The trees created deep dark shadows in the morning sun. The brook ran alongside the meadow cut between the tall oaks and raced to the north side of Noque, creating the Falls of Tumbra.
As the sun crossed the purple swirled sky, the shadows deep in the forest seem to take on a life of their own.
Colorful eyes can be seen looking from all the small openings in tree trunks, between bright colored boulders, and mossy hills. These eyes belong to the inhabitants of Noque, the Dream Weavers.
Tá mé, the spirit of Noque, who watches over the dream weavers as they live their idyllic existence is everywhere at once. Tá mé, which means “I exist” in the language no longer spoken in the valley. The spirit is neither male nor female; it simply exists and is part of the wind, the rain, and the flowers. The voice of Tá mé can be heard in the songs of the various birds, or in the loud thunder in a night sky. All a dream weaver need do is ask and Tá mé will answer.
On this spring like morning, Tá mé floats over the meadow of gold kisses each flower with a light touch collecting the dew. The colorful song birds flit through the flowers on their way to the forest. The trees bend with a soft breeze to welcome the birds as their songs float over leaves the colors of a new rainbow. The floor of the woods is a carpet of dark moss mixed with the leaves as they wafted slowly to the ground as if on musical notes.
Quinn O’Connor stood in the middle of the meadow. His light blue eyes searched the surrounding area; from golden rye to a forest so beautiful it hurt his eyes.
How did I come to be here? Where is here? I should be scared but I'm not.
The voice of Tá mé, carried by the wind, reached the homes of the Noques.
“This is the one. The one I promised you. Come out. Come out. Come out and see.”
One by one, the dream weavers left their homes only to stop at the edge of the woods. They could see the one Tá mé spoke of in the distance.
Each Noque looked to the other and rushed out to the meadow, their voices raised in song.
Their beautiful harmony reached the ears of Quinn and he spun around to find the source of the most bewitching song he had ever heard in his short life.
As he looked to the forest he could now see the parting of the rye as though a person sought passage. The rye parted from each direction and all passage ways lead straight to where he stood.
With his heart beating the staccato of fear, Quinn had no choice but to await the arrival of whatever came his way.
With music like this they cannot be evil. Is this the afterlife? Last I remember is curling in my robe by the fire.
“You are the one.”
Quinn turned sharply to the right, there before his eyes stood the strangest creature he had ever seen.
Ah I must be dreaming.
The face, a pale round moon shape with large violet eyes and short nose. His lips are thin and moist with small even, very white teeth. Two red splotches circled his cheeks like apples painted on his face at a fair.
“I am the one, what?”
“The one Tá mé promised.”
“Who is Tá mé?”
“Tá mé is all things.”
“Well, I don’t know how I got here. This must be a dream.”
“Tá mé told us of you. Told us you would come to aid us in our quest.”
“What am I to do?”
“You will don the protector we have made for you.”
“You speak in riddles. I don’t understand.”
“I will what?”
“Come with us.”
The strange little thing turned to head back to the forest. Quinn stood and watched as he tried desperately to figure out just what he was looking at. A short, upright, little man walked away from him. His bright yellow hair stood in orange tipped spikes all around his head. His arms were bulging inside his black tunic. His legs were thick and looked strong with a tail of striped black fur dragging through the rye behind him.
None of the other pathways revealed a creature like this one. The rye had simply parted to emptiness.
As he looked to the creature that was now very close to re-entering the forest, Quinn began to run to catch up. When he reached the woods, the singing of the birds stopped abruptly. Neither an insect, nor creature moved or made a sound.
Quinn stood still at the rim of the trees, now very afraid.
“Come. We must make the Falls of Tumbra before the moon takes over the sky.”
Now he could see the little man just a few feet before him. As he took a step between two large trees the forest came alive with little creatures as they sang once more.
How could I not have seen them? Were they hiding?
As they made their way through the woods toward the brook, Quinn studied each little creature around him.They appeared to be male and female for certain, and though they were about the same height, no two looked alike. They were all bright, filled with sunshine and song except for the one who had spoken to him. That one was dark, a bit sinister.
When they reached the brook, the little creatures pulled boats from behind fallen trees. These were made from hollowed out moss covered tree trunks, each one long enough to hold about twenty of the little sprites. They grabbed short thick oars and began to head north against the current.
“You will walk in the middle.”
“Oh, no boat for me, eh?”
Quinn entered the brook that was waist high on him.
“I understand your need of boats. Does this brook get any deeper?”
Quinn trudged along between the five boats. The going was difficult due to the many rocks and small mounds of sand on the bottom, which tripped him up several times.
“So, please tell me what I am to do to help you with your quest. What is your quest?”
“We are searching for the iniquitous.”
“What?” Quinn stopped walking.
“We must continue to Tumbra.”
“No. I’m not going anywhere, I want answers.”
“You will have all the answers you seek at the Falls of Tumbra.”
Quinn began walking again, his hands resting on the boat at either side for balance.
“How was I brought here?”
A scowl appeared on the dream weaver’s face.
“Like Tá mé you are simply here.”
“Where is this Tá mé? Let me speak to him.”
“Tá mé is everywhere, surrounding us, within us.”
