Sunday, July 31, 2005

the otherworld

The sandy soil gives way to clay and then rock. The passage opens and I get to my feet. I can walk by stooping low. I pass two rock pillars with featureless faces carved out of them. One appears to have breasts. The natural light is gone and it is very black. I walk ahead trailing my right hand against the stone wall of the passage. I feel very alone and a little afraid until I see a flicker of warmth ahead. The dancing glow of fire flame. I hurry forward to enter a room, hollowed out of the earth and rock. There are animal skins on the floor and a wizened woman waiting by an enormous fire place. She could be of any race or the mother of all races with her ancient cheekbones and hair parted in two plaits. We have met many times in dreams when I have been in great need of comfort. I walk into her arms and she hugs me as a grandmother hugs a beloved grand daughter. I have lain encircled in her arms in a small fold in the ground and watched the earth spin through its seasons through a window of dreams. I have fled the storm to her desolate peat-roofed cottage and have been bathed clean of soul weariness in her cauldron of hot water. She is my comfort within, the calm eye of the storm where everything howls and shrieks around us. She tends my wounds and I become a child again but a child safe and beloved. There are never words only shared thoughts.

She guides me to the back of the cave to where a sleeping niche has been carved out of the stone walls about the size of a four poster bed. There are blankets woven out of a soft red wool. Overwhelmed suddenly by deep weariness, I crawl in and surrender to sleep, door of doors.

H of S, finally!

After walking for two hours in the woods, my foot had blistered and swollen to quite an enormous size, so I was in a bit of a temper by the time I drew near. I knew that I was getting close, as tiny green jewel-like snakes kept crossing my path. I was tired, hungry, and thirsty--I hadn't thought to take a drink at Blind Springs, much to my chagrin. I finally reached a structure, covered in shingles that looked like scales, that wound a serpentine path through a clearing. All odd angles and curves, it had an organic feel to it. The arched doorway had a handle that I could swear writhed beneath my hand as I pulled it. I stepped inside and allowed my eyes to adjust to the light, and limped painfully up and down the halls looking for the nurse of the house. I felt a bit feverish, and so wondered if my eyes were deceiving me when I found a large lizard administering some sort of concoction to a very drunken Heather, who was lolling about on the divan in her room. She covered Heather, who was singing a rather rude song about showing one's bloomers to the crowd, with a blanket, patted her head and turned to me.
"She'll have a bit of a headache tomorrow, I'm afraid." Her voice was whispering, with sibilant consonants, very lizard-like, I'm afraid, but she was kind and cleaned and dressed my wounds with some sort of magical unguent. She wrapped my foot in a large portion of spider's web and whispered some incantation over it. I began to feel better directly.
"Where is everyone?" I asked.
"Oh, they are gathered at Deadwood Hall, sharing tales and libations," the nurse lizard said. The Mistress was gone when most of them arrived, but she has just returned."
"I look forward to meeting her," I said.
"Well, let's just hope she's in a good mood," said the nurse. "That's the last person who was looking forward to meeting her, over there." She pointed with her tail, and I looked over at a bundle in the corner, wrapped in a shroud and clearly dead. I swallowed, hard. "There you go, mistress. Now go on over to Deadwood and see the others. Take two of these leaves at supper and call me if your fever rises."
"I thanked her and went on my way.

Catching up on bits I've missed





My door is in a little street paved with cobbles. Curiously enough the name of the street "rue pavée d'amour" means the street paved with love.

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On either side of the door there are two inscriptions “abandon inhibition all ye who enter here” and “in order for us to discover new lands we must be prepared to lose sight of the shore”. At the top of the door there is a huge green glass eye. There are two panels in the lower part of the door, when these are open you can see, in one, a series of numbers. These represent the lotto that is life - thank goodness you don't have to find the right combination to get through the door! Behind the other panel is a heart, for this indeed will be a journey to and through the heart.
The rainbow is the vista seen on the other side of the door. I shall skip the light fandango in search of the crock of gold at the foot of the rainbow.
You are shown to your room by your guide
When I knocked, albeit somewhat timidly, on the door to the Sybil's cave I was unsure who or what would come to answer my summons. Imagine my surprise when the door opened and there was no-one there. Or at least, I thought there was no-one there until I heard a faint miaow and looked down to find a beautiful calico cat with white feet and green eyes - my beloved Pebbles who died last year. When she first came to us, from the animal refuge, she had no voice and when she opened her mouth to miaow it was only a silent miaow that escaped and she was as light as thistledown. Eight years later she had developed a miaow that could be heard from the bottom of the house to the top and was a healthy animal with fur as soft as a rabbit's. Nourished with TLC she came to be my boon companion and would come and sit on me whenever and wherever I sat down, purring her head off and looking adoringly into my face. I was desolate when I had to have her put down as she had developed a tumour. Now she had come to rescue me.
She turned away from me and headed straight for the nearest clump of peonies – Bowl of Beauty, my favourites. I followed her through, along a woodland path. Teasels and foxgloves stood sentinel on either side. At length we reached a thatched cottage set in a woodland glade. The garden was a mass of typical English country garden flowers and roses climbed the trellis over door. Your room is on the ground floor I understood her to say, for she had not said anything aloud. Make yourself at home and I will come and visit you in a while for I have much to tell you.
I went through the low front door – the wooden duck afixed over the front door was meant to indicate that you should do just that – duck – or hit your head. I hit my head. Nursing a bruised forehead I entered the cottage and looked about me.
There was only the one room – obviously I was to have the entire cottage to myself. The windows on the front of the cottage flooded the room with light. Rushes had been strewn on the stone flagged floor. Against the back wall was a wide bed covered with a variety of lightweight quilts. There was a bedside table with a beautiful Tiffany lamp on it. Close to one of the windows was a table and chair and a vase of flowers in an alcove at one end of the cottage held a wild bouquet of salmon pink oriental poppies and bronze irises with the foliage of an acer palmatum to set them off – they were the plants I intended to plant on her grave when the rockery is finished. The other end of the room had been partitioned off and this turned out to be a shower room – there was no shower tray, you simply stood on the pebbles and the water drained away. A pink lotus had been planted in a large ceramic pot that stood in the bathroom.
I will be happy in this room.

Tales of Whoa! From The House Of The Serpent

So this was it, the House of the Serpent... one door and all of the open arched windows were blazing with lights and from them came the sounds of drunken merry making.

In my neighborhood we'd call it getting bombed, but in this world...the term Drunken Merry Making seems more appropriate.

Whatever, I was tired dirty and angry and I had a bunch of questions.

I wanted in.

Well, of course I tried, and of course the door was locked and there was no handle, no bell and I doubted if anyone could hear me yell because of all the noise.

Oh right...the key!

I pulled it out of the bag and looked from the lock to the key in my hand a few times. The lock was a serpent's head and you know I just didn't want to give that greedy sly thing my key. It was just going to eat it, I knew it.

Then my sorry self and those things in my hair would be stuck out here forever. A bug crawled across my face and up near my ear...I had the little ones to think about now.

I tried one more time. I kicked the door hard and yelled, " Open the f&*^! Door! "

Then I heard the sound, the very clear sound of someone coming up behind me and I looked down to my left and saw a black boot and the edge of a black robe. " Have a nice walk? " I asked the Ghoul Rider...well, Ex - Rider because I stole it's horse from outside of Duwamish.

It tried to grab me and I turned around, got it by its hood and pulled it close to my face,

" What the Hell is it with all the hair pulling dude? " Then I yanked back and threw it head first into the door.

It got back up and as it did I jammed the Iron Key it into the soft tissue under it's chin and yanked it back out again. The Ghoul grabbed its face and looked up and was gone.

I looked at the key in my hand, amazed and genuinely impressed. " Damn, it works! "

The door slid open and I could not only hear but also see the gathering in blazing Technicolor.

" Okay, where is she? " I asked as I tramped in but I didn't wait for an answer.

Someone called out " Who? "

" Heather! Where the heck is she? "

" Upstairs in her room. Contemplating..." said a cultured and dignified sounding voice.

I rolled my eyes so far up into the back of my head they almost got stuck there. " Sure. " I said and took the marble steps two at a time. When I got to the top I asked a woman in a purple dress where Heather was and with a sweet little smile she pointed to a set of double doors.

I didn't knock.

Oh, what a nice room Heather! A bed, a fire the sounds of splashing...from an indoor fountain? Fancy rugs on the floor and what....tapestries? Oh PLEASE!

" Anita Dear! You made it! " Heather said. Her breath, laced with distinct odor of apple and cloves and dark heavy wine wrapped itself around me before her arms even got close.

" I sure did! Thanks for the invite And Look I had SO MUCH FUN I brought a few friends with me! " I lowered my head flung my hair forward and shook it with my hands.

" What are those...and look at your face! "

" Yeah! And my ass! You should see that, not only did some dead guy try to kick it it's now full of splinters and pine needles. What a trip. Gosh, I hope I don't have any more fun or I might just drop dead from all the excitement and we wouldn't want
THAT would we now? "

" You need a bath and some food..." she began but the train had left the station and Heather stood there waiting for another one.

" Uh- huh " I looked around her room and there on the table next to the fire was a tall crystal decanter circled by delicate wine goblets. I walked over to the table and grabbed the decanter and made for the door.

" That could be anything " Heather said, very successfully impersonating a sober person " that could have anything in it. "

I went back and got into her face, " and your point is? "

So with as much dignity as a bad smelling woman with dirty clothes and a broken nose, black eyes and cooties could muster I swept from her room.

" I shall see you in the morning Madam " I said trying very hard to sound snooty and dignified.

I heard a thump and called back into the room without turning around, " fine, I'll see you at dinner. "

So much for arriving early

It was almost midnight before Regina and I set off for the House of the Serpent and Blind Springs. I hadn't intended to be so late but the Inn Keeper and I had struck up a friendship and she confided that my donkey, Regina, would take me via a short cut and that I would arrive before everyone else. She chuckled as she told me how that scheming Enchantress was testing some of the travellers and we both laughed a lot.

