The Druid named Jonas scattered resin on the glowing coals while humming softly. Smoke rose up into the air, wispy at first, then coalescing into thicker smog as he laid damp pine over top. He added a branch with pine needles, pinecones, and stepped back to watch the glow, listen to the sizzle, crack and pop while chanting slowly. A spicy earthy fragrance filled the air and Ray breathed in deeply where he sat cross-legged by the fire, his eyes glazed over. Jonas didn’t have to look at Ray to know it wouldn’t be long before he’d see the images swirling in the flames, he didn’t have to look at Ray to wonder would the youth allow himself to step into the dream, find what he was looking for, return from his journey whole again? The Druid did not know. He kept chanting, picking up speed, until he felt Ray slip away. Then he swayed while chanting at a steady pace, maintaining a rhythm to call Ray back with from where he had gone . . . . .
Ray was in a faraway land where there lived a King with two sons. He ruled with generosity as far as his subjects were concerned, for nobody went hungry, everybody had shelter and clothing, and their toil and moil was tempered with rest and leisure. He looked after their well-being and the people prospered. The lands were fertile and lush, with clear streams, a wide river, and artesian springs, which were tapped to irrigate the fields. These fields waved happily golden in the sun, ripe with wheat and corn, pumpkins and sunflowers. Blue birds dazzled by day, the air filled with the notes of their song, the night sky was filled with stars. People could be seen working in the fields pausing to take a break to eat and talk and rest before carrying on with work. Children skipped and ran about, playing hopscotch, climbing trees, and joining in for the harvesting of apples, peaches, and apricots. In the cold months the hearths were heard to be crackling with fire and embers. Any would be invaders or conquerors met armed guards who fought from behind an invisible impermeable shield. The King in all his glory attributed it to the strength of his own power and while many of his subjects believed him to be their Benefactor and Protector, the wielder of mighty magic, there were also those who knew there was something larger at play here in this bit of the big wide world. The Queen knew what these few people knew, however they all kept their knowledge to themselves as part of an unspoken secret agreement, and carried on about their lives. A sense of peace prevailed and buzzed about in all the farthest reaches of this industrious Kingdom.
One day the Queen disappeared. When she didn’t return the King pronounced her dead and the Kingdom grieved her passing with forty days of wailing and mourning along with songs and prayers for her journey on to be a good one. The King partook of the rites that surrounded her passing in his usual perfunctory manner, declaring the traditions silly nonsense and uncivilized in the manner of his Queen. If he wept in private for the loss of his wife, nobody knew of it. But the people honored and commemorated her with offerings of tears and laughter, remembering her as a beautiful kindly beloved woman who went among them, asking after this one’s child by name and that one’s ailing father with a pouch of healing herbs at hand. Her two boys would accompany her on these visits, and before she vanished she had called for her sons. To the first she had given a golden compass, and to the second she gave a silver pocket watch. After she left the two boys were heartbroken and missing their mother they cried and sobbed a lot, getting under their father’s feet with their need for comfort and consolation. He began to berate and chide at them for being weak and indulging in tears and over the years he began deriding the Queen and belittling her to his sons, indeed likening them to her whenever they did anything he didn’t like so she became associated with shame and humiliation. The first son however had kept with himself her gift, the compass, at all times, close to his heart, along with his memory of her as a laughing, smiling, warm woman. The second had carried the pocket watch but as the King railed and raved about his mother, he deposited the watch in a drawer and over time any memories he may have once had of her faded and the pocket watch too was forgotten.
As was the manner of this particular King, he believed that he knew everything about everything and everyone. The Queen had kept this conviction of his in check with her presence, but after she was gone it took hold of him like never before. He had only to look at his Kingdom to find affirmation about the truth of his superiority. Taking up this line of reasoning as confirmation of the truth of his belief, he thought, as he did often, that he knew all about his two sons as well. Some time after the Queen disappeared the King decreed that as befitting their royal stature the boys would henceforth spend their days with tutors, governesses, nannies and other children from within the ruling classes selected as suitable companions by him. Their education would be directed by his orders, and his orders were Law.
With his first son he was stern and critical and forever comparing him to the second. Many were the times he’d say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “How will you ever rule after I’m gone with an attitude like that?” or “Would it hurt you to smile and be more cheerful?” or “Just try this thing or that thing and you’ll see, you’ll get better at whatever it is with time”, followed by “You’re not trying hard enough!” When his son would come to him with an idea of something he’d really like to do he’d criticize it and sum it up with, “That’s not befitting of a future King! Certainly not in my castle, one day when you’re King you can do whatever you want!” or “What would people say if I were to allow you to do that?” or “You’re just like your Mother!” At first the boy would argue with his father, and discovered quickly that the King had an answer for everything that usually ended with “You’ll understand someday” or “I know best, this is for your own good.” But as it turned out, the King did not know what was best for his son, who spent most of his days daydreaming and being a lazybones, as his father would often point out. What his father didn’t know was that he was busy, very busy indeed getting acquainted with the golden compass given to him by his mother. And this was no ordinary compass, but a magical one that required deep concentration, focus, and study to learn its workings. This was a wondrous item and with it he traveled far and wide, into realms beyond the rule of his father, the King, who was unaware of their existence and would have been astonished to have learned where and in what company his son frequented space. In these other places he found much to marvel, question, and wonder about. Experience taught him not to take any of his findings to the King, who had cut them down as foolishness or some thing or the other enough times that he had boxed himself up and walled himself away from his son. The boy in turn trusted the compass, followed where it led him, and became expert at its use.
