Chapter 10: Baby Birds and the Consequences of Cruelty
Part Three: The Long Way Home
by Ivy Rangee
From a hilltop on the road to Liverpool, Heathcliff and Cathy watched the bright yellow coach carrying Mister Earnshaw receded into the distance before they commenced the long walk back to the Heights. Elated by the golden day, Heathcliff took off running with such vigor that each time a foot touched down upon the earth puffs of dust leapt into the air, like crown halos created by drops of rain in glassy ponds. Excitement pulsed through his body at the thought of the long afternoon ahead. An afternoon alone with Cathy – the best girl ever.
He could hear her running behind him, her breath rapid, so he slowed that she might catch him. He felt so happy a children's rhyme popped into his head.
"Goodbye triangle," sang Heathcliff as he trotted down the road.
"Hello square," shouted Cathy.
"Squares of cheese," shouted Heathcliff, throwing his arms over his head in exaltation.
"Cheese is white, white like a rabbit," said Cathy, when she caught up with him.
"A rabbit hops, hops like a frog," Heathcliff shot back.
"A frog is green, green like an apple…" laughed Cathy.
"You can peel an apple," replied Heathcliff.
"Peel like a snake's skin," returned Cathy.
On the word skin, the road began to climb steeply, and the exertion demanded silence. When they reached the highest crest of the Liverpool road they slowed, surveying the countryside. Executing an about face, Heathcliff commenced skipping backwards and, glimpsing a cloud of dust in the distance, he pointed to it.
"Is that Papa?" asked Cathy, turning her head to follow his finger.
"Maybe," said Heathcliff, spinning about to face home.
"I wish I could go to Liverpool like Belinda and Mandy," pouted Cathy, coming to a halt and stomping her foot.
Heathcliff stared at the ground, his feelings hurt; she did not wish to be with him upon the moor. That was how it had been lately; at the Heights she was always off with her mother, sewing or weaving, while he was banished to the moor with only sheep for company.
"What is Liverpool like, Heathcliff?" asked Cathy.
"How would I know?"
"But Papa brought you from there."
"I do not recollect."
"Come, come you must remember something." She stood imperiously, arms akimbo, nose in the air.
Gazing at her, Heathcliff considered whether to tell her of his dim recollections of the dank warehouse full of stolen children, or of how he had been tethered to a pallet while awaiting a buyer. But Papa had warned him against relating this knowledge. Perhaps he should spin a yarn; maybe he could regain her love with a tall tale.
"Liverpool is not a place for the likes of you, Cathy Earnshaw."
"But why, Heathcliff?"
"It is full of pirates and cutthroats of the most ruthless sort."
"I'm not afraid."
"Then you are foolish."
"I can fight as well as any boy – even you! It would be such an adventure. Did you meet any of these cutthroats?"
"Why have you not told me before this?"
"I am sworn to secrecy."
"Indeed, anyone I tell; I put in the utmost danger. What I tell you, you must swear never to reveal to another."
"I do so swear."
"I'll tell you as we walk. But what route shall we take back to the Heights?"
Cathy twirled in a circle, laughing. "Let's take the long way home. There is no point in rushing; solstice approaches. 'Twill be light 'til near midnight. Besides, Mother will only force us apart once we get back."
Shooting her a sharp glance, Heathcliff frowned. "Then you do not wish it."
"To learn sewing and such at your mother's side."
"No! You are the lucky one. All day roaming the moor."
"Not with a bunch of idiot sheep. They are the stupidest; do you know they would stand and die rather than fart?"
"Perhaps they have delicate sensibilities and are too embarrassed to fart in front of you," laughed Cathy. "You carry a very judgmental arch to your eyebrow."
"Trust me, nothing embarrasses sheep. When will you be free to come upon the moor with me?"
"Today, Heathcliff, today! Let's make the most of it. But I must find my shoes and stockings or I'll never hear the end of my mother's reproaches."
"I know where they are," said Heathcliff as he set off at a trot.
"But the story!" shouted Cathy.
"About the pirate cutthroats."
"We'll stop when we get to the old oak grove, but you owe me a story first."
"And what story is that?"
"The sign above the Dragon Knight's Tavern. Now let's have a run."
The two set off, racing over the Liverpool road, the butter-yellow light of a June sun warming their skin. Heathcliff loved this time of year - just before the summer solstice; it seemed pregnant with untold possibilities. Unknown secret possibilities, both deeply desired and anxiously anticipated. The wispy spring air and the clear nature of the light soothed him. Soon enough summer would bear down upon the earth with all its intensity and, though its bright, unrelenting beauty could not be denied, the spring with all its mysteries held him in its thrall.