As Regina and I set off the moon was shining brightly, throwing a silvery path for us to follow. The moon seemed to be dancing with the limbs of the trees and we chatted about the origins of donkeys. I didn't know for example that the donkey supplanted the ox - which had the singular disadvantage of requiring a rest period in which to ruminate, or that a supply ship to Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage brought the first donkeys to the New World in 1495. Did you know that?

But I digress!

The moon was like a search light guiding us and Regina reassured me that we were making good time and that we would be at the H of the S in time for breakfast, that I would be able to sit in the garden and have bacon and eggs while all the others would be, well, a little distracted.

So it took me completely by surprise when a hooded rider appeared. I mean really, as I think Gail has remarked, what is it with all these hoods?

Regina didn't so much as try to protest and told me, very assertively, that we really should just follow this person. So much for the bacon and eggs with a cappuchino to wash them down.

All of a sudden I found myself in a moonlit glade with quite a crowd who were obviously having a feast and a very good time.

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Woodland spirits in flowing white gowns floated by in rowdy orgiastic revellry as Wagner's music heralded the letting loose of some primeval life-force. A drunken, hairy man with horse's ears lurched at me lustfully, while a group of women flaunted themselves and suggestively swayed their hips, beckoning me to follow.

Regina and I were transfixed! Stunned!

Then a bugle announced the entrance of a handsome young man, resplendent in a flowing black velvet cape. He ignored the frenzied group and came directly towards me with a goblet in his hand....

I am so sorry! I am usually so restrained and self controlled. I really don't know what happened next and I lost the bag the Enchantress provided with all the things in it. If it were not for Regina I would never have made it here.

Through the Magic Spy Glass

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Witness Heather coming towards the House of the Serpent and Blind Springs. Blind drunk if you ask me!She really has disgraced herself this time! Hopefully, Regina, who is looking decidedly hung over, will be able to explain what happened between here and Duwamish.

The Enchantress

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Searching For Audrey

Duwamish Inn Keeper
Questioned in Disappearance

By Olympia Saramento
Staff Reporter

Sheriff Sarah Blitzer confirmed today that Miles Reilly, Inn Keeper of the Duwamish Inn was questioned in the disappearance of a visiting Author and Artist known as " Audrey ".

" Mr. Reilly was extremely cooperative and helpful in our Investigation " Sheriff Blitzer told this reporter " What we were able to learn from Mr. Reilly is that Audrey was in Duwamish for at least 3 days before her friends arrived and we know that she made no effort to contact them once they did arrive. "

" She acted like someone who didn't want to be seen " Alissa Santiago, Mr. Reilly's Daughter-in-Law and Co-owner of the Inn told authorities during questioning " she was avoiding them on the stairs and in the Hall and I saw her avoiding them on the street too. "

Asked if she believed the Author's disappearance was connected to the gruesome discovery at the Malloy's Boathouse Sheriff Blitzer replied, " We don't believe so at this time. However, we do know that the Malloys and Audrey met at the Tea House just before her disappearance. "

Belinda Chen owner of the Glass Tea House also reported that the Malloy Sisters and Audrey seemed to know each other and spoke for nearly an hour. " Then Kincross Benandanti came in and Audrey left right away ".

" But a lot of other people left at that time to, we've seen those four arguing before and it's not pleasant to watch. "

Sheriff Blitzer stressed " I want to make it perfectly clear to everyone, if you saw or spoke to this woman you need to call my station immediately. We can't have visitors wandering around lost in Duwamish, especially the hills. You all know how dangerous that is. "

Journey to the House of the Serpent Day II

I spent a surprisingly comfortable night on a pile of dried seaweed in my cave, but I woke up ravenously hungry, having eaten only two Duwamish cakes the day before. But there many rock pools at the foot of the cliffs, and I soon collected enough cockles and mussels to make a substantial breakfast. On my way back to the beach, I heard a chattering noise from one of the rock pools, and went to investigate. I put on my purple glasses, and found two tiny faery folk floating on the surface of the pool in a boat made from half a pumpkin shell.
``It’s your fault,” one shouted at the other.
``No, it isn’t.”
``Yes, it is, I told you to bring the anchor.”
``No, you told me to bring the anchor chain,” the other one said, holding up what looked very like a necklace chain to me. ``You never said anything about the anchor!”
I leaned over and called out softly, so as not to frighten them, ``I think I can help you.”
They turned two furious little red faces toward me.
``Oh, and I suppose you have just happen to have an anchor in your bag,” the one with the chain said sarcastically.
``As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. ``But in return, I need something from you.”
``I knew it,” sniffed the other faery, ``humans are all the same. What is it,” he sighed, ``gold, silver or just to be as beautiful as the Lady Oriel herself?”
``None of that. I just want to know how to get to the House of the Serpents and the Blind Pool..”
Both faces lit up.
``Oh, that’s easy,” said the faery with the chain. ``Just wait on that rock over there – the one shaped like a seal – and the boat will come and get you.”
I gave them the anchor and thanked them kindly – with just a twinge of regret that I hadn’t asked for the beauty of Lady Oriel, but then that might mean I’d end up four-legged – and made my way back to the rock shaped like a seal. While I was sitting there the tide started to come in, and while I was still well above the water, I started to worry that I would stranded if the boat didn’t come.
I needn’t have worried. A small boat came in with the tide and came to rest alongside the rock. I was half expecting another ferry woman, but this time a young fisherman steered the boat. He settled me courteously among the lobster pots, and unfurled a sail once we got beyond the cliffs, so we made good speed along the coast.
My young companion passed the time singing sea shanties and pointing out seal colonies, while a couple of dolphins played with the boat, ducking under one side and bobbing up on the other.
We eventually arrived at a small fishing village. All I had left to pay the boatman with was the rest of my Abby wine, but he took it gratefully.
``The House of the Serpents is that way,” he said, pointing vaguely at the hills beyond. I remembered I had been given a map – in fact, it was almost the only thing I had left, since I had forgotten to pick up the candlestick again – and I saw the fishing village and the jetty clearly marked, and a simple path to follow into the hills.
It was after midday when I finally arrived at the Blind Pool. I stopped for a refreshing drink and bathed my hot face, and then went on up the hill. Below me was a magnificent vista, a valley patchworked in green, gold and all the colours of the rainbow, filled with wildflowers. As I approached the House of the Serpent, I could seem some of my companions had already arrived, but all I could think of was a good meal and a hot bath.

Gail

From The Duwamish Raven Courier

Just an FYI - I'll try to post stories as I run across them as I know several of you have become attached to Duwamish - Anita Marie.

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Locals Under Investigation After Grisly Discovery

by

Olympia Saramento

Stories that the Malloy Sisters have gone on strike .... leaving several tourists stranded and without transport to the outer Islands and Mainland have been circulating for the past week now around and in Duwamish.

The grim reality is that the Malloys are currently under investigation because of several sets of human remains that were discovered recently in their boat house at the Lawton Marina.

The Malloy Sisters are currently being held at the County Jail in Saint Edwards County.

Anyone who has recently had any dealings with the Malloys are asked to contact Sheriff Sarah Blitzer of the Duwamish Sheriffs Station at their earliest Convenience.

*************************************************************************************

PS from Anita Marie

This Article would make more sense if you had taken tea with the Amazing Benandanti a few weeks ago. If you weren't at the Tea House that afternoon you may want to read this as well:


Kincross and Clara The Alligator Woman were out on the Pier last Saturday before their 7:00pm show at the Chamber of Horrors performing slight of hand tricks.

Kincross was dressed in a simple black dress and over her shoulders she wore her black cape with the purple lining and on top of her head at a slight angle was her top hat and she was also wearing her favorite rainbow colored sunglasses.

Clara was wearing her favorite yellow dress and her Alligator markings seemed to shimmer and glow light green under the light gauze fabric.

" Did you hear about the Malloy Sisters? " Clara whispered, " Do you know what they're doing now? "

Kincross shrugged, " Eating their young? "

" I'm serious..."

" Well, so am I " Kincross said.

Kincross’ hand gracefully swept up into the air and from her fingertips a dove appeared and perched on two of her fingers." Those Malloys are one seriously ill family." Kincross held her hand open, palm up and the dove was gone.

She twirled her hand in a circle, opened it and the dove was back.

" If you can't get this thing to stop pecking my hand I'm turning this thing into a chicken nugget. " Kincross whispered so that the little girl watching them couldn't hear.

When the girl walked away Clara said quickly " they've been taking people up to the Bridge Islands. " Then she ducked her head and winced.

Kincross snapped her head forward and the novelty glasses slid down her nose. " They are NOT. "

Clara nodded and with a snap of her wrist covered the dove with a red scarf and then Kincross threw it up into the air and the dove was gone. " I think we should tell Sarah. "

Kincross pocketed the scarf and hissed ‘ ouch’ between her teeth. " Sheriff was very clear to us, we have to take care of our own." It looked as if she were flicking dust from her left shoulder but when Clara saw that small gesture Kincross almost looked ashamed.

Almost.

" But."

" No buts about it Clara, if Sarah has to bring the law we could all wind up in psycho wards or in jars somewhere in a medical lab. You want that? "

Clara shook her head, " Danti, the people the Sisters are taking aren't, you know from here. They're...they're people Danti. "

" I'll go talk to them. "

" Danti..."

Kincross crossed her heart and held her hand up, " talk, just talk I promise on my Mother's grave..."

" Very Funny, "

" Okay, I promise all I'll do is talk. You can come and keep me honest"

The Alligator Woman shook her head, " I won't go near those creatures, but I'll tell you where you'll find them..."

The Malloy Sisters were exactly where Clara said they would be. They were having Tea like respectable ladies at the Glass Gardens Tea House on Weller Street. They were sitting very dignified and refined towards the back of the room by a salt-water fish tank filled with Seahorses.

