Sophie kept me from being able to untangle my tongue enough to ask. She’d been to some place called Firgrove to talk to her friend Minka and check out the new race there. Now she thought she knew how to make a similar race in the Hollow Woods, but she had a few things that needed done before we could try it for her. Namely, some rare flowers needed moved before they ended up trampled.
Savvy didn’t let me get a word in edgewise while we were hunting down these flowers. I think she was afraid of me asking her about Heart. It was pretty much confirmed when she took off at even the hint of Sophie needing us to do something else. I frowned, but decided not to pressure her. She’d tell me if she was ready to talk about it. We had to run the race one at a time of course, so that helped her avoid it for a bit longer. I wasn’t sure I liked how this one wove in and out of the trees and cattle fences, but Evening seemed to enjoy it.
All the way to Elizabeth’s, Savvy chattered about the race. I wish she wouldn’t try so hard, it was just making it that much more clear how she didn’t want to talk about it. Elizabeth was waiting for us, helping cut her off. It worried me a little though, that she was waiting. My neck was tingling again, and I didn’t want any more strange, near-mystical things happening near me! But no, it was just that Alex had texted her. I felt ridiculous.
Elizabeth had to be thorough about making sure we were willing to keep helping with this problem. I understood her worries, I think. After all, we were a couple of teenagers here for what was supposed to be a summer camp, not heroines in some young adult novel or one of my video games. But it wasn’t right for Alex to be the only one concerned about Linda, and if the other adults weren’t going to do anything, well, the teenagers were going to have to! I agreed right after Savvy did.
(I’m trying to be braver, not stupider. I’m not doing this alone!)
She then gave us a stick and told us to go up to this circle of rune stones. We were to focus on the images there and wave the stick in front of each one. I wondered if we would be saying, “Abra Kadabra,” next.
The rune stones were easy enough to spot, once we got to the top of the road. There were four, three on one side and the fourth on the other. A star, a sun, a moon, and a lightning bolt. All celestial symbols, or at least sky related, interestingly. The tingles on the back of my neck suddenly got a lot stronger, and it felt like sometimes, when I heard Daddy or Mummy playing their violins, or when I played and really felt my sound. I fidgeted with the reins and bit my lip. Neither of us was really willing to go, but finally Savvy insisted I take the stick and go at it first.
I started with the one closest to us, the lightning bolt. All that came to mind was the pitter patter of rain as it hit my window, the deep rumble of thunder like a drum. Feeling utterly ridiculous, I waved the stick around.
The stone glowed pink, very faintly. I squeaked and almost dropped the stick. Evening snorted and shook his head, quickly moving on to the next. Swallowing, I did it again and the same thing happened with the moon as I thought about Daddy’s violin, of the dark and deep sadness of his music, no matter what he played, and only at night when I had gone to sleep. And with the sun, when I thought of Mother and the video I had seen of her playing, so cheerful and light, like a summer day. That finished the three clumped together, and just left the star.
This one, Evening stopped in front of and pawed at the ground. Did he know something I didn’t? The tingles had gotten worse, and my hand was shaking. What did I think of when I thought of stars? I thought of little lights, sweetly singing their own song from their frozen places in the sky, seeming to be free but in fact being trapped. Caged birds. I waved the stick again, expecting the same faint glow.
Instead, it lit up like a firecracker.
I squeaked and turned Evening back to Savvy. I shoved the stick at her like it was an artifact of Eden and just stood there, shaking as the light faded from the stones. Evening shook his head, making his mane flop from side to side, and I could feel his disapproval. I don’t know why he was taking this so calmly! This wasn’t something that science could explain away!
And it was happening again with Savvy. Only for her, the moon symbol was the one that was so bright. I bit my lip at her question about what was going on. I didn’t have an answer, and that was about as scary as anything else could be. This wasn’t something I could look up on my phone or pull out of my head from a book I’d read.
We went back to Elizabeth, who looked just as unsettled as we were once we told her what happened. Not comforting. She told us not to talk about it, except maybe with Alex, and then sent us over the mountain to Firgrove, giving us a yellow helmet a piece for safety reasons I’m sure. There was apparently a pass between the two villages, via the lake.
The pass was an overly worn game trail with fence railing in places. We had to almost slow down to a walk to turn down the path, which made Evening cranky. That or the fact I wasn’t paying much attention. I was too distracted by fretting over what had just happened. Savvy seemed to have been silenced as well, and I didn’t press for conversation. I wasn’t ready to talk about what had just happened, and I definitely wasn’t going to press about the horse thing after all that!
Firgrove made me cringe a little. I’d seen pictures of castle walls fortified like that, in defense against predators and attackers. What on Earth warranted such measures here? And how did the forest recover from such a hit? The village was similar, all the buildings being of log-make, once you got through the split opening (another defense tactic, seriously, who was invading?!). The stable’s back was butted up against the middle wall, and the head stable girl was standing there.
Her name was Felicity, and she was eager enough to welcome us. I suspect she was just happy to have an occasional hand with the chores. She gave us both sweaters in case we were chilled. I appreciated the gesture, but it was wasted on me. I’m used to chillier summers. I took the sweater rather than argue, of course, tying it around my waist. Savvy mentioned we were looking to talk to someone who had been there a while, which ended up being both easier and harder than we thought it would be. Firgrove has a large elderly population. Savvy asked me if castles had retirement cottages and that’s what this was. I shrugged cluelessly. I knew a lot about interacting with nobility, I wasn’t one and had no intention on becoming one, despite Mummy’s wants. And I definitely wasn’t familiar with the elderly. Both my grandparent-sets were dead and Mummy’s parents didn’t want much to do with me.
I learned what I had been missing out on. Not much. We finally found someone who knew something. Mrs. Packard actually paid rent to John Sandman, and she thought he might have served on the town council in 1959. She went to find an invoice or something while we talked to Mr. Franklin, who was the councilman here. We asked to see a picture of the council, and goodness, did that throw him into a tizzy!
The ghost rider or Sabine or whoever she was had already been here, and she’d cut Mr. Sandman out of the picture. He didn’t know who it was, but there she was again! He started shouting at her.
A complete waste of time. Evening snorted, and he and I were instantly on the same page. I adjusted my seat even as he took off at a dead run. If the courtyard hadn’t been paved, he would have ripped it up with his hooves to dig for traction. I leaned over his neck, moving with him to help him go as fast as possible. Savvy shouted that she would head her off on the other side, I assume at the split entrance. I focused on staying on her tail. Khaan might have been intimidating, but nothing could get between Evening Star and what he wanted to run down.
Which was perfect for when Savvy came around the corner, jostling Sabine. I didn’t think, tightening my legs around Evening’s barrel and lunging forward with both hands. I caught the picture, and Evening ran in a diagonal line until I righted myself in the saddle, pressing the picture to my chest to keep it safe. I waited for Savvy, and we took the picture back to Mr. Franklin.
He quickly went to make a copy and get us out from underfoot. I think he’d had more excitement than he was used to, and was ready for it to be over with.
Mrs. Packard had found the invoice, and even a couple pairs of pants, in her back room for us. I eyed the bright fuchsia and bit the inside of my lip to keep from saying what I was thinking. The way Evening shook his head, I knew he didn’t like them either. But I couldn’t say no, so I tucked them away in my saddle bag without really looking.