Intersection

Three women work side by side
The first, dimpled cheeks dusted with freckles
Red hair streaked with gray, pours liquid
From one brown bottle to another while the second
Moves from behind mountains
Of paper tearing scraps with stubby fingers,
Sticks them onto shining curves then,
Wielding a black pen,
Slashes and stabs words,
Inking labels with identification:
Coltsfoot Cleavers Codnopsis Mullein;
The third dances between counters
Knee high combat boots daintily pirouette
Shuffle and twist over the tiled floor
While she flicks her wrists and rolls
Avocado and cucumber
Inside sheets
Of seaweed.

Were I to empty myself out
It would be into amber rounds
One ounce, two ounce, and four ounce
Bottles with black tops.

Two women spar in a muddy field
They lunge and leap, hips jut out behind them,
Knees spread wide one grabs with stubby fingers
Grappling shoulders, neck, red hair streaked with gray
Down together they roll, legs locked,
Then apart they spring up, bouncing
On the balls of bare feet,
Beginning again
Kabadi!

I’d leave the shining bottles unlabeled
For future reference,
Their contents known through taste;
Nostrils by aroma.

One woman unlaces her boots
Peels the black hide from her legs where they cling,
Second skin, lays them to the side and rises
Striding into the mud pit armed with swords,
A long stalk of Mullein in each hand,
She crosses them and bows,
The two women across from her pause then
She says, En garde!
And they rush her.

A young woman returns to the cloth bazaar with a bundle. She sets it on the counter of a corner shop with bolts of chikkan, lawn, muslin, and georgette’s displayed on shelves. Pouring down the walls alongside the counter are chiffons and silks. Under the counter in rolls are beaded braids and embroidered trims in all colors of the rainbow, silver, gold, and copper. Two men are seated behind the counter, and she opens up her bundle, addressing the black haired one with gleaming black eyes, ringed with kohl; he reminds her of a raccoon she saw once on a road somewhere.

“Bhai Saab, you sold me these malmal’s and they’ve ruined my skirts! See here what’s happened.”

From her bundle she retrieves once white skirts, now muddy hued and streaked with red, blue, and green; spreads them on the counter. Beside them she places three muslin petticoats, a red a blue and a green one.

He looks at the display and runs his hands through oiled black hair then tosses his head nonchalantly.

“What’s it to me?” he asks, “Seems like you don’t know how to do your wash.”

He pops a piece of betel nut leaf into his mouth and chews it casually.

“Listen bhaya, you sold me these muslins without mentioning that they’d bleed in water, the colors have all run! I thought they were pakka, instead you sold me kachaa raw dyed cloth with no word about washing them separate. I suggest you replace them to make amends, and also the white fabric to stitch new skirts with!”

His insolent gaze turns incredulous and he stops chewing his betel nut leaf. Then he turns to the second man, the spectacled one who’s been listening quietly to the interchange from beside him.

“Wah jee, listen to this foreign return bewakoof woman! She doesn’t know how to do her wash anymore after living too many years in vilaayat, and now she expects me to give her for free more of the same kachaa cloth plus chikkan to fix her bewakoofee! What next!”

To the woman he says, “Listen Bibi, not my problem, buss.”

She glares at him and leans forward, “Bhai Saab, in this world there are, as you have pointed out so clearly, bewakoof women like me. Being as wise as you are and observant to boot, why don’t you spell it out for us:: Bibi colors run, take care to wash separate hmm, what does it cost you to tell us this? Save us the hassle and you the trouble of having us show up here with our cloths; don’t tell me this hasn’t happened before! Besides, in vilaayat the muslin all comes from here, better quality, always pukka rang, how come you sell this here instead of what gets sent overseas? Under your nose it’s made and produced, yet you accept this quality and sell it with no word of warning! How come you don’t tell suppliers, give us the good stuff, hmm?”

He shakes his head and says with a smirk, “So what? Like I said, not my problem Bibi, no money back guarantee here, no exchange, no replacement; only free thing for you is a lesson, buss.”

She stamps her foot and shouts loudly. “Not your problem? Not your problem? Is that so, oho! Okay we’ll see about that!”

The other shoppers are watching curiously from behind curtains of silk, voile, and satin, staring openly at her freckled face; flushed red with agitation.

The second man, the quiet spectacled one, suddenly speaks up.

“Bibiji, don’t listen to my brother. Come, what if I replace the three muslins at no cost for not mentioning to you the cost of washing together, and half price for the skirt materials?”

She turns to face him, folding her arms across her chest, and considers.

“No, I don’t want the muslins replaced. Money back for those and replacement white chikkan for the skirts.”

“Money back for muslin and sixty percent discount on anything else you buy today.”

“That’s fair,” she says finally, “In the future kindly consider us bewakoof begums who forget things that you remember, and remind us; otherwise so what if you see clearly?”

She makes her selections while his brother, the raccoon eyed greasy haired one, pours tea. He turns to her with a sly grin and asks, “Begum Babyji, chai for you, or should I say Teeee?”

She laughs at his audacity, says, “Only pakka doodh patee chai, no tea bags.”

His brother adjusts his spectacles, begins making cuts from bolts of cloth; one yard, two yard, four yards.

Three women lay flat on their backs
Watching clouds gather.
Soon it begins to rain, a warm rain,
They stand as one rinsing off
Rivers of mud in the downpour
Around their feet
Hundreds of Mullein seeds are tamped into the earth;
Dainty hands pick up black boots by their laces,
Walking home
To mountains of paper
A platter of sushi.

I empty myself out
Into amber rounds,
As simples and compounds;
They keep well in cool, dry places.

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Twelve

There is a place at the edge of the curve of a magnolia leaf where it is told there is a door between the living and the dead. There are some whose blood and bone, knit together with purple bells tingling lilac and ruby throated hummingbird song, is the key. They simply pass between worlds with no trace. There is no door too rusty for them to glide through, their entrance welcomed by the guardians; though they require of others who find this door a key before granting passage.

Once upon a time a man found this door. He gazed upon it where silken strands, adhered to its edges, made it visible. Fine threads stood out announcing themselves in the morning dew, bearing diamond light droplets, with a sleeping spider in the middle. The man examined it from all directions, treading gently on damp grasses beneath his feet where it had caught his eye on an early morning walk out to greet the day. He moved quietly and marveled at its beauty. Then he went away into the toil and moil and turmoil of his day.

The world whirled by. He heard drills hammering at the earth, plundering and tearing, uncaring. He watched pipes of metal, buried deep, burst open and spoil the soil, poison the waters, sicken the sons and daughters of all beings. He learned of detritus and debris amidst the stars, cluttering, sputtering, blocking. He absorbed the anguish of whales whose wave paths for communication were obstructed by vessels out at sea where they had no business to be. He was flooded by the cries of children, their souls silenced by crude socialization that prescribes cruder medication, caged as the lions and tigers in boxes behind bars, shut away from the stars.

He sang songs, he cried, he laughed, he spoke with all about all that he cared for. He held signs, marched in active protest, stood infront of tanks and bulldozers, wrote letters to the editors. He travelled, he served, he taught, he cooked, he planted, he shared.  But nothing changed. Then one night he sat beside the fires glow and a spider came along and her face she did show. And he remembered the door at the edge of the curves of a magnolia leaf.

“Spider, spider, tell me, do you know how I may gain passage to what’s beyond?” He asked her.

“A key,” she replied lazily.

“What kind of key and how do I find it?” he queried.

“The key is within sight, it must match what you seek beyond to spark light. Beware the Guardians. Should the key not be right, they will claim your life and leave you as blight.” She stated, then climbed up a singular strand, pulling it up behind her.

He pondered this late into the night. He mused on this late into many nights and through many days, fasting and praying. And it came to him what he must do. He prepared himself carefully.

One morning he awoke and began by visiting all the people he loved, the ones who loved him. Those who had taught him and held him in his broken hours. Those who had listened to him and held him in fields of flowers. He sweetened their mouths with plump red strawberries, their ears with music, their cheeks with salty kisses.

He visited the river where he scrubbed his body with mud and grit, sloughed away dead skin with stones, while rainbow fish nibbled at his feet and a stag drank water from the opposite bank. He floated in the gurgling water and bathed, watching the zig zag clouds streak through the blue sky above.

In the evening, cleansed and naked, he climbed up to the topmost reaches of an ancient Magnolia; her waxy leaves shining around tight buds whose creamy petals and sticky sweet scent had yet to come. He sat there with Hawk on his shoulder watching the sky; waiting. Squirrel sat across from them and at the base, around Magnolia’s weathered trunk, a serpent of mighty length and width was coiled in ring upon ring of coils, great head resting on top of the rings, eyes wide open.

He gazed over houses and lawns at the kaleidoscope moving 360 degrees around him. Over meadows where yellow mustard bloomed in early spring cradled by mountains on one side and river on the other. Where Heron fished, standing one legged on Dragon’s spine jutting out from under water; the beast lay sleeping in the earth, undisturbed by liquid flowing over him onward to the sea. These meadows, he knew, would wave green in the heat of summer sun’s rays, shimmering in the absence of a breeze, growing taller and sturdier until one day they would bear corn on their stalks. The mountains, he knew, would glow pink, orange, red, and gold reflecting the setting sun on fire, ignited under blue for as far as his green eyes could see.

He gazed until Heron’s outline in the sky flew North. His heart was full. Venus was out, crescent moon not far, and the blue above was melting into plum, with peach and strawberry swirls.

He stood then, in the dying away of day, on the topmost branch of his ancient friend, Magnolia. He nodded to Squirrel, who scampered down to where Serpent was coiled, waiting. He stood with Hawk and waited for Serpent to come.

Come he did, a moving rope climbing the weathered trunk of this tree; Serpent knew Magnolia well. Knew her grooves and curves, hugged and caressed her on his ascent to where the man stood beholding the closing sky, the fading away of light into night. The first fireflies had flown out of the grasses now and circled his head, a living flickering crown and he breathed deeply filling with delight. The buds had opened, their sweet fragrance rising; rising up and into him. And now, Serpent was fully stretched. His tail was wrapped tightly around Magnolia’s bottom. Anchored where Fireflies danced on its tip.

The man stood still, inhaling, gazing at the final rays of the sun descending behind distant mountains; he was full. Hawk gave a screech, Serpent zig zagged around him lightning fast, Squirrel bit his toe, and he fell where he hung; swung from his snapped neck held tight by a great serpentine coil. The door on the edge of a waxy Magnolia leaf shone, opened, allowed the hanged man passage and in a flash, he was gone leaving behind his still, hanging form.

The squirrel disappeared into a hole in the tree, the serpent became dull and lifeless, and the magnolia blossoms continued opening late into the night. The hawk screeched and soared into the sky, disappearing from sight. In the blue-black inkiness the sound of a lone Owl hooting broke the silence, while the fireflies danced under stars until dawn.

The Watchman walks the edges now; he is The Twelfth Knight and he walks with peace at the edges around the curves of a magnolia leaf.

He is there; slipping in through the cracks where men drill the earth, sweat dripping from their brows, filling them with questions about what it is they spoil and soil for. They walk away; leave their drills and shovels, to find answers.

He is there; gliding in through the chinks where men plunder down under the seas, filling them with questions about what they toil and boil for. They sail away; dock their vessels at harbors and go in search of answers.

He is there; sliding in through the fissures where men engineer devices to wage wars that clutter and splutter with detritus and debris that litters from earth to sea to stars. They get up and leave their desks with unfinished plans, walking toward answers.

