Part 1: Bris
"But when will you let me go?" she screamed hysterically.
He laughed, a horrible, cold, shivery laugh that made her shudder.
There was a sudden flash of light, blinding light, too bright too look at, a scream, and everything went dark, silent.
"We called you here," said a deep, musical voice, "Because only you can help."
Aurelia listened to the powerful voice emanating from the small mouth, with its wrinkled lips, but still failed to understand.
"Why me?" she wanted to ask, "Why is it only me that can help?" but she didn't quite dare. There was something about those deep purple eyes that seemed to forbid her to say anything.
"You are the only one," he repeated. "Only you can help."
"I shall help you as much as is possible but a great deal of this will be up to yourself," explained the old man – was he a wizard? "First, however, we must dress you. Please follow me."
Aurelia emerged from the small room where she had been dressing, looking completely different. Instead of the white, lacy nightgown she had been wearing, Aurelia was now dressed in a red tunic, blue cloak and brown breeches all made of the same material - a material she had never come across before - a mixture between leather and silk. She touched the tunic gently, curious at its rough-smooth texture.
"Wasp silk." Symplegadea had noticed her caressing the red tunic. "We breed them specially. Would you like to see them at work?"
At this, Aurelia had torn her hand away from the material in horror. "N-no thankyou, sir. P-please don't bother yourself."
The wizard shot her a shrewd glance. "Very well, then let us eat."
After a very filling meal, the wizard took her into a cosy little area of his cottage.
"You will be wondering where you are," he began, getting straight to the point. "This is the land of Erilecqua. I am Symplegadea Elementor, 'The Element Wizard,' and this is my home," he said, spreading his arms out wide.
"I Summoned you to Erielcqua because you are the only person in The Twelve Worlds that has any chance of success."
"Why?" asked Aurelia, intrigued.
"You are the one living person I know of who has powers beyond those of Creousin Amphitryonus. You are also the only living relative I can find of Terry Morton. You are her daughter."
"Her daughter?" Aurelia echoed, amazed. "She's my mother?"
"Yes," replied the 'Element Wizard,' a little sadly. "She was the most heroic girl in Erielcqua, once," he added.
"She left," explained Symplegadea, "And never came back."
"However, enough of that," said Symplegadea, briskly, in a would-be-happy voice. "I must give you your instructions. This is what you must do…"
Aurelia left Symplegadea's humble home with a great burden on her shoulders. She must bring Symplegadea the Men of Elements, so that he could destroy the evil Creousin Amphitryonus and rescue the land of Erielcqua.
Of course, at first, Aurelia had been very unwilling. After all, what did Erielcqua have to do with her? Then she looked again into the depths of those incredible purple eyes. There had been something commanding there, something she dared not disobey.
Now she was standing outside, with a heavy backpack on her shoulders, some useful advice and a quest to follow.
She was facing north, towards the Desert of the Three Suns, while behind her stood the beautiful Templehill Mountains. Aurelia turned to watch the sun set behind Skyfire, the highest peak. Looking west, Aurelia saw the reflection of the fiery sky in the nameless lake, on which drifted the Island of Floating, where, though she did not know it, she had been born and where her sister had lived for four and a half years, before Creousin came and stole her away.
Slowly, reluctantly, Aurelia Torben turned her back on all of this and walked east, towards Quotations Castle, The Fortress of Rhythm and the crossing point of the gigantic Land-Rip Canyon.
"Name an' Business," declared a small man wearing a blue uniform.
"Aurelia Torben," she replied. "I'm on a quest for -"
"Aurelia Torben," the little guard muttered as he wrote. "Quest." He handed her a sheet of paper. "There y'are. Go an' see the Giant Who Speaks in Rhyme. They'll give you d'rections up 't the castle."
Aurelia walked up to the keep. "Excuse me," she asked someone wearing the same uniform as the gate guard, "Excuse me, could you please tell me where I can find the Giant Who Speaks in Rhyme?"
"Aye, 's first lift 'n strite oan. 'Is room's 't the ind o' the corr'dor."
"Thankyou very much."
Aurelia walked on, listening to fragments of conversation.
