“How can you—how can you hear it?”
The boy shrugged. “Just something I’ve always been able to do. I don’t know why. I haven’t told my teachers, the older Mystics. They say I’m not supposed to be able to. I guess I just haven’t thought to correct them.”
Prue moved closer to the boy. “What’s it saying?”
The boy didn’t respond. Prue wasn’t sure whether he’d heard her. She repeated the question, but the boy still didn’t answer.
Finally, his attention now turned to Prue’s feet, he spoke. “It says that you can bring the severed three together.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Prue, blinking rapidly.
“The Three Trees of the Wood,” explained Alister. “You can unite them. But …” He paused, his eyes looking skyward. The look on his face suggested that he was in the process of receiving. After the look faded, he nodded in quiet understanding. “But that is far off.” He smiled warmly at the vacant space just next to Prue’s left cheek. “You will rise to great prominence. A sovereign, perhaps.”
Prue was dumbfounded.
The child spoke again. “But first, the true heir must be … be …” Now Alister’s brow was furrowed in deep concentration. Whatever was being communicated to him was difficult to unpack. He reminded Prue of someone slowly translating a difficult language, like the few kids at her school for whom English was their second language. They were brimming with ideas; they just had a hard time getting them out in the language they were expected to use. His eyes then suggested that he’d arrived at a satisfactory translation. “Reanimated,” he said. “Yes, that’s it. Reanimated. The true heir must be reanimated.” However sure he was of the word, he seemed be to as flummoxed by it as Prue. “Do you know what that means?” he asked.
“Reanimated. Like, brought back to life? From the dead?”
“No, not quite,” said Alister. “Like a machine. Repair. I don’t know if there’s a human word for it.”
“Reanimate the true heir. Like a machine.” Prue puzzled over the words. “Who’s the true heir?”
The boy shrugged.
Somewhere, on the periphery of her thinking, something swirled, batting at her consciousness like a moth at a lightbulb. The answer was there, somewhere.
The Yearling continued his channeling haltingly. “This is the thin
g—the only thing—that will bring peace. And save you—you and your friends’ lives. But you’re—you’re not the only one. They know. The others know. They will be trying as well. And if they succeed, all is lost.” And then: “Reanimate the true heir. The twice-died boy.”
Prue had scarcely heard this last flow of information; she was too busy searching her brain for clues that might shed some light on this mysterious phrase. Reanimate the true heir. Like a machine. The twice-died boy. What did that even mean? And then it struck her. “Alexei!” she said aloud. “The boy prince!”
“The tree does not recognize cultural signifiers,” Alister said, and Prue cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Anyway,” she said, “it must mean Alexei, Alexandra’s—the Dowager Governess’s—son! When he died, she brought him back to life as a mechanical—thing! Then …” Something weird and gross involving teeth, she remembered. It had been so long ago, her meeting with Owl Rex. That night when she’d slipped away from the Mansion and arrived at his South Wood residence. They’d sat in front of the blazing fire, sipping tea. He’d told her many incredible things, stories of the Dowager Governess and her husband, the late Grigor Svik. And of their young son, Alexei, who’d died in a—what?—hunting accident? She couldn’t quite remember the details. But yes: Alexandra, in her grief, had brought him back to life as a—what had been Owl’s word for it? An automaton. That was it. She’d had a mechanical replica built of her son, and she’d brought him back to life by sticking his full set of teeth, which she’d saved, into the machine’s mouth. The mother and son were reunited. But, the story went, sometime later Alexei discovered the mystery of his existence and he, in his despair, removed something, some vital bit from his metal body, and destroyed it. He perished, this time for good; he was irreparable. The twice-died boy. The people of South Wood rose up against Alexandra, and she was exiled to Wildwood. And now the tree wanted someone to bring Alexei back? All these thoughts raced through Prue’s mind while the boy Yearling looked on.
“Yes,” was all he said. “That’s right.”
“Wait,” said Prue. “Did you just read my mind?”
“I didn’t. The tree did.”
She looked up at the tall, twisted boughs of the Council Tree. Periwinkle sousaphone, she thought.
“That’s silly,” said the boy.
“But how are we supposed to do …,” she began, before transitioning to thought: How do we reanimate him?
The boy answered, “Find the makers. The makers must remake. Reanimate the true heir, the twice-died. This will bring peace. But know this: Your path will be uncommon. Sometimes it is necessary to go under to get above.” The boy’s face, after issuing the decree, went blank. He was silent for a time and his eyes gravitated toward the trunk of the tree, as if searching for something lost. “And that’s it. That’s all it can say.”
“That’s all? Nothing about how to do it?” Prue was becoming frantic in her questioning. “Or who these makers are? And how to find them?”
The boy only shook his head.