So the rain started while I was still sitting in the driveway, tense and turned on. I couldn’t go in and work… not with horses, not with him. So I fidgeted, and realized I was going to be late. Then I looked up and watched as a big dark cloud turned the whole sky dark and rain hammered against my windshield. The wind whistled, picking up the remnants of last fall’s leaves with a salvo of water. I groaned, and dug in the back of the van for my raincoat. I found a busted umbrella, a roll of duct-tape and a trash bag instead. I improvised.
This is what I *wish* I’d looked like.
It was NOT sexy, and it shredded in the lashing windy rain before I even made it to the farmhouse door.
Sarah was sitting in her chair at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, reading email. A drainer full of freshly peeled potatoes were at her elbow. There was a pot full of water waiting to boil on the stove. One of the farm hands was also seated at the table, but he was fiddling over some kind of paperwork. Sarah was alternating between talking to the farm hand, reading email, and yelling into the phone. I dashed past her, stole some coffee from her professional maker, then fled into the living room and attacked her all-green m*m’s on the coffee table. They had little triquetras on them. Soooo cute.
I waited until the noise calmed down.
By then, the hand had left without saying goodbye. I was a little surprised. Jeb was a guy I remembered.
Sarah waved. “Sorry about that, I had to have a word with my feed suppler. We had a contract, and that… is a more dicey proposition than I was previously aware.” She said stiffly. “I hope your morning has been better.”
I raised my mug to her. “Still recovering from heat stroke,” I told her cheerfully. “Good morning to you, too.” She looked out the window at the misty rainy day. She looked back at me. “So %100 humidity isn’t enough?” she quipped.
“It’s from yesterday.” I admitted.
She looked ready to steal my mug away. ‘You are supposed to avoid coffee for the next few days, young lady.”
She watched me sip my coffee, without heeding a word she said.
She said. “I suppose that isn’t happening.”
I grinned. “You are correct. I may as well not leave the house otherwise.” I said.
She grunted. “You and me both.” She said, taking a sip of her own.
We sat for a few minutes, over coffee. She offered me a doughnut. I took her up on the offer. They were Dutch sour cream donuts, so rich and delicious they don’t need frosting— or holes. They look like the heads of nut brown Cupie dolls with a prominent cowlick right on top of the head. If you look straight down, you can see the golden brown interior. They are dense but tender, and smell like toasted brown butter, buttermilk and cinnamon. It did not take long for all of them to disappear. To ba fair, it was clear that the hands had been in earlier, and polished a good number of them off before us. We watched the rain streak down the big bay windows, the greeny white flashes of lightning in the distance, and a the trees swaying wetly past the padlock.
After a time, Sarah broke the silence.
“Pat is in the big barn. You can help him exercise the student horses.” She said. “I gotta get back to being a manager. Thanks for spending my break with me, though.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I said. I’d heard of the construction caper of the Big Barn, but I’d never been inside.
I went out the back, then threaded through the paddock into the feeder barn. I was able to needle through that under a protected walkway to the Big Barn. When I was a kid, I would have had to go all the way through, even climb the fence to get in to the old stable. Today, all those things were connected. Rumor had it, Sarah wanted a covered walk way to the feeder barn, too… but that would cost. I looked up at the entrance, fronted by two pillars skillfully made from telephone poles. I pushed open the new squeaky door, and it jangled behind me as it closed. I felt like I was standing in a medium sized airplane hanger. The ceilings were so high I could hear an echo. My arms were covered with goosebumps. It was cool enough to be air conditioned, but that seemed unlikely. There were a set of louvered fans in the pitched roof, blowing in cool dry air from outside. That was a feat of engineering if I ever saw one.
The dirt under my feet, was bone dry. The old stable always leaked, here an there, and some part of it was always being patched. Things change, and not always for the worse. I smiled and smelled, enjoying the earthy smell of hay and horse.
Indeed, it was well lit and exceedingly huge. You could host an indoor dressage tournament in there. There was even a grandstand where folks could watch. Not as big as you see at the state fair, but I’d say about 200 people could sit there. It was kind of amazing, and a lot like being on stage, even when practically empty.
So, okay, I didn’t embarrass myself. The horse was feeling docile that day. It was fun. She was called cookies and cream, a white with chocolate chip like spatters in her coat. I was sort of wishing I could meet Crystal Lilly again. We exercised the horses, cleaned the tack, fed them, and He taught me what I needed to teach.
