Darkness in the Heights- Chapter 3
Chapter the Third
The quill pen shook in Elvina’s hand, partly from anxiety, partly from excitement.
Dear Mother and Father,
You know I am not like Gwindreth. I love her beyond the world’s end, but we are very different. You know me- I do not jump to conclusions or pursue crazy whims. I do not remember ever acting on an impulse without deliberate forethought and careful planning. Based on this, which you know full well to be true of my character, please trust me and try to understand that I did not leave for any reason less than the best.
Something happened to me today that changed the way I look at things. I met Someone- Someone with a capital
I wish I could tell you everything. I wish I could tell you where I have gone or what I am doing. But I cannot.
I plead with you not to come after me, but to trust me. If I am alive, I will return. I am not running away, I promise. I love you too much. Nothing less than the greatest command could tear me away.
Tell Gwindreth and Aiden I am sorry I will miss the wedding. Please don’t postpone it on my account, for I don’t know how long this will take.
S for a reason- and He gave me a mission. A quest, if you will. It’s very important.
It seems too short, the princess thought, reading it over. But what else can I say?
"I love you."
She had said that already.
"I’m going to miss you."
That was obvious, but she added it before her farewell.
What else? Nothing. Nothing else she could say without telling them more than that. She could have added something about Brodie, but she decided she didn’t want to get him in trouble.
If I really didn’t want Brodie to get in trouble, I wouldn’t let him come, she thought. I have no idea what dangers wait.
She rose while the moon was still in the sky. She was sleepy, but she couldn’t wait until dawn to leave. Many of the servants were very early risers.
She hooked her weighty bag over her shoulders and drew her cloak over it. Tiptoeing, she sneaked out of her room, through hallways, down a flight of stairs, past the ballroom, and into a courtyard.
The night air felt good on her face, but it almost seemed to whisper to her, as though it would take her secrets and give her away.
She made her way to the gate. It hit her: the drawbridge would be up, the portcullis would be down, and at least five soldiers would be standing guard.
She looked back the way she had come in mute dismay. What am I doing, sneaking away like a thief in the night?
But I have to go to the tower; whatever that means. The Great Wolf, the I AM, will be with me. At all costs I must go.
But how? Can I slip past unnoticed? Can I scale the wall? Swim the moat, maybe? She smiled suddenly. These all sounded like ways to break into a castle, not out.
If only she had wings, as Aiva, Brodie’s sister, had.
If only she had skill and nimbleness in climbing, as Finian had.
If only she had powerful arms and legs, as Brezdin had.
If only she had a hare-brained scheme, as Gwindreth always had.
She had barely left her room and already hit an obstacle!
Brodie lay in bed, but wide awake. His sister Aiva lay beside him, breathing softly. Her curly black hair was draped over his arm, and he gently blew it off. She stirred but did not waken, and Brodie sat up slowly and studied her sweet form.
To call Aiva short would be kind, which was odd, because their father Raphael (like Brodie) was tall, and their mother Wynd was of average height. She was only thirteen, however, so she had time to grow. Her wings, iridescent azure, were spread out on the bed as she slept on her side.
(Despite their parentage, neither of the children were immortal; or, at least, it remained to be seen if they were.)
"I’ll be sorry to leave you," he whispered.
At that, she really did wake up. Her forget-me-not blue eyes flashed open. "Brodie?" she said immediately. "You look troubled. Is something wrong?"
Brodie wasn’t particularly skilled in hiding his feelings from his sister. They were five years apart in age, but closely bound together. Aiva had one of those faces, the kind that caused people to trust her by instinct. Her eyes, which seemed to fill most of her face with radiance, said quite clearly, "Tell me what’s wrong, what’s right, your worry and fear, your anticipation and delight. Tell me and I will listen. And I will find them beautiful, because they came from you."
Brodie knew from experience, however, that Aiva did not always approve of what he told her and never hesitated to say so. If she thought he was wrong, she let him know promptly. Then she would tell him what she thought. Brodie also knew, again from experience, that her advice was often better and sounder than that of someone twice her age. She was a perceptive teenager.
And for this reason, despite Elvina’s charge of secrecy and his own foreboding, he confided in her all that Elvina planned to do.
