Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Seventy Seven

As they walked toward the cliffs, the Watcher and Sebastian listened to Pancho describing how to make the intricate boxes. It was a thin sheet of the bark of one of the trees in the forest cleverly folded in on itself. Another piece similarly folded made a lid. The creature had explained how to strip the bark, dry it and then soak it in the hidden pool to make it soft.

Pancho, with his ability to weave and cook, immediately understood the usefulness of this new craft and asked a number of questions, which the creature happily answered. Then Pancho was surprised by being asked his own opinion on the suitability of different of the grasses for various uses, and whether the fabrics had shown to be more or less durable...

Sebastian smiled at his friend's enthusiasm. Truly, there were many and wonderful things awaiting!

All too soon, they stood at the base of the cliff. The Watcher stood and watched as Pancho began the ascent, holding Sebastian back a moment.

"Now remember, many things will have changed once you leave this cavern. I cannot tell you how much time will have passed, but you will be alone on the island. It will be many of your months before the creatures again walk about, but they know where to find you, and will contact you. Choose your supplies from the cupboard carefully, as they must last you..."

Sebastian found himself standing on a platform, rising up, up from the floor. Pancho was waiting at the top, surveying the walls.

"Where's the Watcher? Isn't he coming with us?" he inquired in an anxious voice.

"No, not this time, Pancho. Why?"

"Oh -- nothing, I guess. Just something the creature said as I left, about time passing slowly here and changes in the world below. Not sure why he called it below..." he broke off as he caught Sebastian's expression.

And his own face fell as he realized the enormity of what they had witnessed and the reality of the hints he had gleaned from conversation.

The young men set about gathering supplies -- a bit of soft bandaging here, vials of medicines thoughtfully labeled, bags of dried beans and grains of types they were familiar with and a few they weren't, boxes of powdered herbs and spices, and some dried fish and meats. They considered but passed up some sweetbreads and cakes, but took along some powdered honey and a small vial of sweet nectar to go with a packet of tea. Soon, they had all they could carry.

Sebastian looked again toward the cavern, and was startled but not surprised to see that the light had changed again. The ceiling was darkening, and when he tried to look over the edge, he couldn't see as far as the bottom. A few soft lights still glowed on the walls, but an eerie, hard silence filled the space now. Pancho came up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Come on, we have a long walk ahead," he said, drawing Sebastian back toward the still lighted entrance.

They trudged in silence, laden with bags, carrying the box between them. The ladder to the hatch seemed longer than they remembered and it took several trips to get all the items up.

It was just on the edge of dark and light when they emerged, the air held a chill, and the sun on the horizon --

As they closed the hatch, the position of the sun alerted them. It was morning.

They looked at each other in disbelief. It was spring.

A small shorebird hopped about at the edge of the pool, unconcerned by their presence. A small animal lapped at the edge, hidden by rushes. The sun rose higher, and the bushes that hid the pool opened up their buds, emitting a powerful, but not unpleasant, scent.

The young men silently gathered their gear and headed for home.

As the hidden pool receded, they began to share their experiences in more detail, Sebastian describing the pictures of Nan and the detailing the Watcher's instructions; Pancho relayed the tidbits he had gleaned from the creature. Neither yet realized, though, how very different their lives would become.