Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Five Hundred and ten : The fourth fairy queen

CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED and TEN

In between sleep and awake, Jacob floated in a cool stream of water. He was finally free of the heat that had seemed to enter his very soul. His breath deepened and he fell into a deep dreamless sleep. He was so tired that this kind of deep sleep was the only solution to help him feel better.

He breathed.

He floated in the stream.

He slept.

Time passed unnoticed. Day shifted to night and night shifted to day. All that mattered was his breath, the cool stream, and this healing sleep.

And then, for no rhyme or reason, he was awake. Not quite conscious, he tried to sit up.

“Carefully,” a familiar female voice near him said.

“He’ll drown!” a hard male voice said. “Put him back to sleep. Now.”

Deep sleep returned.

He breathed.

He slept.

He wasn’t floating any longer. Instead, he was lying on the most comfortable bed. He felt his body now — strong and able. He felt no pain or stiffness. Even the old injury in his shoulder was pain-free. On this bed of clouds, he felt whole.

Time passed.

He felt a small cool hand on his chest. He was instantly and completely awake.

“Slowly,” the familiar female voice said.

“I can’t see,” Jacob said.

“You are blind folded,” the familiar female voice said. “I’ll take it off if you promise me that you’ll just open your eyes. Don’t move.”

“I promise,” Jacob said.

A heavy cloth was unwound from his eyes. He felt the texture of the cloth as somewhere between heavy linen and sticky cobwebs.

“Where am I?” Jacob asked.

“You are in Olympia,” the familiar female voice said.

“Hedone,” Jacob whispered.

“It’s a great honor to be here for human, especially an adult,” Hedone said, her voice light with laughter. “You are the guest of my grandfather Ares at the request of Lord Perses. You’re being attended by the cherubim. You won’t be able to see them or hear them. Just know that they’ve been attending you. They are here now.”

“Thank you, cherubim,” Jacob said.

“They actually like you quite a bit,” Hedone said. “They were glad to have a chance to help.”

“Why did I need their help?” Jacob asked.

“You were cooked through and through,” Hedone said in a light voice. “You even dried out the water in your eyes!”

Jacob saw more light every time she unwound the fabric from his face.

“Fairies,” Jacob said.

“They do ask a lot of their friends,” Hedone said.

Jacob tried to sit up but was held in place by a force he couldn’t identify.

“You must rest,” Hedone said.

“But the fairy queens! The war!” Jacob said.

“Yes,” Hedone said. “That is no longer your concern.”

“It’s all of our concerns!” Jacob said. “They will destroy the world.”

“They might have,” Hedone said. “Certainly. Lie back. You’re not well.”

Jacob lay back onto the comfortable bed.

“What’s changed?” Jacob asked.

“Why, you saved the fourth queen, of course,” Hedone said.

Jacob didn’t say anything for a moment. As the light brightened, he began to feel searing pain in his eyes. He grimaced but said nothing.

“The cherubim tell me that you’re feeling pain from the light,” Hedone said.

“Yes,” Jacob managed.

“You aren’t ready to have this removed,” Hedone said.

Jacob thought that he heard a sound of something. He blinked and he was in darkness again.

“You need more rest,” Hedone said.

“Wait,” Jacob grabbed Hedone’s hand. “Tell me.”

“I will tell you anything if you will rest,” Hedone said.

“I promise,” Jacob said.

“What can I help with?” Hedone asked.

“The queens — they won’t destroy their sister?” Jacob asked.

“They cannot,” Hedone said. “She is more powerful than the three of them combined, more sure of her own mind.”

“She’s just a child,” Jacob said as sleep began to catch up with him.

“She is more than she looks,” Hedone said.

Jacob grunted.

“It wasn’t just Fand that was missing her balance,” Hedone said. “The four of them needed their sister.”

“But …” Jacob fought against sleep and tried to sit up again. “They need our help.”

“They have the help they need,” Hedone said. “You made sure of that.”

Jacob drifted off to sleep on his bed of puffy clouds.

