Over dinner, this one stitched together pieces of accounts from various others in a most enjoyable fashion. Right up to Edgar's leaving the forest, heading southwest, and the point of meeting an extraordinarily talkative fellow who lived on the plains. Scratch beamed with approval when told how Edgar had bound his fractured leg. After that encounter, they had no direct knowledge of his fate. That was two months ago. But word filtered through and eventually made its way to the deep forest. Edgar was lauded as a hero and stories of his odyssey were told over and over, especially to the young, who yearned to hear of faraway places, sparking the imagination and setting the seeds for wanderlust. He was chosen chief-of-scouts and inspired the other scouts to dig deep for the grit to venture farther than they ordinarily would. Scouting for the tribe transformed from just a job among many in the grand design to a vocation, a reason to live. It gave them a sense of purpose.
It was getting late, Scratch needed to be up early to continue storing wood. He rolled a huge ball of something into the doorway, leaving chiseled cracks for ventilation, and tossed his guest a blanket. The fireplace was going good, the couch facing it would be plenty warm. He went into his bedroom and lay down. In spite of his fatigue, the news of Edgar had roused him. He struggled in his tiredness to recall when he'd first sent out the archetypes of dreams of discovery. They would resonate with but a few, he knew, their combined complexity homed in on a unique group only, those on the cusp of realization. But at that moment, as though the dirt floor had given way, he plunged more deeply into an even earlier period.
His mind went all the way back to when he was young and he and his parents were traveling downriver by boat. It was his first adventure, the river was slow and several others were onboard. He knew someone must be steering it, but being young, he didn't care, enthralled by the sights on the banks and beyond as they slid along, silently except for the sheering sound where the boat met the water. Too young then to know why they were traveling so, with all the belongings they could carry. Others were similarly encumbered. They had come from high in the mountains, of that he knew, but his parents hardly ever talked about it afterwards. He'd overhear them occasionaly, when they thought he was a sleep, reminisce about their home in the mountains and the beauty of their surroundings.
With time, after several homes had proved unsatisfactory for one reason or another, he never quite knew, they'd settled in not far from where he presently lived. He was entering full growth when his parents began to teach him their ways of the mind. Asking why they hadn't sooner, their reply was simply that they'd been preparing him from birth. This only piqued his curiosity further about why they'd left the hills. One night, after dinner and a few of his mother's special cakes, the story came out. They asked him if he'd noticed that no others of his kind in the area have the same gold-green coloring on their backs? He confessed that he hadn't but never thought much of it; the same thing happened in other places. They told him they were of a special class capable of seeing into and affecting other realms of reality. It was in their blood. This practice had aided others of all kinds and their class were sought after.
One day, a few came at first, scouts, and then more from higher up the mountain. They moved in and, although welcomed with open arms, demanded priority over the choicest food sources. Larger and overbearing, they were very aggresive about it. Those of his parent's class were seen to give strength and cohesion to a common resistance, a force of will that interconnected the entire community of like-minded creatures; they were the custodians of the culture. Inevitably, however, they were forced out by threats and acts of violence. That was why they and their friends were on that boat.
After a few years of training, during which he showed an exceptional gift, his parents passed away. First his father came down sick one winter and never recovered. His mother, worn from the experience, succumbed to grief and sadness not much later. He buried them beside one another behind the house they built at the base of a huge tree, its long limbs covered with broad leaves in the summer. He stayed for the following winter, practicing the arts and spells, keeping to himself, working alone. Everything reminded him of them; he fought to focus his mind on the present, but it proved draining. In the spring, he moved out, taking only what he could carry, including personal things his parents had treasured. All in the area let him know that their home would be treated with the respect of a shrine and the grounds cared for.
He lived in the woods for a while, sleeping wherever he could. He did this for a year while honing his skills with mind and spirit. One day as he hiked along, enjoying the fragrances of the budding season, a golden leaf streaked with green landed in his path, a holdover from the distant autumn, finally finding its way to the earth. That was the sign he'd been waiting for. He dragged the leaf aside and dug his home where he now lies in bed.
Exhausted by these memories, he drifted off to sleep. In Dreamland, he met his parents sitting on a flat, moss-covered stone in the forest, the sight of their mountain behind them. They were younger, holding hands; they smiled when they saw him walking towards them. He smiled back, a warm flush filling his entire body. He knelt before them, head bowed, crying softly. His father placed a hand on his head, his mother caressed his neck in that spot that soothed him when a child and felt distressed. Nothing was said or needed to be.
