Not The Tree – part 4 : The Cavalry

Posted: October 23, 2014 in Alfar & Duergar, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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In Alfheim, all is not as it seems.

 

Vivian took a bag out of the back of her silver SUV, printed with roses on a green background, and loosened its drawstrings. It was surprisingly colorful for someone who wore nothing but black, aside from red hair.

“What are you looking for?” I asked. We were parked at the entrance of a snow carpeted forest in the late afternoon.

“Ah, there it is.” She slipped an unusual silver ring on, it being made of three interlocking bands that could move freely. “And please Susan,” she turned to me, “don’t ask about every single thing I do. Five hundred dollars covers Melissa’s soul retrieval, not teaching you how it’s done. If you interrupt me at the wrong time things could go really badly for all of us. Okay?” Her smile seemed a bit strained, and there were dark circles under her eyes. I bit my tongue and resisted the urge to tell the young woman she needed more sleep. I’m a nurse, what can I say?

“Okay,” I answered, re-arranging my red scarf to better cover my neck and then pulled the purple beret lower onto my ears. They didn’t go together, or with my dirt stained white coat, but second-hand beggars can’t be choosers. It was also too tight, and I felt a bit like the Michelin Man.

I watched her continue to ruffle through the content of her bag, and really hoped she could do this job. Our coven had barely managed to scrape together enough to cover her fee. There would be no second try.

“It works like this,” she said, slinging the bag’s single strap over her head as a bandolier, before clasping on her long black woolen cloak. “I’m going to go into the woods here and from there into Alfheim, where your friend’s soul is stuck.”

“You’re going to physically go into the world of elves?” I exclaimed. “I didn’t think that was…”

“No, I’m not,” she sighed. “My spirit will be traversing the worlds, and walking around there. My body will be moving along with it, but in this world. It’s called pathwalking, straddling two worlds.”

“But… why don’t you just journey in spirit, like Shining Song did?”

She gave me a scathing glance before continuing, re-arranging the placement of pouches on her belt while she spoke. “And how well did that work out for your friend, eh? No, this is much safer. In an emergency my body can pull my spirit out of there. But I can’t pathwalk in an apartment. I need a wide open space so my body can do what my spirit is doing, and where I don’t need to worry about cars running me over.”

She then muttered something to herself, but all I caught was “living room Pagans” and the scornful tone. Once everything was to her satisfaction, she came close enough for me to smell her breath. Mint, if you care to know.

“Now, two rules: When I go in, don’t touch me, and don’t talk to me. Follow along if you want but stay out of my way. Got it? Good.”

I just stood there and nodded, unsure of what to do and intimidated by her powerful presence.

She turned, going back to the trunk to for a wide flat drum that bore many symbols upon its skin. Her hand was raised to shut the hatch, then she stopped, looked me over and came to a decision.

“Right, almost forgot,” she said, reaching in once more to open a plastic bag. From it she extracted a banana and handed it to me. “Now this is very important. Hold onto this banana. Do not put it down, okay?”

“Um, sure, but why do I need to…”

“No, not like that.” She adjusted the fruit in my hand until I held it like a gun. “Like this. And when I come back from Alfheim, point it at me. Even if I’m still in the middle of it, if I come at you, you poke me with it. You think I can trust you to do that?”

“Yes, I’ll…”

“Great, you’re a big help.”

She shut the hatch, then faced the forest, squinting like she was looking for something. After taking a few deep breaths she added: “Here I go, wish me luck!” Her red hair faded into shadow as she pulled up her hood.

She started drumming, chanting as she walked, and I followed along, sinking a foot deep into the snow with each step. Crappy vinyl boots, my feet are already freezing, I thought.

Her steps were deliberate, as if straining against some force trying to stop her. I didn’t understand the words of her song, some ancient language I supposed. When she reached the tree line, she fell forward a bit, as if released.

Looking around, she said: “Nice place. Now… you there.” She wasn’t looking at me and I had no idea who she might be talking to. “Yes you. I invoke the pledge of hospitality. As your guest in this realm, I ask for safe passage.”

From her bag she extracted a yellow pouch. “This I offer as guest gift.” She paused, listening. “No, you cannot refuse without shaming your entire clan. A gift calls for a gift, and I ask for safe passage until my return to my world.”

She stepped forward, hand extended as if giving it to someone, and allowed the pouch to fall into the snow. “Oh, have no worries, it’s good. You’ll like it.”

From the belt pouch she extracted a string and wrapped it around her left index. Ah, right. She’d woven that from Shining Song’s hair before we left. She waved the finger around slowly, as if dowsing until she settled on a direction. “Right, I’ll be exploring this way. Do try to keep up,” she said with a grin and a glance to whoever her invisible companion might be.

With the right hand she drew a symbol in the air over each of her feet, then took off at full speed, deeper into the woods. I was in no shape to run, but it wasn’t hard to follow her footprints. When I finally caught up with her, she was sitting under a tree, wooden goblet in hand, drinking and laughing. “That’s a good one,” she said to some invisible companion, “But you will not hold her against her will. Your claim of debt is meaningless, and I challenge you for possession of her.”

She paused, eyes narrowing. “Very well. But I shall go first, and my wager is another yellow pouch.”

She stood, opening her cloak as she raised her arms. What followed was an intricate set of gestures, punctuated by exhalations, stomping, and ending in a song of sorts. “There,” she said, “Try to do better than that.”

Crossing her arms, she stood for a few minutes, though her eyes darted all over the place. “Impressive,” she finally announced, “but not good enough. What say you, Lady?”

