he sun sets behind the mountains, and the evening takes on a blueness of the shadowy snow. I meet the Stone Knight by a mountain lake, and it seems as if I've known him since childhood. I feel very comfortable and relaxed with him, and we travel on his horse together a while, til we find a sheltered place to camp.
His name is David, and by the light of the fire, we pass the dark winter evening by playing a simple game, using his shield as a board. To make it more interesting, he says: "If I win, I get to use you for a pillow tonight; and if you win, I'll be your pillow." This sound reasonable, as the ground is very stony. But I say, "Okay, but best two out of three. And also, if I win, I get to wear your hat tomorrow; and if you win, you can wear my gloves."
Seems he's had a bit of practice--he wins two in a row! Never gamble against a Knight! We try to find a place that's not too rocky, and he spreads the horse's blanket for us to lay on. I thought the blanket would smell bad, but it smells rather homey and is warm from the animal's body heat. We lie down and he puts his head on my chest and I am surrounded by warmth. We sleep comfortably and deeply.
The sunrise awakens us, filling the landscape with pastels that remind me of Easter. Winter is not so dull and barren as I thought. Snow-covered mountains make a wonderful canvas. We prepare to go, and David holds out his hand, inviting me up onto the horse. But first I stop and give him my gloves. Since I'm just a passenger, I can warm my hands inside my clothing. It seems the least I can do, to protect his hands while he holds the reins and carries me along. IOW, it doesn't feel like I've lost a wager, rather that I am getting off cheap.
The weather is fine--cold and clear--as we travel back down below the tree line, finally coming to a strange, stepped, grass-covered mound. As we round the base, I see there is a cache with an overflowing treasure chest! I'm dazzled by all the silver and gold! But I wonder where this treasure comes from, and who it belongs to. Don't want to piss Grendel off.
"These are prizes I have won in tournaments and wagers," David
tells me, "and gifts from some I have aided. My nomadic lifestyle
hinders me from keeping these things with me, so I have stashed it
here, in this sacred mound. The spirits of the mound watch over it
"Since you have played fair, accepted your loss with grace, and paid your debts promptly and cheerfully, I would like you to take something as a gift."
I look over the items, marveling at their beauty and craftsmanship. This guy must hang out with royalty! I find a beautiful scallop seashell, with colors that remind me of this morning's sunrise. It seems out-of-place amongst this trove. I hold it and ask, "Spirits of the Mound, why is this simple object of nature here among these treasures, so far from its home, the sea?"
A voice, feminine and serene, floats out from the cave: "This is the greatest treasure of all! The other objects were crafted by the hand of man, but this was made by the hand of God. Like the beauty of the sunrise, it gives hope and wonder. The shell is a portable home, providing strong protection for the soft inner core. Yet that soft inner core, when one reaches it, IS and PROVIDES LIFE. Those who live by the sea make many uses of such, as food, money, jewelry--even as foundations for houses and roads. It is here to remind that not all that is valuable is made of gold and silver, and also that different lands and cultures have different values and ways. Understand all this, and you will be a Master of Treasure and Guardian of Life and its value."
"Wow, that's really wonderful," I manage to choke out. Turning to the Stone Knight, I ask, "In the presence of this spirit, I ask you: May this be my gift?"
"Absolutely," he replies. "Take it, with all its blessings, and with mine as well."
"Thank you very much."
I gently place the shell in my small bag, and ruefully take my leave. The weather starts to change, gray clouds scudding over me, bringing wind and a freezing, misty rain. I can barely go on, and would like to find shelter, but there is none. The landscape is barren and rocky, and I am wet, cold and stuck. I think about home--nice warm and cozy--and remind myself that this discomfort is only temporary. In the distance, I see a standing stone, and struggle towards it, step by step.
I know that standing stones have magic, and I hope that, if nothing else, it will at least give protection from the wind. As I approach, I see a bird lying, apparently dead, on the grass. I lift him up and hold him to my heart, encircling him with my body. "Poor one!" I cry, and the tears freeze on my cheeks. I stand on the leeward side of the stone and suddenly the surface starts to fade and a passage appears. I step through into a seemingly magical wooded glade. The weather is calm and warm, and everything is very still. The bird I'm holding starts to stir. Holding him away from by body, I look at him and he at me, then he slowly rises and flies away.