Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ladybug at Weeleena's

Somewhere in the far north of Glendale about a quarter of the way up Black Hill, at the top of an ivy and bracken covered tower there huddled against the wall a group of children, one of whom was crying copiously, and could not stop.

At that moment four things happened simultaneously. A huge bird-like black shadow swooped down from the stars and landed with wings spread wide over the fallen Mr. Montague at the base of the tower, and then lifted off and vanished into the star studded sky. Juliette sensed the smell of three herbs, sage, thyme, and rosemary. A ladybug landed on Storm Wizard’s face. And fourth, a card fluttered down from the sky to land at Storm Wizard’s feet. He picked up the card, and it was one of Morgana’s Tarot, the Death Card.

And so there huddled Morgana, weeping on Juliette's shoulder, completely broken hearted that Mr. Montague had fallen to his destruction. At first it was very unclear why this should be, considering the Steel Wool Sheeps had risked life and limb to rescue her from that man. Nevertheless, the sight of his fall, and the great bird-shadow that swooped down upon him frightened her more than anything she’d ever known, and somehow saddened her to the core of her being. The shadow seemed to have taken the one bright flicker of his spirit and whisked it away in its scarlet talons. She was inconsolably sad, for she realized at the end that he must have loved truly her after all.

In her heart she knew that the final victorious look in his eyes at the end could only have been produced by a true and sincere love. She recalled vividly before he fell that he had looked not in her eyes, but behind her and above her. And what he had seen, she realised then, was the "Dark Bird Of Prey" that he had whispered about in fearful tones all along their journey to Black Hill. The Dark Bird which had been haunting his steps. She could feel it coming down on the nape of her neck as all the short hairs stood up on end at the look in his eyes as he tumbled backwards over the edge of the tower wall, the look in his eyes as they finally touched hers filled with both triumph, and a fathomless sorrow.

Ever since he had drawn the card of Death the night before when he had invited himself to her table for a Tarot reading as she sat by herself in the wee hours, ...the Black Bird seemed to have chosen him for its prey. When he first gave hint of the terrifying realization she was frightened for him, and intrigued. Perhaps she had half fallen for his charming lies about his having fallen in love with her as soon as he saw her. But in those last precious moments she realized he must have loved her. He saved her life, and threw his own away to do so.

She was the target of the Dark Bird of Prey after all, not he, she then understood. And when he saw that the Black Bird was descending from on high behind her, he hurled her aside and flung himself into the Great Death’s path. And so the Shadow-Bird swooped down upon him, and he fell to the sward below the tower, and so saved the her from the Scarlet Talons. And she suddenly, irrevocably knew how much he had loved her. And she wept. The one thing he had wanted before he died, he told her again and again, the one thing only, was for her to love him "'ere the end." And she in her coy way held back, and feigned anger and disinterest and all the things young girls will feign when they have a man's love in their hands... but before she could tell him the truth he was suddenly snatched away from her forever. And so he died without ever hearing those few wonderful, magical, soul saving words that he longed to hear.

But of most of this she said almost nothing to Juliette as she wept in her arms, except that he had seduced her at the Green Dragon Inn, and confessed he had been a con man and a villain, but that he had promised her that he was a reformed man now that he found his one true love at last, and that he wanted only to run away with her, to show her his 'castle' on Black Hill, from the highest tower of which one could see the ends of the world.

And so she wept unconsolably in Juliette's arms.

Until, that is, she came to her wits end, and suddenly burst into a run for the edge of the tower to seek after the man she loved so suddenly, terribly, and fatefully. Juliette tried to catch her, but Morgana slipped by and ran toward the edge. Storm Wizard, without hesitation, decided it would be best to knock her dazed with a mystic chant that put her in a daze for a moment, and that calmed her right down. She then was able to resist crying enough tell them the most part of what had happened to her since the night before, though she left out some of the story out of pity for Montague, and an inability to explain anything more without bursting into tears again. She discovered to her great regret just how powerful love can be, to pull at her from across the River of Death, and give her such heartfelt sorrow.

What she didn’t know was that Montague had never been a good man, and was a thrall of the Great Bird, and when Love claimed him at last, the Shadow would not let him go and meant to take her to Hades in order to finally seal Montague's fate. And so he summoned the great courage of love to save her, met his Doom and was taken. Just as the tarot had predicted the night before when he had picked the Card of Scorpio, the Elkron of Death. It was this card which came fluttering down just now at Storm Wizard’s feet.

It was at that moment that an iron door was heard opening in the courtyeard below, and that Brian said to Storm Wizard that he ought to have a look over the edge of the wall, which he did, and saw six shadowy shapes slinking across the courtyard toward the archway in the tower’s outer wall. They did not have much time. From below the voice of the man that had cursed them over Montague’s dead body, let out a savagely snarled command to the dark shapes moving among the shadows across the stones:

“Go, … and kill,” he hissed.

