Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 

Chapter V

Dannemel heard the door to the library open and voices approaching his
hiding place.  He tried to shrink closer to the back wall of the small,
confined cabinet, and suddenly went deaf.  The sound died away as if a
large blanket had been draped over his head.  At the same time, he bumped
the back wall and it opened behind him, dumping the boy unceremoniously
onto the dusty floor of an unused room.  He looked about in surprise and
noted the wooden floor and the faded and peeling wall paper.  With a shock
Dannemel suddenly realized he was in the world of humans.  He had escaped
his pursuers and magically landed here.  Of course he knew that they would
still follow him, so the logical thing to do was to get as far away from
the magical gateway as possible.  He stood and cautiously but quickly
crossed to the door of the room and stepped out.

The dwelling was truly amazing.  The entire structure seemed to be made of
wood.  The walls were covered with brightly colored patterns that appeared
to be printed onto paper, but when he tapped them, they emitted a hollow,
wooden knock.  This was considerably different from the stone constructions
back in his homeland.  Dannemel wondered how these humans managed to keep
their dwellings standing.  After all, everyone knew that wood is only a
transitory material.  In a few generations it would need to be replaced.
His people always used stone and earth for constructions of this sort.  It
made structures permanent, needing only occasional repairs, and no living
forests were decimated in the building process.

The boy quickly found the stairway and headed down.  He could tell from the
view out the nearby windows that he was on an upper floor.  He just needed
to get to the ground level, exit the building, and lose himself in the
world of humans.  As he finally stepped down into the foyer he heard voices
just behind the large door that looked to be a main entrance.  Dannemel
dashed for the nearest open doorway, slipping into the drawing room.

Caseldra and Rood entered carrying large boxes of equipment closely
followed by Sharon and Jennifer.  The doctor was closely supervising the
transportation of the boxes, fearing her porters would not realize the
fragility of what they carried.  They quickly mounted the stair and
disappeared above.  As soon as the four were gone, Dannemel slipped back
out into the room, looked cautiously around, then bolted for the door.
Once outside he began to run, dashing down the sidewalk and out the open
gate.  He quickly ran across the vacant street and into the park just
opposite the house, disappearing into the trees bordering the river.

Sharon supervised the transport of several more loads of drugs and
equipment with which Dr. Sorenson had been willing to part.  They placed
everything in the empty room on the third floor of the house in preparation
for taking it through the magic gateway back to Tuatha.  As the group
rested for a moment the closet door suddenly burst open and Scott and Robin
jumped out into the room.  "Where is he?" the king demanded.

"Where is who, lord?" Rood asked, looking surprised.

"He just came through here," Scott said.  "We were right behind him."

"We've been in and out of here for the past hour," Jennifer explained.  "No
one came through here."

"I don't understand," Scott replied in confusion.

"The difference in our time," Robin said, realizing their mistake.  "He
must have arrived here in a different time.  We have already lost him."
Scott and Robin quickly explained to the others who it was they were
pursuing and why.  Caseldra and Rood helped them search the house and
nearby area, but it was already too late.  The group reassembled in the
empty room to transport Sharon's equipment back to the land of Faerie, the
immediate situation with the refugee tabled until Robin could consul with
his advisors and make better plans.  Dannemel could be almost anywhere by
now.  The six of them would be totally inadequate to the task of finding
him if he didn't want to be found.

Once across the barrier, Sharon sent Rood off to find servants to carry the
supplies to her room in the halls of healing.  She hurried off to check on
Alex.  Meanwhile, Robin went in search of Melcot and Scott accompanied
Jennifer back to her chambers.  An hour later the king's personal advisors
met in the conference chamber just off the throne room.  Sharon, Alex and
Akuta were conspicuously absent.

"You have spoken with the healer?" Robin asked the captain of the palace
guard.  "What says she of Alex's condition?"

"It looks not good, lord," Rood replied.  "He appears to be growing weaker.
The lady Sharon is studying his blood with the odd tools she brought from
the other world, and she has given him some potions, but I see little
change.  Our own healers hold little hope.  They feel his spirit loosening
its grip on this world."

"NO!" Scott said angrily.  "We'll have to get him to a real hospital.
We'll have to take him back to the other world."

"Scott, please," Jennifer said and Robin reached out to grasp his lover's
hand.

