The Stone Keeper – Chapter Nine

The whole world sounded strange the next morning. Steinar could hear the sound of what his sister’s called “snow dulling.” When the snow is falling – or it was freshly fallen – every sound seemed as though it were wrapped in fresh lamb’s wool. It was dampened and dulled. He could hear it through the shelter before he even looked out.

Sitting up, he was amazed at how cold the air around the entrance was. He had slept as comfortably as though he were home in his own bed. That was astounding to him. He looked over at…the boy. He almost called him Jorn, but that seemed almost as silly as talking to the Stone. Jorn was asleep – or at least he looked to be. Steinar had a moment’s concern that the Stone really hadn’t healed him, but that because of all the work that they did yesterday, the boy was doing poorly.

He needn’t have. Although he didn’t open his eyes, he said, “I am fine. I’m just very, very tired from all the work yesterday. I know you have healed me, but the healing isn’t complete yet, I fear, for I do not have my full strength back.” And after that long speech, he opened his eyes to look sleepily at Steinar.

Steinar looked back. This didn’t look like someone he should fear – this looked like someone he would have enjoyed being with. “My name is Steinar, what is your name?” The boy looked surprised. He was asking his name? A Stone Person asking the name of a Forest Folk? Why? He had never heard of such a thing happening before.

Maybe his answer would mean the end of civilization as he knew it. He stared back at Steinar. Could he trust him with such a thing? Names to his people were very powerful. Could he share that with this Stone Keeper?

There was a very long silence, “Yaeger. My name is Yaeger.” Steinar kind of chuckled. “Yaeger it is, then. I’m glad to hear that. I thought for a little while you were going to tell me that your name was Jorn.”

Yaeger looked as though Steinar had slapped him. He sat up with great speed, in fact, he sat up so quickly, that he hit his head on the stone overhang. He just kept looking at Steinar with absolute fear in his face. “Why did you call me that?” Steinar was totally puzzled. “It’s nothing. Really. Just a dream I had.” “You heard that name in your night vision?” “Well, yes…I mean, I heard someone else call you by that name in my dream. I’m sorry, have I insulted you?”

With great hesitancy, Yaeger answered Steinar. “My people…we have a name that is for all to use – a common name. But, in our homes, we have names that we share with no one outside our family. In my home, my name is called Jorn. NO ONE has ever known the name of a Forest Person outside of their family. You must be a great Stone Keeper, indeed.” Steinar snorted openly at that. If ever there were a pitiful Stone Keeper, he was certain he was it.

Well, what would you like me to call you then? Yaeger or Jorn?” The boy looked at Steinar for a long time. “I don’t know.” Steinar could understand that. He didn’t know if he would like someone knowing his family secrets, either. “If it makes you feel any better, when I was a child, my family used to call me Dwaas.” Looking down, Steinar said, “It means fool.” “Jorn. You may call me Jorn. You have shown me kindness that I would only expect from family, so you may know my family name.”

Steinar stuck his hand out, “Jorn it is, then.” Jorn stared at Steinar’s hand for some time. Steinar remembered his fear of fire shooting from his hand. “I’m a young Stone Keeper, Jorn. I do not know how to shoot fire from my hands. You are safe.” Jorn continued to look at Steinar’s hand. “Why are you giving me your hand?” “In my culture, we shake hands to indicate that we are friends.” “How odd,” said Jorn. “In my culture, we hug our friends and shake hands only with those with whom we work. Steinar, I will shake your hand as a sign of our friendship…and trust that you will not burn me with fire.”

Steinar was surprised at the amount of snow that had fallen overnight. He had not realized it was so deep because the weight of the snow was held by the rock overhang. There was some snow on the sides, but they were all holding up well. He stood outside the shelter and stretched. Their shelter was truly wonderful, but for someone who had grown as much as he had in the last year, stretching was very needed.

Jorn, we need food. I’m going to see if I can’t catch us some fish.” Jorn leaned toward the doorway, “Steinar, look for places where the sun is shining on the water. That is where you will find the fish.” Steinar bent down to look at the boy who was still obviously bruised, but so wise when it came to things of nature. “Thank you, I will.”

By the time Steinar had caught the fish and returned, Jorn had already built the fire and had the hot rocks ready for him to put the fish on, to cook. Steinar handed him the fish. He took it eagerly and laid it on the rocks. Then he looked at Steinar. “This fish has no holes in it, how did you catch it?” Steinar smiled and said, “Once a spicer’s son, always a spicer’s son.” He held up a small packet of poke sallet berries. “What are these? What do you do with them?”

For the short length of time that the fish took to cook, Steinar taught Jorn how to poison the fish, so that you can just reach in and catch them. Jorn was amazed – and somewhat fearful.

By the time the fish were done cooking, both boys were famished and all interest in talking or learning about new things was gone. They were both content to just eat and drink their water, which Steinar had filled for them, while he was out catching their fish.

