The Two Magicians – Installment 1
Converging on the Knot
Zelda Leah Gatuskin
Copyright 2016 Zelda Leah Gatuskin
AMADOR PUBLISHERS, LLC
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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cover art by Zelda Leah Gatuskin
The Two Magicians Ebook is published in 11 Installments
Installment 1 contains the Prologue and Chapters One and Two of the complete print edition of
The Two Magicians: From Nowhere to Forever
by Zelda Leah Gatuskin
[pending release by Amador Publishers, LLC in 2017]
in memory of Morning Star,
Esmarelda’s biggest fan
The Two Magicians – Installment 1
Converging on the Knot
Somewhere in the Rockies
Personally, I had never been opposed to the Harmony Convention in Piper Canyon, which is the only reason it got to be an annual event. I had the job of keeping an eye on the Loophole and sending unwitting trespassers back to their side of the Spiral, and so the other Minders allowed me the final say. I enjoyed the convention, actually. Made for a busy week, but I had the most interesting slice of the Alternate World coming right to my doorstep.
That's where I went wrong -- allowing myself to be amused by this "New Age" business. Dancing and drumming, amateurish fortune telling and bogus hocus-pocus spells -- the participants were like children to me, harmlessly playing at games they knew nothing about. I loved them and pitied them. Poor souls had no idea how many turns of the Spiral lay ahead before they would turn the corner to reclaim this world of magic they vaguely remember and deeply desire. They felt close to it in Piper Canyon, and indeed they were. Uncomfortably close.
There are such places in the world where the thread of Time, winding as it does in a continuous spiral into the center and then out again -- two alternating coils having no beginning and no end -- elaborates on its path with many offshoots and curlicues that very nearly touch other, unrelated pieces of the Spiral. The sensitive ones feel out these places and gambol about in Nature, hoping to magically cross over. They don't (that is, they shouldn't), but they benefit from mere proximity, so that word gets around, and the next thing you know someone has put up a resort nearby with a sweat lodge and whatnot. And there is not a thing wrong with that, except when it happens right here in the Goathorns, one of the most magical of all the magical places in my magical world, where the five sisters took residence many a spiral-turn ago and have cast so many spells that the curlicues of Time have tied themselves into one big Knot on the one side, and frayed thin enough to make a Loophole on the other.
In part because of my own knotty past, I was given the Knot and the Loophole to mind. It suited me but, as I said, I was lax. Midway through the recent Harmony Convention, I realized that it would have to be the last in Piper Canyon. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, that’s just the way the Spiral works around these parts. Every glitch and snag in the fabric of Time gets pushed along until it hits the Knot, where all lost and lapsed spells are trapped and teased out, and hopefully tamed or at least contained.
Wrangling old spells is the sisters’ rent payment, you might say. Did they think they could appropriate the Goathorns for themselves without offering something in return? Not to mention that much of the magical flotsam that has washed in of late is the result of their own mischief. The chickens were coming home to roost, in other words.
Brunagwa herself created the Loophole by pushing her way through the merest small flaw in the Spiral at the outermost edge of a dead-end detour. And who espied her on the other side but young Robyn, shuffling around in the woods while on a family vacation. You might say that was the very beginning of things there in the Alternate World, and that despite the sisters' memory-blocking spells, the girl's life was changed forever and inexorably, so that all things lost out of our world would land on Robyn's doorstep ever after -- the cat, the Gypsy, the fiddler, and finally the rugs -- and it was only a matter of time before she, and all these others, found their way to Piper Canyon.
Round and round we go. Some things have happened twice already. Before we risk another doubling of the Knot, I take the unprecedented action, for a Minder, of recording the tale. Not that anyone stumbling into the Knot will be better able to follow the tangled thread safely out again on account of having read it. No, we won’t even contemplate that. The only hope for this particular fraying strand of Time is to protect it from further strain of any sort, and that means keeping the New Age kiddies out of Piper Canyon henceforth and forever. For that I need cooperation and assistance from someone trustworthy in the Alternate World, and I suppose you can guess my choice already.
Charming girl, but she drives a hard bargain. Our agreement is this: She is helping to get the Harmony Convention relocated and this property sold to A.G. Brooks, who will forbid future trespass. I am supposed to be writing up my firsthand account of life on this side of the Spiral, everything I know about the Gypsy and her crew, and the true nature of Time! Robyn is looking for "proof" that magic exists. She has deduced correctly that I myself am witness to a tremendous amount of "evidence," me being a Minder -- that is, able to see and hear with great acuity even at great distances, and even into the souls of living things. Add to that the Knot, with its repetitions and disjointed crossings, and the Loophole, that ratty passage across the Spiral -- the whole of it lying within the circle of the Goathorn Mountains, where the five sisters corral broken spells from all Times and both worlds -- and you may begin to comprehend how many far-flung episodes and secrets I have been able to observe, one way or another.
Truly, now that I spell it out, I have to agree that no one is more qualified than I to recount the circumstances leading to this fateful collaboration. It will be up to Robyn to convince the imaginative but skeptical Alternate World of my veracity (my very existence). I expect (indeed I hope) this chronicle will be perceived as fiction -- yes, even by those who have been here with us at Kestrel Lodge for the Summer Solstice Harmony Convention, Fifth Annual and about to be last, in Piper Canyon, in the Alternate World, somewhere in the Rockies...
The Time Winders
The lead dancer of the Time Winders twirled so fast and so long that she seemed to disappear. Some of those who were present for the elimination round of the belly dance competition at the Fifth Annual Harmony Convention at Piper Canyon claimed that she had actually dematerialized. “Yasmine” laughed it off at the party afterward. She explained to a cluster of adoring young dancers and a few jealous competitors that a well-executed Turkish Drop will have that effect.
"First, there's the spinning, which creates the blur. Then, if you can keep it going long enough, the audience gets tranced out and sees all sorts of things. And when you drop suddenly, you really seem to disappear -- only the first few rows see you hit the floor, and they're usually too surprised or distracted by the veil to notice."
So, maybe it was only a Turkish Drop, but it was still a hell of a Turkish Drop. Everyone wanted to get a look, and the crowd for the semi-final round on Thursday night was huge -- as big as they had seen at past conventions for the Saturday night finale.
The Time Winders were the last group on the program, and the women backstage -- all relative beginners -- were as irritable as the audience, wondering if the wait would be worth it. When they finally got their cue from the stage manager, they lined up in the wings with their props while the elegant "Mustaphas" took their bows. The curtain closed, the Mustaphas jogged off stage, and the five Time Winders and a male helper hurried to arrange six smallish oriental rugs into one big square of carpet in the center of the stage before the curtain opened again. The women took their places: four lined up across the carpet, their leader off to the side. The helper squeezed this one's hand then hurried back into the wings. A techie cued up the Time Winders' sound track. Out front, the emcee quieted the audience.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we thank you for your attention tonight. I am pleased to present our final contestants. A very original group. Please welcome, from Caliente, New Mexico: Alizia, Shanna, Ursula, Fatima and Yasmine -- The Time Winders!"
Gentle music, dubbed over the sound of ocean waves crashing to shore, rose in volume while the curtain opened and the lights slowly came up. The four women center-stage swayed and undulated in unison. Their costumes were modest compared to others that had been on stage that night, consisting of harem pants with short vests and matching gauzy veils hemmed with sequins. Cheap stuff bought out of a catalogue and customized with strands of beads and feathers. Kelly green, royal blue, crimson red and vivid purple. The tall leader, who had stepped forward to the emcee’s microphone on the front corner of the stage, wore bright yellow.
A few unkind snickers bubbled out of the audience. But if the troupe looked at first like a garish, dancing, crafts project, their graceful movements to the snaky solo melody of a double reed flute, along with Yasmine’s curious narration, quickly brought the audience under the Time Winders’ spell.
“Imagine, if you will,” Yasmine chanted, “that Time is a spiral.” Her dancers began to circle, sweeping their veils behind them. “It winds in… and it winds out again…” The dancers spiraled into the center and then out several times in a hip-dipping line dance. “The center of the spiral is the place where the past meets the future. And the tail of the spiral, where it turns back and scrolls inward again, is where the future meets the past. And in between…” Each dancer began to turn slowly on her own while swishing her veil this way and that. “…the two paths of the endless spiral lay side by side, creating the alternating worlds of the Spiral Map of Time…” Here, the music, which had been growing gradually louder and faster, broke into a heavily rhythmic Middle Eastern melody. The crowd seemed to take a collective breath and push forward in their seats. “And if you know how to dance…”
The music escalated to an up-tempo rendition of an old Arabic tune -- a favorite in the belly dance world -- and the troupe went through a brisk choreography of shakes and shimmies. The audience clapped along softly, eagerly, waiting for Yasmine to complete the incantation and explode into dance herself.
“Do you know how to dance?…” she challenged the auditorium, and a cry went up, “Yes!” then quickly faded to let her continue. Every word and pause was perfectly synched to the music and the troupe’s precision camel-walks and belly-rolls.
“Then if you know how to dance,” Yasmine sang out, “you can dance your way to anywhere and any time. You can dance your way across the Spiral right into the world where magic lives. All you have to do is…” The crowd buzzed with anticipation.
The four women center stage lowered their veils and began to shimmy. The audience cheered. Yasmine seemed to fly on yellow wings to the middle of the carpet, where she led her dancers through the final drum solo. It was the standard fare -- chest lifts, hip drops and belly flutters executed with rhythmic precision to a medley of drum patterns. With Yasmine front and center, the troupe was more confident. Energy sparked between them. Their smiles inspired the audience to clap along. When the piece ended, they accepted their applause with a small bow and then took two more steps back to sway in a row behind their leader, creating a rippling rainbow backdrop for her with their veils.
