To the Hedge

Pollock had been driving around for a while, and Shade had the inkling that she didn’t really have a plan any more. He thumbed his chin contemplatively. They’d gone over the nature of the sweet nothing’s magic for Porsche when they got back in the car, and now they were looking for a convenient hedge gateway. It wouldn’t do to go creating new portals into the hedge willy-nilly.

Of course, they could. It was possible to harness the power of glamour—the stuff of magic—to turn any reflective surface or doorway into a hedge gate, but the world was dangerous enough without giving faerie creatures more ways to creep into it. Shade had spent a lot of his time since returning ensuring his safety, and this plan made his flesh itch. He wasn’t pleased to go wandering around in the hedge, but it was for a friend.

“Polly, can you tell us where we’re going?”

“Uhm?” She looked over at Shade when they stopped at a stop sign. “What’s that?”

“Where are we going?”

“Oh. Sorry, I was thinking about something. I know where we can go.” Her driving became purposeful. Shade wondered what it could have been that so distracted her from their goal. Soon she’d driven them to a small park with a fountain. They parked the car and went over to the fountain. It was a burbling font of water with an eight foot circular pool surrounding it. But with the water flowing like this, they couldn’t use it as a portal. The water needed to be still and reflective. At least there were no humans around to witness the act.

Pollock explained this to Porsche, and asked if, as a snowy elemental changeling, she might have any insight that could help freeze the fountain. She shook her head, telling them that although she’d made ice a part of herself, she hadn’t learned to project the elemental form of ice outside of herself.

“That’s okay,” Shade said softly. “I’ve got this.”

He extended a finger down to the surface of the water, murmuring endearments and coaxing to Winter itself to act through him to freeze the water. The power of the endless Winter cold passed through him, drawing off a portion of his glamour as it worked its magic on the fountain. From where he touched it, the pool froze solid, and quickly extending up and capturing all of the falling water as well.

They marveled at the surface, which was glossy, but not reflective enough to use. Porsche wiped her hand on the surface for a moment, smoothing it and shining it up to make it work for them. They looked around, ensuring one final time that no one was watching their egress from the mortal realm.

Pollock rested her hand on Porsche’s shoulder. “Honey, would you do the honors? Just knock on the surface and ask it to open up for us. You’ll know what to do.”

Porsche brushed her hand over the solid surface of the ice once again. She rapped a knuckle on it, whispering “We’re ready; we’re set; let’s go.” The surface stubbornly refused to alter. Pollock pulled a single hair from her head and dropped it on the ice. Shade noted that it wasn’t a hair at all, but a thread of thick cotton, which quickly shed its color once removed from her head. Dropping it on the frozen pool, Pollock gestured for Porsche to try again. “I said, ’let’s go’.” The thread glowed brightly and cascaded into a million tiny sparkles of light, which sank into the surface of the ice. Ripples played across that plane, and converted themselves into the greens and browns of that other world, the unusual place known as the hedge.

Pollock offered Shade and Porsche her hands. “We’re not getting separated this time.” They took her hands, and as one, they plunged forward through the hole in the ice and then upward to a standing position in the hedge. The trip was disconcerting, as one moment they were rushing down into the surface of the ice, which murkily showed them the hedge, and the next they had broken through like popping a bubble, and the world around them was gone, replaced with trees, plants, and strange, distant animal sounds. Perhaps as a lingering effect of the way they entered, the immediate vicinity was dotted here and there with icicles and hoary frost.

Polly shook her head, sending droplets of water and color everywhere. Their trip through hadn’t been completely free of wetness, and Porsche made a face at her for showering the snowskin teen with the orange drops from her hair. Polly didn’t see what her problem was, as the color always faded quickly enough from anything but her own body.

“Okay, who wants to be the cookie monster?” Pollock fished the sweet nothing out of her pocket. Despite being slightly soggy, it was intact.

“Cookie monster?” Porsche asked bemusedly.

“Yeah, someone needs put this in their mouth and—“

“Oh! Me!” Porsche snatched the sweet nothing out of Pollock’s hand and stuffed it in her mouth. Pollock was horrified that this trip could be wasted so quickly. If Porsche chewed, the magic would be ruined!

“Porsche, listen to me very carefully. Think of Rajah. Think of the tiger you saw in the dream, as a man. We need to find him. Don’t stop thinking of him, okay? And don’t swallow it, just keep it on your tongue.”

Porsche murmured around the wafer in her mouth, “Taigoo, taigoo.” After a moment her face contorted as the flavor of it hit. She turned around in a circle, nodding to herself. After getting some internal bearing, she faced down the path in one direction and said in a garbled voice, “vish weh.”

They set off, taking turns and choosing directions at what seemed like random. All around them were the walls of thorny foliage, here and there growing over a low wall or swallowing a pillar. One might almost mistake this for a Victorian garden gone wild and unkempt if there weren’t such a pervasive sense of magic to it. It was like the land smelled them and responded. Everywhere they went, small touches of frost and cold breezes lingered near Shade, and the light seemed just a little dimmer, while closer to Polly and Porsche, plants were opening tiny flowers hopefully and tiny drops of dew shimmered on leaves and vines.

Pollock kept looking at Porsche. She was concerned about whether the girl would keep up the concentration she needed. So far so good, but if Porsche lost the magic, they could get lost out here and die. A small, rebellious part of her wondered if it was really worth all this for a half-remembered friend. Then she would remind herself that for her, nothing was important but friendship, and her resolve firmed.

The problem was that Pollock really had no strong memories of her life before Arcadia. While Shade was hiding from his life, and Porsche had tried, initially, to throw herself back into hers, Pollock simply didn’t remember much of anything. It was like chasing rainbows. Every time she thought a memory was near the surface and tried to call it up, it fled even further into the recesses of her mind. In the Port of Roses, changelings with no memories of home were said to be unable to find their way back. Some called them lost causes, a play on the name “Lost” that the fae folk ascribed themselves. Others referred to them as “forevermores,” citing the fact that without memories, they were bound to Arcadia forever.

And yet, here she was, holding the chilled hand of a friend who helped bring her most of the way back. She still didn’t remember what had separated them, or why she was back years before the others. But these people were the reason she made it at all. And she owed them everything. It was her honor to return the favor and help Rajah find his way home.

Their journey had continued to twist and turn, following the flavored trifle that Porsche now kept in her mouth. Now they came to a T-junction. Porsche looked left, then right, then furrowed her brow and looked left and right again. “We haag a pwobwem.”

“What, honey?”

“Vae bof go ga wong way.”

“Try turning around all the way.”

They kept their hands locked and spun in a circle as a group, refusing to let go of each other. The fear of separation hadn’t loosened its grip. When they had spun back to face the way they came, Porsche stamped her foot impetuously. “Buk gish ish ga way we cang!”

Pollock’s experience with the hedge said that trivial things like direction didn’t always matter. “Just keep thinking of Rajah. Don’t stop, and don’t worry about the direction. Just follow where the sweet nothing leads.”

They moved off down that path. Pollock was not terribly surprised when the terrain they passed through bore little resemblance to the area they’d just come from. This was the way of the hedge. The way forward was sometimes the way back. They continued on, their footsteps seeming to echo on the flagstones, packed earth and low turf that they passed through. The trio passed through a haphazardly built stone plaza. They hadn’t been here before. It had thirteen different ways in and out, some marked with pillars or arches, others just holes in the wall or openings in the foliage.

Porsche let go of her friends’ hands and spun in a circle.

To the Hedge

Petals of the Rose Malkom Malkom