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33: Shalisa fires

In the blazing heart of Fire
Ancient warm compelling friend
Lies the music of all people
Rise the stories of their living
Now with light and bright and dancing
Of the flames and shining embers
Are rekindled thoughts of treasure
Wrought from laughter and the pleasure
Freely given gladly taken
By those sharing in the magic
Always waiting to be gathered
From the blazing heart of Fire

     ”Hi Rose,” came the familiar voice. “Anybody there got room for an unexpected overnighter?”

     “David! This is a surprise. Sound’s a bit scratchy. Where are you?”

     “About a couple of hours away from the Bay. I just set down a fare, and tomorrow morning I have to pick up another one, close to Shalisa Creek, so I thought I’d pull a cheapie and save going all the way back to the city. Being at the Bay will have me already halfway there for the next one. I know I should have reserved ahead of time, but do you think someone could squeeze me in?”

     “Lots of room here,” laughed Rose, “Just take your pick. Our tourist season is non-existent.”

     “Okay, I’ll dicker when I get there. Coast sure looks beautiful down there in all this sunshine, even if it is a bit cool on the ground where I am. I’m going to grab a quick cup of coffee here which’ll make my ETA about three hours from now, more or less. Just enough time to see me in before it gets dark if I’m quick about it. See you then.”

     The news of David’s unexpected arrival prompted the children to get together for the purpose of turning this visit into a memorable occasion. They decided it would be appropriate to declare it as a bay holiday. The eager delegation of six marched to WESTMAN WILL, rang his big brass bell to signal a conference around the barge fireplace and, when everyone had arrived, they held forth the idea that it was ‘Uncle Twimby Day’, that a celebration was in order, and their idea of celebrating was to have a picnic supper cooked on the beach.

     Faced with this solidarity of purpose, everyone had to agree that a picnic dinner around a fire certainly would be a nice change from routine meals. They kept any negative thoughts they might have on the subject to themselves.

     Gleeful cheers erupted in all directions among ELFINSHOE’s crew at this vote of confidence, and even the usually quiet Heron broke into hoots and did a little impromptu dance on hearing it.

     Charm, regarding what she considered to be an unseemly and noisy show, took herself away to sit halfway up the inside stairway which led to the spire and former owner’s suite aboard LEGER DE MAIN, where she watched the proceedings with pretended lofty disinterest, disdainfully polishing her paws, but sneaking interested glances at the group every so often when she thought no one was looking her way.

     “We can have a big bonfire, and singing, and music from Uncle Twimby and everything!”, declared Therése, her eyes bright with anticipation.

     “We haven’t had anything like that since—” Morgan caught himself and finished with, “Away back.”

     “I,” said Heron gravely, “Have never had anything like that.”

     Noticing the gaze of the other children turn toward him, Rose interjected quickly,

     “I think it’s a wonderful idea. Things have been much too quiet around here for some time, and with winter getting ready to settle in we’d better have a go before it gets too cold and wet.”

     Dancing Water, looking at her little grandson, realised just how much the boy had missed through the unhappiness of his childhood.

     “We will make such a feast that all will have a happy time to remember,” she stated with a smile.

     Plans for the beach party were somewhat confused at first but it gradually began to take shape as a potluck supper, with everyone to contribute their favourite—or at least available at the moment—food.

     Isabel, who had actually been the one to devise the plan at its outset, did her best to keep the excited younger children in line although she was pretty enthusiastic herself, but she tried to channel all that energetic output into helpfulness, not quite sure which direction that channel should run now.

     While the rest of the adults were busy planning their part, Dancing Water, who was as delighted as the children at what was happening, and seeing all those willing hands ready and waiting to do something, presented herself to Isabel as a helpful advisor.

     Isabel was only too pleased to accept this offer, glad to surrender her high-spirited crew to the direction of someone who undoubtedly had really good ideas and actually knew how to do something with them. Having been accepted in that capacity Dancing Water suggested,

     “If you will allow, Captain Isabel, let us make a traditional offering, the way it was done in the old days. It would be a fine thing to have food prepared as it was for festive occasions in days gone by. I remember well this way. If we start now it should be ready in good time for our gathering by the fire.”

     Together, the two mustered their little troop of youngsters into the garden, which was ready and able to supply such demands as were now put on it, since the warm summer had been so kind, and there was a willing and plentiful contribution of corn, potatoes and squash from among the vegetables there.

     With Rose’s permission, clams were gathered to add extra significance—as well as taste—to this special occasion and she herself, caught up in the whole endeavour, joined the group effort of the youngsters, recalling similar gourmet welcomes for visitors, back in her own childhood.

