5: A way forward

There was a loud knock on the door and a voice shouted,

     “Come on, you lazy bums! Time to get up! We don’t have all day!”

     Bridget stretched, and yawned loudly. Her hair was a mess and she was grouchy; the bed hadn’t been very comfortable. It had a straw mattress and she could feel the wooden boards through it. It had been a rough night.

     “Alright Tim! We’ll knock a bit later; I’ve got to get dressed!”

     She could hear footsteps dying down the hallway as she rubbed her eyes. She was in a small looking room; it had two beds and a single chair, which their bags were placed on. She looked towards Aeridel’s bed.

     But she wasn’t there.

     The blankets were folded neatly and the pillows had been fluffed and straightened. ‘They had room service here? I’d have heard them come in surely…’ Bridget thought.

     She got dressed back into the dress she had received at the Minstrels’ cottage, and then checked the hallway. When she walked back into the room, she saw a shadow from the window, which was open.

     Bridget knew that it led to some small balcony; she had gazed silently at the mass of glittering stars before she went to bed.

     “Aeridel?” she called to the shadow.

     A reply.

     Bridget walked towards the window to find Aeridel staring down into the bustle of people in the streets below.

     “What are you doing up so early?” Bridget asked her.

     “Oh, well I always used to get up at dawn when I was helping my parents with the chores.”

     Suddenly, a painful feeling of homesickness rose in Aeridel’s stomach. Her mouth began salivating at the thought of her parents. She could taste the bile at the back of her throat. Aeridel continued to look down at the heads of the villagers. She swallowed it painfully, hoping Bridget wouldn’t notice.

     She did.

     “Y0u’re wondering how they’re doing, aren’t you?” asked Bridget.

     All Aeridel could do was nod.

     “Hey, don’t worry. I’m sure they are fine,” said Bridget, patting her hand affectionately, “I bet they’re proud of what you’re doing.”

     “Hmmm….”

     “Oh Christ, we’d better get ready! Tim and Arthur must be really mad for keeping them this long!”

     “Already taken care of,” Aeridel said, closing the balcony doors behind her, and then pointing to the filled bags on the chair, “I packed yours as well.”

     “Wow, thanks a bunch, Aeridel! I don’t know what I’d do without you!”

     Aeridel smiled meekly.

    

     Around ten minutes later, everybody was sat in the same place as the night before; the small round table at the corner of the inn. They were all tucking into a hearty breakfast; sausages and bacon that were fresh from the Delroth’s local butcher, mushrooms hand-picked from the forest, tomatoes that were grown by one of the villagers, newly baked chunks of bread from the bakers with soft creamy butter that the innkeeper claimed he had churned himself only that morning.

     “Mmmm!!! This is the best breakfast I have ever had! My compliments to the chef!” said Tim through a full mouth.

     “You obviously had trouble saying that with your mouth full of egg,” mumbled Aeridel.

     “That would be me then,” said a jolly voice. They turned towards the bartender.

     He had a big round face, as well as a big belly, which could barely be kept under the grubby apron he wore over a white shirt and baggy trousers. His head was mostly bald, apart from the fact that he looked a little like a monk. His eyes were blue and made you feel welcome when in his presence. Those big eyes were looking at Tim, his face grinning with the compliment.  It was the kind of expression that showed that he was used to all of the praise. A sudden though arose in Tim’s mind, he imagined this man as a balding replica of Santa Claus.

     “And I’m not the chef,” he continued, cleaning beer mugs with a clean cloth, “I own this ‘ere joint. ‘T name’s Roland.”

     The inn was a lot quieter in the morning; dust hung in the air and sparkled in the morning sun that was shining through the dirty, grimy-looking windows. Most of the chairs and stools were turned upside down and placed onto the wooden tables. There was a faint smell of wax polish in the air.

     “What do you use to clean the tables?” asked Bridget, putting down her knife and fork on her empty plate.