"'Giant Who Speaks in Rhyme' indeed!" an enraged woman shrieked. "Why, when I last saw him, hardly a word he spoke sounded like another!"
"'E was prob'ly thinking 'bout something else," suggested a young passing guard. "If that 'appens 'e don't rhyme 'is words."
Aurelia stored this information. Anything could be useful on this quest.
"I wish to cross the canyon."
"In y'go then," said the guard, "But mak share ye tak 'n rime."
Aurelia entered the room. Sitting there was the ugliest thing she had ever seen. She hadn't realised how ugly humans looked when magnified to such a great extent. Ugh! she thought in disgust.
Not to be discouraged, however, she started to speak.
"Good morning, sir. And how are you?
I hope I find you fit.
Would you do me the courtesy
Of letting me cross that pit?"
She indicated Land Rip Canyon.
"I apologise for bothering you
And I hope I'll be forgiven,
But as long as you let me cross that pit
I'll be glad to continue living."
And the Giant spoke, his voice booming round the room.
"NOT THE BEST OF RHYMES, BUT YOU'VE ONLY JUST BEGUN
WITH POETRY. GOODBYE. CROSS THE BRIDGE AND HAVE FUN."
He gestured towards the other door; the one Aurelia hadn't come in by. She thanked him (in rhyme, of course) and left.
The passageway was very dark. So dark, in fact, that Aurelia almost walked into the horse standing across her path. It whinnied just in time.
"Oh, sorry!" apologised Aurelia. "I didn't see you."
Then she noticed a package beside the horse, with a note:
To a rather good poet, from the Giant Who Speaks in Rhyme.
The horse is yours also.
Aurelia opened the package. A sword! She hoped she wouldn't ever need to use it. The horse is yours also. This horse? Surely not. But what other horse could it be?
"What will I call you," Aurelia reflected aloud. It hit her in a flash, although she couldn't have said where from. "Elatha Rhiannon! It really suits you."
Elatha was beautiful The colour of honey, Elatha had strong legs and looked as though she could carry her rider anywhere.
Strapping the sword in its sheath, Aurelia mounted Elatha.
"Giddy up, then, girl!" and Elatha went.
Considering that she had never ridden a horse before, Aurelia hadn't been quite sure of what to expect, but riding Elatha was as smooth as silk. Her perfect hooves seemed to fly over the ground and before she knew it, Aurelia was on the other side of Land-Rip Canyon and about to enter Quotations Castle.
"Name an' Business," announced a guard wearing a red uniform.
"Aurelia Torben. Quest."
"An' the 'orse?" but the guard looked closely at Elatha and his eyes took on a quite different look altogether. "Ah," he murmured. "Ah."
Elatha trotted forward, entirely of her own accord. Since the guard did nothing to prevent her passing, Aurelia stopped protesting and allowed Elatha to guide her.
"Are you the Giant of Quotations?" Aurelia asked the giant.
He nodded, so Aurelia assumed that meant yes, and boomed out, ""WELCOME IS THE BEST CHEER." Thomas Fuller."
"Oh." Remembering a conversation she had overheard, Aurelia added, "The Giant Who Speaks in Rhyme hates quotations."
The giant's face went red. ""THEM WHICH IS OF OTHER NATURS THINKS DIFFERENT." Charles Dickens," he declared, angrily. ""POETRY IS A COUNTERFEIT CREATION AND MAKES THINGS THAT ARE NOT, AS THOUGH THEY WERE." John Donne."
Aurelia, remembering that they had been doing Dickens at school last year, spouted her own quotation. ""It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way." Charles Dickens." She was quite proud of herself for remembering this long quotation.
""A FINE QUOTATION IS A DIAMOND ON THE FINGER OF A MAN OF WIT," " the giant smiled at her, ""AND A PEBBLE IN THE HAND OF A FOOL," " he said, frowning towards the Fortress of Rhythm. "Joseph Roux," he added.
Aurelia was still mounted on Elatha, who she could feel was getting restless. She took her leave of the Giant of Quotations and was about to withdraw when the giant indicated a violin – a real, solid violin! He told her to take it, as he had no use for it, and Aurelia was only too glad to oblige.
