“We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay.”
Morgana of the great city Amervol checked the map again. “It is here, dearest Loria. I can feel it. Our lost Book of the Memory lies somewhere in the sands of Sakokarlof.”
Loria, a woodland fairy of Hallow, crouched beside her companion. She sniffed the cool autumnal air. “There’s an evil on the wind, my friend.” She held her staff, passed down through generations. Only the greatest and stoutest of the Hallowites were gifted by the Overseer to carry this nameless staff. Loria held it with pride, even now, crouched before the sands of Sakokarlof, preparing to retrieve the Book of the Memory. Long has the realm of Lombard seen many a treasure, many a battle, from the waters of Massasot to the dungeon where the evil Cecere dwelt with his evilness and tortuous weapons.
Looming over Sakokarlof was the great structure Obstica. Giant swings that could take any adventurer out. A steep slope many have traveled down, believing that the path to the world after. Beyond that, the King Hill, with its concavity at its apex. Warriors have battled upon that hill, in proving themselves the greatest fighter, the one most dominating over all of Lombard. Morgana pointed at an X on the map, between Obstica and King Hill. “Your brother says that is where we can find the Book.”
Loria took the map from her and checked it again, despite having it memorized long ago. “We may not even need a shovel, according to Anchris. We can use our hands, he said, and there it shall be, wrapped in the finest cloths. The Book of the Memory.”
She looked out over the sands. Obstica’s giant swings tittering the wind. Behind the King Hill, in the Curran Forest, she caught a gleam in the sunlight. Something moved between the trees. “We may not be alone in this, Morgana.”
Morgana fixed her spectacles over her wide eyes. “I spot two riders. They wear black and gold.”
Loria sided. “The Carr Brothers.”
“You knew they would be around.”
Loria stabbed the hard ground with her staff. “Curse it. We told all who would hear we would not make this journey until the week of winter.”
Morgana smiled. “Maybe we weren’t convincing enough.”
Loria patted her friend on the back. “I love your way of keeping things light, but this is not a light task we have been set upon. We–”
“DINNER IN TEN.”
The friends, long have they adventured and battled across the realm of Lombard, recoiled at the sound of the Great Mother. Her voice, so booming and carefree and demanding all at once, could turn even the most hardened into the most obsequious.
“Our time,” Loria said, “has grown much too short.”
Morgana stood and walked to the edge of the grass, where the sands began. “We have to do this. That Book is our lives, Loria. No matter what the Great Mother says, we have to press on.” They had started their journey from Morgana’s home, deep within Amervol. Her father, the most renowned peacekeeper in all the realm, had provided a protective ride in his great vehicle to here, on the outskirts of Hallow. There they traversed the concrete paths that wound along this outpost of humanity, running into old friends who demanded they join them on their own quests. No one wanted to venture so close to the sands, so close to the King Hill and its forest around it. For there, the Carr Brothers held dominion. Outlaws they were, riding their metal steeds, taking from those they felt much weaker than them.
Loria knew them well.
She stood by her companion, and searched through the trees. Another gleam. Why had she forgotten her own spectacles? The haze upon the world worried her. Would she see any danger coming? They had been lucky so far. Now, this close, after the loss of the Book of the Memory and this close to regaining it, she could not turn back. Her brother, one she held so dear despite his treachery, had aided the Carr Brothers in acquiring the Book of the Memory. Anchris wanted to be a part of the brothers, to feel belonged to by another. He was a quiet, shy boy, but a goodhearted one, if not as forward thinking as her sister and her friend. Upon discovering the Book’s disappearance, she had confronted Anchris. The boy, sheepish to the end, quickly divulged what he had done.
“I’m so sorry. The Carrs said they wanted proof I could be as bad as them. So, I stole your book to give to them. But, as I went to give it to them, I hid it, instead. I told them I couldn’t do it.”
“Where?” Loria was never violent, and wouldn’t ever hit her brother, but she had grabbed him by the shoulders. “You wouldn’t want the Great Mother to find out about your stealing, would you?”
Her brother had looked at her incredulously. “Don’t tell her. Please. I just…I just want to belong.”
She had let him go and hugged him. “You do belong.”
“Then why don’t you ever include me.”
The idea of bringing him along had never come to her before. He had seemed to have no interest in her adventures with Morgana. “Let us retrieve the Book of the Memory. And then, my brother, if you so desire, you may adventure with us.”