When Kincross saw them she grimaced. The Malloy Sisters didn't smell like the Sea, they smelled like the grave.

" Ah " said one with red hair, " the Amazing Benandanti, Magician Extraordinaire and Werewolf Less Ordinary. Tell us, dog to master do you ever have the urge to chase cars or buses? " She asked daintily.

" No, but I do still have, on occasion, the urge to roast Sea Witches over an open pit and feed their lying carcasses to the gulls. " Kincross replied in the same mocking tone.

" We don't lie, Benandanti. It's just like the sign at the Pier says we simply provide a service, Sunset Boat Rides to the Islands. We own boats now, we sail them; that’s what we do for a living…”

“ For a living. Now that’s funny.” Kincross chuckled.

“ We've...become modern.” the bald headed sister with tattoos ringing her head said through clenched teeth. “ We don't practice the old ways anymore.”

" Well, see to it that you don't become unmodern otherwise I'll have no choice but to bury you so deep the maggots will never find your bones.”

" Don't threaten us Benandanti, it's not good for your health to threaten us. " said the Red Headed Sister.

Kincross leaned across the table and opened her hand. In her outstretched palm was a book of matches with a dragon on the cover. " Don't mess with me ladies, I've cooked your kind faster then you can say, what's that smell...I'm warning you whether you like it or not. I don't like the idea YOU are going up to the Islands and I don't like the idea YOU aren't taking money for your ahem, good deeds. And I have every intention of finding out why you've become such civic minded ladies...all of the sudden. "

" Just reuniting loved ones and doing good works...” the Tattooed Sister laughed.

" Yes Benandanti, more then anyone you should believe in redemption. You know it's possible; you strive for it every minute of your pathetic wasted life.” The youngest sister with long white hair said just above a whisper.

Kincross sat back and spread a napkin across her lap, she poured herself some tea and then raised the cup to her lips and drank. Then she helped herself to an almond cookie and popped it into her mouth.

" You know, I don't like you being anywhere near the Bridges and I don't trust you being so close to the dearly departed. So if I find out you're going onto those Islands yourselves, if I hear about " accidents " involving tourists being lost at Sea if I see one Shade...just one down here in Duwamish with your names on their lips I will find you ladies and after mere second in my hands I will have you wishing you'd never made it out of Croatan. Got it? "

" We're never going back there, " hissed the Youngest Malloy Sister " nothing can make us go back there. "

" Oh ladies, I will personally take you back to Croatan myself...you know I can. "

" They're just sunset trips to the Bridges Benandanti, we sail at Dusk and bring you back by Moonlight. That's all we do" the Red Headed Sister said slowly and she stared hard into Kincross’ face as each word sunk in.

Kincross chose another cookie tossed it back into her mouth and then raised the teacup to her lips again and bit a chunk from the side of the small cup. Steaming hot tea ran down her arm and pooled at her elbow onto the tabletop.

She chewed and ground the heavy glass with her mouth open and the Malloy Sisters saw her teeth, her long sharp teeth pulverizing the cookie and glass to dust and then she spat it all out on the floor at the Sea Witches feet.

" You're liars ladies, that's what you do. I guess it can't be helped it's in your nature. As for me? I'll grind your bones to make my bread...hell I want to because that’s what is in my nature. That can't be helped either. Remember that next time you go on a Moonlight Cruise up to the Bridges and you start feeling nostalgia for the old days. Keep it clean ladies...I'm warning you. "

The Sisters flat dark eyes stayed flat and expressionless, which was good because that was the Malloy Sisters version of keeping their mouths shut.

They were listening to every single word.

Kincross wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin and when she looked up her blood red eyes were glowing in the semi-darkness of the tea room." Ladies, I wish you smooth sailing. "

The Malloy Sisters watched Kincross leave the Tea Room; they also ignored the nasty gesture she made at them through the windows as she walked by.

One sister reached out and pulled her hands back across the heavy oak table as she stood up. When she lifted her hands there were deep gashes in the wood.

Then together they left the Tea Room and seemed to drift like shadows in the gathering fog to the Pier.

my journey to blind springs



After what seemed like hours of riding through the woods, my poor donkey, Agnes, complaining bitterly at the pace the entire time, the riders stopped, looked to one another, and then simply vanished, leaving me and Agnes by ourselves in the wood.
“Well, this is a pretty turn of events,” Agnes remarked. “And me with my aching hooves. Those riders were merciless, mistress, merciless!”
“I am sorry about that, Agnes,” I said, patting her neck and trying to soothe her. “You were very fast, though. I had no idea donkeys could run so quickly. You’re a very brave girl.”
She straightened up a bit then, with pride, but immediately sagged at the middle.
“Er, mistress,” she said, “my back is a bit sore-like, from all of that riding. Do you think..”
“Oh, of course!” I slid to the ground, not a far trip as my long legs hung only inches above the forest floor on either side of poor Agnes’s belly.
“Ah!” She sighed. “That’s better. Now, mistress, do you know where we are? Which way shall WE walk next?” She looked at me, rather pointedly.
“Oh, Agnes, you don’t know? I’m not from around here; in fact this is my first time in the whole region. What shall we do?” Agnes began to bray, loudly, in distress, and large tears ran from her big brown eyes. “Here, here,” I said, “please don’t take on so. You’re supposed to be helping me out—silly goose.” I dabbed at her tears with the corner of my shawl, and the braying started to subside. “Just let me think for a moment.” I walked round the clearing and then sorted through my bags. “I remember, yes—there it is—that the Enchantress gave us a bag, filled with things that might be helpful on our journey.” Agnes stuck her nose in the bag.
“Is there any food in there? I’m very hungry.”
“Can’t you just eat grass or something, Agnes? I mean, you are a donkey, after all.”
“Well, I can… but it gives me the wind something awful. But I guess—“
“No, that’s all right,” I said, hastily. “We’ll see if there is food in here.” I shook the bag, and out fell a set of spectacles, a candlestick, a tiny anchor, a medallion with the imprint of the Unicorn and a set of wings. A bag of apples also fell to the ground, and Agnes stuck her nose in it and started munching away. “Agnes! Slow down! We don’t know how long that food might have to last us.” Agnes slowed her pace, finishing the apple in her mouth, her second, rather sheepishly. “Look, here’s a map.” I lit the candlestick, as it was getting rather dark. “Here—Blind Springs, near the House of the Serpent. That’s where we’re headed. But where are we now….” I suddenly noticed Agnes, who had stopped chewing and was visibly trembling. “Agnes? What’s wrong?”
“House of the S-Serpents?” She shook her head wildly. “You can’t make me, mistress, no, I won’t do it! I have whatsit---herpetophobia. Snakes, aaaughhh, noooo!”
“Agnes! I’m sure it’s just a name, you know, like um, Canyon of the Giants.”
“Giants? You didn’t say anything about giants? My mother was eaten by a giant. That’s it. I’m leaving you. I’m sorry mistress, but I simply can’t go on any further.”
“Agnes.” I said, sternly. “We are not going to see any giants. It was merely an example. Honestly, I had no idea that donkeys were such hysterical creatures. I thought your type was rather sensible.”
“That’s horses, mistress. We donkeys are a sensitive lot. So, if I could just have one of your apples, I’ll be on my way.”
“Nonsense, Agnes. Now, sit down with me here and let’s have a think. Here, you may have another apple. I promise I will allow to come to no harm.” My vision was a bit dim, with the fading light, so I thought to put on the spectacles.
“A bit schoolmarmish, if you ask me,” sniffed Agnes. “Rather hoity-toity.”
“Hush.” I picked up the map and suddenly, a large arrow appeared. “YOU ARE HERE.”
It pointed to a small glade, quite a distance from the House of Serpents. The wood adjacent, between us and the H of S, as I had to refer to it now to keep Agnes from blubbering, was also newly marked. “DANGER—SEVERE TROLL IMFESTATION.” Imfestation? Hmmm. Some spellers these cartographers were. I wondered at the accuracy of the map. Suddenly, I had an idea.
“Agnes, what’s the bravest horse-type creature you can think of?”
“Well, let’s see, there was that Shetland pony that rescued the little boy that washed out to sea, and a llama reportedly stood down a lion...but on the whole, I would have to say…(“unicorns” I whispered) oh, yes: unicorns.”
“Well, we are in luck, then, Agnes, because I happen to have with me a Seal of the Order of the Unicorn, which, when bestowed upon a creature, endows said creature with all the powers, privileges, and bravery of the unicorn. Come here.” Agnes turned toward me and I stamped the seal right between her limpid brown eyes. I held it there for a moment, and she visibly brightened.
“I feel it, mistress,” she said, in wonder. “D’you think I’ll grow a horn?”
“I don’t know, Agnes, but let’s get moving while you’re feeling brave.” Tucking the map beneath my arm, carefully hiding the notation about trolls—didn’t know if Agnes could read, you see--we set off. Agnes walked, head held high, munching the remains of her apple. We progressed into a deeper forest, with taller trees, and darker shadows. We hadn’t been there more than a few minutes when we heard a great noise in the brush. I quickly ascertained the situation—a horrible smell was coming our way, along with a clomping noise and some growling type vocalization.





