Sunday, May 28, 2017

WARRIORS OF THE WAY EPISODE TEN Snow in Spring and Other Lovely Things



     It was love at first sight, there was no doubt. Not that Starshine could ever be replaced in my life or heart but there walked a horse so unbelievably beautiful that my heart gave forth a delighted cry and I looked at the man who held her beside him by a silver bridle and raised my eyebrow. "Thou hast two horses?" He smiled and shook his head and patted the horse on the side of her face. "No, I don't. This is your surprise. I found her wandering in the hills a few days ago. Her rider had fallen to his death in the canyon and she came to me for rescue. I saw you had buried your horse by the tree and I knew you would need another." I was astonished. I viewed the mare from every angle and my heart leapt with joy at her grace and demeanor. She was just slightly smaller than Starshine but not short by any means and in color, the purest white, the snowiest white I had ever seen on an animal. The only touch of color on her body was a  blaze of red on her forehead and I thought immediately to call her Blaze

      When I stopped and stood before her to make eye contact, she suddenly moved backwards, jerking the reins out of the man's hands and slowly began to circle me in the same fashion in which I had inspected her! I was even more astonished. The man laughed out loud and said "I do believe that she is looking you over to see if you'll do as her mistress! What an amazing thing to witness! Not even Redemption showed such discretion of taste!" And he reached to pet the silver horse who watched us in silence. The white mare stopped circling and put her mouth into my outstretched hand and made a soft whimpering sound. "Hello, pretty lady." I said to her softly. "Hast thee lost thy master in this lonely place?" Her white head went up into the air and came back down in answer. My eyes went wide in wonder.  I looked at the man and we laughed together at the response. "She talks!" he said and ran his hand over her thick mane. "And I think she likes you." " I like her, too." I murmured and tickled behind her ears. "I've never seen a horse this color before. She is like the.... " 

     "She looks like a Snow Pony." he finished. "What is that?" I asked, turning to him and he nodded knowingly. "Ah....I will have to tell you about the Snow Ponies. And the Water Horses and the Garden that has four seasons." "You jest!" I laughed, "There is no such thing!" "Yes, there is," he smiled back, "In this land, there are wonders such as you have never seen. I will tell you all about them, I promise. The Otherkin, the Shadowlings, the Felines and Weres, the people who are not people and hunt man and beast for prey. Don't look at me like that!" he admonished me, "They are real! Then there are the Surreals and the Wizards and the Wee Folk. This is their land, here, and you are a visitor ignorant of their existence." "But I have crossed no borders." I protested, "When did I cross over into another land?" I was filled with alarm but felt the quickening of truth. "Didst thee not notice when you crossed from green fields to brown?" he asked quietly, rubbing both horses' faces. "You crossed the Great Gorge a few day's back. You did not notice the change in the landscape and even in the very air you breathed?" 

     Frowning, I strove to remember but could not bring forth a memory beyond the tree and the viper and Starshine's murder. Something blocked my mind still like a locked door and it made me tremble with anxiety. The man said, soothingly. "Fear not. It is of no matter. I will tell you everything that you need to know about this land and of it's many inhabitants. But first, you must name this pretty beast." And I pushed away his frightening words and concentrated upon the task at hand. Brushing back the  hair that fell in the mare's face, I touched the blaze of red, and said decidedly, "Her name shall be Blaze." And the horse shook her head in defiance and neighed a loud neigh and we looked at her in amazement once again. "I don't think she likes that name!" the man said, "Perhaps you should try again."

      I must admit my feelings were hurt for I had decided that Blaze was the perfect name and that was the end of the matter but the horse would not agree. "Firebird!" I exclaimed into the white mare's face and once again she shook her head and refused me. "Flame?" I said, not as defiantly now and the great head shook back and forth for the third time. I was getting frustrated  and not a little agitated when the man said hardly above a whisper, " She looks like a Snow....Pony. She's the color of.....Snow." And I meant to defy his contribution when I detected a change in the horse's demeanor and threw up my hands. "Alright then, what about SnowFire?" and could not believe my eyes when the horse snorted and shook her head one way but not the other. The man laughed loudly in pure joy. 

     "Shorten it!" he said, "You're getting close!" By that time, I was very annoyed but secretly delighted that the mare had such a personality and was not afraid to defy her master. She was like me in that way, sadly....or so my teacher would have remarked as he set me upon a stool back in the corner to contemplate my behavior. She would have her way, that was certain. "So, that's the way it is, then?" I asked her softly and rubbed my face against hers, loving her already and knowing that I had found a friend. "Your name is Snow, isn't it?" and she gave a positive sounding neigh and nodded up and down just like a person. The man grabbed me and hugged me, then hugged both horses and we did a crazy kind of dance like two court jesters. The horse was named and that was that and I would not be traveling alone anymore. And though my life had taken a dangerous turn into unknown territory, for the first time in a long time, I felt happy. 

