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This is another of those conversations that I overheard myself but still can hardly believe to be true.  I was sitting in a pub, and there were two couples at the table closest to me.  The one couple was speaking so loudly that it was impossible for me not to overhear them, while the other couple said almost nothing.  I only started jotting their conversation down after a few minutes, and they were still sitting there when I left, so there was much more of it even than I am sharing, but I suspect that what there is will be more than enough for anyone.  It is pretty much verbatim as I heard it, but I have condensed it a little and removed identifying references to the television provider in question.

– No, really, Jason, you’ve got to get HDTV.  It’ll change your life.  And it’s easy.  Took us no time at all.

– No time at all?  Rick, they forgot to give us the adapter.  We couldn’t even hook it up the first day.”

– Yeah, yeah, but they gave us one when we went in the next day.”

– They gave us the wrong one the next day, remember? The wrong one.

– But then they got us the right one.

– Sure, after they sent us home to call the toll free number to get in the system or something.”

– Well, that’s not so tough, right?  And everything’s been great ever since, right?

– I guess.

– So, you guys had to go into the store three times just to get the TV set up?

– See, Rick, he thinks that’s stupid too.

– Okay Molly, I’m not saying there weren’t a few screwups, but these things happen?  And the service was good.  I mean, they fixed things for us, didn’t they?

– Seriously, Rick?  This is service?  The first time we go in, to buy the stupid thing, they have to take all our information.  Which is fine.  That’s normal.  Then we go in to tell them they forgot the adapter, which is their fault, and we have to give them all our information again.  Something about two different departments.  Then we take back the wrong adapter, and they won’t make a simple exchange.  The same guy who saw us the day before, the same guy who made the mistake in the first place, he can’t make an exchange, he says, because we haven’t registered with the service department yet.  And then the people on the phone at the service department have to take all our information again, for the third time in two days, and then we have to wait twenty-four hours to be sure our account has been activated across the whole system, and then the next day, to top it all off, the same guy at the store makes us fill everything out again on this exchange form and makes us sign some statement that basically implies we might be trying to scam the store or something.  This is not good service, Rick.  Not.

– Come on, Molly, you make it sound like some kind of fiasco.

– It was a fiasco, Rick.  That’s exactly what it was.  A fiasco.

– But at least it’s hooked up now, and the HD is totally worth it.

– So you guys notice a big difference?

– Oh yeah.  It’s like being in the stands, man.  Hey, Molly?  Just like being there.

– Sure.  I guess.  Most of my shows aren’t the kind you’d really notice one way or the other.  Are my shows even in HD, Rick?

– Oh, I’m sure they are.  I’ll check for you when we get home.  But the sports is for sure.  You really notice it in the lighting.  It’s like the light is, I don’t know, crisper or something.

– Crisp light?

– Yeah,  something like that.  You’ve gotta switch.

– I don’t even have cable, so it probably wouldn’t do me much good.

–  Really?  How do you see the games?

– I don’t usually.

– Well, you know, cable isn’t that expensive.  You can get the sports package pretty cheap.

– Are you joking, hon?  Your HD package is plenty expensive.

– Well, that’s because we’re in Canada.  They gouge us on things like that.  Cable, cell phones, mobile internet.  You know.  In the States it’s not like that.  Half the price.

– But we do live in Canada, hon, so prices in the States aren’t really the question are they?

– I’m just saying, cable isn’t expensive.  They’re just overcharging us.

– And this changes the bill we have to pay how?

– Come on, Molly.  It’s worth every dime.  I’d pay twice as much.

– Sure, so you can have another excuse not to get off your butt. You won’t even get the phone or answer the door if there’s a game on.

– It’s only ever salesmen anyway.  Right?  The only people who call me or come to my door are trying to sell me something.  And that includes your parents.

– You guys never have friends just drop by or call to go for coffee or something?

– If I want to talk to people, I’ll go find them.  If they come banging on my door, they can deal with the dogs like everyone else.