The King took out his frustration at his son’s lack of progress on the tutor, the governess, and the nanny, demanding to know what were they doing with his son? He had hired them to bring forth the spark within the boy, to inspire him, and here the boy was dawdling and doodling with no apparent knowledge of history, lineage, genealogy, etiquette, politics, rhetoric, strategy, advancement toward being a Leader of Men, let alone a whole Kingdom! They demurred vaguely to their monarch and murmured how they didn’t really know what moved the boy; perhaps the King could guide them as to how they should approach the subject at hand as the Prince was not interested in anything they’d tried. However the King barely spent any time with either of his sons, busy as he was with the grand affairs of court, and had no knowledge of what moved or did not move them, in fact beyond his own ambitions for them and what their futures should be as determined by him, he didn’t know his children at all. This irritated him as it contradicted his belief that he knew all there was to know, yet he brushed it aside and gave his irritation no attention. What irritated him further was that they reminded him of their mother, who had long been a source of embarrassment to himself for she had been, in his eyes, a coarse, crude, and uncivilized sort of person who conducted herself in public as she did in private in a way unbefitting of Royalty. He brushed this aside as well, and being the Mighty Monarch he deflected his staff’s queries back at them and left them with the task he had hired them to do, to shape and mold a Prince into a King of learning, wit, grace, and knowledge; while he occupied himself with matters of greater importance than his children. The tutor, the governess, and the nanny in turn left the Prince to his dreaming for though they did not hear the music that he moved to, they knew him well enough to know he heard a tune even if they did not. They let him be as he was and loved him instead of trying to teach him what they could not.
When he came of age, he packed up his belongings and took his leave of his few friends, namely the tutor, the governess, and the nanny who all three loved him dearly and who he loved in return. The first gave him a tiny booklet with a few pages bound together that had verses inscribed on them in a curly scrawl. The second gave him a hat that she had knit from wool that he had sheared and carded with her many moons ago. She had dyed the wool and spun it, and then knitted it into a hat for she was a firm believer in a warm head being the answer to good health. The third, his nanny, gave him the lyre that she had played when singing him lullabies as a baby, a toddler, a little boy. They hugged him warmly, wished him every best wish, and wiped away their tears for sad as they were to see him go, they were also glad. He then took his leave of his brother, who immediately began to ask if he could go with him, and why not, and wouldn’t it be more fun the two of them. But it was pointless for the older was determined to set out alone and the direction he was headed did not include any other. The younger brother pouted and groused, and wished him good luck in the end with a smirk saying, “You’ll need it if you think Father will let you go!” The King, when approached with news of his first son’s royal foray into the world, his defection, raged at him at telling him he’d regret it and that he’d be back and sorry to have left, then he resorted to calling him an arrogant fool, a callous cruel whippersnapper to hurt his father so and he’d pay for it later when he was a father and so on in this vein. No matter what he said, the boy was determined, surprising the King with the strength of his resolve until he sighed and declaring it to be the boy’s own fault for making him do this, he decreed him outcast and announced that his second son would be his heir. His son simply laughed and said, “This Kingdom of yours never was my inheritance, my true birthright awaits me and is not yours to give or take, so keep your Kingdom Father, may it bring you joy.” And so his first son set out on his quest, traveling through cities where he some days put on beggars garb and sang for his supper, other days he worked in shops learning the skills he needed to know. Later he traveled further away where he waded out into Ocean and played for weeks in the salty brine of her womb, then slept under bridges and on beaches where he burned driftwood to keep warm with other drifters coming and going, all in consultation with his golden compass. It led him from place to place and here we will leave him; mining in the deep dark places . . .
Let’s go back to the second son who had been coddled and cosseted from his earliest days. This was easy to do for he was, from his very beginning, a cheerful boy who brought smiles to people’s faces and was ooh’d and aahh’d and coo’d at. He was a mischievous youth with a quick humor and sparkling eyes, and the subject of much adoration. He was accustomed to being the center of affection and was used to getting his way whether by smoothness of tongue, tears, or flattery. He was the apple of his father’s eye and now the weight and future of the Kingdom rested on his slim shoulders. But as was also part of his nature, he longed to do whatever his older brother set out to do, to do it bigger and bolder. When his older brother had fallen off a ladder and sprained his ankle, he had climbed up a taller ladder and thrown himself off so as to break his leg. He took full advantage of his crippled state many many moons after it had healed. He became sullen and angry when the King reprimanded and scolded him for wanting to go in search of adventure, as he believed his brother had done, and took to the city where he’d carouse away the nights with lowborn women, gamblers, and drunks. The King for his part thought that he would confine the boy to the castle, where he would come to learn that he, the King, knew what was best for him. The boy however found ways to leave the castle that his father was unaware of, and so instead learned how to be sneaky and duplicitous. Finally the King thought it would be best to give him permission to travel and sow his wild oats, never suspecting that the boy had been sowing wild oats for a long time already and he had many a grandchild wandering about in the streets of his own cities. However, as was the manner of this King, he patted himself on the back for his foresight and wisdom, and settled back to wait for the boy to return. The boy however had no intention on returning to deal with the tedious business of governing a Kingdom, to be yoked to such a heavy ox as that. No, he had tasted of wine and revelry and womanly delights and intended to pursue his life as he pleased, with whom he pleased; however he pleased. And so it came to be that he packed up all his belongings, including the forgotten silver pocket watch, and set out.
