All That’s Left
That night, Leaf dreamed again of a silver-haired boy. The dreams were coming more frequently than before, and were tinged with a profound sadness that nearly made her weep. Those dreams had been haunting her for as far back as she could remember; but she had no idea what they meant. Now she also dreamt of gentle Geram and felt a strange yearning that made her ache. These dreams… these were new, but felt old; and powerful. And confusing.
There were other kinds of dreams haunting her now, too. Leaf would never stop seeing the faces of her loved ones twisted in pain as they died horribly. Her heart clenched painfully.
When Leaf woke, she kept her eyes closed and took a deep breath. With eyes still closed, all of her other senses became keener and she began absorbing what they told her.
There was a soft breeze coming from a small window near the cot that was refreshing and smelled of grass and shade trees. Leaf could feel the rising sun’s warmth on her face and exposed toes, almost certain she could feel the dust motes that were dancing through the beams of light like little fey sprites.
From across the room came a disharmony of rattling snores that could only be the strange old wizard and his even stranger companion. If Leaf had wondered at the mysterious events of the previous night thinking them just another sad dream, she knew now they were not.
She squeezed her eyes even tighter, thinking once more of her dear friends at Ganolly Castle. But the castle of Ganolly stood no more; and Leaf knew with a profound certainty that her future was now her own to decide. She was determined to make Maron and the others proud of her.
With a sigh, she opened her eyes at last. There were the old wooden beams of the cottage roof, with their tangled gossamer robes draping down in silvery strands. As if in defiance to the tiny threads of moonlight hanging there, Leaf lay with her short red hair sprawled about her face like a fiery halo in the streaming sunlight.
What would this day hold in store for her? Well I shall have to clean, certainly. Treedon and Mixl Pae would never bother. That was clear. From what she’d observed of the bickering two so far, it seemed they never did more than was absolutely necessary. Still, it would be comforting to do something so familiar, so routine.
Brushing aside her brooding thoughts, Leaf sat up and swung her feet over to the side of the bed and touched the floor. With a yelp she immediately jerked her feet back up.
Ouch! That floor was in dire need of a good polishing! She hoped she hadn’t graced herself with any slivers! That certainly wouldn’t do anything to cheer her up. Grumpily searching for her slippers, she remembered all at once that she’d lost them in the woods the previous night. But then… what was that?
Leaf lifted up the draping blanket from where she sat. There, looking spotless and innocent and inviting, were her slippers. Leaf didn’t know what to think, she just stared at them for a full minute- refusing to blink as if they might disappear. Thoughtfully, she leaned down and picked them up; testing the soft texture with her fingers, she was almost surprised to find it familiar. Placing them gratefully in front of her feet, she put them on and took a tentative step on the rough floor. With a sigh of relief, she thanked Orethyn for His mercy and that her slippers were thick enough to stop the threatening wood.
Spying the large book and even larger bundle Maron had packed for her at the foot of her cot, Leaf clapped her hands to her mouth. She suddenly remembered leaving them by the hatch the previous night when she’d wandered off in her grief. She looked around at the two still snoring across the room with a new appreciation. Somehow she was certain it was they who had gone back for her things and brought them to her. She would never forget this kindness on their behalf. These belongings were all that remained to her.
Leaf sniffled as she walked over to the pack and lifted its bulk on top of the bedding. It took her a minute to work out the knots of the thick blanket Maron had used, but the corners finally fell open to reveal an assortment of smaller bundles.
She reached inside her robe and withdrew the smaller blue book from its inner pocket and looked it over for any signs of water-damage. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it was in the same condition she’d first found it in when dusting the library what felt like so long ago. Had it really only been two days?
Tenderly, she placed it on top of the larger tome resting on the bed beside her. She then began taking stock of each item Maron had packed her: A food satchel that included four juicy apples, a large brick of yellow cheese, a length of sausage and a swollen skin of cow’s milk. She was sure Nora had had something to do with the food satchel, and she was very grateful. Leaf had no idea how much food Treedon and his friend had brought with them and determined to ask as soon as they woke.
Glancing across the room at the curious pair still sleeping soundly and snoring something horrid, she felt a wave of fondness come over her and knew she was in good hands- even if they were more than a bit unorthodox. Smiling to herself, she bent her head back to the task at hand, taking a large bite out of one of the juicy apples. She hefted a leather pouch next, trying to guess what might be inside. The pouch made her think of Jonah.
Sure enough, when she spilled some of the contents into her hand she discovered a variety of seeds. Right off she recognized summer squash, carrots, corn, lettuce, celery, tomato, strawberry and pumpkin. There were a few others that were not familiar to her, but the gesture warmed her heart. Briefly she wondered yet again just how much her friends had known about what was going to happen, and how long they had known. Sighing in frustration, she decided to let it go for the time-being. Somehow she knew that one day all her questions would be answered.
