"What is it, Kevin?" asked Miles, worried by the urgent tone of his friend's command. Miles noticed that his father had run to join them at Kevin's halting order and was looking very worried.
"There is a strong negative field here," started Kevin. "Do you not feel it, Miles?"
"Not really Kevin. I know this house has known a lot of unhappiness but thought that just part of the situation. Are you saying there is something about the house itself?"
"Margaret said much the same Kevin, the only time I ever brought her here," Daniel said.
Kevin and Miles turned to look at him and he felt he needed to explain more.
"My courtship of Margaret was rather covert for many reasons. She had told me of her heritage almost from the beginning and we both were a bit afraid of what people from either side might do to keep us apart. We were young and maybe a bit fanciful, likening our situation to Romeo and Juliet. My parents had both passed away before that and Zelda was living here alone. I did not bring Margaret here to meet her until after we had wed. It was a tense and difficult meeting and after Margaret told me that while here she'd been overcome with negative sensations."
"I see," said Kevin. "Miles and Daniel, I'm going to ask you a lot of questions so, please bear with me."
"Okay," said Miles. "But I must admit being curious as to what you expect and more than a little worried."
"I'll answer any that I can," was Daniel's response. "Do you think we should go away from the house to talk?"
"That's a good point," said Kevin. "Miles, where are your things? Do you need to go in the house to retrieve them?"
"When we arrived yesterday we were anxious to get to the settlement so we just left everything in my rental car which is parked in the garage at the back corner of the property. I do need to check the phone answering machine and my email though as they've not been checked since before I left for Watertown."
"Alright. You check those then. A short time shouldn't be a problem and you have been in there many times before. The rest of us will go to the garage and reload things onto the wagon while you are doing that. May I have your keys for the garage and car?"
"The garage isn't locked and here's the car keys," said Miles handing the keys to Kevin. "Meet you there soon."
Miles entered the house and quickly checked for messages. There was nothing of any importance so he did not linger. He could feel Kevin's very strong concerns about the house. Now he wondered if there was more to all the sadness and tension of the years and even thought he was starting to feel something too. His other visits to the house were either cloaked with concern for Sarah and Geoff or with his search for Amanda. He decided to try an experiment from his classes at the settlement so many years ago. He did wonder about asking Kevin first but his curiosity was too strong. He stood in the room and concentrated on clearing his mind of all thought and focusing his energy on his sentient side. It did not take long for all the negativity that Kevin had warned of to flood Miles who had opened himself up so completely. It caused him to collapse on to the floor.
Over at the garage, the others had felt Miles pain and panic.
"Uncle Miles!" Geoff cried out as he was about to run to the house.
"No!" Kevin said."Stay here, Geoff, with your grandfather. I'll get Miles."
Kevin's fear for his friend more than overcame his concerns about entering the house and he rushed in to find Miles huddled into a shaking ball. Concentrating on Miles provided a shield from the negative forces for Kevin and he pulled Miles to a standing position and placed Miles' arm over his shoulder and dragged his friend from the house to a garden area that was on the opposite side of the house from the garage. If at all possible, he hoped to keep Daniel and Geoff from seeing Miles in this condition.
"My friend, my friend, what have you done?" Kevin whispered as he lowered Miles onto the grass. He was sure that a Healer in the Settlement would be able to restore Miles but Kevin knew his friend would prefer to avoid that. Kevin held Miles close and concentrated on all the warmest and happiest things he could think of hoping that Miles would absorb the positive energy from them. With the return of Sarah and Geoff into his life, Kevin had a good supply of positive energy to draw from. There was even his very happy feelings for his friend's finally finding his life-mate.
Between the renewal energy of the earth and grass and the absorption of positive sensations from Kevin, Miles started to calm down and return slowly to himself. Miles shook his head and looked at Kevin. His initial blank expression gradually changed to a slow, somewhat sad smile.
"Thank you, my friend," Miles said as he left Kevin's side to sit a little apart.
"How are you, Miles? Daniel and Geoff will be terribly worried if we take too long joining them. Do you feel up to it?"
"Still a bit shakey; but better by the second," replied Miles. "We better join them now and you and I can talk about this later."
"Alright but not too much later."
"I know," agreed Miles.
Kevin stood and lent Miles a hand to get to his feet. As the two approached the garage, Geoff came running to Miles, giving his uncle a hug that expressed all of his young concern. Daniel came over and gave Miles a very serious look.
"Later, Father," Miles replied to his father's unasked question. "I'm fine, Geoff. Now have you managed to load everything into the wagon?"
"I think so," replied Geoff.
"Where's Amanda's car? It's in a miniaturized state," he added at their perplexed looks.
"Oh," said Geoff as he took the small car from his pocket.
"After I back the rental car out of the garage, place it in the middle of the garage Geoff and I'll restore it. Father, do you think you and Geoff can handle getting the things back to the Settlement while Kevin and I return the rental?"
