Here is the next instalment of Lindy. I have now all but completed the rough draft, so I hope to post future chapters every two or three weeks as I edit them. As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.
In Which All Lindy’s Plans Come to Disaster
When Lindy was sure that Khurshid was gone, she took the body of the little deer and buried it under some cedar litter and piled some rocks on top of it. She wished that they could have buried it more properly, but the evening was now getting very dark, and they had no shovel for digging, only Moe’s knife, so there was nothing more that they could do.
Moe patted Lindy’s shoulder as they walked back to the fire and told her that things would be alright, and Cleanna said the same, but Lindy felt that things were anything but alright. She lay down in her blankets and tried to sleep, only she kept thinking of the little deer that had been lying right where she was lying now, and she felt very alone and very frightened and more than a little angry too. She knew, just as you and I do, that it was not really her fault that the deer had died. It was Khurshid who had killed it. All she had done was feed it and play with it, yet she still felt guilty. After all, if she had never crossed the bridge and had never played with the deer, Khurshid would never have killed. It was not her fault that it was dead, but it had died because of her, and she could not stop thinking about it.
She rolled over so that the fire could warm her back, and she saw Cleanna sitting on a fallen log keeping watch. Then she must have slipped into a kind of half-dreaming, because the fire grew impossibly high and bright behind her, but she could not make herself turn to see it, and there were shadowy shapes all through the trees as far as she could see, and then she saw suddenly that Cleanna was gone and that Khurshid was sitting on the log where she had been, and then she woke to find that Cleanna was indeed gone but that it was Moe who had taken her place and that everything was as peaceful as a forest night can be.
She fell back asleep, more deeply this time, and she did not remember her dreams, though she knew that they must have been unpleasant because she woke all tangled in her blankets, as if she had been running or wrestling in them, and she felt more tired than before she had gone to bed. She was also colder and damper than she could ever remember being. The fire was still burning, but it was low, and its heat could not match the morning cold.
Lindy would have liked a nice bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea, but there were only old, wrinkled apples and some bread and water, so it looked like a cold breakfast until Moe had the idea of roasting the apples over the coals of the dying fire. The roasted apples were very hot, and Lindy had burnt fingers and a burnt tongue before she was done, but she did feel a bit warmer, especially after she drank some of the water that Cleanna had left to heat by the fire while they packed.
Nobody said much as they ate their breakfast and packed their few things. Moe apologized for losing his temper the night before and putting everyone in danger, and Lindy said not to worry about it, and Cleanna said that no one could blame him, and then they all went back to packing their blankets. It looked to be another beautiful day, and Lindy thought that the leaves had opened even more overnight, but the beauty of it all was spoiled by the thought of the small dead creature lying on her blankets the night before. She kept imagining ways that she could have stopped Khurshid, how she might have taken the deer from him while there was still time, or how she might have said something to prevent him, but no amount of imagination could change what had happened, and she was always left with the horrible image of the strangled animal lying in her bed.
They returned to the main road just as the sun was truly up over the trees, all of them still quietly thinking their separate thoughts. Lindy was feeling more hopeful and more determined as the sun rose, and she had even half-convinced herself that they would be able to find the cottage before nightfall, but her hope and determination lasted only the few hundred yards it took them to come across the first of the dead deer in the road. At first Lindy thought that it might be the same one that Khurshid had killed the night before, that he had uncovered it and put it in their path, but when she bent down to it, she could feel that it was still warm, and she knew that it must have been dead only a few minutes. She carried it gently to the edge of the road, trying not to cry. Khurshid must be just beyond their sight, she knew, and she did not want to let him see her crying, but she wondered how much more she could bear.
“We should keep going, Miss Lindy,” said Moe, as she began to pile leaves over the body. “We don’t have time to do things proper. Just say a prayer, and then we’ll have to keep on.”
Lindy knew that Moe was right, and she got to her feet again, but she felt like something was breaking inside of her. “It’s all my fault,” she said.
