Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Thirty Two

Storytime on August 29 began at 9:58 pm

Nan and Paul walked through the gate and up the back stairs at Ava and Adam's house.

They set the casket on the kitchen table, washed their hands, and went in to the dining room, where folks were already beginning to eat.

Nan smiled at the family shyly, her head down, and waited for Paul to speak.

He cleared his throat, but Gilly's scream interrupted the speech he had been composing.

"She can SEE!"

Startled, everyone turned toward Nan. She retreated behind Paul and buried her face in his back.

Paul held up his hands as the children started to get up.

"I think, everyone, that maybe Mother and I need to have a few minutes with Nan. If you'll excuse us?" He held out his hand to Gilly and the three of them went to the kitchen.

Gilly was on her knees in front of her child, tears streaming down her face.

Nan was crying, patting her mother's arm. "Mother, I am sorry," she said piteously.

Paul just stood to one side, knowing that both needed to make peace with the sudden change.

Gilly laughed through her tears and hugged Nan tight. "Oh my sweet child, you can see! you can see!"

Finally, Paul stepped back out the door and motioned for Adam and Ava to come in.

They looked much older, and came in to the kitchen leaning on each other's arms.

Gilly drew Nan over to Ava, and the three cried and hugged and exclaimed...

while Paul and Adam stood to one side. Paul was beaming now, and Adam's heart swelled with joy to see his wife, daughter and granddaughter so happy.

Eventually the tears subsided. Ava and Adam went back to the dining room, and sent Andy in.

Gilly sat in a chair, holding Nan on her lap protectively.

Andy stood in front of Nan, his hands on his hips and his legs set solidly apart. He watched her looking at him, then smiled.

Nan smiled back, a bright, happy, full-of-possibility smile, and jumped out of her mother's hold to give him a hug.

They started to chatter, and soon the kitchen was full of kids and adults, asking questions and listening to the strange tale of the Great Bird.

Ava brought the luncheon in from the dining room and redistributed it while Anna poured out tea.

For the first time in her life, Nan reached to the center of the table for a second slice of bread.

For the first time in her life, Nan asked someone to close the blinds on the window to keep the sun out of her eyes.

For the first time in her life, Nan helped clear the table.

And then Gilly sent the children out to play in the park, and for the first time in her life, Nan led the way.

Cathy kept looking from Paul to Nan, to Adam to Gilly.

Once the children were gone and the house was quiet, They took their tea to the front room and sat to discuss all the strange events.

Gilly was a bit pale -- and Paul held her hand tight. Anna sat in the corner, nursing Sarah and listening to the conversation while John watched out the window to keep an eye on the children.

Slowly, Paul explained that the bird person was from a land near his birthplace.

They had met while Paul was looking for herbs and plants to bring home.

This was about three years ago... in the Spring when the air was clear and the waters ran vigorously down the cliffs and mountains.

Paul had spied what appeared to be an old carcass lying on the ground. He approached, keeping an eye out for scavengers.

To his surprise, the pile of feathers stirred and a groan filled the air.

A pair of eyes looked out at him from behind jet-black hair, and a beak-like nose sniffed suspiciously.

Paul placed a hand gently on what appeared to be the shoulder, and the creature winced.

"Be careful!" came a strong voice, "My wing is dislocated merely -- I do not want it broken!"

Paul stayed where he was. He looked at the strange figure before him and thought of what to do.

Finally, he spoke with all the authority he could manage. "If your wing is dislocated, we need to put it back. I can do it -- or I can help you get where it can be done. Which do you prefer?"

The strange face looked at him, assessing this person who was not afraid to help.

"Help me sit up," it commanded.

Paul was astonished at how light the creature was -- and almost lifted it off the ground entirely. Gently, he helped it get seated on a log.

"Take my hand, and pull it out straight --- but gently -- and slowly."

Paul did as he was told, then stood still, waiting.

With a jerk and a loud cry, the creature snapped the joint back into place. It sat there, shivering with the effort and the pain.

Paul reached into his satchel and pulled out a canteen. He offered it to the figure, and it gratefully accepted.

He also pulled out a bundle of herbs and selected one carefully.

"Do you use plants to help heal?" he asked, "This one is used by my people to lessen pain and help sinews reknit."

The creature pushed its hair away from its face and set its lipless mouth in an approximation of a smile.

"Yes," it replied, reaching for the bundle with its good arm, "and combined with this plant it will allow feathers to resprout quicker."

Paul nodded and reached for another bundle, pulling a serrated, yellow-leaved red flower out. "Do you know what this one is? I found it yesterday. It is similar to something from my home, but I do not know it well enough to use it."

The figure nodded, but was silent. Then it stood as if it had made up its mind.

"Come. Follow if you can." And it hopped onto the log, then transformed into a beautiful, raptor-like bird.

Paul was hard pressed to keep the figure in view, but it rested often and called out when Paul wasn't moving in the right direction.

Deeper and deeper into the forest they went, higher and higher up the mountains.

Finally, they arrived at a large aerie wedged in a crevice on the face of the mountain.

Here, Paul had spent several months, talking with the strange, solitary creature, sharing his knowledge of plants and healing, and learning many things.

One day, Paul had been talking about his family and had mentioned that his youngest was blind.

To a creature of the air, this was an unspeakable tragedy.

And so, one day not long before Paul left, it had presented him with the beautiful crystal vial and explained its uses.

Paul had not realized at the time that he had acquired a guardian as well as a teacher and friend. It had never occured to him that they might meet up again so far from the lonely aerie...

Cathy listened to all this, entranced. Her many hours spent with Esmeralda; sitting with villagers who were ill; preparing simple remedies -- and dreaming of the stories Esmeralda had told them of fabled healers, legendary places and times...

Gilly just shook her head and listened.

Adam and Ava were still in their chairs, leaning forward as if to catch every drop from Paul's tale.

Then Paul popped into the kitchen to retrieve the casket.

Reverently, he placed it on the table between Gilly and her parents. He repeated the bird-creature's words, that Nan should be trained to use the items inside.

Cathy smiled and clapped her hands together.

"We must invite Esmeralda to come to dinner tomorrow. She will be so pleased..."

Gilly nodded, "Yes, perhaps she, you and Paul could work together to help Nan learn."

"But," she added with a glance at her mother, "It must not interfere with her other schooling. Nan has some catching up to do."

John turned from the window, "Mother, I think you will find that Nan is further along than you knew."

And Nan came bursting through the door, with a tall plant in her hands and an exuberant, questioning look on her face.

Her education was about to begin.