LIST all chapters
READ previous chapter
READ next chapter

27: Yew and Clematis

The noise is receding,
The dust settles down,
A smile on our faces
Replaces the frown.
Before we were pirates,
Shalisa today,
Does that make us Shalisa pirates?!

Afternoon was definitely a low profile event when compared to the happening of the morning’s visit from the local detachment, but nobody was disappointed. Another disturbance like that was not what the bay residents wanted in their future, and they hoped it wouldn’t happen again. Getting back to the quiet ways of an ordinary day at Shalisa Creek Bay pleased everybody.

     Spirits of the bay were taking a holiday, feeling they had helped a lot to rout the menace which had appeared among them that morning. Tide, bright and relaxed, rolled gently in to Beach, having given Guardian the laziest of salutes he could manage to get away with. She herself, lying half asleep on warm rocks in the sunny waters, let him pass with a perfunctory embrace. Beach, lying flat out, hands under head, sunned and wiggled toes skyward. All three were certain that the soft sound they heard among trees was Spirit of Forest, snoring.

     METHUSELAH had been moved over to the welcome shade offered by LEGER DE MAIN, where her cabin sides were being scraped and readied by Armand and Fitz, in preparation for the laying on of a coat of paint in the cooler hours of late afternoon. Maintenance for the big coastal schooner was a constant, ongoing process and Armand was grateful for the extra pair of experienced hands helping with the job.

     The gear on WESTMAN WILL was getting a going-over, as Bud and Shiro discussed whether this or that piece of equipment would be safe for another season or whether it ought to be replaced. While economy was always considered, safety came first on this work boat, and any hint of something wearing close to the point of replacement was not taken lightly.

     Bettina and Harry were busy planning new ventures in vintages as they started a new batch of beer. As they worked they were considering the question of whether to ask for Rose’s permission to use another vacant building for a brew house and wine storage area.

     Charm was sitting there supervising, getting a small dish of yeast as payment for doing a good job. She had learned that although people might be a nuisance not to be trusted, sometimes they came up with interesting projects which often had tasty spinoffs for her, and the human residents in the bay were becoming more acceptable in her mind—not the sit-on-your-lap kind of tolerance but an aloof I’ll-put-up-with-you sort of idea. She would still slip easily and quickly out from under a reaching hand, however well-intended the gesture.

     While Tashakawa pruned and encouraged her many plants and flowers, Dancing Water had joined the children on the beach where a washed up moon snail had been found. She was explaining about the moon snail, which they had come across while wading.

     “How can it see when it doesn’t have eyes?”

     “It does have eyes even though it burrows just below surface of Beach, always beneath Tide. Right now it is hurrying into it’s house and will close up it’s door against us. You have seen Snail carrying its shell along in the garden with eyes like little soft horns quite visible. Moon snail is much the same, only it lives in the sea here under water and has adapted to that.”

     “Why does it want to be in the dark under water?”

     “It has chosen to do so because no one else was occupying this space in the bay and now it has claimed it for itself, and it is happy there. See the humps on the surface under the water? There lives Moon Snail.”

     That question somewhat satisfied, the next one which was asked enquired into how such a big body could squeeze itself back into that shell, even if it was a large one. Equal to the task, Dancing Water explained that it was mostly a big foot they saw disappearing and she went into the details of perforations around the edge of the foot which could jettison water allowing the body to contract and be neatly stowed back into the shell again, rather like an air mattress being deflated or a sponge squeezed dry and small between two hands and packed into a small tube until next time it would be needed. That explanation seemed to serve the purpose.

     “Oh—that’s real smart, and that sure is a big foot. It would need a big shoe. How come it’s only got one?”

     As the marine biology enquiries went on and on, David watched Ulf and Gurth playing tag on the shore with Charm, who had left her two brewers and gone looking for other fun.

     Having had more than enough swimming with the children, the two white brothers were taking a break to begin what had become a favourite game along the beach. The initial intimidating ambush by the big cat had increased their respect and caution whenever they were in her vicinity, so they had figured out how to deal with this swift and intrepid associate by devising a strategy of separate and conquer, or at least coming up with a stalemate.

     Ulf would approach Charm carefully from in front and at a safe distance, voicing a small challenge to pretend that he might chase her and she, ready and responsive, would charge at him immediately. As Ulf fled Gurth would begin jumping up and down behind her, hurling insults, causing her to turn and pursue the second offender. This went on for some time until Charm, thoroughly angry and frustrated, but also somewhat breathless, gave up, sat down and waited hopefully for one of them to come within reach of a quick sprint. The samoyeds, panting, sat down themselves, and an uneasy truce ensued.

     This game had been going on sporadically ever since the dogs had arrived at the bay this time, but none of the three participants showed any sign of losing their interest in it, even though they tired themselves out and gave up until the next encounter.

     Seeing the match had come to its usual conclusion, David called his two friends, who backed carefully away from Charm and then ran for it.