Heathcliff felt the same about autumn; both spring and fall brought change while summer and winter crystallized those changes. He had a natural affinity for advent - the time when something secret and new hid just around the corner.
A mile later, the two children cut to the right, trotting single file down a narrow animal path through tall, tasseled grass, sending a cloud of insects fluttering into the air as they passed. This barely discernible footpath took them careening down a steep incline, dropping them into a sandy gulley lined with stunted bushes. They followed the sand path for several miles until it climbed steeply into a stand of ancient oaks that stood sentinel on the edge of the Height's pasture land. A favorite destination for Heathcliff and Cathy, the place held an atmosphere remarkably clear and fresh. Beneath the tall spreading trees Heathcliff always felt as if he'd penetrated another world unsullied by the sorrows of this one. Stretching his arms heavenward, Heathcliff turned in a circle as if giving praise to the venerable oaks, and then took the canvas bag full of Missus Hull's delights from around his shoulders and dropped it to the ground.
"I love this place," said Heathcliff, breathing deeply.
"Me too," said Cathy, going to him and putting her arms around his waist.
Smiling at her, Heathcliff broke free, running to the tallest, most imposing oak, and climbing into its canopy as if born to it. In the crook of a high branch he found Cathy's shoes and stockings, and he carried them down to her, taking huge leaps from branch to branch. Once upon the ground, he fell to one knee, holding the objects of his quest out to her.
"Your shoes, my Queen."
"Thank you, Sir Knight," giggled Cathy, receiving them. "Heathcliff, what is in the bag?"
"Food from Missus Hull."
"I'm very hungry."
"Help yourself," said Heathcliff, handing her the bag.
Taking a seat on the soft dark earth beneath the ancient tree, Cathy leaned against its broad trunk where she opened the big canvas bag and examined its contents. With a smile, she popped a round, child-sized meat and veggie pie into her mouth, rolling her eyes with delight. Watching her, Heathcliff's stomach prodded him with a loud growl. He felt its longing too, that emptiness that calls for filling; so he joined her. The smell of spices spread through the grove as the two devoured the tasty, little pies until none remained. With their bellies full they sprawled against the tree trunk and groaned.
"Missus Hull is the best cook in the world; is she not Cathy?"
"Indeed, when we are masters of the Heights, we shall entice her there and never release her."
"But she does love the Dragon's Knight; as benevolent monarchs we cannot be so cold hearted. No, we shall send for our food."
"No!" said Cathy, her tone imperious. "We shall annex the Dragon's Knight into our kingdom."
"That is not the way, Cathy."
"We will make her a duchess if she swears fealty to us."
"Very tricky, but Missus Hull seems beyond such temptations."
"I think no one is," said Heathcliff with a groan. His belly strained at the buttons of his vest so he loosed them, afterwards running his hands up and down the great roundness of his tummy while thinking of the poor, starving, blind prince whose ribs protruded so noticeably. As the vest fell open, he felt the vial filled with the medicinal draught meant for Missus Earnshaw.
"Here, Cathy," he said, taking it from his pocket. "Papa says you are to give this draught to the mistress; and you must say it came from Doctor Robinson who we met upon the road. Three drops in water every morning and evening."
Cathy took it and removed the handkerchief. "What is it for?"
Cathy removed the cork from the bottle and sniffed the contents. "I've had this medicine before. It brings wonderful dreams. Is there any water?"
Heathcliff searched the bag and found a container of diluted wine. "There's this."
"That will do. How about cups?"
Heathcliff rummaged again, and pulled out two small metal cups. "What are you doing, Cathy?"
"You'll see." The girl took the two cups and filled each with diluted wine afterwards carefully spilling two drops of her mother's medicine into each cup. Then she corked and re-wrapped the vial, placing it in her apron pocket.
"But that is medicine," said Heathcliff.
"I know; the apothecary gave me the same last I had a fit."
"But it's for the mistress."
"She will never miss it. Now drink."
Heathcliff eyed her skeptically; he hated medicine.
"Trust me. You will like this," said Cathy, with a grin.
Cathy sipped hers and then commenced eating bread and cheese. As usual Heathcliff gave in and followed suit.
"Now tell me about the pirates," she said, as she chewed.
"You first," said Heathcliff, after taking another sip. "Why did you stare at the sign outside the Dragon's Knight?"
"Alright, I shall go first, but you will not wheedle out of telling a pirate tale."
"You don't trust me, Cathy?"
"It is only you that I trust, Heathcliff," she said, touching his arm. "Did you see the knight and the dragon?"
"Yes," said Heathcliff, finishing his drink. He relaxed against the tree, as a warm feeling of wellbeing spread down his spine, radiating out to his limbs.
"That knight's name is Sir Safir Peleas," said Cathy dreamily. "His dark armor is of a special material forged by the fairy smiths of Avalon. It affords him both protection and power. King Arthur himself gifted Sir Safir with this valuable armor for, though Sir Safir was both low born and a Saracen, he was the handsomest, smartest, bravest and most daring of all knights - ever."
"Sir Safir and Sir Peleas were two separate knights. And whoever heard of fairy smiths?" protested Heathcliff, who had read Blackmore's King Arthur as well as every other book on Arthur and his knights in Mister Earnshaw's library. Not that he'd understood them all.
"There is no catechism when it comes to King Arthur; so do not criticize or I shall go no further."
"But Cathy …"
"Do you wish to hear the story of Sir Safir Peleas or the same old stories repeated?"
"How do you know that is the knight's name?" grumbled Heathcliff.
"Heathcliff, what has become of your imagination? You are getting very dull!"
"So you imagined his name?"
"How is that valid?" asked Heathcliff, his eyebrow an arch raised high, his mouth a slash turned down.
"Heathcliff, you will never get anywhere without imagination," chided Cathy. "Truly you are going dark."
"But how can the story be true if you've made it all up?"
"It is true like a metaphor is true."
"The meaning of the story versus the exact definition of the words," replied Heathcliff, thinking of Missus Hull's admonishment.
"Yes, that is exactly what I mean, besides the knight could hardly come down from the sign and introduce himself. Though that would be an amazing story - imagining that he did so," said Cathy.
"Go on then…I'm listening. Sir Safir Peleas, though both low born and a Saracen was the handsomest, smartest, bravest and most daring of all King Arthur's men. "
"And did I say deeply fascinating?"
"Indeed, he was. And it was while on his Grail quest that he crossed paths with the dragon. But I get ahead of myself. Did you see the city that lay across the river from where the brave knight fought?"
Having a prodigious memory, Heathcliff closed his eyes and brought the carved and painted sign before his mind's eye; the image shimmered a bit before coming into focus - a river with a city on one side and a forest on the other. For some reason this brought the warehouse where he'd been held captive to mind. "Yes, I remember."
"Well, it was to that place, the golden city of Myzithras that Sir Safir traveled, though it lay on the edge of an impenetrable wilderness."
"But why?" asked Heathcliff. "What brought him there?"
"While in the Rhodope Mountains a forest hermit revealed to Sir Safir that the questing beast, for which the knight searched, had been captured and dragged to Myzithras where the poor creature languished, held prisoner by the city's king."
"How can the questing beast be captured? It's deadly."
"You are completely breaking with legend, Cathy!"
"In this story each knight has his own questing beast."
"It is an omen."
"An omen? How can a monster be an omen?"
"An omen and a guardian."
"Are you thick, Heathcliff?! If I explain it to you then the story will be ruined."
"Ah, I see, though I reserve the right to come back to it later. Go on."
"The holy hermit told Sir Safir Peleas that if he could make peace with and then release the poor beast, it would, in gratitude, transform and then lead him to the Grail King's castle. But with one caveat."
"And what is that?" said Heathcliff, who was beginning to see the story appear before his inner eye.
"Can you guess?"
"Sir Safir must call the creature by name; it's always the same."
"Indeed, Heathcliff, but do you know why?"
"Not yet. But how will he find the name?" asked Heathcliff.
"The hermit whispered the terribly complicated name to Sir Safir, but the poor knight forgot it immediately upon the sound of the last syllable. He begged the hermit to repeat the name one more time, but the hermit sadly refused. Sir Safir promised the holy man gifts of gold and silk but to no avail …"
"A hermit has no need of such things," interrupted Heathcliff, resting his head on Cathy's shoulder. "His purpose lies elsewhere. What if Sir Safir offered to take the hermit with him to the Grail Castle?"
"Even that could not move the hermit to repeat the strange name, for, as he warned Sir Safir, the sound held too much power. But the hermit consoled the poor knight, promising that when the time came the name would emerge from darkness."
"What if he tied the hermit up and dangled the old coot from a precipice?" asked Heathcliff.
"Do you think a Knight of the Round Table would do such a thing?"
"Maybe, after all, except for Sir Galahad, none of the knights were angels. Even Arthur had an illegitimate son by his own sister."
"Half-sister … but Arthur did not know that at the time."
"It's like that king who married his mother," mused Heathcliff. "He did not know either. Fate seems to work through ignorance."