"But it's not supposed to happen like this," Scott cried, tears coming to
his eyes.  "Everything was going so well.  It's just not fair."  He dropped
his head in his hands and began to weep softly.  Robin stepped close and
hugged him tightly, allowing Scott to sob.  The room grew deathly silent
except for the sounds of human grief.  In a few minutes Scott began to pull
himself together, his sobs fading to silence.  "I'm sorry," he finally
managed as he dried his eyes on his sleeve.

"Why apologize you, lord?" Caseldra asked, looking closely at Scott.

"I think she means we all feel the same, Scott," Jennifer said.  The human
looked around the faces of his fairy friends.  The grief he felt was
matched on all of them.

"Well, it's just not right," Scott said, anger building in his heart and
replacing the cold emotion of grief with its black heat.  "We've got to do
something."

"Everything that can be, is," Rood answered softly.  "Sharon and the
healers will try what they may.  If Alex must leave to journey to the
western islands, then no one may stop him."

"How fares Akuta?" Robin asked, trying to divert some of the concern from
the dying man.

"He fears, my lord," Rood responded.  "I can feel his fear deeply.  He
fears for his love, the pain and suffering Alex must endure.  And he fears
the journey he knows Alex must take."  Rood paused for a moment.  "But most
of all, he fears the great separation that looms ahead and draws ever
nearer.  And..."

"And?" Jennifer prodded anxiously, as Rood again paused.

"I too, fear," the tall blond captain said as he turned his blue eyes on
the human girl.

"The black-bond?" Rowana asked tentatively.  Rood gulped and nodded
silently.

"Black bond?  What's that?" Jennifer questioned.

"When we are joined together," Caseldra explained, "it is very difficult to
lose a mate."

"Well, of course," the human said a little shortly.

"You understand it not," the little fairy girl continued.  "We mate for
life and become as one.  When a partner leaves, the one behind is
incomplete.  Unless the remaining loved one has a strong anchor to hold to
the land, he or she may be drawn by the black-bond to follow the departed."

"I have seen it rarely in your world," Robin said.  "But it does happen
even there, usually to the old who have spent many seasons together.  One
dies and the other becomes so despondent that soon the one left behind dies
as well.  You humans, being closer to the animal kingdom, can oft' times
recover from such blows of grief."  Scott made a mental note of Robin's
crack about the animal kingdom, but didn't interrupt him.  "Our people are
not so fortunate.  As the lady Caseldra has spoken, the black-bond often
takes both mates unless there is a strong anchor to hold one to the land."

"What sort of an anchor?" Jennifer asked.

"Usually a child from their union," Rowana answered softly.

"Isn't it ironic?" Scott said with a bitter laugh.  "If Akuta died, Alex
would grieve and eventually be okay, but if Alex dies, Akuta will die too,
from a broken heart."  Everyone sat silently for a few minutes, each lost
in his or her own thoughts about the couple they had known as close
friends.

"We must talk of other things, lord," Rood finally said, breaking the
stillness of the room.  "What of the lad you followed to the human world?"
Everyone seemed relieved to change the subject and consider other business.

"My father works on a solution," Caseldra volunteered.  "He develops a tool
that shall point out the location of any native Tuathan in another land."

"A most useful device," Robin acknowledged.  "How soon till it is
complete?"

"Another few days,"

"Days?" Rood exclaimed.  "Know you the time difference between our worlds?
When Elnar has his tool ready, Dannemel may have lived many seasons and
caused much harm.  He may betray our world to those humans who would come
to destroy us."

"There is little we can do to hasten his task," Robin said in an attempt to
calm Rood and placate Caseldra who was beginning to glare angrily across
the table at the captain.  "My lady, we would be grateful if you would
assist your father and inform us the moment he is ready."  The dark haired
girl nodded and stood, crossing to the door.  Just before she reached it a
resounding knock was heard.  Caseldra cautiously lifted the latch and
opened it.

Standing in the outer chamber was a member of the palace guard.  He nodded
to Caseldra, then stepped inside, quickly crossing to Rood.  He handed the
captain a small, carefully folded piece of paper.  Rood opened it, scanning
the contents of the note, then quickly passed it on to Robin.  The king
looked at it, and then slowly stood.  "My friends," he began slowly, "Alex
has passed on to the islands."