"Well, Geoff, do you think we can manage?" Daniel asked his grandson.
"Sure we can, Grandfather," answered Geoff.
"There's your answer, Miles," said Daniel.
Miles could see his father was still full of questions about what had happened.
"Tonight, Father. I promise," Miles told him.
Soon Daniel and Geoff were off back to the Settlement while Kevin and Miles drove off to return the car to the nearby rental office.
"Well, Miles, what did you do back there?" Kevin said as soon as they left the driveway of the house.
"Kevin, I thought I felt something which was surprising after having been there so many times over the last 10 years without being aware of anything," said Miles.
"I've been thinking about that," said Kevin. "I'm sure the stress of the times played a part. Margaret and I seemed to be more tuned to it as well which might be because we're full faeryfolke. Your human side could have been giving you some protection. But what about today?"
"I decided to do a Mind Clearing and open myself to experience the aura of the room."
"That rather explains it then. That aura is so strongly negative that to approach it with no protection was very dangerous."
"I realize that now and promise to be more cautious in the future, Kevin. And thanks for bringing me back. I never want to feel like that again. It was so deep, so dark."
"You're welcome; and, Miles, I'll hold you to that promise of caution."
After the men and Geoff had left for Woodtown, the four women headed to the Gardens. Amanda told the others on the way that she had thought the whole settlement had resembled a large garden and was rather surprised that they would have an area designated as The Gardens.
Margaret started to explain. "The Gardens are really very large and so are on an edge of the Settlement. One section overlaps with the Agriculture area."
"Oh," said Amanda. "I thought the meals were made by magic. Miles told me that Geoff does fast food through his wand."
"He does,"Sarah laughed. "But food made completely from magic is limited in value. It will ease hunger and provide some nutrional value, but it is deficient especially in the restorative components that faeryfolke need. We need naturally grown fruits, vegetables and grains. The Food Preparers do then use magic to turn those into the food that is available in the Dining Hall."
"There is something I've wondered about," started Amanda. "Miles has mentioned many friends from the animal world."
"True," agreed Sarah.
"Well, what I was wondering about is, how then is it that you are not vegetarians?"asked Amanda.
"A logical conclusion," commented Margaret. "The animals used as food are very carefully screened to see if there are any that are enchanted. Those that are, are then raised as friends and the others as livestock. The fruit gardens, herb gardens and even parts of the vegetable gardens are in the area that overlaps with The Gardens."
"The cutflower garden is in that general area too,"added Sarah.
"Cutflower garden? what is that?" asked Amanda.
Sarah smiled and answered, "My favourite section, I think. The flowers and plants there are grown for anyone in the Settlement to cut to use as they wish - bouquets, garlands, potpourri. There is a designated cutting bed in the herb garden as well."
"Here we are now," said Margaret as they reached an opening in the high hedge that they'd been walking along. "On the right is the formal gardens with it's very symmetrical layout of beds all enclosed in a high hedge. There is a lawn area that can have chairs set up on it by the open gazebo. The gazebo is where you would stand to make your pledges to each other."
"It's beautiful and so perfect," said an awed Amanda.
"It is beautiful," added Susannah.
"On the left are other gardens. Shall we sit in the Rose Garden and discuss the Pledging further?" asked Margaret.
"Sounds lovely," said Amanda.
The four found a bench under a shade tree near the outer edge of the garden that faced the rose beds. The two older women sat on the bench while the younger two sat on the grass.
"So it's to be this Saturday?" asked Susannah.
"Yes," said Amanda. "Unless more time is needed."
"No. I should think that's plenty. Have you given any thought to your gown?" asked Sarah.
"Do faeryfolke go with the traditional white of the Outer World?" inquired Amanda.
"Sometimes. But there's no rule to color," said Susannah. "May I tell how I see you for your wedding? If you like it I could go to the Emporium for the basic materials later today and have it ready for you to try this evening."
"Yes, Mama. Tell me what you envision," responded Amanda.
"Alright. I see very fine cream-colored cotton lawn. A fitted, lined bodice to a waist that is slightly raised. Around the scoop neckline a row of embroidered roses in variegated shades from very pale coral to deep salmon. Flared bell sleeves of the cream lawn; elbow length with a repeat of the neckline embroidery at the hem. The skirt would be gathered petals of the soft lawn with the bottom layer ground length and the deep salmon. Successive layers would get shorter and paler; salmon through coral shades ending with a layer of cream hip length petals."
"Oh, Mama!" Amanda said as she went and gave her mother a hug.
"Sounds beautiful," said Margaret.
"It really does," added Sarah.
Amanda sat back down and said, "It sounds perfect." She then noticed she had been absently rubbing the coral ring Miles had given her. She smiled and repeated, "Perfect."
"I admit," said Susannah, "That ring which Miles gave you was the inspiration."
"And," said Sarah, "Roses in those shades in a garland for your hair with ribbons to match trailing down the back would look lovely with your dark hair."