"What a clever thing to say," observed Cathy, putting her arms around him and kissing the top of his head.
"Thus Mordred became the instrument of Arthur's destruction."
"Do you feel sorry for Mordred?" asked Cathy.
"I feel sorry for them all, but back to that stubborn hermit. Did Sir Safir find a way to loosen the old man's tongue? "
"Sir Safir Peleas did not tie the hermit up nor did he torture him. He is not that kind of knight."
"Have it your way. So what did Safir do?" grumbled Heathcliff.
"Sir Safir road hard upon his mighty steed, Bastion, making it to the magnificent city of Myzithras, which lay along the river Nestus, as the sun set. And just as he entered, the city's guards locked down the gates."
"How did he find the questing beast?" asked Heathcliff, sitting up and stretching as he turned his eyes to the sky. The breeze had picked up and the treetops overhead shuttered in a sudden strong gust.
"The creature was the talk of the city so he found its whereabouts quite easily. The king held the enchanted animal in the highest chamber of the tallest tower of his castle. Sir Safir wasted no time, but, unfortunately, that night, as he snuck into the castle, he was caught and brought before the city's king, who took an instant liking to the handsome knight."
"I still don't understand how a questing beast can be held captive."
"Heathcliff," growled Cathy. "I explained that; this questing beast is peculiar to Sir Safir."
"Go on, go on," he said, sliding to the ground and resting on his side. "Don't mind me."
"The king had done something diabolical. He had imprisoned this questing beast in order to lure Sir Safir Peleas to his castle, for he had need of the great knight's skills."
"How exactly does one catch a magical beast?" asked Heathcliff with a hint of sarcasm.
"The king, whose full name was Ignaz Alfons Nichloas Hohenhouz von Edendorf, by the way, had in his service a great many magicians, and, though not one was of Merlin's stature, as a group they managed better than most. It was they who found the hiding place of Sir Safir's questing beast. And they made spells and a magical cage so that the mysterious creature might be waylaid and spirited to Myzithras."
"But why?" asked Heathcliff, doodling a picture of the beast in the earth with his finger.
"I told you why. Really, Heathcliff, you are insufferable today."
Heathcliff sat up and gazed upon the person he loved most in all the world. "I'm sorry, Cathy. Truly, I've missed you since you've become an indoor lady. And you are right; without you I am quite dull."
Cathy smiled at him. "I've missed you too."
"Then why did you ignore me at dinner?"
"I got carried away, and you must admit you have been difficult lately – always asking for reasons."
"I shall listen attentively," replied Heathcliff, reclining on his elbow.
"I like it better when you add to the story."
"But I thought you didn't care for my remarks."
"Well I do, but I don't like it when you find fault all the time."
"So noted; now why did King Ignaz Alfons Nichloas Hohenhouz von Edendorf need Sir Safir's help?"
"You remembered his whole name!" Cathy clapped her hands in delight.
"Of course, it's a fantastic name."
"King Ignaz had a beautiful, smart, brave, and daring daughter, Princess Arianna."
"Naturally." Heathcliff rolled his eyes in derision.
The boy laughed; he loved teasing his Cathy. "Was she deeply fascinating too?"
"Yes, she was the very mirror of Sir Safir."
"And did he fall deeply in love with her?"
"Not exactly … you see he fell in love with her portrait, for before he arrived in Myzithras the princess had been carried away, given to pirates by her evil older brother, Prince Casmir."
"Pirates?! … In King Arthur?!" This struck Heathcliff as so utterly implausible that he laughed, and the more he thought of it the funnier it seemed until he lay doubled up in hysterics. This was so typical of Cathy – to interject, from nowhere, something completely foreign. It was one of her most endearing qualities.
"Yes, pirates," glowered Cathy, kicking him. "As long as there have been ships at sea there have been pirates."
"Ow! Why'd you do that?" asked the boy, rubbing his side.
"You're making fun of me."
"No, I'm not. It's just that before I could stop it a vision of Blackbeard at King Arthur's Court appeared before my eyes."
"How about Captain Kidd?" laughed Cathy.
"Indeed, 'arg hand over yer gold! And, by the way, how much is that shiny stuff ye art wearin' worth?'"
"Do ye rust in the rain?" giggled Cathy. "Those metal suits are not advisable at sea."
"Armor at sea – those poor knights would drop to the bottom like a lead weight on a fishing pole."
The two laughed, as Heathcliff leapt to his feet, climbed the tree and, stepping out on a branch, did a spot on rendition of a knight in shining armor sinking like a stone after walking the plank. Cathy followed and the two continued with various scenarios until they wore the subject out.