     “We’ll be back later Charm,” David called. “Come on guys. Let’s go find a cool place to sit and do a bit of flute playing.”

     Heading for the meadow, flute in hand as Ulf and Gurth rambled on in front of him, he found his heading intersected with that of Rose as she came onto the path from another direction.

     “Oh, hi David. Heading up to the meadow for awhile?”

     “That’s what I had in mind,” he smiled, as Ulf and Gurth danced around for her attention.

     “Mind if I come along your way? I’m heading for Grandfather’s place. Have to do a bit of heavy thinking and it always helps to go sit there.”

     “Great!,” he replied. “Not too heavy in the head department I hope.”

     “Well, for one thing, I have to square myself with Fitz. Do you think he’d like to study Shalisa myths and fables?”

     “I’m sure Fitz is studying myths and fables very seriously in his head right now,” David told her with a grin.

     “I need to think about what I’m going to say to the children too. I have to make good my statement that their mother is my sister. I don’t want them to get the idea that lying is the way out of everything. Besides, I wasn’t lying. All people are brothers and sisters of the Shalisa if they want to be, and learn to respect this place and its laws.”

     “I guess that goes back a long way huh?”

     “Yes, but it certainly got a refresher endorsement this morning when those two long arms of the law showed up,” admitted Rose. “I see you have your flute along. Do you play requests?”

     “If you’d like me to, and I’m familiar with the piece,” he told her, hoping that she wouldn’t ask for rock and roll.

     As they walked along together David decided to clear his conscience of a small matter which had been bothering him.

     “Sorry for laughing yesterday about the kids getting into a fight,” he offered. “It didn’t seem to be a serious thing at the time and I guess it was a built in reaction for me. My father had the idea that his sons should be tough and aggressive. Get out there kid, and cream the opposition. That sort of thinking’s out of step with this place, isn’t it?”

     “I hope so,” replied Rose. “It’s not just you though, you know. I’m just as bad. I had a hard time not cheering for the kids too, and like you I had no idea it would turn into anything like it did, but I feel that maybe Grandfather had a better idea. There has to be a gentler and kinder way of dealing with things. Maybe we need to learn to think instead of using our usual built in responses. I keep hoping that maybe I can learn to be more peaceable like he was. Somebody has to start somewhere.

     “And we’re all worried about the kids—not only about yesterday and today. They’re sort of in legal limbo. If one of them had to have an appendectomy or something none of us can authorise anything for them. It would all come out that they’re runaways. Heron has his grandmother, but the other five really have no protection. A couple of times Harry and Fitz took a trip down to where the kids came from to see if there was any mail for them from their father but there was nothing. I find it hard to believe that a man would just leave five children on their own, but maybe he didn’t hear about their mother dying.”

     “Or maybe he did,” suggested David, “And he flipped out. Some people who drink a lot sometimes can’t handle things like that.”

     “I’m not sure he drank that much. I think that was the opinion of the case worker. The kids told me she said she knew how drunken fathers behaved and they seemed pretty upset by the implication that their father was like that. It’s such a mixup. Isabel and Morgan had the same mother as the twins but they have a father somewhere, who just took off. Therése has the same father as the twins but a mother who just took off, and now her father’s gone too. There are two fathers and a mother out there who just don’t seem to care.

     “Isabel won’t be eighteen for almost three years. Then it just might be possible to have her be guardian for the others, but why should such a young person be saddled with responsibility like that? Dumb question. She’s already taken it on. Nobody can adopt them because they have parents somewhere, so they become public wards if authority ever catches up with them. They’d be better off as orphans. This way it’s hopeless.

     “They’re determined to stay together and they have the courage to try, but I’m not sure they’d really figured out a survival strategy when they ran off. They were just hoping their father would turn up. At least they were smart enough to know when the time to run had come. I hate to think where they’d be now if they hadn’t had the guts to take off. Probably split up into five different homes. Nobody wants to foster-parent five kids at once.”

     “Except everyone here,” observed David. “Isn’t there any way to make it legal?”

     “We’re probably in big trouble already by having them stay here.” she told him. “Not that I care. If we ever get hauled up on it all we can say is their father left them in our charge which, if we want to stretch the truth, is what’s happened. It’s for sure I’d fight like the devil to keep them together.”

     “Well, you just said everybody’s brothers and sisters of the Shalisa if they want to be. Couldn’t you make a law or something to fortify the claim and just declare them to be Shalisa? Then you really could say you were their aunt. After all you are Leader here.”

     “Oh sure! Certainly in name, but I have no idea what a Leader is supposed to do, because I never expected to be one. Sometimes I sit by myself and try to remember what Grandfather and Father used to do and say. Grandfather knew all the laws and how to use them wisely and effectively. Father just hoped that Grandfather would go on being Leader forever, and here I am, Leader by default and totally ignorant of what the position demands. All I know is that this is Shalisa land and somehow it’s going to stay that way, and those kids stay too if they want to.

