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Beyond the Window
Beyond the Window
by: Rick Gordon
- Chapter 1 -
I have a shawl. It is somewhat worn, and the once vibrant purple has faded and become dull, but it is mine. I have it wrapped around my head, trying to stay warm. A winter moss plant in its wicker basket sits alone on the window sill, a shiny green bundle of life. It thrives in a season devoted to the dead. "Can plants think? Do they know what is around them?" I ask the little shrub and receive no answer. I am not asking correctly. If I learn how to speak, the plant will respond.
On the other side of the window, the land is dead. Covered in the snow like a smooth, white, blanket. What does it feel like to be outside? I used to know. I remember playing in the Sun. A Sun is hiding behind gloomy gray clouds. I don't recall what playing feels like; Was it a good thing? The tree's beyond the window have crystal sheets of ice covering their branches. The limbs defy the extra weight, refusing natures command to surrender and break. How is that possible? Where do trees find the strength to stand against the world? I should ask them, the window blocks my voice.
The world is strange. The winter moss plant is blooming. Its tiny flowers are white with yellow veins. On the other side of the window, it has started snowing again.
I reach out and touch the quartz window pane. Auburn orcwood frames the quartz. Both of them are cold and smooth. The wood's grain is beautiful, it feels like a girls hair. The wood trembles from the extreme wind buffeting against it. Is it cold outside? I don't remember playing out in the snow.
Something is moving around the closest tree. I tilt my head to get a better look. A tiny girl with wings is flying. She is wearing a summer dress. The green dress is shorter than her black hair. Why is she not frozen? I try to guess her size and find my eyes tricked me. She is not a girl. Her body tells me she is a woman. She is someplace between one and two feet tall.
I feel sad. The girls I have met are affable, but women are scary. She is a woman so she wouldn't be a friend. I am still alone.
The woman has seen me. "What do I do?" I ask the winter shrub. She is flying towards me. I feel afraid. I pull my shawl tighter, so it covers my face. "I can not open the window. No one can open windows." I feel safe again.
I jump at the sound of the man calling me. The woman is close; she is looking at me. I turn around and remove my shawl. "I'm coming," I yell at the man. I fold my wrap and put it on my stool. I keep my face turned away from the woman as I leave the room.
- Chapter 2 -
I wonder at the light reflected off the clouds. Clouds full to the bursting point. We will have snow tonight. It is the way of things. The glow I see is not the Suns. It flickers but does not move. It is not how things should be. I inhale deeply, savoring the clean air as it enters my being. At the end I sense death. It is in the air. It is coming from the source of the light. I move toward it, flying between the trees of my home.
There is a field covered in snow. Tufts of horsetail-grass are visible, gallantly defying the snows burden. Their blackened tips show they are losing the battle for life. Across the field I see a tree covered in sheets of ice. I move from tuft to tuft, working my way to the tree where I can rest.
The trip leaves me tired and hungry. I pick a few berries from mistletoe and sit in a hollow of the tree to eat. The seeds are tart and full of juice. Some of it escapes my mouth and runs down my chin, dripping into the snow below me. Life is good. I gaze past the tree and see a new thing in my land. I consider its shape. To me, it looks much like a beaver's lodge, but it is square and tall as a tree. White smoke drifts from the dwellings peak. The wind carries it towards me. It has the scent of death in its grasp. There is a hole in the side facing me. It has a covering over it. Something about it reflects the image of the land. I start to turn away when I see a touch of green. A tiny shrub in the middle of the hole. A figure in purple is watching it.
I fly from the tree, moving closer to the lodge. The figure jerks back. I call to the shrub, trying to understand what is happening. It feels fear coming from the boy? Why is he afraid? Is there danger? I fly faster. Death is near, is it coming for him?
