Chapter 3: Welcome to Willowgrove
A cold wind began to blow and Fredy sat hugging herself in what little shelter the big rock could give her. For a moment she thought she had heard some music but then the wind blew stronger, howling through the trees and moving the uppermost treetops above her head back and forth.
But there it was again, music, and this time it came closer and grew louder, a melodic tune played by a flute. The sound came closer and closer until it suddenly stopped and a voice called out Fredy's name. She jumped to her feet. Her heart racing, she called out, “I am here, next to the big rock!”
A moment later, she saw three shadowy figures coalesce out of the darkness. One was very tall and skinny, one small and slim and the third not as tall as the first, but broader.
A light voice said, “Elder Felicia sent us to get you. I'm Miriam; you will be living with us. This is Fred and that is Paul. Paul, she needs a light to see the path.”
The pause that followed was only filled by the blowing wind and the eerie sounds of the dark woods around them.
“Oh, here it is,” a soft voice said and Fredy thought she had heard it somewhere before when a very strong hand grabbed her arm and pushed something cold and hard into her hand. Fredy tried to make out what she was holding, but it was too dark to see. She was just about to ask what this thing was and what she was supposed to do with it when it started to glow. At first, it glowed very little but then it grew brighter and brighter.
“This is a Glow Crystal. Just concentrate on the Crystal and you can make it shine. For now, it will glow long enough to get you home,” the boy named Paul said. The Crystal did not warm up in her hand as the light grew brighter, nor did it penetrating the darkness as much as Fredy had hoped for. She still could not see their faces, but she could see the path well enough. Paul took the lead and in single file, Miriam, Fredy and Fred followed. After a while, Paul started to play the flute again.
“You must be very hungry,” Miriam said. “You missed the feast.”“I'm sorry, but I wasn't really...” Fredy's voice drifted off, unsure of what to say. What possible
excuse could she have for not showing up to her own feast?
After a very awkward moment, Fred, who walked behind her, spoke up. “Don't worry about the feast, the people here understand. We have many orphans living here and they don't feel like celebrating at times either.”
“ALFRED! I don't think she needs to be reminded!” Miriam burst out, stopping and turning around so suddenly that Fredy nearly ran into her. “My mother saved you some food in case you are hungry. Did you know our mothers are cousins?”“Were … not are, Miriam,” Fred retorted.
“Fred, stop being such a jerk or I’ll tell on you,” Miriam hissed at him.
It wasn't too much further until they reached the first houses of the village. Paul and Fred said goodnight and walked off into the darkness. Miriam took Fredy's hand.
“Boys ... Please don't mind them. Usually they're alright, but sometimes...”
The girls had walked past several dark houses, only a few had still lights shining out of their tiny windows. One house had the front door wide open and the silhouette of a woman was standing in the doorway.
“Welcome home, Frederika. Have a good night.”
“Thank you,” Fredy replied.
“That's Clara,” Miriam whispered, pulling Fredy along, “she's the Shoemaker's wife and always knows when someone is out after dark. Here is our house. Looks like dad and my brothers are already in bed, but I'm sure mom is still up. She was so excited when she heard you would come and live with us.”
Fredy and Miriam walked up to a two-story house. It was too dark for Fredy to see the size of it, but it looked somehow larger than the houses they had passed. The upstairs windows were dark, only the two small windows on the ground floor had lights shining out onto the path. Miriam tramped up the front steps and opened the door.
Fredy followed and in the dim light she looked for the first time at her new friend. Miriam was smaller than her and very slim with long, strawberry blond braids hanging down her back. Fredy stepped into the kitchen and was at once encircled by the welcoming warmth and the wonderful smell of food. In the very middle of the room stood a large table, bending under the weight of bowls and platters of roasts, chicken, salads, pies and puddings.
“My goodness! What took you so long, Miriam?” A woman called out and rushed towards them.
She looked just like her daughter; slim build, but tall with her strawberry blond hair tied up in a bun. Her young and friendly face already had fine lines that showed in the sparse light. She inspected Fredy from head to toe and said smiling, “You must be Frederika. Yes, I see your mother and father in that beautiful face. Welcome, my dear. Welcome.” She embraced Fredy into a long hug.
Miriam took the Glow Crystal out of Fredy's hand and placed it on the mantle above the fireplace. The glow of the Crystal was already starting to fade.
