Finden was a young man who wanted to go out into the world, to travel, find adventure, see spectacular sights, and meet all manner of people (especially lovely girls and heroic men). He worked at his father’s shop until he had saved up enough money to take his first trip beyond his province. Perhaps even beyond the borders of the kingdom. He told his father of his plans one day, and he respectfully declined his inheritance. His father accepted this, but he told Finden to wait a year before he set off. For there was another inheritance due to the firstborn upon reaching the nineteenth year.
Finden was insistent on leaving that very month. So his father took him aside and told him the secret of their family’s moderate yet certain success. His father showed him a pair of trousers.
He told Finden that it wasn’t the trousers that were special, it was the right pocket. He reached in and pulled out a brown speckled egg. Finden still didn’t understand. He asked his father why he had put an egg in his pocket, and why the spectacle of pulling it out? His father explained.
When his own father, Finden’s grandfather, was a young man, he liked to wander, just as Finden did. And one day, he chanced upon something unusual. He found a pile of eggs stuck in the midst of some brush and the tangles of some great tree’s roots. What he found curious is that the eggs were on the ground, for they seemed to be bird’s eggs. He thought at first a nest must have fallen from the tree, but each egg was different. Most were broken. But one or two were still whole and as he was hungry, he chanced to crack them open and cook them. The eggs seemed still fresh and one tasted a bit strange, not off, but strangely bitter. The other tasted delicious.
That night, Finden’s grandfather slept in the forest and had strange dreams. When he woke the next morning, he chanced a look in the spot where he’d found the eggs and saw something he had not noted in the darkening evening before. There was a patch of cloth. It seemed of fine material. And when he checked, he saw it was not just a patch, but a sort of pocket, for it was folded upon itself and sewn together so there was an opening. When he picked it up, the pocket was flat. He reached inside and when he felt something, he almost dropped the pocket. He reached in again and pulled out an egg. This one was white and rather large, but most definitely appeared to be a chicken egg. Curious, he reached in again and pulled out a tiny round pink egg, the size of his pinky fingernail.
Finden’s grandfather took home the pocket and made use of it. At first, he only ate the eggs alone. There were too few to sell, but he sometimes gave them as gifts to friends and acquaintances. Some of the eggs would be so tasty, people would beg him to find more (for everyone thought he was finding these eggs on his wanderings in the forest). And some of them tasted somewhat foul and he lost a few friends who thought he was trying to poison them or at least make fools of them.
It took some time, but Finden’s grandfather soon realized that there was something special about the eggs, beyond their origins from a mysterious black pocket. Whenever he ate an egg, he would have strange dreams and thoughts. And sometimes, he would have ideas. He wondered if the ideas were coming from the eggs. He began to test his notion. He would eat a single egg at a time and note the type of egg and the types of thoughts or dreams he had. He began to prepare other food from the eggs: a custard, a cake, a loaf of bread. He found that his enjoyment of the food depended on the type of egg he used, which he could predict sometimes, and sometimes not. For on occasion, a new type of egg would come through the pocket.
Sometimes when he ate the eggs, he would get bad ideas, like the time he asked the barber to shave off his head and Finden’s grandmother lamented until it began to grow back (for Finden’s grandfather had luxurious black hair as a younger man). But sometimes he would have a good idea, such as inviting his wife and children along with him when he took a walk in the woods. His wife knew about the eggs. She tried one early on that happened to taste horrible and never touched them again. Then one day, he ate a particularly savory egg. And he had a particularly savory idea.
Finden’s grandfather had been a merchant, selling cookware. He became a baker, and a baker of some prestige. He used his knowledge of the eggs to bake the most delightful and delectable breads, pastries, and desserts. He was even invited to travel to a provincial lord’s home to bake a wedding cake for the lord’s daughter. And what Finden’s grandfather had also discovered of the eggs was that they never went bad so long as they remained intact. Once cracked, they had to be cooked. But if kept in their shell, the eggs mostly seemed to improve over time. Some did not. Some became distasteful over time. Some became distasteful and then tasteful again. Finden’s grandfather had learned which eggs assured victory and which were a gamble. He baked a marvelous cake and was much praised. And his business grew, but could not grow overmuch, for the pocket only produced an average of one or two eggs every day. And even with all the eggs that Finden’s grandfather had saved over the years before he became a baker, he could only bake so many goods.
