After the last loaf of the afternoon batch of bread had gone out of the bakery window, and the bakery had been cleaned, and prepped for the next day, Shay was finally able to return to the History Lorcan had asked of her. The children were nestled asleep in their beds, her husband worked quietly in the next room, dissecting the latest board game from the far-flung islands of the world. Shay sat in her favorite chair with an inkwell balanced on the arm rest. A bright lamp hung on a hook in the rafters lighting her work from above. In the quiet she could hear it burning. Slowly she began to write.
“Four years passed from the day I joined the Order and much had changed, some mistakes had been made. Including some of my own. Outwardly no one blamed me. But I felt like I had failed. For months after I was restless and lonely. I isolated myself. I sought out the most dangerous assignments deep in the woods. I took risks hoping they would cause me to suffer so I could somehow pay for what had happened. I knew it was stupid. I knew it wouldn’t work. But I did it anyway. I knew it wasn’t my fault but it felt like it was.”
Shay knew this was going to be the hardest part of her history to write. The flames flickered above her and she decided to just get it all out, whether it made sense or not. She began writing quickly.
“I threw myself into my work. I tried to forget. But beneath the surface I took great swells of emotions in stages. I tried not to show what I felt, but those who knew me best could see it all the same. I cried, and raged as only a woman can. I was bitter. I was apathetic then obsessive. I couldn’t bear to be with the other members of the Order, but I feared the silence of being alone.”
“For a long time I couldn’t accept what had happened. For a while I believed it was all a big misunderstanding and that he would come back and fix it. But he didn’t come, and it never fixed. Finally I accepted that he did what he thought was right. I accepted that he had left the Order of the Rose, taking his brother with him, but I couldn’t bear it.”
“For nearly a year I was like this. It seemed that time was standing still for me, while everyone and everything moved and lived all around me. I felt like I was stuck in that one awful moment, watching them walk away leaving their tabards behind them. I was a sergeant in the Order, but after what happened I couldn’t understand how the other officers and swordsman could still accept me. I felt like I didn’t deserve to wear my rose.”
“I talked with Captain Damian, I talked with the other officers. They assured me I had no share in the blame. I kept my rose on my tabard but my soul beneath could not rest. Finally I went seeking for help from higher powers.”
“I went to Ellesbeth Cairn, the burial mound for Ellesbeth Peacebringer. It is a quiet place, surrounded by ancient trees so old they make you feel like talking in whispers and saying prayers. The western face of the Cairn is a mountain of small stones brought by those who came to mourn at Ellesbeth’s death. Each stone representing a burden of grief the Peacebringer had lifted in their lives. From beneath the rocks flows a cold and narrow stream giving life to the trees all around.”
“Knowledge of what lies within the cairn is whispered at firesides by the very old to those young enough to believe them. My Welsh grandmother taught me that as the attendants of Ellesbeth placed her body on a hewn ledge at the back of the cairn her hand slipped from its wrappings stretching out over the edge in a position of blessing. It was as though even in death she wished to bring peace. Over time rain seeped through the stone and calcified her in that very position of blessing. Grandmother told me that those pure in heart could find the entrance to the cairn and seek that blessing.”
“Most people avoid graves. I went to find a way in.” Shay paused only a moment, briefly scanning the room. Then she pressed on.
“I searched for two days for the entrance, neither eating or sleeping. Near dusk on the second day I went to the stream to wash. I was tired and filthy, and I felt none the better for spending time in that reverent and muted place. I worked my way to base of the mountain of stones where the narrow stream flowed out of the cairn. The water was fairly shallow and very cold, a flat rock stuck a small way into the gently rippling surface. Removing my boots, I knelt at the edge and washed my hands and arms. Then my legs and feet. By the time I reached my toes I was crying so much I couldn’t see what I was doing.”
“I felt a fool. I was a fighter. I had trained and suffered with little complaint. I’d lost friends in battle and took it with quiet grace. I’d smuggled English Bibles, and sold salt for my father without fear or doubt. I was a Swordsman in the Order of the Rose. And I sat there at the edge of that cold water weeping. I was powerless to stop the flow of tears.”
“I cried a long time. Eventually the tears dried, as they always do, but I stayed and stared into the water. I was too weak to look away. I could see my own wavering reflection, then, as I relaxed, my eyes focused beyond my face and I could see to the bottom of the stream. I noticed that the rocks there seemed to bubble more like silt in a spring then a flowing river.”
