Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XV

"My lady," Akuta said in astonishment.  "Why are you here?"

"I have a task to perform," she replied.  "I must turn these grapes to
juice so the weary travelers may refresh themselves."  Ellenia held a bowl
of the carnelian and amethyst grapes.  "Come, sit with me while I work."
She reached out a hand to Akuta and pulled him toward a stone bench that
sat on the beach facing the waves.  He noticed the extremely cold feeling
of her hand on his arm.  In the distance he could see a green jewel of an
island shining in the ocean.  "Yes, that is one of the western islands,"
the girl said, answering his unspoken thought.  "There are several out
there."  She picked up a wooden pestle and began to pound the stones in her
bowl.

Akuta turned to her.  "How came you here?" he asked.

"How come any to this place save you?" she replied with a question.  "I
passed through the barrier you know as death."  The man felt his heart skip
a beat as he looked at her.  Ellenia laughed a gentle melody of sound he
remembered so well from when she had lived at Esbereth.  "My lord, look you
not so surprised.  This comes to us all.  One day you shall be here on this
shore as you are meant to be, but not now."

"But you and Clive were supposed to be in the great forest," Akuta told
her.

"And so we were.  I died in childbirth," she answered wistfully.

"Childbirth," he repeated.

"Yes, but my son lives.  He shall grow in strength and one day shall rule
the land."

"And Clive?"

Ellenia smiled a sad smile.  "He had a difficult time with my departure.
He would have followed after had it not been for the boy.  But he shall
come soon.  I sit here and await him.  He will come when I have completed
my task."  She began to again attack the crystal grapes with more ardor.

"My lady, these are stone," Akuta said.  "You cannot make juice from
stone."

She paused in her task and looked at him sharply.  "And yet you think you
can restore life to the dead," she said pointedly.  "How is my task any
more difficult than yours?"  Ellenia again bent to her work.  As she
pounded the gems she spoke to her friend without looking up.  "I knew of
your coming.  I was told to expect you."

"By whom?" he asked eagerly.

"By one who came before you.  He has already passed on to the islands
across the sea."

"Alex," Akuta said as he looked out at the speck of green on the horizon.

"No, a westerner called Pardoo," she replied.  "My lord, give up this
foolish quest.  You shall never find that which you seek.  I should be glad
of the life that still courses through your veins.  To enjoy the feel of a
child's hand holding yours or the strength of a man in your arms."  She
stopped her pounding and sat back on the bench.  "To live forever is not
the way of humans or the high born.  You might just as well try obtaining
juice from stone."  A solitary tear slowly coursed down her cheek to drop
into the bowl of broken jewels.

"Where is Pardoo now?" Akuta asked, trying to get Ellenia's mind off of her
plight.

"He has crossed the sea to the island," she replied, looking out at the
waves.  "He had nothing or no one to hold him back."

"How crossed he this water?"

"The ferryman took him," the girl answered.

"Where is this ferryman?" Akuta asked, standing.  "I must cross as well."

Ellenia put down her bowl and wooden pestle.  "I would dissuade you, my
friend," she said, "but I see you shall not listen.  Come."  The lady rose
slowly and walked toward some large rocks just down the beach.  Akuta
followed after her.  They reached the large boulders and detoured around
them.  On the opposite side was a small, natural harbor.  In it was a tiny
boat that looked to be built of reeds.  It had a fragile and unseaworthy
look about it.  Nearby stood an extremely thin figure wrapped in a dark
brown robe, like that of a medieval monk, the hood pulled up over his head.
"Speak not to him," Ellenia cautioned.  "He is newly come to this task.  If
you speak to him he shall recognize you as not belonging to this shore.  He
would suffer greatly to remember his former life."  Akuta nodded as they
approached the figure from behind.  "My friend," the girl called.  "I have
one who needs passage."

The robed figure turned slowly to face the two and reached out a hand.
Akuta jumped back in surprise.  What reached out of the sleeve was a
bleached white skeleton hand.  The stick like fingers of the bone hand
slowly spread as the arm turned to hold its palm up.  Akuta was shocked at
the movements.  There were no muscles attached to the bones.  He could not
imagine what controlled the movements.  He looked up from the skeleton hand
to the creatures face and beheld a grinning skull, the hollow eye sockets
looking blankly toward him.

"He awaits your greeting, lord," Elleneia explained.  "Greet him as you
would an old friend, but speak no word."

