The Lost Chapter: Ever More Wild and Wild
Sometimes when editing a book, an author has to make a difficult decision to cut content completely. I had worked hard on this chapter in Escape to Vindor and really liked it, but in the end it didn’t serve the story well.
So I’m releasing it here for readers to enjoy for the first time. This chapter would have been inserted at the end of chapter 21, essentially in the middle of page 199.
It’s a bit weird, but enjoy!
Chapter 21.5: Ever More Wild and Wild
Megan found herself staring up at the ceiling of her tent for quite some time. She was weary, but not exactly tired—after all they’d slept until noon. And it was probably only seven or eight o’clock now. Part of her wanted to keep pressing on to find Amadrya, even though it was dark. The moon was bright, and the elves didn’t need sleep, did they?
Megan needed to get to Amadrya, find the real Selena, and get out of this place fast. She didn’t need something worse to happen—to her and to Vindor.
Her stomach churned. She rolled over onto her back, staring up at a threadbare section at the top of her tent. White moonlight glowed through.
She closed her eyes, trying not to think about the Shadow, trying to fall asleep. She failed on both accounts. After a few minutes, Megan opened her eyes again.
The patch of light—it was blue.
All at once she heard music—pure, crystalline, sweet. She sat up, and it grew louder. Immediately the churning in her stomach ceased, and she felt a wave of calm. An inexplicable urge to find out what the light was overwhelmed her.
The music was so beautiful—like liquid diamonds, she thought. Something about it was exhilarating, liberating. She pulled back the blanket of her tent and looked out.
Nikterra stood, sound asleep, about five feet away from Megan’s tent. Bat slept only two feet from her door, guarding.
They sure had fallen asleep quickly. And hard, apparently. Didn’t they hear the music?
Behind them, the woods were dark, all except a single point of light—a soft blue glow that moved slowly between the trees.
And then a voice.
Megan hesitated, then slipped quietly out of her tent. She stepped over Bat, careful not to wake him, and tiptoed silently through the woods.
They were calling her.
As Megan followed the light through the woods, the music grew louder, but the glow never grew closer. She pushed on in the light of the almost-full moon, weaving her way between enormous grey tree trunks. She had no thought but catching up with the light, no fear but losing sight of it.
The light darted to the left and disappeared into a thicket. Megan scrambled over roots and rocks, pushing her way through a thick hedge. The dark branches enveloped her, and a barbed branch caught her sleeve, trapping her. She yanked at her sleeve, desperate, and freed it with the sound of ripping fabric. Megan broke through the last of the branches and stumbled into a clearing.
She rubbed her eyes to be sure what she was seeing was real.
There, in the center of the clearing, dozens of pixies whirled about a ring. Fat little gnomes, thin twiggy men, glowing sprites, leaf-winged fairies and many more wove in and out in a dance that was at once elegant and wild. Some carried mushrooms glowing in a vivid green. The weaving lights, and the music—clearer and more diamond-like than ever—was all intoxicating. Now Megan could hear the words of the pixies’ song:
the fair folk call,
and you must come away!
come join us in our play.
They sang it to her. They turned their faces toward her as they danced, beckoning her to join the circle. Laughing, Megan stepped toward them. The music grew louder and more beautiful the closer she got.
the fair folk sing
into the starlit eve;
to you we’ll bring
a peace you will not leave.
you’ll have no tears,
nor memories, nor sighs;
you’ll spend your years
‘neath silver fairy skies.
By now she had just about reached them. One or two pixies in the circle reached out and touched her outstretched fingers. A strange peace flooded over her. She sensed she was letting go, letting go of something … it no longer mattered what. Was there anything real in this world besides these lights, besides this dance?
“Bindwood!” a voice cried. With a shriek, a great bird hurtled toward the center of the circle. The pixies cried out and pushed to get away from it, breaking the dance ring.
Someone struck Megan from behind, between the shoulders, forcing her face-first onto the ground. The person then pinned her arms down and sat on top of her. He was about her size but oddly lightweight, though still heavy enough to stop her from getting away.
