If it weren’t for the fact that J.K. Simmons won the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role for Whiplash, I’d probably feel guilty for not posting last week, but now and then life just happens, and last week was particularly happening. Sorry about the unannounced absence. Hopefully that won’t occur too often.
While things were happening, I didn’t get the opportunity to work on the book (small house equals little privacy when people are home sick and your desk is the dining table), however I did write a bit of backstory on Elijah‘s parents, Isabella and Noel. Over the next few weeks I thought I’d publish it here in mini-chapters for your entertainment, though I may post other things here and there. It’s something you won’t get in the books (book one glances over it), but I hope you’ll enjoy anyway. Without further ado:
Nearly a year had passed since he left Fendhaim in the middle of the night, in search of something most believed no longer existed. Just one more year among thousands, Noel thought as he looked up at the towering wall of black looming over him, the Milky Way casting an eerie glow on its snowy peaks. He had expected to feel something once he arrived, an intrinsic connection to that place reassuring him of the things he had experienced. Instead, he was beginning to think Foote was right. Maybe they were all right, and he was chasing ghosts, but he couldn’t sit around anymore, waiting for miracles, training up an army of Nobles, and for what? A fight that may never happen? For a girl who might never be born? He had long considered that it might all be nothing more than stories, passed down for generation upon generation, until they became the stuff of legends, and none of it was ever meant to be taken seriously. Ten thousand years was an awfully long time, after all. Ten ages had come and gone, yet here he stood, and all he felt was cold.
As he breathed a cautious sigh, he watched his breath curl away, like a cloud before him, drifting off on a westward breeze. If he didn’t find the entrance within the day, he decided, pulling his cloak tighter around him, bracing himself against the furious chill that waited for him at the top of that mountain, he would head for home. Perhaps he should have told someone back home exactly where he was going or at least that he had left the Australia at last, in case something happened to him, but if Foote knew what he had gotten himself in to, he expected he would laugh himself blue in the face. Phileas Foote was no stranger to adventure. He had been all over the world searching for clues as to the prophecy’s meaning, some hint that might tell them just where or when the child might be born, so he knew all about chasing ghosts. Noel couldn’t help but think he had grown apathetic towards it after all of these years. Every time Phileas came home from some remote village, untouched by the modern ways of man, bones in his beard, face stained with the droppings of some rare tropical bird, they all laughed at him, and none harder than Noel. What he wouldn’t give to be back at the Iron Bones now, nursing a pint of honey mead with Phileas, Wells and the others, laughing as Murphy wove yet another tale of how Foote was caught deflowering the daughter of a tribal chief and just manage to escape with his head, trousers still hanging round his ankles. Instead he was contemplating over seven thousand meters of rock and ice, in the dead of night, following clues he had found in a dream. It was madness.
Phileas assured him before he left Fendhaim that he had already traversed the whole of the Australian continent and spoken with every rumored Shaman along the way, though none of the ones he held brief audience with were very eager to own the title, their world now being dominated by Christian men, who don’t look kindly upon magic of any sort. When he returned from his latest journey, he told the elders there was no point in spending anymore time there, that the aboriginal tales, while hinting at a deeper truth, were just like the stories of all men—distorted and confused, impossible to decipher because Fate had flooded their minds in the culling, as man’s punishment for their part in the Fall. Every one of the people Phileas interviewed told him the same thing, to look to the people north to find a true Shaman who could answer his questions, so he had looked to the north of that island until there was no further north he could go, which was when the last of the would-be spiritual leaders told him the truth: the real magicians were somewhere in the islands north of there, yes, but if one were to go looking, he would never find them, because such a place only existed in the Wangarr time, the Dreaming, the beginning from which the Aboriginal people believed everything came. That’s when Phileas Foote gave up Down Under.
But Noel was intrigued. The culture of these people, their stories, had been around for more than sixty thousand years, according to some, long before Fate cleansed the earth, even before the prophecy was set down in the Book of Ages. As far as he was concerned, the Shaman had been speaking in riddles. Rather than seeing this metaphor of looking to the north as one more unreachable, mystical end, beyond which mankind had none of the answers, Noel thought Phileas had failed to realize he was being tested from the moment he landed. Noel told him he should have asked about the Dreaming, asked the Shaman to explain, that the only way they were only going to get any real answers was if they learned the ways of the Yolngu people, the tribe of that last Shaman, taking their time to understand the Madayin law, not just throwing up their hands and walking away because their ideas seemed primitive. The Shaman had to see them as more than just balandas, white men intruding on their customs and faith, after all it was not so long ago that the balanda came into their lands and slaughtered many of the Yolngu clans driving them nearly to extinction. Even today they have difficulty trusting and understanding those who have for so long sought to change them, to force them to abandon their sacred history, he reasoned.
