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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.