(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
Inside the Healers’ shop James had the sudden feeling of calm. Something about the way the bookshelves were laid along the walls and the warm red and brown drapes that hung from the ceiling seemed to pull all the anxiety out of him. It reminded him of home, only it clearly was alien to him. Yet that thought above all the thoughts running through his mind soothed him.
He followed Pea through a wall of drapes into a room covered in pillows and lit candles. The aroma of ginger replaced the cinnamon and cocoa that had overwhelmed him upon entrance. Pea motioned him to take a seat, and he did, finding a small cushioned chair nearby. Pea did the same.
“Pantifilus,” a soft female said from behind a wall of brown curtains, “is that you?”
“How did you know?” Pea said.
“Because whenever you walk into this house it suddenly smells like ginger.”
Pea snickered. A short, pudgy woman appeared through the curtains and eyed the both of them warmly. The top of her head barely met with James’ chin. She wore a thick brown dress that fell all the way to her feet and her face beamed bright and wide.
“Pantifilus, you old fool. What brings you back here? Those pixies didn’t hit you with another spell did they?”
“No midnight wanderings for me this time Triska. I was fortunate and unfortunate to not find any.”
Triska nodded. “And who is your guest?”
“I’m James.” He stepped forward to shake the woman’s hand. She took his hand graciously, bowed her head, and shook gently. He nodded back, remembering Pea’s recitation of etiquette early that day.
“I found him not too far off from the Old Oak.”
Triska looked between them. “He’s why you’ve come then?”
“Yes. I think he’s either lost his mind or never had it to begin with. You should hear his story. It’s quite charming.” Pea grinned a wide, sarcastic grin at James. James frowned back and then looked at Triska, who now eyed him with further enthusiasm.
James looked away a moment as Triska peered at him. Then he told her what he had told Pea—plain and simple. She only looked at him, for that he was thankful. Pea had simply laughed uncontrollably. At least in this instance he sensed that someone at least considered his story, if only for a brief moment.
“That’s an interesting story.”
“It’s the truth.”
Pea broke in and said, “Well, do you think you can fix it?”
“No problem at all. I’ve treated worse insanities.”
“What happens if what I’m telling is the truth?” He said that with a hint of bitterness. I’m not insane.
Triska smirked. “Then the tables turn and I get a full dose of reality. Healers can only fix, not mess things up. But there hasn’t been a person here from another world in as long as my ancestors could remember. Shall we begin?”
“Good, now sit down and relax.”
As he did, Triska slipped out of the room and produced a small cup of a steaming liquid. A familiar scent lifted his spirits—jasmine.
Triska handed him the cup. “Drink this. It will help you relax. Just a mild concoction of my own. Herbs and the like.”
He took a sip, swished the liquid in his mouth, and nearby choked at the sudden rush of flavor that sent every taste bud yearning for more. Then he gulped the rest down, ignoring the slight burning sensation that followed. Warmth filled every inch of his body, powerful and intoxicating warmth.
“Good. Relax and close your eyes.”
James felt two warm hands slide to the sides of his head. They were comforting, worn hands. Then a burst of light filled his vision, despite his eyes being closed. More lights came and he had the feeling that something lurked in the back of his mind, wandering aimlessly along the imaginary paths that connected everything there. Images of his childhood came and went, then of his parents and Woodton. It seemed as if his entire life were passing by at the speed of light, so fast he hadn’t the time to dwell on any one thing.
Then a burst of red flashed into his vision, followed by a roar—the same roar that had come from the satin bag. The sound ripped through his mind and attacked the entity that had brought about all the images. Darkness covered his vision. Then the darkness lit up with the presence of the same inhuman eye.
A bellowing scream forced James to open his eyes. He couldn’t take the sounds any longer. The rush back to reality, or to James that was how it seemed, gave him a long bout of dizziness. When it settled he noticed Triska laying a few feet away panting loudly with Pea by her side in a vein attempt to comfort her. Both looked at him in fear. Droplets of sweat fell from Triska’s forehead.
“What is it?” Pea said.
“The eye! He’s been marked by the eye!”
Pea broke away from Triska and raised his hand violently. A burst of energy hit James in the chest and he found himself suspended in the air with legs and arms drawn in four opposing directions. He struggled to break free.
“You’re a spy from Angtholand!”
“Don’t lie to me. Triska is no fool. You’ve been marked!”
“I only saw it through the satin bag. The eye took my friend!”
Pea started to speak but was abruptly cut off by Triska.
“He’s not lying Pea. He’s not lying. Everything he’s said is the truth.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“He came through a satin bag. Very strong magic. The last of its kind. They were supposed to have been destroyed two thousand years ago. He’s really not from this world.”
The two of them stared at James as if he were some zoo animal. He looked back; his heart raced. Then the energy gently placed him back in the seat.
“Luthien has your friend,” Triska said. “And he has you marked.”
He gave them a questioning look.
Pea said, “Luthien is the ruler of Angtholand. The eye is his eye. He has only one.”
