Sugar Plum went inside her house, hand in hand with Whispering Wind.
“I believe you lost something Wind”, she said leading him into her cozy parlour.
Seated on the embossed velvet upholstery of a rosewood chair was the blue imp in her blue tutu. She looked forlorn and was fiddling with her blue crown, which was on her lap. Her tail hung down to the ground. She looked up when the two of them entered the room and at the sight of Whispering Wind her face lit up and she jumped off the chair, leaping across to throw herself around his neck.
“Beautiful boy! You came for me! I got lost and couldn’t find you, it was terrible and scary, but now I’m so happpppppyyyyy, oh I could just die of happiness!” she squealed.
“I found her wandering about the peaches, they were blue, and she was in quite a state”, Sugar Plum said, “I brought her back and she told me all me about your adventure, it sounds like you made her a promise Wind. Do look after her, she’s a guest in our world you know.”
Whispering Wind blushed. “Er yes well, I was so excited to be home I suppose I uh, sort of misplaced her”, he said; knowing how lame that sounded he rushed on, “I’ll be sure to keep an eye on her!”
“Yes see that you do, we can’t have imps on the loose unattended here! Now I have something else for you too, I picked this up on my travels through the Elfin country,” she handed him a parcel wrapped in dried grape leaves tied with grapevines.
He looked surprised and took it from her thanking her as he did so. The blue imp was still hanging on to him so he set her down on the chair and opened it up curious to see what was inside. His eyes grew round as saucers when he saw what it was: a beautifully engraved oak disc with a loop of leather hung from a cord of braided vine. The carvings were of an oak tree with acorns and leaves, and wrapped around the tree was etched a grape vine also with leaves and clusters of fruit hanging off the branches. Looking closely he saw eyes in some of the fruit and nuts. He ran his fingers over the polished wood and felt a slight indentation with his thumbnail; he pressed it and a bright beam flared out of the fruit. He was startled! Sugar Plum chuckled.
“Wow Sugar Plum, this is awesome! I love it, thanks!” he said, giving her a hug, “It’s going to be great in the dark, thank you so much!”
“Well it’s getting dark already so you’d best be on your way now”, she said, “Perhaps I’ll tell you the story of where that came from another time”.
He put the necklace over his head and felt the disc settle on his chest. It felt good. He moved toward the door then stopped and turning around, he picked up the blue imp who was falling asleep in the chair. He smiled at Sugar Plum and winked, “You thought I’d forgotten her didn’t you! Heheh!” Then he walked out where the sky glowed freshly ripened peach smells on the cool air and headed on home.
“Rehmat had been a blackened one, as black as her jet colored hair and coal dark eyes which she could flash, fly sparks from, and sizzle at will. Disgraced, fallen from grace::a kari is what her people called her where she lived in a remote dusty community. It was ruled by a council of elders representing the various clans that made up her tribe. They governed over disputes and daily matters. She had dishonored her clan by not only falling in love with a man from another tribe but she had made it publicly known by marrying him without the approval or consent of her elders. Worse, she had already been betrothed to another at the age of 5. An old warty man of 68 years whose breath stank and who had spittle dribbling out the sides of his mouth when he spoke. He was wealthy however and owned land of his own, she would be his youngest wife as he already had 2. When she came of age at 13 he was in his seventies and his sideways glances, oily muttony lips, and shiny bald pate were thoroughly repulsive to her! She had stormed and fussed and eventually her family had renegotiated the marriage terms and delayed the ceremony till she was 16, an unusual event that had caused them difficulty but they had done it nonetheless for she was stubborn as a mule. And then she had shamed them all with her defiance!
Her ‘fiancé’ had declared her and her husband adulterers, not only both their families to be dishonorable but both tribes too, demanded his full share of dowry, and further insisted that the two be killed in the tradition of karo kari to set right the heinous wrong that had been hurled at him! Her outraged brothers, seven strong, had assaulted her husband’s clan and demanded that his brother do the right thing by avenging this dishonor to all of them. So it was that one day when she was in the fields harvesting mustard, her husband was dragged away from his work tending the cows and beheaded by his own brother with hers as witnesses. Then they came for her. As fate would have it, she got word of this from a sympathetic relation and gathering her meager belongings into a bundle, she fled.
