“You want to rescue Christopher’s family?” said Lucio with his eyebrows raised. It was a warm evening in the meadow at Lucio’s cottage, and the sun cast a warm glow over the grass and the Guardians milling around. Aurora and Lucio had been sitting with Lothlorien for a long time, comforting one another and coming to terms with what happened over the past few days.
“Yes,” said Aurora. “It was a part of our plan. Once we arrived here, Christopher was going to build a new home for us here in the forest, and we would rescue his mother and four siblings from his alcoholic father. He told me that all of their money is spent on his father’s drunken nights, and they barely get by. It was something that Christopher wanted to accomplish once he was able to start his own carpenter’s business, but things changed, or course.”
“That was a brave goal for him to make,” said Lothlorien. “But a good one. And you are brave too, for wanting to continue that.”
“It’s what he would have wanted,” Aurora mumbled while staring into space. “And I want to meet them. They deserve to know that he’s dead.”
“Then allow me to help,” said Lucio. “I can locate Christopher’s family and rescue them with you. If it will help ease everyone’s minds at least a little, then it’s worth the effort.”
“Thank you, Lucio,” Aurora said with a smile. “I’m glad you volunteered, because it’s certainly going to take some magic to make this happen! But I couldn’t take you away from your home. Not now, with the threat of…what were they called again? The Atrumnus?”
“I think I can sneak away for a couple of days,” said Lucio. “What we know is that the Atrumnus is back at your estate offering healing abilities. So long as MoonStone’s horn keeps healing, I don’t think they will come looking for more Guardians for a while. Besides, my brother isn’t the only one with good cloaking abilities! Anyone that doesn’t have my permission to come here will see a gloomy, treacherous bog instead of my meadow. So even if they did come crawling through here, I doubt they would bother to look for Guardians in an old, slimy bog.”
“Of course,” said Aurora. “I should have figured you would do something like that. But I don’t know where they live, or even their names! I never thought to ask.” She sighed and leaned forward to rest her chin in her hands.
“That’s where the magic comes in!” said Lucio. “I know a trick that can let me see the location of anybody. Except for my brother, that is. But that’s a family matter for another day.” He swatted his hand in front of his face and got up. “I do need something to go off of, however. What is Christopher’s surname? Do you know that?”
“Sumner,” said Aurora. “His full name was Christopher Sumner.”
“Excellent!” Lucio clapped his hands together. “I just need some time alone near the stream. The sound of the water helps me concentrate.” He turned to walk to the laughing stream that flowed a little ways in front of his cottage.
“And what are you doing, exactly?” asked Aurora.
“I’m going to find them in my mind’s eye,” Lucio tapped his head with his pointer finger while he spoke. “It’s how I managed to find you and save Christopher and MoonStone’s bodies the night we first met. I learned it from an old peddler who claimed to come from the far East.”
“You met a peddler once? I thought you only stayed in the forest.”
“I do, most days. Guardians and my bear family made excellent company, but being the only one of your kind can be lonely! When I was young, I would find a loving family that would adopt me as their own for however long I wanted. When I became bored or missed my family in the forest, I would simply disappear. I believe Atricio did the same, because I would sometimes hear tales of a strange child that would show up on families’ doorsteps and wreak havoc on them. As I got older and the stories became more common, families often refused to take me in.” The Magician shook his head. “Nowadays, if I need something like a new tunic or a book, I’ll journey to the road where I’ll meet traveling merchants. Now if you will excuse me for a moment, I should be able to find Christopher’s family.” He walked a little ways away from Aurora and Lothlorien and sat cross-legged next to the stream with his back straight and his palms face-up on his knees. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Come with me,” said Lothlorien to Aurora. “I can show you some bushes with berries you can eat.” Aurora’s stomach grumbled at the mention of food. She nodded while they got up and walked over to the edge of the meadow.
Lothlorien showed her a line of bushes Lucio had planted that were full of all kinds of berries. Aurora began to feast on the sweet fruit while glancing back at the Magician every few minutes. He sat completely still next to the moving water. The girl began to wonder if he was really doing anything, when one of the Orbs of Feor floated down from the tree branches and settled in front of the Magician’s face. He still didn’t move, even when the Orb floated down to his right hand and rested on his palm. They stayed like this for a good minute or two, until Lucio opened his eyes and brought the Orb up to his face.
“Very nice to meet you, my friend,” he whispered. “Thank you.” He held out his hand, and the Orb floated playfully back up to the branches. He turned to Aurora and gestured for her to come sit with him. She walked over with her heart ready to beat out of her chest.
“I’m sure you can guess what happened?” Lucio said when she sat down. Aurora nodded and wiped a tear from her cheek.
“He’s a very good soul. A strong and pure one. He’s grateful that you’re going to rescue his family,” said Lucio. Aurora couldn’t hear anything else he said after that. All she could do was look at the thousands upon thousand of Feors nestled in the tree branches.
