This was amazing!
Jaxx wandered around the tear, staring at the world beyond.
“That is so cool,” he said.
“It’s like looking into a painting, except it’s real,” said Red.
“It looks like trouble,” Marli muttered.
Jaxx rolled his eyes. Everything was always trouble with Marli. Snow arrived a week earlier than expected, trouble. Vegetable harvest was better than usual, trouble. Anything and everything was trouble to Marli.
He supposed she was only trying to keep them safe. Without her, he doubted Gynea and him would have survived that first winter after being banished from the estate. He was grateful. But everyone was always so serious.
They lived free, answered to no Laird; it should feel like an adventure. But they were all so boring! Well, maybe not Gynea. She could be fun, until she got cold. And then she moaned.
Jaxx picked up a sod of peat and threw it at the tear. It landed on the ground beyond with a wet thud.
“Jaxx!” came the expected response from Marli.
Drummond got as close to the portal as anyone had dared.
“I think there could be food through there,” he said.
“No!” commanded Marli. “No-one is going through that thing. It could be dangerous. We don’t know if it’ll close, or where it is, or if there’s anything dangerous lurking in there.”
“You think that’s a real place?” Red asked.
“You saw the grass Jaxx threw into it,” said Gynea. “It’s another world.”
“Which is why we are staying away from it?” Marli commanded.
Jaxx started stepping backwards.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you,” he said as he stepped back through the portal.
The air immediately changed. Gone was the cold night, replaced by something hot and humid. It almost took his breath away.
He was in some sort of forest, but it was unlike any forest he had ever seen. There was an abundance of plants. They wrapped round tall red-barked trees that formed a canopy above. Whereas the forests of the clanlands were dull and sparse, this forest seemed so full of life it was dizzying.
“Jaxx!” he heard several people shouting.
In front of him, was a tear like the one he had just walked through, but whereas he had seen this world in that tear, he now saw his own world through the one in front of him.
He could make out the others peering in at him.
“I’m fine,” he said. “You lot worry too much.”
“What’s it like?” asked Red.
“Don’t encourage him,” Marli said to Redajinn. “Jaxx, get back here.”
Jaxx ignored her.
“I don’t recognise the plants but there is a load of fruit and berries here.”
Drummond stepped through. He looked around him as he joined Jaxx, patting him on the shoulder as he past.
“Good work, squirt,” he said.
A compliment from Drummond. Those were rarer than full bellies.
“Is any of it edible?” Red asked.
“Don’t recognise any of these,” Drummond said, crouching down to examine a large blue fruit that was growing on one of the bushes.
“It could be poison,” Marli said. “Come on the pair of you, let’s get out of there before…”
Gynea and Red stepped through the tear to join Drummond and Jaxx.
“Moonfather,” Red cursed. “Where are we?”
“I ain’t sure,” said Drummond, “But if this stuff is edible, it could get us through winter.”
“It could supply us forever,” Gynea added, walking over and plucking one of the blue fruit.
“Careful, darlin’,” Drummond said, taking the fruit off of her. “Marli’s right. They could be poison.”
He unsheathed his knife and cut a thin slice. It was solid inside and reminded Jaxx of a pear.
Drummond ate the slice.
“Tastes OK,” he said, chewing it. “Tastes like apple.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat,” Marli said, stepping through.
“Decided to join us?” Jaxx said. “I thought you said it was too dangerous.”
Red cuffed him behind the ear.
“Mind your manners,” he said.
In Jaxx’s mind, they should be thanking him. He was the one who’d opened the portal. He was the one who’d first stepped through. But no, they were still moaning at him. No surprise there!
“I think I might stay here,” he said as the group started looking around.
“Really?” Red said, raising an eyebrow.
“Why not?” Jaxx protested. “There’s already more food here than we see in a day hunting and foraging. And it’s warm!”
“Folks,” Gynea said, pointing into the foliage. “Are those more tears?”
Everyone joined her to stare through the undergrowth. Sure enough, Jaxx could make out several more tears, these ones to worlds that were covered in snow or sand, or looked out over great lakes.
Drummond led the way as he hacked a path through to a little clearing with all the portals.
He bent down and examined the earth.
“This isn’t natural,” he said. “Someone cleared this area.”
“Look,” Jaxx said, pointing off to one side.
There was a little wooden hut at the edge of the clearing. It had seen better days. Part of the roof had collapsed, and vines had taken over one side and were sprouting between the logs.
“Looks like it’s been unoccupied for some time,” said Drummond.
Jaxx wasn’t sure how he could say that. It seemed in better condition than the cranig.
Drummond made his way over to investigate but Jaxx was more interested in the crudely constructed pillar made of rocks, and the orb sat upon it. It was identical to the one they had found in the bog.