Phileas agreed he had not taken much time to really understand the people he met on his path, but still he refused to go back, except when he was needed at Perth, to help Paul and Henry with the training. So Noel, reliable, skeptical Noel, went to Fendhaim and volunteered to return in his place, telling the elders that he hoped the Yolngu would at least be able to give them some hint about the people who received the prophecy of the last hope ages ago, because it was obvious these people couldn’t explain why ten ages had passed and the prophecy remained incomplete. The Aborigines had survived the Fall and the upheaval of their lands during the culling, survived with their stories of ancient times mostly intact. Ten thousand years was a very long time to wait for the culmination of one prophecy, but sixty thousand years was a good deal longer. It was their best hope, he reasoned. Though Phileas advised against it, Noel insisted he would just go anyway if he wasn’t given permission, so the elders gave him three months leave to explore his ideas, and he set out that very night, before anyone else tried to convince him he was pursuing a lost cause.
It took him two weeks to find Taree, the last Shaman with whom Phileas spoke near Dhalinybuy, an isolated community in Arnhem Land. It took him a full month more to convince the old Shaman he had not cheated, by avoiding the test of Madayin, coming to him with knowledge his friend had acquired during his journeys, instead of learning for himself, “as all must do, as it has always been thus.” Early on, he stopped communicating with the elders as they grew impatient. By the time his three months were up, he had cut his ties all together, knowing no one would be able to find him if they came looking, as Taree rarely held still for long. In all, the past ten and a half months had been spent gaining the trust of the Yolngu people, wandering around at Taree’s side, learning their stories as told by the earth and the sky, learning their language and their way of life. When at last Taree told him he would be inducted as an honorary member of his clan, an adopted Yolngu, though the other men laughed at this notion, because only one born of Yolngu could ever be Yolngu, Noel was grateful enough for the things he had learned from these people, who derived so much of their identity from the distant past and the world around them, that he didn’t even flinch when he found out that part of the ritual ceremony was to drink an ancient potion that was meant to enable him to see the whole of the universe, a potion concocted from milk extracted from the root of the an-dubang and venom of the Taipan, among other deadly things. When they reached the sacred cave where boys were taken to become men, Taree told him he was either very brave or very stupid to embark on the path to knowing, as one who would never truly be Yolngu because he lacked a Wangarr spirit, but he allowed him to drink anyway, and he left him there, saying only, “Live or die, you become part of this place, Noel Loveridge.”
For three solid days, Noel lay alone, dying on the cold, hard floor of a cave covered in indigenous paintings that occasionally came to life and spoke to him of terrible things, though he did not understand them as anything more than indistinct ideas, but somewhere in between the dying and the drug-induced insanity he was living, he understood that he had entered what could only be described as the Dreaming, but in thus dreaming he did not see the whole of the universe, as Taree claimed those who reached manhood see, as proven by the scars borne by every initiate in their clans. Seeing was not the right word for what happened in that cave, because the fact was, once he entered the Wangarr time, he didn’t see anything at all, not even a vast expanse of blackness stretching on for eternity. Once he had slipped into that sleep, he had no physical senses any longer; he might have been there for only a moment or for a thousand years and it would have been no different to him. Instead he felt an answer, a single answer, clear and instantaneous, as though it were a part of himself and he had known it all along but required the Wangarr to show him: Four thousand miles away, hidden somewhere in Pemako, a place sacred to the Buddhist Monks of Tibet, nearly at the top of Namcha Barwa, the Breast of Vajrayogini as it is called by those men who go there seeking spiritual truths, there is an entrance to a subterranean paradise, where Fate speaks directly to those who would listen, for they had always listened.
Eight days after drinking Taree’s potion, Noel woke up from his delirium certain he had touched the creator himself. As soon as he was well enough to leave Arnhem Land he set out for Pemako, where Phileas Foote had already spent plenty of time searching for inspiration, but Noel hadn’t been thinking of that when he first left Australia. That was two days ago, when the euphoria still held him firmly in its grasp, but now he wondered if perhaps it had all been an actual dream, a trick of his mind suffering the effects of a highly potent mix of neurotoxin and hallucinogens.
He could almost hear Phileas laughing.
“All right,” he huffed, picking his rucksack up from the ground and slinging it over his shoulder, “one day’s rest is long enough.” Pulling the hood of his cloak low over his face, Noel took off into the night, soaring straight up through the thinning air, his breath turning to ice on his lips and chin the higher he flew.