Return From Inkworld
by Sauron Gorthaur

Chapter 1: Longing for Another World

Spring brought the gray world to life again. Trees whispered secrets as the grass grew green and flowers bloomed in the glades. Newly awoken fairies skimmed across the water in search of anything they could use to patch up their winter-damaged nests, and goldmockers trilled in the rushes by the gurgling stream.

The boy skipped bare foot through the grass, stopping only to cut off a strand of his dark hair for a fairy when it flew down to him. He laughed when the tiny creature zipped away to its nest with the lock, then continued meandering towards the stream as if he had all the time in the world.

When he reached the stream, he paused to watch the fish dart away from his shadow, but he soon continued on his way, looking around expectantly. It was not long before he discovered what he was looking for. Not far from where the stream ran into the forest, a girl was standing in the water, skipping stones, while the wind tugged playfully at her red hair.

She looked up as the boy jumped up onto a large boulder on the edge of the stream and waved. Then, picking up the trailing ends of her skirt, she made her way to the bank, pushing her loose hair back from her forehead. "I hope you brought something to eat, Alvino," she said, flopping down on the grass beside her. "Stone skipping and wet feet gives me an appetite."

Alvino looked skeptical at that remark, but then he grinned and displayed a pack he had been carrying. "I've got some of those honey cakes, but your mother says you shouldn't eat too much or you won't want dinner."

The girl gave the pack a look of longing. "Honey cakes! Now my stomach is gurgling as loudly as the stream. And since when have I eaten too much?"

They dug into the pack and shared the cakes between them. The girl licked her honey-coated fingers and sighed. But then she cast Alvino a questioning look. "So, have you asked your father yet?"

Alvino felt suddenly uncomfortable. "Miranda, I don't…"

She raised an eyebrow and jutted out her chin aggressively. "You told me you were going to ask him."

"I will," Alvino assured her. "I just haven't got around to it yet. He's very busy, you know. Balbalus wants his new book bound before the week is ended."

Miranda leaned back on her elbows. "But you will ask him, won't you? Just as soon as you can?"

Alvino still felt uncomfortable. "Yes, of course, but I don't know that I'll get any different answers. He always just says 'later' or 'I'll think about it', but I think he believes I'm too young."

Miranda snorted. "You're twelve, aren't you? Your sister was only thirteen when she came here. And I'm going to be twelve in another month. We're plenty old enough, and it isn't like we're planning on going all alone, is it? You should ask him today."

"Well, speaking of asking permission, have you asked yet?" Alvino nodded knowingly as Miranda suddenly did not look quite so eager. "How do you know you can come along at all? After all, I don't think your father's too keen about the other world. We've all heard what he says about it."

"Yes," Miranda retorted, "and we've all heard what your mother, sister, and aunt say about it, too. They don't talk about it as if it were a bad place. I want to see it just as much as you do, the moving pictures, the flying carriages, and all the other things they describe."

Alvino stood up. "Right, we'll make a deal then. I'll ask Mo about it tonight and won't let up until I get a real answer out of him, and you'll ask your father, though I'm warning you, he'll probably put you in a ring of fire and never let you out again."

Miranda tossed her hair airily. "I'd like to see him try. All right, it's a deal. We can meet again tomorrow and make plans." She giggled. "It's so exciting to think that after all these years we might actually get to go to that other world, actually see it."

Rising to his feet, Alvino swung the empty pack over one shoulder. "I'm going home now. If you come along, I can drop you by your house before I go on."

Miranda stood swiftly and followed after him on light feet. "Your mother was going to be at my house. Mum was showing her how to grow thyme. If she's still there, maybe you can stay for a while, and I can show you the new fairy nest in the eaves."

They walked along, sometimes racing each other, sometimes stopping to pick up a colorful stone, a flower, or some other object that caught their eye. Finally, the cottage on the hill came into view, and they headed towards the small gate in the wall.

Even before they were through the gate, they heard the two voices in the front yard, both raised angrily. Miranda and Alvino exchanged knowingly glances as they closed the gate and peaked around the house at the man and woman who looked as if they were about to come to blows. If it did come to that, it would have been hard to say who would have come out on top. The man was taller and well-built, but the woman was glaring at him so ferociously that she looked perfectly capable of taking him down. It was she who was doing most of the shouting.

"And for another thing, whose bright idea was it to have a world ruled by power hungry princes? Good gracious, I'm sure there's enough money in Ombra castle to not just pave the roads, but to pave them in gold if someone had a mind to. But no, the money goes to expensive royal clothes and fine banquets while I'm trudging down muddy roads getting my feet wet. Where I come from, one would be appalled if there were mud pits in the middle of a road."

"Well, I'm certainly not keeping you," the man shot back. "Go back to your wonderful world of noise, lights, and concrete roads and see if I care."

The woman was just taking a breath to continue her rant, when Alvino's father and mother, along with Miranda's mother appeared on the scene. Miranda's mother immediately went to placate Miranda's fuming father whose hair was literally flaming with sparks while Mo and Resa hushed Elinor, who still looked as if she would have liked to hit her opponent.

Mo was sighing wearily. "Really, Elinor, can't you two get along? We know you aren't friends, but do you have to start yelling every time you see each other?"

