Chapter 15: The White Marauder
AS HE SOARED over the vast Polar Sea, Gavi the loon released an exuberant wail.
I am here! I exist!
To think that only a short time earlier, he had been so sure his time had come. Then, to his amazement, there was a crack in the ice, then another, and another. He felt himself being pulled downward, his flesh stretched to the limit, as if his body would split open. Then a sudden, ecstatic feeling of release, not only of his outer body, but of something loosening up inside him.
It was a few moments before he realized what it was: His mind was open, free, expansive, as it had been when he first dwelled in Notherland, before he had crossed over into Peggy’s world. True, he had still had some power of thought in his life as a physical loon, the same power he’d discovered, to his astonishment, that his daughter Gavrila shared. But it had never been quite the same – he felt his mind was sluggish, as if weighted down by his body. Aspects of his curiosity had been dulled, and he found he could only fitfully recall much of his previous learning.
Yet, when he had first returned to Notherland he found that the sensations of his loon body – tastes, sounds, the feeling of wetness – had all became much less intense. He found it sad to think that beings had to choose between the full power of the mind and the sweet joys of physical existence. His own experience of going between the worlds suggested that it might not be possible to have both.
But what a difference it was being in Notherland! Random bits of knowledge came flooding back into his mind, ideas he had once pondered, words he had learned long ago. And all this seemed to be occurring with no diminishment in his physical sensations. How could this be?
He considered whether to fly to Painted Rock, on Lake Notherland, the portal between this world and the world of the Creator, Peggy. He had to find Molly and the Nordlings and see if, by chance, Peggy herself had also returned, drawn by the same sense of foreboding as he himself had been.
He was distracted from his musings by intriguing waves of sound wafting up from the sea below. He looked down and saw a pod of humpback whales, their shiny black backs undulating in and out of the water. In his life as a physical loon he had often seen humpbacks from a distance and experienced their magnificent music.
Their song dropped to a deep, sonorous timbre, then swooped up into the higher registers. It was no random collection of notes, but a progression of phrases and refrains, a melody as haunting and complex as any human music. As he listened to it, he experienced a deep sense of kinship with the whales. He felt a strong urge to release a tremolo in response. But he held back, fearful they might misinterpret his enthusiasm and stop singing altogether. He felt a twinge of envy at the variety of the whales’ music, which put the limited range of his own loon singing to shame
He drank in the final strains of the whale song as the humpbacks receded in the distance, and turned his attention to his present situation. For all the exhilaration he felt being back in Notherland, something had drawn him back here, a feeling that something was not right. But what was it? Everything seemed as he remembered it.
To the north he spied what looked like a smoldering column rising up in the distance. It took him a few moments to realize what he was seeing: the Hole at the Pole, ringed by a narrow band of black ice.
Clearly, the Hole, once sealed shut through the brave efforts of Peggy and the Nordlings, was open again. What did it mean? Had the Nobodaddy somehow returned? How was such a thing possible? But he could see the evidence with his own eyes. Something was going on in the Hole at the Pole.
If the Nobodaddy had been unleashed anew, he was capable of inflicting great evil, in this world and others. He would have to be stopped.
Gavi pondered what to do. Should he wait and hope the others would show up? He had waited all that time on Lake Keewatin, till he had become nearly imprisoned in the ice, and no one had come.
This was not a time for waiting, he decided. This was a time for action.
Of all the inhabitants of Notherland, he was the only one who had never come face to face with the Nobodaddy. Even the Nordlings had done their part by bringing light into the darkness of the Hole during Peggy’s battle with the demon. But during that first journey into the Hole, Gavi had stayed behind while Molly and Peggy continued on. He had chosen not to go with them. He had turned away from his chance to confront the Nobodaddy. It was his secret shame, and now he resolved to make up for it. He would descend into the Hole alone. He would do whatever was necessary to defeat the Nobodaddy.
He flew down to the surface of the water, swam to the edge of the ring of black ice, and wriggled his body onto it. He made his way to the rim of the smoldering Hole and looked down into its forbidding depths. For a few moments he was paralyzed with fear. Then he began his descent along the ledge that spiralled down the craggy walls.
The Hole was dark, cold, even more desolate than he remembered it. On their earlier journey, they had encountered many despairing souls held captive by the Nobodaddy. But now the Hole was an empty place, devoid of any signs of life.
He made his way down the path and soon arrived at the place where he, Molly, and Peggy had encountered the tortured souls known as Mads, whose anger and bitterness had so distressed Gavi that he feared losing his mind. He fought to shake off the memory of the near-madness that had gripped him, made much worse by the burning shame he felt now. For it was at this spot that he had decided he could go no farther, where he had let his companions down.
This time would be different. He would not let himself be ruled by fear. He would be strong, his mind clear and focussed.
He resumed walking. He was now descending deeper into the Hole than he had ever been before.
He didn’t know how long he had been walking, for he had lost all track of time. All he knew was that the path had come to an abrupt end. He could go no farther. He must have arrived at the bottom of the Hole. So where was the Nobodaddy?
Then he remembered what Peggy and Re9 had told him about the Hole at the Pole: There is a Bottom Below the bottom. It was there that he would find the Nobodaddy.
He knew from Peggy’s account that there was an opening into the Bottom Below, but he did not know how to find it. His red eyes, designed to see sharply in deep water, were unable to penetrate the thick darkness surrounding him. He decided to move methodically, stealthily over the floor of the cavern, until he could feel some kind of opening. Soon his webbed foot touched a kind of crevice in the rock, and he found he was able to ease his body through it with little difficulty.
What he saw on the other side of the opening was not what he expected at all. The Hole at the Pole was supposed to be a place of endless darkness, a black hole that swallowed up any light that managed to penetrate it. But the place where he now stood was illuminated by a dim, harsh, cold light.
At first he thought the space was empty. Then he saw it: a creature – male or female, he could not tell – with long, flowing white hair and pale, almost translucent skin. The creature was not imposing in size, though he noticed that its head was proportionally much larger than the rest of its body. The creature’s eyes were closed, and it was crouched in a corner, almost as if it were as frightened of Gavi as he was of it. Perhaps, Gavi thought, his fears of facing the Nobodaddy had been unfounded. This creature was more like Nobody, a nonentity.
