Friday, June 27, 2014
Out of the Garden - Part 20
This week's installment is the conclusion of our collaborative story written by Patti Hill. You can catch up with previous installments here.
Through the tangle of roots I supported Princess Orlagh as we moved toward the shimmer of light in the distance. As we moved closer, my spine straightened with a pop pop pop, strength surged into my legs and arms, and a surefootedness I hadn't experienced in decades made the travel seem more like a dance.
The princess pressed ahead, obviously feeling the power that came with moving toward home.
I stopped at the thought of home. I wiggled my toes in the rich earth without one echo of pain. I ran my hands over my face, now taut with rounded cheeks. The hair that water-falled over my shoulder was the polished mahogany of my youth. And yet, I turned back toward the chink in the rocks Callan had placed over the portal.
"Maeva," the princess said with snip, "I need help with this ragwort. My wing isn't ready for flight."
I stepped out into a world as familiar as my heartbeat--green and gray with a mist that caressed my skin. I looked up into the ragwort with its yellow windmill petals against a lightening sky. The princess could fly home on its stem, which grew as big around as my wrist.
"I haven't a knife," I told her.
"You're as forgetful as a mayfly, Maeva." She touched the stem with a finger and felled the plant. I cleared the plant of its leaves and blossoms and sliced a length for her to use as a flying stick. I stood in the debris of my work, happy with what I'd accomplished. I held out the stem to her.
She straddled the stem and looked over her shoulder at me. "Follow close behind," she said. "I haven't depended on a ragwort to fly since my wee days."
When I hesitated, she frowned. "You're coming, aren't you?"
The cord from Callan's earphones wouldn't hold Peta for long, and then I feared Callan would feel the full force of her wrath when I was the deserving one. And only I knew how to seal the portal. The few rocks Callan piled would only serve to point the way for Peta. Most importantly, when the time came, who would I pass my light to? There was no fae I loved quite so dearly as Callan.
As if she read my thoughts, the princess said, "We will tell stories of your sacrifice around campfires until the last fae has breath."
I curtsied deeply to my princess. "You think too highly of me, your highness." Staying meant youth for generations into the future, mischief among the humans, and the fellowship of the fae. But returning to my human home meant a fulfillment of the love commitment I'd made to Don, as real as any I'd ever made, and the protection of all I held dear in the world of the fae. "The portal must be closed from the other side. Any fae I could name would do the same."
The mist brightened and a breeze slit a hole to the sky, Donegal's bluest blue. From a distance the stuttering honk of the Brent geese sounded. The blousy frills of the wild roses bent and swayed. Above us a heron beat his wings and trailed his long legs like a rudder. I breathed in the deep earth scent of peat.. To leave once nearly ripped my heart out of my chest. To leave again?
"I must go." Before I could change my mind, I nodded my head and turned toward the portal. Returning through the roots, my energy sagged and my knees cracked with every step. I focused on the chink of light, pressing and willing myself to forget the land of the fae.
I pushed at the rocks closing the portal, but they didn't budge. I called out to Callan, hoping that with his new wings his hearing had grown more acute.
"Grandma, is that you?" I heard from the other side of the barrier.
"Open the portal! We've work to do!"
Outside the portal I took in the drama I'd left behind. Margaret was working at loosing Peta and apologizing profusely. Bree stood gape-mouthed, surely trying to adjust her belief that family was annoying and boring to what she had just seen. Everyone else must have left. All for the best.
As I grew back to my full stature, my knees fired signals of pain and my arms hung limp at my sides. My shoulders stooped forward. The portal had to be closed before Peta worked free. Turning toward the base of the tree, I struggled to remember the words that had only moments earlier played over and over in my head.
As seo go...?
From behind, Peta tackled me into the gladiolas. My right knee hit an exposed tree root and I screamed out. My face pressed into the flowers, their crushed flesh sending out a sweetness that seemed all wrong for what was happening.
Peta sat on my back, huffing and puffing from the exertion of laying me flat. My right knee throbbed, so I drew up my left knee and pushed against the ground to buck her off. For once my heft came in handy.