– Yeah, my girlfriends never come over anymore.  They’re too scared of the dogs.

– See? Win-win scenario.

– Rick, you’re an asshole.

– I’m okay with that.

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I have been reading Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death again, and I think he may have been wrong, not in entirety, but at least in one critical point that bears materially on any attempt to extend his work to social media.  Postman’s central thesis is essentially that textual media and visual media produce profoundly different kinds of public discourse.  He claims that textual media require active interpretation and so produce a public sphere that is characterized by rational, propositional, and informed discourse, while visual media encourage passive amusement and so produce a public sphere that is characterized by concern with image and appearance.  This is not to say that visual media are in every respect inferior to textual media, only to say that they produce a public sphere that is less able to conduct the kind of discourse required for an informed and functional democracy, and I would agree with this analysis in its broad outlines.

Where Postman errs, I think, is in including the telegraph and the telephone among the technologies of amusement, when I would argue that these media are actually forerunners of the social media that currently dominate the media landscape.  Because his book precedes the internet and the rise of social media, it fails to see how profoundly different these kinds of media are from both textual and visual media, even in their simplest forms.   This is not exactly Postman’s fault of course, not considering the time in which he was writing, and I have been told that he did address the idea of cyberspace in some of his later work, but I would like to presume on Postman’s ideas a little by extending his analysis of textual and visual media to social media, probably in ways that he would not endorse.  I apologize to anyone I might offend in so doing.

Here is what I would suggest.  First, where textual media require active attention, and where visual media require only passive attention, social media require a kind of attention that is neither active nor passive but idle.  We have these media continually on hand, in our pockets, on our screens, in the background, but we seldom actively apply ourselves to them or passively amuse ourselves with them.  We play with them.  We fiddle with them.  We trifle with them.  Rather than absorbing our attention actively or passively, they absorb our attention idly.  Though they are capable of supporting active and passive attention, the natural mode of social media is merely idle attention.

Second, where the activity of textual media results in understanding, and where the passivity of visual media results in amusement, the idleness of social media results in diversion.  These media operate by ceasing to be merely on hand, in our pockets, on our screens, in the background, and by demanding to be answered, now, in this instant, by ringing or chiming or vibrating or appearing on our desktops, and they thus diverts us from whatever it is that we were doing at that moment.  They can be ignored, of course.  We can let our phones go straight to voicemail, ignore the message telling us that we have mail, put off reading the latest item in our feed, but the natural mode of these media is to disrupt, to demand instant response, and so they divert us.  Indeed, they very often divert us from a previous diversion, so that we intend to check only one meassge and end up looking at the pictures of some guy we hardly know, or we intend to follow one link that a friend tweeted and end up surfing youtube for half an hour.  Diversion leads to diversion.  This is the mode of social media.

I am not implying, of course, that social media cannot support other modes of attention and activity, only that idle diversion is the natural mode of social media, the mode into which they fall by default, the mode in which they are most comfortable.  I am also not implying that the mode of idle diversion is necessarily without value, because it is very good at accomplishing certain ends.  What I am suggesting, however, is that this mode tends to produce a particular sort of discourse in the public sphere, just as textual and visual media do, and that the sort of public discourse produced by social media is not necessarily in the best interests of a healthy democracy.

The reason for this is that success in social media is not a matter of attracting active attention, as in textual media, and not a matter of attracting passive attention, as in visual media, but a matter of diverting idle attention.  To put this practically, it is a matter of going viral, of getting more likes and more retweets and more comments and more hits.  It is not necessary that we understand the political issues, not necessary that a candidate amuse us with witty talking points and distinguished good looks, only necessary that something divert us long enough to click it.  Our engagement in public discourse becomes reduced from active engagement, to passive reception, to idle clicking that diverts us from something else and will almost instantly be replaced by another diversion in its turn.

