It’s time to go back to Borderfirma
Chapter 29: Twenty Years
“It’s taken me twenty years to get back here,” said Rybert as he walked up and down Cypress Lane. “Twenty f***ing years,” he complained as if it had to be someone’s fault.
A few days ago, Rybert told himself that he was going to finish off what he started. What he had started, he wasn’t quite sure but, twenty years ago, his Aunt Charity told him that she had seen the gathering of two armies in her crystal ball (the sister-ball to Nina’s of the Great Valley in the Borderfirma Mountains). She also told him to go to the battle and that the ball didn’t make mistakes. He was to get there via the lane of Cypress trees which ran along the beachfront in Waldmeer.
Once Rybert arrived in the inter-dimensional land of the Borderfirma Lowlands, all those years ago, he only stayed with Faith, in Floating Cave Monastery, two nights because she sent him back. Returning to his life in Wurt Wurt Koort, he was, frankly, angry. Didn’t Faith appreciate the courage it took to venture somewhere he had never been before? Besides, even though she also sent Gabriel back, he was fairly sure that she let some people stay with her? Why? Why not him? Further, a few months after he and Gabriel returned to Earth, Gabriel disappeared, never to be seen again. Rybert knew that he must have gone back to the Borderfirma Mountains. Well, she didn’t send him back again, he muttered to himself. He knew the whole thing sounded childish but Rybert wasn’t one to lie to himself. He couldn’t see the point in doing that.
As he wandered along Cypress Lane, he wondered if his attempt to return to Borderfirma was a finishing or a starting. Either way, it seemed to him, the way forward. A problem that he didn’t foresee was that he couldn’t make Cypress Lane work as a gateway. He tried a few different evenings, but nothing happened. He had already arranged for Tom and Merlyn to take his shifts in the tearooms. As he kept returning home to the cafe, they asked him why he hadn’t gone yet.
“I don’t know!” he grumped at them indicating he didn’t wish to discuss the topic.
Merlyn and Tom decided to leave him alone. One morning, he was nowhere to be found and they assumed that he had finally gone on his holiday or wherever he was going. Rybert eventually worked out that Cypress Lane only worked as a portal if one cooperated. Cooperating meant that one had to calm one’s mind and be willing to be taken wherever the gateway deemed appropriate. He must have released himself to its power because, without fanfare, he felt himself being transported to a different world.
Chapter 30: Water Under the Bridge
Although Merlyn decided to do the dance-aerobics class at the Waldmeer Warriors, as Ben had suggested, it wasn’t Malik and his family that caught her attention. She stood in front of the full-length mirror at the gym and started stretching before the class.
A kind-looking woman with long grey hair and bright, hippy-type leggings stood next to her and said, “Mind if I join you. These days, if I don’t warm up properly, I pay for it.”
“Sure,” said Merlyn making space in front of the limited mirror area.
“I’m Ide,” said the woman holding her hand out to Merlyn.
“Nice to meet you,” said Merlyn who already liked the woman more than one tends to like strangers. “I’m Merlyn. Does the class move fast?”
“I’m not sure,” said Ide. “It’s my first time here. Knowing Farkas, I imagine he will make us work.”
“Is he the teacher?” asked Merlyn.
“Yes,” said Ide. “He’s my long-time friend and convinced me to come along.” Ide slowly and systematically moved all her limbs and then said, “My partner, Salt, died a few months ago and Farkas thought I needed something to bring me back to life so he suggested I come.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Merlyn. Looking at Ide’s face – a face that would have been about sixty – Merlyn added, “It’s hard to lose someone when they aren’t that…” She was searching for the right word as she didn’t want to say “old”.
Catching her drift, Ide said accommodatingly, “Oh, he was old.” She laughed good-naturedly. “He was ninety.” The conversation stopped for a while as Merlyn processed that information. Seeing the soft and deep look in Merlyn’s eyes, Ide said, “The thing is, Merlyn, we were friends. For two decades, I had a real friend. A wonderful friend. He was a wonderful man. Well known in these parts and also in the hills.” She pointed to the back hills of Waldmeer where some of Salt’s relatives, the Clinkers, lived.
Farkas strode confidently into the room. He was probably about seventy but Merlyn had the feeling that it would be foolish to be lulled into a false sense of security by that.
Looking directly at Ide, Farkas said, “Welcome, everyone. It’s good to see you.” He then glanced around the room to include anyone who wanted to be included. If they didn’t want to be, he didn’t look like he cared.
Although Ide and Farkas both lived in Waldmeer for all the years that Ide and Salt were together, Ide and Farkas’s contact had been minimal for the past ten years or so. Their son, Lan-Lan, was now in his early twenties and lived overseas. A lot of water had passed under the bridge for all of them. Farkas told himself, recently, that it was way too much water to fuss about and that is how he came to contact Ide and suggest she come to his classes. He didn’t want her to be unhappy and he knew that Salt was a damn fine man. Ide would be missing him acutely. Today, Ide and Farkas were simply grateful for a lovely Waldmeer morning, that they were alive and could freely move, and that their son (who they both adored) was doing well in life.
