Authors: Jamie Rowboat
Tags: #Fiction Young Adults
"Have you visited the valley since you came back into the outside world?"
"I can see that your brain is up to full speed on all of this. I will answer this last question, but I have lived a long time and I feel every one of those years right now, so I need to rest after this, okay?" sighed Gemma.
"We can stop now, if you like," said Marie gently.
"No, no, that's fine, I know how you must feel. I would be burning with questions as well, if I were in your position. I have only ever visited the valley once since leaving and that was a little over a hundred years ago. The process of return is a dangerous one and could expose the valley at an inappropriate time. There is a small doorway in Provence, but that is used primarily to let elves leave the valley to come and serve in the outside world. It is very hard to use this door in the other direction and, with the main door in New Zealand closed, I have only been able to make the trip once."
"Oh," said Marie, shaking her head.
"Anyway, I chose to serve in the outside world and I have had an extraordinary life here, filled with incredible friendships and experiences. I feel blessed to have been part of the valley's creation. Who knows, with you and Charlie on the scene, I might go there again. But enough now, I cannot talk any more tonight, I need some sleep," said Gemma, yawning loudly.
"Of course. I'm sorry, I'm just so excited," said Marie, helping Gemma out of the chair.
The two of them unrolled a large futon mattress and threw a huge, white doona over it, along with two very comfy pillows that they'd brought with them in a canvas bag. As they lay down, side by side, Marie turned towards Gemma to say good night, but she could hear by her breathing that she was already asleep.
"Good night," she whispered, "thank you for making me feel alive again."
It was a perfect morning in the valley, and as Charlie stood on the steps of Shamir's cottage, he took a deep breath of the scent-filled air. His legs were still rather wobbly beneath him, but it felt great to be out of bed. With each step, he could feel his confidence and stability returning and his mind was becoming calmer by the minute.
The trees were alive with bird song and the air was abuzz with insects that hurtled around on urgent springtime business. The great purple buddleia that covered the archway at the edge of the wizard's garden created a distinct boundary with the elfin woodland beyond. As the gate creaked open and he emerged on the other side, a squadron of huge black and white butterflies swarmed up in front of him.
The towering karri trees of the valley stood before him, their silver skins shining like bright armour. Their leaves sparkled as they twisted in the breeze and the birds danced in their uppermost branches, showering each other with the droplets of dew that were being shaken free. Shamir joined Charlie at the gate and they had only gone two steps when Gulliver came charging around the corner to greet them. The great, golden dog leapt up at them in a fit of enthusiasm, bowling them both over into a heap on the ground.
"Are you all right, Charlie? I'm afraid your presence has made him far too excited," said Shamir, grabbing the dog in a playful embrace.
"I'm fine, I think I'm a bit over stimulated myself. This whole experience is just too wild for me to get my head around. This place is so beautiful, I just keep thinking I'm suddenly going to wake up in my bed," answered Charlie.
"Would you prefer to stay at the cottage a little longer?" asked Shamir, brushing himself off.
"No, I'm finding the movement good and if I get tired, we can always go back," replied Charlie.
"Okay then, lead on, I am in your hands," said Shamir, with a smile.
"Then we're both in trouble," said Charlie, laughing.
They followed the path through the trees for quite some time, but then, as Charlie watched a particularly beautiful aerial display by a rainbow parrot, he saw something else moving in the top of one of the other trees. It looked like a human figure darting across from one branch to another.
"What's that?" he asked, turning to Shamir.
"It's an elf," said Shamir, seeing no sense in lying.
"A what?" said Charlie, slightly bemused.
"An elf, like in a fantasy story."
"You mean they're real?"
"Uh huh, I do," replied Shamir.
"WHOA," said Charlie, craning his neck to get a better look. Shamir laughed, relieved at Charlie's relaxed manner, but this soon turned to concern, as he saw the young man stagger slightly as he took a step forward.
"Are you okay?" asked Shamir, moving towards him.
"I'm not sure, I'm suddenly feeling strange in my head," and that was all he said before crumpling in a heap in the middle of the path. The young elf who had been spotted in the tree, jumped down in front of Shamir and knelt gently by Charlie.
"I'm so sorry, I've ruined everything," he said, with tears filling his eyes.
"Don't worry, Jacques, it's not your fault," said Shamir, touching the young elf on the shoulder.
"He's just fainted, it's nothing to be alarmed about, he was bound to see one of you eventually. Don't blame yourself, there's no need. We'll get him back to the cottage and he'll be fine," he reassured the young elf.
