“A mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost.
Lara woke from death to find that she was warm, and the scars on her arms had been covered in strange material. She was curled up in in a soft fur blanket. At her feet, a fire burned, and from it too, she sensed warmth. For one moment, she thought she may have been taken back into Abiel’s kingdom. Her soul froze with agonizing hope.
At length, a citizen of the lower Plane came into her vision. A woman; not a young woman, but not an old woman yet, either. Lara had heard tell of the terrible effects that time had upon citizens of the lower plane, for whom it was mandatory to exist in one body, and such a fickle, weak body at that. One that could be so easily opened and ruined by time and gravity. Lara had no body. Only a form. She did not need to eat or breathe. So it was that she observed with fascination the life processes of her hostess; the pumping of her heart, and the strange squeezing sound that her blood made when it pounded round her body. The red blood. The woman’s hair was yellow and her eyes were blue but she was not a senator. She was happy, Lara could feel that, but there was something troubling her deep down.
At length the woman looked up.
“-Oh! You’re awake,” her eyes widened with surprise, “You’re awake. I’m so sorry, my lady, you must not know where you are I suppose.”
“N-no, I do not …I was near the mountains-“
“You’re at our house,” said the woman. “Arne found you. You had passed on the Wash plane. That’s where we go to fetch our water. Now, my dear girl, don’t look so stricken!”
‘I only…I’m sorry. You have been-…so…the term is ‘hospitable’, is it not?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that side of things,” the woman smiled. “You’ve been a very easy guest so far. I haven’t had to entertain you at all. Now, my name is Mrs. Wife-of-Karì. My husband is called Karì. It’s just us in the house usually. And Arne, who found you.”
“Arne?” Lara’s head was swimming again. What was Arne? Those on the lower plane are cursed with reproduction, Lara, my dear.
“Is that your child?”
Mrs Wife-of-Karì laughed, a little uneasily. “N-no, my dear. Arne is our dog. He was the one who found you.”
Lara had been resisting the tears, but now they came.
“Oh, don’t cry dear. Is there something that’s upsetting you?”
“No-I’m sorry, I’m sorry-“
“What for, my Lady? You’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I have,” Lara keened, “I have done!”
Mrs. Karì sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the blankets that her guest lay in. Her face was solemn. “Is it something to do with those wings you have, my lovely?”
Lara had to force herself to speak. “I-that is only-“
“We’ll say no more about it,” said Mrs Karì. “We’re not going to judge you, are we? Why would we? As far as we’re concerned, you’re our guest. And don’t worry about anything; I like looking after people. You can stay as long as you want; Arne seems to like you, and I consider that the best indication about a person’s character. “ She rose and picked up a tray she had placed by Lara’s bed. “Arne kept tugging at Karì’s trouser leg after he came back yesterday, which is his way of telling us he’s found something special.”
She didn’t look at Lara when she said it. Then, she left. And Lara drifted away.
When she came to again, the Karìs’ home was lit with a warm, golden guttering glow. Lara heard a strange, heavy beating sound. It drew nearer to her. It was Mrs. Wife-of-Karì and her husband, Karì.
“Here she is, my dear,” said Mrs. Karì, “She woke at Midday, or thereabouts. Isn’t she a lovely thing?”
Karì had eyes of a similar colour to his wife’s. His hair was white and he had more hair growing on his face. Alongside him was the creature who had slept beside her at the foot of the mountain. Lara saw him and her eyes started leaking.
“Oh my Lady, you mustn’t cry at Arne, it will upset him,” said Karì, “He’s taken so well to you. He was the one who found you.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not afraid of him,” sobbed Lara, “He’s just so beautiful. When he was with me on the Plane I felt safe.”
Mrs. Karì knelt down and took Lara’s hand. Lara was shocked by the solid nature of the structure on the end of Mrs. Kari’s arm. “Don’t cry so, my dear. Arne is not so special as that.”
“He is so simple,” whimpered Lara, to herself. She looked at Arne. A dog. That was what he was. He regarded her with curiosity. Mrs. Karì smiled and shook her head. “Well, Husband. It seems our guest is romantically given.”
“What is your name, my Lady?” asked Karì.
“I am Lara.”
“Lara, daughter of…?”
“Of no-one,” Lara looked at them and found their thoughts. “I have no relations.”
“Oh dear. That’s a pity. Well, we’re happy to have you. You get some rest, Miss Lara.”
“We’ll leave Arne in here tonight, I think,” said Mrs Karì to herself. Then she left with her husband and shut the door.
Night came. Arne jumped up onto Lara’s bed with an almost sheepish air. Lara found his thoughts and laughed. I shall not punish you for that, said she in her mind. Hearing her, Arne again walked his sleep-circle and fell into a slumber next to her. Lara slept soundly.
Lara’s pain did not fade but she found she was able to bury it deeper,
“I am so pleased, my dear,” said Mrs Karì to her husband one evening, “Lara is beginning to get out of bed lots and lots now. She sat in the main room all the afternoon and talked to me today. She is such a lovely creature. I almost felt that she was looking into me as I busied around her…but it wasn’t invasive, it was just lovely.”
“You two get along very well,” said Karì, looking at his beloved sideways.
Mrs. Karì did not reply. She only looked away dreamily, at the cupboard in the hall that contained the little silken doll that had never been cuddled.
A year passed by the Karìs’ clock. Lara found that she could look at herself in the mirror again. She came to love the Karìs, and they loved her too. One evening, they bade Lara sit down at the white table that they kept in the kitchen.
“Well, it’s just that you’ve been with us quite a while now- and we so enjoy your company,” Mrs. Karì smiled almost aggressively, “And it’s not in any way a reproach, because…well, this is a funny thing to ask, but you see we have always wanted a child of our own- a little daughter… and we have plenty of room, so we wondered if you wanted to become our daughter from now on.”
Lara then realised why the couple were a little bit dark.
“I am honoured,” she replied, “I would love to. Yes. Of course I will.”
Mrs. Karì’s face and heart flooded with light. “Oh-well-that’s just wonderful! Karì, my dear, isn’t that just wonderful?”
“It certainly is, my love,” he said. He put his arm gently on his wife’s shoulder. “The best thing that’s happened since we came here. But of course let’s make sure that Lara adjusts before we-”
“-I think we should go and get Lara’s surprises ready now,” Mrs. Karì shone like the sun. “The ones we said we should give if Lara said yes to our proposal.”
“I will directly Ada,” said Karì. With that he plodded off to the cupboard, and took something out. Then he strolled out to the sheep barn.
“What surprise is this, Mrs. Karì?” asked Lara, wryly.
“Oh, you’ll find out tomorrow,” glittered Mrs. Karì. “And we’ll have no more of that ‘Mrs Karì’. I’m mother now. Or Mummy.”
And so it was. I will forget Abiel, and the citizens, and my cot shrouded in silver silk and the Palace, and Midgard. Everything. Lara reached down and stroked Arne’s soft ears. These people need a daughter or they will become very dark. I care for them and I need to forget. Well, I shall be a child, then. And perhaps in time I shall find my soul in a box beneath my bed and see how it has outgrown me…