He waited for the creature to speak, but no words were forthcoming. After a few moments he approached it. Even with his slow, careful steps he was sure that the creature must be aware of his presence, and he expected that at any moment it would open its eyes. Then it became apparent what he was really seeing. The creature’s eyes were not closed at all, but wide open. What he had thought were eyelids were actually eyes – blank, drained of all line and color.
A feeling of profound dread washed over him. He had expected the face of evil, but this was the face of nothingness itself. He had expected a harsh, destructive being like the Evil Angel in Will Blake’s painting. But this was infinitely more chilling, a creature of mindless obliteration.
Suddenly he was being pulled forward with tremendous force. No resistance on his part made any difference. He was being drawn closer and closer to the creature, who still sat, impassive, crouched against the wall in front of him. Then he felt himself being yanked upward, toward the creature’s head. His body was being stretched into a taut strip and drawn through a cold, clammy orifice. The creature was sucking him into its body through its eyes! He felt sickened, overwhelmed with fear and nausea.
He found himself surrounded by dense tissue, pulsating muscle pressing against him in the darkness. The only light was coming in through two round orbs, which he realized were the outer surfaces of the creature’s eyes. He was so tightly imprisoned in the quivering tissue that he could do nothing but look out the orbs, as if they were portholes in the bowels of a ship.
He was being forced to look through the creature’s eyes, to see what it was seeing. To his shock, he saw that they were no longer in the Bottom Below, nor in the Hole at all, but soaring high in the sky, looking down on the land. It was a vantage point Gavi knew well, of course, from his own travels in flight. But this was disorienting, and he had to struggle to keep his feelings of nausea and revulsion under control.
Below them he saw the edge of a great ice shelf, which at first, he thought was the Everlasting Ice. But he quickly realized that the ice field he was looking down upon was too vast to be the Everlasting Ice. It was not Notherland they were flying over, but Peggy’s world and his, too – the world where he’d chosen to live as a physical creature when he had passed through the portal from Notherland three winters before.
He was appalled to see a huge section suddenly break away from the shelf, sending large chunks of ice plunging into the open water. Almost immediately another, even larger area of ice broke off, then another, each one releasing a torrent of shards into the sea. Amid the plates and islands of floating ice, a number of large white bears were swimming, trying to get back onto the solid ice that was their habitat.
Gavi could hardly believe what he was seeing. What did it mean? Was he witnessing the breaking apart of the polar ice cap? Was the creature, in whose body he was now trapped, somehow causing this melting of the great ice shelf?
They soared on, leaving the polar bears and melting ice in the distance. Gavi concluded they must be moving in a southerly direction, a route with which he had become familiar on his own migratory journeys. He had no idea what the purpose of this journey was, nor any idea what lay in store farther along. In any event, he was powerless to do anything about it.
They flew over a vast body of open water dotted with islands of various shapes and sizes. He began to notice a kind of greyish mist in the air around them, which grew into a thick haze as they moved farther south. The haze had a putrid odor that he could smell even through the barrier of the creature’s body. He was finding it more and more difficult to breathe.
He knew that air is vital to life, that all creatures must breathe to survive. But here, the air was dirty and fetid. Was this sour air confined to where they were now? What if it had spread over the whole earth? He shuddered to think of the consequences.
They continued on. They were flying over a vast tract of land, an area that had once been covered by forest. Now it was dotted with decaying stumps and shrivelled plants struggling to survive in the dry, unforgiving soil. As he watched from above, a gust of wind sent waves of dust swirling over the ground. He wondered how living things could possibly survive in such conditions. What had happened to all the trees that had once provided shade and held moisture in the forest floor?
A sickening dread took hold of Gavi. It was as if he were bearing witness to the great unravelling of the natural world, the world he had chosen over the immortal realm of Imagination, the world he had come to love with a great fierceness.
Why would anyone destroy such beauty? To what purpose? What mad, mindless evil was behind this vision of hell?
The feeling of despair was overwhelming. But Gavi reminded himself that he was seeing with the creature’s eyes, not his own. Were the terrible things he was witnessing really happening? Or could they be harbingers of what was to come, if the white beast were allowed to run amok? He did not know if what he was seeing was real or imaginary, present or possible future. But he had to do something to stop the marauding demon. He had to fight for the survival of the natural world.
They were heading out to sea again. Below them was a long stretch of sandy shoreline, upon which enormous black objects were scattered here and there. Gavi strained to make out what they were, and noticed that some of the black objects were making intermittent, twitching movements. He thought he heard something, too – faint but sustained sounds arising from the area of the dark bodies, sounds that were strangely familiar. He soon realized why.
The large, dark bodies were beached humpbacks lying on the sand. They were singing the same requiem they’d sung when Owen’s body was given up to the sea. But now the life they were mourning was their own. The humpbacks were lying helpless on the sand, slowly dying. There was nothing he could do to help them.
He desperately wanted to turn away from the horrific site, to shut out the sound of their mournful dirge. It was the worst of the terrible things he had witnessed so far, a tragedy beyond measure. But he could not turn away, because he was experiencing everything through the creature’s own senses. He was beginning to realize that in some perverse way the creature was revelling in the sights below. It seemed to be drawing its very sustenance from suffering and devastation, as if death were its darling, fear its dearest companion.
They flew out over the open water, and he saw a large part of the surface covered by a dark, shiny membrane. He peered hard at it, trying to determine what the shiny substance could be. There were objects moving at various spots within the membrane. As they flew directly overhead, he saw that the moving objects were ducks and other waterbirds, struggling to get free of the sticky black substance. But the harder they tried to move through it, the more thoroughly they were immobilized, as their wings and bodies became coated with the black goo.
The substance must be oil – oil that had likely spilled from one of the large vessels in which humans transported things by sea. He and Nor had flown over one such spill before, and he recalled the panicked cries of the birds trapped below. Now, something just beyond the edge of the oil slick caught his eye. A boat carrying several humans was moving back and forth along the margins of the slick. The humans in the boat were holding out what appeared to be poles with large baskets on one end. The boat passed near a pair of birds, ones he hadn’t noticed before, because their black backs had blended in with the dark oil. Now he could see them clearly, their white throats ringed with black necklaces.
