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Monday, November 06, 2006

Chapter Four: A Not So Far Away Place

(Note:  This is not official version and may be removed in the near future.  This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter.  I have preserved the rough form for posterity -- or something like that.  This novel has since been rewritten.)

James found shade under a massive tree—a thick, walnut shaped thing with branches running like vines in and out of themselves. He sat there in awe. Angtholand, wide and magnificent, stretched for miles in every direction, seemingly untouched by human hands except where he had seen a city.
Pure, he thought. He could just imagine what the people back home would do to a place of such beauty. Destroy it.
A short spurt of nausea dropped into the pit of his stomach. Traveling through the portal, tunnel, or whatever it was had left his insides feeling out of place, as if they had been turned upside down, rolled around, and then flipped suddenly to their original position. He likened it to the feeling he sometimes got on the ocean bobbing up and down in the never-ending waves.

James felt horribly alone, and rightly so. He had nobody to turn to on Angtholand, no friends or family, and no allies. It had been far too long since someone had passed through the satin bag for there to be allies. He needed them the most, that he knew; friends he could deal with later.
He looked towards the city again. It was obvious now that people lived there as he could see small plumes of smoke rising up the face of the connected towers, and if he squinted there were people walking along the stone bridge between the towers and the tops of the walls that encased the city. He guessed that the city sat only a mile or two away, which he found fortunate. Every other identifying feature that he could see—the mountains, lakes, and rivers—were many miles distant from where he had landed. Only one river came close to the city, but that added distance to the journey he would have to make. A city also meant the greatest chance of him finding out where Laura had been taken.
James found his bag, swung it over his shoulder, and started to walk through the pasture, taking care to stay in the shorter grasses. He didn’t know what sort of creatures lived there, nor if they were dangerous.
The terrain was easy, the ground smooth with few rocks to hinder his movement. Tall grasses and little green flowers that stuck up like sore thumbs among the tans and golden browns filled his vision. Hidden deeper in the grass were little blue plants tinged with purple lines. A few birds fluttered away from him, flapping their golden and crimson colored wings hurriedly.
A perfectly pristine landscape in his eyes. No place in Woodton could match the beauty before him. Yet he missed home and the comfort of a familiar terrain.
Something scurried around in the grass nearby and drew his attention with a giggle—childish and bubbly. When he turned towards it, another giggle rang behind him, and then a moment later as he turned again, at his side.
James felt no fear, only a sense of curiosity that pushed deep and hard at his instincts. He took a few more steps and heard the giggle sound again, this time in front, followed by a sudden burst of movement in a tall batch of grass as if a faint wind touched them.
To his surprise a tiny leg appeared through the brush, covered in an emerald fabric. On the foot was a large black shoe. Another leg appeared and the creature scurried out enough to show its behind. James marveled at the size of the two legs. They were less than a foot tall, as thin as two pencils lying side-by-side, and completely clothed in the tiniest pair of pants that he had ever seen.
Then the creature came out completely from the brush, dragging behind it a suitcase proportional to its size. James looked down at the barely two foot tall man-like being that stood before him. The beard gave James the only identifying marker that it was male. The little man seemed to ignore him as he unraveled his red cloak and allowed it to fall over his emerald pants and shoes. Then he brushed himself off and looked James straight in the eye.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to stare at people?” the man said. His voice had a strange accent that James had never heard before—almost as if it were European or British.
“I-I.” James tried to speak but couldn’t think of anything good to say. He’d heard of dwarves, even seen them on television, but never had he heard of such a tiny person in his life.
The man stood there a moment, staring up at James. His little green eyes, scruffy brown beard that traveled up the sides of his face in long sideburns that collided with two pointed and furry ears, bushy eyebrows, and light tan skin were so foreign to James. Even the little hat on top of his head seemed out of place.
