SS/ Fantasy 3367 – WORDS By brian francis
The water in the stream flowed with a purpose which has always interested Sherman. By just watching it drift by, it seemed to help him think. Like thoughts that he had never once felt the need for a hand on his back in congratulations for a job well done, that was something that his father had never offered. He had a certain drive all his own. He had tried his hardest to excel in everything he took to task; he’d taught himself to read, to write, to fish and hunt and even make furniture – even furniture, people were willing to buy with money. Now, he’d learned how to care for wounds and administer medicines, and even how to allow a person the time needed to accept their fate and move on.
He had been caring for his father for the past six months; the doctor had visited their small home numerous times every week since David Taylor had laid down on the bed and would not, could not get back out. Sherm had cared for him as best he could since then, with the help of some of the neighbors, and some people from the nearby monastery. Mostly it had fallen to Sherm to clean his father’s messes, to feed and support the household. Now with his father finally laid to rest in the field down in the stream’s bend he had nothing but time.
“Sherm, are you down there?” came the voice of the Doctor. It wasn’t until the second or third time that Sherm stood up from the tall grass and acknowledged the call. The doctor, calling, waved him up to the house and they sat down for a fine talk about living and dying. It wasn’t like he hadn’t come across death before; something always dies when it’s time for dinner. That is just the way of it. But the doctor went on talking about letting go and moving on and such until Sherm was about to fall asleep. “So what are ya going to do now Sherm?” that simple question ask by the doctor had been swimming in Sherm’s mind for week. As the end came for David Taylor, he was spared the pain and suffering by fading into a deep sleep. As he lay there in the bed and made no requests or demands Sherm was left to wander the thoughts and confusions of his mind. He would sit for hours petting Bundy the white parrot given to him by a passing carnival master.
Bundy was too young to perform and would never have survived on the move–and the show must constantly move. So for some repairs to a wagon’s hitch Sherm earned some money and a bird not expected to live. That was three years ago. Sherm’s attention to the bird’s care was heroic and an important lesson for him. His devotion to the bird was all consuming in those first months. Now he was rarely seen without the bird perched on him somewhere. He still sees to the feeding of the Bundy before himself and it is obvious to all around that there is something special in that rather weird relationship.
“Sherm …yo there… you Ok… Sherm” prodded the doctor.
“Yeah, I’m doing just fine. Other than not knowing what to do now and fearing being on my own and not being able to do it.”
The Doctor laughed a long and low chuckle. “Well, I imagine it might seem a bit scary to think about; but if you really think about it you’ve already proven your mettle boy. “ Reaching out and cupping Sherm’s cheeks in his palms the Doctor went on, “There is not a person within miles who does not admire you for the devotion and care you’ve show to all things, all of your life. There is not a father who does not pray his son would show the same strength of character. You are not alone …you are not alone. Do you understand? “
As Sherm listened to the doctor’s words his heart seemed to stop and at that moment, overcome with emotion, he fell into the embrace of the doctor and sobbed. It had seemed like he would never be free of the duty and burden that his father had become. Now all of that was behind him and his purpose in life seemed to have disappeared along with it. He was a stranger even to himself
After a while, having regained his composure and able to speak without stumbling over sobs, he and the doctor finished their talk. He was prepared to make the decisions required of him; he just needed some time to figure it all out.
There were still chores and the Widow Jengk’s chairs for her sitting room at her boarding house. She made the most wonderful lace cookies, a cross between a candy and a cookie, which make mouths water all over the township at the mere mention. He decided to buckle down and just get on with living. Maybe stay here for a while finish up with his undone tasks and then set out to discover the world.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Getting his responsibilities completed became a chore as the good people here about discovered tasks that only he could resolve. It was nice to realize that those neighbors cared enough to do all they’d done. He had been working hard for three months and had put on weight for all the pies and custards brought to him. He was finally ready to step away. His home would be lived in by a friend whom he trusted. He had built a shed so the collections of the family furniture could be moved out of house and allow the new residents to move their stuff in. When Sherm started to empty his bedroom, he was stopped by the friend who told him that this house was his home and his room will always be waiting for him.
That evening friends and neighbors gathered on that plot of land that would always be his home. It was a very emotional night for him, Bundy was jumping from person to person trying for a bite of this or that, A joyous scream announced the arrival of Bundy’s favorite monk, Brother Bean, Bundy’s head feathers rose as he bobbed his head in excitement.
Sherm was actually thinking he might be a fool to leave so many loving supportive friends. But then the happy announcements from Bundy “go bye byes, hurrah.” He knew he had to keep his word, second thoughts be damned. His pack was ready to go when he laid down to wait for morning. He had sold the farm horses to pay for the doctor’s visits so it was going to be a walking tour of the world for a while. He did have a healthy pouch of coins. At least it seemed healthy to him.