Yasmine’s routine began with a traditional taksim to the skillfully plucked strings of a solo oud, in which she showed off her control and grace with sinuous movements of arms and torso and teasing flourishes of her veil. Next came a display of foot- and finger-work. Troupe members relieved Yasmine of her veil and provided little cymbals for her to slip onto her fingers. She clacked along with an Arabic orchestra of strings, horns and drums, performing a jiggly folk dance to a medley of standard four-four and eight-four rhythms -- the walking Wahadi, hip-dipping Beledi, and bouncy Chiftetelli. When the music changed again, moving north to Armenia with the addition of one quirky beat, Yasmine reclaimed her veil and let the troupe click through variations of the nine-eight Karshlima on their own zils while she swirled around the stage.
With each repetition of the melody the tempo increased. Yasmine’s circles became faster and smaller until she was spinning in the center of the carpet. She held her veil behind her back so that it flew out like a sail as she whirled. Head thrown back and long blond ponytail snapping around her, Yasmine dervished into a golden blur. The crowd was on their feet cheering. All eyes upon her, Yasmine twirled until the patterns in the carpets were set in motion, creating a whirlpool of color that expanded outward from her toes and lifted her above the surface of a fulminating cloud, a blur of yellow… that suddenly collapsed to the floor…
The audience gasped as one and surged toward the stage to see…
She was there. The yellow veil was, anyway, lying in elegant ripples on the patchwork of rugs, on the very stationery stage. And then, with the crowd roaring, it took form, fluttered, and fell aside to reveal the trembling dancer. Yasmine slid up to her knees, did a few undulations, then reached back to her troupe, who danced forward and raised her to her feet. The audience collapsed back into their seats in wonder.
The final bit of the Time Winders’ routine was anti-climactic. Once again they looked like beginners, and people began turning to each other to chatter about what they had just seen. Some got up and wandered out to the Great Hall before the performance was over, but most stuck around to give the Time Winders an enthusiastic ovation at the end.
Meanwhile, the man in the wings was beside himself. He’d nearly succumbed to the urge to rush out and tackle his wife before she could perform the Turkish Drop. His muscles were tensing to hurtle him on stage, but she became lost in a cloud of billowing yellow chiffon. Was it not even a second that she was gone? She reappeared before his heart had resumed beating. With the audience roaring, all he could do was pace frantically backstage until the routine ended. When Yasmine at last left the spotlight and came over to him, he grabbed her in a tight hug and almost cried.
“What the hell was that, Robyn? Where did you go? Don’t ever do that again. I feel like I’m about to lose you!”
He spoke into her neck -- she was almost a head taller than he -- and the others couldn't hear. The women were too excited about their performance to notice anything unusual in Ramon and Robyn's embrace.
I noticed, of course, because I was there to see and hear for myself. Robyn wants to know where. She is impressed with how vividly I have described her performance, but is not so happy about my bringing Ramon into it. She reminds me that my task is to explain what "really" happened -- to satisfy her own prodigious curiosity, and to supply the Alternate World with real and true evidence of the other side of the Spiral. (Even if no one believes it, and all the better for me if they don't.) It has come to this: I have my own Minder, of a sort -- Editor, she calls herself -- until this damnable chore is done, so I might as well get on with it.
Are we clear that Robyn's -- excuse me, Yasmine's -- script was entirely correct about the Spiral Map of Time as consisting of my real and true world of magic and its mirror, the Alternate World, there where she lives? She had that right, having gotten all the details from Esmarelda (infuriating woman). Two worlds exist side by side in alternating coils of a Spiral that has no beginning and no end. The Gypsy's husband George Drumm will sing a song about it in a while, which may make it more clear, or you can act out the Time Winders' dance, or draw yourself a picture. The whole business is elaborated all too well in a certain publication that has recently come to my attention. I would like to figure out who wrote and disseminated that curious volume, which is (so far, fortunately) passing as fiction. Thus my account will be as thorough as possible not only to appease Robyn, but to tease out the secrets of this travesty called "The Time Dancer" and discover who is behind that preposterous nom de plume.
Sorry, where was I? Ah, of course: moi.
The Minder of the Knot and the Loophole
I am a Minder. Minders are magical beings, in a magical realm, but we do not perform magic. No spells, no hexes, no charms. Were those methods available to me, I might not find myself in this predicament. On the other hand, even the best of our magic-makers -- a Witch or Crone or Master Seer -- would find their powers unreliable in the Alternate World.
Unlike those others, we Minders are not jealous for spells. It is magic enough that we transform our physical substance from one being into another, speak and think in several languages, hear and see with the sharpest senses of our multiple species. With no false modesty I state that I am exceptional even above all that, so of course my appearance is unremarkable. It is intended that no one will notice. I cross through the Loophole by slipping between two sun-bleached sandstone boulders on our side and emerging into deeply shaded, thick pine forest in the Alternate World, a mere mile from the Kestrel Kamp and Lodge. Typically, I stop at the boulders and lift a leg to mark the path before trotting through. That's right, I'm a coyote at that point. Small and rather mangy, I'm not ashamed to say -- I work hard perfecting these appearances. I arrive in the forest as a small, wiry man in faded hiking clothes. I like to mark my passage here as well. The occasional hiker who encounters me thinks little of it when I step out from behind a tree pulling up my fly.
You’d have to be very observant to find me backstage during the Time Winders’ routine, but I assure you I was there, picking up everything that was said with my sharp coyote ears, and following along with the dancers and crew on silent coyote paws when they went out to the Great Hall for the nightly banquet and party. Those who noticed me at all that week knew me as either a custodian or a park ranger, depending on whether they saw me indoors or out of doors. (Is it ringing a bell yet, Robyn?)
Of course, near the end I had to get into a business suit and make myself known as A.G. Brooks.
Minders don't usually work up a big repertoire of forms. There's what we start out as -- say, a hawk -- and one other. We are most helpful to the Witches when we take the form of a Human for our second shape. They encourage that, but it leaves us little energy for anything else. That is to the sisters' liking, because then there are less ways we can spy on them. When the Witches find and adopt young Minders and train them to transform into Human women, these creatures are called Familiars, and they serve the Goathorns Coven. (Note: The word "serve" is controversial. The Familiars and the Witches... well, you'll see.)
I have always been independent, like the Minders of old, back before the sisters came to the Goathorns. There were no Human role models then, and Minders morphed freely from one species to another more in play than with purpose. The Firsts directed our actions in the way they made us. By instinct we guarded Red River, the Meadow, and all roads to The Top of The World and the inner switchback of the Spiral, where the Beginning of Time meets the End of Time.
What I’m trying to say is that we are natural creatures of our locale. Any species here might produce an individual with Minder traits, the way Nature sometimes generates a pure white deer or a six-toed cat. The Familiars are different from me by virtue of the Witches’ tutoring and charms, but we spring from the same stock. Over time there has been much confusion about the Minders and our origins. The sisters, who should know better, tend to treat us as if we are merely another product of wayward magic in need of taming. We Minders have not always been treated kindly by the Witches, nor, to be fair, have we always been kind to them.
When the Coven put me in charge of the Knot and the Loophole, I could not refuse. The job had to be done and I was uniquely suited for it. We all knew that. I was a master of multiple forms, among them a Human male, which is very rare. But this task, requiring me to move freely between the two worlds, would take much energy. I had to focus my efforts on a limited number of personas for either side of the Spiral. This caused the Witches to think they had gotten me under control, which caused me to realize something about their Familiars: they cooperate with the Witches because it makes their job of minding easier. One way or another, we Minders need to know what those gals are up to. So we play along. But do not be fooled, we are always prepared to act on our own when need arises.
(As some of us have done of late. Our most precious may already… No, let me not imagine the worst. My Editor requires Facts, and I applaud her. Facts she shall have. They can fill the space that would otherwise be occupied by foreboding.)
Fact: My original form -- I swear on the First Weaver's bonnet -- is a horned lizard. I learned to do the coyote next and then the man. But I found conditions across the Loophole in Piper Canyon strangely wetter than on my side. That's when I learned Frog. Frog fared better in that climate -- I am a frog there and a horned lizard or, as I prefer to be called, a horny toad at home. I also found that Man needed some adaptations for the Alternate World, mostly of the mind, and that took tremendous effort. It came down to this: I could bring some of my coyote traits into the Alternate World, but not Coyote himself. In Piper Canyon I would be either Amos G. Brooks the Human or Brooks the Frog, while at home in the Goathorns I must limit myself to H. Toad and H. Coyote -- all of which was just fine with the sisters, because Amos has not been allowed near any of them for some time.
Yes, the indiscretions of my youth play into this. I'm a shady sort. I didn't accept my assignment enthusiastically, or take it very seriously, at first. So a fair amount of leakage had already taken place by the time I buckled down to my task as Minder of the Knot and the Loophole, which was not so long ago in the scope of this story -- on the one side, anyway.
Fact: It is not possible to completely synchronize events between the two worlds at any given juncture, and especially here, so close to The Top of The World. The further my tale takes us into the Past -- and hopefully into the Future -- the less alignment there will be between the passage of Time on either side. I say "hopefully" with regard to the Future because, here in the fifth and last year of the Harmony Convention in Piper Canyon, with rents and snags appearing all through this portion of the Spiral, and Time doubling up on itself in ornate detours on its way to Past and Future, the unfortunate leakage between the worlds has led to a semblance of synchronicity, at least in the places where everyone has been going back and forth. That is part of the problem I am trying to correct but not all of it because, as it turns out, the Loophole is not the only way across the Spiral. Which brings us back to Robyn and the Time Winders, or, more to the point, the rugs.