Something invisible as the sky stops me. It has the feel of lake ice but is warmer to the touch. The wooden frame is dead. Wood brought here from an evil land. "Fools! Do those within this place taunt the land with impunity?" I speed up my wings to rise over the top of the dwelling place. Stopping in my flight, I float down on the far side. There is a door. Iron hinges hold it in place. "How rude can you get?" There is a crack in the door. I change into a moth and enter the dwelling. I wonder; what I will find on the other side?
There is a slovenly man in the room. A bowl of porridge looks tiny in his fat hands. He calls out "boy" before he waddles to an oak table. He puts the bowl down and circles the table to his chair. There is no chair where he put the porringer.
- Chapter 3 -
I sit at my table and slice a slab of ham for my plate. The meat appears small next to the four fried eggs. I carve off another helping for myself. I don't want to get up for my tea.
Where is he? I look around. The runt isn't here. "Boy, get in here!"
I watch the bairn entering the kitchen. He appears distracted by something. I can't have a child around who doesn't pay attention. "Get me my tea," I snap at him. He jumps over my rug and scampers to the icebox. "Tea Lad! I said I want Tea. What are you doing?" I hope the squirt says something. The lad knows I'll whip him if he speaks. Watching him squirm when I beat him is fun. He doesn't understand his magic.
* * *
The man is red-faced and angry. I know I am late, but it was not my fault. I had to use the chamber pot. The water was cold. I can still feel it numbing my skin. He has his rug laid on the stone floor. I can not step on his carpet. I would get it dirty. He likes fresh cream with his tea. I go to get the cream first.
There is a moth on the icebox. Do moths like cream? I turn to show him the cream. He smiles. His broken teeth spoil his grin and make him appear to be mean. I know he is happy when I am told to get the butter too.
* * *
The kid brings me butter for my bread. The bread is cold, and the ghee flows over it and onto my plate. I like the swirl of the cream as I mix it with my tea. The youngster pours a bit of cream on his porridge. He is stupid. I did not tell him he could have some of my cream. "Boy!" I bellow, and he spills some cream on the floor as he jumps. "Clean your mess up." I chuckle with glee as I push myself up out of my chair. The kid looks at me with fear on his face. I am going to enjoy this. Pulling my belt from my pants, I double it over into a loop. "You know better. I hate being upset during breakfast. You had to do it anyway, didn't you? Don't try and act innocent with me boy." I move to the side, away from my table. "Get down on the floor boy. I'm going to teach you to honor your elders. Face down, you stupid kid."
- Chapter 4 -
I flutter down to the floor where a puddle of cream has fallen. Sweet nectar it is to my spirit. The sound of the man's chair scraping across the tile pierces my ears. The obese man is yelling at the boy. Why? The boy has done nothing yet he falls to the floor. I cast my senses about for magic. The man has none. Shock courses thru me like lightning when I check the boy. There is a strong sense of magic in him. Does he know? Why is he turning over on his stomach?
The man lashes down with a strap, striking the child on his back! "Get up boy. Run if you will but don't stay there," I cry out. My cry is foolish. In this form, the boy can't hear my call.
The bairn turns his face towards me as the second blow strikes him. He is in pain but doesn't cry. He silently mouths the word "eat," and the compulsion to return to my cream is almost overwhelming. The magic is calling to my changed form. If I remain as a moth, I will obey his command. I shed my disguise and leap up to land on the oaken table.
The man is screaming at the lad. He lifts the strap to strike again. I won't let him do it. My magic reaches out, altering his vision. The belt catches on the hanging lantern. Flaming oil spills on the excuse for a human. His screams turned from rage to pain in an instant. He runs to the door, swinging it open and dashing into the snow.
The child doesn't move. I change to a girl so I can close the door. Barring it on the inside to keep the man from returning. The boy is looking at me. What do I say? "Hello, I saw what the man did. Are you hurt?" He doesn't answer me. "Can you hear me? I won't hurt you." The shock of what I said goes through my body. I told him the truth. Why do I feel this way?