     Under the older woman’s directions they were all put to digging a couple of pits on the beach which would be used for cooking, bottoming them carefully when they were ready, with well chosen rocks on which fire would be built.

     “These will be our small ‘pots’,” Dancing Water told them as they worked, “One for the seafood and one for the vegetables, so everything should be well done by the time we are ready for our evening party.”

     When the ‘pots’ were well shaped and lined with rocks, the fires were lit and stoked well to make the stones red hot. Then she took her crew to collect small young alder and maple branches, leaves and all, to make a nest for surrounding and covering the food once the rocks were ready and the ashes removed. This vegetation would be dampened and arranged to form a place on which the vegetables to be cooked would be laid. Seaweed was also gathered as a necessary addition for its salt, flavour, and the moisture it would contribute to the cooking process.

     After the seaweed harvest, a scramble through the underbrush to collect the rest of the materials unearthed some unexpected additions to the menu. Always off together looking at things, the twins came back to the others with some interesting ingredients for the meal.

     “Look,” they called as they ran up with their hats held upside down, “We found some mushrooms to cook.”

     Alarmed, both Dancing Water and Rose came quickly.

     “Let us see what it is you have brought,” said Dancing Water.

     “You didn’t eat any did you?” asked Rose anxiously.

     “Oh no! They’re for dinner,” declared Bernice.

     “Yeah an’ some of them are real pretty,” exclaimed Walter with admiration in his voice, picking one out from his hat. “See?”

     They saw.

     In his hand he held a large, beautiful, bright red fungus with little white warts bumping up, nicely distributed on its round surface—a prize no child could resist taking.

     “Ah,” said Dancing Water softly to the twins, “Is it that you have never seen these dwellers of the forest before? It is something we should have spoken of earlier, but since this is the season for such to appear we will do this now. Let us take these treasures of yours back to the others where we will all learn their habits, some of which are not as fine as offering themselves for dinner.”

     With all the children gathered around, Rose and Dancing Water spread out on the ground the mushrooms Bernice and Walter had collected.

     “You see the lovely scarlet face of this one you first showed us,” began Dancing Water, “And its little white beads so artfully displayed. Who could fail to appreciate such a charming one? But it is what lies within this attractive shell which tells the story of its enticing display. It seems to be showing itself as the fine red berries of tree and bush which we eat with such pleasure, but this one holds death within it’s bright bowl.”

     She looked at the startled faces of the children and continued,

     “Some say it is for its own protection, but to entice to disaster and then kill in this way leaves both attacker and enemy as dust, and so it is also said that Amanita has no heart and, though admired from a distance, is unloved by all. To taste is to die, for this one is poison. See it for what it is, beautiful and deadly, and walk away.”

     There were murmurs of shocked interest from the watching children.

     “It’s often called ‘fly agaric’“, added Rose, “Because people have used it with a little milk and sugar, set out to kill flies, but we at the Bay would never do this, fearing some small one, or even Charm perhaps, might accidentally get into it and drink it. Never have anything to do with this one.”

     Dancing Water, watching the earnest faces of her listeners, chose another, small and unimpressive looking.

     “This one, Fools seek out. Here is another story. It is said Father Bear once ate many of these accidentally as he browsed among bushes, and Mother Bear found him much later, lying on his back in the cold and rain, thrashing about, recklessly waving his feet in the air and laughing loudly and foolishly to himself, while hunters were approaching nearby. It was only by her great effort that she managed to roll him down a hill and out of sight under some bushes before the guns came up. If you wish to become foolish as this one unintentionally did, and the prey of all, here is one way to reach that goal quickly. Psilocybe will take you stumbling down this path which leads into the shadows of Nowhere.”

     “We didn’t know they could be so bad, did we Bernice?” said Walter seriously.

     “I guess there are lots of things we don’t know,” returned his sister, awed by what she had heard.

     Looking confused and worried, Isabel told the two older women,

     “But we’ve had mushrooms for dinner before, and they didn’t hurt us.”

     “All are not so hurtful, and yours were probably brought from a place which grows only the good,” Dancing Water replied.

     Regarding the specimens set out she lifted a little group of fungus holding together.

     “This pretty collection of orange is called Faery Cups by some. See how the little bowls will catch dew or rain in their shallow depths. These can be eaten, but they are not too tasty and such fragile and shining little cups are usually left for the small Spirits of the forest so that they may have pure water to drink. Little mice and tiny shrews also sip from these dainty bowls, for they are just the right size for these. Fragile Aleuria aurantia is a kind and gracious citizen of openings in the forest floor.

