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I had the opportunity to preach a few Sundays ago, which is always an interesting negotiation between what I feel needs to be said and what I feel the congregation will be able to hear.  The following is not all of what I preached, but it is the portion that I thought was relevant to what I have posted previously on what I believe.  Perhaps it will clarify a little some of the things that I wrote at that time.

I have been thinking a great deal over the past few years about what it means for me to love God and to love my neighbour as myself, because it seems to me that the very core of Christ’s message lies in these commands. The commands to love God and to love our neighbour find their source in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and Christ not only affirms these passages when they are quoted to him by the young lawyer in Luke 10, but he also quotes these passages himself twice, in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. Very few ideas in Christian scripture have this kind of pedigree, so the dual command to love God and to love our neighbour would certainly warrant our attention even if Christ did not emphasize its importance so strongly, yet he does emphasize it to an extraordinary degree. “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” he says. “There is no other commandment greater than these,” he claims. They are “worth more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices,” he affirms. “Do this,” he says, “and live.”

And yet, despite the tremendous significance that Christ grants to these words, and despite the significance that most Christians would also grant to them in theory, I think that many Christians are deeply uncertain about how they are to love God and to love their neighbour. If you ask them about how they love God, they will usually, in all sincerity, give you the answers that they were taught in Sunday School: that they need to obey God’s commands and read the Bible and pray and be a part of a faith community, and while these are all good things, to be sure, I would suggest that none of them is really loving God.

It is possible to obey commands out of fear, to read the Bible out of habit, to pray out of duty, to join a faith community out of loneliness. These things are not love in themselves. They can never be love in themselves. They can only ever be, at best, the signs of our love, the burnt offerings and sacrifices that are mentioned by the scribe in Mark. And the question remains: How do we love God? How do we love something that we cannot see or touch? How do we love something that is sufficient to itself, that needs nothing we can offer? How do we love God in a way that is meaningful and tangible?

The answer to this question, or least the beginning of an answer, can be found in the way that Christ joins the two commandments together. Inititally they are not joined at all. Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the command to love God and Leviticus 19:18 the command to love our neighbour. The two are entirely distinct. They remain distinct, though now in close proximity in the Luke passage, where the lawyer merely quotes one after the other, joining them together with a conjunction. In Matthew and Mark, however, the two passages where Christ quotes the commands himself, the injunction to love God and to love our neighbour are joined together in a much closer way. “This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it,” Christ says in Matthew.  In Mark, he says again, “This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this.”

What does Christ mean by this phrase “is like it”? How is loving our neighbour like loving God? What is the relation between loving our neighbour and loving God?  Does it really imply, as it seems, that loving God and loving our neighbour are similar acts?

There would be much scriptural support for this idea. In Mark 5, for example, where Christ also makes reference to the command to love our neighbours, expanding it to include loving our enemies, he says that we should love others in this way in order that we may become sons of our Father in heaven. James goes so far as to claim that those who do not love their neighbours have a dead faith. John says that anyone who does not love remains in death. In each of these examples, our spiritual vitality and our very status of children of God are directly tied to the command to love our neighbours.

This does not even account for the innumerable occasions on which the New Testament writers, Paul in particular, emphasize that we fulfill the law of God and show ourselves to be Christians precisely through our love. “Love each other as I have loved you,” says Christ. “Love others, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law,” says Paul. “Love one another deeply, from the heart,” says Peter. And I could literally list these exhortations for pages. There is no command in all of the New Testament that is stated so often and in so many ways.

If even all of this could be argued away, however, Christ makes the connection between loving God and loving our neighbours unavoidable in Matthew 25: 31-46:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

In this passage Christ explicitly links loving others with loving God, links them so closely that loving the first is in actuality loving the second. There is no distinction between the two. To love those in need is to love God. To ignore those in need is to ignore God. There is no separation.

Even more interesting, Christ includes not a single other criterion for loving God. He does not say that loving others and praying a certain amount or reading a certain amount of the Bible or sitting on a certain number of committees is loving God. Loving those in need is the sole way to love God and the sole criterion by which God will judge us. Why? Because, as Christ and the apostles never tire of telling us, to love one another is the whole of the law. It is all that is required to fulfill the law. Love God by loving your neighbour: This is greater than offerings and sacrifices.