“Well,” the man said, breaking the silence angrily, “should I say hello first and introduce myself or were you planning on showing me the courtesy of interest?”
James stuttered again, before saying timidly, “I’m James.”
The little man smiled warmly and gently bowed, pulling his hat off and swinging it to the side delicately. “I am Pantifilus the Great. You may also call me Pantifilus the Wise, or for conversational purposes you can simply call me Pea.”
“Yes. P-E-A. Stands for Pantifilus the Extraordinarily Abnormal.” Pea stood straight. “I might have you know that when a man bows to you it is quite rude not to bow back.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” James bowed quickly to Pea.
“Where are you from that you would not know that custom?” Pea put his had back on his head.
James thought about that for a moment. What should I say to him? I’m not even from this world. He wouldn’t believe me.
“Well, speak up boy.”
Pea eyed him questioningly as he stumbled over what he would say in his mind. The words just wouldn’t come. People from other worlds could not have been common enough in Angtholand that it would be believable.
“Alright then, if you can’t say then I will not pry. I would appreciate it if you would stop looking at me in that way though.”
James gulped and realized he had been staring at Pea the same way ever since the tiny man had appeared from the bushes. “Don’t take offense. It’s just that I have never seen someone like you before.”
“Someone like me?”
“Yes, I mean, what exactly are you? I know you’re not human. Not like me anyway.”
Pea gave him that same questioning look again, only with a larger curled brow and a vacant look in his eyes. “Heavens no boy. I’m not human, thankfully. I’m an Erdluitle, one of the Littlekind. Are there no Littlekind where you are from?”
“Only little humans.”
“Then you are from a very sad and ill fortuned place. Now,” Pea pulled his suitcase over and opened it to display an arrangement of clothes and strange little items that grabbed James’ interest immediately. “You are obviously in need of a guide. For a small fee I will be by your side to aid you in whatever cultural misunderstandings might so happen to fall into your lap. And, if you desire, I can sing.”
“I haven’t any money.” James let his eyes drop away from Pea who stared aghast.
“What terrible place could you have come from where there are no Littlekind and the concept of money doesn’t exist?” Pea put his hands on his hips.
“I was in a hurry.”
“A lot of good that will do you out here in the Farthland.”
James blinked.
Pea threw his arms up in the air. “Were you born with eggs in your skull? You act like this is a whole other world to you.”
“It is.”
“Anything and everything you can see from the top of that mountain,” he pointed to the tallest mountain in the ridge behind James, “to the Firing Rim in the North is part of the Farthland.” He grinned and James smiled back. “That’s quite a lot of land, which begs the question of where you come from. There are Littlekind in every place within the Farthland, and it would surely take any normal traveler months to cross the furthest lengths outside this valley. And,” he indicated the cloth on James’ arm, “you have a crimson Fearl. Very much the handy work of a Farthland spellbinder. So, my dear boy, where do you come from?”
James averted his eyes from Pea’s gaze. He couldn’t look into them. The little green embers were asking too much.
“They won’t let you into Arlin City with silence.”
He thought about that. It hadn’t occurred to him what he would even say to the people of the city—Arlin City as Pea called it. And he couldn’t simply make something up; he knew nothing of Angtholand—its cities, people, creatures, terrain, or countries—none of it. Now, more than ever, he regretted being so rash to plunge into this world unprepared. The council, it occurred to him, might have had something stowed away he could have used. At some point, he remembered his mother saying the people of Woodton were on good terms with the people of Angtholand, whatever that meant. So, as James stood there thinking all this over he came to a decision.
“Pea, if I tell you where I am from you have to promise me something.”
“Yes. You have to promise not to laugh and not to think I’m a lunatic.”
“Well it’s a little too late on the latter part. But I promise.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m not from the Farthland. I’m not even from Angtholand.”
“I surely hope you’re not from that dreadful place.”
“I come from another world.”
Pea looked at him and began to turn red in the face. James thought he could pop at any moment and took a step back. Then Pea burst into raucous laughter, keeling over onto the ground and rolling about like a dog. James glared and at the same time felt his Fearl quiver, reacting to both his emotion and to the crippling laughter of the Erdluitle.