     “Up to this point I wasn’t too worried, but officialdom is poking around now, because the land here has become so valuable. Before, it was just a place they regarded as a hunk of worthless territory which had already been exploited, so they graciously let me call it mine because they didn’t want it anyway, but now they say I have no right to claim all the land here which I have, because one woman doesn’t make a nation.”

     “Boy, they don’t know much about women,” grinned David. “Seems to me Eve did a pretty good job with a bit of help from her friend.”

     Rose gave a little laugh, replying,

     “Very funny, but I’m not about to try repopulating the bay area.”

     “Sorry,” he apologised. “My weird sense of humour sees funny in all sorts of things. You say you don’t know the Shalisa law, but you are the Shalisa and, not only that, you’re council and voting public and everything else as well. You can make your own rules. You’re also a lawyer. If you can’t remember anything which will serve the purpose, make up something to fit the occasion. Hey, would I ever have fun if the opportunity were mine.”

     Her eyes lit up as she laughed and told him,

     “You know, I think you’ve hit on something here. Maybe I’m getting confused and standing in too much awe of what’s gone before and think I have to follow some form or convention. I should just take the opposition on with everything I’ve got and worry about the consequences later. At least it might stall things for awhile. There was a ceremony to make people Shalisa, but I don’t remember it.”

     Rose sat quietly for a few moments and then nodded.

     “You’re right. Everything you’ve said is really to the point. It is entirely up to me. My mind and my memories are the Shalisa now. Laws are not immutable. I’m sure Grandfather knew that too. Changing them though is something else, because I don’t know what they were.”

     “You’ve got it. They were, and this is are and now. Times are different. You’ll have to be inventive. You have a chance here to be client, lawyer, judge, statutes. The whole judicial system’s waiting for you to pick it up and put it together again. Make another precedent, like you did with my case.”

     “It’s certainly something to think about.”

     She hesitated, then surprised him with a sudden confession of,

     “You know, I think I’m having an identity crisis. It’s not just about protocol and ceremony and laws. I’ve learned I can’t go back to Grandfather’s world even if I’d like to. I’ve even sent for books and tapes and things I’d convinced myself I could live without, because nothing is like that wonderful world anymore. It’s changed drastically and too fast and I’m having one big time trying to fathom it all.”

     “Maybe you can’t go back to the actuality of it but—surely in your mind?” he suggested, thinking of his own world of magic and dragons. “To me this place is like a time warp. I get here and I’m somewhere else, totally unconnected with what I just left out there somewhere—except maybe for a cell phone—and a float plane and radio-telephone—and—computer—yeah—I see what you mean.”

     He stopped, realising that he was voicing a confirmation of her words.

     “That’s just it. I have to progress, and maybe give up some of my old ideas, but you’re right. I want to keep some of them too. It is different here, and maybe I can reshape some of the ones I can’t incorporate in toto.”

     “I guess that means you’re going to hang on to your principles does it?” he asked with hope in his tone.

     “Principles—hah! I learned a lot about that today. This morning I put on an act like I used to do in court, something I told myself I’d never do again, but now I know I will do it again, to protect this place and those kids, and anyone else I feel needs to have that uncaring, unrelenting harsh world fended off from them.

     “I’d forgotten that this is a special place with its untouched green and birds and animals. It’s so peaceful here it’s easy to think we’re safe from being hassled by the rest of the mess existing out there. I’ve just realised that we who live here are really privileged and we have to be careful. Up to now I’d been ignoring the real world which is waiting to jump on the unwary. If we hadn’t been warned about the complaints against us and everybody’d gone out there today the way we usually do in our so-called unconventional fashion, and the dogs barking up a storm playing with Charm, maybe ourselves headed for the bath house with only a towel, we might not be sitting here right now.

     “It’s beginning to worry me that I’m the only one who says this is private land, and only an old parchment and my interpretation of it stands between me and eviction. I’m not quite so sure of myself now. Seeing those two uniformed men arrive and behave as though they owned the place really shook me up.”

     David felt himself being drawn into a discussion he’d already had about his own insecurity after the casino affair.

     <Li and I went through something like this when I came back from the Bay that time. Now here’s Rose, with the same doubts and problems.>

     “Sort of like you thought it was your world and now you feel like a burglar has broken in and been rifling through your belongings and violated your privacy?” he asked, remembering his own feelings at the time of his arrest.

     “Well— yes,” she replied, a little startled to find him so understanding. “That’s exactly it. Everything seemed so secure and safe before, but seeing the law arriving on my own doorstep ready to turf me out really got me.”


     He hesitated, then continued anyway.

     “Maybe I shouldn’t open my mouth about this right now, since mostly it just gets me into trouble but, I was feeling like that after the casino bust and, like you, I had to realise that yeah, there’s stuff out there waiting to kick the stuffings out of the dreamers and believers in good things and magic and spirits. Heavy realism drops with a big loud bang on someone like me, and I guess I’d always thought of you as... .”