A group of four elves carried Charlie gently back along the path. Although Shamir had been confident with Jacques, he felt sick to the stomach at the repetition of events. He just hoped
the link with the valley was strong enough in Charlie's heart.
Shamir left two young elves to look after Charlie, so he could visit Kanook. He was sure his guest would now be asleep for quite a while, but he left strict instructions to be contacted if he showed any signs of waking up. Shamir strode off down the path and quickly made his way towards the village of Eliantash.
There were five elfin tribes living in the valley and, after so many years of being there, they had all become linked through marriage. Each tribe had its own village, but Eliantash was the centre of the valley community. It was the original settlement, established by the first group of elves at the beginning of the valley's history and it housed the high council chambers. Kanook, the elder of the first tribe, lived there in a house built in the largest of all of the beech trees. His family was the oldest and most powerful of the elfin families, both in the valley and in the outside world. The finely-sculptured buildings of Eliantash stretched between the forest floor, where the communal kitchens and schools were housed, to the upper most branches where the sleeping chambers were situated. Every family had its own dwelling, but each one was linked to its neighbour through an intricate series of bridges and gangways that connected the whole village like a giant cobweb.
"Good evening, my friend," said Kanook, greeting Shamir at his front door. "Is our guest okay?"
"He's sleeping soundly," replied Shamir.
Kanook's study in the upper branches of the giant beech looked out over the valley and it was here that they talked until first light. As Shamir left the study, he looked through the huge picture window that faced East to see how many elves were gathering in the treetops for the dawn chorus. He was not surprised to see that the whole village had turned up and they were all sitting, silently awaiting the sun's first caress. The dawn gathering was their chance to give thanks for Charlie's presence among them and to pray for his safe-keeping.
By the time Shamir reached the cottage, it was pouring with rain and there was little point in venturing too far until it eased. Charlie woke up soon after his return and he didn't seem to have any ill-effects from passing out. He was starving, so they feasted on elfin nut cakes with fresh berry yoghurt, washed down with Dandelion tea, which Shamir served with almond wafers that were so light, they disappeared as they touched Charlie's tongue. The old wizard could not have planned the day better, the poor weather gave him a chance to talk to Charlie about his experience in a way he had never had the opportunity to do before. The shock of the transfer between worlds had always made communication impossible on all but one previous occasion. Eventually, Charlie started to talk about Marie and his time at the nursery. His eyes lit up as he talked openly about his feelings for her and how he had been so lucky to have worked at Gemma's nursery all of that summer.
It took Charlie a moment to notice, but Shamir had gone totally quiet. A notably pasty look on his face had dramatically replaced his wide smile and frequent questions.
"Are you okay?" asked Charlie, touching him on the shoulder.
"Huh," said Shamir, drawn out of his thoughts. "I'm okay, I just need some air," he said, staggering to his feet and heading for the front door. Moments after leaving, Charlie heard the thump of someone hitting the ground and when he raced outside, he found Shamir slumped on the grass. Charlie did his best to drag him back into the cabin, but he was too heavy and he had to make do with getting Shamir comfortable on the front doorstep. Fortunately, it was no longer raining, so Charlie sat with him for a while, without knowing quite what to do. Shamir was breathing normally, so Charlie wasn't particularly worried, but it was clear that he needed to do something to revive him. After thinking for a while, he hopped inside the house and prepared some of Shamir's sweet smelling Dandelion tea. With a small cup in hand, he returned to the sleeping wizard and carefully rested the cup beside him. Eventually, the end of Shamir's nose began to twitch, before his eyes suddenly popped open. He glanced around a few times before focusing on the cup of tea, which prompted a huge laugh to rise from his stomach as he realised where he was lying.
"I should have tea out here more often, it's really very pleasant," he chuckled.
"What the hell was all that about?" said Charlie, kneeling down beside Shamir.
"I'll tell you inside, but I must say, the cup of tea was a stroke of genius. What made you think of it?"
"Oh nothing really, it's the smell I remember waking up to here. Why I thought it would help bring you around is completely beyond me," said Charlie, helping him to his feet. Once inside, they made themselves comfortable on the lounge and Charlie poured them a fresh cup of tea each.
"Gemma Granlin is my sister Charlie," said Shamir.
"Whoa, are you sure?"
"Believe me, I know. As soon as you started talking about this old lady that you know, my heart started to flutter without any real reason. Then you mentioned the name of her nursery and I knew for sure. You see, that was our original surname before we were adopted. It came from the French language and was originally 'Grandligne'. It was changed when we lived in England and we always agreed that we'd never use the name unless we lost contact and needed some clear guidance to find each other."
