Chapter 10: The FarNear
“NOT YOU, SAINT ZAK!”
“We thought you lived only to do good deeds!”
“You two are just jealous. While you’re sitting around drinking lattes planning your pathetic weekends, I’ll be doing something worthwhile with my time.”
Peggy opened her eyes with a start.
She was sitting in the passenger seat of the van. Zak was at the wheel, Simmie and Gisele were in the back seat. While the radio blared away, Simmie was playfully poking Zak’s shoulder from behind.
Gisele was speaking.
“Hey, Pegs? Did you hear about Zak going to India?”
“To save the children from the evil slave owners?” Simmie added.
“Yeah, I heard. You’re going to volunteer with a group that helps children working in the rug factories,” said Peggy, amazed to hear the words tumble so easily out of her mouth
Zak turned to her with a quizzical look.
“How did you hear about it? I only got the letter yesterday.”
“I can’t remember who told me.”
She turned and looked out the window so he wouldn’t notice how churned up she was inside.
What’s going on? she asked herself. What am I doing back here?
Did it have something to do with the child labor group? Was that why they ended up in the cotton mill? Did her imagination somehow take Zak’s mention of the carpet weavers and transform it into a nineteenth-century factory full of children spinning cotton?
The voice on the radio drew her attention away from her own musings.
“In the latest in a wave of child disappearances in the city’s west end, a little girl was reportedly lured from a playground yesterday.”
It was the same news report that was on when she’d been in the van earlier. Things seemed to be replaying themselves, like a tape rewound.
“Police have launched a city-wide search, fearing a serial abductor may be on the loose.”
Maybe not quite an exact replay, she realized. She couldn’t be sure. She hadn’t really been paying attention to the news item the first time around.
“Parents in the park said they hadn’t seen the child in the neighborhood before. The girl identified herself to one of the other children only as ‘Mia’”
Was that it? Was this why she’d come back, to hear this? Was the child “Mia” actually Mi? Had she found her way right into Peggy’s world?
A wave of profound dread rippled through her body. No, she wanted to cry out. Not this. Anything but this.
She turned to Zak.
“Can we turn that off, please?”
He looked at her as he snapped off the radio.
“Is it upsetting you?”
Peggy shook her head.
“No, I’m okay,” she insisted. “It’s just been a crazy day.”
“You just went one-on-one with a bear, Pegs. Take it easy. You’ve got a right to be a bit freaked out.”
Maybe she was reading too much into all this. Maybe all that had happened before – the Pirate Queen, the cotton mill, the Blakes – maybe that was all a strange dream she was only now waking up from. This was real life. This was normal. Things were just picking up where they’d left off. There was nothing to get all tied up in knots about.
She looked out the window again. They were passing a familiar stretch of road.
She thought of Jackpine. Even with all this strangeness going on, she ached to see him again.
“Hey,” she said. “Isn’t that the turnoff for the petroglyph site?”
“The petra…what?” Gisele asked.
“The place with the rock carvings. We’ve gone past it every day,” Peggy replied. “Why don’t we stop and see them?”
Zak looked at her strangely.
“What are you running on about, Pegs?”
She turned toward the back seat. Gisele and Simmie stared at her with blank looks.
“Come on, guys. The petroglyphs! We’ve talked all week about stopping to look at them.”
The two young women looked at one another.
“I have noooooooo idea what you’re talking about,” Simmie finally said.
She smiled weakly at the three of them, to cover up the terrible wave of dread that was washing over her again.
But now she knew she had to somehow push down the fear and nausea, to silence the voice inside that was telling her: Don’t go. Stay here. Whatever you do, don’t close your eyes.
Peggy closed her eyes.
It was like all the color had been leeched out of the world.
She’d seen some photos once – eerie black-and-white prints taken with a pinhole camera – that looked like this place. Swaths of darkness illuminated here and there by pockets of ghostly light. But even in the lit areas there was a total absence of color. The objects that she could make out – a door, a couple of garbage bins, a child’s bicycle lying on its side – were all varying shades of grey.
It felt like she was caught in a dream. But she knew, beyond a doubt, that she was wide awake.
She found herself standing at the top of a long narrow street with low, ramshackle buildings on either side. There was a murmur of distant voices, and sometimes what sounded like muffled cries. She saw what looked like a printed sign on a pole near the head of the roadway and walked closer to see what it said.
As soon as she read the strange word, she was instantly gripped by a strong sense of foreboding. This place was full of terrible things, things that she didn’t want to know about, didn’t want to see.
She could sense that The FarNear was just beyond the edge of the world she’d just left. At this moment she was poised on a threshold, a window between the two worlds, much like Painted Rock in Notherland. She had the power to go back, if she chose.
If I close my eyes, she thought, I’ll be back in the van again.
Every cell of her desperately wanted to flee.
But just as she lowered her eyelids, she caught a flicker of something on the street ahead of her. A small, dark figure.
It was hard to see in the dim, washed-out light, and it passed out of sight so quickly that she was barely able to make out the shape, except for one detail – a stick with what looked like rows of bristles at one end. Like a long-handled chimney brush.
Was it the climbing-boy?
She couldn’t be sure. It was such a fleeting glimpse. But he’d turned up twice before to help her when she’d needed it. If it was the climbing-boy, he might be here for a reason.
She shook off her terror, and reminded herself of what she’d almost forgotten, the thing
she’d come here to do.
I have to find Mi.
She crossed the threshold and entered The FarNear.
She began walking down the street. At first there was no sign of any people, except for the undertone of muffled voices and a low hum of unseen activity. Then, as she was passing a low, flat-roofed building she peered down an alley between it and the adjacent building.
In the darkness she could make out a cluster of small bodies, some sitting up, some slumped over, some lying down, all of them sprawled over several slabs of damp cardboard from torn-apart boxes. A couple of them were huddled together with a tattered blanket draped over both their heads. Then a hand pulled the blanket away, revealing their faces in profile, both bent over what looked like a metal can.
Peggy took a couple of steps forward. One of them, a boy about nine or ten, looked up at her with a wide, vacant grin and glazed eyes. She could see he was missing several teeth, and a silvery-grey substance was smeared above his mouth and over his cheeks. At first Peggy assumed it was milk or some other drink. But as she got closer the fumes overtook her. Paint fumes, she realized. The can they were huddled around was full of paint. They were pushing their faces so far into it to sniff the fumes that they were smeared with it.
But they didn’t care. They were barely even aware of it as far as Peggy could tell. A few more of them looked up at her with the same vacant grins, while the rest just sat sprawled on the cardboard, their heads nodding limply.
Watching them, Peggy felt a grim sadness envelop her. She couldn’t bear to watch anymore, and turned away.
She was about to move on when a small hand shot out in front of her. She looked down. The boy with the paint-smeared face was crouched at her feet, giggling, his palm stretched out insistently as he muttered a phrase over and over.
Peggy felt around in her pockets. Her backpack and wallet had been left behind in the van, but she usually kept a few coins handy for pay phones. She pulled a couple of quarters out and slipped them into the boy’s hand. He closed his fist tightly around the coins and let out a whoop as he crawled over to show the others.
She hurried on up the street without looking back. After a few paces, she stopped, still shaken, and tried to catch her breath.
A cry emptied into the street from one of the nearby buildings. It sounded like suppressed sobs, the whimpers a small child makes when trying not to cry. Could it be Mi? she wondered. She rushed over and peered through the nearest window.
A child, a girl of about seven, was on her hands and knees scrubbing a floor. A woman was standing over her, glaring down at her, arms folded. After a few moments the child kneeled upright and looked hesitantly up at the woman. She said something quietly, in a language Peggy didn’t understand, and waited for the woman’s reaction.
It came swiftly. Peggy winced at the loud smack of the woman’s hand hitting the girl’s cheek. The woman then pointed to a spot on the floor and began shrieking at the girl in the same unfamiliar language.
What was going on? Peggy wondered if the woman was the child’s mother, though she seemed to be acting more like a boss or overseer. Peggy fought an overwhelming urge to race into the building and give the woman a good whack in return. But something held her back, an instinct that no matter what she witnessed in this strange, unsettling world, she mustn’t get involved. She couldn’t afford to get distracted from her task. She had to find Mi.
The whimpering continued as Peggy walked on. She hated the knowledge that she was powerless to do anything to help the little girl. Now she just wanted to put distance between herself and the sound of the child’s choked cries.
She looked down the street, and stopped suddenly. There it was again – the small creature, the long-handled brush. Immediately it darted back into the shadows.
Was it him?
She headed farther down the street. Ahead there appeared to be a swirl of activity, in stark contrast to the eerie emptiness she had first encountered. No longer bathed in darkness, she now found herself blinded by glaring lights illuminating a series of signs over the doors of the buildings. The largest of the signs read “Boys and Girls Club”. Along the street stood clusters of children in twos and threes, mostly girls and a smattering of boys. Peggy scanned the groups to see if Mi was among them, but there was no sign of her anywhere.
She approached one girl standing by herself under a sign that read “Touch Bar”. She was a few years younger than Peggy – thirteen or so – but in a low-cut dress, stiletto heels, and heavy make-up, she was clearly trying to look older. A short distance away Peggy saw a larger figure, an older man, engaged in conversation with a couple of girls. He was holding out what looked like some rolled-up bills. Peggy strained to hear what they were saying.
“Fifteen for me, thirty for my little sister.”
“Thirty?” the man growled.
The older girl shrugged.
“The younger the girl, the higher the price.”
Peggy walked on quickly. Farther off in the shadows she could make out the outlines of figures large and small, making furtive movements and guttural noises. She looked around for Mi, at the same time dreading that she might find her.
Nausea overcame her, as it began to sink in just what this place called The FarNear was.
Peggy hurried on down the street, leaving the clubs and blaring lights behind. It was dark again, and quieter at this end of the street. She stopped for a moment to collect herself. She was determined not to let what she was seeing overwhelm her. For Mi’s sake, she couldn’t afford to.
The sound of shuffling feet approaching from the engulfing darkness at the end of the street came towards her. She watched as a group of figures marched closer with what looked like long sticks slung over their shoulders. As they drew nearer she could see that the sticks were actually rifles. Soldiers, she figured. But what were they doing here? Had they come to raid the club district?
There was something odd about these soldiers. Their guns seemed so large, with such long barrels, in proportion to their bodies. Then she realized why.
The soldiers were children – all boys, most about thirteen or fourteen, some younger, a few as young as six or seven. As they passed her one boy noticed Peggy and stopped abruptly, drawing his rifle from his shoulder strap and pointing it directly at her.
“Hey, you!” he shouted.
Instinctively Peggy raised her hands over her head. She was shocked at the ease with which this small boy wielded the weapon. Clearly he was familiar with it, had handled and discharged it, and now she was just praying that he didn’t intend to use her for target practice.
He glared at her.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
“A little girl. Her name is Mi. Have you seen her?”
“A girl?” he said with a contemptuous laugh. “Do we look like we’ve got any girls with us?”
“Girls can’t be soldiers!” sneered another boy. He turned to the one brandishing the rifle. “Forget it. She’s nobody.”
Without taking his gaze off Peggy, the first boy lowered the rifle slowly and slid it back onto his shoulder. Finally he turned away to follow the others.
Despite herself, Peggy called after him.
“Why do you have that gun? You’re just a kid.”
He looked back at her.
“Why?” he spat out fiercely. “Everybody knows why. We’re at war!”
“Yeah!” shouted one of the other boys.
He raised his rifle over his head and fired it into the air. The others followed his lead.
“Let’s kill ’em!”
Peggy wanted to ask who they were at war with, but by the time the volley of shots had died down, the boy-soldiers were well on their way up the street.
As she moved on in the opposite direction, the eerie quiet settled again over the black-and-white world. The bustle of the club district and the violent antics of the boy-soldiers seemed far away. There wasn’t a soul to be seen anywhere.
She wondered what to do now. Where else was there to look for Mi?
She was standing in front of a long, windowless, single-storey building reminiscent of a barracks or warehouse. It had no door, but there was a large opening at one end. Out of the corner of her eye Peggy saw a head peeking around the wall into the opening. She looked over. A child was peering out at her with wide, anxious eyes.
Her heart began to pump wildly as she raced toward the building. The child had slipped out of view, back around the other side of the wall. Peggy went to the opening and looked inside. The child was leaning against the wall, looking up at her.
It wasn’t Mi.
Bitterly disappointed, Peggy started to return to the street when she heard a voice call out sharply. The child jumped up, a fearful look in her eye, and ran into the building. Peggy followed her all the way around to the other side of the wall. An older child, fourteen or so, was standing there glaring at the little girl. The older one held up something that looked like a metal clamp attached to a chain. She shook it at the child, saying something that Peggy didn’t understand in a harsh tone of voice.
The little girl lowered her head and meekly followed the older one. Peggy could see now that stretching out from one wall of the low-ceilinged room were rows and rows of looms laced with fibres. Sitting at the base of each loom were children of varying ages and sizes, packed tightly together on benches. Strewn on the floor all around them were balls of yarn, which they tugged and wound around the fibres on the looms, tying the strands into tiny knots.
The little girl Peggy had spied at the entrance now squeezed in between two of the children at the loom and begin knotting strands of yarn. As soon as she took her place, the older girl who had yelled at her took the metal clamp, slipped it around one of her ankles, and fastened the chain to the base of the loom.
Then Peggy saw that all the other children were shackled to the looms as well.
By now she knew there would be no beautiful music, like he’d promised. The Enslaver was like the Nobodaddy , she realized. He hated music.
He was growing impatient with her.
“Think you’re not like the others? Think you’re better than they are?”
He had been so nice at first, coaxing and cajoling her to sit next to him while they watched the moving pictures on the screen. Now he seemed to want her to act a certain way, like the children on the screen. She didn’t like to watch, the thing-with-no-name they were doing, or rather, that was being done to them.
But when she tried to turn away, he put his hands around her head and turned it back, forcing her to face the screen. Seeing the hollow eyes of the children made Mi start to feel like she herself was becoming hollow inside. But then she would sing the Angel song again – in her mind only, not out loud – because that would make him angry and he would cover up her mouth to force her to stop.
A quietness would settle within Mi, a feeling of absolute certainty that she would soon be safe, that Pay-Gee was on her way, that she was coming nearer and nearer with every moment to free her from the Enslaver.
He could sense when the quietness came over her. He didn’t like it. It made him even angrier.
“So little, but so stubborn. We’re going to have to do something about that.”
After leaving the carpet-weavers Peggy had come to the end of the street. There were no more buildings, and the roadway trailed off into a field that stretched out, bare and open, until it was swallowed up by darkness. Off in the distance, Peggy could see intermittent flashes of light. At first she thought it was a thunderstorm, but bursts of gunfire made her think it might be the war the boy-soldiers had spoken of.
She had no idea what to do next. Was it all a big mistake, coming here?
Downhearted, she turned and headed back in the direction she’d come from. As she passed the low building where the carpet-weavers were working, she caught a glimpse of some of them, including the little girl who’d peeked out at her earlier. But now they were so absorbed in their work they didn’t notice her at all.
She was coming up again to the lights of the club district. From this direction she could see a small building tucked off to one side of the street, one she hadn’t noticed earlier. It was dark inside, except for a dim light in one window high above the street.
She decided to take a closer look. As she approached the building a tune was playing in her head – the one she’d sung at the Blakes’ the night before.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord.
She hoped it was true – that at that moment somebody or something was watching over her, and over Mi, wherever she was.
She tried the door of the building but it was locked. She looked around the other side. There was no back door, only a few windows, all closed and out of reach.
As she came back around to the front of the building, she was startled to see a figure emerge out of the darkness. He stood before her, the whites of his eyes almost glowing against his soot-covered face.
This time there was no mistaking.
“What are you doing here?” Peggy asked him. “What is this place?”
The climbing-boy said nothing but simply raised his long-handled brush high over his head and pointed it toward the flat roof of the building. For the first time she noticed a chimney, with curls of smoke rising from it.
There was a dilapidated wooden fence running alongside one wall of the building. The climbing-boy nimbly mounted it where he could get a footing on one of the window-sashes and scamper up onto the roof. He turned and beckoned to her to follow him.
Peggy managed to hoist herself up onto the fence and awkwardly braced herself on a window ledge. From there the climbing-boy pulled her up onto the roof. In a moment they were both looking down into the chimney. A low fire was smoldering at the bottom. He raised his head, locked eyes with Peggy, and pointed back down into the chimney.
“What?” she gasped. “Are you crazy? I can’t go down there.”
The climbing-boy shot her a look of furious indignation, and she immediately understood why. Descending smoldering chimneys was something he did all the time. She started to explain herself, but he ignored her and looked back down into the chimney. Lowering the long-handled brush into the cavity, he scraped the sides with the wiry bristles, knocking several chunks of charred soot into the fire below. She watched them fall on top of the weak flame and smother it. It sputtered out, sending a column of smoke up through the cavity.
He looked at her again with a fierce gaze.
She nearly jumped, startled to hear him finally speak.
“You can do it.”
It was clear from his tone that he had no intention of coming with her. She’d have to do it on her own.
The opening was just wide enough for her to ease her body through. She figured if she went down carefully, she could jump aside at the bottom and avoid the hot coals. She scanned the brick walls for a place to grab onto. There were a couple of gaps where bits of brick had crumbled away, and she was able to ease herself deeper into the cavity.
As she did she looked back up towards the roof. The climbing-boy had vanished, like a phantom.
The heat inside the chimney was stifling. With her legs dangling above the smoldering coals, she looked quickly for another spot to grab onto. Finding nothing, she figured she’d have to let go, allowing herself to free fall the short distance to the bottom and scramble quickly away from the embers.
She fell almost soundlessly, stifling a shout of pain as one knee landed on a blazing coal. Quickly she jumped away from the fire and looked down at her leg. The coals had burned a hole through her jeans. She felt through it and winced as she touched the red, puffy kneecap. It wasn’t too bad, she realized with relief.
Inside, the building was cramped, a series of small, low-ceilinged rooms with oddly slanted floors. She looked in one, then another.
“Can I help you with something?”
The shock of hearing a voice made Peggy almost jump out of her skin. She whirled around.
A man was standing in the doorway. He was short and slightly stooped-over, with a pasty, mild face, oddly unsettling in its lack of definite features.
“I was just looking for someone,” she blurted out.
“Who is it you’re looking for?” he asked with an affable smile.
“Just . . . a friend,” she stammered.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you. There’s no one here but me. How did you get in?”
“Oh, sorry,” she began, but he continued speaking right over her.
“I must’ve left that door open again. Careless of me. Now, if you’ll just tell me what your friend looks like, I’ll keep an eye out for her, or him, as the case may be.”
“That’s okay,” Peggy said quickly. “I’ll just look around some more outside.”
“Outside?” The man shook his head disapprovingly. “I hope the person you’re looking for is not out there.”
“Is your friend a young person like yourself?”
Peggy hesitated a moment before answering.
“A bit younger, actually.”
“No, that doesn’t sound good at all.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.
“If you have a young friend wandering out there, well, you’ve seen for yourself what happens to children in The FarNear.”
“Terrible, isn’t it?” the man went on. “The way some people treat those who are smaller and more vulnerable than they are.”
He looked at Peggy with a fixed gaze.
“That’s why you’ve come here, isn’t it? To rescue your friend?”
“What makes you think that?”
“I can see it in your face. You’re afraid something terrible’s happened. Or might happen. And you’re even more afraid that I might have something to do with it.”
He shook his head gently.
“If only you knew how wrong you are.”
They stared at one another for a moment. Then Peggy spoke up.
“What do you mean by that?”
“That’s why I live here, on the edge of The FarNear. I’m a rescuer. I try to save them, to get as many as I can away from those evil people who use them and hurt them. But there are so many. I am alone here. There’s only so much I can do.”
Peggy saw a tear roll down the man’s cheek. He abruptly brushed it away.
“So I can see,” he went on, “why you might be suspicious of me. But I tell you, saving the little ones is all I live for. I’m like you. I can’t rest when I know terrible things are going on. Your friend is one of the lucky ones. Most of the little ones here don’t have anyone who cares enough to look for them. Let me help you. We’ll look for her together.”
Peggy was torn by conflicting feelings. He was right. She didn’t trust him. Yet something in his voice made her want to. Why was she so suspicious? There had to be good people in every world, even this one. She thought again of Zak, going off to try and rescue child laborers. How was this man so different?
Suddenly she felt overcome by waves of exhaustion.
“Looks like you banged yourself up pretty good,” the man said, pointing to her knee.
“It’s nothing, just a burn.”
“You look awfully tired,” he said. “Why don’t you just sit down here for a few minutes and rest? I’ll go get something for that burn, and then we’ll look for your friend.”
Peggy slumped to the floor, ripples of relief running through her body. She’d been walking for so long, searching, fighting to keep from being overwhelmed by her fears. Maybe this man really was a rescuer, an Angel come to her aid.
Feeling herself starting to nod off, she shook her head in an effort to stay awake. If she fell asleep there was no telling what might happen. She might slip away from this world altogether. She mustn’t let that happen, not when she was so close. Because somehow she could feel that Mi wasn’t far away. She was somewhere in this world. And if this man, this Angel, could help find her, then . . .
The man came back into the room with a bandage. But instead of putting it over her knee, he said something about having to draw the poison out first. He bent down, pulled her knee to his mouth and began sucking on the wound.
She was horrified. She screamed at him to stop. What was he talking about, poison? It was a burn.
But he kept on sucking, and it dawned on her that she’d felt this way once before – in the Bottom Below, when the Nobodaddy had tried to suck the life out of her with his cold, clammy mouth.
Peggy woke up, shaking.
Now she knew for certain: The man was no Angel.
She had to get out of here.
The room had become pitch dark. She felt her way along one wall to where she thought the doorway was. She could swear that when the man left a few moments ago, there had been no door there, just an open entrance. But now there was a door, and it was shut tight. She grabbed the handle and pulled.
He’d locked her in.
She began pounding and screaming, but now it felt to Peggy like she was in the grip of a nightmare. Because no noise rose up when she pounded her fist on the door. No sound came of her mouth when she screamed.
Mi had been so glad when the Enslaver finally left her alone. But now she looked up as the door opened, and her heart leapt for joy. There was Pay-Gee, the Creator herself.
“Of course,” Pay-Gee answered. “You knew I would.”
Mi rushed into her outstretched arms. She had begun to doubt, but she shouldn’t have. The Creator would not let her down, ever. Mi buried her face in Pay-Gee’s chest and felt her strong arms enfold her, relaxing her tiny body into the deep feeling of safety.
Something wasn’t right.
Mi felt a strange quiver run through Pay-Gee. The Creator’s hands began to slither down her body in odd, jerky movements, as a deep groan rose up from her chest.
It was like what the Enslaver had made her watch on the screen in the box. The horrible thing-with-no-name that was done to the children on the screen was now being done to her.
Mi pulled her face away and looked up.
“You have her face and her voice, but you are not the Creator!” she said fiercely. “You are not Pay-Gee!”
Now the familiar gravelly laugh of the Enslaver rose up.
“Fooled you, didn’t I?” he said. “I could have forced you. I could have just taken what I wanted. But it wouldn’t have been the same. I wanted you to come to me. And now you have.”
He was right. He had gotten what he wanted from her. She had submitted to the Enslaver, and now she could feel that she was becoming hollow inside. The light was going out of her eyes. Just like the children on the screen in the box.
It was too late. She felt the spirit draining out of her. She would never again glow in the great dancing rays of the RoryBory.
She would never sing again.
She was becoming an empty shell.
Peggy could hear voices in the next room. She stopped pounding a moment and put her ear to the wall.
One of them was Mi, she was sure of it. But the other voice sounded eerily like her own.
She remembered what Will had said: The Nobodaddy exists in all times and places. He assumes many guises and goes by many names. He will come again – he always does – but when he does you may not recognize him at first.
Her mind flashed back to her first encounter with the Nobodaddy – how he’d been able to confuse her and make his thoughts feel like her own. This time he’d somehow managed to assume her very persona and win Mi’s trust.
She began screaming and pounding on the wall again, but still no sound came out. Realizing it was no use exhausting herself for nothing, she bent down to listen at the wall again. Now all she could hear were low murmurs, heavy breathing and a child’s muffled weeping.
How could she let herself be taken in by him again? How could she have been so stupid?
A familiar voice rose up from deep inside her:
Give up. No use fighting. You’ve lost.
She thought of Molly. Molly, who never stopped trying, who never gave up. If only there was some way she could harness the spirit of Molly at this moment.
Involuntarily she found herself calling out the doll’s name.
“Molly!! Molly, come here! I need you now!!”
This time she finally heard her own voice ring out again. But as if trying to drown her out, the inner voice rose up even louder.
You’ve lost. No use fighting. Give up.
The voice was right. She could feel it in her bones. This is where it was going to end. She’d defeated him once, but she wasn’t going to this time.
She fell to her knees and sobbed bitterly.
In a corner of the dark room she thought she saw a tiny point of light – a visual trick played by the refraction of her tears, she figured, trying to blink it away.
But when she opened her eyes she could swear the point of light was growing larger and larger. Finally the outlines of a figure began to emerge in the darkness.
It was Molly. But Molly minus her eye-patch. From her left eye socket, the Aya was sending out an intense ray of light.
“Molly! How did you get here?”
“I don’t know. I was on deck when I heard a voice. I thought it was the whales singing again, off in the distance, but then I realized it was someone calling my name. There was no one around and I knew it had to be you. Next thing I knew, I was on my way to you.”
“Thank God! I found Mi.”
Peggy nodded toward the door.
“He’s got her in there.”
“I’ll explain later. We’ve got to get in there but the door’s locked.”
“No problem,” said Molly. “Stand back a ways.”
She turned her face to the door and aimed the Aya at it, focussing the beam tightly on the metal lock. As the Aya’s beam bore down on the lock, it hissed and grew white-hot till it finally gave way.
They burst into the next room and Molly flashed the Aya around in the darkness.
There he was, crouched over Mi in the corner. He turned to them, a stunned look on his face.
“Get out of here!” he screamed at them in a loud, thunderous voice
He pulled himself to a standing position, and Peggy could see now from his great, looming height that this was not the meek little man she’d encountered earlier.
Towering over them was the Evil Angel himself, his huge red cape flowing behind him. The terrible emptiness of his eyes, which had so disturbed Peggy in Will’s painting, now filled her with an unnameable dread. She glanced over at Molly, who stood paralyzed with fear at the sight of the red-cloaked giant.
She’d always relied on Molly to be the brave one, and the terror she saw in the doll’s eyes shook Peggy to the core. She steeled herself against her own fear, reminding herself of his deception, his violation of Mi, all the terrible things she’d witnessed here. He wasn’t the Rescuer of the children of The FarNear; he was their Enslaver.
As the Evil Angel swept down on them with a piercing howl, Peggy pushed Molly out of the way. In the same motion she leapt to one side of him and managed to swoop down underneath the folds of his cape. She grabbed Mi and clutched the Nordling to her chest. The demon whirled around and lunged at her again. She backed away to elude him but he managed to grab one of Mi’s dangling feet and wrapped his hands around her tiny legs. Peggy struggled to hold on against the tremendous force of his pull. She could feel Mi’s body slipping from her grasp. He was too big, too powerful.
Suddenly it came to her.
Though the Evil Angel had looked so threatening and overpowering in Will’s painting, she recalled, his right ankle was shackled and chained, holding him back as he tried to pull the child from the Good Angel’s arms. Where was that shackle now? she wondered.
She looked down at the Evil Angel’s right ankle. It was bare. Did the shackle only exist in Will’s imagination?
Or in hers?
Peggy summoned up the image from the painting in her mind. She was sure that if she could make the shackle appear, by sheer force of will, it would hold him back just enough to let her wrest Mi out of his grip.
Tightening her grip on Mi, Peggy fixed her gaze on the Evil Angel’s foot and, with all the effort she could muster, willed herself to see the shackle materialize.
Suddenly the Evil Angel let loose a fierce bellow of rage. He looked down in horror at the clamp of cold, hard iron around his ankle. Peggy snatched Mi out of his hands. He tried to lunge after her one last time, but the shackle held him back.
Seeing Mi safely in Peggy’s arms, Molly had already made a break for the door. Peggy turned to follow her, then stopped short. An urgent voice sounded in her head – the voice of the Eternal, as Lady Jane, delivering the same warning she’d carried into her first battle with the Nobodaddy.
“You must be ruthless in the service of good.”
It wasn’t enough to get Mi away from the Evil Angel, Peggy realized. For the sake of all the children of the FarNear, she had to try to finish him off.
Molly turned back and shouted at her impatiently.
“Peggy, what’s the matter?”
Peggy held out her hand.
“Give me the Aya!”
“Give it to me!”
Molly handed over the Aya to her. Peggy immediately aimed the beam directly at the Evil Angel’s cape.
“You think you can stop me with fire?” he yelled with a rasping laugh. “I live in fire!”
But as the waves of heat grew more and more intense, his cape suddenly burst into flames. The Evil Angel looked in disbelief at the tongues of fire blazing behind him. Peggy held the Aya firmly. The beam bore down on him till he was surrounded by a ring of flames. The sneering grin on his face turn to horror as the heat licked at his skin, making it crackle and sizzle.
He let out one final, vengeful roar as the flames consumed him in a great rush.
“Look!” Peggy shouted to Molly.
She pointed to a ribbon of flames zigzagging across the floor toward Molly’s feet. The fire was growing out of control, threatening to engulf them all.
“Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!”
Clutching Mi, Peggy raced for the doorway with the ribbon of flames licking at her heels. She stepped through the opening and turned to look behind her. Molly was trapped on the other side of the flames, now reaching nearly halfway up the opening.
“You have to!” she yelled back at Molly. “Don’t look at the fire! Look at me and jump through as fast as you can! Now!”
Wide-eyed with terror, Molly reared back and pitched herself forward in a great flying leap through the wall of flames.
“Let’s go!” Peggy cried. “The whole place could go up any minute.”
“Where’s the door?” Molly asked, but Peggy waved her question aside.
“He probably locked it from inside. We have to get out that way.”
She pointed to the smoldering fireplace.
“There?” Molly said incredulously. “How?”
“We climb! Come on, I’ll give you a boost.”
“What about Mi?”
“I’ll carry her up with me.”
They raced to the blackened firepit and Peggy hoisted Molly into the chimney cavity. The doll managed to find a place inside to grip, and quickly scrambled upward. Peggy followed, heaving herself by one hand into the cavity. But with one arm around Mi she found it difficult to hold on, and was forced to brace herself against one side of the chimney and push her body upward. She found she could move only slowly, inch by inch. Below her the intense heat of the flames was sweeping into the room and up the base of the chimney.
“Hurry!” Molly yelled.
The doll was now on the roof and extended a hand down toward Peggy. Peggy labored her way farther up, with the flames rising higher just beneath her. With all the effort she could muster, she gripped one side of the chimney wall and lifted Mi up over her head toward Molly’s waiting hand. Now, with both hands finally free, Peggy was able to hoist herself the rest of the way to the top of the chimney. It was only when she scrambled out onto the roof that she felt the true intensity of the heat sweeping up through the chimney.
She ran to the edge of the roof and pointed down to the window ledge. By passing Mi back and forth, they were both able to climb down to the ledge, grab hold of the nearby fence, and scramble down onto the street below.
As they ran, they turned and looked back to see the building entirely engulfed in flames.
Finally having a chance to catch her breath, Peggy looked down at Mi, cradled in her arms. In the frantic rush of their escape, it was the first chance she’d had to look at the little Nordling. Now, instead of relief, she felt a terrible shock.
Mi’s tiny body had gone rigid. Her eyes were blank and hollow. Just like the Evil Angel’s.
It was too late, she realized.
He’d won after all.
Chapter 11: The Angel Tree
SHE WASN’T DEAD. Not really.
Mi could still lift her head and look around. She could still walk and use her hands. She could still do the things any living person could do. As soon as they were out of the burning building she had pushed away from Peggy’s grasp and stood up on her own. For a moment Peggy thought Mi was herself again, but she simply stood rigid and aloof. When Peggy made a move towards her, Mi turned away and moved out of reach.
She was a Nordling, created in the realm of Imagination. So, as Will Blake had said, and as Peggy knew instinctively to be true, she was an Eternal, she could not die.
But it was like she was a hollow shell. Her spirit had left her body.
So she wasn’t really dead. It was more like death-in-life.
Peggy and Molly looked wordlessly at one another. There was nothing left to do but take Mi home to Notherland, and hope that the presence of the other Nordlings could help bring her back to herself.
But first they had to return to the Blakes’. Peggy dreaded going back to face Jackpine, and the tortured wails she knew would burst forth from Gavi when he saw his beloved Nordling in this state.
She’d let them all down.
He’d won. The Nobodaddy, the Evil Angel, whatever name he was going by. Even though she’d watched his body consumed in the flames, even though his building lay in smoldering ruins behind her, in the end, he’d won.
Peggy and Molly started back up the street. Mi walked between them carrying herself stiffly, looking straight ahead. Once Molly reached over and stroked the Nordling’s head gently. But there was no response, no indication that Mi felt anything at all.
As they walked, Peggy felt the terrible sadness of The FarNear wash over her. Until now she’d managed to keep it at bay. The urgency of the search for Mi had taken her mind off everything else. But now the ugly reality of the place bore down on her with full force. The FarNear was a world where there was no safety, where children waited for rescuers who never came.
Now The FarNear had claimed another victim.
Peggy looked over as they passed the warehouse building. Several of the carpet-weavers were peering out from behind the long wall, watching with wide-eyed curiosity as the three of them made their way up the street. Then a sharp voice rang out, calling the children back to work, and their heads disappeared behind the wall again.
They continued on, approaching the lights and bustle of the club district. At first they attracted little notice. Yet here and there, girls and boys looked out from their small groups to watch the melancholy procession, and a few ventured tentatively out toward the middle of the street. One, whom Peggy recognized as the younger sister of the girl at the Touch Bar, watched them with tears streaming down her face. But when a man standing at the door of the bar called out gruffly, she quickly wiped the tears and rushed back to him.
Molly made a move to run after the girl, but Peggy held her back. She could see how distressed the doll was by what she was seeing in The FarNear. But Peggy shook her head, signalling to Molly that there was nothing they could do for the children here. They had to move on.
The lights of the club district receded. They found themselves surrounded by the dimness that bathed most of The FarNear. As they neared the top of the street, Peggy looked down the alleyway. She could just make out the sniffers huddled on the cardboard. The movement out in the street caught their attention, momentarily lifting them out of their stupor, and Peggy could see their eyes shining like cats’ through the darkness.
They arrived at the head of the street. Under the sign at the portal into The FarNear, she saw what looked like a double line of figures. As they moved closer, Peggy recognized the boy-soldiers, forming an honor guard for them, as they might for a fallen comrade.
At the sight of them Peggy felt a wave of anguish.
I can’t fall apart now, she told herself. I must take Mi home.
As they walked through the honor guard, each of the boy-soldiers nodded solemnly. Once she and Molly had passed through, Peggy turned and looked back. All of them, even the smallest ones, were standing motionless at attention.
Instinctively, she reached into her pocket, pulled out the bone flute and began to play. It was the same simple requiem she’d played over the body of Owen, the one that had drawn the whales. But that had been in another world, one that now felt faraway and long ago. There were no great sea creatures here to bear witness to Mi’s tragedy. Just a gang of boys in beat-up helmets and tattered uniforms.
The final notes of the requiem died away. The boy-soldiers turned in silent unison and marched away.
Peggy grabbed Mi’s hand and clutched it tightly. She looked at Molly. There was nothing left to do here, and they both knew it.
The three of them slumped to the ground and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Small globes of deep red-purple, hanging in clusters, bordered by layers of fluttering green.
When Peggy opened her eyes and saw the mat of twisted tendrils suspended above her head, it took her sleep-addled brain a few moments to recognize what she was looking at: The grapevines that covered the archway leading out the back door of 13 Hercules Buildings. They were back at the Blakes’, but they’d woken up in the garden rather than the familiar workroom at the back of the house.
Peggy looked around. On one side of her lay Molly, still sound asleep. Her eye patch was back in place, and she was dressed in the tattered pantaloons favored by the pirates. Looking at the doll, Peggy now realized that her observation before leaving Grania’s ship was accurate: Molly was unmistakably taller than before. How was that possible? she wondered. What did it mean? She had no more time to think about it as her attention was drawn to Mi, lying eerily still except for the slight, almost imperceptible rise and fall of her breath.
Please, Peggy prayed silently. Let the light come back into Mi’s eyes. Let her wake up and be herself again.
The Nordling began to stir. Peggy’s heart pounded in anticipation.
Mi opened her eyes. They had the same blank, hollow look as before. She looked up at Peggy.
“Mi,” Peggy said urgently. “How are you? Are you okay?”
The Nordling sat up and turned away, giving no sign that she recognized Peggy or heard what she said.
Peggy blinked back a single tear. Why’d she let herself go and get her hopes up?
Peggy looked up. Jackpine’s face grinned out at her through the window on the back wall of the small workroom. In an instant he bounded out the door and raced to her side.
“You did it!” he said, throwing his arms around an astonished Peggy.
Gavi lumbered out the back door, a jubilant tremolo bursting out of him.
“You have brought them both back! My beloved Nordling and my dearest Molly!
The commotion roused Molly, who sat up and looked around in confusion, as Gavi wrapped his wings around her.
She hugged him back, burying her face in his soft feathers for a moment, then turned to Peggy.
“Where are we?”
“I never got a chance to explain,” Peggy began, but she was distracted by a strange low moaning.
She turned back to Mi, now curled up in a ball with her face in her lap. Jackpine was kneeling over her with a stunned look on his face.
“What’s wrong, Mi?” he asked, then turned to the others. “I put my arm around her and she . . .”
Peggy cut him off.
“I know. She won’t let herself be touched.”
Peggy’s throat was tight with tears.
“I was too late!”
They had to eat, Catherine insisted. Despite their discouragement, despite all that had happened, life must go on, and that meant sitting down to a proper meal. That included everyone in the house, she said, gesturing firmly to Mi to take a chair at the table. The Nordling did as she was told.
Peggy tore off a hunk of bread and held it out to Mi. She was afraid that Mi’s avoidance of all contact would extend even to food. The Nordling took the bread and bit into it hungrily, to Peggy’s great relief. But still she sat as if isolated in a glass cage, not acknowledging anyone else.
Shortly after their arrival Peggy introduced Molly to the Blakes, who accepted the presence in their home of a doll dressed as a pirate with their usual equanimity. Now Peggy proceeded to fill them all in on her sojourn in The FarNear – how Molly had come to her aid, how they’d found Mi in the clutches of the hollow-eyed Evil Angel, how the heat of Molly’s Aya had ignited the building and burned the Evil Angel alive as they escaped the flames.
“But I was too late. He’d already . . .” Peggy was unable to go on.
“It was not your fault,” Gavi told her. “You did the best you could.”
Peggy nodded as Jackpine put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She understood they were trying to be helpful. But their reassurances were useless. Even the warmth of Jackpine’s touch, which normally would have filled her with joy, had no effect on her. Nothing could take her mind off the guilt she felt. Right now all she cared about was finding a way to bring Mi back to her old self again.
She looked at Will. He was the only one, she felt, who really understood what she’d faced at The FarNear. If any of them knew how to help Mi, it would be Will. But he said nothing, and an uncomfortable silence fell over the table.
Determined to lend an air of normalcy to the meal, Catherine asked Molly to tell about her adventures with the Pirate Queen. Molly was glad to comply, and launched into a detailed account of Grania’s battles with the treacherous Lord Bingham, and how his men had brutally murdered her son Owen.
“You saw how wracked with grief she was when you left,” she said to Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine. “The men had never seen her so low. They were afraid she’d never pull out of it. But I was sure she’d come to be herself again once Owen’s death was avenged. I knew if we planned it right we could get into Bingham’s quarters under cover of night and slash his throat.”
Gavi visibly winced at Molly’s blunt pronouncement.
“You mean you planned to murder Lord Bingham in cold blood?” he said in a quaking voice.
The doll simply shrugged.
“An eye for an eye,” she said, coolly lifting her eye patch to reveal a brief glimpse of the Aya. “That’s the law of life on the high seas.”
“But . . .”
“Don’t worry, Gavi,” Molly interrupted. “We never got the chance. Bingham’s still very much alive. That’s why we were on our way to London.”
“London?” Jackpine asked. “Why?”
“To meet with the Queen, Elizabeth the First.”
“Grania was going to meet with the Queen of England?”
“I know it sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. Things were getting worse and worse with Bingham. He got wind of a rebellion brewing among the clans. Grania wanted no part of it since the O’Flaherty’s, her old enemies, were the leaders. But Bingham told the Queen that Grania was the one behind the rebellion. He got a warrant for her arrest and execution, and he took her brother Donal and her youngest son Tibbot prisoner. We were all sure that this would be the last straw, the thing that would finally rouse her to action. We geared up for all-out war.
“Then Grania did something that took us all by surprise. She announced that she’d written a letter to Queen Elizabeth to explain her side of the story, to tell her that Bingham was lying so he could steal Grania’s lands, and that he’d ordered the murder of her son, Owen. She announced that we were sailing to London that very day, that she intended to go without even waiting for an answer, and present herself to the Queen.
“I went to her and said ‘Have you gone crazy? The Queen is just as much your enemy as Bingham. She’ll have you executed the minute you set foot on English soil!’
“For a long time she just looked at me. I could see something had changed in her, something deep. Finally she said, ‘Molly-girl, I’m tired. I’ve seen too much death for one lifetime. Maybe there’s another way, something other than never-ending war. Maybe Elizabeth and I will understand one another if we can just talk face to face, woman to woman’.”
“I was furious. I didn’t understand how she could just give up the fight like that. I told her I was leaving the crew, that I’d find my way back to Notherland on my own. But she begged me to stay a little longer, to give her way a chance. To see for myself if it would work. What could I say? She’s my Queen.
“The ship was just dropping anchor near Bristol when Grania got word that Elizabeth had agreed to see her. We were still worried she might be walking into a trap. But Grania was determined to head on to London. That’s when I heard you calling me, Peggy. I knew it meant you needed my help, that I had to get to you somehow, even if it meant leaving Grania. I wanted to tell her why I had to go, but there was no time. All of a sudden I was in that room with you, getting ready to fry that Evil Angel to a crisp. ”
Peggy wondered if Molly’s gripping account of her time with Grania was having any effect on Mi, who had had her own sojourn in the Pirate Queen’s world. Surely her face would show some spark of recognition. She looked over at the Nordling.
Mi’s face was blank, her eyes as empty as before.
As they began to clear the table after the meal, Peggy approached Will.
“You must know some way to help Mi.”
He shook his head forlornly.
“I wish I did.”
“But you knew about the Evil Angel. He was in your painting. You created him.”
“And Mi is your creation,” he replied. “You’re the one who must retrieve her soul. And before anything can come into being, it must first be imagined.”
Peggy felt like she wanted to tear at him in frustration.
“You keep telling me things like that!” she cried. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about! I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everything!”
Will fixed his gaze on her and, to everyone’s astonishment, he began reciting lines from one of his poems:
“Let the inchained Soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing
Look up in the heavens and laugh in the bright air
Then all the Slaves from every Earth in the wide Universe sing a new Song
The Sun has left its blackness and found a fresher morning.”
Before he could even finish Peggy stormed out of the room. She paused in the doorway.
“This is the help you give me? More stupid lines of poetry? You’re the one who planted all those ideas in Mi’s head. It’s your fault she went off on a wild goose chase looking for the Angel Tree!”
She ran out to the garden, hoping no one would follow her. All she craved at that moment was to be alone with her grief, her overwhelming sense of failure.
She lay down on the grass under the canopy of grapevines and curled up in a ball. The tears began to flow, first a trickle, then a series of great wracking sobs, until, exhausted, she drifted off.
She’d been roaming the field for what felt like hours, with Mi cradled in her arms. She heard the distant crack of gunfire. Was it getting closer? She had to find a way out of here. But she couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of her. The darkness was all-engulfing.
Mi was dead. There was nothing more to be done. She knew that. But she couldn’t just leave her in this place. She had to take her home.
