I retrieved a small rectangular package from my satchel. It was neatly wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string, from which dangled a label with spidery hand-writing on it.
Not wanting to draw the attention of grabby skurries, I didn’t set the package down on the table, holding it out in my hand instead.
“What is it?” Owen asked.
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It was given to me by someone in the Wyrde Woods, back in Sussex. A Wise Woman. She told me to give it to Salamandra.”
“What is the Wyrde Woods,” Salamandra asked.
“A place in England, but not quite in England,” I answered. “Like an island within an island.”
She smiled. “I like it already.” Taking the package from me, she studied the label.
I knew what the label said, having read it a few times during my journey.
To Salamandra of the Lighthouse
Play, to drive worries away.
Yours, Sally Whitfield of the Owlery
P.S. Lasts Exactly One Hour! Use WISELY.
P.S.S. Self-ReCharging BUT at own
pace – it’s Sussex Stubborn (days –weeks).
I hoped Salamandra would be able to make more sense of it than I could. I watched curiously as she began unwrapping the package. I suspected some sort of legendary demon-vanquishing weapon would be of most use to Salamandra, but the package was small and light, hardly the sort of thing likely to contain a mighty smiting thing.
Salamandra uncovered a small, cardboard box. Opening the lid, she lifted out a small mechanical device with a tiny crank.
I stared at it, slowly shaking my head in disbelief. It was a small music box, just a child’s toy. It seemed a bit of a poor joke to send Salamandra a toy. I felt somewhat cheated, even though logic had already told me that the package was unlikely to conceal a flaming sword, or some such fiercesome weaponry.
Salamandra gave the tiny crank an experimental turn, delight on her face when she heard the first hesitant notes thus produced. She continued to turn the handle, and suddenly, seemingly totally out of place in the fortress-under-siege atmosphere of the lighthouse, the notes of Greensleeves rang out, vulnerable but compelling, the tinny sounds lent amplification by acoustics of the lighthouse.
The notes were contagious, and I could not help but sing along.
Alas, my love, you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously
For I have loved you well and long
Delighting in your company
Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight
Greensleeves was my heart of gold
And who but my lady Greensleeves?
I felt foolish when I finished singing and the echoes of the toy’s last notes died down. I looked at the contraption in Salamandra’s hand intently, waiting for something to happen…something spectacular. Magic, fireworks…anything at all to demonstrate that bringing the toy to Hopeless had a tiny bit of meaning.
“Nothing’s happened,” I pointed out, needlessly.
Salamandra shook her head in disagreement, a lovely smile on her face. “It’s filled my ears with beauty, and made me feel all the better for it. What do you say, Owen?”
I looked at Owen, concerned to see his face was thunderstruck, wide-eyed, his mouth opening and closing, but apparently incapable of coherent speech.
“Owen?” Salamandra asked.
Owen tried to speak, gave up, pointing instead at that which he was gazing at.
I followed his stare to one of the lighthouse windows, to see the colour of daylight spill in with glorious abundance.
We jumped up and rushed outside, to find ourselves bathed in glorious sunshine pouring down from a heavenly blue sky. It was just a patch, stretching about half a mile in each direction around the lighthouse, beyond which the murky gloom of Hopeless seemed more sullen than ever, but within that circle…oh my!
All sorts of things long dormant were emerging from the ground. Lush green grass was sprouting before our very eyes, and diverse flowers, representing all colours of the rainbow – and some unknown – unfolded to bloom in luxurious resplendence. Out at sea, aquatic beings large and small broke the surface to experience the wonder. On land too, critters, creepers, crawlers, floaters, and fliers were drawn to the circle, although at the circumferences I saw various native fauna and other…things…scurrying for the safety of shadowy fissures, or the Hopeless murk beyond our small kingdom of unexpected sunshine.
Scores of fluffbuns emerged, sniffing cautiously at the air first, with disbelief in their single eye, before rejoicing and frolicking about playfully.
Salamandra strode into a patch of green, spinning around, laughing, her arms outstretched to the sky.
“Daylight is a colour!” She shouted at me joyfully.
I nodded my head. I had never thought of it as such, but from the perspective of Hopeless, it was indeed a colour: A warm, radiant, cheerful, and homely colour.
Caught up in Salamandra’s joy, a dozen fluffbuns bounded over to her, running around her in playful circles, yipping excitedly. She lowered her arms, stretched out her hands, and a few of the fluffbuns leapt into them to nuzzle her fingers, or raise their heads for a chin-scratch.
The idyllic moment was spoiled somewhat, when Salamandra, – with snakelike speed –, closed her hands around several of the creatures, snapping their necks in quick succession, and then holding up the corpses. The surviving fluffbuns around her made off in a hurry, squeaking anxious alarm.
“SUPPER!” Salamandra enthused. “It’s a day of culinary delights!”
“I do love to see her happy,” Owen spoke at my side.
“Speaking of which,” I said. “A lot of readers would like to know when you two…”
“Tell them to mind their own business.” Owen smiled enigmatically. “I do not know this Wyrde Woods, but that Wise Woman has chosen her gift well.”
“It’s really just a toy,” I reflected. “The sun is nice, but…”
“NICE?” Owen shook his head. “I don’t think you even begin to comprehend the value of this…how it empowers. Don’t you worry, when Sal is finished revelling in it, she’ll find a way to put it to good use.”
“Well, then I’ll be sure to visit the Wyrde Woods again, and thank Sally Whitfield.”
Owen gave me a funny look. “Yes, you do that. If you ever make it back there again.”