Fact: It was the rugs, combined with the dance, that briefly transported Robyn/Yasmine off the stage at the Harmony Convention and into my world. The Loophole, my own method of crossing over, lay a mile north of Kestrel Kamp, as previously described. Hikers found their way through from time to time and it was no big deal, Coyote quickly ushered them out again. But only in my world do Gypsies learn how to vibrate themselves along the Spiral through dance, and only here do Gypsies, Weavers and Witches -- the most skilled of them -- employ fiber-based conveyances such as magic satchels and flying carpets to skip across space and Time. Once I’d gotten wind of the Time Winders’ routine, I was bound by blood and duty to confiscate the carpets.
It would be tempting to lay all of the blame for this commerce between the worlds at the Gypsy Esmarelda's pretty feet, but my own role in the chain of events is inescapable. It is also a very long ways back. We will get there eventually -- leap-frogging backward, if you will. For now, Editor permitting, we return to the scene in Kestrel Lodge last Thursday evening, when the boundary between the two worlds was weak and getting weaker. I believe we were on our way to the post-performance dinner buffet. The colorful affair is still fresh in my mind:
Robyn took a sip of homemade “ambrosia,” passed the flask to someone nearby, and motioned that she was ready to get some food. A path cleared, and a young woman rushed ahead to get a plate and hold a place for her in the buffet line. Robyn’s bangles tinkled gently under her caftan as she glided through the crowd, majestically tall, her silky blond hair glowing like a golden waterfall under the sconces of the Great Hall.
“Dios mio,” Ramon groaned, sitting with Faye at a big round table they were holding for the troupe. “If you guys win, there’ll be no living with her.”
“We’re not going to win,” Faye assured him. “The judges hate our routine. We only got this far because of the buzz going around about Robyn. But the ‘in’ crowd here is pretty pissed. I overheard some of them griping about beginners and their conceptual shit ." Faye was sitting on the padded hotel chair with her knees tucked under her chin, unwinding the strings of bells from her ankles. Inwardly she longed for Zeek, the cats, and a private, home-cooked meal. "Besides, Robyn is not turning into a belly dance diva. She just happens to be really good, especially considering she's only been dancing -- what? -- a year or so?"
“More like two. She got into it right after we got married.”
“After the business with Esmarelda.”
The two sat glumly amidst the swirl of gauzy, glittering, feathered, flounced, hooded, hatted and be-caped fashion. The five-day Harmony Convention had attracted all manner of alternative types -- healers and seers, musicians and artists, pagans and hippies, gamers and fantasy fans. This was exactly the Lost Unicorn's demographic, and the store's booth had paid for their trip already. By end of day tomorrow it would be so picked through that, were it not for the belly dancing, they'd probably just head home. But no, it was the dancing that Robyn came for and was determined to see through to the end. She'd gotten the bug, and the other women had been bitten too, swept up in the glamour and attention. Faye was getting tired and homesick.
Ramon was getting scared. The music and the dancing were great -- he lived for music -- but he didn't want this Yasmine creature taking over his Robyn. He had a band of his own and his own musical career -- he didn't need to be a roadie for the troupe.
“Did you see it?”
“No.” Faye didn’t have to ask what he meant. “I was concentrating on my zils so I wouldn’t screw up, and looking out at the crowd.” She stuffed the ankle bells into a satin pouch she’d bought for her gew-gaws and began pulling off bracelets and rings. “The funny thing is, I thought it looked like the audience was disappearing.”
“Shit. I need some tequila. You think they got any, or is it all mead and crap?”
“What did it look like to you, Ramon?” Faye asked, before he abandoned her.
“It looked like my wife twirled herself into oblivion and then reappeared under her veil on the floor.” Ramon stood up and peered over toward the buffet, concerned that Robyn might disappear again at any moment. “Where the hell did she get to now? Okay, she’s coming. I don’t like it, Faye. I don’t like it at all. Did she ever tell you about that Gypsy person?”
“No, hardly anything. Just her name. I actually met Esmarelda twice, but she never had time to talk. You know, Robyn has a lot of friends like that. I mean, look around.”
"Yeah, yeah, but that one was different." He said no more, seeing Robyn approach. She was followed by Paulette -- "Ursula," Alice -- "Alizia," and Sharon -- "Shanna." Everyone in the troupe had to have an exotic name. Faye was "Fatima."
Faye looked over at the buffet line. She was hungry, but she was also anxious to talk to Robyn. Two years ago, when the mysterious Esmarelda first dropped in on Robyn, Faye was a fairly new, part-time worker at the store. She and Robyn quickly became close friends, but Robyn never said anything more about the Gypsy to Faye, nor did she tell any of the other dancers. Strange, since clearly it was Esmarelda who’d inspired Robyn’s obsession with belly dance. Sometimes Faye wondered if Robyn/Yasmine were possessed by the Gypsy. But that went against Faye’s pragmatic nature. Even after a year of total immersion, she had not lost her skepticism toward the arcane projects of the Lost Unicorn’s patrons. Maybe that’s why Robyn held back. Maybe if Faye expressed more open-mindedness, Robyn would open up to her. One way or another, they were going to have to discuss what was going on with the “Turkish Drop.”
Faye watched Ramon put his arm around Robyn’s waist and squeeze affectionately before going over to the bar. The more Alice, Sharon and Paulette bubbled forth about the performance and how much everyone had loved it, the more he wanted that drink. Faye caught Robyn’s eye and mouthed the words, “We need to talk.”
Robyn came over and took Ramon’s empty chair. As she settled in with her plate and goblet, the lights blinked off and on twice. Someone started tapping on a microphone.
“Quiet, please, everyone, we’re about to announce the winners of the belly dance semi-finals.” The crowd fell silent and turned toward the little dais that has been set up at the far end of the ballroom. “Ms. Caper…”
The venerable Ms. Caper took the mic and read three names from a card to great applause. As the clapping subsided, a few voices could be heard chanting, “Time Winders, Time Winders…” and these were quickly joined by others, “Time Winders, Time Winders…”
“Hush, will you!” Ms. Caper commanded, “I haven’t finished. In addition to the three finalists, who will compete for the grand prize, the judges are inviting the Fourth Place winner to also perform on Saturday night. That will be an exhibition dance only, but we want to acknowledge this new group’s marvelous energy and originality. I think you know who they are, people… The Time Winders!”
Everyone called it out together, and an even bigger cheer rose from the crowd. Yasmine, Alizia, Shanna, Ursula and Fatima waved to their admirers. Over at the bar, Ramon tossed back his shot of tequila and ordered two more.
Ramon had good cause to worry. His instincts warned him of circumstances his reason would never fathom. The twirling disappearance of his lady love bespoke the presence of a sort of funnel into a parallel universe that would swallow them all up. Or worse, her but not him. He had an uneasy sensation that Esmarelda was nearby and, like a latter day Pied Piper, would lure his Robyn away, and Faye and the others too. How would he ever explain that to the folks waiting back home in Caliente? He had to find a way to keep them all safe.
Ramon downed the last shot of tequila and imagined the liquor burning through the barriers of his ordinary thinking. He stuck a thin lime wedge in his mouth, bit down, winced, then spread his lips to form a bright green smile for the mirror behind the bar. Don’t mess with my Robyn, bruja! He spit out the lime rind, shook his head like a prize fighter, and strode out into the night to take a leak in the woods before turning in. “I’m telling you, Esmarelda,” he said out loud this time, as he marked a line in the pine needles, “keep away from us.”
That sent a chill so far up my spine that without thinking I let out a coyote howl. I surprised myself with how close I came, in my Human body, to the real thing. Still, I had almost given myself away. I morphed into Frog to stay out of trouble. Ramon, several tequilas to the wind, was neither suspicious nor frightened by the call of a coyote so nearby. He put his hands to his mouth and howled right back! He was answered by several wolf calls off in the distance. Ramon nodded with satisfaction and returned to the Lodge. He would sleep a heroic sleep and wake in the morning prepared to deal with the impossible.
It was an admirable display, but I ask you, can a reasonable man ever be prepared for the impossible? One of the purposes of this project is to “prove” the reality of things classified as impossible. Well, good luck with that. I can only state that what has in fact occurred must naturally fall into the realm of the possible, and I give you my word that this report is a real and true chronicle of my own memories and investigations. There will be no “and they woke up and it was all a dream” business at the end, I promise.
(True, some will sleep and forget…)
(Sorry, sore subject.)
Ramon woke with a genuine hangover in the morning. The Time Winders suffered their own sort of letdown from the glitter and attention of the night before. Dawn broke with its customary precocious glory, and everyone rolled over and went back to sleep. Everyone but Faye.
Converging on the Knot
Faye woke up Friday morning awash with anxiety. Two whole days before their "exhibition" performance, two whole nights before she would be back in Zeek's arms -- how would she stand it? She was overcome by a feeling of dread. The Harmony folks were getting on her nerves, and her troupe-mates were causing her worry -- they were all getting lots of propositions to hook up for the reputedly wild Solstice revelries to come. Some of the romancers were cute, others merely persistent. Some already had girlfriends -- and/or boyfriends! Faye tried not to express disapproval. The scene was too loose for her taste, but who was she to judge? Mainly, she didn't want to get stuck working extra shifts at the Lost Unicorn booth because of her friends' self-indulgence. She would take today off and then pay it backward.
While the others slept off their excesses, Faye dressed quickly, grabbed a protein bar and headed for the Lodge office. She got there in time to join two middle-aged couples and a family of five on a guided hike along the lower trails.
