Glad returns to the land of her family. But where are they, when is she, and have the problems been solved or have they gotten worse?
I opened my eyes. The sunlight came at me from above. It was around noon, maybe later. Was I in the same place as before? The land was groomed differently. More of it had been tamed, shaped, but oddly there were occasional features that had been left as they were, fastidiously worked around- a pair of trees, a couple large similar-looking rocks. Very soon I came upon a walled structure like a castle. Two people stood at the entrance gate. Guards I supposed. They looked surprised to see me.
“Are you a traveler?” One of them called out to me.
“I am. I apologize, I am lost” I said, a little uncertain of how to get my bearings. I hadn’t needed to use place names before. Was the virus still breaking down, taking the memories I needed? The two guards conferred quietly with one another. I caught only fragments of the conversation.
…shouldn’t even be here…
…said she was lost…
…even come from…
…South’s too well guarded. She must be Northern. I told those fools so many on the southern border would compromise…
As they were still talking another guard jogged up to them. He spoke more quietly but I was able to catch the words “out of control” and “Southfolk”. The first two guards seemed to forget about me for a moment and I thought of simply leaving, but I still didn’t know where the virus had brought me, so I waited. Finally one of them remembered me. “This is Kingsground. No one may wander here unaccompanied. I was going to escort you beyond our limits, but I have urgent business to attend first. You’ll just have to come along.”
We went through the gate and into the structure. The guard who first spoke to me said, “I’m called Crest. Wait here.” The two guards entered a room. This time it was easy to hear what was being said. Crest said, “Sir, we just got a report from the South. They say things are getting out of hand. They ask for instructions.”
“Tell them they need to do their jobs. Honestly this is so tiring. Crestin, take the rest of the gate guards with you and Rayin, get someone to send down more from the North wall. Can you handle that?”
The door opened and I caught sight of the owner of the new voice. He wore a style of clothing that looked more intricate than any I’d seen yet. Could I have missed the proper time and been vaulted into my family’s future? If I had been pushed into the future, it seemed the situation my family fled had only grown worse with time. Did they escape with their lives? Could these people be their descendants?
Seeing me, he asked “Who is this?”
“My name is Glad,” I said. The man looked unconcerned with my name. I was unimportant.
“She became lost. We were about to escort her off-grounds,” Crest offered.
“See that it doesn’t interfere with the task I’ve given you. Go now. No harm and peace,” he said.
“No harm and peace,” Crest replied.
Crest, Rayin, and I set out with a group of guards who joined us at the gate. They talked amicably as we walked. One of them said, “It’s probably nothing. It’s always nothing. They show up here. We drive them out. They show up again. It never ends.”
“Look!” one of the others called out. “See the Holy Two!”
I looked in the direction she pointed but could see nothing to explain her words. “What is it?” I said.
“Those birds. Do they not tell this story where you come from? The Mother and Father gods who watch over this land come to earth always in twos. They like to inhabit pairs of beings. We leave undisturbed things that come in twos whenever we can. Did you notice the pair of blossoming trees in the castle’s courtyard? They were left while other trees were cut, because they make the sign of twos. And when one dies the other will be cut down, so they may be together.”
The afternoon wore on. One of the group asked if I was hungry and offered me a fruit like an apple and a square of bread. No formula seemed to be required of me in their acceptance. We continued walking. Someone in the group cried out sharply ahead of us. “Are you alright?” I heard others ask.
“Just a sharp branch. Does anyone have a bandage?”
A strange thing happened as we stopped to bandage the wound. The entire group began humming a melody, each person seeming to begin without thought, yet they all very gently droned along together as a cohesive whole. Bewildered, I asked, “What is that tune?”
“It is the song of healing. You must know the words, though I have heard it said there are multiple melodies,” and she began to sing:
I will take my heart in my chest and put it next to yours
As its beating steadies you, as the warmth encompasses
Let this twinsong find you, and you may yet continue
And you may yet continue, no harm and peace
“That’s lovely,” I said.
“I wish this task was as easy as a song,” Rayin sighed.
“Is it very difficult?”
“It can be dangerous. Southfolk can be unpredictable, violent, savage even. It is taxing to restrain them and difficult to remove them.”
Someone else said, “I’ll never get used to it. I wish we were allowed to make exceptions. Some of them seem alright.”
“Don’t feel sorry for them. It’s an act. We can’t let violent deranged people stay here. We have our orders.”
“It’s true. Keeping them out is the only answer. It isn’t nice, but we do what has to be done.” They all nodded.
