Jacob was leaning over an old wooden bench, its dark top deeply grooved by the wearing of the wood’s layers. He was emptying the contents of a glass phial into, what looked like, a small, manky leather pouch. And he was shaking his head.
“I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of this, Derek.” His face looked ominous as he told me.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s Emmenanthe penduliflora.”
“Thanks, Jacob, that’s very helpful.” I know I shouldn’t have been sarcastic but Jacob wanted me to do this, so I felt it appropriate, especially as I needed to know the information.
“Sorry, Derek, there’s been so little time. It’s the Whispering Bell. I’ve had this plant transported all the way from Arizona, but never thought I’d need it so soon, nor in the quantities I know you need. After all the set-backs I never thought I’d find my apprentice. Then you came along.”
All I could do was nod. After the way Jacob had treated me for breaking in to his office I’d gathered he’d had a plan for me, and now it had been said – I was his apprentice.
“Ok. Whispering Bell. Fine. What’s it for?”
“It’s the herb the cunning folk use when they’re apart and need to talk.”
“But that’s from Arizona. How did they talk before that?”
“Some of the cunning folk have telepathy. In the older times there were shops like your post offices, but, instead of leaving letters or telegrams, the cunning folk would ask the teller to send the message mentally – all of us could ‘hear’ tellers if we were the intended recipient, but two way discussion was limited to ‘tellers’, the rest remained ‘hearers’, until the cunning folk learnt of Emmenanthe penduliflora from the native American Indians.”
“How does it work?”
“Penduliflora needs to be prepared if it is to be used. But you must remember that, when prepared, its affects only last for an eighth of a local day; here that means about three hours. If you don’t use the preparation in the time then its quality is so deteriorated it’s unusable.
“Whispering Bell travels best when it hasn’t been prepared. In its natural, picked state, it can last many weeks.”
Jacob set the pouch he’d just filled to one side of the workbench.
“How am I going to know how to prepare it?” I asked.
“I’ll show you in a minute. I just want to tell you about the tools I’ll be giving you for your journey.”
I looked at Jacob solemnly. “I’m going over aren’t I?”
Jacob placed a hand on my shoulder and looked directly into my eyes. “Only if you want to, Derek. This task can only be performed by the willing, and although I’m as willing as I’ve ever been, my bones and my heart are not; it’s been too long.
“This duty has an importance so severe only those willing, through and through, have the chance to complete it. At least that’s how the prophecy states its case.”
“I guess there’s no time to ask about the prophecy?”
Jacob looked at his watch and shook his head. “No. We’ve only an hour to get to the portal and I haven’t nearly told you enough of what you need to know. No time now, my lad. Perhaps later if… sorry, when you get back.”
I heard Jacob’s slip of the tongue and, although my heart was beginning to race, I knew I needed to focus on the task at hand, so I pushed his slip to the back of my mind. But this didn’t stop a level of despair start to weigh on my shoulders. Who was I to achieve this? Why did Mr Brizelthwaite think I was the right person? So many questions; and no time to get any answers.
Jacob left the table and walked to a shelf on the opposite side of the room. He rummaged through a few books and pamphlets then pulled out an old dusty cylinder. To me it looked like the only thing it could contain was a decent bottle of malt whisky. But this wasn’t to be the case. Jacob removed the lid and removed a scroll of paper, equally dusty and also dark tan in colour.
He unfurled it across the table. It was a map, of sorts. Nothing like the kind I was used to.
Jacob punched a point on the map with his forefinger. “There you go, my lad. Once you’ve gone through the portal and crossed The Conversion, this is where you’re aiming for.”
“Great! But what am I going to do when I’m there – take out the entire Akh’Mori by waving some flowers called Penduliflora at them?” I waved an arm about, holding an imaginary bunch, just to demonstrate the futility I was trying to convey.
Jacob’s eyes crinkled at their sides. Although serious he was amused. “No, Derek. You need to persuade the Queen of the Sidheóga to call back the Akh’Mori, or at the very least send their own army to stop them.”
“I thought they were all the same!”
“No. Not at all. The Sidheóga prefer peace over all else. But if they’re wronged, and there are some that want to exact revenge, then the Sidheóga will turn a blind eye. The Sidheóga aren’t Elves, Derek.”
“How will talking to the Queen help?”
“The Queen rules over the majority in the Other Realm. She holds sway over the balance.”
Jacob opened a drawer in his workbench and pulled what looked like to be a small round piece of paper from it. “A filter, Derek. You must never drink anything in the Other Realm without filtering it first. Is this clear?”
“Of course,” I said. I knew about filters and such like. It’d all been standard training in the army. And I’d used them many times in Afghanistan.
I put the filters in the canvas satchel Jacob had given me.
“Now, my lad,” Jacob said as he retrieved a large knife from the wall cupboard he was now standing at. “You will need this to help you with your task.” He offered me the shaft and I took it.
“Only use the Knife of Zarcesaan to kill in the direst of circumstances. And only in the Other Realm, for it will not work here, my lad, ’tis only for folk of the majick tribes. But I pray you never have to use it.”
I took the knife and stared at it, turning it in my hand. I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work in good ol’ Blighty.
I ran my finger along the blade’s edge and no sooner had it touched my skin it’d sliced through the ridges of my fingertip; blood began to seep from the cut. How this knife would fail to work here I couldn’t figure. I sheathed the knife and put it in the canvas satchel along with the filters.
As I withdrew my hand I checked the deep gash on my finger – it was gone; nothing of the cut existed. My eyes widened, this was a complete surprise.
I looked away from my satchel and back to my mentor. “Yes?”
Jacob handed me a Perspex tub of something that looked like lard. “This is the salve you will need to get through the Conversion without much ado.”
I frowned. “What d’you mean much ado, Jacob?”
He paused for longer than I could have wished for. I shook my head. I knew Jacob was trying to think of the best way to phrase what he was going to say.
“Depending upon how you’re made, Derek, you will slip through easily, or not, and you will feel every change the Conversion places upon your body.”
He paused for a moment then continued. “The Conversion remakes you to fit the rules of the Other Realm, the salve frees your soul for the duration of the change; without it you will feel the rules and how they change your very body.”
I gaped at Jacob. It sounded quite severe.
Three letters flashed through my mind; OMG!