     “And here is something fine,” she smiled taking up a larger mushroom. “This plain white clear face, looked on as homely by some, is considered one of the best to find. Sturdy and upright, it offers no garish invitation to partake of it. Only its subtle, spicy fragrance draws us. Unassuming goodness is so often found around us like this, quietly going about its own way, giving only a hint of what else may be there, and those who would enjoy this must look closer and not pass by with a careless, disinterested glance.

     Armillaria ponderosa, the Pine Mushroom, is very good to eat. Like ourselves, as it grows older it receives a brown skin and loses its fresh plumpness but, young or older, it is always good. It is also inseparable from the trees beneath which it lives. Both mushroom and tree benefit from this partnership and one without the other is not possible once this bargain has been struck. Care must be taken not to disturb the ground below the stalk when picking this, for there is a growing fine network of mycellium beneath, the threads of life which all these mushrooms possess. These are actually the plant itself, essential for its survival, and which also help Tree in its growing roots among which it lives. The mushroom itself is rather like the squash, only with the vine growing and spreading underground, the big fruit you see here holding the spores like seeds to spread about for more to grow.

     “This one is considered a friend by all, and has helped many lost travellers to survive, but even here much care must be taken, for some of the Amanita tribe try to disguise themselves by imitating the happy honest face of this one. Their double veil behind which they have hidden when young gives them away. See the traces of them, left on the cap as these white dots, and the ring around the stem of this beautiful but dangerous red one.

     “There are other good friends to be found, as well as those who would do us harm, and we must walk together to see and speak of these things, for it is important that one knows who is what, and we must be aware of such in our surroundings, however small, insignificant or harmless they may seem. There are those which are parasites and destroy innocent ones in their grasping passage. We all walk many paths, and if we choose wisely and take care to stay on the right ones we can go on our way in safety together leaving these others alone.

     “Today though, we are happily busy and do not have time to do this searching and learning. Meanwhile, do not take any more of these—friend and foe alike—for there are ways to gather which do not disturb the ongoing life of this place, and some we do not care to associate with we will leave to themselves.

     “Mother Nature does not have intent deliberately to harm. These things have learned only to serve themselves. Those who can read their warnings of colour and shape can walk safely. If we leave them alone they do not hurt us. When in doubt, do not touch. It is we who are human who interfere, with our curiosity, need and, sadly sometimes greed, who create discord among things. We must try to learn better ways which do not cause such harm to ourselves and others of the forest. Now, let us go back to preparing our feast and getting ready for our guest.”

     Carrying their branches for the pits, they returned to the beach, with little discussions going on about mushrooms as they went.

     This continuation of preparation for the cooking included a hunt through the old unoccupied houses as they searched for old sacks or mats to ‘put a lid on the pots’, through which, Dancing Water told them, a steam hole would be made for adding water in case the damp nest didn’t provide enough for the steaming.

     It was truly one of those times when preparation was more than half the fun of the party, and it wasn’t only the children who watched the cooking pits with interest. No one could resist passing by every so often to check on the progress of the hidden ovens to watch the steam rising from the little opening in the ‘lid’.

- - -

Permeating the voices of Wave and Wind came a net of humming sound thrown from Sky, which gradually increased in volume, and as the residents of Shalisa Creek Bay looked up with expectation, David’s float plane circled, allowing a pilot scan for wind direction and wave pattern, then it banked for a landing, touched down, and taxied slowly up to the wharf in the late afternoon.

     The children ran along the old boards in excited anticipation, trying not to get in the way as David tied up.

     “Hi , fellow pirates,” he called cheerfully as he stepped out. “Ulf, Gurth, I think maybe you’d better hit the wharf today, not the water. Nobody wants to hug a wet pup in this weather, and cold water’s no fun this time of year anyway.”

     Ulf and Gurth regarded him a little questioningly, knowing they could handle the cold. They looked at the water but, not wanting to miss out on hugs and greetings, hopped onto the wharf when his ‘okay’ of permission was given, and ran for the children.

     “Hey Uncle Twimby,” shouted Morgan, “We’ve got a bash getting ready for you. We’re going to have a cook-out on the beach.”

     “We’ve named it Uncle Twimby Day!” called Therése.

     “It’s special just for you,” added Walter.

     “We all thought of it ourselves,” Bernice informed him.

     “Hey! I’m impressed,” laughed David. “The usual approach of some folks is to run me off with a shotgun.”

     “They must be real mean!” exclaimed Bernice.

     “I sure think so,” he agreed. “Geeze, it’s really beautiful here this time of year, with all the leaf colours and berries and things. Think I’d better drop in more often this way.”

     “You have to come and see the cooking pots right away,” urged Isabel, unable to contain her pride in the fact that all the children had contributed so much to the whole project.

