Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Sixty One

Written offline on 9 October 2006

The winter holidays approached.

After Tor's explanation the previous night, Paul had thought long and hard about continuing his tale. The next night, after supper was over, and folks were gathered again over cider and pie, he picked up his tale:
We had talked a bit about the items in the bucket, and the little bird on the mantlepiece. But I hadn't finished explaining much about them. So I want you all to know what that bucket contains and why I kept it so secret.

The bird was similar to one I had as a child, and I put it in the bucket with the objects of great value because to me it held so many answers, and not a few questions.
Paul said, "Tor, the little bird on the mantle plays a different melody for each person. If you want, you can play it now, or wait until another time."

They looked expectantly at Tor, who shook his head and sat further back in his chair with his cider.

Adam glanced at Ava, who smiled gently and patted his hand. Everyone turned their attention back to Paul.
Well, the little bird was made by the people who inhabit the mountains near my people. They were skilled woodcarvers and musicians.

My people used them as toys for infants, a way to introduce them to the joy and intricacies of music.

But in the time since I was a child, there had been a number of changes -- many of them unfortunate -- and the music was mostly stilled. Still, I was able to locate an old man who agreed to make me one that would sound like the old... though he told me it would be plain as the painters had gone elsewhere.

He apologized that the bird would not be worth much, though I of course explained that it was the song I valued...

I gratefully accepted the gift of his skill, and spent many days with him, helping him as best I could, to repay him for his kindness. He would not accept any other payment than my company and the stories and songs of our home in the village.

The other items in the bucket, however, came into my possession in less peaceful, more commercial ways.
Paul looked around the room and motioned to Otto, "Do you mind stepping out and getting the bucket, son?"

Otto was back in a flash, the unexceptional bucket in his hands. He set it on the floor, and Nan swiftly unlatched it.

Adam and Ava gasped. Tor was speechless, but sat forward in his chair with great interest. Nan grasped a large green stone and held it toward her father, "Tell the story about this one, please, it has light inside it"

Paul chuckled, and took the stone, holding it in the light so that green and yellow and blue flecks danced around the room. The cat glared at him when a bright sparkle hit its eyes, and stalked out of the room.

Paul handed the stone to Cathy, and it made its way around the room as Paul told its tale.
This stone was given to me by an old person who lived in a large hanging valley on the side of the mountain where I was born.

I had been travelling with a large band of soldiers, trying to find a way up the mountain, to reach the village where I first drew breath.

The soldiers had bivouaced that night at the head of the valley, from whence they assured me a wide easy trail would lead straight up the mountain.

I learned quickly that they either did not know what the valley was or that they thought it would be easy to make me lose my way.

All night long, they took turns with the watch -- there were sounds of strange beasts here, beasts even they could not identify by their call, though their usual duty station was just on the mountain's flank. And so they were alert and quick to jump at any motion or noise near the camp.

Toward the middle of the night, I was helping stand watch, and saw a movement just at the edge of the lantern's range.

I called for assistance, and instantly several pikemen stood with me, looking intently into the darkness, listening for any sound -- a twig breaking, or a stone rolling would have triggered a flurry of arrows and caused the perimeter to bristle like the little spike-rat we have under our hedgerows.

We stood there, hardly breathing, for several minutes. Finally the others wandered off, muttering something about deer and imaginations. This had already happened several times that night, and the men were tired, their nerves frazzled.

I continued to look into the void, until I found myself standing, not inside the protective circle of the light, but at the edge of the dark; my lantern and my only weapon, a large hunting knife, left where I had been sitting.

I was looking into green eyes, that sparkled and turned, and I felt myself drifting... I thought I heard shouts behind me, but I was not motivated to turn, so captivating was that gaze. I drifted, dreaming of nothing in particular, feeling peaceful and calm. I had no sense of time passing.

I don't know what happened, but when I came to, the soldiers had moved on. My knife lay where I had set it, and my belongings. The campfire was cold and the sun was high in the sky.

Next to me sat an old man, dressed in gray robes with purple tassels on his hat and purple shoes broidered with yellow and green flowers. He smiled pleasantly at me, and waited for me to gather my wits before he spoke.

"So your companions have gone and left you, have they? I suspected as much. All bravado and no bravery. Ah well, such are mercenaries these days." He pulled on his long mustache and gave me a hard gaze, "Still, you're no mercenary, that's plain enough, just a traveler lost on his way, I imagine."

He stood and started to walk off. "You are welcome to come home with me, boy, but I fear you won't find the answers you want there, either."

Naturally, I picked up my things quickly and followed him -- not knowing what had happened to me, how so much time had passed while I was in reverie -- I thought it best to stay close to someone who knew the lay of the land.

And it turned out to be a wise decision in the end, though at first I thought I was mistaken.
Paul stopped and looked at Nan and Andy, their heads drooping against their mother's knees.

"Perhaps I'd best stop for tonight and finish the story tomorrow," he said, standing and picking up his youngest daughter gently.

Tor stood also, and picked up Andy, though not so gently and followed Paul out of the room.

Ava sighed and nodded at Gilly and her grandchildren. "So many stories, and so little time. Sweet dreams, children, we'll stop by tomorrow to hear more of this fascinating adventure of your father's."

And one by one, the children kissed their grandparents and aunt and mother and wandered off to bed.

Gilly sat, looking into the fire, holding the green stone in her hands, barely noticing when Paul came back into the room and sat down next to her.

Gently, he took the stone from her and put it on the mantle next to the little bird.

Gently, he lifted her and carried her to bed, singing softly the song the little bird had sung for him when first he played it.

Stories and Songs have a way of coming true...