“This is my last meal V, I am honoured it will be with you. My prayers were answered the other night when I fell into the snow and you rescued me. I will die a peaceful death knowing they now have you to take care of them. And protect them should the evil ever come for them. I know that you, as I would, die for them. Such is the love I see is already in your heart for them. They are yours now. I know you will do more with them than I ever could. Now let us eat our supper, we have more to discuss once its done.”
V simply nodded she hadn’t realised so much time had passed. Being used to only one meal a day V was surprised to find how hungry she was. Purple had gotten off her hand but had not gone far away. Still studying her as he washed himself one dragon wing at a time. V picked up a spoon and dug into her broth swallowing a steaming mouthful. Her eyes switching from one beastling to another and then back again. Her mind still trying to grasp her own new reality. The old man wasn’t lying when he said the story would change her life, she felt different already. Her mind still reeling at all the implications of all that had happened. The idea it was the last dinner the old man would have, broke her heart in ways she didn’t understand. She felt like she had known him forever and how could she ever, thank him for passing on the Beastlings to her. V didn’t want to say goodbye to him, not yet, she wasn’t ready to do this on her own. She needed him, his story, his knowledge, how was she to do it on her own?
“You won’t be alone you will have the Beastlings. They will teach you more than I could ever teach you. They will love you in ways you won’t even understand. You will be fine V, more than fine!” Said the old man his kind eyes reassuring her. It didn’t surprise V that the old man could read her mind. He had known her name from the beginning though she had never told him it. The old man had known who she was from the minute he had locked eyes with her. V pondered it all as she finished her broth her eyes flicking from one beastling to another. Then back to the old man who was busy with his broth. When they had both finished she rose to take the plates and rinsed them off placing them on the drying rack. All the while her brain whirled. She pinched herself making sure she was awake and not dreaming in the old man’s bed. The pinch hurt telling her she was awake.
“You will adjust quickly I know it is hard to take it all in. Remember I was you once, seeing them for the first time. I know what you are feeling.” The old man gave a yawn that scared V she didn’t want him to go to sleep and leave her.
“We have time yet V, there is more to tell you. My last gift to you.” The old man pulled out a paper from a drawer and pushed it across the table at her.
“This is my will V, everything I own now belongs to you. This little house is now yours, as is the gold pieces in my purse. There will be enough for you to get started and from now on the Beastlings will provide for you. They make the broth and the honey tea and you will never need anything else. The purse always has gold in it no matter how much you spend there will be more there when you go back to it. There is one more thing I need to give you.” He said as he rose slowly from the table and went over to a little carved chest on his book shelf. He brought the box back over to the table and opened it with care. The old man pulled out a red velvet pouch and showed it to V.
“This is the original pouch they came in. The one the gods gave to the first keeper. If you want them to travel with you they will go in the pouch.” He said handing it to her. V took it carefully, in awe of something so old and so magical. Holding it reminded her of her oaths to the Beastlings and all she had promised. It scared V to think her alone would be in charge of such powerful beings. Not that she was backing away from her promises, her heart would not let her. She looked from the pouch to the will, so much was happening so quickly she could hardly catch her breath. Yesterday she was out in the frozen night, homeless, hungry and hopeless at heart. Now this little home was hers. The Beastlings were hers to protect and magic would become a natural part of her world. She wondered how she would start flowing the goodness the Beastlings emanate? It excited her to think with their help she would bring about good in the world.
“Drink some tea V,” said the old man “It will soothe you and help you take it all in.”
V took a deep sip of her tea, aware as its warmth seeped into her. Releasing tension from her shoulders, deepening her breath and generally relaxing her. Allowing her mind and heart to expand to all the newness surrounding her. V’s eyes searched the room looking for the Beastlings only to find them nestled in the old man’s hair.
“V,” said the old man, “You must always be careful and attract no attention. Do the good but be gone before anyone ever knows the source. Let them think a miracle has happened. Anything but get seen or known about. You must learn to not be seen, learn how to move time and then slip in between. The Beastlings will help you, teach you and do their best to protect you.”
“How will I know what to do or who to protect them from?” asked V
“You now know pure good when you see it and you will know evil should it cross your path. Should you feel it, that is the time to move on to somewhere new. Always travel lightly the Beastlings will give you anything you should need. Be always ready to move should you need to and that will depend on how much good you are doing. Evil will follow trying to find then exterminate the source. You must never let yourself be found or the Beastlings will be in danger. If Evil ever finds out they exist they will stop at nothing to destroy them. They will trap them in ways they cannot do good anymore and the balance of the world will tilt toward the darker side. This must never happen.” He stopped looking at her waiting to see if she had taken it all in.
“V, there is no more important task than the one you have been given.”
“What if I can’t do it, what if I fail?”
“You can’t fail V, the world would be unbalanced! The Beastlings would fall into the wrong hands! You have to give your all V, and if you do that all will be well. Be a good student, be a good protector, be a good person to the best of your abilities. No one can ask for more from you. Trust the gods know you better than you know yourself. That you have been chosen! They would not choose someone who could not do the task at hand. For now you need simply get to know them, give yourself time to adjust to your new life and your new family.” The old man yawned again reminding V that time was short and the old man would die tonight. How could she ever thank him? How would she go on without him and his wise kind eyes? V felt closer to the old man that she had to her own mother. She already hurt at the thought of losing him. Tears threatened and she held them back and tried to tend to the old man’s needs.