She became aware of what seemed like tiny slivers of light off in the distance. She’d been wandering in the dark so long, her eyes could be playing tricks on her. But still, she headed toward the lights.
Finally, the boundary of the field emerged out of the blackness, and she could make out the head of the roadway that cut through the centre of The FarNear. But there was something else.
In the middle of the street was a tall tree with long, spreading branches that looked as though they were on fire – the slivers of light she’d seen from far out in the field. But as she got closer, she realized the lights weren’t flames at all.
On the end of every branch sat an Angel with a pair of silver wings scintillating like tongues of fire.
She approached the tree. An Angel on one of the low branches held out her arms. She knew what the Angel wanted her to do, and she did it firmly, without hesitation.
She lifted up the lifeless body of Mi, the inchained Soul shut up in darkness and in sighing, and handed her to the Angel.
The Angel took Mi and passed her to another Angel on a nearby branch. That Angel did the same, and on and on until Mi was cradled in the arms of the Angel at the very top of the tree. The rest of the Angels looked down at Peggy. Again, she knew without words what they wanted her to do.
She took the bone flute out of her pocket and began to play. But it wasn’t made of bone any more. It was gleaming silver, like the Angels’ wings. Not a short stubby thing with only three holes, but long, with the full range of notes, like her flute back home.
With this flute, she wasn’t limited to a simple tune. She could play whatever she wanted.
No more requiems, she decided.
She began to play the melody to Will’s poem about the Piper.
As the notes of the flute rang out, all the children of The FarNear streamed out into the street, looking up into the heavens and laughing in the bright air. The sniffers came out of the alleyway, bright-eyed and curious. The carpet-weavers walked freely, without their shackles. The made-up girls threw off their spiky-heeled shoes and walked barefoot, letting their hair fall freely as they threw their heads back, laughing. The little girl laid down her scrubbing-brush, got up off her knees and began skipping up the street. And in the centre of them all stood the climbing-boy, his face now clean and gleaming as he tossed his long-handled brush high into the air, then caught it as it tumbled back down.
Then they came, emerging from the darkness of the field at the top of the street, marching in a double line. The boy-soldiers formed a circle around the Angel Tree and laid down their guns.
All the time she kept playing Will’s tune, until she noticed there was another sound, another voice singing the tune along with her. It was coming from above her.
She looked up. A tiny figure was sitting up, supported in the strong arms of the Angel at the top of the tree, her mouth wide open.
It was Mi’s voice. Mi was singing!
She kept on playing the flute, tears of joy streaming down her face, as the voices of the Slaves from every Earth in the wide Universe rose up in a new Song.
Now the Angels passed Mi back down to the lowest branch again. At the end of the tune, the Nordling looked at her with a rapturous smile.
“Thank you, Pay-Gee!” she said. “Thank you for bringing me to the Shining World.”
At that moment, the grey world of The FarNear was suddenly awash in color. The sun had left its blackness and found a fresher morning.
When Peggy snapped awake, the deep purple clusters overhead reassured her that she hadn’t left the Blakes’ garden. From the looks of the midday sun she hadn’t dropped off for more than a few minutes. And yet the dream had felt so real.
Faint murmurings from the other end of the house drew her attention. Peggy got up and followed them to the doorway of the workshop. As she got closer she realized someone was singing. Two voices, actually – one a sweet, round soprano, the other a deep anchor of a bass.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord
The door was slightly ajar. She peeked in. Will was sitting at a corner of the work table. Opposite him sat Mi.
“Now, little one,” Will was saying. “You sing the same tune, as you just did, and I will sing a different melody, a bit lower in pitch. Together they’ll form a harmony.”
All night, all day, Angels watching over me.
“I am always looking for new hymns to add to my repertoire,” said Will. “Thank you for teaching this one to me.”
Mi looked up at him with gleaming eyes.
Peggy softly closed the door and tiptoed away.
Peggy was reluctant to tell the others about what she witnessed in the workshop, for fear of getting their hopes up for nothing. At lunch Mi sat very still, eating little, saying nothing, and Peggy began to worry that the Nordling had crawled back into her shell. But after all she’d been through, Peggy told herself, maybe singing was the only sound Mi could allow herself. Maybe she just needed some time.
In that case, Peggy decided, getting Mi back to the familiar world of Notherland was more important than ever. But that would mean, she had to admit to herself, the end of their journey together. Once again Peggy and her childhood companions would scatter to the four winds. Mi and Molly and Gavi would return to Notherland, and . . .
She glanced at Gavi, realizing she’d forgotten all about his sojourn in the physical world. He’d spent the past year experiencing life as a flesh-and-blood loon, a life he’d left behind, for the moment. But now that they’d rescued Mi, he’d surely be returning to Lake Keewatin to resume his courtship of his intended mate, Nor.
And then there was Jackpine. What was he thinking? Peggy wondered. Would they find one another when they returned to their world? Did he even care if they did? Or was it really the girl in the band office that he looked forward to seeing?
She caught herself and felt foolish. Here she was, obsessing about Jackpine again, when there were far more important things to deal with.
Molly’s voice broke in.
“I still feel terrible about leaving without a word. Grania must think I was still angry and walked out on her.” She turned to Peggy with a look of urgency. “Could we go to Grania’s world again? Just a quick visit, before we head back to Notherland?”
“We could,” Peggy replied. “If I only knew how to get us there.”
“You can do it,” Molly insisted. “You took us there the first time. You’re the one who’s gotten us through this whole thing.”
Peggy shook her head. “Only because we were looking for Mi and following her trail. Every time we found a pathway to a new world it was because of the clues she left behind.”
“Clues,” Gavi added, “that seeped into our dreams and inspired our imaginations, allowing us to enter the realm in which,” he said, looking in Will’s direction, “all things reside.”
Molly looked forlorn.
“I’d give anything to go back and explain things to Grania. And to see her meet the Queen!”
There was stunned silence as a small voice spoke up from the far end of the table.
“I’ll take you there.”
These were the first words anyone had heard Mi speak since Peggy and Molly found her in The FarNear.
They were all overjoyed and Gavi started to let out an exultant tremolo. But Peggy quickly raised a hand to quiet them. She sensed instinctively that making a big fuss might frighten Mi, and the last thing she wanted was for the Nordling to retreat back into her shell. She turned and spoke to Mi in a calm, matter-of-fact voice.
“Really, Mi? How could you do that?”
“We have to go there.”
“Yes,” Peggy replied. “But how do we do it?”
Mi shook her head.
“That’s not what I mean. We have to go to the Queen’s palace.”
“I’m afraid you do not understand, child,” Gavi said gently. “We are in the year 1795. Queen Elizabeth the First has been dead for over two hundred years.”
“I do understand,” Mi said firmly. “That’s how we get there. I know how to do it.”
Will stepped forward.
“I think I know what Mi is getting at.” He turned to her. “You want to go to the palace as it is now – am I right? So that you can travel to the palace as it was in the time of Queen Elizabeth the First?”
He turned to the others.
“Every place on earth contains the memory of all that has happened there before. That’s especially true for a place as laden with history as the Royal Palace. I suspect that Mi has the ability to sense the memory of a place, and enter into it, if she goes to the physical spot where the memory resides.”
Mi watched Will with an intense gaze as he spoke. Peggy could see that he was somehow able to give words to her experiences, in a way she herself could not.
“If Mi is able to do this for herself and Molly,” said Gavi excitedly, “This surely is a sign that her powers are growing even greater!”
Peggy shook her head firmly.
“Mi’s been through too much already,” she said. “We should get her home to Notherland. I don’t like the idea of us splitting up again. We don’t know what might happen. What if Mi and Molly get stuck there somehow?”
“We haven’t known what was going to happen since this whole crazy trip started,” Jackpine pointed out. “It’s obvious how badly Molly wants to go. If Mi says she can take her back to see Grania meet the Queen, I say we back off and let them go.”
Peggy was adamant.
“No. We started out together, and we stick together till we all get back where we belong.”
As she heard the vehemence in her own voice, it dawned on Peggy that it was Mi who was now driving the journey, not her. For all she’d learned about her own abilities as a Mental Traveller (as Will had called her), Peggy didn’t really understand how Mi managed to pass from one world to the next. She wasn’t sure how she felt about this, not to mention the fact that Molly, too, seemed to be growing larger and more independent. It was all rather unnerving. It was Peggy, after all, who was supposed to be the Creator. Wasn’t it?
The room was thick with tension. Finally Gavi spoke up.
“I agree we must stick together. But what would you say if,” he paused, an excited glint in his red eye, “we all went back to Grania’s world? Just, as Molly has said, as a stop on the way home.”
Molly let out a whoop of excitement.
“That’s a fantastic idea!”
“Sure, why not all go together?” Jackpine said.
Peggy held up her hands.
“Hold on just a minute. Even if Mi really can pull this off, what are we going to do? Just sashay into the sixteenth century court of Queen Elizabeth the First? One look at us and they’ll know we don’t belong there. They’ll lock us up – or worse!”
“No problem!” Molly cried. “If we all dress like pirates they’ll think we’re with Grania.”
“Yes,” Gavi added excitedly. “We can be her – what is the word? Entourage!”
“Oh really?” Peggy shot an annoyed look at Gavi. “An entourage of dressed-up pirates and a big black bird. I’m sure they won’t find anything unusual in that.”
“Ah, a point I overlooked,” Gavi nodded gravely. “When I am around humans for so long it is easy for me to forget that I am not one of you.”
“Well, Gavi. I would hope that of all of us, you’d at least have some sense.”
“I got carried away,” he admitted. “I must admit to being terribly excited at the prospect of going to the time of the great William Shakespeare.”
The Blakes, who had been listening with keen interest to the whole discussion, exchanged glances.
“You know,” Will said, “there needn’t be a problem for you all to go to the royal court.”
They all turned to look at him.
“When ships are long at sea, I am told, they often take on wild creatures as pets. You can simply explain that your friend here is a Gavia Immer, an exotic New World bird blown off course out over the ocean, where he sought haven on the pirate ship and became its mascot. They shouldn’t find it strange,” he continued, turning to Gavi, “provided, of course, that you don’t speak.”
“That’s right,” Molly chimed in. “No Bird-Full-of-Words.”
“As for the rest of you,” Catherine added, “I could sew together some outfits that should make you look sufficiently pirate-like.”
“Yes!” Molly shouted. “Let’s do it!”
They all began to talk excitedly, but Peggy hushed them once again.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll go along with the idea. But before we get carried away, I think we should ask Mi one more time.”
She turned to the Nordling.
“Mi, it’s important than we know this: Can you take us all to Grania’s world and then back to Notherland?”
Mi nodded solemnly. Peggy looked into her eyes.
“Are you sure you’re up to it?”
Mi returned her gaze with a determination Peggy had never seen in her before.
“Yes,” she replied. “I want to. For Molly.”
“Then it’s settled.”
Peggy was surprised to hear Mi’s voice pipe up, even louder and bolder than before. For the first time, she made eye contact with the rest of them as she spoke.
“I will take all of you,” she said slowly. “But we must stay together every second.”
They all nodded.
At that moment Catherine called to them to come look at her supply of cloth.
“That means no wandering off looking for Shakespeare,” Peggy muttered to Gavi as they followed Catherine into the workroom.
“Oh, I would never do anything to jeopardize the group,” Gavi assured her. “Still, it will be painful knowing that I am only a stone’s throw away from the great dramatist of the English language, and I cannot meet him.”
The next few hours were spent in a flurry of preparations. Rifling through her store of material, Catherine managed to put together some wide pantaloons and loose shirts for Jackpine and Peggy so that they’d have no problem posing as members of Grania’s crew. Peggy found by hiding her hair under a bandanna she could pass well enough for a boy, which, Will informed her, made her part of a long maritime tradition.
“There are quite a few old ballads about young women who disguise themselves as men in order to go to sea – usually to follow a sailor they’ve fallen in love with,” he said. “But of course that doesn’t apply in this case.”
“No,” Peggy agreed, though she quickly turned her face away so Jackpine wouldn’t notice how flustered she was by Will’s comment.
Mi had been growing more animated as the preparations proceeded, showing a keen interest in the pirate costumes Catherine was making, as if they were for a game of dress-up. Now she watched as Molly, with her skill at nautical knots, devised a loose rope for Gavi to wear around his neck so he’d look like a proper mascot. Suddenly the idea of leading the loon around on a rope struck Mi as very funny and she burst out laughing.
They all looked over in her direction. It was a great relief to hear happy noises pouring out of the little Nordling again. But Peggy could see that Mi was still quite a ways from being what she had been. There was still a darkness in her eyes that hinted at a deep river of sadness. She wondered if Mi would ever truly be her old self again.
They talked about what to do with Mi. A small child would surely call attention to herself in the company of a band of pirates. Jackpine recalled that he had carried Mi in Peggy’s backpack when they had first journeyed through Notherland. Why not do something similar this time?
Will came up with a leather satchel that was roomy enough for Mi to tuck herself completely inside. She climbed in and Jackpine slung the satchel over his shoulder.
Now they were ready to go.
“Then let’s get ourselves to the palace.”
It was decided that Will and Catherine would escort them to the entrance, to make sure no one bothered them or tried to steal Gavi away, as Caleb had tried to do.
“You’re a strange-looking crew,” Will told them. “But no one will take much notice if you’re with me, since the word around London is that Will Blake is stark raving mad anyway.”
As they prepared to leave, Peggy became aware of Catherine trying to get her attention without the others noticing.
“Come with me,” she whispered to Peggy. “I have something I want to show you.”
Peggy followed her into the workroom at the back of the house. There was a narrow closet on one wall, and out of it Catherine pulled a flat parcel covered with a blanket. She removed it and held up a canvas, an unfinished painting of what looked like a man climbing a stairway up to the heavens.
“It’s Jacob’s dream of the ladder up to heaven,” she said, a note of shyness in her voice. “Do you like it?”
“Yes, very much,” she replied. “Is this something you and Will are working on together?”
Catherine shook her head.
“No. It’s all mine. I don’t want to show it to Mr. Blake until it’s finished. But I knew this would be the last chance for you to see it.”
Voices from the front of the house interrupted them.
“What are you two doing in there?” Molly called. “Let’s get going.”
Peggy turned back to Catherine.
“It looks like there’s room for more than one artist in this house after all,” she said warmly. “I wish I could see it when it’s finished.”
They set off over the Lambeth bridge, making their through the winding streets, the great spires of Westminster Abbey rising to the north, till they arrived at the Palace gates.
It was time to say farewell to the Blakes.
Gavi was bereft at the prospect of leaving his mentor behind.
“If only you both could go along with us.”
“It might be tempting to go to another century, since I often feel like I don’t belong in this one,” Will replied. “But no. We will stay.”
“I have learned so much in my time with you!” Gavi said sadly.
“You have wisdom that I will never have,” Will replied. “To know both the worlds of civilization and of nature is a rare gift.”
He then turned to Jackpine and handed him one of his engraving tools.
“This marks the completion of your apprenticeship,” he said. “Now go back and labor on the rock in your world.”
Jackpine took it with one hand and clasped Will’s with the other, struggling to keep from showing the deep emotion he was feeling. He gave Will a heartfelt nod, dropped his hand and turned away.
Mi looked up at the older couple.
“Thank you for teaching me this new way of singing called harmony,” she said to Will. “I will go home and practice it. And thank you for the mutton stew,” she said, turning to Catherine. “It was delicious.”
The Nordling then turned to Peggy and the others.
“Remember, we have to stay together,” she said. “Just watch. Don’t get involved. If you get too involved in another world, bad things can happen to you.”
Peggy had the feeling Mi was talking as much about herself as she was to them.
Mi clambered up into Jackpine’s arms and into the satchel hanging at his side.
“Now,” she said simply.
At that moment, Will and Catherine and everything surrounding them dissipated before their eyes, like drawings erased from a chalkboard.
Chapter 12: The Two Queens
IT WAS ALL BREATHTAKING to behold: The tapestry-covered walls. The carved oak wainscots. The ornate ceilings with intricate plaster-work.
From where they stood under the arched leading into the Great Hall, they could see long corridors humming with the subdued tones of courtiers and emissaries. Everywhere they looked were court ladies in exquisite dresses and jewelry, powdered and coifed, flitting around like birds and whispering to one another the latest court gossip.
They were in the Royal Palace of Queen Elizabeth I, which looked like a vast universe unto itself.
They barely had time to take it all in when they were hailed by a familiar, deep-throated voice.
Molly turned to see a phalanx of palace guards surrounding a small group, which included a woman in a long hooded cape of green velvet and a couple of men in ill-fitting gentlemen’s clothes. Molly had never seen Grania and her men in anything but rough pirate garb. If the voice hadn’t been unmistakably Grania’s, she wouldn’t have recognized the respectably-dressed group.
Much to the consternation of the guards, Grania hurried over to Molly.
“Where’ve you been? I was so worried about you!”
“I didn’t have a chance to tell you….” Molly began.
Suddenly taking notice of Peggy, Jackpine and Gavi, Grania interrupted her.
“You three! How in heaven’s name did you get here?”
“It’s a long story, Grania. I’ll explain later. We all want to see you meet the Queen.”
“What?” Grania burst. “The likes of you can’t go in there!”
“Please,” Molly begged. “Just tell them we’re part of your . . . what’s the word again?”
“Entourage,” the loon whispered.
“It’ll be all right,” Molly insisted. “We promise we won’t do anything but watch.”
“And just how do I explain Bird-Full-of-Words here? Is he supposed to be part of the on-toor-adge or whatever you call it?”
“Just tell them he’s our mascot.”
“He promises he won’t say a word.”
Just then, trumpets blasted a fanfare and a great booming voice announced the arrival of the Queen.
“Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth the First, Queen of England!”
The trumpets blared as a short woman who looked close to Grania’s age entered. She was dressed in an elaborately embroidered gown with a wide skirt and a high white collar. Her oblong face was almost white but wrinkled, and her eyes were small and jet-black. She acknowledged Grania in a stately manner.
“I understand you have come to see us because you have a quarrel with our governor Mr. Bingham.”
Grania knew that royal etiquette forbade her to address the Queen too directly. Nevertheless her reply came out in a rush of words.
“Some of the other clan leaders are foolish enough to be bought off by the offer of a British title, your majesty. But not the leader of Clan O’Malley. Bingham is taking our lands by force and I will fight to the death, if necessary, to keep mine.”
The Queen drew herself up and fixed Grania with a baleful stare. Peggy could sense the will of steel that hummed underneath all the clothing and heavy white makeup.
“Are you suggesting our policy of regrant of lands is a criminal one?” the Queen asked haughtily.
For a moment Grania made no reply. When she resumed speaking it was in a much more measured, deferential tone.
“Nothing of the kind, your majesty. I ask only that the Queen, by her most gracious hand, might grant me, an old woman, some reasonable maintenance for the little time I have to live.”
Jackpine and Molly were visibly upset by Grania’s change in manner.
“Listen to her!” Molly hissed. “Why is she talking about herself like that?”
“She knows what she’s doing.” Peggy whispered back. “She got off on the wrong foot with the Queen. She’s just changing tactics.”
“Yes, she is playing the political game.” Gavi added brightly, momentarily forgetting his vow of silence. “And doing it very well!”
The odd-sounding voice of the loon drew the Queen’s attention. She turned to the group.
“Who spoke?” she asked.
Grania turned around with a sharp warning look.
“Please forgive my crew, your majesty. They’ve never been in the presence of royalty. They don’t know how to behave.”
“I could have sworn,” the monarch said, curiously surveying the Pirate Queen’s entourage, “that those words came from your bird there.”
“The bird? Oh, it couldn’t have, your majesty.”
“Oh?” said the Queen pointedly. “Some people say you have powers of witchcraft, Grania O’Malley.”
Grania laughed nervously.
“Surely had I the power to make birds talk, I would control the winds and storms, and make even Queens do my bidding.”
Everyone waited to see the Queen’s reaction to Grania’s teasing remark. When she smiled approvingly, there was a mild ripple of laughter through the hall.
Grania then launched into a more measured, but still passionate defense of her position. Having been robbed of her birthright once before, she said, she was determined to defend the land of her ancestors.
Something in this line of argument seemed to stir Elizabeth.
“Yes, we have been made aware that by Irish custom, you have been denied title to any portion of your deceased husbands’ lands. A great injustice, which,” the Queen added with a slight tone of superiority, “would not happen under English law.”
“And be assured,” Grania said, “that in this and all things, I acknowledge the supremacy of the English crown. Indeed I myself have tangled with the Spanish Armada on more than one occasion. But your majesty knows me to be a worthy adversary, and I pledge that if my request is granted, I will fight for your majesty with all my might. I will invade with sword and fire all your highness’ enemies, wherever they might be.”
For what seemed like a long time there was complete silence in the Great Hall, a collective holding of breath as everyone waited to see what the Queen’s response to Grania’s bold proposal would be.
Finally she spoke up.
“We have made our decision. Let it be known to all that Grania O’Malley’s son Tibbott and her brother Donal are to be granted their liberty, that they may live in peace to enjoy their livelihoods. Let it be further known that all the O’Malley lands and possessions are to be returned to her. In return she promises that she will continue to serve as our dutiful subject, that she will fight in our quarrel with all the world, and will employ all her power to prosecute any offender against us. Grania O’Malley, are you satisfied with our decree?”
Grania reared her head back in a sweeping nod to the Queen.
“I am most grateful for . . .”
Grania was unable to complete her thank-you. In place of words she released an enormous sneeze that rattled through the Great Hall.
Once again there was dead silence. The Queen looked at one of her courtiers, who rushed over to Grania and handed her what appeared to be a beautiful lace handkerchief.
The Pirate Queen took the delicate cloth, proceded to blow her nose loudly into it, then walked over and tossed the fine lace kerchief into the blazing fireplace.
An audible gasp ran through the hall. The monarch fixed Grania with a look of furious indignation.
“You dare to take our gift and toss it into the fire?”
Grania looked at the monarch curiously. It took a moment for her to realize that the Queen must have taken her action as some kind of insult.
“No offense is intended,” she replied. “I fear your majesty may have misunderstood what is simply another difference in our customs. We Irish would never put a soiled garment in our pocket.”
The tension in the air was thick. Molly dreaded that her worst fears were about to be realized after all. She could hear murmurings all around that the Queen would order Grania to be executed for her rude behavior.
Then, suddenly, the Queen threw her head back and let out a throaty laugh, which caused her great white collar to tilt upward.
“We are amused.”
At first the assembled courtiers could only watch in stunned surprise. In a couple of moments, a few joined in, then more and more until a great roar of laughter rang through the Hall.
To one side of her, Peggy heard a tiny voice joining in. She turned.
It was Mi, laughing her little head off.
The Queen invited Grania to dine with her and stay overnight in the palace. Peggy imagined that once alone, the English Queen and the Pirate Queen might finally be able to let their hair down and talk woman-to-woman.
But this they would never know. It was time for them to return to Notherland.
Grania bid them farewell.
“I’ll even miss you, Bird-Full-of-Words. Though you nearly ruined everything.”
For Molly, the parting was particularly wrenching. Peggy could see how deep her feelings for Grania were. She pulled the doll aside.
“Molly, you can stay here with Grania if you really want to, you know.”
The doll shook her head.
“This world isn’t my home. I have a job to do – to guard Notherland and everything in it.”
As they departed the great castle, Gavi commented, “It is a bit ironic that in order to avoid a war with Bingham, Grania might have to fight another war against the Spanish. But perhaps it will not be necessary. Perhaps she will truly be able to live out the rest of her days in peace.”
Peggy shook her head.
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
As they reached the street the loon looked around eagerly.
“What say we see a bit more of London before we go? The Globe Theatre cannot be too far!”
Mi shook her head.
“We have to stay near the palace,” she said firmly. “And we only have a few more minutes.”
Peggy’s attention was drawn to a throng of people nearby. Men, women and children, all shouting and cheering, were assembled in a circle from which fierce animal growls were coming. She headed towards them.
“Peggy, what are you doing?” Gavi asked.
“I’ll just be a minute.”
“You heard what Mi said,” Jackpine started to say, but she cut him off impatiently.
“I just want to see what’s going on.”
Peggy pushed her way through the crowd, followed by the others.
They were gathered around an open area, where a thick wooden stake was pounded into the earth. Attached to it by a rope was a large, muzzled black bear. Several dogs were running around the stake, barking savagely. Periodically one would lunge at the bear, who would snarl and swat it away with its enormous paw. Each time this happened, the crowd laughed and hollered, egging on the animals. But it was clear the dogs had already done damage to the bear. Blood was seeping from a wound in one of its legs, and large tufts of hair had been torn from its skin.
Peggy turned to a woman standing near her.
“Why do they let dogs do that to the poor bear?”
The woman looked at her like she was a fool.
“Why not? Bear baitin’s fun!”
Molly tugged at Peggy’s shoulder.
“Come on, Peggy. Mi’s getting anxious. We have to go now.”
But Peggy shook her head, distraught.
“We have to do something.”
Gavi looked at her with sad eyes.
“You yourself have said we cannot judge people by the standards of another time, ” he said. “This is the way of these times, Peggy. We should not interfere.”
She turned to Jackpine.
“Hand me your knife.”
The knife, along with the engraving tool Will had given him, was hanging in a sheath on his belt.
“Please, let me have it for a second.”
Before he could stop her, she reached for his belt and pulled out what she thought was the knife. But her hand landed on the engraving tool instead. Jackpine tried to grab Peggy by the arm but she slipped away from him. She fought her way through the crowd and stepped into the ring with the bear.
She heard Jackpine’s voice behind her, yelling at her not to go. A volley of angry shouts rose up from the crowd as she grabbed the rope.
“What’s she doing?”
She slashed at the rope with the sharp edge of the engraver. Then she reached up to the bear’s head and began to undo the muzzle as the bear wrapped its arms around her.
A group of onlookers rushed toward the two of them. But before any of them could reach her, everything around Peggy suddenly started to spin.
The last thing she saw was Jackpine, bounding in her direction through the crowd.
Then everything went dark.
She was standing in the clear-cut, her planting bags on her hips, her shovel on the ground nearby. In one hand, she held a leather strap like a muzzle. In the other, Jackpine’s burnished, well-worn engraving tool.
Before her was a full-grown black bear, reared up on its hind legs, staring at her from no more than six feet away.
“Well, hello, there.”
No screaming or running, just a quiet, almost casual hello. She stood there, her heavy work boots fixed to the spot, recalling all the things they’d been told to do if they met up with a bear: Drop your bags. Bang your shovel on a rock. Talk loudly. Act big, so the bear will think you’re a threat.
But now she realized she didn’t need to do any of those things. She stood silently looking at the bear, letting the feelings of awe and disorientation wash over her. There were no cubs, there was nobody, nothing else. For a few moments she had the feeling that all movement in the world had stopped, time itself had stopped. There was nothing except this moment, the two of them standing stock-still, looking at each other.
Peggy wasn’t afraid. She felt a strange sense of communion with the bear, a feeling of gratitude for being here, for living in this world and for everything in it.
Then, in one smooth, quiet motion that seemed all the more remarkable given its massive bulk, the bear dropped back on all fours, turned away and ambled off toward the thick brush at the edge of the clear-cut. Peggy watched it move away and grow smaller, its black fur making sinuous ripples down its back with every lumbering step.
She heard the rumble of a motor off in the distance. She turned around and saw a van heading down the dirt road toward her.
Zak was at the wheel. He stopped and waved her over.
Now we’ll go pick up Simmie and Gisele, she thought to herself. Zak’ll tell them how brave I am. We’ll hear a news report – not about a missing child, but about a fire. Then we’ll drive until we come to the turnoff for the petroglyphs. We’ll turn in and drive to the cabin at the entrance.
She had to give him back his engraving tool.
Would he be there?
SOMEHOW, Mi had known that the Creator would do something like that. Something rash, upsetting, heartfelt.
Gavi and Molly had been so worried when Pay-Gee and the bear and Jackpine disappeared. But not Mi.
“Don’t worry about Pay-Gee and Jackpine,” she’d told them. “They’ve gone back to their world. They’ll be all right.”
Now she gazed down at the place that looked like Painted Rock. There was a black-and-white bird swimming on the lake. Mi hadn’t realized there were so many other flesh-and-blood creatures called “loons” in Pay-Gee’s world.
Suddenly she saw a second loon burst up from beneath the calm, glassy surface. The two loons looked at one another, bobbing silently in the gentle ripples on the water. Like the other Nordlings, Mi had been sad to see Gavi leave Notherland again. But she understood it was something he needed to do. She wondered whether one of the flesh-and-blood loons on the glassy lake below was Gavi, and whether the other loon was the “mate” he’d spoken of?
On the nearby ledge stood a girl who looked like Pay-Gee and a boy who looked like Jackpine. She was holding something out to him. He reached out to take it.
Their hands met.
Evening was coming on as Mi watched them, looking down from the RoryBory. But it was the real RoryBory this time – the one in Peggy’s world, not the one in Notherland. She hadn’t told any of them about this, nor about the other new things she was discovering she could do. She’d tell Molly sometime, but not yet.
For now, it was her little secret.
End of Book II
Chapter 7: The Climbing-Boy
BEFORE SHE WAS EVEN FULLY AWAKE, Peggy felt it assaulting her ears, boring into her head as if trying to pierce the innermost recesses of her brain.
What is that awful racket?
She opened her eyes and peered into the darkness. She felt hard stone against her cheek. The three of them – Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine – were lying on a concrete floor in a large, dimly-lit open space. Every corner was dominated by a sharp, metallic grinding noise.
A short distance away she could make out small human forms standing in front of large, lattice-like structures made up of complicated webs of bars and filaments. Within the webs, smaller objects were in constant motion – up and down, spinning around – in a kind of diabolical rhythm with the relentless grinding and screeching. As she blinked the sleep out of her eyes, it dawned on Peggy that what she was looking at was some kind of machine.
She sat up slowly and was reassured by the sensation of Gavi’s downy feathers pressing on her arm. The loon was not yet awake, but Peggy could see in the dim light that his body was twitching restlessly, unnerved by the noise going on around them. As she looked over towards Jackpine, sprawled out next to Gavi, he snapped awake and sat up, poised like a frightened animal.
“What’s happening? Where are we?” he shouted over the din.
“I don’t know,” Peggy shouted back. “It seems to be some kind of factory.”
As soon as she stood up she was engulfed by a wave of stifling heat. She drew a deep breath to steady herself and took a couple of steps closer to the nearest machine. Now she could see that it was a large frame of metal bars and pulleys, that the spinning objects were spools, the filaments were threads winding endlessly onto the spools from white balls of what appeared to be cotton. As Peggy cast her eyes around she now saw that she was standing at the end of a long row of these spinning machines, and that beyond them there were even more rows of machines, all moving in a synchronized rhythm. In front of each machine a small figure stood, catching and tying the threads, shifting the spools, moving its hands at breakneck speed to keep up with the relentless churning of the machine.
They were in some kind of textile factory, Peggy surmised. Not a modern factory, but an old-time cotton mill – by the looks of it, from at least a hundred years before her own time.
Peggy peered at the person standing in front of the nearest machine. Suddenly aware of another presence nearby, the figure turned away from the machine for a brief moment and looked back at Peggy.
Gazing at her was a child, a girl who could not have been more than seven or eight years old. She was barefoot, wearing only a loose shift with a ragged hem around the bottom.
Quickly, without missing a beat, the girl turned back to her work. As her tiny fingers worked the fast-moving bobbins, Peggy could see that the skin on them was reddened and raw. She looked down the row and realized all the workers were children, mostly girls and a few boys. None of them looked older than ten or eleven, all of them breathing the same dank, humid air, working in a near-frenzy to keep pace with the unforgiving spinning machines.
Peggy was startled by the angry growl of an adult voice, followed by a loud splash. She looked in the direction the commotion came from. A man was standing over one of the mill-girls. The child was dripping wet and whimpering as the man brandished a metal bucket over her head.
“That’s the third time today,” he snarled. “Don’t let me catch ya noddin’ off again.”
Peggy heard a low hissing sound and turned toward the girl at the nearby machine, who was staring back at her with a look of alarm.
“Ya better get to work!” the child said in a fierce whisper. “The slubber’s comin’ round this way!”
Before Peggy could respond, she was distracted by a loud wail piercing through the churning drone of the machines.
She whirled around to see Gavi, now more than wide awake and letting loose with a full-blown tremolo cry. Jackpine was frantically trying to shush him but it was no use. The cry was an involuntary reaction when the loon was distressed beyond words.
Peggy rushed over and gently but firmly wrapped her hand around the loon’s beak.
“It’s okay, Gavi,” she said. “The noise is just machines. We’re in some kind of factory. A cotton mill.”
Feeling the bird relax, Peggy withdrew her hand.
“Factory?” Gavi said in a perplexed tone. “What are we doing in a factory?”
“I wish I knew,” Peggy began, but stopped abruptly. Her back was to the machines now, and Jackpine was gesturing for her to look behind her.
She turned to see a man in a dirty wool jacket and black cap staring at the three of them. He had a leather strap wound around one hand and was smacking the free end of the strap against the other hand, as if he were getting ready to slap it against something. It was all the children at the machines could do to keep working, as they kept turning to watch, intensely curious about the intruders and what the man would do to them.
“What d’ya think you’re doin’?” the man snarled.
Before Peggy could answer, another man – the one she’d seen a moment ago pouring water over the sleepy mill-girl – raced over carrying a whip.
“Troublemakers,” he said to the first man.
“No,” Peggy began. “We don’t mean any trouble, we’re just . . .”
She was cut off by the thwack of the whip on the concrete floor just inches from where she stood.
“None of yer lip, girlie!” the man with the whip said. “We ain’t fools. We know your kind. Come to stir up the girls and muck up the machines, have ya?”
“We’ll show ya!”
As soon as Peggy opened her mouth to object, the whip snapped even closer to her. At the same time the first man walked past her towards Jackpine and Gavi. To her surprise the usually belligerent Jackpine didn’t raise a hand to challenge him. She realized he was trying his best to keep the loon out of the man’s sight, hoping his black feathers wouldn’t be noticed in the dim light of the mill. But it was no use. The red of Gavi’s eyes gleamed in the darkness.
“What’s this ya got here?”
“Nothing,” Jackpine said sullenly. “Just a bird I caught.”
“It’s a bird, all right. C’mere, Caleb,” he called to the other man. “Take a look at this creature.”
After casting a warning look at Peggy, Caleb strode over.
“Never seen the like of it,” he said. “What is it, some kind of fowl?”
“Looks like one of them New World birds,” the other replied. “I seen a picture one time.”
Caleb nodded and moved toward the quivering loon.
“Should I wring its neck?”
Before Gavi could burst forth with another tremolo, the other man held Caleb back.
“No!” he yelled. “Keep it alive. We’ll take it to London. There’s fine ladies who’ll pay plenty for hats with fancy bird feathers like this one.”
The men were so taken with Gavi they ignored Peggy and Jackpine. The two of them looked at one another. It would be easy, they knew, to make a break for it. They could bolt down the aisle and out the factory before Caleb and the other man could stop them. But there was no way the slow-moving loon would be able to keep up. They watched helplessly as Caleb scooped up the terrified Gavi and held him upside-down by the legs, as his wings flapped weakly through the air.
“Better find a cage for it,” said the other man. He turned back to the other two and pushed them along the aisle, slapping his strap threateningly to hurry them up.
“Out, out with ya!” he shouted.
As Peggy passed one machine, the girl who’d spoken to her earlier turned her way again.
“I warned ya,” the child said grimly. “I said the slubber was comin’.”
Now Peggy realized – too late – that she was talking about the foremen: Caleb and the man with the strap.
Once they were out of the factory, the man with the strap chased the two of them some distance down a dirt road. Finally he stopped, yelling after them.
“Don’t neither of ya show your face around here again!”
Then he turned and went back into the mill. After a short while they crept and hid in the trees on the riverbank, just downstream from the great water wheel which drove the spinning machines. Then there was nothing to do but wait and hope they could catch a glimpse of Gavi.
Why here? Why now? Peggy wondered. She’d gotten a good look around at the faces in the mill, but there was no trace of Mi anywhere. So why did they wake up in that grim pit of hell, where children worked their fingers to the bone and passed out from exhaustion? She thought briefly of Zak’s passion to help child rug workers, and how angry he’d be at the scene in the mill.
Jackpine seemed to pick up on her thoughts.
“What kind of place is this? Treating little kids like that? I wanted to whack those guys.”
“It’s good you didn’t. We’re lucky they let us go. They seem to think we were some kind of agitators.”
“I studied it in history this year. When the first big factories were built, there were people who fought against them – laborers and craftsmen put out of work by the new machines. Sometimes they formed roving bands who went from mill to mill smashing the machines.”
“I don’t blame them,” Jackpine said. “I wouldn’t mind taking an axe to that place myself.”
For an instant, their eyes met, but they quickly turned away from one other. It was the first time, Peggy realized, that she and Jackpine had been alone together since this whole crazy adventure started.
“How are we going to get ourselves out of this mess?” he said finally.
“I wish I knew,” Peggy sighed. “If only Molly were here. She always knows what to do in these situations.”
Jackpine was pointing beyond the trees. Caleb, the man with the whip, emerged from the mill carrying what looked like a rough-hewn chicken coop made of wood. Inside the cage was Gavi, craning his long neck, looking around frantically for some form of escape. They watched as Caleb strode firmly toward a carriage parked a short distance away. He opened the door and placed the cage inside it.
“What’s he doing?” Jackpine whispered.
“Maybe taking Gavi to London. He said something about selling him for feathers.”
Jackpine began to make a move.
“No!” Peggy grabbed his arm. “If he sees us he’ll just call out the others.”
“But we have to stop him.”
Caleb walked away from the carriage door and crossed over to the other side of the mill, where a horse was tied up at a post. He untied the horse, led it back and began harnessing it to the carriage.
Peggy and Jackpine both realized that, for a few moments at least, Caleb would be distracted and the stretch of road between their hiding place and the carriage would be largely hidden from his view.
Without a word they made their move. Swiftly, silently, they bounded out of the trees and scampered towards the carriage. But before they could reach the door they saw Caleb’s feet moving in front of the wheels, heading back to the side of the carriage. Instinctively they both crouched down at the back end, holding their breath, praying that Caleb wouldn’t walk around that far, that no one else would come out of the mill and see them.
To their great relief, he climbed up onto the driver’s seat. They could feel the horse shifting restlessly as Caleb prepared to take up the reins. There was nothing else to do but hoist themselves up onto the back of the carriage, and hold on for dear life.
Peggy lost track of time as they rode over the bumpy country road. When the carriage set out dusk was just coming on, and they travelled largely in darkness, passing through a number of villages. It was an effort to keep hanging on, but the closeness of Jackpine’s body took her mind off the strain in her own. They were so close their faces were nearly touching, and she could feel the rise and fall of his chest with each breath. With the rattling of the carriage and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the road, they could talk to one another as long as they kept their voices low.
“When we get to wherever we’re going,” Jackpine whispered, “we’re going to have to move fast. Surprise is all we’ve got going for us.”
They agreed that when the carriage stopped, they’d wait for Caleb to bring out the crate, then pounce. Jackpine would try to hold Caleb down while Peggy made off with Gavi in the cage.
“Sure I’ll run,” she told him. “But where to?”
“Anywhere. We’ll figure it out later. I’ll try to follow you.”
Peggy didn’t like the sound of “try”, but knew they had no choice.
After a few hours they grew exhausted from the strain of holding on, and took turns shaking one another to stay awake. Finally, in the pre-dawn light, they reached the outskirts of what was clearly a large city. The carriage threaded its way through narrow streets and pulled into what appeared to be a open-air marketplace.
There were rows of ramshackle stalls piled high with wheels of cheese and flats of eggs. Amid the clucking of chickens there was a bustle of activity, as sellers loaded bags of grain and produce off carts and deposited them in front of the stalls. Looking at all the food made Peggy ravenously hungry. Neither of them had eaten for hours.
As the carriage pulled to a stop she and Jackpine climbed down and crouched low behind one end, where Caleb wouldn’t see them as he dismounted the driver’s seat. After a few moments they heard the slubber greet one of the merchants as he opened the side door of the coach and pulled out the crate with Gavi inside.
“Looky here. Bet ya never seen one with feathers like this, eh?”
Peggy craned her neck to see around the corner of the carriage. As Caleb spoke he pulled at Gavi’s feathers, which made the poor loon recoil.
“What’s he taste like?” asked the man at the stall.
“Forget that, man!” Caleb fumed. “Don’t be a fool. These feathers alone’ll fetch ya half a crown. I can wring its neck right now and pluck a few to prove it to ya.”
Peggy and Jackpine looked at one another as Caleb pull the squawking Gavi out of the cage.
Count of three, Jackpine mouthed silently to her.
One, two . . .
Peggy took a deep breath.
“Three!” Jackpine’s voice thundered as the two of them leaped out from the back of the carriage. Startled by the noise, Caleb, who had his hands wrapped around Gavi’s neck, dropped the bird.
“What the . . .?!”
Gavi tumbled to the ground at Jackpine’s feet. In an instant he scooped the loon up and held him around the abdomen, just barely managing to avoid the merchant’s outstretched hand.
“Run!” Peggy screamed.
They both took off in a frantic race through the marketplace, toppling baskets of vegetables and poultry cages as they ran.
“You two come back here!” Caleb yelled as he took off after them.
Peggy looked behind to see one of the baskets overturning. It sent a spray of potatoes rolling through the narrow walkway, which nearly sent Caleb flying and allowed them to leave him further behind.
“Come on!” Jackpine shouted as he turned down a narrow laneway leading out of the market. He had Gavi firmly tucked under his arm, and the loon was making it easier for Jackpine to hold onto him by curling up into a ball.
They kept running down a series of cobblestone streets. It looked to Peggy like they were now well into the heart of the city, as they passed rows and rows of small shops – an apothecary, a cobbler’s shop, others that flew by so quickly she had no idea what they were. As they raced by, people in doorways stood and watched with bemused curiosity. To their relief, none of the onlookers made any move to stop them.
As they approached the bank of a river, they could still hear voices shouting in the distance behind them. Caleb had apparently enlisted some help in his pursuit. Peggy spied a stone bridge farther down the bank and yelled back to Jackpine.
They raced over the bridge and found themselves near a large open field on the edge of a marsh. On the other side of the field were scattered buildings and another network of narrow laneways that looked to be newer than the streets they’d just left on the other side of the bridge. They ran toward the built-up area and headed down one of the streets. To one side was a low building with a sign reading “The Dog and Duck”. Inside Peggy could see men sitting in clusters drinking beer. Farther along was a larger building marked “Lambeth Asylum for Girls”.
Weak from hunger, Peggy was growing exhausted from running, and now she felt a painful stitch in her right side. She slowed down to a jog.
“I have to stop,” she called to Jackpine.
He slowed down too, and gestured to her to duck into a narrow gap between a couple of buildings. They both stood, panting heavily for several minutes, listening for any sound of footsteps or the angry shouts of Caleb and his men. All was quiet.
Jackpine let go of Gavi and set him on his feet. The loon shook out his feathers lightly, but was otherwise still. For what felt like a long time, the three of them looked warily at one another, listening, waiting, but saying nothing.
Gavi almost let loose a tremolo wail at the shock of hearing an unfamiliar voice. But Peggy quickly clamped a hand over his beak. She looked out from their hiding place. In the laneway in front of them was a strange, unsettling sight: a figure in a hat, short pants and tattered shoes carrying a long-handled brush. It was the height of a child about eight or nine, but didn’t look like any human child she’d seen before. The only part of the creature that wasn’t covered with black soot was the whites of its eyeballs.
“I said, who’re you?” he said threateningly. “And what’s that bird ya got there?”
“It’s a loon,” Peggy answered, without thinking. “But what are….?” She paused a moment before finishing the question. “…..I mean, who are you?”
“Me? I’m a climbing-boy.”
“What’s a climbing-boy?” Peggy asked.
The soot-covered boy looked at her with disdain.
“Any idiot knows what climbing-boys are.”
“Well, I . . .” Peggy began but Jackpine suddenly gestured to her to be quiet.
They heard an angry voice coming from the other end of the laneway. It was Caleb.
“Look that way,” they heard him say. “I’ll go down here.”
