Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Thirty

The story began at 9:03 pm on August 27, 2006

After breakfast, Anna and Gilly and Nan washed up while the three teen girls and Andy took their nephew and niece next door in search of the origin of the cookie smell...

John, the twins and Paul wandered out to the barn and stables and brought out the horses and donkey to exercise in the corral for a bit.

Adam joined them soon after and handed out cookies.

They watched the animals stretch their legs for a while, then headed out to check the state of the fields.

Fortunately, not much damage had been done in the storm a couple nights earlier, and the grain was almost dry enough to harvest. Another day or two, opined Adam.

John stretched and looked into the sky above the large tree. He pointed, and Paul glanced, then stopped and stared.

The largest bird any of them had ever seen was circling above the fields. It was up a long way -- but still they could see the resemblance to a hawk.

And as it turned and twisted in the bright light, glorious hues glinted off its feathers.

Paul shuddered, remembering...

And caught Adam's quizzical look out of the corner of his eye.

Adam moved closer, and put an arm around Paul's shoulder.

"John, I bet the twins are big enough to beat you to the tree," Adam challenged.

"Ready Set Go!" hollered the twins, and off they went.

"All right, son," said Adam gruffly, "We have at least ten minutes before they get back."

"What's this I hear about some sort of magic cure for Doris?"

Paul waved a hand a little dismissively, "It was a gift meant for Nan... she decided to give it away."

Adam nodded, and they walked on a bit further.

"I met so many people on my travels, Father. A kind woman learned of Nan's affliction and wanted to repay me for some small thing I had done. She offered me a vial of healing water from a well near her home."

Behind them, the sound of three young men chasing and playing came on the wind.

"She told me the water would cure one person of any affliction -- and asked me to give the vial to Nan."

Paul paused, and dug out a weed with the heel of his boot. Adam waited.

A cool breeze blew across the fields, kicking up a bit of dust and chaff.

Paul shrugged. "I have seen, since I returned, that Nan's affliction doesn't keep her from enjoying life."

Adam nodded, and pulled out a small pouch and began loading his pipe.

"We all have challenges," said the older man, "and Nan faces hers with more courage and ingenuity than most."

"Nan was right, you know," he continued, "Doris's illnesses are sometimes life-threatening."

The sound of thumping, pounding feet and ragged breathing came up close and the two turned around.

John's shirt was untucked, and Owain's hair was messy. Otto looked as if he hadn't run an inch.

"No fair," panted Owain, " -- he waited for us halfway." He gestured at his brother.

Paul laughed. "Well, he can make up for it by running ahead and getting a bucket of water for John and you to freshen up."

He pushed Otto ahead, and they walked up to the yard.

Meantime, Anna and Gilly had finished the dishes and started making a cake for the afternoon tea in between holding the baby and letting the cat in and out. Nan came back home after a while with a plate of cookies.

"Grammy said that we are invited to luncheon today to celebrate Doris getting well."

She sat down, and Anna handed Sarah to her.

Nan and Sarah shared a cookie while their mothers conversed about jams and jellies, and ways to soothe a teething baby.

Next door, Cathy was showing Olivia how to make an X on a piece of cloth with pretty thread. Andy and Gray were playing their version of "men at arms" on the rug with Grampy's best set of chessmen.

Doris was eagerly helping Grammy with preparations for luncheon, while Polly and Meg copied recipes from the family collection to put into their "someday" books.

Soon, Nan and Gilly and Sarah, Otto and Owain and John and Anna were coming through the back gate and up the stairs to the kitchen.

"Hello Mother," sang out Gilly, "Father and Paul will be here soon. They wanted to put the animals back in their stalls."

Sarah was playing with the vial that was hanging, now empty, from Nan's neck. It was just the right shape and size for her to gum at the edges, and just big enough that she couldn't swallow it.

Adam and Paul brought the horses in first, settling them into their stalls, and making sure they had fresh water.

