I never thought I’d miss the noise. The sounds of the big trucks on the interstate at night. The quieter sounds of the cars navigating around them. Even the traffic on my own street which is very light but even lighter now. Lighter since this plague. The pandemic. The outbreak. Whatever you want to call it, the word sounds ugly.
After all, I came here 22 years ago mainly for the quiet. My mother was dying and wanted to come home. My own life had undergone a huge change and I needed to heal. I built my cabin in the woods for the quiet. To be close to nature. Mine was the only house on a gravel road. Not so anymore. Since the plague it might as well be. No one is out. The only person I see outside my window is the little boy next door riding his pint-sized motorcycle up and down the street. Only occasionally.
It feels like the world has gone back to a simpler time, an earlier time. I’ve always thought that would feel good, but it doesn’t. Maybe because it has happened unnaturally. Because of this plague. Because of a virus that shouldn’t be here.
No wonder the grocery shelves are empty. Everyone thinks it is because people are frightened and hoarding. If you could hear the shattering quietness of the interstate highway, you would know that isn’t the only reason. Our food supply simply isn’t moving. Nothing is moving, but the food supply is especially scary.
Deer are appearing again in my yard. They had almost vanished, but they’re back. We’ve taken over their home and they will naturally return because they hear and feel the stillness. When I first came here, there were so many song birds. Sadly, they won’t be back. We’ve killed them with the pesticide use on the corn they love to eat.
Did this virus really come from a wet market in China? Perhaps the beginnings of it did come from bats. Hasn’t it been an effective tool to make the people of the U.S. totally impotent? A wise young college student commented that the next World War would be fought with something out of a can. Interesting, ah?
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.
On Ladd’s family’s first night at their hut after he left for London to apprenticeship with the small man, there was a sense of emptiness, but a lot of activity. Archer and Knowledge knew Mercy would be inconsolable without her brother. Archer arranged, with Lord Percival, to provide Mercy with a small spaniel dog to be her companion. He brought home the puppy that night. Mercy was wild with pleasure but only after she had talked with Knowledge who reassured her that Ladd would be home and would still be her brother. Mercy didn’t mention her encounter with her betrothed, Smith, to her mother.
While Mercy played with her new puppy, Knowledge took Archer aside since they needed to have a conversation. About that time, Smith, Mercy’s betrothed, walked up and asked to speak with Archer. Archer agreed and Knowledge withdrew to the hut, feeling as if she and her husband never had a moment to speak in private.
“Archer, I would like to speak to you about Mercy,” Smith began.
“What about her, Smith?”
“I know she is dreadfully upset that Ladd has gone off to make his way. I would like to help her. I would like to go ahead and seal our union, marry Mercy,” Smith said.
Archer stared at the younger man for a few seconds and then said, “Smith, I know you are from a different land, but our custom in Farnsworth is for our young girls to remain betrothed for a year or even two. Mercy is too young and inexperienced to marry. You’ve only been betrothed a few months.”
There was something about Archer that made Smith not question him.
Archer went on, “I’m still raising Mercy. She’s only a child. I think I can comfort her quite well. Now, good evening.”
Archer turned and walked toward the hut and Smith had no choice but to leave. He was very unhappy. Archer told Mercy to bring her new puppy and come in with him since it was her bedtime. He had prepared a bed for the puppy by Mercy’s bed, much to her delight.
After Mercy went to bed, Knowledge told Archer she had to speak with him and he agreed. They went outside the hut and sat down in two chairs Knowledge always kept there for the family or guests.
“Archer, our family is about to expand.”
Archer looked at Knowledge quizzically.
“What do you mean?”
“I am with child, probably about three or four months along, Archer.”
“Knowledge,” Archer cried out. “How wonderful! I had thought our family was probably complete.”
“I’m so glad you’re happy about it. I was afraid you’d be upset,” Knowledge said.
“I am overcome with happiness, my love,” Archer said.
Knowledge, being very relieved, told Archer there was something else she needed to discuss.
“It’s been years since we’ve discussed this, Archer. There has been no reason until now…..and Ladd. Do you remember my grandmama? You met her and we talked about her.”
Archer laughed and said, “You mean one of the most famous witches ever to live in England? How could I possibly forget your Grandmama? You also got your beauty from her.”
“Thank you, Archer. I don’t think you’re quite making the connection.”
