PART 1: SUMMER
A New Year
Spring had come and gone in Waldmeer and it was well into summer. As Waldmeer is in the Southern Hemisphere, summer carries with it a new year. Gabriel and Aristotle were travelling in the car to Waldmeer from Gabriel’s apartment in Darnall. It was Aristotle’s idea. Gabriel didn’t like going to Waldmeer anymore. Since Amira had mysteriously disappeared in early spring and her nasty cousin, Eve, had taken over the house, the whole of Waldmeer felt different. It was as if a light had gone out and a dark cloud had spread over the town. Nevertheless, Aristotle wanted to visit, so Gabriel said yes. Gabriel said yes to almost everything Aristotle wanted. They had been inseparable buddies for the last three months even though Aristotle was only twelve and Gabriel was forty. Aristotle was probably the child Gabriel had never had. What an exceptional child he was – intelligent, kind, quick-witted, and altogether delightful to be around. When Gabriel looked at Aristotle, a thought often popped into his mind – Look after my boy. He could not remember that they were Lady Faith’s parting words when he and Aristotle entered the frame which transported them from Borderfirma to Waldmeer.
“Tell me again why you want to visit Waldmeer,” said Gabriel.
“I want to go and see my Aunt Eve’s house,” said Aristotle.
“I don’t want to say anything mean, Aristotle, but do you realise that your Aunt Eve is not a particularly nice person?” said Gabriel. “She’s not like you,” he added wondering how two such different people could be so closely related. For that matter, Amira was also related to Eve, as a cousin, and that was an equally unfortunate genetic mismatch.
“Oh, I know that,” said Aristotle. “Aunt Eve’s much meaner than you would even care to know about.”
“Then why do you want to go there?” asked Gabriel. “The house looks completely different from when your Aunt Amira had it.” The curtains were always drawn. The garden was overgrown with weeds and the flowers didn’t seem to grow anymore. Gabriel thought about how Amira would sometimes say that one would have to try really hard to have an ugly garden in Waldmeer because the rain, sunshine, and rich, forest soil made everything grow without any help at all.
“I have a feeling my mother might be back soon,” said Aristotle.
“Do you?” asked Gabriel. “How do you know?”
“I dreamt it,” said Aristotle.
“Oh,” said Gabriel tolerantly. Aristotle was always dreaming weird and wonderful things, however, Gabriel had become acclimatised to Amira’s dreaming habits and so he took it in his stride. After a few minutes, he said, “I know you miss your mother but she may be some time yet.” Gabriel actually felt that there was a very real chance that Aristotle’s mother (whoever and wherever she was) may never return. After all, he thought, what sort of mother would leave their child with Eve?
When Gabriel first returned to Earth from Borderfirma with Aristotle in tow, he was very disoriented. He told Aristotle that he felt unwell and that something was mentally wrong with him. He could not assimilate the memory of Borderfirma with the reality of his life on Earth. That first evening in Darnall, Aristotle contacted his mother telepathically. Lady Faith had no memory of Borderfirma when she was on Earth as Amira, however, for his safety, Aristotle had retained his Borderfirma memory. He asked his mother how to help Gabriel. She told him to whisper the following words into Gabriel’s ear and that the Great Ones would make sure that it entered his mind as an uncontested reality.
Aristotle crept into Gabriel’s room. He crouched next to him as he was deeply sleeping and said quietly but clearly, “When you wake up, you will not remember Borderfirma. Your only recollection of Amira will be the Amira you know on Earth. You will not be able to recall her as Lady Faith, ruler of the Borderfirma Mountains, mother of Bethany, Malik, and myself, and grandmother of Lentilly. You will believe that I am the child of Eve’s sister who is one of Amira’s cousins. You will also believe that Amira sent me to you while my mother is away so that I do not have to live with my Aunt Eve.” Aristotle repeated this several times until he felt that Gabriel had absorbed it into his subconscious mind. On waking, Gabriel told Aristotle that he had slept like a baby and that he felt marvellous.
While driving along the peaceful country road, Gabriel asked,. “What’s your mother’s name?”
“Faith,” said Aristotle. “Her name is Faith.”
“That’s a nice name,” said Gabriel. Hopefully, Faith and Eve are like chalk and cheese, day and night, he thought.
“My mother is nothing like Aunt Eve,” said Aristotle reading Gabriel’s thoughts. “She is a true queen.”
