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Maggie visits the Inn
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Music percolates through my dreams, becoming increasingly real and compelling, dissolving the fabric of my sleep until only the music and I remain.     Awake. 

Stiffly I get to my feet and hop off the bed. Hmm, I don’t remember going to sleep there. After a big stretch and a thorough shake, which dislodges a fair amount of dry pine needles from my fur, I nose the door open and step into the hall. 

The music, compelling and irresistible, is coming from the room below and I trot briskly down the steps to investigate. I’m dazzled as I emerge into the bar where two brightly costumed girls, completely consumed by song, are dancing wildly on the stage while Jack and Brni whirl and twirl around the room with reckless abandon. I sit, mesmerized, for a minute or two but the music cannot be ignored. I get to my feet, intending only to gracefully follow the dancers but almost instantly find myself racing instead in big loops around the room and in tight circles around the dancers occasionally tugging excitedly at a whirling skirt or flapping pant leg. I dance, trying to avoid bowling the others over, as the music pours over me and through me until finally, out of energy, I sprawl, hot and panting on the cool stone floor by the door to watch the others as they spin gracefully across the room.
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There are two ways of exorcising hangovers: with tea or with more drinking. With one, you tidy yourself up and ease back into normal life. The other is either bold as hell, the serpent tricked into swallowing its own tail, or almost cowardly, forgetting balance and ignoring the fact that one took poison willingly. But when one has been sleeping months away, when the dullness and the ache upon waking feels too big by far to be contained within one body, or even within an entire village, it isn't something that should be chased away. It is then an intoxication as valuable as the first one, one that should be honoured, and ridden. So, yes, there should be dancing.

Lacking much of an audience, the twins, Mata Hari, and Jane are on the floor, dancing with instead of for. And in their cups there is Indian tea spiked with rum. They drink it like steam, and they dance like oracles. Brni and Jack dance too, and the whole place is made of hips and hands, heavy bass and a good morning in the middle of the night. Tomorrow, perhaps, there will be customers again. For now, we must celebrate being awake.
* * *
Caeli releases a breath she didn't know she was holding, and her smile creeps wider. "I'm Caeli" (she pronounces it Chay-lee), "Or Lee, whichever you prefer. It's very nice to meet both of you." She takes the extended hands and shakes them warmly, wondering if she's seen the older lady before. She looks--no, feels--familiar somehow, it's almost like an aura.
"Thank you for your invitation, I'd very much appreciate it." She sinks into the chair, delighted with the way it curves against her, and wriggles her toes inside her tired shoes for good measure. "I don't actually know where I'm going. I'm quite sure that I didn't start out lost, but somewhere between the beginning and here..." She gestures vaguely with the kettle in one hand before pouring herself a steaming mug, "I seem to have misplaced my way, or the one I started with at least."
It had been embarrassingly difficult to recognize landmarks she'd passed over every night; the combination of the daylight changing the shapes of everything and the increased proximity had thrown her for a fine loop. Caeli blinks and realizes she's been staring into the steam rising from her cup. "Though I think I could grow to appreciate this one, so long as no one else needs it." She inhaled the scent of the tea and blinked, catching her first real glimpse of the little town.
* * *
A frenzied crackle as sparks fly, scattering madly before swirling up the chimney. Brni sweeps the last of the pine needles into a dustpan and tosses them into the fireplace. The tree itself has been taken down, the branches stripped for kindling, the trunk set aside for the future (only a few months hence, it seems – how long have I been asleep?).

The bar is empty now, save for Brni and Jack, and of course, the women on the stage; the others have been put to bed in one of the guest rooms upstairs, or have vanished – there one moment, gone the next. Presumably those who remained will find themselves taken wherever their heart leads when they awake, but if not, there's clean towels and a hot bath waiting for them.

The bar has been dusted, the floor swept.

The music plays.

Brni holds a hand out to Jack and smiles.

“May I have this dance?”

* * *
* * *
At the sight of the stranger, Westie puts down her mug and disentangles herself from the warm chenille throw. Standing and offering her hand, she greets the pale lady with a welcoming smile.

