The Stone Keeper – Chapter Eight
It was just before dawn when the scream woke him. Steinar’s heart was racing before he could even partially sit up. What was that? WHO was that? Who would be in the forest screaming at this hour? Surely, it couldn’t be good.
Before he could stick his head out between the branches, a large wild boar came raging out of the woods. It still had a spear sticking out of it. Steinar held his breath and began praying for safety. He couldn’t decide if it was because of the dream he had had the night before or the fear of dealing with a wounded boar. Both of them were cause for holding very still and sitting silently.
Right behind the boar, crashing through the underbrush was a young man. He had obviously been gored by the boar. He was bleeding profusely. His breathing was ragged from the pain he was in. Steinar knew right away he was Forest Folk. His clothes were dirty and Steinar could smell him from where he sat.
The boar turned and attempted one more thrust of its tusks and while he did, the boy did all that he could to shove the spear in deeper. The two of them engaged in a dance of death. Steinar had been around too many butcherings to not know the smell of death from an animal. He just didn’t know if it was the boy that he was smelling or the boar. So, he did the only thing he knew to do. He sat there watching it all.
The battle, if you could call it that, lasted only a few moments. Both boar and boy fell to the ground. Steinar was certain that the boar was dead. He wasn’t, however, certain about the boy. But one thing he was certain of, he didn’t want to be here when the boy regained consciousness – or his family came looking for him.
Quickly, Steinar gathered his things up and shimmied out of the shelter. Satchel thrown over his shoulder, he took off down the path, hoping that no one else had heard the sounds of the fight that took place outside his “bedroom” window this early morning.
He hadn’t gone very far before the Stone began to sing. This time, it wasn’t the song that Steinar had become accustomed to. If he could put words to it, he would say that the song was one of mourning. He knew then the Stone wanted him to go back – back to the boy. He couldn’t. He just couldn’t. Even as he was telling the Stone this, he was turning around.
Standing at the edge of the clearing where the boy landed, Steinar hid in the tree line. He was still there. He was still bleeding. The boar was still dead. He stood and debated what he could do to help – finally, after much discussion with himself and the Stone, he tugged and pulled the boy, until he had him inside the shelter he had just vacated. There! That should be enough.
Re-gathering his things, Steinar set off again. Again, the Stone began to sing. It wasn’t quite the same song, but it wasn’t the joy-filled song he had known before. “What? What do you want from me? You don’t want me to go back and get that boy, do you? What can I do for him?” Even as the words left his mouth, he knew in his heart what he was to do.
The dream from the night before – it wasn’t just a dream, it was to tell him that the Stone could heal him – it could touch the boy and heal his wounds. “Why me? What have I ever done to deserve this? Why can’t I just get on to the next Community? Hayrick told me that there would be people there who could help me. I need to learn more. Aldous never spoke of things like this. He has been a Stone Keeper for many years. Why can’t I be a Stone Keeper like that? Why do I have to deal with this foul creature? If you were going to kill me off with The Virus, why didn’t you do it ages ago? Why have I had to go through all this to die at HIS hands?”
The whole time, Steinar had been stomping down the path and talking to the Stone. He held it in his hand, up near his face. He was almost yelling at it. His tirade stopped however, when he realized that the Stone no longer felt alive in his hand. That seemed like one of the more ridiculous things he had said to or thought about this stone. It was just a rock. It didn’t look any different from some of the rocks at his feet. Just a rock!
BUT until now, every time he held it, the Stone had called out to him with a feeling of friendship – relationship. But, after his fit, the Stone was seemingly silent. “Fine! If that’s what you want – me killed! – then, fine, I’ll go back. But when that Forest Boy kills me and eats me for dinner and you fall into the hands of that infidel, I don’t want to hear ONE word, do you hear me?!!!”
Steinar slammed the Stone back into its pouch. It was probably purring like a kitten in there, now that it had gotten its way. He turned around for the second time and strode back into the clearing. Nothing had changed. Still a dead boar. Still an unconscious, bleeding boy in his shelter.
Steinar knew what to do – or at least he thought he did. But after last night’s dream, he wasn’t quite so sure anymore. Carefully he moved some branches about, so that he could get closer to him, he found himself saying, “Do not be afraid. I have a Stone. It is a healing Stone. It will heal your wounds. If you will let me touch you with this, you will be healed.” Those words sounded strangely familiar to him……
He laid the Stone on the boy’s forehead, not knowing where all his wounds were and watched the bleeding stop. Literally, one moment the boy was bleeding – the next, it had stopped. Steinar’s father was a very talented spicer, but this was nothing he had ever seen before. “Okay, so that was impressive – but now what?” he asked the Stone. Realizing he was talking to a rock again, he shook his head and climbed out of the shelter area.
