"This is an absolutely amazing house, Jula. I've never seen one just like it before," Marc exclaimed.
"Y haven't, dear?" The Kiwi replied absently. Jula had busied herself with 'the tidy' during Marc's examination of the dwelling. The plump Kiwi flitted and fluttered, giggling and clucking with cheeriness as she quickly washed bowls and spoons. Jula's happy humming stirred memories Marc had nearly forgotten. Nanny too had always hummed as she went about her daily work.
Jula beamed as she showed him how the remnants of their breakfast were now carefully stored in the larder. With his boyish interest stirred, Marc leaned into the cupboard so he might peer deep into that particular closet. Shelves made of a wooden, open screen work held covered containers.
"How ingenious. Why Jula, this is absolutely amazing," Marc murmured as the gladdened Kiwi explained food was kept fresh and good by the cool air which was borne from chilly caverns far below the town. Air came up through the baroque screen-work and into the storage area from deep within the earth.
From the looks of the interior Jula must have spent much of the previous night engaged in cleaning the whole dwelling. The once dusty furniture gleamed. Everything in the room had been set in order, had been meticulously wiped free of every particle of dust. The entire lodging simply glistened.
An animated, lilting whistle accompanied by gruff mutterings foretold the nearing arrival of Tvek and Jono long before the two actually stepped onto the porch and tugged at the thong attached to the bell.
Marc waited expectantly as Jula fluttered to open the door. Dipping and giggling, the effervescent Kiwi welcomed their guests. "Haloo, haloo. Come right in then. Yes do. Here we are then. Wipe your feet just here please, dears,” Jula burbled. “Ah, yes, that's it. We have some nice hot tea, do have yrselves a cup won't you?"
Shaking his head, muttering softly, Tvek nonetheless wiped his feet with painstaking thoroughness before stomping past the burbling Kiwi. Jono grinned, winking broadly at Marc, as he too dutifully wiped his feet. All the while Jula giggled, fussed and fluttered.
"Tvek. Please. Come sit. Have y had yr brekkies already then dears?" Jula asked as she indicated a stool for Tvek. "Jono, there's a lad, do pass round the lovely, warm scones and red currant jam will y then? Splendid. Splendid."
"How y doin' kid? Nice shiner." Jono said with chuckle. "Looks like y slept well. I brought y some duds." Jono continued. The ebullient squirrel's voice rang cheerfully. "Package was left fr y, ought to fit I expect,” he went on. “I took a small peek at ‘em, I've got a pretty good eye for sizes and all."
A package. Left for him? His curiosity mounted as Marc solemnly accepted the large, parchment wrapped package the genial teenager thrust at him. Tvek noted the question rising in Marc's eyes.
In a voice surprisingly gentle Tvek explained, "Y'be human lad." A merry twinkle appeared in Tvek's eye then. "Not to fret Lad. Yr not the only one hereabouts." Tvek allowed a very small chuckle to be heard before he continued, "humans too do live here in our world, a course. But y'be a human from the OuterWorld." His tone now became far more serious, "And yr dressed in yr own, other world, duds,” he paused to accept the raspberry jam. “Y'don't want to be callin' undue attention to y'self whilst we work out just why y'be here and all."
For a moment, Tvek stopped his rambling dissertation to cast a piercing glance at the young OuterWorlder. "T'would not be for the best to stand out just now. Callin' undue attention to y'self just yet.
Nodding his head from time to time, Marc listened intently. He eyed the bespectacled owl. The teenager would be the first to admit, while he did not fully understand everything Tvek was trying to tell him, he understood the truth in the statement. Heck, he mused, I don't understand much, if anything, that Tvek is trying to tell me.
Bewildered Marc continued struggling hard to make sense from what reality should have told him was quite simply impossible. Marc knew he was neither dreaming nor imagining this peculiar place, these uncommon folk, the strange happenings which he had begun encountering immediately after his fall from the mysterious hidden staircase. Whatever reality was, THIS was his real for now, and this WAS happening.
