall, shortly after classes commenced and the Students began to find and form their familiar habits that come as they settle into the new period.

The Great Hall is my favorite on campus. With its vaulted black ceilings, its intricately wrought sconces and chandeliers, and its hollow tap stone floor, it reminds me of the Cathedral where I spent my youth; though to be honest, I have not seen it since then. Even the lectern stage looks like a chancel, but without the choir. Instead of pews in the sanctuary there are wooden chairs for all of the Students.

I was never welcome there, truthfully, but I couldn’t quite stay away. The Professor, though usually occupied, would compel me to leave the room if he happened to notice me. Yet I would slink back inside after all the Students had left.

One day, during one of those clandestine trips, I found placed neatly side by side, two perfectly good cacao beans next to a chair. I took them! Now, you may think that odd. You may not be in the habit of snatching morsels from the floor beneath you; but for one such as I, these discoveries are positive treasures. In my state, one relies on the kindness and excess of others more than any well-fed onlooker can comprehend. Hey, the Good Lord helps those who help themselves, right? I just help myself to whatever is available.

The first time this happened was exhilarating! The second time was only slightly less so. When it started occurring every day after class, I began to wonder who my Benefactor was. For these were surely meant for me! No?

Look, did you ever find that a certain turn of the wind was construed just for your favor? Did a timely rainbow or a fortuitous cloud ever make you feel more than just a little bit lucky? It was like that. Each time, there were two perfectly whole beans without blemish, placed like an offering at the base of a chair. They were never by the same chair, but seemed to be randomly placed all around the Great Hall. Still, I could not escape the compelling notion that they were meant for me and me alone. That, of course, led to another conclusion.

My Benefactor had seen me, had noticed me, had given thought to my situation. I’ve never been the sort of which anyone took active notice. Yet my Benefactor had beheld me and seen fit to bless me with two cacao beans every day. What satisfaction they must have derived from such generosity, I could not fully imagine; nor did it ever occur to me, as it must to you, what an absurdly symbiotic arrangement this was.

I determined therefore to discover this Person’s identity.

Braving expulsion from the room should I be discovered, I crept in before class started and positioned myself well behind the lectern where I could watch the Students and still avoid detection. Then I waited for class to start. I searched their faces carefully, analyzing each Student’s behavior and habit.

It went like this: Goggled Dark One picked his nose enthusiastically and so only left detestable offerings on the floor. Flaxen Hair with Black Lips never opened her bag once.  Tall Gangly One with boots didn’t even bring a bag. Balloon Shaped One was constantly eating throughout the hour, but never cacao beans. So was Blue Hair Girl, but always it was celery. I detest celery, contrary to rumors.

On and on it went! There were many dozens of them. After a few days, though, a thought occurred to me that truly highlighted what a little brain I have: Why were the beans always in a different location? The Students were creatures of habit like any others. My Benefactor must be one of the last ones to arrive, after the Hall was full.

With this new intuition, I was able to spot her. Her hair was the red of hard cinnamon wrappers. Is that even possible? Her face was a soft oval with steel blue eyes set widely apart from a sharply pointed nose. Beautiful, as far as Students go. I instantly felt a deep bond with her, she who had seen me and felt compassion toward me, a stranger. As class ended, I watched her reach into her brown leather bag and removed a small white pouch. She drew out two beans and arranged them carefully on the hard floor. She looked about. Then she ambled away, a contented smile on her face.

At last I knew. I don’t know when she had noticed me, or what had moved her to be kind to me. But she did, and she was.

Sadly, one day as I rushed over to where she had been sitting, I discovered not beans, but a small pile of grains. I sniffed them. Cacao powder?

What on earth? Had she gone mad? Did she think I ate them right then and there? Golden pieces of providence like those could not be devoured as if I were starving. I had taken them home each day to be savored, nibbled bit by bit throughout the day. No, this would not do.

I left the powder there and trudged home after a bit of reflection. As I entered our home, my wife’s round ears perked up.

“Where have you been, Leaf?” she said playfully, nuzzling her whiskers next to mine.

“Oh…going to and fro about the earth, seeking what I may devour,” I answered. “Alas, it seems our fortunes have turned. There will be no more beans.”

Her tail drooped a bit.

“What a pity.”

 

A Bend in the Moonlight

0

“It’s so dark in here, Bee!” the little voice cried. “Bee, I can’t breathe! Oh, it hurts! Don’t leave me here, Bee!”

Albie shot up in bed and saw only the blackness, heard only the wind rushing under the eaves outside her window. This time she was sure she had peed the bed, it was so soggy with sweat.

Suddenly a light flickered in the hallway. It approached.

“Albie?” It was her mum, graying blonde locks streaming over her black flannel gown.

“I could hear you again.”