As Faye approached, she could tell her companions were not seasoned hikers. She looked forward to a leisurely, low-impact walk in the woods. Joining the group, she heard several of them grumbling about the “hippie convention.” She sauntered over, stuck out her hand to one after another and introduced herself with a big smile, “Fatima.” She couldn’t resist. “I’m with the belly dance troupe, The Time Winders.” Her fondness for the Harmony folks had suddenly returned. At least they were colorful and creative and open-hearted.
“Fatima. Fatima. Fatima,” she pronounced for each of the three children under twelve, as she shook their little hands. “Barry. Sherman. Roberta. So nice to meet you.” After that, they were hers for the duration. The parents appreciated this unexpected break from minding the kids, while Faye thought the children were better company than the grown-ups. It was going to be a beautiful day…
Excuse me. Robyn thinks I should “move the story along already.” She didn’t appreciate Faye’s taking the day off and leaving her with the burden of the booth, and she’s not keen on me reiterating all the neat things Faye saw on her nature walk while the rest of them were occupied at the convention. Well, not to worry, I don’t plan to describe all of that lovely scenery again. But, maybe the things Faye failed to mention are of some interest.
The guide himself, for instance. So earthy and unassuming, he practically blended in with the landscape. For periods of time it was as if he wasn't there at all. And yet the minute a question was asked, a flower pointed to, a bird sighted -- there he was, ready with the answer. Bill, his name was. Or was it Bob? Brock?
Brooks, that’s it.
Oh, yes. I was along on the walkies with Faye and the common folk, trying to sniff out any new passages across the Spiral, and to make sure that Faye, of all people, didn’t slip through. I tell you, the Witches are like magnets, the way they pull everything into the Goathorns. Haven’t I said that all wayward spells and miscast charms must land on the Witches’ doorstep? Haven’t I said that Brunagwa’s chickens were coming home to roost?
Robyn is one of Brunagwa's chicks. Faye also because of her connection, through the cats, to Esmarelda and all the traveling that was done back and forth across the Spiral on account of Esmarelda -- in Brunagwa’s stolen magic satchel!
So, Faye goes for a hike and, right on cue, along comes Esmarelda on the other side of the Spiral. Exactly as Ramon feared, the Gypsy was nearby. While everyone lolled around the Harmony Convention recuperating for another night of partying, I was hard at it to patrol both sides of the Spiral down in the lower foothills of the murky divide between our two worlds.
Obviously, the Gypsy Esmarelda had to come to the Goathorns in order to return the stolen satchel and (try) to make amends with Brunagwa the Red Mountain Witch (Esmarelda doesn’t know Brunagwa). She has with her George Drumm, who jumped ten years ahead on the Spiral Map of Time and never went back (so you know he’s on his way to the Knot), and the cat Sylvestor that George brought over from the Alternate World (ditto). Just my luck, the Gypsies arrived in the Goathorns on the very day Faye was traipsing around nearby. (You can tell I’m being facetious, can’t you? Luck has no more to do with it than luck has to do with water running downhill, or with a cactus blossom closing up when the sun sets. The forces of Nature were at work, myself among them.)
It was a fine day in the mountains -- but the wild irises, the butterflies, magpies, aspens and blue pine have already been faithfully observed and reported by Faye. At my Editor's insistence, I will now pick up the story on the other side of the Spiral (home to me), and describe the progress of the Gypsies thus far, both up to and beyond Faye's early morning hike. For those who are familiar with "The Time Dancer" (that is, Robyn, who is positively obsessed with the thing), and those who are not, what follows is a review and continuation of that (ahem) tall tale.
Esmarelda and George Drumm
Esmarelda and George, with their cat Sylvestor, had traveled by foot for many months in the leisurely way that Gypsies go. Their route took them due north from Resthaven along quiet lanes and through woodlands and fields. Sometimes it passed through small villages where they could perform at a pub or country fair. They were traveling north primarily, apace with the summer season, so that spring dawned fresh at every turn. By the time summer caught up to them, they would be climbing in altitude. That was their plan. But, away from the confines of Resthaven, the call of the road was strong. They took many detours, dawdling along at a pace that was slow even for Gypsies.
Until recently, Esmarelda had been under a sort of self-imposed house arrest. Her apprenticeship to Malcom the Master Seer had proved disastrous. Long after she quit the magician’s company, he continued to stalk her. Her perceptual skills were no match for the master of disguise. Once, twice, thrice (how many other times?) she had made a new friend only to discover that it was he, the fiend, mocking, tormenting: “Take me back, Esmarelda. I can be anyone you want me to be!” Frightened and humiliated, trusting no man, the Gypsy had retreated to the abandoned cottage on the outskirts of Resthaven. The town’s orderliness and ordinariness, which she would have shunned in the past, made her feel safe. But not even a town full of gossips could save her from Malcom. He had one more twisted plot up his sleeve. It would prove to be his undoing, but not before Esmarelda was driven to travel through Time to escape him and to seek the guidance of her Gypsy elders. There, in the ten-years-ago, she met George Drumm. More leaps across the Spiral ensued, including several forays to the Alternate World, where: Esma was befriended by Robyn; Malcom made his tragic misstep; and George adopted the tiger-striped cat, Sylvestor.
How fortunate to have a home base amidst all of that! George and Esmarelda did finally meet up in Resthaven, and they have been together ever since. My point is, you can imagine how wonderful it felt to the Gypsy to get back on the road with George and Sylvestor -- really on the road, in the natural way, on the proper side of the Spiral. Magical conveyances like the satchels they had used to go through Time are not meant for everyday use, and the outcomes of those journeys can have serious repercussions.
Which brings us to George. On Sunweir Isle, the dreamy lad had found signs of his own people's Traveler ancestry. He was inspired to set forth in search of the Traveler bands who still crossed the great continent, for none remained on the island. Halfway around the world George found the Gypsies. He proved his kinship to them with his music, and was taken in. Then, because he was intrepid and still in search of -- he knew not what -- he was passed from troupe to troupe to continue his journey in search of -- whatever. While George Drumm, the Gypsies' Celtic cousin, sought for what he sought, he carried their goods and messages from clan to clan. It was a nice arrangement for all. And when, by chance, George landed with Esmarelda's clan in time to witness her surprise drop-in from the Future, well, it didn't seem like chance at all. It seemed like fate.
George Drumm was smitten with Esmarelda, the Gypsy dancer. So he followed her. He had crossed a vast sea and criss-crossed a continent, now he would travel through Time to be with his true love. He absconded with the Gypsy crone Huliyana’s magic satchel to do it. Although our carefree fiddler was not in the habit of thievery, once he had fallen for Esma, and she for him, he felt that all of his actions were justified. Love would overcome all obstacles.
Including a ten-year stitch in Time? George had skipped over a decade of his own history. Was that also fate? Was that piece of Time, for George, a blank, a void -- no there there? Or were ten years of experience waiting to be lived, a fold in the fabric of Time that needed to be ironed out?
The way the couple zigged and zagged to Red Mountain, you might think they were trying to cover enough terrain to make up for George’s skipped years. If they did so, or thought so, the crazy idea was not spoken. On the surface they were simply young lovers who sought to please each other. Should Esmarelda wish to spend an extra day following a river bank instead of the road because certain herbs were in season and might as well be picked, George was more than happy to go along. He, in turn, was sure of getting his way when he wanted to stay on an extra night or two at a tavern where the tips were good and the bed comfortable. They had chased each other hither and yon across the Spiral, and now they were on this long walk getting to know each other. Why shouldn’t they want to prolong the journey?
Still, their union had come with some breaking of rules, not only on George’s part. Esmarelda was also in possession of a stolen magic satchel. It didn’t matter that it had originally been Malcom’s loot. It was hers now, and it was up to her to make amends with its rightful owner, the Red Mountain Witch. This unspoken but not unfelt fact tended to unsettle George and Esmarelda’s blissful dalliance. Try as they might, they could not escape their journey’s purpose. When they finally espied the peaks of the Goathorn Mountains wavering on the horizon, impatience got the better of reluctance. They agreed to push on in earnest. Rather than go the long way around on the cart path from town to town, they would travel as the crow flies.
They set out across rolling and gently rising land. The fields were no longer cultivated for lack of regulars rains, but in this season there were still mossy rivulets and grassy valleys hidden between the sun-soaked hillocks. When our Gypsies stopped for the night, they rested comfortably, happy to have found some not-too-lumpy ground, and to be sheltered in a valley such that they could not see any part of Goathorns Peak, which had all day peered out at them through distant clouds like an inquisitive eye.
The couple woke the next morning, ascended the low hill that had concealed them, and confronted an expanse of flat, hot plain. This must be what the locals had referred to as Gumption Flats. They continued to advance across the plain.
“Flats? What a joke,” George cursed while they struggled over the furrowed prairielands to the main north-south road.
It took them the better part of the day to reach Treasure Seeker’s Way. They set their tired feet on the smooth road with relief, and began to march purposefully toward Red Mountain. They hiked through the long dusk and kept on all night, the pale surface of the road shining invitingly under a three-quarter moon. With a cooling breeze to refresh them, they found this far more pleasant than traveling by day. In the small hours, a moistness in the air told them they were approaching the verdant, mystical valleys below the Goathorns where many byways converged. As day broke, Treasure Seeker’s Way sloped steeply downwards, and the prairie gave way to pastures dotted with trees. Country lanes and farmhouses appeared to left and right, and soon they came upon the place where Treasure Seeker’s Way crossed The Open Road.
