The final chapter of my Tale
In which there is some sorrow
Some travels, some farewells
And a reunion with this world and my own
Part the First
Outside was entirely dark, night having fallen it seemed with strange swiftness. Of course, we had been sleeping nearly the entire day, waking only to eat, rearrange the blankets, and go to sleep again. Sometime during that period, we'd found a servant to fetch the doctor for us in order to change the bandages on Davenn's injuries and treat our burns.
Other than that, we were both perfectly contented to lie still and quiet, ignoring the world outside and recovering from the stress and strain of many days' exertions.
Heaven knows that we both needed it!
But finally more sleep was impossible, but I lay there, just staring at the ceiling and watching the patterns of lights changing as they came in from the outside. The wind was cool and fragrant, drifting in from the sea, and though now feeling completely rested, I still let myself drift along with that current, floating gracefully on the breeze, mind not fully in my body.
It was a truly great sensation. Pity that it couldn't last for longer than it did.
All too soon, there was a gentle knock on the door. I hesitated to answer it, and to my surprise Davenn swung off the bed and padded over to the door…I hadn't even known that he was awake.
When the door opened, I could dimly see the figures of the Prince and Marge beyond it, and Davenn invited them in a low tone to come in, warning them that I was still asleep.
Chuckling softly, I hauled myself upright and then flopped onto my stomach. "It's okay. I've been up for a while."
When the two of them sat down, there was a long moment or two of silence. Then Marge spoke up.
"As silly as this is going to sound," she said, voice much stronger and even, "it's over. Your Quest is complete."
"Whose Quest?" I said, jokingly, "Mine or Marrikino's?"
She smiled. "I would say that his is just beginning. But yours, for the moment, is finally over."
I sighed. "It feels weird. Are you sure we're not going to be lit on fire or thrown into a pit, or something? Life is going to feel so empty." My voice was quiet, though. The serious stamp of recent events almost made me fearful of being frivolous on any subject. But if Marrikino's face got any stormier he was going to drown himself with a hurricane.
Of course, how could any of us blame him?
"Yes, indeed. My work is just about to begin," the Prince remarked, slowly. "An important part of it has just ended, though. Davenn," he said, a touch more energetically, seeming to remember himself, "my Mother asked me to tell you that your sister has been healed. The moment you wish it, we will arrange for you to go and see her."
That certainly brightened up the mood. "I would like to see her as soon as is possible, of course," Davenn said, smiling, "but I want to make sure that Marge and Josie are settled first."
"Of course. That brings us to another important question," Marrikino replied, "what exactly do you want us to do for you?"
This last question was, of course, put to Marge and myself.
"I don't need anything," Marge said, easily, "but I suppose, when I need one, you could lend me a fairy-favor too. Before this I thought I wouldn't need to be so prepared for Quests and adventures, but I suppose if Princes are still going to be lost in my corner of Virginia, I'd better be prepared to help them, if need be. There's also the matter of the stock I lost to that fire."
"Very well. You may of course depend on frequent business with the Royal family in future, as well."
"I wouldn't hear of anything else," Marge said, with a wide and lazy smile.
"And you, Josie? You are really the heroine of this tale."
Hmm, I suppose I was, now wasn't I? That was new; I'd never been a real heroine in the save-the-damsel-in-distress type. Not so much damsel as Prince, but hey…
"Well, all I really want is to go home in time to finish off the first semester of this year. Barring explosions, or something, do you think I'll have a chance?"
"Returning to your home? There should be no problem with that, but by the time we reached the portal, you would have to wait for next month for it to open."
Goggling at the Prince, it was a wonder that he sat there completely unconcerned about my crisis.
"Another month? But I'm already two weeks late as it is! As much as I like this place, I just can't stay here for another whole month!" I felt myself starting to hyperventilate, and covered my mouth so I wouldn't make a total ass out of myself.
Really, after all the things that had happened, this was the thing I got most emotional about?
"Josie, calm down," Marge firmly took control, and I shut up.
"I've gotta get home now, Marge," I said, once more, making sure that no one could forget the gravity of my situation.
"You will get home at precisely the moment you left home." she assured me, settling herself more comfortably in the chair.
"How? I know that I've been here for at least a month, by this point. Time doesn't just go away."
"Did you ever read The Chronicles of Narnia?"