I stretch my back as I watch the girl. She said she wouldn't hurt me. I know better. They always beat me. I shake my head no and get my porridge. It is cold, but I eat it anyway. I look at the door. Should I let the man inside? It is colder outside than my gruel is.
"Don't you think about letting the man inside Boy!" What is he thinking? Does the man have a contract? Some hold or bond obligating the boy to seek him out? "Child! No one has the right to abuse another being without a cause. The man owes a life debt to you. Do you see? Allowing or helping him without payment or contract is a weakness. Do not allow weakness to control your actions."
- Chapter 5 -
The girl talks funny. Some of her words are hard to understand. I like her speaking to me as an equal. The man never did. "What is ‘debt?' How do you get one? Is it a good thing to have?" My voice is cracked. I can feel the broken spots, but I don't know how to fix them.
I look at the boy in shock. He has spoken! There is power in his speech. The magic is raw and untamed. The man wasn't cruel as I first thought. I need to be careful. "You ask a great deal. A proper answer will require years of effort as I do not make exchanges lightly bairn. Are you willing to return value for value? Consider your reply with care; once you speak, I will hold your word as contract and bond."
The girl sounds serious in my ears. She promises me something, but I am confused. Closing my eyes, I try to see what the girl is offering me. Something is not right. "I cannot accept your word when you are in hiding. If you reveal yourself, if trust can apply on both sides, then I will agree."
O how delightful this child is. I try to guess his age. Has he seen ten Summers? He is acting like an adult of his ‘min.' Such a treasure, I mustn't waste my opportunity. "I'll show my true form if you give me your name Boy." The boy is shaking his head.
"You can have no hold on me, girl. We can share, but neither of us can have dominion over the other. Show me your nature and give me a name of friendship. I promise I will do the same for you."
"I am what you can now see, Boy" I drop my glamour and show him my winged form. The kitchen lantern light gives my skin a rose-colored tinge. My wings are as a dragonfly's, shimmering and iridescent. I keep my true name, but for companionship, I give you the name Asheri."
"You are a woman?"
"I am Not! I am a Fey of Tuatha Dé, you will refer to me as a Faerie or as Asheri, but you may not call me as a ‘min' of humanity." My feelings are strange and ruffled. The boy is ahead on the terms of this deal. How did I make such a blunder?"
Asheri is upset. I didn't mean to cause harm and yet I have done so. "Asheri, my apologies for creating distress in your mind. I will give you my bond with the service you promised. My companionship name is Arlow, a name given to me by my mother before she died."
"A debt is value owed to another Arlow. Who is the man to you?" Asheri moved to the fire pit and took a cup of hot cider. "You can owe debts to more than one, but you must keep a proper accounting. If I accept your word, I must know the nature of your relationship with the man."
"The man purchased me from my dad after mom died. So I am property and owe him all my talents and strength. It is a life debt right?"
"Property! You think you are property?" Asheri sputtered into her cup. "What did he give for your life Arlow? How long ago was this contract made? What have you done for him?"
- Chapter 6 -
I watched Asheri pacing about the kitchen while she spoke. Her wings fluttered revealing how nervous she was about my state of being. I tried to ease her agitation with a smile; it didn't work. "Asheri, calm down!"
"Calm down? How can you say such a thing Arlow?" I had to fight the magic in Arlow's voice to maintain my frame of mind. "Will you stop using your magic, please? It interferes with my thinking." I can't believe I blundered into a situation involving slavery without noticing. Arlow's uncontrolled magic was hindering my ability to reason things out.
"Arlow, I want you to take a deep breath and count to ten before you exhale. Do it again but think of pleasant things instead of counting. I want you to repeat the process five times before you speak to me again, okay?"
Arlow nodded and started inhaling. He took the biggest breath he could and then tried to pull in tiny sips of air to make his inhalation bigger. His face began turning purple from the strain, and he put his hands over his mouth, trying to keep from exhaling.
