17.) Something round and hard was shoved into my mouth. I awoke, almost choking on it. Seed hovered over me, his eyes wide in the moonlight.
“Eat!” he hissed.
I bit into the apple without thinking. The crabapple was green and tart, and my mouth puckered from the sour flavor.
Along with the bitterness came memory. It was as if it exploded into my brain, everything I’d ever forgotten, the absolute truth of every moment. It was almost too much.
“Eat it all, stem and seed,” my tormentor insisted.
As I chewed, the vivid memories receded but didn’t disappear. I knew they’d be there if I called upon them.
Instead, I remembered the last few days.
I stood up, ready to do battle, but Seed pulled on my hand. He motioned for me to be quiet, and then proffered a sack to me. I opened it and saw round shapes and I knew what he wanted me to do.
Seed had a second sack of crabapples in hand. At the doorway, he turned left and I turned right.
In most of the houses, the residents looked up when I entered and shrank against the wall. In one or two they actually tried to stop me. With the delusions gone, I was easily strong enough to hold them back.
Several of men and women I fed crabapples to spit them out, but I patiently handed them another apple and told them to chew them down, “stem and seed.”
By the time dawn broke, we were armed and ready, ordered in lines down the center of the town.
Most of the denizens didn’t come out, though a few scurried along the sides of the houses before ducking into different doorways.
Finally, as I expected, Mayor Marsianne emerged and slowly approached. She seemed older and more crooked than the day before.
“What will you do to us?” she asked.
“The gems you offered Tomber…are they real?” I asked.
“They are. Take them and go.”
“I wish I could, Marsianne. But that is not why we are here. Do you remember what Tomber asked when he first arrived?
“What Tomber wanted is impossible. No one is allowed to gate through the gate.”
“The Gate of Memories,” the mayor said. “It is impossible, for upon leaving you forget why you wanted to leave and return. It is a gate to nowhere.”
“What about Moregone?”
She fell silent for a moment, looking around her as if there was an answer in the air. “Why do you insist on remembering? Moregone wants to be forgotten.”
“Then how is it you remember?”
“We do not follow the Mirror God. We answer only to the Goddess.”
She suddenly straightened, the crook in her neck disappearing, and fell to her knees. She lowered her head to the ground.
I looked behind me. At first all I could see was a glimmer of white light, from which shadows slowly emerged, the outline of a woman. For a brief moment I thought it was Lady Favory, but instead of red hair, this woman had pure white hair down to her waist. Her face was unlined, her figure an hourglass. She was clad something that shimmered blue, then white, then blue in the morning sun.
I almost fell to my knees, but caught myself and merely bowed my head.
“Greetings, Edward. It has been a long time.”
Edward. That had been my name, which over the centuries had morphed into Evard.
The tartness of crabapple rose on my tongue and with it a long lost memory.
“Good morning, Melete.”
I was too annoyed to use her title: Goddess of the Gate.”
“I wondered if you would ever return, my love.”
Her voice was husky, as I remembered it. I also remembered how she sang, the deep and melancholy sound of it. A wave of nostalgia washed over me, from when I was young, the first time I saw and heard this land, the intensity of innocence.
“I told you I would come back someday, Melete.”
“I am surprised that you remember so much.”
I nodded, but in truth, when I reached for the memories, they were gone. I had the vivid impression that memories were there but vanished each time I came near.
But the Goddess I remembered, her name, her touch, her smell.
“You cannot go back, Edward, anymore than you can return from death.”
“So you are saying this is an afterlife of some kind—or that the land beyond is?”
“They both exist in the now, as you exist in the now—but the gate is closed forever. To open it would be to doom both realms.”
I knew then that it was hopeless. In truth, I suspected so from the beginning. She was a Goddess, and I was but a man, if a long lived one.
“What of Moregone?” I asked. “Which world does it belong to?”
“Moregone is Moregone,” Melete said. “Someday, perhaps, it will be a third realm, and it will expand as its people’s imagination expands, until one day it splits apart, for such is the way of things. We remember until we forget.”
“I don’t remember you being so cryptic, Mel,” I said, smiling. “I remember you were rather blunt and even crude. It’s what I liked about you.”
“Even Goddesses change, my love. I tried to keep you from making a mistake, convinced my people to give you the riches you desire. I do not understand how you overcame my spell.”
Seed was nowhere in sight and I decided that, for now, I’d keep his identity to myself. I wasn’t sure who or what he was, only that he was a friend.
“Will you try to make us forget again?” I asked.
“I have given you my warning. Do as you will. Goodbye, Edward.”
She disappeared. Not in a flash of smoke, not with a shining light, but she was simply gone as if she’d never been there, and for a moment I wondered if she had been.
“Who were you talking to?” The voice sounded as though it came from far away.
Marston stood over me. I was prone on my back on the ground, my clothes muddy as if I’d been rolling in the dirt. I grabbed his extended hand and he pulled me to my feet.
Everyone was staring at me as if I was crazy—everyone but Marsianne.
I marched up to her, waving the others to stay behind. “You will tell me how to find Moregone,” I said in a low voice, “or I will burn down your pathetic little village.”
I didn’t mean it, of course. At least I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t going to end my quest for Moregone just because a Goddess got in the way.
Marsianne looked me in the eye. “You are the Eternal Wanderer. I did not know until the Goddess addressed you. I will show you the way.”
I heard a gasp behind me. Unnoticed, Viccare had followed me over. Now he was staring at me like he’d never seen me before. “You…?” he began, but nothing else came out. Then he knelt before me. “The Mirror God has commanded me to follow you wherever you lead, milord.”
“Get up,” I said. “You are no longer a Blue Pilgrim. You can do whatever you want.”
He shook his head, but didn’t try to argue.
From that moment on, every time I looked toward the boy, he seemed to be staring at me.