"You'll be beautiful," Margaret told her.
"Me? Beautiful?" whispered Amanda. "You know before Miles, I wouldn't have thought I could ever feel beautiful, but I'm almost starting to believe."
Sarah reached over to her new friend and sister who sat next to her on the grass and gave her a short hug. "Believe."
Amanda smiled at her.
"As the only person here to have never attended a Pledging, or any other faeryfolke ceremony, I really need to rely on you all for guidance. My first question - does a pledging have someone perform a ceremony similar to a judge or minister?" asked Amanda.
"No," answered Margaret. "You and Miles will just stand in the Gazebo and, with the Settlement mambers as witness, make your Pledges to each other."
"Alright. Are these Pledges in a book somewhere to read or memorize?" was Amanda's next concern.
"No." Sarah answered this question. "You write your own. Every Pledging is unique."
"Oh! I have to write it?" was Amanda's obviously distressed response.
"It'll be ok," soothed Sarah. "Just say what is in your heart. You'll be surprised at how easily the words will come together."
Amanda was again absently fingering her ring when she felt such a deep pain sweep over her. "Miles!" she screamed oblivious to Sarah and Margaret's similar reactions.
Susannah, too had felt Miles' distress but her bond was much less than a sister, mother, and especially a life-mate, would feel. In truth, she felt Amanda's distress much more keenly.
All four women had instinctively risen as if they could run somewhere to help. Susannah reached her arms out to her daughter and friends and soon the four were supporting each other in one big hug.
"Daniel and Kevin are with him. I'm sure whatever it was, they'll be able to help him," Susannah reminded them.
"You're right about that, Susannah," responded Sarah. "I can feel Kevin concentrating on positive emotions. He must have Miles and is trying to get him to absorb the energy. But Geoff is still very very upset."
"I do feel an easing in Miles' distress," said Amanda letting out a deep sigh.
"Yes," said Margaret. "I feel he'll be alright now."
"Why don't we start back to my house?" asked Sarah. "That's the first place they would return to."
The other women all agreed and the four left the Gardens, walking back to Sarah and Kevin's house. They'd just left the Gardens when Sarah had felt Geoff's relief. In fact all of the group in town's emissions were much improved.
"I think it'll all be okay now. Even Geoff is better," she told her mother and friends.
"That's good to know Sarah," responded Amanda. "But I'm not going to be able to fully relax until I see Miles with my own eyes. I wonder what happened. They were just going to the house to pick up the things we left."
Maragaret stopped walking and exclaimed, "The house! Zelda's house! How could I have forgotten!"
The other three women stopped and looked at Margaret, waiting for an explanation.
"It was so long ago," Margaret started her story as they resumed walking. "Just after Daniel and I married; so just over 40 years ago. We'd kept our courtship quite secret, afraid that someone would try to stop it. It wasn't until after we married that Daniel took me to the house to meet Zelda. As soon as I got near the house I felt a wave of negative energy and had been afraid to enter but went through with the visit with Daniel's only relative. The sensations were similar to what I felt earlier today from Miles. Zelda was outwardly polite but I knew she really hated me and was very upset with Daniel for marrying me. I was a rather naive and trusting 20 year old and could not understand why someone who'd just met me would be so strongly against me. I had always been quite open with Daniel. I had expected skepticism when I told him I was faeryfolke but he believed me completely. So I told him of the sensations eminating from the house after the visit and he decided we would never go back to the house again."
"But, Mother," said Sarah. "I lived there for 9 years with Geoff and don't recall anything like that. And Miles visited me there often over those years. He was even staying there before he went to Watertown."
"That's true," agreed Margaret.
"And Amanda and Susannah were just there yesterday," continued Sarah.
"That's a bit inaccurate," responded Susannah.
"Right," agreed Amanda. "Miles let us out by the sidewalk and he drove the car into the garage; then joined us and we walked here. We never really were that close to the house."
"I see," said Sarah. "Still Geoff, Miles and I all have stayed there."
"I don't know the answers for certain," Maragaret. "I think the stress of the times may have been a shielding force along with your human side. Perhaps one of the Learned on the Council would know."
"Than why would it affect Miles today?" asked Amanda.
"I have no idea. Hopefully Miles can clear that up when we see him,"suggested Margaret.
They had just turned into the lane on which Sarah's house was located when they saw Daniel and Geoff approaching from the opposite direction pulling the wagon filled with boxes and about to turn up the path to Sarah's front porch. The women hurried their pace to catch up to them. Just as they approached, Daniel answered the question he knew they would be about to ask.
"Miles and Kevin are returning the rental car. I'm sure they'll be here soon."
Daniel stood behind Geoff looking toward the women. He could almost see the questions forming on their lips but he silenced them by lowering his eyes to glance at his grandson. The women understood Daniel's gesture and spoke words of greeting only knowing that the questions most on their minds would have to wait.
[Whimsical Woods Index]