The group decided they should act, and what they decided to do was to wait where they were because, Storm Wizard pointed out, it was the most defensible position available.

So they defended the doorway on the rim of the tower and within a few more seconds two wolves came surging out of the doorway, and behind them two more, that had come slinking up the long stairs to the top of the tower. But the door was guarded by stout Ben and Daniel Bellowick with their swords and shields, and behind them the mystical powers of their brother and sister, and Ben and Morgana. Between them all there was a great deal of Power on the top of that tower that night. And so they slew the wolves, even as others came running around both sides of the tower from behind. Brian was knocked unconscious with his wounds, and Storm Wizard spent the last of his mystical power battling the savage little man riding on the back of the largest wolf until he had nothing left to fight with. The fiend was a little furry savage of a man who cast jagged thorn-darts that put quite the bloody wound him, and to whom Storm Wizard paid a thorough compensation in deadly lighting arrows.

The children of the Steel Wool Sheeps all lived, and in the end all of the wolves were killed by strong magic, miracles and the bludgeoning of blows, as was the savage little wolf-wizard in his feathered cap. He had finally been burned to a crisp by Storm Wizard’s lightening. Meanwhile Juliette had used her uncanny kung fu skills to nearly shatter the ribs of one of the wolves, and devastated others by the great invocations of Minvar’s Divine Strikes. Animals struck by those hammers of the Elkron do not survive long, but with a shudder, falling upon the rocks, die of hemorrhages, and the crimson wounds caused by being torn on sharp jagged stones. Such is the power of Minvar's Judgements. Even Ben struck crushing blows with his staff, spliting the skull of one wolf, and wounding another, feats that would not be soon forgotten.

The battle over, the party stood on the edge of the tower wall in a cold sweat, panting, and struggling to think of what to do next. They were out of power. They were mostly half wounded, or more, and the healings they had were good, but the party was still in rough shape after such a battle. Before they could think of what to do Juliette noticed a face in the shadowy branches of the ivy along the edge of the tower where Mr. Montague had fallen. It was, it turned out, old Biddy Mable who was somehow inside the stone and talking with Juliette. It was let out by Storm Wizard, accidentally of course, that she must have come to get her kitten. Juliette was coy and hushed him, intending to keep little Ember for herself. And so old Biddy Mable invited them to join her on the second floor landing past the archway. With no better ideas at hand they went down. After all, who knew where that accursed man from downstairs was lurking (not to mention Laraby), and they could use a hand getting out of there, which Biddy Mable strongly suggested. Leave right away, as the place was very dangerous, she told them.

And so without further ado the group, now somewhat healed and bandaged, took the stairs down one flight and came to an arched doorway that had been sealed off with stones long ago. They touched the cool stones but did not find a way through. Then as if in the flickering torchlight itself Biddy Mable appeared as a kind of apparition inside the stone work of the archway, almost as if she were standing in moving water. It was difficult to see her, but Juliette, Morgana and Ben were able to by staring carefully at the stone and listening intently for her voice. Biddy Mable invited them into the stone, and with her chanting assistance they walked into the archway and merged into the stonework. Only the three Minvarians could see what was happening, as they are all disciples of the Elkron of the Earth. They all felt as they walked into the stone a deep and abiding cold, a thickness and solitude that is very hard for humans to describe. And what they saw shocked and amazed them. For inside the stone they could see downward through the tower into the earth itself, all of the different kinds of stones as rivers and veins one might see standing on the shoulder of a great earth giant. Down further into the depths they could make out distant lava pools like beating hearts, and rivers of magma far down below them like great veins. It was an incredible sight. At least it was for the Minvarians, as the others could only make out dim shadows in the darkness as they walked through the menacing cold, and nothing more.

Into a brightly lit room they suddenly entered. It was an elegant and charming room with white lace table cloths, and teak woods, and glass lanterns with golden candles, but no windows, only doorways large and small, some open, most closed. Tinkling and the strains of flute music could be heard everywhere, and at that the place was abuzz with sounds of conversation at different tables. No one seemed to take any notice of the strangers who were being lead to a table by Biddy Mable. There was one table with men wearing extremely audacious finery, and at another some lowly peasants in burlap drinking ales. There were numerous people about chittering away over drinks, and all the while buzzing among them was a lovely young woman with tiny flowers in her hair, and green leaves making up her cloak, and she carried a tray of tea and decanters or her guests.

