Storytime with Stidmama

Seventy Eight

The walk home from the hidden pool seemed longer than they remembered.

The boxes and bags seemed to get heavier with every step. Pancho kept looking around and listening, until Sebastian asked him what was wrong.

"I am worried the men might be waiting for us," Pancho said, "They were very angry with us."

Sebastian walked a few paces further before answering, "I don't think we have to worry about them any more."

Pancho's face registered confusion, and if he hadn't been holding one end of the box with one hand and a couple of bags on his other shoulder, he would have shrugged.

"I mean, the Watcher said that things would be different by the time we got back to the trees," Sebastian explained, "He said the men aren't on the island any more."

"But, that's ridiculous!" snorted Pancho, "Just yesterday they were..."

Sebastian shook his head and looked over his shoulder briefly at Pancho. "Can't you feel the difference in the air? Don't you see the changes in the plants?"

Pancho stared blankly, and they walked on. Then a bird's song rang out, a joyous paean of welcome, and Pancho's face blanched. All around, as they entered a small meadow, were glorious flowers in full bloom. As the sunlight caught the last remnants of the night's dew, they sparkled as so many jewels on a tiara. A songbird perched high on a tall reed-like grass, with fresh green tips, ecstatically announcing the birth of its young.

All around, there were signs of new life: small pawprints in the mud, dazedly following in the steady path of big ones; bright greens lighting the shadows under dusky olive-drab branches; fresh piles of dark earth at the openings of burrows.

"Hold up a moment," Pancho said, and they set the box down, and stretched. "What happened? It was supposed to be the middle of winter. Yesterday. When we went into the tunnel under the pool, the men were looking for us.

"What happened..."

Sebastian shrugged and gestured with his hands. "I can't explain this. The Watcher told me time was passing differently. I don't know how, or even how long we were gone. It could be this island has seasons different than the ones from our homelands. Or it could be the cavern had some special qualities. I just know that the Watcher said the men would be gone and more time had passed for the island than for us."

A large, dark bird passed overhead silently, turning once over the meadow before disappearing over the forest. The two young men stood watching it, then spoke in lowered voices.

"What happened to the men?" asked Pancho huskily, for though he was afraid of most of them, still they had been what passed for a family for several years.

"I don't know -- don't you see -- the Watcher didn't tell me much more. Just that we would not be disturbed by them, that we could look and not find them. And that we might have to manage on our own for a while...

"We can't get back to the cavern for a while -- that's why we needed to get so many supplies."

Pancho nodded and they picked up the box and bags again, and trudged on. The sun was high in the sky when they entered the shade under the canopy of trees.

As the Watcher had said, they found their trees intact, all their possessions and supplies in good order. In one tree, a family of small mammals had taken up residence in a corner of the platform. In another, a branch had fallen, taking out part of the woven roofing. But in the rest, everything seemed to be as it should.

They realized their was no need to haul the large box up, so they set it on top of a table-height log near the largest tree house, and unpacked the bags they had carried.

Pancho decided to use a smallish platform as his primary sleeping house, and Sebastian chose another, neither was too far from the largest house with its clever seating and tables. They were all in calling distance of each other, but distant enough that there would still be some privacy.

Sebastian carefully arranged his platform, setting the little scroll with Nan's picture on a ledge formed by one branch crossing another near the trunk. A pile of blankets and a carafe containing healing liquid went on the floor near the hammock he would use as a bed. A few boxes of snacks and a container of water, and he was satisfied enough with his quarters to start cleaning the main house, which with Pancho's help didn't take long.

By evening, everything had been rearranged, and they had managed to find a sheltered rock in a small meadow under which they could cook without setting fire to the trees. A clear spring bubbled nearby, with sweet-tasting water.

"I am sure I looked here before," said Sebastian, "and it was not here then!" They smiled at each other, and sat on top of the rock, looking out through the trees toward the coast while they ate a satisfying meal of soup and crackers from the supplies they had carried home -- was it just this morning?

Tomorrow, they would explore along the beaches, to try to understand what had happened to the other men. For now, the evening songs of the birds were soothing, and the wind whistled in harmony through the tops of the trees.