     He stopped. He’d been about to say what she said next.

     “You thought I was part of that heavy bang.”

     “Yeah,” he admitted, “You confused me. You were a lawyer, and I didn’t trust lawyers, especially after talking to the one I demolished at the restaurant, but there was your card—Rose Who Always Holds The Sunshine In Her Face—some genuine, bright, warm sunshine—shining through a crack in everything cold, corporate and correct. I looked through that little crack you’d kicked there and I got a glimpse of something else, and that’s what made me trust you. I just felt you really would do everything you could to get me off, in spite of everything, myself included.”

     “I’m not surprised you got that impression of me,” she told him with a little laugh. “I tried to be that way. I sat on myself and told myself I had to be that way—and I succeeded, too well—but once I was back here, it was such a relief to drop it and find I wasn’t like that at all. It was like coming alive after being in a deep freeze for years.”

     “What brought you back to Shalisa Creek Bay, Rose?”

     “You did.”

     “ I did?!” he returned, startled.

     “Yes. The day I met you the whole thing started. Your connection with Shalisa Creek Bay made me remember a promise I’d given Grandfather. I’d probably still be in the city like a split personality trying to be somebody I’m not, except you came along with your casino and I started to remember. First, it was my promise to Grandfather that I’d take him back home, and that I’d care for the Shalisa land. Then, the more I remembered, the more I felt out of place with what I was doing and the more I thought I didn’t belong there.

     “I was a little afraid to give it all up and return here, but it seemed the thing I had to do to reclaim myself, so I finally just left everything and came. The trip in BRIGHT LEAF really tested me. I hadn’t done anything like that for years. I don’t know when I’ve been so scared, because it was blowing hard, and the water was really rough, and there was a fog bank moving around with it, but I knew that my parents and Grandfather had come through worse weather lots of times and so I knew I could too.

     “I think if Fitz hadn’t been here it might have been terribly difficult. I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to stay, and I’d have broken my promise, but he got to me. He was so open and friendly and comfortable with himself and me, as if the whole world knew and liked him, and I thought, here’s a man who’s spent all his life totally outside of all the things I’ve been chasing after, not because he had to but because he chose to.

     “He rises with the sun and goes to bed with the stars if it pleases him and in between he does whatever else which needs to be done, but he does it at his own pace and it always seems to get done well. That’s how it must have been with the Shalisa a long time ago, and I’m finding that I can do that a little too now. I don’t think I could ever go back to living the way I did before I came back, and yet, sometimes I catch myself thinking about things I used to enjoy in the city.”

     “We’re a couple of schizoids aren’t we,” he said at last, “Split between two worlds—or maybe three if we take into consideration that indefinable one of spirits and magic. I’ve felt a presence here sometimes, as though I had a friend nearby. I met him one evening when I had to overnight in the plane here. The two of us have spent lots of time together down on the beach since then—rather like you’ve said about helpful spirits attaching themselves to people—except he seems rather shy and isn’t always there when others are around.”

     “How do you know the spirit is a ‘he’?” Rose asked in an interested voice.

     ”I just—know,” he told her, beginning to feel self-conscious. “Sorry—I’ve been rambling on.”

     “You retreat like the spirit you want to befriend,” she smiled. “Maybe that’s the problem. Friends need to be more open.”

     “I think you’re right, but sometimes, like when you throw those unflattering multisyllabic words at me, I wonder how come you even put up with me if you have such a low opinion of me.”

     She sat smiling for a few moments before she replied,

     “Actually, those words couch admiration. Your crime was a non-crime as far as I’m concerned. It had no victim and hurt no one. It simply offended an archaic law which tells people that they don’t really own their right of choice to spend their money how they please and pursue happiness in their own way as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people, even if it hurts themselves. The law is sometimes that stubborn animal, the much reviled ass, which we often have to defer to. You came along, patted the donkey and kept right on going. It needs someone to take a stand every so often, to show just how stupid some laws are. Those things are what make you so likeable. You’re different from anyone else I’ve defended. We actually caused quite a stir by winning.”

     “I really hadn’t intended to take a stand,” David told her. “I kind of got pushed into it. I thought I was just bending the rules a bit. Was I your cause célèbre?”

     “You were the swan song of my career. It was a nice way to go out, and after all, you did challenge them. You could have pleaded guilty.”

     “Not this boy. I’m too fond of freedom, and I’ll kick and scream and bite to keep it. I did break the law, but I’m with you there. I thought it was pretty harmless.”

     “There is something else though,” Rose replied seriously. “Maybe, like I told you once before, I say those things to you in the way of a sister who thinks you’re getting too reckless. Maybe you need to be called a few names every so often to remind you not to get too smart and go too far. I don’t think you really want the reputation you’re acquiring, but now that you have it you tend to brandish it like a protest banner just to show your independence. It’s getting as visible as your hair. Maybe you need to quit waving it around so much before someone who objects to your philosophy really hits you with a brick.”

