Lullaby - Alice's little bedtime story
*An odd jumble of papers, tucked within a rucksack, read the following entries - the order of these notes is impossible to divine... The writer, her style and handwriting, seems child-like. *
His hands were... Like sandpaper. Sandpaper, but smooth. Because he did not have the gold to buy his machine, even when she sold her jewels when he wasn't looking. His nose was long and dotted with sun kisses, and from under it sprouted black-and-grey bushes: wisdom bushes, Alice called them. He tucked Alice in nightly, with those hands of sandpaper that made toys, with that funny smell of wood shine-water and and the hint of paint under his nails.
His name was Tarrin.
And he named Alice.
Like in the book, Alice.
Alice in Feyland.
Her scent always confuses me, because I always smell the wrong flowers to remember it. But she smelled like a field. Her dress was of cotton. Like Alice's. White cotton. Tarrin liked summer dresses. White summer dresses of cotton. Her hair was like silver, but like honey. More like honey with a little silver - like that chain. The one that Tarrin gave her the day they spent fourty-five years together...
Or something like that.
She had a back ache, for running over the dough with that wheel-stick, again and again. Her hands were white when she worked. White like the boop on Alice's nose. Her hands were warm and strong.
Her name was Rina. Rina Lyricbottle.
And she taught Alice how to play the cittern.
One night, Tarrin Lyricbottle was tucking Alice in, reading yet another story, when the smoke came. He smelled of that grass he smoked, when he thought Alice was sleeping but her door was cracked open because the shadows never liked the light of the hall. They smoked and laughed and hushed each other when they smoked. It made me laugh too, in Alice's bed.
Tarrin told Alice to stay put when the other smoke came, the one that didn't smell like laughter. He said that he would check on mom and that he would be right back. He told me to close my eyes, and kissed my forehead. He told me not to cheat, not to open my eyes until he returned. Alice felt the weight of Tarrin leave the bed, but she didn't cheat.
The loud crack, and the shaking floor, didn't make her cheat.
The heat and the coughing-air didn't make her cheat.
She didn't cheat until she died.
It was uncle Piple that spoke first. But my hand really hurt so I couldn't listen. Everything smelled like that smoke - not the grass-smoke that made Rina and Tarrin laugh, but the one that took them away. Someone had saved me, he said, but he didn't see them. They found Alice laying on the grass outside, like I was on her bed. My house was smoking and destroyed.
But I was another now, with a hand that always hurts. That needed the healing butter always, and that soft itchy arm guard. I was the quiet Alice. I preferred the Alice-knight that killed the dragon, or the Alice pirate that helped the poor with the booty of the rich. But Alice the quiet could play the cittern. It hurts her hand, but she plays.
Alice left uncle Piple's house one night. It was too quiet, and their smiles were too sad.
Derek was a fun kin. He hugged people and took their coins. He picked here and grabbed there, and then we both ate by the docks. He taught Alice but she always got caught. And we had to run - that I learned to do fast. And hide, when we turned the corners.
Derek and Alice. And then Bronn. Big Bronn with the brawn. And then madame Suzail, from not-Suzail. Derek introduced Alice to them all, in time. I played the illusions of madame Suzail to distract the audience, and Derek got the things that they wouldn't need, he said. Then we all ate. When we had problems, Bronn grunted and they went away.
We brought the shinier things to madame Suzail.
I fell down the rabbit hole when the caravan got inspected. And Alice ran when Bronn was stabbed. And Derek told her to. And madame Suzail disappeared in thin air. Like she always did.
I found an inn, in the hole, called the Grinning Goat. Alice played there for coins, like she had for a time. It kept the belly full. Some nights. A dragon appeared, disguised as a man as they do. He said he was no dragon, but his eyes were of fire... He tried to prove he was no dragon when he couldn't breath flames, but I'm not convinced.
I thought him a goat, after he insisted he was no dragon: he said he was a crow-born. I let him believe what he wants, but I know that he is not a crow even if his nose does look like a crow's and he likes to take shiny things. Like Derek, but like Bronn. I wonder what Bronn dreams now. He used to carry Alice on his shoulder, and laugh very loud.
The crow-born fed Alice, calling her a siren. I like stories with sirens, so they became friends. He says that he is a corruption of men, and that he cannot walk with men. But he says that they will love me.
His eyes are on fire when I do things he doesn't like... I hate fire.
The crow-born has given me a lot of coins for walking with him into houses, after having me take the keys. He lets me take all the books we find and I take them because stories have no owners. And because maybe one of those books will be the one that I was reading, with Tarrin, and with Rina Lyricbottle. I liked that book the best.
I bought a dress. Like papa liked. Cotton. White cotton on a summer's dress.
The crow says that it is because we take things that I can walk in nice boots, and in summer dresses.
And maybe he is right. I still don't like the screaming marbles.