Her own brothers and her murdered husband’s brother hunted her for months. From village to village she’d go with one thought on her mind, that of the hunters finding and killing her. Her attention was constantly fixed on being found, being discovered, and she’d seize up with terror, panic. Before long she’d be running again for they were hard on her trail and determined to avenge the clan’s honor and restore the tribal reputation. She kept moving from place to place, on donkey carts, buses, trains, camels, and on foot. By whatever means she’d eventually leave where she was for she was hunted, marked to be murdered. When she reached the city by the sea she looked for employment making flatbreads in the homes of the elite, who seemed incapable of cooking for themselves yet were dissatisfied with her thick wholesome toothsome efforts. She found that they were generally a dissatisfied lot, irrelevant and irreverant of bread. She’d tell them bluntly, for she was very direct in her speech, “Look I’m kari, wanted, predators will come looking for me, jackals, blood suckers, and hyenas, and I might not come to work then but this is my life, you should know this about it”. She got some jobs, before long she’d be off; mostly the doors shut in her face.
Then one day she knocked on the door of a young woman. A divorcee with two daughters, she was of the fighting sort. She gave Rehmat a floor to sleep on and a kitchen in which to cook, fresh clothes and shoes to replace her torn worn ones, and four square meals a day plus tea and biscuits. She couldn’t believe her luck. It was there that she had a thought: What if she stopped thinking about her menfolk? Entirely dropped them from her spectrum of attention? Gave herself up entirely in surrender and submission to life, to what may come or not come? What if she lived as though she wasn’t hunted and didn’t have to run? She decided she’d give it a try after all death came to everyone in the end and she wasn’t going to die without having lived first! What had even made her think she could outrun death in the first place? She’d loved already and that love was with her still even if her husband’s body was gone, she knew what it was to live and love and be loved. So what was she running from? Suddenly she didn’t know but her life changed after that.
The woman she worked for learned that she could stitch and embroider, and there was no end to the jobs she had coming her way! And she was paid for her work! She had no need for money as her day to day was taken care of, so she saved. She saved and saved and the years rolled by. Where her brothers went to she never knew nor did she care to find out, but they didn’t come for her, neither they nor anyone else, and for that she was grateful. When she had saved enough she bought a small place where she established a safe house for other runaways, girls being sold into prostitution or arranged marriages against their will, abused tortured women, hunted women, women whose husbands no longer wanted them and would kill them to be rid off them, women who wanted to live a different life than the one chosen for them, wanted different lives for their children, and so many women came. Most were from the rural areas but some were from within the city too.
Her employer invested in her venture and backed her with the protection she needed to run such a place in that city, which is where I met her for she was successful as you can imagine. She taught these women the skills she had and they in turn taught the ones they had and so they rehabilitated one another and earned their living through the talents they didn’t even know they had, making everything from potholders to quilts to clothes to dolls to tea cozies. Together they forged independent new lives and identities for themselves and the children they may have brought with them. They were like phoenixes rising; though some disappeared, whether they ran away or were found, who’s to know. As for Rehmat, lined as her face was she was beautiful and it shone out of her easy smile and sparkling eyes. She had taken it upon herself to ‘educate’ the young men in the area in matters of the heart and the art of love so that they may be better men than the ones they had all fled from. Besides the service, as she called it, that she was doing to womankind, she herself was lusty and nubile so it suited her too, after all, she’d say while buttering flatbreads, what’s life without a bit of juicy pleasure?”
Here Sugar Plum stopped and drank from her goblet, the ice had melted and rose petals floated on the water. She noticed Whispering Wind on the porch steps and smiled.
“Ah Whispering Wind! Have you been here long?”