Even as Caleb finished his sentence they could hear his voice moving closer to where they stood. For an instant Peggy caught the climbing-boy’s eye. She made a silent plea.
Don’t tell. Please don’t tell.
The climbing-boy turned away from Peggy’s gaze and began to make his way up the street. Peggy’s heart sank.
The voice of Caleb boomed out again.
“You! Climbing-boy! Seen a couple of ones a bit older than you? Carrying a strange black-and-white bird?”
Now we’re done for, Peggy thought.
For a moment the climbing-boy said nothing. Then he shook his head.
“Nope. Ain’t seen nothin’ like that.”
“You sure, boy?” Caleb asked warily. “Fella back there told me they come down this way.”
“Course I’m sure,” the boy responded. “I seen the whole street from that roof up there. I would’a knowed if some strangers come along with a bird like that.”
“Damn!” Caleb snarled. They could hear him thundering and swearing as he headed back up the street.
Peggy, Jackpine and Gavi stood stock-still a bit longer, till Caleb’s voice became a faint echo. Then Peggy ventured a peek out from between the buildings and looked up the laneway. No sign of Caleb.
No sign of the climbing-boy either. How had he disappeared so quickly? she wondered.
“We’ve got to get off the streets,” Jackpine whispered. “He’s going to keep combing this whole area until it’s too dark to see.”
“But where can we go?” Peggy whispered back.
Jackpine peered into a small window in the brick wall of the adjoining building.
“There’s nobody in here,” he said.
“Maybe now there isn’t,” Peggy objected. “What about when the owners come back?”
“We need a place to hide,” he insisted. “Just until it gets dark. We can’t risk being seen out here.”
They rounded the corner to the front door of the slender three-story building. Peggy noticed a plaque above the door saying “Hercules Buildings”, and below it, the number 13.
Great, she muttered to herself. That’s sure to bring us luck.
Quietly they slipped inside, Peggy carrying Gavi so they could move faster. From the outside it looked like an ordinary dwelling, but instead of a parlor, the front room was obviously a workshop of sorts, full of iron pots and shallow metal pans, with candles strung on ropes across the ceiling. At first Peggy thought it might be a chandler’s shop, but then she noticed other items – carving implements, rollers and pots of ink beside piles of paper and stacks of thick metal plates the color of burnished copper. In one corner stood what looked like a painting on an easel, covered by a cloth. On a long table-top sat a large black notebook, which lay open to reveal two pages, each covered almost to the very edge with a rich jumble of sketches, jottings, phrases and, in some cases, coherent lines of hand-written poetry. Farther down on the table something else caught Peggy’s eye.
“Look at this,” she called to Jackpine and Gavi.
It was a sheet of heavy paper, larger in dimension that the pages of the notebook, bearing what looked to be a work-in-progress, judging from the smell of the still-damp ink. In the center of the top was written Songs of Experience, with the number “37” in gold in the upper-right corner. On the page were several stanzas of a poem. An illustration beneath depicted a background of greyish buildings and a small figure in the centre, dressed in black overalls and cap, carrying a brush and a sack slung over one shoulder.
“Looks like our friend the climbing-boy,” Jackpine said.
Peggy began to read the lines on the page out loud.
“A little black thing among the snow,
Crying ‘weep, weep’ in notes of woe!
‘Where are thy father & mother? say?’
‘They are both gone up to the church to pray.
Because I was happy upon the heath
And smil’d among the winter’s snow,
They clothed me in the clothes of death
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.’”
She was about to start the final stanza when a deep voice startled them.
“Yes, that’s the way I like to hear my poems. Spoken out loud. Or better yet, sung!”
Chapter 8: An Immense World of Delight
BEFORE THEM STOOD A MAN, thickset, not very tall, with wide shoulders and a head that seemed a bit too big for his body. He looked to be somewhere in his late thirties, with a flat, pugnacious face and a receding hairline bounded by curls of reddish-blonde hair. As he looked at them with piercing eyes, Peggy noticed that his thick-fingered hands were stained with ink.
“Do any of you sing?”
The man spoke without the slightest trace of surprise, as if he were resuming a recently-interrupted conversation.
“Sing?” Peggy stammered.
“If I’m not wrong,” the man said, pointing at Gavi, “You have a magnificent singing voice.”
“As a matter of fact, that is true,” Gavi eagerly agreed. “However, it is not a personal talent but a characteristic of my species.”
“Which is . . .?”
“Why, Gavia Immer, of course,” Gavi replied with a note of pride in his voice.
“Ah, yes,” said the man. “That is the binomial system of classification, a recent and quite useful innovation. I have no problem with its creator, Mr. Carl Linneaus, and others of his ilk, who merely try to make order out of the glorious chaos of creation. The scientists who try to explain it all away by damnable reason – they’re the ones I can’t abide!”
Gavi was shocked by the man’s words.
“But reason is the very foundation of knowledge!” the loon objected.
Sensing one of Gavi’s lengthy treatises coming on, Peggy stepped in.
“Hold on a second,” she said to the man. “I don’t understand. Is this your workshop?”
“Indeed it is.”
“And you’re not upset to see us here? You’re not going to throw us out?”
“Throw you out? Why would I? Your friend Gavia Immer and I were just beginning an interesting philosophical discussion.”
“Don’t you want to know who we are?”
“I do, if you want to tell me.”
“You’re not afraid of us?” Peggy continued insistently. “We don’t look strange to you?”
“Child,” the man said, gently placing a hand on Peggy’s shoulder, “to one who has seen the things I have seen, nothing is strange.”
Peggy couldn’t believe it. This man seemed to accept their presence as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Company, Mr. Blake?”
They turned in the direction of the new voice. In the doorway which led to a hall stood a slight, brown-haired woman with dark eyes.
“So it seems, Mrs. Blake.”
“Then pray introduce our visitors.”
“I would certainly like to,” he said, flashing a mischievous grin, “if only I knew their names.”
Jackpine was the first to thrust out his hand.
“My name’s Jackpine. And this is Peggy.”
The man took Jackpine’s outstretched hand and nodded to Peggy.
“I am Gavi, short for Gavia Immer, which has already been mentioned. And you are …?”
“My name is William Blake,” the man responded. “And this is my wife Catherine.”
Peggy was startled at the mention of the name.
“William Blake, you said?”
“Does that name mean something to you?” he asked.
“We saw it on the sheet over there.” Peggy replied, flustered.
“Yes, that’s my work,” he said. “I’m an engraver by trade.”
“And a poet,” added Jackpine.
“A poet, and a student of many things,” he agreed. “Which reminds me, Mr. Gavi. We must take up our discussion of science and reason over dinner. You are all staying to dinner?”
The three intruders looked at one another.
“I guess so,” said Peggy.
As they talked through dinner Peggy found her attention drifting. Once again, she found herself in a world from the past, a world peopled by figures from real life – in this case, the great English poet and artist William Blake. Peggy wondered all over again. Why? What had brought them here? What did this have to do with Mi?
The Blakes did not ask them any more about themselves, and Peggy thought it was best to say as little as possible. One could never know how people would react to being told they were in the presence of visitors from another time, another world altogether. Though with Will – as he said they should call him – sitting calmly discussing philosophy with an oversized loon, while his wife ladled out mutton stew, Peggy figured it would probably take quite a bit to faze him.
After Catherine excused herself to clean up in the kitchen, the conversation – which was mostly between Will and Gavi – continued to range over many subjects. Gavi was flabbergasted by Will’s dismissal of reason and logic.
“Those who put their faith in reason above all else are worshipping a false god,” their host stated firmly.
“But is not reason the very stuff of our thoughts?” Gavi objected.
“The soul of man is larger than that!” Will burst out. “Why would you want to confine yourself to the smallest part of your being?”
“But how else are we to gain understanding, to think our way through the problems of life?” Gavi persisted.
“By imagination!” Will practically thundered at them. “Open your immortal eyes!”
He pounded on the table.
“How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?”
Gavi was speechless. His eyes widened, as if he were overcome with wonder at the enormity of this thought.
“I have. . .” he was finally able to get out the words, barely above a whisper. “. . . never considered that possiblity. And yet,” he paused a moment, as if amazed at what he was about to say. “I know beyond reason that what you say is true.”
“And that, my friend,” Will sat back with a satisfied smile on his face, “is the greater mind at work: the imagination, by which we can enter other realms and catch a glimpse of Eternity.”
Peggy’s interest was piqued by his words.
“What about these other realms? Have you seen them?”
“Yes,” Will replied. “But more often than not I am visited by them.”
“By spirits. I am frequently visited by my dear brother Robert, who passed away several years ago.”
They were quick to express their condolences, which Will accepted with a fond smile. Though his deep feeling for his brother was evident, he spoke of him matter-of-factly, as though visits from the dead were, for him at least, a not unusual occurrence.
“Ever since I was a boy I have had visions,” he continued. “Beginning when I was eight years old. One day I was walking on Peckham Rye by Dulwich Hill when I looked up and beheld a tree. On each branch sat an angel, their bright wings bespangling every bough like stars.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“Yes, that was my first mistake!” he laughed heartily. “I ran home to tell my parents, and narrowly avoided getting a thrashing from my father for telling lies.”
“But it was not a lie,” Gavi objected.
“Of course not,” Will agreed. “But I learned then that I must be careful when speaking of my visions. In fact, since then you’re the only ones I’ve told about the Tree of Angels, other than my wife, and a strange little sprite who passed through here only a short time ago.”
Peggy snapped to attention.
“A little sprite?”
“Yes, quite tiny,” he replied. “She just turned up late one night when I was alone here in the workroom. I was working on a painting over in that corner when I became aware of a presence in the room. I turned and a tiny creature stood there, looking at me. She had the most unusual voice – ethereal, yet rich and clear, like a kind of celestial flute.”
“Mi!” Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine exclaimed together.
“Yes! I did hear her call herself that,” Will said. “Though I thought that was just her child’s way of referring to herself, rather than her actual name. She said she was looking for a place called the Shining World. ‘But before I can enter the Shining World,’ she told me, ‘I must find the Tree of Good and Evil.’ ‘Then,’ I replied, ‘You have come to the right place.’ For I could see right away that she was an Innocent in search of Experience, a subject of which I have considerable knowledge.”
They explained to Will that Mi was from a realm called Notherland, where she was a singing spirit in the Northern Lights, or the RoryBory as it was known there.
“That explains the remarkable quality of her singing. But tell me more about this Notherland,” Will said with keen interest. “What kind of place is it?”
“Notherland was created by Peggy – by her imagination!” Gavi announced, beaming at her.
“Is that so?” Will said.
He looked at Peggy with a piercing stare that almost frightened her with its intensity. But before he could say anything else, Jackpine broke in.
“What about Mi? Where is she now?”
They weren’t surprised by Will’s reply, but their hearts sank nevertheless.
“I have no idea.”
As Will told it, Mi’s stay with him had been much the same as her time with the Pirate Queen. She’d watched intently, hovering around him “like a hummingbird,” as he put it.
“We had quite a time together. I told her many stories about what I call my mental travels, and about Angels and other spirits I have encountered. She was very taken with my vision on Peckham Rye. ‘Will I see the Angel Tree when I get to the Shining World?’ she asked me. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘You will have to find out for yourself.’ Then, one day, she slipped away as mysteriously as she’d come.”
It seemed to Peggy that he had more thoughts on the subject of Mi and she wanted to press him further. But at that point his wife, who had returned to the room and listened calmly to the whole rather bizarre exchange about Mi, announced firmly that “Mr. Blake”, as she preferred to call him, was tired and needed to rest up for his labors in the workshop tomorrow.
She made up a sleeping area for them in the room at the back of the main floor, which she said was “Mr. Blake’s sketching room”, a bright and airy space with a door that opened out onto a garden lush with grapevines and fig trees.
The three of them were exhausted after all they’d been through – the long carriage ride, the mad dash through the streets of London – but they were excited, almost giddy as they traded impressions of their remarkable, eccentric host.
“William Blake was one of the great English poets,” Peggy told them.
“He must have been an amazing artist, too,” Jackpine declared. “Did you see the detail in those etchings? And it’s all gouged out of those metal sheets, like he’s chiselling into solid rock. Unbelievable!”
“And clearly, he is also a wise philosopher,” Gavi said. “Many talk of the life of the mind, but this man Blake lives it!.”
Eventually Jackpine nodded off to sleep while Peggy and Gavi continued mulling over the events of the day.
“I felt awful for you, trapped in that coop for so long,” she told him. “And when I saw that Caleb with his hands around your neck. . . It must have been terrifying for you.”
“Yes,” the loon agreed. “And exhilarating!”
“Even in my life as a physical loon, I had never felt such an extreme sense of danger. It is true what they say: the prospect of annihilation clears the mind. And to be here, now, with someone of such great intellectual powers. I am going to learn things from William Blake. I can feel it. I have found my mentor!”
Finally Gavi, too, nodded off. Watching the two of them sleep soundly, Peggy felt the lonely burden of responsibility that seemed to be her regular companion on these journeys. Though still smarting from Molly’s decision to stay with Grania, Peggy felt her absence acutely. She realized how much she relied on Molly’s boundless drive and courage to keep her own spirits up. It was all well and good for them to spend time here in the great man’s workshop. But how were they going to find Mi?
Why is it always up to me to hold everything together? she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
She was poised at the rim of a great Hole, a dark pit with smoky vapors like dry ice billowing out of its gaping mouth. She thought she could hear faint voices coming from deep inside the Hole – some pleading for release, some shouting with rage, some moaning in agony, some shrieking in a terror beyond words.
She knew those voices. She’d heard them once before, when she’d gone down into the Hole til she’d hit not just the bottom, but the Bottom Below the bottom. She’d barely gotten out alive that time. She wasn’t going down there again, not ever. She couldn’t help those poor tormented Souls. There was nothing she could do except walk away…….
A tiny voice rising out of the cacophony stopped her dead in her tracks.
There was no mistaking that voice. It was calling her name.
She turned away from the Hole and kept walking.
I can’t face it, she told herself. I can’t go down there again. I’m sorry, Mi. Forgive me.
Suddenly the face of the Creator herself appeared in her mind, and Mi had the odd sensation that Pay-Gee was hovering close by, yet at the same time she seemed far away, beyond all reach.
“Pay-Gee!” she cried out. “My Creator! Are you coming, Pay-Gee? I know you are! You must. Please come!”
Chapter 9: The Mental Traveller
A STRONG MORNING LIGHT jolted Peggy awake.
Where am I?
As she looked around the tiny room with its well-scrubbed stucco walls, with the door opening out into the garden, her brain slowly reassembled the jumbled pieces of the past day and night. She was in the house of William Blake, poet, engraver, thinker and certified “piece of work,” as Gavi, with his predilection for human turns of phrase, put it.
She didn’t feel rested at all. There was a vague ache in her temples and a knot in the pit of her stomach, as if she’d been dogged by some unnamed threat while she slept. There was no point trying to get back to sleep. Jackpine and Gavi were already up and gone, and she could see out the window that the sun was high in the sky.
There was a bustling in the next room. She went in to find Catherine ladling porridge into bowls.
“What time is it?” Peggy asked groggily.
“Near half-past ten,” replied Catherine, holding a steaming bowl of porridge out to her.
“I slept for more than ten hours?”
“You must have been tired from your travels,” Catherine replied in a soothing voice.
“Where are my friends?”
The other woman nodded toward the workroom at the front of the house. Peggy put down the porridge to let it cool and headed toward the workshop. She stood in the doorway, but for all the impression her entrance made, she might as well have been invisible.
At one end of the long work table in the centre of the room, Jackpine was bent over a sheet of copper plate, methodically gouging out a pattern on the hard surface. At the other end, Will sat on a stool, with Gavi nestled at his feet. Every few moments the poet would read aloud in a firm, confident tone from the manuscript sitting on the table.
“The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”
“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”
After each statement Gavi let out a slight trill, like an aborted tremolo call, as if he could only grasp the deep meaning of each statement with great effort. Meanwhile, totally absorbed in his work on the copper plate, Jackpine completely ignored the other two.
“What is now proved was once only imagined.”
“Yes!” the loon burst out, unable to contain himself. “That is true! Why have I never understood these things before?”
Will read on.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
Gavi fell silent again, pondering the immensity of Will’s latest declaration. There was a kind of quiet electricity in the room, an almost sacred air that Peggy was reluctant to intrude upon.
Finally Will looked her way. A mischievous grin came over his face.
“Ah! There she is. Our friend, old sleepy-head.”
How original, Peggy thought as she approached them. So much for profound philosophical musings.
“Peggy, Will has been sharing some of his recent writings with me. He calls them . . .” Gavi paused and looked over at Will to make sure he had the title right. “. . . Proverbs of Hell.”
“Oh,” was all Peggy could think to reply.
The look of rapt attention on Gavi’s face turned to a slight scowl. He was clearly not pleased with what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm on Peggy’s part. But that wasn’t it at all. In fact, she too was taken with the mysterious beauty of Will’s words and was about to tell him so. But at Gavi’s mention of the word “hell” a shiver went up her spine and a strong feeling of dread washed over her.
She shook her head, trying to rattle herself loose from the feeling. To distract herself she looked down the table, where Will was showing Jackpine the technique of etching designs onto the copper plate, which he called “laboring on the rock”.
“Next I’ll show you how to apply the ink, and once you’ve mastered that, we’ll move on to relief etching, which is a technique of my own invention.”
“This is amazing. I can’t tell you how much . . .” Jackpine groped for the words. “It’s like I’ve been looking for something like this all my life,” he practically shouted. “My ancestors carved images on rock. Now I can carve a design on this metal and print it. It’s like this is what I was meant to do.”
Peggy looked at the image he was etching onto the plate. In the intricate web of lines and tendrils she could see the outline of the Flute Player.
Briefly they met one another’s gaze, and for the first time since they’d taken that plunge into the water by the petroglyphs, Peggy was certain she saw no trace of anger in his eyes.
As the day wore on Peggy felt restless, out of sorts. Gavi and Jackpine were completely caught up in their various pursuits with Will. All sense of urgency seemed to have gone out of their quest to find Mi. Neither of them had even mentioned her all day. Peggy decided to give them both a bit more time to explore their new interests.
She went in to see if Catherine needed any help in the kitchen. She hoped that immersing herself in household chores would provide some distraction. But as she punched down the bread dough Catherine set before her, it turned out to be anything but calming.
I don’t believe this, she muttered to herself. The women are stuck in the kitchen, while the men are out in the parlor making art and talking philosophy.
She almost said it out loud, but stopped herself, realizing that her frustration would only be baffling to a woman like Catherine. Here was another wife who, like Lady Jane Franklin, was totally devoted to her husband, and seemed completely content with her lot in life. But, as Peggy came to discover in her dealings with the mysterious Lady Jane, that subservience and contentment might be little more than an appearance. Was Catherine Blake really that much simpler a soul than her formidable husband?
Why, Peggy wondered, did they have no children? The house seemed like a largely self-contained world, in which everything revolved around Will’s moods. As Peggy had seen, he could be warm and jovial one moment, abrupt and cool the next. It never seemed like deliberate cruelty, she had to admit. It seemed rather, at those moments, that other people held no importance for him and, indeed, were an impediment to what was really important – his work, his art.
He and Catherine had clearly been married a long time. But were they truly happy together? Peggy couldn’t really decide. She tried to imagine them younger and in love, but it was difficult.
Is this what love always comes down to? she wondered.
“What about you?” she finally asked Catherine as they chopped onions and cabbages for the stewpot. “I see how much you help your husband with his printmaking and coloring. Do you ever make any art of your own?”
Catherine looked at Peggy with an expression of mild shock, then shook her head, tightening her lips into a thin line.
“There is room for only one artist in this house,” she said pointedly as she resumed chopping.
It was Peggy’s turn to be taken aback. She wasn’t at all surprised that Catherine might harbour some frustrations about life with with her mercurial, demanding husband. What she didn’t expect was that the good wife would express her feelings so baldly.
Unsure how to respond, Peggy offered up a vague expression of sympathy.
“I imagine living with a man like Will can be difficult at times.”
Catherine looked up at her again, and now it seemed to Peggy that a kind of fatigued melancholy crossed her face. Then, as if willing the feeling away, Catherine stood up and began to bustle around the kitchen.
“Not so difficult as with some husbands,” she finally said in a sprightly tone. “And, in truth, I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company.”
“How do you mean?” Peggy asked.
“He is always in Paradise,” Catherine replied.
She had to get out for a while, she decided – out of that house where everyone but her was so happily engaged in their activities.
Peggy walked out into the street and looked towards the bridge the three of them had crossed yesterday in their desperate escape from Caleb and his men. This was a part of the city of London, she knew. But the the great open marshy area full of ponds and rivulets that ran along the bank of the Thames River almost gave her the feeling of being in the countryside. In the field directly across from the Blakes’ was a somewhat seedy-looking music hall. She walked farther on up the street, turned the corner and found herself standing in front of the forbidding stone building she’d raced by the day before, the Lambeth Asylum for Girls. She peered in one window and saw rows of girls working at looms. It could have been a school – many of the girls were about Peggy’s own age, though some were quite a bit younger. She thought asylums were supposed to be for crazy people but there was nothing crazy or agitated about these girls, more an air of weary resignation. Still, unlike the children in the cavernous cotton mill, the girls at the looms could work at their own pace.
Peggy turned away and continued up the road lined with rows of narrow brick houses with low flat rooftops.
Then she saw him.
Just above her, on the roof of one of the row houses, stood a small, dark figure wearing a cap and wielding a long-handled brush. He was sitting astride a chimney, hands gripping the sides as he peered down into the cavity. Out of the chimney came billows of grey smoke.
It was the climbing-boy – the same one, she was fairly certain, who had helped them elude Caleb yesterday. Peggy was about to call up to him when, to her astonishment, he began to scramble feet first into the chimney cavity. She wanted to yell at him to stop, that he’d get burned or suffocate in the thick smoke. But she could see from the matter-of-fact way he eased his body into the cavity that entering a chimney with a live fire was an everyday occurrence for him. It looked terribly dangerous, but she wasn’t of this world, she told herself. There was no point interfering.
Still shaken by the sight of the climbing-boy, she turned away and began hurrying up the street when she suddenly stopped dead in her tracks.
The dream from last night!
She’d completely forgotten about it till that moment. There she was, standing at the edge of that great smoking pit listening to those unending shrieks of agony and terror, wanting to look away – the same way she wanted to get away from the sight of the climbing-boy descending into that inferno now. Wanting to run away, to put as much distance as she could between her and the voices. Then, hearing the familiar tiny voice calling her: “Pay-Gee! Are you coming, Pay-Gee?”
I ran away. Mi called out for me and I ran away from her. I left her in the Bottom Below.
It was only a dream, she told herself. But she knew perfectly well that in the quest to find Mi, dreams were not to be dismissed. They were the very stuff of the journey. And now she’d had a dream which seemed to be telling her that Mi was trapped with the other doomed Souls in the one place, in all these many universes, that she desperately hoped she’d never to have to go down into again.
So she’d abandoned Mi and turned away from the very task she’d set out to do.
She raced back to the Blakes’and burst into the workroom. Gavi, Will and Jackpine all looked up, startled at her sudden entrance.
“I think I know where Mi is.”
“You do?” Gavi’s voice was jubilant. “Where?”
“In the Hole at the Pole.”
Jackpine shook his head vehemently.
“That’s impossible,” he said. “The walls of the Hole collapsed into one another. We all saw it happen. You were there.”
Gavi nodded in agreement.
“The Hole at the Pole,” he said with finality, “no longer exists.”
“Maybe not in Notherland,” Peggy replied. “But I saw it in a dream last night – the same grey smoke, the same awful shrieking and crying. I heard Mi calling me. She’s down there, I know it.”
“It is possible,” said Gavi with deliberation, “the Hole still exists in some other universe. And if that is so,” he paused a moment, reluctant to follow through on his train of thought. “Then it is also possible that the Nobodaddy exists there, too.”
Will suddenly spoke up.
“The Nobodaddy exists in all times and places.”
The other three looked at him, their mouths gaping in shock.
“You know about him?”
“Know about him?” Will said with a slight grin. “I created him!”
“You couldn’t have!” Peggy burst out.
“Why do you say that?” Will asked.
“Because,” Gavi sputtered. “The Nobodaddy is a creature of my world, Notherland. And the Creator of Notherland and everything in it stands right here before you.”
The loon dramatically waved one of his large black wings toward Peggy.
Now Will threw his head back and laughed heartily.
“You!” he nearly shouted. “That is excellent!”
They looked at one another in bewilderment.
“You are laughing at us, Mr. Blake,” Gavi said in a tone of deep hurt. “You doubt the truth of what I am saying.”
“Not at all!” said Will, collecting himself. “If you say that Peggy here created the Nobodaddy, I believe you.”
“But that is completely contrary to what you said only a moment ago: that you created the Nobodaddy. Which is it?”
A scowl crossed Will’s face.
“Which, you say? Neither! Both! Good, evil, love, hate! Is your mind still so small that you cannot grasp the fundamental truth I have been trying to teach you since you arrived here?”
He glared at Gavi, who was now mostly thoroughly unnerved. Finally the loon spoke up in a timid voice.
“What truth is that?”
“That without contraries,” Will said emphatically. “There is no progression!”
Once Will had explained himself a bit more thoroughly, it was as though a light bulb went on in Gavi’s brain.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “It all makes perfect sense now.”
“All things exist in the imagination,” Will had told them, “and humans – indeed, all sentient creatures,” he had hastily added for Gavi’s benefit, “simply draw on it, like a vast pool, for their ideas and inspiration. Within the realm of the imagination dwell certain beings who are not individuals but larger forces to whom I have given the name ‘Eternals.’ These Eternals emerge out of the great fount of the imagination and appear in many guises, under many names, in different times and places.”
As he spoke, Peggy was struck by how his views coincided with her own experience with Lady Jane Franklin the previous year. Lady Jane had even referred to herself as an Eternal and upon her farewell had spoken of “diving back into the Great Pool of Existence”.
Now Peggy fully explained to Will how she had created her own imaginary world called Notherland, populated by singing spirits called Nordlings who lived in the Northern Lights. How one day she and the Nordlings had pretended they were being chased by a monster, whom Peggy said was “Nobody” but that by a slip of her tongue came as “Nobodaddy.” How as a fifteen-year-old she once again found herself in Notherland, to discover that their made-up monster had become real, a demonic force stalking and abducting the Nordlings and draining Notherland of its light, the very source of its existence. How she, her beloved doll Molly, Gavi, and Jackpine had travelled to the Nobodaddy’s realm, the Hole at the Pole, and how she alone had descended into its dark core, the Bottom Below, to do battle with the Nobodaddy. How she had freed the Nordlings and, with their help, a whole slew of other tortured beings whose souls had been stolen by the Nobodaddy. And how, in his humiliation and defeat, the Nobodaddy had grown smaller and smaller, shrinking down into ultimate nothingness, reverting to his original, essential self: Nobody.
“And now you know that he was only one manifestation of this entity you called the Nobodaddy,” said Will. “He is the squelcher, the oppressor, the one who destroys what he cannot own or control. He will come again – he always does. But when he comes` you may not recognize him at first. He will be in a new guise, with a new name. In truth,” he concluded, “I have been considering giving him a different name myself.”
“You have? Why?”
“Lately I have come to see more clearly how he uses the mind to control others, how he twists and perverts their natural impulses. The name Nobodaddy comes, for me as it did for you, from the mind of a child. Now I need to find a new name, that expresses this perversion of Reason. But I haven’t found it yet.”
Just then Catherine came in and announced that supper was ready. They ate heartily, but with little conversation, as if for the time being they were all talked out. No one wanted to bring up the subject that was on all their minds: they now had a better sense of where Mi might be, but still no idea of how to get there, or what to do if they found her.
After supper Will wanted to sing some songs, and launched into a hymn which, he said, he’d been reminded of during Mi’s time with him. After informing them that the lyrics were drawn from the words of the twenty-fourth Psalm, he began in a deep, rich voice:
“Rejoice ye Shining Worlds on high,
Behold the King of Glory nigh!
Ye shall enjoy the blissful sight
And dwell in everlasting light.”
“Your turn, said Will vigorously after he’d finished the hymn. “Each one of you must give us all a song!”
Gavi did his tremolo, which delighted Will and Catherine no end. Jackpine said he had a terrible singing voice, a notion that Will dismissed as nonsense.
“The human voice is beautiful in all its manifestations. But I’ll let you off for now. And now, Peggy the Creator, what do you have for us?”
“I’ve got one I learned years ago at summer camp,” she replied. “Your story about the Angel Tree reminded me of it.”
“All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me.”
After that Will announced he would sing another, one of his own creations:
“Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:
‘Pipe a song about a Lamb!’
So I piped with merry cheer
‘Piper, pipe that song again;’
So I piped: he wept to hear.
‘Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read.’
So he vanish’d from my sight,
And I pluck’d a hollow reed,
And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear
And I wrote my happy songs
Every child may joy to hear.”
They all clapped enthusiastically when he finished. Then Will got up and went out of the room briefly. When he returned he was carrying a long wooden case.
“Now, instead of talk about piping,” he said, “we will hear some.”
He opened the case and held it out to Peggy.
“Jackpine tells me that you are the Flute Player.”
Inside was a beautifully carved wooden flute. She took it out and looked at it. It was a simpler version of the more modern silver flute she was accustomed to, but the fingering and the holes were basically the same.
She lifted it tentatively to her lips. It felt awkward at first. She hadn’t played in nearly a year, and no tune sprang to mind. Then, spontaneously, she began to play, by ear, Will’s melody, the one he’d just finished singing.
His face lit up with joy. He stood up, took his wife in his arms and began to dance with her around the small room.
Watching them, Peggy fought to hide the fact that tears had come to her eyes and were beginning to stream down her cheeks.
Music reached into her soul like nothing else. So why was she always neglecting it, shunting it aside, as if it didn’t matter?
They sang and danced a while longer, but the intensity of the past twenty-four hours began to wear on them all. It was sensible Catherine who finally announced that the hour was late. Gavi and Jackpine began making their way to the back room where they’d slept the previous night, but Will motioned Peggy to come into the workroom with him.
“I have something I want to show you.”
She followed him to the far corner of the room. There was an easel standing there, the one she’d noticed when they first arrived with a cover draped over it. Will took one edge of the fabric and lifted it to reveal a large, nearly-finished painting.
Peggy nearly gasped out loud at what she saw.
On the left of the frame was a large, forbidding figure with its long arms outstretched, and what looked like a shackle on one leg. On its back was a huge, billowing red cape with folds that looked like tongues of fire. On the right, standing before a blazing sun low on the horizon, was a slightly smaller figure holding a naked infant in his arms. The child, seen only from the back, was looking over its shoulder fearfully at the monstrous creature in the red cape, stretching its arms away as if trying to avoid his grasp. The most singular and, to Peggy, unsettling feature of the painting was the blank, haunted gaze of the red-caped figure, whose eyes looked almost empty in their sockets.
Stunned by what she saw, all Peggy could think of to say was “I didn’t know you did paintings, too.”
Will nodded, and turned to her with a piercing look.
“Do you know who these creatures are?”
She shook her head.
“They are Good and Evil Angels, fighting for possession of a Child.”
He seemed to be expecting her to say something.
“It’s . . . beautiful.”
He pulled on the drape and flung it onto the floor impatiently.
“Beautiful? Is that all you have to say?”
“I was only . . .”
“You were being polite, saying what you thought was expected to mask your true reaction, which is awe and terror.”
Peggy was taken aback and could only nod in agreement.
“Politeness and civility will do you no good when you look into the eyes of Evil.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“This is the painting I was working on when your little Nordling first came to me.”
Will put a hand on her shoulder and pulled her face so close to the canvas her nose was almost touching it.
“Remember that look!” he commanded, pointing to the red-caped figure. “So you will recognize it when you see it again.”
She felt a surge of fury run through her as he loosened his grip. But she said nothing as he picked up the drape and wordlessly covered the painting again. As they started to leave the workroom, he paused in the doorway and turned to her.
“I know you’re angry with me. I’m sorry that I’ve upset you.”
Peggy was astonished at the rush of words that came out of her mouth in reply.
“You dote on Gavi and Jackpine, but you never have any time for me.”
“That’s because I am teaching them what they need to know. You, I have nothing to teach.”
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“Everything you could learn from me you already know,” Will replied. “You have retained the gift of Vision, which all children have, but most lose as they grow older. You are a Mental Traveller, the one Jackpine’s people call the Flute Player, one who has the ability to call new worlds into existence.”
“Great. I have an active imagination. A lot of good it’s done me.”
Will’s face clouded. For a moment he looked like he wanted to slap her.
“Never belittle your gift!” he said urgently. “This world you see around you is a pale reflection of the true reality which resides in the world of the imagination.”
His passion for his beliefs was almost frightening to Peggy at that moment.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “It’s just that nobody else ever thought there was anything special about me.”
A look of deep, sorrowful warmth came into his eyes.
“It is very difficult to believe in yourself in the face of indifference. Believe me, I know. We’re alike, you and I, even more than I realized. We have no wealth, no advantages, no one paving the way for us. And that is why we’re driven to create new worlds.”
Peggy looked at him curiously.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because we must create ourselves, too.”
How does he know?
Peggy struggled to compose herself as she made her way to the back room. She’d been near tears a few moments before, as Will had laid a hand gently on her cheek and bade her goodnight. How, she wondered, was this man, whom she barely knew, able to reach into her soul and touch her at her point of deepest need – a need that, until that moment, she hadn’t even acknowledged to herself?
Still, what use was it to have someone tell her that she was special – even someone like William Blake? Back in Notherland, here on this journey through these other worlds, she was special – she was the Creator. But once it was all over she would have to return to her other life. Her ordinary life, where no one, it seemed, thought there was anything the least bit remarkable about her.
Gavi and Jackpine were waiting up for her in the back room. As soon as she walked through the door, Gavi knew that something in her encounter with Will had stirred up her emotions. He could tell, without asking, that she had made some kind of decision.
“We’re going tonight?” he asked her.
“I don’t know exactly where,” she said. “All I know is that we’re looking for an evil Angel.”
“Then it must be done.”
They were all silent for a moment.
“I cannot deny,” said Gavi, “that I have some regrets about leaving. Never again will I have the opportunity to learn from a mind as vast as that of William Blake. But nothing is more important than finding our precious Mi.”
Finally the three of them prepared to go to sleep. Peggy lay in the darkened room, listening to the light whistle of Gavi’s snore. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Jackpine’s eyes were wide open. He was restless too.
She rolled over and faced him.
“You don’t really want to go yet either, do you?”
He shook his head.
“That’s why I could understand what Molly was saying back on the ship,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been searching for something all my life, too. The whole time I worked at the petroglyph site I felt there was something I wanted to do, but I didn’t know what it was. Now, working with Will, I’ve found it. He said if I stayed a while longer, he’d take me on as his apprentice. Do you know what that would mean for me?”
To her utter astonishment, Jackpine seized her hand and squeezed it hard for a moment, sending ripples of excitement through her body.
“Yes, I do,” she said. “And maybe you should . . .”
“No.” He put his fingers lightly over her lips. “Don’t say it. It can’t happen. I can’t stay here. This isn’t my world. And like Gavi says, there’s nothing more important than finding Mi.”
He fell silent for a moment, then suddenly tightened his grip on her hand.
“I want to thank you,” he burst out, looking at her with an intense gaze.
“Thank me? For what?”
“For bringing me here. Because of you, I’ve found the thing I’m meant to do with my life. I know I haven’t exactly been the easiest person to be around. I just want you to know I think you’re a really amazing person. I wish we could . . .”
He paused a moment.
“What?” said Peggy.
“Nothing. It’s time we got some sleep.”
He dropped her hand and she turned away, her head a jumble of thoughts. What did he want to say? Why had he stopped himself?
Is he thinking about that girl back at the band office?
There was no point torturing herself with questions. Nothing was ever going to happen between her and Jackpine. She was just going to have to force herself to get over him.
As she lay down she rolled over to face him once more.
“Good-night, Jackpine – Gary.” she said.
For the second time that night he did something that took her completely aback.
He leaned over and touched his lips to hers.
As he lay back down, he slid his hand around hers again. This time he didn’t let go.
Lying beside him in the dark, Peggy felt a deep happiness, a profound sense of being cared for that enveloped her the way the wings of the Angel statue in Green Echo Park once had.
But now that she finally had him so close, she knew one thing for certain: She would have to leave him again.
Because there was nothing more important than finding Mi.
You will complete your apprenticeship, she said silently to Jackpine. Looking over at Gavi, she thought, You will stay and learn from the Master.
She’d have to leave them behind. This part of the journey would have to be hers alone. And though it made her sick with anxiety, she understood without a shred of doubt that she had to go back to her dream of the night before. But this time she would not – must not – walk away.
She held in her mind the sight of the climbing-boy as he descended the narrow, suffocating darkness of the chimney.
This time, she told herself, I’m going down.
Chapter 4: Ghosts on the Ice
“MORE CREAM, MY DEAR?”
The woman, wearing a high-collared dress with a wide, billowy skirt, held out a delicate china creamer to the white-haired man in the military uniform sitting across the table from her.
“I daresay, my dear, these crumpets are your best yet.”
It was strange, he knew, to be here, having tea on the ice like they had so many times before. In fact, everything that had occurred since the little one had somehow brought them here had been exceedingly strange – a fact which he appreciated far more than his wife. For he understood perfectly well that they weren’t really here at all. They were dead. Utterly, absolutely dead. But the little one had been insistent that they were the ones who could show her the way to the Shining World, and somehow the sheer force of her belief had conjured them up and brought them to her. Now that she was gone, he had fully expected that their sojourn here would come to an end, that this world of ice and boundless sky, so familiar to him from his long exile, would dissolve into the mists of time and return him and his dear wife to their places in Eternity. But, mysteriously, this had not happened. Something was keeping them here, though he had no idea what it was.
As he reached for yet another crumpet his thoughts were interrupted by sounds which seemed to be coming from some distance away.
“Listen,” he said to his wife.
They looked out on the surrounding ice and saw a small figure racing towards them. They watched with bemused curiosity as the figure came closer and the shouts grew louder. Finally the running figure, a short, stiff-limbed creature wearing a black patch over one eye, stopped dead a few feet from where they sat.
“It is you!” she exclaimed. “I knew it!”
Everything had happened so fast that Peggy barely had time to take it all in. She had groggily opened her eyes, at first thinking she was back in planting camp. Then she felt some feathers brushing the top of her head and remembered where she was.
She rolled over and saw another pair of legs stretched out near hers.
She felt a ripple of excitement, feeling him lying there, so close she could hear the rhythm of his breathing. He was sound asleep, his head at the centre of the star-formation across from Gavi’s.
What was he doing here after he’d been so adamant about not wanting to get drawn in. How did he end up sleeping so close to her and the others?
Not that it mattered. As she looked around it was clear to Peggy that nothing had happened. They hadn’t gone anywhere. There had been no shared dream. They were still in Notherland.
Then the shouting started.
“Peggy! Peggy, wake up!”
It was Molly. She was standing by the shore of the lake.
“You won’t believe it!”
Without warning Molly bolted out into the water. Peggy started to shout at her to be come back, then realized there was a reason why there was such a chill in the air, and why the lake seemed so calm.
“Peggy, look! It’s ice!”
Something must have happened during the night after all. They were still in Notherland, but they’d somehow moved farther north.
Peggy watched as Molly streaked out onto the ice. Her shrieks had roused Gavi and Jackpine.
“What’s going on?” said Jackpine.
Peggy squinted, straining to see something moving far out on the ice.
“It is the Everlasting Ice!” Gavi suddenly burst out.
“Yes, and Molly’s taken off after something out there.”
“Don’t know. I’m going to go find out.”
She bolted out onto the ice, followed by Jackpine and Gavi, furiously flapping his wings across the smooth surface of the Everlasting Ice.
The white-haired man got up from the table and rushed over to the odd-looking child, enveloping her in a bear-hug of an embrace.
“Molly! Captain Molly!”
“Sir John! Lady Jane! I thought I’d never see you again!”
Molly was choking back tears of joy. Here they were, the great nineteenth-century Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane Franklin, sipping tea on the vastness of the Everlasting Ice, just as they had once before. Franklin, her beloved mentor, who had taught her the ways of the sea and bequeathed her his very own ship the Terror, re-christened the Resolute by Peggy. Molly was so overcome she barely noticed Peggy and the others racing across the ice a short distance behind her.
As they approached the table, the older couple greeted them warmly.
“I am so glad to finally meet you,” the woman said to Peggy. “My husband has spoken to me many times of your bravery.”
Peggy was completely taken aback. It was strange enough to find Sir John and his wife out here on the Everlasting Ice again, as if they’d never left. But even more disconcerting was Lady Jane acting as though they’d never met before this moment.
“I know that you were instrumental in releasing him from his lonely captivity and helping him find a sense of purpose again,” Lady Jane went on. “You restored my husband to me, and for that I am forever in your debt.”
As she spoke, it became clear to Peggy that the older woman was utterly sincere, and completely unaware of Peggy’s confusion. It dawned on her that this was not the Eternal who had assumed the form of Sir John Franklin’s wife in their adventures the previous year. This woman was Lady Jane Franklin herself.
“It is wonderful to see you all again,” Sir John was saying to the group. “And now I understand what has brought you here, and why we have been kept here to greet you.”
“What do you mean?” Gavi asked.
“The little one,” replied Sir John. “You have come looking for her, have you not?”
“Little one?” Peggy eyes widened. “You mean Mi?”
“Is she here?” Molly asked.
“She was. But not anymore.”
“Why not?” Molly cried.
Sir John shook his head sadly.
“Because we could not tell her how to reach the Shining World.”
Mi had been right. There was a Shining World that existed beyond the clouds, beyond the stars, beyond the RoryBory itself.
“But what she did not know,” Lady Jane was saying, “is that no one can enter there until their time has come to do so.
“You see,” she went on matter-of-factly, “Sir John and I are dead, and the dead exist in many dimensions at once. We are here and not-here. We are in Notherland and in the Shining World at the same time. But this was not possible for Mi.
“Nevertheless, she did succeed in drawing us all together again,” Sir John pointed out. “It was sheer delight spending time with the little one. She loved to laugh and tease us and play games like hide-and-seek. We tried our best to keep her amused. But we were too old and set in our ways to make good playmates, and after a time she began to grow restless. That was when all the talk of pirates began.”
Molly was aghast.
“Oh, yes,” replied Sir John. “Mi was very much inspired by you. She would say, ‘I want to be a pirate and have adventures just like Molly!’ She took to whittling an old piece of wood in the shape of a sword and brandishing it about. ‘Show me a sea monster,’ she’d cry, ‘and I’ll slay it!’“
Lady Jane picked up her husband’s train of thought.
“It was quite a marked change from the way she was when she arrived here. At first she had a very quiet, gentle demeanor and spoke often of how things must always be beautiful and everyone must be happy all the time. We tried to explain that even in the Shining World, life was not like that. Happiness and beauty cannot be willed into being, but only accepted with gratitude when they come our way.
“At first she was very disappointed to learn that she could not simply enter the Shining World at will. But gradually it seemed to assume less importance for her. She began to talk about how she wanted to have adventures, to taste life in all its excitement and danger. We came to understand that she was young and unformed, and would have to find these things out for herself. So we were saddened, yet not really surprised, to discover one day that she had gone.”
“But where?” Peggy insisted. “Where could she have gone?”
“We cannot be sure,” Lady Jane said hesitantly. “But we believe she may have gone to another world – a world in which she could live out her desire to be a pirate.”
For hours they sat around the table on the Everlasting Ice, talking and sipping tea. Peggy noted with relief that the terrible melancholy Sir John had carried with him for so long was gone, that the guilt he bore for the agonizing deaths of his crew seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders. He now exuded a deep, glowing happiness, and Peggy understood, without a doubt, that this woman was truly Lady Jane, the wife with whom he had longed to be reunited through all those years of wandering and waiting.
As the conversation stretched on into the evening, Peggy began to notice a strange phenomenon. At first she thought her eyes might be playing tricks on her. But as dusk began to settle on the Everlasting Ice, the Franklins, along with their clothing, the china, the very table they were sitting at, became hazy and insubstantial, as if they were dissolving into thin air. Peggy could see that, little by little, Lord and Lady Franklin were literally fading away.