“Stop. You promised.”
“I-I-I,” and Pea burst into laughter again, drenching his clothing in dirt and bits of gold grass.
James stood there for a time and contemplated walking away from the scene and continuing on to the city. This is what I get for being honest. He wondered if he would get the same treatment from other humans, or even other non-humans like Pea. That would only complicate matters more than they already were; he knew that. I can’t do this on my own. I need help.
Pea’s laughter became a violent wheeze as the little man desperately gasped for air. James didn’t quite understand why his predicament, at least the bit that he had told Pea, was so funny. He hadn’t laughed when Pea appeared from the brush, though such a being as Pea would have sparked worldwide interest on a variety of daytime talk shows.
The laughter started to get to him and he could sense the anger welling up. The Fearl throbbed too, sending a little tingly feeling down his arm. He imagined lifting Pea by his little feet and shaking him until he stopped. Pea would stop then.
And then, as if on queue, the Fearl lit up and an invisible force lifted a surprised Pea up from his feet and began shaking him gently up and down. Pea cried out as his top hat fell to the earth and struggled at the energy that grasped his ankles. His robe slid up over his face and James snickered.
“Let me go!”
“I don’t know how. I don’t even know how this is happening.”
“Put me down now!”
James tried imagining again. An image of Pea slipping out of his shoes and landing hard on the ground came into his head, and, just as the energy had abided by his thought before, it dropped Pea flat on his back, shoes suspended a few feet from the ground. Something orange and pink flew into to view, and just as quickly disappeared.
James looked down and in the same instant welled up and laughed uncontrollably. Rather than normal looking feet Pea had two scaly goosefeet. He couldn’t help but laugh.
Pea, however, did not find it funny, getting up from the ground angrily, snatching his shoes from the air and putting them on. Then he glared at James who now began to buckle over as if a violent spasm attacked his innards.
“You had no right!”
“I-I-I,” James said, mimicking Pea.
“It’s improper etiquette to use magic on a friend, especially when a disfigurement is involved.”
James tried to stifle the laughter so he could speak, but couldn’t. Then something slapped James in the mouth and before he could cry out his lips closed tight. He clawed them, frantic. Nothing; they wouldn’t budge, as if they were glued together.
“There, that should keep you quiet for a moment. Listen boy,” Pea’s voice rose angrily, “you can’t just use magic like that. It’s not right. I don’t know where you came from, but that’s one lesson you’ll have to learn out here in the Farthland.”
James mumbled something, realized he couldn’t talk, and dropped his shoulders angrily. Pea only looked at him, then brushed himself off before locating his hat and putting it on his head.
“There’s a law among my people. It says that should anyone see the feet of an Erdluitle, everything within that persons’ power should be done to keep it a secret. You, boy, have seen this and I now have to convince you not to spread such things about my people among your own kind. What say you?”
The bonds released from his lips and he coughed a moment before looking at Pea with a hint of anger, measured by the slight curl in his brow.
“I came here to find my friend. Help me find her and your secret is safe.”
Pea looked down for a brief moment and said, “I think I can manage that.”
“You can also believe me when I say I am from another world.”
“Well that I think would require the talents of a Healer. Arlin City has some of the best healers in all of the Farthland.”
“And if they told you I was not from this world you would believe them?”
Pea nodded. “Or they’d confirm that you are insane.”
“Then you will be my guide.”
“Then, onward to Arlin City dear boy. You’ll be so kind as to carry my things won’t you?” Pea leapt up, turned, and began to stride like a nobleman—long, dramatically stiff steps with his hands clasped behind his back.
James followed, murmured to himself as he closed and lifted Pea’s suitcase, swung his own bag over his shoulder, and set off, taking smaller steps so as not to step on Pea or get too far ahead. Arlin City was only a mile away and already he could see many more figures—human and otherwise—walking on the walls, through the massive gates, in the city itself, and on the walkways surrounding the two great towers. The city seemed golden, though James figured it had something to do with the way the sun reflected off of the grass or off of something within the city.
