The Stone Keeper – Chapter Two

In the dark, Steinar heard growling. Every muscle in his body was suddenly awake and ready for battle again. His ears strained to hear which direction the growling was coming from, when the deep rumbling pierced the dark again. In his sluggish state, it sounded like it was right beside him. He looked from right to left, scanning the night, before realizing it was his own stomach.

The mere act of stretching in order to discern where the growling was coming from made Steinar realize his body needed him to change positions. After a day of fighting fire and battling the marauders, sitting cramped under the branches of the undergrowth in the cool of the night was not his best choice. Slowly – listening intently with every move – he stretched one leg, then the next. It took all his self control to not moan, for it was both pain and absolute satisfaction.

Looking around he wondered exactly where he was. Because of the Forest Folk, wandering around the woods wasn’t something that was considered normal for him or his people, by any means. Of course, when he was a boy, he’d taken the normal dare that all the boys in the Community had been pestered with – walking to “the cave.”

The cave was in the forest, directly out from the gate on the south side of the town. There were things in that cave that gave every indication that the Forest Folk had lived there at one time. If one was truly brave, they would spend the night there. Steinar only knew of one boy who had ever done so: Gaillard, his brother’s best friend.

Thinking of him made Steinar wonder where Gaillard was now…  After staying in the cave overnight, he became quite the sensation with the boys, but he was downright heroic to the girls. There was one, in particular – Paulenna – that had been very impressed. Steinar sat there basking in the memory of the day of their nuptials. The sun was brilliant and they were married on the hill behind their side of the village, in the orchard. The smell of apples was almost too much for a young man to bear. He wanted to climb a tree and pick some, about midway through the service!

Paulenna wore some kind of green dress. It had a blue ribbon that matched the one in her light red hair. Everyone threw wheat at the two of them when they marched away, down the hill toward the parish to celebrate with dinner.

Steinar didn’t remember much else, despite having to listen to his sisters talk of nothing else for days, except he remembered watching Gaillard’s face. He remembered thinking at the time Gaillard  seemed to mature before his very eyes. The young boy who one day was out wrestling with Steinar’s brothers was the next cleaning out stalls…by choice. Was that what marriage did to a fellow?  Make him trade wrestling for cleaning stalls? Well, you can be sure Steinar didn’t want any part of it. Who would?  Forget it!

The day of Gaillard and Paulenna’s nuptials was very much a day like this morning… or was it yesterday morning? Without the church bell to ring out the hour, he felt rather lost. Was it late at night or early in the morning? He was eager to see the first light of dawn, because then he would know he had survived his first night as Stone Keeper.

Steinar reached deep into the leather haversack he carried with him as he went about his work in the garden. He was hoping he had left some herbs in it, something – anything – that he might be able to eat. Way at the bottom he found, wrapped in a piece of coarse fabric, a small chunk of brie and some dried goose meat, as well as that little bit of bread he had left from the other morning. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to make the growling stop,  for a few minutes anyway.

Taking a small bite and leaning his head back in sheer delight, Steinar could smell the fragrance of home on the cloth sitting in his lap. It made him miss his mother all the more. It smelled of the lavender sprigs that she kept in the wardrobe to ward off the moths from their woolen items. Oh how he hoped that she, Katarin, Eidel and Gerta were safe. Though the girls drove him to distraction with all their chatting, he still missed them greatly.

What of his brothers? He tried very hard to remember what they were doing right before the Forest Folk had attacked. He knew what they should have been doing – they should have been in the fields working. Not the northeast field, but the northwest field. That meant they would have been on the opposite side of the village from where the Forest Folk broke through their wooden wall.

He ate slowly, hoping to make his stomach think there was more food than there really was.  To distract his stomach, he lay there thinking of the northwest end of the Community, where he lived. His home was near the hospital. He still hadn’t grown accustomed to such a thing. This bizarre place was the result of one of the trips that Aldous had taken to the Port City to go to Templom.

Not only was the pilgrimage to Templom for the purpose of a spiritual gathering, but the other Stone Keepers also brought new ideas and schemes to make all their Communities better. There were some very specific benefits of growing up in a Stone Keepers Community. There were things that you experienced that people who just lived in normal villages would take years to learn of.

The hospital was one of those things.  Not only did Aldous bring the idea of a hospital back from Templon with him, he even brought a doctor home with him. The man had given himself over to the study of healing the body with food, waters and herbs. Because of this, Steinar’s family had become very familiar with him.

With the arrival of the doctor, the Community also had the arrival of their first camel. Dr Salerno believed the milk of the camel to be the best treatment for many illnesses. Since the Community had no camels, he brought his own. Steinar snorted.  Camels!

It wasn’t until after he ate that his thoughts returned to the Stone in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at it closely in the very dim light of the moon. What was it that made this stone so special? He had lived in the Community all his life. He had grown up with the stories of the Stone his whole life. He knew that the Stone was the center of their small village. He knew that the people found great comfort in being a Stone Community. They were very proud to be entrusted with something so powerful and notable. It defined them. They were Stone People. They were Stone Keepers.

Holding this one small gray stone, he had to wonder – was it really worth all the violence he had seen today? What stories had he heard about The Stone? Who was the man with the large Stone that he had dreamt of last night? Why did he smile at him?

Steinar sat in the dark, holding the Stone and his cloak tightly around him, wishing for some heat. As he did so, he realized that as he rubbed the Stone, it gave off heat. He drew it as near to himself as he could manage. He didn’t remember any stories of the Stone giving heat. Could this just be the result of a tired mind and a hungry body? Could the cold of the night be taking its toll on him? Perhaps the Forest Folk had been so close today that he had contracted The Virus…

Wishing for someone to talk to, to share the pain and the fears of the day with, Steinar snuggled deeper into his cloak, drew it about him as best he could and held the Stone closely. So many people had died or been taken – all for the sake of this Stone. He daren’t let that be for naught. He would protect it with his life, just as Aldous had. He didn’t have a choice. He was now The Stone Keeper.

What did that mean? What did The Stone Keeper do? He knew that once a Stone Keeper was chosen, he was a Stone Keeper for life. But, he was just a boy. There had never been such a precedent as far as he knew. He wished again that his father were there – that one of his brothers could have been the one in the bell tower with Aldous, when the Forest Folk attacked. His family had always hoped that Wyatt would be chosen to be the next Stone Keeper. Right now, Steinar was wishing it more than any of them ever had before.

The normal sounds of the night danced around him and despite his efforts to remain alert, he slept – but lightly and once again he dreamed of the man with The Great Stone.

Tonight The Great Stone Keeper was not alone. There was another with him. The two sat, deep blue sky behind them, at a long wooden table. The other man was a baker. He was serving the man with The Great Stone slices of warm, dark bread with fresh butter dripping from it. It was so real to him, it was if he could smell the bread….as if he could taste the bread.

Steinar’s stomach growled again, but this time he heard nothing.

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