The Autumnal Lady Chapter VII - Into Zephyria
The seventh chapter in my fairy tale, The Autumnal Lady. In this chapter, Oliver and Craig the Brownie leave the Halls of Dougal to enter Zephyria, The Land of the Kindly West Wind. If you have not read the sixth chapter, you can find it here. Enjoy!
When Oliver awoke for a second time in the Halls of Dougal, he was surprised to see Craig filling packs with supplies from the crates and barrels that lined the walls. Without even turning his shaggy head towards Oliver, Craig said, “At last you are awake. Hurry! Hurry! We must be moving.”
Oliver rose slowly to his feet. “Where are we going?” he asked hesitantly as though afraid of what the answer might be.
Craig turned towards Oliver and exclaimed, “Lapping laughter! Do you really not know of the Vineyards of Oeneus? I thought that they were famed throughout all of Somnii.”
“I have never heard of them,” Oliver replied with a shake of his head.
“Well,” Craig said with a smile, “we are going to Oeneus’ vineyards, which rest on the very edge of the land of Zephyria, where the kindly West Wind dwells.”
For a moment, Oliver thought of all that he had heard of the land of Zephyria, which was the greatest and most powerful of the nations of men in all of Somnii. Then a smile came to his lips as he realized there might very well be a way to escape all the weirdness that had plagued his life since he had first had the dream. Yet even as joy filled his heart at the prospect of freedom, a doubt came to his mind. “What if they are waiting for us outside?” he asked Craig.
Craig barked out a short laugh as he shook his shaggy head. “Don’t worry, laddie,” he said with a kindly smile. “Old Craig has thought of that already. When Dougal built his hall, he built tunnels all around them. One such tunnel runs beneath the Fay Mountains, which mark the border between Zephyria and Fairy. We will take that tunnel and then turn south to reach the Vineyards of Oeneus.”
As he listened to Craig speak, Oliver could not believe his good fortune. After they crossed from Fairy back into the realms of men, all he would have to do is ditch the brownie, and he would be safe and free. Everyone knew that Zephyria, which it was said Merdinus the Archmage himself had founded, was the safest of the realms of men. It was a kingdom of just lords, wise mages, valiant knights, and skilled craftsmen. It was the pinnacle of human achievement in Somnii. There was no way that the Fomorians and trolls would stand a chance against the might and power of that land. So it was that Oliver’s heart sang within him at Craig’s words. Freedom is truly in sight, he thought to himself.
Suddenly, Craig pulled Oliver out of his thoughts as he exclaimed, “Scolding scallops, laddie! Are you listening to me at all?”
Oliver turned his eyes back to Craig and said, “I am sorry. I was simply excited.”
“Aye,” Craig said with a sage nod. “I can understand that. There truly are few finer places than the Vineyards of Oeneus. The only place that rivals it is Avalon, sweet Avalon. But we have a long journey in the dark ahead of us.”
“Aren’t there crystals in the tunnels?” Oliver asked.
“Weeping whips!” Craig shouted so that his voice echoed in the cavern. “Do you have any idea how much magic that would take, laddie? Dougal was powerful but not that powerful. I doubt even King Arvid of the Elves himself could do it. Do not fear though. We have portable crystals.”
With those words, Craig handed a small, smooth crystal, which glowed with eldritch light, to Oliver. Then Craig passed a pack to Oliver before strapping one, which seemed as though it was too large for him, to his own back. Beginning to whistle a bright and merry tune, Craig led Oliver into a dark tunnel, and they began their journey to Zephyria.
For days the two of them traveled in the dark tunnel that Dougal had built far beneath the earth. It often seemed to Oliver as though it were a journey without end, yet whenever his spirits sank towards despair, Craig would revive them with a jaunty tune or a funny joke or a silly caper. In the darkness Oliver began to discover that he liked the little brownie. Part of him regretted his plan to abandon Craig, yet his heart was still set on the idea of freedom. Oliver also continued without dreams of the odd castle, the raggedy woman, and Candida. Much to his surprise, he found himself longing to have such dreams again. Yet through all of this, he remained firm in his desire to leave all of the weirdness of the past few days behind him when he reached Zephyria.
After two uneventful weeks of traveling beneath the earth in Dougal’s tunnel, Oliver noticed that the tunnel was beginning to slope upwards. Then he heard Craig say, “Fear not! Fear not! Soon we shall be beneath the warm face of the sun, and we shall breathe fresh air once more. Now, come! Come!” So it was that the two companions began their ascent into Zephyria.
When evening had fallen across the land the following day, Oliver and Craig emerged into an isolated glade. At once Craig set about lighting a fire and cooking the evening meal. Oliver watched in amazement at the speed and efficiency of the little brownie. After they had eaten, Craig said, “Now, get to sleep, laddie. I shall take the first watch.”
But Oliver, eager to make his dash for freedom, replied, “I am not tired for you have done the day’s work. You should sleep now, and I shall take the first watch.”
Craig reluctantly agreed to this plan. After a few yawns, he curled up on the ground and was soon snoring. As he looked on the sleeping form of the brownie, Oliver felt somewhat guilty at the thought of leaving the poor, sleeping creature defenseless. But he reasoned with himself, Craig is a creature of Fairy, and such creatures are always more than they appear to be to the naked eye. Therefore, I should in truth pity anyone, who dares to disturb the brownie in the fulfillment of his mission. Thinking these thoughts, Oliver picked up his glow crystal and headed off into the darkness of the night.
Wandering in the dark, Oliver tried to find one of the famous roads of Zephyria, but no matter how hard he searched there was no road to be found in that remote location. To make matters worse, the further Oliver went from the tunnel, the dimmer his crystal became. Apparently, whatever magic had powered it could not now reach it. Soon Oliver found himself stumbling in the dark without a light. But just as he was about to despair of ever finding his way in the night, he saw a fire in the distance. Now, perhaps if he had not grown up on tales of the greatness of Zephyria, Oliver would have been a little more cautious, but he did not know that the border regions of that great land were peopled by outlaws, bandits, murderers, and slavers.
Lacking this knowledge, Oliver foolishly stumbled into the small camp. In the middle of the camp, there was a great fire around which rough looking men sat. On a great chair by the fire, there sat a great, burly man with a thick beard and a large nose. His right eye was covered by an eyepatch, and the ends of a nasty scar could be seen both below and above it. At the edge of the camp, there were wagons from which the stench of unwashed bodies rose.
Just as Oliver stumbled into the camp, the large man said, “The pretty one should bring us a nice penny even with her fiery temper.”
As the men began to laugh at their chieftain’s words, the large man’s eye fell on Oliver, and he rumbled, “What have we here?”
© 2014 Joseph Ray