It had taken Leaf all of two seconds to spot Temy outside the back door, shifting from dirty bare foot, to dirtier bare foot.
Leaf hefted the basket onto her hip and eyed those feet disapprovingly. He looked more than anxious to be going, eager to avoid another tongue-lashing from Nora. She herself wasn’t too keen on another episode. Smiling companionably, she motioned him to follow and started down the walk to the gardens.
“Weren’t you given any shoes, Temy?” she asked conversationally as they walked. In response, the boy’s cheeks flushed and he stumbled as he walked, apparently uneasy.
“Truth is, Miss, they weren’ very comfor’able. I never had any shoos before.” He stared at the ground in abashment. Leaf sighed inwardly. She couldn’t blame the little guy. Five-year olds were hardly old enough to be taking good care of themselves. She amended her opinion when those large serious eyes looked up and found hers. This ‘little guy’ had clearly been through too much too young. Eyes like that didn’t belong on any child.
Temy had probably been taking care of himself from the second he learned to walk. She dropped her eyes first, not wanting him to see the pity there. Nora had told her once that pity could break down even the hardest walls, and that sometimes people needed those walls to survive. She wasn’t sure she understood exactly, but she would rather not test the strength of a boy with such serious eyes.
Making her voice light, she spoke, “Well, we’ve a long way to walk. Now is as good a time as any to break them in.” She quirked an eyebrow at him as he sighed. “Any ideas as to where they’ve gotten to?”
He smiled sheepishly. “I might could find them under the garbage pile. I din’ think no one would look there,” he added.
She tisked him with exasperation. “Well, you’re probably right. The smell is enough to keep most sane people away.” She moderated her tone when she saw him flinch. The boy did find ways to make trouble for himself! “Oh well. You might smell bad for awhile, but better that than Nora or Maron find you’ve managed to lose your new shoes so fast.” This time she shared his grimace. She had a feeling she’d be held at least partially responsible for that.
They reached the shed just as Jonah was coming out of it. His gloves were tucked behind his belt and he carried some pruning shears in one hand. He smiled cheerfully when he saw them.
“Well hello to the both of you.” He eyed the very large picnic basket Leaf was still balancing awkwardly on one hip. “Ah yes. Today’s the orphan’s luncheon, is it not?” At their simultaneous nods he went on. “I had something of my own for you to bring them, if you’ll give me but a moment.”
He ducked back inside the tool shed while the two children looked on curiously. Leaf glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen door and shifted from foot to foot; she was anxious to be gone. When he re-emerged, he carried a long oddly-shaped sack and handed it to Temy, who took it uncertainly.
Apparently it didn’t weigh too much; he was able to toss it over one shoulder like it was nothing. They both looked up at the tall gardener questioningly. He lifted his hands, “Now now, it’s a surprise you two. Just you don’t go snooping before you arrive there good and proper.” He turned to Temy.
“You make sure you give that to Misses Jenna straight-away, understand? She’ll know what to do with it. She requested me to find one for her last year, but they’re not native to this area so it was hard to come by.” At their bewildered looks, he added, “Just you tell her everything’s been taken care of and all it needs is a good resting place. Do you got that?” Leaf reassured him they did when Temy just continued to peer in puzzlement at the sack over his shoulder.
“Right then, shall we be going?” Leaf waited till Jonah was out of earshot before adding. “I believe you still need to secure your shoes from where you last deposited them?” She gave a meaningful nod in the direction the gardener went. Her look told him to hurry it up before they got caught.
Temy jerked a nod and took three hurried steps toward the back of the shed before he remembered to turn around and lay the mysterious sack down carefully. He tiptoed the last few steps to the refuse heap, as if making a sound would bring Nora running from her kitchens to catch him. At this point, Leaf wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
On the far side of the perfumed, decomposing mass he knelt down, temporarily out of sight. He stood a moment later and came back around to where his sack lay, squelching unpleasantly with every step and looking decidedly ill. Apparently he’d buried them in mud. Leaf noted the particularly forlorn expression marking his features and nodded with grim satisfaction. Serves him right, she thought, burying shoes indeed!
He picked up his sack gingerly and squished over to stand beside her. Her nose wrinkled. It was unfortunate she would be walking beside him the whole way. It would take a good hour to get there once they reached the main road. What were the chances that the wagon was laid up with two broken wheels today? Misfortune just wasn’t in it! Too bad they wouldn’t spare any horses for two whelps such as themselves. Leaf would’ve been glad to even borrow Maybell the Miserable, Ganolly’s stubbornest member. She grunted to herself, remembering how she’d often been unflatteringly compared to the aged donkey.
Their gloomy sighs were exact echoes of each other, causing them to laugh a little.
“Alright already, let’s go. Maybe by the time we get there the road dust will have worn off some of the smell.” At his doubtful frown she added, “We can always hope.” With a final heave of her basket, she strode purposefully forward onto the hard-packed dirt road. She glanced back to see Temy following behind gingerly, disagreeable smell and all.
Geram had never thought time could move more slowly. What was it about being kept from your interests that made a day feel as though it crawled through thick mud? It’s not that he wasn’t excited about the picnic; in truth, he usually looked forward to these things. Not that he ever expected to be adopted, no he was too old for that; rather he looked forward to the news the people brought with them.
The city of Ganolly wasn’t any more exciting than the next city in many regards; but it did tend to bring more news from abroad due to it being the “Gate City” to the capital of Fera.
No, the reason for Geram’s impatience was hidden upstairs in an overturned bucket under his bed. He wondered briefly if it was hungry again.