“Did those boys make you walk without a light again?”
“I know the way as well as they do, Mother.”
But the woman shook her head. “It is dark and you went into the forest. Miriam, I was worried. You took so long. You always forget the time, especially with those lads.” She turned back to Fredy and said, “Anyhow, you must be starving. Come. I'll light a couple more lamps and you can sit and eat as much as you like.”
How wonderful the smell of the food was. Fredy sat down and began to fill the plate in front of her with roasted chicken, pasta salad, baked potatoes and bread, along with dishes that she had never seen before.
Miriam and her mother sat down around the table too and while both were sipping on large cups of hot tea, the mother began to talk. “Old Myra predicted a storm tonight. Well, you know she is getting older and if she gets one out of four predictions correct it's a wonder. But this time she seems to be right. Your father is still out helping to get the animals under shelter.”
“Are Jacob and Tommy with him?” asked Miriam.
“Jacob and Tommy are Miriam's younger brothers,” the mother explained turning to Fredy. “By the way, I am Emily and my husband is Carl.” and answering her daughter. “No, dear, they are surely not with your father. In the dark they would be under foot anyway. All the day's excitement tired them out. By the time we brought the last of the dishes over, Tommy had fallen asleep in front of the fire and Jacob could barely keep his eyes open. They have both been tucked in already.” She had just finished speaking when the wind picked up and rain drummed against the windows.
“Yes, there it is. Good old Myra got this one right. We should bring her some fresh eggs tomorrow, don't you think, Miriam?”
Miriam rested her head in her arms and did not answer. Emily looked over at Fredy who had just pushed her half eaten cherry pie aside. The good food and the warmth of the fire made her whole body feel very heavy and tired. It was hard to keep her eyes open.
“Oh dear! You two need to go to bed too. Come Frederika, Miriam will show you to your room. Have a good night.”
Fredy nodded slowly and pulled herself up. Miriam took a lamp from the kitchen table and both walked up a narrow set of stairs and along to the very end of a hallway.
“This is our room,” Miriam said, yawning. “You can sleep under the window. Good night.” She changed into her nightgown and collapsed on the second bed.
Fredy was ready to fall asleep in an instant. She changed into the white nightgown that lay out for her and laid her own clothes on the foot end of her bed. All the comfort inside her, the rain drumming, and the wind blowing outside made her fall into a deep and dreamless sleep.
“It's mine! I saw it first!”
“No, it's mine! I want it! Give it back, now!”
“I want to keep it! It's mine now!”
Fredy opened her eyes. For a moment she did not know where she was. The bright sunshine fell through the window on her face. She turned her head and looked, blinking around the small room. It was not much bigger than the two beds, each with a trunk at the foot end. The second bed was empty and neatly covered with a quilt.
Fredy stretched, sat up and looked out of the window. “I thought it was a dream, somehow,” she said to herself, rubbing her eyes. “What is the place called? Willowgrove?” She looked down onto the two dozen houses, built in a very foreign way with rocks and wooden boards intersecting and the roofs low-hanging so that people had to stoop down to enter through the small doors. Fredy was not sure what the roofs were made of. It looked like a mixture of straw, shingles and boards. Vines of all kinds grew up the outside walls of all the buildings. Most of them had small gardens and barns in the back. In front, the earthen paths were framed with beautiful flowers of all sizes and colors.
“Miriam, Jacob you have to run. You're late again.” A woman's voice drifted up from the kitchen underneath Fredy's bedroom and she wondered where Miriam had to be so early in the morning. But then she saw her and a smaller blond boy carrying books under their arms.
“Oh, right. They must be off to school,” she said quietly. “I wonder why no one woke me up.”
At that very moment, the door opened and in came an even smaller boy with freckles covering his nose. He looked at Fredy with big, bright eyes and a broad smile and jumped on the bed next to her.
“Hi! You're up! You want to come down? I can show you around.”
“Tommy! I hope you didn't wake her up. Please bring the Crystal you found back to Paul and thank him for lending it to us.” His mother gave him a loving pat on the back and he left the room.
“Frederika, my dear.” Emily turned to her.
“Oh, please call me Fredy. My parents always did...” Fredy stopped, suddenly remembering everything that had happened the day before. “Well, the people I lived with, you know?”
“Of course. Fredy, if you would get dressed and come downstairs for breakfast, Elder Felicia has already asked to talk to you.”
Fredy jumped out of her bed at once looking around for the clothes she had worn the day before.
“Oh, yes,” Emily said, “I took your clothes to the wash. Here is one of Miriam's dresses. These are the kind of clothes we make ourselves. It looks very different from yours. I will teach you to make your own, but for now you should be fine.” Emily pulled a handful of clothes out of Miriam's trunk and laid them on Fredy's bed. They were the same kind the Elder Felicia, Emily, and any other woman or girl that she had seen so far wore; white, long undergarments and a wide, dark grey, long dress, held together by a simple rope belt.
Fredy tucked the heavy Amulet carefully into her dress. The chain was so long that it hung around her middle. She felt a bit awkward wearing Miriam's dress. It was too small and short for her.
A few minutes later, she sat by herself at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. No one else seemed to be around the house. Fredy was used to listening to music or watching TV before school, but there were no electric appliances at all in this kitchen. Neither had she seen any evidence of electricity anywhere in the whole village. This was definitely something she had to get used to.
A sudden knock at the front door echoed through the small kitchen and Fredy looked around and waited for Emily to answer the door, but a second knock came and Emily was still nowhere in sight. Finally Fredy stood up and answered the door.
A tall, skinny boy of maybe fifteen or sixteen years with shoulder-length curly, black hair and a very sincere look on his face stood in front of her. When he saw her however, he grinned. “Ah … if this is not our little late-comer from yesterday,” he said, grinning he stepped past Fredy into the kitchen and sat down at the table.
Fredy closed the door and moved back to her breakfast. She had never seen a more handsome boy and he was actually talking to her and did not take his eyes off her. She was speechless and felt the heat rising up in her face. Embarrassed she turned away in the hope he would not see her blush while searching for something to say to him. Fredy looked around the room, finally caught a glimpse of the empty mantle and remembered. “If you've come for that Crystal, Tommy was sent to bring it back to you,” She said, hoping he did not hear the slight quiver in her voice.
“Crystal? Oh! You must mistake me with Paul. I'm Fred.” All of the sudden he jumped up reached out his hand towards her and bowed his head. “Alfred, son of Elder Aldrich of Elmbrook. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Frederika of Willowgrove, Heir of the Amulet.” He shook her hand and returned to his seat. “But most call me Fred,” he added.
“My name is Frederika Jonquil,” Fredy said confused, but he shook his head.
“Here you are ‘Frederika, the Heir of the Amulet’ or ‘Frederika of Willowgrove.’”
“Doesn't anyone have a last name around here?” she asked.
“Well, if we did, it would be the same, since we all more or less come from the same family. So what good would it do?” Fred laughed.
“And what is Elmbrook?” Fredy continued.
“Elmbrook was a village, just like Willowgrove before it was destroyed. Oh Emily, there you are.” He jumped up again but this time the chair fell over and his face turned a dark shade of pink. Still, without the slightest hesitation, he continued, “Mother sent me. She asked if you could come over this afternoon to finish the preparations for the betrothal.”
Fredy turned back to her breakfast, but could not stop giggling. How easily this good-looking boy with this irritating grin could embarrass himself.
Even Emily looked amused and said, “Thank you, Alfred. Please let Leah know, I will come over right after lunch.”
Without another word Fred picked the chair up and left the house.
“He is surely a good lad, but can be made to blush rather easily. Fredy, I need you to finish. The Elder Felicia has asked for you a second time, so please hurry and go to meet her. You will find her in the Meetinghouse, the largest building in the middle of the village.”
Fredy finished her breakfast and left the house. She went by a number of small houses. Some had their front doors wide open and Fredy could catch a glimpse of the people working within. One woman came out of her house, sweeping the porch and turning she saw Fredy.
“Oh, good morning dear. Did you have a good night?”
“Yes, thank you. Good morning,” Fredy replied. “I am looking for the Meetinghouse. Am I on the right path?”
The woman stopped sweeping and straightened up. “Yes, you are. It's just over there. Elder Felicia is summoning you very early. She must have a lot to tell you. I am Ruth, my husband and I are the Weaver of the village.”
“I'm Frederika Jon...” she stopped short, she remembered what Fred had said about her name was and ended quietly, “pleasure to meet you.”
