Living in the U.S., I’ve been trying to find some of the positives in this
COVID-19 outbreak. The peak of the outbreak has apparently been reached in China and some of the European countries, but the next three weeks will bring the peak to us in the U.S. This pandemic is a no-joke event. Scary to the point of terrifying. My friends and I have decided that the only way we can emotionally and mentally survive these weeks is to seek out something positive and that hasn’t been easy.
As time has passed, and the last five weeks or so has seemed like an eternity, positives have emerged. They are overwhelmed by the negatives as we see the death toll from this horrible virus hit such heights in New York City and gradually start seeping into our more rural areas. So many people are unemployed. The best guess is that the U.S. unemployment rate is going to hit 32% and help throw us into a deep recession or worse. Perhaps two-thirds of the country is under a “stay-at-home” directive from the Governor’s of our states in order to try to stem the spread of the virus.
Americans are not accustomed to having to stay at home. My friends and I have noticed something positive happening due to this directive. People are rediscovering their passions. Two-career parents are getting to spend time with their children and they are realizing what they are missing. I have a young friend who has a Master’s degree in a literary field, but she has been forced to work outside her field to pay the bills. She has started writing again and has rediscovered her passion for it. She’s thinking of turning her writings into a book. Couples are rediscovering their passion for each other.
Even I have had some much needed down time and it has allowed me to get my creative writing juices flowing again. I have a job writing in my field of finance, but I’m making time for creative writing. I’m working on a personal essay and taking time for my book. I’m starting to put together some ideas for a second, non-fiction book. All of this allows me to think about something other than this terrible pandemic that is ravaging our world.
On this April Fool’s Day, there isn’t much to joke about, is there? I think we, as a world, are together on that.
Ladd and Uwin had finished their dinner and Uwin was telling Ladd more about the cunning folk in England as compared to witches. They suddenly heard a commotion on the street outside the shop and a lot of yelling. Both jumped up and headed through the shop for the outside door. When they stepped outside, they realized the air was filled with smoke. Looking down the street, they saw a fume of smoke that was lit by fire within it. Uwin realized that some of the shops along the street were on fire. The shops were all made of wood and were very close together If one shop caught on fire, that fire could wipe out an entire street.
Uwin leaped into action. He went into the shop and got two buckets for he and Ladd so they can help dip water to put out the fire. Then, they start running to the scene of the fire. Two shops were already engulfed in flames. The men had a line set up from the shops to the river behind them, but it seemed they were fighting a losing battle. The fire was moving faster than they could carry water to put it out.
Uwin said, “Ladd, this is a serious situation. We need to help. I don’t know if your powers are strong enough yet to help with this fire, but we have to try. It will be very taxing on you. I’ll help too.”
“I’ll do my best, Uwin.”
The two men stood in the background. Uwin knew that Ladd’s powers were stronger than his own, so he watched Ladd go first. He saw Ladd go very still and watched his eyes flash as he concentrated on that fire. It seemed as the boy held that position for a long time. The fire started to abate. The water the men were putting on it started to work.
Uwin touched Ladd’s arm and said, “Enough.”
Ladd broke the spell and fell to the ground overcome with fatigue.
Uwin kneeled beside him and started talking to him.
“Ladd, son, are you alright?”
Ladd awakened, but he was groggy.
He said, “Uwin, I need to go to sleep.”
Uwin helped Ladd up and slowly helped him back to their shop. Ladd fell on his bed and was asleep instantly. Cat was running around them in circles and immediately jumped up on Ladd’s cot. He spent all night guarding him.
“Ladd, I have seen with my own eyes that you have natural powers. In order to do a proper job training you, I need to know how strong your powers are. So, we will begin testing them.”
Ladd nodded his head.
“I’ll give you your assignment in the morning. Now get some rest.”
