BOOK III: The Songweavers
Chapter 1: Heebie-jeebies
THERE REALLY WAS no good reason for Mi the Nordling to have the heebie-jeebies.
It was a term she had once heard Gavi the loon use. She wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, and couldn’t recall how he had used it. Gavi, whose nickname was Bird-Full-of-Words, was fascinated with human speech and tried out new phrases so often it was impossible to keep track of them all. But “heebie-jeebies” stuck in Mi’s mind, because she liked the sound of it. Right now it was the only phrase she could think of to describe the churning feeling of anxiety inside her.
Why should she be feeling this way? Everything seemed so right in Notherland, the world that was her home. Every night Mi and the rest of the Nordlings travelled up the Great Skyway to the RoryBory, where each one was transformed into a column of dancing, pulsing light. There they passed the night in a sleeplike trance singing their musical notes and filling the vast Northern sky with a glorious hum. In the morning they slid down the Great Skyway and passed their days playing under the watchful eye of Molly the doll.
Molly wore a patch over one eye and had at one time fancied herself a pirate. Now she was captain of the Resolute, the ship she had inherited from Sir John Franklin, the great Arctic explorer, which was anchored at the edge of the Great Polar Sea. Molly used the ship for periodic voyages to the Hole at the Pole, to make sure that Notherland remained safe from the demonic force known as the Nobodaddy. But since the Nobodaddy had been vanquished two years earlier, Molly sometimes complained that there was precious little for her to do in her role as Protector of Notherland.
Not everything was perfect in Mi’s world, of course. She sometimes missed Gavi, who had left Notherland to cross over into the physical world and experience life as a flesh-and-blood loon. But he had come back the year before to join them on their journey through other worlds, and to spend time with Molly and the Nordlings. When he left Notherland the second time, he promised to return for another visit the following season.
“As much as I wish to continue my exploration of physical existence,” he told them, “I have missed you all, as well as the sharpness of mind I can only experience in an imaginary world such as this.”
Mi was comforted by the prospect of seeing her beloved Bird-Full-of-Words again, for the time he promised to return was not far off.
She sometimes wondered about Pay-gee, the Creator, whose imagination had given birth to Notherland. When she was a child Pay-gee had spent a great deal of time in Notherland, but as she grew older she stopped coming, returning only when Notherland’s very existence had been threatened or, as had happened the previous year, when Mi herself had gone missing. The Creator always came to their aid in times of trouble or danger, so Mi was reassured by the thought that if there truly was anything wrong, Pay-gee would surely have arrived by now.
Yes, everything was just as it should be. So why was she feeling the heebie-jeebies?
Mi pondered whether to talk to Molly about it. She was over with a group of Nordlings, regaling them, as she often did, with stories of her former lives as a pirate, and as a doll in Pay-gee’s world.
“Once I spent a whole day under Peggy’s bed,” Molly was telling them.
“What’s a bed?” one of the littlest ones asked.
“It’s a big cushion that humans lie down to sleep on at night,” Molly replied. “Peggy always sat me on top of the bed when she left in the morning. But one time she placed me too close to the edge and I fell off and rolled underneath the bed, where it was very dark and lonely.”
The Nordlings peppered her with questions.
“Weren’t you scared?”
“How long were you there?”
“Hours and hours!” Molly said dramatically. “Till finally she came home and found me.”
“Why didn’t you just crawl out?”
“Because in Peggy’s world I was just an ordinary doll, remember? I couldn’t do anything for myself. That’s why I live in Notherland now.”
The Nordlings always found it hard to believe that there was anything Molly couldn’t do.
The heebie-jeebies were starting to make Mi feel as if she would explode. She could see that Molly was about to launch into yet another story, and decided she could wait no longer. She walked over.
“Excuse me, Molly…”
Mi’s voice trailed off. As soon as the doll turned and fixed her one good eye on her, Mi could tell that Molly was in no mood to be interrupted.
Mi screwed up her courage.
“May I talk to you alone?”
Molly signalled to the others to go off and play, then turned back to Mi. “Well, what is it?”
“I am sorry to disturb you. But I feel there is something I must tell you.”
“Something is what?” Molly pressed, exasperated.
“Something is… NOT RIGHT!”
Molly was a bit taken aback by the force of the tiny creature’s voice as it boomed out the last two words. “What do you mean, something’s not right? What’s not right?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” Mi said carefully. “But something is not right in Notherland.”