Now this watch did not tell time in the one o clock two o clock three o clock rock way, and its power was unusable by the young Prince who hadn’t spent any time with it at all. Had he done so he would have found it told when it was time to keep his mouth shut, when it was time to speak, when it was time to step aside, when it was time to stand and fight, when it was time to leave amongst other things, but as we already know he had not and so he lived his days with no sense of timing. Being a gregarious and affable lad, he spoke frequently and often. It didn’t take much to get him to open his lips and spill forth with information, for he was his father’s son and loved to boast about his exploits and accomplishments, to brag about all the things he had done and the sights he had seen. He sang his own praises well and in the company of flatterers his head had begun to swell and inflate, with no clue as to what the tick tocking of the pocket watch meant. The pocket watch ticked and tocked and chimed and rang and got on his nerves almost constantly, until one day he threw it against the bar room wall in a fit of anger where it whirred and buzzed so loudly that all the patrons fell silent. In this way he identified himself and the watch to a wizard who had been searching for this very item.
The wizard, Zifku, had found his way to this Kingdom from another Kindom, where Ray had begun the journey set by the Druid Jonas, there lived a boy, Whispering Wind, who had brought Ray out of the portal and into his world. His parents, Night Sky and Willow were very pleased for they had crafted a swing that they had hung from the branches of an old oak tree, where Whispering Wind and his friends climbed aboard and swang high and low on the sturdy planks that made its seat. Unbeknownst to Whispering Wind was the fact that it was also a device that when activated served as a portal that took people to wherever they wanted to go and brought them back to where the swing was located. Whispering Wind and his friends used this swing very often, swinging high and low, sitting and standing singly, in pairs, in threes, twirling and jumping off it with joyous squeals and shouts. Now, the swamp hag had her eye on this swing, for she felt its power deep in the woods where she lived. One day she decided she’d get it for herself and knowing that Whispering Wind would not parlay with her, she set off in disguise to where he was swinging. He saw what looked like a pleasant old woman in baggy trousers and a white shirt, binoculars about her neck, with a straw hat atop her head hobbling toward him, bearing a basket in one hand and a stick in the other. Being a curious young fellow he was excited by her arrival.
“Hello there,” he called out to her waving.
“Good afternoon!” she replied, “It’s a lovely day for a walk, I’ve been out stretching my bones and need a rest. Would you like to join me on a picnic?”
“No thanks but thanks for the offer,” he responded, pumping his legs and swinging high. He watched the old lady take out roast chicken and roasted potatoes and carrots and apple pie from in the empty basket from where he swang. They listened to the chirping sparrows and chatted while she ate and drank and his wonder grew at the quantity of goods coming out of her teensy basket.
When she got up to leave, his curiosity was too much to contain and he asked,
“How do you fit so much food in there?!”
“This old thing?” she smiled, “It’s amazing isn’t it? All you have to do is imagine what you want to eat and there it is. I’ll trade it with you for the swing, I have a granddaughter who would love it!”
“Oh,” said Whispering Wind, thinking about her offer. On the one hand it would make quick work of meals for his family, on the other hand he knew his parents enjoyed cooking together and creating meals, as well as growing most of the food that they ate. This basket would make the need for those activities redundant, and they’d have less reasons to go to town for food they weren’t growing, and he personally loved going to town where the farmer’s market was great fun to visit with people and the library and ice cream store were an almost certain stop while there.
He shook his head, and said, “I won’t trade the swing.”
“Well that’s too bad,” she shrugged seething inside, “Have fun swinging, I’ve a long walk back ahead of me . . . . are you sure about the trade?”
“Positive!” Said Whispering Wind emphatically, “It was nice meeting you . . . there’s a place at the bottom of the road that sells swings, you might find one for your granddaughter there.”
The swamp hag returned to her hut in the bog annoyed. A few weeks later she disguised herself and returned to where Whispering Wind was swinging.
“You’re out for a walk again I see,” he called out to her, “Did you find a swing?”
“I looked,” said she, “But they were all sold out, alas! I’ve come to make you another offer:: this book that shows you anything you want to know, all you have to do is think it and open the pages and there’s the answer! How about it?”
Whispering Wind was tempted.
“I want to know about swordplay,” he said.
The old woman opened the page and there on the pages was not only information about swordplay but moving pictures illustrating all forms of swordplay through the ages.
“What about wood working?” he asked.
She turned the page and there were trees, tools, people working wood and crafting through the ages.
He went on like this exploring sea fare, tree houses, boat building, all the places he’d like to visit until she shut the book and said, “You like it? Let’s trade and it’s yours.”