Ladd said that he would. He went to his cot, with Cat, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
The next morning in the shop was an uneventful one. Uwin gave Ladd an assignment. He explained to Ladd that wizards did not typically practice black magic now. Black magic was the practice of doing harm or evil. Instead, they practiced white magic, the practice of doing good. He told Ladd that his first assignment as a wizard was to identify someone who came into the shop and do something good for them, but not to let them know it was he who did it. Uwin told Ladd to try to use his powers as a wizard to accomplish his assignment if he could, but to be careful since he was not fully in control of them yet.
Ladd had no idea how to do what Uwin wanted him to do. He wasn’t even sure what it was that Uwin wanted him to do, but the older man told Ladd he would know it when he saw it.
Before lunch, an older lady came into the shop. Ladd noticed her because she was walking round and round and she was not filling up her grocery tote very fast. She seemed to pick and choose very carefully. When she came to pay for her groceries, she nervously put her things onto the counter. She asked Uwin if he sold day-old bread cheaper than fresh bread. He said that he did and left to get her a loaf. Ladd realized she was short of money for the groceries she needed as she fumbled in her purse.
Ladd felt himself get cold and chill and he got that frozen feeling. He wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he looked at the lady’s purse and concentrated really hard. He wanted her to have more money so she would have enough to eat. He could only hold his concentration a few moments. He didn’t know if it worked or not until the lady pulled out her money to pay Uwin.
She said, “Sir, I don’t understand. I have more than enough money for fresh bread and the other things I needed. I didn’t have this much money when I came into the store.”
She looked very nervous and flustered.
“Ma’am, you must have miscounted,” Uwin said gently.
“Oh no, I don’t think so.”
Ladd stood there smiling. She looked at him oddly.
Ladd said, “Ma’am, why don’t you just continue to shop and pick up all that you need?”
“Yes, I think I will do that, but so much money. I just don’t understand,” she mumbled as she went to pick out the rest of her groceries.
Uwin looked at Ladd, who was all smiles.
“Ladd, did you help that lady out?”
“I hope I did all right, Uwin.”
Uwin smiled and said, “Yes, she obviously didn’t have enough to buy what she needed. That was very kind and you controlled your powers very well. I’m proud of you.”
The woman came back with a full order of groceries and paid her bill. Ladd went on about his work in the store. After he and Uwin had a quick lunch, the same woman walked in the shop again, carrying something in her hands.
She brought it to Ladd and sat it on the counter in front of him. It was a beautifully prepared plate of food.
“Son,” she said, “The work of the cunning folk is going on here and I want to thank you.”
Before Ladd or Uwin could say anything, she turned around and walked out of the shop.
Ladd said, “Uwin, what was she talking about? What are the cunning folk?”
Uwin explained to Ladd that the woman had brought him the plate of food as an offering because she saw that he had helped her. Then, he explained the cunning folk to Ladd.
“Ladd, sometimes wizards and witches who do good instead of evil are called cunning folk. It’s just a label that distinguishes good wizards that practice white magic from bad wizards that practice black magic. Everyone knows that magic is still practice and most people even depend on it. But, they want to think it is practiced by cunning folk and not witches and wizards. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do, Uwin,” Ladd said. “What about my grandmother? Was she a member of the cunning folk or was she a witch?”
“Ladd, I’m not sure the cunning folk label existed when your Grandmother Eleanor was alive.”
Uwin, the small man who would train Ladd to be a wizard, walked through the door that connected the grocery shop and the living quarters with a sack in his hands. He told the boy he was going to prepare their evening meal, then they were going to bed. They’d had a very long walk over the last two days from Ladd’s village of Farnsworth and tomorrow was the first day of Ladd’s apprenticeshp in wizardry and shopkeeping. Uwin felt he should get a good night’s rest.
Uwin went to the fireplace to cook and when he opened the sack, Ladd gasped. He had never seen such a feast. In the country, the peasants, like Ladd’s family, lived on wild meat. Since Uwin ran a grocery shop, he had access to meat like beef and lamb. In the sack, there was beef for dinner, which Ladd had never eaten. Uwin also had leeks and peas and even fruit. In his sack, he had strawberries. Uwin cooked the beef and fixed the leeks and peas together. He served them with a loaf of crusty bread. They had the strawberries at the end of their meal.