As they were returning to the corral, they noticed the large bird circling overhead. Paul turned pale.

The bird dipped lower and lower, finally lighting on a post at the far side of the corral.

Adam looked at Paul. He lit his pipe and stood aside as Paul entered the enclosure...

The bird watched intently as Paul moved quietly to the donkey which was ignoring everything but the tough weed growing at the edge of the corral.

Paul reached for the donkey's halter and pulled. Reluctantly, the little creature left its treasure and walked out of the corral.

The bird sat, watching. Adam puffed on his pipe, watching.

Paul handed the donkey to Adam and straightened up as tall as he could.

"Father, I will be over to luncheon soon. Would you ask Nan to join me here?"

Adam nodded, watching the bird as he walked off, keeping his thoughts and his doubts to himself.

Paul stood at the edge of the corral, then turned to the bird.

Bowing deeply, he said, "You are most welcome here."

The bird sailed off its perch, wings of rainbow hues flashing brilliantly,

As the talons hit the ground, they were covered by the feathers, which shifted and formed a long, exquisite cloak.

The long, slender neck and raven-black tresses of the head framed a face with brilliant eyes and pale cheeks.

The figure bowed to Paul and put its head on one side.

Nan came slowly across the yard, keeping one hand on the rail that traced the paths.

Paul and the figure watched her approach.

Paul met Nan at the gate and picked her up.

"I have someone for you to meet, Nan."

Her face turned excitedly toward the center of the corral. "Who is it, Father?"

A strong but not unpleasant voice replied, "I am the giver of gifts and the receiver of woes. I bring light and dark. I create and destroy."

Nan turned to the voice and patted her father's shoulder. "Please put me down," she whispered.

She stood and took a few steps in the direction of the voice.

She curtsied, a little awkwardly.

"Greetings, great one," she began, then hesitated.

"Are you the child to whom the vial was given?" responded the figure.

"Yes, I am. Thank you, Gracious One."

"Then why," demanded the figure, taking a step forward, "Can you not see?"

Paul started forward, but a look from the bright eyes stopped him in his tracks.

"Oh, I have a sister who needed it more. I hope this pleases you. Father said the vial was mine to do with as I chose."

The figure fixed Paul in its unblinking stare. "You have a remarkable child."

Paul nodded and bowed.

The figure reached into the folds of the cloak and drew out a small casket which it held out to Paul.

He stepped forward and grasped it firmly.

"Come here, child," said the mysterious figure, "tell me what you see."

Nan shook her head, "I am sorry, I don't know what you mean."

The figure raised its arms -- wings? -- and blew a puff of bright pink air toward Nan.

"Now what do you see?"

Nan looked confused. "My eyes feel strange, kind visitor, there is a sparkly feeling in my heart."

Paul looked in amazement at his child, but kept silent.

The figure raised its arms a little further and blew a puff of yellow air toward Nan.

She rubbed at her eyes. "This is very peculiar, Father!" she exclaimed, "There are up and down thoughts across my mind!"

The figure put its arms out toward Nan and blew a puff of blue air.

Nan gasped. She covered her eyes with her hands and started to cry.

Paul moved to her side and picked her up. "Nan?"

The figure stepped forward and embraced father and daughter and blew white air over both of them.

Nan sobbed and the tears fell from her eyes. Paul started to tear up also, but the figure held them tight and quietly hummed a gentle song.

Nan opened her eyes and looked at her father.

She looked at the figure.

Then she held out her hands and inspected them.

The figure retreated and bowed to Nan and to Paul.

"The casket holds herbs and tinctures for healing. I leave it in Nan's care. The village doctor can instruct her on their uses."

Paul nodded and handed the casket to Nan.

The figure made a strange hop --- and transformed into a bird again.

Nan watched carefully as the bird flew higher and higher. Paul grasped her hand and they walked slowly next door for lunch, looking at everything on the way.