Aislinn’s Ride

Gran’mama said, “Always live high on the mountain, and always wear something yellow, even if no one else can see it.” She said she learned that from a friend from the stars, and it had always served her well. Her friend, The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, didn’t say much, but she was always worth listening to when she spoke in her deep, deep voice like a bass viol.

(This story is going to have a lot of “shes” — I hope it doesn’t get too confusing. There is Aislinn, there is Gran’mama, there may also be Gran’ma Maple (I’m not sure about her part yet), and there is The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream. The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream is the one with the voice like a bass viol, and she came in Gran’mama’s dream so sometimes other people could see her and sometimes they could not. But she wasn’t hard to hear on the seldom occasions that she spoke.)

So Gran’mama lived high on the mountain — nobody lived higher. And Aislinn lived with her in the summer times. In the winter she lived in the valley with her parents and went to school, but she still always wore something yellow, even if it was something hidden. Oddly enough, it did make her feel better, even in the lowlands beneath the mountain where the blue of the sky seemed faded and far away like The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream sometimes seemed.

Gran’ma Maple lived only part-way up, on the west side of the mountain, on a wide, wide ledge right beside the tarn. A tarn is like a very small lake or a very deep pond, and no one knew how deep this tarn was — people said it went down to the roots of the mountain — and deeper — but no one really knew. The Folk had stopped catching fish in it a long time ago — they were too unchancy-looking to eat anyway with their huge blind eyes, and it was noticed that those who caught them were never lucky after.

Gran’ma Maple stood beside the tarn. She had lived there since long before the folk came to the valley or Gran’mama had come up the mountain as a middle-aged widow woman with far-seeing eyes. Gran’ma Maple didn’t talk at all, except in the whispering rustle of her leaves. Gran’ma Maple loved Aislinn and she loved Gran’mama, but she didn’t love everyone, except the littlest ones. She let them climb in her branches, and she called them her “seedlings” and talked to them in whispers until they got too old to be able to hear her about their seventh year.

Aislinn was one of the seldom children who was able to understand Gran’ma Maple’s whispers past her seventh year, who could see and hear The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream, and who was welcome up high on the mountain at Gran’mama’s house. Some of the other children were a bit jealous and made up scary stories about Aislinn and told them to each other in the dark, but everyone suspected it was lucky to be her friend so she got along all right for a while. And in the beginning of summer, when school stopped, Aislinn went up the mountain and didn’t come down again until the first leaves on Gran’ma Maple began to turn. In fact, it was the turning of the leaves and the return of Aislinn that told the other children when to go back to school just as it was her leaving to go up the mountain that told them when to stop.

As a little girl Aislinn didn’t realize that her life was much different from others. She learned reading and writing and science from the school, and she learned manners and hard work from her parents. From Gran’ma Maple she learned to climb high, even in the wind, and to sing with the birds, and foretell the weather. From her own Gran’mama high on the mountain, she learned to know all the herbs and their helping ways, to always wear yellow, and to read the clouds. From The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream she learned — well, it was hard to say exactly what she learned — perhaps it was a way of dreaming while she was awake. But perhaps that was just imagination or magic. She was never quite certain which. But on her seventeenth birthday everything changed.

It was the first of May. This year there would be a full moon that night and Neptune, the planet of dreams, would be rising invisibly beside the moon. Aislinn thought about that. She had dreamed the night before, as she usually did (her name means “dreamer” in the old magical language), and her dreams were filled with shadows and figures of light, of turmoil and calm, and they were full of hidden magic. Although she often couldn’t remember the dreams when she woke, things often happened then she then remembered that it happened first in a dream and she understood how it would turn out. So it was this morning.

She woke up her birthday morning feeling a change coming toward her. She knew it was riding a gray horse and would arrive before noon and that she should pack up and be ready to go. She packed her best yellow petticoat, bright as the sun and almost as bright as her hair, and a few other clothes, and then wondered what else to bring. It seemed like most everything else she had was in her head, her heart, her muscles and bones, but she thought some herbs might be useful so she made a small bundle and put them in with her clothes. She had a small rose quartz stone in the shape of a heart that had belonged to her mother and gran’mama before her. It hung from a fine gold chain, and though she rarely wore it, this seemed like a good day for it so she put it on and tucked it in, hidden beneath her blouse. She ate breakfast with her mother and father and then she waited.

Waiting wasn’t very satisfying — Aislinn wasn’t used to just sitting around. She meditated for a while, but still felt restless. She went into the kitchen and packed a lunch, then considered and added a three slightly wrinkled apples from last fall for the horse. She wrote a note for her parents, who were out planting seeds in the fields, and another for her Gran’mama, though she suspected that her Gran’mama already knew what was happening, probably better than Aislinn herself. She was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering if there was anything else she needed to do, when she heard the neigh of a horse in the distance. Her heart said, “Yes!”

She took her bag of clothes and her basket of lunch and got to the gate just as the horse arrived, shining bright in the sun. Aislinn felt the presence of The One Who Came From The Stars In A Dream and heard her say, “The sun is nearly high and the may tree is in bloom — are you ready to ride?”

This is the end of the beginning. Or perhaps my part stops here, and you have to dream the rest for yourself. I don’t know!

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