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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Freedman [5 of 5]

Martin told Julia about his latest vision, while they were waiting at the airport. Julia was pleased to hear that her new grandfather believed her now. The echo at the well really was weird. Now she dared confide in him that she had a dream too... of Ranuld.

Ranuld spends one more night at the tavern , then he rides back to the grange. He picks up his old life. Well almost. He cannot deny that he misses the nights under the stars, the philosophies of Graham and the presence of Gwen, who was always somewhere in the corner of his eyes. The new shepherd is not a soul mate like those two were. So Ranuld spends most of his time around his house, or making rounds at his fields. Once in a while he walks along the Alder, to visit his friend's grave. Like today, two years after he left Gwen at Carlin’s Town. Ranuld's own dog is with him. He knows his master likes to sit at the mount for a while whenever they walk by the stream. He is not supposed to disturb him then, but today it's hard on the dog. He senses that Ranuld's mind is more absent than other times. Instead of running along the bank, the dog lies down next to the freedman, who is staring at the heaped up stones.
He hadn't even buried his friend properly. Had he known that Gwen would escape from being taken to Morgan's castle, he would have stayed to lead the ceremony himself. But he hadn't known. He honestly thought he was doing what would please his friend the most. “Save my Gwen.” He remembers the imploring look in the shepherd's eyes. He had the intention to, had set out to do so. He even was prepared to let the witch treat his old wounds to make it into the castle. And out of it only if Gwen were with him.
And now … he had heard that Gwen was still working for the potter. That she had given birth to a little girl. Her baby must be more than a year old already. Maybe he should pay them a visit. But there was always something to detain him. Ranuld the leysing, you're coward. Maybe he was in this case. He wasn't sure what to expect from seeing Gwen. Not sure of his own reaction. Courageous Gwen, she had always been able to fend for her herself.
Graham's eyes come back to his memory. “Not just save her,” he hears his friend whisper again. “Protect her.... …. ...if you can...” Abruptly Ranuld turns from the grave. His dog jumps up, thinking it a good time to play. They both head for the stream. Close to the edge of the water Ranuld finds a stick. The dog is more than willing to go after it, into the stream. So Ranuld throws it as far as he can. The dog must have lost sight of it, he is looking around in confusion. Finally he grabs an other branch, not to return empty mouthed. It's a stick that is standing up right, close to the bank. The dog has to pull at it before it gives way. With his self chosen trophy he runs up to his master. Here you go, isn't it a beauty?  His whole young body expresses his pride. Ranuld kneels to accept the stick. “Good boy. Now what do we have here?” His surprise reaches a climax at the end of his line. One end of the stick has got small roots, with which it had settled itself in the bottom of the stream, the other side conveys the beginning of the body of a woman. It's the branch that Graham had been working on, that dreadful night. Someone had thrown it into the river, or stuck it into the bottom. And , being willow wood, it had taken it's chance to start anew. A new tree, from such a beautifully carved branch. Ranuld smiles, wondering what kind of tree this would have been, if it weren't for his dog. The dog in the mean time, is whining. He'd love to fetch this stick again. But Ranuld just keeps it to himself.
What had Graham meant, when he said “Protect her. If you can. ” ? Graham must have known Gwen's feeling. And agreed with her theory that he hadn't healed properly... But if this stupid little stick knows how to start all over, why can't he? It'll take time, but it is worth the while. Or not? In the back of Ranuld's head are whispers. Gossip, that Gwen has married the potter. Has she?
From the path following the Alder, the dress maker waves. He is going to visit his brother, who years ago has followed Eve and Morgan. The brother still lives at the castle. But if the dress maker is to go to the castle, he must pass by Carlin’s Town. Ranuld motions with his arm for the man to come over. When they meet, Ranuld gives him the branch. “Please give it to Gwen, just as it is now. Roots and all.”
No message sir?”
Ranuld smiles and shakes his head. He knows she'll understand.

And what happened then?” Martin asked Julia. “Did she return home with the dress maker?” Julia shook her head. “No, she sent him asters and daisies. Telling him that she still loved him and would be patient and wait for him to heal.”
The frequent talks about Gwen and the freed man were starting to bore Howard. He tried to work himself through the gate trying to get a glimpse of his mother. She should be through customs by now. She and Ron, that new dad of him. Martin pulled him back by his collar. The boy would be impulsive enough to really climb through the gate and cross the secluded area. Maybe a distraction would help. So he directed his question at the boy, who was illicitly fighting his way back through the gate “Hey Howard. Why did your mother give such a funny name to her house? Balmead...”
The boy wasn't really interested. “It means ball maid, the maid that keeps the clay wet for the potter.”
Only now Martin realized he had never asked Ron anything about his new daughter-in-law. “What does she do for a living?”
She's an artist. Behind the bushes, back at the rose garden she has her studio. That's how she met Ron. She asked him to pose for her. So she could make his portrait. In clay.”
Martin was stunned, loosened his grip on the boys collar. Julia smiled her dreamy smile. “I think mom and dad are Gwen and Ranuld. And he has finally healed enough to marry her.”
You two are stupid,” Howard yelled, tearing himself loose and worming his way through the gate. “You and Martin must be Gwen and Ranuld. Mom!!” He made a run for his mother, who was not just any ball maid, but a real potter. Ron and Linda hadn't heard his remark, but they did catch Martin and Julia exchanging amused and conspiratory looks. As only kindred spirits can.

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