03 – A Noddian Scorned

The rain falls on a slant as the old man looks toward the tower. His skin crawls with the prickly sensation of danger.

He told Merlin this would happen.

That old fool trusted them with too much power. Maab will easily overtake her sisters, destroying them before she realizes what she has done. The old man looks down at his sack. He needs another means of taking all this with him. “No time. No time to fix it. Think. Think. Think.” He mutters and taps his fingers against his temple.

His hair is graced with flecks of earth, giving him an even more animal-like appearance than usual. “You ass, of course!” With a snap of his finger, he snatches the bag up and like a small child, he leaps into a puddle. His entire body immerses into the water as if it is as deep as the sea.

He lets out a gasp as he appears in a dry, stone courtyard. The winter air is crisp and fresh. The waft of incense that comes from the building at the top of the hill brings the hint of joy to his heart. He does not step out of the pool, keeping the portal open. “You there. Girl! Tell your mistress, to keep these safe until I return for them.” His appearance is the polar opposite of before. He is now a pale, aged man, burly and weathered with druid markings painting his skin. His eyes are as blue as the water he is standing in, and he shoves the sack’s top into her little hands. “Do not let anyone else touch these things. This part is important. Only me.”

“Aye, I ken what you said,” she reports with a high-pitched squeak. “No one’s to touch yer soggy bag o’ books.”

He cannot help but smile, then falls back into the pool and lands with a resounding thud on the ground in Silver City. He had not traveled that far before and it is taking its toll. Since the discovery of water walking, he has been practicing.

His original priority was to verify that no one from the other side could find their way here by accident. As the years passed, he discovered how to make the water work, but it comes at great cost to the traveler. Magic always collects, and his tab is coming due. He lies still after he rolls onto his back to allow the icy rain to fall on his cheeks. His breathing is hard, and trembling from the effort, he barely hears the chimes from the clock tower nearby. There are eight muffled rings amidst the howling storm.

“On your feet,” the sharp tip of a rapier finds his chin. “And none of your funny business, old man. The crone wants you for questioning.”

He opens his eyes to be greeted by the Silver City patrolmen. He knew the price of using magic was to alert them to his presence. He is not sure how Maab accomplished the feat, but every bit of magic used in the kingdom by a Grimm is being tracked. His son, Lewis, was executed three midnights prior. He was accused of violating the Laws. There was no trial, no questioning, just a brilliant flash of light, and his son vanished from the stones in a shriek of pain. Since then, he has told his other sons to keep their heads down, and to not use magic of any kind until he could talk to Merlin, or now Maab as the case appears to be.

“I cannot very well stand with your rapier threatening to provide me with new ways to whistle, now can I?”

With reluctance, the patrolmen ease back. The one keeping his sword aimed right at him. The old man chuckles at their fear. They should fear him, but for now, he needs to be in the castle, and this appears to be the easiest way to gain access. With an uncharacteristic grace for a man of his age, he rises and motions for them to lead him to their Empress.

“Lead on, good sirs.” The entourage turns and begins to move quickly toward the castle. It is a long and winding walk. If not careful, one could get dizzy climbing the staircases of the central towers. He whistles, in spite of the seriousness of the affair. It is off-putting to people when a person whistles for no reason. He does know a cricket that whistled just for the sound of the music.

The closer to the summit of this glittering tower, the quieter his whistle gets. The pleasant distraction gives way to genuine concern for what he can hear from afar. There is a crack of a sound. As if the tower itself had been struck, and a sharp scream from the doorway above. He falls into the wall and sinks down, clutching his chest.

“No,” his voice croaks. “No,” tears well in his star-filled eyes. “Maab, what have you done?” He cannot breathe. The pain in his chest is tight, feeling as though a great troll is sitting on him.

The guard hesitates, part in fear, part in surprise. The storyteller is visibly wounded, and not a soul has touched him. He pulls his hand from his chest, frozen in place as he watches stardust floating from his fingers.

“Nimh,” his voice cracks and he struggles to his feet.

“Help her you fools,” he growls at them as he staggers up against the wall.