She looked over at Gavi, and realized that he had noticed it, too. Molly was deep in animated discussion with Sir John, but the growing look of distress on the doll’s face told Peggy that Molly also knew that her beloved mentor was slipping away. For their part, the old couple radiated such an air of quiet serenity that Peggy was uncertain whether they were aware of what was happening.
Peggy felt herself falling into a deep well of sadness. She didn’t want the Franklins to fade away. She wanted time to stop. She wanted them all to stay here, enfolded in this circle of love and friendship.
The time came to say good-night. As darkness settled no one spoke, but they all knew that, come morning, Lord and Lady Franklin would be irrevocably gone. They would not see them again.
Peggy’s thoughts returned to Mi. They had to look for her. “What should we do now?” she asked the others. “Dream about pirates?”
“Not just pirates,” Gavi replied. “But a pirate world such as Mi might create.”
“Everything she knew about pirates she would have learned from you, Molly. What’d you tell her about them?”
“All kinds of things,” the doll replied. “That pirates were bloodthirsty, and wore bandannas around their heads, and stole whatever they wanted.”
Peggy smiled to herself, remembering how, years ago, she had christened Molly a pirate doll, by way of explaining the fact that she was missing one of her eyes and had to wear a patch over it. Of course, everything Molly knew about pirates came from the books and old movies of Peggy’s own childhood. So, she reassured herself, Mi’s pirate world was just an adventure story, holding out no real threat or danger.
As they all lay down again in the star-formation, Peggy turned to Jackpine.
“I’m sorry you got caught up in this. What happened? I warned you to keep a bit of distance . . .”
He cut her off.
“It wasn’t an accident. I changed my mind.”
Peggy was flabbergasted.
“I couldn’t leave the job of rescuing Mi to the three of you. You need someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Peggy turned away, seething with barely-contained fury. Every time she started to feel the slightest bit of warmth toward Jackpine, he had to go and say something completely arrogant like that.
He hadn’t changed a bit!
Chapter 5: The Pirate Queen
PEGGY ROLLED OVER and opened her eyes. In her half-awake state she saw a sky full of ridges in a deep, burnished brown. She looked at Gavi and Jackpine, both sound asleep, and Molly, lying motionless with a faraway stare in her eyes, appearing as close to asleep as a doll could. All three of them were still huddled together in the star-formation.
Go back to sleep, she told herself. It was dark. There was still time for the dream to come.
A sudden thought made her snap awake: That’s no sky!
She sat up. Just above her head was a low ceiling made up of rows of wooden planks. In the dim light she looked around at what seemed to be a large cavernous space. She could feel the gentle bobbing of water underneath the floor where they lay.
They were in the hold of a ship.
Carefully, so as not to wake the others, she slithered out of the star-formation and walked around the hold, crouching low to avoid banging her head on the planked ceiling. All around her lay a confusing jumble of cables, ropes, poles, musty-smelling sheets of canvas and stacks of wooden crates. Most of the crates were empty, but through the bars of one she could make out a pair of chickens clucking to one another. Beyond the crates was a collection of wooden barrels. She went over to one and peeked inside. The stench of strong beer made her turn away. She shut it and looked in another, which contained slabs of what looked like dried meat. The other barrels were filled with various things – salt, flour – but when she opened the last she gasped out loud.
The barrel was filled to the brim with coins, mostly silver, some gold, all of antique vintage, marked with strange writing and unfamiliar images. She rooted down beneath the top layer and found still more coins, along with what looked like bricks of solid gold and silver.
So the dream had worked. They’d pulled it off! She felt an initial sense of elation, until the thought struck her: what have we gotten ourselves into? This looked to be an authentic pirate ship, and real pirates weren’t known to be the friendliest people in the world. Particularly not to stowaways they found on board.
She closed the lid of the barrel. A muffled murmur of voices seemed to be coming from the deck above her head. A shudder went down her spine. She stood barely breathing, straining to hear. Loud footsteps thundered over her head, then faded away to nothing. For a few moments everything was quiet. All Peggy could hear was the sound of Gavi’s light, whistling snore and the rhythmic rise and fall of Jackpine’s chest as he slept.
All she wanted to do at that moment was crawl under something and hide. Why hadn’t she gone back to her own world when she’d had the chance? Planting trees in frozen, rocky ground, even staring down a bear was preferable to coming face-to-face with pirates.
But it was too late. The dream had brought them here. She had to find out who and what they were dealing with.
She walked stealthily past the sleeping trio and began making her way up the narrow stairway that led out of the hold. There were only a few steps to the top, and she found herself at one end of a corridor lined with cabins on either side. She stood, listening, but she could hear nothing behind any of the closed cabin doors. She ventured further, tiptoeing along the hall to the foot of another stairway that led up to the ship’s deck.
Peggy paused a moment, took a deep breath and began to mount the stairs. She found herself on an open deck that was wider and flatter than that of the Resolute. The ship had three masts, also much shorter than the Resolute‘s, each bearing square-shaped sails. The first sail was stamped with a black skull-and-crossbones. The one in the middle had a crest, drawn in red, of an animal that looked like a boar. On the third sail was an inscription in black lettering, in a language unfamiliar to Peggy.
When she looked down again, Peggy understood why the sails were so small. Both sides of the deck were lined with benches, with long oars resting on them. Clearly, rowing was the main way of propelling this vessel. Though now, in the predawn hours, there was a light breeze filling the sails and driving the ship, which was why all the benches were empty.
She decided to see if any of the others were awake and turned to go back down the stairwell when a voice startled her.
She whirled around to see a man in a ragged tunic with a bandanna wrapped around his head. He was moving towards her, brandishing a dagger.
“What d’ya think you’re doing?” the man snarled at her. He lunged forward and grabbed her by the arm, twisting it painfully behind her back.
“Wait! I can explain.” Peggy began.
“Save your breath! You’ll get what’s coming to ya!”
The man lifted his dagger and held it to her throat as several other men came running along the deck towards them.
Molly’s voice broke through the pounding of their feet on the deck. Peggy saw the doll standing at the top of the staircase, a look of horror on her face.
“Let her go!” Molly screamed as she ran to Peggy. One of the men grabbed her and she snarled like a wild animal trying to get free.
“What the . . .?”
Jackpine raced up from the hold just behind Molly. Two of the men pounced on him, pushing him face down on the deck while a third man stood over him, pressing one foot roughly into his back.
Now the three of them were surrounded by a swarm of men in bandannas, many with tattoos on their arms. One had a scar that ran diagonally across his lips and down his neck. Another had a peg leg from the knee down. Even in the heat of danger Peggy couldn’t help thinking that this crew looked like they had just come from the set of a pirate movie.
“Look,” she finally managed to spit out. “If you’ll just give us a chance to explain what we’re doing here…”
“We know what you’re doing here!” cried one of the men. “You’re trying to steal our booty!”
“We’re not,” Peggy insisted.
“We’re just looking for someone . . .” Molly started to say, but one of the men clapped a hand over her mouth and tied a strip of cloth around it.
“That’ll take care of your lies!”
The men all shouted as they gagged Peggy and Jackpine too.
“Let’s keelhaul ’em!”
“Throw ’em overboard!”
“Make ’em walk the plank!”
The men dragged the three of them over to the side of the deck, while a couple of others pushed a long wooden plank out over the water. Peggy watched in horror as two of the men grabbed Molly, still struggling mightily, and started pushing her out onto the plank when shouts brought them all to a halt.
At the head of the stairwell stood Gavi, looking bewildered and utterly terrified. The men all turned to look at him.
“Never seen one like that before.”
“Think he’s fit to eat?”
“We’ll find out after we deal with this bunch.”
Laughing, the men resumed trying to force Molly onto the plank but she put up a fierce struggle.
“Just toss ‘er overboard!” one yelled.
“She’s light enough!”
Two of them took Molly by her arms and were about to fling her out into the water when they were brought up short by Gavi’s high pitched wail.
They looked at one another quizzically.
“What was that?”
“It was I!”
Gavi’s voice wavered at first but as he spoke he became clearer and more confident.
“I beg you, please do not hurt my friends! We have not come to hurt you or steal your possessions. We only seek to find a friend of ours.”
There was utter silence when he stopped speaking. The men gaped at him, stupefied. Then an outburst of panicky shouts rang out.
“Is it a changeling?”
“Must be some kind of witchcraft!”
The man gripping Peggy whirled her around, grabbed her by the hair and pulled her face to his.
“Who are ya?” he screamed, his expression a mixture of fury and terror. “Some kind of sorcerers?”
“Toss ’em overboard before they start turning us into birds!”
The men pulled Peggy over to the edge of the deck, while they dangled the shrieking Molly dangling over the side. Suddenly a voice came thundering from the other end of the ship.
The men froze on the spot. All eyes swept down to the foredeck, in the direction the voice had come from. There stood another of the pirates, this one exuding an air of powerful charisma, wearing a long cloak bearing what looked to Peggy like a family coat of arms. The cloak had a gold background embroidered with the image of a large red boar, along with an inscription similar to the one she’d noticed on the sail earlier. The cloak swirled in the air as the figure strode toward them, and Peggy was struck by how the men, so fierce only moments before, now seemed to be cowering in fear. This air of authority, it was clear, had nothing to do with physical stature, since the captain – for who else could this be but their captain? – was actually quite a small person.
“What’s going on here?”
“We found stowaways, ma’am.”
Ma’am?! Peggy was flabbergasted. The captain of this pirate ship was a woman!
“Stowaways?” the captain repeated. “Or English spies?”
With that the men all tried to speak at once, bombarding her in a confused babble about the evil sorcerers and the strange talking bird. The captain heard them out for a few moments, then threw her head back and let out a hearty laugh.
“You’re telling me you’re afraid of a bird because it talks?”
“But ma’am, the bird might be a changeling.”
“Who knows if they have the power to turn us into birds!”
She cut them off and laughed again.
“What’s a little sorcery? Anyway, look at this bunch! They barely have the power to pull their own boots on!” She turned to Jackpine and yanked the cloth away from his mouth. “What are you doing on my ship? Who sent you?”
Jackpine glowered back at her.
The woman grabbed him roughly by the collar and drew his face to hers. “Don’t play with me, boy!”
“I told you, no one sent us!” Jackpine spat out the words in a fit of defiance.
“What’s your clan? Even that English scum Bingham wouldn’t be so stupid as to send a motley bunch like you against Grania O’Malley!”
Before Jackpine could retort again Molly began to grunt fiercely under her gag. The captain wordlessly signaled the men to remove the cloth around her mouth as well.
“You’re Grania the Pirate Queen?” Molly burst out, looking at the captain in wide-eyed amazement.
The woman went over to Molly and stared her down with a penetrating glare.
“Are you trying to play with me too, little lass? You know perfectly well who I am. Now, are you going to stop this foolishness and tell me who you are? Or would you rather I tie a stone to your feet and toss you into those waves?”
“We come from a place you’ve never heard of,” the doll said in a frightened whisper.
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Go on,” she continued. “Try me.”
Molly swallowed hard.
“We come from another world.”
At that the men burst into boisterous, mocking laughter. But the captain remained stone-faced.
“Quiet! All of you!” she commanded, then turned back to Molly. “What do you mean? What other world?”
“It’s hard to explain.” she began haltingly.
In an instant the captain’s expression changed. All the color drained out of her face.
“Now I know why you’re here,” she said, speaking barely above a whisper.
“You’re looking for that little fairy-creature, aren’t you?”
The swiftness with which the Pirate Queen’s attitude towards them changed was nothing short of astonishing. Only moments after they narrowly avoided being tossed overboard, the travellers found themselves sitting down to dinner in the captain’s quarters. All of it resulting from the mention of Mi, who clearly had made a deep impression on Grania.
“I’ve been visited by otherworldly spirits before,” she told them. “But never one quite like that little sprite.”
The same words, Peggy noted, the Franklins had used about Mi. Which meant, she could see all too clearly, that Mi was no longer here.
“She just turned up one day,” the captain went on. “We found her clinging to one of the masts. It was like she’d been asleep and had just woken up but didn’t know where she was. I suspected right away she was some sort of fairy-creature. When we asked her where she come from, we couldn’t make head nor tail of her answer. Something about another land with lights in the sky.
“Then she began to sing and I knew for certain she wasn’t of this world. A sweet and glorious voice, like the music of the heavens. Even my most hardened sailors were reduced to tears.
“She became a kind of mascot to the crew. She was all over the ship, always asking questions. ‘Tell you for a song,’ the boys would say, and she’d always oblige – even when they didn’t know the answer to her question!”
“But what happened to her?” Molly asked. “Where is she now?”
The captain shook her head.
“She just disappeared one day, as mysteriously as she arrived. Though I think our last raid might have had something to do with it.”
“Raid?” Peggy asked. “What kind of raid?”
She thought she spied a fleeting look of sorrow in the captain’s eyes. Now, for the first time, Peggy noticed the lines in Grania’s handsome face, which made it clear that she was no longer a young woman. A scar ran almost the entire width of her forehead. This was a woman, Peggy realized, who had seen much hardship and trouble in her life.
“It was a Spanish ship,” the captain replied. “The Santa Lucia. Things weren’t supposed to go like that. We thought we’d get out of there, quick and dirty. But the fools put up a fight, and things got ugly. Blood was spilled. The little one was frightened and upset by the whole thing. I think it finally dawned on her that being a pirate wasn’t a game.
“That night she came to me, wanting to know why such things happen. I tried to explain that life has its dark side. There’s pain and death and destruction and it can’t be helped. We all have to eat from the tree of good and evil in order to live in this world. She was quiet for a long time. But then she said the strangest thing.”
“What?” asked Gavi.
“She said ‘I want to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil, too.’
“The next day she was gone.”
All through dinner Molly had been itching to tell Peggy, Gavi and Jackpine about the Pirate Queen. As it turned out, she’d learned about Grania O’Malley from one of the crew of the Resolute, who told her stories of famous pirates to pass the time while they patrolled the Great Polar Sea. Later that evening, when they were finally able to get some time alone, Molly filled their ears with her encyclopedic knowledge of the life and times of the Pirate Queen. Of how Grania, as a child, had begged to be allowed to sail to Spain with her father, Black Oak O’Malley. When her mother objected that young ladies did not go to sea, Grania donned boys’ clothes and cut her hair short, which was how she got the nickname Grania the Bald.
Molly told them of how, as a youth, Grania climbed a high cliff to chase after an eagle carrying off one of her family’s sheep. Grania managed to rescue the sheep, but the talons of the great bird made a deep gash on her forehead, leaving the scar which Peggy had noticed earlier.
Molly told them of how Grania’s ship was attacked by Spanish pirates the day after she gave birth to her son, Tibbot. Hearing that her crew was losing the battle and she was in danger of losing the ship, Grania stormed on deck in her blood-stained nightgown, hair flying in the wind. Waving a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other, she shouted “Curses on you who can’t do without me for a single day!” The Spaniards, convinced that she was a fiend from the Underworld, immediately surrendered.
Grania, Molly told them, had four children by two husbands, both of whom she’d outlived. The family of her first husband, Donal O’Flaherty, had cheated her out of her inheritance after his death. Her second husband, a notorious pirate known as Richard-in-Iron, headed a fleet that reigned supreme over the coast of Connaught. After his death, Grania assumed command of the fleet under the O’Malley crest with the motto Terra Marique Potens, which meant, according to Molly, “power by land and sea”. It was this ship on which they now found themselves.
From the glow in her eyes, the intensity in her voice as she recounted the tales of Grania’s exploits, it was clear that Molly had met her idol. Here before her was this fierce, magnificent figure – the famed Pirate Queen herself.
“But what I can’t quite figure out,” she confided to the others, “is just how Mi ended up here. I’m sure I never told her about Grania O’Malley.”
“I believe you have the answer right there on the tip of your tongue,” Gavi said with a twinkle in his eye.
The loon nodded excitedly.
“’O’Malley’,” he pronounced the name with deliberation. “’Oh Molly.’ Do you see?”
Molly shook her head.
“What are you getting at?”
“I used the wrong word,” Gavi said. “What I meant to ask was ‘Do you hear?’ Listen again: ‘O’Malley’. ‘Oh Molly’. Do you hear?”
“They do sound pretty much the same,” Jackpine said.
“Exactly,” Gavi responded enthusiastically. “My best guess is that, in trying to conjure up a pirate world in her imagination, Mi would of course have been thinking a great deal about you, Molly, and your own pirate fantasies. She may even have called out to you in a dream: ‘Oh, Molly!’“
“That makes as much sense as anything else,” said Peggy. “As usual, Gavi, you’ve got it all figured out.”
The loon beamed with pride.
“Thank you. It feels wonderful to use my brain again!”
Grania had been eyeing them curiously as they huddled together on the deck, talking in low voices. Now she came over and caught the tail end of their conversation.
“I haven’t got the slightest notion what you’re all on about. But you amuse me. Especially you,” she said, turning to Gavi. “You bird-full-of-words. That’s what I’m going to call you: Bird-full-of-Words!”
It was going to be hard to get Molly off this ship. Peggy could see that clearly enough.
Grania gave them the run of the place, and made clear to the crew that they should welcome the strange visitors. But these gruff men were understandably wary of the two young people from another time and place, not to mention the odd-looking, garrulous bird who used words bigger than they’d ever heard before.
But Pirate Molly was another story.
By the middle of the next day, she’d gotten to know all the crewmen by name. There was Grania’s second-in-command, Conor the quartermaster. There was young Rory, a boy barely older than Molly herself. There was the old man with the peg leg who gave his name only as Blackthorn (“for the stick where a leg used to be”).
They weren’t all Irish clansmen either, Molly soon realized. Quite a few were seamen from elsewhere who’d joined Grania’s crew for their own reasons. Like Fernando, from Portugal, and Mustapha, an Arab from Spain who’d managed to escape a British raid on his vessel. When Grania’s ship came upon him several days later, he was floating in a lifeboat on the verge of starvation. He decided to join her, he explained to Molly in fragmented English, “because these Irish are the enemy of my enemy. And they don’t try to make me worship their Christian god.”
There were even two sailors – O’Boyle and McDermott – who wore black patches just like Molly’s. The three of them spent the afternoon swapping stories about how they lost their eyes. Clearly, for a pirate, losing a body part was a badge of honor.
Molly was in heaven. No, it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade her to move on and look for Mi. But for the time being it was just as well, Peggy figured, since they had no idea where to look next, or how to get there when they did.
One of the crew was pointing to a ship in the distance.
“Keep her to,” Grania ordered.
The helmsman shook his head.
“Wind’s gone down, ma’am.”
“All hands at the oars,” Grania called out with authority. “Don’t give them a chance to put distance between us.”
As they approached the other ship, she called out.
“Strike sail or we’ll send you to the bottom!”
“Who are you to order us?” a voice from the other ship challenged.
“These are the waters of Clan O’Malley. You must pay a fee for safe passage through them.”
“We sail under the flag of her majesty, Elizabeth of England. We know of no such passage fee,” the man shouted back.
“Then as of this moment, you have been so informed.”
The men on the other deck conferred. After a few moments one of them called over.
“We’ll pay your fee, provided it’s reasonable.”
“I’ll determined what’s reasonable,” Grania shot back. “What cargo are you carrying?”
“Just some barrels of cod, salt and alum.”
“We’ll come aboard and see for ourselves.”
“That’s not necessary.” said the other captain.
“We have to inspect your cargo to determine your tariff. Are you refusing us permission to come aboard?”
The captain hesitated a moment.
The quartermaster ordered the men to row up alongside the English ship and hoist the heavy plank between the two decks. Grania moved towards the deck and gestured to Peggy and the others to follow her.
“Now you’ll get a real taste of the pirate’s life.”
Still agile for a woman in her mid-fifties, Grania scampered across the plank with confidence. Peggy shuddered as she mounted it, recalling how close they’d been a short time ago to walking this same plank to their deaths. She turned to see Molly and Jackpine following her, but Gavi held back, reluctant to leave the ship.
“What’s the matter?” Peggy asked.
“I feel unaccountably anxious,” he replied. “I fear something will happen once they are aboard the other ship.” He lowered his voice. “They are pirates, after all.”
Gavi, she realized, had just given voice to the same anxiety she was feeling. She would rather not board the British ship either. But she felt that not doing so would look like an insult to Grania.
“It’s okay, Gavi,” she called to him. “We’ll go. You stay there.”
Grania looked back as the three of them mounted the English deck.
“Where’s your friend, Bird-full-of-Words?”
“It’s hard for him to cross the plank on his belly,” Peggy explained.
This set Grania roaring with laughter.
“A bird that’s afraid of falling into the water. Now I’ve heard everything!”
She ordered Conor to take some men below to inspect the various barrels and bundles. While she and the others waited up top, the officers of the English ship glared at one another, angry and impatient.
“Why are we doing the bidding of bandits?” one of them complained, but the captain quickly cut him off.
“Just be good little sailors and you’ll be on your way soon enough,” Grania taunted them.
Finally Conor and the men returned to the deck.
“Nothing but more barrels of salt, cod and alum down there, ma’am.”
“A rare thing – an Englishman who tells the truth. You’re not carrying anything else, are you? No gold or silver stashed away under all that salt?”
“Do I look like a fool to take such a chance as that?” the English captain asked her.
Grania smiled approvingly at him.
“You have excellent judgement, sir. Good. Our standard passage fee is fifty pounds.”
“Fifty pounds!” he objected. “That’s outrageous.”
“When we encounter difficulties we sometimes have to raise it. You don’t want that, I’m sure.”
The captain didn’t reply, but sullenly nodded to one of his officers to pay the fee.
As they prepared to return to their own ship, Grania noticed a pile of loose canvas stowed under one of the gunwales.
“Not the best place to store your spare sails, is it?” she mused to the captain. “Don’t you find they get wet?”
“Those are ones awaiting repairs,” he replied. “We’ll be storing them down in the hold when we’re done.”
“Perhaps you could let me buy some.”
The captain shifted uncomfortably for a moment.
“I’m afraid we have none to spare.”
“Is that right? Looks to me like there’s near enough to replace every sheet on your masts,” said Grania pointedly. “You won’t mind if I take a look for myself, will you?”
The air crackled with tension as both crews watched Grania approach the pile of canvas.
She poked it with her cutlass several times, finally striking something hard.
“Well now, what’s this?”
She tore away the canvas. Hidden in its folds was a padlocked wooden box. Grania motioned to her men to pry it open.
The English captain stepped forward.
“Wait, let me explain.”
Grania held up her hand to silence him as the sailors struggled with the chest. Finally they lifted the top. An audible gasp swept the length of the deck.
The box was filled with precious stones and jewels.
“Ho!” cried Grania. “Strangest batch of salt cod I ever laid eyes on.” She turned to the English captain. “You know this is going to cost you a bit extra.”
“Of course,” he stammered. “We’ll pay extra. We didn’t intend to deceive you.”
“Don’t insult me, British scum!” Grania lashed out at him furiously. “Yes, you will pay! With the entire contents of this chest!”
As she gestured to her men to close the box, the captain stepped forward.
“What do you say we divide it up, half and half?”
Grania threw her head back and let out a full-throated laugh.
“You really must take me for a fool! Why would I settle for half a chest of loot when I can have the whole lot?” She looked the captain fiercely in the eye. “You stole it, didn’t you? You were going to keep it for yourselves. So why don’t we just take it off your hands and keep you out of trouble with your superiors?”
Grania nodded to her men to take up the box. Without being told the rest of the men all took out their swords and formed a phalanx as Conor and another man hauled it to the plank. A tense silence covered the entire deck.
Just as the men were about to hoist themselves up onto the plank with the chest, Peggy noticed the English captain give a furtive signal to one of his men. Crouching, the soldier held up a knife, poised to throw it in Grania’s direction.
“Look out!” Peggy called out. The Pirate Queen ducked just in time as the knife whizzed past her head.
“Get ’em!” Grania shrieked.
Fighting broke out all over the deck, as some the men took out swords and daggers, and others went at it with fists. Peggy watched in shock as Molly pulled out her own cutlass, the one bequeathed to her by Sir John.
“Molly, are you crazy? They’re more than twice your size!”
“I don’t care!” Molly said as she bounded into the fray. “Finally I’ve got a chance to use this thing!”
Peggy looked over. Jackpine had picked up a dagger from a fallen sailor and joined the melee. He was going at it hand-to-hand with one of the English soldier.
“Jackpine, what are you doing?”
“What’s it look like?” he retorted.
“You! Take this pike!”
She whirled around to see Grania thrusting a long-handled spear at her. Peggy shook her head.
“No. I don’t want to fight.”
“You want to die? Take it and defend yourself!”
Reluctantly, Peggy took the pike from Grania’s hand and looked around in horror. Everywhere there was fierce fighting. A trickle of blood was leeching down the slashed neck of one sailor, lying pale and glassy-eyed on the deck. Another was gripping his thigh, trying to stanch the flow of blood where he’d been stabbed. In the bloody chaos one thing was clear to Peggy: the English sailors, outmatched by the fierce Irish pirates, were losing badly.
Piercing shouts drew Peggy’s attention to the foredeck. Grania was there, holding a sword to the neck of the English captain.
“Surrender!” she shrieked at him. “Or I’ll finish off every last one of you!”
The captain’s chest heaved with the effort of shouting.
“Stand down!” he called to his crew.
The English lay down their swords and daggers. But it was too late for many of them. Grania surveyed the deck, now strewn with the wounded and the dead.
One of the pirates turned a body face up.
“Here, ma’am. Dead.”
Grania’s eyes looked hard as flint as she turned to the English captain.
“Three good men dead. Even more of yours. Why were you so stupid? If you hadn’t lied to me none of this would’ve happened.”
She turned and made her way to the plank.
“Bring the bodies,” she ordered. “We’ll give them a proper burial at sea.”
“I do not understand,” Gavi was saying, “how they can be so wild and boisterous after the loss of their own comrades.”
He was huddled with Peggy in the small quarters Grania had given them below deck. Earlier they had stood at solemn attention with the crew, as the bodies of the three slain pirates were tossed overboard to their watery graves. Now, above them, the shouts and singing of the Pirate Queen’s crew, including Molly and Jackpine, was going on far into the night.
“I don’t think it means they don’t care, Gavi,” Peggy said. “It’s what humans call a wake. Sometimes people go on for days, drinking, eating, singing. It’s a way of coping with the sadness. You go to the other extreme and celebrate.”
The loon shook his head.
“No matter how thoroughly I study them, the ways of humans will always remain a mystery to me.”
Peggy winced as yet another jug went crashing to the floor above their heads.
“I just wish they’d quiet down,” she said. “I’d like to get a bit of sleep.”
“I fear that even quiet would not bring me rest,” Gavi said. “I simply cannot get the sight of all that bloodshed out of my mind.”
The two of them lay in the dark room for awhile without speaking. Finally Molly and Jackpine came in, tired but still exhilarated from all the carrying-on above deck. They leaned on one another, laughing and singing at the top of their lungs.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor? / What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
What shall we do with a drunken sailor? / Ear-lie in the morning?
Finally Gavi could stand it no longer.
“How can you two carry on like this? It was bad enough that you participated in their bloody exploits. Now you sing and laugh about it, too.”
Molly turned to him, livid.
“What were we supposed to do? Let them kill Grania? They had to defend themselves.”
“Molly, they are pirates. They steal what does not belong to them and kill those who get in their way.”
“It’s not like that!” she fired back. “They have a code.”
“A code of violence and thievery.”
“It’s their way of life,” she insisted. “If they don’t steal, others will.”
Peggy broke in.
“Look you two, it’s late.”
Molly whirled around to face her.
“I suppose you agree with Gavi?”
“I don’t think we should judge them by the ways of our time. I like Grania. But she can be ruthless.”
“When she has to be!” Molly broke in.
“You’re right, Molly. She has to be true to herself. We all do. And I couldn’t make myself kill someone in cold blood.”
Jackpine had kept silent through the heated discussion, but now his voice drifted from the upper bunk.
“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had that problem.”
Peggy sprang to her feet and faced him.
“And just what do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. Forget it.”
“You mean last year, when we were on the Terror with Sir John? When I couldn’t pull the trigger against the sea-monster? I thought you didn’t remember any of that!”
Now he looked her back in the eye.
“I doesn’t matter what I remember or don’t remember. All I’m saying is there are times when you have to fight back.”
“I’ll decide for myself when that will be!” Peggy shot back.
Her flinty determination rattled him a bit.
“Okay, okay,” he said. “I see your point.”
Finally they all lay down to go to sleep.
That’s about the closest I’ll ever get to an apology from him, Peggy thought as she drifted off.
She was glad to get away from that dark street full of shadows and strange noises.
The Stranger had brought her to this place, where there was a warm fire and more of the sweet things that made her tongue tingle.
She was sitting in a chair. Before her was a box with a glass screen on the front. There were moving pictures on the screen. One was of a girl, not much bigger than Mi herself. She looked right out from the screen at Mi, almost as if she was right there, within reach. But Mi knew it was only a picture of a child.
Now the girl on the screen wasn’t alone. Someone moved out of the background and loomed over her. A man who looked like the Stranger. He pulled the girl close to him..
Mi turned away from the box with the glass screen.
“Is the music going to start soon?” she asked the man.
Chapter 6: The Whale Requiem
WHEN PEGGY WOKE UP her mind was a jumble of dream-images from her restless sleep: Mi climbing up a tree, sitting on a high branch, laughing. She seemed playful and happy, yet the image left Peggy with a feeling of dread, as if some unseen menace was lurking just out of view.
Grania’s words came back to her:
“She said ‘I want to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil’.”
Mi was in trouble. Peggy knew it in her bones. They had to stop dallying here. They had to somehow find the way into the next world and get to Mi before it was too late.
She looked out the small circular window in the tiny cabin. It was still dark. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. She got up and felt her way through the darkness out of the room and down the narrow passage to the stairwell.
Up on deck, she looked out on the vast ocean. A gorgeous pale-orange sliver of sun was just beginning to edge its way up onto the horizon.
“Early riser, are you?”
Peggy was startled out of her reverie by Grania’s voice.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were there. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.
“I have that problem myself sometimes,” said Grania. “The crew? They sleep like babies. But we who have responsibilities don’t have that luxury.”
She leaned over the rail beside Peggy and gazed out at the sea.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said dreamily. “No matter how many times I see the sun come up over that vast watery horizon, it always fills me with wonder.”
They fell silent for awhile, watching the orange crescent grow larger and larger. Finally Grania spoke again.
“You don’t think much of me, do you? You and your friend, Bird-full-of-Words.”
Peggy shook her head. “It’s not that,” she replied haltingly. “But all that bloodshed yesterday . . . Gavi just couldn’t stomach it, and neither could I.”
“Out here on the high seas you do what you must to survive,” Grania said grimly.
“I guess that’s true. But I find it hard to accept. All the more because I do admire you.”
The Pirate Queen sighed heavily.
“You know, I wasn’t always so hard-hearted,” she said. “Unlike your spirited friend, Molly, I didn’t become a pirate because I wanted to go to sea and have adventures. I became one out of necessity.”
“How’s that?” Peggy asked.
“I was the good wife and mother, until my first husband Donal passed away. As his widow I was entitled to a portion of his estate. But those rotten no-goods, the O’Flahertys, said the laws didn’t apply to their clan. They robbed me of my rightful inheritance. They treated me and my children like beggars, and acted like we should be grateful for their charity. I put up with it for as long as I could stand, till finally I went back to my own clan. When Black Oak, my father, died, they transferred their loyalty to me, and named me their chieftain. Once I took command of his fleet, I knew that I would always be able to provide for my children, come what may.”
As soon as the words were out of Peggy’s mouth she wished she could take them back. But to her surprise, Grania’s reaction was calm and measured.
“I take payment from those who pass through my domain, in whatever form I can get it. Those fools yesterday tried to deceive me. They knew the chance they were taking. I don’t like killing, but they took the first shot.
“Call it stealing if you like. As I see it, theft is a matter of who owns and who takes. Like what the English are doing to my people. Bingham calls it diplomacy. I call it robbery.”
“Who’s that?” Peggy asked.
“Sir Richard Bingham, the lackey the English appointed to run Connaught. He’s already tried to put me away in prison once, but I escaped – right from under his nose! He’s still steaming mad about that. But he hasn’t heard the last of me, and he knows it. He’s stolen my land and my cattle but I’m going to get them back.
“What Bingham is doing to me is bad enough, but it’s happening to all the clans. The English are taking our land, trying to make us slaves in our own country. If we didn’t spend so much time squabbling amongst ourselves, we’d do a better job fighting them off. But we still have our language, our way of life. They can take our land and possessions, but they can’t destroy that.”
Don’t be too sure about that, Peggy thought to herself.
Grania look at her oddly, almost as if she could overhear her thoughts.
“You know things, don’t you?” she said to Peggy. “Things I don’t know, things that none of us here know. Just what is this world you come from?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Peggy began. “I’m not sure you’d understand.”
“Try me,” said Grania briskly.
“My world is . . . actually, it’s your world. But in another time.”
“What do you mean? What other time?”
“The future,” Peggy replied. “Almost five hundred years in the future, to be exact.”
Grania let out one of her throaty laughs.
“The future? You mean the time yet to come?”
“That makes no sense!” Grania roared. “I can believe you’re from the spirit world. There are other realms, other worlds all around us, I know that. But a time that hasn’t happened yet? You’re fooling with me, girl!”
“It might seem that way,” said Peggy. “But what I’m saying is true.”
Grania stared hard at the sea, as if she were trying to grasp the startling newness of what she was hearing.
“Imagine,” she said. “To know the time beyond my death. To know the world long after the world I know is gone. It’s more than the mind can grasp. I’m not sure we are meant to know such things.”
She turned back to Peggy with a look of urgency.
“But I do want to know! Tell me about your time. Is life easier?”
Now it was Peggy’s turn to be startled.
“I suppose you could say that,” she replied. “We have machines that do a lot of work for us.”
“That’s not what I mean!”? Grania interrupted her testily. “I want to know if there’s less pain and suffering. Do people have to fight as hard to survive as they do now?”
“Some do. If they’re poor.”
“So there are still rich and poor?”
“Oh, yes,” Peggy replied. “But where I live there are a lot more people we call ‘well-off’. They’re almost as comfortable as the wealthy.”
“Are they happy? Those well-off ones?”
“Some of them are. Some aren’t,” Peggy said. “What is happiness, anyway? Who’s happy? Are you?”
Grania fell silent again and turned back to the sea.
“An easier life, eh? I wouldn’t mind living in your time, being one of those well-off people.”
Peggy shook her head and smiled at Grania.
“I can’t see it. You’re a clan chieftain, a pirate queen. I think you’d be bored.”
“Don’t be so sure, lass. I’m ready for a more peaceful life. I’ve seen over fifty winters pass by. My three sons and my daughter Margaret are all grown.”
“Margaret?” said Peggy. “That’s my name too. Peggy is my nickname.”
“Is that so?” Grania looked at her with a softer smile than Peggy had seen before.
“Soon I’ll be giving up this pirate’s life,” she went on. “Once I take back what’s rightfully mine from that blackguard Bingham, I’ll go home to Clare Island. There I’ll settle down and live the comfortable life.”
The sun was now well up over the horizon. Peggy felt a quiet kinship with the Pirate Queen as they stood looking out on the sea. She reminded herself that they still had to find Mi, and that she was no closer to figuring out how to do that. Her thoughts were interrupted by shouts from the foredeck.
“Small craft ahead!”
Grania looked out where the sailor was pointing.
“That’s one of the boats from Clare Island,” she said. “Something’s wrong!”
She raced along the deck, followed by Peggy. The crew was already clustered together by the time the smaller boat pulled alongside with two men in it.
“Ma’am!” one of them called out to Grania.
“Finbar! What happened? Why are you here?” Grania’s voice grew more frantic with each phrase. “Where’s Owen? Where’s my son?”
“Back on Clare Island. Bingham’s men arrived yesterday, demanding to be put up for the night. Owen was worried. He sent us to get you, just in case he needed reinforcements. Got here as fast as we could, ma’am. We rowed right through the night.”
The Pirate Queen swung around and bellowed the length of the ship.
“All hands on deck! North to Clare Island! Row, I say! Row!”
All through the journey to Clare Island Grania frantically paced the deck, pumping Finbar with questions.
“What was happening when you left?”
“Owen played them like a harp master. He wined and dined them, acting humble, calling him ‘my Lord’. Bingham fell for it!”
“Did Bingham’s men see you leave?”
“Oh, no, ma’am. We were very careful about that.”
“But they knew Owen had very few men with him. That’s why they showed up when they did. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. You raised Owen to be smart and tough. He can handle Bingham. He’ll be all right.”
A shout came from the foredeck.
They looked out. In the distance Peggy could make out the heather and bracken-covered hills of Clare Island.
“We better come round from the west side,” Grania said. “That way we’ll be hidden, they won’t see our approach. I want to take Bingham completely by surprise. I’ll make him my hostage. Another weapon in my war to get back what he’s stolen from me.”
By now Gavi, Molly and Jackpine had come up on deck with the others. Gavi was even more perturbed than he had been the night before.
“I am fearful there will be more bloodshed,” he said.
“That’s not what Grania wants,” Peggy told him. “I had a long talk with her. She says she wants peace and I believe her. She’s going take Bingham hostage, that’s all.”
Gavi remained unconvinced and Peggy didn’t know what else she could say to calm his worries.
As the ship approached Clare Island and dropped anchor, Grania motioned them to follow her into a dinghy.
“Come along,” she whispered. “I want you to see Clare Castle, the home of my ancestors. If we handle this right and take them by surprise, there will be no bloodshed, not on our part. I promise you.”
The small boats set out, and they all filed out quickly and quietly when they reached shore. As they approached the estate from behind, they looked out on the dock in front of the manor. Finbar gasped in shock.
“It’s not here!”
“Bingham’s ship. It was anchored there when we set out. They must be gone.”
“God knows what Owen had to give them to make them leave,” Grania said testily.
They approached the manor and entered. Inside there was an eerie silence.
“Owen?” Grania called out. “Owen? Where is everyone?”
They entered the empty Great Hall. Peggy saw the look of taut worry on Grania’s face and knew the Pirate Queen was bracing herself for the worst.
“They’ve kidnapped him. They’ve taken my son hostage! If they so much as harm a hair on Owen’s head . . .”
There was a piercing scream. One of the crew came out of the chamber just off the Great Hall. Grania ran to him.
“What is it?”
“Ma’am, don’t go in there.”
“Get out of my way!”
“No, please . . .”
They all raced into the chamber. The body of a young man lay in a pool of blood, his clothing torn with stab wounds.
Grania dropped to her knees next to him.
“Owen. No. Not my beautiful Owen. No. No. No.”
The Pirate Queen fell on his body with a shrieking sob which dropped to a low keening, then rose to a terrible crescendo of wailing.
Clare Island rang through the night with the heart-rending sound of Grania keening over the body of Owen. When anyone tried to approach her, she tore into them with savage fury.
“Leave me alone! Go away!”
Molly, especially, was distressed to see the great Pirate Queen brought so low.
“What can we do?” she asked the others.
Finally, at dawn, the keening stopped.
The chilling silence that followed was almost worse. It went on so long Peggy and the others began to fear for Grania herself. Finally Grania emerged from the chamber, bearing the bloodied body of her son. The men rushed to help her, but she motioned them away with a tilt of her head.
Without uttering a sound, she carried Owen through the Great Hall and laid him on the long wooden banquet table.
“Begin the preparations for burial,” was all she said.
All the next day they worked feverishly. Grania had decided that Owen would be buried at sea, in the way of her ancestors. His body would be placed in a wooden casket with his sword and pulled by sledge up to the great cliff of Clare Island. There it would be pushed off to plunge into the roiling waters of the Irish Sea.
Overseeing the burial preparations seemed to take Grania out of her grief. She bustled about, barking orders, pronouncing a piece of wood too warped for the casket, an article of clothing not majestic enough for the burial robes of a clan prince. She seemed almost like her old self, but Peggy could see an emptiness in her eyes, as if she was present in body only.
There was no reaching her now, Peggy knew. The bond of familiarity that had begun to form between them was gone. The Pirate Queen had descended to a place of grief where none choose to go, and from which few return.
At sunset everything was ready. A huge bonfire was built on the cliff and the men bore the casket up the path, followed by a procession led by Grania. At the cliff’s edge, one of the pirates sang a haunting requiem in Gaelic. When he finished, Peggy instinctively reached into her pocket, pulled out the bone flute and began to play. However the little flute might have let them down up till now, at this moment it made an achingly beautiful sound that seemed to carry them all to a realm beyond time and space.
As the men prepared to release the casket, their attention was drawn to a strange sound far out on the water.
“What’s that?” Jackpine asked.
“It sounds like singing,” Gavi offered.
Peggy continued to play the bone flute, but stopped after a moment.
“It is singing,” she said. “And I could swear they’re trying to sing along with me. They’re following my melody.”
“Look!” one of the pirates cried, pointing out into the water.
Large grey mounds, perhaps two dozen in all, dotted the surface of the water. They approached closer and closer to the cliff, until Peggy thought she could make out eyes on either side of each one.
She resumed playing, and the voices grew louder and louder. No one said a word, but they all seemed to grasp what was happening at that moment.
The whales were singing. Not just calling. Not just making sounds. Singing.
It was like the sea itself was offering up a requiem for Owen.
The men hoisted the casket out to the edge of the cliff, pushed and watched it plunge through the air as the chorus of whale voices rose to a crescendo. Finally the casket hit the water with a powerful spray in all directions.
At that moment, the whale song stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Silently, the great mammals swam off into the night.
Through it all, Grania the Pirate Queen stood tall, silent, still as a stone, her face a hardened mask of grief.
That night, around the fire, the men could talk of nothing else but the remarkable visitation by the whales.
“Twenty years at sea and I never seen anything like it.”
“Never heard anything like it neither.”
“Must’ve been fairies.”
“Or water sprites.”
“Whatever they were, they couldn’t have been ordinary humpbacks.”
“Nope. Whales don’t sing.”
“But they do,” Gavi broke in.
Some of the men laughed while others sputtered in disbelief.
“It is true,” Gavi assured them. “The instinct for music exists throughout nature. Humpback whales, in particular, have a highly evolved musical sense. You might say they have a ‘good ear’. That is why they came. They were drawn by the music of the bone flute.”
Peggy couldn’t help smiling as the men’s eyes widened in amazement. They couldn’t get over this learned creature, this Bird-full-of-Words.
Peggy glanced over at Grania as she stood by herself, looking out over the water. She thought about what she’d heard the men saying – that once Grania was back to being herself again, Owen’s death would be avenged and blood would run like water through Connaught. But to Peggy, the blazing light of the fire only highlighted the deeply-etched lines of sorrow on the Pirate Queen’s face. Until now she had exuded a fearsome air and everyone had kept out of her way. But at this moment she seemed softer, frailer, as if she had, at least in some small measure, returned to the land of the living.
Peggy knew that at some point soon she’s have to tell the older woman that they must be on their way, and continue their search for Mi. But now was not the time, she decided.
She got up from the circle around the fire and walked over to Grania, who fixed her with a penetrating gaze.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” she said.
Taken aback, Peggy could only nod.
“Where will you go?”
“I keep having dreams about Mi, and I’m worried she’s in more danger as time goes on. But I don’t know how we’re going to find her. I can’t figure out where to go next.”
“You’ll find the way,” said Grania. “Because you have to.”
“Just as you have to avenge Owen?” Peggy asked.
Grania nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.
“I have outlived parents, brothers, and two husbands. But to outlive your own child is death-in-life. Bingham can take nothing more from me. I have nothing left to lose. But he will pay. I vow it.”
She turned back to Peggy.
“As for your little one, she must be saved. You must find her.”
To Peggy’s surprise, the Pirate Queen lightly touched her on the head.
“Now go, Margaret,” she said.
Peggy felt the warmth of Grania’s hand ripple down the back of her neck. It had been a long time, she realized, since she’d been called by her full name, the way her own mother used to.
Peggy told the others they would have to leave the Pirate Queen’s world.
“When?” Molly asked anxiously.
“Tonight,” Peggy said firmly.
