Search This Blog

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Freedman [3 of 5]

While the photos were developed they laid in some stock at the groceries, butcher and the tiny supermarket. The photos turned out to be real fine. They had a bit of quarrel picking out the best to have enlarged for the returning bride and bridegroom. But in the end they came to an agreement. The summer, and tourist season, being over, the shop owner promised to have the enlargement finished that same afternoon as well. If they would just go out for lunch and some more shopping, he'd have the photo ready and framed at the end of the afternoon.
The best place to lunch was at the 'town square' . A picturesque square full of pubs, two lunchrooms and shops for the tourists that flooded the village during spring and summer. All built around a large and ancient yew tree.
Julia pointed out a shop just around the corner, located in one of the oldest houses of Carlington. It was barely visible because of the old Yew. The foundation of the house was laid in the middle ages, Julia informed her new grandfather. It was a herbal shop and Julia suggested they'd buy some lavender and other nice smelling herbs for her mother there. Her mother decorated the house that way herself from time to time. From Howard's bored look, Martin judged that his new daughter-in-law must have frequented the little store accompanied by her children. “Alright,” he said, “I'll pay the bill and then we'll go there.” Julia looked pleased, ignoring the vengeful looks her brother castes her.
The shop would do as nicely in a dolls house magazine as his daughter-in-laws cottage, Martin concluded as they stood in front of it. “Doesn't it look enchanting?” The budding woman in Julia has made room for an excited little girl. And the face that Howard pulled did not convey the boys age either. Martin laughed. They were not even inside yet, and the children had already mysteriously changed. Julia opened the door and stepped in first. Martin gestured for Howard to follow. Otherwise the boy might plan to stay outside. With both his protegees inside, Martin crossed the threshold. The smell of herbs was strong, it made his nose itch. With difficulty he managed to recognize the individual character of the herbs. There was lavender, thyme and something soft and sweet. “Can you smell the irises too?” Julia smiled at her grandfather, glad to be sharing her secret with him.

Ranuld barely takes in what's happening. The only thing that enters his fogged spirit is the smell of herbs. He sinks into a deep black hole. Only the blunt smell of Caraway, enlightened by the sweetness of irises stand out in his memory afterward.
Slowly -after how many days?- does Ranuld become aware of woman, moving closer, caring, moving out. She's an elderly woman, smelling after the herbs she applies on his arm and in the brews she gives him to drink. And then some. Some of the herb smells are pleasant, speeding up Ranuld's regain of interest in life. The more he comes to himself, the longer she stays with him to talk. Inevitably the fateful night and Ranuld's quest to rescue Gwen turn up. “But at Morgan's Castle, you will be strained. Physically and emotionally. Aren't you afraid that your scars will hamper you.? Again.”
Ranuld looks straight and open into the eyes of the witch;  just another word for 'woman with wit', good sense. Ranuld knows that. 
He owes his friends the freedom of Gwendolyn. The victory over Morgan and his men. It is only for Graham, that he is prepared to give up his scars, his teachers that helped him fill his life with kindness towards strangers and love for his friends.
Ranuld sighs deeply, slowly. “Can you heal the scars?” The woman nods. She can remove them and make him heal without any scars this time. All he needs to do, is get strong enough to get on his feet again, moving around through the village.
Now that Ranuld has made up his mind, he doesn't want to postpone the treatment. He works himself out of his bed and concentrates on regaining his strength. He will need it to undergo the treatment.

Satisfied the witch nods to Ranuld when he is bringing in a bundle of branches for her cooking fire.
It is time. I have the lemon balm and yarrow here. But I need a poultice of Solomon Seal to make sure the scars won't return after I cut them out.” Ranuld listens, taking his orders.
If you walk over to the well, near the clay pits, and wait for the maid that assists the potter, she'll help you to Solomon Seal. Perhaps she calls it Lady's Seal. It's the same thing.”
The clay pits are several miles outside the village. Ranuld has to ride his horse there. Seeing no one at the well he takes his time to rest his horse and ties him to a tree, a little away from the well.