“Ah, so he doesn’t exist. Except in your little minds, that is.”
The boat stopped. The little creature stood. His wide eyed glare connected with Quinn’s eyes at once.
The air turned chill as the sun went behind deep purple clouds.
With gooseflesh raised on his skin, Quinn stared back into the violet eyes.
“Tá mé exists in everything. Do you see how the day changes? Tá mé is angry.”
Lightning flashed in jagged streaks as the dark clouds rumbled ominously. Gone was the warm sunshine and soft cooling breeze. The trees on either side of the brook began to bend, their top branches near to the ground. Loud moaning could be heard as they nearly split in half from the force of the harsh cold wind that came from every direction at once.
Quinn held his hands over his eyes as he tried to regain his balance. But that was not to be. As he began to fall into the icy water his mind sought to make sense of what his eyes told him to be true.
This storm which surrounded him did not touch the boats that were so close by. The dream weavers sat, oars in hand, watching as Quinn was swallowed by the brook.
The water which had gone from three feet to twenty in a matter of seconds rolled him over and over, his head smashing against the stones that appeared to be much bigger than he imagined.
As his feet found purchase on the brook sand, he gasped for air as his head cleared the calm water. Quinn stood facing the violet eyes once more. He turned a complete circle to look everywhere.
“I am sorry, Tá mé. I will not doubt you again.”
The wooden boats bobbed in the shallow water. Quinn could see that the depth was once again just to his waist. The trees on either bank swayed and nodded their great heads in approval of a lesson well learned.
The sky turned to the purple swirls he first noted when he arrived in the valley. All seemed as it was before.
“You learn quickly.”
“It was either learned or drowned.”
The five boats continued north once more.
Hours of walking in the water was exhausting Quinn. Just before he mentioned the need for a rest, the Noque with the violet eyes announced “Alu” and the boats turned toward shore.
It was very quiet, not one word spoken, yet all knew what they needed to do. Quinn sat on a large boulder to observe the sprites, as he came to call them in his mind.
“You shall collect wood for our fire.”
Quinn looked to the one in black.
“What is your name?” he asked him.
“Yes. What are you called?”
With a blank stare he kept silent.
Pointing to his own chest, Quinn replied “Quinn O’Connor.”
“I am Ballor”
“Nice to meet you, Ballor. Do the others speak as you do?”
“You will collect wood for our fire now.”
“As you say.”
Quinn headed into the forest.
This is the cleanest woods I've ever seen. Not a twig anywhere.
The branch of the large maple tree before him lowered itself to eye level. He could see the empty little twigs between the fuller ones. With trepidation, he began to prune the limb of the dead twigs. When he appeared to have enough, the tree pulled its branch back into the halo of blood red leaves.
When he returned to the bank of the brook, Quinn could see the flames of small fire in a low pit. Giving the twigs to Ballor, he noticed the slight smile on the Noque’s face.“I amuse you?”
“No. I am very pleased the tree showed you the wood.”
“That was very strange and it made me nervous. I am quite glad to be in the open again.”
“The trees have listened to Tá mé and they have agreed to aid you in this quest. You must remember, they will offer you shelter, fire, and hide you from the iniquitous if you need.”
“Are you telling me I will be on this quest alone? Your quest and I will be alone?”
“Yes. If we could complete this challenge on our own, we would not have need of you.”
“I understand, but I still thought, hoped, you all would be with me. How am I to know what to do?”
“We have things to show you at the Falls of Tumbra. You will come to understand our need. Once you don the protector, it will be as though each one of us is with you.”
A rather cute little sprite stood in front of Quinn. In her hand was a small wooden bowl. The scent of the food inside made his stomach roll over. With wrinkled nose he studied the contents.
“You will need this food, it will give you strength. Eat.”
Though the scent was horrible and the slimy feel on his fingers as he pulled some of the concoction toward his mouth made him gasp for air, he shoved it into his mouth and began to chew. The taste was very much better than he could have hoped for. Once his bowl was empty, he handed it to the Noque for more.
Quinn studied her as she went to the fire for more of this gruel. Her short tunic came to her knees. It was the blue of a summer sky from back home. Her midnight purple hair hung long and straight to the hem. Her tail was pink fur with deep purple diamond shapes and it curled up her back to have the tip rest on her shoulder. As she walked back to him with another bowl of food, he scanned her face. It was the palest pink he had ever seen, made paler by the deep purple of her hair. Her eyes, a dark green with deep yellow lashes. Rosy cheeks which formed small apples as she smiled at him.
“What are you called?” he asked her as he took the bowl from her hands.
She smiled again and turned to head back to her spot by the fire.
“She does not speak?”
“I am the only one you will understand. Unless Tá mé desires to speak in your tongue.”
With full bellies, the Noques tamped the fire, leaving their resting spot precisely as they found it. Once in the water again, Quinn began to pace himself between the boats once more.
“How much farther do we need to go?”
“A very long way. We are to be on the far side of our valley.”
“But are we almost there?”
Quinn stopped as the voice entered his mind.
“My champion, you will know when the time has come. Reserve your strength for you will need it soon. Clear your mind, watch my shores, and listen to the wind.”
