Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy Two

written 14 November 2006

Sebastian followed the Watcher, his face pale and drawn, and his hands twitching nervously.

Pancho followed Sebastian, in only slightly better shape.

They stepped off the edge of the precipice, and onto a solid, nearly transparent sort of conveyor belt that ran diagonally down the cliff to the floor of the cavern below. The young men exchanged surprised glances. Not magic, but mechanics. They were intrigued.

The floor of the cavern was as soft and springy as sunny meadow in the springtime.

Pancho hung back a bit, reluctant to get to close to the Watcher, but curious enough to stay within hearing range.

Sebastian had no choice. The Watcher had drawn him forward, and was speaking earnestly.

"Your cousin, who was hurt by your action, though not by your intent, is struggling. She is in no danger of dying," the Watcher added hastily, seeing Sebastian's concern, "but the pain she is experiencing is wearing on her, and she is losing hope."

Sebastian glanced at Pancho, who was gawking at one of the large creatures, sitting on a bench as tall as a table, eating some sort of fruit with amazingly delicate hands.

"She thinks," continued the Watcher, threading their way through a clutter of boxes and bundles, "That your disappearance was her fault. That her dear aunt, your mother, grieves because the loss of you is compounded by the guilt over your actions. And she worries that your grandfather's arm still pains him."

Sebastian looked uncomfortable, and tried to hang back, but the Watcher stopped and looked into his eyes steadily. Sebastian thought he looked into his thoughts, Pancho thought the Watcher was looking into the future, far beyond them or the cavern with its wondrous inhabitants.

"You and I," intoned the Watcher solemnly, "know that it is neither your mother's fault nor your cousin's, nor your father's or the donkey. The accident was caused by your actions, and you will have to face the consequences. And that does include going home."

But not just yet, thought Pancho, not from this lonely isle with its strange, hidden creatures and under-world. Not without a way to leave this place, not without... He was distracted by the sight of one of the creatures stretching to its full height.

It was more than twice Pancho's height. Close to three times his height. Standing upright, the long fur fell gracefully like a robe -- not unlike the robe the watcher wore -- and shimmered in the colored lights as the creature moved gracefully to the side wall. It touched a lever and disappeared through a door that silently opened and closed.

Pancho returned to the conversation, running a bit to catch up.

"But, how will I get home, and what about Pancho?" Sebastian was saying.

"You are not going home yet, young Sebastian," the Watcher seemed to chuckle at the implied hope in the young man's voice. "You have many lessons yet to learn. But since you found the cavern, it was necessary to let you know you are safe, as sometimes rather astonishing things happen..."

Pancho side-stepped one of the strange glowing shapes in the floor, and almost bumped into one of the table-benches. The Watcher stopped and waited for him to catch up.

"And you, Pancho, what would you dream of? The fertile fields of your homeland, your large, crowded, noisy family, the insistent mother who always had enough extra to give you a treat on your natal day? Or are you content with your decision to go to sea, and dream of the joy of the wind in your face, the thrill of the waves as they curl against the hull of the boat, the smell of the harbor at low tide?"

Pancho smiled, "Good Watcher, I dream of all these things, and of the taste of good brew from my uncle's tavern."

Sebastian grinned. Many nights, they had sat up tending the fire and speaking of the finer things in life. He knew Pancho had joined the crew willingly, intending someday to go home. And he sobered, thinking how different had been his own motivation for becoming a sailor.

"What am I to do, then?" He asked the Watcher, considering whether he was to remain in the cavern.

The Watcher looked into the distance, the cavern seemed to reach forever, the furthest wall not visible from their vantage point on a small rise; the cliff face behind them now only slightly higher than the tables between them. "You cannot stay in the cavern for long, it has -- qualities -- that are unusual and can cause your kind distress. You must return to the forest above, and resume your lives. The entry point will be closed to you for many months once you leave, but you will not be left without recourse or guidance."

They veered to the right, and came to an indentation in the wall, which the Watcher stepped through. He came back, and gestured for them to follow.

They were in a small room, with books on tables that were the right size, and maps on the walls. It was lit with a lamp that gave off a familiar oily smell, and the yellow light flickered dimly through the glass shade. The Watcher indicated they were to sit, and disappeared behind a curtain, returning a moment later with a box and a teapot.

"These," he said, setting them between the young men, "Are gifts from your uncle, Sebastian. I am allowed to take only small things between here and there, and only from you for your family." He turned his gaze to Pancho, "I am sorry that I cannot do the same for you."

To Sebastian's surprise, Pancho smiled and nodded, "And I would not ask for more, good Watcher! I have chosen my life, and my family knows this. I will return when I can, and this they also know. I understand that there is a Purpose for Sebastian that goes beyond this place and time. I will be content to share in his adventure as far as I may."

And quite an adventure it would be, too. But at the moment, the smell of good tea and a slice of Helena's spice cake had all their attention. The Watcher retreated to observe while the two friends made a feast and shared mid-winter toasts, far from family, but not far from their families' thoughts.