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by WinePress Publishing, PO Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022.
by Terri L. Lahr and Rebecca J. Burt. Cover by Terri L. Lahr.
rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system or transmitted in any way by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of
the copyright holder except as provided by USA copyright law.
of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-62570 ISBN 1-57921-090-2
showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the
throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side
of the river was the Tree of Life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its
fruit every month; and the leaves of the Tree were for the healing of the
nations. (Revelation 22:1–2, NASB)
1: MARKET DAY
boy, snitch boy, hair-as-red-as-pitch boy! Bee in his bonnet, bee in his
bonnet, bees in the hive and Rolin’s sat on it!” Rolin jerked awake, tore off his quilts and rushed to the window. He saw
no one outside except a few blue jays warming up for the day’s chatter. An early morning mist still
swirled among the firs and pines in the foothills of the rugged Tartellan
Mountains, where Rolin’s father,
Gannon, had built their cozy cabin.
groaned and flopped back on the bed. He always had bad dreams just before
market days, when he and his father went down to bustling Beechtown to sell
their wares. Was it his fault he had red hair (though it was really chestnut)
or that his father kept bees? And who could blame him for reporting the cobbler’s sons to the constable for stealing chickens? As if that were not
enough, “the Crazy Toadstool
Woman” had been his grandmother.
screwed his eyes shut, squeezing out the tears. Several years earlier, first
his grandmother, Adelka, then his mother, Janna, had died under mysterious
circumstances, leaving Rolin and his father to mourn their losses in lonely
“Ho, Rolin! Sun’s up and it’s market day,” boomed a voice into the log-walled bedroom. Rolin yawned, stretched and
hopped out of bed. Market day! Already he could see the crowds of traders andtravelers, vendors hawking wooden
trinkets, and the food stalls set up in the square, with their mounds of
candied fruits, toasted beechnuts, smoked fish, and box upon box of luscious
winter pears. And he could hear the children’s cruel taunts.
“Up with you now, sleepyhead,” Gannon called again from the next room, interrupting Rolin’s daydream. “It’s oatcakes if you come now
and nothing if you don’t! We
must leave soon or we’ll miss the
best of the market.” Rolin knew
his father’s blackberry-blossom honey
would command the highest prices in the morning, when buyers were wanting their
breakfasts. That did it.
“Coming, Father!” he
answered. After hurriedly dressing, Rolin opened his door. There in the kitchen
stood his father, a tall, red-bearded man with a jaunty wool cap, stirring a crock
full of oatcake batter with a wooden spoon. Beside him, a griddle smoked on the
roaring wood stove. Rolin’s
mouth watered at the delicious wood-smoke-and-hot griddle scent filling the
“So, you finally decided to get up after all,” Gannon observed. “Your hair looks a fright, you know.”
grinned at the good-natured gibe. His hair always seemed to stick out every
which way, especially in the morning before he could tame it. “So does your beard,” he
self-consciously combed batter-caked fingers through his tangled, unruly beard.
“Don’t just stand there,” he
said. “The first batch is
getting cold on the table.” Gannon
waved the spoon as he spoke, flinging bits of batter onto the floor and walls.
pulled up a chair and poured golden honey over a heaping plateful of oatcakes. “Do you think we’ll do well
at market today?” he asked his
father between mouthfuls.
“The best ever,” Gannon
replied. “With the heavy honey
flow we’ve had this spring and
last year’s bumper potato crop,
we should fare very nicely. After I have bought supplies, there might even be enough
money left over for that gadget you’ve been wanting.”
Rolin’s heart leapt. “Oh, I hope
so!” he said. Market days always
attracted clever peddlers and magicians with their intriguing tales,
astonishing tricks and marvelous inventions. At the last fall market, a wizened
little man had been selling the most extraordinary devices: long, wooden tubes
with round pieces of glass set in their ends. “Starglasses,” he had
called them. Rolin had peered through one of the tubes at a sparrow perched in
a distant tree. To his delight, the bird appeared life sized. The old peddler
had told him the moon and stars themselves would leap down from the sky, so
large would they loom through the eyepiece.
“Don’t set your hopes too
high,” Rolin’s father advised him as he spooned more
batter onto the griddle. “You
can’t buy peddlers’ wares with promises—and one of those toys will cost you dearly.”