When Fredy arrived at the Meetinghouse, the big wooden doors stood wide open, making her feel welcome. She lifted her hand to knock, just then the Elder Felicia appeared so suddenly in the doorway, Fredy took a step back in surprise.
'Good morning, Frederika. I am glad you came so soon. We have a lot to talk about.' Felicia walked a few steps past her and took a deep breath in the sunshine. 'What a wonderful day to start a new life. I think we should go up to the Big Rock where we can talk in peace.'
The Elder did not carry the cloak or the beautiful Silverbelt she had worn the day before, but the same long, grey dress Fredy now wore.
Together they walked along the small path and up the steep hill without saying a word. When they arrived at the Big Rock, Felicia sat down in front of it, leaned her back against it and signaled for Fredy to do the same. For some time, both looked quietly down into the valley. The sunshine bathed the village in such a magical glow that Fredy thought this must be a truly special place … the place where she and her mother were born.
'I will talk to you about your dear mother a little later,' Fredy heard Felicia say.
Fredy turned to her. “How did you know what I was thinking? And why can I hear you but you never move your lips? And why is everything so very different here than in town? And...”
Felicia's long, skinny hand touched her arm. 'We will talk about that in good time.' She smiled at Fredy and turned towards the valley again. Finally, she opened her mouth and said, “We are all very happy to have you back. But there are a few rules I expect you to obey:
You may not be outdoors at night unless you are with an older student or an adult.
You may not leave the village to venture into the forest and beyond without the permission of an Elder. Since I am the only Elder, you have to ask me. This is not to keep you bound to this place. This place is safe by day, but you have not learned to deal with the danger that could come in at night and which roams through the dark forest.
We are blessed that many rare creatures, Mystics of old, have found their homes in those woods. We do not want to harm or even scare them off by not paying them the proper respect that they deserve.” Felicia paused.
Fredy thought how awkward this place was and how strange all these people behaved and talked.
'You must excuse me, my dear. I am not used to communicating out loud so much.'
This was at least the second time Felicia had known what Fredy thought.
'You do not know how truly special you are.' Felicia smiled. 'Each one of us has a very special gift, a unique power; but you are extraordinary … even in the Realm. For your safety and ours as well, we cannot let Outsiders into our valley. Nor should we move too frequently into the next town and beyond.'
“Outsiders?” Fredy asked.
'Yes, like the people who took care of you.'
“You mean my parents? They can't visit me here?”
'No, your parents were Heir Danielle and her husband Frederick, not Mr. and Mrs. Jonquil.'
“Why?” Fredy asked. “Why the secrecy? Why can't we be together with the Outsiders? Why are we so special?”
Felicia looked Fredy straight in the face. 'We are Seer, my dear. Silent Healer. We are different from the people we call Outsiders and it is our duty to preserve the powers we have inherited from our parents. It is my experience if people are confronted with what they do not understand, they will feel frightened. It would be foolish to lose our uniqueness or risk the exposure of our world due to a confrontation.'
'You, Frederika, just reached what we call the Magic Age. Starting Monday morning in school, Teacher Elias will instruct you how to use these very special powers of yours.
We should now talk about your beloved mother.' Her smile faded away and she looked back out into the valley. 'I saw your mother growing up. She was a very brave woman. She lived all these years away from us to protect you and our kind. You know, if one part leaves, the village is not whole anymore. That part will always be missed. Your mother was a very big part of this community. She summoned me just before she died. I am sorry to say by the time I reached her she was already gone … gone to your father. We buried her next to him over at a place we call the Sighing Willow.' She pointed at a place close to the village where a big Willow tree stood, overshadowing a small stream. 'That will be enough knowledge for today. I would like you to go back to the village. You may visit your parents’ graves or do as you please. Please remember not to leave the valley, my dear.'
“Yes, Felicia,” Fredy said quietly. Slowly, she stood up and walked down the hill towards the big Willow. Fredy was surprised how easily she could find this peaceful place. In the bright sunshine she saw a handful of graves spread out in the shade of the long, drooping branches, swaying in the light breeze. A tiny creek ran next to it murmuring among the rocks.
She sat down between her parents’ graves and heard the Willow sigh. Somehow, this did not surprise her. It was the perfect place to sit and sigh. Fredy sat with her head in her hands, so heavy with a million new questions. Would she ever know all the answers?