Then he thought about Pea. He would make a good ally. Even a friend. I need that more than anything here. He knows the land and its people.
At Pea’s pace, the remaining walk to Arlin City didn’t take much time. James hardly noticed until they had walked far enough where the tall stonewalls began to hinder the falling sun. The mountains behind Arlin City also dimmed the last bits of light that the sun had to offer; night was only a few hours away.
The gates were even more magnificent for James could now make out the details in the wood. Around the edges were two serpents—scaly and detailed in every inch—that began with their tails curved in such a way that if the gates were completely closed they would have wound into each other and met at the tips. Their bodies curved around the left and right side, curling in winding circles to the top where two spiked heads touched the edges of the gates giving James the image of two dragons locked in a reptilian kiss, pointed teeth visible just beneath their lips. In the center, lined up in the shape of a ‘+’, were five symbols. James recognized St. Brendan’s Cross immediately in the center—the same symbol on his Fearl. The detail carved into the wood gave the design a perfectly three-d look, as it seemed to literally hover along the edge of the gates. The other designs—a triquetra, a solar cross, an elaborate, intertwining shield knot, and an image he recognized as the world tree, a series of vines and flowers that grew out of two horn shaped objects—surrounded the center design perfectly. He marveled at their size. He could imagine that it had taken months to carve the gates, if not more. They would have had to be carved upright to prevent any damage when lifting the giant slabs of wood into the gateway. The scaffolding needed reminded him of how Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel.
Two guards occupied a space on both sides of the open gate. They wore bright silver suits of armor marked with St. Brendan’s Cross on their breastplates, long golden capes attached to the inside of their pauldrons, and helmets adorned with the design of a set of closed dragons wings sliding back into points on the top and reptilian, clawed feet that nestled against their jaws. They were armed with long white wood spears.
Pea turned back towards him. “Just follow my lead and there won’t be any trouble.”
He nodded and followed.
Pea raised his arms up in greeting. “Good evening gentlemen.”
One of the guards perked up and said, “Pantifilus, it’s been a while.” The other guard remained stiff and uninterested.
“Indeed it has. Several months now I think. I was wandering the northern plains looking for pixies.”
“Not that old yarn again.”
“It brings in good money when you can find them. How is Helena?”
“Quite well thanks. She’ll be due any day now.”
“Ah, excellent. Please tell me when so I can be there to congratulate you. I’ll bring some of the wine of my people.”
The guard laughed, deep and powerful. “I’ll be sure to do that. What is your business here this evening?”
“Supplies mostly. And my friend James here is in need of a Healer. Seems he hit his head quite hard. Found him out in the bush some ways out. He has some silly delusions.”
“Where is he from?”
Pea shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure at the moment. He can’t remember. Hence why we need a Healer.”
“Okay. I’ll let it go this time Pea only because you’re a dear friend. I trust your judgment and if you say he is no danger, then I will believe you.”
“He’s no danger.”
The guard nodded, but the other guard suddenly caught on to the conversation and made to protest before being silenced by a loud, “Shh.”
“Thank you.”
With that, Pea led James through the gates. James looked up at the guards as he passed them; the guard that had talked with Pea smiled at him and nodded, but the other only glared and shook his head.
The inside of Arlin City looked even more surprising than it had from the outside. Once through the gates, he found that he stood in a massive courtyard full of stone benches, a fountain of winding twisting dragons and men spitting water, and a cobblestone walkway that created a simplistic Celtic weave that he could barely make out because of its massive size. Three roads—one to the left, one straight down the center, and one to the right—met with the cobblestone walkway leading to what looked like a residential area, a series of shops and street carts, and another residential area, respectively.
The city was bustling with people of all shapes and sizes. There were humans, other Littlekind like Pea, and dozens of other creatures he had only heard of in stories—elves, goblins, and the like.