Biddy Mable was delighted to finally be getting a kitten, and sat wide eyed before Juliette in anticipation. But when Juliette withheld Ember and claimed that she intended to keep him, poor old Mable was so disappointed she went and sat by herself to have a cry, and Morgana followed over to console her, as she too was suffering from sorrows deep and wide. After all, said Biddy Mable to Morgana, she was so sure that young Juliette would keep her word. Well, at this Juliette had a change of heart, and so she brought little Ember, who was mewing adorably, over to the old woman and offered him to her in the cup of her hand. Juliette had never seen anyone leap from do deep a sorrow to such an over-joy so quickly in her life. Even Morgana broke out with a smile at that.. And Biddy Mable was so happy she offered to share Ember with Juliette from then on, and suggested that they could both raise the little kitten together, and she could take her for some of the time and Juliette could take her for the rest of the time. Juliette graciously accepted the arrangement and the matter was settled. Which was just as well, because Biddy Mable knew all about what was going on in the Tower at Black Hill, and who was who among the great the cast of characters that were round about, and could not only advise them, but even provide a means of escape, should they wish to take it.

However, at that moment a beautiful Baroness in a red-orange dress with multi-sized black dots, and a gorgeous black headdress, walked in from an enormous open archway. She took one look at Storm Wizard, and with her smartly equipped blue and black vested soldier in tow, came gliding over to him and gave a slight bow, and held out her hand. He responded with the appropriate decorum and respectfulness, and so she invited him to sit with her at her table. This he did, and so she invited him to join her as her servant for one year, in exchange for a rare red pearl, which she showed to him briefly and then put back away in it’s box. When he failed to accept her offer immediately she stood up, and left him with her card and the instructions to call her if he should ever change his mind, which he could do by tapping the card three times. And with that she turned in her haughty but lovely way and left, and with her soldier in tow, departed for parts unknown and unguessed. The card had a beautiful thin and elegant border in silver script, and upon which was etched a single image of a ladybug.

“This is Weeleena’s Tea House”, Biddy Mable said with a merry little chirp. “It’s a lovely place. Weeleena is a princess among the fey, don’t you know. You’ll all be able to brag to your friends when you get home that you’ve been to Weeleena’s tea house. It’s 'between here and there', and so I’m sure no one else you know has ever been here.” And then, in whispers and with furtive glances around, she told them of her plan - an escape route. They would climb down a long ivy along the outside of the tower to the bottom of the forest floor, and escape that way.

“I’m thinking I’m not really very good with climbing down ivy,” commented Storm Wizard, to which Biddy Mable chirped, “But you won’t have to, my dear," and went on to explain that her friends would carry them all down without any trouble.

"Your friends?", inquired Juliette, perplexed.

"Why yes, dear, my friends, the Aphids", replied the old lady earnestly. In a very odd way things were starting to look as if they began to make some sort of bizare sense. But still, none of the children could quite connect the dots.

“The way is a bit dangerous, you see, but I’d say it would be far less so than your trying to just trot out the front gate, “ Biddy Mable said with a laugh.

“Those men outside are members of the much dreaded 'Black Wulf Gang', and they are going to blame you for that Mr. Montague’s death, whether it was your fault or not,” she went on.

"And Thurwulv, the leader the Black Wulf Gang, might just drop in here any time at all, and I should be surprised if he didn’t look here for you first. He could show up looking for you folks any minute, in fact. It shouldn't surprise me at all. The sooner you make haste away from here, the better, I’m quite sure. Thurwulv is as dangerous as they come, and he will be out of his mind when he finds out what happened upstairs, you can believe me. And his gang even moreso. While Mr. Montague was not a high ranking member, nor especially good at what he did, he had a certain charm, and the gang had come to rely on him for their trafficing." explained the old woman.

"Trafficing... what?" asked Storm Wizard with a steady gaze.

"Oh, they have irons in many fires, laddie, you can count on it. And the things they traffic along the Dark Way are best left unmentioned, at least here and now, if you get my meaning. And at any rate, you best be off as soon as possible. But of course, my dears, it is entirely up to you whatever you wish to do. Of course I’ll try to help you any way I can," she said as she played with Ember happily purring in her arms.

"I can provide a means of escape for you, but you must take it quickly if you are going to at all. Or you can remain here in the tea house, or wander around the halls here and there if you like, or leave and head home by the way you came, though I can't recommend that way. Not with the Black Wulf Gang hunting for you. That's for certain.”

And so they sipped their tea in silence, thinking…

Last Episode: Rescue on Black Hill
Next Episode: The Great Ivy Highway - Part 1

1 comment:

vbwyrde said...

Thank you kindly. :) I like your website post, btw. Very interesting. I may just add that as background knowledge for my world, or make something else of it, perhaps. Thanks again.