I groaned. "Oh, no. Are we going to do some sort of time-paradox thing here?"
She grinned. "Yep. If there is a time difference, I haven't noticed it. It seems as though whenever we cross over into a different world we come back to the time that we left it. So even if you spent years here, you'd go back to the end of August 2006 when you returned. And if you spent years there, and came back here, you'd come right back to the time when you left."
"So that's how you've been leading such a double life! Oh, that makes much more sense," I said, relieved. "Of course, it makes sense in the sense that it makes no sense."
"I'm fighting the urge to say 'that makes no sense'," Davenn snorted, "and obviously I've failed. It's all right, though, that you'll have to wait another few weeks before you go back home?"
"Oh, that's fine," I said, "and actually, it's really exciting. I'll get to travel around a bit, go see your sister, kill some time before school starts again. I'm looking forward to it!"
"That is well. Of course, you will travel wherever you wish," Marrikino said, "but I do ask that you spend at least some time here. We could all use some time to heal and recover, I feel."
"I feel you are definitely right," I said, smiling, "especially where you and Davenn are concerned. I didn't get the worst of it, but you two are really beat up. How are the bruises?"
"Sore. But they will heal. If you can wait to begin your whirlwind tour of my lands, I would be quite happy to accompany you."
"And I'd be happy to have you. But you look as though you haven't had any rest today."
"I have not. There has been too much to do."
"Well. That's the first thing to change, then. Go, see the doctor, and get to sleep."
"You're turning into quite a dictator in my own house."
"Well, sometimes it's to the benefit of certain people to be dictated to."
"You may be right, of course," he said, smiling the first true smile he'd given since he entered the room. "Yes, I think for now I shall follow your instructions. Lady Maz might be well to do the same," he said, turning to her, "for you have been up just as long as I have, and have been exerting yourself all day."
"Right with you, your Highness," she said, smirking. "I suppose at my age it is not a clever thing to try and keep up with you children. I consider my lesson well-learned and wash my hands of you at least for tonight." Rising, stretching and groaning, she followed the Prince to the door. "Try to keep yourselves out of trouble."
"We will try," Davenn said, smiling and waving as the two of them filed out of our room.
"In the meantime, what should we do?" I asked, when the door closed quietly behind them. "I mean, I don't think that I can sleep any more."
"Well, I can," Davenn said, reseating himself on the bed. "So keep your mouth shut while I begin the serious process of healing up."
"Aw, come on! You've been sleeping all day!"
"I also got burned by Karyn, beaten up by the lovely Palace guards, thrown into a dark prison cell for a day, burned again, and then nearly poisoned. Wouldn't you be tired?"
"Don't be such an ass," I retorted sulkily, pulling up the blankets on my side and trying to stop giggling enough to go to sleep.
Part the Second
According to both the Prince's intentions and the doctor's advice, we all remained in the Palace for a week. Even considering the magnitude of the things that happened during the startlingly recent past, the atmosphere in the Palace was not oppressively sorrowful. It was easy to see that both the King and Queen were struggling to keep their spirits high, but their struggles were usually well won.
For example, when I went to offer my condolences, feeling more awkward than I'd ever felt before, the Queen hugged me with not a single tear in her eye.
I suppose, being monarchs of a country, they were used to things like this. Well, maybe not exactly like this, but certainly death was not an unknown. I also understood from Marrikino that his only brother had been killed by disease ago in his infancy. Sudden mortality was not so uncommon here. Still painful though, certainly.
After the week, during which we all improved with the help of the doctor and a fairy assistant, we traveled towards Davenn's hometown of Riverside, the road to which led us on the winding trails by the sea. From breathtaking heights reminiscent of the cliffs of Dover (reminiscent of the pictures, anyway…never been there) we jogged horses slowly along, resting long and feeding well from the wagon train staffed by servants, attendants and soldiers.
But I rather looked forward to the time when Marge and I would break from the group and head back to Gold Mountain City, for though it was certainly nice to feel safe, I would have much rather enjoyed a smaller party.
When we reached Riverside, a medium-sized town that rested against a river's source in the high mountains, I saw Davenn cry when his sister ran out of the house. When he recovered, he told me that it was the first time she had run in three years.