Sally and Suzy jumped to their feet and hugged him with happy squeals. He hugged his friends back and gave Willow the blueberries.
“Sorry I’m late with these Mum, I got distracted by the beetles . . . did you know Rose, they’re in the blueberries too?”
Rose sighed, “We were just talking about that . . .”
“You were?” he asked.
“Hmm, yes, well I’ll be going now, so much to think over ”, she said getting up, “Thank you Sugar Plum”.
“Always a pleasure dear, do forgive an old woman her ramblings, something about those beetles had me remembering Rehmat”, said Sugar Plum as the two women shared a long hug.
“Are you joining me Wind?” his mother asked also standing, and Belinda motioned her daughters to join her as she too rose to leave.
Sugar Plum gave Whispering Wind’s hand a squeeze and said, “Stay a bit longer Wind, I have something for you.”
He shook his head at Willow, and watched his mother walk back home, with Rose and Belinda. Sally and Suzy skipped ahead of them, and he wondered what Sugar Plum had for him.
When he got to Sugar Plum’s cottage he saw that she was sitting on her porch with his mother, Rose, Belinda, Sally and Suzie. They were drinking her famous ‘eyeball’ drink, and were listening intently to what she was saying. He sat down on the porch steps with the blueberries and listened without interrupting to what Sugar Plum was saying . . . . .
” . . .. it’s not quite that simple. They don’t cease to exist, after all they “do”, but their significance and eventually their numbers may even out. There was a woman called Rehmat who I met many moons ago. She was a woman of great dignity and though her skin was leathery and deeply lined, she was at the time only in her early twenties, the same as myself. But what different worlds we came from! Where I was an explorer venturing through new lands and discovering realms unmarked on maps, visiting cities and villages where sometimes the sky was yellow and the sun was blue, Rehmat ran a safe house for women who were runaways, as she had once been herself.
I met her in a city by the sea, in a faraway land where the beaches were black from oil in the sands and the rivers were black from sludge and slime dumped into the waters over years and years at the hands of a tired race of people. Here the men ruled the streets and the women were marked private property, chattel to be bartered or bought and sold, for trade by their families, branded by their gender. They were breeders and their value was in their breedability, which allowed clans to merge land holdings or earn a living as the women were put to work in fields, kitchens, and the houses of the ruling elite; whose lives were very very different as I later learned.
You’d think they’d be highly regarded and respected but they weren’t. Instead they were downtrodden and abused, unless they were willing to stand up and fight. Some did and they were fierce, these women, for they had to fight hard to be victorious in a man’s world. The one’s that did had the undying respect of the men afterward, who treated them with reverence tinged with fear. But it was a difficult walk to walk and very few women took that path. Most opted for the easy way, which was to be compliant and biddable and of course, beauty was a handy tool with which to leverage oneself. They were canny these women, even if some were physically battered!
Anyway, I had mistaken Rehmat’s safe house for a women’s hostel while looking for a place to stay. What a shock I got to see the women who resided there! Their scarred and acid burned faces haunt me to this day. Rehmat herself had no visible scars, for she had fled the vicious attack planned for her before it happened.”
Sugar Plum paused. She was lost in a trance for some time. Then she sipped from her glass, swirling the liquid around the ice cubes slowly. Whispering Wind noticed the ice had roses frozen within. Eventually she continued.
The next day as soon as he was done feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, he thought, he’d ask Willow if they could use the still together. When he went into the kitchen for the compost she looked up with a smile from where she was chopping carrots and getting a pot of stew ready to set on the stove.
“Ah Wind, I was thinking about you only a moment ago! Do you want to use the still with me tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?! Couldn’t we use it today?” he asked.
“Well, I’m going to bake a blueberry pie to take to Sugar Plum’s today. I want to visit with her and thank her for her thoughtful gift. How about we go together?”
“Hmm”, he said, “I suppose I can wait till tomorrow.”
“Excellent! In the meantime would you pick blueberries for the pie?”
“Sure thing Mum, happy to, though can it wait till I’m done with the chickens?”