"Goodness, Brodie!" Aiva exclaimed. "I know you like her, but can’t you let someone else handle her for once?"
It was not the reaction Brodie had expected. "Do you think I’m wrong to help her?"
Aiva caught the note of his voice with concern. "Surely you aren’t angry with her. You said yourself that she didn’t run away, maliciously or otherwise."
"She’s never been so secretive," he muttered. "I can’t help being suspicious."
Aiva frowned. "You said you trust her."
"I do," Brodie confirmed.
"Then- trust her," Aiva laughed. "Honestly, you can be so thickheaded sometimes."
"You’ll keep this secret, then? Even though you don’t know any more than I do about her real reasons for leaving?"
"Of course I will. You trust the princess, and I trust you," she said with a wan smile. She did look a bit nervous, Brodie noted. For some reason it made him feel better.
"But I do have a feeling she’ll need some help," Aiva said.
"Of course. That’s why I’m going with her," Brodie said, not understanding.
"No, right now," Aiva clarified. "How did you expect she would get out? She won’t, that’s what. I’ll go help her," she said with a weary sigh, getting out of bed. "Brodie, you goof. Boys and princesses are never practical."
And she fluttered off.
Elvina, distraught, stood still, staring at the gates. I should never have attempted this, she thought. I AM, please send me help if I am to follow Your orders!
A glimmer of azure in the black sky caught the corner of her eye, and she turned. Brodie’s sister Aiva was flying toward her. Softly, the half-fairy cried, "Brodie sent me to help you!"
Well, that was fast, thought Elvina, though she knew she should be angry with Brodie for telling someone. But the Great Wolf had provided, had He not? She held Aiva in almost as high esteem as Brodie himself did.
"I’ll fly you over the wall," Aiva said, alighting. She either knew or had guessed Elvina’s plans.
"Can you carry me?" asked Elvina doubtfully, looking at the delicate girl.
"If my mother could carry the legendary Sir Gilligan halfway ‘cross Llorleya, I reckon I can carry you over the wall," she said simply, without boasting.
She put her arms around Elvina’s waist and spread her wings wide. She vibrated them to a gentle hum, then struggled to get them moving faster. She and the princess moved an inch or two off the ground.
Please, I AM, let this work, Elvina prayed.
Aiva grunted. "Most inconvenient. My wings are still tired from the circles I flew around the spires before bed."
Elvina refrained from commenting. She was focusing all her energy on equaling a feather’s weight.
Finally the two began to move a little higher. Aiva flew near to the wall and touched it as she went, encouraging Elvina to do the same. "It will help me a little if we can gain support from it," she said between breaths.
She closed her eyes and let her hands travel up the stone. She began to panic when the wall disappeared from beneath her skin- but then she realized they must be over the wall! Or at least on top of it.
Aiva had stopped to rest on the top. "I’m assuming," she panted, "that you don’t want to jump down."
"I’d rather not," admitted Elvina, taking a peek downwards.
"Well," said Aiva, "for the last lap, then."
She carefully lowered Elvina down. In utmost secrecy they parted.
"Thank you, Aiva," said Elvina softly. "I hope you don’t get punished for this. Or Brodie."
"Brodie will take care of everything," said Aiva, with confidence in her brother that bespoke of her implicit trust.
If Brodie- and my parents- could trust me like that, I would have no problems with pursuit, thought Elvina.
"Farewell, Princess," Aiva bid as she flew back over. "Be careful!"
Elvina looked down the lonely road.
I doubt I’ll have many problems. Being nomadic is in my blood and heritage, though Elvina as she danced under the stars. The very road she was on now, so wide and well-paved, led to the Wood’s Way, where she was to wait for Brodie and begin the adventure.
His words returned to her: "You’re going to break their hearts."
She sighed, "But I must go."
Elvina had never really done anything in her brief life. She had learned a lot- being a princess gave her the opportunity, though being the fourth child she would likely never rule. She could read and write; she could even read the write the ancient script of fairies, which her father had taught his children.
But now Elvina was doing something. It wasn’t just a spontaneous adventure. She knew it would very likely be perilous, though she didn’t guess to what extent or she never would have gone. But nothing she had ever done before had felt so, so right.