He is there; on the curves of magnolia leaves gathered by children at play while they sing and skip and climb trees, shining bright as the stars twinkling in milky streaks across inky skies, swinging with blue monkeys and laughing at the wondrous world they see. He holds space for them to be, shields them from hard conditioned eyes that they may grow; live whole and free into who they are here to be.

He is there; on the glittering strands in the morning dew, where diamond droplets outline the web woven by Spider waiting to beheld and remembered by those who stand on damp green grasses facing the dawning day.

Ray’s Dream

The Druid named Jonas scattered resin on the glowing coals while humming softly. Smoke rose up into the air, wispy at first, then coalescing into thicker smog as he laid damp pine over top. He added a branch with pine needles, pinecones, and stepped back to watch the glow, listen to the sizzle, crack and pop while chanting slowly. A spicy earthy fragrance filled the air and Ray breathed in deeply where he sat cross-legged by the fire, his eyes glazed over. Jonas didn’t have to look at Ray to know it wouldn’t be long before he’d see the images swirling in the flames, he didn’t have to look at Ray to wonder would the youth allow himself to step into the dream, find what he was looking for, return from his journey whole again? The Druid did not know.  He kept chanting, picking up speed, until he felt Ray slip away. Then he swayed while chanting at a steady pace, maintaining a rhythm to call Ray back with from where he had gone . . . . .

Ray was in a faraway land where there lived a King with two sons. He ruled with generosity as far as his subjects were concerned, for nobody went hungry, everybody had shelter and clothing, and their toil and moil was tempered with rest and leisure.  He looked after their well-being and the people prospered. The lands were fertile and lush, with clear streams, a wide river, and artesian springs, which were tapped to irrigate the fields. These fields waved happily golden in the sun, ripe with wheat and corn, pumpkins and sunflowers. Blue birds dazzled by day, the air filled with the notes of their song, the night sky was filled with stars.  People could be seen working in the fields pausing to take a break to eat and talk and rest before carrying on with work. Children skipped and ran about, playing hopscotch, climbing trees, and joining in for the harvesting of apples, peaches, and apricots. In the cold months the hearths were heard to be crackling with fire and embers. Any would be invaders or conquerors met armed guards who fought from behind an invisible impermeable shield. The King in all his glory attributed it to the strength of his own power and while many of his subjects believed him to be their Benefactor and Protector, the wielder of mighty magic, there were also those who knew there was something larger at play here in this bit of the big wide world. The Queen knew what these few people knew, however they all kept their knowledge to themselves as part of an unspoken secret agreement, and carried on about their lives. A sense of peace prevailed and buzzed about in all the farthest reaches of this industrious Kingdom.

One day the Queen disappeared. When she didn’t return the King pronounced her dead and the Kingdom grieved her passing with forty days of wailing and mourning along with songs and prayers for her journey on to be a good one. The King partook of the rites that surrounded her passing in his usual perfunctory manner, declaring the traditions silly nonsense and uncivilized in the manner of his Queen. If he wept in private for the loss of his wife, nobody knew of it. But the people honored and commemorated her with offerings of tears and laughter, remembering her as a beautiful kindly beloved woman who went among them, asking after this one’s child by name and that one’s ailing father with a pouch of healing herbs at hand. Her two boys would accompany her on these visits, and before she vanished she had called for her sons. To the first she had given a golden compass, and to the second she gave a silver pocket watch. After she left the two boys were heartbroken and missing their mother they cried and sobbed a lot, getting under their father’s feet with their need for comfort and consolation. He began to berate and chide at them for being weak and indulging in tears and over the years he began deriding the Queen and belittling her to his sons, indeed likening them to her whenever they did anything he didn’t like so she became associated with shame and humiliation. The first son however had kept with himself her gift, the compass, at all times, close to his heart, along with his memory of her as a laughing, smiling, warm woman. The second had carried the pocket watch but as the King railed and raved about his mother, he deposited the watch in a drawer and over time any memories he may have once had of her faded and the pocket watch too was forgotten.

As was the manner of this particular King, he believed that he knew everything about everything and everyone. The Queen had kept this conviction of his in check with her presence, but after she was gone it took hold of him like never before. He had only to look at his Kingdom to find affirmation about the truth of his superiority. Taking up this line of reasoning as confirmation of the truth of his belief, he thought, as he did often, that he knew all about his two sons as well. Some time after the Queen disappeared the King decreed that as befitting their royal stature the boys would henceforth spend their days with tutors, governesses, nannies and other children from within the ruling classes selected as suitable companions by him. Their education would be directed by his orders, and his orders were Law.

With his first son he was stern and critical and forever comparing him to the second. Many were the times he’d say, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” or “How will you ever rule after I’m gone with an attitude like that?” or “Would it hurt you to smile and be more cheerful?” or “Just try this thing or that thing and you’ll see, you’ll get better at whatever it is with time”, followed by “You’re not trying hard enough!” When his son would come to him with an idea of something he’d really like to do he’d criticize it and sum it up with, “That’s not befitting of a future King! Certainly not in my castle, one day when you’re King you can do whatever you want!” or “What would people say if I were to allow you to do that?” or “You’re just like your Mother!” At first the boy would argue with his father, and discovered quickly that the King had an answer for everything that usually ended with “You’ll understand someday” or “I know best, this is for your own good.” But as it turned out, the King did not know what was best for his son, who spent most of his days daydreaming and being a lazybones, as his father would often point out. What his father didn’t know was that he was busy, very busy indeed getting acquainted with the golden compass given to him by his mother. And this was no ordinary compass, but a magical one that required deep concentration, focus, and study to learn its workings. This was a wondrous item and with it he traveled far and wide, into realms beyond the rule of his father, the King, who was unaware of their existence and would have been astonished to have learned where and in what company his son frequented space. In these other places he found much to marvel, question, and wonder about. Experience taught him not to take any of his findings to the King, who had cut them down as foolishness or some thing or the other enough times that he had boxed himself up and walled himself away from his son. The boy in turn trusted the compass, followed where it led him, and became expert at its use.

The King took out his frustration at his son’s lack of progress on the tutor, the governess, and the nanny, demanding to know what were they doing with his son? He had hired them to bring forth the spark within the boy, to inspire him, and here the boy was dawdling and doodling with no apparent knowledge of history, lineage, genealogy, etiquette, politics, rhetoric, strategy, advancement toward being a Leader of Men, let alone a whole Kingdom! They demurred vaguely to their monarch and murmured how they didn’t really know what moved the boy; perhaps the King could guide them as to how they should approach the subject at hand as the Prince was not interested in anything they’d tried. However the King barely spent any time with either of his sons, busy as he was with the grand affairs of court, and had no knowledge of what moved or did not move them, in fact beyond his own ambitions for them and what their futures should be as determined by him, he didn’t know his children at all. This irritated him as it contradicted his belief that he knew all there was to know, yet he brushed it aside and gave his irritation no attention. What irritated him further was that they reminded him of their mother, who had long been a source of embarrassment to himself for she had been, in his eyes, a coarse, crude, and uncivilized sort of person who conducted herself in public as she did in private in a way unbefitting of Royalty. He brushed this aside as well, and being the Mighty Monarch he deflected his staff’s queries back at them and left them with the task he had hired them to do, to shape and mold a Prince into a King of learning, wit, grace, and knowledge; while he occupied himself with matters of greater importance than his children. The tutor, the governess, and the nanny in turn left the Prince to his dreaming for though they did not hear the music that he moved to, they knew him well enough to know he heard a tune even if they did not. They let him be as he was and loved him instead of trying to teach him what they could not.

When he came of age, he packed up his belongings and took his leave of his few friends, namely the tutor, the governess, and the nanny who all three loved him dearly and who he loved in return. The first gave him a tiny booklet with a few pages bound together that had verses inscribed on them in a curly scrawl. The second gave him a hat that she had knit from wool that he had sheared and carded with her many moons ago. She had dyed the wool and spun it, and then knitted it into a hat for she was a firm believer in a warm head being the answer to good health. The third, his nanny, gave him the lyre that she had played when singing him lullabies as a baby, a toddler, a little boy. They hugged him warmly, wished him every best wish, and wiped away their tears for sad as they were to see him go, they were also glad. He then took his leave of his brother, who immediately began to ask if he could go with him, and why not, and wouldn’t it be more fun the two of them. But it was pointless for the older was determined to set out alone and the direction he was headed did not include any other. The younger brother pouted and groused, and wished him good luck in the end with a smirk saying, “You’ll need it if you think Father will let you go!” The King, when approached with news of his first son’s royal foray into the world, his defection, raged at him at telling him he’d regret it and that he’d be back and sorry to have left, then he resorted to calling him an arrogant fool, a callous cruel whippersnapper to hurt his father so and he’d pay for it later when he was a father and so on in this vein. No matter what he said, the boy was determined, surprising the King with the strength of his resolve until he sighed and declaring it to be the boy’s own fault for making him do this, he decreed him outcast and announced that his second son would be his heir. His son simply laughed and said, “This Kingdom of yours never was my inheritance, my true birthright awaits me and is not yours to give or take, so keep your Kingdom Father, may it bring you joy.” And so his first son set out on his quest, traveling through cities where he some days put on beggars garb and sang for his supper, other days he worked in shops learning the skills he needed to know. Later he traveled further away where he waded out into Ocean and played for weeks in the salty brine of her womb, then slept under bridges and on beaches where he burned driftwood to keep warm with other drifters coming and going, all in consultation with his golden compass. It led him from place to place and here we will leave him; mining in the deep dark places . . .

Let’s go back to the second son who had been coddled and cosseted from his earliest days. This was easy to do for he was, from his very beginning, a cheerful boy who brought smiles to people’s faces and was ooh’d and aahh’d and coo’d at. He was a mischievous youth with a quick humor and sparkling eyes, and the subject of much adoration. He was accustomed to being the center of affection and was used to getting his way whether by smoothness of tongue, tears, or flattery. He was the apple of his father’s eye and now the weight and future of the Kingdom rested on his slim shoulders. But as was also part of his nature, he longed to do whatever his older brother set out to do, to do it bigger and bolder. When his older brother had fallen off a ladder and sprained his ankle, he had climbed up a taller ladder and thrown himself off so as to break his leg. He took full advantage of his crippled state many many moons after it had healed. He became sullen and angry when the King reprimanded and scolded him for wanting to go in search of adventure, as he believed his brother had done, and took to the city where he’d carouse away the nights with lowborn women, gamblers, and drunks. The King for his part thought that he would confine the boy to the castle, where he would come to learn that he, the King, knew what was best for him. The boy however found ways to leave the castle that his father was unaware of, and so instead learned how to be sneaky and duplicitous. Finally the King thought it would be best to give him permission to travel and sow his wild oats, never suspecting that the boy had been sowing wild oats for a long time already and he had many a grandchild wandering about in the streets of his own cities. However, as was the manner of this King, he patted himself on the back for his foresight and wisdom, and settled back to wait for the boy to return. The boy however had no intention on returning to deal with the tedious business of governing a Kingdom, to be yoked to such a heavy ox as that. No, he had tasted of wine and revelry and womanly delights and intended to pursue his life as he pleased, with whom he pleased; however he pleased. And so it came to be that he packed up all his belongings, including the forgotten silver pocket watch, and set out.