Suddenly, the creature swooped down toward the slick, as if in response to Gavi’s longing to get a closer look. Soon, they were hovering directly above the two loons, who were thrashing and straining to get free of the slick. Now Gavi could see their individual features clearly.
It was Nor and Gavrila, struggling with all their might to keep from being swamped by the oil. He had to get to them. He had to save his mate and their child. But he himself was trapped inside the creature’s flesh. The agony was unbearable, especially the thought of his daughter young life being snuffed out before she’d had a chance to see and taste and feel life.
He could not let them die. He would not.
In his terror and frustration Gavi released a series of tremolos, more urgent and frantic than he had ever made. As the sound ripped through the creature’s body like a powerful thunderbolt, he felt like he was inside a great thrashing whale.
Suddenly he had the sensation of emerging out into the open. He was breaking free of the creature! He felt oddly, uncommonly light, as if he no longer had a body. Below him, Nor and Gavrila were still floundering in the slick. Both of them looked like they were near the very limit of their strength. They would not be able to hold on much longer.
The boat with the humans was a short distance from them. But now, it seemed to be moving away from where they were trapped. He realized that Nor and Gavrila were so covered in black oil that they were barely visible in the vast dark pool. The humans could not see them. Gavi had to make them aware that the loons were there. But how?
He recalled how he had found himself able to communicate with his daughter in thought, in words that passed between their minds. If he could do that now, if he could convey to Gavrila that she must signal her presence to the humans, she and her mother would be rescued.
He focused all his powers of concentration.
Gavrila, my daughter. Release a tremolo.
He watched anxiously. Were his words getting through to her?
Gavrila. A tremolo. As loud as you can. Now.
Suddenly the air was pierced by a tremolo, of an intensity Gavi had seldom experienced. Then another, and another. One of the humans in the boat turned around and pointed toward Nor and Gavrila.
The boat turned and steered in their direction.
Gavi was exhausted. It had taken all his strength to summon up the words, and now he was growing faint. He looked down at the boat, hovering near the edge of the slick. The humans were lifting two of the long-handled baskets out of the oil and drawing them toward the boat. In one basket was Nor. The other held Gavrila.
As his mind slid into unconsciousness, he said a silent prayer of gratitude. His mate and daughter were safe.
Chapter 16: Whale Song
MI AWOKE FROM the dream shaking. Nordlings didn’t usually have dreams, but she knew about the terrible dreams called nightmares in the Creator’s world.
This one felt so vivid she wasn’t sure it was a dream at all. Even now, wide awake, she couldn’t shake her mind free of it – the darkened air, the trees screaming for water, the agonized cries of dying whales. And the pale-skinned creature with the long white hair and the blank stare, much as she had depicted the creature in her Story Cloth. The White Marauder, come to life.
Yes, now she remembered! Gavi was there in the dream too. But “there” in a strange way she couldn’t put into words – unseen, yet his presence felt, unmistakably, in his voice. And, stranger still, he was not making his usual calls, but singing, a melody she thought she recognized.
What did it mean, this terrible dream? Was Gavi in danger? Had he somehow fallen into the clutches of the demon?
She shook Peggy awake, called Molly over, and told them in a rush of words about the dream.
“Do you think it could mean that Gavi is already in Notherland?” she asked.
“He could be,” said Molly. “But why wouldn’t he come and find us?”
“Maybe he can’t,” Mi offered.
“Can’t? What do you mean?”
Mi told them about the white figure in her dream, and how it matched the way she had depicted the Nobodaddy on her Story Cloth.
“Maybe the Nobodaddy has gotten to Gavi already,” Molly said when she finished. “We better get going and find him.”
“Yes,” said Peggy. But she remained motionless.
“Come on!” Molly ordered her. “Why are you just sitting there? What’s wrong with you?”
“This is all my fault,” Peggy replied. “I’ve let you down so many times. I’ve messed up so badly. What makes you think I’ll be any better now?”
For a few moments Mi and Molly stared at her in silence. Then Mi reached out and took her hand.
“No one is perfect, not even a Creator. I am sorry for the things I said. Being a Creator is a great and difficult burden. I know that now. Please come with us, Pay-gee. It was your imagination that gave birth to Notherland. It is your imagination that must save it now.”
Mi embraced her, and Peggy melted into the Nordling’s tiny arms as if she were cradled, once again, in the angel’s wings. She felt a deep sense of joy. Mi had forgiven her.
They set off, walking at a rapid clip. Once they got to the Everlasting Ice
they moved even more quickly, propelling themselves across the ice in smooth, gliding motions, as they had done countless times before. As she sped effortlessly across the glassy surface, Peggy recalled how exhilarating it was, this sensation of skating without blades.
She thought back to the day all those months ago, when she had sold the flute. Even then, she knew it was a stupid thing to do – like tearing up a book, or ripping a favorite piece of clothing to shreds. She had disowned Notherland out of anger and spite, but she figured she was only hurting herself. Of course, that turned out not to be the case at all. Her actions had had a powerful ripple effect.
She was beginning to understand that she’d gotten it all backwards. Notherland wasn’t a childish thing to be outgrown. Going on these journeys called on the very best part of her. That was why she’d come back to Notherland again and again – to discover that part of herself anew.
Finally, they arrived at the edge of the ice shelf, where Molly’s ship the Resolute was anchored. Peggy put Mi on her back and started to clamber up the rope ladder, but Molly stopped her.
“Don’t bother. The ship’s not going anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.
“No wind,” she replied, shaking her head. “Doldrums.”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know!” Molly stamped her foot in frustration. “A ship is useless without wind!”
Mi pointed toward the Pole, where a column of dark smoke was rising into the air. Finally their fears were confirmed. The Hole at the Pole was no longer sealed shut. The Nobodaddy had been set free.
“What do we do?”
“Get there. Fast!”
“What about Gavi? What if he…?”
“Quiet!” Peggy shouted.
Mi and Molly looked at Peggy, shocked at the vehemence in her voice.
