The Geode. The Stone Chalice by Michelle K

 

 

The winds swirled hard and fast. The children held tightly to each others’ hands and shuffled down the steps single file, a human locomotive drawn by the power of their great engine.

“How much farther?” Their excitement was seized by the wind and carried from one to the other, swelling into each little heart until the children’s bodies jittered upon the stair.

“What are we gonna do, Vincent?”

“Can we tell ghost stories?”

"I want to explore!"

"What's for dinner?"

Words spoken all at once, with unrestrained buoyancy that met the air with the force of a steam whistle. Vincent turned and faced them.

“Not much longer now.” He motioned to Winslow come closer; the children huddled between them, protected from the wind. He pointed to the landing, only three stairs down. “That’s all that remains. And then ...” He smiled. “A short trip down a secret tunnel … and the cave I told you about.”

He extended his hand to the nearest child. “Great mysteries await us. Shall we continue?”

They made their way down the final steps and sought shelter in the tunnel beyond. The wind howled its fury at their retreat ... but it did not follow them. Rory’s hand was slick with excitement. Vincent smiled, remembering his first time on this quest – the sense of being “chosen”. Great knights we were ... Ackronnion slaying the Gladsome Beast.1

Vincent met Winslow’s eyes. He’d aged in the past year; his hair was thinning ... his belly widening. It made him appear almost ... jolly. Winslow scowled. Almost.

“Vincent?”

“Yes, Geoffrey?”

“What's in the cave?”

“It’s a surprise, silly,” Samantha chimed.

“One cannot know what will appear. A mystical garden? A warlord's palace?” Vincent laid his hand upon the boy’s crown. “We must wait and see where our destinies lead us.”

***

Weariness and hunger hung like shadows upon the children’s faces. In the glow of the firelight, they appeared calm ... even patient ... but Vincent knew better. Proof of their excitement lay in their hands which fidgeted over their clothes, played with twigs from the wood pile, drew images in the thin layer of sand that coated the floor. Geoffrey chewed at his lip and had done so for ten minutes. Samantha chattered quietly, her voice like the twitter of a small bird. Stuart and Kipper stared wide-eyed at the fire, and Rory changed position every few minutes, unable to still his legs and feet.

The ritual was a test of endurance for the children, but one they readily accepted. An annual event, Vincent had headed the expedition for many years as a way to prepare them for their studies, to teach them appreciation for all the wonderful worlds described in Father's books. It was also a time to dream … to grow. To imagine beautiful and impossible things.

Vincent, too, had embarked on such a journey. It was a rite of passage. A quest.

And it began, as always, with a story.

Vincent withdrew a large object from his bag. Without removing its cloth covering, he held it before the children. “Do you know what this is?”

They shook their heads.

“Come. Touch it. What do your hands tell you?”

They scooted closer and ran their small hands over the cloth.

Geoffrey slid his fingertips over one side. “It’s sort of round.”

Samantha sat back on her heels. “And hard,” she clucked.

Rory squeezed the object with both hands. “It feels … lumpy.”

Kipper’s hand slipped to the underside. “But it’s flat underneath. Is it a melon?” There was unbridled hope in his eyes. “Melon’s my favourite.”

“Melon’s not flat, dummy,” Samantha said.

“That is unkind, Samantha. We must respect the opinions of others."

Samantha lowered her eyes. “Sorry.”

“It’s not round when William cuts it. Then it’s round and flat. And sort of lumpy, too.” Kipper looked to Vincent for confirmation.

Vincent nodded. “That’s true.”

“See?” Kipper stuck out his tongue and Samantha crossed her arms over her chest. “Told ya.”

“What about you, Stuart?” Vincent asked. “What do you think it is?”

Stuart, always quiet ... pensive ... reminded Vincent of himself at the same age. He didn’t answer at first, his large eyes focused on the cloth casing, his hands moving over the surface – fingers pressing into it, searching for answers.

“A rock,” he whispered, after several minutes. “It feels like a rock.”

He did not speak again, but his hands remained on the object, as though it withheld some power, some magical property that must be revered. Vincent knew the boy had entered another world, his mind inspired to create, to take him where the others had yet to go. They will, soon enough.

He drew back from them and set the object on the ground. “As long as it remains covered, it is whatever you wish it to be. A melon ... a rock. When we remove the wrapping ... we see it's true form. But even then, there is more than meets the eye.”

He untied the cloth and pulled it free. The children gasped.

“Pretty!” Samantha exclaimed.

