Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Ninety Nine

Gilly was tired. She had worked in the garden all morning, missing the companionship of Nan acutely. The dog had done its best to keep her amused, bringing bits of wood or clumps of weeds she had tossed too far, but though he tried to understand her words, it was no use. Finally, he understood her voice, and lay down under the tree in the shade. It was too hot to play, anyway, he knew.

Luncheon, Gilly decided, would be a simple plate of cold meat and bread and some freshly pulped juice from the sweetberries she had just picked. Paul would like that, and it wouldn't heat up the kitchen.

Perhaps, she thought to herself, it was time to move to the outside kitchen. Though not as convenient, it would be nicer in the house.

Paul came through the gate, grimy and tired. He smiled at her and went to clean off by the well. Gilly watched him, enjoying the way he moved -- so elegant and strong, confident but not overly so. He caught her looking, and splashed some water at her. Laughing, she tossed a weed in his direction and moved inside.

After lunch, they sat on the shady porch and talked, watching people moving past on the road. Nobody and nothing was moving quickly today, not even the breeze could set the treetops shaking.

Paul sighed, and Gilly looked up from the shirt she was mending.

"Did I ever tell you how I found my family in the mountains? It was the strange old man in the cave, you know."

Gilly nodded. She had suspected as much, but kept her silence, waiting for Paul to tell it in his own words, in his own time.

Paul picked up the story, reminding Gilly of the moss-covered cave floor, and the strange library at the back of the cave.

The man, you might remember, was old -- how old, I could not tell, but older by far than even my aunts Aema and Ketevan. He might have come from beyond time, for the sense I had of his belonging to the cave, rather than the other way around.

He knew, from just looking at me, that I didn't really belong in the mountains, nor to the valley. The questions he had asked, as I told him my tale, indicated that he knew the answers before I did. I had looked around the room a little bit, as he wrote in a large book, admiring some of the beautiful bindings and trying to figure out the writing, which resembled that of Aema's people.

"So," he rasped out as he watched me, "You know how to read! But not, I think this writing!" His laughter crackled in the air, like green wood in a fire.

I turned, and bowed low as I admitted, "Sir, I am educated, but not so well as I would like."

I smiled, and he returned it, wrinkles appearing all over his face, his slightly pointed, perfectly straight, reflecting the torchlight. He reached in front of me, and pulled out a slim volume, wrapped in a leather I could not identify. He pointed at the title, which was written in three scripts. I could just sound out the last one which was almost like our word for health, and he nodded, placing it in my hand.

"You'll learn, young man, you have it in you." He turned, and began to move toward the back wall of the library, motioning me to join him, "The word means, healing and is written in the languages of the people of the valley, the people of the mountains and the people across the sea." He paused a moment, examining the books on the back wall, "Though when I wrote it, he said modestly, I dare say the language across the sea was a bit different."

I nodded, and held it back toward him. But he chuckled, and refused. "A gift, for you. I have no more need for it, and it may be useful at some point as you travel." He paused again, muttering something to himself, and then exclaimed, "Ha! It would move up a shelf!"

He removed a bright green-bound book, and reset it on the shelf, which caused the entire case to pull back and to the side. I had, by this time, seen so many wondrous sights that I was not alarmed immediately, though when he grasped a torch and held it through the opening my heart fluttered and I felt a chill.

It was a room of death. On the floor were centuries of bones, the walls lined with shelves holding well-labeled skulls. The ceiling, high above, was domed, and again a hole appeared in it, sending a dim light into the chamber. I hung back, but the man gave me a look and I felt compelled to enter.

"I gave up collecting the bones from the mountain long years ago," He directed me toward a staircase I hadn't seen along one wall, "It was part of my studies, you see -- to determine whether one species might be inherently stronger than another. But it was a foolish thought. Each was well put in its own place and time."

I relaxed, and the man paused behind me.

"Mind you," he growled, "There have been many over the years that I was not sorry to collect!"

Then he laughed, and pointed to a landing halfway up the wall. The door was painted with cheerful flowers and scrollwork that resembled the buildings in Aema's city.

"That's where you're going, young fellow. Through that door lie answers to your quest. When you're done, you can return and gather your belongings."

And he handed me the torch and disappeared through the portal to the library before I could ask any more.

"Gilly, I was nervous. I had no idea who this man was. Nor what he planned for me. I had not yet met the Visitor who gave me the potion for Nan, nor yet found my way to the aerie of my mother's family. All was still so strange.."

Gilly set aside her work and moved closer to Paul.

"Paul, your journey held much danger. Why did you continue?"

She waited for his answer, her head on his shoulder.

He held her hands in his, tracing the line of a scar on one, touching the ring she wore gently. "I needed to know," He whispered, "What sort of people I belonged to. What my own yearnings and talents meant."

He gazed at her with love, "And I found many of the answers behind that door, just as the man promised."

Across the lane, Andy came whistling along, a string of fish over his shoulder. A light gust finally sent the wildflowers along the fence dancing.