That night, she had traveled to Morgana’s, armed with the map she made Anchris draw for her. He tried in vain to explain, but she need a map. This was a hunt for a great treasure, after all. All through the night, they planned on how they would retrieve it. The sands stood on the land of the Carr Brothers. Simply encroaching upon their territory would not go without incident. A simple and quick in and out would have worked, as suggested by Morgana. Yet, something so sneaky did not match Loria’s desire. Yes, the Book of the Memory, belonging to both her and Morgana, their greatest treasure, held nothing but the utmost importance to them.
They had little to travel from Loria’s home, the last place of safety before the Garden Strait and the White Fence. Beyond that a simple stretch of land, then the sands. This in the so called ‘back yard’ of the Carr Brothers. While a menace of Lombard, the Carrs and Loria had yes, their dealings and meetings, but an uneasy truce had been held up for so long. Now, she was about to violate that truce. This sneakiness on their part, involving a civilian such as Anchris, went beyond that truce. There would be no parlay, no pleas, no bargaining. She would enter their territory, and take back what is hers.
What is hers and Morgana’s, she corrected, as they stood on the sands.
They took easy steps, feeling the softness and coolness under their bare feet. Morgana kept watch as Loria pinpointed where the treasure was. Past the slope, where once, long ago, she and the Carrs and enjoyed such pleasure traveling down, and even climbing it.
“DINNER IN FIVE.”
They weren’t going to make it, Loria worried.
Morgana pointed beyond the King Hill. Two riders clad in black and gold rode down upon them. The lead, burly and breathing heavy, leaps off his ride, letting clatter to a halt against one of the swings. The other rider, smaller yet more dangerous, did the same, letting his ride clamber towards Morgana. She dodged it, did not look to see where it finally halted.
The burly one’s face was obscured by his hood. Only the snarl of his chapped mouth could be seen. “Thought we had a deal.”
Loria brandished her staff. “We did, until you brought our Book into things.”
The smaller one stood beside the burly one. “We don’t have your stupid book.”
“Of course not,” Loria said, standing tall and brave. “But we know where it is.”
“It’s not here,” the burly one said.
“Is it not, Garrett?”
The burly one, Garrett, removed his hood. The metal on his teeth dripped with saliva. “Your brother is a shady character.”
“Her brother is weak, and you preyed upon that,” Morgana shouted, and made to charge at the Carr Brothers.
Loria held her staff up to halt her charge. “Excuse my companion, Garrett. We are here to take back the Book. I am not asking to come here. You violated the truce. Therefor, I consider that truce null and void.”
The smaller Carr Brother, who Loria knew to be Mitch, chuckled. “All these baby games, Lois, and you can’t grow of it.”
“Do not call me that. You know my name, as I know yours,” Loria said. “If you wish to stand aside, and let a real man like your brother here deal with me, then do so now. Your trick with your steed was low.”
Mitch continued directing his smirk. “I like your friend.”
Morgana pretended to choke. “As if,” she replied.
Loria lowered her staff. “Maintain your composure.” She turned her attention back to Garrett. “Upon these sands is the Book of the Memory. I and Morgana shall dig for it, and take it back to its rightful place. Stand aside.”
Garrett sneered. “Fool! How dare you demand such things on my land.”
Mitch shook his head. “Garrett, this is stupid. Can we just go back to riding–”
“No! They want to come on our land and make demands and order us around?” He went silent. “I have a proposition.” With that, he turned his head toward the King Hill.
Loria and Morgana followed his gaze. “No,” Morgana said. “You can’t do that.”
Mitch tugged at his bigger brother. “Ma and Dad will be mad you did that on the hill.”
Garrett ignored this, and returned his attention to Loria. “What say you? We grapple upon the King Hill. If you can dethrone me, the book is yours to fetch.”
Morgana stood between the two would-be combatants. “Loria, this is a fight you cannot win. I believe in you, and would follow you wherever, but no woman, be it one of Lombard or a fairy of Hallow, has ever fought on the King Hill. We cannot even be sure that the Book is here.”
Loria shook her head. “The Book, our Book, cannot be lost. Those pages hold everything we hold dear. If I must climb the King Hill and face him, then climb the King Hill I shall. But,” she said over Morgana’s shoulder, “we dig for the Book first.”
“I dig for the book,” Garrett said. “Mitch, dig for the book.”
“C’mon. The cartoons will be on in five–”
Garrett delivered a shocking strike to Mitch’s right shoulder. “Do not speak of such witchcraft again. And do not threaten with speaking to the Elders either, or I’ll do more than deaden your arms.”