"But why would a prince do away with his sister?" said Heathcliff; his silliness spent, he yawned as both he and Cathy settled down beneath the ancient oak.
"Because of a prophecy."
"Bloody hell, Cathy! Does there always have to be a damned prophecy?"
"Indeed, it is mandatory! And you had better not let my mother hear you speak like that or you will get a whipping."
"Damn it to bloody hell! Let her try!" shouted the boy. "I repeat! Damn it to bloody hell!"
"Come on, Cathy you used to swear all the time. You've gone soft with all that knitting and stuff."
"I have not! I curse under my breath every time my mother corrects me!"
"What do you say?" asked Heathcliff, thrilled by the knowledge that Cathy secretly cursed while sewing.
"Well, whenever mother examines my sampler, she says, 'Catherine, your stitching lacks regularity. Tear it out and redo it. And this time concentrate, girl!'"
Heathcliff laughed with delight; Cathy's imitation of the gloomy, angry woman cheered him. As the focus of Missus Earnshaw's fury, Heathcliff suffered daily humiliation at her hands. It was a great release to laugh at her without fear of reprisal. "But when do you swear?"
"As I tear out the stitches I murmur, 'Damn it to hell, I hate you, you stupid, bloody bitch.' I whisper it like a prayer, and she praises me for my piousness."
"You are the best, Cathy," giggled Heathcliff. "I shall make an excuse to visit the sewing room that I may join you as you pray so devoutly."
"Oh, you must stay away, Heathcliff. If I see you I'll laugh and she will blame you for it."
"To pray in such a manner before that gorgon would be worth a season in hell."
"Don't say that. I cannot bear the way she treats you."
"Do not fret, Cathy, I can take whatever she gives; put your mind at ease. I'm curious; finish the story."
"Where was I?"
"Oh, yes … In this kingdom whenever a royal child was born the magicians cast a chart to discover the child's fate. Princess Arianna's showed she would marry a magnificent warrior who would one day become king and lead the city to greatness. Her brother feared the prophecy would rob him of his right to the throne so he did away with the princess."
"What did Prince Caspar's chart predict?"
"It was so bad that the King swore his magicians to secrecy and then he had a false version prepared."
"But what did it say?"
"That Prince Caspar would fall by his own weakness."
"How did Sir Safir get the princess back?"
"You skip ahead."
"Ah, of course, the questing beast."
"Indeed," said Cathy. Heathcliff could see how happy she was that he'd followed the thread of her story. Thus he redoubled his efforts to please her.
"As I said the king took an instant liking to Sir Safir Peleas, but even so he refused to release Sir Safir's questing beast until the knight found and returned the Princess Arianna. To that end King Ignaz showed Sir Safir the princess's portrait, the sight of which caused the knight to fall in love.
"Sir Safir set out in search of the pirates, but by the time he caught them, the pirate captain had delivered Princess Arianna, on the orders of her brother, into the hands of an evil witch. When Sir Safir demanded her whereabouts the outlaw captain said the witch held the princess in a tower deep in the forest that lay across the river."
"Prince Casper knew the witch?" asked Heathcliff.
"The witch, Elena Decano, was the prince's lover or, at least that is what she thought, but, in truth she deluded herself. The prince loved no one and never would. He was like Narcissus, obsessed with his own reflection."
"What was Sir Safir's next move?"
"Well, the pirate captain hated Prince Casper, who he referred to as a pampered, spoiled coward. In fact, the outlaw leader had fallen in love with Princess Arianna, but the captain had had no choice. Prince Casper had threatened him and his crew with death by hanging if they did not comply. In order to set things right, the pirate took Sir Safir to the very spot where he'd dropped the witch and the princess. Meanwhile, back in the city Myzithras, Prince Casper climbed the spiral staircase to the tower where Sir Safir's questing beast was imprisoned."
"Ah, yes, of course, the prince released the beast so it might fly into the forest," said Heathcliff, gazing up at Cathy's face. "That's inspired."
"And why is that?" asked Cathy, smiling at him.
"Because Prince Casper knew Sir Safir Peleas was the one prophesized. Too, he knew the knight would not rest until he found the pirates. Thus he hoped by releasing the beast into the forest it would find Sir Safir and kill the knight in battle."
"You are so clever. Yes, indeed that was his motive. But …"
"Sir Safir remembered the creature's name."
"Yes, Sir Safir followed the witch's trail into the ancient woods, for he was very good at tracking, and Witch Elena's tracks were easy to follow because they had been carved deeply into the earth by the great cart in which she confined the princess. Too she was very confident she would not be followed and so made no effort to cover her trail.