     “I’ll show you where,” offered Heron with a big grin. “Grandmother says it’s like old days.”

     “I’ll just shut Dragon Wings up here and,” David closed the plane door firmly, “Okay, let’s go see what’s cooking.”

     Those ashore saw the little group, Heron leading, pilot in the middle, head and shoulders above his surrounding crew of young pirates, two and four-footed, as they all headed for the beach.

     “I have coffee ready,” smiled Rose as they all came up to where she and Dancing Water were checking the cooking to make sure it was still steaming.

     “I’m ready for it too,” he replied, then, looking around and not seeing anything which appeared to be a beach party in progress, he asked “Are you going to tell me you’ve eaten everything already?!”

     There was laughter from the children as everyone tried to explain at once that if he stepped any closer he’d be standing on the oven.

     “Yi!” he exclaimed, backing off. “Are we into do-it-yourselfing here?”

     “Helping ourselves is getting to be lots of fun,” laughed Isabel.

     “Yeah,” agreed Morgan. “Dancing Water sure does know how to do things without things.”

     “Everybody else is making goodies too,” Therése told him. “We’re going to be stuffed when we’ve finished dinner.”

     “Sounds like a great time will be had by all,” he smiled. “Better go say hello to everybody else and con someone into letting me sleep somewhere.”

     “You can sleep with us,” offered Walter immediately.

     “There’s not enough room silly,” laughed Isabel.

     “Hey—I know—not to worry,” David solved the problem. “I’ll just curl up with my sleeping bag in front of the fireplace like I used to sometimes. That way nobody has to put up with my snoring.”

     “Do you snore?” asked Walter, with interested amusement.

     David hesitated, seeing Rose looking at him with laughter in her eyes.

     “Uh—I was told everybody did,” he wiggled out of it.

     “I’ve never heard me do that,” disagreed Bernice.

     “You can’t hear yourself,” Isabel informed her little sister, “But I guess you’ve all heard Morgan.”

     “I do not!” came the flat denial.

     “Well me either,” stated Therése.

     Heron, who slept with the rest of the crew aboard ELFINSHOE while Dancing Water’s chosen house was being put in order, and having every intention of continuing that practice even after the work was finished, tried a bit of diplomacy.

     “Maybe,” he offered, “We all do at different times, so we don’t know who it is we hear—if we hear anybody.”

     An eruption of laughing denials and excuses ensued and David, throwing up his hands told them,

     “Hey, I’m outta here. I stick by my ‘everybody’s guilty’ theory. Tell me what you settle on after you decide—and I don’t think you need a lawyer to get involved in the case. Come on Rose, I need coffee. Ulf, Gurth, you can stay here if you like and enjoy all the excitement. Have fun guys.”

     The two left the pirate crew with Dancing Water for referee and started up toward the houses. There were waves from Fitz and Bud aboard their boats, Shiro came out to say he didn’t dare leave Tashakawa to do all the work, and then disappeared back inside and Armand called out a porthole,

     “Bonjour, mon ami, I too am a captive of the moment, but will see you shortly for the banquet.”

     Both Curries came running to hug the visitor, Harry saying that they knew how to make things which didn’t need constant tending.

     When they got to Rose’s house David let out a deep breath and said,

     “Geeze, I feel like a king here, so why don’t you sit down and I’ll get the coffee for a genuine princess?”

     “Let’s get it together,” she laughed. “The Saucy Six are responsible for all this activity. I’m afraid we’re going to be stuck with a lot of celebration days after this, but that’s all to the good. Winter’s long enough and needs some help to brighten up.”

     “I’m really honoured,” he told her as they took their mugs to the table and sat down. “Do all the other guests get this treatment?”

     “I can’t tell you that,” she told him, “Because the only other people who ever turn up here are either lost or nosy authority, and they either want to leave in a hurry or they’re not wanted. The crew ordered me to tell you they all had a spartan lunch so they’d have big appetites for dinner, so you’re expected to do likewise—being a pirate captain and all that.”

     “Well there’s no problem there. I’m pretty hungry already. Had snacks for lunch, along the way.”

     Then, seeing the surprised look she gave him he admitted,

     “Yeah yeah, I know. I’m supposed to eat well and take a rest in between long flights, but this time of year the darkness interferes with my timing. I can’t take off too early in the morning because I have to wait until its light enough, and it gets dark early afternoon. I have to make port before it does or stay where I am—and this time I wanted to be here. Besides, it wasn’t that long a flight.”

     “I’m sure you’re not being careless,” she smiled.