     “Don’t you figure I collected enough bricks from the court case to show me what a fool I am sometimes? The idea of going to jail scared me spitless.”

     “I guess that wasn’t much of an image builder,” she agreed, “But when the wind blows you don’t break, you bend and when it quits you straighten up again. You bounce back so cheerfully I’d almost think you hadn’t learned anything from it.”

     “Oh, I learn, I learn,” he assured her. “Next time I’ll get my lawyer to tell me how dumb I am beforehand.”

     “You think I can take care of that for you?” she asked, laughing.

     “Oh yeah. Too damned well. You just grab on to my erroneous ideas and climb all over them until I see the light. Tough stuff to handle once you get going. At least it’s nice to know you don’t really object to me so much. It’s only my recklessness. Let’s just hope I don’t find some more donkeys to pat.”

     When they reached Grandfather’s place they sat down, with Ulf by David’s left side, and Gurth on his right beside Rose, like an unsolicited chaperone between them. Even in that shaded spot it was warm and dry and the moss had crisped a little over the log they sat on. There was green silence and only the panting of the dogs.

     “This is a beautiful place,” he said at last. “It’s nice to think that there might be good spirits around that a person can talk to who’d help out in a pinch. How do you get Grandfather to listen to you?”

     “Actually, I listen to him, and when I say ‘listen’, you know I mean with the heart and not the ear. Some people would say, why bother coming here, and I suppose it’s not necessary, but then, it’s not necessary to go to a cemetery to remember either, but people do go there. Somehow those who are gone seem nearer to me here because so many have been brought to this place and so many others have come as I do now to remember and think. The peace and quiet and loveliness seem to help concentrate my thoughts. The Old Ones are here. I listen to these ancestors because they were wise, and better than I am, and if I listen hard enough they can guide me. There are some ancestors though, who are better ignored, because they weren’t wise or good.”

     “You’re fortunate your Wise Ones are all here in one place,” was David’s opinion, “But how would I talk to mine? I don’t even know where they are except they’re in another country. Do I conjure up my own to listen to? Almost a thousand years ago a family with my surname, four brothers, lost their lives and a kingdom, fighting over it, three together and one against. Were they right, or should they all have quietly gone away and lived in peaceful obscurity and not defended their claim to the land?”

     “I’m of the opinion that life is always better than death, because no one ever gets a second chance to debate an issue once they’re dead. I guess it’s common sense over emotions. Pride and honour have their place, but I think life has a place above all that. Maybe a quiet existence away from those artificial pressures of rank and duty might have given those men a wonderful life even though they weren’t regal any more. What price, glory?”

     “But you said before that you’d defend the Shalisa land.”

     “I said I’d try to find a way to do it peacefully,” she replied.

     “Good point. The only kingdom they got was six by three. Maybe they should have talked it over with a few wise Old Ones. Seems to me though that most of the ‘old ones’ they talked to just urged them to get out there and swing. Did you ever talk to Grandfather about me when you took on my case?”

     “Well, not at first, but as I got into it I could see I had to look at things from a different angle because you were different, so then I did.”

     “Now you have to look at things from a different angle for the kids.”

     “Yes. The children would have been the only ones hurt if I’d told all the facts this morning. Nobody would have benefitted from it. Some overworked social servant would have wound up with five more loads. It was an easy decision. Lots of them aren’t. I think I’m going to ask them if they’d like to be Shalisa, and of course they’ll probably say yes because they’re young and unafraid of anything new, but I’ll have to explain to them it’s not that simple. It has obligations too. Maybe Heron will be able to help them with that since he has grown up in the original way. You know, I think I’ve found what to say now. It’s rather fun being my own law maker.”

     “Told you so. Is it possible for me to become Shalisa too?”

     Surprised by the question, she gave him a long look and finally asked,

     “It’s possible, but why would you want to be Shalisa?”

     “Well, for one thing maybe I could ask Grandfather to speak to his granddaughter about her badmouthing of me all the time and get her to lay off a bit.”

     “Being Shalisa isn’t just to give you leverage,” she laughed, “It’s not a bargaining chip—and before he’d speak to me about laying off, you’d have to do something about deserving it.”

     “Um. I knew there had to be a hook in it somewhere.”

     There was silence again until she told him,

     “I think I’ll bring the children back here tomorrow if they agree. We’ll have a Shalisa ceremony, and then they’ll truly have whatever protection I can give them, before the law comes back with some more complete information and corners me with my defences down.”

     “Maybe an apprentice Shalisa could be allowed to watch the swearing in ceremony,” suggested David.

     “Well,” she hesitated with doubt in her face, then gave the conditions, “If he’s serious and not just going to make jokes.”

     “I’m serious,” he replied with honest eyes and a straight face.

     “All right,” she agreed. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet.”

     There was a comfortable silence between them before she turned to him and asked,

     “Would you play a piece for me?”

     David gave an inward flinch at the request.

     “Sure, if I can. What did you have in mind?”

