Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventeen

August 12, 2006 -- began two hours early in the archives

okay -- with dessert over, the littlest kids started falling asleep at the table. This was the signal for folks to start clearing up and heading home -- or to bed.

John stayed up for a little while, talking with his folks in the kitchen. Turns out Paul's name really is "Paul" -- and that is why he never corrected Adam and Ava about his name! Story starts now!!!!

Overnight, the clouds gathered, and the wind blew. Every so often, a puff of smoke would come back down a chimney and someone would cough and roll over.

The dog whined outside the front door, and bumped up against it, trying to stay out of the damp.

In the wee hours of the morning, Paul got up and let the dog in, securing a shutter that was banging on a window near the kitchen.

Gilly sat up when he came back in, smoothing the covers and lighting the lamp next to the bed.

The cat wandered in, and sat on the end of the bed, carefully cleaning behind its ears, straightening whiskers, twitching the end of its tail contentedly.

Paul grabbed a towel that hung on the washstand and dried off his hair before taking off his shoes and sitting down with a groan.

"I missed things like this while I was away, you know. -- having to put things straight in the middle of the night, comforting the dog, cleaning up after the kids."

Gilly snuggled up close and he put his arm around her.

"Well, maybe not cleaning up after the kids so much," he chuckled. "But all these other things -- taking care of the house and the animals, helping Peter on the farm, even the village meetings that always seemed so tedious."

The cat jumped to the floor, making a little plump sound as it landed on the braided rug. The dog trotted in, after checking the other rooms, and settled at Gilly's side of the bed, toes and nose tucked under his fluffy tail.

Gilly twisted around to see Paul's profile better. His nose was a little longer, his neck a little thicker, but his eyes still had the sadness he'd had since they were children, mixed with a world-weary yet curious expression...

"Paul, can you tell me about what brought you here? Did you learn anything about your parents or where you came from that you can share?"

Paul shook his head slowly, "I learned a lot, Gilly, but I haven't made sense of it yet."

He sat up a little straighter, "But if you like, I really am not tired right now. Let's make some tea and talk."

Gilly pushed the covers back and reached for her robe.

Her feet sought the slippers, now warm from the dog, and she stood up. Paul followed her out of the room, carrying the lamp with him.

Gilly was already stoking the fire when he got to the kitchen. He picked up the old teapot and cradled it in his hands.

"Do you remember when your grandmother gave us this?"

She stood up, wiping her hands on a rag. "Of course, it was the day before John was born. She always seemed to know when the time was right."

The rain started to hit the kitchen window as they sat at the table, the warm pot next to them.

Paul watched as Gilly put dried leaves into the pot and covered it up again. He pulled the cups closer.

He sat back in his chair. "I always told you about the toy I remembered from my childhood before I came here -- that little bird that "sang" to me when I was sad."

Gilly nodded, "Is that what you showed me the night you came home?"

Paul smiled, his fingers tracing the rim of his cup. "It is -- similar. The bird I had was much more beautifully ornamented, with bright stones and a gold collar."

Gilly kept quiet, waiting to hear more.

The wind and the rain shifted around again, and the fire in the stove whooshed as it got more air.

Paul continued, "There were many such toys when I was a child. I remember playing with other children in the shade of a big tree in a large courtyard."

Gilly reached for the strainer and began to pour the tea. The sweet smell of chamomile and peppermint wafted up, and the bright green color recalled sunny days and lazy evenings of midsummer.

Paul relaxed, just smelling it. Gilly smiled and walked to the cabinet. She returned with a small plate, nut cookies and dried apricots piled up.

Paul lingered over the taste of a cookie dipped in the tea. Gilly nibbled an apricot as she waited for the tea to cool a little more.

He took another swallow and sat back.

"You are right that I came from a place beyond the sea. I sent a letter -- obviously you never got it -- when I finally met a merchant who 'sounded' right to me."

"I learned that he was due to sail the next day. He had room for me, and the cart and donkey. I signed on as a hand to help with the animals on the passage over."

"It was a rough crossing -- I don't remember ever feeling so ill. Only the animals were more miserable. The real sailors laughed at me at first, but soon decided any farmer who could keep going that long wasn't too bad."

Gilly poured him another cup of tea while he stood up and added a few small logs to the stove.

He sat down again, and sipped reflectively. The rain was alternating between a hiss and a drumbeat. An occasional flash of light came from over the plains.

Gilly put her teacup aside and laid a hand on his arm. "You must have thought it would be just a short while, to leave so suddenly. What happened when you reached your destination?"

Paul shook his head. "That's just it. We didn't get there. A storm blew us way off course, and we landed in a country we did not know."

"The captain and the merchant were eager to get the ship repaired and be on their way. It was going to be several weeks, though, so I went ashore with a few of the sailors to explore. I took the cart and donkey and the merchant sent a couple of wagons from the port town, and we set off upriver, hoping to find some fresh supplies for the voyage."

The wind was dying down, and the sky was getting lighter. A steady drip resounded in the kitchen through the open window. The cat scratched at the door, and Gilly let it out.

The dog wandered into the kitchen, looking hungry.

Paul picked up the now-empty plate and cups and set them next to the sink.

Gilly refilled the kettle and put another log on the fire.

Nan sleepily came into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes. She stumbled against the chair Paul had been sitting in, and he leapt forward to catch her.

Paul set her on his knee as he sat down. He ruffled her hair, and she laughed.

"Father, you are silly! What are you doing in the kitchen with Mother?"

Gilly laughed, too, and started making breakfast. Paul hugged Nan and kissed her before standing up. "Sorry, sweetie," he glanced helplessly at Gilly, "I forgot to put the chair where it belongs. It won't happen again."

Gilly frowned at him slightly as Nan replied, "Father, you will learn. I know it's different for you."

Nan patted his hand and he headed for the bedroom to get dressed.

Outside, a rooster called the time, and the cat stalked silently through the flowerbeds. Gilly handed Nan a bowl of batter to stir, and pulled out a skillet.

**okay, story time is over for today. I went a little longer because I started earlier, but my figners are tired.**