"Good grief," said Charlie in amazement.
"We haven't seen each other for more than a hundred years. She moved back to England from India in order to continue her work as a botanist. Since she moved back to England, we've had no real contact and I was beginning to think I would never hear from her again. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for things to go like this today. You must think I'm very strange and that this whole affair is just madness." said Shamir.
"A crazy dream is how I'd put it at the moment, but if Gemma really is your sister, then the coincidence is just too bizarre to overlook. The whole story sounds utterly unbelievable anyway. Wizards who live for hundreds of years and elves who live in a magic valley. But, you know what? I'm just starting to get interested."
"That's my boy. Now please, Charlie, tell me everything you know about her, absolutely everything," pleaded Shamir.
Charlie sat in Shamir's faded leather chair and tried to remember everything he could about Gemma. He racked his brain for stories he'd heard from his parents and he tried to recall as much as he could from his own time with her. He didn't know how large it was, but he knew she owned a piece of land outside town, as well as the nursery. It had been quite big news in the community at the time. No one knew who had bought the three large parcels of land on the outskirts of Chelmsley. Everyone thought it must be a developer from out of town and braced themselves for the inevitable housing estate. As time went on, peoples' interest waned, the land remained happily untouched and no one ever noticed the occasional visits by someone in an old Mercedes.
"What a fine jigsaw we have assembling itself," said Shamir, after Charlie had scraped every possible memory from his brain.
"That's okay for you to say, but at the moment I seem to be stretched between two separate parts of the picture. I want to stay with the experience, but I have a life that I can remember and I miss being in it. What about my parents? It must be horrible for them, and Marie, I can't bare to think about her, she'd just agreed to be my girlfriend. How long will this all go on?" said Charlie.
"Charlie, I know this is really hard for you, to be wrenched out of your life in such a violent manner. The truth is, you cannot exist in both places for very long, a few days, maybe a week, any more would be too much of a strain," replied Shamir gravely. "But take heart, you have made it into this world, and the stronger and more real your grasp of this place, the greater the chance there is of us getting you home safely," he continued.
"So, you don't think I could just go home now?"
"No, Charlie, I think you are here for a reason and when you have achieved what you need to here, you will know it's time to leave and it will be supported. If the timing is not correct, even your love for Marie and your parents will not be enough to get you back."
"Okay, so what now?"
"I think we should get out into my garden and do some planting. We need to stop thinking about all of the possibilities for a while and do something simple and natural, if you feel up to it?"
"Yeah, okay. I'm a bit overwhelmed by it all right now. Perhaps some time in the fresh air will do me some good," said Charlie, with a faint smile.
"Yes, Charlie, I think it would do us both good," said Shamir tenderly.
They put on some old clothes that Shamir had prepared and crossed to the far side of the garden, where a large stone wall separated the cottage garden from the main area. As Charlie opened the little red door, the scent and colour that greeted him lifted his spirits immediately. Rows upon rows of succulent-looking vegetables were interspersed with vividly-coloured flowers that bloomed in every imaginable colour. Poppies, wall flowers, Lupins, Delphiniums, Lavender and Anemones grew in great wooden pots made from wine barrels that had been split in half and stood like scruffy-haired sentinels at the end of all of the flower beds. Huge patches of other Summer flowers swayed and bobbed in time to the slight breeze that lapped over the boundary wall. The movement kept the feeding bees and butterflies in a constant dance as they waltzed on the nectar-laden heads of each flower. The pathways that linked the whole garden together were made from the softest mulch and it just beckoned to Charlie to take off his shoes, something Shamir had done the moment he had entered the door. Heavily-laden fruit trees, which were dotted all around the place, provided dappled shade for great pots of luscious wild strawberries that dangled their arms down from the great stone jars.
There was a shed that had one side constructed completely from glass. The wall had been made from handmade panes of different coloured glass, which were quite irregular in their shapes, but which had been put skilfully together in a transparent jigsaw. This was lined on the inside with five or six levels of shelving that supported endless trays of tiny seedlings, which stretched for sunlight and readied themselves for the adventure of outside. As Charlie entered the ramshackle old greenhouse, he quietly sat on a stool by the door to watch Shamir in action. Shamir's fingers moved quickly and nimbly through a tray of tomato seedlings, lifting some and reinforcing others. The ones he lifted out, he placed in other trays for distribution to his friends and he had a growing collection of these trays by the door. He patted and shook the others into their expanded positions and having carefully added some extra soil, he placed the tray back on the shelf and watered it thoroughly with a small watering can.