The conversation turned to planning how to catch up with the Redcoats, what the strategy would be for engaging them in combat, followed by wistful reminiscences of past adventures the three men had shared. Charles was speaking about something to do with Aleister Crowley, but Andrew's mind was elsewhere. He felt far too much like Bilbo Baggins and not enough like Conan the Barbarian to be of any use.
Guardian of the Tree? he thought. I never asked for this! I didn't ask to be given such a responsibility... The Bilbo Baggins part of him wished to be at home, sitting on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn, a couple of chewy cola bottle candies and a lime-coke slush, watching the new Battlestar Galactica on DVD. And while you're watching your shows of bravery, courage and heroism, you'll be wishing you could do something genuinely great instead of escaping from all the failures of the past few years.
That's what he'd been doing, for certain. He'd always run from the last mistake by diving into a new endeavor. New endeavors were fresh; they didn't have the broken, fragmented nature of the failed ones. As soon as the new endeavor went sour, he left it behind for a new one. He was the same in relationships. The newness of the first dates, revealing only the parts of himself that would attract the girl to him, the excitement of the physical progression from hand holding to kissing, to foreplay to sex was intoxicating. Maintaining a relationship was a pain in the ass.
Like caring for the Bonsai Tree from his grandfather.
The little tree hadn't withered because Andrew lacked any skill in plant care. It was because he lacked skill in ongoing plant care. He lacked skill in anything ongoing. When circumstances got too messy or too tough, it was time to run. Running away from girlfriends by running to new ones. Running away from disillusionment in one department of the University by running to another one. Running from the failure of the coffee shop by giving the deposit away. Running into the arms of the succubus, and in doing so, nearly running away forever. And finally, running from the Tree by running into it. That was the strangest of all. Trying to run away from the responsibility of being the Tree's guardian by running deeper inside it.
It was time to stop running. Time to stand. Stand and defend the Tree.
But I don't know how.
"What did you say?" Silke asked. Andrew realized he'd spoken his thought out loud.
"I don't know how to be a guardian of the Tree," Andrew replied. "I wasn't given a set of instructions for the job; I don't understand what I'm supposed to do."
"None of the guardians have, for quite some time," Granny said, overhearing Andrew. "The instructions were passed along in an oral tradition, from guardian to guardian. Each guardian would choose one or more apprentices and pass the tradition along to them. Nothing was written down, for fear of the writings falling into the wrong hands. And then, an entire generation of guardians and nearly all their apprentices were assassinated at a gathering of the guardians...those who survived went into hiding, and broke all ties. Much of the lore of the Tree was lost. It's why traveling the Tree can be so dangerous."
"Who taught you?" Andrew asked.
"My Aunt Jewelynn," Granny replied. "In this world, the guardians of the Tree has been a matriarchal order."
"And in mine?" Andrew asked.
"You're the first guardian of the Tree in close to half a century," Granny said. "The last guardian was a young professor from Oxford." She smiled at John when she said this, but John pretended to ignore her. "But he died before completing his writing on the Tree, and the way was shut. Until now."
"There was talk of a tome that was created by one of the guardians in the nineteenth century, but no one has ever seen it," John said. "Many think it's a legend."
"I thought Leprechauns and the Easter bunny were legends before all this," Andrew said. "I'm beginning to think anything is possible."
"Speaking of Eostre," Granny said, looking over Andrew's shoulder, "Here she comes now, with our other guests."
Andrew looked over his shoulder and blinked twice. Walking around the corner of the house toward the assembled breakfasters was what appeared to be a rabbit well over six feet tall loping alongside Lara, who looked like a cross between a manic survivalist and Morticia Adams, and Blackout, Ripper, Sunny and Courtney looking like Mountain Equipment Co-op had merged with an armory. He leaped up from the table and shouted Lara's name.
"Andrew!" she called back, a look of surprise on her face.
"What are you doing here?" Andrew asked.
"I'm here to rescue you!" she said with a smile.
"You're a little short for a stormtrooper," Andrew replied.
"And you make a terrible princess in distress," Lara said.
"But what about the rent?" Andrew said, "I thought you were going to pay it with the Leprechaun gold."
"It turned into chocolate coins after you left with those little bastards," Lara explained. "Don't worry about the rent. Eostre sent a tooth fairy to pay it."
"I'm not even going to ask what the hell that means," Andrew said. "Wait--if this is Eostre, then who the hell do the leprechauns have in that big box?"
"Her husband," Lara replied. "Eostre, this is Andrew. Andrew, meet the Easter bunny."
"Hare," Eostre corrected, loping towards the table to embrace Granny.
"She's pretty touchy on that one," Lara told Andrew. "So you either killed all the Leprechauns single-handedly or escaped. I'm guessing the second."
"I mostly fell down and that girl there," Andrew pointed at Silke, "rescued me. So if you're here to rescue me, then why aren't you following the leprechauns?"
"Eostre seems to think I've got some magical abilities I'm unaware of, and she wants the old lady there--"
"--to teach me how to use the magic."
Andrew looked over at the table with its motley assortment of legendary and historical figures gathered around food worthy of a Brian Jacques novel, and shook his head.
"I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and find out this is all a dream," he said.
"If I wake up and find out this is all a dream, I'm going to be cosmically pissed off," Lara said. "I've been waiting my whole life for some real magic. At any rate, I hope neither of us wakes up before I get to have some of those waffles."