The Stone Keeper – Chapter Five

Steinar woke to what his half-sleeping mind thought was the Stone still singing. Instead it was birds. (He was kind of disappointed.) The rain had stopped. Finally. Steinar thought he’d never been so happy to see the sunshine, plus the residue of the song of the Stone seemed to be ringing in his head. All that together resulted in a young man (who never sings) finding himself humming a little bit of something that he was sure must be one of the Psalms he had heard sung at the abbey.

Smiling to himself, Steinar looked at his “travel partner” and said, “Well, for someone who doesn’t do any talking, that song sure was amazing. Thank you. It was the most beautiful song I have ever heard. I hope you will sing it for me again.”

Even as the words left his mouth, Steinar somehow felt that he was wrong. Rather than the song being for him, it was as though it was something that he had been allowed to eavesdrop on. He thought about taking his words back, but decided that talking to a stone was bad enough, he certainly wasn’t going to apologize to one!

Steinar created a little pocket-like pouch that would keep the Stone up near his chest. Last night had helped him decide several things. One, though he didn’t understand this Stone, if it decided to sing again, he didn’t want to miss it. Secondly, the Stone had started to seem real to him. It felt like a friend. He wanted his friend near him. Without its warm presence, he felt more alone than he had ever felt in his entire life.

So, Steinar tucked the Stone into its newly formed pocket and walked to the front of the cave. He took a deep breath, gathered his bag tightly to him and stepped out into the sunshine. Breathing deeply, he began to walk.

He couldn’t stay here any longer. He needed to find other Communities. He must find other Stone Keepers. He had a brief moment where he considered the need to find the Stone Keeper of his dream. He seemed to have an understanding and a knowledge of the Stone that Steinar wanted. If nothing else, that bread the baker had brought him sure looked good! He chuckled as he set off.

Steinar guessed it was close to noon when the growling of his stomach could be ignored no longer. Feeling joy so keenly, he bent his head toward the little place he had tucked the Stone that morning and said, “You wouldn’t want to help me figure out where I can get something to eat, would you?”

The words weren’t even fully out of his mouth before he saw them: mushrooms. Beautiful, delicious mushrooms. His favorite! He was halfway to them before the thought crossed his mind, “Why would there be mushrooms growing in the fall?” He thought again of the possibility that the Forest Folk would be purposefully trying to trick or destroy him, but he dismissed it, as the thought of eating was too powerful. Besides, he was the son of a spicer. He knew how to discern good mushrooms from bad.

Furthermore, now that the rain had stopped, he was certain he’d be able to find some tinder fungus! The possibility of cooked food – and cooked mushrooms no less? That thought alone would have motivated him to find anything at that point!

Scurrying around tree after tree, Steinar went in search of his tinder fungus, so that he might be able to start up a fire and cook those mushrooms. The more he thought of it, the more he could feel himself salivating.

After what seemed like an age, he found some. Tinder fungus – or hoof fungus, as some called it. Right where he expected to find it – on the side of a birch tree. The dark, charred look of the fungus was so obvious against the light bark of the birch tree. He took out the Stone and carved it off the side of the tree, scraping a bit of the bark along with it. Gathering it up, he began looking for a large stone that he could use to flatten the fungus.

He stood up and turned around, looking up at the forest canopy, until he could identify an Aesc tree. He suspected that, on its trunk, he’d be able to find some King Alfred’s Cake to add to his Tinder fungus. That would be all he needed to make a delightful mushroom cooking fire. He wouldn’t have to use his charcoal, after all. That could wait for a time when he couldn’t find what he needed naturally. Once a spicer’s son, always a spicer’s son.

Reaching into his satchel, he pulled out his flint and what he called his fire rock. He rubbed the pyrite, enjoying the smooth edge where he’d used it so often. In the sun, the red tint in the stone was more evident. He remembered the stories that his grandfather had told him about the stone. It was said to be petrified droplets of dragon blood. He smiled. He didn’t believe that, of course, but the sun shining on the rich red veins running through the stone caused him to remember his Grandfather – and it was a fun story, nonetheless.

Reaching around him, he gathered some of the dried underbrush. Taking a small piece of the Tinder fungus, he scraped some shavings from one end onto the rock beside him, along with the birch bark. With both flint and fire stone, he began striking them against one another. It only took a few strikes before there was a tiny spark that landed in the midst of the fungus. Taking the King Alfred’s Cake, he broke it in half and scooped the smoldering shavings between the two halves, blowing gently on them. He laid them atop the underbrush and within seconds, there was a lovely flame.