When Finden’s father came of age, he was told the secret of the pocket. Finden’s grandfather passed on the pocket and his knowledge, written down in a little book in his wife’s neat hand. Finden’s father was intrigued by the eggs. He consulted the book of notes and ate the best eggs to give himself ideas and thoughts and inspiration. Then one day, he ate a particularly tender egg and had a particularly tender idea.
When he was young, Finden’s father often coveted some toys he could not have, for even the son of a prominent baker could not have everything. So he had fashioned replacements from what he could find in the house, as children often did. He had turned his skill in building toward a livelihood in a smithy and then in the construction of the town’s roads and bridges. It was back-breaking work. But he had kept up with building toys, for he made many for his own children. The town had many children, but no toy shop. So Finden’s father became a toymaker. One of the best in the province.
He had been waiting for Finden to come of age, so he could pass on the egg pocket and the notebook. Then Finden could have his own ideas and make his own fortune. And add his own knowledge to the notebook before passing it on to his own firstborn child.
Finden didn’t want to stay home and eat eggs. He wasn’t sure he even believed his father’s tale. But like his father and his father’s father, he was curious.
He asked where the eggs came from. He asked if his father or grandfather had ever tried to nurture the eggs and hatch any. He asked if any harm had come to anyone who ate one of the eggs. He asked if his father or grandfather had ever tried to find out where the pocket itself came from and how it came to be lying where his grandfather found it.
But Finden’s father waved all the questions away (save the one about trying to hatch an egg, for that they had tried and failed to do). He warned Finden with the old superstitious adage: Good fortune is not to be questioned. Good fortune is to be made good use of.
“Use the pocket and the eggs as you will,” his father said. “But ask no questions and make no searches.”
Finden wasn’t too concerned about the egg pocket, for he thought his father was playing a trick on him and trying to teach him some lesson. His father was a good and decent man, but not always adept at teaching his children a direct and clear lesson. He sometimes resorted to elaborate plans and riddles and the like. Perhaps it was the toymaker in him. So as he received his legacy, Finden jested that the pocket might belong to some powerful fairy for containing her favorite bird’s eggs and the fairy might be furious with their family for stealing the pocket.
Finden detached the pocket from his father’s trousers and sewed it into his satchel. The satchel was new and crisp, as was the diary he had purchased at dear cost, but he hoped both would become weathered and battered soon enough. His father told him to be careful on his journeys, to write home when he could, and to remember that he was young and inexperienced and therefore he should watch and listen as much as he could. Finden’s mother wept and packed far too much food for him. Finden’s sister sulked and refused to say goodbye, for she felt he was abandoning her. She did not understand that he had to go far beyond his home. Even his famed baker grandfather and his famed toymaker father had not gone beyond the province into neighboring lands. Sadly and happily at once, Finden set out.
Finden remembered, as his father told him, that he was but a fool when it came to the ways of travel. He might be cheated, stranded, or worse, beaten and bruised, if he wasn’t careful. And he wisely remained as invisible as he could, which was not difficult as his manner and clothing did not speak of great wealth or worth. He dreamt of traveling to lands so far away that the people spoke different languages and dressed in all manner of dress that might seem outlandish or even obscene to the people back home. He had read of such lands in books, but wanted to see for himself. He had seen drawings of most peculiar animals, read accounts of a woman so strong she could lift three men his size (and Finden was not small), read a history of a people who lived on floating islands in the middle of rivers so broad that one shore could not be seen from the opposite shore. Surely, some of the tales he had heard and the renderings he had seen were exaggerations if not outright fabrications. But Finden would see for himself.
He soon came to learn that the pocket did indeed produce fresh eggs each day. Sometimes several if he hadn’t pulled any for a few days. It was a true marvel, though a humble one. He ate the eggs at random first. But when he tasted one that looked fresh but tasted foul, he began to consult his grandfather’s notebook for guidance. He even managed to sell half a dozen in one town for enough money to buy himself a hearty lunch at a prosperous inn.