She nodded and he went out the door with a basket for eggs and the compost, calling, “Chik chik chickeeess!”
The chickens heard him and ran from the bushes to eat the treats he scattered on the ground. He filled their water trough from the creek and gathered the eggs then was back in the kitchen where Willow was cutting flour and butter to make piecrust.
“We have a broody hen Mum”, he said while getting a basket for blueberries, “It’s the most amazing thing, when she got up to go eat another hen came by to sit on the eggs . . . they even take turns laying eggs in the pile!” And so saying, he was out the door again, his eyes sparkling joyfully.
He walked down the driveway and onto the road when he remembered the letters he’d found; so he turned around and went back home.
“Done already?” Willow asked, surprised to see her son.
“No, I came back to get Rose’s letters since I’m going to her farm,” he said, “Where did you put them?”
Willow smiled and said, “Night Sky dropped them off on his way to town this morning Wind, but I did forget to send this bottle of tincture for her so you can take it. It’s right there on the counter, the milk thistle.”
“Oh, right then,” he said and put the bottle in the basket, then giving his mother a hug he was out the door once more calling “Bye!”
He walked slowly to Rambling Rose Farm. The waters in the creek sang happily. Sparrows came and went from a thicket of knotweed. Bees, ants, and butterflies were hard at work amidst globes of pink milkweed, some were still buds with skins stretched clustered together and others were like stars having burst open sparkling and sending out the sweetest scents into the air. Down low he knew there must be mushrooms: he could smell them as he passed through their homes. Off to one side, where the woods met meadow, he saw a mother deer and her fawn grazing, then before he knew it he was at the farm. He went up the steps to the porch that wrapped around the farmhouse. He walked toward the back and looked in the kitchen door, calling out “Rose . . . ”.
“I’m over here by the rose bushes,” came an answering call.
He set the tincture bottle down on a table on the porch and went over to the bushes. Rose was picking shiny rust colored beetles from the leaves and flowers, dropping them into a bucket of soapy water. She looked up at his approach and shook her head.
“The beetles are terrible this year!” she said, hugging him loosely with one arm, “Look at all the roses Wind, they’ve chewed right in and out of the buds, ah ah!”
Whispering Wind looked at the leaves and raggedy holes and bitten up flowers and buds. Most were covered with metallic beetles cuddling one another comfortably on the plants.
“They sure look happy,” he said.
Rose scowled at him. “Yes they sure do!” she agreed, “I’m out here two sometimes three times a day picking them off, I’ve even been coming out at night to see if that makes a difference, there seems to be no end to them!”
“That’s odd, surely there’s something to keep them off the roses?”
“Trouble is Wind, I don’t know where they’re coming from or what they are. I’ve never seen these before and only the chicken’s seem to eat them . . . if I take the bucket over and toss them out, but they can’t fly into the bushes to feast on their own, so there you have it”, she sighed, shaking a stalk over the bucket she held up under the blossoms. He watched as ten or so beetles dropped off into the soapy water and stayed submerged.
“Well Mum sent me over to pick blueberries, so I’d best get on to them. I left a bottle of milk thistle tincture on the table for you,” he said.
“Thank Willow for me, I’ve got to get up there to visit with you all someday, but so far it’s just been work, work, and more work for me! Now this with the beetles, really, how am I to harvest any roses for the apothecary in town I ask you? She ordered a few pounds already and I just don’t know if there’ll be enough with the damage these beetles are doing!” she shook her head and scowled some more, muttering to herself as he walked on past her, hiking up to where the blueberries grew.
Rose had a field on a hill where the bushes grew in rows. Behind the blueberries she had rows of cherry trees growing till they backed up against the woodland. He’d already picked those four or five times this year and their season was over. He loved picking fruit here. The breeze blew cool on the hilltop, carrying the smell of flowers and earth upward. There was a spring box with cold water for splashing on the face or drinking when it got too hot. And the view! He could sit and look out over the fields forever. It was like a tapestry rolling out to the mountains rising up out of the clouds into the blue sky in layer upon layer upon layer of blue, lavender, and grey hues.
