Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Stone Bridge

I wrote a story based on a dream I had a while ago. It's not great writing; it's mostly impressionistic and melodramatic. But I am consistently moved by it, especially by the final line which resonated so strongly in my original dream. This is a story about the fact that life can be special if we choose to see it that way.

G.K. Chesterton, an author I love, was talking about allegories once and wrote about George MacDonald, another author I love love love, that contrary to the traditional allegory that takes ordinary life and dresses it up as a fairy story, "George MacDonald did really believe that people were princesses and goblins and good fairies, and he dressed them up as ordinary men and women. The fairy-tale was the inside of the ordinary story and not the outside." That is, I think, what this story eventually proves to be about.

Here it is, in all its unedited glory


In a village called the Old Town, at an inn called the Corner and Square, there is a scullery maid who gets glimpses of Something Else. For example, the inn’s namesake: the fabled cornerstone of Old Town, part of the church directly across the street from the green village square. History tells of a monk named Egfried who founded the colony that built the church; it goes on to speak of many a Christian festivity on the green, with the flowers of spring garlanded and the new life wreaths and the old gods cleverly disguised.

But the scullery maid, when she hears of this past, catches sightings of a different one. With the assurance one might sometimes feel in a dream, she sees that the church is really a castle and the village green the sight of an ancient and fearsome battle. She sees flashes of steel, not the flappings of prayer books in the wind. She sees blood spilt on the grass, darker than communion wine and hardly as sweet. She dares not tell anyone of the things she sees: all too many pine for witches and heretics to burn.

Sometimes it’s not so much a glimpse as an echo. She hears names in strange tongues but intuits easily their meanings: the market road is really Bright Path, the mill is Stronghold, the bog at the southward fringes of the village translates roughly in her mind as Cradle of the Dead. She hears these names and realizes—with some shock, surely, but really more of an acceptance, an understanding—that she knows them already. That she’s heard them before. That somehow these things she sees are True and remarkably Real.

She has lived her whole life knowing things no one else around her has even imagined. It is as though she has the most life-changing of secrets, a secret so great it actually succeeds in protecting itself with the disbelief and doubt it casts in men’s

This is a hard thing, the keeping of secrets. It can be wearisome. It is not for the weak. And sometimes even the strongest find themselves failing. They long to tell it. It yearns to be shared.

That is why it meant so much to the young scullery maid the night the stranger rode into town.

She was dumping a bucket of kitchen scraps to the pigs when she heard the clatter of hooves in the distance. She dropped the bucket and ran toward the sound, dashing around the corner leading toward Bright Path. Here she first saw him, tall and proud, the towering figure of a man on horseback sending the shadows of a giant sprawling before him on the cobblestones. She shivered in anticipation.

“Lass, could you tell me the name of yonder bridge?” the man asked, staring up at the lit crossing in an odd way, as if it reminded him of something else entirely.

“Simriel,” she wanted to tell him. “‘Journey’s hope,’” for that is what it had always been to her. Instead, she lowered her head and, in a defeated voice, said, “Stone, sir. They call it Stone Bridge.”

The flicker of recognition left his eyes and he sighed. “Thank you, girl. And good evening to you. I must be moving on.”

As he turned to leave she caught sight of a glint of metal at his waist. A sword? Her suspicions were confirmed upon his final turning, when she saw the leather scabbard poking out of his cloak.

“Sir!” she cried, excited and suddenly out of breath. For quite abruptly she saw them, the glimpses surrounding him, mysterious and not fully formed, but enough to tell her that he was not what he seemed. “Sir, if you’ll excuse me asking, why is it you carry such a noble sword, and the air of a man not from these parts?”

He turned and smiled; she could not tell if he was amused by her questions or impressed by her observations—or both.

“Many call me Veridel, but I am sure you haven’t heard of me. I come from far away, ‘tis true. But what of you, my lady? You say I carry a strange air about me, but you have that same air.”

He paused and gazed at her, his expression inscrutable. What must he see? A reckless and feverish excitement, that most unforgivable thing—hope. She had let her guard down. She had laid it all out on the line. The course of her life might well hinge on his answer.

“I think,” he said finally, “In fact, I am certain of it: we both know the name of that bridge was never really Stone.”

No comments: