Part 9

Nineteen and a Half Years After

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A Peaceful Summer

Time has passed in a winding path from there to here. The years have blurred together into a tapestry of memories that I hold dear to my heart. Hard to believe that this coming winter will mark the twentieth year since my life took a turn for the better. Actually, my life has been a pleasure, even the tough spots improving me as a person.

In just a couple months I shall enter my thirty-ninth year. My family is healthy and well, the children are more grown than not and they have all become fascinating people. Oz has little use for our family and we really only offer our combined experiences and sorcery in rare occasions.

A good life indeed.

Almost good enough to forget that there is a final hurdle to cross.

Delia is seventeen and a half, a remarkable young woman. My faded memories of her from the past more and more resemble the person she is becoming. The time is coming soon, all of us feel it, even as it remains unspoken. That she has had to traverse this difficult path alone is my one real regret with this eldest child. But I cannot forget how adamant she was about how this had to play out. I have been holding my tongue for nearly two decades now. It's just as hard for Glinda, perhaps more so, as my love has always been more gregarious and open than I.

Interestingly enough, it was Glinda that figured out one of the major reasons why Delia needed to go back in time.

We cannot deal with the weather extremes. Why is anyone's guess, but at the heights of its powerful swings from one type of weather to another, in all of Oz, only Delia seems to be able to deal with it. Drought, blizzards, monsoons, and of course the tornados, she has gentled them all. Countless lives have been saved by this extraordinary young woman.

And, of course, it was Delia that persuaded me to go after Glinda all those years ago. I honestly don't believe that I would have had the courage to change the direction my life was going without a prod from someone else. But then, as now, I cannot deny the proof she and her sisters are of how I adore the woman they call Mama.

As though conjured by my thoughts, Glinda glides out onto the porch and I have a moment to observe her before she takes note of me in my shadowed corner. The years have left no mark on her delicate beauty, merely gifting her with a calm stateliness that makes her all the more striking. The loose curls still fall gracefully to her shoulders just as she's always worn them and scattered strands of white glitter in the gold.

Sensing my stare, Glinda's mouth curls faintly and she stretches in the sun like a lazy cat. Suddenly, my book doesn't seem nearly as interesting anymore. Still without actually looking at me, she chuckles softly and makes me admire her from afar for a moment more.

"The sunlight makes you all the more beautiful," I flatter with no reluctance and Glinda preens in pleasure, flouncing over to deposit herself in my lap.

"Thank you darling. It's always nice to know that I can still turn your head from your books." The teasing censure in her tone earns a mock sour look from me and we laugh together, wrapped in a loose cuddle. "You looked very contemplative here in the shadows."

"Just thinking about Delia's trip. The time is coming you know."

"I know," she sighs heavily.

Your Heavy Gaze

How I love the almost physical caress of her loving gaze over the curves and hollows of my small body. That sensation of sweet possessiveness thrills me, especially after all of these years. Her adoration has never once faltered. And, sometimes to my surprise, neither has mine. In my past, being so dedicated to just one person would have felt confining. How wrong I was…

Curled up in Elphie's lap, our quiet conversation is interrupted with a burst of noise, both human and animal. School must be done for the day then. Per usual, the twins are out first, racing across the meadow in girlish abandon, happy to be out in the summer sunshine. Over their heads swoops Janen, spinning and darting expertly. He has grown into a fine young man, overcoming the delicate nature of his premature birth, reflected only in his small stature. Near-translucent wings glitter in the sunlight as he chitters and laughs happily at his human sisters. Our family and the entire clan of the Flying Monkeys have raised him, his mother's own cousin taking over the primary responsibility of his parenting.

But Dee has always been his favorite person, as though he remembers her touch coaxing him to life.

As though conjured by my thoughts, Delia rounds the corner of the house, deep in discussion with Jethrie, one of the old-timers still with us. The old Gorilla has gone so gray, his great bulk more slender with age, but his mind is as sharp as ever. He and my wife and eldest daughter have been prolific researchers and authors over the years. Their legacy will never be forgotten in Oz.

Missus Pew and Stalia passed away years ago, a loss that is still keenly felt by many. Farkell and Chackle are still with us, though age has weighed them down, and their lineages are strong and diverse.

But no one has ever been able to figure out why the talking Animals dwindled.

They are so rare now, the vast majority of them having congregated in sleepy little Tolerance. Last count was only thirty-four.

Thirty-four and a random handful across the whole of Oz.

Only the Flying Monkeys breed almost true, but even their ability to speak and rationalize is becoming hit or miss. Even as their numbers grew, some of them scattered to the four winds and we rarely get news of them anymore. I guess the old saying is true…

The only constant in life is change.

Delia is noticeably distracted as she comes over to kiss each of us hello. Enjoying the familiar touch of her cool lips to my temple, I catch the pale green fingers, giving an affectionate tug. "Such a long face, darling!"

"Sorry, Mama," she shrugs, squeezing my fingers and flashing a wan smile at our teacher. "Master Jethrie has been going out of his way to challenge me this week."