“He sacrificed his ability to see in his left eye for the ability to see the future in the right.”
“And now he controls all of Angtholand and much of what used to be part of the Farthland.”
Then Pea and Triska told him about Luthien. They told him about how Luthien had raised an army and overthrown the previous ruler of Angtholand over two hundred years ago. His eye could tell the future, and with it he could make decisions entirely on what would happen—he could change his own future. Three kingdoms had fallen to Luthien and his army, and two others had failed miserably to thwart the incredible power he held. Only the Farthland remained strong enough to repel him.
“What would he want with me and Laura?” James said.
“I don’t know,” Triska said. “Whatever the reason, it can’t be good for those of us in the Farthland. Everything that man does leads to destruction.”
“Point is,” Pea shook his head slowly, “you’ve been marked. Luthien wants you and will be looking for you. He’ll send spies into the Farthland.”
“Shiftkind most likely. Shapeshifters.”
He thought about this. I’m marked, he thought. Whatever Luthien wants with Laura, he wants with me. With a deep breath he buried his face in his hands. All of it was too much—the world he had landed in, Luthien, Laura, the troubles at home. It all seemed to bear down on him like a giant stone falling from the sky. He wanted to scream out and dispel all the tension rising inside him.
The smell of ginger disappeared, replaced by an overwhelming scent of dark chocolate. Pea helped Triska up from the ground and into one of the soft pillow seats in the center of the room before taking a seat himself.
“What am I going to do Pea?” He stopped his emotions, feeling the Fearl quivering slightly on his arm, and looked up at the two of them.
“I’ve made a promise to you. I will help you find your friend. Erdluitle law says I must keep that promise even to the death. We have to go to Angtholand. Into the heart of Teirlin’pur, the home city of Luthien, to save her. But I have to insist that you reconsider. At least in the Farthland you can be kept somewhat safe.”
Then Triska sighed deeply. “And you can’t just waltz into Angtholand. It’s covered in Underkind and Daemonkind. Do you even know how to use that Fearl on your arm?”
He shook his head. “I know that it reacts to my emotions.”
“He can use magic, he just doesn’t realize how.”
“Take him to Darl.”
Pea turned to Triska sharply. “The crazy old man on Market Street?”
She nodded. “He may be crazy, but I think if anyone can teach James quickly it would be him.”
Pea seemed to take offense to this, turning his whole body swiftly, standing, and glaring at her. “I can teach him magic. I taught your daughters after all.”
She giggled. “He’s a humankind. Can you teach him to use a sword?”
Pea grunted. “Then we’ll go to Darl in the morning. The old fool is probably sleeping in a pile of corn husks by now. Besides, I think it is about time we have some supper. Can’t go about talking to crazy old men without a full stomach now can we?”
Triska smiled, and James too. The little man rubbed his belly cheerfully. Then Triska guided them into another room—this one not covered in drapes, but bear except for a small wooden table and a black iron stove—then James and Pea sat while Triska began producing various food items from a small cabinet.
Before long three plates were placed on the table. Most of the food James recognized: cheese, bread, and some berries that looked similar to blackberries. Only the meat made him second guess and he had to ask before putting it in his mouth.
“Fidget Fowl,” Pea and Triska said together. “Tastes just like chicken.”
James took a small bite and marveled at how similar it smelled to the fowl he had had at home. And it did taste remarkably like chicken, so much so that had he not looked at the stringy brown meet beforehand he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.
Before long, conversation struck up again. Pea made sure that James knew where they were going in the morning, while Triska exclaimed that she would have to go to the High Council—the governing body of Arlin City and most of the Farthland—in the morning to tell them of James. He didn’t see much point in it. If Luthien truly was after him, having his story spread across the Farthland would only hinder his ability to save Laura. But she assured him that it was necessary. Only the High Council could give him the proper aid that he needed. He couldn’t be sure what that meant, but he took it in gratefully.
Then the meal ended. Triska took away the plates and guided both he and Pea to yet another room, this one similar to the one where Triska had healed him. There, in the center of the room, as if someone regal and noble would have lived there, were two plump beds covered in the finest fabric he had ever seen. It resembled silk, only shinier, smoother, and altogether more inviting. Pea jumped excitedly into one of the bed, tossing his cap aside and performing a spell of magic that turned his clothes into a set of white pajamas with green polka dots. Triska guided James to the other bed.
“I’m sorry. I never had any sons so the need for male bedtime clothing never came.”
He smiled in thanks and climbed in. The bed seemed to welcome him like two warm hands, gently rolling around the frame of his body. He pulled the covers over himself and suddenly felt completely relaxed, almost as if he were at home. The thought of home only remained a moment before sleep swelled into his mind.
“We’ll start off on the right foot in the morning. Do forgive Pea for his lack of faith.”
“I don’t blame him,” he said quietly.
“As well you shouldn’t!” Pea said. “We littlekind aren’t always right, just more right than you humans. Most of the time.”
“He’s just a silly old Erdluitle.” Triska poked fun. Then she turned to leave.
