"What if he's dead?" Rachel asked.
"Where did you get such a morbid thought from?" Eos asked, although looking out from the mouth of the cave at the charcoal sky and continual fall of rain told her the probable source of Rachel's dark feelings.
"They disappeared, didn't they, into the undone," Rachel said. "Then we turned around and the gnome had gone, then the rain started. Why would the gnome have disappeared if nothing bad had happened?"
"From what I understand from talking with the little gentleman," Eos said. "The gnome has to remain equidistant from the two people involved in the wish he granted. If James had died then the gnome would be bound to you, he wouldn't have been able to leave. So he must be somewhere inbetween you and James, who must, logically, be alive. Don't you think?"
Rachel did not look convinced. She cast her gaze over the glossy black tree trunks down at the swollen muddy earth and up to the bruised skies.
"So what if he's hurt, or in danger?" she asked.
Eos sighed. She really wished that Lester had made more of an effort to remember James when they had run from the undone. Eos had decided that she didn't dislike Lester as intensely as she had when he had been trying to sell her rainbow grease from a market stall, that still didn't mean that she liked him, at all.
He gave every appearance of being some kind of guileless, naive and clumsy idiot. Not that she really thought that was a front. Some of the things Lester did no one would do as part of an act, in her opinion anyway. The problem was... intuitive.
Eos believed that there was this whole other layer to Lester that no one else could see. The trouble was that she didn't even think that Lester could see it. That sounded a bit mean and more than a bit crazy, so she was probably wrong. Feelings, Eos realised, could be wrong and no one could do anything about them. You couldn't just change a feeling because it didn't fit. So she was stuck with it.
Happily, she didn't have to deal with that at the moment because she was sheltering from a heavy storm in the mouth of a cave with a scared, tired and upset little girl who had lost her closest companion. Not only that Rachel had lost Tabarnas, her second closest companion a couple of days ago, after spending a long period (hours? days?) hiding in a completely different cave whilst Eos had been bewitched by the evil Lady Crimzona.
The immediate problem, therefore, became how to distract Rachel's thoughts away from the dark mental images of what she imagined might be hapening to James at this very instant. Eos looked at the skies, if the storm would just clear then walking would provide adequate distraction, but they would be drenched if they stepped outside now, besides they would likely sink up to their waists in mud before too long and that would be no good for anyone.
The only problem was if the storm continued on until after dark. Then there would be the issues of cold and hunger.
"We need a fire," Eos said firmly, and she meant it.
"How are we going to make one?" Rachel asked and Eos was pleased to note this was the first thing Rachel had said that didn't centre on James and the possible calamity that might have befallen him in the last half hour.
"We'll have to scout the cave, while there's still enough light," Eos said.
"Okay," Rachel said. "I was beginning to get a bit chilly anyway."
"Don't go too far," Eos said, she removed the corded belt that looped several times around her waist forming a belt to her dress. Unwound the cord made a single string about ten feet in length. "Here," Eos said. Take one end of this. We should never be further apart than the ends."
"Okay," Rachel said, taking the end of the cord.
The two of them went back into the angular shade of the cave. Searching for dried wood or some other kind of kindling. After a few moments Rachel cried out:
"Ow! My leg!"
"Rachel!" Eos called, alarmed, "what's the matter?"
"There's something back here," Rachel said. "It's big and solid, it's not a rock."
"What is it?" Eos asked following the cord back to Rachel.
"I don't know," Rachel said, "it's too dark to make out."
It was very dark in the corner Rachel had found. Carefully Eos felt about and her hands made contact with something smooth but textured. It had the warmth of wood but it had been carved and varnished. Eos believed that Rachel had found some sort of box. Eos felt the edges of the box and pulled it out into the light for inspection.
What was revealed was more than a simple container. It was an ornate chest decorated with scrollwork in the shape of leaves. Engraved into the top of the chest was something surprising:
'A GIFT FOR EOS AND RACHEL FROM THE OWLS OF WISDOM. REGARDS, PRINCE AVAN WEATHERSTRONG'
Rachel and Eos swapped a surprised look upon reading this. Eos looked back down at the chest a note of nervous energy fluttering near her throat.
"Well," Rachel said. "Should we open it?"
"I suppose we should," Eos said. "Owls of wisdom are not known for this kind of thing."
