Esther (Book 6 of Waldmeer).
NO GOING BACK
Six months ago, in the interdimensional Borderfirma Lowlands:
In the middle of winter, three intrepid travellers stood below the ancient portal bell of Floating Cave Monastery with the equally ancient monk looking on.
“Welcome back, Lady Faith and Rybert,” said the monk with eyes that resembled the mystical waters of Floating Cave. “I’ve been waiting for you.” He walked towards Maria and peered at her. Into her would be more accurate. He nodded in approval and said with a half-smile and a half-bow, “Welcome, Lady Maria. I see your father, young Malik, has done a good job.”
Maria squirmed but Faith laughed and said, “Young Malik is now in his mid-forties.”
“That’s still young in my books,” laughed the monk.
Rybert thought that given the monk appeared to be over one-hundred-years-old, it was probably true. Not long ago, Rybert had asked Tom to manage the Wurt Wurt Koort Tearooms for him as he wanted to travel. He had been in contact with Faith and knew that, after several months with Malik’s family in Waldmeer, she had decided to return to the Borderfirma Mountains to see why Gabriel hadn’t come to Earth. She had assumed that it would be the first thing that he would do once Odin informed him that the bell portal was open. Faith’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Maria, was an unexpected but welcome addition to make a travelling trio.
As the trio and the monk walked happily towards the peeling, green door of the monastery, an almighty crack of lightening smashed the bell behind them and sent them all flying. Unharmed but shocked, they stumbled up and stared at the bell which lay in a million pieces; so small that the wind was already taking them away in a swirling funnel. They stood in amazement until the last of the pieces had lifted into the ether to return to some place which was, no doubt, fitting and proper although none of them knew where. Not even the monk.
“Well, I’ll be,” chuckled the monk. “I thought I was beyond being surprised.”
Faith’s thoughts had already turned to the immediate consequences of the portal’s destruction. She could not get Maria back to her parents as she had promised. Rybert also would not be able to return to Earth. She was sure that he would have intended this trip to be an adventure; not an interdimensional-lifestyle change. She thought about Gabriel and his whereabouts. She had not seen Gabriel in Waldmeer but that didn’t necessarily mean that he had not gone to Earth. She turned worried eyes to the monk.
“Gabriel is in the Borderfirma Mountains,” said the monk calmly.
Not knowing what else to do, all four went to the monastery kitchen, down the hallway, second door on the left. Rybert glanced a few doors further down to the room he slept in twenty years ago; his first visit to the Borderfirma Lowlands. One night was by himself and the next was with his most unwilling and begrudging roommate, Gabriel. He couldn’t help smiling at the memory.
“We will think about it all tomorrow,” said the monk as he busied himself with making tea and toast.
In that environment of the monastery, where everything always seemed in its right place, the travelling trio decided to do just that – think about it tomorrow.
By the next morning, the Lowlands was abuzz with news of the travelling trio. Aristotle sent word to the monastery with greetings and requests.
Hello Mum, Rybert, and Maria,
Indra and I are so pleased and relieved to know that you are back safely, Mum. What a treat that we finally get to meet our niece, Maria. Can’t wait! And, of course, Rybert, I remember how good you were to my family when we were all in Waldmeer, twenty years ago. We missed seeing you on your last stint here in the Lowlands, not long ago, because you were no sooner here than Mum took you back to Waldmeer with her.
We are sorry to hear that the portal has now been destroyed, but we do have some suggestions. Firstly, give us Maria! Gabriel looked after me on Earth when I was around the same age as Maria. He probably doesn’t want another thirteen-year-old to look after. As you know, Indra and I have made the conscious decision not to have children because we consider that our duties are already very high with caring for the Lowlands people. Maria, however, would be an exception as she, herself, is exceptional. The Borderfirma Mountains already has plenty of spiritual leverage but here in the Lowlands, even after thirteen years as rulers, we are still struggling to keep the people on the right track. Maria would be a valuable help, particularly, as she matures.
Secondly, give us Rybert! We know that he wasn’t intending to stay but that is how it is. Rybert is wonderful with people. All sorts of people. He understands them and he connects with them. Indra and I would like to invite him to take up the esteemed position of People’s Advisor. He will be one of our most trusted and important inner-circle people.
