Here is the Sixteenth Chapter of Lindy, right on my promised schedule. 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 Amena Offers Some Wise Advise
The next day and the next after that passed in much the same way. Lindy slept much of the time, and she ate the simple, wholesome food that Amena prepared for her, and she healed at a marvellous rate. By the end of the third day, in fact, she was feeling almost completely whole. The little stings and bites and scratches were all healed, and there were only scars left to remind her of the deeper scratches on her forehead that were mostly hidden by her hair anyway. The only wound not yet healed was the deep bite in her shoulder, which still caused her some discomfort and which Amena said might keep her from ever moving her arm normally again.
Lindy was not sleeping the whole of the three days, of course. She had enough energy to sit up and talk or to walk around a little, especially on the third day, but Amena was not always available to keep her company. She had a garden to tend, she said, and cows to milk, and eggs to collect, and animals to feed, and rabbit snares to check, and wild strawberries to gather, so she only had time to sit with Lindy while preparing their meal or while changing Lindy’s dressings. This meant that Lindy was by herself with nothing much to do for hours at a time, and she was very much bored. There was only a single book in the cottage, and it was written in a language that Lindy did not know with letters that she did not even recognize. She tried to pass the time by sweeping the floor and tidying up the room, but the floor was small and there was not much to tidy, so this did not distract her long, and when she tried to go outside, Amena sent her back in directly, because she said that it was best if Lindy stayed out of sight from prying eyes, so Lindy was mostly trapped indoors alone.
This was not actually so bad, though it was not very pleasant at first. The truth is that she needed to think about some things, but they were not exactly comfortable things, and she was trying to avoid them no matter how much they needed to be thought, but when she was left alone with nothing to do for hours on end, she could hardly avoid the things that needed thinking, which is very likely what Amena intended in the first place. And so, eventually, she found herself asking how it was that she had gotten into such a mess, and how it was that she could have let Khurshid take the crown from her, and how it was that her vision could have led her so wrong, and most of all what it was that she should do now. This last question was the most perplexing because it was also the most pressing. Her mother was being held captive, and Khurshid was about to cross the bridge into The Weald, but she had no idea what to do about either of these things. Staying where she was would not help anything, even if Amena were to permit it, and The Crofts would certainly not welcome her back, not after what she had said on the morning she left, and not after everything that had happened since, but there was really nowhere else to go. She thought about these things for a long time without coming much closer to any answer, but she felt a bit better somehow anyway, as if just facing her problem and deciding that she needed to do something had mended her spirits a little, even if she had not yet determined exactly what her decision should be.
When Amena came in from the garden that third afternoon, she let Lindy help prepare their dinner of roasted vegetables and she began kneading the bread that had been rising beside the hearth. “So,” she asked, as if she knew perfectly well what Lindy had been thinking about all that while, “have you decided what you will do?”
Lindy shrugged and kept chopping the carrots. “I don’t really know,” she said, and then kept quiet for a moment, and then thought better of it and let everything out all at once in a rush. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she said. “I thought I was supposed to come here, because the dream told me to, but then everything went wrong, and when I got here it didn’t help anything. I mean, you saved my life, and you’ve been really good to me, but I thought that coming to your cottage would make everything better, that it would help me understand what to do. I thought that’s why I was supposed to come here. But things are even worse now than when I started.”
“And just what did you think you would find here?” Amena asked, looking amused. Her sleeves were rolled up past her elbows, and there was flour dusted on her arms.
“I don’t know. Answers, I guess. Maybe how to bring Alisdair back.” Lindy remembered how clear her vision had seemed. “I was sure it was the right thing to do,” she said, “but it all turned out wrong. My Mom is captured, and the crown is gone, all because of me.”
“Well, things look very bad at the moment, it’s true,” replied Amena, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t do the right thing. Doing what you’re supposed to do doesn’t guarantee that things will turn out as you want. That isn’t why you do the right thing. You do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, no matter what.”
“So then how do you even know if its the right thing to do?”
“Yes, that certainly is the problem,” Amena answered. She began shaping the dough into loaves. “Unfortunately, there’s no way you can ever really be sure what the right thing is. You can talk with people who might know, with people you trust. You can try to think things through as clearly as possible. You can look back at your own experience. Most importantly, you can listen carefully to what your soul has heard. But, in the end, you can never be sure, and all you can do is try your best.”
Lindy sighed and scraped the chopped carrots into the pan. “And what if your best isn’t good enough? What if you get it wrong, like me? Then it’s all your fault.”
“No, no. It’s not all your fault. It’s partly your fault, true, but many people had to make decisions along the way in order to get us where we are now, and some of those decisions were made before you were even alive. You can only ever be responsible for the decisions that you make yourself.”
So, you’re saying that maybe I was supposed to come here, even though all those bad things happened?”
“I don’t know. We’ll probably never know. All you can know is whether you tried to do what you were asked to do.”
“I think I did.”