Another voice said, “Anyway Southfolk are vile. They don’t wash, and they are constantly talking about dead people. But the worse thing about them is how they can never just give you food and drink but they have to take some for themselves first. They even use the same cup they hand to you to drink from. It’s disgusting.”
I felt my heart sink inside me. These were the traditions of my family they were speaking of. I had arrived all right and in the proper time, but I’d reached the place my family sought ahead of them. And I now knew what welcome awaited them.
Eventually the group of us neared a place where the land grew rocky with many shelves and drop-offs. One flat area bypassed the sheer drop-off. It was fenced. This was the border between two lands. People were crowded together on both sides. Dozens of voices rose and fell, muttering and crying. As we drew near, someone tore away from the crowd. It was a child. He managed to get by the guards and hurled himself at me, clinging on tightly and sobbing.
“Stop that, get back!” said Rayin, grabbing him around the middle. As the child was hauled off me I caught sight of his face. It was Bug.
“Bug,” I said beginning to tear up. “Stop. Let him come to me,” I said. “Bug,” I said quietly, not knowing what else to do.
“Glad, they took Mama. I don’t know where she is.”
“Glad, you know this child?” one of the guards asked me. I’d heard her called Kenwa.
“I know his family. They aren’t violent. His mother is pregnant. She’s hardly a threat.”
Crest said, “She may have been taken for questioning. There’s a holding area over this way. If she is there, we’ll find her.”
Kenwa, Crest and I took Bug and moved away from the group. I looked into the crowd and saw Hav watching us. He nodded at me, but didn’t follow us. So he knew me and still trusted me as family. This was good. After a few minutes Crest noticed a large scrape on Bug’s knee and stopped to put a bandage over it, humming softly as he did so. A few steps ahead of them I spoke quietly to Kenwa. “Kenwa. I traveled with these people. They are escaping violence, not bringing it. Bug’s father was leading a large group seeking safety here. Is there nothing that can be done to help them?”
Kenwa said, “No offense, Glad, but leading a large group? It’s probably a gang. Those are the type we need to keep out. I have sympathy for this child. He can’t help the dangerous folk who raised him. Maybe he could stay. My husband has talked about wanting a child. See how he connects with the boy? We could adopt him.”
“He already has parents,” I said.
We came to a building with several more guards in front of it. Kenwa spoke to them. “Aru, we are looking for this child’s mother. We think she may be here.”
Aru shrugged.“There were two here earlier. One was a woman. We didn’t get any answers out of her. She took ill and has been moved to the medical house.”
The medical house was not far off. I prompted Kenwa and Crest to hurry, fearing for Chalynge. Inside we found both Chalynge and Dare. Chalynge was lying on a bed. Dare held her hand. “Mama!” said Bug. He rushed over to her. I followed behind.
“Chalynge?” I said. When I got close I could see her face was a little too pale. Her clothes were wrinkled and the hem of her skirt had become so muddy it was stained a dark ugly brown. After a second I realized it wasn’t mud. Crest joined me. He stared uncomprehending at the stains then sucked in his breath. He began to sing,
I will take my heart in my chest and put it next to-
Kenwa interrupted, “Crest! Why do you sing? They are Southfolk.”
“But, she’s injured. The healing song must help her,” said Crest.
“It isn’t for them,” Kenwa insisted.
“Why not?” I said.
“Well I, I- it just isn’t,” Kenwa stammered.
“But I sang it for the child. It is for everyone,” Crest said. Kenwa frowned but said no more. Chalynge opened her eyes and saw me.
“Glad? You’ve brought me Bug. Now I have my two children.”
“Two,” said Dare pointedly, looking at me. Chalynge closed her eyes again.
“Tell me this woman will recover,” I begged one of the attendants.
“She will, and no thanks to those guards; they have not dealt gently with her!” the attendant snapped at me.
Dare crossed the room and returned with a cup of water for Bug, having a little herself first. As Bug drank she turned to face me. Standing as tall as her stature would allow, she hissed at me through clenched teeth. “What do you want with us? It’s clear you possess great magic. It’s been weeks since we saw you fade away. Now you come to us, walking with the enemy. Don’t you know the evil they are? They have killed my sister this day. The ancestors will burn them alive for it. And how do you suppose they will deal with you?” As she spoke her words grew louder and louder so they filled the room with their intensity.
“Dare,” Chalynge breathed, “Enough.” Dare glared at me but was silent. Crest and Kenwa moved toward the door. As they stepped outside I followed.
“Kenwa, that woman lost her child. And her daughter was astute enough; we did that. We failed her. Have you never heard Aru bragging about the bruises he leaves? We should have addressed this long ago.”
“We’ve done our jobs Crest,” Kenwa said, hesitating.
