There’s a stream on the grounds of a small winery in France’s Champagne district. At one point it widens into a pond, in the middle of which is an oval-shaped mound of earth, with a single tree at one end. The place is known as l’ile de la fille sauvage, and though it barely warrants being called an island, local legend says that it served as an occasional refuge from the stresses of civilization for the mysterious Wild Girl of Champagne.
She first appeared here in the year 1731, barefoot and dressed animal skins. According to one of the early accounts, “She runs like a hare, climbs trees like a cat, skins animals alive with her bare hands and eats them raw.” There was much speculation about where she might have come from, but “little doubt that she is a member of one of the savage races”. She was baptized, given the name Marie-Angelique and sent to a convent to be tamed and Christianized. After that, very little was known about her life until the early 21st century when, thanks to the work of an French amateur historian, a fuller picture began to emerge. Archival research by Serge Aroles has traced her origins to the Fox or Meskwaki tribe, then based in the Great Lakes region of New France. His findings also link her with a troubling period in Canadian history. Though the young woman known as Marie-Angelique was, mercifully, not murdered, it’s very likely that she was one of this country’s earliest Missing Indigenous Women.
In the early 18th centuries, France engaged in a complex series of alliances with various indigenous nations, including les Renards, who by 1712 had become a major obstacle to French domination of the fur trade. Through an emissary, King Louis XV sent the Fox an ultimatum, setting off a decades-long campaign of extermination that historians call the Fox Wars. Though they did not succeed in wiping out the Meskwaki, French forces tortured and killed thousands of men, women and children. A small number of survivors escaped New France and eventually settled in present-day Iowa, where they live today. During the hostilities a large number of Fox were enslaved by the French (some present-day Quebec métis trace their ancestry back to those Fox slaves). Aroles concludes that as a young child, Marie-Angelique was taken into slavery by a prominent family, who took her first to Labrador, and then sailed back to France in 1721. According to the ship’s manifest, Mme. Marie de Courtemanche was accompanied by her two daughters and an unnamed sauvagesse, whom Aroles believes escaped from the port of Marseilles and spent years – possibly as much as a decade – living in the forest, subsisting on roots, fish and animal flesh.
Unlike most feral children through history, Marie-Angelique reacquired speech, became literate and lived a normal life span. But she was unable to summon up more than vague recollections of her former life, and never learned who her people were or where she’d come from. After spending time in a series of convents, she lived in Paris until her death at the age of 63. The contents of her apartment included “20 chairs,” indicating that she received visitors and thus may have been a person of stature. To me, those chairs are a bit like the “second-best bed” Shakespeare left to his wife: So little said, so much implied, a mystery that will never be solved.
In January 2017, a major exhibit about la fille sauvage was mounted in the city of Chalons-en-Champagne, a sign that the French have come to embrace her as one of their own. But the exhibit makes clear that the her true roots are Indigenous North American, most likely the Meskwaki nation. Meanwhile, in Canada, she is hardly known at all. That might be because she’s an uncomfortable reminder of the historic wrongs committed against our First Nations: the theft of children to residential schools, the failure to search for missing women and to prosecute their murders.
It’s not known where the woman known as Marie-Angelique is buried and, given the passage of nearly three centuries, it’s unlikely her grave will be found. But stranger things have happened in the improbable saga of this remarkable woman. So who knows? Perhaps one day, at long last, the Wild Girl will – physically or symbolically – be brought home.
Holiday gift idea! The Notherland Journeys will be re-launched as an e-book in 2017, so I’m selling off the remaining sets of the original trilogy. This is the last chance to get your hands on physical, real-world copies of The Nordlings, The Shining World and The Songweavers: $20 for a set of 3. CONTACT ME for payment, delivery and pick-up info. For the time being, you can still read The Notherland Journeys in serial form here on the website, for FREE!
Read it now!
Chapter 15: The White Marauder
AS HE SOARED over the vast Polar Sea, Gavi the loon released an exuberant wail.
I am here! I exist!
To think that only a short time earlier, he had been so sure his time had come. Then, to his amazement, there was a crack in the ice, then another, and another. He felt himself being pulled downward, his flesh stretched to the limit, as if his body would split open. Then a sudden, ecstatic feeling of release, not only of his outer body, but of something loosening up inside him.
It was a few moments before he realized what it was: His mind was open, free, expansive, as it had been when he first dwelled in Notherland, before he had crossed over into Peggy’s world. True, he had still had some power of thought in his life as a physical loon, the same power he’d discovered, to his astonishment, that his daughter Gavrila shared. But it had never been quite the same – he felt his mind was sluggish, as if weighted down by his body. Aspects of his curiosity had been dulled, and he found he could only fitfully recall much of his previous learning.
Yet, when he had first returned to Notherland he found that the sensations of his loon body – tastes, sounds, the feeling of wetness – had all became much less intense. He found it sad to think that beings had to choose between the full power of the mind and the sweet joys of physical existence. His own experience of going between the worlds suggested that it might not be possible to have both.
But what a difference it was being in Notherland! Random bits of knowledge came flooding back into his mind, ideas he had once pondered, words he had learned long ago. And all this seemed to be occurring with no diminishment in his physical sensations. How could this be?
He considered whether to fly to Painted Rock, on Lake Notherland, the portal between this world and the world of the Creator, Peggy. He had to find Molly and the Nordlings and see if, by chance, Peggy herself had also returned, drawn by the same sense of foreboding as he himself had been.
He was distracted from his musings by intriguing waves of sound wafting up from the sea below. He looked down and saw a pod of humpback whales, their shiny black backs undulating in and out of the water. In his life as a physical loon he had often seen humpbacks from a distance and experienced their magnificent music.
Their song dropped to a deep, sonorous timbre, then swooped up into the higher registers. It was no random collection of notes, but a progression of phrases and refrains, a melody as haunting and complex as any human music. As he listened to it, he experienced a deep sense of kinship with the whales. He felt a strong urge to release a tremolo in response. But he held back, fearful they might misinterpret his enthusiasm and stop singing altogether. He felt a twinge of envy at the variety of the whales’ music, which put the limited range of his own loon singing to shame
He drank in the final strains of the whale song as the humpbacks receded in the distance, and turned his attention to his present situation. For all the exhilaration he felt being back in Notherland, something had drawn him back here, a feeling that something was not right. But what was it? Everything seemed as he remembered it.
To the north he spied what looked like a smoldering column rising up in the distance. It took him a few moments to realize what he was seeing: the Hole at the Pole, ringed by a narrow band of black ice.
Clearly, the Hole, once sealed shut through the brave efforts of Peggy and the Nordlings, was open again. What did it mean? Had the Nobodaddy somehow returned? How was such a thing possible? But he could see the evidence with his own eyes. Something was going on in the Hole at the Pole.
If the Nobodaddy had been unleashed anew, he was capable of inflicting great evil, in this world and others. He would have to be stopped.
Gavi pondered what to do. Should he wait and hope the others would show up? He had waited all that time on Lake Keewatin, till he had become nearly imprisoned in the ice, and no one had come.
This was not a time for waiting, he decided. This was a time for action.
Of all the inhabitants of Notherland, he was the only one who had never come face to face with the Nobodaddy. Even the Nordlings had done their part by bringing light into the darkness of the Hole during Peggy’s battle with the demon. But during that first journey into the Hole, Gavi had stayed behind while Molly and Peggy continued on. He had chosen not to go with them. He had turned away from his chance to confront the Nobodaddy. It was his secret shame, and now he resolved to make up for it. He would descend into the Hole alone. He would do whatever was necessary to defeat the Nobodaddy.
He flew down to the surface of the water, swam to the edge of the ring of black ice, and wriggled his body onto it. He made his way to the rim of the smoldering Hole and looked down into its forbidding depths. For a few moments he was paralyzed with fear. Then he began his descent along the ledge that spiralled down the craggy walls.
The Hole was dark, cold, even more desolate than he remembered it. On their earlier journey, they had encountered many despairing souls held captive by the Nobodaddy. But now the Hole was an empty place, devoid of any signs of life.
He made his way down the path and soon arrived at the place where he, Molly, and Peggy had encountered the tortured souls known as Mads, whose anger and bitterness had so distressed Gavi that he feared losing his mind. He fought to shake off the memory of the near-madness that had gripped him, made much worse by the burning shame he felt now. For it was at this spot that he had decided he could go no farther, where he had let his companions down.
This time would be different. He would not let himself be ruled by fear. He would be strong, his mind clear and focussed.
He resumed walking. He was now descending deeper into the Hole than he had ever been before.
He didn’t know how long he had been walking, for he had lost all track of time. All he knew was that the path had come to an abrupt end. He could go no farther. He must have arrived at the bottom of the Hole. So where was the Nobodaddy?
Then he remembered what Peggy and Re9 had told him about the Hole at the Pole: There is a Bottom Below the bottom. It was there that he would find the Nobodaddy.
He knew from Peggy’s account that there was an opening into the Bottom Below, but he did not know how to find it. His red eyes, designed to see sharply in deep water, were unable to penetrate the thick darkness surrounding him. He decided to move methodically, stealthily over the floor of the cavern, until he could feel some kind of opening. Soon his webbed foot touched a kind of crevice in the rock, and he found he was able to ease his body through it with little difficulty.
What he saw on the other side of the opening was not what he expected at all. The Hole at the Pole was supposed to be a place of endless darkness, a black hole that swallowed up any light that managed to penetrate it. But the place where he now stood was illuminated by a dim, harsh, cold light.
At first he thought the space was empty. Then he saw it: a creature – male or female, he could not tell – with long, flowing white hair and pale, almost translucent skin. The creature was not imposing in size, though he noticed that its head was proportionally much larger than the rest of its body. The creature’s eyes were closed, and it was crouched in a corner, almost as if it were as frightened of Gavi as he was of it. Perhaps, Gavi thought, his fears of facing the Nobodaddy had been unfounded. This creature was more like Nobody, a nonentity.
He waited for the creature to speak, but no words were forthcoming. After a few moments he approached it. Even with his slow, careful steps he was sure that the creature must be aware of his presence, and he expected that at any moment it would open its eyes. Then it became apparent what he was really seeing. The creature’s eyes were not closed at all, but wide open. What he had thought were eyelids were actually eyes – blank, drained of all line and color.
A feeling of profound dread washed over him. He had expected the face of evil, but this was the face of nothingness itself. He had expected a harsh, destructive being like the Evil Angel in Will Blake’s painting. But this was infinitely more chilling, a creature of mindless obliteration.
Suddenly he was being pulled forward with tremendous force. No resistance on his part made any difference. He was being drawn closer and closer to the creature, who still sat, impassive, crouched against the wall in front of him. Then he felt himself being yanked upward, toward the creature’s head. His body was being stretched into a taut strip and drawn through a cold, clammy orifice. The creature was sucking him into its body through its eyes! He felt sickened, overwhelmed with fear and nausea.
He found himself surrounded by dense tissue, pulsating muscle pressing against him in the darkness. The only light was coming in through two round orbs, which he realized were the outer surfaces of the creature’s eyes. He was so tightly imprisoned in the quivering tissue that he could do nothing but look out the orbs, as if they were portholes in the bowels of a ship.
He was being forced to look through the creature’s eyes, to see what it was seeing. To his shock, he saw that they were no longer in the Bottom Below, nor in the Hole at all, but soaring high in the sky, looking down on the land. It was a vantage point Gavi knew well, of course, from his own travels in flight. But this was disorienting, and he had to struggle to keep his feelings of nausea and revulsion under control.
Below them he saw the edge of a great ice shelf, which at first, he thought was the Everlasting Ice. But he quickly realized that the ice field he was looking down upon was too vast to be the Everlasting Ice. It was not Notherland they were flying over, but Peggy’s world and his, too – the world where he’d chosen to live as a physical creature when he had passed through the portal from Notherland three winters before.
He was appalled to see a huge section suddenly break away from the shelf, sending large chunks of ice plunging into the open water. Almost immediately another, even larger area of ice broke off, then another, each one releasing a torrent of shards into the sea. Amid the plates and islands of floating ice, a number of large white bears were swimming, trying to get back onto the solid ice that was their habitat.
Gavi could hardly believe what he was seeing. What did it mean? Was he witnessing the breaking apart of the polar ice cap? Was the creature, in whose body he was now trapped, somehow causing this melting of the great ice shelf?
They soared on, leaving the polar bears and melting ice in the distance. Gavi concluded they must be moving in a southerly direction, a route with which he had become familiar on his own migratory journeys. He had no idea what the purpose of this journey was, nor any idea what lay in store farther along. In any event, he was powerless to do anything about it.
They flew over a vast body of open water dotted with islands of various shapes and sizes. He began to notice a kind of greyish mist in the air around them, which grew into a thick haze as they moved farther south. The haze had a putrid odor that he could smell even through the barrier of the creature’s body. He was finding it more and more difficult to breathe.
He knew that air is vital to life, that all creatures must breathe to survive. But here, the air was dirty and fetid. Was this sour air confined to where they were now? What if it had spread over the whole earth? He shuddered to think of the consequences.
They continued on. They were flying over a vast tract of land, an area that had once been covered by forest. Now it was dotted with decaying stumps and shrivelled plants struggling to survive in the dry, unforgiving soil. As he watched from above, a gust of wind sent waves of dust swirling over the ground. He wondered how living things could possibly survive in such conditions. What had happened to all the trees that had once provided shade and held moisture in the forest floor?
A sickening dread took hold of Gavi. It was as if he were bearing witness to the great unravelling of the natural world, the world he had chosen over the immortal realm of Imagination, the world he had come to love with a great fierceness.
Why would anyone destroy such beauty? To what purpose? What mad, mindless evil was behind this vision of hell?
