Photo: Sue Vincent
They none of them could explain when it had been built or how it had been done. The standing stones were magic enough, but the slab of solid rock perching above their heads against the laws of order and human power — it went beyond what anyone understood.
Even The Sage did not know.
And she knew everything there was to learn and some of what could not be taught yet she ascertained anyhow.
“Though I heard say …” The Sage stretched the words as every child and many an adult leaned into her speaking. It was the mid-of-day that followed the longest morning. A time of pause and story. “… that it could have been the Angel Bird.”
The elder’s wisps of hair haloed her face. The oval itself was shadowed by the relative darkness under the stone overhang.
A child shifted in his mother’s lap. An errant toddler was reprimanded. A baby’s wail was quieted by its mother’s nipple. The people settled.
The Sage lifted her chin and many eyes followed. Soot and marks of time tanned the gray expanse above.
“In her beak, the Angel Bird can carry many men into the sea. Her wings can mask the stars so fishers lose the way back to their hearths. She can lift a whale and place it on the shore to feed the people. She can bring the howling wind. She can ice the river. She can slash the fire in the skies. Yet she can also pluck a clover and carve a snowflake. She can blow a single hair off of an ailing person’s forehead and lead them back to health or to the place-of-no-more-breath. … ” The Sage paused and filled her own lungs with air. “Perhaps the Angel Bird was the one to lift the slab atop the pillars.”
“Can she take it down?”
An admonishing murmur rose. Young voice or not, saying a thing made it. Now the notion hung above them like storm-clouds. Fear thickened the air but to state the worry might make it, too.
The Sage raised her palm but let the silence linger. Her eyes wandered over the cracks and small crevices of the ancient stone.
The questioning child was not to blame. The Sage had wondered similarly herself. Had her thoughts manifested through the young one’s mind? It had been known to happen. Sometimes it was a sign of too-easy a persuasion. At other times it signaled the nascent perceptiveness of a future apprentice.
The girl met The Sage’s eyes with tears brimming at the unfairness of collective condemnation, but stared on, defiant.
The latter then. The Sage allowed a corner of her lip to twitch. She’ll take it on herself to observe the child. In the meantime the girl deserved the response that had chased away many an hour of The Sage’s sleep.
“Indeed the Angel Bird can …”
People gasped. More frowns were directed at the girl, who pulled herself straighter, pushed a mess of tangled hair off her face, and squared her shoulders.
The latter. No question now.
“And she likely will. In time,” The Sage added.
An audible inhale rippled through the group as more and more faces lifted to inspect the heavy ceiling. No longer a taken-for-granted solid refuge, but a slide-between-the-fingers sand.
“All things die,” The Sage pressed on, aware that the answer had become the opportunity for its own story. “It is no curse nor blessing. No different than the change of seasons or the leaves that bud and green and grow and brown and fall. In early summer it may seem that foliage had always been and always will be, and yet we know that time will come when the leaves will die and the branches be laid bare.”
“This is no leaf,” a woman murmured, eyes uneasily on the rock and her body curled over a nursing infant.
Several other women fidgeted and darted glances at the sunny meadow at the shelter’s side.
The Sage sighed. Panic tended to have its fingers intertwined with knowledge. She knew it better than most.
“Life requires faith,” she said. “Every person who ever took shelter under this place of magic — from the first ancestors to the persons sitting here today — accepted that it is not of our doing. Whether by the Angel Bird or a different magic, this marvel means that our people do not suffer in the rain or ice or burning sun. We did not build this. It is our home but we do not own it. The most we can do is ensure we keep it well and are not the ones to destroy it.”