Akuta slowly extended his own hand and gritting his teeth, reached for the
naked bones.  His fingers wrapped around the twin spars of the forearm, as
the cold finger bones gripped the flesh of his arm just above the wrist in
a firm clasp.  Slowly the skeleton hand released its pressure and the thin
figure turned back toward its boat.  Akuta watched as its robe parted and
one boney skeleton leg stepped into the bottom of the tiny craft.  Then the
creature swung its other leg over the side and sat down with a dry,
rattling sound as of loose bones striking together.  The thin, white hands
gripped the two oars, the finger bones curling around them.  Akuta looked
at Ellenia who simply smiled as if all of this were perfectly normal.  He
carefully stepped into the reed boat and took a seat opposite the ferryman.
As he did so, he noted with some concern the depth in the water to which
the craft sank.  It was obviously not designed to carry the living.  The
skeleton applied himself to the oars and the tiny craft began to glide out
of the little harbor and into the gently rocking waves that separated the
land from the island.  Akuta glanced nervously back to see Ellenia wave to
him as if he were leaving on any ordinary pleasure journey.

* * *

"I don't see him anywhere," Scott said, looking around at the crowd.

"He'll be here," the pregnant girls answered.  "You'll see him alright."
She had dragged them to the park.  There was a production of Shakespeare's
"Midsummer Night's Dream" being presented.  She hinted that Dannemel had a
job working with the theatre group.

"What means all this?" Rood asked as the play was about to begin.

"It's theatre," Scott explained.  "You know, an entertainment.  I'm not
very good at explaining Shakespeare.  The person who could do that..."  He
lapsed into silence.

"Yes?" Rood asked after a pause.

"It was Alex," Scott said sadly.  "Theatre was his thing.  He was an
actor."

"I too miss him," Rood sympathized.

Then the lights in the area began to dim as the play was about to start.
"Now we'll never find him," Jennifer whined.

"Caseldra and I shall search the area," Rood suggested.  "There is plenty
of light for our eyes."

"The girl said he got a part time job here," Scott told his friends.  "So
look for the concession sellers, ticket people, and maybe one of you could
try to slip backstage to check out the people moving scenery."  The two
fairies gave him a curious look before they melted off into the crowd.
They had no idea what he was talking about, not familiar with most of the
terms he used.

As the show began Scott sat back uncomfortably, waiting for some word from
his friends.  Meanwhile Jennifer and Dannemel's girlfriend seemed to be
enjoying the Elizabethan comedy.  The performers were extremely talented
and the first act went by, setting up the situation, introducing the
characters and capturing even Scott's wandering attention.  Soon act two
began in a wooded area portrayed on stage with deep green and blue strips
of material covering various entrances and turning the stage into a magical
fairyland.  A young girl dressed in filmy silks entered on a platform and
leaped lightly down to the stage floor.  As she did the lights came up on a
figure nearly hidden amongst the 'trees.'  "How now, spirit!" the figure
called as he stepped out into view.

Scott caught his breath and reached for Jennifer's arm.  "That's him," he
whispered.  "That's Dannemel."

"Doesn't he look great in tights?" Dannemel's girlfriend asked as she
leaned over to them.

"I wonder where Rood and Caseldra are?" Jennifer asked.  "They might be
able to get him when he goes backstage."

"The King doth keep his revels here tonight," the fairy turned actor said
from the stage.  Scott marveled at the fact that there was very little
accent in his voice now compared to the heavy one he had when they spoke at
the club only the night before.

"Our friend Sam taught him his lines," Maggie said in answer to Scott's
unspoken question.  "He's an actor who lives downstairs from us.  Isn't
Danny great?  He even sounds like Sam when he talks."

The girl onstage spoke again.  "Either I mistake your shape and making
quite, Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite Called Robin
Goodfellow."

"Robin Goodfellow?" Jennifer said, sitting up suddenly.  "I didn't remember
that from my high school Shakespeare class."

"Are not you he That frights the maidens of the villager, Skim milk, and
sometimes labor in the quern, And bootless make the breathless housewife
churn, And sometimes make the drink to bear no barm, Mislead night
wanderers, laughing at their harm?"

"Gosh, Shakespeare didn't have a very high opinion of your boyfriend,"
Jennifer giggled.  Scott didn't say anything in reply, but for some odd
reason he felt himself growing hot and knew he would be blushing if there
had been light enough to see him.  He told himself it was only a play.  The
people in the audience who were laughing had no idea there really was such
a person as Robin.  But still it bothered him.  This play was making fun of
his adopted country and its people.  As he watched, suddenly every thought
of his uncomfortableness was shocked out of him as he saw Rood step onto
the stage.

