Out of the caves and where?

 

“Then the child she carried was me,” said Tian Shih softly.  “But why did my mother venture here through such danger while pregnant?  Surely my father would not have allowed it.”

The elderly man chuckled.  “Ah, then you must have not known your mother well, no not well at all, a woman of great virtue, yet also a woman of great courage and resources.  I do not believe that a soul, nary a soul could have said no to such a woman, not even such as I could have done so, not to a woman of such conviction and determination.  As for your father, I believe he loved her with great intent but did not limit her movement and your mother was I believe a well-known scholar, highly unusual, yes, highly unusual, but we do progress through the ages and other scholars of the feminine persuasion, oh yes, are well-known to us.”  Here he stopped and fixed his gaze on Tian Shih again.  She had no idea what to say or do, except to return to familiar courtesies.

“I thank you for the information about my family.  I was unable to know my mother as she was taken from us while I was a baby.  But I must return to my ship now,” and she began to rise, but the man rose too, reaching out a slightly agitated hand.  His face, which had seemed at first pleasant and hopeful, now contained shadows around the eyes and mouth.  Tian Shih shrank from his touch, but collected herself and stepped swiftly around to the back of the chair.

He immediately withdrew his hand, perhaps realizing the mistake and smiled.  To Tian Shih, the smile was one of secrets and his eyes failed to meet hers.  She thought frantically about the doors and which had been her entrance, but she kept her face pleasant and smooth and her eyes bland.

“My dear, I have not explained completely.  As a baby you were promised to the Dream Masters to be apprenticed as one of our own.  Your mother knew you would be safe here, from the world at large and from your familial tendencies, shall we say, to become more animalistic?  After all, your late husband has already met a fate that we wouldn’t wish on our loved ones, hasn’t he?  Would it not be better if you were in a place where your talents for study and your innate intelligence were put to use in a less, oh, bloody fashion?  In fact, when your mother came to us, she brought with her another baby, Persephone, whom she left in our care.  Obviously, she trusted us to give that child whatever she needed to become a vital part of our world’s control of dreams.”

Tian Shih was trembling slightly.  Surely her mother had not meant her to remain underground for the rest of her life.  This could not be true.  Her father would never have agreed, but her mother would not have told him—she was head strong and made her own destiny and Tian Shih had always thought that she too would make her destiny, not follow one that had been set prior to her birth.

The man edged around the desk to the door at its side.  “Let me just find Persephone and she can show you where you can stay the night.  Perhaps in the morning, everything will be clearer,” and with that, he was gone.

Tian Shih let out her breath.  She hadn’t even known she was holding it.  Feeling dizzy,  she moved to one of the chairs against the wall and sat.  What?  What should she do?  She closed her eyes and focused on her morning, Ting Ting, the tea, the rabbit, the vague unease she had felt at seeing a face similar to Pon’s.  Her eyes snapped open.  The walnut.  She had a way to instantly return to the ship in her pocket.  She closed her eyes and gave thanks to her ancestors, and a small very sincere bow to E.  Then she opened her eyes and fumbled in her pocket for the walnut.

The door beside her flew open.  The small woman in the white blouse and bombazine skirt darted in, her dark hair even more disheveled.  Her green eyes were frightened and her wide mouth tensed.  Tian Shih froze, walnut in hand.  “You must not…” said the woman, and lay a hand on Tian Shih’s arm just as she wished herself to the ship.

Then, stumbling, they were both blinded by sunshine and blown by a brisk wind.  “This, this is not the ship!”  gasped Tian Shih.  “Where am I?” cried the young woman.  Tian Shih reeled around and stared at this young woman who still had hold of her arm.  “You are not supposed to be here!” Tian Shih said and pulled her arm away. “And who are you anyway?”

The young woman drew herself up, but still had to look up at Tian Shih through her wire-rimmed glasses.  “I am Persephone,” she said firmly, although her voice was trembling, “and I am in training to be a Dream Master.”

Tian Shih slumped her shoulders.  Too much.  She sat on the ground and let the wind pull on the tendrils of hair at her temples.  She placed the end of her braid in her lap and began to unwind the gold thread that held it in place.  Tian Shih carefully wound the thread around her hand—this thread had held her hair in place since she had had hair long enough to braid, and had been her mother’s hair thread.

She looked out as she unwound the thread and saw that she was on a hillside overlooking the sea with a valley to her left.  Small white rectangular stones haphazardly dotted the hill down into the valley.  Idly she was wondering to herself what they were when her thoughts were interrupted by a tremulous voice.

“How do I get back?”

Tian Shih shaded her eyes and looked up to see Persephone still standing next to her.  “Get back?”

“Yes.  I need to return to the caves.  I have duties.  And lessons.  That’s where I belong.”

Tian Shih looked back over the ocean.  “I have no idea where we are.  I was supposed to return to my ship, but this is no ship and I hesitate to use my transportation again as I might end up in the sea or somewhere,” and she swept an arm out over the hillside.  “You came with me, I can only assume, because you had your hand on my arm, although I fail to see why you would have done so.  And now you are in my care.  So we are two, as we were before my birth, because I believe you to be the Persephone whom my mother brought to the caves when she visited, are you not?”