“Sleep, dear Jacob,” Hedone said. “You’ve saved the world again.”

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday mid-day — 1:17 p.m.

Exhausted from the hard studying not to mention caring for two toddlers, two infants, and two young children, Jill gave herself the luxury of “just lying down for a quick nap before the older kids get home.” She situated her twins in a crib which she rolled into her room. She set the infants into their car seats and buckled them in. Paddie and Katy had just had a snack and were now reading in Katy’s room. She set the alarm on her clock, her watch, and her cellphone.

Twenty minutes of good sleep. That’s all she needed.

She dropped into a deep sleep. In her sleep, she found herself wandering an open, grassy landscape. As if she were called somewhere, she wandered through an open field of grass. The day was warm and the sky was blue with big puffy, white clouds.

She had sense that she should know where she was walking. Someone had told her all about this place. She might have even been here before. She shook her head. She had no idea where she was.

She felt safe and happy.

In the distance, she saw a large picnic blanket laid under a thick trunked tree with palm sized leaves. Someone waved for her to join them under the shade of this tree. Jill waved back and jogged to the spot under the tree. She got close to the blanket and she stopped short.

“Hedone,” Jill whispered.

Jill did something between a curtsy and a bow. Hedone laughed. Her laughter was like a bell on the wind. The goddess jumped up and went to hug Jill.

“Please,” Hedone said. “We are friends.”

“I am friends with Heather,” Jill said, mildly.

“You are the daughter of a Titan!” Hedone said. “In the scheme of things, you hold a more regal position that I do.”

When Jill didn’t respond, Hedone leaned in and said, “I am what Heather looks like on the inside.”

“Where am I?” Jill asked.

“You’re in Olympia,” Heather said.

Jill started to laugh. Hedone hugged her again. Letting go of Jill, Hedone took Jill’s hand and led her to the blanket. Jill sat down and leaned back. Hedone poured Jill a glass of champagne and revealed a decadent chocolate cheesecake with fresh raspberries.

“It’s …” Jill’s voice tapered off. After a moment, she added, “ …perfect.”

“Good,” Hedone smiled.

Jill drank her wine and set the glass down.

“Why am I here?” Jill asked.

Hedone looked at Jill for a long moment.

“Please tell me,” Jill said. “Heather would never hold it back. She’d just blurt it out and expect me to deal with it.”

“It is my way,” Hedone said.

“Then tell me,” Jill said.

“I am waiting for a status update,” Hedone said. “I thought we could have some calorie free cheesecake, drink champagne, and wait for answer to things outside of our control.”

Jill sighed.

“It’s about Jacob,” Jill said.

“It is,” Hedone said.

“Is he dead?” Jill asked.

“Not quite,” Hedone said.

“Not quite?” Jill asked with a snort. “What does that mean?”

Jill looked at Hedone for a long moment.

“Please tell me,” Jill whispered.

“The easiest way to describe is that he used up his body,” Hedone said.

“Used up his body?” Jill repeated in a low tone. She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“He endured unbearable heat to save the world,” Hedone said. “The heat baked away his body. He has a great force of will. He used his will to rescue the fourth fairy queen. At completion of this act, he would have expired, but the creature you know as ‘Abi’ was there.”

“Abi saved him?” Jill asked. She leaned forward. “Can she do that?”

“Abi is … more than you or even I can understand,” Hedone said. “She is made of the earth in such a way that she is the earth — every cell, every creature, every thing. They are a part of her. We are a part of her.”

Hedone nodded to see if Jill understood.

“What did she do?” Jill asked.

“She called to the very substance of the earth and the creatures that put it together,” Hedone said.

“Creatures?” Jill whispered. “That put the earth together.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me either,” Hedone said.

“What … um … what is happening now?” Jill asked.

“The simplest way to describe is that he is being rebuilt,” Hedone said.

Jill didn’t say anything. She looked off into the near distance. Her eyes flicked to Hedone.

“Can I see him?” Jill asked.

“Not yet,” Hedone said.

“I can heal him.” Jill’s voice cracked at the word “heal.”