“Geram?” Jenna called sweetly from across the large yard. “Are you finished with that table yet? I need you to help Annalee with the plates.”
Geram sighed, pushing his dark hair behind his ears fruitlessly. What was it about the unassuming old woman that made her so compelling? She was very kind to the underage leftovers of Ganolly, and impossible to say no to. Well, his new little friend upstairs would just have to wait to be fed again. According to his observations, these creatures usually slept during the day anyway.
He went to find young Annalee in the old church house that was his home.
He didn’t have to look far; she was in the kitchens, trying to use a variety of objects as a makeshift ladder to reach the plate cupboard. Judging by the way it rattled as she touched it, he seriously doubted the stability of her efforts. “Hang on, Anna! Please just let me help you with that before you break your scrawny neck!”
The little girl’s curly pigtails bobbed erratically as she shook her head at him in serious consternation. “Oh Geram! Shame on you!” Geram barely contained the forming laughter but couldn’t stop the grin spreading across his face at the adorable imitation of Jenna. He couldn’t help having a soft spot for this little twerp… dimples and all.
When Annalee saw him grin she tried to look sterner, but rather ruined it when she started giggling. “Alwight!” she said as she jumped off the first “step” of her ladder; which in this case happened to be an overturned bowl that usually had flowers in it. Noticing the smooshed lumps of color on the floor around her, he mentally corrected himself. The bowl had still had flowers in it when she started.
“Alright, little miss Anna Rabbit. Why don’t you go help Jenna with something else? I’ll clean this up and get the plates myself.”
She looked up at him with serious, brown eyes and shook her head firmly. “Uh uh. Jenna said I have to bwing the pwates!” the source of her nickname bobbed erratically as she bounced on her toes impatiently.
Geram heaved a dramatic put-upon sigh and knelt down, waiting. Annalee squealed with delight and jumped on his back, as was their usual game. Geram coughed as he stood, gently pushing her stranglehold down to a more comfortable position… also as usual. This was really the only way they got things done together. Geram carried her around on his back while he did the work, and Rabbit-ears felt like she was helping. It was a win-win situation.
Now, more than ever, he was eager to be done as quickly as possible so he could check on his small charge upstairs. He did an iffy job on cleaning up Annalee’s “ladder”, but he did get the plates as he was asked. Catching a glimpse of the sweets sticking out from under the white towel on the large counter, he set the plates down temporarily on the table and walked over to investigate.
He hesitated. “Anna Rabbit? Would you tell Jenna if…?”
She shook her pigtails emphatically. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell!” It was then he noticed two sticky spots void of candy on the sheet. He grinned and snatched up several himself. Geram used a spare soft-cloth to wrap his candy in, and stashed them in his inner tunic pocket. He whispered thanks to Orethyn and handed one more candy over his shoulder to Annalee who gobbled it gleefully. He’d given his last sweet to his new friend that morning, and didn’t know what else the creature might eat…
With further incentive to hurry, he grabbed up the plates and jogged out.
By the time the old converted church house came into sight on the other side of one last gleaming field of gold wheat, the two children were a little worse for wear. As it turned out, there’d only been a little dust. The rain fell often enough during the summer that it kept the worst of it at bay. After walking for an hour, however, there was just enough accumulated in the air to have settled on their exposed skin and melt with the perspiration found there. As a result, it was hard to decide who looked dirtier. Perhaps it would have been a tie, except that if the eye traveled down to take in the children’s footwear, you’d agree that the boy’s shoes looked inescapably bedraggled. And if one were to sniff slightly, perhaps within a certain vicinity of the boy, you might catch the hint of something decidedly unpleasant, though faint. Turns out, the walk had worn off most of the initial smell, thank goodness for small favors.
Leaf allowed herself a small sigh of relief as she raised a hand over her eyes to shield them from the sun. She peered toward the building, just able to make out the steeple sticking out above the tree line. It looked like some strange bird nesting in a green cloud.
She glanced at Temy from the corner of her eye as she heaved the cumbersome basket back onto her hip and winced. When Leaf took her bath that evening, there was little doubt as to what she would find there. The established makings of what promised to be a fine bruise where the spiteful burden had chafed the long walk here. At least it would be empty for the walk back. Leaf stifled a groan at the thought of the return trip and nearly gasped as she stumbled over a half-buried rock in the road.
The hateful thing! She thought to herself as pain spasmed from her side. Temy trudged on without complaint. The boy seemed to be made of sterner stuff than she. Leaf tried to tell herself that it was just the added weight of the thrice-cursed basket, but gave it up as a bad job. She admired the five year-old’s stamina, and again tried not to think about what he must’ve been through to have acquired such a solemn temperament so young.
Leaf had been invited to the orphanage a couple of years ago, when they’d gone to pick up the orphan Amelia. It had been the day she stumbled onto the passage that led from behind a suit of armor near her room, all the way to the library. Now that had been a thrilling discovery! Especially given her disposition towards books of any nature. The athenaeum had always been a special place for her.
The discovery had been a complete accident of course, though a fortuitous one. What were the chances she’d turn that bauble on the planetary model three times to the left? When the otherwise blank and small section of wall sunk in and disappeared to reveal a narrow stair, it was the difference of an ant's eyelash as to whether she was more startled or excited. She had followed it all the way to the armor hall, which ended in the hall to her rooms a scant half-dozen feet from her door.
Maria, one of the many maids in the employ of her aunt and uncle had been sent to find her for the trip. Leaf found the maid backing out of her room with a bewildered expression. The woman had then turned to find the object of her search standing right behind her, where there’d been no one a moment before! Her eyes had widened when they took in the dust and cobwebs draping Leaf’s hair like some corpse’s parody of a lady’s coif. Eyes starting out of her head, the woman had nearly fainted.