“Uwin, such good food. I’ve never eaten like this in my whole life,” Ladd remarked.
“There are benefits to being a grocer in the city, Ladd. Even in the country. You have access to better food because you have rich people like the Lords, or in the case of London, the Royals, who will buy from you.”
Ladd thought to himself that being a shopkeeper might not be so bad after all. Shortly, the two fell into their beds for the night.
Uwin woke Ladd up before dawn the next day. As Ladd was washing up, he asked Uwin what he would be doing that day. Uwin walked into the shop and simply told Ladd to meet him there wearing his oldest, dirtiest clothes. Puzzled, Ladd dressed and met Uwin in the shop. Uwin was getting the goods in the shop ready for the day.
“Ladd, today, you will clean the store. First, you will take all the meat that is hanging in the window out of the window. It has gotten old during my trip to your village. You will discard it in the back of the shop. We have a delivery of fresh meat due today, which you will hang in the window after you clean it. As you have time today, you will clean the shelves that the goods sit on. That will help you familiarize yourself with the products I sell. Most of the products are grocery products that everyone needs. Some of the products, most behind the counter, are specialized products for witches and wizards. You’ll gradually learn what they are and what they are used for. Do you understand my instructions?”
“Yes, Uwin, I do.”
“Let’s get to work. I will tell you when we can take a lunch break. If you have any questions, ask me.”
Ladd started hauling the meat out of the window and putting it behind the shop. It was raining, a cold spring rain in London. It was cold, wet work. When he got the last side of meat out to the back, he noticed a group of children standing back watching him. As he walked away, the children ran up to the meat and started dragging it away. He went back into the shop. Uwin wasn’t busy at that moment.
“Uwin, who are those children and why are they dragging away that meat?”
“Those are the orphan children that live on the streets of London. They take that meat to the place they live and the adults who also live on the street cook it,” Uwin replied.
“They don’t have any parents?” Ladd asked.
“Something has happened to their parents or they’ve been abandoned.”
Ladd didn’t say anymore, but he suddenly felt very lucky that he had his family and, now, Uwin. He began to clean out the window where the meat hung. It was hard, dirty work.
Ladd heard the door of the shop open. He felt a sudden chill come over him. It wasn’t from the cold weather. He’d never felt anything like it before. It was like his body was freezing into a statue. His eyes were drawn up and he saw a girl who was a little older than he was. She had on a long brown, wool tunic with brown hair wrapped around her head in a braid. Their eyes locked and for the first time in Ladd’s life, he felt the flickering of his powers as a wizard. Something magical passed between them. They knew each other and Ladd realized not only did he have magical powers, but she did too. They stared at each other for a moment and it was she who broke the connection. Shaking her head, she walked to the grocery counter where Uwin stood watching both of them.
The magical girl knew Uwin. They greeted each other by name as Ladd watched. Ladd heard Uwin call her Joyful.
Joyful went about the business of picking out some grocery items as Ladd watched. Some flour, beans, onions, and turnips. Then, she went to Uwin and finished her order by adding some items from behind the counter. Ladd couldn’t see what they were, but he knew he would ask Uwin later. As Joyful left the shop, she dropped her eyelids and didn’t look at Ladd again.
As Ladd worked in the shop, he felt different after his encounter with Joyful. He had so many questions. Was he becoming a wizard? How did it happen? What just happened with Joyful? He would talk with Uwin.
It got too busy in the shop for Ladd to do much thinking. He kept feeling flashes of that same chill within him that he felt when Joyful had walked into the shop. He felt like her presence had somehow changed him.
That afternoon, there were meat deliveries. Women brought in eggs to sell to Uwin. There were deliveries of the staples in barrels like flour, cornmeal, and beans. In between deliveries, Ladd kept on cleaning. He and Uwin only had time to grab a piece of dried meat for lunch that day.