Despite being famished, the sight of flame again after so many days made him just stop and give thanks that Gott had protected him and kept him throughout this entire time. He was indeed a blessed young man.

This thought, of course made him think of the Stone. Reaching up, he rubbed the pouch that he had formed and tied near his neck. It was safely there and he thought he could even hear it singing a bit. He laughed, wondering if this was like a purring kitten.

Laying some small branches across the top, he had created a small fire quickly. He placed a large stone in the center, and using his fingers, broke the mushrooms up in the heat. Being the son of the spicer, he always had some herbs in his bag. Taking out a few, he sprinkled them on, for flavor. He didn’t know what kind of flavor it would provide and at this point, he really didn’t care. He wished, however, he had a little bit of his raw rabbit left. That would be a nice addition to his meal.

It didn’t matter, now that he had some tinder fungus, he would wrap it up in his leather pouch, and carry it with him. He loved how it would slowly, without great heat, just smolder. He would pound the fungus flat, first, so that he could then keep the tiny smoldering piece inside it….he would pound it flat AFTER he had eaten.

Food in his stomach, Steinar began the process of making the fungus into a flat, felt-like patty.

While he was pounding the fungus flat, he was regretting the speed with which he had had to leave the Community, leaving behind tools that would have surely made his travels easier. Not the least of which were some of the tools he used to harvest the herbs for his father. By the time he was done making a mental list of the things that he wished he had with him, the strange, slightly fruity scent of the fungus was perceptible.

Gathering up a bit of fungus, he took a small spark from what was left of his little fire and allowed the fungus to catch. He wrapped it tightly in the flattened fungus and placed it in his leather pouch. With this, he could now carry some fire with him wherever he went.

Exercising great caution, he moved the rocks about, making certain that all the embers were crushed and the fire completely out. Drizzling a tiny bit of water from his flask, he completed the final task of putting the fire out. It was hard to do this, because the fire felt so inviting. If he hadn’t known that he needed to reach another Community yet today, he would have simply made camp here.

But these were dangerous times and he didn’t dare stop now. If he could get out of the Forest and back into civilization, it would be his preference by far. The reminder that he was still in the Forest, still on the run, still The Stone Keeper caused him to renew his vigilant watch for any of the Forest Folk who might be following him. After all, since he was the Stone Keeper now, it was his job to keep it safe.

Food and the fire added some strength and speed to his step and he was off again. The shadows of the trees above encouraged him to walk with great stealth as he passed through The Forest. He wanted to make certain that he wasn’t careless again. His lack of attention while he was preparing food was a silliness he didn’t dare repeat.

As he walked, he could hear the Stone singing softly to itself. It was as if, now that he could hear it, he couldn’t NOT hear it. It was very comforting to him, after so many days of being alone. The fact that he was one of eight people living in their small house, which seemed to be a place of constant motion and noise, simply added to the silence that seemed to surround him now.

He knew it wasn’t really silent, for the birds and the trees themselves made noise. But the lack of human contact made it very difficult for him. This amused Steinar, because at home, he was known as the one to go off by himself for some peace and quiet. Here, he would have been grateful to hear the girls discuss hair or ribbons or nuptials – anything!

Broken out of his reverie, Steinar was taken aback to see that directly in front of him was a huge oak tree. It was absolutely massive. With their arms outstretched, his entire family couldn’t have circled the base of it! Obviously, he could have walked around it, that wasn’t the issue. The issue is that the path split off and went in two opposite directions beyond the tree.

Steinar was certain that he’d never been this way. He would certainly remember THAT tree. Standing there, looking up into the branches of this massive oak, he put his hands on his hips, “Well now, I don’t suppose YOU’LL be telling me which way to go, now would you?” The tree was silent, except for the sound of the yellowing leaves gently moving in the breeze.

Well Stone, it’s you and me. I need to know which way to turn here. I’m The Stone Keeper now and I need to get to another Community tonight. So, since Master Oak here isn’t going to help me any, it means that you need to tell me which way we’re to go.”

Steinar smiled as he placed the Stone back into its protective pouch. Maybe he shouldn’t find a Community. They weren’t any too likely to take to him talking to stones. He leaned his head back to breathe in the crisp fall air. Sundown was not too far off and the air was already getting cooler. He thought about the need to find a place to sleep soon.

As he stood there, taking in all that his senses could perceive, he realized he could smell food. Real food. Hot food. Food that included meat. Food that was just about ready to serve. The decision was easy from then on. He would turn left!

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