Where perfectionism exists, shame is always lurking.
– Brene Brown
The laws of the past follow a distant norm.
– Lessons of Time Travel for Children, Book I
Oranges are one of the few fruits that will not overripen if left on the tree.
I believe in the magic of coffee and oranges.
– Paul Hodgson
There was another fruit tree, other than the pear, that now grew wild. There were less of these, but they grew nearer, and chose to intersperse with – the lady’s pear trees that had once been part of Father’s orchards – rather than mingle with the giant oak and pine that lived near the stream, and reached for water with intermingling roots. None of the fruit trees had been planted on flat land, but grew into the foothills of mountains, as if someone had been experimenting with elevation.
The tree Oracion had in mind was the orange.
She recalled when Father had had the gardeners plant these. Their climate did not naturally host the tropical, so Father had induced the hybrid makers to regraft a wondrous, older variety (before Priest began experimenting with other things) that would constantly and simultaneously fruit oranges and flower, while remaining impervious to the elements.
Father had loved his gardens.
When the weather was kind to her, Oracion would make the trek just to hunt for and gather these special oranges, while her godmothers sat nearby, contenting themselves with spinning necklaces out of blossom and vine. Oranges were one of Oracion’s favorite fruits, and reminded her of childhood. This evening however, Oracion was time traveling, and it was only by gut instinct she headed for the old groves, choosing this longer, more circuitous route through the forest, embracing the arduous incline. She intentionally wished to come up upon the old castle from behind, and avoid emerging from the woods into village streets altogether.
The hunters were looking for stag, and the priests were doing the testings, but since Oracion had cloaked herself in invisibility she was not certain why she felt so cautious. She wanted to avoid the scouts and dichobots as well, who inevitably would be out and about looking for her, despite the fact they were as unlikely to see her as they were to become suddenly aware – of what they themselves had become.
Oracion did plan to show herself if necessary, but only once she had shifted safely into the past, and only when she had found Father. Though she could communicate with people in the past that she loved that had gone on in the present to other realms, she could not effect the past directly, nor could it effect, or harm her. Nonetheless, the weight of this evening’s importance lay on Oracion’s shoulders as heavily as the fog that blanketed the trees all around her.
It was getting colder as well, which was strange for late spring.
Usually, in the evening, the dark black, lacy limbs of upper tree branches stood out in sharp contrast against a setting sun, and its violet-purple sky. Now the moon, full – but obscured – was the only language by which Oracion could find her way through the younger trees towards what had once been orchards. The godmothers had cloaked themselves into invisibility as well, though Oracion could see them, and they occasionally reappeared playing nuthatch or robin. As birds, they had no place to land, as upper portions of oak and pine now disappeared altogether into the mist. It was as if branches had been lopped off by a crazy gardener, who rudely defrocked trees of their budding leaves.
This was extremely disorienting, and Oracion felt like the forest she knew like the back of her hand had turned malevolent against her, and was playing tricks on her mind with a new found wit. Or, perhaps, Mother Nature could also shift, wanted to tell her something, warn her away from this route and the knowledge which she intuitively sought. Nevertheless, something in the present was drawing Oracion toward what had once been the orange grove, where she had first seen the boy, as if she sensed in his absence – invaders had overtaken the land.
She had seen the boy with the knowing eyes (that reminded her of the pear tree madonna) many years ago, when she, as a child, had induced Father to let her accompany him on a journey. Father had been meeting secretly with someone on the farther side of the forrest – a mysterious stranger – a messenger, or a scout perhaps, from a distant land. He had safely secured Oracion into his stagecoach, then for an hour or so little Oracion had slept with her head leaning against his big, broad shoulder, as Father drove the horses further and further into the woods, by a little known access route. Simply content to be at his side, the ride lulled Oracion to sleep. But before she drifted off, Father had told her – when she asked on what business the special messenger or courier came – he could not tell her for her own protection. If she squealed, he said, the tree monkeys would get her. They could fly and had sharp teeth. He wasn’t going to take that chance.
Oracion started to suspect Father was making things up, for purposes of her own amusement. It was a long journey, and he liked to see her smile.
She had awoken when the stagecoach came to a bumpy stop beneath a canopy of orange blossoms, and in that sweet spring day of many years past, the flowers and fruits blossomed in such heavenly abundance, they emitted a memorable, heady and potent, but at the same time delicate, fragrance. This scent was better than any perfume the ointment makers made, even better than the lilac butter Mother had dabbed on her wrists, or the honeysuckle milk that she bathed in. Father often brought back sweet oranges to Oracion when he traveled alone this way, but this was the first time Oracion had ever seen the grove.