“Where are you Christopher? Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t you miss me?” she thought while tears burned her tired eyes.
The feeling of Lucio’s hand on her shoulder brought her back to reality. She looked up at his face; his bright blue eyes were soft with sympathy.
“He loves you,” he said. “And he misses you. He and MoonStone are fine, and they are so glad that you’re here, and you’re safe. They’ll make contact with you when the time is right, I’m sure of it.” Aurora nodded and tried to hold back tears. Lucio put his arm around her shoulders and held her close while she let out a small sob. His strong, stocky body made her feel safe, and she could smell the sweet earth that was infused into his tunic. She felt like she was finally receiving the love and comfort her father could never give her. A few minutes later, she broke from his arm and wiped her face with a big sigh.
“I don’t know what I would do without you and Lothlorien,” she said with a smile. Lucio smiled back and pushed a piece of his curly brown hair from his forehead.
“Come, let’s make a plan with Lothlorien,” he said as he stood up and offered his hand to Aurora.
It was early in the morning with the sun just beginning to poke above the trees, drying everything in the meadow that was covered in dew. Aurora had emerged from the cottage about an hour ago to see a large wagon full of straw that Lucio had conjured up over night. They went about a somewhat normal routine together and ate their breakfast in front of the cottage. Lothlorien ate grass and a few berries, while Aurora and Lucio had mostly berries with a little bit of dried jerky that Lucio pulled out from his cottage. He stayed true to his word, and slept outside on the soft grass once they finished making their plans and decided to leave the next morning. It was just warm enough that he only needed a light blanket.
“Are we all set then?” asked Aurora. She threw her satchel bag into the wagon and looked at Lucio and Lothlorien.
“Just about,” said Lucio. “I’d better do this now before I forget. I know we won’t encounter anyone for a while, but Lothlorien will be safer this way.” He walked up to the Guardian and place his hand on her brilliant white horn.
“Héafodgewæde,” he whispered. Lothlorien shook her head, sending her long white mane every which way over her neck. Nothing else happened.
“What did you say?” asked Aurora. “It doesn’t look like it worked.”
“It’s working,” said Lothlorien. “I can feel a thin veil over my horn.”
“Good, because all I said was ‘veil’ in the Universal Language,” said Lucio. “Only you and I can see her horn now. All anyone else will see is a beautiful white mare.” He stroked Lothlorien’s nose while she rolled her eyes.
“Good,” said Aurora. “Shall we start off then?”
“Of course,” said Lucio. He hitched Lothlorien up to the wagon while Aurora climbed in and made herself comfortable on the coarse straw. Once everyone was set, they bid farewell to the Guardians in the meadow and set off out of the clearing. The estate of Christopher’s family was about half a day’s journey from Lucio’s cottage, and the Magician knew just where to find Christopher’s mother. The plan had two possible outcomes, depending on the family’s circumstances. Once Christopher’s mother was found, Lucio and Aurora would ask her if there were any other connections she could use to live somewhere else. If she said no, then they would contact Eric to see if he could take them in.
“And what if Eric can’t do anything? What then?” asked Aurora while they planned this the night before.
“Then we’ll look for more options,” said Lucio with a shrug. “The universe works in mysterious ways. I’d love to be able to take them in myself, but that would be too many people for this meadow. Guardians like their secrecy, and they don’t go about revealing themselves lightly. It’s better to get them to safety while revealing as little as possible.”
“Agreed,” said Lothlorien.
Aurora laid in the wagon and watched the tree branches pass by above her, while Lucio and Lothlorien walked together exchanging soft words here and there. It was becoming clear to her that they had a very special bond, much like her and MoonStone. Her heart ached a little at the thought of her friend, but she was grateful to have Lothlorien. They walked on and on, but never once stopped for a rest. Lothlorien walked at a brisk pace, and Lucio kept up with her perfectly fine at a very light jog.
The trees eventually thinned out, and soon they were traveling on the open road. Aurora had never seen an open road before, and she drank in the scene with wide eyes. There were miles upon miles of rolling hills covered in light green grass. There were small farms here and there that checkered the hills with livestock and vegetable fields full to bursting with the harvest.
“Almost there!” said Lucio. “The estate is just up ahead.” He pointed at a black dot on the horizon, which Aurora realized was a castle with its own surrounding town and farmland. She winced at the thought of being in a crowded town again. The open space and clear air of the meadow had done her so much good.
“We’re coming for them Christopher!” she thought. “We’re going to find them, and they will be safe, I promise!”
They entered the outskirts of the town with their guard up in anticipation. No one knew what this estate was like, meaning that anything could happen. Aurora thought that it seemed much like her old estate, but there were far more people.
“She should be just around this corner,” said Lucio to Aurora. She nodded and looked at Lothlorien. The Guardian had to act like a normal mare now, but she didn’t seem to be too annoyed by it. Her hooves made the same noises any other horse would make on the cobblestone roads they passed through, which she could only assume was another trick to Lucio’s disguise.
