I gauged it was about mid-morning when I woke, and I was parched. The sun filtered down through a haze and the sky looked white with a tinge of pale blue near the center. Off to the west I saw my former home with the beginning of rolling hills covered in spring yellow-green, soon to be brown as summer approached. Somewhere a marsh bird squawked, and there were some insects buzzing around me in an irritating manner. I think they were gnats, but surely not mosquitoes, at this time of day. Then again, perhaps they were mosquitoes… horrible marsh mosquitoes.
The ordeal of this experience had cultivated in me a growing pessimism, as I was growing tired of the antics of this illusionist and my thirst was like a sharp stick being poked at my side in that it never stopped assailing me. In order to be doing something, I worked on the rope that bound my hands, first twisting it to try to free my wrists, and then rubbing it against the wall of the tower again. I don’t think I managed to do anything with the friction, but I did loosen the knot, however it wasn’t enough to give me the freedom I craved. My wrists grew raw and my throat sore, so I made it a point to sit in the shade of the tower while I worked against the rope in order to at least spare myself being further parched by the sun. This required moving from hour to hour as the tower was very narrow and the sun moved in a fiery arc across the sky. The day passed as an eternity, but once it was over, it appeared in retrospect to be only a drop of time. As the sun fell back against the rolling hills to the west and the sky grew pink, I lay back on the ground and gazed at the sky.
I was weary and perhaps hallucinatory from lack of water. It seemed, as I looked up at the sky, that I could stare at it until I fell upward and into it. I wanted to; I wanted to be released from my miserable existence and fall upward and away into sleep from which I would never wake. So sleep is what I did, gradually falling as I gazed up at the pale pink sky with slow blinks until it took me.
I awoke beside a river, lying upon grass a purer green than anything I had seen in the dry lands I grew up in. It was soft like a rug, yet smelled sweet, luring me to bury my face in it for a great, long sniff. Nearby a tiny stream bubbled to join the river, falling across round rocks as it went. It was beautiful, and although I was no longer thirsty, I felt a strong compulsion to cry over the presence of so much clean water. Again I was clean, and my clothes were not my own. I rose on an elbow to survey where I could be.
I was in the same landscape I saw before through the glass doors when I went to meet the illusionist in his breakfasting room. It was overflowing with bounty as trees grew unmolested by drought or want, water flowed freely, flowers grew in abundance, and birds sung with melodious variety. Small creatures chattered in the treetops and the air smelled of water, earth, and the perfume of blooming flowers. Looking behind me I saw the grass extend out in a great lawn until it reached the back of a genteel home built of stone and glass. It was a large place, perhaps better called a manor or an estate. Around it were trees, so it didn’t stick out like a box landed on the earth, like many other manors do, but it was situated with it, living in tandem with the world that surrounded it as if in agreement.
I sat up, feeling a bit dizzy with the movement, and was continuing to regard it when the illusionist approached me from the riverside. I had not been aware he was there.
“It is lovely here,” I told him, though my voice was not as agreeable at it might have been, considering he’d been toying with my life like I was an animal to be experimented with.
“It is,” he said. “But you have work to do. Get up.”
I gave him an unsavory look, but stood and he handed me the handkerchief and a letter.
“To Lord Orthridge of Midvale Hollow.”
Wondering if I was dead yet or not, I decided to try to sneeze into the handkerchief, regardless. I held the silk in my hand, rubbing it between my fingers. It was cool and I was transfixed by the colors along its surface, but sneezing wasn’t forthcoming, so I hazarded a guess and delivered a fake sneeze into the handkerchief.
No sooner had I done it than I was gone; sucked into an existence where the world spun and speared past me with lurching colors and lines, all unrecognizable and like a whirlwind. It was like a great whirlwind, one that lifted my weight, pulled my feet from solid ground, and buffeted me with a pummeling gale of wind and disorientation. I had enough time for my body to tense and to consider screaming, and then I was on solid ground again, my hair in my face, and the letter bent but still within my grasp.
I exhaled once, then twice, fell to my hands and knees, and took great gulping gasps of breath.
“What ho boy, have you something for me from that awful ills?” said a jolly voice from less than two feet away.
I looked up and saw I was kneeling in Lord Orthridge’s study, where a fire was crackling merrily and books lined the walls all around. Lord Orthridge himself was a rotund man, rosy in his obesity and cheerful at the moment, and he was sitting in a large comfy chair before the fire looking at me with bemusement.
“Y-yes, sir, I’ve a letter from Master Teitnl for you,” I said, holding out the crumpled missive and attempting to rise and push my hair from my face at the same time.
He took the letter from me, broke the seal and read it. I listened to the fire crackle and considered the extent of his books, wishing, in some other life, that I could read them all at my leisure. Lord Orthridge made one of those deep, rumbling “hrm” noises customary for older men, then stood, walked to his desk, and began to write. His quill made a scratching noise across the parchment and I studied the titles of books that were closest to me, trying to be subtle about doing so. I wasn’t subtle enough, though, because soon Lord Orthridge was standing before me, letter in hand, waiting for me to take it from him. I did.
“Do you read, son?” he asked me.
“Would you like to borrow a book?”
“Yes, I would.”
“I’ll pick one for you.”
He strode the shelf, took a book, and handed it to me. The Frozen North: Why It’s Impassable. It might have sounded dry, but the idea thrilled me. I could barely contain my enthusiasm.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Bring it back when you’re done.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Right-o, then. Carry on.”
I sneezed in the handkerchief and was whisked away, spun and blended and stirred for a few breathless, gasping seconds until I landed in the same spot I had previously inhabited beside the river. Teitnl was there, patient, yet pinched. I handed him the letter, and he took it, then he looked at the book in my hands.
“What is that?”
“It’s a book, sir.”
“Yes, of course it’s a book. What are you doing with it?”
“I’m going to read it, sir.”
“Where did it come from?” he demanded.
“Lord Orthridge let me borrow it.”
Teitnl’s eyes flew open wide, and he snatched it from me. Then, he threw it as hard as he could into the river. I thought that was very rude.
“You idiot!” he yelled at me.
“It’s a book!” was my reply.
“First rule of couriering!” he yelled, holding up a finger to further illustrate his point. “You never take anything back from Lord Orthridge!”
“It’s a book!” I rejoined again, frustrated I would never get to read The Frozen North: Why It’s Impassable, now. Not to mention Lord Orthridge would be wanting his book back, and now it was lost or at best, ruined. Sarcasm gripped me like a vice. “What’s it going to do, explode?”
Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion out in the river, where a geyser of water shot a tree’s height up into the air and splashed outward, showering Teitnl and I with impromptu rain. I can only assume the book exploded into a million pieces, and I felt somewhat offended that Lord Orthridge would seem so kind while planning my, and the illusionist’s, demise.
Teitnl was livid. He lifted his hand to snap me away, but was stopped by a yam that materialized in his hand. We both stared at it, and there were a few seconds of silence amidst staring. Teitnl looked at me in a whole different way, a calculating way. He turned, threw the yam in the river too, and then, with a blue-eyed glare in my direction, snapped.
It was night. I was bound, filthy, and in the marsh. A disgusting toad croaked nearby. I yelled at the sky.