Yet this idea, put into practice, would scandalize most Christians.  The idea that truly loving those around us, not merely being nice or acting out of duty, but truly loving them, with all the sacrifice that this love entails, is the only way to love God and the only criterion by which we will be judged, is deeply scandalous in a church culture that has for the most part, throughout its entire history, been content to love only insofar as it does not interfere with building churches and running programs and imposing morals and collecting tithes and pretending to holiness.

And yet, to love others as if we are loving God is the greatest commandment. It contains all the Law and the Prophets. It is better than offerings and sacrifices. To do it is to live.

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Here, as promised, is the next chapter of Lindy in very short order, at least for me. I cannot promise that the next one will follow quite as quickly, but anything is possible. As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One.

Chapter Eleven:
In Which Lindy Crosses the Great River

The morning of her journey did not go quite as Lindy had planned.  She dressed as quickly as she could, putting on the clothes that she had laid out the night before and washing her face in the was basin, and then tried to travel to the kitchen to meet the others, only to find that she was unable to get anywhere at all.  She tried going through the attic hatch to see if that would help, and she tried traveling to other places like the library and the great hall, but no matter what she tried, she stayed right where she was.

She thought at first that this was her own fault, that she had somehow lost the knack of traveling that she had only learned so recently, but the more she tried, the more she felt that she was doing everything as she should, and she began to wonder whether the house itself was keeping her trapped where she was. So after a few more minutes of trying and failing, she gave up and decided just to walk to the kitchen, assuming that she could somehow find her way and assuming that the house had not locked all the doors as well.

The attic hatch opened onto a short and narrow hallway that was lit only by a small window on one side.  The door at the other end was faded and chipped, so that Lindy could see its many layers of paint, a light cream colour over yellow over white over pale green.  The brass handle, however, was clean and brightly polished and heavily made with an ornately fashioned lock.  Lindy turned the handle and pulled, but she knew even before she tried that it would be locked, and she was sure now that it was The Crofts that was keeping her from the kitchen, but she also remembered what Penates had said about using her will when talking with the house, and she decided that she needed to say something in as firm and as adult a way as she could.

“Okay,” she said, not so loudly as to yell but loudly enough to show that she was not frightened, “I know it’s you, Crofts.  I know you don’t want me to go, but I have to.”

“You have no idea what you’re doing!” The Crofts shouted.  The sensation of the house was suddenly so strong in Lindy’s mind that she stumbled back against the wall, but she was determined not to let it bully her.

“Stop yelling at me,” she said, trying every hard to keep her voice strong and even, and trying also to use her will to calm The Crofts.

“You’re will is nothing compared to mine, girl,” the house spat back, but it had already softened its tone somewhat, and Lindy felt more confident again.

“I know you don’t think I can be a Queen or a Keeper,” she said, “and I know it seems crazy to go closer to Khurshid, but I have to.  My dream said so.  And Alisdair said that sometimes you have to make choices, and nobody can make them for you, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m making my choice.  If you don’t let me go, I’ll go myself, even if I have to start climbing out the window.”

The house seemed to shudder or tremble in Lindy’s mind.  “You will lose the crown to Khurshid,” it said, more softly now. “You’re not strong enough to resist him.  I beg you.  Don’t go.  For all our sakes.”  It had quietened almost to a whisper now, pleading rather than demanding.

Lindy felt a sudden sympathy for the house, but her vision had been so clear, and everyone else had been so supportive of her, and she had no choice now but to go on.  “I won’t fail you, Crofts,” she said, letting her own voice soften as well.  “Just let me go.  I’ll show you that this is the right thing to do.  I promise.”

There was a long silence, so long that Lindy wondered whether the house would ever answer at all, but then there was a sound like a sigh in her mind, and The Crofts spoke at last.  “Do what you will.  I will no longer prevent you.  But when this ends in ruin, remember that I forewarned you.” Then, in the next moment, Lindy found herself standing in the kitchen.

Everything seemed to be moving in every direction there, and nobody bothered to ask Lindy why she was late.  She was made to eat a heavy breakfast of eggs and bacon and beans and toast and coffee, which Lindy had never tried before, and then she was helping Cleanna distribute everything between the three packs, the biggest for Moe and the smallest for Lindy herself, and at last Moe was helping her on with her pack, and Penates was giving Moe some final instructions, and all the others were saying goodbye.  Even Clinton offered Lindy his hand, though he refrained from giving her a hug, as some of the others did.

