In the Beginning.
Perhaps I might have had a different life. Perhaps the events that happened to me could have happened to another. But they did not. They happened to me. Whether they happened due to any merits or faults of mine, I will not pretend to say. They happened to me. That's all I know.
This is my story. Snap’s too, but she comes later.
I was born in the second month of the year 1006. My Ma was Daffodil, an herbalist, and my Pa was Aspen, a scribe. They named me Tiger Lilly. Tiger Lilly Bunnitoes. I have thick, curly light brown hair and blue eyes. I'm short, even for my people. I prefer trees to the holes that many of my people live in, and I always envied my friends who lived in trees. My feet, which have almost never had shoes on them, are covered in thick curly hair that is a shade darker than the hair on my head, which helps protect my feet while I climb trees.
I was the oldest, and in the years to follow, I gained a younger sister, named Mary Gold, who is five years younger, a brother, Sugar Maple who is eight years younger than her, and another sister, Vi Olet who is six years younger than Sugar. I also had many, many cousins.
Zinnia Moustail and Mag Nolia Eaglewing (though we always called her Maggi) were my favorite cousins. They were also the two closest in age to me. We did everything together.
We’re Elvings, half elf, the other half long forgotten. Not human, only that we’re sure of. Each of us, upon our births, received a ring, our Ring of Innocence. This would remain on our finger until our 24th birthday (though I have since learned that you would say that we look 12). On our 24th birthday, our Ring of Innocence would fade and we would receive our Ring of Faith, which would remain on our finger until our death. Usually. Sometimes, an Elving doesn’t get their Ring of Faith, and they were cast out of our homeland, the Rowa, into Limbo.
Nothing lives in Limbo.
I shall begin my story at about the time of the 24th birthday of a friend of mine, Black Walnut Turtle Shell. I was 19 at the time.
Black Walnut was a funny boy. I could sit at his feet listening to his stories for hours. He had a friend, Petune Ia Skunktail, who had appeared out of nowhere some time back. She had no Ring of Innocence. She always said that it was because, where she came from, they don’t give Rings of Innocence. I didn’t quite trust her. Black Walnut always said I was just jealous.
I have since realized, maybe I was. I had a crush on Black Walnut, even though I was only nineteen.
The day before his twenty-fourth birthday, he showed up just outside the door of our hole, in which we lived. (I was always so envious of my friends and cousins who lived in trees)
“Tiger,” he said, as I passed with a basket of herbs for my Ma’s apothecary. “May I speak with you?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Tiger,” he said. “Have you ever considered what is beyond the Hedge?”
“No,” I answered. The Hedge was what surrounded the Rowa, and protected us from the evils of Limbo. It opened only when an Elving was unable to get his or her Ring of Faith and thus had to leave our safe haven. “Nothing lives beyond the Hedge.”
“But what if something does?”
“Nothing does. If there was, we would know of it.”
“But what if –.”
“Black Walnut,” I said. “If you talk like this, you might not get your Ring of Faith tomorrow. Now, I need to get these herbs to Ma.” I disappeared into the tree that held Ma's apothecary.
Then he left.
The next day was his birthday. It was a grand occasion, for we Elvings love birthdays. There was plenty of food, plenty of games, plenty of laughs, plenty of people to talk to.
We were all enjoying ourselves, but I had a strange foreboding – which sprang in part from our conversation the day before. It didn't help that I caught him and Petune talking to him in a low voice, the words of which I was unable to catch.
At 3:43, for he was born at 3:43, all of the festivity stopped. Everyone watched as Black Walnut's ring faded from his finger. Then Black Walnut's father put his hand next to his son's. Everyone caught their breath.
Nothing happened. They stood like that for a full minute. Nothing happened.
“Son,” said Black Walnut's Father at last. “Do you not believe? Your Ring of Faith will not form itself, have your rejected our teachings?”
Black Walnut looked his father in the eye. “I don't know … I … How can I believe if I have no evidence?”
“Very well,” said his Father, his face hardening. “You are no longer my son, Black Walnut. Leave.”
Black Walnut glanced around, but he was met with hard looks from everyone. When his eyes met mine, I looked away. “Very well,” he said. “I will leave.”
The party was over. Since he had been unable to exchange his rings, the day had turned from one of joy to one of sadness and sorrow.
I heard many, “Pity that he has to leave's,” and “But he was always such a nice boy's,” but I don't think the speakers really knew.
That night, I was sitting in the lower limbs of a tree, thinking. I've always thought better in trees.
“Tiger!” I heard Black Walnut's voice. I ignored him. “Tiger!” He called my name several times, but I ignored him. “Tiger ...” he finally said, “Please listen.”
“Leave,” I said. “You're no longer Rowan. I cannot talk to you.”
“Very well,” I heard his voice say. “But, good-bye, anyways. You've always been a good kid.”
I could hear the hurt in his voice, but I ignored it. He left. Maybe, had I responded differently that day, my life might have since turned out differently, maybe not. All I know is that that I responded this way and that my life has since turned out this way.
It was only after I heard the distant sound of him hacking into the Hedge, for we lived very close to the Hedge, that a tear slid down my cheek and I whispered, “Farewell.”
But I knew he was going to his death. Nothing lives in Limbo.
It was only days after that I realized that Petune had disappeared. I later, after asking many questions, learned that she had disappeared the very night that Black Walnut left.
I threw myself into my studies – I was my Ma's apprentice and was studying to be as good an herbalist as she. I tried to forget, as everyone else did, or at least seemed to, that Black Walnut had ever been among us. Yet I could not. I played and explored the trees with Zinnia and Maggi, and watched my younger siblings and cousins. Mary got apprenticed to a goatherd – for she loved animals.