“How long can you keep doing them, now you’ve seen what it really means?” I said.
“She’s right. This isn’t who we are. Maybe it never was. We must leave the guards and find something else,” said Crest.
“Close,” I said, “but you can do more. Now you see the problem. It’s time to fix it.”
“How can we?”
“First I’d say we need to get back to the border and stop any more violence between your guards and the Southfolk there,” I replied.
“Looks like you won’t have to,” came Dare’s voice. She’d followed us outside and stole up behind us. She pointed in the direction of a group of approaching Southfolk. As they grew nearer I could see that Hav was at the front of them.
“Hav!” I cried out, running to meet them. “How did you get through?”
“Fighting broke out. I tried to stop it, but I’m afraid one of the guards is dead. We came through in the confusion. Were you able to find Chalynge?”
“She’s inside with Bug.”
“Good! She and the children should stay put. We head to the castle. I must speak with the king’s man there, and quickly, before more lives are lost on either side.”
While Hav was still speaking a strong breeze kicked up out of nowhere. A familiar noise filled my ears. The creaking, gear sticking, groan was unmistakable. “Doctor?” I said, incredulous.
The TARDIS materialized in front of us and The Doctor opened the door and looked out, followed by the man I’d seen at the castle. The Doctor looked at the group of Southfolk, guards, me and Dare in turn.
“Hello, I’m The-”
“Doctor!” we both said.
“Yes, that’s right. I am. The Doctor. And this is Ardrin.” The Doctor eyed me, perhaps trying to decide if I knew him or was mistaking him for some medical doctor.
Ardrin stepped out of the TARDIS hesitantly. “Sorcery,” he breathed.
Sensing an opportunity to explain his technological magic, The Doctor turned back to Ardrin. “Oh no. It’s not sorcery. Just a more advanced tool than anything you have. I’ve simply brought you over a great distance in a short period of time. Now. If you’d only-”
“Listen-!” Crest rushed up to Ardrin, cutting off The Doctor mid sentence. For his part The Doctor looked a little confounded. He’d just been cut off from speaking twice in five minutes, something he was not used to.
“Ardrin, we’ve got to talk. It’s about the Southfolk. There’s real trouble here,” Crest said.
Ardrin looked at the strange grouping of us. He frowned. “I think you better enlighten me immediately. What are all these people doing here and what’s happened to the other guards?”
“What we’ve been doing here needs to change. A woman has lost her child…she’s very ill, Ard.” Crest faltered.
“Lost her child? More proof Southfolk can’t be trusted with their own children,” Ardrin snorted.
“No Ard,” The Doctor put in. “She’s lost her child. Look at her.” He moved to the doorway behind us where Chalynge stood. She’d come out to see what the commotion was.
Ardrin’s face showed confusion, then a slow understanding. “That is unfortunate to be sure. But what is that to the situation at hand?”
I moved over to where The Doctor was standing. He scanned Chalynge with the sonic. “Will she be alright?” I asked quietly. “She’s tough, I’ll give her that. She just needs rest,” said The Doctor.
“You aren’t a cruel man, Ard.” Crest was saying. “We grew up together. The way we push the Southfolk back, beat them, drive them out indiscriminately? They never even have a chance to ask us for help, let alone be offered any. It can’t go on. We cannot keep the Southfolk out any longer, not if this is the result.”
“You expect me to let them all in then?”
“There must be something we can do that doesn’t end like this,” Crest said, indicating Chalynge.
Hav stepped forward. “I would speak,” he said.
“The dogs have come. So let them bark,” said Ardrin.
It must have been difficult for Hav to let this pass, but he did. “You are the King’s man; this is Kingsground. You have authority here. We ask a place to stay. We want no trouble from you, nor will we be a trouble to you, but that you let us stay and make our lives here in safety.”
“Make the right choice, Ardrin,” said The Doctor, quietly.
But Ardrin shook his head. “It’s no use. I see no way of this working.”
“I knew they’d never hear our words.” Dare’s voice rose sharply. She came out of the crowd and lunged at Ardrin, a knife in her hand. Her shout gave Ard the warning he needed to catch her by the arm and twist the knife out of her grasp. “Child. You are unpracticed in combat,” he said as he shoved her away. But in that moment, another had used the distraction to catch Ardrin from behind and hold a knife to his throat. “No one move. I’m speaking now and you will all listen. You. Doctor. Drop your weapon. You guards as well. Hands up.”
“It’s a screwdriver.” The Doctor said, dropping it on the ground. The guards disarmed and held their hands up.
