Lindy: Chapter Twenty-Two

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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