The feeling of despair was overwhelming. But Gavi reminded himself that he was seeing with the creature’s eyes, not his own. Were the terrible things he was witnessing really happening? Or could they be harbingers of what was to come, if the white beast were allowed to run amok? He did not know if what he was seeing was real or imaginary, present or possible future. But he had to do something to stop the marauding demon. He had to fight for the survival of the natural world.
They were heading out to sea again. Below them was a long stretch of sandy shoreline, upon which enormous black objects were scattered here and there. Gavi strained to make out what they were, and noticed that some of the black objects were making intermittent, twitching movements. He thought he heard something, too – faint but sustained sounds arising from the area of the dark bodies, sounds that were strangely familiar. He soon realized why.
The large, dark bodies were beached humpbacks lying on the sand. They were singing the same requiem they’d sung when Owen’s body was given up to the sea. But now the life they were mourning was their own. The humpbacks were lying helpless on the sand, slowly dying. There was nothing he could do to help them.
He desperately wanted to turn away from the horrific site, to shut out the sound of their mournful dirge. It was the worst of the terrible things he had witnessed so far, a tragedy beyond measure. But he could not turn away, because he was experiencing everything through the creature’s own senses. He was beginning to realize that in some perverse way the creature was revelling in the sights below. It seemed to be drawing its very sustenance from suffering and devastation, as if death were its darling, fear its dearest companion.
They flew out over the open water, and he saw a large part of the surface covered by a dark, shiny membrane. He peered hard at it, trying to determine what the shiny substance could be. There were objects moving at various spots within the membrane. As they flew directly overhead, he saw that the moving objects were ducks and other waterbirds, struggling to get free of the sticky black substance. But the harder they tried to move through it, the more thoroughly they were immobilized, as their wings and bodies became coated with the black goo.
The substance must be oil – oil that had likely spilled from one of the large vessels in which humans transported things by sea. He and Nor had flown over one such spill before, and he recalled the panicked cries of the birds trapped below. Now, something just beyond the edge of the oil slick caught his eye. A boat carrying several humans was moving back and forth along the margins of the slick. The humans in the boat were holding out what appeared to be poles with large baskets on one end. The boat passed near a pair of birds, ones he hadn’t noticed before, because their black backs had blended in with the dark oil. Now he could see them clearly, their white throats ringed with black necklaces.
Suddenly, the creature swooped down toward the slick, as if in response to Gavi’s longing to get a closer look. Soon, they were hovering directly above the two loons, who were thrashing and straining to get free of the slick. Now Gavi could see their individual features clearly.
It was Nor and Gavrila, struggling with all their might to keep from being swamped by the oil. He had to get to them. He had to save his mate and their child. But he himself was trapped inside the creature’s flesh. The agony was unbearable, especially the thought of his daughter young life being snuffed out before she’d had a chance to see and taste and feel life.
He could not let them die. He would not.
In his terror and frustration Gavi released a series of tremolos, more urgent and frantic than he had ever made. As the sound ripped through the creature’s body like a powerful thunderbolt, he felt like he was inside a great thrashing whale.
Suddenly he had the sensation of emerging out into the open. He was breaking free of the creature! He felt oddly, uncommonly light, as if he no longer had a body. Below him, Nor and Gavrila were still floundering in the slick. Both of them looked like they were near the very limit of their strength. They would not be able to hold on much longer.
The boat with the humans was a short distance from them. But now, it seemed to be moving away from where they were trapped. He realized that Nor and Gavrila were so covered in black oil that they were barely visible in the vast dark pool. The humans could not see them. Gavi had to make them aware that the loons were there. But how?
He recalled how he had found himself able to communicate with his daughter in thought, in words that passed between their minds. If he could do that now, if he could convey to Gavrila that she must signal her presence to the humans, she and her mother would be rescued.
He focused all his powers of concentration.
Gavrila, my daughter. Release a tremolo.
He watched anxiously. Were his words getting through to her?
Gavrila. A tremolo. As loud as you can. Now.
Suddenly the air was pierced by a tremolo, of an intensity Gavi had seldom experienced. Then another, and another. One of the humans in the boat turned around and pointed toward Nor and Gavrila.
The boat turned and steered in their direction.
Gavi was exhausted. It had taken all his strength to summon up the words, and now he was growing faint. He looked down at the boat, hovering near the edge of the slick. The humans were lifting two of the long-handled baskets out of the oil and drawing them toward the boat. In one basket was Nor. The other held Gavrila.
As his mind slid into unconsciousness, he said a silent prayer of gratitude. His mate and daughter were safe.
Chapter 16: Whale Song
MI AWOKE FROM the dream shaking. Nordlings didn’t usually have dreams, but she knew about the terrible dreams called nightmares in the Creator’s world.
This one felt so vivid she wasn’t sure it was a dream at all. Even now, wide awake, she couldn’t shake her mind free of it – the darkened air, the trees screaming for water, the agonized cries of dying whales. And the pale-skinned creature with the long white hair and the blank stare, much as she had depicted the creature in her Story Cloth. The White Marauder, come to life.
Yes, now she remembered! Gavi was there in the dream too. But “there” in a strange way she couldn’t put into words – unseen, yet his presence felt, unmistakably, in his voice. And, stranger still, he was not making his usual calls, but singing, a melody she thought she recognized.
What did it mean, this terrible dream? Was Gavi in danger? Had he somehow fallen into the clutches of the demon?
She shook Peggy awake, called Molly over, and told them in a rush of words about the dream.
“Do you think it could mean that Gavi is already in Notherland?” she asked.
“He could be,” said Molly. “But why wouldn’t he come and find us?”
“Maybe he can’t,” Mi offered.
“Can’t? What do you mean?”
Mi told them about the white figure in her dream, and how it matched the way she had depicted the Nobodaddy on her Story Cloth.
“Maybe the Nobodaddy has gotten to Gavi already,” Molly said when she finished. “We better get going and find him.”
“Yes,” said Peggy. But she remained motionless.
“Come on!” Molly ordered her. “Why are you just sitting there? What’s wrong with you?”
“This is all my fault,” Peggy replied. “I’ve let you down so many times. I’ve messed up so badly. What makes you think I’ll be any better now?”
For a few moments Mi and Molly stared at her in silence. Then Mi reached out and took her hand.
“No one is perfect, not even a Creator. I am sorry for the things I said. Being a Creator is a great and difficult burden. I know that now. Please come with us, Pay-gee. It was your imagination that gave birth to Notherland. It is your imagination that must save it now.”
Mi embraced her, and Peggy melted into the Nordling’s tiny arms as if she were cradled, once again, in the angel’s wings. She felt a deep sense of joy. Mi had forgiven her.
They set off, walking at a rapid clip. Once they got to the Everlasting Ice
they moved even more quickly, propelling themselves across the ice in smooth, gliding motions, as they had done countless times before. As she sped effortlessly across the glassy surface, Peggy recalled how exhilarating it was, this sensation of skating without blades.
She thought back to the day all those months ago, when she had sold the flute. Even then, she knew it was a stupid thing to do – like tearing up a book, or ripping a favorite piece of clothing to shreds. She had disowned Notherland out of anger and spite, but she figured she was only hurting herself. Of course, that turned out not to be the case at all. Her actions had had a powerful ripple effect.
She was beginning to understand that she’d gotten it all backwards. Notherland wasn’t a childish thing to be outgrown. Going on these journeys called on the very best part of her. That was why she’d come back to Notherland again and again – to discover that part of herself anew.
Finally, they arrived at the edge of the ice shelf, where Molly’s ship the Resolute was anchored. Peggy put Mi on her back and started to clamber up the rope ladder, but Molly stopped her.
“Don’t bother. The ship’s not going anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.
“No wind,” she replied, shaking her head. “Doldrums.”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know!” Molly stamped her foot in frustration. “A ship is useless without wind!”
Mi pointed toward the Pole, where a column of dark smoke was rising into the air. Finally their fears were confirmed. The Hole at the Pole was no longer sealed shut. The Nobodaddy had been set free.
“What do we do?”
“Get there. Fast!”
“What about Gavi? What if he…?”
“Quiet!” Peggy shouted.
Mi and Molly looked at Peggy, shocked at the vehemence in her voice.
“I need to think.”
She turned away, shaken by the terror in their voices, the fear in their eyes. She had no idea what to do. She was at the end of her rope. Everything seemed utterly hopeless.
It was your imagination that gave birth to Notherland, Mi had said. It is your imagination that must save it now.
She thought back to the moment of Notherland’s birth. She saw her seven-year-old self sitting at the bedroom window, looking down on the skaters in Green Echo Park. What power her mind had wielded then. She needed to find a way to harness that power right now. But how?
The image of ice, its hard clarity, filled her mind. She saw the skaters moving effortlessly across the surface of the pond. She felt the sharp coldness of it now, under her feet, as she stood at the edge of the Everlasting Ice.
I can make the ice grow.
It was true. She could make the ice grow. She didn’t know how she knew this, but she knew she could. If she concentrated hard enough, she could make the ice shelf extend right out into the open water and reach all the way to the ring of black ice around the Pole. She closed her eyes.
There was a great cracking, like a series of small explosions. She opened her eyes and saw the waters of the Polar Sea siezing up and joining together to form an iron grip of ice.
Molly watched in slack-jawed astonishment. Mi beamed at Peggy.
“I knew you could do it!” she said.
The loud cracking grew to a roar. Molly scrambled out onto the ice. The frozen shelf grew, like a powerful wave racing just ahead of her, until they looked and saw the wave of cold had reached the Pole itself.
“That’s enough!” Molly called to Peggy. “We can make it all the way.”
But once unleashed, the surge was powerful beyond Peggy’s control. The ice crunched up against the edge of the Hole and surrounded it. It mingled with the rising column of smoke, trapping it into a towering cone of ice. The top of the Hole now looked like a mountain of glass.
The three of them raced toward it.
He opened his eyes and saw dark, craggy walls surrounding him. He was back in the Hole. But at least he was seeing with his own eyes again.
He looked around to see if the Nobodaddy was there, too, for he now had no doubt that the pale white creature and the Nobodaddy were one and the same. He spied some wisps of white hair against the opposite wall. The creature was crouched in a corner, much as before, but its head was tilted back and its arms hung limply at its sides. Gavi’s explosive tremolo had not destroyed the Nobodaddy, but clearly, it had weakened the creature. Whether this state of weakness was permanent or temporary, he did not know.
He thought back to the scenes he had witnessed during his imprisonment. His mate and daughter were safe, but what of the other creatures? Had all those terrible things really come to pass? Was the Nobodaddy taunting him with visions of what was to come? Was it too late to hold back the fouling of the air, the melting of the icebergs? Was it too late to save the shrivelling plants, the desperate polar bears, the dying whales?
He could only hope that it was not too late, and do whatever was in his power to stop the Nobodaddy. Now was the time to strike, before the creature could recover its strength.
It was music that sapped the creature’s power. He knew this from the time Peggy had outfoxed the Nobodaddy, by calling on the Nordlings to sing while she played the bone flute. He had seen evidence of it himself, in the way his own tremolo had weakened the creature. But he knew that his own repertoire of calls – the wail, the tremolo, the near-hysteria of a yodel – would not be powerful enough. Something more truly musical would be necessary to disable the Nobodaddy. He had to find a way to make his loon voice do what it had never done before. He would have to sing.
He thought of the humpbacks’ song, with its deep sonorous beauty. He could not hope to approach something so rich and majestic. But he would try.
He threw his head back with fierce abandon, stretching his neck as far as he could to fully open his beak and gullet. A ripple of sound spilled out – not calls, but notes, random and unrelated to one another, but musical notes nevertheless. He lifted his neck and tried again. More notes, this time forming a pattern. A melody. A song.
He was doing it. He was singing, a new song, one no loon had ever sung before. His joy was so complete he had to remind himself of his purpose – and pay attention to the Nobodaddy.
The creature, still huddled against the cavern wall, was growing paler, almost translucent. It was working. The Nobodaddy’s strength was ebbing. It he could keep singing long enough, the Nobodaddy would face into nothingness and become Nobody.
He sang again, and watched the Nobodaddy growing still weaker. But the creature was still there. It was not enough. Gavi’s body was not constituted to sing this way, and his throat was burning with the effort of it. It was taking all his strength to keep going.
He sang and sang, but the notes were diminishing. Now all he could get out were a few weak hoots. He looked over at the corner. The Nobodaddy’s skin was changing from translucent to an opaque white. The creature was regaining its strength.
Gavi had tried so hard. But he was losing the battle.
Suddenly, a cold blast of air whipped around him. Then another, and another. It seemed to be pulling him upward, which was strange, because from his studies Gavi had learned that it is warm air that rises, not cold. Yet, some force was unmistakably pulling him upward, away from the Nobodaddy.
Higher and higher he rose. Though the cold was sharper than any he had ever experienced, he felt no pain or discomfort. He continued to rise until he was near the entrance to the Hole. He passed through the opening and emerged out into the light. He could see blue sky above him, and realized that he was inside a column of sheer ice, ice that had now completely covered the entrance to the Hole.
He looked down at the Nobodaddy, trapped in the Bottom Below. The creature was roaring at him in thwarted anger, a roar that no one could hear.
Finally, he was bathed in full daylight, and though he was now held immobile in the ice, he felt a deep, abiding happiness. He had thwarted the Nobodaddy. His daughter, his mate, the sweet world – all were safe.
He had fulfilled his purpose.
They raced toward the tower of ice, which they could now see completely blocked the entrance to the Hole. It was clear as glass, and the closer they came, the more astonished Peggy was by the size of it. She was carrying Mi, while Molly raced on ahead, and the doll was now at the edge of the Hole, right beside the great cone of ice.