The goodbyes took rather longer than anyone thought. and the sun was quite high when Lindy and Moe and Cleanna passed out at last through the cloak room and the side door where Lindy had first come into the house, how many days ago she could not quite remember. The sun had already dried the grass, and the sky was clear and blue, and a warming spring breeze was rustling over everything, and Lindy felt better almost right away.

The path from the side door ran alongside the house until it reached the cobblestones of the driveway that led onto the main road toward the bridge. The road had once been cobbled too, Lindy saw, because the smooth tops of cobblestones were showing here and there, especially along the wheel ruts, but a layer of earth had now covered most of it, and there was mud in all of the low lying places where the spring rain had made puddles that were only just now drying.

Each step into the spring morning seemed to Lindy another step away from her worries, and she began to skip a little, hopping from one cobble to another when there were two close enough together. Cleanna must have been feeling the same because she suddenly flung her arms wide and took a hop and a leap and then began to fly, her shawl dissolving into a beating of brown wings. Lindy watched her circle ever higher into the air and wished that she could do the same, to meet the sun part way on its long journey to the earth.

It was only when they came over a small rise in the road and the trees ahead parted enough for Lindy to see the bridge that she remembered just how dangerous a thing she was about to do. The sun did not shine any less brightly, and the breeze did nor blow any less warmly, but Lindy felt colder anyway, and her stomach began to ache like when she was sick with the flu. She looked to Moe and saw that he had changed into his monstrous form, his pack becoming a grotesque hump on his shoulders, and Cleanna had returned to the ground now too, standing in her human form and looking very grim.

None of the three said anything, but they all paused together, and they looked down to the valley and the river and the bridge. There were no trees within a long distance of the river on either side, as if the forest was afraid to come too close to it. There were instead long marsh grasses and bullrushes, still young and green, and here and there glimpses of purple flags testing the new spring warmth.

They turned down the hill toward the river, and the road became ever more muddy and overgrown the closer they came to the bridge, but even from a distance the bridge itself looked as sound and unblemished as if it had only just been built. There was nothing very fancy about it, just wide blocks of very plain stone, smooth and closely-fitted, without carving or decoration, but it dominated their view more and more the closer they came to it, and they all paused again when they reached the foot of the bridge, where the muddy and half-buried cobbles met the crisp smoothness of the bridge.

“You’ll need to lead us into the bridge, Miss Lindy,” said Moe at last,”seeing as you’re the Keeper. We’re under your protection from here on.”

Lindy sighed. She had no idea how she could protect anyone from anything, and she was not even really sure what it was that they were facing over there in the forest across the bridge, but there was no use going back now. She took a step forward, felt the hardness of the bridge on her foot, and then she began to shiver just a little, as if she had come out of a nice warm lake into a cool breeze. Then the feeling passed, and she stepped forward again, and she felt quite a lot braver.  The smoothness of the bridge felt good beneath her feet after the ruts and cobbles of the path, and the breeze grew harder and cooler and cleaner as she climbed the broad curve of the bridge. She did not for a moment forget the danger of what she was doing or lose the ache in her stomach, but she felt a little bit like she had felt when she first saw the cottages, as if she was exactly where she belonged, no matter how frightened she might be.

The bridge was longer than it looked, and it reached much higher above the river than Lindy expected, curving upward like a great stone hill, so it was only when the began to descend the other side that Lindy saw the figure approaching the bridge from the forest.  He was a tall man, golden-haired and lithely muscled and naked, walking toward them with his arms casually swinging at his sides, as if he had merely been taking a walk and happened upon them quite accidentally. The only sign that he had even seen them was that his eyes were looking fixedly toward where they stood on the bridge, never looking to the left or the right, even as he walked along the overgrown road.

Lindy wondered for a moment whether she should stop on the bridge and wait for the man to come to her, but she knew somehow that this was the wrong thing to do, so she kept walking along the bridge, downward now, as firmly and bravely as she could. The slope of the bridge hurried her feet, and the man’s ambling pace was much faster than it looked, so they were approaching each other very quickly, and Lindy felt a strange mixture of fear and courage at the same time, as though there were two people inside of her, one terrified to go even a step further, and the other determined to keep going as long as she could. They reached each other at last at the foot of the bridge, her feet on the last of the broad stones of the bridge itself and his on the first of the overgrown cobbles. He was very tall, and Lindy had to look up to see his face, but he bent down on one knee so that they were face to face, and he smiled warmly at her.