In the living room of Balmead, Howard was lying on the floor, driving around his cars, making the sounds that all parents of young boys are familiar with. In the kitchen Martin prepared dinner. It was to be something that both children like, since it would be their last diner as a threesome. Tomorrow Ron and his new bride would join them.
Julia sat at the kitchen table, watching every move of her new grandfather. Martin has slowly gotten accustomed to her being his shadow. He might even miss it, back at the grange next Monday.
So this place is haunted, you say?” Martin tried not to sound amused.
Julia nods in earnest. “My new dad says so too.” Ron, hmm? Funny how much this girl took after his son. “What does your mother say about it?”
She only shrugs.” Julia imitated the movement. “She doesn't want tot talk about it.”
Well, I'm not convinced. Maybe you can give me an example.” He had to watch his pans, so he listened to Julia now with his back turned to her. But from the tone, he could imagine the serious look on the girl's face. Maybe her mother was right, not to indulge too much into the child's fantasy.
After you had made the photo at the well...” Julia paused, To check if Martin was really listening to her. After his “Go on” she continued. “I wanted to stay at the well to play. But Howard hung around just to tease me.”
He does that a lot, doesn't he?”
Yes, always. Anyway, he started to chase me, to pull my hair, but he slipped and fell.”
And? Did you help him?”
An indignant reply came. “Of course not, he shouldn't have tried pulling my hair. I yelled at him << That must be a lesson to you Howard>>”
Martin turned around to see what a vengeful Julia would look like. He saw nothing of it, her eyes were just big with fascination. “The well echoed, but it was not the echo of what I said.”
What did it say?” Martin was getting concerned.
It replied << Ranuld the leysing, you're a coward>>.”
Too much grange stories, Martin concluded and promised himself not to tell her anymore of it. He thought he had finished the matter for himself with this straightforward intention, but not so.
When the children were in bed, he found himself hanging around in the kitchen, looking into the garden. Would he go to the well, or not? Silly, to be curious after such an obvious child's fantasy. But the feeling didn't let off. There was no other way to get rid of it, than to give in to it. He stepped into the garden and followed the meandering path. He walked softly, not willing to wake up the children, who slept at the back of the house, their windows open. After all, it was a beautiful autumn night.
As he got near to the rose garden, he could hear a woman humming. He tiptoed the last part of the path. Who had the nerves to sit in someone else's garden?
Martin planned to speak up to the intruder, but his words wouldn't come out. There was a woman sitting beside the well, stroking and smelling the irises that had made their way to this part of the garden. She was not built frail, but there was an air of fragility about her. Was it the pale yellow dress? Her smooth white skin? The unbound curls, falling over her shoulder, hiding her face?
Martin kept looking at her. Was she a ghost? He tried to shake off the idea, Julia had started to bewitch him.
The woman had felt his gaze. She looked up, in amazement. In turning around she revealed stains of clay on the front of her dress. For a moment it seemed she wanted to walk towards Martin, touch his face with her outstretched hand. Then in a flash she changed her mind, fled from the garden, past the gate, away into the bushes.
Hey lady. Please, wait” Martin tried going after her, but didn't know his way around in the darkness. He stopped just at the path through the bushes. Looking back he could see footprints in spite of the darkness. They were his. Had he wiped out hers? He looked in front of him again. No footprints, even though he was sure she had taken this narrow path through the bushes. He hung around, checking for pieces of cloth or strands of hair, caught up on the branches. Nothing. She had vanished, literally
without a trace. And he wanted to see her again. Her face, it was so familiar to him. He just couldn't put his finger on it. The vision lingered on his mind for the rest of the evening. Staring into the fire, once inside the house, didn't help. It made it worse, It was as if the atmosphere of the entire house had changed. It was anticipation, not joyful anticipation but one with fear, fear of being bereft and being left lonely. Martin couldn't sleep and went outside again, to take another look at the well.
He had put on a sweater and with that, he didn't feel cold. He sat down on the bench in the rose garden and thought about tonight's vision, about what Julia had told him. About what he had seen in the fire light, about ….

No comments:

Post a Comment