Authors: Alethea Kontis
Tags: #Fairy Tales, #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Young Adult, #Coming of Age
Tales of Arilland
or Josh and Madoc
Whose adventures continue in a world beyond this one.
rix Woodcutter ignored
the twinges in his belly and the ache in his heart as he raced across the meadow. It hadn't been the most graceful of escapes. If he’d had more time to plan, he would have arranged to meet a deer-friend or one of the lynx outside the towerhouse so that he might have covered more ground before the dark magic brew in his system took effect. A deer might have been the better choice as he was (finally) getting too tall to ride a lynx comfortably. If he’d really been clever, then—
Trix gasped. Winced. Doubled over. Cramps stabbed through his middle like knives and he cried out despite himself. He’d had bad porridge before, but this was beyond anything he’d ever experienced. His hands balled into fists and instinctively tried to reach for the tiny army with pointy swords fighting a battle to the death inside him so that he could
make it all stop
He tripped. Rolled. Paused, waiting for the—
to pass so that he could keep moving. He took a deep breath. The razor sharp flashes of anger inside him subsided enough to let him back up. He shuffled, walked, ran—
—shuffled, jogged, all while trying to think about something besides the incredibly stupid decision he’d just made.
It would have been impossible to successfully bespell his family without bespelling himself, even just a little. It was all Mama's fault; Mama, with those eagle eyes of hers that saw everything and the silver tongue that could make the devil do her bidding. Being raised by a woman whose every statement came true had taught him to always seek forgiveness instead of permission. His quest was too important this time. One “no” from Mama’s lips would have stopped Trix from leaving the house entirely. So he had put her to sleep—put them all to sleep—to avoid her saying anything at all.
Eagles. The cleverest thing to do would have been to call the eagles and
fly, though they would have disapproved of him betraying his family. Eagles were all about loyalty. An eagle would never have crossed his congregation. Trix wasn't particularly proud of himself either, at the moment. He deserved whatever horrible pain he was in.
He cried out and doubled over again. He checked to see if he’d split in two without realizing it, but he spotted no blood on his tunic. He coughed through a particularly wrenching spasm—no blood there either. That last fall had torn his trousers, though. Trix laughed a little as he pulled himself to standing and shuffled forward a few more drunken steps. He told himself that a magicked stomach ache was surely preferable to the whipping Mama would give him if she caught him.
Trix screamed. The cramps wracked his whole body this time, bringing tears to his eyes.
“Maybe the whippings weren’t so bad after all,” he said to no one. At least he’d known when those would end.
One more step. Two. Three. Three more steps. It was going to take him days to cross this meadow. Years. A lifetime. He deserved it, too, every moment of crippling agony, every scrape, every tear. Family didn’t do this to each other. And yet…
Three days ago, he never would have put a sleeping spell on the stew and poisoned his sister, his brother, the man and woman who had raised him from a babe and never treated him like anything but their own. Three days ago, it never would have crossed his mind to do such a selfish and horrible thing. But three days ago his birthmother hadn't appeared in his dreams and called for him.
Earth breaks; fire breathes; waters bless. Fly to me, my son.
Trix knew what dreams looked like, the real dreams, the ones he was meant to pay attention to. They had more in them than the nothing-dreams of restless nights: more color, more feel, more sound, more taste, more cohesiveness, more details, more memory than memory. Real dreams did not fade upon waking but instead became more vivid, replaying themselves over and over in the mind's eye until the brain teetered on madness with the vision. Real dreams came from the gods. The gods knew how to make a point.
The gods also knew how to abandon someone in their time of need.
Trix would never have been able to convey the urgency of those dreams. The journey to Rose Abbey was one he needed to make immediately and alone. There was also a very good chance that the spell he’d put on the stew wouldn’t work. It’s not as if he had tried such a thing before—
Oh, the spell had definitely worked. Perhaps a little too well. Shame, too, because that stew had smelled delicious—one of his better accidental concoctions.
“It would have been nice to leave on a full stomach,” he said, before recalling that no one was around to hear him.