As he opened his eyes, he sensed the stillness around him. The boats sat on the calm surface, each face looked at him with awe.
“Tá mé has spoken to you?”
With a new sense of resolve and purpose, Quinn urged the boats forward.
Just as the sun lowered in the western sky, the sound of rushing water reached Quinn’s ears.The loud thunder of enormous amounts of water rushing to pound large rocks drowns out any conversation.
Quinn stops, his hands still holding the sides of two boats, brings them up short as well.
"How is it that this shallow brook can create a fall as this?" he shouted.
"This brook is not the only source of water that meets here."
"Ah, that does make sense."
"From just above our valley, a matter of a short hike would bring us to the River Dax. Which leads in a straight line to pour itself off the mountain top?"
"If the river is a direct line to the falls, why did we take this slow roundabout way to get to the same place?"
"Our boats could not manage the River Dax."
Nodding his head in understanding, Quinn still remained where he stood.
"We must continue."
"We have arrived, haven't we? Where else is there to go?"
"We must go over the fall."
"Right… You think that I am going to jump off this cliff into all that water?"
"Good. So what is the plan?"
Pointing to the right shore, Ballor simply said "Alu"
One boat edged to the bank, each Noque jumping free above the water.
Looking to Quinn, Ballor pointed to the empty boat.
"You will hold this close as we all go over the Falls of Tumbra."
"Ok, what was this protector thing you made for me? Can I have it now?"
For the first time Ballor laughed outright. The sound of his merriment echoed along the shore and through the trees.
As afraid as he was, the laughter of this dark sprite brought a wide grin to Quinn's face.
"Yes, you may have the protector now. Once this is placed on you, you must never take it off.:
The little sprite at the very front of Ballor's boat stood and held out a bag with long leather strings.
Ballor took the bag and turned back to Quinn.
"This is the protector."
He opened the bag and pulled out flowers that are somehow tied together in a long strand.
"Hold out your right arm."
Quinn did as he was bid.
Ballor began to wrap the long vine of petals around Quinn's extended arm, as the vine touched his skin it pulled the flowers together to form a long sleeve. In amazement, he watched Ballor as he let go of the vine and simply held the bag opened.
In a matter of seconds the vine created a soft, fragrant and in Quinn's mind, useless blouse.
"What the devil is this? How can you call this a protector?"
From the shore came the flight of many fire tipped arrows aimed at Quinn.
He caught sight of the fire on its way toward him and tried to duck low. The arrows slammed into his chest, throwing him off balance, but he regained his feet. The flames were extinguished by the flowers and the arrows dropped into the brook.
"No harm shall come to you. With the protector and the weapon we shall give to you, you must be victorious."
Quinn looked down to the flowers on his chest.
Not so much as a singed petal.
He strode purposely to the bank and took hold of the empty boat.
"Lead the way, Ballor"
With a smile, and with Quinn keeping pace, Ballor waved the four remaining boats toward the edge of the cliff and over the falls.
A slight moment of fear possessed Quinn as he clung to the hollowed log speeding through nothingness toward a floor of raging water. Narrowly missing a boulder, now seen, he slammed into the deep cold river. The shock of the icy water took his breath away as he took in large painful gulps of the River Dax.
He continued to sink as though he had rocks in his pockets. No matter what he attempted to do to stop his downward spiral, he remained in slow descent. At last his feet touched the bottom sand.
With a deep inhale of the water, he turned to see Ballor and the Noques trudging toward him.
With a smile, Ballor pointed due east. Quinn fell in line with the Noques as they headed toward a small cave. As he kept pace with the little sprites he took the time to glance around this world of water.
The sand was golden and granular like sugar. Great schools of fish darted in for a closer look at this traveling band then darted away to safety. They looked like the fish he used to catch for supper in the river back home. Though he never spent any time under the water before, he was quite certain the plant life here was very different.
Huge orange rubbery looking fronds waved in the current. They looked innocent enough until a fish swam a bit too close. The top frond would continue to wave while the bottom frond snatched the fish so quickly, Quinn wasn’t certain it had been there at all.
Yellow and purple flowers grew to enormous heights, well over his head. The leaves had pointed barbs along all sides. As they trudged by, a burst of white came from the center of the flowers.
“Do not breathe in the white dew from these flowers.”
Quinn looked frontward to see Ballor stopped. The Noque stared at him as his warning came again.
“Do not breathe in the white dew it will grant you a long and painful death.”
It seemed to Quinn that he more felt Ballor’s words than heard them.
Soon they stood at the entrance to the cave, which was much bigger than he first thought.Ballor led this group into the world of darkness. Quinn studied the markings on the cave wall to his left. Very strange hieroglyphics but the pictures did show the field of Rye. At one drawing, he stopped to look at every aspect. The field of Rye was present, as well as the meadow and the woods. But something else was there. He could feel it, almost see it.
“What do you feel, Quinn?”
He answered without moving his lips.
“Something floats or runs through the Rye toward the meadow. I also see it in the welcoming of the trees.
“You are the first to see Tá mé.”
Quinn turned at the envy in Ballor’s voice.