Megan tried to cry out but found her tongue sluggish, as though she was waking up from a deep sleep.
Meanwhile the hawk continued to wreak havoc on the dance. Megan could hear the fair folk cursing as they scurried into the wood.
“You mongrel cur!”
“Your filthy mother—a curse on her!”
The person jumped up off Megan’s back, but she didn’t hear him land again. She lifted her head to see a silhouette in the moonlight gliding through the air after the last of the pixies. He paused, fluttering a few feet above the ground on giant moth wings.
“Go back!” he shouted into the woods. “Go back to the trees and the flowers and waters! I don’t ever want to see you out here again, do you hear me? Go back where you belong!”
The only reply was the shriek of the hawk as it returned from the woods. The winged person alighted on the ground, his back still toward Megan, and held out his arm. The hawk landed on his wrist, and he drew it close to him.
“That’s the biggest circle of them yet, Bindwood,” he said, rubbing the hawk under its chin. “I’ve never seen so many in one place. It’s just like they said: the woods grow ever more wild and wild.”
He turned sharply to Megan. “Go home, human,” he said. Thick chestnut-brown hair framed his face, and his striking hazel eyes were filled with scorn.
Megan had a feeling she had just fallen for the easiest trick in the pixies’ book.
The boy crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t be in these woods. It’s not a safe place for humans, especially children.”
Megan bit her lip, resisting the urge to point out that she wasn’t a child. “I know,” she said sourly. “But it’s important. I’m leaving soon.”
“Leave sooner. Is your camp nearby?”
Megan pointed back the way she had come. “That way. Ish. I think.”
The boy frowned. “I can find it,” he said. “I’ll take you there so nothing else gets you.”
He released the hawk into the air, and it flew ahead. Megan followed as the boy walked ahead of her silently, his body straight and tall as he walked. Two dark circles on his papery brown wings looked like giant eyes staring at Megan.
“So, what’s your name?” she asked at length, trying to break the awkward silence.
“So … what exactly would have happened if I stepped in the circle?”
“In the ring? You don’t know?” He turned. “They were stealing you.”
“Yes. They’d have you spend the rest of your life playing their silly games and singing their idle songs.” He lowered his voice. “They’d keep you in this wood forever.”
“I guess that doesn’t sound so bad.” Megan sighed.
The boy scowled, flicking his wings in irritation. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Sure, it could be fun for a day, or even a week. But forever is a long time.” He stepped over a small moss-covered boulder, his feet not making a sound. “You can’t live like that. You’re human. You were made for so much more.”
Megan bit her lip, feeling her ears go warm again.
“The pixies would steal your memories, keep you in a haze. That’s the only way they could keep you from running away. You’d forget who you were, trying to play along in a dream world where everyone else is content with silliness. Only you’d never be able to shake the feeling that you don’t belong, that you’re being cheated of life. At least … that’s how it was for my mother.”
“Your mother was a stolen child?” Megan asked. “But that would make you a—”
“A Halfsie,” he said quietly. “Not quite pixie, not quite human. An outcast somewhere in the middle.”
“But why were they saying those terrible things about your mom when they’re the ones that—?”
“They’re a fickle lot,” he answered, “and some are capable of great cruelty—a lesson my brother and I have learned well.”
They passed noiselessly between huge gray trunks of silent trees that were at once majestic and somehow sad. Megan tried to imagine living here forever as Hazel had described it—in a daze, without a past and without a future.
She was just about to thank Hazel for saving her life when a hawk shrieked in the distance.
“Oh, no.” The boy leaped into the air. “Not again.”
With a few flaps of his soft brown wings he was far up ahead.
Megan ran after him as he wove through trees. The hawk cried again, closer this time.
Its cry came from the camp.
Megan stumbled into the clearing to see Hazel and the hawk chasing a bevy of brown pixies away from where Nikterra stood. Hazel shouted as the pixies flew off into the forest, Bindwood in close pursuit. But Nikterra, Bat and even Jennet slept soundly. They hadn’t even changed positions.