Molly looked at the Nordling with a scowl. “How do you know?”
“Because I have the heebie-jeebies.”
“You have what?”
Mi said the word again, more emphatically this time, and explained its meaning as best she could, all the while expecting that Molly would just laugh and wave her away. But as she spoke, the doll’s expression changed from mild annoyance to concern, and when she finished, Molly was uncharacteristically quiet. Molly was taking her words seriously, which both relieved and unnerved Mi.
“Maybe we should call on Pay-gee, the Creator,” Mi blurted out after a few moments of silence.
She regretted her words as soon as they were out of her mouth, for she could see that they had the opposite effect on Molly than she’d hoped.
“Peggy? Of course not!” she said emphatically. “We can’t go running to the Creator for help with every little thing. I am the Protector of Notherland. If there’s really something wrong, I’ll take care of it.”
Mi sighed inwardly. She could see that Molly’s pride was wounded, which was not at all surprising. But she had to impress upon Molly that this situation was different, that the heebie-jeebies were like the feelings she’d had when Notherland was threatened before. She opened her mouth to speak, then stopped.
Half of Molly’s face had disappeared.
Mi blinked hard. It must be the dark patch over Molly’s missing eye that had momentarily blurred one side of her face. But when Mi looked again, she saw that it had nothing to do with the patch. One whole side of the doll’s face was simply not there.
Mi cast her eyes around and saw that it was not only Molly’s face. Everything around it had vanished, too – the water, the rocks, the other Nordlings who had been playing there only a moment before. Everywhere she looked, she could see things only on one side of her field of vision. It was as though half the world had gone missing.
The heebie-jeebies were growing more frenzied.
She whirled back around to tell Molly what was happening. To Mi’s horror, in those few seconds even more of the doll had vanished. Now she could only see the upper quarter of Molly’s face, with her one good eye still visible. But Mi could tell from her expression that the doll had no idea anything whatsoever all was amiss.
Which to Mi was the most terrifying thing of all.
Chapter 2: Back to Square One
PEGGY LOOKED OUT the window of the bus as it sped down the highway. Every once in a while the bus passed a lake with a rocky shoreline, or a gas station with a small general store annexed to it. The occasional sign marked a side road to a remote lodge or fishing camp. Other than that, all there was to look at were the endless rows of trees, mostly pine and spruce, with a smattering of birches and maples just starting to show hints of orange. In a few weeks, she knew, these woods would be a riot of color, with leaves of brilliant red and burnished gold. She was sorry she wouldn’t be here to see it.
She’d overheard some of the other planters talking about how boring and monotonous this road was, but for Peggy there was a beautiful desolation about it. For all the bitter disappointment she’d experienced here, she had loved her time up north, loved working outside all day, breathing in the pristine air, pushing her body to its limits.
She looked up and saw a flock of Canada geese flying overhead in a large V formation. She recalled the lyrics of a song one of the planters had sung at their last campfire.
Winter’s coming, the wild geese know
We’ve had a long fall and it’s time to go with the wild goose
High over the north shore, and I’m going home
Like the geese, she was heading south. It was time for her to go home, too, and it was going to be a long bus ride – more than five hours.
As night came on, she turned on the small overhead reading light, and opened her magazine. But she couldn’t concentrate, and found herself reading the same couple of paragraphs over and over. Finally she gave up, closed the magazine, and lay back in her seat. When she closed her eyes she saw a flood of images from the past few years, running through her mind like scenes from a movie. And in all of them, there he was: Gary, Jackpine. Until the final image, of herself walking into the reserve office down the road from the treeplanters’ camp.
He should have been there. Why wasn’t he?
She’d had no idea what was in store for her that day, more than two years ago, when she set out for the second-hand store, determined to sell her flute. Sure, she was eager to get the money, but what she really wanted was to be rid of the flute and all the emotional baggage that came with it. But at the store she realized she’d left the mouthpiece at home. In her rush to retrieve it, she’d taken the wrong subway train and ended up in the park directly across the street from her childhood home. There, standing in that familiar spot surrounded by the ring of trees, she was suddenly, inexplicably transported to Notherland, the imaginary northern world she’d created when she was seven years old.