This is not, as I said above, the only mode in which social media can function.  It is possible to stimulate tremendous political action through social media, as history has shown already.  Social media can reach massive numbers of people almost instantly, and can mobilize these people in powerful ways.  However, even when it is successful in producing action, this action remains mostly uninformed.  It is a viral action that mobilizes over a slogan or an event, something that can be summarized in a hundred and forty characters, something that we can post on our feeds and send to our lists, something that we can click, and it lacks the kind of sustained, reasoned, informed public discourse that is necessary to produce healthy political action.  It is political action as a diversion from the other things we do, and we are as quickly diverted from it as we were to it.  When something else hits our feeds, we are off in another direction altogether.

It is certainly possible to use social media against their natural mode, to conduct through them the kind of political discourse that a healthy democracy needs, to disseminate information through them, to hold government accountable through them, and I affirm anyone and everyone who uses them in these ways.  The real problem is, however, that these social media produce us as much as they produce the discourse in which we engage, and they are increasingly producing a population which is incapable of any political action beyond following a feed and clicking a “Like” button, not merely because this seems natural, but because they have no experience of any other political discourse or any other political engagement.  It is not only the public sphere that is being changed by our media, but we ourselves.  We are becoming a culture that is capable only of idle diversion, and the implications of this impoverished ability to engage politically can only have a detrimental effect on the health of our democracy.

We have had a few hot days lately, and so the complaining has begun, as it always does, usually by the same people who complain about cold in winter and rain in spring and raking in autumn, which is to say almost everyone, at least it seems that way to me.  Wherever I go, people are constantly rushing from their air conditioned houses to their air conditioned cars to their air conditioned offices to their air conditioned shopping centres to their air conditioned gyms, most of which keep the air cooler in the summer than they keep it warm in the winter, so that you almost need to wear a sweater indoors.  The outdoors has become merely a desert to traverse between one oasis and another, and as quickly as possible.  Any temperature higher than twenty-five degrees is an imposition, something to be endured for only as long as necessary and then remedied with all possible haste.

What seems to be lost on this culture of artificial environments is that most of the world’s population manages to endure much hotter climates without any air conditioning at all.  They wear appropriate clothing.  They organize their routines so that they rest during the hottest parts of the day and do their work when it is cooler.  They stay in the shade as much as possible.  In other words, they adapt to their environment. They endure it as  part of living in their landscape and their habitat.   The human animal is capable of this.  It has been doing it for the life of the species.  There is nothing that prevents it from doing so now.  Nothing accept laziness and gluttony, of course.

We live in a world that faces the manifold implications of high energy consumption, with oil prices continually rising faster than inflation and constituting the biggest driver of inflation, with air quality around the world steadily declining, with global climate change threatening to cause any number of unpleasant problems, and with the occasional energy disaster (the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, for example, or the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown) just to top things off.  Yet, despite all this, our culture still insists on air conditioning itself, not just on the hottest days, when a certain degree of air conditioning in certain places could conceivably be said to be necessary for the elderly and the invalid, but most of every day, at a temperature that is indefensible by any standard at all other than the most excessive self-indulgence.

What is more, this unwillingness to experience our climate distances us from our environment.  It makes us strangers to it.  We are no longer at home in our landscape and our habitat.  We are disconnected from the world, prevented from living in it naturally.

It is possible, however, to live otherwise.  It is possible to turn off our air conditioners, to wear clothing that breathes in the heat, to do our business in the cooler hours.  It will hurt no one to sweat a little, to feel the sun a little, to endure the heat a little.  If nothing else, quite apart from any benefits to the environment and the economy and the energy crisis, it will remind us of the place where we we live.  It will relocate us in our landscape, make us more aware of our habitat.  It will, in other words, make us more at home in our environment.