“He was calling me again, Mum. I have to go to him. He needs me!”

“That’s impossible, girl!” she growled. “I won’t hear you speak of it again! He’s gone! Three years gone now, so let it go! I forbid you to go near that place!”

***

It was almost midnight the following evening when Albie shimmied down the trellis outside her window. She had made sure she could hear both of her parents snoring, her mum’s high whistle and her dad’s troubled rumble; then she waited yet another hour.

Rose was waiting in the nearby hedge. Even in the moonlight her fox-red hair burned brightly and her milky blue eyes glowed.

“Took you long enough!”

“Not my fault the fogeys go to bed so late!”

Albie charged off immediately for her destination, the Derrymill Boardwalk, five miles away.

“Slow down, Albie!”

“Shhh! Keep it down. What do you suppose the sheriffs would do if they found two wee lasses like us out traipsing through the dark?”

“Wee lass!” Rose grunted. “I’m fifteen this October.”

“Come along quickly,” Albie cut her off. “We haven’t got much time.”

“Albie, why are we doing this?”

Albie grimaced quietly. Rose would never understand. Never understand having someone you love disappear without a trace, in a matter of seconds. She was supposed to be watching him. A tear began to tumble down her freckled cheek as she trudged along, Rose trailing behind.

“He calls to me, Rose. I know that sounds mad as frogs, but he does.”

“They’re called nightmares, Albie.”

“Not these! Not this! To hear him, as if he’s still there, waiting for me to find him. What if he’s there still?”

“That’s impos—” Rose started, but the wildly desperate tone that had crept into her friend’s voice made her think otherwise.

“Well, we’ll just see, won’t we?” she offered instead.

***

Two hours later they arrived at the Derrymill. Locals called it the Deadmill. Over the sixty years since its building, no fewer than a dozen souls had gone missing, mostly children, sometimes a suicide.

One only had to step out a few yards onto the bog the wooden path snaked through to find a final resting spot. The villagers of Ballinfort and Dargh had built it together, made use of it together, and borne the losses together as well.

“The last curve is coming up,” Albie declared. Even after three years she still remembered every span of that walkway.

Up until that moment they had used only the moonlight to guide them. Now Albie fished out a small copper lantern she had stashed in her knapsack. She set it alight and held it out in front of her as they slowed their pace before the final bend.

“Just a few more yards,” she assured Rose. “It was the northernmost bend where Mum had told us to –”

She froze.

“—wait.”

Impossible. Laying on the boardwalk was a child-sized gray felt cowboy hat with a crimson feather affixed to its black leather band.

“Is that –” Rose began to ask.

“It’s his hat,” Albie sputtered.

A hot stream came raging now, stinging droplets of anguish and guilt.

Rose knew that hat all too well to deny what she was seeing. When he was a wee tike, Albie’s brother Sam had yearned to be a Texas cowboy. His dad had ordered one shipped in all the way from the Lone Star state, to the verdant shores of Ireland, so that Sam could live out his dream.

Albie went to pick it up.

“Wait!” Rose protested. “What if this is some sick joke? Lots of people knew about Sam and his silly hat.”

But Albie was already holding it, feeling its velvety contours, stroking the feather with her fingers.

“Bee,” came a whisper.

“Rose, did you hear that? Rose?”

Rose had stayed back. She was crouching now, covering her face.

“Rose, did you hear that?!”

“Bee,” came the voice again, somewhat louder now.

Albie shined the lantern toward the beckoning bog but could only see a few feet.

“Sam, I’m here now! I’m coming to get you.”

“No, Bee!”

She could hear Sam’s thin voice clearly now.

“Stay on the boardwalk.”

“But you called me here,” Albie cried, bewildered. “Why did you call me?”

“I didn’t, Bee.”

“But the dreams. I heard you. I came to rescue you.”

“No, Bee. I came to see you.”

“What?” Albie could still see nothing.

“It wasn’t your fault, Bee. I didn’t listen to Mum.”

“No, Sam! I was in charge of you! I was supposed to be watching you. My bonnet flew off. I should have let it go, not go chasing after it. I’m so sorry, Sam!”

“Did you make the wind blow, sister?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then it wasn’t your fault.”

“Sam…” Albie wept.

Then a young boy stepped into the light, still wearing the green chaps and yellow jacket from that hapless day. He bent to kiss Albie’s forehead, slick and matted with her black locks.

“Don’t cry, my sister. I’m not mad at you. I love you forever, Bee. Goodbye.”

“Sam, don’t go!”

But he had turned already and drifted rapidly out of sight.

Albie crumpled onto the wooden planks and cried softly.

She felt Rose draw near to her.

“Albie, look!”

There in her hands, instead of her brother’s hat, was the bonnet.

The lantern flickered out.