“I need to think.”
She turned away, shaken by the terror in their voices, the fear in their eyes. She had no idea what to do. She was at the end of her rope. Everything seemed utterly hopeless.
It was your imagination that gave birth to Notherland, Mi had said. It is your imagination that must save it now.
She thought back to the moment of Notherland’s birth. She saw her seven-year-old self sitting at the bedroom window, looking down on the skaters in Green Echo Park. What power her mind had wielded then. She needed to find a way to harness that power right now. But how?
The image of ice, its hard clarity, filled her mind. She saw the skaters moving effortlessly across the surface of the pond. She felt the sharp coldness of it now, under her feet, as she stood at the edge of the Everlasting Ice.
I can make the ice grow.
It was true. She could make the ice grow. She didn’t know how she knew this, but she knew she could. If she concentrated hard enough, she could make the ice shelf extend right out into the open water and reach all the way to the ring of black ice around the Pole. She closed her eyes.
There was a great cracking, like a series of small explosions. She opened her eyes and saw the waters of the Polar Sea siezing up and joining together to form an iron grip of ice.
Molly watched in slack-jawed astonishment. Mi beamed at Peggy.
“I knew you could do it!” she said.
The loud cracking grew to a roar. Molly scrambled out onto the ice. The frozen shelf grew, like a powerful wave racing just ahead of her, until they looked and saw the wave of cold had reached the Pole itself.
“That’s enough!” Molly called to Peggy. “We can make it all the way.”
But once unleashed, the surge was powerful beyond Peggy’s control. The ice crunched up against the edge of the Hole and surrounded it. It mingled with the rising column of smoke, trapping it into a towering cone of ice. The top of the Hole now looked like a mountain of glass.
The three of them raced toward it.
He opened his eyes and saw dark, craggy walls surrounding him. He was back in the Hole. But at least he was seeing with his own eyes again.
He looked around to see if the Nobodaddy was there, too, for he now had no doubt that the pale white creature and the Nobodaddy were one and the same. He spied some wisps of white hair against the opposite wall. The creature was crouched in a corner, much as before, but its head was tilted back and its arms hung limply at its sides. Gavi’s explosive tremolo had not destroyed the Nobodaddy, but clearly, it had weakened the creature. Whether this state of weakness was permanent or temporary, he did not know.
He thought back to the scenes he had witnessed during his imprisonment. His mate and daughter were safe, but what of the other creatures? Had all those terrible things really come to pass? Was the Nobodaddy taunting him with visions of what was to come? Was it too late to hold back the fouling of the air, the melting of the icebergs? Was it too late to save the shrivelling plants, the desperate polar bears, the dying whales?
He could only hope that it was not too late, and do whatever was in his power to stop the Nobodaddy. Now was the time to strike, before the creature could recover its strength.
It was music that sapped the creature’s power. He knew this from the time Peggy had outfoxed the Nobodaddy, by calling on the Nordlings to sing while she played the bone flute. He had seen evidence of it himself, in the way his own tremolo had weakened the creature. But he knew that his own repertoire of calls – the wail, the tremolo, the near-hysteria of a yodel – would not be powerful enough. Something more truly musical would be necessary to disable the Nobodaddy. He had to find a way to make his loon voice do what it had never done before. He would have to sing.
He thought of the humpbacks’ song, with its deep sonorous beauty. He could not hope to approach something so rich and majestic. But he would try.
He threw his head back with fierce abandon, stretching his neck as far as he could to fully open his beak and gullet. A ripple of sound spilled out – not calls, but notes, random and unrelated to one another, but musical notes nevertheless. He lifted his neck and tried again. More notes, this time forming a pattern. A melody. A song.
He was doing it. He was singing, a new song, one no loon had ever sung before. His joy was so complete he had to remind himself of his purpose – and pay attention to the Nobodaddy.
The creature, still huddled against the cavern wall, was growing paler, almost translucent. It was working. The Nobodaddy’s strength was ebbing. It he could keep singing long enough, the Nobodaddy would face into nothingness and become Nobody.
He sang again, and watched the Nobodaddy growing still weaker. But the creature was still there. It was not enough. Gavi’s body was not constituted to sing this way, and his throat was burning with the effort of it. It was taking all his strength to keep going.
He sang and sang, but the notes were diminishing. Now all he could get out were a few weak hoots. He looked over at the corner. The Nobodaddy’s skin was changing from translucent to an opaque white. The creature was regaining its strength.
Gavi had tried so hard. But he was losing the battle.
Suddenly, a cold blast of air whipped around him. Then another, and another. It seemed to be pulling him upward, which was strange, because from his studies Gavi had learned that it is warm air that rises, not cold. Yet, some force was unmistakably pulling him upward, away from the Nobodaddy.
Higher and higher he rose. Though the cold was sharper than any he had ever experienced, he felt no pain or discomfort. He continued to rise until he was near the entrance to the Hole. He passed through the opening and emerged out into the light. He could see blue sky above him, and realized that he was inside a column of sheer ice, ice that had now completely covered the entrance to the Hole.
He looked down at the Nobodaddy, trapped in the Bottom Below. The creature was roaring at him in thwarted anger, a roar that no one could hear.
Finally, he was bathed in full daylight, and though he was now held immobile in the ice, he felt a deep, abiding happiness. He had thwarted the Nobodaddy. His daughter, his mate, the sweet world – all were safe.
He had fulfilled his purpose.
They raced toward the tower of ice, which they could now see completely blocked the entrance to the Hole. It was clear as glass, and the closer they came, the more astonished Peggy was by the size of it. She was carrying Mi, while Molly raced on ahead, and the doll was now at the edge of the Hole, right beside the great cone of ice.
A piercing shriek rang out. Molly was running back and forth near the Hole, pointing at something – a dark object that appeared to be trapped inside the ice. As Peggy approached, Molly lifted her eyepatch and aimed the Aya at the ice, right where the dark object was. The heat of the Aya sizzled on the surface of the ice and began to bore a hole into it.
Peggy watched in horror as she recognized what the object was.
Molly continued to aim the hot beam of the Aya toward the ice, producing trickles of water down the side of the column. Peggy raced up to her and tried to block the beam.