“You do not see what I see, Ballor?”
“No. Come, we have much to do.”
They struggled for a long while through the water filled cave. Quinn could see steps in the distance and soon they were on dry ground.
“Where are we, Ballor?”
“We are here.”
With an exasperated sigh, Quinn turned to the little Noque.
“Could you please, just for one time, answer me without a riddle?”
“This is the cave of our beginning. All things were created here.”
“You mean all things on Noque?”
“No. I mean all things. Come to the beginning of the cave and read.”
A short distance farther they came to a solid gold wall. Quinn rubbed his palms over the cold surface.
“Is this really gold? This is a treasure.”
“The metal is not the treasure, Quinn. Knowledge will always be of more value.”
Quinn turned to look at the wall where Ballor stood. The wall of gold behind him seems to light up the entire cave. The drawings, the colors, the writings all drew him into a web of mystery.
Standing before the edge of the wall of gold, he could see scribble, nonsense lines.
“What is all this Ballor?”
“This is the beginning.”
“I don’t understand. I see the drawings, but what language is this?”
“It is the language of time. You are the only one who can read it. You must read now to know the iniquitous, but do not tell us the words. We do not wish to know when our world will be ended.”
“I am supposed to know this language? It looks like nonsensical lines.”
“We have some time for you to find a way to make sense of the writing. You need to know where to find the iniquitous. These words will tell you how to destroy it.”
Quinn stood for a long time staring at the wall. The words made no sense. The drawings were of the forest, the trees, and large flowering plants with stalks as thick as a man’s leg. The colors were vivid and swirled together. Some looked mosaic or like stained glass, with images of fields and seas.
What does all this mean? How am I supposed to decipher this when I don't really know where I am?
The longer Quinn stared at the writing the more tired his eyes became. The lids began to droop as he sank to the floor.
When his eyes opened he felt rested. As he sat up, he discovered he was alone in the cave.
“Ballor?” He called in a voice filled with panic.
“Ballor! “ Quinn screamed the name and shuddered as it echoed.
What have I gotten myself into here?
Standing, he went to the first drawing on the cavern wall. Keeping his right hand on the gold, his fingertips stroking its surface he studied the picture drawn on the wall.
“Let go of the gold.”
Quinn spun around quickly as the voice began to fade. No one was there.
Looking at the wall of gold, he decided to ignore it for now.
Back to the first drawing. Something is amiss here. It’s a picture of the forest, many trees and plants.
But something is added while something is missing. What is it? Why can I not see?
Quinn walked away from the drawing for a moment. As he stood facing the watery entrance, he began to descend the stairs. He stopped.
I know what it is! I know wehere the iniquitous hides!
Racing back to the drawing he slowly searches the trees again. There. In the highest tree. The eyes stare out of the bark of the holly tree. The iniquitous. High on a limb to the right of the eyes is a small nest made of tree twigs, rye, moss and clover. Inside, one solitary egg. The beginning of all things.
With this knowledge came the understanding of the language.
Quinn raced down the stairs into the ice cold water. Once his lungs filled again with the life giving River Dax, he trudged across the great distance to the shore.
As he emerged from the water he could see the Noques, Ballor in front, all waiting for him.
“Ballor, I know where to find the iniquitous.” He shouted.
Lying on the ground behind the Noques, Quinn could see a thin sword.
“Do you intend for me to kill the iniquitous? Is that sword for me?”
Quinn placed his hand upon the protector over his heart. Breathing deeply, he calmed himself.
“Give me the sword, but before I leave I need a small bag.”
Once the blade was attached to his waist, he held his hand out for the small bag that had been used for the protector.
“I have need of something from the cave. I will return in a moment. Will you still be here?”
“No. We must head back to our valley and our homes. Your journey has begun. We will learn of your success or failure from Tá mé.
“Very well, I am off now. I know where I need to go.” With that, he reentered the river and disappeared from sight.
A short time later he stood on the shore. Although he knew the Noques would be gone, he still searched the rim of trees for their boats. Quinn entered the forest knowing he faces an adversary worthy of concern, but he is truly prepared. He paced himself to preserve his strength to face the iniquitous.
As night falls and the moon goes behind clouds, Quinn decides to stop to rest. He sits on a fallen tree trunk, barely able to keep his eyes open. A loud rustling of leaves startles him and he sees a bush he had not noticed earlier. Large black berries hang heavily almost to the ground. Quinn begins shoving them into his mouth as quickly as he can pick them from the branches. With a full belly, he heads to the river to drink. Once back to his tree trunk, he lies on the ground on his side with knees pulled up to his chest. His arms serve as a pillow as he drifts off to sleep.
The maple tree nearby lowers its branches so that Quinn is shielded from the harsh night wind.
As the sun burns through the halo of treetops, Quinn stretches his limbs from his deep sleep. After relieving himself, he humbly apologizes to the tree.Full of berries once more, he sets off to find the forest in the cave drawing, knowing he will recognize it the moment he sees it.
It is nearly nightfall when he approaches the forest where he will find the iniquitous. The trees are all high and dark here. Animals make strange sounds, night calls to each other, or perhaps one tells of his presence near these woods and alerts the others.