Before Archer could speak, there was a roll of thunder and the air shimmered in front of them. There, in the shimmer, was a beautiful old woman smiling at the couple.
“Hello my darling granddaughter.”
“Grandmama, you’ve come to visit,” Knowledge cried.
“Only for a moment. My powers are not what they used to be. I have to make things clear to your young man.”
“Hello, Archer. Is your head made of wood, my son? Ladd has just felt the calling to be a sorcerer. What, pray tell, am I?”
Archer said, “Because you were a witch…..is that why……I see…..that’s why Ladd was chosen?”
“It’s in his heritage, in his genes,” the old woman replied. “Of course it’s why he was chosen. He already has the power. He just doesn’t know it.”
Her image was fading and she quickly said goodbye and was gone.
Knowledge remarked, laughing, “I can’t believe she can still do that. She has been dead for so long now.”
After Ladd left home with the small man, Knowledge went back to her job for the day. She was in the spinning room that day with some of the other women. They were sharing cotton and wool fabric and making clothing for their families. After work, Knowledge couldn’t get her mind off her family, so she took a walk to one of the hills surrounding Farnsworth. She stared in the direction of London, where Ladd would eventually arrive. She wished she could see him from afar.
Her daughter, Mercy, was taking Ladd’s departure particularly hard. She saw the tears in Mercy’s eyes during their goodbyes to Ladd. She would speak with Mercy tonight. What she didn’t know was that Mercy had had a difficult afternoon.
Mercy, Ladd’s 12-year old sister, cried all day the day Ladd left for his apprenticeship in wizardry In London. The two children had been close all of Mercy’s life. Ladd protected her. They shared their food. Ladd even gave her part of his food when times were lean for the family. She felt lost without him and could hardly believe she wouldn’t see him for a year. She had to go back to work, and she walked slowly and tearfully toward the Lord’s gardens.
Mercy heard someone running up behind her and she stopped and turned. It was Smith, who she would soon marry. She collapsed on the ground, sobbing.
“Oh, Smith, Ladd is gone to the city. I’m fearful I will never see him again,” Mercy cried.
Smith grabbed Mercy’s shoulders and held her at arm’s length.
“Your father just told me about Ladd’s apprenticeship. He thought I could, perhaps, comfort you.”
“No one can comfort me, Smith. My brother is gone. For a year.”
“Mercy, your brother is a man now. He has to make his own way,” Smith replied.
Ladd’s family had discussed, before he left, that they would not talk to the other villagers about his actual apprenticeship in wizardry. Mercy didn’t know if Smith knew this since she and Smith had not yet married.
Smith walked with Mercy to the Lord’s gardens, trying to comfort her. Mercy’s tears flowed freely. Smith stopped along the path and gently stopped Mercy.
“Mercy, this is a difficult time for you. Let me make it easier. We are to marry. Let’s go ahead and create our union.”
Mercy said, “You will have to ask my father. He takes care of such things.”
She desperately wanted to say no to Smith, but it was not her place. Smith was not a boy, but an older man. She did not love him. She wanted to love her husband.
“I already have a hut for us. It’s much like your parents’ hut. It has two nice rooms. I will make it as nice for you as I can, and I will treat you as if you were the Queen.”
Smith’s statement made Mercy smile.
“I will miss my parents, Smith,” Mercy said.
“My hut is near Lord Percival’s home. It’s only across the village green. You can see your parents as much as you desire, Mercy.”
“Smith, you are very nice,” said Mercy.
Smith smiled. “I’m going to speak with your father.”
Mercy didn’t comment. She walked on to the gardens and went back to work. Now she was crying both about Ladd and about her soon-to-be marriage.
The door of the hut where Ladd lived with his family faced east. Dawn broke soon after Archer, Knowledge, and Mercy left for work and Ladd still sat in the straight chair in front of the fire. He noticed Cat, with the red eyes, had come in and taken a seat in front of the fire. Behind Cat, there came a small man. He stood at the doorway looking at Ladd with the glow of the sunlight diffused behind him.
“Good day, Ladd,” the small man said.
“Hullo. Do I know you?”
“No, but you will. I was sent by the Grand Wizard.”
Ladd jumped up, out of his chair, immediately.
“You will be my apprentice in my grocery shop in London. There you will learn the trade of shopkeeping. You will also learn the craft of wizardry for the benefit of the citizens of this village to which you will return.”