“I know,” replied Rolin
with a sly glance at his father. “You can’t hawk honey with
batter in your beard, either!” With
that, he rushed out of the cabin, just as a well-aimed spoonful of batter splattered
against the door behind him.
Gannon’s bees were flitting in and out of their
conical clay hives, which were steaming in a warm spring sun. Rolin savored the
rain-washed mountain air, spicy with the pungent scent of fir needles and
cottonwood balm. Already, the sponge mushrooms would be sprouting among the
poplars. He scooped up an armload of firewood and brought it into the house,
where another tall stack of oatcakes awaited him at the rough oak table. His
father soon joined him with an even taller stack. Before you could say oatcakes and honey, they had gobbled up everything in sight.
Rolin twirled his last bite of oatcake in a pool of honey, popped it into his
mouth and sighed.
“Fetch me the money box and some punkwood, will you, my boy?” Gannon asked him, licking the honey from his
plate. (I fear table manners in the cabin—indeed, allmanners—had suffered since Gannon and his son had been left to themselves.) Opening
the money box was an event reserved for special occasions—chiefly the spring and fall markets.
hopped down from his chair and threw back a tattered rug lying beside the
table. Pulling up on a small handle recessed into the floor, he opened a groaning
trapdoor to a musty-smelling cellar. Clambering down a flight of creaking
stairs, Rolin felt his way in the darkness to a tall cupboard. Its shelves
sagged under the weight of potatoes, carrots, flour, honey and beans. As his
eyes adjusted to the dim light, Rolin spotted a pile of the half-rotted, dried
wood whose thick, sweet smoke had such a calming effect on angry bees.
stuffing a few pieces of the wood in his pocket, he searched for the money box.
It was nowhere to be seen. He groped about on the shelves, raising a cloud of
dust that sent him into a sneezing fit. Still, no box. Standing tiptoe on a wooden
crate, he peered over the top shelf, seeing only some broken tools and pottery,
a few yellowed scraps of parchment—and a box.
is it doing up here? he wondered. He seized the box and jumped down,
nearly tipping over the cupboard. After blowing dust off the lid, Rolin
realized he had the wrong box. This one was wooden, not metal, and its lid was
adorned with intricate engravings of trees and mythical-looking winged
creatures. Spidery lettering ran around the sides.
“Rolin!” Gannon’s voice echoed into the cellar. “There’s no need to look for the money box; it was here in the kitchen all
scrambled back up the stairs with the punkwood and his new find, closing the
trapdoor behind him. Gannon was standing at the table, holding a plain-looking
box with rust around its edges.
“Father, look at this!” Rolin
exclaimed. “What is it?”
“Why, it’s your grandmother’s old box,” said Gannon. “I had forgotten
all about it.” Gannon’s fingers caressed the carved lid. “It must be very old. You don’t see such fine workmanship these days.”
“Do you suppose there’s
anything inside?” Rolin asked.
“I doubt it—at least
nothing valuable, like gold or silver,” Gannon replied. “Your
grandmother might have kept some spices in it, but they’ve probably turned to dust by now. Heavy,
though, isn’t it. Let’s see what’s on the bottom.” As
Gannon turned the box over, a distinct rattle came from within, as of rocks
“I knew it!” said Rolin. “There issomething inside!”
“That’s odd,” Gannon remarked, feeling around the corners. “I can’t find any hinge or latch.” Shaking his head, he put the box down. “We’d better be going now.
I’ll try to open this after we return
home.” Gannon tucked the money
box under his arm and strode out the door. Rolin lingered, brushing his fingers
across the carvings on the wooden box.
touched the tree design in the center, Pop!—the top flew open. Inside lay a coin-shaped, silvery pendant cushioned on
a bed of dried, faded flowers.
gasped. As he picked up the gleaming medallion by its chain, a ray of sunlight
struck fire to a blood-red, faceted gem in its middle. The piece’s rim bore markings like those on the box, except at the bottom, where
the metal was melted.
“Boy, why are you still here? Didn’t you hear me calling?” Gannon
demanded, beckoning from the doorway. His face softened when he saw the pendant
dangling from Rolin’s fingers. “Ah, yes, your grandmother’s necklace,” he said, a faraway look in his blue eyes. “She used to wear it when she missed ‘the old country.’ To my
recollection, though, she never took it out of the house.”
remembered the same faraway look in his grandmother’s eyes whenever she mentioned the old country. Once, he had asked her to
take him to visit the land of her childhood. “We can never go back there,” the old woman had said with a bitter laugh. Rolin had never again dared
ask Adelka about her birthplace.
fingered the pendant. “How did you open the box?”
