Photos by Aoife Lorefield
My family and I walked up the steps to the busy Erstwhile station to meet a well work traveller, who happens to be the leader of the traveling club called the herd and who so happens to be my Uncle.
“Hallo, Uncle,” I smiled, running to greet him with awe, “Where did you go this time on your travels?”
Dear Uncle simply tipped his hat and pushed a velveteen cloth sack. “I brought you a gift from the Pools of Ethuil.”
“The P-p-pools of Eethuil?” I could scarcely pronounce the name, being a young doe. I was very excited at the sound of such an exotic sounding location.
“Oh Uncle, do tell me more about your visit to the Pools of Ethuil.”
I reached for the package but Uncle set it just out of reach, wagging his finger.
“Dear child, that is just what I intend to do. But before you open your gift, I must tell you about the Pools of Ethuil. No, not just tell, I must show you!”
He reached into his satchel with an intricate deer buckle and brought out a device that looked like a box that you could hold up to your eyes to have a look through. I could have sworn Uncle used the impressive intonation he usually uses with his traveling herd when he announces a new destination to his traveling herd.
It drew me in alright. I moved over to a plush chair, listening intently.
“Well, well, you see” Uncle cleared his throat, smoothing his brown traveling clothes. “The Pools of Ethuil is a special place indeed. There are three parts to the pools that you must know.” he paused adjusting the viewfinder, clearing his throat once more allowing his monocle to slip from his face.
“First, gaze your eyes upon this image.” He held the viewfinder up to my face, where I took it and looked inside. Upon placing the well-worn device, I started to turn the knob handle with one hand while holding it with the other. It lit up as I turned, revealing an image as if I were there myself, a misty sky above and a stone square below with elven buildings surrounding a rather large temple. I glanced up from the viewfinder smiling at Uncle and then place it back over my eyes, speaking excitedly. “What is this Uncle? It reminds me of a church.”
I could hear my Uncles voice chuckle as I looked through the viewfinder at the image.
“My dear child, you are not far off. It is a temple of wood, plants, and just enough stained glass to let the light in. Impressive indeed!”
Uncle hummed a bit, getting out his steam pipe and emptying some anise flavor into it. “Well, it is imperative of course that you slide the image up, so you might see the crystal hovering in the ceiling.”
I slid the brass lever to revel more of the image, pressing my forehead against the viewfinder. I could smell the scent of anise wafting through the air from Uncle’s steam pipe.
“I see it!” I exclaimed.
Uncle chimed in, as if narrating a travel show, ”That crystal, blood in hue, is a heavily guarded secret of the southern elves. Trust me, I tempted a few of them to talk with your auntie’s homemade scones, but they would scarcely say much about that crystal. They happily obliged themselves to the scones though.” I could hear another chuckle. “I believe it to be a power source, but what do I know.”
I could hear Uncle’s voice trail off, as he went to gather his bags from baggage claim in the corner.
“Second image, coming right up!” I whispered, and I leaned back into the viewfinder’s panoramic image. I moved the image around to see lush gardens, tall trees, and more elven buildings. I could hear Uncle approach with his baggage.
“Just waiting on one child, hopefully ’tis not lost.” He puffed again on his pipe, and I smelled the anise. It has a smell you will never forget.
Dutifully, I advanced the panorama to the pools themselves, tilting the image using the levers. “I think I am getting the hang of this Uncle.”
“Hmm,” I mumbled to myself, trying to work the viewfinder to the next image while it is glued to my face. I played with the levels and turned the crank, zooming in on colorful mushrooms and curving pools. “I want to swim in those!” I exclaimed, nearly knocking into the good folks my Uncle was helping. “Oh goody..this looks like another little town.”
Uncle came to my rescue as I was headed towards running into another traveler and a chair. “Careful child! It is easy to get lost in the viewfinder, but we must remember where we are standing!” I simply nodded but continued to stare at the viewfinder.
“Uncle, there is a mushroom garden on one side with a statue of a woman. And if I move this lever quickly to the other side, I see a fairy. Oh my, she is sad. Why is the fairy sad?” I look up at Uncle with doe eyes.
“Oh, child, worry not! Do you not see what is growing underneath the fair’s tears?” He took another puff of his steam pipe, looking up for any sign of his luggage.
“There are big strong huts here. With deer antlers on the doorways.”
I lowered the viewfinder, hearing my stomach rumble. I hand it back to him. “Thank you Uncle for letting me see your traveling viewfinder.”
Uncle set the cloth-wrapped gift in front of me, “There you go kiddo. A souvenir from the pools of Ethuil!” I could have sworn he said the name again in a dramatic flair.