Eos reached out and undid the chest's latch. She eased open the lid. Inside was a folded parchment on a velvet cushion, sealed shut with red wax. Eos picked up the parchment. She could feel that it was wrapped about something contained within. Closer examination revealed the end of a red ribbon poking out of the seal she imagined the other end of the ribbon was bound around the item inside the parchment.
Using her finger Eos broke the seal and unfolded the document. The red ribbon, freed from its folds, slid to one side and pulled tight as the object tied to the end dangled off the edge of the parchment. Eos picked up the object in her hand to look at it more closely. It was a shard of mirror, the edges appeared sharp.
"What do you suppose it means?" Rachel asked. Eos was pleased to note that Rachel was now entirely consumed with the notion of the mysterious parchment and the shard and not so worried about the health and well being of her tiny companion.
"Well, the edges mean that you definitely shouldn't touch it," Eos said. She transferred her attention to the parchment. The document was a map. Across the top was written: 'Return the shard. Make a wish.' To the right of this directive there was a simple compass rose indicating which direction was North (although compasses were a lot more complicated in Faerie than in the mortal world due to the somewhat lazy approach Faerie had to reality and geography).
The main part of the map showed an area of the forest, the cave, a road way that Eos had not spotted before the storm and, at the side of the road, not too far away if the map's scale was to be believed, an old house marked: Casa Perdita. A dotted line connected the cave and the house.
"Is that where we are supposed to go?" Rachel asked, although the dotted line made it quite plain what was expected.
"I can't say I don't have questions," Eos said. "However, I must admit that I don't have a better idea."
"Okay," Rachel said. "What about the rain?"
"I was scared that we'd get stuck in a swamp," Eos said. "If this road is as nearby as the map suggests I don't think that will be a problem. We might get a bit wet though, not that I particularly mind that."
Eos left Rachel in the cave for a couple of minutes to see if she could find any sign of the road from the map. Sure enough not even fifty paces from the cave mouth Eos found a crook in the cobbled road that was clearly marked on the map. The cobbled throughfare was clearly old, possibly even ancient, but it existed and it looked to be in good shape.
Soon, holding coats over their heads and trying to move as quickly as possible through the belting rain, Eos and Rachel were making good progress along the road. A good job, too, because, by the time they reached the Casa Perdita, the first shades of evening were beginning to draw in.
The house was not in the best shape, it needed more work than the old road that ran in front of it, but the roof was mostly in one piece. The door to the porch in the front of the house was locked but they found a side door, next to a wood pile, that lead into a long kitchen with a stove at the back end. Eos quickly located kindling for a fire and before long she and Rachel were enjoying the first warmth they'd experienced since the sun on top of the Eyrie.
After a brief period in which Rachel and Eos sat and stared into the yellow tongues of fire licking at the walls of the stove Rachel stretched and yawned.
"So, we should find the place to put that bit of mirror," Rachel said.
"I imagine that we should," Eos replied. "After all, we don't really have another plan. I don't know about you but I'm starting to get hungry. We were lucky with the wood but I don't imagine there's much food about here."
"No, I don't think anyone's used this kitchen in a long while," Rachel agreed. "Maybe we could wish for some, when we find the mirror."
"I'm not sure," Eos said. "Wishcraft has a nasty habit of appearing simple but winding up complicated. Also the map said 'make a wish', not 'make as many wishes as you would like'. If we only get one wish each it should be for something a bit more than a sandwich."
"Oh, well," Rachel said. "Mine's easy. I shall wish for all my friends to find their way, safe and sound, back to the Patchwork Market."
"I guess, if I had a wish, I'd wish away the curse that stops me enjoying my tail on demand. This ring still feels like a bit of a risky necessity."
"Well, we won't get to wish for anything if we don't find the mirror," Rachel said. "So I suppose we'd better get on with it."
With the matter decided upon Rachel and Eos left the kitchen by a door that led into the hall. To their right a set of steps lead upwards to the top floor of the house, the front door was to their left, two more doors were on the opposite side. One door lead through to a room at the front, the other, adjacent to the stairwell, lead to a room at the back of the house.
"Upstairs?" Rachel asked, her tone of voice told Eos that Rachel regarded the shaded gloom at the top of the stairs with the same suspicion as Eos.
"Maybe we should try the parlour," Eos suggested, indicating the door directly opposite.
"Okay," Rachel appeared happier with that decision.