Dusk came and Uwin closed the shop. Even though Ladd was tired, the day had flown for him. He had learned a lot about the products Uwin sold in the shop, both food products and hardware. The shop had been busy all day. It was the neighborhood grocery and Uwin had been closed for a few days while he came to fetch Ladd. People from the neighborhood were catching up on their shopping. After the shop closed, Uwin and Ladd went back to the living quarters and Uwin cooked their dinner. They discussed how much Ladd had learned that day about the shop, its products, and being a shopkeeper. While they were eating, Ladd decided to share his experience when Joyful came into the shop with Uwin.
“Uwin, do you remember when that girl came into the shop early this morning? You called her Joyful.”
“Oh yes. Joyful shops here regularly. What about it?” Uwin asked.
“Something strange happened to me when I saw her, Uwin.”
Uwin’s head snapped up and he peered intensely at the boy.
“What happened, Ladd?”
“When she walked in the shop, I felt a chill in my bones. I got so cold I felt I would freeze solid. We looked at each other and something odd happened between us. I can’t explain it, but it was like we knew each other.”
Uwin leaned back in his chair and sighed.
“I’m sorry that happened without you being prepared, Ladd. I wanted you to have more time here before I had to tell you this.”
“Tell me what, Uwin?”
“Finish your dinner, Ladd. Then I have a story to tell you.”
Ladd finished his dinner as Uwin paced around the room with Cat on his heels. It was like Cat already knew the story and was worried.
After the boy had eaten, Uwin told him to get comfortable and he would tell him a story.
“A long time ago, Ladd, in the days of the old King, William the Conquerer, there was a witch, a beautiful witch, who was a member of his court. Some thought William was a great King. Others did not. Your great-grandmother, through a series of events that are not important now, ended up serving at his pleasure. She was a secret member of his court, but not a well-kept secret. He depended on her greatly.
Ladd interrupted Uwin.
“What did my great-grandmother do? Which side of my family was she on? You said she was a witch?”
Uwin continued, “She was your mother’s grandmother, Ladd. She had tremendous powers. Her name was Eleanor and she will always be remembered in England. Eleanor had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was also a witch, but Elizabeth did not practice witchcraft. Your mother, Knowledge, was born of Elizabeth.”
“Is my mother also a witch, Uwin?” Ladd asked.
“Knowledge has the power of a witch, Ladd, but she has never practiced witchcraft. Do you now see why the Grand Wizard choose you to be the wizard for your village? You have a history of sorcery and, apparently you also have the power or you wouldn’t have reacted to Joyful today. This is a good thing, my boy. You will be easy to train as a wizard.”
That night, Ladd sat awake on his cot for a long time. It was all too much to take in. Since a wizard was his calling, he had to take this in and fast. He missed his family. They would have helped him.
Uwin also was awake for a long time that night. He’d had to give Ladd too much information too soon. He hoped the boy was mature enough to handle it.
I didn’t sleep very long that first night on the cruise ship. I woke up two hours after I went to sleep. I recognized the signs of jet lag. I also recognized the signs of rough seas. We were sailing from Rome to the Pisa/Florence area and that big ship was rolling from side to side. I don’t get motion sick, but I was curious so I cautiously walked out on our balcony. It’s a good thing I was cautious. High wind and waves.
I came back inside and attempted to get online. We had free Wifi. HA! Yes, we did, but that did not include web access so I couldn’t blog while I was gone! I could send the briefest of messages or emails only. I could read, but I was still too anxious to focus. The ship had many lounges for many things – a coffee bar, a library, a reading room, and much more. Up on the 15th deck, it had the Horizons Lounge. It was open all night for those of us who couldn’t sleep and those of you who know me well know that I can never sleep, so I headed up to the Horizons Lounge. It was there I found my people, my tribe!