“No dear,” said Cleanna, putting her arm around Lindy’s shoulders. “You we’re only being kind and gentle with the little creatures, as anyone else would do. It’s Khurshid’s fault. You can’t go blaming yourself for his evil doings.”
Lindy did start to cry now. She could no longer stop herself. “But what am I supposed to do? I can’t help loving things, and Khurshid says he’ll destroy anything I love, just because I love it. How am I supposed to stop loving things?”
“No, no, Lindy,” said Cleanna, her face full of concern, “you must never stop loving, no matter what Khurshid does. If you let him keep you from loving, then you are already what he wants you to become.”
“Oh, Cleanna, I don’t know what to do!” cried Lindy.
“You just keep doing what you were asked to do,” said Cleanna, “and we’ll stay right here with you, because that’s what we were asked to do. It will be enough. I promise.”
Cleanna led Lindy back from the little burial mound to the road, and she held her hand as they began again to walk along the cobbles. The sun was golden, and the sky was deeply blue against the green of the spring leaves on the branches that arched over them like a vast hall, but Lindy noticed none of these things, only the broken bodies that they kept finding every mile or so, one after the other. She lost count of how many bodies that she carried to the edge of the road. It might have been twenty, but she soon lost count, and the number did not seem to matter much anyway. Each one hurt her as much as the first. She did not have tears enough for them all, and she soon found that her cheeks were dry, no matter how hard she was weeping in her heart.
At last, though it seemed that the day would go on forever, Moe said that it was time to make camp, and Lindy sat down in the road where she was. They could find no place as comfortable as the grove of the night before, but Moe had seen that the land was rising steadily into a ridge on their left and that it had formed a little hollow at one point that would allow them some cover from the wind. He left Lindy to make camp while he collected firewood, and Lindy somehow managed to find her feet and to unpack their things while Cleanna went to scout ahead again. It only took a few minutes before the beds were made and a fire was burning, and it was only a few minutes more before Cleanna returned, her wings fluttering into arms with great excitement.
“The smoke is quite close tonight,” she exclaimed, “a little less than an hour’s walk, I’d guess. And it really is a cottage. I didn’t get too close, but I could see that it was a cottage. And I found the tree too, Lindy, when I flew back toward the road. It was huge, and its leaves look like gold in the sunset, just like you said.”
Lindy felt a great flush of relief. She had been wondering how much further she could really go, but now it seemed that their journey was much closer to its end than she had feared.
“That’s great news,” said Moe, and he looked relieved as well. He turned a little smile to Lindy. “We’re almost there, Miss. Just a little longer.”
“Not that the wretched woman who lives there will help you much, I’m afraid,” came Khurshid’s now familiar voice.
Lindy looked up at Khurshid’s beautiful face, and she saw that he was holding the twisted body of yet another little deer. He knelt and laid it very gently on her newly unrolled blankets and caressed its fur. “I know how much you like to see them properly laid to rest,” he said, and his lovely voice was touched with amusement. “I couldn’t think of any place more proper than this.”
Lindy had never felt so angry and so helpless and so guilty. She wanted to cry and to scream and to run, but she could not do all of these things at once, so she just stood there, wishing that she could be anywhere else, but wishing most of all that she could be back home.
“Don’t worry, though,” Khurshid continued, coming to his feet. “You won’t have any more little corpses to bury tomorrow. I think I’ve made my point quite clearly already, and I do get bored of things so easily.” He walked closer to Lindy and stroked her cheek again, as he had twice before, and she had the feeling that she was living the same moment again and again, that she would always have to endure that touch again and again, that she would always have to endure little broken bodies on the road again and again.
She met Khurshid’s eyes and saw that he was smiling at her sweetly. “No,” he said, “there will be no more small bodies on the path. You know how things are between us now, and tomorrow we will stop playing with pets and start playing with things that lie a little closer to home. Like your mother, for example. Have you seen your mother recently, my dear Lindy?”
It took Lindy a moment to realize what Khurshid was saying, but when at last she did, all of the emotion inside her seemed to gather itself into one tremendous scream of anger. “No!” she cried. “You keep away from my mother!”
