Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homeward Bound – Part 2

Having concluded matters among the Insect peoples the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ were ready, finally, to return home, relieved to learn that the Locust’s plan to swarm the Grand United Army over the Glendale Region and destroy it utterly had been thwarted by the capture of the two Locust Princes. Ben, who had taken up residence at the Aphid Temple decided that it was time to return home with the great wisdom he had learned from the Wise Old Aphid.

"The Aphids are a very wise and ancient people, and the farmlands round about will soon benefit from all that I have learned," he said.

Brian and Ferdinando were brought up from the infirmary looking fit and ready for action, having been healed by the Aphid doctors who were able to provide an antidote for the dreadful spider poison.  It was unlikely, as it happened, that either of them would have survived had they not returned to the Temple.  Daniel was overjoyed to see his brother back on his feet and looking lucid again, and so began to recount the entire story of the spider cave to him, since most of the time there Brian had been in a state of delirium and semi-consciousness. Everyone was pleased and delighted that the danger had passed and that it was now time for them to return home.

Juliette took a handful of the Silver Moon Seeds and put them in her sacred pouch, and closed the jade flower chest. It was enough, she felt, to take a handful, and not be too greedy. The old Holy Aphid nodded with approval. And so everyone made their way through the long dark corridors of the Aphid Temple out to the bright and elegant Palisade that overlooked the Black Forest below. The trees swayed in the wind, and it seemed to be sometime in the late spring by the look of things, though no one dared to conjecture as to what season it might be back home, nor how much time might have passed while they were in the tiny world of the Insect Kingdom. Time there, they found out, had a strange way of twisting and turning unpredictably. It would not be long enough, thought Brian to himself, if he never saw the ruined Tower of the Black Forest again, as he remembered the battles they had fought there, and the dangers they all endured. It was lucky, he thought, that all of them had come out of the adventures alive.

As they stood on the Palisade overlooking the forest Storm Wizard asked Brian if he happen to recall what had happened while they were all down in the spider cave.

“Well, not really that much,” replied Brian. “It seemed like a dream to me then, and even more so now. The thing I remember most clearly was the wedding, of course.”

“The wedding?” exclaimed Juliette, again caught by surprise.

“Really!” exclaimed Storm Wizard. “Again, with the wedding!”

“Between whom, might I ask?” inquired Juliette quietly, half fearing the answer.

“Why Morgana and Mr. Montague,” replied Brian, who was puzzled by everyone’s confusion.

“Where was I when all this happened?!” exclaimed Juliette with a shout. The answer to that question, which came to her mind again as soon as she had asked it, she kept to herself. There were memories from the spider cave of her own that she did not wish to share, beautiful and troubling as they were.

“It was a beautiful wedding,” Brian concluded quietly as though he was no longer sure it had taken place after all.

They all turned to Morgana who was standing off by herself overlooking the forest below through an open archway.

“It was a beautiful wedding,” she said quietly. “We were on a boat. I think this happened after I got caught in the spider webs, but I’m not sure. I found myself on a boat, on a black river. My feet were cold, and it was foggy. I was holding Brian in my arms because he was suffering so. We were drifting toward a waterfalls I think. Suddenly a huge black shadow flew over the boat, and then circled once around us, and came down and landed on the stern. It was a great black bird, and it lay Mr. Montague on the boat. He was covered in a white cloth, as though he had been buried, or perhaps it was spider webs. I couldn't tell.”

“Right,” shouted Brian excitedly. “I remember! I was staring into the horrible black eyes of that shadow bird. I felt as though it were pulling me into it, and I suddenly felt deathly cold. But there was an oarsman on the boat. He had blond hair and blue eyes, and he looked at me kindly. He said something to me, but I can’t quite remember what it was. But suddenly I felt warmth on my face, and I saw a ray of sunlight coming down from high overhead, and I found that I was holding a golden sword in my hand and it caught on fire in the rays of the sun. And I stood up and fought with the black bird. It tried to take me into its other scarlet talon, and was going to fly off with both the shrouded man and myself, but the fire from the sword burned it, and it let go of us both and vanished into the dark starless sky like a shadow within a shadow, or a nightmare.”

“Yes," continued Morgana, "and then I went to the shrouded figure and pulled away all the white webbing and saw Mr. Montague's face. Poor silly man, he opened his hazel eyes and looked up and smiled at me so foolishly. And the ray of sunlight landed on us both, and he lifted his hand to mine and said, “You are my bride forever.”

Then it seemed as though the boat floated into a silvery place beneath the moon, and the stars shone in the sky brighter than I’d ever seen them before, and we stood at the prow of the boat and beheld the light of the moon mingling with the rays of the sun in the heavenly clouds all around us and we held hands and he kissed me. And it was the most beautiful thing that I think has ever happened in the world,” she said and then began to cry.