Maela and Eloa had dragged Cala to the Rock Circles, and the star had bit back her complaints.
The Rock Circles were giant stones, shaped like fingers, pointing out of the water and needling the sky. There were three rings, the outer with ten stones, the second with seven, the inner with three, and in the middle the tallest stone of all. Eloa had said that the central one was the safest.
There was enough room for a hollow in it, almost a cave. Cala had wondered aloud what would happen if water covered it.
"This is as high as the sea ever comes- except in really bad storms," Eloa had assured.
Cala hadn’t bothered asking what would happen if a really bad storm did come. She knew Eloa would be there in a twinkling.
Now she was sheltered, out of the wind, but she was still cold. But again, she didn’t bother complaining. Why should she complain to herself? For the first stars, her kin, had appeared glowing in the sky, and Eloa and Maela were going to sleep beneath the surface.
The two mermaids looked like pale wraiths in the water, as their lithe, graceful bodies glided effortlessly just under the surface. Mentally Cala compared them to birds.
Cala liked to compare stars she met to birds. She liked birds, and knew much about them, even ones who flew low to the ground. She had never compared anyone but a star to anything airborne before, however.
Maela was quite obviously an eagle- how could she be anything else? She was majestic and graceful, and yet fierce and farseeing. Eloa, however, was a hummingbird. That was a harder comparison, for it was hard to find a bird so beautiful and fragile and unique. She had yet to find one so focused on healing, but the bird of which Eloa reminded her did not have to be perfect. Only reminiscent.
She huddled in the recess and pulled the yellow cloth over her again. It was still slightly damp, but then, so was she. It would be nothing to her mother’s face when Cala did not return home. The starqueen would weep for her child, but she would do more than weep. She would send lookouts, Cala was sure, and her father would not rest until their daughter was home.
For the first time, Cala began to wonder if maybe home was not the place she was supposed to be right now.
"Aria, there are few times I cannot understand you- and this is one of them!"
Aria didn’t respond, but her face was pale. She looked ill, very ill, but stars do not get sick.
"Why will you not send anyone to search for Cala? I cannot believe she is dead. She has only been gone a day, and the sooner we look the better. Stars have banished before and been found, you of all people know!"
"Gilligan, I do know," Aria said. "My heart will not let me think her dead either. And yet it bids me to wait. Not yet, not yet…"
"When, then?" her husband cried. "Our daughter, Aria! Losing one child did not give you pain enough?!"
Aria flinched. "The would will never dull," she whispered.
It gave Gilligan pause. He felt shame flushing his cheeks. "I am sorry, beloved. I should not have said that. It was not you fault or wish. We will all regret it, perhaps forever, but I did not…"
"Stop, please," she said, lifting her dewy eyes to his.
He nodded. "This pulse of your heart… do you have anything to give it foundation?"
"No," said Aria, the tears getting bigger. "Not the slightest vision! I have not dreamed since Cala- but it has only been a day."
"Not at all, though? You usually dream all the time in times of need."
She inhaled and exhaled deeply. "Not once." She drew the star-circle from under her dress. It was a silver medallion on a black woven cord, with Celtic knots bordering the center, a diamond so lustrous and brilliant that it took one’s breath away. It was when Aria had received this that she first began to see.
She unclasped it and laid it flat in the palm of her white hand. "It is so cold, Gill. It never used to be cold."
Gilligan laid his larger, rougher hand on top of hers. The sting of ice almost caused him to draw it back. "Has it been like this since Cala-"
"No- and yes. Only since an hour or two ago." She trembled. "Cala is not dead, but she may be going into danger. And still I am told ‘wait’!"
Gilligan’s hand closed around Aria’s, and he brought them vertical, with the star-circle between. He was scared, truly deeply frightened- for Aria, but mostly for Cala, their daughter. And he was frightened of memories, old ones and ones that would be.
"We will get through this, Aria. He will help us bear the sorrow- or give us joy. He sees farther than your medallion ever will."
At that moment, a tingling grew between their hands. There was a sudden stab as though of a flaming sword, and both stars instinctively jerked back. Aria cried out and reached to catch the star-circle- but it did not fall. It was not even there.
It, like there son and daughter, had vanished.