Leaf smiled to herself at the memory as she wiped a drop of sweat off her brow. She’d gotten quite a tongue-lashing from Maron once Maria had finally roused herself enough to grab her charge and bring her before the chief steward. Maron had definitely not been amused. She interrogated Leaf about her explorations, following with a lecture on how dangerous old castles could be; those hidden tunnels were to be considered extremely unsafe, old as they were.
Well, anyway, she hadn’t been forbidden to explore them. She just had to be extra careful, that’s all. It’s not like anyone needed to know… they’d probably find the whole situation terribly boring, and she didn’t want to bother anyone about it.
Leaf and her quiet new friend came to a meandering path off the road and started down it. Temy seemed confident of the way so she followed his lead. As they approached the church house through the trees, Leaf’s jaw dropped. There was a servant’s son who visited Ganolly Castle periodically. On one of those occasions he’d told Leaf dreadful things about the orphanage, and all of her opinions had been based on that one gruesome description. She closed her mouth with an audible snap. The next time she saw Japo Wacabee she resolved to punch him on the nose. Little weasel! Pulling my leg- like I didn’t know any better than to listen to that rapscallion! He’s probably never even been here!
The reality made a complete mockery of the wretched boy’s story. It was as if she had walked into Heaven itself. The trees surrounding the orphanage wore apples like beaded jewelry, perfuming the air with a tantalizing scent. A small brook burbled cheerfully along it merry way, its shallow crystalline depths seeming to sharpen the delicious smells of the surrounding vibrant vegetation. There was a conglomerate of wildflowers everywhere she looked, mesmerizing the viewer with their medley of colors and patterns. It was simply… wonderful.
She probably looked quite contradictory, her eyes fierce as she grumbled about giving Japo a piece of her mind, versus the smile that was trying to split her face in two. Taking a closer look at the old church house, she nodded with approval at the profusion of ivy climbing the walls.
Despite the fury she felt at having her leg pulled by a nitwit, she craned her neck trying to look behind the church- looking for the cemetery that was supposedly nearby. Failing to see what she was searching for she turned, expecting to see Temy beside her… but he wasn’t there. Leaf looked around to find him standing stock-still a ways back, staring at something she could not see, and trembling.
Leaf was instantly on guard, dropping her basket as she jumped to his side looking everywhere at once with her fists raised in front of her face, just the way Jonah had shown her. Slowly she lowered her fists. There was nothing there. She strained her ears, but all she heard was the bubbling brook, and a big bee buzzing happily along a nearby flower patch. She looked at Temy closely. His eyes were still as wide as they would go, and there was a faint sheen of sweat leaving tiny clear trails on his dirty face.
What was wrong with the boy? She took her time looking around more slowly, trying to catch what she might be missing. There was the little brook, gurgling quietly, nothing wrong there. A bird sang snatches of cheery song somewhere above them, before flying to a tree farther away. The bee hung lazily in the air for a minute before moving to a flower closer to their feet. Leaf’s eyes jerked back to Temy’s face as he stiffened like a board beside her. The bee!
This time she could see his eyes locked on to the bee, seemingly unable to break away. For a second, as the bee drew nearer, she thought Temy’s eyes looked a little odd- almost as if they had changed shape for a moment- but it happened so fast she was certain it had been a trick of the dappled light. Slowly, she reached out and touched Temy’s arm.
“Temy?” she found herself speaking in a whisper for some reason.
A small transformation seemed to come over him as the bee suddenly flew away and out of sight. His little body went limp, and his eyes appeared to glaze over as he sighed quietly.
“Temy?” she asked again, a little louder this time.
He shook himself as he looked up at her in surprise. “Huh?” His eyes seemed to come into focus. “What? Oh.” Temy looked around, saw Leaf’s basket dropped heedlessly on its side and then his eyes came back to her, alarmed.
“Are you okay, Leaf?” he looked at her nervously.
Leaf’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and he took an involuntary step back. “Are you trying to play some sort of prank on me? Well if you are, it’s not funny! You scared me half to death standing there staring at nothing like that! I half-thought the ghost of Sir Gheckel was going to leap out and rip my arms from their sockets! What do you mean causing me such a fright like that?!”
She realized she was shouting and cut off abruptly at the strange look Temy was giving her. Had his eyes changed? No, just a trick of the …sunlight? Leaf took a second to calm down, giving herself an excuse to study the young boy. He hung his head dejectedly now, and scuffed the toe of his shoe against a small rock till it came loose from its earthy bed. Her fatigue from the walk must be getting to her. Surely that was it, just the fatigue affecting them both. She shook her head and walked back to the overturned picnic basket, mumbling to herself.
With a deft and clever hand, Leaf was able to get it turned arights without losing any of its contents on the ground. With no small amount of self-pity, she hauled the dreadful thing back onto her hip and went to collect a silent Temy before walking on to the front doors of the church.
She left Temy waiting at the foot of the broad steps. Her hand was nearly to the door, ready to knock on the aged wood when she heard voices from somewhere behind the ivy-encrusted building. They must be set up out back. “Come on Temy, I think they’re around here.” He just shrugged and followed her as she made her way around the welcoming outer walls of the sanctuary. She winced in sympathy as he lifted the rough sack back over his shoulder, having spied a bright red rashy-looking welt before he covered it again with his lighter burden. He never complained once. Leaf gritted her teeth to stop her own complaints, she would not do it first, she wouldn’t!
As the two rounded the last corner, the backyard came into view.