“Quick, Agnes, up here!” I had spied a stairway in the trees and instinctively made for higher ground. We ran up the stairs, Agnes clip-clopping behind, breathing heavily, and reached a sort of stone plateau. It was empty except for a fire ring, over which hung a spit, on which was skewered the remains of a decidedly horse-type creature. I struggled back to block Agnes’s vision, but she had already seen the worst. She began the loud, hysterical braying I had become acquainted with in the glade. “Hush!” I hissed, clamping my hands around her jaws—the troll will hear us!” Too late, I realized my error.
“TROLL?” she shrieked, through clamped jaw. Her eyes rolled, and I feared she would faint.
“Unicorn power, Agnes, Unicorn power!” She braced herself while I dumped the contents of the bag on the stony ground. We heard heavy steps ascending the stairs, gnashing of teeth and loud bursts of breath which increased the foul odor. I grabbed the first thing my hand fell on, a set of wings, and they began to flutter. Thinking fast, I hooked them to Agnes’s bridle and scooped up the rest of the items, tossing them in the bag. I threw myself across Agnes’s back and felt a slight lift. Agnes brayed all the louder, and I bit her ear to quiet her.
“OW!”
“Unicorn power, Agnes! I think I see a slight horn growing from your forehead. Come on, Agnes, think light thoughts—fairy dust, angel food cake, billowy clouds, cotton candy—oops, there we go!” And suddenly we were airborne, but just barely. My feet still brushed the stone plateau, and as I looked down I saw an enormous troll, rushing about the surface. Fortunately, trolls have poor vision, so it didn’t see us immediately. Soon, though, it smelled our fear and raced in our direction. It swung an enormous club over its great shaggy head, and with a vicious growl grabbed my ankle. “Light thoughts, Agnes, light thoughts!” I kicked at it, and managed to free my foot, leaving behind only my shoe, as Agnes screamed “Alfalfa meringue pie!” and we were aloft, flying high above the angry creature. We heard its shouts for many minutes, while I consulted the map and tried to rudder Agnes toward Blind Springs. I felt troll drool dripping off my foot and looked down to see it blistering just a bit. I shivered at our near escape.



I pulled an apple from the bag and fed it to Agnes while we were in the air, stroking her neck and her ego.
“What a brave donkey! If it wasn’t for you, Agnes, our goose would be cooked! I knew you had it in you.”
“Oh, well,” Agnes said, blushing, “it was only ONE troll, after all, I mean, really, hardly a threat, is it?”
“Look, there’s the H of S below. We’re almost there!” Agnes started quaking once again.
I made a quick decision. In honor of her courage and wise use of unicorn power, we would bypass the H of S. “Just go on by, Agnes. We’ll go directly to Blind Springs. I spied it below, a rushing waterfall tumbling toward a pool that bubbled from within, visible one moment, gone the next in a mist. “Hmmm, perhaps that is why it is called Blind Springs,” I said, as I dropped the little anchor. We began to descend slowly, circling round and round until Agnes’s hooves touched down on a grassy knoll above the springs. “We’re here!”
“Glory be,” Agnes shouted, braying a bit with joy. I laughed and slid from her side, and then I noticed something. I looked, looked again, and then took off the magic spectacles. It was still there.
“Why Agnes,” I said, “You really do have a horn growing from your forehead. You will be the world’s first uni-donkey. You were magnificent, really you were.”
“Thank you mistress. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be off.” And with a dignified nod, she turned to go.
“Agnes, wait!” I took one apple from the bag for myself and tied the rest to her bridle, under her chin so she could reach them. I kissed her on her new horn-bud and patted her neck.
“Good-bye, dear Agnes.” She trotted off. I lay upon the grass for a bit, consulted my map, and then turned to head toward the H of S. I saw a raven overhead, and hoped it would bring word of my pending arrival to the Enchantress. I reckoned another two hours walk should bring me to my destination.

Late arrival and abrupt departure




ARRIVAL AND ABRUPT DEPARTURE

Oh my goodnesss, whatever am I to do, I groaned inwardly. I had just arrived at the inn in Duwamish only to be told that my group has already departed, and on donkey back. The innkeeper handed me a tattered piece of parchment with the following inscription:
To Traveller – urgent – forced march on donkey required to reach House of the Serpent asap. Ariel waiting at the gibbet. Love. Enchantress.
He also handed me a small leather bag. I decided I would investigate its lumpy contents out of the sight of prying eyes.

The innkeeper looked at me with some suspicion when I asked where the gibbet was. “Follow this dog leg until you get to a fork. You can’t miss it and if you do, the ravens will guide you”.

Swallowing my misgivings I headed out in the way he had directed. The road wound on and on. I decided I had better investigate what was in the bag as it had obviously been given to me for a reason. There was a clump of rowan trees at the side of the road so I stepped into their russet dappling and, crouching down, tipped the contents on to a large flat stone. Imagine my surprise when I found a pair of spectacles – how did the enchantress know I’m shortsighted? But perhaps these are no ordinary spectacles. There was a candlestick, a tiny silver anchor charm – somebody must have lost that off a cherished charm bracelet, I thought. There was a little medallion with the imprint of a unicorn on it and a set of wings. The last items were a map and a small book whose inscription on the outer cover bore the curious legend “dictionary of runes ancient and modern”. I opened the book but all I saw were masses of indecipherable characters – 1234567890asdfghjklyxcvbnm

I carefully packed everything away and tied the bag securely to my belt. This was obviousy going to be a pretty extraordinary journey. I peeped cautiously out of the rowan grove before continuing on my way but there was no sight of anyone or anything. I hummed Ruthie Henshall’s pilgrim song as I walked and wrapping my swansdown cape closer round me, turned up the speed of my Mercury winged shoes to get to the gibbet faster. I could see ravens circling overhead in the distance and knew I must be approaching my goal.

Pilgrim how you journey
On the road you choose
To find out where the winds die
And where the stories go

All days come from one day
That much you must know
You cannot change what's over
But only where you go

One way leads to diamonds
One way leads to gold
Another leads you only
To everything you're told

In your heart you wonder
Which of these is true
The road that leads to nowhere
The road that leads to you

Will you find the answer
In all you say and do?
Will you find the answer
In you?

Each heart is a pilgrim
Each one wants to know
The reason that the winds die
And where the stories go

Pilgrim in your journey
You may travel far
But pilgrim it's a long way
To find out who you are

Pilgrim it's a long way
To find out who you are


Before I had gone much further there was a loud bray and a shaggy, honey coloured donkey blocked my path. The donkey opened its mouth and brayed. I looked at it blankly. It brayed again. I continued to look at it blankly. I didn’t know how we were going to be able to communicate until I thought of the spectacles – maybe they were magic and I would in some fashion be able to see clearer. I put them on and this time the donkey’s braying revealed that HER name was Ariel. I was to mount her and she would take me to catch up with the rest of the group. Ah, I thought, these spectacles are a sort of translation device as well.

Since I didn’t have any choice I mounted her back. It was just as uncomfortable as I had feared and remembered from childhood rides on the beach at Western-super-Mare. Ariel ambled off. We passed the gibbet – mercifully there were no grizzly remains – and the ravens merely cawed at our passing.

We soon entered an old wood. Swathes of moss hung from the branches overhanging the pebbled track. Lichen and fantastic orchids covered the trunks and lush ferns grew on the forest floor. I could hear the occasional twitter of birds high in the foliage above me and once, I caught sight of a bird about the size of a jay, with a brilliant flash of turquoise wings – not any bird I had ever seen before. A slight breeze made the leaves brush against each other in sweet susurration.
I had no idea how long our journey would last so I set about making a mental inventory of the objects the enchantress had given me and touched the bag, wonderingly, to reassure myself it was still there. Apart from the birdsong and the ripple of water somewhere nearby there was no other sound. The sun’s rays dappled the path before us and I was beginning to relax and enjoy the soft clopping of the donkey on the path. Evidently it led somewhere as the pebbles were worn smooth with passage and few weeds grew between.

I was deep in my reverie when Ariel suddenly brayed again. I looked up but could see nothing. She brayed again and I hurriedly put the spectacles back on but this time I couldn’t understand a thing, only sense that something was terribly amiss. Before I could ask her what was wrong a huge shadow fell on our path. I looked up and wished I hadn’t. Blocking our way was a huge winged horse with a hooded rider astride it. All of a sudden the rider appeared at my side. How did that happen? I didn’t see it dismount. By now, I was beginning to know better than to ask the obvious. The rider towered above me but I could see nothing of its face. It stretched out a sleeve towards me and somehow managed to mount me on the horse and set me in front of it. “Wings” a voice said. “I beg your pardon.” “Hurry up, we haven’t got all day. Put on your wings. I know my horse has wings but humans weigh too much and we have a long way to go. I don’t want to tire my horse so be a good girl and put on your wings”. I felt in my leather bag and my fingers touched the feathers. I withdrew the feathers and looked at them in disbelief. The wings had the same turquoise colours that I had seen on the bird in the woods. They looked ridiculously small and I seriously doubted they would be able to support me. However, my guide was beginning to get impatient and almost snatched them from me in its haste to fasten them to my back. “You will need to hold the anchor at all times as it will keep you on the horse” it added, touched its horse’s flank with a trailing sleeve and we were off. At breakneck speed we rose through the forest canopy and popped out into blue sky with fluffy clouds high above us. We sped higher and higher until the land lay like a map below us. I looked down but the landscape was meaningless and I had no idea where we were.



I began to feel dizzy as we flew higher and shut my eyes against the rush of wind in my face. Eventually I think I must have dozed off for a while, leaning comfortably against my rider. When I woke again, it was to see the land rushing up to meet us. I closed my eyes, waiting for the bone-jarring thud of landing but none came. Instead there was a slight sound of something brushing through foliage and I opened my eyes again. I looked round at the rider with a question in my eyes but it said nothing, only placed me gently on the ground. As it turned to go, its hood slipped off and I saw that the rider was a cherubim. I almost burst into laughter at this incongruous sight but restrained myself just in time. It might not help matters so I pretended to sneeze instead. The cherubim said “go to the pool in the grove and your way will be revealed” and disappeared.
I looked around and saw that I was in a small clearing with a very old stone building with a weather-worn stone plaque affixed to the wall but it was difficult to read what was written on it. Close by a natural spring bubbled ebulliently out of the rocks. I was glad to wash off some of the dust that now covered those bits of my skin not covered by the swansdown cape. It was completely silent there. I sat down to think. This was where I needed my wits, I thought. I had packed them, hadn’t I. Hadn’t I? Oh, yes, I had. Thank goodness for that. I carefully took out my wits from their little cobweb bag and dusted them off. But what does one do with wits? Put them on one’s head so that they are nearer the brain or wear them round one’s neck so that they are nearer the heart? In the end I put them back in their bag and hug it from by belt and hoped that would do the trick.

