Note – this is now Chapter 15 of the story Of Wind and Wings, a story inspired by Sue Vincent’s prompts.
Note 2 – this chapter is not based on one of Sue’s prompts. It is an “in between” chapter that was needed to fill in detail.
The room was dim, lit only by a large fire in one corner and candles on the tables. It was a step back into another time, perhaps the fifteenth century. Well, at least until the observer noticed all of the 21st century trappings. Most of the candles were actually LED lights. A lot of the people were using mobile devices.
As Ed’s eyes acclimated to the dark he saw a hand waving and a friendly face. He led The Grubb over to Mr. Brown’s table and sat down.
“Hello, Mr. Pulman. Fine day, is it not?” The man’s bushy jumped up his face.
“It is great, Mr. Brown. How are you?”
“Fine, fine.” Mr. Brown’s cheerful voice did not convince Ed. The eyebrows told the real story that the man was anything but fine.
Before he could speak again, the waitress deposited plates of food in front of all three.
“I hope you don’t mind that I ordered for you. I knew you’d stop by when I heard you had The Grubb with you. Not a problem, is it?”
“No, no, I trust your taste. Uhm, that is as long as I pay, though. You picked up lunch yesterday. It’s my turn.”
Mr. Brown smiled and hid under the eyebrows in what Ed thought was a little more sheep-doggish than sheepish. “I’m sorry, good sir, but I already paid. Maybe another time.”
“Yes, another time. I insist.” A warm feeling stole over Ed. He realized that the man liked his company. How many people in the world actually sought out his company? With Mr. Brown and The Grubb, Ed felt that most of them where right there with him.
Ed started to think about all of the people he had met since he arrived in the village, not just the two he was currently with, and realized that a handful seemed to seek him out. Give it time, he thought, they’ll know me better and lose interest. He continued to think of himself as the most boring person on Earth. Boring Edward Pulman. That was him.
His thoughts were interrupted by Mr. Brown.
“Take a look at this.” He placed a very old book in front of Ed. “One of your relations wrote this back in the 1780s.”
Ed picked up the book and leafed through it. It was in good condition, but felt fragile. “Have you read it?”
The eyebrows shot up. “Yes. Interesting. Interesting, but not very good.”
“What was it about?” Ed hadn’t known that there were any writers in his family. That is, besides his great uncle.
“Well, it began off in a highly inventive way, I have to admit. A man was hiking on the moor and sat down for lunch. He was joined by a strange person. Your great-great-grand-relative called this person by many forms, but the terms fairy, elf and hobgoblin were all used. He also used many names that are much less common. Some I had never seen before. This was a full-sized person, though, not a wee folk or anything.”
The Grubb, who had seemed intent on his notebook full pseudo scientific gibberish about the number alpha, poked his head up. “Yes, it was one of them. One of you.” He pointed at Ed, then dove back into his notebook.
Mr. Brown smiled fondly at The Grubb and then continued. “After a short conversation he takes the hobgoblin as an independent, unbiased observer of the human race. Not those terms, of course, but you get the gist. And then the real book begins.”
“The real book?”
“Yes. This isn’t a book of myths or legends, it is a book of philosophy. It takes the form of a dialog. The man was a lone thinker, but lost in the ways of the world, trying to find a true path. A student of life. As I said, the elf or whatever you call it, was the observer and so had all of the deep philosophical punches. He was the ‘Master’. You know how dialogs work, don’t you?”
“I’ve read a few. Sounds interesting.”
“It should have been.” Mr. Brown shrugged. “And I wish it was. But it was all watered-down Voltaire. As an American you might like some of his ideas about freedoms. Being a little less worldly than the more noted philosopher, he stuck closer to the Christianity he was taught as a child. From there he talked about the equality of all men. He wanted to create a meritocracy, but this also had a more equal basis. The elf observed that if all of the wealth of all of the princes were distributed equally to all people, there would be no want or hunger. Shockingly, his equality took in all current races and classes and included women as well. Shocking for the time, that is. But that little kernel of proto-communism was about the most interesting part. Most was pure drivel and rehashed popular Enlightenment style philosophy of the time.”
“Oh.” Ed turned the book over a few times. There were no markings on the outside.