He 'harumph's in his characteristic way before nodding at the three of us and shuffling off into the sunshine. "We'll see you at the Summer Solstice festivities," I can't resist calling after him, knowing that the old Gorilla is none too fond of these carrying-ons.

We all restrain from giggling like wicked little girls until we're fairly certain that he's out of earshot and Elphie's unladylike snort sets us off. It's a lovely change in our withdrawn teenager, this happy, giggling young woman, her tall body pressed into my back and Elphie's side.

"We'll squish you, Mimi," she starts to object; pulling away her draping weight and Elphie's arm tightens convulsively where she holds both of us to her.

"Squish away, my love," my darlingest chuckles, unwittingly echoing her words from so long ago, cradling myself and the new baby this daughter once was. "I will never tire of it."

"Neither of us will," I add, reaching back to curl my hand into the thick black curls of our eldest, soaking up her heartfelt sigh.

Heights of Summer

Today's celebration is going to be strange, knowing that this marks how close Dee's time-jump has drawn. The two most intense magical events of the year, the solstices, on opposite sides of the year's wheel. I no longer remember the details of her clothing where she lay in the scattered dead grass and snow, just that it was warm and rugged. I can no longer recall the exact look on her face, except that I see an echo of it in this grown version of her. Details of the miraculous events that changed the course of Glinda's and my life have grown hazy, but I recognize recollection when some subtle thing triggers those memories.

Delia's been planning this for a long time.

Glinda and I have been far more aware of that than we would have believed from those hints so long ago. Oh, the girl is good, don't get me wrong, but we're her parents and we can see the subtle clues in her behavior and patterns.

Not to mention that we're actively looking for them.

It's hard for a kid to fool her parents when they know the end result, but we diligently do our part and pretend to be studiously ignorant of the whole operation. The strain of these unspoken things has become commonplace and I ache for the damage done to my family over the years.

As though sensing my thoughts, Delia sighs and reluctantly straightens from the cuddle. "I have a project that I promised Master Jethrie I would work on. May I look in on your library, Mimi?"

"Of course dear."

"Don't get too involved," Glinda adds in with a smile and a caress to her cheek. "We'll be headed over to the festival soon."

"Yes Mama."

We watch her go in contemplative quiet, noting the different way she moves now, the near-adult grace in her tall frame.

"Greetings honeymooners!"

Not entirely startled by the unexpected voice, I swivel my head around to see Farkell leering at me in that uniquely equine way of his. He's never tired of teasing Glinda and me about our constant closeness and it makes him entirely too endearing. "What are you up to, troublemaker?"

Tossing his head up, my old pal laughs and paws the grass in imitation of his teenage prancing, making me chortle. "Kay was just giving me a hand to get my coat in proper order for the festivities." Circling to show off his gleaming dark-red hide with its snow-like dusting of white hairs, he poses in the sun to gleam like a statue. With his legs, mane and tail of inky black, and his head virtually white-free, Farkell has always been a striking Horse and we coo over him in admiration. He jumps in surprise when Kay appears and gives him a ringing slap on the rump, making him dance like a Colt. "Hey!"

"Showoff," Kay smirks and neatly sidesteps his prancing hooves and mockingly snapping teeth. The red-head has gone gray at the temples and her body language has slowed a bit, but she is as alert and witty as ever. The reliability of this woman more than anyone outside of my immediate family has been a great source of strength to me over the long years.

The four of us lazily discuss our festival plans, in no hurry to accomplish things in the deep heat of the longest day of the year. The magics of Summer Solstice have always been so very different than the wintery counterpart. Energy builds slowly, like warm rising sap in the living trees or lazy lovemaking in the heat of mid-day. There is something sensuous and relaxed about this holiday and I've no desire to alter this lazy state.

Then, I feel the shift.

A cool breeze, darkness gathering over the forest, memories of that tornado abruptly turning the lazy afternoon to fear.

A Shocking Change

All of us feel it, the choking tendrils of fear that come with the gathering black clouds that roll in like hungry predators. Cursing, Kay turns to Farkell, who gestures to his back with a snap of his head. "Get on! We'll head for the village!"

Several things happen all at once, the moment forever burned into my memories.

On our feet now, Elphie and I chance the danger of the lightning growling in the gathering clouds to head for the twins where they stand at the massive granite slab that seals the entrance to the cave. Uncharacteristically still, they are hand in hand, staring at us… or rather, right above our heads.

I figure it out even as I tighten my grip on Elphie's hand to jerk her to a halt. Her objection dies on her lips as we are both caught by a streak of movement, arrowing up from the roof of this beloved home we all share.

A streak of darkness against the sunny southeastern sky, capped with the swirling black storm that matches the smoky wings, Delia is racing up and up, followed by the smaller figure I know is Janen. Heart in my throat, I watch her pause, hands and wings at full reach against the camouflaging black of the gathered storm.

It is as though time has slowed, everything delayed, my heart loud in my ears, every fiber of my being crying out to do something, anything!

But I must stand here in mute witness, clinging to the woman I love and we must watch our first born take on the most dangerous journey she may ever face.

The storm circles slowly, lightning slithering through the clouds and the magic of solstice gathers into an uncharacteristically shattering crescendo.