“Southfolk, join me. Get those blades. We will make Ard’s blood run, and these guards, and any who side with them. They will pay with their lives, and we will take what we like from this place.” Nothing moved, but I could hear the Southfolk murmuring what to do. I held my breath. The Doctor, Hav, and Chalynge stood near me; all of us frozen in place.
“I recognize this man. I don’t know how he came to be here, but he is one of the monsters who brought destruction to us,” Chalynge whispered. “He is the same one who killed the guard today,” Hav whispered back.
“Dare, come away from there.” The Doctor said.
“No,” said Dare.
“Dare, this man is our enemy. He is-”
“One of those who attacked us? Of course he is! I saw that two days ago when he joined us. I went to him for help. I knew he’d be able to offer us protection. After all, we’ve seen their strength.”
“It isn’t our way, Dare,” said Chalynge.
“And just what is our way? Hunger? Sickness? Death? Those who live in this place have murdered my sister this day.”
“Dare, come away from him,” Chalynge pleaded.
“How can you not care?? My sister is gone, and this man’s life must be the payment!”
“Yes Dare, the new life in me is GONE. And I do mourn your sister. It pains me to my very core. The ancestors weeping threatens to drown me. But that doesn’t mean more blood must be spilled. This man has done evil. I choose to forgive. We must find a way forward.”
While Chalynge was speaking I’d been keeping my eye on the man holding Ardrin. His eyes moved over us as we failed to take up weapons and kill as he’d asked. Several in close proximity, including Hav, had moved closer to him. Seeing his opportunity to incite the violence from the Southfolk was evaporating, he suddenly changed tactics. Swiftly he grabbed Dare instead. This had the immediate effect of stopping Hav from advancing.
“Sel, what are you doing? I thought you, but you said I -was beautiful.” Dare’s voice broke.
“Hav, stop where you are! Don’t anyone try to follow me.” Sel played the blade across Dare’s neck gently as she whimpered. He backed off in the direction of a cluster of trees as we looked on. No one dared move. I saw Ardrin was looking at Hav, who’d been trying to help him. As soon Sel disappeared from view, Hav made to go after them. Ard stopped him by taking his arm.
“Let me go! She’s my daughter,” Hav said.
“No. You let me go. You don’t know these grounds like I do. I saw you trying to help me. I can see you and Sel are not the same. I’m not sure what I can do for your people, but right now I can do this. That child is foolish, but she is indeed a child. I’ll bring her back to you. Crest, do you remember our old training days? Come and help me.” Crest and Ard set off together.
“Hav, I’m frightened Sel will kill her. Doctor, what do you know of this man, Ard?” asked Chalynge.
“Ard knows these grounds. I think he’s a good man, at least he wants to be, and that’s important. He’ll bring Dare back, then we’ll talk about the rest of it. I know he’ll see reason.”
By now the guards had arrived, and Kenwa was talking to them. Hav spoke quietly to the Southfolk. Both groups stood separate, uneasy, though neither interacted with the other. Finally three figures emerged from the trees. They walked close together. They grew nearer and we could see Ard’s leg was injured. He leaned on Dare and Crest. Hav and Kenwa ran to meet them.
“Dare, are you hurt?” Hav asked.
“No. But this man, Ardrin, he’s been stabbed. His leg needs attention.”
Both groups could now see Ardin was wounded. There were gasps and someone began to hum the healing melody. Then someone else cried out, “The twin sign!” It was the pattern of blood staining Ard’s clothing. It matched the stains worn by Chalynge. A voice among the group said “it cannot be the twin sign.” Another muttered “we don’t sing for them.”
“No,” Kenwa said in a loud voice. “No my friends. If we deny the song to her we deny it to Ardrin too. They make a pair- the holy twos! We sing now for both. And for all.” Kenwa breathed deeply and began to sing. At first it was just Crest who sang with her. Then one by one others joined in, until all the guards were singing as one. Southfolk began to relax as they listened. The song overwhelmed my senses. I closed my eyes.
“I’m not ready,” I said under my breath.
The Doctor glanced at me. He watched as I slid to the ground. “Glad,” he said, concerned. I said, “My name is Marie. I’m a traveler too. From earth.”
“How can we help you?” The Doctor asked.
“The virus is pulling me back. I’ll fade. Tell them not to worry. Make them know I’m alright. I was never really here to begin with.”
“Marie, wake up. Come back to us,” Jim was saying. I sat up.
“Woah woah, slowly. I should be very upset with you, you know. Did it work? Did you find the family? Were they alright?”
“It’s quite a long story, but I do think they were on their way to working things out. The Doctor was there.”
“I think you mean The Doctor is here,” said a familiar voice.
Continued in The Epilogue