“Hello, Lindy,” he said. “I’m Khurshid. Welcome to my country.”

“We need to pass,” said Lindy, and her voice sounded quite brave, though she had been worried that it would sound as small and as frightened as she felt.

“Certainly, certainly,” Khurshid said, as if he were a favourite uncle giving a toy to his niece. His voice was soft and gentle and musical, and Lindy thought that she had never heard anything so beautiful before.  “Of course, I must warn you that will use every means at my disposal to get that crown from you,” Khurshid continued. “It’s the last one, you know, and I was so close to having it just the other day, and I do want it so very badly.”

“You can’t touch her while she wears the crown,” Cleanna said, quietly and evenly.

Khurshid’s voice hardened a little. It was still soft and musical but no longer gentle. “You would do better to hold your tongue before your betters, Bird-woman,” he said, his eyes glancing up past Lindy’s shoulder to where Cleanna stood. “Besides,” he continued, returning his eyes to meet Lindy’s, “it’s simply untrue. There’s nothing that keeps me from touching you, as long as I intend you no harm.”  He reached out his hand and brushed Lindy’s cheek. She flinched, but his touch was not unpleasant. There was no pain or heat or cold, nothing but the gentle warmth of a human hand. “You see,” he said, “I intend you no harm, at least not yet. All I want is your crown, and I’m asking it of you now, so you must answer me. That is how things are done here.”

“No,” Lindy answered, and she did not have to hesitate, and her voice was still firm and strong.

“Well,” said Khurshid, “I see that we must now both play our parts. You will go to do whatever it is that you think you’re doing, which I confess intrigues me very much, and I will try and take the crown from you. Of course, your bird-woman friend is quite right when she says that I cannot harm you unless you challenge me yourself, which would be very unwise, but I assure you that I do not have to touch you to do you harm, so you should be well warned.”

Quickly then, he rose to his feet and turned away from Lindy, and he shimmered in the air, and then it seemed to Lindy that he became a gigantic bull, huge and shaggy like a buffalo, with the wide horns of a longhorn steer, and then it seemed to her that he became a tremendous snake, long as an anaconda and wide as a python, its head reared up much taller even than a grown man, and at last she saw him take the form of a lion, with a heavy golden mane and powerful shoulders and fierce jaws. It roared savagely once and then loped away down the road to the forest, never looking back, leaving Lindy standing on the last stone of the bridge.

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Dave Humphrey has written on the idea of seeing several times, and it is a topic that comes up frequently in our conversation, so I thought that I would share with him, and with all of you as well, a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s True at First Light that speaks very directly to the nature of seeing and does so in relation to birds, which is another subject of great significance to Dave.

The passage begins with Hemingway describing how he has been so focused on tracking the big game that he has failed really to notice the local birds in the way that his wife has.  He says, “I realized I had only paid attention to the predators, the scavengers, and the birds that were good to eat and the birds that had to do with hunting.  Then as I thought of which birds I did notice there came such a great long list of them that I did not feel quite as bad but I resolved to watch the birds around our camp more and to ask Mary all about the ones I did not know, and most of all, to really see them and not look past them.”  This is a nice passage all in itself, with its exhortation really to see and not look past things, but he then goes on to say, “This looking and not seeing things is a great sin.”

This phrase, I think, sums up very nicely what Dave has described in his own writing on the act of seeing, and I think that Dave would agree with his next comment as well, that “we do not deserve to live in the world if we do not see it.”

Alessandro Baricco‘s Silk – This book is a perfect little dream. It is very short, with chapters of single pages, a fine-boned and delicate novel. It is almost too smooth, too light, too silken. It needs some coarseness, I think, to make it a truly great novel, and yet, a single grain of coarseness might ruin its effect. It is a beautiful thing, to be sure, but I am not sure what to do with it. It is like a silk shirt: it looks and feels wonderful, but it is almost too delicate to wear.