Eos and Rachel stepped through the door into what remained of the house's front parlour. A door to their left in the back wall lead through to the back of the house. In the room there was a single wooden chair near the remains of a fireplace. Parts of a couple of other wooden chairs littered the bare floorboards. The walls still had peeling paint that was a murky colour like pale olives, in places the colour was a lighter green in squares, indicating the places where pictures had once hung.
"This is like the house that got undone," Rachel said, Eos could detect a note of panicked melancholy in Rachel's voice. Clearly this was not a time to slow down.
"Well there's no mirror in here," Eos said, so let's take a look out the back."
Eos crossed the parlour quickly and threw open the door. The disorienting sense of confusion was instant but the rationalisation of it was slightly slower to come along.
At first Eos believed she had got turned around and had wandered back into the kitchen, or mistaken the layout of the house. She turned and looked behind her, verifying that Rachel was still there and the front room was still there. Both were true.
Then Eos's head began to go to war with her in a more serious fashion. She had seen the hall, crossed the hall and entered the front room. The kitchen only had two doors, the one to the hall and the one to the outside lean-to containing the woodpile. She was stood in the door that should go to the hall.
It appeared as if someone had built an exact replica of the kitchen in two places within the house. Then Eos realised that the stove was lit and radiating warmth into the room. If this room were a replica it couldn't possibly have a lit stove, unless there was someone else in the house.
"I don't understand," Eos said under her breath.
"What?" Rachel asked. "Why is the kitchen there?"
"I don't know," Eos sighed. "I am as confused as you. Let's backtrack."
Eos left the door open and crossed the parlour headed back to the hall. She opened the door. Still a hall. Not the same hall.
Now the top of a set of stairs was visible set directly to the left of the open doorway, a short landing went ahead of her with a second door immediately to her right, another one adjacent to it at the far end of the landing and one set directly opposite her. Eos looked back into the front room and over to the kitchen, still visible through the door way on her left inside the room.
"Um," Eos said.
"What's happening?" Rachel asked.
"Something's very wrong, is what's happening," Eos said.
"The house is jumbled up, isn't it?" Rachel said, cutting through the shroud of impossibility covering Eos's mind.
Rachel, taking matters into her own hands, once more distracted from upsetting thoughts, opened the door adjacent to the one Eos had just opened.
"Yes," Rachel's voice said, with a curious ringing tone that appeared to be, simultaneously right in front of Eos and a little way off over to her left. "Very jumbled indeed."
Eos looked back towards the kitchen but now the kitchen wasn't there. Instead there was Rachel, standing in the doorway to the left. Eos turned her head, her senses reeling, and saw Rachel standing in front of her just at the door of the room she was standing in. Eos wondered, for a moment, if she could catch sight of herself leaving the front room if she were to hurry past Rachel fast enough.
"Rachel," Eos said, battling nausea that appeared to settle into her stomach after it had fallen from the brain she believed was actually starting to ache now. "Please, close that door."
Rachel complied and Eos heard the door to the left latch shut in perfect time with the door Eos's eyes told her were right in front of her.
"So..." Eos said, turning to the left and walking back to the door that had, moments ago, shown the kitchen. "Where now?"
She opened the door to find herself looking at the bottom of the stairs. This time viewed as she might have expected from the other door out of the front room. The front door of the house was immediately to her right.
"I hope that this magic stops at the exterior doors," Eos said and turned the handle on the front door. The door was locked on the inside as well as the outside and there was no key in the lock. Panic growing Eos opened the door to the kitchen and found herself looking down the upstairs landing at Rachel stood almost ten feet away at the top of the stairs the bottom of which were now immediately to her left.
"Oh, Eos," Rachel said. The little girl moved to the staircase and started down the stairs. Eos turned her head to look up the staircase and see her companion now descending from above, looking just as miserable as Eos felt. "I think we've walked into a trap," Rachel said.
Eos was hard pressed to disagree on that point.
"We shouldn't panic," Eos said, she was looking at Rachel but the comment was largely intended for her own sense of sanity. "I don't think that this is entirely random, it's not just a trap, I think it's also a puzzle, a test."
"What, to see if we're clever enough or something?" Rachel asked.
"Absolutely to see that, yes," Eos said. "So there must be some logic to this somewhere."
"So how do we work out what that is?" Rachel asked.