A piercing shriek rang out. Molly was running back and forth near the Hole, pointing at something – a dark object that appeared to be trapped inside the ice. As Peggy approached, Molly lifted her eyepatch and aimed the Aya at the ice, right where the dark object was. The heat of the Aya sizzled on the surface of the ice and began to bore a hole into it.
Peggy watched in horror as she recognized what the object was.
Molly continued to aim the hot beam of the Aya toward the ice, producing trickles of water down the side of the column. Peggy raced up to her and tried to block the beam.
The doll tried to squirm away from her. “It’s Gavi! We have to get him out of there.”
“No, Molly, If you melt the ice, it’ll free the Nobodaddy.”
“I don’t care! We can’t leave him in there!”
Peggy clapped one hand over the Aya, and wrapped the other tightly around Molly, who fought ferociously to get free of her grip. But she was much smaller, no match for Peggy.
“It’s too late, Molly. It’s too late to save him.”
As Molly let out an anguished shriek, Mi could only gaze in stunned sorrow at the body of the loon, motionless, his face calm and peaceful.
“It can’t be too late!”
“It is, Molly. He’s gone. I’m sorry, Molly. I’m sorry.”
They fell upon one another, weeping.
“How could I have done this?” Peggy cried. “If I hadn’t made the ice grow, he wouldn’t have gotten trapped in it.”
Mi touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“Don’t blame yourself, Pay-gee. You did what you had to. You did exactly what Gavi would have wanted you to do. You trapped the Nobodaddy in the Hole. You saved Notherland.”
“Listen,” Molly said.
They could hear distant singing – low, sonorous notes that swept up the scale to reach sweet heights.
Molly pointed out into the water. A pod of humpback whales, perhaps as many as two dozen, was approaching. They were singing a requiem. Peggy recognized it as the same one the whales had sung as the body of Owen, the Pirate Queen’s son, was lowered into the sea. But for the three of them, standing at the edge of the Hole at the Pole, this requiem was infinitely sadder.
Gavi, the Philosopher-Loon, old Bird-Full-of-Words, had passed on into Eternity.
Suddenly the sharp cold vanished. He could feel his own flesh again, though in a new way. He was lighter, almost weightless, as he moved through space.
He was being carried on the shoulders of angels. They were climbing a stairway, one much longer than the Great Skyway, that seemed to reach all the way up to the stars. On either side of him he saw more angels, lined along the stairway. When they reached the top, two people, a man and a woman, stood waiting to greet him. The man was dressed in a uniform like a sea captain’s, while the woman wore an old-fashioned gown with a high waist. They both smiled warmly at him and, though he could not be sure, they looked for all the world like Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin. Just behind them were other familiar faces – the climbing boy, Grania, the Pirate Queen, and joy of joys, his mentor, William Blake, extending a hand and tugging at his left wing.
In the distance he spied what looked like an enormous loom that seemed to stretch into infinity. Beside it were beautiful dark-skinned women arrayed in brilliantly colored robes. Who are they? he wondered. What are they weaving on that gigantic loom? And their singing – the most glorious music he had yet heard.
What is this place?
As he took one last look below, he was overcome by a stabbing grief at the sight of Peggy, Molly, and Mi, weeping inconsolably as they looked on his physical body frozen in the ice. He wanted to go down and tell them not to mourn for him, that he was all right.
He had so much to learn about this place. So many questions, so many new mysteries to explore. He was embarking on a great, new adventure, and to express his exhilaration he threw back his head and let loose a joyous wail.
I am here. I exist!
Chapter 17: The Creator
PEGGY HEARD THE far-off singing all through a night of restless sleep.
After a time the humpbacks had moved on, swimming off into the vast open waters of the Polar Sea. But long after their smooth rounded backs were little more than dark pinpoints in the distance, their singing was still audible, providing a counterpoint to the chorus of the Nordlings drifting down from the RoryBory.
Mi had gone up the Great Skyway to join them. Someone had to carry the news of Gavi’s death, and Molly was certainly in no shape to do it. For hours she refused to budge from the spot where the loon’s body was trapped, keeping her face pressed against the ice as if she could bring him back to life by sheer force of will.
Peggy worried whether Mi was up to carrying out such a difficult, painful task. But the Nordling assured Peggy that she could handle it.
“I am the one who must carry the news to the Nordlings,” she said. “They are my brothers and sisters.”
Peggy had never before heard Mi use those words for the Nordlings, but she found it touching to realize that the Nordling had come to see herself as part of a family. Peggy could only wonder what had brought on this particular shift in Mi. It seemed to be yet another manifestation of the changes she had undergone in carrying out the epic task of rebuilding Notherland.
As she finally drifted off, Peggy heard the music of the RoryBory change key, moving from major to minor. She took it as a sign that Mi’s message had been delivered. The Nordlings now knew that their beloved Gavi was gone forever.
Their mournful melody, combined with the distant chant of the humpbacks, invaded her sleep. She dreamt she was back in the bleak world of the FarNear, where she and Molly had gone in search of Mi, when she was being been held captive by the Evil Angel. She and Molly had fought side by side then, and they had defeated the Evil Angel. But they had arrived too late to prevent his violation of Mi, and in her dream, Peggy once more felt the crushing despair of that realization.
Still, Mi’s spirit had healed. She gradually became herself again – yet changed, stronger. No such happy outcome awaited them now. This time there was only the terrible finality of Gavi’s death.
How could he be gone? Peggy could still scarcely bring herself to believe it, but the cries that welled up from deep within her were evidence enough. As she had so many times before, she felt the heavy burden of being the Creator, and the profound loneliness that went with it. She must take care of Molly and the Nordlings. She couldn’t allow herself to succumb to her own grief.
Toward morning, as Peggy drifted in and out of sleep, she had another dream. This time Gavi himself was looking at her with the same fond bemusement as when she’d first returned to Notherland three years earlier. She’d thought she was dreaming then, too, and Gavi had taken her to task for mistaking Notherland for, as he put it “a mundane place like dreamland.” How like him to appear to her now, in a dream, slyly evoking that earlier encounter. She felt deeply comforted by the strong sense that the loon’s spirit was hovering nearby.
She sat up, rubbing her eyes. Molly was in the same position as the night before, still clinging to the column of ice where Gavi’s body lay suspended. But her eyes were closed. She seemed to be in a deep slumber, though Peggy had never known the doll to sleep before. It dawned on her that Molly, like Mi, may have undergone some profound changes during the period of Notherland’s extinction. But she still had no clear sense of what had happened, or where Molly had gone. There had been no time for them to talk about it.
She decided to leave Molly undisturbed for the time being. As she turned away, she was startled to see the loon from her dream still there, staring intently at her.
“Gavi?” she called softly. “Am I still dreaming?”
“No,” the loon replied in a voice that sounded oddly high-pitched. “You are not dreaming.”
Peggy heard a voice calling out from her behind her.
It was Molly, suddenly wide awake. She turned to look at Gavi’s body, still frozen in the tower of ice.
“What’s going on?” she shouted to the loon, standing in front of Peggy. “How can you be here?”
“Because,” the bird replied, “I am not Gavi.”
It was almost beyond comprehension, the sudden appearance of this loon, so much like Gavi but clearly younger, and female. Her name, she told them, was Gavrila, and she was the daughter of Gavi and his mate.
“Mate?” Peggy cut in. “What’s her name?”
“My mother’s name is Nor,” the young loon replied.
Peggy let out a joyful whoop!
“Nor! Yes, that was the one he talked about. So he did win her after all!”
She grabbed Molly by the shoulders, laughing. The doll looked mystified, almost frightened at Peggy’s bizarre outburst. Had she lost her mind?
“This is wonderful, Molly! Remember what Gavi said when he first decided to cross over into the physical world? He said he wanted to experience life to the full, even if it meant that he would die one day. And that’s just what he did! He found a mate. He fathered a chick. We should be glad for him, Molly! He lived his life just as he wanted to.”
Molly threw herself into Peggy’s arms. As they held tightly to one another, Peggy felt a small drop of wetness on her shoulder. When they pulled away from one another, she saw the streak from a single tear glistening on Molly’s cheek.
Molly had acquired the ability to cry as well as to sleep. It was becoming clear that something momentous had happened to the doll during her journey back to the physical world, and Peggy was itching to find out just what it was.
For her part, Gavrila seemed strangely reserved, apparently unmoved by the fate that had befallen her father. But Gavrila was a young loon, Peggy reminded herself, and was more than likely disoriented here, in this unfamiliar world, while intense emotions swirled all around her. How, Peggy wondered, had Gavrila managed to find her way to Notherland? Why had she come here? Why now?
As if reading her thoughts, Gavrila spoke in the careful, precise tones so characteristic of Gavi himself.
“My father told me about Notherland, the world that had first given life to him. As we were preparing to migrate to our wintering grounds, he had a strong sense that Notherland was in some kind of danger, and decided, against my mother’s and my own entreaties, to stay behind. We set out with the others, and some time later the group stopped to rest in the sea. We spied a large vessel in the distance, but thought nothing of it, since humans generally pay little heed to us. As we prepared to take off again, a dark substance spread over the surface of the water, engulfing us. It was thick and heavy, and it stuck to our bodies, no matter how hard we tried to shake it off. I looked toward the vessel. It was listing sharply to one side, and the substance was leaking from the vessel into the surrounding waters.
“Our legs were helpless. Our wings were immobilized. We were trapped in the dark pool. It was terrible. Many were pulled under by the weight of the substance on their feathers. My mother and I fought to keep from being pulled under too, but we were growing weak and exhausted. Then something very strange occurred.
“I started hearing words in my mind. As must be obvious to you by now, I have inherited from my father the capacity for thought and language, previously unknown among members of my species. This ability operates at a much-reduced level in the physical world, but finds full expression in a world of the imagination such as Notherland. Nevertheless, at that moment I distinctly heard words, in a way familiar to me only from the times I have communicated silently with my father. I heard my own name, Gavrila, followed by an urgent command to make a tremolo call.
“I could not see the point of doing such a thing. We were immobilized in the black pool, and I did not believe I had enough strength left in me to carry out the command. But the words came again, even more forcefully, and this time I obeyed. I summoned what little strength I had left and released a tremolo.
“Suddenly, miraculously, my mother and I were being lifted out of the water by some force above us, something we could not see, because the substance had covered our eyes. We felt what must have been human hands cradling us and wiping the thick goo from our bodies. In those moments, I strongly sensed the presence of my father, and I knew that he was watching over us. I cannot explain how, but I knew it to be true. My father taught me that there are things that cannot be accounted for by reason alone.
“After a time the human hands placed us back in the water, away from the dark pool, so that we could continue our journey. I told my mother to go on with the others, for I was seized by the conviction that I must go in search of my father. I flew north again, to the place where we had left him, by the cliff with the ancient drawings.
“There I waited, in the hope that he would return. I heard a great roar that seemed to be coming from the other side of the cliff, and I felt a cold blast shoot through my body, a cold sharper than any I have ever known. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was no longer in the waters by the cliff, but here, on this sheet of ice, a short distance from where you lay sleeping. I recognized you both immediately from my father’s many tales of Notherland, and I knew that I had somehow been transported to his world of origin. At first I was jubilant, thinking I would soon be reunited with him, and then…”
Gavrila abruptly cut off her tale, and even though she made no outward show of emotion, it was clear that the young loon was still reeling from the shock of the sight of her father’s body in the ice. Peggy realized that Gavrila’s manner did not arise from a lack of emotion. Like her father, her reserved, formal exterior hid a well of strong feeling.
They spent the day getting acquainted with Gavrila, and the more time they spent together, the more Peggy was reminded of Gavi. She had so many questions, such boundless curiosity about Notherland and its ways. She was especially taken with the sight of the Great Skyway.
“Many things here are quite similar to those in the physical world. Even your RoryBory is much like the Aurora Borealis at its greatest intensity. But this magnificent structure sweeping up into the sky – in my world there is nothing quite like it!”
The Nordlings crowded around the new arrival, eager to show off their realm.
“That’s the Great Skyway!”
“We go up it every night.”
“And down every morning!”
“Would you like to go up it?”
Gavrila looked surprised. “Could I?” she said eagerly.
They led her to the base of the Skyway, and several of the older Nordlings began to push her from behind. The sight of the tiny creatures hoisting the bird’s lumbering body was quite the comic spectacle. When the Nordlings could push her no further they let go. Gavrila slid all the way down to the bottom, shrieking with laughter.
“Again!” she cried.
The Nordlings were delighted to have a new playmate. But Peggy kept her eye on Molly to see how she was adjusting to the presence of this creature, so strange and yet, so familiar. Was Molly uncomfortable? Did she regard Gavrila as an intruder in her world? The doll was uncharacteristically quiet for some time.
Peggy could only hope that Molly was becoming more accepting of Gavrila. Though no one could replace Gavi in her eyes, it was clear that the novelty of Gavrila was providing a welcome distraction for the Nordlings, at least. Perhaps, Peggy thought, her presence could even help to lessen the sting of Gavi’s death for Molly herself.
As evening came on, the tired Nordlings bade their new friend goodnight and made their way up to the RoryBory. Gavrila approached Peggy and Molly and began to speak with grave seriousness.
“I know that my father was very dear to you both, and I share your grief. But I am comforted by the knowledge that he chose his fate. He embraced life, he lived it to the full, as you say, and his passing is part of the inescapable cycle of life and death. The best thing I can do for him now is to honor his life.
“I have made a decision. Since I am, like Gavi, a One-Who-Knows-She-Is, I must continue learning the kinds of things I cannot learn in the physical world. To do that, I must spend time here in Notherland, where my mind is sharp and I have the power of speech. It is the opposite of what happens in the physical world, where my body is strong, my senses acute, while my mind is sluggish.