He was still curious as to where the pocket had come from and where the eggs were coming from. He was not so cautious about the pocket as his father and grandfather had been. One day, he reached his right hand into the pocket as far as he could. He wanted to find out if he could feel anything other than eggs. He had a troubling thought as he reached further into the pocket. He hoped that the pocket was not the birth canal of some magical bird that had become detached somehow.
He felt past an egg and soon his arm was in the pocket up to his elbow. He had a sudden feeling of panic and tried to pull his arm out, for he thought he felt a tugging. But he couldn’t pull his arm out. The tugging became stronger. His arm slipped further in until the pocket was to his armpit. He began to feel a painless but nauseating pressure on his head and shoulder and chest. His head began to spin. He closed his eyes, and the little light that filtered through his eyelids vanished as the world went black. He opened his eyes, but saw nothing. Only black.
Then Finden felt and heard a pop, and he was standing in light again. Still dizzy, he stumbled to his left and almost crashed into a table. The dizziness passed and he found the pocket in his left hand, and hanging from the pocket, the rest of his satchel. He looked around and saw that he was in some kind of workshop. There were small men about, busy with their work and their tinkering. They were a third of Finden’s height. All were slim, their limbs stick-like. They ignored Finden, walking around him.
The workshop was bigger than his house, a few thousand square feet at least. The rafters were ten times his height. There were work tables all about, flat, angled, made of wood, made of steel, strewn with parts, pieces, and tools. There were machines in the workshop, such as Finden had never seen, with tiny gears and bearings. No man or machine could have made such delicate and intricate parts. He guessed the machines were the handiwork of the tiny men he saw about, whom he had named elves in his mind, though he wasn’t sure what they could be. But the workshop was full of more than just elves, tools, and machines.
It was full of eggs.
Many, many eggs. And not just natural-looking eggs such as the ones that came out of his pocket. There were eggs that one would never find in the nest of a bird or lizard. Eggs that looked silver, gold, copper, and bronze. Eggs that seemed to be made out of mother-of-pearl or precious stones.
An elderly man strode toward Finden. The man was well-dressed though his fine pants, shirt, vest were smudged here and there with dirt and oil and ink. He wore a pair of spectacles and despite those spectacles, he narrowed his eyes and peered at Finden. He had an amber egg in his hand and he raised it up as if offering it to Finden. The egg seemed to spin of its own accord, and it peeled open from the top like a blossoming flower. Inside was a tiny spyglass. The man gripped the spyglass and looked at Finden’s face through it. His expression relaxed and he laughed.
“Not a spy at all, are you, my boy?” he said, speaking the rarest of the three languages that Finden knew in a lilting accent. Then he noted the pocket in Finden’s hand. He pointed to it. “That looks like one of mine. Where did you get that?”
Finden marveled at all he was seeing. He wondered at the older man’s strange greeting. He introduced himself politely and answered the question he was asked.
The older man was an inventor and his name was James. He explained that he had a rival who much coveted his precious eggs. She had tried to send spies to James’s workshop before and he to hers. Sometimes they were friendly rivals. And sometimes they were bitter rivals. He explained that they were going through a bitter patch at the present. And she had stolen one of his most precious eggs. So he was cautious. He kept his doors locked and guarded. And he only kept on his most trusted workers. He thought Finden might be a spy sent by his rival. Now that he was certain that Finden was not a spy, he was most forthright and cordial.
Finden explained about the pocket and how his father and grandfather had eaten the eggs that came out.
“We knew they weren’t ordinary eggs. What is inside of them?”
James peered at the pocket. “Each of the eggs that came out of that pocket contained ideas. Some were better than others.”
“They never rotted.”
“Of course not. The egg would only rot if the idea within it was rotten to begin with. I’ve had rotten ideas before, but those I just toss in the fire. They can be of no good to anyone.”
The pocket was another invention of his. A way to dispose of bad ideas so they wouldn’t clutter his workshop. And distract him from his work. James couldn’t recall where he had left it, but meant for it to be an empty place where animals could eat the eggs and bring no harm to the world.
“You’ve been eating all my bad ideas,” James marveled.
“That can’t be,” Finden said. “Some of the ideas you threw out must have been good.”
James shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I keep all my good ideas.”
Finden told the inventor about his father and grandfather and the success they had wrought from the eggs.