I sat on a bit longer and then decided to explore my surroundings. First I went into to the chapel for that is what it was. It was very dark inside so I took out the candlestick but then realised I had nothing to light the candle with. I went back outside and laid the remaining objects from the bag on the ground and inspected them carefully. As I turned the medallion over in my hands the sun glinted off it, casting reflections on my cape. If I could use the sun’s rays to start a fire then maybe I could light the candle but what to use for kindling? Necessity is the mother of invention – I would use a page from the dictionary of runes. I only hoped I wasn’t going to need that page. I tore the last sheet out of the dictionary, which didn’t seem to have anything written on it and carefully took aim with the medallion. I hoped this was going to work as well as using a piece of glass. I twisted and turned the medallion for ages until at last a tiny brown dot appeared in the middle of the page. It grew rapidly as the fire took so I quickly lit my candle. I stood up carefully so as not to extinguish the bright flame and carried it inside the chapel. As my eyes grew used to the dimness I could see a wooden screen in front of me with pieces of cloth hanging over it. I set the candlestick down and carefully picked up the corner of one of the fabric curtains and pulled it aside. Underneath was revealed the most beautiful painting. No wonder it had been covered up, it needed to be protected. As I looked at it my heart sung, for it was a picture of the archangel Michael. Then I knew I would find my way. I moved to the next picture but it wasn’t a picture. It was just a piece of wood on which someone had burned some curious symbols. I couldn’t make any sense of this and my candle had nearly burnt out. I carefully lifted the piece of wood off its hook and carried it to the entrance. I sat down on a convenient block of stone and closed my eyes allowing my finger tips to trace the slight indentations of the burned symbols and allowed my mind to wander.
Heiroglyphs? No. Runes.

follow the fish

This was where I was going to need my battered copy of “runes ancient and modern”. I started to thumb through the pages in search of enlightenment. Unfortunately, runic is not one of the languages I speak so it was going to be a laborious job, trying to match up the characters and find the meaning of the script. Then I thought of my translation spectacles. They had helped me understand what Ariel, the donkey was saying to me. Maybe they could help me decipher this. The spectacles were the plainest pair I’d ever seen but perhaps their plainness belied their innate qualities. I put them on and realised I could now read the symbols. In no time at all I had the words: Follow. The. Fish.

“Follow the fish” what on earth could that mean. It appeared to be an instruction of some sort. I took out the map and unfolded it, I hadn’t looked at when I had first inspected the enchantress’ gifts to me.

It didn’t look much like a map to me. It looked like a childish depiction of a fish but on closer inspection I realised that the eye was a cartographic symbol for a church. Maybe this drawing of the fish was, in fact, a map. Could the scales be rocks and the feathery bits on the tail fins be trees?


I walked over to the spring and sure enough the water gurgled happily away between rocks and I could now discern a worn path disappearing out of the clearing.

Since I didn’t seem to have any other choice I returned the wooden plaque to its hook in the chapel, made sure I had left nothing behind and set off between the rocks. The path twisted and turned but it was a lovely warm day so I was quite content to follow it. The path took me through a rocky gorge with yellow gorse flowers in full bloom, their coconutty perfume wafting through the air. Brightly coloured birds flitted from stone to stone or foraged for seeds among the thistle heads. At length the walls of the gorge got lower and I found myself crossing a grassy plain. In the distance I could see a wood and in the further hazy distance could see a chain of mountains, purple in the now late afternoon. I stopped for a drink in the brook, using my scallop shell to scoop up the water and then, as I scooped up more water to wash my face , I saw that my face had changed. There was the light of adventure in my eyes and a broad smile told me I had got this far safely.
With renewed vigour and a spring in my step I approached the wood and soon came to some ruins, which rampant undergrowth was doing its best to claim. I had better tread carefully here, I thought, for there might be snakes ……


This place must be the House of the Serpent and the pool must be the Blind Springs.

I hoped I wasn’t the only one here and that I would soon meet up with some of my fellow travellers. Would the enchantress be here as well? I was longing to meet her.

Two Many Moons and Other Tales of Woe


The Riders attacked our camp at sunset.

One Rider tried to actually lift me up onto it's horse by the hair on the back of my head. So as it lifted me up I pulled it's arm down and unseated the ghoul from it's horse.

Then I took it's head between my hands and bashed it's skull into a tree.

It didn't die, but I didn't think it would. I just wanted to hurt it as much as I could before it finished me off.

That was the plan, then I had a better idea.

I stole it's horse and that' s when the real trouble started.

The horse screamed underneath me; it threw it's head back and when it did the back of it's neck caught me in the face and broke my nose and both of my eyes swelled up right away and I was nearly blinded.

Then the horse tore through the trees, the hills and villages. Do you understand?

It tore through them.

The entire time I was sure of one thing; that horse wasn't breathing, I don't even think it was alive, I don't think it was an animal.

It was a storm.

That's what it was...a storm.

Finally I worked up the nerve to turn the reigns loose, I threw my hands up and I let the force of the storm carry me off and away and here I am...

In these dark woods with two moons and no stars in the sky and something is moving in the trees, something with too many eyes.

I wish I were alone, I really do.

Part Two:

I spent my first hours in this place carving one bad word after another into the trees here in the Dark Wood I'm stranded in.

When I ran out of bad words (and I'll brag here, I came from a multi-lingual family I know LOTS of curses) my hands were so cramped I couldn't open them even to drop the knife.

I was exhausted and I wanted to cry but when the Horse broke my nose it did something to my entire face which now felt too big and numb. Hey, maybe I cried an ocean of tears but I couldn't feel them.

All I could feel was that awful numbness.

Finally I was tired, I felt alone.

I leaned against a tree and slid down to the ground and rested my head against my knees.

Now this was real life, and I know that sounded all very dramatic but the truth is I must have got a million splinters stuck to my back, my shoulders and you know...my backside from doing that and then when I learned forward and pressed my face against the ground because I wasn't done feeling sorry by myself something unable to crawl into my mouth tried to crawl up my nose.

I sneezed it out and looked up and there they still were...two moons.

One blood red the other dull blue.

Screw you Two Many Moons.

That's what I thought.

And that's what I ranted at the top of my lungs until my voice was ruined. Still no matter how loud I yelled or cursed it didn't scare THEM off.

They were still there; my symbols of failure, two very unnatural reminders I lost my temper, lost my faith, lost my ways and now I'm in this Place with Dead Black trees and bugs trying to nest in my mouth and if those things in the trees are so damn curious...

" get the hell down here and show yourself, otherwise GET LOST! "

The trees shook and those eyes disappeared into the upper branches.

It was dark and not getting any lighter and I'd been here for hours.

Well, there sure as hell wasn't anything to look at so I opened the bag I'd brought with me from Duwamish and shook everything out of it onto the ground.

OF COURSE there was no food in it...oh hey look here! No water either and surprise!

Sunglasses!

I rolled over to my side and laughed, really laughed and put them on. They were an ordinary pair of glasses, wireless with black lenses

I let them slide down my nose and I looked at the other things that had slid out of the bag. There was a map...I wonder if I can eat it? And a key. Oh great. Just what I need....

Glasses I can't see out of, a map for a place I'm nowhere near and the key.

Neato.

I was impressed with myself. This had to be the best case of self sabatoge anywhere in creation. I mean,I deserve an award or a medal for this!

Then ....

I looked back up and the stars were there.

Bright golden stars that looked close enough to touch. The constellations were all wrong but you know that was okay.

It was okay because stars are stars and they were light and they were there when nothing else was.

Then I followed the horizon and miles away I saw something to designed and formal to be a natural part of the landscape.

It was a building.

I pulled something out of my ear, popped it between my fingers then leaned down and picked up my map,key and knife and carefully packed them into my bag.

And then I started walking.

Blind Springs - House of the Serpent

I arrived at the quay to meet the Enchantress; many of my travelling companions were waiting. There were no barges and no ferrywomen to be seen. The Enchantress arrived; she seemed distracted as told us of the developments. It seemed that our trip to the Isle of Ancestors had caused a stir amongst the Duwamish locals, the ferrywomen had gone on strike as a result. The Enchantress explained that she had made alternate arrangements for us to travel by donkey to Blind Springs and the House of the Serpent. She was staying behind to attempt to broker peace between the locals and the ferrywomen.

On the outskirts of town guide waited with 12 donkeys to lead our party to the House of the Serpent. The Enchantress had given each of us a bag, with the instruction to keep it safe, should we become separated from the group it would prove invaluable. I had an uneasy feeling about this journey; there was something strange in the way that the Enchantress had explained the bag and its usefulness. I put the bag over my shoulder hiding it under my coat. While I was doing this a donkey had left the pack and started nuzzling me. I had a couple of apples from the Isle of Ancestors in my backpack. I fished one out and gave one to her. It was then that she spoke to me, “I am Neria, named of the Angel of the Moon. I will lead you to your destination.” My travelling companions had found their donkeys and we were lead out by our guide.

We were lead into a heavily wooded forest. Gnarled branches reach out across the path like fingers reaching for something just beyond their grasp. It was quiet the only sound the donkeys’ hooves on the dirt path. Suddenly there was yelling and the sound of galloping horses. Neria told me softly to stay calm. A hooded rider came up beside me, I looked at where his face should be, there was nothing, nothing but black. The rider reached out and grabbed my neck, I struggled, his grip tightened and everything went black.