His hand is on her thigh, just below where the thin skirt has ridden up her leg, but it is not a possessive hand, not a restraining hand.  It is protective perhaps, but not jealous or insecure.  It is a protection that she claims against the world, against the harshness and brokenness of the world.  It is a security, and she turns into it, again and again, every time she returns to sit beside him, taking his hand and laying it again on her thigh, where she needs it, because she has already known too intimately how broken the world can be.

Here is the last chapter of Lindy.  I will now be setting about some extensive revisions, so if you have any suggestions or criticisms, please do leave me a comment or send me an email at jeremylukehill@gmail.com.  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.

Chapter Twenty-Three:
In Which Some Final Things are Settled

The walk home from the bridge seemed like a dream to Lindy, because she could not quite bring herself to believe that it was true.  She and her mother and Alisdair and Moe went quietly at first, each with their own thoughts. but then they began to tell each other their stories, and soon they were laughing and crying and carrying on like the oldest of friends.  They had not gone very far before they were joined by Bayard and the others who had been waiting to do battle with Khurshid’s armies, and so the stories had to be told all over again, and then fastest of the creatures were sent off to The Crofts to spread the news, while those who remained went on at a more leisurely place, shouting and singing and generally making the biggest party that Lindy had ever seen as they made their way along the road.

They arrived at The Crofts while it was still quite early in the morning.  The sun had not yet even brushed the horizon, and the cool of night still clung to everything, but they found everyone very much awake.  The doors of the house all stood open, and the windows all shone with light.  The cottages were all alight as well, and there was a great bonfire burning in the common between them.  People were coming and going between the house and the fire, and they were all carrying food and drink to set at tables that had been dragged from the cottages.  Others were playing music or singing and dancing, as if they were celebrating every holiday rolled into one.

Lindy was too tired really to join in, but she found a spot with her mother at one of the tables, and she let someone put a plate of sausage and cheese in front of her, and she laid her head down on her hands to let everyone’s joy swirl around her.  She closed her eyes and felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder, and smelled the fire burning, and heard some kind of pipe playing a song like a bubbling river, and she fell asleep.

When she awoke it was just morning, the sun rising on a day that was still cool but that promised to grow hot.  Everything was very quiet, and Lindy could see people sleeping all around her, sitting at the tables or lying on the grass or resting against the cottages.  In fact, there was no one at all awake, as if everyone had fallen asleep all at once in the midst of their celebration, like the castle in sleeping beauty.  Even her mother was asleep at the table beside her.

Lindy did not try to wake the sleepers, but she felt wide awake herself, so she got to her feet and began slowly walking the path that had wound its way to the house through long grass when she had first arrived and had since been pressed flat by the passing of countless feet.  She had set out in the direction of the house idly, because it was where the path naturally led, so she was halfway there before she remembered that she was no longer welcome at The Crofts.  When she looked up at the house, however, the side door stood open, and she could imagine the little coat room through it and the kitchen beyond that, and she felt a longing to be back there again.  Surely The Crofts would not forbid her now, she thought, not after everything had come out right at the bridge.  Besides, if she could be brave enough to face Khurshid, she could certainly be brave enough to face the house, so she gathered herself and walked to the door and called out softly with her mind.

“Crofts?” she asked, “May I come in?”  The house did not answer, but she could feel it at the edges of her mind, full of emotion, happiness and embarrassment, gratitude and uncertainty, joy and fear.  “I know how you feel,” Lindy ventured again.  “I’m not really sure what to say either, but it would make me very happy if we could just start over again.”

There was a long moment where Lindy wondered whether the house would ever answer her, and then it said, “Come in,” said it very quickly, as if a little ashamed, but Lindy feel a swell of happiness in The Crofts, and she knew that things would be better now.

