Twenty-three – 06

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“That garden there used to be special,” I guessed as she tugged me gently along the path back toward the bridge.  “You guys never talk about it, though.”

“No,” she agreed.  “We don’t.  We all have our own reasons for that.”  She smiled faintly, sadly.  My heart ached a little as I saw the pain reflected in her eyes.

I don’t understand why it was important, or why it hurts, but I know that it was.

We lapsed into silence as we went further back toward the bridge and the village beyond.  The further we got from the barrow and the nearer we got to the ravine again, the tenser I started to get.  Carolyn squeezed my hand, as if she was trying to reassure me.

“What’re you thinking?” she asked me.

“What’s stopping one of those monsters from getting to me again when we cross the bridge,” I said.  “Aunt Caro—Aunt Caro, I saw something when I was down there.  When I told Uncle Phelan about it he went all kinds of pale and I—I don’t understand why.”

“The fairies will tell us if there’s any danger,” she assured me, gently wrapping her arm around my shoulders again.  I leaned into her as we walked, a little bit of the tension draining.  “When did it happen?”

“A few seconds before I was attacked,” I said.  “I—I saw Mom and Dad and Uncle Drew, but it was a long time ago, back before everything you guys grew up with ended.  It was nighttime and they were down there and I don’t know why.”  I swallowed hard.  “…and I think they could see me, too.”

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Twenty-three – 05

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

Steel gray clouds had started to mass in the west by the time we stood up from our spot in the grass.  Wind whispered through the branches in the trees beyond us, but that wind didn’t quite reach the ground—not yet, anyway.  Despite what was clearly an approaching storm, Carolyn seemed unhurried as she matched pace with me, walking silently up the hill from the barrow.  She must have known something that I didn’t—or simply had decided not to worry about things she couldn’t yet change.

“It looks like it’s going to storm,” I murmured after a long silence.  We neared the top of the hill where the remnants of a garden spread next to an old ruin of a building, long ago all but reclaimed by nature.  There were sketches in one of my father’s notebooks of what it had looked like, once—at least, I assumed that it was this building.  There were a lot in those books.

“Mm,” she said, pausing by an old, broken bench.  It would have been beautiful, once, and it still had an odd sort of beauty even now, its slab broken in half, one end torn from its pedestal.  I knew that if I touched the stone of it, it’d be cooler than the sun-warmed broken concrete that lay ahead.

“It probably is,” she said.  “Thordin thought it might but he didn’t want to reach too far.  He’s learned better.”

It was something I heard often enough but never asked too many questions about.  If one of them wanted to explain that, they would.  So far, no one had.

A trace of sadness crossed her features as her gaze drifted over the ruined garden.  I watched, shifting my weight carefully to ease the aching in every part of my body, then wet my lips.  “You okay, Aunt Caro?”

She smiled back over her shoulder at me.  “You’re not the only one who comes out here sometimes to think and remember,” she said, then took my hand gently.  “Come on.  Let’s get back before the rain starts.”

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Twenty-three – 04

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“You’ve still got questions,” she said softly.  I choked on a laugh.

“Of course I do,” I said, then sighed a little.  “A thousand of them.  But I’m not sure you or anyone else has answers to those questions, do you?”

“Probably not,” she admitted.  “Though you’re welcome to try me.”

“You don’t know where they went,” I said.  “That’s the biggest question.”

“As it should be,” she admitted.  “And you’re right, I don’t know where they went—just a direction, one that probably doesn’t surprise you at all.”

“They went south,” I said.  “Toward New Hope.”

Carolyn nodded.  “I don’t know if they passed through or not, but they headed in that direction.”

“They wouldn’t have,” I said.  “Not if the ruse was that they were dead.  They wouldn’t have risked it.  More folks than Cameron head through there—and I’m guessing he’s in the know?”

Carolyn nodded.  “He is.”

“Who else?”