I should rest before I travel any deeper. I think I will rest on THIS side of the woods.
As he turns toward the river once more, he comes across another berry bush, filled with big red berries the size of small plums.
Again he sleeps with a full belly provided by the forest. The trees stand alert as sentinels offering their protection to the one who sleeps below.
At first light Quinn is up and feeding on the berries. I will never tell mom that berries are not filling. She would be so proud to know that I am fulfilling a quest. Will I be allowed to go back home when this is done? I don't miss school but I don't want to miss my thirteenth birthday party either. I will have to wait until I see Ballor again to ask. He is a strange one. Not like the other Noques at all. I don't trust him. Maybe he is the iniquitous, or at least, evil.
Berating himself for stalling, he picked up his sword and attached the bag to his belt. With a deep breath he entered the dark forest.
I wonder if these trees will offer my protection too.
No sooner did the thought complete in his mind when a large branch fell to the ground before him, barley missing his head.
Well, that answers that.I will have to remain alert.
The morning stretches into afternoon as Quinn’s stomach rumbles. He stops to eat the few berries he has in his pockets. He hears a strange call, almost human. As the call grows louder, he now can make out words.
“Quinn! Where are you? Quinn.”
Quinn stops short to listen carefully.Dad? How can he be here?
“Quinn, answer me son.”
“Dad! I’m here!”
A loud whistling comes to him as he takes off in a run.
Dad's whistling that same old song. He can help me with this quest. I don't have to be alone after all.
Running toward the whistling Quinn is greeted by his father.
“Dad, you’re really here.” He shouted happily.
His father gathered him in his arms in a tight hug.
“Ah, Quinn. How did we get here? What are we doing here? I’ve been in these woods calling you for at least two nights and days.”
“I’m sorry, dad, I didn’t hear you. I’ve been with the Noques.”
“Noques, they live here. Along with Tá mé. But I’m on a quest dad, and you can come with me. I’m glad you’re here, I really didn’t want to do this alone.”
“What is this vest of flowers you’re wearing?”
“The Noques made this for me, it’s the protector.”
“Does it work?”
“So far, yes.”
“Well, then I will stay behind you.”
With his dad by his side Quinn felt safe and optimistic about this journey.
Soon they stopped to rest. Quinn’s dad took out a hunk of meat he had in his bag, along with a box of matches. Once a low fire was started, he proceeded to put the meat on a stick and place it over the flame. Quinn ate a hearty meal.
By nightfall, Quinn built a small fire and they ate more of the meat, along with a hunk of bread from his dad’s bag.
“What else do you have in there?”
“Nothing more, Quinn. Just these apples.” He said with a wide grin.
Once supper was done, they settled to sleep.
“I’m glad you’re with me, dad. I was pretty scared here alone. But I don’t know how you got here; I don’t even know how I got here.”
“I don’t know how you got here either, but I assume it was your thoughts, fears or wishes that brought me there to help.”
Satisfied with the answer, Quinn drifted off to sleep. The trees watched the man and boy.
Quinn awoke to the smell of cooking meat. “Morning, dad. Where did you find more meat?”
“Well, I’ve been honing my hunting skills. So tell me, Quinn, what exactly is this quest we are on?”
Quinn filled him in on all that has happened since he arrived here. Also about the underwater world and the cave of beginning.
“Where is this cave again?”
“It’s under the Falls of Tumbra, dad. When we have found the iniquitous and set this world to right again, I’ll take you over the falls and into the cave. Ok?”
“Sure, sounds good. So what are we supposed to do with this iniquitous? What exactly is it anyway?”
“We are going to kill it, dad. I read on the cave wall exactly how.”
“How? You can tell me.”
“No, dad, I can’t. I have to keep it secret for now. But I will tell you when we find the iniquitous.”
They searched the forest for the remainder of the daylight. When the moon rose high they prepared for another night in the woods.Finishing the remainder of their meat, Quinn fell immediately to sleep. The crackling of the fire as well as the warmth made him sleep deeply.
The iniquitous stared down at him.
The sound of animals nearby pulled Quinn from his sound sleep. The trees rustled their leaves sending sharp twigs and cones to shower down upon him. Acorns were tossed by branches and hit his head with loud cracks.
“Dad? Where are you?” Finding himself alone Quinn let the hot tears of shame clean his face.
I should have known it wasn’t dad. The iniquitous is a shape-shifter. I should have realized that when I saw the drawing. At least I didn’t tell him what the writing said. Now I have to start again. Alone, just as the writing told me.
Building a fire while dodging pine-cones and acorns, Quinn pulled the sword from its sheath. He looked to each tree, deciding just which one would offer up a pliable limb. Quinn spied the tall pine at the edge of his campsite.
The tree seemed to be indifferent as he sliced cleanly through several of the lower boughs. Walking back to his fire he bent the shorter limb in an arc. Once seated he very carefully hollowed out one of the limbs. With patience and a few acorns off the head, he finished and was pleased with the mold he formed.
Now he took the blade and placed it into the heart of the bright orange and red flames. The fire spit about this intrusion and then settled to a melting pot of flame.