Persephone looked blankly at Tian Shih and then collapsed next to her awkwardly in her long skirt.  “So I cannot return to the caves,” she said with no expression.

Tian Shih looked at her.  “Did you not hear a word I said?” she said impatiently.  “I have not the slightest idea of where we are and what are those white stones on the hillside?”

“Tombstones.  It’s a graveyard,” said Persephone.

“A graveyard?”  said Tian Shih.  “But I see a house in the valley, and there must be someone living there because I see smoke from the chimney.”

“Perhaps a caretaker,” said Persephone, still expressionless and staring out to sea.

Tian Shih had tucked the gold thread in her pocket and was unwinding her hair.  Without looking at the girl, she said, “Did you know that my mother left you in the caves?”

“I knew that a woman brought me to the caves when I was a baby.  I knew that it was an honor.  I mean, I was taught it was an honor.  I was told by my nurse…” At the look of surprise, although slight, from Tian Shih, Persephone smiled, and said, “Did you think old men would raise a small girl?  No, I had, or have a nurse.  She still assists me.  Or did.  I wonder if she’s knows I’m gone yet.” And with that she trailed off and wiped her eyes surreptitiously. 

She continued after a silence.  “I was told by my nurse that I was left by a kind woman who was protecting me.”  She turned to Tian Shih.  “Many of the Dream Masters come to the caves for that reason.  Among the dreams they are hidden and cannot be touched, even if another with discontent on his mind were to find his way into the caves.  The dreams protect the Dream Masters.”

The girl seemed so earnest that Tian Shih was intrigued.  “What if ,” she said, “there are two Dream Masters who are enemies to each other?”

Persephone seemed loathe to answer this question and turned her head away.  “I have not witnessed such terrible event, but my nurse told me stories of such happenings in the past.”

“And the result?”

“They turned dreams against each other thus endangering the wake-dream barrier.  They were expelled, which is the worst punishment for a Dream Master.  All kings and princes would give riches for a Dream Master of their own but to work outside the caves is hell,” and here she blushed.  “There is no protection from the dreams of all and a Dream Master slowly goes mad.”

Tian Shih thought a moment.  “Will you go mad?”  she asked.

Persephone smiled a little.  “No.  I am but an apprentice, not a full Master and cannot read all dreams, but if someone were to know that I came from the caves, I might be used as a Dream Master to no avail.  My life would be forfeit.”  She pulled her knees up and placed her chin on her knees.  “I am not going back, am I?”

“No, at least not at this moment,” said Tian Shih.  “I have no idea how to return you, although it is possible that L’Enchanteur may know a way, if we are able to find my ship.  I would like to know more, if you know, why my mother would deliver you to safety.  What were you to her?”

Persephone crinkled her brow in thought.  “ My nurse knew very little, only how I was brought to her.  But my curiosity is the bane of my existence and I looked for the entry that described my appearance.  All it said was ‘Protection from dragon’.  Does that mean anything to you?”

Tian Shih only responded with “Perhaps,” but she was thinking of the picture of the man in her watch locket and she wondered.  She finished unbraiding her hair and let it fly free.  “Let us venture down through the cemetery to the house and see if its inhabitant can tell us where we are and perhaps where the ship is.”  She arose and brushed off grass and held a hand to Persephone who took it and pulled herself up also.  Persephone pushed the glasses up on her nose and watched Tian Shih’s hair blow in the wind.

“Your hair is breathtaking,” Persephone said.

Tian Shih gave her a smile and bowed, hands clasped.  “I am ever blessed by your complement and hope to be worthy of such praise.”

“I like your pants, too,” said Persephone, as they started down the slope into the valley.  “They are much more appropriate for wandering hills than my skirt.  And your shoes.  I’ve never seen such as those.  May I ask where one purchases such shoes?”

Tian Shih said, “When we are back at the ship, I may be able to find such items as these for you.”

The two slim figures set off down into the valley, one with black hair the length of her body blowing streams in the wind, graceful in her silk pants and jacket, with her sword at her side; the other, slightly smaller, hampered slightly by her narrow skirt, so walking more quickly to catch up, her small sturdy boots moving steadily through the grass, but equally graceful, her dark hair confined at the nape of her neck, her back straight.

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5 Responses to “Out of the caves and where?”

  1. gwenguin1 Says:

    You do this so well. I was so disappointed when there was no more to read!! Such fun!

    GwenGuin

  2. celticsea Says:

    What a well-told story. Just where will the girls – sisters? – end up?

    As an aside, I have a Tian Shen in my 7th grade math class! 🙂

  3. themoonandstars Says:

    oh how interesting-I cannot wait to read more

  4. animar Says:

    Come into my parlor said one sister to the other
    😉 this is going to be good….

  5. Suzanne Says:

    Great story – I like the way you write. What compelling characters.

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