Felix, Part 4: The Hermit’s Knight

Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else. 

 

“White trees, you say? I’ve never seen anything like that before.” The librarian looks at me with trepidation, rolling up the sleeve of her green tunic. “Why do you ask?”

“I had a dream about them,” I say. I had been coming to the library every day since the vision, looking up anything about hallucinations and white trees. One librarian recommended books about witches, but I don’t understand a lot of the words. Filion might be able to read them, but he was busy helping Mom and Dad at the market. I’ll talk to him after dinner tonight. Maybe if they do well enough today he’ll come with me tomorrow.

The librarian cranes her neck at the higher shelves. “Your name’s Felix, right? You asked me the same questions two days ago.” She put a book high on the shelves. “I didn’t have any answers then, and I don’t have any answers now. I could ask my colleagues in Baress, but it’ll take a week or two before I hear back.”

“A week? This is urgent!”

“That’s the best I can do. I’m sorry.”

That’s the same thing all the other librarians said. “Thank you, ma’am.” I shuffle my feet as I walk back to the kids section to take my mind off of things. Five days of researching and asking questions and I’m no closer to figuring out what happened to me. Maybe I should just tell Mom and Dad and hope they won’t be mad. They probably hear all sorts of stuff in the market, they must know something.

 

The air stinks more than usual. Sweat beads on the back of my neck as I race down our street, hoping I arrived home before everyone else. Mom and Dad would kill me if they knew I’d even gone into the next borough. It’s usually never a problem, but with everything that’s been going on I know they wouldn’t like what I’ve been getting up to.

I duck inside the front door, shutting it quickly. I yank my boots off and toss them in the corner. I race through the kitchen and grab a book from the bookshelf. Yesterday I barely beat Mom and Dad home. I can’t let that happen again.

With my book in my hands, I sit down at the table and sigh. Five days in the library and I have nothing to show for it. Filion and I talk about it every night, trying to figure out what happened. He would bounce ideas around with me, but the only thing we know right now is that there are people far more dangerous than the city guard or the witches. Maybe that’s why Filion’s been working so much at the market. Is he desperate to leave Haven? Does he think he’ll be safer at Baress?

I open the book to a random page, hoping the story will take my mind off of things. It reads Chapter 5: The Hermit. “This is one of my favorites!” I say to myself. Dad used to read The Hermit’s Knight to us as we fell asleep. With how often we’ve read it I’ve nearly memorized it.

Upon the request of his people, a knight sets off to find a magical hermit who can end the curse placed on his king and queen. During his journey he crosses paths with a gambling jester, a pair of witches, a kindhearted dragon, and even men with fish tails instead of legs. Eventually he reaches a mountain pass. Weary from his dangerous journey, he ducks into a nearby cave to rest, only to encounter the very hermit he sought! As he recovers from his injuries, the knight discovers that the hermit had cursed the king and queen for banishing him from the kingdom years ago. The hermit eventually discerns the knight’s true intentions. After a brief struggle of magic and might, the knight proves victorious.

That’s it! The hermit lived in the mountains! Maybe if I ask the librarians about mountain folk I’ll get somewhere.

“Felix!” someone shouts from the kitchen. I set the book on the table and dash to the window. A girl with bright eyes and dark hair looks through the window, both hands pressed against the glass. She flashes a smile when she sees me, and I smile back on instinct. “There you are! I haven’t seen you in days, where have you been?”

“I’ll let you in, come around to the front.” She nods, then vanishes from the window. Lucky for her she’s small enough to fit between our houses. Guilt washes over me; I haven’t seen her in nearly a week. She’s my best friend, and in my obsession with my vision I’ve been avoiding her without realizing it. I open the door, and I fall back in a giggling tackle. “Ow! Hey, watch it!”

She laughs again, saying “Sorry, it’s just so good to see you.”

“You too, Zia!” We stand up, and I shut the door. “So much has happened over the past few days.”

“Like what? Tell me!”

“It’s kind of a long story.” Zia looks at me with prying eyes. “Fine. Mom and Dad came home from the market upset six days ago, but they wouldn’t tell us much about what happened, just that a woman with white hair stared at Mom for a long time. Filion, however, told me that night he learned about a girl with flaming hands in the market being chased by people in black. He had also seen the woman with the white hair going into the Witch’s Brew with a little girl just before dinner. I thought the girl with the flaming hands might be an Elemental – like the ones that took over the eastern cities – and Filion seemed as eager to investigate as I was, so we snuck out and spied on them through the window at the inn. The people in black showed up, they fought, and the little girl shot fire from her hands. It nearly hit me in the face! When they finally stopped, the woman in white looked directly at me, and I had this vision of a woman in these mountains over a white forest. She led me to a pass and showed me a village and told me ‘They can teach you to protect the world. Find them.’ Then I came back to the real world. I’ve been going to the library trying to figure out where the village is every day since, and Mom and Dad won’t let us leave the house after dinner until everyone calms down about the fire girl.”