Curse that dimwitted Japo! Instead of seeing a cemetery, what met her eyes was much of the same beauty she’d seen out front, only a lot busier. There were lots more people than she’d expected- all to the good. She became fully conscience of her burden, hefting it experimentally. Guess it was a good thing the burdensome basket carried so much food. As it was, she rather doubted there’d be enough for everyone.
Finally Leaf’s nose caught hold of the titillating scent she’d been smelling, but not paying attention to. It was the spicy-sweet aroma of baked apple-pie mingled with an assortment of smells her delicate nose could not quite distinguish separately. The over-all affect however, was of pure heaven. Her mouth spontaneously began to water. One glance at Temy confirmed that the lad was sharing her sentiments.
A lovely, smiling faced woman was kneeling before a girl of about four. The girl’s tear-stained cheeks bore testament to what the older woman was surely studying on her small, out-stretched leg; one small hand balanced on the woman’s shoulder. With deft and clever hands, the matron plucked a small yellow flower from the grass beside her and brushed it across the girl’s knee. The girl seemed to be instantly pacified, even adding a smile and a giggle when the woman reached up with the flower and tickled under the girl’s chin; her curly pigtails bounced as she laughed.
Leaf and Temy approached hesitantly as the lady sent the happy girl off with a playful swat to her bottom. She rose up gracefully, watching them approach as she brushed her dress off with serene dignity. Leaf was a little intimidated by the sheer force of serenity coming off the older woman; but the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth were comforting to her sudden shyness.
When the rosy-cheeked woman smiled at them, Leaf imagined she could feel every flower in the vicinity growing straighter and leaning in to catch the rays of that magical beaming face. Leaf found herself answering that smile with one of her own; she turned and caught a glimpse of Temy’s own smile before she was engulfed in the soft billows of a sky-blue robe. The lady embraced them both with a sudden warm and unexpected hug before stepping back. The thick, silver braid now hanging over her shoulder reached nearly to her waist.
“Misses Jenna?” Leaf asked shyly. The woman beamed at her.
Clapping her hands once in delight she said, “You know my name! However gratified I am, that title makes me feel quite old. Please, call me Jenna. And I might hazard a guess at who you are; you certainly meet the description of a very lively little girl I heard tell of.”
Leaf winced slightly at the words “little girl”, but responded politely.
“Yes, Mis… Jenna. My name is Leaf of Ganolly.” She nodded toward Temy, who had grown quiet again. “I came with Temy to bring this food for the orphan’s luncheon today.” She emphasized her statement with a hearty pat to the over-burdened basket.
The older woman nodded with a serene smile. “And surely we thank you and Madam Nora very much, Lady Leaf of Ganolly. I can see it was a very long journey.” That said with a beady eye on their dirty faces and overall bedragglement. She turned to Temy. “Ah Temathy, we’ve all missed you. How do you like it at Ganolly Castle?”
Temy shrugged shyly. “It’s okay, Jenna. Leaf has been very nice to me.”
Leaf blushed as Jenna’s pleased gaze came back to her. “He’s a good lad… Jenna. We’ve all been very glad for his help at Ganolly.” Temy gave her one of his fleeting smiles before dropping his gaze to his feet once again. Leaf just couldn’t understand it. If she’d been raised in a place like this, with such a kind and charismatic woman— well, she certainly wouldn’t have such a standoffish, almost wounded, behavior. This place positively glowed with a sense of peace and healing. What could have made him so serious and quiet? She tucked the disturbing thought away to wonder at later.
Jenna pointed to an empty wooden table nearby. “If you could please just place that over there we’d be most grateful, Leaf.” She then stopped a sturdy and handsome boy as he was running by. He certainly had pretty eyes, Leaf noticed immediately.
“Geram, wait a moment. Would you please help this young lady with her burden? And see to it she gets a clean cloth to take to the brook so she can wash up after her long trip.”
Geram sighed, but caught himself when Jenna simply looked at him. That’s it- just looked.
Why can’t I make use of that trick? It would certainly come in handy betimes…
Geram hurried to take the basket from Leaf and straightened with surprise. Apparently he hadn’t expected it to be quite so heavy. He looked at Leaf for the first time, and nodded respectfully before turning away with the food. He transported it easily, Leaf noticed admiringly.
He carried the basket with one hand, barely even tilting to the side to compensate for balance. Strong lad. And tall, she noted with a little bit of envy. Of course he’s tall.
After setting his burden on the appointed table he turned back to Leaf and mumbled something about please following him. With one backward glance at Temy and Jenna, who had their heads together, Leaf followed him to the back door of the church. Just one step ahead, Geram opened the door and stood to the side waiting for her to step through. He tried to tuck his brown hair behind an ear, though it fell right back into his face. His expression told her he was doing his best to please Jenna, but it was apparent he was eager to get back to his previous activities. He saw her looking at him and blushed as he turned his eyes away and waited, only squirming a little.
“Thank you”, she said with emphasized serenity as she passed the threshold trying her best to emulate Misses Jenna. She then got her first glimpse into the orphanage. Her first overall impression was that of warm, golden peace. Geram followed her in, closing the door behind him. He ducked his head awkwardly while trying to slip past her in the narrow entry hall; there was a spot of difficulty as he was trying both to hurry and not touch her at the same time. Leaf just sighed inwardly and rolled her eyes as she turned to take in the rest of the place where the short hall ended.