She found herself once again face to face with Molly, the doll who longed to be a pirate and Gavi, the Philosopher-Loon. The terror in their eyes, the urgency in their voices made clear why they had brought her back to this world. The singing-spirits known as Nordlings had been abducted by the Nobodaddy. Notherland itself was in danger of being destroyed.
The three of them set off toward the Hole at the Pole, carefully guarding Mi, the only remaining Nordling. It was on that journey that she’d first encountered him, the mysterious young man imprisoned in a tree. Peggy had freed him with the touch of her hand, and Mi decided he would be called Jackpine. He joined them as they made their way farther north, where they met Sir John Franklin and his wife Lady Jane, and sailed Franklin’s ship the Terror through the Polar Sea. They made a treacherous descent into the Hole at the Pole, where Peggy fought the Nobodaddy, finally reducing him to his original form: Nobody.
With the Nordlings rescued and safety restored to Notherland, she’d returned to her ordinary life. But she couldn’t forget Jackpine, whose name in the everyday world, she learned, was Gary. She despaired of ever finding him again. Then, more than a year later, she walked into the office on the reserve near the treeplanters’ camp, and there he was.
At first he’d tried to act like he didn’t remember her. But as they stood by the rock with the carved images they were again swept away to Notherland, where they learned that Mi had gone missing. This time, Peggy discovered that she had become a Mental Traveller, with the ability to transport all of them to other worlds. They set off in search of Mi, arriving first in the world of Grania, the Pirate Queen, aboard whose ship Molly was able to realize her lifelong dream. They next found their way to the workshop of the great poet and artist, William Blake, whose ideas enriched Gavi’s mind, and under whose tutelage Jackpine found his true calling as an artist.
Their final journey was to the bleak world known as the FarNear, where Peggy and Molly vanquished the demon who had abducted Mi, the Evil Angel Peggy had first seen in Will Blake’s painting. They had been taking Mi home to Notherland when Peggy suddenly found herself back in the bush with her planting bags and shovel, back at square one, as though none of it had happened.
That was the way it always was with these strange journeys to Notherland. Each time she returned, it was like almost no time at all had passed. So she hadn’t been worried. Because what was all this travelling back and forth between worlds for, if not to find her soulmate?
This time she’d find him. She had been certain of it. Everything would play out exactly like it had before, the way it was supposed to. He’d be out in back of the cabin, chopping wood, when their truck turned off the highway. He’d walk into the office just as she and the other planters were asking to see the petroglyphs. This time, he’d know exactly who she was when she called him Jackpine. He’d look into her eyes and say her name, and they’d feel that closeness again.
But it hadn’t happened that way. That day nothing happened the way it was supposed to. He should’ve been there. But he wasn’t.
She couldn’t understand it. Where was he? Why wasn’t he waiting there for her? There was no axe out back of the cabin, no wood chips strewn around. Inside the office there was someone else – an older man, with a long ponytail, who cheerfully offered to take them to the petroglyphs. But Peggy abruptly changed her mind, to the surprise and annoyance of the other planters. She couldn’t bear the thought. It was as if seeing the rock carvings with anyone else would somehow cut off the possibility that she would ever find him again.
What a pathetic fool she’d been. She was finally beginning to understand. Of course he wasn’t there. How could he be? It had all felt so real – the journeys to Notherland, to the other worlds, all the dangerous adventures they’d shared together. But as the bus neared its destination and she spied the lights of the city in the distance, it all became clear to her.
There was no Gary, no Jackpine. He didn’t exist.
The time had come to put aside all those childish beliefs, to grow up and face reality. Because it wasn’t real, none of it. It was all in her head.
The bus was turning off the highway onto the exit ramp. The driver announced that any passengers who wanted to be let off before the bus arrived at the downtown terminal should let him know.
She made a decision.
She stood up and walked to the driver’s seat at front of the bus.
“Could you let me off at the next corner?”
In her scruffy planting clothes, carrying an overstuffed pack on her back, Peggy figured she probably looked like a homeless person. She thought back to the first time she’d stood here, looking in the window of Around Again, her flute case in her hand, debating whether to go in the door. But this time there was no hesitation. Her mind was made up.
She opened the door and walked into the shop. Once inside, she lowered one shoulder and eased her pack onto the floor. She opened the top flap and reached inside. It took a bit of rooting around, but after a moment she found the hardshell case, pulled it out, and snapped open the metal clasps. Inside, two silver tubes were nestled side by side in the dark blue velvet that lined the case, with the black mouthpiece tucked in one corner.
