The Stone Call
Author: Stephanie Bretherton

Chapter 4
The Gift

“Onward, chaps! Down the hill and across the bridge to the inn! Felines first!” Arthur cried, as he ran clumsily towards the hill’s edge. In the next moment, he was off down the hill, faster and faster he ran, almost rolling like a ball, until he stopped at the bottom. Aeridel and Bridget laughed and joined Arthur on his downward race. Tim however, stood there a while, gazing at the sun setting into the hills. He sighed,
“What a loon. Next thing he’ll be demanding tea and caviar sandwiches”.
Then he too sped off down the hill.
As soon as he got down, Bridget, Arthur and Aeridel were already waiting for him.
“You took your time,” muttered Aeridel.
Tim replied, “Just admiring the view.”
“Well it’s getting a bit dark now, so we need to hurry if we want a good night’s rest,” Bridget said, pointing to the village.
“Not a problem,” said Arthur, circling Bridget’s legs.
He had grown to like this fair-haired girl; she was so sweet and sympathetic.
“The inn’s not far.”
Bridget picked Arthur up. He squirmed slightly, but found a good spot between Bridget’s arms.
“Let’s go,” she said, walking to the bridge.
Aeridel paused for a while in the middle as the group walked over it. It was getting dark. The stream was flowing gently, reflecting what sunlight was left off the surface, glittering like diamonds underneath her. Suddenly, she found herself thinking of the nymph they had met a few days ago, and how lonely it must be in that lake by herself.
Aeridel vowed that she would visit the nymph twice, no, three times a week once this charade was over. She then caught up with the others.
“Hey, where have you been? Thought you’d disappeared,” asked Bridget, still holding Arthur who was beginning to fall into a catnap.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about the nymph.”
“Oh, I feel a bit bad about leaving her so suddenly.”
“Well, I was being tortured!” said Arthur loudly, just snapping from his short nap.
“You’re lucky I heard you screaming like a girl, otherwise your fur would have been plucked out,” Tim smirked.
“I wasn’t screaming, I was… yelling in my cat tone,” murmured Arthur.
“Yeah. Sure Artie, whatever!”
“IT’S NOT ARTIE!”
“Hey, would you guys shut up for a moment?” shouted Aeridel. “I think we’ve found the inn.”
They looked to where she was pointing. Ahead was a reasonable sized building, that looked a little like a thatched cottage, except bigger. It had a thatched roof and smoke billowing from its slim pot chimney.
A signpost with a clenched fist wearing a red glove and a fox’s face looked worn from many rainy days and windy nights. The four of them walked underneath the sign and through the door. The scene inside the pub was alive with sounds of singing, shouting and glasses clinking in the air.
Everybody was merry; except for a tall hooded man who kept his face hidden from everyone. The four of them sat down at a spare table next to a grimy looking window, where it was fairly quiet and secluded.
Arthur jumped onto Aeridel’s knee, and turned to face Bridget, who sat opposite with Tim. He was staring intently at the hooded man. Bridget was turning around anxiously, aware of the energy around them.
“Whoa, that guy seems really dodgy, doesn’t he? And what’s with the hood up indoors?” Tim said aloud to himself.
“That, my dim-witted friend, is a Slayer. They kill monsters that people request in exchange for money,” said Arthur.
“A bit like bounty-hunters then? And I’m not a dimwit, I got a B in my last maths test I have you know,” replied Tim.
“Hmm... I would not put it like that, seeing as they enjoy killing, but whatever floats your boat.”
This made Tim and Bridget flinch.
“So, do they kill humans too? For cash?” asked Bridget.
“No,” said Aeridel, “Only magical creatures that threaten mankind. They are somewhat good guys, even though they appear dark and mysterious. It comes with the territory.”
“I see. Well, I will go and get some drinks shall I? We can eat some of our food now,” said Tim, grabbing some coins out of his bag and stepping towards the bar.
“Likes to be the leader doesn’t he?” said Arthur insultingly.
“I guess it’s in his territory of being male!” said Bridget laughing. Aeridel half-heartedly joined in. The grey cat turned to her inquisitively;
“Why do you even like that rude young gentleman, Bridget? He is quite peculiar…”
“Well,” replied Bridget, still watching Tim, “I guess we just fit, you know? We just became friends one day and it’s been like that ever since.”
She suddenly remembered the time they first met…