After pulling aside varied articles of clothing, a hairbrush and small hand-mirror, a toothbrush, a scented bar of soap and a couple of washcloths, there, lying inconspicuously beneath the miscellaneous pile was a small, white, velvet drawstring purse. It didn’t feel as though it contained money. If she had to guess just by the feel she’d say it was full of dirt. Bursting with sudden curiosity, Leaf very carefully lifted it close to her face. It took a certain amount of dexterity to loosen the tightly knotted strings and reveal what dwelled there. She was careful not to spill the contents as she lowered her eye to the opening and peered inside. Good thing, too. Whatever it was, it glowed brightly. Leaf couldn’t decide what color it was because apparently neither could it. It acted like an iridescent substance that radiated its own light. So what was it?
Leaf nearly jumped out of her skin but held on to her composure just well enough not to send the bag flying. Finally she absorbed that the snoring had ended and, sure enough, Treedon was standing directly behind her, hand out in a commanding gesture.
“What’s wrong, Treedon?”
Treedon closed the small gap in one step and knelt next to her, facing the white velvet bag.
He spoke softly and slowly, holding very still.
“Very carefully now, Leaf… Pull those drawstrings tight, and be certain not to spill one particle, understand?” He never took his eyes off the bag for a moment.
Leaf did as she was told, practically quivering with surprise and curiosity. It wasn’t until she had tied the knot that Treedon took a breath and stirred, wiping away a bead of sweat and swallowing. He gave her a firm look and Leaf opened her mouth to protest.
“I didn’t know what it was; still don’t actually. So…do you care to explain?”
Heaving a great sigh, Treedon creaked to standing once again. “Girl… if you only knew… Listen closely, alright?” He waited for her nod before continuing. “Your lessons started ahead of schedule- Rule number one: No meddling with things you don’t understand, Understand?” Leaf swallowed her instinctive retort and nodded sullenly.
“Very well, then.” He gently closed her hand over the tightly shut bag. “You must promise me not to open this until I tell you it’s the right time, okay? This is very important!”
Squirming uncomfortably for a moment, Leaf finally lifted her chin firmly.
“I promise, Treedon. I will show you that I can be a good student.”
Treedon smiled, pleased. “Good girl. So. I’m sure you’re wondering what’s inside…?”
Leaf’s eyes got big “Well of course I am! So?”
Knowing he had her on the edge of her seat now Treedon gave a satisfied grin. “Let’s just say… it’s Dust.” Seeing Leaf ready to bust he couldn’t help but chuckle as her face turned red. “I jest you not- that’s what it is.”
Leaf opened her mouth indignantly “But then why—
“Because girl, it’s priceless- and rare to the point of saying that’s all there is left. Do you follow me?” Leaf nodded slowly, unsure, and he continued “Unless I’m entirely bereft of logic, I’d say that gift came from Karla; your librarian friend, I believe? Have you no thought as to what it could be?”
Leaf’s face had crumpled at mention of Karla… how many of her friends had died with Ganolly Castle? “It couldn’t be from Karla,” she mumbled.
“Oh? And why not, I ask?”
“Because…” And here her chest heaved with a bone-deep sigh, “She’s dead.”
“Oh?” he said again, “Are you so sure? And what does her ‘death’ have to do with leaving behind a small token for you?”
“But…? Why would she leave me a bag of dust?” Her eyes became distant. “It couldn’t be… dust? As in the dust from the Library?”
“Ah, so you came to it at last then.” Treedon looked very pleased.
Leaf was very confused. “So again, why would she give me dust of all things? What’s so special about that? And why does it glow like that?”
“Ahh, but you see, Ganolly Castle is no more! All that remains, you hold in your one hand.” At Leaf’s stricken face he continued in gentler tones “Does that not make it valuable indeed? Why does it glow, you ask? What you hold in your hand, is all that remains of your physical memories in Ganolly… priceless.”
Leaf’s gaze lowered to the invaluable purse resting inconspicuously in her hand. Pulling it close to her chest, it came to rest next to her mother’s amulet. Gazing down, she remembered it all over again. “So it is…” she murmured softly.
Leaf was finding it difficult to pay attention at this point; there was just too much to take in… All she wanted right now was some time to be alone, and some quiet; to think.
The cottage already being rather small, was made even more so by the number of occupants. Considering this, Leaf decided to go for a walk; however, she was only allowed to leave after firm promises to keep the cottage roof in sight. After stepping out the front door, she stopped to take in a deep breath of the cool, fresh air.
The grass here was tall and wild, secreting any countless number of creatures inside its wispy depths. The sheer greenness of her surroundings was comforting. It was almost as though if she were to reach out into the air with her hands open- palms down, she would be able to feel the very texture of the life growing and breathing around her. Oh that felt good.
The cottage itself stood at the highest point in the round meadow, being at the very center on the only hill. From this vantage it was easy to see everything within the tree-line of the surrounding forest.