“Not this time,” Hedone said.

Fat tears started to roll down Jill’s face.

“It’s my fault,” Jill said. “I told him that I would heal him. ‘Go save the world.’ I even laughed. How arrogant can you be? And now … I just never thought that …”

Hedone knew that there was no reasoning with Jill’s guilt. She waited until Jill’s eyes flicked back to look at Hedone.

“Jacob did this himself,” Hedone said. “Without ego, he stepped into danger to rescue the fourth queen. She was terrified. She would never have entered the world without him.”

“And now?” Jill asked. “Those queens couldn’t get along with the kindest dog, let alone each other.”

“The queens have exactly what and who they need,” Hedone said. “This should all be resolved by the end of the day, possibly by the time you return to your bed.”

Jill watched Hedone’s face.

“The crisis has been averted,” Hedone said.

“And my husband?” Jill asked.

“He is being rebuilt by the very creatures who created the world,” Hedone gestured to the world.

Not sure what to say, Jill poured a glass of champagne and drank it down.

“Your father is with him,” Hedone said. She cut the cheesecake and gave a large slice to Jill. “Lord Perses says that Jacob is on the mend.”

“What does that mean?” Jill asked.

“He’s not out of the woods,” Hedone said. “But he is a lot better than he was.”

“I hate those fairies,” Jill said. “I swear, when I get home I’m going to end our connection with them — for now and forever. Those … bastards!”

Hedone grinned at Jill.

“What?” Jill asked.

“You can do that,” Hedone said. “But it’s unlikely.”

“I will do it!” Jill said. “You have no idea what I’m capable of.”

Hedone’s grin shifted to a laugh. Jill jammed her fork into the wedge of chocolate cheesecake. She took a bit and purred with joy. She ate a few more bites before shaking her head.

“Oh fuck, you’re right,” Jill said with a sigh. Jill shook her head. “I’m so weak!”

“You are not weak,” Hedone said. In a gesture that was pure-Heather, Hedone reached out and grabbed Jill’s arm. “You’ve always known that this is who Jacob is. You cannot keep him from what he was born to do, any more than he can keep you from what you were born to do.”

“What was I born to do?” Jill asked, ruefully. “Be a slave to fairies? Birth children like a cow?”

“To love well, heal often, laugh generously, and push the magnificent around you to achieve their greatness,” Hedone said with a nod. “Before you say that you’re not magnificent, your magnificence awakens the latent magnificence in others. That is how it works.”

Unsure of what to say to the goddess that was her friend, Jill started to cry. Hedone would never dare to take this awakening away from Jill by placating or soothing her emotions. Instead, the goddess held onto Jill’s arm as she cried. When her storm has passed, Jill looked into Hedone’s face.

“I should get back,” Jill said.

“Time bends,” Hedone said. “Please. Stay as long as you need.”

“I’m okay,” Jill said. “How is Jacob now?”

Hedone looked off into the near distance. She was silent for a moment before her eyes flicked to Jill.

“Resting,” Hedone said. “Safe.”

Jill nodded.

“Do you need to stay here?” Jill asked. “Can you come home with me?”

“Of course,” Hedone said.

Jill closed her eyes for the briefest moment. When she opened them again, she was lying in her own bed. She rolled over to where Jacob usually slept. She pressed his pillow to her face and took a deep smell.

“Come home to me, Jacob Marlowe,” she whispered.

She got out of bed and checked the time. Even though it seemed like she had been in Olympia for hours, she had returned a minute before her alarms went off. She turned off the alarm and her cell phone. Her watch went off. The door to their bedroom opened.

“Oh good,” Anjelika said as she entered the room. “I was waiting for you to wake.”

“Mom,” Jill said.

Jill got out of bed to hug her mother.

“I was instructed to take the children back to my house,” Anjelika said. “Of course, Paddie had already invited Katy to his house.”

“Why?” Jill asked. “I mean, you’re welcome to see them any time and have them over but …”

“Just to give you a little space,” Anjelika said. “There’s really nothing worse than waiting for a loved one to return, especially from Olympia.”