Then he had a surprise. A couple of girls— sisters who wanted to help out on the farm. They were local. My job was to teach them how to handle the horses. So I taught them to stand up but not be too aggressive. Be strong but not stupid. Be firm, not a pushover. They really can smell fear, and will push you if they think they can get away with it. Make sure they don’t puff up when you cinch the girth— knee them in the gut if you have to. I showed them how to brush the horses down after riding, and wipe down their legs and backs with wintergreen scented rubbing alcohol. Only give them an apple or a carrot when they’ve been good. Don’t let them lean on you.
Before you know it, they were helping out, cleaning tack and brushing hides. And my alarm went off. I went to the corner and checked my phone, looking at the intruder alert. Somebody was at the house. The burned out one. I saw a shadowy figure move past the Bear’s line of sight. They were wearing a white hooded garment that covered the face. How…convenient. It was 4:00 or thereabouts. I thought I saw a bucket or something similar.
Truth is, I didn’t know what to do. I watched the flashlight bleach the light out of the interior. Strangely he didn’t seem to understand what the teddy bear was for. It was just a toy to whatever this was. I watched as they set up some lights and took some photos— in that corner with the tile labrys.
I ran back into the stable. “Pat, we need to give our pet cop the heads up. Somebody’s in the old house.”
Pat looked at me. “Did you forget? The evidence people were going in today. Didn’t Sarah tell you?”
I felt…embarrassed. “No, I think she was distracted with the feed contract problem. But I did demolish several doughnuts.”
Pat smirked and handed me a squared off, deeply scooped shovel, well loved and formerly painted black. There was only one job that thing was good for.
Do me a huge favor and get Shibboleth’s stable cleared out, would you? She foaled in there, so it’s kind of a mess. But you get to see her colt afterward. She’s a dark cherry red, I think Sarah wants to start a cuteness meme with her.”
I did not want to think about it, but Liquicol was probably going to be involved. Sanitizing after that would be a big job.
“Afterward? Not before, so I have some morale on the issue?” I pleaded. But he knew me. I was already putting on my sh*t kicking boots and my gloves, and tying the green bandana around my mouth. I looked like an Irish bandit about to rob a bank.
He smirked. “you know the rules around here. I had to clean our Landon’s stall before I could see her, so it is the same for you.”
Oh, bother. I just remembered. Rules were the rules. I bet when Sarah invested in them, she didn’t know what she was getting into when her kids would be the enforcers. I sighed and took up the shovel. Towards the end, the girls actually came in and helped, and after a good scrubbing of hands and arms, we went in to pet the foal.
Thinking about those evidence people taking a picture of the labyrinth gave me an idea.
“Hey, Patrick! Do you know where I could get some tile around here? The tiles looked weird. They guys say they aren’t made of glamour, or they would have disappeared by now.”
Patrick squinted at me. “Tile?”
“Like kitchen tile. Or bathroom tile. Doesn’t’ really matter, just cheap or free.”
He snorted. “You could go to the pottery lady. She makes tiles.” He said. He thought for minute. “She’s not cheap, but she’s local. If you want cheap or free, there’s the old junk yard. Sometimes tile is dumped there, even new ones. But that stuff didn’t look like any regular tile to me. It looked primitive. Hand made.”
“The pottery lady?” I asked. He nodded and gave me a business card, that, yes, said, “The Pottery Lady”.Her hours said she closed in an hour. I showered quickly (but thoroughly), dressed into clothes more like me and less like a horse nut, then waved goodbye to the kids and hauled tail to her establishment.
It’s a sparse small town, so things aren’t that hard to find if you know the lay of the land. It was in an area I wasn’t’ familiar with, out by the old sawmill.
I pulled into her charming driveway only to want to back right out again. Her front yard was a ginormous labyrinth traced out in tile.
The tiles were sea green, and vitreous blue, with a massive garden sprawled around it, taking it’s shape from the labrynth itself. Only this had a water feature, plant hedges all around it in lavender and rue, Tall spiky goats beard and some pink yarrow sprouting out of a divot in the center. I wanted to go up and explore it, but not with the lady of the house home. That felt…weird. I continued around the curved driveway until things widened, and I nosed my way into an empty space under a tree,. I had to wedge in there on a diagonal, so I could get out of the van without wading through four inches of water. As it was, I had to use the slider to avoid the puddle. I walked around into the center of the clearing, and took more of a look around.
Her whimsical house was a confection of cedar shakes, with ash green and purple trim. Big windows were lit from within like a Kinkade painting, trimmed all around with lush blooming flowers potent with meaning. My skin prickled. This did not look like the landscape job of one who favored the winter court. I was expecting more of an Addams family look with Tim Burton highlights. Yet it was strangely creepy. The little Celtic faeries made of clay smiled benevolently at me. They don’t SMILE like that. Really. They smile like gun nuts after a visit from the ammo fairy.