~X~

It was back when she was thirteen years old. Her aunt had said to her on her first day of high school,
“You’ll make loads of friends. Just be you and you‘ll be fine.”
Great advice.
Year Nine and still no friends. Bridget’s view of herself was to keep quiet and try to do the schoolwork, even if it was different to how she learnt before.
After finishing primary school, her aunt tried to get her into home tutoring. It went well in the first year, but eventually Bridget had begun to fall back into her depression when her departed parents’ anniversaries were getting nearer.
Her aunt tried other home tutors, but Bridget could not cope. Eventually, her aunt finally gave up hope of home tutoring three months after her birthday and applied her into a local high school, in the hopes of distracting her from the fact that she had no parents.
The house held too many memories for Bridget, so the more she was away the better.
The school greeted her with open arms, saying she was a pleasant student even though she did not talk to anyone. Then, a week after she had stayed in Wilbury High, a humanities trip was arranged for all Year 9 pupils.
Her aunt signed the reply slip and within a few days she was sat on a coach full of excited thirteen year olds going to The Museum of British History.
Obviously, she sat on her own. She absentmindedly stared out of the window, looking into the clouds. She was thinking about what she could see at the exhibits. To be honest, she was excited herself, but she had nobody to share it with.
Suddenly, a small hand in front of her face blocked her view of the sky.
She jumped and saw a boy with messy black hair standing next to her seat. The boy asked her,
“Is anybody sitting here? The rest of the seats are full and Miss asked me to sit with you.”
“Sure, whatever.” She mumbled, placing her bag on the floor to make room.
“So, you’re new to Wilbury aren’t you?” the boy asked, looking at her.
“Yeah, I only came last week.”
“So, have you been to any other schools? Did you get expelled from your other ones?”
“No, I was taught at home.”
“Wow, really? That’s so cool!” he exclaimed.
“Really? You think so?”
“Yeah, I bet you got to play video games when you had a break, and got to eat whatever you wanted, except for the mush they call food here. Luckily my mum packs me a lunch before I leave.”
She felt a small pang of sadness when he mentioned his mum.
“I don’t have video games, and my aunt is a vegetarian so there isn’t anything good to eat at home.”
“Oh, you live with your aunt? Why don’t you live with your parents?”
“My parents are dead.”
“Oh.”
The bus set off from the car park of Wilbury High and headed towards the motorway. It would take at least an hour before they arrived at the museum. There was a long silence.
The boy couldn’t think of anything to say as she saw her staring out of the window, her eyes beginning to swell with tears.
It was worth a shot, he thought.
“So, what’s your name?” he asked.
“Bridget Barnsley.”
“I’m Tim Pendle.” He paused for a moment.
“I’ve got a joke for you if you want to hear it.”
She remained quiet, so he carried on,
“What do you call two robbers?”
“I don’t know what?” she murmured.
“A pair of knickers.”
She smiled. Asked for another joke.
“What is white, black, and red all over?”
She thought about it, and shrugged her shoulders.
“A penguin with sunburn.”
She giggled. “I like penguins! They’re cute.” She seems to have cheered up now, he thought.
“I’ve got a calendar of penguins if you want it. I got it when I went to the zoo, but seeing as you like them so much you can have it.”
“Really? Thank you, Tim!” she said with glee. They sat talking about their favourite things for a while, and then Tim said he wanted to take pictures when they got to the museum.
“Why?”
“I want to be a photographer when I’m older.”
“Wow, that’s cool! I want to be a journalist when I’m older,” she said.
“We could start our own magazine together,” Tim suggested.
“Yeah! That’s a great idea!”
“I’ll ask my English teacher tomorrow.”
Bridget stared into the clouds, with a smile that had until now been long forgotten.

~X~

“I guess he brings laughter into my life,” Bridget said to Arthur.
“I think you’re stupid to be accompanying that boy. It’s preposterous! And he’s supposed to be saving this world…” the cat replied bemused.
“How did you know about that?” Aeridel asked.
“Eh, news spreads fast around here,” he replied.
Aeridel gave him a pinch near his furry neck. He yelped,
“Okay, okay! The fairies told me. The ones that didn’t attack me for my fur. They overheard your little conversation at the old lady’s cottage in Telbrek. I was going to spread the word around Delroth but you found me and saved me before I could get here.”
“Make way for beverages on a frisbee!” shouted Tim.
He held the tray that was laden with drinks, walking carefully as he grabbed their attention. The tray was placed on the round table with a loud clash, not attracting any looks with the noise and amazingly without spilling the contents of the drinks.
“Bowl of milk for Mr. Tiddles,” he said as he passed the milk to the cat.
Arthur grumbled something about his name, but was too absorbed in the creaminess of the milk as he slurped with relish. His eyes grew wider as though his happiness was sinking into the milk he was lapping up.
“Hmmm… It’s called a ‘Pond Reed Delight’ but it smells of lemons so we should be okay,” passing a glass of transparent green liquid with a lemon wedge on the end to Bridget.
“Thanks” said Bridget with a smile.
“I shall go and get some rooms for us,” said Aeridel gruntly. She got up and walked to the counter.
Tim laid his drink and Aeridels’ on the table and returned the tray before sitting down next to his friend. He noticed that the bartender was staring at them suspiciously but he didn’t really care that much. ‘I guess everybody is going to be wary of us…’ he thought to himself. After sipping their drinks, they saw Aeridel returning with a smile, aimed a Bridget.
“Job done, I got us two rooms.”
Bridget raised her glass in the air, “Well, cheers to destiny!”
“Cheers!”
“Cheers.”
“Mmmm!” said Arthur through his milk.

~X~

“So, you’re telling me this stone has enough power to destroy whole villages? It seems we’ve found evidence that the legend truly exists, Ozzarath!”
The two men were sat in a private room at an inn just north of the Spiro Shores, were they had just retrieved the stone. It had been a few days since the miraculous event had taken place.
“My Lord, our researchers have been studying this particular stone for a while now,” Ozzarath said, scratching his balding head. “Its’ power is incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“Yes, and if it happens to fall into the wrong hands,” said the Lord, pointing to his chest and laughing, “Well, it’s obvious those hands will be mine, then I shall rule all of Bragverla with its power!”
Eighteen and already striving to become an evil genius. Where did it all go so wrong?
“It would seem that way, yes, my Lordship,” said Ozzarath.
The lord got up from his red velvet chair, and paced towards his trusted servant. His majestic robes that were slightly too big for him trailed behind as he walked. The lord began messing with his curly brown hair and said,
“Hmmm… perhaps we should see its power first hand, to be sure. Ready the engines on our airship, we fly at dawn.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Ozzarath replied, bowing before leaving the room.
The lord slowly rested into his chair and paused for a moment, gazing at the door. He poured himself a glass of his favorite Willow Flame whisky and sat staring into its blood red contents, his chin resting on his young hands.
He smiled, knowing that his clockwork plan of domination would soon be ticking in motion. By tomorrow, he would have Bragverla in the palm of his hands. He laughed loudly, and glugged down his drink.
He turned in his swivel chair to face the window.
The sun was setting low, casting a mixture of deep oranges, pinks and reds against the sky. The ocean shone in a deep red, it was so beautiful, so entrancing, that the Lord lost himself in the moment.
Before he realized, he was fast asleep in his chair, contented by the sunset and the whisky.