"So it was that the knight penetrated deeper into unknown territory until he came face to face with his own personal questing beast. The beast hissed and glared at the knight who drew his sword. They fought day and night for the dragon was a fierce creature and this was its territory. Sir Safir might have succumbed but for his manly attributes and enchanted armor."
"Why are you laughing? It is hardly appropriate to the story."
"'Sir Safir might have succumbed but for his manly attributes and enchanted armor.' When we are free and on our own you might support us making a living as a romance writer."
"Do you really think so?"
"Indeed, I do." Drowsy, Heathcliff said this with his eyes closed. "Go on."
"After three full days and nights, Sir Safir fell back gazing up at the heavens. With his strength waning, the dragon approached, and in despair the knight felt the end to be close. But from that darkness, Princess Arianna's face appeared and with that vision came the dragon's name. Sir Safir shouted the strange words upon which the dragon yielded, transforming into a gleaming unicorn. The horned creature, gifted with speech, offered the knight a reward for his persistence and valor. Thus it was Sir Safir told the creature his tale of woe. The dragon now unicorn, a sympathetic sort, granted Sir Safir a boon, leading him to a hill that rose above the forest's tree tops. At that place, the plateau, from which a dark tower rose, was clearly visible. Sir Safir and his unicorn set out immediately, for in that tower the princess languished."
"Wait," interrupted Heathcliff. "What was the dragon's name?"
"Nagaraja Kiyohime Cintamani Shehsha."
"No wonder Sir Safir couldn't remember the name. What about the unicorn?"
"Its name was the same; after all it is the same being in a different form."
"And how did he call it?"
"Sir Safir shortened it to Lord Shehsha. The two had many adventures as they made their way to the tower, and Lord Shehsha showed the knight many hidden byways from which Sir Safir gained much secret knowledge and wisdom. But finally, after many days of travel, they came to the place where the plateau rose from the forest floor."
"And from then on Sir Safir was on his own?"
"No, Lord Shehsha led the knight up a narrow trail to the top of the plateau, for if he hadn't the knight would have been lost, so invisible was the way. Once on top they found a thick forest of bent and thorny trees. Lord Shehsha suggested they rest over night, but Sir Safir would have none of it so they set off, searching for an entry to the spiky wilderness."
"But there was no way in," yawned Heathcliff.
"How did you know?" asked Cathy, stretching her arms and yawning too. "You are right; there was no entry. They were unable to find a single opening; finally, Sir Safir fell to his knees and crawled into the forest of thorn trees. Lord Shehsha could not enter for he had not the proper form for such maneuvers. Sir Safir shouted for the unicorn to wait and then dropped to his belly pulling himself along by his arms."
"Thus he slithered like a snake for a very long time utterly lost," said Cathy, stifling another yawn. "Until one day he heard weeping. Following the lament, he made his way ever closer, believing it was Arianna who wept. After a time the trees became sparser until he crawled bleeding and scarred into an open field from the center of which rose a tower. The tower of stone …" Cathy's voice trailed off and after a few moments Heathcliff opened his eyes to find she dozed.
"Cathy! Wake up!"
"Oh Heathcliff, I'm so sleepy let's meet in our dreams and finish the story there."
"Will you cuddle with me?"
"Of course," she said, sliding down to face him. Heathcliff reached for her hand.
"We'll meet where the rainbow ends?" he asked, grasping her hand tightly.
"No … where the rainbow starts …" she laughed.
"Where the rainbow starts …" said Heathcliff, drifting off into a deep, dark sleep.
Searching for the root of the rainbow, Heathcliff found himself in a thick forest, walking a rarely-used, narrow path. The trail seemed to go on endlessly, and the boy worried that Cathy in her impetuosity would not wait for him. This dream dragged him down with its thick gravity, but he persevered, finally reaching the entry to a cave where he sat down, hoping Cathy would find her way soon.
This cave led to the place where the rainbow ends or starts depending on one's perspective, and the two children had invented it as way to play together during the dream state. It had been easy at first, but lately their meetings had been rare and when they did happen, abbreviated. Heathcliff always made it here; it was Cathy who failed, but not today.
"Heathcliff," called Cathy.
"This way," said Heathcliff, standing.
She took forever to reach him, but when she did they hooked arms, entering the cave. Today the cave was dry and glowed with a dim illumination from an unknown source; this was not always so. The state of the cave varied; sometimes it was dark or muddy or foul smelling or even blindingly bright.