Crysanya was a young girl, barely fourteen (I know, I'm so advanced at eighteen, right?) and her thin little frame did indeed suggest long and serious illness. Rather startling when placed next to Davenn, she was short and dark-haired and skinned, a night to Davenn's pale day. They were only foster siblings, though, but it was so nice to see how attentive they were to each other.
She treated the rest of us with a little bit of shocked awe (especially the Prince and Marge, who reached the level of celebrity). With me, though, by the end of our week's visit, she became slightly more comfortable. Obviously, though I had helped her brother, I was nothing more than a fellow teenager, so the two of us took long walks around the city while buying things for dinner and I learned quite a few embarrassing stories about Davenn that I think he would thank me to keep to myself.
I liked Crysanya very much, and I promised her the next time I came to Senorrah that I would visit her and bring her some of the things I had talked about from my world.
She was particularly intrigued by the idea of chocolate, so I suppose next Christmas (they booked me early for an appearance) I shall have to contribute two boxes of Ferrero Rocher to the hungry populace. Maybe some Lindt truffles as well.
All things considered, though, how could I mind it?
Part the Third
Thereafter, Marge and I cut loose. Davenn, of course, wanted to remain with his sister, and business in the capital drew the Prince back as soon as we announced our plans to continue on to Gold Mountain City. A Prince's work is never done, after all.
The parting in Riverside was a little more painful than I like to think about, even now. It seems such a trifling matter, really, because I could come back at any time I wished, but still…we had gone through life and death for each other, and suffered and bled together…
But I will see them again soon. So there is no point in going over what I have thought of almost without cessation during the two weeks I have returned.
In case you are curious, I am currently writing from the St. Lawrence River. Yes, upon returning I called my parents and told them that my friend was, surprisingly, consolable on the loss of her goldfish, and that I would be joining them soon. Altogether though, I think I'm a bit of a disappointment, because I don't really go out fishing or touring.
After all, typing takes quite a long time, and I'm not majoring as a creative writer, anyway…it's hard to find excuses for banging away on my laptop all the time.
The disturbing thing is, though, that I think I shall soon forget all the shades and colors of the world I grew to know and love so deeply. So I must get this out, before my mind begins to lose the comparisons, the thoughts and emotions…how can I ever explain that, though?
"See, Mom, the truth is that during the single day you were away, I rode into another dimension on a horse that turned out to be a disguised Prince (a moment of gloating for being absolutely right, by the way) and had all manner of adventures for the space of two months before returning at exactly the moment I left.
And now I really have to write down what happened, before it gets away from me.
How could it get away from me? I dunno, but the memories are already getting slippery, so forgive me if I can't answer you when trying to remember exactly what the fairy library in Mazorka looked like."
Sheesh. My parents don't even believe me if I insist that the toad who lives under our front porch stays out all the time to greet us when we come home at night. Enchanted princes? More like either a chuckle or a straightjacket. Neither of those for me, thank you.
So, returning to the point. Where has it wandered off to?
Our journey back to Gold Mountain City was much faster. First of all, it was downhill nearly the whole way, and we were not dogged by soldiers insisting on making sure the path was clear at least fifty miles in advance.
Sitting on the wagon bench, bouncing along the rocky path, we laughed and chatted in English (glorious, blessed English!) and remarked on every passer-by before plotting our tour during the next two weeks I had before the Gate opened again to let me back through.
Actually, travel time included, I really had less than a week to see some of the surrounding cities.
Describing a large arc around the burned forest, we went first to Queen's Town, that southern gem, and toured the summer palace and its legendary airy gardens (beautiful!). I could not walk around, though, without the suddenly sharp and painful memory of the Queen herself and her brave, silent sorrow. It seemed a distant memory when I heard Mastin telling me that it had been the Princess who had commissioned their performance in Ocean's Cove.
The Princess who was now dead.
In speaking of Mastin, however, I may well relate that we ran into her and her father and their troupe, and were privileged to see them perform. Mastin, I saw with awe and amusement, was a fire-eater besides a sword-swallower. As I don't know anything about the trade, anything she did looked impressive to me, but the fact that I saw smoke coming out of her ears during her tricks convinced me that she was also entirely insane.
After their show, I approached them alone, bringing apologies again for having treated them in the callous manner that we had. It turned out that I needn't have been so scrupulous, for their reward from the King and Queen had been more than generous enough to make them happy.