~X~

There was a loud knock on the door and a voice shouted,
“Come on, you lazy bums! Time to get up! We don’t have all day!”
Bridget stretched, and yawned loudly. Her hair was a mess and she was grouchy; the bed hadn’t been very comfortable. It had a straw mattress and she could feel the wooden boards through it. It had been a rough night.
“Alright Tim! We’ll knock a bit later; I’ve got to get dressed!”
She could hear footsteps dying down the hallway as she rubbed her eyes. She was in a small looking room; it had two beds and a single chair, which their bags were placed on. She looked towards Aeridel’s bed.
But she wasn’t there.
The blankets were folded neatly and the pillows had been fluffed and straightened. ‘They had room service here? I’d have heard them come in surely…’ Bridget thought.
She got dressed back into the dress she had received at the Minstrels’ cottage, and then checked the hallway. When she walked back into the room, she saw a shadow from the window, which was open.
Bridget knew that it led to some small balcony; she had gazed silently at the mass of glittering stars before she went to bed.
“Aeridel?” she called to the shadow.
A reply.
Bridget walked towards the window to find Aeridel staring down into the bustle of people in the streets below.
“What are you doing up so early?” Bridget asked her.
“Oh, well I always used to get up at dawn when I was helping my parents with the chores.”
Suddenly, a painful feeling of homesickness rose in Aeridel’s stomach. Her mouth began salivating at the thought of her parents. She could taste the bile at the back of her throat. Aeridel continued to look down at the heads of the villagers. She swallowed it painfully, hoping Bridget wouldn’t notice.
She did.
“You’re wondering how they’re doing, aren’t you?” asked Bridget.
All Aeridel could do was nod.
“Hey, don’t worry. I’m sure they are fine,” said Bridget, patting her hand affectionately, “I bet they’re proud of what you’re doing.”
“Hmmm….”
“Oh Christ, we’d better get ready! Tim and Arthur must be really mad for keeping them this long!”
“Already taken care of,” Aeridel said, closing the balcony doors behind her, and then pointing to the filled bags on the chair, “I packed yours as well.”
“Wow, thanks a bunch, Aeridel! I don’t know what I’d do without you!”
Aeridel smiled meekly.

