Here is the next instalment of Lindy. 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 Things Get Much Worse Indeed
If you have ever noticed how the distance between one thing and another can change depending on how you are feeling, you will understand a little how Lindy felt as she walked to the bridge that afternoon. Her first walk from The Crofts to the bridge with Moe and Cleanna had gone by in a moment because her heart had been full of gladness and a glorious spring morning. This second time, however, with evening coming on, and with the weight of the house’s anger, and with the fear of what Khurshid was about to do at midnight, the road seemed ever so much longer. The pillow and the blanket she was carrying were not very heavy, but they were bulky and awkward, so she was always stopping to readjust her grip or to switch arms, and though it was not nearly as cold as the night before, there was a cool breeze blowing, so she was a little cold too, and the road dragged on and on, so it was getting dark by the time Lindy came at last to the edge of the forest and looked out across the river valley.
She had been able to hear Khurshid’s camp for some time already, and even from across the river she could see that fires were burning redly everywhere, and the whole valley smelled of smoke and mud and rot and even nastier things. She was still not sure what she intended to do, but her feet seemed to follow the path, whether she willed them to or not, and the path led them down the hill and across the plain and, without any hesitation, right to the highest point of the bridge. There she unrolled her sleeping bag and crawled into it, so that she was sitting against the wall of the bridge, the sleeping bag pulled up around her and the pillow tucked between her head and the cold stone.
It was not yet quite dark, and it soon became clear that Lindy’s presence on the bridge had not gone unnoticed. At first there were only a few shouts and pointing fingers in the midst of the general noise and chaos in the valley below, but soon there were more and more people looking up to where Lindy was sitting. The meadow gradually quietened, and a crowd gathered at the foot of the bridge, and when there was nothing but silence across the valley, Khurshid himself stood on his carriage throne and looked up toward where Lindy lay.
“Lindy,” he called, “you must be eager to see your surprise if you’ve come so early, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait like everyone else.”
Lindy said nothing, just looked steadily into the clear evening sky, still grey with the last light of day.
“Are we no longer on speaking terms, dear Lindy?” Khurshid mocked. “Very well, but we will speak later, and then you will answer me, I assure you.”
Lindy still kept quiet. Khurshid’s taunts no longer bothered her somehow, and the sky above her was too lovely to spoil with even a glance in his direction. The first stars were appearing, and her sleeping bag was growing nicely warm in the chill air. Though she was only a few short steps from her enemy, and though she was only a few short hours from watching him invade her adopted home, she was full of a strange peace. She did not yet know what to do, but she knew somehow that she was where she should be, and she felt content despite everything. She still desperately wanted things to turn out right, of course, wanted her mother and Alisdair to be rescued more than anything, but her heart was at peace. It was not a feeling that she ever managed to describe to me while she was telling me her story, but anything worth feeling is like that, I think, so I did not ask her to explain any further, and you will have to content yourself with that as well.
Lindy was never sure if she actually slept there on the bridge that night, lying on the hard, smooth stone under the high, clear sky. She could not remember closing her eyes or falling asleep or waking up, but she did remember falling into something like a dream. She thought that she could see the constellations sail across the sky, and she felt like she was drifting too, just like the stars, as if the bridge had been picked up by a silent and tremendous wave and floated along among the cool, white lights of the night sky. The stars began to swirl, and there were ribbons of them gathered like mist, and Lindy felt only how small she was in the midst of everything. After a moment she realized that the stars looked familiar again, and it seemed to her that she was now in two places at once, both on the bridge in The Weald and on the railway that ran down the middle of the street in front of her own house back home. She had the feeling that the two places were the same somehow, that she was hovering between them, and that she could go home again that very minute if only she willed it. The idea tempted her for a moment, but she knew that she could not abandon her mother and Alisdair, though it was comforting to feel that she was so close to home after all.
Suddenly, there was a shouting and a roaring and a beating of drums at the foot of the bridge, and Lindy all at once found herself very much awake again. She scrambled out of her sleeping bag to her feet and looked down the curve of the bridge. Huge creatures had seized Khurshid’s carriage by the bars along its sides and were dragging it step-by-step up the bridge, while the crowd pressed after it, waving torches and brandishing weapons and beating drums and playing horns. The procession moved slowly, but it was not long before it had come close enough for Lindy to see the faces of the beasts struggling to pull the vast carriage and to see Khurshid sitting sprawled on his throne.
She backed along the bridge a few steps, just to be sure that she had the veil between Khurshid and herself, and then she waited for him to come. She tried to think what she should do, but her mind was still distracted with everything she had just seen and with the feeling of being so close to her home, and she could not seem to make things come clear. “If only the bridge was my home,” she thought, “then Khurshd wouldn’t have any right to it,” and this idea suddenly seemed to make perfect sense to her, though she had no idea how to go about making a bridge a home.
“Lindy!” she heard Khurshid cry, and there was a profound silence as the voices and the drums were stilled. “You are indeed a most surprising child. I thought you would be much too frightened to keep our appointment tonight, but here you are. You must be very anxious indeed to see the surprise I have for you, though a smart girl like you has probably guessed what it is already.” He skipped down to the very last stair of the carriage and held out his hand to her. “Come up to my throne, my dear, and I’ll show it to you. I’m certain you’ll find it most interesting.”