“Therefore, I wish to travel between the two worlds. In the winter, when loons fly south, I will come to Notherland. When the season changes and they fly north again, I will join them. My breeding territory will be the same as my father’s, on Lake Keewatin, near the cliff with the ancient drawings. There I will take a mate, and breed young ones. I am One-Who-Is and One-Who-Knows-She-Is, and I want to live my life in a way that is true to both my natures. That is what my father, Gavi the Philosopher-Loon, would have wished for me.”
Gavrila turned to face Molly and went on.
“Since you are the Resolute Protector of Notherland, I ask your permission to carry out this wish. I assure you that I will accept and honor your decision, whatever it may be.”
For a few moments there was silence. Then Molly spoke.
“Welcome to Notherland.”
Nothing more needed to be said.
Peggy and Molly talked long into the night, and Peggy finally learned the details of the doll’s sojourn in the physical world, in the home of the girl named Krista.
“The strangest thing of all was that it was your old house,” Molly told her, “where you lived when you were little, and I was still an ordinary doll.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes! I could look down on Green Echo Park from her bedroom window.”
Molly went on in a rush of words, recounting the terrifying helplessness of once again being an ordinary doll. She told Peggy about her strange dream-journey with Krista, and how, through extraordinary effort, she had somehow managed to overcome her passivity and regain her power to act.
“For so long I hated Krista because she wasn’t you,” she said. “But after that dream, things changed. I was finally beginning to understand her. I feel bad about leaving so suddenly. She must have wondered what happened to me.”
“You didn’t have any choice,” Peggy reassured her. “Once Mi finished her Story Cloth we were all pulled back here.”
“I know. But still… I worry about her, Peggy. I think Krista’s unhappy. Like you were when you were her age – but even more so.”
They both fell silent. Peggy thought back to the time almost three years earlier, when she’d stood in Green Echo Park, looking up at the window of her old bedroom, wondering whose room it was. Now she knew the answer.
Molly’s eyes suddenly lit up.
“I know what Krista needs. She needs a Notherland! A place to go to in her mind, that’s all her own. Then she wouldn’t be so unhappy. She’d know there were other worlds, other possibilities.”
Peggy was struck by Molly’s newfound wisdom. So many changes had taken place in the doll. She could sleep, she could cry, she even appeared to have grown a bit taller. So much was changing so fast – Gavrila’s arrival, Mi’s abilities.
She lay down and gazed into the night sky. It looked the same as always, like everything else in Notherland. But in truth, nothing was the same. Her Notherland had passed into nothingness, and had been created anew by Mi. It was Mi’s Notherland she was looking at, not hers.
Only one who is acquainted with sorrow can become a Creator.
The words popped into her mind, unbidden. They sounded so like something the Eternal might say, and the voice in her mind was much like Lady Jane’s. But this time, the words were her own. The thought had come from her, and it was true. Mi, one of the littlest of the Nordlings, had burst beyond the confines of her original self. She had faced great dangers and struggled to learn new things. She had become acquainted with sorrow.
It was Mi who was now the true Creator of Notherland.
As Peggy pondered this idea, the enormity of it fully sank in. Yes, she’d neglected Notherland and let them all down. But it had happened. What was done could not be undone. Things happen. Things change.
Something was changing deep inside her, too, something she could scarcely put into words. It was becoming clear to Peggy that she could no longer go back and forth between these two worlds. She had to fully embrace her own life, the life that awaited her in the world beyond Painted Rock. And there was only one way to do that.
She had to let go of Notherland.
The realization was painful. But there was an unshakeable feeling of rightness to it.
As she drifted off to sleep, she felt her beloved imaginary world slipping beyond her grasp.
She was standing in front of a building flanked by tall stone pillars. In the window was a large sign: MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS BOUGHT AND SOLD. She went inside.
It wasn’t an ordinary store like Around Again, but a huge emporium, lined with long glass counters and a high ceiling covered with intricate tilework. All along the walls were shelves and cases displaying hundreds of instruments – horns, drums, woodwinds, stringed instruments of all shapes and sizes. Many of the instruments were ones she had never seen before. It was as if she had wandered into a vast museum housing every musical instrument ever conceived.
She saw a woman standing behind one of the counters. It was the Eternal, looking exactly as she had first appeared to Peggy – as Lady Jane Franklin. She approached the counter.
Lady Jane smiled and held something out toward her. It was a flute – not her silver flute, but a flute of dazzling gold, encrusted with jewels.
Peggy shook her head.
“I can’t afford something like this,” she said. “It’s too precious.”
“But you are the Flute Player,” Lady Jane replied. “You have become the hero of your own story. This flute belongs to you. Take it, and bring a New Song out into the world.”
“Up in the sky!”
Peggy awoke to find a cluster of Nordlings around her.
“What is it?”
Across the sky a length of cloth was slowly unfurling, a woven tapestry of intricately sewn images. Everyone – Molly, Gavrila, the Nordlings – stood watching it in awe.
They knew right away what it was: Mi’s Story Cloth, depicting Notherland in all its glory – Painted Rock, the Great Skyway, the Everlasting Ice, the RoryBory, even the Hole at the Pole – but in images more vivid than Peggy could ever have imagined them. Now that she finally saw Mi’s handiwork for herself, Peggy understood the enormity of what the Nordling had accomplished.
She was more certain than ever of what she had to do.
It was time for her to leave. There should have been nothing out of the ordinary about that, for she had left Notherland before. But this leave-taking was different. No one said as much, but they all sensed it. Peggy could especially see it in Molly’s jaunty manner as the doll spoke of her renewed sense of purpose in her role as Protector of Notherland.
“Now that the Resolute is once again shipshape, I will patrol the Polar Sea. It is vital that the Nobodaddy does not get free again. The mountain of ice must not be allowed to melt. At all costs, the Hole at the Pole must stay sealed.”
“I look forward to joining you on your next voyage,” said Gavrila. “I am curious about the workings of a ship.”
As Peggy embraced Molly, she noticed that the doll was losing her stiffness, becoming more pliable. It was almost as if she were in the process of becoming something more than a doll.
Then Peggy went over to Mi.
“You have done a remarkable thing,” she told the Nordling. “You have become a Creator.”
“I must go back to my other life now,” Peggy continued. “But I know you and Molly will look after Notherland in my absence.”
No more words passed between them. They both knew.
As she approached Painted Rock, she heard Molly call out.
The doll ran toward her, holding a slender object over her head. It was her pirate’s sword.
“I want you to do something for me. I want you to take this to Krista.”
Peggy looked at her in disbelief.
“But Molly, Sir John gave you that sword. It’s precious to you.”
“Yes,” said Molly. “But I used it to protect Krista from the sea monster in our dream-journey. It’s the only thing I can give her that I know she’ll recognize. I think she might need it more than I do.”
“But why, Molly? Why give it away?”
“I want Krista to know that what we went through together was real. Then maybe she can dream her own world into existence.”
She held the sword out toward Peggy. “Will you take it to her? Please?”
There was no questioning Molly’s decision. It was right, as right as the step Peggy herself was now taking. She took the sword from Molly’s hand.
“Of course I will.”
They all stood watching as Peggy approached Painted Rock. As she placed the palm of her hand over the hard surface, she felt the familiar rumblings. The portal between Notherland and her world was opening.
Is this the last time I will pass this way?
She knew she would never forget Notherland. She would be able to return here in her dreams to see Molly, the Nordlings, Gavrila, even Gavi himself. She would carry them all in her heart.
Her mind turned to the life she was going back to – living with her mom, working at the café, finishing school. And seeing her father. She was still nervous about that. But she was ready.
What about Jackpine? Would the future include him? She had no way of knowing. There were no guarantees.
The one thing she knew for certain was that she would never turn away from music again. She was, and would continue to be, a flute player. She would become a singer of new songs. She would take all she’d learned here in Notherland back to her everyday life. She would do whatever was necessary to, at long last, become worthy of the title her friends in Notherland had so freely given her:
SHE WAS STANDING in Green Echo Park, holding her silver flute and a small, doll-sized sword.
Quickly, she spread her fingers along the surface of the flute. To her relief, her fingers reached all the pads. She was back in the present, in her everyday life.
Now, she had a couple of deliveries to make.
She made her way to the house across the street. She pressed the lighted button next to the door, and heard chimes ringing inside the house.
After a few moments, a girl who of about eleven or twelve opened the door.
Peggy knew it looked ridiculous, a complete stranger showing up at the house, unannounced. But she’d made a promise to Molly. There was no choice but to go through with this.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Peggy began haltingly. “I used to live in this house.”
“Oh, really?” The girl couldn’t have sounded less interested in this information. “Well, I’m sorry if you wanted to come in, but this really isn’t a good time.”
She began to close the door. Peggy swiftly raised her hand to hold it open.
“Please, wait. Are you Krista?”
The girl was startled. “How do you know my name?”
“I… know a friend of yours.”
“Someone who…” She held out the sword. “Someone who asked me to give you this.”
The girl looked at it curiously, unsure at first just what it was. Then she gasped.
“I’ve seen this before… It’s… that doll….”
Krista’s voice trailed off. She offered no resistance as Peggy gently placed the sword in her hand.
“Take it. Really. It’s for you.”
“Who are you? How did you get this?”
“Look, I know it must seem weird, my showing up like this. I really did used to live here… I can’t explain everything right now. I have to be somewhere. Would it be okay if I came back tomorrow?”
Still stunned, Krista could only nod. “I guess so. Sure.”
“I’m not a nutcase. Honestly, I’m not. I’ll come back tomorrow around this time and tell you the whole story. I promise.”
Krista was still standing in the doorway, staring at the sword, as Peggy raced up the street.
Daylight was fading. She noticed a clock through a store window. It was 7:45.
How long would it take to get back to the gallery? The presentation was supposed to have started at 7:30. Could she get there in time? There was no bus coming. How long would it take her on foot? Twenty minutes? Half an hour?
She decided to run all the way to the gallery.
All I ask, she prayed as she ran, is that this time he remembers me.
She arrived, breathless. People were milling about the gallery space. Was it over already? Where was Gary Stonechild? Had he left?
Several people were clustered in a corner, talking. One of them moved, and she saw him in the midst of the group.
It was Jackpine.
She waited until the cluster of around him began to break up. Then she approached him.
She stood there rifling through her backpack, too embarrassed to say anything. She couldn’t even bear to look at his face. She felt so stupid. She should have had it ready to give to him.
Just hand him the knife and get out of here, she told herself, before you make a complete fool of yourself.
Then it would all be over. She wouldn’t see him again. She’d just have to accept it. That’s the way life goes. She was a grown-up now.
Finally, she pulled the engraving knife out of the pack and held it up for him to see. He stared at it for a moment, a strange look on his face. Then she thrust it toward him. He raised his hand to take it. Their fingers touched.
“Peggy?” he said.
Chapter 11: The Sorrow of the Creator
IT WAS THE strangest sensation…feeling so close to the ground, the trees looming so much higher above her, the tops of the nearby bushes almost at her eye level. Several times she lifted her hand off the flute pads and stretched out the palm, holding it in front of her face, unable to comprehend that it was so much smaller than it should be. But after a few moments it was clear there was no denying what had happened.
She was still herself. Her mind was still that of a seventeen year old. But her body was the size of a child’s.
She told herself not to give in to panic. She had to keep her wits about her and figure out what to do, how to get back to normal life. She was relieved to see that the park was deserted. To be a young child on her own, surrounded by strangers, would be too terrifying.
Her relief quickly turned to unease. At that time of year, Green Echo Park was always full of people walking dogs, pushing strollers, tossing balls back and forth. Why was it empty now?
There was something else that was odd, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She looked all around the park, trying to figure out the source of this strange feeling. Her gaze lingered on a low-lying building a short distance away: the field house, where various items of sports equipment were stored, and where, in winter, skaters used to lace up their skates before heading out onto the frozen pond.
Used to. Because the field house had been torn down some years ago, when the city replaced it with a more modern building on the other side of the park.
Of course. Now she understood why the park was empty, why everything looked so familiar and strange at the same time. This was not Green Echo Park in the present. It was Green Echo Park as it had been when she was a little girl.
You are nowhere. You are suspended between universes.
That was what the Eternal had told her once before, here in this same spot in the park. She looked up at the face of the angel statue. It was still, immobile. This time no voice came from it. But she knew in her bones that the words were just as true as before. Why she was here, now, in the body of her seven-year-old self, she had no idea. She just was, and she had no choice but to surrender to it.
She looked out beyond the entrance to the park, to the other side of the street. There was the house she’d lived in as a child. On the second floor was the window of what had been her bedroom, where she’d sat countless times looking out over the park, telling Molly stories of a magical northern world with a great ring of light inhabited by singing spirit-creatures. A world she’d learned about in a book, one that she’d spent long hours poring over, until this northern land was so clear and vivid in her mind that sometimes she could catch glimpses of it there, in the landscape beyond her window.
A memory of one particular night came back to her, a night cold and still. A few older kids had kept on skating well after dark, their voices echoing through the air, the sound of their blades slashing across the ice. For a few moments she stopped trying to conjure up her fantasy world and just watched them gliding across the pond. She felt a dark feeling wash over her, an almost unbearable sense of isolation, an unshakeable belief that she herself would never, could never know that feeling of freedom, of joyful abandon. It was like she was cut off from the flow of life itself.
The memory of that night came flooding back, the feelings intensified by the knowledge of the wrenching things were still to come, the things she’d only had an inkling of – that her father would leave, that he would move hundreds of miles away and take her brothers with him.
Her family was torn apart. She was so young. How had she survived such sadness? The answer came to her.
