Amos’ wrists ached, pressed tightly together by the coarse rope which bound them. He squinted up at the uninterrupted sun above him. He sat in the bed of an old, wood wagon. The deputies stood staring at him near the foot of the wagon, looking frightened, though with the kind of fear which would lead to violence if provoked. They clutched their rifles tightly, tapping their fingernails on the stalks anxiously. It was apparent they had believed every word the council had said and were convinced they were looking at a dark magician and a murderer.
They’d put him on a wagon behind the lecture hall, though what they were waiting for Amos didn’t know. The huge, dark rose window glowered down impatiently. The day was bright and warm and little bird’s could be heard in bushes. Everything blithely contradicted the weather of Amo’s mind.
He turned his eyes to the Marshal who leaned on the side of the wagon, eyeing him with a different expression. With a microscopic shake of his head, he lifted a small, glass flask and took a purposeful swig from it. Amos turned his eyes, thoughts weighing on his mind like earth weighing on a mine, threatening to cave it in.
“Cap’n…” The Marshal addressed him. Amos turned his head to see the small glass bottle being offered to him. He lifted his gaze to meet the Marshal’s again, recognizing the expression as something like pity, but with a manful respect common to the Marshal’s aging eyes. The captain glanced down at the bottle again, with a kind of shrug, as he said,
“Why the hell not.” He took the bottle with both his bound hands and emptied the last of its contents. Handing the empty bottle back to the Marshal, Amos let out a long sigh and a short cough.
“Thanks.” He said, hoarsely. Tucking the bottle away again, the Marshal replied,
“Makes the world look a little brighter, don’t it?” There was melancholy irony in his voice. Amos gave the Marshal a curious glance. He’d known the Burt most his life, even sailing together before they’d both given up the sea for their own reasons. But, since Annabel died, they’d seen little of each other and said less. Now that Amos knew his life was in its twilight days, being convicted of murder and dark arts, he had little to lose from being frank.
“What do you think of my story, Burt?” The Marshal eyed Amos with that same subdued sympathy and glanced at his deputies who were both looking at him now. He leaned toward Amos, letting his eyes drop with his honest tone,
“It don’t matter what I think, Amos; you know that.” The deputies couldn’t quite hear so they gave up looking and let their attention wander. The Marshal continued, in a more hushed tone, “And if I did believe all you said, there’d be nothing I could do. The law’s the law and the council’s word is gospel.” Amos’ guts twisted at these words, and his face contorted the way it often did before he began shouting, but he made sure his voice remained low, shooting an eye at the deputies who were now looking the other way.
“Damn it Burt, you’re a better man than that.” Burt let out an audible groan as he let his eyes drop further, “If you don’t believe a word those snakes say then why’re you working for’em? Trust me, there’s more at stake than your job here, Burt.” Both men’s heads shot up toward the corner of the lecture hall, where a distant sound had grabbed their attention. A roaring crowd had began exiting the front of the lecture hall and could be heard making their way toward the back of the building. The Marshal pushed off the wagon and began threading in the direction of the commotion, his shotgun under his arm.
The first of the crowd appeared around the corner, but immediately Amos realized it was not the crowd but was Rafael being lead hastily by the arms by two other deputies. The captain immediately shot to his feet, but the Marshal shot him a stern glare, saying sharply,
“Sit back down!” The captain grumbling obeyed and turned his eyes back on Rafael, who smiled as he saw Amos.
“Mr. Memphis!” One of the deputies leading Rafael called out, “Mr. Memphis! You gotta get these two outa here before that crowd skins them alive!”
“Load’em in the wagon.” The Marshal ordered, moving toward the commotion with purpose in his step. “I’ll take care of this.”
Rafael was heaved into the back of the wagon, next to Amos and the deputies hurriedly leaped into the front of the wagon. As the whip cracked behind the two captives, they could just see the Marshal meet the the throng, with lifted arms and shouting to calm them down. They could perceive, just before they turned a corner and he was lost from sight, that he had their attention and was speaking to them to settle their fury.
“You can talk bad about the College morning to night,” The captain murmured, whether to himself or to Rafael was unclear, “but there’s good men among them, which makes our job all that more difficult.” Looking up at the captain’s now orderly face beneath his tangled beard, Rafael thought he would tell the captain why he had been captured too, but somehow he felt the captain already knew. As if he predicted it. The captain spoke again, now clearly to Rafael,
“It was plain to me they’d find a way to grab you too; it’s only logical. If you told them anything like what you told me, they’d want to hush you up just like poor Boethius.” This statement dropped on Rafael like a bag of sand. There was an influence on the captain’s expression which had once been melancholy. Now something patient and contemplative took its place, though for all that Rafael found it none the less bitter to dwell on, because there was still despair in his voice.