Quinn removed the bag from his belt and pulled the leather string from the top. Now he tied it to the top end of the long bough, and then to the bottom. As he headed to the river he watched these trees carefully searching for movement.
The ice cold water hurt his hands as he placed his bow on the bottom sand. He put a heavy rock on top of the center of his creation and watched the water perform its magic.
The leather string tightened pulling the ends into the perfect bow. He followed the instructions from the cavern wall to the letter. Quinn pulled the bow from the water and held it up to his shoulder to measure the balance. Perfect.
Now the arrows. Seated at the fire pit again, he placed the hollowed out branch on top of the fire alongside the sword. The thicker edge hung outside the pit. The flames remained beneath the wooden mold. Remembering verbatim what the writing said, he picked up the sword by the hasp and placed it into the mold. Before his eyes the metal turned orange and then blue. He could see the perfect arrow being formed. Now he lifted the mold from the fire. Back at the river once more, he placed the mold in the water and watched as it went from blue to bright silver. Quinn repeated this two more times.
He opened the bag with care, careful not to touch the poison with his fingers. The delicate white substance from the water world flowers seemed to glow as he placed the arrows partially inside the bag, the tips buried deep in the powder.
His afternoon was spent toying with the bow, strengthening his muscles as he pulled it taut.
Ignoring his hunger, he continued this form of exercise until the forest became a place of shadows.
Quinn’s heart began a crescendo of beats as he sensed something close by. Movement in the tall oak tree caught his attention. As he stared up into the darkening sky, something moved again. A speck, darker than the clouds behind it, began to take shape. Quinn took an arrow from the bag, and prepared to shoot. His muscles trembled with the strain of holding the bow tightly.
What shape has he taken now? Hold steady, let him get closer.
The wings of the creature were now visible as it neared. Large hoofed feet hung below its body like the legs of a wasp. Now Quinn could see its face, and the creature seemed to sneer at him as he touched the ground.
Dark as night and standing solid at about seven feet, its massive chest heaved with each noisy breath it took.
“You are still here, boy. I am surprised.”
“Where did you think I would go?”
“Home. Running to your mama.” The iniquitous replied in a whinny voice.
“As you can see, I did not.”
“Tell me, boy. What does the writing in the cave say?”
Quinn remained silent.
“I went over the falls just as you did, I, too, entered the cave. I saw the drawings.”
“But you couldn’t read the language.” Quinn replied with a smile.
“No, boy, I could not. But it is of no concern. I still have my own agenda.”
“Do you wish for me to tell you all that was written?”
The beast seemed to study Quinn as it swayed side to side.
“Yessssssssss.” It hissed.
Quinn remained silent once more.
“You taunt me. You will regret doing so.”
Quinn let loose his first arrow. The beast disappeared and the arrow lodged, to the fletching of steel, deep into the trunk of the pine tree.
No amount of pulling, prying or twisting could budge the steel.
I had better be careful with the last two. Maybe I should just shoot him when I see him, never mind any talking.I
Quinn added the remainder of his branches to the fire. The hungry flames seemed to devour the wood in seconds. With loud crackling and much spitting it settled into a low flame and gave him warmth.
His belly rumbled loudly and his eyes searched the surrounding area for a berry bush. There were none in sight. With nothing else to do, he took hold of two nearby stones and began to rub them together.
When the sun came up he was still sitting by the smoldering fire. The two stones had been worn into two short blades.
The early morning chattering of the woodland critters entered his mind. Breakfast! He set a small trap with the piled up acorns that had rained down on him the day before. Quinn effortlessly broke open several of the nuts with one of his new blades. He hoped the scent of the meat inside would lure a little fellow close enough to the small hill of acorns that he could stab it.
The squirrels had proved to be quicker and craftier than he expected. After several attempts he was able to secure one rather hefty critter thru its tail to the ground. It screamed at him in its own language but Quinn understood its fear and frustration.
With a full belly and no sleep the night before he found his eyes closing on their own. When he awoke it was late afternoon. The sun was on the west side of the forest and his campsite was now darkening and cold. Lighting another fire with the abundance of dead twigs and leaves, he settled in for the wait.
I’ll wait for him to come to me rather than tire myself looking for him. He knows where to find me.
The shadows shifted as the afternoon slid into night. Loud footfalls could be heard coming through the forest on his right. Quinn prepared an arrow and pulled his bow taut.
He kicked sand on the fire letting his eyes get used to the dark. As soon as the fire blinked out the bear came ambling toward him from the dark tree cover. The beast hit him with one huge paw, the claws scraping across his neck and shoulder. He was thrown to the ground on top of the tamped fire pit. Quinn got to his feet immediately and pulled the arrow back into its nock on the bow. The protector he wore saved his life but could not prevent his fall.
Is this the iniquitous? I waste an arrow if it is not.
As the bear stood on its back legs it roared while its front legs pawed the air around Quinn. He could feel the beast’s hot breath as it gusted into his face. The teeth were dripping a bloody saliva and flesh hung from its teeth. Quinn fired the poisoned arrow.
The bear hit the ground with the sound of thunder. Its body quivered as the poison ran its course. Soon it lay still.
