Ruby Red and Gentilberry Green: A Fantastical Romance - Part XXI

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the twenty-first part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen and Twenty. Updates every two days, barring minor mishaps.

Unlike her other aunts and uncles, who treated her with a kind of vague civility, Anne had never really managed to get anywhere near Uncle Matt.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t polite. He just didn’t talk to her, or any of her cousins, for that matter. He was the only man in the entire family without a wife on the horizon, and at this point, the subject was too threadbare to be worth the teasing. Year by year, the ribbing had become more and more like ripping, until at last Uncle Matt had quietly excused himself from Grandma’s table, only showing up on Devensday and Trivens.

He lived by himself now, in a small cabin by the Windleweed Brook, or at least the portion of it that cut through the farmstead. Anne had always wanted to visit, but when she found out about Aunt Mattie, she simply gave up trying.

She couldn’t ask, after all. It was just too terrible for her to look at his hard green eyes, his tight cheeks, the bitter wrinkles around his graying brow.

“Da, what if I…”

Simon shook his head.

“Just talk. He’s an old husk, but he knows how to listen. And he’s always had a soft spot for you.”

Anne swallowed, then knocked gingerly on the cabin door. Somehow, it felt just as alien as if it were on the interworld walkway.

“Uncle Matt? It’s Anne, your niece.”

“And me,” said Simon.

Silence. The burble of the brook mingled with the whisper of the long grass.

“In a minute,” came a quiet voice. There was a measured clatter, the sound of a man putting aside sharp tools. A latch clicked, and the door swung open.

“If I knew you were coming, Simon,” said Uncle Matt evenly, “I would have boiled some water. Can’t even make you tea now.”

“You can give my Anne the tea, or water, or whatever it is you drink here,” grinned Simon. “I’m just her escort.”

Uncle Matt looked at his brother without the slightest change of expression. If Anne didn’t know better, she would have thought he was being rude. This being Uncle Matt, however, it would have been a miracle if he had smiled.

“Are you going to come in, then?”

“No,” said Simon. “Not enough room in there, and besides, there’s nothing I need to hear. I’ll go look at your flowers. Ever thought of bringing some to Ma?”

Grand-Aunt Hazel, otherwise known as Grannie, was Da and Uncle Matt’s mother, and younger sister to Grandma Daisy, Ma’s ma. Now that Grand-Uncle Felix (or Gramps) was dead, she lived with Grandma and Grandpa Pete in their house at the center of the farmstead.

Given that Da also called his wife Lizzie Ma, it took a while for Anne to work out just who he was talking about. Her family was needlessly complicated at the best of times.

“Well,” said Uncle Matt, “you can’t eat roses, can you? I’ll bring her some next Devensday. And Aunt Daisy, of course.”

But there was no joy in his voice, and when Anne glanced at her father, she saw a twinge of regret in his eyes. She waited for him to round the corner, then curtsied to Uncle Matt.

“Thank you for having me,” she said, nervously.

“It’s not much of a welcome,” said Uncle Matt, looking at her with an inscrutable expression. “If you can handle it, you can try sitting on the bed.”

The inside of the cabin was bare. Next to the window was a long hard bed covered with a blanket of frayed red wool. An unlit iron stove sat in a corner, propping up a full sack of charcoal. Almost the entirety of the interior was eaten by a pair of sturdy oak benches, rubbed and worn to a dull shine. On these sat a quarter-log, pieces of excised wood, and a whole selection of iron knives and tools. Various wooden animals lined the bench, in differing stages of completeness.

“I didn’t know you whittled,” said Anne, planting herself on the bed. It was as hard as it looked, which was good. It made her feel more awake.

“I don’t,” said Uncle Matt, picking up a carved dog and scrutinizing it. “At least, not in the way I’d want to. The wood never peels the way I think it should.”

He walked over and passed her the dog. She turned it over, marveling at its natural pose and warm detailing. It was like a dog’s idea of what a wax seal should be.

“Seems plenty good to me,” she said.

“You should know better,” said Uncle Matt. “You’ve been to Necristo’s, haven’t you?”

She blinked. He knelt, and, very pointedly, took the dog.

“How did you know?” she asked at last.

“I can tell,” he said. “If you look hard enough at me, you’ll see it on me, too. The mark of his world, his house. The stamp of another plane.”

It was true. It writhed all about him, like a haze of uncertainty. Like the air of another celestial orb, or the pure fire beneath the moon. The sign that he had traversed the worlds and come back alive.

It was the same aura that had surrounded Aunt Mattie.

“I need your help, Uncle Matt,” she said. “You got there with a planesgate, didn’t you? Right here in Raglia? I need you to tell me where it is. I need to get back.”

“Why?” asked Uncle Matt. “Do you know how worried your parents were? Your grandmothers nearly died, they were so distraught.”

“I know, but…”

“If you can’t give me a very good reason right now, young lady,” said Uncle Matt, “then I’ll have to ask your father to take you home. This isn’t a joke.”

He was dead serious. Something very close to anger glittered in his eyes. Anne shivered, then said, trying not to swallow her tongue:

“I need to save Aunt Mattie. She’s still there.”

Even as she told the lie, she wanted to take it back.

Uncle Matt’s face broke into a hundred pieces. The hardness melted from his face entirely, like dried clay from a skull, leaving him shocked and nakedly vulnerable.

“Do you… do you really mean that?” he asked.

No, I’m so sorry. Please, I didn’t mean to say that, I…

“She is,” said Anne, hating every moment. “Please, tell me where the portal is.”

Uncle Matt turned and put his head in his hands, breathing deeply. Then he began to pace the room, urgently, with long desperate strides. At last he said:

“You’ll need a horse. Have you ever been to Heltria?”

Anne was so ashamed, she could only put her hands on her knees and shake her head.

Coin Marketplace

STEEM 0.20
TRX 0.12
JST 0.027
BTC 64187.97
ETH 3476.17
USDT 1.00
SBD 2.49