There was a momentary silence of stunned shock as the group tried to digest
the news.  Then Robin pulled his chair out of the way and dropped to his
knees, instinctively facing west.  He made the Tuathan gesture of prayer
and softly began the song of the dead.  Rowana stood and crossed to the
king's side, and knelt beside him, adding her voice to his.  One by one the
men and women around the table knelt and joined in to sing their friend's
spirit on its long journey.  Even Scott and Jennifer took part in the odd
ritual, the haunting music bringing a measure of solace to their heartfelt
grief.

* * *

"Well, this isn't Shangrila," Sharon said as she and Scott relaxed in her
rooms and shared a pot of tea, a concession from her past life that the
doctor had brought back to Tuatha with the medical equipment.  "We aren't
going to live forever just because we're here."

Scott nodded over his steaming cup.  "I know that.  It's just that we'll
live a lot longer than..."

"Than humans back home?"  She finished his statement with a question.  "Not
really."

"Yes, we will.  Old Thomas, Robin's tutor was at least probably three or
four hundred years old when he died.  And that was only because he was an
old man when he came here back in the middle ages."

"The middle ages.  How long ago was that, Scott?"

"Well..."  He was confused by her question of the obvious.  "Several
hundred years ago.  I don't know.  I'm not a historian.

"Give me a date.  Just make one up if you don't know," she persisted.

"1500."

"1500 in our world?" she asked.  "And when was that here?"

"What do you mean?" Scott questioned, not following her train of thought.

"When our world was in the 1500's, it might have only been twenty or thirty
years ago here.  Old Thomas was hundreds of years old only in comparison to
people in our world.  But living here, he skipped over all that time.  From
his point of view, chronologically and biologically he was probably only 80
or 90."

Her explanation was beginning to sink in.  "Then we aren't going to live
any longer than normal?"

"Not from our point of view.  How long have you been here?"

"About nine months."

"And biologically you're nine months older.  But if you go home people
there will think you're several years older.  You see?  There's no change
to us, only a change in perspective between the two worlds.

"So your theories on the slow down of metabolism and a possible cure for
AIDS..."

"Are just a lot of crap.  In fact, if anything, it seems that the HIV virus
is growing faster here than back home.  I guess Tuatha agrees with it.
That explains why Alex's disease progressed so rapidly.

"So much for Robin's noble plan of saving people from the disease."

Sharon nodded sympathetically, and then reached for the pot to freshen
their cups.  "I guess we're back to waiting for a real cure based on human
science.  But we do have a problem here.  I'm afraid I'm going to lose
Akuta, too.  It's that black bond thing.  He's in a catatonic state and his
vital signs seem to be dropping.  There's nothing I can do for him."

* * *

Rood sat in the chair close by the reclining platform in the halls of
healing.  Akuta was stretched out on the hard wooden table, his eyes open
but unfocused, staring up at the ceiling.  He was totally unresponsive to
anyone or anything.  But still Rood tried to get his attention, to focus
his mind back on the present and away from the long journey his human lover
had just taken.

"My friend," Rood said softly, knowing his words were heard, but not really
heeded.  "You must return for my sake.  We have known each other since
childhood.  You have always existed, and I cannot contemplate a life
without you.  I need you."  Rood squeezed his friend's hand so tightly that
his own hand hurt.  Slowly, tears began to form in Rood's eyes as he
realized his pleas were ineffective.

"Remember all the fun we have had together?  How about the time you told
Margafel I wanted to couple with her, and then you hid my clothes while I
bathed and brought her to my chambers.  I thought I was trapped for life by
that one.  She chased me around the room until my cries finally struck pity
in your heart and you came to rescue me."  But there was no response.  "And
what of the time in the land of humans when I tricked you into meeting that
reversal in the back room of that pleasure hall?  If it had not been for my
prank you would not yet know you preferred men to women, and you would not
have met Alex."  At the mention of the name Rood suddenly felt guilty.  He
quickly glanced up and saw a single tear escape from Akuta's unblinking
stare.  "I...I am sorry."  Rood again dropped his head, holding Akuta's
limp hand against his own damp cheek.

"My two comrades, I would speak with you both," a voice said.  Rood looked
up to see Robin standing next to him.  The king shifted his eyes from
Akuta's prone form to the captain.  "I have a problem that needs your
combined skill.  The delegation of youths from the western kingdoms has
returned to the blue tower.  I know not what they have planned, but a
messenger was recently dispatched from the tower and rode out of the
palace.  I fear some devious plot is about to unfold.  I must have my
experienced men to counsel me and fight at my side."