There were a great many tall, elegant windows, each letting in the soft amber light of the sun, making the wooden floors and rafters turn a rich golden brown. Leaf took a fancy to the contrast between the amber wood and the pale, glowing stone. White columns were spaced evenly along its length, and there were several tables placed around the chamber; Leaf was certain there were once pews filling this room. Now, it stood open and empty but for the sparkling motes of dust shimmering in the streaming sunlight that settled gracefully onto the wooden tables.
She closed her eyes for a minute, taking a deep breath. This place felt… good. She could still “see” the glow of the scintillating sunlight through her lids, and in her minds’ eye she saw the vivid green of the climbing ivy encompassing the outer stone walls. A brief flight of fancy had her convinced that she could actually feel the ivy growing; tendrils reaching ever outward and upward, leaves turned and open to the life-giving sun, and far below beneath the earth, her roots buried deep into the soft, nurturing soil.
Taking one last breath, Leaf let it out as she opened her eyes, startled to find a rich green-brown gaze staring back at her. It took every last ounce of willpower not to jump a foot in the air.
Geram stood, hand half-raised and holding a clean hand towel, looking at her as if she’d sprouted bark for skin and leaves out of her ears. He cleared his throat.
“Um. Are you…?” He looked down through the curtain of satiny dark-brown hair and cleared his throat again. “Will you please follow me? The brook is right out front.”
Leaf glared at him even if he wasn’t looking anymore. As if she hadn’t just seen the brook perfectly well herself when she came walking around from the road! Leaf sniffed loudly and snatched the towel out of his loose grasp. The insufferable young man just turned away and walked quickly to the front door, which he didn’t bother to hold for her this time, and practically ran out. She scowled at his back in disapproval for all the good it did.
Following behind at a respectable pace, she watched as Geram stopped, pointing to the brook a few feet away; he then proceeded to take off around back before she could say another word.
Boys! Did he really think she was blind? She wondered if he needed wet britches to know there was water. Letting out a sigh of exasperation, Leaf knelt with the cloth and gratefully began to wash away the travel dust.
As she was pulling the damp rag away from her face the last time, she paused to study a large bumblebee droning happily above some flowers across the brook. Narrowing her eyes, she noticed a strange shimmering purple dust along the bee’s underside. How odd, she thought.
Finally, as the bee disappeared out of sight, Leaf realized she’d been kneeling there for some time, rag still halfway to her lap. Shaking her head as if to clear it of some spell, she folded the cloth carefully and stood slowly to her feet. There were times when she’d get these strange pulsing feelings, like unseen silk flowing over her skin. This was one of them. Indeed it’d been awhile since she’d felt this so many times in one day.
While she waited for the blood to return to her legs, Leaf leaned back thoughtfully alongside the trunk of a nearby apple tree, slipping unawares into another trance.
Geram was certain not to be spotted by the curious girl he was spying on, No, not spying, just observing quietly from a distance, he told himself. There was something decidedly odd
about the small redhead. Quite frankly there was no accounting for this urgent curiosity that had arisen inside him concerning her. What was she doing there leaning against that tree, anyway?
And why the odd display in the church? Geram caught his breath. He was sure he hadn’t imagined it this time. There! Just like in the chapel of the old abbey, the girl named Leaf was definitely glowing. Before, in the church, he had come back with a clean cloth for her and found her standing in the middle of the sun-enriched chapel; her eyes closed, arms lifted, and practically shimmering along with the dust-motes in the streaming light. Geram had been entranced in that moment, feeling something stir in his chest that he’d never felt before. All he knew was that he urgently needed to know more about this little Leaf of Ganolly.
…The girl who made the light dance.
Still deep in thought, Leaf draped the cloth over a low branch to dry and started back around the church, nearly running into Temy as he was making his own way to the brook.
He was practically dancing on his tiptoes. “Oh, there you are Leaf! Jenna wanted to talk to you.” He wiped a dirty sleeve across his dripping nose as he caught his breath. “Hey, Leaf! Guess what was in the bag Jonah gave me? A tree! Wanna know what kind? An orange tree!” He paused in his excitement to study her reaction. “Well, she wants to see you Leaf. I’m gonna go wash now.” With one last unexpected grin he skipped off to the brook.
Leaf stared after him, lost in thought. He sure looked uncharacteristically happy. Orange tree? Oranges were a rare treat in this part of the country. Oh! Jenna was waiting for her! She hurried around back and smiled at what she saw. All the children were milling in a small group. She watched curiously as the light-footed older woman gathered them in from play and arranged them quickly and neatly into one row.
The row started from the tallest of them, which happened to be Geram, to the shortest: the little blonde girl with pigtails who’d been crying earlier, now looking happy as could be. Geram gave her a strange look before pointedly avoiding eye contact, Leaf noticed with irritation. She moved to close the several-yard gap between herself and Jenna when they started to sing.
It made her stop in her tracks, shock registering on her face. They sang no recognizable words- only vocalized what sounded to be the very voice of nature herself. It was soft- and extremely compelling. The enchanting notes floated to her and her feet began to move of their own volition; she had to see what it was they were all gathered around.
Observing the children singing, Jenna became lost in memories for a moment.
Jenna taught every child The Song when they first came to her here at the orphanage. It was the song her mother had taught her when she was just tall enough to see over their table in the lovely city of Narndenae. There was something magickal about it, and she was no stranger to magick. Though in truth, her mother had died before passing on the mysterious song’s secrets to her only daughter. In adulthood, she had taken a journey to a forgotten land; a journey that would change everything for her forever. Jenna had discovered on her own how the song seemed to make everything come alive in some way. Even the very stones of the church seemed to hum when her children sang its sacred notes.