“I just touched it,” Rolin
replied with a shrug.
nodded. “You always did have a knack for puzzles.”
“Can you tell what the writing says?” Rolin asked. At an early age, he had taught himself to read from some
moldy books he’d found in the
cellar. The letters engraved on the box and pendant, however, were unlike any
he’d seen in all his thirteen
shook his head. “Only your mother and grandmother could read
those chicken scratches.”
“Since I found the box, may I keep it?”
“I suppose so,” Gannon
sighed. “Now that I think of it,
Adelka gave it to your mother years ago, and your mother wanted you to have it
when you turned fifteen. You may as well keep the necklace, too. It can’t be worth much with that damaged spot,
though the stone might fetch a handsome price. Just don’t lose it.”
promised he wouldn’t. He looped the chain around his neck,
letting the pendant drop inside his shirt. After hiding the box under his bed
for safekeeping, he clapped a cap on his head and took a seat on the wagon
beside his father.
“Giddyap, Nan!” Gannon
shouted to his flop-eared mule, and they clattered down the dirt lane leading
to the river road below. As the wagon groaned under its load of potatoes and
honeycomb, a warm spring breeze frisked among the alders leaning over the narrow
track, drying the muddy ruts. Rolin chewed a piece of honeycomb while keeping
an eye out for unwary sponge mushrooms poking through the weathered leaves
beside the road.
“How much farther?” he
asked, already knowing the answer. They still had a long, bumpy way to go.
“Far enough that if you keep eating our honey, there won’t be any left to sell!” Gannon retorted.
laughed, knowing that all of Beechtown couldn’t eat so
much rich honeycomb at one sitting. He rode in silence for a mile or two,
recalling the years he had made the same trip sitting on Janna’s lap. “Father, please tell me again how you and Mother met and fell in love,”
skin around Gannon’s eyes tightened and his jaw muscles knotted.
Rolin hated upsetting his father, but he never tired of hearing the tale of his
parents’ unusual courtship.
“It was in a tree—a tree
house, you might say,” Gannon
began and clucked his tongue at Nan. The mule quickened her pace. “Rumor has it that when Beechtown was still
just a sleepy village, your grandmother, great with child, appeared late one
night on the doorstep of a local farmhouse. Though Adelka couldn’t speak a word of our tongue, the farmer and
his wife took her in and looked after her until she gave birth.”
“To a daughter,” Rolin
“Then Adelka retreated with her child into the depths of the woods,”
Gannon went on. “There she made her home in the hollow of a
great beech tree. From the beginning, her queer ways aroused the suspicions of
our superstitious townsfolk. ‘The
Toadstool Woman,’ they called
her, because she used to poke about under the trees picking mushrooms to eat.
After word of her healing powers got around, though, people started coming to
her with their ailments. There wasn’t any magic in her concoctions of herbs and ointments, but some still
thought she was a witch.” Gannon
shot a sideways glance at his son. “She wasn’t, of course.”
Rolin already knew as much, it was a relief to hear his father say so. Gannon
cleared his throat. “When I was about your age, I was a-hunting
wild bees’ nests up in these hills
and got myself as lost as can be. I was hungry and scared—and fevered, too. After a couple of days, the
Toadstool Woman herself found me sleeping under a tree. She gave me a terrible
fright, all dressed in green, with that deep look in her eyes. ‘I heard you were lost,’ she said and took me to her tree house. You
know the rest.”
did. While Adelka nursed young Gannon back to health, the beekeeper fell
hopelessly in love with her daughter, green-eyed, willowy Janna. Rolin smiled,
remembering how his mother had taught him the secrets of the forest: where the
tastiest mushrooms hid and how to tell the delicious, golden lisichki from the
sickly green, deadly poganka; how to prepare a soothing poultice from sweet
amentine leaves, using plenty of honeycomb; and when to cut willow and
elderberry stems for making flutes and whistles. Rolin had also enjoyed
gathering mushrooms and herbs with Adelka, transforming the contents of their
brimming baskets into savory soups. On one such foray, Rolin had plucked up the
courage to ask his grandmother where she had learned her woodlore.