     “Oh, we use beeswax. We rub it on t’ tables and buff it with a cloth.”

     “Cool.”

     “So, how are you doing Aeridel? ‘Aven’t seen you for nearly two weeks now, and who are your friends?” asked Roland, as he took away their plates.

     Tim and Bridget turned towards her, slightly surprised. Aeridel sighed at them, “I used to do some errands for him.”

     When Roland came back and drew up a stool for himself, did Aeridel reply;

     “I’m sorry, Roland. There was a big fuss with these two here about a week ago. I was supposed to visit you in the afternoon when these two practically dropped in.”

     “Nay, don’t apologize, lass. ‘Weren’t your fault. I was just slightly concerned ‘tis all.”

     “We were supposed to meet somebody here, but they may have been in last night and we missed them in the crowds,” said Bridget

     “Or, that they haven’t arrived yet,” suggested Tim. “But then again, I should be agreeing with Bridget, because if we hadn’t rescued the ‘damsel in distress’ over there,” he gestured towards the cushion that Arthur was sat on; “We may have found the guy we’re after.”

     “I resent that,” replied Arthur, “You were the one trying to be the hero.”

     “But, I… oh, shut up you stupid cat!” shouted Tim, poking the cat’s fur.

     The cat attempted to swat Tim’s finger away, but being too tired to care, Arthur merely curled up and continued to rest, his tail swishing.

     After all, a cat needs to have its beauty sleep.

     “Lazy feline,” grumbled Tim moodily.

     “So you two must have met the minstrel then?” asked Roland, sitting intently. “By the way, thanks for finding Arthur for me, he’s my cat.”

     “Ah, so that’s why you knew where this place was!” said Bridget, staring at the sleeping cat. Arthur purred.

     “The minstrel told us to come here. She said an old friend of hers would tell us where to go from here,” added Tim.

     “Hmm… so you two might be the Chosen Ones that she told me about in her letter. I think I have something for you,” muttered Roland.

     He got up and went through to a room at the back of the counter, whilst Tim, Bridget and Aeridel had a sudden realization that Roland was the guy they were looking for.

     They both exchanged furtive glances at each other, hiding each others’ excitement as the barkeeper returned clutching a yellowing parchment and two small boxes.

     Roland placed the items on the table and sat down again,

     “Just so happens that me an’ the minstrel ‘ave known each other since we were young ‘uns. We were always playing up in dem woods. Even made friends with some of those magic creatures int’ forest.”

     “Even Aurelia?” asked Aeridel, her eyes widening.

     “Aurelia? Oh yeah, she was a sweet lass,” replied Roland, “So, ont’ task ahead. Aeridel, take a look at that there parchment.”

     She unraveled the paper. On it was a detailed map of the whole country. Each area was split with borderlines and had strange names. Aeridel hadn’t even heard of half of these places. The top of the map was labeled, ‘Bragverla’.

     “So, this is your world huh?” said Tim, looking over Aeridel’s shoulder. She pushed him away as though he was diseased, “I should never have suggested skiving from school, in the end it’ll always get you into trouble…”

     “What is school? Is it an institute for your kind?” asked Aeridel.

    “No, it’s a place to learn stuff,” said Tim. “But I hate it because it’s boring and when I get bored I don’t do work, and when I don’t do work I get into trouble. It’s my fault for us being here, I’m sorry, Bridge.”

     “You don’t have to apologize,” assured Bridget, “I don’t think it was your fault at all!”

     “No, I agree my lad, my hunch is that Fate made it so you two would arrive here sooner or later,” suggested Roland, folding his arms over his rotund belly, “Better sooner than later I guess, and seeing as the minstrel seems t’ think this is a matter of urgency. Did’ya knows she could predict the future?”    

     “No, I didn’t,” replied Aeridel.

