Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Twenty Five

August 21, 2006

As Steven Sondheim wrote in one of my favorite musicals, "Into the woods and through the trees to where I am expected... The way is clear, the path is good, I have no fear nor no one should. The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood..."

Doris fell back into a comfortable sleep, and Gilly moved back to the chair next to Paul.

She inspected Paul's work on the sock and nodded approvingly. "I see you learned at least a little bit while you were gone," she teased.

"What prompted all those thoughts, Paul -- the fears of losing us? Did you really think we would forget you so soon?"

She glanced at Paul as her hand felt for another sock in the basket. "It had only been -- did you say about three years?"

Paul shrugged and stood up to move the lamp closer. Gilly waited patiently for his reply, anchoring the thread near the hole and starting to weave methodically back and forth.

He looked quickly out the window and closed the shutters, then drew the curtains back.

Gilly made a funny sound and stuck her finger in her mouth.

"Will you please sit down, I cannot mend and watch you pace at the same time," she exclaimed.

Paul sat.

He faced Gilly.

Gilly put her work in her lap and her hands in his.

He caressed her hands, "I don't really know. I was terribly homesick. I had seen things that felt like the legends we tell but don't really believe. I wasn't sure I could 'belong' even as much as I had once I returned."

"If I returned."

Gilly pulled her hands away and picked up her mending again. "You must have felt very alone."

Paul nodded and gulped.

"So," Gilly mused, "you were frightened that you wouldn't fit in here again. And nervous about your reception in the land you were coming to. But you kept going. Why?

Paul shrugged, "I think because I felt drawn to the place. All my memories centered around wanting to know how I came to the village. Gilly nodded and tapped her foot a little. "Well, so what happened when you entered the forest? Did it close in around you and swallow you up?"

**now into the no-quotes mode of Paul's adventuring**

The sun was already beginning to move lower in the sky when my jenny and I entered the dark stillness of the forest.

At first, there were some pretty wildflowers. I thought of Polly and how she was always bringing you flowers from the fields.

There were some great climbing trees as well -- remember when John and Nancy managed to get stuck in the tree by the burial plot?

As we moved deeper into the woods, it grew quieter. Occasionally there would be a small creature scuffle through the dried leaves on the forest floor, or the soft wingbeat of an owl. But the trail itself looked mostly unused. And certainly I had seen no sign of other travelers in the last two days.

We came to a bit of wide spot in the trail, with a level place to unhitch the cart and a bit of grass for the mule.

I did not dare light a fire, for I could hear no creek nearby and I carried only a little water with me. So I made do with a few more cakes and dried fruits. I tied the jenny loosely to the rear of the cart, and lay down under it to sleep.

I was awakened in the dark of the night by a dragging sound. Slowly I turned my head toward the trail.

I could barely keep my silence at what I saw.

There was a gang of little men, connected by chains, pulling on a large chest. Behind them, a small -- woman, I think -- swept the trail and then scattered dry leaves so that their passage was all but invisible.

The men looked neither right nor left. Just as they were almost out of sight, the jenny shifted and snorted in her sleep.

The strange procession stopped and looked around furtively.

The woman advanced toward the cart, coming quite close and peering at it and the jenny through old eyes.

She had a pleasant, grandmotherly look about her. I watched her through half-closed eyes.

She waved the men ahead, and they began their laborious trudge deeper into the woods.

Suddenly, she leapt at the cart and pulled me out from under!

I was astonished, for I was easily twice her size, but her strength was enormous. She looked at me up and down, then set me gently on the bench of the cart.

She patted my knee then with a shake of her finger, warning me to stay put, she swiftly hitched the mule to the cart and put the reins in my hands.

She waved me ahead just as she had the men, and I obeyed.

I did not know if she meant me good or ill, but I was curious. And certain that if I tried to go off the trail to escape that I would soon be lost.

I looked back, and could see her carefully erasing my tracks along with the men's.

The sky was beginning to gray at the horizon when we came to the other side of the forest.

The men stood at a distance off to the right. On my left a sort of crude guard house made of piled stones.

And in front, a small, pleasant valley stretched before me.

Soon, the woman had joined us, and climbed up on the cart next to me. She gestured toward the valley and on we drove, leaving the men to their task, which apparently was to stash the trunk under another cairn of stones.

We drove on in silence, the woman looking up at me quizzically every so often.

Finally, she spoke, "Have you journeyed far?"

I could only look at her in amazement. For, rather than speaking yet another strange tongue, she spoke a language almost like our own."

I am afraid I stammered a bit and was rather rude.

I asked her where she learned to speak!

She chortled, "Oh here and there, my boy. One learns these things, does one not?"

"I can tell," she continued, "that you are from here and not from here. You belong nowhere and everywhere equally, it seems."

"What then, is your biggest desire, boy?"

Again, I must have looked a fool. Certainly, I was a boy to her advanced years, but I hadn't pondered the question in that way. She put her hand on my arm, "Take your time, think carefully before answering. We have a long ride ahead of us yet."

**back to normal mode**

Gilly shifted in her chair and Paul looked at her.

"She was mysterious, but comfortingly familiar. I liked her, and instinctively trusted her, Gilly. In the same way I trusted your parents so long ago."

Gilly tied off the thread and placed the sock, the thread, the needle and the stone egg in the basket.

"But, what I don't want to tell the children -- " Paul broke off as footsteps were heard on the stairs.

Otto and Owain peeked around the door and grinned.

"Shift change, Mother and Father, no reason we can't watch our baby sister sleep!"

Gilly looked at them thankfully, and Paul stood up.

Outside, it was hinting at a bright new day, and a bird sounded briefly in the park.

***end of chapter for tonight***