“More tea?” Asked V trying to prolong the time they had together.
“One last cup won’t hurt me, so yes please,” he said to her. V took the mugs over and poured the tea steaming from the unboiled teapot. She took the cups over and placed them on the table returning to her chair to sit across from him. There was so much she wanted to ask him, so much she wanted to know? He looked so tired and he had already told her so much.
“How did you spread the good?”
“There are always places that need a little good. Always souls that could use a little happiness. Why not start in a hospital? Where all you need do is touch people and they will be healed. You must do it in unseen ways, let the doctors take the credit and move on quickly to your next point. It is only since I got older that I have lived in this home. When I was younger I roamed the world never staying in one place long. You will learn to travel, spreading the goodness where ever you go. You will do things I only dreamed of. Your future has shown me glimpses of itself. I know with your heart and your courage that much good will be done in your term of keeper.” His eyes were getting heavy and again V worried it was time for him to die. V wanted to shake him awake, fear again rising in her.
“What about your funeral, I don’t know how to organise one, or what kind to have?”
“There will be no funeral, there will be no body. Like all the other keepers before me I will ascend by the power of the gods. They will reclaim me. You need to keep my will in a safe place. In time take it to a lawyer who will change the house from me to you. You will be okay Veronica Anne Blakely.”
He yawned again and V fretted. Even his use of her full name didn’t stop the wanting to reach out and hold the old man, keeping him with her. Like a wave through your fingers she could feel him slipping away, each passing moment heralding in the inevitable.
“It will be okay V, the Beastlings will teach you and look after you till you can look after not only yourself but them too,” he said his eyes again drooping.
“The time is near V, I can feel the life ebbing away from me.” Tears ran down V’s face as he spoke.
“Don’t cry for me, V, I have had a good life! You will see me again in the dreamtime should you need me,” he said to her across the table. V wiped at her tears but more appeared streaking her face. She wasn’t sure how it was possible but she loved this old man who had changed her life and charged her with being the keeper of the Beastlings. This old man who had told her a story that changed her forever. He rose to his feet and she rose too, he crossed the room and took her in his still strong arms and hugged her once.
“You will be fine V, more than fine! I know it, trust in me and trust in yourself. You’ve a good heart V and it will help you find the directions you need to go in. That my young friend is all I have for you. The Beastlings will stay with me till I pass. Then they will need your love, it is hard for them to go from one keeper to another. The breaking of a life long bond and the beginning of a life long bond. Love them while they grieve me, let them into your heart as you have already. That is all I have to say. Good bye V.” He said moving slowly towards the bed the Beastlings still nestled in his hair. V watched him through blurry tear filled eyes.
“Goodbye Pedro,” she said remembering the old guys name from the story. He smiled at her one more time before he lay down and closed his eyes his hands resting on his chest. V watched on somehow hoping he was wrong that he wouldn’t just die. Seconds later he was gone, his chest stopped rising, his breath no longer heard and the Beastlings let out little moans of despair. She felt his presence leave the room and knew his soul was no longer in his body. Then a light, a beam of light shined down on the old man’s body and it grew brighter till V could no longer see his outline. The light faded as quickly as it had come and when it was gone so was the old man. The bed now empty, the room now empty and V’s heart felt empty. The Beastlings were making keening noises as they aired their grief. V wanted to howl along with them but kept it inside, and tried to talk to them.
“It will be okay,” she told them as tears ran down her face and her heart ached.
“Come, come,” said V holding out her hands together making a place for them to land. Two of the little Beastlings flew down to her palm and she could see their tears shinning on their little faces. Blue remained on the bed unwilling to be soothed so she rocked the other two gently and mumbled words and promises of love to them trying to ease their pain. V wasn’t sure how long she sat there rocking Red and Purple but it felt like hours had passed since the old man died. Blue remained on its own, still sobbing little sobs that broke V’s heart all over again.
“It will be okay,” she told them. “We will all be okay,” trying to reassure herself as much as them.
“I will love you and protect you all, yes, yes I will,” she promised them over and over. The room had grown dark as time had passed and V thought it was time she lit the lanterns and chased some of the gloom from the room. When she went to the stove the saucepan was still full of broth but she didn’t think she could eat anything. She looked in his cupboards and finally found some brandy and poured herself a small amount. Hoping it would help settle her and help the grief she felt pass. The home seemed empty without the old man. V wondered if it would ever feel like home now he had left. Like he had taken some of the light from the world when he passed. V knocked back the liquor that burned a path down her throat making a face at its taste. She coughed a little and the Beastlings all looked at her.
“It’s okay, I am okay, nothing to worry about,” she said softly hoping her voice was soothing them. V looked round the room and decided the rocking chair in front of the fire beckoned her. Red and Purple curled up in her lap, both obviously still grieving.
“Blue,” she called out to the little horse alone on the bed.
“Blue, please come here with us, let us grieve together, not on your own. Please Blue, come let me love you. Come be with your siblings.” Blue wouldn’t meet her eyes but with a flap of his wings took flight and landed in her lap with the others. The three moved in close to each other and they cried together which evoked fresh tears from V.
“It’s going to be okay,” she told them, rocking gently in the chair.
“It is all going to be okay. I am here and I will love and protect you”. The gentle rocking, the brandy and all that had gone on had V’s eyes slowly closing. Her hands were in her lap making a gentle barrier between the Beastlings and the world.