     We took our breakfast to a shady area on the grass but far away from the dark part of the forest with it's black and fearsome trees. The horses grazed contentedly nearby and we watched them quietly as we ate the stew and hard bread, followed by berries freshly picked from the laden bushes. They were delicious but decidedly strange in taste and color. Purple berries, that left no stain upon the lips or fingers. I marveled at the realization and pointed it out to the man. Nodding, he set aside his wooden bowl, picked up a plump berry from mine and crushed it in his hand, then he leaned forward and rubbed his fingers over my right cheek. "Stop it!" I said, slapping his hand away and laughing. "I just had a bath! Now I am dirty again." "No, you're not," he insisted, "There's nothing there like you just said." "How is this possible?" I asked, inspecting his hand and turning it over and over in mine. There was simply no stain. "This is madness!" I proclaimed and continued to hold his hand though there was no longer any reason.

     He lay back against the tree and pulled me with him, the bowl falling from my lap and spilling into the grass. "That it is," he said in a husky voice, "Complete and total madness!" And he lifted my stainless hand to his lips and kissed it. My hand felt burned and I snatched it quickly back and hid it in the tail of the white shirt, lowering my face and wondering what to do next. The horses stopped their munching and looked at us as if they felt the tension in the air. Lifting my face to his in a challenging but gentle way, the man said, whispering, "Twas but a kiss upon a hand." I tried to meet his eyes boldly and answer back with something bold but only managed to utter, "But 'twas my hand....and my first.....kiss."

      He held my eyes with his for long, long seconds, the blue eyes probing deeply into my mind until I could bear it no more, then he cleared his throat and moved away from me and sighed. "I'm sorry. Forgive my impudence. Was an impulsive and foolish thing to do." And he brought his knees up to his chest and covered his face with his arms, shutting me out. I should have known better but when had I ever done what I should and shouldn't do? My ego, bruised now, spoke, and my reason stepped aside and let it. "Perhaps, not....foolish, " I started haltingly, "Perhaps....impulsive but n n..not.. foolish....surely....." and tried again, "It was not foolish, I am sure but perhaps it's this place. It is so strange and...unknown. Maybe it is affecting us in some way. The.....kiss was not so....bad." and trailed off wishing I had kept my mouth shut. 

     After some time, the man began to chuckle, still hiding his face in his arms and then he began to roar in laughter uncontrollably until I timidly joined him, though I did not see what was so funny. Wiping tears from his laughing eyes, he sought to control himself and used the tail end of his shirt to rub his face, still chuckling. "Thou art a funny maiden." he said, "So innocent and yet so bold. I can't remember when last I laughed like this!" "Laughter is medicine, is it not?" I quoted my teacher and he said, "Indeed, it is! Indeed, it is! And thou art a medicine for a lonely heart!" And thinking about what he had said, he sobered quickly and put his hand upon his mouth. "I..I only meant to say......" and I shushed him and smiled at his discomfort. "It's alright. I understand. My own heart has been ill, too." And a kind of bond began to form between us. I felt it and I thought that he did too. I felt my fear of him start to slip away and the need to know him, truly know him and be his friend rushed me and overtook me like rain on a dusty road. 

     We spent several happy hours there beneath the tree, talking and laughing. We savored the sweetness of being able to share the loneliness that lay upon our hearts. He told me many things that he had experienced in his travels and I responded with stories of my own. Episodes that had frightened me at the time but in the retelling, became funny anecdotes and somewhat timid encounters became braggadocios tall tales. I admit I embellished but doubted that he did. He seemed a brave man to me and besides, I assumed that since he could apparently read my mind that he knew that I was exaggerating and not lying. No matter, it was fun, glorious fun and I began to relax in his company and let the real me come out of it's hiding place. We lay there in the grass conversing until we became hungry again and ate the leftover stew and berries while the mud around the campfire became hardened like a stone floor. 

     "Your bath!" I reminded him pointing to his dirty feet and realizing slowly that I had fallen into his manner of speaking, replacing my thees and thous with yous. He noticed it immediately and said, "In this land, no one speaks the way of the Royal House. You must learn this vernacular so that you will fit in and not stand conspicuously, not that you would ever fit in...but..." and he stumbled over his words and I enjoyed every minute of it, no longer feeling my crushing awkwardness. I let him stumble on, squirming under my accusing look as he tried to explain himself. "What I mean to say this land, they look for odd folk and persecute...uh, I mean, you need to fit in, in order to stay unnoticed, not that anyone could ever not notice you but in order to....." Falling silent, he sighed a loud sigh and tickled my face with a tendril of my own long hair then brushed it against his own and tried to finish the conversation with just his eyes. I thought I knew what he was trying to tell me but I had no idea, really, what lay in store and if I had, I might have run back in the direction from which I had come. But I had no such desire to run anywhere now, especially away from the man with sky colored eyes, with his wonderful stew and his marvelous gift of Snow in the season of Spring.

     I wanted to learn everything I could about him and from him and I wanted to know it all yesterday. At that point, it never even occurred to me that I didn't yet know his name nor he, mine. I was reveling in something I could not fathom or understand and all I knew was that I never wanted that sweet time to end. Thinking back to the rainy night before, I felt amazed that I had ever wanted to run away from him in fear or that I had been convinced that he meant to do me evil.

To be continued in Episode Eleven..............................please comment