Molly looked stricken at her reply.
“Molly, I know how you feel about Grania and being a pirate. But we can’t stay here any longer. Mi’s in trouble, I’m sure of it.”
“How can we go,” Gavi said, “when we do not even know where we are going?”
“We may not know exactly where we’re going,” Peggy admitted. “But I have an idea of what we should be looking for.”
She took a deep breath.
“The Tree of Good and Evil.”
“The Tree of Good and Evil?” For once Gavi was caught completely off guard. “I have never heard of such a thing. What is it?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I’m not even sure there is a Tree of Good and Evil. But Mi thinks there is, and I suspect she’s gone off to find it.”
“It’s just a hunch. Remember what Grania said about Mi just before she disappeared? That she said something about wanting to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil?”
“But that is not enough for us to go on! I need more time to figure the rest of it out properly.”
“There isn’t time, Gavi. Mi’s in trouble. Anyway,” said Peggy. “It’s not really up to you to figure everything out.”
Gavi look at her, nonplussed. “Really?” he asked. Clearly this was an idea the philosopher-loon had never seriously considered.
“Yes, really,” Peggy replied. “All you can do is your best. That’s all any of us can do. “
He continued to ponder Peggy’s response.
“Something in me resists admitting you might be right,” he said. “Yet at the same time I feel oddly comforted by the thought that I am not responsible for solving every problem.”
“So,” Peggy said. “Are we going to dream ourselves off this Island and go look for the Tree of Good and Evil?”
She was careful to appear to be speaking to all three of them. But in truth, it was Jackpine to whom she was directing the question. Given all his initial anger and reluctance, she was amazed he’d come this far with them. She realized that she’d been bracing herself all night for the likelihood that he’d decide not to continue on, and go back to his own life.
So she was caught off guard when he responded with a casual “Sure.”
Peggy looked at him.
“Really? You’re not going back?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I have no idea how to get back on my own. I’ve come this far. It looks like I’m along for the whole ride.”
“That’s great,” she said, still disconcerted that he was staying, that her fears weren’t coming to pass.
“Excellent!” Gavi echoed her. “Let us make our star-formation and see where our journey takes us.”
As he and Jackpine prepared to lie down, Peggy noticed Molly hanging back.
“What’s wrong, Molly?” she asked.
The doll turned to face the three of them with a strained expression.
“I’m not going.”
“Molly, what are you talking about?” Gavi sputtered.
“Just what I said. I’m not going with you tonight.”
“I’m staying here,” she replied. “With Grania and the crew.”
“How can you even thinking about that?” Gavi demanded. “There will be a bloodbath and you will be caught right in the middle of it!”
Without answering, the doll did something that made them all reel in shock. Lifting her eyepatch, she plucked her own eye out of its socket and held it out to Peggy.
“Here,” she said brusquely. “You’re going to need this more than I will.”
Peggy shook her head in a fierce refusal.
“No,” she told Molly. “I won’t take it. I can’t. “
“Don’t be stupid,” Molly insisted.
But Peggy was adamant.
“The Aya is yours.”
“If that’s the way you want it,” said Molly, pulling her hand back, “fine. But I’m staying.”
“Why, Molly? It’s not your fight!”
“It is now,” she replied. “Don’t you see? Ever since you told me I was a pirate, I’ve been looking for a way to really experience life as one. Now I’ve found it. Grania is everything I’ve ever wanted to be. I want to stay here and fight by her side.”
She turned to Gavi.
“You went off to experience life as a flesh-and-blood loon. Is it wrong for me to want to live out my dream, too?”
“Even if it means shedding blood, taking the lives of others?”
“I’m not the only one who’s taken life!” Molly retorted.
Gavi turned away, a look of deep shame on his face.
“Just how long do you plan to stay here?” Peggy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? What does that mean? Are you ever going back to Notherland? What about the Nordlings?”
“I don’t know the answer to that! I wish I did!” the doll cried impatiently. “All I know is what I have to do right now.”
Jackpine, who’d been silent till now, spoke up.
“She’s right. Sometimes people have to do what they’re called to do. Even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. We don’t have the right to judge Molly. She’s our friend. We just have to stand aside and let her do it.”
Listening to Jackpine, Peggy wanted to scream, and the fact that she knew in her bones that he was right only made her frustration worse. Molly had been her doll when she was a little girl. When Molly’s eye had gone missing, she’d covered it with a black patch and pronounced her a pirate. Then, when Peggy found the eye that strange day in Green Echo Park, she’d discovered that it had acquired remarkable powers. It had become an Aya, an all-seeing eye, which had lit their way through the darkness of the Hole at the Pole, and ultimately destroyed the evil Nobodaddy. The last thing Peggy had done when she departed Notherland the year before was to press the Aya into Molly’s hand.
After all they’d been through together, how could Molly do this? How could she abandon them?
“It won’t be forever,” Molly said, looking at her pleadingly. “At least I don’t think it will. I just want to stay as long as Grania needs me.”
“Then I guess there’s nothing more to say,” Peggy said coldly.
“Good-bye, Molly” Gavi said in a mournful tone. “Till we meet again.”
The doll hugged Gavi and Jackpine. But Peggy turned away.
“Please, Peggy,” Gavi pleaded. “It is never good to part on bad terms.”
Reluctantly she held out her hand and gave Molly’s a cursory squeeze. But she couldn’t bring herself to say good-bye. As she watched the doll walk away alone, Peggy had the fleeting impression that Molly looked slightly taller than before.
As they all lay down to sleep, Peggy’s heart was still heavy with bitterness.
If she doesn’t care about us, then I don’t care about her.
She didn’t like this place. The Stranger didn’t seem so nice anymore.
Mi wished she had never left Notherland.
She thought of Molly, who had always been fiercely protective of her and the other Nordlings, and of Gavi, whom she missed with a terrible ache since he’d left to go to the land of the Creator. In her mind, she fought to keep the image of their faces, the two people she loved most in all the universes, to try and drive out the pictures she was seeing on the screen.
BOOK II: The Shining World
AS SHE STOOD near the entrance to Green Echo Park singing at the top of her lungs, it occurred to Mi the Nordling that it might not be a good idea to call too much attention to herself in this unfamiliar world.
But it was so exhilarating to break free of the confines of Notherland, to at last find herself in the world of the Creator! True, Mi had passed through several realms in her quest to find the place known as the Shining World. But here in the realm of Pay-Gee the Creator, she sensed with a mounting excitement that she was drawing nearer and nearer to her destination.
Only a little while earlier, Mi had noticed sounds coming from a building with tall stone spires and stopped to look inside. There was a group of small beings like herself – “children” as they were called here in this world – sitting in a circle. In front of them stood a woman, singing and moving her arms rhythmically, urging them to sing along with her.
All night, all day, Angels watching over me, my Lord
All night, all day, Angels watching over me.
Ever since she’d discovered she could sing many more notes than the one she was created for, Mi had been eager to learn more of these melodious collections of notes that people in this world called “songs”. The music these children were making was so sweet and soaring it made her tiny heart feel like it would burst. She resolved that she would learn this song, right here, right now! She would not leave this window until she knew every word, every note of it.
Now here she was, a short distance away from the building with the tall spires, at the entrance of the large green place known as a “park” in this world. She could see many trees and wondered if one of them could be the Tree of Good and Evil – not that she had any idea how she would be able to tell. Just inside the gate, she noticed a statue of an Angel, with great stone wings draping from its shoulders and running down to its base. What a wonderful thing! Mi thought to herself – to learn a song about Angels and then to immediately encounter an Angel. Almost involuntarily, the notes of the song burst out of her and she felt a deep, transporting joy as she sang.
After a few moments she noticed that a group of children in the park had stopped what they were doing and were looking at her strangely. Reluctantly, she stopped singing and began walking towards the children. They had resumed their game. It looked like fun and she hoped maybe they would invite her to join in.
She stood off to one side, watching shyly for a few moments, till one of them ñ a boy ñ raced over and poked her on the shoulder. Mi shrunk back at first, thinking he intended to hurt her. But then he called out, “Tag!” and she could see from his expression that it was just part of the game and now it was her turn to go find someone else to poke on the shoulder. She ran after the others, laughing. This game wasn’t so different from the game she used to play with the other Nordlings back in Notherland, when they pretended they were being chased by swarms of flesh-eating bugs.
Mi almost caught up with one of the others and was about to poke her on the shoulder when the girl slowed down momentarily and looked over toward the street. A man was standing there watching them. The girl sped up again, but Mi managed to get close enough to touch her.
“Tag!” she shouted triumphantly.
She was worried the girl might be mad at her, but she just shrugged good-naturedly.
“Now I’m it.”
Mi stood facing the girl, whose attention was drawn again toward the street. Now the man was walking towards the park entrance.
“Is that your dad?” Mi asked the girl, proud that she knew the casual word for “father” in this world.
The girl shook her head.
“That’s not my dad,” she said emphatically. “I thought he was yours.”
Mi almost started to explain that she didn’t have a dad, that where she came from there were no fathers, but stopped herself.
“If he’s nobody’s dad, then he’s a Stranger. You should never talk to Strangers.”
“What’s a Stranger?” Mi asked.
“A person you don’t know and your mom and dad don’t know either,” the girl replied.
“Why can’t you . . .?” Mi started to ask, but the girl had resumed running.
Mi looked over at the entrance. Now the Stranger was walking past the statue of the Angel, and was heading right towards her.
“Hello, little girl.” said the Stranger. “Would you like to go for a ride with me?”
Chapter 1: The Petroglyphs
PEGGY FELT THE TIP of her planting shovel hit it with a sharp metallic thunk.
She bent over, rooted around in the damp ground, pulled out a mottled-grey hunk of rock and flung it away in disgust. This whole patch of land was chock-full of stones, not to mention the tangled piles of stumps and slash left behind by the chainsaws. It was all she could do to find decent spots to put in her trees.
She looked down at the handful of saplings left in the bulky planting bags that encircled her waist. Six hours she’d been working this crummy, rock-infested plot and all she had to show for it was five hundred trees. Five hundred trees at nine cents apiece. She was well on her way to netting a grand total of 45 dollars for the whole day.
After all she’d heard about how treeplanters made such good money. After all the trouble and effort she’d gone to get on this crew. After all the money she’d spent – on the bus ticket, the shovel, the bug shirt and all the other equipment. Just to come up here to work her butt off in the middle of nowhere with blackflies swarming around her head.
Forty-five lousy dollars!
At this rate she’d never have enough to move out on her own in the fall. Another school year in the same house with her mother – Peggy didn’t know if she could take it. It seemed like they couldn’t be in the same room for five minutes without getting into a fight. Her mom had hit the roof when she’d left school early to go planting, accusing her of using it as an excuse to drop out altogether, which Peggy thought was totally unfair. She’d been responsible. She’d put in the application and gotten the job. She’d arranged with her teachers to make up her schoolwork work before the end of the summer. All things for which her mother gave her absolutely no credit.
She’d had no choice, really. Her sanity depended on making enough money to move out on her own. It was either this job or go begging to her father. Oh, he would’ve loved that. To have her beholden to him. No way that was going to happen. She’d stay up here and plant trees for the rest of her life before she’d take another penny from him.
She bent down to dig in the last of the saplings in the bag and prepared to load up again. As she stood up she heard a rustling behind her. Simmie again, she wondered? Coming back to stock up from her cache?
She turned around to see a full-grown black bear, reared up on its hind legs, staring at her from no more than 20 feet away.
“Well, hello, there . . .”
Later, when she finally stopped shaking and could think clearly again, Peggy wondered what in the world possessed her to say such a thing at that moment. A quiet, almost casual hello instead of screaming or running – neither of which she’d done, thank God. She stood there, her heavy work boots fixed on the spot, trying to recall all the stuff they learned in orientation about what to do if they met up with a bear: Drop your bags. Bang your shovel on a rock. Talk loudly. Act big, so the bear will think you’re a threat.
And most important: Never, ever try to run away.
She didn’t move, didn’t do a thing except stand there looking at the bear with a strange mixture of awe and disorientation. Things could get ugly, she suddenly remembered, in an encounter with a mother bear and cubs. But as far as Peggy could see, there were no cubs around anywhere. There was nobody, nothing else. For a few moments she had the feeling that all movement in the world had stopped, that time itself had stopped. There was nothing except this moment, the two of them standing stock-still, Peggy looking at the bear, the bear looking at her.
Then another memory came back to her: That night around the fire, Zak telling the new planters about the notorious incident two years ago: a planter working her plot, listening to music on her headphones, carrying a chocolate bar in her pocket. A chocolate bar! How dumb was that? Peggy thought, remembering how the planters had been warned not to carry food that might attract bears.
When the bear attacked her from behind, the girl panicked and ran. The bear gave chase, knocked her down and lit into her. She was lucky a ranger heard her screaming and shot the bear. But by then it had gnawed off half her leg, which had to be amputated.
Remembering the story, Peggy felt her stomach turn over in nausea and fear, as the bear began to move slightly.
Is it going to charge me?
Then, in a smooth, quiet motion that seemed all the more remarkable given its massive bulk, the bear dropped back on all fours, turned away and ambled off towards the thick brush at the edge of the clear-cut. Peggy watched it move away and grow smaller, its black fur making sinuous ripples down its back with every lumbering step. When the bear was finally out of sight, she let out an enormous sigh and realized that her body had been so rigid during the whole encounter that she’d barely taken a breath.
She heard the rumble of a motor off in the distance. She turned around and saw a van heading down the dirt road towards her.
Zak was at the wheel. He stopped and waved her over.
“That’s it for today, Pegs. We’re pulling out early. There’s been a bear sighting in these parts and we don’t want any planters meeting up with it.”
“Too late,” she said. “It’s already been here.”
Zak looked at her quizzically.
“What are you talking about?”
“The bear,” Peggy said as she climbed into the passenger seat. “It was just here.”
“What did you do?”
Simmie, one of the other planters, was riding in the back of the pickup next to Gisele, the assistant supervisor. From the moment Zak had picked them up they’d been riveted by Peggy’s tale of her bear encounter. Now they were plying her with questions.
“Did you remember to bang your shovel on your hard hat?”
“Didn’t you freak?!!”
“Actually, no.” Peggy replied, with a slight hint of boasting. Though she was still shaking inside, Peggy could hear an edge of excitement, even exhilaration in her own voice. She was already, she realized, embellishing the account into a story, one that she knew would be making the rounds of the planting camps for weeks to come: “Did you hear about the new girl over in Zak’s camp? She came face-to-face with a bear right on her plot.” “O my God, what happened? Is she okay?” “Yeah, she’s fine. It just looked at her and walked away!”
“Well, at least that bear got us off that crummy plot of land for the rest of the day,” Gisele was saying. “What say we stop in town for a quick beer?”
“Right,” said Zak, grinning at Peggy. “We can drink to Pegs and her nerves of steel.”
Peggy smiled back. She liked Zak, one of those terminally upbeat people whose good nature was redeemed by a sardonic sense of humor. But she was thinking, here we go again. They’d go to the pub and the others would order beers. Meanwhile, she’d order a soft drink, saying she didn’t feel like a beer, when the truth was she didn’t want to have to show ID and put Zak in the awkward position of finding out that she was only sixteen, that she’d lied and said she was eighteen on her application.
She looked back at Zak, unsure of what to say about the pub stop. But his attention was on something else now. His hands gripped the wheel tightly as he listened to a news item on the radio. Something about a manhunt for a missing child – a little girl who’d been abducted from a park in the city.
“Whenever I hear about one of these perverts, it makes me feel like tying him by the you-know-whats and dragging him over a bed of nails.”
Simmie and Gisele looked at one another.
“Not you, Saint Zak!”
“We thought you lived only to do good deeds!”
“You two are just jealous,” he shot back. “While you’re sitting around drinking lattes planning your pathetic weekends, I’ll be doing something worthwhile with my time.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Peggy piped up.
“Don’t you know?” Gisele said. “After planting season Zak’s leaving for a year in India.”
Simmie poked Zak from the back seat of the van and giggled.
“Yep. He’s gonna save the children from evil slave owners.”`
“Pay no attention to these idiots, Pegs,” said Zak. “I’m going there to volunteer with a group working to help child laborers in the rug factories.”
“That sounds great, Zak,” said Peggy.
“Forgive us, Saint Zak,” Gisele teased. “We’re not worthy to be in your presence.”
Peggy looked ahead as the van sped down the highway. They were approaching the sign at the turnoff for the Lake Keewatin Reserve, the one they’d passed every day this week. Suddenly she had an idea.
“Hey, guys!” she blurted out. “Let’s go see the petroglyphs.”
“Right now?” said Simmie.
Peggy nodded eagerly. It would be a great way, she realized, to avoid stopping at the pub altogether.
“What about our beers?” Gisele chimed in. “We won’t have time to do both, and if we’re not back for dinner the others’ll scarf down all the good stuff and leave us with a pot of cold rice.”
“Come on, it’ll only take a few minutes,” Peggy persisted. “We’ve been talking about it for days and we’ll be leaving this area at the end of the week.”
Zak was already slowing down the van and signalling for the turnoff.
“Pegs is the hero of the hour,” he said cheerily. “If she wants rock carvings, she gets rock carvings.”
The entrance to the reserve was a short distance off the highway. There was a small cabin with a sign that said, “All Visitors Must Check in at Office.” They parked the truck and went in.
Inside was a girl who looked to be not much older than Peggy, sitting at a desk.
“Can we go see the petroglyphs?” she asked.
The girl shook her head. “Too late in the day.”
“Please,” Peggy pleaded. “It’s our only chance. We’ll be quick, I promise.”
The girl looked at her a moment, then turned and shouted out the back door of the cabin. “Gary? Can you take these folks to the site?”
“Now?” the voice shot back testily, followed by what sounded like the whack of an axe on wood. “It’s almost closing.”
“They say they won’t have another chance,” said the girl.
A dark-haired youth poked his head in the doorway.
“But you better make it quick.”
Peggy opened her mouth to reply, but stopped, dumfounded when she saw his face.
Her mind raced back to the events of the previous year – how she’d first encountered the Jack pine tree standing mysteriously alone in the middle of the treeless tundra. How she’d heard a voice from within the tree calling out for help. How her touch had made the tree fall away, and how a young man appeared, who had no idea who he was, but to whom Mi had given the name Jackpine.
She thought back to that cold December day when she’d walked out of Green Echo Park, her mind a confused jumble of emotions. The strange journey to Notherland, the imaginary world of her childhood, had abruptly ended. She felt like she’d lived several lifetimes and yet, when she was cast back into the park it was like hardly any time at all had passed . . .
Only moments before she and Jackpine had been pulling the loon across the ice, finally watching it soar off into the sky. Their hands had touched briefly as the loon took off, but then she’d looked at him. He wasn’t Jackpine in this world, she realized. He was Gary. It was almost as if she was really seeing him for the first time – his grubby clothes, his ashen-grey pallor. Something in her recoiled, wanted to turn away.
So she hurried out of the park. But just as she was passing the Angel statue that stood at the entrance she had a change of heart. She stopped and turned around.
But he was gone. Nowhere to be seen. He’d disappeared into thin air.
She’d let him get away.
Then, as the days and weeks passed, the whole experience receded from her mind, till it seemed like little more than a barely-remembered dream . . .
“What did you call me?”
Peggy looked into the young man’s eyes to see if there was a flicker of recognition. It was him, no question: Gary the homeless kid, the one she’d left behind in the park that day. The one who’d mysteriously turned up in her imaginary world. What had happened to him that day, she wondered. How did he get here? Was this reserve the place he’d originally come from? Whatever he’d been doing for the past year, Peggy thought, it had certainly done him good. He still looked lean but more vigorous, with a healthy glow to his face.
“What was that you called me?” he asked again. The question seemed less a challenge than a genuine query.
“Sorry,” Peggy stammered. “I thought you were somebody else.”
He looked at her oddly for a moment, then seemed to make up his mind.
“Well, if we’re going to do this, let’s get going,” he said, motioning them to follow him out the back door of the cabin. He paused in the doorway and turned to the girl.
“You still be here when I get back?” he asked her.
“Sure,” she nodded.
It seemed to Peggy that the girl gave her a hostile glare as they went out, but it was hard to tell, since she hadn’t been overly friendly from the start.
Outside, Gary stuck his axe into the stump he was using for a chopping block.
“This way,” he said, leading them across the small parking lot to a path that led through a treed area, ending at the tall, smooth face of a large boulder.
“This is it?” Simmie asked.
“Nope,” said Gary. “We have to get past this to get to the lake.”
He pointed to a narrow gap between the boulder and another, smaller rock and began to scramble through it. The others followed, and found themselves snaking around more boulders of varying size and shape. Finally the rocky path opened out to reveal Lake Keewatin. They walked a short distance until they came to a steep cliff that angled out from the shoreline.
There was a narrow ledge lining the cliff partway out over the lake, then nothing but the sheer face of the cliff plunging down into the choppy water below. Gary pointed out toward the cliff face.
“There they are,” he shouted over the pounding waves.
“The rock carvings you came to see.”
Simmie shook her head.
“I don’t see anything.”
From where she was standing Peggy could see some faint markings on the cliff face.
“They’re hard to see from here,” Gary said. “To get a good look you have to go out on the ledge a ways.”
“That thing?” Gisele almost shrieked. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“No way I’m going out there!” Simmie added.
“There must be a rope or something to hold onto.” Peggy said.
Gary shook his head.
“The only way to rig up a rope would be to drill into the rock. That would damage the site.”
“It’s not that bad if you’ve done climbing,” Zak spoke up. “There’re some spots where you can grip the rock.”
Peggy was nearest the ledge. She began to gingerly step out onto it.
“Wait!” Gary said. “I don’t think you better . . .”
“But you just said . . .”
“We allow people to go out at their own risk,” he said. “But only when conditions are right. The lake’s rough right now. Those waves are hitting high up on the rock. It’s too slippery.”
“But I can barely see them from here!” Peggy objected. “I just want to go out a little ways.”
Before Gary could say anything else, Peggy moved several steps farther out onto the ledge, beyond his reach. He watched her with a look of mild irritation, but said nothing as she made her way along the ledge.
“Look! Out there!”
Simmie was pointing out into the lake beyond the far edge of the cliff. Peggy looked over to see a single loon swimming on the surface of the water. They all watched as the bird moved closer to the cliff and released a tremolo call.
A loon, probably one of the hundreds that used this huge lake for a nesting ground, Peggy thought. But she couldn’t help smiling to herself as she thought of the loon she knew as Gavi – a very singular bird, to say the least, who fancied himself a philosopher and sometimes thought so hard about the true nature of things that he gave himself a headache.
She tightened her grip on a jutting section of rock as her right foot slipped off the ledge and dangled limply in the air.
“Watch it!” Gary warned her. “I told you it was slippery!”
Carefully, Peggy lifted her foot back onto the ledge. She resolved to be more careful and not let her attention wander again. She didn’t want to give Gary another opportunity to yell at her and make her feel like a bumbling idiot. Slowly, with measured steps, she moved farther along the ledge to a spot a couple of feet from the first of the rock carvings.
Now, up close, she could see it was the outline of some kind of large animal, perhaps a bear. A little farther along was another carving of a snakelike creature with a tiny head atop a thin squiggly line. There were at least half a dozen more, but from that distance Peggy couldn’t make out what they were. Thinking she’d be able to get a better look by leaning out a bit over the water, she found a crevice in the rock where her left hand could get a solid grip, checked to make sure both her feet were firmly planted on the ledge, then carefully angled her body away from the cliff face.
“Whoa!” Zak and Simmie shouted in unison.
“Don’t worry, I’m okay,” she reassured them. “I just want to see if I can get a better look.”
She looked over her shoulder. Gary was scowling but said nothing. She turned back toward the petroglyphs and craned her neck to see what she could make out ñ a tree, some birds in flight, something that looked like a canoe with two stick-figures in it.
One of the carvings in particular drew her eye – a human figure holding a tube-like object in its mouth.
“That one looks like it’s playing a flute,” she said aloud.
She was surprised to hear Gary’s voice in reply.
“It is. It’s called the Flute Player.”
“Makes sense,” Peggy said wryly.
She was intrigued because she was a flute player herself. But there was also something distinctive about the figure that set it apart from the others.
“There’s a story about that one,” Gary volunteered. “I’ll tell you about it after.”
Then it dawned on Peggy: the Flute Player was the only image that wasn’t already familiar to her. Painted Rock, the portal between the universes in Notherland, the world she had created out of her imagination when she was seven, bore the same images she saw here, with the exception of the Flute Player.
The thought unnerved her. For the past year it had taken all her energy just to cope with everyday reality – the demanding grind of schoolwork, her tense relationship with her mother, the constant drive to earn money so she could break free and live on her own. The last thing she needed now was to be thrown back into the tumultuous emotions her strange sojourn in that long-forgotten world had stirred up in her.
She began to feel lightheaded, slightly dizzy. Better get off this ledge and back on solid ground, she told herself. She hugged the cliff face and slowly began to make her way along the ledge, back to where the others were standing. But the feeling of lightheadedness grew stronger, a sense of spinning inside herself, like vertigo.
The waves were beating against the cliff just beneath her feet.
Don’t look down, Peggy told herself. Just take it slow and steady.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw she was only a few steps away from where the ledge began to widen to meet the path. But just at the edge there was a gap, one she hadn’t noticed earlier, when she’d made her way out to the petroglyphs. Now, in her state of disorientation, the gap looked wide and intimidating.
“I hate to ask this,” she said, “but could one of you give me a hand over this gap? I’m feeling a bit dizzy.”
Gary thrust a hand out towards her.
“Here,” he said. “Grab hold.”
Peggy ran her hand along the cliff face to meet his. As soon as her skin touched his, she had an intense flash of memory: the last time they’d clasped hands like this was when she and Jackpine had entered the fissure in Painted Rock, leaving Notherland behind and re-entering their everyday world.
Suddenly Peggy felt her whole body lurch backward. Gary – Jackpine – instinctively pulled on her arm to try and keep her from falling off the ledge. But his jerking motion threw both of them off balance. The others stood aghast as the two of them tumbled down the cliff face and into the choppy waters, still clutching hands.
No sweat, I’m a good swimmer, Peggy told herself as they both hit the water full force. As long as I don’t crack my skull on a rock, I’m okay. But instead of rising back to the surface, she felt herself being pulled down deeper and deeper. She felt a rising sense of terror and looked frantically at Jackpine. Their faces were nearly pressed against one another in the dark water, and she could see that he was on the edge of panic, too.
The thought struck her with sickening force: If we don’t get back up to the surface soon, we’re going to drown.
But still they continued to be pulled inexorably downward. Peggy thought she noticed a flash of something white shooting through the dark, murky waters just above them. Was it one of the others, diving down after them? Then she saw that it was the white underbelly of a water bird – a loon – probably the one they’d seen earlier.
It began to dive into the surrounding depths like a missile. Then, strangely, terrifyingly, the bird came right up next to Peggy and peered into her face with one red eye. The loon lifted one wing upward through the water and seemed to be extending it toward her, almost as if it were trying to wrap its wing around her . . .
The Stranger was nice and friendly. He offered her something called “candy” that made a sweet, tingly sensation on her tongue. Mi wondered why the girl in the park had warned her not to talk to him.
She followed him out of the park. As they walked past the Angel statue she thought she saw one of its wings move slightly, almost as if it were stretching out to block her way. But she forgot about it when she spied the large metal box atop a set of four wheels. Mi had never seen anything like it. The surface was so shiny she could see her face reflected on it. The Stranger opened the door of the “car” as he called it, let her climb in, then got in himself through a door on the other side. He took out a key, put it in a lock and turned it. The car shook slightly and began to move forward. To Mi, it was like magic.
Chapter 2: The Return of the Creator
AT FIRST, DARKNESS. Complete darkness, along with a feeling of utter blankness, a not-knowing where she was, who she was, what she was. Then glimmers of awareness, the sensation of something soft touching her cheek . . .
I am. I am human. My name is Peggy. I fell in the water.
Am I dead?
When she opened her eyes, she was aware of something black, dotted with flecks of white, moving rhythmically in front of her. Some kind of feathery object stroking her face. It took some seconds for her brain to fully recognize the object, to put a name to it.
It’s a wing. A black-and-white wing. A loon’s wing.
No sooner had she spoken the name than the sound of another voice pierced her ears.
“You both made it!”
Peggy and the loon turned in the direction the voice had come from. They saw a creature about the height of a seven-year-old girl, somewhat stiff-looking and sporting a black patch over one eye.
“I wasn’t sure I could pull it off all by myself!”
Peggy looked to the left of where the small creature stood. There was the smooth rock face dotted with primitive drawings. Things were becoming clear now. The visit to the petroglyphs, the terrifying fall through the water ñ all these things had happened for a reason. Namely, that Molly, her old childhood doll, had called her back. Now, as Peggy stood near Painted Rock, the entrance to Notherland, she could see Molly wasn’t alone. Her other imaginary childhood friend was here, too: Gavi the loon, who had miraculously found a way to cross the threshold into Peggy’s world.
The three of them practically fell on top of one another, shrieking with happiness. Peggy threw her arms around the doll while Gavi’s large wings encircled them both.
“But how did you . . .?”
Peggy only got a few words out before she was interrupted.
“What the . . .?”
They whirled back to see where this new voice was coming from. In the rush of the moment Peggy realized she’d forgotten all about Gary – or rather Jackpine – for now that they were back in Notherland there was absolutely no doubt it was him.
“Jackpine!” Gavi exclaimed. “It is marvellous to see you here, too!”
The young man turned to Gavi with a harsh expression.
“What did you call me?”
“Why, Jackpine, of course. The name you were given by the Nordling Mi.”
“My name’s Gary.”
“You mean you do not remember,” Gavi asked, “that you have been here in Notherland before? That you . . .”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he cut the loon off with disdain.
A chorus of voices like a bubbling brook drifted towards them.
“Gavi! It’s Gavi! Our Gavi is back!”
The voices came in a rolling cascade of different tones – some high, some low, some in-between, but all of them punctuated with giggles. As the loon looked at the mass of fairylike creatures flocking around him, his red eyes brimmed with tears.
“My dear, dear Nordlings,” he said haltingly when he was finally able to speak. “How it fills me with joy to see you all again. And look! See who has come with me!”
He gestured towards Peggy, setting off another burble of delight among the Nordlings.
“Pay-Gee! The Creator! You’ve come back to us!”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” Peggy laughed and shot a quizzical glance at Molly, as if to ask, “What’s up?” But the doll avoided her eyes and Peggy turned her attention back to the Nordlings, who were still crowded around Gavi. It was true she was Pay-Gee, the Creator of Notherland and everything in it. But it was Gavi who had cared for them their whole lives, Gavi they had so deeply missed since he’d left just over a year ago to experience life in the world of flesh-and-blood loons. They were glad to see Peggy, but they were overcome with joy to have Gavi back with them.
Out of the corner of her eye Peggy could see Jackpine glowering. Did he really not remember being trapped inside the lone Jack pine on the barren tundra? Peggy shivered recalling the sensation of her fingers meeting his at the moment of his release, when the woody branches that encased his arms dissipated into the air at her touch.
Did he truly have no memory of being in this place the year before? If so, it was no wonder he was acting the way he was. He must be feeling frightened and angry.
She walked over to him, trying to think of something reassuring to say. But before she could open her mouth he spoke up in a fierce, cutting tone.
“Why did you drag me into this? I should never have tried to save you back there. I should have let you sink!”
“I didn’t do anything!” Peggy retorted. “I haven’t got a clue how we got here either!”
“Well, you better figure out how to get me back!” he said, stomping away.
“I will!” Peggy called after him in a voice edged with sarcasm. “As soon as I possibly can!”
She walked back towards the assembled Nordlings, who were still chatting animatedly with Gavi, and tugged at Molly’s sleeve.
“I’m not even going to ask how you managed to bring all three of us here,” Peggy began. “It’s great being back, but Jackpine’s not too happy about it, so we probably shouldn’t stay long.”
The doll looked away, refusing to meet her gaze.
“What is it, Molly? Oh, no. Please, tell me this is just a visit.”
“Well, not exactly.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy demanded. “Is something going on?” She looked around. “Everything looks fine to me.”
Now Molly visibly stiffened.
“If the great Creator of Notherland would bother to look a bit more closely, maybe she’d notice that everything is not fine!”
“What? I don’t see anything out of the ordinary,” Peggy insisted. “Lake Notherland is fine. The Great Skyway looks just like it did when I left. The Nordlings seem like their old bubbly selves.”
“Oh, do they?” Molly shot back. “All of them?”
Peggy looked over at the group of Nordlings clustered around Gavi. They were peppering the loon with questions about his life in the physical world, and as he responded he addressed each one of the sprites by name: Do, Fa3, his onetime star pupil Re9 . . .
A sudden shiver of dread went through Peggy. Where’s Mi?
She looked back at Molly, knowing she didn’t even have to speak the Nordling’s name out loud.
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know,” the doll replied, looking at the ground.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“Just what I said!” Molly exploded. “Mi’s gone missing and I – Molly, the guardian of the Nordlings – don’t have any idea where she is! Why did you ever leave me in charge? I’m useless. I’m just a stupid doll!”
She threw her stiff body onto the ground. Molly, the brave pirate doll who never cried, wept bitter tears.
“It all started when Mi discovered she could sing all those other notes.”
Re9 was talking, almost shouting to be heard over the frantic chatter of the other Nordlings, all of whom wanted to weigh in with their version of the events surrounding Mi’s disappearance.
Peggy was mystified. After the defeat of the malevolent Nobodaddy, the Nordlings had been restored to their rightful place in the RoryBory. Notherland was a safe place, or so she’d thought a year earlier, when she left her imaginary world under Molly’s guardianship.
“But who could have taken her away?” she asked no one in particular.
The Nordlings all piped up together.
“No one did!”
“She wasn’t taken away!”
“She left by herself!”
“What do you mean?” Peggy asked. “Where would she go? Where could she go?”
Molly, calmer now but still struggling to maintain her composure, spoke up.
“To the Shining World.”
Peggy thought she must not have heard right
“We truly do not know where Mi has gone,” Re9 replied solemnly. “But we are fairly certain that she went off in search of a place she called the Shining World.”
“What Shining World?”
“It was a name we gave to the other realm,” Re9 continued. “The place beyond the RoryBory, where Lord and Lady Franklin went when they left Notherland and ascended the Great Skyway.”
The mention of the old explorer and his wife brought a flood of memories back to Peggy.
“They entered that place with such looks of peace and joy on their faces that we often wondered what it was like,” Re9 went on. “With her love of naming things, Mi took to calling it the Shining World, and began to spin stories about it. She imagined it as a place full of beautiful things – flowers, stars, butterflies – all bathed in a golden light. A place where everyone is happy all the time. After a while Mi could talk of nothing but the Shining World. She became . . . I do not know the word.”
He paused a moment and looked in the direction of his former teacher.
“Obsessed?” Gavi offered. He had been listening quietly, but with growing concern to Re9’s account of Mi’s disappearance.
“Yes, that is the word I was looking for!” the Nordling said with satisfaction. “Mi became obsessed with going to the Shining World and seeing for herself if it was as beautiful as she imagined it. We began to realize that there was something,” Re9 paused a moment before continuing, “something unusual about Mi. Some ability that set her apart from myself and the other Nordlings.”
“What kind of ability?” Peggy asked.
“After you left, Mi was always talking about you and how, as Creator of Notherland, you have the ability to dream things into existence with your imagination. It is possible that Mi has somehow developed the same ability.”
“What makes you think that?”
Now Molly stepped forward.
“Mi can sing.”
Peggy was left more puzzled than ever by Molly’s cryptic statement.
“So? All the Nordlings can sing.”
“Not like Mi,” Molly said firmly. “The other Nordlings have always been content to sing their own singular notes. But not Mi. She wanted to sing notes other than her own. And somehow, she managed to teach herself to do it. At first she kept her new ability a secret. Then one day I heard her.”
“Heard her what?”
“Singing a song.”
Peggy was intrigued, but before she could say anything Gavi burst out with a resounding tremolo call.
“Now I understand!” the loon said triumphantly.
“Hold on, you’re way ahead of us,” said Peggy. “So what if Mi’s learned to sing a few more notes? What’s the big deal?”
“That is just it,” replied Gavi, looking as if he was ready to burst with excitement. “It is a very big deal! Mi’s ability to sing, to learn new and more complicated melodies, has brought about profound changes – in her and in the very makeup of Notherland itself. Mi was created – programmed if you will – by your imagination, Peggy, to carry out a certain limited function within the workings of this world. It is very much like an actor, who carries out a particular role in a play. An actor does not, indeed cannot, play the other roles too.”
Peggy was itching for Gavi to get to the point, but she knew enough to keep quiet and not interrupt his train of thought.
“But Mi has, so to speak, gone beyond her programmed function,” Gavi went on. “She has burst the confines of her definition and thus has – to carry through with the dramatic metaphor – ‘rewritten’ her own part, not to mention the script, so to speak, of Notherland itself. What I believe has happened is that Mi’s greater singing ability has created new pathways in her mind, pathways that give her new powers of imagination that she did not have before.”
“Yes!” Re9 burst out. “That makes perfect sense!”
“Not only that,” the loon continued excitedly, for nothing gave him greater pleasure than solving a philosophical puzzle, “Mi’s enhanced imaginative powers may have opened up new portals into and out of Notherland.”
There was silence while everyone pondered the impact of Gavi’s words.
“Out of?” Peggy said finally. “Into Notherland I can see – that could be why we were able to get here by a different way than last time. But out of’? Even if there was a way Mi could leave Notherland and go somewhere else, how could she? Notherland is the only world in which she exists.”
The loon shook his head.
“That may no longer be true. There must be a new realm, perhaps several, which Mi has become able to enter. A world or worlds created by Mi herself.”
“Created?” Peggy said, dumfounded. “How could Mi create a new world?”
“The same way you do,” Gavi replied. “By dreaming it into existence.”
Night had come. They were all tired. Even the Nordlings had barely enough energy to make their way up the Great Skyway to take their appointed places in the RoryBory, where they would pass the night in a trancelike state, singing their notes.
Peggy’s head ached. It was too much to take in, too much to make sense of in too short a time. She wished she could make it all go away and flee to her normal, everyday life. Here she was, back where she’d found herself the year before, faced with the same choice: stay or go?
Was it really such an emergency that Mi was gone? she wondered. If the Nordling truly had developed these new abilities, maybe she could take care of herself just fine. Maybe she’d come back on her own. But Peggy knew these were all evasions and excuses. Even with her supposed new powers, Mi was still a small child – curious, impulsive, ready to throw herself into new experiences. It was Mi, Peggy reminded herself, who’d gone up into the crow’s nest on the Terror – after she’d been expressly forbidden to do so – and been snatched away by the Nobodaddy. The Nordling had almost brought about the annihilation of Notherland then, and her disappearance might have even worse consequences this time. Somehow, in the vast sea of possible universes, Mi would have to be found. Peggy knew she’d get drawn into helping look for her, no matter how much she might try to avoid it. No, she wouldn’t be going back home anytime soon.
And then there was the small problem of Jackpine. He’d sat off to one side, sullen and remote, throughout the whole discussion of Mi’s disappearance. He pretended to not be listening, but it seemed to Peggy that he was being deeply affected all the same. Perhaps, she thought, he was remembering what Mi had meant to him – the little one he had carried on his back when he was first freed from his tree-prison. She was the one who had bounced around, giggling, as they walked, and had given him the very name that had allowed him to feel human once again.
But when Peggy approached him he just glowered angrily, like before. This time she couldn’t avoid admitting to herself just how hurt she was by his rejection. But the only thing to do was to leave it alone for now. It was all too much for one night.
Molly lay down looking forlorn and sad. Peggy had the impulse to go to her, to reassure her that Mi’s disappearance wasn’t her fault, that she wasn’t a failure as a guardian. But she had the feeling that right now Molly was beyond comforting.
She watched Molly lying quietly, with her one good eye wide open since, being a doll, she didn’t actually sleep. Peggy could swear the doll’s body seemed less rigid than before, as if the intensity of her emotional outburst had somehow softened the material she was made of.
Gavi turned toward the lake, preparing to pass the night sleeping on the water. Peggy softly touched his wing.
“Gavi, what are we going to do?”
The loon shook his head.
“I do not know yet. I must figure it out and unfortunately,” his voice trailed off momentarily. “I am somewhat out of practice in that department. And so I suggest we all sleep on it.”
He mouthed the last phrase with satisfaction, as he always did when he managed to find an opportunity to use a figure of speech in exactly the right way.
“I’ll second that,” Peggy agreed.
She lay down on the soft juniper boughs she had gathered for a bed, pulled her jacket over her, and drifted off to sleep. The hum of the RoryBory pulsated in the night sky above her.
Chapter 3: The Flute Player
At first there had been a long silence, as Peggy, Molly and Gavi sat down together the next day. Finally Peggy spoke up.
“How are we going to find Mi? Where do we begin looking?”
Gavi looked at her with mournful red eyes.
“I do not know.”
Peggy could see that Gavi was still berating himself for not being able to figure out what to do. The whole of Gavi’s life in Notherland had been devoted to understanding this world and the laws that governed its workings. Which was why Peggy had dubbed him the Philosopher-Loon when she was younger.
Now, looking at his and Molly’s drawn faces, Peggy saw that they were both weighed down with discouragement.
“Hey, you two, buck up,” she said. “It’s not like we haven’t come up against the impossible before. Remember how we managed to get Franklin’s ship through the Everlasting Ice? We can do this.”
But their expressions remained unchanged. Peggy realized she wasn’t being very convincing.
I sound like Molly, she thought. But without her conviction.
“Okay,” she said finally. “Let’s think. What kind of world would Mi bring into existence? And how can we find our way into it?”
She was surprised to hear another voice speak up.
“The Flute Player.”
She looked over. Jackpine, whom she hadn’t seen since last night, was standing some distance away. He walked slowly towards them, giving the impression he was joining the conversation with reluctance.
“The way in,” he said, “is through the Flute Player.”
“We’re thrilled you’ve decided to break your lofty silence and help out,” Peggy said drily. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You of all people should know exactly what I’m talking about,” he replied.
“Because you are the Flute Player.”
“I play the flute. So what? How does that help us find Mi?” Peggy said testily.
“Remember when you were looking at the petroglyphs? Right before we got dragged here?”
“You noticed one that looked like a person playing a flute and I said I’d tell you about it later?” he continued. “The images on that rock are all typical of other paintings and carvings made by my ancestors – except for that one. There’s nothing resembling a flute player on any other sacred rocks in the north. According to the old stories, the Flute Player wasn’t drawn by the ancestors. It came from somewhere else.”
“What do you mean?” Gavi asked, intrigued. “Where did this creature come from?”
Jackpine shrugged. “Another tribe, another continent, maybe from another world altogether. The stories all say different things. But there’s one detail they do agree on.”
“The Flute Player sang our whole world into existence.”
Suddenly Molly jumped up.
“The bone flute!” she cried. “Mi was always playing it. That could have had something to do with her ability to create other worlds.”
“The bone flute,” Peggy echoed her. “I gave it back to Mi after we left the Hole at the Pole and then forgot all about it.”
“Mi may have somehow discovered that she could sing new worlds into existence, just like the Flute Player,” Gavi said with mounting excitement. “Does it not make sense that playing those same notes on a flute might allow us to follow her trail?”
“You’re right, Gavi,” Molly cried. “Let’s try it!”
“Fine,” Peggy agreed. “Only one problem: no flute.”
They were momentarily deflated. Then Jackpine spoke up again.
“That shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll make one.”
They all looked at him curiously.
“How can we do that?” Gavi finally asked.
“The same way the ancestors did – carve one. All we have to do is find a nice, hollowed-out bone.”
Re9, who had been listening to their discussion, called out excitedly.
“I know where to get one!”
He went over to a cluster of Nordlings nearby. After a hurried conversation, he rushed back holding up a small animal bone.
“The other Nordlings were always asking to play the bone flute, but Mi would never let them. So they all began collecting bones and pretending they had their own flutes.”
Re9 handed the bone to Jackpine, who reached into his pocket and took a small carving knife.
“All it needs is some nice clean gouges for the holes.”