Between the Woodcutter family and his animal friends, Trix was never alone in the world. And yet tonight there did not seem to be a soul within sight. Trix heard barely a cricket chirp above his ragged breathing. The twilight he escaped into offered a rare solitude. It was at the same time peaceful and concerning.
A silent Wood, in the main, usually meant trouble.
Trix stumbled again, forced himself back to standing and stayed there for a moment, listening. The wind had picked up.
Trix glanced over his shoulder—he could still make out the very top of the Woodcutter home just above the whipping, writhing grasses of the meadow. Dark clouds gathered in the west, swallowing the sun, but not before something in the tower window caught the fading light and flashed it back at him, like a lighthouse beacon on a foreign shore.
Like a warning.
The world fell completely silent then, as if Trix had stopped his ears with beeswax. The leaves were silent, his breath was silent, his heartbeat was silent. Even the wind was silent.
A moment later, the silence transformed into ceaseless thunder: first a low grumble, and then a growl as the earth bucked and reared, furious and alive.
The ground fell away before him. Trix came down hard on his knees. The meadow rolled beneath his feet, bending and waving like a sea of tall grass...on a sea of tall grass. He was caught up in the fray, helpless to regain his footing, so he tried to ride the earth as it slid and slipped beneath him.
He failed spectacularly.
In addition to the grass and dirt now slamming into his face, Trix could sense magic on the wind. Old magic. It was the smell of stag and the Elder Wood, of loam rich with time. He tasted it, sharp and stingful, mixed with dust and rain. The skies roared and the ground answered. Water plummeted from the sky. The patch of meadow beneath his feet split and bled dark, earthy blood.
Trix realized now that the gods had not seen to his needs because they were obviously busy doing something else. And, he also realized, he
have been worrying. Or praying. Or apologizing. Or
"Benevolent gods," he managed to squeak into the din. "I implore—”
The crack beneath him split further apart. The earth bucked, throwing him forward. He bit his tongue, catching himself unevenly on another green and brown wave of tumbling rocks and roots. He tasted blood as his face met the ground, over and over. Somewhere in his body he felt at least one bone crack, but he couldn’t tell
, what with the earth still roiling and pummeling him unceasingly.
He was not a sailor and had no sense of sea, be it composed of waves of water or dust. The tossing finally got the best of him, and his wretched stomach emptied itself of what little of the poisoned stew Trix had consumed at the dinner table.
He should have felt better. He did not. Nothing would be “better” until the ground stopped moving. The torrential rain did not wash his face clean so much as muddy it further, making it even more difficult to breathe. He closed his eyes and mouth to spare them the influx of dirt, but he was forced to open them again when he reached out to lever himself off the ground and his hand met nothing.
The shifting meadow had tossed him directly onto another, larger crack, one that trembled beneath his belly. His clothes grew increasingly damp with mud and rain and blood and tears and vomit. Trix was distracted from standing, however, not by the shuddering landscape, but by the spider he noticed painstakingly making her way through what was left of the meadow grasses.
She carried a spun sack on her back.
The crack beneath him split in to two, and then two more. He quickly realized that neither side of the small crevasse that currently bisected his body was the "wrong" side; he just needed to choose one. The only wrong decision would be not making one. And so he chose.
Trix swept the spider carefully up into his hands and rolled...and rolled...and did not stop.
The earth pushed Trix along. It cracked and shifted beneath him, bubbling with hot mud and the smell of burnt foliage and old magic. Trix curled his body into a ball as the mud burned his—arm, yes, his left forearm had sustained one of those breaks. Between that pain and the beating the rest of his body was receiving as the quake tossed him about, he could barely discern the stomach cramps anymore.
Trix had always been a fan of small favors.
He protected his tiny ward as best he could and attempted to coax their wild ride into some sort of planned direction...but to what end? As far as he knew, the Wood was tilting as wildly as the meadowland. Unless he grew wings in the next few breaths and removed himself completely from the pull of the Earth Goddess, there would be no surcease from the constant motion.
