Reposting in preparation for Bethany’s second story: The Goblin Tree
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Song Suggestion: Star by Break of Reality
There was an old gypsy on a particular mountainside, one that bore no name of honor and had not seen the horrors of any battle. It was just a mountainside well within the Blessed Lands and the gypsy liked it well enough. She had an old dog, an ancient cat, and a horse who was so old that her coat had turned a staring white. With the gypsy lived her granddaughter, a pretty child with long, curling black hair and a smile that had to be answered with a smile. Though they were polite, they stayed well off from others and did not try to mix with any, for they were each happy enough with the other’s company.
Once, the wagon had been painted, as all gypsy wagons are. Its central mural was of a large, silver, arched door surrounded by vines laden with blooms of blue and white. Time and weather had worn the paint away until all was naught but shadow, a ghost of the beauty that had once graced the wood.
Sometimes the girl, Bethany, would ask about the door, for gypsy wagons carry the tale of those who own them, like a book anyone might read, if they know how. Always, her grandmother said to her, “not yet, child, not yet.”
Bethany grew, as all children do, blossoming into a lovely young woman whose curling, black hair hung unbound to her waist and moved in the most becoming of ways when she danced, sometimes falling over her sharp, green eyes so that they glittered like hidden jewels from the shadows. Her grandmother, in balance, withered, as the old must do, until, at last, they stood exactly at the opposite ends of life. One was on the very cusp of adulthood, ready to start her true life, as the gypsy folk call it, and the other stood ready at the edge of death, waiting only for the Morrigan to speak her name and call her home.
“Come close,” she told her granddaughter one day when she found herself unable to rise from herbed. Bethany did as she was told. And the old gypsy whispered to her, at last, these words. “There is a door set into an ancient, living tree in the forest. It is high and wide and you might drive a wagon right through it. I will not tell you my story; it is ending and only a fool spends their last moments looking back. Just know that, when I was your age, I was not quite yet ready to settle down and bear children, for I did not yet know my own self. My grandmother lay dying on this very hillside and told me I had a choice, that I could stay here and live quietly or that I could go looking for adventure. This is what I will tell you, as once my own grandmother told me. Go and find the silver door, if you’ve the courage and the wish. Take the journey through. There you will find adventure and not a little wisdom, but danger there is too. I leave you all the clever beasts who have been my friends in life. Forsake them not and they will see you through, though I can not promise you will return if you choose to pass the door and leave the land of your birth.” The gypsy grasped her granddaughter’s hands. “No oath is laid upon you. Go, if you wish more from life than what you are given here. Stay if you like and that will be fine too. All the roads that lie before you are yours to choose. I’ve taught you all I can, given you what tools I deem useful, and there is no more left for me here. Do not weep, child, for a I go to my rest satisfied.” With that, the old woman closed her eyes and, within the hour, she died.
Bethany did cry a little, for she’d been fond of her grandmother and would miss the sound of her voice. She buried the gypsy within her rose garden, which was always her grandmother’s favorite place to sit and watch the bees, birds, and beasts go on about their lives. Then, Bethany set to deciding her own road over the bright, merry light of her fire.
The animals her grandmother left her were old, certainly. The dog’s muzzle was white, the cat did not often go chasing mice – though he always caught them when he did -, and the horse looked hard put to do more than nap all day in the sun and walked with a limp. Nor was the wagon in much shape to go anywhere. It had sat so long its rotted wheels had sunk deep into the hillside and it would take more than even a healthy horse to move it. Bethany had only once been further than the village and never to the dark forest on the horizon. Yet the spirit of the gypsy, a wild and rootless folk, lived within her, so she could not just dismiss the idea of it.
She stayed and muddled so long that the fire grew low and the bright, summer stars winked down at her like old friends. “If you’ve a need for advice, I’ve got some,” said a voice.
Bethany was only mildly surprised to realize it was the cat that had spoken; gypsies know that all cats can speak, when they’ve a mind to. “I’m not sure if it’s advice I’m needing or just courage,” Bethany replied, “but if you are offering, then I am listening.”
The cat looked up at her with eyes that shone like the first grass of spring. He was a large, heavy tom, almost as large as one of the hunting cats of Dumhaile, which stood near as large as medium sized dogs. His coat was deep silver, like twilight shadows, and, within it, there could be seen black spots, as though he had, indeed, descended from those wild, dangerous felines of the green land. And he said to her,” if you stay you will find a quiet life. It will not be exciting. You will not find danger or peril. You will live a perfectly ordinary existence with a man who will soon pass over the mountains from the west. You will bear him fine, strong children and he will love your beauty and your sparkling eyes. He will provide for you in daytime and lie happily with you at night, never straying or wishing he had chosen another. You will die satisfied that you did well enough for yourself, but for one thing. You will always question what would have happened, had you taken the door in the wood.”
Bethany did not question the cat; though they are not always right, cats are uncanny good at predicting the future. “And if I go?” she asked.
“There will be danger and peril aplenty,” the cat replied. It licked its paws and washed its whiskers before saying more. Then it gave Bethany a keen, sharp stare. “But. You will find that all adventures have that and though I cannot say you will survive to old age, you will live a very exciting life. Your only trouble will be knowing that there was the possibility of a life here that had not danger in it.”
Bethany frowned. “In both there is doubt, you say.”
“There is doubt in all life,” the cat replied. “All question, at times, what might have been. It is only a matter of which doubt you would rather have.”
“I do not mind children,” Bethany said quietly. “And to stay would be easier, for the wagon is well and truly planted. But Grandmother always said that inaction is easiest because it is lazy. Perhaps she did not mean me to remember it now, only when I did not do my chores, but now is when I am remembering it.”
“Ah, but there is no shame is a well lived life,” the cat pointed out to her. “And there is no inaction in raising children or keeping a man happy.”
“Only boredom,” Bethany said, realizing that she did not like the sound of that at all and not because she thought it a lesser life, but because her heart yearned to see what lay over the mountains, away from the village and the mountainside where every day was almost exactly like the last. Bethany was smart enough to see that, did she stay, she would not just wander. She would grow sour with her curiosity and resent all that held her from finding out. She would not mind the quiet if she had first seen the storm and might even, she thought, enjoy it. But to succumb to the silence without seeing what else there was felt like it would end in nothing but regret. Bethany smiled at the embers of her fire, for her mind was made up. “I suppose we had better go,” said she.