“Yes!” Molly shouted. “Then Peggy can play it and we’ll go look for Mi!”
“You can go look for her,” Jackpine corrected her. “But before that you better figure out how to get me back to where I came from. Because as soon as I’m done carving this thing, I’m out of here.”
“You mean you’re not going along?” Molly said plaintively. “I thought we’d all go together, like before. After we freed you from the tree? You remember, don’t you?”
Jackpine shrugged and turned away. Peggy had the distinct feeling that he did remember, try as he might not to let on. After a moment he looked at Molly again.
“I’ll do what I can to help you find your little friend. But I can’t stay here. I’ve got to go back to my own people. If I stay away too long I’m afraid I’ll just lose my way again.”
His voice trailed off. He walked a short distance away, sat down on a rock and began patiently gouging a hole in a section of the bone.
Things were starting to become clearer to Peggy. Jackpine wasn’t being difficult for no reason. He really didn’t want to be here in someone else’s imaginary world. He felt his place was back in his own world, living on the reserve, taking people to the petroglyph site.
She couldn’t help but wonder, too, how much his desire to go back might have to do with that girl in the band office. She felt a twinge of jealousy recalling how the two of them had look at one another.
Whatever was going on between the girl and Jackpine had nothing to do with her, Peggy decided. He had his own life, she had hers. The feelings that had been growing between them the last time were gone. It was like they were strangers again.
Anyway, he was going back. There was no doubt about that.
While Jackpine worked on carving the bone flute, Peggy asked Gavi about his experiences in the world of flesh-and-blood loons.
“I thought you would never ask!” he responded brightly. “I have had many new experiences and I have been – what is the human expression? – itching to tell about them. Which, of course, I have not been able to do in my other life, since loons in the physical world do not have the power of speech or, for that matter, of thought.”
“Gavi, please get to the point!” Molly pleaded. The bickering between the doll and the loon was all too familiar to Peggy. She turned to Molly with a shrug. They both knew they might as well settle in for a long, detailed narrative, of a kind that only Gavi the Philosopher-Loon was capable of.
“I can still vividly recall my first physical sensations,” he began. “The cold slickness of the icy pond in Green Echo Park, where I first landed after passing through the portal at Painted Rock. Then the touch of human flesh! Yours, dear Peggy, and Jackpine’s as you both propelled me across the ice to enable me to take flight for the first time. And oh, the exhilaration of that flight! I had flown numerous times in Notherland, but the sensation of sheer abandonment, the untrammelled joy of physical flight!”
Gavi’s voice rose to a pitch, then stopped abruptly.
“I simply have no words to describe the feeling,” he finally said.
“That’s a first,” Molly muttered under her breath, but Gavi, completely caught up in his recollections, took no notice.
“Nor can I adequately convey the thrill of making full-bodied loon calls. I discovered the true nature of singing, of sound itself. It is not simply to mark territory or to convey warnings of danger to others of my kind, though that is very important. No, the fundamental purpose of singing is to announce: Here I am. I exist. And now, after what Jackpine has told us about the Flute Player, I have an even deeper understanding of this simple truth which underlies Notherland and indeed all universes: We all sing ourselves into existence. Is this not a momentous thought to contemplate?”
Gavi’s red eyes widened as the words tumbled out of him in an excited rush.
“It sure is, Gavi,” Peggy was quick to agree, hoping to nudge him back to talking about specifics. “Now tell us more about your life in my world. What happened that day when you flew off from Green Echo Pond?”
“Not all my experiences were exhilarating, of course,” he replied. “At first I was overwhelmed by each new sensation. The first time I dove into deep water, for instance, was terrifying. I was enveloped in complete darkness; I could see nothing. Gradually my eyes adjusted and I was able to see what I needed to see and do the things I had to do.”
Gavi fell uncharacteristically silent for a few moments. Peggy saw a look in his eyes she’d never seen before.
“What kind of things, Gavi?” she asked. “You mean, like catching fish?”
He nodded wordlessly and looked away. Peggy realized that what she was seeing in his eyes were feelings of shame and embarrassment. Gavi, like any other living creature, had to eat in order to survive in the physical world. For a loon, that meant killing and consuming fish – other living creatures – a fact that was profoundly disturbing to someone of Gavi’s sensitive nature.
“I discovered that life in the physical world could be very harsh, even brutal at times,” he said, as if picking up Peggy’s thoughts. “But over time I came to understand that one cannot deny one’s true nature. I, too, was a part of this world and I had to accept things the way they were.
“There were other difficulties, too,” he went on. “The other loons I encountered were wary of me. They could sense, of course, that there was something different about me, that despite my appearance and my ability to sing the same calls I was not quite the same as they were. It was very lonely at times. I feared that I had made a terrible mistake, that I had crossed over into an alien world in which I had no place. But over time, as I stopped speaking and even thinking altogether, I became more like them – a creature of flesh and instinct and sensation. My former life became a distant memory. I could barely recall Notherland and the people in it. Until I began to have dreams that brought it all back, dreams in which you, Molly, seemed to be calling me. But at first I was not sure I wanted to come back. I felt torn between my old life and my new life, old friends and new friends. And one friend in particular.”
“Oh? Who’s that?” Peggy asked.
“Yeah, tell us about him,” Molly piped up.
Gavi said nothing, and for a moment it almost looked to Peggy as though the red of his eyes was reflecting onto the glossy black of his face, giving it a flushed quality. A thought occurred to her.
“Or should we say: ‘tell us about her’?”
Peggy realized that the flush on Gavi’s face was no reflection. He was blushing.
“Gavi!” she burst out. “Have you found a mate?”
“I have indeed met another loon whom I would like to be my mate, whom I hope will one day become my mate.”
Both Peggy and Molly hung on his words.
“But . . .?”
“My attempts at mating rituals are so pathetically clumsy, I fear she will never want to have anything to do with me!” he cried.
They insisted he tell them everything – who she was, how they met.
“I had not entertained any hopes or aspirations of finding a mate because, for a long time, as I told you, other loons kept their distance from me. But as I made my way north in the spring, flying over the vast boreal landscape, I found myself curiously drawn to a rather large lake below. I descended for a landing and was quite astonished to find myself facing a smooth rock carved with images much like those on our beloved Painted Rock here in Notherland.”
“That’s where you saw me and Jackpine – where we fell in the water.” Peggy broke in.
“Yes, indeed,” Gavi replied. “No doubt it was those rock carvings that somehow drew us all to the spot. But I did not realize there was something else drawing me to that lake. It was the home territory of my beloved Nor.”
“That is the name I gave her, because she stirred feelings I had not experienced since leaving Notherland – a longing to bond, to take care of someone besides myself, the way Molly and I cared for our beloved Nordlings. Of course, being a physical loon, she knows nothing of human speech and is not even aware that she has a name. But that does not matter. In my eyes, “ his voice trailed off dreamily, “she is perfect.”
“Gavi, you’re in love!” Peggy exclaimed. “You’ve found your mate!”
“Ah! If only that were true!” he sighed.
“What’s the problem?”
“The problem is my rival!”
“Rival? What rival?” Peggy asked.
“Another loon who is much more experienced at courtship than I could ever be.”
Uh-oh, Peggy thought. This doesn’t sound good.
They were interrupted by a shout from Jackpine.
“Here it is!”
Jackpine held up the freshly-carved bone flute for them to see. Peggy was relieved that the dour expression he’d been wearing since they arrived in Notherland was gone, for the time being, at least.
“Looks good, eh?” he said, showing it to her with a grin.
“Very nice,” Peggy nodded. “The distance between the holes looks about right. But the true test is in the playing.”
As she lifted the bone to her lips Jackpine clapped his hand over hers.
“Why not? I want to hear how it sounds.”
He shook his head emphatically.
“You have no idea what’ll happen when you blow into that thing. And I have no intention of ending up in some other crazy universe I didn’t choose to go to.”
Peggy shrugged and handed it back to him. She had to admit he had a point – not that she was about to let him know she thought so. But it was true. They could all be catapulted to some other realm before they’d worked out a plan.
Molly spoke up.
“I don’t know where that flute’s going to take us. But wherever it is, I’m going there to look for Mi.”
“As am I,” Gavi echoed.
They both looked at Peggy expectantly. It dawned on her that up until this moment, being back in Notherland had been an enjoyable lark. Now she had to make a decision: was she really going to join her two friends and head off on a journey into the unknown, searching for a spirit–creature who could be anywhere? Or was she going back to normal life, to the world on the other side of Painted Rock, as Jackpine was clearly determined to do?
There really seemed to be no choice. She had to stay. She was the Creator, after all. She couldn’t just shirk off her responsibility for this world and its creatures. And yet something was holding her back – feelings that she was reluctant to admit to herself.
Why does he have to be so stubborn? Why is he so eager to go back? Is it that girl???
After all this time she’d found him again, and now she was about to let him slip away one more time. Probably, like Gavi’s Nor, into the arms of a rival!!
This is pathetic, she chided herself. Am I going to let my friends down on account of him?
“I’m going, too,” she finally announced.
“Ya-hoo!” Molly cheered.
“It will be like – what is the phrase? – old times!” Gavi added jubilantly.
“What about the Nordlings?” Peggy asked.
“They’ll be all right with the more grown-up ones like Re9 in charge,” Molly replied. “I’ve been training them to be more on their own, towards the day when . . .”
The doll shook her head. “Nothing in particular,” she said. “I just think it’s good for them to learn to be more independent. I’m their guardian, but I can’t look after them every second.”
“Indeed,” Gavi nodded in agreement. “It stands to reason that Notherland is perfectly safe, now that the evil Nobodaddy is no more. And self-sufficiency is always a good thing, even for spirit-creatures.”
Listening to him, Peggy had a thought.
“What about you and your new friend, Gavi?” she asked. “Aren’t you worried that if you go with us, you might lose her to that rival you mentioned?”
“I would be lying if I said I was not,” Gavi replied. “But finding Mi is more important. And if your previous sojourn is any guide, our lives back in the physical world are in suspension, so to speak. When we return, it should be as if hardly any time at all has passed. So perhaps I need not worry about anything happening in my absence.”
“I guess that settles it,” Peggy said, turning toward Jackpine, who wordlessly handed her the bone flute. “I suppose you want us to wait until you’ve gone back through Painted Rock.”
“Not necessarily,” he replied. “I’m curious to see what happens when you blow into that thing.”
“But I thought you were worried about . . .”
“I’ll plug my ears and watch from a distance,” he interrupted. “Don’t worry, I’ll be okay. Now go find that little sprite and bring her back where she belongs.”
He spoke quietly, and his expression softened at the mention of Mi. As he turned and started to walk away from them, Peggy felt an ache, a deep melancholy. They were leaving. He was going back to his other life. There was nothing to be done. She might never lay eyes on him again.
Molly was speaking to Re9.
“Now remember all the things I’ve taught you.”
“I will,” the Nordling replied in a sprightly tone. It was clear he was proud and excited to be charged with such a grown-up responsibility.
“Are we ready?” Peggy asked. She looked over at Jackpine, who was watching them from a distance. As she raised the flute to her lips, he clapped his hands tightly over his ears.
She covered both holes with her fingertips and blew into the bone.
Do . . .
She uncovered one of the holes and blew again.
Re . . .
Taking a deep breath, she uncovered the other hole and blew a long, sustained note.
Mi . . .
She looked at Gavi.
“Try again,” the loon said calmly.
She repeated the sequence: Do, Re, Mi . . .
Night was coming on. The Nordlings stood in a cluster at the base of the Great Skyway. One by one they approached Molly for a goodnight hug before they made their ascent up into the RoryBory for the night.
Molly was doing her best to be her usual upbeat self, but it was difficult. They were all feeling the strain and frustration of trying the bone flute again and again, the discouragement when they finally abandoned the attempt altogether. Now what were they going to do? Where could they even begin to figure out a way to find Mi?
“I must think. I must think,” Gavi kept saying over and over. But Peggy could see that repeating the words like a mantra was having the opposite effect, making him more anxious, less able to concentrate. Even Jackpine, for all his efforts to keep his distance, looked glum and downhearted.
As usual, Peggy thought, I’m the one who has to hold it all together. But she was fighting to keep her own feelings of despair at bay. Jackpine’s story of the Flute Player had seemed to hold out so much promise, and even now she couldn’t let go of the feeling that the bone flute was the key to finding Mi, if only she could figure out how to use it properly.
Her attention was drawn to the Great Skyway. Some kind of commotion was going on. Molly was glaring at two of the smallest Nordlings, Ti and So2, who stood before her with their eyes downcast.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this sooner?” Molly said as the two little ones shuffled their feet wordlessly. Finally So2 spoke up.
“Because we were afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid you would be mad.”
“Well, you’re right! I am mad!” Molly shouted in frustration. “Way madder than I would’ve been if you’d told me sooner!”
“Molly, what’s up?” Peggy asked as she and Gavi approached them.
“According to these two, Mi went up in the RoryBory one night and boasted that she was going somewhere they couldn’t go. And next morning she was gone. We’ve been wasting our time with the bone flute.”
“Maybe not,” Peggy said. “Maybe we’ve just been barking up the wrong tree.”
“What a delightful metaphor,” Gavi exclaimed. “I must find a use for it sometime.”
“What are you getting at, Peggy?” Molly asked.
“Learning all those new notes must have helped Mi expand her imagination. But maybe it took something more for her to actually travel to this other world. I mean, how did I first start coming to Notherland? In my daydreams. Mi just took it one step further. She used the bone flute to help her sing a new world into existence, then dreamed herself right into it.”
“Excellent!” Gavi cried. “I should have thought of it myself.”
“So what do we do?” Molly asked. “Just lie down and go to sleep?”
“Sometimes creatures are able to influence their dreams,” Gavi pointed out. “By forming an intention before they go to sleep. That is what we must do. We must ask for dreams – no, a single dream, shared among us – that will take us to this Shining World Mi was so enthralled by.”
“But what about me?” Molly was near tears of frustration. “You know I don’t sleep. I’m a doll! I’ll get left behind!”
“I do not believe that will happen,” Gavi said calmly. “As Peggy has shown us, dreaming is just another form of imagining, which is an ability you certainly have. If Mi could dream her way to another universe,” he said with finality, “I am convinced you can, too.”
Peggy looked up at the RoryBory, tonight pulsating with a pale green aura, listening to the Nordlings’ haunting song. She, Molly and Gavi were lying in a star-formation, with their heads together, their bodies radiating out in a circle. They’d decided this was the best way to encourage a common dream. Some distance away, Jackpine lay by himself.
As she drifted off to sleep, Peggy wondered why Jackpine was still so determined to see them on their way. After all, he was heading back to his own world. It didn’t matter to him what happened to them.
After a while he stopped the car, opened the door and motioned for her to get out. He asked her if she wanted to go to a beautiful place, a place where there were other children.
“Is there music in this place?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Very beautiful music. You’ll like it.”
He took her firmly by the hand and they started walking. Soon they arrived at the top of a dark street dotted with pockets of light and shadow.
Chapter 10: The Hole at the Pole
SIR JOHN STOOD ON THE DECK of the Terror, looking at the great gaping Hole as it spewed what looked like smoke into the air.
“There it is,” he said quietly, “the destination that I have spent a lifetime striving to reach. I thought I would feel triumphant when this moment finally arrived. But without my Jane at my side, I …”
The other three looked at one another in silent sympathy. Peggy, weighed down by the crushing disappointment of finding the rowboat but no sign of Jackpine, understood how the captain was feeling. Finally, she spoke up.
“Someone has to be first to set foot at the Pole. Would you like to do the honors, Sir John?”
Gavi surveyed the expanse of smooth coal-black terrain that surrounded the rim, where the ship had run aground.
“I cannot tell what the surface is made of,” he said dubiously. “Perhaps someone smaller than Sir John should test it out first.”
“Me!” Molly piped up. “I’m the lightest.”
“That’s exactly why you shouldn’t go first,” Peggy said firmly. “Just because it holds you doesn’t mean it will hold us.”
“A brilliant piece of reasoning,” Gavi said. “I should have thought of it myself.”
Before anyone could say another word, Peggy hoisted herself over the side of the deck and down the rope. The others all sucked in their breath, fearful that it would break, that she would go crashing into the frigid waters of the Polar Sea or whatever else lay beneath the forbidding shelf.
There was an audible sigh of relief as she landed with a thud.
“It’s solid, all right.” She slammed one foot hard on the surface. “Solid as a rock. It’s ice.”
“Of course!” Gavi blurted out. “Ice so black that none of us recognized it as such. Black ice is the hardest, most unforgiving kind. It makes sense that we would find it here
at the Pole. But right next to open water? How can that be?”
“Another of the Pole’s mysterious reversals, no doubt;” offered Sir John. “Hopeless to try to explain such things.”
“But it does suggest an explanation for this mysterious vapor,” Gavi went on, as one by one they hoisted themselves onto the black ice. “That smoke we are seeing is not from fire but from ice. The Hole must consist, at least in part, of what is called ‘dry ice’ in your world,” he said, nodding in Peggy’s direction. “So there is no inferno in there. Just more cold. Dark, unutterable cold.”
Peggy strode purposefully across the ice towards the rim of the Hole, followed by the other three. As they approached it, great swells of vapor grew thicker and thicker around them, like a fog. At times they could barely see one another. But they groped their way to the very edge of the Hole and peered down into it.
Sir John spoke first.
“It looks like a bottomless pit.”
“Every hole has a bottom,” Gavi pointed out. “A bottomless pit is a physical impossibility, even in Notherland. Now, of course, there might be other universes where such a thing …”
“It’s just an expression, Gavi,” Peggy stopped him.
“Yes, of course. I knew that,” Gavi said sheepishly.
“But where is everybody?” Molly interrupted. “Where are all the Souls Jackpine talked about?”
And where is Jackpine? Peggy added silently to herself. Is he down there? How will we find him?
“I’ll bet he’s got them all stirred up!” Molly answered her own question. “I’ll bet right now they’re all way down there, crushing the Nobodaddy!”
”Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Peggy said, as she began to lift one leg over the rim. “Who’s going with me?”
“Me!” Molly declared firmly.
“And me,” Gavi added, with somewhat less conviction.
“This is my great adventure!” Molly cried. “I can’t wait!”
Peggy looked at the old captain. “What about you, Sir John?”
He shook his head.
“It appears I am the only member of this crew who is of truly sound mind, because I have no desire whatsoever to descend into that forbidding pit. My life’s goal has been to reach the Pole, and now I have achieved it.”
Peggy grinned at him. “That’s good, because someone ought to stay with the ship. If we do manage to get out of here with the Nordlings and Jackpine and all those other trapped Souls, you’d better have the Terror ready to sail out of here like a bat out of hell.”
“A most colorful, if slightly blasphemous, simile,” Sir John observed. “I assure you I will be thoroughly at the ready. When the time comes, the Terror will show that she can fly more swiftly than any bat.”
Molly looked up at Sir John with concern. “Are you sure you don’t mind being left alone?”
“My child,” he said, addressing her with that term of endearment for the first time, “being alone is a thing with which I am very familiar. Do not worry about me. When you return, I will be here to welcome you.”
Peggy looked at Molly and Gavi. “Well?”
Molly peered into the Hole.
“It’s pretty dark. But I’m not afraid!” she added quickly.
In the dim light Peggy was able to make out a narrow ledge along one craggy wall, which seemed to be a pathway down into the Hole. She took a deep breath.
As the three of them prepared to scramble over the rim of the Hole and onto the upper reach of the ledge, they bade Sir John farewell. Gavi and Peggy shook the old man’s hand, and Molly flung herself onto Sir John’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and they embraced one another tightly for a moment. Watching them, Peggy suddenly recalled reading in Our Wondrous North that when he’d embarked on his last, fateful Arctic expedition, Lord Franklin had left behind not only his wife, but a daughter as well.
Their descent, initially at least, was uneventful. The air was bitingly cold, but not unbearable. Once their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the Hole, they found they could see well enough to make their way – especially Gavi, whose red eyes were adapted for seeing through dark waters at night. Not that there was much to look at. As far as they could make out, the Hole was little more than a dark, craggy, funnel-shaped cavity that extended deep into the earth.
The three of them walked mostly in silence. After a while Peggy began to wonder if things were going a little too smoothly. Where was the Nobodaddy? Did he know they were there? Why was he letting them go on unimpeded?
Gavi’s voice broke in on her thoughts. “What was that?”
“I thought I heard something,” Gavi replied.
“There!” Molly volunteered. “I hear it, too. It sounds like voices farther down. Do you think they’re Souls?”
“It seems likely.” Gavi turned to Peggy. “What do you think we should do?”
She shrugged. “Let’s go see. It’s about time we came across some signs of life down here.”
As they made their way farther down the ledge, the voices grew louder, shouting angrily, in barely coherent outbursts.
“– all your fault!”
“If you hadn’t been so stupid – !”
“I hate you!”
After a few moments, Peggy began to call out.
She could barely hear herself over the noise. She tried again.
“Hello? Hello down there!”
A volley of shrieks echoed off the walls of the Hole.
“Did you hear something?”
“No, you idiot.”
“I heard it!”
“Oh, great. Another one!”
Peggy shouted, “Could you all shut up a second and listen?”
“We’ve come to help you!” Molly added.
“There’s more than one of them!” one of the voices shouted to the others.
Peggy began to yell over the voices, trying to explain who they were and why they had come to the Hole. But it was difficult. After every few words, a volley of shouts would go up – arguing, accusing, insulting.
“Just hear me out!” Peggy tried again. “I’m trying to tell you that we’ve come to rescue you. All of you.”
At that, a roar of bitter laughter rose up from the darkness of the cavern.
“Rescue? Ha! That’s a good one!”
“That’s what the last one said and look what happened!”
“What last one?” Peggy feared they might be referring to Jackpine. “Who are you talking about?”
“The one who came through earlier.”
“He was the stupidest of all!” said one bitingly. “He escaped the Hole once, and he came back.”
“Where is he?” Peggy demanded. “What happened to him?”
“Who knows?” shouted one.
“Who cares?” yelled another.
Listening to their harangues, Molly grew more and more angry. She began shouting at them at the top of her lungs.
“You’re all idiots! We come here to help, and all you can do is blame us, or one another. You’re either completely crazy or completely stupid!”
Gavi was becoming more and more disheartened by what he was hearing. He winced at the volley of shouts, as if they were slaps in the face. Such meaningless, self-destructive behavior shocked and distressed him. He turned to Peggy.
“What is the matter with them? Why are they acting this way? Do they not want to be rescued?”
Peggy shook her head.
“Maybe not. It must be like Jackpine said – they’ve gotten so used to being miserable they can’t imagine anything else.”
“But that makes no sense!” Gavi cried. “Heaping scorn on people when they try to help you makes no sense at all. And listen to them – they are cruel to one another when they should be kind, and help one another, and make the best of their situation. They only make it worse. I do ‘not understand this behavior at all!”
Peggy was troubled by Gavi’s extreme distress. She’d never seen him in a state like this. She decided they’d better move on before these raging Souls threw him into an even darker mood.
“But we must try to talk some sense into them!” Gavi said with an air of desperation, as if his own mental well-being depended on getting them to listen to reason.
“Gavi, there’s nothing we can do for them. You can see for yourself. They just won’t listen.”
“Yeah!” Molly agreed. “They’re not interested. So long, idiots!”
The three of them continued down the path, the angry shouts growing fainter and fainter in their ears. When they were finally out of earshot, Peggy breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, now, Gavi would calm down and regain his sense of perspective.
Peggy turned to look at him. There was an odd look in the loon’s eyes, and his beak appeared to be stuck in a half-open position. He seemed to be trying to speak, but nothing was coming out.
“Gavi? What’s wrong?”
He looked at her with a panicked expression. She could see that he was indeed having difficulty speaking, and the prospect was terrifying him.
He continued to strain, trying to form some words and get them out. Then suddenly a great rush of sounds came out of his beak. At first, it sounded like nothing but gibberish.
Little by little, Peggy was able recognize words in the babble.
“… no, no … terrible … makes no sense … cannot …”
“You can’t what, Gavi?”
“Cannot … go … on!”
Peggy was stunned.
“What are you saying?”
“No sense … If I go on … lose my mind!”
He looked to be in the grip of a nameless terror, and it was clear to Peggy that he was in no condition to continue their journey.
“It’s all right, Gavi. You don’t have to go any farther.”
Molly looked at her, aghast, but before the doll had a chance to object, Gavi collapsed into loud wailing.
“Soooorrryyy! Let you doooowwnn!”
Molly tugged at Peggy, trying to make herself heard over Gavi’s cries.
“We can’t just leave him here, Peggy! What’ll we do?”
For an instant, Peggy felt like she was going to explode. She was the one they turned to every time! She was the one who supposedly had all the answers. She didn’t know how long she could stand it!
But she knew she couldn’t afford to give in to her frustration. She had to somehow get Gavi calmed down. They had to keep going. What should she do?
A thought came to her. She went over and softly touched his feathers.
“Gavi? You know Molly and I have to go on. Do you think you can make it back to where the Mad Souls are?”
“Are you crazy?” Molly exclaimed. “He can’t go back there!”
“He’ll be worse off staying here, all alone,” Peggy replied. “He’d lose his mind for sure. Gavi?” She moved closer to him. “I think you should go back and try to talk to the Mads. I think they might listen to you.”
Gavi looked at her long and hard.
“But you said yourself that they are not interested in anything we have to say.”
Peggy didn’t believe for a minute that the Mads would change their behavior. But she figured it would be better for Gavi to have a task, something to focus his mental energies on.
“I was wrong. I think they would be interested, if somebody got to know them and took the time to explain things to them. You’re just the person to do it, Gavi. If anybody can talk sense into those Mads, it’s you.”
The loon’s red eyes began to grow a bit brighter.
“Yes, I think I see what you are getting at. It makes sense.”
Peggy and Molly both nodded vigorously.
Gavi insisted that he could find his way on his own, that his red eyes could see well enough in the dark. But the other two wouldn’t hear of it, and they backtracked with him up the path. When they got within earshot of the Mads, Gavi indicated that he wanted to go the rest of the way by himself.
“I believe that I can startle them into attention with my tremolo call. And I think they will be more open to my presence if they sense I am alone.”
Peggy immediately agreed. She recalled how Molly had only egged them on with her taunts, and she saw that Gavi didn’t want to risk setting them off again.
For a moment, Molly stood stubbornly, unwilling to part from Gavi.
“Go on,” he said to her. “Go with Peggy. You wanted to live out your adventure to the very end, remember? We will see one another soon.”
It was wrenching for Molly to say goodbye to the loon, and watching his black-and-white body lumber up the path and disappear into the darkness was almost unbearably painful. She and Peggy resumed their descent in silence.
“Do you think he’s all right?” Molly asked anxiously after a short time.
“He’s okay, Molly. You know Gavi. Once he gets going, they won’t be able to shut him up. He can debate his way out of anything.”
Though Peggy felt keenly the loss of Gavi’s company, she realized that, with his sensitive nature, he was better off staying behind. Whatever awaited them down below would probably upset him even more than the Mads had. But Molly was different. Her faith never flagged. Peggy knew she could count on the doll.
Molly spoke up again. “Did you hear something?”
“No,” Peggy replied. “What was it?”
“I’m not sure …”
They both listened as a faint crescendo, like some drawn-out wail, rose up from the great cavern.
“Strange,” said Peggy. “If I didn’t know better I’d say it sounded like Gavi.”
“But Gavi’s back with the Mads.”
They moved farther down the path, then stopped in their tracks as a new volley of wails and anguished cries began to rise up, reverberating from deeper in the Hole.
“That’s for sure not Gavi,” Molly said with some relief.
As they descended farther it became clear that they were approaching another colony of Souls. Peggy felt her hopes rise again, wondering, Is Jackpine with them?
These voices contained no hint of anger or accusation. Instead, they filled the atmosphere of the Hole with unrelenting echoes of anguish, pain and sorrow.
“They’re sure not Mads,” the doll’s voice broke in. “Sads is more like it.”
They moved closer to the voices, and as she had with the Mads, Peggy called out to explain who they were and why they had come. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, a mournful cry rose up.
“Not another one!”
This time, Peggy knew who they were talking about.
“Who? What happened to him?”
“He left to find the Nobodaddy.”
“But it was no use!”
“He got our hopes up for nothing.”
“Now things are worse than ever!”
“We’re doomed to languish here.”
“No love, no hope, no love, no hope.”
Peggy had never heard such utter despair. She looked at Molly, who was now trying to call out over the Sad Souls’ din.
“Don’t give up hope! If you just give up you won’t be able to get yourselves out of here when the time comes!”
“Go back where you came from!”
“While you still can.”
“You can do nothing for us.”
“No one can.”
Their cries managed to completely drown her out.
Peggy put her hand on Molly’s stiff shouder. She could feel the doll fighting back angry tears.
“What’s the matter with them?” Molly cried out. “Can’t they see that giving up is the worst thing they can do? I never give up hope. I never stop trying.”
Peggy saw that the Sads’ despair was having a powerful effect on Molly. The Mads had brought out her natural feistiness: they had dished out abuse, and she’d dished it back. But the unrelenting anguish of the Sads was something Molly had never witnessed before. Such extreme suffering frightened her. She shut her eyes tightly and covered her ears, trying to block out their cries. She looked so upset that Peggy figured they had better get out of earshot of the Sads quickly, before Molly broke down completely.
With difficulty, she pulled the doll along the path. Molly steadfastly held her hands over her ears. When they had gone far enough that Peggy could barely hear the Sads, they stopped, and she gently uncovered Molly’s ears.
“There. Isn’t that better?”
She was shocked when the doll shook her head. Molly’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“I can still hear them!”
“You couldn’t, Molly. They’re way behind us.”
“You don’t understand. That’s not it.”
“I can’t get the sound out of my head. It’s like they’re crying inside me!”
“Maybe it’s an echo,” Peggy offered anxiously. “Give it time to die down.”
The doll shook her head more vigorously.
“It’s not an echo. I told you, it’s inside me.”
“Then the best thing is to put more distance between them and us,” Peggy said, and she started walking again. But Molly pulled on her arm.
Peggy looked quizzically at her.
“What is it?”
“I can’t,” Molly said.
“You can’t what?”
“I can’t go any farther,” responded the doll, tearfully.
“But Molly, we have to keep going.”
“You go on without me,” she said solemnly. “I’ll go back to the Sads.”
“What?” Peggy burst out. “Are you crazy?”
“It’s just like you said to Gavi. I’ll talk to them. If they get to know me and hear me out, maybe I can help them find some hope again.”
“But, Molly …”
“I have to,” she said insistently. “It’s the only way I can think of to stop this awful crying in my head! Because if I don’t do something soon, I’m afraid I’m going to become … just like them!”
Peggy was devastated. She couldn’t imagine having to go on alone. She counted on Molly to have courage enough for both of them. It felt to Peggy as though half of her very self was being ripped away.
But she could see there was no arguing with Molly about this. The doll had seized on this idea to calm her inner turmoil, and her mind was made up.
“Okay, if that’s what you have to do,” she finally said.
“Will you be all right?” Molly asked.
“Sure.” Peggy affected a breezy tone. As horrible as she felt, she was determined not to let on to Molly. “Don’t worry about me. Go on. I’ll be fine.”
Molly threw her arms around Peggy’s neck and hugged her tightly, something she hadn’t done since Peggy was little. Then she pulled away quickly and disappeared into the darkness on the path.
Peggy found herself singing some of the sea shanties Sir John had taught them back on the Terror. It helped take her mind off the biting cold as she made her way down the spiralling path. She told herself it was easier having only herself to worry about. But she kept finding herself turning to make a comment to Molly or Gavi, momentarily forgetting they were gone.
The sense of crushing aloneness grew more intense as she descended deeper into the cavern. She felt tears burning in her throat as the images of Mi, Gavi, Molly and Jackpine floated through her mind, and then, more dimly, of her mother, her brothers, her room at home – scenes from her other life, which now felt unbearably distant.
How long had she been walking? How far had she gone? She had no idea. She was only aware that the spiral path seemed to be growing smaller, and that the walls of the great Hole felt closer together. But where did it end? How far was the bottom of the funnel?
She became aware of a feeling of overwhelming dread, which seemed oddly familiar, as though it had been lurking inside her all along, underneath her other emotions.
Then she saw them.
It had been so long since she’d been able to see anything clearly in this godforsaken Hole – other than jagged walls and the narrow path – that she didn’t trust what she was seeing. But it certainly did look like a pair of glowing eyes peering at her out of the pitch-blackness.
They were eyes, but they weren’t looking at her. They didn’t even seem to see her, or anything else. They were blank, hollow-looking.
She called out. “Who’s there?”
No response. Not so much as a flicker of awareness of her presence.
She tried calling out again, introducing herself and explaining what she was doing there. Still no sound. She realized to her astonishment that there were many other pairs of eyes scattered all through this zone of the Hole. But all, without exception, exhibited the same blank stare. As she was able to make out more of the faces, she could see that all their mouths were frozen in an open position, but no sound came out.
She tried calling out again, but her voice caught in her throat.
These poor Souls were beyond ranting or crying out in pain. It was as though they were frozen in a state of terror. Now Peggy was gripped by a nameless dread for her own soul. She felt a desperate longing to flee the Hole, to go back to her old life, to wipe Notherland and everything that had happened there from her memory.
It was all over. Their grand effort to save Notherland had come to nothing. Now she, Gavi and Molly were all in the Hole at the Pole. The Nobodaddy had them exactly where he wanted them. They’d walked right into his trap, just like Jackpine before them.
She fell on the path and cried out.
“Let me out of here! I want to go back to my life! I want to go home!”
Exhausted, she collapsed against the walls of the cavern. They felt oddly yielding, as if they were made not of ice but of soft earth. She noticed that the terrain underneath her had the same earthy, yielding quality.
Then something strange happened. Deep in the Hole at the Pole, in the completely soundless zone of the Frozen Souls, she heard a voice, an ordinary-sounding human voice.
Peggy opened her eyes. She wasn’t in the Hole anymore. She wasn’t even in Notherland. She was sitting on a small grassy hill surrounded by trees. The sun was shining on a nearby pond, and a short distance away from her there were people walking, talking, feeding the ducks …
She was standing in the middle of Green Echo Park.
Chapter 11: Reluctant Hero
AT FIRST SHE THOUGHT she must be hallucinating. She was sure any second now the park, and everything in it, was going to disappear. But the trees stayed firmly rooted to the ground and the gentle breeze made ripples on the surface of the pond.
Is it possible? Have I come back? Just like that?
She was overcome with joy. But that quickly turned to unease. Something was not quite right …
It’s … warm!
She was in Green Echo Park all right. But there was water on the pond, not ice. The trees were in full leafy bloom. It had been a winter day when she’d left, and now it was summer. What was happening? Could she have been gone that long?
What is going on here?
She tried to calm her growing sense of anxiety. Everything would get back to normal soon, she told herself. She just had to find out what day it was, what time of year, to somehow place herself in reality, this reality.
Don’t freak out. Don’t attract attention. Just act normal.
She noticed a man standing nearby. She decided to ask him the time, then go and see if she could find a newspaper with the date. She went towards him, trying to act casual.
“Excuse me …”
He ignored her and threw a stick high in the air. His dog raced to fetch it, barking excitedly.
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you could tell me the time.”
The man still took no notice of her.
Weird, she thought. Maybe he was deaf. She tried placing herself right in his line of vision, but he seemed to look right through her, as if she weren’t there.
Finally the man turned and whistled to the dog, who bounded over to his side. They both brushed right past Peggy.
“Hello?” she said.
Now she was annoyed. He seemed to be pointedly ignoring her. She called after him even more insistently.
She ran over to the dog and bent down, looking right into the animal’s eyes.
“Hey there! Hey!”
Nothing. Not a flicker. A shudder went through her. The dog does not see me.
Something was horribly wrong. This world in which she found herself now looked like her world, but it wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Could it?
She thought of her flute. Was it still there on the mound? She felt desperate to find something the way she’d left it. If she found the flute still there, maybe things would start making sense again.
She raced towards the ring of trees. But as she approached it she stopped dead in her tracks.
A little girl was sitting on the ground. Peggy didn’t want to frighten her, so she held back, straining to see if there was anything that looked like her black flute case on the ground nearby. Then an eerie feeling crept over her again.
There was something familiar about this child.
What is she doing?
The girl was holding what looked like a doll in her lap. She appeared to be fidgeting with something on its head.
Oh my God ...
Now the little girl stood up, clutching the doll. Just as she was stepping out of the ring of trees, something fell to the ground. The girl didn’t notice it and ran off.
“Wait!” Peggy couldn’t help calling after her. “You dropped something!”
But the little girl didn’t seem to hear her. She kept on running, heading out of the park towards the houses on the other side of the street.
Peggy went over to the mound to see what the girl had dropped. Near the trunk of one of the trees was a tiny ball, like a marble. She picked it up and held it to the light.
It was a doll’s eye.
She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. It was like in a dream.
I’ve got to get out of this park. It’s making me crazy!
She raced towards the park gate. As she passed under the stone arch at the gate she thought she heard her name called.
She whirled around.
There was no one nearby. The park was nearly empty.
“Who said that? Who’s calling me?”
“You still don’t know?” the voice replied.
Peggy saw no one.
“Where are you?”
“Right in front of you.”
Just before her was the statue of the angel. She realized with a start that she recognized the angel’s face. Now she recognized the voice as well.
“Lady Jane? Is that you? You’ve got to help me! All these weird things are happening. What’s going on? Why can’t people see me?”
“They cannot see you,” the voice said quietly, “because you are not here.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are nowhere. You are suspended between universes.”
“But it is true.”
“You are not quite ready to leave Notherland, nor are you ready to return fully to your own world. You are here, but not here.”
“But none of that was real! There is no such place as Notherland. It’s just some place I made up when I was a kid! This is where I belong.”
“Little fool!” the voice now took on the hard-edged quality that Peggy remembered from earlier encounters with Lady Jane. “Have you learned nothing yet? Stop carrying on like a baby! Accept your responsibility for Notherland. What happens there affects countless other worlds and other lives, not just yours.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“When you created Notherland, you tapped into a well much deeper than you could possibly know. Gavi is right – there are many universes. Notherland is only a small part of a vast realm beyond time and space.”
“So? What does all that have to do with me?”
“You are the Creator.”
“I am so sick of hearing that!”
Now the voice softened a bit. “Yes, I know you are. But you can defeat the Nobodaddy, and you must.”
“That’s fine for you to say! Who are you, anyway? I can hear that your voice is like Lady Jane’s, but you’re not really her. You’re Sedna, the sea monster, aren’t you? You broke up the Everlasting Ice.”
“It is true that I assume many guises, but in all of them I am a Resolute Protector of Souls.”
Peggy felt her voice grow suddenly small.
“What did you call yourself?”
“I am an Eternal. I have always been and always will be. Did you not know that? Could you not feel my presence?”
Peggy shook her head.
“Well, here I am.”
“Fine, if you’re a protector, then why don’t you protect me? Why are you trying to make me go back to that place?”
“You still do not see, do you, what I have tried in so many different ways to show you. You have created a great and wonderful story! And the hero of that story is you.”
“What if I don’t want to be a hero!” Peggy cried.
“But you cannot give up now! You have just found the very thing you need to defeat the Nobodaddy.”
“I have?” said Peggy. “Where?”
“There, in your hand.”
She was still clutching the doll’s eye.
“What, this? It’s just an old doll’s eye. It was Molly’s. She lost it years ago. I just found it … over there.”
“Once a lost thing has been found,” the voice said, “it is transformed. It has new properties it did not have before. Molly’s eye has become an Aya, an all-seeing eye. Used properly, it can disable the Nobodaddy. Light that is swallowed up in his Hole cannot escape, but an Aya is different. It will retain its illuminating powers even in the darkness of the Hole. And the one thing the Nobodaddy cannot tolerate is being seen as he really is. If you shine the Aya on him, he will be overcome with terror. That should be enough to release the inward pull of the Hole long enough to let the Nordlings and the other Souls escape.”
“Oh, great. I go down into his Hole, where he’s all powerful, and this is all I’ve got to fight him with?”
Peggy’s sarcasm was lost on the Eternal, who continued speaking with utter seriousness.
“Yes. If you beam the Aya at him long enough, you might even be able to burn through his heart of ice, the true source of his power.”
“Look, you can give me all the good-luck charms you want. It’s not going to make any difference. I’ll never be able to stand up to him. I don’t have it in me.”
“No one is truly powerless in the face of evil. Not if we choose to fight it. The important thing is to be ruthless in the service of good.”
“Even if I could, what if I don’t want to? What if I just want to go back to the way things were before?”
“Then you are free to do so.”
“You mean that?”
“If that is your choice, you may return to your life as you knew it.”
“I’m sorry to let you down. But yes, I want to go home.”
Suddenly Peggy felt a sharp swish, like a paper fan whipping through air. Until now the statue had stood utterly immobile, but she watched in amazement as one of its wings, then the other, lifted up in a grand swooping movement. The two huge, magnificent wings slowly came back down and enveloped her within their folds.
For a moment she was too astonished to speak, or even move. Then she realized that the wings felt soft, and she began to lean forward, burrowing into them. The sensation of being cradled in the wings gave her a deep feeling of safety that seemed to reach right to her very core. She wished she could stay there forever, in that place she had so longed to be.
After a few moments, the wings began to move away from her, lifting upward and sweeping down again to the angel’s sides. Peggy looked up. The face was impassive again, a statue’s. She reached over and touched one of the wings. It was stone hard.
Suddenly she felt a rush of cold air. In front of her face she could see her own breath in swirls. There were shouts, laughter and a familiar swoosh.
She looked out on the pond. It was frozen solid.
Was she back? Was it possible? Was the nightmare really over?
Peggy burst out laughing with joy. Some people lacing up their skates by the pond looked over at her.
They can hear me!
Now she laughed even louder. She didn’t care if they thought she was crazy. And she remembered something.
Was it still there? She ran to the mound. There, lying on the ground at the base of one of the trees, was the black flute case. She picked it up and started waving it jubilantly in the air.
She felt as though she’d been snatched from the jaws of hell! Her life had been given back to her. Now she could pick up where she’d left off. And for starters, she was going to head straight back to Around Again with the flute!
She headed out of the park. It was growing dark. Though it had been mild during the day, the temperature was rapidly dropping. Just outside the gate she passed someone huddled in a sleeping bag on top of a sidewalk grate.
Peggy looked down. It looked like the Native guy she’d seen earlier, the one the kids had called Scary Gary. In her state of heightened joy and relief, she felt a deep pity for him. She reached into her pocket to fish for some change to throw into the cap he’d set out on the sidewalk in front of him.
She felt something smooth and round among the coins. It was the doll’s eye. Strange. How could she still have it, if everything had been put back to the way it was before? Peggy willed herself not to think about it.
Everything’s fine now. Everything’s back to the way it was.
The young man looked up at her as she dropped a couple of quarters into the cap. His skin had turned an ashen grey in the cold, and his lips were swollen and bluish. He mumbled a faint thank-you. For a moment Peggy met his gaze.
It was the face of Jackpine.
He began to curl back into the sleeping bag. On one of his hands Peggy could see a whitish area, the beginning of frostbite.
He might not make it through the night.
She knelt down next to him. “Do you know me?”
He looked away listlessly, as if he hadn’t heard. She reached out and took his face in her hands.
“Do you know me?” she asked again, looking right into his eyes. “Gary? Jackpine?”
For a moment she thought she saw a flicker of recognition cross his face. Then the light seemed to go out of his eyes altogether. Nobody home. Peggy knew instantly where she’d seen eyes with that terrifying emptiness: deep in the Hole, in the zone of the Frozen Souls.
She began to shake him by the shoulders.
“Talk to me! Say something!”
When she let go, his body slumped back into a heap. A cold fury surged through her.
“Don’t give up!” she shouted. “Don’t you dare give up on me!”
She left him and raced back through the darkened park, to the ring of trees. She stepped onto the mound and began shrieking at the top of her lungs.
“I changed my mind! I’m going back! Do you hear me? I changed my mind! I want to go back!”
Nothing happened. What to do? On impulse, she put the flute case down on the ground, in the same spot she’d found it a few minutes earlier. Maybe if she left things exactly as they were before, she’d be able to go back. The flute had been sitting there waiting for her just now. She’d just have to trust that it would still be waiting when she got back next time.
