The End of the Story
The End of the Story
Like a disobedient child, who showed up far too late for dinner after a long day of exploring and putting off going home, Jane did not return to the village straight away. In fact it took nearly a year for her to find her way back. The main reason for her delay was that she was terrified about who would not be there; she was not willing to sit alone in that old house for another moment longer. So, she had taken to wandering around aimlessly. She had thrown away the map only a day into the excursion. A week in, she had tripped and twisted her delicate ankle, rendering herself useless for a good long while. She found she enjoyed being silent and she enjoyed the sensation of being lost. She came across many things, ruined villages that still seemed to smoke with the flames of their destruction. She saw people only rarely and was sure to make certain that they never spotted her.
She remembered saying something in her other life, her life before the mess, something about the world being so much bigger than she could even think about. At the time she had not realised just how right she had been. She could walk for weeks and not see a single hint that any other human being had ever passed by that spot. And then, after a long while of acting petulant and childish, she stumbled upon the ruined city.
Where The Crookeds had gone to, what hole they had buried themselves into next was a mystery. Perhaps they had driven themselves to extinction now they no longer had any sport from The Hopefuls. But the ruins stood empty, looking like a great scar on the horizon. Blackened and charred, they penetrated the sky line like an abomination. She half thought she saw some movement within which might have been a bird or may have been the one who left that deep scar on her shoulder. Either way, as long as they stayed away she was satisfied. The war was over and another could not begin. She smiled, satisfied with her life’s work and then she walked away. Finally, ready to return.
By sheer twist of fate, Isaac and Jane’s paths had crossed on more than one occasion. He had gone looking for her because when two people are attached by some deep kind of all knowing power, you are able to sense things. He had known she was alive somewhere, he had felt her. Of course, he did not find her. Isaac would arrive in a village and Jane would have passed through it two hours earlier. Jane would hoist herself into a tree for sleep and Isaac would pass underneath it whilst she slept soundly on. It was a cruel reality, but neither one of them ever discovered that part, thank goodness.
On the day that they returned, at almost the same minute due to that deep seated connection of theirs, the war weary Hopefuls in the village nearly died of shock. “It’s a miracle,” was chorused by all, once they had gotten over the initial terror that they were all hallucinating.
Jane was emaciated and wild looking after so long out in the wilderness and once she had satisfied herself that everyone whom she hoped was still alive, was indeed still alive she allowed herself to be installed back in her attic room. For a week or so the family edged around her as though she might bite them, they only whispered in her presence, having no clue what it was they should say to her.
Soon enough though, the food and the sleep and the boredom worked some powerful magic and Jane was back to marching around the house and the farm, giving orders, and fixing any work that she deemed she could have done better.
“She’s back,” Nora had whispered ecstatically to herself as she watched Jane snatch a pair of secateurs from Oliver’s hands.
Isaac was unsure what Jane needed from him. Usually he just turned up at her side silently and eventually Jane started slotting her hand into his. He was desperate to know where she had been and how she had lived but it seemed Jane did not want to talk about it and if she didn’t want to do something there would be no forcing it.
Jane had promised herself that she would not speak of Troy and Evelyn. Perhaps Isaac would know one day but she hoped that the secret would die with them, whenever that might be. It would only confuse things anyway, she decided, mostly because it was a very confusing tale. And their lives had been far too confused for far too long already.
Her life though, only became more confused when one day she found a letter. Her mother presented her with a pile of books she had found in Oliver’s old room and since Oliver did not read, she held them out and said, “Whose are these?”
“Mine,” Jane had replied automatically and took them out of her hands and whisked upstairs to stow them away. They had belonged to the old woman and Jane wanted to hide them so she need not be continuously reminded that she was just another one of the casualties she did not manage to save. Before she could do so though, an envelope fell from them and landed innocuously on the floor. The title upon it read, ‘Jane.’
“Oh no,” she whispered as she opened it, not sure if she wanted to know anymore secrets after all. This was the content of the letter.