She walked over to the man standing behind the counter and set the case down in front of him.
“How much can I get for this flute?”
Peggy watched the salesman lift the two sections of the flute out of the case and screw them together. The first time she’d come here she’d been desperate for money. In her youthful foolishness she believed that it would be the solution to all her problems. But this time it wasn’t about money.
The Flute Player sings the world into existence.
That was what he’d once told her. It all came rushing back into her mind: his words, his voice, his face. Looking at the flute was a painful reminder of what she’d lost – what she’d never really had.
It was time to get back to square one, to do what she’d first set out to do more than two years ago. It was time to get rid of the flute, once and for all.
“Seven hundred,” said the salesman.
It was a hundred dollars less than he’d quoted her the first time around. But she said nothing. She didn’t care.
Just get it over with.
“Okay,” she said.
She watched him count out the cash in twenty-dollar bills. He handed her the money with one hand, and with the other, he flipped the flute case shut. The sound had an unsettling finality, like the closing of a casket.
She left the store. Out on the sidewalk, she took her wallet from the side pouch of the backpack and slid the bills into it. As she stuffed the wallet back into the side pouch, she felt something sharp prick one of her fingers. She pulled her hand out and looked at it.
There was a tiny drop of blood on the tip of the middle finger of her left hand.
She thought of the engraving knife, the tool that Will Blake had given to Jackpine. She had borrowed it, intending to give back to him when they found each other again. But it couldn’t be the engraving knife. She was done with all that. None of it had happened, not really. She must have left something sharp in the side pouch – a tack, an open safety pin.
Ripples of fear ran through her. She didn’t want to look inside. Quickly, she closed the zipper.
She glanced around. Everything on the street seemed strange and unfamiliar, even though she recognized the buildings and knew exactly where she was. It was an odd, unsettling feeling, almost like the opposite of déjà vu.
She lifted the pack onto one shoulder and slung it onto her back and set off down the street.
She had to get away from this place before she lost her bearings altogether.
Chapter 3: One-Who-Knows-He-Is
THE GREAT GATHERING had begun.
From every direction the large white-bellied birds approached the lake. Their black wings, flecked with white patches, moved in smooth, broad strokes then stretched outward, holding still as each bird made its final descent and glided onto the surface of the water. There were hundreds of them, these birds the walk-uprights called loons, though among themselves they were simply Ones-Who-Are.
Soon they would disperse and again take flight, making their way south to the warmer lands. For now they moved in and out along the lake, chattering in small groups, calling and singing with a joy that seemed to continually announce I am here! I exist! They were at the gathering place and would soon begin their great migration. Everything was as it always had been, as it should be, and this was all they knew.
Except for one.
He looked just like the others and swam freely among them, his mate and their chick close by. His tremolos and yodels sounded indistinguishable from theirs. There was nothing about this one that would single him out as different in any way. But though the Ones-Who-Are welcomed him among them, they could tell that he was not like them.
He was One-Who-Knows-He-Is.
He had come from another world, where he had lived among the Walk-Uprights, who had treated him as though as he were one of them and given him a name, a practice unknown among Ones-Who-Are. In that world Gavi, as he was known there, learned about philosophy and other things that Ones-Who-Are know nothing of. When he had first come to live among them he often tried, with absolutely no success, to engage them in discussions of these matters.
But in time One-Who-Knows-He-Is learned to play down his differentness, to blend in more easily with the others. Certainly it was easier now that he had taken a mate, though the courtship itself had been anything but easy. At first he had felt unworthy, inept and untutored in the ways of the Ones-Who-Are, and believed he had no chance with his Chosen One. So for a long time he stood aloof, watching while another attempted to engage her in courtship displays. Then one day, to his astonishment, his Chosen One swam toward him, stopped a short distance away and lowered her head so that they tip of her bill lightly touched the surface of the water. Then she raised her head and looked directly at him, as if waiting for a response.
At first he hardly knew what to make of it. Could it really be true? Was his Chosen One inviting him into a courtship display? He simply stared at her, paralyzed, unsure what to do. After a moment she stirred. He was sure she would swim away, but she raised her head and again lowered her beak, this time plunging it even deeper into the water.