It was obvious this boy was going to need more time to heal – which meant he was going to need something more than just this shelter to hold the two of them. While the boy slept, Steinar walked around looking for something that would allow them protection from the weather and from any other Forest Folk. The Stone might ask him to deal with this boy, but that was his limit. No more than one Forest Folk in a lifetime!
Several more times, Steinar felt the desire to go lay the Stone on the boy’s forehead. Each time, it was obvious that healing was taking place. This last time, the color was returning to his face and it looked as though there was a hint of his waking up soon. It was a good thing, too, because the majority of the morning had been taken up already fiddling around with this dirty creature.
During his wandering about, Steinar had located a small stream. He had filled his own water skin and knew he needed to get some water into the boy as well. Holding his head up slightly, Steinar poured a drizzle of water into the boy’s mouth. It was hours later before Steinar realized that he hadn’t given a thought to letting the boy drink from his own water skin. Why was that, he wondered, when the thought occurred to him.
The boy’s eyes barely fluttered open. “Stone Keeper.” Steinar pulled back as though the boy had cursed him. How did he know? Who was he? Had he been tracking him? Was this an enemy who desired to destroy him? Steinar felt fear wash over him like he hadn’t known through this entire process. Had he just willingly aided the one man who could destroy him and take the Stone as well?
Without even thinking, he grabbed up his things and took off running down the path. There was no way that he was going to wait for that boy to wake up on his own and then kill him in his sleep. He saw how he fought with that boar. He saw how the Forest Folk had hurt his own people. He had no intention of being his next victim. He was a Stone Keeper now. He had to think of something more than just himself.
He had walked for probably half an hour when he realized that he had left his extra cloak covering the boy. He had walked a full hour when he realized he had left his water skin. His cloak he could leave behind, but his water skin, he couldn’t.
Furious that he had now wasted so much of his day over this vile boy, he kicked a stone and started back for the shelter. How could he be so slow? Why didn’t he just leave him to die in the forest? He knew that’s what he should have done. By going back, he was risking everything – his health, his calling as Stone Keeper and from what Hayrick had said, his noodlot – his destiny. Oh this was a red letter day!
As he approached the shelter, he realized that something was different this time. The shelter had been moved about a bit. That meant the boy must either be or have been awake. Steinar moved with great stealth about, looking for his water skin. The last place he remembered seeing it was hanging on a branch in the shelter itself. This was getting better and better. Just as he was getting ready to reach in to grab the skin, a voice from above his head spoke, “Where have you been? I have the water up here.”
Steinar jumped! “You scared me! Where are you?” “Up here.” Steinar looked up – there he was up in the tree. “What are you doing up there?” “I was scared. I woke up and you were gone. I didn’t know if you were going to turn me over to your people or what, so I hid. I know you’re a Stone Keeper. I know you have great power. I know you have enough power to kill me. Why didn’t you?”
“Look, standing here looking up at you hurts my neck, I have NO idea you got up into that tree, but come down and let’s find something for you to eat.” “Find something for me to eat?!! Why do you think I was fighting that boar?! I intend to eat HIM.” For a moment, Steinar thought very seriously about throwing up. Eat a boar? This boy was SUCH an infidel! “Let’s get you down first, then we can figure out what we are and are not going to eat.”
With great caution and very slowly the boy came down from the tree. He stood a few feet away staring at Steinar – “Are you going to kill me?” “If I was going to kill you, why would I have healed those wounds already? Why would I waste my uh….power?” Steinar wasn’t ready for this boy to think that he was really basically powerless against him.
The boy nodded, as though that made perfectly good sense to him. He stopped mid-nod and said, “THAT is a snow wind. We’re going to get snow tonight. We need to find a better shelter than the one you built last night.” Steinar wondered how the boy knew that he had built that shelter last night, but then again, he wondered how he knew from one gust of wind that they would get snow. It was awfully early in the season yet. However, he wasn’t willing to take any chances.
The boy moved slowly, but he was amazing in the forest. This didn’t really surprise Steinar. He was, after all, Forest Folk.
He directed Steinar to a small overhang of stones – not quite a cave, but as the boy explained as they walked right past a cave entrance – “Since you’re just visiting the forest, the likelihood is that someone else has already found all the caves. And I really don’t have the energy to fight for it.” So, this provided them half a cave – with no unwelcome guests.
“This will work well. It faces away from the path, so that we can have a fire that won’t be quite as visible and it’s near the stream. You gather the branches and I will start the pit.” Steinar wasn’t certain what he meant by “the pit”, but when the boy collapsed down into a sitting position, obvious relief on his face, it didn’t matter. Steinar knew he needed to rest and this was a good place for him to rest.
While Steinar didn’t live in the forest, he did know that if they were really looking at snow coming that night, then they would want the warmest, thickest branches he could find. He made a point of carefully choosing the heaviest fir or pine branches. He came back time and again with loads of small branches, limbs and as much brush as he could find – including the pieces of his old shelter.