The doll tried to squirm away from her. “It’s Gavi! We have to get him out of there.”
“No, Molly, If you melt the ice, it’ll free the Nobodaddy.”
“I don’t care! We can’t leave him in there!”
Peggy clapped one hand over the Aya, and wrapped the other tightly around Molly, who fought ferociously to get free of her grip. But she was much smaller, no match for Peggy.
“It’s too late, Molly. It’s too late to save him.”
As Molly let out an anguished shriek, Mi could only gaze in stunned sorrow at the body of the loon, motionless, his face calm and peaceful.
“It can’t be too late!”
“It is, Molly. He’s gone. I’m sorry, Molly. I’m sorry.”
They fell upon one another, weeping.
“How could I have done this?” Peggy cried. “If I hadn’t made the ice grow, he wouldn’t have gotten trapped in it.”
Mi touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“Don’t blame yourself, Pay-gee. You did what you had to. You did exactly what Gavi would have wanted you to do. You trapped the Nobodaddy in the Hole. You saved Notherland.”
“Listen,” Molly said.
They could hear distant singing – low, sonorous notes that swept up the scale to reach sweet heights.
Molly pointed out into the water. A pod of humpback whales, perhaps as many as two dozen, was approaching. They were singing a requiem. Peggy recognized it as the same one the whales had sung as the body of Owen, the Pirate Queen’s son, was lowered into the sea. But for the three of them, standing at the edge of the Hole at the Pole, this requiem was infinitely sadder.
Gavi, the Philosopher-Loon, old Bird-Full-of-Words, had passed on into Eternity.
Suddenly the sharp cold vanished. He could feel his own flesh again, though in a new way. He was lighter, almost weightless, as he moved through space.
He was being carried on the shoulders of angels. They were climbing a stairway, one much longer than the Great Skyway, that seemed to reach all the way up to the stars. On either side of him he saw more angels, lined along the stairway. When they reached the top, two people, a man and a woman, stood waiting to greet him. The man was dressed in a uniform like a sea captain’s, while the woman wore an old-fashioned gown with a high waist. They both smiled warmly at him and, though he could not be sure, they looked for all the world like Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin. Just behind them were other familiar faces – the climbing boy, Grania, the Pirate Queen, and joy of joys, his mentor, William Blake, extending a hand and tugging at his left wing.
In the distance he spied what looked like an enormous loom that seemed to stretch into infinity. Beside it were beautiful dark-skinned women arrayed in brilliantly colored robes. Who are they? he wondered. What are they weaving on that gigantic loom? And their singing – the most glorious music he had yet heard.
What is this place?
As he took one last look below, he was overcome by a stabbing grief at the sight of Peggy, Molly, and Mi, weeping inconsolably as they looked on his physical body frozen in the ice. He wanted to go down and tell them not to mourn for him, that he was all right.
He had so much to learn about this place. So many questions, so many new mysteries to explore. He was embarking on a great, new adventure, and to express his exhilaration he threw back his head and let loose a joyous wail.
I am here. I exist!
Chapter 17: The Creator
PEGGY HEARD THE far-off singing all through a night of restless sleep.
After a time the humpbacks had moved on, swimming off into the vast open waters of the Polar Sea. But long after their smooth rounded backs were little more than dark pinpoints in the distance, their singing was still audible, providing a counterpoint to the chorus of the Nordlings drifting down from the RoryBory.
Mi had gone up the Great Skyway to join them. Someone had to carry the news of Gavi’s death, and Molly was certainly in no shape to do it. For hours she refused to budge from the spot where the loon’s body was trapped, keeping her face pressed against the ice as if she could bring him back to life by sheer force of will.
Peggy worried whether Mi was up to carrying out such a difficult, painful task. But the Nordling assured Peggy that she could handle it.
“I am the one who must carry the news to the Nordlings,” she said. “They are my brothers and sisters.”
Peggy had never before heard Mi use those words for the Nordlings, but she found it touching to realize that the Nordling had come to see herself as part of a family. Peggy could only wonder what had brought on this particular shift in Mi. It seemed to be yet another manifestation of the changes she had undergone in carrying out the epic task of rebuilding Notherland.
As she finally drifted off, Peggy heard the music of the RoryBory change key, moving from major to minor. She took it as a sign that Mi’s message had been delivered. The Nordlings now knew that their beloved Gavi was gone forever.
Their mournful melody, combined with the distant chant of the humpbacks, invaded her sleep. She dreamt she was back in the bleak world of the FarNear, where she and Molly had gone in search of Mi, when she was being been held captive by the Evil Angel. She and Molly had fought side by side then, and they had defeated the Evil Angel. But they had arrived too late to prevent his violation of Mi, and in her dream, Peggy once more felt the crushing despair of that realization.
Still, Mi’s spirit had healed. She gradually became herself again – yet changed, stronger. No such happy outcome awaited them now. This time there was only the terrible finality of Gavi’s death.
How could he be gone? Peggy could still scarcely bring herself to believe it, but the cries that welled up from deep within her were evidence enough. As she had so many times before, she felt the heavy burden of being the Creator, and the profound loneliness that went with it. She must take care of Molly and the Nordlings. She couldn’t allow herself to succumb to her own grief.
Toward morning, as Peggy drifted in and out of sleep, she had another dream. This time Gavi himself was looking at her with the same fond bemusement as when she’d first returned to Notherland three years earlier. She’d thought she was dreaming then, too, and Gavi had taken her to task for mistaking Notherland for, as he put it “a mundane place like dreamland.” How like him to appear to her now, in a dream, slyly evoking that earlier encounter. She felt deeply comforted by the strong sense that the loon’s spirit was hovering nearby.
She sat up, rubbing her eyes. Molly was in the same position as the night before, still clinging to the column of ice where Gavi’s body lay suspended. But her eyes were closed. She seemed to be in a deep slumber, though Peggy had never known the doll to sleep before. It dawned on her that Molly, like Mi, may have undergone some profound changes during the period of Notherland’s extinction. But she still had no clear sense of what had happened, or where Molly had gone. There had been no time for them to talk about it.