There was a panoramic view of the Mediterranean, lit by the ships lights. There were people, all of us with a book in our hands, who were sleepless. Everyone started introducing themselves and we suddenly had a whole host of new friends from many nationalities. A woman from New York City and I instantly liked each other and hung out together all week. She had never known anyone from the southern US and loved to listen to my accent. I’ve known many people from New York, but few women since I worked with mostly men. I liked her so much because she was brash and knew how to get what she wanted. I also met a woman from South Africa who was deep in culture shock and listened more than she talked.
Now I am NOT usually a drinker. But at 2 a.m., in the middle of the Mediterranean, with a bunch of interesting strangers who were drinking, what does a girl do? When I was working and had to travel extensively, my drink of choice was one of two things – tequila shots or champagne cocktails. I decided I would be wise to avoid tequila shots! Since this was a pretty high-end lounge, champagne cocktails WERE on the menu, so that’s what I started drinking. Much less dangerous.
We all sat there until 5 a.m., talking. The Americans, like me, seemed to be the target for questions and most of the questions were – you guessed it – about American politics. The Europeans were exceptionally nice, but very curious about American politics, not a subject easy to defend at this point in the life of U.S. politics, but I did my best to explain. I’m sure my bias did show. There was quite a contrast and compare discussion with their respective political systems.
At 5 a.m., we all finally went back to our staterooms to get ready to go into Pisa as the ship was docking. The next blog post has pictures and a discussion of Pisa. The picture above shows a bit of how the Sea looked on this rough night.
We’re really excited! We’re leaving on an 8 day cruise on the Mediterranean tomorrow. We board the ship at an Italian port. We fly into Rome from Cincinnati, boarding our international flight in Philadelphia. We get to Rome in the early afternoon, their time. I’m not sure if the time difference is six hours or seven hours. They are on daylight savings time as we are, but we change back to standard time tonight. I’m not sure when they change back. But, we’ll be either six or seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard time, where we live. The port where our ship is docked is about one and one half hours by bus from the Rome airport. We have an extra one and one-half hours in case of delays. Not a lot!
Today, we are packing and trying to remember everything you have to remember for an international trip as well as for a trip where you will be on board a ship and on land. Also, the weather is variable at this time of year. It is usually in the 60s in the day and 40s at night, but it could be hot or cold, so packing is a challenge. Whew!
Our cruise line is the Oceania, which is heavily used for group tours. Our’s is a group tour through my university. Other universities are on the ship as well, but no one else. I’ll give you a report on this cruise line. The travel agent between the university and the cruise line is GoNext and I’ll also report in on their services.
My biggest concern is my dog and cat. My dog, Clarabella, does just fine when boarded at the kennel. My husband’s cat – not so much. He is terribly bonded to my husband and suffers when he isn’t with him. This will be the longest we’ve ever left him.
That’s it for now. The next time I will write will be our first night on the cruise ship as there will be no time until then. That will be Monday evening, whatever time zone Italy is in! I’ll try to be more specific after I get oriented. Our first stop after Rome is beautiful Florence, Italy.
Oh! Ladies! There is a Canyon Ranch Spa on board the ship and I plan to take full advantage of it! 🙂
“Ladd, come along, we’ll be late. They are lighting the balefire for Wizard tonight,” Mercy said.
“That old goat,” replied Ladd, Mercy’s older brother. “I didn’t like him anyway. The way he crept around, watching all of us. Making his silly predictions.”
“Oh, Ladd, hush,” Mercy cried. “Wizard is powerful. We dare not say things like that. Come, let’s run. We must get to the funeral. Mama is waiting and will be angry with us.”
Ladd and Mercy set off from their hut in the village through the woods toward the funeral pyre. The people of the village were all frightened. They didn’t know that wizards could die. After a session in the street when Wizard was making a series of predictions for his people, he suddenly crumbled and dropped to the dirt. The people left him there for three days. They thought he would rise again. Finally, the medicine woman who served the village examined Wizard and determined that he was dead.
There was much weeping and wailing among the people of the village. They had never heard of a wizard dying and they thought they had done something wicked to cause it. The men started building a funeral pyre outside of the village. The women prepared Wizard’s body, including Knowledge, Ladd and Mercy’s mother.