     “Oh, great,” he returned with a grin. “I’ve been downgraded from reckless to careless. I really am making progress.”.

     Then, noting the lack of anything resembling cooking going on in her kitchen he asked,

     “Aren’t you supposed to be contributing to the food barrel too?”

     “I’m with the beach detail,” she defended herself, “And I’ll take along makings for coffee.”

     “Do we have to wait long for this?” he asked with a laugh. “I’m getting as hopped up about it as the kids. What’s for dinner anyway?”

     “We’ll have to wait and see because I don’t know either, apart from what’s in Dancing Water’s ovens. Should only be about half an hour away now, I was told. The young crew have decided on flute music, singing, story telling and anything else they can fit in before we all fall asleep from too much good food and such.”

     “Hope the ‘such’ includes some of Bettina’s good brew,” speculated David. “I think about things like that when I’m sitting somewhere in the city with a glass of something which is supposed to be terrific and I’m making comparisons in my mind to something really great, at least in my opinion.”

     “I’ve no doubt it’ll be on the beverage list,” Rose assured him.

     They were finishing their second cup of coffee when the sound of WESTMAN WILL’s bell sounded, long and loud.

     “That’s it,” announced Rose. “I’ll just get some stuff together here and we’ll be on our way. Maybe you can help me carry it all.”

     “Sure ’nuff,” he agreed as she put things on the counter to take along.

     “Let’s go,” she smiled, picking up her share and heading for the door.

     “Right with you,” he returned. “Just lemme juggle all this together.”

     When she turned to close her door she saw her guitar, slung over David’s shoulder.

     To her surprised, questioning look, he smiled, shrugged and said,

     “Well, it’s a party and we’re going to have music, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the whole orchestra.”

     “Oh, but, Fitz has his harmonica and—the children have... .”

     “Just get going,” he ordered with a grin. “You’re not getting out of this one. Besides, I’d like to hear you play.”

     “Oh—well... .”

     He was already walking past her toward the beach and she had not much choice except to follow unless she wanted to make an issue of the subject.

     She followed quietly.

- - -

The oohs and aahs which greeted each arrival of the culinary art would have made a competition of eminent chefs envious. Fitz had made a heap of biscuits, stacked in a basket where they snuggled warmly in towels to keep the heat in. Bud showed up with a big pot of chili. Tashakawa and Shiro arrived with shrimp teriyaki, and dessert was left to Armand and Bettina. Armand did himself proud with poires Heléne, accompanied by every piece and variety of cheese he had found aboard METHUSELAH. Bettina and Harry set down four big cakes, angel and devil’s food, two of each. Having had to break all those eggs to make the angels, Bettina had decided that the devils would have to come along too, as the prospect of egg yolks turned into scramble, omelette and potato-egg hash for a week didn’t appeal to Harry’s sense of eating well.

     When the time came to unveil the finished product of the pits, the shouts and hand clapping which greeted Dancing Water’s presentation would have done justice to any maître de had she been uncovering roast pheasant on a silver platter for royalty.

     With the children helping, out came the ears of corn still wrapped in their husks, steaming sweet and juicy, whole small pattypan and winter squash, tender-skinned and soft, and potatoes in their jackets, all of it ready for butter, pepper, salt and ravenous appetites. The clam pit yielded it’s fruit of the sea, shells open and contents ready for lemon and sauce.

     The group of laughing, hungry people heaped their plates with the offerings and enjoyed their celebration, as Venus with her attendant stars, and Moon on the wane joined the party. Food disappeared, and it was found during this activity that fingers were much more efficient and agile than forks for some things when it came right down to it. A quick rinse in a bucket of water and a shake dry prepared these same utensils for the next course, and after everyone had stuffed themselves to more than satisfaction it was plain that there wouldn’t be much left over for Bay scavengers to enjoy the next day.

     The bonfire which was lit on the beach that evening was dwarfed into insignificance by the reflection it threw out over the water.

     “It’s singalong time Uncle Twimby,” suggested Isabel at last, as most of the plates were set aside and nibbling became more of a norm.

     “Guess I’d better pay for my supper,” laughed David reaching for his flute. “Fitz, when I run out of wind you’ll have to take over—and there’s a guitar over there which needs a workout too.”

     He gave Rose a significant smile and launched into ‘Row Row Row your boat’ because he knew the youngsters liked to jump into this old chestnut one at a time, and they were joined by everybody else, until the whole lot of them got lost in laughter, as the flute music increased in tempo to such an extent that nobody could keep their place, flute and voice alike.

     After that, Fitz filled the void with his harmonica, but David noticed that Rose didn’t reach for her guitar. In fact she had placed it almost out of sight behind herself.