Neighbors were still hanging out when the sun came up. Sherm wanted to get an early start so his intention was to wake and being to wander. But that was not to be, he was made to endure another meal of delicious fresh berry breakfast cakes and some coffee that had been made into a special treat by the addition of chocolate.
The good byes where endearing and each person present wanted a hug that often came with a whisper in the ear of loving support. Rebekah, whispered in his ear that she would wait his return. Just as he was ready to turn and walk away he heard the sound of a wagon racing up the road. It was Brother Bean probably coming for the other brothers who were mostly passed out lying about the porch. As he approached he cried “Sherm not without a hug. My Friend!” He slowed and stopped nearby and jumped down with a huge bear hug that forced the wind from Sherm in a gush. “You my friend have set an example worthy of study and devotion. The many animals that you have cared for when injured. The many people who have had you touch their lives with your loving attention. During all of your struggles you never demanded help like some people do and still you found the time to help that eagle and the bear cub.” Brother Bean had told the bear cub story many times. He was amazed at the way the mother allowed this boy to go into the water and release the cub from the tangle of vines it had created. She allowed him to inspect the cub and then even seemed to say thank you by nudging him with her nose and knocking him down before walking away.
Well with all that said, Brother Bean, walked to the back of the wagon and released the rope tying a beautiful painted pony unlike any, Sherm, had ever seen. It had a beautiful rosy coat with black blotches. Its eyes were wide with excitement and it was not winded at all from the ride. In the back of the wagon there was a fine saddle that had silver work and in the bed roll Brother Bean explained that there is a special blanket of warmth made with magic. After readying the horse and finally looking at her from a distance he realized how smart she looked and imagined how smart he would look riding her. Sherm gave an apple and carrot to his new friend Bundy jumped onto the snout of the mare and while she did shudder she had no problem allowing it to climb up to the fore head and grabbing two bunches of main while screaming “Go bye byes hurrah, hurrah.” and with that Sherm mounted and began his new life of adventure. It was surely a sight never before seen of a man riding a horse with a parrot atop its head.
Even after a full day’s ride he was still among his friends. He found a barn where he could sleep and rest. He opened the doors leading to the outside so the horse could come and go he gave some hay to a stall and crawled into his travel bed and was joined by Bundy who nosed her way under the blanket and slept in the crook of his arm.
A pile of hay made for a good bed and his blanket of warmth lived up to its promise. Sleep came quickly and dreams of what lie ahead teased his rest with excitement and even dread. When in the morning he was awakened by the mare eating him out of a bed. He rose to make a hard tack, dried meat and hard cheese breakfast. While he ate, Bundy found his pocket of seeds and dried fruit and joined in to this their first breakfast away from home. Taking the bucket and getting fresh water for the horse and taking the time to brush her and inspect her condition. She was in wonderful shape and ready to go again. Periodically Bundy would climb down from his shoulder or jump onto his lap from the horse to find her pocket and eat some food and ask for drink. More than able to drink from a bottle the canteen was no problem in fact, all was well. Life was good.
Bundy chose to ride on Sherm’s Quarter staff and fly into the trees to scream and do her crazy bird act. She would cling to a branch and spread her wings and screaming as she would fall over backwards and continue her screaming gyrations. She was happy and her joy lifted his spirits and made him laugh.
Half way through the day with storm clouds threatening they came upon a small farm with the whole family harvesting wheat as fast as they could. Sherm understood the imperative – the storm would destroy the harvest left in the field. When he noticed that the family consisted of three boys all young and a woman presumably the mother with no man to be seen he found himself approaching the woman and offering to assist. Asking only the opportunity to shelter in the barn through the storm. The children were all dreary and looked exhausted at least until Bundy came flying up and saying hi and introducing himself.
With terms agreed, Sherm took charge, instead of the kids carrying their every bundle to the barn he had the woman lay out the largest tarp she could find in the barn and having them gather onto it. He cut the remainder of the field like a pro and the family worked to gather as the storm approached. Using the horse to drag the loaded tarp to the barn was much faster and far less work than the alternative. In the end the harvest was a success and exhaustion was the result.
Quickly, Sherm, found himself the unwilling victim to unrelenting questions as he made his bed and prepared for rest. The boys each wanted to have Bundy ride their shoulder. And boy did they puff up and get prideful being a perch. After brushing his horse and fielding questions about its name that he could not answer. He asked the boys to allow him to get some rest. They obliged and Sherm and Bundy settled into their night.