Almost involuntarily, One-Who-Knows-He-Is lifted his own head and dipped his beak in response. As he raised his head he was seized by fear that he had misinterpreted her action, that he had done something foolish and that the others would release a volley of mocking tremolos. But his Chosen One was now lifting her head even higher, this time displaying her throat patch to him. There was no mistaking it. She was announcing that he was her Chosen One.
In a flash it came to him that what had been hindering him until now was not his own, imagined inadequacies, but his thinking and brooding upon them. How many times had his friends in the Other Land gently teased him, telling him not to think so much.
Now he must throw caution to the winds. He must abandon thought. He must act. He must BE!
He threw back his head with abandon, proudly displaying his own throat patch. Immediately she responded by lowering her head and thrusting her entire body down into the water. He knew just what was expected of him now, and he was ready. As soon as she returned to the surface they looked at one another a moment, then, in perfect unison, they bent down their heads and plunged into the water, diving deep beneath the surface.
Several more simultaneous dives followed, until he saw her turn and start to swim away. For a moment he panicked, then realized that he was letting his old enemy, Thought, get in the way. For his Chosen One was not swimming away from him. She was beckoning him to follow her, to swim into the reeds to one of the hidden places on the shore.
That was how Gavi, the One-Who-Knows-He-Is found his mate, his Chosen One, to whom he gave the name Nor, though she, of course, was unaware of it since she knew nothing of the language of the Walk-Uprights. Together they prepared a nest into which, a few days later, she passed a single egg. Together they kept a close, protective watch over the egg, until the day when it began to shake and crack, and a ball of soft grey feathers emerged, bearing the tiniest beak he had even seen.
He was joyful beyond measure. He had fathered a chick!
They cared for their offspring as Ones-Who-Are parents had always done, one carrying the chick on its back while the other dove for fish, brought it to the surface and dropped it into her eager, wide-open beak. Before long the young one was ready to leave her parent’s back and swim on her own. Still, they kept a watchful eye on her, never letting her swim more than a short distance away, for a chick of this age was not yet strong enough to fight off larger winged creatures attacking from the air or fur-bearing ones on the land.
This was even truer for this particular chick, as her parents were somewhat dismayed to discover. At an age when most fledglings were eager to become more independent, she preferred to stay close to her parents. Her dives were a source of concern, too. The knack of thrusting the body into deep water, where fish could be found in abundance, was a skill that came naturally to Ones-Who-Are. But she strugged with it, lowering her head into the water with great determination, but most of the time surfacing too soon. He-Who-Knows-He-Is was reminded of his own nearly paralyzing fear during his first attempts at diving. But it was not possible that his daughter was experiencing the same fear, for unlike him, she had been born to this physical existence.
Things became even more distressing as she attempted to learn to fly. True, taking flight was a challenge for all Ones-Who-Are, who found it necessary to flap their feet across the surface of the water for a long stretch before achieving liftoff. Still, it pained him to see the others laughing as his daughter skittering frantically over the water, managing to do little more than move around in circles.
One day, after yet another vain attempt at flight, she swam over to her father with a look of urgency in her red eyes.
What should I do?
He-Who-Knows-He-Is was stunned. The words had entered his mind, but he himself had not thought them.
Again, words that were not his. . They had come from another source. He looked into her eyes.
Father! Help me!
There was no mistaking it. The words had come from his daughter.
Thought had passed between them.
A shudder at the enormity of what had just occurred passed through his body. But he could not dwell on it for long. Right now, relieving her distress was of overriding importance. He thought back to his own experience of learning to fly, and how time and again his sense of frustration would get the better of him and make things even more difficult.
What his daughter needed was reassurance. He would have to try and communicate with her. She had conveyed words to his mind. But did she have the ability of receive them as well? Was this tiny being, so new to the world, really capable of understanding thought?
All he could do was try.
You are trying too hard, he told her in his mind. Just relax. It will come.
His words had an instant calming effect. He could see it in her eyes. Her distress was ebbing away.
With renewed determination, she swam away from him and resumed the effort to take flight. One-Who-Knows-He-Is looked around. None of the other Ones-Who-Are appeared to notice that anything unusual had passed between him and the chick. It was just as well, he thought with relief. Two strange ones might be more than the Ones-Who-Are were willing to accept among them.
He heard a sustained tremolo call, and looked up. To his joyous amazement, his daughter had taken flight and was soaring over him.
Father! Look at meeeeeee!
To the others, it sounded like an ordinary tremolo. But he knew better.
