Chapter 20 – A history of bits and pieces


The cave was sealed at dawn, with a very tired Lucille gazing at the endeavor in a sour mood, irritated by the fact that now she had to walk another fifteen minutes around the hill to the next entrance.
Rosemary directed the activities with almost ceremonial gestures, pleased to have won this epic battle over the Que’d and unaware of the fact that she’d already lost the war. When the Circle was finished dumping large boulders at the entrance of the cave and the large cloud of dust started to settle, the place looked so barren and desolate that even the most acerbic opponents of scholarly knowledge felt a tinge of guilt.
There was something inspiring, something larger than life in that cave with the ancient carvings adorning the walls, and many secretly wondered if they didn’t throw away irreplaceable treasure just to quell their fears.
“Well, it had to be done, dear. Way overdue!” Rosemary poked Lucille, hoping to rile up an angry retort. Lucille was distracted by the lack of sleep and a little turned around by the necessary changes in itinerary, and, at the time, she was quietly evaluating which one of the other entrances was best fit for regular use anyway. If her plans were going to come to fruition, there would be a lot of foot traffic through that particular area, and the more inconspicuous the path, the better. She didn’t respond to Rosemary, which made the latter step up her prodding.
“Mrs. Eberhart, I think I speak for all of us when I say that, as much as I love my dear old friend, I’m worried about her, ahhm,…absentmindedness. Frankly, she doesn’t seem to be with us half the time, and I’m not sure how that can possibly serve the purposes of the Council, going forward,” she threw another dart at Lucille. Mrs. Eberhart frowned as if she ignored the comment, but looked to the latter for a response. Lucille begrudgingly answered.
“I can hear you perfectly well, Rosemary, and as soon as I consider there is something useful I have to contribute to this conversation, I will do so,” she set the dragon lady straight. She looked around and squinted; the crude morning sun reflected off the sand and felt gritty on her tired eyes. “Well, if there is nothing else…” she looked at Mrs. Eberhart, to see if the Circle activities for the morning were coming to an end.
“I guess we’re done here,” the latter dismissed the Circle with a wave of her hand, and they all walked home in silence, each pondering on her own feelings about the sealing of the cave and the destruction of the Que’d.
The following weeks passed in a whirlwind of activities, with Mrs. Gentry stepping up the busy work on the young’ums, to make sure they didn’t have time to get themselves in trouble, and Lucille having to stretch her imagination to keep finding reasons for her regular absences. At first she tried to make a habit out of visiting the cave at night, but burning the candle at both ends was taking a toll on her, goodness knows that habitual lack of sleep can weaken even the strongest constitutions.
She then came up with the least credible of explanations, and because it was so preposterous, it worked. She told the Circle that she needed more time alone with her thoughts, to go over the cascade of events that turned village life upside down and come to terms with Mary’s disgraceful disappearance, an explanation that fit right into Rosemary’s constant attacks on her credibility, but under the circumstances, Lucille felt it was a risk worth taking.
Grace to her impeccable service over so many decades, the Circle allowed her any and all leeway. Most of the ladies were saddened by Mary’s absence too, even if the girl was so different they had always found it difficult to relate to her. They knew, however, that Lucille loved her niece like she was her own child, and it didn’t surprise them that the good lady had such a hard time adjusting to this unfortunate situation.
The visits to the cave brought both gratification and torment to Lucille: every day the girl seemed to advance in knowledge by leaps and bounds, and yet, the knowledge became more and more alien to her aunt, who had to listen to the girl’s excited reports, now peppered with words she’d never heard before, and share in her enthusiasm over activities that by village rule were considered anathema. Every time Mary started talking about virtual memory, bandwidth and RAM, her aunt felt a cringe of discomfort.
She soon got used to the weird changes in the mirror display, however, and surprised herself with the ease with which she had accepted them, but she also had this feeling of urgency that if they were to catch up with the centuries of knowledge they were kept from, all those willing to learn had to start immediately, and it would have been better if they started decades ago.
She remembered the events surrounding Mary’s birth and wondered how things could have evolved differently, and whether there was anything anybody could have done then, but for everything there is a season, and ideals need to take root before they can surge into the light. Lucille became quieter, thinking, thinking, thinking, putting together and disassembling plans until she found one she thought had the best chance of success.
A few weeks and a couple of wool spinning workshops later, a strategy was developed, and if the Circle ever caught wind of it, which would have been very unfortunate, they could have witnessed a most amazing feat: a long row of young girls walking through the desert at night, in total silence, stepping in each other’s footsteps to leave as few footprints as possible, with the last one walking backwards and sweeping off all the traces of their passing.
The one in the mirror brought in a few of his colleagues and together they assembled an ad hoc curriculum, ready to be adjusted at a moment’s notice to the girls’ learning curve. Every night their young minds were mesmerized by this miraculous world of knowledge they never dreamt existed, slowly advancing through the wonders of alchemy, arithmetic, chronicling, the workings of living things, the workings of non-living things, the art of story telling, the rule of law, the essence of wisdom, but most of all, how to write enchantments to make the mirrors do their bidding, a task they all took to like ducks to water, as if spellbound.
The next day they were so tired they often fell asleep in workshop, their noses buried in the baskets filled with spools of not yet spun wool. Mrs. Gentry worried she was working the girls too hard, and in a very uncharacteristic move, decided to lighten their workload, but the tiredness and the falling asleep persisted. On rare occasions, one of the girls, on the brink of exhaustion, talked in her sleep, and words like acetyl CoA, or oxidative phosphorylation strengthened the convictions of the most conservative ladies of the Circle that evil was at work in their midst, preying on the young ones, so they stepped up their efforts to inculcate the correct values into this precious at-risk group.
Discipline was brought front and center and the rules of attire were strictly enforced, and the ladies were pleased to see the girls offered no resistance to these new restraints on their lives, and congratulated themselves for having raised the young generation so well.
Over the weekend, Lucille liked to spend more time with Mary, to listen to what her niece had learned, discuss her progress with the one in the mirror, and try her own skills at mirror enchantments every once in a while. Strangely enough, life had found a new balance, and settled into it like a river in a new bank, in this strange top lit environment, open to the sky, where everything that was needed was spun out of artificial spider silk and all questions found answers inside the many layers of the mirror.
Work on the restoration of the Coulter library progressed very slowly, for it was a gargantuan undertaking to put together all the pieces of information in a coherent stream. Mary was kind of indifferent to the painting that emerged from these disparate bits of information at first, young and eager as she was to learn all of those wonderful things she didn’t know existed, but the more the tapestry of events from centuries ago unfolded under her eyes, the more interested she became in its significance. The strange thing was that the isolation the village imposed on its inhabitants had kept her out of time and a lot closer in a way to understanding the reasons and the customs of those ancestors from centuries ago than her educated relatives inside the mirror.
Sometimes she could almost see the events described in the library archives, and felt the people’s tribulations as if she were there with them, in their time, instead of watching them with detachment from the safe distance of history. The more she learned about those people, who were so much like her, even though they lived in savage and perilous times, the more she admired the courage it took them to guard this precious knowledge, sometimes with their lives.
Abraham Coulter was a fastidious chronicler who abandoned no important events to oblivion, and between the history she’d been taught in the village and the truth that burst out in bits and pieces from his letters and personal journals, a different image of her world emerged, in which the events of her time started making sense to her, and in which her own existence suddenly became meaningful. She didn’t know why, but she felt it, as if she had found her place in the world and smoothly snapped in place inside it, as if her life story was always meant to be.