He began picking blueberries his mind wandering. Rose let folks come and pick their own berries five days of the week, it helped her to run the farm by herself as she’d been doing since her husband, Russ, left her a couple of years back. After he was gone the farmhands left, one after the other, and she didn’t seem to want to hire any more help. He remembered Russ fondly: a tall man with large aquamarine eyes that shone kindly, he wore his silky hair pulled back in a thick ponytail and could often be found drumming or throwing a frisbee. In the fall they’d have a bonfire, for the thing Whispering Wind remembered most about Russ was he loved to gather and celebrate at the drop of a hat; what fun that had been! He’d loved going to those and dancing around the flames with his friends, Lightfingers, Sally, and Suzy; the last time they’d filled hot coals into old cans with holes punched in the bottom and taken a walk in the dark. It had been exciting! He was wondering if Rose would have a bonfire again, when he noticed a beetle on a leaf. First he saw one, two, then three, and before he knew it they were multiplying right before his eyes! He was alarmed and went row to row:: everywhere he looked it was the same, hordes of beetles on the leaves and clusters of fruit.
“Does Rose know?” he wondered.
He finished picking the berries, one in the basket two in his mouth, all the while thinking on this beetle infestation that he was in the thick of. When he was done, he drank some cold water, then climbed up into a cherry tree to look at the mountains and think it over. He hung upside down and swang for a while singing a rhyme he made up:
“Beetles shiny beetles will you please go on your way,
Go out of Rose’s garden and find somewhere else to play
Somewhere there is something growing in big happy yields
Go out of Rose’s garden and find those food filled fields
Please shiny beetles hear my asking song
Thank you little beetles for flying on a long . . . . . .”
As he sang he imagined a soapy wave rushing over the bushes. A gigantic enormous gargantuan soapy wave that came rolling over the bushes and down the hill drowning everything in soap, soap soap soap, bubbling and frothing higher and higher and then: it subsided and lay on the ground with thousands of dead beetles on the grasses and an army of chickens feasting on an all you can eat beetle buffet! Ah, yes, if only he could come up with some way to make a soapy wave like that, how wonderful would that be!
In the meantime, he jumped out of the cherry tree and headed back to give Rose the news. When he got to the farmhouse she wasn’t there, so he hiked on back home with the blueberries for his mother. She was gone. On the chalkboard was a message for him, “Come to Sugar Plums with blueberries!”
Sitting on the stump Whispering Wind took a look in the sack and drew out a number of magazines addressed to Sally and Suzie Sullivan’s mother, Belinda. Then came a package for Lightfinger’s father, Wootz. A few letters to the Rambling Rose Farm down the road, and then . . . what was this? A package addressed to Willow! Whispering Wind’s heart began to beat a little faster, could it be? . . . .
It so happened that some time back, their friend and neighbour, Sugar Plum, had gone on a holiday and had sent his mother, Willow, a copper still. She had found one of these magical devices at an Elfin Herb Farm and knew it would make a darling birthday present for her dear friend, Willow. Sugar Plum had asked Whispering Wind to keep his eye out for it and to let her know when it arrived. It had not. They had believed it lost in the mail and Whispering Wind was rather sad for he’d been anticipating using it with Willow and it was only a matter of time before she’d likely let him use it by himself. Ah, he’d daydreamed many a fine dream about the wood fire he was going to tend while the still bubbled and brewed over the flames! In his dreams the plants he’d gathered had turned into potions of all kinds:: invisibility, mind reading, uncontrollable laughter . . . . he was going to have such fun with his friends with them. He’d already split a pile of wood, had an assortment of bottles and jars lined up, labels ready, and then, just like that, poof! His dream was popped and gone: he was most put out even though it wasn’t ‘his’ still! And now, here he was with this package that just might be it! He picked up a fallen branch to use as a staff and set out to find his way home.
