Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Fifty One

This chapter was told in part on September 22, 2006 beginning about 9:30. The rest was written directly to this page on Sept 24.

The day after John and Anna left, Esmeralda approved Nan's return home.

Although she could finally sit comfortably supported only by pillows, for the trip home they put her on a padded board in the back of the wagon.

Esmeralda and Andy sat beside her, keeping her entertained with stories and songs.

Gilly and Paul walked alongside, holding hands and exchanging worried looks.

Adam walked with Ava behind the wagon, thinking of the many journeys they had made in it -- to visit their children and grandchildren; and the final journey everyone in the family took...

He was worried about Sebastian. The child hadn't been found, though the searches had been thorough.

Nancy's husband had hinted that there had been some unsavory types at the market the day Sebastian disappeared, buying provisions for their ship. Unusual, since most ships got provisions closer to the port.

Worrisome, since a merchant from the north reported seeing three large wagons attended by a gang of scruffy-looking men on the less-traveled north road.

But that had been only two days ago, and the possibility that Sebastian had fallen in with a gang of cutthroats and thieves was on everyone's mind. Certainly, it was too late to go looking for him. He would have reached the city by now...

Adam was startled by a shadow and looked up. There was a large bird circling overhead.

He saw that Nan had noticed, too. She poked at Esmeralda and directed her attention upward.

Andy followed their gaze silently and they watched the bird grow smaller and smaller as it soared on the currents. The others didn't notice, and the wagon continued on.

Esmeralda patted Nan's hand and they resumed their conversation.

As they neared the house, the girls came tripping out to meet them.

"Nan, we set everything up in the room next to the kitchen so you'll be warm and close to everything," said Doris proudly.

Polly and Meg rolled their eyes, and smiled. Doris was much livelier these days, and her energy and enthusiam were infectious.

Carefully, Otto and Owain and Paul lifted Nan out of the wagon and carried her into the house.

Andy led the horse to the barn and unhitched it, then set to putting it away in the stable.

Ava hustled Adam home, clucking like a mother hen, much to the amusement of Cathy, who followed them in to make their tea.

Gilly and Paul and Esmeralda were left, standing together.

"Paul, did you see the bird today?" asked Esmeralda quietly.

"Yes," he admitted, "but I didn't want to draw anyone's attention. I thought Nan needed to get home."

Gilly looked from one to the other, a faint understanding glimmering in her eyes.

She grasped Paul's arm and looked at Esmeralda.

"You know about the bird people?" she gasped.

Esmeralda looked at her calmly, with great love and a bit of impatience.

"Did you think all those stories when you were a child were made up?"

Gilly turned pale. Paul put an arm around her. "Esmeralda, perhaps we'd best make some tea for us all. We're tired and Gilly will need some explanations."

And over tea, Esmeralda and Paul began to explain -- to Gilly and the older children (Andy was taking his tea with Nan) about the significance of the birds and the bird people.
Second part:

The bird people were the mythological creatures that village parents entertained and threatened their children with when they were ill or misbehaving. No one really believed the stories about bird people carrying off misbehaving children (anymore); and no one truly believed that the bird people had magic that could make a pauper into a prince. Still, there remained some uneasiness when the bird people were mentioned, and very few families kept birds for food or amusement. Those who did were considered brave or slightly strange...

Paul and Esmeralda looked around the table at their children and cousins. Gilly sat silently, knitting furiously in the chair in the corner.

Paul cleared his throat, “You see, when I went traveling, I was trying to find where I came from. I didn't like the answers entirely, but I did learn much.”

“Bah!” Esmeralda interjected, “Tell them what they suspect already and end the suspense.”

She looked at Gilly, “Or I will.”

The twins looked at each other, and the girls shifted in their chairs.

Gilly, “Now this is NOT common knowledge children, and should not be. Enough fear remains from the stories that have been told that we must hold things of this sort close to our hearts. ”

Paul continued, “The bird person who has visited us is Esmeralda's aunt – and a distant cousin of mine. I was banished when I was very young because my mother had married from outside her people. When I did not share the traits they prided themselves on...” his voice trailed off. The children sat silently, eyes on their teacups.

Esmeralda picked up the thread, “You know, I am sure, that my mother came from this village – she was the youngest sister of your grandmother's mother. But my father came from across the sea. And he fell in love with my mother and they married. But when her parents discovered the truth, they turned them out. And so I was born and grew up in a valley far from here.”

“So I am also, like your father, part bird-person. Enough that I can understand some of the songs even the local birds sing. But my past was not hidden from me, and my father taught me as much as I could learn. My parents even took me across the sea to meet his family and learn more.”

Paul spoke again. “The bird people of the stories are still very real, children, and they are your kin. Though I learned that I do not belong with them, still I learned much from the brief time I spent in their villages. The most important thing I learned though,” and he paused and looked at each child in turn, then at his wife, “is that our families are more important that talents or treasure.”

Andy came in from the other room and went up to his mother. “Nan wants to say goodnight, Mother, and she wonders if Esmeralda can give her something for the little pain in her back.”

The two women stood immediately and ducked into Nan's room, and Andy sat down next to his father.

Paul mussed his son's hair. “I think," he said to the others, "that the rest of this should wait for another time." He pushed the last bit of bread toward Andy and stood up, startling the dog that was under the table.

Quickly, the girls cleared the table and finished the dishes while the twins brought in wood for the morning. Andy yawned broadly and wandered upstairs with his siblings.

Morning would come soon enough with questions and challenges of its own.