Now this watch did not tell time in the one o clock two o clock three o clock rock way, and its power was unusable by the young Prince who hadn’t spent any time with it at all. Had he done so he would have found it told when it was time to keep his mouth shut, when it was time to speak, when it was time to step aside, when it was time to stand and fight, when it was time to leave amongst other things, but as we already know he had not and so he lived his days with no sense of timing. Being a gregarious and affable lad, he spoke frequently and often. It didn’t take much to get him to open his lips and spill forth with information, for he was his father’s son and loved to boast about his exploits and accomplishments, to brag about all the things he had done and the sights he had seen. He sang his own praises well and in the company of flatterers his head had begun to swell and inflate, with no clue as to what the tick tocking of the pocket watch meant. The pocket watch ticked and tocked and chimed and rang and got on his nerves almost constantly, until one day he threw it against the bar room wall in a fit of anger where it whirred and buzzed so loudly that all the patrons fell silent. In this way he identified himself and the watch to a wizard who had been searching for this very item.

The wizard, Zifku, had found his way to this Kingdom from another Kindom, where Ray had begun the journey set by the Druid Jonas, there lived a boy, Whispering Wind, who had brought Ray out of the portal and into his world. His parents, Night Sky and Willow were very pleased for they had crafted a swing that they had hung from the branches of an old oak tree, where Whispering Wind and his friends climbed aboard and swang high and low on the sturdy planks that made its seat. Unbeknownst to Whispering Wind was the fact that it was also a device that when activated served as a portal that took people to wherever they wanted to go and brought them back to where the swing was located. Whispering Wind and his friends used this swing very often, swinging high and low, sitting and standing singly, in pairs, in threes, twirling and jumping off it with joyous squeals and shouts. Now, the swamp hag had her eye on this swing, for she felt its power deep in the woods where she lived. One day she decided she’d get it for herself and knowing that Whispering Wind would not parlay with her, she set off in disguise to where he was swinging.   He saw what looked like a pleasant old woman in baggy trousers and a white shirt, binoculars about her neck, with a straw hat atop her head hobbling toward him, bearing a basket in one hand and a stick in the other. Being a curious young fellow he was excited by her arrival.

“Hello there,” he called out to her waving.

“Good afternoon!” she replied, “It’s a lovely day for a walk, I’ve been out stretching my bones and need a rest. Would you like to join me on a picnic?”

“No thanks but thanks for the offer,” he responded, pumping his legs and swinging high. He watched the old lady take out roast chicken and roasted potatoes and carrots and apple pie from in the empty basket from where he swang. They listened to the chirping sparrows and chatted while she ate and drank and his wonder grew at the quantity of goods coming out of her teensy basket.

When she got up to leave, his curiosity was too much to contain and he asked,

“How do you fit so much food in there?!”

“This old thing?” she smiled, “It’s amazing isn’t it? All you have to do is imagine what you want to eat and there it is. I’ll trade it with you for the swing, I have a granddaughter who would love it!”

“Oh,” said Whispering Wind, thinking about her offer. On the one hand it would make quick work of meals for his family, on the other hand he knew his parents enjoyed cooking together and creating meals, as well as growing most of the food that they ate. This basket would make the need for those activities redundant, and they’d have less reasons to go to town for food they weren’t growing, and he personally loved going to town where the farmer’s market was great fun to visit with people and the library and ice cream store were an almost certain stop while there.

He shook his head, and said, “I won’t trade the swing.”

“Well that’s too bad,” she shrugged seething inside, “Have fun swinging, I’ve a long walk back ahead of me . . . . are you sure about the trade?”

“Positive!” Said Whispering Wind emphatically, “It was nice meeting you . . . there’s a place at the bottom of the road that sells swings, you might find one for your granddaughter there.”

The swamp hag returned to her hut in the bog annoyed. A few weeks later she disguised herself and returned to where Whispering Wind was swinging.

“You’re out for a walk again I see,” he called out to her, “Did you find a swing?”

“I looked,” said she, “But they were all sold out, alas! I’ve come to make you another offer:: this book that shows you anything you want to know, all you have to do is think it and open the pages and there’s the answer! How about it?”

Whispering Wind was tempted.

“I want to know about swordplay,” he said.

The old woman opened the page and there on the pages was not only information about swordplay but moving pictures illustrating all forms of swordplay through the ages.

“What about wood working?” he asked.

She turned the page and there were trees, tools, people working wood and crafting through the ages.

He went on like this exploring sea fare, tree houses, boat building, all the places he’d like to visit until she shut the book and said, “You like it? Let’s trade and it’s yours.”

He thought about her offer, and wondrous as the book was, there wasn’t anything he’d seen in it that he couldn’t find by searching at the library or asking about. It was quicker that was for sure but he couldn’t think of any other benefit that it held other than expedient information, which in his book didn’t make it that worth the trade; after all his parents didn’t make swings every day!   He shook his head no and kept on swinging.

“Ah well,” said the old woman, “I’ll be back with something, you’ll see!”

Sure enough she was back a few weeks later and this time Whispering Wind was not on the swing. He was arranging logs in the shape of a house where they were to season and be a playhouse for him and his friends when she came around.

“I have just the thing for you my boy,” she said jauntily, “Indeed it’ll make quick work out of those logs you have there.”

She waved an axe at him and said, “See here, you shake the axe and tell it what to do.”

“Would you show me?” he asked.

She shook the axe and said, “Axe make a house with the logs.”

The axe got to work sweeping the logs this way and that until they’d rolled and stacked themselves into walls.

“What about windows?” he asked.

“Now Axe, cut out windows!” she commanded. The axe got busy.

“Wow! Does it patch rooftops and repair chinking too?” He asked.

She called the axe back to her and nodded.

Whispering Wind thought about this and all the things the axe could do that would benefit his family in different ways. Standing beside the partially finished house he looked over at the swing and thought how the axe could make another one even his parents wouldn’t!

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll trade for the axe.”

“Gotcha,” thought the swamp hag triumphantly and undid the swing before he could change his mind then was off and away lickety splick!

Now she had no intention of keeping it for herself. Indeed she didn’t know what it did nor was she interested in its workings. All she knew was it radiated enough power that she might trade it with a wizard she knew of who had an item she was in fact in search of. She set off right away to conduct business with him.

That evening Whispering Wind showed his parents the fine log house he had assembled with the use of the axe, which he called Isicue. They were surprised that he had piled the logs up in a day and even more so when he presented them with Isicue. Their surprise turned to alarm when he related the tale of how he’d traded the swing for it, boasting about how silly the little old lady was to have given up the axe for a swing when she could have simply had the axe make her one if she’d only thought about it.

“You did what? With whom?” an outraged Night Sky asked.

“Ummm, is there a problem?” Wind asked, “I mean it’s just a swing and I’ve already made a new one just like the other, go look it’s hanging right outside.”

“No, it’s not ‘just’ a swing and it wasn’t yours to trade Wind!” His father exclaimed.

“But I thought you made it for me!” Whispering Wind said.

Willow shook her head; she felt an argument brewing between the two. While they bickered it occurred to her that since the swing wasn’t rightfully his to have given there may be a way to retrieve it from where it had gone. She interrupted their now heated discussion and asked Whispering Wind a few questions then went to where the swing had hung from the old oak tree. She climbed up into the tree’s branches, leaned back and shut her eyes. It wasn’t long before she and the tree were in conversation and she watched the three scenes unfolding from Oak’s perspective and she knew it was the swamp hag who her son had been dealing with. She sat with Oak for a while then climbed down and headed back inside. To her surprise she heard a figure in the darkness, moving quickly toward, her calling, “Willow! I must speak with you!” It was none other than the swamp hag, Matilda. She stopped where she was and waited.

Before long Matilda was standing with her under Oak. She was disheveled, her shirt and trousers bore scorch marks on them, and her hair was askew.

“Willow, I’ve made a terrible mistake Willow!” she began, “I sought to deal with Zifku, the wizard, and the rat not only cheated me, he tried to take my life!”

Willow’s heart sank. She had heard of Zifku, and he was bad news indeed. She wasn’t a bit surprised by what Matilda said, though she was surprised Matilda had sought him out.

“Let’s go inside Matilda, I was intending to visit you tomorrow about our swing but I fear that may be too late,” said Willow.

The two women went back inside and while Willow brewed tea, Matilda told her about her encounter with Zifku. Night Sky and an astonished Whispering Wind interrupted them, Wind exclaiming, “It’s her! She’s the one I traded the swing with . . . but, but you’re the swamp hag! You tricked me!”

“Her name is Matilda, Wind,” his father said, “She’s Sugar Plum’s sister by the way.”

Whispering Wind’s jaw dropped at this revelation, “No way!”

Willow and Matilda carried on with their conversation while drinking tea. Night Sky and Whispering Wind poured themselves cups and joined the women at the table.

Matilda gave Willow her cup saying, “Willow, see what he’s going to do, I have a terrible feeling about this.”

Willow picked up the cup and eyed at Night Sky who began humming. She gazed into the cup while he hummed. After some time she looked at the others with a worried expression. Night Sky stopped humming and shut his eyes for a moment then frowned.

“Willow”, he said, “I sense the swing has been activated.”

“Yes, I see something in your cup Matilda, something ominous and dark that does not belong in our world, and it is hunting for you,” said Willow, “We’d best prepare ourselves, for it won’t be long before it tracks you here. Whatever it is, it will not stop until it sees you dead.”

“See me dead eh! That’s not going to happen in this lifetime no matter what that scoundrel Zifku thinks! He couldn’t kill me himself, that double crossing bastard,” she spat, scowling, “So he sends his hound after me, we’ll see about that!”

“It’s more than a hound Matilda, and it’s bound to seek you out and see your destruction,” Willow spoke with a hint of worry lacing her words, “I’m not sure we can defeat it.”

“Well if it’s dead it seeks to see me, let’s show it ‘dead’!” said Matilda, “In deed, let it see me dead and then, then we’ll turn it back on that scurvy fathead of a wizard, he doesn’t know what he’s dealing with!”

They considered Matilda with interest and Whispering Wind asked, “What do you mean?”

She divulged her plan to them:: she would take a brew that would render her dead, a brew that would in fact kill anybody who took it ordinarily for it was truly poisonous, however she herself was immune to its permanent effects and would appear dead for some time until it wore of. And then, if it was what they believed it to be, seeing her dead and its task complete, it would seek to return from whence it came and they would follow it back and retrieve the swing and deactivate it and the joke would be on Zifku! If the plan didn’t work, then they’d fight their best fight and see what happened.

There was silence as they contemplated her idea. Whispering Wind asked numerous questions that went unanswered then Night Sky began humming again. Willow looked into her own cup, then Night Sky’s, the Whispering Wind’s. She arranged the four cups in a circle in the center of the table and began drumming on the side of the table. Matilda stomped her feet. Whispering Wind clinked teaspoons together. From outside Owl hooted, whoo-whoo-woo-hooo.

They finished and Matilda rose to go. Willow shook her head, “Matilda, this creature will undoubtedly track you here, you may as well stay here and deal with it. Wind can fetch your brew, tell him what to do.”

Matilda, the swamp hag, glowered at them, “I don’t want him snooping about my house thank you very much Willow, but I’ll get it myself!!”

“How dare you! Your greed and thoughtlessness has endangered by entire family Matilda! You’ve come here asking for our assistance in this tangle you’ve bumbled your way into, and now you have the audacity to suggest that Wind would snoop about! That’s the least of our concerns right now,” Willow bit out decisively, “No, you will direct Wind as to what to do and stay right here until he returns.”

Whispering Wind was surprised to hear his usually calm mother speak with such temerity, even more so at the swamp hag’s annoyed acquiescence. He listened quietly while she instructed him and then prepared himself to go. Matilda stepped outside and began hooting. Presently an answering call came with the rustling of wings. Willow handed Wind her staff, and hugged him then he slipped out the door, and was gone; a fast moving shadow in the dark, Owl flying ahead of him. Inside the house Night Sky felt the swing being activated again.

In the murky moonless night, the creature sniffed and tracked. It was hunting for the human, had been treated like the lowest of mongrels bound to find and kill its prey then return to where it came from. It was angry. The human had offered it nothing, there had been no exchange during the summoning, only a forced binding that had rendered it a servant to the mortal. The creature hunted slowly, it would do what it had been set to do yes, and then it would seek its vengeance. It had no difficulty following the trail of its prey. It was angry to have been summoned to hunt down something that smelt weak and old, an easy task such as this was an insult to the creature. As it hunted, its anger grew. And then it was there, outside Whispering Winds dark house. All was quiet in the woods. Nothing moved in the presence of this maleficent being, the air was still, the creek ceased to burble, not a ripple swirled. The earth was silent, even the leaves were immobile releasing neither crunch nor crinkle as its shadow passed over. It had no difficulty seeing in the blackness and shrugged off the scent of others in the area. Its purpose was singular and it found its prey directly. It grew angrier to have been bound to such an unchallenging task as this! This was unworthy of a creature such as itself! It reached in the window and swiped at the form of its victim. Its rage tripled to see its quarry dead with no fight, no screams, nothing, not even a squeak. The creature turned, it was no cat set to hunting mice! Now it had only to return to the place of summoning and it would find a way to make the summoner pay, yes, and it intended to for the mortal suffer to make up for treating it with utter disregard. The creature slunk back to where it had begun its journey; it was entirely occupied with fury and vengeance. It was unaware of the dust motes that had settled upon its back, tiny specks that did not register through the haze of its thoughts. Even if they had, the creature would have given them no attention for they were insignificant as far as it was concerned, too tiny to be of consequence. And it continued until it was at the circle where it had been bound to return, bound to go back to where it had been summoned from. It looked at the swing hanging outside the circle with interest. It didn’t take it long to recognize it as a gate, to comprehend the workings of this human magic. The creature was crafty and the wizard had been sloppy in setting exact parameters with the summoning. The creature was bound to return to where it came from, but now it had a cunning idea. It undid the knots to the rope that held the swing where it hung from beams. It tucked the swing under its arm and stepped into the circle, taking the swing with itself, returning to the plane where it had been called from. Its eyes gleamed maniacally; it drooled with anticipation for it knew the mortal was in for a shock when he used the gate he had stepped through on his return, for it would no longer take him back to where he had entered from. The swing was no longer there. Instead it would bring him back to where the swing was now located, where the creature waited for its new prey with satisfaction.

Willow and Night Sky resumed their shapes and looked at one another in horror. That wasn’t supposed to have happened. Willow gave Night Sky one hand, rubbing on a gem in the other, and shut her eyes. They were cloaked in a sphere of light and then they were no longer where they had been, but back in their house. Whispering Wind was waiting for them with a wooden bowl of tea for each that Willow had prepared before their venture. She and Night Sky drank the brew down to the dregs then Willow placed herbs in the bowls and laid them in the crackling fire the boy had readied in their absence. They watched them burn to ashes in silence, still reeling from what had occurred knowing the matter was out of their control, feeling the weight of responsibility heavy on their shoulders. Whispering Wind sat quietly wondering at his parent’s ashen faces, knowing something was dreadfully wrong.

It was sunrise when Matilda woke from her dead sleep and joined them where they sat.

“Well?” she asked, scanning the room for the swing, “Did it go as planned?”

Willow shook her head and Night Sky told her what had occurred. Matilda was shocked at first then she squinted at the two of them and cackled.

“And here I was thinking how foolish I’d been in dealing with Zifku! You two take the cake, even I’m not damn fool enough to make an item such as that, leave it hanging about in the open, what were you thinking?!” She shook her head and cackled on, “Live and learn, live and learn my dearies, I’ll be off to my hut now.”

She let herself out the door and could be heard chortling and hooting as she trekked back to her home in the swamp.

Whispering Wind glared at her parting back, “I really don’t like her,” he declared, “She’s such a Hag!! What are we going to do?”

His parents looked at each other then at him and Willow said, “Nothing.”

In the meantime, the wizard Zifku, who had used the swing to enter the Kingdom of the two princes, found himself in the bar on the very evening that the youngest Prince had thrown the watch at the wall. Zifku recognized it immediately where it spun around and around buzzing on the ground as the item he had searched for, which he intended to possess. When he offered the young Prince a bag of gems and coins for the watch, and treated him to a five-course meal with the finest of wine and the prosiest of flattery, he was rewarded by an easy exchange and the Prince was never the wiser. Both parties were satisfied, and the Prince could be heard bragging long after about how he had got the better end of the deal as far as the old fool was concerned, after all it was only an old useless pocket watch. Divested of his mother’s gift, the Prince became more capricious than ever and eventually ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. You may think that would be the end of him except his older brother with the madly insistent compass was being pointed away from the mines toward where his younger brother lay bruised and battered and left for dead and he came and found him. The two brothers were reunited and here we will give them names: the older was Rainier and the younger Shasta, and Rainier carried Shasta back to his camp outside the mines with him where the younger gradually healed until he joined Rainier in the mines. They worked the side by side and slowly became reacquainted with one another, each having changed in the interim years of absence. The King was given news of his younger son’s demise and he shrugged it off as nonchalantly as he had when the Queen had died. He carried on as usual without a word passing through his lips, a tear shedding from his eyes, or a whiff of any grief for his loss, if at all he felt loss in the absence of his son it was unknown to any body other than himself. An announcement was made to the public declaring the Prince Shasta dead, condolences received relegated to the Royal Secretary to respond to with the Royal Seal, and that was that. While the King did not appear to feel anything at having two sons gone, his subjects took to the streets in mourning for the loss of their Princelings.   Even though one had been disowned and the other had been a rowdy ne’er do well, they were loved by their people who had followed their growing years with curiosity and interest as stories about their lives, their antics, sorrows, and triumphs, travelled from the castle via the tutor, the nanny, and the governess and the crowd of staff that worked within the castle walls to the outer precincts. The people remembered them. Some fondly and some with disgust, either way they were commemorated for the forty days that was customary in song and tears and prayers and praise until it was considered enough time for them to have journeyed on to wherever the departed go.

Meanwhile the wizard, Zifku, was busy with the pocket watch, meddling with all manner of affairs that ought not be meddled with. He was unnoticed by most all humans although the trees and birds and creeks with the salamanders and crawdaddys heard and saw and felt all of what he did. The little folk, the wee ones who shake the branches loose where they’re stuck, sink the leaves to the bottoms of lake and pond for fish and turtle to burrow under when the cold winds come a calling, comb the lichen beards growing on old Maple, those wee ones sensed the wizards work too. There was one such comely smiling tiny fellow called Bobbit who served the waters of the river that flowed through these lands. Now Bobbit had three hands instead of the usual two, and though we may imagine little people to be sweet dear nice wee people they can be hurtful to one another at times and in the instance of Bobbit had teased him relentlessly since he was wee’er than wee for the presence of his third hand. Bobbit’s wee heart often wept at this oddity and he wished he could wish it away so he could be like all the others but he bucked his chin up and went about determined to make the best go of life with his third hand, until he could find some way to fix the unwanted appendage some how some day. In the meantime he got asked to do many extra tasks by his community who figured since he had a third hand it was only fair for him to do more, and good natured chap as Bobbit was he did so though he’d cry by himself when he’d overhear some of the things some of the other little people would say in jest about him and his third hand.

Well one day Bobbit was out and about taking a look at the growth along the riverbank and when he greeted La Rivera, the river lady, he did not hear her gurgling voice reply as she always had. He walked about and approached her from different places but her melodious song was not to be heard. He waded out into the water and called out to her feeling slightly alarmed but the water was silent as it swirled quietly by.

Now this River was home to Trout, and these were no ordinary trout but Rainbow Trout and at their helm a giant Trout of Trout’s, Iridescent Trout. Once upon a time, long long ago, in Rivera’s waters there swam rainbow trout and speckled trout. The people on the riverbanks had been told to fish only the speckled trout to feed their hunger, and so they had, offering thanks and tokens every time they approached with net and line. But then a flood had come, along with a hurricane, roaring through farm and field, washing away plants and animals and indeed changing the very course of Rivera herself. Afterward there was a long drought, nobody remembers how long exactly some said ten years others said a hundred, but it was agreed that regardless of time it wasn’t long before forage able foods had been foraged till there were none remaining, animals had been hunted and long since gone. The speckledy fish all fished and feasted on during this famine time, only the rainbow trout remained and the desperate people fished them all till they too were mostly gone. The way it was told to Bobbit, the gods were angered by the people’s disobedience about their edict regarding the rainbow trout and in their wrath they turned all the people, all save those few who had let hunger claw at their bellies, gnaw at their marrow rather than eat the flesh of the forbidden fish, the gods had turned them into speckled trout and stocked Rivera’s burbling waters with their squirming wriggling fishy bodies. One god had been saddened by the other gods swift unforgiving justice, had felt the hopelessness of the people deep in her big godly being, and had turned to the other gods and asked that she too be turned into a trout, she would share in the people’s punishment for she did not believe them to be deserving of such a fate. The other god’s had obliged her and had changed her into a trout, only they had shaped her into a shining iridescent trout, a brightly lit trout as homage to her godly beginnings. She was Iridescent Trout and she was immense in size though seen by very few. She steered Rainbow Trout away from human eyes, nets, and fishing lines lest the humans repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. But some of the old ones and of course the little people knew the story, which they kept secret as was the way of what was sacred. Some had even seen Iridescent Trout and Rainbow Trout and had heard that both had big magic, which they believed for the sight of these Trout filled them with reverence, love, and awe at what they beheld and often they’d be found kneeling at the riverbank singing songs of praise to these otherwise unseen entities with offerings and gifts besides.

While Bobbit sang for Rivera, it was with a start that he took note of a beam of light moving through the water. He watched in astonishment as it swam toward him and rubbing his eyes in amazement he saw Iridescent Trout’s enormous head break the surface and speak with him in echoing bubbly tones:

“Rivera, the River Lady whom you seek little one, she has been captured and is not here any longer. She must be found and returned to these waters for she regulates the flow of the river and all that lives within the waters and what grows on the riverbanks too. She is more important than you know! Seek her in the coral reef where she has been captured and concealed by a force that serves darkness and will bring about destruction of the vilest sort. Two others will aid you with your task, these two will be found by Great Mother Ocean. Ask the walnut on the hill for a seed and bring it to the riverbank, when it touches water it will turn into a boat, which will carry you to where you need to go. Pull it out onto earth and it will become a seed again. Beware the one with the pocket watch, he is working to change the course of things and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goals. Now go and return here with Rivera when she has been found.”

Then Iridescent Trout sank back into the silent water and swam away leaving little Bobbit standing in the middle of the river mouth agape and stunned. He came to himself and trudged out and up the hill where Walnut stood laden with nuts.

“Oh Walnut, would you believe I saw Iridescent Trout just now! She’s so beautiful and shiny I feel almost blinded by her radiance and she spoke with me! “   Bobbit squeaked this out in one breath, then continued, quivering as he spoke, “I’m to ask you for a seed to carry with me, she’s given me a task! Me! A task! Walnut would you please give me a seed to carry to the riverbank? It’s to turn into a boat and take me to where Rivera is held captive somewhere in Great Mother Ocean, oh my goodness! I’ve never been to the big waters Walnut, I’m terribly excited but what if I fail?”

