As I post this eighth chapter of the Lindy novel, I am finding an increasing number of things that I would like to go back and change in earlier chapters. I am mostly ignoring these impulses until the novel is complete and I can do a complete edit, but there are some things that I am changing from here on in. Most significantly, I will be referring to the house as The Crofts rather than Aubade’s Seat. The Crofts is easier to say, its meaning is easier to understand, and it is less pretentious. I hope the change does not offend anyone too much. As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One.
In Which There Is a very Grave Turn of Events
Lindy woke the next morning with the feeling that she had slept exactly the right amount, enough that she was no longer tired but not so much that she was now groggy, and she was sure that the rest of the day would be as perfect as its beginning. You have probably felt this way yourself some morning or another, as if the day has begun so well that you cannot imagine anything going wrong, and I must say that I am very fond of those mornings myself, even if they do not always turn into the perfect days that they seem to promise.
Some fresh clothes had been laid out for Lindy on the dresser overnight. They were cut much like her own jeans and t-shirt, only they were made of some homemade cloth and sewn by hand in just her size, and they fit her so well that Lindy wondered whether someone had found the time to make them especially for her. They felt a bit rough on her skin at first, but by the time she had splashed her face in a bowl of water on the washstand and put on her own shoes, she had almost forgotten that they were not her regular clothes, and she set off in search of the kitchen.
Remembering what Alisdair had told her the night before, she tried imagining that she was in the kitchen and then opening the door of her room very quickly, but she was disappointed to find nothing there but the hallway. She tried again, and then several times more, but all with the same result, and she was becoming a bit frustrated, so she started walking down the hallway, wondering how long it might take her to find the kitchen on her own and wishing that she could just appear there like Alisdair had showed her. Then, just as she was thinking this, she turned the first corner, and there was the kitchen, though she did not quite know how.
“It was sort of like learning to skate,” Lindy told me later. “If I was trying too hard, I just couldn’t do it. But as soon as I stopped worrying, it happened all by itself. And pretty soon I could do it whenever I wanted.”
Now, I know that Lindy makes this traveling about the house sound easy, but I assure you that it can be a little harder for some people. I, for one, have never been able to get the hang of it. I always seem to panic, and then I start thinking about everything at once, and then I end up in a closet or a bathroom somewhere, so if you should ever find yourself in The Crofts, you need not feel ashamed of using your own two feet like I do, even if Lindy was able to get the knack of it right away.
When she arrived in the kitchen that morning, however, Lindy was less excited at her achievement than she was bewildered by what she saw. The kitchen was definitely the same room that she remembered from the previous day, but it was now entirely empty. There were no stoves, no tables, no pots, no food, nothing but the grey stone oven, huge and empty, and the broad flagstone floor, cleanly swept and bare.
“Where is everything?” Lindy exclaimed, though there was nobody there to hear her.
“Everything is right where I left it,” answered the voice of Penates from the middle of the empty room, and then the cook himself appeared from nowhere, already bare-chested in the cool of the morning, and already in the midst of doing something, though Lindy could not see what there was for him to be doing. He was moving slowly at first, but picking up speed, like one of the old steam trains at the railway museum, until he was going as quickly as Lindy had first seen him, darting from one thing to the next, and everywhere he moved things began to appear around him. He moved to an empty wall and turned his hand in the empty air, and the gas stove leapt into view with the flame alight. He reached above him into nothingness and pulled down a great brass kettle, like a giant fruit from an invisible tree. He pulled flour from cupboards that did not exist until he opened them, took eggs and milk from an icebox that only appeared when he went to it, and laid everything on a table that seemed to come into existence only because he needed it.
Lindy watched as the kitchen filled around her, and it was like watching a dance, not like a ballet or a ballroom dance, but like the dance at her cousin’s wedding the summer before, where there were people playing fiddles and drums and where everyone danced all over the floor and seemed always about to bump into each other but never quite did. Here and there, moving around Penates, Lindy thought that she could see glimpses of the ghostly people who had filled the kitchen the day before, and they seemed to be dancing too. It was beautiful to watch, and Lindy must have stood there for quite some time, because her feet began to hurt her a little.
“Penates,” she called, “could you get me a chair to sit on? I know they’re here somewhere, but I don’t know how to find them.”
“Just put your hand out where the chair should be,” Penates called back, “and it will be there.”
“Like the traveling thing?”
Penates shrugged as he stirred something in a big bowl. “Sure.”
Lindy looked behind her where the broad wooden table and its assorted chairs had been the day before. She started to reach into the empty space, but the thought of something invisible just waiting for her to touch it was a little unnerving, and she hesitated.
“A chair is never a chair until you sit on it,” called Penates from across the room, “so sit on it and make it a chair.”
Lindy had never thought of things quite like that before, but it made a strange sort of sense to her. She turned back around and sat in the empty air without another thought, and she was not at all surprised to find that there was suddenly a stool beneath her and a table stretched out beside her. She felt, for the first time, that maybe she was beginning to understand The Crofts a little.
The house seemed to chuckle at her, and Lindy realized that she could still feel it around her, quieter than the day before but present nonetheless, and it was comforting somehow to know that The Crofts itself was still watching out for her.
Penates soon had a bowl of oatmeal on the table for her, made with big whole oats and chunks of dried apple and cinnamon and brown sugar, and there was apple cider too, and a pot of tea. As soon as she took a bite of the porridge, Lindy knew that this was exactly what she had wanted, and the cider was good too, though she left the tea for the others who were now gathering around the weathered old table.
Moe and Clinton were not among them, and nobody paid much attention to Lindy other than to smile and say “Good morning,” so she sat quietly, eating her oatmeal and listening to what the others were saying. Actually, at first she tried not to listen to them, because she thought that it might be eavesdropping, but they were sitting so close that Lindy could hardly block them out, and after a while she gave up trying.
Everyone seemed much more worried than they had been the night before, as if the decision they had made then seemed different now that it was morning. They kept starting to say things, and then stopping in the middle of them, and then pausing to look down at their food, and then trying to finish what they had started to say a few minutes earlier.
One of the group was an old man with long white mustaches hanging down over his lip, and he was doing most of the talking. “It’s so close to Midsummer,” he was saying, as he fed bits of his breakfast to the raven perched on his one shoulder and to the small white owl perched on his other, “and if Alisdair can’t return by Midsummer Noon…”.
“But… he’ll be back before then… Right?” asked a much younger man, almost a boy. A ghostly stag with golden antlers and golden hooves stood behind him, and his own face had something wild about it as well, as if he was more used to the forest than to the table.
“Oh, Ceryn, I’m sure he will be,” said one of the bird women who had arrived through the kitchen windows the day before. “Midsummer is still more than a week away. There’s lots of time for Alisdair to… well… whatever it is that he has to do exactly. He’ll be back in time. I know he will.” She bent her head and brushed her cheek on her shawl as though preening her feathers.
“I don’t doubt that Alisdair will be back as quickly as he can,” said the mustached man, “and I agree that he must go.” The others nodded. “It’s just that this is all happening so close to Midsummer, and if something should happen…”. Some of those at the table looked worriedly at each other. “I mean, if he can’t meet Khurshid at the bridge…”.
“Yes, yes, we know,” said the bird-woman nervously, and she made her little preening motion again. “Alisdair must meet Khurshid at the bridge on Midsummer Noon or…”.
“That’s quite enough of this talk,” said a woman on the far end of the table. She had been quiet until then, and she spoke quietly, but Lindy thought that she must be someone important because everyone stopped talking and looked down the table to where she was sitting. She had only smooth hollows where her eyes should have been, and symbols like letters from a strange alphabet kept appearing and disappearing on them, sometimes changing so quickly that Lindy could not really see them, and sometimes pausing for a moment or two, just long enough for Lindy to have read them if only she had known what the letters meant.
“We all know that Alisdair must turn Khurshid back at the bridge,” said the woman after a moment, “and there’s no use in worrying any more about it.” She looked at each person in turn. “Either Alisdair will return by Midsummer Noon, or he will not. Either Khurshid will remain bound for another year, or he will not. It has always been this way. Nothing has changed. So I will hear no more about it.”
Lindy would have liked to hear what else the eyeless woman had to say, but Cleanna sat down beside her just then, and Lindy said good morning, which the bird woman thought was invitation enough to begin talking very quickly in a high sing-song kind of voice. She told Lindy how happy she was to meet her, and said that it was nice to talk with her now that circumstances were less stressful than the previous afternoon, and confided that she had been quite worried that Alisdair would be detained longer than he had been, which would have left The Crofts practically undefended, and then she finished by assuring Lindy that everything would turn out for the best now that Alisdair had things well in hand. She said all of this so quickly that Lindy had trouble following what she was saying, but it was nice not having to say anything in reply, so Lindy just listened, even when there were things that she did not quite understand.
Just as Cleanna seemed to be slowing a little, Moe and Clinton did appear with Alisdair right behind them, and suddenly everyone was hurrying to eat their last few mouthfuls of breakfast and taking their dishes to the sinks and refilling their mugs of tea or coffee. Alisdair crossed the kitchen, which had become very quiet and solemn, like Lindy’s class right before a big test, and then everyone followed him out the kitchen’s sidedoor, through the little mudroom where Lindy had first entered the house, and out into the garden.
It was a beautiful morning, a little cool and a little damp from the dew, but with a bright sun that promised an afternoon warm and dry enough to put a blanket on the lawn. Lindy felt once again that the day was good, and she wanted to whistle or sing to herself, only everyone else seemed very somber, so she kept her happiness to herself.
