Here is the next installment 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 Has Words with The Crofts
When everyone had finally gone to do the things that needed to be done, Lindy was left to dress and make herself as presentable as she could. She had only the same clothes that she had been wearing for days, the same ones that had been torn in the forest and mended by Amena and dirtied by a day and most of a night of walking. Even when she dusted them off, they still looked like something that the hobos in movies wear, and she was almost glad that there was no mirror in the cottage to show how tangled her hair was. She ran her fingers through the knots to try and straighten them, but she doubted that it improved things much, and she was too worried about her mother and about everything else to really care about her hair anyway.
There was really not much else for her to do, so she went to the door and laid her hand on the latch, but she was not sure whether she was ready to see anyone quite yet. It was as though she was feeling every emotion at once. She had been so relieved to be back at The Crofts and so happy to see everyone again and so certain that they would find a way to rescue her mother and Alisdair, but now it looked as though there would be no rescue after all, and all her happiness with mixed with anger and frustration and disappointment and despair. All she really wanted to do was to stay hidden away in the cottage until everything was over, but somehow she lifted the latch anyway, and somehow she found herself stepping out into the midday sunlight, and somehow she managed not cry or scream or do any of the things that you and I would probably have done if we were her.
Outside the cottage, people of every shape and description had settled themselves around the arch and its platform. They looked like the pictures that Lindy had seen on the news of refugees from wars or disasters, huddling in small groups and clutching a few things too precious to leave behind. Their faces were all tired and worried and frightened, and Lindy began to realize just how many lives she had put at risk by losing the crown. She had never imagined that so many people lived in The Weald. There had been a good many at the feast in the great hall, of course, but they had mostly come from other worlds, and The Crofts had otherwise seemed so empty and lonely right from the moment that Lindy had first wandered among its cottages. Now it was overflowing with people waiting their turn to go through the arch to places that Lindy could only guess at.
Even so, The Crofts still felt lonely to Lindy. Maybe it was because there was still no one to live in the little cottages, or maybe it was because there would soon be no one left to live in The Weald at all, or maybe it was because Lindy herself felt so terribly alone, but she felt the same sadness and waiting about the cottages that she had felt when she first saw them, and she also felt the same sense that she belonged to them somehow, even if she could not protect them.
Clinton and Nydia were already waiting beside the arch. Lindy watched as a group of refugees approached them, and there was the now familiar shimmer in the arch, and the platform was empty once more. Clinton looked up and motioned for Lindy to join him, but everything felt wrong. She knew that it made perfect sense to send everyone away to safer places and to destroy the arch before Khurshid could use it, but she could not bring herself to believe that there was no other way. If only she could speak to Alisdair or Amena or Penates, or even The Crofts, anyone who might help her know what to do.
“Hello, Lindy,” Clinton said, “would you help Nydia organize those who are leaving?”
“Yes,” called Nydia, “I could really use your help.”
There was nothing so very upsetting about what Clinton and Nydia had said, and Lindy knew that they probably intended only to make her feel useful and included, but for some reason it made her furious, and being furious over something so unreasonable made her even more furious, but it only took her a moment to realize that she was really only angry with herself for not having done what she knew she needed to do. She had been so caught up in everyone being so kind and not blaming her for what had happened that she had forgotten why she had come back in the first place. Whatever anyone else said, and however much she wanted to believe them, Lindy knew that this whole situation was her own fault, and she knew also that she needed to face up to it, and that meant going to apologize to The Crofts, however hard it might be.
“No!” she said, quite sharply, more sharply than she intended. Nydia looked surprised at her tone. “I mean, I’m sorry, I know you’re just trying to include me,” she said, “but there’s something I need to do.”
Lindy suddenly felt much better, and she realized just how much she had been dreading her meeting with The Crofts, and how much she had been trying to avoid it, and how guilty she had been feeling for not being brave enough to do it after she had come all this way.
She turned toward the house, along the same path where Clinton and Moe had led her when she had first arrived. The grass was much more trampled that it had been then, and there were now many voices to break the stillness that she had felt that morning, but there was still something mysterious and unnerving about that walk, as though it would never end in the same place or in the same way twice, and when she reached the door of the house, it seemed like more than just an ordinary door to her. It seemed like a door that might lead anywhere, like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or like the mirror in Lilith or like the arms of the angel in The Garden Behind the Moon. “If I go through that door,” she thought, “anything might happen,” but then she remembered that going through the arch and climbing the long stairway and crossing the bridge had been much the same, and she felt a little better, so she reached for the handle.