From that day, everything changed between them. She began to pepper him with questions, which he answered with infinite patience.
Father, what is the great blue lake above us?
That is not water, child. That is the sky.
Father, what is at the end of the sky?
That is not the end of the sky, child. That is the horizon.
He came to realize that her curiosity needed to be satisfied in a more systematic way. He would have to undertake to teach her, to pass on the knowledge that he had acquired in his time among the Walk-Uprights. He spoke to her of philosophy and the existence of other worlds, and told her how he came to be known as Bird-Full-of-Words. He stressed that these teachings were something to be shared only between them. For the others would not understand, not even his dear Nor, her mother.
Nor accepted his differentness, had chosen him as her mate despite it. Now, he could see that she sensed this same differentness in their daughter. She did not understand it, but with a deeper wisdom she accepted it.
Now he surveyed the great Gathering around him, and felt a deep sense of gratitude as he pondered all the gifts that had come to him since he had crossed over into the physical world, the very things. He had found a mate, fathered a chick – things he had scarcely dared to hope for. But he had found much, much more – such unexpected beauty, such a great variety of creatures. He had come to love this tangible world as much as the imaginary one that had given birth to him. Crossing over had come with a price, of course, for it meant that, like all physical creatures, he would one day have to face his own death. He fully understood the consequences of his choice. But never for a moment had he regretted it.
He was torn out of his reverie by an unfamiliar sensation, an odd rumbling that came from somewhere deep within his being. It felt like a rupture, a tear in the fabric of existence itself.
What could it be?
He called on all his powers of thought. He considered the possibility of an earthquake, a great upheaval in the core of the earth that sometimes occurred here, in the physical world. But it was clear that none of the others felt or heard anything, not his beloved Nor or any other Ones-Who-Are.
He looked over at his daughter. She looked confused, on the edge of panic. What it was, she felt it too.
Something terrible had come to pass, and he knew, in a way his words could not explain, that the terrible thing had taken place in Notherland, the place where the Creator had first given him life in her imagination.
A great volley of wails and tremolos rose up around him. The Ones-Who-Are were filled with great anticipation. The great migration was about to begin.
What should he do?
Chapter 4: The Great Pool of Existence
MI LIFTED HER HAND and held it right in front of her eyes. She could see nothing. Her hand was not there. Or perhaps she had no eyes to see it with. She couldn’t be sure. Around her there was nothing. A great emptiness. A void.
Molly, the other Nordlings, Notherland itself – all had vanished from sight, and now she felt as if she herself was fading into nothingness.
Am I dead? Have I ceased to exist?
Those last words almost made her laugh, because “ceased to exist” was the kind of thing Gavi would say. She overheard him use the phrase once, when he was discussing philosophy, as he often did.
“I think, therefore I am,” she recalled him saying. “Nothing ceases to exist as long as it exists in Thought.”
Clearly, Mi realized to her great relief, she had not ceased to exist. For even though she could not feel her eyes or find her hand, she was still thinking. But the joy of the moment quickly faded, as the true nature of her predicament dawned on her. She was alone, utterly alone, in this place that was no place.
What, she wondered, had become of Molly and the Nordlings, of Pay-gee the Creator? Was there anyone who could come to her aid? What would become of her in this strange place?
Panic rose up in her. There had to be something besides her somewhere in this void. She began to run frantically, but it was more the memory of the sensation of running that she felt, since there was nothing of her to run. Still, she gradually became aware of another sensation, a kind of resistance, as though she were moving in slow motion through water. The more effort she made, the more strongly she felt herself surrounded by water, but without the wetness of it.
She raced on, with no idea where she was going, since there was no direction in this nether world, no up or down, no this way or that. But she had to try. She had to keep doing or she feared she would dissolve into the watery void.
She became aware of something else now, a sound at the very limit of her hearing, a low, persistent hum. She had been so desperate to find something physical, something tangible in the void, that she hadn’t noticed the sound. But it was definitely there. Something besides herself still existed here. A sound. Or maybe sound itself.
She listened more intently. It sounded like whispers, snatches of words, hints of voices. Out of the jumble of sounds a clear voice finally seemed to emerge
Mi felt immediately calmed, not so much by the words but by the reassuring warmth of the voice, like an angel’s wings wrapping around her. But after a moment she felt her fear rising up again. Was she imagining it? Had she really heard a voice?