~X~

Around ten minutes later, everybody was sat in the same place as the night before; the small round table at the corner of the inn. They were all tucking into a hearty breakfast; sausages and bacon that were fresh from Delroth’s local butcher, mushrooms hand-picked from the forest, tomatoes that were grown by one of the villagers, newly baked chunks of bread from the bakers with soft creamy butter that the innkeeper claimed he had churned himself only that morning.
“Mmmm!!! This is the best breakfast I have ever had! My compliments to the chef!” said Tim struggling to speak as he ate with eagerness.
“You obviously had trouble saying that with your mouth full of egg,” mumbled Aeridel.
“That would be me then,” said a jolly voice. They turned towards the bartender.
He had a big round face, as well as a big belly, which could barely be kept under the grubby apron he wore over a white shirt and baggy trousers. His head was mostly bald, apart from the fact that he looked a little like a monk. His eyes were blue and made you feel welcome when in his presence. Those big eyes were looking at Tim, his face grinning with the compliment. It was the kind of expression that showed that he was used to all of the praise. A sudden thought arose in Tim’s mind, he imagined this man as a balding replica of Santa Claus.
“And I’m not the chef by the way,” he continued, cleaning beer mugs with a clean cloth, “I own this ‘ere joint. Me wife does all t’ cookin’. ‘T name’s Roland.”
The inn was a lot quieter in the morning; dust hung in the air and sparkled in the morning sun that was shining through the dirty, grimy-looking windows. Most of the chairs and stools were turned upside down and placed onto the wooden tables. There was a faint smell of wax polish in the air.
“What do you use to clean the tables?” asked Bridget, putting down her knife and fork on her empty plate.
“Oh, we use beeswax. We rub it on t’ tables and buff it with a cloth.”
“Cool.”
“So, how are you doing Aeridel? ‘Aven’t seen you for nearly two months now, and who are your friends?” asked Roland, as he took away their plates.
Tim and Bridget turned towards her, slightly surprised. Aeridel sighed at them, “I used to do some errands for him.”
When Roland came back and drew up a stool for himself, did Aeridel reply; “I’m sorry, Roland. I have been busy studying and then there was a big fuss with these two here about a week ago. I was supposed to visit you in the afternoon when these two practically dropped in.”
“Nay, don’t apologize, lass. ‘Weren’t your fault. I was just slightly concerned ‘tis all.”
“We were supposed to meet somebody here, but they may have been in last night and we missed them in the crowds,” said Bridget.
“Or, that they haven’t arrived yet,” suggested Tim. “But then again, I should be agreeing with Bridget, because if we hadn’t rescued the ‘damsel in distress’ over there,” he gestured towards the cushion that Arthur was sat on; “We may have found the guy we’re after.”
“I resent that,” replied Arthur, “You were the one trying to be the hero.”
“But, I… oh, shut up you stupid cat!” shouted Tim, poking the cat’s fur.
The cat attempted to swat Tim’s finger away, but being too tired to care, Arthur merely curled up and continued to rest, his tail swishing.
After all, a cat needs to have its beauty sleep.
“Lazy feline,” grumbled Tim moodily.
“So you two must have met the minstrel then?” asked Roland, sitting intently. “By the way, thanks for finding Arthur for me, he’s my cat.”
“Ah, so that’s why you knew where this place was!” said Bridget, staring at the sleeping cat. Arthur purred.
“The minstrel told us to come here. She said an old friend of hers would tell us where to go from here,” added Tim.
“Hmm… so you two might be the Chosen Ones that she told me about in her letter. I think I have something for you,” muttered Roland.
He got up and went through to a room at the back of the counter, whilst Tim, Bridget and Aeridel had a sudden realization that Roland was the guy they were looking for.
They both exchanged furtive glances at each other, hiding each others’ excitement as the barkeeper returned clutching a yellowing parchment and two small boxes.
Roland placed the items on the table and sat down again,
“Just so happens that me an’ the minstrel ‘ave known each other since we were young ‘uns. We were always playing up in dem woods. Even made friends with some of those magic creatures’ int’ forest.”
“Even Aurelia?” asked Aeridel, her eyes widening.
“Aurelia? Oh yeah, she was a sweet lass,” replied Roland, “So, ont’ task ahead. Aeridel, take a look at that there parchment.”
She unravelled the paper. On it was a detailed map of the whole country. Each area was split with borderlines and had strange names. Aeridel had not even heard of half of these places. The top of the map was labelled, ‘Bragverla’.
“So, this is your world huh?” said Tim, looking over Aeridel’s shoulder. She pushed him away as though he was diseased, “I should never have suggested skiving from school, in the end it’ll always get you into trouble…”
“What is school? Is it an institute for your kind?” asked Aeridel.
“No, it’s a place to learn stuff,” said Tim. “But I hate it because it’s boring and when I get bored I don’t do work, and when I don’t do work I get into trouble. It’s my fault for us being here, I’m sorry, Bridge.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” assured Bridget, “I don’t think it was your fault at all!”
“No, I agree my lad, my hunch is that Fate made it so you two would arrive here sooner or later,” suggested Roland, folding his arms over his rotund belly, “Better sooner than later I guess, and seeing as the minstrel seems t’ think this is a matter of urgency. Did’ya knows she could predict the future?”
