Almost too soon they were on the move again, and the band of people, now numbering almost 200, followed behind the cart, pulled by two of the large beasts, which, Tracy had learned this morning, were called plantans.
Leman rode in the cart, and every now and then would call out something to the drivers of the plantans, who would then prod and poke the beasts into a turning. The land continued to slope upwards, and soon became what could be called mountainous. The vegetation was also changing, Tracy saw. The canija had been replaced by a plant resembling ferns, with long fronds and tendrils that coiled and uncoiled the whole time. These were called candira. There were now real trees, at least, they looked like the pine trees from home, except for the reddish foliage. These, she learned, were wair.
No-one was speaking very much, and Tracy herself, although fit, found the constant climb draining enough to keep silent. This did not mean that she had no questions.
Was she, as she had said the previous evening, merely imagining all this? Was she lying in a coma and this was her brain’s way of coping? Or were the fairy stories true, were there indeed such things as other worlds, other times, and one could slip between them? There was certainly enough in legend and story to suggest that it might be true.
And if it was true, if she accepted it, what lay ahead? Battling those creatures she saw burning the village? But how? Even as strong and fit as she was, and as able to perform gymnastic feats, she knew nothing of fighting, and weapons, and tactics. And to go against the DarkLord, she would surely need those things? And then, if this was true, would she ever get back home? Would she ever see her mom again? And what was happening back there, while she was here?
Just as she felt she could not walk one more step, the procession halted next to little stream, and soon the glows of fire and the smells of cooking drifted over everyone. Tracy and Leman sat together in the lee of the cart, and Leman was answering as many questions as she could.
“As for time in one place and time in another, I do not know exactly how it passes. I know some say that you return to the same time you left when you cross, but I also know that some people go and come back many cycles later, saying they spent the time in the otherworld. But I think they choose that, and if you wish, you can return to the moment you left either world. A strong will and memory is needed, but we will talk about that more when we train together.”
“OK, so I’m not going to know how much time is passing or what is happening back there. But I’m so worried about Mum. I’m all she has left after Dad died, and it would kill her not to know where I am or what’s happened to me.”
Leman stroked her hair. “I am sorry, but all I can offer you is the hope that you will meet again. Once we raise the rebellion, I will take you to a soft place and show you the way through. I can only hope that you will return to the moment you left, if you will it so.”
Tracy suddenly remembered exactly what that moment was. “No, I’d be killed! Neil would still be strangling me! I couldn’t go back there!”
“Shhh, shh, we will see if we can find a way around that. Now, we must lay plans for the rebellion. We have gathered maps and information about the DarkLord and his troops, and when we get to the fastness, we will sit and discuss them.”
Just as she started to protest that she knew nothing of making and planning war, a bowl of stew was placed between them and Leman gestured for her to eat. Her stomach overrode her brain, and her hand dipped and brought the savory chunk to her mouth almost before she was aware of having done so. They ate in silence, and then the brief camp was over, just like that. The drivers of the cart came to where they sat and picked Leman up carefully, depositing her on her pad of blankets, then without ceremony hauled Tracy to her feet.
She was about to rejoin her family, as she now thought of them, when Leman gestured for her to placed in the cart as well.
“We are almost at fastness, and I need to show you some things that you are able to do in this land, just as we, when we cross into otherworld, can do there. You have seen how the canija moves towards you?”
“Yes, and it’s really creepy. Why?”
“It loves your sweat as it contains compounds rare on our world, and if it gets enough it bursts into brilliant light.”
“I remember – that happened on the beach, when I…”
Leman nodded. “Yes, I can imagine. When canija gets enough of these compounds it not only bursts into light, but if it gets too much it explodes into a ball of fire.”
“You mean to tell me that what I flush away at home is a weapon here? Ugh, gross!”
“Yes, and I think I understand your word gross. But it is also a weapon the DarkLord has, remember that. The other thing is that the canija and the tegith will respond to your body, but also to your mind. It has an … I’m not sure how to say it, a..a…an answer to your brain electricity, and because you have been kind to it, feeding it, it responds more strongly than to the DarkLord who cuts and burns it every chance he gets.”
Tracy shook herself. This was getting way too weird to be a dream, where on earth would she have come up with the idea that she could move plants with her mind.
“On your world we have the same power, to make your plants move with our minds, and also to make the ground respond. I want you to simply try something – hold your hand out to the canija, and try to see it in your hand.”
Tracy giggled, almost on the edge of hysteria now. What was that saying her gran had always used, might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb, and held out her hand. She tried to visualize the canija, a bunch of it, in her hand, and for long moments the clumps yearned towards her, then she panicked. She snatched her hand into her lap, and covered her confusion with an attack.
“Well, that didn’t work, did it!”
Leman regarded her.
“I think you need to sleep and we need to talk about this more tomorrow.”
“Hey, wait, I’ll try again. I mean, we’re talking serious shit here. You can’t just go and expect me to sleep. Come back!” But Leman shuffled away far more rapidly than she had moved before, and took up a seat next to the driver, and the cart suddenly halted and there was Valinja, beckoning her to climb down.
“We are almost at fastness and then we all sleep.”
Nothing she said or did was taken notice of, and when she decided to just sit on a rock, Valinja and Ajnilav calmly picked her up between them and carried her, bosun’s chair style. She gave in and indicated that she would walk with them, and not try to get to Leman again, and so was on foot when they turned a corner of what had become a steep trail to see the towering peak and the frail bridge against a backdrop of stars and moons.
It truly was a fairyland, in the sense that it was strange and frightening and beautiful all at the same time. Despite her tiredness, the gnawing anxiety about the future and the growing dread of what it meant to be a heroine, she felt strangely at peace as she looked at the scene. Something about it was strangely familiar, and then she realized she was looking at the Disney castle. Of course not exactly the Disney castle, but the pattern of peaks and caves reminded her of her one visit to Disneyland, back when she was eight, when she had a mom and a dad and a normal life. Would she ever have that again?