Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Twenty Seven

August 24, 2006

Paul was in the middle of talking to Gilly about the strange woman he met in the woods. [let that be a warning to all you young fellas out there!]

Gilly snuggled a little closer to Paul and he put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

It was good to be home, far from all the strange things.

And yet, in some ways, it made everything seem even stranger.

Paul continued his story.

**no quotes again**

The further I went, Gilly, and the closer I got to my intended destination, the less sure I was that I was doing the right thing.

I grew nervous about the kind of reception I might receive.

Knowing nothing of my family -- or indeed myself -- I worried that my reasons might be misunderstood.

I admit, Gilly, that I had hopes of discovering that my family were high-placed in that land.

Perhaps, I dreamed, I had been kidnapped and held for ransom, then lost somehow.

Sometimes, I hoped I had been born to good, kind people -- like your parents. I wanted to belong to a family with good qualities less than I wanted to be from a family "of quality."

I wondered if perhaps there had been a disaster of some kind and I had been separated from my family as they wandered, searching for a new home.

I considered that my life-long reason for making this journey, with all its dangers and trials, was based on some sort of wish to be validated.

And I realized the folly of that notion, too late, because all the validation I needed was your smile and our wonderful family gathered around the table.

I was thinking of all these things as we drove on through the valley, and the sides came closer and closer and grew steeper and steeper.

It was as if we were livestock going through a chute onto a boat.

The woman let me drive on in silence, only occasionally nudging me to point out a landmark or an animal I didn't yet know.

The sun was going still fairly high in the sky when we reached the pass. We had been climbing steadily, but so slowly that it had been imperceptible.

Still, when I looked behind us, I could see the valley laid out as a map -- the village we had stopped in, the road and side trails to smaller villages, and at the edge, like a fancy fringe on a tapestry, the forest.

Ahead, the walls of the mountains were solid gray stone that rose vertically on either side.

A few small weeds hung tenaciously to the sides, and a trickle of water stained the rock periodically and ran back down the side of the trail toward the valley.

Ahead, more trees, and the long passageway to the other side.

We stopped once, to let the mule take a drink and relieve ourselves behind a large boulder.

Helping the woman back into the cart, I was certain she was different. She was now almost up to my shoulder, and her hair, which had been dingy and of uncertain color was beginning to shine slightly with the color of the sunflowers in our fields.

Gilly, these things were very strange to me, as they must sound to you.

If I thought I was nervous before, I was now certain that I was in over my head.

Still, like a child, I trusted her, and I made no mention of the change in her appearance.

As the evening drew on, it became chilly in the mountains. From a bag, the woman drew out a beautiful cloak which she handed to me. For herself, she pulled on a shawl of gossamer.

We did not stop for supper, but had a satisfying meal of cold meat and ale from the inn.

We continued on.

Usually, the mule would have been too tired by now, but tonight she seemed strangely eager to keep moving.

As the shadows closed in, the woman lit a torch. Its warm glow reflected off the walls and made the pass seem made of gold and jewels.

Finally, I got up the courage to speak.

"Lady," I began, for such she seemed, "I do not know your name, nor why you are traveling with me when your companions stayed behind."

She smirked, "NOW you call me lady? What would have called me in the forest?"

I was silent, and a bit ashamed.

"What is it about appearances that causes even good and level-headed men to assume that one is high-born and another not?"

I shifted my seat on the bench, feeling its hard surface burning as if Adam had just allowed me to leave the wood shed.

She looked at me gently and sternly. Like you do when one of our children misspeaks.

"Paulo -- you are not ready for your real name, I think -- I believe you are learning many things this journey, as you should. I have confidence that you will come to know how and why you are here in this place at this time."

"My name is simply Aema. I do not require titles or formal address."

She laughed, and all the huskiness vanished from her voice. She spoke now in music, and the walls echoed back, harmonizing and extending the meaning of every word.

"We are coming to my homeland, Paulo, and I am glad to be returning."

"The companions we followed were -- let's call them 'helpers' -- sent on ahead by another route, and will meet us tomorrow as we descend from the pass."

"My helpers carried a great load for me, and I am grateful to them. You will learn the contents of that trunk later, if you have learned your lessons well."

I sat in stunned silence. Learning my lessons? I was quite old enough to have thought I needed no more lessons.

Yet I could tell there were still many things I did not understand, many ideas I had never considered.

I nodded slowly. She looked carefully at me and directed me to stop the cart.

I helped her down and she looked me up and down.

"Paulo, you are ready for the first test."

I swallowed, and waited.

"Close your eyes, and tell me the first thing you see."

I hesitated. I was afraid that I might see something unpleasant. Or that she would not like what I said.

I tore my eyes from her face and centered my thoughts.

"I see a bright meadow. There are flowers and a tree."

"I see a large bird of some kind circling as if it has found prey."

"I feel cold, but nothing in the meadow is moving. Only the bird, circling."

I opened my eyes and shivered, despite the lovely cloak I wore.

The woman's eyes were on me, watching me closely.

"Paulo, was the meadow a good picture or bad?" she asked gently.

“Lady -- Aema -- it was neither. It simply was. I was cold, it was lovely, the bird was hunting. “

I looked at her, "I was uneasy, but I do not know why."

Satisfied, she nodded her head. "Well done, Paulo. The first lesson is to recognize that some things 'are'."

She reached again into her bag and found a pair of pants, made of durable but soft fabric, then turned away as I changed out of my somewhat ragged pants I had left home in.

She looked me straight in the eye and I lifted her into the cart, then carefully folded my old pants and set them in the back before climbing up myself.

The night was clear and the stars, unfamiliar to me, shone bright up in the mountains. Shooting stars followed the trail and led the way through the pass.

By this time, the torch had burned out, but the moons were up and the passageway was now silver tinged with deep blues and purples. We could see clearly and the mule, far from complaining, picked up the pace.

We drove on further, and the woman explained that her people had lived in the land to which we journeyed for longer than the pass had gone through the mountains. They had named the animals, the rocks, the plants and the stars.

I was fascinated by her tale, and so will the children be.

We stopped again, as the sky turned from dark blue to aubergine.

Again, we dismounted. Again, she asked me to close my eyes.

I did so without hesitation. Perhaps I should have been more cautious.

"Aema -- I see a chasm, a pit, a hole that is so deep and so wide that nothing could cross over it nor climb out of it. It fills the trail and cuts through the walls. Nothing grows near it. No sound comes out of it -- nothing echoes back from it."

I know I shivered as I spoke.

"I see no animals, no plants. But overhead, there is a large bird, circling. And it is bitter cold."

I shuddered and opened my eyes.

Aema was watching me intently. "And?" she asked.

"And I was afraid this time, Aema, but still I cannot call it good or bad. It simply was."

Again, she nodded and reached into her bag. She drew out a shirt, made of the same gossamer as her shawl. I carefully folded the blue shirt you had made me and placed it with the pants.

We got back in the cart. The jenny took off at a trot. The sky was turning pink, and the walls of the mountains shone like bronze.

I was no longer cold, and felt a strange sense of courage. I looked at her, and found she had braided her hair and put it up like a crown on her head.

As the sky grew lighter, she began to sing in a strange tongue, and I learned the chorus well enough to accompany her.

Overhead, a flight of swallows joined in, weaving through the air as if dancing to the song.

And so we drove on toward the dawn, my worries and fears suppressed for the moment by the joy of the new day.

**that's it for tonight, I think, tomorrow we'll pick up the final leg to the new land**