Marli saw it too, and quickly moved to stand between him and it.
“No touching,” she said. “We don’t know what it will do?”
“What did you do with our orb?” he asked.
“It’s back there,” she said nodding in the direction of the tear they’d come through. “In our world.”
“Do you think it was a good idea to leave it unattended?” he said.
A concerned look passed over Marli’s face, despite the fact that Jaxx doubted anyone would be walking through the bog in the middle of the night.
“We need to be getting back,” she decided. “Come on everyone. We’ve had our fun. Now, let’s leave.”
“Leave?” Jaxx protested. “We’ve not gathered food yet.”
“We don’t know these plants. They could be…”
“…poisonous?” Jaxx finished. “You said. But those blue pears haven’t killed Drummond yet”.
Drummond was coming out of the hut.
“No-one has been here for at least six months.”
“Anything of use?” Red asked.
“Some vines, but the rest is all trash.”
“And no dead body,” Jaxx added. “Which means he didn’t die eating the pears.”
Before anyone could stop him, he rushed over and plucked one of the fruit off a bush.
“Jaxx, no,” Marli shouted, but it was too late as he took a huge bite.
He didn’t realise how hungry he was. After surviving on rabbit, deer, and vegetables all summer, he’d missed the sweet taste the winter berries always brought. This reminded him of them but hundred times better.
“Moonfather,” he gushed. “This is amazing.”
Gynea didn’t need any encouragement and rushed over to join him.
“Folks,” she said. “You need to try these.”
Once again, Marli’s warnings were ignored as Red also plucked a fruit and started eating it.
“These are great,” Red said to Marli, holding up his half eaten fruit. “You should try them.”
He tossed one to Drummond who also took a huge bite.
“We should come here tomorrow with sacks,” he said. “Gather as many as we can.”
“Will the tear still be open tomorrow?” Red asked.
Drummond nodded towards the other tears.
“Those appear to have stayed open despite no-one being here for some time, so I’m assuming this is a permanent thing.”
“That tear is going to stick out like a sore thumb come morning,” Jaxx said. “How long before Laird Quentin finds it?”
“I agree. We need to harvest as much as we can. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to come and go without being spotted.”
“Quentin will be sending every serf he has through it,” Marli said. “The summer harvests have been poor, so he’ll guard this little treasure trove better than his vault.”
“Couldn’t we hide it?” Jaxx suggested, licking his fingers and taking another fruit. He was so used to food being sparse that the act of having a second made him feel somewhat guilty.
“Hide it?” Red protested. “It’s a hole in our world. How the moon are you going to hide it?”
Jaxx shrugged. He hadn’t exactly thought this idea through.
“I dunno,” he said. “Behind a tree.”
“Great idea, Jaxx. Let’s just dig up an lone tree and plant it in the middle of the moor.”
Red shook his head in disbelief.
“It was just an idea, OK?”
“We got limited time with this little windfall,” said Drummond, stuffing more pears into his pockets. “Red, Jaxx and I will come early tomorrow with sacks and fill as many as we can.”
“And the professor?” Marli asked. “What’s he going to say?”
“That’s your job to deal with,” Drummond said.
“I don’t remember putting you in charge, but OK.”
“Do you think he was looking for the orb?” Jaxx asked. “Maybe he knows more about this.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want us knowing about it,” Red corrected. “Things like this. People want to keep secret.”
“Agreed. We don’t know his intentions. Arm yourself tomorrow, Marli. Daggers. Something concealed.”
Jaxx grabbed as many fruit as he could carry as they made their way back to their tear. He was still pissed that no-one had thought to thank him. Every time Drummond came back with a deer or rabbit, Marli thanked him. Jaxx had just found an endless source of food and they were still moaning at him.
Perhaps, he might take residence in that run-down hut and live here instead. Surely that would be better than being moaned at all the time. Although, he did wonder how long he could eat just pears before he got sick of them.
They stepped through the tear, the cold night together with his wet clothes making him shiver. He was already missing the other world.
“Remember your stuff,” Marli said as she stepped through. “We don’t want…”
“You don’t want what?” a voice asked.
Jaxx looked up to see half a dozen soldiers on horseback staring at them. They wore the chainmail and rounded helmets with a nose bridge that were typical of Laird Quentin’s troops. Their swords were drawn and their pikes leveled at them.
“…trouble,” Marli finished.
I’m not sure we really got to spend a lot of time in Jaxx’s head. He seems like he is going to be a fun character to write.
I’d probably go over my description of the portal world and maybe rewrite it. My first draft descriptions are always pretty vague and need work on a second draft.
I’m still really discovering the characters so come a second draft when they are clearer in my head, there might be some subtle adjustments. Marli came across quite bossy (but in a caring way) and this might be something that develops or gets toned down.