Rory reached his finger inside. “Kanin showed me one. It’s a g– ... a g– ...”

“A geode.” Winslow handed him a bowl of beans.

“Yeah. He said it grows in the ground.”

“And so it does. At least ... that is our understanding in this world.” Vincent cupped the geode in one hand and lifted it at an angle; the crystals caught the light of the fire. “But in far off kingdoms, beyond the tunnels ... beyond the cities Above ... geodes do not simply grow. They become. Born of enchantments and unseen powers.” The children shifted, and he paused a moment, building their anticipation. “In those worlds, they might call this a stone chalice. And within it, crusted over and shimmering ...” He pointed to the crystal shards. “These might be a dragon's tears.”

“But dragons don't cry.”

“They breathe fire!” Rory stood and roared over Kipper.

Winslow plopped down beside them and took Kipper on his lap, balancing his bowl in one hand.

“How do you know they don't cry? Do you know any dragons?”

“There's a dragon in the book Father reads us – Saint George.”

"That's a good story. But it's only one. What you kids don't realize is that the world Vincent talks about is real. He's been there … when he was just your age.”

“Did you go, too?”

“Uh well ... I was too old to go. I had chores to do and school work. That sort of mission is for young folks – like you.”

“Can we go, Vincent?”

Vincent smiled. “Of course you may. But you will not see the world as I saw it. And my story will be far less exciting than your own.”

Samantha came to Vincent’s side and he put his arm around her. “What are dragon tears?”

“I will tell you. I will tell you everything. And then … you must rest.”

***

“In a far off land where the sky glows like purple fire, there lives a dragon named Talimain. He is a good, kindly dragon, a gentle ruler who oversees all the animals, birds and magical creatures living in his realm.”

“What about the people?”

“There are no people.”

“Why not?”

“No one knows. People lived there once, a long time ago, but it’s been hundreds of years since they last appeared.”

“Oh.”

“All who live in Talimain’s kingdom greatly admire him. And twice per year, at the change of the seasons, Talimain holds a great celebration. All the animals, birds and magical creatures journey from their homes to share in the festivities. There is dancing, and laughter, and …”

“Like Winterfest.”

“Yes, Kipper. Quite like. Many creatures who attend the great event seek Talimain's wisdom, and he is glad to offer them guidance. Others are content simply to visit with old friends.

“It is a joyous time. There are feasts and music ... not unlike our music Below, though with instruments made of reeds and twine, and a type of wood unlike any you see Above or Below.”

“What colour is it?”

“The wood? It’s a colour indescribable ... with tinges of blue and yellow in the grain. It is very soft, enough so that it does not splinter, and smooth, too – like the worn velour of Samantha's favourite dress. The most intricate carvings have been designed on each instrument – representations of the flora and fauna within the kingdom. Many of the animals possess great skill with these instruments, and those who do not are satisfied to enjoy the melodies they produce.

“It was during the change of season that I first happened upon Talimain’s world. I was in this very cavern, with Father and Mary and a few others. It was late; everyone slept. But I woke in the darkness, and at the back of the cave, just there ...” He pointed to the far end of the chamber. The children followed his finger with their eyes, their faces alight with expectation. “I saw a glitter of silver and gold. Just a twinkle, but enough to draw me from my pallet to investigate.

“As I neared the flash of silver, it moved ... beckoned me even deeper into the darkness. I followed it. And then … something happened. I was not certain how, but in that moment when I touched the flash of light, I stepped beyond the boundaries of our world. There were no stone walls around me, no tapping on the pipes. There was only a gleaming forest at full evening, with twin moons that hung in the sky and dropped glittering dust upon the ground.
I stood at the center of a small glade, uncertain what to do next. Father and the others were asleep in the tunnels. And I was just a child … alone.”

“Did you cry?” Geoffrey asked.

“I considered it. But fear has no place in Talimain’s kingdom, and is quickly replaced by wonder and curiosity. Such is the nature of his land and all who dwell there. I lay down in the tall grass to stare up at the sky.

“As I became accustomed to my surroundings, I began to hear things – laughter, the call of birds, low voices that chimed upon the air. But it was the music that held me spellbound; the spiralling tones not unlike the sound of Samuel’s tin whistle ... though fuller, deeper – as if each note were crafted for my ears alone.