“From listening to the forest,” she had wistfully replied. Ever after that, Rolin listened carefully
whenever he was out in the woods but heard only the wind rustling in the tops
of the trees and the scolding of squirrels. Without Adelka, the forest now felt
Rolin and his father joined the jostling mass of other market-goers on the
broad road running beside the river Foamwater. Droves of goats, sheep and cows
plodded beside wagons and carts piled high with bacon and fat hams, cabbages
and cauliflowers, skeins of wool, sacks of candles, stacks of firewood and
tools whose uses were a mystery to Rolin.
“Could you help a poor old woman with her baggage?” a shrill voice cut through the din of
rumbling wheels and lowing cattle. Rolin glanced down at a swaying bundle of
quilts bobbing alongside the wagon. The patchwork fabric parted, revealing a
mop of hair as red as Gannon’s
beard and a pair of shrewd blue eyes set in a plump, seamed face.
“Hullo, Aunt Glenna,” said
Rolin with a polite nod. After tossing the hitchhiker’s quilts over Gannon’s potatoes, he helped her clamber up beside
his father. Gannon pretended not to notice. “What, is my nephew the only one here with a tongue in his head?” Glenna barked. “Have you gone deaf and blind, Brother?”
Gannon rolled his eyes, Rolin smirked. His father and outspoken aunt agreed on
very little, particularly when it came to raising children—and that included Rolin’s
“Good day to you, Sister,” Gannon
grunted, gritting his teeth and clenching the reins in a white-knuckled grip. “May you live to see your great-grandchildren,
and may your eyes never grow dim!”
stifled a snicker. His spinster aunt was childless, and her eyesight was poor
from years of needlework.
“Hmph!” Glenna snorted. “You know very well I can’t tell a horse from a haystack at fifty
paces. As for great-grandchildren, if you want any of your own, you’d better buy a place in town. The boy needs a
mother, and he’ll soon need a
wife, too. You won’t find either
one up in those desolate hills.”
bit his lip. He didn’t want another mother. He had been happy with
the one he’d had and still didn’t understand why she had died. Three summers
before, a fierce mountain storm had torn through the forest, toppling Adelka’s ancient, hollow beech. Though the old woman
no longer lived in the tree, she pined away before her family’s horrified eyes. Within a week, she was
later, Rolin and his mother were listening to the woodcutters chopping their
way up the mountainside through the ravaged timber. Janna flinched at the crash
of each falling tree, as if feeling its final splintering agony. Then she had
rushed into the woods.
next morning, Rolin and his father found her curled up beside a downed beech in
Adelka’s grove, as pale and cold as a frozen lily.
She revived only long enough to tell Gannon, “Mind the box—and the
birch!” With that, she had
breathed her last.
birch. Hot tears stung Rolin’s eyes at the memory of the seedling his
mother had helped him plant in the bee yard on his fourth birthday. Ever since,
Rolin had protected the skinny sapling from fire and drought. When a hungry
beaver gnawed it down the spring after Janna’s death, the bleeding stump mirrored Rolin’s heart, cut afresh with the loss of his mother.
broke the strained silence. “We found Janna’s box.”
“That dusty old thing?” Glenna
said. “I can’t imagine why she wanted Rolin to have it.
Still, plain or pretty, a keepsake’s a keepsake, I always say. Goodness knows, the boy has little enough to remember
his kinfolk by. Look how thin he’s
become, moping about in your woods. City life would do you both a passel of
“As I’ve told you before,
what would I do in town?” Gannon
protested. “Where would I keep
my bees? The townsfolk would throw my hives in the river and me with them. ‘Beekeepers make fine friends but poor
neighbors,’ as the saying goes.”
“Then find other work. They need more raftsmen nowadays.”
Gannon’s lips compressed. “You
know I can’t swim.”
shrugged. “You can learn.” Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper.
“Besides, it’s not safe in the woods anymore, what with
all the strange goings-on lately. Why, just yesterday, five of Farmer
Stubblefield’s sheep up and
disappeared. Disappeared, I tell you! Mark my words, first it’s sheep being carried off, and then it will
be people. There are unholy noises in the night, too, such as human ear has
never heard. Something evil is astir, and you would be wise to move to the
safety of town as quick as you can.”