“We’re not going to die.” Rafael hissed with more furocity than he intended, visually startling Amos. Rafael’s intencity subsided, and he continued, “I saw her too.” A broad, bittersweet smile spread over Amos’ face. The wagon hit a bump as it left the grounds of the College and departed into a subsequent region of Hangman’s Forest.
“I knew you would.” The captain whispered, his small voice quaking with some unreadable emotion. Now that they were actually discussing her, Rafael could not contain that ravenous question.
“You…know who she…who she looks like?”
The captain said nothing, gazing vastly over the back of the wagon and across the dirt road they were leaving behind. He was quiet for so long, Rafael thought he would not answer. But when he did, it was in a low and quiet voice the deputies could not hear,
“I think there were more circumstances to Annabel’s disappearance than we understood.” This lead Rafael’s mind to postulate a thousand more ravenous questions, which died in his mouth when one of the deputies stamped the butt of his gun on the wood between Rafael and Amos and shouted,
“Quit talk’n!” He resumed his seat grumbling and all of them remained silent for the remainder of the journey.
The road the wagon followed became slightly inclined and the more frequent, jolting bumps told them it was becoming more rocky too. They were north of the College now, headed away from the sea and deeping inland, into a region of forest Rafael had never really explored before. He had to assume they were in some corner of Hangman Forest; maybe close to the abandon chapel.
Rafael wanted desperately to ask Amos more questions, but was deterred by frequent sharp glances from one of the deputies, who kept a keen eye on them both, but mostly on Amos. So, instead of talking, Rafael contented himself with thinking. He let his eyes float over the arching trees, the serenely falling yellow leaves, the moths mingling over the moist earth, and the beard-like wisps of spanish moss hanging from the low branches. All of it played and danced in meridian sunlight above the forest, but still it felt cold. Everything wore a new expression under the prospect that he and Amos were prisoners charged with murder and sorcery. Anything could happen now; his walk to the College might have been his last walk as a free man, but the world was not sad for him or Amos.
Rafael’s first thought was, oddly enough, ‘I’m beginning to think like a romantic’. This idle fancy passed by his critical thought with a wistful smile, but then came back to linger. He blinked and squinted, and waited for the feeling to pass. But it did not pass, it stayed and grew. It was a feeling that a world which had been invisible to him was beginning to show itself, like a lifelong suspicion finally coming to light. The flashes of the sun through the treetop threw projections on his mind’s eye like a picture show, and summoned within him a righteous bravery of heart he had seldom known. He’d read little of knights and hearts of gold, but whatever fairy tales he’d ever read came rushing upon his mind in a revery of implicit weight and significance without words or form. The images in fairytales were the only ones which could describe the feeling; but it remained a feeling only. Rafael still could not bring his mind to fully believe that what was hatched in the mind was anything more than a toy, independant and segregated from the real world.
The wagon jolted as the wheels mounted the creaky planks of an old bridge with rod iron railing. Glancing over his shoulder, Rafael peered over his shoulder to see where the wagon was going. The shadow of an ominous old structure could be seen through the tree trunks and tails of spanish moss. It was then Rafael did remember this place. He had only come out here once as a child, but never came back. It was the old grist mill which all the kids in the schoolhouse swore was haunted; and it certainly looked haunted. For some reason, that word didn’t bother Rafael the same way it used to. Suddenly, he found he could believe again that anywhere could be haunted, and was disgusted at himself for ever having doubted. The child-like thrill, not of fear but of mystery and wonder of the world, returned to him, and he was happy for the company of any ghosts which might haunt the mill.
As the old wood wagon pulled up to the rotting doors of the dilapidated mill, the deputy driving the card pulled the reins and stopped the horses. They all looked up at the warped, old walls of the building, half consumed with moss and ivy. The second deputy gave an audible shudder. The first picked up his rifle and shoved the other roughly,
“Don’t just sit there staring, help me get’em into the cellar.” The other nodded and hopped off the wagon, though Rafael could tell by his expression he was well aware of the folklore surrounding the mill and the woods around it.
“Get up, cap’n.” The deputy with the rifle ordered. But Amos just sat as he had been and stared long and hard at the young man.
“What’re you boys planning to do with us?” He said, calm and low. The deputies’ faces both flashed with anxiety as the captain spoke. The one with the rifle swallowed and replied,
“The Hearthbrows’ve always kept…criminals like you here while they decided what to do about them.” Amos lifted both eyebrows as he pressed,
“Criminals like us? What sort of criminals are we?” The deputy swallowed again and looked at his comrade, then back at Amos.