“After some time, I stood to find myself surrounded by all sorts of creatures: some I recognized – deer … owls … a white hare. There were mystical creatures, as well – animals of strange colours that looked like nothing I had ever seen. And there was Talimain … large and orange, his face lined with deep crevices. He exhaled puffs of smoke that smelled of lilies. To each of his subjects, he offered a kind word and a pat on the head as he passed.
“When he reached the center of the glade – very near to where I stood – he turned and looked at me. He did not speak, but when I held out my hand, he dipped his head so I might stroke his cheek.”

“What did it feel like?”

“Rough, smooth, velvety and callous … all at once. And there was such gentleness in his eyes. Understanding ... and love. He smiled. So did I. And then a sight drew his attention … something just past my shoulder. I turned to follow his gaze ...”

“What was it?”

“Was it big?”

Vincent smiled. “Oh yes, it was very big. Majestic and white, with a horn fashioned from the light of the twin moons – gold and silver twisted into a single crystal spike that sparkled in the night.”

Vincent looked at each of them, their eyes wide, bodies leaning forward, waiting for the great revelation.

“It was … a unicorn.”

“You saw a unicorn?”

“I did. Unicorns, as you know, are very rare. They only appear to the truest believers – formed from our imaginations, nurtured – until they become part of us. This is their magic.

“In Talimain’s kingdom, unicorns are a cherished gift … the most revered of all creatures. Just the touch of the unicorn’s horn can make a grown man immortal. This is why few adults of our world have ever seen one. It is too dangerous.

“But with children, unicorns feel safe.”

“How come?”

“Because children experience life as a series of moments. You love unconditionally, you trust, you treasure life. You do not wish to take the unicorns and keep their magic for yourselves.

“On the night I saw her, the unicorn was in full rapture. The caress of the music had drawn her from the forest and worked like a hand upon her, pressing her this way and that, twirling her in the tall grass. It was ... extraordinary. Like a dream ... or perhaps more like that place between dreams and waking, when you’re not certain what is real.

“As Talimain watched her, his large dragon belly blazed with waves of crimson and violet. He took my shoulder with his enormous clawed hand and pulled me against him. And there, cradled in the warmth of his embrace, I felt the rapid movement of his heart … a roll of thunder beneath his flesh. I looked up at him and saw that tears had formed in his eyes; the sight was more than I could bear. I, too, began to cry, and we two stood together, in the tenderness of the unicorn's dance, our souls unable to contain our joy.

“For long moments we remained so, until finally he leaned his great orange head to mine and whispered in my ear. His voice was watery and sweet … the sound of the tide washing over the sand. He set me on a stone near his feet, his tears raining over me. I held out my hands to catch them; they were hard and cold … tiny icicles in my palms, as beautiful as the unicorn’s horn. I fixed my eyes upon them and did not look away ... not until daylight drove purple flames across the sky.

“When my own tears had dried, I looked up to find that Talimain had gone. I was no longer in the glade, but huddled in the dark with my face against the wall of this chamber. I watched the others asleep around the fire, and I began to wonder: Had it been a dream?”

“How sad," Samantha sighed.

“No, Samantha. Not sad. When I stood to return to my pallet, something rolled from my lap. This ...” Vincent held the geode once again for them to see. “The stone chalice that caught the dragon’s tears.”

***

“What did he say to you, Vincent?” Stuart asked. He was rumpled and tired, his eyes heavy-lidded.

“I cannot share it. It was a secret between Talimain and me.”

Geoffrey caressed the geode, his small fingers coming to rest on Vincent’s hand. “I wish Talimain would give me some of his tears.”

“Perhaps he will. We can never know where our fortunes will take us.”

“I want to see a unicorn dance!” Samantha stood up and twirled about the chamber. Her small feet stumbled over each other and she fell onto the nearest pallet.

“Take care, Samantha. Remember that unicorns are shy creatures ... and very cautious. You must be patient and quiet, so they will not be frightened.”

“And on that note ...” Winslow stood and gathered the bowls for washing. “I think it’s time for bed.” The children groaned. “No, no ... no arguments. It’s been a big day.”

“Winslow is right.” Vincent rose to his feet and ushered them to their pallets. “This is only the beginning of our quest. You must be well rested by morning.”

“Will we visit Talimain tomorrow, Vincent?”

“You might visit him tonight. Or perhaps you will travel to another world ... one that lives inside you. The journey has begun. But now ... you must sleep. For with sleep, come dreams. And with dreams come the greatest adventures.”

 

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1. Lord Dunsany. Quest of the Queen's Tears

Double Geode on Vincent's shelf

Next – JoAnn

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