“Yes,” said Gabriel. “I’m sure she is.” Many a twelve-year-old boy thinks that his mother is a queen, thought Gabriel. He remembered how Amira had once told him that it is the family romance that has to be rightly outgrown. He recalled many things that Amira had told him over the years. He wished that she would come back. Or, at least, he hoped that she was alright wherever she was. It’s strange, he thought, how some people’s words stay inside us and have the power to change us and other people’s words are powerless, no matter how intelligent they may sound.
“How old is your mother?” asked Gabriel.
“I believe she is fifty now,” said Aristotle.
In the Borderfirma Mountains:
Ten years had passed in Borderfirma. Time there is not like Earth time. It is not necessarily faster. Sometimes, it is slower. But not always. It is just different. Lady Faith was fifty, Bethany was thirty, Malik was twenty-four, and baby Lentil was, believe it or not, ten. For the past ten years, Lady Faith and her mother had been training Bethany to take over the running of the Borderfirma Mountains. Malik was now one of Odin’s most valued warriors in the Great Valley. And Lentilly had been busy playing with life and growing up along the way. Lady Faith had been away many times to the other dimensions, however, she had never been able to return to Earth because she had given that ability to her sister, Lady Evanora (Eve on Earth), in exchange for Aristotle’s freedom.
A few days ago, while on an interdimensional trip, Lady Faith had been told that Lady Evanora had returned from Earth to her own kingdom, the Borderfirma Lowlands. Evanora had not anticipated Earth’s more primitive, energetic consistency. It was much heavier than what she was used to in Borderfirma. Lady Faith was not significantly affected by it when she was on Earth as she prepared herself for it before her trips. Eve, however, found that it made her feel lethargic and depressed. Many of her otherworldly abilities lost their potency. In disgust, she returned to her Borderfirma home announcing to her subjects that Earth was entirely overrated and that one would be a fool to ever want to go there.
Although Lady Faith was thrilled to know that Eve was out of Waldmeer and away from its residents, she also knew that she still couldn’t regain her ability to travel there in human form as she had legitimately handed that over to Evanora. However, to her surprise, Lady Faith had been told that she would soon be returning to Earth again. She was further told, You cannot, now or in the future, ever return to Earth as Amira. You will be returning to Earth as Faith; mother of Bethany, Malik, and Aristotle, sister of Eve, and cousin of Amira. You will be taking Bethany, Malik, and Lentilly with you.
Lady Faith immediately recalled a visit to Nina and Odin in the Great Valley a few years ago. In the evening, Nina told Bethany that she was going to do a reading for her from her crystal ball. Bethany was very excited and entered the forbidden territory of Nina’s bedroom. It looked something like the bedroom of any old aunt who had a religious bent. There was a large picture on the wall of an angel protecting two small children who were walking in trepidation on a rickety bridge. There were many religious statues from numerous traditions – Jesus and Mary, Buddha and Kwan Yin, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. There were also pictures of Islamic geometric patterns and Arabic calligraphy. There was a single bed somewhere under a pile of clothes. Nina ceremoniously opened her wardrobe which was stuffed to overflowing with God only knows what. She solemnly pulled out a large, clear crystal ball and carefully placed it in the middle of the small table. Then all was completely still and time stopped. Bethany’s eyes were fixed on the heavy, mesmerising glass ball. She could see the red velvet underneath it. There were many lights inside it. She couldn’t tell if they were reflections from the room or if the lights came from somewhere else. What is it saying? she wondered. What does it see? She dared not break the sacred atmosphere by asking.
Suddenly, Nina broke the spell in the room, stood up, covered the ball with a cloth and said, “Well, that’s it then.”
“What’s it?” said Bethany. “What did it say? Tell me, Nina.”
“It said that you will meet your future husband on Earth,” said Nina.
“Earth? On Earth? Oh, how wonderful,” cooed Bethany. “I’ve always wanted to go there. But how?”
“I don’t know,” said Nina. “Why are you asking me? I don’t know anything.”
“But what about the Borderfirma Mountains?” said Bethany. “I can’t leave.”
“I don’t know,” repeated Nina.
“How will I get to Earth?” asked Bethany again. “I don’t have mother’s ability to travel interdimensionally. And how will I find my husband?”
Nina shuffled Bethany back out into the lounge room and refused to answer any more of her questions.