She decided to leave Molly undisturbed for the time being. As she turned away, she was startled to see the loon from her dream still there, staring intently at her.
“Gavi?” she called softly. “Am I still dreaming?”
“No,” the loon replied in a voice that sounded oddly high-pitched. “You are not dreaming.”
Peggy heard a voice calling out from her behind her.
It was Molly, suddenly wide awake. She turned to look at Gavi’s body, still frozen in the tower of ice.
“What’s going on?” she shouted to the loon, standing in front of Peggy. “How can you be here?”
“Because,” the bird replied, “I am not Gavi.”
It was almost beyond comprehension, the sudden appearance of this loon, so much like Gavi but clearly younger, and female. Her name, she told them, was Gavrila, and she was the daughter of Gavi and his mate.
“Mate?” Peggy cut in. “What’s her name?”
“My mother’s name is Nor,” the young loon replied.
Peggy let out a joyful whoop!
“Nor! Yes, that was the one he talked about. So he did win her after all!”
She grabbed Molly by the shoulders, laughing. The doll looked mystified, almost frightened at Peggy’s bizarre outburst. Had she lost her mind?
“This is wonderful, Molly! Remember what Gavi said when he first decided to cross over into the physical world? He said he wanted to experience life to the full, even if it meant that he would die one day. And that’s just what he did! He found a mate. He fathered a chick. We should be glad for him, Molly! He lived his life just as he wanted to.”
Molly threw herself into Peggy’s arms. As they held tightly to one another, Peggy felt a small drop of wetness on her shoulder. When they pulled away from one another, she saw the streak from a single tear glistening on Molly’s cheek.
Molly had acquired the ability to cry as well as to sleep. It was becoming clear that something momentous had happened to the doll during her journey back to the physical world, and Peggy was itching to find out just what it was.
For her part, Gavrila seemed strangely reserved, apparently unmoved by the fate that had befallen her father. But Gavrila was a young loon, Peggy reminded herself, and was more than likely disoriented here, in this unfamiliar world, while intense emotions swirled all around her. How, Peggy wondered, had Gavrila managed to find her way to Notherland? Why had she come here? Why now?
As if reading her thoughts, Gavrila spoke in the careful, precise tones so characteristic of Gavi himself.
“My father told me about Notherland, the world that had first given life to him. As we were preparing to migrate to our wintering grounds, he had a strong sense that Notherland was in some kind of danger, and decided, against my mother’s and my own entreaties, to stay behind. We set out with the others, and some time later the group stopped to rest in the sea. We spied a large vessel in the distance, but thought nothing of it, since humans generally pay little heed to us. As we prepared to take off again, a dark substance spread over the surface of the water, engulfing us. It was thick and heavy, and it stuck to our bodies, no matter how hard we tried to shake it off. I looked toward the vessel. It was listing sharply to one side, and the substance was leaking from the vessel into the surrounding waters.
“Our legs were helpless. Our wings were immobilized. We were trapped in the dark pool. It was terrible. Many were pulled under by the weight of the substance on their feathers. My mother and I fought to keep from being pulled under too, but we were growing weak and exhausted. Then something very strange occurred.
“I started hearing words in my mind. As must be obvious to you by now, I have inherited from my father the capacity for thought and language, previously unknown among members of my species. This ability operates at a much-reduced level in the physical world, but finds full expression in a world of the imagination such as Notherland. Nevertheless, at that moment I distinctly heard words, in a way familiar to me only from the times I have communicated silently with my father. I heard my own name, Gavrila, followed by an urgent command to make a tremolo call.
“I could not see the point of doing such a thing. We were immobilized in the black pool, and I did not believe I had enough strength left in me to carry out the command. But the words came again, even more forcefully, and this time I obeyed. I summoned what little strength I had left and released a tremolo.
“Suddenly, miraculously, my mother and I were being lifted out of the water by some force above us, something we could not see, because the substance had covered our eyes. We felt what must have been human hands cradling us and wiping the thick goo from our bodies. In those moments, I strongly sensed the presence of my father, and I knew that he was watching over us. I cannot explain how, but I knew it to be true. My father taught me that there are things that cannot be accounted for by reason alone.
“After a time the human hands placed us back in the water, away from the dark pool, so that we could continue our journey. I told my mother to go on with the others, for I was seized by the conviction that I must go in search of my father. I flew north again, to the place where we had left him, by the cliff with the ancient drawings.
“There I waited, in the hope that he would return. I heard a great roar that seemed to be coming from the other side of the cliff, and I felt a cold blast shoot through my body, a cold sharper than any I have ever known. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was no longer in the waters by the cliff, but here, on this sheet of ice, a short distance from where you lay sleeping. I recognized you both immediately from my father’s many tales of Notherland, and I knew that I had somehow been transported to his world of origin. At first I was jubilant, thinking I would soon be reunited with him, and then…”
Gavrila abruptly cut off her tale, and even though she made no outward show of emotion, it was clear that the young loon was still reeling from the shock of the sight of her father’s body in the ice. Peggy realized that Gavrila’s manner did not arise from a lack of emotion. Like her father, her reserved, formal exterior hid a well of strong feeling.
They spent the day getting acquainted with Gavrila, and the more time they spent together, the more Peggy was reminded of Gavi. She had so many questions, such boundless curiosity about Notherland and its ways. She was especially taken with the sight of the Great Skyway.
“Many things here are quite similar to those in the physical world. Even your RoryBory is much like the Aurora Borealis at its greatest intensity. But this magnificent structure sweeping up into the sky – in my world there is nothing quite like it!”
The Nordlings crowded around the new arrival, eager to show off their realm.
“That’s the Great Skyway!”
“We go up it every night.”
“And down every morning!”
“Would you like to go up it?”
Gavrila looked surprised. “Could I?” she said eagerly.
They led her to the base of the Skyway, and several of the older Nordlings began to push her from behind. The sight of the tiny creatures hoisting the bird’s lumbering body was quite the comic spectacle. When the Nordlings could push her no further they let go. Gavrila slid all the way down to the bottom, shrieking with laughter.
“Again!” she cried.