I laughed. I didn't intend to, but it was obvious the boy was going to extremes to follow my instructions. "Arlow, I didn't tell you to inhale all the air in the room! Let go of your breath and try again, but this time I want you to inhale until you feel comfortably full of air."
'Arlow said he was a slave. So if I take him, I am guilty of stealing a life debt owed to the man. The original contract between us is void. Arlow could run away, but the man would still have a claim on him. No, either the man dies, or Arlow buys his freedom. Nothing else works.' Asheri began looking around for a suitable set of objects for her magic to work with; there was nothing in the kitchen she could see. Perhaps in the room with the window? "I'll be back in a moment Arlow." The great room was not great by my standards, but I found two large candles made from beeswax suitable for my plan. I grabbed both of them from off the fireplace mantle and went back to the kitchen.
"Arlow, would you like to help me cut these candles into coin shaped slices?"
"I am not supposed to handle knives. They hurt me if I hold them too long. I can get you some carrots though if you want to have different sizes."
I freeze in my tracks and look at Arlow, focusing my magic on viewing his true nature. The boy's blood wasn't proper for a human, even if he looked like one. It was mixed, partly elf and partly human. "Arlow, did your father say why he sold you?"
"It was a long time ago. Daddy told me the man could teach me what I needed to know and he couldn't."
"Has he taught you anything?" I asked while slicing up the candles. Arlow was correct. The candles wouldn't be enough to do the job. "Give me a couple of the carrots please."
"He showed me how to talk to orcwood and how to be quiet even when I am hurting or upset."
I started stacking the sliced wafers in groups of ten, "Can you honestly talk to orcwood? How long did he take to teach you?"
Arlow made a face like he was chewing sour pickles as he thought about my questions. I started to say the time didn't matter when he stopped looking funny.
"Twenty-seven months and three days."
"You learned how to speak to orcwood in twenty-seven months?" I was impressed. Faeries and Elves would be hard pressed to learn the language of wood so quickly.
"No. Orcwood is a simple wood. I knew how to talk with the tree in six months. The man didn't believe me until I grew the walls." Arlow turned to look into the parlor room. "I did something wrong. The orcwood is unhappy in its present shape. Can you tell me why?"
The boy was telling me the truth, as he knew it to be. I couldn't wrap my head around what he said. No one learned to speak to plants so quickly. "You 'grew the walls?"
"Not all of them, no. I did the front part of the cabin while the man built the back walls and the kitchen."
"Oh, my stars! The plan came together in my mind like a burst of light." I went to the windows and laid my hand on the frame, seeking the woods spirit. Arlow was incredible; the wood wasn't in distress, yet it did desire freedom to spread out. I asked permission to flow through its being and felt welcomed.
Arlow's eyes widened as he saw Asheri melt into the wall and appear on the other side of the window. "I've gotta learn how to do that!" He thought as he ran into the parlor, almost bumping into Asheri as she came back inside the cabin.
"Pack your things boy. I don't know where your father is, but we have to find him." Asheri went back to the kitchen to get her sliced candles and carrots. The man was banging on the door and shouting; she ignored him for the moment, she wasn't ready for him yet.
"Is there a platter in the house Arlow?" She shouted into the bedroom area where he was packing a cloth sack. His belongings looked pathetic in her eyes. "Where is your coat?"
"In the corner cupboard, there is a huge platter. I don't have a coat. The man said I didn't need one. I have a shawl, see."
"Please save me!" Asheri called to the ceiling in exasperation. Going into the parlor, she came up to the child. "May I touch your garment?"
She waited until the lad nodded then reached out and touched the shawl. She closed her eyes and thought of how warm it would be if it wrapped around the boy. How excellent the feel of the wool around the torso and arms was in the cold weather outside the cabin. Her eyes opened when Arlow let out a squawk of surprise. The shawl had transformed. No longer a wrap, it was now a very heavy sweater on Arlow's body.
