Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Twenty One

August 16, 2006

When lunch was over in the kitchen, Anna and John shooed Paul upstairs with a fresh pot of tea and a bowl of broth in case Doris was ready to try eating.

Polly and Meg took the younger children into the back yard to weed and gather any fruit that had fallen during the storm.

Paul tiptoed up the stairs as best he could, trying to avoid disturbing Doris. But he forgot the squeaky step third from the top and Gilly met him at the bedroom door.

"Thank you Paul. Doris just woke up, and the doctor thinks she could try some of the tea and broth."

Paul nodded and set the tray on the dresser. The doctor smiled a little as he entered and got up from arranging the pillows.

Doris still looked awful, but she opened her eyes a bit and smoothed out the blanket with her hands. "Hello again, Father," she croaked -- a little less like a toad this time.

Gilly took the bowl of broth and sat down, holding it so Doris could sip a little. The doctor opened the curtains a bit and turned to Paul.

"So -- you are getting used to being home, I think. Already fetching and carrying."

Paul looked astonished, then laughed. "Never could fool you, Esmeralda!"

Gilly snorted and Doris giggled.

The broth soon vanished, and cups of tea were passed around. Gilly, Paul and the doctor watched Doris carefully for any sign of difficulty, but she seemed to be steadily improving.

Doris finally put her cup down with a satisfied sigh. "I feel so much better. May I get up now?"

Gilly moved aside for the doctor to examine her daughter, and Paul gathered the cups and lunch dishes. Gilly handed him a few cloths and towels on his way out, "Watch that third step, dear!" she teased.

Paul entered the kitchen as John was taking the cold wash water outside. Anna soon had fresh water ready and the rest of the dishes dried and put away.

Paul told them how Doris looked and that she had a good appetite.

"Yes, and she may come downstairs after she has a nap," continued the voice of the doctor from the doorway.

She was pulling on her gloves while Gilly held her bag. John and Paul headed out to hitch up the horse again, while Anna brought out a pie and a side of bacon from the pantry. The women stood on the porch, getting instructions from Esmeralda, who was much more pleasant looking when she was not focused on a patient.

"And be sure that someone is awake tonight while Doris sleeps, so that if she has trouble you can give her the nettle tincture right away."

Paul drove up to the gate and got out to help the doctor in.

"And send Paul immediately if she takes a turn for the worse -- not John, the poor boy has enough to do with those three youngsters of his!" She winked at Paul, "Besides, it will be good for folks to see me with this stranger. Gives me an air of mystery."

The air was bright as Paul and the doctor drove off toward town, and Cathy watched through the window.

"Mother, the doctor just left with Paul. I'll just take this recipe over to Gilly."

Ava looked at her eldest daughter sternly, "And get the latest news, of course. You know your father and I are just as curious as you are!"

Cathy kissed her mother, picked up the recipe card and darted out the back door.

John met Cathy at the gate and bowed deeply, "Good afternoon, dear Auntie! May I help you ascend the steps?"

Cathy gave him a solid knock on his head and ignored his proffered hand. "I am not so venerable yet, young man!"

John laughed and rubbed his head. "Mother and Anna should be in the kitchen again, Auntie. I'll be in the garden with the kids if you need me."

Cathy grinned and quickly ascended the steps.

Sure enough, Gilly and Anna were just putting a large pot on to boil and starting to pull together biscuits when Cathy entered.

Gilly set the recipe on the small desk in the corner and rolled up her sleeves too.

Gilly soon brought her up to date, and not long after, Paul came through the door from the yard. "The doctor says Doris will need to stick to simple foods for a few days until all the swelling is down," he announced, putting an armful of wood in the box.

In no time at all, Gilly had a pot of vegetable stew bubbling merrily on the stove, Anna's biscuits were in the small oven and Cathy's famous "mystery center" pies were in the large oven.

Anna sat down with a fussy Sarah, and rocked her a bit, singing a little nursery song. Cathy wiped her hands on her apron and hung it up again, "I'll go tell Mother and Father the good news. We'll be over for supper soon."

Gilly smiled and swept up the stairs, returning to the kitchen with a much improved Doris just as John and the children entered with their finds.

