Just then, Steadman Arnold and Tyler Mason appear from around the front of the chateau.
“Well, that was a waste,” Steadman said as he approached.
“You find anything?” asked Edgar.
Steadman scoffs and replies, “If we were looking for nothing, then we found a whole of it.”
“Yeah, this is stupid, Ed. There was nothing out here, to begin with. It’s getting dark. Let’s call it a night,” Tyler said. As he turns to leave, he adds, “Probably dreamt the whole damn thing anyway.”
“I didn’t dream this, Tyler. I saw what happened to Jemma. The Lady in White—” Jacoby shot back before being cut off by Steadman.
“—is a legend,” Steadman interrupted. “She’s a fairytale. The same fairytale we were all told as kids.”
“I know that!” Jacoby shot back. “But maybe – maybe there is some truth to that legend. The Lady in White is supposed to be a mystic, right? And we know mystics live a long time. Maybe it was a mystic and they’re the one who restored the chateau and put up the barrier.”
“For the sake of the Goddess, Jake, will you listen to yourself! You’re not going to stand here and tell us that a mystic is living out some stupid legend! That’s even more ridiculous than what you said about your wife!” Steadman argued. “You got us out here in the dead of night chasing a rabbit’s tail!”
“And I’m telling you I saw Jemma here at this chateau with the Lady in White!” Jacoby argued back. “I saw my wife in this place! I saw someone drain her life away! Don’t you stand there and tell me I didn’t.” Frustrated with him, Jacoby glares at Steadman. “I saw my wife die. Do not tell me otherwise,” he says in a firm tone.
“Oh, for crying out loud! How long are you gonna let him rant on like this, Ed?!” Steadman snapped. “You said it yourself, didn’t you?!”
“Arnold. Don’t,” Edgar warned.
Steadman refuses to listen and continues his protest. “Stop protecting him! You already said it!”
“Arnold, not another word!” Edgar warns again.
“What’s he talking about?” Jacoby asks.
Hoping to deter him, Edgar replies, “Nothing, lad. He’s just talking out of his arse.”
“There you go again. Cuddling him like you always do,” Steadman Arnold said. “Why don’t you tell Jake what you said to me and Tyler before we came here, eh?”
“Steadman, I’m not telling you again!” Edgar said sternly, taking a step toward Steadman.
Steadman is undeterred, however. “‘Let’s just go just to ease him.’ That’s what you said, ain’t? You didn’t fully believe him about the ‘restored’ chateau or the Lady in White. ‘Perhaps it happened a different way’, that’s what you said just now. We heard you.”
Edgar stands back. Steadman is not wrong. When Jacoby came into the Hammered Cauldron ranting about Jemma and the Lady in White, he had also thought his friend had gone daft. That was until he saw the urgency in his eyes. Edgar, being the good friend that he is, wanted to give Jacoby the benefit of a doubt. However, he couldn’t bring himself to believe Jacoby about the chateau or the Lady in White since he is also aware of the legend. What none of the men knew is that before recruiting Steadman Arnold and Tyler Mason, Edgar had made a quick trip to the chateau via a pathway known to him and a few others. It’s not that he didn’t believe Jacoby. It was that if anything happened with the Dodgson chateau, he would know about it since his cousin Gerald is on the Regal Council of Tulparr Village. Once Edgar saw the condition of the chateau remained unchanged, his heart sank. He wanted to believe Jacoby.
“Edgar, is it true?” Jacoby asked.
Edgar looks at him. He had wanted to keep his true feelings on the matter secret. Now that Steadman has brought it up, he cannot deny it. “It’s like I said, I believe you did see something terrible happen. Just not the way you saw it.”
“I thought you’d be the last person to doubt me, Ed,” Jacoby said, hanging his head. Then, he lifts his head to stare Edgar right in the eyes. “Some friend you are,” he says with disappointment.
“Jake, I did not do this to hurt you. I’m only looking out for you, boy,” Edgar says sincerely.
“Then why didn’t you believe me?!” Jacoby snapped.
“I do, lad. I really do. But you see it, doncha? The chateau? No one’s been here beside us just now. I’m going to help you find out what happened to Jemma but you gotta tell us, lad. You gotta tell us exactly what happened.” Edgar tried to convince Jacoby that the events involving his wife did not happen as he saw them. But Jacoby stood firm in his belief.
“I already told you.” Anger and frustration swell up in Jacoby. The last person he’d ever expect – a man he saw as both his friend and father – doubted him. When the hunters and villagers ridiculed him, he had expected Edgar to stand by him no matter what, to support him, to help him. Instead, his best friend doubted him. He doubted him and lied about it. Jacoby grew more irritated at the thought of Edgar’s deception. “I saw my wife murdered in this place by the Lady in White! This place was fully standing! Fully repaired! Fully restored! I saw Jemma brought down that hall by two creatures! I saw the Lady in White drain the life from my beloved!” Jacoby glares at Edgar and stabs at him with his finger, saying, “And you were supposed to be my friend. You were supposed to believe me.”
“Jacoby, I believe you, lad. But…the chateau,” Edgar said, trying to ease his friend.
Jacoby laughs in contempt. “The chateau. Yes, the chateau that was repaired by someone with mystic powers who put up a barrier so I couldn’t save Jemma,” he said. “The same mystic who killed my precious Jemma and is now gone, to who knows where. Probably somewhere, taking women like Jemma and draining them dry.”