    “Well, it all began when we were kids. We were going through t’ woods one day and we ended up lost. We were getting scared an’ confused until she suddenly goes an’ collapses. When she wakes up, she tells me that something will show us the way back home. Amazing, as soon as she says this, some old man from t’ village yonder finds us and takes us back.”

     “So, you’re saying that the minstrel may have predicted that Tim and I would arrive in Bragverla?” asked Bridget.

     “Aye, that’d be correct.”

     “So, why are you giving us this map? Aeridel has already got one,” asked Bridget.

     “Nay, that map of yours is useless in comparison to this one, young lass. But I must warn ye,” he leaned in towards them, making them flinch, “I must warn ye, that this here map has special powers. But I’m afraid that’s all I know, I don’t know what the heck it does so you’ll have to figure it out for yerselves.”

     “Why isn’t anything ever simple in this world?” complained Tim.

     Aeridel rolled up the map and replaced it with the one in her bag. She gave the now useless map to Roland.

     “I suppose we won’t need this anymore.”

     “I can hang it up outside of t’ pub in a case, so people can figure out where they have to go,” said Roland, placing her old map onto the counter.

     “That’s a great idea! To help lost people like us,” said Bridget.

     “So, what’s in the boxes, Roland?” asked Aeridel.

     Roland paused for a moment in concentration, trying to remember what was in those boxes.

     Then it clicked, like a light bulb in his brain.

     “Aye, now the contents of these boxes are very special. They’ve been passed down within my family ever since that Legend began. However, nobody has been able t’ open them. Th’ one thing I do know is that we have been known as the Keepers of these boxes for a long time. That is until the descendants of the Legend of the Heroes came along and we would return them to their rightful owner.”

     “Many generations ago, we thought them boxes belonged t’ th’ ones that saved Bragverla from destruction. The heroes were said to have magic powers, and be masters of the elements. But nobody is sure exactly what powers they actually had. However, it was these trinkets that gave ‘em magic. What I do know is that those trinkets form a strong physical bond with the wearer, and the wearer can hear the voice of the spirits that lie within.”

     “The stone calls to its wearer?  asked Bridget.

     “Yes, lassie, the call. Now, it is said that th’ box will only open t’ th’ true descendants of the heroes. I think we should put this to the test! Chosen Ones. Please take a box and try to open it.  Do whatever you can.”

     Tim and Bridget took a box and looked at each other solemnly. Then, as if they both knew exactly what to do, they both closed their eyes and concentrated their minds on what was inside. In their thoughts, they could see the colour of their stone; Bridget saw flashes of red, whilst Tim saw a swirling green.

     A loud click echoed the room, and the boxes opened.

     A sudden bright golden light emanated from the boxes. Aeridel screamed, shielding her eyes with her arm. Roland turned away from the table. As soon as the light came, it disappeared. Tim and Bridget opened their eyes, dazed, whilst Roland and Aeridel sighed with relief.

     “Well, well, well! Seems you two are destined to save us!” said Roland laughing heartily, and then suddenly slapped Tim on the back. He coughed and spluttered as the air left his lungs from the impact.

     Tim and Bridget looked into the boxes, and each took out a long necklace. The chain was made of pure gold, and looked very delicate. The casing looked brand new and made from gold. In them were the most beautiful coloured gems they had ever seen. Tim’s was a glowing emerald, and Bridget’s a shimmering ruby.

     “They’re beautiful…” whispered Aeridel, “Put them on.”

     Tim and Bridget put on the necklaces around their necks. They both felt a rush of warmth flowing through their bodies, like somebody was giving them a big hug. A quick breeze from nowhere ruffled their hair slightly.

     “Woah, that felt weird,” said Tim, feeling his arms uncertainly, as the tingling sensation ceased.

     “That must be the magical energy flowing into you. I get that whenever I cast a spell,” said Aeridel.

     “It felt quite soothing to me…” said Bridget, closing her eyes dreamily.

     “Thank you so much for these gifts,” said Aeridel to Roland, getting up from her seat. She stretched her arms. “But I’m afraid we should go now, we don’t have much time and we must press on with the journey ahead of us.”