Esmarelda and George Drumm, with Sylvestor the cat, turned west to follow this broad thoroughfare. The Open Road would take them through a busy town before rising up out of the valley again. Crossroads City was far bigger than Resthaven, bigger even than Fort Duty, which the Gypsies had hiked three days extra to avoid. But Crossroads City had a friendly reputation, and they were done with detours. They made a solemn pact to spend only one night there, just to rest up and gather provisions.
Their resolution was partially achieved. They did stay over but one night; they did not rest. First they ate a delicious rustic meal, then they shopped, then they ate a fancier meal at a different tavern; and then they found themselves out of money. So they made a deal to perform at an inn in exchange for room and board, but they never did get to sleep. The music, dance, fortune telling and gambling went on all night. George had settled a ride for them with a farmer who had come to market and couldn’t wait to get home to the quiet countryside. The man was hitching up his horses when the Gypsies were going up to bed. All they could do was grab their gear and tumble into the back of the wagon.
Sleeping fitfully while the wagon bumped along, Esma dreamed of a great tree picking her up in its mighty limbs and hurling her into the air. She woke with a start, and shook George awake. The farmer was calling “Whhoa!” to his horses. The team, which had plodded along so painfully slowly for hours, didn’t want to stop. In fact, they were going faster.
“Better hop out quick,” the farmer called back to them. The Gypsies were already preparing to do so. They scooped up all their stuff and scrambled over the side, calling their thanks. The man berated his beasts until they had slowed enough for the Gypsies, with Sylvestor in the lead, to hop off into the tall grass beside the road.
“Take care, now!” the farmer called, while his team of horses, seemingly of their own volition, turned onto the westerly arm of The Open Road and broke into a trot.
George stared after the quickly receding wagon. “Did they take off like that because they can smell the barn, or because they are running away from here? Where are we?”
“We’re at the junction of Wand Way,” Esma answered, taking his elbow and steering him toward the northbound road. Sylvestor trotted ahead of them. “This is the way to the magical places.” Her demeanor suggested to George that she would also prefer to run in the opposite direction. He took her hand and squeezed. With the Goathorn Mountains commanding the horizon, they marched bravely on.
At mid-morning, traffic was increasing on Wand Way, and people kept stopping to see if George and Esma needed a ride. They hoped to spare the strangers on foot an encounter with “the tree,” little knowing that this was exactly their destination. Beyond the great tree, Wand Way would become a busy road pointing northwest to the legendary city of Ochersfeldt. Naturally, everyone thought the colorful couple with cat was heading for the magical city. The Gypsies politely declined all offers of aid. They sought out a lane that paralleled Wand Way but was hidden from the road by foliage. Once they were out of sight of nosy travelers, their walk went quickly enough, uphill though it was.
“Which one is ‘the tree’?” George asked Esma. Wand Way appeared to be leading them directly into a grove of great, crooked, cottonwood trees.
“It is all one tree, the Tree of Choices.”
“Truly? I hope it isn’t really dangerous, because I’m eager to get into its shade.”
“The danger is in Ochersfeldt, if you ask me,” Esma answered cryptically. “But if you are trying to go to that city, you must keep to the left of the tree, which isn't always easy to cipher because of the shadows and how that great limb curls down and over, making a sort of tunnel that is not the road but a trail for animals -- and the likes of us."
Esmarelda led George to the Tree of Choices. It heaved upward in five thick trunks from a knobby thicket of roots that covered as much ground as Resthaven’s central square. Massive limbs erupted from each main offshoot, and they twisted and churned upward, outward, and back toward earth again in runic formations. Nearing the trunk, where the bark furrowed deep enough to hide George’s fingers up to the second knuckle, they felt encaged within the tree itself. George withdrew his hand before the tree could eat him.
“I had no idea you could get lost in a tree. Now what?” George made sure Sylvestor was safely at their heels, and extended his hand to Esma.
“Ah, our tree is not for getting lost, but finding the way.” Esma began to lead George thrice clockwise around the immense trunks within the ribs of overhanging limbs. Half way round they encountered the obvious if dauntingly steep trail to The Top of The World, known locally as Goathorns Peak. There was even a marked trailhead with a sign that read, “Top of the World, straight up.” Esma ignored it and continued on. When they rounded the tree again, and she passed by the trail again, George was ready to protest. But Sylvestor trotted resolutely beside Esma, as though the cat also knew the way, so George kept quiet and followed along.
For a third time they stepped around to the north side of the great tree. This time, before they could pass by the trailhead again, a new path through the thicket appeared. Beyond the sweep of cottonwood limbs, the grasses suddenly lay bent as though walked on many times. A lane now traversed the briary slope up to a line of firs and then climbed through a steepening canyon.
Esmarelda breathed a sigh of relief. It was really so, exactly as Weaver Ehrte had described. Her mentor had spoken at length about this legendary juncture. Ehrte claimed to know the lineage and location of every Weaver’s pinnacle, all the way to Oshi at The Top of The World. Expecting that her pupil would continue on to pilgrimage to these other wise women, Ehrte had told Esma about the witchy Goathorns Mountains that bordered Oshi’s summit. To get to Oshi, one must take “the honest road” that was clearly marked and ascended the mountain in a series of exhausting switchbacks; the eerie “path that opened” would take one deep into the realm of the Witches, Ehrte warned.
Esmarelda stepped confidently onto the lane that had opened through the bracken. She was not going to Weaver Oshi this day. But she would use the knowledge she had gleaned about Oshi’s neighbors, the Goathorns Coven, to reach the Red Mountain Witch and return the magic satchel.
Here my Editor intrudes (too bad, I was on a roll). She wants to know how near in time and space, at this point, Esma, George and Sylvestor are to Faye and the mild hikers of Piper Canyon. All I can say is, “nowhere near,” because it was my job to insure such was the case. On this day I succeeded. Faye and the children were the only ones who complained about being kept on the lower, easterly trails rather than climbing up to a higher place with a better view. The others preferred not to strain themselves. And everyone was happy enough with the end point, where we found a view of the eastern plains stretching out like an ocean to the horizon. (I got lucky on the visibility, some days you can’t see as far as the tip of your nose.) I had Faye and the others safely off the trail before they could stumble into trouble.
I'm beginning to see how this will get complicated. We have two worlds to keep track of here, two timelines, and multiple locations in each. Some of us are even two -- or more -- creatures. And for all of this I have your odd, inflexibly sequential language. There will have to be some jumping around, I warn you. I mean, what you have suffered so far is not the least of it. Still, I am not quite ready for the next leap of faith. Allow me to return to Esmarelda, George and the cat. They are finally entering the ring of the Goathorn Mountains. Pay close attention. They, and we, have much ground to cover both geographically and historically.
(I think what Robyn is really fishing around for is a fact about the proximity of Piper Canyon to the magical Goathorns. Unfortunately for her, there is no way I can convey this, given that in the Alternate World a hop, a skip, and a jump are not treated as actual units of measure.)
Approaching from the southeast, “the path that opened” was the shortest route to Red Mountain for our intrepid trio. The trail ran between Six Hills on the west, guarded by Sestorina, and the Ice Caves to the east at the foot of Goathorns Peak, guarded by Dremtessa; then it skirted Witches Meadow, which was protected by Hesterluna. On the far side of the meadow, the ascent to Red Mountain began. Since coming into possession of the stolen magic satchel, Esmarelda had taken it upon herself to learn more about the five sisters who made up Goathorns Coven. And the more she learned, the greater her hope to avoid them all. The name of the Red Mountain Witch was Brunagwa, not very friendly-sounding, and she was said to be the fiercest of the five sisters. Maybe Esma and George could find a way to climb Red Mountain undetected, leave the satchel on Brunagwa’s doorstep, and slip away!
The Gypsy’s plan was to follow the trail between Sestorina’s Six Hills and the Ice Caves of Dremtessa. Before they came too close to Witches Meadow, they would abandon the enchanted path and climb up to the High Road. The detour would pay off if they could escape the notorious Meadow Watch Witch, Hesterluna, although for a short stretch it would bring them dangerously close to the fifth sister, Intuisha.
Intuisha, Dremtessa’s twin, ruled the high outcropping that sat atop the Ice Caves. The mass of rock joined the foothills of Goathorns Peak at its northernmost vein, making Intuisha the nearest neighbor to Weaver Oshi. Having spent her season with Weaver Ehrte at Andarra, Esmarelda felt safe here below Oshi’s summit. Foolishly, she imagined Oshi watching over all like a doting grandma. (That’s not how Ehrte was!) Still, her plan was reasonable. They would ascend by daylight, quickly pass by the caverns, and reach the High Road before dusk.
George deferred to Esma’s superior knowledge of the locale and its magical properties. Whereas he had been bold and intrepid along all the byways and through all the towns along the way, the seemingly idyllic setting they now traversed gave him the willies. The map he had studied at a shop in Crossroads City had shown a clear path to Red Mountain by way of Ochersfeldt. But Esmarelda would not hear of going anywhere near “that place.” George could only imagine the horror of the town, if Esma considered this unknown, unpredictable, enchanted landscape a preferable route.
Our travelers followed the mysterious path for several hours up through a verdant valley still spongy from spring run-off, ascended a downy hillock, and then turned east toward an apparently impenetrable mesa wall. Behind them, the path that opened was closing up. It quickly disappeared beneath a dense, waist-high bramble.
“I see there will be no backtracking,” George pointed out.
“Never mind that. We need to get to the top of that mesa and follow it north until we meet up with the honest road again,” Esma said. “There is a High Road that runs along the escarpment overlooking Witches Meadow, it leads to Red Mountain.”
