The afternoon passed quickly, too quickly for the visits and explorations I had hoped to undertake before setting out on my journey. I wandered through the halls and workshops and engaged in pleasant exchanges with the guild artists and travellers I encountered. Had there been more time, I should have enjoyed looking more closely at the work on their easels, tables and workbenches, but my thoughts were focussed on events that would take place in the hours ahead.
Shortly before the evening bell, I knocked on the door to the Guildmistress’ rooms. She opened.
“Come in, Alba. Let us sit in the window seat.”
As a child, I had spent pleasant hours in the spacious window seat with the Guildmistress, listening to her stories or watching, with her, for the first stars to appear.
“I am sorry,” she said, “that you feel you have not been given enough time to prepare. I know there were people with whom you would have wished to speak before your journey.”
“Charys…” I began.
Her look told me what I had feared. “Charys was old and frail, even when you were a child,” she said. “Her ashes have lain beneath a willow in the Garden of Remembrance for many years, as she desired, but the Charys you knew is wherever you wish to find her.”
I fought back my tears.
“We must talk of other things, now,” she said softly.
“You have witnessed many a Going Forth, though I cannot know in what way you remember such things. Whatever it was you witnessed as an onlooker had little to do with what takes place within the compass circle. Tonight you will stand in the circle and listen to the chants. You must listen carefully and do what your intuition tells you, for the chants will tell you two things. They will tell you a story that only you can understand and in a way only you can comprehend. You might have visions or hear songs or voices, or your story might be presented to you in a very different way, in movements and impressions only. It is likely you will not understand the story completely, but it is vital you try to remember as much of it as you can, for its significance will become clear to you as you journey. The chants will also show you the door through which you should leave the Guild. This is the direction in which you should first travel.”
She paused, as if waiting for my reaction.
“When you leave the Guild, you will make a transition from the known into the unknown, you will leave behind all that is familiar and journey out into what is possible. For the duration of your journey, I charge you to set aside many of the things you believe to be real and to travel with an open mind and heart through the realm of Imagi-Nation.”
She reached out and placed a wrinkled hand on mine.
“Alba, anything you might encounter in the Imagi-Nation has something to do with you, be it a person, a place, or an emotion. But you do not create the Imagi-Nation alone, for the Imagi-Nation you will explore is linked at many levels to what has gone before and what is to come and to the many other travellers who have passed through these halls and will do so when you and I are long gone.”
I looked through the window and out into the gathering dusk.
“You will visit many places and meet many people on your journey. There will tasks for you to fulfill as you travel. Document them well, for this is how we share our discoveries and learn. The Imagi-Nation is vast, inconceivably, unendingly vast, but each of the artists here has consented to manifest a part of that vastness, through sharing these explorations. It is a privilege and a responsibility in one, for whatever you do not do and see and share is lost forever, like a seed that falls on barren ground.”
The Guildmistress rose from the window seat.
“Go now and have some supper. We shall meet in the Journey Hall at midnight. Be ready.”