The unknown no longer held great fear. Marc now felt an enormous desire to know more, everything if possible, about where he was at the present. He wanted to understand how he had happened to come to such a place and he wanted to know why he was here.
"Can you tell me then? Where am I right now, just this minute then, Sir?" asked Marc. "I'm not still in my own house, of that I'm fairly sure. I was before falling. I remember being in the attic." Confusion was very apparent on his face as the young human gazed at the three he had met just last nite. "The door, the landing and stair well, they were all there in my house. In the attic. But, where...?"
"Y'have come to TralCity, Lad. Y'be in the midst of the InnerLand." explained Tvek slowly, carefully. He let Marc digest the import of each statement before beginning another. "Not exact how it came to happen, I'm not, as yet." Tvek paused, he sat staring across the room, staring at nothing at all. With a shake of his head, he roused and began anew.
"But, to continue," and again he paused. He lifted his cup and took a long draught. Marc grinned in response to Jono's slow, lazy wink. Tvek set his mug on the table, "TralCity is at the very center of our, that be mine, Jono's and Jula's world. Other's too a course. Beyond InnerLand where it is that y are at present, beyond it, wal, that is the OuterWorld. That is where y'be from, the OuterWorld then. OuterWorlders do come to InnerLand now and again, usual it is that their arrival is foretold. Not so wi’y. The OuterWorld that be yr home, fr usual," finished to the old owl solemnly.
Tvek sat silent, motionless for a long moment. Marc could hear the rumble of traffic, the shuffle of feet and a quiet mumble of voices coming from somewhere beyond the walls of the house. Inhabitants of the city, TralCity, apparently were going about their daily activities. That those inhabitants were most likely not all human Marc had begun to understand. Maybe, he thought, none are human. Jeepers.
"Tis simple actually, Lad," Tvek resumed his grave, patient, explanation. "Somehow tis, y'have stepped through the gateway leading from yr world to this,” again he paused. “Tis summat like opening the door and walkin' from the outside of the house to the inside. Only in this pertik'lar case of yrs," Tvek's tawny eyes stared hard at the young human, his voice was solemn, "the inside be a place y'have not seen before. AND in truth, tis a place y'wasn't actually aimin' to come. Tis not clear just yet how or when y'will be returnin' to yr own world."
The Smoke, the one past even as well as the early one this morn, had done much to explain Marc's presence to Tvek. Now the wizard was attempting to help Marc understand. It was a task the old wizard had undertaken many times before. And, as always, the explanations and all was just a fraction hard to understand. For sure, for certain and sure. Folk from The OuterWorld allus had a hard time trying to piece it all together. Their minds seemed to run on a diff'rnt plane. Literal. Too literal in their thinkin' they were.
Tvek took a deep breath, "Have no fear about it Lad. Humans do come and go reg'larly between our world and yrs. “Occasional we have humans who do travel back and forth some." Tvek paused, took a long draught from his cup, and then continued. "Most visitors stay here fr a time before going back to remain forever in their own land. Some are too frightened, or t'was a mistake, or mebbe they simply don't want to stay and they return to the Outer world almost as soon as they arrive. Others have chosen to come and stay in InnerLand and to never return to the OuterWorld at all."
"You mean,” Marc questioned, “that if I choose, I can go back to my own home, right now? I can just leave. Right this minute then?" Marc stood as though he might mean to simply tell them all good by and take his leave.
A long silence followed. Three pairs of bright eyes fastened upon the owl. Uncomfortably Tvek stared into those eyes, topaz, black, and blue. He shifted upon his stool as the three continued to gaze without blinking. Finally Tvek cleared his throat. Again he raised his mug, stared deep into the steaming amber liquid, then, with a sigh, returned the cup to it's place there on the table before he slowly began to speak. "Wal," he said at last, "not exactly."