Swirled the milk-white snow; whistled the mountain wind; rattled the hollow pines. Winter.
White, a wall of white; wind, a wave of wind; wood, a whirl of woods. Winter – the wraiths of winter.
Snow, snow, snow! – as far as the eye could see – which was not very far. Had the landscape been visible, its solitary grandeur would have been more awe inspiring than even the white world of swirling snow; rocky outcroppings, coated now with a mantle of purity; tall evergreens, pointing long fingers at the airy vault; grand peaks, majestic symbols of age and stability. But the landscape was not visible.
Instead, a traveler would have been haunted only by the ghosts of pine trees – cheerful ghosts, for the day was a bright though not a clear one, and the crisp crackle of their clanging boughs suggested no midnight horrors – cheerful ghosts, looming through the whirl of snow – light, powdery snow, lifted by the breeze, dropped by the clouds, puffing in the air, dancing to the tune of the wind’s whistle. But there was no traveler.
Ai: So… Mikara… tell me again why we got left behind while everyone else went off to raid Tokyo?
Mikara: We’re here to keep an eye on Ryuu, dummy.
Ai: Ohhh… Hey! There he is!
Ai: *in a voice of wonder* He’s with the EMPEROR!
Read Part 1!
Adela got up and I accompanied her to the door. As I paused for an instant, idly watching the street after she disappeared, my attention was suddenly drawn to the graveyard and I caught sight of a filmy white… thing… with a dark blue scarf… and I must confess, when I glanced in the mirror a minute later, I looked like I had seen a ghost. But appearances are deceitful, as I told James Gregory.
What with the graveyard on the one hand, and Adela on the other, I really began to waste away those next few weeks. I slept little and ate less. Of course I do not believe in ghosts – certainly not – especially not ghosts from a “graveyard” where no one has been buried. Still, it was not exactly canny to look up from your dinner table and see the long shadows of the tombstones trailing on the grass, or to wake in the middle of the night with a pervasive consciousness of unexplored mystery next door. But Adela throve on it.
It was James Gregory’s fate in life to have interesting neighbors. I could never understand why, because James Gregory really wasn’t an interesting person himself. Which was fine with me. Interesting people are very well in their way, but my first would-be fiancé, the son of an Asian politician who had grown up in Estonia and become a private pilot, was too interesting. The reaction from him lasted all my life and I was quite content to be Mrs. James Gregory and simply watch the interesting people from afar.
We lived in a small house, in a nice neighborhood of houses of a similar size. We lived there twenty years, while interesting neighbors came and went… but none more interesting than Iakobo Ian.
So there I was. Ahead of me, the light cast a white glare over the rough stone wall. I fumbled in my pocket. Holding my flashlight carefully, I read the parchment again.
To the wanderer through this den,
Comes this friendly warning from our pen.
Follow the river down to the fall,
Curve a half circle, then climb the wall.
The third step is fatal, so only take two,
Follow instructions exactly – nothing else will do!
I took a deep breath. Follow the river down to the fall. What did it all mean? I held the flashlight up high. There was no river. On the contrary, I was hemmed in by two massive stone walls on either side of me. Behind me snaked the long corridor I had come through and in front of me a massive oak door calmly awaited my next move.
Note: The following story is an Aesop fable re-written in the English style of the King James Version of the Bible.
Now it came to pass, that Carmi the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was a-dying, and he called his sons unto him, and he said unto them: Behold, I am old, and well stricken in age, and it shall come to pass, that when I die, ye shall forget all the commandments which I have given you: and shall go after your own way, seeking not to remain in the way of your fathers: but ye shall war one with another: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever findeth ye shall overcome you. Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
And the man Carmi had bound together a sheaf of arrows. And he commanded them that they should take up the arrows; for he wished to show somewhat unto his sons. And the son which was the son of the birthright took them up, and he said unto his father: What mean these arrows?
So there I was, buried under a sprawling, chaotic mass of thrashing arms and legs. Fury lent me a strength almost superhuman; with a mighty effort, I flung off the soldiers on top of me, rising to my feet.
I knew escape was hopeless, but that only goaded me into a greater rage. Like a bull I rushed at the head officer, Don Pedro Priego, only to be caught by a dozen of the bronzed veterans surrounding me.
For a second, I succeeded in flinging them off.
“No more!” I gasped, my anger almost choking me. “No more! Fleming though I am, I was a loyal servant of King Phillip, but I tell you no more! You take my money. Very well. I can earn more. You take my job. I can get another. You take my home. Yet I raise no protest. But you are not content! You are never content!” I spat each sentence out as though it were poisonous. Through narrow eyes I looked at him, and he met my stare with a gaze every bit as cold and icy. I tore myself out of the grip of a soldier who had seized my arm. “You are never content,” I repeated. “Now you want my life! Master-gunner on his Imperial Majesty’s Invincible Armada’s Rear Admiral’s flag ship! Slavery!”
You took a deep breath and glared down the grimy pipeline. “Eew!” you exclaimed. But your friend hissed in your ear, “Hurry!” and you knew that you had no choice.
You jumped in.
Brrr! but the water was cold, and Yuck! but the slime was disgusting, and Oof! but the smell was awful!
You endured it as best as you could, and just when you thought another second of this torture would make you vomit, you were spewed out into the open air.