“Then you chose as best you could,” said Amena, putting the bread into loaf pans. “You failed, like everyone fails sometimes, but that doesn’t mean your choice was wrong, and if you really believe that it was right choice to make, perhaps you just need to do to see that choice through.”
“But my choice was to come here, and I did see it through. I just don’t know where to go from here.”
“Seeing a decision through to its end also means seeing its consequences through to the end. It means taking responsibility for what you decided. It means facing the people that were depending on you, and probably apologizing to them, and then helping them try to fix the problems that you created.”
“So I came all this way for nothing. I lose my Mom and my crown getting here, just so I can turn around and go back with nothing to show for it.”
“Oh, you have more to show for it than you might think. You know now just how terrible a foe we face, and you know also that you have friends in places you might not expect, and you know too what it means to choose and to fail and to learn from your failure, and hopefully you are learning right this moment what it means to face the consequences of your failures.”
“What if I fail that too?”
“You might. In fact, you probably will in one way or another. But you still need to do it.”
“But if I fail, how will I save my Mom? How will I stop Khurshid?”
Amena looked Lindy very seriously in the eye, and there was a sadness in her face that Lindy had not seen before. “Maybe no one will stop him,” she said. “Maybe he’ll cross the bridge and destroy The Crofts despite everything we do.”
“But he’ll kill my Mom, and Alisdair, and Penates, and all those people.”
“Maybe, and that would be a most terrible thing, so terrible I can hardly bear to think of it, but it wouldn’t be the end of everything. Good is an easy thing to tear down, but it’s a very difficult thing to get rid of altogether. I was living here in Khurshid’s country long before he chose to betray The Weald, and I lived through the sorrow of losing my friends to him, but I’ve survived all this time in spite of everything he can do. And you’ve seen for yourself that there are other things here that aren’t evil, like Saffi, like the deer. We couldn’t stop Khurshid from betraying us, but we’ve done our best to do what is good and right despite him. It’s not our task to make sure that good triumphs over evil in the world, though we must always strive for this as best we can. Our task is only to make sure that good triumphs over evil in ourselves. That’s all we can do.”
The vegetables were all peeled and chopped by now, and Amena set the roasting pan in the oven. Then she put the loaf pans beside the oven to let the bread rise again. Lindy watched her wrinkled hands move deftly around the hearth, and she wondered how Amena had kept going so many years, one day after another, planting and growing and tending and gathering all alone. “What keeps you from just giving up and moving somewhere else?” she asked.
Amena looked up from the dishes that she was stacking beside the washstand. “I stay because this is my home,” she answered, “and because I couldn’t bear to see Khurshid have it, and because, most of all, it’s what I know I need to do. It’s the right thing for me to do. So I do it.”
“But how do you keep Khurshid from just coming in and taking it?”
“Because this is my home, and he has no right to it unless I grant the right to him, just as he had no right to take your crown until you gave the right to him.”
Lindy thought about this for a moment. “Is it the same for me? Can I keep my home from him? I mean, I don’t have a home here exactly, but The Crofts is sort of like my home. Can I keep The Crofts from Khurshid if I go and live there?”
“No, no. At least not the whole of it. The Crofts is the home of many people, living and dead, and you have as little right to it as Khurshid does, but as a Keeper, some small part of it is yours, and you may be able to keep that small part good and whole.”
“Yes,” said Lindy, remembering her cubby, “I think I know what part is mine. It’s my cubby from my real house, but now it’s in The Crofts too. And I can keep Khurshid from taking it?”
“Certainly. Even if all the rest of The Crofts falls into ruin, you can keep your cubby from him, and Penates can keep the kitchen, and there will be some others also, and a little good will be kept alive in it still, and then who knows what great good may come from it someday.”
“Well,” said Lindy, and she discovered that she had made her mind up almost without realizing it, “I guess that’s what I need to do then. But it’ll be hard to go back. I’ll have to tell The Crofts about everything that happened. It told me this would happen, and I didn’t listen.”
“Yes, well, admitting when you’ve made a bad choice is one of the responsibilities of making decisions in the first place. This won’t be the last time you make a bad choice, I assure you. So you may as well learn how to face the consequences now.”
Something about this made perfect sense to Lindy, and she felt better than she had since before the terrible night in the forest. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll leave first thing in the morning.” But she thought right away of all the creatures hiding in the woods, and she was already afraid of the choice that she had made. “Could you came with me?” she asked.
“I would love to, Lindy” said Amena, and the look on her face told Lindy that she meant it, “but I can’t leave this place just whenever I choose.” Lindy said nothing, but Amena seemed to know what she was thinking. “Don’t worry,” she added, “I’ll send Saffi with you. Only Khurshid himself would dare bother you with Saffi around. The forest creatures will leave you well alone.”
They ate supper and went to bed that night without saying much more to each other, and Lindy fell asleep quickly, and her dreams were full of things that she could not remember in the morning but that she knew were full of hope.