     “How the hell do you know we haven’t got much time?” said Tim, warily.

     “Intuition.”

     “Wait! Before ye be goin’ off on yer adventure. I’ll give you some provisions to get ye by. Stay right there,” said Roland. He trotted off into the back room and collected whatever food he could find. He split them up into three sections and then packed it into their individual bags.

     “Thank you, Roland. I hope we see you again some time,” said Bridget, shaking his hand.

     “Yeah, thanks a bunch.” Tim went over to shake his hand. Roland almost thumped him on the back again but Tim dodged it. Roland laughed again.

     “You youngsters take care now!” he said. He unbolted the door and let them through.

     Aeridel was the last to walk through, but before she could do so, Roland stopped her and said in a hushed voice, “Summon the maid,” and closed the door behind her.

     Roland smiled, and folded his arms as he stared out of one of the grimy windows.

     “What a nice bunch of kids. Seems the legend is true after all. The past must be repeating itself once again.”

     He reached a hand and scratched Arthur’s ears, whom had been asleep the whole time. A loud purr echoed in the dusty inn.

 

     Time passed for the trio as they ventured north through the acres of fields. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was becoming unbearable. Tim continued to scratch where his clothes were rubbing agitatedly on his skin. Bridget watched him quietly.

     “God, it must be midsummer in this world!” he moaned as he wiped his brow.

     “I know, it’s autumn where we come from,” said Bridget to Aeridel.

     Aeridel smiled and replied, “Well the summers have been getting hotter recently, and you get used to it after a while.”

     They began walking up a large hill. A large oak tree stood in the middle of a vast corn field. They could just about see its tall branches in the distance.

     “Let’s rest over there, in the shade,” suggested Tim, pointing desperately to the large tree. He had only just noticed it was there. Soon they were sat underneath, fanning their faces and feeling uncomfortable as the sun reached its peak. They took turns in sipping water from the leather skin flasks. Aeridel took out the magical map from her bag. Suddenly she felt a strange aura coming from the paper. Bridget saw the shocked look and her face and asked,

     “Hey, are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

     “Yes, it’s just… I felt something when I opened the map. It was strange, like it was vibrating a glowing.”

     “Hmm… sounds like what we felt when we placed the pendants round our necks. Maybe you’ve had a sort of magical connection with the map,” Tim mumbled slightly with his eyes still closed.

     He hated the heat, detested it, and when it became too hot and stuffy like it was now, he’d try to cool down as much as possible. Bridget didn’t seem to mind the heat as much; in fact she enjoyed sunbathing on the grass during lunchtimes at Wilbury High, drifting off into another of hr daydreams.

     Aeridel examined the map. After a short time, she found her own village, Telbrek, the woods they had walked through and Delroth, the village they had just come from. However, she couldn’t see any tree in the middle of any field surrounding Delroth.

     “Hold on, I can’t find where we are,” said Aeridel, becoming increasingly worried.

     “Let me have a look,” asked Bridget. She took the map from her and examined it for herself, using her finger as a pointer, but Bridget couldn’t find it either.

     “Well, that is strange,” she said thoughtfully.

     Aeridel took the map back. She gazed at the map and thought about it for a long time.

     ‘There must be some way we can find out where we are. We’re screwed if we don’t know,” she thought.

     Then, the map began to form into the centre, all of the colours and lines swirling into it like a whirlpool. The whirlpool then expanded to form the face of a beautiful young woman, with long, wavy red hair and bright pulsating green eyes.

     ‘Who, who are you?’ thought Aeridel.

     A gentle voice replied through Aeridel’s mind, sounding as clear as crystal, “I am the Maid of the Map. I felt your magical energy flowing through your body. I knew I was to help you in some way. That is why I show myself before you now.”

     ‘And we are able to communicate through my mind?’ Aeridel thought.