We lived on with our lives. But I couldn't forget.
My name is Snap Dragon Skunktail. I am in training to be an Infiltrator. My sister, Petune, was an Infiltrator, a successful one, too. She brought back Black Walnut, who she's in love with. Bleh, I say. I haven't been told who my Target is, yet, but I'm hoping that it's not a boy.
An Infiltrator has to be smart. They have to know how to blend in with the Rowans and keep the Rowans from discovering where they came from, for Rowans don't know that there are people here in Limbo, that there are many, many people here in Limbo.
It'll be hard; especially since we Limboians don't get Rings. Those Rings mess with the Rowan's aging, making it take four years for them to age as little as it takes us to age in one. They count their years differently, though, so they have two winters, two springs, two summers, and two autumns each year! This means that, when they say they’re 18, they’re really 36, but only look 9. I’m up to the challenge.
They're superstitious, too. They believe that they have a God named Yshew. They claim that they get their Rings from him and a whole bunch of other baloney. Those Rowans are so backwards. We got rid of our gods centuries ago. They also claim that their Rings give them the ability to talk to their friends long distance – through thoughts! And they claim that the gems change colors and stuff like that to help them with whatever their “job” is.
My instructor, Mr. Eucal Lyptus Snakeskin, was the best Infiltrator of this century. When he Infiltrated, he brought TEN Rowans back with him! My sister was aiming for two, but the little girl didn't come. Black Walnut had been her main Target, though. She doesn't talk much about the girl, never even says her name.
Well, I need to get back to work,
– Snap Dragon.
I was collecting herbs with Maggi and Zinnia one day in the middle of first summer. Now, Maggi was apprenticed to a seamstress and Zinnia to my Ma’s Ma, or my Mama, as we Elvings call our maternal grandmothers, Baby’s Breath Elkhyde, who was a baxter. Baxters are women bakers. We were close to the Hedge – maybe a hundred feet – when I came across a stream. In the middle of the stream was a bundle of some sort, so I waded in and pulled it out.
The wrapping was a strange material – a sort that I had never seen before, one that kept out water better than oilcloth, but it didn’t feel quite like oilcloth. Inside was a book.
Something told me that my Ma and Pa wouldn’t quite approve of this book, so I hid it in a nearby tree. I later snuck back there and read the book. Often.
It was an interesting book. It was full of ideas and stuff that had never occurred to me before. Perhaps, had I left that book in the stream and had never read it, my life might have turned out differently – perhaps not. I cannot say.
I’ve found out today the name of my Target. It’s a girl named Tiger Lilly Bunnitoes. When I told this to Petune and Black Walnut, they immediately changed the subject. Of course, I would never of guessed what they changed the subject to!
Petune’s going to have a baby!
I’m not sure what to say.
I asked them if that meant they were now going to get married. They just laughed. “Maybe,” they said.
I hope they do, Petune would be so pretty in a wedding dress.
Then he kissed her. Bleh!
I can’t wait until I can go to the Rowa in two years and get away from those two. Those lovebirds!
- Snap Dragon
Autumn has always been and always will be my favorite time of year. In autumn the trees have exchanged their uniform greens for all sorts of beautiful colors – reds, oranges and yellows! – and have not yet lost all of their leaves. There’s just something about fall that makes me want to sing!
I just couldn’t stay inside our hole.
So I snuck out while Ma and Mary Gold were washing the dishes and made my way down to the stream where I had found the book. On that day I heard a song on the wind … I was never after able to exactly remember what the words were – but I do know that the theme of the song stuck with me. It was a song I knew my parents wouldn’t like, but I always was trying to unearth the words from my memory.
Zinnia found me. “Tiger,” she said. “Aunt Daffodil is looking all over for you! Where’ve you been?”
“This is too pretty a day to spend inside,” I answered. “I just had to come out here and enjoy Yshew’s greatness and goodness!”
“But that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing right now,” said Zinnia with her hands on her hips. “You’re supposed to be at your Ma’s apothecary helping her. She’s worried about you!”
“I guess you’re right,” I said, and followed Zinnia back.
However, once Zinnia disappeared into Mama’s bakery, I started dawdling again. Autumn is just too pretty a time of year!
True, my Ma’s apothecary was in a tree, and for all practical purposes outside, but I still dawdled.
I felt a warmth from my Ring and looked down and saw that it was glowing. Nothing new, it meant that someone wanted to talk to me. And I had a good idea who, too.
I closed my eyes and a picture of my Ma formed itself in my mind’s eye. “Tiger, where are you?” I heard her voice in my mind’s ear.
“I’ll be right there!” I thought back to her.
“Never mind,” said my Ma, “I need you to find some St. John’s Wort instead.”
So went to find St, John’s Wort. I managed to bring it back in a somewhat timely fashion, but all through the day, I was dawdling.
Tonight’s the night! Tonight, I’m going into the Rowa, tonight I begin to Infiltrate my Target, that Tiger Lilly Bunnitoes. Tonight I’ll leave Petune, Black Walnut and their bratty little boy, Magnol Ia, behind. They said that they’ll get married after I get back with Tiger Lilly – they actually said her name this time! – so I don’t want to fail and I want to come back.
I’ll be leaving at dusk tonight. According to Mr. Snakeskin, it will take until past midnight for me to hack through the Hedge. I’m up to the challenge, though! I will hack through that Hedge and I will succeed. Tiger Lilly has a few friends that I’m supposed to be trying to Infiltrate as well – but Tiger Lilly herself is my main Target. The more the merrier, I say.
I’m up to the challenge!
Anyways, I need to go finish packing. You’ll be coming with me, too, book, so I need to pack you, too.
Talk to you next in the Rowa!
- Snap Dragon