Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost. Then a finding of sorts

The old man sitting by me had paused in the telling of his tale. He absently swilled the last of the now cold coffee around the bottom of the thermos cup. I thought it best not to interrupt his reverie.
The man himself was a fit looking elderly gentleman but nothing remarkable in that. He had the radiance of one whom spends his entire time in the wild places and exuded a wisdom that mere city-dwellers can not even begin to comprehend. He was clad in an ancient Barbour jacket whose colour had long since become rather nonedescript. Come to think of it, my Barbour is stating to look a bit like that. But it is much better that way. Natural camouflage. He had his hood up partially hiding his face, not for that purpose but more likely as protection from the thickening damp mist that had descended.
I looked across the clearing. The two gate stooks were all but totally enveloped in the grey shrouding made more palpable by the darkness of the surrounding trees. He raised his head and looked at me. I could see the twinkle of those ageless eyes deep in the recesses of his hood. "It was very kind of you to share the last of your sandwiches, " he said by way of breaking his reverie. He reached into his pocket and handed me an apple, "Here, have this. There's plenty more where that one came from." I accepted it without question. I know this forest district pretty well and am certain there is no orchard within several miles of here. I took a bite. It was really fresh as if just plucked from the tree. "Now, to continue the story.

"That poor lass ran out of the cottage to begin her impossible errand. If she failed or simply didn't do as the two sisters had told her she would probably be beaten until there was no life left in her . She knew only too well the storm would eventually kill her anyway. She ran blindly into the trees picking her way. The forest became denser the further she went. There was one compensation; the trees are so closely packed and the canopy is almost complete. The wind and snow hardly reaches the forest floor. But it was still intensely cold. She walked and stumbled on, not knowing where she was. Then, as she peered along a defile of tall tree-trunks she could just about discern a faint glow. "It might be I've gone full circle," she mused, "but whatever, I'll have to get warm somewhere. But if I return empty handed..." She shivered, and not simply because of the cold. Gingerly she made her way towards the distant light. She was not alone. There were other creatures watching. At one point a flash of red briefly betrayed a fox's presence. At another, a wildcat crouched. Its ears permanently flattened against its head as it watched the young girl go by. Somewhere an owl hooted. She saw these things. They were passers by in this world.
"The distant glimmer became more or a glade as she neared it and eventually she found herself in a clearing. Overhead the sky was a leaden grey carrying the promise of more snow to come. Strangely the was no wind. What was more startling was the smouldering fire in the centre of the clearing surrounded by twelve robed men who sat curled up asleep except one. The one who sat awake held a staff with what appeared to be some jewel at its top end. He saw her enter the clearing and asked, "What are you doing here so far from home? And why so thinly dressed here in the depths of icy winter?" The girl looked at him. His ice-cold eyes flashed from within his cowl. Yet his his was not an unkind countenance. "I live in the cottage about a day's walk from here. Indeed it has taken me that long to get this place. I live with two sisters who keep me as a servant and they have sent me out into the storm to gather the flowers of Spring."
"But it is the deepest depth of Winter and not the time for Spring flowers," the man chided.
"This I know Sir," she replied, "but if I return empty handed they will beat me so hard I may not live. Better I died of the cold here in the forest." The man's ice look melted as they filled with tears. "You must know," he began to explain, "that you are in the oldest part of this great forest and we here are the Guardians of the Seasons. My name is January. It is my turn to keep watch and see that all is well. In winter all life sleeps until Spring's awakening. It is the Law. The Natural Order. You must wait until then." The girl knew she could not change things. She sank to her knees, resigned. "Then I will surely die." Her words were barely audible. She listed her tear soaked face to January, "May I at least warm myself by your fire? Then I shall go to meet my end in the forest where the trees themselves can gain sustenance from me wherever I lay."
This touched January to his very heart. "There are times in winter when Spring is allowed to waken for a little while but only enough to let the world see the promise of things to come. I will speak to Brother March.
January walked over to the second sleeping monk-like figure on his left and touched him with his staff. March awoke. January explained the dilemma. "Then I must help her," said March as he rose to his feet. January handed him the staff.

March poked the fire with the staff then withdrew it. He whirled the staff about him and all around the snow melted and the green grass revealed itself. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, all grew in abundance. The birds sang even a red squirrel broke its hibernation to scamper along a tree branch. The stood in open-mouthed wonder. March called out, "Now child you must hurry. Gather what you may for it is Spring, but soon I must return to sleep for it is not yet my time."

She wasted no time filling her apron with all the flowers she could gather. By the time she had finished, March had already returned to his place and sank into slumber. January alone stood there with his staff. "Go back to the cottage with this. Lets hope those two sisters are grateful. The way back is easy to find keep the sun to your right side and you will get back. These flowers of Spring will clear you path before you." He touched the flowers with the staff. "Now go, and go quickly!"
"Oh thank you, thank you!" she cried hardly containing her joy. She turned and left.
True to his word, January's touch of the flowers did indeed light her way. The forest was no less dense and the steely grey clouds persisted. But there was a magic in those out of season flowers. As she stepped through the forest a path of green grass opened up before her and it was with a light heart that she re-entered the cottage to present the two sisters with her wondrous bouquet.
The door closed behind her as she entered and outside the Winter once more reasserted its iron grip.


to be continued......

1 comment:

Thumbelina said...

Ooh! Ooh! I love this. Keep going. Next installment soooooon please!
(Even though I know the ending I love to read it. I've never read it before. I've only just realised that. :0) Only heard it told. And only by one person so I hear your voice in here, loud and clear....)