“Folks who dabble with…black arts and such, I reckon.” A crow suddenly burst out of one of the broken windows of the grist mill and flew off into woods. The deputy let out a little cry and caught up his rifle and pointed it directly at Amos, who lifted his hands immediately.
“Now you just get up and out of that wagon! I’m not scared of ya!” Amos nodded compliently and said to Rafael,
“C’mon boy.” They both got out of the wagon and felt their feet hit the packed earth of the mill road. The unarmed deputy walked apprehensively toward the huge mill doors, while the other kept his rifle trained on Amos. The old doors cracked and groaned as they opened enough to emit someone to pass through. Filing inside, they found the mill’s roof had mostly rotted away, letting in warm shafted of sunlight tinted green by the tree branches it shown through. The many wood beams and supports of the mill’s atrium were festooned with thick overgrowth of every kind, so that the place had more the appearance of an abandon indoor garden than a mill.
Rafael looked down as his felt his shoes tread on broken glass, which crunched under his heel. The deputies were ushering them across the floor to a place in the center of the mill, where the huge millstone lay idle, half coated with flowering moss. In the floor was an old, metal trap door, which the unarmed deputy lifted to reveal a dark cellar, as they had called it. But Rafael knew it wasn’t a cellar, but was where the waterwheel was. An ancient river used to run through the foundation of the mill, and would turn the wheel centuries ago. But that river had dried up long before Rafael was born, maybe before Amos was born.
“That’s where you’ll be staying.” The armed deputy said, with a pathetic attempt at bravado in his tone. “You’ll want this.” He added, handing them a small, tin lantern which had been dangling from his belt. The other deputy handed Rafael a half-used book of matches.
“Now go on…get in.” The unarmed deputy said with an obvious tremor in his voice. Amos gave them another long glare before responding in word or deed. Rafael couldn’t help but feel amused at how afraid they were of Amos.
“Just get in…” The armed deputy pleaded, lowering his rifle. “We’ll be back for you in the morning, it’s what they told us to do. Don’t make a fuss.” Amos looked down into the black pit and heaved a long breath.
“C’mon Rafael, let’s not take up more of these boys time.” He took the lantern and Rafael lit one of his matches. Once the lantern was lit, Amos began descending down the aged steps leading into to the water wheel chamber. The wood of the steps felt rubbery with years of moisture under Rafael’s feet. They heard the trap door close over them as soon as their feet touched the stone floor of the cold, dank chamber.
“You reckon they’ll actually come back for us?” Rafael asked Amos, looking up at the trapdoor while the deputies finished noisily clamping a padlock to the latch.
“From all I’ve learned of the College, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just left us down here for good.” Amos grumbled, beginning to walk around their new surroundings. He lifted his lantern and followed the round walls all the way around the room. The chamber was completely round, with the huge, half-rotten water wheel in the center. The water passages on either end of the chamber, where the river had once run, were now blockaded by huge, makeshift wooden portcullises. Beyond these could only be seen blackness.
Amos quickly gave up searching the room for any points of escape, recognizing how thoroughly the chamber had been converted into a kind of dungeon. He set the lantern down on the floor and leaning his back wearily against the wall, letting himself sink into a sitting position. But Rafael was not finished looking, and when he saw the captain sitting, with that resigned expression on his face, he could not help but feel heated.
“You can’t seriously give up now!” Rafael balked. “You finally see the truth and you’re ready to just give up?!”
“I’ve done all I can do.” Amos replied calmly. “They didn’t want to listen, and who could blame them? If what Boethius believed is true, the world’s a bigger and more complicated place than they want it to be.”
“That’s no reason to give up! That’s exactly why we need to find a way out of here, and get back that book of his.”
The captain looked up at Rafael suddenly with leaden heaviness in his eyes as he said with an air of helplessness.
“It’s too much for me, boy…if we were to get out where would I go?”
Rafael squatted to be at eye-level with the captain, and replied with sincere enthusiasm,
“Over the sea, to the Helm of Nations, just like she said!” The captain scoffed and averted his eyes from Rafael. But Rafael was undeterred and moved to confront the captain’s gaze again. “I’m serious! You heard her the same as me; and…” Rafael hesitated, as one does when the mention of something deep and vulnerable to one’s self becomes unavoidable. He continued, “…and, I don’t know how all this works, but you remember what the angel looked like. Maybe Annabel is still alive.” Amos looked up at Rafael with a flicker of rage in his eye, then let his gaze fall broodingly across the room.