     “I know it’s really a vocal, but I think it would be so lovely here and now, and the flute which accompanies it really could take on the whole piece—at least I feel so. Do you know the berceuse from ‘Jocelyn’?”

     The subconscious tension which had been building at the idea of a request, something that had so many times before ended in disappointment and distance between himself and the person asking, burst into a sudden release of relieved surprise.

     “Benjamin Godard—it’s one of my favourites. You like opera?!”

     ”Yes—but—not all of it. I admit some of the grander compositions haven’t quite managed to fit into my ears yet.”

     “You’re forgiven,” he laughed. “I have the idea that their composers didn’t think much of flute soloists either. You’re on.”

     He sat for a moment, going over the music in his mind, then raised his flute and began to play. Grandfather and Old Ones listened, smiling, as the music lifted to them, drifted high, sifting through the branches of the trees, dissipating into sunshine, and when David had finished, lowering his flute, the two sat quietly as a little breeze sprang up, ruffled their hair, and touched the coats of the two samoyeds.

     At last she broke the silence with,

     “Thank you David. It settled my mind. I think I’d like to talk to the children now. Are you ready to go?”

     “Yup,” replied David getting to his feet, feeling that the meeting with The Old Ones had come to a happy conclusion.

     She noticed he favoured his right leg as he got up.

     “You’re still limping a bit.”

     “Yeah. I guess I’ve been overworking my leg. It bothers me sometimes. I’m supposed to take it easy but, hey, I can’t miss out on all of this. Come on fellows, let’s go home.”

     Rose noted his use of that last word.

     <How nice. Without his realising it he’s beginning to think of this as home too, as well as his place with his Gram.>

     They walked without conversation for awhile, each one occupied with thoughts of their own.

     Rose was reflecting on what she would say to the children and Dancing Water when she put the proposition of becoming Shalisa to them.

     David was going over the conversation he’d just had with Rose. As he’d sat there listening to her he had slowly become aware that she was telling him something which was important to her and which she hadn’t discussed with anyone before. She had given up everything and come to a place which she had thought of as being inhabited only by the past, facing the prospect that she would be alone here, doubting herself.

     This woman whom he had regarded as supremely confident and sure of herself was telling him she was much like he was—someone who could wander off the path because of doubt and circumstance, or perhaps because of too much self-reliance. He considered himself fortunate having Gram and Li to talk things over with and thoughtfully lead him back. She had no one but herself, guided by memories and her own integrity.

     The fact that she would confide her doubts to him, and that he had begun to do the same with his own in return, gave him a feeling of closer friendship between them than he’d had before. He felt more relaxed with her now, and he walked along with a feeling of pleasure that not only had this come about but—she liked the kind of music he did and wasn’t just pretending to.

     Dancing Water saw them as they came down to the beach from the path, and as they walked along talking together she sensed a certain ease in manner between the two which hadn’t been there before. Smiling, she turned away, so as not to be suspected of being a watcher.

- - -

Morning was happy. Sun was once again in place warming everything well. Birds sang as though they knew this was a special day. Spirits, wide awake and alert, were quite certain it was a gala occasion. Guardian gave Tide an extra rollicking hug on his way in to Beach, who had polished off the sand in preparation for the occasion. Forest gave trees and flowers a ‘heads up’ order, and they in turn told bees and butterflies to show their brightest colours.

     Outside Rose’s house Dancing Water had assembled the children, fresh from the bath house, excited expectancy in their faces, waiting for Rose to come out.

     When she did appear she was not dressed in ceremonial robes—just her everyday attire—nor did she carry an ancient icon or any other indication of impending solemnity. She held only a small bouquet of wild rose campion, daisies and pearly everlasting, each kind numbering seven.

     David, leaning against a fence post by the garden, and seeing her arrive, left his lounging and came up to the group.

     “Are you going to be a Shalisa too, Uncle Twimby?” asked Bernice.

     “Not yet,” smiled David. “I haven’t learned enough to qualify.”

     Rose gave him a look of understanding and said,

     “Okay everybody, let’s go to Grandfather’s place.”

     “Let us take a different path today for visiting Grandfather and The Old Ones,” Dancing Water suggested as they started for the meadow. “It is over this way. We will let Rose go first. I am sure she knows this path well. It is a fine small path made by Deer which we can easily follow if we think as Deer does. It will be as fresh and bright as Morning is now.”

     “That’s a nice idea,” Rose agreed, and headed toward what seemed to be impenetrable bush, but as she pushed it carefully aside a narrow path trodden there by deer became visible. David and the children were quick to express their surprise when they saw it. They had all walked past that spot often and hadn’t imagined a path was there.

     Hearing their remarks, Dancing Water asked,

     “You did not see this before? Ah, that is because Deer slips easily and carefully between the ferns and bushes. We are much more clumsy and noisy. We break things and trip on our feet and tear things out of our way. Deer knows better than we do, not wanting to be seen. Only by watching quietly and carefully is this path discovered.”

