Although her mom and Miss Jonker were no longer enthusiastic participants in the Sunday afternoon outings, they had accepted Tracy and Julian as a couple. It was reluctant acceptance, but it was acceptance.
And it meant that she could now enlist his help in a part of her project, tracking down a crystal. She had started the conversation quite casually, asking if he was into any of the new age movement, and when he indicated that he did support some of its aspects, such as herbal remedies and natural lifestyles, she’d gone on to ask if he knew places to get some crystals.
“Yeah, sure, there’s a shop I know that sells all sorts of stuff. W-we could go Saturday afternoon, if you want.”
“Oh, damn, sorry – fencing practice. Could we do Friday? I’m okay for about 3 o’clock.”
“That could w-work. I’ll pick you up about then.” He smiled at her and gave her a quick kiss. Their physical relationship was like walking on eggs – both of them seemed to know that if they gave way they would be consumed by passion, and in deference to her mother’s doubts and fears made sure to be in places where there were enough people around to make any passion almost impossible. Quick kisses, holding hands, longing glances seemed to be where they both felt safe with at the moment. Of course, there was no denying that the passion was always there. Every time she saw him she had to catch her breath, and when she was away from him only the most intense physical activity, such as the series of exercises she was being put through by Martin, drove him from her mind.
And on the fencing front she had made such progress that Martin felt she could enter a bout. Of course that meant new equipment, and when she explained the lack of ready money to him, he had quickly mobilized the University’s funds. She was now in possession of a brand-new epee, foil and sabre, a set of plastrons and jackets, and two new fencing masks, all bearing the logo of the university, the logo of several manufacturers of sports equipment, and strangely enough the logo of a rubber company. Grips, was the laconic one-word answer to her query about that. The bout was to take place in Ventonville, a much larger town about a day’s drive away. Rooms had been booked for the team, a bus chartered and preparations were centered around tactics, and watching, between practice rounds, footage of the opposition.
“Listen up everyone,” Martin had boomed at the last session, “we are going to have to pull out everything. In fencing it is not always technique, but heart and mind. Will you give way before an attack, or will you meet it and counter it. Are you aiming for a kill? You have to go in with a killer’s instinct, with the will to win, to dominate. When you do that, your body responds by releasing the adrenalin you need to react without thinking. You must not fear getting hurt, because that will slow you down. You’ll hesitate, flinch or duck when the weapon comes your way, and instead of seizing the opening given to you, you will be the target and will lose.′
’I’m not asking you to break your bones, or flay off skin, but get used to being hit, and stop fearing it. Mindy, come and face me, and let’s show them what we mean.”
Mindy took up a foil and faced Martin.
“Now, in countertime, we will hit and be hit, making no attempt to parry.”
The swords flashed and first Mindy, then Martin, took the point lunge after lunge from the other.
“Pair off, and practice the same thing. Partner on my left to start.”
Tracy had been paired with John, a lanky young man in his final year at university, who was as new to fencing as she was. He had first hit, and Tracy took up the en garde position, and waited for the start.
Martin shouted begin, and the left-hand line had lunged at their opponents. The button on the foil struck Tracy on the breastbone, a dull thud she felt even through the plastron and jacket. She immediately lunged at the open torso presented by John, and felt her point strike home, and saw the sword bow under her weight and momentum. She also saw that John did not react immediately, and his return lunge was slow. If they had been on the piste, she would have been able to land at least two more hits. Also, his second hit was less solid.
By the time Martin had called halt, Tracy knew that she would have several bruises, but she also knew that they did not really matter. And she knew what Martin meant about killer instinct. John did not have it, and she had inflicted more damage on him than he did on her.
And, the next practice bout she had with Martin, she used this to advantage, taking a hit to the thigh by deflecting his blade to the outside line and then lunging in to hit him on the shoulder. He had responded by saluting her, and had then held her as an example for the rest.
But that had been last week, and on this Friday afternoon, with no school, her essay finally written, no practice and no other commitments, she and Julian were on the road in his small car, a relic, so he said, of an aunt.
“She now drives a sports model, all long lines and deep exhaust notes, wearing huge sunglasses and scarves. So she passed Bingo on to me.”
“Bingo? Like the game or the song about a dog?”
“Like the song. I gave him the name back when she stayed with us for a week or so, and wherever we went he kept misfiring due to the fact that she had no idea of the need cars have for regular service checks. It reminded me of the verses where you keep silent on parts of the name..”
“Like B – clap – N - G – O?”
“Just like that.”
“Well, he seems fine now. Did you have him fixed up?”
“Well, I actually did it myself. I have a knack for machinery.”
“Hmmm – I’m finding out all sorts of things about you. Where are your parents?”
Julian’s face closed.
“They died in an accident.”
“Oh no, when?”
“Quite a long time ago. I grew up with a guardian who ran my dad’s trust fund for me.”
“Why didn’t your aunt take you in?”
“I suppose she was too busy with the life she was making for herself. She is a very driven person, with a strong personality. Right now she’s running a company that’s more like a small country.”
“What does it make?”
“Oh, some kind of energy pill or diet pill or vitamin, I’m not really clear about it.” He focused on the road, lapsing into silence. Since she had come to know him, these silences of his were so much part of him that Tracy almost did not notice them. They were not the silences of people with nothing to say, but rather a silence in which the bigger universe around you was shared, where you became aware of sounds and sights because he was aware of them. It was a communion, rather than a communication.
Before long they turned off the main road, drove down several winding streets and ended up in a parking lot liberally decked with trees, serving a small shopping center which seemed to be all craft shops.
Julian helped her out of the car, and then steered her towards a shop that had a very gypsy look about it. The window was decked with boxes of Tarot cards, amulets and bracelets, and several colorful scarves.