I came to lying on the path, Neria nuzzling at my neck. I sat up leaning against one of the trees. The guide was gone as were my companions and the hooded riders. How was I ever going to get to Blind Springs? I started crying, this isn’t what I had come on this journey for. Neria came and stood before me, she said “I thought you were stronger than this, I can lead you to your destination, but we must work together. Do you have the bag that the Enchantress gave you?” I felt under my jacket and sure enough I still had the bag. I opened the bag and looked through the items that it contained: a candlestick, a tiny anchor, a unicorn medallion, a set of wings, spectacles and a map. The map didn’t appear to be of any use. In the bottom of the bag was a match box. There were no matches, just an empty box.

Neria took charge of the situation, she told me that if we worked together she would get me to my destination. I couldn’t see how anything in the bag would be of any use. She read my mind saying “Nonsense, you are not thinking clearly. I will give you instructions and you must follow them exactly, do you understand?” I nodded what other option did I have.

“Attach the wings to the base of my neck and place the medallion on my head between my ears.” I did as she instructed and before my eyes Neria had transformed into a pure white unicorn. “Climb aboard, and lets get you to the Blind Springs.” I climbed onto her back. She spread her wings and she started to gallop. The gnarled branches spread out giving us access to the heavens. I held fast to Neria’s neck, burying my face in her mane. I was too scared to look down. She tried to coax me, but I was having none of it. I thought of my companions and wondered what fate they had suffered.

We seemed to be descending, so I took a peek. Before us was a cleared area at the base of the mountain. “Are you sure this is the place?” I questioned. “No, this isn’t the place – but this is where I must leave you, you must continue the journey on your own. Remember the charms that the Enchantress gave you.” Neria said as she once again ascended to the heavens. It seemed to me the way this journey was going to be – it was about me, it is my journey and I have to find a way.

I sat on a rocky ledge to go through the items in the bag. I pulled out the map, not really expecting anything – it wasn’t readable the last time I looked at it. It was then that I remembered the Enchantress’ words “the spectacles are purported to have fairy like qualities.” I put the spectacles on – they were much like my own gold rimmed glasses – everything changed. The landscape that had appeared clear was now populated by a minute town. I looked at the map which now showed the town of Duwamish, the forest and the mountains of Myrrh. There was an imprint of a snake on the map and I took this to be my destination. I wove my way through the maze of houses, towards what appeared to be a camp fire. On closer inspection it was actually a bonfire, being tended by a strange looking little creature, like nothing I had ever seen. I asked his permission to light my candle. He asked what I might give him in return. I thought about the items that remained in my bag. I was sure that the anchor might still be of some use. That left an empty matchbox. I didn’t think he would be too pleased with that, but I lifted it out of the bag. It now seemed to contain something. I opened the box and to my surprise it contained a small round stone. It was pale green in colour and reminded me of Connemara marble. He took it in both his hands and he said: “Take the light and have safe passage to the House of the Serpent.” I lit my candle thanking him for his hospitality and started off towards the Blind Springs.

I estimated that it would take me most of the night to get to my destination. I hadn’t walked far when I heard a loud noise, it sounded like the beating of wings. I thought it would have to be a massive bird to make that much noise. I looked up to see the largest bird I had ever seen overhead. It was a large black bird much like a raven, only larger. It landed just in front of me; I didn’t know what to do other than stand there. I was in awe, but nothing about the journey was terribly surprising any more. Then it spoke, “Do not be afraid, I am here to assist you. Yes I am a raven and I am here to help you because you have a close affinity with my kin. Now climb upon my back and we will get you to Blind Springs.” Why did it seem that everyone knew where I was going except me? I blew out my candle and put it back in my bag. I climbed onto his back and held on to his sinewy neck. After my flight with Neria, I was nowhere near as fearsome and I actually enjoyed the flight.

It seemed just minutes after we had taken off that we were landing. The raven had landed on the doorstep of the House of the Serpent. I rang the bell and was greeted by the Enchantress. She invited the raven to join us for tea, he thanked her and said he must away, and he was gone. Leaving only a single feather in his wake.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Passing into the Other World

The grass is burnt straw brown of high summer. Heat rises from the earth in geometric heat waves. Olives smoulder in the heat and the scent is resinous and strong all around. I scramble up the mountainside onto a small ledge. The way is hard and takes some effort. I skin my knees - an offering of blood. I don't give up. I take a sip of the sweet cordial water from my pack that I have bought with me and move on. The ledge becomes concave and I walk into a thorny encrusted bowl of shaped area that looks like a dead end.

I see the brown slither of an asp and feel a stirring of excitement. The bright bird watches me from behind a protective screen of thorns. I move strangely towards the centre of the mountain wall where the thorns become stangely matted. They are a barrier protecting and veiling something. I pull aside a couple of branches and cut my hands - more blood offering. I'm starting to feel annoyed but excited. Underneath the branches is a sandy dip that becomes a hole. I can see the dark eyes of a cave a few metres in. I can even taste the slight dampness of air emanating from it and vaporising quickly in this oven like heat. One would never know this entrance was here unless guided directly to it. It is a natural made door of thorns grwon by august Mother Nature herself.

I am about to get on my belly to slither through on my belly when three ghosts appear like dirty stains on the landscape. They are my mother, father and sister. Ontological terror clutches my throat. I am paralysed by fear and anger. These are jealous shades of the past, a chorus of spite and angry hatred. The sour smell of unlived life and thwarted ego emanates from them. In unison they gibber, "Don't you dare pass this threshold! It is not for you. Who do you think you are? If we cannot do it why should you? You have no right - even to live. We will break you, haunt you forever rather than let you pass."

The shades of my family fly at me and I see the shade of my sister eagerly attach itself to my wrist with hungry gaping lips to suck from one of my thorn wounds. Monumental titanic rage rises up in me. A lifetime of a spirit held in check erups into a tidal wave of fury that explodes outwards and burns teh stains into nothingness. "Fuck them!" I say as I slither onto my belly and pass into the Other World.

The Real Me

Permit me to introduce myself. Heather has asked me to post this piece that I showed her recently. You will find my 'Packing' piece on the suitcase post at the beginning of the blogger.
Simone

The Real Me

The real me is powerful. It is strong. It is competitive. It stalks through life with tiger grace and tiger claws. It is impertinent, audacious and wild. The real me is a queen, a virgin in the old sense of the word - a woman who belongs to herself. NO man has uncovered my veil. I am full of witch power. I am an archaic priestess to the Spirit of Life.

I am here to undemonize the energy that was demonized. I am here to breath in the archetypes that have been lost to us through propaganda, to participate in divine possession. I am Maenad and Valkyrie, Nereid and Nymph.

To enemies of the Wild Feminine, untamed goddess energies, I am the Belle Dame Sans Merci.

At night I ride the night sky with the other wild souls upon mares of inpsiration and where we touch th earth it blossoms. The wind blows through our snake tresses and ecstasy pours through our souls.

Now I am a hero or actually Hera. I am a fully fledged priestess of the spirit of life. I know who I am and who are my tribe and who are not. I belong to a raw real spirituality that upholds wisdom and claiming one's power as a duty. I reject religions that keep you unquestioning. I don't believe that life is a dress rehearsal for disemebodied glory of heaven.

I am a prophetess of Reflowering of Logres.

I am as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove.

I am a Map Maker to the Wild Wood. I am a siren that sings with beauty. I am at heart a true wild woman, mistress of the elements, witch of the storm. I am one with nature within and without. I am wild and I am free. I am a weaver of destiny, a channel for the feminine face of God. I make an art of living and of myself. I stand for oneness with Nature, ecstasy, wild energies and awareness.