“Your father and grandfather must be clever men. That’s why they were able to get use out of bad ideas.”
Finden smiled with fondness and pride for his family.
“Those eggs contained raw ideas. I never thought to crack them open like a real egg and cook the idea.” He asked Finden what happened when the eggs were cooked in different ways. Did scrambled eggs lead to scrambled ideas? Did boiling the egg solid make the idea within it solid?”
Finden answered the inventor’s questions as best he could, and posed some of his own, the foremost being why James used eggs to store his ideas in the first place.
The inventor said he had once used pen and ink like others but found his thoughts were too fast for his hands. He found a way to pour his thoughts out of his head. To contain those thoughts securely, he fashioned eggs. And it wasn’t just ideas that the inventor filled the eggs with, but knowledge as well. He had amassed so much knowledge that he could not fit it all in his mind at once. And the rare egg even contained feelings and the odd dream.
“I like eggs,” James said, smiling. “And I’m not the first to say so, but they are the perfect container. No lock. No key. No hinge. No seal.”
“But the eggs could be cracked and the idea would come out,” Finden said.
The inventor laughed again. “Ideas are not so precious as to need a hard-to-crack egg.”
He challenged Finden to crack one of the eggs he kept on his shelf. Finden tried. He first tried to crush it in his fist. He threw it to the ground. The egg landed with a light bounce and then rolled away. But there was not the slightest crack.
“You can crack open an idea,” James said. “But you can’t crack open knowledge or wisdom.”
“Then how do you open it?”
“You know I’m curious,” James said. “Why did your grandfather spend so much time testing the eggs for what they were? Why didn’t he just read them?”
“Read them? How?”
James reached for a bottle of ink. He pulled out a dropper full of blue-black ink and dripped it on the egg that Finden had just attempted to break.
The ink seemed to vanish into the egg’s whisper-green shell. And then letters began to appear on the shell. Finden did not recognize the language. But there were likely a scholar or two in his home or at least his province who could. Had his grandfather known, he could have transcribed the lettering and found someone to help him translate it.
“What does it say?” Finden asked.
“’Instructions for the cultivation of a many-colored rose’,” James said. “Ah, each petal a different color. Most lovely. I should try this sometime.”
“How then would you open these un-crackable eggs of yours?”
James wagged a finger. “That is not for you to know. You may not be a spy, but that doesn’t mean I will be careless with my valuables. And why is it that your father and grandfather did not have you taught in the common languages of the region?”
Finden was familiar with the common languages of his region. He spoke three and could write in two. James frowned in confusion and asked where Finden hailed from. When Finden named his town, province, and kingdom, James raised his brows.
He laughed again. “That explains it.”
The inventor told Finden that he was a few thousand leagues from where he had been standing before he was sucked into the pocket.
“I don’t understand,” Finden said.
James walked him to a great map on the wall. He pointed to Finden’s lands and he swept across half the world and pointed to his own. Finden stood and stared at the map. He halfheartedly accused James of jesting, but the inventor did not laugh for once. He confirmed where they were, almost reluctantly now that the saw how troubled Finden seemed.
Finden had consulted many a map and yet he could not fathom that the world could be so large. And at the moment, he didn’t care. He only wanted to get home. But if home was a few thousand leagues away, even a message would take too long to reach his family. They would likely think him dead. Even if they could imagine him being whisked away as he had been, they and he would have long to wait for reunion. Too long.
It was what he wanted, travel and adventure. But he had meant to take it in pieces, to creep toward the fire, not leap straight into it.
“How do I get home?” Finden asked. “Can I used this?” He lifted the flap of his satchel to show the pocket.
James shook his head. “Since you grabbed hold of the pocket as you were being sucked into it, it turned inside out and ended up where you ended up, combining with its other end here in the workshop. You left no pocket in your own realm, so you cannot return that way.”
James wagged a finger and searched his eggs. He had a perfume mister filled with ink, and he misted eggs seemingly at random until he found an egg that he said had a spell contained within it, a traveling spell that could send Finden back to his home.
“A spell? I thought you were an inventor not a spellcaster.”
“I am an inventor. And you didn’t accuse me of being a gardener when I showed you the egg with knowledge for cultivating a many-colored rose in it.” James frowned and his fuzzy white eyebrows seemed to bristle.