Zia blinks. “That’s it?”

“Yes.” I shake my head. How does she not get how big a deal this is? “This sort of thing doesn’t happen every day, you know.”

“Yeah, but you said it was a long story. That only took a couple minutes to tell, didn’t it?” Zia sits down at the table. “Besides, it’s not like witches are coming back to Haven or anything.

“This is so much bigger than witches in Haven, Zia. That girl’s probably an Elemental! The woman also gave me a vision, as in transported me to another world vision. That’s not something a witch can do.”

“But she had white hair.” Zia taps the table. “My parents said that all the witches had white hair and could use magic.”

“That’s what my parents said, too, but this lady was young.” I grab two wooden cups and a pitcher of water from the shelf. “She looked younger than our parents, but not too young to marry. Do you want anything to drink?”

“Is your water good?” Zia asks.

“It’s not bad. Why, what’s wrong with yours?”  I pour two cups of water. Surely the well they used wasn’t contaminated again.

“Nothing yet. Dad says we’ll have to dig a new well soon unless the city actually gives us running water. So what did you learn at the library?”

I set the full cups of water on the table. “Nothing. I’ve been looking up anything about white trees and visions, but no luck so far. I’m pretty sure the librarians don’t want me around anymore. Maybe if I ask them about people who live in the mountains, I’ll get some answers.”

Zia takes a sip of water. “I still don’t fully understand what happened to you. Who were the men in black? What did they have to do with all this?”

I reach into my pocket. “I don’t know. One of them was a woman. She tossed me this, as in bribing us to keep quiet.” I pull out the coin from that night, and Zia snatches it from my hands. “Hey, don’t take that!”

“Felix, this isn’t from Haven.” Zia squints as she scrutinizes the coin. “I don’t even think it’s money.”

“What do you mean?” I look at the bronze coin, color rising to my face. I’ve helped Mom and Dad count money at the end of the day, I should have known this. All of the coins in Haven have cats eyes on them, but this one has some sort of pattern etched into it, almost as if a little child scribbled all over it. “I guess I never looked too carefully at it. I never even took it out of these pants until just now.”

Zia sets the coin down, saying “You should ask your parents. They might know about it.”

Someone knocks on the door. “Felix, open up!” Filion’s voice sounds muffled, and not just because of the door.

“We’ll be right there!” I pocket the coin, and just as I’m about to get up Zia grabs my arm.

“Have you told Filion about your visits to the library?” she asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t really have anything new to say.” Zia and I run to the door and yank it open. Filion stands there, a plum in his mouth and his hands full with other sacks. “Thanks.” He weaves past us. “Hey, Zia.”

“How did you knock?” Zia asks.

Fil sets the bags on the table and takes the plum from his mouth, swallowing. “With my foot. What have you two been doing all day?”

“Nothin’. What about you?” I ask.

“Mom and Dad let me go early from the market. Guess what?” I shrug, fingering the coin in my pocket. “They think we’ve made enough to send me off to Baress!”

“Already? It hasn’t even been a week.” I knew he was desperate to leave. I suppose I already knew, I just don’t want it to happen so soon.

“Help me with these.” Filion picks up a bag. Zia and I grab bags and empty them all onto the table. “Gentle, gentle. Mom doesn’t want the fruit bruising for tonight.”

“Congratulations, Filion. That’s wonderful news!” Zia picks up a couple bags of fruit. “Felix, can you help me with these?”

“Yeah, they go in the cooler outside.” I grab a couple bags and follow Zia, swallowing the lump in my throat.

It’s still swelteringly hot out, and everything stinks, but the blast of fresh air when I open the cooler washes over my skin. I hand my bags down to Zia, who’s already in the cooler. I sit on the steps leading down, head in my hands. “It’ll be fine, Felix.” I say to myself.

“Of course it’ll be fine.” Zia wraps her arm around my shoulder. “You’ll hang out with me, and we’ll figure out the mystery behind your vision.”

“Did I say that out loud?” I smile. “Sorry. I just don’t want Fil to leave, you know?”

“I felt the same way after Mom left with Ina. I still do, sometimes.”

“Do you know where they went?” I ask, looking at her. I know I should shut the cooler and go back inside, but talking this through with Zia takes a weight off my chest.

“Baress, I think. Mom and Dad would fight all the time, and one day I guess she just had enough.” Zia sniffles. “Ina was just a baby. She’d be so much bigger now.”