Fear not. I am here.
There it was again. This time Mi had the sense that the voice was familiar, but she couldn’t place who it might be or when she’d heard it before.
“Who are you?” she called out, still finding it difficult to believe that anyone was actually there.
“I am known by many names and in many guises,” the voice replied. “But in all of these I am an Eternal. I have always been and always will be.”
Mi realized with a start that she knew the voice. It sounded exactly like Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of the great explorer Sir John Franklin. The remarkable woman she’d met on her journey to the Hole at the Pole, who in time had revealed herself to be a mysterious entity known as an Eternal.
Now she knew that she truly had nothing to fear. The Eternal was a Protector, one who had helped them many times in the past. Everything would be all right now.
“Where am I?” she asked the Eternal. “What is this place?”
“I know you have many questions, little one. I will try to help you understand what has happened to you. You have fallen into the Great Pool of Existence, from which all things arise and to which all things return.”
Mi wasn’t sure just what a pool was, or how she could have fallen into it. But she was relieved at least to find out that this place that felt like no place was actually some place.
“But what happened? Why am I here instead of in Notherland?”
“There has been a tear in the fabric of existence, an upheaval that has caused you to be returned to the source.”
Mi found this reply even more difficult to understand than the previous one. She was growing impatient.
“But how do I get back to Notherland?”
For a moment there was silence, and Mi feared that the voice had gone away. But then the Eternal spoke up.
“Notherland is no more.”
Notherland is no more. She knew the Eternal was speaking the truth. She’d felt it as she watched Molly’s face disappearing, and everything around her vanishing. But she couldn’t bear to face it, and now the crushing finality of the Eternal’s words was like a stone in her heart.
“What do you mean? What happened to it?”
“The thread was cut. The thread between your world and its Creator.”
“How? How could that happen?”
“She has forgotten. Once a world is wiped from the mind of its Creator, it ceases to exist.”
“Forgotten? How could Pay-gee do something like that?”
“Like all things, a world must be nurtured and cared for. But sometimes Creators can be careless, capricious, even selfish. They cease to think of their creations, and so they pass out of existence. It is not always the Creator who is at fault, though. Sometimes it is the inhabitants themselves who fail in their responsibility as stewards and caretakers of their world. Either way, if the neglect is serious enough, the world will vanish – slowly or, as in the case of Notherland, suddenly.”
“You mean, this has happened to other worlds?”
“Countless times. Those whispers you hear in the distance? They are the echoes of universes that are no more.”
Mi could barely take in the enormity of what she was hearing.
“You mean Molly and the Nordlings are just… gone?”
“Nothing is ever truly gone, as you put it,” the Eternal replied. “Even the vanished unvierses have left traces of their existence. At the moment of Notherland’s extinction, the Nordlings also fell into the Great Pool of Existence.”
So the other Nordlings might be nearby! Mi was excited at the thought, but before she could say any more, the Eternal continued.
“Nothing is ever lost, for the pattern of every being who has ever lived survives. But the Nordlings are no longer as they were when you knew them. They exist only in their pre-formed state, as potential beings. You cannot see or hear or experience their presence in any way.”
“But what about Molly? Is she here too?”
“No. Since she is not solely the product of the Creator’s mind, she has returned to the way she was before Notherland existed. She has once again become a doll.”
Mi found it very difficult to think of Molly as someone’s plaything.
“I still don’t understand,” she said. “If they’re all gone, why am I still here?”
“Because of your ability to travel between worlds, your spirit was able to leave before the extinction occurred. You have been returned intact to the Great Pool of Existence, where you have the opportunity to be reborn to another universe.”
“But I don’t want to live in another universe. I want to see my friends. Can’t you bring them back?”
“No little one. No one can bring them back. I am sorry.”
Mi suddenly found herself engulfed by an unfamiliar sensation, one that made her feel like she might explode. How could Pay-gee let this happen? She began to scream out her fury and frustration, a scream that sounded through the watery depths of the Great Pool of Existence. She screamed for so long and so hard that for a time she couldn’t hear the Eternal calling her. Finally the Eternal’s broke through the screaming.
The uncharacteristic sharpness of her tone shocked Mi into silence.
“That is better,” the Eternal said after a moment. “You have been having what in your Creator’s world is called a ‘tantrum’.”
