Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Eighty Three

Sebastian was in his hammock. It had been a long day.

He and Pancho had been up and down the island three times, making the trip from the rocky tip near where they had landed, to the far, very gradual shore.

The birds had flown ahead of them each time, singing insistently, urging them on.

At mid-day, the young men had stopped briefly at the poolside to rest and take stock of their progress.

At each trip to the rocky beach, they had picked up more of the strange round rocks that had seemingly appeared overnight -- shades of blue, gray, taupe and orange. They were heavier than one might expect, and seemed to shiver with excitement when they were touched.

The birds swooped overhead, chattering the whole way along the path, nervous as maiden aunts with their first tree-climbing nephew. "Don't drop them!" the birds seemed to say, "Don't hurt them!"

There were now neatly sorted piles on the long sandy beach at the end of the island, and the entire rocky shore had been scoured. All that remained, at mid-day was to finish the last pass over the pathway to be sure none were left behind.

"What do you suppose brought them?" asked Pancho as Sebastian leaned back against the monolith and dipped his hot toes in the crystal water.

"Not sure," grumbled Sebastian, "But my back is glad we're almost done.

"Whatever the Watcher wants with them, he's welcome to them -- they could be filled with precious gems and solid gold and I wouldn't want any after today!"

A funny gust of wind, and the Watcher appeared through the rushes.

Pancho jumped up, then fell back laughing, as Sebastian splashed some water in the dark figure's direction.

"And what, young Sebastian, do you think is in the precious orbs?"

Sebastian's face reflected the sunlight and the water and seemed to swim in the warmth of the afternoon as he replied jokingly, "I think, oh great one, that is none of my business unless you care to inform us."

The Watcher took his place next to Sebastian and stuck a long, gangly limb into the water, sighing contentedly. He ruffled Pancho's hair and smiled. "And I do care to inform you, as your help today will be remembered for a long time to come.

"Once every three hundred and twenty-five years, the precious orbs are laid among the rocks of this island. In the past, there was a small colony of Watchers here, but they were called home during a very bad plague more than a lifetime ago and no one has replaced them.

Catching Sebastian's look, he amended himself, "That is, until you arrived. I was merely assigned to you and when you were directed here, the advent of the orb laying became my duty as well."

Pancho caught Sebastian's eye, "Orb-laying? You mean they are some sort of egg or seed?"

The Watcher laughed, and produced an orb of each color from his robe. ""This one," he said, "holding out a rather dull-looking taupe orb, carries the seed of the trees of the forest. It takes many dozens of years for a tree to grow big enough to be used for an arrow -- many hundreds to be large enough for staff. But the wood is strong and supple and provides the needs of many.

"This one," and he held out a blue orb, "Is a child of the creatures you met below. It journeys far from the beginning to find its kind, and will pass through challenges of legendary proportions before it finds its way home.

"The others are seeds or eggs, or gifts -- my predecessors spoke in only vague, general terms in their reports. I can tell you only this: each orb has a purpose and with or without help always manages to find its way to the right place."

The young men exchanged curious glances. Pancho picked up the blue orb, realizing only now that it felt warm. Sebastian picked up a taupe orb and found that the outer coating was fibrous and tough. The gray orb, was smooth but didn't reflect light in the way smooth things usually did. The orange orb was -- no way around it -- squishy, just under the surface and seemed to grip whatever surface it was on.

The Watcher stood, drawing in the sounds as if absorbing them. The sky roiled, and the Watcher sprang into the pool...

Sebastian woke, swinging gently in his hammock, the sun hitting him squarely in his right eye through a small hole in the roof.

The birds were singing around -- and in -- his loft, calling for breakfast. A little brown bird with a bright yellow shaft on its wing perched on the end of his toe, grooming.

In the distance, Sebastian could hear Pancho up and about, already grinding some seeds for their evening meal -- they had to soak for a while to soften up, they had learned the hard way!

Gently shooing the birds out of his loft, Sebastian pulled on a lightweight tunic. Grabbing up his hat and a large sack, he lowered himself to the ground and set out toward the beach to look for anything useful...