"We are lucky today," said Cathy as they moved swiftly down the underground corridors. "I hate it when it's dark, and muddy."
"Is that why you don't meet me anymore?"
"Sometimes I can't concentrate."
"Don't fail me today, Cathy; I must know how the story ends."
"So you will," she laughed as they exited the cave to stand on a high ridge.
Before them spread a grassy valley surrounded by snow covered mountains peaks. A narrow path leading to a glassy lake lay at their feet, and they set off singing.
"Red roof on a green hill top,
A bell tower shaped like a pixie hat.
The bell rings, ding-dong-ding
Once at the lake, they circled it along a white sandy beach until they arrived at a clear cold stream the bubbled down from the mountains. At this place where stream entered lake a rainbow grew from the clear, cold water.
"Are you ready to go through?" asked Heathcliff.
"I am, but what form shall we take?"
"They fly high and have keen sight."
"But lapwings are not as noticeable."
"Not lapwings again."
"We can watch from within the thicket."
"As you wish," sighed Heathcliff, giving in as always. He found it impossible to deny her anything. "Now don't lose your concentration when we enter the rainbow."
"I have the image fixed in my mind."
"Good, let's go," said Heathcliff, taking her hand and leaping through the rainbow.
Leaping the rainbow required courage, energy and concentration in order to assemble the world on the other side. More than once either Heathcliff or Cathy or sometimes both did not make it through or the world they entered was nothing like the one they expected. But not this time, when they came out the other side they flew as lapwings above the river that separated the urbane city from the dark forest.
Heathcliff reconnoitered as Cathy flew erratically about, this way and that. He could tell she was getting lost in the form of the bird, and he dived at her, screeching in lapwing, of course, loss of human speech being a drawback to the bird form. His actions seemed to bring her back for she flew beside him as he banked and headed for the stone tower in the thorn thicket.
In no time, they arrived at the tower, perching on the top and watching as Sir Safir wandered about the grassy meadow that surrounded the tower. The weeping had stopped, and all that could be heard was the wind. Heathcliff and Cathy turned their feathered heads to each other as Heathcliff wondered at the knight's actions. Cathy nodded to the edge of the thorn thicket as the witch, Elena Decano, emerged from it, enchanting the vines to separate as she did so.
"Sir Safir," she laughed. "You almost made it, but now all is lost, as blindness blackens your world."
"How?" asked the knight.
"The thorns are poisonous."
"Will you not have mercy?"
"I am no longer a threat; lead me to the Princess Arianna so that I might kneel before her."
"Why not? It is sure to increase your suffering which in turn will increase my happiness."
"But, Witch Decano, why do you wish me ill?"
"You knights and your obsessive love make me sick."
"My obsessive love?"
"That is what I said. Are you an idiot?"
"Perhaps, but I think it is not my love that is obsessive."
"You make no sense."
"Ah, well, I suppose that is the bane of an idiot."
"Bear your throat," said the witch, searching through a leather bag that hung from her shoulder. Sir Safir did as asked and the witch fastened a leather lead to his neck. "Stay close."
Heathcliff and Cathy flew down to the meadow and perched on a low flowering bush for a better view. The witch pulled Sir Safir across the meadow without consideration for his blindness. Every time the poor knight tripped and fell she yanked him to his feet, mocking him. When the two stood before the tower, the witch dropped the leash. In deep anticipation Heathcliff and Cathy watched as Elena Decano spread her arms and began to chant.
"Thorn and thicket,
Hear the order
Of thy mistress,
Release thy Door!"
With those words the torn thicket drew back, twisting and turning as it retraced its convoluted path. And as the witch requested a wood and metal door appeared.
"By the sound of my beloved's name
I command thee open.
Prince Caspar Alois Trancy Hohenhouz von Edendorf. "
A latch clicked and the door rose, revealing stone steps as the witch took up Sir Safir's leash and with a yank dragged him up the staircase. Cathy and Heathcliff eyed each other after which Heathcliff flew to the tower's high window where he lit upon the sill. Cathy followed and perched beside him.
Inside a woman stood in the center of the circular room as Elena Decano and Sir Safir climbed the last step.
"Look what I found wandering around outside," said the witch. "A tomcat looking for …"
"Cease," shouted Sir Safir, and blind as he was he lunged at the witch, seizing her by the neck and squeezing. Elena Decano fought back, but she could speak no incantations which left her defenseless. When her flailing ceased, he let her go, and she fell in a heap upon the stone floor.
"Princess Arianna? Are you here?" asked the knight, kneeling.
The princess was understandably afraid and crept around him, making for the stairway. But then she stopped. She seemed taken by the knight as she gazed at his face.