Mario Vargas Llosa’s In Praise of the Stepmother and The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto – When Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, I had never heard his name, so I noted it as one of the many glaring gaps in my literary education and promptly went to my local bookshops to see if they had any of his books.  I eventually found two: In Praise of the Stepmother and  The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, but they were nothing like what I expected.   All of the discussion I had heard about Llosa had emphasized the deeply political nature of his work, but these two little novels are far more erotic than political.  Both are extended reflections on ideas of fantasy and fulfillment, fetish and taboo, innocence and seduction, and they are both certainly the work of a very talented writer, but I was expecting something very different, and I intend to see if I can find some of his other works as well.

Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy – I remember enjoying these books when I was in highschool, but I enjoyed them even more on my second reading.  Davies writes books that combine mythology with realism in marvelous ways, and the stories of his characters embody this ability, being told and retold so that fact and myth fold inextricably into one another.  There are some bits of each novel, especially the second, that I could very easily do without, but the effect of the novels are not greatly diminished by these narrative lapses, and I would rank them as highly as any Canadian novels I have ever read.

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – The narrative voice of this novel is so engaging and so amusing that it almost makes up for the story’s lack of substance.  Beneath the narrator’s banter, however, there is really only a self-absorbed, faintly neurotic, mostly aimless, middle-aged, otherwise average guy, and the climax of the book is really only his realization that he is indeed a self-absorbed, faintly neurotic, mostly aimless, middle-aged, otherwise average guy, which is rather less than earth-shattering.  Now, it is still a very amusing book, but unless you need help learning that you should probably give people the music they like rather than the music you like, it is not a very profound book.  I would save it for reading on the bus or on the toilet or any other place where you will not likely have the chance to think about it too deeply.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s I Will Marry When I Want – Ngugi wa Thiong’o was a finalist for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and another writer whose name I had never heard before.  Ngugi is Kenyan, and so I asked a Kenyan friend of mine about him, only to discover that this friend had met Ngugi personally, had traveled with Ngugi’s daughter when she came to Canada, and had acted in one of Ngugi’s plays, I Will Mary When I Want, which he was then kind enough to lend me.  The story takes place in Kenya during the rule of dictator Daniel arap Moi, and it explores the injustices that remained in Kenyan society as a result of colonization and that were being retrenched by the new Kenyan upper-class.  It is a simple story, in many respects, but a powerful one, and I enjoyed it very much.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s – The Club Dumas – This is a book for which there is no ready genre.  It is a mystery, certainly, but it is also a literary homage to the person and the work of Alexandre Dumas, a kind of literary mystery, perhaps, so that its ideal reader would not be the traditional mystery aficionado (who might understandably be bored by the many allusions to the serial novel culture of France in the 1800s), nor the traditional reader of literature (who might understandably be critical of its many generic elements), but the unabashed lover of story in its many guises, generic and literary both, the kind of reader who made Dumas so popular in the first place.   The novel has its faults, to be sure, and I would myself have separated its two plots into independent novels, but it is a good read nevertheless, one of those rare books that stimulates the mind and the imagination in equal measure.

George Herbert’s The English Works – I took this book off the shelf, where it had been sitting since university, mostly because Dave kept telling me how big an influence Herbert had been on him when he was younger.  Try as I might, however, I was unable really to love Herbert.  His poems, however sincere, and I do think that they are very sincere, seem too morally obvious to me, too contrived.  They seem too much like exercises that he had set for himself and too little like true feeling.  I will withhold any final judgment until Dave and I can speak further, but I am not hopeful that I will ever appreciate Herbert in the way that he does.

Ernest Hemingway’s True at First Light – This was, by complete coincidence, the second book set in Kenya that I read in less than a month.  After going thirty years and change without reading anything at all set in that country, I feel that the word ‘coincidence’ is almost inadequate here, but it will have to do.  The novel, based more or less on Hemingway’s experiences as an unofficial game warden in Kenya, is set decades earlier than Ngugi’s I Will Mary When I Want, during the early stages of the Mau Mau uprising against the British, sometime about 1953.  It has all the vivid simplicity of image for which Hemingway is justly known, but there is a greater easiness about it than some of his other work, a sense of something like contentment.  This may be because it remained unfinished at his death and was edited for publication by his son Patrick, but whatever the reason, it has a decidedly different quality about it than his other work, and it makes a truly interesting addition to Hemingway’s body of work.