The time went by. It was nearly lunch time when she left Felicia at the Big Rock. That seemed ages ago. Surely the afternoon would soon be over. Fredy sighed. The Willow sighed.
More time passed and she was still sitting underneath the tree. Fredy dried her wet eyes and looked around at the other graves. The headstone next to her mother’s read: Elder Aldrich of Elmbrook with a date four years earlier.
'This must be that boy's father,' she thought. All the graves had an abandoned feel to them, as if no one ever came to visit them and brought fresh flowers. Fredy remembered that Danielle always liked sunflowers and she thought back where in the village she had seen some. Maybe she could go and pick some for the graves. Fredy stood slowly up and dried her face with her sleeve.
“And here I'm thinking ‘she either likes to be late or she doesn't care for our food.’ You know, lunch is long over?”
Fredy looked up in surprise. Next to the stream stood Fred with a bunch of flowers in his hand … sunflowers.
“I hope you are not mad at me for channeling you, but I needed to find you.” He nodded at the flowers. “You were looking for these?”
“Oh, yes. I thought they would look great on the graves. Thanks,” Fredy said. Hesitating, she walked over to Fred, who made no attempt to cross the creek, but stretched his arm out with the flowers. Fredy took the bunch and separated them to arrange several little bouquets for her parents’ graves and the one next to them.
“Thanks. I'm not allowed too close to my dad's grave anymore.”
“Why?” Fredy asked, lovingly placing the flowers on Fred's fathers' headstone.
“Well, we believe we should have a good grieving time for our loved ones. But the thing is if it takes too long, the Willow will stop sighing and start slapping or even beating you up. When that happens, you can't come too close anymore and you are forced to move on with your life.”
Fredy looked up into the peacefully swinging branches and heard another great sigh. “Isn't that a bit tough?”
“Well, isn't it tougher not to move on?” Fred asked back.
“I don't know. I'm new to this grieving thing. I only just found out that Danielle was … you know … my mom.”
“My mother actually sent me to invite you for dinner if you would like. Miriam will be there too.”
“Yes. I think I would like that.” Fredy took one last look at her parents’ graves. Then she turned and followed the tall, slim boy.
Fred was over a head taller than her. Walking next to him felt more like walking next to an adult, or at least a much older brother. They walked along the stream when Fredy asked, “What did you mean when you said you channeled me?”
Fred took a while to answer. Only when Fredy stopped walking and looked expectantly at him did he start to mutter. “Well, I'm sorry. really sorry. Please don't tell anyone. I know I shouldn't have, but I needed to find you.”
“No. I mean what is channeling?” Fredy asked again.
“Channeling is the way we Seer communicate. Without speaking aloud, we have the gift to listen to other peoples thoughts. But other than in direct contact, it's kind of forbidden. And without an emergency, you can get in really big trouble. You know, just because you can doesn't mean you should.”
Fredy thought for a moment. “Is this like hearing voices in your head?”
“That's what channeling sounds like, yes. I can hear your thoughts and send you mine.” “I always heard these voices just before I went to sleep until last night and I never liked it. I don't think I can channel. I have never read anyone's mind.”
“Oh, yes. That was Paul. He wasn't supposed to channel you. No one under-age was, but he did it for a dare and he got in huge trouble for it.” Fred looked straight ahead, but Fredy could see a slight grin on his face.
“Why did they channel me if I didn't know how to answer?”
“The adults always channeled the Heir … your mother. When she was gone, they started to channel you. Just to have some sort of contact, I guess. But they were not allowed to tell you about us. That's why under-age Seer weren't allowed to channel … in case they said too much and put you and us at risk.”
Fredy thought for a moment, not looking up into his handsome face. Then she said gloomily, “I don't have any gifts.”
Fred looked back at her in surprise. “You do. You are the Heir of the Amulet and with that you are one or possibly even the most gifted Seer in our time. Don't worry. Old Elias will teach you how to use your powers. Elias is the Schoolteacher here. Miriam can't channel yet either. She is so easy to tease.” Fred's face turned into a big grin. “Come on. We are nearly there.”
They walked on a little further until they reached a very small house next to a large fenced garden.
“Here we are. Welcome to our home.”