After half a minute, she continued. “The verdict is rendered, the girl is mine, so give her back with all her memories… oh no you don’t! Get back here!”

Again she took off running, and I tried to follow. I hoped she wasn’t as crazy as she looked. But here’s the odd thing: my footprints were the only ones leading away from the tree, though that seemed impossible in the deep snow. There weren’t even any broken branches.

At a loss, I glanced at the banana in my hand, then slowly retraced my steps to the car – which Melissa had started up to keep warm.

She was still sitting in the passenger seat, so I got in on the driver’s side, brushed off snow and closed the door.

“How are you holding up hun?” I asked.

“Bored, whatever.” She was bundled under a purple polar blanket. Dammit, I want my friend back, I thought. I just hope I haven’t been robbed by a con artist. A half hour or so went by in sullen silence, save for the goth music playing in the car stereo.

 ∇∇∇

There was a sudden knock on her side of the car, which startled us both, with a wild-eyed redhead pressing her face against the window.

“Hellooooo! Let me innnnn!” she said in a sing-song, “it’s cold and I have a present!”

Melissa turned to me. “She’s really creepy, you know that, right?”

“Yes,” I answered. “But roll down the window anyway, okay?”

“All right, but it’s gonna be freezing.”

Vivian was alternately making funny faces at us and banging her forehead on the window, still singing about being let in. She hopped up and down outside while the window rolled down, then grabbed Melissa by the coat collar and nearly pulled her out.

“Surprise!” said Vivian, “I got a surprise!” Then she landed a big fat juicy kiss on Melissa’s lips. I think there was tongue involved. Too stunned to react, my friend flopped back into her seat when Vivian let go.

“Melissa are you okay? Talk to me!” She just lay there, blinking rapidly, hands over her chest.

Then she turned to me wide-eyed and said: “Oh my god! That was the coolest thing ever! Vivian totally kicked that elf’s ass at the contest and I didn’t think anyone still cared after all these years and I thought I was going to be there forever and I missed you Susan!” She gave me a big hug, leaving me speechless.

When Melissa let go there was a tap on my window. I turned to see Vivian there, looking annoyed. Rolling down the window I asked: “What the hell just…”

“I carried her soul back in my body. It made me a little loopy, two souls in there and all. You have to blow a soul back in, and she wanted to do it with a kiss. I wanted her out of me a.s.a.p., so you know, that’s how it worked out. Normally I blow it back directly into the heart.”

Meanwhile, Shining Song had switched the stereo to radio mode and was bouncing to a recent pop tune.

My eyes became moist, looking at her. “She’s just like before, it’s amazing. Right down to loving candy pop music. I guess I can get rid of all those Goth albums she made me buy.”

Vivian chuckled, brushing hairs out of her face. “Yeah. The elves started a big recruitment drive in the 80’s for some fresh slaves. Who knew a bunch of victims would start a music genre and subculture of soulless despair?”

“Really?” I asked.

She leaned onto the window ledge. “I mean, not all Goths are like that, but maybe one out of ten?”

Looking up, she mused: “I should really advertise more at parent-teacher meetings. Lots of potential clients there.”

“Maybe make pamphlets,” I suggested.

“Yeah, that’s a thought. Melissa’s lucky it wasn’t the dark elves that got her. At least the light ones make sure you’re a happy slave. Folks coming back from Svartalfheim either need lots of therapy or a really perverse mistress.” She shook her head.

“After just a few weeks?” I asked.

“You don’t get it, do you? Time moves differently there. From her point of view, she spent something like six years there, not six weeks. Imagine coming back after twenty years of torture and kinky mind games. That’d mess up anyone. Fuckers…”

“Have you ever…”

She put a hand. “Don’t ask. I do not wanna talk about it without a stiff drink in my hand.”

I looked back to Shining Song and shuddered, then realized I was still holding the banana. I pointed it at her, as instructed, and asked: “Umm, what do I do with this?”

“Oh yeah, thanks!” Vivian grabbed the banana, pulled back the peel and took a bite.

Even more puzzled, I silently watched her eat, and finally asked “What was that for?”

She swallowed and smiled. “Potassium. Heavy magic can really throw off your electrolytes, and then you forget you’re supposed to eat.”

“And why wasn’t I supposed to put it down?”

Removing the peel entirely, she held it in one hand, muttered “eh, biodegradable,” and flung it over her shoulder.

“Because,” she said, pointing at me with the last piece of banana, “if you’d put it down we would’ve both forgotten about it.” And with that, she popped the last piece into her mouth.

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Comments
  1. Teka Lynn says:

    Yay! Happy ending! (Maybe?)

    Like

  2. HA. After heavy woo, I too prefer either a banana or an orange.

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      After reading the first draft of this chapter, a fellow writer said my heroine needed more “Doctor Who” whimsy in her. That’s when I added the banana and electrolytes, which are also a wink to Diana Tregarde, the original spirit worker heroine of my youth. The main difference is that I wanted Vivian to be relatively believable by our own world’s magic.

      Chapter 1 is a cautionary tale — not all “spirits of the light” are interested in your well-being, and you should really do your research before venturing to other worlds (as well as take precautions). This one explores how silly we look to people who can’t see what we see, and saves Shining Song’s bacon. 🙂

      It might still be interesting to see how the same scene plays out in Alfheim…

      Like

  3. sonyjalerulv says:

    Loved it! Goth music… oh yeah, that explains a lot. lol And yeah, I suspect it would have been a much darker story, if it happened in Svartalfheim

    Like

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