     As they climbed up the path, single file, she continued,

     “This leads us up to a place which is as high as Meadow. Many years ago, to visit here was to have much joy for me and my friends. We would walk quietly along this path and stand at the top, in this place we call Deer Ridge. You will see, it runs all along the edge of this high place, and the animals come happily to browse and lie in the sun on these warm, moss covered rocks.

     “If we saw Deer was already there we would go quietly away, not to make a disturbance and frighten them off, but if we found it empty we would walk out to the edge and stand beneath Maple, Fir and Arbutus with their branches intertwined and we would hear Laughing Stream as it runs playing with Stone, Twig and Fern , far below, just as we hear it now, rippling down in little waterfalls, to where it floats leaves as canoes, like Big Water does with real ones out beyond Beach.

     “In the time of falling leaves the berries on Arbutus are red and ready for birds to find seeds in and for us to collect to make necklaces and such fine things. This is a good place to sit and think and be peaceful and to speak alone with Self. Many good thoughts came to me here. It is a fine gift from Old One and must be carefully treated. Here will grow mushrooms in the wet time, slim orchids in early summer, moss for Deer’s pillow and yellow rock sedum for Deer to eat and for us to see beautiful flowers.

     “Everything is fragile and tender and can disappear quickly if we are careless. Even one tree falling, as this old one has done, makes everything change. See how moss has retreated from the sunny place and how new plants which love the brightness have come here to grow. Broom and grass and daisies and other flowers.

     “A little narrow, steep path leading down from the edge has been made by Deer. They can find places for their feet on cliffs we would not care to try. This one though, we used to follow down. It takes us to Laughing Stream and Quiet Pond. Perhaps another day, we will come back earlier to climb down and follow Deer’s footsteps, but it is not good for young ones to walk here alone as some are very brave and stand too close to Cliff’s edge which can sometimes crumble, or moss can move underfoot, peeling from rock and sending someone over the edge. We must always take care not to go too close to look over.”

     As they walked farther along the narrow path, carefully dodging bushes and ferns Isabel noticed a tree, small in comparison to others close by and supporting a thick growth of clematis vine, intertwined among its branches, now displaying its plumes of seeds, the creamy bunches of small fragrant flowers having faded earlier.

     “Look, Grandmother Dancing Water—isn’t that beautiful!” she exclaimed.

     “It is indeed,” smiled Dancing Water. “It is one of the pleasures of this path. See how Clematis will help birds by giving them fine soft lining for their nests when they return in Spring, which her seeds have made. Such beauty has a story all its own to be heard. Let us sit here beside Yew and Clematis and I will tell you this.”

     The six children, David and Rose settled themselves around Dancing Water as she sat waiting, and then began,

     “When Yew was very young he was much visited by boys who would test their strength trying to bend the little tree down by taking hold of his top and wrestling it toward the base at ground, for Yew is known well because of the ability to be very agile and resilient, resisting strongly their efforts, springing back from such treatment and standing firm without breaking, even after many matches. However, Yew became worried and tired when so many young men came, saying this was the tree to be tested with above all others, as no one yet has succeeded in bringing top to touch bottom permanently in defeat. Always Yew sprang back before this happened, catapulting opponents aside if they did not let go in time.

     “As he stood there worrying after one such trial he said aloud, ‘I am afraid if this keeps up they will tear off all my branches and bend me down forever, even though I do my best to stand straight again.’

     “To his surprise, a voice answered from the ground beneath saying, ‘I too have a problem. I floated here as a seed and chose this place to grow hoping such a sheltered spot would keep me safe, but now I find it is difficult to reach sunshine from here. Whenever boys come they trample me and I must grow again. It is true Sun does come down through branches, but I need much more to keep me happy.’ It was Clematis, who also is very strong, but needs sunshine much, to keep her flowering and healthy.

     “Then old Fir who was standing behind them and had sheltered Yew and Clematis when they were very young said, ‘I too do not like their behaviour. I have helped to protect Yew as he grew and now I am old he helps to protect me. It will not be good for me to stand alone against Wind and Weather should boys break Yew down.’

     “Hearing this problem, Yew thought much and asked, ‘What can be done about this? Perhaps we can help each other.’ So they thought much and came up with a plan.

     “Clematis told Yew, ‘If you will let me, I must reach up and take hold of your branch tips and climb up so that I will have Sun shining on me when you hold me up. That will take me out of reach of trampling feet. Then I can twine myself around your trunk to help you be strong, and I will take hold of Fir who is very old and does not want to fall, and we two together can support him, for my vines are of very strong fibre and very difficult to break and I can reach very high.’

     ’That is wise,’ replied Yew, ‘This way we will all benefit. You, Clematis, by always being able to climb up to face Sun, old Fir will be able to withstand Wind when that one blows too hard and I, because your strong vines will keep me always upright which will prevent those who mistakenly see themselves as my opponents from always twisting and bending me. Then can we all bend with wind without breaking and boys will not want to try our combined strength. You will hold firm, I will grow straight and tall and Fir will have protection from too boisterous storms.’