With a jolt she felt the earth give way beneath her. She closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was kneeling on the spiral ledge, in the very spot she had left a short time ago.
The air around her was bitingly cold. She knew she’d have to move fast and keep moving, just to stay alive.
She began to race down the path. After only a few steps it came to an abrupt halt. That was it. No more ledge. Now what was she supposed to do? There was no way to go any farther into the Hole.
No way, except …
Peggy took a deep breath, stepped off the ledge and plunged into the blackness below.
Chapter 12: The Bottom Below
“WHERE IS SHE?”
“Why doesn’t she come?”
“What good can she do anyway?”
“Pay-gee is the Creator!” Mi fought to make herself heard over the chorus of grumbles. “She is the one who can defeat the Nobodaddy! And she will come! I know she will! But in the meantime we have to keep singing.”
“What difference does it make whether we sing or not?”
“Because our voices are all we have left!” Mi countered firmly. “Wouldn’t you rather fight back than just give up? Sing!” she commanded. “Sing and don’t stop!”
Slowly a chorus of notes began to echo through the dark. The Nordlings’ voices were weak and dispirited, but at least she’d managed to get them singing again.
Mi was exhausted. She was beginning to wonder how much longer she could keep them going. Even as she put on a brave face for the rest of the Nordlings, inside she felt embattled. She was on the edge of being swamped by dark feelings, the same overwhelming sense of despair that had washed over her as she was wrenched away from the mast of the Terror.
But she had to fight those feelings. She couldn’t let the others see that she was plagued by the same doubts and questions they were: Where was Pay-gee? Why hadn’t she come yet?
Would she ever come?
Peggy felt herself falling, falling. There seemed to be no end to it. She was beginning to wonder if maybe there really was such a thing as a bottomless pit.
As she tumbled downward she began to hear faraway sounds, voices. She wondered if they were the cries of still more Souls trapped deep in the Hole. But as the voices grew louder and louder, she realized that they weren’t crying, they were singing.
She landed with a thud on a solid surface. She stood up quickly and was relieved to find she wasn’t hurt at all But the singing had ceased. What happened? Had she just imagined it?
A collective gasp seemed to come right out of the walls of the Hole.
“Light!” She heard voices whispering all around her.
Peggy looked down. The doll’s eye, the Aya, was emitting a beam of light in between the fingers of her clutched hand. The Eternal had been right about that much, at least.
Gradually, her eyes adjusted and she began to make out the tiny spirits. They were Nordlings. Some she could see, many more she could only hear, but they were numerous. They had been in complete darkness for so long they could only gaze at Peggy and the light of the Aya in utter amazement.
Excited cries went up.
“Mi was right!”
“We are saved!”
“Mi said she’d come!”
“Pay-gee, the Creator, has brought Light!”
Then they all gathered round her and started speaking at once.
“Hey, hey! One at a time, please!” Peggy asked.
“Let Re9 speak,” a voice called out. “He understands more than any of us.”
“Yes, Re9!” several others agreed as one of them stepped forward.
“We are overjoyed,” Re9 told Peggy. “When Mi came with the news that Pay-gee the Creator was on her way to rescue us, we were afraid to get our hopes up. But she promised us that you would come, and now here you are.”
“Mi! Where is she?”
A tiny voice spoke up eagerly. “Here I am.”
Mi bounded out of a cluster of Nordlings and rushed over to Peggy, throwing her arms around her.
“We were so worried about you!” cried Peggy, hugging her tightly.
“I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have gone up in the crow’s-nest by myself.” Mi pulled away and looked around. “Where are Gavi and Molly?” she asked anxiously. “Aren’t they with you?”
Peggy reassured her they were farther up in the Hole, that they were all right and she’d be seeing them soon.
Re9 broke in. “What is that, in your hand? How does it emit light down here?”
“No time to tell you now,” Peggy replied briskly. “But if I can just get close enough to shine it on the Nobodaddy, I think it might weaken him long enough to get you all out of here.”
“Yes!” said Re9 excitedly. “That would work. Now we just need to figure out a way to get it down into the Bottom Below.”
“Isn’t this the bottom?” Peggy asked.
“Oh, yes,” Re9 replied. “This is the bottom, but there is a Bottom Below the bottom.”
“Well, that makes about as much sense as anything else in this place,” Peggy said. She was starting to feel re-energized. She’d made it this far. She’d found Mi and the rest of the Nordlings. She was ready for anything the Nobodaddy could throw at her.
“How do I get down there?” she asked.
Re9 gasped. “You are not thinking of going down there yourself!”
“Sure. How else am I going to shine this thing on him?”
“But the Bottom Below is the source of the Hole’s inner pull, the seat of the Nobodaddy’s power. To go down there is to risk total obliteration. No one has ever dared enter the Bottom Below.”
“Well, guess it’s time somebody did,” Peggy replied. “Unless you’ve got some other bright idea for how I can get close to him.”
Re9 shook his head slowly. “I am afraid I do not …”
Suddenly they heard a kind of swishing noise, accompanied by waves of bitterly cold air.
“Shhh!” Re9 hissed. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “We must be very quiet so he does not suspect anything. There is an opening …”
“Where?” Peggy whispered back. “How do I find it in the dark?”
“Just follow the trail of the cold.”
As he spoke, another blast of cold air began to circulate through the cavern. It seemed to go deep into Peggy’s bones.
“There is one thing that worries me …” Re9 said hesitantly.
“If you are successful and the pull of the Hole starts to lessen, the Hole itself may start to contract. The opening at the top might begin to seal off.”
“How do you know that?”
“I have had a long time to study the physics of the Hole,” replied Re9. “According to my theories …”
“That’s okay, I’ll take your word for it.” Peggy smiled to herself. No wonder Gavi called Re9 his star pupil. “I’ll just have to work really fast. As soon as you feel the pull start to let up, even a little bit, you’ve got to go scrambling up the Hole as fast as you can. All of you. And tell the others farther up!”
“We will,” he said firmly. “But what about you?”
“Wish me luck,” she said as she slipped off into the darkness.
The thrill of finding the Nordlings had encouraged her for a time. But now, as she set off alone, Peggy felt a terror in the pit of her stomach.
She tried to make out where the opening was. She knew she didn’t dare use the Aya to find it. As she moved through the cavern it became clear to her what Re9 meant by the “trail of the cold.” She crept stealthily in what she hoped was the right direction, while the great swirls of frigid air around her grew more and more biting. Finally she reached down and her nearly numb fingers curled around the edge of some kind of crevice in the cavern floor.
She’d found the opening.
She had to move quickly. The crevice seemed so narrow she wondered how she could get through. She leaned forward a bit more and found herself being pulled downward as she tumbled through the opening head first.
The surface she landed on was oddly soft and yielding, with a rippled texture that seemed to quiver and vibrate, almost like living tissue. It made a strange, unsettling contrast with the stone-cold hardness of the rest of the Hole. The quality of the cold was different here, too – a clammy dampness that threatened to send her into uncontrollable shivers.
So this was the core of the Hole at the Pole, the source of its implacable inner pull. No creature, other than the Nobodaddy himself, had ever come down this far before. She held her breath a moment. Had he sensed her presence yet? she wondered. What would he do? How would he react?
Work fast, she reminded herself. She reached into her pocket and felt around for the Aya. Odd. She’d put it right there. She rummaged around, jamming her fingers into every corner.
Please God, make it be in here somewhere!
All she could find was the little bone flute.
The Aya was gone! It must have fallen out when she tumbled down into the Bottom Below.
What’s the matter with you? she berated herself. How could you be so stupid? Can’t you do anything right?
She began to look for it on the ground. She figured that she ought to be able to make out at least a tiny beam of its light. She prayed the Nobodaddy wouldn’t notice it first.
Desperately she scanned the darkness, until finally she thought she could make out a faint pinpoint of light a short distance away. Oddly, it wasn’t low down, but more near her own eye-level. Maybe the Aya had fallen onto some kind of ledge that she couldn’t make out in the darkness.
She moved towards the source of the light and reached out, and she felt a surge of relief when her hand made contact with something hard. But as she ran a finger along the surface of the object, she realized that it was larger, rougher than the Aya.
Suddenly a harsh, rasping laugh rose up in the cavern and echoed inside her head.
Peggy quickly pulled back her hand. It wasn’t the Aya she had touched, it was ice – the ice of the Nobodaddy’s frozen heart.
Now she’d given herself away. The advantage of surprise – the only one she’d had – was gone. The echoing laughter rose up again, accompanied by a cascade of harsh, spiteful words that sounded as though they were right inside her head.
“Some Creator! You’re pathetic! You’re nothing! You’re worse than nothing!”
She remembered what Jackpine had said about the Nobodaddy – that being in his presence was like being invaded, that you heard his voice as if it were your own. Was
this was what he was talking about? Were those her thoughts or the Nobodaddy’s?
“You’re nothing! Nothing! NOTHING!”
Now the words were all garbled together, a terrifying roar inside her. For a moment the only thing she could think of was getting away, out of range of the horrible voice. She wanted to race back and find the opening, to claw her way out of the Bottom Below. But she couldn’t give up. She’d fight the voice by sheer force of will. She had to find the Aya!
Don’t listen! she told herself.
She thought she could make out a tiny glint of light, just below where she had reached out. It could be his icy heart catching the reflection of the Aya, she reasoned. Maybe the Aya was hidden somewhere in the soft, rippled ground near where she was standing.
Her eyes scanned the darkness. It had to be just below her somewhere! But she still couldn’t see it. She decided she’d have to go down on her hands and knees and grope around until she found it.
She knelt down on the soft, yielding surface of the Bottom Below and stretched out her hands as far as she could reach. A swirl of cold air hovered over her for a moment, then began to envelop her like a cold, clammy mouth. The sensation was repulsive.
She forced herself to keep looking for the Aya. But she began to feel a profound exhaustion wash over her. She tried to shrug it off but it grew stronger. It felt as though her spirit, the very thing that gave her the will to keep going, was slipping away.
The Nobodaddy was sucking the life right out of her.
She felt herself growing weak and listless as her hands scrambled frantically. She was desperate to find the Aya before all energy was drained out of her.
Then the harsh laugh began again, along with the volley of words, now so loud they felt like a continual pounding inside her head.
“YOU ARE NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING …”
It was too much. Why had she come here? Why had she been foolish enough to believe that she could stand up to something so powerful?
“Give up. It’s useless to keep fighting. Just give up.”
Maybe this is what dying is like, she thought. Or something even worse than dying. Death-in-life. She collapsed to the ground.
Something momentarily jolted her – a sensation of something small and hard, right under her left hip. Was it the Aya? A pebble? A chunk of ice? She had no idea. By an enormous effort of will she shoved her hand underneath her hip and grasped the object. Then, using all the strength she had left, she flipped onto her back and held it out above her.
The Nobodaddy screeched in agony as a blast of light hit him full in the face.
He sprang backwards, out of the range of the Aya’s beam, shrieking with rage.
She sought out his position in the darkness, shining the Aya in the direction of the roaring voice. But every time the light caught him, he managed to jump out of its range.
He began to recover his forces and laughed his cruel, taunting laugh again.
Peggy realized with a growing sense of panic that there was no way she could hold the light on him long enough to get a clear picture of what he looked like. All she could make out were snatches – an arm, a tuft of hair, a flash of eye. And if she couldn’t keep him in the Aya’s beam long enough, what good was it? Without a steady, strong source of light, how was she supposed to weaken him?
The laughter roared around her, ricocheting off the walls of the cavern. Then a terrible thought occurred to her.
How long would the light of the Aya last?
What was she supposed to do now? Things were at a standoff. The Eternal had promised her the Aya would do the job. Why hadn’t she warned Peggy about this?
She decided she had to do something else to try and keep him off balance. But what? The only other thing she had with her was the bone flute.
She remembered what Gavi had said when they had first set out on their journey: “He does not hear it as music at all, the way we do, but as a horrible, grating noise.”
She’d dismissed it as more of his empty theorizing. But what if he was right? Could this primitive little flute be a weapon she could use against the Nobodaddy?
At this point, anything was worth a try. She reached into her pocket and pulled it out. She lifted it to her mouth with one hand, still aiming the Aya with the other. She covered the holes with her fingers and blew, holding the note long and steady.
She uncovered one of the holes and blew again.
Then she lifted her finger from the other hole and blew.
As the notes resounded through the Bottom Below, a terrible screeching rose up. At first Peggy had no idea what it was. She kept on playing, worried that the flute’s notes might not cut through the volley of sounds.
Do … Re ... Mi …
The more she blew, the more intense the screeching became. Finally, she realized it was the Nobodaddy himself making the sound. He was wailing and groaning, like someone crying out in intolerable pain.
It was so terrible listening to his agonizing moans that for a moment she was tempted to stop playing. But she recalled Jackpine’s words: “You can’t hesitate … You have to go after him ... Maybe hatred is something you could use a bit more of ...”
She blew into the bone flute with renewed intensity. The screeching turned almost plaintive, like a child’s piercing wail. Was it working? Was the Nobodaddy growing weaker the longer she played? She didn’t dare stop, even for a second. How long could she keep it up? Would the Aya hold out? If only she had more light!
She thought she could hear another faint, faraway sound – not the bone flute, not the Nobodaddy’s screeching, but something else. Whatever it was, it was growing louder, and now she could tell it was coming from above her.
A sudden blast of light hit her in the face. She looked up to see the Nordlings flooding into the Bottom Below, one after another. Peggy shone the Aya on each one as it entered the cavern, which seemed to have the effect of intensifying their light, making each one even brighter.
Soon the Bottom Below was flooded with light. Peggy could scarcely believe what she was seeing. Then more words of Gavi’s popped into her head: “Light increases light. That is one of the basic laws of Notherland.”
She swore she’d never doubt him again!
Still singing, the Nordlings boldly formed a circle around the Nobodaddy. As Peggy flashed the Aya around the cavern, it began to produce an almost kaleidoscopic effect. As each one of the Nordlings grew brighter, it was as if the RoryBory itself had been brought right into the bowels of the Hole at the Pole.
For the first time, Peggy managed to get a glimpse of the Nobodaddy’s face: it bore an expression of pure terror. The Nobodaddy was paralyzed, overwhelmed by the light.
She aimed the Aya right into the centre of his heart of ice, and the intense beam began to burn a hole right through it. He let out a piercing howl, and for a moment she turned the beam away. Her momentary hesitation allowed him to snap him out of his paralysis. He began taunting her again.
Now she recalled the Eternal’s words: “The important thing is to be ruthless in the service of good.”
She lunged forward and stabbed the Nobodaddy in the heart with the jagged end of the bone flute. And the heart began to shatter, tossing shards of ice everywhere as a hissing sound rose up from it. She lunged at him again and again with a seething fury that grew more frenzied with each thrust of the jagged bone. So this was what hatred felt like – a coldness, a hardness gripping her own heart, almost as though it were turning to ice, like the Nobodaddy’s.
Finally she felt a hand on her arm. It was Mi.
“Look!” some of the other Nordlings shouted.
They all stood and watched in amazement. The Nobodaddy was finally fully visible. It was a strange sight, and Peggy finally understood why she hadn’t been able to make out any of his features with the Aya. For he seemed to have no single form. His shape was constantly changing. Sometimes he had an ugly, even monstrous, aspect; then he would take on the appearance of an ordinary human – sometimes male, sometimes female. Peggy realized that as they looked on, the Nobodaddy was taking on the form of every loved one he had assumed in his lifetime as a soul-stealer.
It was then that Peggy realized that the hissing sounds were no longer coming just from the disintegration of his icy heart. Before their eyes, the Nobodaddy was shrinking, losing form, collapsing into himself. The hissing was the release of all the energy that had been trapped inside him. Peggy and the Nordlings watched, aghast, as the once-powerful entity grew smaller and smaller, compressing into a ball, until it was no more than a tiny, nearly invisible, speck of matter.
The Nobodaddy was returning to his original essential form: Nobody.
Just at the point where his features began to dissipate into utter formlessness, the Nobodaddy released one final, horrifying, vengeful roar that shot up from the Bottom Below and echoed through the great cavern of the Hole at the Pole.
Gavi had managed to get the Mads to stop yelling at one another long enough to hear the great roar.
“What was that?” they asked each other. They all turned to Gavi.
“I am not sure …” he said slowly. “If it is what I hope it is …”
Lower down in the Hole, the Sads, at Molly’s insistence, were all huddled together, both for warmth and to help bolster their spirits. Some were whimpering softly. A few had stopped crying altogether when the great roar resounded.
They were frightened but curious, and they showered Molly with questions.
“What was that noise?”
“Why did it stop?”
“Is it a bad sign?”
Molly’s voice came back firm and confident in the darkness.
“Of course not, it’s a good sign! It means we’ll be getting out of here any minute now!”
Even farther down, none of the Frozen Souls reacted to the great roar, except for one, a young man. At first, as the fierce noise resounded through the Hole, his eyes, like the others, registered nothing. But something, perhaps snippets of images that felt like memories – a tree, a young woman, a bird, a ship – stirred his consciousness. As he began to blink his eyes, the sound finally registered in his brain.
His tears began to flow, and for the first time ever, a cry rose up in that part of the Hole, so searing and heartfelt that it even managed to rouse the other Frozen Souls out of their barely alive state.
The reverberations of the great roar finally died away. For a moment there was an eerie stillness in the Bottom Below. Then, like an elastic band pulled taut until it finally snaps, the walls of the Hole began to vibrate and shoot inward.
The Nordlings screamed, terrified that they would all be crushed to death. But just before the walls around them collapsed, Peggy and the sprites, suddenly released from the Hole’s downward pull, felt as though they were being propelled upwards. They were pulled through the opening of the Bottom Below and up into the main part of the Hole. As they careened through each zone, they were joined by the other prisoners – the Frozen Souls, the Sads and the Mads – till they were all shooting upwards in a great mass. Behind them, the walls of the Hole continued to collapse and snap together, pulling the Hole into itself, making it narrower, shallower.
Peggy kept looking up anxiously. Could the opening of the Hole have already sealed shut? If so, they would all be crushed when they reached the top. She thought she could make out the opening above her, with a spot of blue sky showing through. But she could see that, as the crowd of Souls drew nearer the top, the opening was growing smaller and smaller.
The top of the Hole was closing, just as Re9 had speculated it would. She could only pray they would all get out in time.
First out of the opening were the Nordlings, the lightest and fastest, even though they’d had the farthest to go. They shot through the rim in a cluster, and as they landed on the perimeter of the Hole, they began to dance and shout with wild abandon. The rest of the Souls came spilling out in a great mass, whooping Mads mixed in with laughing Sads, trailed by the still-stunned but awake and aware Frozen Souls.
The last out were Molly, Gavi and, finally, Peggy. The three of them fell upon one another, laughing and hugging. Molly and Gavi started to ask Peggy how she’d managed to overpower the Nobodaddy, but she pulled away, her eyes frantically scanning the crowd.
“Where’s Jackpine? Do you see him anywhere?”
Molly looked. “He must be around here somewhere.”
“Then why can’t I see him?” Where is he? Maybe I was too late!”
“Too late for what?”
Peggy didn’t answer but called out into the crowd.
“Jackpine? Anyone know him or where he is? Jackpine!”
Most of the Frozen Souls had been huddling off to one side. After being trapped so long in the Hole, they were frightened by the expanse of open space around them, and their eyes weren’t used to the brightness of the sun. Out of their midst a young man emerged. He looked weak and walked slowly, but he had a mischievous grin on his face.
““Who’s looking for him?”
Peggy let out a gasp. “There you are!”
They ran towards one another, and Peggy impulsively threw her arms around him.
“I’m so glad you’re okay!”
He lifted her up and swung her around joyfully for a moment. Their faces touched and their lips nearly brushed against each other’s. As he put her back on her feet they both looked down, slightly embarrassed, and out of breath.
“We did it,” Peggy said.
“You did it,” he corrected her. “I gave him a pretty hard time, but you’re the one who got us all out of there.”
She looked into his grinning eyes, relieved to see that the light had come back into them. A shudder ran through her as she thought back to the sight of Gary – his stricken expression, his ashen-grey face, his frostbitten fingers. Jackpine had no idea just how close to death he’d come in the world on the other side of Painted Rock.
He looked at her and seemed to be on the verge of saying something more. But they were distracted by a loud rumbling behind them. Everyone turned and watched as the uppermost walls of the Hole at the Pole finally collapsed in on one another. It vanished, leaving no trace except a kind of circular scar on the hard black ice where the rim had been.
There was an eerie silence as the Souls took in the enormity of what had just taken place. Then a huge, prolonged cheer rose up.
The nightmare was over. The Hole was gone.
Chapter 13: The Shining World
AS SIR JOHN HAD PROMISED, the ship was “at the ready.” Now the old captain watched with growing excitement as the great mass of Souls, led by Peggy, made their way across the ice shelf to the Terror.
“Well done!” Sir John effused, as they streamed onto the ship. As Peggy, Jackpine, Molly and Gavi boarded, he beamed and saluted each of them in turn.
“This was among the most dangerous missions I have ever commanded. If we were heading back to England – which we are not, a fact with which I am now fully at peace – I have no doubt that Her Majesty would be decorating you all with medals of the highest order! Very well done!”
When the last of the Souls had finally boarded, Sir John gave Molly the order to pull up anchor. The Terror began to inch forward out into the open water, its sails billowing in the wind.
“Excellent,” he said to his newly augmented crew. “The winds are favorable. Let us be on our way.”
But the Souls just stood in clusters, staring back at him.
“Well? What is it?”
“Where are we going, sir?” ventured one.
“We want to go back to the lives we had before,” said another. “Will this ship take us there?”
Sir John was flustered.
“I … I’m not entirely sure …”
Peggy bounded up onto the foredeck.
“We’re heading south to a spot called Painted Rock. There’s a very thin border there between Notherland and the other world. That’s how you’re all going to get home.”
“Are you sure?” someone called out. “Has anyone ever crossed that barrier?”
“I have!” she replied with conviction. But she could see some of them were skeptical. Before they could ask any more questions, she heard Molly’s voice.
Huge, jagged columns and boulders of ice were slowly moving through the Great Polar Sea, right in their direction.
The icebergs. Of course. They should have been ready for them!
“Molly! Take the helm!” Sir John called out, gearing up for another round of frantic maneuvering. But when Peggy looked out over the Terror’s bow, she was astonished to see that none of the huge ice-forms was in the ship’s path. They had completely moved out of the way, forming a long line on either side of the ship.
The icebergs, it appeared, were letting the Terror sail through unharmed, as if offering a kind of silent homage.
The ship continued on, flanked by the icebergs, until it was evening. Awaiting them at the end of the formation was an even more wonderful sight – the Great Skyway.
All the Nordlings burst into joyous song at the sight, which none of them, save Mi, had laid eyes on for a long time. One by one they eagerly bounded up the slide and sought out their familiar places on the RoryBory. When they were all in place, the RoryBory became a spectacle of light, the intensity of which had rarely been seen before.
“It looks like a stairway to a shining world,” said one of the awestruck Souls watching from the deck of the Terror.
All through the next day, the Terror made its way through the Great Polar Sea, laboring mightily under the weight of its human cargo. Gavi, Peggy and Molly were concerned about Sir John’s reaction to this unaccustomed activity, but he patrolled the ship beaming with pleasure.
“It does my heart enormous good,” he told them, “to see the Terror once again put to good service.”
As they sailed, Gavi eagerly delivered explanations for the events they’d witnessed and expounded on other matters of philosophy. Most of the Souls didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but they listened with rapt attention. How brilliant he was! Molly and Peggy smiled at each other; Gavi had found a fresh audience for his theories.
There was a great deal of merrymaking above and below deck – singing and dancing to tunes played on homemade instruments, which seemed to appear out of nowhere. At times things got a bit rowdy, especially among the Mads. Some of them fell back into their old combative ways, and it took stern words from Gavi and the captain to bring them into line. Even worse were a few of the Sads, who began to wonder out loud if they would ever get back home.
“Have we been freed only to wander aimlessly on this enormous sea?” they asked.
Molly gave them a stirring pep talk.
“Listen to yourselves! You sound as if you were still down in the Hole!”
Secretly, Peggy worried – what if the Sads were right? Could she get them all back to the other world? She’d failed once before. What would be different now?
And there were other, more immediate problems to deal with – namely, what to do about the Frozen Souls? Most of them were very young children, and their adjustment to life outside the Hole was proving more difficult than anyone had anticipated. They tended to huddle in small groups in the darkest areas of the ship’s hold, afraid to believe their ordeal was really over. Molly and the others tried to coax them to come up on deck, to dance and sing, or just listen and be part of things. But they held back.
“What are we going to do?” Peggy asked the others. “It’s like they won’t let anyone get near them.”
“They’ve got their reasons,” Jackpine volunteered. “Leave them alone. They’ll come out when they’re ready.”
Later that evening, the Nordlings were playing and scurrying around the deck, trying to avoid their bedtime ride into the night sky. The Great Skyway hung suspended, reaching right down to the deck of the Terror. Some of the bigger Nordlings would pretend to start up the Skyway, only to slide back down again, giggling. Because of all they’d been through, Gavi and Molly just smiled at their hijinks. Soon all the Nordlings had joined in the silliness, starting up the Skyway and sliding down again, most of them laughing uproariously.
Finally, Molly put her foot down.
“That’s it. Playtime’s over.”
“Awwwww,” they chorused, but they were soon distracted by Mi, pointing in the direction of the stairway to the hold. A few of the rescued Frozen Souls had poked their heads through the opening, and were watching the goings-on intently.
“Would you like to play with us?” Mi asked.
Molly began to object, but Peggy stepped forward and gestured to Molly to leave them be.
The little Souls looked at one another silently for what seemed like a long few moments, until at last one of them nodded.
“Come on,” said Mi, holding out her hand.
They crept out from the stairway and walked over to the Great Skyway, eyeing it warily. Then they clambered on and started upward, imitating the Nordlings. One of them, a tiny, wide-eyed boy, finally stopped, turned around and slid down the Skyway, laughing all the way. The others followed his lead, and giggled softly as they tumbled downward.
Drawn by the sound of their laughter, the other Frozen Souls began to stream up from below deck. They, too, began to scamper up the great slide and tumble down, whooping and laughing. The Nordlings, perched at various points on the Skyway, watched the whole drama with keen interest. Then they all joined the throng of little Souls sliding down the Skyway.
Molly groaned. “How are we ever going to get them to go back up?”
The next morning they reached the Everlasting Ice. Sir John and Molly steered up and down along the edge of the ice shelf several times, hoping to find some pathway through it. But there was no trace left of the Warm Line, nor any other broken-up patches. As far as they could see, there was nothing but a vast expanse of solid, unbroken ice.
“I believe it will be necessary to moor the Terror here and continue on foot,” observed Sir John briskly. But Peggy could see they’d come to a point in the journey that Sir John had privately been dreading. The prospect of leaving behind his ship – his long-time home, his last link with his beloved Jane – filled the old seaman with an overwhelming sadness.
Peggy watched Sir John with unease. Even if they did manage to get back to the other world, what would become of him once they were gone? Gavi, Molly and the Nordlings would all stay behind, too, of course. But Sir John needed a focus, a sense of purpose. Where would it come from now that their mission was complete?
“Look!” one of the Nordlings suddenly called out, pointing out on the ice. “What’s that out there?”
Everyone on deck turned to see an astonishing sight.
Out on the Everlasting Ice sat Lady Jane Franklin. She was seated on a chair, beside which was a small table and another chair. The table was set with a full tea service, and Lady Jane was serenely pouring tea from a fine china pot.
No one uttered a word as Sir John walked slowly over to the edge of the deck and looked out over the ice. After a moment, Peggy and Jackpine went over and gently helped the old man climb down. They watched as Sir John walked slowly and gingerly, so as not to trip on the slippery surface.
When he reached the table, Lady Jane looked up at him and smiled warmly. She nodded to her husband to sit down, and leaned across the table to pour tea into his waiting cup. For a long time, the two of them sat drinking tea and conversing, their voices carrying in a low murmur across the expanse of ice to the ship.
Night began to fall. When the Great Skyway made its appearance and touched down to the edge of the deck, the Franklins stood up. Sir John leaned over to pick up a small object from the table, then took his wife’s hand as they slowly walked back to the Terror.
The Nordlings were uncharacteristically quiet and solemn as they gathered at the base of the Skyway, readying themselves at last for the trip upward. As the old couple approached the ship, Lady Jane raised her hand, gesturing to them to hold off their departure. The two of them stood near the Skyway, and Sir John turned to Lady Jane with a look of rapturous happiness. Then, unexpectedly, he broke the silence, calling out Molly’s name.
The doll bounded quickly over the side of the ship and went hurriedly to the old man. He smiled and saluted her.
“Ensign Molly,” said Sir John, “in the name of Her Royal Majesty, I hereby promote you to the rank of captain. You shall now take command of this vessel.”
Speechless, Molly could only salute back. The old captain leaned forward and gave her a great bear-hug. Then he held out the object he had picked up off the table and handed it to her.
“So that you will remember me. So that the world will remember Franklin.”
He turned to Peggy, Jackpine, Gavi and the great gathered mass of Souls on the ship and raised his arm in a long, heartfelt salute.
Lady Franklin gestured graciously to the Nordlings to start up the Great Skyway. She took Sir John’s hand, and the two of them also began to ascend, surrounded by the shining beams of the Nordlings’ light. Even before they had assumed their places in the RoryBory, a great chorus swelled to fill the night sky.
Peggy watched the old couple grow smaller and smaller as they made their way upward. She knew that in the morning the Nordlings would, as usual, make their way back down to earth, but that this was the last they would see of Lord and Lady Franklin.
They had gone up to the Shining World.
“Look.” Molly was holding out the object Sir John had given her.
Peggy stared at it, amazed. It was a silver teaspoon – the same one she’d found in the park, the one from the picture in Our Wondrous North.
“I found that spoon in the park!” she told Molly. “But that was before I came here. So how come you …?” But her voice trailed off as the memory of the Eternal’s words came back to her: “You tapped into a well much deeper than you could possibly know. There are many universes.”
What to do about the Terror?
Peggy slept fitfully during that night, wrestling with the question. In the morning she felt no closer to a solution. But it soon became clear that Molly had been doing some thinking of her own.
“The Terror is my responsibility now,” she informed Peggy. “What kind of captain would I be if I abandoned her?”
Peggy looked at her quizzically.
“What are you saying? That you’re not going on with us? That you’re staying behind?”
“No,” Molly was quick to reply. She wanted to finish the journey with the others. But once they arrived at Painted Rock and passed through into the other world, she would return to the Terror with her crew and take up her new mission – to patrol the Great Polar Sea and.safeguard Notherland from evil entities.
“Wait a minute.” Peggy stopped her. “Crew? What crew?”
Molly, it turned out, had spent much of the night seeking out recruits from the ranks of the Souls. There were quite a few who, on reflection, decided they didn’t want to even attempt to return to the other world, who felt their lives and futures were here in Notherland. Captain Molly had given them a sense of purpose, a reason to remain, and so they’d readily agreed to serve under her on the crew of the Terror.
“I’ll whip them all into shape in no time,” she said firmly. “There won’t be any lollygagging on my ship!”
Once she’d had a chance to get used to the idea, Peggy had to admit that it made some sense. But she had one big concern.
“What about Gavi? What does he say about all this?”
“I haven’t told him yet,” Molly admitted.
“It’s a little hard to picture Gavi living out his days on a ship,” Peggy said. She could see that the same thing weighed on Molly’s mind, too. “Let’s not say anything to him just yet.”
“Okay,” Molly agreed. “But won’t he figure something’s up when …?”
Molly swallowed hard.
“When we … rename the ship.”
Now Peggy was really taken aback.
“Rename the ship? Why would you want to do that?”
“I know you don’t just go changing a name for no good reason,” Molly replied hastily. “And I wouldn’t dream of insulting Sir John’s memory. But he made it clear that I was to take command. It’s my ship now. And I think … the name Terror is too much of a reminder of what this ship has been through, what we have all been through. I want to start fresh.”
Peggy listened to Molly’s passionate argument. Clearly the doll was abrim with energy and fresh resolve. And it was true that the name Terror didn’t seem terribly appropriate anymore. Now that Sir John had himself passed on into Eternity, maybe it was time to let go of the past. Maybe it would help them all step back into life.
“Okay. But what will you call it?” Peggy asked.
“Naming things is your job,” Molly replied. “You’re the Creator, remember?”
As they prepared to leave the ship, Molly called everyone together. One of the Souls retrieved an old bottle made of thick, heavy glass from the galley below. Peggy filled it with water from the Great Polar Sea and held it out to Molly. But the doll shook her head.
“Have you chosen a name?”
“Then you do the honors,” said Molly.
They all stood facing the great ship.
“I hereby rechristen this vessel Her Majesty’s ship … Resolute.”
She smashed the bottle against the side, and it shattered into tiny glistening shards, which showered onto the ice below.
Now they had to make their way across the Everlasting Ice on foot. But as soon as they began to work up a brisk pace, they found themselves slip-sliding on the slippery surface. Molly called to Peggy and Jackpine.
“Come on. Let’s show them how to do it!”
She grabbed each of them by the hand, and the three of them broke into a sprint, which sent them into a long skid across the ice. Others followed suit, and soon the air was filled with laughter as more and more Souls began racing across the ice in long, sliding strides.
Soon Molly broke away to join some of them in a game of crack-the-whip. Peggy extended her arm and felt ripples of excitement when Jackpine took her hand in his. They moved side by side in silence.
Some Souls picked up the gliding movement easily, but Peggy looked back and noticed that a few were having difficulty. She reluctantly dropped Jackpine’s hand to see if they needed help. They were grumbling that it was too hard to cross the ice, that Peggy was making them do it. Peggy was taken aback. It drove home to her the uncomfortable fact that, though she was surrounded by all these Souls, she was really alone. The Eternal had told her that being the hero would be hard; what she hadn’t told Peggy was that it would, at times, be crushingly lonely as well.
She was seized with an intense longing to just be herself again. She was weary of all this responsibility, of carrying all the weight on her shoulders. She didn’t care about being the Creator. She was tired of being a hero. She wanted her life back – she wanted to see her mom, her friends at school, even her annoying brothers. She ached to go home.
She remembered how she’d felt that night before her journey into the Hole, and how she’d cried out her sadness on the bone flute. She felt for it in her pocket; it was still there. And for the first time since that strange, brief trip back to Green Echo Park, she thought of her other flute, the one she’d been so eager to get rid of. Was it still where she’d left it, waiting for her?
When Molly spied the shimmering waters of Lake Notherland in the distance, she let out a whoop of joy and dashed ahead. Gavi, however, was distant, subdued. He lumbered to the shore, slid his black-and-white body onto the surface of the water and swam out into the middle of the lake, seemingly lost in thought.
For Peggy, the sight of Painted Rock as they rounded the shore of the lake stirred up a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. This was the moment of truth. She’d saved them all. Now, would she be able to get them all back home?
As they approached the rock, Peggy looked back at the Souls following behind her. They were all waiting for her to say or do something. She hoisted herself up onto a nearby rock and began, awkwardly, to speak, gazing at her friends.
“I guess this is goodbye. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of coming to Notherland in the beginning. But now I’m glad. Because I might not have gotten to know any of you.” She was afraid to look in J ackpine’s direction as she said this. “We’re about to go our separate ways now. But I hope none of you forget who you are and what we’ve been through together. You’ve been down to the bottom of the Hole at the Pole and come back out again. I hope that, if any of us manage to meet up in the other world, we’ll somehow just know one another. Now – let’s all go home.”
She jumped down, stood squarely in front of Painted Rock and concentrated. In her mind’s eye she tried to picture the surface of the rock growing transparent, so that she could make out the landscape of the park on the other side. But when she opened her eyes nothing had happened. She closed her eyes and tried again.
Panic rose as she opened her eyes and realized there had still been no change. After all she’d done, all they’d been through, was this how it was going to end?
Make it work this time, please!
She tried again.
Peggy turned to them all, defeated.
“I’m sorry. It’s not working. I don’t know what else to do.”
There were angry shouts from some of the Mads.
“I knew it! I knew we’d never get out of here!”
“We should never have trusted her!”
Then another voice pierced through the angry shouting.
Peggy turned. It was Jackpine.
“Good thing she didn’t rely on the likes of you, or you’d all still be down in the Hole!” he chided them. “Now shut up and give it a chance.”
Jackpine walked over and stood up close to Painted Rock.
“What are these?” he asked, pointing to the red markings on the rock.
“I don’t know,” Peggy replied. “They’ve always been there.”
He stood pensively, running his fingers over the markings.
“What is it, Jackpine?” Peggy asked.
“I can’t explain it, but these markings look familiar somehow. Like I’ve seen them before.”
He traced one dark red line with his index finger.
“Right, of course. See? This is a drawing of a tree. And over here. That looks like a canoe with two people in it. This one is strange. It looks almost like an eye.”
“An eye?” Peggy said.
Jackpine was right. Though some of the outline of the drawing had faded with time, it clearly depicted a single disembodied eye. The dark-red markings on Painted Rock had always looked to Peggy like smudges, discolorations in the rock. But as Jackpine carefully traced their outlines, she saw for the first time that they were patterns, pictures …
Now Mi piped up.
“That one looks just like Gavi,” she said in her tiny voice.
“This one?” said Jackpine. “You’re right. It looks just like a loon.”
Peggy was struck by a thought.
“Wait a minute! One of them looks like a loon and one looks like an eye? Maybe …”
Jackpine seemed to know immediately what she was thinking. “Maybe they all mean something? Like the tree! Don’t you see? That’s me!”
“And the loon is Gavi,” cried Peggy, “and look! These two people – one is taller than the other. That could be me and Molly. And the two people in the canoe? That’s Sir John and Lady Jane! Yes! See? It’s all of us! I can’t believe I didn’t see it before!”
“But that was not possible!” Gavi broke in excitedly. “Do you not see? Our whole adventure was foretold right here on Painted Rock, before it ever began! But you could not understand the story until you had lived it!”
“These here look like tiny birds,” Jackpine pointed out. “They could be the Nordlings. And this looks like a snake. That’s got to be the Nobodaddy!”
“Or it could be the sea monster that attacked the ship!” Molly added.
It could even be the Resolute Protector of Notherland, Peggy thought to herself.
They were all startled by the sound of a great crack! They watched in amazement as a deep fissure appeared in Painted Rock. It widened until it had almost the appearance of a pathway, beckoning to them.
Peggy turned to Gavi.
“What’s going on?”
“My best guess,” he replied, “is that this is no longer just a pathway into your park. There are so many Souls preparing to cross over, heading for so many far-flung places throughout your world, that something more is needed.”
“Do you think it’s safe for them to start passing through?”
“We have come this far, I cannot believe we will be thwarted in our mission now.”
Peggy sighed with relief. In letting the drawings speak to him, Jackpine had found the way to their freedom. The responsibility for Notherland was no longer solely hers; it wasn’t all up to her anymore.
She signaled to the Souls nearest the rock to begin their journey. A small group started through the huge fissure until, at what seemed like a point deep inside the rock, they simply vanished. The rest followed in twos and threes.
Peggy turned to Molly, but the doll was talking to Gavi. She was telling him breathlessly of her plans for the Resolute and her fears about his reaction.
Gavi stopped her. He seemed not in the least perturbed, or even surprised.
“Of course you will want to stay with your ship. I would not have expected anything else. But I have something to tell you, too.”
The loon looked intently at her, then at Peggy.
“Well? What is it?”
“I am not going to stay on the Resolute with you.”
“Oh? Where will you go?”
“That is … I am not going to stay in Notherland.”
“What are you talking about?” Molly demanded.
“I am going to try and pass through into the other world.
“Gavi, no!” Peggy said. “You’ve never tried to cross over. You have no idea what will happen to you!”
“But now that so many appear to be crossing over without difficulty, there is no reason why I should not attempt it, too,” Gavi replied calmly.
“But …!” Molly sputtered. “You’re not from that world! You belong in Notherland!”
“I know, I know. Everything you are saying I have told myself. I have thought it all through. The truth is, I am tired of thinking. I am tired of having to figure everything out. I want to experience life as a flesh-and-blood loon does! I want to bond with a mate. I want to father a loon chick. I want to fly north in the summer and south in the winter. I don’t want to just think about life. I want to live it.”
“But Gavi!” Molly cried. “What about the Nordlings? We’ve always looked after them together.”
“With you and the new crew of the Resolute to look after them, I know they will be in good hands, as will Notherland itself. But I cannot live on a ship. There will be nothing for me to do.”
Peggy gave him a penetrating look.
“Gavi, it’ll be very different for you in my world. Things are in constant change there. Everyone grows older. Here in Notherland, you’re protected from all that. You’re immortal. If you cross over with us …”
The loon nodded.
“I will die one day, like any ordinary loon. Yes, I have considered that, too. But if death is the price of fully experiencing life, it is a price I am prepared to pay. After seeing Sir John and Lady Jane pass over into Eternity, I have no fear. I am ready to dive headlong into the great pool of existence.”
Molly tried to stifle a sob.
“But … you might never be able to come back,” she finally said. “We might never see one another again.”
Peggy’s eyes, too, were starting to burn with tears. With all that had been on her mind the past few days, she’d managed to block out all thought of saying goodbye to these two, but now the reality of it was finally coming home to her.
“I do not wish to leave you, any more than you wish to leave me,” Gavi said gently, tears filling his eyes. “We are being called to different paths, in different worlds. But we will always carry one another in our hearts.”
At that moment, Peggy looked out over Lake Notherland and saw a column of silvery-blue light. It grew brighter and brighter as it settled right over the Nordlings, bathing them in its glow. Then it spiralled out and formed an enormous ring encircling them.
“I have always been and always will be. Could you not feel my presence?”
“Peggy remembered the Eternal’s words, and now knew for certain that Notherland still had its Resolute Protector.
Molly’s voice broke in on her thoughts. “It’s time!”
Peggy turned back towards Painted Rock. Jackpine was standing alone at the entry to the passageway; all the other Souls had passed through.
Gavi reached the opening first. As he started to move his cumbersome body into the passageway, he looked back at them.
“Do not be surprised to find a loon swimming on your pond when you arrive on the other side,” he said to Peggy.
Swimming? Peggy abruptly stopped “him. “Gavi, wait! It’s winter back in my world. There’ll be ice on the pond.”
“Then you must help me take off, so I can migrate south.”
“But you’ve never migrated anywhere! How will you find your way?”
“I will follow my …. my instinct!” the loon said with pride.
Then he turned to Molly.
“Take good care of our beloved Nordlings, Molly. Goodbye.”
Biting her lip, the doll walked hesitantly forward and held out one stiff arm. Her hand grasped one of Gavi’s wings and squeezed it hard. She was determined not to let herself start crying again.
Silently, she mouthed one word to Gavi: Goodbye.
Then he disappeared into the passageway, releasing one last tremolo as he went.
“Till we meet agaaaaiiiiinnn …”
Once he was gone, they heard a low rumbling in the earth around them.
“What’s that?” asked Jackpine.
“My best guess, as Gavi would say,” said Peggy, “is that the opening between the worlds is starting to become unstable.”
“We better get going before it gets any worse!”
As they turned to say goodbye to Molly, Peggy suddenly thought of something. She reached into her pocket. Nestled in a corner next to the bone flute was the Aya. She took it out and quickly pressed it into Molly’s hand. The doll looked at it in amazement.
“What … But this is … How did you find it?”
Peggy grinned at Molly.
“It’s a long story,” she replied.
Peggy wanted to say more, but the rumbling was growing louder. There was barely time for Peggy to give the doll one last hug as Molly pushed them both towards the opening.
“You two get out of here!” yelled Molly. “Now!”
Jackpine grasped Peggy’s hand. In the narrow passageway their bodies were pressed close together, their faces so close they could feel the warmth of one another’s breath. What would happen when they crossed over? Would he even remember her? Would she remember him?
This might be my last chance! she thought.
She leaned over and pressed her lips to his for one long moment.
As they both went tumbling through the passageway, she could swear she heard Jackpine’s voice, saying her name.
