At the end of the day yesterday, a beautiful March day in Vermont that climbed past 50 degrees F, a day we had watched the ice in the Winooski River breaking away in pieces…
…Mom and I were scheduled to fly back home.
When I am sitting in an airport waiting for my flight, and in taxis the plane I will soon be on, and off come the passengers who have arrived at their destination, I feel envious as they walk past me. I want to be them in the sense of I want to be arriving, not leaving. I want the travel part of my trip to be over. It’s great to spend time with the people I love who live far away, it’s good for the soul to see other hillsides and travel other roads and gain new mental images of the ever-changing world, but I wish I could snap my fingers at the end of that and just be home.
Some trips are smooth and easy. The flights run on time and are reasonably unbumpy, and there is enough time to get from Plane A to Plane B without undue hurry or worry. Coming home yesterday was not that kind of trip.
In Burlington Mom and I heard over the PA system that anyone with a connection in Philadelphia would miss their connection because of weather issues, so they might as well find accommodation overnight and try again today. Our connection was in Washington DC, but what weather could affect Philly so as to delay or cancel all connecting flights but not affect DC?? We don’t know and can’t know, but the announcement did not make us feel better about getting on a plane.
Then we were told that the plane that would take us to DC would be landing in Burlington at the same time as it was supposed to take off to DC, and in fact it landed more than ten minutes after that, delaying our start by a good half hour. Try as they did to make up for the lost time, we landed in DC at the same time as our connector was supposed to be taking off. That is, we arrived in DC at 10pm and our subsequent flight to Cville was scheduled to take off at 10pm. We were in row 6, which got us off the plane quicker than if we had been in row 22, but still I had serious doubts. When I showed the flight attendant my boarding pass for the next flight and asked her if we were going to make it, she said to ask the person at the bottom of the stairs. He said You will make it.
What does he know? I led Mom, who is not walking fast these days, across the tarmac toward the door he indicated, and immediately found someone who looked like she worked there and said, “I need a wheelchair for my mother!” I realize in retrospect I did not say it calmly and politely. I did not ask. I said it emphatically, being worried (very worried by this point) not only about our flight but also about Mom going faster than she should or could. To their credit, they moved fast to get her a wheelchair, being prodded, possibly, by the panic in my voice. We went as quickly as possible – the wheelchair driver assuring me all the way that we would make it – all of one gate past the one where we disembarked, watched the guy at the desk say into a phone, “Two more for Charlottesville” (as in “Don’t close the door just yet”) and hustled out the door, across the tarmac and onto the plane. Then they closed the door.
Whew! Once we were in our seats, the reality of the close call hit us and we both felt very grateful for the help we got. Mom worried that her inability to move fast had added to the stress, but I told her that having an 84-year-old, less-than-speedy travel companion came in handy. If nothing else, it called attention to our plight. We were on the plane and that’s all that mattered. Time to relax, right?
You bet. Time to resume The Turning by Sarah Silvey, a new fantasy novel I can hardly put down. The part of me that loves invented characters and their corresponding powers, deeds and foibles – yes, the same woman who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aquaman, The Avengers and all the rest – switched on as soon as I started reading it. Sarah’s fabulous characters and intriguing storyline picked up my exhausted self and plunked it squarely into an imaginary world with far greater challenges and gave me somewhere else to reside temporarily after the harrowing gate-to-gate mad dash. What is making our flight to Charlottesville by the skin of our teeth compared to trying to stop an evil “Other” who can obliterate a small town by commanding the river to overtake it in a flash flood?
The Turning starts with a young woman named Sienna who is vaguely aware of her unusual abilities, including being able to know what people are thinking. Her village is small, her job of ferrying people across the river is simple, but trouble starts when the blue-cloaked woman with a frightening aura crosses. Enter a brave knight of the Darcean Order who cannot stop the flood but saves Sienna from it, mutants with creepy eyes and grossly misshapen bodies, ordinary folk who chatter cheerfully and care about their companions and a rat-faced villain gathering the mutants for purposes of subterfuge, and you can imagine my current dilemma. I’m home, yes, my bags are unpacked, yes, but it’s time for dinner and all I want to do is read! Brennan, the knight, explained the backstory this way:
…“He was the first Other. Fifteen hundred years ago, Azar united the lands to the east of the desert with his power. He named it Azaria, and together he and his queen ruled the people, masquerading as gods.
“Nobody denies that the things they did were magnificent. Through their power, they made the roads and buildings, many of which were so strong that they are still standing today. By their influence, the yield of crops magnified a hundredfold. Nobody had to work; they only had to worship the Azars and obey their rules.
“Lots of people see these relics and yearn for the wealth and glory of the past, but they have forgotten the Azars’ cruelty. They murdered people for entertainment, made them into slaves, sacrificed them as their divine right. They were depraved. People were forbidden to read and write, to question their god-kings, to meet in secret. Others were employed by Azar to watch the people for rebellion, and any independence of mind or deed was found and crushed. The easy lifestyle and propaganda promoted by the Azars made the people bland and ignorant.
“The Others were insatiable. Masses of people were slain in battles for supremacy between members of the Azar family. Others ruled the cities as well; they played mayor or magistrate, wallowing in luxury and using their power to work their way on people.
“For five hundred years the descendants of the Azars ruled Azaria in blood and wealth, until an assassin found his way into their palace undetected and killed the last king and queen where they slept in their beds. The empire fell apart. Without their gods, the people were lost. They lived in the houses that still remained, but they didn’t remember how to work or think or fend for themselves. Lots of people died, but slowly they learned to survive on their own again, by their own rules, through honest means.
“Today people look at the skeletons of these buildings and they fantasize. They hear tales of gods that walked among men, abundant food, easy lifestyles, and they yearn for those days to be back again. But below the earth, where they cannot see, are the skeletons of the people whom these so-called gods trampled in their lust and greed.”
The evil empire has fallen, its inhabitants are “free again, along with all the responsibility and suffering which that entailed,” but their own history, their own shackles, their own pain, which should guide them to create a better tomorrow, has “drifted into the mythology of the gods. Azar’s name and his power are all the truth that is remembered.” Sienna wonders, “How can people have forgotten something so important?”
Indeed! Why do people forget what’s important? Bravo to Sarah, a fine young writer who gives us not only an engaging story but also a striking window into the risks of allowing ourselves to be led by those who do not, despite appearances, have our interests in mind, but rather, strictly and only, their own power and gain. Oh, and don’t forget how we ourselves, with whatever we uniquely bring to the table, can affect the outcome. Will Sienna develop her own powers and help Brennan take down the evil Others? I hope so, but how will she do it? I don’t know yet, but I suspect I’ll be up till all hours tonight finding out how the story plays out. You’ve got my attention, Sarah, and your wonderfully written story not only entertains me, it conjures up the parallels we all face.
Is there evil in our world too? Undeniably. Are we, to our ultimate detriment, being led? Sometimes. Can we battle all the wrongs? Hardly. Can we think for ourselves, develop our own strengths and avoid some of the downsides of those who would rule us? Of course we can.
May we never forget what’s important and always work for good. And may a good book always serve to take us to worlds we would otherwise not go, and in doing so, help us relax, make us think and/or bring us a fresh perspective on ourselves and our own world. Thank you, Sarah.