The trance is broken by Elphie's pulling away, my eyes and then my body following helplessly as she stalks to the sober-faced twins. The girls have just started along the path of adolescence and the attendant changes. They still resemble me much more closely than the parent that bore them, with their matched sweet, girlish good looks and pale coloring. Even the burgundy hair has lightened over the years in contrast to the dark eyes.

Kelena and Zanalia cringe into one another as Elphie looms over them, every line of her body rigid and furious. "You knew about this!" She rails and the girls are frozen for a moment. Then Kel, always the bolder one, straightens up defiantly and I have to smile.

"We helped, Mimi! Dee couldn't do it on her own and we've always been able to make her magic stronger."

It's the absolute truth and I catch up to throw my arms around my wife and squeeze her in comfort. It only takes a moment for her to deflate, reaching helplessly for the girls. "Oh kittens, I'm so sorry I yelled. I'm just afraid…"

The four of us cling together and stare up at the whirling black sky.

This is the very first time that Elphaba and I have no idea what the fate of our eldest is. Up until this moment we have known beyond the shadow of a doubt that she has grown and matured and become an extraordinary young woman. But now she is back in time, saving our past selves, leaving us with nineteen and a half years of certainty.

And absolutely no clue if her trip back to us will be successful.

Could this be it?

Will we ever see her again?

The Choking Miasma of Fear

The fear is paralyzing.

Clinging together in an incomplete knot, our family stares to the sky. If sheer will can help Delia, then we are doing all that we can, our four souls calling to hers and Janen's both.

Some rational part of me knows that the stately march of time is unaffected by our drama, but that does not change the sensation of slowing, the endlessness of each moment ponderous in the roar of my unnaturally slow heartbeat. My blood is hot and thick in my ears, in my veins, the mugginess of the afternoon too heavy to breathe.

What if she doesn't make it back?

A lifetime of memories cascades across my mind's eye; the memory of her tiny, newborn body in my hands, her heart beating against mine, that first morning when we bonded, her laughter thrilling me down to the depths of my soul. The first time she called me Mimi and how I sobbed in overpowering happiness. Watching her toddle on unsteady legs, little face screwed up with determination to walk. The first thrills and fear of flight and how natural she always has been at the skill. Teaching her to read, to ride a horse, to delight in the beautiful things around her. Watching her hold her little sisters the first time, her sweet and serious speech about how she would be a good big sister and take good care of them. How she has always done exactly that. Long days and hours of studying and learning, watching the thrill of understanding transform her face over and over again. Witnessing the long process of adulthood change her from child to woman.

The tears flow freely down my face.

Like a swell of water from deep in the earth, looking for a way out, the magic of Summer Solstice plateaus out, making the forest and sky hum with energy. The storm seems to pull tighter into itself like some kind of vast and fearful pinwheel. Between one erratic heartbeat and the next, the sky erupts into a conflagration of dazzling green and white light.

Blinded, we all cry out and shield our eyes with instinctual reflexes.

My eyes clear with barely enough time to see a human figure rushing towards the ground, arms and legs outstretching too late to completely stop the mad plunge.

I'm off and running before the urge has even reached my consciousness.

Some part of me almost feels the impact of my beloved child with the unforgiving ground, the shudder of it along my bones. The trajectory of the crippled flight took Dee to the far side of the house and I curse every rushed stride along the walls of stone and wood. I've never been outrightly physical and can feel the exhaustion in my body… that is instantly forgotten as I round the corner to see Chackle crouched over Dee's crumpled body.

Suddenly, the memory of our first meeting is crystal clear in my mind. Her falling body crashing through the trees of this forest, younger then. The jarring crash as she came to rest on the cold ground, face down, exactly as she is now.

Half falling and half kneeling beside Chackle, I'm barely aware I've spoken and my voice is tense and strained. "I've got it, Doc."

Beneath the touch of my hands, the pulse of my powerful sorcery, Delia's agony burns bright as I search out the pure flame of her life-force, guttering with damage. The image is very clear, my hands cupping that small, vulnerable flame, breathing hotly across it until it flares hotter and hotter and hotter.

My dizzying exhaustion recedes with Glinda's welcome touch, her power flowing into mine like joined streams make a river. Nearby is the twin flames of Kel and Zan, their wills focused tightly to ours, the different fire of Janen and Chackle where they crouch nearby.

Time again becomes meaningless as Glinda and I pour our focused power into this beloved child of ours, fending off the hurt. And, as the crescendo of solstice slips away, Delia takes a deep breath and rolls to her back, severing the sorcerous connection.

Only moments has she been gone on her journey from now to then and back again, but she has been changed fundamentally. In the crystal blue eyes is the indelible mark of the change, like putting inked words to paper. Her greatest journey thus far has been completed and she has returned to us alive and intact, but certainly not unchanged.

It doesn't matter that she has changed. She is my daughter and I will love her forever and through all things. Carefully gathering up her exhaustion-limp body, I cradle her close, feeling Glinda clinging to us both. "It worked," I croon through my tears.

"It worked, my darling," Glinda coos in a voice of pure love. "My brave darling."

And together, we weep in relief and reunion.


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