“No, I didn’t,” replied Aeridel.
“Well, it all began when we were kids. We were going through t’ woods one day and we ended up lost. We were getting scared an’ confused until she suddenly goes an’ collapses. When she wakes up, she tells me that something will show us the way back home. Amazing, as soon as she says this, some old man from t’ village yonder finds us and takes us back.”
“So, you’re saying that the minstrel may have predicted that Tim and I would arrive in Bragverla?” asked Bridget.
“Aye, that’d be correct.”
“So, why are you giving us this map? Aeridel has already got one,” asked Bridget.
“Nay, that map of yours is useless in comparison to this one, young lass. But I must warn ye,” he leaned in towards them, making them flinch, “I must warn ye, that this here map has special powers. But I’m afraid that’s all I know, I don’t know what the heck it does so you’ll have to figure it out for yerselves.”
“Why isn’t anything ever simple in this world?” complained Tim.
Aeridel rolled up the map and replaced it with the one in her bag. She gave the now useless map to Roland.
“I suppose we won’t need this anymore.”
“I can hang it up outside of t’ pub in a case, so people can figure out where they have to go,” said Roland, placing her old map onto the counter.
“That’s a great idea! To help lost people like us,” said Bridget.
“So, what’s in the boxes, Roland?” asked Aeridel.
Roland paused for a moment in concentration, trying to remember what was in those boxes.
Then it clicked, like a light bulb in his brain.
“Aye, now the contents of these boxes are very special. They have been passed down within my family ever since that Legend began. However, nobody has been able t’ open them. Th’ one thing I do know is that we have been known as the Keepers of these boxes for a long time. That is until the descendants of the Legend of the Heroes came along and we would return them to their rightful owner.”
“Many generations ago, we thought them boxes belonged t’ th’ ones that saved Bragverla from destruction. The heroes were said to have magic powers, and be masters of the elements. But nobody is sure exactly what powers he or she actually had. However, these trinkets gave ‘em magic. What I do know is that those trinkets form a strong physical bond with the wearer, and the wearer can hear the voice of the spirits that lie within.”
“The stone calls to its wearer?” asked Bridget.
“Yes, lassie, the call. Now, it is said that th’ box will only open t’ th’ true descendants of the heroes. I think we should put this to the test! Chosen Ones. Please take a box and try to open it. Do whatever you can.”
Tim and Bridget took a box and looked at each other solemnly. Then, as if they both knew exactly what to do, they both closed their eyes and concentrated their minds on what was inside. In their thoughts, they could see the colour of their stone; Bridget saw flashes of red, whilst Tim saw a swirling green.
A loud click echoed the room, and the boxes opened.
A sudden bright golden light emanated from the boxes. Aeridel screamed, shielding her eyes with her arm. Roland turned away from the table. As soon as the light came, it disappeared. Tim and Bridget opened their eyes, dazed, whilst Roland and Aeridel sighed with relief.
“Well, well, well! Seems you two are destined to save us!” said Roland laughing heartily, and then suddenly slapped Tim on the back. He coughed and spluttered as the air left his lungs from the impact.
Tim and Bridget looked into the boxes, and each took out a long necklace. The chain was made of pure gold, and looked very delicate. The casing looked brand new and made from gold. In them were the most beautiful coloured gems they had ever seen. Tim’s was a glowing emerald, and Bridget’s a shimmering ruby.
“They’re beautiful…” whispered Aeridel, “Put them on.”
Tim and Bridget put on the necklaces around their necks. They both felt a rush of warmth flowing through their bodies, as if somebody was giving them a big hug. A quick breeze from nowhere ruffled their hair slightly.
“Woah, that felt weird,” said Tim, feeling his arms uncertainly, as the tingling sensation ceased.
“That must be the magical energy flowing into you. I get that whenever I cast a spell,” said Aeridel.
“It felt quite soothing to me…” said Bridget, closing her eyes dreamily.
“Thank you so much for these gifts,” said Aeridel to Roland, getting up from her seat. She stretched her arms. “But I’m afraid we should go now, we don’t have much time and we must press on with the journey ahead of us.”
“How the hell do you know we haven’t got much time?” said Tim, warily.
“Intuition.”
“Wait! Before ye be goin’ off on yer adventure. I’ll give you some provisions to get ye by. Stay right there,” said Roland. He trotted off into the back room and collected whatever food he could find. He split them up into three sections and then packed it into their individual bags.
“Thank you, Roland. I hope we see you again some time,” said Bridget, shaking his hand.
“Yeah, thanks a bunch.” Tim went over to shake his hand. Roland almost thumped him on the back again but Tim dodged it. Roland laughed again.
“You youngsters take care now!” he said. He unbolted the door and let them through.
Aeridel was the last to walk through, but before she could do so, Roland stopped her and said in a hushed voice, “Summon the maid,” and closed the door behind her.
Roland smiled, and folded his arms as he stared out of one of the grimy windows.
“What a nice bunch of kids. Seems the legend is true after all. The past must be repeating itself once again.”
He reached a hand and scratched Arthur’s ears, whom had been asleep the whole time. A loud purr echoed in the dusty inn.

~X~

 

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