He thought about her offer, and wondrous as the book was, there wasn’t anything he’d seen in it that he couldn’t find by searching at the library or asking about. It was quicker that was for sure but he couldn’t think of any other benefit that it held other than expedient information, which in his book didn’t make it that worth the trade; after all his parents didn’t make swings every day! He shook his head no and kept on swinging.
“Ah well,” said the old woman, “I’ll be back with something, you’ll see!”
Sure enough she was back a few weeks later and this time Whispering Wind was not on the swing. He was arranging logs in the shape of a house where they were to season and be a playhouse for him and his friends when she came around.
“I have just the thing for you my boy,” she said jauntily, “Indeed it’ll make quick work out of those logs you have there.”
She waved an axe at him and said, “See here, you shake the axe and tell it what to do.”
“Would you show me?” he asked.
She shook the axe and said, “Axe make a house with the logs.”
The axe got to work sweeping the logs this way and that until they’d rolled and stacked themselves into walls.
“What about windows?” he asked.
“Now Axe, cut out windows!” she commanded. The axe got busy.
“Wow! Does it patch rooftops and repair chinking too?” He asked.
She called the axe back to her and nodded.
Whispering Wind thought about this and all the things the axe could do that would benefit his family in different ways. Standing beside the partially finished house he looked over at the swing and thought how the axe could make another one even his parents wouldn’t!
“Alright,” he said, “I’ll trade for the axe.”
“Gotcha,” thought the swamp hag triumphantly and undid the swing before he could change his mind then was off and away lickety splick!
Now she had no intention of keeping it for herself. Indeed she didn’t know what it did nor was she interested in its workings. All she knew was it radiated enough power that she might trade it with a wizard she knew of who had an item she was in fact in search of. She set off right away to conduct business with him.
That evening Whispering Wind showed his parents the fine log house he had assembled with the use of the axe, which he called Isicue. They were surprised that he had piled the logs up in a day and even more so when he presented them with Isicue. Their surprise turned to alarm when he related the tale of how he’d traded the swing for it, boasting about how silly the little old lady was to have given up the axe for a swing when she could have simply had the axe make her one if she’d only thought about it.
“You did what? With whom?” an outraged Night Sky asked.
“Ummm, is there a problem?” Wind asked, “I mean it’s just a swing and I’ve already made a new one just like the other, go look it’s hanging right outside.”
“No, it’s not ‘just’ a swing and it wasn’t yours to trade Wind!” His father exclaimed.
“But I thought you made it for me!” Whispering Wind said.
Willow shook her head; she felt an argument brewing between the two. While they bickered it occurred to her that since the swing wasn’t rightfully his to have given there may be a way to retrieve it from where it had gone. She interrupted their now heated discussion and asked Whispering Wind a few questions then went to where the swing had hung from the old oak tree. She climbed up into the tree’s branches, leaned back and shut her eyes. It wasn’t long before she and the tree were in conversation and she watched the three scenes unfolding from Oak’s perspective and she knew it was the swamp hag who her son had been dealing with. She sat with Oak for a while then climbed down and headed back inside. To her surprise she heard a figure in the darkness, moving quickly toward, her calling, “Willow! I must speak with you!” It was none other than the swamp hag, Matilda. She stopped where she was and waited.
Before long Matilda was standing with her under Oak. She was disheveled, her shirt and trousers bore scorch marks on them, and her hair was askew.
“Willow, I’ve made a terrible mistake Willow!” she began, “I sought to deal with Zifku, the wizard, and the rat not only cheated me, he tried to take my life!”
Willow’s heart sank. She had heard of Zifku, and he was bad news indeed. She wasn’t a bit surprised by what Matilda said, though she was surprised Matilda had sought him out.
“Let’s go inside Matilda, I was intending to visit you tomorrow about our swing but I fear that may be too late,” said Willow.
The two women went back inside and while Willow brewed tea, Matilda told her about her encounter with Zifku. Night Sky and an astonished Whispering Wind interrupted them, Wind exclaiming, “It’s her! She’s the one I traded the swing with . . . but, but you’re the swamp hag! You tricked me!”
“Her name is Matilda, Wind,” his father said, “She’s Sugar Plum’s sister by the way.”
Whispering Wind’s jaw dropped at this revelation, “No way!”
Willow and Matilda carried on with their conversation while drinking tea. Night Sky and Whispering Wind poured themselves cups and joined the women at the table.
Matilda gave Willow her cup saying, “Willow, see what he’s going to do, I have a terrible feeling about this.”
Willow picked up the cup and eyed at Night Sky who began humming. She gazed into the cup while he hummed. After some time she looked at the others with a worried expression. Night Sky stopped humming and shut his eyes for a moment then frowned.
“Willow”, he said, “I sense the swing has been activated.”
“Yes, I see something in your cup Matilda, something ominous and dark that does not belong in our world, and it is hunting for you,” said Willow, “We’d best prepare ourselves, for it won’t be long before it tracks you here. Whatever it is, it will not stop until it sees you dead.”
“See me dead eh! That’s not going to happen in this lifetime no matter what that scoundrel Zifku thinks! He couldn’t kill me himself, that double crossing bastard,” she spat, scowling, “So he sends his hound after me, we’ll see about that!”
“It’s more than a hound Matilda, and it’s bound to seek you out and see your destruction,” Willow spoke with a hint of worry lacing her words, “I’m not sure we can defeat it.”
