Lindy: Chapter Nineteen

Here is the nineteenth chapter 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.

Chapter Nineteen:
In Which Clinton Holds a Council

When Lindy woke the next morning, the first thing she saw was the thatch of a cottage ceiling, and she thought for a moment that she was back in Amena’s cottage.  It was only when she sat up and saw Clinton sitting in a chair beside the bed, his face full of concern, that she remembered what had happened the night before and began to wonder exactly where she was.

“Oh,” said Clinton, as soon as he saw she was awake, and he resumed his emotionless expression, straightening himself in his chair.  “You’re awake?” he said, and looked at her uncomfortably, as if trying to guess how much she had seen.

Lindy sat back against the wall and tucked her legs up against her chest.  “On behalf of everyone at The Crofts,” Clinton said, trying to recover his usual formality, “I would like to express our great relief to have you safely at home at last.” He looked away then, and he lowered his voice, letting ceremony drop again. “We feared the worst,” he said.  “Penates told us you were alive, but we thought you’d fallen into Khurshid’s hands. And then all that rabble arrived at the bridge the day before last, and with Midsummer so soon, we were losing hope.”

“Amena saved me,” said Lindy, but she realized that Clinton would not likely know who Amena was, so she added, “I mean, the woman in the cottage saved me.”  There was a buzzing of wings from the foot of her bed, and Lindy noticed that Saffi was sitting by her feet.  “Well,” she tried again, “I guess it was Saffi here who actually saved me.”  The insect folded his wings and nestled into the blankets again.  “He took me to the cottage that I saw in my vision,” she continued, “and there was a woman there called Amena.  She was the one who helped me.”

Clinton stood.  “Yes, I’d like to hear the whole of your story,” he said, “but I should first call the others so they can hear it as well.  I can have Penates send some food too, if you like. Would you eat something if I brought it, Miss Lindy?”

“Oh, yes,” said Lindy, who felt, what was true, that she had eaten only winter apples and bread and a few wild strawberries for two days running.

Clinton left through the room’s wooden door, and left Lindy with nothing much to do but sit in bed look around her.  She had already guessed that she was not in The Crofts, neither in her bedroom nor in her cubby, but in a cottage very much like Amena’s, and now she began to wonder if she had been sleeping in one of the empty cottages that she had first seen when she came to The Weald.  She had looked through the windows then, and she thought she remembered the small stone fireplace and the plain wooden furniture, and the little loft right above her bed, and the whole room had the same familiar feeling, as if she had been there before.

She had only just finished taking stock of these surroundings when the cottage door opened again and there entered a whole flock of visitors, first Cleanna, and then a few faces that Lindy recognized from her time in The Crofts but could not actually name, and then quite a few more faces that she could not remember ever having seen before.  The cottage was not really big enough to hold all of these people, so some had to give way in order for others to have their turn, and for several minutes it seemed that someone was always coming and someone was always going and someone was always saying how good it was to see her safely back, and though Lindy was worried at first that they would be angry, everyone was very kind, and nobody said anything at all about Moe or Khurshid or the crown.

When at last everyone had been able to see Lindy and give their best wishes, the cottage began to empty, leaving only Clinton and Cleanna and a few others behind.  There was the blind woman who had sat with Lindy at the breakfast table on the morning Alisdair had been captured; and there was a broad, muscled woman with thick, dark hair; and there was also a beautiful young man, almost a boy, very short and slender and delicate, a perfectly formed man only a little taller than Lindy herself.  They all sat talking quietly as Lindy finished the breakfast that Clinton had brought and that she had been too distracted to eat until now, waiting expectantly until she had eaten her last bite.

“Miss Lindy,” said Clinton then, turning to the small group around the table, “You already know Cleanna, of course, but these others are perhaps new to you.”  He gestured to the blind woman, who was seated just to the left of where he stood.  “This is Nydia, one of the oldest of us here at The Crofts.”  Nydia inclined her head, smiling pleasantly, and her smooth eyes, which had been blank until then, began to show the rapidly changing symbols that Lindy recalled from their first meeting.

“This,” said Clinton turning to the woman with the broad shoulders and muscled arms, “is Bayard.  She came to join us for the great feast, but she feared the worst even then and decided to stay and lend her aid if anything should happen.  She will lead those who choose to resist Khurshid by force of arms.”

Clinton then turned to the last of the party, the diminutive man.  “And this is Freidan,” he continued.  “He is one of those with whom Alisdair consulted about the arch.  He has come to us with news about what may be happening to the arch and to The Crofts, all of which we will share with you in due time.”  He looked back to Lindy.  “Penates would like to have joined us also, of course, but he is unable to leave his kitchens, and he tells us that The Crofts will not permit you to enter its doors, so we must make do without him for the moment, though we can consult him very easily should it be necessary.  Now, though I don’t want to impose too much on you, especially considering what you’ve endured over the last few days, it’s already quite late in the morning, and much remains to be done to prepare for Midsummer tonight, so might we ask you to  relate as much of your tale as you are able?”

