WARRIORS OF THE WAY
A WAVE OF LONGING
Arriving back at camp, we were greeted by the horses, who pushed their noses into our bags of apples and demanded dessert. We generously poured several out upon the grass and looked around for the deer. Finally, we spotted him asleep in the shade of a tree and smiled at one another. “You know we need to make sure he gets back to his home safely, don’t you?” the man said to me, setting his load down carefully. I did the same and then turned to him. “Must we? I’ve come to love him like a pet.” “I know.” he answered, “But even though he is a very big boy, he is still quite young. His antlers are fairly small, really and yet soft. I wonder how he came to be in that dangerous forest alone. Lost, most probably. Anyway, I think I might know from whence he came and how to get him back there.”
He reached to take my two hands in his and breathed deeply. “Which brings me to this……..how would you like to go on a journey with me in the morning?” My face lit up with joy and I gasped. “You mean that I can go with you? You said you had to leave and that…..” But he shook his head. “No, I mean…I want to take you west of here. To show you some of the places I told you about. The Garden of Four Seasons and the Water………” I shook my head at him. “Surely you don’t mean to go through that forest? I will not go in there ever again if I can help it!” And he laughed and assured me, “No, no, not into the forest. We will ride down below it and then through that brown meadow between the camp and the oasis. It is beyond the dark trees and is quite safe. You will see wonders there that will make the oasis pale in comparison. I want to share it with you. It will only take a few hours to reach it and we can be back here before dark.” “Alright.” I said, curious. “But….” And he cut me off and began to build a new fire, busying himself with supper preparations. I watched him for a few minutes and then asked what I could do to help.
We baked twenty potatoes. We boiled carrots and onions and some vegetable that we’d never seen before but that tasted delicious. He found a bag of brown rice in his provisions and we cooked that. He cleaned and cooked the fish he had caught and I laid out the long yellow fruit that I’d picked and brewed up some tea that I’d forgotten I had in my saddle bag. Between the two of us we came up with quite a feast! He even brought forth a round of goat cheese and the last remnants of hard bread that we planned to soften up in the vegetable broth. The air soon began to smell of the kitchens at home. Overflowing with all sorts of tasty things to eat. I only wished we had some butter and cake. “If only we had some butter.” he said, reading my thoughts and I nodded, “Mmmm, yes, butter…..” The deer awoke and came trotting over and stood by like a faithful dog. We gave him some raw carrots and he munched them with a great deal of noise and nuzzled up against us affectionately. “Are you ready to go home?” I asked him, petting his neck. “Do you have a family somewhere looking for thee?” He merely looked at me with his big liquid eyes and snatched up an apple and ran back to the tree.
While the potatoes continued to bake and the rice boiled and the vegetables stewed, we poured cups of tea and went to sit under the tree with the deer. It had been a very long time since I had leisurely enjoyed a cup of tea with anyone. It made me homesick. I was just about to stroll down the road to home in my mind when the man cleared his throat and said, “Have you decided on a name for me yet?” I finished my tea and said “No. I’m still pondering over that. What do you think of Zaqnu?” And he suddenly spewed tea out of his mouth in a fit of laughter and scared the deer, who ran off toward the horses in a great hurry. Trying to control himself, the man wiped his eyes and asked, “Pray tell, where didst thou learn that word?” And he continued to laugh while I frowned at him. “Oh, I don’t recall. I think I heard someone say it once while travelling through a strange village. Why? What does it mean?” And still wiping his laughing eyes, he managed to get out “Well, it’s an ancient word and I don’t know for a certainty, but I think you just called me a…. bearded lady.” And we laughed uproariously together and I filed that word away for future reference.
When the food was done, we filled our wooden bowls and spread a blanket out on the grass and ate to our hearts’ content. It was delicious! We sang and shared stories and fed one another morsels of food and had a most marvelous time. As our stomachs grumbled at us to stop, we began quoting the rhyme that we had quoted our first night together. I softly began: “I do not have a table and chair, but do you care to dine? I do not have a cup and bowl but what I have is thine.” He took a sip from his cup and recited the next verse of the old familiar poem. “I do not have a coat or cloak to shield you from the rain but I have love enough to give to help you bear your pain.” And we stopped and looked at one another and then looked away in shyness, wondering if we should continue. How my heart leapt as he had spoken those words! Never before had they touched me in such a wonderful rush of emotion, though the poem never failed to touch me. I felt as though my heart was caught in my throat and I dared not speak. A wave of longing rushed through my veins and I thought I would burst with the intensity of it.