Finden apologized and asked what payment or favor he might offer to earn his way back home using the traveling spell. He offered to work in the workshop for a month. He offered his satchel and all the money he had earned and not yet spent on his travels.
But James was not interested in labor, for he had his elves. And he was not interested in money, for it would be worthless in his region. At the offer of the satchel, the inventor softened, as he realized how miserable James looked when offering his most precious possession.
“I cannot take what is most precious to you,” James said. “But if you help me to regain what is most precious to me, I’ll cast the spell and send you home.”
The inventor’s most precious egg had been stolen by his rival, who lived in a castle not too far away. James had used his spying ways to find out where the egg was. And he had been planning to steal it back. Only he was not so spry as he once was, so he could not run and climb and crouch. He would need to do so to sneak into the castle.
He showed Finden the maps of the castle and where the guards would be walking their patrols. Finden, who was now more frightened than excited, mentioned that he was no fighter and could not survive any encounter with an armed guard. But James assured that no one would see Finden. He gave Finden three eggs that contained ways for him to hide himself: a black egg containing shadows, a glass egg containing reflections, and a furry brown egg that would muffle the sound of his steps. He promised Finden that the eggs would open for him, if all he did was hold them and whisper “open.”
Lastly, but not least, he separated the egg pocket into two again. He kept one in the workshop and the other attached to Finden’s satchel. He told Finden to put the stolen egg in the pocket and then put himself into the pocket as he had done before. Both he and the egg should arrive safely back in the workshop. And so long as Finden kept the pocket open, James would be able to hear all that transpired and send more eggs to help Finden if needed.
Finden slept poorly that night, out of fear and anxiety and discomfort (he’d slept on three elf cots pushed together). But he had an excellent memory and he remembered the paths he had to take through the castle even without having to consult the maps that James had given him. As he walked the gravel path toward the mostly empty castle, he opened the furry egg, and his footsteps made no sound. As he made his way past the guards, he opened the black egg, and hid inside the darkest shadows even as the guards passed within a hand’s width of him. He had to hold the eggs in his hands to keep them open. He gripped them tightly, afraid he would drop them.
When he reached the chamber where the stolen egg was being held, he understood why James had given him the glass egg. The chamber was full of mirrors, taller than he was. They were arrayed around the stolen egg. No one could have approached without being seen in the mirror. And Finden had a notion that the mirrors were always watched from somewhere within the chamber.
The stolen egg was rather large. It was as long as his forearm and half as wide at its widest. It was a lovely shade of orange, speckled with yellow. It lay at an angle on a bed of pillows. The pillows lay upon stone, and beneath the stone there was an oven burning steadily. The chamber was warm. Finden wiped a bead of sweat from his temple and opened the glass egg.
He crept toward the orange speckled egg.
“That’s far enough, thief,” a voice said from all around.
Finden stopped mid-step and held his breath. He heard a crack and watched as the glass egg in his hand shattered and fell through his hands. The reflections that reflected the mirror and kept him hidden vanished and he saw himself in every mirror. As did his captor.
A tall fair-haired woman in a dark ruby-red gown swept into the chamber. She inclined her head.
“I’m Magda and this is my castle,” she said. She peered at him with curiosity. “Why are you trying to steal my egg? The truth, please. I cannot bear lies.”
Finden gulped. And he told the truth. “Begging your pardon, but it’s not your egg. It belongs to James and he asked me to help him recover it.”
“Do you know what’s inside it?”
“It does not matter.”
“Of course it does.” She stepped forward, and put herself between Finden and the egg. “It’s my child,” she said. “And his.”
Finden’s eyes widened. He looked at the egg again.
“He didn’t tell you, did he? The old fox.” The words were spoken with fondness. She didn’t seem bitter. But she did seem dangerous. She had an egg in her red-gloved hand. Pure white. He saw only a flash of it in her curved palm. And he did not want to know what was within it.
Finden wondered what he had walked into. So apparently did Magda.
“How did you get mixed up in this?” she asked.
Finden gave the briefest explanation he could about the egg pocket and his ending up in the workshop and his wish to return home. Magda looked at him askance and nodded. He could not tell if she believed him or not. And he wasn’t sure if he believed her, or James. Or either of them.