"I am Westlin' Wind, tho' most folks around here just call me Westie. The lovely woman with the baby in her lap is Danae. And those darlin' girls," she arches her arm, indicating the giggling horde, "they are nominally ours, but they are also very much their own selves. I'm sure they will make their own introductions."

Westie conjures a third chair, and a small wooden table with a steaming pot of tea and an extra mug. "Do you have time to sit a spell and rest from your journeying?"

* * *
The sound of children laughing proves to be even more enticing than the woodsmoke, and even better, it's on the way! She'd never figured out if children liked her because she liked them or the other way around, but they were natural moon-followers and maybe would consider stopping to talk to a strange lady who came out of the woods. A strange, too-skinny lady wearing a backpack and a leaf, she reflected. Her hand strayed briefly to her hair, should she try to neaten up somehow...

"..say that was a bad thing" floated past Caeli's head as she came into view of a beautiful hazel tree...with a chimney. She smiled tentatively at the two women, looking so comfortable in their curving wooden chairs.
"Hello," she offered, pausing a few steps away from the cozy scene. "I'm sorry to interrupt, I didn't know anyone was here until I was practically on top of you."

* * *
In a large wooded area just north of the village, Westie and Danae sit on two wooden chairs near an immense Hazel tree. Each chair is large, sturdy and smooth, and naturally curved to curl around the women who rest in them, talking softly and sipping large mugs of tea. Three young girls play in a leaf-pile nearby, and a baby sleeps happily in Danae’s arms. Westie curls her legs under her and snuggles under her chenille throw, holding her mug to her cheek and smiling at the giggling, leaf-covered girls. She looks over at Danae and the sleeping baby. "It’s so good to see you, darlin’. And your new home is just perfect," she says, nodding at the tree. "Tho’ I must say, it is odd to see a chimney winding crookedly up out of a tree trunk." The branches overhead shake gently, as if in laughter, and a decisive *PUFF* of smoke comes out of the chimney in response. Westie laughs and shakes her head. "I dinna say that was a BAD thing..."

The two women bask quietly in the slanted sunlight of autumn, watching their daughters playing together. Seeds from a nearby maple tree twirl by on tiny propellers, prompting an excited chase by the girls. Danae’s oldest daughter runs up and breathlessly presents her mother with a captured twirler. An occasional snatch of music and laughter drifts up from the village, reminding the women that there is community down there, warm and welcoming. But for now, on this sun-dappled hill, surrounded by the smiling and laughing joys of their hearts, they are content.
* * *


Jack, caught unawares by a passing admirer
* * *
She shivered, pulling her corduroy jacket more tightly about her. It couldn't be winter yet, could it? She could have sworn it was fall a minute ago, some of the trees were still dropping leaves. In fact...Caeli reached up and retrieved a particularly vibrant leaf from where it had landed on her head and turned it over to examine the veins idly. Perhaps she should keep it, though she wouldn't put it in her backpack, no no, that poor worn-out thing was already carrying more than its weight. Instead, she tucked it behind her ear and let the weight of long, fine hair hold it in place. It would look festive, she hoped, maybe give her a little color--frankly she was jealous, she had to be the palest thing in these woods right now.

Maybe in town...and there was a town, she knew that much, although she couldn't have said why. In town there would be houses, and a fire somewhere, and a place to sit down if she was lucky. She took a breath and adjusted the straps of her pack, nodding to herself. Not far now. Balancing precariously on a few uneven rocks, she crossed a small stream which took the opportunity to swell curiously over her feet.

"Ack!" Caeli scrambled to the other bank, hoping to save her shoes. "Sorry, sorry," she muttered, "I'm not staying, go back to sleep." Ripples tapped at the edge of the bank like fingers and she risked bending over to whisper, "Shhh, now. Go back to your pattern, you'll only get confused if you try to follow me." The stream considered a moment, then reluctantly receded to its original level. Caeli would have liked to stop and shake the water off her shoes, but frankly she didn't think she could keep her balance and besides...glancing down, she noticed with embarrassment the grass where she had been standing had acquired a faint silver-pale glow. It would fade, but that meant it was definitely time to go. She stretched her legs to increase her speed a little, she had smelled woodsmoke and that meant people.
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