They abandon him and rush up with weapons drawn to the door at the top of the stairs. When they round the corner into the room, they stop in horror. In a jagged scar across where the balcony used to be, the wall is open, a smoldering mouth gaping open from the lightning strike. The wind is whipping furiously around. The draperies are tattered and burning. Flames dance along them in a malicious glee.

“No, Maab, stop,” his voice carries over the wind, but he is nowhere to be seen.

“You are all one.”

He closes his eyes as he tries to will her to stop. He believes he can do it. There has not been a Noddian he cannot control. Until Merlin.

“Silence!” Her voice is shrill and screaming. “You are as guilty as she!” She whirls around to come face to face with the patrolmen. Her appearance resembles more of a wild creature than the next Empress of Nodd. Her hair whips about in a ferocious, inky black cloud. Her gown flares and ripples as if it has a life of its own. Her hands are above her head, fingers outstretched. Blood drips from her left hand with a tiny gem, pulsing brightly, held in it. A fling of her hand sends the patrolmen crashing with bone-shattering force against the wall. Their lifeless bodies slump to the floor. She floats into the air and thrusts her hands down to land on the marbled floor with a thump.

“Be gone, liar. Take your stories and get out of my kingdom.” A stomp of her foot is followed by a crack, hairline and fine, dancing across the floor. It darts from Maab in the serpentine motion of terrified prey until it reaches the edge of the stairwell.

The stairwell begins to crumble. It’s a few pieces at first, then larger chunks, and quickly followed by whole steps. His eyes widen and he turns, starting to stumble along the wall, tripping, and then tumbling down the stairs. The walls disintegrate while the wind sucks any oxygen from the air as he is sent ass over teakettle down the fast-crumbling stairwell. He still could not draw breath. He could feel Nimh’s soul fading. His eyes close and tears fall at all he is losing, even as he tumbles down the endless flights of stairs. Nimh was so innocent, so pure with her sweet kisses on his cheek, the tender feel of her skin under his, the way she believed in everything. It made his soul roar in pain.

How could Maab do this?

It is the loud thud of him colliding with another door on a landing that brings him out of his mourning stupor. Maab appears satisfied that he would have died from such a fall off the staircase and has disappeared back into the room at the top of the tower. Barely able to see through the tears, he breathes hard and slow, forcing the air in and out of his lungs until he can feel his heart beating steady and sound. There is screaming and crashing from above, but as no one appears in the doorway, he will have to deal with that later. For now, he has to escape Maab’s wrath. His shaky fingers grope up the door until the levered handle gives way, allowing him to crawl into the safety of the room behind it.

While the landing outside is full of terror and destruction, this room is filled with serene music and soothing imagery. The walls are a rippling shade of blue, as if the depths of the Neverland Sea are contained within. From the center dangles a mobile of stars and the moon. Light shines down over the bassinet adorned with silks and flowers. He looks quickly from left to right, no adult. His brow furrows, and then he chuckles. “Of course she wouldn’t have a nursemaid for you. No one is good enough for her little moonbeam.” He pulls himself to his feet and examines his chest. There is a small open wound where his heart should be, and he closes his eyes as he puts his hand over it.

“Come what may,” he chokes back his emotions, “I promise to keep you in my heart.”

The words are plain and simple. That is the trick. Powerful magic does not always require a lot of flair. Those foolish philosophers in Greece, where he was birthed, never understood that.

In his short sentence, he binds himself to her. His immortal gift of slumber over death. No matter what Maab does to her, she will live. It is not even magic he has taught Merlin. The wound on his chest begins to seal. He wipes his hand on his trousers, and steps forward, towering over the delicate bassinet.

The pair of most lovely little eyes gaze up at him. They are as blue as the Neverland Seas, only to shift to the golds of Rumpelstiltskin’s hay, and finally turn to the Ozian greens of their seeing glass. Her skin is a pale olive color, reminding him of sweet chocolate melted with milk. Her hair has the hints of the ebony curls, like her mother, so precious and sweet. Ten fingers and ten toes, sprawl up at him, or the mobile; he isn’t sure. Her face lights up at seeing him and she coos enthusiastically. There is no name for her yet. She is a Grimm as much as a Noddian. Names have meaning, and nothing has come forward to dictate her path.

His heart weighs heavy as he knows what he needs to do.