Storytime with Stidmama

Seventy One

written 13 November 2006

Pancho and Sebastian climbed down, Sebastian carefully closing the hatch behind them. It was very dark, and the air was slightly damp, but not overly chill. A light draft away from the hatch made a quiet whooshing sound. The floor sloped slightly away into the unknown.

Sebastian led the way, the narrow passage surprisingly tall, at last twice the height of Pancho, who was a full hand taller than Sebastian. The floor was springy to the step, softer than dirt and more stable than grass. Pancho guessed it was a moss that grew in the darkness of the cave.

Pancho started once to ask a question, but the reverberations rang louder than he expected and he sank into silence, one hand on Sebastian's back, the other on a ridge on the wall where Sebastian had directed his hand. The ridge had small triangles that pointed back toward the entrance. Pancho understood immediately and his fingers never left the ridge.

After what seemed like an hour, but was probably closer to a quarter of that, Sebastian slowed down and began to crawl. Pancho followed suit, and discovered that the floor was lined, not with moss as he had surmized, but with some sort of thick woven matting.

Slowly, they crept forward, until the air began to glow slightly yellow around the edges of small bumps on the wall and floor. The ceiling was too high to see.

Slowly, quietly, they crept forward until the objects began to take form. Some like boxes, others like orbs.

Slowly, quietly, gently, they crept forward until the color of the walls turned from black to gray, to brown, to tan. The objects were red, and blue, green and gold, silver and yellow.

The path dropped off suddenly and the narrow passageway became a large cavern. Pancho slithered to the edge and looked over at Sebastian's urging.

There, countless feet below, was a grassy field, lit all around by glowing shapes such as were on the walls and floor (and now, it seems, ceiling). There were a few shrubs, such as surrounded the pool above, and others that were familiar, but not identifiable from the distance. In various places appeared benches or tables, some empty, some piled high with various objects. On the field moved large beings.

They were not like men -- nor completely beastlike either. They crouched and moved, congregated and stood, or sat. Some appeared deep in conversation, others intent on arriving at a destination. Their long hair, or was it fur?, swept the ground like cloaks as they moved, the grasses bending and recovering as if none had been past.

Pancho's eyes grew large, and he retreated from the edge, his heart pounding. Sebastian laughed softly, and joined him. They sat with their backs to the wall, looking at the glowing shapes and noticing that the light in them shifted and turned in patterns, growing now brighter, now softer. Pancho wasn't sure, but it seemed that there was a music in the background, keeping time with the changes...

"What is this place?" gasped Pancho shakily.

Sebastian shrugged, "I am not sure, though I think there really was something on the causeways, and I think they came from this place. Or at least came to this place. I have something else to show you, too."

They moved toward the far wall, and Sebastian touched one of the shapes. Quietly, a gap appeared in the wall, revealing a shelf with a basket of dried berries. Another shape, another gap, this time with nuts. A third shape, a drawer slid out, filled with liquid that shimmered in the dim glow.

"Try this," said Sebastian, producing a cup from somewhere, and he offered it to Pancho who took a sip hesitantly.

The liquid was thicker than water, sightly sweet, a bit salty, and very -- Pancho tried to think of a word for it -- satisfying. He took another sip, decided he'd had enough and handed the cup back wordlessly.

Sebastian finished the cup and slid the drawer back into the wall.

"The funny thing is," he mused, "All these recesses and drawers seem to be just at the right height for us. Yet all the beings down there are much taller than we are." He shrugged and continued, "It's as if someone expected us to be here -- or at least someone very like us."

"And indeed, you would be correct!" piped a gentle but commanding voice behind them. "We have been waiting for you, young Sebastian. Who is your friend?"

The boys, for such they felt themselves to be suddenly, turned around, their faces ashen at being discovered.

The speaker was a tall, thin person, clad in a cloak of feathers and ribbons. Or feathers. Or ribbons. The person didn't hold still long enough to be sure, and yet Sebastian was certain he knew who it was.

"You!" he tried to say, but his voice failed him.

The person laughed, a crystalline, musical sound like a thousand wind chimes at a distance. "I was sure you would recognize me. Your uncle spoke to his kin, and I have watched you ever since you left your mountain. Though I thought I remained better hid, I must admit."

The person cocked his head at Sebastian, "You would not have come to serious harm, though I was tempted to let you." He looked stern, and the sound of his voice grew cold, "Your cousin suffers greatly from the harm you inflicted on her, and your mother mourns as if you were dead."

Pancho's mouth opened and closed, and his eyes moved back and forth between Sebastian and the Watcher. For this was the stuff of legends, people who could come and go like the birds, bound neither by tide nor fences; who moved with the winds and showed up on their own time; people who were held accountable to none other than their own kind.

Sebastian looked mightily uncomfortable. He squirmed, he hemmed and hawed, and finally grew silent.

The Watcher nodded, and drawing his cloak about himself, began to moved toward the edge of the precipice. "Follow me," he said, and stepping down without looking back, he appeared to sink slowly over the edge, as the sun sets over the horizon.

Pancho and Sebastian looked at each other, and not daring to disobey, hastened to follow.