Apparently, the prize for being the preferred performers before the Royal family on Festival night was a small pension (no wonder it was so hotly contested!) and the loss of this chance had been compensated by a pension of double the amount. This was more than enough for each member of the group to disband and pursue other careers.
They all stuck together, though, finding it a great blessing to do what they loved without that terrible feeling of life-or-death hanging on their swallowing their pride and perform for those who hated them.
Their compensation, in short, had been independence and dignity…something that they had never known was for sale. Or, at the very least, that they would have the ability to earn enough to purchase it.
Either way, I left them feeling significantly better. It was not just a weight of guilt off my mind, but the knowledge that the little young girl I had interposed for should hopefully never have to suffer the choking feeling of helplessness in the face of such monstrous injustice again.
Part the Fourth
Several other towns with their various beauties fell underneath our wagon wheels, and all too soon my store of time had gone from me. We had two days to waste in Gold Mountain City (which, considering the amount of things to do was a paltry amount of time) and waste them we did, in shopping, gambling, eating far beyond our everyday means, and doing the last of our sightseeing. Allowing two days for travel back to the Gate, we were right on time.
That last night, Marge and I sat in her upstairs apartment, eating a relatively quiet meal. Though I longed to see more in this world, I was also quite ready to be home, and these contrary wishes were pulling in their alternate ways until I was thoroughly uncomfortable.
What Marge had said, that night after the nightmare had ended, though, was the truth: my Quest was over, at least for now. I should return, but now I had to remember the ways of my old world and continue the life that I had started for myself.
Procrastination in going back to school, after all, would not make my Chinese or Japanese any better. Embarrassing as it was, it was difficult even to pull up the simplest word of either language when I thought about it, and, having set my sights on first proficiency and then fluency, this failure was disheartening, but inspiring.
Yes. It was good that I was going to return home.
Marge easily sensed my mood, though, and instead of letting me dwell on it, we turned instead to the shopping we had done, and started organizing the things I was to take home or leave with her, in safekeeping until we should return. When I went back, she was only going to escort me back to my house, then go back. She wanted to stay for another few months, to make sure her business was going smoothly.
Most of the clothing I'd bought was too fine to show up in my closet and go unquestioned. I opted to take a few of the more colorful Renaissance-like costumes with me, though (I would always need a Halloween costume, after all) and much of the jewelry. None of it was expensive, but it was pretty in a twisted metal kind of way (just the way I liked it!) and some of it was intended for presents.
Right now, for example, my mother is wearing the pendant I purchased for her in Meadow Glen (the home of the Golden Ocean, or the largest field of barley in Senorrah) from a vendor missing all her teeth. Even with the language spell on me, I was hard-pressed to understand a word she said! But this sort of thing is impossible to share; I told her that I'd passed a flea market on the way up and had bought there.
Oh well. The world is never perfect.
The rest of the things I bought will wait until Christmas to find their respective owners. I also bought quite a few pretty things for me, but I'll wait to pull them out.
Eventually, only a small trunk was packed to accompany me back home. It was with bitter regret that I did not purchase any books, since I couldn't read them, after all.
Well, that's not strictly true. I did purchase one novel (one of the most classic in the literary canon, Marge informs me) that had such a beautiful binding (blue tooled leather with silver embossing) I just couldn't pass it up! Besides, who's to say that one day I won't be able to read it? If someone ever asks about it, I'll just say that it's a Russian book…it's close enough that most people (as I was) will be fooled.
Part the Fifth
Don't worry, Reader, I won't drag this out much further. Our journey back to the Gate near River Port was uneventful and poignant. Climbing up the hill, leading a horse and cart loaded with our gear, we were mostly silent. While waiting for the portal to reopen, I faced the setting sun.
Was it really two months that had passed? The first had seemed almost interminable, but the second had passed as swiftly as a dream. Time had gone on, but the scene that met my eyes as I stood on that rise was much as had greeted me when I first passed through into this world. Still the rolling hills, the dark veins of hedgerows, the itinerant clumps of sheep, endlessly milling about, sometimes chased by their keeper dogs.
As the sun went down that last night, I felt again the current of magic thrum against my skin. Somehow, here, at the crossings of the worlds, it seemed stronger, though I had never lost sense of it during my brief tenure there. The air was still sharp with the scent of magic, and as we walked back through to the World wood, I felt that scent leave my nose with the strongest feeling of nostalgia and loss that I'd felt up until then.