She held up the white egg. “This egg contains his youth. The poor fool thought he could grow wiser simply by growing older. And by growing wiser, he thought to outmatch me.” She turned the egg around in her hand. “I stole it from him. And those eggs you used to breach my castle? He stole those from me. We are both adept at magic, so we’ve tried to turn to other ways to thwart each other. He builds his machines. And I grow my plants.”
Finden blinked and thought about the egg with the many-colored rose.
“You are…rivals?” He frowned, confused.
Magda smiled and it was a kind smile. “We are also long-lived. And we’ve had to find other ways to fight with each other when the old ways became tiresome.”
Finden frowned again, this time in disapproval. “If there is truly a child in that egg, then that is not something that you should be fighting about. To be so petty as to steal your child from each other…it’s unworthy.”
Magda raised a brow and Finden heard a pop from his satchel. James was suddenly in the chamber, holding an armful of eggs. He rushed toward Magda. Finden feared he was about to be caught in the middle of a battle, but James suddenly knelt before Magda and offered up the eggs.
“I’ll return them all if you let me have him for just one day, one hour.”
Finden didn’t understand what he was witnessing, for Magda knelt before James and gently kissed his cheek.
“I have the only egg that matters,” she said.
“He’s right,” James said. “Isn’t he? We’re unworthy. Hundreds of years old, the both of us, and we still aren’t ready to have our first child.”
Enough of Finden’s fear had melted away for him to begin wondering how two people could have a child that was contained in an egg, and whether or not one of them had to have laid the egg.
Magda took James by the shoulders and they both rose to their feet. She glanced at Finden, who felt his fear rise again.
“Yes, he’s right,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “We are unworthy now. But we need not stay that way.” She opened the white egg in her hand and a wave of light passed over James. He seemed to grow taller. His hair darkened until it was as black as the shadow egg he had given Finden. His face became smoother. His chest became broader.
Finden realized that the region on the map that James had pointed out was as yet unexplored. But there were rumors of what lay within. And it seemed the rumors were true. The people before him weren’t people at all. They were fairies. And powerful ones. He remembered his jest to his father and felt so miserable, he groaned.
James and Magda heard his groan and turned to him.
“See how he suffers needlessly?” Magda said. “Send him home, James.”
Finden looked at the orange speckled egg. He thought he could see a shape inside. But the shell was opaque and he likely imagined it. Still, he could not leave things as they were.
“Wait!” he said. And he stood between the egg and the fairies. “What will become of this child? Will you both bicker and fight again after I’m gone? Will you keep sneaking around and stealing eggs from each other, instead of caring for him?”
“He will not suffer our foolishness,” James said. “We will do our best, Finden. As you father and mother did with their child. And your grandfather and grandmother did with theirs.”
“How can I be certain?”
Magda put her hand to her heart. “We give you our solemn oath. We will not set aside all of our foolishness.”
“But we will do our best,” James said.
Finden glanced between the two of them. He sighed. Fairies were mischievous. “Is there really a child in that egg?”
“Come back in one moon’s time when he’s ready to hatch,” Magda said. “For trying to guard my child—“
“Of course, love. For trying to guard our child, you have earned our friendship.”
Before Finden could respond, James opened one of the eggs he had brought, and Finden was struck speechless by a sudden wave of dizziness. The world spun and he kept his eyes open so he could see where he was going. But the spinning forced his eyes close for just a blink. And when he opened them the spinning began to slow. He knelt on the ground of a dirt-packed road. A familiar road.
A wagon was passing by and the kindly driver slowed and asked if Finden needed a rest for his weary feet. Finden accepted the offer of a ride into the next town. He opened his satchel to find payment for the wagon-driver and he saw the pocket. There was an egg peeking out from the folds of black cloth. Finden lifted the egg out. It was a lovely shade of orange speckled with yellow. He pulled out his fountain pen. He touched a drop of ink to the egg shell. The ink vanished. Then it swirled into patterns on the egg shell. Finden took out his diary and as the wagon trundled along, he carefully copied the marks that he observed on the egg. When he was finished, he was tempted to hold the egg to his mouth and whisper, “open.” But he decided to be patient and put the egg away.
For one could never really know what one might find inside an egg.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel.