Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter 111

Sebastian stretched out his legs in front of him on the warm rock as he mended the nets. Pancho was off in the village with the day's catch. It was nice on the days that the tides cooperated and they got to market mid-day as the housewives were coming to market for their suppers.

He thought back, remembering the day they had sailed up to the haystack-shaped rock that marked the harbor, Pancho's excitement at coming home, the Watcher's careful admonition to not assume too much...

Time passed. Time was always, it seemed, passing too quickly. When Sebastian focused on tomorrow, today was gone before he got started. When he thought about days past, it suddenly included an entire month, lost to dreams.

The Watcher came and went these days, a tall thin figure walking up the path to the village or down the strand at the harbor, or along the wide, solid highway that had been built by someone at some time and was now the only easy route inland from the coast. Sebastian wondered that the harbor, which was so important to the trade in that area, didn't host a bigger city.

Pancho had almost swum the last league to the harbor, he had been so excited to get home, the winds had been against them and stalled their arrival by a day. He had sprinted up the path to the village in front of the astonished watchman and fishermen before Sebastian had fully secured the boat to the pier, before the Watcher had paid the mooring fee and inquired about lodgings. The watchman had looked strangely at them -- the tall young man with bright eyes and yellow hair and the even taller thin man with dark, hooded eyes and black hair -- and the rapidly disappearing youth with dark skin and bright smile.

In languid, full tones the watchman said, "Pancho will not like what he learns." And Sebastian's heart fell. "His mother remarried and the family moved inland, away from the sea that his mother said stole him from her."

The Watcher nodded. The reason Pancho hadn't seen the smoke rising from the family's town home. The reason the Watcher had known to ask for a place to stay.

Sebastian mulled over the rest of that day as his hands found and mended hole after hole. He breathed in the fresh salt air and heard the gulls overhead, but his heart and mind were on Pancho's transformation.

Pancho had returned late in the afternoon that day, after Sebastian and the Watcher had arranged for rooms and taken their belongings off the boat. His face was drawn and closed, his manner dark and ominous. Sebastian had watched him approach the Watcher with clenched fists, but caught only snippets of his friend's side of the conversation: "Gone -- and you knew..."   "Empty, not even the furniture"   "Where have they gone? What shall I do?"

And then with a surprisingly tender, gentle movement, the Watcher hugged Pancho and whispered in his ear, handing him a small scroll.

Pancho gasped, then went pale and still. He sobbed for a long time, until Sebastian joined them in a large embrace, unsure what was afoot, but certain it was Pancho's turn to grow.

Finally, Sebastian understood.

The net was neatly mended, and Sebastian squinted out to sea, past the large rocks at the harbot's entrance. The sky on the horizon was dark. Tomorrow would be too stormy to fish. He carefully folded and wrapped the net, ready to cast again, and stowed it aft. He took an extra few minutes to make sure everything was secure, even lifting the boom off its pins and lashing it to the gunnels. He put a couple of bumpers out between the pier and the boat, and looked to be sure the rudder was flat to the stern. No need to have anything sticking out more than it had to, storms had a way of driving the boats in the harbor together roughly.

He made his way toward the market, greeting people right and left in their peculiar dialect, stopping occasionally to help lift loads or shift a horse to one side. It took him an hour to go the mile from the pier to the town wall, and in that time, the darkness on the horizon grew closer.

The Watcher was sitting at the edge of the village square teaching a group of young boys to play a game with small round stones that clicked and bounced into the center of a circle. His dark clothes absorbed the sunlight, making him look more like a shadow than a man. He nodded to Sebastian as the younger man strode past.

Pancho raised his hand absent-mindedly as Sebastian entered the sunny doorway to the townhouse. It looked into the market space, wide windows opening onto the brightly colored awnings the merchants put up to shield their wares on sunny or rainy days. Today, the square looked like a field of dream-weed, blue and red, green and yellow, cloth rustling gently in the breeze that was starting.

The house was Pancho's, the Watcher had bought it -- at some point -- and given it back to Pancho, who had sat for hours fingering the deed and the sturdy key. They had worked for months to paint, repair and re-furnish the home, and had opened the ground floor to any young people who needed shelter. They would help with kitchen or fishing chores in exchange for room and board as long as they needed, or liked.

It was an unusual arrangement, but one they had discussed with the village elders. Pancho's return had surprised the village, and his uncles had offered to pay for him to rejoin his family; but Pancho (though he wanted to see his mother again) insisted on staying in the village until the planting season. In the meantime, he argued -- successfully -- that his home could serve as a training sanctuary for the young people who for various reasons found themselves in need of occupation or shelter.

Gratefully then, the elders had approved the idea, and it had worked. Pancho had asked an elderly aunt to help, and she supervised the house when Pancho and Sebastian were not home. In exchange for some firm but understanding guidance from Pancho and Sebastian, the young men (and a few of the young women as well) had chipped in to help restore the house and small garden. Usually they would move on in a couple weeks, a little wiser and very grateful for the time they had spent.

The Watcher had taken up residence a short distance from the village, in a cottage on the top of a hill from which he could see far out to sea.

He had watched the signs from there, and met every passing ship that stopped to resupply for news. He watched the road, and spoke with every driver who went past. And he played games in the village square every market day, languid but alert, taking note and reading the changes in the people as easily as the farrier read the marks on horseshoes.

Time was passing, and Pancho would need him one more time. Until then, he taught magic tricks, tutored one or two young men in shape-counting, and waited. And Sebastian watched the watcher, and watched over his friend, enjoying the good while waiting for the change in the weather.