Now That the Dust Has Settled
Jade knelt in front of the white plastic toilet with her arms resting on the sides of the seat and her head on the cool damp of her sweaty right arm.
“This sucks,” she rasped, hair sticking to her forehead. As she gathered her feet beneath her in an attempt to stand, she heard a knock on the front door. “Somebody has horrible… horrible timing.” Slowly rising to her feet, she braced herself with the sink and as she brought her eyes up to look at herself in the mirror, she wished there were a zombie movie being filmed nearby. At least then she could say she was an extra. She turned the faucet knob and splashed cold water on her face, wiping the vomit from the sides of her mouth with a washcloth.
She flaggled her lips in a horse-like sigh as another knock on the door made it apparent that whoever it was wasn’t giving up. “Maybe my breath will make them run away screaming and they will never bother me again.” She pulled her fuzzy, pink robe tight around her and shuffled to the door in her matching, fuzzy, pink slippers.
“Go away. I’m not buying anything,” she saidwithout touching the door.
“I’m not selling anything. It’s Murdock,” the voice said from the other side.
“Very funny. I am not entirely presentable, just so you know,” she said, turning the knob.
“Did I wake you?” Murdock asked as the door inched open.
“No,” Jade replied, opening the door wider. “Come in. I’m just a bit under the weather, so you’ll have to excuse the mess.”
“Quite alright. Do you have a cold?” Murdock stepped inside carrying the large book Zachary had given him under his arm. “I could make you some tea.”
“No. I have a feeling it’s something more serious than a cold. Some tea would be nice, though.”
“Do you need to go to the doctor?” Murdock asked as he walked toward the kitchen. He put the book down on the table, opened a cabinet and saw nothing but plates. He opened the cabinet next to it and found the mugs. He took one out and set it on the counter.
“Mmm. Not yet.”
“Okay. Well, Miss Jade,” Murdock said as he filled the mug with water from the tap, “Where are your tea bags?”
“Right here,” Jade replied, pointing to a drawer to the right of the sink.
“If I had known you were ill, I would not have left you alone last night,” Murdock said as he pulled the drawer open and took out a bag of chamomile tea and dropped it into the mug.
“It’s okay. I wasn’t alone when you left.”
“True,” Murdock replied. “I was sitting at the pub, watching a football game and I noticed… my arm felt wet. I looked down,” Murdock continued, turning around, putting the mug in the microwave and pressing the button marked ‘quick start’ and then ‘2’, “and my hand was sitting in a pool of blood on my lap. I wasn’t bleeding but the tattoo on my wrist was gone.”
“You should have seen the mess here. Not just the blood but the chaos and panic. It was hilarious until the dust cleared and I realized I was alone.”
“Huh. No panic from m.” He squinted one eye and cocked his head, “I wonder why I didn’t feel anything else… If everyone else here suddenly felt confused and ran off… Hmm… Perhaps it’s just because I’m a willing participant.”
Jade stood in front of the kitchen sink and looked out the open window. A crow cawed from the trees in the distance. “Zachary?” she said with a sudden urge to brush her teeth. Black wings soared down, flapping, as the bird slowed itself to land on the windowsill.
“That’s not a raven,” Murdock chided. “That’s a crow. It’s got something attached to its leg there. Back up some. No telling what the thing’ll do when I try to take it off.”
Jade moved to the kitchen table and sat down, her face suddenly very long. Murdock held up both hands up in front of him, gently approaching the bird, which, much to his surprise, was not making any effort or preparations to move. The microwave beeped, startling Murdock and making him jump. The crow just stared. Murdock composed himself and moved closer. The message on the crow’s leg was held on with hemp string. He pulled on the ends. The loops slipped through the knot, the paper was loosened and fell to the strip of countertop between the sink and the backsplash. As soon as Murdock had the message in hand, the bird cawed loudly and flew back to the trees.
Murdock unrolled the scrolled message as he walked toward the table where Jade was sitting. He looked at her, his eyes as wide as the rim of the mug she now held in her hands. “It’s from Zachary.”
I am afraid the Circle has won this battle. However, the war has only just begun. I do need to find a way out of this prison as soon as possible. My army will be rebuilt and the Circle of Light will be destroyed once and for all eternity. For the time being, this bird is our only avenue of communication. It is not one of mine. It belongs to the council. They are not allowing me to use any magic. But we will see how long that lasts.
I never thought anyone could replace Astrid. Alas, the love I had for her is but a teardrop compared to the tidal waves that crash down on the beach of my heart every time I think of you.
You have my undying love and devotion.
ps- The pun was unavoidable
“Wow. He’s a romantic. I wasn’t expecting that. I think I know how to help him,” Murdock said, opening the book on the table. “The Sworn Book. There’s a teleportation spell in here.” He flipped through the pages quickly but carefully. It’s complicated but I think, between the two of us, we can manage it. Here it is.” He skimmed over the instructions, looking for something. “Now, it doesn’t say whether or not it leaves any sort of magical signature that can be traced. We’re not going to take a chance. If you’ll work on securing another location to use for our base of operations, I’ll gather the required supplies for the spell. Once you find a suitable place to move to, we’ll pack up. Then, we’ll perform the ritual. As soon as we have Di Corvo back, we’re gone.”
“Sounds like a good plan. I’ll do my best. What materials do you need to get?”