I wasted no time opening the gift, which seemed so neatly packaged I doubted my Uncle could have wrapped it himself. The velveteen pouch slumped to reveal a small ruby colored crystal inside. It sparkled brightly like the one above the elven temple, seeming to radiate a warm energy.
“By golly,” Uncle chuckled, half choking on his steam pipe, “I do believe the elves liked your auntie’s scones after all!”
I smiled at Uncle, giving him a hug. To this day I keep the crystal close, a beloved gift from a beautiful land.
Lunette stepped off the small ship that had been her home for the last two weeks and swayed a bit as her legs adjusted to walking on solid ground again. A small island protected the bay from the tides. The water was calm and very blue as she climbed the ladder that led from the ship to the land.
The ship’s captain saluted and shook his head ruefully at her. It was a gesture he’d been making the entire journey. It made her feel very young and a little foolish.
The ship up-anchored, the sails unfurled and the little vessel disappeared into the mists. Lunette watched it till it was just a spot on the horizon. She squared her shoulders and turned toward this world that once had been her parents’ home. Her mother had made her promise to make her way to Ethuil and here she was.
She had expected a bay full of ships, but there wasn’t a vessel in sight. Her mother had often regaled her with tales of the bustling port town of Ethuil. She had not yet been born when her parents left this place, so she really had no memories of it save those given to her by her mother. Perhaps she had entered the town at the wrong point? Maybe there was another landing?
Lunette slung her pack to her back and walked along the wall enclosing the formal garden which now filled what had once obviously been the landing. A stone retaining wall had been erected to hold the soil and potted plants blocked the view of the water.
She followed the wall till she saw the great cathedral. At least, she thought it was the cathedral. It had the tall arched doors and the stained glass windows and there was the crystal, Deladrieng, floating high above. But the crystal didn’t glow. It didn’t sparkle with life as her mother had always described it. It was the dull deep red of blood.
She walked into the cathedral and was shocked to see that it had been turned into a market. It was a well decorated and lovely market, but still a market. Not the place to celebrate the mysteries of life she had expected.
She spent the day wandering the streets. She was alternately thrilled and saddened by what she saw: large houses with roofs and porticoes that looked much like the prows of the ships that had brought the Elven folk from the West to these lands, delicate latices looking like organic runes, wide walkways and lakes that harked back to those watery lands from whence the residents had fled.
She also saw the squat stone buildings of the common workers and the rough paths between their homes. With a start, she realized that the smaller buildings were separated from the large ones by the same sort of retaining walls that kept the sea from the land.
She looked more closely and saw that the flowers and trees grew wild among the worker’s homes and that the pools were only between the poorer houses. The pools opened to the sea and it was possible to walk right down to the water from the lower town. This area was not restrained or contained like the upper town.
As the sun set, the silence was oppressive. The only living creature she had heard all day was a unicorn contentedly chomping grass near one of the ponds. There were no birds, no insects, no animals and certainly no Elven voices.
She thought she could read what had happened. For some reason, the people of the upper town had tried to wall themselves off from the sea and from those whom they deemed less worthy than themselves. They had forced their trees, their flowers and themselves into rigid shapes. They had stopped performing the rites of renewal and the celebrations of life that kept the great crystal gleaming like a beacon. She doubted whether the residents of the upper town could even read the runes that decorated their homes. Runes that warned that pride would lead to destruction.
The great crystal heart of their spirits had died. The fire had gone out of Deladrieng and when it did, the lives had gone out of the residents of Ethuil.
She settled down at the base of a tree near the unicorn. She put her pack under her head and threw a blanket around her shoulders. She would leave tomorrow. She would walk down the path through the lower town and across the pond to the lands she saw through the distant gateway to the east. She could hear water falling there. Water meant life and life was precious. She hoped that the people of the lower town had escaped. They seemed not to have fallen victim to their leaders’ folly. Perhaps they had gone that way.
Weep Not for the Day
by Caledonia Skytower
In memory of Gene
Motes of life floating
swaying, drifting, dissolving
in a ring of fae.
Cell by cell vanish
peeling away the layers
what will then remain?
magic wafting on the breeze
first gone, then it’s lost.
My head on my knees
weeping its quiet passing
A voice from the past
So deep, yet gently speaking
a wise shade returns.
“Seek not the ebbing,
paths naturally cycling,
mere glimpse of the whole.
“Weep not the waning,
for surely the wheel shall turn
“This moment will not
linger, forever static
but shall breathe anew.
“Come to the water
embrace what little remains,
hold it inside you.
“You are the vessel,
connecting all that has been
with that which shall be.
“Love is the power,
belief the compelling force,
of all that is real.
“Seek not the static,
a grasping of now, forever.
Time that never stops.
“Weep not my dear child
for the passing of the day,
but strive to live it.”