"Here comes Oberon," Dannemel said, then turned to the stranger with a look
of stunned surprise.

"And here my mistress," the other actress responded.

"Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania," Rood said as he bowed a greeting to
an actress who had just entered.  She was dressed as the fairy queen.

"What, jealous Oberon!" she said, and then realized it was not the man she
expected which totally destroyed her character.  "Who the hell are you?"
she exclaimed.

"Tarry, rash wanton; am not I thy lord?" Rood asked.

"Then...then I must be thy lady..." she replied and looked uncomfortably
toward the wings.

Rood was suddenly grabbed from behind by a pair of arms that reached out of
the draping material and disappeared.  At the same instant, a man dressed
in a semi transparent body suit was shoved onstage.  He looked a little
disconcerted.  The fairy queen looked suddenly more at ease and launched
into her speech.  "...and you come to give their bed joy and prosperity."
She paused and looked expectantly at the fairy king.

He glanced around and then grinned a crooked smile.  "My lady, I beg
forgiveness for this intrusion.  I have come for the lad."  He gestured
toward Dannemel.

"It's Rood!" Jennifer said.

"Of course it's rude," a fat lady with blue hair said as she turned around
to look at the girl sitting behind her.  "It would be polite if you would
stop talking during the performance."

Jennifer quickly dropped her voice to a whisper.  "Rood must have used
changeling magic to switch places with that actor," she said to Scott.

"Come on," he replied grabbing her hand and quickly making for the nearest
exit to the fenced off audience area.  Dannemel's girlfriend jumped up to
follow them.

"Set your heart at rest," the actress spoke her lines.  "The fairy land
buys not the child of me."

"Forgive me lady, but then the fairy land must take the child by force."
The actor in the body suit grabbed Dannemel and began to pull him toward
the exit.  But just as they were about to leave the stage, a man in the
image of Rood entered to block their escape.

"Well, go thy way.  Thou shalt not from this grove Till I torment thee for
this injury," he said.  "My gentle Puck, come hither," he called and
grabbed Dannemel by the arm.

"Rood, over here," Scott called from the wings of the stage.  With
Caseldra's help, he, Jennifer and the pregnant girl had managed to make it
to the backstage area.  At that moment several security guards came
running, having been alerted by the stage manager.  "Scott, we've got
company," Jennifer shouted and she, Caseldra, Scott and Maggie dashed out
onto the stage and into the middle of the set.

Before the eyes of the astonished crowd of onlookers, Rood and the fairy
king seemed to suddenly switch places as the real fairy ended the magic
transfer.  He yanked Dannemel away from the actor and reached into his
sweater for the small piece of rose quartz.  Rood tapped it with his finger
tips just as Scott, Jennifer, Caseldra and Maggie reached him.  Dannemel
grabbed his girlfriend as the entire group gradually faded from sight,
leaving a stunned audience, not to mention some very confused actors.

"Well, that's an opening night they won't forget," Jennifer said as the
scenery seemed to dissolve around them, only to be replaced by solid stone
walls.

"Where are we?" Scott asked as he glanced around.

"The guard room in Esbereth," Rood replied.

"Oh my God!" a voice wailed.  They all turned in time to see Dannemel's
friend faint dead away in his arms.

* * *

The green speck on the horizon gradually grew into an actual island covered
with lush vegetation.  The ferryman seemed to be heading for what looked
like a natural harbor, an almost identical copy of the little harbor on the
shore they had just left behind.  As the little craft drew near, Akuta
noted that there was no sign of life on the island.  He saw no one on the
beach or near the rocks that they approached.  Silently the boat slipped
into the calm waters and glided to a stop beside a stone dock.  The
ferryman slowly stood and climbed up onto the rocky ledge, then turned back
to offer a helping 'hand' to his passenger.  Akuta carefully climbed out of
the vessel without assistance and pulled himself up onto the stone.  He
climbed to his feet and looked up, then jumped in surprise.  Standing close
to him was an absolutely beautiful, radiant man in his mid 30's, crowned
with thick dark hair and staring at him with intense brown eyes, deep set
in a strikingly handsome face.