Mitch rubbed his shoulder, his bushy head slunk. “I am sorry.”
“Sorry…” Garrett said, holding his ear toward his brother.
“Sorry, King of the Hill.”
“Good. Loria, you will hand my brother your map, and he shall dig for it and retrieve your insignificant book. Then–”
All four shuddered at the words of the Great Mother.
“A moment,” Loria said, and then conspiratorially, to Morgana she said, “While he digs, perhaps you should pray to the Great Mother that more time will be needed.”
Morgana lost the anxiousness, and became a bit of dread. “Maybe you should be the one, considering–“
“I do not trust them, and you are not as skilled in dealing with these foul Brothers such as I am. Please, for the Book.”
Morgana steeled herself and nodded. “I shall not fail you, my liege.”
“No, Morgana, I am not your lord, nor lord of any free human or fairy. You are my companion, my dearest friend. Do not believe you to be lower than myself.”
“I do not feel so,” Morgana said, backing away, “But you are the greatest warrior and adventurer that Lombard has, or will ever, see.” With that, she rushed off to help placate the Great Mother, so She would not bring Her scorn down upon her believers.
Loria spun about to find Mitch before her. He stood a head shorter than her, and he seemed he did not like that. He did his ahem again and held out his hand. “The map.”
She handed it over. As he took it, Loria grabbed his wrist, and turned his arm around his body, so that his body then turned around. She locked his own arm around his neck, and held the staff above her, as if to strike. “Swear on all you hold dear you shall not break your promise!”
Garrett made to rush, but stopped when Loria held the staff higher.
“I mean it,” she said, bringing those three words with as much sincerity as she could muster. “Swear that you will let your brother retrieve the Book, and you battle me upon your King Hill, and give me what I have won, when I win.”
“Heh,” Garrett said, apparently without worry for his brother. “If you win.”
“Garrett, she’s really hurting me,” Mitch squealed.
“Life hurts,” Garrett said. He flung his hood back over his head. “Very well. You have my word. Mitch, go get her precious book.”
Mitch squirmed until Loria released him. He rubbed his throat more than he should have; Loria knew she did not hold him that strongly. Though, she could have. She gave over the map. “Be careful when you find it. Or I shall do more than your brother has ever done to an innocent person.”
He snatched the map from her and walked toward the corner of Sakokarlof, where the great slope of Obstica stood. “I hate this stupid game,” he mumbled, as he looked from the map to the cursed sands. He fell to his knees and began shoveling away small handfuls.
“You look well,” Garrett said to Loria.
“You can’t even see me,” she replied.
Morgana came up beside her. “The Great Mother has been held off. But not long. She worries about the oncoming cold to the feast.”
Loria blinked and smiled. “That was a good one.”
Morgana smiled back.
Loria dropped the smile as quickly as it appeared. She took her staff in both hands. “What shall your weapon be, Garrett of the Carrs?”
“Ha! Weapons?” Garrett sat upon one of the swings of Obstica, as one does upon a throne. “On King Hill, the only weapon you bring is yourself.”
“I found the stupid thing!” Mitch approached his brother. In his hands, sand dripping from it, was the Book of the Memory. Its binding, its embossed cover undamaged in the day it spent beneath the sands of Sakokarlof.
Morgana whispered, “We can take it, right now.”
“No,” Loria responded. “We cannot risk all out war.”
Morgana pulled her away until they stood on the grassy plain, near the White Fence. “You can take him. Right now. A few shots with your staff, and I can certainly handle the measly little Carr.”
Loria shook her head. “And then? My home is here. You are far and away, on the other side of Lombard, in Amervol. I would bear the brunt of their…their…what’s the word with getting back at someone?”
“That’s not it, but it’s close.”
“Oh. Retribution. I learned that in Miss Beloca’s class.”
“Retribution. They would forever seek retribution. I fear that would extend beyond the borders of all of this.”
Morgana watched over Loria’s shoulder as the Carr Brothers also conversed with themselves. The Book of the Memory sat in Garrett’s lap, but even he did not hold the temerity to look through its pages. Even he knew its power. Its importance. “I know you have to live so close to their boarders. But, you and I have seen him countless times on that Hill. We’ve seen so many battle. Not once was it a woman.”
“Then,” Loria said, and handed Morgana her staff, “Let’s give Lombard something that they will remember.”
Morgana held the staff reverentially. “You…you’re letting me hold this?”
“I shall want it back after I dispatch this one.”