"I am here for you, my liege," Rood said, dropping to one knee and
extending his arm.

Robin firmly clasped his friend's wrist.  "My gratitude and that of the
kingdom is yours," he replied, then turned to Akuta.  "And you, my friend?
Will you not aid me in this most desperate hour?"  The catatonic man
continued to lie unmoving and unresponsive.  Robin dropped to his knees
beside the platform, gripping the edge of the wooden structure.  "My lord,
I need you.  We all need you.  Our very land may be in danger.  Surely you
cannot refuse us."  But still there was no sign of awareness.

Rood placed a comforting hand on Robin's shoulder and the two men stepped
to the far corner of the room, conversing in wind whispers so no one else
would hear their discussion.

"We have truly lost him," the king said sadly.  "He is gone to us, and the
black-bond will draw him to follow after his love."

"What of this problem of the blue tower?" Rood asked.

"I know not.  Something is in the creation, but there is little for us now
but to be vigilant."

"And..."  Rood had to swallow hard before he could force himself to
continue.  "And what of Alex?"

Robin glanced over at Akuta.  "The old father himself has wrapped and woven
Alex in flashweed.  His body awaits the ceremony in the worship grounds.
It was hoped that Akuta would send him on his journey, but now...I fear you
and I shall have to send them both."

At that moment Caseldra and Jennifer entered the chamber to check on Akuta.
"How is he?" the human girl asked.

"He is near death," Robin answered in a wind whisper.

"You can't find this anchor you spoke of?" Jennifer questioned.

"It is no use," Caseldra replied.  She didn't bother to direct her voice in
the wind whisper.  What harm could now come if Akuta heard her or not.
"The anchor is his love, and his love calls him from the western islands."

"Western islands," Jennifer mused.  "That's really a pleasant way to think
of death.  Not like dying at all, but more like going on a cruise."

"Essentially that is what happens," Caseldra answered.  "Only the flesh
dies.  The spirit journeys to the west."

"But not really."

Caseldra looked at her lover with shocked amusement.  "Yes, really."

"But if that were the case you could just go to this place and bring the
spirit back," Jennifer argued.

"No, because once the body decays or burns in the flashweed there would be
nothing to which the spirit could return."

Jennifer was astounded at the fairy's simplistic belief in a physical
heaven.  "You mean we could really go to this island place and talk to the
dead?"

"No, it is guarded by Gilgamesh.  Only he can talk to the dead as he stands
in both the land of the living and the land of death," Caseldra explained.

Jennifer laughed at the odd belief.  "Gilgamesh?  I took ancient history.
He was a Sumerian king on earth before the time of Christ.  What makes him
so special?"

"He was a Tuathan prince," Rood corrected her.  "He lived in your world for
a time."

"He was given the secret of immortality when he journeyed to the west in
search of his departed mate.  So he is not dead, yet not alive," Caseldra
finished.

"And if this Gilgamesh told someone else the secret of immortality, they
could just bring it back and no one would ever die again?  Wouldn't that
put him out of a job?"

Rood ignored her jibe.  "Legend has it the secret of immortality will
restore life to the dead."

"You really believe this?" Jennifer asked incredulously.  "Then why hasn't
anyone gone in search of this island?

"That is the difference between human and Tuathan," Robin answered.  "A
human would go in search to defeat death.  A Tuathan knows death is a part
of life and accepts it."

"But what about people who died before their time?  People who should never
have died?  People like Alex?  You actually think he could be brought back
to life by this secret of Gilgamesh?"

The fairies exchanged glances for a moment, and then Robin answered her.
"My lady, Alex is dead.  This is but a false hope."

"Perhaps not."

Everyone jumped in startled surprise at the voice.  They turned en masse to
behold Akuta sitting on the edge of the platform, his eyes glittering
brightly.  "My lord," Rood said and ran to embrace his friend.

Akuta hugged him, and then pulled him back to look into his friend's face.
"Perhaps Alex can yet live!" he said with mounting excitement.  "I shall go
to the western islands and bring back the secret of immortality!"

"Well, at least we found an anchor," Caseldra wind whispered to Jennifer.

 

 

 

 

 

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