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.
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.