Hazel now hovered mid-air before the centaur’s face, watching her. As Megan drew closer, she saw that Nikterra’s glossy black hair was filled with tiny tangles.
“They knotted her hair?” she whispered. “The little brats!”
“She should have woken up,” Hazel said. “There’s no way she couldn’t have felt that.” He looked down at Megan from where he fluttered. “Is she your traveling mate?”
“Yes, and so is he,” Megan said, motioning toward Bat. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with her?”
Hazel flew over to where Bat lay on the ground. He rolled the goblin over onto his back and looked him in the face.
Bat gave no response, not even a change in his breathing.
Hazel shook Bat by the shoulders, then pinched the goblin’s ear.
“Bat, wake up, please wake up!” Megan cried, her stomach going cold. “Hazel, what’s wrong with them?”
“Is that your tent?” Hazel nodded toward the little shelter beside the sleeping Bat.
Hazel said nothing for a moment. “They’re getting smarter about it,” he said at length.
“Please tell me what’s going on,” Megan said.
“The wild pixies really wanted you to follow them,” he said. “They must have seen your friends were guarding you, so they put a sleeping charm on them.”
“A sleeping charm? Can you undo it?”
Hazel sighed. “It’s not exactly something you or I can learn,” he said. “It’s just something some pixies can do. It’ll wear off on its own, eventually. If you’d only had a fire going, they wouldn’t have dared gotten this close.”
“Well, we tried to start a fire, but the water elves kept putting it out.”
He turned. “What did you say?”
“We have water elves with us, and they put our fire out.”
“But they’re of the High Order,” he said slowly.
“But they aren’t exactly cooperative,” Megan said. “They tried to drown me earlier.”
Hazel ran his hands through his chestnut hair. “This can’t be happening.”
“What’s going on?” Megan asked. “What’s wrong with Woodshea?”
“We don’t understand it. The order is failing. More and more pixies turn wild, abandoning the trees, escaping the borders, causing mischief—even the elves, you say, are caught up in it now. But Queen Amadrya doesn’t help us. She’s the one who holds Woodshea together, and now it crumbles around her.” He turned to her, his eyes pleading. “Why won’t she help us?”
Megan opened her mouth, a sick feeling coming over her. “I don’t know. I didn’t know she—”
A hawk cry somewhere in the distance.
“Here we go again,” Hazel said wearily. “But I have to do what I can, as long as I can.”
He flapped his papery wings and was up above the ground. He looked down at Megan. “You are not safe here,” he said sternly. “Get out as soon as you can. These woods are too dangerous.”
And with two beats of his wings he was gone.
Head and heart spinning, Megan crawled into her tent and at last fell asleep.
When Megan woke, the sun had already risen, and a pale mist hung around the enormous trunks of the oaks and beeches. Bat still lay in the position Hazel had left him. Nikterra stood sleeping, her once-beautiful hair scraggly with the tangles. Even Jennet was still out cold, three of her legs curled beneath her and one sticking out.
“Rise and shine!” Megan cried in a voice that sounded much too cheerful.
No response. No sign of life.
Megan crawled over to Bat and put her hand just above his mouth, just to make sure he was still breathing. He was, faintly.
She touched his nose, gently. He didn’t even flinch.
Megan rolled him back onto his side, carefully, and pulled his hood down over his face and tucked his cloak around him, as though he were a little child.
A tear slid down her nose and splashed on Bat’s cloak. Megan sat back and buried her face in her arms.
Seeing Bat and Nikterra unresponsive, so vulnerable—it was terrible beyond words.
I never wanted them to get hurt, Megan thought. Hazel said the charm would wear off, but what if he was wrong? There would be nothing she could do to help. Maybe nothing even Selena could do to help.
She felt so hopelessly, crushingly alone.
She snapped to attention, wiping her face with her sleeve. The voice had come from the forest.