It was a soft and generously accommodating hill upon which her parents had built their home, and it was easy to see why it’d been their first choice. A well had been dug at the top of the easy knoll, conveniently placed beside the cottage. She was certain now that it had been dug using magicks so as to better reach the sweeter waters that lay deep within the earth.
Leaf took a moment to absorb that. According to Treedon her parents had been very renowned Scholars. They had been Manna-users…
Sighing, Leaf finally decided which direction she would go based on where the only path lay. This meant, of course, she went in the opposite direction. Her mood simply didn’t allow for anything else, seeming as how it was a rebellious and brooding one.
Getting her bearings, she knew she was heading east; Leaf imagined she could almost feel something pulling her that way. The wild grass soared above her head in many places and often times it felt as though she were in a deep jungle, looking for some hidden treasure. The sensation was comforting and reminded her of the old passages and hidden corridors of Ganolly. …it felt like home. Though, admittedly, it required a great deal more work to get through this maze. And pain.
By the time she reached the tree-line the grass had given way to sporadic undergrowth. Her hands bled and burned from all the grass-cuts she’d received on her little sojourn. I’m supposed to have special abilities, right? Then I should be able to do something! Wincing in pain, Leaf stared at her hands until her eyes began to tear, willing them to get better. A headache made a timely appearance as she concentrated for what felt like hours, staying as focused as she possibly could until she had stabbing pains on either side of her head. In all that time the only thing she discovered was an ability to move her ears!
Disgusted with herself, she shut her eyes tight in defeat. Legs buckling, she sank to the ground with her head between her knees. She tried to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. Her heart ached so badly that she couldn’t breathe, and still the tears would not come.
Leaf thought she would die of silent agony, completely taken by noiseless sobs that wracked her entire body. Her fingers reached out and angrily clawed the rough earth around her, further abusing hands that were already throbbing with pain. How much more will Orethyn punish me? Can’t I shed even one tear for my friends?!
Leaf had no idea how long she lay there, stretched out face down in the earth, head turned slightly for air, her eyes staring at a small hollow in a tree without actually seeing it. The hollow appeared to have formed behind a sort of natural basin in the beautiful and wild old tree.
The leaves of the canopy overhead whispered in consistent waves, as if they were saying,
Leaf closed her eyes. She knew it was her imagination, but she found it comforting all the same. The whispering wind was a soothing balm to her itchy eyes and wounded spirit.
When she opened her eyes again, she thought she detected movement inside the hollow… or something anyway. Leaf lay very still, certain to make no noise and simply watched.
A flickering light! She was certain it hadn’t been her mind playing tricks. Besides, there was no sunlight in this particular spot beneath the shady canopy. Common sense told her to be careful, but a sixth sense told her this was something special.
Leaf slowly raised her head from the ground, eyes fixed on the spot she’d last seen the light- directly in the middle of the hollow. As she attempted to rise without a sound, Leaf could’ve sworn she heard a small laugh.
Hesitantly, she called out “Who’s there?”
Presently however, Leaf became aware of a peculiar sound that seemed to be getting louder. The sound reminded her somewhat of a large moth fluttering about… a huge moth, she amended; caught inside the belly of a drum. She absentmindedly peeled off a large leaf that was stuck to her cheek as she got to her feet.
“Put your hands in the water.”
Leaf jumped and looked around pointlessly for the source of the voice, eyes finally resting back on the basin in the hollow. “Hello?”
“Oh come on now, just do as I say. Just lean over here and plop them in—gently, please. You don’t want to go upsetting the fexbeez.”
“Um.” Leaf wasn’t sure what to think- and she still could not for the life of her find the owner of that voice, though she was fairly certain now that whoever it was waited inside the shadows of that hollow. It had a decidedly feminine ring to it. “Can you please show yourself?”
Leaf heard a sigh that was magnified by the drum-like hollow. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, why not?”
“Because you’re human. Besides, it’s not time yet.”
Leaf felt a burning in her spirit. Something told her to trust this faceless voice, despite her numerous misgivings. Swallowing hard, she made her decision.
Approaching the hollow basin slowly, she said, “Alright then, though I don’t understand. Perhaps one day, Orethyn willing, I will know the answer to these riddles that are drawn to me.”
Now standing over the basin and looking down, Leaf saw that it was filled with the clearest rainwater. She watched as a late remnant of dew swelled from the tip of a leaf directly over the tiny pool and fell… It was as if time slowed to a crawl for Leaf. The world was silent and all she could see was this one drop of pure liquid as it made its enchantingly slow way down through the air. As the drop touched the surface, there was a moment of pain-filled ache in her heart and then—
Music. Pure music. It rang softly through the forest, heard by every living creature within distance. Strangely compelled, she slipped her wounded hands inside the water. It was cool; almost like air- her hands didn’t really even feel wet. All it took was for that one thought to register before she realized that her wounds were healed as though they’d never been. Leaf withdrew her hands and stared in awe.
“Thank you” she spoke without thinking, to no one in particular.
“Lylendyvar says ‘You’re welcome’.”