The landscape was becoming barren as the mesa loomed ahead, dark mouths of caves now distinguishable in its pockmarked surface. Esma had told George that Ehrte had told her that the caves and overhanging cliffs were patrolled by a cougar belonging to Intuisha, the High Caverns Witch. This was serious business. He suggested that before making the final push for the High Road, they stop to rest and regroup. They had been hiking for what seemed like an entire day already.
Esma checked the sky. Not a cloud. The moist spring day had given way to crackling summer. The sun loitered high overhead. She hadn’t wanted to bring up the bear, Dremtessa’s Familiar. One had to get past Dremtessa’s bear to even worry about Intuisha’s cougar. But there was little danger either would be out in the heat of the day, and the heat was still rising. The Gypsy agreed they should stop.
George settled under a wind-twisted tree where a weathered boulder could serve as his makeshift desk. He would work on his songs to distract himself from thoughts of cougars and other dangers. He found stones to weight the corners of his manuscripts, which wanted to curl back into the shape of the short leather tube he carried them in, slung from a strap across his shoulder. He was pleased to see that the tube had kept them dry.
Making up songs helped George make sense of his own story, which seemed strange even to him. For instance, his very first night with the Gypsies had been on an outcropping such as this, but far off to the northwest, on the far side of a distant ring of mountains. Was that but two short years ago? By the calendar, it was nearly twelve.
“The Chanties And Ballads Of George Drumm And The Gypsy Esmarelda, Being The Recounting In Verse Of Their Meeting, The Search For Lost Cats, Travels To The Alternate World, An Expedition To Red Mountain And Other Adventures,” George read proudly from his scroll.
“Don’t you think that title is too long?” Esma spread her cape on the grass and began emptying the contents of her pack onto it. Everything was damp from splashing through fast-flowing streams further down.
“I think it’s a good title. Descriptive. Tells exactly what’s to be found within.”
"We haven't been to Red Mountain yet. And what adventures we've had already perhaps ought not be told." Esmarelda was taking careful inventory of her belongings, making sure nothing was damaged -- her bells and beads, veils and vests, skirts and slippers, a small crystal ball wrapped in silk, tambourine, hand-shaped pouch with all its compartments of powders and potions -- and the magic satchels, the one that was rightfully hers that Ehrte had made for her, and the one Malcom had acquired that rightfully belonged to the Red Mountain Witch. The knots it contained told Esma that it had been made by Oshi at The Top of The World. It was a powerful object still, despite its decrepit state. She was as eager to be rid of it as she was reluctant to meet its owner.
“Sylvestor! Get away!” Esma forbade the inquisitive cat from padding through her colorful display. She quickly refolded the satchel.
“There you are, fella. Come along, Sly, leave the lady alone.” The cat obediently trotted over to George, who bent down to pet him.
“My two redheads.” Esma grinned over at them. George’s hair was sun-lightened almost to the tabby orange of Sylvestor’s coat.
From his shady nook, George grinned back at his olive-skinned partner; she literally sparkled in the dappled sunlight, from her glossy black hair to her bejeweled toes. For many months they had traveled casually. They walked and talked, or walked and sang, or walked and were silent. Esma never found her feet so tired that she couldn’t dance into the night, so long as George never found his arms too weary to lift his fiddle and play for her. This gentle, musical journey into each other’s souls thrilled George in ways his previous adventures had not. But now, watching Esma’s glittering form amidst her magical trousseau, George found his delight mingled with uneasiness. At the Tree of Choices, Esma had worked a special spell; it had reminded him of the magic that had brought them together and still defied explanation. Their happiness trembled on the precipice of impossibility. Had Fate been cheated or fulfilled?
“You know, Esma, the more truth I tell in these songs, the less anyone is likely to believe them.”
“You are probably right. Besides, I don’t suppose I could stop you from writing songs any more than you could stop me from dancing.”
"I wouldn't dare to try -- "
George picked up his pen.
“It’s just that writing them down -- "
"Now, now, only one copy -- before I forget any of the words. Or do you intend to help me remember all the verses?”
"Oh, no! Not me! I already have to remember stars and herbs and magic names and musical rhythms -- "
“Well then, you see the need to write this down. For everything you keep in your head, you still have much recorded on charts and maps.”
“Alright. One copy then. And I suppose the first entry will be One Hundred Days At Sea?”
"Yes, that's already done, here we go." George found the tightly written page -- a few bars of musical notation at the top, the verses of the song carefully printed below. He appraised it with satisfaction for a moment, then he put it aside. He knew these lyrics well already. He sang them to Esma in a clear tenor range, not the gruff sailor's voice he used when he showed off for an audience.
When all of John Cory’s daughters were wed
And not one of them to me
I kissed me lovin’ Mum on the cheek
And then I took to sea
From Sumweir to Else the weather was rough
And I thought of my late Great-Grand
The last of the Drumms to board a ship
And he never again saw land
Oh, he never again saw land, boys
He never again saw land
The last of the Drumms to board a ship
And he never again saw land
My music and I could not stay ashore
So teased by the ocean smells
Me coat was wet but my fiddle dry
On the rollicking voyage to Else
“There is a continent in tales
Where mountains rise up to the moon…”
George faltered, realizing that he stood practically in the shadow of those very peaks. The voyage he sang of had seemed the adventure of a lifetime, but it was tame compared to where he’d been since, and where he was going. Esma smiled at him as if reading his mind, and George sang out to the surrounding mountains:
“There is a continent in tales
“Where mountains rise up to the moon
“And its lands are vast as the oceans we sail,”
I mused in an Else saloon
“I’ll take you there,” an old Captain said
“But I won’t take you there for free
“For a ship to reach those fabled lands
“Takes One Hundred Days At Sea!”
One Hundred Days At Sea, boys
One Hundred Days At Sea
For a ship to reach those fabled lands
Takes One Hundred Days At Sea!
Esma never tired of the autobiographical ballad of George Drumm, bachelor fiddler from those high northern islands half a world away from anywhere. Watching the pulsing muscles of his freckled arm as he bowed the fiddle, the mop of red hair bouncing along in time to his music, Esma’s stomach fluttered with desire the way it had on their first meeting. Some would say this had been “love at first sight,” but Esma knew better. Such a love as she and George had was too deep to be new, too familiar to be a first. Before he had leapt across Time to follow Esmarelda, George had crossed sea and land to find the Gypsies. His lilting chanty spun a spell that made Esma feel she had been there with him:
Parched from sun and sea and salt
Resigned to a watery fate
Seventy days and eighty gone
There was naught to do but wait
Then just when hope would perish
The wind once more did blow
And aft’ One Hundred Days At Sea
We made Omanipinamo
Omanipinamo, boys, Omanipinamo!
Again our sails were pulling us t’ward Omanipinamo!
George’s sudden silence jolted Esma back to attention. “Excellent! How well I remember the first time I saw you perform that song. I played along on my tambourine.”
“And coaxed your nieces into doing the Time Dance so that everyone nearly got seasick!” George was also remembering that night.
“It seems a long time ago.”
“Hah! We met some years ago, but have known each other less than two. You’re right, no one will believe it!” Esma grew pensive. “George, do you ever regret jumping ahead in Time?”
“To be with you? Never! And may I remind you that you had to jump back in Time first, in order for us to meet, or I would never have jumped ahead.”
“Yes, but I came back to where I belonged. And we might have met anyway, and fallen in love.”
“Would you find me so appealing as a ten-year-older man?”
“Of course! But maybe in those ten years you’d have found a wife already.”
“Had I stayed with the Gypsies, I’m sure your uncle would have seen to it.”
"So of course I would have to leave, rather than wed a woman I didn't love, and that's how we'd eventually find each other." George felt certain he would have fallen in love with Esma no matter when or where he met her, and none other in the meantime. Esma's expression remained dark. "You're not sorry I jumped ahead, are you, Esma? You've said yourself that Time is an illusion -- the sequential nature of it, anyway. The Spiral Map, the Alternate World, everything you have shown me proves that. It's all already happened, or happening, all at the same time. Past, Present and Future, inextricably connected and unalterable -- Why are you looking at me like that?"
“You are a very good student.” Esma smiled, though her eyes were troubled. She began polishing her crystal ball. It didn’t need polishing, but it comforted her to hold it, to roll it back and forth between her hands. “We’ve never spoken of Faye and Zeek.”
"Can we? I assumed we shouldn't, because of what you'd said -- that it was bad luck to meet yourself in the past. I thought we'd just pretend that we hadn't noticed that they were us.”
“So they seemed. But not us in the past, us in the Alternate World. They are our future!”
George grinned. “Then they’ll be the ones with the bad luck, since we are their past.”
“But I don’t think they recognized us, as themselves. And they never saw us together. So, I’ve decided there’s probably no harm done so long as we never bump into them again.”
“Well, that’s a relief!” George teased. “Tell me, how can harm ever be done if everything is always unfolding according to a perfect plan?”
“Don’t think I haven’t wondered that myself. My theory is that we don’t ever see the whole of Time, only our own little moment, and within that moment things can and do go wrong.”
“Or right. Ever think of that? That maybe things are going right, not wrong. Faye and Zeek were, are… Ha! Will be so happy together.”
“Yes, just like us.” The crystal in Esma’s hand glowed pink when they spoke of their happiness.
“I think it was good luck to find Faye and Zeek as we did,” George challenged.
“Of course you do, you always make the best of everything.” But Esma still felt uneasy. She was sorry she had mentioned their counterparts in the Alternate World, especially so near the domain of the Witches. And she had an unpleasant itchy-tingly sensation all around her left ankle. She couldn’t imagine how, but she was certain that the wretched ankle bracelet would be coming back to her, or at least back to haunt her, because of her nearness to the city of Ochersfeldt where it was made. She stood up and rubbed her left ankle with her right foot. “What other songs have you been working on?”
