Lily dreamt she was flying with Loki. Beneath their feet dragon bones gave way to oak forest. She gazed up at the solar system, enjoying the feeling of being held in the sprite’s arms, the light breeze on her face. Bats flew at them, then wheeled away at the last instant, before collision was certain. Glowing honey fungus and fireflies added a strange illumination to the forest. They landed on the bough of an oak tree and viewed the scene before them.
A village had been built around the edges of a clearing, small wooden cabins facing into the open glade. Some cabins had been built into the surrounding trees, connected to each other by rope bridges. Flickering firelight lit-up the insides of the homes. Lily could see families going about their chores. Boar and deer grazed in the clearing and a large communal well stood in the centre. The occasional person appeared carrying baskets along one of the three roads leading out of the village.
The people were child-like in stature, as though stuck in perpetual youth, their work clothes and caps of forest-green. Lily noticed their ears were slightly pointed just like Loki’s. She turned to look at him but found she was alone.
Lily heard the sound of a fiddle and looked down to see a large group gathered around a musician playing something very similar to Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz.” The fiddler raised the tempo and soon had the villagers dancing and laughing. A cask of ale was opened up, tankards clashed together as the villagers shouted toasts to the gods of music. Soon everyone had joined the revelry. Lily longed to join in.
Then came a short pause in the music. When the fiddle struck up once more, Lily noticed a change in the quality of the playing, it was lively and compelling, yet lacked the hypnotic stroke play of the previous tune.
“Are you having fun Lily?” Loki was beside her again, dressed just like the villagers with his hair tied back. He was suddenly obscured in a cloud of smoke. As the haze cleared, Lily saw Loki had reverted to his wild, unkempt appearance.
Lily reached out and touched his hand. “I’m not dreaming, am I?”
“Who’s to say whether or not you are,” he smiled. “What is life but a short lived illusion?”
“That was you playing down there!” The realization suddenly dawned on her. “What are we doing here? Why did you bring me to this place?”
“I just wished to show you what my calling is, Lily.”
“And what is that?”
“To spread joy and merriment, of course. I told you Astyxia would be a boring place without Loki.”
Lily was suddenly wracked with doubt and guilt; she massaged her temples and closed her eyes, trying to think clearly.
“But what about Brigit, have we left her alone in that awful graveyard?”
“There, there, not to worry, Lily,” he crooned in a soothing melodic tone and put an arm round her shoulder. “She’s all right with the beast watching over her. You can trust me, honest.”
“I think we should go back, please take me back.”
“All right then, we’ll go if that’s what you wish, but first you must calm down. Here take a swig of this; it will make you feel better.” Loki produced a small stoneware bottle from a pouch in his clothing and handed it to Lily.
“What is it?” She turned the bottle in her fingers.
“It’s purely medicinal,” he assured her. “Just take a sip to calm your nerves and we’ll be away.”
Lily reluctantly took a swig from the bottle, the strange thick liquid had a horrible aftertaste, but she immediately felt a sense of well-being and her worries were forgotten.
“What is it?” she asked in wonder.
“It’s the juice of goblin fruit.” Loki grinned. “A magical potion that instils the urge to have fun.” He laughed and Lily couldn’t help joining in.
They seemed to have been laughing forever. Lily couldn’t remember what it was they had found so funny, but everything seemed hilarious. She no longer felt able to keep track of the time – minutes, hours, days all seemed meaningless.
“I’m so hungry,” Lily moaned.
“Come on then,” Loki took hold of her arms.
They floated over the tree tops and landed in a tree overlooking a bend in one of the roads leading to the clearing. Loki left Lily in the tree and levitated down to the road. He took off his moccasins, leaving one by the roadside about thirty paces before the bend, and the other about the same distance travelling away from the bend. Then he returned to perch beside Lily.
After a while they saw a small man walking along the road towards the clearing, struggling with the weight of a basket in each hand. As he reached the moccasin he paused to look at it.
“He’s thinking he would take it, but one’s no good,” Loki whispered to Lily.
The elf carried on and as he rounded the bend, Loki floated down collecting his shoe before returning to Lily. Then the elf reached the second moccasin and paused again, this time putting down the baskets.
“Now he’s thinking he might as well go back for the other moccasin and have a pair.”
As the elf headed back round the bend, down went Loki to collect his other shoe and one of the baskets. Lily’s mouth was gaping open in disbelief as he returned with the basket.
The elf looked in vain for the moccasin, scratching his head before giving up and heading back to find that not only the other shoe had disappeared, but also one of his baskets.