As Pea guided him down the center, James noticed a feathered creature perched on a stone slab overlooking all the people running about. It had two massive golden-feathered wings, a body and swishing tail like a cat, and four impressive clawed paws. He expected there to be a catlike face too, but there, with round and yellow eyes, was a big black and orange streaked beak. Two pointy, feathered ears ran smoothly along its head. A gryphon, he thought. James stopped following Pea. He couldn’t help it. He had to see it up close.
He walked closer to the gryphon; it looked back at him. The eyes demanded respect. He wanted to touch it, feel the feathers running between his fingers and the soft lions fur against his skin. A few steps farther and he stood ten feet away, he looking at it and it looking at him. They watched each other like two curious creatures.
Then the gryphon screeched and reared back, crying something awful at James. James stumbled a few steps. The gryphon came closer. It jumped up and down and slashed its claws in the air. Fear crept into James for the first time since he had dropped into this world.
Pea suddenly appeared in front of him and the gryphon took a step back and eyed the little man. Pea bowed his head.
“Please, sir, he meant no harm. He’s insane. He meant no disrespect.”
The gryphon seemed to contemplate that for a moment as its gaze went from Pea to James and back again.
Then the gryphon spoke in a deep, roaring voice. “Next time I will gladly tear out his throat.” And with that the gryphon leapt back onto the stone slab.
Pea turned to James and shooed him back before saying, “boy, I have no doubt now that you have completely lost all common sense. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever,” as Pea repeated this he shook his head and waved his hands, “ever, ever, ever look a gryphon in the eye and challenge him to a staring contest. That is the easiest way to get killed. There are only two occasions when you can look a gryphon in the eye. One is when a gryphon has taken you as a friend and it is publicly announced, and two if you are its mother. I recommend avoiding them altogether. It doesn’t involve having your innards strewn across the landscape. Now come on.” Pea slapped him in the arm and started walking again.
James followed Pea through the center street. All manner of shops littered the left and right side—magic shops, trinket and candy shops, inns and pubs, blacksmiths, restaurants, and even a post office, or at least that was the best thing James could call it. In the road, set up on blankets or little two wheeled wooden carts were people attempting to sell anything and everything they could, yelling out deals here and there; most of the items were shiny, but only one such dealer caught his attention. In a corner, slightly covered in shadow, sat a tiny, wrinkly old man with stark white hair protruding from practically every part of his face. Something about the man interested him.
Before long Pea had led him out of the long road of shops and on into a small courtyard similar to the one at the entrance. The Celtic weave here only wound in on itself three times creating a three-pointed wave of lines—a triskele. The road diverted into two different directions from the main path, but Pea took neither.
“This way my boy,” Pea said, happier now than before.
Pea guided him to a small cottage, one of the many that ran along the edge of the courtyard, and opened the door. James read the sign that hung over the door: Triska, Healer Extraordinaire. Then he too stepped into the cottage and sniffed the gentle aroma of cinnamon and cocoa.

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1 comment:

  1. Boy blogger is really acting up tonight. It took me forever to get the comments to come up. ANd then after I typed in my comment, it forced me to log into my google account and ersaed it! ArrrrrrgH!

    Anyway I really liked this chapter. I like PEA as a character and I breathed a sigh of relief when he agreed to be James's guide.

    And that was the other thing about this chapter. James was in another place and it was alien to him. Even the things we take for granted in simple interaction are completely changed and dangerously so. That thing on his arm has a name now, a Ferl. Appropriate. I like the layout of the city so far. I can't wait to hear what the healer has to say.

    As far as setting up a "Fold" for your posts, Blogger does not do that. Not even beta. I use a third party idea which requires making a change to the template and then adding tags to any post you want it to work with. In effect it hides the text between the tags only on the main blog page but displays all the text on the item and archive pages giving the illusion of a fold.

    I got it at basil's blog and if you are interested in using it I will be gald to send you the code.