     There came a pause as plates were taken up again, what food remaining being a strongly drawing magnet, and the inevitable request came from Therése.

     “Grandmother Dancing Water, may we have a story now for this occasion?”

     Everyone had gathered a little closer to the fire as the cool evening came on, and Dancing Water, seeing this, took it as her theme and began,

     “You all see the liquid flames flowing from Fire’s heart, lapping and washing toward dark Horizon on Sea. Such spectacular and friendly beacons were those which Shalisa made in the old days to guide and welcome visitors who travelled far to reach Bay.

     “This carefully tended and curbed fire we gather around here on Beach seems only to be the spark which has lit the blaze for the far reaching flames it sends out on busy Tide, but it declares itself the reality by the warmth it spreads around, leaving its more spectacular but less comforting copy to collect our praise for the beauty of its bright dance alone.

     “In the old days it received attention for other than this. The place on Beach where our fire lies now is the spot where others before it have been lit for similar festive evening occasions.

     “The fire would be set exactly here, because it would be in line with the perpendicular cleft in Cliff which is so visible in daytime and which The Old One set there to guide all who know and are friends coming by Sea, but Sun is not always here and light from Fire in this place at night lays a true path through the centre of Old One’s Footprint, and Guardian Spirit who dwells there by the mark of his smallest toe seems always to be pleased with its rippling brilliant light as it shines for friends.

     “Although most did not like to go by night, sometimes Weather or Tide or other things would delay the travellers, and Bay would be so close that they would continue, knowing they were expected, until they reached this safe place.

     “At night, approaching canoes could see the light from a great distance. When they had come close, a Shalisa canoe would go out through Little Toe and meet the visitors, guiding them safely along that line of light to receive permission of passage from Bay Guardian, and entrance into calm waters. No boat has ever been lost following that bright route—no friendly one, that is.

     “There were times when it had been necessary to build the fire elsewhere as a ruse to mislead those whose hearts were not in the right place, but this fire today does not speak of such things. Bay is no longer threatened by such enemies. This is a happy and laughing fire built for our friend, and so all things laugh with it.”

     At these words David cast his mind back and remembered One who had not chosen to keep his heart in the right place, and how the flaming torch of Sun guiding Night to the west had unknowingly helped to lead in such enemies along that route at sunset. He reflected that, had this not happened, none of his friends here now would be sitting around this friendly fire which had been kindled for his arrival. He sat thoughtfully looking at the people circled about Fire as Dancing Water continued,

     “Light from such a blaze would also show the Shalisa how many and what kind of craft were arriving, telling from where visitors had come, and keen eyes could count the number of people shown black against Fire’s light, so that welcome could be readied before anyone reached Shore.

     “It was around such peaceful and bright fires as this one that I learned the stories and songs of the Shalisa as well as those of my own and many other people. This is a good thing, for now these and our own can be passed on again beside future fires. I am sure one of us will remember and tell them to someone else and thus our songs and stories become music forever, just as the history and thoughts from people of many other tongues who came here from afar and stayed to be with the Shalisa, and those which I read of as a child, have been passed on to us over such length of time. Still the ancient songs and stories delight us even now, although those who made them are gone. So will ours when one of us writes them down or remembers, even though the things of which they tell may be different from the themes of those which were sung before.

     “Such change as iron boats with noisy propulsion hung over their sterns have come into use, and canoes such as BRIGHT LEAF are no longer made. The old gracious ceremonies are no longer used. Now once again—now there are few people who still remember the old ways—such things are once more being valued. It is said by others that these are worth reviving now. It would seem that once the last of Deer has been driven to the edge of Cliff some wise head sounds the warning that if all are gone there is nothing left for the future, so the hunter’s hand is stayed and Deer allowed to go free.

     “Other animal spirits might move into space left by these last ones had they been taken, but they are never as Deer, for all have their own unique place and part in what is around us. It would be sad to think that Sun would rise of a morning and not one of Deer’s kind would rise with it to greet Day. Let us hope there will be more wise heads than hunters soon, for we do not need to kill everything to live, as the Shalisa have shown.

     “So must we all try to remember not to take the last of Deer, the last of Salmon, or extinguish the last friendly Fire, for then there will be no more. Let us all enjoy and treasure also such freedom as we have here tonight for welcoming our guest. Let us hope it will never be forgotten to live as we do now, together with friendship and sharing.”

     There were nods of heads and words of assent after she had spoken as she smiled, saying her thanks to those around who had listened to her so carefully. Then she reached out, picked up the guitar which was propped behind the log where Rose sat, ran her fingers across the strings and said, looking straight at the younger woman,

     “Now it is time for more singing and laughter. Who brings music from this fine holder of voice?”