“How did you discover this place?” Tracy asked.
“Well, one of the band members has a share in it, so w-we often drop by.”
The front door opened and the bell above it tinkled. A large woman squeezed through the space between two counters at the back of the store, and smiled broadly.
“Julian! Great to see you honey! And a friend. What’s your name, sweetie? Wait, wait, let me see if I can get it.”
She took Tracy’s head between her hands, and looked intently into her eyes. She had large, rather pale blue eyes which she now narrowed in concentration.
“I’m getting something about strong or brave…brave, yes, brave, that’s the dominant one.”
She let go and stepped back. “I don’t think you’re a Casey or a Kelsey, and I don’t think you’d be a Valerie – Tracy? Is that right, Tracy?”
Tracy laughed. “Julian called you, didn’t he? Good showmanship, though.”
Julian pulled his breath in sharply.
“Oh, so you’re one of those, are you? Think that only the things that you know exist? No, honey, Julian doesn’t play those games and neither do I. I’m Aldona, which means the wise one. And Julian brought you here for something you need. What do you need?”
Tracy blushed a fiery red.
“I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“Disconcerting? Yes, of course, it’s meant to be. So, now, what do you need?”
Julian nudged her. “Go on, she doesn’t hold grudges.”
“Okay – sorry again. I’m looking for a white crystal, preferably very clear and pure.”
“Mmm – for a wand or for a circle?”
“What difference would that make?”
Aldona sighed. “You’re very new to all this, aren’t you? Well, for a wand we’d want a smaller crystal, preferably longer than it’s wide, and with a regular shape so that it can be set or bound into the wand. For a circle or altar we’d go with size, and the crystal would have to be flat on one side to stand without toppling.”
“Right, that makes sense. It’s for a wand.”
“Okay – now, what wood are you using? Oak or jasmine?”
“I’ll be using jasmine. I didn’t know oak was also about bravery.”
Aldona shook her head, setting her earrings jangling. “I think you need to do a bit of reading as well, honey. I can sense power in you, just as it is in Julian here, but his power is in that flute and the music he makes. You still need to release yours, but at least you are busy searching and working at it. Okay, let’s get the crystals out. Since you’re working with power and bravery, I think you need the Herkimer diamond crystals.”
“Diamond? I can’t afford diamonds. Julian, I can’t afford diamonds!”
Aldona lifted a hand.
“Herkimer diamonds are quartz crystals that are very clear and have a natural faceting, with a double point which intensifies power. So they’ll be affordable, no worry about that. What we have to do is find the one that resonates to you.”
One part of Tracy, her rational, skeptical mind, was saying things like seriously? You’re buying this stuff? It’s so new age and bullshit, while the other part of her, the part that had accepted the unknown world was hanging on every word of Aldona’s.
“I want you to close your eyes while I unpack some crystals for you to try. No peeking, please. Then, with your eyes still closed, you are going to run your hands over them and choose one that you sense has power in it.”
Tracy obediently closed her eyes, and heard some rustling and soft clinks. Then her hands were taken, and guided to hover over the counter.
“Move your hands from left to right, slowly, and see if you feel anything.”
Tracy started moving her hands slowly, but she felt nothing until Aldona said: “Stop.” She opened her eyes and saw a row of crystals laid out. “So, none of them. We’ll try again.”
The process was repeated again, and then on the third run Tracy suddenly felt heat on her palm as she moved it across the row. She stopped in utter confusion, as she had begun to doubt that anything would happen.
“Ah, one of these two. Open your eyes, and let’s see.” Aldona had gripped her hands and now placed one crystal in each hand. “Wait a moment, and feel. Which one is responding to you.”
Tracy waited, and then became aware that the crystal in her left hand was pulsing in time to her heart. She held out the hand. “This one.”
Aldona smiled, and took the crystal from her. It was smaller than some of the others, but it was a lovely clear crystal, with two points that seemed to curve away from each other, making a slightly lopsided parallelogram.
“This will set you back four dollars.” Aldona wrapped the crystal in a scrap of tissue paper and slipped it into a small bag. “There you go, and use it wisely. If you need to read a bit about these things you might think of getting this book, but that can wait.”
Tracy looked at the book. Practical magic. “I’ll pass for now, thanks.”
Julian spoke up. “I can buy it for you if you want.”
“No, no thanks, my mom is not above ‘tidying’ my room and if she saw something like this you’d think the scene we had about you and me was a mild breeze compared to the storm that would hit me.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. Why don’t we look around a bit more anyway, and see if there’s anything else you find appealing.”
Aldona winked at her. “Just wander around, and if something jumps out at you, holler!”
She moved off through the shelves – figurines, cards, books, boxes of crystals and cones of incense all jumbled together – which seemed to bend around her. Or maybe that was just from the incense smoke that hung everywhere.
She picked up a small object, almost like an oval rod, intricately carved out of some kind of bone. Then she noticed that there was a thin line about two thirds of the way along, and so she pulled at the two ends. After a brief resistance, the gap widened and suddenly she was holding a short knife and its sheath. The edge glistened and she could tell it was sharp.
Julian had also been moving around, and had chosen this moment to come up behind her.
“That looks dangerous.” He took it from her and gingerly tested the edge of the blade with a thumb. “Sharp! And beautiful, like you. Would you like it?”
“It’s amazing – the craftsmanship is wonderful. And it would be nice to own it – if it’s not too expensive.”
“I’m sure Aldona will give me a special discount. Let’s find out, shall we?”
Of course she did, and so when they drove home, Tracy held a parcel holding the crystal and the knife, and some silver wire to bind the crystal to the wand.