Slowly, as she left the room to find her own bed, James’ eyes became heavy and he fell asleep.
* * *
James woke softly, softer than he had ever awakened from sleep. Never before had he woken to silence. He recalled at home all the times when a bang or the sound of dishes being fumbled with had woken him from a deep slumber. Here in Triska’s home and business, there was no chaos or noise. Everything was silent and calm. He imagined that she had placed some magic on the place to keep it that way.
He got up from the bed as quietly as he could and maneuvered his way through the rooms while admiring the decorations. He hadn’t noticed before the many Celtic designs running alone the walls and the sheets. They were hard to see. The ones in the red drapes were made in an off-red color, in the brown an off-brown color. They were long, never-ending designs that seemed to wind in and out of every inch of the drapes. It had never occurred to him to wonder why such designs held such sway in this world. Did the people of this world have contact with the ancient Celts? Or the other way around?
He found his way to the door and looked out of one of the windows. The sun cast long foggy rays over the buildings. He couldn’t see it, but knew from the rising light that it was well into morning.
Sleep had come so smoothly the night before. Maybe it had to do with that drink last night. He contemplated it and figured that the combination of elements in Triska’s eternally warm house had contributed to his soundless sleep. A safe place for once.
James let himself out. Clean, cold, and crisp air filled his lungs and he closed his eyes. From the street he could see the sun rising up between two tall mountains in the distance. Light fog slithered across the fields, and off, just within range of sight, were gray rain clouds slowly moving through the sky. The snow on the mountain tops glistened. He could see for the first time several rivers and a lake running beyond Arlin City. The city covered a tall hillside in one giant circle, leaving many parts of the city at higher elevations than the massive wall. The two connected towers, however, stood so tall that they cast long shadows across the entire city. He imagined that one could tell time from the shadows.
His view was abruptly interrupted by the sound of rustling wings. As quiet as the beast could, the gryphon from the night before landed, galloped a few steps, and stopped delicately nearby. It leapt up and took a perch on a bench in the center of the court, looking at him in such a way that he couldn’t help but feel that the creature hated him. He didn’t look back, remembering Pea’s warning. He simply watched from the corner of his eye.
The gryphon watched him like a bird looks at its prey. James wanted to cower away. He could only remember his last encounter with this creature.
Then the gryphon broke the silence and grunted.
“You boy, young humankind. You may look at me.”
James turned cautiously.
“Do not fear me. I will not attack you now unless you turn out to be a spy of Angtholand, or you greatly insult me again.” The gryphon’s voice bellowed, airy.
He looked at it bewildered.
“Where is this place that you come from? What do they call it?”
His mouth dropped.
“Yes, I know of your story.”
“I come from a,” he stopped, trying to think of the right words to say, “world called Earth in the town of Woodton.”
“What is this Earth like?” The gryphon leaned back and then lay down.
“It used to be like this place, this world whatever you call it. But much of the natural land is gone. We have great cities with cars and airplanes. Many people too. But only humans. Dragons and elves are myth, not reality. We don’t have magic either. Just technology.”
“You speak of strange things. I fear there is no time for you to explain, but perhaps one day. Tell me, how do you intend to save your friend?”
“I’ll go to Angtholand and somehow…”
The gryphon chuckled. The deep sound resonated and James’ heart jumped suddenly. “There is no easy way into Teirlin’pur. But there are ways into every city. Remember that and you might save your friend.” Then it stood and leapt from the bench and took flight. “Beware the eye. Look to the western sunrise.”
Then the gryphon was gone, flying out beyond the towers and off into the clouds. He watched it as it became a speck in the sky.
Pea appeared from Triska’s home and came to his side. James didn’t say anything, and only half realized that the little man was there. The gryphon had said ‘look to the western sunrise’, and that seemed to stick with James more than anything else it had said. But the sun rises in the east. It sets in the west. That doesn’t make any sense.
Finally he turned and looked at Pea who still had his pajamas on. The little man looked remarkably like a child, only with a beard and stubble. Then Pea looked up at him and smiled.
“I’ll have you know James that although Arlin City is the safest city in all of the Farthland, you can still be robbed, maimed, or ultimately beaten until disabled in the waking hours of the day. You are going to be somewhat of a celebrity in the eyes of the High Council. I think it best you keep out of trouble.”
James agreed, and then said, “Pea, where does the sun rise?”
Pea scoffed. “In the east of course. What sort of ridiculous question is that? That’s an example of a question that will make people think you’re completely insane. You realize that don’t you?” The little man pointed vehemently. “We’ll have to get you through the basics before we see Darl. Heaven knows what that madman will think of you if you start spouting such nonsense.”
“It’s quite alright. I think we can easily assume that whatever natural laws that exist on your world are present here. Now, we should eat before wandering off to find that crazy old man, and before Triska goes off and makes you a spectacle before the High Council.”
James beamed at that and followed Pea back into Triska’s home. Again the scent of cinnamon and cocoa filled his nose, then it became dark chocolate, and finally a strong ginger.