Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friend's Life in the "Dark" Age)
The Gray Raiders
- The Bridal Quilt -
The air inside the village walls felt warmer than outside, much milder. Ruwen felt at home immediately. The rosebush on his mother's grave-mound was still in bloom with the last roses of the year. He bowed his head slightly in reverence to her, and then checked the road from the corner of the church. Not a soul seemed to be around. Cautiously he sneaked along the different fences on the way to Aliah's estate. The gate was barred from the inside, as expected. He called. Nobody answered but Aliah's small dog. Ruwen got nervous and rushed to the end of the premises, where there was a hole in the fence. In the yard, the barking dog greeted him, wagging his tail joyfully.
Ruwen followed the agitated, jumping dog to the house. The door was slightly ajar and the big room lit only by the light coming from outside through the crack of the door. In the dim light he couldn't see Aliah.
Suddenly her faint voice rung out from the far corner. "Ruwen, is it you? From your light steps I know it must be you, my dear son. Come over here, I'm in the armchair by the hearth! I have been waiting for you for such a long time!"
"Oh Aunty, I missed you. I was afraid something had happened to you!"
"I told you there is no need to be afraid! I have drawn guarding runes on the door frame; no living being with a dark soul is able to pass the doorstep!"
Ruwen went over, knelt down in front of the chair and took her hands. They were soft and brittle but cold as ice. He tried to rub warmth back into her hands, "Your hands are ice cold, Aunty. Let me light a fire in the fireplace and prepare a brew. Surely balm, hops, elder flowers, and valerian roots and sweet honey will stimulate your spirit. Then I will prepare some food. You probably haven't eaten since I left!"
The hot concoction refreshed Aliah and the heat emanating from the hearth warmed her body. She shared the simple meal of cheese and bread with Ruwen.
Reclining again, Aliah's spirit seemed to drift away into another time. Suddenly she straightened up. "Ruwen, dear son, get the old chest from the loft. Deep down in there is my last present for you. Hurry up; get it. I have only a short time left!"
Ruwen knew of the chest. The small, dust-covered chest was painted with flowers. It has always been locked, and Aliah had forbidden Ruwen and Bastian to open it. Now he was given a key, and he carefully opened the cover of the casket. The chest was filled to the top with carefully folded linen. Removing first the bed and table clothes, and then some light blue curtains, he found a corded up parcel wrapped tightly in fine leather, at the very bottom.
"Take the parcel to the bed and open it, Ruwen. It's too dark. You better take all the candles we keep in the drawer and light the room."
Ruwen was surprised by Aliah's order, because candles made of bees wax were worth a small fortune. In the bright light of six candles, he opened the parcel and from inside unfolded a wide bedspread upon Aliah's bedstead. The quilt was a golden colour with a broad border in a deep blue and embroidery in the middle, shaped like an almond. The deep blue border was embroidered with red and white roses. In its upper left corner was a silvery moon and in its upper right a golden sun. The bottom corners showed deer and fish. Other embroidery pictured a pair of white swans on a blue lake, fronting a green tree covered hill. This image was entwined with flowering roses. The swans were obviously courting each other, as they had their beaks touching.
Ruwen was surprised; he was moved by its beauty, and not able to express his feelings in words. This was Aliah's famous bridal quilt; the quilt every bride had been talking about for decades. Nobody had seen the quilt for generations.
With eyes closed, Aliah began to talk to Ruwen. With a low but firm voice she said "It's yours now, Ruwen. Ruwen, my son! I never married, because my dear love left, on a crusade to free Jerusalem from the Muslims."
"But if he loved you, why did he leave you then?"
"His parents were sick and he wanted to win them merits by making his pilgrimage. My love left, together with three friends. The departed in the spring and promised me they would be back in the fall. King Louis IX of France and his brothers Alphonse and Charles headed this crusade. They recruited thousands and thousands of inexperienced young men...As soon as my love left, I began to sew our bridal quilt. I was stitching the moon when he arrived in Aigues-Mortes, where they embarked for Cyprus. I had finished the first swan, when I got news they had left for Egypt."
Aliah's voice tapered off, so Ruwen asked "And then you got news from Egypt?"
"No, I didn't. I never got another letter from my love. But I believed he would be back eventually...Five years later my bridal quilt was nearly finished. Just when I only had the sun left to be done in the upper right corner, I was asked to aid a sick young man in a village further down the valley. He was just back from the crusade, and he was sick; just skin and bones. In Egypt, the swamp fever had caught him...He remembered my love very well, and he told me of the three ships leaving Cyprus in spring but never arriving at their destination, the port of Damietta, in Egypt. My love and his three friends had embarked on one of those three ships, but no-one ever found out what happened to them ...I cured the soldier, but quit embroidering the quilt."
Ruwen was deeply stirred and tears sprang into his eyes. Sobbing, he went over to Aliah and took her hands.
"Don't cry, my boy. It's been over for so long now, my son...Do you know when I stitched the sun into my bridal quilt?...You can't know! You would never guess. It was the day after you arrived in the village. That night, after you came into my house half-dead, I dreamt that I finally have a son and a worthy successor. That son was you, and I could finally embroider the sun into the border of my quilt!"
Bewildered, Ruwen looked at Aliah "But I am a boy. You know that a bridal quilt is the trousseau of a girl! ... Anyway I will never marry!"
"You have a love. I know; you know; Bastian knows! Since the norns worked the miracle at the tree of the world, at the Yggdrasil, you and Bastian are one."
Both stayed silent for a long time, as the candles burned down one by one.
"Now leave, my son. It's time for me to lay to rest!"
Outside the night-wind made Ruwen shudder. The cloudy sky of the moonless night obscured most of the stars. Only far away, near the eastern horizon, a single star blinked. Ruwen was drained by the hike down from the shelter, but even more so by Aliah's account.
The way up to the look-out on the hilltop was long and dangerous in the pitch-black night. Ruwen decided to spend the rest of the night in his own bed at in their empty house. The small room in the attic, and especially the bed, was redolent with Bastian's scent. Pondering Aliah's remarks about Bastian and himself, reminded him of the quilt in his backpack and he decided to go conceal it outside the house. He chose a very inconspicuous hiding place, Buzzie's old cage in the tree in the backyard. The TIBs had built the cage for the buzzard when Buzzie was a fledgling. It was their first joint project. Back in bed, a faint noise was blown into the room by the downdraft of wind from the mountain pass in the south. It sounded to Ruwen like the whinny of a horse. He listened carefully for a second whinny, but didn't hear one. As the night remained quiet, he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
I would like to express my special thanks to Paul, TSL and B. for doing a great job by correcting all the wrong expressions and the punctuation used by a non native English writer.
Comments, reviews, questions and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs . And I would like to add, thanks for reading.