“You can show me from there,” Lindy called back, her voice much braver than she felt.
Khurshid threw back his head and laughed aloud. “Very well, you may keep your distance for now, though it will not save you for long.” Then he motioned grandly in the air with his hand and began slowly to remount the stairs of the throne as a small group of figures made their way from the dim mass behind the carriage into the light of the throne’s torches. Though Lindy already hoped that her mother and Alisdair and Moe would be among the group, she still cried aloud when she finally made out their faces as they were shoved roughly to the stairs of the carriage. Everything else became instantly unimportant. The lights and the crowd and even Khurshid himself all but disappeared from Lindy’s mind, and in their place was only her mother and Alisdair and Moe. She could not even remember afterward what it was that she shouted when she first saw them, only that she ran across the veil, no longer caring whether she was putting herself into danger, and she threw her arms around her mother.
If anyone said anything for the next few minutes, Lindy never knew, and if they did anything, she never knew that either. All she knew was the warmth of her mother’s face and the smell of her hair and the sound of her voice murmuring from behind the gag. It was as if time stopped for a moment, and Lindy found herself wishing that it would stop forever, even as the rest of the world began to return to her and a she began to remember once again exactly how serious their predicament really was.
It was only then that she heard Khurshid speak again, much closer and much softer. “I’m so glad you like your surprise, Lindy. I knew you would. And your happiness will make it all the more enjoyable for me after we cross the bridge and I kill you all, just as I killed the other Keepers.” He looked mockingly down at her.
A gong sounded then, a huge, deep sound that seemed to come from the earth itself, and everyone looked up startled to seea vast sheet of dancing colour, like the northern lights that Lindy sometimes saw at her Grandfather’s house up north. The colours were in long streaks that reached up from the centre of the river all along its length, splitting the bridge at its highest point and reaching as far as the eye could see into the night sky.
“The veil!” Khurshid cried, and his eyes looked wildly joyful. He turned back to Lindy. “It will soon be time,” he said, “and I think we’ve had quite enough of this scene for now, don’t you darling? It’s time that you took your seat to watch my triumph.”
Lindy saw two figures approaching from the sides of the carriage, the feline woman she had seen the night before and a tall, thin man who walked on all fours like a lizard, balancing on his tail when he stood. She did not know how much time was left until midnight, but she knew that it must now be short, and so she knew that her own time was just as short. She tried desperately to think what could be done, but her mind only kept repeating, “Make the bridge your home,” and she had no idea how.
She felt the lizard-man put his hand on her shoulder, and she flinched back instinctively. “Get away!” she cried, because there was nothing else she could do. “This bridge is my home! You can’t touch us here!”
The lizard-man shrunk back for a moment, and the woman paused as well, shifting into the shape of a spotted, black panther, but Khurshid only laughed. “You foolish girl,” he snarled. “A place isn’t your home because you throw a few blankets on the ground and say so.” He stalked down the stairs, seized her arm, and jerked her to her feet. “Now, ” he said, “you will sit where you’re told, and you would be wise not to interrupt me again tonight.”
He dragged her up the stairs of the carriage and threw her down at the foot of his throne against the chest of crowns, then seated himself on his throne. The crowd still waited silently, and Lindy kept quiet too, looking down past the heap of crowns in the open chest to where her mother and Alisdair and Moe were tied at the foot of the carriage. She knew that this was the end of things for them and for her and for The Crofts, but she could not really bring herself to believe it. Everything had turned out wrong, despite her best intentions. She had followed her visions and only lost the crown. She had gone back to face The Crofts and only been rejected. She had tried to make the bridge her home and only been captured. She had failed time after time, and now there would be no more chances to make it right.
“If only,” she said, so quietly that even she could hardly hear herself, “if only Alisdair had never given me the crown.” She said this only absently, without meaning much by it, but she happened to say it just as her eyes were on Alisdair’s crown where it sat atop all the others in the chest below her, and she found herself wondering what might happen if she were to put the crown back on Alisdair’s head right that moment. She turned her head very slightly to the left, just enough to see that the tall, reptilian man was still standing guard over her, and she could only assume that the panther-woman was standing behind her as well. She had no time to think any further, however, because just then there was a rippling shout that began at the furthest flanks of the great crowd and swelled to its center, almost like the wave at a baseball game.
Lindy could not at first understand what had caused the outcry, but she soon saw that the veil of light was being eaten up at both ends by a ripple of silver flame, like a sparkler burning from both ends, moving ever closer to the bridge from each side. The flame moved only slowly, but Lindy guessed that it would be only minutes before the two waves of silver met at the bridge and the veil of lights was eaten up entirely.
“At last!” she heard Khurshid shout to the crowd behind her. “The veil falls, and there is no one to renew it. At last we return to our rightful place.” Another roar went up, and Lindy turned to see that Khurshid was now standing on his throne and looking back across the screaming throng below him. She also saw that the guards on either side of her had turned as well, looking up to where Khurshid stood framed against the light of a hundred torches, and she realized that she needed to act then or not at all. Though she had no idea if it would actually help anything, and though she was almost certain that she would be caught and punished before she could even manage it, she darted forward, seized Alisdair’s crown from the golden casket, and ran down the steps of the carriage. Then she set the crown on its rightful owner’s head.