Prepare for me. I am coming

Blind Springs and the House of the Serpent

Lady Oriel


Our abrupt departure from Duwamish was very different from our arrival – instead of my horse Fallada, who had taken himself back to the Abbey to commune with Tinker (these two had struck up quite a rapport) I found myself facing a small black donkey who announced in a loud braying voice that she was my mount.
After spending time in Duwamish you are no longer surprised by trifles such as a talking donkey. And I loved donkeys, had done all my life. This little lady looked sweet, with her shiny black coat and soft, mealy coloured mouth, but I frankly wondered if she was strong enough to carry me and said so.
``Fools! For I also had my hour, One far fierce hour and sweet: There was a shout about my ears, And palms before my feet,” she said, quoting GK Chesterton at me. That was a little disconcerting, even for Dumwamish.
I gathered from this that she was reproving me for my doubts and climbed aboard. I had forgotten how uncomfortable donkeys are to ride. The sharp ridge that ran down her back made me feel as if I had straddled a wooden fence, and my toes dragged along the ground. My only comfort was that some of my companions looked as awkward as I felt, except for a few who seemed to have the hang of it with no trouble. I hung the long strap of my bag across my chest and grabbed the donkey’s bristly tuft of mane as we set off.
``My name is Christabel,” my mount announced as we plodded along. `` The lovely lady, Christabel, Whom her father loves so well, What makes her in the wood so late, A furlong from the castle gate?” She added as we followed the guide into a densely wooded forest. Tall trees sprang up on either side of the narrow path, blocking the sunlight, except for a few dappled patches that lit our way.
``Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” she added, convinced by my silence that I had missed the quote. Then she started singing Nessum Dorma until the other donkeys shouted her down.
``It’s very hard to meet one’s intellectual equal in this herd,” Christabel said loftily.
With Christabel’s loud voice stilled, the forest became very quiet except for a mysterious whispering in the trees as we rode on. I was feeling a lot less brave than when we started out.
Suddenly up ahead we heard a loud noise, like an avalanche approaching, and a group of hooded riders mounted on huge heavy horses surrounded us. I found myself being lifted off Christabel’s back as if I were no more than a feather – I came down with rather more force, though, on the back of the horse, and compulsively grabbed my hooded captor as the horse wheeled round.
“Friend, ahoy! Farewell! Farewell!” I heard Christabel braying after me, never at a loss for an apt quote, as the horse and rider headed off into the trees at a full gallop with me hanging on for dear life.
As we sped down the path I became aware that the rest of the group had vanished – presumably their captors had taken them in other directions. We kept galloping tirelessly, until the path opened out into a sunny meadow and the horse came to an abrupt stop, almost pitching me off.
``You get off here,” the rider said.
I slid to the ground. My legs felt like cooked spaghetti noodles, and I sat down abruptly in the grass.
``Who are you?” I said. ``What have you done with the others?”
The rider threw back the black hood – what is this thing they all have with hoods, I asked myself, and then my jaw dropped.
My captor wasn’t human. He had the head of an eagle, and now I could see what I thought were hands holding the reins were claws. Even the horse didn’t look like any other horse I had seen before – there was something dragonish about his head and his eyes had living flames in them.
``My name is Alhelm,” the gryphon said. ``Wear your spectacles from now on. You need to be able to see more than your puny human eyes will allow. Keep to the path until you meet the White Lady. Don’t lose your bag – she won’t let you pass unless you have the right token for her.” Then he wheeled his horse around and was gone.
Well! I thought. They certainly know how to do things in style round here. I could only surmise that Alhelm and the other hooded riders wanted us out of their forest as soon as possible, and progress was too slow on the donkeys. But since he hadn’t bothered to offer an explanation, all I could do was surmise.
Remembering his words, I delved into my back and took out the spectacles. They looked like something Dame Edna Everage would wear, with huge sparkly purple frames.
``Oh, this has got to be a joke,” I said aloud, and heard a tittering noise from just in front of me. I couldn’t see anything, so I put on the spectacles and found the source of the laughter at once.
Three tiny sprites stood in front of me, barring my way. All were dressed in leaves and wore blossoms in their hair. Their skin looked as if it were dusted with silver moonlight.
``White Lady straight ahead,” they laughed and shot up into the air, hovering just above my head. I clung tightly to my bag and set off along a ribbon of pathway that cut through the meadow.
After the darkness of the forest it was good to be out in the light again. I could hear the crash of breakers and knew I must be walking along a cliff top. I paused to eat one of the good Duwamish cakes we had been given for the journey, followed by a swig of Abby wine from my flask. The wine from the Abbey is invigorating, and tastes of mysterious herbs. I felt a spring in my step as I walked on.
The path dipped into a hollow, with a few scattered trees and carpets of wildflowers spreading out on either side. The glasses kept slipping, so I took them off. Just up ahead I could see what looked like a well. A drink of water seemed like a good idea, in spite of the fortifying effects of the Abbey wine, but as I approached the well, some force hurled me back and I landed with a bump.
``Good job it’s well padded,” I said to myself as I rubbed my bottom. I put the glasses back on to see what had stopped me.
I saw a beautiful unicorn, with a long flowing mane and tail that seemed to shimmer like a rainbow. She had very large, dark, expressive eyes and she was looking at me reproachfully.
``Why did you walk into me?” she said.
``I couldn’t see you without my glasses. Are you the White Lady?”
She bowed her head gracefully. “Lady Oriel,” she introduced herself. ``And you, traveller, do you have your token so you can pass this way?”
My mind went blank for a moment – Alhelm had said nothing about tokens. Then I remembered something and dived into my bag.
``Is this it?” I said, holding up the medallion.
She nodded again. ``Yes, that is the token you must have to enter my lands when you come this way,” she said. ``Throw it in the well.”
I did as I was told, and Lady Oriel swished her tail as she moved gracefully aside for me to pass.
``For Goodness’ sake,” she said. ``Keep your glasses on! We can’t have you blundering about like that.”
``Is this the way to the House of the Serpent and the Blind Well?” I said.
``Yes,” she replied. ``I hope they remembered to give you wings.”
I soon found out what she meant by that – the path ended abruptly at the edge of a wide gorge, through which a mighty river was rushing to the sea. There was no bridge, and it was too far to jump. Now I knew what the wings were for – but there was only one problem. I couldn’t stand flying.
I dumped the bag on the ground and took out the wings. They looked ridiculously small to carry me. But as I wriggled around putting them on, they suddenly seemed to snap into place and I found my feet lifting off the ground. I had to grab my bag hastily before I soared off and left it behind.
It took me a while to steer the things – at first I circled around helplessly, then there was a nasty moment when I got caught in an eddy in the gorge and started heading downwards at an alarming rate – but the wings started beating steadily and lifted me out. I decided to leave it to them from then on, and soon I was across the gorge and hovering over the meadow on the other side. At this point the wings folded themselves abruptly and slipped from my shoulder blades. Once again I landed with a bump and watched the wings fly off, clearly disgusted with my flying skills.
The path now sloped steeply down to the sea. In spite of landing on my derriere so many times, I could feel my adventures (and perhaps the Abbey wine) having a rejuvenating effect on me as I barrelled happily down toward the beach. It was a deep horseshoe shaped beach, surrounded by high cliffs with open ocean beyond. I plunged into the surf and washed the heat and dust of the road off, and sat on a rock and wondered what to do next.
I had left a candlestick and a tiny anchor. The anchor must have some significance here, I thought, but what use was a candlestick? Darkness was falling and I needed somewhere safe to shelter for the night, so I walked along the shore until I came to a cave. I stepped in gingerly – after all, I had met many strange creatures today – but it seemed roomy and dry. That’s when I realised what the candlestick was for. In the pack with my Dumwamish cakes and flask of wine I found a candle and a flint. Soon I was sitting in a circle of light, eating my last cake and hoping I would find my way to the House of the serpents and the Blind Springs tomorrow.

Gail

The Unknown Rider

The Unknown Rider

My goodness, I wonder what interesting experiences I am going to have today. Up to date, there have been some surprises along the way. There has been anxiety, excitement and at times sorrow, and I am certainly feeling the benefits of this experience.

Now, I am seated on this beautiful little donkey whose name is Augustus. He is old and clumsily treads along the way at his own pace. Luckily I am relaxed so I am very patient. He says that he knows where he is going and not to worry. So I sit pat. Before long we are into the forest. The gnarly old branches are hanging down, but Augustus seems to be able to tread a path past them without me being harmed in any way. My other friends are around me on their donkeys, so we seem to be all together.

Next thing, all hell breaks loose, the donkeys are braying and distressed. Before I know what is happening, I am whisked away from my faithful friend. A hooded rider takes hold of me and hoists me onto his horse. The horse feels enormous after travelling on my little donkey. My heart is pounding with excitement. I have never experienced the feeling of such power, riding on this great animal through the forest. I am holding on tight to my rider who seems to totally in control.

It is not until we come to a clearing in the forest that we begin to slow down. Coming to a standstill, I find myself being lifted down to the ground. My head is spinning, I feel so light headed and I hardly know what I am doing. I now have a chance to see the face of the hooded rider. It is a man, his face is handsome, but it is his eyes that are so deep and full of kindness. He is preparing a fire and soon the leaves and branches are crackling and the warmth entices me towards it. My rider sits on the ground and invites me to sit with him. I feel safe with him, so I ask who he is. He says that he is my spirit guide and will be there for me whenever I need him. I am surprised that he is going to be there for me, and part of me is having difficulty in believing this. He tells me he is Blue Heron, and that we will rest here for tonight and continue the journey tomorrow.

Comforted by his presence, I drift off to sleep. I am woken by the birds clickety, clacking around the trees and find that I am alone. Where is my guide? What am I going to do now? He did reassure me that he would always be there when I needed him. Keeping this in my heart, I picked up my bag, put on my special glasses and set off through the forest.

I can now see where I am going and know that I shall soon be arriving at The House of the Serpent. I come out of the forest to this beautifully tranquil water hole. This must be Blind Springs. There is such an atmosphere of peace here that I must rest here on the rocks. As I sit there, I hear a flutter of wings, and see a bird rising from the water and gliding off with such grace. It is the blue heron.

I know that I am not alone.

Will The Real Duwamish Please Stand Up?

Hi All,

As some of you may know a lot of us have been having fun in a town called Duwamish.

The Duwamish we write about isn't real city, as some of you may know...however the Duwamish People are very real. I've enclosed a link so that you can meet them as well as their Chief, who's namesake is the city of Seattle.

In a way, he inspired my creation of a Werewolf named Kincross Benandanti, if you read to the bottom of this post you'll see that someone who grew up hearing about the Young Cheif Seattle was bound to be inspired by his bravery and daring.

SO PLEASE if you've enjoyed bringing our Duwamish to life, please please take the time to meet the Real Duwamish people and I hope that they will inspire you as they have inspired me.

Anita Marie


http://www.duwamishtribe.org

The Story of the Duwamish
Told by the Tribal Logo

The Killer Whale This represents the Duwamish people as they were sea oriented people

The Eagle (Dorsal Fin) The Eagle represents the high respect the Duwamish people had for it as the ruler of the sky, and the fact, that the main base for the Duwamish Tribe was in Renton. The Eagle represents the ruler of the sky

The Raven (Pectoral Fin) Clever and cunning, the Raven represents the knowledge and teachings of the Duwamish people

Tail Ovoid Represents the white man when he first came to the Puget Sound

Whale Eye Ovoid Represents the Duwamish Indian

Raven Eye Ovoid Represents the Duwamish and how they helped the white man from starving to death and how they took care of them for the first two years here in the Puget Sound. They taught the white man how to live and become self-sufficient.


Si'ahl’s leadership ( Seattle )

It is said that Si'ahl grew up speaking both the Dkhw’Duw’Absh and Dkhw’Suqw'Absh dialects of Lushootseed. Because Native descent was derived from both parent’s lineage, Si'ahl inherited his position as chief of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh Tribe from his maternal uncle. He built a strong alliance between the two Nations of his parents.

As a young warrior, Si'ahl was known for his courage, daring, and leadership in battle. In the 1820s, thirty years before European-American immigrants landed on the shores of Elliott Bay, local tribes waited uneasily for a threatened invasion. Rumors had reached Si'ahl that a large force of warriors from the White River tribes was on its way downriver to make a night attack on the Dkhw’Duw’Absh.

