The Stone Keeper -Chapter Three
Waking up alone in the woods that you have been taught your whole life to fear, is not a good way to start your day. Waking up alive in the woods that you have been taught to fear improves it significantly. And the fact that he was alive was the only thing that Steinar had to be thankful for when the sun and the chirping birds woke him the next day.
As he opened his eyes, he had a moment of wondering how it was that the sun could still rise and the birds still sing after the tragedy that had betaken his Community. However, his need for food kept him from wondering about it for very long. He shook his head, peered out from under the bushes and branches he had hidden himself under for the night and looked around.
He saw nothing that would indicate that he had anything to fear. It was a normal early fall morning. The sun was bright and the leaves were beginning to turn color. Steinar was grateful that it wasn’t any later in the season or the forest floor would be covered with leaves. Right now, he wanted stealth more than anything else and crunching leaves are not the best help when you’re trying for stealth.
Knowing that he couldn’t sleep curled up in a ball under the bushes again tonight, Steinar began to walk northward. He knew from the position of the sun which direction he was walking – he also knew that there were other Communities that were to the north. His hope and his health depended upon him reaching one of those Communities.
It was probably close to noon when Steinar heard the first noise that made him truly frightened. It sounded as though there was someone following him. He stopped in his tracks and moved closer to a tree trunk. If there was someone behind him, he wanted to be out of the sunlight, both for his own ability to see, as well as for the ability to be be seen in the full light of the fall sun. He stood still for some time, waiting to see if anyone would appear. There was no one.
While the stopping provided him time to search behind him, it also allowed enough time for him to realize anew how very, very hungry he was. He knew he couldn’t go any further without finding something to eat.
Surveying the forest around him, he was suddenly very glad that his father had made him work for the new doctor. He told Steinar that the doctor was a man of learning – that he had already attended three years of college, four years of medical training and another year training with another physician. He suspected, which turned out to be very accurate, that Dr. Salerno had forgotten how to split wood and how to fetch water from the city wells. So, Steinar, the youngest of the spicer’s sons, was appointed to serve the new doctor – something that served himself well now.
Dr. Salerno, in addition to the herbs and mixtures his father prepared, also believed in using food as a healing tool, hence the camel. So, as Steinar worked for him in the evenings, Dr. Salerno would instruct him in the use of nettle, mustard, leeks and cresses for giving strength to the body. Steinar was reasonably confident that strength was something he was in pretty serious need of, so he took the time to find himself some of the very plants he had gathered from the gardens back home.
Sitting quietly in a tree allowed him a better view of the forest. Steinar nibbled his pile of greens. He looked all about, to see if there was anything even remotely suspicious anywhere in his vicinity. The weight of the responsibility of being his Community’s Stone Keeper weighed heavily upon him this morning and he didn’t want to risk ANYONE getting that Stone.
He lithely slipped down out of the tree when he was done and began his trek, once again moving northward. As if it had come from nowhere, the skies suddenly clouded over and the wind began to howl. This allowed little to no warning for him, before the rain began.
And it didn’t just rain, it poured. Steinar, already wearied, found himself struggling to stay upright in the face of the strong winds and pouring rain. Usually he enjoyed the late afternoon storms that were part of the land’s fall, on this side of the mountains. But the thing that made them so enjoyable, he was finding, was the coziness of his home – filled with the chattering of three younger sisters, the good natured banter of his older brothers as they challenged one another to repeated games of Tables. It was not uncommon for their game to result in threats and shouting matches. Despite their antics, their mother quietly worked in the kitchen, stirring kettles of stew and herbs, all the while checking on the bread buried in the embers of the fire. Life was good back then.
Steinar realized he had been thinking, “back then.” Back then was two days ago – that was when the last fall rain storm had hit. He’d said it many times before, he was sure to do so again: “Life was funny.”
What wasn’t funny however, was how cold, wet and hungry he was. He knew that attempting to walk any further was silly. He simply began searching for a place to sleep for the night. Just as he was ready to give up and spend another night in the undergrowth, he saw it. In the twilight of the late afternoon, there was the hint of a dark gap. Steinar knew what that meant. On the hill just behind their house, there was another little dark gap – a cave. Steinar had spent much time in there and he was eager to spend time in this one as well.
The thunder rolled at the same time he was moving the branches to make the cave more accessible to him. He almost laughed. It sounded funny to hear the low rumble of large branches being moved combined with the huge rumble of thunder running down the mountains and dancing on the tree tops. Either way, he was grateful for the cave and he hurried into it.
Hopeful that there would be nothing – or no one – else in there, Steinar clung to the side of the cave and sidled about. This way, if anything WAS there, he’d know how to get back out quickly. Thankfully, the place was empty. It was almost as if someone were watching out for him. He wondered if it had to do with his new role as Stone Keeper. He gave thanks to Gott, either way.
Speaking of, he put his hand into his pocket, just to make certain it was still there. It was. He pressed it tightly against his leg and he could feel its warmth start up. It was as if there was life in it. He moved it from hand to hand, attempting to warm each one. As he was doing this, there was movement in the door of the cave. At the same moment, there was a flash of lightning –
In that instant of light, Steinar saw that a rabbit had come into direct access of his cave. It was like having dinner delivered to his doorstep. Being a hunter for many years, it was not difficult for him to carefully pull his slingshot from its perpetual place at his side and pick up a stone from the floor. The cave was deep enough that it helped to hide both his movements and his noise. The rain helped with that too, as it came careening down the face of the rocks that hid the cave.
Carefully and meticulously Steinar took aim. He knew that his skill with the slingshot was the difference between going to sleep hungry or not. His aim was true. The rabbit didn’t even know what hit him. As he looked at that rabbit carcass wondering how he was going to cut the meat from his trophy, the thought went through his mind, that perhaps he could use the sharp edge of The Stone as a knife.
It worked wonderfully. In moments he had raw, fresh rabbit before him. Granted, raw rabbit wasn’t one of his favorite foods, but like this morning, he found that eating one of your least favorite things in a cave in the rain, without any friends or family was made significantly more
palatable by the knowledge that he was alive.
The piece of rabbit he was eating slipped slowly from his fingers as exhaustion crept up on him and he nodded off.
Tonight, the man with The Large Stone didn’t appear in his dreams right away. Instead, just before morning, Steinar dreamt he was sitting at the table sharing rabbit – cooked rabbit – with him, when the baker came along, bringing with him a fuller. Looking at them all, feasting together on his rabbit, eating hunks of fresh bread, drinking wine and enjoying one another’s company, he wished very much that they could indeed be sitting with them, for he’d have very much liked some hot bread and some clean clothes! Most of all though, he just wished for their company.