Just before the dawn Quinn saw his dad walking through the woods toward him.
With his bow at shoulder height he pulled it taut. The last steel arrow glowed with the sunrise.
“Did you really think I would fall for this shape again?”
“Perhaps not, but it is easier for me to speak in this form, and your arrow would pass through me.”
“Because this is a mystical shape, I am not really here.”
This does make sense. I need him to be here in order to kill him. I only have one shot.
“So tell me, as a shape shifter you may adopt any form you wish?”
“Yessssssss, but though I’m not here, I can destroy you now if I desire.”
Nodding his head Quinn looked directly into his father’s eyes and responded, “But you won’t.”
“Why is that?”
“Because of your pride.”
“Yes. You want to show me how powerful you are and you want me to tell you what is written because it will affect you as well.”
“What is written is of no consequence to me. But you are right about one thing. I want you to know my power, boy, and know that your efforts will not bring me down.”
“You said you went to the cave, right?”
“Well are you actually the holly tree or is that just a drawing?”
“What do you believe?”
“I believe it’s just a drawing. You can’t shape into anything solid. Your shapes are just in my mind, not real.”
“You doubt my power?”
“Yes, yes I do. I don’t believe you can really change shape, I think you have the ability to project an image, one that can frighten, or fool an enemy.”
The wind picked up all around the campsite. Birds left the treetops in a mass rush of wings. As a large whirlwind took shape, Quinn’s father smiled. The wind circled his dad and he began to fade. With leaves and twigs blowing about him, Quinn lowered his head to shield his eyes, but kept the iniquitous in view. The dirt filled air was thick and dry, the pebbles and tree branches flying all around the pair as they faced off from opposite sides of the fire pit. The tree tops swayed and sent a rainfall of acorns and pine-cones. When the wind died down Quinn was able to look across the campsite. There stood the large holly tree from the cave drawing.
Quinn pulled the bow back taut and let loose the poisoned arrow. It imbedded itself completely in the solid trunk.
The eyes of the iniquitous stared in first shock, than understanding and last pain. The tree burst into deep orange flame engulfing the holly tree.
Quinn remained in the clearing until the flames died. The holly tree turned to ash. Gathering up his bow and bag, Quinn emerged into the forest by the cavern and lowered to the river to drink. The rustle of shrubbery behind him made him smile. A large bush filled with so many different fat berries stood in the path he had just walked through minutes before.
Filling his stomach with the fruit he now entered the River Dax. As he inhaled the ice water he felt larger than life. At the towering flowers, he emptied the bag of its white powder. Quinn entered the cave.
The drawing he had stopped at days earlier showed him the same field of rye, the meadow and the colorful forest. As he watched a beautiful bluish mist with every color imaginable swirling through it floated over the petals of many flowers on its way to the forest. Tá mé touched each flower, each blade of rye with a gentleness Quinn could actually feel.
With a whimsical smile on his lips he headed toward the staircase.
The wall of gold gleamed. Quinn stood and stared at the wall for a very long time.
This could fix a world of troubles for us. But would it be stealing?
Hours later he descended the stairs into the water. After the initial shock he slowly walked to the shore of the River Dax. Quinn stood studying the forest from the waters’ edge. All seemed peaceful, serene and safe. Now would be the long walk to the field of rye. The singing was the first clue that he was close to his destination. The little sprites appeared to be camping near the rim of trees. As Quinn approached they stopped singing and stared open mouthed at the boy hero.
All rushed to him at once. Ballor shook Quinn’s hand vigorously as he beamed a grin that changed his face to that of a carefree sprite. Before Quinn’s eyes his tunic turned to a sage green with leggings of gold. His eyes brightened with mist.
He is the same as the others. He just had the task of preparing me for the quest.
“Tá mé has told us of your valor, craftiness, and strength. You have saved our Valley and so much more.”
“I was happy to do so, Ballor, and grateful the ordeal is finished. But I do have a question.”
“You may ask anything of us and receive it gladly.”
“If I don’t know how I got here in the first place, how will I get back home again?”
“Fear not, Quinn. That has already been arranged. You will return to your time and home, but not before we celebrate tonight. When the moon is full, we shall sing our praise to you as well as Tá mé. In the morning you will be returned.”
“Thank you, Ballor.”
“It is we who thank you.” Ballor responded with a low bow
“I do have a question for you, Quinn.”
“Did you return to the cave of beginning?
Quinn hesitated for a moment.
“Yes, Ballor, I did. Was I not supposed to?”
“It matters not if you did or no, I ask for my own curiosity.”
“I went to see if the drawings changed and they did.”
“Was that the only reason you returned to the cave?”
“Yes, it is why I went back.”
Ballor stared into Quinn’s eyes for a very long moment. Soon he nodded his head and returned to the preparations for their feast that night.
As the moon took over the day a proverbial feast was placed before Quinn. He was urged to sit on the seat of honor, which was a low worn boulder covered with a bright orange moss. Quinn found it was as comfortable as any he had ever sat on.
A long table of sorts stood two feet off the ground covered with various sized wooden bowls and platters. Vegetables cooked in three different ways were placed all along the table. There were platters of meat roasted over the fire pit, which were the offerings of the forest creatures. Tankards of ale, home brewed of course, were aplenty.