Coming back to the present, it was then Jenna finally took note of the redhead’s approach. She smiled an invitation to the girl, and noticed the strange reverie that seemed to have come over her as she knelt down nearby. Leaf’s eyes were distant, as if she could hear something else beyond the softly voices of the children. The older woman watched Leaf closely.
There was a familiar air about this redhead child that made her think of…well, life; and vibrantly so. She had heard some of the girl’s story when first Leaf arrived at Ganolly Castle as a small child. At the time she’d been confused as to why Leaf had gone straight there rather than being brought to her first, like all the orphaned children in the city of Ganolly were; not to mention the children from the outlying towns and villages. Jenna had always been a good friend to many of the staff at Ganolly Castle, and they were all more than happy to tell her what they knew of the strange tale. Which, sadly, wasn’t much.
Apparently the mysterious child arrived at the back step in the form of a carefully wrapped bundle in the arms of a wild-haired and weathered old man. He had stated immediately that he’d put her into an enchanted sleep “to protect her from them”; then the man promptly left her there with two of Jenna’s dearest friends, Nora and Maron, twin sisters.
And that, simply, was that. Both Nora and Maron had hemmed and hawed in the beginning whenever Jenna asked that the child be brought to her at the orphanage. They never gave a reason of any substance as to why they kept her there, or why they wouldn’t even let Jenna meet her. Their last rather curt reply had been to the effect of “She was brought to us, so she belongs to us… bugger-out Jenna! She stays!”
Jenna hadn’t wanted to cause contention with her dear friends, so she left it at that and never said a word concerning her thereafter; though it often nagged at her thoughts as to what the full story was. The moment she’d first seen Leaf today, the older woman had felt a curious connection.
Jenna observed closely as Leaf brought her wide-eyed gaze to the small orange tree they’d just planted.
Leaf felt dizzy. It was hard to think. At the moment she was certain that a hive of bees had taken up residence inside her skull.
Bees? Purple dust…? The thought vanished after a brief visit. For a moment she wondered if this was what it felt like to sleepwalk. It seemed the only thing keeping her body in a steady state was the purely subconscious memory of muscle-function.
Why was everyone looking at her?
The confusing, momentary thought disappeared. She thought she heard music… no, that’s not quite the right word for what she was hearing. Rather... it was something she felt. To the very marrow of her bones it hummed, and it sang in the blood that flowed through her veins. What is this? For a split second, clarity struck her like a gong and her vision was filled with an almost painful brilliance of light. She reached out to touch the Light, somehow knowing it was hers.
Abruptly the Light vanished and her hand sank into a black pit of darkness. All Leaf wanted to do was cry out in despair.
Opening her eyes disorientedly, her first thought was: Why were my eyes closed? Looking up, Leaf found herself kneeling in the dirt next to a young and fragrant tree. She could hear Jenna speaking to someone nearby and turned to look around.
The children were sitting around in the grass and up to the tables with a variety of strangers. All were eating what smelled to be Nora’s delicious cooking. Her tummy growled angrily at her for a whole minute before it subsided sulkily. Boy was she starving! Hunger overpowered her confusion for the moment and she decided all things must wait till she had some food!
The young tree next to her looked very wholesome and sturdy or she never would’ve used it to pull herself up. Now, where was that basket?! She stumbled jerkily at her first lurching step, and felt a strong arm come out of nowhere to catch her. Leaf looked up into a familiar set of pretty brownish-green eyes. The gruff voice she was expecting came out surprisingly tender.
“Watch your step.” Geram said quietly. Leaf steadied herself and gave him a small smile. She was surprised to find an answering quirk of his lips. Had she missed something?
“Thanks.” Was all she could manage. Her stomach growled again, so loudly it made his eyes widen and they both laughed. She asked hesitantly, “Could I… maybe get some food? Please?” He nodded with a grin and held out his arm for her. She gratefully grasped it with both hands as he led her over to an unoccupied table nearby and helped her to sit. Her legs just didn’t seem to be working properly for some strange reason.
Was she just imagining things or were people eyeing her as she walked past? Even from where she sat she could see them trying to get a look at her with varying degrees of stealth. Most of the looks seemed nothing more than innocent curiosity, but she was certain a few eyes were wary. She shrugged it off in her fixated need for food.
It probably hadn’t been more than one minute before Geram was back with a heaping plate of food to set in front of her, but it felt like an eternity! She murmured a hasty thanks before she set-to with a fierce gusto.
Jenna watched the young girl eat as if she’d never had a decent meal in her life. Where does it all go? She wondered absentmindedly as she fingered the thick graying braid resting on her shoulder. If one were to look very closely at this braid, they would still see some remnants of dark red glittering within. But like a spent fire, any still-burning embers were hidden beneath the ash. She sighed.
The old woman with young eyes was full of curiosity about the evenings’ events. Something more had clearly happened while her foster children were singing the life Song to the orange tree. But what? Obviously this red-headed child had some sort of connection to Manna-energy, though it was rare for someone so young to be aware of it. Jenna had the distinct impression that Leaf of Ganolly was completely unaware of what she was feeling, however. She wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if the girl became a mighty Scholar one day. And after what Jenna had witnessed earlier…
Well, Jenna would just have to be content to observe her growth from a distance. She had a feeling Leaf would have questions for her someday, and she’d be ready to tell her everything.
In a matter of minutes, Leaf’s plate was clean of everything edible and she barely even noticed when Geram quietly placed another in its place. She was now completely oblivious to the curious stares of the people around her, as well as to the soft murmurs of inaudible conversation.
She was half-way through her third plate before she realized there was someone patiently sitting across from her watching her eat. She slowed her fork, and set it down next to her plate.
