Here is the next instalment of Lindy. 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 Lindy Begins The Journey Home
When Lindy walked out the cottage door and along the path and into the woods the next morning, she had the feeling that she was only just then beginning her real journey. Jumping down from Mister Hat’s wall and passing through the arch and finding The Crofts and looking for the cottage and losing the crown to Khurshid all seemed like preparations for the journey that she was about to make now, the journey back home to Clinton and Penates and The Crofts. She had felt this way from the moment she woke, and she had tried to explain it to Amena as best she could as they ate their breakfast of fresh bread and butter and honey with lemon balm tea to wash it all down. Amena had only smiled at her. “Our most important journeys are often our journeys home,” she had said, and Lindy felt how true this was now as she began her own journey home.
The Crofts was not her real home, of course. She had only lived there for a few days, three or four, she could never quite remember how many, but it was the only home that she had in The Weald. It had felt like home to her almost right away, and she knew now that it was where she belonged, no matter how angry the house might be with her. So she was going home now, at least in a way, and she knew somehow, just as Amena had said, that this was her most important journey.
When at last she had said her goodbyes, she followed Saffi from the clearing onto a path so completely overgrown that it hardly seemed worth the name. It went weaving around trees and along ridges and through valleys and yet, in the end, somehow managed to find the main road just when Lindy had begun to wonder whether Saffi was leading her in circles. He bobbed about, ducking and diving and seeming to choose his way at random when the path disappeared, but he always knew his way, and the two of them always found the path again, and they did eventually come at last to the main road. More importantly, they saw nothing of the fearsome creatures that Lindy now knew were lurking about in the forest, only a few squirrels and a few songbirds now and again, and these were pleasant enough company.
Once they came to the main road their journey was even less eventful, and I will spend as little time describing it to you as Lindy spent describing it to me. She stopped once to eat some of the food that Amena had sent with her, and she stopped again that night to sleep in a dry little cave that Saffi found, but nothing much else happened throughout the day besides putting one foot in front of the other. Even going to sleep that night, which Lindy had thought might be a bit difficult, was much easier than she expected. She just laid her head on her pack, pulled her wool blanket over herself, glanced at Saffi keeping guard at the mouth of the cave, and fell asleep straight away, which is more than I can manage myself most nights, even in the comfort and safety of my own bed.
She woke the next morning to see Saffi still standing guard, and so she began the day feeling as safe and as happy as could be expected, but there was no one really to share her happiness, and she had to make do with talking a little to Saffi as she ate her breakfast of wild strawberries and bread. She told him about how strange it was to be in a place so unlike her home, and how worried she was about her mother and about what Khurshid would do to The Crofts, and how much better she felt now that she was going back to The Crofts. Saffi could say nothing back to her, of course, and she was not really sure how much he could understand, but it made her feel a little less alone to tell him what she was feeling.
They set off again while it was still quite early. The coolness of the morning had woken Lindy before it was even light, and it had not taken very long to eat her simple breakfast, so the sun was only just filtering through the leaves when they reached the main road again. The dew was heavy on everything, and Lindy’s pants and shoes were soon very wet from the plants that were overgrowing the cobblestones, but the sky was clear, and the sun promised to dry everything before very long. Lindy thought that she should probably reach the bridge before dark if she walked quickly enough, so she set herself a good pace, and she hardly even stopped for lunch, eating the last of her wrinkled apples as she walked.
The sun had grown as warm as it had promised by the afternoon, and Lindy began to sweat as she walked. The warmth of the day reminded her that it would not be long until it was really summer, and this made her wonder what day it was and how close it was exactly until Midsummer. She even thought for a moment that it might have passed and that it might be too late to go back to The Crofts. Her sense of time told her that this was not probably true, but she knew that time moved strangely in The Weald, and the trees did now look full enough for Midsummer, so she could not quite put aside the sense that she was running out of time.
She began to walk even faster now, though she was quite tired from walking so far, and she even found herself breaking into a jog at times, her feet starting to run on as fast as her mind. She could only think now of how she might be late and come to The Crofts only to find that there was almost nothing left of it. She began imagining the most terrible things, and the worst of it was that she knew these things might really be true or that they might really become true at any moment.
Saffi did not seem to be concerned by any of this, of course. He just kept humming along beside her, matching his speed with hers, but after a time, he too began to act strangely. He kept landing on the path for a few seconds at a time, keeping very still and seeming to feel for something in the ground, or he would suddenly sweep up very high above the tree canopy, as if he was looking for something, and all the while his buzzing became agitated and frenzied.
It took only a few minutes more until Lindy too began to hear something now and again. At first it was only faint and muffled and intermittent, sounding a little like the works of a big factory, only very far away. Then, after a few minutes more, she could hear that the sounds were actually drums beating, and then, when she was closer, she could also hear shouting and singing and growling and roaring and all sorts of other noises. Soon she could also make out the orange light of bonfires mixing with the setting sun through the last of trees, and then, at last, she came upon the great horde of creatures that had gathered in the meadow before the bridge, all eating and drinking and carousing and dancing and singing and fighting. Most of them looked at least a little human, though they were almost always wrong somehow, either too beautiful or too hideous or too something that Lindy could not quite name but could still feel in the pit of her stomach. They all had a sense about them that they did not belong, a sense that they were out of place. Even looking at them made her feel wrong somehow.