“Well, let’s see…” George found another sheet and cast a defiant look at Esma. “I’ve nearly finished this one about the Spiral Map of Time.” Esma bit her lip and furrowed her eyebrows disapprovingly but said nothing. George lifted his fiddle and bow. “Now take a listen before you pass judgement. I’ve tried to make it like a riddle. Most people will think it but a clever rhyme.”
“Then play away, my clever composer.” Perhaps it wasn’t fair for Esma to expect George to protect the Gypsy mysteries. Magical knowledge came so naturally to him that in his mind it must not seem secret at all. She listened intently to the lyrics, while the mesmerizing raga that spun out of his fiddle caused her to sway, and then dance. She glided barefoot around the items laid out on her cape, making them part of the choreography. George sang:
Oh, the Spiral Map of Time
Unfurls from Nowhere to Forever
And returns upon a mirror path
From Everywhere to Never.
The coils of the Spiral
Trace a ceaseless path
And the End meets the Beginning
Where the First will meet the Last.
Out and out the Spiral curls
From the point where All commences
And the Time it keeps is merry,
Full of Magic, spells and dances.
Winding in upon itself,
A second world created,
A spiraling of other Times
Where Magic is abated.
These Alternating Worlds
of the Spiral Map of Time,
Are like phrases of a poem
It takes the two to rhyme.
Each world’s a shadow of the other
Within alternating rings.
Jump over in a Witch’s satchel,
See what the Future brings.
Or dream your way across
On the psychic bed of slumber.
The spirit travels Here and There,
Without body to encumber.
Esma struck an elegant pose with her right heel against the inside on her left knee and her arms up, framing her head in a diamond shape, palms pressed together and fingertips pointing toward the heavens. The air around her shimmered. Her eyes were closed. The glow of her aura expanded to encompass George. This visibly vibrating light appeared to flow into her through her fingertips and then emanate outward, as though she had made herself an antenna for transmitting the mystical energy of the Goathorns. George seemed not to notice. He sang:
The coils of the Spiral
Trace a ceaseless path
And the End meets the Beginning
Where the First will meet the Last.
Yes, the Spiral Map of Time
Unfurls from Nowhere to Forever
And returns upon a mirror path
From Everywhere to Neh-eh-ver.
A long, final variation of the raga scrolled out of George’s fiddle like a genie unwilling to return to its bottle. When George finally lowered his bow, he avoided looking at Esma. He busied himself putting away his fiddle and rolling up the manuscripts.
“It’s a fine song, George, every verse is exactly right.”
With relief he turned toward her, but the look on her face did not reflect the enthusiasm of her words. “What is it, Esma?”
“Jump over in a Witch’s satchel? I’ve been trying not to think about where we’re headed. But we’ll be within sight of Red Mountain soon, and then what? I’m afraid our Witch will not be pleased at the condition of her satchel, and now it bears my mark.”
“But we’re not the ones who took it from her, we’re returning it. I’d think she would reward us.”
George’s words belied his own foreboding. They had two magic satchels to return, and the second bore his mark. He was no more anxious to confront the Gypsy Huliyana than Esma was to meet the Red Mountain Witch. He folded Esma into his arms and buried his face in her hair. One way or another all things will be returned to their proper place , he thought, but found little comfort. Some would say that his proper place was in the past -- yet he knew he had to be with Esma, here, now.
The lovers embraced while Nee, drawn by the music, observed silently from the highest branch of the twisted tree and prepared to attack. She did not understand how the couple had come to have her mistress’s magic satchel but, if she could take it from them, Brunagwa might never have to know about her foolishness.
Esma pulled away from George and looked up. Nee froze. George crossed his arms and looked at Esma, refusing to follow her gaze.
“You keep doing that. If something is following us, how have you not seen it in your crystal? I think there is something else weighing on your mind, m’love. What follows us is your conscience. Let’s have it out.”
Esma sighed and sank to the ground, noticing a faint shadow skip across her sparkling treasures. As she wrapped her crystal ball in its square of silk, she briefly glimpsed the striped feather of a red-tailed hawk. She was careful to turn her eyes to George, not skyward, as she patted the ground.
“Come, sit. I’ll tell you what has been plaguing my mind, and you will have the answer for it as simply as you pluck out a new song.”
“If you thought that, you’d‘ve have told me sooner,” George said, plopping down beside her.
“Pride demanded I try to figure it out myself.” Esma took his hand.
“Out with it. You’re only stalling now.”
“It has to do with Malcom the Master Seer,” Esmarelda admitted. George tensed and withdrew his hand. If he noticed a rustling in the tree above, he didn’t show it, neither did Esmarelda. But this time a bit of white fluff drifted down into her lap. She picked it up and brushed her cheek with it, trying to feel the creature it had come from. The creature who was interested in Malcom.
“I saw his grave,” Esma said, in barely a whisper. Then louder, “I saw his grave. I found the note from his apprentice Mark, who had buried the body with his own hands. I found the charmed ankle bracelet the Master Seer had used to enchant me.” Esma suppressed the urge to rake at her left ankle with her fingernails, and said, a little too emphatically, “but the spell had been erased, the bangles were no longer etched with the letters of my name. I…”
George’s memory raced back to his confrontation with Mark, there in Malcom the Master Seer’s house of spells. Esma had once been an apprentice along with Mark. It bothered him to think of them studying magic together. “You what?” he asked sharply.
She could not admit what she had done with the bracelet, not when George was so irritable. Besides, she had to focus on this moment and the mysterious being who was present with them. She chose her words with care.
“I believe that Malcom, the man, is dead. But what of the Master Seer? He had powers. He put himself into the body of a cat and existed side by side in the consciousness of that poor creature until the cat died in the Alternate World. And yet Mark left word that the black cat came back after Malcom was buried.”
“I agree it’s troubling, but lucky for the cat! They say cats have nine lives. Look at Sylvestor here. He’s proven they can survive a trip across the Spiral.”
“And what of Master Seers? Who knows what magic Malcom had mastered. Perhaps he poured his being into something else.” With that, Esma jumped to her feet and looked straight up into the tree, calling, “Come down here, you! If you are the Master Seer, come down here and prove how brilliant you are!”
George was on his feet as well, his walking stick raised and ready to strike the enemy.
Esma’s outburst was met with a silence deeper and a stillness steadier than even a slow, sunny afternoon can offer. Esmarelda crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “No stick!” she scolded George through clenched teeth.
George lowered the stick and tried not to be angry at her tone. When he noticed that both Esma and Sylvestor were staring intently upward, he let his eyes follow theirs. A red-tailed hawk perched in plain sight on a splintered limb.
“Are you Malcom?” Esmarelda asked, and a gust of wind answered.
The hawk ruffled its feathers; amidst them, a few reddish tresses also caught the breeze. George was mesmerized by what he was seeing until Esma drew his attention away.
“George.” She took his hands. They looked into each other’s eyes and the tension that had been growing between them dissolved. Then Esma looked back toward the bird. But now a woman sat on the branch, a woman dressed in feathers.
“No, I am not Malcom,” she said in a teary voice. “But I saw him not a day ago, there in Witches Meadow. You lie to say he’s dead. And he’s no Master Seer either. He’s a thief and he stole Brunagwa’s magic bag from me!”
The strange girl was becoming hysterical, and they feared her falling. Esmarelda raised a hand toward her. She shrank away and clutched the tree trunk.
"But you are worse thieves -- look what you have done to Brunagwa's bag in just a day! It is ruined! Have you destroyed my Malcom as well? Give that! Give that! What am I to do?" The girl's cry was a long "Kee-ahrrr!" and in a breath she was a hawk again, diving straight down toward the Red Mountain Witch's beat-up magic satchel where it lay on Esma's cape -- then veering off with another angry shriek as though she had hit a barrier.
As quickly as she’d appeared, the hawk-woman was winging out of view. Esma, shaking, still clutched the bit of down. “I have heard of this, I have heard of this,” she muttered, stroking it.
George looked into the tree, trying to lock the images of the young woman and the hawk and the sounds of their voices into his memory. While he watched, Sylvestor sprang up into the tree and climbed as high as he dared, then padded out onto a thick limb.
Esmarelda looked up and gasped. Before their eyes, Sylvestor was transforming into another creature. His ears twitched, laid back, then smoothed all the way down, while his snout stretched into a beak. His front paws turned into talons and his fur to wings, while his tiger-striped tail flicked back and forth twice before fluttering into long, striped tail feathers.
“Oh, Sylvestor,” Esma moaned. What could they do that wouldn’t startle him into flight?
“Sylvestor, you’re freaking us out.” George spoke in the language of the Alternate World.
The hawk turned back into a cat. The cat skipped down the tree to sit in the grass blinking at Esma and George. But before they could celebrate his return to normalcy, Sylvestor began to speak:
“Don’t be afraid. Intuisha says I must be your Familiar until we pass through this place. Gather your things and follow me.”
Esma immediately began to do as she was told. George was unable to move or speak for minutes. But the cat said nothing more, and in every way behaved like a typical house cat. Sylvestor circled George’s legs, then stalked Esma’s cape and batted at it when she shook it out.
“Come,” she said to George, “gather your music. You can work it through by making up a song while we walk.”
“Hah, I can try. But it would help if you explained to me what a ‘Familiar’ is and why we should trust this Intuisha.” George collected his gear. “Lead on, MacDuff,” he told Sylvestor, again quoting something he’d heard across the Spiral.