“Let us ride the horses down to the stream!” he said suddenly and stood to his feet. I nodded mutely and began to gather up our bowls and utensils. We covered everything up and washed our hands and faces and went to get the horses. They met us in anticipation, ready for exercise. Throwing on the saddle, I rubbed Snow’s neck. “You look bored. Shall we have a run?” And she nodded up and down and neighed. Redemption snorted as his rider swung upon his broad back and I hurried to catch up as they headed away from the camp. We started out at a trot but before we were fully out of the enclosure, both horses raced at full gallop out into the brown field and toward the oasis. We were side by side for a time, the man and I grinning at each other and then I spurred Snow with my heels and she quickened her gait and with a surprising agility, flew past her competitor and friend like the very wind. We sped past the oasis, up the field toward the long hill I had traversed only days before. Redemption neighed loudly and overtook us, mane and tail flying victoriously. Then he slowed and let Snow fall in beside him and we rode along at a brisk pace, enjoying the wind in our hair.
We rode to the bottom of the hill and then turned and headed back the way we had come, noticing the sun’s position in the western sky. Sunset was minutes away. We cantered toward the oasis and the clear stream, letting the horses cool down from their run. They headed to the water and finding a more shallow part downstream, waded out and drank their fill and splashed one another like children at play. We explored the banks further on, enjoying the solitude as the sun began it’s slow descent. Dismounting on some lush green grass, we let them graze and we sat there watching the gold on the water turn to every shade of the rainbow before our lazy eyes. We were leaning against one another, each of us thinking our own thoughts and for once, I didn’t worry that he was reading mine for he was occupied elsewhere. I put my arm around his back and said, “Is there any place more beautiful than this?” “In the morning, you will answer your own question, Little Flower.” he murmured and put his arm around me. We watched the sun sink and twilight fall and we sighed in unison.
Riding back to camp, I tried not to think of anything but the morning and the promises he had made about wonders and amazing sights. I looked forward to them but I knew that at the ending of that day, the beginning of another day might bring me sorrow. But I would not think about that now. For in my heart, I did not believe that he would leave me. I could not believe it. And I did not think he meant to. He turned his head and looked at me and I looked quickly away. I made myself think of peacocks and he gave a small laugh. I flicked the reins and Snow caught my meaning and sprinted away and left them in her dust. Night was almost upon us now as we entered the circle of the camp and I led her to the arbor and released her from saddle and bridle and told her goodnight and thank you. As I walked away, the deer rose up from his sleep and pushed his nose against my back. “And goodnight to thee, my friend. Sweet sleep.”
I was stoking the fire from one dying ember when the man rode into view and disappeared into the horse’s shelter. He remained there for some time and I was glad, for I needed time to clear my thoughts and reclaim my good humor. It had been a very good day after all and I did not want to spoil it. Last night’s horror seemed a million lifetimes ago. And yet, if I allowed myself, I knew that it would come jolting back and pulling me down in it’s grasp. I determined to give it no opportunity. I put the leftover pot of tea back on the fire and sat back and waited for it to heat up. There were two log stumps there by the fire and while they were convenient, they were not very comfortable. I squirmed back and forth, waiting impatiently for the tea to boil. Without warning, two hands were placed over my eyes from behind and I gasped and fought to remove them. “You must be more vigilant, O, Distracted One!” the man cautioned and smiled and sat down on the stump beside me. “I didn’t hear thee.” I said, pouring the hot liquid into two cups. “Why not?” he asked, “I was stomping around like an ox!” I glared at him and took a sip. “Either I am hard of hearing or you hover over the ground like a spirit.” He sipped from his cup and whispered, “Do spirits burn their tongues?” and he grimaced and set his cup aside.
We were not sleepy and the night was still young, though we discussed rising early in the morning to begin our day journey. He told me to bring a heavy cloak and to be prepared to be astounded. He had been to that magical place on several occasions and never grew tired of his visits. Of course, always before, he had simply ridden down the hill into the brown valley and straight past the dark forest and into the west. There had been no camp enclosure and no oasis. I still found that very hard to believe and continued to think he was making it up. It was beyond my reasoning. We talked at length about many things and then he stood and asked, “How about some music?” Immediately, he regretted it for the pain raced across my face and tears sprang from my eyes. I put my hands over my face and said, “The creature took my music box. Did you not know?” He was silent, then drew me up and into his arms. “Yes, I saw it happen. And believe me, Vaangelika, if I could have done anything to prevent it, I would have! I know how much that box means to you. It is a treasure above gold and you have made me come to love it also by sharing your song. I would give the world to return it to you!”