The Nordlings were delighted to have a new playmate. But Peggy kept her eye on Molly to see how she was adjusting to the presence of this creature, so strange and yet, so familiar. Was Molly uncomfortable? Did she regard Gavrila as an intruder in her world? The doll was uncharacteristically quiet for some time.
Peggy could only hope that Molly was becoming more accepting of Gavrila. Though no one could replace Gavi in her eyes, it was clear that the novelty of Gavrila was providing a welcome distraction for the Nordlings, at least. Perhaps, Peggy thought, her presence could even help to lessen the sting of Gavi’s death for Molly herself.
As evening came on, the tired Nordlings bade their new friend goodnight and made their way up to the RoryBory. Gavrila approached Peggy and Molly and began to speak with grave seriousness.
“I know that my father was very dear to you both, and I share your grief. But I am comforted by the knowledge that he chose his fate. He embraced life, he lived it to the full, as you say, and his passing is part of the inescapable cycle of life and death. The best thing I can do for him now is to honor his life.
“I have made a decision. Since I am, like Gavi, a One-Who-Knows-She-Is, I must continue learning the kinds of things I cannot learn in the physical world. To do that, I must spend time here in Notherland, where my mind is sharp and I have the power of speech. It is the opposite of what happens in the physical world, where my body is strong, my senses acute, while my mind is sluggish.
“Therefore, I wish to travel between the two worlds. In the winter, when loons fly south, I will come to Notherland. When the season changes and they fly north again, I will join them. My breeding territory will be the same as my father’s, on Lake Keewatin, near the cliff with the ancient drawings. There I will take a mate, and breed young ones. I am One-Who-Is and One-Who-Knows-She-Is, and I want to live my life in a way that is true to both my natures. That is what my father, Gavi the Philosopher-Loon, would have wished for me.”
Gavrila turned to face Molly and went on.
“Since you are the Resolute Protector of Notherland, I ask your permission to carry out this wish. I assure you that I will accept and honor your decision, whatever it may be.”
For a few moments there was silence. Then Molly spoke.
“Welcome to Notherland.”
Nothing more needed to be said.
Peggy and Molly talked long into the night, and Peggy finally learned the details of the doll’s sojourn in the physical world, in the home of the girl named Krista.
“The strangest thing of all was that it was your old house,” Molly told her, “where you lived when you were little, and I was still an ordinary doll.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes! I could look down on Green Echo Park from her bedroom window.”
Molly went on in a rush of words, recounting the terrifying helplessness of once again being an ordinary doll. She told Peggy about her strange dream-journey with Krista, and how, through extraordinary effort, she had somehow managed to overcome her passivity and regain her power to act.
“For so long I hated Krista because she wasn’t you,” she said. “But after that dream, things changed. I was finally beginning to understand her. I feel bad about leaving so suddenly. She must have wondered what happened to me.”
“You didn’t have any choice,” Peggy reassured her. “Once Mi finished her Story Cloth we were all pulled back here.”
“I know. But still… I worry about her, Peggy. I think Krista’s unhappy. Like you were when you were her age – but even more so.”
They both fell silent. Peggy thought back to the time almost three years earlier, when she’d stood in Green Echo Park, looking up at the window of her old bedroom, wondering whose room it was. Now she knew the answer.
Molly’s eyes suddenly lit up.
“I know what Krista needs. She needs a Notherland! A place to go to in her mind, that’s all her own. Then she wouldn’t be so unhappy. She’d know there were other worlds, other possibilities.”
Peggy was struck by Molly’s newfound wisdom. So many changes had taken place in the doll. She could sleep, she could cry, she even appeared to have grown a bit taller. So much was changing so fast – Gavrila’s arrival, Mi’s abilities.
She lay down and gazed into the night sky. It looked the same as always, like everything else in Notherland. But in truth, nothing was the same. Her Notherland had passed into nothingness, and had been created anew by Mi. It was Mi’s Notherland she was looking at, not hers.
Only one who is acquainted with sorrow can become a Creator.
The words popped into her mind, unbidden. They sounded so like something the Eternal might say, and the voice in her mind was much like Lady Jane’s. But this time, the words were her own. The thought had come from her, and it was true. Mi, one of the littlest of the Nordlings, had burst beyond the confines of her original self. She had faced great dangers and struggled to learn new things. She had become acquainted with sorrow.
It was Mi who was now the true Creator of Notherland.
As Peggy pondered this idea, the enormity of it fully sank in. Yes, she’d neglected Notherland and let them all down. But it had happened. What was done could not be undone. Things happen. Things change.
Something was changing deep inside her, too, something she could scarcely put into words. It was becoming clear to Peggy that she could no longer go back and forth between these two worlds. She had to fully embrace her own life, the life that awaited her in the world beyond Painted Rock. And there was only one way to do that.
She had to let go of Notherland.
The realization was painful. But there was an unshakeable feeling of rightness to it.
As she drifted off to sleep, she felt her beloved imaginary world slipping beyond her grasp.
She was standing in front of a building flanked by tall stone pillars. In the window was a large sign: MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS BOUGHT AND SOLD. She went inside.
It wasn’t an ordinary store like Around Again, but a huge emporium, lined with long glass counters and a high ceiling covered with intricate tilework. All along the walls were shelves and cases displaying hundreds of instruments – horns, drums, woodwinds, stringed instruments of all shapes and sizes. Many of the instruments were ones she had never seen before. It was as if she had wandered into a vast museum housing every musical instrument ever conceived.
She saw a woman standing behind one of the counters. It was the Eternal, looking exactly as she had first appeared to Peggy – as Lady Jane Franklin. She approached the counter.
Lady Jane smiled and held something out toward her. It was a flute – not her silver flute, but a flute of dazzling gold, encrusted with jewels.
Peggy shook her head.
“I can’t afford something like this,” she said. “It’s too precious.”
“But you are the Flute Player,” Lady Jane replied. “You have become the hero of your own story. This flute belongs to you. Take it, and bring a New Song out into the world.”
“Up in the sky!”
Peggy awoke to find a cluster of Nordlings around her.
“What is it?”