The crow-born took me to see illusions that can be touched... In the temple of Tyche. The man outside said they are people from the past history of Arabel. I know now what I must do to bring them back - Tarrin, and Rina Lyricbottle. She always said her full name because she was proud to be married. She taught me how to play the cittern, and madam Suzail showed me how to make illusions with my music... In the novels, the hero always finds the solution thinking like this, putting the pieces together like a puzzle. It's a puzzle, like the ones Tarrin Lyricbottle made when he cut the portraits into pieces that fit.
Saranja. Like in the book. Saranja. With the amulet that captures demons, or heals them. I liked that book a lot.
I read her other books as well, the ones that she wrote, and I knew her voice by memory before I heard it speaking to the Crow. She quieted the Crow, when he raised his voice that always commands.
This made Alice happy.
Alice liked her from the start.
She says that Deneir can make the stories come alive because she keeps my spark of divinity inside her book of jumbled words. I did not understand a word she said but I do wonder if she writes my story too... If so, I want a better hand. One that doesn't hurt when I play because she says that I must weave Tarrin and Rina in my songs now. And that I must write all that I can remember of their story.
So, I write.
So we meet. Two characters of fiction, in a world that is ill-fitting for us.
We watched the gladiators' play. Then they came out to meet us, still in character. Commendable actors. Magnus then starred with the panther-man and the rest of us in a story in which we were tomb raiders against the centaurs. But not before we were pirates, with the Tempan, and the knight that scrubs the planks.
I read a story in which I was the queen of the orcs, sitting upon my throne by divine right, and the blades of my loyalists. They laid siege upon the castle and took back my rightful place... Then a giant creature made everyone run after it clawed at one of my soldiers. I tried to reach him and heal him but... A bear heard me.
The panther-man found me, along with the pony swordsman dressed in red. My dear Crow has me in an inn now and the bandages he wrapped me in hurt a lot. He says my bones are broken, but I don't believe he is an expert yet. I never found the bone-carving designs he wanted, after all.
I dreamed of Finn and cloaks and torch-lit missions that were dire... Yet very, very important.
He's going to save the world, I tell you. He said 'Alice, stick to the code', he said 'Alice, find a good shadow'... And I found one when I followed him down the hatch, into the greatest tale of thieves and knights and cloaks and smoke and mirrors and posts and... And screaming marbles...
The screaming marbles.
I had to tell the Crow, it's not right. Not one bit.
I went to tell the Crow about the secret of the screaming stones they use but the king spoke and the Crow told me to shush. We went into the swamps... I don't know what I was doing there.
I followed. Because the Crow said.
Of course, but I shouldn't - not anymore. The king was there and so was the catman!
But the gladiator was there... And I like him. He says 'Alice, I like that song'.
The thief came with the night of illusions, and attacked the king to free the princess. But the king was able to see him somehow, and the thief was hurt. I hope the thief-prince is fine. If not, I will tell Saranja and we will write him back.
A worthy ending, for good tales, she said.
I told Crow that it was Thursday when the skirmish with the thief came to an end... But it was not Thursday.
He told me to go ahead, that we would eat the Thursday special at the Goat that laughs, together, after he returned from his hunt with the catman and the king... But I didn't want him to go at all.
I told Crow that it was Thursday. Again. So that he came with me instead.
He did. We ate stew. It tasted like Monday.
She came to the Goat, seeking a scent. She found the smell of flowers and it made her smile... But she didn't smell the smoke, so she frowned. Smoke makes me frown as well, but not the one of Crow.
Saranja went over the memoirs. I gave her all of them, and she read them with her hands, her smile mysterious.
She found... A spark, within them - how many do we have to find now?
I am dying to know.
Collect the sparks.
Complete the secret quest.
Bring them back to life.
The old stories.
They steal away the night.
We went back to my castle, though this time I was a general.
I didn't want to go, but Crow said to follow the old cat.
The woman with the fork is not a Triton, and the woman with my soldier's spear likes my songs. She says I count with the thanks of her people but I don't know what that means. I like that she is using my spear.
Ben Barkley. He said that his name was Ben Barkley, and he introduced me to Saranja - in the letters, not the horns.
He made a beautiful box, I saw it! And Tarrin Lyricbottle made the wooden toys! It was a sign, from Deneir, I know it... So I will make a soldier just for him. A wooden solider, with the red paint, and the blue.
And the wood-shine water that smelled odd as he tucked me in.
And the toy will have a spear, standing at the ready. And only when he does I will take him to Saranja.
Will she find another Spark of Divinity, then, when she sees it without eyes?
I know Ben Barkley can show me how to carve him...
If only he'd stop running for a moment, like the hare.
I'm late I'm late I'm late.
Magnus gave me a stone. A red stone that doesn't scream. I like stones that don't scream.
The catman gave me a cloak. It - obviously - did not scream.
Magnus thinks red might suit me. He has a matching stone.
It'll be our secret greeting.