Lindy set aside her plate and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, trying to think of where to begin.  Her first thought was that she should tell the story right from the morning that she and Moe and Cleanna had set out from The Crofts, but she had only just begun when Clinton interrupted politely to say that Cleanna had already told them the story that far, and then Lindy asked exactly how much Cleanna had been able to tell them, and so Cleanna ended up retelling a little of her own story, explaining how she had outflown the traitor-kings and the forest night-fliers and escaped to The Crofts.

When she finished, Lindy tried to remember everything she could and to put things in their proper places, much as she did later when she was retelling the story for me, but she kept forgetting things and having to go back to fill in the details that she had missed, so it took her longer to tell the story than you might expect, the rest of the morning in fact.  Everyone was glad to hear that Moe had still been alive when she saw him last and that Alisdair was still alive as well, at least according to Khurshid, and they were all sympathetic when they heard that Lindy’s mother was being held captive also.  When she got to the part about Amena’s cottage, Nydia said that she remembered having met the same Amena long ago, before Khurshid’s country had become as dangerous as it was now, and Clinton said that there were others like Amena and that Alisdair would surely know her since he often went to visit these people and bring them what he could.  It was the last part of Lindy’s story that caused the most excitement, however, when she told them how Khurshid was bringing his prisoners to the bridge for Midsummer night.

“We must rescue them,” Cleanna cried, and the same emotion was written clearly on everyone’s faces.  No one, however, seemed to know exactly how such a thing could be managed, and there was a long silence in the room.

At last Clinton cleared his throat.  “Now,” he said, quietly and firmly, as though he were trying to convince himself as much as the others, “You all know I want to see Alisdair and Missus Merton rescued as much as anyone, and Moe too if he’s there to be rescued, but I don’t see any way it can be done, and unless someone else has an idea, we simply have no more time to spend thinking on it.  There’s too much to do between now and midnight.  We must tell Lindy our plans, and then we must be about them.”  He looked around the room, from one person to another, and no one said anything, though there was not a happy face among them, and at last everyone nodded in agreement, though Cleanna looked as though she would cry.  Lindy could barely restrain her own tears, but she could think of nothing that might be done, so she nodded too, and she kept her eyes on the stone floor so that no one would see that they were glistening.

“Now,” Clinton said, “to the point.  Miss Lindy, in something less than eight hours, at midnight, Khurshid will cross the bridge, and there will be no Keeper remaining to prevent him.  He will almost certainly make straight for The Crofts, and we do not have the strength to defend it long.”

“Some of us are preparing to resist him,” interjected Bayard, and for a moment she seemed to become a huge black mare, muscles tensed and nostrils flared.

“Yes,” continued Clinton, “Bayard will lead the more warlike among us to harass Khurshid’s followers and to draw them away from the house for as long as possible, but there are none among us who can face Khurshid himself or the traitor-kings directly, so we must assume that The Crofts will fall to him before too long.”  Though he said this with his usual unflappable demeanour, his voice was grim, and no one else made so much as a noise to break the heavy silence when he paused.

“Since we cannot defend The Weald,” he said at last, “then we must evacuate it in as orderly a fashion possible.  There are some who will stay and keep their homes from Khurshid if they can, but the bird women have already been gathering those who wish to leave by the arch, and Nydia will supervise their evacuation to whichever world they choose.”

“But didn’t Khurshid break the arch?” asked Lindy.  “Isn’t that why I couldn’t go home?”

“As to that,” replied Clinton, “Freidan can explain much better than I,” he looked at the diminutive creature pointedly, “but I will ask him to keep it short.”

“Certainly,”  said Freidan, his voice seeming larger than he was, a full and rich voice.  “I’ve had some time to examine the arch closely,” he said, “both here and in my home world, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it at all.  I think what’s happened is that The Weald has become tied too closely to Alisdair’s world, to your world, Miss Lindy.  The Weald takes its form from the worlds of the Keepers who protect it, and Alisdair has been the only Keeper for so long that his world and this one have been drawing closer and closer together.  I think that’s why the traitor-kings were able to enter The Weald that day.  They didn’t cross the bridge at all.  They passed directly from this world into Alisdair’s, where there’s no bridge, so they could cross over into his property and then travel back here, directly into The Crofts.”

“They can do that?” Lindy exclaimed.

“They couldn’t before,” Freidan answered, “but I believe they can now, though Khurshid himself must not be able to travel like this, or he would be here even now.  I think that he must have discovered how the two worlds were coming together and sent his traitor-kings to go into Alisdair’s world to watch the arch and capture him when next he came through it.”

“So, how can we send people back to their homes if they control it?” interrupted Lindy again.

“Because the traitor-kings control only one exit of the arch, the exit in your world.  They can only use it to travel here, to the real arch, which they very well might do yet and attack us from two fronts once Khurshid has crossed the bridge, but they have no control over the arch’s many other exits.  So long as we don’t try and travel to your world, we should be able to use the arch quite safely.”

“Cleanna’s people,” interjected Nydia, “have been gathering those who wish to leave for two days now, and some have left already.  A few are choosing to stay, I know, but we will help any who want to leave until it looks as though the arch is in danger of being captured.”  She looked as if she would say more, but then hesitated.

“And then,” finished Freidan, his rich voice heavy with determination, “then I will destroy it.”

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