“A few,” she hedged, and I decided not to press.  I could guess who might be involved—my aunt and uncle, of course, probably Phelan and Jacqueline, obviously Carolyn and J.T., plus Cameron and Neve.  For all I knew, that might have been it, but something told me that Sif and Thordin might know, too.  It was a distinct possibility.  Odds were good that I didn’t go any further than that, though.

I closed my eyes as she hugged me a little closer.

“I’m sorry, Lin,” she said, resting her cheek against my head.  “I’m sorry we kept this from you.”

“It’s okay,” I said faintly.  “I can understand why you did it.  They asked.”

“Yes.”

I nodded, my eyes still closed.  “Then they knew what would eventually happen.”

“You want me to stay with you out here?” she asked.

“You don’t have to.”

“If I want to?”

“Then stay,” I said quietly, eyes opening again.  “Just a little longer.  Then we’ll go back.  I probably have to talk Tory off a ledge.”

“Do I want to know?”

I had to smile.  “Probably not.  Not yet.  But you will.”

“Yes,” she said, tone wry.  “I suppose I will soon enough.”

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Twenty-three – 03

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

I chewed on the inside of my lip, still staring at the words carved into the stone.  I could no longer remember who’d done the carving, only that it seemed all at once too much and not enough to honor and remember my parents.  Of course, they weren’t under that stone.  I knew that now.

In some ways, I think I’d always known.  For as visible as their friends’ grief had been back then—genuine in all cases, in fact—there had been something different between some of their grief and the grief of others.  Looking back, I could pick out who’d known, who my parents had recruited into their ruse, into their plan to slip away.

I even understand why they didn’t tell me, why they didn’t tell me the truth about what was happening—why I had to figure it out for myself.

That didn’t stop the ache, though.  It didn’t stop the need, the wish that they were here now so I could ask them all the questions I had, the ones I was trying to get the answers to from their journals.

They saw so much, but did they write all of it down?  I’m sure they didn’t.  If they had, there would be things in these journals that aren’t there—and I know they’re not there because I’ve looked.

Carolyn slid an arm around me, hugging me gently—clearly trying not to hurt me any more than I was already hurt.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I said.  “And no.  I don’t know what to do.  I keep thinking that they would.”

“They didn’t always,” she murmured.  “But they faked it really well.  Almost everyone thought that they had it all together but…”

“But.”

She smiled.  “Exactly.  Some of us knew.  The rest didn’t, and it was safer that way.”

“Safer,” I echoed softly.  “And kinder.”

“In a lot of ways, yes.”

I closed my eyes, head dipping toward my chest.  She drew me toward her and I leaned against her, ignoring the ribbons of fire that shot through my arm and shoulder.

“I want to find them, Aunt Caro,” I whispered.

“Then I’m sure you will,” she whispered back.  “You can do anything you set your mind to, Lin.  Anything.”

“Even finding people who might not want to be found?”

“I think they always knew that you’d eventually come looking,” she said.  “Once you figured it out or we told you.”

“Whichever came first?”

She smiled sadly, nodding.  “Yeah.  There were moments when I know I wanted to tell you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because it wasn’t the right time.  Not yet.”

I just nodded, leaning against her, staring at the stone.  Somehow, I’d find them.  I just wasn’t sure how.

But I would, no matter what it took.

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Traveling today, so no update.

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Twenty-three – 02

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

My throat tightened.  “Because of Mom?”

When they’d gone, something had been afflicting my mother for a while by then, though no one seemed to know what it was.  I’d heard whispers of it being linked to her talent, to her ability to peer into the future and see the possibilities—more correctly than not.  It was a power linked to something, but no one ever seemed to know what that something was, and no one could figure out how to make her better once she’d started to get sick.

I tried not to remember those parts.  I always tried to just remember her.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Carolyn said, her gaze straying to me for a few seconds before it drifted to the headstones.  “Your father was determined to save her, no matter what.  Your mother?  She was determined to save all of us—or, at the very least, ensure the peace held a little longer.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s all right,” she murmured.  “Like, I said, it’s complicated.  When you were a baby, Marin brokered a peace with a lot of the nastiness in this world that was trying to overtake it and us.  She forced a truce on them, bought us time.  When your parents left, we could see signs of that truce being tested.  Your parents both thought that their departure would help solidify the peace for a little longer—and they were right.  They bought us another five years.”