“Spikenard oil,” the shop assistant said as he placed a small, dark green bottle in a paper bag on the glass counter. “That’s some stinky stuff.” He then held open the paper bag as he placed in it a Ziploc baggy containing what looked like beige chunks of rock. “And there’s your myrrh. Will that be all?”
“Yes. Unless you know where I can find yew tree bark. The cinnamon I can get at the grocery store.”
“A yew tree. Well, we probably have a bunch around town somewhere, but the only place I know for sure is in the gardens at Wendover Palace. My girlfriend and I went there last year.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard of that place. Used to be the governor’s mansion.”
“Yep. That’s it. When New Bergen was the capitol. Of course, you can’t just go in there and take bark off one of those. I don’t know of anywhere else specific where there would be any. What kind of spell are you working on, anyway?”
“A phoenix ritual.”
“Rebirth. Transformation. Good stuff. Will that be all?”
Jade and Murdock stood near a stone wall that surrounded a large, well-maintained garden. Multiple varieties of trees lined the edge. Among them were four trees, one in each corner of the garden. Scaly, purple-brown bark, branches reaching wide but not more than six feet tall.
“Taxus floridana. The Florida Yew. The stone walls of the Gardens of Wendover Palace are adorned with six of this rare tree from the reserves at the Torreya State Park near Bristol, Florida.”
“You know, to get enough yew bark out of here for the spell, we’re going to need a whole tree. You realize that, right?”
“How are we going to get a whole tree out of here without someone seeing?”
“We’re just getting a bead on where they are located right now. We’ll come back under the dark of night to get it out. They have alarms on the doors but not on the perimeter fences. I checked.”
“Okay, but is there something in your little bag of tricks that will put sound buffers on all the surrounding houses? Because those are the yew trees over there… and… I don’t see a single one less then six inches thick. And they look at least a foot thick at the trunk. We’re going to need either a chainsaw or an ax and neither one of those is going to be quiet. And… alarm or no alarm, we don’t want to be inside the fence for very long.”
“You bring up a good point.”
“Do your producers do all your thinking?” Jade said, crossing her arms.
“That’s not the kind of attitude that gets anything done, Sweetheart,” Murdock said as he scratched his chin.
“Don’t call me ‘Sweetheart’.”
Murdock looked around and sighed. “Fine. Let’s get… hold on.”
“Look,” Murdock pointed to one of the corners of the garden and then to a second corner.
“Yeah. Over there, outside the blacksmith’s shed.”
“Interesting. A wheelbarrow full of wood. Let’s check it out.” A new glint in Murdock’s eye, he took Jade by the upper arm and led her across the courtyard to a small building close to the entrance.
As the two of them approached the open door of the outbuilding, they saw a man who appeared to be repairing a wheel.
“How are you folks today?” the man said, hammering a wheel back on its axle.
“We’re doing excellent,” Murdock replied. “What are you working on there?”
“Ah… kitchen food cart busted a wheel,” the man said without looking up. “Usually I would say it can wait, but… anything that takes me away from hauling wood.”
“Yeah? What are you hauling wood for?”
“They took out two of the yew trees to make room for a few more dogwoods. Waste really. Never liked dogwoods. Smell like dirty underwear. Anyway, they want the wood for a decorative woodpile beside my shop. I tried to tell them… I don’t use yew wood. Nobody did back then, either. Burns too quick. Whatever. They’re not as concerned with historical accuracy as they are with appearances. Not to mention… the Yew trees were sent as gifts from a state park in Florida. Rare trees they are.”
“A shame they’ll just be used for a decorative woodpile. How many more loads do you have to bring over?”
“Mm. There’s still one tree left over there, but now I have to stack all the wood I brought over.”
“Well, we’ll leave you to it. I hope they appreciate your hard work.”
“Yeah, right. I probably won’t even bring the rest over until tomorrow.”
“Just be careful. Remember to lift with your knees.”
“Yeah, my back is killing me,” the man said, hanging his apron on a hook on the inside of the door to his building. “I’m done for the day. You folks take care.”
“We will. Thank you.”
Jade and Murdock began to walk the entrance. Jade looked at him and started to open her mouth to say something but paused.
“Yes?” Murdock asked.
“Do you buy into the philosophy that everything happens for a reason?”
“Not really but it’s starting to creep me out.”
“What? Like an omen?”
“I don’t know,” Murdock said quietly, barely moving his lips. “I just have a hard time believing anything could be this easy.”
“We’re still coming after hours and…”
“Oh, yes. We just have to be extra careful. We still have to figure out how to get the wood over.”
“I have an idea. It might work.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“We get a crib mattress from the store, put it on the ground on the outside of the wall. You climb the wall and toss the wood over so that it lands on the mattress. I put the wood in the back of the car.”
“Okay, but if I’m tossing and you’re grabbing, what if I hit you in the head?”
“We’ll have to get a flashlight with a red lense and I’ll shine it at the top of the wall when I’m out of the way.”
“I hope we don’t get any night owls looking out their---wait a second. We’re making this so much more complicated than it has to be. We need the bark from a whole tree… but not the whole tree.”
“That’s right. I forgot.”
“I can climb over with a trash bag, scrape the bark off and put it in the bag and then throw it over. Barely make a sound. I’ll need a flashlight to see what I’m doing but there’d be no need to use it as a signal, therefore, staying pretty well hidden from anyone who might be up late and at their window. We’ll be sure to dress all in black, though.”
“Sounds like a decent enough plan to me. I need to go shopping for black clothes.”