I stand up. “Did you say Baress?” I help Zia to her feet, and we climb the steps out of the cooler and shut the doors.

“Yeah, why?” Zia gazes at me with her blue eyes. A smile creeps across my face.

Felix, Part 3: The Witch’s Brew

Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else. 

I shut the front door, taking care not to let it creak. I sniff, coughing. “God, it smells awful. I mean, worse than usual.” Even though our borough has always been called the Floral District, no amount of flowers can mask the rotten stench of the land. The philosophers of the Baress School claim that it’s something to do with the soil, but most people say it’s the witches curse from their banishment hundreds of years ago.

Filion pulls his hood up and wraps his cloak around him, shivering. He tugs on my cloak and starts down the cobbled street. I follow at his side, pulling my hood up. Only a few street lanterns are lit, hanging off the second stories of the houses. It’s perfect for sneaking around, but I struggle to see anything on this moonless night, stumbling every few feet.

The maiden with the sword shines brighter than ever in the sky. Ever since I first glimpsed the stars, she has watched over me. I glance up at her as we stop at a corner, wondering what she would do about the girl with the burning hands.

Bright lights illuminate the next corner. The Witches Brew, they call it. Everything in this city is named after the witches, to some extent. Even the city’s name, Haven, comes from the safety witches once felt here before people threw them from their homes and exiled them to the fields outside the city limits. Only a few witches live within sight of the city walls; the rest have vanished. Their legacy lives on, though. Anytime something mysterious happens, the witches receive the brunt of the blame until a better explanation surfaces.

Filion and I dash to the alley behind the inn. The doorman at the Witches Brew slumps against the wall, belching. I whisper to Filion, “How do we figure out where they are? Maybe if we drag the drunk at the door into the alley-”

Filion clamps a hand over my mouth. “Do you hear that?” I shake my head. Then I hear footsteps. Two figures in black cloaks materialize under a lantern. As their cloaks billow, I see a glint of metal at their hips. We crouch down as they walk past us. I see their faces as they walk past – a man and a woman with stern features. The woman and I make eye contact, and she tosses a coin my way. I catch it, and she puts a finger to her lips. Filion and I share a look. Does she think we’re homeless? Is she bribing us?

The man grabs a purse from his belt and places it in the doorman’s hand. “We were never here, understand?” His voice is smooth and warm. The doorman grunts and nods. The man pats him on the shoulder, and he and the woman enter the inn.

Filion stands up. “Stay here.” He walks up to the doorman, whispering to him. I feel the cold coin between my fingers, watching them talk. Who are these people in black, tossing money around like it’s no big deal? What do they want with the girl?

Filion comes back, saying, “I know where the woman is.” He points up to the second window three stories up.

“Did he mention the girl?” I ask. Filion nods, walking into the alley. He looks around, feeling the walls.

“Up this way, we’ll get to the roof.” He digs into the bricks and starts climbing. I shiver, watching him scramble up the wall like a spider. In minutes he’s on the roof, beckoning me up. I take a deep breath. If he can do it, so can I.

I reach up as high as I can and grab on, then thrust myself up with my feet. I dig into the wall with my boots, reaching the window on the second floor. I look up to the ledge, searching for a good handhold. They’re all out of my grasp. I glance at Fil, who’s pointing to my right. A rusty pipe leads all the way up the side of the building, and it’s within arm’s reach. I grab it and start climbing slowly, step by step. The pipe rattles with every movement, but before long I’m climbing over the berm of the building. I scurry to Filion, who sits across from the window. I crouch next to him, wondering how we’ll get down, but all thoughts vanish when I look through the window.

A young girl with light brown hair sits in a chair, gently kicking her legs and talking. She gestures with gloved hands. A figure in brown pants sits on the bed, writing in a notebook. Her face is obscured by shadows from the candle in the window, but from the way her clothes fit I can tell it’s a woman. She nods, never lifting her head. “Is that the girl you saw earlier, Fil?” I ask.

Fil nods. “I think so. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the girl, though.”

I glance at him. “Why not?” I turn my attention to the inn. The woman in the shadows sets her notebook down and leans forward. I gasp as she tucks her white hair behind her ear. She has shimmering green eyes and long fingers. She’s definitely young with no wrinkles on her face. “That’s her, isn’t it?”

Filion nods. “Oh, yeah.” He’s wearing this goofy grin on his face, and I wonder if he’s hypnotized. She hasn’t looked our way, so she can’t have hypnotized him like she did to Mom. The woman talks to the girl, who stops kicking her legs and grows serious.

I watch them with baited breath. “Fil, did she just hypnotize the girl?”