“Well!? What happened then?” asked Ben, completely absorbed by the tale.

“I don’t know. It seemed to me that I woke up in the spider webs, and they were floating like billowing sails all around me, and there were runes in the webs that were ancient and frightful, and I managed to free my arm, and I looked everywhere for Mr. Montague, but I could not find him. And then we got whisked away through the tunnels and fled the spider cave and came out into the grassy forest, and joined the rest of the party on the legs of the ladybug, and you know the rest," she concluded with tears streaming down her face.

“There is more to that spider cave than meets the eye,” thought Juliette to herself, remembering her own fateful encounter in the darkness.

“I’m sure you will see him again one day,” said Juliette to Morgana, trying to console the poor girl as she sobbed quietly to herself.

“Well, I don’t mean to cut things short, but I believe it is time to head home,” said Storm Wizard. Everyone heartily agreed with that, and so the tiny adventurers flew down on the ladybug to where the Black Walnut shell was half buried in the ground, which was the portal into the ‘Roots and Leaves Pathway’ of the Plant Kingdom. Lady Isabella with a brief wave of her arm and brief song lead them into the walnut shell, and onto the wild flashing 'Leaves And Roots Pathway' via which they sped homeward.

All around them the fluttering light of the bright green leaves and the deep brown shades of enormous roots flew wildly past like so many flashes of emerald lightning amid pools of dark water and deep stones of the earth. As they flitted between the roots and the leaves from plant to plant in that crazy mad dash through the Arboreal Kingdom, Storm Wizard began to hear a whispering sound in the winds. It sounded to him as though the trees were whispering in a great thrush in the wind. And somehow he knew that only he could hear them. It was the trees of the Black Forest, he realized, and they were whispering amongst themselves ... about him.

“It is him,” they whispered. “He is the one... It is him,” they whispered in the wild thrush of the winds that covered the whole of the forest. But what they meant by it, he had no idea. And it mystified him greatly that the trees should whisper such a thing, or how they knew of him at all, or why they had singled him out among all the creatures and peoples in the land. He was greatly mystified indeed.

“The one, What?” whispered Storm Wizard back to the trees of the Black Forest, but there was no answer, and the wind-voices faded.

Suddenly the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ stepped out of a small root clinging to a rock along the side of a canyon wall, and they were back in the open air. The sky was gray and the air was cold, and there was snow on the ground. They were still at tiny-size as they stepped forward, but even from that odd angle they recognized the canyon as the one wherein they had met “The Little Ones”, what seemed like a long, long time ago. There they could see the grotto in which there was the rock on which had been the small loaf of bread, the taking of which had so incensed the little warriors. High above they could see the cave of the Little Ones, but no one had any thought of investigating it just then, as everyone's mind was on one thing only: getting home.

After they had gotten their bearings, Storm Wizard approached Isabella, who was standing at the edge of the root-doorway with Ferdinando. She looked at him with a deep and penetrating gaze.

“Lady Isabella,” said Storm Wizard politely, “we have arrived near our home, thanks to your help. We are very grateful. It seems, however, that the adventures for which you required my service have concluded themselves...”

“Despite our best efforts,” interjected Juliette.

“...yes, despite our best efforts,” he repeated with a wry smile. “So, unless you have anything else that you require of me, we may as well part ways.”

“Thank you for your help,” said Lady Isabella with a regal tone in her voice. “The Insect Kingdom, indeed, the entire Region, is indebted to you all, though I suspect that no one in your community is very likely to quite appreciate just how much so that is.” Storm Wizard, as she spoke, seemed to feel that there was more going on within the heart and mind of the little dark haired princess than she was expressing through her words or gestures, but said nothing of it. She looked at him with her wide brown eyes, and despite the imperious aspect of her silent gaze, he felt she meant something by it. She looked quite pretty, he thought, in her bright red dress with the black pokadots and her little black antennae waving lightly in the breeze.

“Um... if you would like to ... maintain company with us, I am sure ... we would welcome that, but ... I assume, naturally, that being a Noble of the Ladybug Empire ... that you have more important matters to attend to...” he said awkwardly fumbling for his words.

Ferdinando, who had been standing next to her maintaining a stern and regal gaze of his own on Storm Wizard, said quietly, “My Lady… we have matters that call for your attention..."

And with this, Lady Isabella turned her eyes to the horizon, and said simply, “Yes, Ferdinando, I know. Farewell, Storm Wizard. And thank you. You have served me well.” And with this she departed into the root with Ferdinando, and was gone.

Previous Episode: Homeward Bound - Part 1
Next Episode: Homeward Bound - Part 3

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