Edgar listened to Jacoby as he ranted. His depression has turned into delirium. Edgar is now considering that perhaps he shouldn’t have doubted his friend. It is not out of the question that a mystic is capable of such things. He thinks about giving Jacoby another chance. However, Steadman Arnold has heard enough and acts before Edgar could say anything.
“Enough already! How much longer do we have to listen to him rave on like this?” says Steadman.
“Hold on, Arnold. Let’s give this some thought,” Edgar says, attempting to calm the situation.
“Give this some thought?! You…You’re not actually going to give his rantings consideration, are you?!”
“That may not be out of the question, Stead,” Tyler finally speaks.
Steadman looks at his friend in shock. “Tell me you’re not serious, Mace.”
Tyler nods. “I may have found something that could clear all this up.”
“Aw come on! Has everyone lost their wits?!” Steadman hollers out in frustration.
“Arnold, cool it,” Edgar says firmly, holding out a hand. Steadman throws his hands up and turns away. While Steadman Arnold settles himself, Edgar asks Tyler Mason about what he had found.
Tyler holds up a small bundle of lavender flowers with turquoise tips. “Suppose you don’t know what these are, do you?” he says. Edgar and Jacoby look at him puzzled. Tyler continues. “What you’re looking at is the Meridian flower. This plant is used to ease someone while they recover from an injury or a medical procedure. I know this because my mother is a healer in Eshtar City. I remember her telling me how potent this is and only a few pedals are needed for incense. However, it can have a hallucinogenic effect if enough is burned.”
“What are you saying, Tyler?” Edgar asks.
“While the three of you were shooting the breeze, I decided to go back and give the place a once over again. There had to be some explanation as to what happened. I found this little bundle near the fireplace. There’s more in there that had already been burned. So, in a way, you weren’t wrong Jake. There was someone here. Just not your Lady in White or Jemma,” Tyler Mason said.
Jacoby turns his eyes to the ground. He knows that plant and is aware of what it can do. Like Edgar, he begins to doubt himself again. If someone had burned that much Meridian Flower, he would be under its hallucinogenic effects almost immediately. Everything would seem real. He would have seen the Dodgson Chateau fully restored, the Lady in White, his wife Jemma. The new question is who was out here burning the flower and why.
“So, you’re saying that we’re out here because Jacoby was hallucinating?” Steadman says as he walked back over.
“In a nutshell, yeah,” Tyler answered.
“Well, that’s just dandy,” Steadman exasperated. “So, let’s clear this up. There’s no Lady in White. Jemma was never here. The Dodgson Chateau is still a pile of crap and so is Jake’s story. Are we done here?! Can we go home now?” With that said, Steadman turns and storms off, grumbling to himself.
“Sorry, Jakey. It is what it is,” Tyler said apologetically. He turns to leave but not before saying to Jacoby, “For what it’s worth, I was ready to believe you. Then, well – see you around.” Tyler Mason hurries to catch up with Steadman Arnold.
Jacoby stood silent. He couldn’t fathom that everything he experienced earlier in the evening was all a hoax – a hallucination caused by someone burning Meridian Flowers. “A hoax,” he says to himself. By now, Edgar had stepped next to him. “It was all a hoax. None of it was real.”
Edgar lays a burly hand on his friend’s shoulder to comfort him. “I’m sorry, lad. Unfortunately, things like this happen. I wouldn’t doubt it was a group of young Huntsmen who just wanted a thrill,” he tells him. It is not uncommon for Huntsmen to use the Meridian Flower to relax after a long day or to entertain themselves just the same. Edgar knows this from having Huntsmen as acquaintances. He feels Jacoby drop his shoulders further. What he told him did not alleviate his disappointment. Just then, Edgar is struck with an idea. If it was all a hallucination caused by the Meridian Flower, therefore, nothing happened. Which means…
“That’s it. Jake, all is not lost,” Edgar says.
Jacoby doesn’t respond.
“If what you saw never happened, that means that everything is the same as it ever was. Steadman said it. Jemma was never here.”
Jacoby, upon hearing this, lifts his head. “Jemma…was never here?”
“Aye, lad. Think about it. The Meridian Flower caused you to see those things. It was all fake. Nothing happened.”
“Nothing happened. That…That could mean…” The possible realization begins to take hold of Jacoby and he stands to his full height.
“Right, boy. Jemma’s probably home right now worried sick about you. Or going crazy searching around town looking for you,” says Edgar.
“None of it happened. Jemma’s alive,” Jacoby said elatedly. “Edgar, this means that Jemma is alive!”
Edgar laughs heartily. “What are you tellin’ me for, lad?! Hurry home and hug the hell outta her.”
No further encouragement is needed. Jacoby takes off quickly as a rabbit. He is relieved. The Dodgson Chateau, the Lady in White, the strange, winged creatures, all of them were hallucinations brought on by the Meridian Flower. He is glad that Tyler Mason found the plant. Truthfully, Jacoby was beginning to he had lost his senses. Thank the Goddess they are still intact. His only thought now is getting home to his precious Jemma.
Edgar stood with a brimming grin. He too is relieved that Jacoby had not gone crazed. Now that this strange mystery has been solved, he can return home as well. “Heh, I better get back or Bella will kill me,” Edgar says, recalling his wife’s quick temper.
Unbeknownst to Edgar Dean, a shadowy creature watches from the edge of the forest. It had been watching the men since they arrived at the Dodgson Chateau and hear their conversation. Once Edgar leaves, the creature slinks back into the shadows.
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