Rolin’s ears perked up. Only the week before, a bloodcurdling night cry had set
his hair on end. “What kind of
noises?” he asked. His father
shot him a warning glance.
knowing where the argument was going, Rolin said, “I think I saw some sponge mushrooms under those cottonwoods. I’ll catch up with you later.” He kissed his aunt on the cheek.
“Don’t be too long,”
Gannon told him. “You know how you lose track of time when you’ve found a mushroom patch!”
“And there’s another thing,”
Glenna continued without skipping a
beat. “You’ve got to put a stop to this
toadstool-picking nonsense. It’s
just not healthy. The boy’s apt
to poison himself and you, too. Then where will you be? He needs to learn a
respectable trade and stop wasting his time on these foolish excursions . . .”
hopped off the wagon, dodged a cart full of squawking chickens and dove into
the woods, where he shuffled through the old, gray cottonwood leaves carpeting
the riverbank. “Aha!” he cried, pouncing on a cluster of little tan humps peeping out from the
leafy litter. After uncovering and picking the pitted, egg-shaped mushrooms, he
knocked off the dirt and deposited them in his cap. He could already taste
their delicate richness in a plate of steaming scrambled eggs.
searched the forest floor around him, discovering more of the shy sponges.
Minutes later, he emerged triumphantly from the woods with an overflowing cap.
caught up with his father and aunt on the Beechtown bridge. He hid his hat
behind him and put on a long face.
“Has the mighty hunter found any trophies?” asked Gannon.
“From the look on his face, I would say not,” remarked Aunt Glenna. Then with a flourish,
Rolin produced his hat.
laughed. “I might have known,” he said, looking over Rolin’s finds. “You don’t often return
from your mushrooming expeditions with an empty hat.” He doffed his own cap, holding it out like
one of Beechtown’s beggars. “I trust my son will share this bounty with
his poor, starving father?”
“I suppose,” said Rolin
with a grin, hoping to sell some of the mushrooms to buy his starglass. Then he
darted into the crowd.
“Beware of pickpockets!” Glenna
called after him. “And watch out
for those Greencloak fellows, too. You never know . . .”
lost himself in the babble of voices: drivers shouting at their horses and
mules; hawkers announcing goods for sale in singsong chants; children crying
for their mothers; and troubadours playing wooden flutes. Full-bearded fur
trappers hailed one another from under bundles of shaggy pelts; shepherds
herded their bleating sheep with crooked staffs; and boisterous river boatmen dressed
in bright red blouses sang out their ballads.
above them all were the Greencloaks. Though Rolin couldn’t bring himself to believe these quiet, courteous strangers were capable
of kidnapping, as his aunt claimed, he still avoided anyone robed in a dark
green cloak and tunic. On reaching the market, he searched out the starglass
peddler among the colorful tents, booths and tables crowding the square.
“Come right up! See the moon and stars as never before! Most amazing
invention in the world!”
heard the peddler pitching his wares before he spotted the stooped old
scarecrow surrounded by curious spectators, some of whom were already squinting
through the wooden tubes. Rolin squeezed through to the front of the crowd,
where he found one of the devices lying on a flimsy table.
“That’s right, boy, have a
look-see. It won’t hurt you!”
With his furrowed face, hooked nose and
deep-set eyes, the old man resembled an owl. Rolin set his hat on the table and
had just picked up the starglass, when—kerplunk!—the eyepiece
Rolin bent down to snatch the piece of glass out of the dirt, he bumped into
someone beside him. “Oh, I’m s-sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to—”
“That’s quite all right,”
replied the stranger, who was wearing a
green tunic and cloak, brown leggings and an amused smile. “Let me help you with that.”
reached for the eyepiece, the man glanced at Rolin’s chest, and the smile faded from his face. Rolin looked down to see the
pendant hanging outside his shirt, its stone glowing brilliantly in the sun.
The thing must have slipped out while he was retrieving the eyepiece. He felt
his face flush.
“Where did you get that?” the
man demanded. He whistled shrilly and then grabbed at the pendant. Rolin tried
to escape, but the crowd hemmed him in.
“No! You can’t have it; it’s mine!” he cried. He lunged across the table, falling at the feet of the startled
vendor. Picking himself up, he squeezed between two tents and raced across the
square, Greencloaks following close behind. He had to reach the bridge!