Me again. Sorry about that. If you are reading this, your mother has just handed the pile of books to you and you have found the letter stashed away inside them. I know I will be dead by this point and I know you will still be alive and that the war will be over for good because of you. Congratulations for that, it really was a work of genius.
Of course, I have seen it all. I saw it all the moment I stepped foot in the village nine years ago with the rest of my family. So you see why I had to leave. I could not allow myself to get attached to you, or anyone else for that matter because I had seen how it ended. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you and I couldn’t let you know that it was all going to be alright in the end. I have found that meddling rarely ends well. You needed to do it for yourself. Bravo.
You will have met Troy by now, lovely man. Very misunderstood. And doing what you did for him was the greatest kindness. But I am sure that you know that. You were always very wise for someone who liked to go swimming naked in the middle of a war. He will have passed down all the secrets that he knew to you, the greatest inheritance a person can ever receive. But as I am sure you know, there is a hole in his story. And now, I want to do you one last kindness. I want to tell you the reason you are still living and as I am the only one who knows and I am dead, you will actually be the only one who knows now, if that makes sense?
When Troy was telling you all his stories he mentioned a woman with the birds who told him about the rules. I know you are intelligent so I know that you have guessed she is related to me. Of course, she was several generations before mine, as Evelyn was to you. The women in my family have always had the gift of knowledge and other slightly more subtle gifts as well. The old woman knew about the rules because it was her grandmother, who was called Rose, who had forged them. Stay with me, the story is worth it.
When The Great Divide happened Rose and her husband, Edmund, found themselves on opposite sides of the schism. Edmund was an important man in The Kingdom, a big wig, powerful, full of influence and importantly he knew the city like the back of his hand. He knew how to build things; he knew how to get The Kingdom back on its feet. And The Crookeds wanted him on their side; he would be invaluable to them. They threatened that if he tried to run they would kidnap his wife and children and they would be the first to find themselves installed in The Kingdom’s new burial ground. So, of course he had agreed to stay, he agreed to become Crooked to save his family. But terrified for the safety of his wife, before they separated Rose and Edmund made an agreement with The Crookeds. And this agreement will be familiar to you by now. Edmund said that if a Crooked ever loved a Hopeful, that Hopeful will be protected from The Crookeds by that love forever. He also declared that his wife must be given the title of Protector which meant that any instruction she gave to The Crookeds must always be followed to the letter. Any other named Protectors would possess only one command, in order to make playing field a little more even. And finally Edmund stipulated this, in order to continue to protect The Hopefuls long after he and his wife were gone, should any Crooked ever fall in love with any Hopeful, as Rose was loved by her husband, the Hopeful in question would also be given limitless commands. The impossible love rendered The Hopeful more powerful than any Crooked could bear. Reluctantly, The Crookeds had agreed to his demands. Rose and Edmund separated and never saw each other again. Both were old and still deeply in love when they died on the same day on opposite sides of The Kingdom.
So, I hate to say it but Evelyn didn’t do all the work as the stories tell. It was in fact, my ancestors that started the laws. They protected Evelyn because Troy loved her and they protected you because Troy loved you too. Love, turned out to be a much stronger weapon than hate in this war. I think that’s rather wonderful.
Incidentally, you and Evelyn are not the only ones saved by the love of a Crooked. Sophia, too, had wrapped a young Crooked around her heart which was the sole reason she survived her time with them and it was he who had eventually freed her from captivity. I hope I’m filling in the blanks sufficiently for you.
Also, I truly am sorry about starting up the war again. It was an accident, I found one of the buggers lurking in a bin behind the house I was lodging in. I really hadn’t intended to kill him when I slammed my bird cage on top of his head. But to be honest, regardless of if I had done it or not, ever since they learned of your birth they were just waiting for the right moment to go full steam ahead. They were determined not to let you get the better of them as Evelyn had done. I think you got the better of them even better than Evelyn did!
So, I believe now that you are totally caught up to speed. Do with these secrets what you will, tell people or don’t tell people. I think you’ve earned the right to decide.
