Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy Six

Sebastian and Pancho enjoyed their tea under the Watcher's benevolent eye, and were sorry when it was over.

The Watcher motioned them out, and picked up something on the way out, which he hid in the voluminous folds of his robe. They picked their way back toward the cliff, all the while listening to the Watcher tell of Sebastian's family's goings-on.

"Polly's getting betrothed?" Sebastian exclaimed in disbelief, "But not Inga? Are you sure? I thought Inga had a beau..." The Watcher caught his eye and Sebastian trailed off.

"Your actions have had many repercussions, young man. Your sister's beau looked long and hard for you, but it wasn't enough to convince her to wed this year. She felt she needed to stay home for your parents' sake. He still waits, but for how long, I cannot say."

Sebastian was silent. His actions had had many unintended consequences. The trio walked toward, then around, a small mound with a door on one side. Pancho thought he saw a face on the door, but when he looked again, it was just a door.

"Your parents grieve, each in singular ways. Your mother makes lace, day and night. Polly's veil, cuffs and collars, edgings and trim. She stops only when Inga needs her help with the housework. Your father spends all his time outside, or in the barn, coming in only to eat and sleep. They do not speak of you, but you are much in their thoughts.

"Daniel has begun to work in the village as much as possible. He does not shirk his farm duties, but spends most of his time with the family of the girl he hopes to wed. He is much in demand as a handyman around the village, and is making a name for himself as a carpenter.

"Your grandparents are well, but they are aging. The arm that was broken did not heal properly, and plagues your grandfather though he tries to ignore it. Your grandmother and aunt have tried to take on more of the burden, but it has been difficult.

"Nan," started Sebastian, "You said she was badly hurt and that she suffers still. What about her?"

The Watcher was silent for a bit, and Sebastian grew uncomfortably hot. Then he felt a chill. The Watcher watched him gravely, then just as Sebastian opened his mouth to speak again, drew out the small scroll he had brought from his rooms.

He handed it to Sebastian, who was startled by the warm tingling sensation as he grasped it. He almost dropped it, but carefully set it on the bench -- or table -- beside him, and unrolled it. Astonished, and not a little frightened, he peeked at the Watcher who motioned for him to look at it.

The scroll held a perfectly rendered series of drawings, all of Nan. One was of her as an infant, then as a toddler, then as a young girl. There was one of Nan as she had looked that day in the field, strong and proud to be helping, her red skirt blowing in the breeze....

The tears began to roll down Sebastian's face. The Watcher pointed at the next picture, of Nan lying in a bed, looking very very small. Then a picture of Nan sitting, with a pinched expression and hunched shoulders.

"I can't!" he cried out, "I can't look any more!"

His breath came in ragged gasps, and he hid his eyes in his hands.

"There is only a little more to see," said the Watcher, @but it is important."

The boy, for such he seemed at the moment, looked again. There was only one more picture, a simple line drawing in black and white: Nan, with a beatific smile, looking much older and very thin, wearing -- Sebastian caught his breath -- Esmeralda's pendant and a long robe such as the Watcher wore.

"The last picture shows Nan in five years, as she may yet become," explained the Watcher, "But it changes, day to day, hour to hour. It reflects not only her health at the moment, but her hopes and dreams. It can tell you how best to help her, if you use it wisely.

"But that you must discover yourself. Your path and hers will intersect again, and what you do between now and then may make all the difference to her. Or none."

Sebastian said nothing, lost in thought.

The Watcher looked at him, and nodded as if in answer to an unspoken promise. Pancho, losing his fear of the amazing long-haired creatures, had walked off a little way, and was watching one of them making a box. The creature suddenly stopped, and turned to Pancho.

Taking a step back, the young man stammered, "Forgive me, I didn't mean to intrude..."

A mellifluous voice rang out clearly, "There is no intrusion by one such as you -- here..." the creature held a piece of the box toward Pancho, "You may help me." And with a wink at the Watcher, the creature turned back to its task.

The Watcher smiled, and sat down at a table-bench. Bench-table? Sebastian hadn't made up his mind yet. They were halfway to the cliff and there was increasing activity at its base, with creatures coming and going from one door to another, ascending and descending the strange lift mechanism.

There was shift in the air, and Sebastian looked around suddenly in surprise. The color of the walls seemed to have changed.

Yes, there was a different cast to them. Where earlier they had been grayish-blue, now they appeared more yellow-green. He looked up, and the ceiling was darker than before.

He looked down. The ground was still springy, but now the covering seemed to crackle a bit.

He glanced quizzically at the Watcher, who gestured with his arm.

"This space is between two worlds, Sebastian. It functions as a conduit between your home and another, farther away than anyone's imagination could believe. These creatures, as you have discovered, though not man are neither beasts, but beings of great grace and intelligence."

Sebastian tried to think what sort of conduit the Watcher might mean, but gave up. He listened harder. "The creatures and my people have long been in contact, and we trade betwee n our worlds, but carefully and silently. There are many in both places who would not understand."

"This space is also not aligned to time on your world. When you reach the pool above, you will find that more time has passed on the island than here. A great deal more time. You need to be prepared. Listen carefully to what I am about to say."

Sebastian turned pale, and looked at the Watcher's pale, thin face. The eyes glittered with emotion -- anger? sorrow? concern?

"When you return, you and Pancho will seem to be alone on the island. The men will have disappeared, for a reason you will discover later. Though you will consider returning to the beach, I urge you to remain in the forest, and to stay in the canopy as much as possible until you understand the changes you will see and hear.

"The small doors and such that you found above the cliff were indeed built just for you. On your way out, you and Pancho will each take as much as you can carry in the baskets that will be waiting for you. These will need to see you through several weeks, so choose carefully."

Sebastian tucked the scroll neatly into his shirt and felt it humming gently next to his heart. He gazed out across the expanse of the chamber and caught sight of Pancho walking slowly toward them, a small box in his hand, in conversation with one of the creatures who had to stoop to hear him.

"I thought I had been through so much, great one, and now I know that it is but a pinprick compared to others' woes. I thought I had learned so much, and have discovered how much there is yet.

"I thought I had grown, and already become a man, but find that I long for the guidance I so willingly ran from."

He stood as Pancho drew near, and looked the Watcher in the eye. "I suppose," he mused, "there will always be more questions than answers, and more possibilities than time."

The Watcher nodded. "So it would seem, Sebastian."

Pancho parted from the creature and approached, with a smile on his face. There would be much to share when they returned to their trees.