Biting my lip and leading the horse faster than I wanted to walk, we crossed the wood and through our door, once again fading across the dimensional boundaries.
Standing in a perfectly normal field on the far side of the cemetery that bounded Sir Edward's farm, I nearly cried when I realized that I could no longer feel that tingle of magic or smell that peculiar air of power.
Like champagne that has gone flat, all the sparkle was rubbed off in this world.
Though it might have been enough to make me turn right around, another thought caught me.
It might be dull, but it was home. And, as Dorothy said so long ago, there really was no place like home.
Leading the horse down the deserted streets of twilight, I suddenly started to chuckle.
"We're lucky, living in farm country," I joked, gesturing to our outlandish costume and the horse cart, "this could be considered normal. What if we happened to live in NYC?"
"Perish the thought," Marge said, scoffing, "we'd surface in Central Park and pretend to be performance artists."
I laughed, the sound shocking and refreshing all at once.
Stopping at the house and unlocking the door with the key I'd stashed underneath the paving stones in the driveway, I unloaded my share of the cart and invited Marge in for a cup of tea. Since she couldn't return to Senorrah until the next night anyway, she joined me happily and we had a lingering cup with whatever leftovers I reheated.
The simple act of putting a Tupperware in the microwave to get dinner reminded me that I was suddenly back in Kansas. It felt pretty good, actually.
When it was well and truly night, Marge swung back into the saddle and headed off for her house, some miles distant. Shutting the door behind her, I stood in the almost ludicrously bright fluorescent light of the living room and wondered what the hell to do with myself.
I opted for a shower and catching the last few episodes of The Nanny marathon that I'd been watching earlier in the day two months ago.
The next morning, my path seemed perfectly clear. I called my parents, telling them that I'd be joining them that day, packed my bags with denim shorts and cotton tees (how good they felt!) and hopped in my car, delighted to feel the smooth and fast ride modern technology could give me.
While speeding along on the highway, I realized that I was telling myself the story of my trip under my breath. I have a habit of talking to myself, and no, I'm not crazy, because I've always asked myself whether or not I was crazy for doing that in the first place…
Anyway. Not crazy.
But it seemed like a very good idea to write the story down.
Part the Sixth
This is where the past and present catch up together, for I am writing to you nearly two weeks after my adventure, sitting on the banks of the St. Lawrence in a stone gazebo. My battery is at half power, and the keystrokes echo back over the water with a sharp, lonely sound.
My fingers ache. I've been typing many hours a day, these last few days. More than I've ever written on one story in my entire life.
Still, though it's twilight now, night fishermen are heading out on the river with their chugging boats and their cans of bait. I've had little luck these past few days in regards to fishing, but that's okay, for to me it's perfectly satisfying to catch little perch and keep letting them go. The last time I kept every single one and cooked them, I was thirteen.
Finishing a story is never my strong point, especially not when it's in first person. What do I say now? This is the time for one of those grand lines, a snappy moral, or a sarcastic witticism. Right now, I'm fresh out of all options.
I will not say that I always believed that there were magical worlds out there, or that I knew sorcerers and enchantresses and mages always played with the materials of the world as though they were child's playthings. I didn't. I wanted to, but too often when confronted with the plain facts of this world it was easy to drift away from my fairy-tale faith. It happened to be good fortune that I found one, and now, having been taken into it, the secret of returning is mine forever.
Sometimes it happens that the Heroines in these type of adventures remain in the other world, forsaking all that they have heretofore known to devote themselves to the magic that smoothes existence and makes things more exciting. I am not one of those heroines. Either way you look at those girls, they are either incredibly brave or astoundingly naïve.
I think that no matter how many times I return, there will always be things about Senorrah that I don't understand. There will always be injustices that I cannot solve, simply because I have no right to speak for that country. I will never be a native. For that reason, perhaps, it is easier to remind myself that this world is my world. Knowing the other world exists does not diminish my love for this one.
Yes, there is no magic here, beyond the simple magic of faith and love. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy (and here I go anyway) that is still magic, of a kind.
There…enough moralizing. I trust you, Reader, and I think you've got the point.
Anyway, thank you for sticking with me, right to the very end.