Her things with wings were entirely too cheerful, benevolent, and pastel. But I pulled together my courage and walked up to the door, and tapped her brass knocker made from Celtic knots and the tail of a lizard like dog critter. There was silence until I realized that the sign said, OPEN, COME ON IN, and it was not so much a house as cute little gingerbread shoppe. Sheepishly I opened the door and wandered inside.
I was assaulted by a blinking, glittering oppressive wall Christmas. There was cedar, juniper and holly everywhere. Banners of red and green, draped all over the wall. Granted, they were tartan, but it was Christmas tartan with gold threads and jinglebell trim. There were clay and glass ornaments everywhere, from Celtic knot critters and fairies done in clay, to delicately spun glass ornaments hand blown into diaphanous fairy shapes. Some were angels, I saw. There were witches balls, dream catchers, Bridgit’s knots, wall hangings with an Irish Theme, including a cross stitch pillow commemorating the Fighting Irish, moss colored plates, dishes, made of thin bone china splashed with soft pastels. The shelves were lined with greenery trimmed from cedars and juniper shrubs, and miniature but living trees displayed much of the wares in real time. Huh, maybe she was a fan of the winter court. She had solstice candles, and scented oils, and even candles that were spiced and smelled like mulled cider.
At last, I found a flat, primitive little ornament that had the labrys in the exact pattern I remembered from the basement. It was even made from a white clay, with the pattern engraved into it, the flat platen the size of my palm. There were dots and decorations around it, but almost washed away by the white iridescent glaze. On the back was a primitive deer figure that was reminiscent of a cave painting, depicted with a layered sepia wash on the back. The dark streaks that outlined the figure were vitreous in the soft light. The ribbon was a chocolate color with a green stripe.
It took me a bit of time to find the cashier. The girl behind the counter looked younger than me, and reminded me of Kendra for some reason. Her hair was in pink chalked dreadlocks, and she wore a gypsy skirt with a frilly shapeless poet shirt. Her hair spilled out around her baroque kerchief. Her eyes were glinting with a benevolent smile.
“You found that one.” She said.
“Yeah, I think it will be perfect for a friend of mine. She loves deer.” I said.
The girl giggled. “Does she live around here?”
“Naw, she lives in Jackson.” I said.
The girl nodded. “That explains it.” She said. I watched as she put it into a green box and wrapped it up in brown wrapping.
I paid out a grand total of $5 for it. If they were closer to the road, she could have charged $25.
“So, is the lady of the house home?” i asked.
The girl looked confused, then her face brightened. Oh, you mean mom. No, she’s out at an art fair at Saginaw. She’ll be back Monday. You want to talk to her about…something special?”
“Definately.” I said.
“Why don’t I take your number? She can call you.” the girl returned. I had this unspeakably bad feeling about leaving anything of myself behind. For no apparent reason.
“That’s okay. I’ll come back Monday. The people I’m working with don’t approve of phones. Rural, you know.”
She look startled but shook her head. “All right.” she said. “See you then.” she waved.
I drove it home, feeling a little strange. Queasy, and light headed. I felt a little better when I stopped moving. I chalked it up to my body getting back at me for not hydrating enough. I took a large beverage and went outside. The inside was too stuffy. The outside was tuffy too, but at least there was a breeze.
I sat under the tree on a stump. I tossed a few throwing knives at the target scrawled on a stump and sighed as they bounced off and skittered into the distance. Maybe they didn’t stick as well into the wet wood. That’s what I told myself, anyway. Before long, I was looking at Pencie who was eying me suspiciously.
“What’da ya have that’s not good for ya?” he asked suspiciously.
I offered him the gift box. He eyed it suspiciously. “What is it?” he growled.
“A Christmas ornament, supposedly. Instead, it’s a platen with a labrys on it, the same kind I found in the basement. On the other side, is a deer, that looks like a cave painting. It has designs that might be meaningful. It came from a local woman who makes clay objects. It think I met her daughter, who may or may not know anything. I’m kinda scared to meet her now. She has tons of fairy stuff, but there’s something off about it.” I told him.
Pencie was curiously silent. His face was wooden. I sputtered with frustration.
“I wondered if you can tell me about labyrinths and why they are so blasted important. How does travel work? I need to know. I think the missing queen or princess may be behind it.” I said.
