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