“Well if it’s dead it seeks to see me, let’s show it ‘dead’!” said Matilda, “In deed, let it see me dead and then, then we’ll turn it back on that scurvy fathead of a wizard, he doesn’t know what he’s dealing with!”
They considered Matilda with interest and Whispering Wind asked, “What do you mean?”
She divulged her plan to them:: she would take a brew that would render her dead, a brew that would in fact kill anybody who took it ordinarily for it was truly poisonous, however she herself was immune to its permanent effects and would appear dead for some time until it wore of. And then, if it was what they believed it to be, seeing her dead and its task complete, it would seek to return from whence it came and they would follow it back and retrieve the swing and deactivate it and the joke would be on Zifku! If the plan didn’t work, then they’d fight their best fight and see what happened.
There was silence as they contemplated her idea. Whispering Wind asked numerous questions that went unanswered then Night Sky began humming again. Willow looked into her own cup, then Night Sky’s, the Whispering Wind’s. She arranged the four cups in a circle in the center of the table and began drumming on the side of the table. Matilda stomped her feet. Whispering Wind clinked teaspoons together. From outside Owl hooted, whoo-whoo-woo-hooo.
They finished and Matilda rose to go. Willow shook her head, “Matilda, this creature will undoubtedly track you here, you may as well stay here and deal with it. Wind can fetch your brew, tell him what to do.”
Matilda, the swamp hag, glowered at them, “I don’t want him snooping about my house thank you very much Willow, but I’ll get it myself!!”
“How dare you! Your greed and thoughtlessness has endangered by entire family Matilda! You’ve come here asking for our assistance in this tangle you’ve bumbled your way into, and now you have the audacity to suggest that Wind would snoop about! That’s the least of our concerns right now,” Willow bit out decisively, “No, you will direct Wind as to what to do and stay right here until he returns.”
Whispering Wind was surprised to hear his usually calm mother speak with such temerity, even more so at the swamp hag’s annoyed acquiescence. He listened quietly while she instructed him and then prepared himself to go. Matilda stepped outside and began hooting. Presently an answering call came with the rustling of wings. Willow handed Wind her staff, and hugged him then he slipped out the door, and was gone; a fast moving shadow in the dark, Owl flying ahead of him. Inside the house Night Sky felt the swing being activated again.
In the murky moonless night, the creature sniffed and tracked. It was hunting for the human, had been treated like the lowest of mongrels bound to find and kill its prey then return to where it came from. It was angry. The human had offered it nothing, there had been no exchange during the summoning, only a forced binding that had rendered it a servant to the mortal. The creature hunted slowly, it would do what it had been set to do yes, and then it would seek its vengeance. It had no difficulty following the trail of its prey. It was angry to have been summoned to hunt down something that smelt weak and old, an easy task such as this was an insult to the creature. As it hunted, its anger grew. And then it was there, outside Whispering Winds dark house. All was quiet in the woods. Nothing moved in the presence of this maleficent being, the air was still, the creek ceased to burble, not a ripple swirled. The earth was silent, even the leaves were immobile releasing neither crunch nor crinkle as its shadow passed over. It had no difficulty seeing in the blackness and shrugged off the scent of others in the area. Its purpose was singular and it found its prey directly. It grew angrier to have been bound to such an unchallenging task as this! This was unworthy of a creature such as itself! It reached in the window and swiped at the form of its victim. Its rage tripled to see its quarry dead with no fight, no screams, nothing, not even a squeak. The creature turned, it was no cat set to hunting mice! Now it had only to return to the place of summoning and it would find a way to make the summoner pay, yes, and it intended to for the mortal suffer to make up for treating it with utter disregard. The creature slunk back to where it had begun its journey; it was entirely occupied with fury and vengeance. It was unaware of the dust motes that had settled upon its back, tiny specks that did not register through the haze of its thoughts. Even if they had, the creature would have given them no attention for they were insignificant as far as it was concerned, too tiny to be of consequence. And it continued until it was at the circle where it had been bound to return, bound to go back to where it had been summoned from. It looked at the swing hanging outside the circle with interest. It didn’t take it long to recognize it as a gate, to comprehend the workings of this human magic. The creature was crafty and the wizard had been sloppy in setting exact parameters with the summoning. The creature was bound to return to where it came from, but now it had a cunning idea. It undid the knots to the rope that held the swing where it hung from beams. It tucked the swing under its arm and stepped into the circle, taking the swing with itself, returning to the plane where it had been called from. Its eyes gleamed maniacally; it drooled with anticipation for it knew the mortal was in for a shock when he used the gate he had stepped through on his return, for it would no longer take him back to where he had entered from. The swing was no longer there. Instead it would bring him back to where the swing was now located, where the creature waited for its new prey with satisfaction.
Willow and Night Sky resumed their shapes and looked at one another in horror. That wasn’t supposed to have happened. Willow gave Night Sky one hand, rubbing on a gem in the other, and shut her eyes. They were cloaked in a sphere of light and then they were no longer where they had been, but back in their house. Whispering Wind was waiting for them with a wooden bowl of tea for each that Willow had prepared before their venture. She and Night Sky drank the brew down to the dregs then Willow placed herbs in the bowls and laid them in the crackling fire the boy had readied in their absence. They watched them burn to ashes in silence, still reeling from what had occurred knowing the matter was out of their control, feeling the weight of responsibility heavy on their shoulders. Whispering Wind sat quietly wondering at his parent’s ashen faces, knowing something was dreadfully wrong.
