Squinting in the deepening shadows, the Child paused to let her eyes adjust as she entered the forest on her way home. She heard the voice sing out soft but clear over the chatter of the forest creatures, the faint song of water tumbling along in the brook, and the rustling of the leaves.
Come. Come and sit with me awhile, Child.
My bones are tired today. Rest with me for a spell. I have something to tell you…
The Child smiled at the thought of her friend, the Old Woman. The two of them sat together whenever they chanced to meet here between the Villages, and again during the Ripe Moon Gatherings each month. The Child never thought it odd they met here and only here. She never caught a glimpse of the Old Woman at her farm, or in the Village proper, or along any other path between Here and There. She never thought it strange The Old Woman always seemed to be waiting for her. Nonetheless, it was a welcome break, for the Child carried a great weight in her heart.
She settled into her favorite mossy boulder. It formed a perfect seat amid tall tress and lacy ferns deep in the forest. The last vestige of the setting sun cast shadows in long lines across the forest floor creating alternating patterns of light and dark. The freshness of the forest breeze sighed gently against her cheeks. Her nose filtered the mixed scents; the musky smell of decaying leaves, acrid resin pine needles, sweet tuberose, and her favorite heady scent of the yellow honeysuckle that grew in great profusion by the nearby stream.
The Child, small and lithe, was in her 7th year. Long, curly, chestnut hair graced her shoulders. She was to keep her tresses bound neatly in a bun as was the rule for all young girls of the Village, but she preferred it loose and flowing in the breeze. Each morning she undid the bun after leaving the main path away from her home. Each evening she would attempt to wind it up again before she arrived home. Her mother knew of her deed, but did not press or scold her very often.
In a tan, rough woven sack attached to her waist she carried packets of herbs, spices and cures to and from the villages. Her mother was both revered and feared in her knowing of local plants and their magik. As a result of the whispered comments her way; “Odd one”, “Wild Child” and “Little Witch”, she learned to be quietly observant when dealing with the Villagers. She was glad most folk left her and her mother to themselves.
The Old Woman with her sharp, hawkish features, deeply lined face and long silver hair worked a small farm just off the main path between Here and There. No one could recollect when she came to the area, or to whose kin she belonged. They only knew her as the Old Woman Speaker who told the stories of Long Ago.
Perched comfortably on the short stump of an ancient log belonging by right to the oldest Woman, she began to speak in the soft melodious voice the Child loved so well….
Child, never forget that behind the curtain and obscured from view, a candle remains flickering in the dark. Only you have the courage to pull aside the curtain, and only you can pick up the candle. No one can carry this candle for you. No one else can fan its flame to keep you warm and safe.
She looked off into the distance and paused for a moment as if gathering her thoughts. Her lined brow furrowed deeper as she continued, Child, be sure to look deep into your heart but you must decide before you leave; for you can never come back this way again should you choose to leave this one candle behind.
Now go. Eat heartily, for the food your mother prepares gives you nourishment. Sleep soundly by the light of the moon for you will need a good nights rest. Come the day when you prepare to take your leave, be sure to take all you think you need. Insure the contents are by your hand alone. Let no one influence your decision.