Though rest was soon interrupted by a most wonderful smell. Root stew and fresh bread brought to him by the nice mother to the little ogres. She told him of the loss of her husband in an accident last year. In the morning she was sure that the storm would be the final straw, not seeing any way for the children and her alone to accomplish the task need. She had had their wagon and field team stole the previous month and she just so appreciated his help, with tears on her cheeks. He encouraged her to get back into the house before the storm which had developed some gusty winds and was threatening to really set in. He closed up the barn after watching her get safely inside. And it was back to sleep. Though a full belly, sleep was restless due to the raging storm, yet, even the great cries of the thunder could not raise his eye lids. And still excitement and dread haunted his sleeping hours.
Waking early to a wet but storm free world Sherm grabbed his bow and quiver knowing that this would be a wonderful time to find some game for the family. And after a few hours he’d trussed a good number of birds and when he finally scored a wild pig he regretted not bringing his horse, “Spot.” No that didn’t sound right he’d just have to keep thinking. After field dressing the boar, he dragged it up a nearby tree to secure it while he went for the horse.
She was all teary and grateful again when he asked if she could dress the birds. As she set about prepping the hearth for the process, he set off to retrieve the boar. The rest of the day was spent in butchering and smoking, a sack of salt found in the smoke shed sure helped.
As evening fell and the meal was smelling delicious, he found himself pondering how lucky he was to have had such and easy life. The lean-too on the side of the barn facing the smoke shed was a perfect spot to rest during his days toils. While lost in thought he seem to fade to a daze.
“Sherm can I speak with you for a moment,” came her voice in the sweetest of tones, dragging him from his reflections.
“Eh, Sure Misty, I was just trying to slough off the day and catch my breath. It’s been a roundy – round all day,” he said while rubbing his eyes and leaning up.
“I just wanted to say” she started, but then exclaimed, “Oh my, but your eyes are red! But I guess mine are too,” revealing a shy coyness in her expression.
“Well, I’ve been playing with smoke most of the day” he teased her “What is your excuse?”
“I have been crying tears of joy for the first time in over a year. My heart has been lifted by your kindness.” She said staring into his eyes. “Thank you Sherm for coming into our lives.”
Now was the time for Sherm to be uncomfortable, now was the time to remember that expressions of gratitude are the right of all people and receiving them graciously and without expectation is the will of the gods with respect to a worthy soul. And with that mantra in his head he explained that it was his blessing to meet such a strong family. As he now had friends here where he’d never been before. She also let him know that diner was ready and the family wanted him to share their table.
After washing up and checking the smolder he knocked on the door. Their dinner was awesome roast bird and root stew with bird stewed right in. There were comments of cannibalism when Bundy asked for a piece, but Sherm assured them that Bundy was more than a bird, a sentiment all agreed was true. He heard about the boy’s father and shared with them how he too lost his father. They spoke of dreams and his travels.
The rest of the week allowed him to finish up the smoke curing of the meat and the curing of the hide with the ashes of the smoking fire. He made some repairs around the farm and tried to teach the boys all he could in such a short time. They absorbed his attentions eagerly and proved their worth in short order. The youngest, Danny, taking up the chore of the watcher of the smolder. While Rye and Trip took on the repairs to the leather hinges of the front door. By days end he was prepared to leave and had gathered and packed his belongings. Rest was comfortable all night and in the morning his goodbyes were brief aside from the meeting with the children in the morning when he awoke with them kneeling around him waiting. He gave each a handful of coins their earning for helping him. They assured him at his coaxing the they would wait until he was gone to reveal their windfall.
Misty cried and Sherm announced that he’d dubbed her forever in his mind as his friend “Misty Cries” After a brief hug he set out once again on a path to tomorrow, Oh ,but maybe that is it “Tomorrow.” Hmm, thought Sherm still looking back and waving. “Tomorrow!” I think we’ve found a name for you.
A day and a half up the road he found a small hamlet called Hemm. Not much beyond a couple warehouses and about twenty residences and of course a traveler’s inn and tavern.
Asking permission to enter with Bundy on his shoulder had never led to anything but a warm welcome and this was no exception. Some grog is said to help the traveler stay fit. While the taste was often bitter, this inn’s private brewing was almost sweet in its bitterness. So the grog flowed and the conversation flowed until a man with a green feather in his cap approached him and let him know about a team of horses found abandoned on the road three or four weeks before in response to his discussing Misty’s predicament. The locals all seemed unaware that she had stayed working the farm. Those present agreed with Sherm’s proposal that she was a part of their community. The wagon would be returned to the family by these good people in the morning. And they would reach out to her and her family.
It was easier to continue down the road knowing that Misty and the boys would have a community helping her. Having studied a map on the wall in the tavern he realized that the transport road would take weeks longer than following the old trails down through the steppes to the low lands and the great caravan roads. Although that would leave him little contact with people it would save him time in getting to a real city.
One more night then setting out in the morning early after a nice breakfast and one final study of the map.