Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Forty Three

This chapter began at 9:06 on 12 September 2006

All that night, Esmeralda and Gilly sat by Nan's side, keeping a warm brick at her feet and a cool cloth on her forehead.

Ava, who had walked across the fields once dinner was ready, slept on a small cot next to Adam's chair, where he was propped up with pillows to keep his arm in one position while he slept.

Anna and John kept busy with most of the younger crowd. Andy soothed his nerves by inventing a new game to play with Gray and Olivia which turned out to be fun for all of them.

All that night, Helena sat by the window in the front room, looking out at the road and wondering.

Peter had spent most of the evening checking the equipment and tools, resharpening blades, and thinking dark thoughts.

The birds had flown over all afternoon and into the evening. On a rare break, Esmeralda had walked through Inga's part of the garden, "getting the tour," when Inga remarked on the numbers of birds she had been seeing.

"Yes, Inga, there have been quite a few the last week -- I think it's just the usual harvest scavengers," said the doctor. But in her heart, she knew otherwise.

Daniel had spent the evening away from home, in the village at his aunt Nancy's house, explaining what had happened.

It took a lot of explaining.

Nancy was particularly worried about Nan, not just because she was her namesake (though in the village being a child's name-partner carried big responsibilities), but because she had heard from Cathy the day before that Nan's eyes were healed but she seemed more fragile.

She hid her concern by asking instead about Sebastian.

Daniel just looked hopeless, and shook his head, "We don't know where he is, Auntie, while we were tending to Grampy and Nan, and calming the horses, he disappeared."

Nancy's husband grumbled, and excused himself saying, "I'll just go speak to the sheriff. If we can find him, we'll make sure he's safe."

His uncle looked back on his way out, "Will the harvest continue tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir, Father says we can't lose any more time the way the clouds have been behaving. We have the rest of today's field to finish, and one more before we start the fruit harvest - but that at least we can do in the rain."

His uncle nodded. "We'll be there. Tell your father I'll get more crews by noon tomorrow."

After dinner, Daniel walked back via Gilly's, stopping in to talk with John about the day's events. Anna listened with growing concern as she nursed Sarah. Her agitation was such that the baby kept fussing and pulling off. Finally Anna went upstairs to put her down.

Daniel told John, "I have never seen Father so upset. Or Mother. You know she left Inga at home to do the baking?"

John nodded.

"Inga told me before I went to the village that she thought she heard footsteps upstairs before we got back, and that after she got back to the kitchen from investigating, one of the meat pies and a loaf of bread were gone. "She didn't tell Mother, of course, but..." his voice trailed off.

John smiled grimly. "Well, Sebastian is not stupid at least. He'll come home soon enough, once he's cold or hungry. Meantime, your Father will need you more than ever."

"I know," sighed Daniel, "I'd best get home now and see if there is anything else to do before the morning."

John silently handed his cousin a jacket and a lantern, then watched as he strode surely across the yard and out into the fields.

So much had changed in the years since they were children; so much had changed in the few days since John had brought his family around the mountain! He shook his head and grabbed a load of wood for the kitchen stove.

Helena sat, and watched. Ava watched. Gilly watched.

Peter and Paul, and soon Daniel, straightened, cleaned and sharpened.

Inga mended by the kitchen stove in her home.

Cathy mended by a small fire in the front room in her quiet home, the cat on her lap snoring.

Adam coughed, grumbled, and snored, and slept a fitful dream climbing over rocks and running through unfamiliar fields...

Nan slept. Her dreams were her own, her thoughts far away.

She was climbing over rocks, running through unfamiliar fields, not away from, but toward. She felt for the vial around her neck, but couldn't feel it. So she opened up her arms and threw her head back.

The air pushed against her arms, and lifted her. She flew over a forest, and up the side of the mountain, to a large outcrop, on which hundreds of birds sat, waiting.

In the center of the birds, a familiar dark shape sat, brooding. At its feet, a small cowering creature whimpered.

Nan moved toward the bird person carefully, reaching it just as the creature looked up and mewed piteously.

Startled, Nan drew back. And woke up.

Gilly sat by her side, her head drooping. Esmeralda stood in the corner, watching.

Nan opened her mouth to speak, but Esmeralda put a finger to her lips and hushed her. Carefully and quietly she glided across the room to the other side of the bed and held a small silver spoon to Nan's lips, filled with a beautiful, swirling green and red liquid.

Nan sipped, and relaxed. Her breathing eased, and she smiled as she slipped into more peaceful dreams.

Esmeralda stepped back, and put the little spoon away in the vial around her neck. Then she walked down the stairs to sit with Helena while she kept watch for the boy who was lost.

On the far side of the village, a boy sat under a rocky overhang, eating the last of a meat pie.

And on a ledge near the top of the mountain, birds slept.