It was Notherland that had sustained her during that time. Notherland became her home, its inhabitants her family. Without it, she felt like she would have died of sorrow.
How could she have turned away from Notherland? How could she have dismissed it so carelessly? She needed it now, just as she’d needed it then.
What have I done?
She looked farther into the park, toward the raised mound of earth in the middle of the ring of poplar trees. The ring of magic, like a fairy rath, that contained the portal, on the other side of which was Painted Rock. The spot where she’d been transported to Notherland a couple of years before.
She had to get back. Now.
She ran over to the mound and stood in the ring of trees.
Chapter 12: Contraries
HOW COULD THINGS have come back to this point? Mi had put so much into making the Story Cloth. She had sung her heart out. She’d learned to spin and weave and sew. She’d gone to the world of the Creator and discovered the origin of Notherland. She had come back here to Eternity and sewn some more.
“Something is still missing,” the OverSeer told her bluntly. “Your Story Cloth has no power.”
Mi wanted to scream at the OverSeer, at all the Songweavers. Hadn’t she done everything they said, exactly as they had told her? What more did they expect of her?
Nahawa approached her, speaking with great gentleness.
“We know how hard this has been for you. But you must not give up. Is there a part of the story you might have forgotten to include in the cloth? Can you think of anything?”
“If I knew, don’t you think I’d put it in?” Mi snapped at her.
She turned away from Nahawa, simmering with fury and resentment. It was all her fault, Nahawa’s and the rest of them. They told her that making a Story Cloth would bring Notherland back, but it was all a big waste of time. The Songweavers acted like they knew everything, but they didn’t know anything. They were stupid. Stupid and useless!
Nahawa withdrew, but Mi could feel her and the others watching from a distance. She refused to look at them. She didn’t want anyone to talk to her, to even come near her.
She knew she was having another of those tantrums the Eternal had spoken of, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything anymore. She was done with this ceaseless round of hope and crushing disappointment.
If this was Existence, she didn’t want any part of it.
She’d been lying curled up in a ball for what felt like hours. It was all she could do to shut out the world around her. She felt bad about snapping at Nahawa. The Songweaver had been like a mother to her, and the thought that she had caused her pain was almost unbearable. She had to find Nahawa and ask her foregiveness.
Mi sat upright and looked around. There was no one, nothing. No Songweavers. No Great Loom. Nothing but a vast emptiness.
She whirled around and felt the sensation of moving through water, and she knew immediately what had happened. She had been thrown back into the Great Pool of Existence. Mi felt the same feeling of dread, the terror of the void coursing through her veins.
Why was she here? Was this her punishment for her anger, her spiteful treatment of Nahawa and the others? Or had she unwittingly chosen to be here, the closest thing to non-being? She’d wanted to get away, to be done with it all, to escape the pain and disappointment. But not like this.
She screamed at the top of her lungs.
“Nahawa! I’m sorry! I’ll try again. I’ll do anything you say. Please take me back! Please!”
She could feel her words dissolving in the watery void. What was the use? The Songweavers could not hear her. No one could.
I am here.
The voice was so faint Mi feared it was only one of the distant echoes of the vanished universes. But she called out anyway.
“Is someone there?”
She held her breath and waited.
The reply, when it came, was still faint enough that she couldn’t be sure of what she was hearing. But she thought she recognized the voice.
“Lady Jane? Is that you?”
In her excitement she’d used the Eternal’s more familiar incarnation.
“I have always been, and always will be.”
This time the reply was strong and clear. She was not alone.
Mi sobbed with relief as words began to spill out of her.
“I tried, Lady Jane, I tried so hard…. I was terrible to Nahawa…. I want to tell her I’m sorry….”
“Calm down, little one,” the Eternal’s soothing voice interrupted her rapid flow of words. “I am here. Take your time.”
Mi took a deep breath and began to speak more slowly, telling the Eternal what happened after her return from the Creator’s world.
“I found out the creation story and stitched it in, just like the Songweavers told me. But it didn’t work. The OverSeer said my Story Cloth had no power, that there was still something missing.”
Mi waited for the Eternal to say more, but for a long time she was silent. Finally she spoke up again.
“Little one, do you know what is missing?”
Mi felt herself shrinking inside. She wanted to say no. But she could not lie to the Eternal.
“Yes, I do.”
“Can you tell me what it is?”
Mi’s reply was barely above a whisper.
“The Nobodaddy. That’s what missing.”
“How did this entity come to be missing from your Story Cloth?” the Eternal asked.
“Because I left it out. On purpose.”
“I see,” said the Eternal. “Why did you do this?”
Mi had the feeling that the Eternal already knew the answers to all of these questions, that she was asking them only so that Mi would say out loud the thoughts she had kept buried inside.
As Mi spoke, a shudder went up her spine. The memory came flooding back, of the time she had been abducted by the Nobodaddy, the memory she wished she could erase from her mind.
“Because the Nobodaddy is evil.” She spoke more firmly now. “I don’t want to bring him back to life.”
“That is exactly what you must do.”
The Eternal’s words pierced her consciousness like a knife. She knew that was what the Eternal would say! She knew it would come to this!
“Why?” she retorted. “Why can’t I leave the Nobodaddy out? I don’t want him in my Story Cloth. I want to forget he ever existed!”
“Your Story Cloth must tell the whole story, not just part of it. All the worlds that exist contain opposites within them – light and dark, good and evil. One cannot exist without the other. This is a truth that you already know well, little one. Without contraries there is…”
The Eternal paused, and Mi finished the phrase with some reluctance.
“… no progression.”
Without contraries there is no progression. It was another of William Blake’s pronouncements that she remembered from her time with him. Now she felt that she finally understood its true meaning.
There was no more running away from it. She would have to go back and weave the Nobodaddy into her Story Cloth.
“I will do whatever it takes to bring Notherland back,” she said in a halting voice. “But I still don’t understand. Why does there have to be evil in the world?”
The Eternal let out a sigh.
“There are some things, little one,” she said, a vulnerability in her voice that Mi had never heard before, “that are beyond all comprehension, even of the Eternal Ones.”
She stood before the Great Loom. Before her was the Story Cloth, still mounted on the warp, embroidered with the images that told the story of her homeland – the RoryBory, the Great Skyway, Painted Rock, Lake Notherland, Gavi, Molly the pirate doll, and the singing spirits known as Nordlings, her own sisters and brothers.
On the right side just below the upper border, though, there was an open space. She must have left it open without realizing it, as if she knew she would have to add something before the Story Cloth was truly complete.
She’d been afraid to come back here after the way she’d acted, especially toward Nahawa. But there was only love and acceptance in the Songweavers’ eyes as they welcomed her back. She told them about the Nobodaddy and why she had tried so hard to keep him out of her Story Cloth. They all listened with gravity.
“Now we understand why you were so reluctant to complete your Story Cloth,” Nahawa said. “Your Nobodaddy sounds like the entity we know as the White Marauder.”
“Who is that?” Mi asked.
“The White Marauder is not a who. It is a terrible, destructive force, one that assumes many names and many guises. It is not like wind or flood or fire. Those things have the power to destroy, but there is no intention in them. They just are. The White Marauder actively seeks to cause harm, wreaking havoc and devastation wherever it appears. The White Marauder arises from pure hate. It is the enemy of creation, which arises from love. This is what underlies everything that takes place here in Eternity. We Songweavers work ceaselessly to undo the destruction wrought by the White Marauder.”
“I see now,” said Mi. “why I feel nothing but love around me here.”
Nahawa smiled, but Mi thought she saw a hint of sadness on the Songweaver’s face.
“I understand why you feel that way. For it appears to you that we are always happy. But that is not the case. We do create from love, and there is much joy in our songs. But there is sadness and defiance as well. We feel the currents of sorrow and hate in the worlds we create. We cannot avoid these forces. They are part of us. Even…” she paused a moment, “…even your Nobodaddy.”
Mi reached out toward the Great Loom. As she touched the warp her hands began to tremble so violently she could barely hold them up. From behind her back two arms came and encircled her, and two dark-skinned hands laid gently over her own, calming and steadying them.
“You are brave, little one,” said Nahawa in a low, soothing voice. “No one can defeat evil for all time. The best anyone can do is keep it at bay for a time, and lessen the harm it causes.”
Then Nahawa began to sing, and the Songweavers joined in response to her thrilling chant. Mi closed her eyes and let the beauty and power of their singing wrap around her like a pair of angel’s wings.
She was ready to add the final image.
She lowered the needle and watched it pierce the Story Cloth.
Chapter 13: The Final Threads
UNDER THE BED, Molly felt a trembling. At first she thought it was footsteps. But it was too early in the day for Krista to be home. Maybe the cleaning woman was coming into the room. But the trembling grew stronger, too intense for mere footsteps. It felt to Molly like the whole world was undergoing a great upheaval, but the mattress above her head was not moving at all. Neither were the legs of the bed, nor the floor beneath her. Yet the shaking sensation was growing so powerful, she began to feel as if she herself would be torn apart.
Then everything went dark.
He had watched with rising anxiety as the pool of open water around him grew smaller and smaller. Now the ice held him in its grip. There was no escaping it. He had to accept and surrender to the great inevitability.
His time had come.
He had known, when he made the decision to cross over into the physical world, that this day would come. He gave thanks for all the gifts that life had bestowed on him – the delight in learning a new word, the joy of watching the sunlight dance on the water as he dove up from the depths, a freshly caught fish in his mouth.
But above all else, he gave thanks for the gift of his mate, Nor, and their daughter, Gavrila. He felt a sharp pang of regret that he would not see them once more before he passed on. He thought of his beloved Notherland, which he now knew he would never see again, though he had come here with such hopes of returning. He thought of his friends who still resided there – Molly, the Nordlings – and prayed that they be kept safe from any danger that threatened their world.
He thought, too, of Peggy and Jackpine, who dwelt in the physical realm, and of all the others he had met in his lifetime whose spirits had passed over into Eternity – William Blake, Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin, Grania the Pirate Queen. He hoped that his own spirit might do the same, so he could see them again. But he had no idea whether such a thing was possible for the soul of a mere bird.
But that did not matter, not at all. For truly, this sweet old world had given him everything he had ever wanted, and more.
It was his time. He was ready.
Now the ice was like a vise tightening around him, reaching up to the white necklace around his black throat and pulling him down into its cold, hard darkness.
Any time now….
What was wrong? She was here, in Green Echo Park, standing on the mound ringed with poplar trees. This was the place, the portal to Painted Rock and Notherland. She was concentrating, doing everything as she’d always done. But nothing was happening.
Why? What was going on? Why was she still here?
Here she was, trapped in a child’s body, her entire life in suspension, and nothing was working the way it was supposed to. She felt like screaming in frustration, to no one in particular: What do you want? What more do you want me to do?
She felt a slight movement in the ground beneath her feet, like a trembling in the earth. But everything around her was still. Nothing was moving. Yet the trembling was growing stronger and stronger.
Suddenly the ground under her feet began to feel soft, spongy, as if it were about to give way. As she struggled to keep her footing, she was overwhelmed by a strong downward force, a sensation of being pulled right into the earth beneath her.
Then everything went dark.
Mi lifted the needle and took a deep breath.
There had been moments when she felt like she couldn’t go on, when convulsive sobs swelled up in her chest, and her hands trembled so fiercely she was afraid of tearing the threads.
But each time, Nahawa came and steadied her hand, chanting in a soft, soothing murmur.
A short time earlier, she had completed the image of the Hole at the Pole, looking more ominous than ever, hinting of the terrors that lurked in its depths, terrors that she herself had experienced, along with the other Nordlings. But she found she could not bear to depict the Nobodaddy in any of the guises in which she had encountered him – the Enslaver, the Evil Angel. She realized, with relief, that she did not have to, because he was a creature of no fixed identity.
She thought of what Nahawa had told her of the White Marauder. In her mind’s eye she pictured a pale creature with flowing white hair and empty eyes. This, she decided, would be the image of the Nobodaddy in her Story Cloth.
From that moment, she sewed quickly, determinedly. Now her hand was poised over the cloth, ready to insert the final stitch. She pierced it and pulled the thread through. For a moment all was still. Then the air around her began to vibrate, first a low hum that grew in volume and intensity, until it became a violent, thunderous shaking.
Mi looked down at the Story Cloth and saw a great tension within the fibres. She began to fear that the force of the vibration might rip the cloth to shreds. But she could only stare in wonder as it became clear that the cloth itself was rising, lifting right off the Great Loom. The flat images of the the Nordlings, the RoryBory, and Painted Rock, once trapped in the flat, two-dimensional plane of the cloth, were breaking free of it, becoming animate, three-dimensional figures.
Her Story Cloth had power. It was coming to life.
Notherland was coming back to life.
Chapter 14: Nothing is Ever Lost
FOR SOME TIME now the trembling had ceased. But still Molly lay rigid, afraid to open her eyes, fearful of what new catastrophe might occur.
Then it hit her: My eyes are closed.
In her life as an ordinary doll, her eyes were always open, since she had no power to move her eyelids or any part of her body. What had happened just now, to make her eyes come to be shut?
Slowly, she opened them, almost disbelieving she had the power to do so. She was still on her back. But above her, instead of the mattress lying atop the wooden slats, she saw a vast expanse of blue sky. She shifted her gaze a bit to one side and found, to her astonishment, that she could move her head, too.
Around her she could see the gracefully tapered shape of pine trees.
Could it be?
Cautiously she lifted her head and looked out. Before her was a lake with sunlight dancing across its calm, shimmering surface. Near the shore was a large rock with a smooth face, which was dotted here and there with reddish-brown markings. No, not just markings. Drawings.
Lake Notherland. Painted Rock. It was true. She was back!