She stepped across the threshold into the coat room with a heart lighter than any time she could remember, reaching out to brush her hands along the walls as she passed them, thinking back to when she had first come this way, when Clinton and Moe had frightened her half to death by changing into strange creatures before her eyes.  She nudged open the door of the kitchen, expecting to see Penates already at work, but even he was asleep at his hearth, and the room stood empty except for two people sitting at the long, rough kitchen table.  One of them was Alisdair, sitting back in his chair, his legs crossed, and his hands holding a cup of tea in his lap, as if he was in the middle of a chat with an old friend.  The other was a man whom Lindy had never seen before, at least, he was a man when she first saw him, young and handsome with light hair, but almost immediately he became a much older man, white-haired and bent with age, and then a moment later he became a young girl, not much older than Lindy herself, and the moment after that she became a middle-aged man with deep red skin and golden eyes.  The figure took on one shape after another, each only for a second or two, so that Lindy thought that it must eventually look like every person who had ever lived, and she wondered whether it had ever looked like her, even just once.

“Welcome, Lindy,” said Alisdair.  He stood, and so did the other person, who looked now like a poor woman dressed all in rags.  “This is Aigonz.  He is the spirit of this world, as The Crofts is the spirit of this house, and as you are the spirit of your body.  He is The Weald itself, you might say.”  He bowed his head in Aigonz’ direction as he said this, and Lindy bowed her head too, not only because Alisdair had done so, but because she felt somehow that Aigonz was someone to whom bows were rightfully due.

Aigonz stood now as well, taking the form of a dark-skinned man with a broad smile and a carefully pressed suit.  He put his hand out to Lindy.  “I’m very glad to meet you, Lindy,” he said.  “You’ve done a great good here, and I am truly grateful to you.”

“I only did what seemed like the right thing,” Lindy said, feeling a little embarrassed.

“That is the only thing worth doing,” Aigaonz answered,” becoming a small boy in a white robe, “and many are unable to do so much.  Each of us, you and Alasdair and I, and even Khurshid, only ever need do what seems right, and no one may do it for us.  We either do it or not.”  He looked Lindy in the eyes.  “This is not only the task of gods and heroes.  It is the task that faces us all.  We have no other.”

“But I don’t always know what the right thing is,” said Lindy quietly.

“None of us ever do,” said Aigaonz, now a beautiful young woman with chocolate skin and long black hair.  Her voice was gentle.  “You can only keep watching and listening, and you will know it when it comes.”

“I see,” said Lindy, but she felt a little overwhelmed.

Aigonz smiled, her white teeth flashing.  Come,” she said “let me show you what you’ve helped accomplish.  Her hand was still outstretched, and Lindy came toward her and took it.  There was a sound like a sudden gust of wind, and then the kitchen disappeared, and all three of them were standing in the great room at the top of the house.  The places on the great table had all been set with gold and with crystal, and there were tall candles, and boughs of fir, and wreaths of ivy.  On every plate there was a crown, and they seemed alive to Lindy, as if they were filled with a joy of their own.

Aigonz had become a pale man with a scar that blinded him in one eye.  “Do you see the crowns, Lindy?” he asked.  “They are all in their places once again, and soon Keepers will come from all the worlds, one by one, and they will take up the crowns, and The Crofts will be filled with people once again.”  As he said this, Lindy’s mind was filled with images of the house bursting with people, coming and going and living together.  She saw people laughing around the kitchen tables and hanging laundry outside the cottages and hoeing rows of vegetables in the fields, and there, in the midst of them, she also saw her mother, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and she saw herself, standing on the bridge, looking out across the river valley.

Lindy was so filled with happiness at that she could hardly speak, but she somehow kept from crying and looked up into Aigonz’ eyes.  “So,” she managed, “does this mean that I can stay here?  And my Mom too?”

Aigonz nodded, his eyes becoming those of a shy-looking girl in floral-print dress.  “Of course,” she said.

“Will we live in my cubby?” Lindy asked.

The little girl laughed, and it sounded like a thousand laughs joined gently together, babies gurgling and children giggling and grandparents chuckling all at once.  “Not exactly,” she said.  “Come, and I will show you.”  She took Lindy’s hand again, and there was the same sound of wind, and they appeared now at the centre of the bridge.  The morning sun glistened on the waters, and the trees moved gently, full of their summer leaves, and the sky was a light, morning blue.  It was so beautiful that Lindy could hardly believe it was the same place where such terrible things had almost happened the night before.