Walnut creaked slowly, waving his branches and rustling his leaves. He sent a ripple out to the nuts that he carried and then deliberately dropped one where it landed at Bobbit’s feet along with two limbs.

“Oh thank you thank you Walnut! You’re ever so generous, I’ll do my best to find Rivera and bring her back, goodbye, I’ll come see you when I return, thank you!”

Bobbit picked up the treasured seed and held it close to his wee heart, squeezing it in his third hand, while he picked up the limbs with the other two. Then he ran off toward the riverbank and placed the seed by the waters edge where it transformed into a walnut boat. He hopped in and using the limbs as oars rowed away from shore. Rapidly the walnut boat made its way between rocks and glistening pools, cattails and beaver dams, over logs and leaves. Bobbit passed Bear drinking on the banks and waved. Geese honked above, Heron turned his head and nodded at Bobbit when the walnut boat passed by where he was perched on one leg upon a boulder, Rainbow Trout guided the vessel along for a while, until the water was too warm and Catfish took their place urging the bibbity bobbity boat onward toward the sea. Bobbit sniffed the salty air and hearing the briny waves ahead began rowing to the marshy banks where ducks were resting. It was dark and the inky sky splattered with stars winked brightly at the little fellow where he was pulling the boat onto dry land, pocketing it as it shrank back into a seed. He stretched out and began walking toward the water wondering how he was going to find Rivera when he noticed a lone figure out at sea. As he came closer he heard loud wailing and keening sounds, groaning and sobbing coming from the person all mixed up and carried by the crashing surf and rolling waves. He stopped where he was and listened to the howling, which rose and fell rose and fell in time with the waves themselves. After a while he settled down where he was, curled up and fell asleep to the lullaby of waves and crying. When he awoke it was from the sun up on his face, and to the voices of two men talking about who and what he was.

Bobbit opened his eyes slowly and peeked at the big people above him, who took a step back when they saw he was awake. They introduced themselves to the little man and it wasn’t long that all three were sitting in a circle under the risen sun, listening to the rolling waves while exchanging stories. It became clear to all three that these were the two whom Iridescent Trout had spoken of, and they offered their aid in any way they could to assist Bobbit. Rainier took out his compass, which showed him the direction Rivera would be found. Being an excellent swimmer he volunteered to go in search of her. Bobbit thanked the stars for his good luck in finding the two princes and kept a fire going on the beach for all three of them, along with a pot of tea and soup cooked up with the goods the brothers had brought with them. It wasn’t long before Rainier went swimming into Ocean’s bosom where he found Rivera trapped in a flask held deep in the cave of an octopus. The octopus was out hunting crab and Rainier retrieved the flask and was back on the beach with it some while later. Bobbit was overjoyed and held it close to his heart with his third hand, using the other two to stir soup and pour tea for the cold young man. Shasta wrapped his brother in a towel and they sat by the fire that night, setting out with Bobbit the next day to return to Iridescent Trout. The journey was uneventful and before long they were in the presence of Iridescent Trout, who directed them to where Rivera must be released but not before saying to Bobbit that as a reward for what Bobbit had done, he, Iridescent Trout would grant Bobbit his wish for two arm instead of one should he desire it.  Bobbit was taken aback by Iridescent Trout’s unexpected offer, and it was within the blink of an eye in which he responded with “Oh no, thank you very much Iridescent Trout, I do believe I’ll keep my third arm!! I’m quite fond of it!” surprising himself with his own reply. “It is so,” stated Iridescent Trout.

The trio then traveled on and before long they were engaged in a ceremony of release. This is where the two princes discovered to their immense surprise and joy that Rivera was none other than their beloved mother, the Queen. They learned that every seven hundred years, a woman of her lineage gave herself to the River, merged with it and became La Rivera, emerging as the river lady, whose songs served the water and the surrounding lands growing them vibrant, alive, and fertile for the benefit of all beings. She thanked them and commended them all on their work and then alerted her sons to the fact that their father and the Kingdom itself was in danger from a ruthless wizard, the same that had captured her and sought to seize control by binding and contortion. The brothers decided they would return to their father’s Kingdom and Bobbit would return to the tending that the wee folk had sworn to do. A new friendship had been forged and they all hugged before departing, promising to remember the tale of Iridescent Trout and fishing only the speckledy ones when they fished, setting a time to reunite and celebrate annually when the first buds showed on the poplar trees.

When the brothers returned to the castle they found their Father in combat with the wizard, Zifku, who had discovered that while he possessed the watch, blood was needed to activate it. To his fury, the prince was dead and so he decided to get the blood he needed from the boy’s father as the same blood flowed between the two. He had insinuated himself into the Royal Presence and chosen a time to strike when he believed the King would be most vulnerable, which had not worked out to his advantage for while the King did not, as he had once assumed, know everything, he did know a fair deal and something had alerted him to the possibility of wizardly treachery. This then is how the wizard found himself at a disadvantage and in combat, which was not his forte. But he had a poisoned dagger that he only needed one prick with to do the job, so he dueled on. The King shredded his robes, slicing the cloth of his garments expertly with his blade. Neither of them anticipated the appearance of the two prince’s, especially not one risen from the grave! This put Zifku on terribly precarious ground. It dawned on him that he would not succeed like this and he was enraged to find his plans all being thwarted, leaving him no choice but to flee! He snapped his fingers and arrived at the spot where he’d entered this Kingdom, slipped through the open gate, which sealed behind him, expecting to return to the swing where he would recoup and lay new plans. To his horror he found himself face to face with the creature he had summoned instead. He prepared to defend himself even though in his weakened state his power was limited and he knew that he had met his doom. Back in the palace he had left behind, Rainier was in conversation with the King and Shasta was rifling in the wizard’s cut away garments where he found his silver pocket watch. He picked it up carefully, rubbing his fingers over the surface with a thoughtful expression on his face.

At this point Ray heard a rhythm calling him back from this place. Part of him resisted, he wanted to see more of what would happen, but another part whispered that it was time for him to return to his body. He let go of the images, spiraling back to the fire and the smell of pinecones, the crackling and popping, the sound of the Druid, Jonas, chanting until he was back in his body where he lay on the ground piecing his parts back together under the watchful gaze of the Druid and all the elements that had come together to make his journey possible. He felt different, brimming with vitality and hopeful in a way he hadn’t felt for a few years. He felt as though when he rose up from the ground he knew what he’d do and it gave him a sense of purpose and wonder, he had goosebumps on his arms at the thought! For the time being he kept his eyes closed and enjoyed what was left of the dark night. Jonas ended his chanting and fed the fire more wood then settled down cross-legged to watch Dawn rising over the treetops. He had done his work and was content::: for the time being. What came next with the boy, Ray, was too soon to tell. But Jonas was familiar with Time and knew how to bide it, so he allowed himself a smile that joined the light spreading out from the fire casting warming rays rippling out in a beautiful glow

Into the Portal: A Whispering Wind Adventure

drknwood

 

The trees watched. They had been watching for the Druid while he slept deep inside the bowels of an Ancient One, Elder Hemlock. The tree and man went into a deep sleep to last two hundred and sixty years. The trees had been the Druids eyes and ears. Over the years one had fallen to lightening, another to wind, and others to the woodsman’s axe, but not before they had passed on the Druid’s request to their seeds, embedded this trust in the unformed cells of trees yet to grow. Planted by nuthatches here and there and there and there, the ones that went uneaten sprouted and grew, carrying the sacred trust onward. The fallen ones crumbled into the mycelial network feeding the fungi with their knowing, implanted it into the roots and hearts of the bloodroot and trillium, so that with time all beings held this petition deep within, a living thing within. When some fallen trees were burned as firewood they released their knowing to the flames to carry on as smoke into the embrace of air and into the breath of everything, and so Everything waited, waited and watched, scented and tasted; even the house the woodsman built, the very logs stood vigil, sending out their gleanings on pathways unseen by the ordinary eye.

The Druid had asked the trees to waken him upon the coming and recently they had done as requested. Heron, Kingfisher, Woodpecker, Sparrow, and Cardinal had gathered and knocked at Hemlock, singing and chirping, twittering to open. Now Grandmother Moon shone with pumpkin fullness, and Hemlock creaked at the caress of her beams, revealing the cradle in which the man lay sleeping. Moonlight flared up inside with orange flickering beams, kindling him to rise again. It was time. Everything had determined it to be so. High up on the slopes a boy walked, his feet light on Earth, speaking the language of birds, listening to the rustling leaves, the gurgles of fresh water flowing over rocks and stones and into his mouth sang while he sipped to quench his thirst with their sweetness. This boy was the one the Druid sought in the woods of Painter Mountain, named by the settlers in their lilting speech after the big cat, the catamount, the mountain lion, the Panther; only it came out sounding like ‘painter’ and that had stuck over the centuries.

The Druid had come from the old country to this new land. He had been initiated in the ways of his people, in the ways of belonging, two hundred and eighty years before he began his journey across the briny watery womb of Ocean to the new country with the settlers. The settlers, whose Druid he was, were a small community. They were watched by the tribes that inhabited the new country with caution and curiosity until the two were made known to each other under the guidance of their Old One, their Shaman, who had spoken with Wind, seen with the eyes of Cat, listened with Coyote, felt with the crawling of Snail and given the people he served the signal to go ahead. To trust the newcomers. To show themselves. They had eaten and drunk of wild raspberries, the juicy taste delighting their mouths, then gone ahead and done so. Eventually they merged; out of this union something new emerged. Out of this newness, the Druid and the Shaman had foretold, one would eventually come who would be imbued with both ways and other ways too. The Druid had chosen to wait for this one to come, to enter the druid sleep until it came to pass. The Shaman had gone on into the big dream instead.

Now the Druid awoke with a sense of purpose and anticipation. He uncurled his stiff body and began rubbing his bones back to life. The branches and vines brushed him down until thoroughly invigorated he climbed out of the cradle where Hemlock had given him a resting place. He stood before the trees below Grandmother Moon’s shining light, where he raised his arms up and began an invocation that ended with thanks. Then he reached into the cavity and drew forth his staff, setting off in the direction the trees urged him to go. All around him Everything pressed him on with a sense of immediacy, and so he sped toward the boy as though with winged feet.

Whispering Wind walked down the driveway with Sally and Suzy Sullivan. They were headed to their stand, where they hoped to sell hot apple cider and gingerbread cookies to passersby. The three skipped along in the brisk air and set out their wares on the roadside table. The girls chattered merrily and kept an eye out for squirrels, ever hopeful to befriend one with the promise of nuts. Wind squatted by the creek and moved rocks and stones to play music with the water. After a time the three sat together and looked at the road. They began making mud pies and throwing them at one another. It wasn’t long before a car was heard winding its way up the road. The three watched it pass without stopping for cider or cookies. They drank the cider and ate up all the cookies then resumed mud pie whumping one another and laughing. Their play got wilder and muddier until all you could see of them was gleaming eyes shining from shambling mud glops. They collapsed on the bank and suddenly Wind looked at the girls.

“Let’s mud whump the cars!” he said with glee, white teeth shining in his dirty face.

“No way! We’ll get into such trouble!” replied Sally.

“Oooooo!” said Suzy, “Yes, let’s do!”

She and Wind moved the stand away and attended to the work of making mud balls. Eventually Sally joined them.

“But I’m not throwing any.” she stated primly.

Some time later a truck was heard coming down the road. They ducked behind fallen logs, mud balls at the ready, and as the tail passed by, Whump! Mud splattered on the rear end and the children looked at each other with flushed faces and glowing eyes.

