He was in Goldstone Wood.
It’s impossible, he thought. But impossible or otherwise, this certainly was the Between.
The ruinous old tower looked as if it had been built in the Near world, yet it reeked of Faerie. Almost as if it couldn’t decide where it belonged.
Mousehand took another step in.
Lord Rafton had warned Mousehand about exploring too far up the mountain, but he couldn’t help wondering what was up there. No one seemed to know.
“Many men have wondered the same, lad”, Lord Rafton had replied to this query. “To be honest, I haven’t the faintest idea of what is farther up the mountain. But in the last few years over a dozen men have been lost trying to find out.”
“Aye. They just…never came back.” Rafton had paused. After a minute or two, he continued, “I don’t know if something- or someone- killed them or if somehow the wood tricked them and turned them about so that they could never get back. After fourteen men- some explorers, some searching for the lost explorers-were lost, I forbid anyone else to go.”
“So if you must explore uphill don’t go beyond the little deer path.”
But the call of adventure had been too great. (Not that Mousehand had tried to resist it)
The next day after lunch, he slipped out of the house into the woods. Fortunately for Mousehand, it was a cloudy day, and therefore much cooler than usual.
He had hiked about a mile beyond the deer path when he heard a thrush singing. There seemed to be words in the song.
He looked at the little bird a minute, then laughed. Birds don’t talk.
Nevertheless, Mousehand soon found himself following the thrush. Well, he reasoned, at least the bird won’t be headed to a beast’s lair or anything like that.
Not very solid logic, but a small guide is better than none.
After another mile or two, Mousehand came to a large clearing. In the clearing there were the ruins of an old tower fortress. The roof was gone and starflower vines crept along the crumbling walls.
While the ruins certainly looked strange, Mousehand saw nothing to warn him of any magical qualities. But the moment he stepped inside he knew. He remembered his mother’s stories about the wood between the worlds.
Slowly Mousehand turned around, already knowing what he would- or wouldn’t- see.
He wasn’t in Southlands anymore. He wasn’t even in the mortal world. And yet… he wasn’t in the Far world either.
He was in the Between.
A solitary golden form wove its way through the trees of Goldstone Wood. He walked a Faerie Path, such as mortals can rarely see. This Knight of the Farthestshore had decided to take advantage of the fact that he hadn’t a current mission from his Lord, to visit his home land and his lady. The cat was on his way to Rudiobus.
Mousehand wasn’t sure whether to be scared or excited-or both! He knew so little about Faerie and all its ways. Years before his mother had told him stories about the Far World, Lord Lume and Lady Hymlume, the Wolf Lord and the Dragonwitch.
But try as he might to remember those stories, Mousehand could only recall one thing his mother had told him about the Between.
“Never walk it without a Path.”
“My Lord! I did not see you there.” The cat started.
The Prince smiled. “Eanrin, you’re blind.”
“Ah, yes well… I didn’t smell you there then.”
“On your way to Rudiobus you will meet a mortal. Take him home before you continue your journey, Eanrin.” Then He was gone.
“There’s no deceiving him, now is there? Well, let’s go see about this mortal.
Wonderful. Now not only was he trapped in a magical wood, Mousehand didn’t know how to find the Faerie Paths that were his only way to get out.
There was another door directly across from the one he had just entered. He walked over to see if there was anything different on that side. Just trees, he thought. Great.
He stepped just outside the door, intending to sit down on the threshold. But Mousehand found himself sitting in grass instead.
Turning his head to look behind him, Mousehand started. The tower ruins were gone!
Yikes! Note to self: never trust magic doorways! He thought.
Before Mousehand could completely recover from the disappearance of the tower, he heard a noise behind him and turned to look.
There stood before him a shining form, clothed in gold, fey and majestic.
Mousehand fell prone before the figure, for he knew that He was far greater than a mere man, or even an immortal.
“Mousehand.” That was all He said, yet Mousehand felt in that one word, the power to move mountains.
Mousehand felt as if this man knew him and everything about him. The death of his parents in the fire that nearly killed him as well; his journey to the Hill House to seek a job from Lord Rafton; his search for a purpose in his life; his longing for adventure.
The man knelt beside him and lifted him to his knees.
“I know who you are, sir,” Mousehand whispered, eyes downcast. “My mother told me about the One who Sings the Sphere Songs. Isn’t that who you are?”
The Lumil Eleasil did not answer his question. But He did not have to.
“Mousehand, I know how you long for adventure and purpose. You long to slay dragons and rescue kingdoms. But I have a far greater plan for you. Will you trust me Mousehand?”
“Your servants lose everything.”
“Yet they gain something far greater.”
“What is Your plan for me?”
“You will return to Southlands and to Lord Rafton. You will continue as his gardener…and his son’s gardener…and his grandson’s gardener. And then in the winter of your live I will give you a mission. A mission of protection.”
Mousehand considered questioning Him and then for the first time looked into His eyes. There he saw power, and goodness, and wisdom. He made his decision. Perhaps he wouldn’t slay dragons or save kingdoms. But if he could play a role in the perfect plan of the great Prince of glory and light, than surely he could be content.
“I will trust you.”
Mousehand blinked. Had he dreamt it all? No, it was too real for a dream.
Well, he thought, now to getting back home. But before he could do anything else, the bushes rustled and out stepped the pert figure of a cat.
“Agghhhh!” yelled Mousehand.
“Yeeeowl!” screeched the cat.
There followed that outburst a moment of silence as the cat and Mousehand stared at each other.
The cat recovered himself first.
“Dragons teeth and tail, you nearly scared the wits out of me!”
“You’re a mortal aren’t you?”
Without waiting for an answer, the cat said, “I’m Bard Eanrin of Rudiobus, also a Knight of the Farthest Shore. You’ve heard of me, of course?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Though I didn’t know you were a cat.”
“Yes, well I am. I suppose you’re the mortal I’m supposed to take home?”
“I suppose so. I need to get home anyway.”
“Well, come on then.”
Eanrin took Mousehand home, where (just as the Prince had said) he was the Hill House gardener for three generations. And in the winter of his life, on the eve of a summer night, he found his mission and his purpose…under a rosebush.