Well, by sundown he knew he was deep in an enchanted space for he seemed to be going round in circles, crossing over the same places repeatedly, yet the trees kept on changing. Were they switching places? Walking about playing tricks on him? He didn’t know and when he didn’t know, there was nothing for it but to hang upside down to clear his head. He hoisted himself into an old hemlock tree, climbing up the swirling branches that were like spokes leading to the sky. He found a spot he liked, curled his legs around a branch and hung like a monkey. By and by he made out where he was from over the tree tops, and rather than make his way down he decided he’d see if he could make his way from tree to tree: they were growing tightly close together, some were even leaning into one another and the branches overlapped in many spots. In this way he found himself getting ever closer to home.
Just as the two big stars in the sky merged into one, the pink moon lit up his house from directly above. He heard a couple of owls talking to one another and then he was over the creek yet somehow poof! He was back where the hole was all over again!
He rubbed his eyes, this was like a no good dream that he wanted to wake up from, and then he saw something in the moonlight. Something blue. A tiny blue imp with her tail wrapped around her body popped out of the hole. Her gaze fell on him and she turned purple and ducked down into the hole then slowly back up again, peering over the edge. He looked at her, she looked at him and oh my, she fell head over heels in love! Climbing out she came toward Whispering Wind, who saw that she was wearing a blue tutu and had blue pointy high heelers and a blue crown on her head.
“Hullo,” she said, “You’re so Beee-yoooouuu-teee-fulll even though you’re not Blue!! I want to take you home with me!!” and to his surprise she came over and bounced onto his lap most cheerfully.
“Well, uh, thanks,” he said, “I’m Whispering Wind and I’m trying to find my way back home.”
“Ooohhhh! You’re lost!! Tut tut tut, that’s because you’re human and these parts of the woods are for-bidden to your kind, which means you’re stuck here forever and ever and Ever!! Hooray! You might as well come home with me!!” she clapped her hands happily.
“Stuck here? For ever? That can’t be, I mean I’ve been to Hobjolia before and left and . …” he trailed off with a sinking feeling in his heart, somehow he knew she was telling the truth.
“Ohhhh, beautiful boy is sad now! Don’t be sad, I know, I know, I know the way back to your world! I can show you,” she said.
Whispering Wind sprang to his feet, “Really? You can? You do? That’s awesome, will you? Show me now? My family’s likely wondering where I’ve gone off to!”
To his dismay the blue imp’s face grew closed and a sly expression crossed her face.
“Hmmmm, if I show you then you’ll go away, and I love you I love you I love you, I can’t live without you!” she threw herself around his neck and began to sob, “Take me with you!! If you take me with you and feed me and let me sleep in your bed, I promise, I’ll show you how to get back to your home. ”
“Yes come with me then,” he said, “Just please, get me out of here!”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth he had a feeling he was going to regret it but there was no going back. The imp tucked her hand into his and they began walking. She chattered merrily about the forbidden grove and the feuds between the different colored imps but he wasn’t listening. His gaze was set on the path she was taking. He was intent on remembering it. He knew many ways in and out of the woods and loved trails. This was a trail he was unfamiliar with and it had his entire attention. It seemed odd to him that he hadn’t seen it because it wasn’t long before he was home again, but it was a forbidden grove and enchanted so who knew . . . he would certainly try it out later.
In the meantime he burst into the house with the package under his arm and called out, “Mum! Dad! Look what I found!!”
It wasn’t long before the package was opened and sure enough, there it was: the magical device! Shiny dome shaped pieces, curved waists, long beaked and spouted, oooh, but Whispering Wind felt shivers just looking at the beaten copper! They made a circle and assembled it together and after much oohing and aahhhing and admiring it they got to eating dinner. Around the table he told them the whole story about how he’d found it and that was when he remembered the blue imp in her blue tutu with the sparkling blue heels and blue crown, but she was nowhere to be seen. He thought she must have gone back to her grove and promptly forgot her, his mind completely occupied with bubbling brews and elixers for many occasions.