By the time he returned, the boy had dug a small trench-looking space, under the overhanging stone wall. It was about eight inches deep. He was flushed and obviously in pain. He looked up at Steinar and said, “Can you find the rocks?” Steinar looked puzzled. “What rocks?” The boy looked at him, cocking his head, almost like one of his puppies at home, “What rocks?! Don’t your people make a pit to sleep on when you’re in the woods?” Steinar shook his head. “Well, in that case, we need rocks. Enough rocks to fill these pits -” when he waved his hand back, it was then that Steinar could see that there was another pit, as well. “Can you bring them to me? Under normal circumstances, I would rather we not use the stones from the stream, but if those are the only ones you can find, so be it, because we need to get these done quickly.”
Steinar began looking for as many stones as he could carry. Looking around he saw a good sized pine tree, with some larger branches down near the bottom. He took the Stone and hacked two off. This became his sledge, to take the stones back to the “cave.” As quickly as he got them back, the boy was putting them into the pits.
By the time he arrived with the last bunch, the boy looked at him – there was both fear and pain in his eyes. After all that they had done together, why fear, Steinar wondered. “I need a fire in here,” the words almost exploded from the boy’s mouth. “Okay, let me do that. You just sit there and rest. You’ve already done too much. I still can’t figure out how you got yourself up into that tree….”
Suddenly, Steinar realized that he sounded like one of his sisters. Chattering on like a magpie, while the boy sat there, still as possible, fear all over his face.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you looking at me like that?” “Because you’re a Stone Keeper. I know what you do with fire. I know how fire shoots from your hands and burns people up.” “What?!” Steinar thought long and hard about correcting the boy. If he did, he made his advantage a little less. He wasn’t certain that he wanted to do that quite yet.
“I am going to start the fire using my flint and what I call my blood rock. See?” He held them out in his hands for the boy to see. The boy was as closely up against the rock face as he could possibly be. “No fire will shoot from my fingers.” He reached for his bag and within moments there was a nice little fire burning there.
The two worked side by side building the sides of their shelter and keeping the fires burning above the stones. They even cooked some dinner on them.
It wasn’t boar, much to the boy’s dismay. Steinar could sleep in the same shelter as him, share his water with him, share his cloak with him, but eat boar? There was no way that he could even begin to do such a disgusting thing. So, the boy told him how to quickly catch a squirrel and they ate that instead. Steinar also had some dried fruit that he shared with him and one last bit of bread. All in all, it was a very good meal.
By the time they were done eating, the boy motioned toward the fires. They had been burning for some time. Nice and slow – but very hot. “We’re ready then.” Steinar looked at him with complete confusion, “Ready for what?” The boy attempted and almost managed to sound patient, “To build our beds.” “What? We’re going to sleep on those?” The boy looked at him as though he had completely lost his mind. “Of course we’re going to sleep on them, how did you think we were going to stay warm? When we go hunting in a group, we all sleep together, without our clothes, under furs. But since you’re not a part of our people and we don’t have furs, I didn’t think that would appeal to you.” Well, he was certainly right about that!
The boy showed Steinar how to scoop up the dirt he had dug out and put to the side and pile it up on top of the pits. Steinar made the boy watch while he did the work. When he had enough, the boy showed him how to smooth it all out and Steinar covered both pits with pine needles. The boy laid down one of Steinar’s cloaks on each of the pits. He looked up at Steinar, “You must make certain that your head is covered, wrap yourself up and you will stay warm all night long.” Steinar did as he said and very soon, he could feel the heat coming through the ground to warm him. It was wonderful!
After lying there in the dark, it occurred to Steinar that the wind was really howling now. He was certain that it was quite cold outside and yet he was delightfully warm sleeping on his pit. The other thing that occurred to him was that he still didn’t know the boy’s name. He would need to ask him in the morning. He also needed to tell him how impressed he was at the way he worked, despite the pain that was surely in his body.
But before he could think of anything else, he fell asleep. It was a deliciously warm, cozy sleep. The sleep produced best by hard work.
While he was sleeping, he dreamt.
“Hello, Steinar!” The Great Stone Keeper was coming up over the top of a small hill. “Hello.” Steinar felt uncomfortable with him tonight. “You have brought me a friend, I see. I’m so glad.” Steinar had no idea what he was talking about, so he whirled to look about him. There, a few feet away was the boy. The Stone Keeper walked up and said, “Hello Jorn. I have been expecting you.”
Before Steinar could shout, “No! He’s Forest Folk!”, the Baker and the Fuller had come along, carrying fresh bread and wine, along with a clean tunic for Jorn. His was covered in dirt and blood, just like Steinar’s had been the night before.
Where they ate, the sun shown and they all basked in its light. The Great Stone sang loudly and the five of them ate to their fill, on the hill in the sun and the warm breeze. When they were done, they all danced to the Song of the Stone. It was a lovely dream.