Pencie signed and sat down. “They lock into the gates– they are a key, if you will. They are a part of what ties our lands together, to make them fertile. If there were no connections, both sides would be static, and the seasons would always be the same. The wheel could not turn.” Pencie said.
I had no idea what to do with that.
“Hm, okay. That’s not quite what I’m looking for. Why would someone what to disrupt that?” I asked.
“Eternal winter. Or Eternal Summer. Either evil would inspire it.” Pencie returned.
“Could they get eternal spring?” I asked.
“That would be worst of all. Nothing would settle, and we’d always be at war. Nothing would finish, and nothing would ever rest— not even the dead.” Pencie’s voice had gotten girly again. I thought I heard his grandmother talking to me again. I sighed.
“That sounds…bad.” I said.
“You better believe it.” He teched back.
“But it sounds like the kind of bad that not even a winter court creature would want. Why do something that harmful to everyone? Sounds like the only people who’d make out are the maple syrup makers.” I said.
“It is the high running times of a wizard. The world is in flux, and most mailable. It’s not an end state, but an intermediate one. The worlds are flexible, and boundaries are permeable.”
“I thought that was in October.” I said, thinking of Halloween.
“Happens in the spring, too… but it is not as visible to the human world. But it is when when Arcadia has control of the boundary. People romanticize the other end, the dying end of that cycle too often. But the Spring Blade is just as dangerous. Perhaps more so, because without balance… there is madness. Cancer. Uncontrolled power.”
“Who knew Candlemass was so dangerous.” I said.
“You are starting to understand. This is not a plot of anyone who stays in the Autumn world. It is Arcadian all the way.” Pencie replied.
“So they are trying to conquer the Autumn world by manipulating the gates?” I asked, “Then why kidnap the queen? Why desecrate Phil’s burial ground?”
“The faerie queene is not the queen of Arcadia. There Mab still rules. Our queen is Queen of the Autumn world only. She represents the land itself, and would be easier to subvert without the queen able to defend it.” Pencie said, as if reciting some old school rhyme.
“And why did Phil run away to Africa again?” I asked.
“She too is rescuing the queen. She’s gone to Arcadia to find her. Africa is just one way to get there.” Pencie said.
“ Why the heck didn’t you tell me? Oh. So you are asking me to look for her on the off chance she might still be around here.” I said, voice getting sharp.
“The dowser’s said you might be the one to find her. Both you and she fit the prophesy.” Pencie said.
Then his voice went all squeaky, and he started talking again. His eyes were wide and his face was peaked.“Whomever attacked the burial ground was trying to weaken Phil’s mana. That’s where her heart resides in the land. IN the form of her blood. The second way is you, and that has already been attacked. Though they could try again.”
“Maybe they were trying to steal blood to witch her with?” I asked, feeling faint. It was evening by now, and there was a cool breeze. But I felt, wobbly.
“You need to bury that thing. It might be a trap.” he said, more in his own voice.
“Now you tell me.” I said, collapsing onto a stump.
I fainted, and found myself in an awful basement, with a rotten ceiling shedding splatters weak light above me. I could see faint stars through rotten planks. I found myself following the labyrinth, and watching the surroundings around me shift. Time passed backwards. Candles lit, men growled drank and tousled, then still back when I saw a strange battle between thin lithe creatures who were barely human. They fought with flashing swords. One of which looked very familiar to me. One of the creatures looked long haired and windblown, her sword flashed like the one in the apartment. The other creature was red headed, pale, and had angry hazel eyes that were both brown and green at once. Her green dress looked like the metal figure I’d seen when I’d done my walk around the property.
There was nothing I could do but watch, and all I had in my hand was the little ornament I’d bought that afternoon. I was frozen to it. I could not run nor rush to help.
At last, the white figure got the upper hand, by tangling the green dressed figure in a web of sticky stuff that she had exuded from a poison ring. It happened so fast I had to reconstruct the movement in my mind. Before long, the red head was tangled beyond endurance, and was tied to the chair. Large bloody creatures came up behind, and tied up the red head with very real bonds, then started to bleed her. They cut patterns in her upper arms and let the blood come out, then gathered it up with sticks, and used the sticks for some kind of magic. Then they took a glass of wine, poured it over the woman’s head and she vanished, leaving a badly stained chair.
I tried to reverse everything, but it still didn’t make sense. So that meant that the queen had escaped her tormentors, or had been banished out of the autumn world? I had a taste in my mouth that was strangely sweet, floral and alcoholic. Or maybe some of what we saw was dandelion wine?
All art is in the public domain. The text is NOT in the public domain. It is written by Margot St. Aubin, and belongs to me. Thanks!