     “It’s your turn Rose,” prompted Isabel. “We’ve never heard you play.”

     “Yeah, how about a song?” urged Morgan.

     The request was reinforced by the others until Rose, who had been hoping the whole idea would get lost in the evening darkness, was pressed into agreeing.

     Taking the guitar without looking at David, she began idly chording, then said,

     “You’ll have to forgive me if I hit a few off-key sounds. I’m a bit out of practise. Let’s see—uh huh—I think I remember all of this one. It’s a pretty simple and sentimental thing but kind of nice. It’s a love song—all the world loves a lover they say—and it’s sort of an impromptu performance which an itinerant musician might give in a little pub somewhere.

     “Now, you have to imagine you’re sitting at your favourite table at a pub or café, and this musician wanders in and gets permission to perform, so he goes up and settles at the mike and gives it a bit of a test.”

     Rose continued chording, pretending to be the performer checking out the microphone.

     “One—two—three... One—two—three... Can everybody hear me?”

     She got a couple of nods from her audience because everybody was listening and didn’t want to interrupt.

     “Does anyone out there hear anything? Oh great! The mike’s gone. You hear me?”

     She pointed at Morgan and got a laughing ‘yes’.

     “Over there too?”

     This time she fingered Bud Westman and his loud reply couldn’t be missed.

     “How about at the back?”

     A chorus of affirmatives.

     “Yes? So it wasn’t the mike at all. It’s all of you who are gone.”

     She got the laughter she had pitched for.

     “Okay. Are you ready? I’ll just get myself straightened out—okay.”

     Here Rose picked up on her melody, and began talking over it.

     “Sometimes coincidences can occur too often. Then they become incidents. At least, that’s what an observant young girl thought when she found that everywhere she went a certain boy was sure to turn up, so her first ideas about coincidence began to change into more definite surmisings, and she started to hope for more incidents and less coincidence but, as time went by, her interesting theory didn’t progress beyond sightings. The young man never approached her, always staying at a discreet distance, and all she ever got out of these casual meetings were smiles as they passed each other, or the sound of his guitar from somewhere under a tree as he sang happy songs, presumably to himself.

     “The girl began to get a little anxious, wondering if she might be imagining things, especially since her imaginings were taking on romantic colours, so after a few more sightings and songs while she pretended to pick berries or gather flowers, she decided to make a more definitive move of her own.

     “The next sunny afternoon she took a walk along the beach and sure enough, there he was farther up the shore, partially concealed by the tree he was leaning against. Pretending not to see him she stopped, knelt down to pick some rose campion which was growing in the long grass by the high tide line, and began to sing,

Shining Hair, Shining Hair
I have seen you smile,
Now I walk through restless days,
My heart you beguile.

Shining Hair, Shining Hair
I have heard you sing,
Now I watch in quiet nights,
Feel a beckoning.

Through the bright and summer days
We could laugh and play,
And with grey and winter days
We would still be gay.

Shining Hair, Shining Hair
I have watched you well.
I could follow everywhere
And my gladness tell.

     “Now the boy knew very well for whom the song was intended, but he was shy, and also considerate, so instead of running along the beach to meet her he let her walk away. He knew there was protocol which had to be followed to make sure nobody would get the wrong idea, so he gave a lot of thought to the matter, sitting there under his tree and strumming his guitar, until the sun got caught in some low hanging branches and he went home to prepare for his next opportunity.

     “He was ready to wait awhile, but the very next day the girl came walking past the place where he sat by the tree again as she looked intently at shells on the shore, and not in his direction at all. When he had let her go down the beach a reasonable distance he plucked up his courage and his guitar and using her own tune he sang,

Graceful Girl, gentle girl,
I have seen you dance,
Now I wait till you pass by
Just to have your glance.

Forest girl, shoreline girl
I have walked your trails.
I would ask to have your love
But my courage fails.

Let us by the water go
Quiet and serene,
Have our slow and open steps
There by all be seen.

Laughing girl, winning girl
With your gathered flowers,
We will join our pathways there
For our meeting hours.

     Rose paused then, and bent her head down over the guitar, as though remembering, concentrating on her fingering while her long hair partially hid her face as the fire flickered and shone on it, then she looked up at them and smiled, saying,

     “Now, you all know this has to have a happy ending, don’t you? Right! So—

Shining Hair, Graceful Girl
Years may come and go,
Still your love from summer days
And flower ways will grow.

Hai, hai hai hai hai hai hai... .

     There was silence for a moment after her high clear-voiced finish, then Fitz said softly “Bravo,” as he started to applaud and the others joined in.