“Who’s there?” Megan asked, her voice quavering. She wiped her moist palms on her robe and stepped into the woods, cautiously.
“It moves the stars and worlds unknown, Soft as rain and firm as stone. Speak its name, Megan.”
Megan’s skin prickled. “Who are you?” she said, looking upward in the direction of the voice.
“The color of the white lamb’s blood.” The voice was at her back now. She spun around, but saw no one. “It stays the raging of the flood. Speak its name.”
“I don’t know where you heard that from, but please stop.” Megan tried to control her trembling voice. “Look, my friends are in trouble. Please help them. Whoever you are, I’m begging you—please. Let them wake up.”
“It sends cool wind in summer’s heat. Speak its name.”
“I don’t know the answer to the riddle, OK?” Megan’s face grew hot with frustration. “Please stop asking.”
But the voice, now at her ear, didn’t even pause. “It gives the hated raven meat. Speak its name!”
“OK, fine. Is the answer nature?”
“Wrong. Speak its name.”
Megan thought to her one of her first conversations with Nikterra. “Time?”
“I don’t know—the wind. Trees. Anything.”
“Wrong. It guides this weary wanderer’s feet. Speak its—”
“I said I don’t know! Something inside myself?”
Megan turned around, and found herself staring into a pair of blazing blue eyes, without white or pupil.
It was the ghost-woman from the forest pool—the one they’d called Eira.
Megan drew back, but Eira grabbed her by shoulders, pulling Megan so she stared directly into solemn pale face. The ghost-woman’s blue-white hair whipped around them, though there was no breeze.
“Look inside yourself, Megan Bradshaw, and you will find … the Shadow!”
At once she was gone and Megan fell backward onto the soft forest floor. For a moment she wondered if she had imagined her, but her shoulders still burned where Eira’s fingers had touched.
“Sack of Gracken! How long have we slept?”
It was Nikterra’s voice. Megan rushed back toward the clearing.
“Wha—How—Where is LadySelena?” The panic in Bat’s voice was unmistakable. “Where is she?”
“I’m here,” Megan called.
Bat exhaled, clearly relieved. “LadySelena must not stray,” he chided. “It’s very d—”
“Dangerful, I know,” Megan said. “Trust me, I believe you.”
“How is it possible we could sleep this long?” Nikterra said, stomping a hoof irritably.
Megan said nothing.
“We mustn’t waste any more time,” Bat said. “We find Amadrya today!” He turned to the creek. “Ardvarnock!”
The water churned, and the two elves surfaced with their usual bout of griping.
Bat and Nikterra hurriedly packed up the blankets and water skeins. Megan knew she was supposed to be packing up her tent, but all she could do was stand, watching.
She had no words to describe how relieved she felt seeing them up and about. No words to express how much she cared about the two of them. But another thought troubled her.
They were so close to finding Amadrya, and possibly—hopefully—the real Selena. In the best-case scenario, Megan would switch places with Selena privately, with Bat and Nikterra never knowing the exchange happened. It would be best if no one in Vindor knew that the real Selena had temporarily been replaced by a fake. Selena would come back and save Vindor, and everything would be set right, like before Megan had come and messed it all up.
But all that she had been through with Bat and Nikterra on this journey, the friendships they had built—it wouldn’t matter anymore. Selena would have no memory of this and would go on with Nikterra and Bat as though it never happened. Megan would be erased.
So? said the little voice inside her. It’s not like it was ever important. Bat and Nikterra are a hundred times better off with Selena than with you.
“LadySelena?” Bat said softly. He hesitated for a moment, then hobbled over to Megan and gently, awkwardly, clasped her fingers within his own. “Don’t be troubled,” he said. “Soon, very soon, the dangerful part will be over. We will find the court, and then Queen Amadrya will help us. She is very strong, and very good. She will know what to do about the Shadow. Do not lose hope.”
Megan squeezed Bat’s hand back, struggling to find words.
“Thanks,” she managed.