Molly joyfully leapt to her feet. It had been so long since she had stood upright that she felt dizzy and almost fell back down. She was just regaining her footing when she heard a voice behind her.
She whirled around. A young woman was racing toward her with her arms outstretched.
She flung herself into Peggy’s arms and burst into tears.
“I was afraid I’d never see you again!”
They hugged tightly for a few moments, until Peggy pulled away and looked at Molly.
“It’s okay, Molly. Don’t cry. I’m here now. Tell me, do I look like myself?”
“Of course. Who else would you look like?”
“I mean, do I look like a little kid? Like I did when I was seven?”
Molly looked at her, confused. “What are you talking about? You’re not a little kid. You’re Peggy!”
“Well, that’s a relief. You’ll never believe the weird thing that happened to me…”
Molly couldn’t help talking over her. “It couldn’t be any weirder than what happened to me!”
They both stopped talking, distracted by a commotion overhead. They looked up. Out of the sky an enormous slide unfolded. At the top was a bevy of childlike creatures, who proceeded down the slide in pairs and small groups.
“The Nordlings!” Molly shouted.
She and Peggy raced to the foot of the Great Skyway, where the sprites tumbled onto the ground, shouting and laughing. One by one, they raced over to embrace Molly, then clustered around her and Peggy.
“Where have you been?” demanded Re9, one of the biggest Nordlings.
Before Molly could answer, an excited clamor went up among the rest of the group.
“We didn’t know what had happened to you!”
“We were afraid!”
“Then we went away too!”
“You did? Where?”
“We don’t know.”
“We were nowhere.”
“We had no idea where we were!”
“Or if we were!”
Peggy had to shout to be heard over them.
“What are you all talking about? I’m the one who’s been away!”
Listening to the Nordlings excited babble, Molly understood that she was not the only one who had experienced a strange absence. But she could see from the expression of complete bewilderment on Peggy’s face that she had no inkling of the strange events that had taken place in Notherland.
Molly finally managed to get everyone to quiet down, and explained to Peggy that she and the Nordlings had all gone missing – by what means or for how long, she had no idea.
“It was as if Notherland was disappearing before my eyes,” she told Peggy. “Then suddenly, I found myself under a bed in this strange house, and I couldn’t move or speak. Inside I was still myself, but on the outside it was like I was just a doll again, the way I used to be before I came to Notherland.”
Peggy was struck by how similar Molly’s account was to her own strange experience of being back in her seven-year-old body.
“I was there for a long time and all these strange things happened,” Molly went on. “Then, just like that, I was back here again.”
“That’s just like it was for us!” cried Re9. “We were trapped for a long time in this watery place, and then all of a sudden, we found ourselves back in the RoryBory.”
“Well, whatever was going on,” said Peggy, “it’s over now. We’re all together and everyone seems fine. Everything’s going to be okay.”
They were startled by the sound of a voice from above. A tiny creature looked down from the top of the Great Skyway, then slid to the bottom and walked toward them. The Nordlings recognized her immediately.
“No!” she repeated even more vehemently. “Everything is not going to be okay.”
It took some time to unravel the whole story. Mi had so much to tell, and her words poured out so quickly that the rest of them could barely take in what she was saying. But as she recounted her meeting with the Eternal and her sojourn in Eternity with the beings known as Songweavers, it gradually became clear to all of them that the threat of extinction that had long hovered over Notherland had finally come to pass. Yet, incredibly, here it was, restored in all its glory, through the efforts of Mi in the making of her Story Cloth.
“How could this have happened?” Molly demanded. “How could an entire world just vanish for no reason?”
Mi’s mouth tightened, and she fell silent for a moment. She glanced at Peggy before she spoke again.
“You will have to ask the Creator about that,” she said brusquely.
Peggy felt all their eyes on her. What could she possibly say to them? She was as stunned as they were to realize how close Notherland had come to permanent extinction. But what Mi said was true: She was the Creator. Whose responsibility was it, if not hers?
“I think it may have happened when I got rid of my flute,” she began haltingly. “It must have set something in motion. I’m so sorry. I had no idea all this would happen.”
Molly looked at her, bewildered. “What do you mean, you got rid of your flute?”
“I sold it.”
“Why would you do a thing like that?”
Peggy could only shrug.
“It’s hard to explain, Molly. I’m not sure I understand it myself.”
Mi’s voice cut in sharply. “We can’t talk about this now! We have bigger things to worry about.”
“What do you mean?” Re9 asked.
Mi drew a breath before answering him. “The Nobodaddy.”
There was an audible gasp among the Nordlings.
“What about the Nobodaddy?” Molly demanded.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” Mi replied. “In order to bring Notherland back, I had to bring the Nobodaddy back, too.”
Another torrent of words spilled out of the Nordling as she tried to convey what she’d learned in her time with the Songweavers. That even though the Nobodaddy had been reduced to Nobody, an almost non-existent speck of matter – that even though in his guise as the Evil Angel, he had been consumed in flames – Mi, in making the Story Cloth, had brought him back to life.
“Why?” cried Molly. “How could you do that?”
“Because every world has both good and evil,” Mi replied with solemnity. “I had to include the Nobodaddy. He is an inescapable part of the story of Notherland. The final images in my Story Cloth were of the Hole at the Pole and the Nobodaddy. As soon as I finished stitching them, Notherland burst back to life.”
“And we were all brought back here,” said Molly.
“Not all of us,” Re9 piped up. “What about Gavi? Was he not part of your Story Cloth?”
“Of course he was,” said Mi.
“Then he should be here, too. Where is he?”
They all looked around. The loon was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe he’ll show up later,” Molly offered.
“It is possible,” said Re9, sounding more than ever like Gavi himself. “It is spring in Peggy’s world, the time when the loons make the long journey north from their wintering grounds in the south.”
His words set off an excited buzz among the other Nordlings, who were now convinced that they would soon see their beloved Bird-Full-of-Words. Peggy was not so sure.
“That settles it,” said Molly. “We’re heading up to the Pole right now.”
“Yes!” the Nordlings piped up excitedly. “Let’s go!”
Molly spoke up immediately. “No. There’s too many of you. It’s too dangerous.”
Her words were met with groans of disappointment.
“Come on, Molly.”
“We want to go, too!”
The doll shook her head firmly.
“You’ll all be better off here. Re9 will look after you.”
“Except for Mi,” Peggy added. “She’ll have to come with us.”
“No!” Molly retorted with vehemence. “Not after all she’s been through.”
“We have to bring her,” Peggy shot back. “How else will we know what to expect up there? Mi is the one who’s brought all this about. Not me.”
As Peggy spoke, Mi squirmed uncomfortably and looked off into the distance. For a few moments everyone was quiet. They all knew what Peggy had just said was true. But it was still startling to hear it stated so baldly.
They had been walking north for some time and were well above the Tree Line when Peggy suggested they stop and rest a while. She and Molly sat on some boulders covered with soft moss, while Mi pitched small stones in the scrub grass a short distance away.
Molly looked out on the barrens stretching before them.
“That’s the spot, isn’t it?” she said.
“What spot” Peggy asked, though she had a pretty good idea of what Molly was referring to.
“Over there. That’s where we found Jackpine trapped in the tree. That’s why you wanted to stop here, isn’t it?”
Peggy shrugged. She was reluctant to admit it to herself, but Molly was right. This was the place where she’d first encountered the strange youth who’d somehow found his way into her imaginary world – the spot where, with a touch of her hand, she’d released him from his imprisonment in a Jack pine tree.
On each of their journeys through various imaginary realms, her feelings for Jackpine had grown stronger. But he would not be part of this one. Mi had not woven him into her Story Cloth, even though she herself was deeply attached to Jackpine and had given him his name. Peggy had to admit this was probably as it should be. Jackpine had not been part of Notherland when she first created it. He was an interloper in her imaginary world. If they were going to find one another again, it would have to be in her ordinary, everday life, not here.
She recalled what the Eternal, in her guise as Lady Jane, had once told her:
You have created a great and wonderful story. And the hero of that story is you.
Time and again, she had let her feelings for Jackpine distract her from what she had to do. Time and again, she had tried to turn away from becoming the hero of her own story. But no more, she vowed. Not this time.
Right now, though, Peggy felt like anything but a hero. Here they were, heading up to the Hole at the Pole with no idea of what awaited them there. And where was Gavi? Had something happened in his physical life that kept him from coming? Everything in Notherland was in disarray, and it was all her doing.
As they set off again, she felt Mi’s stony gaze on her. The Nordling’s anger and sense of betrayal was almost palpable.
Later, they stopped for the night and made a bed of pine boughs. Above them they could see the RoryBory blazing in the sky, and they heard the long, sustained notes of the nightly chant. The Nordlings, at least, were safe and well.
As she lay down, Peggy thought back almost three years earlier, when she’d first returned to Notherland. Then Mi had looked at her with adoring eyes and hugged her tightly. Now the Nordling refused to even meet her gaze, and lay with her back to Peggy.
“Goodnight, Mi,” Peggy whispered.
The child’s back went rigid. She made no response.
“I wish you’d talk to me,” Peggy said. “I know you’re angry with me.”
Mi suddenly sat up and turned to face Peggy.
“You are the Creator! I looked up to you! I trusted you!”
“I know. I let you down. I made a mistake. I’m sorry.”
Mi turned away again, curling her body into a hard ball of fury.
“Creators are not supposed to make mistakes!”
How could she possibly get to sleep, with all these emotions churning inside her?
She had seen with her own eyes the sorrow of the Creator, heard with her own ears the regret in the Creator’s voice. It was wrong, she knew, to be so harsh, to lash out at Pay-gee. What’s done is done. She must let go of this anger.
If Pay-gee had not behaved the way she did, Mi reminded herself, if Notherland had not been extinguished, she would never have travelled to Eternity. She would never have met the Songweavers, who had come to mean so much to her. She would never have learned to make a Story Cloth.
She had been so preoccupied with what was going on here in Notherland that she’d barely had a chance to think about Nahawa and the others. Now, the memory of their farewell came back to her with full force, as she’d clung tearfully to Nahawa.
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“I know,” Nahawa said. “I will miss you more than I can say.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
Nahawa stroked the Nordling’s head softly as she answered.
“Remember, little one: Nothing is ever lost, especially not the bonds of love between beings. You will see me again, in your imagination, in your dreams. I may not always appear in the guise of the creature you see before you now. But you will know that I am there with you. For you have much to do before you come to rest here in Eternity.”
“You are a special being, special in ways you have only begun to know. Now you must go, and bring a New Song out into the world.”
Mi wanted to ask Nahawa what she meant. But in that instant Nahawa and the Songweavers and the Great Loom had all vanished, and Mi found herself back in Notherland, looking down on the other Nordlings from the top of the Great Skyway.
She missed the Songweavers so much, she thought her heart would crack with grief. It was so lonely, lying out here in the open under the vast night sky, without even the closeness and soothing hum of the other Nordlings to comfort her.
She turned back and looked at Pay-gee, sleeping a short distance away. She was lying on her side with one arm stretched out over the pine boughs. Softly, so as not to wake her, Mi crawled over and tucked herself into the crook of Pay-gee’s arm.
Chapter 8: The Gallery
“I’LL HAVE THE curried lentil soup and the green salad. Oh, and can I get an extra slice of bread with that?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Peggy smiled at the man across the counter and scribbled his order on her note pad. She was used to the extra-bread orders. This guy wasn’t a regular, but he knew all about the bread at the Queen B Café. The owner, Bea, was a wonderful cook and did all her own baking. People came from all over town for her homemade bread and pastries.
It was near the end of Peggy’s shift, and her feet were killing her. The hours of standing made her almost nostalgic for the constant bending of tree planting. She’d been working here for seven months, after school and on weekends, and she learned early on that Bea was a demanding boss who “ran a tight ship”, as she put it, and liked things done a certain way. But overall, Peggy had to admit that the Queen B was a pretty decent place to work.
At first, she’d taken the job because she hadn’t made enough from planting to allow her to move out on her own. But over time, the urgency she’d felt about getting her own place had diminished. Peggy was surprised, in fact, at how well she and her mom were getting along.
One evening, about a week after she’d come back from up north, the two of them were in the kitchen. Her older brother Michael was coming over for dinner, and Peggy was chopping onions for spaghetti sauce.
“So… Did you meet anyone interesting up at camp?”
Peggy felt her back stiffen at the question.
“What makes you ask?” she said warily.
Her mom shrugged.
“Nothing. Just curious.”
They worked in silence for a few moments. Then Peggy spoke up.
“Actually, there was someone. A guy.”
“Yeah,” she said with a bitter laugh. “I thought he was my soulmate.”
“Feel like talking about it?”
Peggy shook her head. “Not really.”
Her mother gently laid a hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, sweetie. But you know, you should be proud of yourself.”
“It was a gutsy thing you did, going up north on your own, taking on a tough job like tree planting. You seem different since you’ve been back, like you really know who you are now. I think that’s just as important as finding a soulmate.”
Peggy nodded and went back to chopping onions. She’d expected her mom to try and cheer her up, to reassure her she’d find someone else. This quiet wisdom caught her a bit off guard. She wasn’t sure how to respond.
After that, things seemed to shift between them. The tension that had hung in the air for so long gradually dissipated. They began to share the house more like equals, and life settled into a predictable, though somewhat hectic, rhythm. Her days were so full, what with classes, homework, and shifts at the café, that she barely had time to think. After the turmoil of the past few years, that was just fine with Peggy.
Now something else had come along to upset her newfound stability – a letter from her father. He was going to be in town for a few days next month, and wanted to get together for dinner. Peggy was flabbergasted. Aside from a few tension-filled phone conversations, she’d had no contact with her dad since her parents split up.