Rafael stood up, looking at the captain in bewilderment and honest disappointment. A long, cold silence filled the dark chamber, then Rafael spoke his mind,
“I can’t understand you. You used to be the bravest sea captain on the island before you lost Annabel.” The captain made no gesture or sound in reply, as Rafael continued, “I’d always blamed your drinking on grief of one kind or another, but now I think I was wrong.” This time the captain looked up at Rafael, who continued, “You drink because you’re afraid.” The captain looked away again, but Rafael only continued with added energy. “You’re ashamed of yourself, for letting Boethius die…” Rafael’s voice croaked with an emotion he had not anticipated. Amos looked up at the boy again with that gruff sympathy which can only be aroused by the sound of coming tears. He said nothing as Rafael continued, forcing back emotion, “Ashamed for driving Annabel away.”
The captain’s eyes grew dull and heavy, focusing on nothing, the life and energy appearing drained from his face.
“You’re right, boy.” He said in murmur. Rafael could not look at his face any longer. His grey, pathetic, expression of resignation was too much for Rafael to handle. Feeling the strength drained from his limbs, Rafael succumbed like the captain and sank to a slumped sitting position against the damp wall of their underground cell.
The place became sullenly quiet, giving way to odd creaks and groans, inaudible without perfect silence. The sound of a tiny trickle became dominant to Rafael’s hearing and served as a minor distraction from the distress of his thoughts. He let his eyes wander around his dim surroundings, looking for a source. His eyes landed on a spot in the floor where a tiny cleft had eroded away part of the stone, leaving a pencil-line channel for a tiny stream to run through the base of the old mill. From where he sat, he could see it running out from beyond one of the wood portcullises, through the tiny channel in the floor, and finally ending at the base of the water wheel in the middle of the chamber, which Rafael could just barely see underneath.
It now came to his attention that there was vegetation growing beneath the water wheel, in fact, there was a small garden growing underneath the wheel. Enticed by the surreal sight, Rafael got up on all fours and crouched to see underneath the water wheel. Indeed, there was not just ferns and mushrooms growing there, but tiny, white flowers.
Rafael had an odd feeling looking at the angular pedals of those strange, white flowers. They were a ghostly white, almost bluish. He found it hard to convince his eyes they were not luminous with their own light. It was with something like an electric shock to the heart that Rafael realized he had only seen this color once before.
Sitting up suddenly he began rifling through all his pockets, until he produced the white feather Amos had left for him on the podium. Reaching underneath the wheel, he plucked one of the flowers, which he found was softer than air to touch. He held the two up side by side to compare them. They were the same unearthly hue of icy blue, though teasing the eye with the impression of soft warm tones, like fresh milk.
Rafael turned toward the captain as he held them up to show them to him, but the captain had clearly seen them. His face had turned pale and his expression had enlivened to something like dread, though too removed to be active fear. He licked his lips to speak, but had a hard time making himself audible.
“…Where’d you get that?’ He finally managed to say.
“It’s strange, isn’t it?” Rafael said, heeding the captain’s expression very little. “They look like their glowing, don’t they?” He added. The captain swallowed audibly, though sinking back into a relaxed position as he replied,
“Yes, I suppose they do.”
“Why don’t you put out that light, and we’ll see?” Rafael encouraged. The captain didn’t move, looking apprehensively at Rafael.
“I have more matches,” Rafael reassured, “don’t worry, I just want to have a look.”
The captain heaved a sigh and shrugged, and leaned toward the lantern. Picking it up, he lifted the glass and blew out the wick. Immediately it was evident the flowers emitted their own light, and not dimly. It was not the subtle phosphorescence of plankton or glow-worms, but was like each flower was made of mirrors reflecting the moon on a misty night. The whole bottom of the water wheel was lit up beautifully, and even the feather in his hand seemed to glow of its own as well, though dimmer. Rafael looked back at the captain with an enormous, child-like smile, one which only his renewed frame of mind could conceive. Rafael was beginning to learn how quickly he was able to put grievances behind him to make way for new joys. But when he looked on the captain’s face he saw again that pale expression of potential fear and active dread, though no longer at the flower in Rafael’s hand, but toward the blocked passage from where the water came.
Rafael followed his gaze toward the blockaded passage, and saw a greater light was coming from somewhere along it; and it was growing. It gave Rafael the feeling that it might lead outside to clear winter night, if he had not already looked down it and seen only darkness. Rafael stood up, pocketing the flower and the feather, and walked toward the passage so he could see down it.
“Rafael, wait…” The captain blustered with a voice that sounded out of breath. But Rafael didn’t listen, and kept walking toward the passage. As he reached its mouth and came up against the thick, wood grid of the blockading portcullis, he saw what gave the light. The Lady approached him along the lengthy passage, wings unfolded behind her, her silken gown rippling like a cascade with each gliding, soundless step. She walked boldly, eyes fixed on his, and at once Rafael knew she would tell him all he wanted to know.