Anna handed Sarah to Meg, and checked Gray and Olivia's hands. Frowning, she sent them and their father outside to wash up. Andy laughed, but soon joined them when Paul pointed out that he had carrots growing out of his fingernails.

Soon, the family was gathered around the kitchen table -- a little crowded, but happy. Nan sat next to Doris, occasionally putting her hand out as if to reassure herself that her sister was there.

Paul looked around and said, "Well I suppose you are all anxious to hear a bit more of my journeys?"

The room grew very silent, except, of course, for Sarah, who was happily playing with a bit of biscuit crumbled in front of her.

***I will omit the quotes in Paul's bit for a while. That way quotes in his story won't be confusing****

Soon after I landed across the sea, I took a wagon train of sailors and other "hands" toward the mountains in the distance, to see if we could trade for more supplies. The supplies in the harbor town were so costly that most of our trade goods would have be gone before we reached our true destination.

None of us really spoke the language of those parts, but some of the sailors could pull together enough from other tongues they knew to make our needs understood.

It was very good to have my feet on solid ground again, and I could tell my faithful donkey felt the same. My cart was small, but sturdy, and carried tents and supplies for us.

The first day away from the harbor, we passed through lush farm country. The grains grew tall and were supple in the wind that swept in from the ocean.

We could see fat cattle grazing contentedly, and sheep in a few pastures with their young.

We stayed the first night in a small village, and entertained the locals with songs from our many homes.

The second day, the terrain grew steadily more rocky, and soon there were goats among the sheep, and the cattle were more rugged looking. There were more trees here, too.

And while I could recognize some of the fruits, there were many I did not know -- some that looked like nut trees that had berries on them, and some that looked like giant flowers with vegetable pods hanging from their leaves.

That night, we stayed in a large clearing in the forest next to a creek. The third day when we awoke there was fog. We could see the trail we had come in on, but were not sure of the way we should go to get closer to the mountains.

The fog started to lift around midday, but not before we had heard some strange sounds coming from the woods around us.

One sailor swore up and down that he had seen a face at the bottom of a pool in the stream.

Of course, that was the same man who had spent his first night aboard ship making charms against sea serpents for everyone on board.

Several who had gone around the edges of the clearing to gather more wood for the noon meal felt they had been watched by the trees as they picked up branches. One man, a young man from a village like ours, said he had seen a tree move away from him into the forest.

Of course, no one else had seen this, so we didn't believe him.

But whatever the explanations were, the animals were restless and kept shifting about. We had to keep checking their hobbling to be sure they wouldn't get loose.

As we ate, the fog lifted and we could see the trail we intended to follow. We quickly hitched up the animals and moved on.

We came upon a series of hills, each a bit higher and more difficult than the last. Periodically, we could see a cairn, or the remains of a cottage, but we passed no others traveling in either direction.

Even birds were scarce in this strange forest.

We were glad when, just at dusk, we saw a comfortable, good-sized town below us by a river.

We arrived at the gate just as it was closing.

The guards were suspicious of us, but let us in and directed us to a tavern close to the town wall.

We gratefully put up our horses and donkeys in their stable and ate a hot meal before finding space in the loft of the tavern.

Some of the more experienced travelers among us cautioned everyone to sleep with their heads on their bags and their hands on their knives.

Turned out, this advice was more necessary than we could have suspected.

*** to normal mode***

Paul looked around the table. Doris was nodding gently. Adam and Ava were sitting, each with a great-grandchild on their lap. The children's expressions were intent. "I think we should stop here -- the next bit is quite complicated," Paul explained.

The children groaned, but Gilly spoke quickly. "Yes, and Owain and Otto haven't heard any of this yet. We'll invite them to supper tomorrow after the market closes and Father can continue."

“For now, Polly will you and Meg help Doris get back to bed?”

"Andy, you and Nan can go make sure the animals have water."

Adam and Ava and Cathy stood up, putting their plates and bowls by the sink on their way out.

Adam looked at Paul, "Whatever else, you tell a good story, son." He winked at him. "We'll see you tomorrow ."

**And I am done. Went long.... **