The girl behind the cafe bar comes to bus the tables, since all the tables but my own are now empty, but she is distracted by something in the newspaper on one of the tables, something that I cannot myself make out from so far away, and she leans over the table, just enough to brace her arms on its formica top, her too thin arms propping her too thin body, the hipless, breastless body that leaves her grey jeans hanging shapelessly on her hip bones and makes her bra bunch uselessly under her black turtleneck. Her hair is in a bun, but loosely, carelessly, and her bangs are too short to pull back into it anyway, so she looks unkept, untidy, uncaring. She piles the newspapers after a moment, carries the cups, white coffee cups with stains on their lips, back behind the bar, then drifts out into the cafe again, lean arms crossed over her narrow chest, eyes drifting along the tables, aimlessly, around the empty room.

Some people from my neighbourhood have launched a community worshop, something that I have long thought would make a good addition to our community. They have called the initiative Diyode, and its mission is to: “Build a space for makers, artists, and crafters to access tools that they would not normally have access to. Make it kid-friendly, with activities to spark interest in electronics, machine building and practical problem solving. Give people of any age the tools, the confidence, the advice, and the excitement to build and invent things themselves. Create a wonderland of possibilities and a community to match, then set it free and see what it produces.”

This kind of initiative encourages people to learn and create and work collaboratively and openly, and it is precisely what our communities in general and our children in particular need in order to live differently in a culture that knows only how to buy rather than to make and explore and experiment. I am very excited that this idea has become a reality at last, and though I am not sure whether my kids are quite old enough to make good use of it yet, I am going to check things out and see where we might get involved. I will also be encouraging our local homeschoolers to see if they can form a partnership of some kind with the workshop.

Diyode holds a weekly meeting on Monday nights at 9pm at 71 Wyndham St. South, Unit B, Guelph.  Those who are interested in knowing more can visit Diyode at www.diyode.com or email them at info@diyode.com.

It has been a long while since I posted a chapter of Lindy, but I may post a few in fairly close succession now, so regular readers should be fairly warned. As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One.

Chapter Ten:
In Which There Are Preparations for a Journey

Now, you may think that Lindy was being a bit foolish when she decided to go and look for the cottage in the clearing just because she had a dream about it. After all, she would be going all by herself across the bridge into Khurshid’s forest in order to find a place that she had seen only in a dream and that she knew almost nothing about.

You should remember though that people often do strange things when they feel that there is no other choice, and this is just how Lindy was feeling at that moment. She was in a strange place with no one she knew for company and no way to find her way home. Alisdair had left her and was maybe even dead for all she knew. Even the house, which had been so comforting to her at first, had now turned against her. Besides, her dream had seemed so clear, and her mind was made up now, and nothing was going to keep her from going, not even the most reasonable objections, like how she would find the cottage, or where she would get food to eat, or what she would do if she should happen to meet Khurshid along her way.

She probably would have set off right away, in fact, but she was not so rash as to leave without at least some food and supplies, and she realized that it would be difficult to find anything without causing suspicion, even if The Crofts did not know her intentions already. She decided that it might be worth the risk of going to the kitchen, just to see what she could find, but first she looked around for anything useful to take with her from the attic. There was the flashlight that she used to keep for reading when it got too dark, though she remembered that the batteries were low and there were no extras to be found. There was also a hooded sweatshirt and some blankets that she kept there for when it got cold. She had nothing handy to carry them, but then she saw her Father’s old army dufflebag, and she dumped his clothes out of it to make room for her things. She also found some of her own clothes. They were summer things that had been packed away for the winter and would probably not be warm enough for a journey outdoors in the spring, especially at night, but she packed two pairs of jean shorts and a few of her warmer shirts anyway, just in case.

The dufflebag was much too big for her. She had to cinch up the strap as far as it would go just to pick it up, and she could tell that it would soon be uncomfortable on her shoulder, but she thought it would be manageable so long as she took lots of breaks. She only wished now that there had been some food in the attic, but there was only her empty water bottle, though she decided now to add that to her pack as well. It was only as she was about to leave that she remembered the candy canes in with the Christmas decorations, so she pulled open the box and found a dozen or so of the candies. They were probably several years old and very stale, but they would be better than nothing, and Lindy felt better when they were safely packed with the other things in her bag.

She was just about to leave for a second time, and feeling a little sad to be going away from her cubby so soon, even if it was not the real one, when Moe suddenly appeared right in front of her. Lindy was so startled that she jumped and stumbled backward over a box full of old encyclopedias.

“Oh,” said Moe, who seemed almost as startled as she was, “I’m sorry, Miss Lindy, for surprising you like that, and uninvited too, I know. But Penates said you might be needing someone to talk to, and you were gone such a long time, so I thought I’d come and see if you were alright.” He reached down and lifted Lindy to her feet as he was saying this and then noticed the bag still dangling from her shoulder.

“Miss, Lindy!” he cried, suddenly changing to his more monstrous self. “You’re not leaving are you?”

“I have to, Moe,” Lindy said quietly. She looked down to avoid his eyes. “I can’t stay here anymore because the house is angry with me, and I can’t go home because the arch is broken, and I…”

“How do you know that the house is angry with you?”

“Because its showed me all these broken rooms, and it said that the house would die because I couldn’t be a good enough Queen…”

“The house talked to you?”

Lindy nodded.

“Well!” said Moe, “I know that Penates can talk to the house because he’s a part of it in a way, but I’ve never heard of anyone else talking to it. Maybe Alisdair can. I’ve never heard him say so, but I wouldn’t put anything past him.” He looked at her with his big amphibian eyes. “So, if you can’t stay, and you can’t go home, where is it that you think you’re going?”

“I had a dream…” began Lindy, and then trailed off, because it sounded silly even to her.

“A dream?” prodded Moe.

“Well, I was awake, sort of, so maybe it wasn’t really a dream.”

“A vision then?”

“Something like that, I guess, and there was a cottage across the bridge, past a tall tree with leaves that looked like gold, and I have to go there. I don’t know why, but I have to.”

Lindy stood there and waited for Moe to tell her that she was being foolish to leave and that she would be staying right where she was, but he only looked thoughtful and began slowly turning back into Moe the man. “Well,” he said at last, “I think, under the circumstances and all, it might be good to talk with Penates a bit. He’s the one who would know best now that Alisdair is gone.”

He looked suddenly saddened, then gave a sigh so big it seemed almost a roar. “I don’t know what we’ll do without him,” he said. “It makes me cry just thinking of him.”

He rubbed at his nose a bit and sighed again, more quietly this time, then reached out his hand. “Well, pick up your bag, Miss Lindy, and let’s be off to the kitchens. At least it’ll be doing something worth doing instead of crying over things we can’t change.”

His hand was warm and strong, and Lindy could almost believe that things had taken a turn for the better after all as they stepped through the door of her cubby and traveled to the kitchen. She held onto Moe’s hand even after they arrived, and he did not try to take it from her, so she took it in her other hand also, laying her cheek on his arm, even though it probably made her look like a little girl.

Penates was basting something in one of the ovens, but he seemed to feel them arrive and looked up at them immediately. His face was very grim, and even his movements about the kitchen seemed abrupt and angry. He finished what he was doing at last and came to them, putting his hand on Lindy’s cheek with surprising gentleness.

“I’m sorry for what The Crofts did to you this morning,” he said, his voice still gruff but gentle too. “I hope you weren’t too badly frightened.”

Lindy was surprised. “How do you know what happened?”

“Because I’m part of the house in a way. The Crofts is the spirit of the house, but I’m the spirit of the hearthestone. We’re connected. The Crofts is far more powerful than I am, of course, and I serve it in a sense, but I’m also a part of it. I can often feel what it’s feeling and know what it’s doing, especially when it feels very strongly.”

Lindy must have looked confused because Penates chuckled at her quietly. “Let me try again,” he offered. “When the house was being built, that great slab of stone over there was placed at the foundation of the hearth.” He pointed to the massive fireplace and the broad hearthstone that supported it. “I’m the spirit of that stone, or I was before it became a part of the house, and now I’ve become the spirit of the hearth, the spirit of the kitchen, you might say. I was built into the house, so my spirit is bound to its spirit, and so I can sometimes speak with it and feel what it’s feeling.”

“So you can talk to it too?” asked Lindy.

“Sure. At least, I can when it wants to talk and when I want to listen.” He chuckled again.

“But what if you don’t want to listen, or what if you don’t want The Crofts to listen to you?”

“Oh, it’s not really that complicated. You just need to will it. Like when you’re traveling around the house, or like when you sat on the chair this morning. Just will The Crofts to stop poking around in your mind, and it’ll stop.”

“I see,” said Lindy. She was thinking how long ago sitting on that chair seemed to her now.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” said Moe then, “but I think that Miss Lindy has something to say that shouldn’t wait much longer if she’s to say it all.”

“I imagine it has something to do with that great sack over her shoulder,” Penates said, and there was a good deal of humor in his voice.

Lindy was afraid that he was making fun of her, but when she looked up at him, he winked solemnly, and she saw that he was listening, so she took a deep breath and told her story. She told him all about her dream, about how she had been asleep and awake at the same time, and about how she had seen the man singing across the bridge and the tall tree with the golden leaves and the stone cottage in the clearing.

All the while, she kept expecting Penates to interrupt and tell her to stop taking a silly dream so seriously, but he just listened, nodding every once and while and looking at her steadily from underneath his bushy eyebrows. When she finished, still holding onto Moe’s hand, he closed his eyes for a minute and was very quiet, almost as if he was saying a prayer.

“Miss Lindy,” he said, after a minute, his eyes still closed, “I think you’re dream is too important to ignore.” He opened his eyes and looked at Lindy intently. “Do you remember when I told you just now that I’m the spirit of the hearthstone and that The Crofts is the spirit of the house?”

Lindy nodded.

“Well, there are many such spirits, and The Crofts and I are not the greatest among them by any measure. I am among the oldest of the spirits here, but some of the tree spirits are very powerful in their way, and the river spirit is strong enough to keep the law that binds Khurshid from crossing the bridge. Some of these spirits are good, and some of them are evil, and some of them, like your own spirit, are able to choose between one and the other. But all of these spirits are subject to the ruling spirit of this world. We call this spirit Aigaonz, and it often speaks to us through dreams and visions like the one you had.”

“So, is Aigaonz like God then?”

Penates shook his head. “No. What you call God would be the spirit of everything, of the universe and everything else. Aigaonz is just the spirit of this world, of this place here and now.”

“Like an angel?” Lindy tried again.

“Sure. We wouldn’t use that word, but it’s probably as good as any.”

“So, if this Aigaonz is the angel of this world, then why doesn’t he just take care of Khurshid himself? Why does he need to have the Keepers and everything if he’s the one in charge?”

“Well, I’m not sure if I’m the one to answer I question like that, but I would say that Aigaonz has certain limitations, just like we do. I mean, I can do some amazing things, but only if I’m close to my hearthstone. If I go too far from it, I can’t do anything at all. And you can do many things as well, many that I can’t do, especially now that you wear the crown of a Keeper, but you’re limited by your body and your mind. We all have our limitations. We can only do what we are able.”

“Well, if it’s Aigaonz that gave me this dream, then it means that I should go, right?”

“I think so, but I can’t be sure. You can never guarantee these things, and you still need to use your head, no matter what you think you dreamed.”

“I have to go though, Penates. I have to.”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t go. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t leave this very moment all by yourself with a few things stuffed in a bag that’s far too big for you. Stay here just one more night. Let me pack some food for you, and let Moe put some blankets and some clothes in a pack that you can actually carry.”

“And let me come along,” added Moe, and the fierceness of his tone suggested that he was not asking her permission.

“Absolutely,” Penates agreed, “and I think Cleanna should go with you too. You may want a good pair of eyes to find this cottage of yours.”

There did not seem to be any arguing with Moe and Penates. They made so much sense, and it was so comforting to know that she would have company on her journey, and Lindy soon found that she had agreed to everything. Moe produced some rucksacks and some bedrolls from somewhere, and Pentates set about packing dried fruit, and nuts, and some kind of flat bread, and dried meat, and even a few bars of very dark chocolate. Then Cleanna arrived, wondering why Penates had called her, and everything had to be explained to her, and she said that she would be honoured to go with Lindy before flying off to make her own preparations.

Before she quite knew what was happening, the preparations had all been made, and Lindy found herself curled up in her cubby for the night. She had just enough time to wonder whether she could really go through with her plan before she fell fast asleep, and it seemed only another moment before she woke to see the sun already rising.

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