“What?” Fil hasn’t even turned my way. He’s still staring at the woman, who’s crouched down next to the fireplace.

“The girl, she stopped moving after the woman spoke to her.”

“Huh.”

“You’re not even listening to me, are you? She…” I forget what I’m about to say. The girl is staring right at me. I can see a spark behind her yellow eyes. “Fil, she sees us.”

“Okay.” Filion’s voice is vacant, but then he says, “Wait, what?”

“We’re looking at each other.” I barely move my mouth, paralyzed with fear. Filion pushes me down below the ledge, and I bang my head. “Ow! What was that for?”

Filion shushes me, peeking over the ledge. “She’s still looking our way,” he says, “but I’m not sure – hang on.” The air smells slightly of something rotten, as usual, but is otherwise still. I can hear muted voices from across the alley. “Felix, you’ve gotta see this.”

I lift my head up just enough to see over the ledge. The woman in white stands in front of the girl, arms outstretched as if protecting her. Two figures shift just outside of the candlelight.  I make out the outline and faint glint of a sword in the shadows, then one of the figures leaps towards the woman. I think she ducks out of the way, but in the low light all I can see is people spinning and striking. The only person I notice the whole time is the little girl. Her eyes dart around the room and out the window, and the longer the fight goes on the heavier she breathes. She fidgets with her gloves, ducking from an arm clad in black. A trail of blood spatters across the window, leaving a sinister streak. Filion gasps beside me. “Felix, let’s go!” He grabs my arm and drags me across the roof. A roar and a wave of heat rush past us, and Filion lets go of me. I fall flat on my back as another fireball barely misses my face. I dash to the ledge near the inn and crouch behind it. “Felix!” Filion shouts. His brown eyes are wide with panic, and he rushes to me. “We have to get out of here, now!”

“But what about the fire?” I ask, breathing heavily. I look back to the inn. The window has two shattered holes in it. There’s no sign of the mysterious assailants, only the girl and the woman. Flames from the bed illuminate the room with a flickering light. The girl puts her gloves on, sobbing. The woman closes the door and dumps water from a pitcher on the bed. She goes to the girl and wraps her arms around her, whispering into her ear. Her muffled sobs echo across the alley, and tears well up in my eyes. “Fil, what just happened?” I ask.

The woman snaps her head, and we make eye contact. Her eyes soften a bit. I try to move, but my body won’t respond. The world goes white, and my stomach lurches. The rushing of wind fills my ears. Voices tumble over each other in an indiscernible cacophony. I’m falling and falling until-

I land on hard earth, stumbling. Wind continues to whip around me, sending a chill down my spine. I wrap my cloak as tightly as I can, shielding my eyes. The sun reflects harshly off the snow, but I can still make out a narrow path that drops off to the left. I brace against the rock wall, heart pounding as I scan for any recognizable landmark. Hundreds of feet below lies a forest, the bone-white bark of the trees almost indiscernible from the snow. At least, I think they’re trees. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They go on as far as the eye can see.

“Hey!” someone shouts. A stranger waves at me from down the trail, beckoning me. I walk towards her, wrapping my cloak tighter. The wind bites at my nose and fingers, and I keep one hand on the wall for my own sake. I look ahead or to the wall, focusing on each step.

The stranger turns sharply to the right, and I follow. The wind dies down here, and I collapse with trembling knees. “Look,” the stranger says in a woman’s voice, “your answers are down there.” I follow her hand the way she’s pointing. The mountains open up on a basin filled with evergreens and streams. A village lays nestled at the base of the mountains, smoke rising from chimneys. The woman puts a hand on my shoulder. “They can teach you to protect the world. Find them.”

“Who are you? Where is this place?” The wind picks up, and I shut my eyes. The woman takes her hand off my shoulder. “How do I find you?” The earth vanishes beneath my feet, and the voices echo around me again. I open my eyes but see only white.

“Felix!” Filion’s deep voice cuts through the rest.

I gasp. The smell of Haven returns, and Filion’s hitting my chest. “I’m here, I’m fine,” I say, “What happened?”

“That woman turned to look at us, and you froze. I’ve never seen anything like it. She took the girl and left.” Filion grabs my face and looks at me, brown eyes full of concern. “Are you sure you’re okay? It’s like you weren’t here.” I gaze at the window across the alley. Sure enough, the room is empty. Apart from a few glowing embers and the broken window, there’s no sign of them. “Felix?”

I cough. “Yeah, I think I’m okay. Do you have any idea where they went?” I ask.

Filion shakes his head. “You’re shaking.” I look down. Sure enough, my knees are trembling. “Let’s go home, Felix. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. I’m just glad we didn’t try to catch that girl. That would not have ended well.”