Salt and Pepper
Back in Waldmeer:
As Gabriel and Aristotle got to the bottom of Amira’s hill, Gabriel looked with concern at Aristotle and said, “I told you not to get excited, Aristotle.” He was worried that Aristotle’s boyish innocence would lead to nothing but disappointment. To Gabriel’s astonishment, Amira’s old house looked completely different. Aristotle gave a whoop of joy, jumped out of the car while it was still moving, and ran to the people in the front garden. It most certainly wasn’t Eve. Nor was it Amira. It was a woman that Gabriel had never seen before, a couple of younger adults, and a girl of around ten. Aristotle ran to the group and practically bowled the woman over. The young man, in his early twenties, was huge. He lifted Aristotle up as if he was a feather.
“Wow!” said Aristotle, “Look at you, Malik. You are the biggest person I’ve ever seen. You are even bigger than Odin.”
“Not quite,” laughed Malik.
“And Bethany,” said Aristotle, “You are… a lady.” Everyone laughed. “You look like Mother.” Aristotle turned to Lentilly. “This can’t be baby Lentil,” he said.
“I’m no baby, thank you very much,” said Lentilly with the dignity of a princess. “And my name is Lentilly, not Lentil.” Having made her case clear, she then relaxed and threw her arms around Aristotle and continued, “We are almost the same age. Yay, I’m not on my own anymore.”
Bethany looked at Aristotle and explained, “She has been talking nonstop about having a brother ever since we knew we were coming.”
“I’m your uncle,” said Aristotle with a smile, “not your brother, so you remember to treat me with respect.”
“No hope of that, matey,” said Malik putting a protective arm around Aristotle.
The whole time, Gabriel had been standing nearby watching them. He was totally absorbed in their family reunion. He suddenly realised that he probably shouldn’t be standing there staring. The woman walked to him with an outstretched hand.
“You must be Gabriel,” said Faith. She shook his hand warmly.
Gabriel stared at her. My God, he thought, she looks exactly like Amira but older.
“Amira has told me so much about you,” continued Faith. “I feel I know you already.” Gabriel shuffled and wondered what, exactly, Amira would have told her. “How can I ever thank you for having my son for these last three months?” said Faith. “I know that Amira sent him to you so that he wouldn’t have to stay with his Aunt Eve. I’m so sorry about my sister, Eve. She really is a problem. We don’t know what to do about her but she has gone now and the children and I have the house.”
“Amira is not coming back then?” said Gabriel with sad eyes.
Faith hesitated. It had to be said. “I’m so sorry, Gabriel. She is not coming back.”
Gabriel looked away. The small group eyed each other with apprehension. No one knew what to say.
“Oh, well, that’s life, isn’t it?” said Gabriel trying to smile.
Aristotle walked towards Gabriel and said softly, “Don’t worry. You have all of us.”
Gabriel looked a bit embarrassed and went to leave. He glanced around at the recovering garden. He heard a loud bird call and saw, in the nearby forest, a family grouping of wedge-tailed eagles. That must be the male and female, he thought, I kept seeing here some months ago from the bungalow. Their babies are already big.
“We call the Dad, Aquilla,” said Faith as her eyes trailed Gabriel’s into the tree tops. Pointing back to the garden, she continued, “I’ve pulled out some of the biggest weeds and given it a really good water.”
Gabriel looked at Faith as she walked over to a pile of weeds to dump another lot on. She had short, uncoloured, salt and pepper hair. Her face had no makeup and she wore blue shorts and a plain, cream T-shirt. Everything about her looked simple and… something else. Gabriel couldn’t quite put his finger on it. There was nothing about her that was offensive and there was nothing about her that was attention seeking. It was as if her body functioned so well and silently that she barely even noticed it except that she needed it. A thought passed through Gabriel’s mind.
It is not the frame which matters but the picture. Make sure that the picture is beautiful. The frame is only there to draw the eyes to the picture.
Gabriel didn’t know where the thought came from but it seemed somehow appropriate. He didn’t realise that it is what Zufar (Bethany, Malik, and Aristotle’s father) had written on the frame which had transported he and Aristotle from the Borderfirma Mountains back to Waldmeer. He turned for his car and said goodbye to Aristotle’s family. That whole family has something mysterious about them, thought Gabriel. Maybe, weird. Maybe, wonderful. Either way, they are not normal.
“I’ll call you in a few days,” Aristotle called out to Gabriel as he eagerly headed for the front door of the cottage. Gabriel waved to him.
Faith walked down to Gabriel’s car, stood at the car window as he turned the engine on, and said with calm, steady eyes, “Thank you for looking after my boy.” Gabriel knew that she was referring to Aristotle but the tone of her voice, or was it the look in her eyes, suggested that she may not have been referring exclusively to Aristotle.