“Jenna? But where’s Geram?” Leaf looked around anxiously for some reason, but the gentle, pretty-eyed boy was nowhere to be seen. She abruptly noticed how quiet it was and realized with sudden alarm that everyone was gone and the sun was already setting. Jenna just looked at her with a comforting and knowing smile. “They’ve all gone home, Leaf.”
“Oh. You mean the people? Did any of the children get adopted? I thought the picnic went very well, don’t you?”
Jenna’s smile deepened before suddenly vanishing with a sad sigh. “Even better, darling. They were all adopted.” Her eyes moistened, turning very sad and lonely.
“What? I mean… all of them? Even Geram?” For some reason Leaf felt a funny lump in her throat. “Is he already gone?”
Jenna gave her a sympathetic nod. “Yes, sweetie. Even Geram. Old Mr. Mcdonahue needed someone around to help him with his crops. He’s getting on in years and all his boys are gone- grown up with families of their own, now. His youngest just got married last summer, and last they heard he and his bride were quite busy trying to start a family.” Jenna winked and Leaf blushed. “Geram is a good lad, he was happy to help out.” Jenna gave her a searching look.
“How are you feeling Leaf?”
Leaf barely heard her. She was too busy trying to figure out what this strange pain in her heart was. Why should it bother her at all that Geram was adopted? That was good, right? She barely even knew his name. The only thing she could think about was how she never got to properly thank him or tell him goodbye. She sighed, and looked up abruptly.
“Can you please tell me what’s been happening? I’m feeling so… confused! Did something happen earlier? Did I fall asleep? My memory is incredibly foggy for some strange reason...”
Jenna just looked back at her quietly for a moment. “Leaf?” she asked quietly. “What do you see when you look to the South?”
Startled by the question, Leaf quirked a perturbed eyebrow before turning her head slowly away from the setting sun. The sky wore a dazzling array of intensely contrasting colors; blue-purple lay sharply alongside the brilliant orange and pink of the effulgent clouds. She spent a good five minutes simply lost in the bliss of nature’s beauty.
The wind picked up, and like an old friend caressed her face and playfully tousled her hair before drifting down to whisper in the grass behind her. The sound reminded her of an eager audience anxiously awaiting the opening act in some play. Only, this was no play, this was her life. And it seemed to be getting incredibly peculiar as of late…
Her thoughts reamed by silently, only occasionally was she able to pick out something of recognizable use. She thought back to all the times others had been there to rescue her whenever trouble arose, and wondered out of a deep abiding worry whether or not she was strong enough, or even capable of taking care of herself.
Out of nowhere Leaf felt a terrible pang of inexplicable sadness… but she just couldn’t put a finger on where it was coming from…
Jenna waited patiently for Leaf to speak. She knew the girl would realize what she needed to in her own due time and she was content with waiting. Leaf looked back at Jenna and sighed.
“I see an incredible vista in the skies, Jenna. A portrait yearning to be admired by all… what is it I’m supposed to be seeing?”
Jenna simply nodded and said, “Look again. Closely.”
Leaf turned her eyes back to the south and squinted, trying to observe everything and anything there was to see. On ground level, there were many trees of the wood running what seemed to be an endless course. Of course her vision was limited from here, even if the ground did dip away from them on this end of the vale. The trees framed the snaking form of the Ganolly River, disappearing toward the west and the setting sun. It almost looked like a line of liquid fire in this light. She stared off into the horizon.
She could just make out the mountain range Maron had taught her the name of a few years ago… Leaf scrunched up her face trying to remember the name. Nnn, she was sure it had started with an ‘N’.. Nori.. no, that wasn’t it.. Nari.. no, not that either.. Nirgode…? No! Nirgodden!
Yeah! That was it, those were the Nirgodden Mountains. Supposedly you could follow them to the very eastern tip of Fera, and then they became islands, or lesser-continents, because they just kept going into the ocean and then they went down to the continent of Idra and clear across that into the ocean again and then to Ceda and across that until eventually they came full circle to the very peaks she was gazing at now. Leaf spent a moment trying to wrap her mind around that incredible fact. It was hard to believe that something so…perfect could be a natural phenomenon.
She stared blankly now, lost in her thoughts. There were legends about the mountains of Nirgodden… or rather, what those mountains were supposed to be protecting.
Leaf thought back to her many lessons from Maron, not to mention all the gossip and tidbits she’d picked up over the years from all the many servants and visitors to Ganolly Castle. She recalled Maron referring to the world as Feymera. Intrigued by the enchanting name, Leaf had asked her why it was called that. Maron had gone on to explain that Feymera was a word from the ancient holy tongue of Orethyn, which dated back to the beginning of the world. The translation had been forgotten by most, but the Scholars of Manna were still learned enough to remember. Feymera meant simply: “Mirror of Fey”. When Maron had observed how enthralled her pupil was on the topic, it gratified her enough to spend some time on it.
In Feymera, there were only three greater continents: Fera, Ceda, and Idra. They, with the mountain-island lesser-continents between them created a perfect circle— supposedly. However, there was no traversing across the vast ocean that lay in the center; all water travel in the Inner Sea had to be within a certain distance of shore at all times. It’s said there was a perpetual mist in the center of the circle so thick you could cut it with a knife, swallow it and be filled with one bite. Only smaller ships and ferries traversed the coasts within the triad continents.
The only reason the inhabitants of Feymera even knew as much as they did was because of the famous airships of Narndenae. In fact, one of the greatest driving forces behind the Narndenaen engineers to create airships was for the very purpose of discovering what lay in the center of that mist, in the perfect circle of ocean… because the thing at the heart of that mysterious mist was what lay at the heart of every legend and myth in Feymera…. The Tree of Fey.