It was sunrise when Matilda woke from her dead sleep and joined them where they sat.
“Well?” she asked, scanning the room for the swing, “Did it go as planned?”
Willow shook her head and Night Sky told her what had occurred. Matilda was shocked at first then she squinted at the two of them and cackled.
“And here I was thinking how foolish I’d been in dealing with Zifku! You two take the cake, even I’m not damn fool enough to make an item such as that, leave it hanging about in the open, what were you thinking?!” She shook her head and cackled on, “Live and learn, live and learn my dearies, I’ll be off to my hut now.”
She let herself out the door and could be heard chortling and hooting as she trekked back to her home in the swamp.
Whispering Wind glared at her parting back, “I really don’t like her,” he declared, “She’s such a Hag!! What are we going to do?”
His parents looked at each other then at him and Willow said, “Nothing.”
In the meantime, the wizard Zifku, who had used the swing to enter the Kingdom of the two princes, found himself in the bar on the very evening that the youngest Prince had thrown the watch at the wall. Zifku recognized it immediately where it spun around and around buzzing on the ground as the item he had searched for, which he intended to possess. When he offered the young Prince a bag of gems and coins for the watch, and treated him to a five-course meal with the finest of wine and the prosiest of flattery, he was rewarded by an easy exchange and the Prince was never the wiser. Both parties were satisfied, and the Prince could be heard bragging long after about how he had got the better end of the deal as far as the old fool was concerned, after all it was only an old useless pocket watch. Divested of his mother’s gift, the Prince became more capricious than ever and eventually ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. You may think that would be the end of him except his older brother with the madly insistent compass was being pointed away from the mines toward where his younger brother lay bruised and battered and left for dead and he came and found him. The two brothers were reunited and here we will give them names: the older was Rainier and the younger Shasta, and Rainier carried Shasta back to his camp outside the mines with him where the younger gradually healed until he joined Rainier in the mines. They worked the side by side and slowly became reacquainted with one another, each having changed in the interim years of absence. The King was given news of his younger son’s demise and he shrugged it off as nonchalantly as he had when the Queen had died. He carried on as usual without a word passing through his lips, a tear shedding from his eyes, or a whiff of any grief for his loss, if at all he felt loss in the absence of his son it was unknown to any body other than himself. An announcement was made to the public declaring the Prince Shasta dead, condolences received relegated to the Royal Secretary to respond to with the Royal Seal, and that was that. While the King did not appear to feel anything at having two sons gone, his subjects took to the streets in mourning for the loss of their Princelings. Even though one had been disowned and the other had been a rowdy ne’er do well, they were loved by their people who had followed their growing years with curiosity and interest as stories about their lives, their antics, sorrows, and triumphs, travelled from the castle via the tutor, the nanny, and the governess and the crowd of staff that worked within the castle walls to the outer precincts. The people remembered them. Some fondly and some with disgust, either way they were commemorated for the forty days that was customary in song and tears and prayers and praise until it was considered enough time for them to have journeyed on to wherever the departed go.
Meanwhile the wizard, Zifku, was busy with the pocket watch, meddling with all manner of affairs that ought not be meddled with. He was unnoticed by most all humans although the trees and birds and creeks with the salamanders and crawdaddys heard and saw and felt all of what he did. The little folk, the wee ones who shake the branches loose where they’re stuck, sink the leaves to the bottoms of lake and pond for fish and turtle to burrow under when the cold winds come a calling, comb the lichen beards growing on old Maple, those wee ones sensed the wizards work too. There was one such comely smiling tiny fellow called Bobbit who served the waters of the river that flowed through these lands. Now Bobbit had three hands instead of the usual two, and though we may imagine little people to be sweet dear nice wee people they can be hurtful to one another at times and in the instance of Bobbit had teased him relentlessly since he was wee’er than wee for the presence of his third hand. Bobbit’s wee heart often wept at this oddity and he wished he could wish it away so he could be like all the others but he bucked his chin up and went about determined to make the best go of life with his third hand, until he could find some way to fix the unwanted appendage some how some day. In the meantime he got asked to do many extra tasks by his community who figured since he had a third hand it was only fair for him to do more, and good natured chap as Bobbit was he did so though he’d cry by himself when he’d overhear some of the things some of the other little people would say in jest about him and his third hand.
Well one day Bobbit was out and about taking a look at the growth along the riverbank and when he greeted La Rivera, the river lady, he did not hear her gurgling voice reply as she always had. He walked about and approached her from different places but her melodious song was not to be heard. He waded out into the water and called out to her feeling slightly alarmed but the water was silent as it swirled quietly by.