A stiff and weary Scratch emerged from his bedroom, groping for the pot of dark liquid simmering near the fireplace, its fire now almost extinguished. He poured a cup unsteadily, took a sip, put it down on the table, then stoked the fire, poking the embers to life. His guest moaned and then sat-up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Scratch handed him a cup of the morning drink, then plopped into a well-cushioned chair.
Wrapped in a blanket, holding his cup with both hands, and enveloped by the comforting sounds of crackling, he recalled the day he met Edgar. He'd been preparing a meal when the urge to visit his watering hole overtook him. Putting the food aside, he went there directly. As he neared, he sensed a presence, one who had been receptive to his projection. Standing at his usual spot on the bank, upstream he could see a creature walking gingerly across a bent twig, joining the far bank with his. He was almost at its end when suddenly he slipped. Reflexively, he grabbed a short upright. In the process, he lost footing once more, causing him to crash hard against the thin stick. At once it snapped, propelling him headlong into the turbulent stream. Plunging deeply, he surfaced, gasping for air. Struggling to stay afloat in the rapid-moving water, he'd almost given up when he swirled near Scratch. Stepping into the stream, Scratch grabbed a hand and pulled him onto the sandy beach. He knew then--by the touch, perhaps--he was meant to be here and at this time. It was like other coincidences he'd encountered in life, when a power behind the scenes seemed to control events, a power far greater than what he could comprehend.
After breakfast and a few more cups, Scratch was ready for the day's chore. The teller offered to help for one more day, at least, for his hospitality. Scratch thanked him but declined, saying he thought there'd be an early winter and that he best be on his way. He rolled back the ball wedged in the doorway and, as if to corroborate, a crisp fall breeze, tinted with icy-moisture, filled the room. The teller finished his cup, donned his coat, shouldered his bag, and stepped out into a mostly cloudy day, the barest hint of weak sunlight lancing through a crack to the east. They shook hands. Scratch smiled and handed him a bag of his special cakes for the journey, and as though a door had been closed, they parted. Scratch to the woodpile and the teller to the south.
Life went like this. Finding, gathering, and stacking firewood, interspersed with working in his shop on new furniture and repairing the old, meticulously preparing meals, and practicing his arts, experiencing other dimensions of time and space. Occasionally, a visitor would stop by with stories to tell and news to relate. Not all were heading south; some chose to sleep away the winter in the northern forest, burrowed deep in the ground under the thick covering of decaying leaves and layers of twigs and sticks, or hidden behind protective bark or moss.
The firewood project secured--he always added one stack more than was ordinarily needed, just in case--he was checking stores when the first snowflakes began to fall. Though back in his anteroom, he could hear them land ever so gently on the dead leaves of his great tree. He rolled the ball away enough to squeeze outside and stood under the lean-to protecting the firewood. He enjoyed singling out flakes and watching their wiggly, buffeted path to the ground. Some would hit others and stick, and together they'd twist and turn to their final resting place. The initial landers did not melt. In no time, the familiar landscape was obliterated, replaced by a cold, smooth, undulating whiteness. He knew that by morning, even the discernable bumps and dips would be gone. The many parts, the tiniest of pieces, connected now by an all-embracing sheet, continuous in all directions. The remnants of all that once lived--evokers of memories--cloaked from sight, enveloped, to return whence they came, to find new purpose in future dreamers.
He felt no dread. Winter was not something to be endured and struggled through. For him, it was a quiet time of solitude, of feeling the tiniest details of everyday life. Seldom were there any visitors or tellers, but when they did come, it was a special occasion. The expression of self was so much more vivid and visceral, in a most open and relaxing way, than the usual socializing in other seasons. Perhaps it was the warmth of the fire, or by necessity. To go out to it, to be open to it, the winter and its snow, takes strength of will far surpassing that needed at other times. He found it cleansing and learned respect. Its aloofness and indifference demanded no less.
He plugged the hole, stuffing strips of fur in the bottommost vent-cuts and returned to his work, checking stores. He had his meals planned and knew how much of each ingredient he'd need. When he completed that task, he looked around his home, mentally checking off his list. For light, he had plenty of those peculiar crushed stones found near waterways. Milky as it was, like the full moon on a clear night, it was how he liked it. What caused their luminous behavior he could never figure out, in spite of hours by the fireplace sipping his brown liquid and eating cakes thinking about it. He decided something lived in the stone that made the whole crystal vibrate just so. He made up other reasons just as fanciful, but none ever satisfied. They worked for his parents and they'd showed him where and how to gather them. That was all that mattered in the end.
Having scanned the area, he decided he was ready for winter. He listened to the soft simmer of snow falling, covering the world, and threw another piece of wood on the fire.