Surprised, Jill looked at her mother.

“You know,” Jill said.

“I was informed,” Anjelika said.

Jill gave a quick nod and got out of bed. She was halfway to the bathroom when her mother spoke.

“He did a great thing, Jill,” Anjelika said. “Not that it really matters.”

Jill looked at her mother for a moment before going into the bathroom.

Jill’s father was a Titan. Her mother had spent her entire life wondering if her husband would return to her. More than once, her mother had thought that he was lost forever.

That’s what it means to love someone who is magnificent.

Jill nodded to herself. She washed her face and left the bathroom. In the loft, she found Katy and Paddie getting ready to stay at Paddie’s parents’ home for the night. Tanesha and Sandy arrived carrying bottles of wine and more cheesecake. Heather arrived with a warm pizza. The four women settled in to wait out the night.

~~~~~~~~

The Altar of Life

Deep in the Marlowe Mine

They reached the top of the structure. Jacob passed the child to his father as Abi helped him out of the vent. Liban managed to grab the sling as Jacob collapsed to the cool cavern floor.

“Jacob!” Sam screamed. He set the child fairy queen down and ran to his son.

Delphie was on her feet! Sam reached forward to touch Jacob’s arm.

“Don’t!” Abi screamed.

Her warning was too late. With Sam’s touch, Jacob’s skin began to disintegrate like ash.

The child queen dropped to prostrate to Abi. Her face against the floor and her arms outstretched.

“Please my lady, save this human,” the child said. “He only wished to save me. It is I who made his stay too long. I was terrified and he …”

Abi touched the child queen’s head.

The child queen looked up at Abi.

“Don’t worry yourself, child,” Abee said. “Jacob is dear to me, as well.”

She nodded herself toward where Jacob had fallen. Sam was on his knees crying. Delphie was wrapped around him. But Jacob was gone.

“Is he gone forever?” Sam asked.

Before Abi could answer, the fairy queens began bickering.

“This is really your fault,” Queen Áthas said in her distinctive Irish accent. She pushed Queen Fand. “You are so selfish.”

“And cruel,” Queen Shanti said in her South Asian accent. She gestured toward where Jacob had been. “This is what you do to the being who risked everything to save you?”

“You are the ones who kidnapped me,” Queen Fand said. “If it weren’t for you, I’d be safe at home, planning my war.”

“Ugly,” Queen Athas said. “That’s what you are Fand. Just ugly.”

“You celebrate the death of your savior by planning your moronic war?” Queen Shanti asked.

“Some queen of ‘peace,’” Queen Fand said with a derisive snort. “More like the Meanie Queen.”

“Enough!” the child queen said.

Ignoring the child, the queens squared off against each other. Queen Athas’s upraised hands filled with sparks. Queen Shanti held a spear made of golden light. Queen Fand’s hand were low. They were spoiled for a fight.

Shaking her head at the queens, she rising to her knees. She put one hand on the ground.

“I said …” the child queen said. “Enough!

Power radiated out of her hand in a white wave. The wave of energy was so strong that the queens were knocked off their feet. The ground rumbled in response. Only Abi stayed standing. Stunned, the queens didn’t move to get up.

“My son?” Sam whispered.

The child queen stood. Pointing to the other queens, she said, “Stay down,” before turning to hear Abi’s answer.

“Don’t worry, Sam, Delphie,” Abi said. “Our Jacob is being healed.”

“Thank you, Mother,” the child queen said. “Is there anything I might do for him?”

“You have enough on your hands dear,” Abi said lightly.

“His family?” the child queen asked. She went to put a warm hand on Sam and Delphie’s shoulders.

“They are being cared for,” Abi said.

The child queen nodded her head.

“I should like to see him again,” the child queen said.

“You will,” Abi said.

“Thank you, Mother,” the child queen said.

She gave Abi a nod before moving toward her sister.

“As for you three …” the child queen said. “This is going to stop. Things are going to be different around here.”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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