Now this River was home to Trout, and these were no ordinary trout but Rainbow Trout and at their helm a giant Trout of Trout’s, Iridescent Trout. Once upon a time, long long ago, in Rivera’s waters there swam rainbow trout and speckled trout. The people on the riverbanks had been told to fish only the speckled trout to feed their hunger, and so they had, offering thanks and tokens every time they approached with net and line. But then a flood had come, along with a hurricane, roaring through farm and field, washing away plants and animals and indeed changing the very course of Rivera herself. Afterward there was a long drought, nobody remembers how long exactly some said ten years others said a hundred, but it was agreed that regardless of time it wasn’t long before forage able foods had been foraged till there were none remaining, animals had been hunted and long since gone. The speckledy fish all fished and feasted on during this famine time, only the rainbow trout remained and the desperate people fished them all till they too were mostly gone. The way it was told to Bobbit, the gods were angered by the people’s disobedience about their edict regarding the rainbow trout and in their wrath they turned all the people, all save those few who had let hunger claw at their bellies, gnaw at their marrow rather than eat the flesh of the forbidden fish, the gods had turned them into speckled trout and stocked Rivera’s burbling waters with their squirming wriggling fishy bodies. One god had been saddened by the other gods swift unforgiving justice, had felt the hopelessness of the people deep in her big godly being, and had turned to the other gods and asked that she too be turned into a trout, she would share in the people’s punishment for she did not believe them to be deserving of such a fate. The other god’s had obliged her and had changed her into a trout, only they had shaped her into a shining iridescent trout, a brightly lit trout as homage to her godly beginnings. She was Iridescent Trout and she was immense in size though seen by very few. She steered Rainbow Trout away from human eyes, nets, and fishing lines lest the humans repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. But some of the old ones and of course the little people knew the story, which they kept secret as was the way of what was sacred. Some had even seen Iridescent Trout and Rainbow Trout and had heard that both had big magic, which they believed for the sight of these Trout filled them with reverence, love, and awe at what they beheld and often they’d be found kneeling at the riverbank singing songs of praise to these otherwise unseen entities with offerings and gifts besides.
While Bobbit sang for Rivera, it was with a start that he took note of a beam of light moving through the water. He watched in astonishment as it swam toward him and rubbing his eyes in amazement he saw Iridescent Trout’s enormous head break the surface and speak with him in echoing bubbly tones:
“Rivera, the River Lady whom you seek little one, she has been captured and is not here any longer. She must be found and returned to these waters for she regulates the flow of the river and all that lives within the waters and what grows on the riverbanks too. She is more important than you know! Seek her in the coral reef where she has been captured and concealed by a force that serves darkness and will bring about destruction of the vilest sort. Two others will aid you with your task, these two will be found by Great Mother Ocean. Ask the walnut on the hill for a seed and bring it to the riverbank, when it touches water it will turn into a boat, which will carry you to where you need to go. Pull it out onto earth and it will become a seed again. Beware the one with the pocket watch, he is working to change the course of things and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals. Now go and return here with Rivera when she has been found.”
Then Iridescent Trout sank back into the silent water and swam away leaving little Bobbit standing in the middle of the river mouth agape and stunned. He came to himself and trudged out and up the hill where Walnut stood laden with nuts.
“Oh Walnut, would you believe I saw Iridescent Trout just now! She’s so beautiful and shiny I feel almost blinded by her radiance and she spoke with me! “ Bobbit squeaked this out in one breath, then continued, quivering as he spoke, “I’m to ask you for a seed to carry with me, she’s given me a task! Me! A task! Walnut would you please give me a seed to carry to the riverbank? It’s to turn into a boat and take me to where Rivera is held captive somewhere in Great Mother Ocean, oh my goodness! I’ve never been to the big waters Walnut, I’m terribly excited but what if I fail?”
Walnut creaked slowly, waving his branches and rustling his leaves. He sent a ripple out to the nuts that he carried and then deliberately dropped one where it landed at Bobbit’s feet along with two limbs.
“Oh thank you thank you Walnut! You’re ever so generous, I’ll do my best to find Rivera and bring her back, goodbye, I’ll come see you when I return, thank you!”
Bobbit picked up the treasured seed and held it close to his wee heart, squeezing it in his third hand, while he picked up the limbs with the other two. Then he ran off toward the riverbank and placed the seed by the waters edge where it transformed into a walnut boat. He hopped in and using the limbs as oars rowed away from shore. Rapidly the walnut boat made its way between rocks and glistening pools, cattails and beaver dams, over logs and leaves. Bobbit passed Bear drinking on the banks and waved. Geese honked above, Heron turned his head and nodded at Bobbit when the walnut boat passed by where he was perched on one leg upon a boulder, Rainbow Trout guided the vessel along for a while, until the water was too warm and Catfish took their place urging the bibbity bobbity boat onward toward the sea. Bobbit sniffed the salty air and hearing the briny waves ahead began rowing to the marshy banks where ducks were resting. It was dark and the inky sky splattered with stars winked brightly at the little fellow where he was pulling the boat onto dry land, pocketing it as it shrank back into a seed. He stretched out and began walking toward the water wondering how he was going to find Rivera when he noticed a lone figure out at sea. As he came closer he heard loud wailing and keening sounds, groaning and sobbing coming from the person all mixed up and carried by the crashing surf and rolling waves. He stopped where he was and listened to the howling, which rose and fell rose and fell in time with the waves themselves. After a while he settled down where he was, curled up and fell asleep to the lullaby of waves and crying. When he awoke it was from the sun up on his face, and to the voices of two men talking about who and what he was.
