Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Fifty Seven

Written offline on 2 October 2006

The days were long here, and warm. The nights were chill, but short.

The surviving crew had scoured the beaches for several days following the sinking of the boat, gathering in as much of the wood and supplies as made it within arm's reach of shore.

The dog turned out to be a fine hunter, catching rabbits and the odd unsuspecting bird in the tall grasses, and the men quickly set snares for more and fashioned traps for the crabs in the water. Pancho was adept at taking the seeds of the grasses and making a sort of mash that he would bake on a flat stone. It wasn't bread, but to hungry men it was perfect.

They built decent shelters on the land side of the large rocks, sturdy enough to keep out the wind and the occasional rain, but simple enough to not need any upkeep other than daily inspection for insects.

Pancho and Sebastian were left pretty much to their own devices, Sebastian gathering wood for the fires and tending them while Pancho cooked. In the afternoons, Sebastian would go exploring while Pancho rested.

In no time, Sebastian had followed the little freshwater creek all the way to the trees at the furthest reach of the grassland -- the ones that could be seen from the beach. The beach, however, and its rocks, were far out of sight by the time he could touch the rough, vanilla-scented bark.

They seemed to be a sort of pine tree -- at least the ground was soft with dried needle-like leaves, and there were small cones lying about, nibbled by squirrels and birds alike. They grew straight and tall, until their tops spread out like hats, forming a canopy like a huge marketplace might have.

But the only sellers and buyers were the deer and rabbits, the weasel-like creature Sebastian saw tunneling near the bases of the trees, the birds and an occasional frog chirruping gaily in a boggy spot.

He enjoyed the quiet, the smells, the softness of the ground. He began to make a ladder out of the poles of young trees, tying the steps with twine he made by twisting the salt grass together. And he built a simple but strong platform between three trees that grew close together.

All these things he did in secret, telling no one -- not even Pancho. He was happy here, busy and engaged, making up songs in his deepening voice that harmonized with the lively music of the forest.

The other men rarely came to the forest, so intent were they on combing the shore for useful things and watching for passing ships that might rescue them. Only the Captain seemed to know that Sebastian was disappearing for hours on end, and he didn't mention it except once.

"I remember," he began, "when I was a lad, growing up in a fishing village near the Cliffs of Doom (as sailors then called them), also known as the Cliffs of Opportunity (as my people called them). I had a favorite little cave that I knew about -- I found it one day following my cat down the cliff face.

"I used to visit it every chance I got, putting a blanket in one time, a lantern another time. It got quite cozy, and I liked it. Got me away from the family.

The Captain had spat on the ground, remembering, "I was in my hide-a-way the night the Raiders visited the village. I had told my mother I was going hunting, then climbed down the cliff when no one was looking. It saved my life.

"The Raiders appeared at supper time. All night long, I heard screams and crashes, the sounds of people in great distress. I was afraid to look out, and perhaps that was wise. When I finally awoke the next morning, there was nothing left of my village but a few dazed goats wandering around.

"All else had been burned and sacked. I found my father and grandfather dead on the ground, and everywhere signs of struggle. Of my home and family, nothing else remained. Smoking timbers and shards of pots my mother had treasured."

Sebastian hadn't known what to say. The Captain looked at his stricken face and gave a resigned shrug. "Don't mind me boy, reminiscences like these are an old man's attempt to say -Enjoy yourself. Don't grow up too fast.-"

And he had turned away while Sebastian ran swiftly to the creek and disappeared among the reeds. Pancho sat on a tall rock, watching the grasses and reeds wave back and forth, remembering his own boyhood home, and the games he used to play in the fields with his brothers and sisters.

A chill ran down his spine, and he turned back to grinding the seeds for the next day's bread.