Lindy was too surprised by all this to be as frightened as she probably should have been. She just kept walking along the road toward the bridge, right through the middle of the fires and the noise, with Saffi hovering above her like a halo in the deepening evening dim. Some of the creatures stopped to look at her as she passed, and soon others were looking as well, and before long it seemed as if every eye was on her and that every voice was hushed.
Ahead of her, right in the middle of the path, nearly at the foot of the bridge, there was something like an old fashioned carriage, only it was covered in complicated carvings and painted everywhere in red and gold. Its wheels were huge, twice as tall as Lindy, and it had steps leading up from the ground to a throne that sat high on the bed of the carriage. Khurshid was lounging on the throne and eating something from a golden bowl as Lindy approached, but when she reached the foot of the carriage, he passed the bowl to one of his servants and leapt to his feet with such a show of joy that Lindy knew he could only be mocking her.
“Oh, Lindy,” he cried, “I’m so glad you’ve come to join us in our celebrations.” He lowered his voice to a loud whisper, “In fact, I have the most marvellous surprise for you tomorrow night. Do tell me that you’ll be there to see it.” He moved down the stairs toward her, stepping around a large golden chest that was set in front of his throne like a footstool. It was carved all over with impossible animals and plants, all holding each other in their patterns with teeth and claws and barbs and stings, and Lindy found her eyes strangely drawn to it.
“Ah, yes,” Khurshid said, noticing her gaze, “you’ve seen my chest of crowns. Would you like me to show it to you?”
He took her hand and led her up the first steps of the throne so that he could lift the lid of the golden chest. It was filled to its very brim with crowns, all piled carelessly, as if they had been thrown simply at random. Lindy knew that they must be the crowns of the Keepers, but they were not all the same as she had imagined they would be. Some were simple circles of gold and some worked in ornate patterns, some heavily made and some quite delicate, some very plain and some covered in jewels.
“You recognize this one, I’m sure,” Khurshid said. He picked up the crown that Lindy had worn for so short a time and that Alisdair had worn for so long before her. He placed the crown on his own head. “It looks very regal, you must admit,” he said, “almost as if it was made for me.”
He picked up another and tossed it to Lindy. It was heavier than it looked, and she staggered back under its weight, almost stumbling on the stairs. As soon as she touched it, her mind was filled with the image of a handsome man, his green eyes quiet and grave, his red hair and beard closely cut like fur and shot with grey. “He’s dead now,” said Khurshid, “that man you’re seeing. I killed him with my own hands, as I killed all the Keepers who tried to resist me. They were the foolish ones, and none of them survived, except you, of course, though I don’t expect you’ll live much longer.”
He took the crown from her and handed her another. It was even heavier and set with three large rubies, and she saw in her mind a woman, dark-haired but light-eyed, and with the sense of something feline about her, something large and carnivorous. “She was one of the wise ones,” Khurshid said, and he nodded to the left of the throne. Lindy saw that a small crowd of people were now gathered there, and among them was the same woman, with the same hair and eyes, the same sense of cat-like grace and cruelty. She stared back at Lindy, and Lindy turned her eyes away.
The images from the crowns saddened her. They seemed to say just what Khurshid had said, that her only choice was either to surrender or to die, and a feeling of hopelessness began creeping over her. She found herself wondering whether there was really any point of going back to The Crofts or even of going any further. After all, had Khurshid not already taken all the crowns? What difference would it make if she went back now or not? She tried to remember why it was that she needed to go back home, but she could think of nothing but the faces she had seen in the crowns, and they threatened to shut out everything else.
It was then, Lindy said, that Saffi saved her for a second time. Whether or not he really knew that she needed saving is a question that neither Lindy nor I can answer, but for whatever reason, whether because he saw Lindy’s distress or because of some instinct of his own, Saffi chose just that moment to land on the steps of the carriage and brush up against Lindy’s leg, like a cat looking for attention, and iLindy said herself that it was as if he had shone his light right into her heart. In that soft, clean light everything became much clearer again. She suddenly saw how Khurshid was using the crowns to drive her into hopelessness, and she saw too that going back to The Crofts was exactly what she needed to do, whatever else might happen.
She handed the crown back to Khurshid and straightened herself up as tall as she could. “That’s enough,” she said.
Khurshid met her eyes with a look of surprise. “Is it now?”
Lindy held his gaze for a moment, then she turned and descended the stairs with Saffi once again flying close beside her. She rounded the edge of the carriage, past its huge wheels, between the traitor-kings who had gathered beside it, and onward toward the bridge. No one tried to stop her. They only followed her with their eyes, and Lindy was already beyond them before she heard Khurshid calling after her from the height of his throne.
“Until tomorrow, Lindy,” he cried, his melodious voice singing out into the coming night. “You won’t want to miss you’re surprise, I promise you.”
Lindy neither turned nor answered, only stepped from the path onto the bridge and kept her course for home, even as the sounds of Khurshid’s camp swelled once more behind her, growing fuller and louder with every step, until she reached the forest and found it echoing again with sounds of distant shouts and drums.