Across the sky a length of cloth was slowly unfurling, a woven tapestry of intricately sewn images. Everyone – Molly, Gavrila, the Nordlings – stood watching it in awe.
They knew right away what it was: Mi’s Story Cloth, depicting Notherland in all its glory – Painted Rock, the Great Skyway, the Everlasting Ice, the RoryBory, even the Hole at the Pole – but in images more vivid than Peggy could ever have imagined them. Now that she finally saw Mi’s handiwork for herself, Peggy understood the enormity of what the Nordling had accomplished.
She was more certain than ever of what she had to do.
It was time for her to leave. There should have been nothing out of the ordinary about that, for she had left Notherland before. But this leave-taking was different. No one said as much, but they all sensed it. Peggy could especially see it in Molly’s jaunty manner as the doll spoke of her renewed sense of purpose in her role as Protector of Notherland.
“Now that the Resolute is once again shipshape, I will patrol the Polar Sea. It is vital that the Nobodaddy does not get free again. The mountain of ice must not be allowed to melt. At all costs, the Hole at the Pole must stay sealed.”
“I look forward to joining you on your next voyage,” said Gavrila. “I am curious about the workings of a ship.”
As Peggy embraced Molly, she noticed that the doll was losing her stiffness, becoming more pliable. It was almost as if she were in the process of becoming something more than a doll.
Then Peggy went over to Mi.
“You have done a remarkable thing,” she told the Nordling. “You have become a Creator.”
“I must go back to my other life now,” Peggy continued. “But I know you and Molly will look after Notherland in my absence.”
No more words passed between them. They both knew.
As she approached Painted Rock, she heard Molly call out.
The doll ran toward her, holding a slender object over her head. It was her pirate’s sword.
“I want you to do something for me. I want you to take this to Krista.”
Peggy looked at her in disbelief.
“But Molly, Sir John gave you that sword. It’s precious to you.”
“Yes,” said Molly. “But I used it to protect Krista from the sea monster in our dream-journey. It’s the only thing I can give her that I know she’ll recognize. I think she might need it more than I do.”
“But why, Molly? Why give it away?”
“I want Krista to know that what we went through together was real. Then maybe she can dream her own world into existence.”
She held the sword out toward Peggy. “Will you take it to her? Please?”
There was no questioning Molly’s decision. It was right, as right as the step Peggy herself was now taking. She took the sword from Molly’s hand.
“Of course I will.”
They all stood watching as Peggy approached Painted Rock. As she placed the palm of her hand over the hard surface, she felt the familiar rumblings. The portal between Notherland and her world was opening.
Is this the last time I will pass this way?
She knew she would never forget Notherland. She would be able to return here in her dreams to see Molly, the Nordlings, Gavrila, even Gavi himself. She would carry them all in her heart.
Her mind turned to the life she was going back to – living with her mom, working at the café, finishing school. And seeing her father. She was still nervous about that. But she was ready.
What about Jackpine? Would the future include him? She had no way of knowing. There were no guarantees.
The one thing she knew for certain was that she would never turn away from music again. She was, and would continue to be, a flute player. She would become a singer of new songs. She would take all she’d learned here in Notherland back to her everyday life. She would do whatever was necessary to, at long last, become worthy of the title her friends in Notherland had so freely given her:
SHE WAS STANDING in Green Echo Park, holding her silver flute and a small, doll-sized sword.
Quickly, she spread her fingers along the surface of the flute. To her relief, her fingers reached all the pads. She was back in the present, in her everyday life.
Now, she had a couple of deliveries to make.
She made her way to the house across the street. She pressed the lighted button next to the door, and heard chimes ringing inside the house.
After a few moments, a girl who of about eleven or twelve opened the door.
Peggy knew it looked ridiculous, a complete stranger showing up at the house, unannounced. But she’d made a promise to Molly. There was no choice but to go through with this.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Peggy began haltingly. “I used to live in this house.”
“Oh, really?” The girl couldn’t have sounded less interested in this information. “Well, I’m sorry if you wanted to come in, but this really isn’t a good time.”
She began to close the door. Peggy swiftly raised her hand to hold it open.
“Please, wait. Are you Krista?”
The girl was startled. “How do you know my name?”
“I… know a friend of yours.”
“Someone who…” She held out the sword. “Someone who asked me to give you this.”
The girl looked at it curiously, unsure at first just what it was. Then she gasped.
“I’ve seen this before… It’s… that doll….”
Krista’s voice trailed off. She offered no resistance as Peggy gently placed the sword in her hand.
“Take it. Really. It’s for you.”
“Who are you? How did you get this?”
“Look, I know it must seem weird, my showing up like this. I really did used to live here… I can’t explain everything right now. I have to be somewhere. Would it be okay if I came back tomorrow?”
Still stunned, Krista could only nod. “I guess so. Sure.”
“I’m not a nutcase. Honestly, I’m not. I’ll come back tomorrow around this time and tell you the whole story. I promise.”
Krista was still standing in the doorway, staring at the sword, as Peggy raced up the street.
Daylight was fading. She noticed a clock through a store window. It was 7:45.
How long would it take to get back to the gallery? The presentation was supposed to have started at 7:30. Could she get there in time? There was no bus coming. How long would it take her on foot? Twenty minutes? Half an hour?
She decided to run all the way to the gallery.
All I ask, she prayed as she ran, is that this time he remembers me.
She arrived, breathless. People were milling about the gallery space. Was it over already? Where was Gary Stonechild? Had he left?
Several people were clustered in a corner, talking. One of them moved, and she saw him in the midst of the group.
It was Jackpine.
She waited until the cluster of around him began to break up. Then she approached him.
She stood there rifling through her backpack, too embarrassed to say anything. She couldn’t even bear to look at his face. She felt so stupid. She should have had it ready to give to him.
Just hand him the knife and get out of here, she told herself, before you make a complete fool of yourself.
Then it would all be over. She wouldn’t see him again. She’d just have to accept it. That’s the way life goes. She was a grown-up now.
Finally, she pulled the engraving knife out of the pack and held it up for him to see. He stared at it for a moment, a strange look on his face. Then she thrust it toward him. He raised his hand to take it. Their fingers touched.
“Peggy?” he said.