Elinor's face was still red. "You should have heard him," she snorted. "I was merely commenting on the fact that someone might have the decency to get the roads paved after I stepped in at least four mud puddles on the way here."

Mo passed a hand over his eyes. "Dustfinger?"

Miranda's father shot Elinor a nasty look. "Yes, and I merely told her that if she doesn't like it, she can go back to her own blasted world."

Elinor's face went even redder. "See! He can say absolutely anything he wants about my world, but I can't say a single word against his precious world. How is that fair?"

"You came here of your own free will," Miranda's father growled, "while you might remember that the same most certainly cannot be said of me in your world."

"He does have a point, Elinor," said Mo.

Elinor threw her hands up in disgust. "Oh, I see how it's going to be. Right, side with the matchstick-eater. I'm through." And with that she marched off in a huff. The look that Miranda's father cast at her retreating figure could only be called a smirk.

Mo looked up at the sky as if seeking help from there, then shook his head. "Do you have to provoke her, Dustfinger? Can't you let it go just once?"

Miranda's father folded his arms across his chest. "She has no right to barge into my world and complain about everything she doesn't think is perfect. I don't want to have to hear about her world every time I see her."

Alvino cast Miranda a curious look. "Are you still going to ask him about coming? He's not going to be happy."

Miranda avoided the question and stepped out from behind the house. "Come on, I think the argument's over."

Alvino followed her and saw his parents look up and see him. He ran over, and Resa put an arm around his shoulder. "Ready to go home? We were just about to leave." Alvino nodded, and waved at Miranda who was going in with parents, before following his own father and mother. They caught up quickly with Elinor who was trudging back towards their house muttering under her breath. Alvino had to admit that the roads were very muddy from the spring rains, but his bare feet didn't mind the cool, thick sludge.

All the way home he thought about how he should phrase his question when he asked Mo if he could go to that other world. He had asked before, but his questions had always been dismissed, not unkindly, but dismissed all the same. This time he wanted an answer, and preferably he wanted that answer to be yes.

"Is Meggie going to be here for dinner?" he asked Resa as they went inside their cottage house.

"No," she answered as she shut the door behind Mo. "But she and Doria were planning to come over some time tomorrow, that is if Doria can find the time. He's very busy, you know."

Over dinner, the three Folcharts listened to Elinor ranting to Darius about her argument. Resa looked at Mo and shook her head.

After dinner, Mo slipped off as he always did to the room he had turned into his workshop. Alvino hovered around the doorway for a while before plucking up enough courage to slip into the workshop. The one window lit the table where the almost completed book lay and several candles lit the rest of the room. Mo was sitting at the table, selecting a knife from his leather pouch. Alvino took his place on the bench beside him and watched him work for a while. Sometimes, Mo would ask him a question and he would briefly answer, but for the most part there was no sound except for Mo's tools.

Finally, Alvino decided that he had been putting his question off for long enough. "Mo?" he asked.

"Yes." Mo didn't look up from his work, but Alvino could tell that he was listening.

"I'm almost twelve and a half. In two more months, I will be."

"Yes, you're going to be all grown up and married like Meggie before I know what's happened, aren't you?"

Alvino kicked the table leg slowly. "Then I'm old enough to go to that other world now, right?"

Mo did look up this time, and Alvino could see a troubled look in his eyes. "Alvino…" he began wearily, but he just sighed and shook his head.

Alvino looked pleadingly at him. "Please, Mo, you said when I was old enough, I could go. And don't just say we can talk about it later."

Putting down his tools, Mo turned to him. "But don't you like it here? This is a nice world, isn't it?"

Alvino sighed. "Yes, of course I like it here. I don't want to stay in that other world – I just want to see the things Resa, Meggie, and Aunt Elinor tell me about. And Elinor has said that she'll come, too, so she can watch over me and show me all those wonderful things she's always talking about. And then, I'll come back here."

For a moment, Mo had a distant look in his eyes. "Yes, well, I guess I learned my lesson with your sister. I suppose I'm going to have to let you go before you run off and do something stupid like Meggie did and break my heart in the process. I'll talk to Elinor tomorrow about making arrangements for you to go, and I imagine that Darius will go with you, too."

Alvino could hardly believe what he was hearing. Mo really was going to let him go. He felt his heart skipping inside of him at the thought of such an adventure. But Mo was still looking at him with a sad expression as if the conversation had brought back bad memories that he would have rather not remembered. Alvino felt a twinge of guilt.

Mo went on working for a few minutes, but then he stopped and turned to Alvino again. "I do know what it's like, longing for another world. But if you're not careful, that longing can become dangerous. Get your fill of the other world, but please can back safe."

Slipping off the bench, Alvino hugged his father. "I just want to see it," he whispered.

"I know," said Mo.

After he had blown the candle in his room out that night, Alvino lay awake in his bed, staring up at the black ceiling. In the next room, he could hear his parents' voices, and, although he could not make out words, he could guess what they were discussing. He wriggled into the sheets with delight and closed his eyes. Another world. Soon it wouldn't be mere stories that he listened to his mother tell him. Soon it would be reality.