     “All right,” she laughed. “Thank you. Have a beer? You betcha.”

     David, who had been sitting across from Rose as she sang, was left puzzled and wondering at the finish of her song. He had seen something in her face as she’d paused and bent her head before her happy ending.

     Her eyes had not been happy.

     It became late, the twins began yawning, and the children, happy with the success of their holiday, left for bed. Even though he was having a hard time keeping himself awake David remained sitting by the fire, hoping that Rose would stay too but, as everyone gradually drifted away saying their goodnights, she went with the others and he found the two samoyeds and himself left as stewards of the fire, assuring everyone that he’d sit there a little longer and then make certain it was out before he headed for sleep. Knowing how he liked to be alone sometimes, they left to give him that opportunity.

     He sat for awhile in quiet contemplation, thinking about what he had heard this evening, tracing the path of Fire out over Tide with his eyes and imagining incoming canoes and thinking that friendly dragons would also like that path.

     Then he asked himself if he had been right in taking Rose’s guitar along, the way he had, and he went over her song in his mind, thinking of Tree far down the beach in darkness and of a guitar peg he had found there, and of a Presence which he had felt was often there with him. He wondered if Rose’s song had brought that Presence to lean against Tree, enjoying the gathering. He thought also of the guitar, remembering at last where it was he had seen it before.

     With Ulf and Gurth on either side of him and the glow from the flames on his face, his front was comfortable but his back wasn’t getting any warmth, and this evening of late autumn edging on winter was becoming chilly. He picked up his sweater to pull it on, and as his head emerged out of the darkness of wool into the night again he found himself looking at Rose.

     Encompassed by the black space he sat in which contrasted so sharply with the sudden brightness as he opened his eyes onto firelight again, the sight shocked him a bit because he’d been busy with his own thoughts, and his thoughts had been of Rose.

     She was standing on the other side of the glowing fire, which lit up her face with light and shone in her long black hair, and his sight, dazzled by the sudden glare of the blaze against the darkness, gave him the impression that this was all there was of her.

     “Geeze, Rose,” he exclaimed, his heart beating a little faster from being so startled, “It’s like you just appeared out of nowhere! Did Grandfather teach you that trick?”

     “Caught you off guard dozing did I?” she asked, laughing softly as she sat down opposite him. “That won’t do. You’re supposed to be caring for the fire. Anyone could sneak up and steal it.”

     “Get pretty hot hands trying,” was his opinion. “Ulf, Gurth, how come you didn’t let me know someone was coming?” he demanded in a playful tone of the two samoyeds who had left his side and were busy wagging their tails as they surrounded Rose.

     “Oh, we’re old friends,” she excused them. “They’d have told you if it had been a stranger.”

     “Sure you didn’t cast a spell over them?” he enquired with a grin. “Maybe you could teach me that silent walk. I could get away from all kinds of nerds and they wouldn’t even know I’d left until I was gone. Got insomnia?”

     “Something like that.”

     “I haven’t. You’re right. I almost fell asleep here. Long flight, great food and company, Bettina’s specialty, warm fire—I’ve been just about gone for an hour or so now.”

     “Fires have a habit of doing that,” she told him. “You just have to make sure there’s enough room between you and it so you don’t wind up in the coals as you fall over asleep. If you’re that tired what are you doing sitting here?”

     “Waiting for you, I guess, since that’s what happened,” he offered. “Maybe I’m just trying to cultivate the habit of taking what comes a little bit, instead of always figuring I can influence things.”

     “That’s a nice laid back idea,” she approved as she sat down.

     The fire flickered, red and yellow and black and intriguing, and they both looked into it for awhile before David told her,

     “In spite of lack of practise your playing’s very beautiful. Was that your own composition you gave us this evening?”

     She nodded.

     “It was intended as a gift a lot of years ago but it was never given or finished. It became a lost song with a voice but no ear to hear and understand, and it ceased to sing. Somehow tonight it saw friends after all those years of silence. I changed it some, and added the last verse, but it seemed happy to be with our gathering.”

     She fell silent for a moment, then continued,

     “He wasn’t much of a drinker, about the way I do, but he used to go to the pub because he liked the social atmosphere and the friendliness and he made a bit of cash that way. He’d take his guitar, along with his latest songs, some of which both of us had written, and the owners would ask him to sing, and they’d give him dinner and a beer and a bit of a wage because they enjoyed his music and they wanted to encourage him.”

     Flames lit the space between them, carving out of darkness a place large enough for memories which would lead both back along old paths, as they sat in silence gazing into the ancient magic which was once again renewed by the blazing heart of a Shalisa fire.