The Stone Keeper – Chapter Four
Three straight days!! Rain, rain and more rain. Steinar couldn’t remember the last time it had rained for three days straight. He thought he might start screaming if the constant drip, drip, drip above his head, night and day, didn’t stop. He’d rather hear his sisters talk about clothes than this!
Granted, being in the cave was a good thing, in that he was dry and had been able to sleep soundly, with no fear of being found. The first morning in the cave, he had created something akin to one of the traps that they used to trap beavers in the river that ran through the middle of the Community. If anyone attempted to enter the cave, he’d know about it long before they could get in.
In addition to his trap, Steinar had walked to the back of the cave to see if it let out somewhere. He didn’t find anything. He did find places where there were holes in the hill, which opened into the roof of the cave, but they were very small and only enough to allow light and perhaps some small animal in.
However, the thing that pleased him the most was the small indentation that he found. It was almost as if someone had carved it out of the wall to provide themselves a place to hide. Steinar didn’t want to think too much about who that might have been or why they were hiding in the cave, he just wanted the rain to stop, so that he could go out and look for some tinder fungus. He was beyond ready for a fire!
He knew from his work with herbs that tinder fungus would burn quickly and easily and without giving off much light. It seemed like the ideal thing to cook his food on as well as helping to heat the cave up a bit. And he had a few pieces of charcoal in his bag, as well. His mother had made a fresh batch just a few weeks ago and his father insisted he carry it. Charcoal was not only the friend of a poisoned person, but it was without compare for healing open wounds and any kind of spider, snake or insect bite. If only the rain would stop…..
The thing about staying in this cave that puzzled Steinar the most was his desire to talk. That surprised him. He thought for certain that he would relish the silence. No chatty little girls pestering him every few minutes. Just last week, it had taken him three times as long to mix a blend for his father, because all three girls were watching him and peppering him with questions. Right now, he’d be grateful to hear even one of those questions.
The first tear that fell into his lap he simply assumed was a drip coming off the roof of the cave, but by the time several more had fallen, he realized he was crying. Steinar thought for sure he had cried all the tears he had, not to mention that it annoyed him that missing his sisters would cause him to weep. He stood up in frustration and shook his cloak out. He HAD to find a way to get some fire going in here, because he needed some light and heat. While the protection that the cave offered was wonderful, he needed more.
Steinar lay on his stomach staring out through the underbrush, hoping to catch sight of some new food and more importantly something that would allow him to at least start a small fire. Like the kind his father kept burning on his work table, for mixing herbs and tinctures. THAT would be perfect. It would be enough to cook a small piece of meat, yet small enough to allow him to remain undetected in the cave.
Thinking of his father, his home and his family and their business with the Community only made him all the more lonely and depressed. He rolled to his side to wipe his face on the woolen fabric he carried in his pocket. As he did, he caught sight of some grapes – they would have to be the last of the season. He didn’t care if they had begun to dry on the vine or not, he just wanted something other than raw meat to eat.
Crawling carefully – and with ears that were hyper-sensitive to any sound that didn’t sound “right” in the forest, Steinar reached the small wild vine he could see from the cave’s entrance. Not only were the grapes not dried at all, they were full and bursting with flavor. He could smell them by the time he was within feet of the vine. How had he missed these?
He stood quickly and picked them, with hands that were accustomed to picking and plucking the fruit of Gott, for his own father. Cluster after cluster, were shoved into his knapsack…well, after the first few fistfuls went into his mouth. And he was grateful.
After his satchel was full, he turned to slink back into his cave when something out of the corner of his eye had his undivided attention – burdock! Burdock made a wonderful salad, as well as being good cooked, if he could ever get some fire. Now this was a food he could enjoy eating raw! He loved burdock. He gathered as much as his arms could carry and raced back to the covering of the cave.
Even though he had been very attentive – straining his ears to hear every stray sound – he still felt much safer now that he was out of the open and back into his little hiding place. For a while, mouth full of grapes and burdock, he forgot how lonely he was.
However, as the gray of night and the drippy sloppy sound of rain-drenched ground surrounded him, the loneliness became almost like another person in the room. Like someone who was wearing too much of the rose perfume his father made for the wealthy guild member’s wife. It was so cloying it almost took his breath away. He felt so discouraged that he gathered his cloak and lay down to sleep much earlier than normal.
As had become his habit each night, he took the Stone out and held it in his hand. He tried to remember what all he had heard about the Stone from his youth and childhood. Holding the Stone close to his face, he began to talk to it. (Oh what would his sisters think of him talking to stone? The mere thought was almost enough to make him laugh….almost.)
“So Stone, can you tell me about yourself? Why don’t I remember what you are for? I remember that you’ve always been a part of my life. I remember that we’ve always been a part of the Community and you’ve always been the central figure in it. But what are you? Why do the Forest Folk want you so much? Do you just get us into important places like Templom? Are you some form of admission, like the ticket we present to attend the Pageant? Oh Stone, I want to remember. I wish you could talk. I am so lonely and you are so silent.”
Holding The Stone closely, guarding it with his very life, Steinar was almost asleep when he heard it.
It reminded him of the day he went to the Port City with his father. He had an appointment with the monks living in the abbey there. They went and spent several days while his father worked with several of the brethren, all sharing their knowledge of the herbs of Gott.
The sound he heard now reminded him of the singing of the Psalms during Lauds. He sat up – what could possibly be singing in the night? Here in the forest? In the pouring rain?!
It was the Stone. The Stone was singing. His shock and amazement caused him to drop it as though it were on fire. First he had been talking to it, now it was singing to him? What was wrong with him?
He frantically went through all that his father had taught him about burdock. Could it cause delusions? What about wild grapes? He had a quick brief moment of considering whether or not the Forest Folk could have poisoned the grapes, but tossed that away, since they would have had no foreknowledge of him being here….or could they? He choked down a small chunk of charcoal – just in case. Three days of rain, longing for chattering sisters, potentially delusional lying in the dark – adding food poisoning to that list was just more than he could bear.
He picked the Stone back up – slowly and hesitantly. It was still singing. He didn’t know what it was singing. It wasn’t a language that he knew – but it was beautiful. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. Just listening to the song soothed him, he could feel the burden of loneliness slipping from him and the sweet peace of rest slipped over him like a warm blanket. Well, he decided, if this is what losing your mind is like, then I’m all for it.
Slowly, the rain let up and the sounds of night took over the forest. The call of wild animals, the sound of creatures large and small moving about. Steinar heard nothing but the sound of the singing, from the Stone.
He slept and he dreamt.
In his dream, the Great Stone Keeper stood in the middle of the cathedral near the abbey that he and his father had visited. The morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass, filling the entire cathedral with color. The reds looked like blood and the blues like the most beautiful sky Steinar had ever wanted to see, and the light – all of the light seemed to be straining to touch the Great Stone Keeper. It throbbed in rhythm with the song, each time getting closer to reaching and enveloping the Stone Keeper.
The scene was so captivating that Steinar could feel himself waiting…silently begging the Great Stone Keeper to acknowledge him and extend the invitation to join Him. He never did. He simply stood, eyes closed, big muscular arms outstretched, basking in the exquisite colors and light being produced by the sun, seemingly suspended between what Steinar knew as earth and what he imagined heaven to be, while the song of the Stone filled the entire cathedral.