With her brothers, Michael and Gabe, things were different. Though they’d gone to live with their father, they came to visit Peggy and her mom a couple of times a year. Last fall, Michael had moved back to town to go to the university, so they saw one other even more often. Now that they were grown up, she and her brothers were more like friends. They could laugh about all the things they used to fight over.
But between Peggy and her father, the estrangement was long and deep. She was wary of this new overture. What did he want?
“What should I do?” she finally asked her mother.
“What do you want to do?”
“I’m not sure,” Peggy replied. “I’d like to see him. But I wonder if there’s really any basis for a relationship.”
“Then why not go and find out for yourself? It’s only dinner. See how you feel about him.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said.
But as the days went on, Peggy was still torn about what to do. What would it be like, seeing him after all this time? Had he changed at all? Would she be strong enough to stand up to him?
Her indecision seemed to stir up other things, too – things she hadn’t thought about for months. She had strange, restless dreams. In one, she left Molly under the bed, like she’d done once when she was little, and she could hear the doll’s voice, calling out to her over and over. The next day she kept having the unsettling feeling that something was missing, there but not there, like a phantom limb.
She didn’t want to go back to those emotional ups and downs. She was done with all that. Why couldn’t things stay on an even keel, just for a little while?
Finally, her shift was over. Most weekdays the Queen B closed around five o’clock, and sometimes Peggy stayed late to help close up. Today, Bea waved her away, saying she could handle it herself, so Peggy said good-bye and left the café.
It was a beautiful early-spring day. She decided to walk home instead of taking the bus, and headed toward the old Textile District. Once the hub of the garment industry, it was now filled with cafés, interesting shops, and art galleries, and was one of her favorite parts of the city. She stopped a moment in front of a boutique to look at a dress in the window. As she headed for the door of the shop, something in the window of the gallery next door caught her eye. She went to get a better look.
It was a slab of stone, irregularly shaped, with stylized images of animals, trees, birds in flight etched onto it. Several of the images were similar to some rock drawings she’d seen up north. As her eye ranged over the etched symbols, Peggy observed that this artist had rendered the aboriginal motifs in a distinctive, highly personal style.
Then she saw it. A larger figure at the base of the rock, placed to suggest that it had given rise to all the others. This figure was clearly human, holding a slender tube-like object up to its mouth.
The Flute Player.
Peggy rushed over to the door of the gallery and went inside. There were several pieces of engraved rock, some on display pedestals, a few mounted on the wall. Like the larger piece in the window, they depicted familiar native motifs. But the Flute Player was the one image common to all of the pieces.
She went over to the small plaque mounted underneath the nearest piece to read the name of the artist, then moved along to read the next plaque, and the next. They all bore the same name: Gary Stonechild.
Her mind raced back to the sight of Jackpine in William Blake’s workshop, engraving the image of the Flute Player onto a copper plate.
“I can carve designs on this metal, as my ancestors did on rock,” he’d told her then. “It’s like this is what I was meant to do.”
What did it mean? She’d resolved all that, put it out of her mind. None of it had happened. It was all in her head. But she could see the images right here in front of her, as clear as day. How could they be the work of anyone other than Jackpine?
She started over toward the desk in the corner of the room, where a young man sat working. She felt dizzy, almost out of breath, but made an effort to pull herself together.
“The artist who made these engravings – do you know him? Is he from around here?”
The man was a bit startled by the urgency in her voice, but smiled amiably.
“Actually, I think he’s from a reserve up north. It’s nice work, isn’t it?”
Still struggling to deal with a jumble of emotions, all Peggy could do was nod.
“Would you be interested in hearing his presentation?” the man asked.
“The artist, Gary Stonechild. He’ll be here tonight, talking about his work.”
Peggy was dumbfounded.
“He’s coming here? Tonight?”
The man looked bemused at her confusion.
“That’s right. Tonight at 7:30. You should come. You’d find it interesting.”
“I’ll be here. Definitely.”
She stumbled out the door of the gallery, walking quickly, her stomach churning with excitement. The anticipation was almost too much to bear. It was almost 5:30. The presentation would be at 7:30. How would she manage to pass the next two hours? What would she do with herself? She couldn’t just go home and wait. She had to do something to contain the turmoil inside her.
It wasn’t only excitement she was feeling. It was also fear. Not that it wouldn’t be Jackpine at the gallery, but that it would be. That he would turn away from her as he had that day at the reserve, as if he didn’t know her, as if he had no memory of their journeys to Notherland.
Suddenly she recalled the sharp prick on her finger. Was it still there, in the side pocket of her pack?
She raced home.
The house was empty. Her mother wasn’t back from work yet. Peggy was relieved. She wouldn’t have been able to hide her frantic state of mind from her mom, and she didn’t want to have to explain where she was going in such a hurry.
She ran upstairs and took the pack out of the closet. She unzipped the side pocket, turned the pack upside down, and shook it. Something tumbled onto the floor. There it was. The knife. The engraving tool that Will Blake had given Jackpine. The tangible proof of what they’d been through together. All these months it had been sitting here, in her pack. She hadn’t even looked. She didn’t want to know.
She bent down to pick it up and saw that something else had fallen out of the pack and landed near the edge of the carpet.
It was the bone flute. The one he’d carved for her to play, the one that had carried them from world to world in their search for Mi. She picked it up and ran her finger along the worn-smooth surface.
In a flash it became clear to Peggy: Selling her flute had been a mistake, a terrible mistake. She had to get it back somehow. Right now nothing mattered than that – not even finding Jackpine again.
She picked up the engraving knife and tossed it into her shoulder bag along with the bone flute. She rushed out of the house and headed in the direction of Church Avenue.
“Sorry,” the man behind the counter said. “It’s been sold.”
“Day or two ago.”
The man shrugged.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t here.”
“It was only a couple of days ago. You must have a record of the sale,” Peggy insisted.
He looked at her and shook his head.
“I’ll never understand people like you. You bring in something to pawn and you’re so sure you’re ready to part with it. Months go by and suddenly you’re desperate to get it back. But all right. Let me look through the sales slips.”
He opened a drawer, took out of stack of yellow slips of paper and began flipping through them. About a third of the way through the pile he stopped, pulled one of the slips out, and looked at it.
“This is probably it,” he said. “Silver flute, sold last Monday.”
Peggy could barely contain her impatience.
“What does it say?”
“It’s hard to read,” he said, squinting. He held out the receipt and pointed to a line at the bottom. “Here, you look at it and tell me what it says there.”
She took the paper. He was right. It was a barely legible scrawl. She tried to make out the letters.
“It looks like a W, then a B… L…” She stopped and drew a sharp breath. “It says ‘W. Blake.’”
“Well, there you go. Some fellow named Blake bought your flute.”
“How can I find him?”
“Should be some contact information on there.”
Peggy shook her head.
“No. There’s nothing but the name.”
He took the paper back and looked at it.
“That’s weird. Whoever sold it should’ve taken down an address or phone number. But they didn’t, so…” He shrugged and put the receipt back in the pile.
“What do I do? I have to find whoever bought my flute.”
“I don’t know, try the phone book. Though there’s probably lots of Blakes in there.”
Seeing that Peggy was on the verge of tears, he softened a bit.
“Sorry, dear. Wish I could help you out.”
She stumbled out of the store.
- Blake. W. Blake.
Could it be? As impossible as it seemed, could Will Blake himself have bought her flute? Was that why there was no address? Because Will Blake didn’t live in this time or place. He lived in London, England over two hundred years ago.
Suddenly, she could hear his voice in her mind, as clear as a bell.
You are a Mental Traveller, the one Jackpine’s people call the Flute Player. You have the ability to travel between worlds, to call new worlds into existence.
She didn’t have her silver flute, but there was something else she did have. She reached into her shoulder bag, pulled out the bone flute and raised it to her lips. There, standing outside the pawnshop with traffic speeding up and down Church Avenue, she covered the two holes in the bone and blew.
She lifted her finger off one of the holes and blew again.
Then she uncovered the other hole and blew.
She felt her legs go slack, as if she were falling to the pavement. But there was no pavement, no ground at all, under her feet. She kept falling.
The last thing she saw was a blue car pulling into the parking space just in front of where she stood. Then everything went dark.
She was standing in a field. Before her was a large zone of tall marsh grasses that led down to the bank of a river. A stone bridge leading to a wide avenue, dotted with buildings, spanned the river. The surroundings looked familiar. She been here before.
She turned to look behind her. At the edge of the field was a scattering of other buildings, lower in height and fewer in number than the bustling town, with its crowded streets and haze of chimney smoke, on the other side of the river.
She felt something tugging on her hand and looked down.
There he was, in overalls and cap, carrying his long-handled chimney sweep’s brush. Her old friend, the climbing-boy, looking exactly as she remembered him, except his face bore none of the wariness and suspicion of their first meeting. This time he gazed up at her with a warm smile, his bright eyes standing out against his soot-smeared face.
“It’s you!” she exclaimed. “But how…? What are you doing here?”
He said nothing, but pulled more insistently on her hand, indicating that she was to go with him.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
Again he made no reply, and she wasn’t sure if he was ignoring her or genuinely didn’t hear her. But the grip of his hand on hers was so open and trusting, like a baby’s, that she understood she must simply go along.
He led her down a narrow laneway lined with brick buildings. They stopped in front of one, a slender structure of three storeys with a small plaque over the door. She almost gasped aloud when she read the inscription on the plaque:
13 Hercules Buildings.
Of course. Now she understood. As he had once before, the climbing-boy had guided her to the dwelling of William Blake, the poet and artist.
Suddenly she found herself in a large, airy room. She had no recollection of entering the house through the door, but here she was, standing in Will Blake’s workshop, the climbing-boy at her side, still clutching her hand. At the long table that ran nearly the length of the room, a stocky, white-haired man was bent over a thick metal plate, wielding what looked like a small knife. It took a moment for the man to become aware of their presence, but when he did, he looked up and strode toward them with his hand outstretched.
As intimidating as Peggy had found him in their earlier encounter, the sight of him now filled her with a warm affection. She held out her hand to meet his, then realized his fist was wrapped around a metal implement. At first she thought it was the knife he had been using to engrave markings on the metal plate. Then she realized it was something longer, an slender cylinder with rounded pads on one side.
Her silver flute.
She looked at Will, gape-mouthed.
“My flute!” She managed to get the words out. “But I still don’t understand how you…”
Her voice trailed off. She could see that, like the climbing-boy, Will either did not hear her words or had no intention of replying to them. It dawned on her that these two beings in the room with her might not be Will Blake and the climbing-boy, but rather their essential selves, their emanations, as Will had often written about in his poetry. But even through the air of strangeness pervading the encounter, she could feel their affection and goodwill toward her, and she knew that she could trust them, and what was happening.
Will extended his fist and lowered the silver flute into her outstretched hand. As soon as her skin came in contact with its cool, smooth surface, Will, the climbing-boy, the workshop – all of it vanished.
Peggy clutched the flute as she felt herself falling again. After a moment the sensation of falling ceased, and she was in a dark place, her body curled in a ball, her arms coiled around the silver flute. She lifted her head and peered into the darkness. She had the sense of being in an enclosed space. Tentatively she reached out with one hand. There was something there, surrounding her. Something soft, like feathers.
The word came to her mind unbidden, but she knew immediately that this was what the soft veil around her was. As soon as that realization crystallized in her mind, the veil flew open with a loud whoosh! as two enormous wings lifted upward, hovering over her head.
She straightened up out of her crouched position, still clutching the flute. Now there was light, and she saw that she was standing on a pathway leading from a black wrought-iron gate a few feet away. There was a row of trees on either side of the gate, and bushes lined the pathway.
She turned. Behind her, on a massive pedestal, was the statue of an angel, with the figures of two small children enfolded in its wings. She reached out and touched one of the wings. Only a moment ago she’d felt it wrapped around her like soft feathers. Now it was hard stone.
Of course, she knew this statue, this place. She’d been here countless times before – Green Echo Park, the place she had transformed into an imaginary northern world when she was seven years old. But what was she doing here now? Why had she been transported back to this place of her childhood?
She’d recovered her flute. Now she needed to get back to her life, and to the gallery where she would soon find Jackpine. But how to get back? That was the thing about this mental travelling. She didn’t understand how it worked, not really.
She knew that it was the bone flute that had first set it in motion, catapulting her to Will Blake’s world. Now that she had the silver flute, she reasoned that playing the same notes on it should have a similar effect, returning her to her own time.
She lifted the mouthpiece to her lips and positioned her fingers on the pads. But something was wrong. Her fingers wouldn’t stretch the full length of the pads. It was because she was tense, she told herself. She lifted one hand off the flute and shook it vigorously. But when she placed it back over the pads her fingers still wouldn’t reach far enough.
This is ridiculous, she thought. I’ve played this flute hundreds of times.
She raised her hand again and looked more closely at it. Something about it was very odd, she couldn’t say what. Then it hit her.
Her fingers were too short. Her hand looked like it had shrunk in size. It looked like the hand of someone much smaller than she was.
The hand of a child.
Chapter 9: Waiting
HE WAS ALONE on the water.
Looming above him was the cliff where the ancient drawings had been carved into the face of the stone – the bear, the snake, the tree, the canoe, and the creature holding the tube-like object in its mouth, which he knew was known as the Flute Player. Looking out on the water, he could see the sheet of ice, its edge a short distance away, curving around him like a half moon. The waves breaking against the base of the cliff kept breaking the ice into tiny shards, which quickly melted and kept a small area of open water. But the days were getting colder and the sheet was growing larger. It was only a matter of time before the ice would cover the entire lake, locking its surface into frozen immobility.
