A scientist who stumbles accidentally into a realm that defies the laws of physics (or does it?) might finally be close to getting back home to his wife and daughter.
I wrote this story for a private community blog whose members are dedicated to writing every day, starting with the Winter Solstice and into the Spring Equinox. Since I am sharing in installments there, I thought I’d do the same here, delivering the ending on Christmas Eve. I adapted a deleted chapter from one of my novels in progress to a Winter Solstice themed short story, and was thrilled to find the perfect home for it. I hope you enjoy Part 1.
A Leap Through the Elder Oak, Part One
Ray Jensen pounded through the trees, then leapt with blind faith into the hole as an arrow whizzed past his ear. The opening sealed over his head like it never existed, as he dropped thirty feet.
Experience taught him the precise point at which to fold his tall body for the landing, and he hit the ground, rolled over the floor covered in thick straw, and came to a breathless halt against a boulder.
He coughed and spat out a mouthful of dirt. Just once, he would like to enter the realm of the Sapphire Gnomes without coming close to breaking his neck.
His eyes landed on a pair of Antlered Hare boots and the bottom of a crooked staff. The voice above them said, “You’re quite good at that. And I can see it was necessary.”
The wizened gnome beckoned to Ray with his sapphire-topped staff as the human rose to his full height, his joints protesting this latest drop with a few popping sounds. The tall man stooped to allow the very small Fae to swipe at his cheek with a thumb, which he drew back to show it was covered in blood, then he shook his head.
Ray smiled and said, “I’m only as good as your charm over that entrance, Tsealie. I never have to doubt it will work.” He held up a moss-colored stone, flipped it in the air, and caught it.
Tsealie said with the eagerness of a true friend, “Were you successful?”
“Yes. I confirmed two important things. My theory is correct about my arrival being somewhere within the Forest of the Fire Maidens. And I found out that the king sent his youngest son to investigate the human who has been attempting to cross the same portal, using my invention. But the elves had me on the run before I could find the exact location.
Optimism crept into his voice. “When I locate the Elder Oak, who will battle with the Holly King at the winter solstice, it should be the answer to my problem. I was so close, Tsealie. But it wouldn’t have done me any good because as a non-magic user, I need help from the tree kings four days from now. Not today. If only I hadn’t wandered so far when you found me. I might have been home long before now.”
“I’ve told you many times it was a miracle an uninvited human survived the hazards of the Realm after wandering dazed over such a staggering distance. It is another miracle you’ve been here all this time without being discovered, and your odds lower with each search.” Tsealie made sure to admonish him in this vein every time he returned from an investigation, and Ray took it for the worry it was.
The gnome tossed in a little hope with his dire words. “It’s a relief you made it back today, so you can prove me wrong again. And I’m thinking your latest efforts might indeed lead to your success. But it seems King Seabrin has upped the security.”
“I agree. I believe it means the arrogant human he’s trying to keep out and who is responsible for trapping me here discovered something that amped up his attempts.”
By now the two of them were walking along a tunnel, the walls of which were thick with fat intertwining roots polished to a shine. The warm wood gleamed from every spot not covered by all manner of green lichen and white moonflowers. Oil lanterns lit their way with a pleasant orange glow.
“How long do you reckon I’ve been here, Tsealie?”
“You’re the physicist. What do you think?” Tsealie’s voice was not unkind. He simply didn’t want to give an answer that would cause his friend pain.
Ray heaved out a sigh. “Though it has only been two years in the Undine Realm, I calculate six have passed on the other side. My little girl has grown up… And I missed it.”
“I am sorry, Raymond.” To Tsealie, Ray was Raymond from the start. No one ever called him by his full name until he met his pint-sized rescuer. The use of his name now conveyed sympathy, which also etched itself in the wrinkled face and showed from the deep-set eyes under bristly eyebrows. And it was for more than the loss of his daughter’s childhood.
Tsealie knew well what Ray endured each day he existed without his wife, who was his partner in all things. They were physicists and university professors who’d been together since college. A single semester of chemistry was all it took for them to fall in love and they had been inseparable since. Both his girls would have been fascinated by this place. But he’d left them behind and the hole in his heart would not mend until he was with them again.
Ray refrained from rubbing his hand over that spot and returned to his report. “I heard another interesting piece of news,” he said with a note of suspense, then watched his friend’s face. “The king believes the man is after something called the Ruby of the Ancients. Do you know of this?”
To be continued…