"Help me up, Callan!" To my surprise, Margaret moved more quickly to my side, pulling me to my feet.
Peta grabbed hold of my ankle, and Margaret couldn't keep me from falling again. There was nothing to do but close the portal from where I lay. "As seo go dtí go dearmad an ghrian a Shine, dún an sliocht seo!"
"It's gone, Grandma. You did it. The portal is closed."
Peta's hot breath filled my ear. "You may have closed the portal, Maeva, but the boy's magic is fresh and powerful. Soon it will be mine."
One look at Callan's face, and I knew his hearing was as sharp as a fox. "Grandma?" he said, backing toward the house.
"What did she say?" Margaret demanded, putting a protective arm around Callan. But only I could save him. Only I knew--or once knew--how to unwing a fae to take her magic. I'd never done it, of course. But every fae studies the Book, reads the words of warfare with discomfort, hoping the knowledge is never needed, especially that you are not the offending fae who deserves banishment and worse.
Peta moved toward Callan and Margaret. Margaret stepped in front of her son. My heart swelled with pride and dread. She had no way of knowing what Peta intended to do. Losing his wings meant losing his magic, which meant a gradual fading of his light and life. I could not allow that to happen.
I pictured the opened Book and the candle illuminating the words written with the pigments of snails and flowers. I rolled onto my left hip to heft myself up.
"Mom, stay down!"
Peta turned to me. "I won't be stopped."
I closed my eyes to read the first line from the page. "Leathnaigh do sciatháin!" Wings be unfurled!
Peta's wings rose. Through their translucence the flowerbeds behind her seemed to bleed into a watercolors. She looked bigger, more menacing. As she stomped toward me, I closed my eyes again to read. The words blurred in my memory. I rose to my feet just as Peta came near. We stood toe to toe.
"Problems remembering, Maeva?"
"Yes, but I have no problem remembering the sisterhood of the fae, how we fought side by side to protect our home, and how we dispensed our mischief as partners in glee. You were my strongest ally. Is tumbling among the gladiolas how we want to end our days?"
Peta put her hands to my throat and squeezed. I willed myself not to panic. Magic was too distant a memory to save me now. I touched her forearms, rubbing as if to soothe, sending my thoughts back to the Peta I knew in the fae court.
Margaret stepped closer. "Mom, should I call the police?"
I met my daughter's gaze. I hoped she saw the calm in me, the unreasonable, desperate calm I called upon to face Peta. Margaret nodded but showed me that she had her cell phone ready.
I said for Peta's ears only, "Do you remember the time we wove straw into the farmer's beard, dodging his snores and stifling our giggles? Or the time I lowered the monbretia into the bucket, so you could climb out? You would have drowned."
Her grip loosened, but she countered, "I distracted the farmer's cat. You would have been bones and gristle if I hadn't called out."
"I held your hand as your da passed his light to you." Peta's wings sagged and she cried into my shoulder.
"Mother?" There were too many questions in Margaret's utterance to answer in that moment, so I simply told her that Peta would be leaving, and that we should put together leftovers for her journey home.
Margaret, Bree, and Callan stayed at the house until my scrapes and bruises healed. They peppered me with questions of my life among the fae and what waited for Callan if he chose to live among the fae. I even caught Bree checking for wings in the mirror.
"It's an odd business," I told her, "how these things get passed down. I haven't a clue why Callan and not you."
"What if Peta comes back when you're not around?" she said. "How can I protect Callan?"
I took her in my arms, the first time since her preteen years, and she didn't resist. "I've remembered more. I'll write everything out for you. I needed something to keep me busy. This ought to do it."
"I won't let you down, Grandma."
"I never dreamed you would."
I felt the space between her shoulder blades. "Boy fae mature faster than the girls. I wouldn't give up hope, not just yet."
Patti Hill is the author of six novels. You can learn all about them here. She's also a founding member of Novel Matters, which means she has five of the loveliest friends a woman could hope for.