Ladd studied the small man as he spoke. He didn’t look like a wizard. He had short gray hair and a gray beard, with sparkling blue eyes. The glow of the rising sun surrounded him. He was slightly built, not as tall as Ladd.
The small man continued, “I know you don’t want to be a wizard. What you don’t know yet is that your background made it your destiny. Now gather your things and we will go see your family so you can say goodbye for now. Have you had breakfast?
“Yes,” Ladd said.
“I am going to eat while you get ready. Do you have mead?”
Ladd pointed out the mead to the small man and started to gather his things. Ladd didn’t take very much. Shortly, the two of them left, along with Cat, to find his family so he could say his goodbye’s.
Ladd and the small man ran into Knowledge right outside the door of the hut as she returned from her talk with Healer. The small man told Knowledge who he was and that he would be leaving with Ladd to begin Ladd’s apprenticeship. Knowledge asked him to wait while she found the rest of the family so they could say goodbye. As she said that, Archer walked up.
“What’s going on here?” Archer asked.
Knowledge replied, “This man was sent by the Grand Wizard to pick up Ladd. Ladd will be his apprentice in London. He will learn to be a shopkeeper as well as receive training in wizardry.”
“When will Ladd be allowed to return to us?” Archer asked.
The small man replied, “Within one year, sir. He will then take up the position as the wizard in the village. He may also want to keep a small shop here.”
Archer said, “This will be a loss for our family. I go out on the hunt often. I rely on Ladd to protect the family while I am gone. He is helpful in providing food for the women.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I serve at the pleasure of the Grand Wizard.”
“Then I don’t suppose we have any recourse,” Archer said.
The family came together with hugs and murmurs of good wishes and love. In a few moments, the small man and Ladd walked from the village as Ladd turned around and waved to his loved ones. Cat jumped up on his shoulder to get a ride.
As Ladd and the small man made their way toward London, they stopped to sleep at dusk at whatever shelter they could find. The first night on the road found them by a lake with water so still it looked like glass. There was a small shelter there that someone, probably another traveler, had built out of limbs and mud. It was enough to keep them out of the weather and away from the wild beasts. The small man decided to stop there for the night.
After they laid down their things, the small man instructed Ladd to gather some leaves to make them softer beds. The leaves from the past fall were still on the ground. Ladd went about the business of gathering leaves while the small man built a fire. Dark had not yet fallen.
The small man went to Ladd and asked him to follow him. Ladd stopped leaf-gathering and followed the man. He led him to the water’s edge and sat down. He motioned for the boy to sit down beside him.
“Have you ever seen a looking glass?” the small man asked the boy.
“Oh yes,” Ladd replied. “The mother of my friend from home has one.”
”Looking glasses are important in your job as a wizard,” said the small man. “They allow you to see through them to the future and in front of them to the past.’
Ladd just stared at him.
“I’ll give you a magic lesson,” the small man said, smiling. “First, we have to cast a circle. The circle will keep the evil powers out and keep us safe inside.”
With that, the small man picked up a stick and drew an oval in the sand around them. He then sat very still with his head bowed. He appeared to disappear deep inside himself. He opened his eyes, raised both arms and pointed out at the lake. Ladd saw that his eyes had turned the color of the lake.
In his hands, he had pieces of lake glass he had picked up, clear in one hand, colored in the other. He shook them and transferred the clear glass to the hand with the colored glass. He said these words,
“Glass and water, Glass and water. We mean you no bother. Show us Ladd’s village. Only a future image.”
From the surface of the lake, a shimmery image of Ladd’s village arose.
As it came into focus, Ladd cried out, “There’s my sister. That’s Mercy!”
“Who are the people with her, Ladd?” the small man asked gently.
“The man is Smith, her betrothed and the blacksmith in our village. There are children I don’t know. It looks like Mercy is carrying a child.”
The small man said, “Remember Ladd, that is an image of the future.”
Suddenly, the image vanished. The small man seemed to draw back into himself and Ladd was quiet. After some time passed, the small man opened his eyes, which were now back to normal. He spoke. He spoke,
“That was quite tiring. It’s time to sleep.”
As he and Ladd arose, he removed the circle with his foot and they walked toward the shelter. The small man placed the lake glass in one of the jars he carried. He and Ladd then put a blanket on their pallets of straw, laid down, and immediately went to sleep.
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.