"You can stuff the sweater with washcloths or towels to give you more warmth. Magic takes energy and changing your shawl has wiped me out. Do you have any fruit or juice in the house Arlow?" Asheri lost her glamour to conserve the energy she had left. She was a bare two feet tall standing on her tiptoes. Her wings no longer shimmered with light but appeared dull and washed out.
"You are small! How do you change your size?" Arlow found himself mesmerized by Asheri's female form. She could have been a garden statue in the city he came from over two years ago.
"Stop looking at me like I'm a doll or something Arlow. I am a living being, and you hurt my well being by staring. Pay attention boy. I need food before the sun goes down and our play begins."
Arlow dashed around Asheri and into the kitchen. He pulled out a chair from around the table scooting it up against the counter. Reaching up as high as he could, his hands closed on the lip of the fruit basket. The man told him never to touch his grapes or oranges. 'I'm not taking your fruit; I am moving the basket.' Arlow thought while climbing back down. "Some of the grapes look mushy, but the oranges are still good. Are you okay?"
"Yes. I am okay, or will be soon enough." I told Arlow while grabbing a large red grape from the basket. I bit into the fruit and rejoiced with the sweet juice squirting into my mouth. I admit it; I ate too fast to enjoy the taste of the pulp."
- Chapter 7 -
The evening cold brought fog with it. Condensation collected on the window until it was no longer possible to view the outside world. It was time, "Arlow, I want you to count your fingers twice. When you have finished counting let the man back into the house, okay?"
"Yes ma'am, but what are you doing?"
"I have to leave the cabin and get ready to 'buy' you from the man. Don't worry; I'll come knocking on the door in a few minutes." Arlow's treasure was the living wall of the cabin. I saw the wonder in his eyes as I started moving into it and vanishing from his sight.
* * *
I watched Asheri melt into the wall and panicked. Running over to the window, I used my arm to wipe off some of the moisture on it and let me look outside. She popped up, or flew up and pointed to my hands mouthing something I could not hear.
"Count. She wants me to start counting." I nodded and began touching my fingers to make sure I didn't mess up. Asheri grinned at me before flapping her wings and darting off.
I finished counting and ran to the kitchen door. The man had stopped banging on the door. I wondered why as I pushed the bar out of the holders, allowing the wood to fall to the floor. "The door is open," I yelled while backing up.
The man stumbled into the kitchen. His face was blue from the cold. He said nothing as he went to the sink and poured water over his hands. I heard him hissing from the pain.
"You will be okay Sir. The pain is going away while you warm up."
"Stop it, boy! You can not speak. You must never talk, do you understand?" I felt the boy's magic flowing through me. My hands no longer hurt. My breathing felt more natural than before as well. It wasn't right. I couldn't allow the child to use his power. At his age, it could kill him.
"But I only want to help you, sir."
"Quiet! I'll beat you boy! I… Wait. What's that sound?" I shuffled to the parlor brushing the child aside. A majestic white stallion pranced by the window. The bridle sparkled with encrusted gems. The woman on the horse wore a riding dress resembling that worn by Imperial scouts. The brown cloak framed the dark burgundy leather of the ladies armor.
"Hello, the house!" The woman called out in a commanding voice. Her voice was musical, one he could listen to for hours.
"I'm Captain Asheri Keydan. There is a storm approaching from the Sarador Mountains. I saw the smoke from your house and ask if you might provide shelter for my horse and me before it arrives?
I opened the lower window panel to hear better. The snow swirled about in the sudden draft, some of it entered the cabin, but I scarcely noticed. "Keydan? You're a long way from home Captain. I trust you aren't asking me to host your whole Scout Company."
Asheri laughed, "If I had my Company with me I wouldn't be seeking shelter. I was to join with them at Lake Karcida on the morrow, but the storm is going to cost me at least a day. Will you accommodate me for the night?"
"But of course captain." I turned to the boy, "Close your mouth kid and help the Lady get her horse stabled in the shed."