They rounded a corner into a wide alleyway, where there were about five or six female beggars sitting against the walls. They looked at the trio with wide, hungry eyes as they passed through. Lucio stopped in front of a beggar with long brown hair tucked into a grey cloth that covered the top of her head and fell around her shoulders like a shawl. Her dress was a mess of navy blue scraps, and she had no shoes. She looked to be no older than her early thirties, but her face was full of wrinkles from fear and worry. Her eyes were a mixture of green and bright blue; the same as Christopher’s.
“Are you Ruth Sumner? Mother of Christopher Sumner?” asked Lucio.
“I am,” said the woman in a soft voice. “What do you want from me? Can the tax collectors harass people outside of their own homes now?”
“No, we only want to help you,” said Lucio. “If you please, my name is Thomas, Thomas Taylor. And this is Miss Aurora Godfrey.” He gestured to Aurora who was sitting in the wagon looking confused. Why would Lucio change his name? For safety, perhaps? The confusion vanished, however, when Ruth made eye contact with her. She could see hints of Christopher scattered throughout her dirty face that made her chest tighten up.
“If we can, miss, we would like to speak to you in private,” Aurora squeaked. “It concerns your oldest son. Do you know of a place?” Ruth sighed and shook her head.
“My home is the only place, but I can’t go home now, not empty-handed. I can’t disappoint my children again. Who are you people? How do you know Christopher?”
“We are good friends of his, and we’ve come to do something on his behalf,” said Lucio. “Please, let us buy you some food, and we can talk.” He offered his hand to Ruth, who hesitated before taking it. She hobbled up to standing at about Aurora’s height, and her clothes fell aimlessly over her thin frame.
They walked to the nearest bakery, where Lucio bought three loaves of bread. He broke one of them in half and gave it to Ruth, who ate it so fast that it was clear she hadn’t eaten in days. Lucio decided to buy a wedge of cheese for her as well when she finished, but she insisted on giving it to the children. She led them to a small apartment that looked to be able to accommodate two, maybe three people. Ruth opened the door to four boys milling around the main room looking bored. They had some variation of dirty blonde to brown hair with worn out clothes that needed to be washed. They squealed with delight when they saw their mother.
“Did you find food for us?” said the littlest boy.
“Don’t ask that as soon as she comes in!” said the oldest. “At least let her rest a bit!”
“Sorry mama,” said the littlest with his hands behind his back.
“Now boys,” said Ruth. “I want you to meet some friends of Christopher.” She gestured to Aurora and Lucio, who were awkwardly standing in the doorway. The boys gave them a quizzical look, especially the oldest.
“Is Christopher here to visit us?” said the youngest. He started to jump around with delight, but Ruth shushed him before he could get too excited.
“No Terence, they’re here on Christopher’s behalf!” said Ruth. “This is Aurora Godfrey, and Thomas Taylor. They were nice enough to bring us some food from your brother!” The three youngest erupted with shouts and squeals, while the oldest didn’t look too convinced.
“Please, come in!” said Ruth while she calmed the boys. Aurora and Lucio stepped inside, and Lucio took out the bread and cheese while Aurora couldn’t decide on where to look. Christopher’s brothers were clearly made from the same mold. The youngest, especially, was like looking at Christopher as a young boy.
Ruth managed to make the boys line up to receive their portion of bread and cheese that Lucio had evenly broken up. She introduced them from oldest to youngest; Aaron, Sefton, Shawn, and Terence.
“Now I want everyone to go eat their bread and cheese outside, while I talk to our generous guests,” said Ruth. The three youngest went outside without a second thought, while Aaron refused to move. “I’ll be alright Aaron, I promise.” She kissed his forehead, and he reluctantly went outside as Ruth closed the door behind him. “Please, sit down.” she gestured to a flimsy table and a few stools. “We don’t have to worry about my husband Stephen coming here. He won’t show up until well past nightfall.” They all sat down and stared at one another for a moment.
“Thank you for obliging us,” said Lucio. Ruth nodded.
“I am not against accepting bread and cheese from strangers,” she said. “But tell me, why are you really here? What does it have to do with Christopher?” Lucio glanced at Aurora, who was clearly ready to explode. She knew the time would come when she would tell the news to Ruth, but she hadn’t anticipated just how hard it would be. She had made progress with her grief, but watching someone else go through it from the beginning felt like she was ripping open a horrid scab.
“First, we’ve come to tell you something about Christopher,” said Lucio. He nodded at Aurora. She said earlier that she wanted to be the one to tell Ruth, but now she wanted to run and hide and make Lucio do it.
“You’ve got to tell her,” she told herself. “Do it for Christopher, she deserves to know!”
“Christopher…” whispered Aurora. She kept her eyes on the table while her throat ached with tears. Swallowing her fear, she made herself look Ruth in the eye, but her face was already frozen in anticipation. She knew even before Aurora could say it.
“I’m so sorry,” said Aurora. “Christopher…Christopher is dead.”