He got out of the coach and disappeared into a thicket of trees, but not before soliciting from Oracion another promise. Whatever she did, she was not to get out of the carriage and follow him, and no matter whom she might happen to see here, to talk to no one.
Sleepily, Oracion agreed.
Sweet, silly, dear Father.
The day was so bright, and warm.
Oracion couldn’t imagine she might chance to meet anyone here, for she found herself alone with the birds that thrilled delightedly amongst fair fruit and blossom. One branch held many ripe clusters of sun-kissed oranges which peeked out at intervals between petals, and one single, very perfect orange dangled temptingly within her reach, dappled with sunlight. She was hungry and overheated, and surmised if she could just take one bite of its cool, rosy flesh, it would cure all remaining laments, and she could just get on with enjoyment of this beautiful day. So, cautiously, Oracion stood up in the coach and leaned her small body outside of the window as far as she could reach, without falling out.
But this nearest orange was just out of reach.
And that’s when she saw him.
He had not been standing on the ground at all but was sitting way up high in the tree branches, looking down at her – a young boy, quite tall and well built, but definitely her age. Oracion had never seen an angel before, but she had seen drawings of them on the ancient scrolls that Father had shown her. The boy’s face was like porcelain, and in his fine blue eyes (which were as deep and sad as the sea) he spoke a thousand stories, but he didn’t seem inclined to tell any of them. He just stared at Oracion silently, the juice of an orange dripping silently off his chin, as if he was as shocked to see her there – as she was to see him.
Though Oracion recognized him (hadn’t they known each other, once upon a time?) she marveled that if he was the gardener’s son, he could now possess wings, and the countenance of nobility, beneath long wavy locks of fiery, cinnamon hair.
“Christmas” she remarked, simply observing, before she could realize why she had spoken that word, and what she had done – spoken to a stranger – which was exactly what Father had forbidden.
“Why don’t you use your wings?” he responded. A voice like a chime, or a dulcimer chord.
“My wings?” she asked, noticing that she had spoken again.
“To reach an orange,” he explained. Why don’t you use your wings?”
The boy asked the question so sincerely and innocently it frustrated Oracion to no end. She did not understand why a boy with such an angel’s face and wings would ask her such a question about her own wings, when she obviously didn’t have any.
But just then his name was called out by someone she could not see.
A man with a cruel voice, that seemed to threaten impending brutality.
And in that instance Cosmos disappeared, but not before he tossed Oracion the rest of an orange, that he had been holding in his hand.
Christmas (as Oracion often thought of him ever since ) had vanished instantaneously, into the warm, spring air. When Father returned to the carriage, Oracion was savoring the sweet, refreshing fruit flesh that mysteriously had been given to her. But thinking of the hard, cruel voice, and fearing for the angel boy, she hesitantly asked Father “Was the man you met – was he bad?”
Father looked at her, not harshly, nor disapprovingly, but as if Oracion had asked a question to which she should already know the answer. “Oracion, you know the Maker does not make bad men, but people do. And this man that I met wants to delay what is rightfully yours.”
She had turned to look up at Father when he made this cryptic remark, expecting him to look angry or displeased, but he had not. Instead, Father looked solemn , his eyes knowing – like the boy’s had been. Perhaps he knew she had spoken to someone without permission and was not mad, but simply disappointed.
She had never seen Christmas again, and wondered if it had all been a dream, especially in the contrast of this strange spring evening in the present, with its heavy, dream like mist.
Occasionally (in the present) she noticed that some animal or beast imitated her pace and direction in the trees adjacent, but this was not so unusual. Animals could sense Oracion’s presence and often drew near her, as if they felt there a safety they could not otherwise easily obtain. Through the thick fog Oracion could tell the gentle creature that followed her to the old orange grove now was large, like Noble Beast had been, and she once spotted majestic antlers cutting up through the mist, like sharp knives cutting into gray cloud.
The thought of Noble Beast brought to Oracion a bittersweet comfort and joy – intermingled with the feeling of sorrow and loss.
For Oracion, emotions were as wild, strong and dangerous as she was, and in this moment she made conscious effort to harness and focus them, so they would not lead her astray, and instead work to her advantage. Not so far off she had heard a strange noise, as if large walls of metal creaked and scraped, one against the other.
But when an orange tree emerged in front of her, she knew she was in the right place.
Suddenly, an enormous dark shadow overhead, a flurry of wings and horrible talons pulling painfully at her hair.