Three days they spent huddled down in their half cave/half branches shelter. It almost seemed like a vacation. Steinar ministered to Jorn’s physical needs, while at the same time, Jorn ministered to Steinar’s need for family.

Every day Jorn’s strength returned a little more and they shared more and more of the duties of caring for themselves. Steinar taught Jorn of the herbs and fungi that he carried in his sack and Jorn taught Steinar of life in The Forest.

Every night Steinar dreamt of the Great Stone Keeper. In his dreams they walked the fields together talking, sometimes the fuller or the baker – or both would join them. Between his time with Jorn and his time with the three of them, he found that there were times he didn’t even think about his pain over the loss of his family.

Coming back from the stream the fourth morning, Steinar was surprised to see how many foot prints and traces of themselves they had left. Entering the shelter, Steinar said, “I guess we better move our shelter, now that our footprints are all over.” “Why would we do that? We have a good shelter here.” “Because…I hope I do not offend you, Jorn, but I am afraid of your people. I do not want them to find us here.” Jorn was shaking his head before the words were completely out of Steinar’s mouth. “My people would never be up this far – not this close to the Stone Keeper’s Mountain! While they do not know him, they still fear him and his powers.”

There was so much information in that one sentence that Steinar’s head spun. His thoughts felt like they were colliding into one another, bouncing off the inside of his skull! First of all, if his people wouldn’t be this far north, then why was he? And secondly, if Steinar, a Stone Keeper, didn’t know where the Stone Keeper’s Mountain was , how did this…infidel had always been the word that came before, but somehow Jorn didn’t seem like an infidel any more. Why had he – one of the Stone People – never heard of the Stone Keeper’s Mountain before? Neither Aldous nor Hayrick had mentioned it. Why not? Were they keeping it from him? Was it a matter of a lack of maturity or experience as a Stone Keeper? Was it something only the “old” Stone Keepers knew about? Maybe it was a trap by the Forest Folk to get him to the top of the mountain alone, to take the Stone from him. Was Jorn being used as bait?

The mere thought made Steinar feel like crying. So many…so much had already been lost – and well… it almost seemed like a friendship was growing between them. He didn’t want to lose that. He liked Jorn.

What was he thinking? How could there be a friendship between them? He was of the Stone People and Jorn of the Forest Folk. Their people had been enemies for as long as he could remember. If he didn’t catch The Virus and drop dead from it, he would be surprised. No one had spent this long with one of the Forest Folk – well, if they did, they didn’t live to tell about it.

The direction of his thoughts made Steinar grumpy. Suddenly their wonderful shelter seemed like it was choking him, so he decided it was time to go find more food. The last thing he wanted to do was remain here with this…this boy. Jorn watched the emotions play across his face, and while he didn’t know what caused them, he was certainly not going to stop him from going. He knew that look – he had even seen it in the sky before – as the thunderheads were gathering.

Steinar stomped about for a while – both his feet and his anger cooling in the snow. He finally took time to stop and look – it was beautiful. He had seen snow many times before, why did he feel like he was only seeing it for the first time today? The contrast of its whiteness against the deep green of the pines, as well as the clumps floating down the stream – it was absolutely magnificent.

Deciding he’d better get back to see what Jorn was doing – and having decided that he was just being ridiculous – Steinar headed back toward the shelter. He had walked some time before he realized he didn’t have a clue where he was. He was lost – and not just a little bit, either. He knew that panic was not a good option, but he didn’t know what he should do.

Trying to keep his fear under control, Steinar pulled the Stone up closer to his ear so he could listen to it singing. It wasn’t singing. Great. The Stone was mad at him again.

That was all he needed – the Stone upset with him, Jorn upset with him for the way he left, and now he was lost. He took a moment to give thanks to Gott that he had already shared a bit of Tinder fungus with Jorn. That way, if for any reason Steinar couldn’t get back to the shelter tonight, Jorn would still have fire.

After wandering about for some time and finding himself coming back upon his own footsteps, he decided that the only thing he could think to do was go up. He would climb up the side of the mountain and see if he could figure out where he should be, rather than where he was.

It wasn’t until he had begun to climb that he remembered that Jorn had called this the Stone Keeper’s Mountain. It was also at that moment that the Stone began to not only sing, but to literally vibrate in its pouch. It was as though it was so excited it couldn’t contain itself. Was he taking it home? What would he find at the top? Steinar was torn between fear and excitement…and hope that if nothing else, there would be a warm place he could rest when he got to the top.

One Response to “The Stone Keeper – Chapter Nine”
  1. javadawn says:

    Hey Tiffany – you only have to make it through tomorrow. 🙂 (And I’ll try to post it WAY early in the morning, like I am now.)

    Fair warning, though, tomorrow’s final chapter is LONG.

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