"Welcome to paradise," the man said in a bass voice, then laughed a deep,
melodious sound.  Akuta continued to stare, not knowing how to respond.
"Come with me, both of you," the man said as he turned his back on them and
began to climb what looked like a natural stairway cut into the nearby
rocks by the erosion of countless ages.  Akuta noticed that the man he
followed was bare footed and wore a thin robe that dropped down from one
shoulder and was made of a transparent gossamer that showed off his perfect
physique, leaving nothing hidden.

"Where are you leading us, my lord?" Akuta finally managed to ask as they
ascended the stone stairway that curved behind the rock harbor and wound
its path up into the lush, green hills beyond.

"To meet the lord of this island," their guide called back over a sun
bronzed shoulder.  The trio continued to climb the stairs which slowly
became less steep as the slope of the land flattened out.  They were soon
walking on a flat, flagstone pathway that led between tall, green trees and
into the forest that seemed to cover most of the island.  The walkway led
around a natural fountain and then crossed a sparkling stream by way of a
small stone bridge.  As they crossed the water, Akuta suddenly beheld what
looked like an ancient temple.  Tall, fluted columns of white marble rose
up into the air in a nearby clearing.  In the center of the columns was a
golden chair and seated on the chair was another beautiful man.  In form
and features he could easily have been the brother of their escort, the two
so closely resembled one another.  But where their guide had appeared open
and friendly, this man seemed stern and foreboding.  His countenance was
not unpleasant, nor was he frowning but his entire being from the erect
posture to the piercing look of his sad, brown eyes seemed to emit an air
of stern authority.

The guide bowed to the seated man as they approached.  "May I present to
you a guest, a traveler to our world from the distant land beyond the far
shore and the guarding hills."

"I am aware of our guest," the seated man said as he slowly rose to his
feet.  Although Akuta was one of the high born and consequently stood six
feet tall, this man seemed to tower over him.  He wasn't just unnaturally
tall, but seemed to be larger than life, a virtual giant, making Akuta feel
like a small boy.  "Akuta," the man said, addressing him directly by his
name and exerting bonding power over him, "This is a land not for the
living.  Why have you come here?"

The fairy tried to speak but was unable to get a sound out of his throat.
The man who had guided them to this temple jumped to his side and placed a
strong, supporting arm around his shoulder.  "Cannot you see you have
frightened him to silence?"

"Take not that tone with me!" the ruler of the temple said and thunder
seemed to rumble beneath the sound of his words.

Akuta expected this lord of the island to strike them all down with a
thunderbolt.  He shrank into himself, but his champion was totally
undaunted.  The pleasant man walked right up to the ruler and looked him in
the eye.  They both seemed to be the same size now, as if the guide had
grown in stature as he approached this giant.  "Act as you like with those
of our land," he said, anger now flashing from his eyes.  "But this is a
living guest.  Forget you that one day you were as he and also came here on
a quest?"

Akuta trembled, expecting a direct battle to erupt between these two
titans, but he was totally unprepared for what actually occurred next.  The
angry ruler reached out to the man confronting him and embraced him in a
gentle hug.  The ruler's voice took on gentle tones, sounding like the
ringing of a deep, melodious bell.  "Once again you remind me of myself,
beloved one."  Akuta stared at the two in shock, his mouth hanging open.
The man turned to him and the ruler broke into rich, hearty laughter.  "I
see our living guest is confused."

No longer towering over him, the two seemed to conform to much more normal
proportions.  "Come with us," the guide said, reaching out and taking Akuta
by the arm.  "We shall provide you with rest and refreshment."  The fairy
allowed himself to be led through the marble columns of the temple and to
an open area just beyond.  The space was surrounded by small trees covered
with delicate pink and purple blossoms which seemed to create the illusion
that the area was surrounded by a soft haze of color.  In the center of
this protected clearing was a large banquet table set with golden plates
and goblets, and holding a variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and
breads.  The guide indicated that Akuta should sit on one side while he and
the ruler who still held his hand sat opposite.  The skeletal ferryman
stood in attendance just outside of the surrounding trees.

"My lord," Akuta began as he sat down.  "I have come on a quest to speak
with Gilgamesh, king of the western islands."

"I know," the dark haired lord said.  "I am he whom you seek and I know the
reason of your quest.  Akuta, my friend, I must tell you now that you are
doomed to failure.  When I lived I tried the same as you and I too failed.
The lot of our kind is to live a short span in your world, and then to pass
on to this world.  This you cannot change!"

 

 

 

 

 

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