"You cannot see me?" asked the princess. Her voice was lovely.
"I was blinded by the poison thorns that surround this tower."
"How did you come here?"
"Your father asked me to rescue you."
"Your rescue seems to have failed. Now you have killed the witch, how will we ever get through the thorn thicket?"
"I know the incantation that compels the thorn thicket to recede. If you will take my hand and show me the way, I shall chant the words."
"You are blind because of me; I am sorry for that. Who are you?"
"Pardon my manners. Sir Safir Peleas, Knight of the Round Table at your service."
"And how did my father find such a fine knight to rescue me?"
"He captured my questing beast."
"So he forced you to come for me."
"No, when I saw your portrait, I fell in love, my dear Lady."
"If you saw me now you would be repulsed, Sir."
"I would not, Lady. Now let us depart," he said, standing.
"I cannot," she wept.
"I have become a hag."
"I doubt that."
"Elena Decano has used me most cruelly. Time passes quickly in this stone tower; I've grown old. I can never go back to Myzithras; I am ruined, Sir Safir."
The knight reached out to her. "Take my hand, Princess Arianna. I care not how you look. I'm blind after all. I only desire the woman whose kind heart shown so clearly through lovely violet eyes in the castle portrait. I pray that heart is still intact, for if it is, those eyes have not changed."
"Sir, you move my heart."
"Let that be impetus to move your feet."
Princess Arianna brought his hand to her lips and kissed it as he reached out and touched her face with the other, gently brushing her tear-stained cheek.
"Be my wife," said Sir Safir. "I love you."
"And I you," said Princess Arianna.
At which the knight took her in his arms and kissed her. This was followed by a deep embrace which was too much for Heathcliff, and he spread his wings, flying back down to the meadow where he waited for Cathy who still watched through the window.
In the butter yellow sunlight, Heathcliff perched upon a blade of tall grass, riding it as it bobbed in the warm afternoon wind. The feeling delighted him, and he fell into a deep, dreamy state, completely forgetting his purpose in coming to this place. Cathy woke him from his reverie, flying at him while crying the distinctive 'peewitt' of the lapwing. He lifted off and flew beside her as she followed the knight and his princess. All the while Sir Safir chanted the incantation and the thorn thicket fell away before them.
The way out seemed shorter and more direct as the princess led the knight down a path that took them to the river. However, now the two lovers had no need of a boat to traverse the water, for a bridge stood where before there had been none. Hand in hand Sir Safir and Princess Arianna walked over the bridge, entering the city in triumph as Cathy and Heathcliff followed them, cavorting in the sky, but Heathcliff was brought up short by a voice from an unknown source.
"Heathcliff! Wake up! That boy comes."
He pondered who spoke.
"You call me the lady," it answered, reading his mind. "Now wake before you are discovered. There is malice in Square-Noggin's heart."
Heathcliff pulled himself from the dream. The lady never lied; Hindley must be near. Heathcliff woke so quickly he felt dizzy, and, as he gained his senses, panic took hold of him. The moon was high in the sky; it must be past midnight. They were in for it; they should have been approaching the Heights by now.
"Cathy! Wake up! Hurry!"
Opening her eyes, Cathy mumbled something and fell back to sleep.
"Wake," he shouted, gathering up the bag from the Dragon Knight's Tavern and hiding it in the ancient oak tree. Once back on the ground he shook her, calling her name, but she would not wake, so he made to lift her over his shoulder and carry her.
"What have you done to my sister, cuckoo?" came Hindley's voice.
"We fell asleep …" said Heathcliff, placing himself between Cathy and her brother as the older boy walked into the moonlit oak grove. At sixteen, Hindley towered over the ten-year-old Heathcliff; in spite of this, Heathcliff considered fighting Cathy's older sibling.
"Pick her up and take her to the wagon, Nellie. I'll take care of this one," said Hindley, bringing his whip down hard on Heathcliff's hand. "My mother has plans for you, scum."
Heathcliff laughed as he held his bleeding hand. He licked the blood away from the wound.
"Why are you laughing, idiot?"
"You think so highly of yourself, Hindley, yet you can't do even the most trifling thing yourself. You need Joseph to wipe your pitiful behind; you'd starve if it weren't for your servants, you useless twit."
"You'll wish you'd never heard the name Earnshaw when we're done with you."
"It won't be for the first time."
Both children's songs are old Japanese folk rhymes I found in Barefoot Gen. I liked them so much I thought Cathy and Heathcliff would enjoy singing them. I made a couple of changes in 'Goodbye Triangle' to fit the local.