Aurelia had played the violin in her own world before she was Summoned to Erielcqua. She had enjoyed it profoundly and her violin teacher had said that she "showed great talent." Playing her violin was one of the things she had missed most while she was in Erielcqua.
As Elatha trotted through Quotations Castle, Aurelia almost sang with delight. She just couldn't seem to get over the fact that she had a violin of her own! (The one she'd had before had belonged to Sunnyville Orphanage, where she'd lived.)
Elatha had now taken Aurelia out of the Quotations Castle. They passed a sign saying, "WELCOME TO MATHEVILLAGE!" and travelled down a road called – according to another sign – the Twenty-second Road.
Elatha trotted on, and soon Aurelia was utterly lost, although, luckily, her horse was not. They reached a place called The Algebra Inn (Forty-third Street) and, at last Elatha halted.
A man came hurrying out to meet them and Aurelia dismounted. Taking Elatha, he led her to the stables and Aurelia walked into the inn.
The first thing that hit her was the noise. It almost knocked her off her feet. She could hear deep voices, high voices, gruff voices and mellow ones, but all were as loud as could be. And there was the harsh squeak of chairs on the floor, and the clunk of glasses being put down on tables, and the slamming of the door every few minutes as more people came and went.
Then her nose began to work. She wished it hadn't. There were the odours of sweat, alcohol, urine and other, unrecognisable smells, which backed Aurelia's suspicion that the place hadn't been washed for weeks, even months.
Desperate as she was to run out the doorway, she believed that Elatha must have had a reason to bring her here, so she walked up to the innkeeper and paid for a night's accommodation.
The next morning, at six o'clock, Aurelia rose quietly and left the inn, unable to bear it any longer. The beds hadn't been washed and the toilets were only holes in the ground, the floors were dirty and the rooms were full of rats, sick people lay among healthy ones and lice slept in beds alongside humans. It was disgusting.
Elatha was waiting outside. She appeared to have sensed her mistress's desire to leave. Aurelia mounted her horse and departed, glad to be going.
By midday they had left Mathevillage and were well on their way. Elatha trotted through the wilderness and Aurelia saw three black holes in the ground. I wonder what they can be? she speculated.
They soon reached the holes and Elatha stopped. Aurelia dismounted and Elatha nudged her forward… into the tunnels. There was one, rather large problem. Aurelia was afraid of the dark.
"I can't go down there Elatha!" she muttered. "I'm scared to death!"
Again, the horse attempted pushing her mistress forward. Aurelia stumbled into the tunnel, her face the very picture of terror. Slowly, still struggling to master her fear, Aurelia walked forward.
The darkness pressed in on her and she panicked. She turned back, towards the entrance, but it was … gone! For a few moments, she completely lost control of herself, before she stumbled, and was brought back to her right mind.
There was no sense in running round in circles like a headless chicken. She had to concentrate, so she picked up her violin, expecting it to calm her down, and began to play.
"Very good," a quiet voce congratulated her, as Aurelia finished her melody. "'Tis a long time since I heard such pretty music."
"Who are you?" Aurelia queried, apprehensively.
"I?" A small man stepped forward. He was the size of Aurelia's thumb, and, the first time she looked for him, her glance passed over his head. "I am the Earthman of Elements. You may call me Bris."
"Erm, Bris, do you know the way out?"
"Will you show me?"
"What do I have to do?"
"All I ask," said Bris, with longing, "Is for you to play me your violin once more."
Aurelia almost laughed with relief at this easy task. Immediately, she picked up the musical instrument and began to play a beautiful, earthy piece. It had the sound of echoing tunnels and compact earth, darkness and sunlight filtering through the soil, earthworms and moles. Bris clearly loved it.
When she finished her tune, Aurelia put her violin back inside its case. "I kept my part of the bargain. It's your turn now."
Reluctantly, Bris led the way out of the terrible Labyrinth of Doom.
"Let me come with you!" he begged. "I love your music so!"
Again, Aurelia very nearly laughed, watching the small figure pleading to follow her. Bris looked so funny.
"Of course you can come with me," she replied, privately thanking goodness that she didn't have to persuade him to accompany her. After all, what would Symplegadea say if she turned up without all of the Men of Elements? Together, the horse, the girl and the Man of Elements set of on their journey.
To Be Continued...