“Wow! That was fun, let’s do it again!” squealed Suzy.

They lay in wait until a few more unsuspecting vehicles came slowly down the road. Whump, whump, whump!   They were getting bolder now, tossing two mud balls at a time and not just at the rear ends, but the sides too. A line of four came up the bend, a truck, followed by a shining black car, another truck, and a mini van. Splat splat, mud ball hit the truck. Splat splat splat splatter, mud balls hit the shining black car on the door, on the window, on the windscreen, and the car came to a squealing halt!! The truck and mini van behind it came to a stop as well.

The driver’s door to the black car opened and a woman came flying out, her black hair pulled back in a tight bun, her black eyes flashing dangerously. She had on spiky heeled black boots with pointed toes, a flowing black skirt, a black blouse with a black belt tied around the waist, and her black cloak was flapping around her like a pair of wings. She strode right over to where the children were hiding!!

“You think that’s funny??!” she screamed at the children, “I’ll show you funny and then let’s see whether you’ll laugh or not!”

She pulled a slender black stick out of the belt around her waist, spoke a quick word, and jabbed Suzy Sullivan in the shoulder. The other two children ducked. The truck and mini van began honking.

“Hey, lady! You gonna move your car sometime soon or what, I don’t have all day!” the man in the mini-van called out from his open window; two children could be heard giggling. The man in the truck had his head on his hand and seemed to be taking a nap.

The woman cackled and got back in her car, tires squealing as she drove away, her malicious laughter trailing on the air behind her.

“Now go play in the mud where you belong!” she shrieked with one last parting jibe.

The other vehicles went on their way and the children looked at one another in silent shock.

“Where’s Suzy?” asked Wind.

They looked around calling for the girl and Sally squealed as a muddy toad leapt onto her foot. She bent down and picked it up, looked into the white eyes of her sister staring at her from in the toads head, and gave a scream of horror!

“Oh no! Oh no no no!” she cried.

Fat tears rolled out of the toad’s eyes. Whispering Wind peered at it with alarm.

“Wholy shmoly!” he gasped, “Is that, is that Suzy?”

The two sat down speechless for a while.

“We’re in trouble,” Wind stated slowly, “Big trouble. What in the world are we going to do?”

Sally Sullivan didn’t answer, she was crying with the toad and crooning, rubbing the chubby little body, bathing the mud off with her tears.

“Come on, let’s take her to Sugar Plum,” he said.

Sally wiped her eyes with a muddy hand and picked the toad up and up the driveway they all went.

“What do you suppose she’ll say?” Sally wondered.

“I don’t know, but she knows a lot about other places, like Hobjolia and where the imps live, and I’m sure she knows magic because all the places she knows are magical, soooo she must have some idea of what we can do for Suzy.”

“Hmm, I wonder if it’ll involve blood?” said Sally.

“Blood, mud, something special of Suzys, fire, toadstools, and toad lily, and whatever Suzys favorite flower is, that’s my guess . . . what’s her favorite flower Sally?”

“I don’t really know Wind, she absolutely loves chocolate covered ginger root though . . . let’s ask her.”

Sally addressed the toad riding on her shoulder.

“Hey Suzy, what’s your favorite flower?”

The toad blinked and hopped about. Sally put her on the ground where she leaped toward a stand of husks and stalks and seedpods. The children looked around and accounted for what grew there in the summer. The toad listened to them and hopped about in earnest when they said mint.

“Must be mint!” they said, and the toad she leaped onto Wind’s foot emphatically. He picked her up and they walked along to Sugar Plums.

When they reached her house they noticed the door was ajar and they could hear heated words being exchanged inside.

“Shh!” Wind cautioned and they stopped.

“Wait here Sally, something odd’s going on, I’ve never heard Sugar Plum sound like this before, she might be in trouble!”

He passed the toad to Sally and snuck off stealthily upwind around the cottage to see if he could get a look inside. He crouched under a window by the room where he could hear the argument and chanced a quick peek inside.

“Who in the world is that man? I’ve never seen him before,” he thought.

He ducked down immediately after and held his breath, easing into a crouch, with his eyes shut loosely and began to press into the wall gently. He breathed effortlessly again and opened his ears as wide as he could.

“He’s not the one, I’m telling you there’s something . . . “ Sugar Plum was insisting.

“My dear are you intimating that Everything has got it wrong? I was awoken as requested at the slightest sign of his coming, there can be no doubt . . .”

“You always were so terribly arrogant!! Everything has not got it wrong, it’s you who are not interpreting things rightly, you’ve been gone too long and are rushing this Jonas!!”

There was a brief silence and then, “What do you propose we do?” followed by a long silence.

“Well, well, well, what have we here? Eavesdropping are we?” came the amused voice of the man from behind Wind a few moments later, Sugar Plum was right at his heels.

“Umm, well yes, I heard voices and thought you might be in danger Sugar Plum,” said Wind, blushing beet red, “I thought I’d get a feel for what I was up against, uhhm, before rescuing you, you know, if need be.”

The man chuckled, “Ah! A Knight in Waiting, I see, and pray tell what were you going to do should your Lady have been in danger?”

Wind shrugged, “I don’t know but something would have come to me if she was.”

“Well come on inside Wind, this is Jonas, Jonas this is Whispering Wind,” Sugar Plum introduced them.

The two shook hands and Wind called out to Sally to join them. He introduced the girl to Jonas as they went inside, explaining about the toad. Jonas’s eyebrows went arching up like twin umbrellas above his eyes and Sugar Plum sighed.

“So you see,” he finished, “We thought you might have some idea of how to turn her back, she can’t stay like this forever, I mean look at her!”

Sugar Plum looked at the children sternly for a moment, surprising them. She was usually amused by their antics. She reached out and gently cupped the toad in her hands, passing her to Jonas. He felt the toads warty body, peered into the bleary eyes, muttered a few words and stood silently awhile with Suzy’s pulsing toad form.

Then Jonas cleared his throat and spoke in a gravelly voice, to Wind it sounded like grit rubbing against rocks, a slight chipping away sound, rough yet rhythmic and not quite barren despite the absence of dirt, like the places Joe Pye grew out of cool crevices and nooks and crannys leaking spring water down onto the road. He’d been lost in his reverie and tuned in to what Jonas was saying. Sounded as though he knew how to help Suzy.

“It could be dangerous terrain, but that’s where you have to go to find the way back for Suzy. She has to go with you. Tonight. The two of you. While the moon is still in her fullness.”

Jonas and Sugar Plum exchanged glances.

“Alright! I’m ready whenever you are,” said Wind with excitement, ever present to adventure.

“Not so fast boy, we have some preparations to make so go back home and return here at twilight,” said Jonas, “We’ll make ready for your arrival.”

Whispering Wind and Sally walked back to their respective homes, agreeing to meet at the appointed hour. He and Night Sky split locust to feed the woodstove, the boy deep in thought about the day’s events. They carried the wood into the house and filled the woodbox, then sat down to bowls of stew and warm bread with butter for supper. The boy was quiet while he ate and afterward he whistled a tune while he pulled on his jacket, hat, and boots, preparing himself for the trek back to Sugar Plums.

“I’m headed to Sugar Plum’s for the evening, be back in a while,” he told his parents while strapping on his backpack, “She’s got a friend visiting, an old man called Jonas, we’re going to have a small gathering by moonlight.”

Willow looked at her son and fetched her staff and gave it to him.

“Take it along,” she said, “And remember Willa Willa Willa when you use it alright?”

He nodded and thanked her, then headed out the door into the embrace of the darkening sky waiting for him. Inky indigo, the moon was plump between the skeletal arms of trees reaching up toward the stars peeking out and winking at him. It was too bright for a full sequinning of stars, their light dim within the glow emanating from Grandmother Moon, yet some were still visible. He spotted Aries in a line of dots, shining with ferocity. Before he knew it he was at Sugar Plums, where she and the old man were waiting for him outside by a fire within a circle of stones. Presently Sally emerged from the trail and joined them.

“Place Suzy out where she can be with us,” Sugar Plum instructed.

Sally retrieved her from a pocket and placed her on Whispering Wind’s shoulder, giving her a kiss. The five held hands and made a circle with Sugar Plum and Jonas. The next thing he knew the two elders of began an incantation, feeding herbs to the fire, and then a door opened up within the flames.

“You must enter this together and fetch back what you find,” said the old man.

“What will it be?” Wind asked.

“You’ll know, now go,” was the reply.

Wind shook off the sudden feeling of fear that slithered up his spine. What could there be to be afraid of, he wondered, besides he had his mother’s staff and was in good company. Thus fortified he stepped through the portal with the toad riding along on his shoulder.

The last thing he heard was Sugar Plum saying, “Are you quite sure about this Jonas?”

Then everything around him deepened to black. The sky was murky above and he was standing in a field where nothing grew. The land was rough and lumpy, fractured black rocks covered the ground. There was nothing in sight except the smoking glowing top of a volcano in the distance, simmering as though on a low heat. The sky above it was orange and red, molten hues melting in a hazy swirl of smog. He adjusted his vision by shutting his eyes and rolling his neck for a few minutes, then opened them with a keener sight than before. Where was he to go? He went forward, trudging along for what felt like miles until he could see the silhouettes of trees. Split and fissured trees. Burnt yet still, standing sideways, leaning against one another, broken, fallen, charred. He walked toward them and saw a flag flying ahead. It was a white flag with a great serpent intertwined on it in the shape of an eight, its open mouth reaching from the cloth where it was embroidered in golden threads toward him. He walked toward the flag now and as he got closer he became aware of bodies lying on the ground. Everywhere there were bodies, strewn upon one another in this barren place devoid of life. Where had he come to? It seemed to be a battlefield. He could make out armor on the lifeless forms, weapons lay about scattered and shattered. The faces were twisted and splattered with the rusty remains of dried blood, the air hung heavy with the smell of iron. Some of the breastplates had the serpent etched into the metal, others had crosses, and all were huddled together limb and head and trunks intertwined.

He tore his eyes from the wreckage and found them drawn to the lone figure of a man in the midst of it. Dark haired and dark eyed, his countenance was troubled. He appeared plagued by something indiscernible, torment carved into his face. He wore black lace up boots, a soot-blackened coat unbuttoned to reveal a black tshirt underneath. A gold serpent was printed on the front of his shirt matching the one on the flag. He carried a long sword in one hand. In his other hand was a broken guitar. By his feet lay a shield, dented and cracked, also depicting the serpent. He saw Wind approaching and blinked, a slight expression of puzzlement marking his face. Wind stood in front of the man silently. They stared into one another’s eyes, reflective pools of light in a dark place.

“It’s brutal out there,” the man stated flatly, “I thought I’d make music, spark some beauty into the midst of it all, then the strings to my guitar broke and a woman appeared. Gave me this sword and pushed me through a door. I ended up here, in this latest piece of hell. So I sang, a song of springs and leaves, dolphins at play in azure seas, the pulsing trail of dragonflies in flight, stars streaking through the milky way, hummingbirds brightening up the day, but they were deaf, had rocks in their ears and kept tearing at one another until this is all that remained. This wreckage in this devoid place. I’m tired of standing here, here take it.”

The man held the sword toward him.

Wind stared at it and shook his head.

“She gave it to you, it’s yours,” he said.

“Look I don’t know what to do with this thing, it’s not my style if you know what I mean.  It looks more like it suits you, take it!” the man pressed.

“If you focus on it carefully, maybe you’ll know what to do with it?” Wind volunteered the suggestion optimistically.

The man gritted his teeth and glanced at the sword he still held, at the serpent coiled around the hilt. It appeared to be writhing with a life all its own. Its head was on the pommel, mouth open and moving. Something urged him to lift it, hold it by his ear and to his surprise it spoke in hissing tones, then it settled back into the hilt and was still. He examined the blade and saw it was engraved with runes. He rubbed his fingertips over them, over the scales, along the blades edge. Then in the blink of an eye he knew what he had to do. He turned to Whispering Wind.

“I need your backpack,” he said to the boy.

“Happy to oblige!”  came the cheery reply and he passed his backpack to the man, who set it on the ground.

“Now I need the staff,” the man gestured excitedly.

Wind passed that over too and watched as the now animated dark haired man, eyes shining, stuck his mother’s staff into the unzipped top. The man shut his eyes and ground the staff into the bottom of the pack.

Whispering Wind, at precisely the same moment, said Willa Willa Willa decisively. He heard a crunching swooshing sound, the pack trembled and swelled, then it was still and dust swirled out the top. They sneezed and the man pulled the staff out. Spilling out the top were grains. He picked up the pack and circled the boy with grain. Whispering Wind put the toad down, and she too was tucked into a bed of grain. Then he watched the man as he walked all around the land, over every millimiter, scattering the kernels over the fallen until they were blanketed and covered. He finished by covering his guitar, then went to where the center of this labyrinth made of bodies was and plunged the end of Willow’s staff into the parched earth. He took the hilt of the sword between both his hands. The serpent began to move and wind its way off the sword and around his muscular arms, binding them together in a resolute clasp. He lifted the sword up above his head, shut his eyes, and spoke the words the serpent had hissed to him. Sang the song carved in runes along the blade. The sword came to life, the runes glowed incandescently blue before leaping off the blades and whooshhh!! A bright flare and the sky was filled with pure light that rained down in droplets that touched each and every seed scattered below, leaping from one to the other, one to the other, then splashing the trees and branches and twigs, finally onto the toad’s body, which sucked all the light into itself, and disappeared in a blinding flash along with the sword. Suzy Sullivan stood where the toad had been looking dazed and confused. The field began to shimmer and shift, the seeds all sprouting and greening rapidly until a waving meadow greeted them and birds, butterflies, grasshoppers, and bees began to fly out of the tall grasses and take to the air, winging away toward the trees. The sound of birds and buzzing made trilling music. A little later the scent of nectar from peonies in full bloom wafted up their noses and they filled their lungs deeply. Leaves began to uncurl on the trees, everywhere it was fresh and alive. Somewhere an elephant was heard to bellow, caladiums smiled at the world, and the taste of salt water could be felt on the tongue.  The serpent slithered off the man and into the grasses that swallowed its trail. Wind looked at the man’s arm and saw the imprint of scales fading into his skin.

The man picked up his guitar. It was unbroken and whole once again. He plucked the strings and played with Everything alive, joining in their song. When the song was over, Suzy and Whispering Wind found their faces wet with tears, the whole world had gone quiet.

“Do you know a way out of here kid?” the man asked.

“I do and I’m not called kid, I’m Whispering Wind. You can call me Wind if you’d like. How about you?”

“I go by Raven, though most folks call me Ray. Lead the way, I’m ready to leave this place, go where you came through if that’s alright?”

Wind beckoned to him to follow as he took Suzy’s hand in his and led them back to the door. They entered and were back by the fire, where Jonas and Sugar Plum waited with Sally, who squealed and squeezed her sister with joy. Sugar Plum hugged the children.

“Well where is it?” Jonas asked, “Did you bring it back?”

Wind motioned to the man behind him.

“He’s all that remained, so I brought him back with me,” he said.

Jonas fixed Whispering Wind with a searching gaze then scrutinized the man standing beside him. He circled the man and sniffed the air, touched his hair, his garments, but when he went to touch the guitar the man drew away and scowled.

“That’s enough,” he said, “I’ll be on my way now if you’ll direct me toward a highway.”

“Stay awhile,” said Jonas, “There’s things we must talk about, then afterward I’ll guide you to the highway. There is a place that’s been waiting for you, a place of great beauty and magic, a place of song and story, will you come to this place with me?”

The man strummed his guitar strings with his eyes closed. He breathed deeply under Grandmother Moon’s radiant smile. When he was done he looked out with sparkling eyes and nodded.

“Just for a while,” he said.

“But of course!” Jonas responded, “Only for as long as you want.”

Sugar Plum brought out warm cider and gingerbread cookies, and the six of them sat around the fire sharing story until the embers died down. Then the children headed to their homes, Jonas and Ray disappeared into the forest, and Sugar Plum put another log and some kindling on the embers and sang softly for a little bit longer.

booties

Once there was and once there wasn’t, an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do . . . . until she did. Her husband was a shoemaker and he made the finest shoes to be found anywhere. From far and wide people came to have their feet outlined by his delicate long fingered hands. These tracings he’d turn into a pattern from which to stitch them their shoes, and oh the shoes he made! The lightest yet strongest of shoes, high heeled, stillettoed, or flat, sturdy, buttoned, laced, or pointy, to dance or walk miles and miles in::whatever your fancy he could stitch a shoe for your foot, a shoe to match your soles deepest longing. He was descended from a shoemaker, who was descended from a shoemaker, who was descended from yet another shoemaker, who was the son of a poor man, a no body, happily making shoes in a small village, until one day he was found. Discovered, uncovered, and recovered he was brought to a jolly jostling city to the door of a wealthy tradesman, a merchant. When the merchant saw the shoemakers’ shoes he knew the man would make him richer than his wildest dreams. He employed the shoemaker, who worked and toiled and labored. For his service he was given a modest salary and best of all::the merchants youngest daughter to wed. Now the daughter was considered not much of a prize, to be honest the shoemaker was doing the merchant a favor by taking her off his hands, but he didn’t know this. She did, she was canny and clever and had a keen mind, the bane of her father’s existence. She was a lusty wench with a hearty appetite and had one child after another with her humble shoemaking husband whose biggest dreams never foresaw a woman such as this to heat up his bed, warm up his heart! Ah, but he was happy and had more than he had ever imagined possible. His heart was overflowing with gratitude. Not so his bonny bride.

The merchant’s daughter watched her brothers, 7 strong, drink and gamble and carouse. They grew fat in belly and fatter in head off the coin earned at the hands of her man’s hard work. She watched her children, crowded and cramped in the close quarters they called home, and knew her father to be a slaver, a rich man who justified his actions by extending her as evidence of his largesse. There went her sisters in law, keys jangling from the belts around their waists; keys that by rights of the labor done should be hers! They wore jewels in their hair and around their wrists bangles of gold, while she had glass, plain breakable pitiful glass. Her nieces and nephews had round rosy cheeks, wore silks, and ate mutton and cream, while her children had stale bread for their daily fare. Her heedless father never gave her husband more pay even though he asked more work of him! And here she was, growing to be an old woman before her time, with tattered shoes, eyes wrinkly and lined, when her man was the finest shoemaker of all. Having fed on comparison, contrast, and contemplation, she put her heart and her head together and bade her body to motion; she swore she’d walk shoeless, bare foot, until she found a solution. She wasn’t going to wait for someone else to come find her, give weight to her problem, free her, give her some rights; she was going to walk and talk and mutter and murmur until she knew what to do, how to make and give herself what was hers to be had, by gad!

Older hills than these have seen her footsteps walking around and around in spirals, seeking. She is drawn first, then drawing her answers into the ground. Round and round she goes until she stops and hears the voice that bids her pause. Older feet than hers have walked these spirals twisting turning questing, older feet have felt the ground beneath, seen what her eyes finally see::she puts her feet in the water and bathes them, slips them into a pair of threadbare slippers and walks back to where her husband sits working, squinting now in the dimming light of day, his hands working the needle in and out of leather. She takes his hand and they walk to where their children, 13 in all, six boys and seven girls, play in the fading light of day. They’re running and rolling in the sand, wildly shrieking from time to time, a boisterous lot. She teaches them all in turn; to cook, to clean, to defeather the chickens and to wring their necks, to butcher the cow, to plant the seeds, to tend the field, to make jam and wine, to empty the outhouse, to make their own beds where they lay their heads. She’s a busy woman with no keys on a ring, no ring in her nose, but she knows how to teach them so they hear their own souls sing. Then they all learn how to make shoes, shoes to make grown men weep for want of a pair. Shoes that are life changing. And she knows that some day one child may wander, one may forget, but she has thirteen and doesn’t fret for all it takes is one. One giant leap, like the one she tells her no body of a husband he must make. Now.

He trusts this ferocious bride of his implicitly. Never has he known one so fierce!   He’s heard her called witch, some have called her bitch, but he knows the truth of her. She’s free. Mistress of her own destiny. Sometimes he wonders if his employer ever knew the treasure he gave away when he gave his daughter to him one day? He knows not simply thanks his lucky stars, so when she says, enough, to him where they lay tangled in a pile of hay in broad daylight having delighted in one another yet again he doesn’t question her. He knows, it will be so.

He goes the next morning to his employer, his father in law, and thanks him for all he’s done for him. Then comes the rest::he’ll be setting up his own shoe shop, it’ll have a name, Bojangles & Co. and would the venerable senior please grace the opening?

The old man is apoplectic, purple with rage!

“Impudent thankless dog!” he shouts, frothing at he mouth, “Cur! Swine!”

His seven sons come to see what their father is in a rage about, and they join the refrain.

“Ungrateful wretch!”

“Viper, a snake in our midst!”

“It will fail as it should, thief, sneak, miserable hound!”

“Karma will bite your rotten behind!”

“Biting the hand that feeds you, the shame of it!”

“After all we’ve done for you, even married you to our sister, our poor sister!”

The shoemaker is surprised by their reactions. He shrugs and goes about the work of setting up shop. It thrives. It grows. From far and wide, young and old, people come with their feet ready to be touched, drawn into patterns at Bojangles & Co. They leave, soles on fire, joy lifting higher, comfortably shod with happy feet, no two pairs are alike. His wife glows and wears a bundle of fifteen keys at her waist, the sound of them jingling and jangling fills her with happiness. She goes everywhere shoeless, the soles of her feet caress the earth. She insists upon wearing only glass bangles for the rest of her days. Their children grow too and go on their ways; this way and that. One wanders, one dances, one heals, one mends, some disappear around hidden bends, but this is not really their story in the end.

Not the shoemakers, not his brides’, for while she and her tribe prosper and live on in wealth, her brothers hold venom close to their hearts with which they refuse to part. They walk no walk, quest for no questions, instead they swear a pact::for seven generations they will continue to remember this egregious act, this hideous crime that leaves them paupers before their time! When their children wonder and ask, where went their money, on what task? They do not speak of drinking it all away, spending it to watch women dance and play, betting it on horses dressed in fancy suits while parading on the race courses . . . instead in tones bitter and ugly they tell of the lout who stole their well, their sister, their inheritance, then they damn them to hell for they believe that it was out of greed and lust the shoemaker broke away their trust, and so they teach their children to look upon their cousins with disgust! For five generations this is the tale they repeat, this becomes the bitterness they eat. For five generations they look down their noses at the glowing roses of their cousins’ cheeks. They harbor them ill, and the ill does its will until on both sides there is damage in need of undoing. Then it is as the woman, the merchant’s daughter, knew, it only takes a handful, maybe one or two, to untangle the wrongs handed down in songs:: she is dead but she taught all thirteen how to make their bed and then lie in it, each one learned the heart and the art of the shoe:: so there is one who sits and makes them.