Trix banged his head on a rock, or the rock banged into him…regardless, he tucked into himself as much as he could and addressed his passenger in the small hollow his body created.
“Hullo there.” Trix tried to keep his voice level. He’d learned the hard way in the Wood that when one encountered a mother with small children, one took great care to remain calm. He hoped she wasn't able to smell the sick on his breath.
“Hello, Boy Who Talks to Animals and Stealer of Spiders.”
“Apologies for the kidnapping, madam,” Trix said politely. “My name is Trix.” The last bit of name was lost along with his wind as a particularly sharp rock encountered his right side. If he didn’t have a broken rib before, he certainly had one now.
“I’m Needa, and these are my children,” she said. “Bless you for the ride.”
“Don’t bless me yet. It's not over, and I'm considerably worse for the wear.” As if she couldn't tell from the bumps and jolts that brought him to within a hairsbreadth of squashing her every time. He grunted as they were unceremoniously thrown what seemed like a considerable distance, and then pelted with clods of dirt. The gods were surely busy at the moment, but he sent out a futile prayer regardless. He wanted to remain in one piece, if only for the sake of his passenger.
Then again, it was possible that one of the gods had his or her eye on Trix. It did seem a miracle that he could sustain an actual conversation amidst such chaos. The spider, too, might have been responsible for that…spiders were known for having all sorts of mischief-magic, the nature of which was shrouded in mystery. It was a facet of arachnids Trix had always admired.
“Might you have any idea what's going on?" he asked Needa.
“The animals of the Wood sensed the Fear,” she said. “I should have run with them, but I could not leave my children. By the time I was ready to catch a gust, the wind was too wild. It kept dashing me into the ground.”
“The Fear?” asked Trix. He was fluent enough in animal-speak that he could sometimes communicate on a transcendent level, but he’d had no notion of this Fear of which she spoke. “What does it feel like?”
“It is a knowing,” said Needa. “The Fear pulls deep in your belly and forces your feet to run. You know that you must go, and so you go.”
Trix had not noticed anything like this pull; perhaps his belly had been too preoccupied with all the lovely stabbing reminders of his idiocy. “You run, even if you don’t know why?”
“There is always a why,” said Needa. “It just doesn’t matter. Saving oneself matters. And one’s family.”
Even so indisposed, Trix was surprised not to have any inkling of this. “I did not sense this Fear.”
“You are too fey, Boy Who Talks to Animals. It has masked the animal in you.”
Needa’s scolding reminded him of Mama, with her hands on her hips and flour in her hair. Trix wasn't aware that he had any animal inside him in the first place, so he felt honored at this discovery. “Not that it matters, but do you happen to know the why? Why this is—
“A goddess wakes,” Needa said in her small voice, "a very unhappy goddess."
“That does explain things.” Trix set about trying to balance himself on his rump as the ground beneath him liquefied. He kept the spider cradled in his broken arm and used his legs as rudders in the shifting sea of mud. It was much like sledding down the hills in winter, only without a sled. Or snow. Warm mud filled his shoes and trousers. Sharp sticks and stones tore at his shirt and bit into his palms.
“Would you be so kind as to throw us to the wind, Boy Who Talks to Animals?”
It seemed a risky suggestion. “What if you are dashed to the ground again?”
“I’ll take my chances,” said Needa. “I suspect I may be swept away at any moment as it is.”
“All right,” said Trix. “I’m going to set you in my hair while I tame this wild beast. You just hold on.”
He placed the spider gently in the hair above his forehead. There was a large boulder bobbing up and down in the sea of mud to his right. If he could just make it over there... The muscles in his legs screamed for mercy. He forced them to obey him just a little bit longer.
Trix had actively, brilliantly avoided responsibility for most things in his life. This situation left him no wild warren to escape to, with no animal friend to assist him and no sibling who could solve the problem smarter or better or faster. This time, survival was all up to him and it was
. Enthusiastic carelessness was not an option. The thought that so much depended on him was frightening. And not in the same way as Needa’s Fear: that seemed to be an instinct that told a body to run. The terror Trix felt right now came with the duty to stay.