Eos thought about this for a moment. Eos had never really had much concern about whether she was clever or not. She had always appeared clever enough, at least in her own reckoning. However, this had meant that she had been taken from her family, cursed and, for a brief while displayed for tourists and otherwise exploited. These indignities had always appeared to be moral, maybe, if she had been clever enough, she might have escaped them.
This left the problem that now she had to face up to the real possibility that she was not clever enough to solve the current riddle. As much as she didn't know if she was clever enough she also did not know for certain that she wasn't. So now was the only and also the ideal opportunity to find out.
"Let's see if the rooms cycle, or join up in any particular fashion," Eos said. She crossed the hall and opened the door to the parlour. She found herself looking into a gloomy bedroom, there was a light rectangular area on the floor where the bed had once stood and the left half of a wardrobe lying on the floor to her side, the missing half having been removed forcibly leaving the sad remains of one door and a jagged edge of the back of the wardrobe flush to the wall.
"Right," Eos said, Rachel had come to stand beside Eos and had grabbed hold of her right hand. Eos looked down at the little girl and gave her what she hoped would be interpreted as a reassuring smile. "Let's see what happens now."
She closed the door, then opened it again, same room. She closed the door and opened it again, upper hallway, closed, open, a long, empty room, some cutlery was scattered on the floor, from the shape of it, and the position of the doors and windows it looked like this room was the final room that was intended to be on the ground level. Closed. Open. Upstairs Hall. Closed. Open. Bedroom. Closed. Open. Kitchen. Closed. Open. Upstairs Hall. Closed. Open. Parlour. Closed. Open. Bedroom. Closed. Open. Kitchen.
They continued to close and open the door for the next couple of minutes, no pattern was discernable. Eventually, one time that they opened the door and found the kitchen Eos went over to the side entrance to ascertain whether they could, at least, escape.
Thankfully the house appeared quite content to allow them to leave. The side door consistently continued to open up to the outside and the lean-to. So there was no progress to be made inside but always an invitation to leave.
"Maybe we should just give up," Rachel suggested unhappily.
Although there was, in truth, a good deal of sense to this suggestion Eos found it to be an irksome one. She did not want to walk away from the house feeling that it had, in some sense, beaten her. She had always found brain-teasers and puzzles tiresome and frustrating, the less she had the answers the more she burned to possess them. Maybe that was why she had always avoided them.
Unfortunately this left her with no strategies to cope with the puzzle at hand.
"Maybe we should," Eos said. "Let's have a rest and, if that doesn't help, we can think about leaving. I'll put some wood on the stove."
"Okay," Rachel said and sat back in her chair by the fire.
Eos went out to the lean to and began picking up wood. The lean-to was really just a tall fence with a frame built off the top of it and a canvas roof applied across the top of the frame like the skin of a drum. It looked like the kind of thing the homeowner had done by themselves rather than hire a carpenter or builder to do it for them.
Even so it was a pretty good effort. The person who had put the structure together had even included hooks screwed into the beams from which hung gardening implements, lengths of rope and, in the back corner a small bin had been defined in which was stacked a rolled up bundle of fencing made out of wire and wooden stakes.
Eos turned to take her bundle of firewood back inside but, at the threshold of the door she hesitated, thinking about the items she had just seen in the lean-to. She looked back across the roof hooks, specifically at the coils of cord hung on the inside corner.
Eos began to think that she might be clever enough to solve this after all.
"I think I've worked this out," Eos said as she put the firewood into the stove.
"I knew you would," Rachel beamed. "You're clever."
Am I? Eos thought, she imagined that she might, in fact, just be lucky but she didn't say anything because she didn't know for certain that Rachel was mistaken.
Instead of worrying about the relative state of her cleverness she went outside and took down the loops of cord. There were three hung up, all reasonably lengthy. She tied all three together and then tied one end of the super long cord she had made tightly to the hook.
She then took the rest of the looped cord and walked in through the kitchen door. She crossed the kitchen to the door and opened it until she opened it onto one of the hallways. Fortunately this happened to be the lower one.
She crossed the lower hall and opened the door opposite until she opened it onto the parlour, as was intended in the normal layout of the house. She walked through the door continuing to pay out rope behind her and opened the opposite door she opened and closed that until she found what she considered to be the "right" room, the one with the cutlery on the floor. Once she had that room correct she opened the other door into the back of the downstairs hall until that came up correctly.
