Episode 25: Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Never
Long ago, my great-great-great grandmother lived halfway up the mountains on the eastern border of Highmoor Province near the cataracts. In those nearly forgotten days, expectant mothers spent their confinement before bearing children in solitude, attended only by a trusted friend or relative. According to legend, she and her closest friend made their way to a cavern in the heights and settled in for the remaining weeks before my great-great-great-grandmother’s first child was to be born.
While they waited for the baby, a violent storm rose. Intense rain flooded the cavern. My great-great-great granny and her friend fled to the upper levels and weathered the storm safely. When the sky cleared and the rumble of thunder faded, they cautiously investigated the damage.
The entire rear wall of the cavern had collapsed to reveal a corridor of worked stone leading down toward the roots of the mountains. My ancestor and her friend explored the cave by the light of an enchanted staff. They passed half buried bones of giant creatures and the broken foundations of massive columns. Far beneath the surface, they were about to turn back for fear of becoming lost in the twisting passageways, but my great-great-great granny saw the faintest light farther down the passage.
They followed the growing luminescence to its source. A wall of black stone rose at the end of a narrow chamber. The likeness of a multi-headed beast with a spiraling tail had been carved into the smooth stone. Thirty white crystals shone in the eyes of the massive carving.
There, deep beneath the mountains, the pain of childbirth overtook my great-great-great grandmother. Her child was born with the crystals as witnesses.
She and her friend pulled one tiny crystal from the carving before they made their way back to the surface. The crystal, so the story goes, fizzed and bubbled when exposed to air and sunlight.
Excited to introduce the new baby to the family, they hurried down the mountain. But their home was not as they had left it. The two women had been gone for over one hundred years, a substantial length of time even in the long-lived Darkmore and La Croix families. She told her story and her husband returned to the cavern and retrieved the remaining stones, careful to keep them in sealed vial of quartz. And so the time crystals came into my family.
The stones proved more dangerous than useful. Once exposed to light and air, their peculiar effect threw time into consternation, often spinning the user out of time’s current and into an eddy far from the main concourse. So the stones were hidden away, but both Darkmores and La Croixs lay claim to the shimmering stones for my great-great-grandmother’s friend was a La Croix. The vial containing the entire store of crystals changed hands through war and intrigue. Centuries of conflict solved nothing and when both families were decimated by Lucia’s mad tantrum, time crystals became the least of our worries.
One tiny crystal tossed New Darkmore Castle and a thousand inhabitants eight months into the future. What can thirteen stones do? Will we be forever suspended in this limbo? Will we awaken to an Earth reformed by the millennia?
The glittering crystals spin against the cobalt blue sky. An opalescent haze rises from the east until the vault of sky above the valley shimmers with it. Time twists around us, but the circle of La Croix and Darkmore witches holds tight. Days, months, years—perhaps centuries warp around Highmoor Valley but inside the dome of pearly light, we remain untouched.
The crystals float, serene and effervescent.
The child in my arms splutters and coos, her rose petal lips round and pink. Her indigo eyes focus on the time crystals and her baby fingers twitch. As if in answer, the crystals spiral together. The twisting vortex whirls toward us until they hover just beyond the reach of her chubby fingers.
“Gather them in the vial if you can, Maddock.” Clarissa’s voice, low and intense, wakens me from a stupor. I draw in a cold, spring-scented breath.
Maddock stirs beside me. He reaches into his vest pocket and draws forth a clear vial. Inside it, seven more stones glitter.
“No!” Lucia swirls toward us in a froth of golden hair and gossamer gown.
The circle of family draws closer. Their combined wills manifest into a soft, blue sphere around the raging woman. Clarissa steps inside the sphere and intercepts her sister’s course.
“It’s done, darling. You don’t have to fight anymore.” Aunt Clarissa pinions Lucia’s arms, holding her close and pressing her pale cheek against Lucia’s.
Lucia struggles but even she can’t fight the sleep spell conjured by a thousand witches. Her green eyes close and she slumps in her sister’s arms.
Maddock’s gaze never wavers from the spinning stones above our child’s upturned face. Ever so gently he removes the stopper from the clear quartz vial and tilts the mouth of the vial upward.