Ruler of the Borderfirma Lowlands
“Shortly after Gabriel and Aristotle went to Earth, all those years ago,” said the monk, “Aristotle’s father, Zufar, took Indra away. He kept her away for ten Borderfirma years which, at that point, equalled the three months that Aristotle was on Earth. It was essential for the future of the Lowlands that Aristotle and Indra remained the same age. After all, the stars were so aligned for their togetherness that they were even born on the same day. When Aristotle returned to Borderfirma, Zufar brought Indra back too. Aristotle and Indra have been together ever since.”
“I might be good with people,” Rybert complained to Faith, the following morning, “but that doesn’t mean I like them.”
The new travelling trio of Rybert, Maria, and Odin were leaving the monastery for the Lowlands palace.
“It will be good for you,” said Faith encouragingly. “And you can keep an eye on Maria.”
“We won’t be needing help with Maria,” said Odin. “I think I have always been a competent guardian of the royal children.”
“Of course, you have been,” said Faith, “but, you know, we are all getting older and I’m sure you would be glad of a little help.”
“Rybert isn’t exactly a spring chicken, himself,” Odin muttered as he gathered the last of the things.
“Be careful,” said Faith to Rybert as she kissed him good-bye. “I’ll visit you soon.”
Later that day, Faith passed the Borderfirma Lowlands exit sign of two snakes. During Evanora’s rule, the intertwined snakes were attacking each other with poison and strangulation. After the Borderfirma Battle, the sign changed to an image of two snakes in a peaceful figure-eight pattern. Later, Faith passed the Borderfirma Mountains entry sign which said, If you must dream a dream, at least, make it a happy dream.
Word had been sent that Gabriel would meet Faith at Odin’s cottage in the Great Valley. The cottage was halfway between Floating Cave Monastery and the Borderfirma Mountains palace. It would take Gabriel and Faith a day to walk from their prospective positions to the cottage.
It was strange that some things about Borderfirma were so advanced and other things were almost primitive. The mental, emotional, psychic, and spiritual state of most Borderfirmarians was significantly evolved (not so much in the Lowlands). However, there was little investment in machinery, technology, and many other aspects of modern living. For instance, there were no cars. Most everyone walked most everywhere. The wise ones said that this unique balance was what gave Borderfirma its special purpose in the universe.
As Faith drew closer to Odin’s cottage in the Great Valley, she remembered things that Nina (Odin’s mother) often said about her beloved forest when she was still around. People who don’t live in the forest often have a romantic ideal of it but if you sit under a tree, every insect within a ten-metre radius will make a beeline for you. It’s not romantic. It is, however, transformative. To feel its pulse, its rhythm, its life. To learn its ways, its regenerative power, its creative prowess. When we look at trees, we think of them as trucks, branches, and leaves. We forget that under the ground there is a vast and complex system of intertwined roots that is as large and fascinating as the system above the soil. It is through this underground system that the trees talk to each other, warn each other of danger, help the sick trees, support the elderly ones, and generally have an elaborate and purposeful way of communicating with the whole ecological community.
Faith’s thoughts were interrupted by Gabriel who had seen her in the distance and come to meet her. After an all-day walk in the forest, they were both deeply peaceful.
“The cottage isn’t as clean and tidy as when Nina was here,” said Gabriel, “but it’ll be fine for the night.”
Once inside, Faith felt that there was still a strong sense of Nina’s warm and wise presence in the house. Actually, Faith had felt Nina walking beside her for the last few hours.
“Amira, do you think that you will be alright to walk the whole way back to the palace tomorrow?” asked Gabriel. After all these years, Gabriel still called Faith by the name he knew her as on Earth – Amira. In fact, he first knew her as Maria and it took him a long time to adjust to her acquired name of Amira. Faith felt that it was enough to ask of any one man. Anyway, being called Amira reminded her of another side of herself to the role she had in Borderfirma as Lady Faith.
“I think I’ll be fine,” she said.
“If not,” said Gabriel, “we can stay here, one more day.”