“Until now.”

“Yes.  Until now.”

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Twenty-three – 01

[This post is from Thomas Merlin Ambrose’s point of view.]

“We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

The fact that Carolyn said it so softly, so gently, made it almost worse.  Sitting in the grass in front of what was supposed to be his parents’ grave, I expected her to be angry—I expected all of them to be angry after I pulled my disappearing act and ventured off alone.  I knew that they were worried about me, but they were worried about all of us, even themselves.  They knew that something was out there, stirring.  I knew it, too, I just hadn’t wanted to believe it until I’d gotten jumped in the ravine.

I still didn’t know what the vision I’d had down there meant, what I’d experienced meant.  What was it, anyway?  Some kind of dream or vision shared across time?  A spot where reality folded enough that I’d glimpsed my parents as they’d been when they were barely older than me?

I stared at my hands and the journal in them.  It was one of my father’s.  I wasn’t sure why it was that particular one that I’d brought out here with me, but I had and I’d found myself thumbing through it, looking for answers I wasn’t sure I’d find anywhere.

I wasn’t even sure what the questions were anymore.

Carolyn sat down next to me, watching me for a few seconds before her gaze drifted to the headstone.  “Are you okay?”

“They’re not there, are they?”

If the question startled her, she didn’t give any sign.  She just sighed quietly.  “How long have you known?”

My fingers tightened around the journal.  “I don’t know.  I think I’ve always suspected.  There was just—none of it really made sense, you know?  I knew Mom had been sick.  But her and Dad at the same time?”  I sighed and rubbed my face.  “Something didn’t add up.”

“Almost everyone else believes it.”

“I know,” I said.  “That’s why I’ve never asked and just kind of let it go.  But now…”

“But now you have questions.”

“I’ve always had questions.  I just never asked them.”

“Are you going to ask them now.”

I closed my eyes for a second.  “If I do, would you answer?”

“If I can,” she said softly.  “I don’t know everything.”

I nodded slowly.  “Do you know why?”

“Because they had to,” she said.  “Because they had no choice.”

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No Friday update this week—hopefully back to normal next week.

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Twenty-two – 06

[This post is from Artorius Mackenzie’s point of view.]

That, of course, was the worst of it.

If not me, then who?

The problem was, he couldn’t come up with a good answer.  Unless it was someone completely unconnected to all of it, there really was no other option.

Tory just shook his head, turning to head back across the marsh, back toward the village.  Suddenly the riverside wasn’t nearly as welcoming, wasn’t nearly so attractive a place to think.

You weren’t really coming out here to think.  You were coming out here to escape what you’d already realized.

He’d gone two steps before Astrid was there at his side, falling in with him as he started back across the marsh.  The look she shot him told him that she knew exactly what he was thinking and exactly the effect her words had on him.

“Tory, you already knew.”

“I came out here because I didn’t want it to be true.”

“Of course you did.”  She shook her head.  “That’s what we all do.  We’re just lucky we haven’t had to face more than little things growing up.  All of us know that our parents would’ve liked to escape some of the crazy themselves but that was never an option, now was it?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled as they tramped through the mud and the damp.  He’d have to clean his boots when they got back.  “It seems like they tried, too.”

“Maybe,” Astrid allowed.  “But I don’t think they ever succeeded and in the end it probably would’ve been easier if they hadn’t fought it tooth and nail.  So when do we leave?”

He stopped walking.  “What?”

She went another step and pivoted back toward him.  “When do we leave?”

“I don’t—”

“You don’t think we have to leave?  Have to go somewhere on this quest to claim your destiny?  You don’t think there’s some kind of war we’re going to have to fight?  You’re dreaming, Tory.”  She shook her head and started walking again.  “Just tell me when.  I’m with you.”

She left him standing there in the marsh below the hill, alone.

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No Monday update — see you Wednesday!

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