“Peggy, I …”
Then everything went dark.
Chapter 14: Lift-off
ALL THROUGH THE DAY Souls had passed through the portal. The fissure in Painted Rock had narrowed but not yet closed up completely. Now, with night falling, Mi discovered that, from her spot on the RoryBory, she could watch everything that was happening on the other side. She suddenly thought again of Sir John talking about the parting of the Red Sea. She realized, with regret, that she’d never gotten around to asking him how a sea could be red.
She had to fight to stay awake. But seeing into another universe was so exciting!
There was a crowd of people gathered in what Pay-gee had called a “park.” They were talking animatedly and pointing towards a body of water much smaller than Lake Notherland, but with a smooth surface of ice.
“Can you beat that?” Mi heard one of them say.
“Yeah, it’s something, isn’t it?” said another. “A loon, here, in December.”
A bird was slapping its wings on the surface of the ice with a restless, fevered motion.
“Maybe it was too stupid to fly south for the winter,” said another, and laughter rippled through the crowd.
“Now what’s that girl up to, do you suppose?”
A young woman was striding purposefully out onto the ice. She looked a lot like Pay-gee herself, but with a difference that Mi couldn’t quite put her finger on. She walked right over to the bird, put one arm around it and started to gently pull it along the ice. The bird made no effort to resist or escape her; it seemed to grow oddly calm at her touch.
“Is she crazy?” someone in the crowd exclaimed. “She’s liable to scare that bird half to death.”
“Maybe not,” said another. “Looks like she’s trying to pull it to the far end of the pond, so it can have more room to take off. That’s why the poor thing’s flailing around like that. It can’t take off. Loons are like big planes – they need a long runway to get up enough speed.”
There was a minor commotion in the crowd as the girl was joined by someone else, a young man who reminded Mi of Jackpine. But she thought she might be mistaken when one of the people on shore pointed at him.
“Hey, there’s Gary, that Native kid who hangs around here.”
“Now y’know they’re both crazy,” chuckled someone else.
It wasn’t clear to Mi whether the girl who looked like Pay-gee and the boy who looked like Jackpine knew one another or not. But together they tried pulling the bird backwards, then vigorously pushing it forwards, away from them. The loon’s wings began to flap furiously. The bird managed to propel itself partway across the pond, then its momentum slowed. The two young people ran over to the bird and repeated the same action, pulling it backwards with a running motion, then thrusting it forwards even more vigorously.
This time the loon skittered across the entire length of the pond, picking up more and more speed as it went along. Just as it approached the opposite bank, its black-and-white body finally began to lift off the surface of the ice.
The crowd watched the loon pass over the edge of the pond and begin to gain altitude, until it was soaring in the sky over their heads with long, steady wing strokes. Spectators broke into spontaneous applause as the loon soared higher and higher, until it was little more than a tiny black speck on the horizon.
Mi watched the boy and girl walk off the ice together. At the edge of the ice, the girl picked up an oblong black box. She opened it, took out a long silvery object and began blowing into it. The crowd stood listening, enraptured by the sound, as Mi was, too. She had never heard anything quite like it: music, but not like that which Mi and her companions sang in the RoryBory. Beautiful music, full of energy and delight. The music of another universe.
Finally the fissure in Painted Rock closed up completely and Mi couldn’t see anymore. But she could still hear the music from the strange silvery instrument as it trailed off into a faraway echo.
From her place in the blazing RoryBory, Mi looked down from the sky over the vast sweep of Notherland. In the distance, off to the north, she thought she could make out the Resolute moored at the edge of the Everlasting Ice.
Maybe tonight, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, I will dream a new universe into existence.
End of Book I
Chapter 7: The Great Polar Sea
FROM THE DECK of the Terror, Mi looked out in all directions. The Great Polar Sea was so vast, its waters seemed to go on forever and ever. Mi was used to Lake Notherland. It had always seemed big to her, but at least you could see across it to the far shore. The Great Polar Sea was of another order altogether. Mi couldn’t imagine that it had an end. And even if it did, she found it difficult to believe that they would ever reach it.
It had been more than a day since the remarkable phenomenon Gavi had christened the Warm Line. Mi recalled how she’d stood with the others on the deck, watching in amazement as the long gash opened up before them, releasing what felt like pulsing waves of warm air from underneath the ice. The entire crew had cheered with each loud crack! as the solid sheet of ice split in two and the ship slowly inched its way through the opening.
Gavi assumed that it was the power of Peggy’s mind that brought the miracle about, that she had imagined a current of warm air under the ice. “That, combined with the ship’s weight, could very well have made the ice give way underneath us,” he said.
Peggy shook her head. “It just happened. I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“But it is possible that your powers could be working without you being aware of it. What is that phrase? ‘Your imagination is working overtime’? That could explain it,”
Gavi said, proudly parading his knowledge of the minutiae of everyday human speech.
“Perhaps it’s a miracle, like the parting of the Red Sea,” Sir John suggested.
None of them except Peggy knew what he was talking about. Sir John briefly told them the story, which he said was a miracle from a book called the Bible. Mi wondered how a sea could be red. As far as she knew, water was always blue. But she was too shy to ask Sir John about it.
Gavi would know. She reminded herself to ask him about it, and about her lucky bone, as well.
She took out a small cloth pouch and surveyed what was left of her “treasure.” In the mad scramble onto the Terror, she had lost track of most of the stones. But a few of the prettiest ones remained, along with the smooth and slender tube that Peggy had said was a piece of animal bone. Gavi had told her once about how humans sometimes carried animal bones or teeth for good luck, and Mi decided that this would be her “lucky” bone. Why did it have holes? she wondered. Were they from the teeth of a bigger animal who’d tried to eat this one? She’d have to remember to ask Gavi how the holes got there.
Now they had finally left the vast plate of Everlasting Ice behind them and reached open water. So Jackpine had been right all along about the Great Polar Sea. Mi wondered how they could possibly tell which way the ship was going. Surely they would get lost! She was relieved to learn that experienced seamen like Sir John could steer a ship and chart a course using something called navigation.
In fact, Sir John was spending most of his time instructing Molly, on whom he had bestowed the rank of ensign, in the principles of navigation. He regretted having no uniform of the proper size for her, but he did bestow on her his very own, rather large, cutlass. Molly was thrilled, and promptly threw away the stick she’d been using as an imitation sword for so long.
Molly tried her best to follow Sir John’s instructions, but she was finding the knots difficult for her stiff fingers. Then there were instruments like the compass and sextant, which were utterly baffling to her. And the ship’s rigging looked like a chaotic mass of ropes and chains, no matter how carefully Sir John explained their organization and function. She tried to tell him that Gavi would be a much better navigator. But Sir John insisted that, much as he had become fond of Gavi and had come to respect his mental abilities, a loon was simply not fit to serve as an officer in the Royal Navy.
Sir John was also teaching Molly about the various signal flags that could be used to communicate with other ships. Molly found this a monumental waste of time, since everyone knew their chances of encountering another ship in the Great Polar Sea were virtually nil. But Sir John told her firmly that knowing about signal flags was an important part of being a well-rounded sailor. Worst of all for Molly were the drills, which he had her carry out several times a day. She had to march up and down the ship, deliver a proper salute, swab the deck and await Sir John’s careful inspection. None of the others had to do any of these things, and Molly was beginning to resent it. Her initial excitement about learning to sail a real ship was slowly ebbing away as Sir John persisted in his attempts to mould her into a “model of military discipline,” as he put it.
Mi watched Molly’s growing disenchantment and frustration. The Nordling was so tiny and quiet, they often forgot she was there, but she noticed everything that was going on around her. The captain’s efforts to bend Molly to his will reminded Mi of the way Molly herself had sometimes treated the Nordlings. Mi could understand Molly’s resentment; it was how she felt when Molly tried to make her do something she didn’t want to do. Though she saw some justice in Molly having to swallow a dose of her own medicine, the little Nordling still felt sympathy for the doll.
There was another relationship on board that intrigued and puzzled Mi. Did anyone else, she wondered, notice how Peggy and Jackpine always seemed to be watching one another? How they would stare at each another, then look away as soon as they’d notice the other watching? How they sometimes seemed to make excuses to be near one another? How they would speak to one another with a certain nervous excitement in their voices?
Mi sought out Gavi to ask him about it.
“Now that you mention it,” he said, “their behavior does remind me a little of mating rituals.”
“What does that mean?” Mi asked him.
“It is something creatures do when there is a special bond between them, when they wish to spend time together and their feelings for one another are stronger than their feelings for others.”
“Are Sir John and Lady Jane mates?”
Gavi smiled. “Yes, though they would not put it like that. Humans are not comfortable using the same terms for themselves as they do for animals – even though they are animals. The Franklins are husband and wife. Those are the human terms for mates.”
“Yes,” Mi said thoughtfully. “I can see that Sir John and Lady Jane have special feelings for each other.”
“They are devoted to one another,” Gavi agreed. “Lady Jane takes such good care of her husband. And when she is gone, he seems lost without her.”
Mi was suddenly reminded of another question that had been weighing on her mind.
“Where does she go?”
“Who?” Gavi asked.
“Lady Franklin. Sometimes she just seems to disappear for awhile. Then she comes back again. Where does she go?”
“I do not know,” Gavi replied. “I have wondered about that myself. But I suppose there is a simple explanation. Perhaps she goes below deck and carries out her wifely duties – cooking, mending, that sort of thing.”
It occurred to Mi to ask Gavi why cooking and mending were considered a wife’s duties and not a husband’s, but her curiosity about such things was outweighed by the mystery of Lady Jane’s absences.
“I wander about the whole ship,” she told Gavi, “and I never see her below deck doing any of those things. I think she must go somewhere else.”
Gavi shook his head. “That is impossible. How could she leave the ship? Where is there for her to go? Anyway, Sir John does not act as though there is anything unusual about her absences, and he is her husband. So we need not concern ourselves with it either,” he said with finality.
It wasn’t like Gavi to shrug off a mystery, to not probe more deeply until he found the solution to a puzzle. But Mi knew it was hard for him to admit when he didn’t know the answer to something, so she changed the subject.
“Lord Franklin is trying very hard to make Molly into a good sailor.”
“Yes,” Gavi agreed. “But he does not seem to be having that much success. And frankly, I am amazed that she has gone along with it as far as she has. I have never been able to get Molly to do anything she did not want to do. She is the most stubborn creature I know.”
“If she doesn’t want to do those drills, why does he keep making her do them?”
“That is the problem,” Gavi sighed. “Sir John has only one thing on his mind, making Molly into a good sailor, and he thinks she must try harder. He does not see that it is making her unhappy.”
“If she’s so unhappy, then why doesn’t she just refuse to do it?”
Gavi smiled again. “Humans can be very hard to figure out sometimes.”
“But Molly’s not human.”
“No,” Gavi admitted. “But she would like to be. It adds up to the same thing.”
They both stood silent for a few moments, staring out at the vast ocean.
“Gavi?” Mi said finally. “What will happen when we get to the Hole at the Pole? How will we set the Nordlings free?”
“Do not ask so many questions,” Gavi replied brusquely.
Mi gazed at the water lapping at the side of the ship. It seemed to calm her mind, and she hoped it might be doing the same for Gavi.
She noticed something odd in the distance.
“Look!” she shouted.
Way off the starboard side of the Terror, something very large was rising slowly out of the water.
Peggy’s moods had been shifting wildly back and forth. She was constantly restless and found she had little appetite for the wonderful meals that magically appeared from the ship’s galley. Sometimes she felt exuberant, elated. At other times the smallest thing would cause her to plummet into despair. At first she didn’t want to admit to herself that Jackpine was the focus of her moodiness. The longing to be near him. The constant thoughts of him when he wasn’t around. The tingles of excitement she felt whenever she heard his voice or caught sight of his dark eyes and wiry, muscular body.
Okay, so she liked him. What good was that? He couldn’t possibly feel the same way about her. Could he?
She watched him now, across the deck. He had that dark, faraway look in his eyes again. Was he brooding about the Hole? she wondered. Did she dare approach him in this mood? Would he open up to her?
He caught her gaze and nodded. Emboldened, she went over to him.
“Hi, what’s up?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. Just thinking.”
“We’re really on our way, aren’t we?” she offered, trying to make conversation.
“Yeah,” he said pensively. “But I wonder if things are getting a little too easy.”
Peggy let out a quizzical laugh. “What makes you say that?”
“You don’t know the Nobodaddy,” he replied. “You don’t know what he’s capable of. All I know is, we have to be ready for anything.”
She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by shouts from the other end of the ship.
It was Mi’s voice, followed by Gavi’s.
“Peggy! Come quickly! There is something out in the water!”
Peggy raced towards the foredeck of the ship, followed by Molly, Sir John and Jackpine. They all looked in the direction Mi and Gavi were pointing. Sure enough, there was something very tall and slender sticking up out of the waves.
They all stood with their mouths open.
“What is that?”
“I cannot tell yet,” Gavi said.
“It could be a fallen tree that somehow got washed out to sea,” Jackpine speculated.
“Impossible,” Gavi replied. “How could a tree stick up so high in this deep water, and what would it be doing so far beyond the Tree Line?”
“I’ll wager it’s an old mast,” said Sir John briskly. “Perhaps from a ship that sank after an unsuccessful attempt to reach the Pole.”
“It doesn’t look smooth enough to be a mast, Sir John,” Peggy pointed out. “It’s hard to make out at this distance, but I can see some kind of ripples or bumps on the far side of it.”
“Well,” said Sir John, “we shall be able to tell better what it is when we get up closer. Ensign Molly!” he barked. “To the helm!”
“Not now. I want to watch from here,” Molly objected.
“To the helm with you, on the double!”
“No!” said Molly defiantly.
Sir John’s face was flushed with anger.
“This is rank insubordination!” he sputtered. “Do you have any idea of the penalty for …?”
But screams from the others interrupted Sir John’s tirade.
The thing bent over, then reared up even higher out of the water. Far from being an inanimate stump of wood, it appeared to be a living creature with a tremendously long neck, like some gigantic serpent. As it rose higher out of the water, great gushing whirlpools formed on either side of it. The protrusions Peggy had noticed looked to be scaly points, almost like sharp fins, which became progressively larger as they jutted out along the creature’s neck and back. Before they had a chance to get a better look, it took a sudden dive and disappeared under the water, creating huge waves that crashed against the sides of the ship.
“What is it?”
“Some kind of sea monster!”
“Monster?” Mi whimpered, clutching Gavi’s wing and burrowing nervously down into his feathers.
Jackpine turned to Sir John. “What kind of weapons have you got on this ship?”
Before Sir John could answer, Peggy broke in.
“Weapons? Why are we talking about weapons? We don’t have any reason to think it wants to harm us.”
“Whatever that thing is,” Jackpine said grimly, “we’d better be ready if it shows up again.”
“And if it attacks, we fight back!” said Molly excitedly, brandishing her cutlass. “I’m ready!”
“Oh Molly!” said Gavi, shaking his head. “What good would that sword be against a creature so large?”
Peggy interrupted them all.
“Shhh! Did you hear something?”
The others strained to listen. It sounded like a deep rumbling from the surrounding depths. They all stood frozen on the spot. It seemed to grow louder and louder. They could feel a vibration under their feet, and as the rumbling grew more intense the ship began to list sharply from side to side.
“Lord help us,” Sir John prayed under his breath.
Suddenly a great wave spilled over the deck as the creature’s head and long neck burst out of the water.
The creature suddenly reared back, then snapped its head forward, its mouth sending out huge sparks the size of lightning bolts. Amid screams of fright, they all dove onto the deck to avoid the hot fiery sparks, which luckily seemed to dissipate in the air just above the ship.
“It’s going to kill us!” Jackpine yelled as the ship continued to list perilously and the air around them crackled with flames.
“The musket!” Sir John shouted. He had been thrown back from the prow by the tossing and rocking of the ship, but now he grasped a cleat on deck and yelled to Peggy.
“There! Right beside you! The musket! Get it!”
Peggy looked around. There was a thick-barrelled rifle mounted just underneath the gunnel. She pried it loose, then held it out towards Sir John.
“No. You must do it! Raise it to your shoulder,” he ordered her.
Peggy did so, awkwardly.
She pointed it upward towards the creature’s head.
“Ready …” Sir John called out, “… aim …”
Before she could fire, Peggy lunged back onto the deck to avoid another volley of flames. The creature was now directly over her. She could practically see into its huge, snarling mouth. She scrambled onto her knees and lifted the gun back up to her shoulder. Aiming the barrel straight at the creature, she cocked the trigger.
“Hold it steady as you can while you release the trigger. Ready … aim … fire!”
She heard Sir John’s voice, but her finger remained frozen on the trigger.
“Fire! Now!” Sir John bellowed. “What’s the matter?”
Peggy took a deep breath.
Come on, pull the trigger.
But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She heard Molly calling to her.
“Go on, Peggy!” she shouted fiercely. “Blow its head off!”
She looked at the creature’s head and imagined its flesh ripping apart at the shell’s impact. The image sent a surge of adrenaline through her and she tightened her grip on the musket.
I can do this, she told herself. I can do it!
But something in her still held back.
Suddenly a loud blast sounded. Peggy watched as a shell went careening towards the monster’s head. But her finger was still planted on the trigger of the musket. What happened? She hadn’t fired!
She looked up, expecting to see the creature’s flesh torn apart by the impact of the shell. But as soon as it was hit, the monster seemed to dissipate, like a puff of smoke into the air. After a moment there was nothing left of it, except for a strange band of light looming over the spot where it had been thrashing around seconds earlier.
Peggy heard a commotion on deck and turned to see Sir John and Molly rushing over to Jackpine, wide grins on their faces. What was going on? Then she noticed that another musket was cradled in Jackpine’s elbow. He lifted it over his head jubilantly.
“Did you see that? One shot!” he shouted. “I nailed it my very first shot!”
So it was Jackpine who’d fired at the monster, not her.
She looked out over the sea. The strange ring of light now seemed to be moving along the surface of the water towards the ship. It hovered over the deck not far from where Peggy stood, and she watched in amazement as it lengthened to form a kind of column.
She tried to alert the others to the strange phenomenon, but they were busy congratulating Jackpine. When she turned back towards the shaft of light, she saw what appeared to be a solid form taking shape within it.
Then, abruptly, the light vanished altogether. There, on the exact same spot, stood Lady Jane Franklin.
Chapter 8: Gone
PEGGY WAS SHOCKED, not just by the eerie way in which Lady Jane had materialized on the deck, but also by the way she looked – weak, pale, almost ghostlike. She rushed over to her but was greeted with a dismissive wave.
“Go! Leave me alone! I am fine!”
Stung, Peggy started to back away, then looked straight at Lady Franklin.
“Sir John may pretend not to notice,” she said, “but it’s obvious to the rest of us that something pretty strange is going on here.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lady Franklin answered.
“The way you come and go so suddenly. How do you do it? Where do you go?”
The older woman shrugged. “Where is there to go? About the ship, below deck …”
“No! It’s like you disappear into thin air. Where were you when we were fighting that sea monster? You had something to do with it, didn’t you?”
“I?” Lady Franklin’s laugh had a sarcastic edge. “Do I look like a sea monster to you?”
“I should have known better than to try and get a straight answer out of you,” Peggy said testily. As she turned to go, Lady Franklin’s voice brought her up short.
“You couldn’t do it, could you!”
Peggy turned to face her. “Excuse me?”
“You didn’t have it in you!”
“What are you talking about?” Peggy demanded.
“You should have fired the gun!” Lady Franklin said icily. “You should have destroyed the monster! Why didn’t you do it?”
“What does it matter?” Peggy shot back. “The monster’s gone, isn’t it?”
“How can you prepare yourself for what lies ahead if you fail a simple test like this?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about!”
“You will find out soon enough,” Lady Jane said curtly.
Peggy was about to demand an explanation. But she saw a look of such overwhelming fatigue on Lady Franklin’s face, that she thought the older woman might faint. Then she seemed to gather her forces, and marched over to her husband with a determinedly cheerful smile.
They were all still clustered around Jackpine. Though they found the monster’s abrupt disappearance curious, it was clear to Peggy that she was the only one who had witnessed Lady Franklin’s sudden, bizarre reappearance.
“I still can’t believe that thing went down so easily!”
Molly was saying, as she slapped Jackpine heartily on the back. “I was sure you’d have to shoot a bunch of those shells.”
“Yes, the whole thing was a bit strange,” Gavi allowed. “Do you have any idea what that thing was, Sir John?”
“There is a creature the Eskimos call Sedna,” said Sir John. “A sea goddess. They call her the guardian of all the creatures of the sea, and say she is more powerful than our
God. Which I dismissed as more mythical nonsense, of course. But I am no longer so certain of things as I was once. The important thing is,” he said, patting his wife’s arm reassuringly, “we are safe now.”
Watching them all, Peggy felt a sudden surge of anger.
Hey, what about me? she wanted to shout. I would have shot it if I’d had the chance! Of course, she was being ridiculous, she told herself. She’d had her chance. She had frozen up, and Jackpine had moved into the breach. After all, somebody had to do something.
Lady Franklin’s words burned in Peggy’s brain: You failed the test. You should have fired the gun. Why didn’t you?
Why didn ‘t I?
“Gavi, do you know how these holes got into my lucky bone?”
Gavi was so obsessed with understanding the mysterious creature and how it fit into the cosmology of Notherland that he barely took note of Mi’s question, and lumbered off muttering to himself: “A monster? A sea goddess? How could I have not known about it?”
Mi started to run after him, but Molly held her back. “Better leave him alone for now. You know what he’s like when he gets in one of his thinking moods.”
Reluctantly, Mi admitted that Molly was right. Gavi was in no mood for questions.
“I’m going below deck to find Sir John,” Molly told her. “I think you’d better come with me. Somebody should keep an eye on you all the time.”
But Mi didn’t want to go below deck. It was dark down there. There wasn’t any place to play.
“I want to stay up here,” she told Molly.
The doll hesitated on the stairway. “All right,” she said finally. “I’ll only be gone a few minutes. Be careful. Keep out of sight. And whatever you do – no singing! Not a peep! Understand?”
Mi nodded solemnly and watched Molly go below. She began skipping along the deck towards the stern. As she sprang past the main mast, she stopped suddenly. Up ahead were Peggy and Jackpine.
They seemed to be having an animated discussion, perhaps even an argument, Mi couldn’t be sure. But she was struck by how the air around them seemed to crackle with currents of excitement. They seemed completely caught up in one another and oblivious to everything else.
Fine, she thought. Everybody’s busy with their own things. She’d just play by herself. She was tired of them hovering around, constantly watching her. And she was sick of having to be so careful all the time. Right now, she was free to do just what she wanted.
Her eyes ran up the tall mast. It would be fun to climb up to the crow’s-nest and look around. Maybe she, could see all the way to the Hole at the Pole!
She began climbing up the shrouds, the way she’d seen Molly do under Sir John’s tutelage. There was a bit of a wind up, but she’d be very careful not to get blown away. She’d hold on tight.
Molly wondered why Sir John was taking so long below. She noticed that the door to his quarters was slightly ajar. Gingerly she approached it, and when she looked inside she could see Sir John from the back, slumped over his desk. The ship’s log was open in front of him, and at first she thought he must be recording an entry. But then she saw a great shudder run through him, accompanied by a low moan, like weeping.
She wondered what to do. Did he wish to be left alone? Did she dare say anything, or even let on that she had seen him in this state?
She decided to tiptoe away quietly, but as she turned she brushed the door handle lightly, making the door knock gently against the jamb. Sir John raised his head and turned towards her. His eyes were swollen and red, and tears streamed down his cheeks.
Molly was overcome with embarrassment and immediately stiffened herself into a salute.
“Excuse me, Captain, sir. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
She turned, intending to rush away, but Sir John called after her.
She immediately noted that he hadn’t prefaced it with “Ensign,” as he usually did.
“Don’t go,” he pleaded, in a tone very different from the one Molly was used to hearing. “I cannot bear to be alone right now. Please … stay.”
“Sir?” Molly stood stiffly at attention at the end of the desk. “Would you like me to go fetch Lady Franklin?”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. Lady Franklin is … gone!”
Molly watched transfixed as the great Franklin was overcome by racking sobs. He seemed to be in the grip of a terrible grief.
“Gone, sir? But I saw her only a short time ago …”
He looked up, composed himself and pushed the log across the desk towards her. Molly looked at the latest entry, and, putting to use all of Gavi’s painstaking instruction in reading, she managed to decipher the words.
I must be away for some time. But I shall do everything in my power to return to you. Our time together has been a great unexpected gift for both of us. Now the final phase of your great quest beckons. Do not lose heart! Know that I love you now and in eternity.
“She is all I have, Molly. Now I am losing her. She is being wrenched away from me. Our life together is at an end.”
“But Sir John, how could she leave the ship? Where would she go?”
Lord Franklin looked down and shook his head mournfully, as if he hadn’t heard her.
“I knew it would come to this, one day. I knew it could not last forever. I am no fool. I knew she could not really be my Jane. She knew that I knew, but we never spoke of it. And I truly felt that a part of Jane’s spirit somehow lived within her.”
Finally he looked up and saw the look of bewilderment on Molly’s face. He took a deep breath and began again in a calmer, more measured tone.
“You see,” he went on, “I am perfectly well aware of the strangeness of my situation here. I know that my Jane passed on to her eternal rest many years ago, as did Crozier and Gore and the rest of my crew. I watched as they grew more hollowed-out and wasted with each passing day, their fingers and noses blackened by the freezing cold. I have seen such unimaginable horrors, Molly …” He paused a moment, unable to continue.
“Dead. All of them. One after another. Because of my pig-headedness!”
“You? What do you mean, sir?” Molly asked.
“How many times I’ve castigated myself! If only I had not ordered the ships to turn south near Beechey Island, where we became trapped in the great ice stream that flows down from the Beaufort Sea! The Eskimos warned us against it, but stubbornly I clung to my planned route.
“I could not understand why I was being spared, why I had not passed on with all the others. I decided that was to be my punishment – doomed to stay alive, to live with the guilt of having caused so many to die. As the days and months passed, I grew more and more desperately lonely. To ease my loneliness I would speak with Jane, as if she were here with me. Gradually, I became aware of an uncanny feeling that I was no longer alone, that some other presence was nearby.
“Then one day, I woke up to find my beloved Jane sitting on the deck, calmly pouring morning tea. I thought she must be some kind of hallucination, that my thoughts of her had become so powerful that they had somehow conjured up her image. But as we spent time in each other’s company, I could tell she was no mere figment of my imagination. She had a reality separate from mine. So I decided to accept her presence, without question, and to accept my fate, which is, apparently, for me to remain in this realm until I am called to meet my Maker. As long as I had someone so dear to pass the time with, it was all so much easier.
“I truly do not know whether I am living or dead, whether I am human or pure spirit. I only know that something is keeping me here, some force beyond my control or understanding. But now that I am faced with the prospect of losing my Jane for a second time …”
Here Sir John’s voice began to break, but he summoned his resources and went on.
“I no longer wish to remain here. I long to pass over into Eternity, so I can be with my Jane and find my final resting place. I cannot bear the thought of life without her!”
Molly listened, mesmerized, to every word of Sir John’s tale. She feared that he would break down sobbing once again, but he simply sat with a look of unutterable sadness as a single tear made its way slowly down his cheek. Molly was overcome with pity. She had had no inkling of the trials Sir John had been through, or of the deep well of feeling that lay beneath his stem military demeanor. What could she possibly say that would begin to offer him any comfort?
“But Sir John …” Molly began, haltingly. “What about your great mission? The Pole … we are .so close!”
“I no longer care about reaching the Pole. Without the love of my life, nothing matters.”
“If it would be of any help, sir,” she added softly, “I will stay with you.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Molly felt like kicking herself. What an idiotic thing to say at a time like this! As if her companionship could in any way begin to make up for the loss of the most important person in Sir John’s life!
Yet it made her realize that, however much they clashed with one another, she had become very attached to this man. Finally she had found someone in her life who took her seriously, who did not treat her like a mere plaything but demanded things from her, things that would help her live out her dreams! She wanted to plead with him not to pass over into Eternity, wherever that was, but to stay and keep serving as her Captain, her mentor, her teacher.
To her surprise, Sir John did not dismiss what she said. Indeed, he seemed to consider it quite seriously.
“It’s true that you seem to have come here at an opportune time,” he said. “Your presence here has given me a renewed sense of purpose, and one cannot live without a sense of purpose, any more than one can live without love and companionship. The Terror has once again set sail, and she has a new crew. All this is good. Still …”
He lingered on the last word, and Molly saw the pain flow back into his eyes.
“Lady Jane did plead with you not to lose heart. And she promised to return – if she could.”
Lord Franklin got to his feet, and for the first time since their conversation began, Molly saw a spark of the old, familiar Captain.
“You’re right, of course. Here I am, moping about, when I should be making the best of things, as my Jane always counselled me to do. Thank you, Molly, for bringing me back to myself. You’re a wise young girl.”
Mi looked out over the vastness of the Great Polar Sea from her perch on the mast. The wind whipped her around as if she were a piece of cloth, but she held on tight. To be up so high, to be part of something so unfathomably huge – Mi found it all exhilarating! Even being part of the RoryBory on a clear night was nothing like this. Now she was wide awake, and she was free! No RoryBory to fit into, no Gavi or Molly to tell her what to do. She felt like singing out her joy, but she reminded herself of Molly’s warning.
She took out her lucky bone and waved it in the breeze. She was seized by an impulse to blow into it to see if it would make a noise. When she did, she was startled to hear how hauntingly familiar it sounded. This was not noise. It was music!
She blew into the bone again. Yes, it was unmistakably music. Not only that, it was her music, her note. It truly was her lucky bone! She couldn’t wait to tell Gavi about this fascinating discovery.
A sudden chill coursed through her small body. She decided to scurry back down to the deck, before any of them realized where she’d gone and scolded her. As she began making her way down the shrouds, the wind grew stronger, and she had a sensation of some kind of force pulling on her, as if trying to wrench her away from the mast. Then she felt the dreadful chill again, and she thought she heard a sound like harsh laughter off in the distance.
She held on for dear life.
Chapter 9: The Bone Flute
JACKPINE WAS STILL EXHILARATED from shooting down the sea monster.
“Now I’m really going to take on the Nobodaddy. I can’t wait to get back down in that Hole. I’m going to finish him off once and for all!”
“Listen to you,” Peggy teased him. “The way you talk, you’d think you were going down there on your own.”
“That’s exactly what I plan to do.”
“What are you talking about? I thought we were in this together.”
“You don’t think I’m going to let you go down there, do you?”
“Let?” Peggy sputtered. “Excuse me? Who are you to ‘let’ me do anything?”
“I’ve been down there. I know what to expect. You won’t be able to handle it. He’ll just eat you alive.”
“Well, thanks for your concern,” said Peggy sarcastically, “but I’ll make up my own mind.”
“Come on. You couldn’t pull the trigger on that musket.”
“I was about to!”
“Look, you don’t know what you’re dealing with here. It’s like he gets right inside you and messes up your head. You can’t tell his thoughts from your own. You’ve got to be tough with a creature like that. When the time is right, you have to go after him. You can’t hesitate. Not for a second! I honestly don’t think you’ve got what it takes.”
“Why? Because I’m not all eaten up with hatred inside like you are?”
He looked into her eyes with a cold, hard stare.
“Maybe hatred is something you could use a bit more of.”
They were interrupted by the sound of a prolonged tremolo wail.
Peggy felt a shiver run down her spine: the tremolo was the call Gavi used only in dire emergencies. They spied the loon at the base of the main mast and raced over to him.
“Gavi! What is it?”
But the loon continued to wail, utterly despondent.
Finally Peggy reached over and touched his wing.
“Gavi, stop! You’ve got to use words and tell us what’s wrong.”
“She is gonnne!”
Before Peggy could say anything more, they heard Lord Franklin’s voice behind them.
“Yes, we know!”
They turned to see the old captain and Molly emerging from the top of the stairs.
“Yes, she is gone, dear boy,” Sir John continued. “But we must keep a stiff upper lip and make the best of it.”
As though he hadn’t heard a word Sir John said, Gavi commenced wailing again.
“Who’s gone?” Peggy demanded.
The old man looked as though he were fighting back tears as he handed her the ship’s log with Lady Franklin’s note.
“I’m afraid it’s true. My dearest Jane has left us.”
“Left?” Peggy and Jackpine both looked bewildered. “How?”
“She is gonnnnnne!”
They were all becoming exasperated trying to make themselves heard over Gavi’s persistent wailing. Then a terrible thought gripped Peggy.
“Gavi! Where’s Mi?”
Now the loon lapsed back into his incoherent tremolo.
“Gavi! Speak words!” Peggy insisted. “Where’s Mi?”
Gavi lifted one wing and seemed to be pointing to something near the bottom of the mast.
“I was with her just a few minutes ago!” Molly cried. “Maybe the Nobodaddy took her!”
“No way,” Peggy said firmly. “She wouldn’t have been stupid enough to sing, and that’s the only way the Nobodaddy could have found her. She must be hiding somewhere.”
Gavi gestured again towards the bottom of the mast, more insistently this time. Finally Peggy looked where he was pointing, and saw something lying there. She went and picked it up.
“It’s one of those treasures she carried around – the one she calls her lucky bone.”
Finally Gavi’s speaking voice came back to him.
“Blow into it.”
“Huh?” Peggy thought she couldn’t have heard him right.
“Blow into the bone. You will see.”
Peggy lifted the bone and placed it between her lips. Automatically, her fingers moved to cover the holes and suddenly, it was clear to her what Gavi was talking about.
She lowered the bone and looked at him.
“It’s not, is it?”
“Yes,” the loon replied quietly. “It is.”
“What are you two talking about?” Molly cried impatiently.
Peggy raised the bone to her lips again, pressed her fingers over the holes and blew through it.
As air flowed through the bone, it released a distinctly musical tone.
She moved her fingers, leaving one of the holes uncovered this time, and blew again.
Then she blew a third time, leaving both holes uncovered.
“So that’s how the Nobodaddy discovered her!”
“The bone is a kind of flute. I was trying so hard to figure everything out,” Gavi cried bitterly, “but I was not paying attention to the most important thing of all! Mi tried to show me, but I kept ignoring her. And now she has been snatched away. The last of the Nordlings is gone! We are all doomed. Notherland is dooooommed.”
“It’s my fault!” Molly burst out. “I shouldn’t have left her alone on the deck!”
And Gavi wailed as if his heart would break: “Gonnnnne! Dooooommed!”
For the next few hours they all worked furiously, trying to sail the rest of the distance across the Great Polar Sea as quickly as possible. Molly took the helm, and Peggy and Jackpine trimmed the sails, while Sir John scoured the hold of the ship for fuel, hoping to get the Terror’s old coal-fired engine going again. But it was no use. The entire store had been used up long ago.
Gavi racked his brain, going over every conceivable possibility, trying to corne up with a plan. Maybe if he thought hard enough, if they could sail the Terror fast enough, they’d somehow find a way to reach the Pole before nightfall. As long as there was daylight, there was still hope.
But as darkness descended, though the Great Skyway sloped out of the sky as it always did, there was not a single Nordling to make the journey upward.
On the deck of the Terror, the gloom was almost palpable. Gavi began to berate himself.
“How stupid I am! I thought I knew so much, but I know nothing!”
To complicate matters, Sir John was still overcome with grief at the loss of his wife. Molly ran back and forth between Sir John and Gavi, trying to comfort and reassure them both. But Peggy could see that underneath the doll’s frantic efforts to raise their spirits, she was waging a fierce battle to keep from crying herself.
The spectre of almost certain failure only made Jackpine more furiously determined to make the ship go faster. But as he worked, he had a hollow look in his eyes, one that reminded Peggy of the odd feeling of familiarity she’d had when she first met him.
Peggy felt the gloom seeping through the pores of her own skin. She looked around. The Terror was now drifting aimlessly in the open sea. They had given up. It was all over. Notherland was doomed to extinction.
She was the Creator, but never had she felt so utterly powerless. The darkness deepened around her. It was as if the Hole had already swallowed them up.
She took out Mi’s bone. It felt strange to hold a flute in her hands again, even one as simple as this. Her fingers spontaneously cradled around the holes in the bone, as if they felt completely at home there. She lifted it to her lips and blew a sustained, unadorned note, sending out her sorrow in a deep, mournful cry over the vast ocean.
Then she tucked the little flute into her pocket and fell into an exhausted sleep.
It wasn’t lost after all!
She was standing in front of a store, holding her flute case. There was a sign in the window: Used Musical Instruments Bought and Sold. She went inside. It wasn’t a brightly lit store like Around Again, but a small, dingy pawnshop. She walked over to the counter and laid her flute case on it. But when she opened the case, the man behind the counter laughed out loud.
“Honey, this is just an old bone!”
She looked and saw with a shock that it wasn’t her silver flute, but a plain bone flute with jagged ends.
She looked around. The pawnshop was filled with other customers, and they were all laughing heartily and pointing to the bone flute. Humiliated, she rushed to the door, leaving the case sitting on the counter.
Someone was coming in the door of the pawnshop. It was Lady Jane! No one in the shop seemed surprised by the strange way she was dressed. In fact, no one seemed to notice her at all.
“You must go back and get your flute, “ Lady Jane said.
“Why? It’s just a worthless hunk of junk!” Peggy said bitterly.
To her surprise, Lady Jane put her arms around her and began to murmur comfortingly.
“You must not be discouraged, child. It’s a long day. A very, very long day.”
When she jerked awake, Peggy felt a momentary sense of comfort from the dream. Maybe it was a sign that things really would turn out all right. But then she could hear the man’s mocking laughter in her ears. And what did Lady Jane mean by that odd phrase “It’s a long day,” instead of “It’s been a long day”?
She realized that she’d only drifted off for a short time, since night hadn’t yet come. As she watched the sun drop lower and lower on the horizon, she felt sure that the dream was nothing but wishful thinking, an attempt to give herself one last thread of hope. One thing was certain: that thin crescent of sun was about to disappear. Strangely, her terror of night had receded. Now she was only aware of a feeling of detached curiosity.
What would happen at the moment the sun was swallowed up completely? Would Notherland itself instantly disappear? Would it grow smaller and smaller, or slowly fade away, like a scene in a movie? What would happen to Peggy herself? Would she be annihilated, or abruptly thrown back into her other life in the “real” world? How strange – just as Notherland sat poised on the edge of total extinction, it seemed far more real to her than that other life.
The tiny crescent hung there, as if in suspension. Any moment now …
Peggy blinked her eyes, and it seemed in that fraction of a second that the crescent had grown slightly larger. Were her eyes playing tricks on her?
As she watched, the sliver-sized sun did seem to be growing larger, even moving back above the horizon. But how? It couldn’t be …
“It’s a long day.”
A long day.
”A very, very long day …”
The loon lumbered across the deck towards her.
“What is it?”
“Gavi!” Peggy was so excited she could hardly speak. “Do you realize what day this is?”
Gavi stared at her, uncomprehending.
“Look!” she said, pointing to the horizon. “The sun didn’t set! I swear it didn’t! It’s rising again!”
Roused by the commotion, the others came running, too.
“The Solstice!” Gavi cried. “The endless day! The one day of the year when the sun does not set in Notherland! What a dummy I am for not thinking of it!”
He let loose with a wild, ringing loon-laugh. Sir John, Molly and Peggy looked at one another, then suddenly began to jump up and down, screaming and hugging.
“We’re saved!” Molly cried.
“Saaaaaved!” Gavi chimed in.
“Not quite,” Sir John pointed out. “But at least now we’ve got a fighting chance.”
“Not much of one,” Peggy added. “The days start getting shorter now. Without the RoryBory, as soon as that sun drops below the horizon, even for half a second, Notherland is history. That means we’ve got less than twenty-four hours to get to the Pole and figure out a way to free the Nordlings.” She called over to Sir John. “What’s our position?”
“Thunderation if I can tell!” the old captain said with exasperation. “The farther north we go, the worse havoc that blasted Pole plays with my instruments!”
“Can you figure out how soon we’ll arrive at the Pole?”
Sir John shook his head. “Not precisely. But it can’t be far.”
“True north, full speed ahead!” Molly called out heartily.
“That’s what I like to hear!” replied Sir John.
Peggy looked around. “Wait a minute! Where’s Jackpine?”
They looked at one another. In all the excitement, they hadn’t even noticed his absence.
“Jackpine?” Peggy called out. “Jackpine?”
“Look!” Molly gasped as she pointed up ahead.
The Terror’s lifeboat, which had been lashed to the side of the foredeck, was missing. On the same spot there was a single sheet of paper, tacked down with a nail. Molly retrieved the paper and handed it to Peggy. She read it quickly, then silently handed it to Sir John, who read it out loud.
Dear Peggy and crew of the Terror –
I’ve gone on by myself. I can get there faster in the small boat. This way there’s a chance I can still get to the Pole in time to get the Souls out of there, and the Nordlings, too. At least this time I don’t have to swim! Turn back while you still can. Don’t worry about me. Whatever happens, it was worth it to be free for a while, and to know you. Farewell.
Your good friend, Jackpine.
As he read, Peggy fought to control the confused jumble of emotions washing over her. Giddy excitement, that he’d addressed her by name and not the others. Anger, that he was shutting her out, trying to do it all himself. Anguish, that he’d left so abruptly, without saying goodbye, even though she might never see him again.
When Sir John finished, Molly was the first to speak. “He wants us to turn back!”
Gavi shook his head sadly. “Jackpine is very brave, but very foolish. He was defeated by the Nobodaddy once before. Alone, he may not survive a second attempt.”
“Yeah, he needs our help!” Molly declared. “I want to keep going! Don’t you, Peggy?”
Before Peggy could answer, Sir John’s booming voice broke through.
They all looked in the direction he was pointing. Off in the distance was a huge, white, irregularly shaped object.
“What is it?” Molly cried excitedly. “Land? Are we at the Pole?”
The object was tearing towards the ship at great speed. As it grew closer, Peggy could make out sharp, jagged points of ice jutting out at its base, like the blades of an enormous jigsaw.
“Iceberg!” she yelled. “Dead ahead!”
Now it was headed straight for the Terror.
It was only Molly’s quick thinking and skillful work at the helm that prevented the iceberg from taking a deep gash out of the ship. She swerved the Terror sharply to port just as the iceberg was bearing down on it, causing the ship to list badly.
It happened so quickly that the others barely had time to react. They all watched, with gaping mouths, as the huge hunk of ice barrelled towards them, and they grabbed on to whatever they could as the ship leaned perilously to one side. As soon as Sir John saw that the iceberg had bypassed the ship and they were out of danger, he called out to Molly.
“Hell of a steering job, Ensign Molly!”
But it quickly became clear that their relief was premature.
“Look!” Peggy pointed off in the distance.
There were more icebergs, perhaps dozens more.
“They must be breaking off from the ice around the Pole!” Gavi said.
“Good heavens! How are we going to steer around all of them?” Sir John cried.
He had barely finished his sentence when his voice was drowned out by a cacophony of smashing, scraping and grinding noises up ahead of them.
“They’re crashing into each other!” Peggy shouted, barely making herself heard. “Here they come! Look out!”
Two icebergs were coming at the Terror, one on either side. It seemed certain that the ship would be crushed between them. Sir John grabbed the helm as Molly dove for the mainsheet, pulling at it and catching a strong gust of wind that propelled the ship forward with such force it almost lifted it out of the water. They all looked behind and saw the two icebergs collide, creating an explosion that sent shards of ice spewing into the air around them.
As more of the huge ice-forms swarmed around the ship, sometimes looming right above their heads, Molly took the helm and steered like an experienced sailor. Her reflexes seemed almost supernaturally sharp. With Sir John at her side, guiding her every maneuver, even her blind eye caused her no problem.
Just when Molly’s concentration was beginning to give out, the sea around them grew calmer and quieter, and the icebergs began to recede behind them.
The great rim of the Hole, with billowing puffs of smoky vapor rising out of it, appeared before them.
“It looks as though Hell has frozen over,” Gavi said.
“Is that what I think it is?” Molly cried, pointing ahead.
Peggy’s heart leapt when she saw the Terror’s lifeboat, along with a pair of oars, lying beside the rim of the Hole.