During this process she noticed that the number of rooms the next door could open onto never included any of the ones the rope ran through. The rope was creating a single line, preventing the doors from randomly closing when you couldn't see them, preventing the enchantment from including those areas in the jumble of rooms that could be behind the next door.
When she opened the door to see her cord crossing the area at the bottom of the stairs and going in through the parlour along the parlour to end up in her hands in the remains of the dining room Eos went to the foot of the stairs. She wound the rope around the bannister in one complete loop and then went up the stairs to the landing above where she turned and immediately opened the door to her right at the top of the stairs.
After a few more doors and a little more cord strung out there was only one door left in the whole house. The door at the front of the house in the upstairs. As Eos reached this door she realised, in all the random rooms she had seen everywhere else in the house she had never seen the room behind this door come up, not once.
Only now that she had, in a very real sense, strung the other rooms together, could she see that this was the room that was the end of the path. The only way to reach it was to make it impossible for there to be any other room behind the door than the one that was actually, geographically, structurally, intended to be there.
Feeling a small thrill of excitement Eos reached out and opened the door to the last room in the house.
"Make it quick!" said a little voice as the door swung open. A little woman, no more than six inches high kneeled down at the edge of a bedside table stood next to the remains of a sturdy wooden bed. "I'm sorry I hid, but... I just didn't want to die."
Eos stopped at the threshold and looked over to the little woman. She was dressed in the mode of the common house wife, thick skirts, pinafore tied to the waist, heavy high neck blouse and a frilly dust cap. She reminded Eos of the housekeeper from Caer Shaleshore. Being only six inches high Eos guessed she must, in fact, be a sprite.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I thnk you must have me confused with someone else. I'm not here to kill you."
"You're not?" the little woman said, opening one eye and looking Eos up and down suspiciously. "You've been tramping through the house, opening the doors, wailing and carrying on. If you weren't trying to find me then what were you doing?"
Eos reached into her belt and carefully pulled out the shard of mirror.
"There is a broken mirror somwhere here," Eos said. "I was told to come here and repair it with this."
"Oh," the little woman said, the surprise completely overriding her fear. "That will be the mirror in the porch. You'll need the key."
The little woman turned around and opened a small box on the bedside table. She reached in and pulled out the key. Eos crossed the room and took it from the tiny woman. The sprite had found the key to be something of a burden, the key was half the little woman's height. Eos took the key between her thumb and forefinger.
"Thank you," Eos said.
"Oh, anything I can do to help," the little woman said. "It's my job, not that I've been able to do it for a long time."
"I'm sorry to ask," Eos said. "But why did you think I would want to kill you?"
"Well, I'm a house daemon," the woman said. "I look after the owners, but this place hasn't had owners in an awfully long time. This used to be a stop on the way to the coast, before the Vanishing. When the coastline disappeared all the trade routes dried up and people had to move on. The last owners of this house left me behind. It was only a matter of time before one of the agents of the undone came to scrub me away.
"As the mistress of this house I was able to rearrange the insides, made it very difficult to get to this room. It's the only one I feel comfortable in, they left behind this furniture, the old owner's wife said that the room was old-fashioned, so they just abandoned it."
"Well," Eos said. "You'd better not stay long, the undone itself is nearby, less than a day's journey from here. It might get slowed down swallowing the mountains but it won't take forever to reach here."
"Oh, dear," the little woman said. "But I do love this house. If the house is going to go then I suppose I had better find somewhere else to be."
"Me and my friend, we're going to the Patchwork Market," Eos told the sprite. "If you came too maybe then you could find somewhere else to settle."
"Well, yes, I suppose if I must, I must," the little woman said. "Never let it be said that Ivy Cosynook outstayed her welcome. If I have a fault then I guess it could be said I get a little attached. I'm only a bit houseproud, where's the harm in that, particularly for a house daemon."
"I must confess," Eos said. "I don't really see it as a problem, but then I've never met a house daemon before."
"We're not much for fuss," Ivy said. "I don't think the owners of this place ever knew I was here, that's just the way we like it. Shy, see?"
"I see," Eos said, instantly wondering if she'd ever unwittingly stayed in a house with a daemon of its own before.
"Anyway, didn't you say you needed to fix the mirror, hadn't we better be about it?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose we should," Eos said.
With the key Ivy had given her Eos opened the porch, Rachel and Eos got their wishes and they took Ivy with them to the Patchwork Market, what happened when they got there is surely a story for another day.