Leaf’s thought’s swirled like the mist in the urn back at the library. Without any warning she saw it.
For one second, it was as if the mountains vanished and the mist she was suddenly staring into cleared briefly and she saw… she could have sworn she saw… a tree! She blinked once and it was gone like it had never been. She sighed, and her vision focused back on Jenna who appeared to be looking straight through her and on to something out of sight and beyond.
Jenna’s eye snapped back to Leaf and focused on her face. “Yes Leaf? What did you see this time?”
Leaf blushed. “I… thought I saw something… just a trick of the light… like by the brook when Temy froze up all funny, and the bee….”
Jenna leaned forward intently, suddenly hanging on her every word. “What did you say?”
Leaf blinked. “That I thought I saw something…”
“No! About Temy and the bee; tell me!”
Leaf stared at the woman across from her, rather startled by this sudden change. Here was a woman with eyes as sharp as glass, boring into her as surely as if her gaze were a physical force.
“Um… when Temy and I came earlier, we were by the brook and he… froze. He looked terrified! I couldn’t see danger anywhere, but then I noticed the bee and his eyes…” Leaf hesitated, but she didn’t dare finish her sentence.
Jenna kept her pinned with those eyes for a moment more, nodding once at whatever she thought she saw in Leaf’s face. She relaxed a hair before speaking. “Not something you need to be concerned about, yet, dear Leaf. Temy is a good boy, and he is safe.” She put a peculiarly strong emphasis on the words good and safe. Leaf thought maybe she was a little touched in the head. Why wouldn’t Temy be safe? Of course he was.
Leaf shook her head and found Jenna pinning her once more with those green chips of ice. “Tell me about the bee. Why was he afraid of it?”
Leaf shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I have no idea. Maybe he’s just afraid of getting stung? I was stung by a bumblebee once; hurt like a …” Leaf swallowed hard under the scrutiny. She had a feeling Jenna was not interested in her bee sting stories. “Um. But, I did notice something odd about another bee I saw while I was washing in the brook later…”
“Yes? What was it?”
“Well, it was hard to tell for sure… but I could have sworn I saw purple dust on its belly! Now I’m not completely stupid. I know that bees harvest pollen from flowers and such, but I've never heard of a glowing purple pollen.” Leaf waited nervously for Jenna’s response. She desperately wanted to see the warmth back in her eyes.
“You say it was glowing?” the woman asked.
“Well… yeah. At least it looked like it was. I don’t know that I would have even noticed it otherwise. Maybe light reflecting off the water did it?”
Finally, the ice melted off and Jenna just looked thoughtful… and disturbed.
“That will be all I think, Leaf. You and Temy are resting here tonight, it’s already been arranged. I spoke with Mrs. Dendale and her husband before they left, they’re the ones who adopted little Lily, they had to pass by Ganolly Castle on their way home and they’ll have informed Nora and Maron by now. You’re both exhausted, and we’ve plenty of spare beds now….” The sad look was back in Jenna’s eyes. “Temy has already gone up to bed.”
Leaf hesitated. “Er… Jenna?”
Leaf took a deep breath. “What did happen to me earlier? I would really like to know!”
Jenna smiled at her with tired eyes. “It looked to me that you were making a little discovery.”
Leaf studied her face closely, trying to decide if she was being made the butt of some joke.
“What do you mean?”
The woman’s eyes became intense all over again for a brief moment as she gazed at Leaf.
“I mean, Leaf, that I think you are becoming in-tune with the Wey.” She pronounced this statement with a meaningful air. Before Leaf could get any more questions out that she was suddenly brimming with, Jenna spoke again.
“You will have to ask Maron about it… but mostly it’s something you will discover for yourself.” Jenna spoke in a way that made it very clear the conversation was over.
Leaf was dying to ask her what she’d meant by all that, but was suddenly overcome with weariness. Jenna smiled as the young girl tried to stifle a yawn, and nodded to the warm old church meaningfully. Giving up, Leaf stood and came around the table. Shyly, she gave her new friend a hug. She was pleasantly surprised to have it returned with warmth, and was equally grateful for the comfort. She sniffed.
Leaf supposed she was loved by those at Ganolly Castle, but rarely had she ever been hugged like this, like a mother to her daughter. It felt….good. Jenna patted her back and kissed her forehead before sending her off toward the converted church house-orphanage-sanctuary.
“Sleep well, Little Leaf. Dream of trees.” Now that was an odd thing to say…
“Goodnight Jenna…” It wasn’t till she was through the backdoor and halfway up the only stair to the bedrooms on the second floor that she realized Jenna had never explained what she expected Leaf to see to the south. She forgot about everything as soon as her head hit the pillow of the nearest bed. She thought it smelled like Geram. That night Leaf dreamed about mist… and Trees. Outside, colored leaves began to fall.
Geram set the empty bucket down in the woods behind his new… home. He could hear the cattle shuffling and lowing from the high pasture. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to sleep through all that noise… it would definitely take some getting used to.
To someone else, the trees of the wood might’ve appeared frightening in the darkness, but right now they just made him feel safe. Wherever he had to be, if there were trees and woods… at least he could pretend he was back home.
Geram gazed wistfully after the glowing Will-‘o-the-Wisp drifting away through the trees, efficiently putting an abrupt end to his studies. He guessed it was just as well… he was all out of sweets anyway. He turned around, and made his way through the darkness to the old farmhouse on the hill. He tripped a little, trying not to choke on the lump in his throat.