Bobbit opened his eyes slowly and peeked at the big people above him, who took a step back when they saw he was awake. They introduced themselves to the little man and it wasn’t long that all three were sitting in a circle under the risen sun, listening to the rolling waves while exchanging stories. It became clear to all three that these were the two whom Iridescent Trout had spoken of, and they offered their aid in any way they could to assist Bobbit. Rainier took out his compass, which showed him the direction Rivera would be found. Being an excellent swimmer he volunteered to go in search of her. Bobbit thanked the stars for his good luck in finding the two princes and kept a fire going on the beach for all three of them, along with a pot of tea and soup cooked up with the goods the brothers had brought with them. It wasn’t long before Rainier went swimming into Ocean’s bosom where he found Rivera trapped in a flask held deep in the cave of an octopus. The octopus was out hunting crab and Rainier retrieved the flask and was back on the beach with it some while later. Bobbit was overjoyed and held it close to his heart with his third hand, using the other two to stir soup and pour tea for the cold young man. Shasta wrapped his brother in a towel and they sat by the fire that night, setting out with Bobbit the next day to return to Iridescent Trout. The journey was uneventful and before long they were in the presence of Iridescent Trout, who directed them to where Rivera must be released but not before saying to Bobbit that as a reward for what Bobbit had done, he, Iridescent Trout would grant Bobbit his wish for two arm instead of one should he desire it. Bobbit was taken aback by Iridescent Trout’s unexpected offer, and it was within the blink of an eye in which he responded with “Oh no, thank you very much Iridescent Trout, I do believe I’ll keep my third arm!! I’m quite fond of it!” surprising himself with his own reply. “It is so,” stated Iridescent Trout.
The trio then traveled on and before long they were engaged in a ceremony of release. This is where the two princes discovered to their immense surprise and joy that Rivera was none other than their beloved mother, the Queen. They learned that every seven hundred years, a woman of her lineage gave herself to the River, merged with it and became La Rivera, emerging as the river lady, whose songs served the water and the surrounding lands growing them vibrant, alive, and fertile for the benefit of all beings. She thanked them and commended them all on their work and then alerted her sons to the fact that their father and the Kingdom itself was in danger from a ruthless wizard, the same that had captured her and sought to seize control by binding and contortion. The brothers decided they would return to their father’s Kingdom and Bobbit would return to the tending that the wee folk had sworn to do. A new friendship had been forged and they all hugged before departing, promising to remember the tale of Iridescent Trout and fishing only the speckledy ones when they fished, setting a time to reunite and celebrate annually when the first buds showed on the poplar trees.
When the brothers returned to the castle they found their Father in combat with the wizard, Zifku, who had discovered that while he possessed the watch, blood was needed to activate it. To his fury, the prince was dead and so he decided to get the blood he needed from the boy’s father as the same blood flowed between the two. He had insinuated himself into the Royal Presence and chosen a time to strike when he believed the King would be most vulnerable, which had not worked out to his advantage for while the King did not, as he had once assumed, know everything, he did know a fair deal and something had alerted him to the possibility of wizardly treachery. This then is how the wizard found himself at a disadvantage and in combat, which was not his forte. But he had a poisoned dagger that he only needed one prick with to do the job, so he dueled on. The King shredded his robes, slicing the cloth of his garments expertly with his blade. Neither of them anticipated the appearance of the two prince’s, especially not one risen from the grave! This put Zifku on terribly precarious ground. It dawned on him that he would not succeed like this and he was enraged to find his plans all being thwarted, leaving him no choice but to flee! He snapped his fingers and arrived at the spot where he’d entered this Kingdom, slipped through the open gate, which sealed behind him, expecting to return to the swing where he would recoup and lay new plans. To his horror he found himself face to face with the creature he had summoned instead. He prepared to defend himself even though in his weakened state his power was limited and he knew that he had met his doom. Back in the palace he had left behind, Rainier was in conversation with the King and Shasta was rifling in the wizard’s cut away garments where he found his silver pocket watch. He picked it up carefully, rubbing his fingers over the surface with a thoughtful expression on his face.
At this point Ray heard a rhythm calling him back from this place. Part of him resisted, he wanted to see more of what would happen, but another part whispered that it was time for him to return to his body. He let go of the images, spiraling back to the fire and the smell of pinecones, the crackling and popping, the sound of the Druid, Jonas, chanting until he was back in his body where he lay on the ground piecing his parts back together under the watchful gaze of the Druid and all the elements that had come together to make his journey possible. He felt different, brimming with vitality and hopeful in a way he hadn’t felt for a few years. He felt as though when he rose up from the ground he knew what he’d do and it gave him a sense of purpose and wonder, he had goosebumps on his arms at the thought! For the time being he kept his eyes closed and enjoyed what was left of the dark night. Jonas ended his chanting and fed the fire more wood then settled down cross-legged to watch Dawn rising over the treetops. He had done his work and was content::: for the time being. What came next with the boy, Ray, was too soon to tell. But Jonas was familiar with Time and knew how to bide it, so he allowed himself a smile that joined the light spreading out from the fire casting warming rays rippling out in a beautiful glow.