Whatever that was, Mi was sure that it wasn’t a good thing. She could tell the Eternal was angry with her.
“I’m sorry. I’m just so… angry! My home, everyone that meant anything to me, they can’t just all be gone forever. There must be something you can do!”
“There is nothing I can do,” came the reply. “But…”
“Bringing an extinguished world back to existence has never been done before. But for a creature with such great fierceness in her as you have, it might be possible.”
“It will be a very difficult task. You must be prepared to face many challenges.”
“Even if you can overcome them, nothing is certain.”
“I don’t care. I’ll do anything!”
“All right, little one. Let us go.”
The Eternal said the place they were now passing through was called the Zone of Whispers. But these were the loudest whispers Mi had ever heard.
“Follow my voice and you will not get lost,” the Eternal had told her when they first set out, and indeed, she periodically called out to Mi, who felt reassured and gradually settled into a relaxed rhythm of swimming. But after a while she grew impatient. The watery void seemed to go on and on. Where was this place called Eternity? Would they ever get there?
The place was spooky, unsettling – the overlapping voices, snatches of word, phrases, even songs, none above a whisper, but all jumbled together in a low, unrelenting roar. It didn’t help that the echoes of the vanished universes were growing louder and louder. Now they had reached the point where the Eternal had warned that the echoes would be at their loudest, and Mi had trouble picking out the Eternal’s voice over the din. She felt a profound sadness to think that all these voices, once attached to living creatures, were now lost, disconnected, as if engaged in a ceaseless, haunted search for their original owners.
She became so overwhelmed by these strange sensations that she suddenly panicked, convinced that she’d lost her way and would be trapped forever here in the Zone of Whispers.
She screamed at the top of her lungs and waited, fearful there would be no response. But after a moment the familiar voice emerged out of the whirlwind of sound.
“Fear not, little one. We are coming to the end of the Zone of Whispers.”
Mi almost wept with relief as she swam in the direction of the Eternal’s voice. Sure enough, the roar of echoes began to subside, and as she moved along, she began to notice other sounds in the distance far ahead of her. They were faint but distinctly musical, and as they grew stronger she could make out voices, accompanied by drums and stringed instruments.
She swam with renewed resolve, determined to leave the melancholy Zone of Whispers far behind. She found she no longer needed to listen for the Eternal’s voice, for it was the music that was guiding her. Now she could perceive a pattern in the song, a phrase sung by a single voice followed by a response from a chorus of women – for she could clearly hear that they were women’s voices. It was glorious, thrilling music. She had learned many new songs in her travels through other worlds. But there was an exhilaration, an untrammeled freedom in this music that was like nothing she had heard before.
Suddenly the watery void was gone. She was enveloped in a flood of golden light. On either side of her she saw a line of winged creatures – angels. She could feel them sweeping her along, with no effort on her part, into what appeared to be a vast celestial chamber.
She looked up. High above her head was a band of columns that seemed to stretch all the way across the sky. She was seized with joy.
But she quickly realized it was not the RoryBory at all, but something else, a structure that appeared to be made up of multicolored, pulsating strings. At every point along the structure were creatures who appeared to be threading more fibers in among the strings.
The Eternal’s voice called out from behind her.
“Behold the Great Loom.”
Mi wanted to ask what a loom was, but she was distracted by the beginning of another song, a call-and-response chant of even more startling beauty than the previous one. The angels were lifting her up closer to the structure now, and she realized that the voices she was hearing were coming from the creatures weaving the fibers into it.
They were wearing richly colored garments bearing intricate patterns of diamonds, stars, flowers and other shapes Mi did not recognize. Their heads were wrapped in scarves of the same cloth, the bold colors even more vivid against their dark faces. A few of the women were standing off to one side, beating on drums and plucking stringed instruments that looked like large gourds mounted on sticks.
Mi was so enraptured by the music she barely heard the Eternal’s voice calling to her through the flurry of sound.
“I must go now.”
She looked around. Even though they had left the watery void of the Great Pool of Existence far behind, she still could not see the Eternal.
“Do you have to?” she asked.
“Yes. I am a Protector, not a Creator. My work is out among the worlds, not here in Eternity.”
“But what about me?”
“You will stay here,” came the reply. “Do not worry. I will return to see how your work is going.”
My work? Mi thought. What work? But she had no chance to ask.
“Farewell, little one. The Songweavers will be your teachers now.”