Other places, and the Other Worlds, have their own battles.”
Eleanor once again heard a subtle emphasis that made her think of a philosophical thesis. “Hazelbeth, you’ve mentioned Other Worlds twice now.”
“You noticed. Well done.”
“Other Worlds— whatever that means—must be relevant to our conundrums. You rarely speak of insignificant matters.”
“And you rarely miss matters of significance.” Hazelbeth dragged one spidery finger across the air before her, as if drawing an invisible timeline through eternity. “I have watched for eons. My awareness had grown as slowly as a mountain rising up from a flat plain. In the past century, I began to understand that ours is not the only reality. Other realms exist all around us. We sometimes get glimpses of them, but we cannot touch them with our bodies.”
“I don’t think we follow,” said Orvid.
“I don’t wholly follow myself when it comes to this topic.”
“You haven’t spoken to me of other worlds, Wise One.” Rosemary sounded mildly miffed, as if the Oracle had left her out of some particularly juicy gossip.
“I have, here and there. You didn’t recognize it. You must remember, for me, a century of contemplation is a passing fancy for you. I try not to speak of phenomenon I don’t fully understand, lest I ignite a conflagration of magical speculation. But I will try to explain, because my heart tells me there is relevance.” She pointed from one visitor to the next. “Each of you dream every night.”
“I don’t dream,” said the king.
“You do. You just don’t remember. Some people do, and some don’t.”
“I always remember,” said Eleanor. “They fade as the day goes on, but when I wake, they are always there. Some have stayed with me since childhood. When I was very small, I dreamt of a giant rabbit. It had huge blue eyes…” She realized everyone was waiting for her to stop talking, so Hazelbeth could make her point. No dreams were as interesting in recital as they were in the dreamer’s head. “Ah, anyway. I remember my dreams.”
“Then you know, sometimes in dreams, nonsensical things happen. Somehow, they are wholly logical and acceptable in the dream. There may be people and places in your mind you’ve never seen before. Strange circumstances. Yet in your dreaming mind, you question nothing. This is how we touch the edges of other worlds.”
“We travel to other worlds while we sleep?” asked Orvid.
“No. We simply hover in the space between them. Hence, in that moment, the rules and conventions of both make sense.”
“But what are these other worlds?” asked Rosemary.
Hazelbeth took a moment to collect her thoughts, and Eleanor understood that for all the Oracle’s ageless wisdom, she was truly a novice student of this topic. “I feel some worlds are vastly different from our own, but others might merely seem like warped versions of our existence, but with different histories and evolutions and rules.”
Rosemary’s brown furrowed. “What do you mean, rules? Like laws?”
“Not laws that come from the minds of men and women. The rules of nature. For example, in some worlds, there is no magic.”
The visitors sat in flummoxed silence. Finally, Dorian spoke. “No witches or magicians? But how is that possible? How would anyone defend themselves or heal the sick? Who teaches and keeps the stores of knowledge? Without magic, there would be no unicorns. No fairies. Dragons would never have existed. You yourself, Wise One, would not exist.”
“It is difficult for us to imagine, but I believe they find other ways to solve their problems. I sense power, but not magical. Potions, but no spellwork. I sense metal, but not Fire-iron.”
Gregory suddenly spoke up. “I do remember one dream, from years ago. I sat inside a metal bird, flying through the air. There must have been a hundred other people around me, all in chairs. I looked out a round window at the clouds. Then I tried to stand up, but there was a girth across my stomach. A woman in a soldier’s uniform told me to sit down. I felt trapped and struggled. I wanted to stand up and jump out, even though I knew I’d fall to my death.”
The Oracle nodded. “Metal birds flying through the air, holding a hundred people. Impossible, we would say. But in the world with no magic, who knows what kind of strange contraptions they resort to inventing? A lack of magic would surely force the human mind to find other means of expressing its genius.”
“If we find their world strange,” said Eleanor, “then it must be the same to them, when they get a glimpse of ours. That is, assuming such things are reciprocal?”
“They are,” said the Oracle. “Someone who can make easy sense of a metal bird carriage might have a dream about a dragon or a sorcerer’s spell, and upon waking, they would find it wholly nonsensical.” The old witch turned to Eleanor. “Do you remember me saying to you, many years ago, that I sensed you from the other side of the Pool?”
Eleanor nodded. The day after her wedding, when she met with the Oracle as she and Gregory left for their honeymoon. The Oracle explained how she had asked Rosemary to leave Eleanor with Imogene as a child, and told Eleanor she had high hopes for her future as a member of the Desmarais family. “You said, I can sense you, from the other side of the Pool, but I cannot see you. You said what has meaning and consequence becomes soft and harmless.”
“That’s the best way I could describe it then, but it makes more sense now. What I was trying to express, is that I believe there is… seepage. Between our world and others. Your story is an example. The story of the glass slipper princess. The peoples of other worlds know your story.”
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