Loria proceeded toward the King Hill. She kept her shoulders straight; her head forward. Yet, her eyes could not help but flicker at the Book in Garrett’s lap. This is what she had been searching for. What she needed to get back. What would…
She found herself on top of King Hill, able to look out upon almost all of Lombard. Her childhood home, and domain of the Great Mother. Where the Carr Brothers dwelt. Sakokarlof. The Obstica. The Forest and the Fence and all of it. How she adored where she lived, despite all that occurred within it.
“The rules are simple.” Garrett stood at the slopes of King Hill. “We begin at the top. Whoever throws the other off, wins.”
“When I win,” Loria said, “You give me back what is mine.”
“And when I win,” Garrett said, “you…” he stopped and looked to his brother, who offered nothing of an answer. “I will keep the book,” he said, after giving it a bit of thought.
Loria nodded and stepped to her left. She watched Garrett hand the Book over to Mitch, and slowly take the four steps up to King Hill’s summit.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” he said.
“You shall regret this. For all time,” Loria said, and she dug her feet into the beaten earth of King Hill, where many have battled, and many have fallen. “To the best,” she said.
Garrett tilted his head, and grinned. “To the best.”
Loria caught him in a headlock.
He kicked at her knees.
She danced around, avoiding the kicks, and wrenched on his–
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
Loria released Garrett and fell to her knees. The Great Mother approached. Trailing behind Her was Morgana. She wore her long flowing white robe so well, it never seeming to tangle up in her legs. She held her scepter in one hand, and pointed it at Loria. “I CALL FOR DINNER AND YOU ARE FIGHTING?! WITH A BOY?! SHAME ON YOU GARRETT CARR FOR THINKING IT’S OK TO FIGHT A GIRL.”
Garrett slunk deep into his sweatshirt. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Edwards.”
“GO BACK HOME. YOU AND YOUR BROTHER. I’LL THINK ABOUT WHETHER TO CALL YOUR FATHER OR NOT.”
Garrett ran for his steed, as did Mitch. Garrett took the Book from Mitch and tucked it under his arm, making sure that Loria saw it, and the Great Mother did not.
“But–” Morgana began, but stopped when she saw the look on Loria’s face.
Loria didn’t want the Book back. Not this way. There would be time. There would be a place, be it on the King Hill or somewhere else.
“IS THAT YOUR PRECIOUS SCRAPBOOK HE HAS,” the Great Mother demanded from Loria.
Loria would not look to Her. Would not look anywhere but at the Book, and think of the plan she would have to make to take back her treasure–”
“LOIS LA MER EDWARDS, ANSWER ME.”
Loria shook herself. “It is not, Great Mother.”
“SPARE ME THE FANTASY. YOU GET YOURSELF WASHED UP, AND WE CAN DISCUSS THIS LITTLE WORLD WHERE YOU THINK YOU CAN FIGHT THE NEIGHBORS.” With that, the Great Mother returned to her domain, ascending the Wooded Stair.
Loria stood, and watched the Carr Brothers ride off to their homestead. Garrett raised the Book above his head, his self-appointed triumph apparent in how he thrust the Book in the air. Morgana came to the top of King Hill and sheepishly handed the staff back. “I’m sorry, Loria. The Great Mother found me running off to tell of what was to happen. You know it impossible to lie to the Great Mother.” She said the last part with a bit of a smile.
“The Great Mother knows all,” Loria said, and checked her staff. “She will allow this to continue. She understands that this is no mere game we play. This is life. I am Loria, a fairy of Hallow, and the holder of the staff passed down through generations.”
“And I am Morgana, of the great city of Amervol, a protector of the one Loria.”
“We shall get the Book back, my dear friend.” Loria put her arm around her companion and the descended the King Hill. “The Book of the Memory will be returned, and we will get it back, and we will add more and more to it, so that we may pass it down and those that will come after us will learn of Lombard. They will learn that there is more than one world, and that there is nothing but fantasy.”
Morgana laughed. “I love this.”
Loria did not laugh. Yes, the Carr Brothers had succeeded today (thanks to the intervention of the Great Mother). Yet, this did not mean defeat. It never did. That Book, so sacred to her and Morgana, a tome and monument to their friendship, and Lombard and all its denizens, would be back in the rightful hands, the hands that knew of all of Lombard, and would protect it to whatever end. “As do I.”
photo credit: Evangelio según San Mateo 13,47-53. Obra Padre Cotallo via photopin (license)