“Why didn’t I have food like this before the quest? That gruel you served me, though not tasting too badly, turned my stomach to smell and touch. A meal such as this would have been much better.”
With a wide grin, Ballor began to do a little gig. His happiness overwhelming his sense of decorum.
“That was a test, young Quinn.” He sang in a clear high voice.
“Yes, one of many and you passed each one.”
Quinn harrumphed and then smiled.
“I suppose that makes sense. You had to be sure I was the one, right?”
“Oh no, we knew you were the one. The tests were for you, for you to find your strength and courage. To discover your beliefs and convictions.”
“I see. Well, I’m glad all is done, and the Valley of Noque is back to right once more.”
“Yes it is, my friend. The iniquitous is truly gone.”
With food eaten, the Noques all began to sit around the low fire. Not a word spoken until the final one claimed his seat. Then their voices rose in a harmony
that Quinn felt fill his soul.
When the feast ended, each Noque lay down around Quinn for their nights’ sleep.
Quinn smiled as he felt himself drift into a dream of valleys, fields of rye and meadows of color.
Ballor was the first sprite he saw as he opened his eyes in the morning.
“Good day, Quinn. You must eat and then we will send you on your way.”
Anxious to get home again, Quinn jumped up and stretched with a loud yawn. His hand quickly going to the bag at his belt.
Breakfast consisted of more of the delicious vegetables from the feast the night before.
With breakfast done Ballor approached Quinn with his news.
“If you come with me now, I will show you our looms and your way home.”
Crossing the entire field of rye took the two of them until the noontime meal. At this point Quinn was rewarded with the view of a low rooftop.
“What is that?” he asked Ballor.
“That is where we Noques weave our dreams.”
“Come, I will show you.”
The closer they got to the building, the more beautiful it became. The outer layer was a pale soft shade of lemon that made Quinn think of spring, or a favorite beach with a glass of his mother’s lemonade.
It was shaped almost oval, with wide open entrance. Long windows were every two feet with shear lace billowing with the soft breeze. Partially surrounding the outer walls was a sleeping dragon. Carved into the stone and colored a deep green.
The open doorway was tall enough for Quinn to walk through with only slightly bending his head. Inside, the floors were a cool tile, each square matching the various colors of the leaves in the forest. Along each wall were looms. These were low, with small stools attached. Each loom had colorful, delicate cloth spanned over planks of steel. The planks were attached to a steel arm which was attached to a small foot pedal. At each loom sat a Noque.
“What do you make here?” Quinn asked.
“How can you make dreams?”
“We are Dream Weavers. We watch over the sleep of every child in every world and universe. If a child has a night terror, we weave dreams of fields of rye and meadows or a forest glen. Or we may weave a dream of the River Dax and let the dreamer drift quietly until the night terror is banished.”
Ballor took Quinn to the farthest most loom which faced a garden. No one sat here.
“This is my loom. I weave the fabric of life.”
Quinn looked perplexed at Ballor.
Ballor smiled. “I will show you.”
He sat on the low stool, pumped his foot on the pedal several times. His fingers began weaving, pulling colored thread to create a picture. To Quinn’s astonishment, his own face began to appear on the cloth.
“What the …”
“You see Quinn; this is how I will send you home. I weave your person into the fabric of life and you shall return to your world.”
As Ballor’s fingers quickened their weave, Quinn could now see he was disappearing from the Valley of Noque.”
“Wait, let me say good bye.”
“Good byes have been said. We are back to our service. You must return to your world.”
Quinn’s likeness filled the fabric of life as he disappeared.
“No, I need to see the sprites once more.” Quinn realized he was standing in his bedroom.
He looked at himself in the mirror. His chest was still covered by the protector and the bag hung heavy from his belt. He removed the protector and laid it on his bed. He searched his closet for something to keep it in and finding a barely filled box, he dumped the contents and turned back. The protector was fading. It was there, and then it was gone.
Now he looked to the bag, as it too began to fade and disappear. It would seem that he was not allowed a keepsake from the Valley of Noque.
At the sound of his father’s voice, Quinn rushed down to the kitchen.
“Dad! I’m glad to see you!” he gave him a hug.
“Well, I’m glad to see you too. It’s not every day you greet me like a soldier returned from battle. What’s up?”
“I just… I don’t know, missed you and mom.”
“That’s nice, Quinn. So, tell me, now that school is out, any plans? I know summer is just beginning, but with your imagination, adventures are never far away.”
Should I tell them? Why not…
“Actually, dad, I have had an adventure.”
Quinn told them everything that happened in the Valley of Noque. Including the iniquitous looking like dad for two days.
At the end of the telling, mom looked terrified.
“What did you see when you went back into the cave?”
“I saw the drawing changed. I could see Tá mé as it floated over the flowers.”
“Emh.” Was all dad said.
“I had hoped to have keepsakes but the protector and my bag vanished as I looked at them.”
With the silence at the table, Quinn began to feel that crescendo of fear.
“Want me to tell you what the writings said?”
“Yessssssssssss.” Dad whispered.