I know you will have spotted this as well but I think it rather magical that it was my family, Isaac’s family, who came up with the laws that saved your life. The Forrester family and the Shepherds go much further back than ever we imagined. The Forresters with their gift of foresight and the Shepherds with their gift of pig headedness. They were fated to come together and snap the book shut once and for all. And of course, when he saved your life, you were then able to save his life in return. Which I think is very special indeed. He will ask you to marry him soon. You should say yes.
Always have happiness,
Astrid Forrester aka Bird Woman.
P.S I leave you my bird cage. It’s in the attic.
Jane burnt the letter, content with knowing that she didn’t have any questions left anymore. The idea that Evelyn was not without fault rather comforted Jane, the knowledge that she was not some force of nature and had not gone about everything with quite the ease that is described was a real relief. Jane hoped that when people told her story in the years to come that the mistakes she made, like giving up on everyone and lying on the kitchen floor to die, would be told as well as the brave things she did.
The thought that Isaac and she were intertwined right back to the beginning of it all was a great restorative for Jane and when, a few weeks later, he dropped to his knees, she nodded without hesitation and all the things that had happened in their bloody past faded into oblivion. This was where the story really began now.
One warm afternoon in September, Jane was sitting on the wonky swing in Lilia’s front garden when she spotted the rest of the family shambling down the hill to meet her. She felt Oliver and Lilia at her back, a warm hand was placed on her shoulder and Oliver said, “There’s going to be a meeting. Come on.”
Jane had protested and demanded that she be told what on earth was going on but the family had all smiled inanely at each other and refused to say a word on the subject. Upon approaching the town square, Jane could see that it was packed full of people. Just as it had been on that day many years before when the exciting new family had come to stay.
“What on earth?” Jane had said, before being silently guided through the crowd that seemed to part in her wake. Oliver and Peter climbed onto Evelyn’s plinth and stood looking out at them all, the unlikely troupe of survivors. Peter smiled and said, “I have decided to resign as your Protector and instead I pass the title onto Isaac Forrester, who has proved himself to be so much more than just the handsome busybody everybody thought he was. I pass it on because my sister needs a Noah by her side.”
Then, dovetailing each other perfectly as though it had been rehearsed, Oliver said, “And today I am also resigning as your Protector. And in doing so I am passing the title onto my sister. Just as it should always have been. Just as we have all been waiting for, for nearly twenty one years now. You’ve already saved us a hundred times over and we wondered if you wouldn’t mind doing it again should the occasion present itself?” he said, the smile spreading across tear stained cheeks.
Jane had laughed and said, “I wouldn’t trust anybody else with the job anyway.”
The gathered crowd had cheered; arms were thrown in the air and around each other’s bodies and the little town in the middle of nowhere felt as though it would burst with a very simple and much awaited feeling, happiness.
As fellow Protectors, Isaac and Jane had embraced and kissed at the crowd’s insistence and then Jane had said, “There is no need to call us Hopeful anymore. Because now there is nothing more to be Hopeful for.”
A year later and Isaac and Jane had just finished building their own house, right beside their old treehouse. Already there were plants in the garden, already the little apple tree was offering forth fruits and already a climbing rose was clambering luxuriously along the face of the house, underneath the embrace of the perfect cloudless sky. The Shepherds and newly married Forresters were stood beside their work, silently thanking each other and the suspicious, dubious magic that had protected them all.
Jane looked up at her husband. His face was older, his skin was tougher, there was the odd scar across his body but Jane thought of the boy and the girl who had grown up there together and realised that this was the moment that everything, since the beginning of The Great Divide, had been leading to. A happy ending for two of its most abused players.
“I never thought I’d see the day,” Frank had said. The birds called out their disagreements as they tumbled around them because they had always known this day would arrive, eventually.
Once all the wounds had healed, once they had exhaled their anxious breaths Isaac and Jane agreed on children. Of which they had four, all of whom were boys.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, RebeccaNewman20Write a Review