She walked with the others through the trees, the long grass brushing wetly against her legs, until they all came to the low platform of pink stone where the arch stood. Everyone else stopped then, but Alisdair stepped onto the stone dais and went to the arch. He placed a hand on one of its pillars and turned for a moment to wave at them. “Don’t worry,” he called. “I will return soon enough,” and then Lindy had just enough time to remember how the arch had felt beneath her own hands before he passed through the swirling grey and disappeared.
Lindy did not turn away for a long while. Alisdair’s going had happened so quickly, so suddenly. She felt as though it should have taken longer somehow, that he should have said something more, or that people should have had a chance to say goodbye to him, but he had gone without hardly a word.
She kept looking at the picture the arch held now, the reverse of the one that she had seen so often from her place on the wall. It was exactly her place on the wall that the arch was framing for her now, only it was not really her place any longer. Her yard and her house were not behind it. Her cubby was not behind it. Her mother was not behind it. She suddenly felt very lonely and very far from home, and she wished that she had been able to go with Alisdair, no matter how dangerous it might have been. The day was still beautiful, but she was now as solemn as everyone else.
She looked up to see that most of the others had left. Only Moe had stayed, shuffling back and forth in his baggy clothes. “How long will it be until he comes back?” she asked.
Moe shrugged his huge shoulders. “It’s hard to say about things like that here. It could be a minute, or maybe an hour, or a day, or a week. Time’s a funny thing.”
“I feel like I’m going to cry,” she said. She felt silly saying it, but it was true.
“No shame in that,” the big man replied, and he patted her back clumsily. “We’ve all shed our share of tears. Just can’t let them keep us from doing what needs to be done, that’s all.”
Lindy nodded, but she had no idea what it was that she needed to be doing, and she could not seem to cry anyway.
Just then, there was a kind of humming sound, and Lindy turned to see the arch filled with silver and grey again, only it was flickering now. One moment she could almost see the flecks of golden stars from where she stood, and the next moment there was only the garden wall and the green of the trees.
Images and voices filled Lindy’s mind. She thought that she could hear Alisdair saying something, but she could not make out what it was because there were so many other voices shouting over everything, and she saw what she thought was Alisdair’s face as well, but it was as if she was seeing it in a pond when the wind makes the water ripple. The only thing that she could make out clearly was the voice of The Crofts itself, and it was crying, like the women cried in the old movies, wailing and weeping and shrieking, and Lindy could feel the fear of the house over everything.
She tried to go to the arch, but Moe grabbed her hand and held her back, and the noise kept getting louder and louder, and the wailing of The Crofts grew louder too, until Lindy could feel the ground shaking and see the leaves on the trees shaking. Some of the others came running from the house, and a few of the bird women in their animal shapes were circling around the arch from above. The sound grew until Lindy thought her ears would burst, and still it grew, and then it suddenly stopped altogether, and the silver-grey of the arch stopped flickering, and everything seemed very still, and the only sound was The Crofts softly moaning in her mind.
Then Lindy seemed to see someone in the arch. She thought that it might be Alisdair, but he was blurry, and she could not tell for sure. The voice that began speaking was certainly Alisdair’s voice, though, even if he seemed to be calling from a long way away. He kept saying the same thing, over and over, as if he was afraid that they might not hear him. “Lindy must take the crown,” he said, “Lindy must take the crown,” again and again, and then the arch became still for a moment, and Alisdair’s crown appeared through the blue and silver and grey and fell onto the shell-pink stone. It made a dull ringing sound, like a cast iron pan falling onto the floor, and it was loud in the quiet of the garden.
Nobody seemed to know what to do, standing still in their places, and Lindy found that she was truly frightened for the first time that she had come over Mister Hat’s wall. She felt as though everyone was waiting for her to do something, but she knew that she would never be able to walk over to the crown and pick it up by herself, so she stood there with everyone else, not saying a word.
At last, after a time that could not have been nearly as long as it felt, Clinton began slowly to walk from the little group of onlookers to the middle of the stone dais. He bent down, picked up the crown, and held it up a little for everyone else to see. “You must all agree,” he said, his voice a little softer than usual, but still firm and precise, “that Mister Bridgebane has made his wishes very clear, and that the force of necessity affirms his judgment in every respect. Someone must wear the crown on Midsummer’s Feast, and Lindy is the only one among us of Alisdair’s race. She must wear the crown.”
None of the others said anything in reply, and Clinton said nothing more, but The Crofts suddenly began its screaming again, and its voice was full of anger, growing angrier as Clinton began walking toward Lindy. It was saying no words that Lindy could understand, but she knew it meant, “Stop! She must not wear the crown. Alisdair must be found. She will be the end of everything.” Its voice was so loud in her mind, and its anger was so strong, that Lindy was sure everyone else could hear it also, and she wanted to run, but her feet were fixed, and all she could do was sink to her knees as Clinton set Alisdair’s crown on her frightened head.
At that moment, as the heavy crown bowed her forehead, everything began to swirl, and the garden disappeared from around her, and Lindy was surrounded by nothing but darkness and cold, her back against a hard damp wall. The house at last was silent.