Without hesitation the cat led them a few hundred yards, aiming for a certain point at the foot of the mesa. When it seemed as if one more step would put their noses into solid rock, Sylvestor veered to the right and slipped into a stand of stunted juniper. His humans followed more clumsily. They burst through the scrub to find themselves standing in a wash recently wetted by summer rains and sprouting with desert plants. What had appeared to be a single outcropping was really two mesas, and Sylvestor had found the canyon that led between them, and the long treacherous trail that passed by Dremtessa’s ice caves and climbed up through Intuisha’s high caverns to the plateau.
George and Esmarelda tipped back their heads, shielded their eyes from the sun, and gauged their ascent. Nope. They definitely would not reach the High Road before nightfall.
Here I must insert myself again, before we make one of those literary jumps I warned you about. Esmarelda has no idea that her carefully plotted course is taking her happy crew directly through the Knot. Ehrte hadn't told her about that, because Ehrte didn't know anything about the Knot, not all that way away on Andarra. Oshi herself didn't know about the Knot until very recently, even though it was right under her nose. When Oshi looked out across the cliffs and caverns toward Red Mountain from her high perch, her eyes weak from weaving, all she saw was a small stew of clouds. With no Familiar to inform her otherwise, these were no concern -- she was above it all. And the sisters five weren't in the habit of telling Weaver Oshi about the trouble they got into, you can be sure of that.
So, Esmarelda, George Drumm and Sylvestor the cat, unsuspecting, approach the Knot. Their experience of it will be different than that of others we will meet, since our trio is traveling naturally by foot (versus in a conveyance, or astrally, or crossing between worlds). They will traverse the Knot on the cliffs below the High Road, where its loops have been pulled out of place, but are not entangled, and episodes past play out with vivid clarity.
They are already under the Knot’s influence, as you may have noticed. Myself as well. The Travelers’ strange encounter with Brunagwa’s Familiar has put me on high alert. I must investigate at once, and I must do so alone. Not even the tale I am telling can come with me now, for the encounters that occur from one moment to the next in my own chronology are the result of reverberations across many turns of the Spiral. Rather than plunge us unprepared into the dark jumble of the Knot, dear Reader (and Editor), let me carefully loosen the strands of my story from the outside in, until such time as we are able to bring light into the dark places, and to see even beyond them to the beginning.
Later you will learn where my investigations took me at this juncture. In a future chapter. (I can't say which one yet, but certainly in the double digits.) Meanwhile, our next jump will be to the Alternate World -- not back to Piper Canyon, but all the way out to Caliente -- where Zeek is filling in at The Lost Unicorn.
Yes, it is certainly time to check on Zeek. He has the rest of our rugs.
Coming up in the Next Installment
In Installment 2 of The Two Magicians: Zeek, minding Robyn’s store, The Lost Unicorn, is unnerved when a fierce black dog bursts in followed by a spindly “scarecrow man” who’s after more rugs like those the bellydancers took to the Harmony Convention; Robyn tells Faye about the parallel worlds of the Spiral Map of Time while they hike in Piper Canyon; and Nee-Reta contemplates her strange experiences as the Familiar of Brunagwa, the Red Mountain Witch.
Complete Table of Contents for The Two Magicians Print Edition
with corresponding Ebook Series numbers
Prologue: Somewhere in the Rockies
Chapter 1. The Time Winders
The Minder of the Knot and the Loophole
Chapter 2. Converging on the Knot
Esmarelda and George Drumm
Chapter 3. Summer Solstice
The Gypsy and the Black Cat
Chapter 4. Nee-Reta, Forward and Back
When the Five Sisters Flew as Cranes
Chapter 5. The View from Intuisha’s Cliffs
Malcom Arrives in Ochersfeldt for the First Time
Master Seer Varluft Questions Malcom
Malcom Goes to the Goathorns
Chapter 6. Brooks Considers Brunagwa
Chapter 7. Nee Follows the Magic Satchel
Malcom Arrives in Ochersfeldt for the Second Time
Chapter 8. The Weaver’s Loom Remembers
Chapter 9. Nee Returns to Her Own Time
Brunagwa and Sestorina
Chapter 10. A Remarkable Event in the Goathorns
Intuisha and Dremtessa
Chapter 11. The Familiars
Chapter 12. Yours Truly
H.Toad, H.Coyote, and Amos Goathorn Brooks
Chapter 13. The Mystery of the Rugs
Chapter 14. The High Road
Chapter 15. Mischief in the Morass
Chapter 16. Secrets of the Familiars
Yani-Yau in the Alternate World
Chapter 17. The Commerce Between the Worlds
Salvador, Black Star, and the Raven
Chapter 18. Time Winders Redux
Chapter 19. Fire
Chapter 19-1/2. Down the Rabbit Hole
Everyone Arrives in Ochersfeldt
The Bubble Bursts
Chapter 20. Lost and Found
Chapter 21. The Moral of the Story
Zelda Leah Gatuskin’s Time Dancer Trilogy
a novel of Gypsy Magic
The adventure begins…
Fans of romance, fantasy and magic will delight in this tale of whimsical time travel and fairy-tale worlds. Esmarelda, the beautiful run-away Gypsy, is caught between the Alternate World (our world) and her own enchanted world on the other side of the Spiral Map of Time. When a mysterious stranger steals her black cat, Audy, the Gypsy launches a search that will take her to the unresolved past and into the unknown future. Meanwhile, George Drumm, a redheaded fiddle-player in pursuit of the secrets of the ancient runes of his homeland, tiny Sumweir Isle, embarks on the adventure of a lifetime. George and Esmarelda’s paths are fated to cross, and when they do, romance blossoms. Using charmed satchels and musical magic, the two hopscotch across the Spiral Map of Time in search of the missing cat, answers, and each other.
"Gatuskin weaves a delightfully magical story which tricked me into thinking she was from another time, or maybe a Gypsy in a past life." --Lisa Law, author of Flashing on the Sixties
"Gatuskin creates a vivid and bizarre universe, certain to satisfy the appetites of enthusiasts of such authors as Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien." --Michael Bush, Manhattan Theatre Club
THE TWO MAGICIANS
From Nowhere to Forever
The magic dance continues…
Two Master Seers hold the secret to the colorful carpets that enable Robyn to twirl her way across the Spiral Map of Time and into their magical parallel world. But Malcom and Varluft are both presumed dead, and an expanding morass between the alternating paths of the Spiral, there below The Top of The World where the Future meets the Past, threatens to unravel the very fabric of Time. With Robyn and her belly dance troupe joining the Harmony Convention in Piper Canyon on the one side, and time-traveling Gypsies Esmarelda and George Drumm approaching the Goathorn Mountains on the other, Brooks, Minder of the Knot and the Loophole, must work valiantly to keep everyone on their correct side of the Spiral. Before he is done, he will expose the dark history of the five sisters of the Goathorns Coven, the recent transgressions of their Familiars, the secret lives of the Master Seers, and his own deepest desires.
In the third book in The Time Dancer series, both the past and the future catch up to Esmarelda and George Drumm, who have taken liberties with the Spiral Map of Time in order to stay together. When all the magic has been played out, where – and when – will they end up?
Books by Zelda Leah Gatuskin
The Time Dancer
The Two Magicians
Castle Lark and The Tale that Stopped Time
Digital Face: Stories
Where the Sky Used to Be
Ancestral Notes, A Family Dream Journal
Time and Temperature, thoughts about consciousness
But Who’s Counting?
For Children of All Ages
Zelda’s Cosmic Coloring Book
Christmas Blues: Behind the Holiday Mask Anthology, ed. by Gatuskin, Miller, Willson
From Fear To Love: My Journey Beyond Christianity by Harry Willson
Feeling the Unthinkable: Essays on Social Justice by Donald Gutierrez
The Wind Waits for Me: The Art and Poetry of Van Dorn Hooker, III
Find all ebooks by Zelda at her Shakespir Author Page
or search for Zelda Leah Gatuskin books at your preferred vendor.
In this long-awaited sequel to "The Time Dancer, A Novel of Gypsy Magic" Zelda Gatuskin again interweaves the magical with the mundane in a choreography of colorful characters: Two Master Seers hold the key to the mysterious rugs that have enabled Robyn to twirl her way across the Spiral Map of Time and into their magical parallel world. But Malcom and Varluft are both presumed dead, and an expanding morass between the alternating paths of the Spiral, there below The Top of The World where the Future meets the Past, threatens to unravel the very fabric of Time. With Robyn and her belly dance troupe joining the Harmony Convention in Piper Canyon on the one side, and the time-traveling Gypsies Esmarelda and George Drumm approaching the Goathorn Mountains on the other, the changeling Brooks, Minder of the Knot and the Loophole, must work valiantly to keep everyone on their correct side of the Spiral. Before he is done, he will expose the dark history of the five sisters of the Goathorns Coven, the recent transgressions of their Familiars, the secret lives of the Master Seers, and his own deepest desires. Installment 1 introduces our narrator, the Minder Brooks, who is able to change from Coyote to Man, and to cross into the Alternate World; New Age store owner and amateur belly dancer Robyn, a.k.a. "Yasmine," who vanishes for an instant while dancing with her troupe at the Harmony Convention; Robyn's husband, Ramon, who senses the proximity of Esmarelda, and fears her strange effect on Robyn; and the Gypsy herself, along with her partner George Drumm and their adopted cat, Sylvestor. Journeying to the Goathorn Mountains to return the magic satchel of the Red Mountain Witch, the trio briefly encounters Nee-Reta, the Witch's Familiar, misplaced in Time.