“I’m sorry I can’t let you borrow it. I kind of pinched it and need to return it before its absence is noticed. Not that anyone cares about the actual book itself, but it does leave a hole on the bookshelf. Some people like these rows of ancient books in the library for show more than for reading…”
Ed handed the book back. “Thanks for showing me this. I’d like to read it some time.” He was hoping Mr. Brown would agree and give him a name, but he just put the book into his satchel and turned back to his meal.
The Grubb was busy with his food and notebook and Mr. Brown didn’t really say much more, leaving Ed to his own thoughts. As the meal went on, those thoughts went more and more to Mr. Brown. He seemed a bit down. More than down. He seemed completely depressed.
As the meal ended, Ed felt a bit more brave than usual. “I’m sorry, Mr. Brown, I know it’s not my place to intrude, but are you really alright? Is there anything wrong? Something I can do to help?”
Mr. Brown sighed, his giant eyebrows collapsing into his face.
“Is it that obvious? I guess it is. I’m sorry. It’s Mrs. Brown.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is she OK?”
“She is fine. As far as I know. She’s gone. Again. But I fear forever this time.”
Ed felt his face flush. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“That’s fine. It’s not a secret nor anything really new, when you come down to it. You see, I met her in college. She was a city girl, but found the idea of my small village romantic. She found the truth a bit less romantic. A lot less than romantic. Truthfully, she grew to despise being here. As soon as Phillip left, so did she.”
“Our son. He went to Uni and didn’t come back. Mrs. Brown did. Come back, that is. But never for long. Each time she went away she stayed a little longer. She became more distant. She returned last night. It’s been over a year since I last saw her. Over breakfast she told me that she had returned to say her final goodbye. She packed the car with her few remaining things and left two hours ago.”
“I’m sorry. My wife left me. I know it hurts.”
Mr. Brown shrugged. “She has been gone for years in everything but name, so it shouldn’t bother me as much as it does. I guess the finality of it all. It makes me feel old. Ancient.”
Ed looked at Mr. Brown and tried to guess his age. Late 50s? Early 60s? Ed felt that he was pretty much in the same generation as Mr. Brown. He had been feeling young as he explored the moors with The Grubb. He wasn’t so sure. He remembered as a twenty-something hating when “old people” tried to act like kids. Was he now one of those “old people”? Was he making a fool of himself? Did people snicker as he followed the man-child around the landscape?
He chided himself for being so self-centered. Here was a man in pain, and all he could do was feel self-pity.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Brown. I’ve been feeling old myself since Mrs. Pulman left me, and for someone much, much younger at that. I do have to say that tromping through the moors has help me feel a bit younger, though I’m sure people think I’m an old idiot.” He grinned, trying to show humor in his statement.
‘That is part of the problem, you know?” Ed half laughed. “No, I don’t mean you being an old idiot, I’m talking about me being an old idiot. I always loved the village and the moors. I’ve been drawn to the land and the history my entire life. I would love to do nothing more than explore them all day. Mrs. Brown would have nothing to do with that and wouldn’t let me do it either. It wasn’t proper. That’s part of why I took to history. Reading books and such was respectable.”
Ed was about to ask if he wanted to go out with him and then Grubb when Mr. Brown pulled out a cell phone. He hadn’t heard anything, but he could see it vibrate.
“Yes? Of course. Be right there.” Mr. Brown put his cell phone away. “Business calls. A client needs help. A paying client, so that means I should be able to cover lunch without worrying.” He winked at Ed, an adventure in rising hair of the oversized eyebrow, and left.
“So, Mr. Ed, you ready?”
Ed looked over at his companion. Was he ready? His bones felt too old to act like a child and scamper through the brush and climb over rocks. The Grubb smiled. It was a smile of innocence and trust. Ed sighed. Old or not, he figured he’d go anyway.
“Sure, Grubb, as ready as I’ll ever be. Let’s go.”
And so it continues, now up to chapter Fifteen (15) of the “book” Of Wind and Wings. Chapter 14 is here. Chapter 13 is here. Chapter 12 is here. Chapter 11 is here. Chapter 10 is here. Chapter 9 is here. Chapter 8 is here. Chapter 7 is here. Chapter 6 is here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 4 is here. Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 2 is here and Chapter 1 here.
Yuck. Someday I am going to create a proper navigation for this story…