He kissed my face and comforted me with his gentle caress. “But since I cannot retrieve it for you, I have something that may help lessen the loss of it. Stay here.” He walked up to the horse’s shelter and I sat on the stump and waited for his return. Every time the image of the wolf-man holding my music box came into my mind, I brushed it away and shut it down. I couldn’t bear it. I made myself think of trivial silly things until the man stood before me presenting a most unusual and incredible object. I had never seen anything like it. It was silver and yet, iridescent. It was an oblong shaped box with a wind-up key in the back and when I wound it, the image of a girl in a white dress came up out of the box and began to dance on top of it. A most beautiful tune played as she danced. I looked at the man with delight and he smiled back at me. ”Now look inside it.” he whispered and I put my eye up to one of the tiny windows on each side of the object. I could not believe what I saw! I gasped and pulled back in amazement.
Then I peered inside again. There was a miniature scene of a winter’s day. Snow was falling. A tiny deer walked by a tall tree. A boy and girl played in the snow and I could almost swear I heard them laughing. Could almost think I felt the cold wind blow upon me. I laughed out loud and hurried to look inside another window. There was an Autumn scenario, with falling leaves of orange and gold and a waterfall and a tiny lake. A bird flew across the lake and came to rest in the top of the tree. “How can this be?” I asked the man. “It is too real!” “I agree.” he said, “I’ve never seen anything like it myself.” “But where did you get it?” I implored and put my eye to the third window. There was a perfect sunny day inside that window. A golden sun shone down and flowers grew everywhere. A fish swam lazily in a small pond of clear water and butterflies visited the flowers. I didn’t understand how anyone could create such a thing and make it look so convincing. It did not appear mechanical or man-made. It was a thing of magic.
“Now the last one,” he said, turning the box to the fourth side, “The best of all.” And I put my eye close up and became speechless. For there inside, was portrayed a beautiful Spring day. There was a brilliant emerald green meadow and white fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky. There was the feeling of freshness and new-ness and miracles. And my heart came near to bursting with joy as I beheld a black horse with small white sprays come bounding out of the right side of the spring-like landscape and disappear into the left side and then appear again from the right. “Starshine!” I exclaimed, “It looks just like Starshine!” I stared in shock at the blue eyed exultant man holding the silver box and I alternated between jumping up and down and clapping my hands and gasping for breath. “I can’t believe this! Who made this? Where did you get it? How can this be? Oh, how did they make this?” He waited till the river of questions slowed to a stop and sat us both down on the stumps and said quietly, “I do not know who created it or where it came from but I found it in Snow’s saddle bags when I rescued her.” My eyes widened and I waited for him to continue. “You remember I told you that her master had fallen to his death? I found Snow wandering upon a high cliff and when I had calmed her and got her to trust me, I looked over the cliff and saw a man lying on the jagged rocks far below. I could not see him clearly but by his white garb and the possessions I found on his horse, I surmised he was some kind of holy man.”
“I also found these.” he said, producing two musical instruments from a brown cloth bag. One, a guitar-like item and the other, a kind of tambourine. “That’s where I got the goat cheese and the bread from, too.” “Do you have any idea who he was or where he was going?” I asked, taking the tambourine. “None whatsoever.” he answered. “I’ve never seen him before to my knowledge. He was an older man with white hair. I don’t know how he came to fall. And I didn’t quite know what to do with Snow because I was on my way to the east….and…and I needed to…I mean to say, until I climbed up in that tree and saw you and what happened to your horse, I didn’t know what to do with her but then I knew she was meant for you. I just wasn’t sure how to get her to you. But I was led onto the right pathway and it all worked out in the end.” We sat there quietly for a few minutes, the silver box at our feet and the instruments in our hands. “I want you to have the box.” he said at last. “I was waiting for the right time to give it to you. And that time has come. I only hope it will give you a small measure of comfort. You have suffered so many losses in your life.” “Yes,” I nodded at him, “As have you. But thank you for all the gifts you have given me. I will never forget your kindness. I will never…….” And I trailed off and looked off into the distance at the deepening night. A lovely melody broke my reverie and I looked back to see him strumming the instrument he held and humming a song. I smiled at him and straightened the crown of flowers he had made me and pushed back tendrils of hair that had fallen around my face. “Yes! Let’s have some music!
To be continued in Episode 20.......................