Si'ahl set up a night ambush at a strategic bend in the Black River, defeating over 100 warriors in 5 large war canoes. When word of the victory reached Old Man House, the important Suquamish longhouse on Agate Pass, a council of six tribes chose Si'ahl as the leader of a 6-tribe confederation in central Puget Sound. As leader of six local tribes of central Puget Sound, Chief Si'ahl continued the friendly relations with European-American immigrants that his father began in 1792.

Protector and Benefactor

By 1851, Chief Si'ahl was a venerable leader respected for his peaceful ways, not his prowess at war. Chief Si'ahl and other members of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh Nation greeted the first European-American immigrants when they arrived at Alki Point, near Duwamish Head in what is now West Seattle.

The Adventure

It was with a great deal of trepidation that Geraldine and I rode into the forest. The sun had been low in the sky but, I swear, by the time that donkey had all four feet on the path we were traveling in darkness.

"Spooky, huh?" she whispered. "Look, I'm sorry about getting all sloppy back there. We were given strict orders to stick together, so you just hold on tight and I'll try to catch us up. Ready?"

I agreed and Geraldine galloped off down the path like the Enchantress had set her tail on fire. I crouched low in the saddle and clung to her neck to avoid getting stung by stray branches. My bag was jammed between my breasts and the animal's shoulder blades and I was instantly aware of the feel of every object I'd been given: candlestick, spectacles, anchor, unicorn medallion, and wings. I could even discern the outline of the map and an unidentified round object similar to the medallion but thicker.

The sound of her hoof beats thundered through my ears and echoed through my very bones for so long I thought I would scream out in pain and then more hoof beats, but slower, until Geraldine eased to a canter and then a casual trot and we found ourselves in the midst of our sisters again. Donkeys and humans greeted us with great affection and relief, but the lead donkey, an older animal, wiser and grayer in the muzzle than the others, conferred with our guide and the two insisted that we hurry on our way.

Black trees in gloomy silhouettes loomed over us, their leaves whispering ancient tales. No air stirred, no living thing crossed our path. Clip-clop, clip-clop, the monotonous beating of dozens of hooves began to make me drowsy. I vaguely heard Geraldine murmur, "It won't be long now," and instantly the hooded riders were upon us, swooping out from behind huge trunks, cutting us off at a bend in the path, sending braying donkeys panicking in all directions. I heard screams as the women were carried off and then complete silence as Geraldine stopped dead in her tracks and we faced the largest horse and rider I've ever seen.

"you will come with me," a hollow voice from deep inside the hood ordered.

"I would prefer a choice," I answered, shocked by my own bravery.

A rumble of laughter greeted my insolence. "You have no choice."

"You've got to go with him," Geraldine whispered urgently.

"I know, Dear Heart, get home safely." I caressed her neck and dismounted. "We'll meet again, my friend, don't worry." I walked over to the giant horse and stroked his shoulder. "Hello, Firestarter, it's nice to meet you. And you must be Fabio, I presume?" I asked as I reached my hand up to the rider.

Again that rumble of laughter. "Not in this life my dear, and not for a woman of your age."

He lifted and swung me onto the saddle in front of him. Even for a woman of my age, the feel of his arms around me was not unpleasant. He took the reins and we sped off into the forest. How does time pass when you're in the midst of an adventure, when it is dark and you have no timepiece to refer to, when there's neither starshine, nor moonlight? It simply passes.

"We'll stop to eat," he said eventually as he guided the horse into a small clearing. How he could have kept his sense of direction or located the clearing was beyond my comprehension, but it was not an accidental find. When we dismounted he went immediately to some sticks that had been left in a pile and lit a fire. He took a coffee pot from his saddlebag and some packets of food and giving the horse a pat on the rump, told him not to wander too far.

"Roast beef or ham and cheese?" he asked.

"Ah, I have a choice--ham and cheese, please." I smiled at him and beneath the hood I know he smiled back. "I was really expecting something more exotic than sandwiches." He laughed and I found it gave me great pleasure to hear it.

"Got a question for you," he said. "How is it that you managed to--adapt--so easily to the present situation?" He took a bite of his sandwich, then poured out the coffee into tin cups

"Well, I'm old."

"Forgive me for that remark, but really, how is it that you're not afraid? Been there, done that?"

"No, not really. But I'm not young and I've seen death and felt pain and survived it all. More to the point, I suppose, I'm a writer and this is my story."

"So, you're in charge. You know everything that will happen?" He finished off the sandwich and started another.

"No, just that it will end well." I put down my empty cup.

He grunted and gave a nod. "Time to leave, I'm sorry to say."

"What's this?" I asked when he handed me a piece of black silk.

"Blindfold, this time. It will be light soon."

He whistled for Firestarter who answered with a whinny and soon poked his head through the trees and joined us. We didn't speak on the rest of the journey, which was over too soon. Secure in his arms I think I slept awhile, but at some point I noticed the ground beneath us had changed, was softer, and the horse's feet were sinking. Sand! The air had lost the forest scent of green and leaf mold and I smelled the salty tang of the sea and heard waves breaking on the shore!

"You can take that off now," he told me, but loosened the knot himself, then helped me down onto the sandy beach.

"So, I guess I'm on my own now," I said, knowing it was the truth. "any parting words of wisdom?"

"You need to get to you destination quickly. I took the long way and your people will be waiting for you."

"I'm not very good at maps."

"You won't have a problem. Look around and you'll know where you are. It's simple to get to your destination when you know your starting point. Use one of the gifts from the Enchantress, if you need help."

"I've enjoyed my adventure." I could sense him smile.

"Remember what you told Geraldine," he said and then without removing his hood, he bent his face to mine and kissed me.


When I opened my eyes, my rider and Firestarter were gone, the map and gifts from the Enchantress laid out on the sand on top of the blindfold. I put on the magic glasses and saw the Abbey perched atop the cliff behind me. I picked up the objects one at a time and fingured them. Holding the anchor in my hand, I saw an old sailing ship near the horizon. It wasn't for me this day, but I knew the story it belonged to. The unicorn and candlestick remained a riddle, but on the map I saw a flock of ravens encircling a building near a body of water at the foot of a mountain. I tied the silk scarf around my neck, folded up the map and put everything back in my bag but the wings. Holding the charm in the palm of my hand, I closed my eyes and flew.

Geraldine

"This is very--awkward," I said. We were trotting down the quay heading out of town. A dozen travellers riding on donkeys makes for an interesting spectacle and guests from the inn who'd watched us rehearse had come out to see us off. They waved and cheered enthusiastically, while other tourists pointed at us and laughed. Geraldine turned to the rude ones, drew back her wide lips and showed them a massive set of gleaming teeth. A smile? I think not.

"Relax, Toots. Try not to bounce so much, you'll be fine. I haven't lost a rider yet," she told me.

"It's not that. I just didn't expect my feet to be quite so close to the ground and my legs are kind of flailing about and I'm talking to you while you're carrying me on your back."

"Well, if you're implying that I'm short I'm ever so sorry, but I am a donkey and this is how we're built you know! If you don't want your legs to flail, tuck in your knees."

We trotted along in silence, while I tried to manage my knees and pull my foot out of my mouth at the same time. I mumbled some sort of apology, making matters worse I suppose because Geraldine switched to a jarring gait that jolted me from my coccyx all the way up my spine until my teeth felt they were going to shake loose. I decided to try a different tack.

"I had a wonderful time this week, but I never did get to shop in Duwamish what with writing, rehearsing, performing, etc. It was exhausting,"

"You want tired, Chickie, try carrying people on your back," came the surly reply.

"The Enchantress gave us a bunch of souvenirs. Strange assortment of stuff, though."

"Heehaw, heehaw," she laughed, "Is that what you think they are? Better make sure you don't lose 'em," she said, making every effort to jostle me and my treasure loose.

I clung tenaciously to both my bag and Geraldine. "I think there's some discrimination going on with the ferry women. I hope they get it straightened out before the next tour." I felt her flank muscles relax a bit and began to tell her about meeting Beverly on the Isle of Ancestors. She slowed down and stopped after a moment to sniff.

"I'm sorry Geraldine, I really didn't mean to upset you, or to hurt your feelings before either."

"I'm very sensitive, you know. There's a lot of suffering in the world, donkeys, asses, mules, oh the jokes we have to endure. Short jokes, too. We're not known for our beauty"

We had left the town limits and reached the woods. The others passed us by and entered the forest, a few turned around calling out to us to hurry up and follow.

"Geraldine, we really have to go, dear."

"How would you feel with this belly?" she asked. "Oh, horses get all the compliments, except for a few sway backs. Now Arabians, even I have to admit they are the most beautiful animals. Dashing, that's what they are. There's this Arabian stallion, his name is Firestarter." She sat down abruptly and I slid off hitting the ground with a thump.

"Ow! That hurt!" I got up and brushed myself off, realizing I'd been better off when Geraldine was annoyed with me. Somehow I had to get her going and catch up with the tour. I couldn't be mean, she'd been through so much and she was sobbing uncontrollably now.

"You're a beautiful donkey, Geraldine. Have pride in yourself--love your body!" It didn't work, she wouldn't budge and huge tears continued to stream from her brown eyes. There was only one thing left to do. "Let me tell you about what happened when Gaia joined our group in the bath house," I said and by the time I was halfway through Geraldine was heehawing and gasping for breath.

"Stop, stop," she begged. "I can't take any more!"

"It's getting late, the sun's going to set soon."

"I don't want to go into the woods."

"Me either, but I have to. Won't you please take me?"

"No one's ever asked before," she told me. "Of course, I'll take you. He's in there, you know. I wonder if I'll see him," she said and heaved a great sigh.

I petted her head and hugged her neck and climbed on her back.