     “This they agreed to and it is as you see now, the three all helping and holding together as one.”

     “It’s like—people should always stick together and help each other,” said Morgan at last, thinking of his siblings, and how they had vowed to always help each other no matter what.

     “It is a fine lesson which our friends here teach,” agreed Dancing Water. “Now we must say, ‘Thank you’ to Old One before we leave, for his having made such a beautiful place for everyone. Let us go on now to Grandfather’s place where we will become Shalisa and all hold together as we see Yew and Clematis and Fir doing here.”

- - -

As late morning sun filtered down through the old trees, Dancing Water and the six children, with David the apprentice a little behind them, waited silently in Grandfather’s place as Rose, holding Grandfather’s pouch of Good Spirits, looked up and settled her thoughts before she began.

     To the children she seemed taller and more impressive than before, and Dancing Water stood proud and smiling, with her grandson in front of her, recalling the old days, and thinking now of good tomorrows.

     David, remembering Rose in the courtroom, saw here a different person. He thought the strength of Yew and Clematis stood visibly before him now in the form of this small dignified woman. He felt as though something gentle and serene touched him as she began to speak.

     “We’re here Grandfather, your people, bringing with us some who wish to join us as brothers and sisters, to live with us in this place, and to rest here the memory of those who have gone from them. Our wish is that, with remembrance of them, and your own example for us to follow, life will look favourably on our people while they live in the way of the Shalisa, without anger and in great joy, and that they may continue to find the strength they’ve already shown to accept those griefs and troubles which come with every life.

     “We wish to reaffirm ourselves in the old ways of kindness, tolerance and helpfulness. It’s easy to forget, in this place of plenty and freedom, that taking with full hands and not giving back with full hearts serves no one well. We don’t wish to live without the help and goodness of those who live around us and so, in times of plenty as in times of need, we must all share, both in what we have and in work to be done. It’s not easy always to keep this before us when our friend Sun shines and days go by in comfort and peace, but we’ll try, for we have the goodness of your life and the example of the Old Ones to look back on and remember.

     “Some of these are young people and this is good, for it speaks of hope and future. We might forget and make mistakes because of our youth, but you must forgive because you’re older and wiser, and know this to be so. We’ll grow in wisdom and learning and so become closer to your thoughts of being as we grow. Let us be kind to this place which is kind to us, and give respect to all which is here, as we must all be thoughtful and considerate of each other, so that we may go on knowing we have this place to comfort us when the need arises, and that we may return again from far journeys, to find freedom and peace here once more, as I have done. I’ll sing, Grandfather, also in our own tongue, so that you and the Old Ones will know you’re not forgotten in the newness of things.”

Of Many is One made
—Fabric of time place space
Interwoven interlocking interlacing
Rough smooth polished patterned
Straight twisted angled round
Bright dark opaque clear—
Essence of One

     Sunlit dappled space received her fine voice, trees absorbed it to their heartwood, and ferns seemed to nod approval as she moved gracefully, singing and dancing, as she had been taught by her parents and Grandfather when she was a child of Bay.

     There was silence when she finished, and at first it seemed she had forgotten anyone else was there, but at last she turned back to the group with a smile, saying,

     “You’re brothers and sisters of the Shalisa now.”

     David, the children and Dancing Water still remained silent, as though her song still held their thoughts suspended somewhere there among the old trees and the sunlit space, until she laughed and went forward, giving each one a daisy and a sprig of rose campion and pearly everlasting, telling them,

     “We need to shout now and make a happy noise so Grandfather and the Old Ones can hear how pleased we are to be with them. All together now.”

     Back at the beach their raised voices made everyone look up from what they were doing to smile at the sound.

     As Rose walked away with Bernice and Walter on either side of her, holding a hand of each, and the other four children followed with Dancing Water, David lingered behind with the pretext of resting his leg, saying he’d catch up to them.

     When he was sure no one could see him he walked over to Grandfather’s young tree and knelt down on one knee. Then he reached into his jeans pocket, took out a set of dice, picked up Grandfather’s shell, and pressed the little pieces into the duff covered ground, replacing the small white shell over them, and giving it a couple of friendly pats as he did so.

     “I quit, Grandfather,” he vowed.

     As he stood up and was about to leave, the foliage around him made a whispering, mirthful sound. He straightened his shoulders, tilted his head up a little, regarded the old trees around him, then said softly,

     “You guys can just stop laughing. I quit. I mean it. I’m Shalisa now—almost. I’ll bet you your shell, Grandfather, that I keep my promise.”

     Behind his retreating back a small green jewel of a tree frog made a leap out of the nearby ferns, landed by Grandfather’s shell, put one small three-fingered hand possessively on it and smiled from eye to eye at a gambler who was so imbued with it that he didn’t even realise he had made—just one more bet.