Back at the gathering place where the Ones-Who-Are had congregated in great numbers, he had watched as flock after flock skittered across the water and lifted into the air. He had listened to their calls, which bade him Come with us! Come with us! as they began the great migration to the south.
But still he remained, until nearly all the Ones-Who-Are had gone, and he realized that his mate, Nor, and their beloved daughter must go, too.
It is time, father, his daughter had insisted. You must come.
She could not understand why he was so stubborn in his determination to stay behind. He tried to explain that the world that had given him life was in peril, that he had no choice but to do what he could to help. After a while, she came to see that there was nothing she could do to dissuade him.
As they prepared to leave, he spoke his thoughts to her.
You are One-Who-Knows-She-Is, and you must have a name. You will be called Gavrila.
He was pleased with his choice, for it contained the same letters as his own name and of their species name, Gavia. He was also pleased that he still recalled the female form of the name of the Angel Gabriel, whom he had encountered in the paintings of William Blake.
Do not worry, he told her. I will come and find you in the gathering place to the south.
It was wrenching to bid them farewell.
He watched Nor and Gavrila flap their wings along the water, then soar until they became tiny specks in the sky. He made his way to the cliff, the one with the ancient drawings like the ones on Painted Rock, the gateway between Notherland and the physical world. There he waited, and struggled to keep faith that he was doing the right thing. Once before, his courage had failed him when Notherland had been threatened. He had stayed behind when Peggy and Molly went to fight the Nobodaddy. He could never forgive himself if he let it happen again. He had to go.
The area of open water was shrinking. Soon it would be too small to allow him to take flight, for Ones-Who-Are need a wide expanse of water to summon up enough speed to lift their heavy bodies into the air. He remembered another time, when he had first crossed over into the physical world, when the Walk-Uprights named Peggy and Jackpine had helped him take off by pulling him across the surface of a frozen pond. But there was no one here to help him now. One-Who-Knows-He-Is was alone on the water.
And the ice was closing in.
Chapter 10: Our Wondrous North
IT WAS AN ORDINARY ROOM, what people in this world called a living room, with a couch, a low table, several lamps and chairs. In one corner was a box with a screen, much like the one Mi had seen before, during her time of captivity by the Evil Angel. She shuddered at the memory, and was relieved to see that, for now, there were no pictures on the screen.
This was the realm of the Creator, the very house where Pay-gee had grown up, and where her imagination had first conceived of Notherland. Somewhere in these rooms, she would surely find the thing that had first sparked the idea of Notherland in the Creator’s mind, the key that would unlock the mystery of its origin, and enable Mi to bring it back into being.
But this place did not look anything like Mi had imagined Pay-gee’s house would look – not that she had ever given it much thought. The idea of the Creator having once been a small child like Mi, with a mother and father and brothers, spending her days in an ordinary house – all that was strange to think about.
Yet here she was, an unseen spirit floating from room to room, now hovering over a long table where the woman who must be Pay-gee’s mother was setting plates of food in front of two boys who must be Pay-gee’s brothers. At one end of the table, a plate of food already in front of him, sat the man who must be Pay-gee’s father. Across the table from the two boys sat Pay-gee herself, not grown-up Pay-gee as Mi knew her now, but a much younger girl, looking like Mi remembered her when Notherland was still a “baby universe” as Gavi liked to call it.
Mi watched and listened as they ate their meal. Their voices were a low murmur, and though Mi could not make out all the words, she could tell that they were talking about ordinary things – what they had done that day, how good the food was. There was an eager smile on Pay-gee’s face as she spoke of a test she had done well on at school that day.
So this is what life in a family is like, Mi thought. For the first time ever she felt a twinge of sadness that she herself would never experience such a life, never know what it was to have a mother or father. But she reminded herself that the Nordlings were like brothers and sisters to her, that Molly and Gavi were as close to parents as any child could want, that even now she was fortunate to be in the loving care of Nahawa and the other Songweavers.
She did have a family, she realized. Her family was Notherland, and her task was to bring it back to life.
Abruptly the scene changed, and Mi found herself back in the living room. She was no longer hovering just below the ceiling but was now close to the floor where, a short distance away, Pay-gee was sitting in one of the big chairs. She was watching the screen, which was showing pictures of various small creaturs in blue and pink and other bright colors. The creatures had rounded ears atop their heads and spoke in high, squeaky voices that Mi found mildly annoying.
She was glad when Pay-gee picked up a thin black box and pointed it at the screen, making the pictures instantly disappear. Then Pay-gee went and picked up something that was sitting on another of the big chairs. It was a small creature, with arms and legs that hung limply at its sides and a black piece of cloth tied around its head, covering one eye.
As Pay-gee held up the creature, Mi got a better look at it, and realized with a start that it was Molly. Not the Molly she knew, but Molly before Notherland had given her life, when she was still an ordinary doll with a blank expression in her one good eye.
“Uh-oh. She’s playing with it again.”
The voice came from behind Mi. It was followed by laughter as Pay-gee’s brothers entered the room.
“Sheesh, why don’t you throw that old thing out? It’s a hunk of junk.”
Pay-gee clutched the doll to her chest.
“She’s not junk. She’s a pirate!”
The boys burst out laughing.
“Oh, right, a pirate! Just because you put that rag over its eye.”
Now Pay-gee stood up and faced the two boys, a look of defiance on her face.
“Leave me alone!” she shouted. “It’s none of your business.”
A woman’s voice called from another room.
“Boys, stop teasing your sister.”
“Okay, Mom,” one of them called back. But they kept on snickering and started a sing-song chant under their breath.
“Garbage doll, garbage doll, garbage doll…”
“Shut uuupp!” Pay-gee yelled after them as they ran from the room.
Her mother’s voice came from the other room again.
“Peggy, stop that yelling right now!”
“But, Mom, it’s Gabe’s fault. He and Mikey were…”
“I told them to stop teasing, and they did. Now I don’t want to hear another word about it!”
Again, the scene suddenly shifted, and Mi found herself in another room just off the living room. It was smaller, but full of light, and in the middle of it was a large wooden structure on legs. On one side of it was a kind of ledge that ran the full length of the structure. Pay-gee was sitting in a chair on the same side as the ledge. Next to her was the man Mi recognized as her father. In his lap was a black case. He opened it and took out a long silvery tube. He lifted the tube to his mouth and blew over a hole in one end of it. A note sounded, a sustained musical sound that stirred Mi. It sounded like the bone flute, but much clearer and sweeter. This must be the silver flute that Pay-gee had spoken of so many times.
Pay-gee’s father held the the flute out to his daughter and placed her fingers along its surface. She beamed up at him.
“I can’t wait to play it.”
“Your fingers aren’t quite long enough, but they will be soon. In the meantime, you must keep up your piano practice. Now, let’s hear the new piece you’re working on.”
Mi thought she saw a look of anxiety cross Pay-gee’s face.
“I haven’t had much time to work on it.”
“Nonsense, you’ve had all week. Come on, let’s hear it.”
He lifted a sort of wooden plank that covered the ledge, and Mi saw that it was lined with slender rectangles in a tight, tidy row. Most of the rectangles were white, but some – the shorter ones – were black. This must be the piano that Pay-gee’s father had just referred to, and she recalled from her earlier journey in Pay-gee’s world that the black and white rectangles were called keys, though she found it strange that they looked nothing like other keys she’d seen.
Pay-gee lifted her hands, spread her fingers over some of the keys and pressed down. To Mi’s astonishment, a series of musical notes cascaded through the room, and as Pay-gee moved her fingers and struck more keys, different notes arose into a melody. So this piano was a kind of music box, Mi realized. But unlike the flute, which could only produce one note at a time, the piano made several notes simultaneously, as many as Pay-gee could press down at once. To Mi, it was a remarkable thing, like many voices joining in harmony.
Music filled the room as Pay-gee continued to play. At one point another look of anxiety crossed her face as she glanced up at her father. It was as if Pay-gee feared he would be displeased, a prospect Mi thought impossible, so transported was she by the music Pay-gee was playing. But the father only sat with his eyes closed, appearing to listen intently, nodding occasionally.
At one point there was a slight interruption in the music, when Pay-gee realized she had struck a wrong note. Her father opened his eyes and glared at her.
“Sorry,” she said in a hushed voice, and quickly resumed playing. But a few moments later, it happened again. This time, her father leapt out of his chair and slammed his hand down on the top of the piano.
“What’s the matter with you? You’ve had plenty of time to work on this piece.”
“I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“You should have it perfect by now.”
“I know, I know. I’ll go back to the beginning.”
She lifted her hands back onto the keys, but he jerked them away.
“It’s a complete waste of time, listening to someone who doesn’t care enough to take the time to practice.”
“I’m sorry! Please let me try again. I’ll do it right this time.”
“Don’t bother! You’ll never be any good!”
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Mi could only watch in astonishment as Pay-gee leaned against the closed door, tears streaming down her face. How could this have happened? Her father had been so loving only moments before. What had made him so angry? Mi wondered. Why would he say such harsh, hurtful things? Surely he understood that music, even sad music, comes from a state of joy, not fear.
And what about Pay-gee? She seemed so hungry for his approval, so consumed by her need to please him. Why didn’t she stand up to him, the way she had to her brothers and their teasing? It seemed to Mi, for reasons that she did not understand, that humans held their fathers in higher esteem than other beings.
It was distressing to witness this, the sorrow of the Creator laid bare. Mi longed to comfort Pay-gee, to sing to her and heal her wounds the way the Songweavers had for Mi herself. She wondered if she did begin to sing, would Pay-gee be able to hear her? But she remembered the OverSeer’s stern warning that she must not do anything to make her presence known in Pay-gee’s world.
She was here for one purpose only, to unlock the secret of Notherland’s origins. But as much as she had learned of the Creator’s life and world, she still had no clue how Notherland had come to be. What should she do? Where should she look next? She had no idea.
She was beginning to fear she would never find what she was seeking.
Mi peered through the window. Night had come on, it seemed, in the blink of an eye. Though she understood that time was not the same for her, suspended between worlds as she was, she still found it disconcerting to be transported so abruptly from place to place, moment to moment.
Now she was in another, smaller room, with a jacket draped over the back of a chair and shoes and other belongings scattered on the floor. The room was dim, lit by one small lamp on a table in one corner. Much of the room was filled by a bed, which Mi knew was the name of the soft surfaces humans slept upon at night.
Pay-gee sat at one end of the bed, huddled under the covers, reading a book by the glow of the lamp. Tucked in next to her was the doll who would become Molly, though Mi found it very difficult to think of that passive, inert figure as the brash, lively Molly she knew.
Mi was glad to see such a peaceful scene after the tension-filled moments she’d witnessed earlier in the piano room. But she noticed that Pay-gee kept glancing toward the closed door, and realized that beyond it, voices were rising from somewhere in the house. At first they sounded muffled and low, then grew louder, sharper. Mi could not understand any of the words, but she could tell that it was a man and a woman, speaking in angry tones.
Was it Pay-gee’s mother and father? Were they fighting? From the look of worry on Pay-gee’s face, Mi thought it very likely they were. She shuddered as she recalled her own unease the time she’d overheard an argument between Molly and Gavi, the two beings she loved most. Again, she felt a strong impulse to comfort Pay-gee. Though she knew she must not do anything to make the Creator aware of her presence, Mi felt it could do no harm to move closer to her.
Carefully, she inched toward the bed and hovered above it. Over Pay-gee’s shoulder she could look at the pages of the book she was reading. The page on the left was full of words, which Mi, of course, could not read, and on the right was a picture of a lake surrounded by tall pine trees. The picture reminded her of Notherland, and Mi felt a pang of longing for her lost homeland.
Pay-gee turned the page. Again, the one on the left was filled with words, but Mi was astounded by what was on the opposite page. It was a picture of a night sky filled with a luminous band of light, tinged in pale green and rosy pink. At some points on the band, the light stretched into tall columns that seemed to extend to the farthest reaches of the heavens.
It was the RoryBory, the great column of light known in this world as the Northern Lights, that illuminated Notherland and gave it its very sustenance.
Mi felt a surge of excitement. She couldn’t wait for Pay-gee to turn the page again, to see what other scenes from her world this book might contain. To her dismay, Pay-gee put the book down on the bed and leaned toward the window. She pressed her face against it a moment, then pulled the doll toward her and did the same with its face.
Mi peered through the window and wondered what Pay-gee could possibly be looking at in the thick darkness. If only she would go back to reading so that Mi could see more pictures! The book was lying on the bed with the cover face up, and now Mi could see it clearly. On it were pictures of icebergs and a large white bear, above which was another depiction of her beloved RoryBory. Superimposed over the pictures were words: OUR WONDROUS NORTH.
She had no idea what the words meant, but she supposed it must be the name of the book. She noticed a stirring over by the window and realized that Pay-gee was reaching over to pick up the book again. Still holding on to the doll, she leafed hurriedly through the pages, as if looking for something in particular. Finally she stopped and stared intently at one page. Mi peered over her shoulder.
On the page was a picture of a large rock with a smooth surface, on which had been etched some simple line drawings of various objects. Mi could make out a tree, some birds in flight, a canoe with two stick figures riding in it. The drawings reminded her of the ones on Painted Rock, the portal between Notherland and the world of the Creator.
A sudden thought seized her: Maybe this was Painted Rock!
Was this how Pay-gee got the idea to create Notherland? Did this book hold the key to its origins? Was this the very thing Mi had come here to find, the creation story that would complete her Story Cloth and give new life to Notherland?
Yes. It had to be.
Mi looked over at Pay-gee. It was difficult to leave her here, looking so forlorn. But it was more important that Mi return to the realm of the Songweavers and bring back Notherland as soon as she could.
For somehow she knew that this was what would help to relieve the sorrow of the Creator.