“Oh my,” said Khurshid, as calmly as ever. “Such an outburst. But I’m afraid it’s a little late for keeping away from your mother at this point.” He turned slightly and beckoned into the deepening darkness among the tress, and Lindy now noticed that Khurshid was not alone. In the shadows behind him she could make out at least three dark figures. One of them stepped forward and gave something to Khurshid before drifting back into the darkness.
“I don’t think you’ve met my associates,” Khurshid said. “They were all royalty once, just like you, before they made the very wise choice to surrender their crowns to me.” He began turning over in is hands whatever it was that the traitor-king had given him. “These three in particular have just returned from your world, dear Lindy, where they lured and captured our mutual friend Mister Alisdair Bridgebane.”
Lindy was trying not to listen, and trying not to think about what he had said earlier about her mother, and trying not to let her anger get the better of her, but she was failing at all of these things.
“You might like to know,” Khurshid continued, tossing the little square object in his hands and catching it, “that Alisdair is still alive.”
Lindy could her Moe and Cleanna both breath sharply behind her.
Khurshid laughed mockingly. “I wouldn’t get too excited. He may be alive, but he’s very likely wishing he was dead by now, and I will gladly grant his wish as soon as he witnesses his crown on my head. I only mention it because I thought that Miss Lindy should know that her dear mother is not alone in her captivity but is together with our good friend Alisdair as she enjoys the hospitality of my friends here.”
He turned just then so that the firelight shone on the object in his hands, and he opened it so that she could see inside. Lindy recognized at once that it was her mother’s wallet, only the picture inside had been changed. Where there should have been a picture of Lindy herself as a little girl, there was now a picture of her mother, bound and gagged and lying on a stone floor. Khurshid kept the wallet open only just long enough for Lindy to see what was in it, and then he flipped it closed again and tossed it contemptuously beside the dead deer on Lindy’s blankets.
“So,” he said, “I wonder what it is that you’ll find on the path tomorrow…” but Lindy did not let him finish the sentence. Even as he turned away from her, she felt herself lose all control, and there was nothing inside of her but hurt and anger. She bent and took a branch from the fire and rushed at him, striking him with it once across the head and once again across his arm as he turned back to her, but he was prepared for her third blow, catching the still burning embers of her club, wresting it from her grasp, and tossing it into the forest. There was exultation on his face, and he seemed to hesitate just a little, savouring the moment like a bit of chocolate on his tongue, and then he struck Lindy across the face.
The force of the blow took her off her feet and threw her to the ground, her crown tumbling off as she fell. Her mind refused to focus, and her eyes refused to see, and her body refused to obey her, but when at last she was able to look around, Moe was lying crumpled beside the fire as Khurshid’s traitor-kings tied his great arms, and Cleanna was nowhere to be seen.
Khurshid was now standing between Lindy and the fire. “You foolish girl,” he mocked. “You couldn’t resist me even two whole days. Alisdair was greatly mistaken to think that you could keep his crown from me. He would have been wiser to die with it on his head. Now, I’m afraid, he’ll live to see me wear it instead.” He stooped and picked up Alisdair’s crown where it had fallen in the dust, then spun it between his hands and set it on his own head.
“And you may see it too,” he continued, “if you live that long. And what a joyful reunion that would be. You, and Alisdair, and your mother, all together, watching me cross that bridge at last. I can almost imagine the pity he’ll have for you, hiding his disappointment in your failure. And just think how guilty you’ll feel to see him standing there, watching his final defeat, awaiting his execution, and all because of you.” He laughed a soft and mocking and terrible laugh. Then he turned and began walking away. “Of course,” he called back over his shoulder, “you’ll need to survive the night first, which will be no easy task I assure you. But I’ll be waiting for you at the bridge if you make it, and I’ll be sure that Alisdair and your mother live at least that long, so you’ll have plenty of motivation to join us. Until then, I hope you enjoy all the pleasures that my country has to offer.”
Then the fire went out all at once, and everything was moonless and dark, and Lindy could hear only Khurshid’s soft laughter and the rustlings and murmurings of nameless things gathering around her in the shadows of the forest.