“I ached from crying so, to relieve the pain, I pushed my whole head into the cold water. I reached out to touch the bubbling rocks but my hand went through them and I could not feel the bottom of the spring. I came up for air feeling strange. Like someone dear to me was calling my name. I felt it in my heart.”
“I removed my belt and rapier carefully wrapping the belt around the sheath. Then I took off my tabard and folded it with the rose facing out. I slipped both into a weather protected and well hidden niche beneath the rocks of the cairn, but I left my small pack of supplies at the edge of the rock in case I needed them quickly. As I returned to the edge of the flat rock the calling in my soul grew louder and louder. It felt like music.”
“I slipped into the icy water as the sun set beyond the trees, twilight gloom settling all around me. I sank shivering into the depths of the spring, my feet not touching the bottom. I pushed and paddled down beneath the surface of the rocks and felt blindly eastward toward the Cairn. Where I expected a wall I found only more water.”
“I came up for air hardly believing what I experienced. I swam to the edge thinking hard. I didn’t know how long I would have to swim in the dark and I had only one oil soaked torch, it wouldn’t provide light for very long. It was dark now and I knew It wasn’t wise to attempt entering the cairn at night, but the music within me, the calling of my soul, was overpowering. I couldn’t resist.”
Shay placed one hand on her heart it beat a little faster at the memory. One of her cats looked at her and yawned unfeelingly. Wryly smiling at her reaction to her own history, she took a few calming breaths then continued writing.
“I retrieved the torch and a striker. Then I dove into the spring once more. I swam east into a pitch black tunnel. I counted to twenty and was about to turn back when my hands paddled into a sandy incline. I pushed up hard and nearly banged my head on a boulder.”
“Shivering and shaking from the cold I crawled my way up the shallow beach. I carefully lit my torch, the light was harsh on my eyes. All around me I could see shining stones, the glittering of almost pure white calcium. The light reflected off them making the cavern glow. Towards the back of small space I could just make out an alcove but it faded to gloom beyond my light.”
“My heart raced with the thrill, the music and calling were nearly wild within me. I moved slowly, my bare feet seeking sure footing. As I neared the back of the cavern I found everything exactly as Grandmother said it would be. Except, I felt no peace. I was not afraid, but there was no comfort.”
“On bended knee I whispered my thoughts out loud, seeking an understanding, but in my heart I could only feel a need to run in response. Not a feeling of fear, but simply a need to move. The answer I sought came as an urgent feeling. Translated into words it was, ‘do not to try to find peace here, or in the confines of Woodland. Go beyond them. Run.’ It echoed in my head, run, run, run. It pounded in my heart over and over. Run!”
“I rose to my feet as my torch began to gutter and die. Leaving it at the base of Ellesbeth’s carved loculus I ran for the exit. I reached the water’s edge and remembered to duck just before I hit my head on the bolder. Swimming furiously in the dark I found my way to the spring. I came up gasping and coughing. I threw myself onto the flat rock in a confused heap, clutching and rubbing at my limbs for warmth. As the chill night air filled my lungs and nearly froze my wet clothes, I gave one frustrated shout to the stars, sending nighttime creatures scurrying away into the dark. What did she mean by telling me to run? What solace in that?”
“As I turned to look at the Cairn I could sense it was still open to me but shutting like a door gently swinging closed. ‘Run now, then what?’ I nearly hissed.”
“There was a pause then, ‘Come back.’ sighed the water, rocks, and trees.”
“Then it was all gone. The woods were like any other, the feeling of the place as common as a street in Canton. I didn’t check, but I suspected that if I were to dive into the water once more the opening into the Cairn would be a solid wall.”
“After I caught my breath, I replaced my boots and stood up. I looked at my hands, then up to the stars. Everything was silent all around me, waiting. I looked to the place I had secreted my rapier and tabard, I felt they needed to stay there. For a time. I didn’t know what I was going to do, or where I was going to go, but I left. Without even stooping to retrieve my small pack, I turned from the stream and sealed cairn. And, in the cold, and dark, dripping from head to toe, I fled into the night.”
Shay paused trying to find the right words to explain why she had gone. As the rooster crowed for her to get up and begin the morning loaves she finally wrote the next few lines.
“I wasn’t running from the Order, from Woodland, or even from what had happened. I was running from myself. I ran as hard and as fast as I could. But everywhere I went, there I was, so I kept running.”