He has a shop tucked away on the corner of a street in a quaint town with clean streets, garbage disposal, homeless shelters, free kitchens, a community garden, food cooperative, farmers market thrice a week, a bookmobile, and recycling. It’s inhabitants drive cars fueled on vegetable oil and electricity, ride bicycles, motorized scooters.  It’s got cobbled walkways and lots of cute places to drink handcrafted beers, artisanal meads, infusions and teas.  To eat healthy meals prepared by happy cooks who dance to punk rock and ska in frilly aprons and military boots while they stir soup and wrap quinoa with multi grain flatbreads holding grilled tofu, sun dried tomato relish, and marinated artichokes. There is a community building where locals get together and have canning, fermenting, medicine making sessions, and contra dancing.  The air is fresh and clear, the skies are blue, the rivers have fish in them and people too, often anglers, kayakers and canoers, inner tubers bobbing down and over the rapids while artists paint plein air.  Musicians strum guitars on the sidewalks, stores leave bowls of water out for the dogs, and children scamper about playing hopscotch, hide and seek, and jump rope while their parents work.  A storyteller keeps them occupied in the afternoons.  As they grow, they apprentice with somebody or the other in the community discovering their vocation; what they’re drawn to.

In the countryside there are orchards and vineyards, farms big and small.  Over a bridge crossing the river he lives: the old shoemaker with his old woman in a gigantic shoe.  It’s an enormous straw bale, earth bagged boot.  There are medicinals, edibles, ornamentals: a polyfaced garden grown to feed multi-beings surrounding the boot, out of the boot, which has a circle of sugar maples at its back.  The couple feast year round on the abundance of both fresh and stored food from in a spring house and root cellar. They have an annual thanks giving celebration at summers end and everybody is invited.  The locals love Bootville.  They drive by real slow to get a peek at it, hoot at it, show it off to friends from far flung places.  Some knock at the door set in the boot heel, ask for a tour please? They’re always obliged and invited inside, watered and fed; have their photograph taken with their faces sticking out the windows where the bootlaces are. It’s a passive solar boot, takes very little to heat. Electricity is generated via water, wind, sun. All the cooking is done outside in a cob oven and over a rocket stove. Clothes are washed by hand in the pond, hung to dry. They use an outhouse; bathe outdoors in a tub that waters the garden. The shoemaker goes to town every day on his bicycle, on horseback when it snows. A black leather hat adorns his head where one long white braid dangles behind him and one long white braid reaches down from the beard on his chin, tickling his belly. His glasses tint in the sunlight, he whistles while he bikes; a daily sight on the winding roads every morning and evening. He works all day, has lunch at The Happy Belly Café and The Melting Pot on alternating days of the week. Out of choice. Smokes a pipe after his meal, always shared in company with someone or the other. He’s got a laugh that comes easy; teeth slightly crooked and overlapped, a little bit brown from coffee and nicotine stains . . .  remnants of the days when folks didn’t have straight, shiny, almost identical smiles.

He works inside on rainy days or when he feels like a bit of solitude, outside when it’s sunny, cloudy, or he is struck by the mood to move. People walk along, chattering and humming; the sounds weave a song while they pass. Tourists stop to watch his hands flying in and out of the leather with needle and thread, pop their head in the open door to his store to see what the whirring sound’s coming from when he’s using the machine. He makes shoes for money and shoes for free. The coin pays for the shoes he makes for runaway boys and girls, drifters, the homeless, refugees, or a soul in need of a pair of soles; he goes home each day knowing he’s doing what is his to be. Long ago his old lady had urged him to teach freely the skill he’d learned, inherited from his father and his before him. Those had been lean days; they’d been young then. Everything they did would turn upside down. Turn to ashes. Seemed like they were cursed and one day she’d simply said, “Enough is enough! How about you share the art of shoemaking, teach it openly, let it loose for the four winds to blow where they will.” He’d been hesitant at first but after deliberation figured he’d do it, they had no children to pass the knowledge on to, so he put it out there that he’d teach anyone who wanted to learn from him. When this became known he gained many students. Then he’d take them to the sparse land that he and his wife were starting up, perpetually beginning.  He’d tell them they’d have to cook, to clean, to till and hoe, move rocks, build a chicken coop, fence a space for the cow, rake out the manure, attend to milking, churn butter from cream, and gather eggs.  They’d have to plant the seeds, tend the field, harvest fruit from the trees for jam and wine, fill bags with dirt and stack the bales, sleep on flour sacks while they built a yurt, empty the outhouse, make their own beds where they lay their heads and after they’d done all that then in the evenings they’d work on shoes. Many people came and went sooner rather than later with this arrangement. The ones that stuck it out helped build Bootville, and they learned how to make shoes. Solid shoes.  Really awesome shoes.  All their lives changed after he began teaching the craft; they prospered and were happy.

Far away in a crowded city is a young man. His wife is ill. What ails her nobody knows. Her mind is tormented by images, her body wracked with pain. Yet time and test again show that there is nothing to be found that is wrong, the cause of her lack of ease baffles everyone for she is fit in tooth, lung, and skin, so what is it then? The young man sits with her in the courtyard every day, where she babbles and rocks to and fro, agitated until the sun sets. With darkening skies she calms a little and drifts off into sleep. He sings to her, plays her the flute, feeds her small morsels of steamed vegetables and fruit, holds her hand and one day she’s babbling like a brook and he catches the word “shoe” and tucks it into his pocket. Shoe? He wonders, could it be she wants shoes? He goes about the city in search of shoes for her. He seeks out shoes that he feels she’d like and takes them back to her. A spark lights up in her eyes when she sees them, she tries them on, excited. Then the weeping takes hold and he’s back to where he began. One thing has changed: he knows there’s something there, something to do with shoes. He determines to search until he finds a pair that she will wear, that’ll ease her despair. In his quest he learns of a shoemaker, far away in a rural town, reputed to be a maker of magic shoes. He packs a bundle and makes his way to where he finds the bearded braided old man stitching on the sidewalk. He throws himself on the man’s feet and clinging to them he sobs.

“Help me! Please, my wife is ill! She keeps talking about shoes and none that I have bought have helped her; she remains in pain. Tormented! Please will you accompany me back to where I live? Make her a pair of shoes? Help her?!”

The shoemaker is taken aback by this wild eyed young mans approach. Completely surprised by the touch of hands on his bare feet; he’d taken off his shoes on whim this afternoon, the better to wiggle them in the sunshine. He examines the crouched sobbing figure, takes in his unkempt appearance, the smell of him.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“Me?  I am nobody! What does it matter who I am?!  My wife needs help, please will you come or not?”

“Surely you have a name?”

The young man looks up red eyed, confused.

“If I were to come with you”, the shoemaker asks, speaking slowly, “Who then would stitch the shoes that I’m working on?”

“Teach me! How hard can it be! I’ll follow your instructions and work on them while you go to my wife!”

The shoemaker is stunned for a moment, and then laughs at the youth’s suggestion.

“Young man, I admire your tenacity, your audacity! If you were to do the work I’ve done for a lifetime, then to your wife surely you’d be attending already! What need would you have of me?”

The young man blushes, but carries on, “I don’t know what else to do. It breaks my heart to listen to her babble and blather, watch her all day twisting and turning, with this strange burning affliction!”

He cries, tears pouring down his cheeks and the shoemaker watches them roll down, drop on the leafy ground. As fate has it, he’s almost done with the shoes that he’s been working on and the days ahead are open to him. He could easily sit in his shop and someone or the other would come and requisition shoes, but he could also go with this desperate young man and see what it is, if anything, he can do with his craft to assist the lad with his wife. He’s curious too, about something else. Something he felt when the young man grabbed his feet. Yes he decides, he’ll do it.

To the young man he says, “I will come with you, we’ll leave in three days. You’ll have to do my share of chores at home, help my old lady till we leave if I’m to finish the shoes I’m working on.”

“Anything, I’ll do anything if you’ll come with me, help my wife!”

And the shoemaker bikes home that evening with the young man following. When they get to the boot, he takes his wife aside and tells her to do her worst. She doesn’t question him, puts on her black cloak and hat, paints on a wart and greets the youth with broom in hand. Points him to the outhouse and tells him to git it done! For three days the young man works tirelessly, cooking, cleaning, defeathering the chickens, wringing their necks, butchering cow, planting seeds, tending the field, making jam and wine, until he finally gets to rest his head in a bed and before he knows it he has to make it and they’re off. Back to the city, to his wife; the daughter of a rich merchant. He takes the shoemaker to his home where she sits in the courtyard under a tree. She is rocking to and fro, shaking her head full of gnarled and matted clumps that snake this way and that, eyes rolling wildly back and forth. The shoemaker approaches with paper and pen, takes her foot in his hand and draws the shape of it. First the right foot and then the left. At the touch of his hand she calms. When he’s done drawing she’s clear-eyed, lucid.

“You came. I’ve been calling for you for so long but nobody was listening until him!” she says, pointing at her husband with a smile.

The shoemaker is surprised. A tingle goes up his spine at what he felt when he took her foot in his hand. It was the same feeling he got when her husband had grabbed his feet three days ago. He looks at her quietly for a while before speaking.

“Yes,” he agrees, “I only recently received the message, I came as soon as I could. Forgive me for taking so long, will you be returning with me?”

She looks at her husband and they exchange glances then she nods.

“Teach us, teach us what you know of shoes, we would learn from you,” she says.

“You will have to leave all this,” he waves his hand, “All of it behind, come as you are with only the clothes on your back. I have no children; it’s only me and my wife. She’s lean and she can be mean, what you make of each other remains to be seen, but first you have a choice to make::my path lies in town, decide soon, I leave in an hour.”

The couple look at one another once more, nod their heads. They have nothing keeping them in the city. The three set out together to where he lives with his old woman in their boot. He teaches them as he’s been teaching before, this time it’s different. These two have the touch. It’s in everything they do. Not only the making of the shoe, but the cooking, the cleaning, the defeathering, and wringing of necks; all of it, the very ground they walk on grows greener at the touch of their feet, cows line up to be slaughtered with smiling moo’s, birds bring them fish from the river, trees bend their boughs for them to pick the fruit, the sky pours rain at the sound of them singing, and oh the shoes they make! Magic shoes, shoes that’ll make a sole sing, shoes that dance themselves onto a foot! Shoes the shoemaker never dreamed of making. They build a second boot, there’s a left and a right, solar powered.  The boots hold charges in their soles.  They gain mobility, walking boots go strolling down the roads, their soles well worn and squeaky.  Folks hitching a ride get to climb up to the top where the laces are reigns for steering.  Years pass and the boots have a few sneakers behind them, dashing off ahead of them, squeaking happily!  The shoemaker leaves them Bootville; rides off with his old woman on a purple broomstick with china cat sunflowers painted on the handle.  They explore the rest of the world; dance amongst the stars that twinkle in the galaxies, their bones shake, rattle, and roll. They’ve got a sack of shoes with them, to give to people they’ll meet, the one’s who the shoe fits will wear them.  They’ve got a satchel with soles, skins, tools.  To make repairs and teach with along the way.  They’re white haired, wide-eyed, wildly curious, their lives beginning in a stream of inifnite possibilities, the universe a playground for their imaginations!  When they return to Bootville for the annual summer’s end festivity each year, their faces are less wrinkled, their bodies plumper, their bones and muscles supple.  Each year their hair darkens, they grow younger, until once they were and then:: they aren’t.