My daughter’s lips curve into her first smile. Her strange, dark eyes reflect the glow of the time crystals. Soundless and mesmerizing, the glittering crystals spin into the vial. Maddock pops the stopper in place.
Aunt Clarissa sinks with Lucia to the ground. A thousand witches stand in a ring, hands clasped.
Episode 26 Zed
The day is nearly spent yet we’ve reached no agreement. The time crystals are safe in Maddock’s pocket and both Darkmores and La Croixs seem satisfied to let them remain there. Lucia sleeps, cocooned in a soft, blue hex, but her fate is the subject of much discussion.
“In the old days, we would have beheaded Lucia strait away.” Magnus La Croix rages at the combined council of Darkmore and La Croix elders. “I’ve waited a thousand years for this.”
Maddock shakes his head. “Until we can offer life as a reward, death as punishment is little more than revenge.”
“You dishonor those who died. You dishonor those who remained scarred by what Lucia did.” Magnus points toward Mayebelle who glares back with her good eye. “How can we allow Lucia to live? She shows no sign of remorse and would visit the same tragedy on us again if she could.”
Aurora La Croix, sitting between Maddock and Clarissa on a mound of cloaks and leaves near the bubbling stream, tips a goblet of clear white wine to her ruby-tinted lips. She’s had time to reapply the beauty glamour, I see. I pat my own unruly hair and pinch my cheeks to heighten the color. Appearance isn’t my primary concern, but I’d hoped my first event with my new in-laws would be more glamorous. I’m comforted in that the entire group of Darkmore and La Croix relatives bears traces of the long night and disturbing morning.
Aurora, palate clean and throat clear, levels a squelching gaze at her third cousin on her father’s side. “Sit down and be quiet, Magnus. We all lost family but what’s done is done. The old ways didn’t work. Aren’t the signs clear enough for you?”
Magnus eyes Aurora with a cold blue eye but clamps his teeth together, unwilling to challenge Aurora further.
Maddock pours Magnus another drink and hands the goblet to the still fuming man. “I understand your anger. We all share it. But I’m not willing to mar my daughter’s first day of life with murder. How can we teach our children mercy if we don’t practice it ourselves? Is her first lesson to be that murder begets murder? We must find an alternative.”
My child dozes in a sunbeam, her surprising thatch of reddish hair catching the shimmer of the first day of spring. Whatever effect the time crystals have had on the outside world, inside the valley, the day is clear and sunny. The memory of exile seems only the shadow of a dream—soon forgotten.
I hand the baby to Mayebelle and stand so everyone can hear me.
“I have an idea.”
We counted an entire year inside the valley. Our new house rises on a prominence overlooking the lake which now fills Highmoor Valley. On calm days, Maddock and I take our ginger-haired, indigo-eyed daughter boating, skimming on the crystal surface. At a certain point, midway across the lake, she loves to peek over the rails, peering into the blue depths. If the day is clear and calm and the sky a particular shade of blue, the murky outline of Old Castle Highmoor flickers into view far below.
It is a mirage, a strange effect produced by a single time crystal spinning at the center of a black witch stone. Inside the mirage, Lucia wanders in the Time Before—a time of joy and hope for her––an eddy far from the rushing stream of Time, cut off and inaccessible. She won’t be alone, as I was in my exile. Her memories of the Time Before populate her world. She lives but is forever exiled inside an eddy of Time.
Our guests ventured forth, at last, leaving Highmoor Province in tight, worried groups. Those who returned, tell of a world much changed. Throughout the year, as courage returned to them, they scattered again to the four winds.
The Time Before is real only in the mirage at the bottom of the lake. The Time After and The Time to Come are stored in a clear quartz vial. In this Time That Is, Maddock and I are content to remain at home in Highmoor province. Our families have no room for ancient fears and so Maddock and I name our indigo-eyed daughter Lucia.
Today, Lucia and I will plant thirteen cherry tomato plants in the freshly turned garden. In time, their prickly, aromatic leaves will stretch to the sun. Yellow blooms will produce tart, red fruit and the summer will lead to autumn.