“Bogan!” hissed the elf as he threw his cap at the ground and stamped a foot.
They returned to their perch overlooking the clearing and helped themselves to the contents of the basket, roast pheasant, smoked cheese, ham marinated in honey and herbs, cherries, damsons and apricots. Lily ate till she could fit in no more.
“Come, Lily, let’s go join the festivities,” Loki crooned.
He hooked his arms under hers and they floated free of the bough to hover over the glade, face to face. They landed on the edge of the dancing.
“They can’t see us,” Loki assured her in a whisper. “But we must keep our voices low.”
Dancing beneath that magical sky, Lily felt more alive than she had ever been in her life.
“Now that enough ale has been drunk, watch this,” said Loki, leaving her side.
He clicked his fingers and all the elves froze in the middle of what they were doing. Loki walked up to a man and untied the rope belt around his waist, before walking back to Lily and snapping his fingers again. The dance continued and the man’s pants fell down, tripping him up, much to the amusement of the other elves.
Loki waited a while, and then he repeated the trick, this time swapping round some partners. The next time he took a woman’s partner and sat him down, putting a flagon of ale in his hand. Then he did the same with a man’s partner and put the remaining pair together. Loki snapped his fingers again and the dance continued without the dancing couple realising what had happened, that is, until their actual partners stopped them and an argument broke out. Lily knew it was wrong but couldn’t help laughing, a little too loudly this time.
Suddenly someone cried out, “There’s a bogan in our midst!”
A sense of panic came over the revellers.
“Come, Lily,” Loki whispered urgently. “Let us be gone before they try to bind me with a spell.”
Lily was floating in Loki’s arms once more as they returned to the oak bough laughing.
“You see, Lily, I give them merriment and still they resent me.”
“Are you surprised? They want to have fun on their own terms, not be controlled by you.”
They watched the elves pack up and head inside their cottages.
“Is this heaven… or hell?” Lily asked, cautiously, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer.
“Neither and both, same as with the world above.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you not espy the magic?
Imbued in everything.
In spite of all deemed tragic,
Concepts of mortal sin.
When there is but sensation
What judgment could transpire?
Damnation or salvation
By tranquil streams or fire.
Without a heaven to await
Nor death beyond the veil,
Verily an inert state
Should inspiration pail.
Birth is mere illusion,
Death is but a dream,
Life the grasped infusion
Apprehended in between.
There is a heaven and a hell
Awaiting after birth,
Coexisting as travellers tell
All over the face of the earth.
The effect of the potion was beginning to wear off, bringing back both reason and worry to Lily’s mind.
“Take me back, please. I have to make sure my sister’s all right.”
“Stay with me here in the forest, Lily. I’ll make you immortal and teach you all the magics. Just think of the fun we could have together.”
Lily was torn between the urge to stay and her duty to Brigit. She struggled to resist the enchantment.
“No, I have to go back, please. Take me or I’ll have to walk there myself.”
Loki reluctantly took her in his arms and they set off across the tree tops.
They landed in the holly copse to find it empty. Lily’s worst fears were realized and it made her feel ashamed. She turned on Loki.
“This is all you’re fault; you tricked me into leaving Brigit here alone.”
“Wait let me help…”
“No, get away from me, you trickster! Just leave me alone.”
Loki vanished leaving only a plume of smoke behind. Lily instantly regretted driving him away and almost called out his name, but stubborn pride stopped her. She started to scan the local area for any signs of Brigit and Gerri.
Lily finally found Brigit's white thermal gloves, in the entrance to a dragon's ribcage. She gasped in horror at the sight of what had to be the scavenger dragons Loki had mentioned, three of them, asleep in the ribcage. The reptiles were a good five metres in length, with small bony spikes running the length of their backs and tails. Lily almost screamed but was afraid of waking the idle monsters. She ran, desperate to put some distance between herself and that awful place. When she judged she’d gone far enough, she stopped and sobbed.
“Oh, Aunty what am I to do?”
Lily heard the sound of beating wings approaching her from behind. She resigned herself to the fact that it was her turn to be taken and closed her eyes. Then something landed on her shoulder and cawed in her ear.
“Who’s a pretty girl, then?”
She opened her eyes and almost smiled.
“Jack… oh, Jack where have you been? What am I to do, can you help me?”
Jack gave her a light peck on the cheek before taking off and landing on a colossal thigh bone. Lily began to follow him. He would fly a short distance, and then wait for her to catch up before, setting off again.