The giant bird screeched its horrific cry as it passed over Oracion, its cry much louder for it was in her ear this time, metal against metal, a glacier of ice seizing, then crashing into the sea. And was this apparently blind creature actually able to see her?
The velociraptor seemed unable to fly very high or far, and settled awkwardly and noisily into the branches of an orange tree, his tail curled in serpentine formation down and around the crook of its trunk. The weight of his body cast too heavy a load on the fruit bearer, and Oracion feared the tree (though much thicker and sturdier now than she had seen the trees in the past) would break in the bending.
She stood at a distance of about fifteen feet away from this dinosaur-like bird, staring in fascination. As she watched him pull at oranges and branch with his huge jaws, she guessed that he was frustrated that he could not use his stunted wings to separate and loose the treats. Beneath the sound of snapping twigs and frustrated screeches, Oracion heard the Madonna’s voice whisper something silently into her ear.
“She was with child when she was taken.”
A fragment, of knowing.
It was then that Oracion noticed the creature’s eyes – blind apparently – and glazed over, as with filmy white cataracts – like dichobotic eyes. But Oracion couldn’t help sensing that they were creepily, and inexplicably – human – and also (perhaps even worse than the fact that they were human) that she somehow knew, or recognized them.
As an animal (much in appearance as well as behavior) the creature resembled a hybrid mix between a proud, preening peacock, and an angry, small-brained dinosaur. In her sciences Oracion had learned such creatures did exist – and it was possible the priests could have returned them to the wood, much as Father had reintroduced cold climate oranges.
But his eyes, oh his eyes! – how Oracion pitied the creature for his eyes. What had they mixed him with?
“And wanted her son to carry the gene” said the lady gently, but firmer this time.
Then with a horror, Oracion remembered what Father had told her, one night when they were standing on the turret rooftop, under the light of a magnificent moon.
Even though lineage played a factor, the ability to shape shift was rare. Shape shifting women who had turned, wanting to assure the gene was passed to their first born sons, were going to the priests who meddled with the hybrid potions and vapors, which the pregnant women then drank in great draughts (for the price of their soul, a trikerion lamp, or some such thing) each morning for nine months. For some, there was success – but other offspring were caught in a void-shift, part human – and part beast.
The creature was a Blender.
And the Blender seemed to sense, or smell, Oracion’s existence – at least to a certain degree, though he did not seem to realize her godmothers, who had hung back somewhat in trepidation. For though Oracion was still invisible (and she had checked, glancing down at her feet, which weighted the grass but still could not be seen) the creature seemed to get more and more irate, even to, and in proportion to, the degree to which she pitied him. She had slowly been getting closer, even as he spat at her angrily, shaking his head violently back and forth, leaves and debris flying out of his mouth in every direction – a shower of fury.
Then, to Oracion’s right, a movement where the gentler, pacing animal had been. Suddenly Oracion feared that the Noble-Beast like creature that had followed her had actually been tracking her purposely, for he emerged out of the woods not as a beast, but as a man.
A huge man.
Oracion had never seen a dichobot so tall and formidable, even greater a force than Trock had been, with steel plated shoulders spanning an expanse wider than the velociraptor’s greatest proportion. But this dichobot, like the mad, screeching dinosaur creature, but much more so, could see Oracion quite clearly.
This didn’t make any sense.
No dichobot could see Oracion when she cloaked into invisibility, and though his plated visor was down, hiding his eyes, he seemed to stare directly at her, one arm even extended towards her as if in urgent supplication. It was as if he wanted to stop her – or for her to come towards him. Could it be that one of Father’s soldiers remained, having survived the scourge? She thought about that possibility. No, it couldn’t be. Hadn’t all those that had not transformed – been executed?
The man saw her nonetheless, for in that moment several things happened at once.
He rushed Oracion just as the flames shot from her brother’s mouth, a deadly, fiery conflagration. She noted the acidic, pungent odor of burnt oranges in the Blender’s breath, and instantaneously cindered twigs. The heat wave alone would have killed her in a matter of seconds, had not the large soldier-man covered her with his metal plated body. She found herself on the ground staring up at the emblem of a lily on a chest plate, as flames radiated over steel – red, orange, blue… then white.
A memory, a flash in her mind, a little boy’s voice.
“Why don’t you use your wings?”
Oracion was so disoriented and shocked she felt herself shifting helplessly into the past. The scene, the heat, the trees, everything around her disappeared, but not before she heard his voice – all grown up now – but still like a dulcimer – or a chime.
“Christmas,” he said, as if in transfixed amazement.
Then once again, they were apart.