“You won’t be staying in your cubby,” Aigonz said from beside her, “because this, if you’ll remember, is now your home.”  She had become now a very handsome young man, and Lindy quickly let go of his hand, feeling a little embarrassed.

“But we can’t live here, can we?” she asked.

The handsome boy laughed his thousand laughs.  “Can’t you?” he said, but his voice was teasing.  “Though you didn’t know it, Lindy, you’ve become something that has never been seen in The Weald before.  There have been Keepers ever since Khurshid betrayed his home, and they were set to meet Khurshid at the bridge each year, so the veil could be renewed.  But you have made the bridge your home, like a second seal on Khurshid’s prison.  So I’m going to make you a house here where you have already made your home, and you will keep watch over the bridge.”  He laughed again.  “Yes, we’ve long had Keepers, but now we have a Watcher as well, and the Watcher needs a house.”

He motioned with his hands, and the whole valley trembled.  Stones rose from the ground, shaking free from the earth.  Trees toppled along both banks.  Everywhere there was the sound of rocks splitting and wood creaking, as the very stuff of the valley transformed itself into masonry and timber.  All of it came flowing up the bridge in a rush, like water running up hill, and it joined itself together, stone on stone, timber on timber, until there stood before them a most beautiful house.  Its foundations rested on the walls of the bridge, leaving a passage beneath it for people to pass, and it had a stairway leading up to a door in its floor, just like the one that led into Lindy’s attic cubby.

“This will be your home,” Aigonz said, looking now like a grey-haired woman with kind eyes.  “Through its windows you can keep watch over the bridge, and through its door you may go to your cubby in The Crofts any time you will it.”

Lindy walked slowly toward the house, her house now, looking back to Alisdair and Aigonz only once.  Then she set her hand on the rail, climbed the stairs, pushed open the door, and at last she knew that she was home.

Previous Chapter

Here is the second to last instalment of Lindy.  It is short, but I am making up for it by posting the final chapter right after it.  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.

Chapter Twenty-Two:
In Which There Are Two Remarkable Happenings

When Lindy placed the crown on Alisdair’s head, two quite different but equally remarkable things began happening at exactly the same time.

One of those things happened right before Lindy’s eyes, and this was the thing that more or less everyone saw once they realized that something was going on and turned to find what it was.  All at once Alisdair’s chains dropped away, and he came to his feet without ever seeming to stand, and he became the king that Lindy had first seen coming through the arch in Mister Hat’s garden, stern and beautiful and terrible.  His green-gold face seemed almost to glow, and the patterns on his robes danced and swirled around him.  He had no sword, only a golden branch, topped with leaves of many colours, orange and yellow, green sand silver, red and gold, but he held it before him like a weapon.

In only a moment, he had reached the top of the stairs, though he hardly seemed to move.  Khurshid’s guards recognized the danger too late, and though the feline woman sprang at him with clawed hands, and though the lizard-man drew a long sinuous blade, Alisdair only motioned with the branch, and they fell aside as if they had been struck by some huge and invisible fist.  Khurshid had also turned to face Alisdair, but he made to attempt to attack, only stood on his throne, and Lindy felt as though the world was balanced between them, waiting on what would happen next.

“You will leave now,” Alisdair told him.  There was neither anger nor fear in his voice, only a steady calm, and as he spoke, he casually bent to close the chest of crowns, as if he were merely tidying up around the house while speaking to an unruly child.

Khurshid gave no answer, but seemed to gather himself, his eyes glittering like gems and his hair lit-red-gold in the torchlight, and then he flung himself into the air, high over Alisdair’s head, caught himself on broad wings, and fell upon Lindy in an instant, seizing her in one arm and holding a knife to her throat with the other.  Then he turned to face Alisdair again.  “If I leave,” he said, low and guttural and savage, “it will cost you dearly.”