As soon as she touched it, The Crofts filled every bit of her like an electric shock. She was frozen, unable either to open the door or to take her hand away.
“How dare you come back here?” the house roared through her mind. “You have destroyed me, and now you come to my door and ask my hospitality!” Lindy felt her body shaking with the house’s rage. “You are a liar,” it cried, “a liar and a traitor and a fool! And I was the greater fool for trusting you.”
Lindy tried desperately to focus her mind on calming The Crofts as she had done before, but the emotion of the house overwhelmed her. She could not even find the strength to speak, and her mind was overrun by emotions and images that were not her own. She saw the cottages of The Crofts ablaze, and she saw its doors torn from their hinges, and she saw its towers tumbling in ruin.”
“You brought this on me!” the house screamed. “You gave the last crown to him, and now he’s coming, and I’m ruined. Look! Look at what you’ve done.”
All Lindy could see was fire and smoke and darkness and falling rubble. She had a glimpse of the library with its books torn and scattered, fire licking at the doorframes. She saw the long table in the great hall smashed into kindling for a bonfire that rose almost to the vast ceiling. She saw her own cubby with her things broken and scattered and her window smashed. And then she Penates, sitting on his hearth and weeping into his hands.
“Please,” Lindy managed, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” raged the house. “And what good are apologies now? Will they keep me from ruin?”
“They won’t, I know. I don’t think anything will. But I really am sorry. Really. I did what I thought I should, but everything went wrong, and I’m sorry. You were right. I just wasn’t strong enough.”
Suddenly the house’s rage became sorrow, and the change shocked Lindy’s mind all over again. She found herself crying with great sobs, and she would have fallen to the ground if her hand had not been fixed so firmly to the handle of the door. There flamed through her mind images of countless people, one after the other. She recognized none of them, but she knew that they were Keepers and other residents of The Crofts from across the years. She saw people walking among the cottages and looking out from windows. She saw people feasting in the great hall and eating in the kitchens and watching plays in the theatre and reading in the library and doing all the other things that people had done as they lived in The Crofts and made it a home. With each face that flickered through her mind, Lindy could feel the house’s sadness, as if it was looking through photographs of old friends who had died, knowing that there would never be any more such friends, and she felt as though she might drown in the house’s sorrow.
At last, Lindy saw Alisdair’s face among the rest. he was sitting solemn and kindly in a leather chair, and Lindy felt her own grief match the grief of The Crofts. “I’m sorry,” she cried again, though she knew that Alisdair’s loss had not really been her fault. “I didn’t know.”
“What do you want of me?” The Crofts demanded. “What can you possibly want of me now?”
“I want to keep my home from Khurshid, just like Amena and Penates, and my cubby here is the only home I have now.”
“This is not your home!” the house thundered, it’s renewed anger washing over Lindy’s mind.
“I know,” Lindy said, feeling just how true this was. “I know it’s not really my home, but I thought at least the cubby could be my home. Couldn’t it?”
The Crofts seemed almost calm now. “A place is not your home just because it looks like your home, or just because you have put your things in it. You have to make a place your home. You have to do something to make it your home.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Nobody can tell you what to do. You’ll either know, or you won’t. But this is not your home,” the house paused for a moment, “and soon it will be nobody’s home at all.”
“Can’t I at least go and get my things from my cubby?” Lindy asked. She felt tired all of a sudden, as if she had been standing there at the door for hours.
The Crofts hesitated a moment, but then relented. “Take whatever you want. It makes no difference now.”
At once, Lindy’s hand was released from the doorknob, and she sank to her knees as her things appeared beside her. It looked like the whole contents of the attic were there, but most of them were not really important to her. All she wanted was her old sleeping bag and her favourite pillow that she used for propping herself up when she was reading. She had no idea what exactly she would wanted with them. She told me later that even asking for her things had been a whim, and it was only after everything was sitting on the lawn that she felt how much she needed that blanket and that pillow, though she was still not sure why.
Still weak and trembling from her encounter with the house, she put herself back on her feet and walked over to her sleeping bag, rolled it up, and tucked it under one arm. Then she put her pillow under the other and set off down the path toward the bridge. She could not have told you exactly why she went in that direction, except that it seemed the only thing left to do, so that is what she did.