It isn't often you get the opportunity to make money in the winter. While the boy was helping to Stable the captains horse, I thought about what I could ask for from her. Two electrums was a fair price for lodging, add in food and a bath and five electrums was reasonable. I nodded to myself and wondered what was taking them so long.
* * *
"What if he looks in the shed Asheri? How would you know to make the horse again?"
"I don't have to worry about it Arlow. Peralin knows he has to keep this form overnight, don't you friend Peralin?"
"Of course friend Asheri. I promise not to leave or reveal my nature for 14 months. I trust you understand why I can go no longer."
"He talks? I didn't know horses could talk!"
"They don't speak as we do Arlow." Asheri unscrewed the lid of her leather water flask and took several swallows. "You have to stay within yourself Arlow. Magic will drain you dry; it will even kill you if you let it."
"I don't understand Asheri. I can hear Peralin speaking. I didn't know horses could talk. Do cows talk? Can we speak to birds?"
Asheri sighed, "Arlow, you must be careful of what you say or do. I know you don't understand, but you have to trust me for now." The look on Arlow's face was priceless. ‘Human children shouldn't look so cute when they pout.' I thought to myself; it gave them an unfair advantage. Still, I wasn't above using a bit of bribery when the situation called for it. "Have you ever had apple-mint snow ice cream?"
"What's ice-cream? Is it like frozen milk? Why are you looking at me so funny?"
Confusion washed over me as the boy's magic manifested itself. For a moment I felt drawn in, falling into an emotional abyss. No human could touch me like the boy was doing. If Arlow kept this up, he would collapse along with my plan to win him his freedom.
"Arlow, have you ridden the skies?" Peralin asked as he broke the spell. My relief was short lived. Excitement quickly took the place of confusion.
"No. Can horses? Where are your wings?"
"Be quiet lad, and I'll tell you a story while Asheri deals with the man. Deal?"
"Yes! I love stories. Kat told me new ones when I was good. Do you know the story of Mirin's Folly?"
I laughed when Arlow remembered the deal and slapped both hands over his mouth. "Thank you Peralin. Keep Arlow entertained while I make a bargain for the lad." The sheds interior was bare as a sun-bleached bone, but I noticed a small mandolin hanging in the corner. "May I borrow this instrument Arlow? I'll return it to you in the morning." The boy's eyes were wide open, looking a bit like saucers as he nodded yes. He was learning not to speak even if he didn't know why. Waving like I had seen humans do in the past, I turned and left the shed.
The mandolin morphed into the image of the boy as I opened the door to the cabin. My magic wouldn't hold for long. It burned out of my system like flame consumes dry grass.
"We're back kind sir," I called out while quickly opening a vial and drinking the tart liquid it contained. Vitality flooded my body, pushing down the magics hunger. Five candles of the precious borrowed time were now on my side, providing I didn't push things too hard.
The evening went as I had planned. Jarobb was amoral in his fundamental nature, but he had a strong sense of keeping his word once he gave it. He was also a greedy bastard, and I played on his greed. We talked about my upcoming duties and the troubles a Scout Company went through in a winter deployment. "It would be easier if my company had a camp boy Jarobb. I can pay you well for the boy's services until springtime."
I wasn't lying, Jarobb thought I spoke of the bag filled with gold and silver coins. I allowed him to believe in his fantasy. In truth, the pay was allowing him to stay on my land instead of taking his life which was my right. As to the time of service, I never said which springtime would end Arlow's service under my care.
* * *
The moon has set. Her children will come out to play in a candles length of time. Asheri has gone to sleep in my winter moss. Peralin is trotting across the snow-covered field. His steps have a rhythm to them, luring me, against my will, towards sleep. Behind me, the cabin window is glowing from the light within. I do not know what is coming, but I am excited inside. Tomorrow I will discover what is beyond the window.
~ End of part one ~
Last edited by Pastor Rick, 14/9/18, 21:51