Chapter 3: Secret Garden
Dawn light the color of pearls lay in oblongs on the dark oiled floorboards, where it bled in through the multi-paned windows that the shaman had swept the drapes from. I approached the massive windows and looked out: the mist had returned, tinted lavender and gold from the rising sun. I lay my fingertips on the smooth glass; tendrils of fog clouded the glass where they made contact.. It was chilly, and made me aware of the warmth having returned to my fingers. I felt bemused, a sort of a inner analogue to the mist outside, covering my memory. Vague shapes bulked out of the inner fog, with various angles of shadow and different muted hues, but they seemed to have very little context.
I saw a lithe, dark figure outside walking across the grassland. Even from this distance, I could tell she was looking for something. Then, with a start, I recognized the characteristic lean of the shoulders and the way the figure had a light-weight scarf draped in a cowl around her head and neck.
“Gigi!” Her name burst from me, as if she could hear me from up here, behind thick window glass. I had a sudden piercing longing to speak to her. It seemed ages since I’d seen her.
I looked wildly around me. With the morning light streaming through the exposed windows, I saw much more of the room than I had before. It was indeed an enormous space, with much stone and polished or oiled wood, more drapes, the now-familiar fireplace, chairs and table. I saw the chaise, and a vague, stumbling memory of creeping fearfully in pitch darkness came. It wasn’t at all as far as it had seemed from the comforter-draped chaise to the fireplace as it had seemed before. Though the memory was gauzy-thin, it seemed that I had walked far more than just ten feet or so, my bare feet fumbling over cold stone, vibrant wood and exquisite rugs.
The thing that gave me pause, even through my frenzy to find Gigi, was the shelves and shelves of books that lined each wall: serious, heavy cherrywood shelves held volume after volume, all shapes, sizes, colors and (I would assume) content. It actually made me suck in my breath a little. But then, I spied a door and trotted toward it. I might have sprinted, but I gave up on sprinting years ago.
I paused at the threshold, peering into a long, gloomy hallway. I felt a frigid fear rise in my chest and throat. This place was safe. The hall was obviously not. Although light should have diffused into the hall from the undraped windows in the library, very little did. Only a few feet beyond the threshold, in fact. The rest was filled with almost substantial, blood-freezing black shadow. Waiting.
I gripped the smooth stone of the door frame with one hand, and lifted my other to the still-warm sun disk around my neck. I surrounded it with my fist. My hand felt warm and dry, like tinder about to be set ablaze. It buzzed and tingled. I lifted it, and saw that my fist was glowing faintly scarlet, as if I held a smoldering ember. I trembled, and then opened my hand wide, letting the medallion fall back to my breastbone with a thump that reverberated through my ribcage.
The sun disk blazed gold and scarlet, the light swinging, waxing and waning, flashing indecipherable messages into the hall, wavering and flickering on the deeply textured stone walls. The shadow substance paled in its glare, taking on the hue of ashes, of twilight (the loneliest time of day), and of drying mud. My arm fell back to my side, and I walked out into the hallway, a human flashlight. I turned right, which should, along with another right turn, take me to the expanse of grounds I’d seen from the library window.
The hall went on for a very long time, and I felt light, almost as if I were floating along. Bit by bit, I left even the last limp, gray shreds of the shadow-substance behind. From doorways which stood open along its length, shafts of daylight knifed in through the dusty gloom. Motes of dust danced in the air where light touched them. Sometimes, it seemed there were other, larger, slightly more colorful things flying around in those shafts of light, but I felt an urgency that made me unwilling to stop and take in the details.
Finally, I could see the end of the hallway; it dead-ended in a very bright, sunlit space. Whether it was glassed in or open, I couldn’t yet tell. I was losing my breath, yet still I hurried to the end of the hall.
A marked change from the rest of the mansion– what I had seen of it, anyway– the gallery that the hall opened into was all long, gleaming strips of wood, rich red-brown in color, and massive sheets of glass. Thin, delicate, pearled silver and gold light flooded through the window. The wood ceiling of the gallery soared several stories above my head. I felt almost like a dandelion seed– light, dry, fluffy, floating on the mercy of any breeze. The space was clear, open, empty of all but air and light.
I ventured across the vast expanse of flagstones floor, to a window, and I was struck dumb when I saw the panorama of one entire side of the island– the gray pebbly lakeshore, a thin silver line of water, and closer in, long wide belts of thicket and grove, all green and silver and gray-brown. I saw gardens laid out, both formal and wild, and to my left, a massive gray stone like a small mountain, covered in snarled growth.
I saw a tiny figure, black-coated and purple-scarfed, disappear into a gap in the trees. She appeared to be opening a gate and stepping through, but I was far away and I couldn’t see quite clearly. I looked hard at the scene for a moment, trying to fix in my memory the angle of the light, the direction of the shore, which particular dense mat of trees she’d disappeared into. I”d never be able to catch up with her.
My heart and my frame sank a little as I realized there was no way to follow her, to catch up with her. But I could go out there, out where she was, and try to track her down, or perhaps even run into her without my tracking paying off directly.
So this is what I decided to do.
The beautiful wooden gallery was up on a second or even third floor, so after poking around its periphery for quite some little time, I found a narrow, angled, dark stone stairway– doubtless a hidden back stairway and not the main one, which by rights should be very grand.
As I carefully navigated the shallow stairs, I noticed that I was no longer wearing my sandals. Instead, I was wearing knee-high, soft leather boots, almost like moccasins. They did not lace up like boots I was used to seeing, rather they were lashed about and around with a strong sash. The boots were ash-colored in the dim light of the stairway, the sash a rosy pink-purple. Strange. Yet even then, I did not continue to examine my new wardrobe, but cast it out of my mind and continued down the stairs.