Chapter 31: Ancient Bell
In the Borderfirma Lowlands
As soon as Rybert materialised in the Borderfirma Lowlands, he breathed a very relieved sigh. He recognised the ancient bell and its vibrating announcement of a visitor. He glanced expectantly towards the weathered, green door of Floating Cave Monastery. He could smell the salt from the pond in the cave behind him. I never did like that cave, he thought. His thoughts were interrupted by a monk opening the Monastery door who looked as ancient as the bell.
“Come in,” said the monk with the sort of calm eyes that can surely only come with time; a lot of time. “I knew you were coming,” he continued, “but I didn’t know when. Come in and have some tea. Do you remember the way to the kitchen?”
Rybert did remember. Second on the left, he recalled. He remembered having tea there with Faith on his last visit here.
While boiling the kettle, the monk explained, “I’m the only one here now. Not that I mind. People like us can’t feel alone.”
He seemed to be including Rybert in the “us” but Rybert thought that he, himself, was quite capable of feeling alone. Although, come to think about it, he did have an unusually high tolerance for being happy with his own company.
“I was one of the original Floating Cave Monastery monks who had to flee when Evanora took control of the Lowlands,” said the monk. “Lady Pearl allowed me to reside in her land but when Lady Faith asked for the best mystics of each land to congregate at the Monastery here, Lady Pearl did not hesitate in sending me back.” He relayed the story without a trace of pride. He was just stating how it was. “The others have all gone now except, of course, for Aristotle and his guardian, Odin.”
“Where is Aristotle?” asked Rybert.
“He and Indra have been running the Borderfirma Lowlands ever since they were twenty,” said the monk. “Let’s see. That must be thirteen years ago now. They share the same birthday, you know.”
The monk said this as if Rybert would surely know such a thing but Rybert had never met Indra. Faith had told him that Indra’s father, Peter, who helped her at the Monastery was the best snake-catcher of the Lowlands and came from a hidden line of Lowland mystics. I guess they wouldn’t be hidden anymore, thought Rybert, if Aristotle and Indra are calling the shots.
“Would you like Peter to take you to Aristotle and Indra?” asked the monk. The monk pointed next door to the cottage where Peter still lived. Rybert hesitated and the monk said, “Perhaps, you would prefer to see Lady Faith? She is visiting Odin in the Great Valley as his mother, Nina, recently passed on. Peter will take you there tomorrow morning.”
Chapter 32: Deja Vu
In the Borderfirma Mountains
The following day, when Rybert arrived at Odin’s cottage, the excitement of meeting with Faith after so long was overshadowed by another excitement.
“Rybert,” said Faith animatedly, “you have opened the gateway!” Rybert looked confused. “After you and Gabriel went back to Earth via the bell,” explained Faith, “it only worked one more time.” Rybert guessed that the last time it worked was probably when Gabriel used it to get back here. He looked around but there was no sign of Gabriel and he didn’t want to bring him up. “It hasn’t worked,” said Faith, “until now.” Everyone looked at Rybert admiringly which only made him feel silly because he knew nothing about any of it. Further, he was concerned that it seemed to have consequences that everyone was in on except him. Seeing his expression, Faith said, “It means we can travel again. I can go back to Waldmeer.”
Now Rybert understood. They used the ancient bell of the Monastery to transport themselves to Earth. “But Faith,” said Rybert, “I have only just arrived.”
I don’t know why the Round-Earthers insist on calling her Faith, not Lady Faith, Odin thought disgruntledly. Most of the time, Gabriel doesn’t even call her Faith. He calls her Amira.
“I don’t want to go back,” continued Rybert. “I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t intending to stay.” As he said the words, he had a strong sense of deja vu.
Faith smiled lovingly and looked at his face. He had aged well for an Earth-dweller. The same boyish face with a few more lines.
Rybert relaxed and looked around to see a number of Odin’s young warriors in the background. “Ooh, I like a man in uniform,” he said.
Although Faith laughed, Rybert was clearly not endearing himself to Odin who rolled his eyes and started walking away.
Faith called after Odin, “Find Gabriel and tell him what has happened and where we have gone.”
“When is he coming back?” asked Odin.
Lady Faith shrugged. Odin rolled his eyes for the second time. He wasn’t a fan of any of the men in Lady Faith’s life; except for her offspring and, of course, their father.
Chapter 33: Too Long
It was a cool, still autumn evening as Faith-Amira and Rybert ascended the steep hill from Cypress Lane to Malik’s house in Waldmeer. It was the same house that Maria had been raised in, that Amira had lived in once her parents died, and that Faith had returned to, from Borderfirma, with her children.
“Malik owes me big time for bringing his mother back,” joked Rybert.
As Faith and Rybert drew closer to the house, a silence fell over the two of them. And, it seemed, over all of Waldmeer.
Malik answered the doorbell, looked at the woman standing before him, dropped his tea, put his arms out to her, and said almost inaudibly, “Twenty years, Mum.”
Then for the first time in too long, he cried.