Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Sixty Four

Paul and Gilly cuddled in bed, the cat stretched out at their feet, the dog snoring by the door.

"Paul," murmured Gilly, "do you remember when we were betrothed?"

Paul sighed and stroked her hair before kissing her. "Of course, dear, why?"

"Well, Meg is feeling a bit left out, with Polly's betrothal next week, and it got me to thinking how I felt, when Nancy was getting ready for hers. Mother and Father had a party for me on my next birthday, remember?"

Paul chuckled, "How could I forget? You looked so grown-up. I was used to watching you head off for school in the mornings, wearing Cathy and Nance's cut-down dresses. Or mucking about in the fields with us boys, or catching fish wearing a pair of Father's old pants. It was a real revelation to see you cleaned up for a change."

He mussed her hair at the memory of her tossing a fish onto the bank, her clothes splashed with mud, a huge grin on her face. He continued, "Remember when you were dancing with -- was it Gordy the Baker's son? -- and you fell into my lap? More than your skill at fishing, that night convinced me you would be my wife."

Gilly smiled and gave him a push. "That was your doing, and you know it. Poor Gordy was no more interested in me than he was in schoolwork!" She turned to him, a serious look in her eyes, "Do you think we could do something like that for Meg?"

"Of course, my love," he answered, rolling onto his back and stretching his arms. "Since we're awake, I'll tell you more about the valley I entered with Aema."

"Always changing the subject," began Gilly. He hushed her with another kiss. "This actually relates, for a change. Be patient!"
As we entered the valley, Aema turned to me with a smile, and with a broad sweep of her arm indicated this was the center of the world to her.

I was interested in everything. The men behind us seemed amused. I suppose they had seen the view so many times that it was all old to them. But for me, every corner held new vistas, each more compelling than the last. The spires on the towers, the flags and pennants hanging from balconies or fluttering from poles, the colors and shapes of everything seemed to beckon.

Periodically, a songbird would add its harmony to the song of the horses' tack. The slow clopping of the hooves lulled me into a reverie. I had lost track of time, but I knew the day was moving on faster than our progress down the mountain and into the valley.

A large shadow drifted across the path over our little party. Startled, I looked up and saw the largest bird I had ever seen. Aema waved to it, and it flew off a ways and settled on a large outcrop near the path ahead.

We turned the corner and I lost sight of it.

When we came around to the spot, a woman was sitting on the prominence. She greeted Aema solemnly, her dark eyes darting back and forth from one member of the party to another. Her cloak draped around her and obscured her figure.

When her gaze came to me, she paused. Assessing my purpose or my character, or just surprised to see someone not of Aema's kin, I knew not.

Aema turned to me, "Paulo (the woman stiffened slightly at my name), would you allow my friend Ketevan to ride with you? We haven't much longer to travel, but it would be nice to arrive all together."

Of course, I agreed, and the woman mounted lightly and swiftly. Her cloak seemed to be made of thousands of small feathers. It was dark as night, and had the depth of the sky and the ocean combined. She settled it around her and we continued on.

I had the feeling that I was expected to say something, but I wasn't sure how to start. Fortunately, she took pity on me and gave me my opening.

"So Paulo, have you traveled far?"

Well, I told her of my long journey, the shipwreck, the wanderings, and how I missed my family.

She nodded, and made appropriate noises. Then she asked why I had left my home and family.

And I had to admit that by this time, the reason seemed rather poor. She was interested when I said I was looking for my parents, that I had apparently been orphaned. Gently, she inquired who had cared for me when my parents died. So I told her all about what I remembered, coming to the village and your parents taking me in.

When I told her about you...
Paul hugged Gilly tight and kissed her firmly, as if to reassure himself that she was there -- or that he was truly home.

"Her face was tight, and she looked away. She seemed to know something that she was reluctant to share. But I didn't have a chance to ask her then, for we had arrived at a roadhouse, and the attendants quickly helped us dismount and took our horses as Aema and Ketevan led the way into the cool and welcoming dining room."

Gilly hugged Paul back, and kissed his neck. "Darling, I know that this is important. But you are here now, and we both need our sleep. You can tell me the rest tomorrow when the children are helping Mother and Father decorate their house."

And they turned out the light, and fell asleep. Safe and loved, they dreamed dreams of great happiness.