Now, as I said, this was one of the things that began happening when Lindy returned the crown to Alisdair, but there was a second thing, a very different thing, but just as important in its way.  You see, in the same instant that Lindy put the crown on Alisdair’s head, the same instant that he was freed from his chains, Lindy made quite an astonishing realization.  Somehow, without quite knowing what she was doing, she had done what was needed to be done, and everything changed for her.  She saw quite clearly, for the first time, what it meant really to do something.  It was not that she was the only one who could have given the crown back to Alisdair, or that she had been somehow destined to do it, or even that she had needed to do it.   She had just been in a time and place where something needed to be done, and she had done it.  What was more, she also knew, not in her mind only but also in her spirit, that this thing she had done had made the place her home at last, had made all The Weald her home in a way, but the bridge in particular, made it her home in a sense that she could not hope to describe.  She had laid her things in the middle of it, and she had claimed it, and now she had done something to make it what she claimed.

This is why, when Khurshid swooped down and seized her, Lindy was not at all afraid.  Though she was still not quite clear about what had happened, she was already certain that there was no longer anything to fear, and even as she saw the look of resignation on Alisdair’s face, even as she saw him hesitate where he stood between Khurshid’s throne and the golden chest, she did not hesitate herself, only spoke out with a clear, strong voice.   “Let me go, please,” she said, as firmly and boldly as she had ever said anything, and she felt Khurshid flinch.

“I’ll do no such…” he started to say, but Lindy could already feel his grip loosening despite himself, and he gave a roar of surprise and anger.  “What magic is this?” he screamed, his hands now pulling completely free of his prey.

Lindy turned to look into his eyes.  “This is my home,” she said, for the second time that night, “and you must leave it.”

He held her gaze for a few seconds longer, and Lindy could feel him struggling against the truth of what she had said, and then he howled in rage, the howl of a beast.  He sprang backward, taking the shape of a lion, and dashed up the steps of the carriage.  Lindy thought for a moment that he would strike at Alisdair, but he only rushed past him and off the carriage in a single leap, and by the time Lindy reached the top of the steps, he was already fleeing between his followers down the road toward the forest.

A great silence fell over the river valley then.  Even the breeze died away, and the torches burned more still.

“Hear me now,” Alisdair called into the stillness, his voice filling the valley, seeming to come from everywhere, like a distant thunder.  “I am a Keeper of The Weald, and I have met your master at the bridge as it was appointed that I should, and your master has fled, as you have witnessed.”  His voice had taken on a formal tone, as if he was reciting something at a ceremony.  He paused, and there was a murmur now, as those gathered in the valley below began to wonder at what had happened on the bridge above them.  “Not only has your master fled,” Alisdair continued, “but he has left behind him the crowns of the Keepers, and so those of you who once wore them, those who betrayed them into his hands, are no longer bound to him.  You need no longer be his servants, though it lies with you now to choose another way.”

The murmuring of the crowd had become almost a roar, but Alisdair took paid it no attention.  “See?” He demanded, “Midsummer is come, and the veil has been renewed!”

As he said this last, Lindy saw a bright light shine out from behind her, and she looked to see that the two waves of silver fire had come together to make a great ball of flame in the centre of the bridge.  The flame flickered and rose and grew brighter, towering into the sky, and then there was nothing.  There was only a darkness then, a darkness so deep that the torches from the valley below could do nothing to dispel it.  How long the darkness remained, Lindy could not afterwards say, but it was suddenly split by a ball of silver fire once more, and then a wave of silver rushed out in both directions, leaving a veil of dancing colours behind it, like the joined tails of twin comets.

Behind her, Lindy heard the crowd crying out and rushing away in confusion, but she never looked back, only ran down the steps into her mother’s arms.

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