Knowledge told the children that she had heard from the other women that one of Wizard’s predictions was going to come true. The Grand Wizard from the King was coming to the village to talk to the people. She didn’t know when the visit would take place, but she was very uneasy about it.
Within a few days, the funeral pyre was ready for the balefire to be lit and for Wizard’s funeral to take place. Knowledge told Ladd and Mercy it would be that evening and they were expected to be there. She and the other women had to accompany Wizard’s body.
When Ladd and Mercy reached the funeral pyre, the balefire had been lit and was beginning to burn high. The people were standing back. They were fearful of what a balefire meant for a wizard.
Then, someone appeared from the shadows. Everyone gasped. It was the Grand Wizard sent from the King. He roared as he stood in front of the funeral pyre. He said that a wizard would be dispatched from the kingdom to the village to train someone to take Wizard’s place. The people of the village all looked at each other, wondering who would be the chosen one that would be trained.
The Grand Wizard raised his arms to the sky and a lightning bolt struck the ground right next to Ladd. The Grand Wizard declared that Ladd was the chosen one and that he should prepare himself for training to be the next wizard. Knowledge swooned and fell to the ground. Ladd stood there in shock, not knowing what to do. He didn’t want to be the wizard, but he was struck dumb.
The Grand Wizard disappeared, leaving the people of the village to the funeral and Ladd and his family to absorb the news. Mercy, standing off to the side, contemplated the trouble that would likely follow.
Linda’s Stream of Consciousness prompt this week is the word “ground.” As that word crossed my mind, it was easy to find something to write about. Going to “ground” to me is just about the same as “going to the well.” It means that, for me, it’s time to center myself, steady myself, and stand firmly on the ground in order to decide where life is going to take me next. I’m rather at a crossroads in my life with regard to this second career that I have carved out. I have to decide which direction I want to go.
The Universe is giving me, or maybe forcing me, to take some time to make my decisions. My husband and I are going to take a big trip very soon. We live in the U.S. and we’re going to Europe; specifically, the Mediterranean. I have been all over northern and Central Europe, but never to Southern Europe. We’re taking a wonderful cruise around Italy, France, and Spain and some of the islands in the sea. We’ll, of course, be on the ground in Europe some as we stop at ports of call. I can’t really make any decisions about my career or start anything new until we return. It will give me some time to do some thinking. This will be valuable, I think. I’ll take pictures and share them with al of you when we return.
There were always a few tourists hanging around the cliff at the end of the day. If they noticed the old man sitting there, on the rocks, no one paid much attention to him. The tourists were there to see the sunset. It was a spot known for its spectacular sunsets. The old man was there every day, for every sunset.
He sat tall with exceptionally good posture. His father had taught him that. He had a full head of white hair. You couldn’t see his face since he was looking down, but you could see his rather rugged profile. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he was someone you would instantly notice. His arms were stiffly supporting him on either side.
This was the place John came to for serenity, to find stillness. The older he got, the more life overwhelmed him. He and his wife had made a pact to try to get back to simplicity, to even become minimalists. It seemed that life interfered with their plans at every turn. Being a minimalist didn’t just mean having a home that was stark with little furniture and no clutter. It was also a way of thinking. Just living in today’s world almost would not let them live their lives in a simple manner.
That’s why John came here every day. It was meditation, he supposed. This was the only place where he could empty his mind completely and have a half hour of peace. When that half hour had passed, it was if he had awakened from a trance. He was refreshed. It was much better than sleep. He felt he could survive.
They would stand in the rain as long as necessary. They followed him, wherever he went. The rallies, they found them addictive. They touched something inside of them. Something they hadn’t known was there until they heard him speak. He said the same things every time he spoke and he enraged them, but they felt they needed to be enraged. Why didn’t the entire country realize that? Realize how much sense he made?
He was the Savior. He was going to help them out of their difficult lives. Never mind those who doubted him. They didn’t hear what they heard.