     “Yes, my child,” replied the Maid, as a slight smile curved on her perfectly rounded lips, Aeridel disliked people calling her ‘their child’, seeing as she already had parents. “It has been many years since I’ve talked to someone like this, long before war reigned on Bragverla. I can see that everything is peaceful at the moment. That’s good. I can also see that you are a friend, not an enemy. But I see a great destiny for you, Aeridel. You aim to help those beside you, am I correct?”

     Aeridel looked towards Tim and Bridget. Tim was snored quietly and Bridget was sat staring at the clouds contentedly.

     ‘Yes.’

     “Then I shall too. What is your request?”

     ‘I need to know why we can’t find the tree we’re sat under on the map.’

     “That is because you are sat within the Wishful Fields, my dear. They cannot be distinguished on a map because they change all of the time.”

     ‘What are the Wishful Fields? I’ve never heard of them before.’

     “Basically, my dear, the fields change to satisfy the needs of whoever is on the land. In this case, when Timothy complained about the heat, the tree formed to aid him.”

     ‘But, wouldn’t the field just be plain grass? How come its full of corn?’

     “Simple. See the farm over there?” The map suddenly changed back to form a landscape. A small red circle appeared over a building west from the field. Aeridel heard the Maid’s voice again;

     “Well, the land is full of corn because it is the farmer’s wish. He wants to provide food for his growing family and for the neighbouring villages. The fields allow this because it is a good deed, and not a greedy plan to make profit from.”

     The landscape formed back into the Maid’s face.

     ‘That’s a very kind thing to do, but how did you know Tim’s name?’

     “I have the ability to speak with the forces of nature. I listened to the fields and they told me about the farmer. For your friends’ case, I can somehow read your mind also.”

     ‘Wow, so you know about Bridget as well?’

     The maid nodded.

     ‘How can that be?’ asked Aeridel in her mind.

     “You know that feeling you felt when you opened me?”

     ‘Yes…’

     “I believe that were have formed a special magical bond together. I am not sure how or why but I feel that my purpose is now intertwined with your destiny. I am sure I am to help you in some way. That is all I can tell you.”

     ‘Well, if our destinies are connected then I’m sure you and I will become good friends.” She smiled at the paper.

     Bridget drifted her gaze towards Aeridel, curious about why she was so happy.

     “Why are you so happy all of a sudden?” she asked.

     “Oh, I’ve just realized where we are, thanks to the Maid of the map!” exclaimed Aeridel.

    “Where? Who? What?” said Tim dozily.

     “We’re in the Wishful Fields, so the map says,” Aeridel replied.

     Bridget looked over Aeridel’s shoulder to view the map, but so no labels on the spot.

     “Hold on, it doesn’t say it here on the map.”

     “The map spoke to me, Bridget,” said Aeridel, stroking the surface. She felt the paper of the map go warm, as though it was affected by her touch.

     “The map spoke to you?” asked Bridget.

    “Yep. The Maid of the Map told me about the fields and she knew both of your names as well.”

     “How?”

     “You know that aura I felt before? Well the Maid and I formed a bond, so she can read my mind now.”

     “Whoa! So Tim was right for once?!”

     “Seems so,” replied Aeridel, covering her mouth to hide her laughter.

     “I do have my moments,” muttered Tim, sitting up and stretching his arms. “Think you can ask your new friend where we go next?”

     Aeridel closed her eyes and concentrated on the maid. ‘Please, I have one more request. Could you tell us where we have to go now? Give us guidance to continue our journey.’

     “You must venture through the Cave of Lorei. I must warn you, the Dolites are docile cave dwellers and there have been many wars because of land ownership, so they can be very wary of humans. I also sense a great danger within its depths. So be on guard.”

     ‘Thank you, Maid of the Map.’

     She opened her eyes again and saw that the face of the beautiful Maid had disappeared, leaving only the landscape on the yellowing parchment.

The End

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